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“Bloody hell.” Bill lowered his wand and wiped his brow. “What is that? Fourteen curses in three rooms? This place might as well be a goddamn execution chamber.”

A muscle in Theo’s jaw twitched. “Give or take.”

She kept her mouth shut, but it was fifteen and she was nearly positive Bill had forgotten about the flagrante curse on the front gate.

“Nasty curses, too.” Bill sneered, shaking out his arms, then stretching his neck from side to side. “I mean, a severing hex tethered to the banister?” Bill whistled. “Nice family you’ve got there, Nott.”

Theo’s lips rolled inward, his nostrils flaring.

“Honestly, Bill?” She rested a hand on Theo’s arm, his forearm like steel beneath her fingers. She didn’t mean to hold him back, but rather to imbue a sense of calm. He’d been on edge on all morning and Bill’s jibes didn’t help. “Could you not?”

Bill shrugged, gaze locked on the renewed spell-net he’d cast. With careful attention paid to the nooks and alcoves, he scanned the room, searching for any other hidden curses that glowed red on the spiderweb-like grid. “Just saying. This is what you’re marrying into, Hermione. Archaic curses meant to target Muggleborns and dark magic residue and who knows what else? They’ve probably got a pet dementor chained up in the dungeons.”

“Har har. Laugh it up, Weasley. At least her children won’t have to suffer through life with that unfortunate hair,” Theo groused.

Bill chuckled. “Nice comeback, Nott. Like I haven’t heard that one before. Real unique. Snagged yourself the cleverest snake of all, Hermione.”

Theo ducked his chin and dropped his voice. “If I make a dig about the hand-me-down robes, will you be cross with me?”

At least he’d asked. “Yes.”

Theo’s eyes narrowed, gaze assessing. “How cross?”

“Quite.” A muscle in her cheek twitched, but she would not give in. Laughing would ruin the entire effect.

Theo sighed, heavily put upon. “Whatever, Weasley. Less commentary, more curse-breaking, if you will.” He paused before chuckling. “Though, you’d do well to remember your mother was a Prewett, as was my father’s mother. Not to mention, cousin of mine, some-times-removed”—Theo’s lips twisted—"no one will ever hate my family as much as I do. Which isn’t to suggest you ought not to try, just understand, your attempts will pale by comparison.”

Bill snorted. “You think I’d be doing this if I didn’t know that? I am doing this gratis; fucking with you at least lets me feel like I’m getting something out of it.”

She pursed her lips. “Other than knowing you’re doing the right thing?” For the children.

He grinned. “And that. Messing with your fiancé—either of them, I’m not picky—is just a bonus.”

“Happy to be of service,” Theo grumbled beneath his breath.

“That, and I’m not about to let Fleur in here until—"

A siren rang out as Bill’s spell-net lit red in the far-right corner of the grid. His eyes narrowed as he cast a quick revelio, frowning as the letter opener on the sideboard swallowed the light around it as if doused in Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. He grimaced. “Don’t really care to know what that does. Offero.”

Theo swept an arm out, nudging her behind his back just before the letter opener emitted an ear-piercing screech, much like an injured bird. It trembled violently, refusing to go down without a fight. Whether from the shrill pitch or the vibration, the crystal decanter beside it shattered, splattering the wall with dark alcohol. Shards of glass collided with wallpaper, some embedding through into the plaster, the rest falling like diamonds to the ground.

Bill held his wand steady, eyes intent on the letter opener as it continued to thrash. A fine sheen of sweat broke out along his forehead as he murmured something softer and fast-spoken, another spell she couldn’t quite catch.

 A strange noise, not unlike static from the telly filled the room before the object in question fell still and silent. The darkness lifted, shadows retreating until that corner of the room looked no different than any other.

 Theo turned, pinning her with a wide-eyed stare. “Go home. Please.”

Getting Theo to agree to let her come along for the sweep of his ancestral manor had been a struggle, a topic that had spurred no fewer than three arguments over the course of the past week and a half. Draco had, at first, taken Theo’s side, but after she’d gotten him alone and explained her reasoning, he’d reluctantly taken a neutral stance, telling them to sort it themselves.

She wasn’t daft. Of course, the place wasn’t safe, she knew that, but, bias aside, Bill really was the best curse-breaker—not only that she knew, but period—and it wasn’t as if she planned on poking around places he hadn’t cleared. They'd all do well to remember she wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the destruction of cursed objects; horcruxes had been a bit of a dive off the deep end, baptism by fire.

“No? What do you mean, no?

Theo pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “N-o. A generally accepted alternative to the word ‘yes’. You’re not coming.”

“And you’re telling me this, I’m to assume?” She set her hand on her hips. “Just like that, your decision is law?”

He nodded. “Wonderful. I’m glad we’re both on the same page.”

Something like a growl slipped from between her lips. “We are certainly not on the same page, Theodore.” She crossed her arms, refusing to break the staring contest he’d started. “What would you have me do? Sit here and twiddle my thumbs until you come home? Did you fall and hit your head? Because that’s the only plausible explanation for you mistaking me as someone who’s satisfied being sidelined.”

Theo tugged at his hair. “Hermione. Listen to me when—”

“Try saying something worth listening to, then.”

“I won’t have you getting yourself hurt,” he shouted. His shoulders dropped as he slumped against the wall. “Fucking hell, can you try to see where I’m coming from? The place is bound to be a veritable landmine of curses intended to harm you.” He lifted a hand, covering his mouth with his palm and he blinked hard. “Damn it, love, do you know what that does to me? The thought of you coming into that—that wretched place because of me and winding up hurt or—or worse.” He shook his head. “No. That’s it. Be angry all you want, but I’d sooner have you brassed off at me for the foreseeable future than have you hurt.”

Well, damn. It was difficult to maintain her ire when he was looking at her like that, eyes wide and pleading. She sighed. “I understand where you’re coming from, Theo. I really do. But I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“I never said you weren’t.” He pressed off the wall and crossed the room, reaching for her hand. “I know you can take care of yourself. You’re a force to reckoned with. But there’s a difference between being able to take of yourself and needing to. You don’t need to put yourself in harm’s way, not for this.” With his thumb, he stroked the back of her hand. “This isn’t your battle.”

“It’s yours,” she said. “And that makes it mine.”

She couldn’t, in good conscience, let Theo go alone, not when he hadn’t been to his childhood home in nearly a year. She wasn’t about to let him exorcise his demons, be they literal or figurative, by himself. And definitely not when he was, in a roundabout way, doing it for her, doing it so they’d have somewhere for the orphanage, the school.

The timing was unfortunate. The only day Bill had available to clear the manor happened to be the same day Draco was scheduled to meet with the Potions Association within the Ministry of Magic. Their approval, being the governing body overseeing the production and trade of potions within Wizarding Britain, was required before any witch or wizard could distribute potions, even on a donatory basis. Draco, still hoping to redeem the family name and do something good with his money, wanted to fund the production and distribution of costly potions at a reduced rate. Ipso facto, he needed their authorization.

If she could be in two places at once, supporting them both on what was sure to be a trying day, she would. Alas, she was no longer in possession of a time turner and had to choose. And as stressful as Draco’s day was bound to be, Theo’s was guaranteed to be worse.

“Hermione—”

“Theo.” She squeezed his fingers. “I love that you care about me and I understand you’re concerned. But I’m going.”

He sighed, nostrils flaring. “You’re not taking no for an answer, are you?”

She shook her head. “Not a chance.”

Bill had progressed on to the far side of the drawing room, nodding that it was clear to follow as he made his way through the door to what looked like the library.

“I’m already here. I’m certainly not leaving.” Especially not before she got a look at the books.

Theo blew out his breath. “Three rooms down, a million to go.”

“Three rooms and the foyer,” she corrected, tangling their fingers.

Theo dragged his feet. “Ah yes, how could I forget the foyer where Bill disarmed that lovely Entrail-expelling curse affixed to the door-knocker.”

Curses aside, Nott Manor was grim, made Malfoy Manor pre-reconstruction look like Disney Land. The mansion was massive, the architecture gothic—all vaulted ceilings and drafty corridors and stained glass that bathed the rooms in an eerie glow—and the décor stereotypically Slytherin, all greens and blacks and dark, polished wood. Sneering portraits hung from the walls, and gilded mirrors lined the halls in a dizzying array, reflecting off one another and creating an unsettling funhouse effect. Once the place was curse-free, the next order of business would be cleansing it of the oppressive atmosphere—and painting it. Only then would they be ready to call it, not only habitable but child-friendly.

She had to tug so they could keep up with Bill who’d already disappeared around the corner. “Each curse broken is one less you need to worry about.” She squeezed his fingers before letting go and peeked into the room searching for Bill’s head of long, ginger hair. He must’ve been moving quickly because he was nowhere to be seen.

She paused, neck craning. What she could see, however, was magnificent, if not a bit dusty. Not as grand as the Malfoy’s library, granted, but there were shelves upon shelves filled with books spanning from one end of the large, square room all the way to the other. Perhaps Bill had started on the books. No doubt there were loads of curses on those, curses lying in wait to turn her blood to sludge inside her veins or give her necrotizing fasciitis or something equally as vile.

The shelves to the left were closest, but something in her gut said Bill had gone right, tackling the side of the room bathed in shadow. Though, unlike the cursed letter opener, the books on this side of the room seemed almost to glow from the recessed shelves, gilded text along the spines gleaming in the dark. She licked her lips. Curses aside, these were unique tomes, one-of-a-kind texts, first editions, rare volumes, and out-of-print books, everywhere. Oh, the stuff she could glean from these books, the knowledge she could absorb, apply. As if her curiosity were truly some devil on her shoulder, a hushed voice whispered in her ear, not words, but thoughts planted directly inside her mind, almost as she could see herself acting on the suggestions, witness what it would be like to act before she’d even made the decision. Her hands trembled, fingertips pulsing. Beneath her skin, she itched, an insatiable curiosity driving her forward. All she had to do was pick one book, reach for it, touch it and—

“Hermione, don’t!”

She froze—or tried. Her feet kept moving despite her knees locking in response to Bill’s shout. Her head gave a sharp throb, the whisper in her ear growing louder, a senseless noise she couldn’t understand even if the directive was clear. Keep moving, or else. Vision suddenly red, she wasn’t sure whether the anger was hers or its, whatever it was. She gritted her teeth against the compulsion to keep moving, keep walking, to touch the book, and gasped when her feet finally obeyed.

The backward momentum was too much, her balance off-kilter. Her back collided with the nearest wall—and hell, her right ankle screamed as it twisted, her teeth breaking through her lower lip. Ow. She winced at the shooting pain running up her leg and down her toes, her bloodied lip pulsing in time with her heart. Double ow. Her lids fluttered and—

Light reflected blink-and-miss-it fast against something metallic in her periphery. “Protego,” she shouted, word muffled from her busted lip.

A literal swarm of daggers hit her hastily erected shield and fell, clattering to the floor.

“Hermione. Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Theo was in front of her, hands bruising as he gripped her arms. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

She—Gods, had she been thinking? She clenched her eyes and shook her head, mind foggy. Moving from one memory to the next was like wading through pea soup. “I don’t—what happened?”

Theo’s breath whistled from between his lips, shaky. “We walked into the room and I swear to Merlin I turned my head for what felt like one second and when I looked back you were halfway across the room with your arm outstretched looking like—like fucking Sleeping Beauty reaching for the goddamn spinning wheel.”

The fog began to recede, replaced with a piercing pain behind her eyes like she’d drunk too much wine and woken up only to stare directly into the sun. She hissed through her teeth and let her head drop against Theo’s chest. “I don’t—I walked into the room and Bill wasn’t—I didn’t know where Bill was.”

“He was right in front of us,” Theo said, grip finally loosening. He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her against him. His chest was solid, his heart thundering hard enough she could feel it.

“What?” That didn’t make any sense. Bill was hard to miss, she'd have seen him.

“I was. I’d turned left, just barely, not right. I was right there,” Bill confirmed.

“We turned left and started walking, not far, just a few steps and suddenly you weren’t—” Theo swore beneath his breath. “You weren’t there.”

She straightened, shaking her head as she met Theo’s concerned blue eyes. “I don’t—that’s not what I saw. I didn’t see Bill, I thought…” She swallowed, eyes stinging.

Bill cleared his throat. His voice was soft when he spoke. “Disillusionment spell, I think.” His lips twisted. “Or illusion, rather. Meant to confuse you. Paired with a rather strong compulsion curse. Let’s be glad you didn’t actually touch the books over there, yeah?” Bill gave her a wry smile.

She shivered, trying and failing to forget about flesh-eating curses.

Compulsion. No wonder she hadn’t been able to stop walking, not without a struggle at least. “And the daggers?”

Bill winced. “Touch-activated, I’d wager. Bumped against some sort of trigger on the wall. Good thing you’re as quick on your feet as ever.”

“Constant vigilance,” she muttered, grimacing when she put her weight on her bad ankle. “Ah.”

Theo’s jaw clenched as he whipped out his wand.

“Hold still,” he demanded.

Like she was planning on going anywhere in light of what had just transpired. Simply breathing might put her in danger in a house like this. Though, that was rather the whole point.

He healed her ankle first, the ligaments knitting back together with a minimal amount of pain, no doubt because of the care he administered. Moving on, Theo snagged her chin, tilting her head back into the dim light of the room, surveying the self-inflicted wound with dark, fraught eyes.

Her stomach was a jumble of knots, and her head wasn’t much better. She couldn’t speak, not when he was holding her chin, but even if she’d been able to, she wouldn’t have known what to say.

His thumb caressed the swell of her lip, touch gentle as he avoided the place her teeth had punctured. His gaze dropped and hers followed, throat thickening at the sight of blood smeared against his hand. Theo blinked hard before lifting his wand.

Wound healed and blood vanished, the hand holding her jaw slid down, thumb stroking the front of her throat, smoothing over the spot where her pulse raced, belying her outward attempt at collectedness. His hand trembled against her neck, fingers tightening, whether to keep still or hold her in place, she wasn’t sure.

“Say goodbye to Bill,” Theo murmured, loud enough for Bill to hear.

She wavered, but something in his eyes made her swallow her protests at being bossed around. She cleared her throat. “I’m going to head home, I think. Maybe I’ll see you next week at the gala, Bill.”

Bill nodded, lips pressed into a thin line. “Honestly, that’s a good idea, Hermione. I’ll finish the place up. No worries.”

Theo kept her close, a hand on her back, guiding her toward the door from which they’d come. “I’m just going to walk her to the Floo. Be back in a few minutes, Weasley.”

Through the drawing room and into the hall, Theo hurried her along. She was prepared to be corralled all the way into the foyer, but instead, Theo turned, pressing her into an alcove nearly obscured by a tapestry. He buried his head into her hair and inhaled, breath ragged.

She was normally better at this, knowing what to say to calm him down, make him feel better. The words were there, but it was like they were trapped in her throat, her own shock rendering her mute.

“Fuck, Hermione,” he whispered, lifting his head. He reached out, cradling her face in his hands, thumbs stroking her cheekbones. “You almost—you could’ve—” He shook his head, eyes wide.

She wet her lips, mouth suddenly parched. “I’m okay. I’m perfectly fine. Really.”

Her voice sounded funny, distant, like there was some sort of disconnect between thinking the words and speaking them, hearing them come out of her mouth.

Theo frowned sharply. “You and I have wildly different definitions of the word fine, witch.” He dropped his forehead against hers, breath fanning against her mouth when he sighed. “Can wizards have heart attacks? Because I swear you nearly gave me one.”

Could they? On some level, magic did alter physiology, hence the longer lifespan and the inability of witches and wizards to acquire certain Muggle diseases, and conversely, a lowered efficacy of certain Muggle pharmaceuticals. But what of their arteries? Were witches and wizards resilient against arterial plaque build-up? Someone at St. Mungo’s really needed to fund a study on—

“Hermione?” Theo stared, eyes darting over her face. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt somewhere else?”

His hands performed a quick pat down, checking her for injuries.

“No,” she muttered. “I’m fine. I’m just—”

His eyes met hers, wide and nervous and it was—it was too much. She sniffed hard, but still her stupid eyes blurred with tears.

“Damn it.” Theo tilted her head back, fingers brushing away tears as they slipped down her cheeks. “You have to talk to me, love. Tell me what hurts so I can fix it.”

She shook her head, throat closing. “I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—to…”

Gods, how could she have been so…so arrogant? A sickening sense of shame settled in her stomach, oily and oppressive. She should’ve known. She should’ve listened. But no, she’d been so sure of herself. She’d destroyed horcruxes; what were a few dark curses in an ancestral manor? Hubris at its finest.

Theo froze, a disbelieving chuckle slipping from between his lips. “Oh. Fuck me.” He shut his eyes and shook his head. “You stubborn, proud Gryffindor. You have zero sense of self-preservation, you’re aware of that, right?”

Her lower lip trembled. “Theo.”

His jaw clenched and it was then she saw, through the haze of her vision, that his own eyes were glassy. “You’re okay.”

The way he said it made it sound as if he was saying it more to reassure himself than her.

He dropped his forehead again, their noses nudging. His eyes were open, depthless pools of blue brimming with emotion, some she could put a name to, others she couldn’t. Fear. Frustration. Anger. Love.

Her breath caught, throat thickening once more, humbled by the magnitude of emotion crammed into that one glance.

Theo’s lashes fluttered as he tilted his head, lips brushing hers. She swallowed and leaned into it, lips parting, catching his, holding—

With a growl, Theo pressed closer, hips pinning in her place as he deepened the kiss. His teeth scraped against her lower lip, a gasp that was equal parts pain and pleasure slipping out at the rough treatment of her recently healed flesh. His tongue soothed the sting before sliding between her lips and tracing the roof of her mouth. She shivered, back arching, hips pressing into his.

Theo’s hands slid down her arms and rested briefly on her waist before his fingers flirted with the hem of her skirt, sliding beneath the fabric. A warm palm trailed up the inside of her thigh before he hooked his fingers around the crotch of her knickers and tugged them to the side. The air was cool against her bare skin, but it was Theo’s touch, two fingers parting her lips and slipping inside her that made her gasp against his mouth.

He drew back, just far enough to speak. The words rumbled against her lips, “Is this okay?”

She panted against his mouth, his fingers still moving, curling. “Yes.”

Gone. His fingers were gone, leaving her empty. She cried out.

Theo’s lips twitched, not quite a full smirk, a shadow of one. He lifted his hands to her mouth, brushing his fingers, her wetness, against her lips. His eyes darkened. “Taste.”

Without dropping his stare, she parted her lips, opening, tongue sliding between his fingers, curling around his knuckle, tasting the tang of her arousal.

Theo hummed softly, pressing closer, his cock hard against her stomach. “Good girl.”

Her chest loosened, just a bit, enough to suck a ragged breath in before biting down softly on the tip of his finger, lids fluttering at the praise, absolution.

Theo leaned in, lips brushing her cheek before he whispered against her ear. “Turn around.”

Twisting in his hold, she spun, resting her forehead against the wall. Theo’s hands slipped beneath her skirt, grabbing hold of her hips, urging her to arch her back and stick her arse out. Eyes closed, she did as silently instructed, her focus narrowing to the brush of Theo’s skin against hers, the sound of the zipper lowering on his trousers, the bite of fabric against the crease of her inner thigh as Theo once again tugged her knickers to the side.

The head of his cock slipped through her folds and her teeth sank into her lower lip to keep from groaning when he finally pressed inside, bottoming out with one thrust.

“Perfect.” Theo kissed the hollow beneath her ear, his lips warm and damp. “Love?”

“’m good,” she muttered, forehead rocking against the wall. A thought broke through the haze. “We have to be quiet.”

Theo chuckled. “Fuck that. When have I ever wanted you to be quiet?”

“Bill is—”

“Busy,” Theo said, one hand tangling in her hair. “And if he hears us, he’ll know better than to come looking. So, don’t you dare hold back.”

“Fuck,” she muttered when Theo withdrew all the way before pressing deep.

Theo slipped a hand around her body, fingers finding her clit. He circled it, a little rough, seemingly more determined to get her off and make it quick than tease. She bit down hard, teeth clenching, as Theo played her with practiced ease. Thrusting shallowly, Theo seemed to focus his attention on strumming her to climax, pleasure building and cresting and—“Gods.”

Everything clenched, muscles fluttering around his cock as he held still, buried inside her.

Theo dropped his hand, chuckling darkly. “What was that? A minute? Fuck.”

She whimpered, too loud, when he withdrew only to thrust hard, hips gaining speed, his cock hitting that spot inside her, the one that knocked the breath from her lungs, each time, without fail, the pleasure heightened by just how stupidly sensitive she was after coming once already.

“Don’t stop,” she panted, nails raking against the wallpaper, seeking purchase and finding none. “Please, don’t stop.”

A sharp tug of her curls made her back bow, her breasts shoved into the wall. Theo bit down on the curve of her neck, tongue soothing the sharp sting, before leaving a messy, wet kiss against the tender mark as his hips continued to piston. “Don’t stop?” He chuckled, barely out of breath. “Greedy. Saying you’re the only one allowed to come?”

She whimpered. She’d have bruises on her hips from his hands, squeezing her, keeping her arched just so without slumping into the pleasure. “No. Want you to come.”

The sound of his cock sliding into her was lewd and paired with the rhythmic slap of sweat-damp skin on skin, the concept of keeping quiet was a lost cause, one she didn’t so much mind abandoning. She’d come once already and she was primed to tip over the edge once more just from the sounds of Theo fucking her. Paired with the thought of him finishing, of finding and taking his pleasure in her? She was barely hanging on by a thread.

“Yeah?” Theo’s hand left her hair and slid around her neck, fingers wrapping tenderly around her throat before applying just enough pressure to curl her toes. “Want me to come inside you, love?”

She shivered, cunt fluttering around his cock. Holy fuck, so close. “Yes.”

Theo squeezed, just a little harder. “Ask for it.”

Fuck. “I want you to come inside me.” He thrust a little harder, deeper, cock nudging her cervix in a way that was almost too much, was intensely overwhelming, her knees buckling. His grip on her hip tightened, holding her weight. “Please.”

“I don’t know.” He licked a stripe up her neck. “Do you deserve it?”

Yes. “I do. I—oh, yes. Please.”

He growled against her neck, hot breath tickling. “Fuck, love, you’re desperate for it, yeah? Desperate for me to fill this tight little cunt up with come, aren’t you?”

So close. She nodded, breaths harsh and loud. “Yes.”

“Say it,” Theo demanded. “Beg me for it.”

Already closed, her eyes clenched. “Fuck. Please, Theo. I want”—she had to swallow, mouth dry and face on fire—“you to fill me up.”

“Shit.” Theo’s fingers dug into her skin, grip bruising as he—fuck—did the exact opposite of what she wanted, slowing until he was barely thrusting, the drag of his cock lazy. She whimpered.

He swallowed, his throat clicking. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Are you listening, love?” He waited until she nodded. “I’m going to finish fucking you until you can’t feel your legs and then you are going to hop inside the fireplace and Floo straight home to Draco.”

She whimpered, legs shaking. “Theo.”

He shushed her. “Shh, that’s right. I want you to head home dripping come down your thighs, your knickers in my pocket, so you can show Draco what a good girl you are, hmm? It’ll be up to him what he chooses to do with you.”

She didn’t need convincing, already planned on leaving. Theo was the one who’d derailed her with this. But Gods, had she not been on board? He made a convincing argument.

“Okay.” She was beyond the point of caring how desperate she sounded. “Just please—”

Theo gave her curls another scalp-tingling tug and resumed fucking her into the wall as if he’d never stopped. The possibility of coming again hovered in her periphery, hers for the taking if she stretched for it, focused hard enough. But this was good, enough, more than enough, Theo’s shuddered breaths coming fast and hard against the shell of her ear, signaling his rapidly approaching end. His tongue darted out, curling around the lobe of her ear before he gasped, the rhythm of his hips faltering as he shoved further into her, so deep, fingers spasming against her waist as his cock twitched.

And then it wasn’t up to her if she wanted to come again because Theo had decided she would. His fingers circled hard over her clit until she tensed, knees locking as she snapped her eyes shut and shattered, spots dancing behind her lids as she panted against the wallpaper.

Theo buried his face in her neck, catching his breath. Her heart rate wasn’t quite normal when he drew back, cock slipping from her along with a flood of wetness that made brought heat to her cheeks.

There was the sound of cloth rustling followed by Theo’s zipper, and then he was tugging on her gently, turning her around. A soft, tender, smile graced his face, quite the contrast to the gleam in his eyes as he knelt in front of her, hands sliding up the outside of her thighs before curling around her knickers and sliding them down her legs. Lips pressed together, she stepped out of them, eyes narrowing when Theo grinned, tucking them inside the front pocket of his trousers.

He wasn’t through, not yet. He rucked up her skirt, tucking it inside the waistband, and then reached between her legs, fingers parting her folds. His thumb ghosted over the hood of her still-sensitive clit, and that gentle brush alone made her spasm and bite her lip. Another rush of wetness spilled from her cunt and it was impossible to decide what was more arousing—the way Theo’s dark, dilated eyes tracked the slide of his come through her folds, or that itself. Either way, her breathing was nowhere close to normal.

“Come on.” He fixed her skirt and stood, holding out a hand. As soon as she took it, he tangled their fingers and led the way to the foyer where the Floo was located.

Standing in front of the fireplace, Hermione nibbled on the edge of her lip. Staying here wasn’t a smart idea—she’d learned that the hard way, yes—but leaving Theo here by himself, or without someone to lean on, didn’t sound brilliant, either. “Theo—”

He pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her. She narrowed her eyes, ire rising, making her chest tight.

“You want to help, I know,” Theo said, fingers sweeping against her jaw, butterfly soft against her skin. “And I love that, I love you. Which is why you can help me by going home where I know you’ll be safe.” Theo’s jaw slid forward, throat working through a swallow. “This house won’t hurt me, but it could kill you and I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you. So, please, go home and check on Draco and—give me a warm bed to come home to, okay? I promise I’ll let you coddle me emotionally later. Please.”

Just like that, her frustration at being hushed evaporated. “Fine. Play nice with Bill, okay?”

Theo nodded. “Of course. Now please, go. Each minute you spend inside the house is a year off my life. You’re ratcheting up my anxiety.”

A bit dramatic, but she’d grant him his histrionics without comment, just this once. She reached for the Floo powder. “Love you.”

Theo grinned. “Love you, too. Now go. That message for Draco is time sensitive.”

She rolled her eyes and, in a flash-bang of green flames, she was gone.