This is the final chapter of Part One of the Scattered Starlight series.

The first chapter of Part Two, titled Capture the Stars, is up on my page, so feel free to trundle on over and follow! Click my author's name, and the story is in my Works!

I wasn't going to split it up, but I find that scrolling through more than 30 chapters on the drop-down can deter me as a reader, so I decided to cut it in half. Plus, the tone of the second part is more fantasy, with the dragons and the darkness and magic. I felt this was best for readability, with how many words I write.

Thank you so much to everyone who has followed along for the two weeks that this story has been up, and I am so excited to get going on Part Two. It's been a wild, hectic two weeks full of nonsense, but we made it through. I love all of you, and will see you in the sequel.


Counting the Stars

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Lonely Night - TAEYEON, Moonlight - Moumoon, Pleasure - Feist, Go Home - Emilie & Ogden, Friends - Fragile Dreams OST, Invaesion - Anavae, and Follow You (cover) - Arthur Walwin

O

When they woke, Draco tried to kiss her.

Hermione turned away.

There was a bit of awkwardness as they used his wand to scourgify themselves and get dressed, and Hermione found that she couldn't look at him. She felt overwhelmed with shame for what she'd done. For the way she'd lost herself to the passion without thinking about the repercussions.

She hadn't stopped to remind herself that her body was not collateral, and that she'd been fighting for three months to get him to understand that. She still didn't trust that he was genuine.

Hermione had been adamant that she was not his slave, yet what had she just done? She'd acted exactly the way she'd acted with Cillian.

She felt like a whore.

There was a dark need to blame herself for everything. She wanted to blame herself and feel self-hatred that burned through her veins and made her feel like screaming. But she felt like she couldn't because she was Hermione Granger, and Hermione Granger wasn't allowed to feel anything other than pure, brutal strength.

"We can't do that again," she said as they walked back through the trees. She kept a good distance away from him. There was just enough sunlight filtering through the thick leaves for her to see without assistance.

He was quiet as they traipsed through the loam. Hermione's mind worked, trying to deduce what he might be thinking. She didn't want to look at him. Not when she could still remember what his face looked like when he -

"Agreed," he said, and his tone was brusque.

Hermione ignored the sting. "I just wanted to -"

"There's no need for an explanation," he said. "I was upset. You offered comfort. That's all it was."

Hermione knew that she was the one suggesting that it was a mistake. She knew she was the one with the regrets and the misgivings and the problems.

But it hurt to know that Draco felt it was a mistake, too.

For something that was nothing but comfort, he'd been awfully vocal.

But the same could be said for me, she thought, gazing at the ground as she walked. I was just as vocal, with just as filthy of a mouth.

She felt his eyes on her, but when she looked over at him, he was facing forward.

They walked in silence the rest of the way through the forest. It was painful. Hermione felt more uncomfortable than she'd ever felt in her entire life. Not only did she feel like a complete trollop, but she felt like they were strangers who had slept together after a drunken night at a pub.

Not that she'd ever done anything like that, but that was how she imagined it would be.

The tension between them was sickening.

"Today, don't worry about cooking for me," he said as they neared the back door to the house. "I'll have to do a repeat of the other day. Aurors, executor, the Prophet . . . And I'll need to owl the Dark Lord again."

Hermione nodded, feeling numb.

He held the door open for her. She walked underneath his outstretched arm, feeling a shiver running the length of her body as she passed by. Once again, she could feel his eyes boring holes into her.

"Check in with me later?" he called.

At this, she did look back at him. What did he mean, check in with him?

He looked like he regretted his words. A hand came up to rub the back of his neck. "Nevermind. Off with you."

She went up to her room.

O

Sometime after lunch, when Hermione was perusing the stacks in the library, Draco approached her.

"Are you free?" he asked, his gaze lingering on the spines of the books.

"Yes," she said in a cautious tone. She put a book back on the shelf where she'd picked it up. "Why?"

"My father's . . ." He sighed and pushed his hands through his hair. "I need to go through the papers in my father's study. Now that all the guests have left for the day."

Hermione turned to face him, folding her arms. She could tell by the way he was staring at the books that something else was bothering him. As awkward as things were, she was still curious to know what was going on.

"Did something happen?"

Draco looked at her and then looked away. "The Dark Lord finally sent a missive."

Hermione's heart leapt up into her throat. "The summons?"

"No," Draco said, sounding a bit bitter. "Just a letter reminding me to focus on the potion. If anything, it's much worse to receive a letter like this." He curled his hand into a fist on the shelf and hissed, "He knows we're waiting on his decision. He wants us to dread it."

Hermione bit her lower lip, not missing the way Draco's gaze dropped to her mouth for a moment.

"There's nothing we can do about it," she said with a shrug. "All we can do is wait. How were the meetings?"

Draco let out a heavy sigh, slipping one hand into the pocket of the trousers he'd put on as part of a three-piece suit. "The executor read me the will. My father left me everything, obviously. It didn't take long. The Aurors took my statement and went to inspect the pond. He was . . . He was in there. I made my announcements to the Prophet, which went exactly as you thought it would, with Rita Skeeter still delivering her trash news. Did you hate her as much as I did?"

Hermione watched him, listening quietly. On the inside, she was marveling at the fact that he was telling her all of this. She didn't know if it felt like he was getting too familiar, or if she felt honored. The Hermione that had joined with him last night felt the latter; the one full of regrets felt the former.

At his question, she answered automatically.

"In Fourth Year, I locked her in a jar when she was in her Animagus form." Hermione smiled faintly. "She's a beetle."

Draco's eyebrows shot up and the corners of his lips curved upward. "Riding dragons and locking witch-beetles in jars? What else has the Golden Girl done?"

Hermione couldn't help but smile as fond memories of Ron and Harry burst forth in her mind. "Do you want to know about the troll we faced down in First Year? Or the Polyjuice incident in Second Year? You would be very interested to hear that tale."

"You mean when they pretended to be Crabbe and Goyle?" He flashed her the lopsided grin that she had come to feel so pleasant around. "Why do you think I said such vile things about you?"

"Because you're a tosser?" Hermione said, narrowing her eyes.

"No, but I'm a prat," he said. "And you're the brains of the Golden Trio. They definitely were not. I saw right through them within seconds."

"So why didn't you expose them?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Because I'm a prat. Come, Granger. You can keep up, can't you?"

"You're gonna come, aren't you?"

The intrusive thought blasted into her mind out of nowhere, triggered by his words and voice. Heat rushed up to Hermione's cheeks and she turned quickly to the bookshelf. She pulled out a book that she didn't care to actually read and pretended to flip through it.

Gods, he was probably already in her head. She hoped he didn't say anything about it.

"Well," she said, "I think it's unsurprising that you didn't say anything. However, I think it's extremely surprising that you were able to deduce that it was them."

"I've always excelled at potions, Granger," he said, taking a step toward her. "You can't seriously presume to think that I wouldn't know a Polyjuiced individual when I see one?"

Hermione snapped the book shut and slid it onto the shelf. She could feel his breath shifting the curls on top of her head. She stepped around him to go.

"Wait," he said, "I came to find you to ask you for your help."

Hermione turned back to him. "What did you need?"

"I need help going through the papers in my father's study. There's a lot of them, and I need to sift and figure out which ones are important enough to keep."

"I don't see why not. It would give me something to do."

They headed to the study, Hermione falling in-step behind him. She wasn't sure how it was going to feel to be alone with him after what they'd done, but she was sure that cleaning out his father's study was not something that required two hands.

This was something he needed.

They entered the study. Draco lingered in the doorway.

To Hermione, it was just a room. She walked in and stood at the center, putting her hands on her hips. She glanced around at the mahogany drawers, cabinets, and bookshelves.

"Where do we begin?" she asked. "And what exactly are we doing? Are we filling boxes and cleaning it out? Are we -"

"We're destroying things," he said in a flat tone, finally entering the room and striding over to the desk. With an unceremonious hand, he began pulling papers and knick-knacks out of drawers and tossing them onto the desktop.

"All right," she said, and then she walked over to a wooden filing cabinet to begin pulling.

They worked together for a good hour, creating a pile in the center of the room. Before Hermione had seen the clutter of Draco's room, she would have been shocked at how un-Pureblood it was to throw things on the floor. Now that she had, she was not surprised that he just wanted to discard them like that.

Hermione snuck glances towards him, trying to see if she could catch a glimpse into his emotions from the look on his face. He was obviously struggling, as evidenced by his breakdown the night before, but she didn't know whether he was more upset by the fact that the Dark Lord was drawing out the torture of making him wait to hear his verdict, or his father's death.

It was no secret to her that she regretted sleeping with him. He seemed to agree with her that it was a mistake, so it was clear that he regretted it, too. Did that mean that her fears of him wanting her as his slave were unfounded?

She gritted her teeth as she worked.

How was she supposed to believe him? The last time someone did something kind for her out of the goodness of their heart, they locked her in their flat and coerced her into becoming their sexual slave for three months. Everything that Draco had done for her had been seemingly out of nowhere. They'd never been friends. He'd hated her in school. And now, knowing that his mother was meant to die anyway and the need for a potion was all a ruse, what other reason could be left?

He'd sobbed on her in his grief, yes. But everyone wept when they lost someone, and that was something Hermione knew intimately. She couldn't let herself be taken by emotion. She needed to keep in mind that there were questions that eventually needed answering.

Last night was a huge mistake, she thought as she opened a wooden cupboard. All I've done is effectively turn myself into what I've been accusing him of wanting me to be. I need to be stronger than this.

"How are you?" she asked, eyeing him from across the room.

"Fine," he said, tossing papers into the pile. "Why?"

"I mean, since last night," she said. "With your decision about Callie."

There was a pause. She glanced over at him. He was kneeling before a chest, looking at papers and tossing them over his shoulder to the pile.

"Don't wanna talk about Callie," he muttered. "Don't wanna talk about any of it."

Hermione raised her eyebrows and turned back to her own work.

They worked in silence again. Hermione rummaged through the cupboard she was in. Draco had said anything that didn't seem important to the estate, family legacy, or him specifically had to go. Inside this cupboard, there were a lot of wooden boxes with intricate designs on them, stacked atop one another. She lifted one up and opened it.

Letters.

Turning back to the cupboard, she tucked the small box under her arm and checked the others. All of them were full of letters.

From Draco.

They started to speak at the same time.

"Granger," he blurted out. "It's my birthday today -"

"Malfoy," she said. "I think these might be important to you -"

They looked at one another. Hermione pushed a curl behind her ear.

"It is?" she said.

He nodded. "June 5th. I don't like to make a big deal out of it."

"I'll make you dinner," Hermione said. No one's birthday had to be as awful as all of hers had been for the past six years. "What's your favorite food?"

"Bouillabaisse," he said. "With mussels. I don't know if you can make that, though."

"I'll figure it out," she said. "There's cookbooks somewhere in the library, isn't there?"

Draco looked down. "My mother has a recipe tin. Black family heirloom."

Hermione studied the sadness that entered his eyes. As complicated as things were between them after last night, she felt a strong urge to figure this out for him. It was his birthday, after all.

"Then I shall make an attempt. You get the ingredients, and I will cook it."

He gave her a guarded, unreadable look, and then jerked his chin towards the cupboard. "What did you find?"

She turned to see him looking at her. "Letters from you to your father. He kept them in these boxes, and -"

He bustled over, nearly jostling her as he glued himself to the cupboard. He snatched a box out and ripped it open. His eyes were wide as he lifted up the parchment letters with their broken green wax seals.

"They're from when I was in school," he said, grabbing as many boxes out of the cupboard as he could.

Hermione's heart pounded as she began to help. Soon, they had all twenty boxes perched in their arms. He walked over to the rug by the hearth and set them down. Hermione followed suit, knowing that she'd been right in thinking these were important to him.

He started unfolding them again to read them, so Hermione took it upon herself to do it, too.

I wonder what a young Draco Malfoy was thinking in that head of his, she thought, pulling one box onto her lap and opening a letter from within.

They read Draco's old letters for a long time, occasionally breaking the quiet mood to read a line aloud to one another with a smile on their faces. It turned out that as a young wizard, Draco was every bit as pretentious in his letters as he'd been in real life. There were a lot of complaints about other students including his friends, not "recognizing and witnessing his prestige," and even one letter entirely dedicated to how offended he was by McGonagall giving him detention with Harry and Ron.

"And what?" Hermione said, laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes. "You would have rather had detention by your lonesome?"

Draco held a hand over his face while his shoulders shook for a moment. He lifted his head and Hermione saw that he was laughing, too.

"You don't understand, Granger. I hated them both so much by that point that I didn't even want to use the same loo as them. I thought McGonagall was trying to sully the purity of my -" He broke off because they were both laughing so hard. "- my blood."

Hermione couldn't breathe. That was quite possibly the most hilarious thing she'd ever heard. She clutched her stomach as she fell to the side in her mirth, catching herself on the floor with her elbow.

"Detention with Harry and Ron sullying the purity of your blood?!" she howled. "I cannot breathe."

Draco threw his head back. "Ah, Circe, I was such a fucking prat!" He reached in and grabbed another letter, skimming it. "Wait until you hear this from that same year. 'And you must understand, father. I am the most illustrious wizard in the entirety of Hogwarts castle. Nay -'" Draco looked at Hermione. "I wrote 'nay - the entirety of Britain. I should not be required to share a dorm, a Great Hall, or even a classroom with any of these peons.'"

He began to laugh again, tears of amusement shimmering in his own eyes. "'I think you should write to the Minister and request that I be given my own wing of the castle in which to receive my lessons and meals. I should be given express permission to go to Hogsmeade by myself whenever I wish, and I should be permitted to use the Malfoy family name to attend classes above my year. Please, father. With your assistance, I could be graduated -' Oh, my fuck. I wrote, '- by the end of my Third Year.'"

They laughed until Hermione had to go use the loo.

When she came back, he was still sitting in the same place, his eyes devouring the words he'd written to his father long ago. Hermione smiled to herself.

It was nice to laugh with him like she used to laugh with her friends. To reminisce, as though they'd graduated Hogwarts like normal, and everyone was still alive.

She knew, though, that if that were the case, this would not be happening. She would never have given Draco a chance, would never have gotten to know him. She wouldn't be in the Manor, Narcissa wouldn't have gotten cursed, and Lucius wouldn't have walked into that pond.

That sobered her for a moment.

She walked back to her spot on the floor. He shot her a look that had a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

"I'm sure he kept these for personal reasons," he said, a smile playing about his lips. "Or perhaps just to have a laugh at me."

Hermione grinned. "I know I would have kept them, if you were my son."

"But I'm not your son." He raised one eyebrow and when their eyes met, she felt like the look in his was the same as the smoldering one he'd given her last night.

A memory bled forth, of his fingers digging into her flesh and his sighs in her ear. Her stomach twisted.

"No," she said, focusing on the letters in one of the boxes, "you're not."

"So you do think he kept it for a laugh," he said, smirking as he dug through the letters again.

"Trust me, Malfoy," she said, pulling one out for herself to read. "It was easy to laugh at you back then."

He gave her a sharp look.

"'Dear father,'" she read aloud, trying to hold back her giggles. "'I am sure you are proud of me for all of my accomplishments this year, however something has occurred that I believe should be brought to your attention. It is a most grievous wrong that has been done to me by one Mudblood Granger -'"

"No! Don't read that one!"

Draco lunged towards her on the floor with a wild look in his eyes, but Hermione leapt to her feet and dodged him. She began to read louder, still laughing even as he growled up at her with a threat in his eyes.

"'Just this afternoon, when the sun was starting to lower, she struck me in my nose. And as you are well aware, the Malfoy nose is very important to the legacy that I am to pass down. I don't understand how Muggle anatomy works, but I do know that our bodies look quite similar to theirs. Does that not mean that if any part of my body is damaged, that the Malfoy heirs could be damaged as well? I am sure you see how this could be an issue -' No, Malfoy! I am reading this one!"

She squealed as he chased her around the room for a few moments. He was laughing, but there was desperation hinted in his tone that showed her that this letter was one she definitely wanted to read. She continued to read while she skipped around the desk.

"'I am sure you see how this could be an issue, seeing as all of the portraits will be ruined after my legacy is carried out within my sperm. And how do you think that would look in the foyer? Ghastly. In any case -'"

Hermione danced around the other side of the desk again. Draco looked like he was caught between breaking down with howling laughter, or yelling at her in rage. They stood at either end of the desk, faking to the left and right to try and usurp the other. She kept reading.

"'- Granger has not been reprimanded for this wrong she has done me, and I am not confident that the old bat McGonagall will appropriately punish her. When I tell you she struck me, I mean she struck me, father. She used all of the force in her body and attacked me with the vehemence of her filthy ancestors. She chose me to take out centuries of anger and I wept. Father, I wept. This was not a moment of weakness, but -'"

Draco chased Hermione across the room again, pleading with her between laughs to stop, but Hermione was much too quick. She had no qualms about jumping onto the cushion of the armchair just to get away from him.

"'- but a moment of clarity. She has cursed me, father. Bewitched me with magic that is neither of this Earth, nor of this dimension. I truly believe that her cowardly attack placed an ancient curse upon me. She appears in my dreams, father, and eclipses my mind when I'm awake. I cannot even eat in the Great Hall without thinking of her. Sometimes, I find myself aching to be struck by her once again. Call the Aurors and have her arrested. I fear that I am either grossly offended, or . . .'"

She trailed off, stopping in front of the desk as her eyes read the rest of the letter. Draco approached her slowly from behind, both of them panting from exertion. Hermione's smile faded as she finished reading it out loud.

"' - or I've fallen in love with her, and I'm quite sure . . . It's not the latter . . . All my best . . . Draco.'"

The silence was so thick and so oppressive that Hermione felt like she was suffocating.

"I told you not to read that one," Draco said, his voice lower than normal. He was right behind her, his breath rustling her curls. "I was a prat."

"A prat who had a crush, apparently," she said, not turning around. She felt like she couldn't look at him.

If this confirmed her thoughts that he'd had some sort of interest in her as early as Fourth Year - Third, now - then only one of two things could be true:

Either he'd formed an unhealthy, menacing obsession with her at the end of Third Year that caused him to hunt her down after the war and trick her into becoming his slave . . .

. . . Or Draco Malfoy was in love with her.

She felt his fingers pushing her curls to the side, exposing her ear and throat. He whispered into her ear.

"Typical swot. Always sticking your nose where it doesn't belong."

Hermione felt a chill running down her spine, a pleasant one. She felt the same lioness that had awakened within her last night starting to stir. She wasn't sure what the truth was, but she knew one thing for certain.

She wanted to turn around.

"So, you've figured me out," he murmured, his lips tickling her earlobe. "Fifty points to Gryffindor."

The tension shattered.

Hermione whirled around and pulled him into a sizzling kiss, turning her face and locking her fingers behind the nape of his neck. He groaned and grabbed hold of her hips, pressing her against the desk. On tip-toe, she let him lift her to sit upon it. The heat in the air had intensified.

This was a large Manor. The study was just one room. They were completely alone.

"You could scream for me," he sighed, dropping kisses along the curve of her throat like flower petals, "if you wanted to."

Her head swooned backward as he began to explore her chest. She moved her hands to his shoulders and let out a moan when his tongue tasted her collarbone. She wore a knee-length dress today that buttoned up the front of the top, and the fabric was thin. There was a chill in the room that heightened the feeling of his touch.

Her mind spun, screaming at her that they were making another mistake. But when she tried to rationalize it and find a reason why they should stop, the only reason she could come up with at the moment was that they were on a desk. All of their other problems - her past, his lies - had locked themselves away for the time being.

They were doing this.

A sudden surge of courage burst inside of her body and she began unbuttoning her dress. Draco's eyes met hers for a second. The grey irises flashed and then he was unbuckling his belt with the same amount of speed.

He started to speak, but she shook her head.

"Don't say anything," she said. "Don't ruin it."

Draco's face took on a serious expression as he finished undoing his trousers. Hermione slid back down to the floor so she could ruck her skirt up to her hips, her eyes never leaving his. With a sultry look, she wrapped her arms around his neck and used him to hoist herself back up onto the desk.

Seconds passed. Their lips met.

Then he was inside of her.

Hermione cried out against his lips as he cut a slow, thorough pace, setting her skin aflame with every thrust. He buried his face in her neck. She placed her hand on the desk behind her to keep herself upright. One of his hands gripped the swell of her rear; the other slipped into the open bodice of her dress, caressing her breast in a way that sent shockwaves down to her core.

Draco was gentler with her than he had been last night, but she found that she didn't mind. As long as she kept her eyes closed, she didn't have to escape the moment. She wouldn't be forced to face the fact that the mistakes that they had made were now becoming bad habits. Because she knew by the way he was stoking the fire within her that this was going to happen again.

And again.

And again.

Hermione let out a sigh when he hit a sensitive spot inside of her. He kissed his way up to her ear.

"There?" he breathed, the erotic tenor of his lustful voice urging a moan out of her throat.

"There," she whimpered.

Draco took both of his hands and held her tight enough to leave marks. He began to slam his hips against hers, moans of his own echoing aloud as he took her. He dove into her as though her womanhood were the deepest trench in the sea. His hair fell forward and he cursed.

Hermione arched her spine and collapsed on her back on the desktop, the feelings overwhelming her. Her hair fanned out to hang over the opposite edge of the desk and she squeezed her eyes shut.

She felt used. She felt like he was using her body for whatever he needed, and it was everything.

There was no time to dwell on how disturbing that was.

When he began to touch her at the apex of her core, she felt her release rushing towards her like a speeding tidal wave in the ocean that was her body. She reached up to grip the edge of the desk, cracking her eyes open to watch him. To watch him towering over her in his blazer, button-up, and tie, his trousers open just far enough. His eyes burning with desire, looking at her in that way that he always had.

It almost felt like this Manor was theirs.

"You're mine, aren't you?" he hissed through his teeth, ignoring her request for him not to speak.

She didn't think. She just nodded.

"This is mine, too," he said, strumming her strings like a violin. "Your body is mine."

She came with a wild cry, her spine curving up like a bow as his words, voice, and actions combined to create the perfect storm. Her entire body convulsed around him as he ground against her over and over, harder than he had before, stealing her breath.

Draco's eyebrows pulled together as a long, low fuck whispered out beneath his breath. She lay there, limp and boneless as he thrust into her through his own ecstasy, pulling out in time to empty himself out on her dress.

Just like Cillian.

Hermione's entire body seized up and she was up like a shot. Panicked, she hopped off of the desk and yanked her knickers up her legs. She turned to the left and right, casting frantic glances about for his wand.

"What?" he cried, audibly anxious as he adjusted his trousers. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," she said, her voice trembling. "Nothing. I just have to . . . Use the loo."

He watched with a puzzled expression on his face as she used the wand to scourgify herself and cast a contraceptive spell she remembered from her school days. Then, she handed it over to him, avoiding his gaze as he cleaned himself up, too.

"Are you all right?"

She forced a smile as she backed towards the door to the study. "I'm all right. Can you get the papers cleaned up without me?"

"Yeah," he said slowly, waving his wand to start the charm that would destroy the pile of things that they weren't keeping. "I need to go get the recipe tin and then I'll have to go get the ingredients myself, since the House Elves are gone."

"Lovely," she said, high-pitched and not caring to think about where he would even be going to get them. She could feel her heart racing. She just needed to be alone for even just five minutes. "Lovely. I'll . . . Meet you in the kitchen in an hour?"

He nodded, and then she left.

O

"I don't know if it's any good," Hermione said as she entered the tea room with the bowls floating at the tip of Draco's wand.

"We'll see," Draco said, tearing his gaze off of the windows and watching her.

"Your bouillabaisse," she announced, settling the bowl in front of him. She took her seat and put on a tentative smile. "Happy birthday."

He didn't smile back, but just raised his eyebrows. He raised the spoon.

"Don't be as dramatic as you were in your letters to your father," she said as he took the first bite. "If it's bad, there's no need to go overboard -"

"It's excellent," he said, cutting her off. He tucked in with zeal, saying no more.

Hermione gave herself a self-satisfactory smirk and continued to eat. Cooking using his mother's recipe had been no easy feat, due to how worn the parchment that it was written on had become. But Hermione was a determined woman, and she did her best to achieve success. She'd always been that way.

Suddenly, there was a tapping on the window. Draco looked up and Hermione turned to glance over her shoulder.

There was a small black owl hovering there, a scroll attached to its leg.

Still chewing his last bite, Draco picked his wand up from the table and waved it, vanishing the window glass temporarily. The owl winged in, Draco took the scroll, and then it was gone. Hermione took another bite, feeling the evening breeze against her back through the now-open hole in the wall.

Draco unrolled the scroll and read it.

"Happy fucking birthday to me," Draco muttered, and then he tossed the scroll onto the table. He tucked into his food with zeal.

Hermione felt a sinking in her stomach. She picked up the scroll and read it.

Draco,

My deepest condolences as to the loss of your beloved parents. I had no knowledge of your mother's condition. Had I known, I would have offered a hand. Perhaps it could have saved your father. Please, I wish for you and your slave to come to Buckingham tomorrow. There is much for us to discuss.

Best, Tom

"If he means a hand in her death," Draco said as she lowered the parchment to the table, "then, yeah. Given that he was the one who initially cursed her, I can see why he'd want that knowledge."

Hermione was reminded of some of her old mistrust. The lies that Draco had told in Paris to get her to come with him. Not wanting to ruin the mood, she swallowed the consternation and put it back into the box in her mind.

"So, this is the official summons?" she asked, taking a hesitant bite of her food. She didn't exactly feel hungry anymore.

"Yeah," he said, his tone clipped. He stirred his soup around a bit before taking another bite. "Looks like he's made his decision."

Hermione swallowed. "Right."

They finished the meal in silence. It seemed that it was too late.

The mood was already ruined.

Draco took the dishes in his hands when they were done eating. "I'll take them."

"What, the illustrious Pureblood wizard is soiling his porcelain skin with dirty dishwater?" Hermione asked, a faint smirk on her face as she rose from the table.

"I said I'd take them," he said, walking ahead of her. "I didn't say I'd wash them."

"Ha," Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

He went towards the kitchens, leaving her alone. She headed towards the stairs, waiting for him at the foot of them. She looked around the entryway, marveling at how hauntingly beautiful the architecture of the Manor really was.

Her nerves began to rattle.

What if this was it?

What if tomorrow was the day they died?

"We should discuss it," Draco said, his voice sounding faint then getting louder the nearer he drew. "What might happen tomorrow."

She placed her elbow on the banister, leaning on it. "What do you think is going to happen?"

Draco stood a foot or so away from her, much closer than he would have before they'd lain together. For the first time in weeks, she didn't feel like moving away from him.

"There's only three routes this could take," he said. "One, he just wants to spout nonsense, get us to swear fealty, and then send us home. Two, he wants us to stay at Buckingham forever. Or three, he kills us."

"I won't swear fealty to that vile man," Hermione said, her hackles rising. Maybe in January, I would have. But not anymore. I'm stronger than that.

Draco raised his eyebrow. "Even if he threatened to kill you on the spot?"

She mirrored his expression. "Just make sure he's not at my funeral."

There was a moment, and then Draco laughed. He covered his mouth with the back of his hand to shield his smile as he looked at her. A lock of his hair fell forward.

Hermione reached up and pushed it back.

His laughter faded, and she snatched her hand back. Heat rushed to her cheeks as she averted her gaze.

"So, option two," she said, clearing her throat. "Us going to Buckingham . . . What would that entail?"

"Well, I have quarters there: a room with a connecting loo and a second room attached that I use for a potions lab. House Elves bring meals directly to me typically, but casual dinners are held in the dining hall."

"Does Tom attend?" Hermione asked, wrinkling her nose.

Draco reached to touch his fingers against the scarred tip of her nose, causing another flare of heat in the apples of her cheeks. "Occasionally. He likes to spend most of his time indulging, in council, or handling affairs."

"Affairs?"

"Tom is a person who keeps his affairs close to the breast." He sighed. "However, he has made it clear that every move we make takes us one step closer to his final plan. What that plan is, none of us has any idea."

Hermione frowned. "Do you know what exactly he's planning to do next?"

"Romania is in his line of sight," Draco said. "He wants the vampires. He's already got Death Eaters from all the countries we've taken, the Alpha Pack and the allegiance of most werewolves in Lithuania, the wyverns in Wales . . . For some reason, he took Greece first. I'm unsure why. He's building an army, but for what, no one knows. Besides perhaps Nagini."

Hermione frowned. "The only thing of importance in Greece is Atlantis."

Draco pulled a face. "What would he want with that old library? The texts and scrolls in it are completely useless. The guardians are all centuries old and stay behind their wards most of the time. I don't think anyone's been seen coming out of them in at least three hundred years."

"I'm not sure," Hermione said, tapping her chin. "What order did he take those countries in?"

Draco looked up at the ceiling. "Uhh . . . Well, first he took Hogwarts and the Order down. Then, he split us up. Some stayed in Scotland to handle skirmishes, and the rest went to Greece. Greece is a small country with a focus on peace, so it went quickly and without a fight. He focused on Scotland and England.

"Wales, then Ireland. Lithuania was next and after that, France. We worked on Lithuania for most of last year, and then now, we've been working on Finland. France went fast. Now, he's got his eyes on Romania." When Hermione breathed in to speak, he said, "Wait. There's also been talk of Russia for the past few years. I'm not sure what's in Russia."

"The Dark Lord's pretty adamant that we keep that end goal in mind. No matter what we do in the interim, we're going to Russia in the end. What's in Russia? I have no fucking clue, but we're going."

Hermione remembered him mentioning it the night he'd gotten drunk and come to her room. The Dark Lord wanted something in Russia, but how much did it matter if tomorrow, they'd be dead?

And France . . . She knew France was the Dark Lord's. She knew it intimately. She'd been there the day his army attacked.

"Why did France go so fast?" she asked.

"They joined willingly after the attack. Took one look at the army he'd amassed, and they signed the accords."

As Draco spoke, Hermione felt a slow realization creeping up on her. This was the most information she'd ever gotten out of him. It was almost like he was a completely different person. More relaxed, less angry. There was still a sadness about him, but it wasn't overbearing.

"And the potion that you make for him?" Hermione said. "Would you continue to make that, if we went to the palace?"

Something shifted in his eyes in the way of caution. "Yes."

Hermione pushed it further. "What does it do?"

Draco stared so hard at the air above her head that it was like he was glaring. He opened his mouth to speak, looking momentarily irritated. Then, his eyes met hers again.

"I can't say."

She studied him for a moment, searching her brain. "Is it something that he needs to keep himself looking young the way he does?"

"I cannot talk about this." Draco's expression was pained.

"Is the Dark Lord ill?"

"No," he said, his eyes flashing, "but stop asking."

Hermione bit her lower lip. It seemed that she could ask some, but not all questions. There were some that seemed off-limits. Either he was choosing not to tell her, or -

"Malfoy, did you take an Unbreakable Vow?"

He gave her a deadpan expression, and she knew she'd struck gold. "You and I both know I can't answer that."

So he had. Interesting. What would the Dark Lord be taking a potion for that he'd want to keep between him and his potioneer using an Unbreakable Vow?

"And if he chooses the third option?" she said. "The one where we die?"

He looked thoughtful for a moment, his brow furrowing. He uncrossed his arms and reached for her, his hands warm against her waistline. His eyes sought hers.

"Then," he said slowly, "I'd say I'm glad that we were able to work everything out."

Hermione wrapped her fingers around his tie, looking at it while she spoke to him.

"Not everything," she said, and then she twisted her lips, thinking about her next words. "If we die tomorrow, then I'd say we're dying in as good a place as possible when it comes to us. If we don't - if he lets us live and we come back - then I want to talk."

Draco nodded, his fingers pulling until she was crushed against his torso. She stood frozen in his embrace, her eyes wide as he surprised her with a hug so full and warm that it was undeniable. He dropped his head to the crook of her neck and shoulder, taking a singular deep breath that spoke of resignation and contentment. She felt his skin searing through the fabric of her bodice.

"I'm glad it's you," he whispered.

Hermione didn't know what to say. She wasn't sure what she felt, and she was not a liar. It didn't matter if it was her last day on Earth or not: she wasn't going to tell him something that wasn't true.

"Sleep in my room tonight?" he said.

"No," she said, before she had really thought about it. She just didn't want the last thing she did to be a bad habit.

He stilled for a second and then said, "Okay."

Hermione extricated herself from his arms, gave him one last small smile, and then went up to bed.

O

Hermione knocked on Draco's bedroom door.

She hadn't even made it a full hour before the fear started to creep in. She was brave, but she wasn't that brave. The time period in her life where she hoped for death was over. Because try as she might to ignore it, she cared about Draco. That meant that there was no reason to feel so desolate that she would want to die.

And she couldn't think of anything worse than sleeping alone tonight.

He opened the door, wearing nothing but his trackies. He looked down at her.

"If I die tomorrow, and he lets you live," she whispered. "What will you do?"

He held her gaze.

"Follow you."

Hermione closed her eyes. "I changed my mind. I don't want to be alone."

"Come here," he breathed, sounding almost relieved. He reached out, cupped the back of her skull, and pulled her against him. He wrapped his other around around her neck and kissed the top of her head as he pulled her over to the bed.

Hermione allowed it.

They climbed into the bed, closing the curtains behind them and plunging them in pitch black. Then, they laid on their backs beside each other, staring up into the darkness. If Hermione used her imagination, she could pretend they were outside, looking at the stars.

"Do you feel unfinished?" he said. "Like you have this long list of things you always wanted to do, but never got around to doing?"

"What could you possibly have on a list that you haven't done?" Hermione said with a scoff. "You have more galleons than I have cells in my entire body."

"True." He let out a quiet laugh. "But no - I mean things like . . . You know, riding a broom across the country, or riding on the back of a unicorn -"

"Do you like to be in motion?" Hermione said, and it was a joke.

"I do, actually.".

"To answer your question," she said. "Not so much anymore. I used to."

"What changed?"

Hermione was silent. There were so many things that she could answer with, and pretending like they were shut tight in their boxes would be a lie.

The war, her friends' deaths, the fact that she'd never see her parents again, her three months with Cillian, the murders she'd committed, the fall of the sanctuary, and the attack on Paris . . . They were all out in the open plains of her mind, poisoning her body from within. She could feel them, caustic in the way they burned her slowly to ash.

She supposed she used to have a list, but when she thought of it now, it was faded and brittle on the edges.

"Everything," she finally said. "Everything changed."

As things went quiet for a bit, Hermione tried to focus on her surroundings, to savor this. If it was her last night, she wanted to remember it. The sheets beneath her were as soft as velvet, and the pillows were like clouds. Draco's coverlet was thick and smooth, and his entire room had the faint smell of incense.

When she turned her face to the left, she caught a whiff of his natural musk, and it was heady in its calm scent. Being behind the curtains on the bed was nice; it felt like they were in their own little world of softness and fragrance.

If they were to die tomorrow, she was glad that she finally, finally felt safe.

"Are you scared?" he asked.

"Yes. Are you?"

"Always."

She closed her eyes against the memories that his response triggered. Luna, with her pale blonde waves glinting beneath the sunlight on the plains.

Hermione felt Draco's hand seeking hers in the dark by her side. He twined their fingers together and gave her a gentle squeeze. It was like when they would walk to the clearing, only this time, there was no need to guide her. They were already at their destination.

"Where do you think Callie is right now?" he said, not letting go of her hand.

Hermione tried not to feel too sad. She didn't know where she could be. Calypso was a dragon who hadn't been able to grow up around other dragons. Theoretically, she could find herself having a lot of trouble socializing with others of her kind. And that was if she even made it to a place that had dragons. Draco had to know that her chances were completely based on luck.

But she knew that wasn't what Draco wanted to hear.

"The mountains," Hermione said. "I think she's in the mountains, and I think she found a - a group of - or a flock of dragons to live with. I think she'll find a mate soon, too."

"Do you think she'll be happy?"

"I know she will," Hermione said, her heart wrenching. She was glad she hadn't been there, even if she did wish she could have said good-bye.

Draco was silent again for a solid minute.

"Tomorrow, he's probably going to kill us both," he said. "For you, he might make it painless. But for me . . ."

"He probably will," Hermione replied.

"Do you trust me?"

She opened her mouth to reply, but didn't know what to say. There was an urgency within her that told her to lie, to make him feel better on the night that might predate his death. But she just couldn't lie.

"No," she said.

"Ah, okay."

More silence.

He spoke again.

"Would you believe me if I told you it was the latter?"

It took her a second, but when it clicked, she felt her heartbeat skipping to catch up on itself. Her throat went dry.

He was referencing the letter from his father's study.

"No," she said, her voice trembling.

"Hermione?"

Her hand shook in his. He never used her first name. The only time he ever had was when his mother died.

She knew what was coming. She could feel it.

The things his mother had said, about him being afraid to be burned by her flames. What his father had told her, about his pages being open to her for ten years. The letter, stating the beginning of what was to come. And Draco having offered her safe harbor, even if she didn't fully understand what it all meant.

Whether it was obsessive or not, unhealthy or not, he loved her.

"Yes?" she breathed.

"You are everything to me."

She closed her eyes, let the words sink in. Breathed them in and let them roll on the surface of her skin. Focused on being his everything for three seconds so she could decide if it felt good and right.

For now, it did.

Hermione rolled on top of him, her fingers fluttering along his face in the dark. When she found his cheeks, she closed her eyes and pressed her lips against his. His hands went to her waist, slipping beneath her camisole, which she'd worn because she knew this was going to happen.

She'd wanted it to.

Widening her thighs, she pressed her knees to the mattress, putting her pelvis flush with his. Rolling her hips, she ground her body against him. He was already hard, as if he'd anticipated this, too. As their bodies moved against one another's, Hermione found that the pleasure she obtained from this dance was minimal compared to the allure of listening to the choked moans he was emitting.

"You're gonna -" He gasped into her mouth. "- gonna make me come like this."

Hermione ignored him, continuing to grind her pelvis downward. There was power in this, and intoxication in the feeling it gave her to know that she could do that.

"Nnh - please," he said, a breathy whine. "Not like this. Please."

Hermione's stomach twisted and her skin flushed with warmth. She kissed his neck, little pecks and tastes with the tip of her tongue. He thrust his hips upward, and she felt him straining against his trackies and pants.

"Granger," he growled in warning.

"What if I want you to come like this?" she said in a small voice beside his ear.

"It's our last night. Can't we go slower?"

Surprised, Hermione sat up on his hips and knotted her curls at the top of her head. She couldn't see him with how thick the curtains around the bed were, but she felt his gaze on her.

He was right. It was the Dark Lord they were dealing with, and she wasn't just any Undesirable. She was Undesirable Number One. Draco had committed what was likely one of the worst crimes against Tom that he could have. The fact that he'd made them wait this long for his summons was proof that tomorrow was the last day that they would be alive.

Earlier, Hermione had panicked because Draco reminded her of her past in Rosslare, and if they weren't in this position, she wouldn't even be in his bedroom with him. There was no slow with Cillian. It wasn't about her with him.

She wasn't sure about this, but if it was her last chance, she wanted to see what it might be like.

"All right," Hermione finally said, feeling somewhat nervous for the first time. "We can go . . . Slower. For now."

His hands trailed up her sides, spreading heat along her skin as they moved to cup her breasts. Her breath hitched. She hadn't worn a bra, so when his thumbs played with the peaks, she felt her hips jerk with enjoyment. Her lips parted to let out a sigh.

Perhaps it was okay to let go of the past, just for tonight. If they lived past tomorrow, she could pick it all back up and deal with it then.

She arched her back, pressing up into the caress of his palms. Her flesh was sensitive where he touched her, the juxtaposition of his hot skin and the cold rings on his fingers adding to the heightened feeling in her body.

Draco paused for a second. "I don't think I want to go slow."

Hermione's heart leapt with a dark feeling. "I don't think I want you to go slow, either."

The span of a blink passed, and then Hermione was on her back beneath him. His lips molded to hers in a ferocious kiss that felt like she was flinging her body into the depths of Hellfire. She threw herself into the kiss with zeal, her hands trailing over the divots of his abdominal muscles. She felt the curve of his collarbones, swallowing his sounds with her mouth.

Their kissing intensified as his hand slipped between them to grip her womanhood above layers of fabric. She turned her face away from his to expel a harsh breath. His fingers sought the apex of her core, sought the bundle of nerves that always made her see sparkles when anyone touched it.

"You want me to fuck you, don't you?" he growled into her ear. "You want me inside of you?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Louder."

"Yes," she wailed, spreading her legs wider and pulling her knees up.

Her mind had gone white.

Draco began tearing at Hermione's clothes, ripping her trousers downward and kissing his way up the center of her stomach as he pushed her camisole up. She gasped when his mouth closed around first one breast and then the other. It wasn't an easy feat, but she was able to assist him in removing the top and trousers, and then she was lying there in only her knickers.

"I'm gonna taste you," he cooed against her sternum, running his tongue up to her throat. "I wanna see how sweet you are."

Hermione's brain felt addled as he began to kiss his way down her body again. She was still shocked that she was doing this with Draco Malfoy, of all people. Part of her thought she should feel incredibly guilty, but the other part of her felt defensive. She wanted this. She wanted to be with him like this again, and that was okay.

Draco slid down until his mouth was at her core, breathing hot against the center of her knickers. Still in an absent state of mind, Hermione rocked her hips in anticipation of what was to come. No one had ever done this for her before, so she guessed that her Last Day was as good as -

Her eyelids flew open when he tasted her for the first time, whispering sinful, Luciferian things into her body. She spread her legs even wider, using her feet to drive her hips up to meet the cadence of his tongue against her flesh. Her hands slid upward, underneath the pillows, and wrapped around the bars of the headboard that she hadn't even known were there.

Things began to fall from her lips as he drove her closer and closer to the edge, things that she had never thought she'd say. Her chest and thigh muscles spasmed in unison as her orgasm began to build with lightning speed. The feeling was almost overwhelming, like she wanted to escape it and chase it, all at the same time.

If it weren't for his fingers pressing her hips so firmly to the mattress, she feared she might have floated away.

"Oh, Gods," she moaned. "Oh, Gods, Draco. Gentler, gentler - yes. Yes. Yes. Yes -"

With one final cry, she came on his tongue with another spasm. She practically sobbed as the release of energy threw her into a vast coulee of ecstasy. She threw her head back so far that her top knot came undone.

Still shivering, Hermione felt his hands on her hips, pushing one side and pulling the other. He wanted her to turn over. She did so, and then she felt his length searching at her core.

"Tell me if you want it," he said, his fingers pressing lines down the discs of her spine that felt like soothing massages.

Her answer was a whimpered, "I want it."

He slid inside of her. They moaned in unison, Hermione lifting her lower body to get him to hit where she wanted him to, deep within her body. He stroked that same spot over, over, over, and over. Until she was mindless. Until all she felt was the flames of pure pleasure.

Hermione buried her face in the sheets, breathing the hot non-air as he rutted into her like he was trying to win an award for it. She screamed into the fabric, her head already spinning from the lack of oxygen. He grabbed a large clump of her curls, his fingers sifting deep within them.

"Fuck, you feel so good on me," he whispered as he thrust. "I wish we could do this every fucking day."

Hermione took one more breath, her lungs squeezing as her brain pitched in her head. She could feel herself about to pass out. She was going to fall unconscious, but her release was right there.

His fingers reached between the bed and her body, and they began to work their magic on her pearl. Electricity sparked from the tips of her curling toes to the top of her dizzy head.

"Such a sweet girl for me," he groaned, his tone a mixture between cajoling and proud. "It's time to come for me."

Hermione wailed into the mattress, so loud that it sounded like she was crying, and crested. It was intense - more intense and bone-deep than any orgasm she'd ever had before. She wasn't sure if it was because it was him, or if it was because she was so sure she was going to die in a matter of hours. She just knew that it felt good.

He gripped her hair and yanked her head up. She gasped loudly for air, her body still twitching and seizing around him. He let out a breathy laugh.

"Did you do that on purpose?"

"Yes," she said through a groan as he began to thrust faster. "I like it that way. Take points from Gryffindor, or accept it."

He laughed again and leaned forward to press kisses to the side of her throat. His strokes became deep once more, and so hard that she was crying out with each one. As macabre as it was, she knew she could be as loud as she wanted to.

There was no else here.

Draco pulled out and flipped her onto her back. Her hair splayed out on the mattress as he yanked her down onto his length again. He let out a pleased growl, and then he was at it again, slamming his hips against hers with no reservations. Their bodies were starting to slide with sweat.

"Say my name," he said, sounding pleading. "Fuck. Please fucking say it, Granger."

"Why?" she challenged, feeling a third wave of bliss coming towards her.

"I want to hear you say it, before . . ."

Her heart sank. He didn't need to say it aloud for her to know.

Before we die.

"Draco," she moaned, scraping her fingernails down his chest.

"Ah - fuck," he said, and she could tell by the pitchiness to his tone that he was close. "Do you want me to make you come again? Tell me you want me to -"

"I want you to make me come."

"Spread your legs wider," he ordered. She did, and then she felt his fingers, wet against the top of her exposed core. His other hand wrapped around her throat and she cried out as a fresh wave of pleasure tackled her. "Don't stop saying my name. I'm close."

"Draco . . . Draco," she chanted over and over.

"Come," he said, and it was a command from the only person she had left in this entire world.

Her body stilled, dangling on the edge. Everything seemed to increase pressure at once, from his fingers on her pearl to his hand around her neck to the thrust of his hips. It was hard and it was fast and it was good, good, good -

"Fucking come," he snarled.

She did.

The moment her body clamped down around his, he reached the top of the mountain and hurled himself off of it. He fucked her through both of their orgasms, until they were spent and weak from exertion. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs, panting for breath. Draco moved her curls to begin pressing faint, gentle kisses to the back of her neck and shoulders. It made her shiver with a delight that ached deep in her soul.

She wished they could do this every day, too. That it could really be that simple. That they didn't have the war and years of past between them. That the Dark Lord wasn't exacting his vengeance tomorrow.

But she wished that everything else was better. That Calypso could come back and be in the clearing again. That Lucius hadn't walked into the pond, and had been able to make amends and become a better wizard. That Narcissa hadn't died, and that she'd been able to heal and be with her family again.

That the war had never happened.

That Harry and Ron were alive.

That she was happy.

Hermione wished for so many things, and was sad that she couldn't seem to capture any stars that would grant them.

At some point, he accioed his wand and used it to clean them both up, as well as to perform the same contraceptive charm that Hermione had used that afternoon. She wanted to make a snarky remark about how surprised she was that he'd paid attention in Charms their Fifth Year, but she was just too tired.

And that made her sad, because she wanted to stay awake as long as possible, just in case.

Draco slid his arms around her, both of them lying on their sides and facing one another. Hermione buried her face in the heated skin of his bare chest, indulging in one last thing. One last thing that she could be selfish about. When they laid like this, she could pretend everything was okay.

She could pretend she wasn't scared.

There was an omen deep inside of Hermione that told her that something was coming. Something from the dark grew nearer to the horizon, on its way to cast shadows over the land. A darkness would eclipse everything that she had ever known, and it would happen whether she lived or died. She felt the fear of the Dark Lord creeping along her veins like molten rock devouring the surface of the Earth, but she knew that she wouldn't give in until she drew her last breath.

Tonight, she would sleep.

Tomorrow, she would fight.

Just as Hermione had promised Narcissa, she wouldn't stop fighting until she had counted all of the stars in the sky. She would pluck each one out of the expanse of time, gathering every piece of herself that had scattered along her journey to home, until she had captured them all. Then, when she held the universe in her hands, she would wish to breathe.

Hermione fell asleep to Draco's soft voice in her ear, his fingers ghosting along the edge of her face as though he loved her. Which she supposed he did.

"You've always been everything to me, Hermione. I'm gonna protect you from him. I promise."

- END PART ONE -


Want to stay connected?

Honeysweetcutie on AO3

honeysweetwriting dot com

HoneySweetWriting on Facebook

Honeysweetcutie dot Tumblr