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Chapter 9: Gatherings The boys stayed quiet as they lined up outside of Lucius’ office. Each of them dressed in velvet black robes, they looked like miniature versions of their Death Eater parents. Everyone remained still, only occasionally glancing at one another from the corner of their eyes. Goyle was the only exception. He leaned forward and poked Crabbe in the ribs with his finger, causing the other boy to snicker. “That will be enough,” said the hooded man only a few feet away. He lifted his head, so he could better glare at the two boys now causing the disturbance. His eyes then stayed fixed on the culprit, his son. Draco glanced over his shoulder at Goyle. He shook his head as he wondered what could convince the other boy to conduct himself so poorly, especially in front of his father. Although Draco had suspected it from the very beginning, it had now become clear to him that Crabbe and Goyle’s presence at the meeting was only due to their fathers’ involvement with the Dark Lord. Other than himself, no one else had done anything that garnered them an interview with the Dark Lord, thought Draco. He then eyed each of the other boys, and compared their abilities with his own. Every one from Crabbe to Terry, the only sixth year in the group, looked nervous. However, Blaise wore a smug smile on his face. Finally, the office door creaked open and another hooded man motioned for Goyle’s father to escort the boys inside. As they shuffled into the room one by one, Mr. Goyle pulled his son aside and whispered something into his ear. As Draco entered the dark room, someone grabbed his hand and led him to his seat. The shuffling of feet continued for another moment, until the room grew quiet. Draco could hear Crabbe’s loud breathing coming from his right. He soon felt a finger jab into his side. Draco ignored the other boy’s actions and continued to sit with his hands folded in his lap. The waiting went on for a considerable time, until several lanterns began to illuminate the room. The boys soon realized they were facing a large throne, while the hooded Death Eaters formed a circle around them. Sitting atop of the throne was another hooded figure, but unlike the Death Eaters, his robes were thicker and covered every inch of his body, even his hands. All of the boys sat motionless, as their eyes fixed on the person in front of them. Draco felt a shark shiver run along his back when the hooded figure moved his head in his direction. Standing next to the throne was Lucius Malfoy. He did not wear a hood and was cloaked in his red robes. “You come to us young men,” Lucius began, “because you are the brightest and most committed candidates.” Draco smiled inwardly to himself. “Each one of you,” Lucius continued, “is here tonight because someone in this room has found you to be worthy. However, worthiness is not enough. We need someone who will make great sacrifices for our cause. Someone who is loyal and willing to give their life for Our Lord.” At that moment, the hooded figures in the room bowed their heads. The boys each hesitated for a moment, before doing the same. After giving the person on the throne a deep bow, as well, Lucius Malfoy straightened his body and continued to talk. “Each of you is a descendent of someone who is devoted to the cause. This alone should be a great honor.” Lucius brought his hand to his neck and lifted his collar. “However, some of you have proven to be ill-equipped to handle the great responsibility that will be forced upon you in the upcoming months. Immaturity is still not foreign to several of you.” His eyes rested shortly on several of the boys, who slumped down in their chairs. “Because of this, only one candidate will be chosen for this year.” Several of the boys began to look at one another; they had all assumed that most of them would be joining their fathers. The whispers continued amongst them until Lucius stated, “This person will be notified at a later date.” After a long pause, he waved his hand in the air and stated, “You are dismissed—“ “Excuse me, Sir,” said Blaise. He slowly got to his feet. “I know you have already chosen your candidate,” his gaze fluttered quickly towards Draco, “but might I plead for you to consider me alongside him? I think I deserve to be included, seeing that I’ve done so much for the cause already. I trust you received the letter detailing my activities?” Lucius slowly stroked his chin as he stared at a Death Eater standing at his right. “Zabini,” he said in a hushed voice, “is there a reason why your child is addressing me?” Before the other man could answer, Lucius added, “His impertinent behavior will not be tolerated in the future and I assume you will remind him of this when you get home.” “Yes, Sir,” said the hooded man. “My deepest apologies.” He then lowered his head. Lucius turned his attention back to Blaise, who remained standing despite the evident shaking in his legs. “I did receive the letter which you speak of. And let me assure you that sending threatening letters to Potter in school is of little interest to us. Your activities only illustrate your blatant childishness.” His stare continued to rest on the young man until he fell back onto his seat. “That is all, unless someone else has something they would like to say.” When everyone remained silent, Lucius dismissed them once more. ****************** Long after the men had apparated, the Slytherin boys gathered in the guesthouse and filled themselves on the crate of whiskey that had been delivered that morning. In the corner sat crates of other mood altering beverages for the following day’s festivities. Blaise sat away from the crowd, as he brought the pungent liquor to his lips, before slamming the goblet down on a nearby table. The noise caused all eyes to dart in his direction. He met everyone’s stare with his own deviant glare, before folding his arms across his chest and staring out of the window. Terry sat back in his armchair and placed his bare feet on an ottoman. He took a long sip of his drink, letting the fluid drip down his chin. An alcohol-induced smile spread on his relaxed face as he muttered, “Was I the only one who thought Mr. Malfoy was going to kill Blaise tonight?” The rest of the boys laughed and looked at Blaise, who was determined to keep his back to them. “Yeah, Blaise,” said Crabbe. “What were you thinking? Speaking up like that. And in front of Our Lord.” “But did you see the way he was shaking?” said Goyle. “I thought he was going to wet himself.” Goyle threw his head back and let out a loud laugh. He continued snickering until Blaise got up from his seat and stomped up the stairs. When the laughter had finally died down, Terry placed an unsteady hand on Draco’s shoulder and said, “We all know it’s going to be you. Your father’s Head of the Council, so it has to be you.” Draco remained silent, as his finger continued to trace along the rim of his wine glass. “Pretty soon,” continued Terry, “you’ll be joining Toby.” Admiring glances soon flittered to the older boy sitting in the chair near the fire. Toby finished drinking his whiskey and sat up in his seat. He had graduated the year before and was the only one of his class to be chosen. But the initiation process was still ongoing, and was proving to be a very painful ordeal. He rubbed his forearm as he tried to ease his pain. “You’ll be joining us soon Draco,” Toby said. “And this,” he pulled back the sleeve of his robes to show off the glistening and fresh tattoo, “will be yours too.” Terry absentmindedly reached forward and touched the sensitive skin. Toby pulled back his arm and swore at the youngster. “How did they do it to you?” ask Marcus, who had been in the corner, jealously eyeing the other man’s arm the entire night. “Did they take you out into the woods?” Toby placed his hands on his forehead and began to massage his now throbbing temples. “You know I’m under a charm and can’t talk about it,” he said as he squeezed his eyes in pain. “And the more you ask me about it, the more it hurts. Draco will just have to find out for himself.” “Don’t worry Marcus,” said Terry, “you’ll go through you own initiation soon.” He placed his hand against his cheek and declared, “Oh, I forgot. You weren’t chosen.” At this, the crowd lowered their heads and began to snicker. “Well, there’s always next year.” Terry buried his face in his hands as he continued to laugh. They all knew that there was never a ‘next year’ for those found to be unworthy. However, Terry’s amusement soon stopped when Marcus’ goblet hit the side of his face, spilling more alcohol on his already drenched shirt and causing the chuckling in the room to grow even louder. But the raucous stopped just as quickly when a creaking noise escaped from the chimney. Toby turned around and stared at the fireplace behind him. Crabbe got up from his seat and crept towards the other man. “I want to be the first one to see them,” he said in a loud voice. Soon, all in the room were leaning towards the fireplace, their eyes carefully watching the flames and waiting for them to turn a deep green. When no change occurred, they resumed their previous positions. “They should be here in about fifteen minutes,” Draco announced. “When they get here,” said Goyle, “I want to have the first pick. Last time, the only girls that were left where the ugly ones, and none of them wanted anything to do with me either.” “That’s because you have a face only a mongrel would love,” said Terry. Goyle got to his feet and proceeded to where Terry sat. The younger boy leapt from his seat and hid behind the piano. Draco reached for his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Will the two of you cut it out? Besides, this is not like one of Derrick’s parties. Every one of these women will be beautiful. Father has made sure of that. And considering the money he’s spending, I think you will find them to be very accommodating.” “In that case,” said Toby, “I would like to request the use of that corner room upstairs. I just hope Blaise isn’t in there, crying his eyes out.” He tilted his backwards and glanced up at the ceiling to where the guestroom was situated on the upper level. “And I will leave the master bedroom for the Lord of the manor,” he declared as he stood up and bowed deeply towards Draco. Draco only half smiled as he continued to stroke his chin. He reached for his glass of wine and twirled a finger in the liquid. Even after the entertainment had arrived – which caused Blaise to finally emerge from his hiding place - Draco remained in his chair. His mind was elsewhere, as he watched his finger become colored by the deep redness of his drink. ****************** Draco slowly opened his eyes. But even this simple act seemed too much of a labor, and he closed them once more. His hand drifted to his head, as the pounding intensified. Images from the previous afternoon and evening began to flash in his mind. All he could recall was loud laughter; people shoving goblets spilling with whiskey in his hands, and of course Pansy. How could he have gotten away from her, he asked himself. She had trailed his every move, and had even followed him into the laboratory. Draco opened his eyes and laughed as that memory came back to him. He attempted to sit up, but the hand on his chest pushed him back to the mattress. “Not so quickly,” said Pansy. “Or your head will hurt even more.” She lay on her stomach, while supporting herself on her elbows. “What were you laughing about just then?” she asked. “Nothing,” Draco muttered. He rested his head against the pillow and tightly closed his eyes, until the nauseating sensation in his stomach disappeared. “How did I get back here?” he asked, as he glanced around his bedroom. He last remembered stumbling out of the guesthouse to get away from the stifling noise and heat. “I walked back here with you.” Pansy moved closer to him. She placed her left hand on Draco’s stomach, as her fingers fiddled with the buttons on his shirt. “You said something about wanting to lie down for a bit.” Draco glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, before looking down at his own body; he was fully dressed. “You immediately passed out when we came in here,” said Pansy. Her voice was soft, but the disappointment could still be detected. “But that’s all right. We have the whole afternoon to ourselves.” “What time is it?” Draco asked. “A quarter past noon.” Draco sat up again on his elbows, before leaping out of his bed. “Has everyone left?” He threw back the heavy curtains and stared out towards the guesthouse. “I made it perfectly clear that I wanted everyone gone by noon, so the house-elves—“ “Don’t worry about it,” Pansy said. “I took care of everything. Everyone is long gone and the guesthouse is back to its gorgeous splendor.” “Then what are you still doing here?” When she did not immediately answer him, Draco glanced over his shoulder at her. Pansy was now sitting cross-legged on his bed, like she had done many times in the past. But her attention was not focused on him. Her gaze was lowered and she was looking down at her hand. Draco walked to his dresser to find clothes for that day. “Why are you still here?” he asked again. He was about to reach for a shirt when Pansy’s arms wrapped around his waist. “You know why I’m here,” she muttered into his ear. “I need to thank you. I would have done it last night, but you were having too much fun drinking.” She playfully slapped his back. “You really hurt my feelings when you said you weren’t going to get me anything for Christmas. But I stopped being angry the moment I saw it. This gift more than makes up for that little bit of cruelty.” Before Draco could ask what she was on about, Pansy lifted her left hand. Draco remained quiet and gazed at the diamond ring on her third finger. He recognized it immediately. He had seen it during a summer outing with his mother in Diagon Alley. While at the jewelry shop, his mother had tried to persuade him to purchase it for Pansy. But Draco had adamantly declined; getting Pansy such a present would have implied their relationship had reached an advanced stage. Plus, he wanted to use his money for selfish pursuits. “I love it,” Pansy said. She then kissed his ear. “When did you get that?” Draco asked, when he finally turned around. “It arrived two days ago. I knew exactly what it was when I spotted the box. Jeannie Maddox’s beau also bought her a ring there. But this,” she lowered her head to examine the gift, “is much grander. Her diamond is almost nonexistent.” Pansy wandered to the window to watch her ring glimmer in the sunlight. “I can’t wait for her to see it. She’ll be so jealous.” “How many people have seen it?” asked Draco. Pansy continued to stare at her finger, whilst smiling to herself. “Are you listening to me?” Draco barked. When she finally turned to look at him, he repeated the question. “Well, my mother saw it. She was with me when it arrived. And…” She began to tap her finger on her chin. “Everyone at the party saw it. But it was only because the ring is hard to ignore. It wasn’t like I was trying to draw any attention to it.” Draco turned around and placed his hands on top of his dresser. Lowering his head, he closed his eyes. “Why must everyone meddle in my affairs,” he muttered to himself. During the past year, outside forces had become more involved in trying to preserve his relationship with Pansy. “What did you say?” Pansy asked. She placed a hand on his back. “You’re not angry with me for wearing it in public are you?” When Draco continued to remain silent, she added, “I know I should have waited until you had spoken with my father, but I just couldn’t—“ “Spoken to your father about what?” “Well…you know. I know it’s not an accident that it fits my ring finger perfectly. We both know it’s a precursor to—“ “No, it’s not,” snapped Draco, as he pounded his fist down on the dresser. He whirled around and grabbed Pansy’s wrist. “And what makes you think that’s what I want?” But before she could answer, he said, “The ring was an accident. You never should have received it. But now that you have, consider it a very expensive present and nothing more.” He pushed her hand away and walked to the window. “You don’t have to pretend with me,” said Pansy. “I know that this was not an accident. It’s only natural. After all, we’ve been together for a long time. Our families have been friends for ages and our backgrounds are the same. So of course it’s expected.” She was quiet for a moment, as she traced her finger along the diamond for the umpteenth time. When she spoke again, her voice was more subdued. “I know we’re both young, but things are gonna change dramatically for us in the next year. You’ll be getting your own estate soon and…” “So what? Does that mean I have to get a wife to help me run it? That’s what house-elves are for. Anyway, I don’t need anyone telling me how I should live my life.” “Well, I guess next year will be tough for you,” stated Pansy. “Because I don’t think you’ll have much say in what happens in your life then. I’m not stupid. I know about the meeting two nights ago. You’re going to be chosen. And once you are, we all know who’s going to dictate how you live your life. So, I suggest you get used to—” Draco swiftly grabbed Pansy’s arm. “Don’t you think I know what’s going to happen?” he shouted. “I’ve had this in my head for month’s now. And now, you have the nerve to rub it in my face?” “I’m sorr—“ “I don’t want to hear it.” Draco pursed his lips as he glared down at her. But the anger that once consumed him disappeared; he was left feeling fatigued. He let go of her arm and went back to his windowsill. “Leave me alone,” he muttered in a low voice. “My headache’s coming back.” ****************** Showered and changed, Draco went to the guesthouse. He propped himself down in his usual chair, facing the fireplace. He lifted a catalog for a furniture store from the coffee table and began to browse through its pages. He was busy looking at an advertisement for a rug when a bright green flash illuminated the room. He thumbed through several more pages before glancing up. Hermione was standing in the fireplace with her head lowered, as she brushed ash from her clothing. Draco got to his feet and approached her. Hermione ceased her activity and looked up at him. They continued to stare at one another in silence. Such a union would have forced other couples to engage in a passionate embrace, but neither partner moved towards the other. The awkwardness was finally broken when Draco touched the side of Hermione’s face. “You have ash on your cheek,” he said. He kept his fingers on her face long after the smudge had been removed from her skin. “I’m surprised you’re here.” “Well, it definitely took a lot of talking on my part to get here. But luckily, we have a lot of guests over the house, so my parents aren’t lacking for any company. Plus, I told them that I would be visiting—“ She cleared her throat just then, and pushed her hair behind her ear. “I told them I was going over to a friend’s place.” Draco remained quiet, even though he noticed the blunder. He merely took her hand and helped her step down from the brick hearth. Unfortunately, Hermione’s foot caught on the fire poker and she stumbled; but Draco caught her before she fell. He should have let her go after a few seconds, but he kept his arms wrapped around her. “Are you okay?” he asked in a soft voice. Hermione didn’t answer and continued to gaze up at him. “That’s a pretty stupid thing for me do,” she finally said. “I’m not usually that clumsy.” She managed to force a laugh. “Don’t worry about it. It could happen to anyone.” He then lowered his head and kissed her. That embrace was the remedy both partners needed to break the uneasiness of Hermione venturing to his home for the first time. When they pulled apart, they were more at ease with one another. Her hand still entangled with his, Hermione began to look around the room. “Is this the main house?” “No, it’s the guesthouse. I just thought it would be more appropriate to meet here first. The manor can be intimidating.” A sly smile curled onto his lips. Although his answer was partly true, he kept the main reason - that the fireplaces in the manor were not safe - to himself. Draco took her to every room of the house, all the while telling her stories of the family friends and relatives who had slept there in the past. However, his chatter ceased when they went outside. He did not say a word while he led her down the cobblestone path that meandered towards the manor, and allowed her to enjoy the splendor of the snow drenched landscape in silence. “That’s the main house,” he uttered, when they had passed the large trees and now had a clear view of the manor. Hermione stopped walking and tilted her head up to the skies as she stared at the building in front of her. “I used to play up there when I was younger,” Draco said as he pointed to the uppermost tower, where Hermione’s gaze was fixed. “Of course the manor looks more spectacular from the front entrance, but this will have to do.” As they continued towards the veranda stairs, Draco noticed that Hermione’s steps had slowed down considerably. She then stopped walking altogether. Draco leaned close to her ear and whispered, “Don’t worry, no one’s home. And their house-elves went with them.” He waited a moment, before pulling on her arm once more; she walked more willingly with him then. Although she carried a look of doom with her as they approached the glass doors, that expression soon changed when she stepped into the manor. Draco leaned against the wall and watched her. “It’s not what you thought, is it?” he asked. Hermione shook her head. And, so the tour began. Draco made sure to point out expensive artifacts and heirlooms that had been in the family for centuries. “I’ll inherit this one soon,” he said as he ran his fingers across a light blue vase. The sunroom would have caught Hermione’s eye, but the entrance to that side of the house was sealed. However, all was not lost. Walking down the winding hallway that was still adorned with holiday decorations, Draco brought Hermione to the library. A cloud of dust lifted to the ceiling when he opened the wooden door. But that and the smell of mold could not keep Hermione from quickly leaving his side to explore the shelves of books. “Is this what I think it is?” she asked, as she reached for book on a shelf just above her head. When Draco nodded, she proclaimed, “I can’t believe you have this. The one at school is missing several hundred pages because they thought the political nature would offend some students.” Just then, the front cover fell apart in her hands. “Careful,” said Draco. “It’s the original.” They spent the rest of the day in that room. Draco placed a blanket on the hardwood floor, so Hermione could sit. It was also atop that blanket that they enjoyed their dinner. Of course, the meal would have tasted a lot better if eaten in the upstairs dining room that overlooked the pond, like he had planned; but sitting alongside her on the floor pleased him just as well. And now, he sat in the leather armchair, watching as she lay on her stomach, thumbing through another book. Draco felt down the side of his robe and fingered the box in his pocket. He watched her for another moment, before getting out of his chair and sitting beside her. He placed a hand on the center of her back and moved his fingers upward until they rested on the back of her neck. “I have something for you,” he said. Hermione pushed the open book out of the way and sat up. Draco took her hand and placed the box in her palm. “I didn’t know we would be exchanging gifts,” she said. “I would have gotten you something in return.” “It doesn’t matter. Plus, it’s nothing much.” Hermione unwrapped her gift. She stared down at the necklace in her hand for several moments, before saying, “It’s beautiful.” She touched the round pendant and fingered the writing etched along the center. “I don’t know what the writing means,” said Draco. “But it’s supposed to bring the bearer good luck.” He took the necklace out of her hands and clasped it around her neck. Seeing that they were now in such close proximity, he leaned in and kissed her. He then proceeded to kiss her neck. She was again wearing the perfume he had become accustomed to smelling, and he buried his face into the crook of her neck, savoring the scent and taste of her skin. His mouth moved to her ear and he whispered, “Will your parents be alarmed if you don’t come home tonight.” Hermione didn’t answer him immediately and continued to stroke his back. “No,” she finally said. A smile curled onto Draco’s lips. He then gave her neck another long kiss. He placed his left hand along her collarbone, and let it wander downward to her bosom. His fingers worked fast to unfasten the buttons on her shirt, revealing the black bra underneath. But that garment did not stay on for long and eventually found a resting place on the floor. He ran his hand slowly across her hot skin and explored that soft and malleable flesh, which he had long desired, but never before had the opportunity to touch. He could feel the drumming beat of her heart underneath his fingertips. Draco bent his head forward and savored a taste, causing her to arch her back. But just as he was about to leave another wet trail along her skin, he glanced up at her; she was gazing down at him through half closed lids. Draco looked down at her bare chest once more. He pulled away. Getting up to his feet, Draco went back to his chair. He stared at Hermione from the corner of his eyes, before placing his elbow on the arm of the chair and resting his head in his hand. “It’s getting late,” he said. “Perhaps you might want to get some sleep.” After a long pause, he added, “I’m sure you’ll find everything you need in the guesthouse.” Hermione suddenly grew ashamed of her nakedness and crossed her arms over her chest. She turned her back to him while she put on her bra and buttoned her shirt. She was brushing her hair away from her face, when a bell sounded behind her. “Escort her to the guesthouse,” Draco said. His voice was very forceful and commanding. When Hermione glanced at the door, she realized that he was addressing a house-elf. “And do make sure she is comfortable.” Hermione got to her feet and stared at Draco. “Can I bring a book with me?” she asked. Draco casually flicked his wrist, as though he was granting permission to one of the servants. Hermione gathered the book near her feet and placed it under her arm. She took a step towards Draco but stopped. After an extended silence, she mumbled, “Goodnight,” and followed the house-elf out of the room. Draco closed his eyes and slouched in his chair. ****************** After several unsuccessful attempts that night to induce sleep, Draco rolled onto his side and stared into the darkness of his room. He climbed out of bed and paced in front of his windows. He was about to go back to bed, when the light from the guesthouse grabbed his attention. Draco immediately went to his closet, and draped a fur coat over his bare torso, before making the chilly trip outdoors. After a fast sprint, he soon realized that his excitement was all for nothing, when he walked into the dark house. After leaning against the staircase for a minute, he finally decided that Hermione had gone to bed. But as he reached for the door, he heard footsteps overhead. When Draco reached the second floor landing, he saw a flicker of light coming from the partly open door of the master bedroom. He walked to the entrance to the room and peeked through the gap. He searched the room for Hermione, until she finally came into full view. With her back to him, she faced the bed, where a nightgown lay. A towel was wrapped around her torso. But that soon fell to the floor. Draco allowed his eyes to roam over every inch of exposed skin. His gaze traveled downward from her back, as he took in the curves of her hips, and the roundness of her buttocks. But her undergarments and finally nightgown eventually obscured his view. When Hermione approached her door to close it, Draco took several steps back and hid in the darkness of the hall. He waited several minutes, before going to her door once more; but this time, he knocked. “Did I wake you?” he asked when she answered the door. Hermione shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep tonight,” he continued. “And seeing that your light was on, I just wanted to see how you were doing.” “I’m fine,” she said. “I was just reading in bed.” Draco tried to detect any emotions that would tell him otherwise, but she sounded content. “The room is so big,” she went. “And there’s a lot of women’s clothes in here.” She furrowed her brows and added, “All in my size, now that I think of it.” She went to the nightstand and opened the first drawer, revealing several panties. “It’s the house-elves,” said Draco. “It’s their duty to make sure that all guest have everything they need for their stay.” He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Hermione sat on the bed and brought her knees to her chest Draco leaned against the curio cabinet opposite the canopy bed, highly aware that Hermione was watching his every movement. He tapped his foot on the floor several times, before nonchalantly saying, “You mentioned before that you told your parents you were going to a friend’s house, right?” “Yes.” “This ‘friend’ wouldn’t happen to be Weasley, would it?” He kept the tone of his voice even when he uttered the other boy’s name. Seeing that Hermione was still pondering the question – or rather, his reason for asking it – Draco added, “Did you ever date him? Are you dating him now?” “No,” Hermione answered. “Which part of the question are you answering? The first or the second part?” Hermione opened her mouth, but instead of answering, she asked, “Why are you asking me this?” “Just curious.” He then immediately added, “What about Potter, did you ever sleep with him? Everyone at school is under the impression that you have. You are envied by most of the female population, you know.” “No, I did not sleep with Harry,” Hermione shout. She was now sitting erect, and the look of content had disappeared from her face. “What about you? Aren’t you dating Pansy?” She was about to include a certain Ravenclaw’s name in the equation, but thought it would not be wise. Draco showed no reaction to the inquiry and stated matter-of-factly, “We’ve been together in the past. But as of right now, no.” Hermione crossed her arms against her chest and huffed loudly. “Oh really? From the way she talks about you in school, one would think you guys were getting married.” A smile now creased onto Draco’s lips. “Well, she’s delusional.” But this statement and the casual matter in which he was treating the situation did nothing to persuade Hermione; she was now glaring at him. “Listen,” he began again, “Pansy likes to do a lot of talking. She’s hoping that I’ll get back together with her. But that will never happen. Whatever she and I had is over. Plus, I’m interested in someone else.” The look on Hermione’s face softened enough for Draco to tell that she was intrigued by what he had to say. “This girl I’m interested in,” he said, “unnerves me sometimes. She’s headstrong, suspicious of everyone around her, and answers questions with more questions. But she’s my equal in so many ways. And that she’s attractive doesn’t hurt either.” Hermione tried to hide her smile, but even she was incapable of that feat. “Come over here and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.” She didn’t start talking immediately and spend a considerable amount of time adjusting her nightgown; it almost became an art form, as she deliberately ensured that the silky material covered every inch of her legs. “Ron and I did date,” she finally said. “If that’s what you want to call it. But nothing much came from it. All we did was fight.” Draco rested his head against the headboard and listened to Hermione discuss the differences in personality that caused her and Ron to end their fling. “Did you sleep with him?” he asked. Hermione shook her head. “No. We never got that far.” She then glanced away. Although her head was turned, Draco could see that her cheeks had now become pink. He waited until her embarrassment had finally faded and she was looking at him once more before he began to talk about Pansy. “We’ve known each other since we were children, but we didn’t start dating until our fourth year. But back then, we used to break up every other week.” He leaned back against one of the larger pillows and stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t think we should have slept with one another that year,” he said. His voice was very low and caused Hermione to scoot towards him. “Neither one of us was ready for the ramifications. She became too needy and possessive, and I couldn’t handle it. I broke up with her that summer.” The hours passed by quickly as they lay side by side, sharing their thoughts with one another. Although their voices were now hoarse and they each yawned periodically, neither one wanted to sleep. Hermione draped an arm around Draco’s waist. “Why did you kick me out of the library?” she asked. “I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want us to do anything that we would regret. Especially on the floor.” Draco continued to stare into her eyes, waiting for her to respond; but she said nothing. He lifted his hand and touched the side of her face. He continued stroking her skin for several moments, until he felt her arm tighten around his waist. He then kissed her. Draco slid his hand under the covers. There, his exploration began. His fingers slid effortlessly along her body, as they glided on top of the nightgown. Soon, there was no barrier between him and her skin. He then continued what he had started in the library by leaving more wet trails on her body. Although that night had been long awaited, he never hurried. He closed his eyes and relished the sensation of her body moving against his. ****************** Draco hummed to himself, as he surveyed the breakfast tray that was left by the house-elves. Being that Hermione was new to their home, the servants had no knowledge of her tastes. Thus the tray was assembled with foods that past female visitors had enjoyed. Draco found the situation humorous and smiled to himself. He lifted the tray and carried it into the living room, when a flood of cold air hit his chest. He glanced up to see Pansy standing by the door. “You really need to do something about those house-elves,” she began as she dusted the snow from her jacket. “They’ve become so disobedient. They wouldn’t tell me where you were. I surely hope you’re not thinking about bringing them to your new house.” Draco placed the tray on a nearby table and crossed his arms. “They are obedient. I told them I did not want any disturbances and they honored my wishes. Which is more than I can say for you. Didn’t I tell you yesterday that I wanted to be alone?” Pansy approached him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. The anger in her voice disappeared and she adopted a syrupy sweet tone. “I know what you said, but I just had to see you. I don’t like leaving things unresolved between us. And you might not like this, but you and I need to think about what’s best for the future.” Her hand dropped and glided down his smooth chest. “We are not childre—“ She stopped talking when she caught a glimpse of the tray from the corner of her eyes. “Blueberry muffins?” she said, leaning towards the tray. “Now, they should know by now that I don’t like those. I’ve stayed here enough for them to figure that out.” She grew quiet as she continued to stare at the tray. Her gaze drifted to Draco. She eyed him up and down. Her eyes then flickered from him, to the tray and then the stairs. She walked to the bottom of the staircase and listened for any movements from above. Draco watched her in silence. But his passivity stopped when he grabbed her arm to prevent her from walking up the stairs. Pansy pulled away from his grasp. She reached for the ring she still wore on her left hand and twirled it around her finger. For a slight moment, Draco thought she was going to throw it across the room. But he soon realized that she would never desecrate such a fine gift. She merely stared at him, before reaching for her coat. Throwing him a final glare from over her shoulder, she stomped out the door. Remaining unfazed, Draco lifted the tray and continued up the stairs.

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