Just a quick author's note, because I really have to get to my physics homework. Anyone who can explain electric fields to me can request another chapter.

I hope you enjoy this- and once again, I'll say that it is over and probably feel compelled to write another chapter in a month. Thank you for all the lovely reviews.

The hall was filled with people, flittering in robes of green and gold, bronze and umber. Witches and wizards flocked to colorful groups, then split again into another swirl of laughing faces and gesturing hands.

Hermione Granger, however, watched the festivities from a dimly lit corner of the large room, sipping at a cup of wine as she followed various friends and housemates around the dance floor. After the speeches were finished and the awards handed out, it seemed like her work was done. Harry was dancing with Luna as Ginny watched on possessively, and Ron was chatting awkwardly with Lavender as she hung onto Dean Thomas' arm and batted her eyes at the ruffled redhead.

Hermione snorted delicately, and tossed her head disdainfully. She didn't have enough patience for Ron's attempted flirtations, especially since he expected her to help him navigate through every forgotten birthday and unappreciated comment.

"Weasley's making a fool of himself again," a haughty voice said, slightly to her left. The even haughtier face of Draco Malfoy met her eyes when she turned her head in surprise. He was looking out into the crowd, a slight sneer pasted on his face. He looked every part the gallant wizard- tailored robes, blond hair artfully tousled without being messy, and glass of champagne in hand that Hermione suspected had been manicured.

"Malfoy," said Hermione, a small smile flitting across her face before it returned to its former impassive state.

His head inclined in the barest approximation of a nod. "Granger."

They returned to watching the Victory Ball, quietly sipping their drinks. Draco spoke first. "You're not going to reprimand me for mocking Weasley?"

"That would be hypocritical," Hermione replied, a hint of wry humor in her voice. "Since I feel the same way myself." She glanced up at the same time he looked up; their eyes met and she gave him a small smile before returning her attentions to the sights before her.

Draco yawned, glanced around, then tugged discretely at his collar. At Hermione's raised eyebrow, he scowled. "These things itch, Granger."

"You can call me Hermione, you know," was all the woman said. "After all, you did accost me in the corridor last year."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Draco asked, a tad indignant.

Hermione shook her head slowly. "Gods, you boys are hopeless," she muttered. "Because I would prefer to think that I am on at least a first-name basis with people I've kissed."

Apparently, that made sense to Draco. "Well then, Hermione," he drawled, "I'll respect your sense of-"

"Decency," Hermione finished firmly. "My sense of decency. I'm not a common slag, you know."

His grey eyes burned hot for a moment. "I know," he answered. "It wasn't my intention to treat you like-"

"You didn't," Hermione interrupted again. "And I did kiss you back, you know."

He nodded, conceding the point in his head. "And then you avoided me for a year." He didn't wince, as much as he wanted to. That stung, a bit.

"That I did," agreed Hermione. "At least at first. But then I got busy." She shrugged unapologetically. "Sorry."

Draco snorted, but then lifted his glass to her, actions heavily sarcastic. "I forgot. Congratulations on your position. Youngest Unspeakable ever. Not even twenty and already you've discovered a way to unweave the ancient magic of the Widow's Veil." It was true- Hermione Granger had officially broken the magic of the archway in the Department of Mysteries, ending the tempting call of the enchanted object. No one else would ever fall through and die again.

Her eyes slid over him, hooded with distaste. "Not soon enough. To many disappeared into that abomination." Their gazes returned to the dance floor. Harry was now spinning an ecstatic Ginny in his arms, and Ron was sulking around the bar.

"Aren't you going to go cut of Weasley?" Draco asked after a moment.

"I'm not his mother any more than I am yours," Hermione replied steadily. "If he has a hangover in the morning, it's his own bloody fault."

Draco smirked. "Watch the tongue, Granger. You're in polite company, you know."

"Don't make me laugh, Draco," Hermione said with a snort. "You're no more polite company than I am the Minister of Magic."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "So I should get back to you on that in fifteen years?" he suggested. "Everyone is waiting for the brightest witch of the age to take the position of the head of Magical government in Great Britain. They'll be clamoring for it in ten years. I guess you'll give into the overwhelming pressure before you turn thirty."

"Unlike you I'm not interested in running for office," Hermione said, with an air of a line much repeated. "Maybe I want to bury myself in research and fade into obscurity."

Sighing, Draco took a hearty swig of champagne. "Well, you're doing a good job of it. Sitting in a corner, dressed like a widow…" It was true. Hermione was in long black dress robes, robes that rose to a high lacy collar with sleeves that clung tight to her wrists.

"It's your aunt's fault," snapped Hermione. "You were there when she gave me all those goddamn scars." The previously friendly air turned slightly cold and unwelcoming at her words- Draco shifted uncomfortably and Hermione ran her fingers over the lace-covered word on her arm.

He looked at her again, and reluctantly, she turned her head to look him in the eye. "I've apologized for that before," he said in a low voice, eyes soft. "I'll do it again."

Hermione gave him a small smile. "That's something I never thought I'd see," she murmured. "Draco Malfoy apologizing to a-" she broke off what she was going to say. "Have you really changed? Or is this a politician's act to return to the good graces of the public?" Her gaze, if it was possible, was full of disinterested curiosity. It was as if she did want to know the answer, but she wasn't hinging anything on what he said.

"You wound me," Draco deadpanned, laying a smooth hand over his heart. "Really. I'm injured."

To her surprise, Hermione found herself laughing. "Come off it," she ordered. "What's to say that you're not chatting me up so you can be the Minister of Magic in ten years?"

He shrugged, and leaned against the wall. His position was so like the one he had taken up all those months ago that she drew in a shaky breath. "Nothing, I suppose. But I'm telling you I'm not."

She stared at him for a long moment, eyes searching his face. "Alright," she said finally. "So you're not doing this to garner the approval of the common masses."

"If I wanted to do that I'd pay Skeeter to write a really sympathetic article about me," Draco said, shrugging again. "And then get her to write one discrediting you to make sure I'd win the election."

Hermione tutted, shaking a finger. "Nope. Wouldn't work."

Draco rolled his eyes, expression sarcastically disappointed. "Darn. Care to tell me why so I can work it into my plan for world domination?"

"Not a chance," Hermione said, smirking at him. "And I'm afraid that if you ever tried to rule the world I'd have to step in and stop you."

The blond boy mock glared at her. "Fine. I'll stick to pulling strings behind the scenes."

"Whatever you say, puppet-master," replied Hermione, hiding her smile with sarcasm.

"Dance with me," Draco said suddenly.

Hermione whipped her head around and glared. "No."

"Why not?" he wheedled. "My glass is empty, your glass is empty, and I feel like dancing. And you did say, 'whatever you say,' so you kind of have to dance with me."

"Nope," Hermione said again, folding her arms resolutely. "And my glass isn't empty."

Sighing, Draco swooped down and stole the slender flute from her fingers, draining it in one large gulp. "Now it is. Dance with me."

Hermione cast her glance around the room, then patted her hair nervously. "No."

"You look fine if that's what's bothering you," said Draco impatiently. "Less slag-like than Brown, less matronly than McGonagall. Let's go."

She bit her lip, and suddenly, all Draco could remember was how they had looked a year ago, red and wet and open for him…

"I can't dance," she lied nervously. "I'd step on your feet."

"Liar," Draco said immediately. "You danced perfectly well with Krum at the Yule Ball and he had two left feet."

She glared at him, and he just smirked at her. "I'm not giving up any time soon," Draco informed her, smirk widening. "You're going to dance with me tonight if I have to drag on up there."

"Why do you want to dance with me?" Hermione asked, huffing with exasperation. Draco thought she looked adorable when annoyed. That thought didn't bother him as much as it would have a year ago. Lately, he had found himself staring after her as she rushed down to the Department of Mysteries horribly late and looking like a tumbleweed was stuck to her head, or following the path she had made through the crowd at the Ministry to find a trace of her perfume.

But she didn't need to know that. "Why not?" Draco answered. "I would rather dance with you than the Weaslette or Pansy. Weasley would try and step on my feet every other step while Potter and the other Weasleys glare at me, and Pansy would simper and completely fail to be subtle when she tries to hint that we should reinstate our betrothal. At least you have something intelligent to say and you don't hate my guts."

Hermione sighed, then nodded at him. "Alright. Let's dance."

He couldn't contain his smirk as he offered his arm, and she accepted it. The last dance, a foxtrot, ended and more couples were leaving the dance floor than were entering. Earlier in the evening it had been so crowded that even with his expert maneuvering skills, he had bumped into a few people.

Hermione curtseyed and he bowed, as protocol demanded- at a Ball as formal as this one, every pompous tradition was followed to a tee. They came together smoothly, the hand not on his shoulder warm and soft in his. Her waist was tiny, but not as small as it had been a year ago. She filled out nicely, he thought, when she was eating regularly.

For Hermione, it was strange being so close to a boy she had disliked for so long. Now she wasn't sure- he was tall and warm near her, and his cologne smelled… the best word she had for it was manly and she wanted to roll her eyes at that but she couldn't. Instead, she was focusing on moving her feet in time with his.

"Relax, Granger," he said under his breath. "Just let me lead."

She took in a slightly shaky breath. "Sorry," she replied, un-tensing her muscles. "The last time I danced was at… at Bill's wedding."

"The Weasley who married the half-veela?" Draco asked, deftly guiding them through two couples to get away from a disastrously clumsy Neville Longbottom dancing with Hannah Abbott.

Hermione nodded. It really was easier if she just let him guide her, she was realizing. It was really quite fun to dance with someone who knew what they were doing. "Quarter-veela," she corrected absentmindedly. "Harry told me her grandmother was a full veela."

Draco moved closer to her, leaning down to whisper, "And speaking of Potter, look at how far his jaw dropped. We might have to take him to one of those Muggle mouth Healers." Hermione drew in another unsteady breath with his closeness. It had been a long time since she had been near someone so… male. So tempting. He was sexy, and he knew it. So different from the shyly awkward Harry, or the oblivious Ron.

On the next spin, she caught their reactions. Draco hadn't exaggerated much- their mouths were hanging open in a most un-charming way. She had to bite back a laugh when she returned to Draco's arms. "Oh dear," she laughed, almost missing the next step. "They really do look shocked."

"Understatement of the century," Draco said, with a short laugh of his own. "They look like their best friend stole their krup, then let it loose to run back to them before viciously running it over with a white van painted with happy Dementors."

Hermione giggled, delight bringing lovely roses to her cheeks. "Is that a common situation in the Wizarding world?" she asked, smiling at him. "Can Dementors look happy? And why did you choose a white van?"

Draco shook his head in mock irritation. "Really, Hermione," he drawled. "Of all the questions you go for, 'why did you choose a white van?' is the one you pick?"

"Only if you ignore the first two I asked," Hermione replied tartly. "Prat." She was treating him like she would have treated Harry or Ron- except she and Ron hadn't really talked in months and Harry was too busy getting a life together with Ginny to spend time with her.

"Insufferable know-it-all," he shot back at her. "And for your information, I have seen a happy Dementor. Not the most pleasant sight, but it was most definitely happy." He artfully spun her, making her laugh out loud in delight as he reclaimed her. His arms held her tight- as wrong as it seemed, she felt safe.

Ron had made his way over to Harry, and the two were gesturing wildly. When Hermione glanced over to them again, her stomach clenched. Draco noticed the worried look in her face- he frowned as he considered the two boys. Potter, always ready to rush head in. Weasley, always ready to do whatever Potter told him. Buffons, the two of them.

"Do you want to go somewhere more private," he whispered, leaning in so his soft words would reach her ear. His face broke into a small smirk at the way she shivered when his warm breath reached the gentle shell of her ear- she definitely remembered that devastated sunlit afternoon.

She peeked up at him, a change from her usually more confident demeanor. "Sure," she whispered back. "Harry and Ron look about ready to explode."

He scanned the dance floor, mentally creating a path that led them closest to the door- then he began moving with a purpose, pulling Hermione to him and waltzing over to the edge of the floor. He led them off the raised portion of the floor, then offered her his arm. She accepted it, and he hastily swept them out to the halls of the Ministry.

"Did they see us?" Hermione murmured, leaning into Draco to glance behind them. "I hope not. They'll be more likely to kill you if we're out here and without witnesses."

Draco scoffed at the notion- he was more than a match for Weasley or Potter. Or Weasley and Potter. "Let them try." They were moving quickly through the quiet, still halls. Draco knew the like the back of his hand- he had been wandering the Ministry with his father since he was ten.

Hermione shrugged. "Don't be so cocky," she warned. "Harry is really an amazing duelist. And Ron isn't half bad either."

"I don't believe you," Draco said, snorting delicately. "I know you can duel. But do you remember when that fool Lockhart was there and we had the dueling club?"

The memory was too much- Hermione laughed out loud. "That was hilarious, in retrospect and if you ignore the incident afterward. But yes, I remember." They made it to the Atrium- the fountain had been rebuilt, but instead of the collection of species, it was a black wall inscribed with the names of those who had died in the war. They had wanted to put three statues- Harry, Hermione, and Ron- in its place, but Hermione had put her foot down and flatly refused. Harry had seconded that motion, and Ron had grudgingly conceded that it wasn't good taste.

"Then you know that if I had used just about any other spell that didn't involve the one animal he can speak to, I would have won that duel." They had stopped at one of the many benches around the Atrium. Hermione swept her skirts to the side and sat down, Draco joining her after a moment of consideration.

Hermione shook her head, then looked up to stare Draco straight in the eye. "That duel, maybe. But ever since the DA, Harry's been the best. He's the one who taught me."

Draco appeared slightly put out at that- Hermione was certain that if he had been just five years younger, his lower lip would have slid out in a pout. "Nevertheless. I'd still beat him."

"If you say so," Hermione replied, a devious little smile on her face.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the far-away strains of music from the Ball, and the laughter of the happy people.

"A year ago, Harry killed him forever," Hermione said softly, almost under her breath. Draco could hear her perfectly though- other than the faint melodies and chatter, the Atrium was completely empty. "And the nightmare ended."

When she looked over at him, his head was tilted back on the cold grey stone. His eyes were closed and his face clear of wrinkles- he looked like a young Lucius Malfoy. "Your nightmare ended," Draco breathed. "Mine… mine morphed. I went from fear of death under a tyrannical manic to fear of having my soul sucked out by Dementors because I didn't want my parents to die."

"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered, drawing her knees up to her chest, not caring she was wrinkling her dress. "I'm so sorry."

Draco turned his head to look at her, face suddenly vulnerable. "I never said thank you," he muttered after a moment. "For getting me off."

"I just testified," Hermione told him gently. "I didn't do anything-"

"You testified on my behalf," Draco interrupted. "And- and you told them it didn't matter that I stood by and watched you scream because I tried to get you out of it."

The woman's cheeks reddened slightly. "You did. I remember. I- the nightmares haven't gone away yet."

Draco kept his gaze on here. "Mine either," he told her truthfully. "I don't think they ever will. What about you?"

"Maybe someday," Hermione said wistfully. "But I've been wrong before. I didn't think we were going to get out alive, remember?" Their voices echoed softly in the large stone anteroom, bouncing around and giving strange intonations.

They were sitting facing each other, each with one side of their heads on the cool stone. Hermione's eyes were solemn, long lashes hitting her cheeks each time she blinked. Her hair was still as unmanageable as ever, her nose a trifle too thin for her face. Draco could remember the delicate feel of her face in his palm, like a frail little bird with bones that would snap if he pressed too hard.

"And yet, here we are," murmured Draco, voice dipping lower than it usually did. "Alive and- breathing. We're breathing."

"That we are," Hermione agreed. "Are you happier, now?"

Draco considered for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders. "Yes. I mean, we're not in the middle of a war anymore. I just don't know what I want to do. It was either die or rise to become the Dark Lord's right hand. And now…"

"And now we are the lost generation," Hermione finished for him, the unflinching understanding she was projecting comforting the Slytherin prince. "For we expected nothing more than death, and yet we have life. The questions now is what to do with it. It's a shame- no, it's a crime to waste it. Too many people died, good and bad. And it seems like anything ordinary would be a waste as well- we were granted this gift, shouldn't we use it? And yet… only a few people can be extraordinary."

Her soft, melodic voice was dancing around his head and soothing his tired features. "But you can be extraordinary. All I can be is a Malfoy."

"Then be one," she exclaimed. "You have money, you have looks, you have charm. Make things better. Do something. Become more than a name."

He raised one eyebrow. "That sounds way too fucking cliché, Granger."

"You sound fucking pathetic, Malfoy," she spat back. "Do something!"

And he did- he leaned over and kissed her hard, pulling her up to press her to the wall next to the bench. The cold, unfeeling stones dug into her back, a sharp contrast to the warm and very male body pressed against her front. Draco Malfoy's lips were harsh against hers, his tongue taking her mouth as one hand wound itself in her heavy curls.

Hermione eyes were wide open, staring right into his grey ones. He smirked against her lips, deliberately moving the hand that was safely on her waist up. She gasped- and he renewed his attack for a few moments before pulling away to suck on her neck. Her hands went to his head- but to pull him away or hold him there she didn't know.

"Well, Hermione?" She could feel the vibration rumbling in his chest, and his hot breath on her ear. "Is this something enough for you?"

He could fell her heart pounding hard beneath the thin black fabric of her robes, and it made him feel good- alive, powerful, and wanted. When Hermione let out what might have been a small, strangled moan, he bid down on her earlobe. "Yes," she breathed. "Gods- Draco-" The smell of his cologne was tempting and the white throat he was presenting her with seemed too good to be true.

Draco moved back to her lips, kissing her sweetly now instead of roughly, like he had before. The hand moved back to the smooth curve of her waist, and the hand in her hair moved to cup her face. He enjoyed it for a few moments longer, then pulled away to look down at his handiwork.

Her lips were red, which he had expected. He liked the hickey on her neck very much- he would have to do that again. "Alright then," he said, unable to contain the smile that emerged on his face. "Would you care to have lunch with me tomorrow?"

She stared back at him, incredulous. "Sure. Start at the first date stuff after trying to snog my brains out."

"Well?" he pressed, patting his hair to smooth it down. "I'll get us reservations at La Belle Fille. Excellent savory crepes."

Hermione leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes, somehow projecting both exasperation and happiness at the same time. "Fine. You can stop by my office at twelve."

The grin he gave her was victorious- it did something to her insides to know he was this happy because he had scored a date with her. "Good. Come prepared with happy things to talk about. It seems that every time we talk we end up dwelling on morbidity and mortality."

"Only if you come without a pretentious attitude," Hermione shot back, running her fingers through her hair and grimacing when they stuck. "Great. You've made a mess of my hair."

"It was already a mess," Draco said offhand. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He glanced at her, hands stuffed in his pockets- all very elegantly of course. Something clicked- as if he had made a decision and was going to carry it through. He took two quick strides to her, kissed her lightly on the lips, mouth closed, then walked away. He couldn't help but glance back a few steps later, and was gratified to see her standing still, fingertips pressed to her lips.

Ron and Harry found Hermione fifteen minutes later, sitting on the bench deep in thought. They looked at each other, then at her again.

"Hermione?" ventured Harry carefully. "Is everything alright?"

Ron burst in, unable to control himself. "We saw you dancing with Malfoy and then you left so we weren't sure if you were okay. We saw the prat leave a few minutes ago, though, so we headed in this direction and found you."

As much as she wanted to laugh, Hermione shook her head, stood up, and smoothed out her skirts. "I'm fine," she assured them, smiling mysteriously. "But I should get home now."

"Why?" asked Ron, head turning in the direction of the party. "The Ball won't be over for another three hours."

Hermione grinned again, anticipating the shock. "I have a date tomorrow with Draco," she said as flippantly as she could manage. "I'll need to get into the office early so I can have more time for lunch." And so she left them, surprised and horrified beyond belief.

So. The end. Again. I think I really will leave it at that this time. Quite a lengthy birthday present, Gwen, don't you think? :)

Tell me what you thought as always. Hopefully, that is enough of a resolution for all of you. Wish me luck- not only do I have an awful cold/flu/sore throat type thing, but I have a Physics quiz, Math Studies quiz, French presentation, Economics quiz, AND tomorrow is picture day. All of that is going on tomorrow. I feel screwed already.

Leave me a review and make me feel better!