Chapter 24: Storyboarding the Apocalypse

Nott Manor
Living Room
October 8, 2003
12:45 p.m.

"So, let me get this straight," Blaise began tartly, eyeing Draco with his usual glaze of princely suspicion. "You're saying that you don't currently feel able to take on any new cases because you are - "

"Desperately in love," Theo cut in at a drawl, "and unable to descend from the throes of such herculean romance?"

"Yes," Draco confirmed curtly. "And on a similar note, I'll need you both to attend a party."

"A party," Blaise echoed, exchanging a dubious glance with Theo. "For?"

"Well, sort of an engagement, cohabitation, lump-sum mandatory thing," Draco informed them, shrugging. "My father's making me jump through all the usual premarital hoops, as you might have guessed. Also, apparently my cousins have threatened to expose me for the criminal I am if I don't entertain them."

"You can't possibly expect us to believe Granger's okay with that," Theo scoffed. "Unless you're going to tell us that she's been reading some sort of Narcissa Malfoy handbook for ceremonial pureblood antics - "

"Actually, you joke, but that's a real thing, and Granger has definitely read it," Draco informed him. "She picked it up and said 'what is this, some sort of textbook' and I said 'yes, exactly that,' and then she just walked away. Two hours later she came back and started hounding me about - I don't know, ecru or something - "

"Sounds right," Blaise confirmed, nodding with certainty, "but still. You don't actually expect us to believe you've willingly leapt to commitment, do you?" he prompted. "I mean, this is the woman you called a mudblood for what - seven years?"

"Which, you might be aware, is still considerably less time than I've spent calling Theo a dickhead," Draco sniffed, bristling, "so I don't know why it would be in any way relevant."

"Hold on - Granger wants Blaise to come, too?" Theo asked, shaking his head. "I take it she's forgiven him for drugging him, then - which is both admirable and stupid," he determined, "seeing as I certainly haven't."

"He didn't drug her," Draco began, exasperated, but Blaise abruptly cut him off.

"Yes, I most certainly did," he corrected. "But of course I'm invited, Theodore, because clearly Granger and Malfoy here are embroiled in something they can't possibly tell us," he mused, shrugging, "and therefore we should simply not ask questions."

"Ah, yes, of course," Theo agreed sagely, and Draco rolled his eyes.

"Did your divinist tell you that, Zabini?"

"No," Blaise replied. "Though, speaking of Patil, I'm pretty sure she just made that comment about Granger's wedding being lovely to unnerve you. That's very much her play."

"Well, mission accomplished," Draco assured him. "I am consummately unnerved."

"She didn't actually say Granger was going to marry you, though, did she?" Theo reminded him. "She just said 'the' wedding, which could very well be any wedding, couldn't it?"

"Well, she obviously meant me," Draco reminded him. "Seeing as I am presently engaged to Granger."

"Oh, right," Theo permitted airily. "Sorry, I forgot we're still playing along with that."

"For the record, I've learned not to buy everything Patil says," Blaise told them. "She certainly sounds convincing, but mostly I think she's just observational enough to make everyone around her uncomfortable. It's like how Nott's so good at tense silences," he added, gesturing to Theo. "You know. Uses it to make people uncomfortable and all that. Patil does the same thing, only with vague comments about the future that people stupidly believe, because she's smarter than they are."

At that, Draco and Theo exchanged a knowing glance.

"You sound a bit taken with her, Blaise," Theo commented on their collective behalf. "Perhaps you should also throw a 'look how in love we are' party, seeing as I'm sure Granger's finished with the Narcissa Malfoy Handbook of Stuffy Theatricalities - "

"I'm just saying Patil's not unclever," Blaise interrupted impatiently. "It hardly means I'm interested. The whole thing is a bit like living with some sort of mystic cat, actually," he muttered. "I'm never totally sure she's not just staring at me and licking her paws."

"Weird visual, but okay," Theo said. "If you say so, I suppose."

"Hey," Draco called to Theo, "speaking of tentatively buying into things - how much of this whole thing with Granger and me is Potter sold on?"

"Why are you asking me?" Theo prompted defensively. "I don't know what Potter thinks."

This time, the glance was exchanged between Draco and Blaise.

"You do spend a lot of time with him," Blaise pointed out. "It's not unreasonable to ask."

"Well, you've been away," Theo said, flapping a hand pointedly at Draco, "and you've been, I don't know, flirting with the occult - so someone had to ingratiate themselves with the Ministry, don't you think?"

"Fine," Draco permitted lazily. "Just answer the question."

"I think he's too distracted to have any suspicions," Theo supplied. "Though, of course, much as I am suspending my own natural disbelief, I think it helps that he's already caught you two in bed together twice. It's a bit like one of those things where you could either be finally admitting you've been in love with her since you were fourteen," Theo mused, "or you could just as easily be leading us all on a hilarious romp of falsehood."

"Fourteen?" Draco scoffed. "Please."

"He's right," Blaise agreed. "It's more like eleven. And how is Granger in bed, anyway?" he asked curiously, tilting his head. "Seems like she'd enjoy, I don't know. Restraint?"

"What, like quiet sex?" Theo asked.

"No, sorry, I meant restraints," Blaise said. "Like ropes."

"Ah, right, better," Theo agreed, and Draco grumbled his disapproval.

"Hold on," he pressed gruffly, "what exactly is Potter distracted with? The Wizengamot case is closed," he said emphatically, thinking again how Antioch had specifically said to be certain the Ministry's investigation was over. "I would hope he's not wasting more time on it."

"Well, I assume he has other things on the table," Theo said neutrally, which Draco perceived to be something of a flagrantly misleading generalization. "He is Head Auror, which is apparently a real job with genuine responsibilities, though as I've told him myself several times, I've yet to see the proof - "

"The Lady Revel case seems to be getting a lot of press," Draco mentioned, turning to Blaise. "Is Songbird on the hook for that at all?"

"My mother is not a criminal," Blaise reminded him, repeating his usual public line. "A presumed murderess, certainly, but that's hardly the same thing."

"Still, the investigation is ongoing," Draco reminded them. "Potter's already officially ruled it a theft. Does Cad know anything about it?" he asked Theo, whose gaze then proceeded to flick warily across the room to Blaise. "What?" Draco demanded. "Stop making eyes at each other. It's singularly annoying."

"Well, speaking of annoying, I singularly dislike feeding you gossip, Lord Malfoy," Theo replied stiffly. "I don't personally know anything about Cad's thoughts on the subject, but you're welcome to pop over to the Underground and ask him yourself once you've finished your little roleplay for the day with Granger."

"I'd just like to know if the Club's involved," Draco insisted. "I want to know whether he has any suspicions, or if it's even plausible - "

"He did mention that you think his brother is dating Katie Bell," Theo cut in, drawling. "Care to share your feelings on that, Draco?"

Draco paused, glaring first at Theo and then at Blaise, who was innocently eyeing the glass in his hand.

"You two are hiding something from me," Draco noted. "Don't think I can't tell that you're avoiding the question."

"You're also hiding something from us," Blaise reminded him, glancing up. "If you have a reason to conceal things, then perhaps so do we."

"Of course, we'd be more than happy to inform you of the details with regard to our undercurrent of plotting," Theo assured him drily, "if you could manage to disentangle yourself from Granger. Historically speaking, she doesn't do well with moral ambiguity, and as I'm sure you're aware, that's our signature flavor."

"Certainly our soup du jour," Blaise agreed.

"I - " Draco grimaced, forcefully attempting to balance his curiosity with the knowledge that he would have to face her shortly; to claim he'd learned nothing and yet have her press him, relentlessly, until one or both of them lost their minds. "Fine," he ultimately conceded, growling. "How long do you plan to keep it a secret, then?"

"Don't know," Theo replied, shrugging. "How long do you plan to carry out your engagement?"

They each paused in concert, eyeing each other with palpable expectancy.

"Fine," Draco conceded again. "Touché." He paused again, looking around the room. "Where is Parkinson, by the way? I thought she'd be here."

"That," Blaise said, "is genuinely something I don't know the answer to."

"Planning for the conference, isn't she?" Theo said, shrugging. "It's in less than a week. I can't imagine she doesn't have work to do," he added, "seeing as she's the only one of us who's actually doing the job she's supposed to, as far as I can tell."

"Well," Draco sighed. "Good to know one of us is managing to keep out of trouble."

Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Wizengamot Chambers, Office of Percy Weasley
1:15 p.m.

"Everything is basically done," Pansy said stiffly, facing Percy in his office. He had leaned casually against his desk, for once actually remembering to pause his usual office charms at her entry and approaching her, rather than leaving her to weather a storm of paperwork. "There was a last minute problem with the centerpieces. Apparently there was some outburst of tulip fever, which is evidently something that tulips get, so I've had to opt for orchids instead. I know it shifts the color palette slightly," she muttered with displeasure, "but it was either that or, I don't know, succulents, which everyone knows are basically desert rubbish meant for hippie weddings and restaurants that serve quinoa - "

"Impressive," Percy commented, abruptly derailing her floral monologue. "It's almost as if you've begun to care about this event, Miss Parkinson."

"It's Pansy," she sighed (again), shaking her head. "And if I'm going to have spent a month of my life working on this, then I'm hardly just going to throw something together."

"Too true," Percy contributed, straightening. "So I take it you understand, then."

"Understand what?" she prompted irritably.

"Why I take my time," he informed her, taking a step in her direction. "I invest," he clarified, "in the time it takes to ensure the height of satisfaction."

She fought a flame of something horrible in her chest at the word satisfaction, which was by then a very teasing concept that he could not seem to help himself from repeatedly puncturing her sensibilities with.

"Stop it," she muttered.

"Stop what?" he asked, unfussed. "Have I offended you?"

"You're - " she grimaced. "You know what you're doing. You can't possibly not know what you're doing," she abruptly flung at him, suddenly inflamed by his outrageous attempts at feigning ignorance. "I've never met anyone as - as non-impulsive as you. Everything you do is intentional," she accused him bluntly. "You know exactly what you're doing, don't you?"

"You seem upset," Percy noted. "Frustrated, perhaps?"

"Yes, I'm fucking frustrated!" she exclaimed, glaring at him. "You do realize I've already saved your life once, don't you? I'm not a fucking event planner, Percy goddamn Weasley," she declared bitterly. "I don't care about menus, I don't care about permits, and I certainly don't fucking care about flowers. I haven't been doing this for fun," she half-shouted, wishing suddenly to stomp her feet, to throw something, to slam a door; to make him feel the weight of her frustration, to let it clang resoundingly around his head.

"Then what have you been doing it for?" Percy asked neutrally, tilting his chin.

God, he was impossible.

The worst.

"I - " she attempted, and swallowed. "I," she began again, and then a growl of exasperation ripped itself from her throat, manifesting in incoherence. "Nevermind," she spat furiously, turning so sharply that a slip of parchment slid from the top of the pile from her hands, landing delicately at her feet. "Fuck," she snapped, and shifted to pick it up, but Percy's hand shot out, stopping her.

"Let me," he offered quietly, and knelt down, picking up the vendor permit from the floor.

Pansy inhaled sharply as she glanced down at the top of his head, the angle of his neck; she felt a dizzying awareness of how close he was to her, and how little motion it would take for him to slide up the hem of her skirt, to put his mouth on her, to pull her to the ground and fuck her positively senseless. She could feel his intake of breath, could practically taste it, and she watched with a terrifying thrill of immobilization as he slid his fingers carefully around the bone of her ankle, his hand drawing slowly up the back of her calf.

"Pansy," he murmured, looking up at her, and fuck, fuck, fuck -

"I," she attempted again, her mouth dry. "I want - "

"I know what you want," he assured her, his blue eyes resting carefully on hers as he gently coaxed her knee towards him, his fingers still loose around her leg. "Seems silly, though," he murmured, brushing his lips with an impossible lightness against the inside of her thigh. "Almost a waste, I think, to spoil the effort of waiting."

She registered that she was shaking, that every inch of her was alert and tense and keenly aware of every inch of him, and then he slid his gaze back down, tracing the shape of her calf before lingering somewhere near her ankle.

"You wear entirely inappropriate footwear," he commented, brushing his thumb over the straps of her shoes. "Much too high for an office setting."

She bristled. "I don't think I asked for your commentary on my fashion choices."

"Well, you didn't let me finish," he told her with a chuckle. "I find I look forward to said choices," he clarified, glancing up at her, "in a way that's rather unproductive to my job."

He rose to his feet, then, handing her the permit she'd dropped.

She shoved the papers onto his desk, yanking him against her and partially wanting to sob with longing; partially wishing, alternately, to drill her 'inappropriate' heel directly into the brogues of his oxfords.

"You could have me here," she told him, snaking her arms around his neck. "On your desk, if you wanted. On the floor, against the wall. However you wanted." She felt his shoulders stiffen, his hands settling carefully on her waist. "I could ride you on that chair right here, right now. I could keep my shoes on for you - you could have my skirt bunched up in your hands, my blouse ripped open while you fuck me," she whispered, tilting her chin up to taste the tiny, inconspicuous breath of arousal that slipped from his lips, "or you could have me bare, right now. However you wanted," she said again, triumphantly registering the motion of his heavy swallow. "You could have it, if you would just - if you could just - "

"You're a consultant," he reminded her, with a deplorable lack of hesitation. "Essentially an employee of the Ministry, and under my personal direction."

She glared up at him, staring for a moment in disbelief.

"You can't honestly tell me that actually matters," she managed after a moment of shock, consummately furious. "I'm not an employee, and even if I were, if we just - " She exhaled sharply. "Nobody would have to know, and we could just - "

"Miss Parkinson," Percy asked softly. "Are you by chance begging for me?"

She froze, her breath suspending violently in her chest.

"You fucking arsehole," she said, though it lacked the bite she'd intended; she'd already progressed to desperation by then. Transcended it, even, to some sort of out-of-body sensation of anguish, torn between cursing him and fucking him right then and there.

"You said it yourself," he reminded her, "that I am not particularly given to impulsiveness." He stepped away, releasing her, and she blinked, surprised that her knees were in any way up to the task of holding her upright. "After all, isn't it eminently more gratifying," he postured quietly, his gaze tracing the distressingly unsteady state of her, "to have worked for something over time?"

She could kill him.

She could kill him.

If, that is, she could manage not to want him so goddamn badly.

"I wouldn't know," she muttered eventually, letting her nails bite into her palm.

Percy smiled.

"Well, I'll make certain that you learn, then," he informed her neutrally, turning to seat himself behind his desk and leaving her staring, hopelessly, at the spot he'd just been standing. "Have you run these security details by Harry, by the way?"

Pansy blinked, startled into awareness.

"Who?" she echoed, still thoroughly frozen in place.

Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
October 9, 2003
10:45 a.m.

Harry slid his fingers into Theo's hair, yanking his head back.

"What did you want again?" he asked gruffly, his voice still rough from not having been used aside from a few scratchy groans of fuck yes, yeah, like that while shoved up against his office wall. "Eventually I have to get back to work, Nott."

"Parkinson," Theo muttered as a reminder, shrugging Harry's grip away and bringing his lips back to the side of Harry's neck. "Wants something signed, or - approved, I don't know - "

"I saw that one of those is another name change form," Harry grumbled, the vibration of it resonating against Theo's lips. "What stupidity have you thought of now, Nott?"

"Events by Malfoy and Co.," he replied, and Harry blinked.

"Seriously?" he asked, nudging Theo away. "Because if that's the case - "

"It's not that, you dumb fuck," Theo said. "It's 'Nott, For Fuck's Sake, Just Get Him to Sign the Bloody Papers Before I Use Your Testicles As Christmas Ornaments and Bury Your Dick in the Ground,' give or take a few extra expletives - "

"Inspired by Parkinson, I'm guessing?" Harry asked dizzily, reaching for the name change form on his desk. "Wow, it actually says that - "

"Well, I barely ever lie," Theo remarked at a drawl. "Only when there's something hilarious in it for me."

"Which is nearly always," Harry reminded him. He set the form down, returning his attention to Theo and resting both hands on his chest. "By the way," Harry ventured carefully, "you've seemed relatively up to something lately."

"Have I?" Theo asked vacantly. "That doesn't sound like me. And here I thought I was just fucking my preferred sexual counterpart during his government-funded work hours, like a responsible private citizen - "

"'Preferred sexual counterpart,'" Harry echoed, chuckling. "Fuck, you're getting soft, Nott."

"Well, I've been known to have my moments," Theo agreed. "Though we should really stop meeting like this, Potter," he sniffed, "as I'm very busy and important, and therefore cannot be subject to your every passing whim."

"If you recall, we wouldn't have to if you could keep more reasonable hours," Harry reminded him. "I have to actually be at work during the day, Nott. I can't keep coming over at three in the morning after you get home from the Underground."

"Yes, and I maintain that you were the one who wanted me to keep an eye on Carnegie," Theo countered. "So how am I supposed to do that, exactly, if I'm off irresponsibly blowing you all the time?"

"'All the time' is a stretch," Harry sighed, "unfortunately. And anyway, Daisy said you've been spending a lot of time alone with Cad." He paused, his fingers tightening just slightly in Theo's collar as he sorted out how to proceed. "Anything you need to tell me about him?" he asked, apparently having opted for a gentle prompting. "Or, you know. You?"

Theo paused, considering it.

'Are we all set?' had been the crux of the conversation with Cad the night prior, which put the 'anything' Theo might have needed to share with Harry at a semi-advanced stage of denial. His response to Cad, of course, had been yes; while Cad had handled most of the necessary enchantments - he knew more of them than anyone, as was becoming increasingly obvious - Theo was the one responsible for most of the logistics, and he'd come through with his usual skill.

What Theo couldn't tell Harry - now comprising a list of transgressions, which only seemed to grow at every possible turn - was that there had been a few reasons he'd been making such frequent trips to the Ministry, and these little episodes of intimacy together were only about half of them. The other half were the kind belonging to Theo's particular specialty: reconnaissance, always to a faultlessly detailed degree. Luckily, having a regular audience with the Ministry's Head Auror made Theo's presence virtually unremarkable, and he'd always had a talent for blending in.

So yes, they were all set. Not that Harry could possibly find that comforting.

"Well, as I've told you," Theo said neutrally, "it's just better if you don't know."

Harry nodded grimly. "I know, but - "

"Listen," Theo cut in firmly. "I'm going to do everything in my fucking power to keep you out of whatever mess I may or may not make, Potter. If that means lying to you to keep you clean, then I'll do it," he said brusquely, "but I don't want to, so you probably just shouldn't ask."

To his surprise, the corner of Harry's mouth twitched.

Then he sighed.

"I love you, too," Harry said, and Theo glanced up, startled. "What?" Harry prompted innocently, shrugging. "I heard it."

"Oh, fuck off," Theo muttered with unwilling satisfaction, sighing.

"Blow me," Harry countered.

"Actually, I believe it's your turn for that," Theo reminded him, and in response, Harry shoved him towards the desk approvingly, backing him against it before sitting himself in his office chair and unbuttoning Theo's trousers. "Really?" Theo asked skeptically, letting Harry shove his legs apart and tug the zipper down. "You're going to sit down in a chair while you do this?"

"Back support," Harry informed him, shrugging. "Posture is important, Nott."

"Christ, romance is dead," Theo sighed, but relented, tightening his fingers in Harry's hair. "By the way, have you heard anything new about Bagman?"

Harry didn't answer. By then, he had taken on other tasks.

Oliver Wood was not a particularly complex man. He considered himself fairly simple, actually.

To start with, he had been a good quidditch player. He was driven, hard-working, and only occasionally difficult to handle on the pitch (until he wasn't, of course - but that was hardly his fault). He was a pretty good friend for the most part, too; he'd been known to move furniture from time to time. He certainly wasn't above admitting that he was an exceptional boxer, having a solid combination of power, discipline, and technique. In short, nothing about him was terribly misleading or ambiguous; he was, all in all, a rather simple person.

So he wasn't sure, then, how he'd managed to fall into such a complicated relationship with Marcus Flint.

Oliver and Marcus had always been like two sides of the same coin, provided that one of the sides was normal and the other was a pureblood fucking menace who couldn't prevent picking a fight with every single person in sight, ever, or attempting to break at least one (1) rule. But whatever divergences their exteriors made, in the end they were made of the same thing: they both worked hard, maintained an unerring sense of competition, and lived and breathed for the sole purpose of spiting the other - until one day, horrifyingly, Oliver realized what he felt wasn't actually repulsion.

It was something much, much worse.

For one thing, he'd thought he got off on winning until he realized what he actually enjoyed was beating Marcus, and then beating off in the showers afterwards, imagining the look of frustration on his face; recalling with perfect clarity the way sweat had dripped down the other man's chest while he stripped his jersey, furious, and stormed away, leaving Oliver to watch the muscle in his shoulders tense with palpable irritation. It was painfully hard not to watch, though he wasn't sure why at first. Eventually, he decided it was because he knew what it took to be Marcus' particular flavor of quidditch excellence; he knew what each line of muscle required, and so he couldn't look at Marcus without imagining the drills, the workouts, the early mornings and the discipline of it - the pain it took, which Oliver knew all too well, and which nobody else had ever understood. Take breaks, people always said, take rest days, but Oliver never did, and he knew perfectly well that Marcus didn't either.

He didn't realize that was some bizarre, twisted form of love until he'd landed himself in Marcus' bed.

"You think you're normal?" Marcus had said to him. "You think just anyone can do what you do? Fucking impossible, Wood." He'd been dripping with sweat, fucking aching, and even then, Oliver still hadn't been sure whether he wanted to punch Marcus in the mouth or kiss him again. "Nobody understands you but me, Wood. Nobody can see you, really see you, but me. Fuck," Marcus swore, his fingers digging into Oliver's ribs. "Fuck, Wood, you were made for me."

Oliver had come, hard, with those words ringing in his ears, and he had thought for the first time that maybe, for once, something that fucking Marcus Flint had said was actually worth believing. Up until then, Oliver had been thoroughly lost, having been removed from the quidditch league - for fighting, unsurprisingly, although it hadn't helped that he'd been suffering the worst season of his career even before that, which he also attributed to a certain former Slytherin - but once he'd found himself in the arms of Marcus Flint, Oliver Wood started to feel as if some form of purpose had finally returned to his bones.

But while Oliver's side of the coin was reasonably inclined to think that one person professing to belong with another person might mean that said person would want to invest in any relevant conceptions of belonging, the other side was clearly of the mind that pureblood expectations of marriage were not to be lightly put aside.

"It'd be one thing if you were just a man," Marcus had laughed. "But add in the half-blood bit, and the sad lack of preexisting fortune - "

"I thought that didn't matter to you," Oliver muttered under his breath, and Marcus shrugged.

"Doesn't," he said. "At least not the way you think. But I'm not actually looking to be defaced from my family tree," he remarked lazily, "and thus, I've got the none-too-pleasant task of marrying an insipid, wealthy heiress to keep my wretched family from much-deserved destitution."

"I'm not fucking impoverished," Oliver pointed out, annoyed. "I was a professional quidditch player, Flint. I'm not some sort of homeless waif."

"It's different," Marcus said, shaking his head. "You earned that money. You're not going to want to watch my mother waste it on gaudy candelabras and illegal creature furs. That's much easier to stomach for someone who's just got generations of gold sitting around, languishing somewhere in her vault at Gringotts."

And so Daphne Greengrass had entered the picture.

It wasn't so bad an arrangement, really, as Daphne was by no means intolerable. She was lovely, witty, and largely uninterested in Marcus, instead fielding a private affair of her own. Still, there was something immensely complicated about Oliver watching the man he might have simply loved (and loved simply) starting to build a life with someone who wasn't him. Even if it wasn't a life he wanted, it was still a life with Marcus that somebody else - someone who wasn't him - got to have. And while Marcus appeared to believe that he could hold all the many facets of his complicated life (juggling them, Oliver perceived, with reasonable dexterity, though perhaps not longevity) Oliver began to wonder if he were not the piece that Marcus could ultimately stand to lose.

"This shit with Daphne is temporary," Marcus tried to assure him. "You know it doesn't matter."

"Well, if it's only temporary," Oliver asked, "then when will it end?"

He could see Marcus' unwillingness to answer; could see, too, that the answer could very conceivably be never, and more importantly, Oliver could see, with a painful stab of certainty, that while he might have been made for Marcus Flint, Marcus Flint had clearly not been made for him.

"Excuse me," he heard, startling him out of his thoughts as someone reached out, pausing him as he wandered down Diagon Alley. "Are you Oliver Wood?"

"Yes," Oliver confirmed, and frowned. "Hold on," he said with stammered disbelief, taking in the broken look of the man's nose and the signature short blond hair that was going just slightly grey at the sides. "Ludo Bagman?"

"Yes," Ludo exclaimed, looking delighted at being recognized. "Are you a fan, then?"

"Oh, of course," Oliver said, struggling not to be excessively starstruck. "What quidditch player wouldn't be? You still hold all the records for the Wimbourne Wasps - fuck, I had your poster over my bed for what, a decade? At least? It's a bloody honor to meet you - "

"Ah, well, always nice to know I haven't been entirely forgotten," Ludo returned cheerfully, "though you had quite a season yourself recently, didn't you?"

"Oh, I - " Oliver coughed. "I haven't played in a bit - a year or so, but my last season was, um, sort of a mixed bag - "

"Yes, I have heard you've taken on other pursuits since then," Ludo remarked. "A bit of a boxing fiend, eh?" he prompted, giving Oliver a conspiratorial wink. Oliver opened his mouth, about to protest that no, no, of course not, but Ludo shook his head. "Not to worry," he said, "I'm rather an enthusiast myself."

"You fight?" Oliver asked, frowning, and Ludo let out a loud, boisterous laugh.

"No, no, my dear boy, I'm much too old for that," he said with a smothered chuckle. "I meant that I enjoy watching, of course - when I can find some worthy participants to observe, that is, which is always a bit of a challenge - "

"Oh," Oliver said, feeling immensely foolish. "Well, I'm actually heading to - " He paused, recalling what had happened to Hermione after her involvement with the Ministry had come out and biting his tongue. "Sorry, you work for the Ministry, don't you?"

"Well, I've been brought in to consult on a case - the Wizengamot assassinations," Ludo prompted, "which you might have heard of - "

"Right," Oliver permitted, recalling that detail now.

"But I keep a very low profile," Ludo said reassuringly, despite Oliver very much doubting that were true; after all, Ludo Bagman was nearly unmistakable, possessing as he did an oft-photographed face and a booming, unavoidable voice. "I assure you, I can be very subtle."

"Well," Oliver began hesitantly, "I'm just not quite sure - "

"You know, I have connections at quite a few of these boxing clubs," Ludo said. "Not to mention quite a good relationship with the Wasps, still. As you might imagine, they're rather receptive to my needs," he added with a chuckle, "and I would be happy to recommend you to them. Keeper, aren't you?" he prompted, and Oliver nodded, swallowing his pleasure at the recognition. "I hear they're looking, you know. Hornby retired this year, which leaves a rather pressing vacancy."

"Oh, well, I don't know. I didn't exactly leave the league voluntarily," Oliver admitted, but Ludo waved his concerns away.

"Nonsense," he said. "The league is all about slaps on the wrists, that's all. I'm sure I can make them see sense."

"That's - " Oliver blinked, frowning. "That would be quite generous of you - "

"Yes, yes, well, I'm known for my generosity. And my skill with a bat," Ludo added, winking again. "But anyway, you were saying?" he prompted expectantly. "Where was it you were headed for the evening, again?"

Oliver paused, weighing his options.

On the one hand, Ludo Bagman was clearly bribing him, which didn't quite register as entirely innocent.

On the other, though, the opportunity to play quidditch again was no small offering, and all Ludo was being asked in return was to take him to the Underground, which anyone in Diagon Alley with a nose for rumors would know how to manage. Oliver was a relatively simple man; he loved quidditch, and it was all he had ever really wanted to do with his life. Even for just the prospect of playing again - was it really so difficult a choice?

In a sense it was, as playing quidditch again would mean no more Marcus. The travel was extensive, and the Wimbourne Wasps in particular weren't based out of London. Oliver would have to move, and who knew if he'd ever be able to come back? Marcus, in the meantime, would have to continue his charade with Daphne alone.

Though it would continue, Oliver remembered with a hard swallow, whether Oliver were present or not.

He sighed.

"This way," Oliver said, gesturing Ludo towards the Arsonist and realizing that, in the end, whatever he had with Marcus Flint wasn't very complicated at all. After all, Marcus had never led Oliver to believe he ever intended to choose him.

"Wonderful," Ludo proclaimed, falling in step beside him. "I'll tell you something, this entire town's a different place now than it was, but it's comforting to know that there's still some camaraderie between former players. Also quite nice to be somewhere where people aren't unrepentantly chattering on about 'Dramione' or whatever the new thing is for the kids these days - "

"Sorry, what?" Oliver echoed.

"Dramione," Ludo repeated, making a face, and Oliver frowned.

"What the fuck is that?"

Old Black Residence
Palace Gardens Terrace
October 10, 2003
7:45 p.m.

"No, stop," Hermione sighed, shaking her head as Draco levitated the sofa closer to the fireplace. "You're going to block the Floo if you put it there."

"Oh, this Floo?" Draco prompted with a huff. "You mean the one that still isn't in working order despite your constant assurances that Potter is not, in fact, useless?"

"No, Malfoy, the other Floo in the room," Hermione snapped. "And it's not my fault that Harry hasn't done it yet. For one thing, we still have plenty of time, and for another, he's coming to take care of it on Sunday."

"Sunday?!" Draco demanded. "The Lord's day? That's outrageous."

Hermione sighed. "I don't know why I bother, but - why, Malfoy, is that outrageous?"

"It just is," Draco sniffed. "Obviously I would prefer he get it working immediately."

"Well, what do you want me to do? He works during the week, you know, like a normal employed person, and then he's got that quidditch game or whatever he's up to tomorrow - "

"Some alleged 'best friend' he is," Draco remarked gruffly, nudging the sofa to the left until Hermione nodded (with some reservations, considering how little she wanted to approve anything he was doing or saying) for him to set it down. "Still, at least until then that means we probably won't have anyone showing up uninvit-"

He broke off as there was a small crack behind them, both of them reaching for their wands and leveling them at the exasperated form of Nico Flamel, who held his hands up with an irritated sigh.

"You can put those down," he informed them, pointedly holding his wand between two fingers. "I think we've established there's not going to be any murder between us."

"Not today, anyway," Hermione remarked grimly, glancing at Draco as she lowered her wand and then turning back to Nico. "Still time, though."

"We should at least get some kind of doorbell," Draco muttered. "Or a very loud alarm - "

"Believe me, I highly doubt anyone but me wants to see either of you," Nico assured them, walking around the living room and falling onto the sofa. "Nice place, by the way."

"Yeah, well, we obviously chose it for its unparalleled security," Draco remarked.

"What is it you need?" Hermione prompted, cutting Nico off as he opened his mouth. "We have things to do, Nico, and - " She paused, abruptly registering the difference in his face as he looked at her. "Huh. You look better, by the way."

"Yes, well, benefits of being part of an international society of immortal wizards include not being totally without useful potioneers," Nico informed her. "But anyway, I don't intend to keep you. I just wanted to inform you that whoever 'Katie' is, you should probably stay away from her for the time being."

At that, Draco spared Hermione a look that was part apprehension, part irritation.

"Can't," he said flatly. "Granger here has decided to invite her to our engagement party."

"Engagement party?" Nico echoed, looking surprised. "Well, congratulations, I suppose - "

"Hold on. Katie?" Hermione echoed. "Because of - " she began, and stopped herself. "Er, why?" she attempted, aiming for innocence.

"Well, there's a small possibility Ignotus might use her to extract some sort of loosely-formed vengeance plot against you," Nico supplied flippantly, gesturing to Draco. "I think I talked him out of it, though, since as far as I can see, that's not precisely his aim - but still, just in case - "

"Against me?" Draco echoed, drawing a hand to his chest. "You really need to have a talk with your friend, Flamel. He seems entirely caught up in pursuing my destruction, and I find it's beginning to take its toll on my sensibilities. Forgiveness doesn't grow on trees, you know."

"The phrase is money doesn't grow on trees," Hermione corrected him.

"Like hell it doesn't," Draco scoffed. "Then what do you call the ones next to the gardenias?"

"Look, Ignotus is just - " Nico sighed. "He means well, but - "

"Have you considered the possibility that Ignotus might be using the Wizengamot assassinations to plot against Antioch?" Hermione asked plainly, folding her arms over her chest. "I know you have feelings for him, Nico, but that doesn't excuse the signs. He's already acted against the Club once, and now with all this - "

"He's - look, it's nothing," Nico said, obviously lying. "He's not plotting against Antioch, he just has some - some personal things going on," he exhaled, "that he needs to deal with. "

"Well in that case, what he needs is a therapist," Draco pointed out obnoxiously. "Someone, for example, to sort out his inexplicable need to murder Granger and me - "

"Ah yes, excellent mental health advice from the contract-killing drug addict who won't admit he's in love," Nico remarked drily. "So Antioch never threatened you, then? Not even once?"

"What? I'm not in love," Draco scoffed, deliberately sidestepping the question.

"Case in point," Nico supplied, and Hermione cut in, sighing loudly.

"Look," she said. "What exactly is going to happen when it comes down to choosing between Antioch and Ignotus? We're already involved, whether we want to be or not," she added, expressing her immense displeasure at the thought. "Are we going to have to choose sides too?"

"Personally, I'm leaning towards the guy who hasn't tried to kill me," Draco pointed out. "It's a fairly not-insignificant leaning, actually - "

"That won't be necessary," Nico said firmly, rising to his feet. "At least, I desperately hope not. They've already both brought up the possibility of reanimating Cadmus - their third brother who betrayed them," he clarified with a shrug (unnecessarily, of course), "and whom they killed to protect the Club, which obviously makes bringing him back just about the most horrendously ill-advised idea I've ever heard - "

"Cadmus?" Hermione echoed, and glanced sharply at Draco, catching a nearly imperceptible flicker of warning that twitched between his brows. "Why him?"

"Well, Antioch and Ignotus each seem to believe that Cadmus would side with them," Nico rumbled in irritation. "Rather recklessly, I might add. Of course, there's no telling whether either of them are correct, but either way, Cadmus is supremely unpleasant. I do not desire a world where he resumes his smarmy occupation of my general space," he muttered, "and much worse, too, for Ignotus, if Cadmus were to side with Antioch - "

"Are you sure that he would?" Hermione asked carefully. "Didn't you say that both his brothers sort of - " she paused, glancing at Draco, who shrugged.

"Murdered him?" Draco suggested indelicately.

"Frankly, I've never understood Cadmus Peverell in my life, and I don't intend to imagine I do now," Nico informed them. "I do know, however, that we must all do everything in our power to ensure, firstly, that he does not return, and that Antioch and Ignotus never become rivals. Am I clear?" he prompted, glancing between Draco and Hermione. "You can't tell Antioch any of this, and you certainly should not express your suspicions about Ignotus to him. Understood?"

Draco and Hermione exchanged a glance; within it, they seemed to come to the identical conclusion that there didn't seem to be any point in arguing, so -

"Understood," they conceded in unison, and Nico nodded.

"Enjoy the party," he informed them, looking a bit tickled by the prospect of that being any sort of reality, and then he disappeared, apparating away.

"Well," Hermione sighed, "I suppose that's yet another secret we'll have to keep."

"Or not," Draco countered, prompting her to turn towards him with a frown. "If you're right, Granger, then we'll have to pick a side - and I don't know about you," he said, arching a brow, "but given everything, I can't exactly envision a world where I'm rooting for Ignotus Peverell."

Hermione grimaced her unwelcome agreement. "It's not like Antioch is much better. And still, I hardly think it's our place to intervene," she ventured. "Maybe we should just try to do our job and get out before things in the Club get worse."

"Well, will that be before or after Potter gets our Floo working?" Draco prompted gruffly, and Hermione rolled her eyes.

"I'll ask him tomorrow," she said. "After his quidditch game. Do you want to come, by the way?" she asked, the question slipping out without much forethought. "I already told Harry I'd go, but - "

"Granger, we're not gal pals," Draco sniffed. "We can go places without each other, you know."

She bristled. "Yes, I know that," she said forcefully, feeling her cheeks heat. "I just thought that you might want to. It can't hurt," she added, "you know, since we're engaged and all that, and also seeing as you're the one whose image could use a facelift - "

"Fine," Draco grumbled, shrugging. "I suppose I've got nothing else going on aside from fixing up the house, anyway. Luckily you've got all the earthly possessions of the average street urchin," he sniffed, turning to the box she'd brought with her, "so getting this stuff in order should take, oh, about twenty minutes?"

She rolled her eyes, joining him as he poked needlessly through her things.

"You know, it's funny," she commented, nudging him away. "Everybody seems willing to believe we're in love, and yet nobody seems to believe we might be in an actual relationship."

"That's because neither of us is the relationship type, Granger," Draco reminded her without hesitation, and she frowned, glancing up at him with surprise. "What?" he prompted irritably. "It's true."

"You were in a relationship," she reminded him. "Not to mention that I was engaged - "

"Yes," he agreed, "and both of those things ended with spectacular failure, didn't they?"

"I don't know about 'spectac-'"

"Spectacular failure," Draco repeated emphatically. "As a reminder, normal relationships, even when they're bad, don't usually turn into a situation where afterwards, someone becomes either an assassin or a vagrant boxer. Our relationships literally ended in lives of crime, so I have to assume we're not particularly adept at them. Besides," he added, waving a hand. "Look what's happened since then. You could have easily been with Hawkworth, couldn't you? But you're not."

"That," Hermione pronounced crisply, "is because I'm - " she paused. "I'm busy. I have a job, and you know, and - " she waved a hand. "Secrets!"

"What you have are excuses," Draco corrected her, "but hey, I'm not judging, I'm just pointing it out. If you wanted a relationship, you'd be in one. Instead you have me," he drawled, "a notoriously unreliable person that you hate - "

"I don't hate you," Hermione interrupted, accidentally blurting it out.

Draco blinked.

"Fine," he permitted. "A notoriously unreliable person you half-heartedly tolerate."

"Better," she agreed, somewhat uncomfortably. "But still, I don't think you can say that I'm n-"

"Did you sleep with Hawkworth?" Draco cut in.

"What?" she asked, alarmed. "I - why would you - "

"Just answer the question," Draco said, arching a brow. "Did you?"

Her cheeks, which had been flushed a moment ago, burned ferociously at that. "No," she admitted, "but - "

"Exactly," Draco cut in, looking supremely convinced of something she couldn't yet fathom. "Because it could have gone somewhere, Granger. Because he's a good guy from a good family, and it might have actually gone somewhere good, or somewhere real. But instead you slept with me - twice," he reminded her, and she winced, "because I - we - are never going to be anything. Because you," he said firmly, "are bad at relationships, and so am I, and therefore nobody will ever believe we're getting married, because we're not exactly functional beings. We're just - " he shrugged. "I don't know. Dramione."

"Well," Hermione exhaled. "I suppose we are that."

"Much as I loathe it," Draco agreed, digging out a framed picture and glaring at it. "What's this?" he demanded, turning his sour expression on her. "This isn't going up in my house."

"Our house," Hermione corrected him, "and yes, it most certainly is! That's Harry and Ron and me at Bill and Fleur's wedding - "

"None of that means anything to me," Draco interrupted. "Weasley's in this picture, and I hardly plan to stare at him while I eat breakfast."

"I was going to put it in my bedroom!" Hermione insisted, snatching the frame from his hand.

"Well, that's even worse," Draco announced, "as I'm certainly not having this anywhere near where I sleep, Granger."

"Where you - " She broke off. "I thought we weren't going to keep sharing a bedroom after we got the rest of the house fixed up," she reminded him, frowning, and he shrugged.

"It's not permanent," he said. "But I imagine people will want tours of the house during this insipid engagement party of yours. It wouldn't make much sense if we had separate bedrooms, would it?"

She blinked. "Oh," she agreed. "Right."

"In any case," Draco said, reaching out and swiping the frame from her hand, "put this away. Don't put it in the nightstand, either," he told her, brandishing it at her, "or there'll be hell to pay."

"Fine," Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes. "No Ron, then."

"A good rule to live by in general, I find," Draco sniffed in agreement, tucking the frame under his arm and sauntering away until she was forced to chase him down to recover it.

London Arena
Recreational Quidditch Pitch
October 11, 2003
1:45 p.m.

"That was a pretty good game," Harry remarked, sidling up to Ron in the air. "And here I thought you'd come back from Paris too laden down with croissants to fly."

"Yeah, well, every now and then I manage something suspiciously resembling a save," Ron permitted, grinning as Harry rolled his eyes. "They don't call me the king for nothing."

"Yes, that's definitely a thing," Harry wryly agreed, and then he glanced over at the stands, shading his eyes from the sun. "Is that Malfoy sitting next to Mel?"

"Yes," Ron confirmed, shaking his head. "Mel seems to like him - for totally unknowable reasons," he added, sparing a expression of displeasure, "so I think I'm going to have to make nice with him, unfortunately."

"Well, he's not too terrible," Harry said. "Hermione tempers his effect quite a bit." He glanced aside, checking for the statement's possible damage, and inwardly, Ron found the reflex vaguely amusing, if not outright kind. "Sorry," Harry said, looking as though he were attempting a vague wavelength of sympathy. "Don't know if that's okay to talk about yet."

"I'm adjusting," Ron admitted, watching as Hermione and Mel engaged in what looked like small talk, the latter looking up to flash him a grin and a euphoric thumbs-up.

In reality, Ron had never much enjoyed his occasional bouts of stupidity - in his experience, they seemed to happen once a year, like Christmas or government holidays - but having his proposal rejected by Mel had been one of the better terrible things he'd experienced. It certainly ranked above following a trail of spiders and riding a dragon out of a bank heist, and he might have thought it would be more mortifying than it was, only Mel wasn't the silent type, which he appreciated. Hermione in a fight was impossible; she kept her anger bottled up, building like rage-plaque over her clenched teeth until she inevitably attacked him with a horde of charmed birds. Mel, on the other hand, merely shouted for a bit, and strangely, it reminded him how much he loved her; how much, in fact, he truly did want to marry her.

Just, perhaps at a more convenient time.

"Hey," Ron said, once again noticing someone sitting alone a few rows behind Hermione and Mel. "You know that guy?"

"Who?" Harry asked, frowning. "That one?"

"Yeah," Ron said. "He's been staring at you for pretty much the whole game, and he keeps looking over here."

"Me?" Harry echoed, surprised. "Why?"

"Well, naturally I thought at first that he was staring at me," Ron remarked, giving Harry a pointed glance, "seeing as I'm extremely famous, but - "

"Ha," Harry said, shaking his head. "Well, there are quite a few celebrities here, now that I think about it. Mel," he pointed out. "Daisy, in a sense, not to mention 'Dramione,' and of course you, the great and powerful Ron Weasley - "

"Somehow I think Harry Potter still trumps all of us," Ron reminded him, "much as you try to pretend otherwise." He paused, glancing for the man again and finding that he'd disappeared. "You know, I thought for half a second that he kind of looked like you."

"Why," Harry joked, "does he also have my mother's eyes?"

"Well, I was going to say it was his nice skin, but if you're going to be a prat about it," Ron sniffed, and Harry laughed.

"Come on," he said instead, gesturing for them to land. "Let's get out of these robes, shall we? I could use a shower."

"You certainly could," Ron agreed, as he, Harry, and Alicia floated down to the base of the pitch, the others hovering down to join them from the stands.

"Great game," Alicia said breathlessly, beaming at both Harry and Ron. "And that American friend of yours is great, Harry - "

"Yeah, Daisy's pretty useful to have around - "

"Babe," Mel interrupted, grabbing Ron's arm for his attention. "Hermione's just invited us to her engagement party, isn't that lovely?" She gave him a firm look, daring him to disagree. "Anyway, it's next week, so make sure you don't forget that we have to - "

"Harry," Hermione panted, suddenly catapulting herself towards him with her eyes blown comically wide. "Harry, I need to talk to you - there's something that you need t-"

"Whoa, slow down," Harry said to her, chuckling. "Good to see you too, Hermione - and you, of course, Malfoy - "

"Yes, yes," Draco drawled, loping after her, "a breathtaking pleasure, as ever - "

"Harry, listen, this is important," Hermione hissed. "I have to tell you about Ign-"

But the rest of it, whatever she'd said, was garbled from the noise around them.

"Who?" Ron asked, but before Hermione could clarify, Katie interrupted, tugging the man from the stands in her wake.

"Harry," she said, "have you met my boyfriend?"

1:51 p.m.

"Sorry," Harry said, holding a hand out for his. "What did you say your name was?"

"Montague Knightley," Ignotus told him, removing his hand from around Katie's waist and offering it to Harry. "A pleasure, Harry Potter."

"Wait," the redhead beside him said, "Montague Knightley? Like the sixteenth century chess champion?"

Ignotus forced an insincere chuckle, resolutely wishing he'd chosen another pseudonym - like perhaps a name that had not been based on Nico's house elf.

"Yes," he permitted tightly, "quite."

He opened his mouth to continue but paused, noting Harry's distraction; beside him, a fidgeting motion abruptly caught his eye. Ignotus noticed, then, that Hermione Granger was attempting to vigorously sign something to Harry, who clearly could not sort out the message; she caught Ignotus looking at her and immediately pinned her arms at her sides, prompting him to frown.

"Would you mind?" he asked, nudging away from Katie and gesturing for Harry to step aside, and Harry looked confused but nodded, following him. "Sorry," Ignotus offered, with as much ease as he could manage despite the appealing sensation of finally meeting his descendant, "I'm actually a consultant for the Wizengamot, and I thought we might schedule a little chat during the Ministry conference next week. I'm sure you must have a variety of demands on your hands," he added, noting Harry's brief furrow of skepticism. "So I suppose I thought it would be best to accost you now," he attempted to joke, "while you might have some free time left to schedule."

"I don't have my calendar with me," Harry said slowly, "but, um, I suppose - "

"I told him you wouldn't mind," Katie cut in eagerly, joining them after having been momentarily distracted among the others. "You don't, do you, Harry?"

"Oh," Harry said, appearing to soften slightly at the sight of her. "Right, no, of course not. Anything for Katie, right?" he said warmly, glancing conspiratorially at Ignotus before turning his attention back to her. "I hadn't realized you were seeing someone, Bell, or I'd have asked to meet him sooner."

"Oh," Katie said, flushing slightly, "that's sweet of you, Harry, but - "

"It's a bit of a new thing still," Ignotus supplied, slipping an arm around her waist again. "But when you know, you know, right?"

"Right, of course," Harry agreed, appearing to have warmed to Ignotus slightly by virtue of their common interest. "Well, send me an owl, would you? I'll definitely get you in the books for next week, and - " he broke off, shaking his head and peering at something over Ignotus' shoulder. "Sorry, my friend Hermione just seems determined to be very odd about something," he said with a chuckle, waving at her and turning back to Ignotus. "Do you mind?" he asked, gesturing, and Ignotus shook his head.

"No, go ahead, of course," Ignotus said, more irritated with Hermione Granger's existence than ever as Draco Malfoy's sullen presence beside her served up a wholly unhelpful addition. "I'll send that owl to your office right away."

"Sounds good," Harry called, giving Katie a quick squeeze and jogging towards the others. "Good game, Katie," he added over his shoulder, waving again to Ignotus, and then headed over to pause beside Draco and Hermione.

"Well, he's got a lot of demands on his time," Katie sighed, giving Ignotus a reassuring squeeze, "but hopefully you two will get to chat. You'll love him, he's great - "

"Right," Ignotus agreed, watching Harry lean in as Hermione spoke and then turn over his shoulder with a jolt, his brow abruptly furrowed as he gave Ignotus a sweeping glance.

There was still that look of something on Hermione's face; possibly recognition, although that seemed unlikely.

Could she know? Ignotus thought, and frowned. Impossible, there was no way -

Unless, of course, Antioch -

"Montague," Katie was saying. "Montague? Does that work?"

Ignotus blinked.

"Sorry," he said. "Yes, sure, of course - "

"Oh good, so you won't mind?" Katie asked, visibly relieved. "I already told her we'd go, so - "

"Who?" Ignotus asked, blinking. "Sorry, what?"

"Hermione," Katie repeated, as once again, Hermione Granger gave him that strange, unnerving look from across the pitch, her brown eyes wide with a troubling aura of suspicion. "She invited us to their engagement party next week, so - "

Ignotus tuned her out again, thinking. Nico had given such a flimsy excuse for Taurus' failure, he remembered, frowning, and then recalled the way Antioch was so certain the two shouldn't be killed -

Yes, he determined silently, she definitely knows.

And now she was clearly going to ruin everything he'd planned for Harry, and could that have been Antioch's plot all along? He'd have to find out, of course - would have to unearth whatever Hermione Granger might know, and Draco Malfoy, too - would have to find out if they were working for Antioch, and determine how best to gain Harry Potter's trust, even against his friend's obvious warnings -

"The party sounds delightful," he told Katie abruptly, turning towards her and producing as innocent a smile as he could, the gears still turning in his head.

Old Black Residence
Palace Gardens Terrace
October 12, 2003
12:45 a.m.

Hermione flipped onto her right side, sighing.

Draco waited.

Then she flipped onto her back, heaving another weighty sigh.

"What is it, Granger?" Draco prompted loudly, glaring at her silhouette in the dark. "I'm going to make you sleep on the haunted mattress in the spare bedroom with that horrendous picture of Weasley if you don't stop your incessant fidgeting - "

"I just - " she sighed again. "What would he want with Harry?" she demanded, and Draco was reminded with an inward groan that yes, they were indeed still talking about Ignotus Peverell's appearance at the quidditch game. "It's not like he needs him for access to the Ministry, and - I swear," she lamented forcefully, "I've spent half my bloody life worrying about Harry Potter's terrible decision making - "

"Potter's a big boy, with the strength of an entire Ministry behind him," Draco reminded her. "This is hardly something you need to worry about. You told him who Ignotus is; you've fulfilled your obligation. Now he can take care of himself."

"Yes, but he only looked curious, he didn't look concerned, like he should be," she growled. "He got that look on his face like he did when he first got his invisibility cloak, or like the time he was using that stupid potions book to - " she sighed again, infuriated. "I swear, he never listens - "

"Listen, Potter still isn't dead yet, much to everyone's very great efforts, so he might actually be invincible," Draco reminded her. "I really don't think you need to worry about him this much. In fact," he pressed, "you might be better off worrying about something else, like what exactly we're going to do to figure out these assassinations before things get really fucking shitty in the Club."

Hermione sighed again, expressing agreement this time as she settled back against the pillow.

There, Draco thought. That should keep her busy long enough for her to -

"The remote," she said, prompting his eyes to snap open again. "The one Nico gave us to disable the surveillance wards. We should use it during the Ministry conference," she said, turning to face him. "Don't you think? Nobody in the Ministry will be in their offices, and maybe there's a way we can find out who's in the Club - "

"Yes, good, sounds wonderful," Draco said wearily, patting the space between them in approval. "Good job, Granger, well done - "

"Okay," Hermione exhaled. "Okay, I'll think about it in the morning."

"Good," Draco said curtly. "Do that. Goodnight, then - "

"Goodnight," Hermione agreed.

He closed his eyes.

She sighed again.

"What now?" he demanded, turning to face her. "What could possibly be so distressing that you feel the need to expel it at such unrelentingly constant intervals?"

For a moment, she said nothing, holding her breath.

So he sighed.

"Just tell me," he mumbled, and she tilted her chin up, meeting his eyes in the dark.

"We wouldn't be so bad in a relationship, would we?" she asked fretfully, and he thought at first to say yes, Granger, we'd be fucking apocalyptic, and for the hundredth time, GOODNIGHT, but there was a quiver of vulnerability to her voice that stopped him. "I mean," she began helplessly, and then floundered, the doubts dissolving to nothing in the air.

Draco figured it was about time he resolved himself to sleeplessness for the night, rolling onto his back with a groan.

"Let's try it out, then," he suggested wearily. "Let's roleplay. Ready?"

"What?" Hermione asked, bewildered. "What do you mean, like a sex thing?"

"Wh- no," Draco growled. "No, like - how about this," he suggested. "Say it's some time in the future and we have a kid. Then say our kid comes home when he's sixteen with a tattoo that we didn't approve. What would you do about it?"

"What kind of tattoo?" Hermione asked.

"Does it matter?" Draco prompted. "It's a tattoo, we said no, he got one anyway - "

"Well sure, but does it mean something to him?" she pressed. "Is there a reason he got it without our permission?"

"I - stop it, Granger, that's outside the scope of the experiment - "

"Well, you started too big," Hermione informed him with her usual swotty air. "Kids? Come on, Malfoy."

"Fine," he grumbled. "Say I forgot our anniversary, then. That's certainly plausible."

"That's ridiculous," Hermione countered firmly. "You never forget anything. If anything, I might forget, only I wouldn't, because I'd put it in my watch, which would remind me - "

"I could forget," Draco protested, but Hermione shook her head.

"Nope," she said. "You remember details. It's part of why you're good at potions."

"But - "

"What about this," Hermione suggested. "You've been working too much, and I prepare you a nice dinner, but you miss it and now I'm furious."

"Why would I miss dinner?" Draco demanded. "Did you make something terrible?"

"What? Of course not. I made a lovely roast."

"You hate roast," Draco reminded her. "Why'd you make me a dinner you don't even like?"

She groaned. "That's beside the point - "

"No it isn't!"

"Say I take up too much of the bathroom, then," she suggested instead. "All my hair potions are everywhere, all the time, without fail - "

"Impossible," Draco said. "First of all, I know a spell for that. Total space saver. Secondly, I snuck some of your hair potions in New York and they make the strands so soft. We can share."

"Okay, don't do that, I only have so much - "

"There we go," Draco said. "Say I use your hair potion, then."

She paused.

"Well, I can buy more," she conceded, "so - "

"Well, what if you can't? It's over. World's done. Only one vial left, one of us can have it and the other will, naturally, descend to their inevitable deaths - "

"Then you can have it," she replied.

"I certainly don't want it," Draco snapped. "The world's over, Granger! Who gives a fuck about my hair?"

She groaned. "This was your example - which is why it was so terrible, by the way - "

"See?" he prompted, waving a hand between them. "This is precisely why we don't work. Antioch had it right, Granger, because this is what we do. We fight, we falter, we fu-"

He broke off at that, swallowing, and she paused too, the two of them facing each other, wide-eyed, in the bed.

He registered then how close they were to each other; the spare bit of moonlight from the window bore through the room in a softened ray that settled gracefully across her décolletage, each rise and fall of her breath drawing his gaze back to the curve of it. She, meanwhile, appeared to be looking at his mouth, her own throat shifting slightly from the effort of drawing moisture to her lips.

"Which we should not do," he parsed out slowly. "Because - " he coughed, clearing his throat. "Because that would be stupid."

For a moment, she said nothing.

And then -

"Yes," she agreed, much to his relief. "Immensely stupid."

"Because we have a job to do," he reminded them firmly.

"Yes. That."

They paused.

Hermione sighed again.

"But," Draco murmured. "On the other hand - "

"Okay, goodnight," Hermione said quickly, flipping onto her opposite side and facing her back to him.

Draco grimaced.

"Goodnight," he agreed, and then rolled onto his back, waiting for the sound of her rhythmic breathing; for evidence of sleep, which decidedly did not come.

a/n: Psst... if you want more parkweasel (Percy x Pansy) I recently wrote a one shot featuring them called Survival Techniques, which is chapter 97 in Amortentia. Dedications for BellaDrobny, anonkneemoose, and theprinceofsuffering. Thank you for reading!