Chapter Thirty Seven - Irresistible

Hermione returned to the Great Hall and tried to contain her seething anger. There was no need to start a screaming match in front of everyone.

Ron was talking to Luna. Susan Bones and Neville seemed to be arguing vehemently. They were blocking Hermione's path to Ron, so she heard a brief flash of their conversation as she passed.

"…can you possibly defend him?" Susan hissed. "Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater!"

"All I know is that Draco Malfoy saved my life," Neville persisted.

"Do you know that for certain? Or did they just tell you it happened that way?"

Neville drew himself up angrily.

"Are you accusing my friends of intentionally lying? About something like that?"

Hermione paused and looked at them curiously. Her eyes narrowed at Susan, who flushed, even though her face retained its defiant expression.

"Maybe he put them under an Imperius Curse."

Hermione laughed without humor, even though she felt like smacking Susan across the face. She answered for Neville. "Really? If so, it was very clever of him to break his own leg and nearly bleed to death. I'm certain he did that in order to force Harry to rescue him and rush him to St. Mungo's for some nefarious purpose. And then he managed to be captured and dragged into the forest where he could conveniently be mauled by Fenrir Greyback, whom he subsequently captured, by the way, but I'm positive it was all some sort of elaborate plot!"

Hermione's voice had risen to a near shout. Susan and Neville both stared at her as though she had grown two heads. She felt tears of frustration prick her eyes and flung herself about. No wonder Draco didn't want to be here!

"What's got into her?" she heard Susan ask behind her. "I thought she hated Malfoy more than anyone."

She didn't hear Neville's response as she propelled herself forward. She could barely even remember hating Draco. It seemed a lifetime ago. Now, she just wanted to wrap her arms around him and protect him from those who did not understand the sacrifices he had made. Like the person standing before her.

"Ronald?" she asked sweetly, forcing herself to use as normal a tone as possible and not speak through clenched teeth. "May I speak with you for a moment? Privately?"

Ron grinned, not suspecting the effort Hermione made not to snatch a fistful of his red hair and drag him from the room. She kept her eyes fixed on Luna so he wouldn't notice the simmering rage therein. Luna caught it and blinked at her in surprise.

"I must ask Father how to dispel Creeping Parcleps. We seem to have an infestation. I'll send him an owl right away," Luna said absently.

Hermione forced a smile, as usual having not the foggiest notion what Luna was talking about. She didn't care, either.

"Good idea. Come along, Ronald," Hermione said and led the way past Susan and Neville, who were silent and watched her curiously. She led Weasley through the doors and cast about for a private place where no one would hear him screaming for help. She grinned maliciously at the thought, but shoved the notion aside. She must maintain control. Ron trotted to keep up with her purposeful stride.

"Where are we going?" he asked in puzzlement.

"Right over here," she decided, heading for the small chamber where First Years' waited to be sorted upon their arrival at Hogwarts. Hermione didn't think she'd been in the room since that day. The place was quite dusty. Apparently it wouldn't be cleaned until the first day of the next term approached.

She walked to the center of the chamber, trying to collect her thoughts. Ron had halted when the door shut, possibly picking up some of her tension at last. Wisely, he remained quiet, especially when she turned around to give him a scathing glare.

"Tell me something, Ronald dear," she said mildly. "Is it true that Draco Malfoy owes you a favor?"

Ron's gaze shot to the floor at the same time a bright red flush crept into his cheeks to drown the freckles.

"Where… where did you hear that?" he stammered. She could practically envision his brain trying to seek an out, spinning erratically.

"Jungle drums. Is it true?" she demanded.

"Well… I suppose, sort of."

"You suppose, sort of. Did you, perchance, ask Draco for something? In return for this 'sort of' favor?"

"What are you getting at?" he demanded. She glared. Typical Ron. Defend and deny. She marched forward until she stood directly before him. She had to look up a bit to stare him in the eye, but she was not daunted.

"Did you or did you not warn Draco Malfoy to stay away from me?" she asked. With each word, she poked her index finger sharply into Ron's chest. By the end of the sentence, he was wincing.

There was a long silence and then Ron blurted, "Did Malfoy tell you that? He's bloody lying!"

Hermione snatched a fistful of Ron's shirt and pulled him closer.

"No, Ron. Malfoy didn't say anything. He's just been acting bloody peculiar and so I had to ask myself why. When Harry mentioned you owed Malfoy a favor, everything seemed to click into place. Now, suppose you tell me the truth before I plant one of Ginny's Bat Bogey Hexes on you that you won't forget!"

His blue eyes widened and he struggled to pull himself out of her grip. She raised her wand with her free hand and he looked at it fearfully.

"No!" he cried. "You wouldn't do that to me!"

"Oh wouldn't I?" she gritted.

"Fine, you're right! I told Malfoy to keep away from you! But it was for your own protection, don't you see?"

She released him and shoved him away. Ron stumbled, but caught himself before he fell.

"For my own protection?" she yelled. "What can you possibly be trying to protect me from? I'm nearly eighteen years old, Ronald! I've been of age for months. You aren't trying to protect me from anything! You're just being bloody selfish and you know it!"

Ron glared at her. "No, I'm trying to protect you from yourself! You seem to think that Malfoy is oh-so-good, now! How can you possibly feel that way, after the way he's treated you? The way he's treated us? He's rotten to the core and he always will be!"

She shook her head. "You're wrong. You accuse me of being blind, yet you are the one that refuses to believe your own eyes. Look at what he's gone through and tell me you still believe he's a Death Eater!"

"I've been deceived before and I don't plan to fall for it again!" Ron shouted. "Peter Pettigrew pretended to be my damned pet for twelve years, so no! I'm not going to trust that Draco Malfoy has suddenly turned into our best friend after six bloody days!"

"You're telling me that everything he's done has been part of an elaborate ruse?"

Ron groaned and shook his head. "Probably not everything. I think running into Greyback was unexpected, but yeah, I think it was pretty convenient that Wormtail snatched him up and took him into the forest. It's totally possible that was prearranged."

"Even though Draco looked more like Harry at the time, as well as the fact that Wormtail could just as easily have snatched Harry Potter himself? Think for a moment, Ronald. Stop trying to justify your hatred."

"I don't need to justify it!" Ron snarled. "I can hate him without any justification at all. But don't you find it interesting that he managed to warn you about your parents, but he couldn't do anything to tell us about the Burrow?"

Hermione couldn't explain that, so she didn't try. Maybe Malfoy could have told them and chose not to. She only had Draco's word that he hadn't known in time. She sighed.

"I don't know, Ron. If you're determined to hate him, then so be it. But leave me out of your machinations from now on."

"Machinations? Now, I'm the bad guy for trying to keep you from getting hurt?"

"How am I in danger of being hurt, Ron?" she asked placidly. Ron scowled and kicked at an invisible piece of debris on the floor.

"I don't know," he muttered. "It just seems like you're spending an awful lot of time with Malfoy. What happens if you… fall in love with the bastard, or something?"

"Then I suppose I'll have my little heart crushed, won't I?" She walked forward and put her hands on Ron's shoulders. "It's my risk, Ron. You can't force people to feel what you want them to feel."

Ron's blue eyes reflected pain and defeat.

"You'll never love me, then?" he asked sadly.

"I do love you," she insisted, gripping him tightly. "Very much. Just not in a romantic, passionate way."

"I should never have gone with Lavender Brown," he said morosely. "I only did it to make you jealous."

She grinned. "Well, you did seem to enjoy your neverending snogfest at the time, Won."

He flushed. "It wasn't her I wanted to kiss, at all. It was you."

"I know." She sighed. "Time has a way of changing everything, doesn't it?"

Ron suddenly put his hands on her waist, leaned down, and kissed her. He put everything he had into it, sliding his hands up to pull her against him tightly. She didn't resist, but she also felt nothing but a curious detachment. He released her with an eloquent sigh of regret.

"Nothing, eh?" he asked as she stepped back.

"I'm so sorry," she said truthfully.

"I bow to Malfoy's superior power of attraction, damn him straight to hell."

"You'll release him from whatever stupid vow he made?"

"Yes. Feel free to have yourself a snogfest, or whatever," he said bitterly. He turned and started out. When he reached the door, she called to him.

"Ron?"

He paused. "Yeah?"

"Thanks."

He said nothing and the door closed softly behind him.

An examination of McGonagall's office revealed no previously undiscovered Gryffindor artifacts. Harry even removed Gryffindor's sword and swung it experimentally a few times. He brandished it toward Draco and hopped forward in a mock feint.

Draco grabbed the blade with both palms and snatched it from Potter's hand with a quick twist. Harry looked momentarily disgruntled. Draco ignored him and flipped the sword in the air. He caught it by the handle and looked at it curiously.

"Typical Gryffindor ostentation. Gaudy design," Draco commented. He tossed it back to Potter, hilt-first. "But it's no Horcrux." Harry scowled and returned the object to its protective case.

"Well, Dumbledore thought Voldemort's snake might be a Horcrux," he commented. Draco snorted.

"It would be pretty darned stupid to make a Horcrux out of a living being. If that's the case, old Snake-face is a lot barmier than I gave him credit for. Just to be safe, I say we chop the snake to pieces." He shuddered. "I hate that bloody reptile."

"We have to find it, first," Harry mentioned.

"Give the Dark Lord time. Sooner or later, he'll find you."

"I'd rather not sit around waiting for that day."

"We need to locate the Ravenclaw bracelet, anyway."

"Maybe Hermione has an idea," Harry said.

"Can you send her one of those Patronus messages? How do you cast that, anyway?"

"I probably should teach you. You could have signaled us from the forest. I'd rather not rely on Scrying in the future. It's a good thing Hermione found your comb, or we would never have located you."

"She took my comb?"

"It's in Firenze's room. I think we sort of left it there in our hurry to rescue you."

"Bloody hell. Now, it probably has centaur contamination!"

"I doubt Firenze will use your comb," Harry said dryly.

"If it did, you'll be buying me a new one, Potter."

"I'll buy you three if you shut up about the stupid comb."

"Fine. Shall we get on with this spell?" Draco demanded, making a mental note to retrieve his comb and have a chat with Hermione Granger about nicking people's personal items. He loved that comb.

Potter walked him through the intricacies of the spell and showed him how to insert the message at the correct point. To demonstrate, Harry cast his Patronus and the silvery stag enveloped Draco for a moment while he absorbed the simple message.

Draco nodded. "Quite clever."

"Dumbledore invented it. Now, let's see you try it."

"No thanks. I've got the mechanics down. Should be a snap if the need arises."

Harry looked puzzled.

"Why not just practice it?"

"Too tired," Draco said nonchalantly. It wasn't the real reason, but he was feeling rather exhausted, even though he'd slept most of the day. "I think I'll go turn in."

Harry looked puzzled, but Draco had no intention of ever letting Potter get a glimpse of his Patronus. He'd have to be flat on the ground with a werewolf carving a furrow across his chest to even think of casting one. He grimaced at the memory.

"We'll figure out something tomorrow, eh Potter?"

"Malfoy, if you want… you can stay in Gryffindor Tower. Everyone else will be there. Luna can't stay in Ravenclaw Tower because the Order is there, and the Hufflepuff dungeon is currently filled with Death Eaters, so…"

Draco paused at the notion and turned horrified eyes on Harry.

"God, no! I'll stay in my nice, quiet, empty dungeon, if you don't mind. But… thanks for the offer."

Draco headed down the steps and back to his room.

He was astonished when he nearly ran down Hermione Granger in the Slytherin common room. She came out of his room as he entered. They stared at each other in shocked surprise for a moment.

"You've decided to transfer to Slytherin, then?" he asked.

"Actually, I just brought you some clothes. I set them on your bed," she replied.

"What clothes? I thought I had quite run out of those. Did I suddenly acquire some?" Draco walked past her and looked at several paper-wrapped bundles that were stacked on the end of his bed.

"Yes. I knew you couldn't retrieve you own, and since you and Harry are nearly the same size… Well, I ordered some from Diagon Alley. They just arrived."

Draco looked at her measuringly and tore open one of the packages. Several silk shirts spilled out in varying colors: pale green, grey, black, and buttercup yellow. He held that one up questioningly.

"Yellow?"

"I thought it would look nice with your hair," she said softly. He raised a brow at the thought of Hermione pondering how he would look in different colors. A wicked smiled curved his lips. Hermione gaze was flitting about the room as she looked anywhere but directly at Draco.

"I can't pay you for these, quite yet," he said.

"I know. Actually, Harry sort of paid for them from his account."

He dropped the shirt and shot her a censured look. "Harry Potter. Lovely. I hate being in debt to Gryffindors."

"I'm a Gryffindor!" she protested.

"Yes, but you're different."

"Now I'm a different Gryffindor? You're the one constantly telling me what a typical Gryffindor I am. Which is it?"

"It seems to change from moment to moment," he decided flippantly.

She sighed deeply. "I should go. I only came here to bring these to you, not to become frustrated by your twisted logic."

"My logic is perfectly straight."

She threw up her hands. "I refuse to argue with you. Good night."

"Granger… wait."

Hermione paused, partially turned, and looked at him expectantly. He walked forward quickly and stood painfully close to her in the manner he knew she hated. She raised her eyes hesitantly.

"Thanks for the clothes," he murmured.

She blushed and looked away. "You're welcome." She paused. "You know, I have something else that belongs to you."

She pulled the Galleon from her pocket and held it up by the braided cord of her hair. It glinted in the flickering light from the lamps as it spun slowly. "Do you want it back?"

"Yes."

She tugged out her wand and then reached up to slide the cord around his neck. He nearly forgot to breathe as she leaned into him. Her wrist brushed the side of his throat and she gripped both broken ends together with one hand. She tapped it with her wand and murmured a repair spell. Her fingers caressed his skin in a feather light touch as she released the braid.

"You know, I've just decided something," he said thickly.

"What's that?"

"To hell with Weasley."

His arms embraced her and his mouth crushed down on hers. She gave a sigh of what sounded like pure relief and he felt her hands slide upward into his hair. God, she tasted incredible. He teased her lips with his, trying to pace himself and resisting the urge to turn and drag her onto his bed. His hands caressed her back and he felt a delicious shudder run through her frame.

Her hands were in his hair and pressed against the back of his neck, holding him against her as she returned his kiss eagerly. Her breath was hot where it mingled with his. Bloody hell, she wanted him as much as he wanted her! His racing pulse thundered in his temples.

He broke their kiss and staggered against her suddenly, overcome with weakness. She gasped and held him up while he regained his balance.

"Draco! You idiot, when was the last time you ate anything?"

He warmed at the sound of his name, even though she'd followed it with an insult. "I don't recall. Last time that Pomfrey woman fed me, I suppose."

"Damn it, you need to eat to regain your strength. You should probably be taking potions, as well. Now, lie down."

"I'd rather pick up where we left off a moment ago."

She blushed. "As would I, but we really don't need you fainting away when the blood leaves your brain, do we?"

"Malfoys don't faint," he grumbled, but he sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling blackness licking at the edges of his vision. He was hungry, now that she'd mentioned food.

"Get undressed and I'll fetch you a tray."

He raised a brow at her words and suppressed a grin. "I don't think I can undress myself. I'm feeling quite weak."

She looked at him suspiciously. He tried to look helpless.

"I don't believe you for a minute," she said, but she reached for the arms of his shirt, anyway. She succeeded in stretching the material and finally knelt slightly to grasp the fabric around his waist. Hermione pulled the white shirt up and over his head and then stared at him for a moment. Draco grinned wickedly as her eyes skimmed over his frame and back up to his hair, which currently crackled around his head in an electric halo. She looked at him with something akin to panic.

"Don't stop now, you're doing so well."

"I can't," she whispered.

He chuckled. "I know; the sight of me will cause you to lose all control and pounce on me in a frenzy of lust, right?"

"I'll be right back with your tray," she said hoarsely and scurried out.

Draco slipped out of his trousers and relaxed back on the pillows. He smoothed his hair down, wishing he had remembered to fetch his comb. He pulled the blankets modestly up to his chest and then pushed them down to a handspan beneath his navel, thankful that his abdomen was flat as a board. He put both hands behind his head and whistled tonelessly while he waited for Hermione to return.

She nearly dropped the tray when she saw him.

"Don't you have pajamas?" she asked.

"Malfoys don't sleep in pajamas."

"Malfoys must catch their death in the winter." She propped the tray over his lap rather brusquely. "Eat everything. Madam Pomfrey had these ready for you. She sent them to the kitchen to be taken with your dinner." She indicated two potion vials that clanked against the bowl.

"I refuse to take those without a glass of La Romanee-Conti. They taste wretched."

"Without a what?" she asked blankly.

A house-elf suddenly popped into the room holding a glass of red wine. It bowed low and handed the glass to Draco, who took it. The house-elf disappeared.

"Useful little creatures, at times," he commented and sipped the glass. Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Don't even get me started on your appalling treatment of house-elves," she said primly and began to fold his new clothing. She opened his trunk and started to put the items away. Draco tucked into his food with the realization that he was famished. Hermione had brought him a huge quantity of roast beef and boiled vegetables.

"What is this?" she asked, walking from his trunk and holding up a small black book. Draco looked at it in surprise. He'd completely forgotten about it after tossing it there when he'd arrived.

"Snape gave it to me. He said it was spells he didn't have time to teach me."

Hermione sat on the edge of Goyle's bed and began to thumb through the book.

Draco warned, "I wouldn't sit there if I were you. If you only knew what Goyle did in that bed…"

She shot to her feet and moved quickly to sit on Draco's bed near his knee. In moments, she was absorbed in the spell book. Draco finished his plate, drained the potions, and sipped at the last of his wine while he watched her. He was pleasantly full, nicely warmed by the alcohol, and perfectly content for the first time in a long while.

"These are really advanced. Most of them are horrible," she commented. He leaned over and plucked the book from her hands. He tossed it on the bedside table.

"Read later. Remove this tray, wench, and let's get back to kissing."

She scowled at him, but lifted the tray and set it on Goyle's bed.

"No more kissing. You need to rest."

"Won't you stay with me? Just for awhile?" he asked softly. He read an agony of indecision on her face and her teeth nibbled at her lower lip for a moment. He added, "I promise not to touch you. I really am tired."

"You promise?" she asked dubiously.

"Absolutely."

"I hate it when you make insane ideas sound perfectly reasonable."

"It is reasonable. I'm weak as a kitten. Now, come here." He lifted the covers invitingly. Amazingly, she kicked off her shoes and slid into bed next to him. She rested her head on his chest. One hand splayed over the scar left by Greyback. Draco put his arm around her shoulders and sighed in satisfaction. She traced the reddened line gently.

"Does it hurt?"

"Not a bit. Useful birds, phoenixes."

He pressed his lips against her hair and breathed in the damned apple scent of her, wondering what the consequences would be of breaking two promises in one night. In the end, he was simply too tired to do any promise breaking and dropped off to sleep with the reassuring feel of Hermione pressed against him.