Draco watched Hermione go with a cold detachment.

Don't bother, he wanted to say. It won't change anything. It's enough that she knows.

But it did matter. They still had to do damage control. So he stayed quiet and blessed the recurrence of his ability to shut down all feelings. If he had ever needed it, now was the time.

He had revealed his need and the danger to Hermione and it was all for nothing. His lips had barely touched hers before it was all over.

All over. Forever.

No, he mustn't think about that now. He would have plenty of time to lament his loss later, but now it was all about getting that stupid little Weasley bitch to keep her mouth shut.

Merlin, how he hated her.

He had a few ideas about how he could forcibly erase the memory from her mind, but he was well aware that Hermione would never let him. She might even hate him for even suggesting it. He considered doing it anyway, as he was well aware of the risk the mere presence of the knowledge presented, but at the thought of all the things that could go wrong, Draco dropped the idea. By using a spell, he could render the chit brain-dead or worse. It wasn't because he cared if her brain stopped functioning, she was a Weasley after all and it hardly made a difference, but because of the pain it would cause Hermione, and how much she would despise him for it. Soon she would be hurting and despising him anyway, but at least she would still have her friend.

He fucking hated caring about her. He hated caring about her feelings. He hated the way she could turn those big brown eyes on him and make him feel like an absolute cad when he was only telling the truth. He hated that he was almost certain that he'd made her cry yesterday. He hated that he was completely certain that he would make her cry again. Possibly today.

He wished he could just go back to hating her.

Ah, but you never hated her quite as much as you should, did you?

Draco had to admit that he hadn't. He had always lived a very sheltered existence, and Hermione had been one of the first Muggleborn he had ever met as far as he knew. He would probably not even have noticed her at first, if she hadn't been hanging around that annoying, self-righteous Potter. It wasn't that he'd been attracted to her, he had been too young to even contemplate that, but he just hadn't felt the same level of contempt for her as he did for Saint Potter and the Weasel, even after he found out about her birth. He had made up for it in insults as best he could, but it just hadn't seemed to work. She just wasn't what he'd expected from everything he'd ever heard about Mudbloods.

Still, it was a long way from not quite hating someone to… to…

Draco's volatile feelings threatened to resurface, and he blocked out the thought. He didn't have time for that now. He had to stay composed so he could do what needed to be done.

As calmly as he could, he waited.

When Hermione finally came back, she was looking shaken and her eyes were red-rimmed. It apparently hadn't gone so well.

"Will she talk?" Draco asked, dimly aware that his voice was cool and distant.

Hermione glanced at him and then swallowed. "No… No, she won't," she said shakily. He could tell she wasn't telling him everything.

"Then what?" he asked.

Hermione looked as if she might cry, and he hadn't even started yet. What the fuck had that pathetic little excuse for a witch been saying to her? He felt anger swelling in him, and he tamped it down.

"She said…" she began and then faltered before taking a breath and trying again. "She told me that I had to tell my friends."

"Not a chance, Granger," he said. Hermione's eyes widened at the use of her last name. "You won't tell them a thing," he coldly pushed on.

"She won't stand by and let this continue," she whispered, clearly realizing where this was going.

He had to get out of there, he couldn't do this. Not yet. "Been fun," he said. "But you knew as well as I did that it was over the second she saw us."

"What happened to 'can't stay away'?" she whispered. "What happened to 'can't resist'?"

Draco's control was slipping fast; he needed to end this now. He violently grasped her shoulders, digging his fingers into her soft flesh through the fabric of her robes, sneering into her frightened face. "I told you that nobody can know," he growled, slightly shaking her. "What do you think this is? Some epic love story? We fucked, we got caught, and now it's over! Real life caught up, princess." He thrust her away, sending her stumbling, and he walked away, willing himself not to flinch at the muffled sound of her sobs.

Draco was soon finding himself fighting a losing battle. He had gone to his newly found secret refuge, the bloody girls' bathroom on second floor. That whiny little ghost they called Moaning Myrtle was effectively keeping everyone at bay, and nobody would dream of looking for him here. His hands clasped tightly on a stone sink, he was hyperventilating.

It's not too late, he thought. If I go back and tell her I'm sorry…

NO! He couldn't. She'd be as good as dead. They would all be. An image flashed through his mind of Hermione dead, her eyes glossed over and unseeing.

He grasped the sink even harder. He could do this, he could let her go.

To her, it was just sex anyway. Sex wasn't worth dying for. Not unless there was more. Was there more? NO! It didn't matter. It wasn't worth her dying. His miserable existence would be snuffed soon enough, but she would live! The war might kill her yet, but he couldn't be the reason. He just couldn't.

"What's wrong?" Myrtle asked, popping her head through a stall.

Of course. It had been too much to ask to just be left alone.

"Nothing," he gasped, mildly surprised at how hard it was for his body to register the oxygen. "I just need to…" He didn't finish the sentence. He couldn't finish it. What was he supposed to say? 'I just need to pick up the pieces of my heart, so I can go out there and pretend that I can't stand the girl starring in all my dreams and my every bloody waking fantasy'? He was screwed.

"It doesn't look like nothing," Myrtle observed. "You can tell me."

He wanted to, he realized to his great surprise. He longed to tell someone. But he couldn't. Myrtle wasn't the brightest of people – or ghosts – and couldn't be trusted not to let something slip.

"I'm fine," he said. "Please leave me alone."

He wished he had appreciated Hermione more – been nicer to her or something. He ached just to hold her again and cursed himself for not savoring it while he had the chance. He had assumed there'd be another time, another chance. There wouldn't now, not ever. Even if the Dark Lord were defeated, they wouldn't have a chance. He was on the wrong side. He would kill Dumbledore or die trying, and she would forever hate him for his treachery. Even if she might come to understand his motives, she would hate him for not doing what she'd call the right thing.

The odds of him surviving the next few months were extremely bad, anyway.

When he had realized that he did indeed love her, he had wanted to break it off right away. He knew that while there might be some quarter given when it was just a physical relationship, loving her was unacceptable. Even his parents might cut him off for that. But then, after he had done some thinking, he had arrived at the conclusion that he was likely to die and that nobody would get hurt by him stealing a little happiness before that happened. He would love Hermione so often and so well that she would have no cause for complaint. He would make sure that she wouldn't regret it, even after she realized what he was.

But it hadn't worked out like that. They had been caught before he could even get a satisfying kiss.

He felt the dampness on his cheeks and sneered at his own mirror image.

Get a grip!

He couldn't get a grip. Once the dam was breached, the flow only got worse.

He would never touch her again. Never kiss her. She would never know how much he longed to. She would have to be convinced that he was a coldhearted bastard who had only been using her, when nothing could be further from the truth.

A heart-wrenching sob racked his body.

"It gets better if you talk about it…" Myrtle said in a gentle voice.

And to his own great horror, he did

Draco took to avoiding Hermione, but he knew he was living on borrowed time. She would bounce back and seek him out once enough time had passed. She might think herself weak and him a cold and arrogant prat, but in reality she was gutsy and determined, and she knew him much better than either of them would openly admit. These were all things he loved about her, but it was also what made him need to be ruthless to her. If she started pursuing him, he would without a doubt succumb to her advances, and he couldn't allow that to happen.

A week passed. Two. The days blurred together, and the weeks just kept passing. Draco was both glad that he was allowed time to compose himself and wishing that it would truly be over. Not even almost killing Ronald Weasley by mistake cheered him. It was probably the 'almost' bit, because Merlin knew he would love to see the whole Weasley branch eradicated.

Potter getting brained at yet another Quidditch match that Draco chose to miss, helped a little more, but again – the fact that he'd get over it ruined it. That, and the way he caught a glimpse of a worried and relieved Hermione later that day. He could never wish unhappiness on her. If Potter living made her happy, then he would almost gladly tolerate his existence.

This annoyed him. Since when was he such a lovesick fool? He'd never get the girl, and if this was being in love, then good riddance! He didn't like being subject to her every mood and whim when they hadn't even spoken in weeks! He didn't like pining for her at night! He didn't like all this… feeling! Gladly tolerate Potter's existence, indeed!

Still, he wouldn't change a thing about what had happened. If he could do it all over, he'd only not get caught.

Ginny Weasley was looking at him with even more contempt than she usually did, which really didn't bother him at all, but her relationship with Hermione also seemed strained. What was wrong with the brainless little bitch? Couldn't she tell that Hermione probably would need a friend who knew what was going on, right about now? Hermione might not love him, but he had been her first lover, and he was by now being an enormous jerk to her at every chance he got. He saw the hurt in her eyes when he taunted her, and it tore at him. The Weasley chit should be comforting her, not judging her.

Merlin knew that he was glad that he had someone he could confide at least partly in, even though it was just a silly ghost, and even though he couldn't be too specific. Somehow it made everything a little easier to hear someone tell him that he wasn't the worst creep on the planet, and that it would all be all right. Even if he knew it was all a lie.

He was deep in thought as he was quickly walking along the fourth floor corridor. The place was deserted as classes had already started. He was late again, and he didn't really care.

Suddenly a certain brunette stepped out from the shadows to block his way.

"Get out of my way, Mudblood," he snarled. Their agreement had expired as soon as he hadn't needed her anymore, which was ironic in its own way.

"No," Hermione replied in a clear and steady voice.

"I'm late for class," he said, attempting to push her away, but finding himself at wandpoint.

"Isn't that just too bad?" she coolly asked. "We will talk."

He never thought he'd see the day when she didn't care about classes. "I have nothing to talk to the likes of you about," he responded. "Now get that wand out of my face and scram."

She rolled her eyes at him. "You're trying too hard," she informed him. "Why?"

"On the contrary, my little Mudslut, I stopped trying at all." He leaned his shoulder lazily against the wall.

"I don't believe you."

He sighed. "Look, Granger," he calmly said. "I know that I'll be hard to top in the sack, but you really have to let it go."

She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you?"

You don't want to know.

"You bloody well know who I am," he said irritably. "It's not my fault that you're so fucking gullible that you'll jump into bed with anyone who makes moony eyes at you."

He noticed the hurt before she managed to hide it. Why couldn't she just leave him alone? He wanted to pull her close and kiss her until the world went away and instead he had to stand here, watching her just accept the blows. Why? Why couldn't she just give it up? Why couldn't she stop being so bloody stubborn, just this once?

"I didn't see you complaining," she calmly replied. "In spite of me being a Mudblood and all."

"Well," he said, deliberately giving her his most lecherous look. "I have to admit that you were good. You could easily go pro, you know… I guess your kind has some uses."

She gasped as if he'd slapped her. In a sense, he supposed he had. He calmly met her eyes. She was obviously fighting for some control. He wished that she would slap him and tell him never to go near her again.

"This isn't the last of it," she said in a trembling voice, before she turned and walked away from him.

He was afraid that she was right.

Draco didn't drink. Alcohol made people do stupid and embarrassing things, and he had never seen the appeal of it. He preferred to point and laugh at those who did drink and perhaps blackmail them the next day using photographs of them in assorted compromising positions. At least that was his usual modus operandi.

Tonight he had decided to forget all that and had robbed Crabbe's stash. Well, not literally robbed. He had, in fact, paid generously for the goods. He just really wanted to sleep tonight and he had been assured that if he consumed enough firewhisky, then he would sleep soundly for several hours. He was currently working on that. He couldn't drink too fast, though, or he would just get sick. Fortunately, it probably wouldn't take much, since he wasn't used to the stuff.

He grimaced as he took another gulp. It burned. He actually rather liked that feeling; it matched his mood. But it still took some getting used to.

He was lounging on a comfortable sofa in the common room, which was already deserted. Maybe not 'already' since it was 2 a.m., but it was Friday and that usually meant that some people stayed up later. Still, it didn't matter; he didn't want to be sociable.

Another swallow; another grimace.

When was this stuff supposed to start working, anyway? He didn't feel anything. He was tired, to be sure, but he always was. He hadn't had a decent night's sleep since he had to sleep alone again. He used to either not have the nightmares or to wake up and hear Hermione's soft breathing and feel her slow heartbeat as her warm body was snuggled against him. He would bury his face in her wild hair, and it would calm him and lull him right back to sleep. The cold, empty darkness didn't quite have the same effect.

He was lifting the glass to his lips again as Shaw entered the room from the dormitories. Perhaps she couldn't sleep either.

"Drinking alone, Draco?" she asked, sounding amused. "That's never a good sign."

"Shut up," he said unceremoniously as he took another swig.

"You're such a prat," she said, but instead of leaving him alone, she went over and sat down next to him. Unfortunately she knew him well enough not to take his words at face value. "Can a girl have a taste?"

"Only got one glass," he said, about to lift it again, as it was lifted from his hand, and she drained it. He looked at her with some amusement; the girl was certainly not shy.

"So," she said, grimacing. Draco was glad he wasn't the only one doing that. "I know why I'm drinking, why are you?"

"None of your fucking business," he said, snatching back the glass and refilling it.

"You're such a bundle of joy tonight, Draco," she said, leaning back and stretching, which incidentally showed off her breasts to an advantage. Draco didn't even bother hiding his glance, as he was perfectly aware that she knew it too. "I bet you it's a girl," she added.

"I already told you it was none of your business," he said irritably, downing half of his glass and wincing as the burn brought tears to his eyes. He coughed slightly.

"She pretty?" she teased. "How does it feel, not having the luxury of not caring?"

"So, what are you up to, Marilyn?" he countered. "Still mooning after Zabini while he sneaks off to shag Pansy? Or doesn't he even bother to sneak anymore?"

That got a rise out of her. "What the fuck do you know?" she growled, again snatching his drink and swigging it. Her eyes were shiny and her cheeks were tinged with red. Draco felt a brief pang of empathy, as he realized that she might be feeling some of the same things he was.

"I know that it's about time you got over him and moved on," he said, accepting his glass back. "He doesn't even respect you. Why the hell do you let him carry on like this?"

"Look who's talking," she sneered. "Treated Pansy like dirt for months and now you're here, drinking, because whoever she is doesn't want you. You're one fucked up mess, you know that?"

"Who said she didn't want me?" he said tonelessly, regretting it the minute the words were out. Perhaps this stuff had an effect after all. He'd better be careful.

Marilyn's eyes widened. "If she does want you, then—"

"Just stay the fuck out of it!" he growled. "It's none of your goddamn business why I'm doing this!"

She moved closer to him. "Fine," she said. "But I get to have more of that drink."

He handed her his glass. Three quarters of the bottle was gone now. Was that a lot? He had no clue. But his thoughts were less intense and that was a relief in itself. She leaned in to get the bottle from him, and his eyes fell on her chest again. She giggled.

"Want to feel them?" she asked, taking another generous swig of the golden liquid.

His eyes widened slightly. "Merlin, Marilyn, no!" he said.

"Why not?" she asked. "You wouldn't be the first. Probably not the last, either."

"You're drunk!" he said, relieving her of his glass and booze. "Go to bed."

"Yours or mine?" she asked, winking at him.

"Yours," he said without hesitation.

She pouted a little. She had the art of pouting down to perfection. "I don't want to," she said. "Why do you have to be such a stickler?"

"You'll thank me in the morning."

"No, I won't," she said, moving closer to him on all fours on the couch. "What's the problem? People think we're doing it anyway…"

"I'm not Zabini," he said. "It's not me you want."

He was, however, unable to not react to her proposition. He doubted any boy in school would be immune. He shifted a little so she wouldn't notice.

She smiled sadly. "If you were Blaise, I would want a whole lot more than just this. As it is, however, this will do." She leaned closer and kissed him.

He jumped back. "Fuck, Marilyn, stop it!" he exclaimed.

It was all of a sudden as if his mind was wrapped in wool and he found it hard to think coherently, but he knew he didn't really want this. At the same time, he was well aware of how soft she felt against him, and how lonely these past weeks had been.

His weakness when it came to women really was overwhelming.

She leaned in and kissed him again, and this time he pulled her closer, crushing her, willing her to object, to push him away. She didn't. She was soft and compliant. He longed for something warm and yielding. He couldn't turn her down, didn't want to say no again.

Blocking out all thought, he aimed to forget.

He woke up, heart pounding. He hadn't had a nightmare, but something was bothering him, making him feel guilty and on edge. This was combined with a slight headache and a sour taste in his mouth. Right. He had been drinking. With a start, he realized that he wasn't alone.


No, not Hermione. His heart sinking and bile rising in his throat, he realized what he had allowed to happen. He edged as far away from the sleeping form as he could, lighting his wand, before poking her with a foot.

"Wake up!" he whispered, not quite wanting to hear his own voice. If he didn't, then maybe this wasn't real. "Go back to your own bed!" Yes, please go back to your bed. I don't want you sleeping in mine.

"Hmpf," Marilyn mumbled sleepily. "Back to your charming old self, are you?" she sat up, stretching and yawning, allowing him a perfectly good view of her naked body. He looked away.

"You don't want Zabini seeing you coming from my bed, do you?" he asked bitterly. He hadn't wanted this.

"You know perfectly well that he wouldn't care," she replied as she was slipping on her underwear. "And that if he did, I would be thrilled."

Yes, he knew. But he couldn't be rid of her fast enough. "Just leave," he said.

She smiled a little sadly at him. "Don't worry, she'll never know. Not from me."

An involuntary shudder went through him and his vision got blurry. "Get out of here," he whispered.

She pulled on her robes. "I thought that there was no way that you could be worse off than me, but I was wrong. I don't envy your being in love with Granger, what with the Dark L—"

"WHAT?" He had blanched and was staring at her.

She stopped in the middle of righting her robes and gave him a reproachful look. "I'm not stupid, Draco," she said. "You said her name."

Had he? He couldn't remember. He didn't want to try. He had just put Hermione in an even greater danger than she already was. He gripped his wand tighter and wondered what it would take to right this wrong.

"No need to look at me like that," she continued. "Your secret is safe with me. I have no reason to want to hurt either of you."

"I'll kill you before you hurt her," he said, not caring how revealing that statement was.

She nodded. "I suspected as much. But do be careful what names you call your partners, not everyone is as accepting as me."

"And why would you accept being used to fill in for a Mudblood?" he had to ask.

"I already knew I was being used, as were you, and my brother married one to our parents' great chagrin. They're a lot like us, really, aren't they?"

He didn't reply. No, they weren't. If Hermione was anything to go by, they were a whole lot better.

Marilyn smiled softly at him. "See you around," she quietly said and then slipped out and disappeared.

He laid down and finally gave in to the overwhelming sense of remorse that was threatening to consume him.

Now she has even more reason to hate me. All I wanted was her, and I can't even tell her.

He knew that he wasn't with Hermione anymore; he knew that he never really had been. He knew that he couldn't ever be with her again. Still, he felt as if he'd betrayed her. He knew without a doubt that she'd feel the same way if she ever found out. He swallowed hard and tears sprang to his eyes for Merlin only knew what time since that dreadful day they were found out. He didn't want to hurt her. He didn't want her to hate him. He desperately wanted her to fall in love with him too.

But he knew what he had to do.

Draco didn't have to wait long. In fact, the wait was lamentably short. He almost panicked when she managed to corner him in public. He couldn't use force to intimidate her or rush off without attracting attention now. Still, her plan was somewhat flawed, it seemed, for he wouldn't be able to speak to her civilly either. This didn't seem to faze her.

"Why don't you go play with those first year Hufflepuffs a bit?" he asked Crabbe. "It seems like they don't know the rules." He nodded towards a group of children whose only offense was not staying sufficiently out of the way. "You too, Goyle."

They looked at him oddly but obeyed. They weren't quite ready to disobey him yet, but they were becoming a liability. They knew that his family's standing with the Dark Lord was rapidly decreasing, and if he didn't finish his mission soon, they would rebel. He supposed it was pure survival instinct on their part.

"Charming," Hermione drily said. "For my benefit, I suppose?"

She looks lovely today. Did someone tell her? They should.

"What do you want, Granger? I haven't got all day." He looked away, as he couldn't quite look her in the eye, his heart still pounding with near-panic. Instead he caught Marilyn's eye over Hermione's shoulder. She wasn't close enough to hear anything that was said, but her look of sympathy was apparent.

"I want you to fulfill the last part of our agreement," she calmly said.

"What are you talking about?" he sneered.

She smirked at him. "Conveniently forgot, did you? My free request."

'I get one free request. At any time I may ask you for any one thing and you will have to do or give it.'

He had forgotten. He could think of nothing that he could do or give that would not conflict with his own stipulation: Only if at all possible without risking my life, or worse, risking hers.

"What is it you want, then?" he hoarsely asked. "Compensation for your… time?"

Her eyes flared angrily. "You can forget about keeping that up, Malfoy. We both know better."

"Then what?" he asked.

"Tell me what's going on," she said. "Tell me why you're acting like this."

He felt as if he'd been punched, and his eyes widened slightly, giving away his surprise. He couldn't tell her that he was trying to keep her safe, because then she would only scoff at him and tell him just how capable she was. He couldn't tell her about the extent of the danger, because then she'd demand to know more, and he really couldn't tell her about his mission. If he told her about that, she would expect him to become a bloody hero, and when he failed to do that, she would have no choice but to go to the Order with her information. He couldn't tell her anything. He briefly wondered how bad a curse she had attached to this particular clause.

"Well?" she asked impatiently. "I'm waiting."

"There's been someone else," he blurted out. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't actually answering the question either. He suspected that if she attached a curse to this clause at all, it would be related to whether he told the truth, not whether he answered the question. He also realized that he needed to tell her, so that she would stay away, and doing it under the cover of her own attempt at extracting the truth from him was not a bad plan at all. In fact, it was cruel and devious and she would never forgive him, even if she found out that he was bending the truth.

He felt the panic rising again, as he knew he wouldn't be able to turn back from this. Perhaps it really wasn't necessary to tell her. Perhaps she would accept that he'd just lost interest. He didn't want to tell her, he didn't want to see the look in her eyes when truth hit home, didn't want to truly alienate her.

He didn't want to eradicate all hope.

She obviously didn't believe him. "Really?" she asked. "And who might that be?"

His eyes flickered back to Marilyn, who was still watching them, and Hermione followed his gaze.

"Her? Oh, come on, Malfoy! You tried that one on me before."

Yes, isn't that ironic? I didn't even want her then, either. I just wanted to provoke that fire and fierceness in you that made you almost devour me whole.

He slowly began untying the scarf that he was wearing under the guise of a slight cold. He noticed the widening in Marilyn's eyes as she realized what he was up to. She even shook her head at him, motioning for him to stop it, but he ignored her. This was what he had to do.

Removing his scarf, he craned his neck so Hermione would get a better view of the slowly fading bruises covering it and trailing down onto his shoulders. The night he had spent with Marilyn had been far from gentle, and he knew that it showed. It had been a hard and bruising fuck, where he had kept demanding more, and where nothing had been enough.

That wasn't to say that he hadn't gotten off, only that it had hardly been as satisfactory as making love to Hermione was. Not even close. He knew that Hermione would recognize the bruises for what they were, having adeptly administered a few to him herself over the months.

"Want to see my back too?" he asked in a distant voice. "I hear it's quite a sight. And my left arm…"

Hermione had gone completely still. She looked stricken and more than a little nauseous. He could relate. Tears were gathering in her eyes. Fuck, not here. He hurriedly replaced the scarf, blocking the view from her, carefully avoiding looking at both Hermione and Marilyn.

"Y-you claimed you weren't into her," Hermione said in a low, hurt, and confused voice. "You said…"

"And it surprises you that I lied, why?" he asked, just wishing to be dead already. "I cheated on Pansy with you, and sleeping with Marilyn hardly qualifies as cheating on anyone."

I was unfaithful to you, I know. Please forgive me after I'm dead, even if you don't know my reasons.

"Do you love her?" she asked. "Is that why?" She would actually forgive the supposed deceit if it was because he had fallen in love? Yes, he supposed she would. She was all honorable like that.

He gave a short, bitter bark of a laughter. "What's love got to do with fucking?" he asked. "I hope you know better than to mix up those two things. I would hate to get stuck with tender feelings from a Mudblood."

Are you mad enough yet? Have I burned the pain out of you? Attempting to cauterize your wounds is the least I can do to stop you from feeling my agony.

She was unable to keep back a sob as tears spilled from her eyes. It broke his heart all over again. Why did he have to be so good at hurting her? He wanted to say something, to comfort her, but he couldn't. Instead he just stood there, watching, as she turned and ran from him. She was openly crying, not caring how many saw her.

Marilyn started walking towards him, but before she could reach him, someone violently grabbed his arm and flung him around.

"What did you do to her?" Potter furiously screamed at him. "What did you say to her, you miserable sack of filth?" Draco didn't have time to reply, before he received a punch to the gut.

Welcoming the fight, he tackled the other boy.