Chapter Thirty-Seven: Tactical Advantage

It was midnight when the fireplace finally erupted into flames, emitting an eerie green glow while several figures stumbled out of it. Hermione, wand in hand, spun to face the newcomers; she'd been pacing, near-panicked, for the last hour. At the sound of the floo activating, both Blaise and Draco burst into the kitchen, passing into the dining hall in time to see a slew of Weasleys arrive.

Arthur, tailed by Fred and George, stepped in first. He held his hands up in surrender while Charlie and Molly followed through.

"It's just us," he said, and Hermione lowered her wand. Blaise and Draco met eyes for a second. They kept their wands up.

"Is everyone okay?" Hermione asked.

Draco pushed past and set himself firmly between Hermione and Arthur, his wand pointing straight to Arthur's heart. Everyone froze.

"The second night I was here," Draco said, his voice low, "You took me into the library. What did you say to me?"

Arthur's mouth fell into a grim, straight line. "Both things?"

Draco mulled this over, however quickly. He seemed to accept that answer, because he dropped his wand slightly. Behind them, Blaise's aim fell to the floor.

"We weren't separated," Arthur said, "So there's no chance that anyone else here is an imposter. Can you trust me on that, Draco?"

Nodding, Draco slipped his wand into his pocket. He stepped aside, leaving everyone quite bewildered in his wake. Hermione blinked a few times, still processing. She hadn't even thought to question them. She would have let a group of Death Eaters into Grimmauld Place, as long as they looked like loved ones.

"Where are Ron and Harry?" Molly asked.

"They're not with you?" Blaise said.

In the hall, the portrait of Mrs. Black exploded into screams. Everyone jumped. Hermione, having shaken herself to her senses, made it through the kitchen first, wand at the ready. Blaise and Draco followed on her heel.

"Bloody hell, I'll go deaf at this rate – shut her up, will you –"

The two boys in question had just entered through the front door, Harry's invisibility cloak in a shimmery tangle around their feet, and had knocked into Mrs. Black's portrait. Hermione's heart did a relieved tumble in her chest. She flicked her wand at the portrait, its curtains snapping shut. Mrs. Black's screaming stopped, though she continued to grumble under her breath.

Harry tripped over the cloak, but Blaise stepped forward and steadied him. They looked at each other, expressions unreadable, before quickly stepping away.

"Oh, thank Merlin," Molly gasped. "I just about had a heart attack over the two of you –"

Blaise winced, not wanting to cut her off, but he pointed his wand at Harry. Ron's face screwed up in anger.

"Oi, what are you playing at –"

"Potter," Blaise said calmly, "During fourth year, you borrowed the Prefects' bath to solve your little egg problem. Who joined you?"

Everyone looked to Harry, whose face turned beet-red. Fred and George grinned to each other in the background, but Molly didn't seem to find it very funny. Hermione's jaw had dropped. Harry ran a hand through his hair in exasperation.

"It wasn't like that!" he hissed, glaring at Blaise. "It was – er – well, it was Moaning Myrtle, all right?"

"What was she doing in the baths with you?" Ron asked, unable to suppress a chuckle. Even Molly's concern had vanished.

"What do you think? It's not like I invited her," Harry said. He rounded on Blaise. "And how do you know about that, anyway?"

"Ah, come on, Potter," Blaise said, stowing his wand away with a wink. "Don't think you're the only bloke she fancies. Quite a gossip, that one."

Everyone relaxed, the tension quite thoroughly diffused. Harry mustered a scowl for Blaise, but even that came out half-hearted. They were all just relieved to be together, considering the chaos from earlier that day.

Hermione found herself reaching out to Draco instinctively – she wanted to share the moment with him – but he'd moved away. Her face fell.

"Where's Ginny?" Harry asked, hoping to divert the attention away from himself.

"Bill and Fleur took her, dear," Molly replied. "They made it out before the fighting."

Harry nodded. "Good. Okay."

Draco took the initiative to head back into the kitchen, and everyone else followed. Molly set a kettle on the stove, and when Arthur passed by, he set a calming hand on her shoulder; she gave him a small smile. Charlie was the first to pull out a chair and slump into it, his dress robes badly singed at the hem.

"So what happened with you three?" he asked.

"We made it here hours ago," Draco said. "One of the Death Eaters came at us – er, actually…" He trailed off, suddenly looking directly at Hermione. She paused, a chair pulled partway out from the table. "Did he come at us? Because… Hold on…"

Blaise shook his head. "No, you're right, mate. He didn't attack at random. I saw him, he made a beeline straight for her."

"What are you talking about?" Arthur asked, alarmed. "That can't be right –"

"No, that doesn't make sense," Hermione agreed.

"Doesn't it?" Fred said quietly. Everyone turned to him. "Sorry, but – I think he's right. I saw it too. Didn't even raise a wand to you, did he?" He directed this question to Hermione, who shook her head slowly. "No, he went for your arm, like he wanted to apparate."

"You didn't see it, but Goyle did the same to you," George said to Harry. "Except he didn't get much of a chance, seeing as Tonks knocked him out cold."

Molly looked pale. She busied herself with the tea, pacing between the table and the stove, handing off mismatched mugs and chewing on her lip.

"They were trying to take us away," Harry realized, "Just like during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. But why –"

"Yeah, why you and 'Mione?" Ron interrupted.

"Don't write yourself off so quick, Weasley," Draco said. He thumbed at the steaming mug in his hands. "If they wanted Harry and Hermione, then they wanted you too. You can bet on it."

Molly slammed the kettle down on the stovetop so hard that it shattered, bits of faded blue clay flying everywhere.

"You're all just children!" she said, bracing herself on the counter.

"Molly –" Arthur leapt to his feet, trying to comfort his wife, who had begun to shake terribly. The others looked away. "Molly, they're all right, they're safe –"

"Why can't they just leave us alone?" she snapped. "Look what they did to our home, Arthur – why…"

No one dared speak into the silence that followed. It seemed that everyone except Hermione, Draco, and Blaise knew exactly what Molly meant about that, and it wasn't good. Harry and all of the Weasley children present looked grimly at their hands, or the floor, or the ceiling… But none looked at each other. Fred and George, already in a somber mood, looked even more uncharacteristically serious.

Draco knew he couldn't be the one to ask, and he didn't tempt himself. Hermione would figure it out, of course. She'd be deeply upset if something happened to her makeshift family and their home.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. To his surprise, she made no move to speak. Her eyebrows were drawn together with concern, and she watched Arthur guide Molly gently out of the room, but even then she didn't ask.

She looked up, her bright eyes meeting Draco's.

Clenching his jaw, Draco turned away. Why was she looking at him?

"What happened, after we left?" Blaise asked quietly.

No one wanted to answer. The Weasleys seemed to take in a collective breath, staring furtively at each other, until eventually all eyes landed on Charlie. He sighed.

"Most everyone cleared out, thank Merlin," he said, clearing his throat. "Though that left the rest of us with our hands full. We held our own. Moody, Remus and Tonks, and a few others stayed to help. There were about twelve Death Eaters – more than that at first, I guess, seeing as you took one with you.

"They kept grouping up on Harry, so we had to keep distracting them and drawing them away. Tonks stunned Goyle, like I said, and Moody took out Macnair, so it started looking pretty good for us… And then Rodolphus Lestrange hit Moody back. He'll be alright, mind you, but it was a bloody mess, and it didn't look so good then. One of them went for Harry, and then Remus got in the way…"

"Is he alright?" Draco asked suddenly, sitting up straighter.

Charlie's jaw twitched. "Should be."

"It was Wormtail," Ron ground out, utterly livid. "Don't know what bloody curse he used –"

"Spit it out, Weasley," Draco snapped. He rolled his eyes at himself. "Ron, I mean. Bugger it."

"Took his arm off," Fred answered. George, unsmiling, made a chopping motion over his elbow. "His wand arm, too. Blood everywhere. Tonks screaming like mad."

Hermione blanched, subconsciously reaching for her own arm and gripping it hard. Draco slumped back in his chair.

"The Lovegoods got Moody, Lupin, and Tonks into the floo," Charlie continued. "They're at Shell Cottage with everyone else. We apparated there after Bellatrix set the house on fire."

"She what?" Hermione said, clapping a hand over her mouth. "The Burrow? No – you can't mean –"

"It's gone," Ron said, his words filled with a sense of finality.

"Oh my god… I'm so sorry…"

Hermione reached out and laid a hand on Ron's elbow, her eyes filling with tears. Harry had his face in his hands, and the other Weasleys looked pointedly away.

Draco and Blaise glanced at each other. It made sense now. Molly's outburst had been entirely reasonable, it seemed – in fact, they'd all held up quite well, considering. The Slytherins present knew a thing or two about losing one's home, and how it wasn't easy to move on from that.

"Yeah," Draco said quietly, "I second that."

It was the closest thing to consolation that any of them would get, and it felt strange to say. Blaise, sitting beside Draco, nodded in agreement. If he felt odd about giving sympathy to the Weasleys, he didn't show it.

"Will you all be here, then?" Blaise asked.

"I'll be there with Bill and Fleur for now," Charlie answered. "I reckon this lot will stick around, though, along with Mum and Dad. The cottage is pretty cramped, so don't be surprised if you take in a few extras too."

"Right," Blaise said. "Let us know if we can do anything."

Charlie nodded slowly. "Right, Zabini. You know we will."

That cued the stirring of everyone in the room, who suddenly felt all their exhaustion at once and started rubbing at their eyes. Molly returned just then, composed once more, and urged them all to get some sleep. Charlie was the only one to leave that night, and he did so with a quiet goodbye and tight hugs all around before flooing away.

Hermione trudged up to her room, shoes dangling from her hand, and by the time she reached her door she'd yanked her hair free. It cascaded over her shoulders, wavy and shiny – though bushy as usual – and she raked her fingers through it a few times.

She'd made a mess of things with Draco. As much as she wanted to be with him, he wouldn't have any of it, would he? Not as mad as he was. She hadn't said good night to him before, and he'd slipped into his room already.

She didn't want to be alone. How could she get any sleep, the other side of her bed empty – like it always was, except tonight, after everything that had happened, it seemed so unnatural…


Spinning, she dropped her shoes in surprise. Her heart leapt into her throat.

Blaise stood there, having just ascended the stairs, and he ruffled his hair nervously. His dark, angular eyes cast about the hall, looking anywhere except at Hermione, it seemed. At the sight of black hair, not white-blond, Hermione's heart sank back down.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Are you okay?" Blaise licked his lips, his brow creased. He'd stripped off his dress robe, which he set on the bannister, and wore his white blouse with the sleeves rolled up.

"Me?" Hermione said.

"Yeah, you," he replied. "I heard what happened earlier. Are you okay?"

Hermione blinked. Blaise stepped closer.

"I'm fine," she said.

"I don't believe you," Blaise said, and he set himself directly in front of the shorter witch. Having gained some traction, he kept his gaze steady, locking eyes with her.

Hermione felt her pulse quicken. Something wasn't right. She couldn't tell what Blaise was thinking, but right now, staring into his chocolate-brown eyes, she couldn't ignore how close he stood.

As for Blaise, his heartbeat had been racing for the last few minutes. He hated it.

"Hermione, I'm going to ask you something," he whispered. "Whatever you say, it's not leaving here. It's between you and me, and that's it."

"Okay…" she said.

"Are you in love with him?"

The question hit Hermione like a drop-kick to the gut. She felt all breath leave her lungs.


"Yeah," Blaise said, rolling his eyes. "Him."

Hermione opened her mouth, but she couldn't work out the right answer. Did she love Draco? What the hell kind of question was that? How was she supposed to know? Of course she felt very strongly for him, but where exactly did one draw the line between "fancies" and "loves?"

While she debated with herself internally, a rosy blush filled her cheeks. Blaise sighed. He reached out and placed his hands firmly on her shoulders.

"Hermione." He dipped his face, staring her very directly in the eye. "You and him, you're a mess. You are. I've watched that git fall over himself for you since first year – that's right, you heard me, first year – and I'm watching him fall over himself for you now. He can be a real ass, but you know what? You can be too."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Blaise barreled on.

"But let me tell you something: that idiot did one thing right so far, and that was getting you to fancy him back. I'd give up my first born to be in his shoes right now, and so would just about any bloke. Don't shake your head at me, Granger, you need to give yourself some credit.

"My point is, I've watched you two do this bloody dance for years now, and I'm sick of it. Stop being idiots, it doesn't suit either of you. And he was right, you know, you should have told him you're leaving. That was some grade-A shite. And guess what? You were right too. He can't take it personally whenever you go off with Potter and Weasley, and if he really wants to be your boyfriend, then he needs to realize he can't change that you're friends with them.

"So since your little spat earlier, you had to have realized that there are more important things, and he's one of them. I can guarantee that he's had the same thought. So, instead of moping around out here, by yourself, go apologize to your bloody boyfriend, accept his apology, and be fucking happy already."

Blaise removed his hands and stepped back, leaving an utterly dumbfounded Hermione in his wake. Her mouth had fallen into a surprised "o" and her eyes glazed over slightly. If he wasn't mistaken, Blaise had really shaken her up.

"You – you think –" she tried, unable to shape a coherent sentence.

"Yeah, it's not really about what I think, now is it?" Blaise said. "Now go, or I'll never hear the end of it. Go."

Hermione nodded, finally making sense of her friend's little tirade. She picked up her shoes and headed for the stairs. Pausing at the bannister, she turned back, opened her mouth to speak, and then thought better of it. Settling for an uncertain smile, Hermione continued up the stairs. She'd make good use of Blaise's advice.

Blaise waited for her to disappear around the corner before he could finally breathe again. Something inside him had wrenched painfully at the sight… He'd thought for a moment that she might even change her mind. She might pick him.

What an arse, he thought, slumping against Hermione's door. He knew he'd been playing with fire by getting so close, he just… Had to know. Had to figure this bloody thing out.

He'd always fancied Luna, and Blaise could accept that now. He could admit it to himself. Now, however, all that seemed so far away… Even seeing her tonight at the wedding, and seriously contemplating asking her to dance, he couldn't imagine that she'd ever say yes. She didn't know him, he was just the ugly Slytherin. Distant…

Except Luna looked at Blaise the same way that Hermione did. They didn't grimace or frown when they saw him, and they didn't stare, not like other people. Neither girl looked at him any differently now than they had before – before the duel.

No one could understand how intoxicating it was, to be looked at like that. Even Blaise hadn't realized until now just how addictive it felt. Before, he knew he could get any girl to fancy him. All he needed was adequate time. But now…

He shook his head at himself.

What an arse.

Pushing off of the door, Blaise strode to the stairs. He took up his dress robe. Unlike everyone else, he'd need to face an empty bedroom tonight. He didn't have the luxury of a brother, or spouse, or even a best friend to fill that space. It would just be him, and the dark, and the silence.

He'd get used to it eventually.

Draco laid on his bed, over the top of the fraying quilt, and he crossed his arms behind his head. As leisurely as he looked, he couldn't relax. It was uncomfortably warm in the room, even after he'd yanked off his shirt, pants, and socks. The garments littered the floor, along with his shoes, making things look even dingier than normal.

A light rapping on the door caught his attention. He sat up quickly, staring down at himself – just a pair of loose-ish black boxer briefs covered him up at this point.

"Hang on," he said, having to clear his throat to speak loudly. Springing off of the bed, Draco tugged open the top drawer of his rickety little dresser and began pawing through it.

If that was Hermione – which it had to be, Blaise wouldn't bother knocking and no one else liked Draco enough to pay a visit – then he'd obviously want to appear more put-together. He located a grey t-shirt and slid it on.

He started combing through another drawer, nearly panicking when he couldn't find any proper pajama pants, and then Draco finally paused. What did he care, anyway? He was aching with fatigue, and Hermione, even as testy as she was, would probably be more curious than anything if she caught him half-dressed.

Groaning to himself, and already regretting this particular decision, Draco pulled open the door.

"Oh." Sure enough, Hermione stood on the other side, her hand poised to knock again. Her eyes flitted over Draco's body so quickly that he almost didn't catch it. She didn't look him in the face.

"I… I just wondered if we could talk," she said.

Draco didn't reply, but he stepped to the side and opened his door farther. Inwardly, his spirits had lifted a great deal. Knowing he could still get Hermione flustered made for a real ego boost.

Hermione ducked her head and walked past, setting her shoes gingerly on the old wooden floor. She'd let her hair down, and it looked sleeker than usual. She hadn't changed out of her little black dress.

The door shut with a soft click.

"Talk," Draco said simply. He settled himself back down on his bed, crossing his legs and closing his eyes.

Hermione huffed. She crossed her arms. "I – well – you know, you could make this a bit easier on me."

"Make what easier, exactly?"

"You know," Hermione snapped, "Apologizing."

At those words, Draco's eyes popped open. He sat up on his bed and folded his hands together neatly in his lap, suddenly full of rapt attention.

"Apologies?" he said curiously. "No, surely not from my Hermione. She's too stubborn and headstrong."

"That's redundant."

"That's deflecting."

Hermione pursed her lips, tapping her foot impatiently. "I can apologize, you know. I can admit when I made a mistake… Can you?"

"Don't be ridiculous. We both know I've spent the majority of this relationship apologizing to you."

"Fair enough…" Hermione said. She tugged on a strand of hair. Draco waited, but nothing came after that. Hermione seemed so preoccupied with fidgeting and stalling that she might have forgotten she wasn't alone, chewing on her lip and shifting her weight from foot to foot.

Draco let the silence drag on for a long minute before he gave up.

"Hermione," he said, "I'm sorry for what I said. And how I acted. I didn't mean it."

"I know you didn't," she replied. Eyeing the bed cautiously, and taking care not to look at Draco's inadequately-clothed legs, Hermione came forward and sat next to him. "I mean, thank you. I appreciate that. And… Look, I'm really sorry too. I can't let Harry and Ron go without me, but… I'm sorry. I should have talked to you about it."

Draco nodded slowly. It still hurt to think she'd be running off without him soon, but this was a start.

Hermione gave a nervous laugh. "You have a really good friend, you know."


"Blaise. He told me to stop being an ass and come see you."

"Huh." Draco mulled that over. He hadn't realized what Blaise was up to earlier, but he sure as hell appreciated it right now.

"It was kind of odd, actually," Hermione continued, "I almost thought… Well, never mind that. I had a question for you."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

"What was it that Mr. Weasley said to you?" she asked, leaning in conspiratorially.

Neither of them realized how close they'd gotten in the last minute. They sat beside each other on the narrow bed, hunched inward, and just now Hermione's hand brushed Draco's knee. He felt a twinge of warmth flood his stomach at the contact. Evidently Hermione felt something similar, because she looked down and blushed.

Draco reached out and covered Hermione's hand with his own. He didn't look up, however, and his expression looked pained.

"He told me not to hurt you, for one," he said slowly, "And he told me to keep us – me and Blaise – away from Ginny." Draco snorted. "Typical father stuff, really. Nothing groundbreaking."


"You all think of each other as family," Draco said. "It never made sense to me, even after living here for so long, but tonight it just… It fell into place. I saw you crying about the Burrow, and it was more than just sympathy. You lost a piece of home tonight, just as much as they did, didn't you? I'm sorry."

Hermione stared at Draco, more surprised than he expected. She turned her hand over and interlocked her fingers with his.

"You don't have that with anyone, do you?" she asked. "Not even with Blaise. That's why you never understood how I can be friends with Ron and Harry like I am, like a sister."

Draco shook his head. Pansy came to mind; she'd been like a sister. Even then, between her, Blaise, and Draco, they'd always had a separateness. Lucius and Narcissa wouldn't dote on them the way they did their own son, and same went for the Zabinis and Parkinsons. There was no secondary family.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he said. "It'll happen eventually. It's funny, though… Puts everything into perspective, doesn't it? Hearing everyone talk about tonight… It makes you feel ridiculous for fighting at all, when any moment, everything could end. Just like that."

"I needed some perspective," Hermione agreed. Then, untangling her fingers from Draco's, she slid off the bed and turned away.

Draco watched her go, and something akin to distress filled his chest. He started to raise his hand, to catch Hermione before she could leave – it dawned on him that he couldn't be alone, not tonight, not after everything that had happened –

Hermione reached behind her neck and undid the clasp at the top of her dress. Draco's arm fell back.

"I can't reach the zipper," she said, the unspoken invitation sending a chill down Draco's spine. He scooted to the end of the bed, trying not to look overzealous about it. His mouth felt dry.

She had pulled her thick hair over one shoulder, so Draco grasped the tiny zipper easily and carefully slid it downward. Admittedly, he'd seen the contraptions on muggle-style bookbags around Hogwarts, but he'd never used one himself. He thanked Merlin that it worked simply and took no brain-power to operate, seeing as in this moment, he really had none to spare. The black fabric of Hermione's dress seemed to fall away, revealing lightly-tanned skin in its wake. He followed the zipper down the gentle curve of her back, where it revealed the barest hint of lacy, coral-pink knickers.

Hermione turned around, catching Draco's intent stare before he could compose himself. She smirked to herself.

"I really like this on you, by the way," Draco said, clearing his throat.

"Oh? Should I keep it on, then?"

"No." It came out more demanding than he meant, but Draco noticed a touch of intrigue grace Hermione's golden eyes. He could work with that. He put his hands on her hips, less gentle now, and pulled her toward him. When she leaned down to meet his stare, Hermione had all kinds of exhilaration and uncertainty on her face. "Do you trust me?"

Her breath caught. Hermione's cheeks burned, but she managed to nod. Draco's eyes were steel in more ways than one; his expression wasn't friendly. He needed her.

Good thing she needed him too.

"Take it off."

Hermione nodded again, more shaky this time. She stepped back and pulled her dress over her head, hoping it wouldn't get caught up on her frame and result in embarrassment. The fabric bunched up around her shoulders, but it slipped off just fine in the end. She dropped the garment onto the floor, now wearing only her knickers and bra.

She watched Draco's eyes scan her up and down, almost predatory in his focus. When he looked back up to her face, though, his gaze had softened.

"You're beautiful, you know that?" he said, while Hermione wrapped her arms comfortingly around herself. Draco pulled them back down. He didn't want her to hide from him. "I should have said that before, but I didn't because I'm a ruddy idiot."

"You are," Hermione quipped.

Draco raised his eyebrows at her. "Not even a 'thank you,' then? Hmm. You need to learn some manners."

They both paused – they hadn't ever wandered into this kind of territory before. Hell, Draco had thought up this scenario in a dozen or more ways, but he couldn't imagine that Hermione would let him get away with it. For her part, she didn't exactly know how far it would lead.

The authority in Draco's voice lit something in Hermione's brain. Heat crawled over her skin, all of it coming together and centering low in her belly. She decided that she could get used to hearing him talk that way… Really, it couldn't be too bad.

"We don't have to do anything," Draco said quickly. "Look, I'm sorry – I'm pushing you –"

"Don't be sorry," Hermione said. "I… I was rude. Maybe I need to learn."

They locked eyes. Hermione tried to hide her anxiousness, and she did a good job of it. If Draco hadn't known better, he would have thought she knew exactly what kind of effect she had on him.

"Are you sure?" he asked, already reaching out for her bare waist.

"I trust you," she replied. "So yes, I'm quite sure."

The remnants of Draco's restraint broke. He dug his fingertips into Hermione's soft skin and drew her toward him, setting himself on the edge of the rickety bed. He tugged on her hair, hinting at what he wanted, and she obliged by bending to him and kissing him hard. A moment later Hermione had thrown herself onto him, wrapping her legs around Draco's waist, and she dragged her fingernails across his shoulder blades.

Draco closed his eyes at the minor pain, breathing out heavily with pleasure. He twisted up a handful of Hermione's hair and pulled on it, trying not to get too rough… Hermione gasped, but it wasn't indignant or aggrieved, so Draco pulled a bit harder.

She mirrored his movements, raking her fingers through his blonde hair and jerking his head to the side. Before Draco could even react himself, Hermione had set to kissing his exposed neck. He wrapped an arm around her waist, gripping the underside of her thigh with his other hand, and in a fluid motion he flipped her over onto the mattress.

"Tell me to stop, and I will," he said breathlessly.

"Don't stop," Hermione replied. She had her hands in his hair again, and her bare legs tangled up in his.

"No, really," Draco said, "Tell me when you need to stop. I don't want –"

"Draco," Hermione hissed, cupping his face resolutely in her hands. "We could have died tonight, but instead we got in some ridiculous fight. Do you know what Tonks and Remus are doing right now? She's worried sick over him, trying to help him however she can, and he's trying to heal what's left of his arm. They don't have the luxury of fighting with each other, let alone the luxury of… Of this."

Draco tried to keep up with her, but his brain couldn't process Hermione's words. Not all of them, at least. He had an idea of what she was getting at, but he couldn't be quite sure.

Hermione sighed. "I don't want to miss out on you. Call me rash, or impatient, but life is getting shorter every day… So don't stop, alright? I'll tell you if I need a break. I promise."

Draco waited for an addendum, but Hermione didn't waiver. He lowered himself onto her, not sure he could continue holding himself up like that. Hermione's legs locked around his hips, sending a jolt of heat down his navel.

"You might change your mind," he said.

"I won't," she said. "But I'll tell you if I do."

He nodded, trying to get his thoughts under control, but then Hermione had grasped the hem of his shirt and tugged it upward, letting out a little huff of annoyance that it wasn't off already. It took all of a few seconds for Draco to sit upright, tear the thing off, and return to snogging Hermione senseless. Her soft hands roamed over his back, and his chest – Draco halted in his movements here, waiting for her to push away, only she didn't – and then lower. She slid her fingertips under the edge of his boxers.

"Don't stop," she whispered.

Draco fought back a groan. All the blood in his body pulsed achingly, drawn toward his groin like it was magnetized, and the closer Hermione got to fully unclothing him, the more desperate he felt.

She pulled the fabric down, her breathing more ragged now. Draco hooked his fingers under her knickers. When he tugged on them, the delicate lace gave way; the fabric tore almost soundlessly. He opened his mouth to apologize.

"Don't stop," Hermione demanded, for the final time.

And that night, unbeknownst to the other residents of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, they wouldn't stop themselves at all.

Far away from London, on a small, icy island off the coast of Norway, the sky looked dark and tumultuous. Theo's grandparents kept a cozy little house on the southern tip of Lepsøya, so thankfully the cold couldn't seep in and disrupt one's comfort there; that's what made it such a perfect safehouse. The other Death Eaters didn't know about it, either. Theo's father had always been careful about that.

Pansy sat on Theo's grandmother's old rocking chair, wrapped with a thick knitted blanket, and she nudged the ground every few seconds with her foot to keep it swaying back and forth. Her hair had grown out a bit over the last few months, and without access to a proper hairdresser, she'd resorted to pinning back her bangs each day. Makeup didn't matter here.

Off behind her, she heard the fireplace roar to life. Everything glowed green for a moment in that tiny den.

Heavy footsteps approached. She didn't look up when Theo stepped in front of her, still removing his coal-black Death Eater's cloak. He knelt in front of her, steadying the chair with his large hands.

"Hey Pan," he said quietly.

She looked at him, finally, but said nothing.

"I brought you some books," Theo said, gesturing to a short stack of texts he'd set by his boots. "They're some of my sister's favorites, you'll really like them."

"I'm sick of reading," Pansy said.

Theo's face fell. "I know, Pan. I'm sorry. I hate that you have to stay cooped up in here all the time –"

"I'm going back to Hogwarts."

Pansy stared past him as she said it. She looked bored more than anything. She'd spent too much time being angry, and she was sick of that, too.

Theo frowned. He smoothed down his hair, which was oily after the long day. Even unwashed hair couldn't spoil his boyish good looks.

"I don't think that's a good idea," he said. "What will the Professors think? What about the other students? Last they heard, you left with me after the attack."

"Maybe I'll tell them the truth."

Theo's frown deepened. He stood, towering over Pansy in her chair. He had to find a way to convince her not to go.

"I can't protect you from the Dark Lord if you leave."

"Hogwarts is protection enough. I'm going. I want to see Draco and Blaise again. I need to make sure they're okay. No one's seen Blaise since that night, and it kills me just to think about it."

"I told you, it wasn't Greyback who got to him," Theo tried. They'd had this argument before. "Greyback wouldn't have left anything behind. It had to be a curse, Pan. Someone hit him with something, and Pomfrey must've found him within the hour. He's fine."

Pansy didn't betray any emotion, but she cast her sharp gaze over Theo. Funny how he could act so innocent. She almost believed him, too.

"I don't know," she said, pulling the blanket in tighter. "It sounds a lot like Greyback to me. He could have been interrupted, or something…"

Theo's face softened, everything touched with sympathy. It made Pansy's stomach turn. She'd tested him like this over and over by now, and he hadn't broken once. Still, she knew the truth. She'd seen the blood on Theo's robes that night, and she'd seen which direction he came from. The same way Blaise had left.

Not that he'd given her much time to think on it, considering that he'd stunned her before she could react. For her own good, of course.

She felt Theo's hand cover her own; he felt warm and familiar, like always. He'd been so perfect, back at Hogwarts… And somehow he still was, even now. He was still her sensitive, loving Theo… Except these days, those very traits sickened Pansy to her core.

"Come on, love," he said softly. "Let's get you to bed."

Pansy looked up, giving him a small smile. At least in some ways, he really was innocent. He slept on the floor each night when he was home, and he'd never once proposed the obvious option. Too much a gentleman to consider it.

He guided her into the bedroom and tucked her in, like always. He hated to see her like this, and she'd never considered what a risk he was taking by hiding her away… Bellatrix was desperate to find Draco, and if she knew that Theo had a connection to Pansy, she'd crucio him into oblivion just like the Longbottoms.

He'd never threatened Pansy with violence, and by all means, she was free to leave at her own will. She hadn't left the cottage once all summer, which would have been a good thing… Theo just wanted her to be safe and happy. He could make her safe and happy. She just needed to give him more time.

Pansy only pretended to fall asleep that night. Then, when she heard Theo's breathing slow, and she glanced over to find him tangled up in his blankets, she slipped away. The great oaf didn't wake up when she used the floo, even, which helped things along. She didn't want another confrontation, and couldn't risk letting him figure her out – because all summer, Theo hadn't once considered that Pansy stayed for tactical reasons. He's never dreamt that the long conversations and her undivided attention added up to anything other than love.

Bloody idiot, Pansy thought, stepping out of the hearth at the Three Broomsticks. Even as she thought it, however, she looked around. Her chest filled with a sensation that she could only describe as emptiness, not that she could do anything about that now.

A/N: Okay, you guys got me on a roll. I didn't expect to finish the next chapter for at least another week. I'm sorry if it's rough - let me know if you notice anything - I'd edited it multiple times but it was all in a row so I easily could have missed something.

Once again, thank you for your support. Leave a review, I love to hear your thoughts! You guys have awesome insight into the characters and plot, so it's always great to have input. I'm also in the market for new fics to read, especially Hermione/Fred, Hermione/Remus, or of course, Hermione/Draco. I love the ones that stay true to character. Drop a line with your suggestions, I'd really appreciate it!

I'm not sure when the next chapter will happen. I'll keep at it, though. Love you guys!