It was the week of the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test, also known as the NEWTS. To say that Hermione was a little overwhelmed was an understatement. As it stood now, she was scheduled for ten NEWTS: Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures, Arithmancy, History of Magic, Herbology, Astronomy, Potions, and Ancient Runes. Which, roughly translated, meant everyday for the next five days she was going to be spending the entire day with two different life changing test in front of her. Yes, overwhelmed was an understatement, stressed out didn't even begin to cover it.

Simply put, she was a bundle of nerves and anxiety.

Suddenly everything was becoming clear in a painful, sharp way. Her time at Hogwarts was almost over, two and a half more weeks and she'd leave, probably never to return. Her friendship with Ron and Harry seemed to be following that same path. Two days wasn't a long time not to talk to them, but when she only had sixteen days left to see them every day, it felt like a lot. It felt like a lifetime.

At the moment, Hermione stood in front of the mirror, brushing her hair, preparing for her two tests for the day which happened to be Astronomy and Ancient Runes. She had almost decided not to take the test for Astronomy but one never knew when the credentials to know about stars and planets would be needed, so take it she would. Hermione also wanted to be the first student in recent memory to get an 'Outstanding' in ten NEWT subjects. She wanted that. She needed it.

Despite her anxiety, there was a certain calm in knowing that she had spent nearly seven years getting to this point. She had the knowledge, now all she had to do was apply it. It was strange, but underneath her layer of panic and fear of failure, she had confidence in herself. She had studied, she had done the review assignments, there was nothing left to be done.

She wished she could say that she had the same inner confidence about her relationship with her best friends. Ron and Harry had made no effort to try to contact her and her wounded pride had made it impossible for her to make the first move. Whenever she thought about how things were, she felt herself getting panicked. Seven years had boiled down into not being on speaking terms with her best friends. It felt like the end of an era, more daunting than no longer being at Hogwarts, or even being unmarried. Losing them made her feel like she was losing even more of who she was, or used to be.

While Hermione couldn't arrange them in order, she was fairly certain that she had gone through several stages of grief over the past day and a half since everything had been ruined by her request to include Draco in Dumbledore's Army. She had spent that entire night wrapped in Draco's arms crying while he either slept or pretended to. She had a feeling that he had been awake for most of the time, but unable to think of anything to do to make it better.

The strange thing was that she felt guilty for crying around him. It was something she was quite sure that he had little or no experience with and she hated that she was probably making him so uncomfortable. The next day had been spent in varying degrees of denial and anger. She'd been sure that one of them would come and get her for the DA meeting. Or send her a note, maybe ask Ginny to come for her. When none of that had happened the anger hit her.

Who were they to make her life any more difficult than it was? What kind of friends would do that? Horrible ones. Horrible, horrible, horrible ones that had never cared about her at all to begin with. Had only used her because she was intelligent and helpful and the minute she didn't obey them she just wasn't worth being friends with anymore.

The logical part of her brain knew that none of that was the truth and she was just angry and hurt. Honestly, her heart felt abandoned in the worst way possible. Last night as she'd laid in bed next to Draco she thought about going to them, telling them that she'd find some way to get away from Draco. That nothing that she felt for him was real and it was all a mistake. She had almost talked herself into doing just that when he snored right next to her ear in the most adorable way. She had burst into quiet tears.

When that had subsided she realized that there wasn't anything that she could do to fix things. Since waking up this morning she'd been in a constant state of acceptance mixed with a crushing hope that things would be okay and a sense of dread and despair that they wouldn't.

Hermione looked at the clock in the Common Room once she had finished getting ready for the day. She grabbed her things and then in a heart plummeting moment she realized that if she went downstairs to the Great Hall then she'd have nowhere to sit. Or rather have to sit with those that didn't want her.

She also realized how considerate Draco had been the day before. Yesterday they'd slept in late, something that she had desperately needed after spending more than half the night in tears. After waking up, Draco had suggested that they study together. He wasn't taking as many NEWTs as she was but there were still several subjects they had in common. Hermione had been so preoccupied that she hadn't even really realized that Draco had gone downstairs and brought both lunch and dinner up to the Common Room for them both.

Hermione leaned against the wall, annoyed with the lack of appreciation on her part. It had been… well… thoughtful and she wasn't even sure she remembered saying 'thank you'. She looked at the clock again, she had more than enough time to go down to the kitchen and fix them plates and be back by the time he got out of the shower.

A little while later she walked up the stairs with a tray laden with food. She didn't know what he liked so she had gotten a little bit of everything. There had only been two blueberry muffins left, one of her favorites, and she had eaten one while talking to Dobby and she was claiming the other one as well. If he was in the mood for blueberry muffins he was out of luck. Muffins were a good comfort food for her.

She walked into the Common Room and heard the shower running. As she walked towards the sitting area she had to pass the bathroom and she noticed the door was wide open. She resisted the urge to look inside and went over to the coffee table where she sat the tray on the table and greedily began to devour the remaining blueberry muffin. She heard the water turn off and figured that he was finishing up his morning routine. He was quite speedy at getting ready. Waking up late all the time she supposed he had to be. Even after all of these years, Hermione still tended to do most things in a Muggle way. Draco, however, had spells to dry off, to comb his hair, to make him smell nice. She heard him leave the bathroom and when she looked up she almost choked on her food.

He obviously didn't use a spell to get dressed. Or use a towel for that matter.

It took him a moment to see her, and at the same moment that he saw her, she realized that she shouldn't still be seeing him. With her face turning several shades of red she covered her eyes and tried to swallow the bit of muffin that seemed lodged in her throat.

"I thought you had gone down to the Great Hall," she heard him say and there was no mistaking the amusement in his voice.

"Breakfast," she managed to choke out, although it was far from an elaborate explanation. She couldn't believe that she had seen him completely naked. She knew what the male anatomy looked like, after all she had read books, but seeing… it… in person was an entirely different experience.

"If you wanted to see me naked all you had to do was ask. You didn't have to ambush me," he said and she could just imagine the smile on his face. She resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him but thought better of it when she realized it might be construed as an offer. Ambush indeed.

"If I wanted to see you naked I think I would pick a more convenient time, such as later tonight," she replied smugly. She could give as good as she got. Hermione was pleased to hear silence. She liked making him speechless and her mind was speedily processing just how many ways she could do that. After a few seconds he seemed to recover.

"Only if it's reciprocated," he said before she heard his bedroom door shut. Peeking out from behind her fingers to make sure he was really gone, she rolled her eyes. Maybe in his dreams. Or as it stood now, hers.

Several hours later, after her extremely enjoyable breakfast, Hermione was quite exhausted. Her brain hurt from thinking so much and she wished she had an "off" switch. She had done well on both of her tests, at least it had felt that way, and she had to admit that she was very proud of how easily the answers came to her. That meant two down, eight to go. She was on her way to the Common Room when she heard a voice behind her, calling her name.

Hermione was alternatively sad and happy to see that it was Ginny. They had actually spoken yesterday so she knew she wasn't on Ginny's Ignore List. Harry had explained everything to Ginny and Hermione was happy that she hadn't had to. She was also very relieved that Ginny hadn't felt the need to pick sides in the matter either. Ginny was just as fiery and opinionated as ever but this time she wasn't voicing them. Hermione had a feeling that Ginny would take Ron's side in the matter anyway, no matter what advice she had given Hermione in the past.

Hermione hoped in vain that maybe Harry and Ron had sent Ginny to tell her that they were ready to speak to her again.

Ginny jumped into the latest Gryffindor gossip as they walked up to Hermione's Common Room and Hermione began to lose hope that there was some kind of reconciliation on the horizon. They finally reached the door and Ginny pulled out an envelope and Hermione felt her heart jump into her throat. She just wanted things back the way they were.

"Before I forget, the owls dropped this off at breakfast this morning where you usually sit. It's from your parents," Ginny said as she handed it to her.

Hermione tried to swallow her disappointment as she took the letter.

"Would you like to come in?" asked Hermione, suddenly desperate for some sort of contact with the happier days of her past.

"I would, but I promised a game of exploding snap to Seamus and Dean, I think the NEWTs have fried their brains. You're welcome to join. It'll just be the four of us."

As tempting as it was, the thought of running into Ron and Harry and the awkwardness that would ensue, made up her mind for her. She didn't feel welcome in the Gryffindor Common Room anymore.

"I would but I should probably be -"

"Studying," Ginny said with a grin that reminded her painfully of Ron's.

"Exactly," Hermione said with a forced smile. She wished Ginny good night and then she made her way inside.

It was then that she pulled out the letter and looked at it with a mixture of guilt and dread. Over the last few months Hermione had noticed that it took longer for her to respond to her parent's letters and her responses were always short and distracted. There had been so much going on, fights with Draco, getting along with Draco, studying, the DA… she hated to admit that she had been neglecting them.

She was at a complete loss as to how to explain anything that was going on in her life to them. Shortly after the whole marriage business she had made it a point to mention Draco in one of her letters to them, telling them that she really liked him. It had been her way of laying the ground work for telling them about the marriage, something that she hadn't even began to get around to in the last four months.

She had awkwardly tried to hint that they were "dating" but she wasn't even sure that was coming across very well. After all, they were used to her talking about male friends. She was going to have to figure out something to tell them eventually. She would probably never tell them that she and Draco were married. Instead she would let them know that it was a serious relationship in which they lived together and just leave it at that.

Draco wasn't there yet so Hermione lit a fire in the fireplace and sat down in one of the arm chairs and opened the letter. It was then that she realized that she had forgotten to respond to the letter that they'd written her a few weeks ago. She tried to push away even more guilt as she unfolded the crisp white paper.

She read through the letter, feeling like a horrible daughter as they acknowledged that she had forgotten to write them, but it was understood she was probably busy preparing for her exams. She knew she was blessed to have such wonderful parents. They asked her what her plans were for after graduation. It was a frequent question that Hermione was used to evading. She supposed that with Graduation only a few weeks away she was going to have to tell them something.

Of course they would be coming to her graduation, that was inevitable, but she wouldn't be leaving with them, Harry, and Ron as originally planned. Instead she would be whisked away to Malfoy Manor to be married and after that, well, she didn't know what was going to happen.

In the letter they asked about Draco, asked if they were going to get to meet him at graduation, and that he was invited to visit afterwards along with Ron and Harry if she wished. They hoped to hear from her soon and they wished her luck on her exams.

Hermione sighed and folded the paper back up, slipped it in the envelope, and sat it on the table. If only everyone could get along for her sake. She knew life was never that easy. Even if Harry and Ron could bring themselves to be polite to Draco, Hermione knew that it would be hard for Draco to be polite to them. Oh, he might be able to hold it in for a little while, but it would only be a matter of time before the old hatred bubbled up and insults were hurled. She wanted to spend time after graduation with all of them. She wanted to have her family back. She wanted to be able to invite Harry and Ron over for dinner with her and Draco. She wanted them to be at her wedding.

Oh Merlin. She hadn't thought of them not being at her wedding. She needed them there. How was she going to go through it alone? She quickly wiped at her eyes.

She just wanted to wake up and have it be a month from now. Maybe by then she'd actually have something figured out. Pushing the letter, and everything else, out of her head she picked up Godric's Hollow: A History. Just because she wasn't on speaking terms with Ron or Harry didn't mean that she was going to stop her research on a way to defeat Voldemort. Dumbledore had said the key might lie within Godric's Hollow, so Hermione was determined to find it if she could.

Draco turned up a little while later, thankfully with something to eat. They ate in a companionable silence, Hermione with her book sitting open in front of her so that she could read while eating, and Draco absently flipped though one of his books on Potions. Once she was done eating Hermione decided to take the plunge and talk to him about her parents. A topic they had never really discussed.

"My parents want to meet you," Hermione started out hesitantly. Draco looked up and raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"You told them about us?" he asked.

"No, not entirely. They don't know anything about the Marriage or how we've been staying here together. I just told them that I liked you. I've mentioned spending a lot of time with you. I'd like for you to meet them, that is, if you'd like to." Honestly Hermione was scared to death of Draco meeting her parents. Part of it was because she wanted them to like each other. Secondly, something that she didn't like admitting, she was worried because Draco was Draco, and her parents were Muggles.

She wasn't sure that Draco had ever actually had a conversation with a Muggle and while she was sure that he wouldn't openly insult them, she was worried about undertones of hatred, of superiority, of arrogance. He had changed in the last few months, there was no denying that, but she had a feeling that most of his change towards her was because of her, not because of a changing world view.

Draco was hesitating with the question. Did he have the same fears that she did? Maybe he wasn't ready. She wanted to be understanding but at the same time they were her parents, and she wouldn't ever want to hurt them. It seemed wrong to not let them meet someone who was going to be part of her life for an indeterminate amount of time.

"I'll meet them if you'd like me to," he said and Hermione could plainly see that he wasn't thrilled by the idea. She tried not to be disappointed, after all, she hadn't expected him to be excited about the idea.

"Does it bother you that they are Muggles?" she asked cautiously.

"A little," he admitted.


"It's hard to explain," he said uncomfortably.

"Will you try?" she asked. She didn't know what she wanted him to say. Maybe she just wanted him to open up to her about it, maybe she wanted to find a way to change his mind. Honestly, she wanted him to say that being around her had changed his whole view of the world and all his prejudices and hatreds had disappeared. Too bad this wasn't a fantasy world.

"There are a lot of reasons that we don't like Muggles. It's not just because I've been taught that I am superior to them. I have also been taught that the reason that our worlds are separate is because if we were to reveal ourselves they would begrudge us our magic. They would want to experiment on us. They would envy us, and if they couldn't take what we had, then they would try to destroy us. It's hard to get over years of being taught that. I will meet them if it is important to you."

Hermione was amazed that she had never thought of things in the terms of how he had just laid them out for her. In her mind, Muggles needed to be protected from Wizards, she had never really thought of it in opposite terms before. She hated to admit that Draco might have a point. Humans, whether they had magic or not, were greedy by nature. All this time she had fought to defeat Voldemort and his obsession with suppressing and destroying Muggles she had never thought that roles could be reversed.

"I never thought of that," she admitted out loud to him. "Thank you for agreeing to meet them. They'll be at graduation, I don't know if your parents are coming but if they are could you… I don't want them to meet." Hermione didn't know why she couldn't just say that the thought of his parents meeting hers made her skin crawl. She didn't want her parents anywhere near Lucius Malfoy or his vapid tongue.

"I'll do my best to prevent that from happening," he said and she could hear the sincerity in his voice. She could also hear that he wasn't sure he could stop it if that was what his father wanted.

They spent the rest of the evening chatting about more positive things. They commiserated over the NEWTs, talked about Daily Prophet news, Voldemort never being mentioned. After awhile he asked her more about her parents and she told him a few choice childhood memories. She almost felt bad for having such a happy childhood. He probably couldn't relate to her at all on that level, but then again neither had Harry.

When she was in the midst of talking about a particularly wonderful Christmas, a random image slipped into her mind. She and Draco gathered around a Christmas tree in an attempt to decorate it. Complete with Draco wearing a Santa hat. The thought was so out of nowhere and amusing that the end of her sentenced dissolved into giggles.

She tried to recover, feeling suddenly embarrassed at having such a thought. She didn't want to share it. It seemed oddly intimate to admit that she could think of married life with him as being happy and joyful. She would like to make memories like that with him. She wanted to give him the happiness that his parents had never bothered to. He deserved happy memories.

Hermione realized awhile later that she had gotten absolutely no studying for the NEWTs done and she was surprisingly all right with that. It had been a good evening and she found herself more relaxed than she had been in days. Deciding that the best way to prepare for tomorrow was to get a good night's sleep, she got up and did her evening ritual of brushing her teeth and changing into her pajamas. When she came out of her room Draco was still sitting in his arm chair so she grabbed his hand and led him to the bedroom.

By this point she knew his room well enough, and what he put where, not to need to turn on the light. The darkness made the sudden, loud, 'tap-tapping' sound even more startling. Hermione jumped in surprise and breathed a sigh of relief when Draco turned the light on. She traced the sound to his window where a huge owl sat perched on the sill. She turned to Draco and noticed that he honestly looked scared.

She wasn't sure that she had seen that look before.

He let go of her hand and went for the window. Hermione sat down on the bed and got under the blankets. She watched the owl fly away as Draco closed the window, a rolled up piece of parchment in his hand. She had to admit that she was curious about what it said. To her disappointment he took the letter, opened his desk drawer, and put it inside, firmly shutting it.

"Aren't you going to read it?" she asked trying to sound nonchalant about it.

"Not tonight," he said turning out the light. She could hear, if not see, him taking off his clothes and changing into his sleepwear. Hermione had discovered that during their week of not talking he had reverted back to sleeping with his shirt off, something that he apparently did before they had started co-habitating. Not wanting to infringe on his comfort, and she had to admit that Draco, shirtless, was quite lovely, she had told him that she wouldn't mind the lack of shirt in the future. He'd been sleeping shirtless for the past few days, which was why she was confused when he climbed into bed, she reached for him, and felt the softness of shirt, not skin.

She tried not to sigh in disappointment. She couldn't quite make herself form any words to protest. There was a shyness that came over her when they were alone in bed together that rendered her quite speechless. She was however bold enough to slip her hand under his shirt to make contact with the smoothness of his chest.

His skin felt warm against the palm of her hand and she resisted the urge to let her hands travel elsewhere. She knew she wasn't ready for real intimacy, but sometimes her hands, and the rest of her body for that matter, protested her self control. Their 'wedding night' was quickly approaching and Hermione had to admit that there was part of her, quite a large part, that was looking for an excuse to 'give in'.

She fell into a deep sleep, falling asleep to thoughts of what it would really be like to be a wife.

Draco laid in bed listening to Hermione's deep, even, breathing. The last few days had been interesting. When it came to Hermione he felt completely lost. She had been going through so many emotions that frankly it scared him. Women were emotional creatures and that was something that he had avoided at all costs in the past. One reason why he got along so well with Pansy was the fact that as far as women went, she was pretty easy to deal with. Jealousy, anger, entitlement, those were the things that Pansy felt and those were the things he could handle.

Hermione however, was a spectrum of emotions. Ones that he was only beginning to be able to understand. Her emotions came from a different place than his or Pansy's and it was hard for him to understand them. So he tried his hardest to be there for her, which to him meant trying not to get in her way.

So far he believed he'd done a decent job. It was really all he could do. Someone else might have asked her to talk about her feelings, might have said some encouraging words, but that wasn't a man he could be. Still, he hoped that she realized that he was there for her in whatever way that he was capable of being.

He wasn't going to be able to sleep, not with the threat of his father's letter looming over him. His stomach was still in knots, not only over the fact that his father had written him, but the fact that Hermione had been there to witness it. He hoped he had schooled the look on his face as he had reached for the letter. He didn't want her to see that primal fear that his father instilled in him. Part of it was ego, part of it was knowing that Hermione was the most intelligent person he had ever met and he didn't want her to figure anything out.

She had lost her two best friends over the argument on whether or not to trust him. Whether or not he was a Death Eater. For all intents and purposes Weasely and Potter had been right about him. She had blindly defended him against all odds. The thought of revealing the truth to her made him break out into a cold sweat. As each week passed the stakes rose even higher. He wished that he'd had enough faith in her in the beginning to tell her that he was a Death Eater after it had happened, but now it was impossible. He couldn't even begin to fathom the depth of betrayal that she would feel. He didn't want to be that to her, so he was going to do whatever he could do to stop everything from crashing down around him.

At least that was the plan.

After awhile he fell into a restless sleep, plagued by nightmares about darkly cloaked figures.

When he woke up late in the morning Hermione was gone. She was probably doing some last minute studying or heading downstairs to start on her first of two NEWTs for the day. As opposed to her ten tests, Draco was only going to be doing Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, Potions. His test for today was Transfiguration which would take place later in the afternoon. Which meant he had the morning to himself. There were things that he needed to do, first and foremost, the letter from his father.

Draco noticed strange writing around the edges of the rolled parchment, which meant it was spelled to keep it from eyes that were not his. He carefully unfolded it and began reading.

I grow impatient Draco. The Dark Lord grows impatient. Each day Dumbledore and his allies grow stronger. We need to strike soon. We need to deal them a crushing blow. You are engaged to one who knows more than most. I need you to get information out of her or I will. She is only as useful as the information she supplies to us. So far there has been none. If that doesn't change she becomes expendable. Give us the location of the Order of the Phoenix. Give us the location of Remus Lupin or Alastor Moody. Tell us Potter's plans after graduation. Anything you can discover. You have three days. There will be consequences to failure.

Draco was surprised that his stomach wasn't bubbling with nausea, his heart wasn't pounding wildly. To be honest he felt strangely empty. He'd find some way to get out of this. Despite the reality of the situation there was something in him that was detached, that refused to believe that anything would happen to Hermione. Maybe it was Malfoy ego, maybe it was something akin to hope, either way he was going to protect her, and he was going to start this morning. With a flick of his wand he set the note on fire and then got showered, dressed, and headed up to the Owlery.

Then he found himself atop the astronomy tower, waiting, quite impatiently. Rarely did Draco Malfoy enjoy waiting for anything. He was leaning casually against the cool stone of the tower, his arms crossed in front of him as he got more impatient. It had almost been twenty minutes. How long did it take to walk up a flight of stairs? Maybe this wasn't the best plan after all. He was just about to abandon it and head to the library when he heard the door creak open and a red haired Weasely walk through it. The female one, of course.

It had actually occurred to him to get Weasely and Potter together and have some sort of man-to-men talk with them but at this point he honestly felt it was beneath him and not worth his time. He wasn't going to grovel to them, wasn't going to try to convince them that he was a changed man, he didn't really care what they thought. He did, however, care about Hermione and that was what made him consider it no matter how easily he dismissed it afterwards.

This one didn't absolutely despise him, and if she did, she was polite enough to keep it from showing. That in no way made her trustworthy, but it did make her just the littlest bit tolerable.

"I thought the signature on the note was some sort of joke," Ginny said with a raised eyebrow. Draco could only imagine what her reaction had been, regardless he was happy that she had decided to meet with her.

"What do you want?" she asked. Draco surprisingly didn't sense any hostility in her voice.

Draco had thought long and hard, many mornings, afternoons, and evenings about how this should go. He could be himself, which to anyone else besides Hermione, was cold, calculating and superior. Or he could be honest. Honesty didn't really suit him and neither did asking for favors. Draco Malfoy was about to do both.

"I need your help." Four words that had never together been uttered by one Draco Malfoy. They were as distasteful as he thought they would be. It did, however, get her attention and pique her curiosity.

"With what?" she asked slowly, the surprise evident on her face.

"Keeping Hermione safe," he said simply.

"Safe from who?" Ginny asked shrewdly.

"My father," Draco admitted despite his inner voice that told him to lie and manipulate. He was treading on a very thin line between lying and truth. He had never admitted to Hermione that his father planned to use her, honestly he didn't want to admit that to anyone.

"What does he plan to do to her?" Ginny asked moving a little bit closer. Draco had the faint notion that it was so she could more clearly look him in the eyes and discern the truth.

"I'm not entirely sure he plans to do anything, but I know my father, and I'm not willing to risk her." It came out sounding more desperate than he had originally planned so he decided to get it all out before the discomfort of the situation got to him.

"After Hermione and I are married I want to take her away, some place safe, that very night. I don't want her to stay at Malfoy Manor any longer than she has to. I was hoping that she and I could stay at your family's house. Just until things are… settled."

"Both of you?" Ginny asked, her face unable to mask her surprise. "Why not just Hermione?"

"If she leaves without me she'll be in violation of our contract and subject to the punishment of those terms."

Ginny seemed to think over her next question very carefully before she asked it. "You would leave everything for her?"

That was not the question that Draco had expected her to ask, nor was it one he really thought about. If he thought about losing his fortune, losing his place in society, being disowned by his parents, not to mention being a traitor to possibly the most evil wizard of all time, he honestly thought he might not be able to go through with it. So he didn't think about that, any of it, he thought about Hermione, and for now that gave him courage. "Yes," he said simply, unable to put his thoughts into any words other than that.

"Hermione is always welcome at the Burrow. You… I don't think… I'm not exactly sure… It will be difficult. Ron…" she trailed off and Draco tried to tell himself not to be bothered by the bleak outlook. It had been a long shot to think that the Weasleys would allow him, of all people to stay with them, but he was doing it for Hermione, and himself.

"I want her to be some place safe and familiar. I know that your family has never been too fond of me," That was putting it in the best light possible, "but I'm doing this for her. I don't want to be the one that ruins her life." That wasn't supposed to come out. He could feel his cheeks burning.

"I'll talk to my parents about it. You should really talk to Hermione about this, she deserves to know what's going on."

"She's under enough stress with the NEWTs. I will tell her eventually, I just don't want her to worry about this, any of it." He didn't want her to know that his father eventually planned on killing her.

"I'll ask my parents and tell you what they say. Thank you for trying to look out for her. If anyone ever hurt her I would kill them, personally." With that, she turned and walked out of the tower. Draco had a feeling she'd meant it.

Draco had one last thing to do before he could cram for his Transfiguration NEWT. He went back up to their dorm, grabbed pen and parchment, and sat in the common room looking at the sheet of blank paper. His father wanted some piece of information. Something that Hermione knew. Draco had to give him something.

As he looked around the room something occurred to him. Sitting on the coffee table, bookmarked by a piece of ribbon was a book on Godric's Hollow that Hermione had been reading. A brilliant idea occurred to him, he was going to send his father on a random goose chase. Hermione was always researching different things just for the fun of it. He could tell his father that she was looking into the history of Godric's Hollow and he'd never know that there was nothing at all to it. On the off chance that he was able to check up on Draco's information, which wasn't out of the question, it would be collaborated by the fact that Hermione had checked the book out of the library.

He could even make up some story about a hidden artifact. Hopefully that would keep his father busy and off his back for the next two weeks until graduation. If not, then he would just have to find something else to tell him. Pleased with his plan, Draco penned a quick note to his father explaining that Hermione was secretly researching Godric's Hollow for Potter. Draco also mentioned that Potter and Weasley were currently upset with her, but she was still meeting with Dumbledore. Draco felt bad putting that in here, felt bad that it was honest. He told himself that his father was going to find out one way or another. Draco wasn't naïve enough to believe that there weren't spies wandering the halls of Hogwarts. Somehow that information would get back to him, if it hadn't already.

With a sigh of almost relief, Draco sent the letter out with his owl and then sat down on the sofa, feeling the tension slowly releasing from his body. Just a few more weeks and everything would change. Everything. He would be free, honestly free, for the first time in his life. That thought made his heart pound and his breath catch in an almost panicked way in his chest. Free to go where he wanted, be what he wanted, with who he wanted. He could dream about the future, honestly dream, for the first time in his life.

As a child, dreams of his future had consisted only of what his father had wanted. Yes, there had been dreams of being a Quidditch star, but that had been something that he knew was impossible, one of those dreams you let yourself have just to pass the time. Now his dreams were real, tangible, for the first time he felt that unfurling of hope in his gut.

The dreams he was having of his future with Hermione were scary to him. Scary and wonderful. He had never imagined that he had the capacity to feel any of this. Maybe he was more human than he had ever realized he could be.

The next day, found Draco sitting in the Slytherin Common Room, a look of boredom in his face. Blaise had requested his presence so Draco had come despite that little voice in his head that said he probably should stay away. If he was being honest with himself, part of him felt guilty for the time he spent away from his housemates. For a long time they had been family. Dysfunctional, cruel, and backstabbing, but a family none-the-less.

It was ridiculous that he should feel this way but he had spent nearly seven years asserting himself into this group. Controlling them, manipulating them, having them do his bidding. He had been their Prince. He had wanted to be at the top and he'd made it, and then he realized it had all been for nothing. Who cared? What did it matter? He had believed that when he graduated and got a job at the Ministry he would have connections with rich Pureblood families. That was important. It was important to know secrets and get dirt on the Slytherin. Things he could blackmail people with later in life, the ability to call in favors. There was a reason he had been who he was, and now it didn't matter.

Someone had got him a glass of wine and Draco couldn't help himself from sipping it absently. He'd just finished one of his NEWTs and he found that the wine soothed his nerves. Apparently several things had happened since he had moved in with Hermione. Most noteably an alliance between Blaise and Pansy. This surprised Draco and made him feel a slight tinge of jealousy. No one liked being replaced. As much as he loathed the person that he used to be, it was hard to fully let go of it.

Draco looked up from his thoughts as he noticed Blaise wave his hand and the room ominously cleared. Draco was impressed by the control and respect the other Slytherin was receiving.

Blaise waited until the last student had fled and then he turned to Draco, a smirk on his face.

"How's your breeding mare?" he asked casually. Draco fell easily back into his role and found himself smirking.

"Quite frigid actually," he said easily as his mind flashed to the warmth of her lips and the heat that radiated from her soft skin as he touched her.

"I find that interesting," Blaise said, eyes meeting Draco's.

"Why is that?" Draco asked, quite aware of exactly where this was going.

"One would think that if you weren't getting any from your soon-to-be wife then you would invite Pansy into your bed. Any girl for that matter. Rumor has it that Draco Malfoy has been without any for the first time in what would it be now? Three or four years? Taken to celibacy have you?"

"Certain sacrifices must be made in times like this." He said it casually as if it didn't matter. He was sure that Zabini was expecting him to complain and to insult Hermione but he didn't feel up to that level of acting, so instead he acted aloof, and superior, in part of course, because he was.

"But to sacrifice that?" Zabini said with a snicker. "Seems like a pretty big sacrifice. Especially for you."

"From what I hear I'm not missed," Draco said, reclining further back in his chair and taking a drink.

"Ah, Pansy, Pansy, Pansy. You know she's convinced that you're nursing a fierce jealousy over her and I," he said raising his glass in acknowledgement. "However I don't see it. I think I'm going to marry her. Eventually. Once this whole pureblood-dirtyblood marriage business is over. My father has someone in mind for me. One of our servant girls actually. You know how my father prefers dirty bloods to House Elves. Can't say that I blame him. Anyway, Detta is her name and she's not a bad lay. I found that out over Spring Break," he said with a licentious grin. "I felt like a test drive was in order," he said with a harsh chuckle. Draco felt the urge to roll his eyes but he resisted.

He found himself feeling grateful that he was Hermione's betrothed and not someone else. Someone who would degrade her and mistreat her. Who would have thought that Draco Malfoy, Master of mistreating women would ever think that?

There were times when he had gotten angry enough with Pansy that he had hit her.

Times when for the sake of conquest, he had manipulated girls into sleeping with him. He had ignored them afterwards. Shattered their self-esteem, ruined their relationships by manipulating them to cheat. He had been rough with them in the bedroom, thinking only of his needs and desires. There had been virgins and he couldn't have cared less except for the bragging rights that went with it.

It had made him feel good and powerful. Right now he just felt shame. It was so deep that he could never imagine telling Hermione about it. One more dark crevice in his soul that he would never be able to allow her to explore.

He brought his mind back to the subject at hand. So Blaise was planning on marrying Pansy someday? That came as a surprise to him. For almost seven years now Pansy had been his. His possession. His path to the future. He wasn't sure how he felt about the destruction of another one of his 'dreams'.

Another one down the drain.

He wasn't going to rise through the ranks of Death Eaters. One day replacing his father. One day, even replacing Voldemort.

He wasn't going to live in Malfoy Manor with Pansy by his side. Someone who shared his every dream of darkness.

Instead, he didn't know what he was going to do after graduation. There was a very real possibility that he would be destitute. No money, no power, no place to live. He was literally going to have nothing. Nothing but Hermione.

If she still wanted him after she found out the truth.

He was suddenly feeling panic bubbling up in his stomach.

He realized that Blaise was waiting for him to say something.

"And what does Pansy think about that?" he asked casually.

"I haven't asked. I believe she'll find it a favorable option though. How could she not?"

"If you're asking for my permission, I'm not giving it to you," he found himself saying bitterly. "Pansy will make up her own mind. If you'll excuse me, I have matters to attend to." With that he got up, placed his glass of wine on the table, after downing the last of it, and left the Slytherin Dungeons.

He found his feet on a path to finding Pansy Parkinson.