Thirst was what woke her. She forced her mind awake and glanced about their tiny enclosed space for a drink. She was fairly pleased to see a sparkling glass of water on the bedside table and twisted slowly to sit up enough to drink it and still not wake Draco. With her dry mouth quenched, she settled back into his warm embrace and let her mind drift.

The night before had been wonderful. Both more and less than she had expected. More in that it was so good, less in that it was not at all awful. She'd done her reading and heard other girls' horror stories. Yes, there had been some pain, some uncomfortable fullness, a little blood. But it was hardly the traumatic experience she had worried about. Overall, it had been physically pleasant, especially if one counted Draco's efforts to make sure it was good for her before the actual act...which definitely counted in a big wonderful way.

The last several days with Draco had clued her into the fact that physical acts with him were also emotional experiences, but she hadn't really been prepared for the awesome power of bringing him to his fall. For a few, uncharted moments, he'd been so completely unguarded, twisted up in want and desire, no barrier between them.

She'd never felt so wanted, so cherished, so close to anyone in her life. She didn't know if it was always like that, but she could definitely understand how girls fell so deeply in love with a boy after they slept with one. How could she not love him? Trembling against her, clutching her like she was the second coming of Christ, declaring love and devotion and forever in broken half words as she held him, stroking his sweat slick skin, giving him reassuring kisses… Jesus, it had been intense.

She couldn't wait to repeat the experience for comparison. Especially since he had gone to such effort to hold back for her, trying to be gentle and careful. What would it be like when he didn't hold back? When she got more experienced? The anticipation had her pressing her thighs together with tingling anticipation and wondering the time. She reached for her wand, murmuring a spell, and frowning in disappointment. If she woke Draco right now, they would need to hurry to make it to breakfast on time.

She snuggled in a little deeper, determined to enjoy the warmth of being cuddled for just five more minutes, but she heard the other people in the room stirring, and it was completely ruining her ability to relax. She had intended to be up early to slip out of the Slytherin dorms before everyone else was awake. Now she was going to have to wait till the room cleared out and was probably going to miss breakfast. The downside of sneaking into the Slytherin dorms was definitely the sneaking out.

Draco stirred against her, kissing her skin, stroking her hip. Nothing was disturbing his morning. Her irritation went up a notch when he began to casually fondle her breasts. She'd already determined there wasn't time for that, so all he was doing was teasing. She shifted his hands off her and turned to speak with him.

The sleepy smile on his lips had her downshifting to annoyed affection quite effectively. A murmured good morning and a sweet loving good morning kiss had her slipping right back into warm and fuzzy bliss. Who cared if she missed breakfast? What were pancakes compared to this? Instead, she spent long minutes being loved on and cherished while time slipped away.

"Hey, the boys will clear out of here pretty quick, and we can take the secret passage to the prefects' bath if you want." He punctuated this problem-solving plan with a nuzzling kiss to her shoulder, another to her neck. "If we hurry, we might even be able to make breakfast. Did you bring your uniform with you?"

"You have a secret passageway to the prefect bath? Gryffindors have to trek through five public hallways and two sets of stairs!" His smug laughter was so annoying.

Freshly showered and wearing a pilfered uniform that Draco had grabbed from the Slytherin girls dorm, Hermione felt fairly confident that no one would be any the wiser to what she had gotten up to the night before. A downed contraceptive potion from the cabinet in the prefects' bath easing more urgent worries. Not that she was ashamed or anything, though she did give Malfoy a scolding when she had to charm half a dozen red splotches on her neck. He was not to chew on her like an animal.

Draco sticking right by her side as they left the bathroom and made their way to breakfast though was a clear shout of togetherness that would be hard to mistake. Hermione didn't care. She was just relieved that he didn't seem to be having any second thoughts. Besides, apparently, they were old news in the Hogwarts halls because no one even slowed down to gawk.

"I think the professor is finally going to get around to doing new partners assignments in Astronomy. Still want to be my partner?" Hermione asked, holding his hand and grinning like a loon. She felt ridiculously happy.

"I don't know, what's in it for me?" Hermione giggled out loud, reminded of their original deal.

"A passing grade."

"I don't need you to pass. I can score a stellar grade without having to put up with your stupidly detailed, over achieving project notes" Malfoy drawled at her, his light tone holding none of the malice required for his words to sting.

"My projects are designed to demonstrate understanding of the subject beyond the required curriculum. You might be satisfied with a mediocre passing grade, but I intend to land an Outstanding on my NEWTs," she sniped back at him, fighting a stupid grin as he teased her. Someone careened into their space, and Draco twisted to pull her closer, out of the way, even as he responded.

"How is doing an in-depth study on light refraction going to help on your NEWTs? It's completely outside of the curriculum and a waste of time. Unless you plan on specializing in Astronomy after school, there is no reason to work so hard to impress mid-level swots at the exam boards and some nobody teacher you will probably never speak to again."

"I am not trying to impress people! My only reward for the pursuit of knowledge is the actual knowledge itself."

"Do your dim-ass friends actually buy that? It's so obvious that you love being considered the brainiest person in the room."

"It is not! I love knowledge for knowledge sakes!"

Harry and Ron joined them from a side corridor just then, and Harry jumped on the chance to tease her about her academics. "Malfoy does have a point, Hermione. Just last week you wrote an extra sixty inches on the properties of bloomstang for Potions. You've known all about bloomslang since second year; it's not like there is anything extra to learn about it."

"The application of bloomslang is a fascinating and detailed subject," she declared snottily, bumping Harry hard enough with her hip for him to miss a step, and she let a giggle escape.

"Nothing you do is going to impress Snape; I don't know why you bother," Ron chimed in with an aggressive eye roll that had her feathers ruffled in a hot second.

"Ronald Weasley, you take that back right now! I am not trying to impress Snape!" She pushed open the Great Hall doors with a huff.

"Trying, and failing. Just because he is a teacher doesn't mean he is right!" The same old, tired, familiar argument about respecting teachers started up, and Hermione was thrilled to be back on such solid ground with the boys, even if Malfoy was taking their side.

They reached their seats for breakfast, and Malfoy casually sat down with them, arguing good naturedly with Harry about her study habits, and Hermione realized that they were being watched. She glanced around the room and saw dozens of pairs of eyes flit off in another direction. She was relieved and pleased to note that it didn't bother her one bit.

They were probably starting a dozen rumors about her relationship right now. Harry and Ron were probably being dragged into the mess because they were all sitting together. Hell, by tomorrow the rumor might be that she was sleeping with all three boys. She couldn't find a bone in her body that cared.

She turned back to her boys, filled with the warm glow of affection and contentment. She'd survived the storm and figured out how to navigate the rough waters. This little adventure with Malfoy had given her a glimpse behind the curtains and the power of gossip and public opinion had lost its sway over her. They could think whatever they wanted, they could say whatever they wasn't better than the truth.

She laid her head down on Draco's shoulder, stiffening a yawn and planning her day. His arm coming up around her to cradle her hip as he piled some bacon on her plate felt natural and sweet and she gave him a sleepy smile. If she rearranged things properly she could probably get a nap in after third period. One thing was for damn sure, she was going to have to figure out how to get more sleep.

The End

End Notes:

This story is dedicated to my amazing readers. The amazing people who left me dozens of encouraging reviews, the hundreds of people who sent me e-mails and private messages, and the thousands of people who just read and enjoyed. Some of you stuck with me for 13 years. I certainly would have never finished this story without the positive encouragement I have received from the Harry Potter fandom.

A special thank you to all of the people who have helped me with this work over the last 13 years. 1Lorett, my very first cheerleader who invited me into the fandom and made me feel like family. RahNee, who helped me work on my softer side and helped me learn to translate my weird sense of humor to dialog, Reetinkerbell for running the awesome Dangerous Liasons awards…they were so encouraging for me, Kyra4 who taught me to respect my art and not let the haters discourage me, morningsnow03 who helped me pick up the pieces and face my anxiety after my long hiatus, and lightofevolution who saw me through to the end.

All my love,