Hey, everybody. This is the last chapter of Crash and Burn, and it's about twice as long as I usually make 'em. I'd like you to read it v-e-r-y slowly and enjoy it thoroughly.

* * *

On Saturday, the seventh years buzzed with excitement. The only subject of conversation was the graduation ceremony, which would take place that evening, and the dance-ball that would follow. Girls besieged common rooms and dormitories, turning them into makeshift beauty parlours. The males, forced out of their territories, flocked to the Three Broomsticks for a Butterbeer to solidify their nerves. Some resisted, however, and quarrelled with the girls, getting bruises for their pains. Even some of the younger students were caught up in the wave of enthusiasm: Colin Creevey had been hired by Dumbledore as the official photographer of the event, and spent two hours painstakingly polishing the lens of his biggest camera.

In the Slytherin common room, Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode, two of the only three discernible females of that house, sat preparing themselves for the dance. Their dresses were spread out on chairs beside them, and a fairly large table had been covered with jars and pots of various cosmetics, none of which could have done much to improve their looks.

"This time tomorrow we'll be packing to leave this hell-hole," said Millicent. "Can't wait!"

"And we'll be home for good this time," added Pansy. "I can't wait either. The guys in my neighbourhood are so hot - you know, you saw them last summer. not like this bunch of smelly, moss-covered apes."

"Draco's hot," Millicent pointed out.

"Draco's gay," snapped Pansy, and flushed.

"Um. yeah. Yeah, he is." Millicent bit her lip. "Um. Pansy, are you okay?"

Pansy's whole face was reddening, and as Millicent watched, water gathered at the corner of her eye and dribbled down her cheek.

"I'm fucking fine," she snapped. "Milly, I know you're not the brightest of God's creatures, but even you should be smart enough to realize that it is not a good idea to talk to me about Draco!"

"I'm sorry," said Millicent in a very small voice.

Pansy would have liked to slap her across the head, but something close to pity stopped her hand from crashing down the top of Millicent's skull. She was Millicent's only friend; and even though the girl was a dull-witted, insensitive clod of a person, she and Millicent had spent all their schooldays and vacations together, and they were almost like sisters. Pansy couldn't possibly hit her; she decided instead to change the subject.

"Isn't my dress fab?" she asked.

"Yeah!" said Millicent, brightening up. "I was just thinking that! It's really great! You'll be the belle of the ball, for sure, and people will be tripping over each other trying to get close enough to you to ask you to dance! You'll look great in that dress! You look great in anything!"

Her kind words were lies. Pansy had lost much weight - finding out that Draco swung the other way had depressed her, and for weeks, she had not bothered to eat more than necessary to keep her alive - but that was not enough; her facial features stood between her and genuine attractiveness. Pansy had large, far-apart eyes, brown, sparsely lashed and blank, a pink mouth shaped like a heart, and a ski-jump nose. Her features would not have looked so bad by themselves, but together they created a rather odd-looking face.

"Thanks," said Pansy gratefully, always happy for a self-esteem booster.

Somewhere in the room, somebody snorted, derisively and loudly.

Millicent started, and whirled around indignantly; she stupidly thought each of her conversations important enough to deserve secrecy, and became furious when she discovered she'd been eavesdropped upon. "Who's there?" she barked.

Pansy spotted a figure sitting in the corner of the room, but couldn't make out his or her face. She squinted, cursing the darkness - there were no windows in the dungeons.

"It's me, for fuck's sake," said the figure.

Pansy recognised the voice. "Blaise!" she exclaimed.

"What were you snorting at?"

"At you, because you just sound so stupid, and at all the shit that comes out of Bulstrode's mouth. Do you actually mean any of that shit, Bulstrode?"

Pansy knew better than to take offence; Blaise had issues. She wisely sat back down, folded her hands in her lap, and said nothing. But Millicent had no such wisdom. "Oh, fuck off, you," she snapped. "You're the last person I want to see today."

"Ooh, good comeback," laughed Blaise.

"What are you doing there, anyway?" said Pansy. "Come here and let us beautify you," and she waved a powder puff beckoningly towards Blaise.

"I'd rather die that let you put that shit on my face."

"But don't you want to look pretty for the ball?"

"She knows there's no hope of that," muttered Millicent, and she smirked. Pansy elbowed her in the ribs.

"I personally don't give a flying fuck about the ball, or anything concerning it," said Blaise.

"Are you going to wear a dress, at least?" asked Pansy. She was worried about what the answer might be. Blaise was known for showing up at black- tie events in ripped jeans and shirts with "I fuck dogs" emblazoned across the chest.

"Yes," Blaise answered, looking as though the thought brought her no pleasure at all.

Pansy breathed a sigh of relief. Millicent took it to be her task to continue the attack: "What colour?"

"Black."

"Black! But all of us were going to wear House colours!"

"Millicent, fuck off, or you'll be going to the ball with a broken nose." Not one of Blaise's most intimidating threats, but an effective one nonetheless. Millicent glared, her hands on her hips, and backed down.

"Oh, come on, Blaise," said Pansy softly. "All the Slytherins agreed to wear House colours."

"Don't you know I'm a non-conformist?"

"You're not a non-conformist, you're just a party-pooper," snapped Millicent.

"Pouting is not a good idea for you, Bulstrode. It just shows off your fish- lips." Blaise smirked, and uncrossed her legs. "And besides, everyone's going to be wearing lime-green."

"What's wrong with lime-green?" Millicent asked with a sideways glance toward her dress, which was exactly that colour.

"You look like a tropical anaconda in that rag," said Blaise, "and you, Pansy, look like a disco ball in your dress."

"Kind as always," said Pansy.

Millicent was on the verge of saying something nasty, but at that moment Draco stepped in the room, causing a slight diversion. Pansy blushed turnip- red, and Blaise rolled her eyes at him. "About time you showed up," she told him.

"Whatcha doing, Draco?" asked Millicent, giving him a sweet look.

"Going out for a walk," said Draco.

"In your boxers?" Millicent squealed.

"Oh. My. God," went Pansy quietly, trying not to stare at Draco's smooth bare legs. It was the closest she'd ever gotten to seeing him naked.

"And with whom are you going to walk?" Millicent gave Pansy a not-so-subtle nudge with her foot.

"With me," said Blaise. She stood up and produced, from under the armchair's cushion, a wrinkled school robe, and passed it over Draco's head. Then she took him by the elbow and led him out of the room and into the hallway; he made no protest at all. Not until they were out on the grounds did Blaise speak again. "What's wrong with you?" she asked. "You don't wear boxers."

Draco shrugged.

"So. what are your plans for this summer?" asked Blaise. She knew the question was useless; Draco never made any plans, not of that sort. But even a stupid question was better than awkward silence.

"Go home, go clubbing, and fondle few pool boys."

"Really?" said Blaise.

"No. I think actually I'll go home, get drunk every night and wank under my bedcovers while dreaming of lost loves."

"Damn," Blaise spat. "I thought you were finally getting over Potter."

"I don't think I ever could," said Draco, and he added, "I don't think I want to."

Blaise scoffed. "You'd rather spend your life pining after an idiot, wouldn't you?"

"He's not an idiot. Why don't you like him?"

"He's a spineless do-gooder. What on earth made you fall in love with him?"

"I didn't even mean to, you know. I didn't even mean to." Draco shrugged again. "That's a hard question to answer, you know. Little things, I guess, that would seem silly to you. like the way his skin always smells of lavender and grass, or how his eyes reflect every single thing he looks at, and turns it green - I don't look half bad with green skin, you know - or how he always blushes when you tell him you love him, or that he's beautiful." He took a deep breath. "What made you fall in love with the Bootboy?"

"I can't even remember," said Blaise, "and it's useless now, anyway."

"Yes, I suppose it is. He's an idiot, you know - he'll never know what he missed out on."

Blaise snorted, and her head sank between her shoulders.

"What are your plans for this summer?" asked Draco. "Going to do anything major to celebrate your graduation?"

"Stupid question. You know me. The only thing I'm planning to do is get to your place as soon as possible."

"That should be pretty soon indeed," remarked Draco. "All you have to do is get in the Malfoy carriage with me at King's Cross."

"No, I can't, my mother wrote and in-sis-ted I spend time with her first." Blaise made a face. "She's rented a cottage somewhere in the countryside - a wizarding cottage, isn't it pathetic how she's trying to make friends now? - and she wants me to spend a month there with her. She wants to have enough time to brag to all her friends that her daughter just graduated, without actually telling them where I graduated from."

"But why will that be so horrible, exactly? You always make things seem worse than they actually are."

"She said in her letter that she's looking forward to shopping with me," said Blaise. "Doesn't that prove that she doesn't know me at all?"

"What's she planning to buy you?" said Draco with great interest. "Girly things?" His eyes sparkled.

"Shut up," said Blaise.

"I was just asking," said Draco, sounding offended.

"And she gave me directions to the cottage in her letter, because she can't be bothered to come pick me up at the train station," muttered Blaise. "People like her should not be allowed to breed."

"That's a bit harsh - don't be so hard on her. She's your mother, after all. She - gave birth to you."

"And that was the biggest mistake she made in her life! She didn't want me. She paid as little attention to me as you would to - to an ant on the floor of your room. When she and Father divorced she said to him, 'I hope you don't think she'll live with me'. I heard her say that - I was listening at the door. imagine how you'd feel if you'd heard your mother say that when you were six," said Blaise. "And when - when Father died, she sent me to live with you. I haven't actually seen her for two years. And you think I'm being hard on her?"

"She's obviously trying to make up for it now," Draco pointed out. "She wants to get to know you."

"Nobody should have to get to know their child." Blaise took a deep breath. "I am the product of two people who used a faulty condom."

Draco had no reply for that, because he felt Blaise was right, and so he said nothing. Blaise pursed her lips and seemed quite unwilling to say any more. They walked in circles around the lake. Blaise pulled out her wand and idly cursed a few skinny-dipping students. Shrieks of "OH MY GOD, WHERE DID IT GO?!" and "Eww - um, was that there when you took your clothes off?" filled the air.

"That was unnecessary," smirked Draco. "But highly amusing."

"An d that was the highlight of my day so far," said Blaise. "Pathetic, isn't it?"

"Now you're being hard on yourself," Draco told her. He paused a perfect beat, then added, "It's not like you ever do anything more interesting!"

"Now you're begging to be punched," Blaise said.

"Ohhh, you wouldn't do that and ruin my face, would you?"

Blaise mock-glared at him. There was another lull in the conversation, during which Draco began to whistle, and stopped when Blaise smacked him on the head. Finally Draco said, "Are you worried about tonight?"

"What, the dance?"

"Yeah."

"Not at all."

Draco sighed. "Blaise, hon, you're a very good liar, but you can't fool me."

"I can't?"

"I can tell you're quaking in your leather boots with fear."

"I'm only wearing socks," Blaise pointed out.

"Whatever." Draco waved his hand through the air.

"I just don't see why I should even go, since I won't be dancing with anybody, and there won't be anyone worth talking to."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why? 'Cause they're all idiots!"

"No, I mean why won't you be dancing with anyone?"

You know very well nobody will want to dance with me, you prat, so why are you asking? Blaise thought, and then, inexplicably, she felt a twinge of sadness when faced with her own unpopularity. "It doesn't matter," she said. "I'll show up, get my diploma, and crawl back to the dungeons."

Pause.

"My mother wants me to wear the dress she had on at her Sweet Sixteen birthday party," Blaise said quickly.

"What?!"

"Yes. Is that not ridiculous? It's blue and frilly."

"Um. It's been two years since your mother saw you in person, right?"

"Yeah."

"Does she remember what you look like?"

"Probably not," said Blaise, and she kicked the ground angrily, sending grass flying.

"I think you should give your mother a try," said Draco. "And if you don't like her, leave."

"What pisses me off the most," said Blaise, "is how whenever she has to fill in school forms she writes my name as 'Blaise Zabini'. By all rights it should be 'Blaise Malfoy'."

"You're disowning your own mother?"

"No, just her stupid last name," said Blaise. "And she should be going by 'Malfoy' too."

"But if she did you'd hate her for using your last name, and say she's doing it to move up in the world," said Draco wisely.

"Yes, of course I would," said Blaise, "but I'd admire her intelligence." She sighed again, very deeply, as though she was trying to drag all the air out of her lungs. "Draco, I really don't feel like talking about this anymore."

"Alright," said Draco. "Are you going to keep walking? I'm going back."

Blaise shrugged. "Go if you want to," she said, and just stayed there, looking stony. As she watched Draco retreat to the castle, she wondered bitterly at the back of her mind what would become of him, what would become of them both.

* * *

"I can't go out like this!"

"You can and you will. I haven't spent hours trying to make you look decent for nothing." Draco laughed. "Come, Blaise, you look stunning."

"This isn't me," Blaise said. She stared at her reflection. The girl in the mirror wore a strapless gown of black taffeta that rustled with her every movement. Around her waist she had a belt made of small jade snakes with their tails twisted together. Her dark brown hair was elegantly swept up, and there was a black velvet rose behind one ear. Her lips were magically reddened.

Behind this girl-who-was-not-her, she could see Draco grinning with pride. "You'll blow people away," he said.

"It's too tight." Blaise squeezed a fistful of taffeta.

"It's just fine."

"Draco, I can't."

He gripped her by the elbow and pulled her toward the door. "Are you afraid?" he taunted. That strategy always worked on Blaise.

"No!"

"Then what are you waiting for?" said Draco, with a falsely sweet look.

Blaise glared fiercely at him, and followed him out of the room and down the stairs into the Slytherin common room. There were three or four people there, including Crabbe, who rushed toward them as soon as he saw them. "Malfoy, hello," he said, his sycophantic voice respectful. He turned to Blaise. "And who is this beautiful lady?"

Draco opened his mouth to congratulate Crabbe on his smooth line, when he realized that the fat boy had actually failed to recognize Blaise. He tightened his grip on her elbow, fighting back a chuckle, and replied solemnly, "Prunella Sutton, Ravenclaw."

"Charmed," said Crabbe, bowing in a penguin-like way.

Blaise nodded demurely, her shoulders shaking with silent laughter. Crabbe bobbed away.

"Well," said Draco, "I have the feeling this is going to be a very interesting night."

* * *

Parvati studied herself in the mirror. She turned around to se herself from the back, raising a critical eyebrow at her reflection. She looked like a queen in her silk dress, a soft, airy creation the colour of the flesh of ripe black cherries. Its bodice was quite tight and had vines embroidered on in tiny ebony beads. Her hair now undulated over her shoulders and down her back - it was naturally curly, like her sister's, but she straightened it magically, out of vanity. She wore a small necklace made of alternating garnet and ebony beads, with a matching bracelet on her right hand, and lacy gloves that matched her dress.

"Damn, I look good," she said, and laughed to herself. "It's too bad I'm going alone." Fuck you, Terry Boot, she added mentally to the boy that had actually had the nerve to turn her down when she'd told him he was taking her to the ball.

"Maybe it's better," said Hermione, who had helped her get ready. "You can dance with anyone you like and not feel bad about ignoring your date."

"I wouldn't feel bad anyway," said Parvati brazenly, running her hands across her flat stomach.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

Parvati turned to her and grinned in a proud, almost motherly way. Hermione's almost surprising good looks at that moment were due in large part to Parvati, who had helped her find the dress, picked out the shoes, and styled her hair. "You don't look half-bad yourself, Mione," she said.

The Head Girl wore a blue-gray dress with a square neckline and very cute, small puffed sleeves. A spherical opal hung from a silver chain around her neck. Her now-straight hair was magicked into a chignon with a blue ribbon artfully twisted through it. "Thanks," she said. "I rather like it myself."

"I wonder why I never noticed how pretty you really are. Why nobody ever did."

"You outshone everyone." Hermione trailed off and stared at Parvati's shoes. "My god, Parv. Those are three-inch heels."

"So?"

"You're six foot two, and you wear three-inch heels? Are you never uncomfortable, being so tall?"

"No," said Parvati with a smirk, "I like towering over people."

"Yeah, I reckon you use it as an excuse to look down on them."

Parvati narrowed her eyes, then realized that Hermione's comment was not meant as an insult, and smiled. "You're a mere peasant, you with your five foot seven. Now come on. Padma will be waiting for you." She swept out of the room, and Hermione, after taking a deep breath, followed her.

* * *

Ginny was sitting on a windowsill in her room, with one leg tucked under her and the other hanging over the ledge. She found this position very comfortable and conducive to deep thinking - although she wasn't doing much of that at the moment. She was staring at the darkening evening sky, counting the stars and smoking. (The teachers, Filch and Mrs Norris were all at the seventh-years' ball, the latter two strolling the gardens to make sure that the wandering couples didn't have too much fun in the rosebushes, so she wasn't worried about getting caught.)

Her mind was wonderfully blank. When her eyes got too tired to focus on the stars, she turned her gaze to the smoldering end of her cigarette. She blew a particularly good smoke ring, then leaning back to look at it, feeling very satisfied with herself. It was great to sit there, her mind empty, so light that a simple smoke ring made her happy. She wondered briefly if she felt that way because the smoke had made her high, then decided that was probably improbable.

She'd always felt waves of almost childish joy overcome her at the end of every school year, combined with anticipation of the summer holiday. This time, though, it wasn't the same. The prospect of another summer at the Burrow disenchanted her. Nothing ever changed at the Burrow. Oh, sure, now that Fred and George were bringing in a little money, the house had been renovated and 'improved' - there were some extra rooms, better furnishings and far fewer garden gnomes - but everything had basically remained the same.

It stagnates, thought Ginny, and blew smoke through her nose. I don't want to stagnate. Maybe her parents would take them all on a cruise or something like that, now that they could afford it? I want some variety. She had changed so much herself, partly without knowing it, that she felt justified in wishing for a different setting.

She sighed and looked down. She could see part of the rose garden, and closer beneath her, a window of the Great Hall, and a corner of the fluttering silken Hufflepuff banner. Ginny ground her cigarette butt on the ledge and tossed it out the window.

Things will change, she thought. Next year there wouldn't be any big brother to keep an eye on her. She would be able to get into trouble if she wanted to - and Colin Creevey, in love with her since first year, would most certainly try to seduce her since Ron wouldn't be there to dissuade him with his fist. "Well," said Ginny aloud, "at least my life won't be dull. I wonder if Colin's still a virgin?"

* * *

Blaise stood in the middle of the Great Hall and watched the people mulling around her. They weren't that many - only forty students were to graduate that night - but it felt to her like the room was full. This made her very ill at ease. She tightened her grip on Draco's arm.

"Hey, easy there," he said. "You know I bruise easily."

"Sorry," said Blaise dully.

"Sh-shall I take your picture?" came a squeaky voice from behind them.

Blaise whirled around to face a boy with golden hair and brown eyes that looked rather frightened. "Colin Creevey," she sneered.

"Well?" Colin raised his camera.

"You'd better not," advised Draco. He could tell that Blaise was in a foul mood.

"But please, it's for the Seventh Years' Book," said the boy. He sounder like a door-to-door salesman trying to get them to buy something completely useless.

Blaise's eyes had a dangerous glint in them. "Listen to me, Creevey," she hissed. "You get away from me right now or I'll take that camera and smash it to pieces on the floor, you little wanker!"

Colin's eyes went as round as marbles. He gave a scared sort of squeak, spun around, and ran.

"That was fast," said Draco appreciatively. He fiddled with his black tie, and then with the grey pearl buttons on his shirt, which was ash-coloured with silver pinstripes. His trousers were tight black silk, his shoes polished black leather. Not a single gold-white hair was out of place. "Blaise, you don't mind staying here by yourself, do you? I've got some. business to take care of."

"Not at all," Blaise lied. She watched him go, watched his shoulders sway as he walked, and wished him luck, for she knew what his business was.

* * *

Hermione spotted Padma at the foot of the stairs as she was walking down to the Great Hall; and when she did, her breath caught in her throat, and she froze in mid-movement with her foot hovering above a stair-step.

When Padma deliberately spent time in front of a mirror, the result was amazing. Her beauty shone all the more brightly because she didn't try to look this good every day. She looked like a goddess from pagan times in her dress. It was of sea-green muslin, with the six inches above the hemline in a darker green, with impossibly tiny trees and doves (that flew) embroidered on in golden thread. Thin straps crisscrossed Padma's shoulders and back. She wore a necklace of emeralds on a gold chain. Her hair was pulled back in a style that was half French braid, half plain bun, with two or three locks that escaped and curled around her face; the result was very fetching.

Hermione could have stood there, entranced, for eternity, if Padma hadn't looked up, spotted her, and jumped up the stairs in her usual lively way. "There you are! I've been waiting ages!" A small gasp. "Mione. you look beautiful."

"You look pretty amazing yourself," said Hermione. She remembered Padma saying she would try to look at least as good as her twin, and added, "Better than anyone."

"Come on," said Padma, clasping Hermione's hand. "Let's go down."

They found Parvati in a corner, nibbling on a square of Honeydukes chocolate (she had taken off her gloves). Three or four young men were already bobbing around her, but she didn't notice them; she appeared to be concentrating very hard on someone across the room.

"Who're you staring at?" asked Padma curiously.

"Oh - Professor Snape." Parvati motioned toward him with a wave of her hand. "He does look quite good with his hair washed, doesn't he?"

Hermione's eyebrows shot straight up.

"I think I'll ask him to dance," Parvati continued.

"What? Oh - Parv! You can't!" spluttered Padma.

"Do you dare me?" demanded her sister archly.

Hermione, who knew that Parvati only needed a dare to do the craziest things, shook her head vigorously. "No."

"Then I dare myself," said Parvati smoothly, and she walked away before they could stop her.

"Oh gods," said Hermione.

Padma locked her arm around Hermione's waist and laughed. "This is going to be a very interesting night," she predicted, just as Draco had. They watched as Parvati cornered Snape and said something to him that made him jump through the air and shout out. At that moment the band started playing, and Parvati grabbed the Potions master's arm and pulled him to her. He struggled with her at first, then realized she was not going to let go anytime soon, and resignedly tried to imitate her dance moves.

"How 'bout we dance too?" Padma suggested.

Hermione felt her heart skip. "Sure," she said. As the music quickened, she let herself be pulled into Padma's arms, she wondered when she'd last felt so warm and peaceful and at home.

* * *

The band began a slow song. Seamus offered his hand to Ron. "Wanna dance?"

"Sure," said Ron. In truth he didn't want to, but he knew that if he declined, Seamus would run off and find someone else to dance with, and then he would be left alone. It wasn't much of a choice in his eyes.

Seamus danced with his face buried in Ron's neck and shoulders, his eyes closed. Ron closed his too, but every now and then they would flutter open, and each time he saw the same thing, the same couple dancing: Hermione and Padma. Both of them were smiling, and every few seconds one would lean toward the other and whisper something in her ear, and they would laugh and kiss. That's how happy, in-love people should dance, thought Ron, and seeing it made in even clearer to him that that was not how he and Seamus danced.

The band was halfway through the song when Ron decided he'd had enough. He took Seamus' hand and pulled him into a corner of the Hall. Seamus, obviously thinking that Ron was leading him away so that they could snog, grinned brightly. "So soon?" he quipped.

"Oh, Seamus," said Ron. If you only knew. "Listen. Um. I really don't think it's working between us."

For a full ten seconds - very long, horrible, anxious seconds - Seamus said nothing. Then he asked, "Have you been seeing someone else behind my back?"

"What? NO!"

"That's what was going on the last time you dumped somebody." Seamus took a slow breath. "Could you explain it to me, then, if that's not it?"

"I loved you at first, I really did," said Ron, choosing his words carefully. "But now - now it seems like it's all about sex. We never talk." Seamus dropped his head and pursed his rosy lips. Ron felt awful, as though he'd just been wrung like a piece of wet clothing. "I'm sorry."

"I suppose it's for the best."

"What do you mean?"

"I. well, all the other guys I was with understood that it was a game, that we were both in it for the fun. But you always seemed to be looking for Mr Right, and I knew I probably was not him." Seamus raised his head. His eyes were damp. "I loved you too, you know."

"So I guess it's over, then?"

"Yes," said Seamus. "But let's still be friends, okay? You're an okay guy." He gave a lopsided laugh, then reached up and kissed Ron on the mouth. The kiss had a very final taste to it, and when it was over, Seamus took a step back, smiled, then turned around and walked away. Ron watched him go, knowing he couldn't stop him, not wanting to, and felt very relieved.

* * *

As Blaise kicked her way through the crowd to get to one of the tray- bearing house-elves, she felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned around. There, in front of her, looking dashing and pale in ultramarine dress robes, was Terry Boot - and he hadn't removed his finger from her bare shoulder. She nearly gasped; the light pressure of his fingertip on her skin was sending lightning down her arms.

"Blaise," he said. "I've been thinking." She turned away sulkily, but he grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back. "I'm infinitely sorry I was such a jerk. I realized there's nothing I can do to get Hermione back and. well, once again I'm sorry. Would you like to dance?"

Disbelief seeped through her. "You unbelievable bastard."

"What?" said Terry. Clearly that was not the reaction he'd expected.

"You finally get it through your thick, stupid head that Granger will never come back to you - so you run back to me? You condescend to dance with me? Fuck off! I'll not be anyone's second choice, Terry Boot!" She reached up and slapped him soundly, then whipped around, her voluminous skirt swirling round her legs. She was gone before he could stop her or even speak.

* * *

Draco left the Great Hall, crossed the rose garden, and walked on until he came to the edge of the Forest, where the trees were young and harmless. He could see a small man-shaped shadow some way in front of him; the person casting it was sitting cross-legged with his back against a tree.

"Harry?" Draco called. "Will you talk with me?"

Silence, a sigh, then: "I have nothing to say to you, Draco."

"Then just listen." Draco swallowed dryly, then exploded: "I'M SORRY. I'm sorry I stood you up that night, I'm sorry I slept with Fleur, I'm sorry I ever looked at Fleur, I'm sorry I didn't try harder, I'm sorry for every mean and hurtful thing I ever did to you."

Harry looked up sharply. He was not wearing his specs, and without them his eyes were cold and unreadable. "Are you sorry you fell in love with me?"

"Are you?" asked Draco quietly.

"Why should I believe any of the things you just said? You're not exactly Mr Credibility."

Draco sat down next to him. "Some things you just take on faith."

"Not things like this," said Harry, and there was an urgency in his voice. "Not when you've already been burned."

"Try to understand. Every second of every day for the past two weeks I've had this burning, searing feeling in my gut, and my lungs contract and I can't breath, and it's like I have images of you engraved on my eyelids, because you're all I see when I close my eyes, you and I together. do you know how heavy that makes you feel after just a day?"

"No," Harry lied. He wondered why he was doing this to Draco - to himself as well, because he wanted nothing more than to let himself melt it Draco's arms. Why couldn't he just give in? Perhaps he wanted Draco to suffer ("to get revenge, or prove a point") or perhaps he still wasn't sure if the boy's apologies were heartfelt. He did not move, although his body was aching, and stayed on the warm grass. Rough bark was digging in his back, and that brought back certain memories (of Draco pushing him again trees, or the two of them marking their initials on an old oak) that weren't very helpful.

"Harry, please," Draco whispered. His voice broke on the last word.

"You told me that Malfoys never beg. Not even for their lives."

"What I have at stake here is bigger than my life," said Draco in a quiet, tearful tone.

"What is that?"

"Happiness. Hope," said Draco, and he looked at Harry in a way that showed he thought Harry was the only one who could give him those feelings. But Harry made no answer, and Draco, as he stared into those cool green eyes, felt that last shred of hope fly from him. There was nothing more he could do; he had lost Harry - and so soon after his epiphany, after he'd realized his love for Harry was true and bigger than both of them.

Harry watched him steadily. He saw a silver tear fall, like a drop of mercury, onto the grass, before Draco hugged his legs to his chest. He was ten centimeters taller than Harry, but at that moment he looked like a brokenhearted child - defeated, battered, and utterly endearing. Harry crawled toward him and wrapped him in his arms, hugging him so tightly that neither of them could breathe at first. Draco gave a jagged, disbelieving gasp. Harry could feel his hot tears slipping down the front of his dress robes.
* * *

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And now back to Crash and Burn, chapter twenty-three.
* * *

Ginny had watched the whole Harry-Draco scene from her window. "Awww," she cooed when they hugged, and smiled as she lit another cigarette. She had hoped things would end like that, because she didn't know anybody who deserved a happy life more than Harry. (And perhaps Draco deserved one too, after everything.)

A sudden movement at the edge of her vision made Ginny turn her head. She saw Crookshanks emerging from a shrub, and frowned - she was sure she'd seen a human figure. She looked again.

There it was! A tall, cloaked Somebody was walking slowly away from the trees and towards the two boys, who were about one hundred feet away. A mysterious hooded person skulking along the Forbidden Forest at night. This is just like the opening scene in a bad Muggle movie, thought Ginny, who had seen her share of those when Harry had introduced the Weasleys to television two years before. Thinking quickly, she looked around and spotted a broomstick. It wasn't hers, but that didn't matter - she grabbed it, threw a leg over it, and jumped out the window, sailing through the air and making a neat stop two feet away from the Person.

"Right, then," she said, greatly comforted by the wand in her back pocket. "Mind telling me what your business here is?"

Two white hands slipped out from the folds of the cloak and pulled the hood back.

It was Fleur Delacour.

"I 'ave come," she said, "to speak to Dray-co."

Ginny was taken aback. She craned her neck and saw that the two boys were still clinging madly to each other. "I doubt Draco would want to talk to you right now," she said. "Or ever, for that matter."

"I must see him. I must apologize."

Ginny knew that if Harry saw Fleur, it would completely ruin things between him and Draco again, and that there would be no other chance. "Have you no tact at all? Can't you see he's busy?"

"But I must," said Fleur again. "I must apologize. You 'ave no idea what it's like to know so much pain has been caused by your hand."

"By your cunt, more likely," muttered Ginny. "And I suppose you know a good deal about causing pain?" she went on in her normal voice. "Like you did to Bill?"

Fleur looked puzzled.

"You utter tart!" Ginny exclaimed. "My brother Bill, whom you dated for almost a year and then dumped for o reason?"

"Oh, I had reasons," said Fleur quietly.

"I'm sure I'd like to know what they are."

Fleur looked at her with obvious dislike. "There are some tings you don't understand, Geeny," she said condescendingly.

Ginny hated being condescended to. She brought her hand down on Fleur's face, hard. Fleur squeaked indignantly and kicked Ginny in the shin. Within seconds they were wrestling about on the ground. At first Ginny thought she might win the fight, because she had the kind of experience that can only come from growing up with six brothers; but Fleur was taller and had longer limbs, and soon she had Ginny pinned to the ground with a wand jammed into her throat.

"Now," she said. "If you'll be a quiet leetle girl, maybe I'll turn you into a nice sort of slug."

Then a voice floated down to them: "Girls! Are you brawling?" They looked up to find Parvati Patil standing over them, looking surprised, amused and annoyed all at once.

Fleur turned her wand to Parvati. "Get away, you," she snapped.

"Me?" said Parvati regally. "I'm not the one who's trespassing."

"Get lost!"

And for a moment it looked like Parvati was retreating, but Ginny saw that she had only brought her foot back; and when Fleur smirked, Parvati swung in forward again and kicked her hard in the ribs. The Veela girl rolled off of Ginny, who acted quickly and pinned her to the ground. Parvati seized Fleur's wand. "Now," she said, still in that cool, regal tone, "get your nasty, silicone-filled self away from me."

"Silicone?" Fleur gave a sarcastic laugh. "Oh, no, no, no. Zey are real, and zey are bigger zan yours."

Ginny's eyes widened in shock to see that someone could speak that way to Parvati Patil, whom everyone agreed was the most beautiful, self-possessed, sought-after girl to grace Hogwarts' hallways since Narcissa Malfoy. Parvati herself merely snorted. "Yes, and they make you look like a third- rate streetwalker."

"You say that," Fleur told her, "but it is out of jealousy. 'Ow long 'as it been since anyone kissed you?"

"Shut the fuck up," said Ginny angrily. She took her own wand out of her pocket and jabbed it into Fleur's sternum.

Wandless, weakened and in the company of two girls who seemed ready to tear her lungs out, Fleur decided that best course of action would be to flee. "Zis is not over," she warned threateningly - and the next second, she was nearly gone; all that could be seen of her was the hem of her cloak as it fluttered between trees.

"Good riddance," said Parvati darkly.

"Yeah," said Ginny. "Um. Hey, thanks for helping me out here. I have a feeling she'd've given me a good thrashing if you hadn't shown up."

Parvati looked at her for what felt like a long time, her black eyes velvet- soft. Then she said, "He was all wrong for you, you know."

"Who?"

"That Bagman fellow," said Parvati, and Ginny turned paper-white. "I suppose he was the one who sent you all those jewels? How clichéd. I don't know what you could have possibly seen in him - unless it was the money?'

"No! Of course not!"

"Come now, I wouldn't judge you for that - I could never marry a pauper."

"It was not the money."

"Then what?"

"He made me feel like I was important," said Ginny slowly, flushing. "Special. And for myself, too, not because I was Arthur's daughter or Fred and George's sister. It was just me - and I was enough."

"Apparently not," said Parvati.

"You wouldn't understand."

"I did you a favour, you know. Sooner or later things would have turned sour between you."

"I'd really rather not talk about him."

"Alright," said Parvati. "I should be getting back to the ball." She turned around, flipping her hair over her shoulder, and walked off toward the light and the music, leaving in her wake a very confused Ginny to sort out her thoughts.

* * *

Blaise had been sulking in a small curtained alcove just off the Great Hall for the better part of an hour. Whenever Terry walked past without seeing her, her stomach contracted. Whenever she heard Hermione's voice, she longed to have her wand with her so she could curse the girl to pieces. This made Blaise sick. It wasn't the anger, which she was used to, but the pain. It was corrosive and nauseating. She wondered how much longer she could take this.

Suddenly the curtain was pushed aside and someone burst into the alcove. Blaise gave a cry of surprise. "Oh, sorry," came a voice. "Didn't know anyone was in here."

"Damn it, Weasley!" she exploded.

"Sorry," Ron said again. Blaise glared at him and retreated even further back, in the shadowy corner of the alcove. He looked at her thoughtfully for almost a full minute, then said something that she had not at all expected: "D'you want to dance?"

"What?"

"I said," Ron began again, with a grin lurking around his face, "would. you. like. to. dance?"

Blaise blinked very hard. She had not misheard him. "You're a Weasley and a Gryffindor," she said, and in her surprise forgot to put venom in her voice. "What makes you think I'd dance with you?"

"Oh, nothing," said Ron calmly. "You just looked rather lonely, that's all."

She stared at him, then looked away. She didn't like the idea that he had noticed her, thought she looked lonely, and taken pity on her. It was contemptible.

But then again, wasn't it more contemptible that she, Blaise Zabini, the product of a long line of beautiful, intelligent, powerful Malfoys, should spent the night of her graduation hidden, spying on her classmates and resenting their happiness? Wasn't it a pity that nobody would see the beauty that Draco had tried to hard to bring out? If she chose to say in that alcove alone, she would be behaving like a coward. She was many things, but not that.

A hateful, begrudging, judgmental bitch, but never a coward.

"Fine," she said.

Ron grinned, and took a step toward the curtain.

"No," she added quickly," let's stay here."

"Alright," said Ron, raising a curious eyebrow. He clasped her hand. Blaise, with an indignant yelp, reflexively yanked it back. Now Ron raised both eyebrows. "If you know of a way to dance without touching, do share your knowledge," he said.

"Sorry," she said, and took Ron's hands in hers roughly. They began to move in time to the music, Ron looking amused, Blaise holding her breath.

"Who were you glaring at?" he asked suddenly.

"What?"

"I saw you a while ago and you were glaring at someone. Who?"

"None of your fucking business," she snarled at him.

"Whoa, calm down. so much anger can't be good for your blood pressure," he joked. Then, when she didn't reply, she said, "You know, if you just could let go of the hostility you feel toward me and my family and my House, we might actually have a civil conversation."

"What would we talk about? Quidditch?" She made the word and its meaning sound absurd. At that moment the song ended, and Blaise, relieved, pulled away from him. "There you go, that's over. Thank you very much, Weasley, I had a marvelous time. Do go away and don't come back."

But Ron did not move; nor had he let go of her left hand. "We might as well dance to the next one," he said. "We only had half a dance, really."

Blaise bit her lip. "For some strange reason she found she didn't mind the idea of him staying as much as she thought she would. But the song that had just begun was much slower.

"Well?" said Ron.

She remembered something Draco had said. "Are you afraid?" Of course he'd only said that to irritate her, but. She put her hands on Ron's shoulders. What a pity that my first real slow dance is to be wasted on a Weasley. Then Ron put his arms around her waist, and she caught her breath and hoped there wasn't enough light in the alcove for him to see her flushed cheeks.

"So what should we talk about?" said Ron.

"Why should we talk about anything?" she replied. "I don't hear anyone else engaged in conversation right now."

"No, but that's because everyone out there is necking right now."

Blaise turned the same colour as a boiled lobster.

"And I reckon if I tried to do that to you, you'd have my head."

She made a choked noise. "Do you mean you'd like to, though?"

"No! I was just trying to be funny."

"Well, don't. Humor is not your forte," she snapped, and wished that he hadn't been so quick in saying no, or that he hadn't said it so emphatically. Was she not desirable at all, then?

Ron spun her around in silence. As they passed the gap in the curtains that separated them from the rest of the world, she peeked out and saw Terry Boot waltzing by with pretty-in-pink Mandy Brocklehurst from Ravenclaw, and she sighed inwardly.

Ron looked at her and saw many different emotions darken her eyes. Anger, sadness, grief, self-pity. Anger again. He knew, of course; he had heard the rowboat story from Lavender, and had seen Terry Boot go by. It seemed very strange to him that anybody should have to suffer so much over something like that - even Blaise Zabini. She's not a bad sort, when she tries. And, being Ron, being sweet and not the sort of person who could sit there and watch other people hurting, he wanted to do something to help her. A cheering charm? I don't have my wand with me.

She turned her face back to his. She had somehow managed to make the jumble of emotions in her eyes look like mere irritation. It was nothing short of amazing. And Ron, friendly, wandless and naïve, acting on a purely instinctive desire to make her feel better, leaned toward Blaise and kissed her soundly on the mouth.

* * *

Harry lay on his back on the grass, with a very content Draco beside him. He couldn't remember when he'd last felt so peaceful and alive. His every pore was acutely aware of the boy who sat half-curled up on his chest. Life is good.

"So we're okay, Harry, right?"

"No, Dray, we're a far way from 'okay'." A shadow crept back into Draco's eyes at that, so Harry added: "But step by step, we'll get to 'okay'."

"Good." Draco breathed a sigh of relief, and his hand wormed its way under Harry's collar, resting on his neck, where his fingers could feel Harry's steady pulse. "I love you. I'm not just saying that."

"I know," said Harry. He craned his neck and kissed Draco on the cheek.

"And I want to spend the rest of my life with you," said Draco a bit desperately. "You've got to spend this summer at my place, love."

Harry hesitated. His memories of Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy were, after all, far from pleasant.

"You can't mean you want to go back to those barbaric Muggle relatives of yours?"

"No, of course not," said Harry slowly.

"Then it's settled. We've got a Quidditch pitch in our backyard," said Draco, and then added in Harry's ear: "I love you." in such a low, sweet voice that it nearly sent Harry's lungs on fire.

"Oh, alright then. The Quidditch pitch is what really sold me."

"So it wasn't the prospect of spending the whole summer with little old me that got you to agree?"

"M'afraid not," said Harry so seriously that both of them burst out with laughter. When Draco laughed, his chest shook quite pleasantly against Harry's and his breath, which smelt of spearmint and pumpkin juice, danced across Harry's face.

"There's no reason we shouldn't be happy together."

"If you learn to think with your brain and not your dick."

"My dick's made some of the best decisions of my life," protested Draco. "You think my fucking brain told me, 'go get into Potter's pants'?" He smirked.

Harry laughed and pulled Draco down on top of him, and kissed him hard. Draco kissed him back very eagerly, clasping his hands at the small of Harry's back.

Harry pulled away, dazed. "I'd forgotten how you kiss," he said.

"Let me remind you."

"No - no, Draco, hang on. I'd just like to know one thing?"

"Hmm?"

"Why did you - um, want to 'get into my pants'?"

Draco sighed, and pillowed his head on Harry's shoulder. He made a childish, soft sort of sniffling noise, then said, "I never expected to fall in love with you. At the very beginning, I saw it all as a game. a way to bring you down."

Harry had suspected this, or something like it, but it still hurt to hear it. "I hope your perspective's changed since then?"

"Of course it has," said Draco very softly, and he kissed Harry's neck. He loved the skin there, the place where Harry's outdoorsy Quidditch tan met the paler skin. Draco had loved to mark that border with his teeth before, and he did so now, nipping gently at Harry's shoulder. "You have a very interesting body, Mr Potter. Do you know that?"

"Yours isn't so bad, either," said Harry, trying to swallow down the moans that were building up at the base of his throat. "Your ass is especially nice."

"Ah yes, my ass. Always popular with crowds, it is." He traced a shimmering path from Harry's collarbone to his chin with his tongue.

"You don't have to tell me. I know." Harry moved his hands across Draco.

"My my my. aren't we getting a little carried away? Ooh - do that again."

"No, I don't think I will," said Harry slowly. "I think I'll stop right now before we go too far and start fucking on the grass."

"You're such a tease!" exclaimed Draco with some disappointment.

"I learned from the best," smirked Harry. "Don't worry. if I'm coming to stay at your manor, you'll have all summer to fuck me raw."

"Did you have to be so explicit? I'm all turned on now."

"Oh, how sad." With a devious grin, Harry 'accidentally' rubbed his leg against Draco's crotch.

"You could at least give me a blow-job," moaned Draco. "Behind those trees, no one would see."

"Draco?"

"Is that a yes?"

"Shut the fuck up," said Harry, and he kissed Draco again to keep him from talking.

* * *

After three more dances Hermione was quite out of breath. "Okay, stop," she said to Padma. "I'm getting all sweaty."

"Ooh, I like the sound of that," laughed Padma.

Hermione stuck out her tongue at her. "Could you get me a drink?"

"But of course. Pumpkin juice?"

"If you don't mind," said Hermione, and she gave Padma a kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Do I ever?" Padma chuckled. "I'll be right back." She walked off, toward one of the many house-elves that carried trays covered in magical hors- d'oeuvres or drinks, and wondered whether Hermione, as president of S.P.E.W, was indignant about the use of house-elves as waiters.

There was someone else getting drinks. "Hey, Terry," said Padma without thinking. For her, six years of friendship and some months of dating outbalanced half a year of utter hatred.

He turned to her, looking horrified, and narrowed his eyes. "What do you want?"

"Erm." Padma paled. "Don't tell me you're still mad because of - ?"

"Because you destroyed my happiness?" Terry completed, with a voice like glass shards on concrete.

"That was months ago! Get over it!"

"That's easy for you to say," Terry sneered. "You got the girl."

"What?"

"There are plenty of pretty, open-minded girls at Hogwarts - "

"So date them!"

" - why couldn't you have gone after them?"

"You should try to get over this. Terry," said Padma coldly. "Otherwise you'll spend many, many years of your life in therapy. And that would be such a pity, because you could be spending that time doing something that would be useful to the world, like building a statue of Hermione entirely made out of old chewing gum and lint from your belly-button."

"You're just like your sister! You think people are little dolls who exist solely to amuse you..."

"That is not true!" Padma forced herself to speak calmly. "Leave Parvati out of this, and - and stop making it sound like I kidnapped Hermione and took her to my hidden lair and forced her to become my fucking love slave, or something! She wants to be with me!"

"But WHY?"

"Maybe she loves me more than she loved you," said Padma, and it was only out of pity that she added the 'maybe'.

"There's no reason for that!"

"I love her more than you did!"

"You have no idea how much I love her!"

"It's a strange sort of love, then, let me tell you that! You weren't even willing to fight for her! That's why you lost her - you locked yourself in your room and just mooned about instead of trying to get her back, like a pathetic weak coward! And if you really loved her then you'd want her to be happy no matter what, no matter who she's with! And. just look at yourself now. you're picking a fight with me. Do you have any idea how childishly you're behaving?"

"And do you have any idea how much you hurt me, both of you?"

"About as much as you hurt Zabini!" Padma snapped.

The blood rushed from Terry's burning cheeks. "What d'you mean?"

"You set her up to think you were going to ask her out, and then you tell her you're in love with another girl?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but I apologized earlier, and she wouldn't accept it."

"Of course she wouldn't! Nobody would've - not even your precious Hermione." Padma suddenly remembered what she had come there for, and grabbed a glass of pumpkin juice from the tray. She then realized that the house-elf carrying said tray had been listening in the whole time. It sniggered squeakily when she glared at it. "I don't have anymore time to waste with you - I've got a girlfriend waiting," she added waspishly to Terry, and swept off.

"What on earth took you so long?" asked Hermione when she got back to her. "You need twenty minutes to get a glass of juice?"

"I ran into Ye Bad Ho* on the way," said Padma coolly, "and he gave me a fearful talking-to."

"You must have provoked him," said Hermione. She drained her glass. "Dear god, this tastes weird. Some bastard must've spiked the ju - " She broke off and hiccoughed loudly, and several purple bubbles floated out of her mouth.

The bubbles, amusing as they were, did not make Padma smile. "He goaded me, and I really don't feel like talking about it. Let's go someplace else."

Arm in arm, they left the Great Hall - Hermione kept hiccoughing, and her bubbles were now robin's-egg blue - and sat down on a stone bench in the rose garden. "What should we talk about, then?"

"About what we're going to do this summer," said Padma, "because I can't possibly be expected to survive three months without you."

"More than three months. this is our last school year, so we might not see each other in the fall."

"Don't remind me," Padma groaned. "Think I could come see you for a week or two or ten?"

Hermione turned her face to the sky. "Boy, that would really be letting the cat out of the bag."

"You haven't told your parents yet?"

"Erm, no," Hermione admitted, swallowing air - she remembered that her and Padma's first serious fight had been over something rather like this.

"Neither have I. I have a feeling it won't be jolly. Then again, you never know, my parents might surprise me. but my mum will be utterly disappointed that I won't be able to 'make a fine match' with one of her socialite friend's divorced sons."

Hermione snorted, tangerine bubbles shooting out of her nose, and squeezed Padma's hand. "Don't worry, it won't be that bad." Her arm found its way around Padma's waist.

Surprisingly, the other girl pulled away. "As much as I think I would've enjoyed that. d'you think your parents consider you old enough to move out?"

"Why?"

"Because then we move into a flat together."

Hermione smiled. "I'd like that."

Padma smiled back. "Now that we've got that settled. how about you kiss me again?"

* * *

"What the hell was that, Weasley?"

"I - er, don't know." Ron winced. "Please don't hit me."

Blaise stared up at him uncertainly, with her hands on her hips. She closed her eyes - she was quite overwhelmed - and when she opened them again something quite surprising happened.

She looked at Ron and saw him as he really was. As himself, not as a Weasley or a Gryffindor. He was just a boy, now, standing in front of her looking exceedingly apprehensive, a boy who, although he didn't fit her ideal of a handsome young man, was certainly not ugly; and he was smart and even funny when one gave him a chance.

And he had kissed her.

"I'm not sure I liked that, Ron," she said silkily.

He turned very pale beneath his freckles, and didn't even notice that she hadn't called him 'Weasley', or that she didn't pronounce his name with contempt anymore.

"Perhaps," she continued, "you should do it again so that I can make up my mind." She registered the stunned look on his face before she closed her eyes and reached up to kiss him on his half-open mouth.

* * *

Half an hour later, Harry and Draco were happily canoodling on the grass between the trees when something rather frightening occurred to Draco. He pulled away from Harry and leapt to his feet, brushing twigs off his trousers.

"Where are you going?" asked Harry, looking up at him with curious eyes.

"I just remembered Blaise," Draco explained. "D'you realize what kind of shit she might have gotten into while we've been. "

"Um," said Harry. "Do you. often think of your cousin when we're. ?"

"No, of course not!" said Draco. "Ugh. But she's been without supervision for." He paused, reached into his pocket, and drew out the gold chain of his pocketwatch. "Nearly two hours! Do you know how much damage she's probably caused by now?"

"I bet at least ten people have been cursed," said Harry darkly. "Damn Blaise for always spoiling my fun."

"I'm going to go check up on her. I'll be right back."

"You might want to button your shirt back up," said Harry. "Or some people - " he gave a loud cough which sounded like 'Pansy!' - "might get the wrong idea."

Draco stuck his tongue out at him, repeated, "I'll be right back," and walked off.

He found Blaise within minutes. She was walking alone among the rosebushes just outside the Great Hall. For a moment Draco feared that she had taken a leaf out of Filch's book and decided to throw hexes at the couples among the roses., but then he realized she was merely taking a walk. He quickened his pace and caught up with her. "Hey."

"Hello," said Blaise. "I trust your business went well?"

"Yep," said Draco, and he smiled to himself, remembering...

"Good."

"Good? But you hate Harry."

"Yes, I do." She shrugged. "But you were miserable without the spineless worm, and now you're happy again, so."

"So, I left you all by yourself for two hours. What did you do during that time? Did you stay away from trouble?"

"Do I ever?" Blaise smirked.

"Oh gods," said Draco. "Please tell me you didn't hurt anyone?"

A sudden image came to Blaise's head, of Ron wincing and grinning at the same time after she'd bitten through his lip. She turned red and hoped the moonlight wasn't bright enough for Draco to see. "Nope," she said.

"Then what have you been up to?"

She turned even redder.

"Come on, spill," he said, and poked her in the ribs with his finger.

"Let's just say," she began slowly, "that if I told you now that I've never been properly kissed before, I'd be lying."

Draco stopped in his tracks. "What?"

"You heard me." Blaise grinned very widely indeed.

"With who?" Draco cried.

"Wouldn't you like to know!" She could feel her stomach flipping about like a fish on dry land at the thought of what Draco would say if he knew she'd spent nearly an hour snogging Ron Weasley.

"Well." he said, clearly overwhelmed by her news. "Well. I'm happy for you."

"I'm happy for me too," said Blaise. "I. enjoyed myself at this ball far more than I thought I would."

"Me too," said Draco softly, looking back to the trees where Harry was waiting for him to return.

"And I have a feeling this will be a far better summer than I was expecting," she went on.

"Me too," he said again.

And they both looked up at the sky, their identical grey eyes reflecting the silver-pinprick stars, and grinned in happy anticipation of what could and what would happen in the months to come.

* * *

To quote a hobbit: "I regret to announce this is the end.

Yes, Crash and Burn is indeed over. That's a bit hard to believe at first, isn't it? There where times when I couldn't see any sort of end to it, and gods, when I remember some of the things I was thinking of writing, and where they would have taken this if I had. But for a plotless story which was considered an experiment by its author, it's done pretty well, no? It's been a long, exhausting, fun ride, kiddies, and of course there are people I'd like to thank.

Lib, who I think was the one who suggested I write, who never told me how horrible the first chapter was, who was the first to call Terry 'The Bootboy' and who said Hermione should be with Padma;

Ivy, who had to listen to me gripe;

SophieB, who provided the most constructive reviews I ever got, and who mysteriously disappeared off the face of the earth a few chapters ago;

The other Sophie B - Sophie Black, whom nobody should ever mess with because she won't hesitate to PULL YOUR HAIR TILL YOUR SCALP BLEEDS (not joking; my head still hurts like hell);

Serenity, who kissed my feet in one of her reviews;

Gwen, Bondagechic, Mandraco, Soulsister, ChibiWhiteFerret, VelvyJessy;

and finally everyone who remembers C&B in its very early days when it was called Bob the Super Tomato Boy (not kidding about that either).

I might not start the sequel for a few months. But heeey, wipe that tear from your eye! I'll be writing other things - prequels and unrelated-to-C&B fics and maybe even LOTR fics. And for all the observant ones among you who wonder whether Blaise is a Malfoy or a Zabini (or why I made her a boy when Blaise is a guy's name): all of your questions will be answered in the Blaise!biofic I'm writing. Whee!

*starts to weep*

I luv you all very very much.

GutterBunny