"Oh, fuck," Draco breathed, as he sank slowly to the floor, turning Hermione in his arms so he could ease himself into a sitting position with her cradled in his lap. "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh FUCK!"

Her dark eyes were still open; they locked on his, and he saw in their expression that she was still in shock, but was beginning to register pain and fear as well.

"Granger," he said, and his voice was not his own at all; it was hoarse, nearly strangled.

"Malfoy," she gasped, "take…take it out. It's cold. Get it out of me. Please."

He gripped the dagger's hilt and yanked it out of her with a single, sharp tug. Her whole body jerked, then relaxed in his arms. Her eyes started to slip shut.

"Granger!" He tossed the dagger aside and gave her a sharp little shake. "Stay awake, all right? Come on- look at me."

She struggled to obey, but was clearly having difficulties focusing her eyes. "Thought it was morning," she whispered, a puzzled frown creasing her brow. "Why…why is it so dark?"

It wasn't dark at all, of course. The rosy morning light was getting stronger all the time.

"Bloody hell," Draco swore vehemently, then looked up at what was going on around him. The fight was still raging; Goyle, he saw, had waded right back in again as soon as he had removed his hand from his arm in order to catch Hermione. Crabbe, for his part, seemed finally to have snapped out of the stupor he had gone into, and was now fighting back with gusto. It was a pretty evenly matched battle; Crabbe and Goyle bigger and stronger, but Potter and Weasley smarter and faster- and it may have continued so for a good long while.

Had Draco not brought the whole affair to a standstill by shouting a single word; "STOP!"

It wasn't even the word, 'stop', that the four combatants responded to- it was the simple fact that Draco had shouted at all- Draco never raised his voice. He simply didn't do it. He was one of those people who get quieter and quieter the angrier they become; whose very silence in frightening because it is dangerous. For him to shout was unheard of, and his voice- almost cracking, just barely on the near side of panic- that was what caused the fight to stop cold and the four boys to whirl toward him.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then-

Ron reacted first; he took a few stumbling steps toward Draco and fell heavily to his knees.

"Oh. Holy. Shit." He said, looking and sounding as if he had just taken two bludgers to his gut at once. He held out his arms toward Draco. "Give her here, Malfoy."

Draco didn't pause to think or rationalize; he just went with his gut reaction, which was to tighten his arms about her and snarl, "Back the hell off, Weasley." Ron, taken aback by this unexpected response, simply stared from Draco to the now barely conscious Hermione and back- and then Harry was there, saying nothing, just acting. He yanked his sweater off over his head, virtually hurled himself to the floor, seized the collar of Hermione's blood-soaked blouse and ripped it open right down the front, located the wound and pressed the wadded up material of his sweater against it, applying pressure both-handed.

"Malfoy," he said quietly, not looking at Draco, all his attention focused on his fallen friend, "you had better send one of those bastards for Pomfrey, double quick."

Draco looked up and saw both Crabbe and Goyle staring at the scene playing out before them stupidly. "Crabbe," he said, his voice soft yet clear, clear and menacing, "I want you to understand one thing. If she dies, you die. I will kill you myself. Is that perfectly clear?"

Crabbe nodded.

"And do you believe me?"

Crabbe nodded again. Oh, yes, he believed. It was obvious to everyone in the room that Draco was deadly serious.

"Good," the blond boy said. "Now if you value your life, you'd better get Pomfrey up here. Right. Now.

Goyle, go with him. Don't let him fuck this up."

Goyle nodded too, but neither of them moved. They were paralyzed by the shock of the situation, and by fear of Draco.


That broke the paralysis. The two goons turned tail and fled with remarkable speed for their size and girth.


"Hermione? Hermione?"

It was Harry's voice. She'd know that voice anywhere. Quiet and calm, even in the face of disaster; the voice of a boy who had been forced to become a man too soon.

She loved that voice.

She didn't think Harry was holding her, though. The strong arms that were wrapped around her, as if trying to hold the life in her by force- whose were they? Her brain was foggy, uncooperative.

"Harry?" she whispered.

"Yeah. I'm here. So's Ron. And…and Malfoy. We're gonna stay with you, but Hermione, we need you to stay with us, too. We need you to stay awake. Can you look at me? C'mon- you gotta try."

She dragged her reluctant eyes open and tried to focus them on Harry- or the blurry form she assumed was Harry- but they were caught instead by a shock of bright red hair beside him.


"I'm here, love."

She felt a pair of large, warm, rough hands enfold one of her own and raise it to his lips. He kissed her fingertips, then blew on them and chafed them gently. She heard him murmur to Harry, "Her hands are like ice. What the hell are we gonna do?" His voice was funny- slurred and cracked. It sounded like he was crying. She wanted to see if this was so, but her eyes wouldn't focus well enough. She wanted to comfort him, but could not make her voice work. The most she could manage was to weakly squeeze his hand.

Her eyes drifted shut. Harry had said to stay awake, but it was a losing battle. She heard him murmur back to Ron, in a similarly choked voice, "I don't think she's gonna last til Pomfrey comes."

Then Ron again, now sounding more venomous than she had ever heard him. "I don't know who you think you're fooling with the whole concerned act, Malfoy. You've gotta be over the moon right now. After all, here's your wish come true; one less filthy mudblood in the world!"

She felt the arms around her tighten further. And then she heard Draco's voice- and yet, it wasn't Draco's voice; not the one she'd become accustomed to over the past six years. Gone was the drawl, the ridicule, the malice, the arrogance. He sounded tired and wrung-out and…sad? Yes, she thought groggily, sad.

"I don't want this," he said. And then louder, tinged almost with hysteria, "I don't bloody want this! It's every person's right to change his mind, and I don't bloody want this AT ALL!"

After that, the voices above her faded for some time to a low, thrumming background noise that she was just barely aware of on the edge of her consciousness- but then she thought- she was almost sure- that she heard a voice- neither Harry's nor Ron's, calling to her; "Hermione! Hermione?"

Name, she thought, with a great, grinding effort; it's Draco and he's using my name.

Calling on a last reserve of strength she hadn't known she possessed, she cracked her eyes open again- just barely- but try as she might, she couldn't make him out. She gathered herself to make an attempt at speech.

"Dra…co?" she managed.

"I've got you," came the immediate reply, "I've got you and I'm not letting go. Not for your friends or mine. I've got you, Hermione."

She smiled faintly, and then the darkness claimed her.

She didn't hear the new sound that suddenly filled the room-

Phoenix song.

It was Fawkes, come for his last appointed check-in.

She was unaware of anything that followed; of Fawkes alighting beside her, of Draco snarling, trying to kick and beat him away, of Ron and Harry shouting at Draco; the brief, frantic struggle that ensued and ended with Harry straddling the Slytherin's chest, pinning him effectively to the floor and yelling, "leave him alone, Malfoy, he can save her! He saved me, he can save her!"

Unaware of Ron catching her when Harry knocked Draco backward, and holding her cradled in his arms as Fawkes lowered his fiery head and wept silent tears onto her wound, adding tears of his own for the girl he loved like a second sister.

Unaware of Madam Pomfrey bursting in, accompanied by Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape, taking only a split second to register the scene before her before she began shouting orders pell-mell.

Unaware of the furious scuffle that broke out when Harry released Draco and he attempted to reclaim her from Ron; both boys equally intent upon being the one to carry her to the infirmary, until Snape stepped in, scooping her into his own arms and pelting down the tower stairs two at a time, Pomfrey just behind him.

She would never later recall the pain that coursed throughout her body when the mediwitch administered a large dose of blood replacement serum- she had lost so much blood that she would have died without it- it was an absolute necessity- but had the unfortunate effect of causing searing pain throughout her entire body as it spread through her veins, due to the body's violent initial response to the foreign substance invading it.

She would never recall that Harry, Ron, and indeed, Draco, arriving at the infirmary winded from running the entire way, flatly refused to allow her to be bound to the bed as Pomfrey had intended, insisting instead upon acting as her restraints themselves, taking it in turns to hold her as she thrashed about in agony.

She would never recall the small cluster of professors who had stood just inside the door, with expressions of grim shock on their faces, while the normally calm and collected professor Sinistra wrung her hands and dabbed at her eyes, murmuring that she would never have been a party to this, never- not if she had known that it would nearly cost a student her life. Dumbledore had draped a comforting arm about the small woman's shoulders and led her from the room.

She would never recall- though Harry would later tell her- how, as she finally lay still, gasping and shaking in the wake of her ordeal, Draco had leaned close over her as Harry and Ron had exchanged puzzled, suspicious glances, smoothing her sweat-dampened hair back from her forehead and murmuring words that caused Harry to shake is head in wonderment when he repeated them to her.

Hey, Granger, I was thinking, Harry reported him as having said, about everything you said last night, and about my own pursuit of happiness most of all. I tried to tell you earlier, but- anyway, the thing you said that struck me most was about Pansy; about whether she was my ideal match, physically, mentally, emotionally. The first conclusion I came to was that she's not- and that I had known it all along, but just never thought it was all that important before. I'm changing my mind about that, though. The second conclusion I came to- (what the fuck are you staring at, Weasel? Take a picture, why don't you, it'll last longer)- was that I'm not her ideal match either. If she couldn't make me happy, well, I sure as hell wouldn't do it for her. She's secretly fancied Blaise for years, anyway. She doesn't think I know, but- all right, I read her diary. If you leave yours lying around, I'll read it too. It's my nature, Granger, and I'll make no apology for it. But back to Pans- if I freed myself to pursue happiness, I'd be doing the same for her. And I want her to be happy; she's a friend of mine.

At this point, according to Harry, he had sighed, run a hand through his hair, taken Hermione's nearer hand in both his own, just as Ron had done up in the astronomy tower, and raised it- but instead of kissing it, he had bowed his head and merely held it pressed against his cheek.

The final conclusion I reached, Harry had repeated, was that the reason I was finally able to admit that Pansy's not my ideal match is that I've found someone who is. You can keep up with me in a debate, Granger, and not many people can. We talked for hours, and I never got bored. You're wicked smart, and funny, and I love the way you let slip with a swear every now and then, and- and I think that even your ridiculous hair is starting to grow on me. And it occurred to me that if I decided to accept your cause, then- if a wizard can find happiness loving a Muggle, as you said, why can't I find happiness loving an amazingly talented witch? You've been right under my nose for six years now- don't- (he had paused and swallowed hard, Harry said)- don't make me have found you and lost you all in one night. Please, Gr-Hermione, wake up.

And with that said, he had gently laid her hand back down on the coverlet, stood up, glared daggers first at Harry and then at Ron, as if daring them to say a word about his emotional plea, then walked calmly over to the door, stopped just short of passing through it, stood for a moment, clearly indecisive, and instead began kicking and punching the wall beside it in furious silence, until he exhausted himself and slid down it to the floor, drawing up his knees and dropping his silvery head forward onto them. He had stayed that way, silent and unmoving, even when Madam Pomfrey had entered the room on her way to Hermione's bedside, seen him, done a double-take, stopped, shook her head, and knelt beside him to conjure bandages for his bruised and bloodied hands.

He hadn't looked up, in fact, until Harry crossed the room to crouch before him. Then he had raised his head and his gray eyes had fixed steadily and unflinchingly on Harry's narrowed, suspicious green ones.

"What the hell is going on, Malfoy?" Harry asked quietly.

Draco's gaze shifted over the bed on which Hermione lay, then back to Harry. "Granger made me think," he said simply.

Harry looked truly perplexed. "That's it? After six years of violent hatred, of repeatedly calling her a-" he broke off, as if unable to bring himself to speak the ugly word- "after all that, you spend one night locked in a room with her and- and you come out a changed man? You're asking me to buy that?"

The corner of Draco's lip twitched. Was it the trace of a smirk- or a smile? "She can be persuasive, Potter."

Harry said nothing for a long time. Then, "that she can," he agreed. "But I'm warning you, Malfoy- if this is some sort of a game- if you're toying with my best friend- I'll rip your fucking throat out. I've seen too many people I care about hurt already. I will kill you."

Again that locked gaze, gray on green, spiraled out and out. Finally, "it's no game, Potter," Draco said.

"In that case," said Harry, and held out his right hand.

Draco stared from Harry's face to his outstretched hand, and back again. "I offered you my hand once," he said finally, slowly, "and you humiliated me. People that humiliate me don't get second chances."

It was only as Harry began to pull back that he suddenly reached out, with a Seeker's lightning speed, and gripped the dark-haired boy's hand with his own. "Except this one time. To prove to you that I'm serious. About Gr- Hermione. Potter, if this seems crazy to you, trust me when I say that it seems ten times more so to me… you have no idea the kind of trouble this is going to cause… but I really think I love her. I'm never going to see eye-to-eye with her about those bedamned house elves- but I will do right by her. This isn't a game."

They shook then, a handshake that had been six years in coming.

Then Draco's face clouded, as a sudden thought occurred to him. "You're not going to give her-" he jutted his chin toward the bed- "a hard time about this, are you, Potter?"

Harry shook his head, a brief glimmer of a smile on his lips. "She's my best friend, Malfoy- she and Ron both. I would stand behind her even if she decided she fancied Filch." (Though he couldn't suppress a small shudder.) His face was serious again as he continued, "if anything goes wrong here, it's you I'm going to hold responsible. We clear on that, Malfoy?"

"Potter, I was clear all the way back at 'I'll rip your fucking throat out'. Don't let's get repetitive."

Harry couldn't resist a snort of laughter as he offered Draco a hand up, and Draco took it. They returned to the bedside together and it wasn't long after that at Harry's urging, Ron too offered his hand to Draco.

They shook, though they both wore expressions that would have befitted reaching into a vat of bubotuber pus, and each let go so fast it was as if the other's touch had burned them. But it was a start.

It was a start.

Hermione, of course, was aware of none of this- not until she heard second-hand, much, much later.


The only thing she knew, when she finally awoke in the early hours of the next morning, levering herself sleepily up onto her elbows in order to take in her surroundings, was that this- Harry and Ron dozing in big, soft armchairs on either side of the bed, Draco asleep in a chair drawn right up to her bedside, slumped forward so that his head rested in the crook of one arm on the mattress, his other hand loosely clasped around her own- this was right.

Completely and undeniably right.

She had no thought then for the storm that would rage through the school when their newfound love was announced- rage unabated for the rest of the year, in fact, but finally die down and lead to the gradual setting aside of old differences and the birth of a new, more unified Hogwarts as their seventh and final year approached- her only thought, as Draco stirred, then raised his head and opened those slate-colored eyes that she would love for the rest of her life- was that this was good.

Wholly and unquestionably good.

"Hey," Draco whispered hoarsely.

"Hey," she replied.

"I thought I'd lost you."

"Would that have been a bad thing, Malfoy?"

"Hell yes."

She smiled teasingly. "But I thought-"

"Don't say it. And don't think. For just once in your life, don't think."

And as he shifted himself from the chair onto the bed, bending toward her and catching her face in both his hands, leaning in to capture her lips in a gentle, but nonetheless mind-blowing, kiss, she found it surprisingly easy to obey.

000oo The End oo000

A/N: Woo Hoo, another fic complete. This one was written, as I stated earlier, as an entry into a Draco/Hermione Valentine fic exchange game, and was originally written as a super-long one-shot, but I thought it more prudent to break it into chapters when I posted it here.

Because there was a due date for the game, I had a limited time- about three weeks- in which to write this fic. That is the reason why I had their relationship develop so rapidly; over the course of one night. As anyone who reads my other fics knows, I do not actually believe that one night together, no matter how intense the conversation (or other activities), could possibly lead to a complete change of heart on Draco's part and a happily-ever-after romance; if it were to happen at all, I think it would take months. Which is the way it happens in my other fics, but then those take/took me months to write. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you're going to review and tell me that this seemed rushed and unrealistic, I already know that; it was a result of the time limit. But overall, I'm happy with this fic- and the response it has elicited so far! THANK YOU to all reviewers! And I do think it met all the criteria of the request, which was, once again;

3-5 Things to Include in the Fic:
1. Set in sixth year
2. Professor Sinstra is a key element in creating the relationship between Draco and Hermione
3. Draco and Hermione do not share potions class together
4. Story must start out with a prologue, not from Hermione's, Draco's or Sinstra's point of view

One more thing- remember how I said that not only did I fulfill someone's ideal fic request, but another writer also fulfilled mine? She did a fantastic job, and I highly recommend that anyone who enjoyed this story check out hers; it's called Rumours, by cherii-emrei, right here on Go! Find! Read! Review:o)