False Dice by phlox

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~ * ACT FIVE * ~


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Draco was only half listening.

It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the theme, as he could usually spend a rather pleasant hour on the subject of "Exactly What Is Wrong With Gryffindors in General and Weasley in Particular." But his heart was not in it for a number of reasons, though Pansy and Daphne seemed to be going on a full head of steam.

For one, the topic was tired; it had been established long ago that the Weasel couldn't find his arse with two hands and a mirror. Secondly, the lack of imagination that was going into this round was beneath the standards of Slytherin; the state of the family's Gringotts account and their clear lack of familiarity with contraceptive charms were digs not worthy of a fifth-year. And finally... ew; Draco's brain was going to have to be bleached clean after the part of the discussion touching on oddly placed freckles, stamina, and curvature.

But while waiting for the first all-member meeting of the Order of the Phoenix in over a half-year, he didn't have much choice. Draco would much rather contemplate an entirely different Gryffindor though, and his mind had cooperated in that direction by blotting out much of his surroundings. He was aided by the fact that the night before (and the night before that, and the night before that) had been devoted solely to mapping the freckles and curves of one Hermione Granger, and he felt sure that he could write a sonnet on the beauty of her bum all on its own.

Hermione was busy at the moment with Remus and Moody on the other side of the kitchen, however, so he was stuck listening to his friends go on and on about someone they seemed to be working awfully hard to vilify. He and Weasley weren't mates and they never would be, but there was nothing of the villain in him, and Draco was tired of the strutting act Pansy and Daphne had been performing about Grimmauld for the past three days. He could see they were disappointed at his refusal to join in, and it was frightfully unbecoming of both.

Just then, his quarry broke free of her conversation, so he interrupted his friends' tirade with a parting shot. "By the way, Pansy, have you heard Finnegan hasn't been seen or heard from since early yesterday?"

Both ladies froze, mouths working toward forming a response, and the query did no favor to their complexions.

"Curious, don't you think?" Draco gifted them with his most piercingly pointed look, and made to cut Hermione off at the pass.

"Granger," he said lowly from behind as she walked toward the door. She glanced back at him, winked, and kept going. His heart rate doubled. Following her out into the hallway, he decided the broom cupboard at the end of the hall was the perfect and most convenient spot. Reaching out to grab her elbow, he yanked, pulled open the door, and with a slam and a push was snogging her contentedly in the dim light.

Well, 'contentedly' was probably not the right word for Draco's state, since he was almost unbearably hard and had been for days. Draco was a patient man, and he'd been raised to be a gentleman. All snide and scathing comments of the past year and a half aside, he would never actually push any woman beyond her comfort. Feeling rejected, he'd said stupid and hurtful things to Hermione, and if necessary, he could wait forever to make up for them.

Though he prayed to the gods he'd just started to believe in that he wouldn't have to.

It's not as though he hadn't had satisfaction – he had, but he wanted it all. He wanted this witch to be his, and for everyone to know it. He'd had enough of magic hiding places, locked rooms, and broom cupboards, but first he had to be a man in whom she could put her trust. That could take time.

Though Draco had taught her some things last night in the privacy of her room that could keep him for a long while. She was, predictably, as good at that as she was at everything else.

He broke off the kiss with a great groan as her hips arched against him; he took that as a very good sign. Opening his eyes, he pulled back to look and could only see her faintly in the light seeping in from the hallway.

She was glorious like this, all mussed hair and swollen lips. He couldn't see well enough right now, but he knew those lips were a lovely pink, moist from their kisses. Suddenly struck with a rather vivid memory involving that same wonderfully wet mouth, he made to dive back in.

Hermione fisted the hand threaded in his hair, tugging him back, and he relented with a growl.

She cleared her throat daintily, looking unsure. "Draco, how are... things? How are you doing?"

Well, that was unexpected. "Why, I'm just fine, Hermione, thank you. How are you?"

She pursed her lips, and he felt it deep down in his gut. Damn. Everything she did now seemed designed to test his commitment to patience. He leaned toward her instinctively, but she went on.

"I'm asking because I wanted to know how things were with you... and with Pansy." She took a deep breath and looked down. "How is Pansy doing?"

His eyebrows arched, but he should have figured she'd relent in her bad feelings for his friend. Bad behavior notwithstanding, Pansy had been played in this too. "She's fine. As long as Pansy can turn hurt into rage at someone or something, she gets by."

Hermione smiled faintly at that and gave a little nod. Tilting her head back in invitation, her smile was confident. Draco was nearly distracted enough to oblige, but decided this was an excellent opportunity to try out that new, more pleasant man he was working on becoming for her.

"So, uhm... what about Weasley? How's he doing?" It came out more flat than he'd intended, and she didn't seem quite convinced, if the widening of her eyes was any indication. He tried not to be too disheartened.

Her surprise quickly gave way to concern. "Ron's not doing well." She shook her head sadly. "I'm worried about him because he's not angry. He's just so hurt..."

Her voice got disturbingly thick as she trailed off, and Draco worried she might start crying again. Mainly as distraction, he said, "Well, I have to admit, albeit reluctantly – and if you mention it, I will surely deny it – that Weasley's conducted himself well in all of this."

That did the trick. The shock of hearing praise about the Weasel from him was enough to beat back the tears and leave Hermione gaping like a fish. Draco was a bit hurt to see she was that stunned by it though.

"Surprised?" he said rather tersely.

She shook her head, smiling. "Some. Mostly, I'm impressed."

Ah. That was better. "Well, I'm an impressive bloke in many ways," he preened.

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, you're big, bad, and just full of surprises."

"I am, I am," he murmured, pushing in close, pressing fully against her head to toe. Suddenly bold, he whispered in her ear, "Surprised how much you love me, then?"

He had no idea what possessed him to say such a thing. For a second, his heart screeched to a painful halt. When it returned, the pounding in his ears was all he could hear in the silence. It stretched on for what felt like ages.

But then she whispered back, "Not surprised at all."

Draco could well imagine what he looked like when he pulled back to see her face, because it made her laugh outright. He knew he was smiling, and he didn't much care.

Then her smile turned into a smirk. "I can't really help it, you know. I've always had a thing for lost causes."

Making a noise of great offense, he dove in to quickly nip her earlobe, pushing back to see her face as she squealed. With a sigh, he said, "You should take up my cause, Granger. I'm exhausted."

Laughing, she ran both hands flat up his chest to his hold his jaw with the tips of her fingers. "Oh, really? I thought you seemed pleasantly sated. But if you need your rest, I'd be happy—"

Diving in, finally, way over his head, Draco kissed her soundly, deeply and passionately. She wrapped one leg around his waist, and he obliged by lifting her against the door. His fingers slowly made their way to what was quickly becoming his favorite place in the entire world, wizarding or Muggle.

When he pulled back to look at her, she took his breath away, stopped time, or whatever ridiculous cliché fit to explain how this moment, this image of her, would now be the one most clear in his mind's eye from here onward.

"You know what, Hermione?" he said softly. "You just might be worth all the fuss after all."

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If he didn't stop distracting her, she was never going to make it through this meeting.

This was all tension-fraught and nerve-wracking enough without him staring at her, smirking, sniffing his fingers! Everyone probably thought she was feverish with how flushed she was. She could feel it down her chest and to her fingertips: the hot, scarlet mortification. God, everyone was probably looking at her right now, wondering—

Except everyone seemed to be paying all their attention to Remus. They were gathered in the kitchen at Grimmauld to get an update on where they were in the war, and it looked like things were about to heat back up. One more safe house had been secured, and the restored Ministry was functioning, if not fully operational. The meeting had started late; they were held up waiting for Harry to arrive, which he did a half-hour past time looking exhausted and more grown-up than she'd ever seen him.

Hermione's heart had skipped at the realization that this was real. It was absurd the way things would hit her without warning, but she knew then they were coming to the end. Everything they'd grown and fought and strived to be had brought them to this.

She was going to focus, damn it, even if Draco was in the room, looking as delicious as treacle tart.

"But what we really need to move quickly on are the locations we've just gotten from a new defector," Remus said, pausing to let that settle in with the packed crowd. "We'll be bringing them in to discuss that with you all in a moment, but first, I want to make something clear: this person has come to us at great personal risk and has offered to help. Having been a member of Voldemort's inner circle, he's in a unique position to do so. Therefore," he said, looking about to be sure he had everyone's attention, "this person is now one of us.

"The Order does not lightly accept people into its ranks. We're really rather cautious about former Death Eaters in particular, so you can be sure if there's one among you, you can trust them and our judgment." Remus' tone was exasperated, and it was clear he and other senior members had taken the infighting as a slight against their own vigilance. "There will be no suspicions of this or any other defector from the rest of the Order," he said with quiet intensity. "They are here to fight with us. We will no longer fight amongst ourselves."

A hush fell over the room as he sat in his place at the head of the table. Hermione glanced at Draco to catch him looking at Remus with (begrudging) admiration. She liked the way it looked on him: it was certainly more approachable than his usual scowl. Hermione understood though, that suspicion and fear went both ways. In times like these, they all had their masks and shields.

Moody was limping to the head of the table as there was a commotion at the door. Kingsley strode in with the usual authority and flair, followed by a rather tall and very skinny man who looked to be in his fifties. His hair was entirely gray, his robes finely tailored, and his shoulders slumped in exhaustion.

"Daddy?" came a soft voice from the standing-room crowd by the sink.

Pansy pushed through with a look both hopeful and devastated. Hermione felt Ron stiffen in the seat next to her as the girl made her way to her father in a daze. She stared at him in shock for a moment before flinging her arms around him, her sobs muffled into his cloak. There was murmuring amongst the crowd, but Moody seemed content to halt the rest of the meeting while this played out.

Hermione suddenly missed her own parents with a sharpness she hadn't felt in months. While it seemed at times there were as many motives for fighting this war as there were members of the Order, it all boiled down to why anyone fights for anything: to care for their families, to keep their loved ones safe. She turned to see Draco watching; relieved at the relief of his dear friend, he let out a long exhale. Beneath that though, Hermione recognized a grief for absent loved ones that mirrored her own.

After only a couple of minutes, Bennett Parkinson pulled away from his daughter and turned to look around the room with a hard expression. "Is Ron Weasley here?"

Ron stood, and Parkinson's brow furrowed in confusion. Crossing to him, hand extended, Hermione had never seen Ron so upright and formal. "Nice meeting you, Mr Parkinson," he said tightly.

"There must be a mistake... or I'm mistaken." He turned to Pansy. "The one I met had red hair, but he was stockier, not as tall..."

It only took a second for her to realize who her father was describing, and her face went as white as the ghost of the Bloody Baron. "It was Seamus who...?" Pansy asked weakly.

"Surprised?" Ron's glare was withering. "Sometimes it's hard to see people for who they really are."

"But, Ron, I didn't know!" Pansy was wide-eyed, frantic. "How was I supposed to know?"

Enough anger finally mixed with the hurt to cause an explosion. "You shouldn't have to know, Pansy! You could have tried to understand, allowed me to explain..." He shook his head and his sorrow was palpable. "Or hell, you could have just believed in me."

Those words rang uncomfortably close to home for Hermione. Recalling Draco's pleas for the same from her over a year ago, she felt ashamed; for both her own actions and her rush to judge Pansy. She turned to find him already looking at her, and his expression was solemn but kind. He shook his head. She took a deep breath and nodded back.

Trusting and being vulnerable was not only a scary business, but one almost sure to involve missteps here and there. It meant being patient with each other in more ways than one, and Draco and Hermione both had things to forgive and faults to overlook.

If they could do it, perhaps there would be forgiveness in store for Pansy too. But not yet.

Pansy reached for Ron as he pulled away and went back to his seat. Hermione took his hand under the table and he squeezed back, but when she turned to him, he had only a weak smile to give.

Daphne stepped forward then, arms crossed over her chest, expression hard. She was always there to be of assistance to her friend when things got tough, if only to deflect blame. "What I want to know is what's going to happen to Seamus? He can't just get away with something like this!"

That brought a flurry of mumbles and grumbles and hisses from the room, which rose in volume and pitch until Harry stood, causing everyone to fall silent.

"I'm just back from Belfast," he began tiredly, head down. "Seamus is there, and he's going to stay there. He's done with the Order and the war. I want you all to know that he was welcome to return, but he opted to be Obliviated of all Order information instead."

He raised his head and looked around, and it was clear how pained he was by this business. "This war is changing all of us. We're each handling it in our own way. But sometimes we don't handle it at all, and it makes us do stupid things. Seamus made a mistake. It was rash and it was hurtful, but... it wasn't irreversible. At this point, I don't think any of us are in a position to judge him for it.

"We're all terrified of what's ahead," he said, so sincerely that a faint chill shot through the room. It was easy for people to forget that Harry was human, and it was important for them to be reminded from time to time. "But the Order of the Phoenix is not an army, and we're not the Death Eaters. You're here of your own free will, and if you're done, like Seamus, you're free to leave. You can go any time, with all our thanks.

"But if you're going, now is the time to go. Those of us who stay here tonight have to agree to commit to each other, to the war, to putting an end to Voldemort."

There was silence as his words settled over the crowd. No one moved to go. Hermione noted that Pansy and her father had matching expressions of stoic defiance – like father, like daughter. She saw Molly reach for Arthur's hand, and they shared a bracing smile. Everyone stood a little taller, raised their chins a bit higher.

Harry took all of it in, his green eyes strikingly bright. Hermione felt the rush of history at their backs, pushing them all inexorably toward the end. If the strength and resolve of her best friends were any indication, they were as ready as they'd ever be.

When it became clear no one was leaving, Harry nodded simply and sat. Moody got up to present information on the new targets provided by Parkinson, pointing each one out on a map, and the tension in the room simmered rather easily back down to normal. They were used to this; this was just war. After closing with more ridiculous safety tips for proper wand storage (exactly who had ever tried to stash theirs in a pickle barrel, anyway?), he yielded the floor again to Remus.

"Alright everyone. Since we've had a change in membership, we'll need to move some people around to compensate. Harry, Ron and Hermione's team is short now. I know everyone is really used to their partners, and it's difficult to—"

"I'll do it." The voice was clear, deep, and unmistakably belonging to Draco. As he stepped up to Remus at the head of the table, he was looking directly at Hermione, a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.

There was a physical shift in the room. Conversation and conjecture was barely hushed, and it was clear most assumed a brawl was about to begin between their two favorite prize fighters. Fred and George sprang into action, spinning about taking bets. This time, the odds were notably even.

"Oh, Draco... right." Remus stumbled, looking to the Trio where they sat in a row at the table. "Well, if it's alright with—"

"Fine with me, Malfoy," Harry said simply.

"Yeah, whatever," said Ron, shrugging.

Having expected a bit more fuss than that, Hermione froze with the eyes of the room on her. There was only one pair of eyes that mattered though, and they were looking more and more strained as each second ticked by. That dreadful, treasonous blush was back, blooming madly and spreading wildly from her cheeks downward. Her palms were damp and her breathing was suddenly no longer within her control.

This was different than in the privacy of her bedroom or the dark of a broom cupboard. To declare her feelings here would mean that everyone would know... and if it didn't work out, everyone would know that too. Hermione wasn't good at this sort of thing, and she wasn't ashamed to admit it. She could talk a good game and give the best advice in the world about relationships to friends and acquaintances alike, but like anything else with her, she was exceptionally well-learned in theory.

There was always a learning-curve when you got to the practical.

But then, there's always one moment of truth, when one has to take a stand, choose a side, and that moment says everything about a person. Draco had made his, so she could no longer hide behind her fear of trusting him. He'd no more left to prove, and it was time for her to at least meet him halfway.

Though she felt like her skin was so flushed it was about to catch fire, Hermione willed herself to nod her head with calm confidence.

By the sound of it, that wasn't quite the reaction the room had hoped for. From the look on his face, Draco had expected more too. The energy shifted as people started furiously hedging their bets. The twins leapt into the fore to assist in handicapping.

"Aw, come on, Hermione! We all know you're desperate for him, love," said Fred or George (at this point, it didn't bloody matter who).

"Yeah, you'd like your lover boy with you on cold, rainy nights, I'll wager," said whoever's infuriating carbon copy.

As annoyed as Hermione was at the twins and the frenzy of ridicule they were inspiring, it was Draco's smug reaction she absolutely could not abide. His arched brow awakened something within, and she was bolstered by it: this part of her would always be able to meet Draco Malfoy unafraid. Like this, they were equals, adversaries, partners. As she stood to face him, a hush fell over the room.

This she was good at.

"On the contrary," Hermione began lightly, "I agreed because I've heard such tales of his desperation that I could not in good conscience deny him. He might do himself some sort of harm."

A very healthy chorus of 'oohs' followed that as Draco's smile morphed into an intent look of engagement.

"That's interesting, Granger. You'll have to correct the impressions of Pansy, Daphne and Ron then, because they were quite convinced you were in a near-fatal swoon for my affection."

Those 'oohs' turned to 'ahhs' as Hermione gasped in outrage. She rounded the table to stand before him.

"Well, you'll have to check with Ginny and Luna, because they are rather convinced that your heart beats only for me."

"Is that so? They said the deed I held to you were for parts a little farther south," Draco said in a dangerous purr, his eyes tracking downward before flashing back to meet hers.

Hermione felt a tingle shoot right to that part of her he was so publicly claiming, but she refused to lose focus.

"Interesting, that," she countered hotly, "because they seem to think the Malfoy family jewels no longer reside in the vault, but in my hand."

The delighted twitters and groaning guffaws became nothing but background then. There was suddenly nothing but the electricity buzzing and arcing between Draco and herself. He was flushed, eyes bright, never wavering in his gaze. It was one of the most intimate moments of her life.

"Then," he said quietly, "are you saying they were mistaken?"

Hermione was taken aback, finding herself again on a precipice. If she was jumping though, she was taking him with her.

"Are you saying they were mistaken?"

His eyes narrowed as he growled. So mesmerized was she by steely grey, she didn't notice him moving toward her until he reached for her face with both hands. That was only a moment before his lips came crashing down on hers.

Through the haze that separated them from the rest of the people in the room, Hermione could hear Fred and George furiously trying to settle up.

Whoever said 'all's fair in love and war' had no idea what they were talking about. War had rules of engagement, treaties, laws, and clear winners and losers.

Love was primitive, chaotic, animal. But in love, everybody wins.

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Harry sighed.

It was a great, big sigh, the kind everyone was getting used to hearing from him. The war was going well: more captures and arrests had been made in the past month than in the whole year previous. The Ministry was fully back on its feet, and law and order had tenuously returned to Diagon Alley. Hogwarts had yet to reopen but people were returning to Hogsmeade. Voldemort was on the run and the Order of the Phoenix was closing in.

The mood in the front parlor at Grimmauld Place this evening was again one of hopefulness and jubilation.

But the war wasn't the bloody problem.

Harry could deal with the living in close quarters in safe houses. He could deal with the shortages, the lack of sleep, and the constant threat of a megalomaniacal psychopath out to kill him and everyone he loved.

And he could deal with the little things beyond his identity as a warrior too. He could accept the fear and the anger that permeated every day, the grief of mourning the loss of loved ones and a way of life, and the fact that everyone looked to him to save the wizarding world.

He'd even learned to deal with excessive, public, inappropriately-timed displays of affection.

What Harry couldn't deal with – what he'd indeed finally lost patience for – was the battle that waged without ceasing between Pansy and Ron. They were incapable of putting their differences to rest, but also apparently unable to stay away from each other. He didn't find it amusing or entertaining like the others did, and he prayed constantly for the fortitude to withstand the storm that was brewing.

If the conversation happening to the left of him was any indication of things to come, it would be a hurricane the likes of which he'd barely tolerated last time.

"You know, it's so clear those two really love each other. If only they could see it."

"Really? I must not be familiar with this particular mating dance. Is the throwing of one's drink in the other's face a traditional endearment?"

"Cute, Draco. I'm not saying it's obvious—"

"You just said it was 'clear.' How does that not—"

"I'm just saying that they need a push, that's all. I think if we could just get them to see how much they really love each other, they wouldn't need to fight."

"Hermione, that only happens in your books."

"Don't be silly – it happens all the time in plays and movies."

"Well, then. I stand corrected."

"It worked for us."

Hermione had pushed her way into Malfoy's lap, and Harry was beginning to rethink his tolerance of public displays of affection. He began formulating an escape plan.

"Yeah, well, we're different." Malfoy responded rather huffily.

Hermione leaned in to whisper in his ear, and his frown turned into a smirk. At that, Harry was just about resolved to get up and go when Malfoy scooped Hermione into his arms and stood, sweeping her squealing and giggling out of the parlor.

Harry sighed yet again. Two down.

But Ron and Pansy's fight seemed to have moved on to the topic of Hogwarts classes, and they were currently arguing who had been better in Potions. This wasn't going to end anytime soon; the odds the twins were giving were far too good.

He'd had it and was about to abandon this room – with the most comfortable sofas and the best light – for his dark, Doxy-ridden one upstairs, when Ginny came up to him with a hard, burning look and straddled his lap. Harry was not just the sort who disliked witnessing public displays of affection; he was terribly uncomfortable participating in them (post-Quidditch victory parties notwithstanding).

"Ginny, what—"

She kissed him then, a long, languid kiss that made every muscle in his body feel like he was sinking into a hot bath. When she was through, she pulled back, and if it weren't for her eyebrow raised in amusement, Harry wouldn't have noticed the shouts in the background.

"Oi! Ginny, that's just... wrong."

"Ack! My eyes!"

And with that, the twins quit the room.

Glancing around, Harry saw two more Weasley siblings among those left, and realized Ginny might have the right idea for getting rid of them. "But what about the others? Only your brothers are going to care if we..."

"You wanna bet? How about we see how far we can get in our public display before people take the hint and leave? Maybe they'll even learn something." She smirked wickedly.

Harry's face flushed, but not all parts of him were as shy as his sensibilities. His heart, for instance, was not shy at all. "I love you, Ginny Weasley."

She smiled, looking both proud of him and smug as hell. "See how simple that is? You would never guess with the way people carry on around here." Leaning in, her lips just touching his, she whispered, "C'mon, Harry Potter, let's show them how it's done."

What the hell, Harry thought. It was his house.

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~ * THE END * ~


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