Annnd we're back! Took a while I know, but with work, school, and a flare-up of my chronic illness, I wasn't really feeling the "muse" so to speak. Hopefully this chapter will make it up to you guys!

Random Reader, I've been considering commenting on this myself, so I'm glad you brought it up. I know Kreacher came around to the good side in canon, but honestly? I didn't like it. It's like, okay so Harry gave Kreacher a locket and treated him with basic human decency and Kreacher could suddenly overcome years and years of prejudice? So much so that he rallied other house-elves to fight Voldemort for him? I didn't buy it. It felt like J.K. trying to tie things in a neat bow that didn't necessarily fit. So I'm ignoring it, and a mean Kreacher is more fun to write anyways.


"SEX AS A COPING MECHANISM
SEX AS A PERFORMANCE
SEX AS SELF HARM
SEX AS DELUSION
MY FEAR OF SEX CAN BE ASSIGNED TO
MY VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION IN THE
DELUSION OF MY OWN PLEASURE
FORGING SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T COME NATURALLY
EMBODYING A PERFORMANCE
PERFORMING AN EXPERIENCE
BECOMING A FORM OF SELF HARM."

-Cheyenne Sophia


Harry stared into the black pool of his coffee, waiting for the zing of caffeine to expunge the weariness from his head. He was trying to decide what terrible thing he should discover first on this fine, drizzly, depressing morning.

He could sit Pansy down, painfully and laboriously extract all the information he could from her before she snottily returned to her room, muttering bollocks about 'leverage.' Not a great way to start the day, in his opinion.

Or he could go directly to Kingsley, now, right now, demand answers to questions he did not yet have.

But what could he ask him, really?

"Kingsley, come on, man. I can tell something's off. A thing. Some thing. Tell me about the thing?"

"Kingsley, I demand that you tell me all of your secrets. Yeah, just...all of them? If you've got the time? I'm not sure which, exactly."

"Kingsley, I'm shagging my best friend who's engaged to my other best friend while I neglect my girlfriend who maybe isn't my girlfriend anymore and it's throwing me into a depressive state of self-loathing but I can't seem to stop myself, most likely due to a deepening need to self-sabotage that probably stems from one of the many mucked up aspects of my life. It might also be fueling my paranoia that you are manipulating me as a pawn of some larger plot that will soon unveil itself in the most horrible way possible. So...thoughts?"

He was still scowling when he heard the sound of someone Apparating at his doorway.

Harry was about to call out Hermione's name in question, but fortunately for him, Ron stepped into his kitchen before the incriminating word left his throat.

"Ugh," groaned Ron, rubbing his eyes. "Why does being an Auror mean getting up so early? I'm knackered. Got any coffee?"

Harry didn't meet his eyes, uncomfortable from the memory of watching Ron cry the night before. "Yeah, here, let me — "

Ron yawned and waved him off. "I got it, I got it."

Harry focused on his own mug as he listened to Ron prepare his. There was an awkward tension in the air. He realized he should probably have some sort of emotional heart to heart with his friend, and cringed at the prospect.

"Uh, Ron, so...how are you — "

"Look, Harry," Ron said as he sat across from him, "I'm sorry about last night. Total accident. Won't happen again." He took a grateful sip of his coffee. "I didn't do anything too bad, did I?"

Harry tried to keep his face ambiguous. "Nah, not too bad."

Ron sighed. "Hermione's well put out. I mean, I know she's in the right, but…" he rubbed his eyes again. "I don't know. It's just hard to hear sometimes. It's so constant."

Harry didn't reply to that. He had no interest in talking to Ron about Hermione or her nagging.

But still, he had to ask, he would be a right wanker not to ask: "Ron, um, just," Harry leaned forward and tried to look concerned without pitying. The result was a squish of his mouth and eyebrows while he partially rolled his eyes; which really didn't work out well at all since Ron suddenly looked like he was worried Harry might be having a stroke. "Are you...okay? Is there anything...you need to talk about, or, anything bothering you?"

His friend twitched, and then plied a smile to his face. "I'm fine. I'm great. Come on, mate. You know me. I'm always good." He puffed out his chest a little as if to prove it.

Harry nodded as if he bought it, but dropped the subject. "Right. Good. So, are you just here for free coffee, or…?"

"Coffee's a bit of a generous word for this piss, but no. Kingsley sent me. Said I ought to come get you and head off to his office straight away. Wouldn't tell me why, though," Ron answered.

Harry crossed his arms. "Yeah, he's been doing a lot of that lately."

Ron gestured to the windows. "Reckon it's got something to do with those reporters out your door?"

Harry's mouth pursed to the side as he watched the small group of stragglers milling about, quills in hand, desperate for the report that may make their career. Their devotion to their obnoxious occupation was certainly annoying, but they didn't seem particularly menacing.

"I don't know. I think...I think there might be something — "

Before Harry could fully voice his concerns, Pansy entered the room. Ron visibly stiffened at the sight of her, and Harry turned to see her smirking at his reaction, dressed in only knickers and one of Harry's shirts.

"Ooh, lookey here, it's the Weasel. Merlin, every day is a Hogwarts reunion with you people, isn't it?" she quipped as she crossed the kitchen.

"Have you been nicking my things?" asked Harry, angry at the idea of Pansy rifling through his clothes.

"Oh, I didn't think you'd mind," she said airily, looking slightly irritated that she had to pour herself coffee without magic.

A sudden look of horror crossed Ron's features as he took in the scene. "Did...did you and her…?"

It took Harry a second to realize what he was talking about, and then felt extremely appalled at the accusation, although he really shouldn't have been. It wasn't as if he had that strong of moral character when it came to sex.

Oh no, no, no, I'm only shagging your girlfriend, no one else, don't worry!

"No, God, no," he assured, and then heard Pansy make a retching noise behind him.

"I'd sooner ram a hot poker up myself than go anywhere near that thing." She pointed to Harry's crotch. "Who knows where it's been."

Harry's jaw set, worried she would take this conversation somewhere he didn't want it going. "Lovely imagery there, Parkinson."

"Forgot how charming she was," Ron said dryly, although he looked relieved.

"Yeah, every day's more fun than the last."

Pansy flipped her hair and sneered. "Oh, please boys, not all at once." She descended upon the table and scraped her chair back across the floor loudly and slowly, watching Ron wince at the grating noise. Skrrrrrrrrreeeech.

She sat down as if she belonged there, with unearned confidence. "Trust me Potter, it's not like I wanted to take your cheap, distasteful rags that you call clothing. But funnily enough, before the Ministry whisks you and your family away as assumed Dark Wizards, you don't get to pack up all your jim-jams."

Harry scoffed. "My condolences. Come on, let's just go," he said to Ron, not at all enthused about having a group chat, and Ron heaved himself to his feet with some difficulty.

Despite the gnawing sense of feeling babysat, Harry was eager for a meeting with Kingsley.

"All right," Ron replied, groaning to his feet. "See ya later, Pug-Face."

Pansy snarled, and then smiled.

"Oh, but we haven't even caught up yet!" she simpered, sauntering up to Ron. "How's life, then? Still living in a shoe with the rest of the Weasley brood? Well..." her smile slanted into a smirk, "At least now you have one extra space."

Harry blinked and Ron had pinned Pansy against the wall, his wand pointed at her neck.

"Don't," he thundered, his face twisted. "Don't ever say that again."

She swallowed hard, her eyes on his wand, wide in panic. They flickered to Harry's for just a moment and then returned, as if about to ask for his help and then thinking better of it. Harry had never seen her look so small.

It was just the tiniest bit satisfying.

Harry put his hand on Ron's shoulder, pulled back a bit. "Leave it. She's pathetic."

Ron remained where he was, his wand arm flexed so tightly it shook. His fingers dug into Pansy's shoulder for another moment, and then he finally stepped away from her with a grunt of disgust. Pansy trembled and then coughed out a laugh, her eyes shining with frightened tears.

"Dramatic much? Learn to take a joke," she sniffed, but couldn't seem to quite catch her breath.

"Apologize to him," ordered Harry, letting a hint of a threat play at his tone even though he knew he'd feel guilty about it later. But, whatever. She deserved it. "Now."

A vein in her neck twitched as she fought down her natural instinct to say something nasty.

She turned to Ron, spoke to him through clenched teeth. "I'm sorry, Weasley. I shouldn't have been so insensitive."

She glared at Harry. "Now if my jailer sees fit, I would like to return to my quarters."

Harry rolled his eyes. He worried that she would soon cause him some kind of cornea damage if he kept up this amount of eye rolling. "Go on, then."

She threw him another vicious look and then turned on her heel to leave the room.

Harry faced Ron, his hand still on his shoulder, worried that he'd be having a fit of some kind. His face was indeed still cherry red, the blood vessels popping in distress, but mostly, he looked puzzled.

"She apologized to me," he stated, monotone.

"Uh, yeah, only 'cause I told her to."

That seemed to confuse him more. "Parkinson's never apologized to anyone. Why would she do what you told her to?"

Harry shrugged, his mind already elsewhere, itching to go see Kingsley. "I told her if she didn't, you know, fall in line or whatever, I'd kick her out and take back my donation. So are you ready to go, or?"

Harry started turning but Ron stopped him, looking conflicted and, if Harry didn't know better, disappointed. "You said that to her?"

"Yeah...?"

Ron shifted his weight, uncomfortable. "Don't you think that's a bit dark, mate?"

Harry had never seen Ron look at him this way before. It was unsettling. "I didn't mean it. Obviously I wouldn't do that. And, what, I'm dark? You literally just drew your wand at her!"

Ron looked down, but Harry still caught that flicker of shame meant to be directed at him. "Well, I couldn't let her talk about Fred like that, could I? Look, I can't stand her either but, I'd never threaten to let her be...I mean, Merlin, Harry."

Unable to bear the look in his friend's eyes, Harry turned and Disapparated, feeling sick. If even Ron felt like Harry was being indecent, what did that say about the state of his moral compass?

He wondered if it had gone wonky after the first time he touched Hermione.


Harry stalked to Kingsley's office with purpose; that awful, familiar sensation in his gut persisting that something was being hidden from him.

That's what his life has taught him, hasn't it? No matter how bad things may seem, they can always get worse. And he could never leave it alone. He would always pick at that festering scab until his own blood spilt, both literally and metaphorically.

The door swung open easily, and a frazzled Kingsley looked up from his paperwork, appearing not even slightly surprised to see Harry's troubled face.

"Harry, good, you're here. I apologize if you felt as if I were 'fetching' you by sending Ron to accompany you, I merely did not wish to take any chances that you would not come immediately."

Harry's eyebrows pulled together, taking in the state of the Minister and his office. At first glance, everything seemed fine; there were no alarms blaring, no red-taped documents littering the floor, Kingsley was not beating his fists to his desk in a rage. But Harry knew Kingsley, knew that something was wrong by the way just a couple of half-eaten foodstuffs hadn't been vanished away, by the way his mouth turned down lazily at the corners as if he had not slept in a while, by the way his hands were restless and finicky.

"Why wouldn't I come?" Harry asked, challenging, slow.

Kingsley's dark eyes flashed to his for a moment and then went back to surveying the floating quill beside him that was scrawling frantically on parchment.

"Who knows? If you were feeling ill, overslept, perhaps found yourself drawn away by something else...there are endless possibilities on the subject."

With a wave of his hand he stopped the quill. It screeched to a halt and fell limply to his desk, allowing Kingsley to give his full attention to Harry.

"But since you are here, we do have some things to discuss."

Harry felt his pulse quicken at the prospect of new knowledge, a whisper of adrenaline.

"Like Voldemort's supporters regrouping?" he said hotly.

Kingsley became infuriatingly calm, apparently glad that Harry was following some script that Harry did not know he was following. "Yes, I was rather hoping Ron would fill you in on that. There have been such organizations discovered in Russia, China, France...enough places to have us feeling uncomfortable. There are rumors of them here, as well. We have Aurors looking into it, but the English groups have proved very discrete."

"And why didn't you just tell me about them yourself?"

Kingsley leaned back and chuckled once, a low sound that was self-awarely disingenuine. "You have someone in your home who's aligned with Death Eaters! I can't risk sharing such delicate information with Parkinson so near. One day of you not knowing all isn't much to ask for. As much as I respect and admire you, Harry, I cannot accord you with special treatment at the expense of public safety."

Harry tried to meet his eye, but failed. Kingsley seemed to know one of Harry's largest insecurities: Special treatment. That he was in his position because of what he did, and not who he was.

"I don't...I don't want special treatment, I just — "

"And it's actually Parkinson that I wish to discuss with you, Harry."

"Why haven't they been arrested?" Harry interjected, not to be distracted. "Voldemort's supporters. I haven't read or seen anything about the rest of the world's incarcerated Death Eaters. Nothing. You said they were discovered, so if we know who they are, where they are — "

Kingsley cut him off in turn, frowning that he was breaking his script. "I wish we could. But they actually haven't done anything illegal, strictly speaking. Right now, they're operating under the guise of 'traditionalist groups.' As you and I both know, 'traditional' translates directly to rather twisted views of blood supremacy, but…" Kingsley sighed wearily. "For now, they have propositioned no dangerous acts. For now, being the operative words."

Harry was getting tired of not getting straight answers. "Okay, so, what? You think they will sometime soon?"

"It is what I'm afraid of. You see, what worries me are these extremist groups of Muggle-born radicals. Perhaps you've heard of them? The most well-known call themselves the Mud Insurgents."

Harry's mind flashed to Pansy, to the fear clogging her throat at the thought of being expelled from the safety of his home. "Are they the ones who've been doing the...the 'avengement assaults'? You know..." Harry's mouth filled with spit, "...on pureblood women."

Kingsley's face hardened. "There has not been a single confirmed case of such a thing. A nasty scare tactic. I take it you heard this from Parkinson?"

Harry said nothing.

Kingsley went on. "I believe that such rumors are being spread by purebloods wishing to cause unrest, perhaps even another war. If word spread that the Insurgents were doing things severe enough to anger Voldemort's supporters...it would be catalyst enough for widespread devastation."

Harry sneered. "So we're just going to wait until they kill innocent people and then arrest them? How does that make sense? How is that justice?"

"Justice is an idealistic notion, Harry." Kingsley suddenly declared. "This is law."

"It's rubbish."

Kingsley sighed and then continued as if Harry had never interrupted. "But then, it goes both ways. It's a very tense balance. If the Mud Insurgents formulate an attack, Voldemort's supporters will crack down. Or if they do first, the Insurgents will do the same, I've no doubt. Some of their philosophy is...troubling, to say the least. So this time, as you can see, is a minefield. Any little thing could set off a trigger."

Harry wanted to move, leave, lead; do something already. He did not want to wait-and-see, wait and see for more, more posturing, more bloodshed, more murder.

"So what do we do?" he asked urgently.

"All I need from you, Harry, is to interrogate Parkinson." Kingsley leaned forward suddenly, his eyes boring into Harry's. Harry had never seen him look so intently at anyone. "It is imperative that we get all the information she has, and quickly. If we can take down enough actual Death Eaters from inside the 'traditionalist' groups, they will soon be dissolved."

Harry cringed.

"I mean, yeah, of course I'll get information off her. But, you have other people you can ask, right?" he said. "Other testimonies, other Death Eaters in Azkaban…Even Parkinson's parents would be better choices."

With a flick of his wand, Kingsley brought his quill back to life, and it continued its scribbling as he looked on, his mouth twitching slightly. "Her parents seem to be quite skilled in the art of Occlumency, and are not talking. As for the rest, we've done what we can through Legilimency against Death Eaters as well as cross-examining their allies. But it's not everyone. Voldemort made sure that his lower followers be kept as separate and secret as they could, not knowing each other unless they had to. So, please, Harry, do what I ask of you. And soon."

As if waving him goodbye, Kingsley sent a stack of documents towards Harry's direction and then turned his attention to whatever it was he was previously working on. It was clear Harry was being dismissed. He turned stiffly, feeling unsatisfied and restless.

Queerly, the feeling reminded him that he still needed to write to Ginny.


Harry returned home from training in a foul mood.

It had been an off day by all means. He was so distracted by his meeting with Kingsley that during the Stealth and Tracking practice, he had knocked over a prop pillar, which knocked into another, creating a bit of a domino effect with him at the center.

He was embarrassed, pissed. He had gotten it into his head that the other Aurors loved to see him fail, despite having no evidence to support his theory. He didn't need any.

So feeling very anti-Kingsley, anti-Ministry, anti-everything, Harry flung open Pansy's door without a single premeditated thought of his method of interrogation. She was sitting on top of her bed, reading one of Malfoy's letters, which she promptly thrust behind her back and out of Harry's sight. Harry wondered if that was all she ever did when she was up here; read and re-read his old letters, cling to dead words that were long devoid of any meaning. It was kind of sad. If she were anyone else, he would have felt sorry for her.

"What?" she hissed at him when he just stood there, staring. "What?" she asked again, sharper.

"Do you know Occlumency?" he said to her at last. She looked at him like he was mad.

"No…? Why?"

Harry shrugged. "Just wondering, I guess."

She crossed her arms. "You pop in and ask if I can perform Occlumency and expect me to believe it's just common curiosity? Please." A sudden thought struck her and she glowered. "If you try to get inside my mind, I'll gut you in your sleep."

"I was just curious," Harry countered. "It's kind of rare. And since both your parents can, I just wondered - "

"What are you talking about? My mum can't do Occlumency," said Pansy, and then snapped her mouth shut as if she couldn't believe it had actually offered information about her family.

"Huh," said Harry.

"'Huh,'" Pansy mocked. "Do you always sound like an inbred buffoon, or is it just around me?"

He frowned at her, knowing he should get down to it already. The questions bubbled forth in his head, professional, rehearsed: Have you, or any member of your family, participated in the Dark Arts? Did you, or any member of your family, support Voldemort during his rise to power? Are you aware of any current Death Eaters at large? Refusal to answer any and all questions will render you subject to…

He thought of Kingsley's drooping mouth, and the orders he had issued from it. Harry added the subtext: Do what I ask of you, Harry, don't ask questions, Harry, just trust me, Harry.

The voice that came out of Kingsley's mouth sounded disturbingly like Dumbledore's.

Good old Harry Potter. Follows orders without question. Always.

"I guess you just bring out the worst in me." He shut her door and went to his room, his unasked inquiries burning a hole in his chest.


The next night, Harry was still poring over the papers that Kingsley had given him when he heard a knock on his door. He was a bit glad for the diversion; the documents weren't making much sense to him. They were filled with names and faces of people he'd never even heard of and he failed to see the point of scouring through them, how it could help them catch Death Eaters.

He opened the door to Hermione, her face morose. It looked like she had just been crying.

She made a valiant effort at smiling. "Hello there. How are you, Harry?"

Harry made a noise that sounded like a laugh but wasn't. He reached for her and felt something tight and uncomfortable in his chest leave him the moment she embraced him. He hadn't even realized it was there until it was gone.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," she answered.

Hermione stepped inside and he took her coat, pinning it to the rack beside the door.

"Why didn't you just Apparate straight inside?" he asked her as he did.

"Oh, I-I didn't want to be presumptuous. You know, after last time," she said softly.

"God, sorry, I didn't realize you'd feel…" Harry wanted to kick himself. Of course Hermione felt rejected. He had rejected her.

Looking at her stricken expression, he didn't think he had the strength to do it again.

Her eyes trailed over the papers on his table. "What are these? Have you found another Death Eater?"

"Uh, yeah, maybe." Harry drew his wand and sent the papers away, partly because he didn't want Hermione to have to worry about it, and partly because he selfishly wanted all of her attention on him.

He wasn't quick enough. "The Mud Insurgents! Why, I've read about them!" She turned to him, that hungry look in her eye that she got whenever she was unraveling a mystery, a look that often mirrored Harry's.

"You have? When? What did you find out?"

"Recently," she said, sitting down and motioning for him to bring back the papers. He did, only a little bit reluctantly. "Very recently. After everything that Pansy said...I couldn't help myself. I started searching through pureblood assault records, then with Muggle-born theory and extremist theory, and finally touched upon the Insurgents. They're impossible to research through ordinary means. Seemingly en masse, the mainstream public just isn't reporting them. I had to…" she shifted a bit in her seat. "I had to go to Knockturn Alley to find something even remotely substantial."

Harry sat, visibly upset. "Hermione, you can't go there. You're the most famous Muggle-born witch in the world! It's dangerous."

Hermione's eyes shot to the ceiling but she blushed. "Hardly. Besides, I altered my appearance, no one even suspected it was me. So anyway, what I found was —"

"Just —" Harry took hold of Hermione's hand, threaded his fingers through hers. Her gaze fell down to them, looking surprised. He hated that she was still surprised when he touched her in places that didn't lead to fucking. "Just be careful, all right? If anything happened to you, I…"

He frowned deeply, unable to figure out how to finish his sentence. Why were words so elusive? Whenever he needed them most, they'd always been so terribly not there.

"I'm fine," she murmured, rubbing her thumb against his knuckles. "Perfectly fine. Anyway," she cleared her throat, "The Insurgents are supposed to be a leaderless organization, but I believe that two wizards seem to be leading the ranks."

She flickered through his documents, finally found a decent photo and thrust it towards Harry triumphantly.

"Look, see? These two keep popping up. And it's just the way they stand, the way they move. Like they're running things."

The photo was a group of wizards and witches huddled in a dingy looking room, some sitting and some standing, looking almost normal if not for the fact that they were all donning brown robes of the same shade. Hermione pointed to one wizard, short, tan skin, dark features - and another, the exact opposite: Tall, pale, haunted eyes.

"Do you know who they are?" Harry asked as he observed them.

"As for the short one, no idea. No information on him. But the other, his name's Yegor Krupin, and — doesn't he look familiar?"

Harry squinted hard at the man, his piercing blue eyes squinted right back.

"Uh...maybe?"

Hermione huffed, seemingly at a loss as to how Harry could have missed it. "I saw it straight away, so I looked into his birth records, just to be sure. Krupin isn't his paternal last name. It's Dolohov!"

"What?" Harry was shocked, squinted harder. There, in his nose, his jaw, he saw it, the likeness - the relation to Antonin Dolohov, Death Eater extraordinaire. "So, what, is he his brother?"

"Half brother," Hermione corrected. "All I know is, his mother was a Muggle, and he's taken her last name instead of his father's. So you can probably guess how it went."

Harry nodded. It wasn't uncommon; pureblood wizards out for an easy lay during a time when attending Muggle brothels and the like was socially acceptable, depending on your social circle. Sometimes it was innocent; a brief and consensual fling, but it usually wasn't. And sticking around for an unwanted pregnancy with a Muggle girl? Out of the question.

"What else did you find out about them?"

Hermione chewed her lip. "Well, it was from a rather biased source, so we really can't take it all at face value. Most, if not all, are probably lies, just things to make purebloods feel indignant or self-righteous. Assault, muggings, theft, things like that…"

She looked troubled, and Harry could imagine why.

"It's just...they're Muggle-borns, you know? They can't be...can't be…" Hermione stared at the papers dolefully.

"Okay," Harry began, wanting to spare her from her brain, "So all we know so far is one of the leaders is half-arsed Dolohov's half-blood, half brother" — Hermione smiled, and Harry liked that he could make her smile — "The Mud Insurgents have a bad reputation in pureblood communities, and Kingsley thinks they're potentially dangerous, but presently harmless. And there's also something he's keeping from me, I think." He frowned, the cogs in his head screeching to a halt.

He and Hermione talked well into the night, tossing out hypotheses, each one wilder than the next but it felt good. Like they had a purpose again. Hermione was getting that almost manic gleam in her eye and she was leaning forwards more as their discussion deepened, her cheeks glowing and her demeanor unpretentious, totally focused.

It was hot, to be honest.

"Are you staying over tonight?" Harry finally blurted.

She blinked, her speech stuttering.

"Oh, ah, yes, well."

Hermione fiddled with her hair like she sometimes did when she was self conscious. "I would very much appreciate if you'd let me spend the night here. Ron and I had a fight and I don't really feel like sleeping at Hogwarts."

Harry felt something leap in his chest at her words, but it was quelled with the guilt that he had just felt satisfaction over his friend's unhappiness.

"Hermione, I told you. Always. You can always come here." he said, the guilt not making him any more of a better person or her any less lovely.

She opened and closed her mouth, searching for words. "Thank you. I can sleep on the couch, if you'd like."

Harry couldn't think of anything that he'd like less.

"I mean...if you wanted to…"

God, why am I being such a wimp? Harry thought. It's Hermione. I've been with her a million times. I should just kiss her, touch her, throw her on the table already!

Hermione twisted the engagement ring on her finger.

"Do you want some sherbet?" he asked stupidly. Her eyebrows furrowed and she probably thought he was as awkward as he felt.

"Sherbet?"

"Yeah, I just bought some. Pumpkin flavored. It's good." What the hell was he doing? Trying to be Hermione's gal pal and eat ice cream while discussing menstrual cramps?

Hermione smiled a bit, her eyes still touched with bemusement. "Um, sure. I'll have some."

"Okay, cool. You can go head up to my room, and...I'll bring up a couple bowls." Thattaboy, Harry. Ease into it casually.

Ugh. Creepy. Reminder to never say 'thattaboy' out loud.

Hermione smiled and went upstairs and Harry conjured his bowls, lifted perfect spheres of pleasantly orange dessert into them with his wand. He was battling internally with himself, although "battling" was too forgiving a word. It was more like rationalizing.

I shouldn't sleep with her.

But I want to. Badly.

It isn't like not shagging her would suddenly make me more noble. It's happened too many times for that.

Ginny and I are on a break, right? Right?

And her and Ron…

Ron…

Fuck it.

What happened next was a bit like stepping out of his own life and into someone else's; a pleasanter one, a less complex one. Hermione was playing a Weird Sisters album —

"I didn't know you liked the Weird Sisters."

"I don't. But it's all you have. You should really expand your tastes, Harry."

"You can't expand on perfection."

— and the two sat on his bed and ate, laughing about nothing and everything. Even his room seemed brighter, more cheerful; it was just that kind of night. Hermione somehow got sherbet on her cheek and Harry pretended to move to smudge it off, but instead sprayed whipped cream at her from the tip of his wand. She squealed, wrestling with him.

"Oh, hang on Hermione, you've got something on your face. Let me just get that for you — "

"That's not fair, I don't know this spell! Why do you know a whipped cream spell, you degenerate!"

She blasted him with water and it smeared the whipped cream on her face and it was so easy, leaning in and kissing her mouth that tasted like sticky sugar, easy to trip off to his shower together, groping and snogging. So easy to make this feel warm and justified instead of dark or shameful, falling into his bed.

Harry watched as Hermione's head traveled further down his body, her tongue darting out to set bits of him on fire. His nipple. The skin between his ribcage. The inside of his thigh. The side of his cock.

"You are cruel, Granger," Harry groaned, his prick actually twitching for her to touch it more thoroughly. She smirked up at him.

"Whatever do you mean?" she asked innocently, dragging one finger up and down his shaft. She took one of his balls in her mouth and suckled on it while that maddening finger kept up its path. Torture. Unbelievably good torture.

Harry reached down to grab some of her hair, tugged on it until she gave him a wincing smile because it always made her wetter when he pulled her hair. He didn't know why, and he didn't ask. He wasn't sure if he'd like the answer.

"Have I ever told you how good you look with my cock in your mouth?" he said, his lips curving into a grin. She laughed, her breath tickling his sensitive flesh.

"Really, Harry, is that the best you've got?" she said before pressing a kiss to the side of his length again. His hips jerked at her touch, and Harry shuddered.

"No, it's not," he said suggestively. "If you want to see the best I've got, well…" He nodded to his painful erection and made a clicking noise out of the side of his mouth.

Her mouth dropped, scandalized, but she was still suppressing a grin. "Did you just click your cheek at me?"

Harry cast his gaze upward as if contemplating her question very deeply. "Yeah, I believe I did. And yet, unacceptably, my dick is still dry. Better hop to."

Hermione's eyebrow arched, a wicked smile at her lips. "I suppose I should. Hop to."

Locking eyes with Harry, her long fingers took hold of the base of his shaft and he could've sworn his heart stopped as her lips parted to swallow him. It may have been a joke just to egg her on, but Hermione really did look fantastic with his dick stuffed in her mouth. Cheeks full, face flushed, mouth erotically wide, soft lips pink and glistening with saliva and pre-cum; she was mesmerizing. Her clever tongue could swirl him into a frenzy. Harry groaned and struggled not to thrust upwards as she bobbed up and down on his cock.

She took him fully, to the hilt, and his hands twisted in the sheets when he hit the back of her throat. She hollowed her cheeks. Sucked hard. Made him moan. Hermione had only just begun and Harry was already muttering a stream of curses, the muscles in his stomach tensing. Slowly, centimeter by centimeter, Hermione's lips journeyed up to his head, tonguing his slit. She lathed her tongue across it and Harry gasped, pleasured.

Then, as quickly as it had taken him, her mouth made its departure. He watched her, confused, as her mouth widened a bit more, and then —

He jerked out of the way as her teeth clamped down in the space his cock had occupied just a moment before.

Hermione threw her head back, laughing, and after a moment of shock Harry joined her, his own laughter disbelieving and slightly frightened.

"Wo-oah! You're scary," he said, his eyes wide. Hermione hunched up her shoulders as she giggled, her eyes scrunching up with the force of her laughter.

"Oh, relax, I wasn't actually going to do anything," she assured him, her eyes glinting mischievously. "But perhaps next time you'll be more polite whilst instructing someone to suck you off."

Maybe Harry should've been put out, should've launched into a rant about not belittling men's castration fears, but he didn't. He was too happy to see her so happy in his presence. It had been a long time since he'd last seen Hermione so carefree.

"You're lucky you didn't," he said, taking her bodily in his arms and throwing her down onto the bed. "Otherwise, you'd be outta luck. No more of all this — " Harry gestured down himself, "Nope. You'd be cut off. Nothing for it."

She wrapped her legs around his waist. "Oh no, please, Harry, what cruel punishment!" Harry brought his fingers to her ribs, tickling her, and she gasped for breath as she giggled while trying to fight off his hands. "I couldn't possibly live without your — stop it, I'm ticklish! — without your glorious phallus."

Harry kissed her, then, because the joke was inadvertently touching on something real. Which of them really had the strength to cut off the other? Who would it be easier for?

She did it once, even if it hadn't lasted all that long. Would she do it again?

Her hips wiggled a bit, and the teasing presence at his dick turned his breathing ragged.

"Is this the best you were speaking of?" she challenged. Harry smiled.

"It's coming."

He kissed her lips for a moment, felt her hum around the wetness of his tongue, and then went downwards.

Harry loved Hermione's body. The curves of it, the softness, the pinks and whites and scars still fading. Loved how hard her nipples got when he licked them and then blew. Loved how it squirmed when he touched certain spots. Loved how it touched him back, folded and squeezed around him.

She stopped breathing when his tongue swiped up her slit. She tasted salty and vaguely tangy, her arousal seeping through her folds. Harry sank his face in deeper, taking her completely with his mouth, savoring her. Hermione arched against him, losing herself.

"Yes, oh…"

He ate her like he was bloody starving for it. Lapping and sucking and teeth grazing almost enough to hurt; curling, ten of her fingers curling and her toes curling and his tongue curling inside her.

He shifted her hips up a bit more so he could explore her further. Sucked fully on her clit. He spread her arse apart, gave her pussy another wet kiss and then left it to swirl his tongue around her hole.

"Cheeky," she breathed, and then moaned when his tongue pressed against her more urgently, poking inside of her. He brought one of his hands to slip between her folds and rubbed, hard, not really caring where he was touching her because she cried out regardless and he was getting lost in the delirium himself.

He owned her, really, in this way. He wasn't sure what it meant that he enjoyed that feeling.

Maybe he just liked possession, liked to have things and people as mine, all mine!, like the spoiled little boy that he never got to be.

When she gave herself to him like this nothing could take her away; not nightmares, not bad men in dark cloaks, not even wedding rings. Those broken sounds were for him, the wetness on her thighs for him. The fact that he could make her sob with his fingers, his mouth, his cock, meant more to him than he cared to admit. She was his friend, his advisor and his lover and his...everything, really, if he took the time to think about it. She touched every single damn part of his life. And when he touched her there ("Ah! Harry! Oh my God, don't stop, don't stop!") he was her life. If just for a night. Just for a moment.

"Harry!" she cried out again, and he realized he liked his name best when she was screaming it.

Hermione's body seized up and then unraveled, arching and bucking, and she was already coming so hard she could scarcely breathe but she was still begging him for more.

When the tension left her body, Harry extricated himself from between her thighs, which she had clamped around his head, and watched as she trembled and collected her breath. Still panting, she raised herself up to circle her arms around his neck and straddle his lap.

"Not horrible, then?" he teased, sucking on her neck.

"Y-yeah, it was satisfactory. I suppose," Hermione said breathlessly.

Harry laughed. "Oh, professor, is there anything I can do to bring that Satisfactory up to an Excellent?"

He groaned as she lowered herself down onto him. Her cunt was even better than her mouth.

"I think we can work something out," she gasped as she rocked against him.

They had never made love like this before. There was usually no talking, no levity; it was mostly just get in, clothes off; yes I'm gonna come; oh god what are we doing; you feel so good make me come again; I hate myself; see you tomorrow night?; I don't know...maybe next week...; No. Tomorrow. Please; Okay.

So the joking around, this feeling of buoyancy, Harry didn't know what to make of it. Maybe it was the fact that Ginny and Ron felt very far away, or maybe it was because there was a plot afoot that only he and Hermione could solve, him and her against the world, and it felt like they were both sixteen again and people died and they both could die but it wasn't that bad because nothing was that bad, not yet, not back then, not now. He didn't know what to make of it, so he just enjoyed it.

"How do I feel?" he murmured, smiling, against the skin of her wrist. She bit her lip and sighed out a laugh as she sank down onto him again.

"You feel long. Perfect. You make me feel full. And warm...everywhere." Soft, wonderful noises spilled out of her mouth as Harry swiped his tongue along her earlobe and at the juncture between her collarbone and neck; hot wetness along her veins and tendons.

She squeezed him, then, inside her, making Harry gasp aloud.

"How do I feel?" she asked, her turn to smirk, her turn to watch him squirm. He laughed at her unusual boldness until she bared down on him again and he had to moan.

"You feel so good," he said, grinning, canting his hips up to hers. "So fucking good. So wet."

He sucked hard on her nipple and let it go with a pop.

"So tight."

He slipped one of his fingers into his own mouth and sucked, tasting her juices, slicking his finger with saliva.

"So hot."

Hermione stared down at him, thrilled, transfixed, as he brought his spit-spoaked index behind her and filled her opening. He stroked inside her in time with his dick, and she had to move her hands from his chest to the headboard to help her hold herself up. She closed her eyes, face lit in ecstasy and moaning, reaching for him like sunflowers reaching for their star.

Harry's entire body was reacting to her, electrified with the feeling of touching and being touched. It was so much, so much sensation and so much pleasure and so much joy in his chest because he didn't have to think when he was with her; not of war or death or the future, he just had to be and just had to feel and oh Merlin did she make feeling easy. He smoothed his hands over her body and gripped her waist as they moved together, overcome with desire.

"I love you," Harry breathed without thinking, so quiet even he could barely hear it.

Immediately, the tone changed.

Hermione's expression darkened. No more giggling, no more teasing. Her grip on the headboard turned vice-like and Harry, quite frankly, didn't know what to do. He kissed her, whispered her name sweetly on her mouth, hoped if they'd both just ignore his reckless words the stupid things would just shrivel and die; ugly, bloated corpses landing on the pavement, c'mon folks let's move it along now, nothing to see here, just keep it moving...

She broke the kiss and panted above him, fucking herself on his cock roughly, so rough he would've been concerned if not for the blistering sensation it was shooting through his body.

Harry felt Hermione's hand clutch some of the hair on his chest, then reach up to his neck and squeeze. The pressure around his throat gave Harry both a depraved thrill and the uneasy knowledge that she was purposely rendering him incapable of long speech.

He and Hermione were now nothing more than two moaning and grunting bodies, slamming against each other for warmth and orgasm. Actually, Harry didn't even do any of the work now; Hermione raised herself up by her thighs and cried out every time she crashed back down on him, hard. Way too hard. Over and over. Pound, pound, pound. Closer to violence than sex.

Harry was suddenly cold.

He almost asked her to stop.

But traitorous pleasure wound itself around his stomach, reached his fingers, toes, behind his eyelids as Hermione ground against him in search of her own. The lack of air getting into his lungs due to her grip on his throat was actually making him come quicker than normal; a shameful high.

He shut his eyes as he came, staring into blackness.

Harry was outside of himself. He felt climax and he did not, felt whole and did not, felt loved and did not.

But when he opened his eyes the evidence of his orgasm was there, dripping between Hermione's shaking thighs. For just a moment, maybe even less than that, really — Harry hated his body, wished that it could be pure and untouched again.

He coughed a bit as Hermione removed her fingers from around his throat, the oxygen rushing in. She slid off of him, apart from him, and reached for her wand beside the bed to clean herself with a scourgify spell. Harry followed suit, but did not feel clean.

She got under the covers, turned so that her back was to him. Harry watched it rise and fall unevenly with her breathing. Her pale back was marked with red where he had maybe gripped her too tight, maybe that was from his nail, or this light one was from Ron's —

"I didn't mean to say it. It doesn't count, anyways, during sex. It didn't count." He hoped his tone was lighter than he felt.

Silence.

"Hermione."

A shaking of her shoulders. The quiet stuffed itself down Harry's throat, made his lungs fill up with its poison and he had to expel it or it would kill him.

He couldn't put a word to this constricting, airless feeling. Not guilty, not angry, not sad, not weary; but some combination of them.

So he focused on anger, because if he was going to feel something, that was the easiest to feel. The one he was most used to.

"Okay, what the fuck, Hermione," he snapped. "Is this all we are? Not even friends anymore? You can't even let me know what's going on with you? Stop acting like a fucking headcase for five seconds and talk to me."

Hermione started to cry. Or maybe just continued. How much time has to pass between sessions of crying for it to constitute as a separate jag? And if it's always for the same reason, are you just always crying, with short breaks just to pee or eat or shag?

He threw his arm across his face and sighed, let himself shut his eyes for a few seconds. The strangled noises she was making gave his sudden headache a pulse, and the guilt overpowered this weird rejected feeling, as much as he tried not to let it.

"Hermione. Please. Please, stop crying."

She fell on her back and brought her hands to cover her face. The tears did not stop.

"I d-don't know what I'm doing," Hermione choked out. Her terrible sobs were shaking the bed. "Harry, please don't think I know what I'm doing. I don't know. I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt a-anyone."

He let out a breath and restrained himself from touching her, knowing she would take it the wrong way.

"I know, Hermione, I know, it's fine. I'm not in love with you. Nothing's changed. We're fine," he said soothingly, wondering if this might be the first time in documented history that a man had to assure a woman that he didn't love her to get her to stop crying.

She curled into a ball in his sheets, as if she were trying to make herself invisible.

"This wasn't supposed to turn into...that. You can't love me. You just can't."

"I don't, I told you, I don't. But..."

He shrank down with her, trying to connect again. She seemed to be withdrawing further and further into herself. "Would it really be that bad? If I loved you?" he asked quietly. "You know...hypothetically." He didn't entirely know why he was even asking her this. Masochism, he supposed. Or possibly sadism.

Hermione turned her face into his mattress, made a wretched sound that forced him to look away out of discomfort, and then turned to him again, her face red and soggy. "Yes. Because then it would be real. And we'd have to stop everything. I don't want real. I already have too much real. So don't."

Fresh tears still leaked from her eyes but at least she was quieter now. He still didn't dare touch her.

"Yeah, no, I mean...I don't want real either," Harry said, and for some strange reason, it felt like he was lying.

Hermione's face crumpled before Harry, and her voice was suddenly tinny, child-like. "I love him."

Harry turned away from her, rested his eyes on the ceiling. "I know you do. I do too."

Her eyes were boring into him; he could feel his skin burning where they did. "I need him," she said softly. "I can't lose him."

Harry turned completely on his side so she could only see his back. An intense, desperate desire to tell her to fuck right off roared in his chest, so he didn't want her to see his face. She'd probably guess his thoughts in an instant, and if she saw, then she might actually leave. And the only thing worse than her being there right then, would be her gone.

He didn't know what else to say, or do, or think, so Harry just listened to Hermione cry herself to sleep. It was awful, lasted a long time, and made him long for numbness.

That night, Harry swore to himself that he would never tell Hermione that he loved her ever again.

God, why did that horrible word keep cropping up anyways? He wasn't in love with Hermione. Of course not. It was a slip of the tongue in the throes of passion. She was his friend, his best friend. Who he loved as a friend, and happened to like to fuck.

There's a difference.

Isn't there?


Harry woke up in an empty bed.

He wasn't altogether surprised, so he assumed the feeling in his chest was disappointment. The sheets still smelled like her. His skin probably did too.

Looking down at himself, he saw the unmistakable rise of his morning stiffy underneath the thin sheet of his bedspread. He stared down at his Cursed Cock with apathy, this thing between his legs that made women cry and then disappear. The nerve of it, springing to attention after all the trouble it's caused.

He showered and had a wank so brutally existential that even the greatest minds in philosophy would tell him to take it down a peg. Feeling wretched, he and his limp penis wandered back into his room to see a Hogwarts owl swoosh in through the window and flitter excitedly on his dresser, a letter resting in its talons.

Harry took hold of the letter and stroked the top of bird's head. It blinked expectantly for some food and nipped Harry's fingers when he was too busy examining its delivery to offer its rightful earnings, so Harry mumbled his thanks and fed the owl a treat, his eyes still on the brown parchment in his hands.

Nervous, he tore it open.

Harry

I just wanted to say that I was sorry for what I said about Hermione. That was wrong of me. I want her to be okay just as much as you do. You know how much I care about her, and I only said what I did because I was angry at you. It still doesn't make it right, and for that I apologize.

You, on the other hand, can eat shit.

Ginny

Harry sat back, smiling just a bit. Weird as it may seem, her suggestion for him to consume feces was actually a good sign. They could be all right, him and Ginny, if he just made a bit more effort.

His smile dropped. Maybe they shouldn't be all right. He had tried to end things once, after all. Maybe he should just let this stick, let her stew in her anger and then forget about him in the arms of some other man, for good, forever.

But it was painful to think of, and Harry was so tired of pain.

Some martyr he turned out to be.

When the martyr survives, was he ever a real one? That's kind of the defining feature of martyrs; you have to actually die, you prick. But he didn't die, and now a martyr he could never truly be, no matter how many people wrap the word around him like a poorly fitting cloak. He was just some bastard in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it was looking as if he was just as selfish as the next schmuck. Maybe even more so.

And the most pathetic thing was, he did want Ginny with him. Now. Badly. It was a physical craving. After the horrible night with Hermione; the viciously high highs and the comically low lows, he desperately wanted Ginny to be there and to look up at him with her big, adoring eyes; look at him as if he wasn't the pile of shit that he felt like he was. She always saw the best version of him, the one that he wanted to be.

So what if she didn't always see the real him? Does anyone really want that? Maybe the person you should be with doesn't see the real you; just the person you should be, the person you could be.

With this thought in mind, Harry quickly dressed himself before sitting down with a quill and fresh parchment.

Ginny

I'm so sorry, Gin. I can't sleep without you, can't eat, I miss you so much. I love you, I love you, you're everything to me, and I

Harry crumpled up the parchment he was filling with empty words and threw it away. Tried again.

Ginny

Listen. I know I'm not perfect and neither are you. I still think we have something good together, really good, but you can't fly off the handle any time you feel like

Ripped to shreds, thrown in the bin.

Ginny

I care about you so much. But I hate living with this guilt. I've been sleeping with Hermione. I know you'll hate me, and

Crossed out, spat upon, shredded, set on fire.

Words were stupid and useless when it came to this. His words, anyway. Jumbled and conflicting and stupid, utterly so. Harry couldn't think of any good ones.

Radio silence it was, then. At least for now.

"Potter! Potter!" Pansy screeched at him from outside his door, knocking frantically. He had immediately set up a locking enchantment once he found out she'd taken to stealing his clothes. There was also a silencing charm up, but that was for a less acceptable reason.

He opened his door, irritated. "What do you want?"

"There are people here! I heard them downstairs!" Her eyes were wide, panicked. Harry sighed.

"I'm an Auror, Parkinson. I'm going to get Ministry visitors."

She seemed to be exasperated by his lack of concern. "Just check! Just check to make sure! And bring your wand!"

Harry shouldered past her and hurried downstairs, her paranoia affecting him, just a little.

Crackling in from his fireplace and smoothing their robes were Kingsley, Ron, Neville Longbottom, and two older Aurors named Deborah Congo and Hassan Asghar.

Ron nodded to Harry, and Harry nodded back. No hard feelings since their little tiff. But Harry felt his body grow heavy, as if Hermione was still clinging to it.

"Harry," said Kingsley, voice as booming as ever. "Inform Parkinson that we're here, and tell her she has fifteen minutes to prepare herself. Same for you."

"Prepare ourselves? For what?"

Neville spoke up, grinning wide.

"We're gonna infiltrate England's pureblood orthodoxy. And she's gonna help us."


A/N: Damn that was long! Haha I considered breaking it into two chapters but it didn't feel right, you know? Let me know what you guys thought! Like: Do you think Pansy's totally evil still? Should Harry and Ginny even try to reconnect? Isn't it awesome Hermione likes getting her salad tossed?! So progressive of her.