Continued love for LightofEvolution: Beta Master.

And also, for ALL of you... I'm so grateful to each and every one of you. How many people get to have a hobby that leads to so much interaction and good will?

"Are you sure this is alright?"

Hermione is fidgeting, nervous for what is to come. She looks over at Draco with apprehension, but he throws her a reassuring smile. A very handsome smile, she admits to herself, no longer feeling the need to pretend otherwise.

You know, now that she doesn't think he's a mass murderer.

"It's completely fine, Granger. I, for one, am very excited for what you bring to the table."

She snorts. "Like knowing what a tampon is?"

He blushes and looks away, but the smile doesn't really slip from his face.

The door opens, and the first to arrive is Blaise Zabini. He stops cold just inside the room, eyes darting between Hermione and Draco.

"Erm. Draco? Are we… in trouble here?"

Hermione doesn't quite manage not to laugh softly before shaking her head no, but Draco is the one that speaks. He scoffs and says, "Of course not. Granger here is going to be the fifth member of our party."

"I… she is?" And then, to Hermione, "You want to play?"

He's looking at her dubiously. Hermione hasn't had a lot of interactions with this particular Slytherin, but she's pretty sure he's never looked anything but over-confident and self-assured. Trying to sound friendly, she answers him, "I do. If that's alright with the group."

Zabini slides into the table next to Draco, as far from Hermione as possible. There is no time for more conversation before the door opens again, revealing Pansy Parkinson slinking into the room.

Her reaction to Hermione's presence is an abrupt stop, but then an odd cock to her head. "Is Granger joining us?"

Draco addresses her with confidence. "She is. I assume that's not a problem."

The table of three seem to hold their breath collectively, but it is unnecessary when Pansy just stalks over and takes the chair next to Granger. "Good. We finally have someone to tell us what all these muggle gadgets are without Draco having to creep around after her."

No one says anything. Hermione is struck speechless and assumes the two boys are the same.

After pulling her custom made die with twenty gleaming sides out of a special leather case, Pansy sweeps her eyes around the table and asks, "What? You think I didn't know where you were getting your information?" She finishes with a mumble, "As if you'd know what taxidermy is. Please."

Hermione pulls her Gryffindor boldness out of the wreckage of being stunned. "So… you don't mind if I play?"

Pansy stops fidgeting with her parchments and raises one perfect eyebrow at Hermione. "What's an escalator?"

"I… It's a moving staircase muggles use to move from floor to floor of a building."

"How many 'floor pedals' are used to 'drive' a car?"

"Two for automatic transmission. Three for manual."

"What is Armani?"

"Umm… a fashion design house."

"Why should a man not refer to a group of men as 'ladies' in jest?"

"It implies an inferiority of women to use the term in a derogatory way, even if meant as humor."

Looking back at Draco, Pansy answers Hermione's question with a very pointed look, "No, Granger. I don't mind at all."

"Sorry I'm late. Potter stopped me, ridiculous as that sounds, asking if I'd seen-"

Theo stops mid-sentence, barely past the threshold of the door, then picks the thought back up with a raised brow. "Granger?"

"Harry's looking for me?"

"I believe his exact words were 'she won't tell me what she's doing, but I know it has something to do with Malfoy'. I guess he thought I might have some idea. Of course I told him that I don't… No fucking idea. What is she doing here?"

The last is directed obviously toward Draco, who levels him with a serious look that begs no challenge and grits out. "She's playing with us."

Theo snorts, but flops down into the last remaining chair, between Blaise and Pansy. "Yeah? Since when?"

"Since today," Hermione answers, emboldened by Parkinson's quick acceptance and annoyed by Nott's attitude. She hadn't expected him to be the problem.

It's a tense moment, when Draco finally mutters, "Nott", like a warning.

The man smirks then and props his knee against the table, nearly reclining in a non-reclining chair. "Just having a laugh, Granger. Draco told me you'd be here."

And just like that, the tension breaks and the room feels lighter. Hermione answers Nott's expression with a bit of a wry smile and then starts pulling items out of her bag. Her twenty-side isn't quite as beautiful as Parkinson's. The Slytherin witch looks like she had hers commissioned from Goblin metalsmiths. Hermione, though, has had hers since she was a girl, and it always makes her think of her father when she holds it.

She can't wait to tell Frank Granger she's taken up an RPG when she goes home for the holidays.

She already has parchment and a quill in front of her, but now reaches into her beaded bag, shuffling around the unpacked items, until her hand closes on the last piece she needs to play.

"What's that?"

Hermione looks at Blaise and grins, opening her hand to reveal a tiny figure of a scantily clad female. "It's a mini. A miniature representation of my character." She glances around at the table and notices no more figures. "You don't have minis?"

Blaise shoots a death glare at their leader. "Why don't we have those?" he demands, sounding suddenly much younger than his years.

"I don't…"

Draco looks lost so Hermione jumps in and points to the items in front of Blaise. "You have a reference sketch though."

Preening that she noticed, Blaise holds up the parchment he's been steadily working on for weeks. "I'm still shading around her eyes, see? And watch…" He pulls out his wand and flicks it at the graphite drawing. The pretty woman suddenly winks at Hermione and tosses her hair behind her, then rolls her shoulder and makes the pursed lip action of blowing a kiss.

"That's an impressive bit of spell work." Blaise looks smug and proud, but then Hermione flicks her wand at her own mini. The tiny little muggle woman finds the nearest tall item, the base of Hermione's quill standing on her quill stand, and shimmies against it in the most inappropriate manner. Her tiny legs grip the slender stalk, and she bends backwards, releasing her hold with one hand and looking at Blaise upside down from her position, licking her lips.

The little figure finally drops back down and resumes her original pose, going still.

"Holy mother of Merlin… what the fuck was that?!"

Hermione shrugs. "The whole idea of an RPG is to lose yourself in a fantasy. Something unlike your real life. I've chosen exotic dancer as my character profession. She's charmed to act out a few basic dance moves."

Blaise looks like he could come around the table and kiss her. Nott looks intrigued and a little smug, like he knew this would all work out alright in the end. She wonders about the conversation between him and Draco.

And Draco… well he is giving her a very appraising look that Hermione isn't sure she knows how to decipher.

Pansy, on the other hand, groans. "Alright, alright! Are we ever going to play? Does she even have her character rolled or do we have to wait for that?"

Picking up a parchment, Hermione lays the list of her character stats in front of Draco.

Name: Sonnet Williams

Occupation: Exotic Dancer

Level: 1

Charisma: 2 (+2 to roll for current occupational attire)

Health: 1 (+1 to roll for occupational fitness)

Dexterity: 1 (-2 to roll for impractical foot wear during mundane tasks)

Tech: 0

Subterfuge: 0

Education Level: Technical College (+1 to check roll)

Current wealth: $2,000

Draco grins, looking at the persona she's created, and clears his throat. "She's ready. Shall we begin?"

Sonnet meets the rest of the party while volunteering at the elementary school where they worked days before.

"You know, muggles don't just let unaccredited people come in and work for a day with children right?"

Nott stiffens and takes a calming breath through his nose, mumbling, "Oh Merlin, she's going to be just like Draco."

Oblivious to the comment, Draco perks up. "I thought as much. Surely they need some sort of mastership…"

"An education certificate, yes. It takes a few years to earn."

"I think we are all aware this game does not have all the answers when it comes to muggle culture. Tampon anyone? Can we please just continue?" Parkinson, Hermione is learning, seems to keep the group moving forward. Though Draco is the game leader, it's clear who wears the proverbial pants in real life amongst the snakes.

Ironically, that's a proverb Pansy would likely quite object to, if she were familiar.

Drake continues setting the scene…

Hoping to supplement her income as a dancer, she is interested in joining her new friends on their continued quests to make money and improve social standing.

Violet is in favour of another shopping trip, claiming Sonnet could use new clothing. Her current attire is saddling her with a -2 to dexterity for her shoes.

"But they give me +2 to charisma. I think it's worth the exchange."

"You could offset that with an Armani dress."

Sonnet disagrees, referencing her occupational requirements. "My Charisma is tied to a particular gear set. The Widow is the only class with a bonus for high fashion."

Violet preens and glares at Blair. "See? Widow is not the weakest occupation."

Blair rolls her seductive sapphire eyes, ample chest heaving as she takes in a calming breath-

"Salazar, Zabini, could you not…"

-and concedes that even the weakest class has some advantages.

"Before we leave the school," Drake informs them, "we have to attend a meeting with the faculty to receive our payment from our last session."

"Do you think we could negotiate to get me a cut?" Sonnet asks. "With Subterfuge or something?"

Draco scans through his mission materials, looking for a way to offer a roll to negotiate. His Slytherin friends mostly follow his lead during gameplay, not knowing how much they could creatively immerse into the characters. It will either be a lot of fun or much more stressful to play with someone obviously familiar with these sorts of games.

Finding an opening, Drake suggests, "The principal is weak to Charisma. You could use your action this round to distract him with your physical charms."

"Wait, wait… is she going to fuck the principal? Can I roll for that?"

"Blair seems awfully eager," Sonnet comments. "And no, I have a dance action that increases my roll. I don't need to fellate the man, you hussy."

The room at large is silent as a grave, hearing Hermione Granger use the word fellate. Nott finally grins and gives Draco a wink. "Oh, she's fun. I knew bringing her in was a good idea."

With a secret smile and a bite to her lower lip, Hermione settles in to the rest of the session, profoundly surprised by how comfortable she is in this den of snakes and looking forward to the weeks to come.

"So, how was it," Draco asks her later.

The pair of them are alone once again in the room, just like how this all started. Theo, Blaise, and Pansy had all left first, going so far as to suggest to Draco that he let her leave last.

"It's not like she would even get into any trouble," Blaise had pointed out. "No reason to sacrifice yourself anymore, Malfoy. Let the war hero protect you."

Draco had given his friend a right and proper glare, even as Hermione had snickered. Plus, it made a sort of sense. She has been given pretty much carte blanche from McGonagall since term started. If someone catches her out, she can just give them some flimsy excuse about preparing for her Ministry position or sending an owl to Ron. Name dropping the powers that be or other members of the Golden Trio never hurts her chance of a clean getaway.

So, she had volunteered. "It's fine," she'd interrupted the staring match between the two friends. "I'll go last. It's really not fair it was always you anyway," she'd mentioned then to Draco. "I don't mind taking a turn."

Now, she's suddenly quite aware of the fact that they are alone once again. This time, her wand isn't at this throat, of course, and any mortification that she literally sat on his crotch a few days ago can rise to the surface.

He's watching her with a gaze she would almost describe as cool, except it's not that indifferent.

She focuses back on his question, and grins. "It was excellent. I've not played a game like this in years. You're a wonderful GM."

He looks startled, and she continues. "I can tell you put in a lot of work to the planning. You have a deep grasp on the game mechanics and know about each character class, not just your own." She pauses, noting that he seems a little bit uncomfortable under her praise. Ending with gratitude, she finishes by saying, "Thank you for inviting me, Draco."

He smiles then, slipping back into his usual confident stance. "I'm glad you decided to join. I'm also glad to have this conversation without your wand in my neck."

He chuckles and she joins him, blurting out thoughtlessly, "or straddling you."

Draco cocks an eyebrow at her. "No, just the wand bit. I certainly had no issue with anything else."

There is no reason to even pretend his eyes didn't just sweep down her figure. Her own gaze drifts a bit to his mouth then back up, feeling a tension, taut as a bow string, suddenly stretch the room.

"Will you come back?" He has stepped closer, no longer fiddling with his game parchments or reference guides.

"I… I'd like that. When?"


Tuesday. Hermione nods, a little disappointed. It's only Thursday night. Nearly a week before they can do this again.

"You don't play on the weekends?"

She watches him lick his lips, procrastinating his response. Indecision seeming to flicker in his eyes. "Usually, we do. I…" He clears his throat and starts again. "I asked the group if we could skip this one. I was hoping…well, you see, it's a Hogsmeade weekend."

Ah, right. Of course. All the hesitation in his voice…She's guessing he has a date, and Hermione has been putting off all these 'come hither' vibes, she's sure. How absolutely mortifying.

With a strong clearing of her own throat, she shakes herself back into motion. "Right. Well… Tuesday is perfect. I'll just… see you in class?"

She's halfway to the door when he stops her with a rare use of her name. "Hermione?"

Turning slowly to face him and plastering a polite smile on her lips, she waits for whatever he needs to say. She watches him run his hand through his hair, disheveling his usually coifed platinum strands, and curses him for looking adorable while he lets her down gently.

"I thought… I mean I don't have any plans necessarily, but maybe if you were planning on going… and, that is, since I'm planning on going. What if we were both, you know, mutually going? To Hogsmeade? At roughly the same time to the same places?"

"You… wait. Are you asking me to go with you?"

"Well, only if… if you don't have other arrangements," he is back-pedalling. Quite stiffly and more awkward than she thought him capable of being.

Her brain catching up, she blurts out, "I'd love to. I mean, I don't have any other plans so…if you want to."

Draco's smile returns, broad and contagious, prompting Hermione to answer with her own.

It's been a lovely few days, since she confronted Draco about his late night activities in the Room. She met him here two days before to pick up a character parchment and discuss meeting times, and he had been the friendliest she'd ever known him. All their back and forth the past few short weeks, all the times she had wondered what his interest in her had been, she had waffled continuously over the possibility he might have been making some kind of play for her.

Now, on the cusp of what sounds very much like a first date, Hermione allows herself to indulge in a brief visualization of their day together. Draco Malfoy, now that he isn't snarking cruel comments at her and her friends, has been nothing but a gentleman. Polite, taking an interest in what she has to say, engaging her in conversation. She imagines a date with Draco will be nothing like grabbing take away with Ron and hoping his mother doesn't barge into his childhood bedroom and catch them… in flagrante delicto.

Her smile, however, fades almost as quickly as it came. Hermione puts her thoughts together, trying to broach the subject delicately and hoping she doesn't end up with her heart bruised in the end. "Are you sure though? This… here… Playing in the Room is one thing but, if we go to Hogsmeade together… everyone will see."

Draco's own smile falters as well and she watches him straighten. "Is that a problem? I understand, if it is. I'm sure you don't need my reputation sullying your name."

Her bark of laughter shatters the fragile atmosphere of the room, and she covers her hand with her mouth, embarrassed by the volume of her own outburst. She is just so shocked to hear her own self-conscious concerns mirrored back at her. "Sorry… that's just… I mean, that's ridiculous. You're Draco Malfoy. Scion of two ancient houses and possibly the wealthiest heir in Britain, wizarding or muggle."

"You forgot Death Eater," he murmurs.

"Oh don't pout. You're no such thing." If he's going to say ridiculous things, she's going to chastise him like a child. "You're not a Death Eater."

"I was. You know I'm lucky to be free, don't you? I wouldn't be, if it wasn't for the anonymous testimony on my behalf. That's how close I was. One bleeding heart away from Azkaban."

"Well then, you can thank me by buying me a butterbeer."

"Wait…It was you?"

He looks at her with wide eyes and she snorts. "Of course it was. Who did you imagine? Harry?"

His silence says it all and she giggles again, suddenly feeling a bit shy about the whole thing. Realizing this is actually going to happen.

"So… do you still want to? Go together?"

He nods and Hermione takes a breath, straightening her spine to bare her own vulnerability. "Even if I'm a muggleborn?"

Draco, suddenly seeming much more self-assured, much more himself, sweeps his arm behind him at the table they just vacated. "I'm not sure if it's escaped your attention, but I organized a game with my closest friends where we pretend to be muggles. I think it rather goes without saying that my opinions on the world outside my social circles have broadened."

She nods. That's fair enough. "And even if I have unruly hair and read too much and color code my study schedule?"

"I like your hair," he reveals with a grin. She starts to say more, but he holds up his hand to silence her. "Look, you do realize I could have asked Dean Thomas about taxidermy right? Or Tracey Davis… who's in my house… or even Potter, but I asked you."

"You did," she concedes, following his point, but not above digging around for a compliment. "Because I'm so thorough in my explanations?"

Sauntering closer once again, he offers a wry smile, looking down at her. She freezes when he lifts his right hand to trace the line of her cheek, then sweeps a curl behind her ear.

"That is true," he agrees. "You're very thorough. You're also well-read, which I appreciate. You're ambitious; a trait I'd like to think I share. We, apparently, have a similar interest in fantasy entertainment…. And you look far superior to the lot of them in Armani trousers."

She just stares at him, probably making him quite uncomfortable, but she just doesn't know what to say to that. He rescues her by clarifying. "I'd very much like to buy you that drink, Hermione."

"I'll roll you for it."

A beat, and then, "What?"

Grinning, Hermione digs into her bag and finds her die once more. Walking to the empty table, she tosses it down. "Fourteen. If you can beat that, you can buy me a drink." She swipes it back up in her fist and holds it out in front of her.

Draco looks at the die she is now offering in her palm and frowns. "And if I don't?"

"Then I'm buying," she says haughtily, daring him to disagree.

He studies her, then plucks the die from her hand and, without breaking eye contact, tosses it on the table.

Hermione can't seem to draw her gaze from his either and asks softly, "Who won?"

He leans forward, hands cupping her cheeks, and she knows he hasn't looked at his roll even as he says, "I did," and presses his lips to hers.

They are never really sure who won the roll since the kiss turns heated. The die rolls off the table when Draco sets Hermione atop it to step between her legs. It doesn't seem to matter, anyway, when, that Saturday, Draco buys the pair a drink, and Hermione sneaks the server the tip. They argue about who will pick up another round, locking eyes as they realize they just promised each other a next time; promised each other more.

"We never really did know who won that roll," Hermione argues, still trying to pick up the tab on their fifth date.

"I already told you, I did," he says, then sweeps her close with his arm around her waist. "Mortgage Master Privilege," Draco grins against her lips. "I have a plus fourteen to temptation."

Never one to admit defeat, Hermione doesn't argue, but thinks maybe this is an instance in which you can lose and somehow still win. Settling in to Draco's side, she will let him believe what he wants for now. Hermione knows that no matter what he says, she definitely came out on top.

Level up, indeed.

Ah, the bittersweet flavor of the end of a story. I hope it was a fun romp and it wasn't too nerdy lol. As always, and even though I repeat myself, I am serious as a heart attack when I say I am so thankful to you for your amazing comments, favorites, follows, and just generally for being here, letting me take up some of your time to entertain you. If you would be so kind as to drop me one last review it would thrill me endlessly.

One more big thanks also for anyone who nominated me in the Granger Enchanted awards and for anyone that thought to spare me a vote. I'm honored to be mentioned amongst all the amazing Dramione writers out there.

I'm going down with this ship, so hopefully I'll see you back when I am ready to post my next piece. Until then: heart you all!