Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Depressing, but true.

Hi sugars. Hee hee, yeah, Narcissa is gruesomely awesome. Glad you liked her (those of you who aren't off vomiting somewhere... three cheers for dismemberment!). Our beloved Malfoys are darker than usual this time around, as you've probably noticed. I had always imagined Queenie as a manticore, but it makes sense that many of you were expecting a dragon. If I'm still surprising you at this point, I'm happy.

This chapter: we see what happens when Blaise and Harry conspire, and yes, we do get a glimpse of our heroine. I know you've been on tenterhooks wondering where she's at... Totally understandable! Sadly I don't actually tell you where she actually was this chapter, but it's coming. I've got a juicy instalment to post sometime in the next few days, and then I'll be taking that pause to rework the ending a bit. ANYWAYS. Enjoy! xo

"Is it time yet?" Blaise asked, arms crossed, tapping his foot agitatedly against the floor.

He and Harry were staring at Draco's office door, hoping their friend was still conscious inside. One thing was for certain: he wouldn't last much longer without an intervention. Draco was spiraling out of control. They had to knock him out to get some nourishment into him last time, and he wasn't going to fall for the same trick again. He'd been positively caustic ever since.

"Shite mate, I don't know," Harry moaned, rubbing his forehead. "Are you still sure this is a good idea? I feel like it could backfire somewhat spectacularly."

"Of course it's a good idea!" Blaise replied, annoyed. "It's the best idea! You said so yourself."

"I agree that it is clever, but I just worry about luring Hermione out before she's ready. What if she's angry?"

Blaise rolled his eyes. "Angry we can manage. Would you rather she be dead?"

"Come on... Don't say that," Harry frowned.

"You know as well as I do that I might not be exaggerating," Blaise shrugged. "I think now is as good a time as any. She's been gone a week. Draco's mum is still sitting tight, hoping things will sort themselves, Lucius is off Merlin knows where, and we're at a fucking standstill. Draco's a total mess. If the hunger doesn't kill him, he might find a way to do it himself. Harry, it's time. We need to trick her out of wherever the fuck she's hiding, and we need to do it soon. They can sort out their business in person."

Harry sighed and adjusted his glasses. "Yeah, I guess you're right. It's time. Go ahead and send that owl."

Blaise grinned. "Already did. Just wanted to make sure you were still cool with it. Should be getting a response any second now."

"What?" Harry huffed. "Bloody hell, Blaise! Why bother asking me at all?"

"Because I want to make sure we're in this together. Remember: I'm on Draco duty, and you greet the guest."

There was a loud knock on the main door downstairs from the Trebax main office. Blaise let out a low whistle.

"She's here," he said. "Quick reaction on her part. Must be keen. You get the door mateā€¦ I'll prep Draco. Stall her for a minute, yeah?"

"I'll try. And if this all goes to shite?"

"I haven't really planned that far ahead, honestly."


Draco blinked, but otherwise gave no indication that he had heard his best friend's voice at the door. Given the nature of Blaise's interruptions over the past week, he was willing to bet that this was just another plea for him to eat a sandwich. There was no way he was getting up for that nonsense. Besides, he was finally comfortable. When he sat at his desk in exactly this position and pressed his forehead against the cool wood, he could almost imagine that he was somewhere else, somewhere far away from the searing ache in his chest, the empty longing he felt right down to the pit of his stomach.

She was still gone. Against all his wishes, she was still gone. It was as if there was a jagged wound inside of him, leaking toxic sludge into his veins, drop by drop. This feeling was poison, and it was sucking him dry.

He needed her, but she didn't need him.

That fact, that festering, rotting fact made him want to give up on everything. Hermione made him love her and then ran away. And apparently she was fine with it, because otherwise she would have returned to him. She could handle being separated indefinitely. She was strong. He, on the other hand, was a bleeding disaster. Gods, he was so fucking pathetic. What sort of a Malfoy wanted to die because they were rejected by a girl? A fucking failure of a Malfoy, that's who.

But it was still true. He was starting to wonder if death might be more pleasant than this hell he was living. So far, his inclination was a resounding affirmative.

"Drake!" The knocking was louder now, and Draco frowned, annoyed at the sound.

Silly Blaise. Even if he did want to get up, it was going to be hard on a purely mechanical basis. This hunger strike of his had made him extremely weak. Standing up had become difficult. Walking to the door might knock him out completely. His vision swam with the effort of turning his head.

No, he would stay here. It was better that way. Blaise was bound to give up soon.

Blaise's muffled swearing could be heard through the wood, and Draco detected a rustling of fabric as his friend rifled through his pockets. Was he grabbing the sandwich? Didn't he realize that his mission was pointless?

The door blew off its hinges. Ah. No, Blaise had not been grabbing a sandwich. He had been grabbing his wand. Seemed rather obvious now, in retrospect.

"You'd better fix that door," mumbled Draco, squinting as he watched his friend's silhouette march towards him. Everything was blurry. "What the fuck do you want, anyway? I told you I didn't want to be disturbed. I'm busy."

"Busy daydreaming about your own death? That doesn't count. That makes you decidedly not busy. As for why I'm here, I want you to drink this potion," said Blaise, confidently.

"Piss off," Draco sneered. "So you can force me to eat again? Are you barking?"

"I'm not barking, and I've got no food to force down your throat. Believe me, it's important that you drink it."

"Oh?" Draco said, attempting to chuckle but only managing a limp whimper. "Why's that? Will it remove every memory I've got about Hermione? Will it make me forget that she doesn't want to be with me? Will it distract me from my complete failure of a life?"

"Uh, no," Blaise frowned. "But if you drink it, I will give you some news about her."

Draco sat up, his eyes widening. "Are you fucking with me? You'd better not be fucking with me, Blaise."

"No fucking going on here," Blaise said with his hands in the air, the small vial tucked in between his thumb and his palm, a wicked grin on his face. "Drink up." He tossed the bottle over.

With an almost panicked flail, Draco snatched the potion and gulped it down, knowing at once exactly what it was. He grimaced, wiping his mouth as energy filled up his body.

"Why are you giving me a restorative?" he snapped. "I don't want to be alert, in case you haven't noticed."

"I noticed, but you need to be alert," Blaise replied. "You've got a visitor."

Draco's eyebrows shot upwards, and his heart began to hammer in his chest, his breathing speeding up so much that he became dizzy. "You... You don't mean..."

"It's not Granger mate," Blaise said, apologetically. "But I still think you'll be happy about it."

"Not Granger?" Draco roared, standing up abruptly, fuelled by the potion. "Then I don't want to fucking see anyone! I want her. I only want her. I don't want to see anyone else, do you understand me?"

"I understand," said his friend, nodding calmly. "Now about that visitor - "

"Fuck the visitor. What news do you have for me? You said you had news about Hermione."

"Oh, right," Blaise said, awkwardly, glancing over his shoulder. "Uh, someone said they might've seen her in Brighton."

"Might've?" Draco said, suspiciously. "Who is this someone?"

"Third cousin of mine," Blaise said, quickly. "I'll look into it. Thought you might want to know."

"You made me drink a potion for that?" Draco seethed. "Any tosspot could have made that up!"

"It's a legitimate lead!" Blaise pouted.

"It's a waste of my time. Now piss off. I've got to figure out how to get this stupid potion out of my system. A nice sleep tonic should do the trick. Or maybe ten sleep tonics. Fucked if i care."

"I wouldn't do that, mate," Blaise said.

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because I can't very well catch up with you when you're knocked out cold!" said a sing-song female voice, tapping heels echoing in the main office as the owner approached.

Draco looked up, confusion and dread churning his stomach. He knew that voice, and glanced at Blaise, clearly panicked. "You didn't," he whispered.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Blaise, innocently. "She came of her own accord. I had nothing to do with it."

They both looked back towards the door, still hanging off its hinges and smoking slightly. The sound of tapping heels stopped right outside. A woman stepped over the threshold.

"Hello darling," said Pansy Parkinson. "I've missed you."

Draco was attempting to bore holes into Blaise's skull with the sheer power of his will. It wasn't working.

"Stop staring at me like that mate," Blaise said, chuckling nervously. "It's a bit freaky."

Freakier once this works and your brains ooze out your eye sockets, thought Draco. Instead, he glared, trying to block out the insistent buzzing that was Pansy's voice. All four of them were sitting in the lounge area of the office, and Pansy had not shut up once since she arrived.

"So then I bought myself a mink coat, because they are seriously all the rage in Russia, only to find out that the one I chose was cursed and wouldn't come off once I put it on! Can you believe that? Bloody hot, I can tell you that much, and it cost me a damn fortune to have an old crone remove the spell. I smelled like a rodent for weeks!"

Pansy continued to babble nonsensically, moving on to topics like the benefits of platform shoes over simple pumps, glamour charms to make your makeup essentially permanent, and magical tattoo removal, citing some error with a "tramp stamp," whatever the hell that was.

Draco continued to fume, his eyes drifting over to Harry, who was dozing off beneath the cover of his shaggy bangs. Potter. Did he know Pansy was coming? Hard to say. He seemed too clueless to plan a fuck-up of this magnitude.

No, this stunt had Blaise written all over it.

The question was... What exactly was Blaise hoping to accomplish? Draco and Pansy had grown up together, shagged like animals in school, and abruptly called everything to a halt when the seriousness of the War became apparent. It's not that Draco disliked Pansy: she was pleasing to look at, she had been fun to snog, they came from similar backgrounds, but Merlin did she ever turn him right off. Verbal diarrhea was spewing out of her in an incessant stream and he wanted nothing more than to slap a silencing spell on her before he was tempted to do something radical. Blaise would probably be his first casualty, but it was anyone's guess where Draco would go from there. It would be a massacre brought on by a goddamn mink coat. No survivors. The Prophet would eat it up.

"Pansy, why are you here?" Draco asked, cutting her off in the middle of one of her stories.

She glared at him. "Honestly Draco, have your manners completely fucked off since I left?"

"No, my ability to care about things like manners has completely fucked off," he snapped. "Listen, it's very nice to see you, but this isn't a great time for a visit, honestly, and I've got work to do, so if you don't mind - "

"I do mind!" she said, affronted, tears springing to her eyes. "I've come all the way from Russia to see you and you just blow me off?"

"Pans, I'm not blowing you off," he sighed, feeling slightly guilty. "I'm just wondering if you've got a specific reason for being here, is all."

"I don't see why I need a specific reason to visit one of my oldest friends," she sniffed, wiping her cheeks. "We've known each other since we were children!"

"Okay, I'm sorry for suggesting that - "

"But I suppose there is a reason, now that you mention it."

Draco's mouth snapped shut, and his eyes narrowed to mistrusting slits. That sounded a little more like the Pansy he knew. "Oh?" he said.

Pansy shimmied closer to him, and he attempted to slide further away on the couch, but he was already against the armrest. Her hand slid over his thigh. He swallowed uncomfortably. Shite. Most definitely the Pansy he knew. Whatever she was up to, he needed to get out of it. Fast.

"I understand you're still unmarried," she said, her voice low and suggestive.

"Wha - "

"Since I am also unmarried, and since the Malfoy name doesn't hold the baggage it used to, I was thinking that we could start up our old fling again." She smiled, as if that explained everything.

"Excuse me?" he said, his eyes flitting over to Blaise and Harry, trying to determine if he'd imagined her inane statement. They both shrugged awkwardly and pretended they didn't notice Pansy begin to stroke Draco's leg.

Harry failed, and cringed.

Blaise failed, and snickered.

"Pans!" Draco said angrily, slapping her hand away. "Honestly, what the f - "

"Your parents would be thrilled, I'm sure," she said, ignoring his protests, her fingers reaching for him. "They always thought we'd be a good match. We have great chemistry. We're both Purebloods. We both come from money, although I understand you're running a little lower than usual. I can spot you in the meantime. Oh, Draco, wouldn't it be fun?"

"Fun?" he gaped, standing up and nearly falling over himself to get away from her grasping hands. "No Pans, that's not what I would call fun. We dated in school. It was fine at the time, but we're not going to date again, okay?"

Pansy stood up, her black mini dress riding high on her thighs, her lips pouting. "Why not, Draco? We had great times together, you'll recall."

"You mean before my life fell apart and Voldemort moved into my house?" he said. "Sure, great, but those days are over. Jesus, I can't believe you'd even suggest it!"

"Those days don't have to be over," she said with a sultry wink, bringing her voice down to a whisper. "Do I need to remind you about that thing I can do with my tongue?"

Draco groaned with embarrassment. Blaise perked up, listening with interest. "Bloody hell Pansy, nobody needs to hear about - "

"We could have everything we wanted," she continued, walking towards him. "A big house, influence, a family..."

"I don't want those things!" he said. With you, he thought, his eyes darting around the room. He needed to get out of here. This was getting increasingly uncomfortable, and he was starting to feel itchy at the mere thought of Pansy's hands on him. He only wanted one set of hands on him, and those hands had gone tragically missing.

"Of course you do," she shrugged. "Everybody wants those things. Look Draco, I always get what I want, and right now, I want you. Don't fuss. What will it take?"

"I'm not like a sodding mink coat, Pansy!" he growled. "I'm not something you can buy."

"Are you sure? Everyone has their price," she smirked.

"Just what are you suggesting?" he said, angrily, backing up again.

Harry and Blaise kept looking between Draco and Pansy as though they were watching a tennis match. One side, then the other. One side, then the other.

"I'm suggesting that you let me give you what you want."

"You don't know what I want, Pansy, and I'm telling you that I'm not interested," he said, firmly, eyeing the window and trying to decide if he could manage to leap out of it. He might break a bone.

It would be completely worth it.

"Of course you are!" she said, brightly, not listening to his refusal. "It's a brilliant offer. And besides, I used to know you better than anyone. How much could you have changed, really?"

"Everything has changed," he said, suddenly sombre. "I've changed. You have no idea how much."

"Oh please," she snorted, crossing her arms haughtily. "How exactly? Once a Malfoy, always a Malfoy. You look the same, albeit a bit older. You're still a rude arsehole - sorry darling. You care dearly for your parents and you care very little for everyone else. What's different?"

"You really want to know?"

"Try me."

"I've fallen in love with Hermione Granger," he stated.

There was a long silence as she stared at him.

"I don't believe you," she said, but her voice was quieter this time.

"I don't care what you believe, but it's true," he said. "I'm in love with her, and if I can't be with her, then I'm not going to be with anyone. Sorry Pans, but it's not going to happen."

She frowned, trying to decide how serious he was about this. "But perhaps if - "

"No," he said, shaking his head. "For the last time, I'm not interested."

"But Draco, we could just - "

"He told you he's not interested," came a voice. Everyone whipped around.

Hermione was standing in the doorway, looking thin and tired, her clothing singed, but with a clear fire in her eyes. Her hair was hidden by a pale purple scarf. Her wand was raised.

Draco's mouth dropped open.

"And if you don't step away from him now, I will personally remove you from the premises," Hermione finished, pointing her wand directly at Pansy.

Pansy and Hermione glared at each other for several seconds, and then slowly, Pansy began to back away from Draco. She sashayed over to Blaise and picked up her purse.

"I can see where I'm not wanted," she said, curtly, pulling out a hand mirror and reapplying her lipstick. "Nice to see you, Draco. Blaise, Harry, would you mind walking me out?"

Both men scrambled to their feet, trying not to stare at Hermione as they shuffled towards the exit. Hermione didn't notice. She had locked eyes with Draco and had obviously forgotten anybody else was in the room, both of them immobile like deer in the headlights.

Pansy, Blaise and Harry crept out of the office, glancing back over their shoulders at the frozen pair.

"Well it's about damn time," whispered Pansy to the boys. "I could only keep up that act for so long. Thank goodness you were right, Blaise. Her weird instincts completely reacted to my advances."

"It was just a theory, but I'm bloody glad it worked," whispered Blaise with an approving smile. "You were brilliant, by the way. Honestly. I nearly believed that blather about the mink coat, you were so good."

"Yeah, really excellent," whispered Harry, looking pained as he counted out a handful of Galleons to hand to Blaise. "Remind me not to bet against you next time, Blaise. You've obviously got this devious thing down pat. I'm out of practice."

Blaise grinned. "Best plan, just like I said. But I really couldn't have done it without Pansy. Pans, I owe you one."

"Well, after I got your message, I couldn't very well refuse," she smirked. "I mean, Draco in love with Hermione Granger? It's too bizarre to ignore! And it's the real thing, too. Did you see how serious he was about it? I think he might have actually been repulsed by me." She frowned, thinking that over. "Tosser," she muttered under her breath.

"Speaking of those two," said Blaise. "I think we should hang out here in the hallway and make sure they're doing okay. Hermione's clothing looked like it had recently been... Well..."

"Aflame?" offered Pansy.

"Yes," said Blaise. "Which makes me wonder where she's been hiding and what she had to do to get out. We should stick around for a bit."

"So... You mean eavesdrop?" Harry asked.

"Of course I mean eavesdrop," Blaise said, as if that was the stupidest question in the world. "What did you think I meant... Guard the building for their safety?"

They all shared a look and then shrugged, hunkering down by the door.

"Hey, Pans?" Blaise whispered.

"Hm?" she said.

"Since we might be here a while... I'm curious. What's the thing you can do with your tongue?"