Chapter 13: Roles

Draco stayed crouched on the floor by the foot of his bed, and looked around him; the other beds were empty. His dorm mates were all enjoying a morning shower. Crabbe's laughter echoed from the bathroom, followed by the snapping of a wet towel against someone's bare buttocks.

Draco opened his trunk and reached inside.

As he pulled out his journal, his head began to throb, forcing him to drop it into his lap. He lowered his head and massaged his temples. The pain began the previous night, and it now came in intense waves that forced his eyes to water. The migraines were from a combination of stressors that now took over his life - one of which he would have to face that night.

When the pounding had finally subsided, he opened his eyes. Down in his lap, the pages of the journal were now opened to an entry he had made the night before.

5 January 1998

Everything went according to plan with Hermione. I said everything I had to say, and she seemed to believe me. She didn't give me a definite answer when I left the library, but I know she'll show up tomorrow night. I had a lot more I wanted to say, but I was already late for my meeting.

But before I could even reach the stairs to go down to the dungeons, I heard someone call my name. I turned around to find Terry walking out of the library. In the years I've known him, I've never seen him step foot in there.

"I'm studying for a test," Terry said, before I could even ask him. "Can you believe it? It's our first week back to class, and they're already giving us tests. But, my parents want me to do well in the class."

I was about to tell him that I was in a hurry and didn't have time for chitchat, when he asked, "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

"I'm meeting Professor Snape," I said. "And I'm running late."

"It'll only take a minute." He wanted me to follow him into another hall. And when we reached a small corridor, he said, "You know I have a lot a respect for you. We all do. But if you're involved in a relationship with Granger, I think you better keep it to yourself because the other guys might take it the wrong way."

"What are you talking about?"

"I saw you and Granger in the library," he said. "And you looked like you were about to kiss her." The expression on my face must have changed because then said, "I could really care less if you guys are a couple. You have to do whatever feels right for you. I just think the House will feel differently about it. You might lose some points in the eyes of some other people if they knew you've become attached to her. I know Blaise would love it if that happened because he wants to take over your spot. But I definitely wouldn't want to see that."

"She and I are not together," I said. "In all the years that you've known me, have you ever seen me get hooked by one of these girls?"

Terry shook his head.

I put my arm around his shoulders and told him, "Everyone knows I stop talking to the girl once the school finds out. But with Granger, I wanted to see if I could continue the game and see how far I could take things. And since the school year is half over and I have exams coming up, I really don't want to waste the time and energy to find a new girl. I've had too much fun with her to stop now."

Terry stared up at me like he always does when I talk to him. "I've never seen anyone take it to this level," he said. "But wouldn't it just be simpler to get a Hufflepuff? They don't take that much time and energy."

"That's the easy way out," I said. "That's something Blaise would do. But not me. A challenge is much more interesting. You appreciate something a lot more if you work hard to get it. And trust me, I've worked hard to get Granger."

He didn't say anything for awhile. But then, he began to smile. "No wonder you've gotten all the girls in school." He looked down at his watch and said, "I have to go back. My tutor is waiting for me."

"Hey," I shouted to him, "let's keep this conversation between us. I don't want all of the others knowing my secrets."

"I won't say a word to anyone."

And I know he won't.

Draco smiled to himself as he wondered what could have possessed him to say such things to Terry. But he soon decided that that was what the other boy needed and wanted to hear. And if it caused Terry to respect him even more, then so be it.

But he suddenly stopped smiling when his gaze drifted to the parchment sitting on his bed. The letter was from his father, and in it, Mr. Malfoy requested that Draco return home during the Easter holidays. A party was to be thrown in his honor to acknowledge two significant events taking place in his life.

Draco knew that one of these events centered on his initiation as a Death Eater. It would be at this gala that his parents would be able to publicly announce to their friends that he was in training to take over his father's position as Head of Council. After this public announcement, his meetings with the Dark Lord would begin, as well as his Loyalty Test - all of which would be facilitated by his father. And when all was completed, he would be fitted for his own set of red robes.

The second announcement would deal with Pansy. This, Draco was sure of. What was once a rumor circulating around the common room, filling Pansy's friends with envy, would soon become reality. But Draco wasn't surprised that things would unfold in this manner, after all, his parents' coupling had occurred in the same fashion.

Of course, all of this would ruin his plans with Hermione. But that was something he would deal with at a later time.

After resting his head on his mattress for several minutes, Draco finally reached for his inkpot. As he twirled the quill between his fingers, he decided not to make another entry at that time; he was too tired to conjure up a cohesive thought. But as his mind drifted back to Easter and Pansy, he flipped through several pages of his journal until he reached an entry he had made about her.

3 January 1998 (Later that night)

The air felt crisp tonight. I even closed my eyes and let the breeze hit my face. This was the only time I was able to escape the disastrous evening Pansy had arranged for us. I had agreed to take a stroll with her in the gardens, but I didn't know two other couples would be joining us.

Every time I tried to get a moment of peace, the boy who was dating Pansy's fat friend would approach me and try to draw me into a conversation. "It's too bad about the last Quidditch match," he said. "We were so close. If only that Chaser hadn't crashed into the pole. I hope he's okay."

I didn't want to think about that match. It was already a humiliating defeat. And to Hufflepuff, of all houses.

"Do you know," the skinny boy said again, "who's going to replace him in the next game?"

I didn't answer and just walked away. He'd been asking me that question all night, knowing full well that one of our reserve players will take the place of Chaser. Besides, he and several of his friends had tried out for the team, and they were all horrible.

Pansy grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the group. "I'm pretty sure Draco will try to put in a good word for you with Professor Snape," she said to the skinny boy. She then flashed me one of her fake smiles and said, "Won't you, Honey?"

She was doing a lot of that "Honey" and "Dear" stuff tonight. And she kept putting her arm around me and placing her hand in my back pocket. But that act ended when we headed back inside.

"Why did you have to act like that?" she asked. "You didn't say one word to any of them."

"I thought you did enough talking for the both of us."

"You could have at least acted like a gentleman in front of my friends. And why didn't you say anything when Gina's boyfriend tried to start a conversation with you?"

"Because I'm not interested in what he has to say," I responded. "You should be happy I even showed up tonight. I had better things to do than hang out with your dull friends."

"Considering the misery you've put me though, the least you could have done was act like a pleasant person."

I ignored her and tried to get to the castle doors a fast as possible. But she grabbed by robes. "You've made me the laughing stock of the whole school," she said. "And now I have to explain to my friends why my boyfriend would want to be with an ugly cow like Granger when he's got me by his side."

"Do we have to go through this again?" I shouted. "Why do you have to bring it up every five minutes?"

"Because that's the only thing everyone in school is talking about. I can't believe you would do this to me. And just for the sake of bragging to your friends. Well, I hope you enjoyed it."

I grabbed her arm and pulled her as close to me as possible. "Yeah, I did enjoy it," I said. "I loved putting my hands all over her body. And you know where all of this took place? In the guesthouse. In your favorite bedroom. And you know what else? It was bloody fantastic. A lot better than you."

She slapped me hard across the face. She then tried to scratch me, but I moved away. I ended up slipping on a pebble and falling on my arse. Pansy just stood there and started to laugh.

While I was getting up, I saw an owl circling above us. It landed on the ground next to me. I assumed the letter was from Professor Snape, since he was the only one who's ever sent me a night post. But when I realized it was Hermione's writing, I walked away from Pansy, so I could read in private.

"Why are you getting a letter at this time of the night?" asked Pansy. She was right behind me, trying to see what I was reading. "Is everything all right?"

She placed her hand on my back and whispered, "Does Professor Snape want you to go to his chambers? I know he's been worried about the Quidditch team, but does he have to bother you every night?"

I didn't say anything to her and shoved the letter in my pocket.

Pansy put her hands on her hips and asked, "Is it from her?"

"What if it is? Why would that bother you? It's not like it's the first time that this has ever happened. You never made this kinda fuss in the past."

"This is different than all the other times," she said. "I look in your face and I can tell there's something more going on."

I tried to ignore her, but she kept talking.

"My friend saw you looking through a jewelry catalog in the common room right before Christmas. She said you placed an order for a necklace. So, you can imagine how disappointed I was when a necklace didn't arrive at my house during the break."

"What do you care?" I asked. I lifted her left hand and looked down at the ring she promised never to wear in public. "You got what you wanted. So, what does it matter?"

"It matters because things are starting to resemble last year, when you were so consumed with that Ravenclaw girl. I had to find out about her from other people too—"

That's when I lost it and screamed, "I thought I told you I never wanted to talk about that again. Why can't you just bury it? That was ages ago."

It was then that the other couples made their way to where we were. Pansy's cheeks turned bright red when she saw the looks on their faces. I knew she wouldn't say anything else to me. Not in front of her friends. She knew I could humiliate her in front of them.

But I didn't waste my time with her. I walked back to the dorms by myself.

Draco stared down at the words he had written for several minutes. It was then that his mind became clear. Now that the minor pains and aches in his head had momentarily subsided, he was finally able to take a stance on the issues taking over his life. He took out a sheet of parchment from his trunk and began to compose a letter to his father. When he was finished, he folded the letter and placed it in the pocket of his robes.

He placed his head in his hands and closed his eyes. It was the right decision, he said to himself. Now that the matter was settled, he was able to find peace of mind; and having the quiet dorm all to himself added to his relaxation. But even that was short-lived.

The door creaked open and Pansy walked into the room. Draco quickly waved his wand over his journal, and the words on the pages disappeared. He then placed it back in the bottom of his trunk, before securing the lock. He cast a suspicious glance towards Pansy and asked, "What do you want?"

She didn't say anything and took a seat on the floor next to him. She placed a hand on his leg and said, "I came to apologize for being so mean to you these past couple of days. I shouldn't have treated you like that."

Her hand moved to his face, and she began to brush the hair from his brow. "It's just been frustrating for me to listen to everyone talk about Gra—" She immediately stopped talking when she heard Draco make a noise. "Well, I shouldn't have acted the way I did about everything."

It was then that Draco knew his father had sent a letter to Pansy as well. But he kept this knowledge to himself, and allowed her to run her fingers up and down his neck. "No more theatrics?" he asked.

"No more," she answered back.

Pansy wrapped her arms around him. Draco stared out into the sun soaked room while she placed kisses on his cheek and then his ear.

This perfect moment was interrupted when a freshly showered Crabbe walked into the dorm, fully naked. The towel that was supposed to cover his modesty was draped over his arm. He froze when his eyes met Pansy's. She didn't say a word as her gaze moved up and down his body. She then laughed.

Hermione's hand shook slightly as she placed her report in her bag. An uncontrollable jitteriness coursed through her body. It had been the same during the night, when sleep came to her in thirty minutes intervals. Every time she closed her eyes, the meeting with Draco in the library would flash in her mind. She had spent much of the night staring blurry-eyed out of the window while analyzing Draco's words.

The report still in her hand, she lifted it from the bag and gazed upon it. Not a word on that parchment had been altered since the day she had returned from Malfoy Manor. She could have added a paragraph or two about his character, but she would have done herself a disservice if she let her anger disrupt the flow of her essay.

She sat down on the edge of her bed and brought her finger to her temples. She stayed this way for several minutes. This helped to alleviate her stress, plus, it had the added bonus of allowing her to avoid Harry – who was downstairs waiting for her.

When Hermione finally made her way to the Great Hall, she found a seat across the table from Harry and Ron. They were not sitting in their usual spot in the middle of the long table, but close to the doors, away from most of their dorm mates. After giving her a quick smile, Ron returned to his conversation with Dean and Seamus about the card game –which would involve the exchange of money and not just candy - they were to have that night. It was because of this that they sat so far away from the teachers' table.

But while the other boys chatted loudly around him, Harry sat quietly, with his eyes steady on Hermione. Before any words were exchanged, Hermione flashed a nervous gaze in Ron's direction.

Reading her thoughts, Harry touched her hand and whispered, "I didn't tell him."

Hermione was then finally able to relax. It was not as though she was purposely being cruel by not involving Ron in her dilemma. But she and Harry both knew that Ron would not have handled the situation tactfully. And at the present, Hermione did not need anymore distractions in her life. So, she allowed her friend to remain in blissful ignorance, as he joked of all the money he would make that night from Seamus.

Harry, on the other hand, stared at Hermione during their entire meal. Although he did not utter a word, his face displayed the concern and worry that he felt for her. Hermione kept her gaze fixed on her plate.

But one person that she could not avoid looking at was Draco. She noticed that he, too, did not touch his food, as a full plate sat before him. Draco folded his hands and placed them under his chin. Hermione tried to catch his gaze, but his eyes never traveled beyond the Slytherin sitting across from him.

"I don't want you to go tonight," said Harry. He looked around to make sure that the other students at the table were preoccupied with their food or engaged in other conversations, before he leaned forward and said, "He's going to continue using you. Look at all the girls at the Ravenclaw table who've been with him. Do they look happy to you?"

Hermione did not reply, nor did she turn her head to glance at the table behind her. She looked down at her plate and began to stab her sausages with her fork. And with that, all communication between them stopped. But Hermione could still feel Harry's eyes on her.

The noise level in Professor Monroe's Sociology class rose as the students began to chat loudly amongst themselves about their reports. Some even displayed their long roll of parchment proudly on their desk, so others could marvel at their work. Draco did neither of these things, as he sat quietly at the back of the room, pretending to listen to Crabbe's crude jokes. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Hermione staring at him. But he was not the only one who noticed this.

"The girl can't seem to get enough of you, "said Crabbe. He then proceeded to poke Draco's arm with a plump finger.

"Hey, watch this," Goyle said excitedly. He looked in Hermione's direction and said loudly, "He doesn't want you anymore. You're used goods." The other Slytherins began to laugh. A weak smile trickled onto Draco's lips, before fading away.

Crabbe stopped laughing momentarily to exclaim, "I think we upset her, because she's glaring at us."

But before any of them could make any other gestures towards Hermione, Professor Monroe clapped her hands loudly together and said, "Let us begin. I'm looking forward to your reports. I've heard several of you talking positively about this experience. I hope some friendships were formed as a result of this."

Yes, this project caused several new alliances to form, but a far larger number of rivalries now existed as well. Devon McCoy from Ravenclaw flashed a menacing glare towards Christina Bennett of Hufflepuff. McCoy did not appreciate Bennett's assessment that he suffered from an inferiority complex, which caused him to "lash out irrationally at others."

"I can't wait to read the wonderful insight you guys have learned about one another," the professor went on. "It should be very fascinating. I'm especially interested in those that ventured outside their own houses." At that moment, her gaze drifted from Hermione to Draco. "So, at this time, please hand in your assignments."

Millicent stayed seated at her desk, as she continued to work on her report. After crossing out several poorly written sentences, she threw her hands up in the air and said, "Screw it." She hastily rolled up her report and proceeded to the front of the class. After dropping her report on the professor's desk, she began to snicker when she caught sight of the neatly tied red ribbon that Justin Finch-Fletchley had wrapped around his roll of parchment.

"Hey Finch," she called out. "Maybe you should just wear that ribbon in your hair." Justin quickly handed over his report, before making a hasty retreat back to his chair. "I wonder what 'wonderful insight' your partner discovered about you," Millicent continued. "Could it be that you like dic—"

"That's enough, Ms. Bulstrode," said Professor Monroe. "Go back to your seat."

While the rest of his Slytherin colleagues trudged up to the front of the class – carrying parchment that was clearly under the required minimum and muttering about the pointlessness of the assignment – Draco remained seated. He glanced over at Hermione; she, too, had not yet turned in her report. But after the last of the students from the Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw side of the room had returned to their seat, Hermione finally got up to submit her report. It was only after Hermione was seated again that Draco finally went to the front of the class.

At around seven that evening, Hermione found herself sitting on the steps leading up to the girls' dorms. She'd been sitting there for nearly an hour, garnering looks of annoyances from those that tried to squeeze past her. And just when she was mustering up the courage to head towards the portrait hole, she looked up and saw Harry and Ron walk into the room.

Ron was carrying a box containing packets of vinegar flavored crisps, while Harry struggled to hold onto a large jug of pumpkin juice. The boys placed these items on top of the table that now stood in the middle of the room. After unloading his burden, Harry took a seat next to her.

"I guess you're not going to stay for the card game," he said. When Hermione didn't respond, Harry asked, "Why are you giving him the benefit of the doubt? You know he's going to continue to lie to you."

"I know you're worried about me," said Hermione, "but this isn't your problem."

"Of course it's my problem. It's been my problem ever since you started doing this study thing with him. And after what you told me last night, how can you expect me to suddenly stop caring?" He tried to touch her face, but Hermione moved away from him. "He showed no remorse, you know. When Ron and I met up with him in the hall, he didn't seem the least bit sorry about what he'd put you through. And now, you're going to give him the luxury of brainwashing you some more? What's wrong with you Hermione?"

"Can you please not yell at me right now? I already have enough on my mind."

"Maybe we should involve Ron in this conversation," said Harry. "That way, you can learn the true meaning of yelling."

It was then that Hermione finally looked Harry in the face. "Don't. You know what he's like." Hermione's gaze then darted to Ron, who was berating a small boy that had tried to steal some crisps from the box.

"Yes, I know what he's like. But maybe that's what you need at the moment. You need someone like him to bring you back to your senses. Because God knows you're not listening to me."

"I am listening to—"

"No, you're not, "said Harry. "Because if you were, you wouldn't even consider seeing him tonight. You'd stay here with us." He then pulled her robes out of her hands and tossed them into a nearby chair. "Please Hermione. Don't do this. Malfoy doesn't deserve this kind of decency. You should just leave him to rot in that room."

7 October 1997

Brandon seems to be the hero of the House. He told the dorm about an escapade he had with Parvati in the bathroom. He leads all of us in the Gryffindor department.

I haven't thought about Parvati in a long time. I almost had her. That would have made me the first in my class to have a Gryffindor. Too bad her sister talked her out of it.

Brandon said Parvati wouldn't have sex with him. But when I was talking to her, she offered me more than just her hand. I still catch her looking at me in class.

I think I still have the letters she used to write me. I could always show them to the other guys as proof that I got her long before Brandon did. But what's the point, if there's no real truth behind it?

She's Brandon's conquest now.

9 October 1997

Hermione Granger. She got me. I can still see her smirking at me from the Gryffindor table. She talked to Monroe, and now I have to continue with this project. And of course Father will do nothing to get me out of it. He says he has other matters to deal with. Crabbe says I shouldn't show up and should just let her wait for me all night in the library. That was a temping idea.

Blaise was sitting across the table from me and he kept asking Brandon for more details about his encounter with Parvati. He wanted to know exactly what Parvati's naked body looked like, especially her breasts. All of the first and second year boys came into our section of the table. They were easily impressed by Brandon's bathroom encounter, too.

Sharing a brief moment with someone is not as impressive as working for months to gain the trust and love of someone who despises you. What I went through with Mandy was impressive. And I was certainly rewarded with more than just one night in a bath tub with her.

Granger was glaring at me during the whole meal. That was the same look Mandy used to give me in class, before everything started. She reminds me of the old Mandy. She carries herself in the same confident manner that Mandy used to. They even look alike. The same curly hair, same high and mighty attitude. But it only took me a couple of weeks to rid Mandy of that.

Granger would probably take the same amount of time. Maybe longer, since she's friends with Potter and Weasley. I don't think she would respond the same way to my romantic gestures like Mandy did. After a couple of weeks, yes. But not right away. With her, things would have to go more slowly.

Crabbe asked me again if I was going. I think I will.

10 October 1997

Good old Madam Pince. She hasn't changed her habits in five years. When I got to the library, she was in the Arts section sorting out the books. I lingered by the Sports section for several minutes, until she went to the back of the room to yell at some first years who were acting up. I walked up to the front desk and reached behind her "Things to do" tray. And as usual, the key to the Check-out registry was still behind there.

I unlocked the right hand drawer of the cabinet and took out the list containing all of the students' names. When I tapped my wand on Granger's name, a long sheet of parchment unrolled itself in my hands. Her list of check outs was longer than Mandy's.

In the past week, she had checked out several books on gender inequality. I noticed that she had also put in a request for the school to purchase a book by a Muggle woman named Davinia McCloud. Pince likes to do things on the cheap, so I doubt that's ever going to happen. I've seen McCloud's oldest son at the Ministry a couple of times. He gets funny when people ask him about his mother. I guess he doesn't like to admit he's a half-blood. He gave me his card that last time. I think I still have it. There was another book on Granger's request list, a book of poetry by yet another Muggle. I think I might have to get this one from Charles.

Her list contained mostly academic books, but there were a few odd check-outs thrown in. There was one book she took out two weeks ago called The Smart Witch's Burden. I knew there would be something like that hiding in her records. And she had once checked out Quidditch: An Everyday Guide, only to return it the next day. She replaced that book with The ABCs of Quidditch and So, You Know Nothing About Quidditch.

I copied down her records and tapped my wand on her name again. I was able to place everything back in the file before Pince walked back to the front of the room. She gave me a hard look when she passed me. "You're not going to give me a hard time tonight are you?" she asked.

"No ma'am."

When I got back from the library, I walked up the stairs to the dorms and knocked on the door where some of the fifth year boys were asleep. "I need to speak to Charles," I said when a small dark haired boy answered. After a moment, Charles came to the door. Before I could say anything, he reached out his hand. In his palm was a galleon.

"That's all the money I have," he said. "I'm sorry I couldn't pay Crabbe his money earlier, but my parents haven't been sending me much."

"I'm not here for that. I need you to do something for me. And if you do it, you won't have to pay Crabbe ever again." When he nodded, I said, "You know that catalog you were looking at the other day? Well, I need it."

"But they're just full of Muggle books," he said.

"I'm aware of that." When he kept staring at me, I said, "I need it for a class assignment. There are some books in there I need to order."

He disappeared into the room and came back carrying the catalog. When he handed it to me, I told him, "I'll mark off the books that I want, but I'll need you to order them for me in your name. I'll give you the money. And when the books come in, I want you to wrap them in plain parchment and owl them to me. You'll get the catalog back tomorrow morning. Meet me in the common room at six. No one will be up at that time."

When I walked back to my own dorm, he was still standing by the door staring at me.

11 October 1997

Charles came through for me today. I met with him this morning to give him back his catalog and by dinnertime, my books were delivered to me. The wrapping was plain, like I had requested. Everyone just assumed I was getting another package of chocolates from my mother.

Crabbe was pretty angry when I told him Charles was now off-limits. "Why are you protecting that kid?" he asked. "Did he tell you some sob story about his parents having money troubles? If he did, he's lying. His family's rich."

"That's none of your business. All you need to know is you can't go after him for money anymore, or anyone else is his dorm, for that matter."

"God dammit." He slammed his fist down on the table and caused his pumpkin juice to spill into his porridge. "What am I going to do for money, now?"

"Why don't you just ask your parents for it?" I asked.

"I already tried," he said. "They're saving it to remodel the house. I'm much more important than that bloody house."

I know his parents are strapped for money, but it has nothing to do with any remodeling or renovation projects. Mr. Crabbe came over to the manor right before school started and begged Father to give him a loan. I overheard him graveling and pleading with Father through the office door. It seems as though Mr. Crabbe made some bad investments with his money. I was tempted to tell Crabbe the truth, but I didn't say anything about it.

"Whatever you do," I said, "make sure it doesn't involve Charles and his dorm mates or I'll kill you myself."

12 October 1997

Potter and Weasley. I had to spend most of my night staring at them in the library and listening to their idiotic responses to the easiest test questions. This wasn't the way I wanted to spend my evening, but Granger had insisted I join them during their session. Towards the end, even she got frustrated with them and began to yell.

I was sitting closest to Weasley, and after he failed to answer a question, I mumbled, "Idiot," under my breath. He heard me. He got mad and threatened to jam his foot in my mouth if I didn't shut up. Granger snapped at him and told him to be quiet. When Weasley complained that I was saying things to him, Granger said she didn't hear me say a word.

Potter didn't say anything to me during the session, but he glared at me, like I had just stolen something from him. I ignored him and kept my attention on Granger. She kept looking back at me. But she always made it look like it was an accident, as if she was turning her head and her eyes just happened to meet mine.

After Potter and Weasley stormed off, she suggested that we study together for Binns' exam. That session should be interesting.

14 October 1997

Professor Snape and I met tonight. "You're late," he said when I walked into the classroom.

"I'm sorry, sir." I grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and dragged it next to his desk. He didn't start talking right away and just stared at me. "I'm sorry," I said again.

"If I have to go through the trouble of mentoring you, then you have to show up on time. I don't know what's going on with you but you're slipping this term. You're preoccupied with something and it's affecting everything you do. I can definitely see a difference in the work you turn in. During the last class, the potion you brewed was a bit off."

"But it couldn't have been—"

"Don't interrupt me," he said. "The potion, if you had done it correctly, was supposed to turn a bright, green color." He pulled a small glass bottle from his pocket and held it close to my face. "Please tell me what color this is."

"A murky green?"

"A swamp green. I'm going to have to mark you down for this." He placed the bottle on the table. "And I'm not happy with your choice of classes for this year as well. You know how I feel about that gender nonsense you're taking."

"It fulfills a school requirement," I said.

"So do a lot of other classes." He grabbed the bottle from his desk and threw it into the bin. "I also hear that the Quidditch practices have been disastrous."

"We've only had two of them," I said. "And is it my fault that none of the other players are any good?"

"Yes, it is. As the Captain, you're responsible for picking the team. And if they are all bad, then it's your fault—"

"But everyone who tried out was bad. It's not like I was picking from a great crop of players. You saw them yourself. Some of them didn't even know how to ride a broom. Who the hell tries out for Quidditch when they don't even know how to ride?"

Professor Snape got to his feet. I thought he was going to start yelling again, but he didn't. He began to put on his robes. "I think this session is over." As he walked to the door, he turned around and said, "And you obviously can't be too ashamed of the team if you're willing to invite outsiders to the practice."

I didn't say anything to him in response and looked away.

"For your sake," he said, "I hope I don't hear anymore stories about Granger being at another practice."

When I got back to the dorm, most of the other students were asleep. The ones that were still up were crammed at the table nearest the fireplace, while they tried to finish their class assignments. I opened the door to my dorm and saw that Goyle was the only one in the room. But he was on his way out, probably to help Crabbe steal more food from the kitchens. I didn't ask. As he passed me, he stopped and asked, "Are you all right? Your face looks a little red or something."

I lean against the doorway. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just feeling a lot of pressure."

"Pressure? You mean, in your stomach? From gas?"

"No, not from gas," I said. "Nevermind. Just go and leave me alone."

I lay on my bed and pulled the covers over my head. I could still hear him standing by the door, breathing heavy. But he finally left after a couple of minutes.

15 October 1997

Douglas McCloud was very happy to get my note. It's amazing how a simple question could propel him to write a response that was so long. It took forever to read his letter. He spent most of it talking about how he admires my family and what a respectable wizard my father is. He wanted to know if I would arrange a meeting between Father and himself. It was at the very end of the letter that he finally answered my question. He agreed to send me a copy of his mother's book. He asked if I wanted his mother to autograph it. I told him no. An autograph would have been too much. Granger would have gotten suspicious.

Twenty minutes after I owled my response to him, the book was delivered. I was able to send it to Granger right before breakfast.

I wasn't rewarded for my efforts like I thought. Granger didn't even acknowledgement me when she got it. It didn't even matter that the book was a first edition. She simply tossed it in her bag and went back to her conversation with Potter.

But I caught her staring at me during Potions. She was trying to be discreet about it, but I could clearly see her looking my way. And she kept peeking at the book during the end of class.

16 October 1997

I had a study session with her tonight. It ran longer than I had expected. She mentioned the date of the Wiccan Wars. "I don't know why I got that wrong," she said. "It was on the tip of my tongue. My head was just spinning at the moment."

I didn't say anything and let her believe what she wanted.

She was wearing that perfume again. The same one that made me sick on our first meeting. But it smelled lighter this evening, less sweet and pungent. While she talked, I just stared at her face. She has very full lips. A few strands of hair got stuck to her lips. I kept staring at the spot during most of the session.

I got back at the dorm well past two in the morning. Everyone else was sleeping. I would have gone to bed as well, but my mind kept drifting back to her. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see her face.

I reached for the top drawer of my nightstand and pulled out the yearbook from sixth year. And there on page eighty-five was a black and white picture of her staring back at me. A look of disgust was on her face.

I left the book opened across my chest and reached underneath the covers. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a smile on her face. But mostly, I thought of her moistened lips and what they would feel like against my skin.

It was working for a moment, until I opened my eyes and saw the glare her portrait was giving me. She then turned her back to me. I stopped. And just as I closed the book, I heard a noise coming from under my bed. I pulled out my wand and asked, "Who's there?"

Nobody said anything for a long time, until I heard a loud thud, followed by an "Ow." Finally, Crabbe crawled out from under my bed, rubbing the top of his head. His mouth was covered in chocolate.

"It's just me, Malfoy. I was having some of your candy. I didn't think you'd mind."

I shoved the yearbook under my pillow before he could see it. "How long have you been under there?"

"Not long." He bit off the head of the chocolate frog in his hand, and laughed as the legs began to twitch. "What are you doing back so late? You have someone new?" He then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I didn't say anything and watched him chew with his mouth open. A piece of nougat flew out of his mouth and landed on his shirt.

"You're making me sick," I said. "Just take the rest of the candy and go." For the rest of the night, I could hear him chewing loudly in his bed.

23 October 1997

I shouldn't have done that tonight, but I did. I kissed her. It happened in the halls of the fifth floor. She seemed a little panicked about our project and suddenly wanted to back out of it. I convinced her to continue. And while she was talking, I kissed her.

She ended up hitting the back of her head on the wall because she was trying to get away from me. I think she cut herself. She didn't kiss me back the first time, but she seemed a little more relaxed the second time around. I felt her mouth open and I could have sworn she wrapped her arms around my waist. There was something there. So, I guess it was a good move after all.

I'll see how she acts towards me tomorrow.

24 October 1997

Nothing today. But I kinda knew she would act this way. She didn't even stare at me like she used to. She was writing down something on some parchment throughout breakfast. She might have been working on her report. But sometimes I would catch her looking down, but her hand wouldn't be moving. I thought maybe she might look at me then, but she never did.

26 October 1997

Quidditch practice went a lot smoother tonight, but the other players are still not grasping the strategies. They had trouble flying in formation and some of them acted like I was speaking in a different language when I gave them directions. But overall, they showed some improvement.

Blaise walked into the changing room after practice like he was a member of the team. He's done that a couple of times in the past. He sat down on the bench and started to whisper some things to Evan.

"You have to change the way you fly into the opposition's zone," I heard him say. "You're the best player in here, so you know the other team's players will be going for you."

"Do you mind not filling my players with your bull?" I said.

He acted as though I was talking to someone else, but he eventually looked up at me. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to be helpful. Since some of your ideas aren't working, I thought he could benefit from my expertise."

"I'm well aware of everyone's abilities, so I don't need your help."

Everyone stopped getting dressed and turned around to look at us.

"You do need my help," Blaise said. "Because you judgment seems to be lacking lately. First, you invite Granger to a practice, now you—"

"I knew you were the one who told Professor Snape about that."

He got up from his seat and walked towards me. "Why shouldn't I inform him? As Captain, you weren't doing a very good job of protecting the team. For all we know, Granger could have been jotting down notes to take back to Potter. We all know that you're stuck doing some project with her, but that doesn't mean you have to jeopardized the integrity of the—"

I punched him in the mouth. It hurt like crazy and my knuckles started to bleed, but it was worth it. I stood over him, ready to hit him again, but Terry pulled me away. "Draco, don't," he said. "That's your catching hand."

Blaise didn't say anything to me as he walked out of the room with his hand over his mouth.

29 October 1997

I was lying in my bed tonight, looking through some of the books that Charles had sent me this morning. I had meant to give them to Hermione, but since she's still staying away from me, I have to keep them. I flipped through one book that was filled with poems. Most of them were about regret and sorrow. One of them caught my eye. I took out my quill and started to write it down.

Blaise was busy writing something on his bed as well. He kept changing the color of his ink from red to black, which made it look as though he was writing a ransom letter. He looked over at me a couple of times. He probably wanted me to ask him what he was doing. But I ignored him and started working on my letter to Hermione.

When I was getting ready to go to sleep, Blaise walked up to me and sat on the edge of my bed. The cut on his upper lip was still present. "I've been doing some tasks for the Lord," he said. Before I could say anything, he blurted, "Don't look so surprised. Yours is not the only family that He trusts. In fact, He plans to spend the summer at our home."

I knew of no such plans. I'm not sure where He'll be next summer, but I'm certain it won't be at Blaise's run-down manor.

"And I wouldn't be surprised if I get chosen because of this," he said.

I wanted to give him several words of warning when it came to dealing the Lord, but since he looked so satisfied with himself, I decided not to. He'll learn, eventually. He went back to his bed and closed the curtains around him.

30 October 1997

She certainly made my blood boil tonight. She'd finally agreed to meet with me, but when she showed up, she gave me a hard time. She then went out of her way to suggest that my relationship with Mandy was meaningless. That's when I told her to get out of the room. I surprised myself too when I heard the words come out of my mouth. But at that moment, I didn't want anything to do with her.

But she found me in the hall and apologized. I don't even remember if she did it properly, but she seemed really sorry though. She made it up to me with a kiss. It was more than a kiss, actually. We stayed in the hallway beside that statue of Gorr for about ten minutes. It wasn't as passionate as I would have liked, but she must have been nervous. She kept her mouth closed during most of it.

I was able to run my hands up and down her body. And from what I could feel, she seemed really fit. But she did tense up a bit when I touched her bum.

"Why don't we go back to the room," I said. "Someone might walk by and catch us here." She didn't say anything for awhile, and I couldn't read the expression on her face because her hand was covering it. But she nodded. While we were walking back to the room, she kept some distance between us.

When we were back in the room, she stood in front of the mirror, fixing her hair. I walked up behind her and touched her arm. She nearly jumped. "I'm actually kind of tired," she said. "I think I'm gonna go back to the dorms. I've been getting back late these past couple of nights, and I don't want the Fat Lady to be mad at me. But I'll see you later."

I didn't go back to the dungeons right away. I could still smell her on my robes, and I know Pansy would have noticed if I came back smelling like perfume. I went down to the laundry room and knocked on the door. The house-elves were not happy that I was there, but they did what they were told. They made me wait outside while they cleaned my robes.

3 November 1997

"What's with the womanizing?" That's the question she finally asked me today. I was wondering how long it would take for her to get to it. I know it's been on her mind since the beginning.

"You've said that you were just searching for the right girl." She then made a face like she wanted to roll her eyes. "But do you have to date every girl in the school?"

"Can't I have some fun while I search?" I said. "Because it's all about pleasure and fun. Nothing more, nothing less." If looks could kill, I would have burst into flames at that moment. "But, why are you judging me when your friend does the same thing? I've seen Weasley sneaking around on more than one occasion."

She ignored my comment and went on to her next question. "Do you do it to show off to your peers? Because if you ask me, it seems as though you and the other boys in your house have a little competition going on."

"Have you ever heard me boasting to my friends, or seen me pointing to different girls in the hall and say, 'I've been with her?'"

"No. But I've listened to the way you guys talk about girls in Potions. You guys are always comparing notes, and trying to figure out who got further. You all talk so loudly, I'm surprised Professor Snape doesn't say anything about—Maybe he's the one that's created this whole macho culture in your house."

She pulled out a roll of parchment from her bag and jotted something down. She was sitting pretty close to me on the floor, so I reached over and touched her leg. She didn't jump like last time, but she froze. "Hermione," I said, "You're making too big a deal out of this. It's not like I'm sleeping around with everyone. It's only a bit of snogging."

When I withdrew my hand, she seemed to relax a bit more. She then went back to her writing. I know our conversation will end up in her report somewhere.

5 November 1997

We talked all night again. It's funny how a question such as "What was it like growing up in that big manor?" could result in a three hour conversation about my childhood. After mentioning my weekly etiquette lessons and monthly Phoenix Scout meetings, she said, "Phoenix Scouts? You don't seem the type."

"Well, it was a little against my will," I said. "But I guess my mother wanted a well rounded child."

"What was it like?" she asked.

"Horrible. Especially the camping trips. We had to sleep on the ground, and we couldn't use any magic. On the first day, they made us rub two sticks together. We didn't even know what that was supposed to do."

After she stopped laughing, she didn't say anything for awhile and just continued to stare up at me. She placed her hand on my arm. "Tell me more about you as a small boy."

"Nothing special ever happened when I was little. Just the usual Quidditch practices and of course magic lessons with my tutor."

"Magic lessons?" she asked. "But you were underage."

"I know. But he never taught me any real magic. All he tried to do was help me focus my powers a little better. Because when I was little, I was a bit headstrong. And when I didn't get what I wanted, I used to make my mother's vases explode. She lost a lot of vases that one year she wouldn't get me the broom I wanted."

I kept looking down at her every few minutes to check if she was still paying attention. She was. She never once looked away or tried to interject her own opinions or thoughts. She let out a loud yawn while I was talking. When I asked if she wanted to go back to the dorms, she said, "No."

"We could always spend the night in here," I said. "I have an alarm on my watch that goes off at six in the morning. We could sneak back in our dorms tomorrow, and no one will ever know." When she made a face, I said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to fondle you in your sleep."

She laughed, but I know that's what she was thinking I'd do.

I went on to talk about my first flying lesson, when I noticed that her eyes were starting to close. I stopped talking, and watched her sleep.

9 November 1997

Hermione and I had our first encounter in that room tonight. It was on the same spot on the floor where we always sat. She began things by touching my face. "You have an eyelash on your cheek," she said. After she had removed the eyelash, I grabbed her hand. She didn't pull away. I didn't kiss her immediately, and started things off by running my fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes.

"Open your eyes," I said. I wanted to see the look on her face when I did the next thing. I placed both of my hands on her thighs. I felt her muscles tighten, but she didn't move away. I moved my hands up her legs, but stopped before I got very far. I gave her a kiss on the lips. She kissed me back.

12 November 1997

We were in the room again tonight. I don't remember what we were talking about, but we found ourselves lying on the floor side by side. She had taken off her shoes and was now beginning to rub her toes against my leg. I sat up on one elbow and looked down at her.

"Are you a virgin?" I asked.

She stopped rubbing my leg and stared at me for a long while. "What kind of question is that?" She then looked away. I couldn't see her face, but I'm sure she was blushing. "I'm not answering that," she said.

"I'll take that as a yes. Wow, no wonder Krum was playing so badly when you two were together. He was probably frustrated from all that unreleased sexual energy." She then hit me hard on the arm. But it didn't hurt. "Why don't girls ever answer that question?" I asked.

"Because we'll be judge no matter what answer we give. I mean, wouldn't you think differently about a girl if you knew she had been with half the school?"

"I guess," I said. "But I've never had that problem. Most of the girls I've been with had been virgins and the other one…well, I already knew about her past."

"That pretty much answers my question about whether or not you're a virgin." She looked down at her hands for awhile and then asked, "How many girls have you slept with?"

"Not many." I didn't want to say anything about it, but when she kept staring at me, I said, "Three. I've only slept with three girls. And I'm sure you can guess who one of them is."

"Did the other two go to our school as well?"

"Just one other girl," I said. "But that's a discussion for a different day."

She rolled her robes into a tight ball and placed it under her head. She stared up at the ceiling. "What about the third girl? How did you meet her?"

"She wasn't exactly a girl," I said. "She was three years older than me. She used to work as my mother's personal assistant. But this was over three years ago. And yes, I was fourteen when I lost my virginity. I can see you doing the math in your head. I was fourteen and she was seventeen. I guess it was inevitable since we lived in the same house. But it wasn't anything special. It only took place during that summer. It would have been longer if my mother hadn't fired her. I guess she felt a need to protect me. Plus other people in the house were starting to take an interest—" I stopped myself before I finished. "Now that I've shared so much with you, can you do me the honor of answering my question?"

"Yes," said Hermione. "Yes, I am a virgin." She only half looked at me when she said that.

We didn't talk for awhile after that. We just listened to the rain. After a couple of minutes, she was lying with her head against my chest. I took hold of her hand and moved her up towards me. I kissed her. In the process, I rolled on top of her. When she gave out a little noise, I asked if she was all right.

"Yes," she said. "I just wasn't prepared to have you on me like this."

"I can get off if you think I'm too heavy."

"No, you're okay."

I repositioned myself so that I wasn't lying directly on top of her. When she finally looked comfortable, I kissed her again. Halfway through it, I must have pressed myself down hard against her, because she gasped. That's when she pushed me away.

"I can feel…I can feel you," she said. "Rubbing up against me."

I smiled at her. "Does that bother you?"

"No. But I don't want you to think that I'm going to sleep with you."

"I wasn't thinking that," I said. She eventually kissed me again after a couple of minutes. But I didn't lie on top of her again.

3 December 1997

I got a catalog from Caine's Flower Shop today. I was happy to get it, too. I was thinking of sending Hermione something. Maybe some lilies. They're having several specials on all orders placed before Christmas. Included in the catalog was a list of the orders I had made in the past two years. The last one was a bouquet of two dozen red roses I had sent to Mandy. I was sending her a lot of flowers at that time. But that was when things were little out of control between us. Pansy was even starting to notice. I wasn't being as careful as I used to and almost let things slip a few times. I looked through that catalog a couple more times before I threw it away.

I also got a letter from Hermione. She wants to know if we could meet tomorrow night. I've been with her almost every night this week. I'll write her back and tell her that I'm busy with Quidditch.

5 December 1997

I had that dream again last night. Hermione and I were on the floor in our room. I was in the middle of kissing her, when I looked to see everyone in Slytherin House looking down at us.

When I woke up, my heart was racing. I looked down to see my blankets lying in a pool on the floor. "Are you all right?" Crabbe asked. He and Goyle were standing over my bed. "You were talking really loudly. But you were mostly mumbling. So, we couldn't understand what you were saying"

I looked out into the room. Blaise and Christopher were both sitting up in their beds, staring at me. "I'm fine," I said. Crabbe and Goyle eventually went back to their own beds, but I knew everyone was still watching me. I could especially feel Blaise's eyes on me. "Go to sleep," I told them. I then closed the curtains around my bed.

Pretty soon the room filled with snores. I, on the other hand, spent the night staring up at the ceiling. I've been up since three this morning.

When I got to breakfast, I didn't look at her. I know she was staring at me, waiting for me to give her a smile. But I couldn't do that today. I have to keep focused on what I'm doing. I can't let her be a distraction.

Another person who was staring at me from the Gryffindor table was Parvati. She's been doing that in Potions, too. Next time I get a letter from her, I think I'll answer it.

6 December 1997

Parvati was staring at me again during Potions. I managed to look at her as well, and nearly ruined my class assignment in the process. Hermione was busy helping Potter and Weasley, so I don't think she noticed the exchanged. When I was making my way to dinner, I saw her and her sister walking into the Great Hall together. When I walked past them, I managed to touch Parvati's arm. She looked up at me and smiled. I kept walking.

8 December 1997

I waited for her outside her Transfiguration class, like her note had said. I leaned against the wall and stared in front of me. She passed by with her friends, her sister was among them. I heard her tell her friends that she had to go back to class to get something. Her sister looked my way, but she didn't say anything. It was only after everyone had left the hall that she finally approached me.

"It's about time you finally got in touch with me," Parvati said.

"Seeing that you're highly guarded, it's been tough."

She laughed. "Padma's not as tough as she might look. She's a lamb."

She hadn't changed a bit since the last time we had met in the halls like this. Her hair seemed a little lighter, though. I stayed by the wall and let her approach me. When she was standing in front of me, she began to play with my hair.

"I feel bad about not meeting up with you that last time," she said. "I guess I let other people influence me too much. But you don't have to worry about that happening anymore. My sister's got other things going on in her life, so she could really care less about what I do." She leaned forward and was about to kiss me, when she saw someone walking down the hall. She quickly moved away from me. We kept our distance while a small boy ran past us and into the Great Hall.

"Let's meet up later tonight," she said. "I know somewhere we can go that's quiet." She kissed me on the cheek right before she left for dinner.

While I was getting ready to meet with Parvati, Crabbe sat on his bed, watching me. But he suddenly turned away and pretended to be reading a magazine when I grabbed my bottle of cologne. The bottle was almost empty. I know he's been using it. I could smell it on him the other day. I didn't say anything and continued to get dressed.

The room Parvati chose was on the fourth floor. I've never been in there before, but it was nice; the windows overlooked the lake. We didn't do anything for nearly an hour. We just sat on the floor and talked. Actually, she talked and I listened.

Although my eyes stayed on her, my mind was elsewhere. I thought of what the other boys were doing back in the dorms. Crabbe had mentioned something about Terry stealing several bottles of whiskey from the cellar. I knew everyone would be gathered at our dorm room, talking and laughing.

But mostly, I thought of meeting up with Hermione.

"A new tanning salon just opened in Hogsmeade," I heard Parvati say. "I can't believe how dark I got. Look." She then pulled her skirt down past her hip bone and exposed her tan line. She ran her fingers over the area. "I got burnt." She then looked at me to see if I was watching her.

I don't remember how it happened, but somehow Parvati ended up standing in front of me, with the top of her skirt still lowered. Her perfume was really strong. She took my hand and placed it on the area just below her belly button. "Your hand feels good there," she said. I kept my fingers steady on that one area and didn't lower them. She must have noticed because she looked down at me.

"I have something that will loosen you up," she said. She reached into her purse and pulled out a silver quill holder. She took out what looked like a cigarette and handed it to me. It was tightly rolled and had a sweet smell to it. After she lit it with the tip of her wand, I inhaled deeply.

"Careful," she said. "That stuff is really strong. I don't want you passing out on me."

That's when I started to cough. I haven't had one of those in a long time. But things got easier the second time around. I took in several more breaths before handing it off to her. She inhaled like a pro. She then gave it back to me. When we were finished with the first one, she offered me another. I shook my head. I was feeling a little lightheaded at that moment.

She was now sitting in my lap, kissing my neck. "I've been waiting for this for a long time," she said. She started to kiss me on the mouth. I tilted my head back and let her have complete control. She was a little aggressive and bit my lower lip.

I opened my eyes when I felt her tongue in my mouth. That's when I pushed her away. "I'm sorry," I said, "but I'm really not interested in all of this right now. I think I'm gonna go back to the dorms." I got up from the floor and picked up my robes.

"But you're the one who said we should get together," she said.

"I know. But I don't think it's a good idea anymore. I guess you just caught me in a wrong mood." She didn't say anything and just looked at me for a long time.

I went to the door and waited for her while she gathered her things. When we walked out into the hall, she walked to the stairs leading to Gryffindor Tower without saying anything to me.

9 December 1997

Pansy wouldn't leave my side in Hogsmeade today. She dragged me from shop to shop so I could help her look for a gift for her mother. "She really likes figurines," she said. She then pulled me into the antique shop. The shop had a strong odor to it, and that gargoyle statue kept looking at me.

"I need to get out of here," I told her. "Why don't you look for the gift and I'll come back and get you in a few minutes?" I walked out the door before she could respond.

I was about to go into the Three Broomsticks when I saw Hermione outside of Honeydukes. I waited until Potter and Weasley had finally left her side before I approached her. She was wearing that ugly knit cap she had on a couple of days ago. I flicked the fuzzy white ball on top of her cap with my finger.

"Leave my hat alone," she said.

We both looked at one another and smiled. "Do you want to meet me tonight?" I asked.

"I thought you were busy with the Quidditch team."

"I was, but not anymore. The team was having some issues, but they've been taken care of. For good." She agreed to meet me. I tried to hold her hand, but there were too many people around. Besides, Potter and Weasley were making their way out of the store.

22 December 1997

I got back from train station just in time to see my mother before she left for the Christmas Ball. She was still getting ready when I got home. I was walking back from the kitchens with my sandwich when she called me into her dressing room.

I sat on the chaise lounge near the window and watched as she fixed her hair. She was wearing a floor length burgundy gown, the one she got fitted for during the summer. The bodice was covered in jewels and in the middle of it was the cross pin Father had given her for her birthday. Father had always told her that the dress was too tight, but I guess he was right because she kept fidgeting with the corset.

I took a bite of the roast beef sandwich, and then threw it back on the plate. The bread was too hard. Every time Blue makes the bread, I always end up cutting the roof of my mouth.

I was about to make a complaint to my mother, when I noticed a gift basket filled with gourmet cheese, crackers and pate sitting on a nearby coffee table. I tore off the large red bow from the basket and reached for a cracker, when I saw the card from the sender. I made sure my mother was preoccupied with putting on her choker before I took the card from its envelope and began to read. This is what it said:

Dear Narcissa,

Thank you so much for all your help. If things go according to plan, you and I will be making the announcement together, shortly. It is definitely a good match.

I couldn't read anymore, because my mother ripped the card out of my hands. "This is not for you," she said. But before I could ask her who the card was from, she quickly changed the subject. "Are you having someone stay with you?" she asked. "I saw one of the house-elves fixing up that room overlooking the garden, so I just assumed Pansy would be staying with you."

When I nodded, she said, "I'm glad. She's a delightful girl, don't you think?"

"Who's delightful?" asked Father. He was standing in the doorway, fastening the cuffs of his shirt.

"I was just discussing Pansy."

At that moment, Father stopped fussing with his cuffs and gave me an odd look. He then looked over at my mother. "I thought you weren't going to do it?"

Mother did not say anything and went back to her vanity, where she began to pin up her hair.

"Or have you already done it?" Father asked. When Mother glanced at him from over her shoulder, he said, "Oh, what do I care. That's your department."

That statement settled things, and seemed to put a smile on Mother's face. She began to hum to herself and attempted to put on her choker once more.

"None of the other women will be wearing their pearls, Narcissa," said Father. "We're going to be late if you continue to play around with that thing."

"Fine. But I'll take it with me just in case." Mother placed the pearl choker in a silvery pouch and put the pouch in her purse." She touched my head with a gloved hand and said, "We're going to head to Switzerland right after the party, but your father will be back here on the twenty-fourth, before joining me again. I won't see you until the New Year, but I promise to be here when you head back to school."

"Could you send me something from Switzerland?" I asked.

"We will do no such thing," said Father. "Haven't we already gotten you enough? You're already getting two parties as it is."

Mother was about to walk to the door, but suddenly stopped. "Two parties? What other party is he getting besides the Christmas one?" She looked from me to Father.

Father took hold of her arm and began to walk her to the door. "We're already late Narcissa."

24 December 1997

The Ceremony was nothing like I had imagined. There was no task. Aside from Blaise speaking out of line, nothing really happened. Father made an announcement that only one of us would be initiated, but he didn't mention a name.

He pulled me into his study afterwards. He didn't say anything for a long while and puffed on his pipe. "Everything has been ordered for both of your parties," he said. "I'm sure you and your friends will enjoy yourselves."

I nodded.

He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and rolled his neck from side to side. "The person we choose will be notified in a few weeks, and then the real initiation will begin." He emptied his pipe into the bin and looked at me. "You know I can't give you anymore information."

"I understand," I said. I know he's not bound by the Dark Lord's spell like the others, and could speak his mind. But I didn't say anything.

He went to his cabinet and took out two large glasses. I almost held out my hand to take one of the glasses, but I decided to wait until he offered it to me. I didn't really care for the strong alcohol he kept in his office, but I guess I could tolerate it for this special occasion.

But he didn't hand me the glass. He placed it on the table, and then poured brandy into the other. He then took a seat in his chair and stared at the fireplace.

I continued to look down at the empty glass sitting on his desk. "Will Mother be joining you tonight?" I asked.

He kept his back turned to me and said, "You know damn well that she won't. Don't you think you're getting too old to ask questions you know the answer to?" He stared at me from over his shoulder. "I think you should go now."

When I left the room, I wanted to press my ear against the door. But I already knew what I would hear.

24 December 1997 (Later that night)

The girls came over tonight. They were beautiful. Crabbe started to thank me the minute they got there. He grabbed some blonde's arm and dragged her up to the Chinese Room upstairs. Some of the girls stayed downstairs, but it was the brunette in the short dress that approached me first. She walked right up to me and sat on my lap.

"Do you want to go upstairs?" she asked. "We could also stay down here if you want." She then started to run her fingers through my hair.

Blaise was on the couch with an Asian girl. He stopped kissing her and began to watch us.

"I think we should go upstairs," I told her.

The girl took my hand and led me upstairs to the master bedroom. I sat on the bed and watched her close the door. "What would you like?" she asked. "I can give you a little show." She began to dance in the middle of the room. She then turned around, bent over and touched the floor. She wasn't wearing underwear.

She faced me and started to rub her hands up and down her body. She slipped the straps of her dress down her shoulders and exposed her breasts. She then continued with her dance for several more minutes, until I told her to stop.

"I guess you want to begin," she said. She got on the bed and crawled towards me. Her hands slid along my legs and then reached for the zipper on my trousers.

"I'm not interested," I said. "I'm really tired."

She straddled me and placed her hands on my chest. "It's all right. You won't have to do any work." She leaned her body forward and brushed her breasts against my face. Her skin was soft. And she smelled good. She was wearing a light, flowery scent.

"I'm really not interested," I told her. "I'm not in the mood."

She got off of me and sat on the edge of the bed. After several minutes of staring down at her hands, she pulled up the straps of her dress and covered herself.

"I can get you another girl, if you want," she said.

"No, it's not that. I'm just not interested in doing anything with anyone." When she continued to stare at me, I said, "I'm with someone right now."

"Do you love her?"

I smiled at her. I didn't feel like discussing my feelings with a hired woman.

"You don't have to worry about it," she said. "There are loads of fellas who don't want to do anything. They just want someone to talk to about their problems."

"It's not exactly a problem" I said. "Things are good between us."

She lay on the bed next to me and began to rub my chest. "Tell me about her," she said. She then draped her thigh over my leg.

"Talking about her is not going to put me in the mood," I told her. "But don't worry, I'll still give you a good tip."

"You're a sweet guy," she said. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Maybe when you're not feeling so faithful, you and I can get together. I won't even charge your father for it." As she was climbing off of the bed, her hand "accidentally" landed on my crotch. She winked at me before she left the room.

But she was back five minutes later. Crabbe was finished with his first girl and was apparently looking for another one. "Can I stay in here with you?" she asked.

She stayed with me for the rest of the night in that room. She spent some of the time staring out of the window. But mostly, she tried everything to get me in the mood. When it was time for her and the other girls to leave, she slipped me a card with her address written on it.

I tossed the card into bin.

25 December 1997

Happy Christmas to me.

The house-elves set out a large buffet for everyone in the dining room. Unfortunately, the other guys had already left early this morning. They all wanted to go home and celebrate with their families before tonight's party. I sat in Father's chair and ate several slices of ham. I told one of the house-elves to serve me my drink in Father's goblet, but he refused.

"You are not Lord and Master of this home," he said. "Only after Lord Malfoy is deceased can you drink from his goblet." When he left the room, I could hear the other house-elves singing from the kitchens. They were having their own celebration. I slammed the dining room door so I didn't have to listen to them.

After I ate, I walked around the gardens for a little bit, before I went back inside to get ready for my Quidditch lesson with Liam. We only practiced for an hour, but it was an intense hour. "You've really improved," he said, when we were putting the equipment back in the storage room. "I still have connections with the Falcons if you ever want to make this a full time career."

"That's not in my plans," I said.

"That's too bad. It's quite a life. The fanfare, the women. I'm not a good looking bloke, but you could not believe the quality of women that I got when I was at my prime. I've had beauty queens and I once had Mona Castell. She left me for Rodney because he was more popular, but I at least had her for a couple of nights. And the money," he then whistled. "But I guess when you grow up in a big house like this, money isn't a big issue."

When he finished telling me about an encounter he had with one of the Quidditch Bunnies that hung outside the stadiums for the players, I said, "We can continue this conversation in the house if you want. The house-elves made too much food, so there's plenty to eat."

He looked down at this watch. "I wish I could, but I can't. My parents are throwing a little shindig in a little bit. But thanks for the offer."

I went into my bedroom when he left. Sitting on my bed were some presents from my mother. I got new Quidditch gear, shoes, a gold watch and a box of chocolates from Switzerland. I left everything on my bed and stared out the window. I could see the house-elves walking into the guesthouse. They're probably setting up for the party.

I wanted something strong to drink, so I walked downstairs to my father's study. The door was locked. So, I went into my mother's bedroom and took a bottle of wine from behind her dresser. Since there's still a couple more hours until the party starts, I think I'll finish off the bottle and then take a nap.

27 December 1997

Hermione just left to go back to her house. She was supposed to leave two hours ago, but I convinced her to stay longer. We spend most of the day lying in bed. I can still taste her lipgloss on my mouth from when she gave me a goodbye kiss. It's funny how shy she acted this morning, when I brought her the breakfast tray. She kept the sheets tucked under her chin the entire time we ate.

And she moved away when I tried to kiss her. She placed her hand over her mouth and said, "I have to brush my teeth first." I watched as she got out of bed, with the blankets still wrapped around her, and ran to the bathroom.

When she was eating a strawberry, I tried to pull the sheets off of her, but she stopped me. "I just want to look at you," I said. "Last night, you made me turn off all the lights and I couldn't see anything." She fought me for a couple more minutes, but she finally let me have my way. I pulled the covers off the bed and looked at her body. She turned her head. "Look at me," I said. "How come you never make eye contact? Even last night, you kept your eyes closed."

She turned and looked at me.

I placed my hand on her stomach, which made her laugh. I then moved my hand up. Soon, she stopped being shy. She took my hand and started to move it up and down her body. I climbed up on the bed and looked down at her face. "I want you to stay here with me," I said. "I'm gonna be alone for a couple more days, so it won't be a problem. The house-elves can bring you your food in bed everyday, and you, of course, have access to a library full of books."

"As tempting as that sounds," she said. "I can't. My parents will be worried if I'm not back today."

She sat in front of the fireplace with me before it was time for her to go. That was twenty minutes ago.

3 January 1998

Everyone in school found out about us today. Some girls even confronted Hermione about it in the hall before Potions class. Instead of denying it, she ran to Gryffindor Tower and stayed there for the rest of the day. When I got back from helping Professor Snape, all the Slytherins were standing around watching the Gryffindors fight with each other about what Hermione had done.

Although a couple of the boys were defending Hermione, most of the people seemed to believe that what she did was vile. As though being with me would be vile. Parvati was particularly angry. She ripped into Hermione like crazy. "I guess she's not so pious now," she said. "Who knew that underneath that virginal exterior was a huge whore?"

"Don't you dare call Hermione that," said the black boy, whose name I think is Dean.

"I can call her any damn thing I want. And why are you defending her? Do you think now that she's been exposed as the nymphomaniac that she is, she'll sleep with you?"

"Hush up, both of you," shouted Professor Snape. "This is a place of learning, not page six of the Daily Prophet. Twenty points from Gryffindor for having an inappropriate conversation."

Potter and Weasley didn't show up to class until the end. That's when Professor Snape lost it and took an additional forty points from their house. Ten extra points were taken from Weasley for being disheveled and sweaty. After class, Weasley kept walking towards me, like he wanted to fight. But Potter pulled him away. "Next time I see you, you're dead," Weasley said. Crabbe asked if he should go after them. I told him no.

When I got back to the common room after classes, everyone in the House was talking about Hermione as well. "Serves her right," said Pansy. "That's what she gets for laying down with someone who's already taken." She came to where I was seated and sat in my lap. She then began to stroke my hair with her left hand, so that everyone could see the ring on her finger. I wanted to rip that thing off and toss it into the fire.

And that's when she kissed me. She hasn't done something like that since the Mandy days. It was one of those kisses where she held my face in between her hands and made a lot of noise, so that everyone would know that she was enjoying it. When she was done with me, she went back to sitting with her friends.

"Did you see all the Gryffindors arguing?" asked Blaise. "It was fantastic."

"I think I'm going to have fun with them tomorrow," said Terry. "A few of them are in one of my classes. It's going to be fun to get them all riled up."

Everyone soon stopped talking and looked over at me for some ideas. "You know what would really anger them?" I said. "If we made a big entrance at dinner. We should go in together and march in front of the Gryffindor table. McGonagall won't like it, but Professor Snape won't care. He might get a kick out of it."

"That'll be great," said Terry. "We should just rub it in their faces that one of us got their girl. And we're not talking about hand action either. Malfoy got the whole shebang. He had her bent over a chair, screaming out his name. I bet all the house-elves at Malfoy Manor were like, 'What's all that noise? Oh, that's just Master Malfoy having his way with the Muggle-born.'"

Pansy stormed upstairs to her room.

Draco paced the room, walking back and forth in front of the fireplace. He shot a glance towards the door every time he heard a noise that sounded like footsteps. He had assured himself that she would come, but every minute that passed put doubt in his mind. Perhaps her two friends were able to poison her mind against him, Draco thought. He then lowered his head, as he cursed his decision to confront Harry and Ron in the hall. When thirty minutes had finally gone by, the door opened and Hermione walked into the room.

She stood by the entryway with her back to him, and her hand still on the doorknob. For a slight second, Draco thought she would exit the room. But she stayed put, and eventually faced him. The smile that usually greeted him was absent, as was the look of delight that was always evident in her gaze.

He approached her to offer her a greeting, but she moved away. She walked past his opened arms and took a seat in the wooden chair in the corner. With her legs crossed at the ankles, she folded her hands in her lap and she stared up at him. There was a harsh expression on her face, which sent the clear message to Draco that their meeting would be a serious one.

Draco retreated back to the fireplace, where he had laid a blanket and several pillows on the same spot on the floor where they had enjoyed many nights talking or partaking in other sensual activities.

He playfully kicked one of the pillows. It flew into the fireplace and began to catch fire. But it was quickly rescued before it sustained any real damage. Draco started to smile as he lifted it into the air, and showed the cindered portion to Hermione. When this failed to produce any laughter from Hermione, he dropped the pillow onto the floor and took a seat by the fireplace.

"Did you plan this whole thing?" Hermione asked.

Draco didn't answer immediately, and sat motionless, as if stunned by her question. "Both of us had our own reasons for wanting to do this project," he said.

"You still didn't answer my question."

There was a moment of hesitation, before Draco finally said, "Yes."

Hermione brought her hand to her face and looked up at the window. Being that it was a cloudy night, she did not have the beauty of the moon to distract her from what was happening in that room. After a few moments of heavy silence, she jumped out of her chair.

Draco got up, as well, and held up his hand to prevent her from bolting out of the room. "Can you honestly tell me that you didn't have ulterior motives for wanting to work with me? After six years of hating me, I find it odd that you would suddenly have the desire to work on a school assignment with me. I know you wanted to find out some information for Potter. You had your agenda, and I had mine. But somehow, we ended up together."

"But my initial plan was never to manipulate you into liking me," said Hermione.

"Yes, it was. How else would you get any information from me?"

Hermione glared at him momentarily, but soon realized that Draco was not the only culprit in their twisted mind game. She played her own part. After all, it was she that initiated the turn of events by choosing him as her partner.

"Hermione, listen," Draco said again, this time in a less accusatory tone. "I never thought things would get this far. Inviting you to my house was never part of the plan."

A look of disgust spread across Hermione's face. "So, your intention was to seduce me on the floor of this room?"

"No at all," said Draco. He stopped talking when he realized how unconvincing his answer had sounded. He began again, and stated, "Look, I was angry with you. I knew you were using me, so I figured I might as well do the same to you. But as the project progressed, I started to lose track of what I was after. I stopped planning what I would say to you. And I even looked forward to our chats. And before I realized it, I started to enjoy being around you. The only time that's ever happened was with—"


Hermione kept her eyes steady on him to catch his reaction. But Draco's stoic expression never wavered and he replied matter-of-factly, "I had a feeling you would talk to her." He took a long pause, before adding, "I don't think there's a need to bring her up, since she has nothing to do with us."

"She has everything to do with us," said Hermione. "You did the same thing to her that you're doing to me."

Draco looked away and sat near the fireplace once more. He turned around in his seat and faced the fire. He drew his hand from his lap and allowed it to hover above the flames. He pulled his hand away when the heat became unbearable. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Hermione giving him a stern look.

"With Mandy," he began, "I wanted a challenge. We were in the same literature class together during our fifth year. Some of the girls in her house used to show some interest, but she was not one of them." He smiled to himself when he thought of the manner in which Mandy would glare at any Ravenclaw girl who dared to smile at him or even look in his direction during class.

"Mandy, for some reason, wanted nothing to do with me," he went on. "So that year, I spent several months trying to get her. Just by doing little things that would get her attention, but at the same time not make her suspicious."

"What exactly did you do to get her to like you?" asked Hermione.

"I found out little things about her. It was easy since some of the girls in the class were more than a little chatty. I learned what books she liked, her favorite perfume, what shops she frequented in Hogsmeade. That sort of stuff. That was the first time I had worked that hard on someone. But as you already know, my plans didn't really work out, and things started to happen."

"She still likes you," said Hermione. "She's not infatuated with you, like the other girls. I think she might love you. Did you love her?"

An uneasy smile crept over Draco's lips. "Aren't we here to discuss you and me?" His hand then crept up to his neck. "That's a bit personal."

"Why didn't you stay with her?"

"Do you really have to ask?" Draco asked. "She's a Ravenclaw."

"Is that something in the Slytherin Code of Ethics? You can sleep with someone from another house, but you can't openly date them?" When Draco did not answer, she immediately went on to her next question. "So, do you get pleasure from hurting girls?"

"I haven't hurt anyone," said Draco. "When I'm with someone, I give them my full devotion."

"But we all know that that's fake. Everything you're doing for these girls is just to fulfill your own needs. You tell them what they want to hear, and make them think you're genuine. All the while, you're playing with their heart."

"You're right. Maybe there are girls that I've hurt. Maybe I was using them for my own pleasure and once I got it, I stopped talking to them. Perhaps these girls cry themselves to sleep every night, or send me letters begging me to take them back. But you know what? There are also lots of girls who just want to have a good time, no strings attached. They want the same thing as me. Not everyone is looking for a boyfriend."

"Which category do I fit?" Hermione asked.

"You're in a third category: someone who caught me off guard. Someone I didn't expect to have feelings for."

These words would have produced a quickened heartbeat in any of the love-sick girls that yearned for Draco's attention; but Hermione simply looked away. Her harsh attitude towards what he thought was a sincere compliment caused Draco's hopes of a quick reconciliation to vanish momentarily. But he would not be deterred by her silence.

"I sorry," he said in a low voice. When Hermione finally looked his way, he added, "I'm sorry I have a reputation. I'm sorry I've taken advantage of girls in the past. I'm sorry I have a libido. I wish I could change my past actions. But I can't. This is who I am. But just because I might have hurt girls in the past doesn't mean I'll do the same to you. And I didn't invite you to my house just to have my way with you. If that had been my intention, I would have had you in the library."

Hermione scrunched her brows. She knew that her defenses were lowered that evening; but for Draco to imply that she would have slept with him in his family's library was simply ludicrous. A kiss, and perhaps an embrace, was all she was looking for, Hermione said to herself. She definitely would not have gone any further.

But her defiant attitude quickly waned when she realized that she could easily have lost her virginity in that room. That event, of course, took place hours later on a warm bed only because Draco orchestrated it that way.

"I've never put myself out there before," Draco said. "I've come close, but never like this. Whatever my past actions, just know that it was never a game with you. What started out as a scheme turned into something more."

"Do you love me?" she asked.

He stared at her for a moment, before proclaiming, "Jesus Christ. Do you love me?"

"Yes," Hermione replied. "At least, I thought I did." She grew quiet, as she considered her answer. She then said, "Yes, I do."

Draco rubbed his neck. "It's not that easy for me. I just can't come out and say it."

"That's the problem with you. You can never come out and say anything. I have to guess what your intentions are." Hermione dropped her gaze and after several moment of staring at the floor, she turned her back to him.

Draco slowly approached her. "I can't tell you what you want to hear," he said. He grabbed Hermione's shoulders and turned her around. "I know how I feel about you. But I really don't want to spend the night talking about it. It's not really my thing, and it can be exhausting."

Having such intense conversations was indeed something he did not relish doing. Fortunately, he had been lucky enough to avoid them for most of his dating years. With many of the girls he'd dated – or had a brief encounter with – the infatuation usually wore off before the relationship reached a level of any real intimacy. Pansy had attempted to draw him into a heart to heart discussion in the past; but even she gave up when Draco greeted this proposition with a cold stare.

When he saw the scowl lines form on Hermione's brow, he knew that she did not appreciate his reluctance. "This is not easy for me," he went on. "I don't usually dwell on this sort of stuff. It's just that, I've never experienced…" He stopped talking in mid-sentence and began to rub his chin. After several moments of doing this, he took hold of Hermione and kissed her.

Hermione did not move away from him; in fact, when they pulled apart, she raised her hand and ran her fingers along the side of his face, feeling the scratchiness of day-old stubble against her fingertips.

She spent several moments staring up at him, before she said, "When I left the guesthouse, I went home and thought about you. I can't express to you how happy I was at that moment. I remember lying on my bed and rehearsing what I would say to Harry and Ron about you and me being together. I didn't even care about what the rest of the school would say about it, because at the moment everything seemed perfect."

Hermione stopped talking as a smile formed on her lips. She remained quiet for a long while as her hand traveled along Draco's neck, causing him to close his eyes whenever her fingers touched a sensitive area. She then brought her hand to her side.

"I spent all last night thinking about us again," she said. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that things just didn't add up."

She moved towards her chair and stared up at the window once more. It had now begun to rain. She stayed quiet as she watched the large rain drops trickle down the side of the window pane. "How could you care about me," she said, with her back still to him, "when you won't even acknowledge me when you're around your friends? Everyone just looks at me as being another one of your conquests. Even today, you avoided me during class, and you joined your friends when they were making fun of me."

"What do you want me to do though? Should I stand up in the middle of my dorm and profess my undying devotion to you?" He then let out a deep breath. "I should have talked to you, but…I don't know. I should have done more."

Hermione closed her eyes when she felt Draco's hand on her back. "I shouldn't have ignored you like that," he whispered against her ear. He rested his chin on her shoulder. "But that sort of thing takes time. It won't happen overnight. But just because I haven't told other people doesn't mean I don't want us to be together, because I do. This mess between us is just one big misunderstanding. I want us to go back to where we were before all of this happened. Those were happy moments for me, too."

"What about Pansy?" Hermione asked. "Or is your relationship with her a big misunderstanding as well?"

Draco opened his mouth, ready to retort, "She and I don't have a relationship." But he said nothing and stared at her in silence.

"That ring she keeps showing off," said Hermione, "actually means something, doesn't it?"

Draco squeezed his eyes, as his fingers traveled to the bridge of his nose. "It wasn't my decision," he said. "The ring, that is. Yes, she and I have been together for a long time, but I'm not in love with her. It's because of outside influences that we are still together."

"Will you ever tell these 'outside influences' that you want to be with someone else?"

"Yes," Draco said. "In fact—" He walked back to the fireplace, where his robes lay in a neat pile near the burnt pillow. "I've already written a letter to my father."

He searched the pockets of his robes for the parchment. Finding nothing other than the lint that lined his pockets, Draco turned the garment upside down and began to shake it, in hopes the letter would fall to the floor. He finally gave up his search and went back to Hermione.

"I had it this morning," he said. "The letter is about you and me. Well, I don't name you in it, but it says that I want to be with someone else and not Pansy. I really am trying to fix this mess."

Draco placed his hand on her head and smoothed back her hair with his fingers. "Everything is falling into place for us," he said. "I know it's taken a me a long time, but I'm trying my best to make things right." He pulled Hermione close and hugged her. His lips eventually found their way to the crook of her neck, where they stayed for a considerable time.

Hermione knew what he was doing. He had done that same thing on many nights when they were alone. She smiled to herself when she heard him inhale deeply. It pleased her to know that he was fond of her perfume. But she never did reveal that the fragrance was a gift from Krum. She allowed him several long moments to indulge his senses.

"Will you stay here with me?" Draco asked. "I just want to lay down with you for a bit. It's been a long time since we've been alone like this." Hermione's gaze flickered to the fireplace, where it stayed until Draco touched her arm and asked, "What do you say?" When he was met with silence, he opened his mouth to ask again, but Hermione finally began to talk.

"I spoke to a friend about us," Hermione said. "This person is like family to me," she added quickly, when she sensed that he was about to make a disparaging comment about Harry and Ron. "This friend told me to be cautious of your motives, to be careful about trusting you. I didn't want to listen at first, but after awhile, things started to make sense."

She then took a long pause, before finally stating, "I want to believe you. I spent hours trying to convince myself that your feelings for me are genuine." She closed her eyes, just as a tear rolled down her cheek and rested in the corner of her mouth. She moved away from him when he attempted to touch her. "As much as I would like to think that you are madly in love with me, deep down, I know that this is just another scheme. The fact that you're still with Pansy after everything that's happened between us just reinforces that belief."

"But I'm trying to clear things up with Pansy. I'm gonna tell her later tonight that it's over between us. And I already wrote a letter to my father, telling him my intentions."

"The letter you couldn't find?" Hermione didn't wait to see Draco's reaction to her stinging remark. She walked to her chair and picked up her robes. She then spent several minutes running her hand along the smooth fabric of the garment.

"I came here tonight," she said, "to see you for the last time and hear what you had to say. And I must admit, that was a wonderful story you told me. For a split second, I almost believed you. Almost."

"Hermione," Draco said, "I swear to you that I am being genuine. Why would I bother going through all of this if I wasn't?"

"I don't know. Why would you spend months manipulating someone, crafting a world of lies just so you could get them into bed? You do it because you get a kick out of it. It's become this big, elaborate game for you, and you love it. Even when your plans go array, and there's a chance that you might fall for someone, you still keep playing it. Let's take Mandy for example. You loved her. I know you did. I could hear it in your voice. But instead of letting yourself fall in love, you broke it off with her. Why? So, you can still play the role of the school Casanova."

Draco tried to grab her hand, but Hermione moved away from him.

"I'm not proud of what I did to Mandy," he said. "And I have to pay for it every time I sit in the Great Hall and see her staring at me. But just because Mandy and I didn't work out, doesn't mean we can't. I can't go back and change things. But I'm not the same person that I was when I was with Mandy. The circumstances have changed, I've changed."

"No you haven't. You're still that same person who likes to toy with people. How else would you explain your relationship with Pansy? You don't have any feelings for her, and yet you string her along, making her think she might have a chance with you. All the while, you're out pursuing different girls. In the end, she ends up looking stupid." She brought her hand to her face and wiped her stinging eyes. "I don't want to be with someone I can't trust. I can't have you turn me into another Mandy."

Draco grabbed hold of her arms and pulled her against his body. "Look into my eyes and tell me that you don't want to be with me."

Her gaze didn't meet his immediately, but she eventually looked up at him and said, "I don't want to be with you."

"I thought you said you loved me."

"I do," she said. "But it was really a false image of you that I fell in love with. So, I guess you can say I fell in love with a lie."

The expression on Draco's face, which could have been interpreted as a look of concern, soon disappeared as he creased his brows and narrowed his eyes down at her. He tightened his grip around her wrists, but before she could protest, he pushed her arms away and walked to the fireplace. "Don't forget that I'm not the only liar in this room."

"But your lies and mine were completely different," said Hermione. "Yes, I led you to believe that I wanted to work with you just for the hell of it. But I never schemed to get you to fall in love for me, nor was it my plan to seduce you. So, don't imply that you and I are the same, because we are not—"

Draco swiftly got up from his seat and approached her. Hermione took a step backwards and hit her backside against the desk. She attempted to bring her arms up to her chest to protect herself, but he was quicker than she; he pushed her arms out of the way and swiftly grabbed her waist. But looking down at her face and seeing the frightened look on in her eyes, he quickly loosened his grasp.

"It's not a game anymore," said Draco. "What you see here is real, and I'm not going to let people like Potter poison you against me. Look at me," he barked.

When Hermione had finally stopped squirming and had directed her gaze back towards him, Draco said, "You might think I'm acting again, but let me tell you that I would never do something like this. If this was all a joke, the minute we got back to school, you wouldn't have heard from me ever again. I've never done something like this before. I've never put myself out on the line like I'm doing now."

When he caught a glimpse of Hermione's gaze drifting towards the fireplace, he shouted, "God dammit. Why aren't you listening to me?"

"I am listening to you. I've been listening to you since we first got together. And I've realized that everything you say is complete bull. You tell people what they want to hear. I figured that out after talking to Mandy about you. So, you can go ahead and talk all you want. But don't expect me to believe a word of it."

"Then why are you here," he asked, "if you already had your mind set that you and I weren't going to be together?"

"Like I said before, I wanted to do this face to face. I needed to tell you all of this in person."

"Well, we're face to face right now," Draco said as he lowered his head towards her. "And I don't believe you. I think you came here because you can't stand to be away from me. I look at you now and I know you want to be with me." He pressed his lips against her ear and whispered, "I know you do." He kissed the side of her face, before say, "We've worked so hard to be together. Don't throw away all that we have."

It was that statement that caused Hermione to finally push him away. "Don't do dare say we've worked hard for this," she said. "The only person working hard was you. I bet it takes a lot of energy to keep all your lies straight. My favorite is when you said you spent your Christmases alone. But I've recently found out you have a huge party every year. So, don't make it seem like you and I have been battling the outside world to keep our relationship alive. Because we don't have a relationship."

She picked up her robes, which had dropped to the floor and draped them over her shoulders. "And do you really think that saying you've never done something like this with another girl is going to convince me you're being sincere? So what. Maybe you're setting a new precedent for yourself. Perhaps you'll take things further with the next girl."

Draco stared at her in silence for a long while. Thinking he would lung at her once more, Hermione took a step backwards. But after careful examination, she realized that the anger he had displayed just moments ago was no longer present on his face. He did not advance towards her and eventually retreated back to his seat. He clasped his hands together and lowered his head.

Hermione stared at him for a moment, before slowly walking to the door. But she didn't exit the room and stood by the entryway. She wondered if she should say something before leaving. She wasn't angry, after all, nor did she feel triumphant about finally putting him in his place.

She was about to speak, when Draco finally said, "Sometimes the past is not a good indicator of things." His head was still lowered, and he continued to stare at his hands. "Everyone's done things that could be interpreted as hurtful. But should they be judged for the rest of their lives? I know you've heard things about me that aren't pleasant. But you can't let all of that shape your opinion of me. What if I'm being real, and I genuinely care for you? What if being with you has been an amazing experience for me? If you walk out of here, you'll never know."

There was a haunting tone in his voice that forced Hermione to turn away from him and stared at the tattered tapestry hanging on the back wall. She blinked rapidly as the emotions began to swell within her. She eventually brought her hand to her face and wiped her eyes.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people who are more than happy to whisper in your ear about me," he said. "But in the end, you have to follow your own feelings. I know you're scared and don't want to trust me, but sometimes you have to take a chance." He took a long pause, and then said, "Hermione, look at me. Look at me and tell me if this is the face of someone who is playing a role."

Hermione turned around, but kept her gaze fixed on the checkered pattern of the blanket lying on the floor before her. There was a great desire to look up at him, and witness firsthand the pain that must have been present on his face. If the trembling in his voice was any indication, then his pain must have been great. She had only seen this intensity twice before: minutes ago when he grabbed her roughly, and once during her stay in his guesthouse.

But as much as her heart told her otherwise, Hermione's eyes never lifted high enough to meet his. She still did not trust him and doubted the sincerity of his suffering. He had great control over his emotions, and she assumed he could therefore switch them on and off at will.

"I've already told you my decision," she said. "I'm not going to change my mind, so there's no reason for us to continue this conversation." She wrapped her robes tightly around her body and reached for the doorknob as she prepared to leave the room.

"Hermione, I—" Draco hesitated for a moment. He opened his mouth and tried to force the words out, but after several attempts, he remained quiet.

Hermione exited the room.

Draco stared at the door, as he willed her to come back into the room. When some time had passed, and he was still alone, he looked down at his hands. He tried hard to prevent himself from being overpowered by what he was feeling, and he was successful for the first few minutes, because he was, after all, skilled in the art of restraint. But even he couldn't last long, and months of aggravation and worry finally hit him. He placed his hands over his eyes as a tear rolled down his face. And just as wiped the wetness with the back of his hand, more tears streamed down his cheeks.

His hands fell back to his side and he stared straight ahead. He was captured by an overwhelming urge to go after her. But his body would not cooperate with him and he stayed put. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror just then. It was hard to believe that he could be reduced to the pathetic sight that now greeted him. He looked away.

It was well into the early morning when he finally decided to leave that room. His back was now hurting from leaning against the hard rocks that formed the fireplace. He slowly got to his feet. The headache of that morning had now spread to his entire body, causing his joints to hurt.

And just as he was about to pick up the blanket from the floor, he saw the letter he had been looking for earlier that night. It was lying near the burnt pillow. He lifted it up and looked at it.

Dear Father,

I want you to cancel your plans to announce my engagement to Pansy. My affections have transferred elsewhere. I know that this will upset many people, but it is my decision. Your son, Draco

He knew his father would have followed his directions. Just like himself, the elder Mr. Malfoy was not a supporter of arranged or forced marriages.

Draco flung the letter into the fire. What use could it do him now?

Before approaching the portrait of the Fat Lady, Hermione slipped into an adjoining hallway and sat on the floor. Her heart was still racing. Although she had made her decision the night before and told herself many times that it was the right choice, she still had her doubts; her feelings for him and his actions tonight added to her torment.

She leaned back against the cold wall and closed her eyes, as an internal dialogue ran through her head. Could it be possible, she said to herself, that he had actually changed and was trying his best to rectify his past actions? She pondered this for only a moment, before shaking her head. "He was just acting the part," she said.

A sudden wave of sadness came over her. Sadness for him, and not herself. What a great loss it was that this young man, soon to be eighteen, would toy with others with such ease, and leave those around him hurt in the process. But mixed in with feelings of melancholy was a sense of relief. This act of falling in love, or be it infatuation, placed a heavy burden on one's mind. But that was now over for her. It was done. She lowered her head and took a deep breath.

It was only when she heard Peeves' laughter that Hermione finally got to her feet. She approached the portrait hole and whispered the password. The Fat Lady swung open, without saying a word or lecturing her about the lateness of the hour.

Upon entering the common room, she was taken aback by the loud noise and celebratory nature of those in her dorm. In the middle of the room, clutching two handfuls of sickles and several galleons, Ron was performing a dance of his own invention. He leapt in the air several times and landed on his feet, to great applause. "A round of drinks for everyone at the Broomsticks this weekend," he said. He stopped dancing and added, "For seventh years only. The rest of you can fend for yourselves."

Dean excused himself from the card table and headed upstairs to the dorms to sulk. But this feat was hard to accomplish due to the numerous first years that sat on the stairs, blocking his way. Most of these youngsters were yawning because they had stayed up well past their bed time to watch the game.

Harry draped an arm around Hermione's shoulders and pulled her to a less populated spot near the fireplace. He stopped clapping for his friend and looked down at Hermione. She was facing the fire. He was tempted to chastise her for sneaking out of the room to talk to Draco, but he decided to say nothing. He went back to watching Ron. But he soon grew weary of Ron's antics and looked at Hermione once more. She was now sitting on the floor. He took a seat next to her.

"You don't have to worry about Malfoy anymore," said Hermione. "I'm through with him." She closed her eyes when she felt his fingers curl around her arm.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

Hermione kept quiet for a significant time before answering, "No, but I will be." Soon, Harry's arm moved from her hand to her waist.

Hermione found it hard to forget him, especially when they couldn't avoid meeting in the halls or their mutual classes. But as the spring progressed to summer, it became easier for her to stop gazing at him, or bestowing him with sideways glances.

New stories and tales came and went, causing her own scandal to become old news. But the stigma never disappeared. She always found herself being stared at by strangers in the hall. When groups of whispering girls would turn around to look at her, she knew she was the subject of their conversation. And during meal times, Mandy would always gaze at her with saddened eyes, which quietly communicated that she knew what Hermione was feeling.

Although she did not want to admit it to herself, her feelings for him still remained strong. So, it naturally pained her when she read about his engagement to Pansy in the Daily Prophet.

Draco, of course, showed no signs of being wounded or even affected by what had happened between them. He still walked through the halls with the same overconfident swagger. And he gloated over the Gryffindors' defeat when Slytherin House finally won the Quidditch Cup; Hermione was secretly happy for him, although she told Harry otherwise.

There were instances, however, when she would catch Draco staring at her in class. But Hermione never returned his glances. She would not go down that road again.

The End