Prologue

I told you to leave. Looking back I probably shouldn't have. In fact I know I should have begged you to stay. My only defence for an act of such colossal stupidity is that you broke my heart. It was impossible to think about consequences or 'later' when my chest was so constricted that I could barely breath past it, ribbons were blinding my vision and tears burned behind my eyes. So I wasn't thinking. But I am now. Now that the pain in my chest has lessened to a dull ache.

I don't think that ache will ever go away. Even if you were back in my arms, curled in my grip, smelling of vanilla and parchment and smiling at me the way you do. I think the ache is eternal punishment for closing that door on you. Slamming it in your tear-stained face.

If you come back to me I'll hope the pain will eventually disappear, so I can give you a whole heart, an untainted one. If you refuse my apology then I hope the ache consumes me, because it will be my final gift from you and that makes it more precious than life. Any life.

You've surprised me in so many ways. You were the last person I thought I could love and now you're the only one I can't live without.

Please.

One

The classroom stank of haphazard potion making, puffs of thick orange smoke exuded cauldrons and filled the room like fog, a perfect camouflage. He reached for her hand and gave it a little squeeze. Her brown eyes twinkled at him, she lifted his palm to her face and placed a gentle kiss on it with lips that were almost too soft. An unbearably happy feeling filled him even when she had set his hand back on the table and returned to her potion making. Her potion was exuding purple smoke, she had been the only person in the entire class to remember to add the dragon heartstring. Clever Hermione.

Ron returned to his textbook but couldn't concentrate on the words, his palm was tingling; pleasantly and distractingly. He lifted his face to watch hers, a pastime much more enjoyable than potions but Hermione obviously didn't feel the same. She was chewing her lip and concentrating too hard on her work to feel the heat of his gaze on her face.

What will you wear tonight?

He slid the note towards her. It took her a while to notice it, she was so consumed in stirring, but when she did she sighed and shook her head at him. Ron grinned. It had become a game between them, he would constantly ask which costume she would wear to the Halloween ball and she would constantly refuse to tell him preferring to save the surprise. They had played the same game when he hadn't known who she would bring to the Yule Ball and she hadn't known he desperately wanted to ask her himself.

"Hermione, Neville's right- you are a girl…" He stared at Hermione, wondering if she was going to laugh at him. He was so sure she knew he saw her as a girl, an attractive, funny, kind girl and much more than a friend.

"Oh well spotted," She obviously hadn't noticed the irony of his statement.

"Well - you can come with one of us!" Come with me.

"No, I can't," His heart fell to his stomach, thudding uncomfortably. He felt his ears redden ever so slightly.

"Oh, come on, we need partners, we're going to look really stupid if we haven't got any, everyone else has…" A bad line perhaps but he was trying to soften the blow of rejection.

"I can't come with you because I'm already going with someone," His heart dropped further, he felt sick.

"No you're not! You just said that to get rid of Neville!" He hoped.

"Oh did I? Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!" She looked angry, hurt even.

"OK, OK, we know you're a girl. That do? Will you come now?" He crossed his fingers, praying she'd say yes, knowing she wouldn't.

"I've already told you! I'm going with someone else!"

It had taken three more years but now things seemed to be going his way. This year he was taking Hermione to the ball. She looked up from her potion, caught him watching her and frowned at him. She pointed at his potion and mouthed "Hurry up,"

Ron felt himself turn scarlet but he shrugged it off, tried to stop staring at his girlfriend and went back to stirring his now completely unsalvageable potion. Oh, the joys of love.

Later that day Hermione was stood in the girls dormitory wrapped in a towel and rubbing innumerable potions through her unruly hair, a drastic measure only taken on special occasions to flatten her frizz. Pavati was laying very still on her bed with cucumbers over her eyes and her face smeared with drying grey goo. The sounds of Lavenders shower filled the dormitory and then Pavati spoke.

"He really loves you," That short sentence caused innumerable cracks to appear in her facemask.

Hermione watched her in the mirror and fought down a laugh, "Who does?" She flipped her head forward and smeared cream from root to tip as best she could.

"Professor Flitwick," Pavati sighed, "Ron, who else?"

Hermione was standing upright again ruffling and tweaking her still wet hair, she picked up a curler from the vanity top and twisted a section of her hair around it. She didn't reply to Pavati until the curler was secure against her skull, she used a clip to hold it in place. "He's my boyfriend," She said simply, picking up a second curler and sectioning off another bit of hair.

"I'm pretty Hermione but that doesn't mean I'm stupid, I know he's your boyfriend. I also know that he loves you,"

Hermione sighed twisting the curler and wishing her tiresome roommate would get swallowed up by her face cream and never speak again. "If you have a point Pavati please get to it, this foreplay is getting tiresome."

Pavati sat up, the cucumber fell from her eyes to her lap and she stared intensely at Hermione's face in the mirrors reflection. "Who bought that nice new cloak of yours Hermione?"

Hermione's expression never changed, she continued curling her hair peacefully, "I bought it for myself," She replied, "Not that it is any of your business."

"You, the ever practical Hermione Granger, spent three hundred galleons on a Monsieur Lumbecks limited addition, double velvet, fur lined cloak?"

"I heard it was going to be a chilly winter."

"That cloak costs more than some wizards earn in a year." Pavati pressed looking dubious, "And you dished out that much in fear of a chill? Your school cloaks always done fine for you before."

"I felt like a change. What are you insinuating Pavati?"

"That neither you nor our penny-saving Ronald bought that cloak,"

Hermione picked up another curler looking unfazed, "I'll ask again, what are you insinuating Pavati?"

The sound of running water stopped and Pavati lowered her voice to a threatening whisper, "Lavender loved Ron," She hissed, "Really loved him and it broke her heart when he left her for you!"

"You told me this before," Hermione still didn't look at her, "Remember? When you cornered me in the bathroom? Why do you feel the need to repeat it?"

"I just want you to know that if you are going to screw Ron over after taking him from my best friend I will personally make sure you suffer!"

The sounds of Lavender moving around in the bathroom increased and Pavati shot the door a weary look, she did not wish to be overheard.

"You don't think Ron will like my cloak?" Hermione's voice was sneering. Pavati opened her mouth to retort when Lavender appeared in the doorway from the bathroom looking freshly scrubbed and glowing. Pavati's mouth snapped shut. Lavender shot both her silent, angry roommates a puzzled look but they both ignored her.

Hermione finished setting her hair in her curlers before walking very calmly to the bathroom, she completely blanked any attempts Pavati made to catch her eye. It was only after she had locked the bathroom door that she sunk to the damp floor shaking and feeling nauseous.

On the other side of the castle someone else was shaking but for another reason. Gregory Goyle hugged his thick arms around his body and shivered, "Can I close the window?" He asked. The thin, blonde, boy preening before his reflection raised a thin eyebrow, "Please?" Gregory added hastily and a small smile whispered across Draco's face.

"I'm feeling hot. You know I get flushed when I'm too warm," Draco sniffed haughtily as he smoothed a stray strand of hair into place, "It's unattractive,"

Gregory suppressed a sigh with great difficulty and shared a look of helplessness with Vincent who was presently squeezing his great bulk into a too small tunic.

"I feel stupid." Vincent grumbled staring down at his costume dully.

"You are stupid." Draco snapped, "Now hurry up Goyle, if you don't get a move on you'll make us later than I planned… you useless lump of lard."

"Let them shut the window Drake," Snickered Blaise as he sauntered out of the bathroom followed by a cloud of warm, moist steam. He was wearing nothing but a towel, a cheap towel at that, and still managed to ruffle Draco's vain feathers. The young Malfoy had always been wracked with the horrible insecurity that some might find Blaise more attractive than he. Of course he knew logically this couldn't be possible, but the doubt was there.

"I'll flush," He snarled, "Now put some clothes on before Goyle comes out."

Blaise just chortled and smoothed his wet hair from his face in a motion that set off his muscular chest to a great advantage.

Draco wondered momentarily if he should work out more then dismissed the thought, he, the Malfoy heir, lift weights? The mere thought was preposterous.

"So Drake, who are you taking to the ball?" Blaise asked as he began rummaging through his trunk, pulling out bits and pieces of his costume and laying them on the bed, "I heard today that Pansy is flying solo, what gives?"

Draco turned to face him, leaning his butt on the vanity top and looking decidedly smug, "I'm taking Granger,"

Vincent choked and a button flew off his straining tunic to bounce off of the wall and ricochet straight into Gregory's eye. The boy yelled out grabbing his injury. The two with clear vision were staring at Draco in horrified surprise.

"You're bringing that Gryffindor mud blood to the ball?" Blaise asked sceptically and Draco nodded looking obscenely pleased with himself.

"I'm glad you grasped the fact so quickly."

Blaise took the towel from his waist and threw it onto the floor before reaching for some underwear. Draco groaned turning his neck so fast he was sure he'd get whiplash, "For Merlin's sake Blaise we have talked about this! No full frontal nudity! Thank God Goyle is blind or there would be no controlling him!"

"We're amongst friends here." Blaise smirked, unabashed as he slipped into some rather snug silk boxers and commenced in arranging himself comfortably in them. Draco was still staring at the far wall as if there was something terribly fascinating happening on it. "All safe," Blaise said when he'd finished, "So Hermione Granger, eh? Did you get a whiff of some out-of-date potion, Drake?"

"Nope. I just thought I'd escort her to the school dance. You know, give her at least one happy memory to take on from this dump."

"How very gallant of you. But this wouldn't have anything to do with your ultimate goal of destroying Potty and the Weasel would it?"

"That's not my ultimate goal Blaise,"

"Yes it is. I read your list… the one you keep in your top drawer. It was at the very top, 'destroy Potty and the Weasel'."

"It unnerves me that you poke through my drawers and flash me your body, Blaise."

"I liked number three: 'clone myself', that would be real productive, Drake."

"Just doing my bit for society."

"Potter is going to kill you." Goyle grunted still rubbing his eye, "Him and the ginger one. They'll kill you."

"They can try," Draco sneered heading for his trunk, "In fact I hope they do. But I doubt Ronnikins will be up for it once he finds out I'm milking his cow. I think it'll kill him. Slowly, painfully and humiliatingly." A cruel smile lit Draco's pointed features like a Christmas tree, "Whoever said money couldn't get you everything was a fool." He snorted as he pulled a small box from his trunk and shook it at his dorm mates, "Even the mud blood had her price." He stuck his head out of the open window and whistled into the cool night air, moments later a large tawny owl swept into the dormitory. "Bring this to Hermione Granger in Gryffindor tower," He instructed the bird whilst tying the box to it's large, clawed feet, "And be quick about it."

Lavender was zipping up her dress when a huge owl began pecking at the window. She shared a curious look with Pavati who had washed off her face mask and was leaning very close to the mirror with her mouth open as she applied mascara.

"Well get it then," Pavati urged her and Lavender opened the window. The owl swept in doing an entire lap of the dormitory before settling down to doze on Hermione's bed.

Lavender closed the window and locked it, "It is freezing out there!" She gasped rubbing her goose pimpled arms. "Hermione!" She called towards the bathroom, "There is an owl here for-," Hermione shot out of the bathroom like lightning. She practically launched herself on the bird as Pavati watched her suspiciously, "-you."

"Who is it from?" Pavati asked abandoning her mascara to watch Hermione, still wrapped in her towel and wearing curlers, detangle her package from the owl.

"My mum." Hermione replied automatically. She scurried to the window and unlocked it, "Out you go," She ordered the owl. It looked at her distastefully before spreading it's wings and exiting.

"Aren't you going to open it?" Lavender asked as Hermione clutched the closed box in one hand.

"Of course." But she made no move to unwrap the packaging.

"Go on then," Lavender urged and Hermione gave the girl a very forced smile. She returned to her bed, perching herself on the edge of it and took a deep breath.

"Worried your mum might have sent you a bomb of some sort Hermione?" Pavati asked scathingly and Lavender shot her friend a shocked look.

"Of course not." Hermione sniffed. She ripped the paper of her package in an air of deviancy and prayed it was a gift from her mother delivered by an owl that just held startling similarities to another she knew. There was a small, black, velvet box inside all the brown paper. Hermione swallowed hard as Lavender ooed and Pavati clucked her tongue. Hermione took a deep breath as she opened the box. Inside lay a glittering necklace. A necklace with a snake pendant.

"A snake?" Lavender's voice was bemused, "That's weird! Why'd your mum send you a snake?"

"She likes snakes."

"A snake." Pavati's face mask developed deep frown lines, "Oh dear."