Chapter twenty three – Getting closer

'Afternoon all,' a middle aged wizard greeted the Scales chirpily. 'I am Roland Lang, secretary of Minister for Magical Relations. I'm here to discuss possible occupations in the field of my expertise. I do hope that I can maintain your interest for a while, although I know I cannot compete with your previous speaker.'

Hermione smiled dryly, thanking her lucky stars that there wasn't more than one speaker about Quidditch. From her seat in the second row, she noted the male Scales in front of her droop somewhat forlornly. Draco also seemed to slump slightly in his chair next to her, and initially she thought this to be an unconscious movement expressing his disappointment. However, when his head drooped onto his shoulder, and then flopped across to rest on her shoulder, she smiled understandingly. Moving under the guise of reassurance, Hermione reached her hand out and placed it on his thigh.

'Magical Relations is a highly rewarding, and mentally stimulating occupation,' Roland began. Not only does it deal with communication with wizards and witches outside of England, but it also covers communication with other species. In my time, I have interacted with gnomes and goblins-both are quite difficult in manner-yet there is the possibility to communicate with mermaids, giants, and so on and so forth'.

Hermione was fascinated by the requirements of Magical Relations, though was the most intrigued by the knowledge that she would most likely need to learn a second language, or even become multilingual. 'Magical Relation's employees are often required to work with the media – writing up news stories or media releases that England needs to raise awareness of in other countries or communities. In this sense, you will need to be able to work under pressure and to a tight deadline'.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Roland paused, and called out, 'Yes?'

A young witch popped her head around the door, and said quietly, 'Is there a Mark Darcy in here?'

Roland frowned and glanced at the small group of students. Mark shifted in his chair, and cleared his throat. 'That would be me.'

The witch's pretty brown eyes rested on him, and she gestured at him. 'Could you please come with me?'

The room was still and silent for a few seconds, while all six students wondered who would want to speak to Mark, and not the rest of them. Then they all seemed to realise. In unison, the Scales and a Tail all turned to watch Mark as he stood with his chin held high and strode from the room. The door snapped shut loudly behind him.

Roland did not think on the matter, and resumed his speech. Unfortunately, he could have been offering the secret society a lifetime supply of galleons, and they would not have accepted for all they were paying attention. Mark was being called away without warning. It was most likely by Dumbledore, and had something to do with siding with Voldemort, but each of the Scales feared what he was going to have to do. Not to mention whether he was going to come back.

Hermione stared at the closed door, hoping desperately that Mark was as strong on the inside as he seemed on the outside. Convincing Voldemort that he wanted genuinely to be a Death Eater was not going to be easy, nor without possibly devastating consequences. Draco's arm slid around Hermione's waist and held her tightly, clearly aware of her distressed thoughts. 'He'll be fine, Hermione. This is Mark we're talking about.'

She nodded,unconvinced, but didn't counter Draco's words. Roland continued to talk about the joys of working in Magical Relations, and although Hermione had previously found it fascinating, she could no longer concentrate on what he was saying. The seminar ended soon after, and Hermione walked to the common room with the Scales. They sat on a couple of couches, all facing each without speaking.

Hermione glanced tentatively at Draco, who looked back without expression. Devon stared at his shoes, while Taylor tapped his hands nervously. Corey broke the silence. 'He'll be fine, guys. This is Mark'.

'What if he doesn't come back?' Devon asked worriedly.

'Then we know that it has started,' Draco said seriously. 'We know that we had better get ourselves into order as soon as we get back to Hogwarts. Mark's risking his life out there, so we'd better make sure that it's worth his while…and for as short a time as possible.'

The Scales and a Tail nodded in agreement, though their anxious expressions did not change. As Hermione looked distractedly around the room, she saw Krum walk in with Harry and Ron in tow. Startled that she had forgotten they were at the seminar in her worry for Mark, she stood up from sitting quite close to Draco.

Krum glanced over at them, and began to walk over. Hermione, in her haste to move away from the Scales before Harry and Ron saw her, moved quickly towards Krum to meet him half way. Unfortunately, Draco was sitting with his legs sprawled casually in front of him, causing Hermione to trip and fall over at his feet.

Having not noticed the incoming problem, Draco grinned, 'Not experiencing biological difficulties there, are you Hermione? Legs not working like they used to?'

Hermione scowled up at him, hoping that if her friends saw Draco's grin, its friendliness might be counteracted by her glare. Draco's grin slid off his face, still not having looked up. 'I didn't mean it rudely. Did you hurt yourself?'

As he leaned forward to help her up, Hermione hissed, 'Look who's coming, you dork'.

They both lifted their heads to see Krum still approaching happily, but Ron and Harry hanging back with frowns. Ron's frown was directed at Draco, while Harry's was at Hermione. Krum extended his hand towards Hermione. 'Are you alright?'

'Fine, thanks. Losers make me loose my balance, is all,' she replied, with a pointed glance at the Scales.

'Ouch,' Draco muttered, appearing highly unperturbed as he leaned back into the couch, raising an eyebrow lazily. 'It feels good to have that much influence over your mobility. If I constantly stay by your side, does that mean you'll constantly be falling over? Because I could handle watching that as a living.'

'Shut it,' Ron snapped, then turned to Hermione as Krum raised her to her feet. 'We're going to go play the Quidditch match that Viktor has organised. Did you want to come and watch?'

'Oh,' she looked between the boys. Ron waited hopefully; Harry looked as if he already knew the answer and the reason behind it. '…Of course.'

'You can stay here, if that what you prefer,' Harry said, subtly tipping his head towards the couch.

'Why would I want to stay here?' she asked. 'I'd much prefer to stand in the snow, watching you as little dots zipping around in the sky, with the wind whipping at my face and frost forming on the soles of my feet.'

A small smile spread on Harry's lips. 'Okay, so stay. I guess just because we like playing in the cold doesn't mean you like standing in it. We'll see you for dinner instead?'

Hermione smiled. 'That sounds great. It's so much fun having you guys here'.

Harry and Ron turned to leave, but Krum remained looking at the Scales. 'If I do recall, you're all quite the fans of Quidditch…are you sure you don't want to play?'

Each of the four guys looked longing for a moment, but Draco was the first to shake his head. 'No thanks. It's too cold for us'.

'Wimps,' Ron muttered, while Hermione whacked him on the arm.

'Don't encourage them, Ron.'

'Yeah Ron, don't encourage us,' Draco said snidely. 'We're like wild animals. If you poke us one too many times, you might find that we eat you. Or hex you, depending on our mood.'

'Oh, stop it.' Hermione sighed at him, causing Draco to close his mouth. 'Go on boys…and no, they're not playing Viktor, so just turn around'.

The three wizards nodded and started walking away, while Hermione stood a slight distance from the Slytherins until they had disappeared around the corner. Once the last of Harry's Quidditch robe had flicked around the corner, she sighed.

'You're all going to have to be friends when we get back to Hogwarts.'

'"Friends" is way too optimistic a term,' Corey commented, noting Draco's disbelieving eyebrow quirk.

'Well you'll at least have to exist without fighting in close proximity,' Hermione rephrased. 'And at this rate, that's not going to happen easily.'

'It's not our fault. Ron seems to be set on baiting us as often as he can.' Draco pointed out. 'That was me refraining myself, okay? Go talk to him if you want us to all get on.'

Hermione sighed in exasperation and flopped on the couch next to Draco. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tugged her gently to his side. She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. 'There's so much to think about.'

Taylor laughed lightly. 'Makes me wonder what it would be like to be a normal student. It would be nice to have a group of students stress and worry over my safety, without even knowing about it. Unfortunately, I'm in that group.'

'Sucks to be you,' Draco said jokingly.

'Sucks to be us,' Taylor corrected with a wry grin. Hermione smiled too and shook her head, while the guys all exchanged sardonically amused expressions. After a while, they pulled out work, books, or fell asleep until their final seminar for the day, which fascinated them all. Not due to its interesting qualities, but the fact that it had been included in the seminar timetable at all.

'I encourage you all to have children,' the woman said once they had all sat down. 'As soon as possible.'

Hermione was taken-aback when the witch looked directly at her, and Draco shuffled awkwardly in his chair. The boys cleared their throats uncomfortably. 'And why is that?' Hermione asked, frowning.

'Because after the war that is due at any time, we predict that a number of witches and wizards will be killed. The wizarding world in England is far too precious for its population to diminish, which is a high possibility. We do not want students leaving school to go fight, and getting murdered in the meantime, therefore reducing the number of vital reproducers. Parenting is just as much a job as any other.'

The Scales and a Tail stared at her. It made sense, but it wasn't exactly the choice they had been given by the Order of the Phoenix. They were to protect the school from war, by training those capable and competent. 'Perhaps you should tell the other groups about this,' Devon suggested. 'I don't think we're destined to copulate just yet'.

The witch looked disgruntled. 'Just because you're young does not mean that you would not be wonderful parents.'

'I don't think that's what he means,' Hermione explained. 'We have things to do at the moment. We might consider…having children…in the years to come, but just not right now.'

'Well…' the witch said in conclusion. 'You can't say I didn't try.'

'We'll pass the message around,' Draco promised, his serious expression disguising his sarcasm.

'That would be wonderful,' she said to him. 'Fine then, off you go. Yes, I'm letting you go early. There's not much I can say if you've already refused. Go practice abstinence or something.'

Draco cast Hermione a sly glance. 'We will,' he muttered. Hermione reddened but did nothing to halt his intentions. The look in his eyes was inescapable, and bordered on unavoidable. She knew that she would never let Draco move too fast for her, but at the moment, she wanted to be as close to him as humanly possible. She rested her hand on his lower back as the Scales filed out of the room, but removed it when they all faced each other in the hallway.

'I guess I'd better do some homework; tomorrow is our last day here after all.' Taylor conceded. 'Does anyone want to sit in the common room with me, for moral support?'

'Sure,' Corey and Devon said at the same time.

'I'd better not,' Hermione said. 'I nearly got caught out last time. I think I'll read in my room.'

'I'll go…too,' Draco said. Ignoring the glances from the others, Hermione and Draco walked off down the hall and up to their room. Once Draco had unlocked the door and they were inside with it closed once more behind them, he turned to her. 'So, are you still planning on reading?'

'Depends what my other options are,' she said cheekily.

'I know I'm one of them,' he stated, taking a pointed step towards her. 'But it's up to you.' Draco moved closer again, then reached out and snaked an arm around her waist. His lips lowered gently to her ear, 'I mean, if you can concentrate enough to read with me this close, then go ahead…'

'Pass,' Hermione breathed weakly, turning her head to cover Draco's soft lips with her own. He responded instantly, holding her tightly against his strong chest, all the while exploring her mouth with his tongue; tasting her, touching her, learning her. Their passion was such that minutes past by without them noticing. They pulled apart only once Hermione's knees buckled from standing up for so long without concentrating.

'Did you want to sit on the bed?' Draco suggested softly into her ear. His breath was warm and sent tingles down her spine. She nodded mutely, and he shuffled them backwards until they came to rest on the edge of the bed.

Although they had shared a bed for the past couple nights, Hermione felt something new between them that caused her to shiver with nerves. 'Just remember; we do have to go back down later.'

'Which will undoubtedly be sooner than we think… you make me lose track of time,' Draco admitted. 'I could spend a moment thinking about you to find that an hour has passed.'

Hermione smiled at him, and ran a hand across his cheek. 'You're beautiful.'

Draco leaned forward and kissed her. Their pent-up affection over the past month was the cause of their state half an hour later. Draco's shirt had been cast aside, Hermione's was undone, though it remained covering her slender shoulders, and they lay side-by-side on the rumpled covers. Hermione pulled away from Draco's excitement; short of breath and reluctant. 'I'm sorry, but we'd better neaten ourselves up. I have to go meet Harry and Ron soon, and I cannot look like this.'

'They'll just think you were with Krum.'

'They won't, considering he's been with them while they played Quidditch. I'm sure he was the umpire.'

'Oh…' Draco leaned forward and kissed her neck in an attempt to make her forget where she had to be. 'How about you stay here with me anyway? If you're enjoying this half as much as me, then you'll say yes…'

'I do love this, but we have to get up.' She said without much conviction. 'The sooner we get up and get this over with, the sooner we can come back here together after dinner…'

Draco grinned at her words and nibbled her neck. Hermione closed her eyes, allowing them this last intimacy before she went to meet the boys. Draco's mouth moved slowly down her neck, along her collar-bone, and down across her ribs towards her swelling breasts. Hermione groaned and wriggled out from underneath him to stand by the bed. He looked up at her, slightly put out that she had denied him the pleasure of burying his face between her breasts.

'Draco, that's too much right now.'

'I'm sorry.'

Hermione began to button up her shirt. 'I don't know if you are, but I appreciate you pretending. Now let me have a shower and go downstairs without further interruption.'

Draco watched her retreating figure as she walked into the bathroom. 'If I can't waylay you now, I might just have to prevent you from sleeping tonight.'

Hermione's head peeped back around the door to regard him with a cheeky grin. 'If you must.'