The wind brushed past them, tossing the long ends of Firenze's white-blond hair about. He turned his face toward the gust of air, inhaling deep. His expression twisted into one of mild thoughtfulness as he glanced up toward the stars, and then finally returned his attention to Hermione.
She was more than aware something was wrong before he opened his mouth to speak. "Firenze, what . . . ?"
His eyes—so painfully blue, even in the darkness—narrowed a bit as he shook his head. "A misunderstanding has already occurred," he said, as though that explained everything.
Hermione's shoulders slumped and she pursed her lips a moment. Bloody centaurs. Normally she appreciated their pensive and somewhat exotic nature, but just now she only found it frustrating.
"I don't understand." She shook her head as she opened her mouth to speak again, but then she heard it. Footfalls—quick, and heading straight toward them.
She instinctively reached for her wand as she turned in the direction of the sound. She remembered too late that she'd sleepwalked there and her hand came up empty.
Firenze didn't seem startled in the least. His calm veneer didn't stop her from backpedaling, her stance defensive as she tipped her head to peer around his flank.
In a corner of her mind a voice nagged and shouted—she was ready to bolt into the Dark Forest, of all places, for safety? Madness, she thought, shaking her head again, despite that her body continued to slink backward of its own accord.
A warm, gentle weight landed on her shoulder and she looked up. Firenze had reached a hand down, steadying her in her retreat.
Meeting her gaze, he shook his head, his long hair tickling in the breeze. "You are in no danger, Lady."
Before Hermione could think to question the title, she felt the same sweet zip through her system as she had earlier that morning. The need to flee died away instantly as she realized.
Her breath caught in her throat as she watched him draw near. Shirtless and barefoot, as he'd been last night, his long hair whipped behind him as he moved. His glittering silver eyes were narrowed in a lethal glare, and those oddly elegant horns crowning his head glinted beneath the moonlight.
"Take your hand off her!"
Firenze made a face that Hermione thought just might be his attempt to repress rolling his eyes—perhaps centaurs had a sense of humor, after all—and dropped his hand from her shoulder. He turned, bending down on his front legs and tipping his head forward in a bow.
Draco, uncaring of the gesture, pushed Hermione back and stepped in front of her, all but shielding her from Firenze.
"Draco, stop," she said, remembering quite suddenly his reaction to Neville merely getting too close to her. The centaur had been touching her, and she had no idea what Draco might possibly be capable of in this nocturnal form of his.
"No disrespect to you, Horned One, or to Our Lady." Firenze's muscles quivered before he raised his head and stood straight, towering over the bipedal creatures before him. "I will leave you now, if you so wish."
"Horned One?" Hermione echoed in a whisper, obviously Draco had horns, but wasn't that actually a title of worship? Was the same to be said for this Lady business?
Without realizing, she took a step toward the centaur, the question on her lips, but Draco shot his arm back and around her, pulling her against him.
Holding Firenze's gaze, Draco glowered. "I so wish."
Firenze nodded, his eyes shifting to Hermione. "We will speak again, when he is ready to receive the needed words."
Draco's expression darkened, unhappy with the other creature's continued attention on her. Firenze only turned away, taking a few clomping steps.
"Remember not all things are fated as they seem," the centaur said over his shoulder. "Our Lady is with you because she so chooses. Cherish her choice, as what you desire matters not so much as you believe."
Draco's lips pulled back from his teeth in a sneer, but before he could respond, Firenze was trotting off.
"Huh," she said, her tone thoughtful as she stepped around Draco. She watched the centaur disappear into the depths of the Forest and then pivoted to face the wizard-turned-satyr.
He furrowed his brow, his posture much more relaxed now that they were alone. "What?"
"Well, I never would have thought it when you're, you know, yourself, but like this . . . ." She waved a hand, indicating his current state. "There's a actually resemblance between the two of you."
He scowled, shaking his head. It was an odd moment to recall it, but it hadn't exactly been a secret how many of their classmates had fancied Firenze when he'd served as the Divination teacher. As though a pretty face made them ignore that he was half horse. Honestly!
Though, here he stood with horns and a tail, and Granger was hardly turning him away.
"Look," she said, the tip of her tongue darting out to wet her lips in a nervous gesture. "I don't know—not for certain—what all the Horned One and Lady business was about, or what he meant just now, but I found out some things that could be—"
Draco pushed her back, stepping forward to pin her to the tree behind her. He captured her mouth with his own, making a satisfied little rumbling sound in the back of his throat when she opened to him.
Even before she realized, her body was responding to him—the feel of his tongue thrusting between her lips, of his chest brushing against the points of her breast with each breath and movement. Her arms slid up around his neck, and she lifted her leg, resting it over the curve of his hip.
Uttering another rumbling noise—oddly growl-like, Hermione thought—he pressed forward, grinding himself between her thighs. She shifted and wiggled beneath his motions, trying to fit against him all the better.
She broke the kiss, just as he braced his palms on either side of her. "Wait, wait!"
Meeting her gaze as a harsh breath escaped his lips, he arched a brow. "Tell me you're joking."
"We shouldn't do this right here," she said, nodding in the direction of the school.
Draco flicked his attention toward the building for only a moment, before looking to her, once more, his glittering eyes tracing her lips. He remained silent, only shaking his head in question.
She had to remind herself to think. He'd halted exactly as he was, leaving him pressed so tight against her that she could feel his already hardened length—delighting her in how easily she excited him—through their clothes. Whether it was serendipity, or wishful thinking that had led her to wearing her nightdress again rather than something more complicated, she didn't know.
She also didn't think she could bring herself to care.
"If anyone wakes and looks out even a single window on that side of the castle, they'll see us."
His jaw fell slack, unable to believe she could really have such a concern at this moment. To prove his point, he jerked his hips, pushing his pelvis tighter against her as he spoke, "You can't tell me you really care about that right now."
Her eyelids fluttered and a delicious little shiver ran through her. Swallowing hard, she shook her head, trying to focus. "Not—not right now, no," she said, hurrying to continue before he could focus on that point, alone. "But I probably will tomorrow morning."
Draco bit his lip, holding in a frown as he spared a moment to think that over. "Does that mean you'll be as big a pain in the arse as you were this morning?"
"More than likely."
Scowling, he muttered from between clenched teeth, "Fine."
Slipping his arms around her waist, he merely circled the base of the tree, blocking the view from the castle. His brows inching up his forehead, he asked, "Better?"
She wasn't about to mention that he'd only moved her closer to the point where Firenze had disappeared. After their interaction just now, she doubted Draco would be thrilled with any word from her regarding the centaurs.
"Well, we could've gone—"
The suggestion died on her lips as he dipped his head, catching her earlobe between his teeth.
Hermione shuddered in his embrace, her eyes drifting closed. "Oh, God, never mind me!"
Draco chuckled at her response, dragging his lips down her throat and lower, still. He hooked his fingers into the straps of her nightdress and pulled them down, adoring the way she shivered as the action exposed her breasts to the cool night air.
Her head fell back, fingers sinking into his hair as he closed his lips around her nipple. His teeth scraped and his tongue flicked, even as he slid one hand down, between their bodies.
She pressed her back more firmly against the tree and lifted her other leg, hooking it around him.
He gave the delicate skin one last, playful nip before letting her breast slip from his mouth. "How do you always know what I want you to do?" As he spoke, he wrested himself free of his nightclothes.
Hermione couldn't help a breathless giggle while she strained to lift her hips toward him just as his fingers tugged her knickers out of the way. "I've no idea."
She cried out as he thrust his hips, sliding into her. Shivering against him as he withdrew and sank forward again, she tightened her limbs, clinging to him.
Draco dipped his head, nuzzling the side of her throat as he felt her body clench around him. He lapped and nipped at her skin, once more making that growling sound under his breath. His hips jerked and he picked up his pace, driving into her hard and fast, again and again.
She loved that sound—something about it sent a little thrill through her, adding a strange edge of sweetness to the tingling warmth washing over her in the wake of each of Draco's thrusts.
He wedged his arms between her body and the tree, cupping her arse with his hands and pulling her harder and faster against his motions. He couldn't help a chuckle at the way it caused her to scream behind closed lips.
A fine tremor wracked her. Her limbs went taut, clinging to him more tightly, still.
Hermione whimpered as she bit her lip, trying to hold herself back. She didn't want this to end so quickly.
He lifted his head, brushing his lips over hers as he spoke. "It's okay, Granger. Let go."
She met his gaze, wincing as she nodded. Pushing her body just a bit more, she cried out as the orgasm crashed over her. She forced her eyes to stay open, watching his expression as he watched hers.
A grin curved his lips as her mouth fell open, the most wonderful gasping moan spilling out. He pulled on her harder, working her over him as she came.
He felt it the moment the tension in her body began to ease, the moment it began to ebb. She started moving on her own, again, throwing herself into his guided motions.
Chuckling breathlessly, his head fell back. "Bloody hell," he whispered as his thrusts became sharper and more erratic.
A mischievous smirk tugging one corner of her mouth upward, she ground her hips, tightening her body's grip on him. He let out a pained groan and she dropped her lips to his throat, biting at the pulse below his ear.
"It's okay, Malfoy," she whispered, her tone teasing. "Let go."
Again with that breathless laugh, he shook his head, even as he drove into her in one last, deliciously hard thrust and stilled. "Cheeky little witch," he said haltingly.
Hermione's muscles shivered as she moved, edging his orgasm out of him. She rocked her hips, forward and back, sliding her body around his length as he came.
She slowed only after she was certain he'd spent himself, entirely, but didn't stop, not until he used his hands on her to halt her motions.
Catching her breath, she slipped back from him. She leaned her weight against the tree and met his gaze with dazed, green-dappled brown eyes.
He braced his palms against the bark, his breathing harsh as he stared back her. Then his gaze traced lower, down her face, over her throat . . . .
Hermione realized too late that he'd not righted her nightdress after pulling it down. Before she could react, he dropped his head, snapping his teeth around one of her nipples.
A sound erupted from her that was somewhere between a yelp of pain and a surprised laugh.
Lifting his head, again, he grinned at her. He shifted his hips, withdrawing from her and once more slid his hand between their bodies to slip himself back into his nightclothes.
He pulled up the straps of her nightdress as she lowered her feet to the forest floor. "Okay," he said, swallowing hard as he nodded. "There was something you wanted to tell me before we started—"
Hermione gasped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth as she stared at his bare chest. He was wearing the same bottoms as last night, but his shirt . . . ?
"Draco, I never found my knickers."
His brow furrowed. "What?"
Her own brows shot up in response. "My knickers. The ones you tore off me last night and tossed aside? I can't find them anywhere. I don't remember going back to Gryffindor tower last night, but I'd assumed I must've brought them with me. That clearly was not the case."
That glittering silver-grey gaze darted about as he remembered. "I . . . ." He met her eyes again as he shook his head. "I can't find my nightshirt, either."
Hermione's eyes became huge as they both wondered . . . .
Blinking a few times as he arched his brow, Filch picked up the garment with the end of the broom. He then looked to Mrs. Norris, who was dutifully nudging a second article of discarded clothing toward him.
Glancing back to the first piece, he met his familiar's gaze and nodded. "Oh, someone is in trouble."
Hermione forced a gulp down her throat as she stared at the items—placed carefully atop a layer of tissue paper on Professor McGonagall's desk. Draco sat in the chair beside hers, and it was all she could do to keep from turning to look at him.
She imagined, however, that he looked just as shocked as she did.
"Professor, I'm not entirely sure why you called us here," she said, her voice lower than she'd like—a tone like that, under these circumstances, was totally suspicious.
Sighing heavily, Minerva propped her elbows on her desk and rested her chin in her hands. Most of the students seemed reluctant to show anything more affectionate than hand-holding since the War had torn through these very corridors less than six months prior. Of course, this had been the last thing she'd wanted to consider—in the course of all her years at Hogwarts—but her uncertainty about their situation, along with what she'd interrupted yesterday morning . . . .
"Forgive the assumption." Professor McGonagall forced a small, mirthless smile onto her lips. "But, please . . . . Tell me these things do not belong to the two of you?"
Hermione's shoulders slumped as she shook her head. She had no idea what to say, but there had to be something. "Professor—"
"Dear God, woman."
Turning, finally, Hermione pinned Malfoy with a mortified gaze. She didn't even want to imagine what Professor McGonagall's face looked like as she observed the Slytherin wizard before her.
"Honestly, thinking these are ours because you caught us snog—"
"You know, Professor," the younger witch said, her heart hammering in her chest as she spun in her seat to meet the woman's eyes. "I do believe those are mine, but"—she ignored that she could feel Draco staring at her in a fit of what-the-bloody-hell-are-you-doing?—"I actually had thought I'd lost them, as I was looking for those just this morning. I honestly haven't the foggiest idea of how they came to be wherever they were found."
Draco nodded, a sudden, odd certainty that he knew where she was going with this pinging in the back of his mind. "Fine, yes. That's my nightshirt, but I don't have any idea, either. I reacted badly, because I didn't want to get into trouble. I am very sorry for that."
Minerva's eyes flashed wide in shock at hearing an apology from a Malfoy.
Before she could respond, he shook his head, sighing. "Is it possible Peeves got into the student laundry?"
Shoulders drooping, McGonagall nodded, not certain if this could be what happened, or if she simply wanted to believe what he was getting at. "One can hardly control what that mischievous specter gets up to."
Draco shrugged, frowning thoughtfully as he held the elder witch's gaze the entire time. "Well," he said, clasping his hands before him, "isn't it possible Peeves was there when you caught Granger and me yesterday and just thought getting us into further trouble along those sort of lines would be utterly hilarious?"
Minerva blinked rapidly a few times. Yes, she was certain she wanted to believe his assertion more than she actually did believe it.
Pursing her lips, she nodded. "Well, then . . . ." She cleared her throat as she picked up her quill and promptly turned her attention to some scrollwork open in front of her. "Do take your things back to your rooms and then be on your way to class."
"Yes, Professor," they said in unison.
Hurrying from their seats, they each grabbed their respective garments. Without looking up—or at one another, or anywhere but at their own hands as they moved—they stowed the items away in their bags and turned away, starting across the office.
"Oh, Miss Granger?" Professor McGonagall's voice stopped them as they opened the door.
"You may want to dispose of those," she said, without looking up from her work. "It would seem Peeves all but tore them to ribbons."
Hermione was utterly speechless, the blood draining from her face as Draco grabbed her elbow and pulled her from the office. They were so silent during the descent of the spiral lift, she could have sworn he was able to hear the wild thumping of her heart against her ribs.
As they walked down the corridor, sensation at last flooded back into her extremities. She halted mid-stride and turned to face Draco.
"That could have been worse, Granger," he said, before she could get out a single word.
"Worse?" She shook her head, scowling at him. "Worse how?"
Shrugging, he winked at her as he shoved his fists into the pockets of his robes and started walking again. "She could have not pretended to believe us."
A shivering sigh escaped her as she fell into step beside him, her mind running through how excruciating that could have been just now, had Professor McGonagall decided to call their bluff.