You are viewing a story from

Lust, War And... Love? by linkar

Format: Novel
Chapters: 24
Word Count: 94,589
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Ron/Lavender

First Published: 11/07/2008
Last Chapter: 02/28/2010
Last Updated: 07/14/2014


A saga of a Death Eater and Dumbledore’s Army gal, which unfolded unseen by Harry Potter in the Book 6, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince. A cauldron full of hot, strong lust … or could it be love? Canon-compliant.

My gratitude to my husband Mark for beta-reading this story and helping me improve my writing!

My thanks to SammyRay at TDA for the wonderful banner!

Chapter 1: Twelfth Night After Christmas
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



     Two tall candles cast golden light on the girls’ faces in the dark room. Parvati peered into an oval mirror set on a desk. Across from her, Padma squinted at a tattered paperback book in the flickering candlelight, and Hermione held her wand over a large bowl filled with water. Desks, stacked high against a wall, loomed behind their backs. The abandoned classroom in the farthest end of the third floor corridor was cold and draughty, and the girls wrapped their robes around themselves tightly. 

    “What’s your governing sign, my Promised One?” Parvati whispered huskily to the mirror.

    Hermione waved her wand in circles over the bowl. A blob of hardened white wax melted and spread in swirls in the dark water. The swirls gathered together and merged into a vague form, which gradually took a more defined shape.

    “A snake!” gasped Padma and put the book on the desk. “It’s a snake again, Parvati. First the skull, now it’s a snake like I had.”

    “Looks like you both are going to end up dating Slytherins. Under the Sign of Death as your book professes it,” Hermione snorted. “Crabbe, Goyle or both?”

    “Neither!” Parvati could not suppress a giggle. “It’s -”

    “You aren’t supposed to tell us the name until you’re done!” Padma interrupted her sister crossly. “You’ll disturb the innocence of our divination. Let’s try the other two!”

    Innocence of divination - that was quite a term to coin, Hermione thought. She already regretted being sucked by the Patil sisters into this fortune-telling session with the mirror, melted wax and book aptly titled The Divine Almanac of Heavenly Maidens. It was the Twelfth Night after Christmas. Every young witch, who was eager to find out about her date this year or, furthermore, her future husband, employed the ancient practices of foretelling her Promised One on this magic night.

    Lavender Brown had come down with the flu this morning and could not take part in the Patil sisters‘ plans. In the afternoon the twins, desperate for a third person, coaxed Hermione into joining them. Padma was the first to sit down in front of the enchanted mirror flanked by the two flickering candles. Her future suitors were supposed to appear in the mirror, and they did. The Ravenclaw prefect squashed her sister’s curiosity about their identities on the spot and went on asking her would-be boyfriends cryptic questions. For each of Padma’s inquiries Hermione melted the wax in the water bowl with her wand, and Parvati deciphered the forming shapes with the help of the small book.

    “The Other One, I wish to talk to you,” Parvati implored the mirror. She sighed, “No, he isn’t coming clear. He’s more like a blur.”

    “Then he’s going to be only a fling. Did you say he resembled Anthony Goldstein?” Padma asked authoritatively.

    “I’m going to dump Goldstein anyway. Even though he’s in Dumbledore’s Army,” was Parvati’s answer. “The third was a blur too. Could be from Dumbledore‘s Army as well. They sort of came out together.”

    Padma chuckled and closed her book.

    “If to listen to you both, Dumbledore’s Army is a dating club and dumping ground altogether.” Hermione was already grouchy in the dark and chilly room.

    “Oh well, but we’ve got such cool boys in the Army, haven’t we?” Padma said dreamily. “Except that our Promised Slytherins aren’t there.”

    “Who knows, they might want to join the Army,” Parvati piped up from behind the mirror. “All right, I’m done. Your turn, Hermione.”

    “They’ll join us when hell freezes over.” Hermione stowed her wand in her pocket. “I’m sure I’ll get no one this year, so why bother with this divining? We‘ve got to build the Army first of all.”

    “You’re sneaky, Hermione!” Parvati got up from her chair. “I’m sure who you’ll see. Harry and Ron, right, Padma?”

    “The big question: which of them will be your date?” Padma giggled again and prodded Hermione in her side. “Let’s find out who’ll marry you!”

    “How about Krum?” smirked Parvati.

     Seeing that there was no way to wiggle out of it, Hermione sat down in front of the mirror. Parvati handed her the cheat sheet with the questions and took over the bowl. In the dark glass of the mirror something appeared that looked like a long, gloomy tunnel. Hermione glanced at the parchment proffered by Parvati and read the runic incantation aloud to bring out the image of her Promised One.

     Two small whitish outlines appeared in the end of the tunnel. They seemed to float towards Hermione and grow in size. Hermione‘s heart fluttered at the sight of the first one. It was Ron with a very confused look on his face. His features were slightly blurry. The other figure hovered in the back, still undistinguishable. Probably Harry. Or Krum? Hermione took a deep breath.

    “Ask questions!” Padma whispered anxiously. “How many?”

    “Two.” Hermione gazed at the cheat sheet. “What is your governing sign?”

    Parvati swished her wand over the bowl with ardour.

    “Looks like a lion’s head,” muttered Padma. “Gryffindor!”

    “Show me our path. What’s it going to be like?” Hermione questioned again.

    The twins put their heads together over the bowl. Padma’s slender fingers flipped through the book pages.

    “Always close but never joined,” she announced loudly. Hermione stared at her quizzically.

    “There are two really long snaky lines. They are very close to each other but don’t merge, “ explained Parvati. “Doesn’t look like you’ll marry this one.”

    “Ask more questions,” Padma pressed on.

   “What’s the breaking stone in our path?” Hermione read from the list with trepidation.

   “I long for you but kiss another,” was the book quote.

    A faint smoky shape appeared by Ron’s side, slightly resembling a woman. Hermione could not make out her features because the fluid image kept shifting.

   “There’s a female form by his side but it’s constantly changing,” mused Hermione.

   “Which tells us there are going to be a few.” Padma already had the verdict at her fingertips.

   Although Hermione had never put much faith in Divination, the images in the mirror unsettled her greatly.

   “I’d rather talk to the other, “she told the twins. “The Other One, come forth!”

   Ron’s figure slid into the back and the other boy came to the front. The sight of him nearly made Hermione scream but she managed to keep herself in check. The cold grey eyes and malicious grin were unmistakable. Disturbingly clear and sharp, Draco Malfoy’s features literally jumped at her out of the mirror.

   “Are you all right?” the sisters wondered in unison. “You’ve got such a look…”

   “I’m okay... It - it’s just that I didn’t expect this,” mumbled Hermione.

   “Questions?” Padma prodded her.

    “Oh, yes. What’s your governing sign? “said Hermione and cursed herself instantly for her stupid question. Naturally, the wax morphed into a serpent.

   “Show me our path. What’s it going to be like?”

   The twins leafed through the book and emitted a collective gasp.

   “It’s long, twisted and broken. You join together, then break up, and reunite and break up again, and so on. The Sign of Death marks every your reunion and break-up.” Padma uttered in her most prophetic voice. “I - I can’t believe it - I can see it so well now! The Dark Mark - that’s what it was, Parvati!”

   “Yes, it was so blurred for you, Padma, but it’s so clear now!” Parvati was now all flustered. “Who’s the Slytherin boy in the mirror? It’s going to be a Death Eater!”

   “Wait, don’t tell us yet,” Padma demanded. “Go on, Hermione.”

   “What’s our breaking stone?” Hermione asked weakly. Malfoy, the Dark Mark and the Sign of Death - it was too much to be taken seriously.

   “He’s bound to another but takes you.” Padma could make a great substitute for Trelawney whenever the teacher went down with the flu.

   “There’s no other woman’s shadow by him,” objected Hermione.

   “That’s because she isn’t in his heart!” Parvati was well on her way to get an “Oustanding” in her Divination O.W.L.

   “Let’s find out when you’ll get married!” Padma proposed brightly.

   “I doubt I’ll ever marry this bloke,” Hermione grunted.

   “Either the first or the second one,” pleaded Parvati.

   “When will the bonds of marriage unite us?” Hermione asked no one in particular.

   Parvati flicked her wand over the water. “Oi, look!”

   “Yeah, it’s just one big blob and a droplet on the side,” nodded Padma.

   “In two years?” Things were going too fast here, Hermione thought.

   “In a little over a year, I guess,” Parvati spoke expertly. “Year and a half, at most.”

   “I think I‘ve had enough fortune-telling tonight.” Hermione looked at the mirror. Unnervingly, Ron’s image seemed to recede more into the background while Malfoy’s face became brighter in the candlelight. “I’m sure I won’t be marrying anyone before I sit my N.E.W.T.s.”

   “It could be a shotgun wedding,” mused Parvati. “You know, things happen.”

    Hermione put the mirror facedown on the desk. Parvati took the Divine Almanac and pondered over its pages for a little while.

   “Looks like we all going to end up dating Slytherins. Who was yours, Hermione?” Parvati asked. “Not Zabini?”

   “It’s a stranger,“ Hermione fibbed. She was in no mood to discuss their findings.

   “Seems like we all are going to date blokes who’ve got some relations with Death Eaters. I guess, yours is going to be a Death Eater, Hermione,” Parvati proclaimed. “I wonder how it’ll happen.”

   “Maybe Hermione will become a spy for Dumbledore’s Army,” speculated Padma. “And a Death Eater will fall for her!”

   “That’s would be so adventurous!” exclaimed Parvati. “We could be secret agents too.”

    “I see nothing adventurous in a shotgun wedding with a criminal and murderer,” Hermione said glumly. “I’m no Mata Hari.”

   “I think we could try to recruit our boys for the Army, Parvati,” said Padma.

   “Oh, could you give it a rest?” Hermione sighed. “We can’t trust the Slytherins at all! Let‘s get back to the dorms before the Umbridge toad gives us detentions for wandering the corridors at night.”

   “What an epic saga of love and war it‘s going to be…” Parvati was descending into a Trelawney-like trance. “Like Ramayana or Mahabharata!”

Chapter 2: Draco's Engagement and Lucius's Memories
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     The bright April sunlight flooded the parlour through tall French doors which overlooked a formal garden. Two crystal vases on the mantelpiece sent rainbow sparks in every direction and a silver coffee set reflected the sunshine upon the dark mahogany table.

    “Your robes are so charming, Leticia.” Narcissa stirred her coffee. “I wonder where our young couple is. It’s been quite a while since they went for a stroll.”

    “Oh, the dress is nothing to speak of. You‘re so kind, Narcissa,” chirped Mrs. Parkinson whose dark purple taffeta robes contrasted with the pale pink upholstery on the couch and made her heavily rouged cheeks look even redder. “The weather’s so wonderful and your gardens are so lovely, I’m sure they’re enjoying themselves outdoors.”

     “Ah, here they are, “ Narcissa leaned towards Leticia. “What a cute couple they are!”

    One of the French doors opened and the young couple entered the room. Pansy had a slightly tousled look. Upon seeing her mother she reflexively adjusted the plunging neckline of her fuchsia-coloured robes. Draco, his arm wrapped around her waist, threw a bored look at a plate of chocolates tucked between the coffeepot and sugar bowl.

    Pansy sat down, her back straight, on the couch next to Leticia and picked a cup from the silver tray. Draco plunked into a big chair and, with a flick of his wand, made a piece of chocolate fly off the plate and into his outstretched palm.

    For a while Narcissa and Leticia entertained everyone with a discussion of the latest styles in fashion robe trimmings. Pansy showed a great deal of interest in the subject by showering Narcissa with compliments on the dress she wore to a recent dinner party at the Bletchley Estates. Draco twiddled his wand and demonstrated with all of his physiognomy that the talk about bows and laces, and the cup of coffee offered by his mother were clearly beneath his intellect.

    Lucius Malfoy and a tall, ruddy-faced wizard strolled into the parlour from the adjacent library room.

    “… have a look at the latest quotes. I’ll owl you, of course, when I hear from the underwriters, Canutus.” Lucius finished his speech and turned towards the coffee table.

    “Some coffee?” inquired Narcissa with a well-practised smile.

    “No, no, thank you,” Canutus gestured energetically. “My wife keeps telling me I shouldn’t drink too much coffee in the late afternoon.”

    At these words of his, Leticia gave her husband a coquettish wink, and Pansy finished her cup in one big gulp.

    “We should be going - we’ve had such a wonderful time, Narcissa.” Leticia gave her daughter a one-armed hug. “We’d love to see you drop in before you’re back to school after the holidays, Draco.”

    “We’re so honoured to have you all. It’s a pleasure to know that we’ve got such a great understanding between us.” Lucius gave a slight nod to the Parkinsons.

     Leticia’s roomy robes rustled as she walked to the fireplace. Canutus, after much nodding and gesturing to Narcissa and Lucius, trotted after his wife. Pansy and Draco stood up, and she gave him a peck on his lips.

    When the Parkinsons Flooed off, Draco sank back into his chair and waved the plate with the remaining chocolates onto his lap. Narcissa Banished the coffee set out of sight, and Lucius flicked his wand for a glass of firewhisky for himself.

    “So, Draco and Pansy got engaged today. The Parkinsons must be on cloud nine now that the engagement contract has been sealed magically,“ Narcissa mused, while adjusting the flowers in the vases on the mantelpiece. “Leticia believes sometime in June after the school’s over would be a good time for a formal engagement reception.”

    “There’s no need to rush the reception yet, “objected Lucius while nursing the drink in his hand. “Good Ogden’s Old. It’s a true classic firewhisky, Draco.”

     Draco finished the sweets and sent the plate flying away. Without saying a word, he yawned and got up from his chair. Narcissa’s eyes followed her son as he left the parlour. Draco had shot up quite a bit over the past year or so. Despite his still reedy and narrow-shouldered figure, his mother could already recognize an emerging semblance of his father’s stature in her beloved son.

    “I’d still prefer the Greengrass girls,” Narcissa spoke softly after Draco was safely out of the earshot. “The Parkinsons are such simpletons. Believe me he’ll get bored with Pansy, Lucius.”

    “The Greengrasses can be quite finicky about their daughters‘ suitors. Besides, I don’t see any interest on Daphne’s part.”

   “There’s Asteria, the younger one.” Narcissa looked out into the garden.

   “She’s too young for Draco now. He’s got his needs, and I’m sure the Parkinsons would be very willing to keep mum if Draco goes too far with Pansy.”

    “Of course, after you extended your loan to Canutus. You’re essentially bailing him out of his trouble with the shipping venture. Did you make sure there’s a way out of the engagement contract if Draco changes his mind?”

    “Certainly, my dear. Those Parkinson trolls might think the contract is final and Draco is bound to their daughter irrevocably, but are they smart enough to read the fine print? Magical seals are known to have magical loopholes. If they raise hell over the nasty surprise, we’ve got the loan to keep them in line.”

   “You’re sweet, my Lucius. What a wizard you are…” Narcissa pressed her lips against her husband‘s. Lucius smiled and ran his hand down her back. She glanced at him over her shoulder as she turned around to leave the parlour.

   Lucius lounged on the couch, the glass with Ogden’s still in his hand. So far, the things were progressing nicely. His wife was quite right that Pansy wasn’t much to speak of despite her thoroughly pureblood family.

    But the engagement had several strategic advantages. First, the Parkinsons were one of the few pureblood families that weren’t too closely related to the Malfoys and Blacks. Second, Pansy seemed to have a certain penchant for physical pleasures and was not too concerned with sentimental notions. Besides the business troubles, her father was already frightened at the potential prospect of being called into Lord Voldemort‘s service. A close relation with an influential Death Eater was a measure of protection for Canutus and Leticia.

    Now Lucius needed to impress upon his son the importance of the magical engagement that bound Draco and Pansy together. Of course, the severity of the contract was mostly imaginary, but it would help keep the still too-impulsive boy in check for a couple of years. Lord Voldemort wouldn’t take it lightly if the son of one of his closest servants got entangled with a non-pureblood. Since the episode during the winter break it became imperative to prevent Draco from bad choices.

    Lucius took a long sip from his glass and closed his eyes. The firewhisky was really good. He remembered how chagrined Narcissa was after picking up Draco at Madame Louise’s.

    During the Christmas holidays Marcus Flint apparently couldn’t find anything better to do than to go to Madam Louise’s bordello with Draco in tow. Of course, the respectable and well-appointed establishment did not let the underage boy in. Flint had to leave Draco in the lobby until Madam Louise had Narcissa come and take him home. They were very lucky that the pea-brained stud took their son to Madam Louise’s, and not to some shady place in Knockturn Alley.

    Now Draco had been matched with an appropriate girl - not that he had to stay with her forever. Narcissa wisely insisted on having the wedding only after the both parties turned twenty. Everything could change over the next four years, of course, but the Parkinsons didn’t need to know about it.

    Lucius sipped his drink and his mind travelled back in time. It seemed that he was always fascinated with Narcissa, ever since he met her well before going to Hogwarts. The Black sisters were quite attractive in addition to their distinct personalities.

    Needless to say, Lucius was exulted when he learned that Rodolphus Lestrange had opted for Bella instead of reconciling with Narcissa after her escapade with her sister Andromeda. Andromeda stuck it out with her Mudblood husband, but Narcissa wasn’t so happy with hers and was back home three months after the elopement.

   Unlike the pig-headed Lestranges Lucius didn’t really care about the whole matter. He understood Narcissa had learned her lesson, and she was only happy to bestow her affections on the dashing heir to the Malfoy wealth.

   Speaking of Muggles and Muggleborns… Lucius recalled a certain blond Muggle girl. He had such a remarkable summer with her many years ago ... Lucius always had a thing for blondes. Her sister was a witch and a fervent Gryffindor. The Muggle sister could not care less about Lucius’s being a Slytherin. In fact, the Muggle girl envied her witch sister so much that she always angled to show off with Lucius in front of her. But Lucius insisted firmly on keeping their romance secret. Muggle girls were easy to deal with but they simply couldn’t be taken seriously.

   Lucius finished their affair with the help of the Obliviating spell. He wasn’t very experienced at it then, and it took him more than one try to modify his Muggle lover’s memories. Afterwards, they ran into each other a few times but she never recognised him, to his relief.

   The Muggle-romance-filled summer ended, the beautiful Narcissa returned and her parents scrambled to marry her off. Lucius mused how lucky he was. She always had a true class about her, and only a few could match her cool wits, magical talent and diplomatic prowess. Now they needed to help their son make the right choices. 

Chapter 3: Fateful Night
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Author‘s Note: Like the Harry Potter characters, the idea of an incident, involving a near-fatal potion, an over-the-top prank and a super-rare antidote, is not entirely mine. I was inspired by some AU fanfiction out there. I visualized such an episode happening in the book 6, and my story evolved from there. Hope you’ll enjoy the twist!

    The potion was taking forever to brew. According to the recipe, it was to be stewed for precisely an hour and twelve minutes after it turned ultramarine blue. Draco stirred the brown liquid for almost two hours before it turned the desired shade of blue. He missed the dinner and had to send Crabbe down to the kitchens to fetch something to eat. Goyle stood on watch outside the Room of Requirement, where Draco was now stationed with his cauldron. The two oafs weren’t smart enough to bring food from the Great Hall when they came to check on him. Draco’s stomach growled louder and louder, and his moods were steadily going downhill.

    Things were decidedly foul at Hogwarts. First, Draco Malfoy wasn’t a prefect anymore. Second, Proffesor Slughorn with his elitist Slug Club openly snubbed him - him, the only scion and heir of the noble Malfoy House! Third, Potty beat him to Felix Felicis potion the other day, which was beyond Draco’s comprehension. If it were Granger, he could live with it, but Potter?! Fourth, his fellow Slytherins and everyone else showed considerably less regard for him now that his father had been thrown in Azkaban. The humiliating Ministry raid on the Malfoy Manor was all over the press again. Even the dim-witted Crabbe, who normally obeyed without a single squawk, clearly showed his displeasure when Draco barked at him to go and get him dinner - fast!

    Draco had resolved to show everyone that the noble Malfoy name was not to be trifled with. For starters, he was now the youngest ever Death Eater in Lord Voldemort’s service. Although the tasks that came with it still made Draco uneasy in his stomach, he was intent on winning the Dark Lord’s favours with his brilliance and magical prowess. Speaking of the less appealing parts of the job… It would be only a matter of proper cunning to manipulate someone else into doing them. Surely, Draco had got enough brainpower for that.

     Draco glanced at his watch. Thirty-three more minutes for the potion to brew. Exactly one hour eighteen minutes had elapsed since Crabbe waddled out of the room to get the food. The potion, Heorte Lustbaere, was an integral part of Draco’s plan to take charge of his destiny and conquer the world. Lately he realized that his romance with Pansy had turned bland. To tell the truth, they got along very nicely, and she was always eager to please him. Other than her pug-like face and occasionally obtuse notions, she held a certain appeal as a truly pureblood witch. Nevertheless, despite Pansy’s exorbitant signs of affection Draco answered her caresses in a rather mechanical way. For the sake of their magical engagement he needed to put more zing in their relationship.

    It was not like Draco had no interest in the opposite sex. In fact, he did have a lot of interest and noticed each and every pretty witch in the vicinity. Even that Mudblood, Granger, with her amber brown eyes and titillating contours under her bulky robes. Shame that Granger wasn’t a pureblood… Of course, the noble Malfoy heir had better things to do than to pay attention to the toxic know-it-all Mudblood. Let her own goons, Potty and Weasel, bother about her.

    Heorte Lustbaere was a potent lust potion. So potent that it had been entirely banned for the last three hundred years or so. Unlike the popular wares peddled in Diagon Alley, its effect never wore off. To find the recipe Draco had to cajole Snape into giving him a permission note to access the Restricted Section of the library. Unlike Amortentia, the love potion demonstrated by Professor Slughorn, it did not cause obsession. It created a pure physical lust which was all Draco wanted from his engagement. He needed his brain for bigger things than romance. Another nice benefit of the potion was that it bestowed a strictly monogamous bond on the couple who drank it. To Draco’s dislike, Pansy was too liberal with other blokes. The other day he caught her flirting with Zabini heavily. Heorte Lustbaere would fix that problem for good.

    It was a tricky job to get all the ingredients for Heorte Lustbaere, but Draco was able to procure most of them from shops in Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. He pilfered the few hard-to-find components from Slughorn’s potions closet. Thankfully, Professor Slug was far more lax about the security of his wares than the ever-paranoid Snape. Draco sweet-talked Pansy into agreeing to pack more zest in their love and to drink the potion. He was quite proud of himself.

    Crabbe lumbered in with a stack of sandwiches and a pitcher of pumpkin juice. Draco impatiently grabbed one of the sandwiches and tore into it, his eyes still fixed on his watch. When the time was up, Draco promptly took the cauldron off the fire and poured a carefully measured amount of sophoporous bean juice into it. Pearly swirls appeared in the deep ultramarine concoction. Draco picked up his silver knife and took a deep breath. He pierced his forefinger with the sharp end of the knife and squeezed exactly seven drops of his own blood into the cauldron. The swirls turned pale pink, then grew darker and soon the color of the whole content of the cauldron changed from dark blue to deep crimson. Heorte Lustbaere, the ancient lust potion of Druids, was ready.

    By the time Draco finished his sandwiches the potion had cooled enough to drink. He transfigured his quill into a goblet and tipped the cauldron carefully. The pleasant-smelling thick red liquid poured into the cup. Draco drank it in two gulps. It tasted good. He filled a silver flask with the rest of the potion and handed it to still grumpy-looking Crabbe. It was late at night, and Draco did not need to be caught with a highly illegal concoction by Filch or a teacher on patrol duty.

    “This is one of the strongest love potions you have ever seen, dimwit. Not the Zonko’s cheap one-hour-of-love-stuff. It is strictly for Pansy,” Draco impressed the grave importance of it on Crabbe. “Make sure you get it to the dungeons safely. Now, move your arse!”

   In the corridor, Crabbe and equally grumpy Goyle set off for the dungeons, while Draco made a detour to a toilet.

   “Heck, what he’d need that love potion for?” Crabbe mumbled to Goyle after they were outside of Draco’s earshot. “He’s already bonking Pansy.”

   “Have it then. Draco will love you lots,” Goyle gloated at his joke.

   “Hey, a girl’s coming here.” Crabbe fingered the flask. “Let’s feed her some.”

   Barely containing their snicker, they doubled back and hid behind a corner.

    The Slug Club supper party turned out great. Professor Slughorn was in a jovial mood and cracked some good humour about a few very well-known Hogwarts alumni. Hermione enjoyed the distraction, and the teacher’s compliments lifted her spirits a lot. Finally, she was getting her due for her hard work and studies. Now Hermione could not care less about Ron’s caustic remarks when she would recount it all to the boys in the morning.

Hermione picked up her step as she walked through the darkened corridors. She could hear Peeves bouncing somewhere a good distance away. Like everyone else, Hermione knew that the castle was under an enforced combination of powerful security spells, but the dark shadows in the desolated corridors still sent goose bumps down her back. Walking briskly, she turned around the corner and saw two large figures advancing upon her. In a split second she was knocked down on the floor, and, as she tried to scream for help, someone’s strong hands held her jaws open. Warm liquid with a pleasant fruity taste trickled into her mouth. She swallowed a good amount of the unknown drink, choked on it and coughed violently. Still, she managed to pull her wand out. Stupefy!

    “You answer me! What’s the name of the poison?” The shrieks resonated under the vaulted ceilings. In the moonlight Draco saw a small group in the far end of the hallway, and he ducked behind a suit of armour. A bad premonition crept into his chest.

    Draco cautiously advanced along the wall behind the long row of the metal suits and statues until he could distinguish the bushy-haired outline of a certain Gryffindor prefect. Her wand was at the throat of a dark figure slumped against a marble pedestal. Another dark body lay in a heap on the floor. An oblong metal object in her hand gleamed dully in the moonlight.

    It was clear as a day. Granger, the obnoxious Gryffindor prefect, had caught Crabbe and Goyle wandering at night and confiscated the silver flask. He had to get the precious potion back before she took it to a teacher.

    Accio! Draco’s nonverbal spell turned out just fine, but Granger had apparently been endowed with a split-second Seeker’s reflex.

   Protego! The spell hit the suit of armour Draco was hiding behind. He ducked to the floor. In a second, Hermione Granger stood over him, the silver flask still in her hand. Draco sprang to his feet and grabbed the flask. Their fingers met and a momentary prick of static charge passed between them.

   Things are getting electric here, Hermione thought as Draco’s hand closed around her fingers on the flask.

   “What’s it?” She stared into Draco’s eyes.

    “It’s only some Potions homework, Granger.” He should have jerked the flask with all his force out of her hand… To his surprise, her fingers felt invitingly warm in the chilly air.

    “We have no such homework for Potions, Malfoy!” Her spirited dark eyes were locked on his face.

    “All right, it’s just a love potion! Calm down, Granger, no big deal about it.”

    “What’s the name of it?”

    “Amortentia…” Draco named the first potion that came to his mind. Hopefully it was much less of an illegal thing than the hapless Heorte Lustbaere…

    “I must get an antidote!” Hermione shrieked in terror. She choked and got a coughing fit again.

    A horrible realization came to Draco. “Did you catch them drinking it?

    “Who them?” Hermione’s mouth went dry.

    “Crabbe and Goyle!” His hand was now gripping the flask and Granger’s fingers with all his strength.

    “No, it’s me! They knocked me down and poured this thing into my mouth!”

    Draco’s head was swimming now. “At least you’re a girl…” It was all he could mutter. He could hear the liquid splashing in the flask.

    Hermione’s fingers were already numb in Draco’s iron grip. Her cheeks were getting hot. How lucky for her, she thought, that it was too dark for him to see her flushed face…

    “Give me this and I’ll have it reversed tonight. I’ll have to take it to my House though.” Draco hoped it wasn’t too late to fix it yet.

    She released the flask to him and tucked her wand in her robes. For a few seconds an uncomfortable silence hung in the air between the two of them. Hermione was the first to collect herself.

    “All right, good night, Malfoy! “ She feigned nonchalance as best she could. Hermione walked past Draco towards the stairs to the Gryffindor Tower. When she reached the steps, Hermione whipped around and shouted, “Your screwed-up potion does not work at all, Malfoy! I despise Crabbe and Goyle much the same as before!”

    Draco’s eyes followed Hermione till she ran up the stairs and disappeared from sight. He turned to the two dark bodies on the floor.

    “Imbeciles!” He kicked Goyle in his side. “Imbeciles!” The second kick landed on Crabbe‘s rear end. Draco took a deep breath. He was very much tempted to leave them here till the morning, but he did not want to risk the whole potion thing coming out either. If he fixed it promptly with Pansy, Granger would never know that it was Heorte Lustbaere.

    He lifted the Stunning spells from Crabbe and Goyle, and left them dazed in the hallway. As he rushed down to the dungeons, Draco racked his brains frantically. He tried to recall everything the book said about Heorte Lustbaere. Apparently, it was supposed to be magically sealed by the parties’ physical contact upon drinking it. A contact of what kind? A kiss or the whole act? 

    Panting, Draco barged into the Slytherin Common Room. To his relief, Pansy was still there doing her homework. And most important of all, she was alone! He pulled her up from her chair, thrust the flask into her hands and commanded her to drink the love potion on the spot. Dumbfounded at such an expressive display of Draco’s passions, she obligingly produced a cup and poured the remains of the love potion in it. It was not a deep crimson but dirty greenish color now.

   “Phew!” Pansy nearly spat out the whole thing. “It’s - it’s revolting!”

    Not listening to her, Draco planted a big wet kiss on her mouth. Eww… It tasted like dung - Draco had to force himself to keep his lips glued to her mouth. The savvy girl quickly got herself under control, threw her arms around him and pressed herself against his body. The same second a vivid picture of Granger with her finely curved lips and passionate amber eyes floated into Draco’s mind. He was in no state to take it all the way with Pansy.

    “That was good, Pansy. I’m going to bed - I’m really tired.” Draco wrestled himself from her embrace, patted Pansy on her rear and headed to his dorm. He heard Crabbe and Goyle lumbering in but resolved to deal with them in the morning.

Chapter 4: Morning After
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Hermione stared at her plate. A few more seconds and she’d fall asleep with her face right in the middle of her porridge… Each time Hermione drifted into slumber in her warm and soft bed, torrid sex fantasies assaulted her mind. They involved Malfoy heavily and made for a near lack of sleep on her part. 

    Hermione went to Professor Slughorn’s office first thing in the morning but, to her utter despair, the teacher wasn’t in. Neither was he present at the breakfast in the Great Hall. Harry, as usual, was preoccupied with his cursed Potions textbook. Would he ever comprehend the grave danger lurking behind the hand-scribbled notes in it? Apparently not, unless someone force-fed him Amortentia in a dark corridor at night. Ron devoted himself part to tucking into his kipper, part to ogling Lavender, which was only marginally better than perusing illicit potion recipes and curses. Hermione sneaked a glance at the bleary-eyed Malfoy at the Slytherin table.

    Crabbe and Goyle’s faces kept twitching and wincing so often, it even started to annoy Draco. But he was determined to let them suffer the misery of highly uncomfortable magic-induced boils on their ample bottoms. Pansy was a pain in the neck too. She had made several bathroom trips to vomit the potion out of her system, and now she kept harping into his ear about her lost beauty sleep. Draco barked at her to shut up. He needed his space in order to extricate himself from the predicament the two goons landed him in.

    Of course, he wouldn’t mind a few very colorful and reasonably exciting images of Granger in his dreams. But the rate, at which those uninvited fantasies spiraled into his mind, was far from being conductive to a healthy and restorative sleep. That had to be fixed, and the sooner, the better.

    First, he had to make sure Granger wouldn’t squeak to a teacher before he’d get the antidote. Second, he had to find this particular remedy before he screwed up his engagement to Pansy and landed in Azkaban for raping the Gryffindor prefect. Although it might be sweet to see his Dad there…

    He must talk to Granger. Walking over to the Gryffindor table was out of question since Potty and Weasel would hex him before he’d have time to say anything. Maybe not Weasel - the redhead disaster of a wizard definitely looked the other way today morning. But how would his fellow Slytherins take Draco’s highly unusual act? Following Granger in the corridors after the breakfast was a dubious idea too. What if she got scared and hexed him?

    Draco tore off a piece of parchment. Pansy had already stalked off, leaving most of her breakfast on her plate. Crabbe and Goyle were too busy wincing and twitching to pay attention to Malfoy’s actions. Draco quickly scribbled a few words and folded the parchment into a crane. A small flick of his wand, and it started gliding over to the Gryffindor table.

    Eeek! Hermione fished a now soaked crane out of her porridge. She unfolded it and read the sprawling handwriting:

    Granger, we must talk before we get screwed up. See you in the library immediately after the breakfast. DM 

P.S. You’re one sexy babe

    The Great Hall suddenly became too hot for Hermione. Harry tore away from his book and attempted to peek at the note in her hand.

    “What’s that?” was his perfectly natural question. “Did it come from the Slytherin table just now?”

    “Oh, just another insult from Malfoy… I reprimanded him for wandering at night yesterday.”

    “What did he write? I’m going to hex his guts out of him,” Harry was quick to react.

    “Let’s ignore it, Harry. He’s only trying to provoke us. The more hell-raising, the better for him.” 

    “Where was he wandering?”

    “Seventh floor corridor.”

    “What was he doing there?” Harry closed his Potions book.

    “I’m not sure… He was just walking past.” Hermione was not ready to come forth with the potion incident yet. Her dreams were too embarrassing…

    Hermione crumpled the crane in her hand and set off for the library. Once there, she barricaded herself with references on love magic and potions behind shelves in the farthest corner . Here it was, Amortentia, The Ancient Potion of Fatal Love Obsession. Hermione‘s heart sunk even more. Why did Professor Slughorn have to demonstrate it in the class?

    Where could the blasted girl be? Malfoy was extremely irritable after jogging a respectable distance around the bookshelves. He had just picked up the Treatise of Osburga from which he earlier obtained his potion recipe. Madame Pince failed to spot his neat trick of altering the date on his very stale permission note from Snape. Draco started leafing through the Treatise of Osburga as he walked down an aisle. His nose still in the book, Draco turned around a shelf and crashed into a table. A pile of books on it crumbled and spilled over the edge to the floor.

    “Merlin’s pants, what a cursed moron had put the t - tab- ,” Draco started then stammered as he spotted the familiar bushy hair and amber eyes.

    “Draco, are you sure it was Amortentia?” Her sweet lips beckoned him for a big, wet kiss. The skin on her neck looked oh so delicate… His already inflamed imagination attempted to sneak under her buttoned-up collar.

    “The books say Amortentia has a distinctly minty taste. While the potion can feel warm to the touch, the taste has a strong cooling feel on the taste buds of the person drinking it. “ Hermione kept talking as she was extremely conscious of the fact that Malfoy’s stare was now firmly fixed on her chest. “The potion that I drank didn’t taste minty, and neither it felt cool on my tongue.”

    A warm wave traveled from her lower body all the way up. Then a great sinking feeling below her navel addled her brains even worse. She reached with her hand and lightly stroke his fingers still locked in a grip on his book.

    At her touch, Draco dropped his book on the table, and swiftly moved onto the bench next to her, her weak fingers now in his firm hold. His body pressed against her shoulder and she could feel his labored breathing on her flushed cheek

    “Absolutely no kissing and groping in the library! It is not a dating club!” a shrill voice jerked them back to reality. The ever-alert Madame Pince was now swooping down the aisle on them.

    “Get a grip, Malfoy!” Hermione hissed into his face and swung around to the other side of the table. “Sorry, Madame Pince, it won‘t happen again,” she said as brightly as she could to the vulture-like librarian.

    Draco’s eyes followed Madame Pince as she disappeared in a passage between shelves.

    “You started it, Granger! Touching me with your hand,” he hissed back across the table. Could he get her to caress him more? The thought stirred his whole body.

    “We are here to find out about the antidote and not to succumb to your filthy potion workings!” Granger reached for Draco‘s book and studied its cover.

    Gold letters shone on the black leather: Treatise of Osburga, Volume I. Below the title Hermione read: Galdorcraft Peostre And Galdorcraft Ablicgan - Dark Magic And White Magic. Then in a smaller font: Twelfth Edition, Translated, Commentated and Annotated. Must be a heck of a book, Hermione thought.

   “Is your potion in here?”

    Draco shifted in his seat. His barely coherent brain made a feeble attempt to predict all possible reactions to his impending revelation. After heaving a sigh and giving up his efforts to control the situation even in the slightest, he said bluntly, “Go, look up Heorte Lustbaere, Granger.”

    Draco watched Granger in silence as her deft fingers flipped through the pages, her face solemn. Those fingers could do such a nice job caressing, and she had already proven it. Maybe they should not rush it with the remedy. They could take it slowly and experiment a little before reversing the things. It actually could be very enjoyable.

    “This… this is the potion your goons poured into me?” Granger whispered in horror and lifted her tearful eyes from the pages. “It -it had your blood in it?”

    “Regrettably, it is. And I added my blood to it. I prepared it precisely the way the book said.”

    “But the blood magic - it’s one of the strongest Dark Arts ever known!” Granger looked thunderstruck now. “You sealed it that night too! Was that flask made of silver?”

    “How did I seal it? We didn’t even kiss!”

    “It didn’t have to be a kiss. It says the magic gets sealed when the parties perform a physical contact with their bare skin. Was your flask made of silver? It actually says that in the Middle Ages they used a silver object as a catalyst for the contact. For example, they put a silver dagger between their naked bodies when they locked themselves in an embrace. It did not have to be a dagger, of course. Anything could work - a spoon, trinket or jewelry.”

    “Where did you find that?“ Draco unceremoniously grabbed the book.

    “Look at the bottom of the page. It’s in the small font there.”

    Draco’s eyes scanned the text on the page: 

    …Silver, due to its embodiment of clarity and purity, is believed to be one of a few known powerful catalysts for Heorte Lustbaere. 

    While the potion bestows on a couple a strong mutual physical desire for each other, using a silver object in the process of sealing the act has a strong clarifying effect on the parties’ relations to each other. In instances when the basic attraction between the parties is hindered by external concerns like differences in upbringing and religion, or social prejudices, the purpose of a silver catalyst is to bring forth the suppressed attraction in each partner’s mind and make it supercede all the other societal norms and moral beliefs in their minds. In this respect, the partners have more clarity and awareness of their initial mutual attraction on the mental level in addition to the effect imposed by the potion on the physical level. 

    The heightened awareness of their feelings and emotions also results in a better communication and openness between both parties, although this should not be construed as the direct effect of the silver catalyst. Where no such initial attraction existed, the silver catalyst is typically said to be ineffectual…
“Use of External Devices in Ancient Rituals of Love Magic” Modern Magical Developments, Vol. 11, 1975. Profs. M.P. Humphrey-Bogg, E. G. Yartoff and B.B. Varnicke 

    “I’m having anything but clarity in my mind! Maybe you’ve got some sleep at night but I didn‘t. And don‘t pout your sexy lips at me, Granger,” grumbled Draco. Damned silver flask!

    “Those dreams of a glorious Draco Malfoy were way too vivid to fall asleep,” Hermione returned the ball. “Let’s look for the part on the counterpotions.”

    She tried to get the book back but Draco didn’t let it go. Instead, he picked up the heavy volume, walked around the table and firmly planted himself next to Granger.

    The close proximity of his warm body made Hermione feel worse. A new wave of desire rippled through her insides. If she ever felt like this with Ron, she’d have ceased being a virgin long ago. Hermione’s first urge was to tug at the book and get a view of the pages but that would mean more bodily contact again.

    She resigned to studying Malfoy’s profile while he was busy leafing through the book. His straight nose gave his face a certain aristocratic flair, no matter how bigoted he acted. Thin lips but not too thin to be devoid of sensuality. He grew quite a bit over the summer, and was now taller that Harry, although not as tall as Ron. Apart from his poisonous personality, he was a fairly good-looking bloke, witty and very good at magic. Remarkably enough, he hadn’t said a single derogatory word to her today. Hermione wondered if it was a part of the potion effect.

    “Where did you get the potion from?” asked Hermione, suppressing her urge to touch him again. “You know, you’re a really good-looking guy when you aren’t such a pureblood snob.” Was she already having her “silver catalyst” moment?

    “I already told you I prepared it myself. For your information, I‘m proud of my bloodline.” Draco slammed the book shut. “There’s nothing on the counterpotions in here!”

    “For your information, I’m very proud of my Muggle heritage, Malfoy Heir.“ Hermione reached for another volume. “Let’s check the other books.” Merlin, Heorte Lustbaere was an awfully complicated potion to brew…

    After about an hour of rummaging through the pile of books and finding nothing, their bodies were hotter than ever, and their minds became almost entirely fogged out.

    “Let’s have it easy. We don’t really have to rush with the remedy, right?” Draco stared into Hermione’s eyes. “We could experiment a little, you know -”

    His hand made its way into her robes and rested on her thigh now. To Hermione’s utter embarrassment, a hot desire swelled just below her navel. She fidgeted with a book in her hands nervously, and Draco pressed his palm against her harder.

    “I don’t need any wicked experiments with you, Malfoy!” She made an effort to extricate herself from him. Instead, he caught her hand and drew it into the folds of his robes. There he pressed it to his thigh.

   “Do you understand, Malfoy? I must find the antidote before we go too far!” She jerked her hand out of his fingers, got up and pulled the Treatise of Osburga from under the heap of books.

    “If we find no remedy for it today, I’m - I’m going to - to McGonagall!” she finished tearfully.

    “Teacher’s pet, aren’t you?” Draco ducked just in time to avoid being hit with the Treatise of Osburga on his head.

     Hermione moved to the opposite side of the table and buried herself in the Treatise once again.

    “The last page says the remedies are included in the second volume.” Hermione’s tempers subsided a little. “What section did you find the book in?”

   “Restricted Section.” Draco produced the permission slip from Snape. “I’ll go get it.” 

   “ Sorry Mr. Malfoy, but we’ve got only one copy of the Treatise of Osburga. The second volume has been checked out,” Mme Pince informed him chilly.

   “Checked out? To whom? For how long?” Draco’s mind was going through a list of possibilities. Would his getting Granger pregnant right away prevent her from squeaking to McGonagall? She’d never be able to admit doing it with a Slytherin.

    “Professor Snape has it now. The teachers can keep the books as long as they need. If you need the book for your coursework, I recommend that you talk to him.”

    Very simple, indeed. Wheedle the book from Snape and make sure he doesn’t read your mind in the process. 

    “Snape’s got the book,” Draco told ever more tearful Granger. “ I’m going to see him right after lunch. He likes me a lot, so it won‘t be a problem.”

    “Teacher’s pet, aren’t you?” was her bitter response.

    “Stunningly, we’ve got something in common, right?” Draco smirked.

    “I assume it’s already your “silver catalyst” truth moment,” remarked Hermione.

    “But I’m not throwing books at you, ” Draco pointed it out to the Know-It-All Gryffindor. "I‘ll talk to you after dinner. Come to this spot again.”

Chapter 5: Boys and Loyalties
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Gentle autumnal sunshine filled the Gryffindor Common Room but Hermione failed to appreciate the beauty of the warm September day. She was staring blankly at pages of arcane runic texts. Her efforts to concentrate on her Ancient Runes homework had proven futile. Neither was she able to banish from her mind the unnerving memories of Malfoy touching her in the library. The most unsettling thing was a highly unwanted fantasy of the pureblood scum’s hand caressing her privates. If they stayed any longer in the library and Madam Pince, in a sudden rush of sympathy for all lovers in the world, locked them alone there, Hermione would definitely fail to resist Malfoy’s advances.

    “Oi, Hermione! Have you got that book on Animal Transfiguration?” Ron’s voice dragged her out of her stupor. She must, absolutely must, get rid of the Malfoy hallucinations. She must pull herself together! Her heart belonged to Ron Weasley, not Draco Malfoy. Period.

    Resolutely, Hermione walked with the book to Ron’s seat. When she placed it on the table in front of him, she made a point to press her body against his shoulder and remain in this position. Ron looked up at her with a perfectly lunatic smile on his face. Hermione rubbed against his shoulder lightly. Ron’s grin widened.

    Hermione reached for one of Ron’s parchments on the table and deliberately brushed her breasts against his forearm in the process. Ron made a small sound. Two fifth-year girls at another table giggled. Perfect. A juicy gossip was now in the making. Hermione had long suspected that Malfoy always did his best to keep up with the latest Hogwarts politics and gossips. A steamy tale featuring both of the Gryffindor prefects was guaranteed to travel far and wide. It would help drive the point about her true allegiance further into that Slytherin.

    The only problem was that when Hermione’s chest came into contact with Ron’s arm, a lurid fantasy of Malfoy’s palms squeezing her breasts sprang into her mind. Against her will, Hermione emitted a slight groan which made Ron shift in his seat.

    “Hermione… Could you… er… look at my DADA essay? It’s in my trunk.” Ron got to his feet and headed to the stair to the boys’ dorms. Hermione trailed after him. Everyone‘s eyes were on them. Lavender Brown, who was sitting in a chair by the fireplace, looked distinctly despondent.

    In the empty dorm Ron, pink in face and grinning, stood and stared at Hermione. She shifted on her feet nervously and could not think of anything better than to sit on his bed and ask to read his essay. Ron began rummaging in his trunk vigorously. Hermione reminded herself to banish all Malfoy thoughts from her mind. When she was about to give Ron a hug from behind, Dean and Seamus barged into the room, loudly discussing the recent victory of Puddlemere United over Chudley Cannons. Hermione was not sure whether or not she was happy about the interruption.

    Snape was in the staff room, and Draco had to lounge in the corridor for almost an hour before the teacher came out. When Draco fed him a story about an essay on love potions for Slughorn’s class and mentioned the Treatise of Osburga, Snape’s beetle-black eyes bore into the his face. Draco made a sluggish effort to dispel all Granger-related thoughts from his mind. Snape said nothing and waved Draco to follow him to his office in the dungeons.

   “Remedies for which potions are you supposed to cover in your essay?” Snape put the black volume on his desk.

   “Amortentia… Heorte Lustbaere.” Draco strained to remember other potions described in the Treatise of Osburga. “Cupido Lubidinis… The most potent love potions, Professor Snape.“

   “Does Professor Slughorn cover them all in his class?” Snape looked across the desk at Malfoy.

   “Yes, it is the N.E.W.T. level, Sir. No one knows the Potions better than you,” Draco flattered the teacher.

   “What a peculiar subject to discuss in the class,” muttered Snape and leafed through the Treatise of Osburga. “Hmm… Quite a book to read. The famous Osburga, a witch queen married to King Aethewulf of Wessex, a complete Muggle… Here.”

   Draco quickly copied a few recipes of remedies for Cupido Lubidinis and some other potions, names of which he did not register. Trying to sound casual, Draco asked, “Are the antidotes for Heorte Lustbaere in this book too, Sir?”

   Snape’s eyes drilled into him from under his greasy hair. Draco looked down at his notes to avoid his stare. The teacher turned a few more pages and pushed the book back to the student.

   Draco copied the recipe which had an exceptionally long list of ingredients. St. John’s-Wort powder, finely shredded boomslang skin, essence of persimmon, carraffean bean juice, caramelized wolf hair, Nvembe purple vinegar - the list went on and on. It was clear that it was going to be a major pain and expense to procure everything. One of the ingredients made Draco a little worried. Buds of Alban Eilirenne harvested before the dawn of the day of the vernal equinox, mashed and added to the potion immediately. 
   “Sir, what’s Alban Eilirenne?” Draco inquired cautiously.

    Snape, who was busy writing in his parchments, answered without as much as raising his head, “It is a bulb plant which blooms on the day of the vernal equinox. Otherwise known as Nuntius Vernus.“

   “Where do they sell these plants? I’ve never heard of them before, Professor Snape.”

    “They are not very common. I believe Professor Sprout has a few of them in the greenhouses. The buds make an extremely potent ingredient in some potions but their usability is very limited. They must be used within an hour after harvesting. Otherwise the buds turn black and rot. The potion that contains them must be consumed within twenty-four hours after preparation.”

    That did not bode well… Draco tried to ask as nonchalantly as he could, “Are there any other counterpotions that don’t call for the Alban Eilirenne buds? I imagine if someone consumes Heorte Lustbaere in summer by accident, what would he do then?”

    Snape raised his pallid face from his parchments and gave his favorite student a long stare. “It is just a school essay, I assume?”

   “Yes, of course, Sir. But I’m curious how it’s handled in the real life.” Draco was on needles now.

    “Draco, Heorte Lustbaere is not something you’re likely to stumble upon at an average store. If you ask about it in Knockturn Alley, those who know about the potion will pretend they didn’t hear your question. It’s almost believed to have a mind of its own.”

   “Oh…but the recipe can still be found in books, Sir.”

   “At this point our library has got only one book that describes this potion - the Treatise of Osburga, which you apparently found in the Restricted Section.”

   “Yes, I was looking everywhere. Amortentia is not a common potion either, Sir.”

   “Amortentia? It is a textbook staple,“ Snape snorted dismissively. “Heorte Lustbaere is a very ancient recipe but also is a highly incriminating one. Used very rarely and thence its effects have scarcely been researched. Only one antidote is known, and it can be made only on a certain night of year.“

   Draco’s heart sunk. “So… Hypothetically speaking, if someone digests the potion, he might have to wait for the whole year to be treated?”

   “Exactly. I believe Professor Sprout mentions Nuntius Vernus in her seventh year curriculum.”

   “That’s so interesting.” Draco tried to express the proverbial joy of learning. “But what if there’s still a year to go? The Treatise of Osburga says the results can be as bad as… as terminal insanity.”

   “If both of the parties are available for regular contacts, the danger of insanity should not be a concern. The standard practice for this type of potions is to have the victims monitored at St. Mungo’s. They make sure the most immediate needs of the patients are met safely until the remedy is available.”

   “Er… Thanks, Professor Snape. “ Draco’s brains were disintegrating further. He handed the book back to the teacher, picked up his book bag and turned around to leave. When his hand was already on the door handle, Draco heard Snape’s sarcastic voice. “Mr. Malfoy, I don’t think I need your notes on the potions.”

   Did he give himself away? Draco snatched his parchments from the desk and darted out of the room.

   After putting a good distance between himself and Snape‘s office, Draco halted and cussed profusely under his breath. Two startled first-year Slytherin boys ducked to the other side of the corridor and sped past him. He was burning to ravish Granger with all of his passion and madly aching to cast each and every Unforgivable Curse on Crabbe and Goyle. His homework for Monday was still largely undone and he saw no way he could do it in his muddled state of mind. Then his growling stomach reminded Draco that it was dinnertime. 

   The redheaded disaster of a wizard was blabbing about something, and Granger was faintly smiling in response, as the couple neared the Great Hall doors. It was already bad enough to lust for the unapproachable Mudblood, but seeing her in Weasel’s company made things indescribably worse. Draco lingered in the hallway because he was loath to meet with Weasel in the doorway. A gaggle of fourth-year girls put their heads together and giggled when the Gryffindor prefects came into the sight. The girls were loud enough for Draco to hear snippets of their gossips which disturbed him ever more. 

   Hermione lifted her eyes from her plate and glanced at Ron who was in exceptionally good spirits. She marvelled how a small but well-aimed bodily contact could elevate his moods so much. Between the shepherd’s pie and treacle tart Ron asked her to come to the boys’ dorm after the dinner and look over his Transfiguration essay. Hermione did her best to dodge his request.

   She had to see Malfoy first. At the rate Hermione was having erotic fantasies, it was obvious that she stood very little chance of a restful sleep tonight. Her feeble attempts at getting more physical with Ron only inflamed her mind worse. It was clear that her brain was bent on substituting any hint of sex with Ron with rampant Malfoy imagery.

   Hermione finished her dessert and tried to sneak away, but Ron had no inclination to let her off, and followed her to the exit.

   In the doors they collided with Malfoy and his entourage: Crabbe and Goyle in enormous pink fur hats, apparently hexed dead to their heads, and ghostly pale Pansy, who was clutching Draco’s arm. The sight was comical, and Hermione could not refrain from a smile.

   “Oi, Granger!” Draco shed Pansy off his arm and came near Hermione. “Heading to the library, over-brainy witch?”

   Ron scowled at him and tried to get between Hermione and Draco. She had to tug at Ron’s sleeve to make him stay out of way.

   “You deserve someone better, Granger, than this freckled shame of a wizard,” Draco sniggered. Crabbe and Goyle giggled slavishly, and Pansy produced a forced chuckle.

   “Yes, I’m going to the library. You’d better mind your cow of a girlfriend,” Hermione slapped back. She was sure Malfoy would not let Pansy kill her for that one. Not today.

   “Good, you don’t waste yourself on snogging him,” Draco nodded at furious Ron and gripped Pansy by her elbow. She threw a venomous look at Hermione but Draco pulled his girlfriend after him as he sauntered away. 

   Hermione’s head rested on her arms on the table. She managed to shake off Ron by telling him about having to consult a very boring book on Ancient Runes in the library. The lie made her feel guilty. Tired and exhausted from her struggle with herself, Hermione let the erotic fantasies wander freely through her apathetic mind. In her stupor she failed to hear the approaching steps.

    Draco stared at the heap of brown hair for a few seconds. After a brief mental power burst during the dinner, his cognitive abilities were now severely impaired. He had a very hard time deciding on how to start the conversation. The least mind-taxing way would be to drag Granger into his lap, kiss her lips and grope her shamelessly. He picked up a long strand of her hair from her shoulder and wound it around his forefinger. It was an idiotic thing to do, but wasn’t the whole situation even more idiotic?

   “Malfoy?” Hermione realized someone was pulling at her hair. “Oh, did Snape let you see the book?”

   “Here.” Draco handed her the counterpotion recipe. “A crazy concoction to make.”

   Hermione skimmed over the list of the ingredients which took no less than a foot of the parchment. “Boomslang skin, Nvembe vinegar - Slughorn should have these… St. John’s-Wort, belladonna, powdered coal - every apothecary has them… Buds of Alban Eilirenne, freshly harvested and mashed? What’s Alban Eilirenne?”

   Draco told her everything he learned about Nuntius Vernus from Snape. 

    Hermione sat very still for a few seconds. Draco began to worry if the bad news had disabled her brain cells for good. He looked into her glazed eyes and patted her on her cheek for no real reason. The feel of her soft skin caused a stir in his body and he pulled closer to her on the bench. 

   “I.. I don’t know what to do... What a heck of a potion to make…” Hermione seemed to be talking to herself, her stare still unfocused. “I knew you‘re always were bright. But I can‘t believe you made such a rare brew!”

   “I ought to check out the remedies before making it. I’m sorry, Granger.” Draco was very strongly compelled to appease Hermione. “You’re so clever, we should be able to whip up the antidote in a jiffy once we’ve got all the ingredients.” Please, please don’t squeal to anyone, Granger. Let’s enjoy some good sex till the vernal equinox comes… 

    “I must go and report it to McGonagall.” Hermione rose from the bench.

    Draco jumped to his feet and grabbed her by her shoulders. “All McGonagall can do is to put us both in St. Mungo’s and nothing more!”

    “They should be able to fix it at St. Mungo’s!” Hermione made an effort not to give in to a hot wave of desire that rippled through her body again. Her knees were buckling and she already let herself lean against Malfoy’s chest.

    “You think so? The only thing they can do is to let us shag as much as possible. On top of it, we’ll miss most of the school year!” His hips were now pressing against Granger’s soft bottom. He swallowed hard and continued, ”Think of it - everyone will be gossiping about our steamy affair, and then we’ll have to take a repeat year to catch up! I don’t think you‘ll stay as a prefect then!”

   Hermione managed to collect herself and break free of Malfoy’s grip. She rushed down the aisle, her robes billowing behind her. Draco hurried along the wall behind the shelves to stay out of other students’ sight. He caught up with her in the corridor just outside the library entrance and followed her till they ended up in an isolated hallway. There Draco made his final dash and caught Granger by her hand. His desire was roaring inside him, and he had to silence it immediately. He pulled Hermione into a nook and shoved her against the wall.

   Hermione was losing it all. Malfoy’s feverish breath was on her face, and in a second his lips were locked on hers. His tongue assaulted her mouth, and his hands groped her mercilessly. Her knees were giving in and she was sliding down the wall. Their tongues danced madly. Hermione realized her teeth were grazing his lower lip. The mental fog that had plagued her for the whole day began to scatter.

   “Yo-ho-ho! Love‘s hot, sizzling hot! Snog her numb! Shag him dumb! Boo!” Golf balls rattled on the walls and floor. One of them hit Draco on his head painfully, and then a few more bounced off his back and shoulders. A ball landed on Hermione’s forehead. Maddened, Draco broke the kiss off, fired a spell at Peeves and swore fervently. This only intensified the shower of golf balls. Sobered, Hermione pushed Draco away and ran to the stairs to the Gryffindor Tower. 

    Once safely behind the curtains of her bed, Hermione muttered an incantation to cure her aching forehead and curled up under her duvet. Never had she felt so miserable. Only a small part of her homework for Monday was done, and her whole self was disintegrating under the effect of the potion again. Over and over she recalled the taste of Malfoy’s lips, the almost masochistic pleasure from his fingers abusing her breasts and his hot hardness rubbing against her inflamed lower belly. If to believe the Treatise of Osburga, the only way back to sanity was to have sex with the arrogant Slytherin snob. The thought of losing her virginity to him made Hermione simultaneously melt with desire and shudder with revulsion.

   Everyone in the dorm was fast asleep, but Hermione was having another insomniac night. She crawled from under her duvet, put on a dressing gown, found her book bag in the dark and tiptoed to the door.

    Harry and Ron lifted their heads from parchments when Hermione descended the stairs into the Common Room. No one else was in the room except her two friends.

   “We’ve been missing you, Hermione!” Ron was genuinely glad to see her. “The Transfiguration essay is killing me. Can you have a look at it?”

   “I’ve got my own homework to do, Ron!” Hermione was very short tonight.

   “You’re crazy taking so many classes! Who would ever need the rusty Ancient Runes?”

   “They are not rusty but very enlightening, Ron.“ Hermione sat down on a couch, determined to keep her distance from every male in Hogwarts. “The knowledge’s so enriching, and they really make your mind work!” As if her brains were really working today…

   Harry threw unhappy glances at his friends. Apparently not in the mood to witness another round of their bickering, he gathered his belongings and departed for the dorm.

   Ron plucked his parchments from the table and flopped down next to Hermione. Upon piling his essay pages in her lap he sidled up to her and threw his long arm around her shoulders with an audacious grin. Hermione froze. The memory of her encounter with Malfoy in the dark nook tore through her mind. Encouraged by her lack of resistance, Ron drew closer and was now pressing against her side.

   “E-e-ek! Can you all leave me alone?” Hermione screeched like a mad cat. She pushed her befuddled friend away with all the force she could muster, and bolted up the stairs to her dorm.

Chapter 6: Sex Education Seminar
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Monday came, and Hermione suffered through her classes. She failed to hand in her homework for Ancient Runes and turned in an unfinished essay for her DADA class. Professor Snape glanced over her parchment the moment she gave it to him, and his dark stare drilled into her. At least he did not call her names, Hermione thought. She wouldn’t be surprised to get a detention from Snape for her extremely sloppy work.

    The Potions class was the worst. Ron teamed up with Harry and his illicit textbook, and the boys put a good distance between themselves and Hermione. Poor Ernie Macmillan had to tell Hermione to stay away from their cauldron because she kept confusing the ingredients and measurements. Zabini equally struggled with semi-conscious Malfoy over their cauldron, but he was far less fortunate than Ernie. While Hermione resorted to merely watching her partner work on their potion, Malfoy had a spat with Blaise and angrily dumped a too-large lump of crustaceous jelly in their brew. The result was that their potion foamed madly, spilled all over the table and burned holes in it. The incident distracted Professor Slughorn and everyone else enough for Hermione’s abysmal performance to go unnoticed.

    When the classes were over, Hermione dragged herself to the Gryffindor Tower in a hope for some rest and a break from the obsessively erotic dreams. To her great annoyance, Padma Patil, the Ravenclaw prefect, caught her in a corridor and handed her a parchment.

To All Hogwarts Prefects: 

Each Female Prefect must inform all 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th year girls in her House that a girls only Sex Education Seminar is to take place today at 4:00PM. 

Each Male Prefect must inform all 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th year boys in his House that a boys only Sex Education Seminar is to take place today at 4:00PM. 

The 4th and 5th year girls shall report to the Arithmancy Classroom where Professor Sprout will conduct the Seminar for them. 

The 6th and 7th year girls shall report to the Transfiguration Classroom, where Professor McGonagall will conduct the Seminar for them.


The 4th and 5th year boys shall report to the Charms Classroom, where Professor Flitwick will conduct the Seminar for them. 

The 6th and 7th year boys shall report to the DADA Classroom, where Professor Snape will conduct the Seminar for them. 

The attendance is compulsory for every student. 

                                                          Minerva McGonagall,
                                                         Deputy Headmistress. 

    Hermione read and re-read the parchment while walking to the Gryffindor Common Room. The love potion abuse apparently had gone rampant at Hogwarts if they launched the seminar so urgently.

    In her barely coherent state of mind, she had a very hard time deciding whether she ought to report on Malfoy or not. Whenever a lurid image drifted into her mind she burned to experience it with him in reality. When the amorous fantasies abated a little, she shivered at the prospect of spending most of the school year having sex with Malfoy in St. Mungo’s and being the subject of the wildest gossips at Hogwarts. Hermione was certain she would never be able to face anyone at school after they cured her and Malfoy in the hospital in March. 

    Whispers and giggles fluttered around the Transfiguration classroom as the girls speculated what the famously strict teacher was going to tell them about sex. Hermione took a seat in the back row. If she accidentally drifted into sleep there, most students would not notice it.

    Professor McGonagall entered the room, and everybody straightened up in her seat. After expounding on the dangers of unprotected sex and the benefits of abstinence, McGonagall moved on to contraceptive spells and anti-disease incantations. Hermione strained to focus on the teacher’s words and to write down the most vital information.

    “Is it possible to cast a contraceptive spell non-verbally?” Lavender Brown asked too brightly. Giggles spread in the classroom.

    “Yes, the contraceptive and protective spells can be cast in both ways. However, since an unplanned pregnancy or nasty disease is too high a price to pay for a faulty non-verbal spell, you should do it verbally to be certain, and never be ashamed of it in presence of your partner. You must make it clear to him that you need to take care of your health and personal life,“ McGonagall said severely. The giggles died. “You should not be shy about it with your partner, if you weren’t too shy about engaging in sex in the first place. Not that I advise engaging in sex - you are definitely better off by preserving your virginity!”

    Too bad Malfoy didn’t have a chance to listen to this before brewing his horrid potion, Hermione thought. Professor McGonagall’s formidable tone was going to drive away any hint of sex from Hogwarts for years to come.

    As the teacher talked on and on, Hermione sunk into a daze again.

    “It came to our attention that various love potions have gained popularity at school this year. I must warn you all that even a seemingly benign concoction from the WWW shop can have dire consequences for you and your partner. Ever more dangerous is a mix of different love potions, since the effects can be very unpredictable. The effects could be as bad as irreversible mental injury, suicidal thoughts, violent acts committed out of jealousy, and even death!” 

    Hermione hadn’t thought of a suicide yet, but after those words she started contemplating it.

“ Now we’ll discuss possible side effects of various love potions,“ McGonagall’s eyes swept over the girls. “Who could name a potion to discuss?”

    Heavy silence hung in the classroom. No one was coming forth with any ideas.

    “What would you suggest, Miss Granger? I believe you came across quite a few potions in your expansive readings.“

    The question landed in Hermione’s fogged-up conscience, and without really thinking it over she replied mechanically, “Heorte Lustbaere, Professor McGonagall?”

    Everyone’s head turned towards Hermione.

    “Yes, it’s an excellent example of a highly potent lust potion. Very potent and very dangerous.” McGonagall gave Hermione a steady look. “What do we know about the remedies for it, Miss Granger?”

    “There’s only one antidote to it. It can be prepared only on a certain day of year…” Hermione’s mind crawled out of the stupor and reeled from the shock at her own words. Hastily, she rushed to repair the situation. “Professor, I just browsed through some books at Flourish and Blotts when I shopped for school…”

    “Excellent, Miss Granger. As you can see, there are certain potions that have virtually no antidote. Heorte Lustbaere imposes a strong mutual lust on a couple for an indefinite period of time. The remedy for it is extremely hard to prepare, and it can be made only on a certain day of the year. If the lust is not satisfied in a timely manner, the end result could be irreversible insanity or even suicide!”

    Mortified, Hermione cursed her own lack of control and the wretched Malfoy who was way too good at Potions. It was clear she had to fix it with Draco before it became public knowledge.

    As Hermione rushed to the Gryffindor Tower after the seminar, Padma Parvati and two more Ravenclaw girls caught up with her.

   “Hermione, in what book did you find Heorte Lustbaere?” asked the Ravenclaw prefect.

   “Is it very difficult to make?” inquired another girl.

   “First, it’s illegal. Second, I don’t remember, so please leave me alone!” Hermione bolted up the stairs to the portrait hole. Her tempers were chronically short since Sunday. 

   Hermione poked at her plate mechanically. She could make an excellent example of an Inferius come alive. A lust-wired Inferius, to be exact.

   “Hermione, do you think Malfoy is kind of strange lately?” wondered Ginny. “The boys aren’t themselves after Snape’s talking to them about sex. Look at Harry - he’s so mortified now. And Ron’s redder than his hair!”

    Hermione raised her eyes and saw Malfoy strolling past the Gryffindor table for the fourth or fifth time since the start of the dinner. Another example of a lust-wired Inferius, apparently. Her eyes met his bleary stare, and she quickly looked down at her plate. She had to do something before he assaulted her in front of everyone in the Great Hall.

    “I don‘t know… I’m so tired, I’ll go get some rest, Ginny. “ Hermione left the table. From the corner of her eye she saw Malfoy turn on his heels to follow her to the entrance. She almost ran to the doors before he could catch up with her. Outside the Hall, when Draco drew level with her, she rolled up her eyes in a most cross manner and told him not to follow her to the third floor corridor where a few unused classrooms were located. Draco picked up the clue brilliantly and turned up in the same part of the corridor five minutes after she arrived there.

   “Don’t try to snog me yet, Malfoy,” Hermione warned him and pushed open a door into an abandoned classroom. “We need to talk first.”

   Malfoy followed her. To her discomfort, he immediately cast several protective spells on the door.

   They lit up their wands. Hermione pulled up a dusty chair and was about to clean it but Draco was quicker than her. With a flick of his wand, he transformed the chair into a very cushy-looking mattress, and flopped on it. His pale grey eyes were fixed on Hermione now.

“Do you think we’d need blankets?” He was madly itching to get his hands on Granger but he thought it would be best to show some restraint first.

“Oh… I don’t know…” Malfoy’s business-like manner took her by surprise. The sight of the mattress stirred very tumultuous emotions in her.

   He muttered a spell, and another chair became a fluffy duvet.
“C’mon, Granger, now we can talk.” Draco pulled her down by hand.

   Professor McGonagall was heading to the Headmaster’s office, closely followed by Filch.

   “One of the unused classrooms in the third floor corridor is blocked by spells again!” griped the caretaker. “Those students need some good beating after all!”

   “All right, Argus, I’ll check on that classroom myself. I don’t think it’s a big deal.” With a nod of her head, McGonagall dismissed disgruntled Filch.

    “Strawberry Tarts,” she said crisply, and the gargoyle turned. McGonagall walked up the stairs and entered the office.

   “Professor Dumbledore, I’m sure it’s Hermione Granger.” McGonagall’s eyes looked over Snape, Flitwick, Slughorn and Sprout, all assembled in front of the Headmaster’s desk. “No question about it ever - she’s the only girl who named the potion. What about Draco Malfoy?”

   “Draco Malfoy skipped the seminar,“ Snape said darkly. “I’m certain no other boys consumed the potion. Professor Flitwick agrees so far.”

   “The recipe calls for exactly two dried bragwood berries, and I’ve got two berries missing, no more, no less,” Slughorn said to Dumbledore. “I had ten berries - they’re very rare - I kept an exact count of them.”

   “The standard dosage for a couple is two berries,” confirmed Snape. “I presume that Malfoy and Granger drank the potion for some inexplicable reason. Only two of them, apparently. Their lunatic behaviour during my class today clearly showed the effects of the potion.”

   “Oh my, poor Miss Granger! Why her?” exclaimed Sprout. “We must send them to St. Mungo‘s!”

   “I’m afraid it would not help much, Pomona. Only more humiliation for them both.” Dumbledore turned towards her. “I trust Miss Granger to be prudent about the protective charms.”

   “How on Earth could Miss Granger drink a lust potion with him?” McGonagall clasped her hands and threw a glance at gloomy Snape.

   “We must to find and punish the perpetrators for breaking into my closet!” Slughorn huffed loudly. “I’m almost certain it’s the Malfoy boy!”

   “Professor Slughorn, I believe the situation is too delicate for an open investigation. It’s obvious that Hermione and Draco are in great distress because of the potion.“ Dumbledore peered at Slughorn over his half-moon glasses. “We need to help the unlucky students keep it discreet until the vernal equinox. I count on you to prepare the remedy, Horace.”

   “The antidote should not be too difficult to make.“ Snape folded his arms on his chest. “My concern is that there might be more to the lust potion than the books say.”

   “All right, I’ll keep an eye on Miss Granger.“ McGonagall heaved a sigh and turned to face Snape. “I mightily hope Mr. Malfoy will not overstep the boundaries of decency, Professor Snape.”

   A heavy pause hung in the room. Flitwick touched one of the magical silver objects on the side table with his finger, and it tinkled faintly. Sprout and Slughorn exchanged glances.

   McGonagall broke the silence, “Filch has just reported that one of the abandoned classrooms on the third floor is blocked by spells again. I’d better check on it.” With these words she sailed out of the room. Flitwick, Sprout and Slughorn bowed out and left the office too.

   “If your suspicions about Heorte Lustbaere are correct…” Dumbledore addressed Snape who seemed to be absorbed in his thoughts.

   “Then I would say that it was a highly ironic but not an entirely unexpected occurrence.” Snape lifted his eyes at Dumbledore. “However, I believe Draco did not plan for Granger to have it.”

   “The young Malfoy has refused to share his intentions with you, hasn’t he?” Dumbledore strolled around the room. “In this case, Heorte Lustbaere could be our blessing in disguise. Miss Granger should be able to stand up to him.”

   Snape had a slightly pained look on his face. “Unless they attempt to use her too.”

   “Then I trust you to keep her safe together with the poor Malfoy boy, Severus.”

Chapter 7: The Inevitable
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Hermione placed herself on the end of the mattress furthest from Malfoy. Her chaste manoeuvre was futile. He promptly pulled up to her and put his arm around her waist. An insane wave of desire rippled through Hermione’s body.

     She looked away, trying to preserve her last bit of self-control, and opened her bookbag. Draco pushed her hair aside and nuzzled her neck just below her ear, which sent goose bumps down Hermione‘s back. She quickly pulled out her notes from the Sex Education seminar. In her blurred state of mind Hermione still remembered that she had to make sure no unplanned babies would result from this crazy adventure of theirs. While Draco progressed to kissing her cheek and ear, she peered at her notes in the dim light of her wand. To her dismay, Hermione could not understand what she wrote - her lunatic scribbles were plainly unreadable. She pushed Malfoy away, but he did not relax his embrace on her, and she ended up on top of him, his arms in a dead lock around her body.

    “Merlin, could you cast the contraception and anti-disease charms at least?” Hermione wriggled in Draco’s tight grip. She felt his body beneath his clothes, and the sensation of it made her stomach sink.

    “I thought you’d got them all in place, Granger!” Malfoy planted a wide-mouth kiss on her lips and attempted to roll over. He received a loud smack from Granger on his cheek and let her lips go. “Calm down, you hellcat!”

    “I can’t read my notes - I was so fogged-up when I wrote them! Where are your notes?”

    “I’ve got no notes. I didn’t go to the damned seminar!” Malfoy quickly let the insane girl go before she bit his nose off. “It’s okay to do without those charms, Granger.”

    “What if I end up with a baby of yours?” Hermione grabbed her bookbag and held it up like a shield. Her passionate dark eyes gleamed in the dim light, and Draco could not take his stare off her face. She was so spirited and sexy…

    “Babies are cute,” Draco tried to talk smoothly. Anything was good so far as it helped him shag her.

    “You want a BABY?” the Gryffindor vixen shrieked. “No, never, never with you!” She gathered her parchments and bag, and bolted to the door. “Get off me, you bastard, I’d rather go insane than sleep with you!”

    Alarmed, Malfoy sprang to his feet and blocked the doorway. Granger put her wand to his throat.

    “All right, Granger, I’ll go and get the notes from someone. Crabbe and Goyle both went to the seminar. Wait for me here, ok?” He rubbed her shoulder lightly. “You’re so hot, Granger, you’re going to burn through the mattress in no time.”

     Hermione lowered her wand: the scoundrel totally had her. She sighed and stepped back. Malfoy winked at her and walked out the door.

     Hermione returned to the mattress and pulled the thick duvet over herself. The dark classroom was chilly and inhospitable. She stared at the dust bunnies, visible on the floor in the wand light, and tried to think about the inevitable intercourse as pragmatically as possible. Surprisingly, Malfoy could talk so civilly to her, whereas she was far from being nice to him.

     Hermione remembered how he got the better of her in their third year. They both took the Arithmancy class then. She sat with Padma Patil and Malfoy entrenched himself in the seat behind her. When he taunted and mocked her she ignored him stoically. He was so brazen that even Padma told him to pipe down on several occasions. Finally, his insults drove Hermione to the edge and she blew up when she heard him maligning Hagrid. Hermione slapped Malfoy, and, to her utter confusion, he didn’t fight back. On the contrary, he was so unperturbed that it rattled Hermione to the point of missing her Charms class.

     Hermione raised her head and looked around. She conjured an oversized pillow out of a chair and levitated it to the mattress. If she were to suffer the indignity awaiting her, Hermione was determined to do it with the most comfort possible. It was already mortifying to think about having to undress in front of Malfoy. Hermione remembered her divining together with the Patil sisters in this very classroom last winter. What a wicked science Divination was… 

    Draco was nearly running towards the abandoned classroom. Goyle’s untidy parchments flapped in his hand. Panting, he prayed that Granger would be still waiting for him in that room. When Draco neared the coveted door, he was unpleasantly surprised to find Mrs. Norris sniffing the floor under it. Draco was about to aim a kick at the cat when his insides suddenly froze with fear. In the opposite end of the corridor McGonagall was advancing towards him. The only other time he experienced this kind of horror was when he stood under the basilisk-like stare of the Dark Lord and heard the verdict on his father, once influential and respectable Lucius Malfoy.

     Draco ditched his plans for Mrs. Norris instantly and set in motion away from the door and the cat. He paraded past the Deputy Headmistress, wildly hoping that Hermione hadn’t revealed the potion thing to the teacher. When he was at least two doors away from the incriminating classroom, he looked over his shoulder and saw McGonagall stop by the jinxed door. His heart lurched. Of a sudden, she bent down to pick up Mrs. Norris instead of trying to open the door. The next second the teacher was departing further down the corridor, the cat purring contentedly in her arms.

     When McGonagall turned a corner and disappeared from sight, Draco leaned against a wall. His knees were shaking. It took him a few minutes to collect himself before he dared to go back to the classroom. 

     Hermione’s head sank deep into her pillow. She let the potion-induced fantasies take over her weary mind, and was now in a state of semi-delirium. Because of this, she failed to notice Maloy slipping under the warm duvet and planting his head on her pillow next to her. He lit up his wand and set it up on his bookbag. His cold fingers shoved the crumpled notes into her limp hand, and Hermione, in a half-somnambular state, sat up and cast each spell per Goyle’s crooked notes. After she muttered all incantations, she felt his arm sneaking around her waist. Then his lips were on hers, she closed her eyes, and the world around her went into a tailspin.

     When her brain defogged a little, Hermione opened her eyes. Her back rested against her own robes lumped under the duvet, while Draco’s lips were busy caressing her breasts. Hermione was actually wanting him to keep going at it and never stop. Her hands were now stroking Malfoy’s bare shoulders. For a second, she wondered how many buttons her blouse had lost in the process of undressing.

      He was trying to pull down her knickers, and her skirt had got bunched into an uncomfortably thick roll above her waist. Instead of sliding down her thighs, the stubborn rubber band of the knickers kept cutting into her hips. Hermione attempted to pry his hands off her underwear. Malfoy grunted and pulled the cursed stretch band even tighter. Annoyed at his clumsiness, Hermione pushed Draco away and swiftly disposed of her knickers. The sensation of his hands on her body made her ache with lust, and she was now eager to get rid of any obstacle to her fullest satisfaction. Before he could get his hands on her again, she threw off the duvet, sat up and quickly pulled her skirt over her head. 

     The skirt landed on the floor near the mattress. Suddenly, Hermione became conscious of the fact that Draco’s eyes had been taking all of her naked body in. She looked at his lean nude form on the mattress. The mental realisation that he was about to take away her virginity sent her into a state of utter shock, and she ducked under the covers again.

     The sight of completely naked Granger sitting so close to him made Draco to forget all his last vestiges of propriety and self-restraint. He pulled her towards himself roughly and rolled on top of her, only to make her tense up under him.

    “Merlin, can’t you relax, Granger?” he pleaded.

    “I can’t - I can’t, Malfoy,” she whispered weakly. “Can we do without this - this? Just caress me - it feels good…”

      Draco rolled off to her side. “Groping won’t get us anywhere, Granger.” He got up on his knees, his naked body in her full view.

    For a second, Hermione felt like throwing up. She turned her face away, and made an effort to think logically and rationally about extricating herself out of this horrid situation. The next minute Malfoy got back down on the mattress and pressed his body against hers. The lust swelled up inside her again, essentially erasing any trace of logic in her mind.

    “I can’t - I can’t.. You drive me crazy, I can’t help it,” she whimpered.

    Draco touched her smooth skin and circled his finger around her navel. She started breathing heavily and swayed her hips. Seeing the effect his actions had on her, Draco trailed his fingers over her belly. Suddenly, Hermione’s back arched, and Draco could not resist planting a big kiss on her half-opened mouth. Their tongues met again, and soon her tension loosened up.

    Hermione’s eyes met Draco’s stare. She already knew that that her body was slowly relaxing. The sensation of his fondling was indescribably sweet and sharp at the same time. All she had to do was let him have his way, but it was also the most terrifying and lustful thing for her to think about.

    “I’m so scared… Have mercy on me, Draco…” Her voice trailed off.

    These words of hers made him feel like the most powerful wizard in the world. The boost to his male ego brought him in his most charitable mood.

    “C’mon, you‘re good, my darling, “ Draco whispered into her ear as he pressed against her and sank into the cradle of her warm, soft bosom. She locked her arms around him. They rocked together in an insane dance until they climaxed. In a state of utmost relief and release from all his troubles, Draco nearly fell asleep on top of her. She wiggled under him, and he rolled off her sweet body - yes, now for him she had the sweetest body in the world!

       Overwhelmed by the unexpected pleasure, albeit with a tinge of pain, Hermione was loath to draw away from the boy who gave it all to her. Now, when her inflamed libido had been tamed, she revelled in the blissful relief from the obsessive potion-induced fantasies and soon drifted into a deep slumber next to already snoring Draco Malfoy. 

       Draco’s wand cast an whitish glow on his sleeping form. Hermione was now fully awake and her mind was perfectly clear and bright. Never had she felt so content and well-rested. The slight soreness in her nether parts was a very minor nuisance compared with the nightmare she endured over the weekend. Huddled under the covers to stave the chill away, Hermione studied Malfoy’s face. Supposedly, she loathed the bigoted pureblood aristocrat, but now she was not so sure about her true feelings towards him. To be honest, he always managed to get her to notice him, and he stirred the emotions inside her that were far more complicated than plain hatred and dislike.

      Draco made an indistinct sound in his sleep and shifted under the duvet. He freed up his left arm and rested it on the pillow above his head. Hermione squinted at a black shape visible on his forearm and gasped in horror. The Dark Mark graced his arm. Draco Malfoy was already a Death Eater like his father.

      Hermione’s first urge was to grab her belongings and run all the way to her dorm. But what would she do after that? She was tethered to this Death Eater boy by cursed Heorte Lustbaere for six months at least. Their lust for each other chained them together, no matter what their personal morals and allegiances were. So opposite were they, it was even impossible for them to appear as a couple in public.

      Nevertheless, it was very obvious that Malfoy was afraid of the whole thing coming out. Whenever she threatened to report it, he instantly transformed into an angel. A lanky blond angel with pale grey eyes and the Dark Mark on his arm. 

     Hermione felt for her wand in the pile of her clothes. It wasn’t there, and she couldn’t remember where she put it. She decided to get dressed and then look for her wand. The moment she sat up and fished her underwear out of the pile, Draco opened his eyes and stared at her nude body. 

     “You’re beautiful, Hermione,” he whispered and put his left hand on her hip. “Your boobs and your arse, and everything too.” 

     “Why do you have to use such vulgar words?” Hermione hugged herself, as if trying to shield her body from his stare. 

      “Vulgar? How’d you want me to call them, oh-so-proper Prefect?” His trademark smirk finally made its appearance. He got up and was now standing stark naked right in front of her.

     “There are other words, Malfoy. Breasts, for example.“ Hermione looked away to avoid the view of his male parts. “Why do you have to romp around so… so naked?”

     Draco looked at her curiously, and grinned. “I’m not exactly romping around now, darling. And you are no less naked than me. Which I actually love a lot. What you consider vulgar I consider sexy. And you deserve something more sexy that all those boring proper words.” 

    With a scowl, Hermione pulled her book bag closer and reached for more clothes. “I’d better get dressed - I’ve got loads of homework to do.”

     Draco flicked his wand and her clothes scattered all over the classroom. With a second flick, her book bag landed on the floor behind him, and he found himself standing face to face with a very disgruntled Granger.

     “Stop that, Malfoy!”

     “What if I don’t stop, Miss Prefect? If you dock points from Slytherin, you’d have to explain the whole thing, right?” He sat down on the mattress and got a perfect view of all of her body. “Your bum is adorable, sweetie.”

      Hermione plunked down on the mattress and pulled the duvet over her. Malfoy, the unbearable git he was, surely knew she’d hate others to find about the fact of her shagging him. 

     “Want a deal?” Draco looked in her dark eyes. “You repeat what I say, and you get one of your things back each time. We could begin with your book bag and get a head start on our homework.”

      “Draco, would you ever stop acting silly?” Hermione sighed and started searching for her wand under the covers. “I’m pretty sure it’s very late now, and I haven’t done any homework today.”

     “Lost your wand? Accio Granger‘s wand!“

     All Hermione could do was to follow her wand with her eyes, as it flew up in the air from behind the mattress and landed in Draco’s outstretched hand.

     “Some language practice then?” He grinned. She shrugged and said nothing.

     “All right.” He drew closer to her and pulled the duvet off her. She did not resist.

     “Aren’t these the most smashing boobs in all of Hogwarts?“ He fondled her breasts lightly. “Say it, Granger.”

     “Ahem… Aren’t these the most smashing boobs in all of Hogwarts?” muttered Hermione. It wasn’t exactly in her habit to say juicy compliments on her own body parts.

    “Good girl. Here!” He Accioed her Charms book and it plopped down beside her.

    “I’d rather have my clothes back first,” she said crossly.

    “Don’t worry, you’ll get them in due time, my nude princess,” Draco drawled, his eyes lingering on her nakedness. He stretched his body lazily. “Hermione’s got such a sexy arse. Your turn, sweetie.”

     “Hermione‘s got such a sexy bum. Your turn, sweetie,“ Hermione said in a clear and firm voice. She had got something on her mind, and now she waited for a right moment to get back at him. Was he now aware that she had seen his Dark Mark?

     “I’d like to get my Arithmancy book and parchments now, Draco. If possible.”

     “Sure, my fair witch.” The heavy Arithmancy volume and a bunch of parchments were now at her feet. “It isn’t so hard to talk sexy, right? And I love how your naughty lips move when you say it.”

     “I appreciate the compliments from the proud stud. However, Mr. Malfoy, I’m going to work on my Arithmancy assignment now.”

     “Not so fast, Hermione. One more line to say, and we can devote ourselves to our studies.” He extinguished his wand and received an annoyed growl from her. “The light will be back when you say the last line, my sweet tigress.”

     “Go ahead, my sweet Death Eater,” was her catty response.

      He nearly jumped to his feet. Merlin’s torn pants, how could he forget about it? Frolicking all naked around her, and not even remembering about his bloody Mark? Damned be Lord Voldemort with all of his Death Eaters!

      Silence fell between them in the darkness. As Draco’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he was able to see Hermione’s form lying next to him. He had to do something to prevent her from telling everyone about his Dark Mark. If it became public knowledge, it could mean his expulsion from Hogwarts and consequently his complete failure in the Dark Lord’s eyes. Several plausible-sounding excuses came to his mind, but how good was the chance that the smart witch wouldn’t see through them right away?

      He discerned Hermione getting up in the dark and trying to gather her things scattered around on the floor. The silence was becoming unbearable for him. It would be so much easier if she lashed out at him. Draco broke down and could think of nothing better than telling things as they were.

     “Hermione… Please… if they find out about my Dark Mark, I’m going to be a corpse. And… and my parents will get killed too.”

      His deflated tone startled Hermione. She hesitated a little before speaking up.

      “Why did you decide they’d execute you and your family? The worst you’d get would be a term in Azkaban like your father.“ She studied his outline in the dark. “Of course, I’ll have to devise a way to date you in Azkaban!”

      “No, I mean You-Know-Who. I must redeem my father now.” Draco paused. “If I don’t, then I’m as good as a dead body.”

     “Did You-Know-Who give you a task to carry out for him at Hogwarts?” Her face was now inches from his.

     “No… - not yet. “ He tried to keep his voice steady.

     “We are all safe here under Dumbledore’s protection, Draco. You must come forth, and he’ll give you a shelter,“ she implored him. Her hand stroked his cheek tenderly.

      “I can‘t - my mother and father - they’ll be dead in an instant. We must keep everything a secret,” Draco said quietly. “If they find out I shag you, we both are in a big trouble. You don’t know what he and the Death Eaters can do.”

      “Was the lust potion a part of his plan?” Hermione persisted. “Whom were you supposed to feed it to? I guess not to me.”

     “No, no, the potion idea was my own. I - I was going to share it with Pansy.”

     “So Crabbe and Goyle confused me with Pansy?” Her voice rang with unbelief. 

     “It was the worst prank they ever pulled on me!” Draco’s voice sounded desperate now.

     “I didn’t know your goons could pull pranks on you, “ smirked Hermione.

     “No one gives me a damn now that my father is in Azkaban!” Draco said bitterly. “Will you keep it all a secret, at least?”

     Hermione was silent for a minute. “All right, I will. Could you light up your wand now? I’d like to get dressed and go back to my House to do my homework. What’s the time by the way?” 

     Draco lit up his wand, checked his watch and gasped. It was 5 am. They looked at each other, not sure how to proceed. There was simply no time to get the homework done and then sneak into bed before everyone was up.
Hermione, already fully dressed, picked up the Charms book from the mattress. 

    “Oi, it’s your book, not mine. Here’s your Charms essay.” She held up a parchment that was tucked in the book. “Oh my, what a piece of crap…” 

     Draco paused while buttoning up his shirt.

    “I shall see first what your homework looks like after this weekend!” He grabbed her Arithmancy parchments. “All right, Know-It-All Granger, do you really think thirty-four divided by two equals fifteen?”

    “Where?” She snatched her work from him and groaned, “Merlin, I’ll have to re-calculate everything. I still have the Charms essay to do, and I really don’t know what to put in it because I didn‘t go to the library to get the books, and now I‘ve got only two hours to get it all done!”

     Draco pulled two books from his bag and tossed them to her side.

     “That’s for your essay. If you go over my parchment and fix it, I can do both your Arithmancy assignment and mine.”

     They promptly transfigured the mattress and bedding back into chairs, and dusted off a desk. In less than two hours their homework was up to notch, and they even managed to practice a few nonverbal spells on the chairs piled up in a corner.

     The pale early morning light had already filled the classroom. When Hermione was about to step out the door, Draco took her by her shoulders from behind and turned around to face him. She looked at him questioningly. He kissed her on her lips lightly, and, unexpectedly for herself, she blushed violently. 

     A few early risers were already out in the corridors. Hermione hurried to the Gryffindor Common Room and was relieved to see that no one was there. She peeked into her dorm: everyone was still fast asleep. Breathlessly, Hermione put her bag near her bed and stalked off to the bathrooms. There, in front of a large mirror in the still empty room she quickly unbuttoned her blouse and unfastened her bra. She studied her reflection: Lavender had more of a bosom than her. Hermione flustered again at the memory of Draco‘s caresses. He liked her breasts so much…

    She straightened her clothes and pondered the conversation about You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters. In the light of it the talk that Harry overheard on the train made sense. When Draco confessed about the danger he and his family was in, Hermione felt a twinge of pity for him. Still, she could not believe his every word yet. She should coax more out of Malfoy and alert others if necessary. Hermione flipped her hair back and scrutinised herself in the mirror again. Now she was on a mission.

Chapter 8: Classes and Books
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     The third-period Arithmancy was the only class almost devoid of Gryiffindors. Wonderwitch Granger took it, but no one else in Gryffindor had enough brains for the class. Half of the students in it were Ravenclaws, who were always brimming over with intellect. A couple of especially persistent and studious Hufflepuffs made it to the N.E.W.T. level too. But the rest were Slytherins - Theodore Nott, Blaise Zabini, Daphne Greengrass, and, of course, Draco Malfoy.

    Draco stretched his legs under the desk and stared at Granger’s bushy hair in the front row. Oblivious to Professor Vector’s convoluted explanations of numerical relativity of time-space, he was undressing Granger in his mind and savouring the memories of their intimate encounter.

     Merlin’s pants, he’d got her laid. The unapproachable, uptight, icy-cold, ivory-tower Granger. Stole her right from under the noses of Potty and Weasel. The shag was so damned good. Her soft lips, her wonderfully responsive body, her lusty voice… The Druidic brew brought out her best and most seductive side. Definitely, Krum was no fool. What a vision she was at the Yule Ball… Believe it or not, she did his Charms homework without a squawk.

     Too bad he couldn’t boast his victory, but keeping the matter a secret was a dire necessity. Especially now that Crabbe and Goyle‘s fathers frequented the Malfoy Manor as the Dark Lord’s emissaries. Draco’s position was already complicated enough. Although his father, who always made him feel small in his presence, was locked up at Azkaban, his obsessively paranoid mum and maniacally fanatic Auntie Bella swooped down on Draco like two vultures on each and every occasion. Granger made a huge mistake of following Potter to the Department of Mysteries, which squarely landed her in Lord Voldemort’s blacklist.

    Pansy was still here. His cow of a fiancee, whose only merits were that she was perfectly pureblood and not too closely related to the Malfoys and the Blacks. What precisely did that engagement contract state about infidelity?

    The bell rang and broke off the train of Draco’s thoughts. He looked at Nott, who sat next to him. Theo was throwing curious glances at him and at Granger too. Did he already get a whiff of a red-hot love affair in the making?

    Zabini sauntered to their desk. Daphne batted her eyelashes at him flirtatiously as she passed him on her way to the door.

    “She sent everyone’s head spinning with this wacky new hairdo of hers,” remarked Blaise sarcastically. “Was it in the latest Witch Weekly? “

    “Show me a girl who doesn’t read that rubbish,“ Theo chuckled. “Seven fail-safe ways to enchant the wizard of your dreams! I bet you won’t find a single girl in here who didn’t try to practice it.”

    Blaise looked at Theo with disdain. “Did you ever see Granger reading it?”

   “She probably hides it in her huge books, Blaise,” was Theo’s comeback.

   “Granger knows better than that,” Draco stepped in. “Bet she knows more about sex than anyone in our year, you both included. Isn’t she a babe?”

   “You mean she did it with Krum?” Blaise surveyed Granger who was talking to the teacher.

    “Krum or no Krum,“ Draco shrugged. “Look at her more closely - you’d see she’s no plain mouse.”

    Theo and Blaise stared at him curiously which amused Draco a good deal. Then the two smart alecks turned their heads in unison to appraise Granger, who was now busy stuffing her books in her bag.

    “Pay attention to how she walks,“ whispered Draco in an expert tone. “Boobs, hips, sway, gait - she’s got everything in place. She won’t beg for your favors - she’ll have you beg for hers!”

    Blaise and Theo’s eyes were now fixed upon the sexiest prefect in Hogwarts.

   “You mean you got a chance to snog her?” Blaise was definitely intrigued. “How was it?”

    “Snog?” Draco smirked. “She knows more than that. Snogging is for first-years. If you‘d have known how -”

    “Listen, Draco,” Theo interrupted him. “How did you get past Potter and Weasley to date her?”

    “First, Potty and Weasel can’t tell a girl from an owl.” Draco revelled in the boys’ befuddlement. “Second, I don’t have to move a single finger to date her. She knows the real thing when she sees it. Do you think Krum was stupid? He‘d shagged quite a few before he met her. And I -”

    Slap! Draco gripped his bright red left cheek. Slap! His right cheek turned crimson. A very furious Hermione Granger was now staring right into his eyes.

    “You wretched git, stop talking trash!” she hissed. “Enough, I’m going to tell it -”

    Draco opened and closed his mouth soundlessly, as Granger bolted to the door. Theo and Blaise were equally speechless. Before his fellow Slytherins returned to their senses, Draco grabbed his bag and darted into the corridor after her.

    He caught Granger by her elbow exactly the second she was about to disappear in a girls’ bathroom.

    “Slapping has to stop, Granger!” he snarled into her face. “If you tell anyone, I -”

    “Bragging has to stop too!” she cut him short.

    “I didn’t brag! I only complimented your looks!” He squeezed her elbow harder as she attempted to wrestle out of his grip.

    “You, self-centered, pompous prat! You tell me to keep it secret and then you go boasting what a babe I am!” Tears appeared in her eyes. “I am not a babe, you understand!”

    “What’s so bad about being a sexy kitten, Granger?” he lowered his voice to a husky whisper.

    Suddenly his limbs froze and he nearly toppled onto Hermione. The girl gripped him by his elbows to prevent him from smashing his nose on the stone wall. 

    “Harry - Harry! Ouch - Malfoy nearly fell on me!”

    Draco turned his head. Sure enough, Potter was right behind him, his wand about to pierce his neck. The same moment he felt a jolt and was about to crash sideways to the floor if not for Granger digging her fingernails into his stiff upper arms.

    “Get off her, Malfoy!” Potter’s eyes were black with anger. “What do you want from her?”

     “I’d be happy to if she lets me off!“ Draco sneered. “Ouch! Granger, when was the last time you trimmed your nails?”

     Potter grabbed Draco by his collar only to discover that Malfoy’s hand was locked in a dead grip on Hermione’s elbow.

    “Harry, please remove your spell now!” demanded Hermione.

    “What was it about?” Potter was not relenting yet. 

    “Oh, nonsense - still the same incident of his wandering the corridors at night last Saturday!”

   “Potter, can you talk some sense into her? I fixed her Arithmancy homework, and what am I getting for it?” drawled Draco for the sheer pleasure of baffling Potty and ruffling Granger’s feathers at the same time.

    “MALFOY!“ she shrieked and cast a spell on him. He tried to retort with a smart comeback, but all he could do was to open his mouth soundlessly. In less than a second Granger was free of his grip. Draco fell all the way to the floor. Potter attempted to ask Hermione something but ended up facing the closed bathroom door instead. 

   “Serves you right, Malfoy!” Potter stared at him. “What did you do to her homework?”

How pointless, Potty, since Granger muted me down and good. Speaks tons of your intellect. Anyway, I loved your moronic expression when she shut the door right in your face!

    Potty eyed him like a complete idiot for a minute or so. Seeing that Granger wasn’t coming out, and apparently regarding him, motionless and soundless, to be of little danger to her, Potter turned away from Draco and scurried down the corridor. Now Draco had to wait for a fellow Slytherin to pass by him and remove the hexes. A gaggle of third year Hufflepuff girls poured into the corridor from the stairs with an apparent intent to visit the toilet, but the sight of his form under the door stopped them dead in their tracks. They giggled and rushed past him to the stairs to the second floor.

    Draco heard the door opening behind him. He turned his head and saw Granger in the gap. She squeezed past his body and waved her wand at him. The spells lifted, but before he had time to say anything she had scuttled off to the DADA classroom.

    He scrambled to his feet and walked to the DADA class, determined to have a word with Granger immediately after the class, Potter or no Potter in the vicinity. 

   “I am disappointed at the quality of your homework.” Snape was in his perfectly normal mood, which meant he despised each and every student in the class. “However, two essays truly stood out. I have never seen anything as abominable as these two pieces of gibberish.”

   Draco straightened up in his chair. He had a crystal clear idea whose homework Snape deemed the worst. Unless he was extremely lucky and Potter did worse than him.

    Snape picked two parchments from the stack on his desk. His eyes swept the classroom. Draco took a note of how tense Granger looked. Next to her, Potter was staring at the blackboard blankly, apparently thinking that Snape meant him.

    “First time in the past ten years, a student handed me an essay that was only one-third done. Miss Granger, what compelled you to treat your homework for this class in such a way?”

    “I - I don’t know, Professor Snape.” Hermione was very pale now, and Draco felt a little pang of pity for her. “I believe I had a terrible headache that weekend, Sir.”

    “Detention, Miss Granger. At seven, Friday night, in my office.”

    Weasley and Potter both gazed at their know-it-all friend. Then Harry shot Draco a dirty look, which made him smile to himself. Did Potty suspect him of tampering with her homework?

    “Now, Mr. Malfoy, I am not pleased with your level of attention in the class. Which, of course, shows clearly in your latest essay.”

    Draco lowered his head to appease the teacher with a display of remorse. “Sorry, Professor Snape,” he muttered.

    “Detention, Mr. Malfoy. Report to my office at seven this Friday night, and I will give you and Miss Granger the assignments.”

    Draco felt like he had been hit by a Bludger on his head. He glanced at the bushy-haired head and met Granger’s eyes for a second. She was as much baffled as him. Potter and Weasley both threw looks of pure venom at him, which made him wonder if Granger’s bodyguards intended to escort her to the detention and protect her from him.

    Draco could not afford to dwell on the two morons for too long: he had to devise a way to let Granger know that he wanted a word with her. Sending a note by air was out of question, since it was guaranteed to provoke Potty and Weasel. Besides, he had already let himself down with Snape, and he needed no more incriminating acts in his class.

   “Now, I shall see how well you have mastered the nonverbal basic defense spells. I will call students in pairs and each pair will demonstrate their skill in front of the class.” Snape firmly seated himself at his desk. “Mr. Goldstein and Miss Parvati Patil, please.”

    Anthony Goldstein strode to the front, and Parvati, with an affronted look, joined him there. She managed to hex him with a neat hair-trimming spell, which Goldstein failed to deflect. His hair more than an inch shorter on the left side of his head, he traipsed back to his seat under Snape’s gloomy stare.

   “Miss Parkinson and Mr. Weasley, please.”

   Weasel knocked Parkinson down on the floor on his third attempt after Pansy hit him with a swelling spell twice on his nose. Snape sneered at him as usual, and sent them both back to their seats.
“Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger, please.”

    That was it! Draco crumpled his note into a ball and left it on his desk. He paraded to the front and turned to face Hermione. She looked calm, and he saw resolve in her eyes. Merlin, wasn’t she a heck of a witch?

   “You go first, Granger,” he bowed his head slightly. A quick smile crossed her sexy lips.

    His small gesture had a big impact on her two goons, who were now glaring at them with their eyes wide as saucers. Weasel even stopped rubbing his now pear-sized nose.

   Protego! Draco thought just in time to block her Stunning Spell.

   “Your turn, Malfoy,” Hermione said clearly and the same moment the ball of crumpled parchment hit her on her face. It stuck to her cheek despite her embarrassed efforts to peel it off. The Slytherins in the class sniggered.

   “Concentration, Miss Granger!” Snape hissed at her. Malfoy cast one more nonverbal spell, and the ball rolled down her robes and disappeared in her pocket. She tried to pull it out, but it did not budge.

   “Keep the souvenir, Granger, “ Draco smirked.

    “Ten points to Slytherin. You must practice your spells better, Miss Granger.” Snape was his usual nasty self.

    Flustered, Hermione walked past Draco to her seat.

    “Read the note when you sit down,” Draco whispered to the mane of brown hair as it swept by his side. The deed was done. Draco strolled back to his desk, very pleased with himself. 

    Hermione fingered the crumpled parchment ball in her pocket: it was not glued to the inside of her robe anymore. Nevertheless, she did not risk unwrapping it until the class was over and she was in the corridor safely out of her friends’ sight.


We need to talk. Library, the same place, 4:30 pm. No slapping.
Love you,

P.S. You’re hot!

    Brief, down to business and perfectly infuriating, Hermione thought. A typical Malfoy, the curse of the whole Hogwarts. She must tell him to stop adding his heinous compliments in the end. The clever Slytherin put them in to make sure she’d never let Harry and Ron see his missives.

   Hermione’s first impulse when she read Malfoy’s note was to ignore it. But skipping the meeting would not help her problems, and her relations with Malfoy hardly needed to get more strained. The best Hermione could do was to talk him into putting off the next intercourse at least till after the detention on Friday. She simply was in no shape for it at the moment. She remembered him holding her by her elbow, and had to admit that she hardly detested their small body contact. In fact, she felt a mild desire to draw closer to him. Thankfully, it was far from overwhelming, and her mind was not barraged by erotic fantasies yet. Hermione took a deep breath and turned into the corridor leading to the library.

    While walking through the hallways, Hermione kept pondering her situation. To her disappointment, Dumbledore was not present at the meals in the Great Hall, and neither was he in his office. Hermione briefly considered going to McGonagall but the teacher’s austere demeanour during the Sex Education seminar did not exactly invite confessions. Dumbledore would be far less likely to question Hermione about her personal life. She resolved to wait until the Headmaster was back in the castle to tell him about Malfoy‘s Dark Mark in private.

    Malfoy was already at their favourite table behind the bookshelves in the farthest corner. He was so immersed in his books, he did not even raise his head when Hermione plunked her bookbag on the table and took the seat across from him.

    “Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy.” The answer was silence.

    “Malfoy, I guess, I’d better go and do the homework together with my friends in the Gryffindor Common Room!” Irked, Hermione rose from her bench.

   “Just a second, this book is terribly interesting. Getting passionate, are we?” Draco lifted his arrogant grey eyes at her and grinned. “I’m re-writing the essay Snape gave us detention for.”

   “What do you want to talk about?” Hermione sat down.

   “Well, just thought it’d be nice to do some homework together again,” Draco drawled, admiring her expression of complete and utter indignation. “By the way, there’s plenty of a room for us to cuddle here on the bench.”

   “Oh, Malfoy, how I hate your clowning,“ groaned Hermione. “We’re stuck in this impossible situation, and all you do is make fun of it and of me too!”

   “Granger, why do you have to be so negative after such a gorgeous night?” Draco smirked at her, and turned a page in his book. “What we need to do is to figure out how to do it again tonight.”

   “To do what?” Hermione had a hard time taking his brazen words in.

   “Enjoy the effects of the potion, what else?” Malfoy was now blatantly appraising her chest across the table. “Did you put on a different bra today?”

   Hermione had to restrain herself from smacking him with her bookbag on his abominable blond head.

   “First, I am not that horny yet to hop into bed with you today,” Hermione spoke slowly, with barely contained fury in her voice. “Second, if we don’t want to be caught, we must do it as seldom as possible. I suggest that next time we do it after the detention on Friday.”

   “I see. One more detention is in order for us both. Or maybe even two.” Draco stretched his arms behind his head.

   “What makes you think so?”

   “It’s that simple. Neither of us would last four days and keep his mind clear and sharp. The next DADA homework is due on Friday, and this time Snape gave us a horrendous essay topic. So he’ll happily grant us detention on Monday. Throw in more botched homework for other classes. I wonder if McGonagall would give us a joint detention too.”

   Malfoy had a point, Hermione had to admit to herself. The thought of the imminent act with Malfoy made her feel miserable. She studied the scratches and dents in the tabletop for a few minutes.

   “Draco… Draco, I just can’t do it tonight.” Her voice was barely audible. “Or even tomorrow…”

   “Why?” His smirk disappeared.

   “I - I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, I probably ought to go to Madam Pomfrey, but then I’ll have to tell her what happened.”

   Draco swiftly moved onto the bench next to Hermione. Something wasn’t right, he thought. He could see the despair in her eyes. The last thing he wanted to happen was her going to the hospital wing and laying it all in the open to Madam Pomfrey.

   “Tell me what’s wrong, Hermione.” He contemplated giving her a bear hug, but the sound of Madam Pince’s feet shuffling behind shelves made him discard the idea on the spot.

   “I - I'm…” Hermione hid her eyes from him. “I'm - I'm sore... After we did it last night, it hurt me all day today.”

   Draco‘s heart sunk. What if they had done some bad damage? He had to think up something to prevent her from confessing it all to Pomfrey.

   “Ah…It hurts me too,“ he lied. “ What if we look it up in medicine books? I‘m sure there should be a fix for it. I don‘t really want to go to St. Mungo‘s once they find out about the potion thing.”

   “It hurts you too?” Her face now bore an expression of a grave concern. “We definitely must find it out. And we absolutely must refrain from sex till we fix it! But they have no books on sex here - I‘d have to buy one by owl order service.” 

    “Oh, yes. I guess, I‘d need to order a book too.” Draco realized he landed himself in a trap square and good. The only thing he could hope for was that the owl order service was speedy enough. “I think I saw the catalogues by the librarian’s desk.”

    “Professor McGonagall, I must report that the students are getting completely out of hand!” Filch’s voice was shaking with righteous disgust as he thrust a sizable volume upon McGonagall’s desk. “In the old times a student would be expelled from Hogwarts for bringing anything like this here!”

    McGonagall surveyed the book cover in front of her. Its title, What Every Wizard and Witch Need to Know about Safe and Healthy Sex, shone in bright gold on a demure dark blue background. Under it a picture depicted a very cutesy-looking couple, the collars of their robes buttoned up to their chins.

    “Mr. Filch, am I correct this book was supposed to be delivered to Miss Granger in my House?”

    “Yes, and I intercepted it in the owl post today. The impudent girl needs to be taught a lesson!”

    McGonagall flipped through the book pages.

   “I don’t see anything offensive in this. This is a purely educational book on an important aspect of the relationships between sexes. Miss Granger is old enough for it. I trust her to be discreet about subjects like this.” 

   “But - but this is absolutely licentious!” Filch pointed to a picture depicting reproductive organs.

   “I am sorry, but you are so behind the times.” McGonagall closed the book shut and directed it with her wand towards a bookshelf in the back of her office. “I’ll handle it, Mr. Filch. What’s that book in your hands?”

    “This was ordered by Mr. Malfoy in Slytherin. I had never seen anything so obscene!” Filch was beside himself at McGonagall’s lack of sympathy.

    McGonagall took the other book proffered by the caretaker. The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra. An oriental-looking couple was writhing under a brightly colored blanket in the picture on its vivacious red cover.

     “I’ll pass it on to Professor Snape. Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention, Mr. Filch.” The book followed the first one to the same shelf. With her usual curt nod in the caretaker’s direction McGonagall made clear that the conversation was over.

Chapter 9: Catastrophe
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Pansy smothered Draco with her unstoppable chatter during dinner. Worse even, she gave him a squeeze on his arm now and then, which invariably resulted in an erotic Granger vision barrelling into his mind. Exhausted, Draco fled to the Room of Requirement from Pansy‘s abundant affections. It was Thursday night, and his body was ablaze with lust.

    Draco pulled up a rickety stool and sat down in front of the Vanishing Cabinet. He shuffled through his parchments and found the page on which he had written down the sequence of the needed incantations. If to believe Borgin, the Cabinet was already faulty by the time Peeves dropped it from a dizzying height. Its sides split and one of the doors fell off. Draco managed to put the door back on the other day but he struggled with the gaping cracks. The ordinary Reparo charm was of little help because it could not stop the magical energy from leaking through the fissures.

    This last Tuesday Draco took advantage of his cleared mind and pored over books till very late at night. Finally, he arrived at the solution. It was not a single charm but a lengthy sequence of incantations. Each of them was responsible for fixing a certain part of the overall problem. First, he was going to mend the cracks the ordinary way. Second, he would apply several magical seals to each side. Then he needed to charm the doors appropriately and put a strong Shocking Spell on the whole contraption. If the cracks had been fused and sealed properly, the spell would further enforce the magic of the device instead of destroying it. After that, Draco could start tinkering with the flow of the magical energy between the two Vanishing Cabinets.

    Draco took a swig of butterbeer from a bottle next to him. He shook his head to drive away the sex fantasies and concentrate on the job at hand. Thankfully, his hallucinations had abated somewhat. He was able to muster enough willpower to focus on the Cabinet and make up for the day’s troubles.

    It had been a predictably lousy day. Draco failed to turn in his re-written DADA essay in the morning. McGonagall gave him a good dose of critique on his latest Transfiguration homework but his mind was too hazy to comprehend what her rant was about. In the Potions class Slughorn had to tell him to stop working on his potion unless Draco wished to become a public hazard. After classes Snape accosted him in the Slytherin quarters but Draco managed to weasel out of facing the teacher‘s prodding questions. Snape clearly was not happy about him dodging every his attempt at a heart-to-heart talk.

    Lots of people were unhappy with Draco lately. Aunt Bella was not happy in her last letter about Draco’s slow progress. Neither was the Dark Lord if to judge by Auntie’s colourful expletives bestowed on her nephew.

    Pansy was not happy about him ignoring her. Each time she put her finger on him Draco promptly remembered that he had lots of homework to do. Every hint of intimacy on Pansy’s part made him burn for Granger madly.

    Crabbe and Goyle were not happy about drinking a concoction which Draco presented as an antidote for Heorte Lustbaere. It was plain black tea generously stuffed with mashed slugs, sea salt, cayenne pepper and raspberry marmalade. They insisted that no drop of the lust potion had entered their mouths but Draco declared that he couldn’t trust them after what they did. Mostly, he wanted to convince Crabbe and Goyle that he wasn’t under the potion effect any more. Next time the two imbeciles would definitely think twice before pulling a prank on Draco.

    Mother was not happy about him falling behind on his homework, getting detentions and mistreating his fiancee. Snape did a marvellous job keeping her posted on her son‘s studies. Pansy’s mother did an equally fabulous job informing Mum on the rift between Draco and her daughter.

    The sexiest Gryffindor prefect was not happy about his amorous advances. Her proven best strategy was blackmailing him with threats to tell it all to McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Flitwick, Madam Pince, Filch, Nearly Headless Nick, Bloody Baron, the Fat Lady, Mrs. Norris, Crookshanks, - you name it. Whoever happened to be in the vicinity at the moment.

    Draco re-read the parchment and began casting the spells. The fissures in the black wood mended neatly. He surveyed the smooth black surface on the left side of the Cabinet and wished that Granger could be here to admire his dandy job. She would be definitely impressed with his spellwork. Draco would never forget how her amber brown eyes looked at him when he had her that night. Draco paused and revelled in his memories. Distractedly, he turned his parchment over and moved on to the next spell.

    Kaboom! Draco barely had time to jump away. His stool toppled, his foot got caught between its legs, and he fell. A number of obscure dusty objects tumbled off the junk piles nearest to the Cabinet and crashed on top of him. When the cloud of dust scattered, Draco saw both of the doors lying on the floor. Ugly jagged cracks ran through every surface of the Cabinet, rendering it even more useless than before. Draco looked at his parchment and, to his horror, realized that in his lust-induced haze he forgot to do the sealing charms and skipped right ahead to the Shocking Spell.

    Damned Granger! She had been stringing him along for three days in a row, and now he, in his addled state, ruined the job that could help restore his family in Lord Voldemort’s good books. Rage and anguish swelled up in Draco’s chest. Tomorrow night he’d show the obstinate Mudblood her proper place. There would be no more mercy for her. He’d bonk her to death.

    With his back to the Cabinet, Draco collected his notes and headed towards the exit. He could not stand the sight of the wrecked thing. Draco was glad that he had not put Crabbe and Goyle on the watch outside because he was in no state to face any living soul now. He slipped through the door cautiously. To his relief, the corridor was deserted at this late hour. Draco walked briskly down the stairs to the Slytherin quarters. 

     Granger flipped her wild brown hair back. Draco’s hungry stare scanned her delicious nude body. His head was giddy with excitement and he was aching to sink into her warm flesh.

    Suddenly, her amber eyes turned red with cat-like slits for pupils, and her body was naked no more. The snakelike face adorned a very familiar figure clad in billowing dark robes. A jolt of horror tore through Draco’s chest. He woke up in cold sweat.

    It was close to midnight, and everyone was fast asleep in the Slytherin dorm except Draco Malfoy. He propped himself on the pillows and lit up his wand. It had already been a rotten day for him without the Dark Lord imagery piled on top of his erotic dreams.

    Resignedly, he extracted The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra book from under his pillow. The Ex Libris Owl Order Company did not live up to their claim of the speediest book delivery service. Instead of receiving his book the next Wednesday morning he found it sitting on his bed only this afternoon. At least they kept it discreet as promised in the catalogue. Draco didn’t even get to see the owl that delivered the book.

    Draco had accepted the fact that he wouldn’t be able to get any decent sleep until after the detention tomorrow Friday. He had been burning to ravish Granger for the past two days. No amount of wanking could thwart his desire for her and bring clarity to his addled mind.

    Draco had made an unsettling discovery that Granger had been gaining in popularity with blokes lately. Zabini spent the most part of the Potions class surveying her instead of his cauldron. When Draco’s quill broke, he borrowed another from Blaise on the sly, and the latter noticed nothing. He needed to put an end to it before Granger detected Zabini’s newfound interest in her.

    Draco turned a few pages over and studied pictures of exotic sexual positions. He imagined Granger in these poses and ached from his pent-up desire. If not for the lust potion, he could try them with Pansy. But the thrill of it would not be the same. Draco thought of changing Pansy’s looks into Hermione’s with help of the Polyjuice potion. If Pansy balked at drinking yet another potion, he could offer to change his own looks as well. Whoever she had fancied lately. Maybe transform into Zabini?

    Damn it! Draco punched the pillow with his fist. He must be already losing his mind if he thought of Polyjuicing himself into Zabini! 

    ‘Crack’. A house-elf materialized in the feet of Draco’s bed. To his displeasure, it was not Aldi, his own house-elf but Darfy, his father’s servant and Aldi’s uncle. Draco never had much sympathy for the old and cantankerous house-elf. Darfy minded only Dad and, in his absence, Mum but not the young Master.

    Draco stuffed the book back under his pillow and let Darfy Apparate him to the Common Room. The Hogwarts house-elves had not come to clean it yet, and it was littered with confectionery wraps, empty bottles, broken quills and discarded parchments. When Draco and Darfy appeared in the Room, flames burst out of the smouldering coals in the fireplace.

    Darfy’s bulging black eyes were fixed on Draco, as the boy made his way to the hearth. The house-elf’s steady gaze irritated him. Draco flopped in a chair and turned his back on Darfy. The latter moved soundlessly and appeared in front of the boy again.

    “What brought you here, mouldy toerag?” Draco was eager to get over with the business as fast as possible.

    “Darfy came to tell young Master that Bellatrix of the ancient House of Black is most unhappy with her nephew’s silence.” The old crank looked at Draco reproachfully.

    “Since when is Aunt Bella your Mistress?”

    “Most honoured Mistress told Darfy to bring orders from the most noble and pureblood Bellatrix to young Master.”

    “And what bloody orders are those?”

    “Most esteemed Bellatrix wishes to see young Master this Sunday night in the usual place and at the usual time.” Darfy shuffled on his thin crooked legs. “She told Darfy that she wished to know more about the young Master’s progress.”

    After the disaster with the Cabinet, a meeting with his zealous aunt was the last thing Draco wanted. “I can’t come - I want my sleep!”

   “Most illustrious Master Lucius has told young Master to treat his family with respect.” Darfy was not relenting. “If young Master does not obey the orders, he would be most unpleased. The Dark Lord would be not pleased with young Master either.”

    Draco groaned. Oh, how he wanted to break Darfy’s spindly neck right now…

    “What would young Master like Darfy to tell most pureblood Bellatrix?”

    Draco threw an empty butterbeer bottle at Darfy, and the house-elf jumped away with a stifled croak. The bottle hit the stone hearth and shattered into pieces.

    “Darfy must bring the answer to most noble Bellatrix,” the cursed scumbag persisted. “What answer would young Master want Darfy to bring to her?”

    “I’m coming, got it? Get out of here before I kill you, old stinker!” Draco yelled at the house-elf. Darfy vanished with an audible ‘Crack’.
    Draco trudged back to the dorm. When he slid under the still warm covers and closed his eyes, a vision of Granger slowly taking off her knickers sailed into his mind. He gritted his teeth and sat up. He must make the lowly Mudblood bend to his will. Draco pulled out The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra and settled in for a long sleepless night.

Chapter 10: Detention Date
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     The prefects’ meeting was underway in the Transfiguration classroom, and Hermione was struggling with her drowsiness and erotic hallucinations again. It was obvious that she was worse off by abstaining from sex with Malfoy. Her physical problem turned out to be a very minor one, and a simple spell took care of it just fine. She ought to have ordered the book the day it became clear that she was in for a long run with Malfoy. Hermione resolved to be nicer to Draco tonight.

    “Did you say you wanted to change your night patrol partner, Patil?” asked Miriam Wasserstein, the Head Girl and a Ravenclaw.

    “Yes, I did. I can’t stand Goldstein’s vampire stories anymore!” complained Padma. “Every time we go down to the dungeons he starts telling them. It’s creepy!”

     “Why do you have to scare girls with vampire stories, Goldstein?” wondered Erasmus Clayton, the Head Boy and a Hufflepuff.

     “I just thought they were funny,” Goldstein replied in a very miffed tone.

     “Goldstein, you are not a vampire, are you?” Wasserstein asked sardonically. Ron Weasley and a couple more people chuckled loudly.

     “When is your patrol, Padma?” Theo Nott asked the Ravenclaw prefect across the aisle.

     “Sunday night. And yours?” Patil flashed a smile at the Slytherin prefect.

     “It’s supposed to be Saturday, but I’d rather do it on Sunday,” Nott grinned back. “Clayton, Wasserstein, could you put me on for Sunday night?”

     “Who’s with me then?“ Cassandra Thornton, a fifth-year student and Slytherin prefect, did not sound too happy.

     “I could do it with you, Thornton,“ suggested Hermione. Tomorrow she would have her mind clear and bright, and she’d rather have a girl for company during the patrol.

    “Do you really want to patrol with a Slytherin, Hermione?” Hermione heard Ron’s astounded whisper behind her.

    “Yes, you can do the patrol with Patil on Sunday, Nott. No, you can’t patrol with Thornton, Granger. Only a boy and a girl, not two girls - it‘s safer that way.” Wasserstein made corrections in her parchment. “Goldstein, you’ll have to do it with Thornton tomorrow Saturday.”

    “I’m afraid of vampires!” squeaked Thornton.

    “I’m not a vampire!” Goldstein grunted.

    “Granger, would you mind patrolling with Goldstein then? That‘ll be Monday night,” Clayton asked in a exasperated tone. Hermione nodded, and Wasserstein gave a visible sigh of relief.

   “All right, then you’ll patrol the castle with Weasley tomorrow, Thornton,” the Head Girl announced unwaveringly.

   “Blimey, how come I‘m patrolling with a Slytherin?” Hermione heard Ron’s very audible whisper.

    “You Gryffindors had better forget your feuds!” Wasserstein made the last changes in her parchment. “By the way, Filch complained about an abandoned classroom on the third floor being jinxed. Please check every room in that wing each time you patrol there. Erasmus, do you have anything to say?“

    Clayton picked up a parchment and cleared his throat. “Professor Sprout told me she needed help in the greenhouses. Three to four students, preferably fourth year or older. Any possible candidates?”

    Hermione checked her watch: it was time to leave for the dreaded detention at Snape‘s office. She put her notes in her book bag and got up. ”I’ve got to go - I already told you before, Miriam.”

    “Oh, yes, that detention thing,” the Head Girl replied, her eyes checking her parchments again. “Good luck with Snape.”

     “Is it the detention together with Draco Malfoy, Hermione?” Padma asked a little too excitedly.

     To her discomfort, Hermione realized that Nott’s eyes were steady on her while she walked towards the exit. What kind of tales had the wretched Malfoy been spinning about her? 

     She entered Snape’s office and the first person she saw was Malfoy sitting near the desk in the pool of the candlelight. His morose stare was fixed on her the entire time Hermione walked to the desk and took another seat. She glanced at him again: his thin lips were pressed together and his expression was far from friendly.

     Snape stepped out of the shadows and into the light. His cold black eyes surveyed the two students in front of him. Hermione wanted to shrink into invisibility on the spot. 

     “Your assignment tonight is to sort the live flobberworms from the dead ones.” Snape said emotionlessly and pointed to the large tank lurking in the dark near the desk. “The dead flobberworms shall go in this black container.”

     “Yes, Sir.” Hermione gave a nervous nod while Draco sat motionless.

     “The live flobberworms go in this green box.” Snape waved his wand to the green and black boxes set side by side next to the desk. “I need to attend a staff meeting now. I shall be back in an hour and half, and I will dismiss you then. The door is locked for everyone except you, and everything on the shelves is under anti-theft charms. Is everything clear?”

     Snape’s narrowed eyes lingered on Hermione. She looked into his face. Did a tiny smile cross his lips just now? Hermione shifted in her seat and threw a glance at Malfoy who was now gazing at the desk surface. His tension was palpable. Hermione felt a haunting urge to hold and stroke his hand.

    “Yes, Sir… The dead flobberworms go in the black box and the live ones go in the green,“ Hermione stuttered.

     “Exactly. Always good at parroting, Miss Granger,” Snape said derisively and swung towards the exit.

     When the heavy door closed smoothly after the teacher, Hermione walked up to the tank with the flobberworms, trying not to pay much attention to Malfoy.

     “The flobberworms can wait, Granger,” she heard his menacingly quiet voice and turned around. His leaden grey eyes were fixed on her. “Get back here.”

     “But - but we need to sort them…”

     “Damn it. You still don’t get it, Granger?” He was clearly irked now. “Snape has figured out everything. He left us here to have a shag. Get here and take off your clothes.”

     “You - you mean he read our minds?” Hermione fumbled with the buttons of her robes and cast her contraception spells at the same time. The thought of having sex with Malfoy made her feel weak in her knees. She trudged back to her seat and discovered that he already had his belt unfastened and trousers unzipped. His robes were in a heap on the floor.

      “Whatever it was.” He looked on as Hermione struggled with her tights. “Can’t you move faster, slowcoach?”

     “Don’t hurry me, Malfoy!” She shot an indignant look at him and finally peeled her tights off together with her knickers.

      “Enough mucking me up, Granger!” Draco seized Hermione by her shoulders roughly and ripped her blouse together with her bra off. She tried to push him away, only to find herself writhing under him the next second on the uneven stone floor. She gasped for air, her whole self disintegrating from her maddening libido and hurt.

       Draco took Hermione’s bucking body mindlessly, not bothering to kiss or caress her in any way. Very soon he reached the summit and the waves of blissful release washed over him. After a fleeting pause he pulled away from her abruptly. He wished he could bonk the stubborn girl more but he was already spent and worn out. Draco got up and sank into his seat. He looked at Hermione who was still lying naked at his feet. 

      Hermione bit her lip, as she stared at him towering over her in his chair. The whole act was over too quickly, and she had not gotten her release yet. Malfoy brought her very close to the edge but he sated his need before she was able to satisfy hers. His manhandling hurt her pride like hell, and there was no way she could ask him to help her get her relief.

      “Not enough for you, Granger?” he asked languidly and his eyes met her dark stare.

      Hermione scrambled to her feet and leaned against the desk, her legs still weak. She detested Malfoy with all of her heart and at the same time her body needed him badly. It made Hermione resent both him and herself. Silently, she surveyed his crumpled grey shirt and bare long legs. Just above his eyebrows, perspiration glistened in the candlelight.

     Draco’s eyes were glued to Hermione’s creamy body. When she got up from the floor, the sway of her hips fascinated him, and now he wanted to have her in his palms. He put his hand on Hermione’s stomach. She made an attempt to move away from him. He got his other arm around her waist and pulled her into his lap harshly. She did not resist much.

    The skin of his thighs felt cool to her heated flesh. When his fingers traced her collarbones and travelled all the way to her navel, an undulating desire flowed through her, and her body arched in his arms. She saw his eyes follow her movements.

     Hermione’s response mesmerized Draco. He remembered how she reacted to his fondling the other night, and began caressing her in the same fashion. Spellbound, Draco watched her sensuous body arch and sway, her feverish lips quiver and emit moans, and her heavy-lidded eyes meet his own and then wander away. He let his fingers roam all over her torso, rubbing and nipping. Her hands gripped his shoulders. Suddenly, she jerked in his arms and groaned loudly. The next minute she went quiet and slumped against his chest, her cheek nested in the crook of his neck.

     “Merlin…” Draco uttered, hugging Hermione with both his arms. “What was that, Granger?” 

     She raised her head. Her blessed relief had finally come, and it felt so good. “I think I - I had what the books refer to as climaxing,” she whispered breathlessly.

     Draco gazed at her curiously. The scant few times he had sex before, Draco barely paid attention to the partner under him, but he couldn’t see much of her either. It was the first time he witnessed a girl do it in his arms. Granger at the height of her ecstasy was a marvellous sight to behold.

     They sat together perfectly still for a few minutes, then Hermione cautiously slid out of his embrace, and Draco did not hold her back. 

     “I’d better get dressed and start on the flobberworms,” Hermione muttered as she reached for her underwear and tights. She was very aware that Malfoy’s stare was steady upon her, while she moved around. “Snape might be back any minute now… Reparo.” She mended the broken clasp of her bra.

      Hermione watched Malfoy pull his trousers on. He stood up and fastened his belt. The way his limbs and body moved captivated her and stirred something deep inside her. It unnerved Hermione to feel like this because it was so contrary to her own logic and mind. She knew she had just revealed something very private to Malfoy, which she didn’t fathom about herself before. Now she had made an intimate discovery and he had his share in it. Their first experience left rather jumbled and confused memories, but Hermione was certain she would remember this one forever. Now she felt heavy with fatigue, but she still had to follow through with her mission.

      “Could I see your Dark Mark, Draco?” she asked tentatively. “Just curious…”

      Draco gave her a slightly alarmed look. “You didn’t tell anyone, did you? If you did, you’re in a big trouble, Granger!”

      “No, I didn’t.” Hermione shook her head vigorously to assure him. Malfoy pulled his left sleeve up. She took his forearm and peered at the sinister dark form etched into his pale skin.

      “How does it work, Malfoy? It must hurt a lot when you received it.”

      “Hurt like hell. It doesn’t pain now though. The Dark Lord uses it to muster us all. I can call him if I need to.”

      “That’s so cruel, Draco. To inflict all that pain for nothing.”

      “The Dark Lord brands only his most trusted vassals with the Mark. It’s a big distinction to be a Death Eater. Some wizards would give up anything for it!” Draco wondered what a Mudblood could understand about the intricacies of the pureblood elite.

      “Can you exchange messages with You-Know-Who or other Death Eaters through the Mark? I mean passing on some information, more than just calling up.”

      “Not really. The Dark Lord can use it to inflict pain on those he is angry with. Never did that with me.” Hermione could discern a certain smugness in Malfoy’s voice.

      “It looks like a type of a Protean Charm, right?” Hermione touched the Mark with her finger lightly, and Draco did not object.

      “Did you use that Charm on those coins last year, Granger?” Draco had got some great ideas coming to his mind. “We could use it to set up our dates. Can you show how to make it?”

      “Not with Galleons, but we definitely must have a way to talk in secret.” Hermione agreed eagerly. She did not want to risk being spotted with Malfoy in the library anymore.

      “I wouldn’t want the whole Dumbledore’s Army to find out about our shags either, if you use a wrong Galleon!” Draco smirked, dipped in his bag and produced a few blank parchments. “How about these?”

      He jotted the spells down, while Hermione charmed two pieces of parchment.

     “This way, if you use this incantation, your words would appear on my piece. This other one - you use it to erase the message that you’ve received, “ she dictated as she waved her wand over the parchments. Then she took a quill and put a large splotch of ink on each piece. “So we won’t mix them up with other parchments!”

      Draco pocketed his enchanted parchment together with the notes. Mudblood or not, but she could be of some use… He came up to the tank with the flobberworms and poked his finger at them.

     “See, we ought to have our dates more often than that.” He turned towards Granger. “How about tomorrow night?”

     Hermione shifted in her seat uneasily. “Maybe Sunday? I’m so exhausted, and I’d like to sleep in tomorrow, then catch up on my homework.”

     “I’m not going to mess up anymore like I did!” he snapped back. “You’d better get used to it, Granger.”

     “Did you know that Ron’s on night patrol on Saturdays, Malfoy? All prefects were told to check the abandoned classrooms on the third floor. Do you want him to discover us? I went to the prefects‘ meeting before the detention!“ Hermione searched for more arguments to persuade Malfoy. She couldn’t remember which teacher was going to be on duty but did it matter? “McGonagall‘s said she might be patrolling the castle too.”

      Draco seemed to be convinced. “All right, who’s on patrol on Sunday night?” He poked at the flobberworms again.

     “Nott and Padma Patil.”

     “Sunday night then. Eight-thirty - just before the curfew.“ Better Nott than Weasel, Draco thought. Sunday could be even more convenient than Saturday. He could shag Granger and then sneak out to meet Aunt Bella. “Let’s use the Room of Requirement.”

     “Okay,” Hermione nodded and began picking live flobberworms out of the tank. “By the way, what have you been telling boys about me again?”

      “Nothing.” Draco flung a few dead flobberworms into the black box with his wand.

      “Nott kept ogling me during the prefects’ meeting!”

      “Nott’s just a moron. A complete and utter oaf, Granger.” Draco made a mental note to tell Theo to stop fancying Gryffindor girls. No later than this weekend.

      “Nott isn’t exactly an oaf, Malfoy. He’s actually very intelligent.”

      I must talk to Nott. No later than tonight. Granger is none of his damned business! Draco stabbed his wand at a bunch of innocent and perfectly alive flobberworms, and sent them to the black box

     They heard the door opening, and in a second Snape was scrutinizing their meagre output in the green and black containers. He snorted disdainfully and settled at his desk. Draco and Hermione continued sorting the flobberworms in a relative silence behind Snape‘s back. To Hermione’s slight annoyance, Malfoy made a point to brush his elbow against her arm whenever he flicked his wand to send a flobberworm to one of the boxes. She resolved to let it pass for the time being and did her best to sort the squirmy creatures as fast as possible.

      Hermione was tremendously relieved to finally get out of Snape’s office, even with Malfoy at her heels. But her joy was premature - Draco had his hands on her shoulders instantly. She turned her head and he attempted to put his mouth to hers. Hermione jerked out of his embrace only to be pulled back, his lips slamming onto hers. She tried to keep her mouth closed tightly but the clever Slytherin pinched her bum which made her gasp against her will. Malfoy kissed her possessively, blatantly stuffing his tongue into her mouth. She couldn’t do anything until he got his fill and released her. Hermione ran down the dark empty corridor to the stairs up to the Great Hall without looking back. 

      The Gryffindor Common Room was crowded. The moment Hermione climbed out of the portrait hole, Katie Bell came up and handed her a folded note. She opened it immediately.

               Dear Hermione, 

I would like to see you this Sunday. Kindly come along to my office at 4pm. 

Yours sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore.

P.S. Would you like Lemon Drops?

    If not for her crushing fatigue, Hermione could jump all the way to the ceiling. Dumbledore was back in the castle, and Wasserstein dutifully passed her request on to him!

     “Oi Hermione! How did your detention go?” She heard Ron calling out to her. He was with Harry at one of the tables.

     “Dreadfully. Sorted flobberworms. Like Harry did last time except that he didn‘t have Malfoy next to him!” Hermione answered as she got closer to them. Sure enough, Harry was perusing his beloved Potions book again. But she had no energy for arguing over the dubious book. “I’m so exhausted - I’d better go to bed.” 

      “Poor Hermione. Snape and Malfoy are no piece of cake, I reckon,” Hermione heard Ron’s sympathetic comment to Harry as she directed her steps to her dorm. Dear, sweet Ron - she wished she could hug him for his kind words but it was out of question at the moment. It made her want to cry and she hurried up the stairs to the dorms.

     In the dorm Hermione found Parvati lounging on her bed and petting Crookshanks. The cat gave a loud purr, and was at Hermione’s feet in a second. 

     “How did the detention go? Was Snape really mean?” Parvati questioned her.

     “Snape was away at a staff meeting. Malfoy and I sorted flobberworms,” Hermione pulled her robes off wearily. “Just the two of us. Snape told us he jinxed everything in the office except the flobberworms.”

     “Do you think Draco Malfoy is really good-looking?” Parvati let out a small giggle.

     “Not when he’s in detention and hopping mad like a blast-ended skrewt.” Hermione flopped down on her bed. “Besides, he’s a Slytherin and that’s telling a whole lot.” 

     “You know, I don’t care about that Gryffindor-Slytherin vendetta thing anymore.” Parvati apparently believed she was making a revelation of epic proportions. “But don’t tell that to Lavender, okay?”

      “Okay.” Hermione scratched Crookshanks behind his ears.

      “By the way, there’s a really good anti-frizz charm for hair. Want to know?” Parvati made a dive into her trunk and emerged with a bright pink bottle of a hair lotion. “This thing does miracles. You must try it, Hermione - you wouldn’t believe the difference!”

       “I‘ve got absolutely no time for it, Parvati. Think of it - the classes, homework and prefect duties!”

       “Oh, Hermione, do you know what some Slytherin blokes have been saying about you lately?”

      “I’ve got no interest in silly gossips.“ She turned down Parvati’s hair treatments unequivocally. Hermione was certainly not going to doll herself up for a liar like Malfoy. Patil shrugged and left the dorm, much to Hermione’s relief. She extracted her Mum’s letter from her bookbag. It arrived in the morning but Hermione got to reading it only now. She scanned the news about Dad taking the car to an auto shop, Aunt Perpetua visiting the other day, cousin Matt winning an obscure scholarship to study the art of brewing ale, Fetch, the neighbour’s dog, biting Molly, another neighbour’s dog and so on. Then she came upon words that vexed her to no end.

… I recall your complaining a lot about a boy, named Draco Malfoy, a while ago. You didn’t mention him in your more recent letter, so I hope the relations had improved between you both. I’d like to note that sometimes a boy can go totally out of his way and do all sorts of crazy (and even mean) things just to get the attention of a certain girl. The best action often can be being civil to him and encouraging him to be civil in return. If it doesn’t help, then you’ll be better off by ignoring him and not letting him push your buttons…” 

      Hermione didn’t finish reading the letter. How could she explain it to her Mum now? Heorte Lustbaere, the Dark Mark, Death Eaters, the pureblood Malfoys - everything was beyond her parents’ comprehension. Hermione yanked the bed curtains shut. She rolled onto her stomach, hid her head under the pillow and wept miserably until sleep took her.

Chapter 11: Mission Begins
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Hermione reached the part of the seventh floor corridor where the gargoyle stood guard against the blank wall.

    “Lemon Drops,” muttered Hermione and the gargoyle leapt aside. The wall slid apart smoothly and she saw the moving spiral staircase. Her heart thumped rapidly as the stone steps carried her up to the Headmaster’s office door. Hermione gripped the heavy griffin-shaped rapper and knocked.

    “Come in,“ she heard Dumbledore’s voice.

    “Good afternoon, Professor,” Hermione said haltingly, entering the circular room.

    “Good afternoon, Hermione. Have a seat, please,” Dumbledore smiled warmly, a stack of parchments piled high on the desk in front of him.

    “Thank you, Sir.” His smile made Hermione feel a little better.

    “I believe you wished to discuss an important matter, Hermione.” Dumbledore moved the parchments aside with his wand and looked at her directly. “Would you like to share your concerns with me?”

    “Yes, Sir.” Hermione paused, not sure how to begin. Her hands clenched the fabric of her robes. ”Er.. I - I’ve learned that Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater.” Her heart lurched as she blurted it out.

    “Thank you for telling me this. Could you recount how his Dark Mark became apparent?” Although Dumbledore smiled encouragingly, he seemed to be unmoved by the revelation. “Did he boast it or use it to intimidate others?”

   “No, he didn‘t boast. I saw the Dark Mark on his arm accidentally.” Hermione hoped the Headmaster would not ask how she got to see it.

    “Could you recall his reaction when you observed it, Hermione?” Dumbledore asked placidly.

    “Malfoy - he wasn’t happy that I noticed it.” She was relieved that Dumbledore apparently was not going to question her about the circumstances of her seeing the Mark. “He wanted me to keep it a secret. Said we could both be in a big trouble. I think he’s afraid of it coming out.”

    Dumbledore stood up and strolled around his desk. “It is a good sign that Malfoy was worried.”

     “Yes, he said something about his parents being in danger.” Hermione’s fingers relaxed and released the folds of her robes.

     “He’s probably right. I am also inclined to think that he was honest about the possible implications for you and him. You need to be very careful now.”

     “Does it mean that Draco might harm me?” 

    “Not Draco, but those who played a part in his becoming a Death Eater.” Dumbledore waved his wand and a high-back chair appeared next to Hermione’s seat. He lowered himself in it. Hermione looked at him apprehensively.

     “Please listen to me carefully, Hermione. It is essential to help Draco Malfoy keep his Dark Mark a secret.”
“But, Sir -” Hermione tried to object, and Dumbledore raised his hand.

     “Hermione, as strange it might sound to you, I have been aware for a while that Draco Malfoy became a Death Eater. On the other side, I was not sure what he thought of it himself. In this respect, the information that you supplied to me is crucial. It seems that Hogwarts is the safest place for Draco now.”

     “Draco talked about leaving Hogwarts next year, Sir,” Hermione said eagerly. She leaned towards Dumbledore and narrated everything she heard from Harry about his run-in with Malfoy on the train. She watched the Headmaster as she spoke, and he seemed to be deep in thought.

     “Thank you. It appears that his position on it has changed somewhat. Would you agree, Hermione?”

     “I don’t really know…” Hermione muttered. “I’m afraid You-Know-Who might have given him a task to carry on at Hogwarts.”

    “Did he mention such a possibility?” Dumbledore asked casually. 

    “No, he didn’t. It’s only a guess, Sir.”

    “Do you converse with Malfoy frequently?”

    “Well, we’ve been talking more now. Not very friendly, really.” Hermione hesitated, then thought it would be safe enough to bring it up. “During the detention in Snape’s office Malfoy wasn’t good to me. He actually was a little better before.”

     Dumbledore rested his head against the back of his chair. “Sometimes a man is prone to bad tempers if the woman makes him wait too long.”

    Merlin, that was definitely the case with Malfoy, Hermione thought. Dumbledore knew everything. She was grateful that he did not ask more prodding questions.

    “Although we cannot remove Malfoy’s Dark Mark, we could help him be less of a Death Eater,” Dumbledore spoke very calmly. “He is alone now, Hermione.”

    Hermione sank in her chair. She did not know what to say.

    “Again, what you have told me about Draco is very important. Have you divulged anything about him and his Dark Mark to anyone?”

    “No - not yet,” Hermione muttered. “But I think Professor Snape knows too.”

    “Professor Snape is extremely good at handling sensitive situations. You should not worry about him, Hermione.” Dumbledore gave her a reassuring nod. “I believe you should not share what you know about Malfoy with your friends, Harry and Ron. Their judgments and actions could be too rash and harmful.”

    Sure enough, Harry and Ron would love to skin Malfoy alive, Hermione thought. But the Headmaster’s words unsettled her. Snape was anything but sensitive during the detention and clearly colluded with Malfoy. Hermione wondered if it was Snape who informed Dumbledore. What a twisted conspiracy she had gotten herself into…The Headmaster evidently had his own clandestine reasons to keep Malfoy’s doings in shadows.

   “I believe Malfoy shouldn’t know that I’ve talked to you either… Am I right, Sir?” asked Hermione, her brain working hard.

    “You are correct, Hermione.” Dumbledore nodded and smiled again. “Whenever you have concerns about Draco’s intentions and actions, I would always appreciate hearing them. The owl post should work fine so far as you do not state the names too obviously.”

    “I understand, Professor Dumbledore.” It was clear to Hermione what Dumbledore expected from her. She was now to spy on Malfoy and to divert him from whatever crimes he was to carry on. “You would like me to gain Malfoy’s confidence and you would like Hogwarts to be a safe haven for him, since it would keep him away from the rest of the Death Eaters.”

    “You are very intelligent, Hermione.” Dumbledore rose from his seat. “Please take good care of yourself. I would also advise you not to go outside of the castle alone or with Draco Malfoy.”

    When she got out of the Headmaster’s office, Hermione headed straight to the abandoned classrooms in the far end of the third floor corridor. She craved solitude to mull over her situation and to come up with a strategy for herself.

    She pushed the first door open only to startle a seventh-year Hufflepuff couple who were obviously having their day sitting on a desk and snogging. She mumbled an apology and moved to the next door. There she was greeted by Nearly Headless Nick and the Fat Friar, who were playing noughts and crosses on the blackboard.

    The third classroom was empty and Hermione dusted off a desk there. She contemplated putting locking spells on the door but decided against it. There was no crime in poring over textbooks in an unused room, after all.

    Hermione laid out her parchments and books on the desk, but her mind was far from her homework. She took her quill and stared at the blank page in front of her. Hermione’s thoughts were rambling, and she needed a way of organizing them. A particular memory had been haunting her a lot lately.

    It happened shortly before the Battle in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year. For reasons she did not remember, she went into the dungeons alone. As she walked down a long and winding dark passage, she saw Malfoy coming her way. Hermione took to the side a little to let him walk past, and accidentally brushed her shoulder against him in the narrow corridor. Malfoy stopped abruptly, his pale grey eyes fixed on her. He was so close, she could feel his breath on her face. His Inquisitorial Squad badge gleamed in the light of the torches on the walls. Hermione gripped her wand and backed away to put a little more distance between them both. All of a sudden, he caught her by her elbows and plastered her with his body against the uneven stone wall. His breathing was ragged. His chest flattened her breasts and his torso pressed against her stomach. She gasped soundlessly, her eyes gazing into his.

   It seemed like an eternity before someone else’s steps resounded in the underground passage and Malfoy suddenly released her. In a second he was gone, and Hermione was leaning against the wall because her knees refused to hold her up. Then she sat through two classes, her mind constantly wandering back to the incident in the dungeons. Hermione told no one about it but she avoided going down there alone until the end of the school year. When Hermione was caught together with Harry and other Dumbledore’s Army members in June, her biggest fear was that Malfoy would want to hold her himself. Instead, Draco commanded Millicent Bulstrode to restrain her, much to Hermione’s relief.

    Hermione propped her elbows on the desk and cradled her head. The shamefully familiar sensation came on in her body when she remembered the episode in the dungeons. Hermione was lusting for Malfoy again, which disgusted her. Heorte Lustbaere was such a cursed Dark Magic.

    Hermione lifted her head, rested her back against the chair and stared out the grimy window. She had a very hard time coming to terms with her own sexual feelings and thoughts. Last summer at the Burrow Hermione accidentally walked in on Ron when he was putting his boxers on. Hermione was so embarrassed that she spent the rest of the day closeted with a book in Ginny’s room. Her own body had changed a lot, and things were not the same anymore with her old friends, Harry and Ron.

    With Heorte Lustbaere and Malfoy, sex barrelled into her life like a freight train. It was a purely carnal, caveman-like brand of erotic pursuit, devoid of any romance and spirituality. It was the same sort of the animal sensation she had with Malfoy in the creepy dungeons in their fifth year. The worst part of it was that it turned her on instead of repulsing her intimately. Which was totally, completely and absolutely wrong.

    Hermione lowered her eyes to the blank parchment in front of her. The only thing that could justify her shags with Malfoy was doing service for the Order of the Phoenix, which Dumbledore hinted at. To do it right Hermione needed full control of her own emotions. Which she certainly didn’t have at this point. But she could start with small steps. The first one would be drawing up a pact with Malfoy on proper boundaries in bed and beyond. No more manhandling her if he wanted to have his sex fix every other day. It made Hermione feel a little better. After all, her Mum was right - she ought to set the limits for Malfoy from the start. 

   The evening rolled around. Hermione left the library and arrived in the seventh floor corridor at precisely half-past eight. Most students were already in their Houses, and the lights began dimming down in the hallways. Draco Malfoy appeared in the opposite end of the corridor. She held his stare as he came near her. He motioned her to step away into the shadows, and walked past the blank wall three times. When the door appeared, Hermione followed Malfoy into the Room of Requirement.

    They found themselves in a chamber with a large four-poster bed. Soft pillows were piled on top of the thick burgundy duvet on it. Burgundy velvet curtains with silver trim fell in folds from the canopy. Draperies of the same opulent fabric adorned the tall windows. Two dark green lounge chairs flanked a small mahogany table a few feet from the bed. The room was bathed in soft candlelight.

    Hermione held her breath. For the purpose of their date, the room was too gracefully appointed. The cosiness of it was too wicked. She felt Malfoy’s palms on her waist. Hermione steeled herself and turned to face him.

    “Malfoy, we need to work out some terms first.” Hermione walked resolutely to the chairs and put her bag on the floor. “I don’t enjoy being handled like last Friday.”

     Draco flopped in a chair and grinned. “You mean you didn’t like your climax?”

    “I didn’t like how you bonked me on the floor in the first place.” Hermione was determined not to let Malfoy push her buttons. “We must draw up an agreement and set the rules in writing. Of course, I understand we‘ll need to reach a compromise.” She produced a clean parchment and wrote on the top of it:

Hermione Jean Granger and Draco Abraxas Malfoy agree to the following terms: 

    Draco peeked at the parchment on the table between them. “Number one: Hermione Jean Granger agrees to having sex not less than every other day.” He Accio’d The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra from his bag and set the book on the table.

    “All right. Here it is,” Hermione put her quill down. “Number two: Draco Abraxas Malfoy agrees to treat me courteously and with respect every time we have sex, and also in public.”

     “No objection. Number three: Hermione Jean Granger agrees to not slapping or hitting me in any way.”

    “Okay. Number four: Draco Abraxas Malfoy is not to use the M word in my presence at all times.”

    “Agreed. Number five: Hermione Jean Granger consents to trying every sexual position in The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra book.” Draco opened the book on the table at random and arrived at the chapter on exotic positions, which resulted in a dirty look from Granger.

    “I object. I don’t agree to these at all, Malfoy.” Hermione held her ground firm.

    “Then I suggest to edit it: Hermione Jean Granger consents to every sexual position in the book that doesn’t involve the exotic methods.” One more indignant glance from the righteous Gryffindor, but his line was written down dutifully.

    “Now, since I have compromised, I’d like a compromise from you, Granger.” Draco wanted her to remember this forever. “Hermione Jean Granger grants Draco Abraxas Malfoy the full access to each part of her body.”

     Hermione’s quill froze in mid-air.

     “Didn’t you like me fondling you, Granger?” Draco was determined to knock the snootiness out of her.

     Hermione plainly hated Malfoy now. The memory of his caresses made her want them again. She collected herself quickly. If it was something that naturally went with having sex, she had to consent to it. “All right, here it is. Number six: Draco Abraxas Malfoy agrees to treat my friends, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and others with respect at all times. He also agrees to be nice to my cat, Crookshanks, and never hurt him.”

    “Crookshanks? Is he going to shag with us?” jested Draco. Truly, it was Granger at her finest. He already pitied her future boyfriends - they wouldn’t have Heorte Lustbaere to tame her.

   “I do remember how you attempted to kick him when he got between us in the corridor the other day!” Hermione’s tempers were souring.

    “All right, my apologies to the Magical Beast Rights League.” Draco picked up the quill.

    “Draco Abraxas Malfoy agrees not to kick, hit or otherwise hurt Hermione Jean Granger’s pets which include but are not limited to Crookshanks, Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley,” Hermione read from the parchment. “Harry and Ron are not pets!”

   “Could you define pets then?” Draco gazed at Hermione brazenly.

    Hermione groaned. It was evident that Malfoy couldn’t care less about their pact. “Let me edit it,” she muttered and put the quill to work. “Number seven: Draco Abraxas Malfoy agrees not to make fun of Hermione Jean Granger.”

    “Define fun,” drawled Draco and stretched his legs. He was very ready to get to the real business if not for the stupid contract. Draco yawned and pulled his shirt over his head, not bothering to unbutton it all the way down.

    The sight of Malfoy’s bare torso sent desire rippling through Hermione’s body. Why did he have to do it right now??? 

    Draco rubbed his chest and unbuckled his belt. “Let’s make this one the last. Hermione Jean Granger agrees to not flirting, kissing or otherwise engaging in sexual acts with Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley or any other male except Draco Abraxas Malfoy.”

    “I don’t engage in sexual acts with anyone except you bastard!” Hermione became all flushed.

    “Then it shouldn’t be a problem to include it.” He magicked the quill to start scribbling again, then got up and walked behind Granger‘s chair. There he put his hands on her shoulders and started rubbing them. Hermione fidgeted and his hands travelled down to her chest.

    “Malfoy, please - please - we need to finish our pact. “ She made a copy of the parchment. “Let’s sign both of the documents at the bottom.”

    Draco waved his wand and the quill signed both of the copies for him while his other hand gave Granger a squeeze. It earned him an elbow shove from her which missed the target and met the chair back instead.

    “Hermione Jean Granger, per our freshly signed contract you cannot hit or slap me in any way,” Draco drawled, his hand still firmly on her bosom.

     Hermione handed him the contract copy. “I’d like to take my clothes off now.” She got to her feet and started undressing with her back on Malfoy. The sooner they get through the act the better, she thought.

    When she was done with her protective spells, Hermione turned around. Malfoy was already lounging on the bed in all his naked glory and leafing through his Kama Sutra book. Her insides quivering like jelly, Hermione made the few steps towards the bed and climbed under the covers next to him.

    Draco met her with a grin, and she sank into the pillows, not sure what to do. He put the book down and moved to face her.

    “Take the duvet off, Granger. I want to see all of you,” he said bluntly.

    A hot wave rolled through Hermione’s insides. “Per our contract you are to be polite with me at all times.” She did her best to conceal her embarrassment, but was not sure she hid it well enough.

    “Could you please show me your body, Miss Granger,” Draco spoke in an exaggeratedly saccharine tone, a wry smile plastered on his face. “May I remind you that per our contract you’ve granted me full access to it?”

    “Oh…” Malfoy was impossible as always, Hermione thought. She‘d make him pay for that later. She closed her eyes and threw the duvet off.

    Draco’s desire surged inside him. Here she was, all open to him. He stroked her stomach with his hand, then lifted his gaze. Her body arched, her eyes were half-open, and her breathing was laboured. Draco pressed his hand harder against her, and Hermione responded fiercely. He drew closer to her and placed his other hand on her leg.

    Hermione was melting from his caresses. It did not really matter that it was Malfoy who did it to her. It was the insane sensation shooting through her body that counted.

    “Aww… It’s - it’s crazy…” She peeped at him from under her leaden lids. His gaze was downcast, and she could see his chest breathing heavily. His eyes shot up and met hers. Hermione felt like she was drowning in his darkened stare. She opened her mouth again but no sound came from it. Then his hands were gone from her body, and she reflexively pushed herself towards him a little.

    Draco flopped on the pillows next to Hermione. “Get on top of me - like this,” he croaked and pointed to the pages of the open book between them. He pulled her by hand, and she obeyed.

    Hermione moved like in a trance. Her flesh was governing her conscious and all it wanted was to mould with Malfoy’s body. She caught a vague glimpse of the picture he pointed at, but in her daze she couldn’t comprehend it.

    Draco put his hands on her hips. They both were awkward at first, and he emitted a frustrated growl. Then they managed to align themselves right. Draco grunted approvingly. Hermione glanced at the book again, not sure what to do next.

    “Fuck… Move - move...” Draco’s hands pushed her a little. Then his fingers travelled all over her body and it arched from his caresses. Hermione glanced at his pale chest and trailed her fingertips over his skin. Draco jerked his head back with a groan.

    “You like it? “ Hermione whispered her half-statement, half-question.

    “Yes - yes…” His eyes took all of her in.

    Hermione closed her eyes and surrendered to their rhythm and her sensations. It was so much better than being squashed under his body…

    Draco watched her torso undulate, and it was an exciting feast for his sight. Her deft fingers sent small jolts of pleasure through his skin. His hands commanded her body. Their sole purpose of the moment was to intoxicate each other with pleasure as much as possible. It was the most wonderful and luscious thing imaginable. A wave of release washed over them. He sank back into the pillows, and she buried her face between his cheek and shoulder. Soon she trembled no more and went limp and soft in his arms.

    They lay still for a few minutes, then Hermione stirred up.

     “Draco - It’s late… We should be going back to the dorms now…” She studied his relaxed face. Then she rolled off him and lay by his side.

     “Not yet. Let’s stay here for awhile, Hermione.” Draco turned towards her and made her spoon against him. He placed his palms on her stomach. Her body was warm and soft, and he wanted to stay like this forever.

    Hermione felt very sleepy in Draco‘s arms. She could smell him - his sweat and something else, and his scent was comforting to her. How she wished that this boy’s name wasn’t Draco Malfoy… Hermione closed her eyes and rested her back against him.

    Draco raised his hand and glanced on his watch: it was time for him to get going. Damned be his Aunt.

    “The prefects must be already done with their patrol,” he muttered into Hermione’s hair. “Let’s get up.”

    They got dressed and slipped out of the Room of Requirement. Draco held Hermione by hand. “I’ll take you to the Gryffindor Tower first.”

    She looked at him curiously. “Why - I can go on my own just fine.”

    “I just want it. Make sure you get there all right.”

    Hermione did not argue and they silently walked hand in hand down the corridor. When they were about to turn a corner, she halted in her tracks and pulled Draco back.

   “The prefects are over there,” he heard her whisper. Draco made a few steps forward and craned his neck. Sure enough, Padma was sitting on a window sill, her arms hugging her knees, and Theo leaned against the edge of the wall, his face in the moonlight. They were talking softly, apparently oblivious to time and their surroundings.

Chapter 12: Meeting
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Draco and Hermione tiptoed back. Padma and Theo did not seem to notice anything.

    “They are supposed to be patrolling!” whispered Hermione.

    “Shush…” Draco leaned to her ear. “They’re done with their patrol, Granger. They’re free to do whatever they want!”

     The rule-abiding Gryffindor was not relenting. “Then they ought to be in their dorms. How are we going to get past them?”

     “You’re a real stickler for rules. Watch.” Draco pulled Hermione after him into a classroom. He lit up his wand, looked around and picked up a shred of a parchment from the floor. In a second he transfigured it into a small stone, poked his head out the door, threw the pebble down the corridor and ducked back. The stone rattled on the floor, and they heard a muffled exclamation. Then the retreating steps resounded in the hallway.

     “You’ve spooked them,” chuckled Hermione. Draco grinned.

     When they came near the Fat Lady, Draco pulled Hermione closer and kissed her lips lightly like he did after their first night together. She did not resist and it made him feel good.

    “Cardamom.” The Fat Lady opened her eyes, yawned and swung forward. Hermione climbed into the portrait hole. Her bulging bag burst open. She looked down and spotted one of her books on the floor right under the closed hole. The same second she heard Draco‘s departing steps. Hermione stuck her head out to check if she had dropped anything outside and saw Draco’s back retreating in the direction exactly opposite to the stairs down to the dungeons. What was he up to?

     Hermione abandoned her bag and clambered out of the portrait hole. Her shoes in hand, she stole after him, trying to blend in with the wall. Malfoy turned into the corridor leading to the Astronomy Tower.

    Hermione peeked around the corner: Draco was nowhere in sight. The hulk of the Astronomy Tower loomed in the tall windows. Suddenly, Hermione saw something.

    A hooded figure on a broom, bathed in the moonlight, slid off a window two floors above the corridor Hermione was in. The person flew over a gable and disappeared. She held her breath for a second, then hurried to the Tower.

    She entered the steep stairs in the Tower warily, straining her hearing for any noise, no matter how small. Discerning no sign of a living soul, Hermione tiptoed up the worn-out stone steps. Nobody was present on the second landing, nor did she find anyone on the third landing. She backtracked down the spiral stairs and lit up her wand. A bag sat under the window on the landing. It was unmistakably Malfoy’s. Hermione darted to the window and scanned the view for anyone on a broom nearby. No one was in sight.

    Hermione eyed the bag for a moment. Could anything in it provide a cue for Draco’s broomstick ride at night? She tested the window - it was not locked, nor was it sealed by charms. While all the windows were magically locked on the lower floors, they apparently neglected the towers, reasoning that no one would be likely to climb that high.

    Hermione dipped her hand into the bag. It seemed to have no bottom. She sensed something that felt like a cauldron and pulled it halfway out. Merlin, how did Malfoy manage to stuff a whole cauldron in his bag? Hermione didn’t extract it all the way fearing that she wouldn’t be able to squeeze the bulky cauldron back. In it she found several bundles of parchments and frantically shuffled through them in the wandlight. Charms and Transfiguration essays, Ancient Runes notes, meaningless doodles, Arithmancy homework… Nothing seemed to offer a clue on the mystery. Then she stumbled upon two pages of parchments that ignited her curiosity. Those were lists of spells that she didn’t recall studying in any of their classes. She read Draco’s sprawling notes next to some incantations - Deep Seal… Shocking Spell - must be careful … If the previous spell doesn’t work, try this…

    There were arrows pointing from one spell to another. Could it indicate the sequence of the incantations? What was the purpose of the enchantments? Hermione took a couple of blank parchments from another bundle, copied the notes magically and pocketed the replicas. She pushed the cauldron with the parchments deep into the bag, rummaged in it more, fished out several textbooks, a scarf, a torn wrapper with cookie remnants, a crumpled magazine with a scantily clad witch on the cover, broken quills and an empty butterbeer bottle, scowled at the inordinate amount of waste in Malfoy’s bookbag and shoved everything back into it.

    Hermione thought wistfully of Theo and Padma as she hurried back to the portrait hole. Others could have it such a normal way. Talks in the moonlight, romance, courtship… And what did she and Malfoy have? A contract citing sexual positions? Then Hermione recalled their lambada on the bed and her heart fluttered. Now that was confusing… 

    Draco breathed the invigorating night air in. He loved flying on a broomstick high above the ground and enjoyed the commanding view of the moonlit landscape. It gave him a sense of control when his broom obeyed his directives. He reached into his pocket and fingered a cloth pouch. The contents tinkled, and Draco smiled to himself. Things were working out so far. They avoided running into a patrol on the way to the Gryffindor Tower, but an extra precaution would never hurt. If they got arraigned, he could always explain to Snape that he was simply escorting Granger to her House, and the teacher would certainly hush up the whole matter.

    Then his mind wandered back to their coition in the Room of Requirement. She was so splendid and he had her completely. Granger was all his, gave all of her to him and he wanted to have her many more times for days to come. Draco remembered her eyes during their parting kiss. He savoured her deference to him and his control over her, the feisty Hermione Granger. Her amber eyes had the same expression as last school year, when he suddenly pushed her up against the wall in the dungeons. He still didn’t understand what came over him in that desolate corridor, but the feel of her body intoxicated him. He was late for his class because he absolutely had to get himself off in a toilet stall after the encounter.

     Weeks later in Umbridge’s office Draco ended up next to Granger by the window and saw the same expression in her eyes. His own reaction frightened him and Draco hastily called on Bulstrode to seize Hermione. In a vague hope for something he felt so eager to follow Granger to the Forest… Pansy lost her virginity to Draco the next day. He learned about his father’s arrest on the same day. Draco clenched his jaws at the memory.

    He saw the dark mass of the Shrieking Shack below him and steered his broom into a downward spiral. While descending, he concentrated on eliminating every unnecessary thought from his brain. By the time Draco was at the front steps of the Shack, he had blanked his mind out sufficiently. A dark figure broke off from the wall and advanced towards Draco.

    “You’re on time tonight, Draco,” he heard the curt tone of his aunt. “Are you going to finish the repairs soon?“

    “It’s still a lot of work. I’m going to write Borgin again.”

    “You’d better not tarry!” She flung her arm around him, and he felt the familiar sensation of Apparation. Draco wondered what his Auntie had in store for him.

    They arrived in what looked like a large and dimly lit warehouse. It seemed empty except for a big pile of old crates and a hooded wizard sitting on a chair. The wizard rose as Bellatrix and Draco materialized in the room.

    “This is my nephew, Draco Malfoy. He‘s the other Death Eater in Hogwarts.” Aunt Bella told the stranger, then turned to Draco. “Sebastian Katz, just fresh from Durmstrang.”

    Katz took his hood off, and so did Draco. The pudgy man’s small eyes sat deep under his low forehead topped with a boar’s bristle of hair. They shook hands, and Draco wondered why, for Merlin’s sake, he had to meet him.

    “Sebastian will be your outside contact Death Eater instead of me,” Bellatrix said haughtily and directed her black eyes at Katz. “I’ve got some very urgent matters to attend to. You’ll have to devise a way to communicate with my nephew - Dumbledore has been freaking about security at Hogwarts lately.” She cackled.

    “I’ve already figured it out,” Draco said quickly and produced his cloth pouch. He pulled the strings open and took a couple of shining Galleons from it. “Here - I enchanted them to transmit messages.” His father would be so proud of his clever act, he thought.

    Sebastian and Bellatrix examined the coins. She threw a curious look at her nephew.

    “I see you’ve mastered the Protean Charm. You are smarter than I thought.” Bellatrix held her Galleon up for Katz. “Did you study this sort of things at Durmstrang?”

    Katz mumbled indistinctly. Draco had an urge to scowl at his aunt but kept himself in check.

    “Have you practiced the Imperius curse, Draco?”

    “Yes, of course.” Draco Imperiused his owl several times a couple of weeks ago just fine. It was something he was quite confident of.

    “Excellent, my little boy. Show it to me now,” was his aunt’s command. She muttered an incantation and directed her wand to the pile of crates.

    A person scrambled to her feet near the crates. He did not notice her in the poorly lit room at first. It was a rather young woman in ratty clothes, her face contorted with pain and her hair matted.

    “Some Muggle girl,” Bellatrix sniggered. “Something for you to show off your spellwork.”

    Draco couldn’t take his stare off the captive. It obviously hurt her to walk, and she limped slowly towards them at Bellatrix’s command. Her dark eyes reminded him of Granger‘s and it unnerved him. Hastily, he made an effort to banish Granger’s image from his mind.

    “All right, you go first, Draco,” he heard his Auntie’s directive.

Draco raised his wand. Imperio. He had trouble concentrating. The Muggle’s horrified stare was fixed on his face, and he hated it. He couldn’t bring himself against this ragged woman. His spell was not working. “Imperio!” he yelled at the captive, but his mind screamed for an escape out of this nightmare.

    “You ought to pay more attention to your spell practice, Draco!” Bellatrix said shrilly. “Hope you are capable of something, Katz!”

    Sebastian stepped forth and pointed his wand at the Muggle. Imperio! The prisoner’s face went blank. Katz spat out abrupt commands, and she performed strange contorted movements per his orders.

    “They certainly taught you better at Durmstrang, Sebastian,” Bellatrix pronounced her smug verdict. “Draco has had a great idea of Imperiusing a student at Hogwarts to deliver poison to the Headmaster, but is he fit for the job?”

    “I’ll be delighted to do it, Bellatrix,” Katz declared sycophantically. He lifted the curse off the Muggle. The latter fell to the floor and began writhing in pain, her screams resonating in the building.

    Silencio! Annoyed Bellatrix spewed out her incantation. Draco felt thoroughly sickened but did his best to conceal it. The Muggle fell silent but still convulsed from her pain. His aunt pointed her wand at the captive and a jet of green light hit the Muggle. The woman’s body jerked and straightened, her now calmed face looking upward.

    “She was no good anyway,” Aunt Bella scoffed. One more flick of her wand, and a cracked wood plank appeared in the place of the corpse.

    “Who would you suggest to Imperiuse? The best candidate would be Harry Potter, right?” Bellatrix sneered at her nephew.

    “Potter might be too difficult to access,” Draco spoke cautiously. “He’s guarded closely, I’m certain.”

    “Of course, Dumbledore loves him dearly. Besides, a girl would be a bit easier to Imperiuse.” His aunt paused ominously. “How about Hermione Granger? It shouldn’t be so hard for you to get near her, Draco.”

    Draco felt like his whole body was drenched in ice water. He fought hard to keep his mind emotionless. “Yes, it’s a great idea, Auntie Bella. I’ll try Granger then.” 

   “Perfect, my little boy. When is your first Hogsmeade weekend?”

   “October twelfth, Auntie Bella.”

    “Plenty of time for you both to work it out. Draco could show you the Granger girl in Hogsmeade then, Sebastian.”

    “I look forward to serving the Dark Lord,” Katz proclaimed and glanced at his new partner. “Pleasure to meet you, Draco.”

    “My pleasure too, Sebastian.” Draco didn’t have much liking for the eager minion, but he knew better to keep his feelings to himself. Business was business and it was what counted.

    Draco parted with his aunt after she Apparated him back to the Shrieking Shack. She disappeared soundlessly, and he jumped on his broom. He kicked off the ground madly, and it shot straight up into air. His hood fell off his head and Draco pulled it back on. He took a detour to the Lake. Draco needed something to calm his nerves, and gliding in the air usually soothed him.

    Draco gazed at the moonlight reflected in the dark waters. His sickness did not want to release its hold on him, and he struggled not to think about the torture and murder he had just witnessed. He felt the bile rising to his throat and sent his broom into a steep dive. Once on the sandy shore of the lake, he bent over and threw up. He straggled away and sat down, his eyes closed. When the tremors in his body ceased, Draco got back on his broom and soon he was at the window of the Astronomy Tower. Inside, he thrust his broom into his book bag. The Undetectable Extension Charm truly did wonders, he thought distractedly and headed down the stairs.

Chapter 13: Library Musings
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

   Hermione had spent most of Saturday in the library but her scant findings hardly satisfied her. Piles of books surrounded her parchments in front of her. When Hermione lowered her head to the table, she could imagine being walled off from the rest of the world in a castle built of books.

   The last two weeks were rather uneventful, save for the four new Kama Sutra positions which Malfoy got her to try. Two of them were disappointing, one was fairly gratifying and they repeated it, and one was so-so. Draco blamed the unexpected self-destruction of an old desk and the hard stone floor in that dungeon room for one of the fiascos. Hermione wasn’t very convinced though.

   She diligently marked their dates in her Muggle-style daily planner with a single M letter for conspiracy. Mostly, they met in an abandoned dungeon chamber which was way past the Hufflepuff House entrance and well behind the kitchens. No one ever ventured so far underground in that part of the castle except spiders. The Room of Requirement was much more comfortable, but it was dangerously close to McGonagall’s office and the entrance to the Gryffindor Tower.

   A neat M graced a time slot this late afternoon in Hermione’s planner. The timing was perfect. Hermione could do homework with Ron and Harry after dinner, relatively free from the potion effects. She had almost persuaded Thornton to go with Goldstein on Monday instead of suffering with the morose Weasley through their Saturday patrol. Hermione looked forward to a stroll with Ron around the quiet castle at night so much... When she thought of his blue eyes and sweet freckles, a fuzzy warm feeling filled her heart. It made her want to purr like a cat.

   Hermione had been working hard to solve several mysteries at the same time. The search for any information on the Half-Blood Prince proved fruitless. Malfoy was very fond of the Muffliato charm, and it perplexed Hermione a lot when Harry eagerly adopted the spell from his Potions textbook. She hated the fact that Harry willingly put himself on the same page with Malfoy. Hermione ploughed through sources on pureblood families and wizarding nobility but found nothing on the Half-Blood Prince. Nevertheless, she still harboured a deep suspicion that the dodgy Prince was somehow connected to the Malfoys.

   Then there was the list of spells from Malfoy’s bag. It didn’t take Hermione long to establish that most of the spells were for mending severe magical damage, which fit in with Malfoy’s mysterious visit to Borgin & Burkes. But what was the Shocking Spell for? What was Malfoy going to destroy? What was he trying to repair, after all?

   The research on Heorte Lustbaere was disconcerting. Every time a book mentioned the potion, it looked like a sure-fire recipe for a disaster because a wrong person invariably ended up drinking the brew. The most infamous example was the case of Tristan and Isolde. The cost of consuming the potion was loss of kingdoms for two medieval kings, a death by hanging for one hapless 18th century duchess and her lowly blacksmith lover, and an impeachment for a President of a foreign country. Which was far from consoling to Hermione.

   Hermione raised her head and peeked around over the piles of her books. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight of Malfoy seated with Crabbe and Goyle at a table in the far end of the room. Draco had been wearing a gloomy countenance for the past two weeks. This afternoon he looked no different either. Hermione tried to engage Malfoy in a conversation during their dates but he responded chiefly in monosyllables. Once she went as far as to rhapsodise about her fascination with broom rides on moonlit nights while they were trying to twist their bodies into that tricky Kama Sutra position. He shut her up by slamming himself on top of her and brutally snogging her. The timely collapse of the desk under them saved her from being strangled by the Death Eater. They shagged each other numb in the furniture wreckage, which left Hermione slightly disoriented for the rest of the day. Could the windows, suddenly sealed per Dumbledore’s order in the Astronomy Tower, be so disturbing a memory for Malfoy?

   “What’s this mountain of books for?” Ginny’s voice gave Hermione a start.

   “I’m trying to find out more about the Half-Blood Prince,” she mumbled and pushed a stack of books away to make room for her friend.

   Ginny sat down and picked up a volume. The Art of Love Potions in Medieval Wales. The redhead stared at her curiously.

   “Ahem…” Hermione cleared her throat. “See, the Half-Blood Prince was a skilled potioneer, and probably brewed love potions too.”

   “Love potions are such a slick thing.“ Ginny leafed through the book thoughtfully. “Mum says so. Once you stop giving the potion to the other person and the effect is gone, he ends up disliking you even worse than before. Weird, right?”

   “Probably because the people get too close for comfort.” Hermione strategically moved a stack of other books on the love magic away from Ginny. “They learn too much bad stuff about each other.”

   “Could be,” Ginny agreed. “I can’t stand Corner now, really.”

   “How’s Dean to you?”

   “He’s ok. I’m giving him a break. We snogged right after the lunch.”

   “A break?” Hermione glanced at her friend.

   “Well, he got way too excited. I let him go and get himself off just now.” Ginny was nonchalant about boys as usual. Apparently, growing up with a horde of brothers steeled her a lot.

   “I think Dean is nice,“ Hermione muttered.

   “Yeah,” Ginny replied blankly and began rearranging her parchments.

    Hermione knew perfectly well what was behind Ginny‘s deadpan tone. She still nursed her old crush on Harry. He was her dream hero and valiant saviour. But Harry was hopelessly lame with girls. In Hermione’s opinion, he could actually benefit from a dose of Heorte Lustbaere. Ginny would have no qualms about satisfying his lust. Unlike Hermione, she was always more forward about boys and sex. No wonder, since Molly Weasley was very much down-to-earth on most touchy subjects. Hermione wished she could ask someone like Mrs. Weasley about the magic-induced lust, but there was no way to tell her about Malfoy. She’d pass it on to Mr. Weasley, and they’d have the whole Order of the Phoenix up in arms in no time. Her own Mum knew nothing about magic and was of no help in her mess with Malfoy. Hermione sighed and began looking over Ginny’s History of Magic essay.

   “Ginny, your family are all purebloods, right?”

   “Yeah, what‘s up?”

   “Well, I’ve been looking through some books on wizarding aristocracy, and it seems the Weasleys were treated rather oddly.”

   “Don’t say!” Ginny turned to her friend. “They always said Weasleys screwed up the wizarding order the worst!”

   “Well, they disowned everyone who married a Weasley.”

   “Mum told me it took Uncles Gideon and Fabian two months to persuade the grandparents to let her visit home after she eloped with Dad.”


   “My folks say we never cared much about the codes of magic.“ Ginny abandoned her homework.

   “Yes, there’s something on those family codes.” Hermione was now all curiosity.

   “Right, every old family has its own code of magic passed from a generation to generation. They guard it like crazy. When a wizard and witch marry, their family codes of magic join. Everyone looks for someone whose family magic can strengthen his own inherited family magic. Some clans have really powerful codes of magic running in them. And some other families are outright cursed and no one wants to have anything with them.”

   “So what’s about your family, Ginny?”

   “We had some ancient scripts for centuries, but no one really bothered about making the right matches.” Ginny was visibly pleased to share her knowledge with her Muggleborn friend. “Almost every pureblood marriage is arranged by the family. My parents eloped because the Prewett grandparents didn’t even want to hear the Weasley name.”

   “And what families have the most powerful codes?”

   “The Malfoys, the Greengrasses, the Bletchleys, the Macmillans, the Bones.” Ginny paused, counting on her fingers. “Oh, yes, the Lestranges, the Notts, the Scrimgeours... I don’t remember them all. The Blacks had a very strong magic too.”

   “I wonder why the Malfoys hate your family so much.” Hermione wanted to find out as much as possible.

   “There’s an old legend that a Malfoy fell in love with a Weasley centuries ago. Lots of duelling and fighting over it.”

   “I think it’s just silly to carry it on for so long, Ginny.”

   “Mum says every generation keeps adding more to the fire. It never stops. Aunt Muriel told me that the Malfoys put a curse on the Weasleys over it. My ancestors cursed the Malfoys back then.”

   “What curses?” Hermione was fascinated.

   “The Weasleys lost their wealth, and no girls were born for many generations. The Malfoys haven’t had more than one child for many generations. Always a son. They went to the Blacks because they were rumoured to have a strong set of female magic in the family. Lots of formidable witches. But it didn’t break the curse.” Ginny chuckled. “The magic of the House of Black helped the Weasleys instead.”


   “I’m the first girl born into the Weasley family. It’s because my Weasley grandpa married my Black grandma. Her fertility magic broke the old curse.”

   “I can’t believe the Malfoys and the Weasleys cursed each others…” Hermione was intrigued. “I heard Malfoy is engaged to Parkinson.”

   “Now that’s weird,” Ginny giggled. “The Parkinsons are purebloods but Pansy is such a troll.”

   “Maybe it’s because no one else wanted a Malfoy?”

   “Almost any pureblood girl would be on cloud nine if the Malfoys choose her, Hermione!” Ginny spoke with authority. “Aunt Muriel thinks there’s some sort of a game. She gossips with all those old pureblood witches.”

   “Would you be on cloud nine if a Malfoy proposes to you?” Hermione didn’t miss the chance to pick at her friend.

   “I’m a Weasley, Hermione!” Ginny retorted.

   “The ancient feud is still going strong, I see.” Hermione chortled. “What are those family codes of magic?”

   “It’s the magic that protect and helps everyone in the clan. A family collects those spells, enchantments and what not over many generations, and most of them are kept secret. Only the members of the family can know and use them. Some families have really strange rituals like for a marriage or child naming. Dad says many of those traditions are outright Dark Magic. Like marriage contracts sealed by blood. But the Ministry lets the families carry their magic codes on, no matter what.”

   “Why? If it’s a Dark magic?”

   “Most of it is secret anyway. Many big shots in the Ministry are purebloods, and they want to keep their family magic going.”

   Hermione glanced at the wall clock: it was about time for her to go.

   “Your essay is great. I corrected only a couple of dates.” She handed it back to Ginny and gathered her books. “I’m going down to the kitchens for a snack - I’m really hungry.”

   “Say hi to Dobby for me,” Ginny muttered as she skimmed through her essay.

   Draco shot a quick look sideways and spotted Granger who headed to the exit after depositing her obscenely huge stack of books on Madam Pince’s desk. In about half and hour he would follow her to the dungeons. The memory of their last date made his longing grow.

   It had been two excruciating weeks for Draco Malfoy. The advice on fixing the Cabinet that Borgin gave him in his last letter was of almost no help for Draco. The new cracks mended extremely slowly, and some spells on his list plainly didn’t work. This morning Draco checked on the Cabinet and was very much upset to see that a few cracks grew wider instead of disappearing overnight.

   The dreaded murder plot did not progress well either. Draco hated Dumbledore with all of his heart, but the Headmaster also terrified him the most. He held the power that even the Dark Lord seemed to envy. Draco’s eyes rarely met Dumbledore’s penetrating stare during a chance encounter in a corridor. His tone of voice and expression of his face always left Draco with odd emotions. At times he felt like throwing all caution to the wind and laying everything in the open to the Headmaster on the spot. Because of it, Draco did his best to avert his eyes and stuck to short polite responses whenever Dumbledore engaged him in a small talk.

   Katz was enthusiastic about the enchanted Galleons and fired off missives whenever he was in the mood for it. At the same time Draco’s chief objective was to stall the whole assassination plan for as long as possible in a hope to get rid of Sebastian at some point. He couldn’t decide what to do with Granger. If Draco could Imperiuse her by himself, he could make sure she wouldn’t get hurt. But after the fiasco and the horror during the meeting Draco wasn’t certain that he’d be ever able to cast the Imperius on a human again. On the other hand, he didn’t want Katz to come near Hermione. Never. Not even over his dead body. Sebastian would treat her the same as the Muggle captive. The mere thought of it sent shivers down Draco’s spine.

   This last Friday Draco thought he saw a ray of sun in the dark clouds when McGonagall handed him a detention on the Hogsmeade weekend. He promptly informed Katz that he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the castle. The sunbeam faded the same day after dinner when he received Sebastian’s reply. Goyle Sr. says son can show me HG in 3Brmstcks. SK. In less than fifteen minutes a new message arrived. Need poison. What kind? Draco groaned upon reading it. He hadn’t thought of the poison yet. He hated the very idea of using dangerous venoms around Granger. Still, Draco had to accept the harsh reality and owled Borgin for suggestions the same night. He stressed that it had to be something very safe to carry around but fast to act upon the delivery. Something appropriate for a girl to have.

    Draco looked at Crabbe and Goyle, who were straining their minuscule brains over their fifth year Potions homework. He wished he could know who spilled the beans about the lust potion incident. Crabbe and Goyle stood firm that they didn’t let a single word slip. It was quite convincing to Draco since he knew that neither of their fathers would be pleased to admit to Bellatrix or his Mum that their sons pulled a prank on Draco Malfoy. Nevertheless, there still was that unsettling letter he received from Mother earlier this week.

… Leticia keeps telling me that you continue ignoring you fiancée. I checked the engagement contract and it indicated that an act of infidelity had happened. Pansy suspected a certain girl but I did my best to disprove it to her mother. Simply because the idea of your getting together with that girl is totally ridiculous. 

It’s normal for a boy of your age to develop crushes and kiss different girls occasionally. But you must keep in mind the precariousness of your and your family’s situation. You need to adhere to the contract with Pansy. We all are under a great strain now that guests come to the Manor frequently, and Dad is suffering in Azkaban. 

I assured Leticia that nothing major had happened and the fidelity clause had not been breached. She can be quite dumb in certain magical matters. Don’t let any passing fancy take over you now. A small kiss or a few minutes of cuddling with Pansy could go a long way - you do not need to be with her all the time…

   His clever Mum opted not to name the girl Pansy suspected, which made Draco seethe with frustration. The fact that the contract indicated the infidelity on his part bothered him a little but not a huge lot. Nothing really bad happened to him after he shagged Granger so many times. But Draco still had a lingering worry that the magical punishment could come upon him full force anytime.

   As he lay sleepless in his bed last night, Draco pondered how to deal with Granger. Granted, she was a Mudblood and thence vastly inferior to the true pureblood wizarding race. His parents would tell him so in no uncertain terms. But they were also the last persons in the world with whom he would want to discuss Granger. The girl already held too much for him now. He needed her every other day at least. Even in public, Draco would steal a glance at her during a class or a meal. He knew full well she wouldn’t bother to give him an extra look in the presence of others. It was he who shamefully yearned for her attention. They exchanged brief sentences through the enchanted parchments and it sufficed for Granger. He could try to insult her and bring her low in order to amend his humiliating situation but with Granger it was futile. She didn’t seem to care.

   He hated Hermione for having a part in his Dad’s defeat in the Department of Mysteries, and he still longed to have her in his hands and command her body in bed. Dad was always an undisputed authority for him, and Draco craved the girl who disregarded his father’s superiority. The whole thing was driving him nuts.

   When Granger waxed poetic about broom rides and moonlit nights during their last date, the disturbing memory she brought up pushed him to the edge. Desperate to stop his mental nightmare, he hurled her down. She fought back and her teeth drew blood from his lower lip. The rickety desk crashed, and they slid all the way down, their overheated bodies welded together. They coupled insanely, oblivious to the splintered wood around them. He let out all of his pent-up agony, and she ground herself onto him fiercely as if she wanted to devour him to the last bit. Then they lay together in the wreckage, sweaty and panting. He was so thirsty, he cast the Aquamenti with his wand. She put her mouth close to his to lap up the clear water, and he kissed her under the cool stream. Her tongue probed his bleeding bite. She reached for her wand and whispered the Episkey. He licked his healed lip. Then she drank more of the water pouring from his wand, and he watched the crystal rivulets race along her delicate chin, neck and down to her soft bosom…

   Lust swelled up inside him. Draco glanced at the wall clock. Time to go and shag his girl. He’d deal with the Hogsmeade weekend quandary afterwards.

Chapter 14: Change of Plans
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Sounds of Draco’s steps bounced off the vaulted ceilings as he descended the stairs to the kitchens. His desire was growing in anticipation of Hermione’s warm body. He was going to get straight to business before Granger would have time to start rehashing her issues. She was so much prettier when he kept her busy shagging and didn’t let her talk too much.

     The corridors grew darker. He was entering the parts of the castle travelled exclusively by house-elves and ghosts. They never cared about the lack of proper lighting. Suddenly, a figure detached itself from the wall and stood in his way. Draco halted in his tracks.

    “I knew it!” Pansy’s shrill voice pierced Draco’s ears. “You’re sneaking off here again!”

    “So?” Draco was on the verge of punching her in the face but he restrained himself.

    “What are you doing here?”

    “I’m going for a bite,” he scoffed. “No one has prohibited the students from visiting the kitchens yet.”

    “I know what kind of snack you’re having here!” Pansy advanced at him. Draco could see her mouth twitching in the dim light. “I think I’ve just seen the girl you’re noshing with.” She laughed mirthlessly.

    “Oh? What’s her name, Pansy?” Draco planted his hands on her bosom. “Merlin, you’re so soft and sweet. Say hello for me to that girl if you see her, okay?”

    Pansy paused, apparently taken aback a little. Draco squeezed her lightly, then ran his hands down her sides. “You’re beautiful in this light, Pansy. Your eyes, your lips…” he drawled on, praying that she wouldn’t pounce on him and force him into lovemaking.

    “Ahem…” Pansy’s brain was apparently busy processing her fiancé’s response. Then, without as much as a word she pressed herself against him and her lips reached for his.

    “I love you with all my heart, Pansy. You’re my only one…” Draco whispered huskily and planted a guarded kiss on her lips. It was very much like hypnotizing a cobra with gentle sounds of a fakir‘s flute.

    Pansy’s lips and tongue splayed all over his mouth, which almost made him cringe. His fiancée was never too sophisticated at snogging. Worse even, he felt her hand creeping under his robes. He had to do something before the torrid visions of Granger overwhelmed him.

    “I’m starving, sweetie…” Draco caught her wandering hand and brought it to his face, effectively disengaging his mouth from Pansy’s. His lips touching the back of her palm, he murmured, “What kind of muffins do you want me to get from the kitchens, Pansy? Cinnamon or blueberry?” He was certain he looked like a mushy hero from soppy romance novels. The kind of books that he had noticed in some girls’ hands, including Pansy’s. But it worked. His fiancee’s hand relaxed considerably, and he was able to detach himself from her eager body.

     “Let’s go and get the muffins. Then back to the Common Room, okay?” He walked around her towards the kitchens.

     She caught his arm. “Let’s cuddle somewhere in here, Draco…”

     “I’m not freezing myself to death here!” Draco raised his voice a little. Pansy got the hint and scurried after him. 

    Hermione was sitting on a chair she had conjured from a part of the desk wreckage and leafing through The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra distractedly. Two muffins were set on the former desktop. Cinnamon and apple muffins, the kind that Malfoy liked. It was her favourite too, something on which both of them agreed. Not that there were many things that they were in accord on.

    She mulled over her conversation with Ginny. The wizarding world was still largely foreign to her, no matter how many books she read about it. At the same time, Hermione was an oddity in her parents’ Muggle universe. Many Muggleborn students still preserved their ties to their non-wizarding origins. Muggle siblings, friends, and even plans to return to the Muggle sphere after Hogwarts. Hermione had none of that. Worse even, she frequently was bored with the Muggleborns because they were much less versed in all things magical than her. Hermione loved magic, and her inquisitive mind rejoiced in discovering new realms of it. It was very much of a solitary pleasure for her, because she often was awkward with the students of wizard ancestry, who absorbed the magical lore from the early age. Her Muggle notions and lack of ingrained sense of wizarding subtleties kept getting in her way all the time. Where did she belong, after all? Where ought she go after graduating from Hogwarts?

    Hermione sought her refuge from the tormenting questions in her closest friends. She was much more at ease with Harry because he was on par with her talent wise. He came from the Muggle world too, but wasn’t too attached to it either. She cleaved to the Weasleys because the old wizarding family accepted her wholeheartedly and didn’t mind her Muggle differences.

    Draco Malfoy… He was her closest glimpse of something that was apparently considered as one of the most powerful pureblood Houses. Hermione detested the Malfoys’ depraved morals but she also was drawn to the great magical lore they purportedly possessed and which was beyond reach for many ordinary wizards and witches. Hermione and Draco both were competitive and kept watch on each other’s successes and failures from their first year at Hogwarts. It was one of her innermost secrets, not known even to her best friends. Unlike Harry or Ron, she did not want to fight Malfoy. She longed to excel over him, to prove herself by being a superior magician, and to make him and other purebloods accept her as an equal or even more than that. Was such a thing ever possible?

   Hermione glanced at her watch. Malfoy was running very late. Irked, she pulled out the enchanted parchment and shot off a note. Where are you? HG.

   An eternity had passed but no answer arrived from the wretched Malfoy whatsoever. Hermione was now seething with anger. It was almost dinnertime. He stood her up, and her plans for the evening bombed. Hermione devoured a muffin. She picked up the other one and glared at it, as if it was Malfoy himself. Her anguish choked her, she swung her arm and hurled the pastry at a wall. It splattered over the stones and a few cinnamon-scented shreds ricocheted at her. She flung her bag over her shoulder and stomped out of the dungeon chamber.

    The moment Hermione filled her plate at dinner, her enchanted parchment went off in her pocket. Hermione had charmed it to produce a sort of a mental alarm, which came on in the recipient’s mind without any outwardly noticeable effects like noise or light. Cautiously, she eyed the note under the table: 

Couldn’t make it there. Let’s meet in the far end of the third floor corridor after dinner ASAP.

    When she lifted her eyes, the first thing she saw was Malfoy strolling up to the Slytherin table with Parkinson draped over his arm. Now it was clear. Draco opted to frolic with his fiancée in lieu of her. The last thing Hermione wanted to do was to be at Malfoy’s beck and call. Mad with fury, she blindly pointed her wand at her parchment under the table and hissed her reply into her plate with corned beef and mashed potatoes.

I’m busy after dinner. See you at 8:30 pm in the Room of Requirement.
I hate you!

    The Gryffindor Common Room was crowded, and the noise annoyed Hermione no end. Harry and Ron were absorbed in a game of Exploding Snap with Seamus, leaving Hermione to her books and parchments. Lavender and Parvati hovered near the boys, watching them play and giggling.

    How could she be so stupid? If not for her hasty answer in the heat of the moment, Hermione could have had her fix with Malfoy and still made her patrol with Ron tonight. She absolutely had to ruin her plans with her own hands…

    “So…” Ron came up to the table and poked around Hermione’s parchments. “What’s about the patrol?”

    “You’re doing it with Thornton,” Hermione mumbled. “I’m sorry… It didn’t work out. Maybe next time?”

    Ron did not look too happy. He fiddled with Hermione’s parchments again. Then he stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels back and forth. “Aren’t you crazy to study all day long, Hermione?”

    “I’m not crazy, Ron!” Hermione was losing her temper again. From the corner of her eye she saw Lavender strolling across the room and placing herself in Ron’s sight. Hermione glanced at him: his head turned in Lavender’s direction.

    “I think I need to check something in the library,” Hermione muttered and stood up. “Ron, could you help me find that book on Advanced Charms there?” She tugged on his sleeve. The same minute she had to make an effort to block a Malfoy visage out of her mind.

    “Don’t you have it in your pile right here?” He pointed his finger at her books.

    “No, not this one,” Hermione almost pleaded. “The other one - you remember.”

    Ron shot an odd look at her, shrugged, strode back to the chairs by the fireplace and joined Harry with Seamus there.

    It was only half-past seven, but Hermione couldn’t bear it anymore. She desperately needed to be alone right now. Hermione stuffed everything in her book bag and climbed out of the portrait hole.

    The cosily appointed Room of Requirement was an welcome respite - at least until Malfoy made his appearance. Hermione hoped he’d be late. She did not want him to think that she was so eager for the date to come early. She settled in one of the green velvet chairs, unloaded her books on the table but didn’t feel like reading anything. Instead, she sank into her thoughts. 

    Draco bounded up the stairs before Pansy changed her mind and chased him all the way from the library to the seventh floor. Although it was only quarter to eight, Draco was very much ready to retire from the turmoil of this world. He craved solitude to get his wits together and figure out how to proceed with Granger before she arrived. Her looks in the Great Hall were far from friendly.

     The first thing that came into his sight upon entering the Room of Requirement, was Granger curled up in a chair, her eyes half closed and her fingers twisting the folds of her robes. Draco swallowed hard, not sure what to make out of this. Was she preparing to pull some sort of a trick on him for missing the date? He coughed.

    Hermione gave a start and her eyes shot up straight at Draco. The Slytherin’s physiognomy was the last thing she wanted to see at the moment. It was still before eight in the evening. What a pathetic day it had been for her... Everything that could, went awry indeed.

    “How nice - you’re early, Malfoy!” Her tone wasn’t just cold. It was Arctic. Draco conjured his best smirk and resolved to let her do all the talking. In the meantime he could try to decide what to do with her.

    “So…” Hermione straightened up and crossed her arms on her chest. “What was so important that you couldn’t make it?”

    Draco drew a breath, strolled to the table and dropped his bag near it. “Pansy ambushed me in the dungeons. She suspected I was dating someone there.”

    “Should I believe it?” Hermione snorted. “Of course, she’s your fiancée!”

    “Here.” Draco waved his wand and summoned his Mum’s letter. He dangled the page with her comments on his infidelity in front of Granger’s eyes. “Did you ever notice Pansy hanging around the kitchens?”

   “No. Nothing of that kind.” Hermione’s face became slightly worried. Her voice softened a bit, “Does Pansy know it’s me?”

   “She didn’t tell me the name. I had to appease her so she’d let me off after the dinner.”

   “Poor pureblood wizard!” Hermione said sarcastically. “Your family picked a fiancée for you, and you ended up cooking Heorte Lustbaere to help yourself!”

   “Can’t you stop rubbing the potion thing in my face?” Draco snarled and plunked in the other chair.

    “Well, just think of it, Malfoy. Isn’t it ridiculous?” Hermione snickered. “You purebloods are all bound by your clans and your family magic codes, right? All sorts of binding contracts like your engagement!”

    “That’s none of your business, Mu -Muggleborn!” Draco got up and took his robes off. He was too tired for a full-blown verbal duel.

    “As a Muggleborn, I’ve got lots more freedom than you.” Hermione kicked her shoes off. “I can live in the wizarding world or choose to go back to my Muggle life, for example!” In reality, she felt more like being trapped in her situation, but Malfoy didn’t need to know it. “What’s going to happen to you now that you’ve breached your engagement?”

    “I don’t know, really.” Draco sunk back in the chair and watched Granger pull off her dark grey tights. Her calves were smooth and he wanted to touch them. “I hope nothing too bad.”

    Hermione hesitated for a few seconds. “Was your contract sealed by blood?”

    “No. Father only pronounced a couple of incantations. We signed the parchments and then kissed.”

    “I don’t think anything is going to happen to you,” Hermione declared.

   “Why so?” Draco looked at her curiously.

   “Well, the blood magic is the strongest, and it overrides all other contracts not sealed by blood. Except the Unbreakable Vow, I think. I’ve been reading a bit on the love magic today.” Hermione rested her head against the chair back. “Evidently, Heorte Lustbaere cancelled your engagement because you put your blood in the potion.”

    “Good, I don’t have to worry then.” Draco prodded his bag with his foot. He hoped Granger was right about it. “Were all those books on the love magic that you read in the library today?”

    “Most of them. Heorte Lustbaere seems to be such a wicked thing. In every case I came across, it always was the wrong person who drank it. Like Tristan and Isolde.”

    “Tristan and who?” Draco leaned towards Granger.

    “Isolde. She was betrothed to marry King Mark of Scotland. He sent a ship with an envoy to her place in Ireland, and his nephew, Tristan, was on it too. Isolde took the lust potion for King Mark to have it on the day of her wedding. But Tristan ended up drinking it accidentally before they arrived to Scotland.”

   “I bet she liked the young bloke better than the old king,” Draco scoffed.

   “Did you know that Queen Osburga was a victim of Heorte Lustbaere too?” Hermione began unbuttoning her robes.

   “How?” Draco’s eyes followed the movements of Granger’s thin fingers.

   “Osburga was getting old and King Aethewulf was losing interest in her. She made the potion with her husband’s blood in it. But another woman drank it by mistake. Judith of Flanders, a Muggle princess who was visiting their castle at the time. The king cast Osburga away and married Judith. There are a few more cases like this in the books.”

   “That Osburga, who wrote the Treatise?” muttered Draco. Granger was probably correct that the potion was rather odd. “Snape said something about Heorte Lustbaere having a mind of its own.”

   “Did he?” Hermione’s deep brown eyes peered into his face. “That’s interesting… What were you thinking about when you brewed the potion? I mean any specific person, maybe?”

   “I don‘t remember… I was very hungry because I missed the dinner to make the brew.”

   “That’s really strange. Are you sure you didn’t think of me at the moment? Not romantically but maybe like a passing thought?”

   “I don’t recall anything in that kind, Granger.” Draco pondered a little. “Maybe it just gravitated to the first girl who happened to be walking by? I told Crabbe and Goyle to take it to the dungeons after I brewed it in the Room of Requirement. They poured it into you the minute they left the Room!”

   “Well, the books say that the blood component in potions can add a so-called “pull” element. It directs the magic in a certain way in some situations. You weren’t horny that night?”

   “Not that I remember. How about you?” Draco smirked at her. “Who were you thinking about that night?”

   “Definitely not about you,” Hermione chortled. “Sorry to disappoint you, Malfoy.”

   “Were you dreaming of shagging someone, Granger? Just any bloke?” Draco grinned.

   “Of course not. It’s boys who are obsessed with sex, not girls!” Hermione got up to take her skirt off. “I’m going to search for more information on the potion. By the way, thanks for the book. It was fun to read, actually.” She pushed The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra on the table towards Malfoy.

   “So what’s the choice for today, Granger?” Draco flashed a wide grin at her again. He got to his feet and unbuckled his belt.

   “Let’s just do it easy. I’m exhausted tonight.”

   “Me too.” Draco was glad that Hermione wasn’t in a state of war anymore.

   They got under the covers, and Draco’s lips were on Hermione’s instantly. She teased him with her tongue. Malfoy or not, she could frivol a bit with him. They already perfected their snogging over the past two weeks. Hermione savoured the sensation of the tip of his tongue caressing the insides of her lips. Then she reached with her tongue to catch his, the way he had told her he liked. Their tongues danced together, and she closed her eyes. His warm arms draped over her torso. Hermione felt so lazy in his embrace.

    Draco pulled away from her sensuous lips and threw the duvet off her body. His mouth travelled down her neck, and he sank his face into her soft bosom. Hermione’s petite hands stroked his shoulders and back languidly, and it felt so good to him to go at it slowly. The feminine scent of her skin enveloped him. Merlin, she could be such a sweet tease to his senses…

    Hermione watched his blond head nestled on her chest. Her body was dissolving in his fondling. He was so mellow this time, and it was heavenly. His back felt smooth under her palms. She trailed her fingers through his hair. He groaned slightly, then bit her skin. The sharp sensation made her torso arch a little, and another bite followed immediately, making her emit small moans too. She slid her hands down his chest and scraped his skin lightly with her fingernails. They played back and forth, their bodies getting more aroused. He was not in a hurry, and she delighted in their languorous foreplay.

    Draco soaked up her deft caresses, and now he ached to take her completely. He rolled on top of her. She wiggled to pull out from under him. Draco gave her a questioning look, then remembered that it wasn’t her favourite position. He breathed in the vanilla-like scent of her hair, not sure in his mental haze what to do. He craved to mould into her warm body, and to feel all of her under him. He stared into her face again and she smiled at him beguilingly. Then Hermione placed her palms on his chest, and pushed him up gently, caressing his skin at the same time and giving him a new surge of pleasure. He hovered on his arms over her and watched her put pillows under her back. The care with which she positioned her body captivated him, and he relished her unhurried deliberation.

    Hermione saw his eyes follow her movements. His fascinated gaze enthralled her. Being open to him aroused her so much now. Hermione flung her arms around his shoulders as he lowered himself, half kneeling, half lying on top of her. Nothing else existed for them both at his moment, only their lusty bodies, their roaming hands and their hungry lips.

   He pressed his face against her cheek. Hermione inhaled the scent of his skin and hair, slightly sweaty and salty. Draco jerked his head up. Her hand pulled him down on her face and her lips found his mouth. Then her slender shoulders shook, imprisoned in his hands, as they reached their summit.

   He lay with his eyes closed and his arm around her waist. Hermione pulled the duvet over them. Her body felt so light and relaxed. Perspiration glistened on Draco’s forehead in the soft candlelight, and she gently wiped it off with her fingers. He pressed her closer to him. Hermione let out a small chuckle.

   “Let’s skip Hogsmeade next weekend, ” Draco whispered into her soft hair.

   “What for?” Hermione lifted her head.

   “I’ve got that detention with McGonagall. C’mon, think of it, Hermione.” Draco looked into her brown eyes. “Everyone would be gone from the castle, and we could have a good shag.”

   “But you’d have to do your detention still,” Hermione said incredulously.

   “It’s just a couple of hours, and then we could do whatever we wish.” How he wanted to keep her away from Katz…

   “I am not skipping my Hogsmeade trip only because you neglected your Transfiguration homework!” Hermione was getting a little cross. “Why didn’t you do it?”

   “I don’t know,” muttered Draco. “Well, I started on the essays but I didn’t finish them. I got them done today. The book on the Cross-Species Transformation wasn’t in the library anyway, and I had to do without it.”

   “I could loan you the book - I got it a good while ago.”

   “Could you look at my essay then?”

   “Do you have it now?” Hermione propped herself on the pillows.

   Draco reached for his wand, and in a second the parchment landed on the duvet. He pressed his cheek against Hermione’s warm side, his arm draped over her stomach, as she began reading his essay.

   “Ditch the trip, Hermione. Think what fun we could have in the castle when everyone is gone.” He put a little whine in his voice, hoping to soften her up. “I’m going to miss you, honestly.”

   “I’m not going to give up my life with my friends!” Hermione said firmly, her eyes still on his homework. “This paragraph about the manticores isn’t relevant to the topic at all.”

    “Delete it then. My essay is already half a foot longer than McGonagall asked for.” He snuggled against her. Being in a cosy bed with Granger was so good. The nude Granger looking over his homework was even better. If only he could persuade her to stay at Hogwarts next Saturday… “The weather’s going to be nasty next weekend. Rain and wind for sure.”

   “The rest of your essay is all right.” Hermione waved her wand at Malfoy’s parchment. “And please stop nagging me about the Hogsmeade trip, Draco. I already missed my patrol with Ron because of your troubles with Pansy today!”

   “Since when do you have patrols with Weasley?” Draco didn’t like the news.

   “He’s having a hard time patrolling with a Slytherin. I was going to swap with Thornton.”

   “Weasley is a dumb nitwit. Thornton is really pretty.” Draco was glad he made Granger scrap her plans with Weasel.

   “If to listen to you, everyone’s stupid in this castle. Only you’re smart,” Hermione retorted. She directed Draco’s parchment to his open bag and slipped back under the covers. “Did you do your DADA essay for Monday?”

    “Almost.” Draco yawned. “And you?”

    “I wrote it, but I’m at loss what exactly Snape wants from us in it. He never approves of my homework.”

   “Let me look.” Her parchment landed on his face and slid down the duvet. He caught it before it fell to the floor. “You took everything from the standard textbooks, Hermione.”

   “What else are we supposed to do?” Hermione pressed his cheek against his shoulder to peek at her homework.

   “If you want to impress Snape, go beyond the textbooks. He likes creativity. Think outside of the box.”

   “What kind of books should I use?” 

   “Here.” Draco waved his wand and two books plunked on the bed. “Those are from the Manor. Did you know we got one of the best private libraries in Britain?”

   “You never miss a chance to brag, Malfoy.” Hermione leafed through one of the volumes. “You know, half of it looks like a Dark Magic…”

   “And you never miss a chance to get at me. For Snape the darker the better. He’s that type of a wizard.” Draco yawned again.

   “Well, thanks a lot.” Hermione sent the books to her bag and covered her big yawn with her hand. “I guess I’d go back to the dorm.”

   “Let’s sleep here. Do you really want to bump into Weasley on patrol?”

   Hermione gazed into his drowsy grey eyes. She didn’t feel like climbing out of the warm bed. To be honest, she expected it. Hermione summoned her alarm clock from the bag and set it for six in the morning. No one would be out in the corridors that early on Sunday. She settled back under the covers and let Malfoy snuggle against her.

   “Skip Hogsmeade next Saturday, Hermione…” His voice drifted into her ear. She ignored him and closed her eyes.

    Draco raised his head and studied her fragile features. A thought of Katz made his heart sink again. He absolutely must coax her to stay at Hogwarts. He‘d give it a try again tomorrow. Draco whispered a couple of incantations. The candles went out, and the curtains closed around the bed.

Chapter 15: Hogsmeade Trip
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    “Do you know what time it is, Granger? It’s six-thirty and it’s Saturday morning!”

    “It’s already quarter to seven! Here’s your coffee, and wake up, Malfoy!”

     “The coffee is cold! And what kind of a bloody muffin is that?”

     “Apple and cinnamon. I sent you the awakening note at six sharp. It took you forty-five minutes to crawl out of your dorm!”

     “I’m not exactly a morning person, Granger!”

     “Oh, please just have your coffee and get on with it, Malfoy. Before everyone’s up and out in the hallways!”

     Hermione impatiently tugged at the belt of Malfoy’s dark brown dressing-gown. It unravelled and the gown opened, revealing his blue plaid pyjamas.

    “You‘re so damn bent on going to Hogsmeade, Granger! To have your fix at this ungodly hour…” Draco backed away and hit a desk in the dimly lit dungeon room. “I mean, think of it - we could have a grand afternoon shag instead!”

     “I’m sick of being cooped up in the castle!” Hermione sidled to him, unbuttoning her robes. ”And I need my sanity around my friends!”

     “Just a minute, Granger! Can I have my coffee, after all?” He took a bite out of his muffin and a long sip from his mug. His eyes slid down to Granger’s legs: she didn’t have her tights on under the robes. “Have you got knickers under your skirt?”

     “Take a guess, Malfoy,” Hermione said slyly and bared Draco’s chest. Her fingers caressed his skin, and the hot desire filled his insides.

     Draco set his mug and muffin on the desk, shook his pants off, pulled up a chair and Granger straddled him instantly. With their eyes closed, they sank into each other. Her sated body quaked in his arms when he growled his own release.

     Hermione slid off his lap. She deftly pulled her knickers and tights out of her pockets and began putting her clothes in order.

    “Where are you going in Hogsmeade?” Draco asked, still in a daze after their speedy intercourse.

    “I don’t know… Honeydukes, maybe. The Three Broomsticks, as usual,” she muttered while smoothing out her dark blue tights with her palms.

    “Don’t go to the Three Broomsticks, Granger!” He took another bite out of his muffin. “They’ve got those big fat rats all over their kitchen.”

    “That’s such a nonsense.” Hermione shot up a glance at him. “You’re trying so hard to spoil my day, Malfoy!”

    “I’ve seen them myself. “ Draco wasn’t giving up yet. “The Hog’s Head is loads better than the Three Broomsticks.”

    “Now that’s a really seedy place, the Hog’s Head,” Hermione snorted. “All right, thanks a lot, Malfoy.” She planted a peck on his cheek, picked up her empty coffee cup and sailed out of the dungeon.

    His still half-full mug in one hand and the muffin in another, Draco traipsed back to the Slytherin quarters. Granger was so incredible - the more they did it, the better she got at it. Merlin’s bloody hell of pants!

    The boys were already stirring up when he came back to the dorm. Goyle and Crabbe trudged sleepily past him to the bathrooms.

   “You’re early today, mate.” Theo pulled his curtain open and stared at Draco.

   “Got some coffee and a muffin,” he mumbled.

   “And a snog along the way?” Nott smirked.

   “What made you think so?”

   “Judging by your looks.“ Theo apparently resolved to be unbearable today. “Who was it? I guess not Parkinson.”

   “I’m sure Padma would be terribly glad that you’ve pasted a photo of her head on a centrefold of some babe in Playwizard. ” Draco was not going to let such an audacity pass. “She’d be thrilled to know that you wank to it every night!”

    Theo dove behind his curtains but in less than a minute his head popped out again. “Did I spot you carrying the Granger photo from the Yule Ball in your books? With the Krum part torn away?”

    “That was in the fourth year, moron!”

    “Granger’s sort of cute.” Zabini showed signs of life in his bed. “Too bad she isn’t a pureblood.” Blaise yawned loudly.

     Draco pretended to be absorbed in his coffee and muffin.

    “Granger’s not bad, right,” declared Nott. “By the way, she’s patrolling with Thornton tonight. Want to give her a try, Blaise?”

    “I thought Thornton patrolled with Weasel,” Draco grumbled from his bed.

    “Thornton threw a fit over how Weasel treated her the other day. Didn’t want to do it with Goldstein either. Wasserstein and Clayton gave in, and Granger paired up with her,” Theo filled in obligingly.

    “Well…If Granger‘s on a patrol with Cassie…” Zabini started taking his pyjamas off. “That’s some idea actually.”

     “That’s a bad idea, Blaise,” retorted Draco, and the boys stared at him. “First, she’ll dock the points off Slytherin on the spot for wandering at night. Second, she’s a Gryffindor and a Mudblood!”

     “Draco, that Gryffindor thing is a bit stale,” Blaise drawled from his perch. ”The Gryffindor girls are really pretty. But we’d never admit it to the Slytherin gals.”

     “Dock the points? Depends on how you approach her,” Theo sneered. “If you do it right, Blaise, she might actually add them!”

    Draco harrumphed and pulled his curtains shut. Now he had to do something about Zabini on top of everything else…

    He changed out of his pyjamas into a shirt and boxers, then poked his head out of the curtains. Theo was gone but Blaise was still in the room.

    “Blaise, you remember the plan?”

    “Yeah.” He was leafing through a magazine. “Got the Polyjuice potion?”

     “Yes, everything’s here. The detention’s at two, I’ll be back at three and then you’re a free man. I‘ll get your Herbology essay done then.”

     “The Herbology first. Before the detention.”

    “What’s the difference, Blaise?” Draco grabbed his towel and dressing gown.

    “To be sure you did it yourself and didn’t dump it on Crabbe. Like you did with my Potions homework last year.”

    “I was a prefect then! I was too busy with everything, Blaise.”

    “So? I’d rather make certain it‘s in order.”

    “All right, all right!” Draco headed off to the bathrooms. He was bracing himself for the day to come. 

    It was quarter to one when Draco handed the Herbology essay, his clothing and a vial of Polyjuice potion with his own hair in it to Blaise in a toilet on the second floor. Malfoy dropped Zabini’s hair in another vial with the potion and it turned mossy green.

   “The essay’s fine,” Zabini approved it and gave the bundle of his clothes to Draco. “So, I’m drinking this thing, then put your clothes on and go to McGonagall’s office at two, right?”

    “Right,” nodded Draco. “You’ll ask to visit a loo at three, and I’ll meet you in the seventh floor toilet. I’ll go to her office to finish the detention.”

    “Okay, and I’ll be off to Hogsmeade then. Where are you going there?”

    “Scrivenshaft’s and maybe a quick drink at the Three Broomsticks. Thanks a lot, mate.” Draco gave Blaise a pat on his back and dove into a stall.

    He felt a bit odd in Zabini’s body, who was taller and wider than him, while he walked down to the entrance. Filch with his Secrecy Sensor wasn’t much of a problem thanks to the Confunding Charm. Draco learned a lot of useful spells from Auntie Bella over the past summer.

    When he shook the mud off his boots at the entrance of the Three Broomsticks, Katz was already there, sipping mead and eating onion rings at a table. Draco glanced around and did not find Granger. He hoped she would never show up. Draco took a seat next to Sebastian and ordered a drink too.

    “What colour is your hair?” Katz said the password.

    “Exactly the opposite of mine,” replied Draco. “Got the gift? Anyone in a Gryffindor scarf came into the pub?”

    “Rosmerta has it.” Katz sent a couple more rings into his mouth.

    Draco scanned the crowd in the pub. He saw a few younger Hufflepuffs but no one from Gryffindor. Then the door opened and two Gryffindor girls walked in.

   “Here she is,” Draco whispered to Katz. “The one with dark hair.”

   “The description I’ve got says Granger has shoulder length hair,” Sebastian muttered doubtfully.

   “She got her hair cut this week. That’s her, I tell you.” Draco nodded in the direction of Katie Bell.

   “Okay.“ Katz finished his mead and rings, and moved to the counter under the pretence of ordering more.

   Draco swallowed the last of his butterbeer. He still had time left, and wanted to make sure things went smoothly. He wandered around, saw a seventh year student from his House and waved to him. The older Slytherin left soon, and Draco leaned against a pillar as if waiting for someone. He looked at Katz who sat by the counter and only a few feet away from Katie and Leanne. Sebastian met his glance and showed his thumb. The Imperius had been cast all right. Draco avoided looking at the girls. He felt a little queasy in his stomach.

   Then Draco nearly groaned. Granger and her two minions arrived in the pub. Worse even, they sat down in direct view of Katz, who instantly shot a quick glance at Draco.

   Hermione looked around and met Draco’s eyes. Unexpectedly for himself, he winked at her, which made her smile uncertainly in response. Then she turned towards Potter and Weasley. Draco cursed himself for forgetting about his Zabini looks. He walked up to the counter and took a seat next to Sebastian.

   “Is that Potter?” Katz whispered. “And the chick?”

   “That’s Potter, right. It’s his new girlfriend, as of this week.”

   “Ah.” Katz fiddled with his glass. “Time to send the wenches to the loo?”

   “Okay. Go to the castle gates afterwards. Filch is very easy to Confund.”

   Draco went to the small side corridor leading to the toilets. He took a sip from his vial with the Polyjuice potion and began studying the Ministry posters on the wall there. Madam Rosmerta tottered past him in her high heels.

   Damn! Granger appeared in the corridor with an apparent intent to visit the toilet.

   “Hi.” Draco effectively blocked her path with help of Zabini’s wide shoulders. “How are the things?”

   “I’m fine, thanks.” Granger was very visibly taken aback. “Er - the posters?”

   “They’re marvellous,” he drawled. “Great bedtime reading.”

   “Oh, yes…” With a nervous smile, she tried to edge around him in the narrow passage.

    “Would you like me to keep you company?”

    “Thanks, but I - I’m going to the loo now.”

     “Yes, I’m going there too.” Draco conjured the most idiotic grin.

    “I’m going to the ladies’ room, Zabini.” She backed away from him.

    “I actually prefer the ladies’ toilet. Just more fun, Granger.”

     Hermione’s eyes opened wide. She was silent for a second, then turned on her heels and darted back to the main room. Draco leaned against the wall and drew a breath. Granger would be giving a wide berth to Zabini from now on.

    Katie Bell, her eyes glazed, passed by in the corridor and disappeared behind the toilet door. Draco glanced at his watch - it was time for him to go back. He buttoned up his coat, hurried out of the pub and into the wind and sleet. He tried hard not to think about Katie and Rosmerta, and the opal necklace making its way into Dumbledore’s hands. But the thought of his father in Azkaban made his fists clench.

    Blaise was already in a stall in the seventh floor toilet. Draco entered the next compartment, tossed Zabini’s clothes to him over the partition and received his own garments in return. He put his robes on, walked out and checked himself in a mirror over a sink. Zabini came up behind him.

   “McGonagall made me sort old class manuals. I’ve got halfway through the boxes. You’ll need to put the booklets that are torn, stained, and just not usable anymore on the right, and the good ones go in the bin on the left,” Blaise informed Draco. “How is it in Hogsmeade?”

    “The weather’s nasty, a lot of people are returning early.” Draco dried his hands. “You’re flirting with Gryffindors, aren‘t you?”

   “Why did you decide so?”

   “Some Gryffindor girl was smiling at me at the Three Broomsticks.”

   “Who?” Blaise asked eagerly.

   “First of all, Slytherins got no business with Gryffindors. Second, you’ll be better off staying at the dorm tonight.” Draco chortled and strode out of the loo.

    His detention turned out to be shorter than Draco expected. Hagrid burst into the office with the news of Katie Bell being taken to the hospital wing, and McGonagall dismissed Draco on the spot despite the unfinished stack of class manuals.

    He followed the teachers at a distance. From the second floor stairs landing he could see McGonagall returning into the castle with Granger and the other students. Hermione looked completely unharmed, and Draco quickly bolted into a corridor before anyone could see him. His heart was pounding. The failure of his plot filled his insides with fear. What if they decide to interrogate Zabini? Did Katz realize that Draco misguided him? Would Granger find out that it was Draco who planned the whole thing?    

      Hours had passed but no one seemed to come for Malfoy or Zabini. After dinner Draco holed up in the Room of Requirement. Goyle, disguised as a second-year girl, stood sentry in the corridor. But Draco couldn’t focus on working on the Cabinet. Thoughts and fears jumbled in his mind. Finally, he pushed his stool away and laid his enchanted parchment on top of something chipped and dusty near him. Draco stared at the ink splotch on the otherwise blank page. He craved to see Granger this minute. He desperately needed her company and her warm body, but he knew that it would be futile to try to summon her. Granger had already got her fix with him and she would just brush off his request right now. It had happened before, and Draco was afraid of one more reason for his pain - the humiliation from her rejection. If she figured out that the opal necklace incident was his doing, then she would surely denounce him. He sat here, gazed at the empty parchment, his only way to reach out to Granger, and did nothing.

    After the discussion in McGonagall’s office Hermione was relieved to part with Harry and Ron in the Gryffindor Common Room and go to her dorm. It was so difficult for her to be around her friends right now. She did her best to dissuade Harry from accusing Malfoy as the main culprit. Thankfully, Ron wasn’t very supportive of Harry’s theories either. Still, Ron’s interest in Madam Rosmerta upset her a great deal at the pub. Hermione felt guilty about neglecting him because of Malfoy. At the same time she couldn’t bear to think that the lust potion seemed to be the only way to make a boy become interested in her. If Hermione wanted Ron to like her, she had to make it up to him. She resolved to invite him to Slughorn’s Christmas party.

     It was now obvious to Hermione that Malfoy knew about the cursed necklace plot. He was so adamant on keeping her from going to Hogsmeade, and he didn’t want her to visit the Three Broomsticks either. Did he really try to keep her safe? Hermione did not want to let herself believe it. He was a Death Eater after all, and she had to be realistic about it. Nevertheless, when she thought that Malfoy had possibly wanted to protect her from Katie’s fate, it filled her heart with a strange mix of appreciation and terror.

    At dinner Hermione sat with Ginny and Parvati to stay away from Harry’s speculations on Malfoy’s being a Death Eater. She glanced at the Slytherin table. Draco looked decidedly off-colour. Should she try to talk to him tonight? Hermione was very tempted to send him a note but she didn’t want him to think that she was so eager to see him again the same day.

    Parvati and Padma dragged her to the library after dinner to hear more about the necklace incident. The twins kept rehashing the day’s events and it sickened Hermione to the limit. Worse even, she saw Zabini strolling up to their table with a royal smile on his face. Instantly, Hermione wondered if Blaise was an accomplice to the crime. The memory of their encounter made her feel nauseated. When Zabini gave a nod and joined the three of them, which made Parvati blush, Hermione excused herself and went to the seventh floor. It was time for her to escape and hide in the cosy Room of Requirement. In the corridor she bumped into a small girl, who gave a start and dropped a bottle on the floor. With an apology, Hermione cleaned up the mess and went to the abandoned classrooms on the third floor instead.

    In the empty classroom Hermione pulled out her enchanted parchment and stared at it. She longed to talk to Draco and see his reaction to what had happened in Hogsmeade. It would be better to wait till tomorrow to see Malfoy but the mystery of his actions burned her too much to delay the meeting. Hermione tried to sober herself up by the fact that he was a Death Eater and would not answer her questions honestly. She ought never to expect him to care for her enough to try to protect her. He needed her only to satisfy his potion-induced lust. Many times he acted as a complete git towards her and her best friends. Still, a faint hope for a better side in him stubbornly lingered in her heart. Over the past few weeks Hermione learned so much more about his personality. With her he was just that - human, witty and at times even attentive. He was a pureblood snob but he also made her feel attractive and desirable. Her brain was splitting in two from it all.

    Sitting and doing nothing wouldn’t do any good. Hermione pointed her wand at the parchment.


Could you meet me tonight after my patrol?


    Hermione closed her eyes and braced herself for the answer. She didn’t have to wait for long. In less that fifteen minutes Hermione read:

Sure, I can. Where?


She hurriedly wrote back:

Outside the Slytherin quarters, OK? I’m patrolling with Thornton. When she returns to your House, could you come out then? HG   The same minute a reply flitted in:Good.



    Hermione stepped towards Malfoy when he emerged out of the Slytherin quarters. 
   “Ahem… Let’s find a dungeon, Malfoy.” She looked at him apprehensively and saw tension in his grey eyes.

   “Not here. Pansy’s stalking me now. “ He drew closer to her. “The Room of Requirement?”

   “McGonagall’s still in her office. I saw light under the door.” Hermione swallowed. “I think Aurors have arrived from the Ministry tonight.”

   “A third floor classroom, then.” His voice was brittle.

   They walked up to the third floor corridor in silence. Draco pushed a door open for Hermione and they entered a dark room. They cast the locking charms on the entrance together.

   “Tell me… What did you know about the cursed necklace plan?” Hermione studied his features in the dim wandlight.

   “Nothing.” His face stiffened.

   “I don’t believe it, Draco.” Hermione made a few steps towards a chair. “You didn’t want me to go to Hogsmeade and the Three Broomsticks. You certainly had a better reason for it than just having a shag.”

   The silence was so dense between them, Hermione thought she could stick her wand in it. She ran her fingers along the back of the chair. Draco stepped closer to her.

   “Draco?” She looked at him but his expression was unreadable.

   “Don’t ask me about it, Granger,“ he said quietly. “I won‘t answer your questions.”

   “I see. You knew that it was going to happen.” Hermione was surprised by her own composure. She phrased her thoughts carefully. “You didn’t want me to be harmed.”

   “Yes. I wanted you to be safe.” His lips twitched a little.

   “I am grateful for it.“ Hermione paused. “But I am terrified at what happened to Katie. She didn’t deserve it. If they chose me instead, it would be more justified. After all, I fought the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries.”

   “Stop it!“ Malfoy’s face looked tortured. He lunged at her and seized Hermione by her shoulders.

   “Draco, you don’t have to hurl me down, if I upset you.” She put her palms on his chest. “I’ll give myself to you if you want me.”

   “I need you now, Hermione,” he croaked, and her heart sank to the very bottom of her stomach. She mustered herself and began unbuttoning Draco’s robes.

   His hands slid off her shoulders and started fumbling with her buttons too. They avoided looking into each other’s eyes as they undressed each other.

   Draco waved his wand, and several chairs transformed into a mattress with a full set of bedding. He took her in his arms and soon their bodies were entwined under the covers.

   His lips devoured her mouth hungrily. Then she felt his fingers roaming her body. He groped her roughly, and she didn’t mind it. She was far from being gentle with him too. Hermione gasped and gripped his shoulders, and tears streamed down her cheeks as Draco kept ravishing her.

   His tongue licked her salty tears. Her teeth grazed his skin. She drove her nails into his back with each his movement. Hermione was his and Draco wasn’t going to let anyone harm her. She wanted him as much as he wanted her at the moment. They moaned and growled like a strange beast, quaking and trembling in their ecstasy together.

   “Let’s do it in the Room of Requirement after my patrol every Saturday night,” said Hermione, as they lay together, languid and spent under their covers. “No one would wonder why I’m not in the dorm at the bedtime.”

   “Sounds good,” muttered Draco. “You’re clever, Hermione.”

   “I must be crazy. Shagging you after what happened today.” She reached for her clothes.

   “I’m nuts too.” Draco gave her a squeeze on her rear. “We both are insane, that is.”

   They parted at the stairs, and Hermione hurried up to the Gryffindor Tower. He watched her to turn corner and disappear, then headed down the steps to the dungeons.

   It happened when Draco reached the second floor. Sharp pain pierced his left forearm. He halted and pulled his sleeve up. The Dark Mark became jet black. A new jolt of pain shot up his arm, and then another. Draco fell to the floor and rolled on it from the torture. It was like his arm was being mauled and torn apart by invisible teeth. His whole body writhed in the agony. His head seemed to be clamped by iron bands. Then his sight blacked out.

    He came back to his senses and found himself slumped against a pillar, shivering from cold. His temples throbbed but his Dark Mark stopped hurting. He clambered to his feet and slowly walked downstairs.

   The Dark Lord was angry at Draco Malfoy.

Chapter 16: Investigation
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Hermione pulled a book off a shelf and leafed through it. Nothing new on the Levitating Charms. With slight disappointment, she squeezed the book back onto the shelf and studied the spines next to it. Maybe this one, Hermione thought and took out another reference on Advanced Charms.

    “Rumours are that Slughorn’s throwing a Christmas party, “ Hermione suddenly heard the soft drawl she knew so well, and the familiar arm wrapped around her waist. “Who are you going with, Granger?” 

    “Of course, not with you. Please remove your hand before anyone sees us.” Hermione turned her head and held the stare of his grey eyes. “Basically, it’s none of your business, Malfoy!”

     “Can I know who is my girl going with to the Slug party? Potter?” He leaned closer to her. 

    “Since when am I your girl? You’ve got your fiancee.” Hermione freed herself from his embrace. He let her off easily. “Not Harry - he’s invited on his own.” 

   “Your beloved Weasel, as usual?” Draco’s upper lip curled up in a sneer. 

   “Yes, it’s Ron, and he’s Weasley, not Weasel!” Hermione hissed back and shoved the book onto the shelf. “I don’t want to get caught with you here in the library. Didn’t we agree to have our date tomorrow?” Hermione turned on her heels and headed down the aisle and away from Malfoy. She heard him swear under his breath. What did he expect from her, after all? A passionate kiss right here in the library? 

     Draco stood and flipped through several books but could not stop fuming. Was there any way to win Granger in earnest after all? He must do something about Weasel. He’d wait for the right opportunity to present itself. What a wretched thing his life was… The Cabinet stubbornly refused to mend. Auntie Bella kept bombarding him through the enchanted Galleons with demands to meet her outside of the castle. Thanks Merlin, the windows in the Astronomy Tower had been sealed dead. The Dark Mark torment did not recur since that night, but Dumbledore was still alive and it meant that the torture could return upon Draco any minute.

     Hermione marched back to the table where Harry and Ron were doing their homework. Why did Malfoy have to turn up the moment she was able to get rid of any thought of him? His mere touch instantly made a small puddle of desire pool in the bottom of her belly. She already regretted asking him for a meeting after the Katie Bell tragedy. What was she hoping for? That he’d repent and tell her everything? Even if Malfoy saved her from the cursed necklace, it didn’t mean that he owned her, as he apparently believed. Then Hermione remembered his pained expression, and a traitorous pang of pity tugged at her heart. She’d better not dwell on the memory of that night…
    “Did you find anything, Hermione?” Ron’s warm blue eyes met hers, and she wanted to sink into them. She had to be careful to maintain the proper distance to avoid an assault of the potion-induced fantasies. Ron was so much nicer to her after Hermione admitted that she wanted to invite him to the party.

     “Nothing there. But I think this book on Essential Charms could do for our essays just fine.” She smiled at Ron, and he grinned back. How great it was to be here with him and Harry, she thought. Still, Malfoy was like a smallish, enticingly dark cloud that hovered in the far corner of her conscience. Stubbornly, it threatened to envelop her whole self unless she made a good effort to keep it at bay. Hermione looked at the boys in front of her. Compared to constantly brooding Harry, Ron was the sunshine in her life. She wanted to kiss every freckle on his face.

     “Take it easy, Hermione, don’t get all worked up over it,” Ron said good-naturedly and stretched in his chair. “Who’s the Chaser instead of Katie, Harry?”

     “I’m not sure.” Harry lifted his head from his parchments. “Maybe Finnigan or Dean?”

     “Still one Chaser short for the practice today? When will you decide on someone, after all?” Ron gathered his parchments together. “Come watch us at the pitch before dinner, Hermione.”

     “Thanks, I’d love to see you play. “ Ron’s invitation made Hermione’s heart flutter, but she had her plans to fulfil. “I’ll come over to the pitch a bit later.”

     “Okay,” nodded Ron, and got to his feet, his lanky figure towering over the table. Harry had already shoved his books and parchments in his bag.

     Hermione watched the boys walk towards the exit. Harry filled out in the shoulders, and Ron grew even taller. Hermione couldn’t help but notice how manly they were becoming. Suddenly she wondered how each of them would look in bed, and the thought made her blush slightly. She reprimanded herself for thinking like this about her old friends.

     Draco Malfoy tried to concentrate on his homework but had trouble organizing his thoughts. Next to him, Pansy skulked over her parchments, and across the table from him Goyle was reading a comic, which he placed on top of his opened Charms textbook. Millicent Bulstrode kept peeking into the comic over his massive forearm while struggling with her Herbology homework.

     Draco raised his head and noticed Potter and Weasley walking across the room, their badges gleaming on their robes. The Qudditch Captain and Prefect, the two Gryffindor poster boys, half of the Hogwarts girls swooning over them, Granger included… The fabled heroes of the fight in the Department of Mysteries. The mere sight of them both made Draco seethe with venom. Pansy was talking about something to him now, but he ignored her solicitous drone. His eyes darted to the side and he saw Hermione get up from her seat and join the Patil sisters at another table. He must make her ditch Potty and Weasel. 

     Draco glanced at Pansy: she had already ceased her chatter and was staring into her book glumly. He felt a dull pain coming on in his left temple. Now the headache was going to torment him for the rest of the day.

    “All right, Goyle, we’ve got to go.” Draco collected his belongings, gave a nod to the girls and headed to the exit. Goyle surrendered his comic book to Bulstrode and lumbered after him.

    Padma and Parvati listened eagerly when Hermione told them in a hushed voice about her very odd encounter with Zabini in the Three Broomsticks. She had been mulling for a while over his strange behaviour in the pub, and now she wanted to investigate it further.

    “Do you think Zabini could be Imperiused?” wondered Padma. “He looked perfectly normal when he joined us in the library, remember?”

    “Or Confunded?” added Parvati. “I doubt he’s with those Death Eaters, you know.”

    “We can’t say anything for sure now,” said Hermione. “Could you try to probe Zabini about his trip to Hogsmeade?”

    “Like have a date with him and fish the information out of him?” chuckled Parvati.

    “It would be so great.” Hermione looked at Parvati hopefully. “I‘m sorry you’d have to put up with the annoying Slytherin…”

    “Oh no, Zabini is so entertaining!” Parvati beamed at Hermione, which made her wonder if it was a good idea to stoke Parvati’s apparently beginning crush on the haughty Slytherin boy.

    “Yes! You could have a date with him on Sunday night, when I’m on a patrol!” Padma whispered excitedly. “In an abandoned classroom on the third floor. Nott and I would have you covered, Parvati!”

    “Or Saturday night during my patrol - let’s take our enchanted Galleons,” suggested Hermione. “Just in case. If you get in trouble, I could come over.”

    “What do you need to know?” asked Padma softly and glanced around.

    “Whatever he remembers about his visit to the Three Broomsticks,” Hermione lowered her voice to a barely audible whisper. “If he was Imperiused like Katie Bell or Confunded, he wouldn’t be able to recall the conversation with me. No one must know about our plan, okay?”

    “Sure, we’ll keep it secret!” Parvati was visibly thrilled about the task.

    Hermione hurriedly left the library to make it to the Qudditch pitch while Harry and Ron were still there. As she was about to turn corner a few feet from the library entrance, she realised that someone was following her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Parkinson with Bulstrode gaining on her. Pansy’s looks did not promise anything good. Hermione drew her wand out and whipped around. Protego! She reflected Pansy’s Stunning Spell just in time. Hermione noticed the Patil twins scampering down the corridor with alarmed looks.

    “I saw it! You and Malfoy necked in the library!” Parkinson screeched and jerked up her wand to fire another spell at her. Which curse it was going to be, Hermione never found out, because the same second Padma screamed, “Expelliarmus!”

    Everyone’s wand flew up in the air. Furious, Pansy lunged at Hermione, who, in return, went for her neck. Bulstrode grabbed Hermione from behind, and the three of them tumbled to the floor. Hermione kicked at Millicent’s legs madly while trying to keep Pansy’s fingernails off her face. Parvati struggled to pry Bulstrode off Hermione’s back while Padma rushed to collect the wands scattered on the floor.

    “Stop the fighting!” McGonagall’s voice thundered in the hallway. Her speedy spell threw the girls apart, panting and dishevelled. Hermione clambered to her feet and realised that her sleeve was torn in two. Pansy, sitting on the floor, attempted to straighten her robes, with several buttons missing. Madam Pince hovered behind McGonagall. A small crowd of younger students stood at a distance, gawking at the scene. Under McGonagall’s stern gaze the five girls filed down the hallway and to her office.

    When they lined up in front of McGonagall’s desk, Hermione heard the door opening. She turned her head and saw Snape entering the office. While Padma narrated the whole story, he came to the side of McGonagall’s chair and trained his heavy gaze on Hermione. She held his stare defiantly.

    “Am I correct, you’ve got into a fight over a boy?” McGonagall asked sharply.

    Parkinson’s eyes threw daggers at Hermione, who stuck her chin up. Bulstrode stared into the space dully. The Patil sisters sidled closer to each other.

    “Yes, Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said loudly. She looked at Snape again. Could he hush Parkinson up? One more glance at Pansy’s reddened face, and Hermione charged on, “Professor Snape, Parkinson thinks I necked with Malfoy, her fiancé, and I never did it with him! I loathe Malfoy!”

    The teachers’ eyes shot in Hermione’s direction.

   “Could you please talk to these students from your House, Professor Snape?” McGonagall turned to him. “Miss Parkinson seems to be very upset about Mr. Malfoy.”

    “Certainly, Professor McGonagall.” Snape nodded curtly and led the Slytherin girls out of the office.

    As her adrenaline surge dissipated, Hermione’s hands suddenly began to shake, and she hid them in her pockets.

   “Padma and Parvati, you may go,” McGonagall released the twins, who gladly scurried off to the door. “Hermione, have a seat, please.”

   Hermione sat down, still trembling.

   “Are you OK, Hermione?” McGonagall’s voice softened considerably.

   “Yes - yes,“ she stuttered.

   “I hope Miss Parkinson didn’t trouble you too much.” McGonagall gave Hermione a long look. “And Mr. Malfoy?”

   Hermione’s heart sank to the bottom of her stomach. “No, they didn’t bother me much. It - it’s just that Parkinson went crazy and attacked me today.”

   “Do you have a hard time keeping up with your studies?”

   “No, not really. I was a bit sick a while ago.” Hermione remembered the hapless week when she tried to resist the potion effects. An urge to cry came over her and she bit her lower lip.

    “You look quite stressed lately, Miss Granger.” McGonagall’s eyes were still fixed on her face.

    “Yes… I feel a little tired,” muttered Hermione. She felt tears welling up in her eyes. For Merlin’s sake, the last thing she needed was to fall apart in McGonagall’s office. Everyone had been such a pain to deal with - Malfoy, Harry, Ron, her dorm mates, and now the assault from the Slytherin girls... She’d gladly give them the wretched Malfoy back, if she could!

     McGonagall walked around the desk with a look of a grave concern, and came up to Hermione. She barely managed to stifle her sob when the teacher put her hand on Hermione‘s arm.

    “Are you really all right? Do you sleep well at night?” McGonagall stroked her forearm. “I’ll ask Madam Pomfrey to give you the Calming Draught.”

    “I -I’m all right,” mumbled Hermione. McGonagall did not look very convinced, but all Hermione wanted was to get out of the teacher’s office. She definitely could use something to soothe her nerves…

    With a bottle of the Calming Draught in her hand, Hermione left the hospital wing. In her emotional state, she did not feel like dragging herself all the way to the Quidditch pitch. What Hermione craved now was a dose of the Draught and a little rest before facing everyone at the dinner.

    In the Room of Requirement Hermione deposited her bag by one of the chairs, and took her clothes off, leaving only her underwear and tights on. With a quick flick of her wand she mended the torn sleeve of her robes, then contemplated the bottle that Madam Pomfrey gave her. One tablespoon to calm her nerves, and three to four tablespoons to fall asleep. Hermione took two spoonfuls of the concoction. She curled up under the covers and, after a few sobs, she drifted into a relaxing slumber. 

    Draco positioned Crabbe, disguised as a first-year girl, in the seventh floor corridor. “I need to enter the room where the Cabinet is,” he kept thinking as he paced back and forth in the corridor. Although his headache had abated a good deal after he took the potion Mum had caringly supplied him with, the trace of it still lingered inside his skull. The Room did not open to him. Puzzled, Draco decided to try it again after dinner.

     The Room of Requirement did not admit him after the dinner either. Draco stared at the bare expanse of the wall, not sure what to make of it. Then a thought crossed his mind. Granger was not present in the Great Hall - could it be the reason? He dismissed Crabbe and strolled past the wall again, this time asking for a different place. The door appeared, and Draco darted into it.

    He lit up the candles in the Room and saw Granger’s clothes, neatly folded on one of the armchairs. He put his bag next to hers. The bed curtains were drawn together. He parted them cautiously and saw Granger’s sleeping form, her brown hair spread out on the pillows.

    Hermione opened her eyes, and blinked from the light. She batted her eyelids again. It was not a dream. The real Malfoy was standing in the gap between the draperies.

     “No…“ Although she had a modest white chemise on, she pulled the duvet up to her chin. He parted the drapes wide, and she could see the circles under his eyes. “Please, not now, Draco.”

     Draco sat down on the bed and took his shoes off. The painkiller potion apparently started wearing off and the dull ache in his temple had gone up a notch. He looked at Granger again. Her eyes were puffy. Had she been crying?

    “My head hurts,” Draco mumbled, as he stuffed a pillow behind his back. He stretched his long legs on the top of the duvet and crossed his arms on his chest. “I heard you‘d had a ruffle today. Pansy stayed a mile away from me in the Great Hall.”

    “Your wreck of a fiancee attacked me outside the library,” huffed Hermione. She propped herself up on the pillows and told him about the fight and the visit to McGonagall’s office.

    “Snape set Pansy’s wits straight, I’m sure.” Draco grinned.

    “Oh, I missed the dinner also…” Hermione sighed. “What time is it?”

    “About seven, I think. Hungry, Granger?”

    “No, not really. But I’d better get going.” She drew away from him. 

    “Let’s stay here, Hermione. I’ve got a butterbeer in my bag. Want it?”

    “No, let’s do it tomorrow. I’m not in the mood, really. Please, Draco. Please…”

    Draco Accio’d the bottle of butterbeer from his bag and opened it. He didn’t feel like cavorting in bed. He still had a headache, albeit not as bad as earlier in the day.

    “I‘m not up to it, either,” he admitted and proffered the drink to her. “Hell, I’m tired, Granger.”

    Hermione settled back against the pillows and took a sip from the bottle. “Did you sleep okay? You look rather wan.”

    “Didn’t get much sleep last night,” Draco complained. He already knew Granger wasn’t the type to hex an ailing soul.

    “Madam Pomfrey gave me the Calming Draught,” Hermione said eagerly. She realised what a great opportunity had just presented itself to her. “Maybe you could have some and take a little nap here?”

    “Whatever works,“ Draco muttered. “Will you stay here?”

    “Yes, I’ll sit here for awhile, but I’d like to go back to my dorm before the curfew.” Hermione summoned the medicine and one of her quills. She transformed the quill into a spoon. “Four tablespoons for a restful sleep.”

     Draco swallowed the potion and sent his clothes to one of the chairs. He snuggled under the covers against Hermione, who settled in with a book, and closed his eyes.

     She read several chapters of her book with Malfoy slumbering beside her. Slowly, Hermione removed his arm from her thigh, and he did not stir. She slid out of the bed and tiptoed around it to the armchairs. A wave of her wand, and the curtains closed soundlessly. Another flick of the wand and one of the chairs scooted into a position that shielded her from the bed.

     She settled on the floor behind the bulky armchair. Hermione listened to the faint sound of Draco’s snoring for a few minutes, then opened his bag. Could it have any clues to the opal necklace incident? Cautiously, she pulled out and inspected the textbooks. Nothing turned up in them, and she stacked the books on the floor. Hermione dipped in the bag again. The same magazine with the nearly undressed witch on the cover, that she found last time, but now with the pages falling out of it. No hint of anything related to the cursed necklace yet. Hermione scrutinized the confectionery wraps and discarded them on the top of the stack of Draco’s books.

     Assorted parchments with class notes, doodles and homework. Two letters from his mother. Hermione hesitated a little, then unfolded them and read. Narcissa’s writings did not reveal much. Still, her admonishments to her son to stay safe and exercise the utmost care confirmed that he was up to something. She folded the letters and put them aside. Snooping made her a little uncomfortable, but she had to follow through with her investigation. Hermione looked through the rest of Draco’s parchments. She came across the same old pages with the mending spells, but now they bore numerous corrections and comments on the margins. Hermione produced a few blank parchments from her bag and copied his notes onto them.

     She placed the pile of parchments next to the books and dove into Draco’s bag. She inspected every quill, whole or broken, but found nothing suspicious. Suddenly, Draco stopped snoring, and Hermione paused apprehensively. The snoring resumed, and she returned to her search. She rummaged in the bag more, discovered several crumpled pieces of parchment and flattened them out. Almost all of them were mere doodles, except one. Hermione studied the sudden treasure:

Borgin & Burkes, est. 1889

Receipt of Sale

Date: October 8, 1996
Goods Sold: Antiques Price: 1,500.00 Galleons Paid by: Mr. Draco Malfoy

Delivered to Purchaser’s Representative on October 8, 1996. 

    An icy hand clutched Hermione’s heart. It was the evidence she dreaded most - that Draco was one of the main perpetrators of the crime. She drew a deep breath and re-read the receipt once more, then copied it too. Who could be the target, after all?

    Hermione dipped into Draco’s bag again, fished out the last remaining scraps of parchment but found nothing of interest in them. She carefully placed everything back in the bag, put her robes on and tiptoed to the bed to check on Malfoy before leaving the Room. She peeked behind the curtain. Draco was sleeping peacefully, his features smooth and relaxed. It was like standing on the edge of a dark abyss, and Hermione felt irresistibly drawn into its depths. He knew the most intimate part of her, and that side of hers wanted to hold on to him, while her mind reeled in shock at what she had discovered.

Chapter 17: Vexations
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

   Ron was getting more and more nervous as the day of the Quidditch game approached fast. Hermione did her best to spend more time with him and to give him encouragement.

   “You’re a really good player. You should be able to adjust to the new Chaser right away,“ she said for the thousandth time when Ron started complaining that Harry still couldn’t find someone to fill in for Katie Bell. Ginny doled out a couple of caustic remarks to her brother for missing half of her serves during the last practice. Hermione ended up having a spat with Ginny, and they barely talked for the next two days.

   Ron was staring at an issue of the Daily Prophet which someone had left on a chair in the Gryffindor Common Room. Hermione peeked in and realised that his eyes were fixed on an article on the recent defeat of Chudley Cannons.

   “You shouldn’t read stuff like this, if it depresses you.” Hermione gently pulled the newspaper out of Ron’s hand. He sighed and let it go.

   “What’s Harry thinking?” Ron carried on. “If he brings a new Chaser in at the last minute, do we ever stand a chance of winning?”

   “I’m sure he’d find a good substitute,” Hermione tried to reassure him.

   “If it was Gryffindor against Hufflepuff, we could hope for something,” Ron pined. “But it’s Gryffindor against Slytherin! Bloody Malfoy is as good a Seeker as Harry!”

   “I don’t think Malfoy’s going to be in a good shape for the game,” said Hermione.

   “How’d you know?” groaned Ron.

   “I’ve overheard Urquhart, their Captain, yelling at Malfoy for missing practice several times in a row.” In fact, Malfoy had also mentioned his lack of interest in Quidditch to Hermione, but she, of course, couldn’t reveal this small detail to Ron. “I’m pretty sure Harry would take the Snitch in no time.”

   “You mean, the game would end before I make a complete fool of myself?”

   “No, I didn’t mean it. I only wanted to say that you, Harry and everyone make up a really good team. If Malfoy isn’t in his best shape, the Slytherins won’t stand a chance,” said Hermione, already on a verge of exasperation. “You only need to practice as much as you can, and no Quaffle would ever be able to get past you!”

   Ron heaved a sigh and, without looking, reached for the Prophet again, which Hermione promptly moved out of his grasp.

   “I’ve got croissants - do you want some?” she asked in an attempt to distract Ron. “Raspberry or apple filling?”

   “Raspberry, thanks,” Ron cheered up a little. “You’re great, Hermione.”

   These words made Hermione want to give Ron a hug while he devoured the croissant, but, to her chagrin, her enchanted parchment went off again. She hastily retired to the dorm, hid behind the curtains of her bed and read the fourth missive Malfoy sent her since the morning.


Do you think ’mal’ in our assignment means ’action’?
The verse doesn’t make sense! 


   Hermione rolled her eyes. Draco could consult his three heavy volumes of the Old Runic Dictionary just fine, but for some reason he was determined to bug her all day today. She shot off her reply:


‘mal’ means ‘covenanted pay’ in the context. You’ve got a dictionary ten times bigger than mine! 


   Malfoy was getting much more bothersome lately. He sent her a note during the lunch, and she had to leave Ron and run outside to see what it was about. Of course, he was asking an insipid question on the Charms homework which was not due for a week. Hermione already regretted that Snape had effectively persuaded Pansy to lay off her fiancé. The dates with Malfoy were becoming a problem too. Before, she almost managed to reduce it to a machinelike sex, but after the incident in Hogsmeade, Malfoy’s attitude changed drastically. Hermione had to admit that he developed into an ardent lover, and it made much harder for her to act dispassionate with him. 

   After dinner Harry and Ron left for their Quidditch practice, and Dean Thomas, whom Harry had recruited as a Chaser the same day, followed them to the pitch. Hermione set off for Dumbledore’s office. When the gargoyle opened the passage for her, she sprinted up the stairs. She had so much to tell the Headmaster…

   Dumbledore studied the copy of the receipt from Borgin & Burkes thoughtfully. “This could make Mr. Malfoy a suspect in the case, I see.” He lifted his eyes at Hermione.

   “Zabini bragged to Parvati that he and Malfoy deceived McGonagall on that Saturday with the help of the Polyjuice Potion,” Hermione continued her report. “He said Malfoy needed something at Scrivenshaft’s. He lied, of course. I’m sure he knew Malfoy was going to the Three Broomsticks!”

   “I doubt Mr. Zabini would try to woo Miss Patil by telling about the imposture if he truly knew Mr. Malfoy’s plans,” Dumbledore said smilingly. His expression stopped Hermione in her tracks. “Are you certain that the person who you encountered in the pub and who looked like Zabini was not him?”

   “No, definitely not him. He looked so odd, Professor.”

   “Mr. Zabini’s looks but Mr. Malfoy’s manner of speech?”

   “That’s right, Sir.” Hermione paused. “It - it seems it was Malfoy who Imperiused Katie Bell.”

  “I am inclined to doubt it.” The Headmaster strolled around the room.

   “Why, Professor Dumbledore?”

   “Imperius is a very difficult spell to cast, Hermione. Especially in a clandestine fashion in a crowded pub.” Dumbledore stood in front of her chair, his hands crossed behind his back. “The Unforgivable Curses, the darkest magic as we know, are also the hardest to perform. A reasonably bright sixth-year student might be able to cast them on a spider but not on a human.”

   “Oh…” Hermione mumbled. ”Someone helped Malfoy? That person was in the pub too, right?”

   “Of course,” Dumbledore said calmly. “Otherwise Mr. Malfoy would not be trying so hard to prevent you from going to Hogsmeade, Hermione. In fact, he blew his cover thanks to his affections for you.”

   Hermione blushed. She glanced at the Headmaster and found him studying one of magical silver objects on the side table.

   “So… What’s then?” she asked, and her heart lurched fearfully at the thought of him being whisked away to Azkaban. She wished she paid more attention to Polyjuiced Malfoy and anyone he mingled with at the pub.

   “Nothing.” Dumbledore rearranged a couple of the objects on the table. Hermione‘s eyes stumbled upon his shrivelled hand. “What you have told about Mr. Malfoy sounds very hopeful.”

   “If this attempt failed, they, and Malfoy too, will try to do it again!” Hermione exclaimed, perturbed by the Headmaster’s nonchalant tone.

   “Certainly, they will.” Dumbledore smiled. “It was very astute of you to conclude so, Hermione.”

   “But it must be prevented before someone gets killed, Professor!”

   “I believe it is not of such a great importance for the target of their efforts. You should not worry, Hermione. It is evident that Mr. Malfoy protects you as much as he can.”

   “It isn’t about me, Sir,” Hermione jumped to her feet. “If that person is to be murdered anyway, then we must make every effort to save him!”

   “There is one little problem with it,” Dumbledore looked at Hermione steadily. “Although the Death Eaters are not aware of it, the outcome is very much obvious. We need to think about others. For instance, Draco Malfoy.”

   “I am sorry, Professor, but it’s so hard for me to understand it. Why should Malfoy get away with that crime?” Hermione sat down in her chair again. “Only because you believe I need him for my protection? It’s only temporary!”

   “You should never underestimate the forces that a single act of magic can unleash, Hermione.” Dumbledore looked at her steadily, and she shifted in her chair with unease. “The power of sex that brings out the darkness and light in our souls.”

   Silently, Hermione watched Dumbledore return to his seat behind the desk. A phrase floated into her mind that she came across somewhere in a book on love magic. The dark power of sex, and blessed is the one whose life it fills with light.

   “I am very impressed by the information you were able to uncover,” Dumbledore said warmly. “Thank you, Hermione, and I hope we will have more chance to talk.”

   “Thank you too, Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione said as brightly as she could. Never in her life had she been so unsettled. 

   Draco came out of the Room of Requirement. He was able to start mending the Cabinet step by step after finding the right combination of repairing spells. The process was annoyingly slow, but it was an improvement nevertheless.

   “Why did you drop your bottle?” he asked the small girl in Ravenclaw robes.

   “Weasel yelled at me, when he and Potter passed by,” mumbled Crabbe in the disguise of the little girl.

   “Did he suspect anything? What did he say?” Draco asked warily.

   “No, they just walked past. Weasel looked angry…”

   “What was he angry about?”

   “I dunno… He asked Potter if Granger snogged Krum.”

   “Uh-uh… Was Granger with them?” Draco grew a little curious.

   “No, Granger walked to the portrait hole before they appeared.” Crabbe fiddled with his bottle.

   Draco glanced around. Could it be the opportunity he’d been looking for? The corridor already was empty. The lights had been dimmed. McGonagall apparently was not in her office. His heart pounded wildly. Now or never.

   Imperio! The gaze of the little girl in front of Draco went vacant. He drew a deep breath. Thanks Merlin, his spell worked! He waved his wand and the Ravenclaw colours on her robes changed to Gryffindor red and gold.

   ”You’ll go now to the Gryffindor Tower and tell Granger that Nott wants to talk to her about the patrols. You’ll say that he’s waiting for her outside the portrait hole,” Draco whispered hastily and threw a glance around again. “The password is ‘Dilligrout’. In five minutes after Granger comes out you tell Ron Weasley that Nott wants to talk to him too. Then you leave the Tower and wait for me on the sixth floor.”

   Crabbe scampered off to the Gryffindor Tower. Draco quickly conjured a hooded cloak out of his bag. He pulled the hood down on his face and hid in the shadow by the pillar closest to the Fat Lady.

   Soon, Hermione came out, looking puzzled. She drew even with Draco, not noticing him at first.

   Muffliato! He caught her by hand, yanked her into the shadow and pressed his mouth against hers before she had time to say anything. Hermione struggled out of his embrace, and he pulled her head closer, his hood obscuring his face from anyone who might be passing by. A hairpin tumbled out of the bun on the back of her head, and her hair fell down her shoulders. Draco dug his fingers into her locks. She shifted again and surrendered to him, her wide open eyes staring into his. Hot blood dashed through Draco’s veins as his eager tongue parted her soft, warm lips.

   Draco heard the portrait swinging open. He stepped to the side, still holding Granger in his arms tightly, so whoever was over there could get a better view of her back. A few steps resounded in the corridor. Draco’s fingers gripped Hermione’s head harder, and he felt her torso stiffen against his abdomen. The steps halted abruptly and quickly retreated to the Tower entrance. The Fat Lady muttered something angrily, and the portrait slammed shut.

   He did it! Draco broke the kiss off, and she jerked out of his embrace.

   “You’re insane, Malfoy!” Hermione nearly screeched at him. “What if someone saw us here? Why did you need to do this?”

   “I walked past the Room of Requirement and thought of you,” he drawled teasingly.

   “Who’s that girl you sent to the Common Room?” Hermione couldn’t quite place her or remember her name. Besides, the girl looked very strange. “What did you do to her?”

   “Someone from Gryffindor, I guess. Asked her to go in and have you step outside.”

   “But her looks, the way she spoke…Wait!” Hermione grabbed his arm. “Did you Imperiuse her?”

   “No, I didn’t.” Draco leaned against the pillar, his hood still low on his forehead. He heard approaching steps and quickly slid back into the shadows.

   Hermione fell silent. Parvati and Lavender passed by, chatting animatedly and apparently not noticing her and Draco. Then the portrait door closed behind the girls with an audible ‘thud‘.

   “Yes, you Imperiused her!” Hermione advanced at him.

   “So what? I’ll reverse the spell in five minutes. No harm’s done.”

   “It’s an Unforgivable!” Hermione was on the verge of yelling at him. Draco stroked her shoulder. “Please don’t touch me, Malfoy!” She turned on her heels and darted towards the Fat Lady.

   After she disappeared in the portrait hole Draco lowered his eyes. A tortoise-coloured barrette lay on the floor. He picked it up and remembered the sweet vanilla-like scent of her hair. Draco smiled to himself and set off for the stairs down.

   When Hermione entered the Gryffindor Common Room, her mind was battling the bonfire that Malfoy‘s kiss had set off in her body. The moment she sat down beside Harry and Ron, the latter got up abruptly, gathered his books and pushed his chair away.

   “Do you want me to look at your essay, Ron?” Hermione asked, trying not to think about the feel of Malfoy’s fingers in her hair.

   Instead of a response, Ron turned his back on her and left for the boys’ dormitories. Harry lifted his head and looked at Hermione sheepishly.

   “Ahem… I’d better go to my dorm too,” she muttered and suddenly realised that her hair weren‘t held together by the barrette anymore. Harry said nothing.

Author's Note
: And so the next day Ron was "treating a hurt and bewildered Hermione with an icy, sneering indifference." - Quote from Chapter 14, Felix Felicis, in Book 6.

Chapter 18: Turning Point
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Hermione buttoned up her coat as she left the Great Hall. Most people were still in the Hall but she could not stand being near Ron and Harry. She saw Malfoy emerging from the stairs to the dungeons and heading to the exit. Reluctant to bump into him in the doorway, Hermione dawdled inside a little. Draco’s face was sombre, and he did not seem to notice her.

    The front door closed behind Malfoy, and Hermione, after a momentary hesitation, walked through the entrance too. From the porch steps she could see him strolling down the road and away from the castle. It was still a good while before the start of the game, and throngs of students hadn’t crowded the path to the Quidditch pitch yet. Hermione set off down the road, careful to maintain a good distance between Malfoy and herself. The last thing she wanted was to appear to be chasing him.

    The sky was clear and cool, and thin ice crackled under Hermione’s feet. The invigoratingly fresh air perked her up, and her hurt receded a little. Still, the bitterness from the unfairness of life lingered in her heart. If Ron found out about her being snogged by Malfoy, pretending to be Nott, almost in front of the Fat Lady, why didn’t he try to talk to her instead of sneering at her all the time? She could make amends, after all. The worst thing about it was that she wasn’t even sure that Ron knew about the snogging incident.

    Harry acted like a major sham lately, and it annoyed Hermione constantly. First, the dubious Potions textbook, then his apparent abuse of the Felix Felicis. Every time she heard him casting Muffliato, she wanted to scream at him to stop putting himself on par with Malfoy. His regular sessions with Dumbledore certainly made him too big-headed to listen to her admonishments.

   Draco was the one who was more decent to her than anyone else. No matter how icily she tried to treat him, he sought her affections. How more pathetic could it get? Her only admirer was a Death Eater, overwhelmed by the potion-induced lust. Hermione watched the blond-headed figure walking ahead of her. She thought about their date tonight, and warmth pooled in the bottom of her belly. In fact, she felt very much like sending him a note with a suggestion to skip the game and hole up together in the Room of Requirement instead.

   Hermione trod on, her eyes fixed on the tall figure ahead of her. Suddenly, Malfoy did something that brought her to a halt. Instead of turning left to the Quidditch pitch, he turned right and headed in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione took a deep breath and picked up her step, determined not to lose him from her sight.

   Gravel crunched under Draco’s boots, as he walked, deep in thought. When he turned off the main road, he glanced in the direction of Hagrid’s cabin. It showed no signs of life. Everyone in the castle was too preoccupied with the Qudditch game to notice him sneaking out early. Draco wasn’t fond of the idea of visiting the Forest but the Malfoys’ house-elves had difficulty Apparating into the castle because of more stringent security measures. The Hogwarts house-elves were obviously instructed to watch out for strangers, and Draco’s house-elf, Aldi, already got in a fight with one of them. More experienced Darfy could get past them, but Draco discouraged his Mum from sending the old scumbag whom he couldn’t stand at all.

   Draco’s eyes scanned the shrubbery on the fringe of the forest. No sight of Aldi. Warily, he walked between trees, straining to see his house-elf.

   ’Crack!’ Startled, Draco jumped back. Aldi materialised in front of him. His knobbly hand held out an envelope. Draco snatched it, and Aldi disappeared the same second. He tore the envelope open and was about to retrieve its content but a sound of twigs snapping under someone’s feet made him freeze.

   Wand on the ready, Draco turned his head cautiously. It definitely was someone smaller than Hagrid. Then he saw a slender figure in a dark coat, trying to blend with a tree trunk. His heart jumped, part with excitement, part with alarm.

   “Oi, Granger, fancy to see you here!” Draco shouted, the envelope still in his hand. Merlin, was she growing so fond of him that she followed him to the Forest? He still had a little time before he had to go. “Nice day it is, isn’t it?”

   “Yeah, great for a walk, Malfoy!” Hermione did not want to show how much she was taken aback. Of course, he will try to get rid of her before continuing with whatever plans he had got. “I’d better be going back - the game starts soon.”

   “Let’s have a little snog, Granger.” Draco walked up to her. Hermione’s cheeks were rosy from the cold air and he wanted to kiss them. “You’re lovely today.”

   Hermione saw the envelope in his hand and wondered what it could be. Draco followed her stare and grinned. “A letter from home.”

   “Ah…” She looked at his face. He was now standing directly in front of her, his chest a few inches from her torso. His proximity made her heart flutter. “Is everything okay at the Manor?”

   “Perfectly okay,” he said huskily and drew closer, bringing his body flush with hers. She shifted away, stepped on something and lost her balance. His arms flung around her in an attempt to prevent her from falling. Something flew out of the envelope and got lodged in the pleats of her coat. She caught it with her fingers before it fell on the ground.

   “A chocolate frog card?” she wondered. The same moment he tried to yank the card out of her hand, his other arm wrapped around her waist. She held on to it for dear life.

   “No - give it back to me!” He yelled into her ear but it was too late. They both felt the jerking sensation behind their navels, and sped forward together in a whirl of wind.

   Then they slammed into a dirty plank floor in a darkened room. Hermione hit her head on something and groaned from the pain against her will. In an instant Draco’s hand was on her mouth and she found herself staring into his face, pale with fear.

   Silencio! He removed his hand, and she realised that her voice was gone. Hermione scrambled to her feet and saw Draco sending the card back into the envelope with his wand. Then he quickly looked around, grabbed her by the arms and dragged her behind what looked like a store counter. She attempted to put up a fight only to get bound by ropes from his spell. Draco opened a large cupboard under the counter and roughly stuffed her into it. Petrificus Totalus. Her body went stiff, her knees pressed against her chin, and her elbows uncomfortably squashed against the sides of the cabinet. With a wave of his wand, he removed the ropes. The doors closed, leaving her in the musty darkness.

   Draco straightened up. Thankfully, no one was here yet. He walked around the counter and entered the adjoining room. It was littered with empty boxes and bits of wrappings. Nobody was in the room, nor was anyone present in the next one. Relieved, Draco returned to the front room. The light seeped in through the narrow gaps between the boards on the windows, and dust danced in the thin sunbeams. He strained his hearing: Granger was perfectly quiet in the cabinet. Draco sat down on a low display shelf, which creaked under his weight slightly, and did his best to blank out his mind.

   Hermione was suffering horribly. Her back ached from the cramped position, and a permanent urge to sneeze tormented her. The cupboard smelled stale and apparently was full of old dust which now clogged her nasal passages. But the spell that Malfoy cast on her prevented her from sneezing or coughing out whatever she had inhaled.

   It was clear that the chocolate frog card was a Portkey but Hermione had no idea where it took her and Draco. She remembered Harry’s story about Draco leaving him motionless on the train, and fear crept into her heart. What if Malfoy would leave her here to perish and return back to Hogwarts alone? Was it a plot to lure her into a trap for some horrific purpose? Dumbledore’s advice about not going out of the castle alone or with Draco came to her mind, which didn’t make her feel better either. Anything was possible. She could be Imperiused and sent back to Hogwarts with a task to kill whoever they wanted to eliminate. Then Hermione thought of the Tri-Wizard Tournament Cup that brought Harry and Cedric to that graveyard in Little Hangleton. Was she to face the Dark Lord now? The idea made her want to vanish into non-existence on the spot. The worst thing was that she couldn’t do anything, even to move her finger or cough the dust out of her lungs. Her wand in her pocket poked her under her arm uncomfortably, and there was no way she could use it. She could hear Draco’s steps in the room. Something creaked - a chair? Then all went quiet.

   “Ah - here you are, Draco!” Hermione heard a shrill female voice that sounded familiar. “Katz isn’t here yet?”

   “No, Aunt Bella, ” Malfoy answered, his voice wavering. “You - what’s up?”

   “Fenrir came along -we’ve got some business to attend to,” Bellatrix said sneeringly. “A big event, and I’d expect you to partake in it too.”

   “A nice holiday feast in Foxley Wood,” another voice barked harshly. “The Dark Lord gives the honours to us all there.”

   “Is that on the full moon?” Malfoy didn’t sound too happy. “Wait - Muffliato!”

   Hermione heard no more of the conversation. Fenrir - was that Fenrir Greyback? The thought of it made her shudder. She managed to tag along with Malfoy right into a meeting of Death Eaters… No wonder he stuffed her into a cupboard and out of sight… Now she could only hope that Malfoy wouldn’t forget to retrieve her from the mouldy cabinet after the meeting.

   “I trust there‘s nobody else here,” Bellatrix sneered at her nephew. “Fenrir - go and have a look around!”

   “I checked every room myself before you Apparated in,” Draco said quickly. “But anyone outside could overhear us.”

   Fenrir strode past Draco towards the back rooms. A powerful stench of dirt and sweat emanated from him. Draco made a good effort not to cringe. In a few minutes the rangy werewolf emerged from the door and walked behind the counter.

   “Katz is running late, Auntie Bella,” Draco said, looking away from Fenrir and straining to keep his mind blank. “No idea why.”

   “Don’t see anyone here.” Fenrir circled around the counter. “Not even a mouse.”

   ‘Pop’. Katz appeared in the middle of the room, nearly tumbling into Fenrir, as the latter cut across to join Bellatrix and Draco in another corner. Fenrir gave a growl and Katz jumped away. Draco noticed that Sebastian looked decidedly dejected.

   “What held you back, Katz?” snarled Bellatrix, her thick black hair falling on her sunken cheeks. “Too afraid to appear after you messed up?”

   “I - I had to help Dolohov with that matter of his,” mumbled the pudgy Death Eater and sidled up to Draco. “Took longer than we thought.”

   “Tell Dolohov to take his shoddy business of racketeering somewhere else!” Bellatrix prodded Katz in his chest with her wand, and he flinched. “Because of him and damned Mulciber, the peddlers leave Knockturn Alley in droves. I need stuff for my potions, go there and - poof - the vendor’s gone!”

   “He ordered me - I had no choice, Bellatrix…”

   “You two better get done what the Dark Lord wants!” was her shrill reply. “If Dumbledore’s still alive by Christmas, you both are dead!” She turned to Draco. “Rumours are that the girl taken to St. Mungo’s isn’t Granger. Explain me that.”

   “I learned that Potter and his friends were watched that day.” Draco’s hands were icy cold. He prayed his Aunt wouldn’t cast a Cruciatus on him. “I switched at the last minute. I didn’t have time to explain it to Sebastian in the pub.”

   Draco glanced at Katz and the latter nodded quickly. Thanks Merlin, he didn’t try to shift the blame onto Draco.

   “Okay, you both already got a little taste of the Dark Lord’s wrath!” Bellatrix walked in circles, her hand with wand twitching. Fenrir cackled ominously. “If you don’t get it done by the holidays you’ll face the Dark Lord in person. What’s the progress with the Vanishing Cabinets, my boy?”

   “It will take a lot of time.” The thought of seeing the Dark Lord again made Draco shiver. “I found the right combination of spells but the process is slow. I guess I’d be able to get it done by February, Auntie Bella.”

   “If you want your mother and father alive, you’d better hurry up! Lord Voldemort doesn’t have much regard for dawdlers!”

   “I’m glad to serve the Dark Lord,” Draco said quickly, keeping his mind sufficiently blank. “I’ll do my best to fulfil his orders.”

   “Lord Voldemort’s wish is our law,” Sebastian added sycophantically.

   “OK, you both got the message. Remember, boys - you‘re to help me with the holiday preparations!” Bellatrix put her hand on Greyback’s shoulder. “Some yummy Muggle kids to serve for you and your friends in Foxley Wood, Fenrir.”

   The werewolf clicked his tongue loudly and grinned savagely. Bellatrix put her arm around his elbow and they both Disapparated. Draco and Sebastian exchanged glances.

   “Reckon we’ll have to round up some Muggle spawn. Greyback makes me gag.” Katz twiddled his wand. “It‘s full moon on the Christmas Day, right? Any ideas on finishing Dumbledore off?”

   “I’ll come up with something.” Draco sat down on the display shelf and it creaked again. “No one can stand being near Fenrir. Except my Aunt.”

   “Care for a drink?”

   “Nope. I’d rather go back to Hogwarts.” Draco wished for Katz to leave right away but he knew he had to be friendly with Sebastian. “Where are you going? The Three Broomsticks?”

   “No, I’m off to Diagon Alley.” With these words Katz spun on his heels and Disapparated.

  His head hung low, Draco stared at the dirty floor between his feet. Was there a way out of this nightmare? He was such a failure, he could not even muster himself to fulfil the tasks given to him. The prospect of hobnobbing with despicable werewolves sickened him no end. Then he thought of his Mum being at the mercy of Lord Voldemort at the Manor, and a chill ran down his spine.

   Draco heaved a big sigh. He’d better release Granger, who must be already suffocating in the cupboard.

   Hermione heard approaching steps, then the cabinet doors opened and she saw Draco’s black boots in front of her. He muttered a spell. Her limbs and voice came alive. She struggled to get out of the cupboard. Draco’s strong arms pulled her out and up to her feet, bringing her face close to his. The same second Hermione sneezed with all her force, hitting his collarbone with her forehead. Her legs and arms, after falling asleep in her contorted position, now were prickling mercilessly.

   “Ahem - is the meeting over?” she asked and leaned against the counter. “What’s this place?”

   “Meeting?” Draco glanced around. “We are in Zonko’s - it’s boarded up now.”

   “I heard the voices before you cast the Muffliato!” Hermione stared into his grey eyes. 

   “That was my aunt - just a family visit.”

   “Bellatrix? I think I met her at the Department of Mysteries. Thanks for hiding me from her.“ Hermione paused. “And someone named Fenrir. Greyback?”

   “Yes. You’d rather not want to meet him either. He‘s revolting.”

   “Seems that he’s your family’s friend,” Hermione smirked and looked down on her coat which had streaks of dust on it. She cast the Scourgify and wondered what her hair looked like after the cupboard.

   “Not mine, certainly.” Draco plucked something out of Hermione’s locks. “You’ve got a dead spider in here.”

   Hermione transfigured a crumpled piece of wrapping into a hairbrush and started combing her mane ferociously. Draco leaned against the wall, watching her flip her hair to the front over her shoulder. His eyes followed the deft movements of her hands. She had such gracefulness to her, and he wanted to dig his fingers into her curls. Draco stepped closer to her, breathing down her neck, and she turned around, her eyes questioning him.

   Her heart skipped a beat as her gaze met his darkened stare. She could see the passion and despair in his face. But she couldn’t allow herself to melt in his arms in this apparently very unsafe place.

   “No - not here…” Hermione stepped back and his hands were on her waist in an instant. “Anyone could Apparate here, right?”

   “Only a kiss…” he whispered and their lips met. Hot wave coursed through Hermione’s body, and she knew Draco felt the same.

   His tongue stroked the insides of her lips, and he wanted to sink into her warmth. Most of all, Draco longed to forget about the things he was to face and to do, and to believe that eliminating them from his mind would erase them from the reality too. That his father would be home and not in Azkaban, that the Dark Lord would never make his appearance, that his mother would write him happy letters and that Aunt Bella would be still a half-imaginary relative locked up somewhere far away.

   The tip of her tongue caressed his and Draco loved her responsiveness. Her body was warm and soft in his hands, and he savoured the feel of her bosom against his chest. It was so normal and sane to have her in his embrace, and he craved the sanity and normalcy of dating the girl he desired most. Not hiding in faraway corners, not exchanging clandestine messages and not dodging his so-called fiancee and her minions, but being able to talk to her in public, sit together in class, do homework in the library and much, much more.

   The way Draco ravished her mouth made Hermione dizzy. She could only wonder what the conversation between him and the others was. There was so much passion in his kiss, and his eyes were filled with emotion, not lust. She was losing her power to resist him, and it scared her. His hand slid up her abdomen and the same second her stomach growled loudly, making Hermione realise how hungry she was. He noticed it too and relaxed his hold on her lips.

   “Draco - Draco, could we go back to Hogwarts?” she whispered, her wide open eyes looking into his face. “I didn‘t have breakfast.”

   “I missed it today too.” His voice was husky. “Let’s grab something to eat here before going back. Madam Puddifoot’s?”

   “Are we on a date?” she attempted a sarcastic smirk but her shaky voice betrayed her. “I’m not fond of Madam Puddifoot’s anyway.”

   “Let‘s have a date. A real one.” Then he smiled wryly. “I don’t like the teashop either. Too much pink for my taste. The Three Broomsticks?”

   “If no one from Hogwarts sees us there…” Hermione was not so sure about the idea.

   “Don’t worry - everyone’s at the Qudditch game still. Let’s go.”

   They left Zonko’s Joke Shop through a back door which they opened with the help of the Alohomora spell. There were not many patrons in the Three Broomsticks, which put Hermione a little more at ease. It was well before the lunchtime still.

   “What are you going to have, Hermione?” Draco asked when Madam Rosmerta greeted them at the counter.

   “Ahem - a butterbeer and a croissant maybe.” Hermione studied the display shelf. “I’m going to take that one with apple filling.”

   “All right. A pitcher of butterbeer, an apple croissant for her and a ham sandwich for me, please.” Before Hermione had time to fish her money out of her pocket, Draco already put a handful of Knuts and Sickles on the counter and Madam Rosmerta had everything set out for them. He glanced at the coin purse in Hermione’s hand. “It’s on me. I’m the one taking you out.”

   They sat down at a table and Draco poured the butterbeer into tall glasses. Hermione took a bite out of her croissant. It was incredibly odd for her to sit here with Malfoy and be treated by him to a drink and croissant. Worse even, she had a hard time coming up with a topic for a conversation. They leapt from the mutual animosity straight into the ultimate intimacy, and had almost nothing in between. She watched Draco dig into his large sandwich.

   “I didn’t know you could use a Portkey at Hogwarts.” Hermione finally broke the silence.

   “Only in a few spots on the grounds. The wards aren’t so good in the Forbidden Forest.” Draco looked up at her. “Why did you follow me there?”

“I saw you walking ahead of me.” Hermione hoped he wouldn’t suspect her of spying. “I didn’t feel like going to the game, really. I had an argument with Harry and Ron at breakfast.”

   “Ah. It wouldn’t make sense to watch the game anyway. Everyone knows Potter’s got his Felix Felicis.” Hermione having a rift with her cronies was good news but Draco was far from rejoicing at the moment. “Next time you want a stroll on the grounds, send me a note beforehand, okay? My aunt kills first then thinks.”

   “What was it about? Some Death Eaters plotting?” Grudgingly, Hermione had to admit that Malfoy was right about the Felix Felicis.

   “Nothing important - my aunt wanted to see me, that‘s all. She isn’t in a position to come to Hogwarts openly.”

   “But you cast the Muffliato!”

   “Because I don’t want you spilling it to others.” Draco leaned closer to Hermione. Could she understand it after all? “Goyle and Crabbe’s fathers are Death Eaters. Old Nott is in You-Know-Who’s closest circle. If the boys hear your chat and blab to their dads, you are in a big trouble. Me too.”

   Was he menacing her? Hermione gazed into his eyes. His face was tired and pale, and his voice was a strange mix of sinisterness and bitterness.

   “I don’t think it could get worse after everything I’ve been through.” She raised her chin and held his stare.

   “You love getting in trouble like any Gryffindor.” Draco ground the bottom of his glass into the wooden surface of the table. “This time it‘s no joke. I’ve seen people tortured and murdered. No Dumbledore around to come to your rescue. Got it?”

   “You’re the one saving me, Draco.” Hermione smiled at him.

   “I can’t protect you from everything if you don’t listen to me,“ he said gravely. “If I tell you not to go somewhere, don’t go there, okay? Watch what you say at school too. Did you know that Theo will be made a Death Eater when he turns seventeen?”

   “Does Nott want to be a Death Eater?” Hermione instantly remembered walking in on Padma and Theo snogging in an empty classroom during one of her patrols.

   “Nobody’s asking his opinion.” Draco leaned against the chair back. “No one bothered to ask me either. Bloody Potter together with Dumbledore got my father jailed. The moment I was back home, You-Know-Who came to the Manor to give me a sweet talk.” He laughed and Hermione heard the gall in his tone.

   “If your father didn’t go to the Department of Mysteries, he wouldn’t be in Azkaban then,” Hermione remarked, watching his expression.

   “Don’t touch my father, Granger.” His face became strained. “When You-Know-Who orders you something, you got to serve him, no questions asked.”

   “I think there’s a choice still.” Hermione looked into his pale grey eyes.

   “Yes, if you want to get killed.” His words fell heavy on her ears.

   “I think sometimes a death is better…” Hermione paused. Draco’s pain was too apparent. “You have the right to be upset about it because it was your father. I would be the same if my own dad did something like that.”

   “We’d better go back before the game is over,” Draco changed the subject abruptly. “More butterbeer in your glass, Hermione?”

   They stepped out of the pub and into the sunshine. Draco produced the envelope with the card and put his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. They held on to the Portkey together and in a few seconds they found themselves in the shrubbery on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione Scourgified her coat again, and Draco pulled her close.

   “See you tonight,” she muttered after their kiss and hurried off to the Quidditch pitch. Draco’s eyes followed her till she disappeared from the sight. 

   In the Room of Requirement Hermione stared at the bottle of the Calming Draught on the small table. It’s been a couple of hours since she left Ron suffer from her yellow canaries in that classroom. Upon taking her refuge in the Room she swallowed two tablespoons of the Calming Draught, cried out her remaining tears and tried to read several books that she had Accio’d from her dorm. Although it was dinnertime and she was quite hungry, she couldn’t muster herself to go to the Great Hall and see Ron in Lavender’s company there. The bitterness at his betrayal gnawed at her insides. Furthermore, Hermione was now almost certain that Ron knew about the cursed snog that Draco forced her into on that night in the seventh floor corridor. Malfoy was the scourge of her life.

   Hermione studied the bottle again and put it back into her bag. She wasn’t going to get herself drugged to the kilt. She still was to do her patrol with Thornton and have the usual Saturday night date with Malfoy afterwards. She’d stay here for awhile and then sneak out to the kitchens.

   The moment Hermione reached into her bag for a book, she heard someone come into the Room. Her head jerked up. Sure enough, it was Malfoy with a sack in his hands. The ultimate bane of her existence.

   “Dinner, Hermione?” he grinned and held the package out. “Here are some sandwiches from the Great Hall.”

   “Ahem… Thanks,” Hermione opened the sack and fished a butterbeer bottle out of it. Draco had such an uncanny ability to detect her presence in the Room. “You figured out I was here.”

   “Well, you weren’t at the dinner tonight. Everybody was talking about those yellow birds of yours. Weasley was quite a sight to behold.”

   “I think I ought to set a few canaries upon you too,” sneered Hermione. “For ruining everything between Ron and me.”

   “How did I screw you up with Weasley?” bristled Draco. “Did I make him snog Brown?”

   “By your snogging me in the hallway on that night! By your butting in with your messages every time you saw me with Ron! By your making Heorte Lustbaere!” Hermione sank into the green chair and was now crying unabashedly.

   “It isn‘t my fault you drank the potion!” Dark madness swelled in Draco’s chest. “Do you think Ron wanted you that much? If he did, he could fight me! He could duel me!”

   “You’re a cruel, senseless Death Eater!” Hermione screamed. “You hurt me like hell!”

   “You don’t hurt me, Granger, do you?” Draco clenched his fists. “You give me that icy look all the time! No matter how much you like my fucking, I’m always beneath you!” He drew a breath and glared at sobbing Hermione. “You don’t want to talk to me except when you need the fix! I please you in bed and the next day you’re all over Weasel! You’re a cold, arrogant, prissy skirt!”

   He halted, breathing heavily. Hermione shrank back in her chair, pulling her feet under her long robe. Her head was splitting, her eyes were already devoid of tears and dry sobs were shaking her entire body.

   “Don’t talk like this to me…please…” she whined. “It’s just that - that this potion thing is so - so wrong…”

   “Do you like my snogging you? Caressing you? Shagging you?” He was now towering over Hermione in her chair. “Tell me!”

   “Yes… and thank you for the sandwiches too…” She looked up at him and reached for the sack on the table.

  “I’m not supposed to get head over heels with a Mudblood like you, but I damn love it with you!” Draco crouched before her. She flinched at his use of the word but said nothing. “Everything is so wretched, really…” His voice trailed off.

   “What do you mean, wretched?” She took a good bite out of her sandwich. Her hunger had got the better of her now.

   “Everything… The Dark Mark, my dad, and now they want me to have Christmas with werewolves,” he blurted out.

   “Christmas? Werewolves?” She swallowed another bite.

   “That’s why Aunt Bella and Fenrir Greyback came. You-Know-Who wants a holiday bash with them.” Draco knew he probably ought not to share it with Hermione but now he didn’t care. “It’s miserable. If I skip it, I’ll get tortured again.”

   Her eyes shot at him. “Tortured?”

   “Yes. You-Know-Who tortured me through the Dark Mark the night after the Hogsmeade thing. Right after we parted that night. I passed out on the floor in the corridor.”

   Hermione studied his face. His voice was shaky, and something in his eyes made her believe him. “Did he do that to you again?”

   “No. But I’m afraid it can come upon me anytime. Whenever he isn’t happy with me.” Draco wished he could lay it all in the open to her - the stubborn Vanishing Cabinet, the plot to murder Dumbledore, the plans to Imperiuse her but it was not possible. Instead, he sat down on the floor and rested his forehead against the arm of her chair. 

   Hermione finished her sandwich and took another from the sack. Her hunger abated, which made her feel a little better. She ate in silence, her eyes fixed on the blond head next to her knee. Was he ready to turn away from the Dark Lord? Hermione wanted him to be on her side so much, it made her heart ache. If she knew he was not an enemy anymore, she could let herself love him. She still had feelings for Ron but Draco already had his hold on her too. In fact she was much more drawn to Malfoy now than to Ron or Harry for that matter.

   “Was the poisoned necklace connected to the werewolves in any way?” Hermione asked cautiously.

   He glanced at her quickly. “Forget about the necklace, okay? That thing is over now.” Draco was not going to let all his defences down. Nor he wanted Hermione to know too much and become a prime target for Lord Voldemort and Death Eaters.

   “Dumbledore knows so much about You-Know-Who - he was the one who took him from an orphanage to Hogwarts.” Hermione muttered.

   “Did he live in an orphanage?” Draco was clearly surprised. “I know he’s Slytherin’s heir.”

   “Yes, his mother was a descendant of Salazar Slytherin but his father was a Muggle.” Hermione wondered if this fact could further undermine Draco’s allegiance to the Dark Lord.

   “You mean he’s a half-blood?” His tone rang with unbelief. “How would you know?”

   Hermione launched into a long recount of everything Harry told her after his lessons with the Headmaster. Draco produced another butterbeer bottle from his bag and kept sipping from it while listening to her keenly. When she finished her narration, she looked at him, anxious to know his reaction.

   “Merlin’s pants, he never told anyone that much about himself, I guess,” Draco mused. “Are you sure it’s all true?”

   “That’s why he hates Dumbledore - because the Headmaster knows so much about him!”

   “Well, if he’s really a half-blood, and his father was a Muggle…You should’ve heard what he said about my dad. Rat.” Draco spat the last word out and finished his butterbeer. He wasn’t very sure if he ought to believe everything Hermione told him. Maybe he could try and find out more from other sources…

   “Draco - do you want to have sex now?” Hermione Banished her empty bottle. “If you need it, we could do it before my patrol.”

   He got to his feet and gave her a long look. “Do you really want it or just let me have it?“

   “I - I don’t know… I can give it to you if you wish.” Hermione averted her eyes from him.

   “I don’t like it that way. I want you to want it too. That you desire me too.”

   Hermione got to her feet and straightened her robes. “I myself don’t know it. I’m sorry I’m so rattled now. I think I do like you.” She looked at him and saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Would you be here after I’m done with my patrol? I hope I’ll calm down a bit then.”

   “I’ll get some homework done here while you’re on the patrol.” His voice was thick with anticipation.

  “I’ll leave my books here. Feel free to use them, Draco.“ Her eyes met his eager gaze. She smiled weakly and left the Room.

   When Hermione parted with Cassie on the third floor, she stood in the empty corridor for a few minutes. The patrol was uneventful, save for a nice chat with Nearly Headless Nick in front of the Great Hall and a short verbal duel with Peeves who tried to turn a statue upside down in a hallway near the library. Thornton did not talk much which Hermione appreciated a lot because she was very much absorbed in her own thoughts.

   Hermione walked up the stairs slowly. She wanted to sort out her own feelings before coming back to Malfoy in the Room. Was she attracted to him? The honest answer was yes. Did she love him? She didn’t know. Did she love Ron? She used to think so but now she didn’t know either. Merlin, what’s love after all? The only part she understood was that it wasn’t only the lust that made her want Malfoy. Would she be happier if she could be with Draco openly? Sit with him in class, study together with him in the library, snog in a nook somewhere? If there was no Lord Voldemort, no Purebloods and Muggleborns, no Death Eaters? Probably yes… It made her want ever more to convert Draco. If such a thing was ever possible…

   She paced back and forth along the wall that hid the Room of Requirement. It was going to be different this time, and her heart was full of trepidation. She knew Draco had more than lust for her, and he desired more than just sex from her. How much could she give him without the fear of losing herself to that dark abyss the image of which had been haunting her lately?

   The door appeared in the wall, and Hermione pushed it open. Her eyes met Draco’s apprehensive stare instantly. He had been waiting for her. Hermione doubted he‘d had much of his homework done… A warm wave filled her heart. She came close to him, sitting in his chair, and weaved her fingers in his blond hair.

   “I want you now,” she whispered, and he looked up at her face. “I really like you, Draco.” Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say the words ’I love you’

   Malfoy was on his feet now, his arms around her body and his mouth on her lips. She closed her eyes and surrendered to his hungry tongue. Locked in each other’s embrace, they inched towards the bed until she hit it with the backs of her thighs and they tumbled onto it together.

   “C’mon, my sweet…” Draco breathed into her hair and helped her fingers undo his belt. He peppered her cheeks and neck with small kisses, and then his hands unbuttoned her robes. Her desire flooding her, she pulled away and sat up to take off her clothes.

   He lay on the bed and watched her strip. Draco loved the sight of her uncovering her body for him to play with. Then, naked, she leaned over him and unbuttoned his shirt, and he watched her body move temptingly. He savoured the slender look of her shoulders and arms, the feminine roundness of her hips and the delicate skin of her soft abdomen.

   Hermione took his shirt off and trailed her fingers over Draco’s chest. She admired his masculine shoulders and lean torso. Her forefingers drew circles on his skin, and he moved his head from side to side in response.

   “Your looks turn me on so much,” she said. Now she had set herself free to express her admiration of him, and it made her feel incredibly good. His heavy-lidded eyes steadied on her face and a smile crossed his lips. She ran her hands over the small blond curls on his chest and down his abdomen. “Let me take off your trousers…”

   Her soft voice was like a salve to him. When she turned her back to him and started pulling his clothes off, he put his hand on her hip while helping her undress him with the other. Draco stroked and squeezed her smooth flesh tenderly until his trousers and underwear were tossed aside and she turned her flushed face towards him.

   “You’re - you’re such a bastard,” she said, not really meaning it. “You’re touching me everywhere.”

   “Sit down on my stomach, Hermione.”

   Hermione turned around and straddled him. He bent his knees, and she leaned her back against his thighs. It was something they did the other day, and the anticipation of what was to come aroused her a lot.

   “Your skin is so delicate and smooth,” he whispered as his fingers caressed her abdomen and travelled down her hips to her thighs. Her body swayed from his ministrations. “You’re good, you love it, Hermione…”

   “You’re making me so hot, Draco,” she muttered, revelling in her sensations.

   Draco ran his hand along the inner side of her thigh. She was glowing in her reverie on top of him, and he felt her warm flesh against the skin of his abdomen. Her body arched in rhythm with his caresses.

   “Move - move over…” he croaked. The sound of his voice sent a hot wave through Hermione’s crazed body. Half-consciously, she slid off him and settled alongside Draco, her leg draped over his thigh.

   “My - my Draco, I love this - I always love it… go…more…” He soaked in her half-coherent mumblings as he took all of her. She was so willing and it was insanely gorgeous to have her now.

   “You’re so hot and sweet… I love it too …” he uttered. Their lips moulded together, and their tongues danced fervently.

   Hermione sank into him completely. His masculinity enveloped and filled her, and she cherished it. The aching sweetness of her sensations rippled through her body. When it was over, he lay very quiet, his arms still holding her in his embrace. She relished the feel of him, the scent of his skin and hair, and the sound of his breathing.

   Then, already under the covers, Draco spooned Hermione’s deliciously sated body and wrapped his arm over her stomach. Without any words, they drifted into sleep.

Chapter 19: A Mistress?
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Hermione peeked onto her charmed parchment, hidden under a sheet with intricate Arithmancy formulas. Professor Vector was reviewing the part on numerical correlations of the zodiac constellations, which Hermione already knew by heart. She was sitting alone today.

    Padma preferred to sit across the classroom, leaving Hermione by herself at the desk. Thanks to Lavender Brown’s verbal incontinence, the rumours of Nott’s snogging the Gryffindor Prefect spread far and wide. Because of that, Padma had been giving her the cold shoulder, lately. Hermione ignored the gossip, instead appreciating the extra space in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy classes.

Do you think V. matches her hair colour to her robes? Will we see her nose purple, as well?

   Hermione glanced at the teacher and suppressed a chuckle. Draco was right: Vector’s dark hair bore a purplish tint, which, she assumed, was meant to complement her deep purple robes. It wasn’t the first time. The other day the professor’s tight curls were decidedly a greenish hue, fully in accordance with her early St. Patrick’s Day-style green outfit.

If you spend the whole class studying V’s dress style, I’m not fixing your Arithmancy homework, ok?

   Draco used his forearm to shield his parchments from Nott. It was more of a precaution than necessity, since Theo was completely oblivious. His forlorn gaze was firmly focused on Padma’s shining black braid, several desks away. A small smile crossed Draco’s lips as he read Hermione’s reply.

If you fix my Arithmancy, you choose the sex position next time. If you also do my Transfiguration essay, you’ll pick positions for two dates, in row. BTW, I’m working on your DADA essay now.

   Hermione’s cheeks were flushing hotly, as she read the response. Merlin, there was no way to study with Malfoy sending these wicked little missives to her. Not to be outdone, Hermione, after a brief deliberation, shot off her answer.

If you pay attention in class the whole day today, I’ll give you a treat in the Prefect’s bathroom tonight.
P.S. Stop working on my DADA essay – I finished it yesterday! 

The Prefect’s bathroom? Draco could hardly believe his eyes.

   He shot a quick look at Nott to make sure that the bloke didn’t peep onto his parchments. Thank Merlin, the love-struck Theo looked as if Padma had fed Amortentia to him. Draco drew a deep breath and re-read his enchanted parchment. The vision of a nude Hermione Granger immersed in that magnificent marble pool made his insides stir with lust.

   His sexy, gorgeous girl proposed it! 

   Draco glanced at Theo again and wondered if the dolt ever thought of cloistering with his beloved Padma in the Prefect’s bathroom. The Ravenclaw prefect would forgive him any incidental snogs after that.

    Giddy from her own audacity, Hermione peeked over her shoulder, and instantly met Draco’s gaze. His eager expression made her stomach flip-flop. The same second she noticed a new reply from him.

You render me speechless when I think of you in the marble pool. Hope Moaning Myrtle won’t pop out of the taps there.

Kissing you all over,
P.S. I read your DADA draft – it’s lame. No offence, but you can’t hand it to Snape in that condition. 

   Hermione held her breath. By inviting him to share her bath, she was now daring to show something of herself that no one knew about. She never let even Moaning Myrtle catch her. It didn’t matter that Professor Vector was a mere few feet away from her desk – the teacher could very well be a few light years away from the planet Earth. The entire Arithmancy class was now far removed from Hermione’s mind.

    For some sinful reason she now wished Draco to partake in her secret pleasure. Yes, she read about such things in The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra, but to do it in reality ... oh, Merlin. Her head was swimming. Hermione wanted to be in Malfoy’s arms right now. She shook her head, collected herself and sent off her response.

Do whatever you want with my DADA essay. I can barely think when you talk about kissing. I want to kiss you too.

   The bell rang but Draco failed to hear it. His stare was fixed on the parchment that hid the enchanted note underneath it. Nothing could be sweeter that this, “I want to kiss you too.” Not Weasel, not Potter, not Zabini or Nott, but him, Draco Malfoy! She wanted to kiss him!

   When he glanced up, everyone had left the classroom, except Hermione. She dawdled at her desk, supposedly rearranging her books and parchments in her bag. Her amber eyes locked with Draco’s, and he quickly pointed his wand at the door. It closed softly.

   A look of worry came over Hermione’s face, but he didn’t let it linger for long. In a second, Draco was by her side, his hands firmly in her brown curls. He saw her features relax slightly, and her lips part, as their bodies pressed together.

   “Draco, not here . . .”

   “Yes, here. Only a minute,” he breathed back and leaned onto her face. “You’re mine!”

   It was bliss, and it was pure insanity – kissing in a classroom during a short break.

   Hermione’s heart pounded madly, as she surrendered to Draco’s earnest lips. She gripped his shoulders and inhaled his scent. A little more, and he could take her right here, on the desk. She dreaded it and she craved it at, the same time.

   They broke their kiss off, breathing heavily. She tilted her head away from him, as if warding off the next kiss. His dark stare was fixed on her face. Draco gently traced her jaw line, then her lips, with his finger. Hermione looked at him from under half-closed lids. He was so different this time. He acted as if she belonged to him, and she could sense his deep adoration, which made her want to answer in kind.

   She’d do it later, in the Prefect’s bathroom. 

   “Draco, we’d better go,” Hermione whispered. “Before someone comes in.”

   “Right, you leave first.” Draco turned abruptly and walked to his desk. His parchments were still piled. “Here. Your DADA homework.”

   “Thanks.” Still in a daze, Hermione took the proffered parchment and hurried to the door. 

   Draco couldn’t wait for the day to end. After dinner he hid in the Room of the Requirement but couldn’t concentrate on The Vanishing Cabinet. He did not want to go to the Slytherin Common Room or library, because Pansy had an annoying habit of lurking in nearly every public area where he went. She did not exactly impose herself on him, but she often was in the vicinity, no matter how indifferently he treated her.

   The Vanishing Cabinet was mending slowly but steadily. Draco put together the side and back panels, and had already affixed the top and bottom parts. There was still a ragged hole in the back, which he was going to take care of later. Smaller fissures were still visible in the side panels, but all glaring cracks were neatly sealed.

   Draco surveyed his work; it was only a matter of time before he finished repairing the cabinet. He could spare a little break and daydream about lounging with Hermione, in the marble pool. Their dates over the past two weeks, since the day of the Quidditch match, were heavenly. In fact, they had more than just dates. Their enchanted parchments, their studies together in the remotest corners of the castle, their quick exchange of glances in public . . .

   Shaking his head, Draco opened his bag to tuck in his notes, and watched his mother’s latest letter fall out. Absentmindedly, he picked it up and re-read the top page.

. . . Please, use all caution and do not force your actions, my darling. I keep hearing horror stories of more Mudblood killings and kidnappings, while the Ministry sits idly by. There are rumours that with such an influence permeating our world, things are bound to change at Hogwarts, especially the school authorities. There’s a chance that your problem might take care of itself. You need to be very prudent in your friendships and liaisons now, since it would all be accounted for . . . 

   Draco knew what Mum meant. There were many rumours that Dumbledore might be ousted, especially after the Katie Bell incident. The Dark Lord’s minions were, basically, everywhere, including the Ministry. Of course, Mum desperately wished that the removal of the Headmaster would automatically relieve Draco of his horrendous task to kill him, but he strongly doubted such a possibility. Judging by Aunt Bella’s menacing messages, neither she, nor the Dark Lord was likely to let him off the hook. Draco had to get it done and put it past him, no matter how much he dreaded the task.

   The letter reminded Draco of another matter that he needed to figure out, somehow – the position of Hermione Granger in the whole scheme of things. If Dumbledore and his followers were to be thrown out or killed, she would certainly be in a grave peril. Especially, given her tendency to stand up for bloody Potter and jump in the fray without any regard for her own safety. Her self-preservation instincts were nil.

   Thank Merlin, Draco thought congratulating himself, that Weasel wasn’t an issue, anymore. The best thing would be to hide Hermione from everyone’s sight, and convince her to remain that way. Was there a way to drive a wedge between her and Potty?

   Draco glanced at his watch and quickly stuffed his belongings in the bag. Everything was quiet outside. He slid through the door and dismissed the little girl who obediently stood sentry. Draco waited for the Polyjuiced Goyle to go downstairs, and then cautiously stole along the darkened corridor.

   As he neared McGonagall’s office, he stopped and listened. Then he ducked into a shadow, as the office door opened, and McGonagall emerged together with Slughorn.
   “It would be most wonderful, Minerva, if we could indeed switch Third Year Potions into the Thursday afternoon slot, next term,” Slughorn spoke, while McGonagall cast locking spells on her office. “Friday morning doesn’t fit my schedule very well.”

   “Certainly, Horace, it won’t be an issue,” McGonagall nodded. “I’m sure Professor Flitwick would prefer the morning period – he’s a early riser.”

   “Filius had mentioned, the other day, it’s still a tradition to send a holiday treat to the Headmaster,“ Slughorn said loudly as he turned to walk alongside McGonagall to the stairs. “Some sweets or Ogden’s Special Reserve, I suppose.”

   “Well, Dumbledore doesn’t exactly drink Firewhisky, Horace.”

   “Oh, then a fine oak-matured mead would be in order,” Slughorn remarked as they both neared the stairs.

   Draco waited for the teachers to disappear, before quickly walking down to the fourth floor. Slughorn was definitely an arse-licker of a professor, he thought grudgingly. I’ll see what you’d be singing when Dumbledore is done for, Professor Slug . . .

   Draco walked past the statue of Boris the Bewildered and, cautiously, knocked on the coveted door. His heart pounded as it opened slightly. Trying to look inside, he could see a dark contour in the barely inch-wide gap. Suddenly, the door swung out, and a small hand closed on his sleeve and pulled him in.

   The pool was already filled with hot water. Hermione’s flushed face was irresistibly enticing in the soft candlelight descending from an intricate chandelier. Her darkened gaze wandered from him to the placid expanse of the water at their feet. Draco hated the sight of her bulky school robes that hid the sweet secret of her body. He stepped closer to her, and she stared, slightly wavering and bewitching at the same time, at his face. Suddenly, he remembered the nosy mermaid picture on the wall, and looked at it. The creature seemed to be soundly asleep.

   “I put a Sleeping Charm on the painting.” Hermione’s eyes followed the direction of his stare. “Moaning Myrtle won’t bother us either.”

   “How?” Draco never thought that anyone could rein in the obnoxious ghost.

   “I told her that Nearly Headless Nick wanted a date with her. Stargazing from the Astronomy Tower.” She traced her finger along the front closure of his robes. “He promised to keep her busy for a couple of hours, at least. I always ask him when I’m taking a bath here.”

   “You’re a wicked little Gryffindor.” Draco nuzzled her soft cheek, while his fingers were undoing the buttons of her robes. “You smell so good – vanilla and something else.”

   “It’s the peach and vanilla cream bubble foam from that tap.” Hermione pointed at one of the golden taps that had a dark red garnet and pearl jewel set in it.

   “No, it’s more than that – only you have this scent,” he breathed, his hand already tugging her robes open.

   Hermione smiled and moved away from him. He extended his arm to hold on to her but she quickly tossed her robes to the bench. In a moment, she divested herself of her underwear and threw a teasing glance at Draco. He stood enthralled, watching how she twisted her voluminous hair into a tight bun and secured it with a black hair clip. Stray curls lay on her smooth neck, and it fascinated him.


   The sound of her slipping into the pool brought him back to the very real dream unfolding before his eyes. Draco tore off his garments, leaving them in a heap on the white marble floor, and in a moment, he held her in his arms in the stinging hot water.
   “Vanilla and peach?” Hermione asked him, the water all the way up to her collarbones and her hand already on the faucet.

   “Whatever.” He cast a charm and a wide ledge extended underwater along the opposite side of the deep pool. He settled in and pulled Hermione next to him. She reclined against his side, the water barely covering her bosom. The fragrant foam trickled slowly from the golden tap and the bubbles spread in circular waves.

   The extremely warm water made Hermione feel languid and a little drowsy. She took in his slightly pink face, the perspiration already glistening on his cheekbones and forehead. Draco’s hands slid up her sides.

   “Wait.” She shifted away, muttering a cushioning charm so she could recline against the marble edge. The pearly foam was already licking at her skin, and his gaze was fixed on her bosom. “Let me show you something.”

   His eyes questioned her, and she smiled at him, feeling very daring and bold. She reached for her wand on the edge of the pool.

   Translucidus, she whispered.

   The foam around them cleared, allowing them to see their bodies in the transparent water. Hermione felt her desire rising inside her.

   Another spell. Bullae Subigitatio.

   A small underwater fountain of effervescent crystal-like bubbles burst between her knees, tickling her thighs, and then spreading over the curve of her lower abdomen. The tingling sensations made her rock her hips and arch her head back. She turned her head and met his startled stare.

   Breathing heavily, Hermione pointed her wand at him and muttered the same incantations again. The naughty bubbles crawled around his body and travelled up his stomach, making him groan. He grabbed her with his arm, pushing her face against his chest and snatched her wand.

   Morsus Aqua, she heard him growl.

   Suddenly, invisible, and strangely fluid, jaws nipped at her skin, and she plastered her stomach against his body. A lustful fire filled her abdomen, and she couldn’t tell whether it was from the phantom water beast or from the sensation of his heated body pressed against her. The mischievous bubbles spread all over their bodies underwater, making their skin tingle and prickle. Her arms braced around his shoulders, and his hands squeezed her back, holding her tightly.

   Out of sudden, his body slipped off the marble surface, and they plunked underwater. She thrashed around frantically, and Draco’s arms tightened around her. Amidst much splashing, he pulled her up to her feet on the floor of the pool. The water stopped teasing their bodies, and the vanilla-peach-scented foam began closing in on them. Hermione spat the water and foam out, and Draco rolled with laughter.

   “How’s the ‘jaws of water’?” he asked with an obvious mirth in his voice. “You didn’t know that one, yet? C’mon, who’d ever think that you learned these naughty things, as well?”

   “I only read about the bubbles in a book.” Oddly, Hermione giggled. The whole adventure made her feel very light-headed and wanton. “I thought you’d like them. But the ‘jaws of water’?”

   “Wanked plenty that way at home, Hermione. You should’ve seen our main bathroom – three times bigger than this one.”

   “Oh, you did it before too?” Her voice dipped a bit.

   “With you it’s so much better.” His lips and tongue attacked her mouth and she melted in his kiss. The fluffy foam licked at their shoulders, and it felt cool on her inflamed skin. Suddenly Hermione realised that the jewel-encrusted tap wasn’t pouring the scented bubbles anymore. Draco led her to the ledge and had her sit on it, her back cushioned by the charm.

   Hermione took in his sweaty features, the raw hunger for her in his stare, his wet, reddened chest. The sight of him was incredibly arousing to her, and she swayed her torso when he moved closer. His hands steadied her waist underwater, as he took her.

   Then he bent his head low to ravish her, and his lips felt like fire on her skin. Hermione gripped his blond head, aching from his sweet caresses. Their eyes locked, and she let herself sink into the daze of their passion. She could feel herself unravel, and she dug her fingernails in his back because her hands kept slipping on his wet skin.

   They were both hot and rough, the water mixed with the bubble foam splashed wildly around them. Their minds dissolved in the heavy cloud of fragrance and lust.

   When Hermione came back to her senses, his face was buried in the crook of her neck, and his body was heavy against hers on the ledge. She kissed his wet hair tenderly. He stirred in her arms, then lifted his head and searched the edges of the pool with his eyes.

   “Your wand?” she asked and began looking for hers, too.

   “Yeah,” Draco mumbled. He found the energy to get off the ledge and reach for his wand, muttering a low Aquamenti. A cool stream poured on his face and shoulders. Only now Hermione realized how thirsty she was. He nodded for her to join him, and she slid off the ledge to stand next to him and drink the refreshing water.

   They sat back on the ledge, languorous after their lovemaking. The pool water wasn’t hot anymore but it was still pleasantly warm. Draco pulled her into his lap, and she reclined against his chest, his arms wrapped around her abdomen. It was such bliss to sit together like this, to be secure in his embrace. Hermione’s heart was overflowing with the fuzzy warmth, which for her was now connected with this blond boy, Draco Malfoy. She snuggled against him, and he kissed her forehead softly.

   Nothing mattered now – only the two of them together.

   Draco rested his cheek against Hermione’s wet hair and breathed her scent in. The bathroom became their little private world, far away from the madness of the life outside.

   “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

   He heard her dreamy whisper. A great desire to protect her and shelter her from every danger surged inside him. Draco hugged her closer and she pressed her cheek against his shoulder, her eyes now looking into his face.

   “I think Parkinson is spying on me,” Hermione spoke. “I wanted to go here straight from the library, but I noticed her exiting, literally on my heels. I went to the Gryffindor Common Room, instead.”

   Draco didn’t like the news. Pansy was at it again, and he knew he had to placate his fiancée with a pretend date to get her off their backs, for a while. Merlin’s bloody pants, why did his parents have to pick her, of all the Pureblood girls out there?

   “I’ll deal with her,” he said, rubbing Hermione’s side. “Tell her some tale to make her back off.”

   “Can’t you just break off the engagement, officially? You don’t seem to be happy with it anyway, Draco.”

   “It could be our cover, too, remember that, Hermione.” Her face didn’t look very pleased, and he quickly added, “I want you to be with me, in the end.”

   After all this stuff with Dumbledore and The Vanishing Cabinet gets resolved. 

   “If we still want to be together after we take the antidote,” she mused, tracing her finger in circles on his chest. “I-I’m a little afraid of that.”

   “Afraid of what?”

   “That we might start resenting each other after taking the counter-potion. It’s a common effect after a love potion stops working.”

   “After a junk love potion from WWW. Heorte Lustbaere is different stuff, Hermione.” Draco studied her features again. Merlin, how good was it that he fixed up that killer lust potion. Snape must be green with chronic envy now.

   “Still, we’ll have to deal with a lot of things, Draco.” Her eyes were now fixed on his Dark Mark, and he noticed it.

   Something clicked in his brain. Draco understood it very clearly now. If he accomplished the missions the Dark Lord tasked him, no matter how horrific, he’d gain his own secure position in Lord Voldemort’s service. His security would mean a safe shelter for Hermione, too.    “I’ll make sure you’ll be all right, Hermione.” His finger touched a stray lock on her neck. “No matter how powerful You-Know-Who thinks he is, he can’t possibly know everything. I’ll find a secure place for you, Hermione.”

   “Why do you think You-Know-Who is going to win?” Hermione straightened up in his lap. “Not if we fight him!”

   “You don’t know what’s going on outside Hogwarts. His people are everywhere, even in the Ministry!”

   “And so is the resistance, Draco!”

   “Do you really need to get mixed up in all of it? Let others fight and we’ll see who wins.” Draco didn’t like where this conversation was heading.

   “It’s our duty to defend our liberties and freedom.” Hermione was not relenting. “We need to support Harry – he’s The Chosen One!”

   “I doubt The Chosen One is very keen on fighting You-Know-Who,” Draco smirked. “He’s ogling Ginny Weasley all the time! So much for your girl-obsessed, brave warrior friends.”

   Hermione shifted away but Draco held her firm. She was getting tearful, and he knew that he had to tread carefully now.

   “Forget it, Hermione. You’re mine and I love the time I spend with you,” he said huskily. “You’re so heavenly and beautiful.”

   “Oh, Draco, but you simply can’t understand.” Still, she relaxed in his embrace, and it was good.

   “On the contrary, I understand very well. Don’t I know how bitchy life can be? We’ve got all sorts of things that we don’t want, and then you have to weasel your way through all it.” He paused. Her expression showed a clear sympathy. “I’ll make sure you are safe and well, no matter what, and we will have our love to the fullest. Whatever my family obligations are, I will fulfil them, but I will take good care of you, as well.”

   “Your family obligations? You mean your service as a Death Eater?”

   “I mean the Malfoy House creed. I’ll marry a Pureblood witch – whoever my folks choose for me. Not Pansy, of course. I’ll break up with her when it’s safe to do. Have the proper family magic union done and sire the heir to make sure the Malfoy line continues on. But I’ll have you too – I’ll provide for you. You won’t even have to work, Hermione. You’ll have a nice house and live in luxury. You mean so much to me, Hermione.”

   Hermione couldn’t believe her ears. Did he really mean it? That he considered her no more than just a mistress?

   “I- I’m sorry, Draco,” her voice shook from shock. “I don’t want to be a kept woman. Never!” She jerked from his embrace and in a moment she was out of the pool, drying herself with a big fluffy towel.

   “You mean you want me to marry you?” Draco was plain astounded. “It’s impossible.” Merlin, any average witch would be only happy to accept his generous proposition.

   It isn’t his fault that Hermione wasn’t a Pureblood, right?

   “No, I’m certainly not marrying a Pureblood enslaved to his family magic code!” Her tone was sour.

   “Did you know that the damned Weasley curse befell our family?” Draco was now out of the pool too. He stood in front of Hermione, the water dripping down his long legs.

   “Oh, I know that.” She laughed mirthlessly. “Only one child in every Malfoy generation.”

   “And I can’t afford for my son to be a squib! If I marry a Muggleborn, I’d run a high chance of a non-wizard heir and disgrace to the House!”

   Hermione turned away from Draco and started dressing. Her hands were trembling, and all she wanted was to get out of the Prefect’s bathroom, as soon as possible.

   “It’s okay to be a lover of a high-born wizard, Hermione.” Draco was trying to appease her. “Many witches would envy your connection to the Malfoy name.”

   “Of course, with all those arranged Pureblood marriages,” she answered sardonically. “Getting trapped with a spouse chosen, not by you, but by your parents, and then sleeping with others right, left and centre. How honourable.”

   “I promise you’ll be my only true one, Hermione.” He came up behind her and put his hands on his shoulders. “I’m not going to have a harem, like old Nott.”

   Hermione finished buttoning up her robe and whipped around. “So, Nott’s father has a harem and everyone is all right with that?”

   “You didn’t know that?” Draco attempted to delay her exit. “The Nott’s code of magic allows them to have children only in a legitimate marriage to a Pureblood. The old man had Theo with his late wife, but he also kept several mistresses. A place to live for each of them – gifts, clothes, everything they could possibly want. One of his women got pregnant and claimed that old Nott was the father. He threw her out right away because he knew she couldn’t have one with him. Funny, isn’t it?”

   “I don’t think it’s funny.” Hermione headed to the door. “I despise it, actually.”

   The door slammed shut. Draco kicked the heap of his clothes on the floor. Was there a way to make a Muggleborn understand the Pureblood wizarding life? He hadn’t expected her at all to get so riled up over his offer of protection. He was sincere with her, and she repaid him with anger. And he hadn’t even told her that he’d have to work it all out on top of his being a Death Eater in Lord Voldermort’s service.

   Did he have to take the Muggle Studies class to understand his girl’s quirks? He sank on the bench and clenched his head. What a pain in the arse his life was.

   Blinded by her tears, Hermione was almost running down the dark and empty corridors. How could she delude herself into thinking that Malfoy considered her as his equal? That he really loved her?

   She halted halfway in the seventh floor corridor because she couldn’t enter her dorm in her current teary state. Hermione hid in a shadow behind a pillar. She balled her fist and stuffed it into her mouth to stifle the sounds of her crying.

   Sobs shook her body as she huddled on the floor against the cold wall in the darkness. 

Author's Note:
Translations of the Latin incantations that I invented in this chapter:
Translucidus – transparent
Bullae – bubble; Subigitatio – fondling
Morsus - jaws; Aqua – water.

Chapter 20: Parents and Holidays
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

   Hermione was running late for breakfast.

   It was a dreary day outside: wind, rain and sleet. The weather matched her moods. Even the prospect of a free Sunday ahead did nothing to lift Hermione’s spirits.

   After her bitter shock in the Prefects’ bathroom, Hermione insisted on early morning quickies to prevent Malfoy from prolonging their time together, which he wasn’t happy with, at all. Their last Saturday date was a sullen affair. Instead of staying with Draco for the rest of the night, Hermione left for her dorm immediately after satisfying her need.

    Hermione hurried past the tables, her eyes avoiding the Slytherin table. She wasn’t able to dodge the sight of Ron’s arm wrapped around Lavender’s shoulders. Hermione nodded to Harry, who was sitting next to Ron, but her friend failed to notice her. Instead, Harry’s stare was on Ginny, who was chatting with Dean Thomas. Hermione’s spirits sank even lower. No one had any interest in her whatsoever, except the cursed Malfoy, who apparently considered her nothing more than an erotic plaything.

    Worst of all, the Christmas break was looming large, and they had to figure out together how to continue their sex life without interruption. Unlike school, their potion-induced lust had no holidays.

    Hermione found a vacant seat on the farthest end of the Gryffindor table, next to two seventh year girls, Leanne and Adelaide. She couldn’t see Harry and Ron from there, which was great. But she ended up facing the Slytherin table, and was well in the line of Malfoy’s sight. Hermione glanced at him as she tucked into her porridge. Flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, he was talking to Pansy and Daphne across the table. Blaise towered nearby and apparently listened to Malfoy’s rant too. Holding his Slytherin court, as usual. 

     Hermione chewed on an apple tart and mused gloomily on her situation. It was so stupid of her to expect Malfoy to treat her as his equal. Of course, she knew from history books that arranged marriages and adultery were a norm of Muggle aristocratic life all over Europe (Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his royal court in 17th -18th century France, for example). It only was logical that the Pureblood wizarding elite followed suit. Nevertheless, it was one thing to read about it in books, and a totally different matter to be Bludgered with it, in reality.

     Hermione’s heart and mind still reeled from her hurt and humiliation. To restore her self-esteem, she needed to distance herself from the damned Death Eater and focus on her spying mission, but she couldn’t do it. Hermione suddenly remembered that Lavender Brown was a Pureblood too, although of a more modest stock. This fact didn’t help either.

     The best thing Hermione could do was bury herself in her studies. Almost all of her homework for the next week was done, except for two bonus assignments for Herbology and Ancient Runes. The Herbology essay would require a good deal of book research, which guaranteed to keep her busy for most of the day. At least, she was the top one in her classes, and that was something to be proud of.

    The meal came to an end, and owls with the morning post flew into the Great Hall. Three of them descended in front of Hermione, bringing a letter from her Mum, another one from Dumbledore and a square package, which puzzled her slightly. She hid Dumbledore’s letter in her pocket to read later, in private, and opened the other envelope. Her eyes scanned her mother’s neat handwriting:

. . . We resolved not to travel this holiday but to have Christmas at home, as a family. It’s great that you’ll be coming home for the break. We all have been missing our time together, and this Christmas would be a wonderful chance to make up for it and strengthen our family connection . . .

     The letter gave Hermione a bad premonition. Mum employed the same vocabulary before that ill-fated ski trip in the fifth year, when Hermione quit early and joined Harry and Ron at Sirius’ place for Christmas. She lied to her friends stating she wasn’t fond of skiing, because it was too difficult for her to explain her family problems to them.

     The following summer was no better. She stayed most of the time with the Weasleys. Unbeknownst to them, their hospitality was truly her salvation. Then an apologetic letter from Mum and Dad arrived the first week of her school year, and Hermione was relieved that everything seemed to be back to normal at home. Still, she had a persistent worry that the things could go downhill any time.

    Hermione put her mother’s letter aside and tore off the package wrappings. A dark red velvet box of chocolates emerged, the gold and silver arabesques on it shining brightly in the candlelight. Veuve Gauthier, Chocolatiere Supreme. The arabesques seemed to be alive, their wavy contours fluid and entwined, and small pictures of gleaming chocolate bonbons weaved through them.

    A small folded note of crimson red parchment was attached to the side of the box. Hermione pried it open with her fingernail but quickly flattened it back, as she realised that everyone around her was staring at the box. Nevertheless, she glimpsed the calligraphic inscription in gold lettering inside. With compliments, Draco Malfoy.

   “Whoa, Veuve Gauthier . . .” gasped Leanne and drew closer to see the box better.

   “From whom?” Adelaide leaned over. “I saw exactly the same box in that fancy shop last summer. Remember the place, Leanne?”

    “Oh yes. This one must cost no less than two hundred Galleons!” exclaimed Leanne. At these words, two third year girls next to her jumped to their feet and craned their necks.

    “It’s from my parents,” Hermione said bluntly, and hurriedly stuffed the box into her school bag.

    Did Malfoy really believe she could be bought like a courtesan?

   “An early Christmas gift.” Her explanation was lame, she knew. Her whole life was lame.

   Hermione walked out of the Great Hall. She instantly ran into Theo and Padma arguing in the front of the entrance.

   “Can’t you believe me, after all?” Theo was clearly exasperated. “If Granger snogged someone, it wasn’t me!”

   “Of course, doing it right in front of the Fat Lady!” Padma turned away and marched down the hallway angrily. “Don’t try to hoodwink me!”

    Nott ran after her and blocked her path. “Listen to me, Padma!”

    Padma halted and turned abruptly again. Her eyes fell on Hermione, and Padma stuck her chin up, indignantly. Theo gave Hermione a pleading look.

   “Padma, it wasn’t Nott who snogged me on that night!” Hermione shouted, and came up to the couple. “Someone posed as Theo to lure me out of the Gryffindor Tower. He caught me by surprise too!”

    “So you came out because you thought Theo asked you for a date?” Padma said bitterly.

    “No, I was told that Theo wanted to discuss the night patrols. I thought he wanted to trade the times. I’m so sorry about the confusion, Padma.”

     “Who was it then?” A glimmer of curiosity appeared in Padma’s anthracite-black eyes. Nott drew closer, his bony face alert.

    “I won’t tell you.”

    “I guess it wasn’t Weasley or Potter, right?” Padma exchanged glances with the Slytherin Prefect. “Tell me – I promise I’ll keep it a secret!”

     “I’m not telling anyone,” Hermione stepped back and saw Malfoy lolling near a window in the company of Crabbe and Goyle. Loudly, she said, “In fact, I’m very angry with him now. He stooped so low that he screwed you, Nott!”

    “Someone from Slytherin?” Nott asked quickly and looked around. His jaws hardened.

   “A Slytherin?” Padma was eager to find it out. Hermione realised that Malfoy’s eyes were steadily fixed on the three of them.

   “I won’t tell you. Leave me alone, please. Here.” Hermione pulled the package of chocolates out of her bag, tore off the folded red note and thrust the ornate box into Padma’s hands. “I’m so sorry. I really want you and Nott to make up.”

   “But . . . but . . . is it a real Veuve Gauthier?” Padma gasped, and Theo looked over her shoulder at the box. “It’s so expensive!”

   “To make up for the trouble. Enjoy!” Hermione turned on her heels and walked past a murderous-looking Malfoy.

    Sheer madness filled Draco’s insides. His inability to curb her rejection infuriated him. The way Hermione reacted to his gift baffled him completely. Any other girl, including Pansy, would squeal with delight over it. In fact, he had never given his fiancée anything remotely close in value.

    The morose and distant Granger became Draco’s nemesis. This last week had been a nightmare. Their early morning dates left him sleep-deprived because he stayed in the Room of Requirement until late, trying to speed up the repair of The Vanishing Cabinets. Unrelenting Aunt Bella demanded that he send her the progress reports daily. Mum was slipping into a low-key hysteria in her letters, as she reported on Father’s state and the Dark Lord’s latest doings.

    The warm and cordial Hermione was his solace for a brief while before their rift in the Prefects’ bathroom, and he missed it terribly. This morning Draco walked in a daze, doing his best to act normal around his fellow Slytherins, while entertaining Pansy and her girlfriends at breakfast. He was barely able to hold himself together. He had to hammer some sense into Granger before he lost his last marbles. The holidays were approaching fast, but he couldn’t bring himself to think about it. Of all the Christmases in his life, this one was going to be the most dreaded.

    Abruptly, Draco commanded Crabbe and Goyle to go downstairs and wait for him in the Slytherin Common Room. Theo and Padma had already departed with the Veuve Gauthier bonbons. Draco darted down the side corridor after Hermione. He almost caught up with her, when she halted and turned around.

    “Malfoy, I don’t need your bribes, understand?” She glared at him, clutching her school bag. “What you did to Nott was dishonest. Leave me alone, today!”

    Before Draco had time to say anything, Hermione dove into a girls’ loo and left him alone in a deserted corridor.

    In the safety of the loo, Hermione closed the stall door and leaned against it. She was in no mood to interact with Malfoy. He’d probably wait for her awhile, then give up and slink off to his House to take his anger out on an unlucky first year. He could be a vile beast when angry.

    Hermione extracted Dumbledore’s letter from her pocket and unfolded it.

Dear Hermione,

Thank you for your latest note. It is imperative that you persuade your friend to remain at Hogwarts for the holidays. Since you will need to be with him, I informed Professor McGonagall that you might choose to stay at school for Christmas. In case you doubt such a possibility, I am certain that your friend would be very receptive to your gracious charms.

Albus Dumbledore

    Hermione crumpled the letter and flushed it down the toilet. Merlin, now she had to sweet-talk Malfoy into staying at Hogwarts instead of spending Christmas with werewolves. What a lousy secret agent she was. She let her emotions and vain hopes override her duty, and fumbled her spying assignment in a most gross manner.

   When she stepped out of the loo, she hoped for Malfoy to be already gone. Hermione needed some time to figure out how to approach the task Dumbledore gave her so unexpectedly. She couldn’t suddenly start acting all sweet to Malfoy after their epic falling out.

   To her chagrin, a tall blonde figure was leaning against a pillar a few feet from the loo entrance. His eyes were the colour of thunderclouds.

    “Let’s meet in the last classroom in that end and talk.” Resignedly, she came up to him, and gently touched his arm. An expression of a slight puzzlement appeared in his face. The darkness in his eyes receded. Her heart pounding, she turned and proceeded to their designation. She did not look back, knowing from the sound of his steps that he followed her.

   Draco eyed the slender figure ahead of him, as he walked down the corridor. Granger could be such a mystery at times. He knew every nook and cranny of her body, but he could hardly comprehend her inner world. A soft touch of her hand miraculously tamed his anger. Surprisingly, her face did not look angry, although her reticence was very apparent. At least, it was clear she wasn’t going to bawl at him, he thought.

    Once they entered a classroom, Draco cast locking spells on the classroom door and took the seat next to her. Hermione set her bag on the desk, not sure how to begin. He was sitting too close for her comfort but Hermione couldn’t move away either. Her objective was to appease and charm him, and it was the last thing she was fit to do at the moment. It would be easier to shag him mindlessly than to have any sort of a conversation. She stared at the well-worn desk surface in silence.

     Draco gazed at Hermione’s profile warily. He was suspended in between the temptation to unleash his pent up fury at her and the desire to bring back her good disposition. His palms were clammy, and his head was heavy from lack of sleep. His pride was sore from her rejection of his gift, but he was now hesitant to bring it up.

    “Draco, I wonder . . .” Hermione still avoided looking at him. “Did your father ever have a mistress?” Instantly, she cursed herself for the choice of a topic. A career as spy was definitely not her lot.

   “Er . . . No idea.” Draco realised that this particular question had never entered his mind. “Not that I know of. He loves Mum.”

   “How do you know your father loves your mother?” Wonderful. Now she had to keep the ball rolling.

   “Because he said so. He doesn’t let anyone hurt her.” Draco racked his sluggish brain. His anger had largely dissipated. ”He said Mum is the best woman he could wish.”

   “Was their marriage arranged?”

  Draco scrutinized the desk surface. To tell the truth, he was confused about his parents. He always submitted to their authority, especially Father’s. Their superiority used to be his rock and shield, in the larger world.

   Over the past few months, a lot of facts had surfaced that made him doubt his own parents. He did not know how to handle it. Hermione had an advantage of not being a hardcore Pureblood. Draco hoped she would be less likely to be affronted by his revelations. He clung to every glint of hope, no matter how small.

    “I don’t know. It’s odd, really.” He wondered what her reaction would be. “I mean, I thought they were proper and everything.”

    “Did you discover something that your parents didn’t tell you about?” Her brown eyes searched his face.

   “Sort of. I overheard Auntie Bella screaming at Mum once. Father got mad and told Bellatrix to shut up. Said if she brought it up again, he’d hex her speechless, permanently.” Draco was circling around, not daring to get to the very issue that perplexed him so much.

   “What was it about?” It was the first time Hermione heard him talk about his family in such details. “Did your parents explain anything to you?”

    “Mum was like a stone. It was no use to ask her about anything.” Draco rubbed his finger on the surface of the desk. “I talked to my cousin, Tonks. I ran into her a while ago – she’s on Auror duty here.”

   “What did Tonks say?” Hermione’s mind was working. The fact that he talked to his estranged cousin made her wonder if the relations between the Black sisters were more complex than she thought.

   “Tonks did not know for sure at first but she asked her mother. Aunt Andromeda wrote me a letter. Said that Mum was engaged to marry Uncle Rodolphus but eloped with a Muggleborn instead. That she never liked Uncle Rodolphus.” Draco remembered how befuddled Tonks looked when he accosted her in one of the hallways.

    Hermione’s expression warmed up visibly and she was now facing him, directly. It put him more at ease. He reclined in his chair but held back an urge to dig his fingers into her curls.

    “How did your father marry your mother?” Hermione asked thoughtfully. 

    She would have never guessed that the haughty Narcissa had tried to elope with a Muggleborn.

   “The Muggleborn boyfriend cheated on Mother, and she returned. The Lestranges denounced Mum because she disgraced herself, and Uncle Rodolphus married Auntie Bella instead. They still wanted to add the Black family magic to theirs.” Draco drew a breath, his eyes searching for a response in Hermione’s face. She held his gaze steadily. “My Dad proposed Mum two weeks after she returned. Aunt Andromeda said Father fancied Mother at school.”

    “It looks like your father loved your mother very much,” Hermione mused. She would have never thought that Lucius Malfoy could be capable of anything like this. It was unsettling to discover that the notorious Death Eater could have a better side to him, but she had to be fair to Draco. “Think of it – he picked her up after she was denounced for her trespass. I imagine what a scandal it was then. In fact, I admire your father’s act.”

    “Auntie Bella said that no one would marry Mum after what she did, if not for Dad. I hated my aunt.” Hermione’s sympathetic attention to his words made him feel a little better.

    “If your father still cares for your mother like you said, I doubt he’s had any paramours.” Hermione straightened in her seat and looked at the blackboard again. She remembered her parents and anxiety rose in her heart again. “How about your Aunt and Uncle? Are they happy together?”

    “Uncle Rodolphus and Aunt Bella?” He took in the sight of the skin of her neck peeking from under her brown locks. “He doesn’t care that much about her. Uncle lives with another witch – I’ve seen her. Auntie doesn’t bother with that. She’s crazy about You-Know-Who, and basically lives at the Manor now. Makes everyone’s life a hell there.”

    They sat in a silence for a few minutes.

    “You know what?” Draco spoke up. “Forget what I said to you the other day.”

    “Forget what?” Hermione’s eyes flung at him.

    “About you becoming my mistress.” Draco hoped it would soothe her a bit. He could see that she was in a much better mood now. He had to pull off his remorse act properly, and everything would be all right between them. “I – I just thought it was a good way to make sure you’re safe. Sorry I upset you. You’re my best witch ever, Hermione.” 

    “Okay.“ Hermione studied Malfoy’s face. He could be such a sweet-talker when he wanted, she thought. “Anyway, we can’t be together.” 

    “You’re so beautiful and sexy, Hermione.” Draco was glad it was working. “Let’s take it easy and see how it all turns out in the end.” 

    “Could you do me a favour?” 

    “Sure.” Draco put his arm around her shoulders and she did not resist. He took it as a good sign.

    “Don’t tell me you love me. I won’t believe you, Draco.” Hermione did her best to stay grounded in the reality.


    “I overheard you saying it to Pansy. The other day in the library.”

    “Only to get her off our backs, Hermione.”

    “Yes. It’s easy for you to pretend and lie to get your way. Haven’t you been trying to placate me just now? Honestly?”

    “Well . . . maybe a little bit.” Draco felt like he was walking a tightrope. His brain was too tired for this maneuvering.

   “I don’t need glossing over reality and trying to pretend that everything is nice and well. I’ve had it with my parents.”

    “I promise I won’t tell you that I love you. But I want you so much. Really.” The part about his desire for her was easy for him because it was true.

    “I want you too, Draco. I need you because of the potion, but now I think I want more of you too.” Hermione spoke fervently, and he soaked her words in like a sponge. “I don’t think I’m in love with you. Love is too big a word. It’s misused too much. For your peace of mind, I’m not in love with Ron or Harry either. We are friends and that’s all.“

    “All right. So eloquent of you.” Draco could settle with it, for now. “What’s that thing about your parents?”

    “My mother and father were separated for awhile this year.” Hermione sighed. “We went on a ski trip last Christmas because Mum said we needed to spend more time together. It was horrible.“

    “Did your parents fight a lot?” He wondered what was going on in Hermione’s home. She had never revealed much about her family. Probably she didn’t have much good to tell, he thought. Poor thing.

   “I didn’t see them fight at all. But it was so tense, and I couldn’t understand it. Once, I caught Mum crying but she said it was nothing. My parents were nice to each other around me. Everything was wonderful and great, but it sounded so false. I couldn’t bear it, and left early. Lied to them that I needed to go back to Hogwarts to study for the term ahead.”

    Hermione snuggled in Draco’s embrace, as he pulled her closer. “In April, Aunt Perpetua sent me a letter. She’s Mum’s eldest sister and she’s wonderful. Well, she’s chatty and meddles in everyone’s business, but she’s so cordial and kindhearted, I forgive her everything,“

    “What did your Aunt tell you?” The tidbits of Hermione’s Muggle life ignited his interest.

    “She told me that my mother and father were having a rift. Dad moved out. She wanted me to be prepared when I came back for summer holidays. Then, I received Mum’s letter. She only said that she and Dad were sorting out a few differences, and that everything would be all right.”

    Hermione twisted her fingers in her lap. Why, of all people, was she telling all this to Malfoy? She never shared it with anyone in her wizarding circle, because she wanted to leave it behind in the Muggle world, to block it out as if it never existed.

   She looked at Draco. His face held a strange expression. He seemed to be less guarded and his emotions showed more distinctly than usual. The clear interest in his eyes was mixed with tired sadness. He was not angry with her anymore. On the contrary, his tone was soft, not in an appeasing way but in a more sincere one.

    “Ah. Parents never tell you things as they are. Mine are the same. Father was so big about being a Death Eater, being so close to You-Know-Who. When I was made one, he wasn’t happy at all.” Draco paused and said bitterly, “I was even angry with him for it then.“

    “Are you glad you’re a Death Eater?” Hermione asked warily.

    “Damn – don’t ask me, okay? “ Draco did not want to venture into the treacherous waters. He changed the topic. “Your folks aren’t back together, yet?”

    “They reconciled at the end of August. I received a letter from them the first week of school.” Hermione understood Mafloy spared her a harsh answer, and she even felt appreciative. It was so much easier to talk to him about her family matters. Unlike her friends, he listened to her.

    “During the summer, it was unbearable. I wanted to support Mum, and I stuck with her at home.” Hermione continued abjectly. “Then, she suggested I visit my cousins for a weekend. When I returned home, Mum was having tea with a man. Said they were old friends. Mum tried to explain something about him later that night. I understood she was seeing him, and it made me feel awful.”

     Hermione twiddled a strand of her hair. She tried not to sound too whiny. “I went to stay with Aunt Perpetua for a week, and then spent the rest of the summer with the Weasleys. Aunt Perpetua was very no-nonsense about it all. Told me my parents messed up big time. You know, it’s easier for me to talk to my Aunt because I sometimes feel like Mum and Dad are complete strangers to me. They live their own life and I know almost nothing of it.“

    Draco had never seen Granger so subdued. He could see her lips twitch slightly, as she told him about the way her parents walled themselves from their daughter. It was clear it pained her. He remembered his own father, who often was taken up by mysterious business matters. And his mother, who would give him a quick hug and kiss, only to disappear for the day, vaguely citing important social obligations.

    “Same here, my parents always were so busy. I was with house-elves and tutors. One of our librarian house-elves was so funny, I hung out at the library just to watch him.” A slight smile crossed Hermione’s lips and it encouraged Draco. He plowed ahead. “Are you - er - angry with your folks?”

    “Angry? No.” Hermione hesitated. “Bitter – yes. They wanted to hide it all behind the false pretences. They acted so nice with each other, and they were already separating. I don’t even know why they broke up in the first place. Aunt Perpetua doesn’t know either.” She looked into his eyes. “My Mum’s last letter about Christmas plans scares me, really. It reminds me of that one she wrote me before the ski trip. The same talk about strengthening family bonds. Everything seems to be all right, but I can’t trust them.”

    “Parents can act like a load of dragon dung.” Draco stared at the desk. “Mine didn’t tell me the truth either. That Mum ran away with a Muggleborn, and it wasn’t a big deal to Dad. I thought they were so perfect, always mixed only with Purebloods.”

    Unexpectedly for himself, Draco added, “Father used to compare my grades to yours a lot.”

   “Did he?”

   “He did not like that a Muggleborn was the top one in nearly everything. Always told me to beat you to prove my Pureblood superiority. And I tried, very hard!”

   “Aren’t we alike?” Hermione chortled. “You know, I competed with you, too. I couldn’t stand your Pureblood pride. I assume it’s quite a conquest for you to shag me now. Am I right? Honestly?”

   “What conquest is it if no one knows about it?” Draco smirked. “It’s only you and I. Anyway, our parents fed us some rubbish, right?”

    “And we try to delude ourselves too.”


    “Very simple. I deceived myself into thinking that you considered me as an equal. You convinced yourself that you could keep me and marry a proper Pureblood witch. The fact of life is that we must part our ways after we take the antidote. You’ll take your family-approved Pureblood route, and I’m going to find my own place in this world.”

    “You’re thinking along a straight line, really. There are always ways to get around whatever stupid rules we have to deal with.”

   “You’re talking like a Slytherin. I am different. I don’t agree with being a second-class citizen, in the first place.”

   “You aren’t a second-class, at all. Lots of Pureblood witches would die to have your looks and smarts.”

   “Your Mr. Appeaser is at work again, Draco,” was her verdict.

   “Can’t you just stop belittling yourself?” He tried to distract her by nuzzling her ear. 

   “Still, I’m not good enough for you to marry.”

    “Does it mean you want me to marry you?”

    “Merlin, no!”

    “Then why are you so worried?”

    “You’re impossible, Malfoy!”

    Hermione huffed and stood up to leave. Draco made a futile attempt to pull her down by the sleeve of her robe. Although their conversation made her more at home with this blond boy, she had a strong need for some space to mull things over and to try to figure out her own stance in this relationship.

    Surprisingly, they could talk even if they didn’t agree on everything. Hermione briefly imagined what it would be like to talk about her family to Harry and Ron. They would never understand. Harry would just gloss over it, and Ron – well, she’d best not recall some of his asinine remarks.

    “I’m going to the library to do the bonus Herbology assignment.” Hermione pointed her wand at the door to undo the Locking Charms.

    “You’re a chronic overachiever, Granger,” Draco jested. Any sort of extra bonus homework would be the last thing on his mind. “I’d rather get more sleep.”

   “You don’t sleep well, do you?” His looks were so pale and careworn lately, she thought. “Did your Dark Mark hurt again?”

    “No, it didn’t hurt.“ Draco ran his hand through his hair. “Hell, I’m tired, and everyone is so damn annoying. Crabbe and Goyle, and the others too.”

    “You look so stressed. You need to take the Calming Draught.” She reached into her school bag for the bottle. It was half-full, which would last for a few more weeks, but Hermione could always ask Madam Pomfrey for more.

    “Thanks.” Draco pocketed the bottle. “So, you’re off to do your sacred bonus homework?”

    “Yes, and it’s really important to me.” Hermione made a few steps towards the door, and suddenly halted in her tracks. So much for her being a secret agent. She got carried away while griping about her parents to Malfoy, and Dumbledore’s request nearly slipped from her mind!

    “Forgot something?” Draco asked quickly, secretly hoping Granger had changed her mind to stay with him.

    “Well, I just remembered something.” Playing a seductress didn’t seem to be a passable strategy, Hermione thought, but it wouldn’t hurt to inquire about his plans. “What if we stay at Hogwarts for the holidays? I don’t feel like going home.”

   “Do you think we’ll get permission? Everyone is going home. None of the Slytherins are staying.”

   Draco’s brain, now fully awake, was doing some quick thinking. Snape would be very likely to want him to stay at school under his close supervision. On the other hand, could Snape tame his crazy Auntie and help him dodge the werewolf party?

   Merlin’s bloody pants, the unlimited sex-bliss with Hermione in a, basically empty, castle would be well worth the trouble of having to deal with a pesky and nosy Snape.

   But there were other weighty issues to consider. 

   Draco was anxious to see Mum and to make sure she was okay. Not that he longed to be back home. With Aunt Bella and the Death Eaters, the Manor was the last place he wanted to be. Which made him fear for his mother even more.

    Besides, the holidays were the only time when he could visit Father in Azkaban. Damn. He’d have to ask Snape for a Portkey to meet Mum in a place other than the Manor, and to make the sickening trip to Azkaban. Again, the giant headache of having to deal with too many things at the same time.

    “Sprout said she would need some help in the greenhouses during the break.” Hermione looked at Malfoy apprehensively. “I’m going to volunteer.”

    “That’s bloody brilliant!” Draco said eagerly. “I’ll talk to Snape – I’m sure he’d let me!“ If everything went well, he could squeeze in more work on The Vanishing Cabinet, which would make a good bargaining chip in his negotiations with Auntie. He’d rather leave the grim task of procuring Muggle kids for Fenrir and his kind, to Katz and others.

    “Great. I’ll go to McGonagall then.” Hermione put a smile on her face and stepped outside. The issue of their sex life was resolved, but now she faced a long holiday break in Malfoy’s company in the cold and desolate castle.

    The thought of it suddenly made her want to go home and be with her parents instead. 

   The tall windows were already black, and the candles floating in the air were the only sources of light in the library.

    Hermione leaned against the back of her chair. She was done with the bonus text translation for Ancient Runes but nixed the idea of doing the extra Herbology assignment. Instead, she wrote a letter to her parents to tell them that she wouldn’t be coming home and another one to Aunt Perpetua to ask for whatever intelligence she had on the latest happenings in her family. She left writing the reply to Dumbledore for later when everything would be confirmed with McGonagall and Snape.

    All this left her very tired, but she didn’t want to go back to the Gryffindor Common Room. Ron and Lavender were certain to be there, thrashing like eels on a couch in everyone’s view. Honestly, she couldn’t understand how Lavender would put up with his sloppy manner of kissing. Draco was loads better at it. Oh no, here she was again – longing for the cursed Malfoy.

    Hermione wished she could become that little girl again, whose world was so simple – her Mum and Dad, her dolls and books. Was there ever a time when her holidays were all about the Christmas trees, gifts and Santa Claus, and not about her miserable relationships with Death Eaters and her own parents?

    Her mind drifted back to Draco. Whatever tasks the Dark Lord had given to him, they apparently were taking a huge toll on him. Hermione mused over what he told her about his parents. He was so perplexed by the fact that his father acted as a gentleman to his mother and married her when others scorned her. What kind of world was Draco living in??? 

   “Hermione?” Parvati’s voice jolted her out of her thoughts. “Nott wants to talk to you.”

   “Oh. Where is he?” Hermione glanced up at Parvati who was standing in front of her table. “About what?” It better be the real Theo Nott, she thought.

   “About the chocolates, apparently. Can you come to the last abandoned classroom in the third floor corridor now?”

   “I’m coming on the condition that you come along too.” Hermione gathered her parchments. “I don’t want to be falsely accused of snogging Nott again.”

   Parvati shifted on her feet uneasily. “All right.”

  As they exited the library, Hermione saw Theo lounging in the corridor outside. Parvati gave him a terse nod, and he quickly walked downstairs, well ahead of the girls. Hermione thought it was so twisted that the Slytherin and Gryffindor students had to sneak around just to talk to each other.

   “Are you coming back to Hogwarts after Christmas?” Hermione said, just for the sake of a conversation, as they walked to the staircase in the farther end of the fourth floor corridor.

    “If my parents don’t let me, I’m going to run away!” Parvati replied gloomily. “Dad wanted Padma and I to leave for home now, but I dug my heels in. Wish I could stay here for the holidays.”

    “Why would you want to be at Hogwarts for Christmas?” Hermione wondered if Zabini was implicated, as well.

    “Blaise wants to talk his mother into allowing him to stay here. She’s got a new wizard, and Blaise can’t stand him. Besides, it would be so much harder for us to get together outside the school!”

    “I didn’t know things were getting so serious between you both.” Hermione chose not to reveal the fact that she almost walked in on the couple during her night patrol. Their position in that third floor classroom was too compromising – Zabini clearly had his hands under Parvati’s clothes as they snogged senseless.

   “Oh, he’s so – so hot!” Parvati blushed profusely. “The thing is my parents wouldn’t hear of my dating him. Don’t tell anyone, ok?”


   “Well, my dad said he wasn’t big on someone whose mother’s a serial widow,” sighed Parvati. “Blaise isn’t the same as his Mum!”

   Nott was already sitting on a desk in the dusty classroom, his wand aglow, when the girls came in. The red velvet box with the intricate arabesques was next to him.

   “Oh, is it about this?” asked Hermione as she neared the Slytherin and had a good look at the box. Apparently, it was still unopened.

   “Yes. Thanks, Parvati.” Nott made a gesture for her to leave.

   “No, Parvati is staying here. I don’t want Padma to get jealous again,” intervened Hermione.

   “Oh, yes. Who owled the chocolates to you?” Nott’s dark eyes drilled into Hermione.

   Merlin, gossips were traveling fast in this castle, Hermione groaned inside herself. “My parents.”

   Parvati took a chair, her eyes fixed on them both. 

   “Doubt it’s your parents.” Theo smirked. “Anyway, I’d like you to take the gift back.”

   “I don’t want it!” Hermione was getting exasperated. “Just open it and enjoy it!”

   “Then tell me who sent it to you.” 

   “Does it matter, Nott? I gave it as a gift to you because I was really sorry about you and Padma’s trouble.”

   “Well, I have some thoughts on the giver of it. If I’m right, I’d rather not trust his presents.”

   A chill ran down Hermione’s spine. What if the chocolates were spiked? She was a real fool not to think about such a possibility. She could only hope that Nott suspected someone else and not Malfoy. 

  “Do you mean there could be a love potion in the chocolates, Nott?” asked Parvati, a little too excitedly.

   “It could be anything,” Theo said solemnly. “Was it the same bloke who snogged you under my pretence?”

    “I’m not telling anything!” Hermione was on the verge of screaming. The last thing she wanted was to confess her sordid affair with Malfoy in front of Parvati, Lavender’s bosom friend.

   “Take it easy, Granger.” Nott levitated the red box with his wand and made it float in circles. “If you aren’t telling, I’m going to return it to the person who gave it to you.”

   “How would you know who it is?” Hermione tried to stand her defense. “It could be anyone, after all.”

    “Anyone could send you ordinary chocolates, but not Veuve Gauthier. In fact, I know someone, who’s really fond of it, and can afford it, as well. There are also a couple more students who receive this kind of sweets from home. But I doubt a third year girl and fourth year boy fancy you so much.” Theo made the box flow in a circle around Parvati, and she chuckled. “I’m just putting two and two together, you see. I’ll hex that bastard’s arse off for what he’s done to me.”

   “So give it to whoever you suspect.” All Hermione could do, was to hope Nott guessed wrong. “My only condition is that the whole matter stays out of the Gryffindor House.”

   “You insisted on having a Gryffindor here, didn’t you?”

   Hermione looked at Parvati, who was clearly brimming over with curiosity.

   “I guess it wasn’t a Gryffindor who snogged you, Hermione?” Parvati said cheekily.

   “Doesn’t matter.” Hermione knew she had to take some drastic action. “Actually, I hope you’ll keep it secret unless you’d want me to tell you now what Zabini was doing to you that Saturday night two weeks ago.”

   “Well . . .” Parvati fidgeted in her chair under Nott’s amused stare.

   “Zabini is no fool, I see.” Theo directed the bonbons back on the desk. “I guess I’ll ask him to share the details tonight.”

   “No!” Parvati jumped to her feet, jabbing her wand at Nott’s chest. “Stop that, you wanker!”

   “Back off, Parvati.” Hermione pulled her away. “Here’s the pact: you say nothing about me, and I don’t say anything about you either. If Nott spills the beans, I’m reporting to McGonagall about his and Padma’s night patrol adventures. Did you know that McGonagall talked to Wasserstein and Clayton about starting a campaign to curb the love bug at school?”

   Parvati fell back in her seat, and Hermione stood in front of her. “If I hear Lavender blabbing about one single thing, I’ll make sure you’ll regret it. Would you want others to know you’re snogging a Slytherin? Thornton, by the way, fancies Zabini, and she’s a feisty one.”

   “Okay, deal,” muttered Parvati. “But I’m not responsible if anyone sees you with your mystery admirer, Hermione!”

   “Don’t worry, it isn’t happening.” Hermione bluffed without blinking her eye.

   “Well done, Granger.” The whole scene evidently entertained Theo. “You’re a spunky one, I wouldn’t envy the gift-giver!” He nodded to the box next to him. “You promise not to notice certain things at night, don’t you?”

   “So far as it’s you and Padma only.”

   “Of course, and I’d ask for Zabini and Parvati too. Don’t worry, no one would get hurt or anything.”

   “Agreed.” Hermione looked at Parvati, who let out a big sigh of relief. “Hope your parents won’t pull you and Padma out of Hogwarts, after all.”

   “If they do, Blaise and I will kidnap the girls,” Theo grinned. “We’re counting on your silence, Granger.” 

Author’s Note:

JKR noted Lavender Brown as a Pureblood in her notes on the Hogwarts students. Although it was not confirmed in the canon, I took advantage of the fact.

Chapter 21: Slytherin Manoeuvres
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

     Draco leaned against the back of his chair. He had completed several feet of essays for Transfiguration and Charms, which gave him a pleasant feeling of accomplishment. There were still two texts to translate for Ancient Runes, and a past due assignment for DADA, but it was major progress, nevertheless.

    He looked around the Slytherin Common Room. At this late hour it was almost empty, except for three Second Years engrossed in a game of Exploding Snap. Draco put on a mean face and Accio‘d their cards. When the boys jumped to their feet, he barked at them to quit fooling around and go to bed in an instant. The students didn’t dare to argue with him and scurried off to their dorm. 

    Draco sent the cards to the blazing fireplace, where they erupted in merry sparks. He stretched out in his chair and reached for one more donut on a plate next to his parchments.

    It was good to finally have the Slytherin Common Room all to himself.

    Draco surveyed his DADA assignment. Knowing he would be handing it in late, he couldn’t expect a good mark for it. Whatever. His marks hadn’t been stellar lately, anyway. In fact, they did not hit rock bottom only thanks to Granger’s generous assistance. A mushy feeling filled his heart when he thought of Hermione. Merlin’s bloody pants, she was brilliant both in bed and in studies.

    His visit to Snape two days before turned out better than Draco expected. The teacher was about to leave for a meeting in Dumbledore’s office, and he wasted no time on discussing the issue with Draco. Snape dished out a curt permission right away, before bolting down the corridor. 

      Draco waited till the next day to write his Mum, making sure she’d hear from Snape before her son’s news arrived. As he expected, she gave him a blanket approval for whatever holiday plans he had.

       Auntie Bella issued a few shrieks through the enchanted Galleons, but Draco suggested that she should go and talk to Snape. In addition, Draco pointed out that he would do a much better service for Lord Voldemort by repairing The Vanishing Cabinet than by participating in the Christmas party plans. Anyone could do the job of kidnapping the Muggle kids just fine, right?

       A door formed in the stone wall. To Draco’s displeasure, several girls came into the Common Room: Pansy, Millicent, Daphne and her younger sister, Astoria. All of them, except Pansy, headed straight to the dorms. Draco braced himself for another round of fending his fiancée off.

    “I’ve made up my mind,” Pansy said cryptically, as she settled in a chair next to him. “Mum agrees, wholeheartedly.”

    “Agrees with what?” Draco replied, pointedly staring into his parchments.

    “With my holiday plans.” Pansy plucked a donut from the plate.

    She didn’t even bother to ask for permission, Draco thought with disgust. Pansy was acting as if she was entitled to whatever he had, and it irked Draco a great deal. Hermione was more considerate and asked him first, even given the fact she was on more intimate terms with him than Parkinson.

     “Oh. Have fun during the holidays,” Draco said flatly. “I’m staying at Hogwarts - Mum wants me to improve my grades next term.”

    “I know. She already told my Mum.” Pansy took a bite of the donut, the fine sugar powder sprinkling on the edge of one of Draco’s parchments.

   “Scoot over there, okay?” Draco grumbled. “Flitwick subtracts grade points for stains on the homework.”

    “Guess what? I‘ve got a little holiday surprise for you.” Pansy glanced at him flirtatiously, oblivious to his grumpy tone. She swung her straight jet-black hair over her shoulder; her neck was snowy white in comparison with her locks.

    “Oh. You mean an early Christmas gift?” Draco wondered what she had in store for him. He doubted it was anything good. “That’s sweet, Pansy.”

   “More than that!” she giggled. “I’m staying at Hogwarts for the break, too!”

   Draco struggled not to show his shock at her words. “Are you sure Snape would permit you? Hogwarts isn’t safe anymore.”

   “Mum is going to speak to him in person, tomorrow. She’s positive he’ll agree.”

   Bloody Merlin, he’d take anything but this! Draco felt a sudden urge to evaporate Pansy with his wand on the spot.

   “I’m going to be busy, Pansy,” he stated firmly and reached for another parchment. “I have remedial lessons, and I’m volunteering at the greenhouses, as well.”

   “You’re so hard-working, Draco,” Pansy crooned. “That’s why I want to be with you - to help my darling fiancé. Want a bite, sweetie? ” She brought her half-eaten donut to his chin, making him cringe.

   “Don’t you see I’m doing my homework!” he snapped, throwing his book on the table.

   Pansy’s face stiffened, and a dogged determination appeared in her eyes. Her fingers clutched the donut, and she straightened up in her chair.

   “We are engaged, aren’t we?” Her brittle voice bordered on hysterical. “After all, we belong together!”

   Not answering, Draco furiously grabbed a quill, and started translating the Ancient Runes text. But the runic words blurred in his eyes. Why did she have to have this damned sense of entitlement?    “Is - is the other girl staying at Hogwarts too?” Pansy asked in a tone of a wounded animal. “The Mud - Mudblood Granger?”

   “Shut up!” Draco yelled. “How can I know about the Mudblood’s plans, stupid girl? Go, ask her, okay?”

    He pulled the Ancient Runes book closer and peered into his parchment, avoiding a look at Pansy. He heard the chair legs screeching away from the table, then her steps retreating hastily in the direction of the dorms.

   Draco stared at his Runic texts and wondered if Snape would give in to Mrs. Parkinson’s pressure. His cursed Mum was plotting against him again. Merlin’s stinking beard, his parents had trapped him in that engagement, square and good.

   He swallowed  two more donuts, stared at his DADA textbook but his brain refused to engage in any intellectual activity. He ought to drink a dose of the Calming Draught and hit the sack, he thought.

   Draco pointed his wand at the parchments in order to gather them. All of sudden, his wand flew out of his hand. The sheets rose from the table and floated towards the fireplace.

    He sprang to his feet to chase his parchments, but a voice from behind halted him. Draco whipped around.

   “Stay where you are or your homework will go up in flames!” Theo, who was one of the best at nonverbal spells in Hogwarts, was perched on the arm of a plush armchair. The red Veuve Gauthier box was nestled in the plush seat.

   “I’ve got your wand, Malfoy,” a smooth voice poured from another direction. Zabini, his imposing frame nearly filling the doorway, held his and Draco’s wands in his dark-skinned hand. A condescending smile curved his full lips. “Let’s have a little talk outside, shall we?”

   “I’m not going anywhere this late at night!” protested Draco. Why did everyone have to converge upon him at the same time? 

   Theo waved his wand, and the parchments glided closer to the fire.

   “Stop it, damn!“ Draco jerked nervously. “I worked on it for five hours straight!” The parchments floated away a couple of feet from the fireplace, and he fell back in his chair. “What do you want from me?”

   “Let’s go and talk outside,” Zabini repeated, his black eyes trained on Draco. “We’ve got some business to sort out, Malfoy”.

    Draco gathered his books and quills, his heart heavy with foreboding. If he were about to get beaten up, it would be probably the lesser evil he could expect. His brain was working frantically, searching for a way to get his wand and parchments back, and to wiggle out of the ominous ‘talk’.

   Finding no better solution, he slapped his school satchel closed, and trudged to the entrance. Zabini strolled after him, his wand pointing at Draco’s back. Nott collected the parchments and picked up the bonbons and followed the two of them.

   Once settled in a gloomy dungeon classroom, Nott piled up the parchments on a desk and sat down on them, making Draco wince. But with Zabini holding on to his wand, there was little he could do.

   “So, what’s this all about?” Draco asked, his head cocked and arms folded on his chest.

    “It’s about your sleazy tactics,” announced Nott. “Time to teach you a lesson, Malfoy.”
    “Get off my back, wanker,” growled Draco. “Do you think I don’t know what you and Padma are doing during your patrols?”

    “And don’t you stoop so low to sink your fellow Slytherins for a filthy Mudblood, as you call her?” Theo sent the box circling in the air around Draco, infuriating him further. “What did you put in the bonbons? A potent love potion?”

   “I put nothing in them!” Draco attempted to catch the box but it slid away, instantly. Blaise laughed harshly.

   “And you’d better mind your place, Zabini!” Draco said in the most threatening tone he could muster. “My family has got some very influential connections, you know.”

   “Your connections will go down the drain once everyone knows you’re after a Mudblood!” sneered Nott. “Let’s talk about damage control.”

   “What damage control?” Draco hastily wondered how much Nott and Zabini knew about his affair with Granger. “And what have I done to you, Zabini?”

   “I didn’t enjoy being questioned by Aurors about why I lurked about the ladies’ loo at the Three Broomsticks!” Zabini said coldly. “If you want to peep on Granger in a toilet, don’t disguise yourself as me!”

   “I didn’t lurk about the ladies’ loo!” groaned Draco. “I was outside in the corridor!”

   “Do you want Peeves to advertise your Peeping Tom inclinations all over the school?” Zabini said menacingly, twiddling the both wands. “He’d be very happy to do it. Especially if it involves Granger.”

   “I’ll kill you!” Draco screamed.

   “You know, I might not be returning to Hogwarts after the break,” Zabini drawled, giving Nott a very smug look. “Unless you help me with my homework, Malfoy.”

   “How?” asked Draco, already at the end of his wits.

   “Here’s the deal,” said Blaise. “You do my Potions homework for the rest of the year, and I kindly forget about the episode at the Three Broomsticks.”

   “I suggest you listen to him,” Nott said in a mock paternal tone. “You’ll stand a better chance with Granger, if the matter doesn’t reach Peeves. Granger isn’t very keen on the publicity, as I know.”

   “How’d you know?” sneered Draco. “Did she tell you her heart’s secrets?”

   “Actually, we’ve got a working pact with Granger,” Zabini smirked.

“You - you’ve got an agreement with Granger?” Draco couldn’t believe his ears. Merlin’s bloody pants, what’s going on in this castle?

    “As you can see, I’m returning this gift of yours to you, per Granger’s personal request,” leered Nott, and the box made a circle around Draco’s head, nearly hitting him on his nose. “My only wish is that you open it and eat the chocolates in our presence to prove they aren’t spiked.”

   “They aren’t!” Draco lunged at the box, but it flew away. “What did Granger tell you about me?”

   Nott and Zabini exchanged glances.

   “It’s confidential,” Nott said darkly.

   Draco studied their poker faces. Either she blabbed a good deal to them, or the blokes bluffed, he thought. Most likely the latter. Draco resolved to play the game too. After all, doing some homework for Zabini wasn’t the worst outcome.

   “All right, I guess things turned out differently than I thought.” Draco was stalling the matter, trying to figure out his best strategy. “Who knew that the Katie Bell accident would happen the same day, right?”

   “Accident or no accident, you had no right to act like that in my disguise!” Zabini retorted angrily.

   “All right, all right,” Draco pushed ahead. “I’ll do your Potions homework, and we keep it mum. I know that you’re pawing a Gryffindor girl at night.”

   “I trust you’ll do my homework properly,” hissed Zabini. “No shoving it off to Crabbe or Goyle!”

   “How about my getting Granger to do some of your homework?” Draco tossed his words, waiting for the effect.

   “That’s rich, Malfoy!” smirked Nott. “Doubt Granger would ever listen to you, unless you Polyjuice yourself into Potty!”

   “Ha!” Draco said triumphantly. “Now, give me the chocolates. If I act normal after eating them, you’ll forget what happened, Nott. Otherwise, want me to set Thornton on Zabini some night?”

   “I’m not responsible for Blaise’s antics,” Nott said flatly. “Eat the bonbons. I‘m not forgetting anything, yet.” The box landed on the floor in front of Draco, which he pried open.

   Zabini shot a dirty look at Nott. “I’d agree in your place!”

   “Okay, I could let it slip out that two Slytherins ganged up with Potty’s best friend.” Draco mused, as he plucked a flavourful bonbon out of the box. “The Slytherin girls will be so thrilled. Old Nott would be plain excited. Even better, two Pure-bloods are hobnobbing with Dumbledore Army members. Remember, you sink me, and I’ll sink you too, Nott.”

   Draco eyed the boys. Zabini’s dark-skinned face was overcome with thought, and Nott stared at the opened red box.

   The rich fragrance of the finest chocolate and truffle filling spread in the dark room, completely expelling the stale and mushy odour. Draco plucked another gleaming dark brown nugget and popped it in his mouth. Nott and Zabini followed his movement with their eyes. Draco ate one more bonbon, savouring its titillating taste, sweet, tangy and sensuous.

   “Well?” Draco asked; his gaze trained on Zabini and Nott.

   “All right, we accept,” nodded Nott. “Have the box, and we count on each other’s silence.”

   “The homework thing is still in force,” interjected Zabini.

   “No argument,” affirmed Draco, and remembered his earlier talk to Pansy. He’d better be on good terms with the boys in case he needed their help, Draco thought. “Don’t you think Pansy is nuts lately?”

   “Your fiancée?” Nott smirked. “Well, if you’re chasing Granger. . .”

   “Seems everyone in Hogwarts thinks I’m after the Mudblood!” grumbled Draco, collecting his parchments.

   “Only those who pay attention,” Zabini said smugly, handing the wand back to Draco. “And Parkinson pays a lot of attention!”

   “Too bad for her!” grunted Draco.

   “My advice? Try to distract her with something,” said Nott.

   “Like what?” asked Draco. “Doubt anything would help. She’s obsessed.”

   “Set Goyle or Crabbe with flowers in hand upon her,” snickered Zabini, heading out of the dungeon.

   They sneaked back to the dorms, and soon everyone was fast asleep in their beds except Draco. He lay awake, thoughts rambling in his mind.

   He wondered if Granger could have any ideas what to do about Pansy, and resolved to talk to her during their regular Saturday date. A girl could figure out another girl much better. Then his mind drifted to The Vanishing Cabinet and Zabini’s cursed homework. Thank Merlin, Nott did not impose anything on him, but he still had to be careful with Theo.

   Draco grunted and turned under his duvet, conjuring a long line of sheep in his mind.

   After counting up to two hundred eighty-nine sheep, he gave up and reached for the bottle of the Calming Draught. Not bothering to conjure a tablespoon and measure the dose, he took two big gulps from the bottle. In a few minutes, he drifted into a dreamless slumber. 

    On Saturday night Hermione walked down the dimly lit stairs and stood by the window in the Entrance Hall. Thornton had not come up from the dungeons to meet her for their patrol yet. Hermione stared out the dark window. The snow glistened under the outdoor lights. The hall was chilly and Hermione was glad she had put on a thick mohair wool sweater under her robes.

    Steps resonated under the vaulted ceilings, and Hermione turned around. The dark figure in the middle of the hall clearly wasn’t Thornton.

   “Hey, Gryffindor Slut,” Hermione heard Parkinson’s shrill voice. “Waiting for him, sneaking around to see him! Aren’t Potty and Weasel enough for you?”

   “For you information, I’m waiting for the Slytherin Prefect to do our patrol, not for your wretched fiancé!” retorted Hermione, her wand at the ready. Although Parkinson did not attack her any more, she had been acting like a creepy stalker, lately.

   Pansy came closer and Hermione could see her hateful, pale face, framed by jet-black hair. Her eyes gleamed with madness in the dim light, and Hermione wondered if Parkinson was in her right mind.

   “I know all your little tricks, Mudblood,” she cackled. “Helping Sprout in the greenhouses during the break so the teachers would love you, and fucking other’s fiancés along the way - clever!”

   “You know what?” Hermione raised her voice. “If Malfoy avoids you like plague, it isn’t my fault. If I were in your shoes, I’d have ditched him a long time ago!”

   Pansy’s face convulsed with pain and her wand hand jerked up, but the sight of Hermione’s wand pointing at her chest stopped her.

   “Parkinson, the lights are already out,” Hermione stated. She was not going to let Pansy provoke her to a fight. “It’s bedtime.”

   The same minute Thornton said loudly, as she came up to the girls, “Go to the dorms before Snape catches you, again.”

   “Shut up, you midget!” Pansy shrieked at Cassie, but stepped away from Hermione. “Of course, you love the Gryffindor bitch boss!”

   Angered, the petite Thornton hissed, “Enough! I‘m reporting you to Snape!”

   Parkinson glanced at Hermione’s wand, still pointed at her, and hastily walked away towards the stairs.

   “Go home, Mudblood, if you don’t want to spend Christmas at St. Mungo’s!” Parkinson shrieked as she entered the stairway.

   Her heart thumping from the insult, Hermione barely restrained herself from firing a hex at Pansy.

   “She’s an absolute lunatic about her fiancé cheating on her,” Cassie talked, as they strolled down the long hallways. “The other day Vaisey snogged Growley - she’s in my year - in a dungeon, and Parkinson stormed in! Ha-ha-ha!”

   “Well, Vaisey is blond too, but he’s much shorter than Malfoy,” said Hermione, peeking into an empty classroom.

   “Parkinson’s such a psycho now,” nodded Thornton. “Rumours are that Snape threatened to kick her out of Hogwarts if her marks didn’t improve.”

   “So her marks are failing?” Hermione thought that being trapped in an engagement to a bloke who cared so little for his fiancée from the start was hardly a picnic.

   “Don’t say!” exclaimed Cassie. “Parkinson wanders around the castle instead of doing homework. She’s totally off her rocker.”

   “Maybe she needs to see a doctor?” mused Granger.

   “Oh, if someone could just beat some sense into her!” sneered Thornton. “The Malfoy fiancée - as if anyone cares about the Malfoys now that the father is in Azkaban!”

   They returned to the Entrance Hall upon finishing their patrol. Hermione looked around. The place seemed to be empty, except for the Bloody Baron hovering high under the ceiling.

   “Hope Parkinson’s in the dorm,” said Thornton. “I’d hate to bump into her in the Common Room when she’s so toxic.”

   “She can’t forgive you and Nott the fact that she and Malfoy aren’t Prefects anymore,” affirmed Hermione.

   “Right. She’s vile to Nott too,” agreed Cassie. “I guess she hates all the Prefects. If you stay for the holidays and Parkinson‘s around, you’d better watch your food. Wasserstein said that there would be so few students staying that they‘d be all eating at the same table.”

   The girls waved a good-night to each other, and Hermione hurried up the stairs to the seventh floor.

   When Hermione entered the Room of Requirement, Draco was already sprawled on the bed, idly leafing through The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra.

    The Room was pleasantly warm after the chilly corridors. It was certainly the coziest place in the whole castle. Hermione took in Draco’s lanky nude frame, and heat pooled in her abdomen. If only the two of them could hole up in this room for the holidays, she thought.

    Anyway, it was good to be back on amicable terms. She understood Dumbledore’s point about keeping Draco away from his Pure-blood circles. Technically, Malfoy was a Death Eater, but now Hermione wondered if he truly had his heart in it. If only he could open up and confess to her. . .

   She recalled Parkinson’s insults and a strong urge to Banish his fiancée from Hogwarts forever rose in her heart. Pansy was a part of the Death Eaters’ world, and Hermione hated her pulling Draco back into those circles again.

   “You look moody,” Hermione stated, as she pulled her orange mohair sweater over her head.

   “Pansy’s staying at school for the holidays,” Draco said glumly. “I hoped Snape wouldn’t let her but he did.”

   “Oh.” Hermione sat down on the bed and took her tights off. “She’s just threatened to send me to St. Mungo’s if I don’t go home. Thornton thinks she’s going to poison me.”
   “She threatened you?” Draco rose on his elbow. “I’ll hex the guts out of her!”

   “I think she’s already going mental,” Hermione said tiredly. “I mean, she doesn’t look right to me. Wandering, stalking, being nasty to everyone.”

   “We’ve got to figure out something to make her want to go home,” declared Draco and rubbed his chest. “Let’s give it a break for now.”

   “Right.“ Hermione sent her clothes to a chair, cast the contraceptive charms, and sidled up to Draco.

    His blond hair fell on his forehead as he studied the pages in the book. With her fingers, she brushed his hair off to the side, and he answered with a light smile, which made her heart flutter.

   “Want to try something more interesting?” Draco asked, his grey eyes lingering on her body. “How about The Lotus position?”

   “My legs aren’t made of rubber!” protested Hermione, looking at a picture, which depicted a witch lying on her back with her legs raised and entwined in the classic yoga position.

   “The Pair of Tongs?” Draco turned a page over. The candlelight cast a golden glow on Hermione’s naked shoulders, and he admired her smooth skin.

   “The one where I had to stand on my arms? Not this again!” Hermione huffed, but not too angrily. “I haven’t got Quidditch arms, like you.” She reclined on the pillows on the large bed, her toes grazing Draco’s thigh.

   “We could use a hovering charm like last time,” Draco persisted and caught her toes in his hand. She tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but he squeezed her toes harder, his expression lightening up noticeably.

   “Last time the charm worked until you lost your concentration.” Hermione stretched on the pillows, letting him hold on to her foot. “Merlin, it hurt when I crashed on the floor!”

   “You fell on the bed, not on the floor!” argued Draco. “It was a soft landing, Hermione!”

   “And then I rolled off the bed!” Hermione reached for the book. “No way. I’m not doing The Tongs!”

   “All right, how about The Splitting of a Bamboo? Easy and lazy,” Draco said as he released her toes, and she rubbed them against his stomach. If Hogwarts ever held a contest for the sexiest girl, he thought, Hermione would certainly win it. By a wide margin.

   “Okay.” Hermione slid off the pillows and Draco sat on his heels between her knees. She propped her right leg on his shoulder, and he peppered her ankle with small kisses. She giggled a little as his lips travelled to her heel.

   “You’re ticklish,” he remarked and traced his finger on the sole of her foot.

   She jerked her foot with laughter, but he held her ankle firm. “Stop that, you rascal!”

   Not relenting, Draco stroked the inside of her thigh with his fingertips. She squirmed bewitchingly. He planted another kiss on her ankle. He knew she was eager for him. How he adored her at moments like this, it even made his heart ache.

   Hermione slowly caressed her bosom with her fingers. Having Draco breathlessly watch her do it aroused her so much. She had long abandoned any inhibition about fondling herself in his presence. In fact, she savoured the effect it had on him, and it made her feel like a queen.

   He reveled in the sight of her body. As he pressed against her thighs, she arched her splendid torso and threw her arms behind her head.

   Draco remembered a certain picture that had long fascinated him in The Magical Joys of Kama Sutra. Hermione was now in exactly the same position, and he felt a sudden urge to make it complete. The incantation floated up in his mind, and he immediately reached for his wand.

    Hermione suddenly realized that a pair of soft fur cuffs bound her wrists together. Then, her arms were stretched above her head, as something pulled at the cuffs and restrained her hands. What was that???

    Draco held Hermione’s thighs firmly, as a rope bound her hands to the headboard. The view of her body laid out before him, her hips squirming in his hands, drove his arousal to new heights.

   He took her, and her torso slackened a little, a mute question in her eyes.

   “Do you like playing?” he whispered, suddenly out of his breath. If she wasn’t cursing him, she probably liked it . . . 
    A hot wave coursed through Hermione’s body. Her position with her hands tied was not very comfortable, but the sensation of being bound and left to his mercy drove her libido insane. He put his hand on her chest, and she could clearly see his Dark Mark. She moaned as his fingers caressed her.

   Hermione was about to voice her protest at not being able to use her hands, but the immensely erotic sensation of surrendering completely to him overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and sailed the waves of her pleasure as he kissed, caressed and shagged her.

    She pushed her hips onto him, her arms straining against her binds. His hands were now fondling her roughly, and she only wanted more and more of it. Suddenly, he bent his head low and trailed kisses on her abdomen, his palms gripping her sides. She cried from the sweet sensations.

   Driving her insane like this thrilled Draco, endlessly. Her body arched and swayed, her lips uttered small sounds, and soon she trembled in his hands.

   Then his eyesight blurred, his head jerked back, and he fell on top of her. Languid and relaxed, he breathed in the scent of her skin and kissed her lips tenderly. Her tongue slid into his mouth gently, and it was such bliss to have her, sweet and warm, in his hands.

   “Draco, “ Hermione whispered. “My hands?”

   “Oh.” Draco reached for the book to look up the releasing incantation.

   The cuffs and rope disappeared. Hermione hugged him, savouring the feel of his hard body against hers. Her arms were sore at the shoulders, and for a second Hermione wondered why she could actually enjoy what Draco did to her. 

   He looked into her flushed face, not sure if she was okay with the cuffs, but hesitated to ask about it.

   Apparently, she read something in his eyes because she blushed and whispered into his ear, “You know - you- you turn me on so much.”

   Draco kissed her lips again, not wanting to release her.

   They lay in each other’s embrace, for a while. Then, she shifted under him, and he rolled off her.

   “We must figure out a way to make Parkinson want to go home for Christmas.” Hermione sat up and propped herself on the pillows. “Otherwise, we’ll have a disaster of a holiday.”

   “Let’s have someone else hit on her to make her forget about me,” Draco remembered Zabini‘s suggestion. “A love potion from WWW? We could feed it to Pansy too.”

   “Everyone would spot the love potion effect right away,” Hermione said skeptically. “Unless you want to get hexed by the bloke in the end. Besides, Pansy’s obsessed with you. Once the effect is cured, she’d be back to stalking us.”

   Draco pondered for a few minutes. “We need something that would make her leave us alone, of her own volition.”

   “Maybe if you snogged another girl, and then another one,” Hermione mused. “She’d forget about me, and there’s no way she could stalk several girls at the same time.”

   “How can I snog others?” Draco yawned. “The damned potion won’t let me, you know.”

   “I could drink the Polyjuice potion,” explained Hermione. “Oh, no, we’d have to make sure the other girls - I mean, the real ones, - would be all right with it!”

   “And we could announce our situation to the whole school in the Great Hall, as well,” sneered Draco. ”No, I’d rather keep it confidential.”

   Hermione mused for a minute. “What if we ask Nott and Padma for help?”

   “Nott and Padma?” Draco glanced at her. So the blokes didn’t lie about their agreement with Granger, he thought. “Are you sure they’d cooperate?”

   “Well, I’ve got a pact with the fellow Prefects. I don’t notice certain things, and they don’t notice my wandering at night.”

   “You mean, if Nott drags Padma off to an empty classroom for a shag, you turn a blind eye to it?”

   “They don’t really shag,” said Hermione. “All they do is to snog and grope.”

   In spite of his drowsiness, Draco propped on his elbow and stared at Hermione incredulously. Merlin, this Gryffindor Prefect had more to her than he thought.
   “Did you tell Nott that it was me who sent you the bonbons?”

   “No, he figured it out on his own. In fact, he harassed me about it, and I had to threaten him with reporting his nighttime adventures!”

   “I see.” Sleepily, Draco wondered if this surprise pact between the Prefects was something that could really help. “And what’s your plan?”

   “Well, I could Polyjuice myself into Padma with her permission,” Hermione explained. “Oh, you’re already falling asleep, Draco.”

   “Right, let’s deal with it tomorrow, darling.” He spooned her, as she pulled the covers over them.

   The candlelights went out, but Hermione lay with her eyes open, listening to Draco’s snoring.

   She couldn’t decide how to react properly to his surprise act of tying her hands. Admittedly, it was a dubious thing to do, but it inflamed her desire for him so much. She remembered that picture with a witch with bound arms in the book. There were other pictures too, which made her dream of dirty things, sometimes.

    Hermione knew Draco had no ill will when cuffing her wrists. After they finished, his eyes were so full of apprehension. When she told him it was all right, he instantly relaxed.

   Oh no, the more time they spent together, the more she was falling for him.

   Hermione reminded herself that she must not get too carried away with Malfoy. She did not want to think what could happen after drinking the antidote in March. Would Draco lose all interest in her and snub her, like Ron?

   It pained her so much to see Ron with Lavender, although from a logical viewpoint it was really stupid of her to have such emotions about him. She ought to move on and let Ron go!

   Merlin, why did her life have to be so difficult?

Chapter 22: Farce and Agony
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Warning: This chapter deals with a suicide attempt, although there is no graphic description of the act. 

    Monday rolled around, dark and overcast. The freshly cut Christmas trees filled the air with the festive scent of spruce needles. Bright green and red holiday wreaths punctuated the long hallways. Aromas of cinnamon, mulled cider and baked goods lingered in the passages closest to the kitchens. Girls darted under mistletoe bunches hung in the corridors whenever a cute boy passed by. Hermione was very much amused at the effort Harry took to avoid mistletoe-decorated routes as she walked with him to the Great Hall for lunch.

      At the Gryffindor table, Harry sat down next to Ron, and Hermione took a seat at the far end, deliberately avoiding a look at the tall redhead. Her place made a good vantage point for observing both the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables. She could see the blond head very well, but she knew it wasn’t her Draco. The Polyjuiced Nott could fool anyone, except her, who knew Draco so intimately.

      Yesterday she intruded on Theo and Padma snogging in an abandoned classroom, and requested their help in warding off Parkinson.

      To Hermione’s surprise and delight, Nott was so enthusiastic about “teaching Pansy some manners” that he immediately fetched Draco from the dungeons. Even more, Theo volunteered to Polyjuice himself into Draco. Hermione found his zeal a little worrisome, but at least she didn’t have to persuade Nott. Padma, however, was very reluctant about the Polyjuice plan from the start.

     Draco, naturally, put on his most obnoxious Pure-blood act, short only of calling Hermione the “M” word. She found it hard not to chuckle as he strutted around the classroom and bashed the “stupid birds”. Nott eventually snapped at him to shut up and be a gentleman, if Draco wanted any help fixing his own fiancée problem.

    Finally, they agreed that Polyjuiced Nott would openly approach Padma in the Great Hall. Then Hermione and Draco, transformed into Theo, would lure Parkinson to follow Nott-Malfoy and Padma to the dungeons and to witness their passionate snogging.

     At the end of the negotiations, Nott made Hermione promise not to let Malfoy, Polyjuiced into Nott, out of her sight at all times, and they would both come downstairs, presumably in case Parkinson assaulted the snogging couple.

     Now, in the Great Hall, Hermione watched Padma turn her head and glance at the Slytherin table. Nott-Malfoy flashed a toothy grin at her.

     Draco, in Nott‘s disguise, poked with the fork at his omelet. He didn’t care much for Theo‘s favourite lunch choice, but he had to play the part. Pansy sat across from him, looking forlorn.

     “Guess, Malfoy’s after Padma Patil,” Zabini said loudly, who was next to Draco-Nott. Pansy quickly turned her head in “Malfoy’s” direction. Draco-Nott did the same.

     Nott-Malfoy folded a crane and sent it gliding over to the Ravenclaw table, where it landed near Padma. She quickly unfolded it and showcased her wide smile to the Slytherin table. Draco threw a quick glance at Pansy. Seeing her savage expression, he was truly glad that it was the Polyjuiced Nott courting Padma, and not him.

     Zabini watched Nott-Malfoy with a great interest, and Draco nearly elbowed him in his side to make him divert his gaze. Zabini was too immodest for his own good. On second thought, Draco wondered if Theo had enlisted Blaise in spite of his promise not to involve anyone else.

     “I thought you made up with Padma, Nott,” Blaise said offhandedly. “Wonder if Malfoy would drag her off for a snog?”

     “If he does, I’ll hex the guts out of him!” grunted Draco, trying to imitate an angry Nott.

    “You‘re rather moody, Theo,” the obnoxious Zabini continued. Pansy pushed her barely touched plate aside, apparently having lost her appetite completely.

    Soon, Padma rose from her seat and headed to the exit. Nott-Malfoy jumped to his feet instantly and hurried around the table to the entrance door. Pansy, her expression stiff, followed him with her eyes.

    “A good snog’s in order,” announced Blaise and helped himself to a sandwich. “Wonder whom Malfoy would hit on next. A Hufflepuff?”

    “Shut up, Zabini!” Draco hissed.

    The Greengrass sisters giggled loudly, and Pansy’s face twitched. Her fork clattered on the table as she bolted for the exit.

    Draco glanced at the Gryffindor table and saw Granger walking to the doors. He rose to follow her out of the Great Hall.

    “Where did they go?” he asked, as he came up to Hermione in the Entrance Hall.

    “Down to the dungeons, of course,” she answered in a low voice. “I’m a bit worried – you should’ve seen Parkinson’s face when she rushed downstairs!”

    They jogged down the winding passage, and nearly bumped into Pansy, slouching against the stone wall. Draco peered ahead. Merlin’s cursed pants, he should have known better than to agree to Nott’s plan! 

     “Damned idiot!” He attempted to pull his wand out, but Hermione clutched his forearm to prevent him from firing a hex at Nott.

    In a trance-like stupor, Parkinson stood as still as statue. Stealthily, the two of them pushed past her in the narrow corridor. However, she showed no sign of noticing them.

    “I can’t believe it – right in front of Snape’s office,” Draco muttered, as Hermione held on to his sleeve. “Do you remember if Snape was still in the Great Hall when we left?”

     Nott-Malfoy had shoved Padma against the wall across from the office door, and was snogging her roughly. Padma whimpered, unable to escape from his embrace. Worse even, Nott’s hand was buried in the bosom of her robes, and he was very obviously pawing his girlfriend’s body under her clothes.

    Peeking past her boyfriend’s ear, Padma emitted an embarrassed giggle at the sight of Draco-Nott and Hermione. Oblivious to everyone, Nott-Malfoy trailed kisses down her neck.

    “Yo-ho-ho! The golden Malfoy boy’s got a new bride! Snogging her hard, loving her hard! Out the window goes the old bride!” Peeves yodeled, hovering over their heads.

     “I’m going to kill him!” Draco jerked forward but Hermione hung onto the back of his robes. “Stop that, No – Malfoy!”

    Hermione glanced over her shoulder; Pansy seemed to be still there, but she couldn’t be sure. Then she looked at the infuriated Draco-Nott, and could not help but burst out in laughter. Draco was simply fabulous in the role of a jealous Nott.

    “Out the window goes the Parkinson cow! Out the window goes the Parkinson cow!” Peeves carried on, and suddenly several girls’ voices joined in, chanting boisterously, “Out the window goes the Parkinson cow! Out the window goes the Parkinson cow!”

    Hermione whipped around. A group of Fifth Year Slytherin girls came near them, Thornton and Growley singing the loudest. Growley laughed harshly, and the rest of the girls giggled behind her.

   Then Hermione thought she heard a muffled cry, and peered into the dark corridor. She couldn’t see if Pansy was still there, pressed against the wall behind the other’s backs.

    In meantime, Nott-Malfoy held Padma plastered against the wall. Oblivious to the commotion, he kept devouring her mouth, his hand already hiking up the hem of her robes.

    “Mr. Malfoy – detention for the whole week!” a cold voice resonated in the passage.

    The Fifth Year girls vanished as Snape came forth and stood in front of the couple. Mortified, Padma pushed Nott-Malfoy away with all of her force, and he nearly tumbled backwards. He flailed his arms, almost hitting Snape on his shoulder, but managed to regain his balance.

    “Miss Patil, please come to my office after the classes,” a stern voice called out. McGonagall was standing behind Hermione and Draco-Nott. Her tone made Hermione want to disappear on the spot.

   “Starting today, please report to my office for your detention at seven after dinner every day until the end of week,” Snape commanded in an icy tone. “I expected better manners from you, Mr. Malfoy.”

   “My apologies, Professor Snape. I will do the detention tonight. My apologies, Professor McGonagall,” Nott-Malfoy said quickly, but not too unhappily.

   “I’m s-so sorry, Professors,” Padma mumbled, her head low. Her hands trembled as she buttoned up her robes.

    McGonagall issued a laconic nod of dismissal as she followed Snape into his office. Padma, her face a deep shade of red, instantly darted down the passage towards the stairs.

    “You, imbecile!” screamed Draco-Nott, and lunged at Nott-Malfoy, but Theo stopped him with a prompt Stunning Spell.

    “Now, we are even, Malfoy,” Nott-Malfoy said slowly and clearly, as he surveyed Draco in a heap on the floor. “Enjoy the detention!” He turned and disappeared down the dark corridor.

    Hermione realised that everyone was gone, except the two of them. She lifted the Stunning Spell from Draco. He jumped to his feet, hissing obscenities, but Hermione didn’t let him linger for long. Still alive in her mind, the vision of the blond boy brazenly groping Padma had set her libido on fire.

    Hermione grabbed Draco by his robes and pulled him into the nearest dungeon, unceremoniously.

    Once in the chamber, Draco, his features already reverting to his normal looks, kicked a chair with all his force.

    “A detention every night till the end of the week, and Zabini’s fucking Potions homework too!” he yelled, firing a hex and splitting a chair. “Damn, damn it!”

    Hermione cast locking charms on the door and stood silently, waiting for the stream of expletives to dry out, as Draco, like an angry beast, paced back and forth, firing random spells. Sparks flew when a couple of hexes hit the stone walls.

    The sight of him, tall, disheveled and furious, ignited Hermione even more. She tensed, trying to control the throbbing in her abdomen, and gripped her wand.

    After two desks and several chairs shattered into pieces, he halted and took a deep breath.

    “Well, you earned it,” Hermione said quietly, trying to keep her turbulent emotions in check. “After the tricks you pulled on both of them. It’s no surprise they wanted to get back at you.”

    Draco swore again and sunk into a chair. He looked at Hermione, and felt like tearing her into pieces right away. The way she hung on him during the episode in the corridor set him ablaze with desire.

    “Bloody Merlin, how did Aurors think of interrogating Zabini?” he asked, his darkened stare drilling into Hermione’s face.

    “Well, they talked to the students who were at the Three Broomsticks around the time of the Katie Bell incident.” Hermione shrugged and pulled a chair up. She would rather have shut him up with a long, hungry kiss.

    “So, you told them about Zabini accosting you outside the loo?”

     “Of course. I was one of the first to be questioned,” Hermione fibbed. The Aurors never interrogated her, but it was not possible to explain it to Draco. “Together with Harry and Ron.”

    Draco swore again. Hermione held his angry stare, resignedly.

   “Why didn’t they didn’t summon me?” he asked, suddenly overcome by worry.

    “I don’t know.” Hermione did her best to keep cool. “When I learned it was you, not Zabini, I figured you didn’t want me to enter the loo. Am I right?”

   “You’re bloody correct, as always, Granger!” Draco snarled.

    “What goes around, comes around, Draco,” Hermione said softly.

     Draco stared into her now deep black eyes. Although she was sitting still, he could see her bosom heaving. He didn’t like the fact that he was left out of the interrogations. Was he being watched? 

     Then his glance slid down her torso and lingered on the roundness of her hips under her clothes.

    “C‘mon, Granger,” he blurted, his hand unbuckling his belt.

    “Not now, Draco – we’re running late for Arithmancy,” Hermione tried to reason. “Better after the classes.”

    “Ditch Arithmancy, okay?” he growled. “After you hanging on me, I’m horny as hell!”

    Hermione had to agree with him. There was no way he could attend the class in a state like this.

   “I only wonder if Padma is all right.” She rose gracefully from her chair, tossed her knickers aside and, in one swift motion, straddled his lap. He emitted a short groan as she pressed against him. In her overheated state, she muttered, “I’m afraid Nott overdid it.”

    “I’ll Crucio him tonight in bed. Under a Silencing Charm,” Draco said gloomily and ripped Hermione’s robes open. “Hope Pansy leaves us alone now.”

     “I guess she was in shock.” Hermione shivered briefly when the cold air touched her heated bosom. She slid her hand under his shirt. With her palm on his bare skin, she could feel his heart beating rapidly. “I really hope she gave up on you. You played the part brilliantly!”

     A sharp jolt shook Hermione’s body, as his fingernails dug into her skin. Pushing her chest against his face and weaving her fingers in his blond hair, she pressed onto him with fervour.

    Draco inhaled the warm, milky scent of her skin, while tasting it at the same time. In that instant, they sank into each other.

    After catching her breath, Hermione slid off his lap. He zipped up his trousers, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

    Quietly, Hermione put her clothes in order and sat down on another chair. She pulled out her day planner, and discovered that she had nearly forgotten about the Prefects’ meeting in McGonagall’s office before the dinner. She’d be able to see Padma then and make sure everything was all right, she thought.

     The day planner back in her school bag, Hermione glanced at the still motionless Draco, and a pang of pity tugged at her heart. She understood how screwed he was, even if it was his own fault.

     Hermione walked up to Draco, and stroked his blond hair gently. His eyes flipped open, and she leaned to kiss him on his mouth. He answered her lips weakly.

     “We’ve got about twenty minutes before the next class,” Hermione said. “What would you like to do now?”

     “Nothing,” he muttered, and pulled her onto his lap. “Let’s just sit like this. I’m tired like hell.”

     Hermione hugged Draco, as he buried his face in her bosom. 

    Madam Pince ushered Harry and Hermione out of the library at closing time.

    “The Common Room?” asked Harry, adjusting his glasses.

     Hermione said nothing. The evening studies with Harry in the library were her refuge of normalcy, and she clung to those moments with her friend. She often shared her afternoons with Draco, but didn’t let him usurp her time after dinner. Ginny rarely came to the library at night, so there was little to distract Harry from the conversations with Hermione.

    The Common Room? Hermione was certain Ron and Lavender were sprawled on a couch there. The best she could do was to sneak past them to her dorm and not leave it until the next morning.

     Sometimes she felt like suggesting Harry head off to an abandoned classroom instead, but then she would put him in the same camp with Malfoy. She hated the thought of it. Harry was her trusted friend, and Draco - well, he was going to be only an episode, after all.

     “Er . . . I’d need to use the loo,” she mumbled and parted with Harry.

     In the restroom, washing her hands, Hermione mused on the day’s events. It worried her that Padma did not come to the Prefect’s meeting. Nott had no idea where his girlfriend was either.

     In the light of the outrageous snogging incident, McGonagall fervently expounded on the urgency of discouraging public expressions of affections while at school. Ron hid behind Clayton and Goldstein’s backs, and kept his head low until the end of the meeting.

     As Hermione shut the faucet off, she heard the familiar whiny voice. Well, this time it was not exactly whiny, but almost cheerful.

    “Hi, Hermione.” Moaning Myrtle floated past the mirrors. “Have you talked to Nearly Headless Nick, lately?”

    “Not really. Sorry, I’ve been busy,” Hermione mumbled. “No time to drop in for a chat.” She actively avoided the ghost unless she needed to coax her to stay away from the Prefects’ bathroom. But Moaning Myrtle apparently had a certain liking for her, and Hermione ended up seeing the ghost more often than she wanted.

   “Oh, don’t bother.” Moaning Myrtle studied herself in a mirror. “I’m going to have a girlfriend soon!” She turned around, folded her arms on her chest and cocked her head.

    “Who?” Hermione asked. It was rare to see Moaning Myrtle so jubilant.

     “Don’t recall her name, though.” Moaning Myrtle mused a little. “Patty? Pam? She’s got shiny black hair, and I think she’s in the Sixth Year too.”

     A very bad feeling rose in Hermione’s chest. “I hope no one has been killed, right?” 

    “No, she’s taking her own life. She doesn’t want to live because of a boy, but when I was leaving the Prefect’s bathroom, her soul became afraid of death.”

    “Wha-a-at?” Hermione screamed. “What’s she doing? In the Prefect’s bathroom?”

    “Cut her wrists, I think,” Moaning Myrtle said tersely. “I’d better go check on her. The bathroom is locked, by the way.” The ghost dove into a sink, leaving Hermione in ringing silence.

    She bolted out, hardly seeing anything around her. In a few seconds, Hermione pounded on the door of McGonagall’s office.

    “Padma . . . Padma cut her veins in the Prefect’s bathroom!” she hollered, when the door opened. After a house-elf was instantly dispatched to Madam Pomfrey, McGonagall gathered her robes in her hands, and the two of them rushed downstairs. 

    Hermione yelled the password at the bathroom door but it did not budge. In less than a second, the door burst open from McGonagall’s spell.

    The rest was like a blur to Hermione. The deadly pale face with blue lips, framed by jet-black hair, floating in the pinkish foam. McGonagall talking rapidly to Madam Pomfrey, as they cast the spells and elevated the girl out of the pool. Then her body on a gurney, covered with weird canary-yellow blankets, and Madam Pomfrey waving her wand over it.

    “The pulse is still present, Professor, but very weak,” Madam Pomfrey said. “She’s unconscious.”

    “Poor Miss Parkinson . . .” McGonagall muttered as the gurney travelled through desolate corridors, concealed with a Disillusionment Charm. The three of them hurried alongside it. “After her fiancé’s cruel act today!”

    Hermione was about to disintegrate from terror and shame when she accompanied the small procession all the way to the hospital wing. She laughed while Parkinson suffered a horrible agony . . . No matter how much she disliked Pansy, the recollection of her own act burned Hermione’s conscience.

    She wondered if Padma confessed the whole thing to McGonagall after classes. But the teacher did not indicate any knowledge of it while Hermione accompanied them. Then the thought of having to explain it to Dumbledore mortified her. It was incredibly stupid of her and Malfoy to come up with such a wretched plot.

    “What act?” wondered Madam Pomfrey, as they neared the entrance to the hospital wing. “Teenage girls can be so impressionable at this age.”

    “He kissed and groped another girl – I’d say in an exceedingly insolent manner – in front of Miss Parkinson.” McGonagall’s voice was cracking.

    “Oh, not again! An unrequited love!” exclaimed Pomfrey, setting the gurney in the room. “The team from St. Mungo‘s should be here in a few minutes. I have stabilised Miss Parkinson, for now.”

    “It’s the same archaic custom of arranged marriages. The parents betroth their children, and ruin young lives!” McGonagall leaned over Pansy’s lifeless face. “Will she recover?”

    “I hope so. The healers should replenish her blood promptly. She‘s alive, but barely.” Pomfrey waved her wand over Parkinson’s body, and dim shapes formed around it. She studied them. “Poor girl. The Malfoys picked her for their son, and she got her head in the clouds!”

    “I’ll notify her parents now.” McGonagall turned abruptly and nearly knocked Hermione off her feet. “Ah, you’re here as well. Take a seat, Miss Granger.”

    Hermione collapsed into a chair proffered by Pomfrey. McGonagall speedily produced several notes, which she handed to house-elves. Two healers tumbled out of the fireplace, wheeling a large case.

    “The vital signs are present, Healer Jameson,” quickly reported one of them, a tall man with a black beard. The other, squat and clean-shaven, opened the case, which held a gleaming metal contraption and a multitude of bottles and vials lined up in special holders.

    “Let me run one more test.” The tall man waved his wand over Pansy’s body.

    “I’ve received the response from Mrs. Parkinson. She and Mr. Parkinson will be at St. Mungo’s in ten minutes or less,” announced McGonagall after a house-elf popped up in front of her. “She requested to keep the whole matter strictly confidential. Evermore, she wanted the student who found her daughter – I didn’t name her – to be Obliviated!“ McGonagall put her hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Of course, I won’t do it, Miss Granger. But the incident must be kept secret.”

    Hermione nodded weakly. She watched the healers in light blue robes tend to Parkinson’s still form.

    “Unfortunately, the patient has lost so much blood that a Blood-Replenishing Potion alone wouldn’t help,” declared Healer Jameson. “Could we request someone to donate blood right now?”

    “Certainly,” McGonagall stepped forth and so did Pomfrey. “We’d be happy to provide.”

   “As would I,” said Hermione, her throat now completely dry. It was the least she could do to remedy her horrible wrongdoing.

   “Thank you, ladies. Healer Peabody would need to test your blood first.”

    Peabody, the tall healer with a beard, waved his wand over each one’s palm, concluding that McGonagall and Hermione’s blood was the best match.

    “Excellent, Healer Peabody, how much blood would we need to supply?” asked McGonagall. “I’ve just requested Professor Snape’s attendance - he’s the Head of Slytherin House.”

    “The standard amount from the two of you should be enough. We will infuse it with the Blood-Replenishing Potion, so the blood cells would multiply rapidly in her system,” explained Peabody, setting up the metal contraption and attaching long tubes to it. “Who would like to be the first?”

    “Me, please,” said Hermione. Seeing McGonagall’s expression, she quickly added, “I’d really like to help. I’m so sorry about what happened.”

    “All right,” the teacher agreed. “After you’re done, please go to your dorm immediately. I release you from classes tomorrow.”

    In a minute, a needle was in Hermione’s forearm, and she watched her blood flow through the thin tube to a pouch filled with the bluish potion, which was connected with another tube to Pansy’s limp arm.

    Then she heard the door open, and turned her head. Snape, with an ominous expression, walked in. Behind him, she discerned Draco’s tall figure.

   “You brought Mr. Malfoy, Professor Snape?” McGonagall nearly incinerated the student with her glare. “I believe I said in my note that the matter was confidential.”

    “Mr. Malfoy was serving detention at my office, at the time,” Snape stepped aside, depriving Draco of the chance to hide behind his back. “Besides, Miss Parkinson is his fiancée, is she not?”

   “I’m not sure if the Parkinsons would really want him to know about this,” grumbled McGonagall and turned to the healers.

    Draco tried not to look at the figure under the yellow blanket. His gaze stumbled upon the thin tube with the red liquid flowing through it. Against his will, his eyes followed it to the pouch, and then the along the other tube coming out of it, with a purplish liquid in it. Then he saw the marble-like arm on the edge of the blanket.

    He quickly averted his eyes from the gurney. His hands were cold and clammy and his stomach churned nauseously.

    Not knowing what to do, he stared at Hermione. She was forlorn, her face frozen in a stiff mask.

    “It’s okay to come closer to your fiancée, Mr. Malfoy,” Pomfrey said encouragingly. “She’s unconscious now, but she’ll be all right.”

    “T-thank you, but I-I can see her from here,” Draco stammered and edged closer to Hermione. Snape and McGonagall threw sharp looks at both of them.

    Hermione glanced up at Draco and saw pure terror in his eyes.

    “Are-are you giving your blood, Granger?” muttered Draco, evidently unable to think of anything better to say.

    “As you can see,” Hermione said bluntly. If not for the presence of others, she would tell him to stop being a wimp.

    “Thank you, Miss Granger,” said Healer Jameson, as he removed the needle from her arm and stopped the bleeding. Pomfrey quickly brought a goblet with the Blood-Replenishing Potion to Hermione’s lips, and she gulped the acidic drink all at once.

    Hermione got to her feet, and suddenly felt light-headed. She wavered a little. Snape’s eyes drilled into her face. A memory of Theo and Draco recounting their plan with the Polyjuice Potion flashed through her mind.

    Pomfrey promptly grabbed her by the elbow, but Hermione managed to steady herself, and her momentary attack of vertigo went away.

    “Are you all right?” Madam Pomfrey asked. “Perhaps you should stay here overnight. You look distressed.”

   “No, thank you. I’m fine.” Hermione was in no mood to stay in the hospital wing.

   “I would like to have a word with Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy in my office now, Professor McGonagall,” Snape said dryly.

   “But Miss Granger is exhausted!” objected McGonagall, her sleeve already rolled up and her arm propped up on the table.

   “I would like to find out more about the incident in the dungeons, and Miss Granger was present there.” Snape’s face was expressionless. “I expect Parkinson’s parents to visit me in a day or two.”

   “Please, don’t be hard on her, Professor Snape,” insisted McGonagall. “Besides, I’m releasing her from all classes tomorrow. She certainly needs to recover from the shock!”

   “Exactly, she should be able to rest well.”

   “Very well, but if you stress her too much, you’ll have to deal with me!” was McGonagall‘s scathing response.

   As the three of them left the hospital wing, Hermione looked at Malfoy. The dark circles under his eyes grew more pronounced, and he looked ill.

   “I’m a little dizzy,” Hermione confessed. Draco drew closer to her, their elbows rubbing. The same moment Snape, a couple feet ahead of them, threw a quick glance over his shoulder. He grunted and then everyone was silent.

    Hermione reached for Draco’s hand, as they walked behind Snape. His cold fingers gripped her palm readily and didn’t let her go until they arrived at Snape‘s office.

    The professor commanded them to sit down in front of his desk. Like a malevolent vulture, he perched on his chair, his eyes trained on their faces.

    Draco blanked out his mind. He was regaining his self-control. Draco clearly understood what Snape was up to, and he feared for Hermione.

    Snape’s heavy stare focused on Hermione, as she sat very straight in her seat. It made her want to close her eyes. She steeled herself to resist the teacher, but her brain burst with painful recollections.

   Nott and Malfoy talking about the plan – again. Then her laughing at Draco-Nott’s crazed looks, as she holds on to his robes. Pansy’s muffled cry behind them. “Now we are even.” Nott’s words. Her, in Draco‘s lap, and her chest bared to his lips.

    “No!” she screamed, hiding her face in her hands. “Please - no!” Any more and she would lose her mind, completely!

    “Leave her alone, Professor!” Draco jumped to his feet.

   “Calm down, Draco.” Snape waved his wand lazily, and an invisible force threw Draco back into his seat causing him to gasp for air.

   “Amazing,” Snape said slowly, folding his arms on his chest. “Simply amazing. You two are thick as thieves. Who would think of such a couple? The young Malfoy and Muggle-born Granger!”

    “Why did you allow Parkinson to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays?” Draco hissed, his hands fisted. “You knew why I stayed at school!”

    “I had to.” Snape leaned back in his chair. “What you two did was very childish and immature. There were more intelligent ways to resolve the situation.”

    Hermione hugged herself in the chair. The fact that Snape was able to see their intimate moment was too much for her to bear. She wanted to die on the spot from the shame.

   “What ways?” Draco retorted. “My parents goaded me into the cursed engagement, and you sided with them! Parkinson threatened Hermione during her patrol the other night!”

    “As a result, you have further complicated your situation,” Snape said emotionlessly. “I understand you recruited Mr. Nott and Miss Patil for your conspiracy.”

    Hermione had never heard Malfoy talk to Snape like this. She felt very dizzy and weak again. Hermione gripped the armrests with her hands because she became afraid of falling from it.

    “What conspiracy?” said Draco angrily.

    “The plot you masterminded in order to make Miss Parkinson go home certainly qualifies as conspiracy.”

    “All right, the four came together to get Pansy off our backs, happy?” snarled Draco. “Leave us alone!”

    “Now listen to me, Draco and Hermione, if you want to spend the holidays in peace.” Snape stood up, his dark figure looming over the desk. “No word of the suicide attempt to Mr. Nott and Miss Patil. If anyone asks questions, the answer is that Miss Parkinson was called home due to a family emergency.”

   “Yes, Sir.” Hermione’s dizziness receded and she reached for Draco’s hand. He was about to say something, but the squeeze of her fingers on his wrist silenced him.

    “Excellent.” A small smile slithered across Snape’s lips at Hermione’s gesture, but she resolved to pay no attention. He continued, “Next time you have a problem, you must consult with me. As you know, I took an Unbreakable Vow to protect you, Draco.”

    “As if I need your protection!” Draco hissed again, ignoring another squeeze of Hermione’s hand.

    “Of course. For the sake of you both, you must exercise the utmost caution.”

    “Draco, please, calm down. We are in such a horrible mess now,” pleaded Hermione. The only way to get out of Snape’s office quickly was to acquiesce to his every word. “Professor Snape is in the position to help you.”

    “You should listen to her, Draco,” Snape stated in an irritated tone. “Miss Granger has more sense than you.” His eyes met Hermione’s, and he smiled condescendingly, “Miss Parkinson owes you a life debt now, Hermione. I will make sure she knows it.”

    “Thank you,” she muttered. It struck her that Snape addressed her by her given name again. His tone, while far from pleasant, did not sound malicious either.

     Draco cleared his throat loudly but said nothing. He stared at the desk.

    The teacher‘s eyes perused her once again. Hermione braced herself for another   Legilimens attack, but nothing happened.

    “I hope I made it clear that you must keep the whole matter a secret,” said Snape.

    “Yes, Sir,” Hermione nodded quickly. Draco sat in a sullen silence.

     “Excellent. You may go. No classes for you tomorrow either, Draco. However, I still expect you in my office for detention!”

    “Why am I doing the detention? You now know it was Nott who snogged Padma!”

    “Because the incentive was yours,” Snape said with a tone of cold finality.

    Hermione tugged at Draco’s sleeve before he had time to retort. He glanced at her, and suddenly a deflated look came over him.

    They stood up, and vertigo overwhelmed Hermione again. She wavered, and Draco caught her by her shoulders. She closed her eyes trying to collect herself. When she opened them, Snape was holding a goblet at her lips. The potion in it reeked of garlic.

    “Are you dizzy?” asked Snape calmly, and she nodded, Draco’s hands still holding her. “A side effect of the Blood-Replenishing Potion. Drink this.”

    Hermione swallowed the smelly liquid, and her vertigo went away instantly.

    “I would suggest that you escort her to the Gryffindor quarters, Draco,” Snape said gruffly. “Otherwise, if she faints and falls off the stairs, there would be much more publicity in the morning!”

    In the cold corridor, Hermione hugged herself, as they walked to the stairs up.

   “I wish I had asked Pomfrey for a Calming Draught,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep at all.”

    “I’ve got it.” Draco produced the bottle from his bag. In the dim light Hermione could discern that most of the potion was nearly gone.

    They both swallowed a dose of the Draught, but after walking up a couple of floors Hermione’s nerves were still far from calm.

    “Let’s go to the Room of Requirement,” suggested Draco. “I couldn’t bear it in the dorm now. I don’t think I can sleep.”

    In the Room of Requirement, they sank into the big green chairs. Hermione surveyed the bed, then looked at Malfoy brooding. If he took her to bed now, she would be as passionate as a fish. The shock from Parkinson’s suicide attempt completely erased her libido.

    Draco gazed at Hermione. He fought hard not to let the horrific image of Pansy’s lifeless face back into his mind. He urgently needed to block his fear and terror, to distract himself, somehow. The Calming Draught wasn’t helping much. Was he becoming immune to the potion?

    Why did Pansy have to go insane and try to kill herself? Didn’t she understand that it was his parents who wanted the engagement, and not him? 

    He tried hard to absolve himself from the guilt he couldn‘t bear to admit, to relieve his soul from the burden of his fiancée’s act. But it wasn’t working. He desperately needed a diversion, if he didn’t want to lose his mind.

    “Strip, Granger.” His own voice sounded alien to him. Of course, he was being pathetic, and she could see his misery. The realisation of it angered him, and he ordered harshly, “Get on the bed.”

    Hermione, shaken by his tone, scrambled towards the bed and settled on it. The room was warm, but when she took off her sweater and bra, her skin broke out in goose bumps. Hermione tucked her legs under her and glanced at Malfoy.

   Draco’s eyes lingered on her naked torso. It was not helping either. His body was listless, and she looked too miserable to excite him. 

   “I can’t do it,” he whispered, ashamed of his failure. “I-I just . . .” He waved his hand in a meaningless gesture.

    Hermione sat on the bed for a few minutes. His reaction made her feel lonely, and it scared her. She pulled her robes to cover her shoulders, ignoring her sweater and bra on the bedspread, and moved to stand in front of Malfoy. Her bosom was bare in the opening of her robes, and she wanted him to notice her, affirm his recognition.

   Draco sat motionless, staring at her bosom, blankly. Hermione settled onto his lap. He said nothing. Her skin pressed against the fabric of his robes, and her lips touched his cheek warily. Their eyes met and he put his arm around her.

    “What does it feel like to kill someone?” he asked out of sudden, and Hermione’s heart sank in shock.

   “I didn’t murder Parkinson!” she attempted to defend herself. Oh no, she was trying to deceive him and herself because she couldn’t face her unbearable guilt. Why did he have to ask her this horrific question?

    “No . . .” he spoke quickly, holding her tight in his embrace. “Last summer . . . the duel at the Department of Mysteries! Did you kill anyone?”

    “I-I don’t know. . .” Hermione stuttered. “I didn’t use the Killing Curse, only Stupefy and Protego.”

    “You dueled to kill, don’t lie to me!” he retorted, instantly irritated. “Tell me everything!”

    “I fought to protect my friends and defend myself,” argued Hermione. “But we couldn’t have won it without the Aurors and Dumbledore.”

    Suddenly, the mental image of Pansy’s lifeless features, in Draco’s mind, morphed into Dumbledore’s dead face with blue lips. Foul bile rose in Draco’s throat. Swallowing spasmodically, he demanded, “Tell me, I want to know how it happened! Did you see my father there?”

    In spite of the proximity of Draco’s warm body, Hermione was shivering from cold. Haltingly, she began her narration of the battle, trying to remember everything accurately.

     Draco hung on to every word she said about his father. She spoke about the elder Malfoy in a matter-of-fact manner, passing no explicit judgment on his actions, but he knew she was not so impartial in her mind.

   He gritted his teeth as Hermione recounted the standoff between his father and Potter.

    “Then a spell hit me, and I blacked out,” she finished. Her fingers were like icicles, and she avoided looking at his face.

    “What was that rotten prophecy about? Why did Potter even have to drag you all there?”

     “I’m not sure what the prophecy was. It broke.” Hermione thought it would be better to avoid revealing too much about the prophecy to him. “Apparently, it was important information for You-Know-Who. Harry was lured to the Ministry, he thought his godfather, Sirius Black, was in grave peril there.”

    “Damn.” His voice was angry, but he still held Hermione in his arms tightly. “Why didn’t he just give it to my father?”

    “Because it would help You-Know-Who win, and Harry would never do anything like that!”

    “I hate Potter!” Draco flew off the handle, making Hermione jump in his lap. “I hate Dumbledore! He thinks he’s above everyone, the Headmaster! Lousy Potter is his pet, everyone loves him and what is he worth? If Dumbledore had any regard for Pure-bloods, everything would be in order!”

    “What do you mean, in order?” Hermione questioned.

    “I mean at school; the respect for Purebloods, the wizarding traditions, everything. You’ll never understand it, Granger!”

   “Is it something your parents told you?” wondered Hermione. “Is it why your father likes You-Know-Who?”

    “You-Know-Who is such a rat.” Draco spat out. “He’s after Potter, and Potter is a rat too!”

    “Oh.” Hermione’s mind was working. “If Dumbledore paid you more attention, would it make you feel better?”

    “Dumbledore has no regard for the real wizards! Look what sort of professors he hired! That oaf Hagrid – is he even qualified as a teacher? A werewolf to teach us DADA?”

   “Yes, but he appointed you a Prefect last year, right?” Hermione chose not to dwell on the Hagrid’s job qualifications. She had long known that he, aside from his wonderful personality, was not a great teacher. “Besides, didn’t You-Know-Who enlist your help with a werewolf party?”

   “You-Know-Who is a fucking rat to drag the werewolves in!” Draco answered bitterly. “Potter, precious Potter received the stupid scar as a baby, and now he’s a hero! And I‘m not a Prefect anymore!”

    “If you didn’t side with Umbridge last year, you’d still be a Prefect now,” remarked Hermione. ”Umbridge wasn’t much to speak of as a teacher.”

    “Umbridge was a dumb toad,” Draco said bluntly. Again, Granger was correct – you had to form an alliance with the right people. The thought annoyed him.

    “Why did your father hate Harry? I mean before You-Know-Who appeared again.”

    “He hated him?” Draco tried to recall whatever he heard about Potter from Dad. “He told me to make friends with him in the first year. “

    “He did?” Hermione thought the Malfoy family positively abounded with surprises.

    “Yeah, he did. I offered Potter my friendship before the start of the first year but he snubbed me! Decided that Weasel was better than me.”

   “I see.” Hermione thought it wasn’t probably very wise of Harry to turn down Malfoy. Knowing her friend, she could imagine the manner of Harry’s response to Draco’s advances. “Well, Harry knew nothing about the feud between the Malfoys and Weasleys.”

   “Potter thinks he’s awfully smart, and that the rules don’t apply to him,” grouched Draco. “He’s a celebrity, of course, and is all over The Daily Prophet!”

    “I don’t think Harry enjoys the publicity. The scar gives him so much trouble, Draco.” Hermione hesitated, then asked, “If Harry accepted your friendship, you would tell him not to be friends with me, right?”

    “Why do you have to complicate things, Hermione?” he groaned.

   “You know, these things are easy to understand,” Hermione smiled weakly. “You’re jealous of Harry, and you two started off on the wrong foot during the first year. You spent tons of energy and time taunting Harry, and what do you have? Harry isn’t the type to get intimidated. After the way his uncle and aunt abused him at home, I think nothing can scare him anymore!”

    “So?” Draco was reluctant to admit that Granger was right. Basically, when he stopped harassing Potty, he gradually realised it was just better to ignore Potter.

  “Well, I don’t think you could become friends with Harry now,” mused Hermione. “Mind your own business, Draco, and leave him alone.”

   “I‘d rather shag you now instead of hexing him,” he smirked. “I’m not going to sweat my ass off making friends with Potter! If he wants to be in my good books, he’d better work hard for it!”

    “I know you were angry at him when your father was arrested,” Hermione pressed on. She needed to show empathy for his family tragedy, if she wanted to divert him away from the Death Eater life. “You love your father, of course.”

    “Father – he was so strong and powerful. Everyone listened to him!” Draco remembered his excruciating visit with him in Azkaban. “And in the prison they treat him like dirt!”

    Hermione recalled Lucius’ sinister demeanour in the Department of Mysteries. To her, he was the ominous leader of Death Eaters, and to Draco he was his beloved father, someone he admired. Still, this man imprisoned his son in the engagement to Parkinson, and it was the same man who loved Draco’s mother so much that he rescued her from the public disgrace.

    “I must restore the Malfoy name,” Draco said doggedly. “I’m the only man in the family who can do it now.”

    “By serving You-Know-Who?” Hermione asked quickly.

    “Whatever it takes.” To Draco it was the only way he knew. He had to serve those in power in order to rise to the top. “Everyone knows the Ministry can’t control anything. You-Know-Who’s people are everywhere.”

    “But there are certain principles, right? The dignity and honour? Serving the right cause?”

    “I’m a Death Eater,” Draco said bluntly. ”Not much choice for me.”

   His tone made Hermione want to cry but she restrained herself.

   “I’d like to go to the dorm.” She summoned her clothes from the bed. “I think I’m better now.”

   “All right,” agreed Draco. “I’ll walk you to the Gryffindor Tower.” 

    Dumbledore adjusted his glasses and rose from his seat. “Thank you for filling me in on the happenings at your House during my absence, Severus. Minerva informed me about the poor Parkinson girl the night she was taken to St. Mungo’s, as well.”

     Snape leaned back in his chair in front of the Headmaster’s desk. “A very unfortunate girl, this Miss Parkinson.”

    “Remarkable.” Dumbledore strolled around his office, Snape’s eyes following him. “The young Malfoy and Granger seem to have formed an alliance, didn’t they?”

    “It appears so, Sir.” Snape crossed his arms on his chest. “At least, you cannot deny that it supports my findings about Heorte Lustbaere.”

    “It could make a good dissertation material, Severus,” mused Dumbledore. “Of course, after the war is over.”

    Snape gave a sharp cackle. “I’ve been observing the young Nott per your request.”

    “What do you think about the boy’s inclinations?” Dumbledore tapped his finger on one of the shiny metal objects on the side table.

    “He does not appear to be very close with his father,” Snape said slowly. “In fact, I doubt he looks forward to becoming a Death Eater.”

    “That is good. You could possibly mentor him once he joins the ranks of Death Eaters.”

    “With boys of this age it can be hard to predict their response. Draco is not receptive to me at all,” Snape said tensely. “He openly defies the detention I gave him this Monday. He did not report to my office on Tuesday, or yesterday.”

   “Hermione Granger informed me that Draco did not sound happy about the Dark Lord. I believe he is under a tremendous amount of stress.”

    “Narcissa is very worried about the pressure her sister puts on Draco.” Snape rose from his chair too.

    “Of course,” Dumbledore nodded. “I’m certain Bellatrix schools her nephew very rigorously. Remember the Imperio Curse that Draco cast on the younger student?”

    “Yes, you said Miss Granger reported it.” Snape remarked with a slight note of pride. “Draco is a very capable young wizard.”

    “In fact, I believe Malfoy and Granger could make a good team. Give it some time, and we will have the young Malfoy on our side, Severus.”

    “Granger needs the proper training, Professor. If we want to use the girl as an anchor for Draco, she should distance herself from Potter.”

    “I do not think we should push her too far.” Dumbledore studied a parchment on his desk. “Here. Several wizards disappeared without notice, and you were not in the know.”

   “One cannot know everything, Dumbledore.”

   “I agree. We must groom more informants in the Death Eater ranks.”

   “I could work with Theo, but I’m having a hard time with Draco.”

   “Hermione is in the position to reach out to Draco. The young Malfoy boy has a lot of potential. Especially with the training that he receives from his aunt.”

    The door opened, and the two wizards turned towards it. McGonagall walked in briskly.

    “The reports came in. Katie Bell is improving steadily but it will take a long while for her to recover completely.” McGonagall handed several parchments to Dumbledore. “Pansy Parkinson has recovered ninety percent physically and has been transferred to the mental ward at St. Mungo’s.”

    “Thank you, McGonagall.” Dumbledore scanned the parchments. “Professor Snape and I have just been discussing Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger. Could you lend us a helping hand with Hermione during the holidays?”

    McGonagall threw a look of suspicion at Snape. “Does it have to do something with the Order of the Phoenix?”

    “Yes. As you know, we need to improve our intelligence network. Hermione Granger has evidently established a good rapport with the young Malfoy.” Dumbledore put the parchments on his desk. “It is going to be a long war.”

    “If it includes coaching her to provide sexual services to the son of one of the most notorious Death Eaters, my answer is no,” McGonagall said firmly. “Of course, she’s of age, but I can see the toll it takes on her!”

    “I believe Miss Granger is a very talented and intelligent young witch,” Dumbledore said soothingly.

    “This talented and intelligent young witch is already unable to function without a Calming Draught!” McGonagall’s voice cracked and she paused for a breath. “Yesterday Madam Pomfrey informed me that Hermione had already used up a large vial of the Calming Draught. She gave it to the girl a few weeks ago. It was to last for two or three months, at least!”

    “Are you sure she did not share the Draught with someone else?” Snape asked placidly.

   “The Calming Draught is a medication that can’t be taken frivolously,” McGonagall answered sternly, advancing at Snape. “If you suppose that Mr. Malfoy took it regularly, it constitutes a prescription drug abuse, and we cannot allow that at school!”

    “Minerva, please, I understand your concerns very well,” Dumbledore intervened. “But the situation is not an ordinary one. The war is raging.”

    “Exactly! We must protect our students in times of danger and not try to make them into soldiers.” McGonagall clasped her wand. “We’ve got a botched assassination attempt, an averted suicide and a highly illegal lust potion abuse case on our hands already!”

    “You are absolutely right, Minerva,” Dumbledore said tiredly. “Thank you for the reports. I will meet the Parkinsons this week.”

    “Besides, I do not think it was a very good idea to hang the mistletoe bunches all over the castle, Headmaster,” McGonagall said, retreating to the entrance. “With all these horrors happening, teenage love crushes are spinning out of control!”

    The door closed behind McGonagall, and Dumbledore turned to Snape, who was looking through the reports from St. Mungo’s.

    “Minerva is dreadfully correct,” the Headmaster sighed.

    “Draco is in contact with Nymphadora Tonks, as you know.” Snape placed the parchments on the desk. “I would suggest assigning her to Granger. Tonks has been trained in the areas of intelligence and reconnaissance.”

    “If Tonks and Hermione could win Draco’s trust, it would be a major progress.” Dumbledore walked around his desk and sat down in his chair. “We should give Hermione all the help we can. I suggest that we ease up on the Malfoy boy.”

    “Headmaster, I’m personally responsible for Draco, and I cannot let him indulge into whatever dangerous plans he conceives,” Snape replied in an acidic tone. “He needs a lot of guidance now, and he jeopardises himself by refusing my help!”

    “Let’s ponder it over a few days and try to develop a consistent strategy.” Dumbledore closed his eyes and slowly rubbed his forehead with his good hand. “Thank you for your insights, Severus.”

    “You are welcome, Headmaster. May I copy the hospital reports?” asked Snape, leaning over the desk.

   “Certainly,” Dumbledore sighed without opening his eyes.

    Snape flicked his wand over the parchments; they rustled softly as he duplicated them. Then he rolled the copies together, glanced at the motionless Dumbledore, and quickly exited the office.

Chapter 23: Holiday Prelude
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

    Tomorrow would be the last day of school, along with Slughorn’s Christmas party, and Hermione already was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Draco had been stubbornly denying her intercourse for three days in a row, because he could not get over the idea of Hermione having a date for the party. Draco was bent on making it impossible for her to be around any male tomorrow night, thence forcing her to skip the party to shag him instead.

     The bastard had been hanging around in the library, when she talked to Harry about the danger being plied with a love potion. Hermione glimpsed the blonde head behind bookshelves a couple of times, at least. The freshly minted Othello evidently seethed with jealousy over her doing homework with Harry every night in the library.

     In short, Pansy’s absence only made things worse for Hermione. Without the other girl’s presence to keep Draco in check, he was now free to stalk Hermione anytime and anywhere.

   Hermione reclined against the pillow on her bed. Her inflamed libido had forced her to part with Harry early and retire to the dorm. She tried to focus on the letter in her hands.

Your mum and dad are getting along wonderfully. Don’t worry about the family gathering, sweetie. Your parents are such sweethearts now, worse than newlyweds. I’m already getting suspicious! (Only joking!!!!)

    Your mum has told me you’re going to stay at school for the holidays. How come? Don’t think you can fool me by pretending that you need to study! Is a cute crush of yours staying at school too? My dear little lady, you should bring your beau to the holiday dinner! I can’t wait to see you and give you a big smooch on your cheek - you must be a really grown-up girl now.

    Don’t even try to tell me he is not invited or he won’t be comfortable. I’m sure you won’t lay your eyes on someone who is not up to par. Yes, I know how picky you can be, my little bookwormie! We will all absolutely love to meet your boyfriend, so no shirking and making excuses, okay?

    Make haste and let me know if we are going to see you (and hopefully your boyfriend) this Christmas!

Auntie Perpetua.

  “A letter from home?” asked Parvati from her bed. Her voice did not sound too happy.

  “From my aunt,” replied Hermione and folded the letter. “The usual stuff.” Her bubbly personality notwithstanding, Aunt Perpetua was too shrewd to be around, Hermione thought. And her parents had apparently gone to the other extreme in their unpredictable relationship, without as much as an advance warning to their own daughter.

    The door opened and Lavender strutted in, swaying her hips. She glanced at the two girls on the beds, then paraded towards a mirror and started fixing her hair. Hermione unfolded her letter and stared into it again.

   “Everyone is in the Common Room, only you two have holed up here,” Lavender said. “All the boys are there.”

    “I have a heck of a headache,” griped Parvati. Hermione said nothing.

    “Want my headache potion?” Lavender chirped sweetly and walked to her bedside stand. “Hermione, do you want to try the Miracle Hair Styler?”

   “No thanks,” Hermione replied bluntly.

   “Pity,” Lavender rummaged in her drawers and proffered a bottle to Parvati, who accepted it with a martyr smile. “You’d have more luck with boys if you style your hair better, Hermione. Maybe Harry would date you then!”

    “Thanks for the advice,” was Hermione’s curt response.

   “Won-won is so - so hot, Parvati,” Lavender exhaled exaggeratedly. “You know, when he snogs me all the way, I barely can remember where I am!”

   “Yeah, Ron is awesome,” Parvati nodded with an expression of a quiet exasperation. “The best Quidditch keeper this year.”

   “Some Chocolate Frogs for my sweet boy.” Lavender procured the sweets from her stand and straightened up. “He a-a-absolutely loves them!”

   “Already got a date for the Slug party?” Parvati moaned and followed Lavender with her eyes, as the latter exited the dorm.

   “Not yet,” Hermione said grimly. “A couple of candidates but I’m still deciding.”

   “Guess, Malfoy is not among them?” Parvati whispered, visibly hoping for a thrilling sensation.

   “Malfoy is the last person I’d ever consider,” grumbled Hermione.

   “Of course, after he snogged my sister…” Parvati opened Lavender’s bottle and sniffed it. “This smells funny. I can’t understand Padma - she refuses to tell me anything. Everyone is talking about that epic snog of theirs, and she’s silent like a stone!”

   “Maybe Malfoy offended her?” Hermione played along. The memory of that cursed day made her feel guilty and horny at the same time.

   “I dunno. I think Padma is nuts. First Nott, then Malfoy. Now she isn’t talking to Nott at all.” Parvati poured the medicine in a tablespoon and sniffed it again. “Guess it might help.” She swallowed the potion and grimaced at the taste.

   “Is your head hurting so badly?” Hermione asked compassionately.

   “It’s Blaise who‘s giving me the migraines,” complained Parvati.

   “What’s the problem?”

   “Oh, Hermione, I don’t know what to do with him - he’s so - so insistent on it…”

   “Insistent on what?”

   “Well, on this thing - I mean going all the way, not just snogging and groping.” Parvati paused. “Hermione - Hermione, did you ever try it with anyone?”

  “Try what?” Hermione did not like the turn the conversation was taking.

   “Well, I mean that sex thing…” Parvati looked at Hermione timidly.

  “Ehm… No.” Hermione loudly opened her bedside stand and deposited Aunt Perpetua’s letter in it. “I think I’m going to turn in.”

   Hermione fished her toothpaste and toothbrush out from the depths of the bedside stand, and picked her towel from a wall rack. Parvati reclined on her bed with a disappointed look, but Hermione ignored it, as she headed to the bathroom.

  While brushing her teeth, Hermione firmly made up her mind to get from Draco what she needed to restore her sanity. She was not going to sacrifice her life to the lust potion and skip the Slughorn‘s party.

   “It’s rape.” Draco slowly tucked his shirt in his trousers, leaning against the cold stone wall. “You basically raped me, Hermione!”

   “And what did you expect? After denying me a shag for four days? Making me get so crazed that I lost control in the Transfiguration class? The whole classroom laughed at me!” Hermione shook her unruly mane as she buttoned up her robe. “After I cried almost all afternoon in a loo?”

   She had eventually managed to corner him in an empty corridor near the Slytherin quarters, push him against the wall and press her palm against his abdomen. It was enough to completely undo him. Dragging him off to a dungeon to complete the act was a mere technicality. Now Hermione’s mind was bright and clear, and she was ready to face her date for Slughorn’s party that night.

  “Tell me you are going without a date,” growled Draco.

  “Actually, I’ve already secured a date,” Hermione said succinctly and headed towards the door.

  “Who?” In two big steps Draco was right behind her, his hand on her shoulder. No matter how much he was smitten with her, Hermione could be absolutely maddening at times. She never had a problem attaching a bloke to her skirt. Worse even, it never was an average Hogwarts dork, but always a person of certain notoriety - Potter, Krum, Weasley, whatever. No less than a Prefect.

   “It’s Cormac McLaggen,” groaned Hermione. “You know full well that I can barely stand him. Can’t you get over it, Draco?”

   Draco grabbed Hermione, turned her around and shoved against the wall. His lips were on hers, and his body basically flattened hers. She did not resist his embrace, letting him devour her mouth, as he asserted his rights to her charms.

   When he released her, Hermione straightened her collar and said resignedly, “Honestly, don’t get all riled up over it. McLaggen is only a way to shut up the gossipers, can’t you understand that?”

   She edged towards the door, giving him a light smile. Draco let her go, and Hermione slipped out into the corridor.

   As Hermione walked down the gloomy underground passage, the blissful relief filled her body. The cold air cooled her flushed cheeks pleasantly. The sensation of Draco’s savage kiss still lingering on her lips elated her. Draco’s very obvious need for her was so empowering. If only she could take Draco as her date to the party… But such a heresy was definitely out of the question.

   On the steps to the entrance hall, Hermione met Theo descending into the dungeons. He did not look too cheerful, and Hermione greeted him pleasantly. She felt a bit sorry about Padma giving him the cold shoulder after their ill-fated plot to neutralize Pansy.

   “It’s sure easier, when Parkinson isn’t around,” Theo pronounced with a tortured smile. “I guess they lied to us about her family emergency. She must have freaked out and went home to mope over her darling fiancé’s betrayal.”

   “Maybe.” The memory of Pansy’s suicide attempt weighted on Hermione‘s conscience like a nasty giant boulder. “Hope you’ll have a good time at home.”

   “I’m not going home.” Theo’s lower jaw tensed.

   “Why? Where are you going then?”

   “To my Grandma’s. I’ve got no business at Father’s mansion.” Theo’s voice sounded clipped. “His newest mistress is going to be all over the place.”

   “Sorry.” Hermione remembered Draco’s words about the old Nott’s harem. Now she seriously pitied the younger Nott.

   In the seventh floor corridor she stopped to catch her breath after walking all the way up the stairs and spotted Parvati, lingering in the hallway. When Hermione drew even with her classmate, Parvati stepped up to her and whispered, “Seen Blaise around here?”

   “No.” Hermione halted. “What’s up?”

   “Ehm…” Parvati paused and looked around. “He wanted me to come to the dungeons today but I didn’t. Now I want to go to the Great Hall but I’m worried he might be waiting somewhere to grab me.”

    “Why are you so afraid of him?” Hermione wondered. The Patil sisters’ love affairs had certainly taken an odd turn lately.

   “Well…I’m not that afraid, really-” Parvati glanced around the corridor. A few younger students passed by but no one from the sixth year was in sight. “It’s just that I’m not sure about it - I‘ve never done it with a boyfriend…”

   “You know what? Let’s go to the dorm, Parvati.”

   In the Gryffindor dorm, Hermione deposited her bag by her bed and dug into her trunk. “Here.” She handed Parvati a dark blue book.

   Parvati emitted a shy giggle as she read the gold lettering on the book cover, What Every Wizard and Witch Needs to Know about Safe and Healthy Sex.

   “Have it for the holidays.” Hermione took books out of her bag and stuffed them on the shelf of her bedside stand. “It explains everything pretty well.”

   Parvati flipped through the book. “Hermione - have you really done any of this? With Krum?”

   Hermione, already near the dorm exit, pretended not to hear her. Without saying a word, she walked down to the Common Room, passed a group of older students lounging in front of the fireplace, climbed out of the portrait hole and headed to the Great Hall for dinner.

   The Gryffindor Common Room was still dark at this early morning hour. In the dim candlelight Hermione sat in front of the fireplace petting Crookshanks who was purring contentedly on her lap. A small group of early departing students hustled past her with bags and warm coats but she ignored them.

    She mused over the previous night’s events at Slughorn’s office. As she had anticipated, McLaggen was unbearable. What she hadn’t expected at all, was Draco’s appearance.

    When Snape led him out, Draco shot Hermione a quick look and his expression made Hermione’s heart sink. Anger, hurt, anger, resentment, despair, passion - the mixture of his emotions was indescribable.

    Hermione’s first impulse was to dash out of Slughorn’s office and follow them but, luckily for her, she spotted Harry advancing to the exit, as well. Not wanting to give herself away, she waited ten minutes or so after Harry disappeared. Then she stole out and, finding herself alone in the dark corridor, hurried upstairs to her dorm. She was not in the mood for the party anymore.

   Hermione stared at the fire and absentmindedly scratched Crookshanks behind his ear. Her cat purred louder, and it soothed her a little. The prospect of being virtually alone with Draco in a deserted castle had been making Hermione slightly jittery. There would be no student crowds around them to restrict their interactions…

   The door to the girls’ dorms opened, and a very sleepy Parvati descended the stairs, dragging an overstuffed satchel down the steps.

   “A-ah… Morning,” Parvati yawned and stopped near Hermione’s chair. “Staying at Hogwarts for the holidays for sure?”

   “Yeah,” replied Hermione. She did not recall seeing Zabini at the party, so it was safe to assume that he had opted for some very private time with his girlfriend. “Everything okay with him?”

   “Ooooh-” Parvati blushed profusely and leaned close to Hermione. She glanced around to make sure no one was in the room and whispered,” You know - it wasn’t so bad… Blaise is - is something! But don‘t tell anyone, okay?”

   “Really?” Hermione said distractedly. “I’m silent like a grave, no worry.”

   “I hate Padma - she’s refused to remain here for the holidays. Mum wouldn’t let me stay by myself. Dad insisted that we Portkey home at this ungodly hour instead of taking the train!” griped Parvati. She glanced around the empty room again, and drew closer to Hermione. “You know - Blaise told me something…”

   “What did he tell?”

   “Someone in his dorm has a totally outrageous book. Blaise peeped in it when the owner wasn‘t around.” Parvati paused for more dramatic effect. “Boy - there’s every sort of sex stuff in it. The title - I think - is Miraculous Joys of Kama Sutra!”

   “Oh.” Hermione feigned indifference. “Well, boys can be really into that, right?”

    “Know whose book it is?” Parvati made another dramatic pause, and, receiving no response from Hermione, continued,” Draco Malfoy‘s!”

   “Very possible given his overall depravity,” Hermione said as coolly as she could.

   “Whatever,” Parvati giggled. “Blaise is going to harass Malfoy into lending him the book. Wonder if Padma has already seen it.”

   They heard the sound of a door opening, and Parvati straightened up.

   “Okay, I’ve got to meet Padma at Flitwick’s office and get the Portkey.” She yawned again and headed to the portrait hole.

   Harry appeared, and Hermione rose from her chair to talk to him. The moment he opened his mouth, Ron emerged from the dorms. The redhead yawned loudly, grouched about having to get up early, and yelled for Ginny to come down. When Ron reached Harry and Hermione near the fireplace Lavender ran out of the girls’ dorm and immediately assaulted him.

   Harry glanced back at the couple, tightly wrapped around each other, and awkwardly muttered something about a happy Christmas for Hermione.

    Ginny sauntered out with Arnold, her Pigmy Puff, on her shoulder. She gave a scathing look to the snogging couple and rolled her eyes.

   Harry noticed her and flushed a little, apparently losing his ability to speak. Hermione waved at Ginny genially. Crookshanks rubbed at the girls’ ankles, looking up at Arnold hungrily.

   “Wish you could come, Hermione!” Ginny gave her a hug, completely ignoring Lavender. “Maybe next time?”

   “I hope so.” Hermione turned and gave Harry a hug, as well. “Have a great Christmas!”

    She picked up Crookshanks and walked past Ron and Lavender to the dorm. The moment Hermione opened the door, she glanced over her shoulder and instantly met Lavender’s victorious stare. The same second Ron broke off her and dashed after Harry and Ginny to the portrait hole.

   He did not bother to invite Lavender to the Burrow, Hermione thought sarcastically, as she closed the dorm door behind her. The more she observed Ron’s atrocious snogging and groping, the less regard she had for him.

    Still, the sight of the two of them was not something Hermione was able to shrug off in passing. If it were someone else, like Seamus or Dean, it wouldn’t bother her in the least. But the way Ron did it made it look like a deliberate insult to Hermione. In fact, he paraded himself with Lavender in front of her in a most brazen fashion. At times she even thought that he performed his lascivious snogfests exclusively in Hermione’s presence.

    Hermione wondered what Ron’s reaction would be if he found out about her much more intimate involvement with Draco Malfoy. He could very possibly end up joining Parkinson in the mental ward at St. Mungo’s.

    In any case, Hermione was already getting tired of Ron’s antics. Her ploy of asking McLaggen to the Slug party gave her very little gratification. Seeing Draco’s anguished face made her regret her petty show of independence. It was not worth it. She could have gone to the party without a date just fine.

   Fewer than half of the Hogwarts students turned up for breakfast. The Gryffindor table was half full, and there were even fewer at the other tables. People ate in a hurry, and rushed off to board the carriages for the train station.

   After breakfast Hermione reported to the greenhouses. Draco was already there, getting instructions from Sprout.

   “Here you are,” proclaimed the cheery-faced witch, her pointed hat smeared with mud. “See, as the days grow longer, we need to move the spring-blooming plants so they will receive enough sunlight, especially those bulb plants.” She gestured towards dozens of clay pots sitting on shelves in the back of the greenhouse.

   After finishing with instructions, Professor Sprout buttoned up her warm winter coat and departed for another greenhouse, leaving Draco and Hermione alone.

   “Hide the Kama Sutra book better,” Hermione said in a low voice when Draco began rearranging the pots with flicks of his wand. “Parvati confessed that Zabini wants to get his hands on it!”

   “Fat chance.” Draco sidled to Hermione and put his hand on her hip. “He wants too much.”

   “Wait till he finds a way to blackmail you again. And please take your hands off me. Sprout can walk in any minute!”

   “Doubt it would surprise her too much.” Draco inhaled the scent of Hermione’s hair. His heart beat wildly. He could hardly believe that they were going to enjoy their love to the fullest for the whole break.

   “Why?” Hermione shifted uncomfortably at his words.

   “I’ve seen Sprout in the farther dungeons twice. Guess she has spotted us too. And she didn’t even let us know she was there.” Draco buried his face in Hermione’s hair, savouring the feel of her warm body in his hands. “Students aren’t allowed that far into the dungeons, right? Snape probably tipped off some teachers so they wouldn’t bother with us.”

   Hermione’s heart sank a little. Their secret wasn’t really that much of a secret. What did other teachers think of her indulging in sex wantonly? She was certain that it wasn’t Snape but Dumbledore who had informed them all, but she was not going to tell it to Draco.

   “Still, we’ve got work to do,” she said firmly and freed herself from Draco’s embrace. To compensate for her being so strict, she turned around and gave him a light peck on his cheek. His face lit up, and he attempted to catch her in his arms again, but she was now by the table, moving the pots from the shelves to it.

   In about an hour a long row of pots, some with full-sized plants, some only with minuscule sprouts, and some without any green at all, was lined up on the long table along the sunny side of the greenhouse. Hermione walked along the display, reading the labels out of curiosity. Soon she noticed something.

   “Draco - look at this,” she called out.

   He read the label on the pot she was pointing at, and then on another pot. “Nuntius Vernus - Alban Eilirenne, right,” he muttered. Truth to be told, he’d rather not see it here. Tiny dark green tips were peeking from the rich black soil in several identical pots.

   “Yes - that’s the plant necessary for the antidote.” Hermione watched his good-spirited expression vanish instantly. Unease overtook her as well.

   Silence lingered between them for awhile, as they continued to inspect and rearrange the pots. Draco drew closer to Hermione again.

   “It - it wouldn’t end after the antidote?” His tense pale eyes looked at her face anxiously. “It’s only that we won’t go crazy if we miss a date, right?”

   “Right…” Hermione wavered. She traced the edge of a pot with her finger. In a perfect world without Lord Voldermort and Death Eaters there would be no question about her choice. In fact, she was very much tempted to throw all secrecy to the wind. Draco was already a huge part of her life and Hermione knew she was the same for him. His gate-crashing at Slughorn’s party confirmed it unequivocally.

    The sight of him, looking at her with a strange expression - intense and meek at the same time - filled her heart with mushy warmth. Hermione was about to fling her arms around his neck, but the sound of Sprout entering the greenhouse prevented her from revealing her affections.

    The teacher surveyed their work approvingly and immediately set to explain which fertilizer went into which pot. Her tone was friendly and detached at the same time, as if it was a perfectly normal and ordinary occurrence for Draco and Hermione to work side by side in her presence.

    They were done by lunchtime, and Sprout dismissed them for the day. Draco was the first to bolt out the door, which Hermione did not mind at all. They were not to be seen together, unless there was a solid excuse for it.

    The winter sun hovered low above the horizon, and the pristine white snow glittered under the clear sky. Hermione trod down the path to the castle, the lonely figure of Draco well ahead of her.

    Someone called her. She turned around and saw Tonks hurrying to catch up with her, her brown fur hat slipping low on her forehead.

   “Wotcher, Hermione.” Tonks clearly attempted to sound cheerful, but her forlorn face betrayed her.

    Hermione wondered if Tonks had been following her all the way from the greenhouses. It would be only logical, given Dumbledore’s warnings for Hermione to be careful.

   “I’m stationed in the castle for the holidays,” Tonks filled Hermione in.

   “Is there an emergency?”

   “No, it’s only a heightened security measure, per Dumbledore’s request. Guess we’ll be bumping into each other all the time,” Tonks smiled weakly.

    “We could celebrate Christmas in the castle together!” Hermione was excited to have her for company. That is, to have her company when Draco did not keep Hermione busy.

    Draco picked with the toe of his boot at a snow heap near the porch in the courtyard. He did not want to parade with Hermione in the full view of the whole castle but now he longed for a glimpse of her when she would walk past him to the entrance.

    He heard sounds of voices at the gate and turned his head. To his disappointment, Hermione was not alone, but with his Auror cousin. Whatever.

    “Hi Draco!” Tonks halted by him and so did Hermione. “Are you staying for the whole break?”

    Draco gaped at Tonks in her atrocious shaggy brown hat. Briefly, he wondered what could be the cause of such a familial display on her part. The next second he concluded that he could pretty much take an advantage of it and join Hermione and Tonks on their way to the Great Hall..

   “Yeah, till the end of the holidays,” he nodded, and entered the castle together with the two witches.

    Tonks made an attempt at a small talk which turned out rather stilted. Draco noticed Hermione glance nervously around the empty entrance hall. He hardly could wait until the lunch was over and he would have his girl all to himself.

    “Ok, got to go for now,” Tonks announced in front of the doors to the Great Hall. “See you in the afternoon?”

   “Oh –” Hermione shifted and threw a furtive look at Draco. “I need to see Clayton, the Head Boy.” She glanced at Draco apologetically again. “I’m the only Prefect staying in the castle, so Clayton asked me to come for some instructions before he Floos home.”

    “All right,” Draco said to no one in particular, which earned him a probing look from Tonks. “I’m ravenous.” With these words he quickly went into the Great Hall, leaving the witches behind.

   During the lunch Draco and Hermione sat at the opposite ends of the Hufflepuff table. The small cluster of a dozen or so assorted younger Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and Ravenclaws congregated in the middle of the table.

    Draco chewed at his sandwich, deep in thought. Bellatrix had bluntly reminded him through the enchanted Galleons that the order to kill the Headmaster was still standing. Which was simply idiotic because Draco was far more visible in the almost empty school. It was obvious that the Auror surveillance had been ramped up. Draco felt very much like telling his obsessive-aggressive Auntie to try to sneak into the castle on her own and annihilate Dumbledore with her own wand.

    He gulped his pumpkin juice and glanced at Hermione. She ate delicately, and he insanely craved a kiss from her sweet lips.

    Then he remembered overhearing her talk in the library about love potions being smuggled into the castle. An idea hit him instantly.

    Yesss! Tell Katz to have Madam Rosmerta send something as a - a what? Holiday gift, of course. That lackey of a professor, Slughorn - had he already ordered a bottle for the Headmaster? Let Katz do all the work and no one would suspect Draco!

    His mood considerably improved, Draco reached for an appetizing apple tart. Compared to Malfoy Manor, the Hogwarts house-elves weren’t the best cooks but the desserts were quite decent. Draco made a mental note to procure a few fruit tarts to share with Hermione later in the day. In the meantime he could do more work on the Vanishing Cabinet. Auntie Bella had been haranguing him about it again. He already regretted enchanting the Galleons in the first place.

    The good news was that Mum said no word about the Pansy incident. Apparently, the Parkinsons had done a good job hushing up the whole matter. The memory of that cursed day still made Draco slightly sick to his stomach but, at least, there seemed to be no nasty repercussions from his family.

    All in all, Draco was glad to be at Hogwarts, not at Malfoy Manor. Then he thought of Mum being there with the crazy Bellatrix, and a lingering worry crept into his heart. He could only hope that the Dark Lord wouldn’t be much of a presence at the Manor.

    After the lunch Draco wandered in the corridors a bit, not wanting anyone see him heading straight to the seventh floor from the Great Hall. He met no living soul, except for the Grey Lady and Fat Friar conferring solemnly in a passage near the Ravenclaw Tower. If ghosts could even qualify as living souls, Draco thought sardonically.

    His steps reverberated under the vaulted ceilings but Draco had ceased to worry about being detected. The hallways were dark, cold and inhospitable. The few remaining denizens holed up in much warmer and cozier enclosures of their offices, Common Rooms and dorms.

    Draco threw around a perfunctory glance and sank into his thoughts, as he walked back and forth in front of the Room of Requirement. If he could frame the despicable Slughorn by making him the obvious source of the cursed holiday gift to the Headmaster… Draco’s heart leapt from the anticipation of a sweet revenge.

    The door appeared, and Draco entered it unhurriedly, fingering his magic Galleon in his pocket. Halfway between the heaps of dusty and hardly recognizable cast-offs, he stopped and pulled the gold coin out, eager to set his revenge plan in motion.

    Suddenly he heard steps behind him. Someone else was in the room. He hid the Galleon in his robes, whipped around and saw Hermione advancing towards him in the narrow passage.

    “Uh… I thought you went to the room with the bed and chairs,” she muttered, clearly surprised. “I saw you entering the door and ran after you.”

    Merlin, he had to get her out of here quickly before she discovered the Vanishing Cabinet!

    “Oh, I thought I’d rummage through the stuff here. Clayton already gone home?” Draco blocked her path squarely, showcasing his best grin. In a broad sweep of his arm, he gestured towards the mountains of junk. “All sorts of fun things are here, aren’t they?”

    “Clayton wasn’t back from his appointment with Professor Flitwick yet.” Hermione poked at something that looked like a lopsided console table buried under a heap of oddly shaped boxes. “See, one fourth-year and two second-year students are staying at Gryffindor, but they are to be moved in with other students in another House. I need to confirm which one - Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.”

    “Nobody is in Slytherin. I’m having the whole House to myself!” Draco beamed at her and squeezed her waist with his hands. “Let’s go have some fun in my dorm now!”

    “I need to check with Clayton about moving the students before he leaves!” Hermione pressed against him slightly, sending a tremor of lust through his body. “Then I’ll have to help the students move. What are you looking for here?”

    “Nothing in particular,” Draco attempted at his most casual tone. “Poking around, that’s all. Now that’s curious, isn’t it?” He nodded in the direction of a small five-legged skeleton in a rusty cage, perched on top of a stack of tattered books.

    “Aren’t you morbid, Draco?” Hermione chuckled. “Well, I’d better go and see if Clayton is back. How about meeting here after dinner? I mean the bedroom version.”

   “You know what? Let’s hang out at the Slytherin quarters. I’ve got a few ideas - “ He planted a kiss on her cheek, and trailed his lips down her neck. He had had these fantasies for a good while and now he couldn‘t wait to experiment together with his sexy girl. “I want to try something new with you, darling. Perverted but you‘ll love it.”

    Hermione emitted a soft laughter, slightly embarrassed and amused at the same time, as she freed herself from his embrace and turned towards the exit. Draco followed her to the corridor, immensely relieved. He parted with her on the floor below under the pretence of going to a loo.

   Hermione walked down the stairs, already aroused at the thought of having the whole evening with Draco. Merlin, he could be so wicked in bed but he had a talent for it. When he was not acting like a prat, of course. There was no argument anymore: Draco was the one who truly made her feel good.

    Then she wondered what Harry and Ron were up to at the Burrow. It wasn’t that Ron still held a lot for her. Her affections for him had already eroded a lot. His morning show of a clumsy snog with Lavender did not help her feelings for him either.

    Now she eagerly wished that Harry could make peace with Draco. Never had she wanted so much to divert Draco from his family’s Death Eater ways. He was a prisoner of Lord Voldemort, betrayed by his obstinately Pure-Blood parents.

    Suddenly Hermione wondered what his real purpose was in visiting the Room of Requirement. He was so eager to get her out of there.

    Did he hide a Dark object in there? Something to carry out the plot that had failed in Hogsmeade? Hermione halted in the middle of the stairs and leaned on the railing. The thought of him still plotting an assassination sent chills down her spine. What would the tool of murder be this time? And who was going to be the victim?

    Hermione pondered whether to seek Dumbledore and share her suspicions. On second thought, she decided to investigate it further before reporting to the Headmaster. It could turn out to be simply an innocent case of a bored bloke wandering around… Hermione strongly hoped for the latter. In any case, she would have plenty of time to search the Room of Requirement during the holidays.

   For now she would confirm her Prefect duties with Clayton, help the younger students move, and then - her heart fluttered sweetly – share an intimate evening with Draco. Hermione wondered what kind of fantasies he would want to act out this time. She let her mind wander free, while walking through gloomy hallways.

   Never had the medieval castle looked so erotic to her but it was more than raw lust that filled her body. Her heart was longing for his companionship, for his conversation, for his embrace and for his affection.

Author's Note: Sorry it took me so long to update. Real life issues have been getting in the way, and I have also started writing original fiction. Nevertheless, I am going to continue this fanfiction. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

Chapter 24: Call of the Dark Lord
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Hermione threw a curious glance around as she entered the Slytherin Common Room. The darkened low-ceilinged, long room could make a perfect snake den. But it was much warmer than the chilly underground corridors, and thence more inviting. The fire crackled merrily in the elaborately decorated stone fireplace. The dark green chairs in front looked cushy and welcoming.

She felt Draco’s breath on her neck. His hands cradled her hips. The familiar tingle filled her abdomen. The long day was coming to an end, and they both were now left to themselves in the empty Slytherin quarters. Hermione thought about having to walk through the cold and deserted castle all the way to the Gryffindor Tower after the tryst and a brief shiver ran down her spine.

“Should we go to the dorm?” She took a few more steps and savoured the warmth emanating from the fireplace.

“Why?” Draco was now at her side and rested his elbow on the high back of a chair. He surveyed the deep chair, upholstered in soft moss-coloured velvet and imagined her luscious body nestled in it like a precious pearl. “Let’s do it here.”

“What if someone comes in?” Her insides tightened with anxiety. She glanced at Draco. The fire cast flickering light on his lanky figure, adding a warm hue to his pale complexion.

“Nobody will come at this hour.“ His eyes glinted, and a wolfish grin bared his teeth momentarily. “Snape isn‘t at Hogwarts tonight. He went to visit my Mum.”

“Oh, if you really must…” With a shrug to conceal her worry, Hermione settled in a chair next to Draco’s. She waved her wand and the fire grew bigger, radiating more heat into the room.

In a few seconds Hermione was too hot. She raised her wand to reduce the fire, but Draco’s voice stopped her. “Undress.”

She turned her head, and her eyes landed on him. Draco stretched in the other chair, his clothes in a untidy heap on the floor. The sight of him made her perspire even more violently in her mohair sweater under her robes. She wondered what he was up to tonight.

Soon her clothes were folded neatly on the floor next to Draco’s. He took in the sight of her, naked and beautiful in the warm glow of the fireplace.

“Sit down, Hermione.” His voice was thick with the lust inflamed by the anticipation of what he was going to do to her.

Hermione sank into the deep chair. She had a brief attack of self-consciousness. She slid forward to the edge of the seat, hungry for his touch.

Draco kneeled in front of her and caressed her legs with his lips. He trailed small kisses on her smooth skin. His teeth grazed the soft surface and he heard Hermione inhale sharply.

Everything ceased to exist for him at this moment, except for the welcoming warmth of Hermione‘s body, the tantalizing scent of her skin and the sweet sound of her small gasps.

All other things were fading into obscurity for Draco - his hysterical Auntie with her screeches through the enchanted Galleons, the stubborn Vanishing Cabinet that Draco wished so many times to blast into pieces out of sheer despair, the overeager Katz whom he was equally eager to curse all the way to the South Pole, and the ever-present spectre of the ominous Dark Lord that haunted him incessantly over the past weeks.

He raised his head and met Hermione’s glistening eyes. Her sensuous lips were slightly open, and her cheeks were flushed. She was breathing heavily.

Draco straightened up and reached for his wand. Hermione, in a semi-daze induced by the heat and lust, watched his movements languidly. He picked up the wand from the floor, and then his fingers stroked her abdomen. Hermione drew forward, wanting him to excite her more.

Instead, he withdrew his hand. Before Hermione had time to protest, his wand moved in a circle over her body. A slight burning sensation tickled her momentarily and a wave of sinful pleasure rolled through her torso.

“No, not this, Draco -” She reflexively covered herself with her palms. It felt so wanton to her to enjoy it in this room.

“Why not?” The same second his hands caught her wrists and pinned them against the high chair back above her head. His face was inches from hers.

“It - it isn’t proper…” She was sinking into his pale grey eyes. “If someone comes in -”

Draco chuckled and his hands slid down her body. She wiggled, and he kissed her lips.

“No one will bother to come here, Hermione.”

Hermione relaxed. She knew Draco loved to push her limits. Every time she shed a vestige of propriety she craved him more. She knew that he knew her well enough not to take her protests seriously. Not when she mumbled her words like she did now. Hermione closed her eyes and surrendered to his eager mouth.

Draco broke the kiss off and kneeled in front of her. He explored all of her body with his lips and the sweet taste of her skin made his mind drown in lusty haze.

Hermione’s eyes flipped open. Between her breaths, she craned her neck to see what he was doing to her.

“No - you can’t do this,” she gasped.

“Why?” he said in a muffled voice, still pressing his lips against her skin. Then his kisses devoured her eagerly, which made Hermione arch her body from the pleasure.

“Oh - please - “ she pleaded. “This - is - indecent -”

He looked up at her. “You’re delicious like this.” Merlin, how he loved to test her. Her response made him want more of her.

He took in the view of her, panting and blushing in the depths of the chair. He leaned forward and took her mouth in his.

Hermione kissed him back, and it was insanely carnal. She was in his power and he did with her whatever he pleased.

Then he traced her lips with his forefinger.

“It’s crazy,” Hermione confessed, as she took the tip of his finger in her mouth and tasted it with her tongue. Her eyes were riveted to his face. His intense gaze searched her features, but he said nothing.

He kneeled again, and she felt his hands slipping behind her back and his mouth exploring her body again. Hermione welcomed his caresses eagerly, while she rested herself in his arms.

After he withdrew and settled in the other chair, she touched herself. Her skin was so sensitive to his caresses…It was more than just being naked.

“Come here.” Draco gestured for her to sit down in his lap. “You - you are divine. I’m honest, Hermione.”

She basked in his words of admiration and in the robust heat from the fireplace. Serpents carved into the sides of the stone mantelpiece seemed to shift and writhe in the dancing firelight. Hermione got up and walked over to Draco’s chair. As she cuddled in his lap, she kissed him tenderly on his lips, then rested her head on his shoulder and stared into the fire. His arms were around her in an instant, pulling her closer to his torso. She loved it.

Draco breathed in her scent. He loved her so much. Hermione was his joy and his pain. But she would never believe him if he confessed his feelings for her. Too many times she had heard him assure his wretched fiancée of his undying love.

“Sleep in my bed tonight,” Draco demanded. “No one will notice your absence in your dorm.”

Hermione wavered. She did not feel like traversing the draughty and gloomy corridors. But she would have to do that in the early morning anyway to make sure no one would suspect her of spending the night not in her dorm. And she wanted to sleep in a bit…

“Okay. I guess I’d have to get up at six again and get to my dorm before anyone is up.”

They rose from the chair, and, not bothering to get dressed, proceeded to the dorm. Draco waved his wand to move their clothes there.

The dorm was a smaller version of the Common Room, with beds instead of chairs and couches. Like the Common Room, it had a low ceiling, white globe lights and rough stone walls.

Draco’s bed was the only one that had bedding on it. Comforters and old-fashioned striped mattresses were rolled up in bundles on the other beds.

“Merlin‘s bloody pants, whose trunk is it?” Irked by an unwelcome surprise, Draco pointed to a second trunk on the other side of his bed. “That’s Blaise’s bed over there. But he’d never told me of his plans to stay over the holidays!”

Hermione scrutinized the very familiar-looking trunk. Dark brown artificial leather edged with antiqued brass strips. Her heart skipped a beat. She could be wrong. Many students had similar trunks, typically found in department stores.

“Can we open it, Draco?”

“It isn’t mine.” He prodded it with his wand and the lid flipped open.

“It’s mine!“ Hermione exclaimed, looking at the clothes, books and toiletries stashed in it.

“Oh.” He leaned over the open trunk. “Lots of books in here.”

“But how did it get here?” Hermione was flabbergasted. “No one told me I had to move to the Slytherin House.”

“I guess it was implied. Snape’s work, I‘m sure.”

Hermione was more inclined to attribute the idea to the Headmaster, but she held her opinion back. The thought of the teachers covertly watching over them unsettled her again. It was very much like Dumbledore, who never seemed to disclose more than he believed necessary.

“I guess I’m expected to stay here.” Hermione looked at Draco who was now reclining on his bed. She would be sleeping in his bed for the whole break. The realization was titillating and abashing at the same time.

Draco rewarded Hermione with a big grin and instantly pulled her under his comforter. His bed was too cramped for the two of them. Draco cast an expansion charm on it but the bed agreed to widen by half a foot only. Hermione’s attempts did not bring any better results. Instead, Draco’s pillow grew five times its normal length and one end of it was now hanging off the edge. They laughed at the mishap, and soon fell asleep in each other‘s embrace, not bothering to shrink the pillow.

Hermione pondered which route to take in the maze of junk accumulated in the Room of Requirement. The huge, cathedral-size hall was crammed with heaps of dust-covered items. Alleys and passages weaved between them.

She was not able to sneak in here the day before. Although they did not have to help in the greenhouses on Sunday, she still spent almost all day in Draco‘s company. They missed breakfast because they took too much time showering together. Hermione remembered how he kissed and fondled her under the streams of warm water, his wet and darkened hair plastered to his forehead, and how they made love against the cool tile wall. A morning had never felt so good.

Today Sprout had asked Draco to help her in the greenhouses after the lunch, effectively releasing Hermione to do whatever she wanted.

Hermione slowly walked down a narrow alley to the left, her eyes skimming over dented boxes, tattered books, chipped bottles and other barely recognizable items in high piles. She stopped in front of something that looked like a heap of old robes and poked it with her wand. A small cloud of dust rose out of it. A garment on the top unfolded, revealing an old-fashioned lace collar. To judge by it, the rags were more than a hundred years old.

Hermione sighed. It would take her forever to inspect the thousands of items stashed in the Room. Besides, she did not want Draco to catch her at it. There was a possibility of his dropping in here after finishing his job in the greenhouses. She wished she had Harry’s Invisibility Cloak or, at least, the Marauders’ Map.

Hermione checked her watch: it was quarter to two in the afternoon. The library was closing in a little over an hour. Hermione resolved to go there and look at a few books, then try to come up with a plan for the Room of Requirement inspection. She turned and quickly exited the Room.

Except for Madam Pince, who was absorbed in re-cataloguing old issues of The Daily Prophet, no one was in the library. Hermione enjoyed the quiet and solitude as she leafed through several books. None of them seemed to have much information on Heorte Lustbaere. She opened the last book, Secrets and Mysteries of British Royalty.

“Wotcher, Hermione!” A soft voice sounded behind her, and Hermione turned her head.

Tonks took the seat next to Hermione. She looked hurried, and her limp hair was falling over her eyes.

Hermione was not sure if she was glad to see Tonks. Although it was reassuring that the Auror was assigned to watch over Draco and her, Hermione earnestly wished that Tonks would do it more covertly. Draco was very much annoyed by his cousin’s popping into view now and then.

Tonks glanced around, and seeing no one close by, leaned towards Hermione, who put her book down.

“You know, Draco might come at any minute,” Hermione warned her.

“Sprout won’t release him until three,” was Tonks’ confident response. She adjusted her elbow and knocked a book off the table. It landed on the floor with a loud ‘thud’. Startled, Tonks almost pushed another book off the edge but Hermione caught it in time. An indistinct hissing emanated from the corner where Madam Pince was stationed.

“Sorry I’m dead clumsy!” Tonks shouted in the direction of Madam Pince, then fished the book from under the table. She drew closer to Hermione and whispered, “Noticed any liquor bottles in Draco’s dorm? Like Firewhisky? Gift-wrapped?”

“Firewhisky? No,” Hermione whispered back. “I can’t open his trunk - it’s jinxed. Why Firewhisky?”

“We guess it‘s Firewhisky. Could be any other booze,” Tonks said quickly. “They questioned Rosmerta from the Three Broomsticks. Looked like she had an order to send a gift to Hogwarts.”

“A cursed drink?” Hermione’s heart sunk. “Send to whom?”

“Or poisoned. Rosmerta was all confused and babbling.”

“And who is the target?”

“Sorry, can’t tell you that.”

“Is Draco involved?” Hermione’s palms were cold and clammy.

“He’s under suspicion after the necklace episode.” Tonks sighed. “Rosmerta is kind of messed up. Possible Confundus Charm or worse.”

Hermione held her breath. The last thing she wanted was for Draco to get entangled in another assassination plot.

“Well, I saw him sneaking into the Room of Requirement.”

“The Room of Requirement?” Tonks perked up.

Hermione told her about her encounter in the piles of junk in the Room of Requirement and Draco’s eagerness to make her leave the Room.

“I’ll report it,” Tonks mused. “We’ll search it then.”

“It will take you a year to look through everything there,” Hermione said sardonically. “You can’t even imagine what it’s like.”

“We, the Aurors, have got our methods.” A smile crossed Tonks‘ pale face.

Hermione felt very much like telling Tonks to be more discreet about shadowing Draco and her, but held her tongue. Instead, she held up Secrets and Mysteries of British Royalty and said, “I’d like to go over to Madam Pince and check this book out.”

“Okay, have a good day.” Tonks rose and briskly walked off.

“You‘re working fast, Mr. Malfoy.” Sprout smiled, as she surveyed the enchanted miniature boxwood shrubs that Draco was pruning. “All right, you may leave when you’re done with them.”

Draco grinned back. The companion speeding-up charm had worked neatly with any task Sprout had assigned him. Teachers did not approve of the charm since it supposedly impaired the student’s concentration, but Draco pulled it off successfully while Sprout was busy in another greenhouse.

Soon the pots with globe-shaped boxwood plants were stashed on the side table. Draco deposited his dirty gloves and apron in a crate by the entrance. His watch showed half-past two. Hermione was most likely at the library.

The moment he stepped in the library, he glimpsed Tonks sitting next to Hermione in the gap between shelves. Again, his cousin was all over the place!

The next minute he surmised it could be to his advantage. He could drop in The Room of Requirement, while they were having their girl chat. He turned on his heels and left the library.

In the Room of Requirement, in front of the Vanishing Cabinet, Draco was jolted from his thoughts by his Galleon vibrating in his pocket.

“U coming home by xmas? DL mad like hell, I caught 5 kids ystrday, DL called me lazy louse.”

“No, got xtra important task here.” Draco was genuinely glad he didn’t have to hunt Muggle kids with Katz for the werewolf meeting and bear the brunt of the Dark Lord’s wrath.

“U must come. DL wants u ASAP. Gave hell ur aunt. She hides at Lestranges.”

“Am not coming. Snape cleared it w/DL. Stop bugging!”

Draco shoved the Galleon back in his pocket. Katz could whine all he wanted and try to get him to pick up some of his load, but Draco was no fool. He scrutinized the warped doors of the Cabinet. They did not close completely, leaving a half-inch gap at the bottom.

The last message from Katz worsened his anxieties a lot. If Auntie Bella was reduced to hiding at her husband’s, whom she barely noticed under normal circumstances, it was not good. He’d better hurry and try to get as much done on the Cabinet, as possible.

Draco checked his watch: it was already past three. He hoped Hermione would not want to investigate The Room of Requirement, but he couldn’t be sure of it. His girl was too inquisitive for her own good. The day before Draco had caught her staring thoughtfully at the wall hiding the Room when he came to meet her outside the Gryffindor Tower.

He needed to take a few precautions. A wave of his wand and incantation, and a thick coat of dust covered the Vanishing Cabinet together with the area around it. No one would be able to see that someone had been here recently.

At the exit, Draco turned and flicked his wand again. More dust settled on the floor in the passage he had just walked through.

Draco found Hermione cosy with a book in a big chair by the fireplace in the Slytherin Common Room. She greeted him with a smile, but it did not make Draco feel much better. The news from Katz overshadowed his mind like a black cloud.

“I can’t believe it,” Hermione spoke excitedly. “Here’s a chapter on Prince Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and it says Heorte Lustbaere was involved!”

“Involved in what?” Draco thought the Heorte Lustbaere thing was already getting old. “Can’t you give it a rest?”

“You must look at this,” Hermione searched for the chapter. “It’s such a mystery.”

“That he hooked up with someone who filched the potion? Not much of a puzzle to me.”

“Mrs. Simpson didn’t steal the potion at all. It’s weirder than that,” Hermione carried on. “The royal family was not happy that Prince Edward had affairs with married women. They found him a fiancée, but he wasn’t interested. So they arranged to feed both of them the lust potion secretly.”

“And the American woman got her hands on the potion first?”

“Not exactly! That’s the mystery,” objected Hermione. “Edward’s mistress, Lady Furness, got tired of her affair with him. She tried to set up the Prince with her American friend, Wallis Simpson. But Simpson dismissed Prince Edward. She was really abrasive with him.”

Draco plopped down in another chair, resigned to sit through Hermione‘s narrative. He stared into the flickering flames.

“And guess what? They had the potion cooked for Prince Edward and disguised in a Bordeaux bottle. But the fiancée candidate left for a vacation in Switzerland the same day, so the potion sat in a cupboard for several days. Then Lady Furness and Wallis Simpson visited Prince Edward, who ordered some wine. The butler served the bottle with Heorte Lustbaere by mistake. Edward and Wallis drank from their glasses first, and when Lady Furness drank from hers, she threw up because it was absolutely undrinkable!”

“Just like Pansy did when I tried to feed her the potion leftovers,” remarked Draco. “No mystery about it either.”

“No, not that.” Hermione persisted. “The mystery is that it sat in a cupboard for awhile. I’m sure many females passed by the cupboard then. But it had to be Wallis Simpson with her complete lack of regard for the British royalty to drink it!”

“You want to say that Heorte Lustbaere is a prank thing?”

“I don’t know. There are other cases when there was no overt animosity between the parties. It’s puzzling.”

“Give it a rest, Hermione. You’ll get a grand headache from thinking too much.”

“Another thing that bothers me,” continued Hermione,” is that they did not seem to recover from the potion effects.”

“Did they drink the antidote with Alban Eilirenne?” Draco asked a little hopefully.

“The book doesn’t say what remedy they used. Seems that they tried a couple of antidotes before King Edward VIII refused to drink any more potions and abdicated the throne.”

“Oh.” Draco would prefer to know for certain that the potion with Alban Eilirenne failed in someone’s case.

“It’s probable that they didn’t know about the Alban Eilirenne antidote. They fired the wizard who prepared Heorte Lustbaere instantly. Then, when Prince Edward’s affair became a scandal, they tried to hire the same wizard to fix the matter, but he was too offended to help.”

“Serves those Muggles right,” Draco said. “They ought to have more respect for wizards.”

“You don’t look happy,” Hermione wondered. “Something happened?”

“I’m hungry. It’s almost dinnertime.”

“Yes, we’ve got to go.” Hermione closed her book readily and walked to the exit.

Draco leafed mindlessly through her book, Secrets and Mysteries of British Royalty, for a few minutes, then departed for the Great Hall too.

After the dinner they lounged in the Slytherin Common Room playing wizard chess. Hermione lost four times in a row. Draco suspected she was preoccupied with the fate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. If she only knew what problems he was dealing with, he thought. Finally, they called it a day and retired to the dorm.

In bed, behind the closed curtains, Draco nuzzled Hermione’s cheek and nestled his face in the crook of her neck. Her skin was warm, with a milky scent. He wanted to sink into her and escape everything in the world.

Hermione’s fingers stroked his naked shoulders. She was so good. He would love her, caress her, take her welcoming body, and fall asleep, blissfully tranquil and relaxed, in her arms.

‘Crack’. A weight landed on their feet, and Hermione had a start.

“Get out of here, damn you!” Draco kicked the creature with his foot, hoping for him to disappear before Hermione lit up her wand.

Draco rolled out of the bed. Hermione tried to climb out, but he shoved her back under the covers. “Stay here and don’t move!” he hissed into her face, poking his head under the duvet.

Darfy, the scrawny house-elf, stood on the floor and squinted in the light from Draco’s wand. “Most honoured Bellatrix requests the young Master -”

“Shut up!” Draco yelled at him and glanced at his bed. The curtains seemed to be drawn shut but he couldn’t be sure in the dim light. “Go away, toerag!”

Darfy did not move. “Most honourable Bellatrix -”

‘Whack!’ Draco’s swift kick sent the house-elf, his bony limbs flailing, towards the dorm exit. “Go to the Common Room!”

Darfy scurried out the door. Draco pulled on his thick terry dressing robe and marched into the chilled-off Common Room. Flames burst out and warmth began spreading from the fireplace.

“Most honourable Bellatrix -,” Darfy droned again, “ - requests the young Master’s presence at the Manor now.”

“I’m not coming!” Draco raised his wand. “Tell Auntie if she sends a house-elf again, I’ll blast him into dust!”

“The young Master is not good. The young Master must obey most esteemed Bellatrix.” Darfy stepped closer to Draco and took him by his sleeve.

Protego! The spell threw the house-elf backwards on the hard floor.

“Don’t you try to Apparate me back to Manor, filthy scumbag,” Draco hissed. “Snape talked it over with the Dark Lord himself that I stay at the castle!”

“The Dark Lord is most displeased, most noble Bellatrix says.” Darfy scrambled back on his feet and gave Draco a reproaching look. “Most illustrious Bellatrix says the young Master must not shirk his duties.”

“Get out of here or I’ll blast you!” Draco jabbed the house-elf in his chest with his wand, and Darfy emitted a whimper of pain.

“Stop it, Draco!” Hermione’s voice screeched from behind Draco, and he whipped around. “Don’t hurt your house-elf!”

“Get out of here!” he shouted at her. “It’s none of your business!”

‘Crack!’ Draco turned his head, and his heart sank to the bottom of his stomach. Darfy was gone.

“Shit! Shit!” Draco advanced at Hermione who was glaring at him from under her mop of hair. Dark fury consumed him. “The stinker will report everyone at the Manor that you were in my bed!”

“You have no right to treat him like that!” Hermione was livid. “He’s only carrying the orders!”

“He’s the nastiest house-elf in the whole Manor!” Draco grabbed Hermione’s shoulders and shook her violently. “Do you understand what trouble we are both in?”

“It doesn’t mean you can treat him like dirt!” She pushed him away with all her force and darted into the dorm, the hem of her plaid dressing gown flapping around her ankles.

Draco bolted after her and found Hermione frantically pulling her robes out.

“I’m going to the Gryffindor Tower,” she declared.

“Not in the middle of night.” Draco swished his wand, and her clothes flew away and across the room. “Nobody knows who’s lurking around at night!”

“Excellent.” Hermione was breathing heavily. “I’ll go there in the morning. But now I’ll sleep in another bed.”

“Suit yourself,” was his curt response. He threw his dressing-gown aside, plunked on the bed and pulled his duvet over himself. His girl always was so damn stupid when it came to lousy house-elves, he fumed.

Hermione unrolled the mattress and duvet on the bed farthest from Draco’s. Blood was hammering in her temples. She set the pillow in place and glanced at Draco’s bed. His curtains were drawn shut. Not bothering to conjure bed sheets or take her dressing gown off, she curled up under the duvet. With a flick of her wand, she closed the curtains.

Hermione lay brooding in the dark. Draco, of course, was being his bigoted Pure-Blood self. No matter how much love he showed towards her, he would never have a slightest hint of respect for house-elves or other non-wizards. She shouldn’t expect anything better from him. Once they’re cured from the lust potion effects, he would gladly denounce her as a Mudblood. It made her want to cry. Stupid girl, she thought. She ought not to cry over a Death Eater, no matter how good he was in bed. He simply wasn’t worth it… Then she thought of Ron and Lavender, and it made her want to cry even more. No, it was not right… She had to be stronger than that and devote herself to the fight against the Dark Lord… She’d try to talk to Dumbledore in the morning… Gradually, Hermione’s thoughts slowed down, and sleep overtook her.

Screams of pain jolted Hermione out of her sleep. Her mind foggy, she reached with her hand and pulled the curtain away. “Stop… Stop it!”

Then she realized that it was Draco screaming in pain behind the curtains of his bed, not a house-elf. Hermione bolted out and tore his curtains apart.

Draco was thrashing about, his duvet thrown off to the side. Hermione made the lights come on in the room. He was gripping his left forearm as if it was hurting horribly. The ominously swollen, jet-black Dark Mark glared at her from his skin. Her heart sunk: Lord Voldemort was torturing Draco for his refusal to leave Hogwarts.

She hugged him, trying to recall spells that could help. Hermione cast an incantation that she had overheard from Madam Pomfrey, but it did not make any difference. His head was bumping in agony against Hermione’s shoulder, and she could see his sweaty hair plastered on his forehead. He was gasping for air, and all Hermione could do was to try to console him with soothing words.

“Draco, Draco, I’m here…” she whispered frantically, and pressed her lips against his feverish cheek. He gave a violent jerk, and Hermione stroked his other cheek helplessly. He did not seem to hear her, she thought in despair. Merlin, please, please help him…

Suddenly, his torso convulsed in her arms, and his forehead hit her on her lips painfully. A shriek escaped his mouth, and his body went limp. With horror, Hermione realized that Draco was unconscious. She panicked. She held him in her arms and patted his cheeks, trying to wake him up, but he was listless.

She did not know what to do. She probably ought to run and get Madam Pomfrey. But Hermione was afraid to leave Draco alone for long in case he would get tortured again. She didn’t even know if Pomfrey was in the castle.

She cautiously lowered Draco on the bed and inspected his left arm. The Dark Mark paled considerably and did not look swollen anymore. Hermione prayed it had stopped hurting him.

Aquamenti. Hermione poured water in a goblet on the bedside stand and wet Draco’s forehead. His head moved slightly and he moaned. Hermione kneeled beside him on the mattress.

“Do you want a drink?” She brought the goblet to his lips. “Are you hurting?”

“It’s you…” He shivered and his teeth clattered on the edge of the goblet. “It’s cold…”

Hermione promptly put the goblet back, lay by his side and pulled his duvet over them. His hands were clammy and cold. She put his palms against her abdomen under her dressing gown to warm them up. Draco buried his face in her bosom, and she stroked his hair until she realized that he was already fast asleep.

The clock on the bedside stand showed two in the morning. Hermione wiggled into a more comfortable position, not releasing Draco from her arms. With a wave of her wand she turned the lights off and closed the curtains. Too tired to think about anything, she drifted into a dreamless slumber.

Hermione woke up late that morning. As the memory of the previous night surfaced in her groggy mind, she anxiously studied Draco‘s face next to her. He was still asleep but seemed to be alive.

Realizing that it was close to lunchtime, Hermione slipped from under the duvet, trying not to disturb Draco and hurried to the showers. Draco muttered something unintelligible but did not wake up. Hermione made up her mind to talk to Dumbledore right after lunch.

To her disappointment, the Headmaster was not present in the Great Hall. Hermione piled sandwiches on a plate and took them to the Slytherin House.

When she entered the Common Room, Draco was already wide awake and lounging on a couch. Still in his dressing-gown, he looked haggard. With a pang in her heart, Hermione noted that the dark circles under his eyes became even more pronounced.

“Are you okay?” Hermione asked, setting the sandwiches on a side table. “Was it about the werewolf gathering on Christmas?”

“Yeah. They wanted me to return home.“ Draco sunk his teeth in a voluminous sandwich. His downcast appearance made Hermione feel guilty about the ruckus she had made the last night.

“I guess it‘s why you were so angry.” Hermione settled next to him, watching him eat. Draco swallowed the last of his sandwich, but did not answer. Instead, he tore into another sandwich like it was a mortal enemy.

They heard someone knocking at the entrance. Draco hesitated, then grumbled, “Come in!”

The door appeared in the wall and swung open, revealing Snape. He strolled in, holding under his arm a thick book with several parchments tucked in it.

Hermione tensed up. Snape’s somber expression did not promise anything good.

“Please report to my office in an hour to Portkey home, Mr. Malfoy,” the teacher said emotionlessly.

“Professor Snape -” Hermione started but Snape cut her short.

“You will Portkey home too, Miss Granger. You’ll receive the instructions later in the afternoon.”

“I don’t want to go home!” Draco jumped to his feet. “Leave us alone!”

“Your mother needs you home.” Snape glanced at Hermione and continued, “ She’s having guests at the Manor. If you wish her to stay in good health, you must hurry.”

Draco fell back in his chair. Hermione felt a chill creeping down her spine. Draco’s face was worse than pale. It was ashen.

“I trust I have made it clear enough for you.” Snape looked at them both, but received no answer. He turned and swept out of the room, leaving the couple in heavy silence.

When the door in the wall dissolved, Hermione gripped Draco’s hand.

“Who are the guests, Draco?”

Draco stared at her anxious face but said nothing. How could he explain it to her?

“Tell me, please,” Hermione begged. “Some Death Eaters who threaten to harm your Mum?”

“Worse.” Draco lowered his gaze at his half-eaten sandwich on the plate. “It‘s the Rat.“

“You mean You-Know-Who?”

Draco nodded, his stare still fixed on his sandwich.

Hermione searched his face, but he was motionless. Panic crept into her heart.Something had to be done about it!

“I hate, hate Snape!” she fisted her hands tightly. “We must find Dumbledore now - he will do something!”

“Don’t do it!” Draco snapped. “Dumbledore can’t do anything! He might not be even alive!”

“What do you mean, not alive?” Hermione whispered in horror.

Damn. Draco cursed himself for his slip-up.

“It’s a war out there. Anything is possible,” he explained quickly.

“He wasn’t at the Great Hall today,” Hermione muttered, a bad premonition rising inside her.

“He wasn’t?” Draco wondered if the Headmaster had already received the poisoned gift. After all, tomorrow was Christmas. If everything went according to the plan, it would help Mum and him in the eyes of the Dark Lord. Hope was still there.

“Yes, he was absent.” Hermione paused. “Should we have sex before you leave?”

“All right.” Draco rose and walked to the dorms. Silently, Hermione followed him.

In the dorm, Draco took his dressing gown off and sat down on his bed. Hermione pulled her sweater over her head.

“Wait. “ He hesitated, then confessed, “I can’t do it… I’m so - so drained.”

Hermione flung her arms around him. “Of course - you’ve suffered so - so badly.” She heaved a sob and muttered something else, but Draco barely heard her. He pressed his lips against her cheek, and sat still.

With his mind’s eye he saw the ominous spectre of Lord Voldemort. It was growing bigger and bigger, and it filled the whole room. His glowing red eyes stripped Draco of all of his willpower. Before the Dark Lord he was like a rabbit paralyzed with fear.

“Draco?” Hermione’s voice cut through his stupor. “You probably need a shower? And to pack your trunk?”

“Right.” He slowly rose and headed to the showers.

Hermione hugged herself, as her eyes followed his hunched figure. After a few minutes, she got up too and started putting books in her trunk.

When the trunks were ready and the last of the sandwiches gone, they sat in an embrace on a couch in the Common Room. Their bodies pressed tightly together, as if they were fearing that it could be their last contact.

“I’ll send you a note right after Christmas,” Draco whispered into Hermione’s hair.

After the horrific werewolf party is over. The thought made Hermione want to faint and never wake up.

“Please, please write me as soon as you can,” she whispered back anxiously. “We could meet in Diagon Alley.”

“Yes, yes.” His lips found her mouth and they joined in a desperate kiss.

She watched him look back and give her a quivering smile as he exited the room. In a second he was gone, and the door in the wall disappeared.

Hermione’s hands were shaking. She pressed her palms to her knees to steady them. Absentmindedly, she surveyed the room. Something that looked like a holiday card, lay on the floor close to the entrance.

She walked over and picked it up. It was a Christmas card with gold lettering on it. Joyeux Noel. It looked so Muggle, it was even ridiculous to find it in the Slytherin Common Room. Hermione opened the card:

Mon cher Severus…

The next few sentences were in French, which Hermione did not understand. The only thing she knew was that Joyeux Noel and Bonne Annee meant Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Then she read a few English phrases in a neat bead-like handwriting:

Jean-Pierre enjoys his first job after his studies at Beauxbatons. I reminded him of his British parentage, and he wrote a few words in English for you on this card.

Then the writer informed about the weather in Lyon and finished with the words,“Hope my English is not rusty (rouillé?) Is it correct?”

At the bottom, Hermione read, “Bien a vous P.E.”

She stared at the card in bewilderment. Apparently, it had fallen out of Snape’s book. But why a Muggle card?

Hermione turned the card over and read the untidy scrawl on the back:

Dear Uncle Severus,

My work at the Laboratory is good. I like to make potions. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Jean-Pierre Evans-Engrenier.

Hermione heard someone coming in and hid the card in her pocket, as she turned around. To her surprise, it was Tonks.

“Draco went home,” Hermione said, wondering what kind of business Tonks could have in the Slytherin House.

“I know. I brought your Portkey. We are leaving in an hour. Are you done packing?”

“Yes, I’ve packed my trunk.” Hermione returned to the couch. “Did you find the Firewhisky?”

“No. We searched the Room of Requirement all night. Nothing that could qualify as a holiday gift.” Tonks chuckled. “Dawlish was excited to find goblin wine someone had hidden there fifty years ago, I think. Unopened.”

“Draco said something about Dumbledore.”

“What did he say?” Tonks yawned and reclined next to Hermione on the couch.

“That the Headmaster might not be alive. He wasn’t in the Great Hall during lunch today.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve just had an owl from him about you and Draco.” Tonks yawned again. “I’m to cover you two. My advice for you: It‘s best to meet in Muggle London. Can you persuade Draco to wear Muggle clothes?”

“Could you be - er - less visible?” asked Hermione. “I don’t think Draco likes to see you so often.”

“Of course,” Tonks agreed readily. “But it would be more suspicious if he discovered me sneaking around. Besides, whoever would want to attack you, wouldn’t want any witnesses present.”

“You-Know-Who tortured Draco last night. Through his Dark Mark,” Hermione said gloomily.

Tonks listened keenly, as Hermione told her about the house-elf visit and the torture.

“Why does Draco stick with his Death Eater family so much?” Hermione asked in desperation. “He hates You-Know-Who!”

“He’s true to the Malfoy creed,” Tonks sighed. “They esteem family loyalty very highly. No bride would be accepted into the Malfoy family if she didn’t prove her devotion to the House.”

“How? You mean your aunt wouldn’t be able to marry Lucius if she wasn’t loyal to him?”

“It’s a part of the Malfoy House magical code. Their family is so small because they cannot have more than one child. They set up some protection to preserve the Malfoy line. Every time a woman marries into the Malfoy House, she must pass a magical test.”

“Oh.” Hermione did not know what to say. No wonder they picked Pansy with her blind devotion. Hermione had an unpleasant feeling of being stuck in something where she didn’t belong at all.

“Draco told me his mother had compromised herself with a Muggle,” Hermione asked cautiously.

Tonks chortled. “My Mum said that the Malfoys always knew what mattered, and what didn’t. Don‘t worry about Draco‘s affections for you, Hermione.”

“I’m not in love with Draco. It’s only that -” Hermione was about to mention the lust potion but halted. She wasn’t sure how much Dumbledore had divulged to Tonks. Heorte Lustbaere was such a criminal thing.

Again, she was trying to deceive everyone, including herself. Hermione knew she had been hopelessly screwed up. Her relationship with Draco was like an addiction, and, worse even, she fouled her job by exposing herself to the enemy‘s house-elf.

Tonks looked at her steadily, and Hermione discerned sadness in her eyes.

“Well, I’m not that good a spy,” Hermione added ruefully. “I should have tried to snoop in his bag or something, but today morning…”

“You are doing okay.” Tonks paused. “It’s hard to love an outsider.”

Hermione wondered if Tonks still mourned Sirius, but said nothing.

“Let me check the dorm. Just in case Draco left anything behind.” Tonks headed to the door. Hermione thought she heard tears in her voice.

Tonks emerged from the dorms in less than fifteen minutes. “All right, your trunk is already on its way to your place. Grab this Portkey, and off we go!”

Tonks held out an empty butterbeer bottle. Hermione placed her hand on it, and Tonks hugged her with her other arm. Hermione felt the familiar sensation of being pulled forward, and the Slytherin Common Room disappeared in an whirlpool of rainbow colours.

Author Notes:I do not speak French, and I looked up the French words online. Please forgive me if they do not make much sense. Here are the translations:

Mon cher - My dear

Rouille - rusty

Bien a vous - Yours sincerely

Also, here is some information on Prince Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor: