The Injury Of Finally Knowing You - VanillaSage - Harry Potter (2024)

Chapter 1: Prologue

Chapter Text

The Injury Of Finally Knowing You - VanillaSage - Harry Potter (1)

Prologue: Unforgotten

Do you know I could break beneath the weight
Of the goodness, love, I still carry for you

NOW.

The music seemed to slither from the doorway as a handful of drunken idiots tumbled out from inside it and fell into her path, laughing and shoving each other with a youthful exuberance Hermione could hardly remember possessing herself. They didn’t hold her attention for more than a bare moment, though, as she found herself drawn to the music coming from inside.

Immediately, without rhyme or reason or even hint, she knew.

It wasn’t that she recognized the song. In fact, she was quite certain she’d never heard it before in her life. From where she was standing, she couldn’t even actually hear the singer's voice, just the sort of hum and essence of it, but that was all it took for her to instinctively know that it was him.

It was him.

Without even pausing to think about it, almost as though she had no choice in the matter, she found herself changing course and abandoning her plans to continue on in the direction of her home. Instead, she turned and entered where the noisy crowd had just exited.

Had it been any other day of her life, Hermione was convinced she would have been able to resist the pull and keep her focus, her footsteps moving forward, as they always did by that point in her life, with an almost otherworldly determination. It was, after all, what she had trained herself to do, no matter what.

But it wasn’t any other day and, though she didn’t necessarily believe in fate the way she knew other people did, that fact was alone enough to shake her foundations more than it should have.

She wasn’t at all dressed for a club and, under any other circ*mstances, that would have been enough to dissuade her from entering. She was still dressed as she had been for the solicitors earlier that day, having spent the hours since leaving the office just wandering through the streets of London with no real destination in mind. Her pantsuit was grey and bland, more mature than her not-yet-thirty years and she had her hair pulled into a low bun at the back of her neck, with only the barest of makeup left on her face.

It was a nice day, early spring and unseasonably warm, and she hadn’t felt like going home when all was said and done. So she’d walked. And walked. And then walked some more. It was, after all, the sort of day when home would feel a little more lonely than it had yesterday and she wasn’t quite ready to face it. Of course, walking into a place like this dressed like someone’s prudish, middle-aged spinster aunt hardly felt any more comfortable.

Still, she couldn’t resist.

Had it been a few years earlier, the club would have been filled with cigarette smoke creating a sort of haze over the space and catching the lights in a dreamy, dirty sort of way that she’d always secretly loved and hated in equal measure back when going to clubs was something she still occasionally did. Instead, though, now the air was clear and the space was loud, packed to the walls with patrons unable to take their eyes off the stage.

She didn’t frequent places like this. She would insist that the reason was that she was a grown-up, too busy and distracted with her work and obligations to indulge in the frivolity of nightclubs, but she supposed it was more complicated than that. She’d spent so much of her adult life doing everything in her power to be good, to behave the way she believed she was supposed to. With all that practice, she’d gotten quite adept at avoiding the people and places that might make her want the kinds of things that weren’t meant for the type of woman she desperately wanted to be.

There had been, of course, that one exception.

Or perhaps she should consider it more the inciting incident than an exception.

The circ*mstance that forged the rule, as it were.

The one she tried not to think about.

The one that had been relegated to the back of her mind, only moving to the forefront when she allowed it, in weakened moments when she was tucked behind closed doors with her hand shoved between her legs giving herself what her husband - ex-husband, as of six hours earlier - had been so inconsistent in providing for her, no matter how hard he’d tried.

Her ex-husband was a nice guy. A good man. He’d even tried his hardest to be what she wanted him to be, to give her the life they were both supposed to want. She loved him, truly she did, but she understood now that her love for him had always been soft, steeped in affection but void of the passion she secretly craved.

She’d tried as well, convinced that she just had to try a little bit harder and wait a little bit longer and everything would slot into place just as it was supposed to. Convinced that if she could just become the person she presented to the world, they’d both have what they wanted in each other.

Her goal remained unreached.

Their marriage, broken. Over.

And now, six hours after making her divorce official and still carrying a numbness to her entire being that she hadn’t anticipated, she was staring up at that one exception. So unfamiliar to her now that he could have been a mirage. Should have been one, even.

And he was looking back at her.

Ten years.

Had it really been ten years?

Her eyes went glassy, her focus on the man at the centre of the stage blurring briefly as she did the maths in her head. Nearly ten years. Only a few weeks short. She allowed her eyes to focus once more.

He was still looking back at her.

He looked good.

He looked the same, really, but different. Tall and lean with pale skin and pale hair and eyes that were so glacial in appearance that sometimes she’d wondered if they could pierce through her skin and freeze her from the inside out. His slim black trousers and heavy-soled black boots emphasised his height, making him appear even taller than his already-impressive 6’2”. His black and green bowling shirt was a size too small and unbuttoned, leaving his chest bare, and had short sleeves that hugged his lean, surprisingly sculpted muscles and drew attention to the boldly coloured tattoos that ran the length of each arm.

Her breath caught.

It was him, but not the version of him that had lived in the back of her mind for a decade.

He’d grown up, she realised.

While he had remained the boy from their early adulthood in her mind, in reality, there was no denying that he had very much matured into a man. His face, which had hardly held any traces of youth even back then, was all hardened lines and smooth, flawless porcelain skin now. Recognisable and changed in equal measure. And still as impossibly beautiful as he’d ever been.

How?

As she got the feeling that all of the air had been sucked out of her body, she swallowed roughly and licked her suddenly dry lips.

“You know…” One long-fingered hand wrapped around the microphone as he spoke into it, his voice all at once familiar and foreign, and he paused to take a heavy gulp of the beer bottle held lazily between the fingers of his other hand. “Every song has a muse.”

The crowd cheered, seeming all too happy to exist in the palm of his hand.

Hermione stared.

“Inspiration,” he continued, finally breaking eye contact with Hermione to look around at the rest of the crowd with a signature smirk that she had no doubt was seducing at least half the people in the room, “comes from all kinds of places. But I have to admit, some of the best songs I’ve ever written have come from the same muse.”

Run!

She wasn’t sure where the errant thought had come from, but she shoved it to the back of her mind and maintained her breathless focus on the man with the microphone. Though she’d prefer not to admit the weakness, she knew that she was powerless to look away.

“And I’ve never gotten to play them for her.” He paused, lifting an eyebrow dramatically. “Isn’t that always the case?” His chuckle was low, playful and menacing in equal measure, and she felt it all the way to her insides.

Her breath caught and she clenched her jaw.

“But, as it turns out, now I can.”

A gasp rang out in the crowd that was apparently invested and enthralled with the story and Hermione took a step back, out of the splinter of light that she’d been standing in so that she was obscured in shadow.

It occurred to her then that it was unlikely anyone would guess that she was the woman that he was talking about - he, having grown up compellingly into a study in bold contrast, and she, having curled into herself more and more every passing year, the walking embodiment of the colour beige - and she relaxed somewhat.

She heard him chuckle again into the microphone and watched as he glanced around the room at the rapt crowd. Her breath caught once more, those two actions from him screaming of her own cowardice.

“So, we’re going to play you the best song I’ve ever written, in my not-so-humble opinion. Dedicated to the callous bitch who broke my heart and ruined my life. Cheers, Granger,” he lifted the beer bottle, a cruel smirk on his face, and then knocked it back as the drummer counted off and the song began.

f*ck…

Chapter 2: Part One : Episode One

Chapter Text

Part 1: Heard

You know the distance never made a difference to me
I swam a lake of fire, I'd have walked across the floor of any sea
Ignored the vastness between all that can be seen
And all that we believe
So I thought you were like an angel to me

10 YEARS AGO.

While very little about returning to Hogwarts for her Eighth year had been anything like Hermione had expected it to be, perhaps the most surprising part was the strange sort of friendship - if one could even call it that - that she’d forged with none other than Draco Malfoy.

While neither of them had actually intended for it to happen and, in truth, had both been rather sceptical in the beginning, over the past several months they had fallen into a sort of… Well, something that she couldn’t quite name.

It all began when she stumbled onto the hidden room in the northeast corridor. Of course, “stumbled” was hardly the right word since she’d spent three weeks puzzling out the mystery of it before actually finding it. She’d noticed a few days after the start of school that something wasn’t right about the corridor and had taken on the mystery eagerly, finding herself excited and interested in something for the first time in weeks.

After spending the year following the end of the war, while Hogwarts was being put back together again, first in reckless celebration and then just recklessness, Hermione had been determined that returning to school would put everything back to the way it was before - that she would go back to the way she’d been before. Once she was there, though, it had taken less than a day of being back at Hogwarts for her to realise that it wasn’t the magic bullet she’d been hoping for.

The school certainly wasn’t what it had been.

Or perhaps that was just her.

She considered that maybe Hogwarts truly had been returned to just the way it had been before, but the war had left her with different lenses through which she saw it. That would explain how everyone around her seemed to have settled back in seamlessly while she felt unmistakably unmoored.

Regardless of why, though, her discontent remained.

She went to her classes - a full schedule - and excelled as she always had, but it wasn’t because she was keen and excited about learning the way she once was. In truth, after everything she’d forced herself to learn and memorise before, convinced that she would only be able to survive the war and save her friends if she was prepared for any possible eventuality, the classes she’d hoped would reignite her excitement to learn were filled with things she already knew.

Eventually, she just started to tune out whenever possible.

Being faced with trying to find the answer to a question that actually challenged her was the first thing in months that had made her feel at all like herself again. As a result, puzzling out the answer to that lingering question of what wasn’t right about that corridor had consumed her at all hours of the day for two full weeks.

While she knew that something wasn’t right and roughly where it wasn’t right, she couldn’t quite figure out what wasn’t right or why. It had been the first real thrill she’d felt in longer than she’d be willing to admit, even if it had also driven her absolutely mad. Although that was, she supposed, a part of the thrill as well.

When finally she’d figured it out and managed to get into the room, she walked straight in on Draco with a guitar in hand and a fairygrass joint tucked between his lips, looking up at her from his seat on the floor with a startled but otherwise unreadable expression.

As it turned out, he’d been assigned to the school’s rebuild crew as a part of his probation and, knowing that he would be returning for a court-mandated Eighth Year, had used some impressively high-level magic to create himself a little sanctuary to slip away to once he returned as a student.

She was, she found, grudgingly impressed at her former bully’s ingenuity.

While a younger version of Hermione who valued things like following the rules would have been eager to report her former bully, the war had changed her significantly enough that the idea didn’t even occur to her.

In a move that seemed to startle and disarm him in equal measure, rather than reporting him to the Headmistress, she’d asked if he would share his fairygrass. He’d been sceptical - suspicious, even - but ultimately he held out the joint to her, both of them ignoring the heat of each other’s fingers during the trade off.

From there on a strange, tentative… well, something had formed. Not a friendship, really, but a sort of truce, as he reluctantly agreed to share the space with her and they spent hours tucked away together.

While behind the closed - and invisible - door, he played his guitar and sometimes sang softly to himself. He mostly sang covers of muggle music, which she eventually learned he’d discovered when his ostracisation from the only world he’d ever known had led him to venture out into the muggle world with more and more frequency and comfort, but sometimes he played original songs he was working on as well and, even though she couldn’t sing along to those, they quickly became Hermione’s favourites.

Over time, they began setting down their distractions - he, his guitar and she, the dark and disturbing muggle fiction she’d grown fond of in recent months - and started to talk. It was tentative at first, small talk, really, that didn’t go beyond a surface level, but soon it delved deeper and she found herself admitting things she’d never said out loud while he did the same.

Not a friendship, but… something.

Over those first weeks and then months, she developed a sense that they were similarly broken, that the bits of their new identities forged by the trauma they’d each been through recognised each other somehow. Despite all of her best efforts to remind herself of who he’d been - to her and to their world - she’d come to trust him in a way she truly didn’t trust anyone else anymore.

And then came flirtation.

She wasn’t entirely sure when it started, but eventually, she found herself watching his lips as he spoke, their flushed fullness and the way they moved entrancing her. And when she’d finally return her gaze to his eyes, she’d find amusem*nt and… well, something else there as well. Something that made her clothes feel tight and her body ache in places that she didn’t want to acknowledge.

It was a knowing, smirking, unspoken something that she knew her boyfriend would not approve of.

Her boyfriend.

When she’d first returned to school and Ron had gone off to start Auror training, they’d been in constant contact through letters and floo calls, but within a matter of weeks, the contact had begun to taper off until it all but disappeared entirely. During the Christmas break together at the Burrow with his family, there had been an edge of desperation between them, different from the ease they’d shared in the year before and impossible to ignore even though they’d both tried.

By the time he sent her an owl to let her know he was going to be visiting the day before Valentine’s Day and wanted her to meet him in Hogsmeade, her feelings about their relationship were… complicated, to say the least.

She loved Ron. Truly, she did. And yet

They’d been together for nearly two years by then, having spent the entire year that Hogwarts was closed for rebuilding almost desperately wrapped up in each other, and everyone assumed that they would be married within a few more. However, Hermione could barely muster anything other than mild, barely there warmth at the idea of seeing him for the first time since the Christmas holidays.

She spent the morning before she was set to meet up with Ron sitting alone in the secret room, distracting herself with a particularly brutal and sexy book. As much as she tried to lose and distract herself in fiction though, those feelings she couldn’t quite wrap her head around continued to push their way to the front of her mind.

Eventually, she gave up and just stared at the ceiling, waiting for time to pass.

She knew should have felt happy about the visit. She hadn’t seen her boyfriend in well over a month, had barely even heard from him actually, and her excitement should have been bubbling over. A matter of months earlier, it would have been. Rather than trying to puzzle out why it wasn’t, why she could barely muster more than a mildly pleasant feeling about the visit, she instead focused on how to get happy about it.

Happy, thrilled, excited… Something positive. Something that would indicate that the anticipation coursing through her was the good kind.

Something.

Anything.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard she looked, all she could find was that annoying little voice in her head that seemed keen to remind her that he wasn’t coming to spend the actual holiday with her. The one that kept insisting that something wasn’t right between them. The one that taunted her with the reminder of who she’d pictured the previous night when she’d closed the curtains and silenced her bed before slipping her hand down into her knickers.

It wasn’t Ron.

She growled, roughly shoving a hand through her hair as though that would push the memory from her mind.

Though she had planned to walk to the gates of Hogwarts and then apparate the rest of the way to Hogsmeade, she decided on a bit of a whim to instead leave a bit early so she could use the walk to get some fresh air and put her thoughts in order.

Yes.

Perfect.

A brisk winter walk was just what she needed.

She gathered her things, tucking what she would need into her bag, and vanished the nearly empty coffee cup she’d been sipping on. She’d taken over one side of the room by now, creating a sort of nest for herself of blankets and pillows perfect to curl up and read in, and she straightened it a bit before standing up and stretching.

Though she would never admit it, she had secretly been hoping that Draco would show up while she was there, if nothing more than to offer her some distraction while the clock slowly ticked towards seeing Ron.

Of course, he hadn’t and having been tucked away in a silent, empty room for a few hours had likely been the exact wrong way to deal with her frustrating thoughts.

As she made her way to the door, she was considering whether or not she should change before she made her way to Hogsmeade. Had it been a Valentine’s Day date, she knew that she would have put a lot of time and effort into her appearance, dressing up and spending hours perfecting her hair so that she felt pretty, but being that it was essentially just a lunch date on a random Saturday, it hardly seemed worth all that effort.

No, she decided, Ron would have to be content with the jeans and jumper that she was already wearing.

That decided, she stepped through the doorway and promptly collided with a surprisingly firm chest. To match the high-pitched squeak that escaped her throat, she heard a much lower, more gravelly grunt come from him just as she felt a pair of hands wrap around her hips.

“I’m so–” She trailed off as she looked up and met Draco’s eyes, finding him much closer than she had anticipated.

Without having realised it, her own hands had moved to flatten against his chest and she was immediately stunned by the warmth and strength of the muscles beneath her fingertips.

In all of the months that their tentative something had been developing, they’d hardly touched each other at all and never on purpose, so the feel of him beneath her fingers was a brand new experience. He was still slim, but as it turned out he was surprisingly fit beneath his clothes. And warm. And he smelled like… Apples?

sh*t.

Delicious.

Extra annoying.

“Granger,” he murmured, his hands briefly tightening around the swell of her hips in a possessive hold that had her inhaling sharply.

“Malfoy,” she replied breathlessly, looking up at him with wide eyes.

It was as though they both simply forgot to separate, instead staying close enough to each other that they seemed to be sharing breath. Hermione noted that his had a minty, pleasant freshness to it that she was sure made her own coffee breath smell extra terrible.

Great.

When she noticed his eyes drifting from hers down to her lips, she absently wet them with her tongue. At his resulting groan as his fingers again gripped her hips a bit more firmly, she gasped and squirmed subtly.

Bloody hell, what was going on?

“I…” She began, stopping when she realised that she hadn’t actually thought of anything to say to him and was just speaking to fill the silence.

“You?” He asked softly. His voice held a rough thickness that seemed to shoot straight through her entire body, raising goosebumps along her skin.

“I…” She tried again, her eyes widening as it occurred to her that she must look like an absolute dolt, practically groping his chest while struggling for words. This was what finally pushed her to draw back from him, clearing her throat as she went. “Sorry about that,” she told him, avoiding his eyes.

“No problem,” he murmured, watching her closely for a long, lingering moment before stepping back to straighten his clothes. “Did I catch you on your way out?”

Where any other day she would have responded with something cheeky since it was plainly obvious that she had been on her way out the door while he was coming in, but this time she just nodded somewhat stiffly.

“I’m off to meet Ron in Hogsmeade,” she told him.

“Ahh,” he responded, stepping around her to make his way over to his side of the room. “Weasel actually managed to tear himself away from playing cops and dark wizards for a visit then?”

On the rare occasions that Ron was mentioned at all - and they were very, very rare - Draco left no doubt as to the fact that he still thought very little of her boyfriend, regardless of how much his views on blood supremacy had changed since before the war. Hermione didn’t bring him up if she could help it, telling herself it was because Ron wouldn’t like it and not because she didn’t like the distance it inevitably created between her and Draco on the occasions where he was mentioned.

“Mmhmm,” she replied, eyeing him. “It was sort of last minute.”

“Isn’t Valentine’s Day tomorrow?” He asked with an arched eyebrow, a slight sneer twisting his handsome features to remind her more of the pointy-faced boy she remembered from when they were younger.

“You know it is,” she replied in a soft growl, bristling. “I have to go.”

“Have fun, Granger,” he replied. His overly casual tone had a slight edge to it, one that set her already unsteady stomach churning.

“I will,” she told him stiffly before turning back to the door to exit the room.

She could have stayed, she knew. Was even tempted to, if she were to be completely honest. Somehow the easy, cheeky back and forth that she had with Draco sounded a lot more fun and interesting than meeting up with Ron in town.

She frowned.

No.

That wasn’t true.

Was it?

As she hurried away from their shared room, moving in the direction of the front gates, she glanced behind her even though there remained no evidence that there was a doorway there at all and sighed.

“What the bloody hell was that?” She muttered before shaking her head and doing her best to focus on her date with Ron.

As if she didn’t already know.

Ron was waiting for her when she arrived at the Three Broomsticks, distracted enough that she was able to watch him for a moment as he picked at the cuff of his checked shirt and gnawed at his lip.

She had spent a lot of time watching Ronald Weasley over the years and knew how to read the clues in his behaviour as well as anyone, and yet… she couldn’t quite put together what it all meant. It hadn’t been that long since they’d seen each other really, barely even six weeks, but she felt like she was looking at a stranger and not someone who’d been one of her closest friends for nearly a decade.

She considered watching him a little longer, gathering more clues, but he caught sight of her and she could put it off no longer. However, the look on his face and the way that he waved her over were resigned rather than excited and that was all it took.

She knew.

She wouldn’t be able to explain how or why she knew, but she did.

“Hey,” he said as she approached, standing from the table and opening his arms for a hug.

She hesitated.

Ron’s hugs had been, for the past two years, one of her absolute favourite things in the world. After the war, when things had been the hardest and the memories always managed to sneak in at the most inopportune times, curling up in Ron’s strong arms had been one of the only things that chased the bad things away. Somehow, it was that acknowledgement that not only pushed her out of the anxiety that had been plaguing her all day but also made her move into his embrace.

He was about to end things between them, she was certain, and she wanted one last hug before she did.

“Hey,” she said quietly as she held him a beat longer than she should have.

She felt him pulling away emotionally before he pulled away physically, both of his hands wrapped around her upper arms to set her back from him, and she immediately regretted going in for that last hug.

He’d ruined it.

He was about to ruin everything.

“How are you?” He asked, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck.

“Are you about to break up with me?” She asked, ignoring his question.

“What… I…”

She gulped and then took a deep, cleansing breath before lowering herself into the seat across from the one he’d been sitting in when she arrived. Quietly, giving each of them some time with their thoughts, she waited for him to join her at the table. When he did, she could see what could only be described as torment on his face.

“‘Mione…”

“You are, aren’t you?” She pressed. “Breaking up with me.”

He watched her for lingering seconds that seemed to drag on forever, a play of emotions that moved too quickly to read before he nodded, apparently resigned. “It’s just… It’s not working out, Hermione,” he said finally, his voice strained.

“It’s not working out,” she echoed, her voice emotionless. The truth was, she felt numb just then. Now that the uncertainty had disappeared, it seemed like the space left in its absence remained empty and she just felt… nothing.

“You can’t tell me you’re happy,” he insisted in a way that made her feel like he was ducking accountability, convincing himself that this was what they both wanted so that he didn’t have to be the one responsible for it in the end. She knew him well enough to recognise that particular tactic from a mile away. However, she did take a moment to consider.

Was she happy?

Of course, she wasn’t, but before that moment she’d never slotted him in the bucket of things keeping her from being happy. The war, being back at Hogwarts, not really knowing who she was anymore, the fact that she felt disconnected from her friends, the fact that her parents were still half a world away with no idea that she even existed - those were the things filling her bucket of unhappiness.

Ron had been one of the good things, or at least she’d thought so.

“Is there someone else?” She asked, rather than acknowledging his mention of her happiness.

She could have opened up, told him that she wasn’t happy and tried to explain why, but she’d done that before without any actual success, and there was no trust left there to open up to him now.

She couldn’t.

She wouldn’t.

He froze. “What?”

“There is,” she said, nodding as his response told her all she needed to know. As it turned out, no matter the distance that had grown between them, Ron was still very much an open book to her.

Once again, he stared at her for a long time and she could tell that he didn’t know what to do with the fact that she knew him well enough to guess what was going on before he said it. She found that his surprise brought forth the first feeling of actual hurt as she realised that he didn’t have any idea how well she knew him. Something about that realisation felt uniquely crushing to her in that moment.

“Did you cheat on me?” She asked him finally, breaking the silence when it became clear that he wasn’t going to anytime soon.

“No!” He exclaimed vehemently. “I didn’t cheat. I wouldn’t cheat on you, Hermione.”

She believed him. She didn’t know why or how she was so certain, but she knew that he hadn’t cheated on her. And it was with that acknowledgement that the whole picture became clearer. And that’s when the ache began. It started in her throat and she felt it become thick and scratchy before the pain radiated outwards into her chest and stomach as well as her arms. Never in her life had she been so in tune with her feelings, so aware of them in her body.

“You needed to break up with me now because you want to spend Valentine’s Day with her without being a cheater,” she accused him softly, her voice thick with the weight of the accusation.

“Hermione—”

“Or is it that she won’t be with you until you end things with me?”

“Come on, ‘Mi—”

“At least have enough respect for me to tell me the truth,” she cut him off more sharply this time, her tone piercing.

He cringed and looked down into the pint he’d already finished half of before nodding. “I’m sorry.”

She laughed then. It was a brittle, cruel laugh but a laugh all the same. Suddenly she found herself relieved at the lack of excitement she’d felt about his visit. She was glad now for the churning anxiety and uncertainty that she’d spent the day steeped in up until this point because she knew without question that if she had been feeling any of the things that she’d told herself she was supposed to, the devastation at what was happening would go even deeper.

She refused to allow the thing that finally broke her - after everything that they’d been through - to be Ronald bloody Weasley’s rejection. “Well, good then,” she said with a firm nod, standing from her seated position.

“Good?” He asked, gaping at her.

She nodded, straightening her jumper. “Yes, good.”

“You’re…” He stared at her, his face reddening now. “How can you say that?”

“Are you seriously angry with me because I’m not upset enough for you? I’m taking being dumped for someone else without enough fireworks?” She asked incredulously. “Would you like me to hex you? Go on a rant full of the sorts of words that a good girl isn’t supposed to say? Sorry to disappoint you, Ronald.”

He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then tried again, but she decided that she didn’t have any interest in hearing what he had to say and managed to silence him with a glare.

“Don’t you dare,” she said in an icy tone. “Don’t you dare sit there and act like I’m the bad guy because I’m not giving you enough emotion to satisfy your ego. Don’t you dare sit there and pretend to be the wounded one here.”

He opened his mouth again and she cut him off once more.

“You said you wouldn’t be able to make it for a visit for Valentine’s Day, Ron,” she reminded him, “because you knew that you wanted to spend it with someone else.”

“I didn’t–”

“Don’t f*cking lie, Ronald.” Though her words were harsh, she did still manage to keep her tone from even approaching hysterics or weakness.

“Fine!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “Yes, I knew. I’ve liked her for months.”

She winced, hoping that it wasn’t too noticeable because she didn’t want to give him even a hint that he had hurt her. “For months,” she echoed.

They’d been together at Christmas. They’d slept together. He’d told her that he loved her and made her promises. Months, she reminded herself as the memories of how safe and comfortable she’d felt with him then were forever changed with the addition of this context.

Is this what hating someone you loved felt like?

“Yes,” he mumbled.

She suspected by the way he suddenly seemed to be trying to make himself smaller that he understood that he’d probably said too much.

Rather than continuing the conversation, she gave a quick nod. It was over. She was done. She didn’t want to sit here and perform some big drama with him, flailing with heartbreak or whatever he might have expected her to do. However, she also wasn’t entirely willing to leave without a parting blow.

A slow smirk crossed her lips. “Hey, Ron?”

“Yeah?” He asked, his expression hopeful.

“Just so you know, now that we’re not together anymore, I’m going to f*ck Draco Malfoy.” It would hurt him more than anything else she could think of, of that much she was certain.

Though she didn’t have any intention of following through with what she said - the strange moment she’d shared with the aforementioned blond wizard and the fantasies she’d never, ever admit to having notwithstanding - she knew instinctively that it was the thing that would burrow into his head and mess with him the most. And in that moment, she felt like that was exactly what he deserved.

“You… What… What the f*ck!?” He shoved his chair back, eyes wide and face red, a wildness to him that she took a perverse joy in.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Ron.” She said with a saccharine sweetness. “Tell your new girlfriend I took it really, really well.”

She considered saying something else about Draco that would dig the knife in further, but it didn’t feel right using him as a weapon to harm her ex, so instead she turned and walked out of the pub with her head held high. Without even turning, she knew that Ron was watching her leave with his mouth hanging open in shock.

Good.

f*ck you, Ronald Weasley.

Chapter 3: Part One : Episode Two

Chapter Text

She held back her tears as she made her way back to Hogwarts, head high as she ground her teeth almost painfully.

While apparating would have allowed her to get back to the castle as quickly as possible to lock herself away somewhere private, she was glad she’d decided to walk. Something about the chilly February air suited the way she felt just then and the exercise, she decided, would be good for her soul.

And somehow, the more she walked, the less she felt like sobbing her eyes out.

She didn’t cry as she strode through the gates and towards the front doors.

She didn’t cry as she was greeted by a few of her housemates on their way to spend their afternoon playing in the snow.

She didn’t cry as she made her way through the Gryffindor common room, ignoring the curious looks of the few stragglers there.

She didn’t even cry once she had climbed into her bunk, pulled the curtains, and silenced it to give herself the space to do so.

She’d felt so much in that pub, been overwhelmed by the soup of hurt, disappointment, and abandonment she’d felt at Ron’s rejection, but it had all seemed to have melted out of her on her walk back to the school. Once again, she was left with a hole where she knew that there should have been… something.

Anything.

She even tried to make herself cry, thinking back on all of the amazing times she’d had with Ron and reminding herself that he was her first love, her first almost-everything, and the person she’d been convinced she’d spend the rest of her life with.

And still, nothing.

She didn’t even last an hour in her bed, staring up at the canopy in meandering, directionless thought, before she felt moved to get up. Rather than making her way down to the Great Hall for dinner, where she was certain that she would face the third degree and have no choice but to admit to her friends what had happened and deal with their pity, she cleverly avoided it entirely. She managed to convince one of the house elves from the kitchen who was fond of her to bring her a plate and as soon as she had it in hand she made her way to the secret room.

As she stepped inside, she found herself all at once relieved and disappointed to find the room empty. Of course, she reasoned, she couldn’t expect Draco to have spent the entire day tucked away in here waiting for her.

Besides, being alone was better.

She settled in on her blanket, her plate resting on her lap while she held a fork in one hand and a book featuring a Japanese sex demon in an epic battle for the future of the world - subject matter that seemed strangely perfect for her mood at the moment - in the other. She nibbled on her dinner while she lost herself in a world entirely separate from the one she currently had no interest in participating in.

She nearly jumped a foot off the floor when Draco returned, stumbling into the room and stuttering to a stop when he found that it wasn’t empty. It had been hours, she was certain, since she’d settled in with her book and she knew that it had to be well after dark by now, but she’d been so consumed by her determined dissociation that she didn’t actually have any idea what time it was.

“Granger,” he said with surprise, bleary eyes widening as he found her sitting there with her book. “Thought you’d be in a room at the Three Broomsticks with your bloody boyfriend flopping away on top of you by now.”

There was a slight slur to his voice as he spoke and she could see that his eyes were a bit unfocused, though he clearly tried to look closely at her as he wobbled near the door.

“Don’t have one of those anymore,” she murmured. The mental picture of herself and Ron in his rented room, with him ‘flopping away’ on top of her, brought her a strange measure of amusem*nt and she chuckled softly to herself.

“What?” He asked, genuine confusion twisting his features. “You don’t have… what?”

She rolled her eyes, lowering her book to take a good look at Draco.

She’d seen him drunk before, on nights when they’d both ended up back at their secret room after one of the weekly Eighth Year common room parties, but never to the point that he was stumbling or slurring his words. It was a strange thing to witness.

He looked… unkempt. He rarely, if ever, looked anything other than perfectly put together - an act, she was certain, but one that he had perfected by this point - so it was strange to see him with his hair mussed and shirt rumpled, eyes unfocused and mouth slack.

“We broke up,” she told him in a flat, even tone. “And I hope you don’t mind, but I told him I was going to f*ck you.”

“You told him…” He stared at her. It took him a minute for the words to compute and she waited with amusem*nt for them to sink in, feeling rather chuffed when his eyes widened and he stared at her. “You told Weasley you were going to f*ck me?”

“Mmhmm,” she hummed easily, returning her gaze to the book in her hand as he fumbled his way to his side of the room and dropped down onto the blanket spread out there.

She could feel his gaze burning into her as she sat there, entirely unable to focus on the book she was so determinedly pretending had her full attention, but she didn’t look up. Instead, without even finishing reading it, she turned the page and kept up her pantomime of being absorbed in her book.

“So you finally dumped him,” he said with a wobbly smile and a nod. “Good for you, let’s celebrate.”

His assumption startled her and she was tempted to leave him with it. In fact, she was tempted to let everyone believe that she had been the one to end things with Ron, if only to save a little bit of her dignity at having been dumped instead of being the one doing the dumping. Of course, she knew that the lie would never actually stick and before long she would be found out and people would think her even more pathetic, first for being dumped and then for lying about it.

She sighed, lowering her book to her lap. “He broke up with me.”

He stilled, staring at her blankly for long enough that she started to squirm under his attention and had to resist the urge to pack up her things and get out of there if only so that she didn’t have to deal with the scrutiny.

“What… do you mean?” He asked, confusion written all over his face.

“I mean exactly what I said,” she replied with annoyance. “He dumped me.”

“You’re…” He trailed off and then shook his head. “You’re telling me that Ronald Weasley,” he paused, his expression making clear his distaste for the other wizard, “broke up with you.”

She glared. “Yes.”

“Ronald Weasley.”

“Yes,” she repeated with an impatient huff.

“The ginger f*ckwad with the stupid f*cking… everything?” He waved his hand, as though that gave her some indication of what specifically he was talking about.

“Yes,” she replied again, exasperation and amusem*nt battling in her head.

“How?”

“What do you mean?” She asked, stilling, worried she was going to have to get into the details. While he was apparently the only person that she currently felt comfortable talking about her breakup with, as it turned out the idea of actually telling him what happened was paralysing.

“How… is that possible?”

“The usual way?”

“No, no, no… Because he’s…” He made a sour face. “And you’re…” He widened his eyes almost comically. “You know?”

“I do not know,” she replied, tempted to laugh but still unsure what he even meant with any of what he was saying.

“You know you’re…” He trailed off and then widened his eyes. “Wait, is he into wizards? Is that why?”

Hermione’s eyes widened for a moment at his question, having not even considered that particular possibility, but then she laughed. “Not as far as I know. Pretty sure he dumped me for another witch.”

“Another…” Draco’s mouth dropped open, appearing astounded for a lingering moment before his expression shifted into one of disgust. “And here I thought that bloody arsehole couldn’t get any stupider.”

“Apparently his stupidity knows no bounds,” she murmured.

“That’s an understatement,” he replied, shaking his head.

Strangely, Hermione found herself rather flattered by Draco’s reaction. While her feelings about Ron breaking up with her were obviously quite complicated at this point, she’d found herself too easily sinking into shame and the assumption that he had simply found her lacking. It was easy enough to do - there had been countless times over the past near-decade that he’d made her feel small and not good enough for him. The contrast between the ways Ron and Draco made her feel these days wasn’t lost on her, but that wasn’t quite something she was ready to examine too closely just yet.

“Smoke?” Draco asked then, holding up the little box that he used to store his stash of fairygrass.

Hermione nodded and watched as he set about rolling them a joint with much less agile fingers than usual. She would admit that she’d grown quite fond of watching him roll the little spliffs for them, the way his long fingers worked so effortlessly to roll it up and the way he poked his tongue out to wet the paper to seal it.

“Wait,” he said suddenly, quickly turning his head to look at her. “Why did you tell Ron you were going to f*ck me?”

“Because I wanted to hurt his feelings,” she admitted honestly without even considering a more flattering answer.

Slowly, a smile spread over Draco’s features, this one much more malicious than the goofy one he’d been wearing basically since he walked in the door. “Did it work?”

She laughed quietly, nodding. “Yes… It worked.”

They shared a grin and then he went back to rolling up their joint, lifting it triumphantly once he was done. Truly, he did have an incredible talent for it. Even while completely pissed, he’d managed to stick the seam down firmly and ensure everything was smooth and perfect. Feeling much more playful than she felt she had any right to be, she gave him a round of applause.

“Thank you, thank you,” he replied with a grin, bowing awkwardly and nearly tipping over where he sat.

Without hesitation, he pulled himself to standing - still quite unsteady on his feet - and made his way over to her, dropping himself down directly next to her. He used his wand like a lighter, something she always got a bit of a kick out of in the context of lighting a spliff, and inhaled deeply before passing it over to her.

They were silent as they smoked, passing the joint back and forth until they were both stoned enough that they each sank back against the wall next to each other and closed their eyes. Though they had smoked together several times before, this time definitely felt different than any of the others.

As the loopy, happy feeling persisted, Hermione allowed her head to tip sideways and fall onto Draco’s shoulder. They both stilled as she settled there, obviously unsure of how to proceed, but when Draco didn’t push her away, Hermione allowed her body to relax and soon he followed suit.

“Hey, Granger,” she heard him murmur as she felt a slight tug on her hair.

“Hmm?” She replied sleepily.

“You know what would really hurt Weasel’s feelings?”

Slowly a grin spread across her lips and she opened her eyes once more, peeking up at him. “What’s that?”

“This,” he said, lifting one hand to her jaw to tip her face up towards his at the same time as he leaned down towards her.

She let her eyes drift closed once more in anticipation of the kiss, but just when she was expecting to feel the brush of his lips against hers, he stilled and all she felt was the tickle of his breath over her lips. It was less minty than it had been earlier, she absently acknowledged, but it still smelled pretty good.

When after several seconds he didn’t close the distance between their mouths, she allowed her eyes to open and found him staring down at her, his gaze somewhat unsteady from the drink.

He held her stare for several seconds and she could have sworn she watched a whole range of emotions - almost as though an entire conversation were happening inside his head - play across his face. She was nearly ready to pull back, embarrassment coming over her as she began to suspect she was about to feel her second rejection of the day when his hand moved from beneath her chin to cup her jaw.

Like earlier in the day, when they’d collided in the doorway, she found herself wetting her lips and once again she heard him groan.

“Last chance, Granger,” he murmured.

“Would you bloody kiss me already, Malfoy?” She replied urgently, her impatience softened by an edge of playfulness.

His eyes widened perceptibly at her words, but he didn’t hesitate then, closing that distance between their mouths to capture hers with his own.

Firewhisky.

She could taste it on his lips, a little bit sweet and smoky with that bite of alcohol.

Draco’s lips.

Draco’s lips?

Draco’s lips!

She gasped as her mind caught up to what was happening with her body and he took the opportunity to slip his tongue into her mouth, the press tentative at first and then more confident when she met the brush of his tongue with her own.

He growled and she felt the reverberation of the sound course through her entire body, seeming to settle between her legs.

Her thighs clenched.

Wow…

Realising then that she was just sitting there, letting herself be kissed, she turned her body more towards him and lifted one hand to rest on his chest while the other moved through his hair and tangled in the impossibly silky strands easily. Since he’d stopped slicking his hair back, she’d wondered what his hair would feel like, and she found herself pleased to find it was just as soft and silky to the touch as she’d imagined.

She didn’t know how long they’d been kissing or whether the slight numbness she was feeling in her lips was on account of the kissing or the fairygrass, but when suddenly she found herself in his lap she really couldn’t find it in herself to care. Astride his hips, both of her arms wound around his neck, she squeaked as she felt his hands at her hips pulling her in tighter against him until she felt an unmistakable bulge pressed against her intimately.

Her eyes opened wide and she drew back only far enough from his lips to speak, “Just kissing,” she insisted, rocking her hips against him mindlessly.

“Just kissing,” he agreed in a soft growl, his own hips lifting against hers, increasing the pressure between her legs deliciously.

Just kissing, she promised herself as she closed the distance she’d created to return her lips to his.

Just kissing.

Mostly just kissing.

Definitely nothing underneath their clothes.

For three hours.

Chapter 4: Part One : Episode Three

Notes:

Hey everyone! So I know this story may have had a bit of a slower start, but I feel like this is the chapter where things really jump off - and not just because this is the first chapter with spice, but a little bit that as well. I do hope you're enjoying it so far! On my end, I've been doing some not insignificant changes to the story behind the scenes, but I think it's coming together well and I'm almost finished with the actual writing part of the story, which I'm excited about!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Why, Miss Granger, are you avoiding me?”

Hermione froze at the familiar voice calling her out, her steps halting abruptly in the otherwise empty hallway.

Five days.

She’d managed to avoid Draco entirely for almost five full days but with every passing day, she’d known that it couldn’t go on forever. Hogwarts was large, of course, but there were only so many corridors to use and places to hide without giving the appearance that she was hiding - which was, of course, critically important to the entire mission. She didn’t want anything to seem amiss, but there was only so long she could have her meals at strange times of the day and hurry into her classes at the very last moment, once she was certain that the halls would be all but empty.

Of course, it was that last-minute arrival to class technique that ultimately ended up being her downfall and ending her streak. It occurred to her too late, after already being caught, that he wouldn’t be any more willing than she was to have a conversation in front of others, so the empty halls provided opportunity for him rather than cover for her.

Slowly, she turned and found Draco leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the hall from her, hands tucked into the pockets of his uniform trousers and a smirk tugging at his lips that she couldn’t quite read.

Gods, why did he have to be so… so… HOT!

Why did he have to be so impossibly hot?

Her cheeks flamed.

She cleared her throat, doing her best to push all thoughts of how attractive the blond wizard across from her was out of her head. “Why would you think that?” She asked innocently, trying not to flinch as her words served only to deepen his smirk.

“That’s how you’re playing this?” He asked, his eyebrow arching dramatically.

Not for the first time, she considered whether or not she’d be able to convince him that she didn’t remember the events of the night she and Ron broke up. Unfortunately - or perhaps, fortunately - as she had already concluded several times during the hours upon hours she’d spent obsessing about the situation, the fact that he had been the drunk one that night made it seem fairly impossible.

Besides, by this point, she felt like he could see right through her anyway.

“Maybe,” she replied, mirroring his expression with an arch of her own eyebrow.

“Interesting.” His smirk remained, making the word feel weighted.

“Is it?” She replied carefully.

It felt strangely like chess, a game that she’d never actually managed to acquire an affinity for if she were being honest, and she did her best to keep her words and her expression from giving too much away.

Though she was barely willing to admit it even to herself, at first, she’d been consumed with the idea of whether or not it would happen again. It being making out until both of them had numb, swollen lips, that is. But the more she obsessed over their night together, the more she managed to convince herself that it could not, under any circ*mstances, be repeated.

He was a Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake!

Or he had been, at least. Before.

Her breath caught as he pushed off from the wall and moved towards her in slow, measured steps, giving the undeniable impression of a predator. And she, the prey.

She cleared her throat.

He took another step.

She gulped.

He smirked.

“What are you doing?” She asked, attempting a confident tone even as her heart rabbitted in her chest and her mind whirled incoherently.

“What do you think I’m doing?” He asked, tilting his head as he regarded her with an intensity that had her cheeks heating.

“I…” She paused, taking a deep breath. How was it possible that he affected her so effortlessly? “Draco…”

They both stilled.

Malfoy.

She called him Malfoy.

She always called him Malfoy.

Sure, at some point he had become Draco - just Draco, even - in her head, but she’d never called him by just his first name out loud before and they were obviously both very much aware of that fact.

“What did you just say?” He asked, his voice quiet and rough.

She gulped, staring at him wordlessly.

“Say it again.” He insisted, his voice thick with something she couldn’t name.

She shook her head, her eyes starting to burn as her stare remained unblinking.

“Say it.”

She opened her mouth, about to do as she was told, but inhaled sharply instead.

“Bloody hell, Herm–”

She didn’t mean to do it, but before he could even finish the harshly ground-out words - including her first name, apparently - she had closed the space between their bodies and tugged him firmly against her by his loosely tied tie, kissing him with immediate intensity.

The lingering moment when he stood frozen, lips and hands unmoving, had a sliver of unease piercing through her, but soon both of his hands moved to cup her jaw as he kissed her back.

God, I’ve missed this…

The thought, seemingly out of nowhere, made absolutely no sense to her distracted mind, so she pushed it away to be considered later and instead focused on the moment. She allowed him to manoeuvre their bodies so that he could press her firmly against the wall, anchoring her there with the firm press of his hips against her tummy.

Oh…

With a sigh that parted her lips enough to allow him to sweep his tongue inside to taste hers, she wound her arms around his neck and allowed herself to fully sink into the kiss. She’d somehow managed to convince herself that it had just been the fairygrass they’d indulged in that night heightening her senses that made making out with him so amazing, but being that she was currently stone-cold sober…

Wow!

“What are you two doing out of class?” An unfamiliar voice - one of the new Hogwarts professors who mostly taught the younger students - interrupted. Almost immediately, Draco seemed to jump backwards at the same time as Hermione all but shoved him away.

The teacher was a tiny witch, not even five feet tall, with generous curves, a beautiful head of voluminous curls, and a bright smile. Well, normally she had a bright smile, that is. At this particular moment, she instead looked quite scandalised, eyes wide and mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. Of course, that only lasted a moment before she recognized the two students she’d caught making out in the hall and her eyes widened perceptibly, though she said nothing more.

“Tonight, Granger,” Draco murmured softly enough that the woman couldn’t hear him. “Come to our room or I might just have to come ‘round to the Gryffindor common room. Hey, maybe She Weasel will answer the door and I can tell her all about how your lips taste.”

Now it was Hermione’s eyes widening at his threat and she found herself nodding slowly, flushing at his small smirk. A moment later he was gone, tossing the professor a co*cky wink - something Hermione had to remind herself was disrespectful and definitely, definitely not cripplingly attractive - before striding down the hall like he owned the place, not a care in the world.

Okay, a little bit attractive, she had to admit. A teensy bit. Only a little bit crippling, really.

“Sorry, professor,” she mumbled to the still gaping teacher before hurrying to the class she was now distinctly late for.

She managed to hold out for a couple of hours after finishing dinner, pretending to study in the library while the inside of her brain was a Will-I-Or-Won’t-I battle that she already knew the outcome of, as much as she tried to deny it. The performance, which was apparently just for herself, was comforting even though that little voice kept reminding her that she was being absolutely ridiculous.

She had seen Draco in the Great Hall during dinner, surrounded by his friends and entirely ignoring her existence every time she looked over at him. Though she was determined not to admit it, even to herself, his lack of attention was driving her a bit crazy, particularly being that she was completely preoccupied with his existence.

How could he act so normal and unaffected while she felt like this?

“Annoying,” she muttered to herself as she grudgingly packed up her books, having finally given up pretending that she wasn’t going to go see him.

She took her time making her way through the halls, affecting a casual, unbothered air as she went, but also doing her very best to not be waylaid by friends who might find her behaviour suspicious. By the time she actually made it to their room, Draco was on his way out and they nearly collided in much the same way they had the day Ron had broken up with her.

“Granger,” he said with surprise, eyebrows raised while a slow smile stretched across his lips. “I was just about to go looking for you.”

“No, you weren’t,” she replied with a smirk, much less confident than she appeared.

“I wasn’t?” He asked, smirking as he took a few steps backwards from the doorway, inviting her into their room with a sweeping motion of his arm.

She followed, a little annoyed that the circ*mstances meant she was both doing as she was told and literally following him. Of course, she wasn’t an illogical person and being stubborn just for the sake of it wasn’t something she was interested in doing, so she grudgingly kept herself from resisting for no good reason.

“You expect me to believe that you were going to stroll up to the Gryffindor common room and ask for me?” In all honesty, she did think that was something he might be willing to do, but she maintained her confident appearance as best she could.

“You underestimate me, Granger,” he said with a grin.

“That’s not an answer.”

“It’s moot,” he said with a shrug. “You showed up. Late.”

“Did we agree on a time?”

He arched an eyebrow but said nothing.

“I was busy.” Her overly casual tone wasn’t fooling anyone, she knew, but still, she couldn’t seem to let it go.

“Busy,” he echoed, his smirk deepening.

“I have a life, you know,” she told him primly, rolling her eyes.

“And what were you busy doing?” He asked with his co*ckiness on full display.

“Studying,” she answered with a casual shrug.

“Try again.”

“I was!”

“You haven’t studied all year, Granger.”

Her eyes widened.

Bollocks! He’d noticed? How had he noticed? No one else had, even those who were ostensibly closest to her at this school.

“I didn’t count you for a liar, Granger,” he continued, moving towards her.

“I was in the library!” She insisted, unconsciously avoiding his gaze.

“But you weren’t studying,” he pointed out with a smirk.

“I was reading.”

“Your dirty books again?” He teased with a lifted eyebrow.

She would swear the heat that sprang to her cheeks was absolutely not a blush.

He was so close she could swear she could feel his breath with every word he spoke and it seemed to be stealing every single thought from her brain. How he could so easily call her out, unmooring her from the tightly held control she prided herself in, was beyond her. And yet, unfailingly, it was exactly what he did.

“Maybe,” she replied, a little breathlessly.

“Were you thinking about not coming?”

“I considered going to the common room party,” she said casually, shrugging.

Though she had briefly considered continuing to avoid him by attending the weekly Eighth Year party, she had quickly discarded the idea when she found herself rather certain that he’d likely track her down there anyway. Besides, if she were to be completely honest with herself, she had no choice but to admit that this was where she would rather be anyway. Any pretence she put on to say otherwise was complete fiction.

“But you didn’t.”

“I didn’t.”

“Because you wanted to finish what you started this afternoon?” He tilted his head, watching her closely.

“Hardly,” she drawled, hoping that the laziness of her tone belied the increase in her heart rate and the sudden breathlessness through her body.

“Liar,” he said with a chuckle and a deepening smirk as he closed the distance between them.

“We can’t…” She started weakly, looking up at him as he lifted a hand to brush the tips of his fingers ever so lightly over her cheeks.

“We can’t what?” He asked softly, his voice gravelly.

“We shouldn’t…” She tried again, this time eliciting a soft chuckle from the man drawing her into him so expertly.

“Well, that’s true,” he agreed, his other hand moving to her waist to tug her body against his firmly. “But it seems to me like swotty little Granger has gotten a bit of a taste for the things she shouldn’t do this year.”

He wasn’t wrong and somehow his words allowed her to give herself permission. Or at least that’s what she told herself as she found herself lifting her hands to his shoulders, pushing up onto her tiptoes. As though coming there that night hadn’t already been the decision made.

“Just this once,” she murmured, lying both to him and herself one more time.

“What about the other time?”

“Just this one more time then. Shh,” she hushed him with a grin as her right hand moved to twist through the fine hairs at the base of his neck.

She told herself that this would be the last time, that she would indulge in this weakness just tonight and then tomorrow she would pretend that it never happened.

Just this once.

“Just this once. Again,” he echoed with a smirk that told her he didn’t quite believe it.

Without even a hint of hesitation or strain, his hands moved to the backs of her thighs and he scooped her up smoothly, winding her legs around his waist. For someone so slim, he certainly possessed an impressive amount of upper body strength.

She gasped and held a little tighter to him as he carried her further into the room, in the direction of her little nest, and slowly lowered himself down to his knees before laying her back on the blankets gathered there.

Unlike the last time they’d ended up there, she couldn’t claim a spur of the moment lapse in judgement or use her hurt and vulnerability at being dumped to give herself a pass on what was happening between them. This time, she’d come here with intention or, at the very least, an understanding that something was happening between them. She had no excuses, no room to give herself an out.

She wanted this.

She wanted him.

She realised she might as well admit it, at the very least to herself.

And as he lowered himself between her parted legs, holding her gaze intently, she realised that she might as well admit it.

“Kiss me,” she murmured.

“You sure you want me to kiss you, Granger?” He teased, smirking. “What would your friends think?”

She glared at him, feeling caught and needy in equal measure.

“Say please,” he urged, his voice dropping lower.

“Malfoy,” she whimpered, her eyes pleading.

He shook his head, capturing his lower lip between his teeth.

The press of him between her legs, even unmoving, was enough to steal any ability to think coherently. His body was so long, making her feel small and delicate by comparison, and the heat of it seemed to be permeating every inch of her own flesh.

“Please,” she finally whispered, looking into his glacial eyes.

“So pretty when you beg for me,” he teased, leaning down further to pepper kisses along her exposed throat.

She groaned and lifted one of her legs back around his waist, resting her heel at the base of his spine so that she could pull him more firmly against her. “Not what I meant,” she murmured.

“Hmmm?” He hummed as he reached her collarbone, dragging the tip of his tongue over the ridge until he reached the neckline of her shirt. “Something wrong, Granger?”

“Stop teasing!”

He chuckled against her skin, one of his hands moving to brush aside the neckline of her shirt so that he could drag his teeth over the curve of her shoulder. “You don’t like my mouth on you?” He asked in an infuriatingly innocent tone. “I thought you wanted me to kiss you.”

“You’re infuriating,” she ground out, whimpering as he bit down softly on her heated skin.

“Am I?” He murmured as he lifted his head, smirking down at her. “You don’t look infuriated to me.”

As she flushed further under his gaze, he lowered himself once more, this time hovering so close to her lips that she could feel the heat emanating off his body but still no actual contact. She squirmed. It seemed impossible to her that he had this level of self-control.

“You look…” He grinned, holding her gaze. “Bloody horny.”

The laugh that bubbled from her throat caught her completely off guard, but his description of her was so disarming in that moment, so unexpected, that she couldn’t help it.

“I do, do I?” She asked with amusem*nt.

He chuckled as well, looking down at her with an expression that made something in her tummy feel a bit wobbly - again, something she wasn’t quite certain she was ready to unravel just yet.

“Really, really horny,” he confirmed.

“Couldn’t be because the wizard currently between my legs is teasing me into oblivion, could it?” She replied, arching her hips upwards. At his resulting groan, her grin widened. “Ohh… Is that what I look like?”

His eyes flashed and he pinned her with his gaze once more. “Are you trying to turn the tables on me, Granger?” He asked as he rocked his hips into her once, the hard length of him against her heated centre through their clothes leaving no doubt as to how turned on he was as well.

“I don’t know… Am I?” She teased breathlessly.

He chuckled, nipping roughly at her lower lip. The sharp, brief sting left her squirming, looking up at him wide-eyed, all but panting. “You liked that.”

Slowly, lips parted, she nodded.

“f*cking hot,” he mumbled before finally - FINALLY! - capturing her lips with his own in a kiss that didn’t hesitate.

Almost immediately, she felt like she was drowning in him - though it was in very much a good way, a sharp contrast to the times when Ron had gotten too eager and nearly choked her with his stabbing tongue. She nearly laughed again at the comparison as it briefly popped into her head, but as quickly as the thought arrived, it disappeared. There was, it would appear, no room for thoughts of her ex as Draco captured and held her attention all to himself.

Smoothly, Draco’s tongue brushed against her lips, seeking entry, and she eagerly parted them for him, meeting his tongue with her own in a smooth, erotic slide that had her moaning into his mouth. At the sound, he rocked his hips more firmly into hers and she gasped, her entire body seeming to come alive beneath him.

Just this once… she reminded herself absently. It was almost as though she thought that the insistence that this was a one-time thing would take the edge off, lessen her need somehow.

By the time she felt his hand at her waist, tugging at her top until he was able to slip beneath it and drag his fingers over her bare skin, she was breathless, her lips swollen. They hadn’t ventured beneath each other’s clothes the last time, somehow maintaining that level of modesty, so this felt like a significant leap into something more.

“Can I touch you, Granger?” He murmured, dragging his lips away from hers to feather kisses over her throat.

“Merlin, yes!” She all but screamed her assent, arching her neck to offer more of her flesh up to his feast. “Touch me,” she urged, suddenly even more desperate for the feel of his hands on her bare skin.

“Where?” He murmured teasingly. He nipped at the sensitive skin just below her earlobe as he dragged his hand from her waist to feather lightly over her ribcage, the touch of his fingers leaving a trail of shivering goosebumps in their wake.

“Everywhere,” she answered, arching into his touch and then shuddering as he found a ticklish spot. “Anywhere,” she added a moment later.

“Anywhere?” He asked with surprise, lifting his head to look down at her.

It took a few moments of that agonising silence and stillness for her to open her eyes and look up at him, but when she finally did, she gasped. The naked desire written all over his face was almost too much to handle. She’d never seen him so open, not even during some of the more surprisingly intimate conversations they’d found themselves having in recent weeks.

“Anywhere, Granger?” He asked again, the weight in his tone leaving no question as to what he was asking.

Anywhere? She asked herself silently.

Though there had been some fumbling makeout sessions with Viktor, the only guy she’d ever done anything more than that with was Ron. Sex had never been something that she took all that lightly and until that moment she hadn’t even considered that she and Draco would end up there. Certainly, she had become a little bit less uptight about most things since the end of the war, but being with someone in that way still felt significant.

Surprising herself, though, she nodded slowly, maintaining eye contact. “Anywhere,” she finally answered without even a hint of uncertainty in her tone. She was, it would appear, done with pretending this wasn’t exactly what she wanted.

“Bloody hell, Granger,” he murmured.

“Hermione,” she replied.

“What?”

“If you’re going to… touch me anywhere,” she said, her cheeks heating deeper with a hint of embarrassment to go with her flush of arousal, “I think you should probably call me by my first name. Don’t you?”

He nodded.

The slow smile that stretched his lips then was unlike any she’d seen on his face before. There were no hints of mocking or co*ckiness there, none of that guarded bravado she was so used to seeing even in his most unguarded moments. This was different. And if she hadn’t already said yes, this would have pushed her over the edge.

“Hermione,” he said slowly as if he was testing it out on his tongue.

“Draco,” she replied with a small smile on her face, his name tasting delicious in her mouth.

She barely got his name out before he captured her lips in another almost frenzied kiss, one of his hands moving to the back of her neck to tilt her head back and give himself a better angle. This kiss was different. Deeper and more intimate while also being rough and frenzied in a way that had her rocking her hips against his eagerly.

By the time he wrenched his mouth from hers, each of them wore a thin sheen of sweat and gasped for breath. He dragged his mouth back down to her neck and sucked softly at her collarbone until a small mark appeared there as he finally drew back.

“Beautiful,” he murmured, flicking his tongue over the spot.

Suddenly desperate to feel the heat of his skin against hers, her hands moved to the hem of his shirt and started roughly pushing at it. When he lifted his head, halting his maddening ministrations at her throat, he looked undone in a way she’d never seen him before.

“Impatient, little one?” He asked teasingly, though there was a thickness to his tone that made clear he was just as affected by this moment as she was.

“You’re driving me mad,” she answered almost desperately, her hands continuing to push at his shirt.

He chuckled as he pushed himself up and off her so that he was kneeling between her legs. Smoothly and without hesitation, he reached up behind his head to smoothly pull his shirt off the way Hermione had only ever seen in movies and television, tossing it behind him without a second thought.

“My gods…” She murmured, unable to tear her eyes away.

His body was all pale skin and long, lean muscle, flawless but for the handful of scars across his torso that Hermione knew had come from Harry’s wand. She reached up, allowing delicate fingertips to slide along the raised flesh.

He winced, though she could tell it wasn’t the result of physical pain. Instead, she could see on his face the evidence of shame, embarrassment and fear right alongside the desire written there and found it to be a heady combination.

“You’re beautiful,” she whispered, flattening her hand against his skin.

His eyes narrowed, and his smirk returned. It was an expression she’d gotten used to, one that she knew he used both in actual co*ckiness and also as a mask in times of insecurity.

She suspected that moment was likely owing to the latter.

“No one’s ever called me beautiful before, Granger.”

She lifted an eyebrow.

“Hermione,” he corrected.

She grinned. “So you’re saying… I’m your first?” Her playful teasing was rewarded with a genuine, surprised laugh and she couldn’t resist joining him, giggling.

“I suppose you are,” he replied playfully.

His hands moved to the buttons holding her shirt closed, smoothly slipping them open with a level of speed and ease that left no doubt that this wasn’t his first time unbuttoning a Hogwarts uniform that wasn’t his own.

She refused to think too deeply on that particular matter.

“Lucky me,” she answered breathlessly as he parted the fabric, revealing bare skin and her simple, silky bra to his gaze.

Logically, she knew that she had nothing to feel uncertain about. She knew enough about teenage boys to know that at 19, it was much more likely that he would just be thrilled that she was letting him undress her, and yet it took seeing the naked heat and desire in his gaze to fully slough off any insecurities that were attempting to spring up and ruin the moment.

That gaze made her feel powerful.

“Bloody hell, Hermione…” He murmured.

Almost reverently, he dragged one hand from the base of her throat down the centre of her chest before spreading his fingers to cup her still-covered breast in his hand. She watched his face, her lips parted in anticipation, and managed a small smile as he dragged his gaze away from her chest to meet her eyes again.

There was a question there, unspoken.

She nodded, using one arm to push herself upwards so that he could reach around to her back and unclasp the garment. There was a beat of uncertainty as she felt it drop from her back and she watched him, pleased to find him looking into her eyes, before she shifted enough that the fabric fell away, baring her straining nipples. Helpfully, he hooked a finger between the cups and tugged, pulling the garment down her arms and tossing it over his shoulder in the same direction as his shirt, leaving her bare from the waist up.

“Salazar’s ghost…” He murmured, licking his lips unconsciously.

Overwhelmed at the feeling of being bared to him so fully, even in the dim light of their private room, she quickly tugged him back against her body for another deep, lingering kiss. He met her lips eagerly, easing her back down so that she lay flat beneath him once more.

She groaned, the sound disappearing into his mouth, at the heat of his skin pressed against hers. Her hands moved eagerly over the firm muscle and smooth skin of his back, tugging his body closer to hers as she lost herself in the kiss. It could have been mere moments or lingering hours, she truly wouldn’t have been able to even hazard a guess, that they lay there kissing and undressing each other until they were both stripped down to only their underwear.

Draco lifted his head and looked down at her, his expression quite resembling the way it looked when he’d smoked a bit too much fairygrass and his lips swollen and more pink than usual. If she’d found him beautiful before, this undone version of him, whose attention was unshakably focused on her, was something even more breathtaking than that.

Hermione gasped as she felt him slip his hand into her knickers, his middle finger almost immediately sliding over her cl*t and causing her to cry out in surprise.

“Is this okay?” He asked softly, circling her cl*t now in a way that drove her ability to answer him with any sort of coherence completely out the window.

All she could do was nod, her eyes narrowing as she struggled to keep them open and watch his face as he touched her. When he shifted again, pushing his hand deeper into the thin wisp of fabric that was keeping her from being entirely bared to him so that he could tease two fingers at her entrance while his thumb circled her cl*t, she arched her hips up towards him.

“Draco, please,” she whimpered as he finally slipped his fingers inside her.

“Tell me what you want,” he urged her as his fingers continued to move with an almost maddening precision and patience.

“I need more.”

“Tell me, Hermione,” he commanded softly.

“I want…”

“Hmm?”

“I need…”

“Say it.”

“f*ck me, Draco! I need you inside me!” She finally cried out, allowing herself to voice her desires in a way she wasn’t sure she ever really had before.

“Are you sure?” He whispered, his expression bordering on pained.

Biting her lower lip, she nodded. “I’m sure,” she promised him. Despite the fact that there was a little voice in the back of her head telling her that she shouldn’t be so sure, that she should proceed with caution and feel shame about how wantonly she was behaving, she ignored it to focus on the truth.

She wanted him. More than she’d ever wanted someone before.

He stared at her for a lingering moment, almost as though he were trying to parse the truth of her words, before his lips began to pull into a slow, predatory smile. Easing his hand out from her knickers, he quickly tugged them down over her hips and tossed them away before divesting himself of his boxers and tossing them on the pile as well.

Quickly, kneeling between her parted legs, he summoned his wand from where it lay amongst his things on the other side of the room. As soon as he had his wand in hand, he quickly and quietly cast the contraceptive charm they’d all learned by the time they were in Fifth Year.

Strangely, the fact that he’d remembered when she was certain she would have forgotten in that moment made Hermione feel cared for in a way she wasn’t quite ready to think too hard about. Instead, she hooked one leg around his hip to tug him in closer.

“Last chance…” He murmured after he’d tossed his wand away. He held her gaze as he pressed his hard length against her slick centre dragging the head around her cl*t twice before venturing lower to tease at her entrance.

She gulped, nodding. “Please, Draco,” she whispered, looking up at him eagerly.

“Gods, you’re perfect,” he murmured. And in that moment, regardless of how imperfect she knew she was, she decided to believe him.

She pulled him down to catch his lips in another kiss, but it only lasted a few seconds before she felt the stretch of him pressing inside her. Even being as wet as she was, she gasped and had to take a moment to get used to the feel of him. It was different from Ron, not only because he was bigger but because he moved with a slow, steady press that felt worlds different from the abrupt thrusts her ex preferred.

“Are you okay?” He whispered, drawing back from her lips so that he could watch her expression as he settled inside her as deep as her channel would allow. They both exhaled at the feel of their connection, quiet for several long, lingering seconds.

When finally she rocked her hips up against him, eliciting sounds of pleasure from both of their throats, the dam broke. Without hesitation, he slowly began thrusting inside her. He was careful at first, holding himself back from going too hard, but soon she urged him to go harder, faster and he eagerly obliged.

Until that point, she’d never had an org*sm just from penetration. In fact, with Ron, more often than not, she’d been left to finish herself off with her fingers or her wand charmed to vibrate after he’d rolled over and fallen asleep. However, as Draco thrust inside her with an absolutely perfect, consistent rhythm, she felt that familiar coil building in her lower tummy as her legs began to tingle and tremble.

“Don’t stop,” she begged, arching her back and riding up against his thrusts. “Just like that! Don’t stop!”

He didn’t stop. As if knowing that the wrong move could steal the org*sm lingering just out of her reach, he continued exactly as he was with the same steady, pulsating rhythm. Instinctively, as if he knew she needed just a bit more, he slipped his hand down between their bodies and used his middle finger to stroke her cl*t in time with his thrusts.

“That’s it, Hermione,” he ground out. His expression and his voice were slightly pained, indicating that perhaps he too was hanging out by a thread. “Merlin, you feel amazing!”

“Gods, Draco! Please don’t stop,” she babbled, eyes closed and back arched deeply. “Please, please, please…”

“I’ve got you,” he vowed, his mouth hovering over her neck. “Come for me, Hermione.”

Almost as though she’d needed the insistence - or perhaps the permission - she finally gripped him with hands, legs and c*nt in a tight squeeze that had them both crying out before her entire body shuddered her release. He was only moments behind her, pressing as deeply as he could as she fluttered and clenched around him, and letting out a low, shuddering groan as he came.

As they both attempted to catch their breath, coming down from the intensity of what had just happened, he allowed his body to relax on top of hers and tucked his face into her neck. Lazily, feeling almost boneless in the afterglow, she wound her arms around him and slipped one hand into his sweat-slicked hair.

“That was bloody…” He mumbled against her, apparently unable to think of a word that would do justice to it. Finally, he lifted his head once more to look down at her flushed face, grinning at how undone she looked.

“What?” She asked, feeling a bit shy just then.

“You’re bloody amazing, Granger,” he said, his grin widening.

“Not so bad yourself, Malfoy,” she replied with a chuckle.

Slowly, with a bit of a wince, he finally drew his softening co*ck from inside her and rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow with no apparent concern for his state of undress. A little less confident lying around naked, Hermione blindly reached an arm out to search the floor around them and finally located his shirt, pulling it over herself.

Almost as soon as she was covered, she felt him moving back in closer to her and looping his free arm over her waist. Surprised that he would want to cuddle, she looked over to find him watching her with a careful expression. It was only then that it occurred to her that he might be worried she regretted it, so she quickly snuggled in against his side in hopes of reassuring him.

“We might have to do that… just one more time,” she said with a somewhat devious little grin.

“Oh yeah?” He asked with amusem*nt, slipping his hand beneath the shirt she’d pulled over herself to trail ticklish little lines over her tummy and ribcage.

“Just once,” she insisted with a nod, fighting a grin.

“We’ll see,” he answered, chuckling at her lifted eyebrows.

“Oh, will we?”

He nodded. “I plan on making it really, really hard for you to resist doing this every chance we get.”

Her eyes widened almost comically.

“C’mere, Granger,” he murmured, tugging her in even tighter against him before reaching over to pull the blanket she kept there over the both of them. “Don’t think too hard about it.”

As if that was possible, she thought to herself.

Of course, nestled in against his body with his arms wrapped around her, she found that thinking at all became increasingly difficult as sleep overtook her.

I’ll think about it tomorrow, she promised herself.

“Night, Hermione.”

“Goodnight, Draco.”

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed this chapter!! I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I'm admittedly a bit of a flake about replying right away, but (most) feedback is very much appreciated so I'd love to hear from you!

Chapter 5: Part One : Episode Four

Notes:

This chapter is a bit of an evolution of young love and I hope you enjoy it!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

She would swear that she resisted, that her performance of reticence and uncertainty when it came to the secret relationship she was carrying on with Draco Malfoy was genuine, but they both knew that she was a liar. In fact, with her body pressed firmly against his and his hand wrapped deliciously around her throat, he would often call her out on the act as she pantomimed resistance to what was happening between them.

At first, it was just a game.

A tease.

Distracted, she didn’t hear the click of the door to the Potions Storeroom closing behind her as she examined the shelves of ingredients looking for one of the more obscure ones that she’d never worked with before.

She didn’t hear Draco’s soft chuckle at her distraction either.

It wasn’t until she felt the heat of his body as he pressed it against her back that her attention shifted, her eyes widening and her muscles instinctively stiffening. She would be the first to tell you that she would much prefer to fight with words than violence, but with a tall, obviously strong man pressed against her, she readied herself to fight. Just in case.

“Just me, Granger,” he murmured, his hands moving to her hips to mould her body even more fully against his.

She relaxed immediately.

“Did I scare you?” He asked with a note of teasing in his voice.

Rather than answer in the affirmative, she smirked. “Were you trying to?”

“Now why would I want to do that?” He countered with another low chuckle, flexing his fingers to squeeze the soft swells of her hips.

“Because pulling the hair of the girl you like is how you flirt?” She suggested with a grin, reaching up for a vial on a higher shelf, not because she needed the ingredient but because the motion arched her rear end against his hips rather deliciously.

“Are you teasing me, Hermione?” He asked, stilling the movement of her body in a tight grip.

“Perhaps,” she replied lightly, glancing at him over her shoulder.

“That’s not very nice,” he growled softly, tucking his face into the curve of her neck to brush a few kisses just above the pulse point there.

“I was under the impression that you didn’t like nice,” she replied cheekily. It was difficult, the warmth of his body and the brush of his lips quickly turning her mind into mush as her body began to take over, but she somehow managed to sound unaffected.

“I suppose you’re right,” he said, dragging his teeth over the side of her throat.

When he stepped back and a rush of chilly air washed over the places that his heat had just abandoned, she nearly whimpered. She turned, eyebrow raised, and found him smirking at her as she leaned back against the lower cabinets.

“Leaving already?” She asked, keeping her tone light.

His smirk deepened. “Would you like me to stay?”

Affecting a careless demeanour, she shrugged. “You can stay. Or go. Why should I care what you do?”

He chuckled then, moving towards her again to sandwich her between the cabinets and his body. “You’re a much better actress than I would have expected, Granger,” he said teasingly, “but I can still see through you.”

“Can you?” She asked, the question coming out a bit more breathless than she had intended for it to.

Slowly, he nodded, his hand moving up to cup her throat, fingers pressed against the arteries on either side of her windpipe with just a hint of pressure. “I can,” he answered, watching her face.

She inhaled slowly, unable to tear her eyes from his. “Prove it.”

He chuckled. “You want me to prove it?”

She nodded.

His fingers tightened ever so slightly at the side of her throat, just enough for a wash of lightheadedness to wash over her and send her eyes fluttering a bit. She couldn’t help the soft whimper that escaped her throat, giving herself away.

“I do believe,” he said with a grin, loosening the hold of his fingers, “that I have proven it. I see right through you.”

She licked her lips, a bit breathless. “All that means is that I like a bit of choking,” she countered, giving a bit of a shrug. “Could have been anyone.”

His smirk darkened then and he closed his fingers once more. “That’s bollocks and we both know it, Granger.”

She shrugged even as she swallowed around his hold and tried to keep from squirming.

He chuckled, giving her a moment to give in before he loosened his hold and stepped back. “Why don’t you come find me when you’re willing to admit that my hand around your throat just made you soak your knickers? My hand. Not just anyone’s.”

There was no doubt as to the challenge there and Hermoine could barely resist the compulsion to give in. Still, she held back, determined to play whatever game this was they were playing for all it was worth, even if it was inevitable that she would lose. There was no denying the thrill of playing when neither of them knew the rules. She wanted to know how far they could push it.

“And if I don’t?” She asked, eyebrows raised in obvious challenge.

He licked his lips and looked her up and down in a slow exploration that seemed to leave a wake of heat on every inch of her skin that his gaze touched. When his attention returned to her face, she had no doubt she was failing to disguise the effect he was having on her. She could feel that it was written all over her heated cheeks and parted lips, but still she held strong.

“You will,” he answered with an unflinching confidence that once again set her near to squirming.

Why was she resisting him again?

The thrill, of course. The game.

“I suppose we’ll see,” she answered, lifting her chin in a show of rising to his challenge.

“I suppose we will.” He answered with a wink.

A moment later, he smoothly left the room on confident strides, a smirk tugging at his lips, and Hermione was left sagging against the cabinets as she tried to catch her breath. No one had ever affected her so completely and with so little effort in her life.

And the intensity of it showed no signs of easing as time went on.

Their banter and her denial acted as a sort of foreplay, heavy with anticipation, but as time passed, it changed and play was exchanged for something darker and more breathless. His eyes would flame with a possessive glint that set her on fire as he moved his hands or his mouth between her legs and teased her to the edge until she relented, admitting that she wanted every second of them.

And, in the deepest, most secret part of her mind, she knew that he had taken over some part of her. That she was his.

Stolen moments became hours and sometimes even whole days, lost in each other. For the most part, they kept everything behind the invisible door to their hidden room, but as time passed they became more and more reckless.

She moved through the halls every day with anticipation, waiting for him to drag her into an alcove or an empty classroom to claim her in the way that set them both on fire, whether it be just a kiss or a frenzied coming together with his trousers at his ankles and her skirt shucked up around her waist.

The library was all but deserted, but being that Hermione had used the need to study as an excuse to beg off a night down at The Three Broomsticks with her fellow Eighth Year Gryffindors, she found herself wandering through the stacks somewhat aimlessly.

She nearly stumbled as she came upon a table full of all too familiar Slytherins tucked away in one of the corners, none of them bothering to keep their volume down or even pretend to be studying.

At the end of the table, his chin resting on folded arms, Draco sat watching Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini arguing about which of them was more proficient at something or another with a look of amusem*nt on his face. On the opposite side of the table, Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass sat with their heads together, whispering and giggling until the former caught sight of Hermione and her expression twisted.

“What are you doing here?” Pansy asked with a sneer.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to stumble into the arsehole section.”

Though she tried to keep her attention on the girl who never failed to find an unkind word for her, out of the corner of her eye she noticed Draco lift his head from the table to watch the exchange.

“Just go away,” Pansy huffed. “No one wants you here. At this school or anywhere else, apparently. Heard even Weasley found someone better.”

Hermione had to admit that the verbal arrow Pansy lobbed at her did sting at first, but was quickly soothed by the reminder that no matter how shamelessly Pansy flounced herself around Draco in an attempt to rekindle their youthful romance, she was the one he was losing himself in nearly every day.

She smirked, licking her lips. “Oh, you got me.” She placed a hand over her chest, her expression mocking as she continued dryly, “How ever will I go on after that? Might have to go Avada myself right this second just so that I don’t have to endure the pain caused by such cutting remarks.”

When Theo and Blaise both burst into laughter, Pansy turned to glare at them and Hermione took the opportunity to glance at Draco. He was watching her with amusem*nt and a raised eyebrow.

Her lips pulled into a satisfied grin.

“Enjoy your evening,” she said, lifting her hand in a wave. “And also, I don’t know what the two of you,” she gestured to Theo and Blaise, “were arguing about, but I’m with Zabini.”

“Hey!” Theo protested.

“Ha!” Blaise huffed, slamming his fist onto the table. “Always knew you were brilliant, Granger.”

“I feel persecuted,” Theo pouted, glaring at Blaise.

“Don’t worry, Nott,” she replied with a grin. “I’ll arbitrarily pick your side the next time I stumble on you having a debate.”

“See that you do,” Theo said with a pointed finger.

She chuckled softly to herself and continued on her way. Unable to resist, though, just as she was about to turn the corner to disappear into the stacks, she turned and glanced over her shoulder to find Draco watching her go.

She smirked, bit her lower lip, and continued on her way.

Somehow, as she continued to make her way deeper into the dimly lit aisles of books, she knew that it was only a matter of time before he caught up with her.

It couldn’t have been more than three minutes later that she heard his soft footsteps approaching, but rather than turn to face his approach, she continued the pantomime of hunting for a book. As he got closer, she tugged a heavy aubergine and gold tome from the shelf and opened it randomly, dragging a finger over the page while he finally closed the distance between them.

“Granger,” he murmured as he wound an arm around her waist and pulled her body back against his. “I think you gave Pansy an aneurysm.”

She chuckled, closing the book in her hand and slipping it back into its slot on the shelf. “What a shame. I hope she doesn’t die,” she replied in a tone that sounded more excited than concerned.

"Were you always this vicious?”

“Yes,” she answered with a smirk, leaning back into him easily as his hand roamed over her tummy and hips. “Have you forgotten the time I broke your nose?”

“How could I?” He asked with a chuckle, fisting his hand in the fabric of her skirt so that it began lifting a little higher on her thighs. “It’s still not quite as perfect as it once was.”

“Are you saying I’m to thank for making you a bit less handsome?”

“Are you saying you think I’m handsome?”

“Absolutely not.”

He chuckled, rucking her skirt up a bit higher as his other hand moved to glide over the bared skin of her thigh. “Just sexy then.”

“I didn’t say that either,” she reminded him. She gasped as she felt his fingers meet the edge of her knickers at the seam between her hip and her thigh.

“Didn’t have to,” he murmured. He dropped her skirt, leaving his other hand still tucked beneath it, and moved to brush her hair over her shoulder so that he could suck a soft kiss against the curve of her neck while his fingers continued to lightly feather over the very edge of her knickers. “I can read your non-verbal cues.”

“You can, can you?” She asked, unable to mask her breathlessness as she spoke.

“Mmhmm,” he hummed.

Even as she opened her mouth to respond and continue on with their banter, she heard him murmur a vanishing charm against her neck and a moment later felt the cool air of the library brush against the heated skin that moments earlier had been covered by the silky fabric of her knickers.

“Draco!” She hissed, eyes wide.

“Oops,” he whispered playfully.

“What are you–”

“Shh,” he whispered, turning her head to brush a soft, silencing kiss over her lips. “Wouldn’t want Pince to hear and rush over to find you here bare-arsed with my hand between your legs, would you?”

She gasped, her hips rocking forward of their own volition.

“Ohhh,” he teased as he dipped his hand between her legs to feather the barest touch against her heated slit, “you liked the sound of that, did you?”

Her mouth remained closed, but there was no mistaking the slight whimper that came from her throat as she parted her legs ever so slightly wider. His resulting chuckle, tucked in against her neck, set her squirming even further.

“What do you think,” he asked, dragging two fingers along either side of her slit in a teasing touch that tempted her to beg him to touch her where she needed it, “if I make you come right here in the library, do you think you can stay quiet?”

She hesitated a moment but nodded.

“Are you sure?” He teased, dragging his finger in maddeningly teasing circles around her cl*t, but never getting close enough to give her what she needed. “Sometimes you scream so loud that I’m convinced the headmistress is going to hear you and find out just how much perfect warrior witch Hermione Granger likes getting f*cked by a Death Eater.”

She glared, his words a perfectly crafted challenge. “I can stay quiet,” she ground out.

“We’ll see,” he murmured, finally narrowing those maddening circles until he was just brushing against her cl*t.

She nearly broke, that first bolt of pleasure spiking through her body at the touch almost instantly making a liar out of her. Quickly, she lifted a hand to her face and covered her mouth as though that would actually keep her silent.

“If you can’t stay quiet,” he continued, maintaining those slow, consistent circles, “my friends are going to hear you and they’ll know just how desperate you are for me.”

Behind her hand, another soft whimper escaped. As she cringed, she felt him chuckle against her skin as his fingers dipped lower to tease at her entrance. She gritted her teeth as she felt at first one and then a second finger slip inside her, just a few centimetres at first before sinking all the way to the knuckles.

“Draco,” she whispered desperately into her hand, her head dropping back onto his shoulder.

“Mmm,” he hummed, turning his head to brush his lips over her cheek. “You want me to make you come right here, with my friends just on the other side of these books?”

“Yes,” she breathed, desperate for it now as he slowly sawed his fingers back and forth inside of her in a slow but steady rhythm. “Please, Draco.”

He growled against her, the movement of his fingers immediately increasing in intensity. It happened every time, something visceral in his reaction to her using his given name rather than his family one.

“We’re going to have to be quick,” he murmured, his thumb moving to circle her cl*t as his fingers continued to pound into her maddeningly. “If I’m gone too long, they’re going to come looking for me.”

Something about the idea of being caught, particularly by the table full of Slytherins she’d just encountered and specifically by Pansy Parkinson, sent a fresh thrill through her body. Her hips began rocking against his hand in a more consistent rhythm, meeting each thrust of his fingers as she chased the org*sm that she could feel beginning to build low in her tummy.

“Would you like that?” He continued, stilling his movements and pressing his thumb firmly against her cl*t.

She nearly cried out once again, but clenched her jaw and choked down the sound.

“You would, wouldn’t you?” He teased, drawing his fingers out from inside her to again use them to tease circles around her cl*t. “Especially Pansy. You’d love to see that look of envy and rage on her face when she caught us together.”

“Yes,” she admitted in a whisper.

Apparently pleased at her admission, Draco ceased his teasing to slip his fingers back inside her and begin f*cking her with them in earnest. His softly murmured words were lost to her pleasure, but he continued to urge her on, praising and coaxing her with each stroke.

In a show of just how intimately he’d gotten to know her body, he encouraged her to come for him as she felt herself approaching her climax, keeping the pace and pressure of his touches deliciously consistent as she reached higher and higher.

“That’s it,” he murmured into her hair as she tightened almost painfully around his fingers. “Come for me, Hermione. Come for me.”

Briefly, in a sort of hazy train of thought, she considered allowing herself to let go without bothering to hold in the sounds desperate to escape her. She considered again the look on Pansy’s face when she realised that Draco had slipped away from them to come find her, to make her come.

It was that decidedly delicious thought that finally pushed her over the edge, though she did desperately press her hand against her mouth to suppress the sound as she shuddered and came almost violently on Draco’s fingers.

He held her tightly against his chest as she struggled to catch her breath, shaky legs feeling weak beneath her. When finally she caught her breath and found her strength again, she turned to look at him over her shoulder and found him watching her with an expression that could only be described as awe.

“Merlin, I love making you come,” he murmured, leaning in to catch her lips in a breathless kiss.

When he drew back from the kiss and looked at her with that specific intensity she’d only ever seen in him, she felt undone and caught her breath once more. “You should get back,” she whispered, suddenly reminded that his friends were nearby. Somehow the desire to be caught had evaporated as she came down. “They’ll come looking for you soon.”

He chuckled softly, though she was sure that she’d seen a flash of something like hurt cross his features before he schooled them back to neutrality. “Ahhh, don’t want to get caught so much now that my hands aren’t between your legs anymore, hmm?”

She flushed, turning in his arms to look up at him. “It would be much more fun to be caught in flagranté than post… flagranté, don’t you think?”

A laugh bubbled up from him, loud enough that both of their eyes widened and they stilled, waiting to be caught. When they heard no response, they both relaxed and shared a much quieter laugh between them.

“Our room later?” He asked softly then.

She nodded and felt a surge of something unnamed but warm in her tummy when he grinned in response.

“Later,” he promised, stealing one more quick kiss before slipping away from her and strolling back in the direction he’d come from.

“Later,” she whispered, grinning as she watched him go before returning to her lazy exploration of the library just to kill time before later finally arrived.

As more days and then weeks passed, attraction and chemistry soon turned into a sort of obsession, leaving her distracted and giddy, completely unable to believe that anyone, at any point in history, could possibly have felt anything with as much intensity as the way she felt about Draco.

Beneath everything, though, was always a heavy stone in her gut reminding her that it was all fleeting, that they were racing towards the end of school and with that ending… Well, she wasn’t entirely sure, but with every passing week, she felt an ever-rising wave of dread that she couldn’t deny. Desperation increased as uncertainty lingered and time moved forward.

It was one of those days when everything just felt wrong. Right down to the way the clothes that had fit perfectly just the previous day suddenly felt itchy and tight in all the most annoying places. She went to classes but kept her head down on the desk for the majority of her time spent in them before finally giving up at lunchtime and abandoning the rest of her schedule altogether.

People asked what was wrong, alerting her to the fact that the indifference she’d been convinced she was projecting wasn’t nearly as effective as she’d assumed it was. It was only then that she realised that perhaps her walls weren’t as perfectly constructed as she’d thought they were if people could so clearly see her mood.

Ginny suggested that they have a girl’s night that evening, indulging in junk food and makeovers and talking about boys, but Hermione politely declined, telling her friend that she wasn’t feeling much like good company just then. Ginny attempted to insist at first but relented when Hermione informed her that it was her mother’s birthday and she just wanted to be alone.

Neville tugged her aside as she was leaving the Great Hall after pushing her lunch around her plate for a half hour, offering to hook her up with some fairygrass from his stash. She did briefly consider taking him up on that offer, knowing that of all of her friends, Neville would be the one least likely to push her to try and open up and would instead just quietly spend time with her. In the end, though, she declined his offer as well.

Eventually, once she was certain all of her well-meaning friends would be tucked away in their classes, she made her way to the secret room, intent on curling up with a book for the rest of the day.

Of course, she was quietly hoping that Draco would show up at some point since the comfort he could offer her was the only sort that held any appeal at this point, but attempted to pretend even to herself that she simply wanted to be alone.

When he did show up, he slipped into the room smoothly with a look of concern pulling at his features and his hand hidden behind his back. “There you are,” he said warmly as he moved towards her.

“Here I am.”

“Rumours of your death were greatly exaggerated,” he said in a lightly teasing tone.

“Please tell me that they, at least, featured an interesting and heroic death,” she intoned, chuckling despite herself.

“Death by boredom, unfortunately. You’re very, very lucky to be alive, if only just to avoid that particular legacy.”

“Sounds about right,” she replied with another soft chuckle. “What have you got there? If it’s a sword, I’ll have you know that I won’t go down without a fight.”

“That’s my girl,” he replied with a grin before pulling his arm from behind his back to reveal a plate holding a large, gooey piece of chocolate cake. “Unfortunately for you, I know I couldn’t possibly beat you in a fight, so I’m going to kill you much more slowly with sugar.”

“Excellent strategy,” she murmured, her cheeks flushing as she tried to decide whether or not his calling her ‘his girl’ held any actual significance or if it was simply a playful turn of phrase.

“Impossible to resist, right?” He continued, holding out the plate so that she was able to take it from his hands before lowering himself to sit next to her.

“Impossible,” she agreed. “You said slowly, right? I don’t have to worry about poison, do I?”

Somehow the teasing made it easier. How he knew she needed this kindness today, she didn't know, but to deny that it was exactly what she needed would just be another lie she told herself about him. She wanted to ask about the sweetness of the gesture, but knew instinctively that neither of them were quite ready to address that yet.

Joking about murder seemed like just the thing.

“Well, sh*t, I hadn’t even considered poison,” he grumbled playfully, nudging his shoulder against hers. “So, no, you’re safe. It’s a very usual and very delicious chocolate cake.”

“Excellent,” she replied as she picked up the fork and scooped a small bite for herself.

“And you have to share,” he added as she moved the fork to her mouth.

Her eyebrows lifted as she chewed, her expression turning playfully challenging.

“Just one bite?”

When he stuck out his bottom lip and widened his eyes almost comically, Hermione nearly choked on her cake as a laugh bubbled up. As she coughed, he lifted a hand to rub her back.

“You know,” she croaked as she got her breath back, “I’m beginning to think that the possibilities of murder by chocolate cake are endless.”

“Good thing old what’s-his-name didn’t figure it out. The war might have ended much differently if he’d had chocolate cake amongst his arsenal.” Though his tone remained joking, she could see the uncertainty creep in towards the end as it appeared to occur to him that perhaps they hadn’t reached the stage of joking about the war yet. They never had before.

“Too much inside-the-box thinking,” she said in an overly mournful tone around her second bite of cake. “Supervillains just don’t get creative enough these days. It’s all killing curses when it could be as easy as chocolate cake.”

His eyes widened for a moment before he allowed a loud, surprised bubble of laughter to escape. “When will they learn?”

“Probably never. They’re very, very stupid.” The anger simmering beneath her words was genuine.

While she’d been the one to decide the best course of action with her parents, there was no denying the bitterness she still held for having to make the decision at all. While it had been the right one and she would make it again knowing what she knew now, there was no denying the undercurrent of anger she still carried at ever having had to.

“You wanna talk about it?” He asked quietly, his words careful.

Quickly, she shook her head.

He nodded.

And that was it.

They returned to their easy joking, the conversation transitioning into a very rousing debate over increasingly absurd ways one might commit the perfect murder until Hermione hardly even remembered that it was her mother’s birthday.

And as she was falling asleep that night, curled up next to him while he quietly played her a cover of Space Oddity after insisting that absolutely everyone was aware that David Bowie was a wizard, it occurred to her just how important his presence in her life had become for her.

Just how grounding it had become.

Uh oh

And somehow, even though the understanding of just how much Draco Malfoy was beginning to mean to her and what the possible implications of that were, the smooth timbre of his voice still lulled her into a much more peaceful sleep than she might have been expecting on such a sad day.

Notes:

Thanks for reading - if you're enjoying the story, I'd love to hear in the comments! Thanks to everyone who has left comments and kudos thus far! I really, really do appreciate it and it gets me more and more excited to keep posting and writing more!

Chapter 6: Part One : Episode Five

Notes:

I think my favorite part about writing these characters at this age is how intensely they feel everything. In this chapter, we're definitely seeing some of that and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

She should have been in class.

By this point in the year, it had become clear that her teachers tended to give her a lot more leeway when it came to attendance than she had any reason to expect, but she did her best not to take advantage.

For the most part, anyway.

She could only assume that the reason for her teacher’s special treatment was probably some combination of her status as a war hero - whatever that even meant - and the fact that regardless of her attendance, whenever called upon or given an assignment, she easily proved that there were no obvious gaps in her knowledge. Of course, there was also likely the fact that she’d stopped even pretending to pay attention during class and would often shamelessly pull a novel from her bag and start reading while the professors taught her classmates and they just couldn’t be bothered to intervene.

Her disinterest, it seemed, was both obvious and insurmountable by that point.

While she did still have those pangs of shame when she caught the looks of disappointment on their faces, yet another reminder that the person she used to be no longer existed, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do anything about it.

Pretending had become exhausting and she simply didn’t have the energy to maintain it anymore.

She’d woken up restless that morning, with an itch under her skin that she couldn’t quite make sense of. What she did know instinctively, though, was that there was no way she could sit through an entire class feeling the way she did. Instead, she’d remained in bed and waited to hear the last of her housemates leaving before she got up and dressed.

By now, she was as familiar with Draco’s class schedule as she was her own, so she knew exactly when he had a free period. Determined to track him down, convinced that he could scratch the itch that she still couldn’t name, she ventured out to look for him. Finding Draco in the vastness of the castle without looking suspicious wasn’t always the easiest thing to do so when she caught sight of the familiar flash of blond hair only minutes into her search, she was thrilled.

Until she noticed that he wasn’t alone.

Her cheeks heated, her entire being filling with some acrid combination of embarrassment and rage as she took in the scene in front of her, her eyes narrowing.

Aside from the three of them, the corridor was otherwise completely empty, leaving Draco and his companion in complete privacy. The girl, who was beautiful with dark hair and dark eyes, wore Ravenclaw colours and, though Hermione couldn’t think of her name just then, she felt certain the girl was a year or two behind them. Her petite, generously curved body was leaned up against the wall, gazing adoringly up at Draco, who was grinning down at her with an unmistakably flirtatious smile.

Hermione saw red.

She was filled with an overwhelming urge to rush towards the pair, to tear Draco away by his hair before making sure that the beautiful girl knew that he was hers. The urge wasn’t foreign - she was certainly no stranger to bouts of jealous anger after all - but she’d never felt the urge to use fists and fingernails to stake her claim quite so intensely before.

Hers.

Except that he wasn’t hers, was he?

They’d never explicitly discussed exclusivity or put any sort of title on what they were to each other, regardless of how many times he’d driven her to lust-driven assertions that she belonged to him. She’d made assumptions, she realised, based on the fact that she assumed he felt the same way about her as she felt about him and it had never occurred to her that there might be other girls.

She wanted to scream. To break things. To rip into his perfect skin with her nails and make him bleed the way she felt like she was bleeding on the inside. Her breathing accelerated, her hands curling into tight fists, and she quickly turned away and stalked off in the direction of their hidden room.

“Stop it,” she hissed to herself as she walked, waves of rage seeming to flow over her like water. “Bloody stop it!”

When she reached their hidden sanctuary, she let herself in and glared over at his side of the room. Though the division down the centre of the room had mostly dissolved over the weeks since they’d first had sex, with them spending most of their time there wrapped up in each other these days, they still kept most of their personal belongings on either side of the room.

She glared at his guitar, suddenly imagining herself picking it up and smashing it to pieces. Her lips curved into a slow smile, eyes flashing.

“Hermione?”

She whirled around, finding him standing behind her with a confused smirk on his face. She realised then that she must look a little mad, but she didn’t care. Clenching her teeth, she pinned him with a look until that smirk dropped from his lips and his brow furrowed.

“What’s… going on?” He asked carefully.

“Nothing,” she answered sharply, turning away from him and moving over to her side of the room. Without really thinking about how mad she must look, she began tossing her belongings into her bag.

“Babe…”

“Don’t call me babe,” she hissed, looking at him over her shoulder. “It’s demeaning.”

“It’s…?” He shook his head, blinking a few times. “I call you babe all the time.”

“Well, stop.”

“Okay, I’ll stop,” he answered cautiously.

His obvious confusion at the situation only served to further ignite Hermione’s anger and she tossed down the stack of books in her hands and stood, whirling to face him once again. His gaze was unwavering, but there was a careful tentativeness to his entire demeanour that only served to twinge her upset further.

“If you’re going to be sleeping with other people, I deserve to know,” she said primly, attempting to appear unaffected even as every aspect of her made her upset clear.

“What are you–”

“I saw you, Draco,” she said sharply, rolling her eyes.

“You saw me,” he echoed, his confusion still clear. “You saw me, what?”

“I saw you with that girl just now,” she clarified, rolling her eyes again. “And it’s fine. I don’t care. But you should have told me.”

Again, though her words claimed she was unaffected, there was no doubt in everything about her tone, expression and the set of her body that she was anything but. She was trembling, cheeks flushed and eyes wide, and her words were crisp with emotion.

“What girl?”

She tilted her head, eyes narrowing, and said nothing.

“You mean Nora?” He asked, making a face.

Lenora Tempest.

Of course, now that he’d said her name, Hermione remembered the girl she hadn’t been able to place earlier. Ravenclaw. Pure blood from a long line of potioneers. Top of her class. Beautiful.

Hermione winced but nodded.

“You think I… With Nora?” Draco’s eyes widened as his confusion finally cleared and after a moment he burst into laughter.

Hermione flinched. Watching him laugh, her glare only intensified before she turned back to her side of the room, determined to pack up her things and be done with him.

“Hermione,” he said softly as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I am not nor have I ever been sleeping with Nora f*cking Tempest.”

She turned to look at him, searching his face for any indication he was lying. Frustratingly, she found none. “I saw you flirting with her.”

“You saw me trying to convince her to share her notes from the Potions class I missed the other day because I had you bent over the railing in the astronomy tower,” he told her, amusem*nt obvious on his face.

“Bullsh*t. I saw the way you were talking to her,” she spat. “I know what you look like when you flirt, Malfoy.”

He had the good sense to look sheepish as she called him out, but the expression quickly morphed into something a bit more playful. “Sometimes a bit of flirting greases the wheels?” He attempted, his excuse along with his boyish expression working far too well at tempering her anger, at least momentarily. “I really need those notes if I’m going to do well enough to get myself a potions apprenticeship at the end of the year.”

"You’re disgusting,” she shoved him away before turning away once again, stubbornly determined to return to her packing.

“C’mon, Hermione,” he pleaded, turning her to face him once again.

Her expression remained stony as she regarded him, annoyed as his adorably pleading expression continued to break through her annoyance with him. Slowly, under his unwavering and determined attention, her features started to soften. She shoved him once more, finding herself pleased when he held firm and didn’t let her push him away.

“Hermione,” he said then, tugging her in closer, “I don’t even see any other girls. All I see is you. All I want is you.”

With every word he spoke - perfect words, exactly what she needed to hear - she felt her anger diminishing and she found herself leaning in closer to him without actually meaning to. Finally, she gave in entirely and her hands moved to his waist, tugging him in tight against her.

“You mean it?” She asked softly. Though the words could easily have been laced with insecurity, they weren’t. Instead, there was an intensity there, a need to hear the way she felt for him reflected back at her.

“I mean it,” he all but growled, tugging her in firmly against the hard length of his body. “No one comes close.”

“And what about when school ends?” She asked as her hands fisted in the hem of his shirt, her neck arched backwards to watch his face.

She didn’t miss his wince.

She felt it in the pit of her stomach.

“I don’t know,” he said softly, sincerity and pain written all over his face. He moved his hand to her face, stroking his thumb over the ridge of her cheekbone.

While she would have preferred a pretty lie to soothe her unsettled insides, she appreciated his honesty. More than that, she appreciated the twist in his features, a visible manifestation that reflected all of the uncertainty that had been building in her more and more the closer they got to the end of the year.

“I wanted to f*cking kill her, Draco,” she murmured, once again watching his face for microexpressions that might tell her what he was thinking. Even as she said the words, she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about them - only that they were true. “Both of you, I wanted to make you both bleed.”

As his lips pulled into a deep smirk, Hermione clenched her thighs and caught her breath. “You’re so bloody beautiful when you’re vicious, Granger,” he murmured, holding eye contact with a blazing intensity.

“Shut up,” she muttered, though the smile tugging at her lips belied her grumpy words.

“I mean it,” he murmured as he slipped his hands down to the backs of her thighs to smoothly lift her off her feet. Eagerly, without a moment of hesitation, she wound her legs around him and nestled him in tight against her centre with her feet hooked at his lower back. “I’d let you rip me to shreds, Granger,” he continued, taking a few steps to press her back against the wall. “I’d let you f*cking destroy me.”

She all but purred, writhing against him as his words of twisted devotion burrowed themselves beneath her skin. It wasn’t healthy, she knew, but in that moment she wanted nothing more than for him to reach inside of her chest and wrap those long, beautiful fingers around all of the vital parts of her and hold on tight.

“Show me,” she said quietly, her tone soft and demanding at the same time.

His grin left no doubt that he fully understood the meaning behind her demand, but he clucked his tongue with a chuckle. “How would you like me to show you, love?” He asked teasingly even as he rocked his hips against hers with enough pressure to elicit a soft whimper from deep in her throat.

Already breathless, she quirked an eyebrow and arched her back, dragging her groin against his lasciviously. At his resulting groan, the evidence of his arousal pressed lewdly between her legs through the fabric of his uniform trousers and her cotton knickers, she inhaled sharply.

“Make me come,” she ground out, rocking her hips once more.

Hitching her up higher on his hips, Draco pulled her away from the wall and spun around to carry her over to the window on the other side of the room, setting her down on the rather narrow sill.

“That’s what you want?” He asked in a low, intense tone.

She nodded slowly, biting her lip.

“What the lady wants…” He murmured. Achingly slowly, he slipped both of his hands over the outsides of her thighs until they disappeared under her skirt, leaving a trail of goosebumps over her skin. When he reached her hips, he gripped the waistband of her knickers on either side and gave a rough tug. “Up,” he commanded quietly.

Eagerly, she lifted her hips, still holding onto his shoulders for balance, as he tugged the scrap of cotton over her bum and down her thighs. Her breath caught as he lowered himself down to his knees, pressing a soft kiss to her calf as he finished tugging the garment down, tossing it to the side to be completely forgotten.

“Is this what you want… babe?”

She attempted a glare but found herself too breathless with anticipation for the expression to hold much weight. “Arsehole,” she muttered, her lips pulling into a bit of a smile despite herself.

He grinned then, mischief and anticipation written clearly over his features, and nipped a quick, sharp bite at the tender flesh of her inner thigh.

She inhaled sharply on a hiss, dropping her head back against the window. All of that restless energy she’d woken up with that morning seemed to amp up, the anticipation building until she felt a bit like she was crackling with the energy of it.

“You should get jealous more often,” he murmured as he pushed her skirt higher on her thighs, slowly revealing her inch by inch.

“Is that so?” She asked, cheeky but breathless.

“Mmhmm,” he hummed, peppering kisses over her thighs as he leaned in closer, draping them over his shoulders.

“Why’s that?”

“So f*cking hot,” he murmured, glancing between her and the apex of her thighs. “And any excuse to eat this gorgeous puss*, of course.”

“This is supposed to be a punishment,” she reminded him. The admonishment was, of course, rendered rather weak as she inhaled sharply at the first brush of his warm breath over her already heated core.

“Oh. Right.” He answered with a smirk. “Bad Draco.”

“Bad, bad Draco,” she echoed, licking her lips.

He mirrored the movement, licking his own, before abandoning their verbal sparring entirely. He leaned in swiftly and dragged the flat of his tongue over the length of her slit, starting from her entrance and moving in a straight line directly to her cl*t.

She cried out, one hand moving to grip his hair while the other wrapped around the stone sill she was balanced on.

“Am I forgiven yet?” He mumbled without pulling away, the brush of his lips as he spoke acting as a uniquely maddening tease.

“Not yet,” she murmured.

He laughed softly, sending little puffs of hot air against her. “Guess I’ll have to try harder then.”

Any teasing was long forgotten as he pressed his hands against each of her thighs, spreading her open even further to his attention, and dove back in. While she hated to think of exactly how he’d gotten so good at this, she couldn’t deny how much she loved the results of it as she felt him first swipe his tongue in a slow circle around her cl*t before wrapping his lips around it, sucking a near scream from her lips.

“Draco!” She exclaimed, her fingers tightening both in his hair and around the window sill as her hips lifted into the air and her head knocked backwards against the glass.

She felt him chuckle, clearly pleased with himself, as he held tightly to her hips to hold her in place while he continued his maddening ministrations. Any thoughts of her earlier outrage at finding him with another girl had evaporated, leaving behind only the building obsession that had spurred them and a desperation that he give her what she needed.

When she felt him shimmy her back onto the sill, she nearly bucked her hips right back to where they had been, but when she felt the slide of two of his fingers circling her entrance she stilled. With his lips and tongue still focused on her cl*t, alternating maddeningly between licking and sucking, he finally slipped those two fingers inside her, eliciting a whimper at the stretch and then a guttural moan as he began to move them.

She began babbling, not quite incoherent but close, begging him not to stop and letting him know just how good it felt. It was a testament to how much attention he’d been paying over the past weeks that he seemed to read her like a book, giving her exactly what she didn’t even know she needed exactly when she needed it.

When finally, she felt the coil tightening and the trembling begin in her thighs and tummy, she once again arched her hips off the ledge, her legs clinging to his shoulders to maintain her balance.

“That’s it,” he murmured without actually pulling away. The deep gravel of his voice and the heat of his breath against her did nothing but push her closer and closer. “Come for me, Hermione.”

She whimpered, rocking her hips against him.

As she felt him curl his fingers and press against her G spot just as he again captured her cl*t between his lips and sucked at it, she finally felt caught the release she’d been chasing and rode his face almost violently as it ripped through her body.

Perhaps it was the build-up, all of that anger and jealousy that had been driving her after seeing him with Nora, that drove the intensity, or perhaps it was that restless energy she’d been vibrating with all day. She couldn’t really be sure, but as she finally came back to her senses and allowed her muscles to relax - luckily still held steady by Draco’s hands so that she didn’t fall - there was no denying that it was the most intense org*sm she’d ever experienced.

“Merlin…” She whispered, leaning back against the window to catch her breath.

Draco chuckled, stroking her thighs and watching her. “So, am I forgiven?” He asked teasingly, turning his head to brush a kiss over her thigh.

She glanced down at him with a grin and shook her head. “Not yet,” she answered as she lowered her leg from where it remained draped over his shoulder and slipped it between their bodies to drag her foot over the obvious erection he was sporting.

His eyes flashed and he bit down harder on her thigh, eliciting a delighted cry. “Ohhh,” he murmured against her skin, soothing the spot he’d just bit with a soft swipe of his tongue. “My witch isn’t done with me yet?”

Never.

Instead of putting the errant thought to words, she allowed her lips to pull into a lascivious smirk and shook her head, crooking a finger to beckon him off his knees. Eagerly, he pushed himself to standing, careful not to knock her off balance on the sill she was still balanced on, and looked down at her.

“Tell me what you want,” he ground out, watching her expression.

She lifted an eyebrow.

“Tell me,” he insisted.

She shook her head slowly.

He chuckled, arching an eyebrow. “I can’t give you what you want if you won’t tell me what it is.”

“You know what it is,” she answered, grinning.

He chuckled. “Do I?”

She nodded.

His hands moved to his trousers, unlatching his belt before unbuttoning them and tugging down the zipper. “Are you so sure?” He asked.

She nodded again, her eyes alight with excitement.

“You want me to f*ck you, Granger?” He asked, his voice low and almost growly as he tugged his length out and gave it a few slow strokes.

She nodded again, catching her lip between her teeth as her gaze alternated between his face and his co*ck. Her insides clenched in anticipation and she squirmed where she was sitting as he pressed in closer, gliding against her.

“I don’t like all of this silence,” he said in an almost conversational tone. Contrasting his casual, almost distant words, he pressed in even closer, circling her cl*t with his tip before dipping lower to tease at her entrance.

“Is that so?” She asked breathlessly, straining her hips forward.

“Mmhmm,” he hummed, pressing inside barely an inch before drawing back, smirking at her obvious frustration at his teasing. “Tell me what you want.”

She met his intense gaze, holding firm.

With a soft growl, he used his free hand to wrap around the back of her neck and pull her face in closer to his without breaking their stare. “If you don’t tell me what you want, Granger,” he spoke with a deadly calm that sent shivers through her body, “I’m going to zip up my trousers and go to class.”

“Draco…” She whimpered. By now she knew that Draco Malfoy did not make empty threats.

He chuckled softly, already knowing he’d won. “Tell me.”

“f*ck me,” she all but begged, breathless. “f*ck me like I’m yours and you’re mine.”

“I am yours,” he answered as he pressed forward again to notch the head of his co*ck in at her entrance. “And you are f*cking mine.”

With that, he slammed forward, filling her in one smooth, hard stroke that left them both crying out. All of the teasing and restraint was over as he began f*cking her in earnest, all of that anticipation transforming into near-desperation.

He hooked her leg onto his forearm, tilting her hips forward to take her him even more deeply, and she cried out his name desperately. Her eyes closed as her head fell back against the glass and she let herself be overtaken by the feeling of him taking her.

“That’s it,” he ground out as he pressed his face in against her neck. “That’s my girl.”

She wound her arms around him, holding him tightly against her as he continued to f*ck her with a steady, maddening rhythm and an intensity that was even more heightened than usual. He continued to murmur against her ear with each thrust, his possessive words pushing her higher and higher, and all she could do was hold on tight and lose herself in him.

“Come with me, Hermione,” he ground out as the rhythm of his thrusts increased in both speed and intensity, leaving no doubt that he was close.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she babbled as she met him thrust for thrust, chasing her own release with the desperate need to climax with him.

When finally she felt herself cresting once more, her legs shaking almost violently around him as she squeezed him from the inside in a vice grip, he was right there with her shuddering and groaning as they both finished together.

Breathless, they clung to each other as they tried to get their sanity and bones back in working order. When finally he lifted his head, looking completely undone, she gave him a shaky smile.

“Done being mad at me?” He asked playfully as he finally drew out from inside her.

She chuckled and then shrugged. “We’ll see. I might need you to make it up to me again later.”

His resulting laugh was full of affection and Hermione felt herself warmed from the inside in a way that didn’t quite fit with the intense, almost angry f*cking they’d just finished.

And yet, it felt just right.

“I think I could probably handle that. Now, get that gorgeous ass over here,” he demanded then, tugging her down from the window sill with a steadying hand on her arm as she got her shaky legs back beneath her.

He draped one arm over her shoulder and tugged her over to her little nest, gesturing for her to sit and then joining her as soon as she did, laying his head in her lap. Mindlessly, she dragged her fingers through his hair and watched his face as he closed his eyes, settling comfortably in with her.

“Did you mean it?” She asked sometime later after they’d both just existed in uncomplicated quiet for several minutes.

He opened his eyes, looking up at her curiously. “Did I mean what?”

“Only me?”

He held her stare for a long time, an unreadable expression on his face.

Hermione didn’t dare turn away, desperate enough for the answer to her question to suffer through the lingering, devastating silence.

“I’m beginning to think,” he finally said, his voice low and his tone unreadable, “that there might only ever be you.”

She gulped, nodding. “Me too,” she whispered.

And somehow, despite how easily their admissions could have felt romantic and beautiful, it was as though both of them knew just how much of a tragedy that reality might end up being.

Notes:

Thanks again to everyone who has left comments and kudos - I truly do appreciate it!

I hope you're all enjoying it - see you next week for the end of Part 1! ;)

Chapter 7: Part One : Episode Six

Notes:

I have to admit - I'm a little nervous to post this one, but I hope you guys enjoy it. Well, as much as you're able to enjoy it, that is!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione kept her footsteps slow, as though she would somehow be able to use her own pace to slow down the passage of time, painfully aware that every step was a last of sorts. It was, after all, the last time she would make this walk back to the dorms in the wee hours of the morning, the last time she would have to sneak her way through the castle so no one would know how she was spending her nights.

A glance over at Draco’s expression seemed to confirm that his thoughts mirrored her own.

Their last day at Hogwarts.

By sunset, their time as students would be over.

They’d go home.

Well, as much as Grimmauld Place and Malfoy Manor were homes to either of them anymore, anyway. Regardless of their individual destinations, all that mattered was that they wouldn’t spend another night behind these walls.

Hermione slowed her steps even further.

Of course, they’d spent their last night together. After they’d both slipped away from the final Eighth Year party of the year and made their way to their sanctuary, they’d both carefully avoided any mention of what was going to happen when they left school. Instead, they had treated it like any other day, studiously pretending not to notice the desperation and urgency that hadn’t been there before, though it was obvious to Hermione that they were still very much aware of the weight of it all.

They’d packed up their things quietly when Hermione’s wand had chirped at them, charmed to wake them well before sunrise. As they left their room for the final time, leaving it empty and void of any traces that they’d been there at all, Hermione had shed a single tear and Draco had brushed it away quietly.

They hadn’t yet said a single word to each other all morning.

Draco squeezed her hand, reminding her of the delicious way their fingers were tangled together, as they turned the corner and the grand staircase came into view.

They were running out of time.

They both slowed a bit more.

Though she had tried to bring it up once more - what would happen when they both left the school, that is - Draco had sidestepped the question and she’d resisted mentioning it again. That hadn’t kept it from infecting her thoughts more and more frequently as the days had passed and they’d gotten closer and closer to this moment.

“Draco–”

“Hermione–”

They both spoke at the same time, laughing awkwardly at the absurdity of them both deciding to break the oppressive silence at the exact same moment. And then they each waited for the other to continue, laughing once more when silence returned and lingered once more.

“You first,” Draco finally said softly as he shifted their hold to drag his thumb over her palm.

“What happens now?” She asked, gnawing at her bottom lip hard enough that it stung.

Hermione’s relentless mind couldn’t help but fill his silence with assumptions, the sort of assumptions that churned her stomach and had her biting her lip even more roughly. In truth, she’d only very briefly allowed herself to consider that this might be the end of things. Most of her musings had leaned much more towards how they would continue than if they would continue.

Now, she couldn’t help but wonder if this truly was the end.

Her skin prickled at the thought.

“I don’t know,” he said finally, letting out a soft sigh.

It was the same answer he’d given the first time she’d asked. At least it was honest, she decided, and likely the only truthful answer that he could give. She could hardly blame him for that, even as sadness and worry settled over her like a heavy blanket holding her to the ground.

“I don’t either,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.

Despite their attempts at prolonging the journey, they finally arrived at the entrance to the Gryffindor common room and their steps halted. Without pulling her hand from his, Hermione turned to face him, looking up at him with wide eyes. The stare only lasted a handful of seconds, his gaze heating quickly before he pressed her against the wall.

“Don’t wake the fat lady,” she murmured.

He chuckled, leaning down towards her. “We can be quiet,” he mumbled, his lips brushing against hers as he formed the words.

“Draco…” she whispered.

“Shh.” He captured her lips then, without hesitation.

Somehow she knew that everything he wanted to say to her was tucked into that kiss. It started out slow, almost teasing, and she sensed that he was savouring it. Savouring her. She wound her arms around his neck to hold him against her as she deepened the kiss, trying to communicate all of the things she wanted to say but couldn’t seem to put into words.

As the kiss slowed, shifting from a conversation to something that felt much sadder, her hands tightened in the fabric of his shirt and she fought the urge to pull him back in. Instead, she was the first to draw back, breathless and overcome with emotion.

I love you.

She wanted to say it out loud, but she couldn’t seem to make her lips form the words. She hoped that he could read it in her eyes, that whatever happened after they left school, he would know. And she hoped that what she was seeing in his face just then were the same feelings reflected.

She desperately hoped for that.

She felt the loss of his heat to her very bones as he drew back from her and had to fight the urge to drag him back in against her. As soon as she could no longer feel the heat of his body, she tucked her hands behind her back, closing her fingers to make fists.

When he reached out to cup her cheek, dragging his thumb over the swollen rise of her lower lip, she nuzzled into the touch and allowed her eyes to flutter closed for a moment. If she had to, she would memorise every moment of their time together.

Never in her life had silence been quite so cacophonous as it was at that moment.

“I’ll see you at the feast,” he murmured, his voice gravelly and thick.

She opened her eyes again, looking up at him, and nodded.

His grin was quick, but devastating, as he tugged once at her lower lip and then stepped back one more step until he was fully out of reach.

They shared one more of those lingering, weighty looks before he gave a sharp nod and turned to go back the way they’d come. She watched, waiting for him to look back with a desperation that she couldn’t really understand. It was as though his looking back was the signal she needed to know that he was just as twisted up as she was just then.

Just when she was beginning to think he wasn’t going to, he turned.

She allowed the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding to rush out, some of the tension that had been building in her body releasing.

He paused his steps, a slow smile coming to his lips.

She couldn’t help but mirror him, smiling back at him around the lip she had caught between her teeth.

He winked.

She nearly melted.

And then he was gone, disappeared around the corner.

A wave of cold washed over her, stealing all of the warmth that his smile had enveloped her in.

She stayed where she was for a few minutes, watching the last spot she’d seen him as she tried to order her thoughts and convince herself that there was nothing to be upset about.

They hadn’t said goodbye.

They would talk later.

They would figure it out.

Wouldn’t they?

She moved as though on autopilot, slipping into the dorms on light steps and quickly making her way to her room. She’d done this enough times that she’d gotten quite good at it, never having been caught in all of the times she’d made her way back into her bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Of course, this wasn’t like any of those other mornings.

It was the last.

Rather than getting into bed for a bit more sleep, she instead set to packing up her things. It was time to say goodbye to Hogwarts.

She brushed a tear as she tugged out her chest to begin packing.

After so many years of packing up her life at the end of a Hogwarts school year, she had a system and didn’t have to think all that much about it. Instead, she was able to just proceed on autopilot, her mind otherwise engaged.

“What the bloody hell have you been doing with Malfoy?” A familiar voice hissed, dragging Hermione from the thoughts that seemed to be holding her hostage as she mindlessly tossed her belongings into her trunk.

“What?” She asked, turning to find Ginny behind her wearing a fierce, disgusted look on her face.

“I saw you two sneaking off together last night,” Ginny continued accusingly. “Is that where you’ve been disappearing to all year? To shag bloody Malfoy of all people?”

“Ginny…”

“Don’t lie to me, Hermione!” Ginny exclaimed, pointing her finger accusingly.

Immediately, any instinct to make excuses or convince Ginny nothing was going on evaporated and Hermione’s shoulders lifted, her back straightening and her expression cooling as she regarded the redhead for a long, lingering moment.

“I don’t owe anyone any explanations,” she replied evenly before turning back to her packing.

“That's absolute bollocks!” Ginny exclaimed, roughly grabbing Hermione’s shoulder and tugging her back around to face her. “Were you cheating on Ron with him?”

Hermione sneered, angrily brushing her friend’s hand from her shoulder. “There was only one cheater in our relationship and it wasn’t me,” she replied coldly.

“Ron never—”

“Yeah, he may not have touched her or taken her on a date,” she interrupted, disdain dripping from her tone, “but he slept with me while he had feelings for someone else. And he broke up with me the day before Valentine’s Day because he wanted to spend it with her. Regardless of technicalities, he might as well have shagged her because he certainly wasn’t faithful.”

Saying it out loud felt undeniably strange.

Ever since their breakup, those thoughts had been bouncing around in her head, but up until this point she’d kept them tucked away deep in the privacy of her own mind. To actually express them out loud shocked her momentarily, particularly because hearing them out loud left her without any doubt that they were true.

Immediately after the shock faded, she felt a sense of pride for standing up for herself.

Ginny gawped, her mouth opening and closing like a fish a couple of times before the hawkish expression she’d been wearing the whole time returned. “So your answer was to f*ck Draco bloody Malfoy? Just abandon all of your friends all year and start shagging a bloody Death Eater? Have you lost your mind?”

“This is none of your business, Ginny,” she replied stiffly, uninterested in having this particular argument. Particularly with Ginny Weasley who, despite all of her bluster, hadn’t exactly put in an effort to discourage Hermione’s isolation over the course of the school year.

“Are you… What the hell has happened to you, Hermione?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hermione replied, attempting to sound unbothered.

“You’re not… I don’t even know who you are anymore!”

“You never knew who I was to begin with!” She exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air, abandoning all attempts to keep her cool. “You’re Ron’s sister and Harry’s girlfriend, but we’ve never been friends. Not really.”

It was harsh, Hermione could admit, but it wasn’t entirely untrue.

While it would have been easy to think of Ginny as one of her closest friends, the truth was that their relationship was incidental, peripheral to the boys that brought them together. It had never really gone beyond that. Though Hermione was more than willing to admit that it was probably more her doing than Ginny’s, the truth was that neither of them had ever tried very hard to build a closer bond.

“Wow,” Ginny replied, glaring. “You know, Hermione, I knew that you had changed, but I didn’t know you had turned into such a vicious bloody bitch.”

Hermione glared, crossing her arms over her chest.

“You know, Ron and Harry are coming here today for the final feast,” Ginny said with a hint of smugness that set Hermione’s teeth on edge. “Can’t wait to tell them about your downgrade.”

“My… Excuse me?”

“My brother may not be perfect, but he’s a fat lot better than Draco Malfoy, you know.” Ginny crossed her arms over her chest. “Maybe you are just a filthy– Hey, what are you doing?”

“Obliviate.”

Hermione hadn’t consciously intended to use the memory charm on Ginny, but without even thinking about it she had picked up her wand and turned it on the other girl, erasing any memory she had of seeing Hermione and Draco together as well as this entire conversation.

Immediately, Hermione felt sick to her stomach, aghast at what she’d done, while Ginny stood there blinking in confusion for a few moments before a bright smile lit her face.

“Oh my gosh,” she said with a shake of her head. “Did I just completely zone out?”

Hermione swallowed, forcing a tight smile that caused a slight ache in the muscles in her face. “Too much fun last night?” She asked in a playful tone that she hoped sounded less forced to Ginny than it did to her own ears.

“Apparently,” Ginny said with a nod, her brows furrowing. “I don’t even remember how I got back to the dorms after the party. Merlin! Don’t tell Harry, he’ll think I’ve turned into a lush.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t say a word.” This time Hermione was fairly sure that her laugh sounded a bit more natural, though she could still hear the strain in it.

I am a terrible person.

“Since we’re sharing secrets,” Ginny said with a grin, “Harry and Ron are both coming for the feast today. And I don’t know for sure, but I think Ron might be planning to ask you to get back together.”

Hermione felt certain that her heart stopped right there in her chest. “Oh.” She replied, trying to school her features into a neutral expression.

“Well!” Ginny exclaimed, relieving Hermione of the pressure she was feeling to think up more of a response. “I’d better go and finish packing myself. I don’t even remember why I came in here.”

Hermione felt a pang at the confused but perky smile on Ginny’s face. Her guilt at having used the spell to alleviate her own discomfort already felt as though it was eating at her insides, twisting and tearing at her.

“Okay,” she replied, shooting for a bright tone in her voice and nearly making it. “I’ll see you down there.”

“See you down there!” Ginny echoed, sharing one last smile before she turned and left.

As silent minutes dragged on, Hermione felt a weight growing and growing on her chest until she was gasping for breath. She considered sitting down, allowing herself to get lost in her racing thoughts, but instead, she busied herself with continuing to pack. Her pace was frenetic, her mind creating the rhythm for her body to follow, and soon she found that there was nothing left to throw into her trunk.

Everything she’d been trying not to feel seemed to hit her at once - the fact that she was leaving Hogwarts for the last time, the fact that she had erased Ginny’s memory, the fact that she had no idea what was going to happen between her and Draco - and her eyes filled with tears that she just couldn’t hold back. Her knees buckled and she stumbled to her bed, lowering herself down onto it and just allowing herself to cry.

By the time Hermione pulled herself together, it was time to make her way down to the Great Hall for the final feast, a tradition that had always seemed exciting when she was young but now just felt sad. She felt numb as she left the Gryffindor common room, but as she walked the halls and stairways that she’d been walking for nearly a decade some of that started to fade as she allowed herself the memories.

These halls had shaped her from the wide-eyed little girl she’d been when she arrived to the woman she was now and she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d trade all of those formative experiences for a little of that shine, a little of the optimism and feeling of certainty about herself and her place in the world that she used to have. There were countless good times here - amazing times, really, but their shine was dimmed by all of the trauma she’d experienced there as well. At not even 20 years old, she felt the weight of a much older woman.

She missed that little girl, she realised. She missed being her, feeling the way she had.

As she made her way downstairs and out into the Entrance Hall, all of the weight she’d been carrying and building sat heavily on her shoulders, she was immediately met with the familiar, smiling faces of Harry and Ron.

Her thoughts, so messy and complicated, ground to a halt as she realised that her two oldest friends might well be the only people in the world who remembered that lost little girl she was wishing so desperately to be again. As though she couldn’t resist the pull, she found herself rushing towards them with an unexpected urgency.

Harry scooped her into a tight hug immediately and the tight hold around her body immediately soothed something she hadn’t necessarily realised was nagging her. “Harry!” She exclaimed, relief obvious in her voice, as she hugged him back tightly. “I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you too, ‘Mione,” Harry replied warmly, chuckling at his friend’s effusiveness as he drew back from the hug.

“What about me then?” Ron’s familiar voice interrupted from beside them.

At first, she felt a spark of annoyance at his interruption, especially considering that the last time she’d seen him had been when he broke up with her to be with someone else, but she shoved it away and turned to him with a tentative smile.

“It’s good to see you too, Ron,” she said quietly, still rather unsure if she was telling the truth or not.

Ron held out his arms for a hug, an expression of uncertain invitation on his face.

She hesitated.

“Come on, ‘Mione,” he pleaded softly, widening the spread of his arms as though that would act as a further enticement.

With a soft, slow inhale, she finally moved into his embrace, wincing as he wrapped his arms around her tightly enough to steal her breath.

“I’ve missed you, ‘Mione,” he whispered against her ear.

The wet heat of his breath on her neck made her skin crawl.

She didn’t return the sentiment. She was tempted to - it was only polite, after all - but she couldn’t bring herself to say words that she didn’t mean, particularly those words.

“We need to talk,” Ron said then, filling the void she left with her silence.

“Ron…” She said finally, her voice exhausted and unsure.

“Please, Hermione,” he pleaded, unwinding his arms from around her so that he could take both of her hands in his as he looked into her eyes imploringly. “I’ll do anything.”

She exhaled a sigh and regarded him appraisingly, doing everything she could to keep from pulling her hands from his slick, clammy ones. In the nearly two years that they were a couple, he’d represented warmth and comfort to her, a necessity when the nightmares and the tremors in the aftermath of everything got too hard, but somehow all of that had been washed away and she wasn’t sure what she felt when she looked at him anymore.

“Ron…”

“I want you back,” Ron said then with an urgency that seemed to instantly intensify everything.

“Ron, I—”

“Hermione, please,” he begged, cutting her off and tugging her in closer to him. “I messed up. It was just… We were apart for so long and I forgot how perfect we are together, how perfect you are for me. And I got distracted. But we can be together now. There’s no one else for me. I know that now.”

“Ron…” She sighed, pulling her eyes away from him in discomfort.

“I don’t care if…” Ron winced, tugging her several feet away from where their friends were standing and lowering his voice so that only the two of them could hear it. “I don’t care if you did what you said… With Malfoy…”

Hermione winced.

She’d forgotten about that by now, everything that had happened with Draco in the time since then having overshadowed the memory of when she’d invoked him in an attempt to hurt her ex. She couldn’t bring herself to regret it, certain that saying what she said had given them the nudge towards that first kiss, but it felt wrong now.

“We both made mistakes,” Ron insisted, his expression one of extreme discomfort. “But everything can go back to the way it was. We can be us again, just the way we used to be.”

Immediately, she felt an ache go through her.

She didn’t miss him.

She hadn’t missed him.

In fact, she’d barely even thought about him in weeks. But she did miss the person she was with him, the certainty and the comfort in knowing exactly who she was and exactly what her future held.

“Ron…” She said again, finding that his name was the only thing she was certain of just then. “I don’t… I don’t know.”

I know,” he insisted firmly, tugging her in even closer and dropping her hands so that he could loop one arm around her waist and lift the other to cup her jaw. “I know we’re meant to be. I love you, Hermione.”

She stared up at him, eyes wet and incoherent thoughts racing.

“Please, give me another chance,” he begged. “I’ll never hurt you again. I promise.”

It was an act of cowardice.

She knew, even in the moment, that she was choosing the easiest path rather than the one she actually wanted. And yet, something in her was begging, insisting that she might be able to find herself again on that path, but only if she took it. That she’d find the little girl with the thirst for knowledge and adventure, who was present in every moment of her life. The one who wasn’t scared and traumatised, who didn't need tokes of fairygrass and fictional tales of sex and violence to dissociate from everything she’d been through. The little girl with loving parents who didn’t use memory alteration spells, even for good reasons but certainly not for selfish ones.

She wanted to be that little girl again, all grown up but the same, and that little girl had loved Ronald Weasley for years.

“Okay,” she said so softly she could barely hear herself as a pang of shame went through her for giving in.

“Okay?” Ron repeated, his eyes widening.

She nodded, biting her lower lip.

Her stomach churned and her hands ached, her mind screaming, as he pulled her back in and hugged her tight. In the back of her head was the one thing she refused to acknowledge, the one factor that she didn’t take into account when making the decision. She knew that he was a game changer, the one thing that - if she allowed herself to think of him - would change her answer completely.

When Ron drew back, looking down at her with excitement and a familiar hunger in his eyes, her stomach twisted. He was so familiar to her and he’d always been her comfort and safety… and yet all she wanted was to be staring into a different set of eyes, being held by a different set of arms.

“I love you, Hermione,” Ron said again. The words should have warmed her but instead, they just set her tummy wobbling uncomfortably, and she could have sworn he was looking beyond her rather than at her when he said them. Unfortunately, she had no time to think any further about either of those things as he pulled her in and kissed her deeply.

She closed her eyes, robotically letting herself be kissed as she tried to ignore the ache, her body’s insistence that everything about this was wrong. She could do this, she insisted to herself. She could be the person she used to be again. She could make it work.

She didn’t see the shock of white-blond hair as Draco Malfoy turned and disappeared from the hall, the grin he’d been wearing when he first entered the room replaced with something unreadable, something dark and full of rage and pain.

She had no idea he’d heard every single word.

She had no idea that she had broken his heart when she’d agreed to give Ron another chance.

A half hour later, just as everyone was about to make their way inside the Great Hall for the graduation feast, Hermione continued to be on autopilot. Ron had been holding her hand, that slick, cool feel of his palm against hers continuing to turn her stomach, and she’d just gone along. She’d tried to smile and nod at the appropriate moments, engaging with her friends in an attempt to seem as normal as she possibly could, but a numbness far more encompassing than that which she’d been feeling earlier had settled over her.

It wasn’t until the whispers started, news travelling through the room with an impressive speed, that she perked up at all.

“Malfoy set the northeast corridor on the third floor on fire!” A sixth year Ravenclaw whose name Hermione was certain she’d known at some point whispered a few feet away. Hermione sat up straighter, finally feeling that numbness dissipate as she tried to make sense of what she’d heard.

“Did you hear that?” Ginny exclaimed, her eyes wide.

Draco Malfoy set the northeast corridor on the third floor on fire…

The northeast corridor on the third floor.

Their room.

A bolt of pain shot through Hermione’s body and she knew.

Immediately, she knew.

“Are… are you sure?” She managed, turning to pose the question to the sixth year who’d originally said it.

He nodded eagerly, his eyes lit with an excitement that hardly seemed befitting of an arson situation. Of course, Hermione could hardly blame him. Without any personal stake in the matter, something like this probably would be rather exciting.

“Professor Mingus caught him,” the younger boy told them with wide eyes, his attention mostly focused on Harry. “And the Aurors just arrived to take him to Azkaban.”

Aurors. Azkaban.

Hermione’s stomach sank, all of the twisting and aching that she’d felt when first agreeing to give Ron another chance returning now with an increased intensity. Draco was on probation still and if they had sent Aurors to get him, she knew that couldn’t be good.

“Good. That’s where that bloody wanker should have been all along,” Ron hissed, squeezing Hermione’s hand in an almost painful grip.

It occurred to her that his response made it pretty unlikely that he actually didn’t care if anything had happened between her and Draco, but she didn’t have time to linger on the thought as the low hum in the Great Hall diminished to silence as everyone turned. There, coming down the stairs, she could see two large, rather unsettling-looking Aurors descending with Draco between them. His hands were magically restrained behind his back and each man had a firm grip on one of his arms.

No…

When she lifted her gaze to his, she found him watching her. His face was pale, his expression shuttered in a way she’d never seen before, and she could see a small drop of blood trickling from one corner of his lip, making it clear that he hadn’t gone willingly for the men holding him.

“Nothing to see here, everyone!” Headmistress McGonagall insisted, making her way through the crowds ahead of the Aurors. “Please, everyone get to your seats. The feast will begin soon.”

Hermione stood frozen, watching as the Aurors dragged Draco down the stairs. His gaze remained on her, emotionless and unblinking. He wasn’t putting up a fight now, but he also wasn’t assisting the two law enforcement officers in dragging him off to prison either.

Instead, he dragged his feet.

For the most part, the crowds watched silently as it happened. A few whispered softly amongst themselves while others made snide comments about Death Eaters and how none of them should have ever gotten second chances.

Hermione cringed, a bone-deep devastation settling in over her.

“Always knew you were no good, Malfoy,” Ron growled as the trio approached, his expression smug and superior in a way that made Hermione want to slap it off his face.

A smirk pulled at Draco’s lips, as cold and cruel an expression as Hermione had ever seen on his face, and she braced herself for whatever he was going to say. He had ammunition, she knew, to hit Ron exactly where it would hurt the most.

She found herself surprised when he didn’t even look at Ron or say a word. Instead, he kept his gaze centred on hers as he opened his mouth and spit a combination of saliva and blood from the cut on his lip at their feet, his smirk deepening.

“You bloody—” Ron lunged for the restrained man, finally letting go of Hermione’s hand, but was stopped before he could reach him by both Harry and Neville holding him back.

“Ron, don’t!” Harry exclaimed, pulling him back as hard as he could.

Hermione stood frozen, unable to look away from Draco’s icy gaze. She opened her mouth to speak but found herself unable to think of anything to say. Instead, all she could do was stare.

He laughed, the sound cruel and cutting. “f*cking coward,” he hissed.

She knew that they would assume he was talking to Ron, but even if his attention hadn’t been openly centred on her, she would have known that he wasn’t.

He was talking to her.

And he was right.

She was a f*cking coward.

“f*ck you, Malfoy. Enjoy Azkaban, you traitorous wanker piece of sh*te!” Ron all but screamed, still enraged at the blond wizard’s disrespect.

Hermione cringed.

Draco’s smile spread until there was something almost unnatural about it. Briefly, he shifted his gaze to Ron’s blustering, angry face, but quickly returned it to Hermione. “f*ck you, too, Weasel. All. Night. Long.”

“That’s enough!” The smaller of the two Aurors said finally, giving Draco a firm shove to keep him moving in the direction of the gates.

Ron smirked, brushing off his two friends with quickly mumbled assurances that he wasn’t going to do anything, and moved to drape his arm over Hermione’s shoulder.

She flinched as she saw a brief flash of hurt cross Draco’s features before he shuttered his expression once more. His jaw clenched, he gave her one last icy look before turning his face away.

“Get me out of here, boys,” he said in a tone that sounded almost playful if you didn’t know him well enough to recognize the edge beneath its surface. “Anywhere has to be better than here. Even Azkaban.”

Hermione remained perfectly still, unable to even think about moving, as the Aurors led Draco away. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from his retreating back, everything in her screaming to follow him, to stop them from taking him away, to somehow explain that it wasn’t his fault.

And yet, there she stood. Still and watching.

And when they moved through the gates and she watched them apparate him away, she was sure that she could feel something vital dying inside her. Something important she hadn’t even realised she had, much less needed.

She let Ron lead her inside then, feeling smaller and more fragile than she ever had before.

f*cking coward…

“It’s a good thing you were joking when you said you were going to f*ck Malfoy,” Ron said quietly as he led her to their seats at the table.

She stilled, turning her head to look up at him with a quizzical look on her face. “What did you say?”

“I said you were joking,” he reiterated insistently with a hint of something darker than she’d ever seen in him lurking in his words. It was a warning.

She shrugged off his arm and examined him with new eyes. There was a smugness to him now, one that didn’t make sense with the image of him she held in her mind, and it made her skin crawl.

“We both know I wasn’t joking, Ron,” she said with a quiet intensity.

Ron stilled, his jaw clenching.

Hermione held Ron’s gaze, unflinching as she waited to see where this conversation was going to go. Gone was the contrite, pleading version of himself that Ron had presented her with earlier. Gone were the begging and assurances.

She found she liked this better, the naked honesty of it, even if she didn’t actually like this version of him at all. Though she felt weak all the way to her insides, almost as if she could collapse asleep at any moment, she held firm with a rigid spine and an unflinching gaze.

And finally, Ron blinked.

“All of that is in the past now,” he finally croaked, giving a firm and obviously uncomfortable nod. “I forgive you.”

She could have laughed, finding his words to be absurd, but instead, she held firm. “I don’t want your forgiveness, Ron. I don’t need it. I did nothing that I need to be forgiven for.”

“Hermione…”

This time it was her turn to cut him off. “No, Ron. I did nothing wrong and I do not require your forgiveness.”

Appearing chastened, he nodded, though she could feel something simmering beneath the surface that felt nothing like contrition. “Okay, Hermione,” he acquiesced. “Now, let’s go before they start the feast without us.”

She should have been proud of herself for finally finding the strength that had been eluding her all day, but she didn’t. She glanced back towards the exit, as though she might find Draco standing in it after all, but of course it was empty.

And the truth was that she did do something bad.

She did do something that she would spend years aching to be forgiven for.

But there would be no forgiveness.

Of that much, she was certain.

Draco was detained by the Ministry and within two weeks of his arrest, the Wizengamot’s decision in regards to his violation of his probation and destruction of property was Exile. He was forced to relinquish his wand and leave Wizarding society for good. Any contact between him and any witches or wizards, including all family and friends, was strictly forbidden.

Hermione and Ron’s reconciliation lasted 8 days. She tried, doing her best to ignore the lingering heartbreak she couldn’t tell anyone about and focus on her first love, but she couldn’t bear to touch or kiss him or even laugh with him. Eventually, she realised she didn’t forgive him, couldn’t and didn’t want to. The little girl she’d been searching for in him, she realised, was long gone and there was no way to bring her back. The realisation crushed her, adding to her already broken heart.

3 months later, after their friendship got closer and closer, Neville Longbottom asked Hermione out on a date. They married 4 years later. And divorced 5 years after that.

Notes:

This is the end of Part One, obviously. The first episode of Part 2 will be up next Friday, continuing on from where the Prologue left off 10 years in the future!

I'd love to hear what you thought of this one in the comments! Thanks again to everyone who has been leaving feedback and kudos - it's very much appreciated!

Chapter 8: Part Two : Episode One

Notes:

This chapter continues where the prologue left off, 10 years after the last chapter and on the day of Hermione and Neville's divorce becoming official, so if you need a bit of a refresher you might want to dip back over to that.

I'm super excited to get into the adult versions of these characters, so let's just get into it...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Part 2: Felt

Funny how true colours shine in darkness and in secrecy
If there were scarlet flags, they washed out in the mind of mе
Where a blindin' light shone on you еvery night
And either side of my sleep
Where you were held frozen like an angel to me

NOW.

“So, we’re going to play you the best song I’ve ever written, in my not so humble opinion. Dedicated to the callous bitch who broke my heart and ruined my life. Cheers, Granger,” he lifted the beer bottle, a cruel smirk on his face, and then knocked it back as the drummer counted off and the song began.

f*ck…

He moved smoothly on the stage, setting the beer bottle down at his feet while he reached over and picked up the familiar guitar she’d seen in his hands countless times. It was a lot more battered than it had been back then, showing more evidence of the passage of time than its owner did, but she would have recognised it anywhere. Its presence there, perhaps even more so than Draco’s, startled her and set her off kilter.

He began to play.

Hermione picked at her fingernails, a nervous tic she’d developed over the years that she rarely even noticed she was doing.

She recognized the melody immediately, one of a handful she could clearly remember him strumming as they’d spent time tucked away in their private sanctuary, and one that would occasionally - and infuriatingly! - get stuck in her head to this day. It hadn’t really been a song back then though. It had never had the fullness that the band behind Draco added, nor had it ever had words put to it before.

And the words…

She may well have forgotten how to breathe as she listened to the lyrics. Haunting and tragic, she was sure he was breaking the hearts of everyone in the room. He wove a vivid picture of loneliness broken by something so beautiful and overwhelming it seemed impossible, only to have it torn away. She felt her hands ache as her mind was flooded with pictures, every subtle reference bringing forth a crystal clear memory for her.

Even if he hadn’t explicitly named her as the inspiration for the song, it would have been obvious to her from the lyrics.

Devastating, but obvious.

His voice was deep and smooth, with a hint of graveliness that she could feel through her entire body. He’d sung to her many times before, back then, but his voice was different now. He’d gotten better, to be sure, but there were other more subtle changes as well. There was a maturity to him that was startling, being that she hadn’t been around to witness any of its progression.

This wasn’t a boy singing love songs that he didn’t really understand.

This was a man singing his hard earned pain.

“And I may have lit the match, but she was the flame,” he sang, his attention moving back to where she was standing.

She wasn’t sure if he could see her, but it seemed unlikely. The combination of the way she had tucked herself into the shadows and the way the stage lights shone over him should have rendered her invisible, for all intents and purposes. And yet, it was as though his gaze was penetrating her, the combination of it and his lyrics flaying her open and leaving her feeling vulnerable and exposed in a way she wasn’t prepared for.

The song shifted then, away from the beauty and back to the loneliness, only this time it might well have been torture for the way he presented it. He sang about her setting alight everything that ever mattered to him, settling her knife between his ribs and then disappearing like smoke.

The words were beautifully crafted, showing a true talent for poetry, and she found herself simultaneously proud of and crushed by him.

She blinked rapidly as her eyes heated, feeling the song in every inch of her body.

“You need to leave,” a familiar voice that Hermione couldn’t immediately place dragged her focus from the man on stage.

She turned, surprised to find none other than Pansy Parkinson, another face she’d not seen in person since leaving Hogwarts, standing behind her. The other witch looked much the same as she had in their younger years, though Hermione had to admit that she’d grown up to be quite beautiful with striking features and a severe but chic style that made perfect sense for the girl she’d known.

It took her a moment to pull herself from her surprise enough to register what the other woman had said, but even when she did she couldn’t quite think of a response. “You’re not supposed to be here either,” she said instead, squaring her shoulders to project a confidence she didn’t feel.

Pansy laughed bitterly, rolling her eyes. “Are you going to go tell your friends at the Ministry that you saw me here? Get me banished too?”

It was a challenge, that much was obvious, and she found herself instinctively rolling her eyes, matching the other woman’s energy. “We’re both here, aren’t we?” She replied pointedly.

“You were just leaving, remember?” Pansy tilted her head and lifted her eyebrows, the escalation of the challenge obvious in her expression and the naked hatred in her voice.

Hermione said nothing, but unflinchingly held the other woman’s gaze.

She had never backed down in the face of Pansy Parkinson before and she certainly wasn’t going to start now, no matter how rattled and vulnerable she was feeling after everything else that had happened over the course of the day.

Of all days, it just had to be this one.

The stand off lasted several long, lingering moments, set to the soundtrack of the song Draco and his band were still performing, and felt dramatic enough for film or television. Briefly, as though she were watching the moment from the outside, she couldn’t help but acknowledge how perfectly it all came together. From a narrative perspective, that is. From a human perspective, it was somewhat agonising.

Finally, Pansy relented and let her shoulders drop. “I mean it, Granger,” she said, this time with a softer tone that Hermione couldn’t quite read. “He’s been through enough. The last thing he needs is you showing up here and f*cking him up all over again.”

She winced, hoping that it wasn’t too obvious, and glanced back at the stage once before returning her attention to Pansy. “What do you mean? What has he been through?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Pansy said firmly, leaving no doubt that she wasn’t about to start sharing secrets that weren’t hers to share. “If you ever cared about him at all, you’ll just leave him alone. And if you didn’t… Well, then there’s no reason to be here anyway.”

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again when Pansy held up a hand. She hadn’t really known what she was going to say anyway.

“You don’t get to show up here and use him to forget another boring wizard that dumped you,” Pansy continued harshly. “The last time you did that, he lost everything that ever mattered to him. I won’t let you do that to him again.”

She wanted to defend herself, to say something that would absolve her, and yet she couldn’t find a single word to do so. Now that Pansy had brought it up, she realised what it would look like to the other witch. Nevermind the fact that her ending up there was a complete coincidence, since the Prophet had extensively reported on first the rumours and then the confirmation of the end of her marriage, she couldn’t deny that it appeared much too coincidental to be an accident.

As the song ended, she turned to look back up at the stage once more and gasped softly as she found Draco looking back at her with as much intensity as she’d ever felt from him.

He shouldn’t have been able to see her tucked into the shadows as she was, but she knew without question that he could.

“Go,” Pansy repeated, as near to begging as her stiff, superior air would allow.

The moment of eye contact between her and Draco - long and lingering, filled with a million things left unsaid for over a decade - seemed to hang on forever until finally his expression shuttered, his lip curled into a sneer, and he looked away.

Somehow, that single moment of dismissal from someone she’d not seen in a decade hurt more acutely than the end of her marriage, a fact that Hermione was determined not to think too deeply about just then.

“I have to say,” Draco addressed his adoring crowd with a co*cky smirk that no doubt had a significant number of them panting, “it doesn’t hurt when you see your ex again and they look like sh*t, does it?”

Hermione frowned as the crowd laughed, cheering for him.

“Good for the ego,” he continued, his tone co*cky. “Me, up here. And her… beneath me.”

Hermione winced, though the bolt of pain his words sent through her also sent a bolt of heat to her core that she in no way wanted to examine.

“Go,” Pansy said again, this time with something almost resembling empathy in her voice. “If you stay, he’s just going to keep punishing you. And you’ll deserve it.”

Pansy was right, she had no choice but to admit, and somehow that hurt as much as anything.

It was indulgent, she knew, but she allowed herself one more dragged out moment of watching him. It hurt, all the way to places inside her that she hadn’t remembered could hurt this much, but she soaked it all in.

Somehow, that ache was better than the numbness she’d been lost in before she’d walked into the club.

He was beautiful. As beautiful as he ever had been, perhaps even moreso, but with that dangerous edge he’d always kept beneath the surface showing through outwardly now. A visual representation of what was on the inside, the polish and poshness that hid his gritty insides gone entirely.

She inhaled deeply, almost as if she could capture enough of the air in the room that she’d have some piece of him to take with her. She could have laughed at how ridiculous she was being just then, not at all like the practical, unromantic woman she considered herself to be.

“Bloody hell, Granger!” Pansy exclaimed.

“I’m bloody going,” she snapped, shooting a glare at the other woman before her attention was ripped back to the stage.

Draco was looking.

He was smirking.

It wasn’t the sort of smirk one wanted to be on the other side of.

She took a deep breath.

Finally, she turned and made her way out of the club. She managed not to scurry, though it still felt like a retreat, and she kept her strides even and her shoulders back.

Don’t turn around… Don’t turn around…

The mantra repeated over and over in her head until, by the time she reached the exit, she was mouthing them to herself. It distantly occurred to her that she probably looked mad, but being that she was much more concerned with how she appeared from the back than from the front, she couldn’t quite find it in herself to care.

Don’t turn around…

And she tried.

She really did.

But as she placed her hand on the door and prepared to push it open, she couldn’t resist.

She turned.

And he was still watching.

From that distance, she couldn’t be sure, but she could have sworn that the pain she was feeling all the way to her insides was reflected in his gaze. Finally, for the first time in a day that should have been riddled with them, she felt tears fill her eyes and she quickly turned away.

This time there was no denying that she was scurrying, her steps carrying her quickly out of the club before he could see the fall of tears over her cheeks. She didn’t slow until she reached an alleyway where she felt confident she could safely apparate.

She didn’t hesitate, resisting the urge to lean against the side of one of the buildings to give herself a moment to contain herself, and quickly apparated herself to the small flat that she’d hardly even unpacked yet.

Desperately, she found herself wishing for some place that felt like home… and yet, couldn’t ignore the screaming voice in the back of her head that reminded her that nowhere had really felt like home in a long, long time.

In fact, it had probably been as long as it had been since the last time she’d seen Draco Malfoy before this evening.

She truly didn’t know what to do with that thought.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed - and don't worry, they will actually collide again soon for all of the angst and smut that I think defines this overall story.

Thanks to everyone who has interacted with this fic - it really does mean the world. I'd love to hear how you're enjoying the story in the comments!

Chapter 9: Part Two : Episode Two

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Every night, for three weeks, Hermione talked herself out of tracking Draco down.

During the day she could easily lose herself in her job the way she always had, her passion for the valuable work she knew she was doing enough to keep her mind distracted. The cases she handled were important, sometimes even life or death for her clients, and no matter how complicated her personal life became she’d always been able to give them her full attention when necessary. Even as her life unravelled around her, and both her mind and body were feeling the toll, she always managed to maintain her grip on her work.

It was the nights that tried her.

Alone in a flat that she loved but still didn’t quite feel at home in yet, distant from the people she’d always thought of as her family, and with only books and Crookshanks to distract her, there was little that she could do to keep her mind wandering.

And wander, it did.

It was at night she talked herself out of returning to the club in hopes that he’d be there again.

It was at night she talked herself out of going on the internet and Googling him in an attempt to piece together what his life had been for the past decade.

It was at night that she even had to talk herself out of tracking down Pansy Parkinson to try and get some answers about him.

And, it was late at night, while she was attempting to fall into Draco-free dreams that she did her very best to ignore that cruel little voice in the back of her head reminding her that she was a coward, that she was resisting because she was scared and small and sad and not for any noble reason she should be proud of.

In the end though, she was proud of herself for the resistance, for the strength.

In fact, it was shocking, actually, that it wasn’t her own traitorous and determined mind that ultimately destroyed her resistance. Instead, it was something so outwardly innocuous as a flyer taped to a pole near a new bookstore she was visiting for the first time that ultimately unwound her.

Slithering Exile.
Saturday Night.

The photo was hardly clear - a photocopy of a photocopy, as far as she could tell - but there was no denying that standing at the centre of the group it featured was none other than Draco Malfoy. Behind him were his bandmates, though she hadn’t paid any of them enough attention to recognise them from the one time she’d seen them play.

“Slithering Exile,” she’d murmured to herself as she stared at the poster.

It made sense to her that he would go with such an on-the-nose name for his band, almost like it was a flagrant taunt to the society that had rejected him. She couldn’t help but wonder if the rest of his bandmates knew what it meant, where it came from. She assumed that they didn’t, since a part of any Ministry exile included an Unbreakable Vow not to reveal the existence of their world to muggles.

At the realisation, she couldn’t help but imagine how lonely it must be for him. It was no wonder Pansy had kept in touch despite the threat of punishment and her own exile were she to get caught.

Finding the poster had, of course, been the end of her ability to resist trying to find more information about Draco and she’d all but run home to get on her laptop and Google the band.

As it turned out, there was quite a bit to find.

The band had amassed a loyal local following and played out quite frequently. They even had an EP, which Hermione barely managed to talk herself out of downloading. Of course, knowing it was available to her proved to be something of a tell-tale heart, calling to her every time her mind quieted even a little, but she continued to resist.

She’d hovered her cursor over the About The Band section of their website, giving herself a moment to question whether or not this was actually a good idea before throwing out the question entirely and clicking.

She had to know.

Of course, what she had to know was unclear, even to her.

She just had to know whatever there was to know, she supposed.

DL Black - Lead Vocals & Guitar

It hadn’t occurred to her before that moment that he would change his name, but when faced with it on the screen in front of her she felt rather silly for never having thought of it. Of course, he’d changed his name.

It was then that she was hit most directly with the full understanding that the boy she’d known - the one she’d fallen for that spring back when they were old enough to know better but too broken to really care - didn’t exist anymore. Their world treated those who had been exiled as though they had lived and died, and it occurred to her then that there was some level of truth to that.

For all intents and purposes related to magical society though, Draco Malfoy was dead.

That was when she realised that she’d never truly allowed herself to mourn losing him. She’d been devastated in the beginning, by both the loss of what he was to her and by his exile, but she’d shoved it all down and focused on just moving forward.

She’d told herself over the years that she’d closed the book on that part of her life, that she’d moved on and grown up, but everything about the churning, impossible-to-ignore pain she felt every time she thought about seeing him again proved that wrong.

And that was how she found herself in a different club, on a different Saturday, to see the same band she shouldn’t see. She’d dressed a bit more appropriately for the club this time around, but still found herself tucked into a shadowed corner to hide just as determinedly as she had the first time. The band was set to take the stage any minute and there was a hum of excitement throughout the room, though Hermione couldn’t be entirely sure she wasn’t just interpreting her own anxiety as something more.

“Looks like I owe Pansy a hundred galleons.” The unfamiliar voice - one she probably wouldn’t have even considered might be addressing her had it not been for the mention of magical currency - startled the already on-edge Hermione and she spun her head around quickly.

Theo Nott. Of course.

Quickly, she looked around to see who he was with but returned her attention to him when she didn’t see any other familiar faces in the vicinity, finding a somewhat amused expression on his face. It was obvious by the pull of his lips and the twinkle in his eye that he knew exactly who she’d been looking for.

“Don’t worry, he’s not here.” He replied with a chuckle. “He’d kick my arse if he knew I came to see D play.”

She gulped, eyes widening slightly. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” While she was generally a person who highly valued honesty, in this case, it wasn’t actually a matter of deception but instead, an indication that that was a conversation she wasn’t interested in getting into, so she gave herself a pass.

“Of course, you don’t,” he replied dryly, rolling his eyes.

“Why do you owe Pansy a hundred galleons?” She asked, changing the subject to one only slightly less uncomfortable.

She couldn’t remember ever speaking to Theo before, even though they’d been in the same year at Hogwarts the whole way through. Not only was he in Slytherin house, which had been an obvious barrier, but in their younger years he’d always been quiet and withdrawn and by the time they’d gotten older, any possibility of inter-house socialising had been off her radar.

Draco Malfoy being the rather obvious exception, of course.

“We made a bet. I lost. I thought you’d stay away. Apparently, she knew better.” He shrugged easily before sliding onto the stool directly next to her, joining her without invitation.

“Sorry about that,” she murmured.

He shrugged, though his attempt at appearing unaffected was distinctly less effective than he might have hoped. “Why are you here, Granger?”

“I wish I knew the answer to that,” she answered honestly.

As the lights in the room lowered a moment later and movement in the darkness could be seen on the stage, her breath caught. As she watched a long-limbed figure move smoothly across the stage, she exhaled. He was just a figure in the darkness and yet she knew, without a single doubt in her mind, that it was him.

“Are you going to leave?” Theo asked, something like impatience obvious in his tone.

“No,” she answered briefly, finally pulling her eyes away from the figure in the dark to look at the man across from her.

“You should.”

“I know.”

“He doesn’t deserve this, Granger.”

“Theo.”

“Granger.”

She sighed. “What happened to him?”

Theo was quiet for long moments, holding Hermione’s gaze intently aside from a quick glance at the stage followed by a heavy sigh. “You happened.”

“That’s not fair.” She insisted though it sounded weak even to her own ears. “It’s been a decade since I’ve even seen him.”

“You know, I was happy when you two first started doing… whatever it was you were doing in Eighth Year. He got better.” Theo’s brow furrowed, his lips pulling down.

Hermione did her best to keep her expression neutral. “He told you about us?”

Theo shook his head. “He didn’t tell anyone. Not until years later.”

She nodded knowingly, having kept him a secret from everyone in her life as well.

“But I knew.”

She gulped.

“I know him better than anyone,” he added. Somehow the things that were left unsaid in that statement hit like a truck and she had no doubt that he was telling the truth, which made her feel vulnerable in a whole new way that she hadn’t been expecting.

“I’m not here to—”

“He’s been sober for two years.” Theo cut her off. His words held a hint of pride alongside what could only be described as a warning, one she instinctively knew was not intended to be ignored.

Hermione winced again. “Sober,” she repeated, as though she was testing both the word and the idea of what it meant in this context. “Sober from…?”

Being that they’d both done a bit too much drinking and smoking back when they were young, unhealthy coping mechanisms that she had since managed to leave mostly in the past, she wasn’t surprised that he’d leaned into some sort of substance to deal with everything that came after their time at Hogwarts in Eighth Year.

Still, the idea of it and the understanding that he had been actively suffering throughout those years was a knife to the heart. It had been easier when she’d been able to pretend that he’d gone out into the world and made himself a good and happy life. Devastating, to be sure, but easier.

“Name it,” Theo said with a shrug, clearly impacted by the conversation but also protective of his friend. “But it was the needles in his arm that were the most concerning.”

She gulped.

“Pansy told you he’d been through a lot. Did you think it was just sad feelings?” There was a bitterness in Theo’s tone that somehow she knew was uncharacteristic for the normally charming brunet.

“I didn’t know...”

“You never asked.”

He had her there and she felt yet another wave of shame wash over her. Of course, she’d never asked. After that last day at Hogwarts, after the moment she made sure that Ron knew that there had been something between them, she’d never even said Draco’s name out loud again, much less asked about him.

She couldn’t bring herself to.

Pretending he didn’t exist outside of the shame of her own thoughts and that lingering obsession she’d never been able to shake had sometimes been the only thing holding her together.

“You should stay away from him, Granger,” he continued. “You’re bad for him.”

Again, she winced, though there wasn’t a single doubt in her mind that he was right. As much as she liked to believe that she was one of the good guys, she knew that she had earned her position as one of the villains in Draco’s story. Still, having it said out loud stung and she all but growled.

“You’re one to talk,” she said accusingly, immediately feeling guilty for her hasty comment when he winced.

“You’re forgetting an important piece of that puzzle, Granger,” he said sadly. “He’s not my dirty little secret. I’m his. All I did was fall in love with the wrong person.”

“You could have walked away,” she reminded him, somewhat surprised when he nodded.

“I could have,” he agreed. “But I guess I didn’t. And he could have too, but he hasn’t. Just like you could have stayed home tonight, gone on with your life, found some other nice little wizard like Longbottom to play house with, but you didn’t. He could let me go anytime. Go home to his nice little wife and have a nice little life, but he hasn’t done that either. We all do things we know we shouldn’t, Granger.”

She knew that he was right, but having to face the reality of all of the pretending that she witnessed in the world wasn’t something she felt the least bit ready for just then.

“At least I know who I am,” Theo added softly.

She winced again but stayed silent, his words cutting more deeply than she had seen coming. A moment later the lights came up and she turned, gasping as she saw Draco illuminated at centre stage, his signature smirk curving his lips as he surveyed the crowd.

Her breath caught at seeing him again. It had been less than a month and yet it still felt just as overwhelming as the last time. He looked much the same, as was to be expected, she supposed. His hair was a bit more mussed than it had been the last time, as though he’d been running his fingers through it before climbing onto the stage, and the bowling shirt he’d been wearing last time had been replaced with a black vest that clung to his chest and dipped low enough beneath his arms that she could see a tattoo over his ribcage.

He was bloody beautiful.

“Love makes you do crazy things,” Theo said softly.

“Love…” she echoed, turning her head sharply to look at Theo, who was watching her knowingly.

That was something she’d never admitted to herself, not even once. Sure, it had been lingering somewhere in her consciousness, the understanding that she had, despite all of her insistence to the contrary, found herself in love with Draco Malfoy in Eighth Year, but she’d never really allowed herself to actively admit to the L word specifically.

She gulped.

“Asking you to stay away won’t work, will it?” He asked, trying to hold her attention even as it continually shifted between him and the stage.

She bit her lip. “I tried,” she answered honestly, lifting her arms out to her sides to demonstrate her presence there as evidence that it hadn’t worked. “I couldn’t.”

Could she have tried harder? Perhaps.

She could have forced herself to stay home, to attempt to read a book and sip a cup of tea while stroking Crookshanks. She’d have likely gone out of her mind, prowling through her flat incessantly, but she could have done it.

She simply didn’t.

Do I know who I am?

“Don’t f*ck him up again, Granger,” Theo all but begged her, the look on his face holding so much weight that she felt a twist in her stomach.

“You really are his best friend,” she said, almost as though it had just hit her.

“As much as I’m able to be,” he said solemnly, looking over at his friend on the stage.

She felt ashamed that she’d never really allowed herself the freedom to think about it, to wonder about the details of what Draco’s life was like after exile. While it had been a survival instinct, the only thing she felt like she could do in order to keep herself from throwing her entire life away, there was no getting away from the fact that she’d deserved him calling her callous that night she’d first seen him perform.

She’d earned it.

And then she was unable to focus on anything inside her mind anymore as the music started and his voice seemed to almost rip through her. He was a force to be reckoned with, larger than life even on the small club stage, and she knew instinctively that hers wasn’t the only breath he’d stolen tonight.

It stung to realise, watching as he smiled and charmed everyone in the room so effortlessly, that perhaps hers was the only breath in the room he wasn’t interested in stealing.

She winced.

And yet, she couldn’t turn away.

Sitting through Slithering Exile’s entire set was an exercise in masochism that had Hermione squirming, alternating between the urge to flee and the cruel instinct to lean even harder into the pain churning through her body. Her attention was rapt, her gaze clinging to his every movement and microexpression as she tried to catch every word he sang.

When she’d arrived, she felt like she’d already imagined every possible scenario, that there was no way she could be taken off guard. As it turned out, though, nothing could have prepared her for just being there, just watching and listening. It was quieter than any pain she’d imagined, and yet somehow more acute.

Draco’s music - and there truly was no question for her that every single song was uniquely his - showed a vulnerability she never would have been able to anticipate from the boy she’d known all those years ago. Certainly not on a stage in front of a room full of strangers, anyway.

Every word, every chord even, was steeped in naked honesty and vulnerability, and by the time it was over she could have sworn she’d been through every single moment of pain and struggle with him, had felt the warmth of every small piece of joy sprinkled amongst it.

And, in truth, she knew that she had been through some of those moments with him. She could see the places where she lived in his music. She could see where he’d loved her. And then hated her. And then moved on. If she were to be entirely honest with herself, she truly didn’t know which of those hurt the most.

He hadn’t noticed her.

She wasn’t sure what made her feel so certain about that, but by the time the set was over and the band bid goodnight to their adoring audience, there was no doubt in her mind that she hadn’t been spotted by their frontman. And as she watched him step off the stage, grabbing a cloth from his back pocket to wipe the sweat down from his face, she promised herself that this would be it.

She’d watch him go and she wouldn’t come back.

She felt herself get choked up at the idea but held herself firm.

It was the right thing.

She would do the right thing... Wouldn't she?

When finally she watched as Draco disappeared through the side door next to the stage, momentarily illuminated by the bright lights in the hall on the other side, she exhaled slowly.

Goodbye…

“Well?”

She hadn’t even noticed that Theo had stayed with her at her table for the entire show so when suddenly his voice cut through all of that emotion she was allowing herself to steep in, it startled her. She would have liked to have said that she hadn’t expected him to stay, but in truth, she had forgotten he’d been there at all as she lost herself in the music.

“What?” She asked, shaking her head as though that would clear the fog.

“Did you enjoy the show?”

She had to laugh, there was simply no other option. She understood that she probably sounded unhinged, but she laughed long enough that Theo’s at first amused expression shifted into one of concern. And then she laughed a bit more.

“Is that a no?” He asked when she finally managed to temper her giggles a little bit.

“I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the right word,” she answered finally, catching her lower lip between her teeth. “He’s brilliant, even more talented than I ever could have guessed.”

Theo nodded, watching her closely.

She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t sit there and tell this man who was a familiar stranger that she felt as though she’d been ripped apart from the inside, that parts of herself she’d never even realised existed were aching and screaming from the pain of it. But she sensed that somehow he knew without her having to say it anyway.

“Is he happy?” She asked instead.

Theo’s brow furrowed and he regarded Hermione with a guarded expression for long moments. She could feel a sting in her eyes as she waited, dreading the answer to her question as she somehow knew that no matter what it was, it would hurt.

And still, she hoped he was happy.

Happier than she was, certainly.

“He’s getting there,” Theo said finally.

Hermione nodded, finally slipping off of her stool and reaching for her handbag. “I should get going.”

“Hey, Granger…”

“Hmm?”

“Are you going to stay away this time?”

She winced, the implication of Theo’s seemingly innocuous question cutting like a knife. She wanted to nod, to assure him that this would be the last time, but she couldn’t bring herself to and instead just gave him a meaningful look. Moments earlier she’d been so certain that this would be the last time, and yet it remained a promise she couldn’t bring herself to make.

“Are you going to be okay?” He asked then with an expression of concern so sincere that it left Hermione bristling.

She laughed again, this time a little softer. “I’m always okay,” she answered, focusing on a spot just to his left when she found herself unable to meet his eyes. While the answer was true, it was also much more complicated than that, she was beginning to understand more fully.

“Hermi…” He cleared his throat. “I really hope that’s true.”

She nodded again, managing a small smile and nod for him.

“Oh, hey…” He reached up to scratch the back of his neck, hesitating. “Um… Don’t tell Harry you saw me here, yeah? He really would have my arse if he found out I’m still in contact with D.”

“What, you think I’m even going to tell him that I was here?” She asked, ignoring the twinge at the mention of her friend. Theo’s lover. That was a can of worms she wasn’t the least bit interested in opening.

Theo nodded. “Get home safe, Granger.”

“You too, Theo,” she replied softly, giving him one more nod before pushing her way through the crowd on the way to the exit.

Though she did her best to appear unaffected, there was an urgency in her movements now as she was overtaken by the need to get away from this place, and she found herself gasping for large gulps of breath as soon as she reached the cool outside air. Rather than making her way to a nearby apparation point, she found that she couldn’t wait and decided to make her way around to the alley behind the club, convinced that she would find some privacy there that would make it less risky.

With her wand pressed against her forearm, at the ready just in case she found herself in need of self defence, she hurried around the corner and into the darkened alley. Initially, based on the quiet, she thought that she was alone and felt a wave of relief, but that was quickly interrupted when the silence was broken with a groan she wished she hadn’t immediately recognised.

Her movements stilled as she lifted her gaze to find Draco leaning against the brick wall, illuminated by the single flickering bulb just above what must have been the back entrance to the pub. His eyes were closed, a lit cigarette tucked between his lips, and his hand tangled into the voluminous blonde curls of the girl on her knees in front of him.

Hermione inhaled sharply as she realised exactly what she’d stumbled upon. Her first instinct was to be disgusted at the idea that anyone would get down on her knees in a dirty alleyway like this, but a moment later the disgust was replaced with a longing that she’d never admit out loud.

She bit her lip.

As she wrenched her gaze away from the girl and returned it to Draco’s face, she found his eyes open now, watching her, and she froze. He’d pulled the cigarette from his lips, holding it now between two fingers, and his lips were parted in an expression she couldn’t quite read. If she had to describe it, though, she’d have said it looked like a strange combination of pleasure, surprise, and rage.

She took a step backwards, intending to leave, but she couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away.

“Yeah,” he ground out, just loud enough in the quiet alley to be heard. As his hand tightened in the blonde’s hair, he maintained eye contact with Hermione and a smirk pulled at his lips.

Hermione winced.

Get out of here!

Her mind screamed at her as her body remained in an almost paralyzed stillness, her gaze trapped by his so fully that she didn’t even feel like she could look away, even if she wanted to.

“Good girl,” he murmured, his smirk deepening.

A bolt of pain shot through her and she winced, no doubt left in her mind that at least some aspect of this was a performance for her. A cruel one, to be sure, and yet…

She could barely blink, much less turn away entirely, and as much as she tried to ignore it, there was an undeniable heat building between her legs.

When she licked her lips, she saw him jerk his hips forward. The soft gagging sound she heard from the kneeling girl sent another bolt of heat through her and she squeezed her thighs tight together in an attempt to temper some of the confusing, embarrassing arousal that she was feeling.

“I’m gonna come,” Draco ground out, his hips moving in a steady rocking motion now.

Even as his eyelids drooped and his face twisted in pleasure as the girl seemed to redouble her efforts to get him off, he held Hermione’s gaze. It was only when his body went rigid and he shuddered his release that his eyes dropped closed, severing the invisible connection between them.

Hermione flinched at the loss of eye contact, that disconnect wrenching her from the stupor that she’d been lost in, and without even thinking about it she apparated herself away. It was a risk to apparate in an alley with a muggle, one she knew the Ministry would be furious about if they were to find out, but she couldn’t stay there a second longer.

As soon as she was inside her flat, she dropped her things on the floor and shoved her hand down the front of her knickers to slip between her slick folds as she leaned her head back against the mantle. It was sick, she thought to herself even as she used two fingers to circle her cl*t in quick, almost desperate strokes, to have been so turned on by that situation. Still, there was no denying that it had been years since she’d been this aroused, this desperate for release.

It barely took two minutes of stroking her cl*t with one hand while the other found its way inside her bra to pull roughly at her nipple before she cried out her own release. And, adding even more to her shame, it was his name on her lips as she shuddered and sunk to the floor on weak, trembling legs.

“f*ck,” she whispered to herself as a single tear streaked down her face. “What the bloody hell are you doing, Hermione?”

Notes:

Thank you so much to everyone who has interacted with this story - it really does make me feel wonderful and excited about posting new chapters each week.

Next week - THEY FINALLY TALK!!

Chapter 10: Part Two : Episode Three

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Even amidst all of the profound changes Hermione had been through in her life, one thing that had never changed was her level of discomfort at large social gatherings.

She wasn’t one for small talk or the stupid sorts of posturing people did when they were networking, but she also understood the ways of the world enough to recognise its value - especially as someone in her particular position. Career-wise, that is, particularly with the compounding stigma still associated with being a recently divorced witch in magical society, which was still rather antiquated in that regard, despite recent strides forward.

Though she wasn’t technically employed by the Ministry - and some would even argue that her work put her at odds with the governing body more often than not - she still held a significant amount of sway as a result of both her current work and her past achievements. Whenever there were these big, flashy Ministry events, she inevitably received an invitation and she almost always attended because as much as she hated it, she knew that politics mattered.

So there she stood, amongst all of the ridiculously outfitted witches and wizards from the Ministry, a drink in her hand and a pleasant but strained smile on her face. Though she was subtle about it, she was actively avoiding conversation for the most part while watching the clock and waiting for an appropriate amount of time to have passed for her to finally leave.

Thank Merlin for firewhisky!

“Hermione.”

She froze at the familiar sound of the voice saying her name - one that had said it a million different ways by now - and inhaled sharply before turning around slowly.

On top of being one of the kindest and most loving people she’d ever known in her life, her ex-husband had also grown up into an incredibly handsome man. Tall and strong with his usually mussed hair combed smooth, the tops of his cheeks were pinkened from time in the sun. While he didn’t look quite comfortable in his formal-looking robes - comfortable clothes suitable for puttering around with his plants had always been his preference - he certainly looked as dashing as ever.

She knew all too well just how many witches had their eye on him now that they’d officially ended their marriage. She’d heard the whispers and noticed the rooms that went quiet when she stepped into them. No matter how confident she was that their marriage had ended for all of the right reasons, there was still a pang at the thought of him moving on.

“Neville,” she greeted him softly, her smile warming as she looked up at him. She hesitated at first but after a moment lifted up to her tiptoes to brush a kiss over his cheek.

She pretended not to notice his slight wince as she drew away but chastised herself silently for assuming the kiss was the appropriate greeting.

“You look lovely,” he told her, his voice still rich with that familiar warmth she’d always cherished, though there was no missing that it no longer reached his eyes when he looked at her.

Of all of the things she missed about Neville, and in truth there were many, she missed the warmth of him. Of his body, his voice, his gaze, and most of all the way he loved her. She’d noted on more than one occasion the chill of his absence.

Selfish, a cruel voice inside her seemed to whisper. She shushed it as best she could, trying to focus instead on the man standing in front of her.

“So do you,” she told him. “Very handsome.”

She was tempted to point out the other eyes on him around the room, but something about that just seemed wrong at this point. Mean, even. She already carried enough guilt and shame related to Neville Longbottom to last a lifetime, so she was determined to walk on eggshells so as not to acquire anymore.

“How have you been?” He asked then, taking quite a large gulp of the amber liquid from a crystal tumbler that matched her own.

“I’ve been…” She hesitated, unsure of what the actual answer even was and ignoring the strange flash of Draco’s face in her mind. It had been over a month since she’d seen Draco in the alley and she hadn’t been back since, there was absolutely no reason to even think of him just then. And yet... “I’ve been okay,” she finally said after a moment. “And you?”

He nodded, his brow furrowed. “I’ve been okay as well,” he said awkwardly.

It was painful, Hermione acknowledged as she felt a sharp ache through the palms of her hands, to stand in front of the person who had become her very best friend for a decade and be this awkward, this distant. She tried quite hard not to think about Neville these days, if only to keep herself from falling into the self-loathing that she knew she deserved when it came to him.

“I…” She spoke before even thinking about what she was going to say.

She couldn’t tell him that she missed him, even though she did. It would be unfair and she’d promised herself when she filed for divorce that she wasn’t going to be unfair to him anymore.

He deserved so much better.

“I’m glad you’re doing well,” she said finally, feeling sick at the distance and lack of intimacy in her words, but determined to hold that space.

This time he didn’t try to hide his wince and she felt the pain she was feeling through her body reflected in his gaze. “Hermione…”

“Please, Nev,” she said softly, shaking her head.

He nodded, frowning.

She ignored the sheen of moisture that she saw come over his eyes along with the one she felt building over hers.

They’d been over everything between them time and time again. They had both tried so hard to fix things and, while she knew all too well that her leaving had broken his heart, she also knew that he deserved better. He deserved everything. As hard as she’d tried to be the wife that he deserved, the woman he used to truly believe her to be, in the end, she hadn’t been able to.

“I’m sorry, Nev,” she said softly, giving him a look she hoped said everything she couldn’t.

He nodded again, his jaw clenching.

“Neville,” a soft, feminine voice interrupted the moment.

Hermione saw the hand first, long-fingered and feminine, slipping around her ex-husband’s bicep before she saw the familiar blonde face that accompanied it.

Her heart stilled.
“Oh… Hermione…” Hannah Abbot said, drawing her hand back with a somewhat mortified expression on her face. “I didn’t… see you there.”

Hannah Abbot was exactly the kind of pretty that made perfect sense standing next to Neville. A classic, soft-featured pretty that matched the warm masculinity of Neville. She’d never matched him like that, not in the same way. It had always been a running joke, the fact that no one could have ever guessed that Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom would end up together, but in the end she supposed it had been a clue pointing to the fact that they’d never been quite right for each other.

Somehow, without necessarily even realising it, everyone had always known.

Hermione forced herself to smile, hoping it looked more natural and welcoming than it felt. “Always said this guy’s shoulders cast a shadow like a mountain,” she said lightly, glancing up at Neville to find his expression strained. “Not a surprise you couldn’t see past them.”

It had only been a couple of months since they’d officially signed the divorce papers, but it had been almost a year since she’d ended things and moved out, so she shouldn’t have been surprised that he was dating again. And yet, the realisation stung in a way she knew wasn’t fair - not after everything she’d put him through.

He, more than anyone she knew, deserved every happiness.

“I see Harry and Ginny over there,” Hermione said suddenly, her decision to remove herself from this awkward interaction hardly subtle, “so I’ll leave you two to your evening.”

Neville looked like he might say something and she knew him well enough to know that it would be something kind and warm that she would not deserve. The alarm bells inside her were screaming and she had to get away before he reminded her yet again how absolutely terrible she was. Sometimes she showed herself enough kindness and grace to remind herself that she was only human and that it wasn’t fair to place so much onto her own shoulders, but when faced with him, she couldn’t seem to help herself.

“It was good to see you, Neville,” she mostly lied. She missed him - her best friend, that is - but now that things were so much more complicated than they ever should have been, the reminder that she’d lost him entirely was too much to bear. “You too, Hannah. Have a good night, both of you.”

And like a coward, she didn’t wait for either of them to say anything before she turned and made her way through the crowd in the direction of Harry and Ginny. Of course, she wasn’t really looking forward to speaking to either of them either. Though ostensibly the two of them were her closest friends, that hardly said much when there was as much distance and as many secrets being held between the three of them as there were.

“Hermione, are you okay?” Ginny asked, eyes wide as Hermione approached.

Hermione managed to hide her wince - as she always did when Ginny showed her the kind of care and love that she never felt she deserved from the redheaded witch - and instead managed a small smile, nodding. “I’m okay,” she promised.

“Is Neville here with Hannah? Like with with?” Ginny asked, shooting looks over Hermione’s shoulder that she could only assume were directed at her ex and his apparent date.

“Not sure,” Hermione said with a shrug. “If they are… I’m happy for him.”

“Hermione, you can’t be serious. The ink is barely dry–” Ginny’s rant was cut off as Harry placed a hand on her arm and shot her a look.

“Honey,” he said in a warning voice.

For years, Hermione had felt jealous of how much the couple in front of her loved each other, a feeling that was compounded by the shame she still carried regarding Ginny after what had happened between them at the end of Eighth Year. Of course, that jealousy had evaporated when she’d caught Harry in a distinctly compromising position with Theo three years earlier and was replaced with a sort of grief.

Ginny deserved so much better, from both of them.

“It’s okay, Harry,” she said, her lips pulling ruefully. “I want him to be happy. If Hannah makes him happy, then I’m happy. I left him, Gin. I don’t get to be wounded that he’s moving on.”

She wasn’t lying when she said she wanted him to be happy. On almost every level, she genuinely felt that way. She loved Neville more than just about anyone in the world and knew that he deserved only the best.

She wanted that for him.

Truly, she did.

Her own filthy jealousy and longing to have her best friend back without all of the mess of their doomed-from-the-beginning romantic relationship made it complicated, but it was no less true.

Neville deserved the best.

“Oh, ‘Mione,” Ginny said, pulling her into a tight, almost suffocating hug.

Hermione endured the hug, as she always did, loosely winding her arms around the other woman until an appropriate amount of time had passed for her to pull away. When she did, she offered a small, grateful smile and squeezed the other woman’s hands. It was a familiar dance by this point, one where Hermione pretended to be a good friend while Ginny actually was one.

She felt another wave of disgust with herself.

“I think,” she croaked, taking a moment to clear her throat before continuing, “that I’m going to call it a night. I’m not up for… all of this.”

Ginny nodded, frowning empathetically.

When she glanced at Harry, the look on his face was unreadable, but as soon as he realised that she was watching he shook away the strange expression and gave her a small smile. They did a good job of pretending like their friendship was what it had always been, but it wasn’t and they both knew it.

“Of course, of course,” he said then, nodding.

“It was good to see you both,” she said, looking between her two friends. “We’ll have to plan something soon. A dinner out or something.”

“Definitely!” Ginny answered enthusiastically.

Of course, this was another one of those dances that they did every time. Hermione would say something about getting together more often and both Harry and Ginny would agree, but they would always insist that they were too busy to actually make any plans. It was a sad friendship. Not a friendship at all, really, if Hermione were being honest with herself. But still, somehow it seemed important to maintain it.

“Enjoy the rest of the evening,” she said warmly before excusing herself and making her way to the exit.

She managed to maintain her composure as she made her way through the crowd, returning some friendly greetings without allowing herself to be drawn into conversation and ignoring the sharp looks from the people who weren’t altogether happy with the work she did as she went. By the time she was outside, she felt as though she’d run a marathon through a gauntlet and she gasped for a deep inhale of fresh air as soon as it hit her face.

She was being silly, she told herself as she took in big gulps of air. It shouldn’t be such a big deal. None of it. And yet, all of those reminders of the unforgivable things she’d done, the people she hurt in the past ten years…

The shame felt like a burn against her skin, slowly spreading until she felt tempted to strip down right there in the street just to feel the relief of the cool night air.

She didn’t, of course.

She’d grown quite familiar with holding herself still enough that no one would be able to tell that her insides were falling to pieces. In fact, she hardly showed any outward signs at all that her heart was racing and her chest was screaming from the breath she couldn’t quite seem to catch.

As soon as she felt like she wouldn’t stumble, she started to walk, her strides aimless but determined. She wasn’t going anywhere specific, at least not consciously, but to her mind that was no reason not to move.

Keep moving. Ever forward.

It wasn’t a conscious decision - truly, it wasn’t! - but when she found herself standing in front of the same club she’d seen Draco playing at when she’d stumbled upon him the night of her divorce, she found she wasn’t surprised. She hadn’t consciously intended to go there, but she supposed that it made sense.

Though she’d managed to keep herself from coming to see him for the past month, that didn’t mean she hadn’t kept an eye on their schedule via their website. In fact, there’d been three different occasions she’d stood outside of different clubs, knowing that he was inside, but had managed to talk herself out of going in. Never mind all of the times she’d managed to talk herself out of it before leaving her flat or on the walk over.

She’d memorised every show that Slithering Exile would be playing for the next three months - which was a lot, seeing as the band played out at least once a week, and often two or three times - and somewhere in the back of her mind she had long since accepted that eventually, she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from going inside.

It was unhealthy, she knew, just how much time and energy she spent focusing on someone she hadn’t even spoken to in a decade, and yet she couldn’t seem to help herself. And, in truth, she didn’t feel particularly inclined to try.

“masoch*st,” she chastised herself softly.

Considering she’d already been faced with the two other people she’d harmed most in the world with her carelessness, it seemed fitting that she would force herself to face the third on the same night. If she were to be completely honest with herself, she would have no choice but to admit that somewhere along the way she’d gotten used to the pain. At times she’d even come to like it.

She glanced up at the marquee, wondering if this was going to be the night she failed to talk herself out of going inside. From the corner of her eye, she caught the movement of bright red embers in the shadows in her periphery and her breath caught.

“Scared, Granger?”

This wasn’t the first time she’d heard his voice, of course. He’d even addressed her directly that first night that she saw him on stage and of course he’d said a few words while she peeped on him in the alley like a stalker, but this felt distinctly different.

He spoke to her directly, said her name.

She gulped and turned her head to face him, watching as he stepped away from the brick wall he’d been leaned up against and into the light, allowing her to see him fully. He was dressed to go on stage, wearing an only slightly different version of the outfit she’d seen him in the last two times. Along with his boots and slim-fitting black trousers, this pair boasting a slim pinstripe she was sure would disappear entirely under the stage lights, he wore a fitted and well-worn t-shirt that she was confident used to be black but had faded to a charcoal grey.

When she felt the urge to reach out and touch the soft fabric, to hook her finger into the small hole along the collar seam, she curled her fingers into a fist and inhaled slowly.

“Not going to say anything?” He asked, amusem*nt tinged with something darker showing in his expression as he lifted his cigarette to take another drag.

She wanted to say something - anything, honestly, but her mind drew an absolute blank.

“Makes sense,” he continued, exhaling a slow curl of smoke from his lips.

Hermione had never liked smoking, certainly never found it attractive, but the movements of his mouth as he smoked were enough to change her mind. She couldn’t seem to draw her eyes away as he took another pull.

Bloody hell.

“What makes sense?” She said finally, her voice coming out more steady than she’d expected and holding a hint of challenge.

“You’re sh*t at communicating,” he answered easily, watching her closely.

“Ah,” she replied, unable to even defend herself, being that it wasn’t like he was wrong. That much was painfully obvious in how the rest of her evening had gone so far.

“No righteous indignation?”

“I don’t lie,” she lied.

“f*ck you,” he replied with a bitter laugh, taking a few steps closer to her. “You lie constantly. To yourself. To everyone else.”

“You don’t know me anymore,” she reminded him.

“I never knew you, Granger. I just thought I did,” he spat. “Might have taken me a while, but I figured out that much.”

Of everything that had happened that night, all of the things that had ripped her heart out, somehow his saying that he never knew her hurt more than anything. Because if he was right, she was completely unknown. In her entire adult life, there wasn’t anyone she’d laid herself as bare for as she had for him, so if he didn’t know her then no one did.

She held his stare as she felt the sting of tears coming to her eyes. She didn’t even try to blink them away, just stood there watching him with them pooling in the corners of her eyes. She didn’t cry in front of anyone these days, hadn’t in a very long time, but she couldn’t seem to shut herself down the way she normally could, too focused on what he’d said.

He was wrong.

He had known her.

He was the only person who had known her. Well, the only person who’d known the girl she used to be anyway. The realisation that no one knew the person she was now, not really, was a startling one and she felt it all the way to her bones.

“Why are you here?” He asked finally when her silence and shining eyes lingered to the point of discomfort.

“I think I wanted to hurt myself,” she said softly, too lost in her thoughts to consider the wisdom of answering so honestly and only really understanding the truth of her answer once the words were already out of her mouth.

Was that why she’d gone into the club the night her divorce was finalised?

She wasn’t entirely sure, but it made sense. As much as seeing him made her feel like she was being torn apart from the inside, she knew there was a not-insignificant part of her that felt like that was exactly what she deserved. And another part that craved the ache, if only to feel something real.

“f*ck you,” he said again, his expression fierce as he tossed her cigarette butt away. “You think you have any right to come here and tell me that? After everything?”

“Yeah,” she said then, stepping up closer to him and lifting her chin to his gaze. “You wanted the truth. I told you the truth.”

“Tell me the whole f*cking truth,” he demanded, eyes blazing.

“The whole truth?”

“The whole truth.”

“You don’t want the whole truth,” she told him, laughing bitterly and finally reaching up to brush at her eye as the moisture building there finally overflowed and rolled down her cheek.

“Try me.”

She watched him for several lingering moments, taking in the evidence of her effect on him. His breathing was more rapid now than it had been at the beginning of the conversation when he’d been so put together, even amused. His eyes seemed wider and she could see the tension in his cheeks and mouth that told her he was clenching his teeth.

It felt wrong to her, even in the moment, that she was warmed by the fact that he was still affected by her enough that she could see it written on him. Despite knowing it was wrong, she allowed herself a moment to sink into the feeling of it.

“I saw my ex-husband earlier tonight for the first time since we signed our divorce papers two months ago,” she said finally, her tone almost casual even though she felt anything but. “He had a date with him. The way she touched his arm told me that it wasn’t their first.”

Draco’s jaw tightened further, his glare intensifying. “So you saw Weasley with some other woman and got jealous so you came here to f*ck with me? Sounds about right.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open in shock, the silence hanging for several moments as she tried to make sense of what he’d just said. “I didn’t marry Ron,” she said finally, shaking her head.

“You didn’t…” He trailed off, a wild look coming to his eyes. “Then who the f*ck did you marry?”

“Neville Longbottom,” she said quietly, gnawing at her lip.

During their final year at Hogwarts, she knew that Neville and Draco had formed something of a friendship, if one could call it that. Neville, always so good with plants, had taken to cultivating fairygrass just at the edge of the dark forest, something Hermione suspected the teachers had specifically turned a blind eye to in the wake of what so many students had been through, and she knew now that he’d been the one Draco had gotten his stash from during those months.

As she watched the play of emotions over Draco’s face, she could tell that the revelation complicated his feelings on the matter.

“You didn’t know?” She asked softly.

“I never cared enough to ask about you,” he said with a bitter laugh.

She knew he was lying, that it wasn’t a lack of care that had resulted in his not asking about her, but she didn’t dare to call him on it. Instead, she just stayed silent and watched him as he processed her revelation in real-time.

“Why’d you get divorced?” He asked finally, pinning her with a hard look.

“Because we never should have gotten married in the first place,” she answered softly, unable to entirely hide all of the shame she carried about it.

She’d never say it out loud to Neville. In fact, she’d never said the words out loud before at all. Whenever anyone asked about the divorce, which was rare since she didn’t often put herself in situations where people would have the nerve to ask, she always gave vague, diplomatic answers that said very little, but she found herself incapable of doing that when Draco asked.

“Why?”

“Because as much as I loved him, I was never in love with him.” She winced as she heard herself say yet another thing that had only ever lived in her head up until that moment.

“Because you were still in love with the Weasel.”

She couldn’t help it, she laughed somewhat incredulously, everything about her body language rejecting the very thought. The idea that she’d carried a torch for Ron all these years was so absolutely absurd that she couldn’t help it. It was ironic, really, that he of all people would say that.

“No,” she answered finally, determined to give no more context than that.

“No? That’s it?”

She nodded.

“You’re so f*cking…” Roughly, he raked his fingers through his hair, growling.

She waited, watching him closely.

“How long?” He asked finally, his voice low and dangerous seeming.

“How long what?”

“How long were you and Weasley back together?”

She hesitated.

There was really no way he was going to take the answer well, considering everything that had happened in the wake of her agreeing to give Ron another chance. And yet, she found herself craving the outburst, desperate for more of that unbridled emotion he was so careless with letting out there.

“How long?” He asked again, his eyes wild.

“Eight days,” she answered softly. “If you can even consider it being together.”

His stillness resembled a statue then and she was worried that she’d somehow accidentally petrified him until she saw him take a deep, shaky inhale. “Say that again.”

“Say…?”

“Say how long,” he ground out through clenched teeth, his jaw straining.

“Eight days,” she repeated, even more quietly this time.

The stillness and silence felt even more oppressive this time, lasting long enough that she began to squirm under the weight of it. She knew she should say something - anything! - but when she opened her mouth she found that there was nothing there.

So she waited. And she watched.

The play of emotions over his features was much more subtle now, barely a flutter, but still, she watched as the details of her life that he hadn’t known before this conversation slotted themselves into place like puzzle pieces to give him at least some semblance of the whole picture of what had happened in her life.

When finally he showed an outward sign of life, it was just to reach into his pocket to pull out a pack of cigarettes and light himself a new one. As he smoked it, he continued to exist otherwise in stillness and silence. It was only when finally she decided that she had to excuse herself, had to leave, that he finally turned his attention back to her, pinning her in place with a shuttered expression.

“You are so much f*cking worse than I thought you were,” he said coldly.

“Dra–”

“Don’t you f*cking dare,” he exclaimed. Moving quickly, he pinned her between himself and the brick wall at her back, his free hand bracketing her throat but not applying any actual pressure there. “Don’t you f*cking say that name.”

She inhaled shakily, looking up at him with wide eyes. She didn’t say anything, allowing moments to pass with more silence and stillness, which seemed to diminish some of the fire in his eyes, but she could still see the disgust simmering in them.

“Eight days,” he said then. “Eight days cost me my whole life.”

She winced.

“I won’t be the knife you use to make yourself feel something, Granger.”

“I–”

“No. You don’t get to use me to hurt yourself.”

She gulped and then nodded slowly.

Though it felt so much more complicated from her end than he could see, she knew she’d long since forfeited the right to explain herself to him and expect him to listen. When it all came down to it, he was right - she’d come to see him because she wanted to feel that complicated barrage of emotions that he brought out in her. She hadn’t taken his feelings into account at all.

She’d stayed away for the past month for him, ostensibly for his well-being more than her own, but the reason she was standing in front of him at that moment was entirely, unambiguously selfish - even if she hadn’t consciously made the decision to come. She’d done exactly what he accused her of, even if he wasn’t quite right about her intentions.

When finally he stepped back, raking his fingers through his hair with the hand that he’d just removed from her throat, she nearly cried out at the loss but managed to stop herself just in time. Clamping her lips closed, she took a few deep breaths.

“I’m so–” She began after several long moments of silence.

“Stop,” he said, abruptly interrupting her attempt at an apology. All of the emotion that had been bubbling out of him only moments earlier seemed to have been sucked out of him, leaving behind a cold, emotionless expression.

“Dr–” She cut herself off this time, exhaling heavily.

“Just go.” His pleading tone was accompanied by a heavy sigh that seemed to carry more weight than any one person should ever have to. “Please.”

She nodded.

It was the right thing to do - for both of them. She knew deep down that her coming to see him after that first time had been entirely selfish, but this time was even worse because Theo had made clear that he’d been through a lot and was finally putting his life back together. Disrupting that, even unintentionally, wasn’t fair.

She stepped around him on somewhat shaky legs, but paused only a few steps away from him, their backs to each other.

They hadn’t gotten to say goodbye the first time, not really, and it had always felt wrong.

Like a door had been left open.

Maybe this time, she thought to herself, we can both have closure… Whatever that means.

“Goodbye,” she said, stopping herself from using his given name, even though she desperately wanted to.

She waited for a count of five seconds, giving him a chance to say something if he wanted, but when she was only met with the slow, steady rhythm of his breathing she gave up and kept walking.

Keep moving, she thought to herself. Just keep moving.

She didn’t look back.

She didn’t know that he watched her go.

Notes:

The angst is so real with these two, I swear!!

Thanks to everyone leaving comments and feedback - please know how much I appreciate it. I get so excited with every notification. Also - I must admit I'm getting impatient to post as well and I get so excited every Friday that I get to post a new chapter and I can't wait to share what's to come with everyone reading and enjoying this!

NEXT WEEK: There comes a late night knock on Hermione's door!

Chapter 11: Part Two : Episode Four

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The first time Hermione had stepped inside the flat that she would ultimately end up moving into after leaving Neville and moving out of the home they shared - it had seemed only fair that, as the one leaving, she be the one to actually leave, after all - she’d known immediately that she wanted to call it home. A small corner unit just outside of Diagon Alley that the estate agent had called cosy, the flat featured windows that let in the morning light and wood panelling that brought a warmth she was desperate for at that point.

It was a bit outside of her budget, actually, but the feeling of warmth, comfort and safety the space brought her was worth it to her. The longer she lived there, the more it became like a sanctuary - the only place she truly felt like she could breathe easily and exist in herself without needing walls or keeping secrets.

Of course, she hadn’t let anyone else step inside the space since she’d moved in, preserving her peace at all costs. A few of her friends had suggested popping by to see her new place, but she’d always expertly brushed away the suggestion and eventually, they’d stopped asking. In truth, she was beginning to realise more and more that her consistent brush-offs had put a noticeable distance between her and her friends in general.

In the three days since being faced with all of her most shameful mistakes, she’d tucked in at home and allowed herself a bit of space from the outside world to get her armour back in place. While she did keep an office only a block or so from the Ministry, she had a dedicated assistant able to handle things there while she used her at-home workspace to ensure her cases didn’t slip even as she began to question whether her sanity might be.

Still, after three days of working from home, she had promised herself she would go to the office in the morning and get her life back to normal, so she was intent on enjoying her last hours of privacy and quiet before returning to the real world.

She’d just settled in with one of her guilty pleasure books - an action-packed novel about a fae king and a young human witch that was filled with enough magical inaccuracies to be downright laughable but enough intrigue and spice to keep her enthralled - when the knock came at her door.

She found herself taken aback, momentarily struck still as she tried to figure out if anyone had ever knocked on her door in all the months she’d been living there. Depressingly, she found she was quite certain that no one ever had. Briefly, she considered ignoring the knock and simply returning to her book but found her curiosity wouldn’t allow her.

Assuming that it was probably just one of her neighbours, perhaps the one from down the hall that she’d seen sniffing around her door a few times before, she didn’t bother to check her appearance as she shuffled over to the door.

Distracted and out of sorts, she didn’t bother checking the peephole either before tugging open the door and gaping as she tried to make sense of who she found on the other side. Looking much the same as the other times she’d seen him recently, Draco Malfoy stood there dressed all in black, his hair mussed, with that all too familiar smirk tugging at his lips.

At first, she blinked a few times, certain that her obsessive thoughts of the man were causing some sort of hallucination, and then she simply gaped.

“Granger,” he greeted her, his deepening smirk letting her know he was amused at her gaping.

It wasn’t just that she was shocked to find him at her door. She found herself seriously wondering if she’d gone mad, the improbability of this moment giving credence to the idea that this was perhaps all in her head and the solitude she’d taken such comfort in had actually sent her barmy.

Quickly, she shook off those worries in an attempt to exist in the moment, rather than simply losing herself in her thoughts.

“Dr… How did you get my address?” There were about a hundred questions at the tip of her tongue - mostly variations of asking what he was doing at her door - but she managed to ask the one that seemed the least offensive.

“Theo,” he answered easily, watching her closely with a guarded expression.

“Theo doesn’t have my…” At Draco’s pointed look, realisation dawned and she cringed. The only way she could think that Theo Nott could have gotten her address was through the one person who connected them both who actually did have her address. “f*ck,” she whispered.

“Don’t worry,” he said with a bitter chuckle, “I’m Theo’s other dirty little secret. He’s not about to tell his little lying cop boyfriend we’re still in touch, so Potter won’t know it was for me.”

“Then what did he tell him?”

Draco shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him. Can I come in?”

She hesitated, glancing over her shoulder at her flat before looking back at him. “What are you doing here?” She asked rather than stepping back to let him in.

He chuckled again. The bitterness in the sound was enough to set Hermione’s teeth on edge. “Should probably step inside for that,” he answered with an amused smirk.

After a few more seconds of consideration and a glance down the hall at the door to her nosiest neighbour’s flat, she exhaled and stepped back to, against her better judgement, let him come inside.

As soon as she’d acknowledged that her continuing to seek him out when he clearly didn’t want to see her was selfish in all of the ways she desperately wished not to be anymore, she’d promised herself that she wouldn’t go looking for him again.

And now here he was disturbing the peace she’d been trying so hard to build for herself.

She supposed it was only fair that she let him, if just this once.

As she closed the door, her back to him as she turned the lock and he stepped further into her space, she took a moment for a deep breath to attempt to get herself mentally prepared for whatever he’d come there for.

When finally she turned back to him, she found him looking around her space in open examination and she didn't like one bit how exposed it made her feel. If the space had felt small before, it seemed to shrink exponentially as he filled it with his presence and trying to imagine the space through his eyes only served to make it feel smaller.

“Draco,” she said with exhaustion audible in her voice.

It was only when he turned sharply, a harshness nearing on rage apparent in his expression, that she remembered he didn’t go by his given name anymore. As she visibly winced at her mistake, she watched his expression temper right before her eyes.

“Why are you here, Malfoy?” She asked again, winding her arms around herself.

“The other night you said you wanted to hurt yourself,” he said, abandoning his visual exploration of her space and turning to pin her with a hard, intense look. She expected him to continue, to add more context, but instead, he just watched her.

“I did,” she replied finally, when she found herself desperate to fill the oppressive silence.

“As it turns out,” he continued, his voice low and a smirk on his face, “I want to hurt you too.”

She inhaled sharply, staring at him unblinking.

She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting him to say - if she’d even have been able to form any sort of guess as to his intentions at all, that is - but it certainly wasn’t that. While she knew that she should be frightened by the assertion and respond accordingly, instead she found herself rooting in place, silent, her thighs clenching in a way that left no doubt as to the effect his words had on her.

She knew, by some instinct she couldn’t explain, that when he said he wanted to hurt her, he didn’t mean she was in any actual physical danger.

Her heart, on the other hand…

She pushed that thought away, determined not to think too much about why.

“Do you?” She answered finally in a voice barely louder than a whisper, the intensity of his silent stare proving too much for her resolve.

His chuckle came from low in his throat as he stalked towards her on slow, confident strides. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

Without intending to, she found herself backing away from him as he moved towards her. She watched his smirk deepen as he continued pressing forward until she felt her back pressed against the wall and only inches separated their bodies.

As she trembled beneath his attention, she would swear she could feel the heat of him even though they weren’t touching. His smell, a heady, delicious mix of earthy tobacco and sweet tonka bean, seemed to coil itself around her, pinning her in place.

“Tell me to leave, Granger,” he said in a low tone as he reached up and twisted one of her curls around his finger.

“Nothing is stopping you if you want to go.” She replied tightly, doing her best to ignore the persistent little voice of her traitorous subconscious telling her to beg him to stay.

A look of dark amusem*nt crossed his features. “That’s not what I said,” he replied as he tugged sharply enough at that chunk of hair to sting slightly. “You and I both know what’s going to happen if I stay.”

Her thighs clenched once again as a desperate heat seemed to pool at the apex of her thighs, the dark promise of exactly the kind of hurt she knew he could visit on her invading every corner of her consciousness.

She wanted it.

Desperately.

“Tell me what’s going to happen,” she urged, her cheeks and chest flushing pink with heat.

“No,” he answered easily.

With her hair still tucked between his fingers, he moved to palm her throat, fingers and thumb catching either side of it in a loose hold. She’d always loved his hand on her throat, something they’d both discovered quite by accident, but there was even more intensity to the feeling now with the addition of his anger towards her. Now, she knew they could both feel her heartbeat fluttering beneath his fingers, leaving no doubt just how intensely he affected her.

“Tell me to leave. Or don’t. But don’t lie and pretend you don’t know exactly what this is, Granger,” he murmured, barely even blinking as he watched her. “For all your faults, there’s certainly no denying you’ve always been a smart little witch.”

She gulped.

Never a fan of one-night stands and also not currently the least bit interested in dating, there had only been two men in Hermione’s bed - or, more accurately, she’d only been in two men’s beds - since Neville.

The first had been a man she’d reluctantly agreed to go on a date with, a Wizengamot clerk who’d quite effectively stroked her ego with how impressed he was with her work. Both the date and the sex had been fine, but neither of them bothered to get in touch for a second date and she was hardly sad about it. She’d considered it a sort of rite of passage, getting the first man after her husband out of the way so that she could move on.

Whatever moving on meant.

The second and much more ill-advised encounter she’d had was during a particularly low night at the Leaky when she’d had a bad day and far too much firewhisky. Humiliatingly, she’d let Cormac McClaggen feel her up in a darkened corner before whisking her back to his flat for what was, by far, the most unsatisfying shag of her life. Worse even than Ron when he’d been fumblingly deep in his cups - and that was saying something.

Neither of those encounters came anywhere close to what she felt standing in front of Draco Malfoy with the unmistakable, instinctive understanding of exactly what he wanted to do to her. In fact, he didn’t even need to touch her for this to satisfy her more fully than either of those two encounters.

Sad, she acknowledged, but true.

“Tick, tick, tick,” he urged, tightening his fingers ever so slightly over her pulse points. “Am I leaving or am I staying?”

“Stay.” Though her response was spoken softly, it was unmistakably firm and without a single waver.

As much as she’d have liked to pretend that there was any question in her mind or that the decision was one she’d carefully considered before making her choice, she couldn’t. She played that game of pretend before - and it had been a game back then - she didn’t want to even bother this time.

“You’re already wet, aren’t you?” He asked, his voice rough, as he tightened his fingers once again. This time it was enough to give her that delicious lightheaded feeling she loved so much. “Dripping, I’d guess.”

She looked up at him, warm brown meeting cool grey, and licked her lips, but said nothing.

“Uh uh uh,” he tutted, shaking his head. “I don’t think you understand how this is going to work, Granger.”

She gulped, the action momentarily tightening his fingers around her throat, and watched him closely as she forced her silence to persist.

“We both know you’re not the good girl you’ve been pretending to be,” he said in an overly casual tone even as he slotted one of his legs between hers, pressing his thigh against her intimately. “It’s no wonder your nice little husband couldn’t satisfy you.”

“Hey!” She protested, eyes widening when she felt his fingers tighten briefly once more.

“Shh,” he hissed, giving her a pointed look.

She relented, swallowing again.

It wasn’t as though he was wrong and they both knew it.

She adored Neville, but he’d been a missionary-with-the-lights-off type of lover, which was lovely but not at all what she desperately craved when the lights went out. A bolt of shame went through her as she remembered countless nights when, after her husband had fallen asleep next to her, she’d shoved her hand down her knickers and gotten herself off thinking of a scenario much more like this one than anything she’d ever experienced with the man lying next to her, or anyone else for that matter.

He laughed quietly, as though he were reading her mind.

She blushed a brighter red.

“As I was saying,” he continued. “We both know that you’re not a good little witch. And even though I’m going to treat you like the little slu*t we both know you are, you’re going to be a good girl for me.”

She squirmed against his leg, certain that he could feel right through the layers of fabric between them just how his crude words intensified the slick heat at her core. There was no denying that every word he spoke was true - no matter how much she wished it weren’t - and alongside the shame of that was a bolt of pleasure at the realisation that he still knew exactly who she was, whether he knew it or not.

“So you’re going to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’,” he continued as he moved his other hand to her waist, sliding it beneath the thin fabric of her top. “You’re going to say ‘Yes, Sir’ and do every little thing I tell you to do, just like the good girl we both know you’ve only ever pretended to be. Isn’t that right?”

As his fingertips brushed against the bare underside of her breast, she inhaled sharply and arched her back into him. “Draco…”

His hand tightened at her throat hard enough that her eyes widened. “If you say that f*cking name one more time, I’m going to leave this flat and you’ll never f*cking see me again. Do you understand?”

She nodded.

“Use your words.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

She hesitated.

“Yes, what?” His fingers moved to her nipple as he spoke, catching the tightened bud and squeezing it hard enough to elicit a desperate, guttural cry.

“Yes, sir,” she panted, rocking her hips against his thigh now.

He chuckled, his hold on both her throat and her nipple loosening to softly stroke her instead. The contrast between the two sensations made her shiver. “See, you do know how to pretend to be a good little slu*t for me.”

“Yes, sir,” she breathed.

“Take me to your bedroom,” he said, stepping back from her and letting his hands fall away from her body.

She nearly whimpered, the loss of the heat and pressure of his body leaving her feeling bereft, but quickly followed his instruction and stepped away from the wall on shaky legs to lead him the short distance to her bedroom.

As she stepped through the bedroom door, she took a moment to consider how it would look through his eyes. The bed dominated the room, leaving only a bit of room on each side for two mismatched antique nightstands, and was covered in a variety of pillows and blankets that allowed her to sink into the most delicious cocoon at bedtime every night.

It occurred to her then, as she felt the heat of him following at her back, that she may never be able to look at this bedroom the same way again.

Was her sanctuary lost?

And then…

Did she even care?

The thought was quickly stolen from her head as she felt his hands grip her hips at the same time as the wet heat of his mouth brushed over the back of her neck, sending her eyes fluttering. When he sucked at the delicate skin where her neck met her shoulder, she whimpered and reached behind her to pull him in tighter against her.

Suddenly, she felt him push her deeper into the room, creating distance between their bodies before he stepped around her and easily dropped himself onto the edge of the bed.

As he leaned down to unlace his boots, he glanced up at her with a smirk.

“Undress.” Though the word was spoken quietly, there was no doubt that it was a demand, and she shuddered. “If you aren’t naked by the time I get these boots off, I’m going to spank your arse pink.”

Her eyes widened as another rush of heat built between her legs at his threat. No one had ever spanked her before and though she felt quite sure that she wouldn’t enjoy it, the idea of laying across his lap while he punished her was still strangely enticing.

“Do you like that idea, Granger?” He asked, apparently amused at her reaction. “Are you considering disobeying me so that I’ll punish you?”

She gulped before taking hold of the hem of her shirt and tugging it over her head, leaving her skin bare from the waist up. She didn’t miss the flash of heat she saw in his gaze as he took in her bare, flushed breasts, proving that he wasn’t nearly as unaffected by her as he might pretend.

“Good girl,” he murmured as he toed off his first boot, tucking it under the edge of the bed.

Once more, she nearly whimpered at his praise, feeling her eyes sting with the intensity of her reaction to it. Quickly, eager for more of that, she moved to untie the waist of her baggy pyjama bottoms and shoved them down as well. As she kicked them away, she stood before him in just a pair of black briefs, waiting for his reaction.

“Tick, tick, tick,” he murmured once more rather than giving her any of the praise she was so desperate for. “If those knickers aren’t on the floor soon, I’ll have you over my knee and I promise you won’t like it near as much as you might think you will.”

Hastily, she grabbed both sides of her knickers and pushed them down her legs as well, leaving her standing in front of him completely nude. It occurred to her then just how vulnerable she was, how open to ridicule or cruelty she would be should he decide to wield it against her, and she ground her teeth together tightly to keep from leaning into her fear.

“No spanking tonight then,” he murmured as he stood from the bed, tossing his socks down next to his tucked-away boots. “Pity.”

Rather than closing the distance between their bodies, he instead stood and simply looked her over from head to toe in a slow perusal that had her squirming. She’d been a teenager the last time he’d seen her undressed, tight and firm in all the places that had since softened and widened with age, and she suddenly felt insecure for an entirely different reason.

He’d only gotten more beautiful as he’d grown into himself, the hardening of his features with age only adding to his appeal along with the maturing of his musculature, still slim but firm and filled out. Even his bare feet, something she’d never once found herself attracted to before, were sexy in a way that made absolutely no sense to her.

It was impossible not to worry that he’d find his attraction to her had faded, the direct contrast to how her attraction to him had grown. Her stomach twisted with it.

It doesn’t hurt when you see your ex again and they look like sh*t, does it?

His words from that first night she’d stumbled upon him performing had stung when he’d first said them, but they were much more haunting and brutal now that she stood completely bared to him.

“Dr…” She stopped herself, her eyes widening, and the fear that he would hold to his promise to leave if she said his name was enough to shake her from the spiral of insecurity that she’d been falling through. “Sir,” she said instead, watching him carefully.

“Come here,” he said, crooking his finger at her.

Thrilled that he didn’t seem to be leaving, she moved with quick steps to stand directly in front of him. The difference in their heights had always been significant, but it felt ever more exaggerated as she stood in front of him completely nude while he was still completely dressed.

“If you want to slow down, you say yellow. If you want to stop, you say red.” He said quietly.

While she’d never needed a safeword before, her sex life up until this point having been entirely vanilla aside from the ways she and Draco had dipped their toes into darker things back at school, she was well familiar with the concept. It comforted her that he’d set them, made her feel safe in a way she hadn’t actually realised she needed.

“Tell me you understand,” he insisted.

“I understand,” she said, looking up at him.

When he met her eyes, there was a burning intensity in his gaze that stole her breath once more. Trembling slightly - with fear or anticipation or uncertainty, she wasn’t sure - she held his gaze for several long, lingering moments before allowing it to drop as she bowed her head in submission.

“Undress me,” he commanded quietly then. It occurred to her just how impactful a man had to be to hold such authority without having to raise his voice or invoke cruelty.

Her shaky fingers moved to the base of his throat, unbuttoning his shirt as quickly as she could when her coordination wasn’t at its best. Every inch of skin she revealed called to her and by the time she’d gotten halfway down, she couldn’t resist leaning in to press a kiss against his sternum.

“Did I tell you that you could touch me?”

She gasped, looking up at him.

“Keep going,” he said, smirking as he watched her.

More focused now and determined to adhere to his instructions, she returned to her task and within a matter of moments was able to push his shirt off his shoulders and drag it down his arms. Though she had seen him on stage with his shirt unbuttoned and knew that he was all lean muscle, pale skin, and vibrant tattoos, it was a different experience entirely to have him bared to her up close, to have him within the reach of her hands.

“My trousers,” he instructed as he moved his hands behind his back, linking his fingers as he stood perfectly still with a seemingly unending amount of patience.

Her hands shook even more as she unbuckled his heavy belt buckle before sliding it from its loops. She was about to toss the accessory away when she felt him tug it out of her hands. Startled, she looked up at him and watched as he wound the worn leather around his hand.

At her questioning look, he smirked so devastatingly that she felt an almost violent shudder roll through her body. “Might need this later,” he murmured. “Keep going.”

By the time she had finally finished undressing him so that he stood completely bare in front of her, she felt as though it had been hours even though she knew it had only been a matter of minutes and a thin sheen of sweat glistened on her skin. The anticipation was unlike anything she’d ever felt before.

“You’re trembling like a bloody virgin, Granger,” he observed, a hint of mocking in his tone. “And we both know you aren’t one of those.”

She gulped, peeking up at him once more.

“Are you wet?”

She nodded.

“Words.”

“Yes, I’m wet,” she half-whispered, half-croaked.

“Are you sure?”

She looked up at him, confused.

“Check,” he insisted with a smirk.

Gulping again, she slid a trembling hand between her legs and pressed it against her slick puss*. The glide of her fingers was effortless and she shuddered as a spike of pleasure coursed through her at finally being touched where she needed it most, even by her own hand.

“Well?” He urged, watching her closely.

“Wet,” she said softly, lifting her hand to show him her slick fingers.

“Taste it,” he commanded, a slight waver in his voice that hadn’t been there before.

“What… I…”

“Put your fingers in your mouth and taste your f*cking c*nt, Granger,” he growled, his eyes flaming with unrestrained heat.

Slowly, she lifted her hand to her mouth, keeping her eyes on him as she slipped her fingers into her mouth and wrapped her lips around them. She’d only ever tasted herself on a lover’s mouth after he’d been between her legs, never on her own fingers, and she was startled by the tang of it.

“My turn.” As she lifted her hand and held it out towards him, he slowly shook his head. “Touch yourself again.”

Once again, she obeyed instantly, slipping her fingers back between her legs and gliding them back and forth through her slit. She couldn’t resist circling her cl*t before pulling them from between her legs and lifting her hand towards his mouth.

“I saw that,” he chided, though she couldn’t see anything actually resembling admonishment on his face. “Desperate slu*t.”

She shuddered at the word, gasping when she felt him pull her fingers into her mouth and taste her. As he sucked at them, apparently savouring the flavour of her, it occurred to her just how unlike what she’d expected this was turning out to be. She’d expected more urgency. A rough, almost desperate coupling before he cast her off once more.

Instead, he was dragging it out, a dirty, hidden fantasy come to life. She couldn’t help but wonder once again if she actually had gone mad and found herself lost in a delusion.

“Move to the foot of the bed,” he ordered roughly. “Bend over. Lay your arms flat and put your head down.”

Having exact instructions, she found, made the whole thing much easier for her and she quickly complied. As she settled into position, presenting her rear end to him without any embarrassment or uncertainty now, she wondered if it had been this all along that she’d craved so desperately. Not roughness, per say, but authority. Rules to adhere to. Orders to follow.

“Arch your back,” he added, his voice thickening as he watched her.

She did as she was told, pushing her behind out further as she did, and felt a unique thrill roll through her at his resulting groan. He’d been so measured up to that point, so composed, so to hear him come undone even a little was incredible.

“There’s one thing I’ve always regretted,” he remarked casually as he moved to stand behind her. He reached out and slowly dragged his fingertips across the curves of her hips before cupping one cheek and giving it a squeeze.

She let out a soft whimper, almost lost in the blankets, and arched towards him even further.

“I should have f*cked you here,” he said as he pressed her open with his hands, displaying her even more fully to him.

She gasped and nearly pulled away, the implication of his words not lost on her at all. While anal sex had never even been a consideration a decade earlier, she would admit to having had that fantasy a time or two over the years as well. Of course, she’d never done that with anyone else either.

“Would you let me, Granger?” He asked, slipping his fingers down to circle her tight rear hole. “If I wanted to f*ck you in the arse tonight, would you let me?”

“Yes,” she whispered, another wave of shame passing over her as she acknowledged the truth of her words.

“Have you let anyone else f*ck you here, Granger? Did your husband ever spread these cheeks and shove his co*ck in your arsehole until you were screaming?” He added a bit of pressure, eliciting a moan from deep in her throat.

“No,” she told him, once again in the barest of whispers.

“No one?” There was no missing the surprise in his voice, but she was also quite sure there was pleasure hiding in there as well.

“No one,” she confirmed.

“Such a little slu*t for me,” he murmured. “Bent over your bed waiting for my co*ck, willing to let me f*ck that virgin arse.”

She whimpered, rocking against him wantonly.

“As much as I’d love to be the first one to have your arse,” he said as he finally drew his hand out from between her cheeks, “I’m impatient. Maybe if I decide to f*ck you again after tonight, I’ll have that, hmm?”

“Yes, sir.”

She found herself relieved that he wasn’t going to take her there, even as she felt overwhelmingly turned on at the idea. Somehow, it almost felt as though she’d saved it for him, but her impatience to feel him inside of her won out over the desire to give him something she’d never given to anyone else.

As he slipped his hand further between her legs, she widened her stance and pressed back against his hand. “Please, Malfoy,” she begged, rolling her forehead against the bed.

“So cute when you’re desperate to be f*cked, Granger,” he mused, drawing back his hand to slap the tips of his fingers over her cl*t. He used his other hand to hold her in place as her hips shot forward, instinctively pulling away from the sting. “Ah ah ah, be a good girl and hold still.”

She did her best, she really did, but when she felt another quick slap against her cl*t, she rocked forward once more.

“I’m going to keep spanking this pretty puss* until you learn to stay still,” he told her in that same maddeningly casual tone he’d gone back to time and again. “And it’s going to get harder each time.”

To prove it, he slapped her cl*t once more, this time with a bit more pressure, and as hard as she fought to hold herself still she flicked her hips forward once more.

“Disappointing,” he murmured.

“Try again,” she ground out, arching her back and pressing towards him again determinedly.

“Are you begging for something I already promised you, Granger?”

She whimpered.

He chuckled.

This time when he swatted at her, again with a bit more pressure than the last, she cried out but managed to keep her hips in place as her thighs quivered and shook. His resulting praise, another simple assertion that she was a good girl, and she felt as though she were glowing. She held her teeth clenched as he gave her cl*t three more quick slaps, each more intense than the last, and held herself perfectly still. She couldn’t hold in the soft moan that escaped her lips on the third, though, and she flushed when she heard his low chuckle in response.

“Are you ready for me to f*ck you?” He asked, dragging two fingertips in teasing circles around her cl*t maddeningly.

“Yes, please! Gods, yes!”

He chuckled, slapping against her cl*t once more. “Well, since you said please…”

She barely had time for a single breath before she felt him press against her entrance and surge forward, burying himself to the hilt in one smooth thrust that had her all but screaming. Not only was she somewhat out of practice by now, but being that he was both thicker and longer than any of her other lovers by quite a lot, the stretch of it was a delicious combination of pleasure and pain.

“So f*cking tight, Granger,” he growled as he gripped her hips with both hands, remaining rooted inside her without moving. “You’ve only ever been a little slu*t for me, haven’t you?”

“Yes!” She cried out. She tried to rock her hips, growling in frustration when he held her in place “Please, Dr… Malfoy,” she begged, catching herself at the last second by some sort of miracle.

“Tell me,” he growled, giving one sharp thrust that could have convinced her that he’d nearly touched her diaphragm, despite its impossibility. “Tell me you’ve only ever been a slu*t for me.”

“I’ve only ever been a slu*t for you,” she repeated desperately, breathless. By that point, she was quite sure she’d have said just about anything he asked of her, but in this case, it was actually true. She’d never been with any other man the way she was with him.

“That’s right. Good girl,” he ground out as he finally drew his hips back and began to f*ck her.

Her hands fisted in the blankets as she allowed him to take her, each thrust against her hips sending her deeper and deeper into a mindless, boneless state of near hypnosis. Her mind was blissfully quiet, filled only with the intensity of pleasure surging through her as he gave her body what it had spent a decade begging for.

When he tugged her up from her bent-over position, his hand fisted deliciously in her hair as he continued to pound into her, she pressed tight against his chest and allowed her eyes to close. Soon, she felt him wrap his hand around her throat yet again and she let out a whimper.

“You’re so f*cking tight for me, Granger,” he growled against her ear as his fingers tightened. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think no one had been here but me.”

She cried out, finding herself wishing it were true.

“I’m going to f*ck every other man who’s dared to think he has any right to this c*nt right out of you,” he seethed, intensifying the power of each thrust until she was certain she’d been bruised come morning. “All you’ll remember is me. My name. My f*cking co*ck.”

“Yes!” She cried out, rocking her hips back against him now in a frantic, desperate rhythm.

“That’s right. You’ve only ever been mine, haven’t you? My little slu*t.”

“Yes! Gods, yes!” She wailed.

“And you’re going to come for me, aren’t you?” He asked, slowing his thrusts maddeningly now.

“Draco, please…”

He thrust hard once again, burying himself deep and staying there. “You’re going to come for me,” he growled, squeezing at the sides of her throat. “Only for me.”

“Only for you.”

“Good girl,” he praised. His hand, the one that wasn’t wrapped around her throat, moved from her hip to slide between her legs as he began thrusting again, slow and deep, and stroked her cl*t.

She lost herself to it now, babbling incoherently between desperate moans, and held tight to his forearm to keep herself from sliding out from under him weakly. When finally she felt that familiar coil of her org*sm building low in her tummy, she whimpered. “Please don’t stop,” she begged.

“That’s it,” he murmured, maintaining his pace perfectly as he brought her closer and closer. “Come for me, Granger.”

“Yes, yes, yes…” She babbled. Her short, neatly manicured fingernails dug into his forearm, leaving behind little half-moon-shaped indentations.

“Come for me, Hermione!” He commanded, his voice a bit strangled, indicating that he, too, was close.

And she did.

Letting out a sound that was nearly unrecognisable to her ears, she tightened around his shaft in a vise-like grip as every muscle in her body seemed to contract almost painfully before each and every one of them simultaneously released and she shuddered. He was only moments behind her, pulling out and taking his co*ck in hand to give a few strokes before spilling against her lower back as a deep, guttural groan escaped his lips.

He held her tight against his chest as they both fought to catch their breath, the intensity of what they’d just experienced leaving them undone. When finally he released his hold on her and nudged her towards the bed, she obediently crawled onto it on shaky arms and legs and curled up on her side, unconcerned with the mess she was making.

Everything felt warm and perfect, but when she peeked an eye open to look at him, planning on beckoning him to join her, she found him still standing next to the bed regarding her with a strange, unreadable expression.

She stilled as some of that fuzzy warmth leaked from her, a chill washing over her dampened skin. It had been so intense, so overwhelming, that she’d managed to forget how complicated it all was. Now, faced with him standing there, it all rushed back.

“I–”

“Don’t worry about it, Granger,” he said, cutting her off. “We both know what this was.” He paused. “And what it wasn’t.”

“Right,” she murmured. Without breaking eye contact, she reached over to pull a blanket over her body, providing both warmth and armour.

Unceremoniously, signalling that their encounter was officially over, he used her discarded shirt to mop up any mess left on his abdomen and then began to redress, pulling on his own version of armour. By the time he was lacing his boots, Hermione’s emotions had built to such a devastating degree that she was afraid she might do something truly humiliating and cry in front of him.

She held on to her emotions as tightly as she could, unable to allow that vulnerability.

When finally he was fully dressed and ready to go, he paused next to her bed and they shared a long, lingering look that felt heavier than anything else she could imagine. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t have seen this coming. In fact, it seemed to her like the surprise would be this ending any other way.

He reached out and tapped three times against her ankle in some sort of symbolism she couldn’t read.

She opened her mouth to speak.

He shook his head.

She took a deep breath and nodded.

And then he was gone.

Without another word or a backwards glance, he disappeared through her bedroom door and only seconds later she heard the slam of her front door. Absently, she considered that she would need to get up to go lock up, but just rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling.

She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, quiet with her insides twisted into knots as her body still hummed with energy, but it had to have been hours later that she realised he hadn’t done what he’d set out to do.

He hadn’t hurt her at all, not literally anyway.

And yet, she ached more deeply than she could ever remember aching before.

Notes:

Thanks everyone for continuing to engage with this story. I really hope you're enjoying it! I know it's mostly angst, but for me that makes those tiny moments where they slip into something else more significant. Just me?

NEXT WEEK: Trying to resist the pull proves futile in the end.

Chapter 12: Part Two : Episode Five

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

For three weeks, she waited.

Now that she knew Draco had her address and had already shown up at her door once, Hermione convinced herself that the right thing to do would be to wait for him to come back. She had, after all, promised herself that she wasn’t going to seek him out again.

So, for three weeks, she waited.

And, for three weeks, he never came.

There was no denying the depth of her disappointment.

So after all of those agonising days of waiting and an easy Google search, she broke her promise to herself and found herself standing at the back of a dark club watching as Draco yet again enthralled the audience.

The other times she’d been to see him, she’d been able to acknowledge his skill and talent on stage, but it had always been through the fog of her own complicated and overwhelming emotions and so she hadn’t really let it sink in. Now, though it still ached, something had shifted and she found she was much more easily able to lose herself in the show, much like everyone else around her.

The music was incredible, as always. There was a darkness to it, even in the songs that were ostensibly more upbeat, and Hermione found that it felt like he was holding up a mirror to her deepest self, her most hidden pain. It was almost like he used the music to cast a spell, enchanting everyone watching effortlessly.

It occurred to her then that perhaps, whether he realised it or not, it actually was magic. It made sense to her, really. Even though the Ministry had taken his wand, magic still came from inside him and, as far as she knew, there was no way that the Ministry could actually turn it off. Unused, it would weaken, but it would always be there.

With that in mind, she watched the crowd through different eyes.

Enthralled was the best word she could think of.

Almost no one in the room could take their eyes off the stage. In fact, nearly everyone she could see was completely enthralled in the music, from the people simply swaying along to those who already seemed to know all of the words.

Curious.

When the show ended, she moved more deeply into the crowd, hoping to catch Draco’s attention before he slipped out the door. Instead, though, she watched as he dropped an arm around a beautiful girl with waist-length blonde hair who was gazing up at him as though he’d hung the moon, and led her towards the door.

She gritted her teeth as they disappeared, the door closing firmly behind them as a gruff-looking security guy stepped in front of it and blocked her from following.

As she stepped away, her mind racing, it occurred to her that the twisting in her stomach was hurt.

She wasn’t sure why she’d never seriously considered that what had happened between them three weeks earlier was intended to be a one-time thing or that he would still be getting back-alley blowj*bs from eager fans after their night together. The realisation hurt more than it should have as her perception of that night shifted.

Angry now - and doing her very best to ignore the hurt rolling over her in waves - she pushed back through the crowd and stormed through the exit. As soon as the fresh night air hit her face, she let out a frustrated sound that was loud enough that she caught the curious attention of a group of three girls outside smoking a cigarette.

“f*cking men,” she muttered, by way of explanation.

“Bloody right!” One of the girls responded with that unique womanly solidarity that always seemed to accompany nights out and flowing drinks. The other girls standing around her echoed the sentiment and Hermione found herself feeling strangely empowered.

“Bloody right,” she echoed softly, determination steeling her spine.

Resisting the instinct to talk herself out of it, she quickly turned in the direction of the alley alongside the club and began stalking towards it. It was quite an assumption to make, she realised, but after the other time she’d seen him out behind the club she felt like it was worth a shot.

Of course, in her haste, she hadn’t really figured out what she was going to do if she found him back there, so when she stepped far enough into the alley to see him leaning back against the wall with a cigarette between his fingers while the blonde chatted away at him, she wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

She stilled her steps, watching him.

After a moment, and a bit of self-coaching, she continued deeper into the alley with steady footsteps that belied the racing of her heart. Draco, leaned up against the wall and facing her, noticed her first but when his expression changed, she couldn’t read the emotion of it.

The girl noticed her approach only a moment later, clearly so focused on Draco that there was no missing the shift in his attention. Her back straightened and her flirtatious expression shifted to a much haughtier one that Hermione immediately felt inclined to slap off her, admittedly, beautiful face.

“This is a private party,” the girl said with the sort of arrogant, mean girl smirk that set Hermione’s teeth on edge. Any instinct to defer to or be gentle with the younger woman immediately evaporated.

“f*ck off,” Hermione dismissed the girl easily, her attention focused on Draco now. She couldn’t miss the shift to something resembling amusem*nt in his expression.

“D!” The girl whined.

“You heard the lady.” He replied dismissively, casting a glance at the girl before his attention returned to Hermione. His expression remained unreadable.

“But…”

“This is a private party,” Hermione replied, mimicking the girl’s words with a smugness she’d undoubtedly chastise herself for later.

The girl glared at Hermione for a long, lingering moment, apparently under the impression that there was some sort of battle to be fought there, but when Hermione only laughed, the girl turned with a huff and disappeared back inside.

“I was going to f*ck that later,” Draco informed her easily before lifting the cigarette to his lips for a drag.

“Oops,” Hermione replied dryly, noting that he hardly appeared any more disappointed with the change in his evening plans than she was.

“What are you doing here?” He asked then, raking the fingers of his free hand through his hair.

“I thought we weren’t doing the thing where we ask questions and pretend not to know the answers,” she challenged, arching an eyebrow.

His resulting chuckle was unreadable, and yet the deep rhythm of it seemed to go straight to Hermione’s insides. “Touché,” he said, taking another pull of his cigarette. “I still want you to answer it.”

“I came to see you,” she answered with a shrug.

“Try again.” His expression darkened as he stood from his slouched position, watching her closely.

She hadn’t actually expected him to challenge her the way he was and when he didn’t seem interested in backing down, she wasn’t entirely sure what to do. He’d always done this, of course, but it had been a long time and the rules had very much changed now.

“I wanted to see you,” she said, hoping the slight change in her wording would appease him.

“You wanted to… see me?”

She nodded.

He laughed again, tossing his cigarette onto the ground and squashing it underneath his boot before taking a few steps towards her. “And why would you want to see me?”

“You know why.”

He shook his head, smirking. “Do I?”

With a pointed look, she regarded him in silence for a long, drawn-out moment. Finally, she shrugged. “Unless you’ve gotten stupid in the past ten years.”

He laughed, the sort of laugh one would see from a villain in a movie, and arched an eyebrow. “That must be it then. I’ve just gotten stupid after all of these years. You’ll have to explain it so my little, pathetic muggle brain can understand, hmm?”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re not a muggle, remember?”

“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. For all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what I am now, Granger. Just a muggle, nothing more,” he said acerbically, the bitterness in his tone enough to make Hermione wince. “That was the whole point of exile, was it not?”

“What a nightmare for you,” she replied dryly, though she felt a pang of regret as the truth of her words occurred to her. It really must be a nightmare for him, separated from the only world he’d known for the first twenty years of his life.

“It is. Devastation and horror and all that.” His smirk was edged with something acidic and though he was clearly attempting to appear unaffected, there was an unmistakable tension to his posture.

“Do you use magic when you’re on stage?” She hadn’t actually meant to ask the question, it had just slipped out, and she realised her error as soon as it was out.

His expression twisted, rage with an edge of hurt there, as he closed the distance between them and wrapped his hand roughly around her forearm. “What the f*ck did you just ask me?” He demanded.

“It’s a valid question,” she insisted. “You’re still a wizard, even exiled.”

“No,” he said stiffly, “I’m bloody not. I’m a musician and I just happen to be good at what I do. But, of course, you’d assume it was some sort of Pied Piper bullsh*t, wouldn’t you? I couldn’t possibly just be talented, could I?”

“I didn’t… That’s not what I meant.” She insisted.

But, wasn’t it?

At the thought, she felt another pang of guilt move through her. The assumption had come so easily and so unchecked, without any actual evidence aside from a group of people enjoying a band that was genuinely, unmistakably talented.

She cringed.

“Right.” He muttered, still glaring down at her with her arm in his hold. “Why. Are. You. Here?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“You wanted to f*ck me.” He corrected her harshly.

There was something about his tone and the expression on his face that felt like a challenge. She gulped, maintaining eye contact with him without saying a word as his smirk deepened and he tugged her in closer against him.

“That’s what it is, right? So just grow up and admit it.” Though the words were spoken at a low volume, they might well have been screamed for how they cut through her and she had no doubt that was exactly what he had intended.

She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to look away and hide from his knowing stare. The silence persisted and her instincts told her that he wasn’t going to be the one to break it.

Just as she was about to give in, the heavy steel door to the club opened and one of Draco’s bandmates poked his head out. “Hey, D. Everything alright out here?”

“Everything’s fine,” Draco replied without pulling his attention away from Hermione.

Ultimately, she was the one to break the stare as she peeked over at the bearded man with the mass of black curls who was regarding them with naked curiosity. The bass player. While her attention always remained almost entirely centred on Draco whenever he was on stage, she had studied his bandmates a bit, as though something about them might give her some further insight about him.

“Baz,” Draco said, “this is Hermione Granger. Granger, Baz.”

“Hermione Gr…” The man’s hazel eyes widened as he stared at Hermione, gulping after a moment. “You sure you’re good, man?”

“I’m good,” Draco answered, his gaze still rooted on Hermione’s face. “You mind packing up without me tonight?”

“Sure, man, of course!” Baz answered quickly, his gaze alternating between Hermione and Draco now, at a pace that felt almost frantic.

As the implications of Draco’s words hit her, Hermione felt a thrill cut through the discomfort that had built as they both maintained their attention on her even as they spoke to each other. She was startled a moment later at the sound of the heavy door slamming as Baz relented and disappeared, leaving them alone in the alley once again.

She hazarded a peek up at Draco’s face and found him looking back at her with something blazing in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“Your friends…” She trailed off, gulped. “They know who I am?”

He chuckled darkly. “You’ve listened to my songs,” he answered. Although not explicit, there was no mistaking his meaning. “I’m a bit surprised he didn’t drag me away from you.”

“Like Theo and Pansy tried to.”

“Surprised I have people who care about me, Granger?”

“Of course not!”

“Tell me why you’re here or leave,” he said then, his voice a combination of exhaustion and vehemence.

“I want you.”

“You want me.”

“Yes.”

“Even though I hate you.”

She inhaled sharply, his words cutting just as deep as she was certain he was hoping they would. It had been easy enough to surmise that he no longer held any of the affection for her that he once had, but to hear him say that he hated her was like a knife to the centre of her chest.

And yet, she couldn’t seem to muster the basic self preservation instincts to simply leave.

“Yes,” she said finally, a bit more shaky and uncertain now.

“Why?”

“Why?” She echoed, confused.

“Why do you want me, knowing that I hate you?” He asked, watching her closely and no doubt noticing that she winced once again at his words.

No one had ever made her feel the way he did.

She’d felt more alive that night three weeks ago than she had in years.

She’d never been able to leave him in her past, not completely, no matter how hard she’d tried.

“I don’t know,” she lied, rather than giving him any of the possible answers that rushed to mind in the face of the question.

She couldn’t tell him any of those things, not moments after he’d just told her that he hated her. He’d made clear that he wasn’t someone she could be vulnerable with anymore and, as much as that felt like a knife sliding between her ribs, she knew she had to respect it.

She’d earned it, after all.

“Still such a f*cking liar,” he muttered. Once again, he shoved his hand through his hair. “Luckily for you, I find I don’t care enough to push.”

“You… What?”

“Get on your knees,” he commanded, using the same tone he had the night he’d come to her flat.

“What?” She gasped, eyes widened and mouth dropping open.

Amusem*nt, the kind that wasn’t entirely kind, danced in his eyes as he arched one eyebrow. “You said you wanted me,” he replied casually, his deepening smirk belying his tone.

“Here?”

“Don’t tell me you expected me to sweep you up in my arms and lay you down on a bed covered in rose petals,” he drawled, lifting an eyebrow.

“Hardly,” she replied, rolling her eyes. While he was being deliberately cruel, she certainly hadn’t been holding any particularly romantic notions about what was happening between them. She wasn’t that naive. “You can’t seriously expect me to–”

“On your knees now or go home, Granger,” he said, cutting her off. “It’s up to you.”

She gawped.

It occurred to her then that she understood what he was doing. He was issuing a challenge that he was fairly certain that she would baulk at, giving himself an excuse to walk away. She just wasn’t sure whether or not she should let him.

She obviously wasn’t all that keen to get down on her knees in a filthy alley behind a nightclub where anyone could stumble upon them, but she also couldn’t deny the thrill that went through her at the idea of following his command. And then, of course, there was the understanding that he wanted her to walk away, even if he couldn’t walk away himself. Something about understanding that made the idea of getting down on her knees for him simultaneous both more appealing and more humiliating.

And yet she didn’t immediately reject the command.

“Tick, tick, tick, Granger,” he urged, watching her closely.

“Why didn’t you come see me?” She asked suddenly, rather than acquiescing just yet.

“What?” He sputtered, having clearly not been expecting the question.

“It’s been three weeks.”

“And?”

“And you didn’t come back.”

He regarded her coolly for a moment, saying nothing. Of course, beneath his seemingly unflappable exterior, she could see cracks. There was the way his lips pulled as he clenched his jaw and the slightest narrowing of his eyes that let her know he wasn’t as unaffected as he’d like her to believe.

“Did you expect me to?” He asked finally, his voice smooth and even.

“Yes,” she answered honestly, ignoring the twinge at how vulnerable it made her.

He rocked back on his heels, clearly surprised by the answer. “Would you look at that! The little liar knows how to tell the truth.”

“Do you?”

“I always tell the truth.”

“Then why didn’t you come back?”

“Because you’re f*cking poison to me, Granger,” he answered in a low voice. “And I may not be able to compete with your stunning intellect,” there was no doubt from his acidic drawl that he wasn’t offering her a compliment, “but common sense tells me I should avoid poison at all costs. Even the pretty kind that takes my dick like a dream.”

“Then tell me to leave,” she answered, lifting her jaw in an attempt to look strong as her insides twisted with terror at the idea that he might do as she said. “Tell me to leave and not to come back. And I’ll do as I’m told.”

Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, she knew that no matter how hard it was and how much it hurt, she would have no choice but to leave him alone for good after presenting the promise so clearly. She decided firmly and without question that she wouldn’t continue to seek him out without reciprocation, even if keeping her word killed her.

“You always did like to do as you were told, didn’t you?” He asked bitterly, his lip curled in something akin to disgust.

“Yes,” she answered honestly again, unashamed.

“Then get on your f*cking knees, Hermione,” he ground out slowly, enunciating every word sharply.

This time, she didn’t even hesitate.

As she carefully lowered herself to her knees, she did her best not to think about the fact that the bins were no more than ten feet away or that she was sure to ruin her trousers for good kneeling on the hard ground. She tried not to think of what sorts of things other people had gotten up to in this alley recently.

Didn’t matter.

She’d given him an unambiguous opportunity to send her away for good and he hadn’t taken it.

Instead, this.

This, she could handle.

This, if she were to be completely honest with herself, she wanted.

When she looked up at him from where she knelt at his feet, she caught the expression of surprise on his face before he quickly schooled his features into that unreadable mask he seemed to prefer these days.

She gulped, waiting.

“Well?” He arched his eyebrow.

Dutifully, she reached up to begin unbuckling his belt before moving on to unfasten his trousers. Her hands trembled and she couldn’t be sure if that was caused by nerves or excitement. She suspected, though, that it was a combination of the two.

“Take my co*ck out,” he murmured as soon as she’d tugged down his zipper, his hand moving to grasp his belt so that his trousers didn’t fall to his ankles.

Once again, she did as she was told and reached inside his simple black pants to pull out his already-hard length. He shivered as the cool night air hit his heated skin and she couldn’t help but smile at the subtle reminder that he was human after all.

She licked her lips as she alternated her attention between his co*ck and his eyes, both hot and hard in an almost startling way. Slowly, she started to stroke his length, her fist loose to the point of teasing, and was quickly rewarded with a soft groan.

She paused, looking up at him.

“Granger?”

“Don’t let anyone see,” she murmured, giving him a pleading look.

She would swear she saw a slight softening in his expression as he nodded. Without another second of hesitation, she eagerly shifted her attention back to his co*ck. Somehow, regardless of the fact that he’d commanded her to her knees in an alley where anyone could come upon them, she knew that he’d protect her.

She had no reason to be so certain of that, she realised, and yet she was.

When finally she took him into her mouth, leading with a curling swipe of her tongue before wrapping her lips around the swollen head, she felt a thrill go through her at the guttural sound she drew from him from that first touch.

It was a position of power, she realised, even though she was on her knees and eagerly following his directions. She held his pleasure in her hands - or in this case, her mouth - and it thrilled her. Eagerly, she took him deep, gagging as he hit the back of her throat. Determinedly, she held him there until her eyes began to water before drawing back to catch her breath.

“Good girl,” he breathed.

She beamed, swirling her tongue around the head.

“So f*cking pretty with my co*ck down your throat, Granger.” He combed his fingers through her hair, stopping when he snagged on a curl and then tightening his fingers to hold her firmly.

At the slight pressure along her scalp, she rocked her hips and moaned around his co*ck.

“You like that?”

She nodded, looking up at him with wide eyes.

He flexed his fingers again, giving another tug that sent her eyes fluttering closed. That delicious ache in her scalp along with the obvious pleasure he was feeling as she sucked him spurred her on and she took him deep once more.

“That’s it, Granger,” he encouraged her, his words thick and heavy.

She settled into a rhythm then, using her hand and mouth to drive him to near-desperate moans. Every so often, she would peek up at him and a bolt of pleasure would shoot straight to her core when she saw the naked pleasure written all over him. With his head tipped back, mouth open and eyes nearly closed, he looked absolutely beautiful to her and she found herself even more desperate to make him come.

She redoubled her efforts, corkscrewing her hand up and down his shaft while focusing the attention of her lips and tongue on the head.

“Granger, f*ck…” He growled, giving her hair a sharp tug until she looked up again and found him looking down at her intensely. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to fill your mouth and make you swallow every single drop.”

Though she wasn’t quite sure what showed on her face in response to his words, she could tell by his reaction that he liked it. He groaned deeply, mumbling something about what a good girl she was, and jerked his hips forward.

“Is that what you want?” He growled.

She nodded, still stroking and sucking eagerly.

“Such a good little slu*t for me,” he mumbled, rocking his hips again. “Be a good girl, take my come, and then I’ll make you come so many times you’ll beg me to stop.”

She nodded again, eyes wide.

“Good girl,” he replied with a thick chuckle, dropping his head back once more as she swirled her tongue once more before taking him deep. “f*ck!”

It was strange to remember, she realised, but even after all these years, she could remember all of the signals that he was about to come. His movements became jerkier and he had less control over the sounds that escaped his throat. The near whimpers she heard from him were like music to her ears, sending more bolts of pleasure through her body.

“Hermione, I’m going to…” She had no more warning than that before he flooded her mouth.

He tasted different, she realised, somehow both sweeter and muskier in equal measure. She loved it. She drank him down eagerly, swallowing quickly as she tried to keep up, and only drew back when she felt him shudder and then relax.

She drew back, using her sleeve to wipe her lips as she tried to catch her breath. She felt undone, as though she were in the aftermath and a mind-bending org*sm herself, and she nearly laughed at the strangeness of it.

Draco stumbled back a few steps, catching his breath as he righted his trousers, keeping his eyes on Hermione the whole time. There was a fire in his gaze, inescapable, and Hermione gasped under the heat of it.

Her legs wobbled as she pushed back up to standing, brushing her own trousers off as she went. A moment later, she gasped as he seemed to swoop back in and tug her against him. “Dr–”

“Apparate us to your flat,” he commanded in a rough near-whisper.

“Wait, I… What?”

“I mean it, Granger,” he ground out, holding her tight to his chest. “Either apparate us so I can eat your c*nt until you soak my face in private or I’ll do it right here and now.”

She gasped. Again, there was something of a thrill to the idea of being so naughty somewhere this public, but the reality of being bare-arsed in an alley held little to no appeal.

“Are you su—”

“Do it,” he urged, pulling her even tighter to his body.

Resisting the urge to think too hard about it, she quickly acquiesced and a moment later they were standing in her small living room. Though she’d gotten better at tolerating apparation, there was still a brief wave of nausea that rolled over her as she got her bearings again, and she noted that the same was true for him, though she had been expecting a much more intense reaction after so long away.

“You didn’t get sick,” she noted out loud.

“Theo doesn’t like to travel the muggle way,” he explained with a shrug.

She wanted to point out how dangerous that was, how much more likely they were to get caught if they were using magical modes of transportation together, but before she could even open her mouth to speak she remembered that she’d just apparated him into her living room and hardly had any room to talk.

“Stop thinking so hard,” he murmured.

Quick to distract her, Draco began pushing her backwards until she was pressed against the wall, and the feeling of being sandwiched between the hard plaster and his warm body stole any lingering thoughts from her mind.

Just as he’d intended, she was certain.

“That’s better,” he said with a smirk.

He wrapped his hands around her hips and pinned them against the wall before taking a half step back and looking her up and down. Though she couldn’t see through his eyes, she was glad she’d chosen the outfit for the evening that she had, especially when she saw a flame of heat flash in his eyes once more.

Her black jeans hugged tightly to her curves, highlighting the swell of her hips and bum and the narrow pinch of her waist. Her top was also black and quite simple, really, with long sleeves and a scooped neckline that highlighted the swells of her breasts. At that moment, a bit of her lacy bra was also peeking from beneath the fabric.

Finally, tearing his eyes away from their slow, deliberate perusal, he returned his attention to her face and smirked. “Stay.”

“What?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “I said stay.”

“Stay where?”

He rolled his eyes, dark amusem*nt in his expression. “Exactly where you are. Seems obvious, no?”

“Fine. I’ll stay. Why th…” As he dropped to his knees in front of her, her eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Exactly,” he murmured.

There was nothing tentative or slow about Draco’s actions then. He made quick work of her jeans, quickly tugging both them and her knickers down and sliding both garments off one leg without bothering with the other. Intimately bared to him now, she squirmed as he lifted her foot onto his shoulder and spread her open to his gaze.

She knew she was soaked, practically dripping, and she felt a flush of embarrassment as he saw it and smirked.

“Enjoyed sucking me off, did you, Granger?”

She groaned, blushing even more intensely.

“That wasn’t rhetorical,” he added when she stayed silent.

“Yes,” she answered in an obedient whisper, feeling another rush of heat at her centre.

“Good girl,” he murmured. When she squirmed under his praise, he smirked. “You like it when I tell you what a good girl you are, don’t you?”

She nodded.

“Use your words,” he commanded, turning his head to nip lightly at her inner thigh.

"Yes, I like it!” She cried out.

“But you also like it when I call you a slu*t,” he added with a smirk.

Somewhat ashamed, she nodded. “Yes, I like that too.”

As if he were rewarding her for her honesty, he used two fingers to part her folds and leaned in to suck a soft kiss directly over her cl*t. Crying out, she arched her hips away from the wall and into his face.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he tutted, using both hands to press her hips back against the wall. “What did I say?”

She gulped. “Stay.”

“Exactly.”

Though she felt the strangest urge to apologise, she resisted and just kept her mouth shut. She didn’t know what she was doing with him, but she knew that he needed to take the reins and since she absolutely melted when he did, she wasn’t about to complain.

“Now,” he said casually, his thumbs dragging deliciously over her hip bones. “I’m going to eat your c*nt until you come. And then I’m going to keep going until you come again.”

She gasped, eyes widened.

He smirked. “Objections?”

Slowly, her cheeks glowing pink, she shook her head.

“Put your hands above your head. Against the wall.”

She did as she was told, immediately feeling helpless even without being restrained.

“You’re going to keep them there until I say you can lower them. Do you understand?”

She nodded.

“Tell me.”

“I understand.”

“Good girl.” He’d leaned back in close enough that she felt a wash of his breath over her as he spoke, intensifying the pleasure of his praise.

There was no more preamble. Without even a second of hesitation, he dragged his tongue along the length of her slit. Her hands fisted as she reminded herself to keep them where they were, her leg shaking. She truly had no idea how she was going to stay upright.

“Mmmm,” he hummed against her heated skin, eliciting a full-body shiver. “Remember what I said, Granger. Don’t move. I’ve got you.”

She didn’t even have time to respond before he dove in fully, licking and sucking at her cl*t like a man starved. It wasn’t long before she could barely think, so entirely focused on the man between her legs and the absolutely delicious things he was doing with his mouth.

In the past, there’d been many times that she hadn’t been able to relax enough to truly enjoy receiving oral sex, distracted instead with worry about her smell and taste and how her partner would respond if she lost control of herself. Now, though, there was no room in her mind for any of that, and no chance that she wasn’t going to lose control.

When she felt the gentle scrape of his teeth against her cl*t a moment before he wrapped his lips around it and sucked, she nearly dropped her hands from where they were pressed against the wall to slide them into his hair but stopped herself at the last minute. Instead, she pressed them even more fully against the wall with enough pressure that she wouldn’t be surprised to find bruises there in the morning.

“Draco!” She cried out, unable to help herself, as he slipped two fingers smoothly inside her, stretching her open around them.

“No,” he growled against her, reminding her of his feelings about his given name.

A second later, she felt a sharp slap against her inner thigh and cried out. Her hands were pulled into such tight fists by then that they were beginning to ache and everything in her body felt hot, tight and needy.

“Please,” she whimpered.

“Tell me what you want,” he murmured without pulling his mouth from between her legs.

“Please!” She cried out again, knocking her knuckles against the wall to keep herself from pulling them away.

“Please, what?”

“Please, make me come. I need to come!” She all but screamed then, rocking her hips against his face as he dove back in with even more intensity than had been there already.

With one hand occupied f*cking his two fingers into her while he sucked and lapped at her cl*t, the other pressed against her tummy before sliding upwards to slip first beneath her shirt and then her bra to capture her straining nipple between his fingers in a sharp pinch that stole the last of her coherent thought.

She lost all sense of anything outside of what his hands and mouth were doing to her, so she wasn’t actually sure how much longer the cacophony of sensation went on before she felt that building heat in her tummy begin to simmer over. She babbled, begging him not to stop, though she couldn’t be sure the words coming out of her mouth were even words, much less ones that made any sense. Of course, she was fairly certain that everything about her in that moment was unambiguously communicating her need, leaving the actual words incidental.

For his part, Draco didn’t stop or slow or change anything about what he was doing. Staying in perfect, maddening rhythm he continued to give her exactly what she needed until finally she tipped over the edge.

Her entire body seemed wracked with tremors as she came, overcome with it in a way she wasn’t sure she ever had been before. By the time the tremors simmered down to twitches, she was breathless and boneless and would have sunk to the floor if he hadn’t held her exactly where she was.

“Alright there, Granger?” He asked when he finally lifted his face from between her legs.

“Mm,” she grunted, unable to form even a single real word just then.

“Catch your breath,” he said, brushing a kiss over her inner thigh. “I’m not done with you yet.”

She gasped, unsure as to whether she should be excited or terrified at the prospect. In the end, she decided that the new little flutter she could feel building in her tummy already was probably a combination of both.

Before she knew what was happening, he’d tossed her over his shoulder and was carrying her in the direction of her bedroom. All she could do was hold on tight and squirm with anticipation, eager to see what else he had in store for her.

Two hours later, when both of them were flushed and spent from their exertions, Hermione watched as Draco set to pulling his clothes back on. She desperately wanted to ask him to stay, to promise him that it wouldn’t mean anything if he spent the night in her bed.

Of course, that was hardly a promise she could reasonably make.

“Hey, Malfoy?” She said as he began pulling on his boots.

“Hmm?”

“Are you going to come back this time?”

He stilled before slowly turning to face her. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” she answered, not quite able to keep all of the sadness out of her voice just then. She winced, wishing she could be cooler.

“I shouldn’t,” he answered, turning his attention back to his boots.

“But will you?”

This time, the silence lasted for what felt like forever as he finished tugging his boots on and tying them. As seconds passed, Hermione’s stomach started to twist and she began to wish she’d never asked the question.

Just as she was about to open her mouth to try and take back the question, to forestall the inevitable end he was about to call to whatever this was that was happening between them, he spoke.

“Probably,” he said softly, his voice gravelly.

“I… What?”

He let out a sigh before standing and turning to face her.

There was something devastating, she decided, about laying in bed fully naked while the man who’d just shagged you into oblivion was fully dressed and about to go home. As gorgeous as he looked with his hair an absolute riot and his cheeks and chest still pink from exertion, she couldn’t help but ache at the sight of him.

“I shouldn’t,” he reiterated. “We shouldn’t. But we probably will.”

She gulped and nodded.

“Goodnight, Granger.”

“Goodnight, Malfoy.” Goodnight, Draco.

Two days later, well after midnight, there was a knock at her door.

He was gone before dawn.

Notes:

I did promise angst and smut, right? I feel like maybe it took a bit to get into the thick of the angst and smut - but we are definitely here! Thanks to everyone leaving feedback! I hope you're enjoying the story and eager for more!

NEXT WEEK: Claims are staked. But it doesn't mean anything, right?

Chapter 13: Part Two : Episode Six

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It had been the kind of day that normally would have sent Hermione directly to her sofa with a cosy blanket, a large glass of wine, and a good book. Instead, though, she found herself walking into a dimly lit but raucously loud pub that she’d never been to before to see Slithering Exile play.

She’d spent months working on the case she’d presented that afternoon and had arrived at the Ministry with a fairly high level of confidence that it was going to go the way she and her client wanted. In the end, the verdict had been both surprising and devastating, leaving both her and her client reely.

After spending a couple of hours consoling her client in the wake of the decision, she’d gone home tired and shamefully unable to stop thinking about Draco. She’d tried to put him out of her mind - truly, she had - but by the time the sun went down, she remained convinced that the only thing that would shake off all the disappointment she was feeling was to see him.

It had been four days since he’d last shown up at her door.

It felt like so much longer than that.

Her attempts to talk herself out of slipping into the figure-skimming, silky black dress that had been tucked, unworn, into the back of her closet for months and just stay home had been weak at best and ultimately useless. She tamed her hair into silky, voluminous curls that sat riotously in a sort of halo, and applied a red lipstick that she’d picked up months earlier but, until that point, hadn’t found the confidence to wear yet.

By the time she strode into the pub, a bit shaky on the heels that she knew she’d regret in the morning when her feet were swollen and achy, she felt like a new woman. Or perhaps a new version of herself, one that had been hiding somewhere in the background for longer than she’d like to admit.

The truth was that no one would ever call Hermione Granger a femme fatale.

Not anyone who knew her, anyway.

She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d specifically tried to look hot but she knew without question that it had been years.

There’d been a couple of times that she’d bought slinky lingerie and done a passable-if-not-perfect vampy makeup look in an attempt to spice up her marriage, but Neville’s response hadn’t exactly inspired her to keep trying. While she knew that his intentions were in the right place when he insisted that he preferred her natural beauty to makeup and her bare skin to silk and satin, it had felt to her like a rejection and had been hell on her confidence so she’d simply stopped trying.

He hadn’t noticed.

Unlike some of the patrons of this particular club, apparently.

It was impossible to miss the admiring looks that a few of the bolder patrons of the pub slid her way as she stepped further inside and she felt her confidence increase. When an impossibly beautiful woman looked her up and down appraisingly and winked at her flirtatiously upon returning her gaze to her face, it went through the roof.

Though she had no real interest in women sexually, there was certainly something to be said for the approval of one. She felt a burst of confidence and excitement that she hadn’t expected, lifting her posture and bringing a slow smile to her lips.

She scanned the pub and quickly located the band all seated around a table tucked into the very back corner, surrounded by people. Everyone looked to be in good spirits, talking and laughing and having a good time. Draco, tall and icy blond as he was, stood out amongst the group and she spotted him easily, her eyes narrowing when she saw the way he was smirking flirtatiously at the girl leaning down and murmuring against his ear.

When she saw the way his hand was resting on the woman’s hip, her blood boiled.

She told herself that she had no claim on him, insisted to herself that there was no reason to expect that he wouldn’t be seeing other people. In fact, she couldn’t even really say that he was seeing her, even if he did show up multiple times a week to slip into her bed. And yet, the surge of possessiveness that spiked through her was undeniable.

She was reminded of that time she’d caught him flirting with Nora, whose name she should long since have forgotten, back in Eighth Year and the way she’d felt inclined towards violence at the very sight of them together.

It occurred to her now that even back then she’d held more of a claim to him than she did now. Sure, he’d been slipping between her legs consistently for a month, but she knew better than to assume that meant anything beyond sex.

Her stomach churned.

She gritted her teeth and turned away.

Determined that she wasn’t going to run away this time, no matter how much her traitorous mind was screaming that she should, she instead made her way over to the bar to get herself a drink.

She’d done enough running.

Too much running.

Far too much, for far too long.

This woman, the one wearing the impossibly sexy dress, wasn’t someone who ran from what she wanted.

This was a woman who stood tall and demanded it.

“What can I get you, love?” The words, spoken with a hint of an Irish accent, interrupted her determined thoughts and she blinked a few times before she was able to focus on the impossibly green eyes watching her from the other side of the bar.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” She asked, her cheeks flushing.

The man, whose face was handsome enough that those stunning eyes looked perfectly at home in it, chuckled and leaned a hand against the bar to angle his body closer to her. “I asked what you’re drinking, darlin’.”

“Oh!” She chuckled, embarrassed.

Obviously, that’s what he’d asked.

She was about to order her usual two fingers of top-shelf whisky when she abruptly changed her mind. This dress called for something different, she decided on a whim. With a grin, she leaned in a bit closer to him as well. “A co*cktail. One of those ones with a scandalous name that I’d be embarrassed to say in front of my mum.”

The man’s laugh was warm and quickly set her at ease, bringing back a bit of that confidence that had faded when she saw the woman flirting with Draco.

“A scandalous name, you say?” He asked, eyes twinkling.

“Mmhmm, surprise me,” she replied, unable to keep the slightly flirtatious tone out of her voice.

This wasn’t her.

In fact, she found that she couldn’t be entirely sure she’d successfully flirted in her entire life, not with a stranger anyway, but based on the spike of heat she caught in his expression she felt rather certain that she was doing an alright job of it even if she wasn’t actually trying.

“You know,” he said as he grabbed a glass, adding some ice to it and swirling it around with an absurdly long bar spoon, “the sort of drinks that have scandalous names can be deceptively hard-hitting.”

“Is that so?” She asked with a grin, leaning her hip against the bar and watching him closely.

“Mmhmm,” he continued with a grin, grabbing his co*cktail shaker now and adding ice to that as well. “Do you have someone to keep an eye on you if they hit a wee bit too hard?”

Without thinking about it, she glanced over her shoulder to where Draco was still ensconced in conversation with his hand sitting low on the woman’s hip. Almost as though he felt her attention, he suddenly lifted his attention from the woman and glanced around the room, his entire body stilling when he caught Hermione’s eye.

In a move that she knew would either amuse or infuriate him, she arched an eyebrow and allowed her gaze to drop back to his hand before smirking and turning back to the barman.

“Well, I don’t plan on going home alone tonight,” she answered easily.

Rocking back on his heels, he chuckled and started adding ingredients into the shaker smoothly, paying little enough attention to the amounts that she felt confident that his muscle memory was guiding the ship on her drink.

“Have someone in mind?” He asked smoothly, allowing his eyes to dip to the swell of her breasts at her neckline before swiftly returning to her face. Though the move could easily have felt creepy, he managed it smoothly enough that she blushed rather than recoiling.

“I do, actually,” she answered honestly.

A moment later, she felt the heat of an arm dropping over her shoulder. She started to stiffen but relaxed as Draco’s familiar scent - a combination of cologne, a hint of smoke, and the natural smell of his skin - caught her attention. She tried not to be smug, but knowing that he’d abandoned the girl he was talking to almost as soon as he saw her certainly pleased her.

“What’re you doing?” He murmured softly enough that only she could hear him. There was no mistaking the possessiveness in his actions, the way he tugged her in close enough that his lips brushed against the shell of her ear as he spoke.

“Ordering a drink,” she answered easily, sounding confident but a bit more breathless than she might have intended.

“Oh… Hey, D,” the barman interrupted, that easy flirtation in his voice missing now.

“Liam,” Draco replied, nodding at the man with a hint of a grin. “Don’t pour too heavy. I have plans for this one later that don’t involve her getting sick or passing out.”

“Sure thing, mate,” Liam replied, grinning at Draco with a chuckle. “Should have known she was here for you.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione interjected, eyebrow raised.

“Because all of the beautiful women come here for me,” Draco replied easily as he leaned lower to brush a kiss over the side of her throat.

She knew that this little show wasn’t for her benefit. This was, by far, the most affectionate he’d been with her since that last morning at Hogwarts a decade earlier. Though she knew instinctively that his behaviour wasn’t a sign that he was shifting their dynamic, the fact that he was staking a claim on her still sent a thrill through her.

“Well, in that case, perhaps I should leave you to them, hmm?” She asked, eyebrows raised in challenge.

His chuckle then was low and almost menacing. “Don’t even f*cking think about it, Granger.”

She could have sworn that the lacy knickers she was wearing under her dress literally went up in flames at the rough, possessive tone in his voice. Her breath caught. “You didn’t seem to mind the other company a minute ago,” she reminded him.

Their quiet sparring was interrupted when Liam slid the chilled glass towards her with a playful smirk. “I’ll leave the two of you to it… but,” once again pressing his hand against the bar, he leaned in towards them, “if the two of you have any interest in adding to your party…”

Draco chuckled and shot a look at Liam, smirking. “You know I don’t share, mate.”

“Message received,” Liam replied with a nod, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “Can’t blame a guy for trying though. I’ll put her drink on your tab. Have fun tonight, you two.”

“Good night, Liam,” Draco said, immediately dismissing the other man.

“Thank you, Liam,” Hermione added politely.

“Anytime, love.” With that, Liam moved to the other side of the bar to tend to a group of giggling girls who had been trying to flag him down for the past couple of minutes.

As Hermione lifted her drink to her lips, eyes widening at how perfectly balanced and delicious the sweet, mysterious co*cktail was, Draco manoeuvred their bodies so that her lower back pressed against the ridge of the bar. Smoothly, he caged her in with both of his arms resting on the bar on either side of her.

Though her heels did lift her a bit closer to his height, she still had to tilt her head back to look up at him. When she found him looking back at her with an unmistakable intensity in his gaze, she felt a wave of heat wash over her body and gulped hard before lifting her drink to her lips for another sip.

“Were you trying to make me jealous, Granger?” He asked, again lowering his voice so that only she could hear him as he pinned her against the bar with the press of his lower half.

“No,” she answered honestly, a bit breathless from his proximity but confident.

“No?”

She shook her head, licking her lips. “I was just getting myself a drink. Why, are you jealous?”

She felt Draco’s body still against her as he seemed to realise how telling his question had been. A moment later, he growled softly deep in his throat and lifted a hand to cup her jaw. “I don’t get jealous,” he insisted, pinning her with a hard look.

“Ah,” she responded, her lips curling into a slight, knowing grin.

“I just don’t share,” he said then, firmly.

“If it makes any difference, I’m fairly certain that the offer to join us was at least as much about him wanting to f*ck you as it was about me. Perhaps more.” She kept her tone light, but her gaze was sharp as she watched for any micro expressions that might let her know what he was thinking.

He chuckled and lifted an eyebrow, glancing over at the green-eyed barman before returning his attention to her. “You might be right, but that isn’t what I was talking about.”

She felt an increase in her heart rate but maintained a neutral expression, taking another sip of her drink. “Care to enlighten me then?” She asked, shifting her hips slightly as though she was trying to get comfortable. When she felt the bulge against her tummy stiffen, she felt a thrill at being able to affect him in the same way he affected her.

“You’re playing with fire, witch,” he murmured, tightening his hold on her jaw ever so slightly.

“Would this be a bad time to point out that you’re the one with the penchant for playing with fire?” She asked in a tentatively teasing tone, lifting an eyebrow. Truly, she had no idea how her teasing would go over, considering their history, so she was pleased when after a beat of silence, he laughed.

“Didn’t think one could hide such huge bollocks under such a small dress, Granger,” he replied after a moment.

“You’d be surprised,” she answered, leaning back a bit further against the bar.

“Probably not,” he murmured.

She was about to ask what he meant when his attention was stolen and he turned his head to look over in the direction he’d come from, where the rest of his bandmates were still sitting. She followed his line of sight and found that he was quite obviously being summoned by the group, amusem*nt lighting the faces of all but Baz, who looked distinctly concerned.

“sh*t,” he muttered to himself before returning his attention to Hermione. “I have to go on stage.”

“Mmhmm,” she replied.

“This conversation isn’t over, Granger.”

She nodded, lips parted.

“Our van is around the corner. Meet me there after the show.” That intensity was back in his expression now as he looked down at her, hunger combined with something else nakedly visible there. “Right after.”

She nodded again.

“And stop f*cking flirting,” he added as he dragged his hand down over her throat and the top of her chest before drawing away finally.

She laughed as she lifted her drink to her lips, doing her best to hide her pleasure at his obvious jealousy in the shadow of the glass. When he narrowed his eyes, she offered him a flirtatious grin.

“Yes, sir,” she murmured, unsure he’d even hear her but certain he could read her lips.

“f*ck!” He ground out, giving her one more lingering look before finally turning and stalking off towards the band, the crowds parting immediately to allow him through.

She watched as he went and joined the group and then as they all made their way to a doorway several feet away from the table and disappeared through it into some sort of back room. When she turned back to the bar, she found Liam regarding her with confused amusem*nt written all over his features.

“What?” She asked, suddenly self-conscious.

“That was… ridiculously hot,” he answered, tugging a rag from where it was tucked into his belt and beginning to wipe down the bar.

“Oh yeah?”

“Never seen D act… quite like that,” he replied, shaking his head in what looked like amazement.

“Have you known him very long?” She asked, leaning against the bar.

“A while, yeah,” Liam answered vaguely. “And you?”

“Since we were children,” she answered easily. “But until recently we hadn’t seen each other in years.”

At Liam’s lifted eyebrows, she wondered if she’d said too much but decided that there was nothing wrong with telling the truth - or at least the very narrow version of the truth she was actually able to tell him without giving away any secrets. While he could infer whatever he chose from her words, she hadn’t really said anything telling.

“And you two are…?” Liam trailed off, his expression finishing the question for him.

She shrugged, taking another sip of her drink. “I couldn’t tell you,” she replied honestly.

In fact, her understanding of what was going on between her and Draco seemed even more muddy and hard to understand now than it had before she’d arrived there this evening - a feat that would hardly have seemed possible to her an hour earlier. And while she didn’t love the fact that she had no idea what was happening between them, there was no denying that feeling of heated excitement that moved through her at the way he’d staked his claim right in front of everyone.

“Friends?” Liam suggested, eliciting a laugh from Hermione.

“No, I wouldn’t say that we’re friends.”

“Not even the sort with benefits?”

She paused to consider, clucking her tongue inside her mouth once. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t sure what to call what she and Draco were doing, but also that she wasn’t entirely sure how much she should say to this complete stranger. In the end, she decided to offer the barest version of the truth.

“Benefits, yes,” she said firmly. “Friends, no.”

She ignored the pang in her stomach that arose as she considered how nice it would be to be friends with Draco again. As much as she adored having him in her bed - and there really was no understating just how much she loved that - she couldn’t deny that she’d have liked some of the conversation and intimacy they’d shared when they were young as well. Of course, that seemed a bridge too far at this point.

Liam rocked back on his heels as he considered her answer and then shook his head with a chuckle after a moment. “Honestly, that makes a lot more sense than anything else I could think of to explain… that.” He nodded towards the bar, indicating he was referring to what had just happened between Hermione and Draco.

“Not a regular occurrence?” She asked, her curiosity leading the way now.

“With D?” At Hermione’s nod, Liam laughed. “No. Not a regular occurrence.”

There was a mysterious intonation in the way he spoke just then that Hermione couldn’t quite get a read on, but that she knew mattered somehow. As she opened her mouth to continue asking him questions, carefully discerning what she could about Draco’s life while she had the chance, the lights went down and she watched as the band returned from the doorway they’d disappeared through and made their way to the stage.

From that point, there was nothing that could steal her attention away from the stage. She watched with rapt attention as the band moved through the songs she was beginning to become familiar with until they got to the one that Draco had dedicated to her that first night.

She held her breath as the first chords were played and lost herself in it. Even though it still sent bolts of pain through her every time she heard it, it wasn’t nearly as acute as it had been the first few times.

The fact that he held her gaze through the entire song, though, was something else. She felt as though she couldn’t breathe, gasping for breaths every so often when she realised that she’d been holding them. It wasn’t until the song ended that she actually began to breathe normally again, turning back to the bar with the intention of ordering another drink only to find Liam staring at her wide-eyed and a bit slack-jawed.

“What..?” She asked self-consciously, looking down at herself as though she would find herself covered in red paint or some other shocking substance.

“It’s you,” Liam said, looking her over more closely than before and without any of the flirtatious overtones that had been there before.

“What’s me?”

“The Three Girl.”

“The Three Girl?” She echoed, her face scrunching up in confusion.

“That song’s about you,” Liam said then, as though that would offer some clarification.

Catching her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment, she wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. Eventually, when the moment began to feel awkward, she simply nodded.

“Well, f*ck me…” Liam said finally, shaking his head and laughing softly to himself at her confirmation of his guess. “That makes everything make a lot more sense.”

“What did you mean, the Three Girl?”

“You should probably ask D about that,” Liam replied carefully.

She tilted her head, genuinely confused.

At her expression, Liam chuckled. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing bad. Just… surprising.”

“You realise that you’re confusing me even more, don’t you?” Hermione asked the question in a playful tone, but she wasn’t entirely joking.

“Oh, I–”

“Oy!” With the microphone in his hand, Draco was easily able to bark out the single syllable and steal their attention back to the stage, where he was watching them with narrowed eyes.

Liam quickly lifted his hands as though in surrender.

Draco’s eyes narrowed further.

Liam held up three fingers.

Draco’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly for a moment and then he nodded.

Liam nodded firmly.

Apparently appeased, Draco offered one more rather decisive nod before shifting his attention back to the crowd as they smoothly transitioned into the next song.

Hermione watched the interaction with an increasing amount of confusion and turned to Liam with an arched brow, finding him looking back at her with amusem*nt. “What the bloody hell was that?”

“I believe that was the second claim D has staked on you this evening, Three Girl,” Liam said with a chuckle.

Shaking her head sharply, frustrated at her own confusion and the fact that Liam seemed determined to let her in on what he was talking about, she returned her attention to the stage to find Draco watching her once more with an inscrutable expression on his face.

She arched an eyebrow.

He smirked.

The Three Girl? She wondered to herself.

Nearly an hour later, once the show was finished, Hermione did as she was told and met Draco at the van, wordlessly apparating them both to her flat almost immediately after he strode up to her and tugged her tightly against his body.

“What is the Three Girl?” She asked as soon as they’d both gotten their bearings and had shaken off the slight nauseous feeling that always accompanied apparating.

“What did you say to Liam?” He countered.

“I asked you first,” she replied, lifting her chin in an unmistakable challenge.

Though it had only been an hour, her mind had been moving as quickly as it was able as she tried to parse out what ‘The Three Girl’ could possibly mean. She’d gnawed her lip near raw, wondering if it was something terrible, if Draco had told stories about her that even some random bartender he knew had heard.

Every possibility she’d considered - invented, really - had been more mortifying than the last and she felt desperate to know the actual answer before she went out of her mind.

“It’s nothing,” he answered, his hand moving to the back of his neck in an unmistakable show of his discomfort.

Hermione’s stomach dropped. “I need you to tell me,” she insisted, calm but with an unmistakable need. Her eyes were wide and with every passing second, she felt like her heart galloped faster and faster.

“Her…” He trailed off as he allowed his attention to actually focus on her face and then groaned. “It’s nothing bad.”

“Please,” she whispered. She knew she must seem unhinged, but there was no stopping the torrent of anxiety that she could swear she might as well be transforming into.

“f*cking Liam,” he muttered, shaking his head. Finally, he took a deep breath and dropped his shoulders in defeat. “There are three songs that we still play, old songs that I wrote a long time ago, that everyone knows are about the same girl.” He paused a moment, lifting his hand and holding up three fingers. “Three songs, the Three Girl.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in and make any sense but once they did, Hermione finally relaxed a bit and took a deep, calming breath. Of course, it occurred to her that there must be more to it than that for him to have reacted the way he did. “How do they know those three songs are about the same girl?”

Draco exhaled heavily and dropped his head backwards. “Do we seriously have to do this?”

Hermione nodded.

“Back when I was using,” he said carefully, very clearly measuring his words, “I had a bit of a meltdown at a show one night. During a bit of a sloppy rant… it came out.”

Hermione winced. “It?”

“Will you just accept that people know that the ‘Three Girl’ is the one who broke my heart and inspired everyone’s favourite songs?” He countered, sharper this time.

“Is that really all they know?”

“About you, yes,” he answered tightly.

There was obviously more to the story, but everything about Draco’s demeanour made clear that he wasn’t interested or comfortable talking any more about it. As much as she wanted to keep pushing, felt nearly desperate to actually, she forced herself to nod.

“Okay,” she answered finally.

She could see the surprise pass over Draco’s features at her acquiescence and it was quickly followed by an obvious loosening of muscles that had, moments earlier, been clenched tightly. “Okay?” He echoed.

She nodded.

“Were you flirting with Liam?” He asked then.

“No.”

“Even though you were pissed about that girl?”

“Annoyed is a more accurate word,” she answered with a nod, watching him closely as she tried to figure out where he was going with this.

“He wanted to f*ck you.”

“He wants to f*ck you, too.”

“Probably.”

“Have you ever?” She asked then, mostly teasing but with a hint of genuine curiosity.

“No. Would you ever?”

“Maybe.” She’d barely gotten the answer out before she found herself pressed between the hard plaster of the wall at her back and the hard expanse of his body against her front, stealing her breath.

“No,” he all but growled.

“No, what?”

Instead of answering, he pinned her with an intense look. “Granger,” he said in a low, warning tone. “I don’t share.”

Lifting her chin and holding his gaze with her own unabashed intensity, she lifted her eyebrows. “Neither do I.”

This time, the silence stretched as they held each other’s gazes, barely even blinking. More than once, Hermione felt like she should perhaps back down, but managed to talk herself out of it. As much as she wanted him - with near desperation, if she were to be completely honest with herself - she realised right then and there that there were some things she was unwilling to do. She was unwilling to engage in whatever this was between them if exclusivity didn’t go both ways, her dignity wouldn’t allow it.

Finally, after what was beginning to feel like an almost comically long silence, Draco exhaled roughly and lifted her off her feet by the backs of her thighs. Surprised by the move, Hermione gasped and quickly reached for his shoulders as she tightened her thighs around his waist.

“It’s just sex,” he ground out, carrying her in the direction of her bedroom.

“It’s just…” She blinked a few times, unsure of what he meant by that.

“I don’t share. You don’t share. So for now… we don’t share. But it doesn’t mean anything,” he insisted as they entered her bedroom, tossing her somewhat unceremoniously onto her bed. “It’s just sex. And when it’s over, it’s over.”

She gasped as she landed amongst the piles of pillows littered over her bedspread. “It’s just sex,” she echoed.

No, it isn’t. Not for you.

She tried to ignore the errant thought, shoving it to the back of her mind so that she didn’t have to acknowledge that whatever was going on between them was so much more complicated than just sex.

It wasn’t until he joined her on the bed, moving with that easy, feline grace that never failed to impress her, and moved atop her that her annoying thoughts finally quieted and she was able to focus entirely on the moment.

“If you touch anyone else while we’re doing this,” he whispered roughly, eyes blazing as they held hers, “I will f*cking kill him. And I’ll never speak to you again.”

The combination of the undeniable thrill that moved through her at his murderous threat and the heart-stopping fear at the one following it was heady and her breath caught. It was f*cked up - even in the moment, she knew that much - but there was no denying just how turned on she was by his possessiveness.

“If you touch anyone else,” she countered, “I’ll curse you so that this never works again in your life.” As she spoke, she reached down and dragged her hand over the hard length of his co*ck pressing against the front of his trousers, a smirk on her face as she watched her words sink in. “And you know I could do it too.”

At first, the colour drained from his face and his eyes widened, but barely a moment later the surprise was replaced with the sort of darkened, heated pleasure that sent her squirming. “f*ck, you’re still so f*cking sexy when you’re vicious, Granger.”

She licked her lips.

“You ever show this side of you to Longbottom?”

There was no disguising her wince at the mention of her ex-husband, but she said nothing.

“I bet you didn’t,” Draco continued, smirking.

She gulped but maintained her silence.

“He wanted the good little witch you so desperately wanted to be.” As he spoke, he dragged his hand down the side of her neck and then her chest until he reached the swell of her breasts and the edge of her dress. “So you gave him that. Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she answered honestly, her voice barely above a whisper.

“But this is what you always wanted, isn’t it?” He lifted himself away from her body then, kneeling between her parted legs, and looked down at her. “Answer me.”

“Yes,” she repeated, wincing.

“You wanted…” As he spoke, he took hold of her dress at the neckline and, using both hands, tore it down the middle. “You f*cking wanted me, didn’t you?”

She gasped and instinctively began to lift her arms to cover herself before dropping them on either side of her head and looking up at him wide-eyed. “I liked that dress.”

“You can fix it later,” he reminded her.

She could.

She wouldn’t.

She was quite certain she’d never have been able to wear it again anyway after this.

“Did you wear this for me?” He asked teasingly, rubbing one torn edge of the dress between his fingers.

“Yes.” After a beat, she added, “And for me.”

The way his eyes lit at her response along with the slight tug she noticed at the corner of his lip sent a wave of warmth through her, one so comforting that it was distinguishable from the heat that seemed to be rolling from her already.

She squirmed under his attention, the lacy undergarments she’d chosen to wear under her dress leaving little to the imagination. Despite the momentary discomfort, as his attention roved over her bared skin she couldn’t help but feel powerful at what could only be described as a look of awe written across his face.

“f*cking exquisite,” he murmured as he dragged a hand down the centre of her body. His fingertips lightly trailed between the swells of her lace-covered breasts, circling her belly button when he reached it before feathering along the waistband of her knickers.

She shivered at the ticklish feeling of his fingers drifting so softly over her skin and inhaled sharply. “Dr… D,” she corrected at the last moment.

“Tell me what you want,” he replied quietly, dipping his very fingertips beneath the silky fabric at her hip.

“You,” she answered easily, eliciting a chuckle from him.

“And what is it that you want from me?”

Everything.

She gulped. “More,” she answered instead.

Draco’s hand stilled and he returned his gaze to her face.

The moment was weighted, heavy with all of the things that were being left unsaid along with the shift in their relationship that they were both trying so hard to insist didn’t mean anything. Hermione watched him watch her, licking her lips as she tried to read his expression.

“Get up,” he said finally, apparently shaken from his thoughts by the movement of her tongue, as he slid off the bed and moved to stand next to it. “Stand next to the bed.”

With a deep breath and without hesitation, Hermione moved to do as she was told. She slipped off the bed as well and stood next to it. As she was about to turn and face him, she felt his hands on her shoulders holding her in place, her back to him and her arse on nearly full display. Again, she felt that momentary sting of insecurity until she felt him drag his fingertips over the flesh of one cheek before giving a sharp slap.

“Do you usually wear this kind of knickers, Granger?” He asked, the thickness of his voice giving him away. She shook her head, arching her back to present her bottom a bit more prominently, but hissed when she felt another slightly sharper slap against the other cheek. “Use your words, Hermione.”

“No, I don’t,” she answered, already breathless.

“So these were just for me, too?”

She hesitated, knowing that it would be easier to nod than to answer verbally but ultimately forcing herself. “Yes.”

“Not for twats like Liam?” Though he sounded outwardly teasing, there was a hint of tension lingering beneath the surface.

“No,” she answered quickly.

“Good girl.” At the warmth of his palm moving over her bum, she preened and pressed back into him. A moment later, she felt a tug at her waist followed by the drag of the fabric over her skin until it fell first to her knees and then all the way to her ankles.

“He asked me if there would be someone to make sure I got home safe,” Hermione continued, her voice thick with anticipation and a bit wobbly.

The sound Draco made could only be described as a growl. “And what did you tell him?”

“That I didn’t plan on going home alone.” She shivered as she felt his fingertips dragging upwards over her back.

“And what did he have to say about that?” He made quick work of the clasp of her bra, opening it before moving his hands to her shoulders and around to her chest to push away the fabric. She inhaled as it fell to the floor, completely bare now but for the scrap of fabric that was her knickers, still tangled around her ankles.

“He asked if I had someone in mind,” she answered then, exhaling a bit shakily. “I told him I did,” she added before he could ask.

“Turn around,” he murmured then. “I want to see you.”

Where she’d felt nearly crippled with insecurity when she’d undressed for him the first time he came to her door, the only hints of it left were slowly being crushed by a growing confidence. She didn’t hesitate to follow his instructions, kicking her underwear out of the way as she slowly turned to face him. Her lips parted as she met his gaze and she licked them as she watched him track his gaze over her from head to toe and back again, feeling breathless.

“f*ck,” he murmured as he reached for her. He dragged the back of two fingers over the slope of one of her breasts before catching the nipple between his fingers and tugging until she gasped.

Their eyes met once more as he pressed his palm against the centre of her chest and gave a light push until she fell backwards onto the bed. Unlike the first time he’d tossed her down onto the bed tonight, he didn’t follow her. Instead, he undressed himself quickly, unceremoniously tossing his clothes into a pile on the armchair tucked into the corner.

She watched eagerly as his skin was revealed and flushed with heat as he finally dropped his pants, leaving him as naked as she was. She bit her lip when he turned his attention back to her.

“Spread your legs for me,” he ground out, the low volume of the command doing little to dull its impact.

Slowly, she parted first one leg and then the other, inhaling a slow, shuddering breath as she revealed her slick centre to him and watched the heat in his eyes intensify. Without being told, she dragged her hand down over her stomach until she reached the juncture of her thighs, pausing to tilt her head and regard him with a teasing look before dragging two fingers along her slit.

“Did I say you could touch?” He asked, amusem*nt at the edge of his tone.

As a slow grin spread across her lips, she shook her head.

His chuckle was low, almost menacing, as he reached down to take hold of her ankle so that he could tug her body towards the edge of the bed. “What happened to being a good girl?”

She opened her mouth to answer but forgot what she’d been about to say as he pressed a knee against the mattress directly between her legs and pressed her thighs down against the mattress, spreading her wide open to his attention.

“Tell me what you want,” he murmured. He moved his hand between her legs as he spoke, first dragging the tips of his fingers along the length of her slit before pressing against her slick entrance.

She inhaled another shaky breath and wet her lips with her tongue. “I want you.”

“That much is obvious,” he replied as he pressed one finger inside her, finding only wet, welcoming heat and no resistance. “Tell me what you want, Granger.”

“f*ck me,” she whimpered, rocking her hips forward in an attempt to draw his finger deeper.

He chuckled again, drawing his fingers away entirely as she fought back a whine. “You’re so f*cking wet for me. You want my co*ck, Granger?”

She nodded.

As he crawled further onto the bed, moving atop her but withholding even the lightest touch against her skin, she arched her back to lift herself towards him but relaxed when he smirked and shook his head.

“Say please.”

She nearly growled. She attempted to glare at him but the expression was muddled and ultimately lost in the breathless desire written all over her face. It was only a matter of a few seconds, really, before she relented and whispered, “Please.”

A smirk pulled at his lips, leaving no doubt that he was pleased with himself for getting her to give in, as he reached up to drag her arms up over her head to pin her against the mattress with both wrists clasped in one of his hands.

She arched up into his hold, straining to feel the heat of his skin against her, before sagging back into the mattress when she found she couldn’t reach him. “Touch me,” she demanded, half whimper and half growl.

He arched an eyebrow, smirking.

“Please, touch me?” She asked, the saccharine note in her voice perfectly aligned with the playfully pouty, puppy dog-eyed expression she put on her face.

“Good girl,” he replied, chuckling low in his throat.

When finally he pressed his hips forward and she felt the slow drag of his co*ck against her wet puss*, she whimpered once more and strained her hips towards him. It was a sort of madness, she was certain, the way he made her feel so desperate for him. No one else had even gotten close to affecting her so completely.

She twisted her wrists until she was able to drag them from his grip but, rather than pulling away, she shifted to slide her fingers between his and link their fingers in a tight hold. Strangely, it was that small shift that finally seemed to spur him to action. Without another moment of teasing, he arched his hips until he pressed against the heat of her entrance and thrust forward, filling her with one smooth stroke that left them both crying out.

Any lingering teasing or anticipation completely evaporated as they lost themselves in each other, finding a perfect rhythm and meeting each other stroke for stroke. Eventually, he lowered his body so that they were pressed together from hips to chest, hands still gripped tight, and caught her lips in a deep, open-mouthed kiss that matched every other indication of need between them.

He only broke the kiss once they were both desperate for breath, gasping as their lips parted. They both opened their eyes at the same time, their stares holding as Hermione’s moans increased in both frequency and volume.

“Hermione,” he murmured as he held her gaze.

There was so much more there, so much unsaid, but rather than call attention to it, Hermione simply gripped his hands a bit tighter. “Draco,” she said in a soft whimper.

“f*ck…” He groaned, the speed of his thrusts increasing until the steady rhythm he’d been keeping increased in both speed and intensity, becoming almost erratic.

She was familiar with the signs of his impending org*sm and simply held on tight as he chased it, doing her best to meet each of his thrusts. As the sounds from deep in his throat intensified, she tilted her hips ever so slightly to allow him to press even deeper than before.

“That’s it, baby,” she murmured, dragging her teeth over his jaw with enough pressure that she heard him hiss. “Come for me.”

Where that command was usually his to make, it seemed to have very much the same effect on him as it had on her. He reached immediately and within moments he thrust as deeply as possible and held, shuddering his release a few seconds later before collapsing atop her, gasping as he tried to catch his breath.

Hermione slipped her hands from his, moving to wind them around his body and hold him against her, not quite ready for him to move away. When finally she felt his body relax, she loosened her hold enough that he was able to press himself up on his arms and look down at her, cheeks flushed and a somewhat goofy grin on his face.

"f*ck me,” he murmured.

“I believe I already am,” she replied with a teasing grin.

“Cheeky woman,” he replied.

She nearly whimpered as she felt him pull out from inside of her, feeling a rush of cold air against her heated centre as the heat of his body was withdrawn, but managed to withhold the sound. When he dipped his head down to drag teasing, nipping kisses along her neck and collarbones, she knew exactly where he was heading and squirmed.

“Your turn,” he murmured against the slope of her breast, catching the delicate skin between his teeth and biting down only hard enough to make her inhale sharply.

He took his time as he travelled down her body, lavishing attention on each one of her breasts, along her ribcage, and even around her belly button. By the time he nipped at first one hip and then the other, she was nearly panting with anticipation, but also very aware of the mess he’d made between her legs.

“Draco…”

“Shh,” he whispered, pressing a kiss against her inner thigh as he looked up at her.

She wasn’t sure how long the silent moment lasted, him watching her with an intense but unreadable expression while she lay spread wide open for him, but by the time he opened his mouth to speak, she was all but squirming.

“Evanesco,” he whispered.

Hermione gasped, her eyes widening as she watched Draco’s lips pull into a self-satisfied smirk.

“Our little secret,” he said softly.

She gulped. “Another one?”

“Considering I had to lay claim to you to keep a handsome Irishman from making the moves on you tonight, I’d hardly call us a secret,” he reminded her.

He wasn’t wrong.

She licked her lips. “It worked?”

He nodded.

“Wandlessly? After all this time?”

He shrugged.

“How?”

“Would you rather keep asking questions or can I get back to making you come any time soon?” He asked, a combination of amusem*nt and impatience inflecting his tone.

She couldn’t help but laugh. “As you were, sir.”

“f*cking finally,” he murmured.

Everything else was forgotten - by both of them, she was quite sure - as he finally moved his mouth to her core. As ever, he started with teasing brushes of his tongue that left her straining for more before diving in more fully, using lips and tongue in a perfect symphony to drive her out of her mind.

By the time she shuddered her own climax, practically strangling him with the grip of her thighs, that forbidden moment of magic use had slipped almost completely from her mind. It wasn’t until she finally got her bearings, all of the aftershocks of her org*sm finally fading, that the thought returned.

She finally lifted her head to look down at him where he was still draped between her legs, stroking her thighs comfortingly, and lifted an eyebrow.

He rolled his eyes and laughed.

“Seriously?” She asked, eyes wide. “You can still do wandless magic?”

“I really, really hate cleaning my flat,” he answered in an uncharacteristically playful tone.

The laugh bubbled out of her easily and she dropped her head back onto her pillow, watching him through lowered lids with a small grin on her face.

“You going to report me?”

“Obviously.” She replied, rolling her eyes. “‘Hello, Minister? This is Hermione Granger. Last night, Draco Malfoy - yes, the exiled former Death Eater and current rockstar Draco Malfoy - was about to go down on me, but he’d already come inside of me, so obviously he had to clean it up because very few men are interested in eating their own spunk regardless of the appeal of the vessel they’re eating it from and he used an Evanesco charm. Just thought the Ministry should know.’” She laughed at the absurdity of the idea and Draco joined her.

“The mutually assured destruction is one aspect of this arrangement that I don’t mind one bit,” he teased, pressing another kiss against her inner thigh.

“I’m sure,” she drawled, shaking her head as she let her eyes drift closed.

She was just about to ask him to spend the night, the glow of her org*sm and the comfort of this rare moment of levity between them spurring her on, when she felt the bed shift as he pulled himself from between her legs and moved to stand. She paused a few seconds before opening her eyes and when she did she found him pulling on his trunks with a snap of the elastic at his hips.

“Going already?” She asked, careful to keep her tone light and neutral.

“You have work tomorrow, don’t you?” He replied, also seeming to measure his words and tone.

She nodded slowly.

“I’ll let you get to sleep,” he said as he tugged on his trousers, leaving them unfastened as he reached for his shirt.

She considered asking him to stay once more but dismissed the idea as quickly as it had come. Somehow she already knew the answer and didn’t exactly relish the sting of rejection when she currently felt so fluffy and content. Instead, she shimmied around until she was underneath the covers and shamelessly watched him as he finished dressing.

Once he was fully dressed with his boots laced and his leather jacket draped over his arm, he offered her one more smirk. “We have a show on Saturday,” he said, his tone leading.

“Oh yeah?”

He nodded. “You should come.”

Her breath caught but she did everything she could to appear unshaken. This was the first time that either of them had issued such an invitation. “Maybe I will,” she answered after a moment.

She would.

They both knew it.

He smirked, moving to the side of her bed and leaning down to brush a quick kiss over her lips. “Sweet dreams, Granger.”

“Goodnight, Malfoy,” she murmured.

He winked as he straightened and made his way to her bedroom door, glancing back at her. “Don’t forget to lock up behind me.”

She nodded.

He huffed a soft chuckle and held her gaze a moment longer before turning and continuing on his way. It wasn’t until she heard the door shut behind him and she’d murmured the locking spell that she finally relaxed.

“What in the bloody hell…” She murmured.

When she’d made the decision to go see him perform that night, she’d assumed that they would end the night in bed together, but everything else that had happened over the course of the evening was absolutely mind-boggling.

Notes:

Honestly, this chapter is probably my favorite that I've posted so far, so I really, really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! Thanks again to everyone engaging with this story - it really does make my day to see all of your reactions in the comments!

NEXT WEEK: Part 3 begins. Time has passed. And so has someone close to one of our main characters.

Chapter 14: Part Three : Episode One

Notes:

Six months later...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Part 3: Seen

You called me angel for the first time, my heart leapt from me
You smile now, I can see its pieces still stuck in your teeth
And what's left of it, I listen to it tick
Every tedious beat
Going unknown as any angel to me

NOW.

They insisted it meant nothing, but no matter how hard they tried they could never seem to stay away from each other for long.

No matter how many times one or both of them swore it was the last time, insisted that they couldn’t keep doing this anymore - whether out loud or simply with their actions - within a few days one of them always broke.

Like clockwork, for nearly six months.

Sometimes, she showed up in the crowd at his shows and followed him outside when the show was over, all raw nerves and desperation after watching him perform, hearing him sing those three devastating songs he’d written about her.

Other times, he showed up at her flat late at night when they both knew she should be sleeping. Some nights she could tell by his demeanour that he’d tried to convince himself not to come. On those nights his voice was a little more stern, his actions a little more harsh, as if punishing her deliciously for his own weakness.

It was devastating and desperate the way neither of them could seem to walk away. In fact, no matter how hard they each tried to deny it, there was no pretending that this hadn’t been inevitable or that they hadn’t fallen into a seemingly inescapable dance all over again.

It wasn’t romantic or beautiful or any of the rose-coloured adjectives Hermione would swear she would have preferred. There were no sweet words or promises. There was just the desperate, clawing need for each other that seemed to steal pieces of her every time they crashed into each other.

The few times they’d accidentally stumbled a little too close to actual intimacy, the gaps between their encounters widened and a few days turned into a week or even two as they tried to close down the connection and rebuild the walls they seemed determined would protect them from the inevitable fall.

And still, they always returned.

And those crashes were always the most intense, the most devastating. Like an addict taking a break from their drug of choice, when the next fix came it felt that much stronger - that much harder to walk away from.

It had been four days since she’d watched him walking away from her building from the window as the first lights of morning peeked over the horizon. In truth, she had been expecting to find him at her door the previous night, after his show, and had stayed up far too late waiting for him.

He hadn’t come.

Now, well after midnight, she was beginning to think another night would pass without that familiar knock she’d come to exist in anticipation of. The acknowledgement brought with it that familiar fear, the one she didn’t like to acknowledge because it shook her determination that what they were doing - and the way they were doing it - was okay.

The fear that the last time truly would be the last.

That he actually wouldn’t come back this time.

And, while she knew that if he didn’t show up, she could go to his next show, that complicated twist in her stomach remained. No matter how much she insisted to herself that she could end this at any time, this twisting, gnawing fear was a reminder that she was lying to herself.

This was an addiction.

An obsession.

He was an obsession.

The clock read 12:48 when she finally decided to start getting ready for bed, to get a good night's sleep so she could focus on work in the morning. As much as she’d have liked to pretend otherwise, she knew that her work hadn’t been at its best the past few months, so she tried to think of this as a blessing. She could focus on what really mattered, the thing that had never let her down or left her feeling uncertain and unfulfilled.

She was determined. Settled.

She changed into a shapeless nightshirt that felt the furthest from sexy that sleepwear could get and washed off the light makeup she’d applied earlier in the evening in hopes that Draco would be coming over.

Just as she was brushing her teeth - the muggle way, a bit of a holdover that she hadn’t been able to give up the familiar comfort of in exchange for more magical dental hygiene - the Patronus arrived.

It had been years since she’d gotten a Patronus from Harry - there simply hadn’t been any urgency in their lives in recent years requiring him to send one instead of just sending an owl - and her eyes widened as Harry’s voice filled her apartment.

“Hermione,” the familiar voice said, “this message is from Theodore Nott. He requires your immediate assistance at the following address.” As Harry read off the address, she knew instinctively where she was being asked to go even if she’d never been invited there before. “Please hurry.”

Draco’s home.

Despite the fact that she knew he lived alone and there had been countless opportunities for him to take her there, they’d always retreated to her flat rather than ever going to his. She’d been endlessly curious about his space, dying to see what his home would tell her about him, but she’d never asked to go there and he’d never offered.

Certain that there was no way Theo would enlist Harry’s help if it wasn’t an emergency or something else of the utmost importance, she didn’t bother with makeup or taking her hair down from the twist she wore to bed. Instead, she quickly changed into a pair of jeans and a jumper before shoving her feet into a pair of trainers and was ready to go.

“Please, let him be okay,” she whispered to herself as she tucked her wand up her sleeve. It was the only indulgence of worst-case scenarios she allowed herself, afraid that if she began considering possible reasons for the middle-of-the-night Patronus she might freeze up entirely.

Without any further hesitation, she apparated herself to the address that Harry had dictated to her and found herself standing on a dimly lit street out front of an old warehouse building. She wasn’t entirely sure what part of London she was actually in, she was unfamiliar with the street, but a glance up at the large windows the building boasted left no doubt that the building had likely been converted into lofts.

“You know how f*cking dangerous this is! If you get caught, there’s no way I can help you.” Harry’s familiar voice grabbed her attention and she turned to see him and Theo at the corner of the street in what appeared to be a heated discussion.

“You think I don’t bloody know that, Harry?” Theo’s frustration was obvious as he shoved a hand through his curls roughly.

“Then what the hell are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking he’s my best f*cking friend!” Theo all but roared, making Hermione wince.

Though she was hesitant to interrupt the argument, she wasn’t willing to wait to find out what the hell was going on and why Theo had felt it was worth exposing the secret of his continued friendship with Draco in order to get her there as quickly as possible.

She began walking towards them on hurried steps and faltered only slightly when Harry caught sight of her, his eyes narrowing. Theo turned then, looking at her with an expression that held a combination of uncertainty and relief.

“What’s going on?” She asked, focusing her attention on Theo. She didn’t currently have the energy or interest in dealing with the judgement she could feel rolling from her friend like waves.

“Lucius Malfoy is dead.” Theo answered.

“Murdered in Azkaban,” Harry added.

Hermione’s eyes widened and she quickly looked back up at the building before turning her attention back to Theo, stepping in closer to him even though it didn’t really provide any privacy as Harry listened and watched closely. “How’s he reacting?”

“Not good,” Theo said, shaking his head.

“Relapse?” She asked carefully.

Though she hadn’t exactly spent a lot of time with Theo over the past six months, there had been a few times that he’d joined her during Slithering Exile’s shows and she knew that he was the one who had really helped Draco through his addiction. He was also the one most worried about a relapse, which was the only reason she could think of that he’d have asked her to be there. He certainly hadn’t shown any signs that he’d come to approve of the relationship between her and Draco any more than he had that first night she’d gone to see him perform.

“No. But he’s…” He let his head fall back. “He doesn’t do well with this sort of thing. I thought maybe you could…”

“I could…?”

She didn’t know what Draco had told Theo about what was going on between them, didn’t actually know how close their friendship was or how open Draco was with his personal life. What she did know was that she was likely the last person he’d want to see while he was struggling.

And yet, the idea of leaving felt a bit like abandonment and she couldn’t seem to even consider doing it.

“Distract him,” Theo said finally, his face etched with something resembling shame.

It was that twist in his expression that brought the whole picture together and Hermione felt a pang in her stomach. She was, for all intents and purposes, just another form of addictive self-medication for him, as far as Theo was concerned and apparently, one that ranked less destructive than the drugs he’d defaulted to before.

Though she schooled her expression as best she could, there was no missing Theo’s wince as he watched her and she knew that she hadn’t affected an unbothered appearance as well as she’d hoped.

“Is he alone?” She asked softly, giving the building another glance.

Theo shook his head. “The band is up there with him.”

Though they’d never officially been introduced, aside from that time in the alley when Draco had told Baz who she was, she was familiar with all of the other members of the band and they with her. It was somewhat impossible for them not to be, considering how frequently Draco left clubs with her after their shows.

“He won’t want me here, Theo,” she warned, shooting a glance at Harry, whose head seemed about to explode.

It wasn’t that she wanted to leave. In fact, knowing that Draco was hurting was enough to cement her staying there, nevermind the fact that there was a possibility he could relapse. Still, she couldn’t in good conscience let Theo lead her into a place she’d never once been invited to see a man who was unlikely to want her comfort without saying something.

“It’s not as simple as that,” Theo responded. He was exhausted, she could see it in the draw of his expression and the set of his shoulders, holding on by a thread for his friend.

“Take me up,” she said then, nodding firmly.

“Hermione,” Harry interrupted sharply. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”

Hermione sighed heavily and turned to face her friend for the first time since she’d arrived. “Now isn’t the time, Harry.”

“It seems to me like now is exactly the time,” he replied, eyes flashing. “You know what happens if you go in there, right?”

“What happens?” She asked, lifting her chin.

In theory, he should arrest her. In fact, as the head of the DMLE, the fact that he hadn’t arrested both her and Theo at that point would probably cost him his job if he were to get caught. Still, she didn’t think he would do it and couldn’t quite find it in herself to care either way, even though there was no doubt that there would be harsh consequences if the Ministry found out about this.

“How long has this been going on?” He asked, rather than answering her question.

She regarded him quietly for a moment, trying to decide how she wanted to answer the question. He wasn’t owed an explanation, but he was her friend and he was obviously thrown by all of the things he was only just discovering about people she knew he believed he knew as well as anyone.

“Since Eighth Year,” she answered, holding her friend’s gaze. “And then… I don’t know, a while. Since shortly after the divorce was final.”

“I can’t protect you if the Ministry finds out,” he replied awkwardly, clearly taken aback at her answer.

She’d never told anyone about her and Draco. Even though it had weighed on her over the years and she felt like the secret had sucked some of the life out of her, there’d never been anyone she felt like she could tell. Harry should have been that person. And yet, she’d only considered unburdening herself to him a time or two in all the years since leaving Hogwarts and even then, not all that seriously.

“I didn’t ask you to,” she said firmly before turning her attention back to Theo. “Take me up.”

Theo nodded and led the way to the door of the building, tugging it open and gesturing for both Hermione and Harry to step inside. Hermione marched in quickly, but Harry hesitated outside the door for a few beats before finally sighing and following.

Theo led them down a long hall towards the rear of the building to the stairs. While the outside of the building didn’t look like much, it was clear that the old industrial building had been completely remodelled and was very likely inhabited by young professionals and artists with enough money to afford the renovated loft spaces.

It was easy to forget that, even having been exiled, Draco possessed that sort of generational wealth that would allow him to afford to live in a place like this and be a struggling artist all at the same time. She knew that he worked at a pub when he wasn’t performing, hence his late-night visits even on nights he didn’t have a show, but there was no way that his income from that job would have afforded him a place like this.

Theo led them inside and, again, Harry hesitated at the door before following with Hermione right behind him.

The loft wasn’t overlarge, she noted, but was absolutely beautiful. Black-framed, arched windows sat in exposed brick outer walls. The interior walls were painted a crisp white and the heavy beams at the ceiling were unfinished and well worn, providing the backdrop for a combination of sleek black accents, weathered wood, and soft, muted natural fibre textiles. The furniture was modern, masculine and high quality and one wall was covered entirely in shelves holding hundreds - if not thousands - of LPs.

All told, the space made perfect sense for the man he’d grown up to be.

“What’s she doing here?” An unfamiliar voice asked, dragging Hermione from her perusal of the loft.

She turned her head and found that it was Elena, Slithering Exile’s drummer and she suspected Draco’s ex-girlfriend, though he’d never outright said anything about that. The woman, who looked far too beautiful with her fire engine red hair and skin-tight, figure-emphasising black dress, had an arm draped around Draco and a fierce look on her face.

“Lena,” Draco said warningly with a sigh, shaking his head.

Hermione dismissed the woman and centred her attention on Draco then, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze.

He looked… wrong.

She wasn’t sure how else to explain it. He didn’t look overtly sad, devastated or even angry. He just didn’t look quite right, almost like there was a combination of exhaustion and something unnamed holding him to the sofa.

“Theodore,” Draco said without actually shifting his attention away from Hermione, “why exactly is Harry f*cking Potter in my flat right now?”

“Can’t cast a Patronus,” Theo said easily, shrugging.

“Is that supposed to be an actual answer?” Draco asked then, amused.

Though Theo remained silent and seemed confident that his answer was sufficient, Hermione found herself surprised when Draco nodded in understanding. She could hear Harry shuffling his feet behind her and finally shifted her attention away from the blond to glance at her friend.

“If you tell the Ministry about this, I’ll never forgive you,” she said quietly, giving him a meaningful look.

He gulped, glancing between her, Theo and Draco, and then nodded with a frown.

Satisfied, she returned her attention to Draco and lifted an eyebrow.

He huffed a humourless laugh, but nodded, gesturing to them to come further inside. “Theo told you about old Lucius, then? Avada’d in his sleep, the old bastard.”

Hermione’s mouth fell open and she shot another look at Harry before returning her attention to Draco once more. “Sorry for your loss?” She said, unable to keep the condolence from being a question.

Draco laughed out loud this time, dropping his head back onto Elena’s arm more fully. As Hermione clenched her fists and fought the instinct to rip the other woman’s hands off him, he continued. “My loss. You’re funny, Granger.”

There was an awkward moment of silence within the group as no one there had any idea how to respond. Hermione opened her mouth to say something but found she had no words that made any sense.

“Oh, lighten up. The bastard got more life than he should have,” Draco said as he dragged himself out from under Elena’s arm to stand and shoved a hand through his hair. “Ministry should have sentenced him to the kiss to begin with.”

“Um, should you be…” Hermione glanced around the faces of the band, immediately understanding that the talk of patronuses and killing curses and wizard prisons had gone without any reaction from them.

“Oh,” Draco replied after following her line of sight in momentary confusion before understanding dawned. “Yeah, they all know.”

She gasped.

Harry’s eyes narrowed.

“Simmer down, Potter,” Draco drawled, darkly amused. “I never had to tell them anything they didn’t already know. I’d already be dead if I broke the rules, remember?”

“Wizard,” Callum, the lead guitarist, interjected, holding up his hand.

“Squib,” Nigel, the rhythm guitarist, added next.

“Witch,” Elena said, co*cking an eyebrow.

“Uh, my sister is a witch,” Baz said finally, apparently the only one actually from a muggle family.

Hermione blinked, shocked that she’d gone this far without any idea that every member of Slithering Exile was somehow connected to the magical world.

“And now that we have that settled and no one is going to get arrested…” Draco drawled, giving Harry a pointed look. “Everyone out. Except you,” he added, pinning Hermione with a look.

“D…” Elena objected, standing from where he’d left her with a deeply concerned look on her face.

“I’ll be fine,” he said easily, waving his hand. “Theo brought me a toy to play with to keep me from sticking a needle in my arm. Right, T?”

Rather than squirming under the callout, Theo shrugged casually. “Seemed like the right thing to do.”

“Exactly right,” Draco replied.

He definitely still didn’t seem like himself, at least not the version of him that she was familiar with, and Hermione was certain that everyone in the room could see it. Even Harry, who had absolutely no baseline understanding of the man, could surely see that something was off.

“Listen, mate,” Callum said quietly as he dropped a hand on Draco’s shoulder, “if you need anything…”

“I know,” Draco answered firmly, giving his friend a meaningful look. “I’ll be alright.”

“You sure?”

He nodded.

Still sceptical, Callum patted his friend on the shoulder a few times before stepping back to let the other bandmates say goodbye. Hermione stood back and watched as Baz and Nigel offered handshakes and pats on the back to their friend, mumbling their condolences and offers to help Draco however he needed.

Elena moved in last, winding her arms around him and holding him in a tight, lingering hold that set Hermione’s teeth on edge. She managed to hold back, knowing that the woman was Draco’s good friend, but only barely. Though she had no right to interfere with him hugging his friend, the need to stake her claim to him seemed to hum through her body just beneath her skin.

The band left together a few minutes later and Theo and Harry were only a few minutes behind. Before they left, Theo tugged Draco into the kitchen area, far enough away that Hermione and Harry couldn’t hear their quietly spoken words, before offering Hermione a sombre nod and leading a shell shocked looking Harry to the door.

Once they were finally alone, Draco turned to look at her and arched an eyebrow dramatically. “What did Theo say to get you here?” He asked pointedly.

“He said he required my assistance at this address.”

He arched an eyebrow. “And you came.”

“He had Harry send me a Patronus,” she reminded him. “It implied urgency.”

She was careful with her words, feeling quite certain that he wouldn’t be the least bit comfortable with her rushing over out of worry for him or any sort of sense that he needed her. In fact, she felt instinctively certain that if he thought she believed he needed her, he’d do whatever it took to disabuse her of the notion.

“Do you think Potter is going to report you to the Ministry?”

“And risk having to admit that the reason he knows is that he’s been having a years-long affair with Theo?” She shook her head. “No, he wouldn’t risk that.”

“And if it wasn’t a risk to his perfect reputation and marriage?” He pressed.

“I’d like to think he still wouldn’t,” she answered honestly.

Though her friendship with Harry wasn’t what it once was, she’d always felt like the two of them understood each other in an unspoken way that the rest of their friends wouldn’t understand. Perhaps it was because they were both living in a grey area, making choices to take what they wanted even though they knew they weren’t necessarily the right choices. Whatever the reason, she wanted to believe that Harry Potter still had her back, even after all these years and the slow disintegration of what their friendship had once been.

“Huh,” he replied, nodding with surprise.

His surprise at her answer made sense. Not only did Draco not really know Harry, but there was no doubt in her mind that her lover’s opinion of her friend was possibly even lower now than it had ever been before, considering the relationship between Harry and Theo. He’d probably expected that they were all about to join him in exile when Harry walked in.

She couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t at least a bit of disappointment on his part that it didn’t turn out that way, though she immediately pushed the uncharitable thought away.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said, breaking her from her musings.

“I know.” She answered calmly.

“So why are you?” He pressed.

She tilted her head, regarding him curiously. He wouldn’t like her to say her honest answer out loud, of that much she was certain, but she was also pretty sure that he already knew why she was there.

“Do you want me to leave?” She countered, rather than risk an actual answer.

“No,” he answered calmly before arching his eyebrow dramatically. “Do you want to leave?”

“No.”

“Were you waiting up for me?” He asked then, his lips curving into the slightest smirk that left her trying to ignore the effect the expression had on her knickers.

“Yes,” she answered smoothly.

Smoothly, he moved to lock up the door to the loft and switch off the lights, leaving them with only the streetlights and the soft glow of a lamp up in the loft to light their way through the small space.

“Come here.”

Though the command was much softer than usual, with less of the heat and intensity than usually accompanied his dominance, she didn’t hesitate. She closed the distance between them easily, looking up at him.

“I don’t want to f*ck tonight,” he told her, tugging her in against his body.

She nodded.

“And I don’t want to talk.”

“Okay,” she murmured.

He began backing her up, moving in the direction of the twirling wrought iron staircase that led up to the loft, where she assumed the bedroom was. “But I don’t want to be alone either.”

She nodded.

“This doesn’t mean anything.”

She nodded again. “I know,” she said softly, her voice cracking ever so slightly.

“Do you?” He asked, holding her gaze intently.

She paused, giving herself a moment to let his words sink in. As many times as he’d reiterated that what they were doing was just sex and she’d dutifully agreed, he’d never pushed before.

It wasn’t that she allowed herself any romantic notions about what was happening between them. In fact, any time she started to think rosy, optimistic thoughts about a future with Draco, she shut herself down and reminded herself that they both knew exactly what this was, and it certainly wasn’t a fairytale. And yet, there was something about being the one who was there for him after his father’s death that made those girlish, rose-coloured bits of her sing.

“I know,” she reiterated, holding his gaze without blinking.

As they reached the base of the stairs, he released her from his hold and slipped his hand into hers, linking their fingers before beginning to ascend the stairs. She followed him, matching his steps and holding tightly to his hand.

The loft area was quite small, with pitched ceilings and more exposed beams. It was split into two distinct areas with the bedroom on one side and an ensuite bathroom with a clawfoot bathtub on the other. The king-size bed, perched on a low platform, dominated the small space, and the only other thing in the room was a low side table that held a small lamp, a half-burned black candle, and a well-worn paperback with a bookmark tucked in about halfway through.

“I like your place,” she said, returning her attention to him to find him watching her closely.

“I guess you’ve never been here, have you?” He replied, as though it were a surprise.

Because she was actively trying not to end up in an argument with him, something she knew all too well was pretty easy to do considering the minefield their relationship existed in, she simply lifted an eyebrow rather than to point out that he already knew the answer to that question.

As he reached over his head to pull his shirt off, she toed off her trainers before tugging her jumped over her head. They undressed unceremoniously, both of them down to their undergarments, before crawling into his bed and slipping beneath the covers.

“I don’t think Elena likes me very much,” Hermione said as she settled her head on one of the pillows, facing him on her side.

“Are you surprised?” He asked with obvious amusem*nt.

He used a long match to light the candle next to the bed, yet another reminder that he didn’t use magic anymore for those types of tasks, and then flicked off the lamp. Smoothly, he settled in next to her before reaching out to tug her in closer to his body until their faces were mere inches apart and she could feel the heat of him even in the places they weren’t touching.

“Were you two a couple?” She asked quietly.

“For a while.”

“What happened?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Didn’t work out.”

She tilted her head and waited for him to elaborate. When he said nothing, she pressed. “Why?”

“She wanted more than I could give. Deserved more.”

“Is she still waiting for you?”

“No.” He paused a moment before adding, “I hope not,” with a sigh. “We’re not having this conversation.”

It wasn’t surprising. Though it was a silent agreement, one they’d never actually acknowledged out loud, they didn’t talk about personal things. They didn’t talk about anything, really, so even these brief bits of conversation were more than Hermione was used to.

“When’s the last time you spoke to Lucius?” Hermione asked cautiously, well aware that the question could be the worst thing she could ask. While he had said that he didn’t want to talk, she couldn’t seem to help herself.

He laughed bitterly, rolling onto his back and looking up at the ceiling. “In Azkaban. Right before my exile.”

Hermione sensed that he was lost in a memory and offered him the silence to sink into it uninterrupted for as long as he needed. She watched him, saw the play of emotions over his features that he hadn’t allowed when the room was full and the lights were on. He was vulnerable now, bared in a way he hadn’t allowed in the months since they’d seen each other again.

“He told me I was a disgusting, stupid child and that I’d thrown my legacy and our family’s reputation away for some mudblood trim,” he told her with acid in his tone.

She winced, glad that he was looking away and didn’t see it.

It wasn’t surprising that Lucius’s beliefs about blood purity hadn’t changed after the war. While she knew Draco had worked hard to undo a lot of the indoctrination he’d been subject to in his childhood, there was no undoing his father’s deeply held beliefs.

“After the war, I was supposed to be the saviour of the family name. As far as he was concerned, once I destroyed my second chance, I was still as much of a f*ck up as ever.” His voice was soft, lost in memories, and Hermione didn’t dare to interrupt. “My mother sends me letters sometimes,” he continued, still gazing up at the ceiling. Suddenly, there was warmth in his tone when he talked about Narcissa that hadn’t been there moments earlier when he talked about Lucius. “She learned how to use the muggle post and everything.”

“Have you seen her?”

He shook his head and rolled back onto his side to face her. “I think she sneaks into my shows sometimes. She can brew a flawless polyjuice potion and sometimes I see people in the crowd and I can just feel that it’s her.” There was a hint of pain in his expression mixed with his obvious amusem*nt at his mother’s disguises. “I’ve asked Pansy and Theo to tell her to stay away though. If she got caught, there’s no way she could handle… all of this. It’s not worth the risk.”

She wanted to argue with him, to insist that she was certain his mother would be happy to take the risk if it meant being able to see her son, but she knew that would be unfair so she held her tongue. Instead, she reached her leg out to tangle it with his, sensing that he could use the physical contact.

Based on the way that he reached out to take hold of her hips and close the last of the distance between their bodies, she was rather certain she’d been right.

“It’s okay to be sad even though you hate him,” she said softly.

His jaw clenched and she saw the slight wobble in his chin that hinted to her that he was holding back tears. “No. He doesn’t get any more of my pain,” he all but growled.

Though the most obvious emotion in his voice was anger, she could also hear an agony that she knew he’d never explicitly admit to feeling. Rather than call him on it, she wound her arms around him and tugged him in against her chest.

“f*ck that guy,” she murmured.

When she felt him shake, she couldn’t be sure whether it was laughter or sobbing but suspected that it might just be a little bit of both. She held on tight to him, cradling him against her body to just feel whatever he was feeling. She knew that it had to be complicated, but didn’t blame him for the grief that she knew he was feeling against his will.

She wasn’t sure how long they lay there together, tangled up in each other’s bodies while they silently soaked in their thoughts. While she knew that his were inevitably centred around the brutal history he shared with his father and the complicated nature of his grief, her own strayed to a place she wanted so desperately to avoid going.

Holding him felt so right.

Being the one to soak up his pain rather than being the cause of it made more sense to her than just about anything else.

There was something she could do to help him, really help him.

And yet, even as her thoughts strayed, the little voice remained to remind her - for better or worse - of the reality of their relationship.

When finally she felt his breathing even out and knew he’d slipped into sleep, she allowed herself to relax even further and give into her own exhaustion. Even though allowing herself to fall asleep didn’t seem right, she couldn’t seem to help herself.

Just a few minutes, she promised herself.

When next she blinked her eyes open, the loft was bright with morning sun and she was draped over Draco with her face pressed in against his neck and her leg tucked between both of his. Had he not been cradling her to his chest with both arms, she might have scurried away, but since he was just as complicit in the cuddle as she was, she nestled in tighter to take advantage of the heat and comfort as long as she could.

She felt the exact moment that Draco woke up.

At first, he held her a bit tighter, snuggling her even more closely into his body, but then the haze of sleep lifted and she felt him stiffen. Muscles that had been utterly relaxed moments earlier tightened and she felt him begin to experiment with moving away carefully enough not to wake her.

Rather than continue to pretend she was asleep, she blinked her eyes open and peeked up at him to find him looking down at her. “Good morning,” she said softly.

“Morning,” he said gruffly, dropping his arms from around her before slipping out from beneath her smoothly. “You probably need to get to work.”

She recognized the dismissal for what it was and strived not to be hurt by it. She’d promised him that she knew what this was between them and she didn’t want to make herself a liar just because they’d spent the night wrapped up in each other.

Even though every part of her was aching for another night.

Sure, it was the first time, but the circ*mstances being what they were rendered that meaningless.

Probably.

As she pulled herself out of bed and reached for her jeans, she peeked over at him. No, definitely meaningless, she decided as she watched him pull on a pair of joggers and a slim-fitting t-shirt.

“Hey, Dr…. D?”

“Yeah?” He asked without turning to face her.

“I don’t know if this is something you’d even consider, but if you wanted, I could petition the Ministry to lift your exile.” She’d thought about it a lot the night before and felt confident that she could make it happen, but she hadn’t actually been planning to present it to him, and certainly not how and when she did.

He stiffened. “What?”

“That’s… what I do.” She replied carefully, already kicking herself for her timing. “For work, that is. I represent people in legal proceedings in front of the Wizengamot and the Council of Magical Law.” She explained carefully, fully attuned to every tiny movement of his body since she couldn’t actually see his face. “I could represent you.”

“No.”

“But, I–”

Finally, he turned and she could see rage carved into his expression, stealing any insistence she’d been about to present. “Why?” He asked fiercely.

“What?” She asked, confused.

“Why would you want to represent me and get my exile lifted?”

“So that you could see your mother,” she answered honestly.

She’d thought about the sound of his voice when he said that Narcissa sent him letters, that he wouldn’t let her risk coming to see him. With his father gone, even though he’d spent more than the past decade in Azkaban, it made sense to her that it would be worth trying to return Draco and his mother to each other.

He laughed bitterly, giving her a pointed look before rolling his eyes. “Get out.”

“What?”

“Get the f*ck out, Hermione!” He exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “I don’t want to do this anymore. This,” he gestured between the two of them with wide eyes and intense anger written all over his face, “is over.”

She stilled, staring at him as her stomach seemed to drop all the way to her toes. “It’s over,” she echoed, stunned.

“It’s over,” he confirmed sharply, his face an unreadable mask.

Somehow, she knew that there was no argument to be made just then, so as soon as she could get her body moving again, she grabbed her jumper and quickly tugged it over her head before reaching for her shoes. When she turned back to say goodbye to him, she found that he’d turned away from her as she was met with his back.

She winced.

“That’s it then?” She asked softly, her voice gravelly from sleep and devastation.

“Yeah,” he replied without turning, his voice hard. “That’s it.”

She nodded, even though he couldn’t see her, and made her way over to the stairs on steady, even steps. She cast one more look in his direction, finding he hadn’t moved even an inch and the set of his body was impossibly rigid, before letting out a breath and descending the stairs.

She wanted to fight - truly, she did - but she found herself certain of two things. The first was that now was not the time. No matter how complicated the grief was, she knew that he was mourning his father and it would be cruel to confront him just then about ending things between them. And the second was that she knew it would be in vain. He was an immovable object when he wanted to be and she could think of no argument that might unseat him.

And maybe, she reasoned as she made her way to the door with her shoes in her hand, this was for the best.

She wouldn’t have been able to end things herself, even if this started to hurt her more than it already did. Of that much, she found herself certain. She suspected that without the context of Lucius’s death, the same would also be true for Draco.

So maybe this was the right thing.

Maybe it was time that they both just moved on.

As she stepped into the hall, tugging her shoes on as the door clicked shut behind her, she quickly brushed at a rogue tear that managed to escape her eye and hurried from the building.

It’s for the best.

“It’s for the best,” she whispered as she stepped out into the morning sun, keeping every step measured and careful as though if she didn’t hold onto every shred of her control, she would fall apart.

It took about 300 more times of repeating it - on the way home, when she got home, as she got ready for work, and the whole way there - before she gave up.

As it turned out, repetition could only go so far.

When finally she let go of the mantra and let herself feel the loss, the tears came and they didn’t go away for several hours and continued to return any time she let her guard down for the next several days.

It did not feel like it was for the best.

Notes:

Well... Sorry about that!!

Also, thanks to everyone who engaged with last week's chapter! I'm so, so thrilled that it was so well received since it was definitely one of my favorite chapters. I hope you're continuing to enjoy even though this chapter ended with a bit of a gut punch!

NEXT WEEK: Hermione runs into some old classmates in Diagon Alley.

Chapter 15: Part Three : Episode Two

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

"Granger!”

Having been lost in her thoughts, Hermione was startled at someone calling out her name and quickly darted her eyes around to seek out the source. Even though Diagon Alley was as busy as ever as shoppers rushed to finish the last of their holiday shopping, the person calling out to her was rather easily spotted.

Hermione blinked, surprised and a bit confused.

Only a few metres away from where she stood just outside the Apothecary, Theo, whose voice she now recognised as the one who’d called out for her, stood next to Pansy Parkinson and her fiancé, a French wizard whose name Hermione couldn’t for the life of her remember from the handful of times she’d seen the couple mentioned in the papers.

The trio looked quite out of place, actually, and Hermione couldn’t help but wonder just how often any of them ventured down to Diagon to do their shopping. All three seemed more likely to choose higher-end, more bespoke shopping experiences than the more common shops in Diagon.

The thought lasted barely a moment, though, as it occurred to her just how strange it was that they would be calling out to her, particularly out in public, and was immediately replaced by a feeling of dread. It had been two weeks since she’d seen Draco, since the morning he’d thrown her out of his flat, and she truly had no idea how he was faring in the wake of his father’s death.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see him. In fact, after staying away for a week in hopes that he would come to her after he calmed down, she’d decided to go to one of his shows only to find that the band had cancelled their gigs for the entire month to give their singer time to mourn.

While she’d considered going to his loft to try and talk to him, she’d managed to talk herself out of it, being that he hadn’t exactly been ambiguous in the way he’d ended things. Of course, that didn’t mean she went to bed any earlier these days or spent any less time waiting for that familiar knock on her door.

Pathetic, she realised, but impossible to change thus far.

It occurred to her after a moment spent lost in her confusion that the last time she’d seen Theo had been the night he’d called her to Draco’s flat and she felt a surge of worry at his calling out to her again.

She hurriedly closed the distance between herself and the trio beckoning her, eyes wide as she asked, “Is everything okay?”

“D’s fine,” Pansy replied dryly, rolling her eyes.

Hermione mirrored the expression before shifting her attention fully to Theo, who thus far had been the kinder of Draco’s friends. To her, at least.

“Claws away, Pans,” he said with a chuckle, giving Hermione a warm smile. “He is fine though. All things considered.”

“I’m glad,” she replied, shifting on her feet. Now that the urgency that had spirited her over to the group faded with Theo’s assertion, all that was left in its wake was awkwardness.

She wore the lingering anxiety thrumming through her as a mask over her more complicated feelings. Of course, she was happy to know that he was doing okay after his father’s passing and that there was apparently nothing to be worried about. Still, there was no denying the pang of hurt at the fact that he was ‘fine’ while she was still rather devastated by his absence from her life.

“We need to talk to you,” Pansy said sharply, cutting straight to the chase.

Theo rolled his eyes, shaking his head at Hermione. “We were hoping we could convince you to join us for dinner and, perhaps, a more… private conversation.”

Hermione hesitated.

Regardless of what had been going on between her and Draco, she really didn’t have any sort of relationship with the witch and wizards in front of her and didn’t feel particularly inclined to build one. Still, it was obvious that the only thing they would have to talk about would be Draco and she certainly wasn’t going to be able to walk away from that.

“A drink, perhaps?” Theo prodded when her hesitation dragged on a bit too long.

“A drink,” she agreed with a nod. “The Leaky?” Pansy’s resulting laugh set her teeth on edge and Hermione shot a glare at the sneering woman.

“Pansy,” Theo admonished with a sigh before returning his attention to Hermione with a ghost of a smile. “We were actually hoping you’d join us at Emerald & Ore. It’s a bit more low key and they have private booths with silencing charms.”

“I suppose that would be fine,” Hermione replied primly.

Though the private wizarding club claimed to have stayed neutral during both of the wars, it was no secret just how many dark wizards had been members of Emerald & Ore over the years and Hermione had never even considered joining. It was just generally not the sort of place that she had any interest in patronising, though she did suppose that they were right about the privacy aspect of it.

“Shall we then?” Theo asked, offering his arm to Hermione in a surprising show of gentlemanliness.

Afraid that to deny the gesture would be rude, Hermione slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow to allow him to lead them the short distance to the club. Tucked just inside the entrance to Knockturn Alley, Emerald & Ore didn’t look like much from the outside, but the ornate carvings on the door and the bejewelled knob spoke to the luxury that would be found inside.

Within a few minutes, the four of them were tucked away inside one of the private booths. It was surprisingly spacious - due to a likely-unsanctioned invisible extension charm, Hermione suspected - and was decorated in luxe fabrics and metals in a black, green and silver theme.

She nearly chuckled out loud at just how much it reminded her of a grown-up, more luxurious version of the Slytherin Common Room. It made sense, she mused, considering the overlap in their membership.

“Why am I here?” She asked nearly as soon as the server who had led them to their booth tugged the heavy velvet curtains closed to ensure their complete privacy.

“Is it true?” Pansy asked sharply, wasting no time.

“Is what true?” Hermione replied impatiently.

“Let me handle this, Pans,” Theo told his friend in the sort of voice Hermione had heard parents use to speak to misbehaving toddlers. “Is it true that you could get D’s exile lifted?”

Theo’s question brought everything into focus and she was surprised she hadn’t considered it sooner. Based on Draco’s response to her offer, she’d hardly expected that he would tell anyone about it, but she supposed it made sense that he might have mentioned it to Theo.

Carefully, she nodded. “Nothing is certain, but I think I would be able to make a strong case to have the Council lift his sentence.”

Though she obviously didn’t attribute her entire career path to what had happened to Draco, there was no denying that it had certainly been one of the inciting incidents that drove her towards magical law and remained one of the driving forces for the work she did.

She’d watched the trials after the war and had never felt quite right about the lack of legal representation afforded to those accused of crimes, especially when she saw how arbitrarily, and sometimes cruelly, the Ministry dolled out punishments.

After Hogwarts, she’d thrown herself into an almost entirely self-taught education on the intricacies of the magical legal system, which was inherently and systemically inequitable with no checks and balances to speak of. It had been slow going and she still faced more pushback than she would have liked from the Ministry, but she felt passionately about the work she did and knew that more and more people were finally beginning to see the value of having experts in Magical law to advocate for those accused of crimes.

Of course, there were also still people both inside and outside of the Ministry who saw her as a traitor, a muggle-born witch infecting the way they did things with her progressive muggle ways. She understood where it came from, the magical world had always been distinctly resistant to change and unwilling to admit to its shortcomings, but still believed wholeheartedly in what she was doing. She was firmly of the mind that both the muggle and wizarding worlds could benefit from adopting some of the more positive aspects of the other, though she wasn’t so naive as to think that was likely to happen.

“How?” Pansy asked insistently. Most of the disdain that had been apparent in her expression since Hermione had first come upon them had faded and been replaced by naked excitement.

“Well, first I would have to submit a petition to the Council Of Magical Law to hear the case. And then there would be a trial, where I’d have to present evidence and arguments in support of the fact that his sentence was too harsh and should be lifted,” Hermione explained carefully.

“Yes, but what would you tell them to get them to lift the sentence?” Pansy asked, her sneer beginning to return.

“There are actually a lot of things that work in his favour, I think,” Hermione explained, leaning in. Being that she’d thought quite a lot about this, she felt confident in her response. Though her offer to Draco had been a bit spur of the moment, it wasn’t without forethought on the matter, so she had a lot of ideas as to how she would present the case. “His age when everything happened, the trauma we all went through during the war, the fact that he was only days from finishing his probation when he started the fire.”

“Allegedly,” Theo tossed in before she could continue.

“Hmm?”

“He allegedly started the fire,” Theo said cheekily in a way that made Hermione wonder if the man had somehow discovered American criminal procedural television. Though it was strange to imagine, he was actually one of the few pure-blood wizards she knew that she wouldn’t be surprised to find owned a television, if only for the novelty of it.

“He confessed, remember?” She reminded him.

“So… not allegedly?”

“Correct,” she replied with a chuckle. “Which should also be a mark in his favour. He took responsibility for his actions.”

“After he tried to fight the Aurors who came to arrest him,” Pansy interjected with a frown.

Feeling inclined to make excuses for him, particularly considering her own part in the events of that day, she nodded and held her tongue. Every single moment of that day, including Draco’s arrest, was burned into her memory. It remained one of the few days that she absolutely loathed returning to in her memories.

“Granger chose Weasley over him,” Theo interjected, shocking Hermione. It hadn’t occurred to her that Draco would have told anyone the details of what had happened between them. “He was having a bad day.”

“Yes,” Hermione replied, avoiding eye contact with the other three, “his emotional state, especially considering the circ*mstances, could be considered extenuating circ*mstances as well.”

She knew that she sounded positively constipated when she spoke, but it was such a complicated circ*mstance and one that she very much wasn’t comfortable talking about with anyone, and certainly not the three people she was sharing the table with.

“What kind of moron chooses Ronald Weasley over Draco?” Pansy asked with an open sneer.

“Can we move on?” Hermione asked stiffly.

Pansy rolled her eyes. “Just don’t know if we should trust a stupid witch to get the Council to let Draco come back.”

“Are we just going to ignore the part where he said no and threw me out of his flat when I offered to do this for him?” Hermione asked, directing the question at Theo rather than acknowledging Pansy’s comment.

“We’ll take care of that part,” he said with a firm nod.

“How? He wants nothing to do with me, especially when it comes to this.”

“Can you blame him?” Pansy spat.

Hermione blanched, but couldn’t entirely disagree with the other witch so remained silent. She’d wondered more than once if that had been a part of why she’d let him go so easily - it had felt inevitable and earned, all things considered.

“We just will,” Theo interjected, his tone much firmer than it had been at any other point in this conversation. “We just need to know that you’re still willing to do it.”

“I’m still willing,” she confirmed.

“Start getting things in order then. We’ll take care of D.” Theo sounded much more confident than Hermione was. She’d seen the determination in Draco’s face the morning after Lucius died and couldn’t see even a hint that he might be moveable on this one.

Slowly, she nodded and stood. Their business concluded for the time being, she wasn’t particularly interested in turning this into a social engagement. “If you can’t convince him, just send an owl to my office and let me know.”

She didn’t want to hope. She’d already done too much of that when it came to Draco and the cracks she was beginning to feel inside of her every time she found those hopes disappointed were starting to frighten her.

And yet, there was no denying that little spark in her chest that Theo’s confidence inspired.

It was after midnight when the knock came that night.

She’d spent the remainder of her evening after leaving Emerald & Ore at first doing everything she could to distract herself until finally she gave up the losing fight and sat down to start making notes about Draco’s case the way she would any other client. By the time she was pulled from her work, she had nearly ten pages of notes and her mind was swirling with ideas.

She knew it had to be him on the other side of the door and found herself staring at it for long, lingering moments rather than opening it. When a second, sharper knock came, she broke out of her stupor and made her way over to open the door on measured, even steps.

A part of her wished that he looked as ragged as she felt, but he looked pretty much exactly the same as he had the last time she’d seen him, though perhaps the shadows under his eyes were carved a little deeper than usual.

It felt wrong to wish for some sort of obvious devastation in his visage, but she realised then just how often she saw her mirror in him and how much comfort it brought her. She didn’t actually want him to hurt, she just wanted him to be as affected as she was.

“Hi,” she said tentatively.

“Can I come in?” He responded, rather than echoing her greeting as one might expect.

She stepped back, holding the door further open, and gestured for him to come in. Somewhat stiffly, he obliged, taking long strides to carry himself into her space. Much like she had the first time he’d shown up at her door, she took a moment to herself as she closed and locked the door before turning to face him.

“How are you?” She asked carefully.

She watched him closely, trying hard to get a read on where his head was, but he was as unreadable to her as he’d ever been. Her hands ached at the realisation.

Rather than indulging the small talk and answering her, he closed the distance between them quickly to pull her body against his. One hand moved to her waist, tugging her in tight, while the other cupped her jaw and tipped her head back so that she was looking up at him.

“I told you this was over,” he insisted in a gravelly tone.

“You did,” she breathed, mind spinning.

“You talked to my friends,” he continued, walking her backwards until she was pressed against the wall. He pressed his hips forward, sandwiching her between the heat of his body and the cold, hard wall.

“I did.” Though she could have clarified that they’d come to her and she hadn’t sought them out, it seemed like a thin excuse and one he wouldn’t be interested in hearing, so she didn’t bother.

“I can’t get rid of you, can I?” He asked quietly.

She winced visibly at the implication of his words.

His hands moved then, capturing both of hers and dragging them up over her head where he pressed them against the wall.

“Do you want to?” She asked, genuinely curious.

It seemed a fair question being that not only had he been the one to show up at her door, but he had her pressed so firmly to the wall that she felt as though she could feel every inch of his body pressed to hers.

Not only did she desperately want to know the answer, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he even knew it himself. If she were to be completely honest, she wasn’t entirely certain what her own answer would be if he were to turn the question around.

Did she want to get rid of him? No. The most straightforward answer was that she didn’t want to get rid of him, but the fact that it was more complicated than that was hard to deny.

His laugh was bitter and she felt him tighten his hold on her wrists enough that she squirmed within it. Rather than answer, he held her stare with an unreadable expression. She wasn’t sure how long the silence lasted. It could have been seconds or minutes or hours, truly, that she lost herself in his gaze and the feel of him pressed against her.

“Why do you want to do this for me?” He asked finally, an edge of desperation in both his words and his expression.

Instinctively, she knew that her honest answer was more complicated than she was willing to explain to him and too intimate for him to accept, so she opted to give him the most basic truth rather than expound on it.

“Your sentence wasn’t fair,” she said finally.

“Fair!” He laughed bitterly and she felt him create a bit of distance from her that had her arching away from the wall to follow his heat. “No one expects fairness from the Ministry, Hermione. You know that. I know that. Everybody f*cking knows that.”

“I’m trying to change that.”

“So I’d be just like any other client?” He asked her, challenge evident in his tone.

She considered lying to him but quickly dismissed the idea. Not only was there no way that he would believe her, he still saw through her far too clearly for that, but she simply didn’t want to. The truth, she knew, would likely push him away, but it was what he deserved.

“No,” she said simply.

Eyes flaming, he pressed in tight against her once more and wound his fingers with hers, pressing her hands even more firmly to the wall. “No?”

“No,” she repeated.

She could have expounded on her answer, gone into all the ways that he was not only unlike any of her other clients but truly unlike anyone else in her life, but she held her tongue. Again, even though he was asking the questions, she was confident he didn’t actually want the answers.

“You drive me out of my f*cking mind,” he growled, leaning in close enough that she could taste his breath. “You know that?”

Silently, she watched him, opting not to even try to answer his likely rhetorical question.

“f*ck,” he mumbled right before he closed the distance between their mouths.

His kiss felt like a culmination, as though the heat and intensity of it had been simmering for the past two weeks and this was the resulting boiling over. Though there was no doubt as to who was in control of the kiss, there was also no hesitation on her end to return it.

She hated how much she’d missed him, hated how much the press of body and the taste of his mouth felt like coming home, and yet she was desperate in that moment for anything he was willing to give. The feel of him against her was just right, the press of his body relaxing all of the tight springs that seemed to live beneath her skin 24/7 so that she could just exist in a warmth and rightness that existed nowhere else in her life.

When she felt him pulling his fingers from the tangle of their hands, every instinct screamed that she shouldn’t let go, so she tightened her grip and held him there until he drew back from the kiss only enough to speak against her lips.

“I need to f*cking touch you,” he ground out as he tugged his hands away more roughly.

She broke the grip, comforted by the fact that he wasn’t pulling away from her entirety, and arched towards his body when she felt his hands begin to drag slowly down the length of her arms.

As he caught her lips once more in a near-bruising kiss, a whimper escaped her throat and she rocked her hips forward until she felt the hard length of him pressed obscenely against her tummy.

She groaned at the feel of him, the deep wanton sound of a woman having an almost unnatural thirst quenched. Desperate to feel as much of him as possible, she drew her hands down to wind around him as his hands continued their path to her waist before slipping beneath the loose fabric of her t-shirt and venturing upwards.

“Tell me the truth, Granger,” he murmured, pulling his lips away from hers to draw them over her jaw and down the side of her throat.

“Ask me a question,” she whispered, breathless.

Even as caught up as she was, she knew that any unsolicited truth she could think of at that moment was bound to send him running for the hills. Her hands tightened around him where they held, one in his hair and the other in his shirt, at the very idea of him leaving.

No!

“Did you know I’d come back?” He asked her, nipping at her neck just below her earlobe sharply before laving his tongue over it soothingly.

“No,” she answered honestly, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“Did you want me to?” He pressed, tilting her head to the side so that he could suck a small mark at the junction of her neck and shoulder, one of his favourite spots to leave evidence of himself on her skin.

“You know the answer to that,” she whimpered, rocking her hips against him.

“Say it,” he growled, nipping at her skin with enough bite that she cried out softly.

“Yes!”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I wanted you to come back.” She sounded exactly as desperate as she felt at that moment, the need that was thrumming through her straining her words and adding urgency to their pace and volume.

“Why?”

“Ahhh!” She cried out, knocking her head back against the wall, the result of both the painful pleasure he was inflicting on her body and the screaming instincts to protect herself.

“Say it, Granger,” he urged as he finally inched his hands higher beneath her shirt to cup her bare breasts, dragging the blunt, smooth tips of his fingernails over the tight buds of her nipples.

She whimpered once more, but said nothing.

The truth was that she knew that there was an answer there, one she hadn’t even admitted to herself at this point, and there was no way she could say it out loud to him. But she also couldn’t lie or pretend, not then.

Instead, she used the hand that still gripped his hair to pull his face out of the crook of her neck. As he blinked his eyes open, confusion mixed in with complicated desire thick in his gaze, she held his stare in hopes that he might see into her. If she couldn’t say it, she thought, then perhaps he would see it.

And he looked.

She felt as though he was looking all the way through to the heart of her and when she saw his wince, she knew.

He’d found it.

“Please,” she whispered.

His breathing increased in both speed and depth as he stared at her, and in him, she was certain she could see many of her own thoughts and feelings reflected. They’d danced towards this line a few times over the past several months, but anytime they’d gotten too close, they’d swiftly moved away.

She held her breath, waiting to see if he’d run.

Instead, she watched as he seemed to come to a decision, leaning his forehead against hers and letting his eyes close with a heavy sigh.

“Hermione…”

Her name on his lips was both a prayer and a curse and she felt it through the very core of her. It seemed to mean a million different things all at once and she had no idea how to respond other than to just kiss him again, so she lifted onto her tiptoes to catch his lips in a deep, searing kiss that stole the breath from both of them.

By the time they drew apart, their lips were swollen and they were each desperate for breath after seeming to share the same one back and forth between them until it ran out of oxygen. He dropped his head into the crook of her neck as her head fell back against the wall, both of them inhaling deep gulps of air.

“Vanish our clothes,” Draco mumbled as he feathered kisses over her collarbones and the top of her chest.

“What, I…?” It took her mind a moment to catch up, so lost in itself and in him, but when she finally made sense of what he’d said, she quickly nodded. Though she knew that he could do small magical tasks wandlessly, including a vanishing charm, it was exhausting and unstable and he didn’t risk it with larger tasks. “My wand…”

“Where?”

“Coffee table.” Before she even had the words out, he’d scooped her up effortlessly, winding her legs around his waist as he carried her over to the coffee table and acquired her wand.

Just as he was about to hand it to her, he hesitated. Instead, he twirled the wand smoothly through his fingers, a little trick the boys at school had taught themselves back when wands were still new to them. She wondered how long it had been since he’d held one, what it felt like after so long.

She licked her lips as the moment lingered, waiting to see what he would do. Finally, just when she was about to tell him to cast the vanishing charm himself, he met her gaze in an intense stare and slipped the wand between her fingers.

“Cast it,” he commanded softly, his voice somewhat strangled.

She didn’t hesitate then, casting the Evanesco charm smoothly and gasping a moment later as she felt the cool air brush over her now-bared skin. Wound around him as she was, as soon as they were naked she felt the firm heat of his co*ck nudging at her entrance insistently.

She whimpered softly, rocking her hips so that the very tip of him nudged inside her, and her wand slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. His arms tightened around her, holding her from impaling herself fully on his shaft.

“Hermione,” he ground out painfully, pressing his forehead to hers.

“Draco?” She was breathless, near desperate, and a bit confused.

“I’ll do it. I’ll let you petition the Ministry… on one condition.” The pain in his voice, unmistakable and steeping every word, let her know that she wasn’t going to like his condition and made her inhale sharply.

“Tell me,” she all but begged before holding her breath in anticipation of his answer.

“When it’s over,” he began, inching a little deeper inside her, eliciting a whimper from her throat and a soft growl from his, “no matter what happens, this is over. As soon as the trial is over… so are we.”

Though she’d had no idea what to expect from his condition, it certainly hadn’t been that. As he lowered her the rest of the way onto his shaft, the pleasure of his penetration fought with the skewer of pain she felt through her chest at his words. She cried out as tears filled her eyes, the contrast heightening everything in her until she wasn’t sure where pleasure ended and pain began.

“Promise me,” he growled, his mouth open against her jaw.

She didn’t want to.

Desperately, she wanted to tell him no, to insist that his condition was unfair, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that it wasn’t. If he wanted to end things between them, fairness didn’t really come into it. And if she meant what she’d said, that her offer to help him was about fairness and returning him to his mother, she couldn’t deny him the request. Could she?

Digging her nails into his shoulders, almost as though that would be enough to bury some part of herself inside him for keeps, she squeezed her eyes shut and tears streaked down both cheeks.

“Hermione,” he whispered, rocking his hips once, “promise me.”

She gasped around a sob, bones deep pleasure and pain coming together inside her, and nodded. She had no choice, she realised, and knew instinctively that if she said no, it would be over now and she wouldn’t even have the opportunity to help him before he disappeared from her life.

If nothing else, she decided, she would give him this and then let him go.

“I promise.” Her voice was breathless and so quiet she wasn’t sure that he could hear her, but as he began lowering her to the floor to lay her on her back, there was no doubt left in her mind that he’d heard her.

As he began f*cking her in earnest, each thrust felt like something more and soon the tears and pain over his negotiation disappeared as she lost herself mindlessly in the feel of him. This time was different than any of the countless others, there was a desperation and a lack of finesse that heightened and intensified every one of her senses to the point that she felt deliciously overwhelmed.

When he rolled their bodies so that he lay with his back on the floor while she sat astride him, she barely missed a beat as she pulled her body up and began to ride him. Being on top wasn’t her favourite position - too exposed and awkward with her relatively short legs - but quickly, with the aid of his hands guiding her hips, she found a rhythm and lost herself in the pleasure of it as she chased her release.

Where often they fell into natural dirty talk while they were having sex, this time the only sounds that filled the room were the sounds of their bodies moving together combined with moans and whines that neither of them could hold back and the very occasional encouragement to not stop.

As Hermione found herself getting close, positioned just right to grind her cl*t against his pelvic bone as she rode him, she lowered her head to catch his lips in a desperate, open-mouthed kiss, her hands moving to rest on the centre of his chest. Instinctively, she matched the movements of her hips to the rhythm of his heartbeat and as her pleasure coiled and rose, she found the emotions that had faded into her pleasure rising as well.

When she came, it was with tears in her eyes and his name on her lips, the release both physical and emotional to the point that she was shaking almost uncontrollably as she lowered herself down to his chest and tucked her face in against his neck.

Only moments behind her, he held tight to her hips and ground up against her until he found his own climax with her name falling from her lips like a prayer.

As they both came down, trying to catch their breath, Hermione’s tears came faster and more intensely until she felt completely out of control. She stayed tucked in against his neck as long as possible, hoping to hide her emotional outburst from him, but when he wound his arms around her and held her tight against him, the dam burst and there was no hiding her overwhelming sobs.

She’d heard about women crying after sex, the intense physical release leading to an emotional one, but it wasn’t something she’d ever experienced before and she truly didn’t know what to do with herself.

Perhaps, she considered, it was hormones or exhaustion or something other than devastation at the promise she’d just made him.

But she knew that it wasn’t.

Gently, he lifted her off of him, pulling his softening co*ck from inside her, and sat up to tug her into his lap and hold her against his chest. He rubbed her back as she cried and fought to pull herself together and somehow the support he offered so freely only made her cry harder.

By the time she finally got herself under control, she had no idea how much time had passed but she found that her throat ached and her eyes burned. Breathing more evenly now, she drew herself back from where she was nuzzled into his chest and looked up at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his own reddened eyes wet with unshed tears and filled with complex emotions she was sure were mirrored in her own eyes.

And she felt terrible all over again.

Because he wanted what he wanted.

And she had to keep her promise.

“I’m sorry, too,” she whispered, closing her eyes as she cringed in a renewed wave of emotion.

There was too much between them, she realised. Too much feeling, almost to the point of obsession, and too much history that seemed damn near impossible to resolve. Quickly, she crawled off his lap and pulled herself to standing, wiping at her eyes and taking deep breaths to try and keep it together.

As he pulled himself to his feet, she wrapped the throw blanket draped over the back of the sofa over her nudity and searched the floor until she spotted her wand, reaching down to grab it. She didn’t wait to cast the counterspell to return their clothes to them, though as the pile of clothing appeared on the coffee table, folded neatly, she didn’t bother to reach for any of them.

“I’ll draft the petition for your case in the morning,” she said then, her voice sounding just as ragged and strung out as she felt just then.

Wordlessly, he nodded, raking a hand through his hair before moving over to begin redressing.

“I’ll…” She cleared her throat, doing her best to sound professional despite everything. “I’ll have to get your phone number so we can schedule meetings to work through the details. It’ll involve quite a lot of prep and I’ll need a list of character witnesses willing to speak on your behalf.”

The longer she spoke, the more like herself she sounded, and it occurred to her then that perhaps this - work - was really all she knew how to do with any sort of success. The thought, like so many other things over the course of the evening, sent a brutal pang to the centre of her chest.

Draco simply nodded. “Do you have a pen? Or a… quill, I guess?”

She summoned a pen and notepad, handing them over to him so that he could jot down his phone number. Being that she was so much more used to handling cases with non-exiled witches and wizards, it was rare that she required the use of a phone, but she did own a mobile that she used occasionally.

“Do you need anything else tonight?” He asked as he handed the notepad and pen back over to her. He sounded as wrung out as she felt, which provided simultaneous pain and comfort to her.

She shook her head.

“Okay, I’m going to…” He gestured towards the door.

“I’ll be in touch,” she told him, nodding.

“Goodnight, Hermione,” he said quietly.

It wasn’t lost on her that this was one of those rare times that he’d used her first name outside of sex, and while its use normally made her feel closer to him, this time it sent a renewed ache through her body.

She was surprised when he closed the distance between them rather than just leaving and her mouth dropped open as he cupped her face in both of his hands. The look they shared lingered, heavy with all of the things neither of them was willing to say out loud. Finally, after several moments, he leaned down and brushed a soft, fleeting kiss over her lips before finally drawing away.

“Goodnight,” she said softly, one hand lifting to brush over her lips gently.

She didn’t watch as he made his way to the door, just stood rooted in place with her arms and the blanket wrapped around her like armour. When she heard the click of the door closing behind him, she gasped with a soft sob that she’d been holding in with all her might, and allowed it all to wash over her once again.

She couldn’t deny it.

She’d done the one thing she knew she shouldn’t have done and fallen in love with Draco Malfoy all over again - if she’d ever truly fallen out of love with him to begin with - and now there was a countdown clock until the day she’d have to say goodbye to him for good.

At least, she supposed, she’d actually get to say goodbye this time. And hopefully, she’d be able to help him fix the things that had been broken the first time before he went.

She tried to convince herself this was a good thing, but couldn’t quite get there.

Notes:

Once again - I'm sorry! I know this chapter is particularly devastating, I actually cried while I was writing it so we are in the angst boat together, I promise! Definitely earning that smut and angst tag!

Seriously - I can not thank everyone enough for the amazing feedback on the last chapter. Thank you so much for all of the comments. I can't even tell you how much it means to me to have my writing inspire such strong feelings! <3

NEXT WEEK: For better or worse, secrets are revealed.

Chapter 16: Part Three : Episode Three

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Rather than allowing herself to sink into all of the complicated and, frankly, devastating emotions that came along with the acknowledgement that her relationship - or whatever one would call it - with Draco had an end date looming, Hermione threw herself wholly into working on his case. Her work, as it turned out, was an excellent distraction from the mess she’d made of her personal life.

It had been two days since he’d officially accepted her offer to help him and a significant number of hours of each of those days had already been spent working on strategy for how she was going to approach it.

Most immediately pressing, she decided, were the basic barriers to the case owing to Draco’s exile. Being that one of the conditions of that exile was that he wasn’t allowed to remain in contact with other witches and wizards under the British Ministry, there remained possible consequences for her simply representing him.

Unlike Callum and Elena, who were Irish and American and therefore had different restrictions related to Draco’s exile based on their respective Ministries, Hermione remained beholden to the dictates of the British Ministry.

Which is where - she hoped! - Harry would come in.

Exile was actually quite rare in their world, mostly a holdover from a different time, and didn’t have a lot of contemporary examples to look into. As such, there weren’t a lot of details on the complexities of the rules, particularly being that she was the first Magical Barrister in England’s history, as far as she could tell.

The lack of clarity, she decided, could work to her benefit if she presented the rules in the way she hoped to interpret them. In this case, that meant getting an official waiver from Harry that would allow her to have contact with Draco in an investigative capacity. As the head of the DMLE, he did have the authority to grant such permissions at his discretion.

As she stepped into his office, she wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the look of uncertainty come across his features. He had tried to get in touch a couple of times since the night Lucius had been murdered, but she’d found herself so uninterested in having that particular conversation that she’d just avoided him entirely for over two weeks.

Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t avoid it any longer.

“Hermione,” he said, standing from his desk and gesturing to the chair in front of him. “To what do I owe this visit?”

“I need a favour,” she answered honestly as she moved to take the seat across from him.

“Ahh. So we’re just going to continue to ignore that night, but you want something from me?” He asked, retaking his seat.

“Was sort of hoping it would work that way, yes,” she said playfully, hoping that he would follow her lead.

While she could certainly understand that both she and Theo had put him in a distinctly uncomfortable position, she wasn’t willing to apologise for her relationship with Draco and she wasn’t interested in arguing about it.

Instead of following her lead, he dropped his head back and let out a heavy sigh. “What do you need?” He asked finally, annoyance obvious in his voice.

“I need a waiver that will allow me to have contact with Draco Malfoy,” she paused briefly, clearing her throat, “as his legal representation.”

She watched as Harry’s frustration turned to shock, the colour draining from his face as his eyes widened. Again, it wasn’t the least bit surprising, but at least this time she was somewhat amused by it.

“You’re… What?”

“I’m going to petition the Ministry to lift his exile,” she stated calmly.

Once again, Harry’s eyes widened almost comically and he opened and closed his mouth several times without saying anything. “You can’t be serious,” he finally intoned.

“He was nineteen years old. Days from the end of his probation. And the fire didn’t even spread. Exile was way too harsh a punishment and we both know it.” She’d spent enough time thinking about how she was going to argue this to the Council that there was no hesitation in her defence, but she was also speaking what she believed to be true.

“You’re certainly not going to endear yourself to the Ministry by taking this case,” he warned her, as though she hadn’t already thought about that.

She couldn’t blame him. Though their friendship hadn’t been what it once was for a long time, he was still her friend and she knew that if the roles were reversed, she would be worried for his well-being as well. Still, she was no more comfortable with having her judgement questioned now than she had been as a child and instinctively took a defensive position.

“I didn’t start doing this job to make friends with the Ministry, Harry,” she reminded him impatiently. “I did it because the way the Ministry handles these things is arbitrary and unfair. D’s case is a clear example of that.”

“D, is it?” He arched an eyebrow judgmentally. “Hermione, what the bloody hell are you thinking with this? There are plenty of other wizards you could get involved with. Why would you pick Malfoy of all people?”

She stiffened. “Harry, please don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s absolutely none of your business,” she said, her tone tense. “And my taking his case has nothing to do with… anything else.”

Harry pinned her with an incredulous look.

“I mean it!” She insisted. Her irritation with her friend continued to grow as she watched his facial expressions, incredulous and sneering. “Anything that may or may not be happening between us personally has nothing to do with this case.”

“And what is happening with the two of you personally?” Harry pressed. “And don’t tell me it’s none of my business. I’m your friend and I can’t stand watching you make these stupid decisions.”

Immediately, her frustration boiled over into something much more destructive and her eyes narrowed. “Are you bloody kidding me right now, Harry?”

“Why would I be kidding you?”

“Are you honestly going to sit there and throw your opinions about my personal relationships around while you’ve been having a f*cking affair with Theo for years now?” She hissed, not holding back. This was, unfortunately, one of the reasons she’d been hoping to avoid a fight. “You want to talk to me about stupid decisions?”

“That isn’t the same thing,” he replied stiffly, his discomfort obvious.

“You’re right, it isn’t. Because I’m not betraying anyone or hurting anyone other than myself with my choices about my personal life.” She crossed her arms, expression pulled tight.

She’d found out about Theo quite by accident a couple of years earlier when she’d seen the two of them pressed up against each other out behind the Leaky one night, while Ginny was at home with the kids. After the blowout fight they’d had about it, Hermione’s disgust at Harry’s behaviour on full display, she’d grudgingly kept his secret. It was, after all, not the only secret that she kept from Ginny and somehow she’d managed to convince herself that she was doing the other woman a kindness, somehow protecting her marriage by avoiding telling her the truth.

Of course, she only really believed that some of the time.

The rest of the time she felt like the worst friend in the world.

“That isn’t fair,” Harry argued, though it was obvious by his expression that he wasn’t quite able to think of a good justification for his position.

“I don’t want to fight with you, Harry,” she said, shaking her head and sighing heavily.

It wasn’t entirely true, she sort of did want to fight with him about it, but she’d come to see him with an agenda that was important to her and knew that fighting with him could ultimately derail her plans. She needed to get this special permission so that she could effectively advocate for Draco.

“I don’t want to fight with you either, Hermione,” Harry said, pushing up his glasses awkwardly. “And… I just want you to know that I know I’m a jerk when it comes to Theo, but every time I try to end things with him, I just… can’t. I’m in love with him.”

Hermione nodded, softening somewhat towards her friend at the pain evident in his pleading tone.

While she couldn’t bring herself to condone his behaviour, she could certainly understand feeling unable to stay away from someone. She was in the midst of such a conundrum right now, and in truth, she couldn’t actually say with complete confidence that she wouldn’t have stepped out of her marriage to be with Draco, had the opportunity presented itself. She’d have liked to believe that she wouldn’t have done that to Neville, that she wasn’t the sort of person who would cheat under any circ*mstances, but if she were being completely honest, she couldn’t be entirely sure.

“I know, Harry,” she said quietly, nodding. “See, this is why we shouldn’t talk about these things.”

With a sigh, Harry reached into his desk for a piece of parchment and his wand, quickly scrawling the special permission she’d asked for and adding a magical signature to bind it.

“Here,” he said, resigned, as he rolled it up and held it out to her. “Good luck. And if you start to get any death threats - which I’m pretty sure you will when people find out about this - let me know and I’ll set up some sort of security for you.”

She nodded, slipping the scroll into her bag and standing. She knew she wouldn’t take him up on his offer to provide her security, but she found herself strangely comforted by the fact that he still felt the instinct to keep her safe. “Thank you, Harry.”

“Just… tell me you know what you’re doing,” Harry implored as he too stood, stepping around the desk to walk her out.

“I’m doing the right thing,” she said firmly, confident in her answer. There was an unspoken ‘finally’ tacked on there, though it felt much too complicated for her to say that out loud and open that particular can of worms.

“You always do.”

Hermione stilled, gulping.

She knew it wasn’t true, but she wished she could believe that it was.

Taking a slow, deep breath, she moved towards the door. She was about to speak when she pulled the almost-closed door all the way open and found Ginny standing on the other side, rage and hurt written all over her face.

“Ginny!” She yelped in surprise, stuttering to a stop.

Quickly, she recounted the last couple of minutes of the conversation and tried to figure out how much her friend might have heard. Of course, from the expression on the other woman’s face, there was really no denying that she’d heard at least the parts about Theo.

“Honey,” Harry said carefully, stepping up to stand right next to Hermione. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I…?” Ginny’s voice was quiet but deadly. Hermione could physically see the rage as it bloomed on the other woman’s cheeks in a red flush. After a moment, her expression shifted and a terrifyingly serene but unhinged smile came to the redhead’s face. “Well, I was coming to bring you some lunch since you forgot to take your stew with you this morning, but then I found out that you’re cheating on me, so now I’m considering what’ll happen to the children if I go to Azkaban for murdering you.”

“Ginny…” Harry stepped forward, reaching out for his wife until she stopped him with a single raised hand and a fierce expression.

“And you!” She turned her attention to Hermione, eyes wild. “You knew and you kept this from me? You were supposed to be my friend!”

Hermione winced. “Ginny, I’m–”

“Don’t you dare. Don’t either of you f*cking dare. f*ck you both.” Without another word, Ginny turned on her heel and began making her way out of the DMLE on long, determined strides.

“Go after her,” Hermione hissed, looking over at her friend standing there gaping in shock.

“I–”

“Go, Harry! Bloody hell!” Hermione’s voice raised loud enough that a few people turned and she saw the colour drain from Harry’s face before he heeded her words and hurried after his wife.

This was going to be bad, Hermione knew.

She immediately felt for Ginny and the kids, knowing that whatever happened, the easy home life that they’d enjoyed was going to be strained at best and completely destroyed at worst. And despite the fact that it was entirely his own fault, she felt for Harry as well. He’d f*cked up and it was going to hurt.

She knew all too well how that felt.

She watched until Harry disappeared around a corner and disappeared from view, only letting out the breath she was holding once they were both out of her sight. She sighed softly then, a gnawing guilt building in her tummy as she wondered if it was her fault that Ginny had found out.

As much as she knew that Harry was the one responsible - he was the one who’d had an affair, after all - there was no denying that this was just another instance where she wasn’t the friend that Ginny deserved her to be. That knowledge weighed on her the rest of the day, twisting up her stomach until she felt ill.

Her stomach was still in knots later that evening while she and Draco sat at her kitchen table working on the case. She had a whole list of questions that she’d written out, determined to avoid any surprises when it came time to present the case in front of the Council, but she found herself distracted and much sloppier than usual.

Apparently, Draco noticed as well.

“What's going on with you?” He asked abruptly, interrupting her fumbling questioning about his employment history, staring at her closely.

“Long day,” she murmured absently, tapping her quill against the table. “Let’s focus.”

“What happened?” Draco asked, apparently unwilling to let it go.

She sighed, giving him a look before setting down her quill and notebook. “Ginny found out about Harry and Theo today.”

“f*ck,” he breathed, eyebrows lifting in surprise. “Does Theo know?”

It wasn’t surprising that Draco would think first of Theo. Hermione felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that it hadn’t even occurred to her to consider how he’d feel about this whole mess. An uncharitable part of her wondered whether he might be happy about it, but the more empathetic part of her understood that he loved Harry enough that there was no way he’d relish seeing his lover hurting.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly, sagging a bit in her seat. “I went to Harry’s office today to get a permission waiver so that I can represent you without the Ministry pitching a fit because you’re in exile.”

“And?”

“And he had a bit of an opinion about… this.” She truly didn’t know what to call their relationship when actually speaking to him, so she kept it vague even though it stung. “So I let him know that he was a bit of a hypocrite, judging me while he’s cheating on his wife.”

“Good for you,” Draco said firmly, surprising her.

“Seriously?”

“Theo and Red both deserve better than the scraps Potter gives them,” he said firmly, shaking his head. There was no mistaking the disgust he felt for Harry.

Hermione wasn’t really surprised that he felt that way. Obviously, he’d never held any particular affection for Harry, but beyond that was the fact that he was one of Theo’s best friends and couldn’t possibly be all that happy about him being, for all intents and purposes, someone’s side piece.

“Surprised you never told Weasley though. Aren’t you two close?”

Hermione stilled.

She knew it appeared as though she and Ginny were close. Hell, she knew that even Ginny believed that the two of them were close, which had always been yet another thing she felt deeply guilty about, but she hadn’t ever really been able to let herself get comfortable with the other witch after what had happened at the end of eighth year.

“It’s complicated,” she mumbled.

“There’s a story there.”

“Will you trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to hear it?” She asked with a slight pleading note in her voice.

“Why, am I a part of it?”

Hermione blinked, shocked that he’d even thought to ask, much less so quickly. “Yes,” she answered carefully.

“Then I want to hear it even more now.” Though he spoke calmly and without the slightest waver in his tone, she was attuned enough to him that she couldn’t miss the slight tension that had appeared through his neck and shoulders.

“It has to do with the last day of school,” she told him, assuming that he would change his mind if she gave him that little detail.

Up until that point, they had so carefully avoided talking about the specifics of what had happened between them that it had become almost taboo to even mention it, never mind actually delving into a conversation about it.

Unfortunately for Hermione, he seemed to be entirely unbothered by that fact and simply sat back, crossing his arms and watching her expectantly.

She’d never told anyone what had happened that morning on the last day of eighth year, she’d simply carried it with her like a weight on her back ever since, and as she considered whether or not she was going to tell him, she found that she really wanted to. It had been festering long enough to impact the very core of how she felt about herself, to a degree she sometimes suspected bordered on self-harm. If she was going to tell it to anyone, she reasoned, she knew it should be him.

“After you dropped me off at my room that morning, Ginny confronted me. She’d seen us together the night before, after we snuck away from the party, and she was pretty upset.” Though she’d thought back to that morning many, many times over the years, this retelling felt different.

In the quiet of her head, it was always just a rerun of the part where she selfishly stole her friend’s memories, but to actually tell it out loud required detail and context that she didn’t often think of.

“Why was she upset?” He asked quietly, his voice a bit strained.

“I think it was a combination of you being you - your history and all that - and the fact that she knew Ron was coming back that day to ask me to get back together,” she admitted.

Draco’s jaw tightened, a reminder that he also hadn’t gotten over what happened that day. She could hardly blame him, of course. “She didn’t tell him?”

Hermione blanched, gnawing at her lower lip slightly. “I obliviated her,” she admitted in a shameful whisper finally, after a length of silence that had begun to feel uncomfortable.

“What!?”

“She was furious and she was saying things and I just…” She gulped, shaking her head as the crystal-clear memory flashed in her mind. “I don’t even remember grabbing for my wand, but all of a sudden it was in my hand and I just… did it.”

Silence lingered then and Hermione squirmed under Draco’s unflinching attention.

His expression was unreadable now, the tension in his face having loosened to a blank mask. Because she’d carried so much shame for what she’d done that day - not only to Ginny but to Draco and even Ron to some degree - she couldn’t help but assume that his disgust for her was only growing.

“So,” he said finally, “you took her memories so that she wouldn’t ruin your chances of getting back together with the Weasel?”

Hermione gaped, momentarily stunned into silence by his assumption. That he could make that assumption hadn’t even occurred to her. “What? Of course not!”

His face was tense again, judgement and disgust written all over him. It had been a long time since he’d regarded her like that, since the very beginning when they’d first talked outside the club the night he found out she’d married Neville and not Ron.

She hated it.

“I didn’t want to get back together with Ron,” she said firmly. “Do you honestly still believe that’s what I wanted?”

“Then why the f*ck did you?” He asked, raising his voice for the first time in the conversation.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, f*ck off,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Try me.”

“Did I ever tell you that I obliviated my parents before I went on the run with Harry and Ron?” She asked, unable to maintain eye contact with him. She already knew the answer to her question because she knew that she would remember opening up about that particular aspect of her past with him, but asked it anyway.

“No,” he answered after a beat.

“I couldn’t leave them unprotected, considering their proximity to Harry through me, so I practised the spell for weeks and then… I just did it. I erased myself from their minds entirely and set them on a path to leaving the country.” Her voice was stiff as she spoke. She had certain walls in place, ones she’d built high and reinforced every time they started to crumble, and they required restrained emotion to stay in place. “It was the right thing to do. I would do it again. Even knowing that there’s no undoing it.”

She glanced up at Draco and found him watching her. Though his expression was still closed off and unreadable, she could see that it had softened a bit as she’d spoken. She winced, knowing she didn’t deserve it.

“So when I did it to Ginny, I did it perfectly.” There was no pride in her voice as she spoke. “I just stole the bits about me and you. No side effects. And she was none the wiser.”

It should have sounded like bragging, she realised, with the way that she phrased it, but there was no mistaking her shame over it. Having done such high-level magic with such precision would have been something to feel proud of, if not for the fact that she’d stolen something she never had a right to.

No, there was no pride there.

And yet, she already felt an easing of the weight she’d been carrying with the secret.

It only occurred to her in that moment that up until that point she was the only person in the world who’d known what happened that morning. She’d never realised how isolating it had been.

“Tell me why you did it,” he insisted, his voice thick with restrained emotion. “If not because you didn’t want Weasley to know, then why?”

“I was angry at the things she was saying. About you. About me. About us.” She could have laughed, knowing that anger was no excuse. “I just wanted her to stop. So I made her stop.”

“And you still feel guilty.”

“Of course, I still feel guilty!” She exclaimed, standing from where she was seated, unable to maintain stillness when everything in her was twisting up. “She’s always been this wonderful friend. She’s always tried to be closer to me and I just… can’t. How can I let someone close after I did that to her? I need to tell her.”

“No, you don’t.” He countered in a decidedly unbothered tone.

Eyes wide and mouth hanging open, Hermione turned and looked at Draco in shock. “What do you mean? Of course, I do.”

“Don’t you think you’ve punished yourself enough for what you did to your parents?” He asked pointedly.

“What?”

“That’s what this is, isn’t it? You feel so bad about taking those memories from Ginny - memories of things she had no right to know and certainly no right to judge - because it reminds you that you took yourself from your parents.” He pinned her with a look, silent only long enough to gauge her reaction, before continuing. “So tell her if you must, but think about whether you’re doing it for her or because you feel like you need to be punished. Because telling her will hurt her even more than she’s already hurt because of Potter’s bullsh*t and finding out that you knew about the affair. If you’re going to be her friend, be the kind of friend she deserves or don’t bother.”

Shocked at Draco’s perspective, Hermione could only stare, opening and closing her mouth several times before keeping it closed and just considering his words. She’d never considered it that way, had always just felt like the secret and her shame were the barrier to having a close relationship with Ginny, but it occurred to her that the only real barrier might actually have just been herself.

“You’re right,” she said finally, still stunned.

“Why did you get back together with Ron?” He asked then, apparently unwilling to stop at the conversation about Ginny. Something about him calling her ex by his first name set her teeth on edge, made the conversation feel that much heavier.

“Do we really need to talk about this?”

“Don’t you think I deserve to know? After all this time?”

She took a deep breath. “It won’t change anything.”

She was stalling, there was no denying it. She knew him well enough to know that he was going to push and that eventually she would end up telling him, but she couldn’t help but try to postpone it.

“I’m not looking for change, I’m looking for the truth. Finally.” He said firmly.

“It’s not a good reason.” She insisted. “You were right that day. I was a coward.”

“Just tell me.”

She gave in.

“Obliviating Ginny twisted me up. It reminded me of my parents and all of the other things that we lost in the war. It reminded me just how much of myself I had lost,” she moved to the window, looking up at the night sky as she thought back to that day and how helpless she’d felt. “I just wanted to go back to being the girl I was before the war turned me into the woman I became. That’s all I could think of, just being that happy, precocious, absolutely ridiculous little girl again.”

They were both silent for long moments until Hermione turned and found Draco watching her. The unreadable expression was gone now, replaced with something tinged with pain and regret that she suspected was reflected in her own expression.

“The girl I used to be was in love with Ronald Weasley, or at least she thought she was,” she said shamefully. “I guess I thought maybe if I found a way back to that, I would find her again.”

“Did you?” Draco asked softly, that strain of emotion back in his voice.

“No.”

“So it was all for nothing then. You f*cking destroyed me for nothing.” He still spoke quietly, but it wasn’t gentle.

“Draco…”

“f*ck you,” he said, his voice raising a bit. “I lost f*cking everything, Hermione.”

She winced, but then inhaled and pinned him with a look. “I know I f*cked up. And I know that I hurt you.”

He scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“But I didn’t start that fire.” She spoke a little more quickly than she might have otherwise, determined to get the words out before she could choke them down and leave them unsaid.

His eyes widened, heat and anger filling them as he ground out, “What?”

She gulped, worried that she had gone too far, but she had actually thought quite a lot about this subject and felt rather strongly about her place in it. She’d held the blame for the events of that day for years, unable to even let herself think about it for all of the shame she carried for what had happened to him in the wake of it. When she really, really allowed herself some grace and thought more deeply about it, though, it was clear to her that she had been taking the blame for things that weren’t actually her fault.

“You can blame me for a lot of things I did, and I will deserve it. You can blame me for hurting you and destroying what we had back then. I will accept responsibility for what I did. But you don’t get to blame me for your choices, even if it was my behaviour that led you to make them. And you don’t get to blame me for the consequences of them either.” She kept her voice even and calm, even though her heart was rabbiting in her chest.

The silence lingered then, the air feeling heavy with the weight of everything between them. Hermione found herself unable to deny that there might be too much between them, too much history and too much hurt to ever actually find resolution. As much as it ached through her entire body, she couldn’t deny that perhaps the right thing was for them to not be in each other’s lives at all.

“f*ck you, Granger.” Draco pushed his chair back and stood stiffly.

“Dr…” She cleared her throat. “D, please.”

“Please, what, Granger?” He asked quietly through a tensed jaw, his voice gravelly.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly, her shoulders falling.

As much as she stood by what she’d said, there was no denying that she’d known all along that he wasn’t going to react well to it. He blamed her - and she couldn’t really fault him for that - but she couldn’t keep taking all of the blame. She just couldn’t.

She winced as Draco turned and made his way to the doorway, certain that he was going to leave and wondering if this was going to finally be the time that he didn’t come back. Sure, he’d agreed to let her petition the Ministry on his behalf, but he could change his mind at any time.

As he gripped the doorframe above his head with his back to her, leaving his expression a mystery and her unable to even guess what he was feeling, she held her breath. She could see the tension in his hands and through his back, could feel it emanating from him.

“f*ck,” he finally muttered, breaking the silence in the room.

She inhaled deeply.

He turned.

She licked her lips before catching the lower one between her teeth as she tried to read the expression on his face, exhaling.

Suddenly, after a lingering moment of shared silence, everything that had felt like it was moving in slow motion shifted as he swiftly closed the distance between them, his hands moving to her hips to roughly pull her in tight against his body.

Without thinking about it, she lifted her hands to rest them against his chest, her fingers curling tightly enough at his shoulders that there could be no doubt as to the depth of her fear that he would turn around and leave again.

He dipped his head and pressed his forehead to hers. Even with the distortion in her vision that their closeness caused, she could see the tortured expression on his face and she felt the responsibility for that down to her toes.

“How do you do this to me?” He ground out. His left hand moved from her waist to cup her jaw and she turned to nuzzle into it as his words shot yet another bolt of pain through her.

Truthfully, she wasn’t sure whether the question was rhetorical or if he actually wanted an answer, but she held her tongue either way because she knew that no answer she could think of would satisfy him. Either of them, really.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured instead.

And she was. Not because she took responsibility for the things that weren’t her fault - now that she’d said the words out loud, the truth of them had fully sunk in and that sour weight she’d had in her gut since that day was already dissipating - but because she took responsibility for the things that were.

“f*ck,” he muttered again.

She slipped a hand up into his hair, letting the silky strands move through her fingers before curling them to hold him there. “I didn’t want to hurt you that day, Draco, but I know that I did. I’ve regretted it every day since.”

“I wanted to keep you. Needed to,” he said then, eyes falling closed around a pained expression. “And I came down to the Great Hall to find you, to tell you. And then there you were and he was telling you he loved you and you were f*cking kissing him.”

She winced.

She hadn’t actually known how much he’d seen, though she had deduced that it had to have at least been that. In truth, she’d known immediately as soon as she heard about the fire that he’d seen her with Ron, but the confirmation still felt like a knife at her chest.

“It bloody destroyed me, Hermione,” he said painfully, causing her to wince again.

“It destroyed me, too,” she admitted, blinking as tears came to her eyes. She hesitated before continuing, catching her lip between her teeth before exhaling heavily. “And he knew. About you, I mean. About us. He tried to get me to pretend that nothing had happened, but I didn’t. I made clear it had. I don’t want you to think you were my dirty little secret.”

“f*ck!” He growled this time, the word heavy with emotion.

The moment seemed to last forever, their gazes holding as best they could up so close as the weight of everything settled on them in a different way than it had up until that point.

Perhaps, Hermione thought to herself, they should have had this conversation right at the beginning, before falling into bed together and starting up whatever this thing was between them.

Maybe they would have been able to proceed in a healthier way.

Or maybe they wouldn’t have proceeded at all.

Maybe they’d only been able to sustain this for as long as they had because of all of the things that were left unsaid.

Shamefully, she found herself glad that they hadn’t had this conversation before they’d fallen into each other the way they had. It was going to hurt like hell when it ended, but any doubt that may have lingered in her as to whether she’d prefer the hurt it caused or the ignorance of it never having happened had disappeared.

Pathetic though it may be, she’d rather have a little of him than none at all.

When finally the moment shifted, subtle and yet distinct, Hermione inhaled as Draco’s hands moved smoothly to the backs of her thighs to lift her off her feet as he captured her mouth in a punishing kiss. Eagerly, she wound her legs and arms around him to hold tight as he carried her towards her bedroom on sure, almost effortless steps.

“I can’t be gentle with you tonight,” he warned against her lips as they approached the doorway to her bedroom.

She blinked.

It wasn’t the content of his warning that was surprising to her, it was the fact that he’d made it at all. As she considered it, she realised that it made sense. Up until that point, they’d avoided any obvious intimacy, ostensibly maintaining the idea that all that existed between them was sex.

That particular lie that they told themselves became distinctly more difficult to maintain after a conversation like the one they’d just had.

She took his warning for what it was - an opportunity to call a stop to this before they got too deep - but she also knew that there was no way she was going to stop it.

They had an expiration date.

One night lost couldn’t be reclaimed.

And whether she was willing to admit it or not, there was some part of her that craved the ache.

“I don’t want you to be,” she told him, only realising the depth of truth to her answer after the words were out of her mouth.

She wasn’t entirely sure she could even explain it, but something in her was screaming for the authentic brutality of this moment.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Any hesitation either of them might have been feeling seemed to evaporate as he carried her into her bedroom and kicked the door closed behind them. He didn’t have far to go until his shins met her mattress and he dropped her onto it, looking down over her intensely.

“You can–” She began, intending to offer herself in a sort of penance.

“Shut up.” He cut her off.

Her eyes widened as he reached for her foot, tugging her to the edge of the bed. “Dr–”

“I mean it, Hermione,” he said sharply, pinning her with a look.

Licking her lips, she nodded.

“Good girl,” he murmured. “Roll over. On your hands and knees.”

Even as she luxuriated in the small praise he offered her, the warmth it triggered in her providing a strange contrast to all of the pain lingering in her body, she moved quickly to do as she was told. Somewhat awkwardly, she rolled over onto her tummy with her legs hanging off the bed on either side of his before pulling them underneath her and pushing up to her hands and knees.

“So bloody eager to please me now, aren’t you?”

“Always,” she answered.

A moment later, she felt him wrap his hand around her hair and tug her upwards until she was arched back against him, balanced only by his hold. “What was that?” He asked in a harsh whisper against her ear.

“Always,” she repeated, determined and breathless all at once.

“Now you know that isn’t true,” he reminded her, tugging her hair roughly until she was looking up at him sideways. “Tell me the truth.”

“Always.”

She cried out softly as he tightened his hand in her hair.

He chuckled softly at the sound but did loosen his hold just enough that the sting in her scalp went away. “Is that so?”

She nodded, wincing as the motion tugged her own hair this time.

“What would you do to please me?” He asked then, his voice thick and husky.

She squirmed, her core throbbing at the way he was handling her. “Anything,” she answered.

“Anything?”

She nodded once more.

“What if I told you I never wanted to see you again?”

You did.

As tempted as she was to remind him of that, she held her tongue. Instead, she gulped, thinking, and then nodded silently as she allowed her eyes to close mournfully.

Once more, he jerked her head back until the back of her body was pressed against the front of his from hips to shoulders. “You would, wouldn’t you?” He ground out.

She nodded once more.

Finally, he released his hold on her hair, only to reach around and cup his hand around her throat in that way they both knew she found so overwhelmingly delicious. A little pressure over at the sides, fingers pushing in against her pulse.

“Would it break your f*cking heart?” He asked, flexing his hand.

She remained silent.

“Tell me, Hermione. Would it break your heart?”

“Don’t,” she whispered painfully.

“Tell me.”

“It’s just sex,” she said quietly, enough pain in her voice that there could be no doubt in either of their minds that she was lying.

She would have liked to pretend that the intention of the lie was to protect herself, to keep him from reminding him that she was in love with him so that she might guard her heart, but the truth was so much more humiliating than that.

She couldn’t tell him because she was afraid he would leave if she did.

“Say it again,” he growled, tightening his hold on her throat enough that she felt lightheaded for a moment.

“It’s just sex,” she repeated, this time a little bit louder but with no less pain in her voice.

“So it is,” he replied.

Finally, he let go of her throat and she wobbled on her knees before falling back against his chest. His hands moved to slide around her waist, one moving upwards to cup her breast while the other smoothly slipped beneath her waistband and down into her knickers.

She gasped, rocking against his hand.

“And yet, this is mine, isn’t it?” He asked as he glided his fingers through the slickness he found there.

Once again, she held her tongue.

“Tell me this is f*cking mine,” he demanded, circling her cl*t with his fingers with enough pressure to send her squirming.

“It’s yours!” She cried out, rocking into his hold.

“And yet… It’s just sex,” he repeated, his voice soft but harsh in equal measure.

She whimpered, nodding.

“Let me f*cking break your heart, Hermione,” he ground out, dipping his fingers lower to tease at her entrance.

“You are!” She cried out before she could stop herself, her mind and body so twisted up with emotion and sensation that she couldn’t help herself.

At her words, he smoothly slipped his fingers inside her and began slowly thrusting them as he tucked his face in against the side of her neck. “Say it again,” he whispered against her skin.

“You are,” she whimpered, rocking her hips in rhythm with his fingers.

“The whole thing,” he insisted as his thumb circled her cl*t.

“Please,” she begged, tilting her head to press it against his.

“Say it,” he urged, dragging his teeth over her pulse point before closing his lips and sucking softly there.

She clenched her jaw as she felt herself losing the battle of resistance, chasing the pleasure he was giving her so intently that she was forgetting more and more to be sensible and hold her feelings close to her chest.

Relentlessly, he stroked her cl*t and rocked his fingers with exact precision, so familiar with her body by now that he knew exactly where and how to touch her until her legs were shaking and her cries became more and more desperate.

“Draco, please,” she murmured, reaching behind her absently to pull him even more tightly to her body.

“Say it, Hermione,” he insisted. “Say it or I’ll stop.”

She whined.

“Say it or I’ll leave you here panting for what you’re chasing,” he threatened, slowing his fingers maddeningly. “And we both know that no matter what you did after I left, you’d be chasing what I could give you all night until you finally had no choice but to give up.”

“Please,” she tried again.

“Give me what I want. And I’ll give you what you want.” He insisted, speeding his fingers up again before stilling them entirely.

“You’re breaking my heart!” She gave in, crying out as she rocked into him, chasing the sensation he was withholding from her. “Into a million bloody pieces.”

“Good girl,” he murmured, feathering kisses over the ridge of her jaw as his hand began moving again, this time with unabashed intention. “Now come for me.”

No more words were said as he continued his ministrations between her legs, stroking her cl*t in perfect spirals while his fingers thrust with a consistent, unwavering rhythm that had her gripping his arm and the back of his neck within a matter of minutes. Finally, her entire body tightened almost painfully, stilling his fingers with her inner walls, and she came on a heavy shudder followed by a series of almost violent twitches.

When, eventually, she sagged back against him as her body came down from the high, unable to put together even a loose thought, he held her steadily against his chest until her breathing returned to normal.

“Bloody hell,” she murmured, blinking her eyes open.

She felt his soundless chuckle against her back and a wave of warmth washed over her. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last all that long before he gave her a nudge at the centre of her back and guided her back down to the bed, bracing on her hands.

“I’m not done with you yet,” he said then, his voice like an oath.

A moment later, she felt him tugging her trousers and knickers down over her behind until they were bunched around her knees, holding her legs tight together. She squirmed, getting herself into a comfortable position as she heard first the rustle of clothes and then the distinct whirring sound of a zipper being unfastened.

She gasped when she felt the press of him at her entrance, immediately moving to part her trapped legs further to accommodate him. It was only when she felt the press of his hand against her lower back that she stilled, turning to look back at him.

“Stay still, love,” he murmured, rocking his hips forward ever so slightly to only just press inside of her.

She whimpered but did her best to follow his instructions, fighting to keep her hips from chasing the feel of him. When finally he pressed forward, taking hold of her hips as he moved in one slow, even stroke until he was buried inside of her completely, she cried out and dropped her head down to the bed, eyes closing tightly.

“Bloody hell,” he moaned, holding himself still for long, lingering moments, “you feel like f*cking heaven.”

“Yes,” she whispered, instinctively clenching her inner walls around him hard enough that he groaned and gripped her hips even harder.

“Stay still inside too, Granger,” he groaned with a chuckle, rocking his hips once.

“Can’t help it,” she mumbled, her walls fluttering around him once more.

When she felt the quick, sharp slap against her arse, she cried out and rocked her hips forward, unable to stop herself. A second later, she nearly shuddered from the effort of keeping still when she felt another slap to the other cheek.

“Draco, please!” She cried out as her hands gripped the bedcover until her knuckles whitened.

“Please, what?” He teased, rolling his hips.

“f*ck me!” She exclaimed, clenching around him once more.

“Say please again,” he urged, flexing his hands around the flesh of her hips. “Say it nice and sweet for me and I’ll give you what you need.”

“Please, Draco,” she begged. “Please f*ck me. I need you.”

“Good girl,” he said again.

As he began to thrust in earnest, all teasing left behind, she moved with him in a perfect, synchronistic rhythm, eagerly meeting each thrust with one of her own. They fell into it all so easily now, able to anticipate each other effortlessly, and soon they were both lost in it.

However, when suddenly he slowed and she felt his thumb between her bum cheeks, teasing at her tight rear entrance, she gasped and turned her head to look at him over her shoulder.

When she found him watching her, a smirk tugging at his lips, she flushed.

“Should I take you here finally, Granger?” He murmured, continuing to rock into her at a slow, even pace that drove her nearly as mad as the harder, faster one he’d just transitioned away from.

“I…” She trailed off, watching him closely.

He’d teased her bum before, had even slipped two fingers in there once while he’d been going down on her, but he’d never gone any further than that. Now, at the mention of it, she found herself desperate to feel him inside her there.

“Yes,” she said decisively, nearly laughing at the startled expression that lit his face.

“Yes, what?” He prodded.

She was certain she felt him swell inside her, thicker and harder than he’d been a moment earlier, and she licked her lips. “f*ck my arse.”

He gulped, jerking his hips forward suddenly. “Say please,” he murmured.

“Please, Draco,” she breathed, “f*ck my arse.”

“f*ck,” he muttered, pressing his thumb more firmly against her entrance until her muscles relaxed enough for it to slip inside.

She groaned, dropping her head forward again. “Please,” she repeated.

He leaned down, his body curling over her back, and bit at her shoulder. “Tell me you know a lubrication spell,” he murmured.

She nodded and quickly recited the spell, squirming as she felt the slickness building inside of her. She whimpered her disappointment when he slipped his thumb from inside her, immediately missing the pressure and stretch of him, but sighed after a moment when she felt the press of his fingers there once more.

“Patience,” he murmured. He circled the tight entrance with two fingers at first, the sensation still foreign and exciting to her, and then pressed against the ring of muscle with one until it released and he was able to slip inside.

He took his time preparing her, starting with just one finger before adding another and then stretching her with a gentleness that was in stark contrast to his promise that he wouldn’t be. When finally he drew his fingers from inside her and she felt the press of his co*ck against her entrance, so much thicker than his two fingers had been, she took a deep breath.

“Relax,” he said softly, leaning down to press a kiss to the centre of her back before standing straight once more.

As he pushed forward, seeking entrance, she held her breath and gripped the covers hard until finally, she felt him slide inside her and whimpered softly. She was expecting it to hurt, there’d never been any doubt in her mind about that, but even through the aching stretch of him, there was something delicious about feeling as full as she did just then.

“Are you okay?” He asked through gritted teeth, his exertion of self-control screaming from him even as he held perfectly still.

She nodded.

“Words, Hermione,” he insisted, gripping her hips a little harder.

“Yes,” she promised with a moan, pushing back against him so that he pushed another couple of centimetres deeper.

“Bloody hell,” he growled as he mimicked her reaction, pressing a bit deeper as well.

It took an achingly long time, at least by Hermione’s mental measure, until he finally pressed his hips against the flesh of her bum, fully seated inside of her. They both stayed perfectly still then, until eventually the cadence of their breathing matched each other and he finally began to move.

His thrusts were tentative at first, slow and mindful that this was her first time, but as she gradually began to relax and more fully enjoy the feeling he began to increase his pace and depth until he was f*cking her without restraint.

She gripped tightly to the covers and didn’t bother to hold back any of the sounds that came naturally to her. Absently she wondered if she should have cast a silencing spell around her flat so that the noise they were making didn’t disturb any of her neighbours, but the thought was fleeting as she lost herself once again in the moment.

When she felt him reach around her to tease at her cl*t, she gave over to the sensation and rode it until she felt that familiar build low in her tummy once more. In truth, she hadn’t expected another org*sm, particularly from anal sex, but she certainly wasn’t about to complain.

Instead, she urged him on, begging him not to stop.

He obliged, stroking her cl*t expertly, matching each stroke to his thrusts.

She tried to warn him that she was going to come, but before she could even get the words out, her entire body shuddered as she clamped down on him and let out a noise that sounded completely foreign to her ears.

He was only moments behind her, pulling himself from inside her at the last second before spilling his seed on her lower back and the curve of her arse with a low growl and a curse.

It took them several minutes to even be able to form coherent thoughts. Hermione collapsed onto her stomach, eyes closed and mouth open as she tried to catch her breath, while Draco leaned heavily on his knees against the bed with heaving breaths. When finally they both came back to earth, Draco took hold of his trousers and carefully made his way to the bathroom to clean himself up, returning after a few minutes with a warm, wet flannel to clean her up as well.

As he tossed away the soiled cloth, having gently and thoroughly cleaned her up, Hermione rolled onto her back to look up at him.

No words were exchanged.

She pulled her shirt over her head, tossing it away before moving on to her trousers and knickers. He watched as she manoeuvred herself somewhat awkwardly until she could slip under the covers, maintaining eye contact the other time.

As she pulled the covers up over her body, she tilted her head slightly, waiting with an unspoken question written on her features before she lifted the corner of the blanket in silent invitation.

“Hermione…” He murmured, taking a deep breath.

She bit her lip, just waiting.

When finally he reached over his head to tug off his shirt, depositing it on the floor right alongside her clothes, she smiled slightly and lifted the covers to invite him in. Once he’d done away with his trousers and pants, he slipped beneath the covers and smoothly moved his body close enough to hers that he could tug her in against his chest, winding both arms around her.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” he murmured, pressing his face in against her neck and breathing her in deeply.

“I know,” she replied, nuzzling even closer into him and closing her eyes as all of the leftover tension from earlier melted away.

They were both liars.

Notes:

I was STRESSED when it came time to write this chapter because I genuinely had no idea how I was going to write this conversation finally and I sincerely have no idea how it ended up going the way it went after the conversation... but apparently that's where the muses were taking me! Well, the muses a a big glass of red wine.

I can't even begin to thank everyone who has been leaving comments on this story. I know this story is a rollercoaster of angst, so I can't overstate just how much it means to me that so many people are enjoying the ride (even if it is a painful one!) You all have made me feel so amazing and I feel so sincerely grateful that so many of you are coming along with me on this!

NEXT WEEK: The trial - and it's aftermath - looms.

Chapter 17: Part Three : Episode Four

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione couldn’t remember ever being quite so aware of time as she was as she made her way to the club Slithering Exile was performing at the night before the trial. It felt fitting, somehow, that the same club she’d first stumbled upon him in a year earlier would be the venue for his last show before the trial.

She’d spent three months preparing every detail of the case, securing witnesses to come speak on Draco’s behalf and ensuring that no matter what question the Council threw at her, she would have an impenetrable answer. There was no room for missteps, not this time, and while she felt the exhaustion of her preparation all the way to her bones, she knew that the adrenaline of it would carry her.

And then she would sleep.

When she’d first gotten word about the date of the trial, three months had seemed like plenty of time. Not only plenty of time to prepare for the trial itself, but also to prepare herself for the end of the trial when she would have to say goodbye to the man she had fallen even more deeply in love with than she’d ever imagined possible.

Now she wished she’d asked for a year to prepare.

Two years.

Five years.

A lifetime.

In truth, she wasn’t sure anymore that there was any amount of time that would prepare her to lose him. She couldn’t even imagine that there was anything that might soften the blow of it. Already, she was bracing.

They’d both gotten quite good at pretending that resisting the urge to kiss each other goodbye or share sweet words and warm embraces would protect them, would keep them at a far enough distance that the hurt wouldn’t be too terrible when they were finished.

Their nights spent together had gotten more frequent until they were spending nearly every night wrapped up in each other, both of them determinedly ignoring the weight of their intensifying feelings and those moments of intimacy between them that snuck in more and more often.

There were the subtle, simple things like him fixing her a cup of tea just the way she liked it as they worked on his case, moving through her kitchen with ease and familiarity, or her dragging her fingertips over his shoulders or chest as she passed by him. There were also bigger, more difficult to ignore things like the increasingly personal and intimate conversations they accidentally fell into when one of them accidentally dropped their guard and the other instinctively followed or the way they had stopped pretending as though spending the night was incidental and instead moved through a night time routine together before going to sleep.

Undoubtedly, they both knew better, but neither could seem to stop.

Standing outside the club, she looked up at the marquee and allowed herself to go back in time to remember exactly how she’d felt that first night she’d seen him again. It seemed both far away and only yesterday all at once.

Fresh off her divorce.

Lonely in a way that she wasn’t sure she’d ever been before.

And there he’d been.

Him and his ability to obliterate her and bring her back to life all at the same time.

It occurred to her for the first time, as she stood there between the then and the now, that it wasn’t the first time that Draco Malfoy had appeared in her life, seemingly out of nowhere, just when she was feeling her most alone.

That’s exactly what had happened in Eighth Year.

She remembered Pansy saying something about her showing up in Draco’s life after getting dumped by a “boring wizard”, but the truth of it was much more coincidental than that. She never sought him out when she was lonely. She only stumbled upon him.

She took deep breaths as she allowed the significance of that to sink in.

She wasn’t a person who believed in fate or destiny in the way others did and she’d never really believed in soulmates, but she couldn’t help but cling to the idea that perhaps there was more at work than just their feelings. Perhaps the intensity of the pull they felt towards each other did live somewhere in the supernatural, beyond her own view of the world.

Perhaps.

“Stop it,” she whispered to herself, shaking her head.

It would only make it worse, she realised. And unlike the first time, when she’d been young and much more resilient than she was now, she knew that adding any further injury to the loss of Draco Malfoy from her life would only cripple her even more.

No, she decided, she would be her own saviour.

Head high, she made her way inside the club and looked around. The band hadn’t taken the stage yet, but there was a buzz of energy that let her know the crowd was waiting in anticipation.

Being that this club was one of their regular gig spots, she’d become well familiar with the place by now after having come to see them play there several times. And yet, she still felt like an outsider as she stood there waiting for the band to take the stage, watching a world she wasn’t a part of from the periphery.

She got herself a drink, two fingers of Scotch neat that she hoped would diminish the volume of the ticking clock inside her head, and took her first sip just as the lights dipped and she could see the band beginning to take the stage through the darkness.

By now, she’d been to enough of their shows that she recognised each of their shadows easily. Baz, with his wide shoulders, tapered hips, and wild mop of curls, moved efficiently across the stage in even, measured steps. Nigel, long and lean, had a sort of feline grace to his movements as he moved to grab his guitar. Elena, all curves and attitude, sashayed in such a way that every single time there were at least a few whistles and groans from the crowd before she took her seat at the drums. And Callum, large and stocky, lumbered the short distance to his own guitar and picked it up with jerky movements.

And then Draco.

Or, rather, DL, she supposed, in this context.

Obviously, she was most familiar with the way his body moved in the dark - in more ways than one - but he still managed to take her breath every single time. He moved easily to the centre of the stage, setting down two water bottles in front of his monitor before adjusting the mic stand to his preference. He was graceful and effortless in his movements and filled the space with his presence even in darkness.

Merlin, losing him was going to level her.

She waited in anticipation for the lights to come up and when they did, she gasped. He looked much the same as he usually did when he was on stage - hair artfully mussed, black trousers and heavy boots, and a smirk on his face as he looked out over the crowd - but there was no mistaking that he was wearing one of her shirts.

On her, the silk blouse looked professional and appropriate to the point that some might argue it was downright bland, but the way he wore it gave the exact opposite impression in every way. It was too small, of course, fitting snugly across his shoulders and biceps, and it was clear that he was wearing it open because there was no way he’d be able to fasten the buttons without tearing it. Somehow, that just made the white silky fabric look even more sinful, especially with his colourful tattoos peeking out from where he’d rolled the sleeves to his elbows.

She found herself quite certain she was never going to be able to look at her wardrobe the same way again.

“Good evening,” he greeted the crowd with a wide, infectious smile that she rarely saw on his face outside of his time on stage. “Everyone feeling good tonight? Or do you need us to make you feel good?”

She could have drooled as the crowd erupted, Draco’s charisma pulling them all in effortlessly.

Who was she kidding? It pulled her in, too.

By now she’d learned the words to most of the band’s songs, even to the ones that ripped her heart out every time - perhaps especially those - and she eagerly sang along. It hadn’t been a conscious decision, really, but she was determined that if this was the last time she would see them perform, she was going to try to enjoy it.

She wanted to actually experience it, rather than simply intellectualising it.

As the show wore on, she even managed to forget, for the first time that day, that it was the last time.

“Alright, everyone,” Draco said, pausing to finish off his second water bottle, “as much as we’d love to go all night long for you beautiful people,” he winked, “this is going to be our last song.”

Disappointed groans interspersed with cheers rang out throughout the room as Hermione found herself sucked right back into the moment and the understanding that this was it.

This was the last song.

“We have a little something new for you all today and it’s the first time we’re ever playing it for anyone outside the band, so…” He paused dramatically, a slow smirk coming to his lips as he observed the crowd. “Be gentle. Sensitive artists and all that.”

As he smirked, easily convincing the crowd that he was teasing, they tittered with laughter and cheered.

Hermione watched in the kind of silence and stillness that seemed to go all the way to her bones as he reached for the guitar that he rarely played on stage and moved to sit on a stool in front of his mic stand.

“If you ask me, some of the best songs in the world are born from heartbreak,” he said in a conversational tone as he absently tuned his guitar.

More cheering.

“So, for your consideration,” he chuckled, looking over the crowd charmingly, “here is a song born from… complicated heartbreak.”

Hermione held her breath as he looked around the room again, stopping his pursuit when their eyes met. As he began strumming the guitar, he gave her a small smile that was tinged with a sadness she felt reflected her own.

She took a deep breath.

And listened.

It was beautiful. Softer than any of the other songs that she knew he’d written about her - about them - but somehow that made the knives digging into her chest with every word embed themselves deeper until she felt flayed open for everyone to see.

Of course, she was hardly aware of anyone else in the room with him, every iota of her attention centred on the singer.

Like the song, her reaction was quiet.

She remained still as her tears gathered in her eyes. She didn’t even notice them there until her vision blurred and a flutter of blinking sent them tumbling down her cheeks, ruining the makeup she’d worked so tediously to get perfect before leaving her flat.

She didn’t even bother to brush them away until the song came to an end. At first, there was a hush over the crowd as they digested what they’d just heard, and then an eruption of cheers.

“Thank you,” Draco murmured, returning his gaze to Hermione’s. His expression was weighted, heavy with all of the tangled emotions of the moment.

Their gazes held.

She nodded.

And it felt like goodbye even though they weren’t quite there yet.

There was no missing the contrast between this time and the first. So much had changed in the past year, and yet nothing had changed at all. She couldn’t even begin to describe it, but everything about that moment was steeped in that contrast. The first time she’d come to see him, she’d been struck with that lingering sting of young love turned hurt, but this time the feelings had matured into something so much more complicated and overwhelming. She felt like she was bursting with them and paralysed by them in equal measure.

As the lights went down and the cheers transformed into the hum of conversation, Hermione watched as the band exited the stage and disappeared through the side door. She took a moment, catching the breath she hadn’t even realised she’d lost and allowing herself to feel the ache of the moment through her body.

“Can you imagine being the girl he wrote that song about?” A stranger’s voice broke through Hermione’s thoughts and caught her attention, no room for doubt as to who the girl was talking about.

“My god, what kind of absolute moron would leave DL? You’d have to be mad!” the second girl replied, her judgemental tone shifting to a distinctly more optimistic one as she continued, “But… leaves us with a chance, right?”

“Exactly,” the first girl replied with glee, sharing an almost conspiratory look with her friend. “Should we go try to find him at the stage door? I’ve heard that he used to take girls out there all the time.”

“Used to?”

“There’s been rumours that he has a girlfriend or something, but if that new song is anything to go by, it sounds like he might just be back on the market.” Both girls giggled with excitement before disappearing into the crowd.

Hermione laughed softly to herself.

Girlfriend.

An ache went through her as she considered just how much she wished it could be as simple as those two young girls imagined it to be. To be something so simply articulated as Draco’s girlfriend.

The girls couldn’t have been much older than twenty and she couldn’t ignore the ache she felt as she observed them, wishing for a little of that weightlessness they seemed to be experiencing. Strangely, the girls didn’t inspire any of the familiar jealousy or possessiveness that had followed her from their school days into adulthood when it came to Draco. Instead, there was envy there for how uncomplicated their feelings were and how much optimism they were able to maintain.

At 30, though it hardly seemed old enough, she hardly felt optimistic anymore. Particularly not just then.

She considered going around back to meet him so that they could leave together, but something stopped her. Perhaps it was the idea of watching him with those girls or the idea of anyone, even his bandmates, being witness to their last night together. She truly wasn’t sure, but rather than go meet him, she pulled out her mobile to send him a text.

I’ll meet you at yours.

Even a month ago, it would have been presumptuous to assume that they would be spending the night together, being that they hadn’t actually made any plans for after the show. Now, though, there was no doubt in her mind that they both intended to spend this last night together.

There was also little doubt that it would be the last night.

Unlike muggle trials that could last for weeks or even months, the Council would only grant her one day to argue Draco’s case before they made their decision. By the time the sun went down the following day, she knew that it would be time to keep the promise she absolutely couldn’t break. She hoped that at the very least, she was able to walk away knowing that he could openly be with his friends and family again.

That would be enough.

It had to be enough.

Rather than walking, as she often tended to do after watching Draco perform, she slipped into an alley to apparate herself so that she could spend a bit of quiet time waiting for him to arrive. There was a brick ledge just outside the door to his building that she found surprisingly comfortable to sit on while she waited for him to come home.

It wasn’t the first time.

As she sat there, the bricks a bit cold against her bum, she considered the strangeness of knowing that it would be the last time she would sit there waiting for him. It wasn’t until that moment that she really acknowledged the fact that every moment of this entire evening was a last and she felt a pang at the thought.

She remembered, with startling clarity, all of their firsts.

She found herself torn between the urge to catalogue every one of their lasts just as clearly and the deeply held desire to force herself to forget them entirely.

The happy times were the ones you should remember, weren’t they?

Her hands began to ache as she moved deeper down the rabbit hole of the question and she couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever feel anything in her life quite as deeply as she was going to feel the pain of saying goodbye.

She didn’t end up having nearly as much time to lose herself in her thoughts as she’d expected before she looked up to see him slipping out of a taxi, his guitar case in one hand and an unlit cigarette already tucked between his lips. Before the cab had even pulled away from the curb, he’d pulled out a black lighter from his jacket to light it. He lifted his head as he exhaled his first pull and looked up to find her lowering herself down from the ledge.

It was a strange moment, the sort that one might see in a movie or a play, intense eye contact persisting while the air around them seemed heavy with the weight of everything lingering invisibly between them.

He didn’t hurry over to her. Instead, he kept his strides slow and measured as he closed the distance. Neither of them broke eye contact as he moved. When finally he reached her, he placed his guitar up against the ledge she’d been perched on moments earlier and leaned his hip against it, facing her.

Neither of them said anything, the silence broken only by the soft crackling sound of his cigarette on every inhale and the slightly heightened volume of breath and smoke leaving his lungs when he exhaled.

She waited patiently, strangely thrilled at just how slowly time seemed to be moving in those moments.

“Did you like the show?” He asked finally, tossing his butt to the ground and crushing it beneath his boot.

She nodded.

He mirrored the movement, tipping his head back as he regarded her. “And the new song?” He asked after a beat, a hint of insecurity coming through his projected ease.

She nodded again, inhaling slowly. “It was beautiful. Maybe the best one you’ve ever written.”

She was quite certain that she’d never allow herself to be masoch*stic enough to listen to his music again after that night, but it had only taken one listen to fall in love with the song. While she’d felt wrung out by it, as though parts of her had been ripped out of her piece by piece as she’d listened to him sing it, there was no denying that it was a truly beautiful song.

Bittersweet by every measure, she decided.

“The best, is it?” He asked, eyebrow arching as he leaned down to pick up his guitar.

“You know it’s beautiful,” she told him with a slight chuckle as he led the way to the door.

“Yeah, I do,” he answered with a smirk as he unlocked the door to let them both inside. “I like that you do too, though.”

As soon as the door closed behind them, he dropped the arm that wasn’t holding the guitar over her shoulder and tugged her in against his side as they made their way up to his doorway, once again falling into silence as they went.

Silence had always been complicated for the two of them, even when they were young. There were the silences that were easy, the ones where they both settled into comfortable existence in the company of the other. She loved those silences, thrived in them even. And then there were the ones like this one, weighted down with tension and anticipation. Every tiny sound around them rang out like a symphony to her ears and by the time they stepped inside his loft, she felt ready to scream just to break through the oppressive quiet. Some of that easy silence would have been nice, but she knew that it was impossible just then.

Drawing his arm away from her, he set his guitar down in the corner near the door and shrugged off his jacket, hanging it in its usual spot on the coat rack. Hermione toed off her shoes and set her handbag down before shrugging off her own jacket and hanging it next to Draco’s.

When finally there were no more silly little tasks to distract them, they turned to face each other. Unable to help herself, Hermione searched his face in an attempt to find some entrance into his thoughts, but all she found there was a carefully constructed mask.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” He asked her carefully.

Slowly, she nodded. “I feel confident.”

In truth, she wasn’t sure whether his question was referring to her feelings about the trial or about what was going to come after it for the two of them, but she could only assume it was the former. She hoped that by now he would know that there would be no such thing as being ready for the end of them.

Of course, that was assuming that he understood her the way that she thought he did.

Silence dragged for several more seconds then as Draco seemed to pursue the same examination of Hermione that she’d attempted with him moments earlier. She couldn’t help but wonder if her own mask fit as flawlessly as his did or if he was able to see through her to every thought.

She didn’t have long to consider the question before he reached out to take her hand, sliding his fingers between hers, before leading the way to the swirling cast iron staircase that led up to the bedroom.

She followed without hesitation, relishing the intimate feel of their fingers twined together as they moved. They’d been wrapped up in each other for over a year now and sexually there had been few limits, but holding hands felt intimate in a completely different way.

It was nice.

Devastating, but nice.

“Get on the bed,” he commanded quietly, his voice rough, as they reached his bedroom.

Surprised, she turned to face him and found him watching her with an unreadable expression. It was almost like normal, his easy dominance calling to her instinctive submission, but it wasn’t the same. As she looked at him, she realised that he was reaching for normal, but not quite getting there.

Obediently, she moved to the bed and sat.

He exhaled and she was certain she saw a flash of relief before he schooled his features back to neutrality.

Unreadable.

As he moved to stand in front of her, she instinctively reached her hands up to his belt but he quickly stilled their movement, shaking his head as he caught them in his own. Confused, she looked up at him, eyes wide and lips parted.

“Not yet,” he murmured as he lowered himself to his knees in front of her.

She licked her lips.

He pressed her hands flat against the mattress on either side of her before moving his hands to her thighs to first glide her skirt up higher and then to part her legs so that he could move between them.

“Don’t come until I say so,” he murmured as he used both hands to tug her knickers down.

She nodded, lifting her bum to help him divest her of the silky fabric. “Yes, sir,” she answered quietly as she settled back on the mattress.

“Good girl,” he replied, parting her legs further.

He wasted no more time then, lowering his mouth to her centre and feasting on her until all of the thoughts she’d been wrapped up in all evening vanished from her head and all she could do was exist in that moment.

Two hours later, Hermione stared up at the ceiling, illuminated only by the streetlights outside, listening to the slow, steady beats of Draco’s breathing as he slept curled up against her side. She’d nearly been asleep herself, just falling into that fuzzy state just before unconsciousness when her thoughts had returned to the following day and she found herself suddenly wide awake once again.

Unable to just lay there, she slowly drew herself out from under his arm, careful not to wake him, and slipped out of the bed. She made her way into the bathroom, lighting one of the candles on the counter rather than turning on the lights, and then leaned her hands against it as she focused on her breathing.

It wasn’t as though this was only just hitting her. The impending loss had been hitting her over and over again for the past three months, the intensity of it increasing with every passing day, but this felt different. While the reminders that she’d have to say goodbye soon had always brought with them an ache that she felt through her stomach and hands, this felt more like an emptiness slowly extending through her entire body.

“Get it together, Hermione,” she whispered as she lifted her head to watch her flickering reflection in the mirror.

Just as her chin started to wobble, eyes moistening with emotion as her hands tightened around the vanity to the point that her fingers were beginning to ache, the silence was interrupted by the clearing of a throat behind her.

Startled, she turned and found Draco standing in the doorway watching her.

She turned slowly to face him fully, her back to the mirror now, and returned her hands to the countertop to hold on tight once more. As he continued to observe her, a question written on his features, she tilted her head and shrugged.

He frowned, nodding. “Hermione…”

She shook her head, blinking a few times.

It was amazing, she realised, just how much they were able to communicate to each other in silence and just the slightest shifts in their bodies and expressions. It spoke of an intimacy they’d both ventured to avoid admitting existed between them.

“Has anything changed?” She asked finally, knowing that she’d never forgive herself if she didn’t try. “Since three months ago, has anything changed?”

She really had done her best to accept things as they were and had spent the last several days talking herself out of telling him that she loved him and begging him to stay with her. Some long-forgotten part of her, the one that had always been ready for a fight and determined to have what she wanted, bristled at being ignored, but she’d managed to hold tight to her determination.

Until that moment.

He cringed.

She deflated, any lingering hope seeming to physically leak from her body.

She had her answer.

“You promised, Hermione,” he reminded her softly, moving a bit further into the room. “It has to be this way.”

“Why?”

“Because all we f*cking do is rip each other to shreds,” he hissed, dropping his head backwards and letting his eyes close.

She could see it now, the pain he’d been holding onto so tightly beneath that unreadable mask he’d been wearing all evening, and it was so visceral that she nearly whimpered. Instead, though, she sniffled and nodded.

“It might not seem like it, but I don’t want to hurt you, Hermione,” he said quietly, his voice almost pleading.

There was something tortured there, something that made it all the harder for her not to fall to her knees and beg him to change his mind. It was strange to realise in that moment just how much easier this would be if he were indifferent. Not easy, but easier.

“I know,” she replied softly, nodding once again. She was beginning to feel a bit like a bobblehead doll, some silly novelty just bobbing up and down. “I should go,” she said then, moving to step around him. “Tomorrow’s a big day and all that…”

“Hermione.”

“It’s okay. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she insisted as she moved in the direction of the bed, suddenly desperate to get out of there. As though she could outrun how much this hurt. “I’ll meet you at the visitor’s entrance with all of the—”

The heat of his body against her back stopped her speaking and she gasped as she felt the draw of his fingers over her shoulder and neck, brushing her hair away and leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake. He dipped his head down and she felt a wash of his breath against her skin as his other hand snaked around to her tummy, tugging her body back against his.

“Don’t go.” He spoke so softly that his voice was barely more than a whisper, with a subtle pull in his voice that made the two words feel like a plea.

Tears slipped from both of her eyes as she leaned back into his heat, one of her arms lifting over her head to hold him against her while the other moved to hold his against her tummy. He tucked his face more firmly in against her neck, just breathing her in at first before pressing a kiss over her pulse point.

“Don’t go,” he repeated, barely loud enough to be heard even so close to her ear. “Not yet.”

“Not yet,” she agreed.

A moment later, she gasped as she was swept up off her feet into his arms. He quickly closed the distance between where they’d been standing and the bed, pressing a knee into the mattress when he reached it to lower them both down onto it without having to pull away entirely.

Bracing on his elbow, he reached up with his thumb to brush the tears away from her cheeks, wincing as though he was in pain.

She felt another pang as she allowed herself to acknowledge that he looked that way because he was in pain.

“Draco…” She trailed off as she realised that she didn’t actually know what she wanted to say. It was as though there were some driving force inside her that felt a need to fill the silence, perhaps to find some combination of words that would change the outcome. Of course, she knew that those didn’t exist.

He shook his head, his gaze full of intensity. “Be here. Right now.”

She licked her lips and tipped her chin in a quick nod. “Right now.”

It was all they had left, wasn’t it?

Cupping her jaw, he tilted her head towards him as he leaned down and caught her lips in a slow, deep kiss. Her arms wound around him then, tugging him in even more tightly against her as they both lost themselves in the deepening kiss.

She had the fleeting thought that she needed to memorise his kiss - the movement between taking and yielding and the unique taste of his mouth - but there was no doubt in her mind that there would be no getting rid of this particular memory. The realisation made her whimper, the sound getting lost against his mouth.

They were both breathless by the time he drew back from the kiss, his gaze heated as he lifted to settle his hips into the cradle of her legs. As the whole night had been thus far, they remained quieter than usual, no use for the usual dirty talk that they so easily got lost in.

She could feel the length of him pressing against her core and rocked her hips upwards against him, gasping as the tip of his co*ck dragged over her cl*t. Despite the lingering pain in every inch of her body, there was no denying her instinctive response to his body against hers as they both felt how slick she already was.

She whimpered as he pulled away from her, moving so that he was kneeling between her legs, but any disappointment she’d been feeling faded as he lifted her leg to rest the length of it against his chest. He turned his head, dragging kisses from her ankle to her knee and back, each brush so light that she nearly giggled from ticklishness even as flutters of desire seemed to make their way from his lips to her c*nt.

Once he had repeated the same action with her other leg, driving her absolutely mad, he shifted both of her legs to drape over his hips and pressed forward. She let out a small squeak followed by a soundless chuckle at the sound as she felt him nudging against her entrance, that familiar stretch stealing her breath as he began to slide inside her achingly slowly.

As he pushed that final inch inside her, seating himself completely so that they were as physically connected as possible, he reached for her hands. As he linked their fingers once more, she clung to him, crying out as he pressed their clasped hands against the mattress on either side of her head and lowered his body against hers once more.

When finally he began moving his hips, at first a slow drag that shifted into faster and more intense thrusts, they both lost themselves in it entirely. Wound tightly around him, she rode up against each of his thrusts, meeting him in a perfect rhythm.

He lifted his head, just enough that they were able to focus on each other as their eyes met, and she gasped at his expression. Open, in a way she hadn’t seen all night, she saw a vulnerability in him that called to her.

“Draco,” she whispered, arching her hips to allow him even deeper than either of them felt possible.

Tugging one of her hands from his, she lifted it to his cheek and gasped as he turned to press a kiss to the centre of her palm, his eyes closing beneath her touch.

The speed and intensity of his thrusts increased and soon those moments of quiet disappeared as the sounds coming unbidden from their throats increased in both frequency and volume as they each found themselves building towards their org*sms. When finally they hit, in quick succession with the grip and shudder of hers immediately triggering his, they both cried out and held tight to each other until their bodies relaxed and settled.

Breathless, he pulled out and fell onto his side next to her, immediately tugging her in tight against his body and pressing his face into the crook of her neck. She turned her body enough that she could tuck in even more tightly against him, holding tight to him with both hands and draping her legs over his.

This was it.

She gulped, the pleasant fluffiness of her org*sm slowly being eroded as reality set back in. As if he felt the shift in her, his hold on her tightened and he pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the side of her neck.

“Stop thinking,” he mumbled. “No thinking yet.”

She huffed a soft laugh, tipping her head back on the pillow as she slipped her fingers through his hair in gentle strokes.

Not thinking, especially given the circ*mstances, was outright impossible. There was simply no way. And yet, she was strangely content to lay there wrapped in him in silence, soaking it all in before it faded away.

Sleep didn’t come.

When the first glow of morning light peeked through the windows, beginning to brighten the dark room, Hermione was still tucked in firmly against Draco’s body, wide awake with a mind that wouldn’t simmer down. By that point, her thoughts had shifted to the case as she silently practised all of her arguments and she felt the familiar anxiety she always did when she was about to represent a client in front of the Ministry, this time with the heightened stakes she couldn’t ignore.

Carefully, she slipped out of his hold and climbed out of the bed.

She dressed efficiently, ready to leave within less than two minutes, but hesitated as she watched him sleep. At the loss of her warmth, he’d curled his body around the pillow to hold it tight against him. Even in sleep, she could see the disquiet in him.

She stood a bit taller.

If she was capable of it, she was determined to bring him the peace he deserved.

Unable to stop herself, she moved quietly over to his side of the bed and leaned down to brush a soft kiss over his cheek, lingering there to breathe him in. His cologne had long since faded, lost to time and sweat, and all there was to smell was the unique scent of his skin.

Her favourite smell.

“I love you, Draco,” she said softly, nearly choking on the words as her throat seemed to thicken with emotion. “We’re going to win. I’ll make sure it was worth it.”

Quickly, afraid she might talk herself out of leaving and make everything harder later, she turned and made her way to the stairs. She glanced back once before she descended them, steeling herself, and then continued on hurried steps until she slipped quietly out of his loft.

She didn’t see him open his eyes to watch her descend the stairs. Didn’t hear him roll onto his back as her steps carried her to the door. And certainly didn’t hear as he pulled a pillow over his face to scream into the fabric the moment the door clicked shut behind her, letting go of every defence he’d been holding so tightly to in her presence.

“I love you too,” he mumbled into the pillow. “f*ck!”

She definitely didn’t hear that either.

Notes:

I sincerely can't believe we're getting so close to the end here! It feels like I just started posting even though it's been months at this point. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! I felt like they would both be pretty invested in their last night together.

Thanks again to everyone who has been leaving comments and kudos and all of the things! You have no idea how much it means to me that y'all are sticking around every week for all of this angst and taking this ride with me. I was a little unsure at the outset how week to week posting was going to go with a story this angsty, so it makes me happy to see the response.

NEXT WEEK: The trial - and its result(s).

Chapter 18: Part Three : Episode Five

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Waiting for a client at the visitor’s entrance to the Ministry for the first time, Hermione found herself feeling a bit like a duck. On the surface, she maintained a calm, unbothered appearance while underneath her heart and mind both were moving at breakneck speed.

You’re ready for this, she reminded herself, squaring her shoulders.

Logically, she knew that there was likely no way she could be more prepared than she was. She’d worked day and night to ensure that she had an answer to any possible question, that there was nothing they could ask her or Draco that would surprise or disarm either of them.

No, she insisted to herself, there were no i’s left undotted or t’s left uncrossed.

When she looked up and found Draco approaching her on the street, her breath caught. It hadn’t occurred to her that the man he’d grown into could look so much like the younger version of himself, but the all-black bespoke suit he wore and the way he’d neatly styled his normally artfully mussed hair left her feeling as though she’d stepped back in time.

This version, she supposed, is likely who he would have grown up to be had he never set that fire.

Immediately, she knew without question that she preferred him in denim and leather to silk and wool - preferred the man he had become over the one he could have been. She also knew, though, that the Council would likely find this version of him much more palatable than the one who had come to so fully embrace muggle modernity since he’d been ejected from their world.

She felt a pang, hating that this version of him was the last one she’d see, but she quickly pushed down the reaction and offered him a smile that she hoped evoked confidence about the outcome of the day.

Today, she reminded herself, was not about her or what had been going on between the two of them for the past year.

Today was about undoing the wrong that had been done to him a decade earlier.

“Ready for this?” She asked in lieu of a traditional greeting.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess,” he answered with a shrug.

She nodded, gesturing towards the phone box that would grant them entrance to the Ministry. When he hesitated, moving to take a step but halting himself, Hermione lifted her gaze to his face.

“Granger…”

She waited, holding her breath without even realising it until the silence dragged on long enough that she had no choice but to inhale or turn purple right there in front of him. She could see indecision written all over his face, able to read the subtleties of his expression rather expertly by now.

After several long moments, his expression shuttered and he exhaled, his shoulders dropping as he waved a hand lazily. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, nodding firmly as he stepped into the phone box.

Disappointment hit her square in the chest, well aware that he’d intended to say something else and had changed his mind. Somehow, she knew that this would be one of those moments that haunted her, the unanswered question of whether whatever he’d intended to say would have changed anything.

Today is not about you, she reminded herself sharply.

Quickly, she joined him in the small space. Holding her body rigid so that she didn’t unintentionally rub up against him, she reached for the handset to dial their way in. As she hung up, she glanced over at Draco to find him looking around the small space with an expression she could only describe as amused disgust.

“I never realised how bloody ridiculous some of this sh*t is,” he explained, shaking his head. “It’s f*cking London! Just put a normal street-level entrance with some sort of bullsh*t corporate name above the door and no one will question it.”

She couldn’t help but laugh along with his assessment. In truth, there had been plenty of times over the years that some of the quirkier ways that magical society functioned did strike her as rather ridiculous, but she’d never actually felt like she had an ally in that thinking since all of her friends had been raised without knowing anything else. How strange that the person who would come to share her opinion would be Draco Malfoy, of all people.

“I feel like a bloody Dalek is about to come around the corner and exterminate us,” he continued as the phone box started to lower them beneath the ground.

Hermione swung her head quickly and looked at him with wide eyes, unable to even find words to respond to the very specific - and very un-wizard-like - reference he’d just made.

When he turned to look at her, his expression shifted to one of amusem*nt with just a hint of embarrassment. “Oh, come on,” he argued, a tinge of pink coming to his cheeks, “it’s not like Doctor Who is some obscure reference. Besides, Baz and Cal won’t shut up about it now it’s back on the telly.”

She chuckled softly.

“You knew what I was talking about,” he muttered, crossing his arms.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she assured him. “When I was little, my dad loved watching old episodes from when he was a kid.” There was no missing the added weight in her tone when she talked about her father and she did nothing to try to mask it. Something about the moment felt just perfect.

“See, it’s a bloody British institution.”

“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed,” she teased lightly, tipping her body sideways to nudge him with her shoulder.

“Shut it,” he warned. Of course, there was no missing the warmth in his expression as he looked over at her.

Hermione gulped, rocking on her heels once.

“Granger…” He said again with the same hesitant intensity he’d worn when he said it out on the street.

“Malfoy,” she replied, watching him closely.

Before she knew it, his hands moved to her hips and he dragged her towards him until their bodies lined up against each other. She gasped, the hand that wasn’t already occupied holding her attaché case moving to press against the centre of his chest.

The moment lingered, their gazes trapped in each other until finally, he broke it abruptly with a swift closure of the distance between their lips. The kiss was brief but lacking in none of the heat and need that seemed to constantly burn between them. Her hand fisted in his shirt, rumpling his appearance of perfection enough that somewhere in the back of her mind she decided that she’d set something right.

When he drew back much more slowly than he’d leaned in, she found herself reeling breathlessly for a moment before finally blinking her eyes open and looking up at him.

“What was that for?” She asked breathlessly as she tried to recapture the appearance of calm that she’d been holding so tight to before he’d stolen both her breath and her control.

He took a deep breath, stepping back from her a moment before the phone box came to a stop and they were met with a view of the neverending bustle of the Ministry Atrium. “I guess it’s time,” he said then.

She wasn’t entirely sure whether their arrival had wiped the question from his mind or he’d simply opted not to answer. Either way, she found herself simultaneously disappointed and relieved. As much as she wanted to know what was going on in his mind after that kiss, she also knew that she needed to focus on the matter at hand.

“Let’s go,” she said firmly, nodding as she pushed the door open and gestured for him to exit the small space first.

It seemed that as soon as they ventured beyond the door of the small lift, all attention in the atrium shifted towards them in a sort of wave. Conversations halted abruptly, the loud bustle of the space quieting to a murmur as they moved through a sea of eyes suddenly trained on them.

“You’d think I’d be used to being the centre of attention by now,” he murmured, shoulders back and head held high as he walked at Hermione’s side.

“This is a little different than being on stage,” she replied, carefully looking around the crowded space for any familiar, friendly face she could find.

“You’ve got that right,” he said quietly, the discomfort he so expertly managed to keep out of his body language coming through clearly in his voice.

The attention followed them as they made their way to the bank of lifts. Though most of the whispers were kept at a low enough volume that they couldn’t make out any of what was being said, there were some people who seemed uninterested in keeping their gossip to themselves and Hermione couldn’t help but wince at some of the more unforgiving comments, particularly from older witches and wizards.

“Ignore them,” she insisted softly.

“It’s not like I was expecting a parade in my honour, Granger,” he muttered with a smirk. “I’m no Potter, after all. A little bit of arson probably would earn him another Order of Merlin.”

Hermione winced slightly at the sarcastically added afterthought, but couldn’t quite blame him. Even all of these years later, there was no pretending that Harry wasn’t still treated with a level of reverence that had gotten rather ridiculous, not to mention the distaste that Draco continued to hold for her friend for other reasons.

“Maybe no jokes about arson today, hmm?” She asked through gritted teeth as she offered a tight smile to a glaring witch from the DMLE.

“Can’t make any promises. Why are so many people looking at you the way they look at me?” He asked, far too perceptive for Hermione’s comfort.

“As it turns out, some people in the Ministry aren’t all that keen on what I do for a living,” she confessed, her discomfort obvious.

“Ahh,” he responded, nodding. His expression was once again unreadable, but she suspected that he was putting pieces together about her life that she’d never bothered to fill him in on. “Merlin forbid that anyone stand in the way of them trampling over people how and whenever they want.”

“Maybe let’s keep that sentiment to ourselves now that we’re in here, hmm?” Hermione couldn’t blame him for his bitterness. In fact, more often than not she agreed with him about the Ministry and the way they approached matters of law, and more specifically the work she did to help people facing legal troubles. Still, she didn’t want him to say anything that might negatively impact the case.

“You didn’t tell me it was like this for you,” he leaned over to murmur softly to her as they stepped up to the lift bank to wait.

She could have laughed at his statement, but instead, she simply turned her head ever so slightly and lifted one eyebrow, as if to remind him that they didn’t actually spend all that much time talking about their day-to-day lives.

“Touché,” he replied with a lifted eyebrow of his own.

“Draco!”

The voice was unfamiliar to Hermione, but when she felt Draco stiffen beside her she knew that it wasn’t unfamiliar to him. He didn’t move, seemingly rooted in place, before turning to look at her with panic written all over his features.

Without hesitation, Hermione turned to look in the direction the voice had come from and quickly found an impeccably dressed Narcissa Malfoy standing a few feet away with wide, watery eyes and an uncertain expression on her beautiful face.

Turning back to Draco, she lifted a hand to squeeze his arm. “We’re in the Ministry. They can’t enforce exile while we’re here,” she assured him.

“So I can…?”

Hermione nodded.

“And she won’t…”

She shook her head and applied the slightest pressure where her hand rested at his elbow, encouraging him to go to her.

Draco’s expression changed immediately - boyish wonder mixed with grown up pain - and he turned, locking eyes with his mother for a few seconds before he swiftly closed the distance between them in long strides. Narcissa immediately pulled her son into a tight embrace, tears streaking down her face in a way Hermione instinctively knew the posh, stately woman would be unlikely to allow in any other circ*mstance. A pang went through her as she watched mother and son embracing, noting the way they were speaking softly to each other without letting go.

This, she promised herself, was why she was doing this.

This would make saying goodbye to him okay, knowing that he had his family back.

If they won.

They had to win.

She turned back to face the lifts, blinking several times and taking slow, even breaths in an attempt to regain some of the composure that had slipped as she watched Draco hug his mother for the first time in over a decade. As the lift doors opened, she turned back to the two Malfoys and gestured for them to enter the lift ahead of them.

Draco led his mother into the lift, their arms linked tightly, and Hermione quickly followed, unsurprised when none of the other witches and wizards waiting for lifts opted to join them. Apparently, it would seem, their hunger for gossip wasn’t enough to keep them from turning their noses up at being in an enclosed space with the long-exiled Malfoy heir.

“Mum,” Draco said as the gates closed in front of them. “I’m sure you’re familiar with Hermione Granger. H… Hermione, this is my mother, Narcissa Malfoy.”

“It’s lovely to officially meet you, Mrs. Malfoy,” she said politely. Though she was doing her best to ignore the increase in her heart rate as she realised this was the first time he’d used her first name outside of the bedroom since they were young, there was no denying the impact of it.

“It’s lovely to meet you as well, Ms. Granger. I can’t tell you how much what you’re doing for my son means to me,” Narcissa said with a surprising amount of warmth in her voice.

“I’m happy to try and help,” she replied awkwardly, unsure how else to respond given the complicated situation between herself and Draco.

“Are the two of you…?” Narcissa trailed off, looking between the two of them.

Before Hermione could even squirm as the discomfort and uncertainty of the moment hit her, Draco laughed, “Haven’t given up on trying to marry me off yet, mum?”

“A mother just wants to see her child happy,” Narcissa insisted, pursing her lips around a slightly guilty smile.

“Well, hopefully after today, you can see me happy as often as you’d like,” Draco said, giving his mom a charming, boyish smile that Hermione hadn’t seen on his face since they’d been tucked away in their secret room at Hogwarts.

The reminder sent an ache straight through the centre of her chest and she again found herself needing to focus on her breathing in order to maintain the outward calm that felt as though it was hanging by a thread.

“I need you to sit with Theo and Pansy during the trial, Mum,” Draco said quietly.

“But I…”

“Please,” he insisted.

“Okay, but…” Narcissa paused.

Hermione glanced over and saw the distress and uncertainty written all over the woman’s face. Though she had no idea what it was like to be a mother, she could only imagine how difficult it must have been with her to have had no contact with him outside of letters over the years.

A moment later, Narcissa schooled her features into a confident mask and squared her shoulders, clearing her throat before she spoke. “If it doesn’t go the way we hope, I will be converting all of my holdings to muggle money and leaving as well.”

“Mum,” Draco’s voice held a warning note, though it was more pleading than angry.

“They will not keep me from my son another day,” Narcissa spoke with a level of authority and certainty that immediately impressed Hermione. “If it hadn’t been for your father, I would have left with you the first time.”

“Mum, it’s not… You won’t…” Draco attempted, fumbling his words.

“I’ve said my piece and I won’t change my mind.” There was no mistaking in Narcissa’s tone that, as far as she was concerned, her decision was made and she would hear no more of it.

Hermione was impressed. She’d never really known the woman at all, aside from knowing what she’d done for Harry and the few details Draco had shared with her years ago before he was separated from her. While both of those accounts had been nothing but lovely, up until that very moment it had been difficult for her to separate the woman from her husband in her mind.

Now, though, she saw with startling clarity the warmth and love that Narcissa held for her son, enduring and unwavering, and she felt even more determined to ensure their reunion be permanent without the older woman having to leave everything she’d ever known. As much as she knew that Draco would love to have his mother back in his life, the responsibility he’d feel for her if she left her entire life to be with him would inevitably be a lot for him to handle. No, they absolutely needed to win.

“Are you ready?” She asked Draco as the lift arrived at the Department of Mysteries. She mirrored his determined nod and took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

Nearly four hours later, the Council had heard from and questioned each of the witnesses that had shown up in support of Draco and all that was left was Hermione’s closing argument. Hermione had watched their reactions closely, her attention singularly focused and unflinching as she did her best to figure out which aspects of her case to lean most heavily on in her conclusion. She could see on the faces of the Council that while some had softened and even seemed to be looking upon Draco like a prodigal son returned, there were also still those sitting stone-faced and unmoved.

After taking a slow, deep breath, she stood and allowed her gaze to travel over every member of the Council, being sure to make and briefly hold eye contact as she went. Finally, she glanced once more at Draco before addressing them.

“We should never forget that the final battle of the Second Wizarding War was largely fought by children,” she began, her voice coming out much more steadily than it should have considering how much her insides seemed to be trembling. “And that the cost of that fight is one each and every one of us who fought has paid.” She paused for effect, lifting her eyebrows somewhat dramatically. “Even those who fought on the wrong side, as my client did.”

There was a murmur across the Council, but she paid it no mind.

She’d been working on this speech for weeks, imagining herself addressing the court in defence of Draco more times than she could even count. It was, she had to admit, a bit different every time she practised, but she always hit the main points.

She was ready, she realised as a newfound confidence entered her entire being.

“It was a war that we never should have been a part of and if this Ministry had acted when it should have, we all could have made it to adulthood without ever having to literally fight for our lives and the lives of those we cared about.” There was no mistaking the condemnation in her tone and she could see a few members of the Council bristling under her words. It was a calculated risk, but one she knew that she had to take.

“But this Ministry didn’t act. Instead of pushing back against blood supremacy ideology in the wake of the first war, it remained silent, intent on pretending it never happened at all. Instead of acknowledging all of the signs that it was happening again, it stood in denial of what was going on and left both our world and itself vulnerable, leaving children to fight to protect what we all hold dear. As much as we’d all prefer to pretend that it didn’t happen that way, there’s no denying that it did.” She glanced over at Draco, finding him watching her intently with an unreadable expression.

In all of their preparation for this day, she hadn’t talked to him about what she was going to say in her final statements. Instead, she had insisted that he leave this part to her, so she truly had no idea how he was going to feel about what she had to say. Though that did leave her with some uncertainty, she steeled herself and continued.

“And those of us who fought on that day still carry the scars of it to this day. Physically, sure, but also the much more complicated scars on our hearts and minds.” She saw a few members of the Council nodding along with her and felt another surge of confidence.

“While it may seem like my words are an indictment of my client, I can tell you categorically that they are not. Draco Malfoy was as much a victim of this Ministry’s inaction as the rest of us. Perhaps even more so.” Again, some of the members of the Council bristled, eyes narrowing as they watched her.

“My client grew up wanting for nothing. He had, by all accounts, the sort of privileged upbringing that so many less fortunate people can only wish for. Despite holding what most of us would agree are quite terrible ideologies and allegiances, the Malfoys truly loved their son.” She didn’t dare look over at Draco now, knowing that while he may have been fine with these words when it came to his mother, his feelings regarding his father were much more complicated.

“So when they taught him what to believe, he trusted them. He believed what his parents believed, as most of us do in childhood. And why shouldn’t he? His father even had the support of the Minister himself, after all.” On the opposite side of the room, she caught a glimpse of Narcissa sitting next to Theo on one side and Pansy on the other, the two women holding hands. Draco’s mother looked pale and drawn and Hermione felt a momentary pang of guilt before reminding herself that nothing she was saying was untrue.

“Some might argue that he maintained those beliefs throughout and even after the war, but I know that to be untrue,” she paused, anticipating the rise of murmurs that came after her words.

“During his first trial, it was made clear that Draco Malfoy, on several occasions, not only went against explicit orders from Voldemort himself - at great personal cost, I might add - but he also directly saved the lives of myself, Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter when we were captured and would certainly have been killed if our identities had been immediately revealed. In the end, though it may be rather uncomfortable for this Council to admit, without the actions of Draco Malfoy, there is a very real chance the war would have been lost.”

The volume of the murmurs rose now and Hermione paused for a few moments before continuing at a volume loud enough to cut through the hum.

“But all of you already knew all of this,” she said firmly, pleased when that silenced everyone in the room. “What you don’t know is what came after.”

She paused to take a sip of water, allowing the Council to marinate in the first part of her speech. She glanced at Draco, intending only to look at him briefly, but was immediately struck by the pleading expression on his face.

She stilled.

“Granger, you don’t have to…”

Quickly, she gave a small, sharp shake of her head and cleared her throat.

“During our Eighth Year at Hogwarts,” she continued, giving one last look to Draco before turning to address the Council once more, “Draco Malfoy and I struck up a sort of friendship. Like so many of us that fought in the war, I was struggling to deal with everything we’d been through and I could see he was struggling too.”

Though she tried to keep her presentation completely professional and unemotional, there was no denying the way her voice thickened as she thought back to that time.

“You see, we fought this war and we won this world that we all value so much. In return, we lost our innocence. We lost our childhood. To a degree, many of us felt like we’d lost ourselves.” She licked her lips, hesitating only a moment. “And instead of standing with us and ensuring that we healed from what we’d been through, this Ministry abandoned us. We were slotted into categories of good guys and bad guys and left to deal with the fallout ourselves, to return to our lives and pretend everything was as it had been. And even though we were technically adults, I think we can all agree that at 18 and 19 years old, we were still children in all the ways that really matter.”

On the faces looking back at her as she spoke, she could see a mixture of empathy, uncertainty, rage and guilt in their expressions. She couldn’t be quite sure what it would all mean, but she still felt confident that she could win them over.

“And so we all tried to move on. We returned to school and we trudged through our day-to-day, trying to find something that made sense again. And Mr Malfoy and I, we found each other. And we fell in love.”

The resulting gasp that filled the room sent a bolt of anxiety through Hermione, this being the first time she’d admitted to anyone other than herself that it had been love, but she shoved the uncertainty down and carried on, doing her best not to look around the room and check the expressions of the people for whom this had been a revelation.

“And when I broke his heart on the last day of school, only days before the end of his probation - a probation, by the way, during which he didn’t step out of line even once - he reacted. He reacted as a lot of traumatised nineteen year old young men might. No one, not even Mr Malfoy himself, is here to defend his actions that day or claim that he did the right thing in starting that fire. There’s no doubt that he did the wrong thing and that he responded to his hurt and anger in the wrong way.” She glanced over at him and found him watching her with that unreadable expression she hated so much. She forced herself to look away so that she could continue.

“What I would like to posit to this Council is that he has more than paid the price for the wrong thing that he did. He has spent over ten years separated from everything and everyone he’s ever known, rebuilding his life in a world that up until that point he was entirely unfamiliar with. And though he has struggled more than I think any of us will ever truly understand, he has built a life for himself.” Again, she paused for dramatic effect, almost as though she was holding her breath.

“But that life doesn’t include his mother. Or the people who have been his best friends since childhood. Or the magic that all of us so often take for granted.” She took a deep breath then, once again allowing her gaze to meet the eyes of each and every member of the council. “And it seems to me that this punishment hardly fits the crime,” again, she paused, this time allowing the hint of a smile to curve the corners of her lips as she continued, “particularly considering just how many of us accidentally set some part of Hogwarts on fire during our time as students there.”

A titter of laughter carried through the courtroom and Hermione was glad that she’d decided to throw in the little joke. Though this was hardly a joking matter, it seemed a good way to point out the hypocrisy of it all.

“On behalf of Mr Malfoy, I would like to ask this Council to consider lifting his sentence of exile and returning his wand to him so that he may return to Magical Society, effective immediately,” she said firmly. “After everything, I would argue that this would be the most just course of action and I hope you will agree with me.”

“Is that all you have to say, Ms Granger?” Douglas Dovetail, the wall, wiry, bespectacled wizard who was acting as head of the Council asked.

“Yes, sir. Unless the Council has any further questions.”

Hermione returned to her seat next to Draco, avoiding his gaze as a low murmur spread through the Council before Dovetail loudly cleared his throat and the room silenced. Briefly, she allowed herself a quick perusal of the expressions on the faces of the Council in an attempt to get a read on which way they were leaning but found that she couldn’t really be sure what any of them might be thinking.

“If there is no more evidence to be presented, I do believe it’s time for the Council to vote,” Dovetail spoke with a firm, calm authority that sent Hermione’s heart racing.

This was it.

All of the months of preparation and years of guilt and shame over her part in his punishment came down to this. Without even thinking about it, she reached out and placed a hand on Draco’s forearm, giving it a gentle encouraging squeeze. When he lay his hand over hers, she inhaled deeply.

This was it.

“Those in favour of pardoning Draco Malfoy and lifting his sentence of permanent exile to allow him to return to Magical Society?” Dovetail spoke clearly, looking first to his left and then to his right before looking forward once more.

There was a pause that had Hermione’s stomach dropping, members of the Council hesitantly looking around at each other before finally, hands began to lift. At first, Hermione tried to count, but soon there were enough hands in the air that there was no question as to the outcome.

They’d voted in Draco’s favour.

They’d won.

Hermione inhaled sharply and turned to face Draco, her eyes filling as the overwhelming nature of the moment truly hit her. There was a sheen of moisture covering his own eyes as well, his expression shell-shocked as he looked back at her.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Dovetail said firmly, stealing the attention back to his raised platform. “Effective immediately, your sentence is vacated and you are welcome to rejoin Magical Society. Your wand will be retrieved from the Department Of Mysteries and returned to you within the hour.”

“Thank you, sir,” Draco croaked after a beat, nodding as he shook himself out of his obvious shock. “Thank you.”

Hermione’s throat felt thick.

“Thank you, Hermione,” he murmured then, giving her a weighted look.

“You’re welcome,” she managed to reply softly.

All at once, the heavy moment between them was interrupted as Narcissa along with Theo and Pansy swooped in to excitedly hug Draco and celebrate his success. Hermione took a step back, smiling with watery eyes as she watched Draco be openly embraced by his people.

It's time, she decided.

Smoothly, she reached into her attaché case and tugged out a wax-sealed envelope she’d tucked there before leaving her flat that morning. She then moved over to brush her hand against Theo’s arm, catching his attention. The wide smile on his face wavered a bit as he took in her expression, his brows furrowing with obvious concern.

“Give this to him,” she murmured softly enough that only the two of them could hear

“Granger…”

She shook her head slightly and shrugged, her smile rueful as more moisture pooled in her eyes. “Please.”

Theo nodded slowly before taking the envelope from her, his mouth pulling downwards into a deep frown. Suddenly, without warning, he pulled her into a tight hug. “Thank you, Hermione,” he whispered.

She sniffled and squeezed the slim man once before slipping out of his embrace. “Take care of him.”

Theo’s frown deepened but he nodded.

As she felt herself losing the already barely-held control over her emotions, she blinked several times before grabbing her case and hurrying away. It wasn’t until she was out of the courtroom and safely alone in the quiet halls of the Department of Mysteries that she allowed the tears to fall.

It was overwhelming, a complicated mess of happiness and sadness moving through her. She knew that she shouldn’t have run, that she’d probably regret it even, but the idea of having to say goodbye to Draco for real felt too overwhelming to even consider.

No, she’d said her goodbyes.

“Hermione.”

The familiar voice made her heart stutter and she turned to find her ex-husband watching her from a few feet away with a concerned expression on his face. Somehow, Neville’s presence there brought a comfort that she desperately needed followed a moment later by an intense guilt.

She sniffled.

“C’mere,” he said quietly, holding out his arms.

Resisting the urge to question whether or not it was a good idea - it definitely wasn’t, after all - she quickly closed the distance between them and moved into his arms, exhaling heavily as she felt the familiar strength of his embrace calming her.

“You did good in there, Hermy,” he said quietly, the juvenile nickname that he’d always used to tease her offering a bit of levity to the moment.

“You were there?” She asked, tipping her head backwards to look up at him.

He nodded, his expression somewhat unreadable. “You never did see me when he was in the room,” he said quietly.

“I… What…?” Hermione stepped back then, looking up at him with confusion. “You knew?”

He nodded again.

“How long?”

“Since Eighth Year.”

Hermione gaped, blinking a few times as she tried to make sense of it.

“I was very aware of you, Hermione,” he told her, his tone holding a hint of embarrassment. He’d admitted to his longstanding crush on her years earlier, but never with the context of his having known about her and Draco. “You two were a lot less sneaky than you thought you were, at least to those of us paying attention. It was pretty obvious that you started smiling more right around the time he started buying twice as much fairygrass from me. Never mind the way you two mooned over each other when the other wasn’t looking.”

“You never said anything,” she pointed out. They’d been together for years and he’d never even given her a hint that he knew about her relationship with Draco.

“Neither did you,” he reminded her, reaching up to grab the back of his neck a bit uncomfortably. “And I thought that once you forgot about him, you’d love me the way I loved you. Didn’t seem helpful to remind you about him.”

Hermione winced.

They’d never said things like this out loud. Even at the end they’d never had a real conversation about what was wrong in their marriage, only acknowledged that it wasn’t working. She felt quite certain that it wouldn’t have worked out between them even if they had been better at communicating their feelings, but she still regretted all the pain they’d caused with their silence.

“I’m sorry, Nev,” she said quietly, dropping her shoulders in a heavy sigh.

He chuckled and shrugged. “We tried.”

She nodded. They had tried. And probably for longer than they should have.

“Hannah’s pregnant,” he said abruptly.

“Hannah…” Hermione was reminded of that night she’d seen Neville and Hannah together at the party. In all honesty, she hadn’t really thought about it beyond that night, too wrapped up in Draco to think about her ex, and she felt a stab of guilt as she realised it.

Neville nodded, watching her closely. “We’re going to get married.”

“Congratulations, Nev,” Hermione said warmly, nodding.

He’d always wanted to start a family and Hermione had put it off over and over again, using timing and her dedication to her work as an excuse when the truth was that she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to be a mother. Now, she still wasn’t sure children were ever in her future, but she also realised that she’d put it off because she’d never wanted to make that commitment with Neville.

There was no ignoring the bones-deep shame she felt at the realisation.

“I really am happy for you,” she told him, trying to hold in the emotional overload that she was feeling just then.

“Are you and Malfoy…?”

She shook her head, quickly reaching up to brush at a stray tear.

“Why not? You two still look at each other the same way you did when we were 19,” Neville insisted, his brow furrowed.

“Too much history,” she replied, shrugging.

“That’s bollocks, Hermione,” Neville responded with an uncharacteristic vehemence. “Have you told him how you feel?”

Hermione took a deep breath. “He knows,” she told him, trying to convince herself that it was true so that she didn’t actually have to put herself out there and risk an even more crushing rejection. “I didn’t decide this. He did. I’m just respecting his wishes.”

Frustrated, Neville shook his head, but then took a deep breath and nodded. “If you need anything…”

“Your fiancé might not like that so much,” she reminded him.

He chuckled. “She won’t mind. She knows I’m hers.”

Hermione felt a pang of envy at Neville’s certainty, but alongside it was a warmth and happiness for him. “You’re my best friend, Nev,” she said, her eyes filling one more. “I missed my best friend.”

“Hey, come here,” he held out his arms again and tugged her in for another hug. “I’ll always be your friend, Hermione.”

“You’re going to be a great dad, Nev,” she said, squeezing him tight. “And I can already attest that you’re a great husband. You two… You’re going to be so happy together. I’m so happy for you.”

As Neville drew back, offering her a warm smile, he squeezed her arms. “You should tell him how you feel, Hermy. Fight for him.”

She bit her lip and shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Do you want me to walk you home?”

She shook her head. “I think I’m going to walk for a while.”

Neville nodded, understanding her need for long, solitary walks when she was feeling emotional and overwhelmed as much as anybody.

As they hugged once more, Hermione realised that they’d needed to do this all along. Though there’d been no question that their relationship was over and had been for a long time, she finally felt a closure she hadn’t realised that she needed.

“Don’t be a stranger,” Neville said as he drew back.

“I won’t,” she promised. And she knew it was true. She’d been so disconnected from everyone in her life since the divorce but finally felt ready to reconnect. “Please tell Hannah I said congratulations - on both the wedding and the baby. I am so, so happy for you both.”

“I will,” he answered warmly.

As the sounds of voices travelled towards them, Hermione realised that the courtroom must be clearing out and she should be on her way. She offered one more warm smile to Neville and said a quick goodbye before hurrying to the lift to make her way out of there.

A clean break.

She was convinced that was what she needed if she was going to survive just how much this hurt.

As the gates to the lift closed and she was swept away, she saw that flash of familiar blonde hair coming around the corner at the end of the long, black hallway. She winced but took a deep breath and insisted this was the right thing.

A clean break.

It was the right thing to do.

As she stepped into the Atrium, so lost in her thoughts and the well of regret that was once again pooling in her stomach, she didn’t even notice.

She didn’t hear the witch calling to her.

She didn’t see the wand pointed at her.

In fact, it wasn’t until the curse hit her and the pain felt as though every bone in her body had shattered into tiny pieces that she even realised she’d been in any danger at all.

As she collapsed to the gleaming floor and everything around her erupted into chaos, she could have sworn she heard Draco calling her name, but before she could even attempt to turn her head to look for him, unconsciousness took over and the world went blacker than it already had been moments earlier.

Notes:

I swear, I legitimately had no idea that THIS was the cliffhanger I was going to be leaving you guys with for Christmas. I swear, if I could have timed it differently, I definitely would have!!

I can't believe there are only two chapters left to go and I seriously can't even express how much all of the comments have meant to me on this story. Seriously, I have felt so much more inspired to write with all of the encouragement (and weeping emojis....) I hope everyone has a happy holidays!!!

NEXT WEEK: Draco POV. (Merry Christmas!)

Chapter 19: Part Three : Episode Six

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Draco POV

“Effective immediately, your sentence is vacated and you are welcome to rejoin Magical society. Your wand will be retrieved from the Department Of Mysteries and returned to you within the hour.”

It took several seconds for the words to penetrate Draco’s mind, convinced as he had been that there was no way the Ministry was going to find in his favour. Even with Hermione’s awe-inspiring work on and devotion to his case, something that had startled him on more than one occasion over the past few months, he’d never been convinced that winning the case was even a possibility.

And yet, here he was.

They’d won.

And everyone was watching him.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed, a little voice in the back of his head reminding him to react appropriately and show some deference to the Council, lest they change their mind. “Thank you.”

He’d arrived there that morning certain that he would be leaving at the end of the day with nothing but a freshly broken heart, this time of his own idiotic making, when he and Hermione ended things for good and he went back to his life the way it had been before she’d returned to it. He’d scarcely even allowed himself to consider that the trial would turn out in his favour, so he hardly knew what to do with himself.

He turned to Hermione and found her watching him with a sheen of tears over her eyes and felt a sharp pang in his stomach. She was so f*cking beautiful, he could barely stand it at the best of times, but having watched her fight for him and stand in his corner after hearing her tell him she loved him that morning added a new layer to his feelings for her that made his heart ache.

“Thank you, Hermione,” he said, the words feeling limp and insufficient even as they left his mouth.

“You’re welcome,” she replied softly.

A simple thank you could hardly be considered sufficient to express how much what she’d done for him meant to him, particularly considering the way he continued to push her away even though he hadn’t been able to make himself let her go. He had so much more that he wanted to say to her, but before he could even get another word in, they were surrounded by his mother and his friends and he was drawn away to be swept into tight, teary-eyed hugs.

As he allowed himself to sink into the affection and closeness that he’d kept at a strategic distance for over a decade, he insisted to himself that there would be time to say everything he needed to say to Hermione later.

“I’ve missed you so much, my boy,” Narcissa insisted, her tears falling freely as she stroked her hands over his hair the way she had every night before bed when he’d been a child.

“I’ve missed you too, Mum,” he answered warmly, pulling her into a tight hug. He wasn’t sure there had ever been another smell as comforting as the familiar smell of his mother’s perfume and allowed himself a rare moment of comfort and ease as she gripped him tight.

“And I’m sure I can get used to the tattoos,” she murmured as she finally drew back to look up at him, a teasing note in her voice that sent another bolt of warmth through him.

“I’m afraid you’ll have no choice on that front,” he replied with a chuckle.

When he’d gotten dressed that morning in the brand new all-black suit that he’d purchased just for this occasion and combed his hair smooth, his reflection had been so unfamiliar that he’d nearly changed into something more reflective of the person he’d become. It had been years since he’d felt at home in a suit, long enough that he could barely even remember that version of himself, but there was no denying that little to nothing of that person remained in him.

He couldn’t help but wonder if his mother would find herself disappointed by the version of her son that had just returned to her. He tried not to indulge that particular anxiety, insisting to himself that she would love him no matter what.

“Should I have your room prepared…?” She asked then, a hopeful expression on her face that sent a pang of regret through him.

In truth, because he’d been so convinced that there would be no satisfaction at the end of this process, he’d quite specifically avoided thinking too deeply about what he would do if it went the way it had. Now that they were there, he truly wasn’t sure what to say.

“Mum…” he murmured, giving her a somewhat pleading look.

“It’s okay,” she insisted with a small smile. “You’re not a little boy anymore. Of course you don’t want to move back in with your mother.”

He felt another pang at the encouraging smile on her face that didn’t quite meet her eyes. He hated to disappoint her, especially since she’d only just gotten him back and so soon after Lucius’s death, but everything in him screamed for caution and slow movement when it came to deciding how to proceed from here. He was quite certain he’d go mad if he moved back into his family’s home.

“I like my loft,” he replied weakly.

What he really meant was that he liked his life.

It had been a struggle those first several years, there was no denying that, but since he’d gotten sober and the band had started to build more and more of a following, he’d finally settled in and begun to feel at home in his life. Truly, he had no idea how he was going to reconcile that life with the one he’d been welcomed back into minutes earlier, if it was even possible. Again, he reminded himself that he didn’t have to decide anything right that moment.

“I know you do, sweetheart. And I can’t wait to see it!” Again, his mother tried, but the enthusiasm she affected in her voice wasn’t reflected in her gaze. Still, he was comforted by how hard she was trying.

He squeezed her hand and offered a small smile.

“D…”

Draco had never been happier about Theo’s tendency towards interrupting than he was at that moment, but when he turned and saw the envelope in his friend’s hand and the expression on his face, that relief soured. Without pause, his attention left his friend so that he could quickly scan the courtroom for Hermione’s familiar curls. Only when he was certain she was no longer in the room with them did he turn back to his friend, his stomach twisting.

“She left?”

Theo nodded, gnawing roughing at his lower lip. “Told me to give this to you.”

Draco looked down at the wax-sealed envelope as though it might bite him before finally reaching out and grabbing it. “What the f*ck…” He muttered, crushing the letter in his hand.

“Mr. Malfoy!” A hurried, enthusiastic voice interjected. “Can I get a quote for the Daily Prophet?”

“No,” he answered a bit sharply before clearing his throat and offering the man a very slight smile. “I have no comment just now,” he added a bit more cordially.

“You can still catch her,” Theo said quietly, ignoring the reporter who was now wearing a rather offended expression.

Glancing at the exit, Draco hesitated, considering whether or not he should just let her go. After all, it had been his decision - his insistence, even - that they end things between them as soon as the trial was over. He could hardly fault her for keeping her promise. And yet, he felt all of that old anger that he’d never really let go of from how things had ended the first time rising in him again and he couldn’t help but direct it at her.

How could she leave me like this again?

“I’ll meet you in the Atrium,” he told his mother and Theo absently as he folded the letter in half and shoved it into his interior pocket before pushing his way through the crowds of people in hopes of catching Hermione before she left the building.

He wasn’t entirely sure why it felt important that she not leave - he could always go to her flat later, after all - but there was a little voice urging him on, telling him that if he let her go now, there would be no later for them.

The speed of his strides increased and when he saw no sign of her in the glossy halls of the Department Of Mysteries, he quickly made his way to the lift and slipped inside just as the gates were about to close.

“Well, this is awkward,” a distantly familiar voice said.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t noticed that there was someone else in the lift, he’d just been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn’t paid the least bit of attention to who it was. Draco stilled, everything in him freezing, before turning to find none other than Neville Longbottom tucked into the corner of the lift with his hands tucked into the pockets of his robes.

“Longbottom,” Draco croaked, blinking a few times.

“Malfoy,” Neville replied, something resembling amusem*nt dancing in his expression.

In truth, everything about this day had Draco off his game, but being faced with none other than Hermione’s ex-husband seemed to be the tipping point of his ability to maintain even the appearance of cool. He’d grown to quite like Neville in Eighth Year, perhaps the second most surprising thing that had happened to him during that school year, which made his feelings about the fact that the other man had gone on to marry Hermione much more complicated than he was particularly comfortable acknowledging.

“You just missed her,” Neville said casually.

“What?” Draco asked, blinking as he was pulled from his thoughts.

“Hermy,” Neville said. “You just missed her.”

Hermy?

The nickname, which Draco had trouble even associating with the woman that he knew, immediately convinced him that what Hermione had told him about her marriage to Neville was true. They never should have gotten married. They were never right for each other.

He was surprised as a flutter of pleasure at the realisation broke through the complicated mess in his head.

“I’m not… I mean…” Draco stumbled.

“Don’t chase her if you’re just going to let her go,” Neville continued, possessing a calm, confident demeanour that not only showed he’d matured far beyond the last time Draco had seen him, but also spoke to the fact that he wasn’t pining for his ex-wife the way he might have expected.

Idiot.

“I don’t…” Again, Draco had no idea how to respond, feeling so completely out of his depth at that moment that the words simply would not materialise.

“She’s worth it, you know,” Neville continued as though Draco hadn’t said anything at all. “She has walls like a bloody fortress and a tendency to shut down when she doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, but she’s also a truly incredible woman.” Neville spoke matter of factly and with a level of intimate understanding that set Draco’s teeth on edge.

“You hoping to reconcile?” He asked sharply, unable to help himself as a surge of possessiveness rolled through him as the other man talked about her with such intimate understanding.

At Neville’s resulting chuckle, he bristled.

“I’m engaged with a baby on the way, Malfoy,” Neville replied, obviously amused. “Hermione and I have been over for two years. Probably longer, if I’m really honest with myself. But I will always care about her and want what’s best for her.”

“And you don’t think I’m what’s best for her,” Draco replied, more a statement than the question he’d intended it to be.

“I don’t know,” Neville replied, lifting both of his eyebrows curiously. “Are you?”

Draco gritted his teeth but said nothing.

“Listen, Malfoy,” Neville said in a tone that was calm and kind but also no-nonsense, “it’s not as complicated as people like to make it. Either you love her or you don’t.”

Draco winced.

“And if you don’t love her, don’t follow her. Just let her go.” Neville nodded firmly, indicating that he had said what he needed to say. “But if you do?” Rather than answering his own question, Neville simply offered a pointed, knowing look.

“Making it pretty hard to hate you here, Longbottom,” he muttered, roughly shoving a hand through his hair and mussing the perfectly coiffed style he’d somehow managed to maintain through the entirety of the trial.

Neville’s laugh was low and hearty, accompanied by a shake of his head. “I must admit, it’s been pretty bloody easy to hate you for the last ten years, so I can’t really relate.”

Surprised, Draco barked a laugh and was about to respond just as the lift came to an abrupt stop and the gates opened. He gestured for Neville to step out first and followed only a moment behind him, looking around.

The Atrium was bustling, as it always was, and he allowed himself a moment to take it all in. It had been so long since he’d been a part of this world that he’d forgotten so many of the details. He’d forgotten how absolutely ridiculous the fashions could be, ostentatious and over the top in a way that felt like an insane marriage between Victorian propriety and glam rock excess.

He imagined himself walking through these walls dressed as he usually did, the scandal a pair of well worn jeans and a vintage band t-shirt would cause, and couldn’t hold in the chuckle of amusem*nt at the idea. Of course, it only lasted a moment before he returned to the matter at hand and began scanning the crowd for those familiar curls that drove him so crazy.

He’d always had an almost preternatural ability to find Hermione Granger in a crowd, long before he’d actually had any reason to want to seek her out, and this time was no different as he picked her out of the crowd as easily as ever. He was about to call out her name when an unfamiliar voice called it out first. Surprise had barely registered on Hermione’s face when the flash of a curse collided brutally with her body.

Everything seemed to grind to a halt then, the world shifting into slow motion in front of Draco’s eyes.

He watched as confusion widened Hermione’s eyes and dropped her mouth open before her features twisted with undeniably intense pain. The expression sent a pang through him, as though he’d been the one cursed. As she started to fall, the whole room seemed to erupt into chaos.

“Hermione!” He had been stunned stiff momentarily as his mind tried to catch up with what he’d seen, but when she disappeared from his sight he was spurred into action and began pushing and shoving his way roughly through the crowds, unconcerned with the protestations of the witches and wizards he physically moved out of his way.

By the time he made it to her side, with Neville right at his heels, she was sprawled out on the floor with one leg at an awkward angle, unconscious with hints of shock and pain still obvious on her otherwise slack face. He dropped to his knees, carefully pulling her into his lap and repeating her name in hopes that she would wake up.

He barely noticed as Neville pulled out his wand and stunned the smug-looking witch who’d obviously cursed her. He was only vaguely aware of the sounds of a scuffle as the Aurors arrived to apprehend her, too singularly focused on the witch in his arms to pay attention to anything else.

“Hermione, come on, love…” He pleaded, running his fingers over her hair. “You need to wake up, baby. Wake up!”

He found only the barest of comfort as he noticed the slow but consistent rise and fall of Hermione’s chest even as she remained unconscious and unresponsive to his pleading, but it finally allowed him to lift his eyes and look around the room.

“Someone call a f*cking doctor!” He screamed, suddenly enraged by all of the curious eyes watching while no one did anything to help. They all just stood there, eyes wide and mouths moving with words he couldn’t make out as they watched. “Useless,” he muttered, “the lot of you.”

He returned his attention to Hermione’s face, dragging his fingertips over her cheek to smooth away the still somewhat pained expression that lingered there. He’d spent a lot of his life feeling helpless and out of control, but never as acutely as he was just then.

“It’s going to be okay, baby,” he murmured, stroking his fingers through her hair and watching the slow, shallow movement of her chest. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Healers from St. Mungos have been summoned,” Neville said in a strained, hurried voice as he rushed over and dropped to his knees with a look of desperate concern on his face. “Please, please tell me she’s alive. Tell me she’s breathing.”

“She’s breathing,” Draco answered quickly, intently aware of every breath. “Did you get the bitch who did this?”

Neville nodded, angling his jaw in the direction of the woman who was struggling in the hold of two young Aurors with a somewhat unhinged grin on her face. Draco lifted his gaze from Hermione to look at the woman and winced as she began to laugh.

There wasn’t a single doubt in his mind that if he had his wand, he would cast an Avada for the first time in his life and mean it.

“Death eater scum,” she spat, glaring at Draco. “Your whor* got what she deserved!”

It was only then that the possibility that she’d taken the curse as a result of helping have his sentence lifted occurred to him. There was no question in his mind that the number of witches and wizards that hated the Malfoys was countless, but until that moment he hadn’t considered that helping him might put Hermione in danger.

He felt as though he’d been stabbed clear through the centre of his chest at the realisation.

“Get her out of here,” Neville spat, glaring at the Aurors until they did as he demanded and began dragging the woman through the gawking crowds towards the lifts.

Ignoring the struggle the woman put up, Draco returned his attention to Hermione’s face and felt another pang of pain move through his body.

“Did anyone hear what she hit her with?” He asked, lifting his gaze to meet Neville’s, growling when the man shook his head, his solemn expression making the implications of that clear. The healers could only do so much without knowing the full extent of the curse their patient had been hit with. “f*ck. f*ck f*ck f*ck!”

Moments later, a nearby floo flamed and a team of healers from St. Mungos hurried over, all but shoving Draco out of the way to get to their patient. He resisted initially, every instinct telling him to hold on tight to her, but finally moved out of the way and watched with a helpless expression as they worked. It took only seconds for them to get her loaded onto a stretcher and headed for the hospital.

“f*ck…” Draco muttered, glancing between Hermione’s still-expressionless face and the bank of lifts. “My wand.”

It felt ridiculous to even be thinking about anything other than Hermione just then, but he knew that he couldn’t just leave without finalising the results of his case. He nearly screamed with the frustration of it, finding himself almost immediately willing to abandon the lifting of his sentence just to stay with her.

“Go get your wand and take care of any paperwork that needs signing,” Neville said calmly, taking the lead in a way Draco would never have expected from the wizard he’d known back in their old school days. “I’ll go with her to St. Mungos and you can meet us there.”

f*ck off.

Draco nearly spat as his immediate instincts were to stake claim over Hermione and not let the other man take any sort of caretaker role for her. After a moment, though, he reminded himself that not only could he trust Neville to make sure that she was okay, but also that she would be furious with him if she woke up to find he’d risked the lifting of his exile.

“I’ll be right behind you,” he all but growled, his attention rooted on Hermione’s face. “Make bloody sure they don’t let her die.”

Neville nodded, even though they were both all too aware of their own helplessness on the matter.

Moments later, the Healers swept Hermione away while Neville held her hand. As the floo fired and the lot of them disappeared into the flames, Draco’s mind screamed and he had to force himself to stalk back towards the lift bank just to keep himself from trying to follow.

*****

Two hours later, his wand tucked into his sleeve because he no longer even owned a proper holster for it, Draco watched as charms displaying Hermione’s vitals and diagnostics danced over her unconscious body. So far, none of the healers had been able to figure out what exactly she’d been cursed with but seemed confident that her stability would allow them time to figure it out.

Draco’s impatient, disquieted mind disagreed.

Even though he was significantly larger than her in actual size, Hermione had always seemed larger than life to him. Even as children, she’d taken up space in a way that he’d been both impressed and deeply frustrated with but as an adult, she felt to him like a force of nature. Now, though, she looked smaller than he’d ever seen her and the contrast between the unconscious woman in front of him and the woman who, only hours earlier, had stood up and fought for him in front of the Council was startling.

“Come on, Hermione,” he murmured, reaching out to take her hand and wincing as it remained limp in his hold. “Open your eyes for me.”

His expression twisted in refreshed pain as she remained as still and unresponsive as she’d been since he’d found her on the floor of the Atrium. It wasn’t that he actually believed that he could will her back to consciousness, but being that his will was literally all he had in that moment, it was particularly painful to find it useless.

“D,” the all too familiar voice of his best friend interrupted his seemingly unblinking watch.

Draco turned his head slowly, eyebrows raising when his gaze fell on Theo and Harry standing in the doorway to Hermione’s room, their hands clasped together, fingers linked. He hadn’t seen Harry since the night Theo had brought him to his flat and his friend had been tight-lipped about what was happening between them since Ginny found out about their affair, so he was surprised at the casual affection right out there where everyone could see. Harry Potter, after all, wasn’t exactly a low-key figure in their world and people were sure to take notice.

Still, the question of what was happening between them was fleeting, pushed from Draco’s thoughts as the much more pressing matter of Hermione’s well-being returned to front of mind almost immediately.

“Have they found out what she was cursed with yet?” He asked rather than bothering to lead with a greeting, pinning Harry with a look. As the head of the DMLE and Hermione’s friend, though Draco continuously wondered just how close their friendship even was anymore, he was certainly heading up the investigation into the attack. When Harry shook his head sharply, Draco winced.

“She’s not talking,” Harry answered, his voice gravelly and his stricken attention centred on his unconscious friend.

“Put me in a bloody room with her for five minutes. I can get her to talk,” Draco growled, dropping Hermione’s hand when he began to feel his grip tightening in anger. He took a couple of deep breaths, drawing on techniques he’d learned in the early days of recovery to try and calm down the more explosive, overwhelming emotions that bubbled up.

“As much as I’d like to let you,” Harry replied in a voice that sounded both exhausted and sincere, “the Ministry won’t let me sanction torture, regardless of the circ*mstances.”

“You don’t have to sanction anything,” Draco replied in a deadly calm tone. “Tell me where she’s being held and I can handle the rest.”

“Malfoy,” Harry replied, shaking his head with a sigh. “No.”

“There’s good news, D,” Theo interjected before Draco’s temper could erupt again, giving Harry a meaningful look.

“I’ve petitioned the Wizengamot for a special permission to use Veritaserum,” Harry replied. “They’ll be convening first thing tomorrow and we could be administering it by lunchtime.”

Draco growled, standing from Hermione’s bedside and shoving a hand through his hair roughly. There was no mistaking the barely contained rage simmering beneath the surface as he spoke, “Tomorrow? Why not right bloody now?”

“D,” Theo said carefully, finally disentangling his hand from Harry’s to move over to his friend and place a hand on his shoulder. “Everyone is doing everything they can. She’s going to be okay.”

All of that fire seemed to drain from Draco in that moment as he glanced over at the bed before returning his gaze to his friend’s. “Theo… She could die.” His voice was strangled, his pain and anxiety unmasked on every inch of his face. “She could die because she helped me.”

“D…” Theo trailed off, giving his friend’s shoulder a firm squeeze as he glanced over at his lover helplessly. “Harry, tell him.”

“The woman…” Harry stopped, clearing his throat. “This had nothing to do with you.”

“Bollocks! You’re telling me she got cursed minutes after getting my sentence lifted and it had nothing to do with me?” Draco’s eyes blazed once again as he returned his gaze to Harry, his expression one of angry disbelief.

“A few months ago, Hermione refused to represent the woman’s son when he went on trial for using Unforgivables on his wife,” Harry said, his quick glance at the doorway clueing Draco in on the fact that the other man probably wasn’t supposed to be sharing the information. “He was sentenced to life in Azkaban two days ago and apparently his mother blames Hermione for not taking his case.”

Draco blinked, struggling to process the information. “But she… knew about us.”

“Apparently she’d been following Hermione the past week or so,” Harry replied, his brow furrowed.

Ever since it had occurred to him that the attack was likely about her representing him, Draco hadn’t even considered any other possibilities and the guilt had been eating him alive. Now that he was presented with the fact that it actually hadn’t been about him, he found himself stunned and quite unable to pivot.

Before he could even formulate a response, a rather young-looking healer dressed all in white slipped through the doorway with an overly bright expression on her face. “I’m sorry, lads,” she said in a bright, warm tone with the barest hint of a Welsh accent, “I’m going to have to ask you to step out into the hall while I check on how our patient’s faring. Won’t be a minute.”

Dumbly, Draco nodded and waited for Theo and Harry to step out into the hall before trailing after them, casting one last glance back at Hermione before the healer closed the door in his face with an apologetic smile.

Taking a deep breath, Draco turned back to Harry. “You’re sure it was about this witch’s son and not about my case?”

Harry nodded, a grave expression etched into his features. “She was… pretty smug about that, actually. Her ‘revenge’, that is,” he said with a sneer.

“Bloody f*cking bitch,” Draco hissed, dropping his head back after a moment to get his bearings once more.

“Agreed,” Harry muttered, raking a hand through his hair.

The three men shared a long moment of frustrated silence. Smoothly, Theo slipped back in to link his hand with Harry’s, giving it a firm squeeze, and Draco couldn’t help but be taken aback once more by the casual intimacy displayed between the two men. For obvious reasons, he hadn’t spent any time with his best friend and the man he’d been in love with for the past few years, so it was strange to see just how naturally they seemed to move together.

His stomach clenched, the moment reminding him of just how naturally he and Hermione seemed to fit and move together - when they weren’t doing everything they could to keep protective barriers up between them, that is.

“Tell me the truth, Potter. Do you think they’re going to grant the permission for the Veritaserum?” At this point, it seemed like the only hopeful thing he could hold onto. He didn’t consider himself a particularly optimistic person, but when he had as little control over circ*mstances as he currently did, it seemed like hope was the next best option.

“I’m optimistic,” Harry said carefully, glancing towards the door to Hermione’s room with a stricken expression. “Even though a lot of them don’t like what she does for a living, she’s still Hermione Granger. Nevermind that she was brazenly attacked in the Ministry surrounded by victims. They can’t just let it pass.”

“And if they try,” Theo added, his eyes narrowing, “I have some contacts at the Prophet that will be happy to bring the Ministry’s inaction on this to everyone’s attention.”

Draco nodded, taking another deep breath.

“All done,” the healer said brightly as she stepped out of the room, offering another one of those bright smiles that didn’t quite serve to calm Draco’s nerves.

“Any change?” He asked roughly.

“Nothing yet, dear,” she replied gently, her lips pulling into an empathetic frown. “But she’s still stable and there are no signs of deterioration, so that’s good news.”

Draco’s frown was unmistakable as he nodded, but he attempted to offer the woman a smile before she continued on her way. Once it was just the three of them again, he made a move to return to Hermione’s bedside but was halted by Theo’s hand on his arm.

“Hey, Harry,” he said, keeping his eye on his friend. “Why don’t you go sit with Hermione for a minute while me and D talk.”

After the barest moment’s hesitation, Harry nodded and smoothly slipped into the room, leaving Draco and Theo in the hall.

“You holding up?” Theo asked carefully, regarding Draco closely.

“What do you think?”

“She said goodbye,” Theo reminded him, rather than responding to what he’d just said.

“Excuse me?” Draco’s entire body seemed to stiffen as he regarded his friend with open shock.

“You don’t have to stay,” Theo continued, maintaining his cool. “You don’t have to be the one at her bedside.”

“f*ck you,” Draco replied, glaring. “You think I should just leave while she’s…” He trailed off, unable to even think of a word he was willing to say out loud that would describe Hermione’s current condition.

“I’m saying you could.” Theo corrected, his tone and expression giving nothing of his current intentions away.

“I’m not leaving her, Theo,” Draco said firmly, squaring his shoulders.

Theo smiled and nodded firmly. “Good.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, good,” Theo answered easily, apparently unbothered by the fact that his friend was essentially a powder keg of emotion just then. “Did you read her letter?”

Draco blinked, having completely forgotten about the letter that he’d shoved into the pocket of his suit jacket in all of the commotion. “Didn’t get a chance. I rode the elevator with Longbottom, of all people, and then she was…”

Theo nodded, observing.

“If she dies, Theo…” Draco’s voice was strangled with emotion, his expression stricken.

“Don’t think about that,” Theo insisted. “She’s going to come through. St. Mungo’s has the best healers in the f*cking world and Harry’s going to make sure that they get approval to use the Veritaserum. She’s going to be okay.”

Draco clenched his jaw. “If she’s not… If she…” He inhaled sharply, anger and tension rolling off him. “If she isn’t exactly how she was this morning at the end of this, I’m going to get my hands on the witch that did this and make what her son did to his wife look like child’s play.”

Though this was the first time he allowed himself to acknowledge what his revenge would look like if Hermione didn’t make it, the thought had been lingering at the edges of his mind since she’d lain in his arms on the floor of the Ministry. If she didn’t make it, scorched earth would be an understatement for the degree of his revenge.

“Straight out of exile and into Azkaban,” Theo replied, his lightly teasing tone and smirk bringing a bit of levity to the moment.

Draco’s chuckle was soundless, but there. “You say that like I’d let myself get caught.”

“Even if you would, I wouldn’t,” Theo replied, his voice sincere. “Being that I would help and my boyfriend is the head of the DMLE, I think we’d be fine.”

This time Draco laughed out loud, shaking his head. “What’s going on with you two anyway?” He asked, realising that he’d not been the best friend the past few months, too distracted with his own love life to show interest in his friend’s.

“We’re keeping it quiet until the divorce is official. Maybe after the attention dies down. But he’s moved in.” There was no denying the pleasure in Theo’s voice as he shared the last tidbit, nor the warmth that bloomed in his face.

Draco had never been shy to share his opinions on Theo’s relationship with Harry and his insistent belief that his friend deserved better than to be the side piece to a married man. Even putting all of his own feelings about The Boy Who Lived aside, he’d been furious at the undercurrent of pain he’d always seen in Theo whenever he talked about Harry and convinced that all of the so-called Golden Trio were simply selfish and cruel with people’s hearts.

However, he was beginning to find it impossible to maintain that particular belief as he was forced to acknowledge that, like him, they were all just human.

“You’ll make an absolutely stunning evil stepmother, T.” It was his way of communicating that he was happy for his friend. No matter how he felt about Harry, there was no denying that Theo’s happiness was important to him and if he was what made his friend happy, then he would have to deal with it.

“Arsehole,” Theo replied good-naturedly.

Just as Draco was about to turn and move back into Hermione’s room, having found that he’d already been away from her for too long, Theo stopped him with a hand on his arm. When Draco turned, he found his friend watching him with a strange expression on his face.

“I tried to get her to leave you alone,” Theo told him.

“I know.”

“I’m glad she didn’t,” he continued.

“Because she got my exile lifted?”

Theo shook his head slowly. “Because she brought you back to life.”

“Theo…”

“Just… Let me finish, okay?”

Cautiously, Draco nodded and braced himself for whatever his friend had to say.

“That night f*cked me up,” Theo admitted.

Draco cringed, knowing without needing to ask exactly which night Theo was referring to. He’d heard nights like that referred to as rock bottom by other people in recovery and, while he’d never adopted that particular term in his own journey, he could certainly see the value in it.

That night had been the last time he used.

The only time he’d actually asked for help.

Showing up on Theo’s doorstep in the middle of the night - tears in his eyes, face bloody from a bar fight after he’d melted down on stage, high as a kite and full of rage and desperation - had probably been the only thing that saved his life.

“Until that night, I’d always thought you had it in hand. Sex, drugs and rock and roll and all of that,” Theo continued, his expression intent as he held Draco’s gaze. “So when it turned out that you actually didn’t have it under control, I didn’t see it coming.”

Again, Draco winced but managed to remain silent.

“Ever since then, as proud of you as I’ve been, you were never quite… you again after that. Like you were less vibrant than you had been, muted in a way that didn’t feel like you.” His serious tone and expression broke for a second and he offered a quick grin, “Not that you weren’t still a f*cking rockstar.”

Draco chuckled softly.

“But… over the last year, your colours came back. Slowly, but they did. And I think it’s her. I think you’re both better with each other than not. Even Harry grudgingly agrees,” he added with a raised eyebrow.

“T–”

“You can choose her, D,” Theo interrupted whatever he’d been about to say. “You don’t have to hold on to all of the anger and bullsh*t from before. You can forgive her and you can choose her. And I know it’s easier said, but you can do hard things. You’ve proven that.”

Draco gulped.

“You don’t have to listen to me - because what the bloody hell do I know spending years in love with a married man? - but just… You can choose her, D. You can finally forgive her. That’s an option. And I suspect it’s one you haven’t really considered.” Theo inhaled deeply and then shrugged, his speech apparently over.

Unable to even formulate a response to what his friend had to say, all Draco could do was nod as he lifted a hand to give Theo’s shoulder a squeeze, hoping it said all that was needed to be said in that moment.

The two shared one more silent look before Theo offered one more firm nod and gestured for Draco to step back into Hermione’s room ahead of him.

Once again, he was hit square in the chest at the sight of her. While the fear and pain that had been etched into her expression when she’d first lost consciousness had long since faded, replaced with a placid sort of peacefulness, there was still something missing - some essential something that was all her.

*****

As Draco blinked awake, a quick glance at the window let him know that the sky had gone full dark. His eyes felt dry and puffy, the lack of sleep over the past couple of days having finally caught up with him, and as he licked his dry lips he felt the urge to clear his scratchy throat.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, roughly shoving a hand through his already messy hair.

As he stood from the ridiculously uncomfortable chair that he’d been stationed in for the nearly two days since Hermione had been admitted to the ward at St. Mungos, the aches in his back and knees twinged enough that he winced with a hiss. While he was used to feeling older than his years after a life hard-lived, it was much more frequently his mind that felt his age than his body.

Two days.

The Wizengamot had approved the use of Veritaserum on the woman who’d cursed Hermione the morning after it happened. According to Potter, getting the approval had gone even more quickly than he’d expected and barely an hour after the court convened, the truth serum was already being administered to the woman.

The curse was unique - old magic that had been long forgotten, discovered by the woman in a dusty old book as she had descended into the madness of her grief about her son’s sentence. She’d resisted telling them how to save Hermione with every fibre of her being, but there was no escaping the pull of the Veritaserum and ultimately she’d told them everything they needed to know rather quickly. The way Potter told it, it seemed to have been a downright mundane process, all things considered.

Unfortunately, the antidote had to be very carefully brewed by a potion master - ironically, the career path Draco would likely have followed had he never been exiled - and would require a full 24 hours to brew. Once the potion was finished, two doses were to be administered 12 hours apart.

She would get her first dose in the morning and her second before midnight the following night.

And then, if everything went according to the expectations of the curse breakers and healers, she would wake.

Potter insisted that she was going to be fine.

Draco’s responding silence and clenched jaw left little doubt as to what the degree of the consequences would be for the witch who’d cast the spell if she wasn’t.

There had been plenty of visitors to Hermione’s bedside as she lay there unresponsive. Several faces that were entirely unfamiliar to Draco stopped by, bringing with them flowers and cards that filled the room with colour and fragrance. They always expressed their concern for Hermione’s wellbeing while eyeing Draco curiously and he knew without question that the gossip surrounding the entire situation was probably already running rampant.

Hermione’s assistant had brought with her a fresh change of clothes and a small bag of toiletries that she’d picked up from Hermione’s flat, insisting her boss would need them when she woke up and promising on her way out that she would ensure that everything was handled at the office while she was recovering.

Longbottom had been by twice, once with his fiancé and once on his own, and Draco once again found himself grudgingly liking the man, a feat even more difficult now than it had been back and school. While there were still moments where the casual intimacy and understanding that Neville expressed for his ex-wife caused Draco to bristle, there was no mistaking that the affection and concern was that of a friend, not a lover.

Even Pansy and Phillipe had dropped in, bringing with them an enormous flower arrangement that made many of the more reasonably sized bouquets look puny by comparison. Though Pansy still regarded Hermione with distrust and an edge of spite, she’d seemed genuine when she expressed concern about the other woman and he began to suspect that the two could be friends if they allowed themselves. A strange realisation, indeed.

Theo and Potter had been by several times, staying for hours at a time and trying to convince Draco to go home and get some rest. He’d compromised by giving Theo the keys to his loft so that he could bring him a fresh set of clothes, and then excusing himself briefly to the lavatory to wash up when his friend returned.

He couldn’t bring himself to leave.

He could barely bring himself to step outside the room so that Hermione’s loved ones could visit her privately.

Theo’s words from that first night had been rolling over and over in his mind.

You can forgive her and you can choose her.

It wasn’t that the thought hadn’t occurred to him. He’d spent the past year no more able to stay away from her than he had been at 19 years old, of course he’d considered what it would take to keep her. He’d never really allowed those thoughts to flourish though, cutting them off and shoving them away as soon as he allowed himself more than a moment or two of fantasy.

It had seemed so impossible to him, the idea that it could be so simple as to just decide to forgive her.

He actually had taken responsibility for the fire ages ago, accountability for his actions having been a huge part of his recovery, unravelling the shame and self-loathing that had pushed him in the direction of the substances that ultimately took over his life. Intellectually he knew that he was the one responsible for his own choices and their consequences, but there had remained such an impossible well of anger and hurt inside of him when it came to the way Hermione had broken his heart that he hadn’t been able to let go of that anger and blame when faced with her.

Now, though, he realised that the anger had finally disappeared.

Against his will to some degree, he understood what had happened between them and had accepted that she’d been just as much a scared and f*cked up child back then as he’d been. As much as she’d hurt him, broken his heart and made him feel as small and unlovable as anyone ever had, he knew that her actions had been driven by fear and trauma rather than malice or disregard.

He knew all about making the wrong choices for the wrong reasons, after all.

He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but he realised now that at some point, without even consciously deciding to, he already had forgiven her.

Rather than lifting the weight from his shoulders, all that did was bring forth a new, sharper shame as he acknowledged the ways he’d been punishing her ever since they’d reconnected. Some of it had been intentional, spite driving him to want her to hurt the way he did, but as he thought about all of the moments that he’d watched her flinch at his treatment of her over the past year, he began to realise just how much of it had become baked into their dynamic.

He hurt her.

She let him.

She didn’t deserve it.

He kept doing it anyway.

It occurred to him that they had both, at least to some degree, acknowledged that now. Ever since the night that she’d stood up to him, reminding him that it had been his choice to start the fire and refusing to continue to take the blame for his actions, he’d watched her slowly forgive herself and had seen a lot of that quiet strength that he’d desperately missed seeing in her return.

It wasn’t until she’d been unconscious for a full day that his mind even began to settle enough that he could process what had happened during the trial. She’d been an absolute force in that courtroom, standing up and fighting for him with such confidence that it had taken his breath away.

The fact that she’d fought that hard for him knowing that he was going to leave her at the end of it made him feel like the worst person in the world, worse still when he acknowledged that he’d been the one to push her away and then blamed her for it. He was, he felt certain, unworthy of her by nearly every measure. And yet, the more he acknowledged that, the more determined he was not to let her go.

Hearing her tell him that she loved him when she thought he was sleeping - the first time she’d ever actually said the words out loud - had ripped his heart out and at the time he’d wished she’d kept them to herself. Now, though, he couldn’t help but acknowledge just how desperate he was to hear them spoken when she knew he would hear them, how much he needed her to want to say those words while looking into his eyes.

It seemed too much to hope for.

The clearing of a throat pulled him from his thoughts, startling him so much that he stood from his seat and turned quickly enough that he knocked his knee into the corner of the bed somewhat painfully. “f*ck,” he growled, gritting his teeth as he continued his turn, expecting to find the nurse standing there.

Instead, he found the familiar but distinctly older and more weary face of none other than Ginny Weasley.

Potter?

Weasley-Potter?

He cleared his throat, unsure of what to say.

“So it’s true then,” she said, breaking the silence.

“What’s true?” He asked, his voice still a bit thick and scratchy from sleep.

“You two are back together,” she clarified.

Draco blinked. Back together?

Ginny rolled her eyes at his expression. “Obviously I knew she was shagging you back in Eighth Year.”

Draco’s mouth fell open. “How… did you know?” He asked carefully.

“Hermione is about as subtle as a brick to the face?” She answered, giving him a look. “Although considering she kept my husband’s affair a secret for years, maybe I’m wrong about that. Either way, I was just waiting to catch you two together so she would admit it to me back then instead of keeping everything a secret.”

“And what would you have said if you had caught us?” This question was asked less carefully, his curiosity getting the better of him considering the context of what Hermione had told him about the last day of school.

“Truthfully?”

He nodded.

“That she’d gone barmy and you would definitely break her heart,” she answered matter-of-factly.

Impressed with her candour, Draco couldn’t help but laugh. “Turns out you were wrong,” he answered. “She broke mine instead.”

It wasn’t lost on him that the woman standing across from him had no idea that she’d been a catalyst to the way his entire life had played out from here. It was strange to acknowledge and he found himself quietly searching out any anger that he might be harbouring for her, but there was nothing.

“So I’ve heard,” she replied, a hint of amusem*nt coming to her face.

“The gossip mill is doing what it does best then, I assume?” He asked, already knowing the answer.

“Probably,” she replied, stepping a bit further into the room and setting her bag down at the foot of Hermione’s bed. “But in this case, Neville told me.”

He nodded, unsurprised that Hermione’s ex-husband had reached out to Ginny after she’d been cursed. “Recently, or…?”

“Earlier today,” she replied. “I heard about the attack within hours, but I didn’t know any details until Neville popped down to let me know what was going on.”

“You’re not here to finish the job, are you?” He asked, changing the subject to avoid talking about Neville.

This time it was Ginny’s turn to blink with surprise before a bark of laughter escaped. “No, I’m not,” she answered easily before continuing seamlessly. “Did you know about my husband’s affair?”

Draco hesitated, not because he felt any need to defend or protect Potter, but because it had occurred to him earlier that day that he wasn’t entirely certain that Theo was safe from charges having remained in touch with him during his exile.

“You did,” she continued with a nod, having read him much too easily for comfort.

“You deserve better,” Draco said, rather than confirming her assumption.

Rocking back on her heels, Ginny regarded him for a long, lingering moment before chuckling soundlessly to herself. “You’ve got that right.”

“Since you’re not here to kill her, would you like me to step out so that you can sit with her for a few minutes? I’m in need of some coffee anyway.” He gestured towards the chair he’d been sleeping in the past two nights.

“It’s after midnight,” she replied, her brow furrowing.

“I’m in a band,” he answered easily.

“Is that supposed to be an answer?”

“Late nights,” he replied with a shrug.

“In that case… Sure,” she said with a nod, finally actually allowing her gaze to settle on Hermione’s sleeping form.

Draco nodded and moved towards the door. “I, erm, won’t be long… but take your time.”

Ginny nodded absently as she moved towards the chair, her attention remaining on Hermione’s face as she lowered herself into it.

Draco took one more moment to examine the redhead’s expression, just to ensure that he wasn’t leaving a vulnerable Hermione in danger with a woman who was angry at her, but all he saw there was sadness and regret.

“Hey, Mione…”

Draco made his way to the small staff room, slipping inside to brew himself a coffee. Though he technically wasn’t allowed to be in there, a few of the healers had taken pity on him and given him permission to use it as long as he didn’t leave a mess behind. While he was more of a tea man, he’d been finding that the more intense caffeine jolt afforded to him by coffee was better at keeping him awake so he set to brewing himself one.

When he returned to Hermione’s room, he took a seat on the floor just outside the door to give Ginny some time alone with her. He dropped his head back against the wall and allowed himself to get lost in thought until he heard the soft murmur of Ginny’s voice and tilted his head to listen more closely.

“... that you were in a difficult situation, but I’m still so hurt, ‘Mione,” Ginny sounded pained and he would swear that he could hear the tears in her voice. “So you have to wake up and you have to get better, okay? Because I’m not ready to forgive you, but I want to be someday.”

Draco blinked.

I’m not ready to forgive you, but I want to be someday.

The very idea of such a sentiment was shocking to him, something he’d never considered before. He was fully willing to admit that his upbringing hadn’t exactly given him the healthiest approach to relationships, but he had done a lot of work on himself in the past few years and still couldn’t imagine having ever considered that way of thinking on his own.

“I’m not ready to forgive you, but I want to be someday,” he whispered softly enough that even someone a few inches away would have been hard-pressed to hear him.

A moment later, he was dragged from his thoughts as Ginny stepped out of the room. “Were you listening?” She asked, looking down at him.

Carefully, he pushed himself to stand. “Not on purpose,” he answered honestly.

Seemingly pleased with his answer, she nodded. “They’re hoping to wake her up tomorrow?”

He nodded, glancing into the room before returning his attention to Ginny. “They think it’ll take two doses of the potion and she should wake up without any long-term effects.”

Ginny nodded once more. “Are you in love with her?”

Startled, Draco stared.

He half expected Ginny to fill the silence but instead, she just waited calmly, holding his gaze until he squirmed uncomfortably under the attention. Finally, he exhaled and nodded, “I am.”

“Is she in love with you?” Ginny continued, not missing a beat.

He cleared his throat. “Apparently,” he answered.

“Nev said you dumped her.”

“Wasn’t quite what happened,” he answered, clearing his throat.

“So what happened?”

“Life,” he answered cryptically.

“That’s bullsh*t, Malfoy.”

He blinked.

“You’re just scared,” Ginny continued, crossing her arms.

“Would you take Potter back if he asked?” He asked, rather than addressing her uncomfortably on-the-nose accusation.

“Absolutely not.”

“Do you love him?”

She nodded, eyebrows lifted. “But not as much as I hate him for what he did.”

Draco nodded as well, familiar with the feeling even though the hatred he’d felt for Hermione after she’d broken his heart had long since faded.

“You don’t hate her,” Ginny said knowingly, watching him closely.

“No, I don’t,” he confirmed.

“Does she hate you?”

He shook his head, wincing. “I think maybe she should though.”

Ginny rocked back on her heels, regarding him curiously. “You’re not who I thought you were.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he answered sincerely. “I’d imagine you probably thought I was a bit of a twat.”

“You’re right, I did,” she replied with a playfully arched brow. “I’m going to go. If you could… not mention to Harry that I was here, I would appreciate it.”

“I don’t mention anything to Potter if I can help it,” he answered with a smirk.

Ginny laughed, the expression washing away a lot of exhaustion and pain that had seemed ever present in her expression since she’d arrived. “Excellent,” she replied as she adjusted her bag strap on her shoulder and began to walk away. “Good night, Malfoy.”

“Hey, Ginny?” He said, halting her steps.

“Hmm?” She turned to look at him.

“You will feel good again,” he told her, a knowing expression on his face.

She arched an eyebrow.

“It hurts like hell now, but it won’t be forever. Don’t let your brain convince you otherwise. They’re arseholes like that sometimes.” Something he knew all too well.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she answered with an amused twinkle in her eye. “Any other life advice?”

“Mmhmm,” he answered, his smirk deepening. “Go find some handsome, charming wizard with a co*ck that makes Potter’s look like a broken spaghetti noodle and shag him until neither of you can remember your own name.”

“And then what?”

“And then tell him to have a nice life and go find someone worthy of you.” He paused, thinking. “Eventually.”

“Eventually,” she echoed, nodding after a moment. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

“Anytime.”

“Can I give you a bit of advice?”

He raised both of his eyebrows and waited.

“Get some bloody sleep.” She said, looking him up and down with a shake of her head. “You look like something a kneazle dragged in. And not in a good way.”

“Is there a good way to look like something a kneazle dragged in?” He asked, amused.

She simply smirked and lifted an eyebrow.

Draco laughed as her meaning dawned on him. “Goodnight, Weasley.”

“Goodnight, Malfoy.”

Without another word, Ginny continued on her way and soon disappeared around the corner leaving Draco standing alone in the hall, perplexed at the conversation he’d just had with someone he’d never even spoken to civilly before.

Maybe things could change.

*****

During Hermione’s first dose of the potion that was supposed to wake her, Draco stayed close and watched her like a hawk to ensure that there were no dire consequences. Her only response to the potion had been a single shudder that seemed to roll through her entire body before she returned to being completely still and unresponsive. Though he kept it to himself, he couldn’t help but spend the next 12 hours worried that her lack of response was a sign that the antidote wasn’t going to work.

Instead, whenever he woke up from one of the brief, unavoidable naps that seemed to keep sneaking up on him as the lack of sleep overwhelmed the constant stream of caffeine he was packing into his system, he chatted easily with the healers and friends who popped in and out but kept his fears to himself.

Theo had asked him several times what was on his mind when he dropped by in the afternoon, obviously knowing him well enough that he could see something was going on, but Draco had successfully shifted the conversation and brushed off his questions each time. He wasn’t looking for comfort or empty promises that she was going to be just fine. He’d had enough of both of those things.

The truth, which everyone in the room understood and no one seemed willing to admit, was that all they had was hope. Old magic was tricky and there were no guarantees when it came to the outcomes, so all of that insistence that everything was going to be fine by the end of the night rang hollow.

But still, he couldn’t say any of that out loud.

He couldn’t risk putting it to words and inadvertently giving the fears power.

So he stayed silent.

And allowed his mind to wander.

The frequent naps were a welcome break from the unrelenting cruelty that his mind was capable of visiting on him. Unfortunately, as the hours ticked closer to when she would be given the second dose of the potion, his anxieties won out over his exhaustion and he found himself wide awake once again.

And so he finally pulled the now crumpled and worn envelope she’d passed along out of his pocket, staring at the creamy paper as though it held secrets of the universe. Though he’d looked at it several times over the past few days, the wax seal remained unbroken.

Without giving himself an opportunity to stop himself, he finally popped the seal and opened the envelope, carefully drawing the neatly folded parchment from inside. Taking a deep breath, he finally read the words she’d left for him.

D,

I know that this probably isn’t the best way for me to do this and you’re probably angry with me, but I’m hoping that you know me well enough to know why I couldn’t say goodbye in person and might forgive me for it. Eventually. I think I know you well enough to know that it could go either way.

If you’re reading this, it means that we won and the Council lifted your exile. As much as I didn't want to write this, I do hope you’re reading it if only because that will mean that we won. The way you talked about your mum, I knew I had to do what I could to try and help reunite you. There seemed no point in doing what I do and not doing whatever I could to help.

I know that what I’m about to say is selfish and perhaps just another reason that you might not forgive me, but I don’t think I would forgive myself for not saying it.

I lied to you. It wasn’t just sex. It was never just sex. Not for me.

I love you. I loved who you were, but I fell even more in love with who you are over this past year. I tried not to, I really did, but it was impossible. Even though it’s breaking my heart to have to say goodbye to you, I wouldn’t change this past year. Not even the parts that hurt. I was sleepwalking and being with you brought me back to life. Again. I don’t think words even exist to express my gratitude for that.

I’m not going to break my promise to you. I’m going to leave you to your life and I hope that it turns out as beautifully as you deserve it to. And you do deserve it.

I will never forget.

Yours,

Hermione

His eyes were wet as he finished reading the letter, a tightness through his throat and chest as he scanned through it a second time.

I love you. I loved who you were, but I fell even more in love with who you are over this past year.

It was short and to the point, just as one would expect from Hermione. She was passionate but, though she occasionally slipped up and allowed outbursts of emotion, she tended to be reserved and hold back on expressing that passion. He’d never met a woman able to hold a tighter rein on such an incredible well of feelings.

Still, he found he could read between the lines to her meaning quite effectively.

And it left him aching in a way he’d never felt before - desperate, almost - and he couldn’t resist summoning some parchment and a quill to respond to her letter. After over a year of holding back, biting and shoving down all of the complicated and overwhelming feelings she managed to rouse in him without even trying, it suddenly felt as though they were clawing their way out of him, desperate for communication.

So, with the parchment resting on his thigh and the quill unfamiliar in his hand, he started to write. And once he started, it appeared that he couldn’t quite seem to stop, filling multiple pages as he allowed his thoughts to spill out of him.

He didn’t go into the letter with any intentions as to what he was going to say. Instead, he just allowed his thoughts and feelings to fill the page until his hand began to cramp and he had to take a break. It was only then that he read the letter over, using his wand to edit and correct parts of it that were confusing or over-the-top but forcing himself to leave in the parts that he felt inclined to erase simply because they left him feeling vulnerable.

Hands trembling lightly, he looked down at the letter for a long time before carefully folding it up, determined not to make any changes to its contents no matter how much he felt like he might just sound out of his mind.

Maybe he was out of his mind.

After spending nearly three days straight at Hermione’s bedside, watching her unconscious form for any sign that she might wake as he rolled over and over the realities of their relationship in his head, he was surprised at the clarity that had suddenly broken through the mess in his mind. Everything felt clear, everything that he hadn’t been able to make sense of when it came to the two of them came together and seemed so simple to him now.

He felt a stabbing ache through his chest as he realised what an idiot he’d been for so long, making such a mess of something that could have been simple. Should have been simple, even.

Carefully, he drew her letter from the envelope she’d tucked it into and slipped it into his pocket, replacing it with his own letter and adding just a bit of heat to reseal the wax. He scrawled a quick note to the corner of the envelope and then took a deep breath, slipping the envelope into Hermione’s bag, which was tucked in right next to the bed and contained the change of clothes her assistant had brought by.

Read this when you’re ready. D.

He felt settled, somehow.

Calmer.

Still quietly battling the fear that the antidote wouldn’t work and she wouldn’t wake up, but still somehow less twisted up and messy than he had been just an hour earlier.

When the door opened, Draco lifted his head and offered a small, surprisingly familiar almost-smile to Neville as he stepped inside. “Longbottom,” he greeted him quietly, nodding.

“Malfoy,” Neville replied, offering his own nod. “Any change?”

Draco shook his head. “Nothing yet,” he answered carefully. He was not a superstitious man, but he knew the power that words held and in a case like this, he was determined to be as careful with his as he was able to be.

“Almost time for the second dose?”

Draco tugged his phone from his pocket and checked the time, nodding. “Almost time,” he confirmed, trying to ignore the clenching ache in his chest as another sliver of anxiety sliced through him.

Neville nodded, his gaze lingering on Hermione.

“Neville,” Draco said quietly, pulling the other man’s curious attention to him as he stood, wincing at the now-familiar ache in his knees after having been perched on that chair for hours. “When she wakes up…”

Neville’s brow furrowed as Draco trailed off, but he kept quiet and simply waited for the other man to continue.

Draco cleared his throat. “When she wakes up, I need to go.”

“You need to… go? Are you bloody kidding me? After all this, you’re going to go?” Neville’s expression was mostly one of shock but beyond it there was no missing the hint of something much more sour lingering at the edges.

“It’s not…” Again, Draco trailed off, shoving a hand through his hair before letting out the heavy sigh of a man overwhelmed and exhausted.

“It’s not what, Malfoy?” Neville asked, puffing his chest up as the confusion faded and that distaste in his expression took over, giving him a look of incredulous disgust.

Draco shoved down any instinct he may have had to match the other man’s energy, taking a deep breath. “I made her promise to leave me after the trial.”

“I know. I was the one who held her while she cried in the hall after the verdict.” Neville crossed his arms over his chest, lifting his chin as he stared Draco down.

The idea of Hermione in her ex-husband’s arms certainly wasn’t something he wanted to think too much about, so he did his best to ignore the stab of possessiveness and pain in his stomach at Neville’s assertion and focus on the matter at hand.

“She said goodbye.” He tugged the letter she’d written him from his pocket and held it up. “And I don’t know if she’ll want me here once she’s awake.”

He hadn’t actually allowed himself to explore that thought before it escaped his lips, but as the words hit his own ears, he realised the truth of them. She’d told him that she loved him, but there was a finality to her letter that couldn’t really be denied. He knew that there was a very real chance that she’d closed the door on them, that she wouldn’t be willing to open it again.

As Neville opened his mouth to respond, Draco shook his head sharply. “I’m not leaving her. I’m leaving it up to her.”

“What the bloody hell does that mean, Malfoy?”

“I left her a letter. She’ll understand when she reads it.” As Draco defended his decision, he felt himself becoming more and more confident that it was the right thing to do. As much as he hated the idea of walking out of the hospital and leaving her there before she was fully recovered, there was some voice in the back of his head insisting that this was the right thing to do and he couldn’t ignore it. “I need you to promise me you’ll keep an eye on her. Make sure she’s okay.”

“I would have done that anyway,” Neville replied stiffly, obviously conflicted.

“I’m in love with her,” he said then, surprising even himself with the admission.

Neville blinked, his expression shifting back to full-on shock. “You’re…”

“Just please promise me that once I leave, you’ve got her. I’ll only be able to leave if there’s someone I trust here making sure she’s okay.” He was as shocked as anyone that Neville Longbottom - her ex-husband, at that - was the person he trusted most to ensure that she was okay. But he was.

“This is… You are… Bloody hell, Malfoy!” It was Neville’s turn to shove a hand through his hair now before he nodded, exhaling heavily. “I’ll make sure she’s okay. I’ll make sure she’s recovering well and that she gets home safely. But I can’t… I can’t sit vigil like this and watch her every minute of the day. There’s only so much I can ask of Hannah when it comes to this!”

“I know,” Draco answered, nodding. “I don’t expect you to stay here. I just need to know you’ve got her while I can’t.”

“I’ve got her,” Neville replied firmly, nodding as well.

The two men shared a lingering look, mutual respect that neither could possibly have seen coming growing between them. Neville opened his mouth to speak but didn’t have a chance before a team of three healers and the Master Potioneer all charged into the room, ready to administer the second dose.

Where Draco hadn’t left her side the first time, not quite close enough to touch but nearly so, this time he carefully moved away from the bedside and leaned against the wall next to the door. Neville joined him there, taking a similar position leaning up against the wall, and both men waited as the healers set about their work.

Draco flinched, as he had the first time, as they tilted Hermione’s head back at a truly extreme angle in order to tip the vial down her throat. He clenched his fists as he watched that same shudder travel through her body before she stilled again.

As the seconds ticked on without any response, he felt his pulse quicken and caught his breath. He’d been warned by the kind healer that had taken pity on him over the past few days that they really didn’t have any idea how long the potion would take to wake her, that it could be a matter of seconds or hours or even days and that it might take patience.

His patience had long since run out though and he felt a familiar dread spreading through his body like icy fingers digging into his flesh.

Come on, baby.

You need to wake up.

Please wake up.

Just when he felt his stomach churning as though he was about to be sick, he saw it. A slight twitch in her right hand. And then moments later, a soft, sleepy groan that he’d heard many times before before her eyes started to flutter open.

He stilled.

He watched.

The healers swooped in closer to start running diagnostic spells as her consciousness returned.

As soon as he saw the beautiful, rich, familiar brown of her irises from beneath her lashes, he gave himself one more second to watch her before he told himself it was time to go. He lifted a hand to Neville’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze as he offered the man a weighted look and a nod.

“Malfoy. You don’t have to,” Neville whispered, barely audible, darting his eyes over to the bed before returning them to Draco.

“I do,” he answered just as quietly as he glanced once more over at the bed and then slipped out into the hall.

He knew that he should keep walking and get himself out of there before he had a chance to change his mind but instead, he stopped just outside the door and listened. Inside, he could hear the quiet chatter of the healers as they worked and then after a minute or two, he could hear them saying her name and beginning to ask her questions.

How do you feel?

Do you remember what happened?

Take your time, Ms. Granger.

And then…

“Did I get cursed in the middle of the bloody Ministry?” Her voice was weak, but there was no mistaking her personality in it.

Draco exhaled a breath he hadn’t even realised that he was holding and then forced himself to move. On long strides he made his way to the exit, quickly covering the distance until he tasted fresh air for the first time in three days.

He expected his instincts to insist that he turn around, that he return to her bedside and further confirm that she was okay. But he found himself certain that he was doing the right thing, confident in a way he hadn’t even thought possible that what she needed more than anything just then was time.

And he would give it.

In the meantime, he found his mind screaming that he needed to get his hands on his guitar. There was an unfinished song on a loop in his head, finally ready for completion.

So he listened.

Notes:

This is by far the longest chapter that I've posted for this story thus far, but there was definitely work to be done and it simply couldn't be done any more quickly. I can't believe there's only one left to go!

I can't even begin to tell you all how much all of your comments have meant to me. The response to the last chapter was incredible and I'm struggling to find words to even express how it has made me feel. I genuinely feel like so many of you are in this with me and that's honestly amazing. I'm a bit slow at replying to comments, but I see all of them and I genuinely love and appreciate every single one.

OH! Also - I made a cover for this fic and if you're interested in seeing it, it's now included in the Prologue!

NEXT WEEK: The Conclusion!

Chapter 20: Part Three : FINAL EPISODE

Notes:

It's Work Song.

I know that doesn't entirely make sense right now, but it will make sense around halfway through this chapter.

So yeah, it's Work Song. And I mean, it's not, because this is a fictional story and Work Song is an actual song by an actual human man. But also it is. Y'know?

Specifically it's this version of Work Song.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Nev, I’m fine, really.”

Ignoring Hermione’s continued attempts at independence, her ex-husband just gave her a vaguely withering look and held open the door to her flat, gesturing for her to step inside ahead of him.

Even before she'd been discharged from St. Mungos, she'd been insisting that she was perfectly fine and didn't need him to escort her home. Harry had been much less stubborn when he’d offered his help, acquiescing the first time she’d said no, but Neville had proven to be much less willing to bend in his determination to ensure that she made it home safely.

It had been nearly a week since she’d woken up in the hospital after three days she’d spent in a coma. She’d spent the first two days in and out of sleep, exhausted in a way that made very little sense to her after having slept as long as she did, but the healers had assured her that it was normal after what her body had been through.

In truth, she had very little understanding of exactly what her body had been through since all anyone had been able to tell her was that she’d been unconscious and unresponsive for over three days. Little was actually known about the old magic that had been used against her and, though she was certain she would find herself researching it at some point in the future to try and find some clarity on whether or not there might be long term side effects, for now, she was just happy to be home and apparently safe.

She still couldn’t believe the woman had cursed her.

She’d all but forgotten about both the woman and her son entirely within minutes of denying their request that she represent him during this trial. She’d done her due diligence first, of course, and had looked into the details of the case, but as soon as she read the statement that the man’s wife had given to the Aurors, she knew that she would have to decline. The man didn’t even deny what he’d done, insisting that it was somehow his right as her husband. There was no way that her conscience would allow her to defend a man who would do what he did to someone he was supposed to love and protect, not when she could use her energy and expertise to protect someone who actually deserved her help.

It had never even remotely occurred to her that that choice could lead to her nearly dying on the floor of the Ministry’s atrium.

“I just wanted to make sure you got home safely, Herm,” Neville said, looking around her flat with ostensible curiosity that barely disguised the fact that he was doing a scan to ensure there were no obvious threats to her safety in her space.

“It’s heavily warded, I promise,” she told him with a chuckle as she set her bag down on the floor next to the sofa and toed off her shoes. “You really don’t have to worry about me. It’s not your job anymore, remember?”

She felt a pang as her mind yet again reminded her that it was no one’s job but her own to care for her anymore. She was once again all alone. She did her best to push the thought from her mind, determined that she wasn’t going to wallow and curl into herself the way she might feel inclined to.

Life was short.

If nothing else, the attack had shown her that.

And no measure of loneliness would render her unable to take care of herself.

“Herm…” Neville said, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck.

“I’m fine, really,” she insisted once more, laughing softly. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Did you read the letter?” He asked suddenly, watching her closely.

“What letter?” She asked, her brow furrowing with genuine confusion as she tried and failed to think of any letter she might have received that he could be referring to.

She’d noticed Neville giving her strange looks over the past week, examining her as though he was trying to find something she might be hiding every time he’d come to visit and check up on her at St. Mungos. He was wearing that exact same expression now.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have any suspicion as to what he could be talking about. Even though all of her friends had remained tight-lipped, one of the healers had told her that Draco had been there the whole time she’d been unconscious and had only left once she was awake and out of the woods. The way the woman had talked about Draco - about his devotion to her and how desperate he was for her to wake up - still sent pangs through her every time she thought about it.

After that, every time she’d heard the door to her room opening, she’d held her breath in hopes it would be him. She couldn’t help but wonder with no shortage of guilt if any of her visitors had noticed the flash of disappointment in her expression every time it wasn’t him.

Still, she hadn’t received any letter from him.

“What letter, Nev?” She pressed as her ex-husband stood there looking uncomfortable.

“Malfoy…” Neville opened, hesitating.

Hermione’s breath caught and she instinctively leaned towards him.

“Before he left the hospital, he said he left you a letter,” Neville continued uncomfortably. “He said that you would understand once you read it.”

Hermione stilled, taking a moment to make sense of what he’d said. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Though she’d done her best to hide it, helped in no small part by the distraction of the lingering discomfort and exhaustion left behind by the curse, there was denying the grief she’d been experiencing over the past week. She hadn’t even had the chance to take the walk she’d so desperately needed to try to process her feelings after the trial before she’d been cursed, so it had all felt painfully fresh once she woke up and got her bearings, even with the distraction of her health.

“I didn’t realise you hadn’t seen it,” he replied, squirming uncomfortably.

Obviously, she couldn’t blame him. Though it did genuinely feel as though they were rebuilding the friendship she’d missed so terribly with him, there was no denying that having to tell his ex-wife that her ex-lover had left her a letter while she’d been in a coma was a seriously strange position for him to be in. It sounded like something straight out of a soap opera.

She nearly laughed as she pictured this situation playing out on the television, but the amusing train of thought was interrupted by the much more pressing matters at hand.

Draco had allegedly left her a letter.

“Where did he leave it?” She asked suddenly, worried that it had perhaps gotten lost somewhere at the hospital.

“I, erm… I have no idea,” Neville said weakly.

Hermione’s eyes caught sight of the bag of clothing that her assistant had brought for her while she’d been asleep. She’d spent the past week dressed in hospital robes and the only article of her own clothing that she’d worn until that morning, when one of the healers had set out an outfit for her journey home, had been her dressing gown.

Without hesitation, she dropped to her knees and tipped the contents of her bag out onto the floor in a messy pile. She caught sight of the envelope almost immediately and tugged it out of the heap, a look of confusion coming to her features as she immediately recognized that she was holding the envelope she’d given Theo to pass along to Draco, still sealed.

She frowned, wondering what she was supposed to take from him returning her letter to her unread.

Was it possible that he didn’t even want her goodbye?

Could he truly be that finished with her?

The idea that he hadn’t even bothered to read what she’d written felt absolutely crushing.

“This isn’t…” She trailed off as she turned the letter in her hand, finally catching sight of the words Draco had scrawled on the corner of the envelope.

Read this when you’re ready. D.

“Oh,” she murmured.

“Found it?” Neville asked awkwardly, gulping.

Slowly, she nodded without lifting her gaze from the envelope in her hand. “Why didn’t you tell me he stayed with me the whole time I was unconscious?” She asked the question softly, curious rather than angry.

“He made me promise to make sure you were okay,” he said after a lingering moment of contemplation. It wasn’t an answer to her question, but she listened closely. “Hence…” He gestured, finally clueing her in on why he was so stubborn and insistent that she got home okay.

She glanced down at the letter in her hand before returning her gaze to Neville’s face. “Why?”

“Why?” He echoed, confusion obvious in the set of his mouth and the pull of his eyebrows.

“Why did you promise him?”

“Because you deserve to have someone looking after you,” Neville replied awkwardly.

Hermione frowned, her brow furrowing.

It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate it.

She did.

In fact, it had felt as though the only good thing that had come from this whole mess was having Neville back in her life, rebuilding a friendship with him now that they’d both moved on from their marriage. She just didn’t understand what their friendship had to do with Draco or why he would make that promise to him.

“And I like him,” he added grudgingly after a moment. “I like him for you.”

For me?”

Neville nodded, chuckling quietly. “I don’t know what’s in there,” he said, gesturing to the letter in her hand, “but I suspect it isn’t goodbye.”

Hermione gulped, glancing down at the letter herself now.

Read this when you’re ready. D.

She returned her attention to Neville’s face and found him watching her with an unreadable expression. There was still a bit of that amusem*nt from a minute ago, but it was tinged with concern now.

“You don’t have to,” he said carefully. “Read it, that is.”

It was her turn to laugh now and she pinned him with a look, arching her eyebrow. Even leaving aside all of the other reasons she knew she would read Draco’s letter as soon as she was alone, her inherent curiosity wouldn’t have ever allowed her to leave the letter unread.

“Right,” Neville replied, chuckling as well. “What was I thinking?”

“Thank you, Nev,” she said then, her voice warm. “For all of this. I know I fought you every step of the way, but I appreciate you making sure I got home okay.”

“Of course. You know I’m always here for you no matter what,” he promised, his voice reflecting hers.

As much as she knew that he really was happy to be there for her, she also knew that she couldn’t keep him any longer. She’d already kept him too long. If she was in Hannah’s position, she knew she’d be bristling at where his attention had been over the past week and a half and there was no way she wanted to be the cause of any conflict between the two of them, especially now that she was recovered and could take care of herself. No, it was time to send Neville on his way.

“Now you get out of here,” she said with a grin. “Get back to that beautiful fiancé of yours and rub her feet or something. I’m good here, I promise.”

Though there was a hint of reluctance in Neville’s expression, he nodded and turned to move in the direction of the door. With his hand on the knob, he turned to look over his shoulder at Hermione. “I meant it, you know.”

She tilted her head.

“I think you two are good for each other.” He grinned and lifted his eyebrows playfully. “And if I’m the one saying that… Well, you really have no choice but to trust me, do you?”

Hermione barked a laugh, shaking her head, but gave him a warm, bright smile. “I’ll keep that in mind. Now get home safe.”

“See you later, Hermy.”

“Bye, Nev,” she replied, watching him until he pulled the door closed firmly behind him.

Once she was alone in her flat, she turned in a full circle and looked around. It was strange, actually. Nothing had changed - literally nothing aside from the clothes and toiletries that her assistant had picked up while she’d been in the hospital - and yet something felt different. The space felt more still than she could ever remember it feeling and a bit stale, though she could easily chalk that up to it having been without life for several days.

Still, it didn’t feel quite as much like coming home as she’d expected and she truly didn’t know how to describe it.

She glanced down at the letter still clutched in her hand.

Read this when you’re ready. D.

Was she ready?

Everything inside her was screaming to just bloody open it already, but something was stopping her. She moved over to the sofa and curled herself into one corner, flipping the letter over in her hands.

She tried to tell herself that she’d let him go, that anything that had been between them was over and that opening his letter would just reopen the wounds of having had to say goodbye. Of course, the idea that those wounds had even begun to close was ridiculous.

I suspect it isn’t goodbye.

Hope was a funny thing. Necessary, in so many ways, just to get through the day sometimes. And yet, it was also terrifying in that the loss of hope cut so deeply. Though she had done her best not to allow hope that she and Draco could be anything other than what they had been over the past year, there was no denying its bloom.

There was also no denying the wound its loss had left behind.

She dragged her thumb over the words he’d scrawled on the outside of the envelope.

There was a part of her that wanted to be angry and indignant over the fact that he’d left her with only this letter, but she knew all too well just how hypocritical that was. She’d never once said goodbye to his face, it would hardly be fair to expect him to do any different.

But, if Neville was right, this letter wasn’t goodbye, was it?

She took a deep breath and flipped the letter over, letting the tips of her fingers drift over the wax seal.

It really was no wonder she’d at first assumed that he had simply returned her letter to her unread. At a glance, that appeared to be the case. But upon closer inspection, it was clear that not only had the letter been crumpled into a pocket or bag or some other tight space for a rather extended period of time, but there was also a hint of residue where the wax seal hadn’t been returned to its original position quite perfectly as well as the tiniest tear at one side of the flap holding the envelope closed. There was also the fact that this felt much thicker than the single sheet of parchment she’d used for her own letter, letting her know that his letter was almost certainly longer than hers had been.

With that realisation at front of mind, she couldn’t wait any longer to open the letter. She was careful not to tear the letter itself but ripped through the envelope roughly rather than popping it open carefully as she might normally have.

She almost laughed when she saw the stack of parchment inside.

This was no brief little note.

It was a real letter.

A part of her - the little girl who had spent hours upon hours in childhood reading the sorts of stories where women received long, beautiful letters from the men they loved - swooned.

She hesitated after unfolding the letter though, her hands shaking as she noticed that it was addressed not to ‘Hermione’ but to ‘Granger’. She knew that she shouldn’t be surprised, but there was a stab of worry as she recalled how he’d used calling her by her last name as a means to create distance between them.

Was she ready?

She set the letter down on the sofa next to her and stared at it hard enough that she worried she might accidentally set it alight with some stray, emotion-driven magic the way they all had done as children at some point before learning to control it.

“You’re being silly,” she chastised herself out loud, shaking her head.

She was about to get up and make herself a cup of tea, perhaps putter around her flat for a while to give herself time to prepare, when instead she reached over and grabbed the letter and began to read.

There was no doubt that she was going to read the letter.

Best to just get it out of the way.

Right?

Right.

Granger,

I love you, too.

I was planning to leave that part for later in this letter, but it seemed like I probably shouldn’t bury the lead. I love you. I’m in love with you. I don’t know if I ever stopped loving you, even when I was determined to hate you.

I’m sorry I never told you. I’m sorry I behaved like such a bloody arsehole for the last year. And since I guess I never actually apologised to you for all those years at school that I was an arse to you, I should probably apologise for them too. I’m sorry. You deserved so much better from me, then and now. I wish I had understood that sooner.

I wish I had understood a lot of things sooner.

The way you’re breathing right now isn’t quite the same as how you breathe while you’re asleep and I f*cking hate it. I want you to just be sleeping. I want you to wake up and nuzzle into me the way you do when you think I’m still asleep and you can get away with it.

I pretended to sleep a lot in the past few months. I don’t know if you knew that. A part of me hopes that you did, but the rest of me hopes you hadn’t figured out until now what a coward I am.

I’m sorry for that too. I should have just held you when I wanted to. Which was f*cking always. Forever.

I feel like I should be better at this - being that I think I’ve gotten pretty good at writing lyrics and all. But I haven’t really slept in the past few days and your breathing is distracting me. Excuses, I know. I’m sh*t at this.

You’ve distracted me for a long time though. Longer than I think I ever admitted to. Maybe someday, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you about the first time I looked at you and thought the sort of things I definitely wasn’t supposed to be thinking about you back then. Someday. Right now, there are more important things.

You brought me back to life, Hermione. Twice. Once after the war and again over this past year. And then the other day, you gave me back the life that I f*cked up and lost. And the fact that you did it even after I’d been so cold to you and threw you out of my life is so much more than I deserve.

I feel like I need to explain that, don’t I?

I tried to stay away from you. I really f*cking did. Every time I went over to your flat, I told myself it was going to be the last time. One more fix and then I was going to quit. Just one more f*cking night with you and it would be the last. I don’t mean to compare you to drugs, I really don’t, and I promise you it wasn't an addiction in that way. I just couldn’t let you go. There was always an excuse, a reason that I could find to give myself permission.

And you kept letting me come back, even when I was cruel. Even when I tried to push you away. Even when I pushed you so hard I was sure you would break. I think there were times I resented you for that. You were supposed to be the strong one. The good one. You were supposed to be better and stronger than me.

Of course, I guess you were the strong one. You are the strong one. But you’re also just a person. I’ve never been faced with that as much as I am right now, watching you lying there and breathing wrong.

I know I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve another chance.

And I know you’re shaking your head right now as you read this because the person you see when you look at me is so much better than the person that I am. But it’s true. I don’t deserve it after all of the times I hurt you.

I think that’s a part of why I made you make that promise. I was never going to be strong enough to end things with you. But I’ve been sitting here for three days now thinking about something Theo said that first day you were lying in that bed.

He said I can forgive you and I can choose you.

Well, he said more, obviously, because he’s Theo and he bloody talks, but that’s the important part.

I was so convinced that we couldn’t be together. That it had to end. That the two of us together were so f*cked up and broken and unfixable that it would be impossible, so there was no reason to try. But then Theo said I could choose you, like it was just as simple as that.

So here’s the thing - I do. I choose you. And I realised that I don’t have to forgive you because I already have. I don’t even know when, but I did.

I want to be with you, Hermione. If you’ll have me.

I know we’re a mess and we have a million things we need to talk about and fix between us. I know we can’t keep going the way we have been or we’ll burn each other to the ground. And I have no idea how you’re going to feel about my plans for the future, but I hope you’ll understand them. And I hope you’ll still want to be with me.

You asked me the other night if anything had changed.

One thing has.

I don’t want to keep fighting myself. Or you. Or the fact that everything in me is screaming at me that the right thing is for us to be together.

And maybe I lost my chance. I’ll understand if I did.

I’ll hate myself, but I’ll understand.

Don’t answer right away. Take some time. Think about this. Because I have to warn you - if you say yes, I will never let you go without a fight. So I want you to be sure. I want you to be as sure as I am right now.

Take a week. Two weeks. A month. I’ll be waiting.

And if you’re not willing, if we’ve come too far, I’ll understand.

Just know that I love you.

And even though it seems kind of limp and weak to throw in at the end - Thank you. For everything.

Yours,

Draco

Hermione’s cheeks were wet with tears as she read the final words of his letter, dragging her fingertips over the scrawl of his name.

She had no idea what she had been expecting, but it wasn’t that. He’d never been that effusive with her. While she had long understood that he was a man who felt things incredibly deeply, something she’d learned about him years earlier when they were all but children, she’d never expected that he would ever be so open with her about those feelings.

Without even waiting, she returned to the beginning of the letter and read it over again, this time feeling a well of excitement and urgency building within her as she got to the end. All of that hope she’d been so afraid of allowing to flourish seemed to have bloomed full and strong without her even noticing it.

Before she knew it, she had her shoes on, her wand and keys in her hand, and a huge smile on her face as she moved towards the door. Instinctively, there was no reason to wait, no reason to give it even a moment’s pause.

They loved each other.

They wanted to be together.

It was only when her hand wrapped around the doorknob and she was about to rush out of her flat that she finally took a moment to think. Her body stilled and she took a few deep breaths, considering.

I don’t deserve another chance.

Though she’d only read the words, she could swear she heard them spoken right in her ear, Draco’s voice reminding her about things she’d prefer not to consider. She wanted to exist only in the excitement of her feelings being reciprocated and didn't want to think about the last year and all of the ways he’d hurt her over the course of it.

But he asked her to.

It felt as though she owed it to both of them to do so.

Taking another deep breath, she allowed her hand to drop from the doorknob and took a single step backwards as an unmistakable wave of pain washed over her. Eyes unblinking, her breathing speeding up, she slipped her shoes back off and stumbled back to the sofa.

At first, she felt sort of numb as she let herself think about the past year in a way she’d not allowed up until that point. For months, she’d been willing to take what she could get, willing to accept whatever it took to be close to him again, believing that she deserved the punishment for hurting him.

She wouldn’t change it, she decided. She’d made her choices and she’d felt more in those twelve months than she could remember feeling in years. More pain, of course, but also more life. More love. More everything. When she told him that he’d brought her back to life, she hadn’t been exaggerating. He truly had.

And yet…

There was no denying that thread of shame she felt at how desperate she’d been to be close to him. At how she’d never asked for what she knew she deserved from him. At how long it had taken her to stand up for herself. And even at how easily she’d given up when he said it was over.

She grabbed the blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it over her body, wiggling herself deeper into the cushions. As she glanced out the window and noticed dark clouds taking over the sky, she nearly smiled. Somehow a rainy afternoon spent with her thoughts seemed like just the thing right then.

She grabbed her wand to set a fire, giving herself something to stare into as she allowed her mind to drift.

There was much to consider.

So much, in fact, that when finally she blinked herself out of the hypnotic hold the flames and her wandering thoughts had on her, the sky had gone dark. She didn’t bother to check the time. Didn’t bother to change her clothes or have something to eat. Instead, she just shifted her body position until she felt more comfortable and closed her eyes.

She wasn’t entirely sure what to think about the fact that instead of having answers after the hours spent contemplating, she felt even more uncertain than she had before. It had all seemed so straightforward immediately after she’d read his letter.

Now she wondered if maybe he’d been right all along.

What if there was just too much mess between them to ever make it work?

*****

Initially, Hermione gave herself three days to think.

Three days seemed like a reasonable, mature amount of time to think through all of the messy history between them and come to a responsible, adult decision.

After three days of essentially non-stop thinking, she gave herself another three days.

It wasn’t that she didn’t know what she wanted. In fact, there wasn’t a single question in her mind that what she wanted was to be with Draco. She couldn’t think of a single thing she’d wanted with that much intensity in her entire life.

On the sixth day, she realised that thinking over and over and over about every possible reason that she shouldn’t go after what she wanted was ridiculous.

Maybe it wouldn’t work out.

Maybe they’d already painted themselves into a corner, so steeped in dysfunction that they would crash and burn.

So what?

That was no reason not to try.

She was a woman who had once been a girl who found the courage to fight a war - she could fight to be with the man she loved.

She was a woman who’d been married and divorced before she was thirty - she could handle the end of a relationship.

What she wasn’t sure she could handle was walking away, giving up.

So she didn’t.

Instead, she found herself standing outside that same club that she’d first stumbled upon him in and the one where she’d sort of said goodbye, though she couldn’t believe it hadn’t even been three weeks since that last night they’d spent together. She’d considered going to his flat, sitting down with him in private to discuss their relationship in a calm, mature fashion, but for some reason, she couldn’t get the idea of showing up at the club out of her mind.

It just seemed right.

It seemed like exactly the right thing to do.

Luckily, she’d only had to wait two days after finally making her decision for the band to be playing there.

Slithering Exile.

She couldn’t help but wonder as she looked up at the marquee if they would change the name now that it no longer fit their lead singer as accurately as it once had.

As she stepped inside the club, she thought back to that first time she’d walked through that door. She’d been drawn like a moth to Draco’s flame and had stood in shadows while he sent verbal arrows straight through her, the first of many punishments from the man whose heart she’d broken.

In truth, she wasn’t sure she even knew the version of herself that had first walked into this club a year earlier anymore.

She hadn’t really noticed the change as it was happening but in retrospect, she realised that she’d grown more over the past year than she’d thought possible.

There were the big moments of growth, of course, the ones when she’d finally spoken her truth, advocated for herself, and eventually forgave herself for the mistakes she’d made, letting go of the shame that she’d carried like a weight on her back. Those changes had been obvious. Milestones, really.

There were also the smaller changes, the ones that actually felt more significant. She felt as though she’d spent her twenties curling into herself a bit more with every passing day, making herself smaller and convincing herself that she was unworthy of the life she wanted. She’d shed so much of that, bit by bit, building confidence and certainty that she was sure appeared subtle from the outside but felt monumental to her.

She’d settled into herself.

She’d forgiven herself, which she’d come to realise was just as important as being forgiven by others.

She knew who she was.

And what she wanted.

What she deserved.

She’d timed her arrival so that she would arrive after the band had already started to play. While she would deny it to her very last breath, there was some part of her - perhaps the part that had loved getting lost in stories for so much of her life - that had a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Always had.

She wanted the moment.

Craved it, even.

When she walked in and found herself with a direct line of sight to the man she’d been aching for the sight of for weeks, all of those fantasies of eyes meeting across the crowded room and a passionate reunion faded away with the breath that seemed to have been stolen from her lungs. All she could do was stare as her breathing and heart rate picked up speed and she had to hold herself back from rushing the stage just to get her suddenly aching hands on him.

Draco Malfoy.

Her Draco Malfoy.

She took a deep breath, watching him from the back of the club.

He looked tired, as though he hadn’t been sleeping as well as he should have, but she could swear that in that moment, he was the most breathtakingly beautiful thing she’d ever seen. He was dressed just the way he usually was on stage, with a pair of well-worn black jeans hugging his thighs and a vintage Davie Bowie t-shirt so stretched out and torn at the neck that it was nearly hanging off his shoulder. His hair was mussed and his boots were scuffed and he was absolutely perfect.

If there had been any question left as to whether or not she was making the right choice, it fell away as she took him in and felt that connection that she hadn’t been able to grasp alone in her flat with her thoughts. Certainty was not common for her. She was always bursting with questions, always looking for a bigger and bigger picture to make sure that everything made sense. But right then, she was convinced she’d never been so sure of anything in her life.

There was no missing the moment he saw her standing there.

They were in the middle of a song, a favourite of hers that was about overcoming what you were born into and forging your own path, when he stilled, trailing off completely as the band continued to play. She nearly laughed at the expression on his face, utter shock with eyes and mouth both dropped wide open.

Rather than laughing, she simply tilted her head and smiled.

Just a smile.

Nothing special, in her opinion.

But she might have sworn she relit the sun with the way his shock turned to hope in an instant. Everything about him seemed to settle as he wrapped both of his hands around the microphone and seamlessly returned to the song, singing it directly to her.

This time, she let the laugh escape as she stepped further into the club, bolstered by his obvious pleasure at seeing her there. In truth, despite his letter, she hadn’t been entirely sure how he would react to seeing her in the crowd, so his bright smile snuffed out the last traces of doubt.

She was certain.

“Every song has a muse,” he said with a grin once the song ended, lifting a bottle of water to his lips to punctuate his words with a sip.

It was the same thing he’d said the first time she’d seen him play and she couldn’t resist lifting her eyebrows almost comically as she waited for him to continue. She wasn’t the least bit worried that he would say something hurtful the way he had the other time, but she hung on his every word anyway.

“Some of you that have been around a while will be familiar with the Three Girl,” he said carefully, smirking as the crowd booed.

Hermione laughed, unsurprised by the reaction considering what she knew about the lore surrounding her in the band’s mythology. Strangely, she wasn’t the least bit bothered by the fact that she was being booed.

“Now, now,” Draco tsked, apparently not quite as comfortable with the reaction as she was, “let’s be nice. Three Girl is currently in the room and I’d very, very much like to impress her tonight.”

The shock was almost palpable as it moved through the crowd, fans whispering and looking around to try and spot her. Considering the way Draco’s eyes kept returning to her, it wasn’t long before all eyes seemed to be centred on her and the crowd parted in front of her, leaving her feeling exposed and a bit less confident in herself than she had a minute earlier.

“You see,” Draco continued, drawing some of the attention back to the stage, “when I was nineteen years old, I fell in love with a girl and she broke my heart. And then more recently I broke hers as many times as I could to punish her for it. But I’m hoping that the fact that she came here tonight means that she’s willing to give me a chance to put it back together again.”

A chorus of awws rang out through the room and Hermione flushed, her smile brightening as she tried to ignore the people staring and just keep her attention focused on the man she’d come there to see. Unsurprisingly, it was actually pretty easy to do.

He was riveting.

She was riveted.

“So I’m going to make the band want to kill me by playing a song we’ve only practised a few times,” he said as he set his water down and reached for his guitar. “I started writing this song over ten years ago, long before I had any idea how to write a decent song, but I just finished it a week and a half ago.”

From behind, Hermione felt a nudge pushing her closer to the stage and she gasped. A glance behind her let her know that there were a few eager girls who were apparently invested in the love story playing out in front of them urging her forward and she laughed once more.

“What is going on?” She murmured to herself.

Despite her flair for the dramatic, she hadn’t seen anything like this coming. She’d assumed that he’d see her there and they’d have a moment filled silently with all of the things that lived between them. She hadn’t expected him to actually call attention to her or address her directly from the stage. Still, she moved closer to the stage at the urging of Draco’s fans, gulping as she finally stood directly in front of him, looking up at him.

“Hi,” she mouthed.

“Hi, baby,” he answered, giving her a wink before shifting his gaze to let it drift over the crowd with a charming grin. “Every other song tonight is for all of you, but I hope you’ll forgive me when I tell you that this one is just for her.” He paused, an impossibly charming grin coming to his face. “I do hope you’ll enjoy it anyway though.”

Again, the crowd seemed to melt and swoon even as they cheered him on. Hermione might have been amused at the response if she wasn’t so completely overwhelmed. Instead, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from him.

Draco played the first note of the song and the band came in a moment later, the song moving at a slow, seductive pace that immediately drew everyone in the room in. He was good at that, she acknowledged, but this was a whole other level.

As he started to sing, Hermione found herself breathless.

He sang about her reverently, his words painting her as something like a goddess. The words were drenched in devotion, promises to endure that brought tears to her eyes. If she’d had even the barest hint of uncertainty left in her, it would have vanished as though it had never been there under the intensity of the song.

The woman this song was about was loved. Enduringly. Intensely.

The fact that she was the woman this song was about seemed almost impossible. And yet…

As the song came to an end, Hermione had tears on her cheeks. Unlike the last time, when he’d played a song he’d written about the way they broke each other’s hearts, the tears felt sweet this time.

Absently, he slipped his guitar off and handed it over to Baz before jumping down from the stage and closing the distance between him and Hermione on long strides, reaching for her as soon as he was near enough. His hands moved to the sides of her neck, fingers brushing against her jaw, as he drew her in.

“You’re a f*cking sight for sore eyes, Granger,” he murmured as he dipped his head down to capture her lips in a kiss that held back nothing from the very first brush.

As Hermione tipped her head back further, losing herself in the taste and heat of his mouth, she felt an overwhelming sense of rightness that seemed to flow through to the tips of her fingers and toes. Her hands first pressed firmly to his chest but soon fisted into the fabric of his shirt, holding him tightly to her as though she might never let go.

How it had taken her so many days to come to him was beyond her just then. Nothing had ever felt so right to her as being with him did.

Though passionate and intense, the kiss was relatively brief being that they were surrounded by a crowd full of rapt onlookers. As he drew back, though, he continued to hold her face in his hands as though she were precious and his attention didn’t waver. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, though it did nothing to hide her smile.

“Hermione…” He began.

She shook her head and released her hold on his shirt so that she could pull him into a tight hug, melting into him as he quickly wound his arms around her as well. It occurred to her then that hugging was also a relatively uncommon thing for them and somehow that made the moment feel even more intense.

“Finish the show,” she mumbled into his impossibly soft t-shirt. “And then we can talk.”

As he drew back only far enough that he was able to look down at her face, there was a curious look in his eyes. He took a moment to examine her before he relaxed and a small smile returned to his lips as he nodded.

“Then we can talk,” he echoed as he leaned down to brush one more soft kiss over her lips. “Don’t disappear on me.”

“Never,” she replied softly.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he answered, sounding a bit shell-shocked.

“Get back up there,” she said with a grin, “or your fans might start to think they’re getting a different kind of show tonight.”

Draco growled softly, shaking his head. “Mine,” he said firmly.

“Yours,” she replied warmly.

He squeezed her one more time before reluctantly drawing away and making his way back up to the stage with an impressive and somewhat surprising leap. As he took the microphone again, looking out over the crowd, he wore a somewhat bashful grin.

“Sorry for the interruption,” he drawled with a grin. “Had to get my girl.” At the crowd’s cheer, Hermione flushed and shook her head at Draco, who only grinned in response.

The rest of the show passed in a blur for Hermione, feeling simultaneously like a lifetime and the blink of an eye. She could feel eyes on her the entire time and did her best not to shrivel under the attention. Instead, she just maintained her focus on Draco and allowed herself to get lost in his showmanship and the sound of his voice when he sang.

And his hands.

There was just something breathtaking to her about the way his long fingers wrapped around the mic stand as he sang.

It was strange just how different it felt to watch him perform now. She’d been in the crowd at his shows countless times over the past year, but it had never felt like this. Perhaps because there had always been a longing left unfulfilled then, a bittersweet ache knowing that even though they’d be wound around each other at the end of the night, he wasn’t hers and she wasn’t his.

The difference, she found, was startling but not at all uncomfortable.

When finally they finished their last song and said goodnight to the crowd, Hermione began making her way to the side of the stage. Unlike other times she’d moved through the crowd to get closer to Draco, this time they parted for her so that she could move smoothly and uninterrupted in the direction of her target. Though she tried not to notice, she could see a variety of different emotions on the faces she passed, a mixed bag of curiosity, excitement and envy from his fans.

Though it was a bit uncomfortable to have so many eyes trained on her, she was startled to find that she wasn’t craving anonymity in the way she might once have. There was something powerful in having claimed him publicly and been claimed herself.

She barely had a moment to think when she reached Draco and he dropped an arm over her shoulder to lead her outside without the slightest hesitation, leaving the rest of the band just watching them go. The urgency wasn’t really surprising when she considered the fact that he’d been waiting since the night she woke up without any indication of how she was feeling about things. Had the tables been turned, she didn’t think she’d even have been able to finish the show.

“Hold on tight,” he murmured as they stepped into the alley outside the club.

She barely felt like she had time to take a breath before he’d apparated them and they were standing inside his flat, her equilibrium a bit shaken and her tummy wobbling.

“Impatient man,” she murmured, chuckling softly to herself as she tried to get her bearings.

“I should get a medal for waiting this long,” he countered, rubbing her shoulders comfortingly until she finally straightened when the nausea and unsteadiness finally passed. Once she seemed to have her bearings, he dropped his hands to her hips and tugged her in closer before winding one arm around her waist and lifting the other to cup her jaw. “I missed you.”

She gasped softly. He’d never been like this before, not even when they were young, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. “Who are you and what have you done with Draco Malfoy?”

He chuckled soundlessly and shrugged. “You came.”

She nodded, watching him closely.

“I was starting to think you weren’t going to,” he admitted.

“How could I not?” She asked softly, lifting her hand to his cheek now and stroking the tips of her fingers over his cheekbone.

“Are you okay? How are you feeling?” He asked suddenly, drawing back to look over her as though there might be some injury or disability he hadn’t noticed.

“Fully recovered, as far as we know,” she answered, warmed by his attention.

He nodded, some of the tension that had just built in him releasing. “Good.”

“You’re being weird,” she pointed out, eyebrows lifted and a small smile on her lips to let him know it wasn’t a criticism.

He laughed good-naturedly before sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her over to the couch, lowering them both down so that she was cradled in his lap. Once she was settled, he carefully took her shoes off for her and set them carefully down next to the couch. “This okay?”

She gaped at him for a second before huffing a soft laugh. “Are you joking?”

He arched an eyebrow.

“Surely no woman is going to complain when the man she loves literally sweeps her off her feet,” she pointed out, amused.

His expression turned serious. “Say it again,” he urged.

“Say…?” It took her a few moments of confusion under his intense stare before she figured out what she meant and another rush of warmth moved over her, bringing a warm, adoring smile to her lips. “I love you.”

“Gods,” he murmured, pulling her in as though he was going to kiss her but pausing mere millimetres from her lips. “I love you back.”

She didn’t wait for him to kiss her then, instead closing the distance herself and catching his lips in an immediately passionate kiss. As her hands moved into his hair, she sighed at the silky feel of it between her fingers and sunk into him more deeply. It wasn’t that she hadn’t realised she’d missed him, the ache of it had been ever-present, but the feeling of relief at being with him again left no doubt that she’d been craving his touch and his presence more than she’d even realised.

When he drew back from the kiss, it took Hermione a moment to blink open her eyes but when she did, she found him staring back at her with an unreadable expression. She tilted her head slightly, curiosity obvious in her expression, and he exhaled slowly as if preparing himself.

“We need to talk,” he said quietly.

“We do,” she replied carefully, a feeling of dread moving through her. She was doing her best to remind herself that there was nothing to be afraid of now, but she’d gotten so used to the knife’s edge that she’d spent the past year on that it wasn’t an altogether easy transition.

“It’s nothing bad,” he assured her, apparently seeing the subtle shift in her. “I don’t think it’s bad,” he amended after a moment.

“Okay,” she replied slowly, drawing the word out.

“I’m not coming back,” he said suddenly, the words rushing out of him.

“You’re… not coming back,” she replied carefully, unsure of what the words meant but desperately hoping that they didn’t mean he wasn’t coming back to her. After all of this, that had to be impossible. Right?

“To Magical Society,” he clarified, watching her closely. “I know you worked f*cking hard to get my exile lifted and I really appreciate it. Being able to have my friends and family back in my life openly means everything to me, I swear.”

She nodded, cautiously hopeful about his meaning now.

“But I can’t come back in the way I think people expect me to. I can’t go back to being the person I was before I got exiled. I don’t want to be a potion master or a f*cking alchemist or any of the things I thought I would want to grow up to be when I was young.” He was speaking more quickly now, making clear that not only had he thought a lot about what he wanted for the future, but that his decisions were made.

Though the feeling of uncertainty remained, keeping her tummy nearly as off-kilter as apparating to his flat only minutes earlier had, she remained quiet and listened carefully.

“The band means a lot to me and we’re finally making headway. There’s even been talk about us finally recording an album. I want… No, I need to stick with it.” He paused then, taking a deep breath. “I’ve built a life and I can’t just… abandon it. I don’t want to abandon it.”

“What does this mean… for us?” She asked carefully.

He remained quiet for a lingering moment, watching her closely, before replying, “I hope it means that you’ll… straddle both worlds with me?”

In some ways she’d always felt as though she was straddling the line between the magical and muggle worlds, not quite fitting perfectly into either of them. She’d done her best to settle fully into the magical world, especially in the years since her parents had been gone, but there was no denying that she’d never quite left the muggle world behind entirely. It had never occurred to her that there might come a time when her lack of belonging in either world would begin to make sense to her, that she’d find herself in love with someone sharing that experience.

“I would never ask you to give up your life in the magical world,” he insisted sincerely. “What you do… Your work, that is. It’s important. You’re changing one of the most unjust things about the Ministry legal system and I know as well as anyone how important that is. Even though, after what happened, I’ll be worried every bloody day about your safety, I would never ask you to stop doing what you do.”

Relief flooded her then. Like him, the idea of giving up the work she had come to love so much was something she wouldn’t even be willing to consider, not even for love. Knowing that he knew and understood that meant more than she realised it would.

“And I know we can’t jump right in,” he continued, taking her hands and lifting them to his lips to kiss at her fingertips. “We have so much sh*t from the past to wade through and fix and I have so much to apologise–”

He stopped speaking as she pressed her fingers more firmly to his lips and shook her head. “We’ll figure it out,” she said softly, giving him a soft smile. “We have time.”

All of the tension that had built in him seemed to uncoil then and his body relaxed as he exhaled, kissing her fingertips once more. “Thank f*cking Merlin,” he mumbled against her fingers.

“Draco,” she murmured, holding his gaze confidently.

“Hermione,” he replied with a slight smirk.

“Can we talk about the rest later?”

He arched an eyebrow. “What will we do right now?”

Smirking playfully, she arched an eyebrow. “Things aren’t going to change that much, are they?” She asked, dragging her hand down over his neck to his chest.

He all but growled in response, his eyes flaring with lust, and shook his head slowly. “No. They are definitely not going to change that much,” he confirmed in a confident, determined voice.

Within seconds, Draco stood smoothly with Hermione still cradled in his arms and carried her towards the stairs. She squeaked as he lifted her, certain that he was going to drop her at any second, and held tight to his shoulders.

“You don’t have to…” She trailed off, squirming slightly in his hold as he began to ascend the stairs.

“Sweep you off your feet?” He asked, a teasing note in his voice. “I thought you weren’t going to complain about that.”

She felt as though she flushed from head to toe. “Seriously, who are you and what have you done with Draco Malfoy?” She asked again, blinking.

He laughed, hitching her a bit higher in his hold as he moved further up the spiral staircase. “Still me,” he promised, giving her thigh a bit of a squeeze. “But I figure my witch needs a little romance after putting up with the grumpier version of me for the past year.”

Her responding laugh was lighthearted as they reached the top of the stairs. “Is that so?”

He nodded with a mischievous grin as he closed the distance between the top of the stairs and the bed, lowering her down to it achingly slowly. “That doesn’t mean I’m not going to f*ck you brainless,” he drawled with a smirk. “Just in case you were worried about that.”

“Thank Merlin,” she said in a breathless but teasing tone.

“Like I said,” he intoned with a smirk, “things aren’t going to change that much.”

As he leaned over her, pressing his hands into the mattress on either side of her, she scooched her body further onto the bed and was beyond pleased when he followed her lead. Once they’d reached the centre of the bed and he was caging her in against it with both his arms and legs, she relaxed and grinned up at him.

“You think you can just make me chase you now that I’ve admitted how in love with you I am?” He asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

Slowly, she nodded.

He let out a full belly laugh before sitting up straight, pinning her legs to the bed, and reaching for her arms to stretch them out high above her head and pin them there as well. “Don’t go getting crazy, witch.”

She squirmed in his hold, breathless and alight with lust as he so easily took control of her body. “Or what?”

Both of his eyebrows raised and he chuckled once more. “Always were a bit of a brat, weren’t you?”

“Who, me?” She shook her head slowly, holding his gaze. “I’m a good girl, remember?”

He smirked, drawing his hands slowly down the length of her arms and then over her ribcage, brushing just the tips of his fingers over the sides of her breasts teasingly. “I don’t know about that, love.”

Sticking her bottom lip out comically, she pouted.

He laughed once more.

It occurred to her that playfulness, in this manner anyway, was definitely not something that had been present in their sex life for the past year and she found that she quite liked it. When paired with the other dynamics that she desperately didn’t want to see disappear, of course. Sex was, as far as she could tell, the only thing they’d never struggled to make work between them.

“Are you going to prove to me that you can be good, Granger?” He asked with a smirk as his hands reached the hem of her top and began pushing it upwards to reveal her bare skin beneath.

She nodded.

“You’ll do exactly what you’re told?”

She nodded once more.

“Even if I plan on pressing you into this bed and making you come so many times that you forget your own name?”

She gulped and squirmed, but nodded once more.

“We’ll see,” he murmured. His hands reached the top of her ribcage, fingertips brushing against the lacy edge of her bra, and he smirked. “Did you wear this for me?”

She smirked but didn’t reply.

“Already forgetting your promise to be a good girl? That took barely ten seconds.” He allowed his hand to glide over the lacy cup until he met the pebbled ridge of her nipple. He captured the small nub between two fingers and squeezed just hard enough for her to whimper and squirm. “What was that?”

“Yes, I wore it for you,” she admitted, already struggling to catch her breath.

“And am I to assume you wore matching knickers?” He asked, loosening his hold on her nipple to instead brush his fingernail over it in a tease that was positively maddening.

“Of course,” she answered, licking her lips.

“I think you ought to show me,” he said then, sliding off of her to stand next to the bed.

She would not claim any sort of grace or elegance in the way she undressed then. Instead, she quickly and somewhat unceremoniously tugged her shirt off over her head and tossed it away before shimmying out of her trousers and tossing them onto the pile as well. Once she was down to just the navy blue lace lingerie that she’d painstakingly chosen when she’d gotten dressed earlier, she lowered herself back onto the bed and stretched her arms up above her head to return to the very position she’d just been in moments earlier.

“Stunning,” he murmured as he looked down at her.

She luxuriated under his gaze, feeling a bit hazy like this was all a dream, but smirked after a moment. “You know you can do more than just look, right?”

He rocked back on his heels, momentarily surprised by her cheek, before a slow, almost feral smirk tugged at his lips. He reached down and took hold of one of her ankles, wrapping his fingers tightly around it so that he could tug her to the edge of the bed. Lifting her leg so that it rested against his body, he turned his head and brushed a kiss over her ankle.

“You know, Granger,” he murmured, pausing to drag his teeth over the spot he’d just kissed, “I’m beginning to think you’re not all that interested in being good.”

“Is that so?” She asked flirtatiously.

He nodded, dipping lower to feather kisses along her calf. “Are you going to deny it?”

She shook her head.

He chuckled as he lowered himself to his knees next to the bed, draping the leg he’d been holding over his shoulder before reaching for the other to do the same. “It’s a good thing I planned on worshipping you this evening or I might have to punish you right now.”

“You could do both…”

He turned his head to nip at her inner thigh hard enough that she let out a soft squeak and rocked her hips up off the bed. “I could, couldn’t I?” He answered against her skin.

She shivered, unable to stop squirming.

“Up,” he murmured as he took hold of her knickers at both hips, tugging them gently until she did as she was told and lifted her hips from the bed so that he could tug them down over her bum and then drag them down her legs. “f*cking perfect,” he continued as he looked down at her.

Her breath caught.

“Take your bra off,” he commanded softly as he returned his gaze to her face. “I don’t want anything between me and your body.”

Without pause, she arched her back and twisted her body so that she could unhook the offending garment and then quickly removed it as well, tossing it in the same direction as the rest of her clothes.

“See, you know how to do as you’re told.” With one hand at her hip, he dragged the other upwards over her ribs to cup her bare breast before kneading at it. “Do you remember your safe word?”

She nodded.

Though she’d never had to use it, the safe word he’d given her that first night he’d shown up at her door had always remained in the back of her head just in case he pushed beyond what she was ready for. One of the reasons she’d been so uninhibited with him, so ready to follow where he led, was that she knew instinctively that he would respect her boundaries as soon as she communicated them.

“Good,” he replied firmly. He caught her in a heated gaze for a long, heated moment as a smirk pulled deeper and deeper at his lips. “I’m going to make you come over and over and over until you can’t take it anymore. And when you can’t take anymore, you say it and I’ll let you rest.”

She gasped.

“Tell me you can take it, Hermione.”

“I can take it,” she replied quietly after a deep breath.

“You can,” he agreed.

Not even a second later, she felt the heat of his breath against her slick centre as he dipped his head lower. She gulped and allowed her eyes to close, arching her back ever so slightly off the bed.

“Uh uh,” he mumbled, pausing to press a single kiss directly over her cl*t. “Eyes open, love. You watch while I make you come.”

Slowly, she blinked her eyes open and looked down at him between her legs.

“Good girl,” he murmured, pressing one more kiss to her thigh before abandoning teasing altogether.

She cried out as the first swipe of his tongue dragged firmly over the length of her slit, starting at her entrance and dragging upwards to circle and stroke her cl*t. She fought to keep her eyes open as he feasted on her, using his tongue to drive her out of her mind, but when he pressed two fingers inside her and began to f*ck her in a maddeningly slow and steady rhythm they began to flutter until finally she forgot to even try.

The first time she came, she arched her entire body up off the bed before shuddering almost violently.

The second time, her legs locked so tightly around his head that he all but had to force himself out from their vice-like grip so that he could breathe.

The third time, tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes and she swore she couldn’t handle another.

After the fourth time, as her body felt wrung out and shaky, she finally used her safeword and he drew back, wiping her from his face with his sleeve.

“Okay there, Granger?” He asked, stroking her quivering thigh gently.

She swallowed roughly and looked up at him. “You’ve killed me. You’re a murderer.”

He laughed, shaking his head. “Pretty sure the dead can’t talk, love,” he said as he climbed up into the bed with her.

“Then I’m dead adjacent,” she murmured. She rolled onto her side to face him, reaching out to drag a hand over the obvious bulge in his trousers. “And after the fifth one, I might not make it.”

He growled, glancing between her face and her hand. “Are you saying I should keep my pants on… to save your life?”

She shook her head slowly. “More like… I’m willing to risk it all just to have you inside me.”

He groaned as she tightened her hold on his co*ck and stroked him as much as she was able through the straining fabric.

She pouted for a moment as he brushed her hand away, but her grin returned as he began tearing at his clothes with even less finesse than she had when she’d undressed for him earlier - however long ago that had been. Once he’d managed to undress completely, his co*ck jutting from his body with a lewd sort of promise, he roughly lifted her from where she lay to toss her back into the middle of the bed before moving between her parted legs.

She bit her lip and looked up at him in eager anticipation. As many times as he’d gotten her off already, it hadn’t addressed the ache she felt to feel him inside of her. She arched her hips, whimpering as she felt the tip of his co*ck glide over her centre.

“How are you still so impatient?” He teased.

“Need you,” she whimpered, rocking her hips once more. This time, she felt him notch against her entrance and tried to push forward so that he would slip inside before he stilled her with a hand on her hip.

“Hermione,” he ground out, clearly struggling for control.

“Hmm?”

“It was never just sex for me either,” he said then, rocking forward just enough that the very tip of him slipped inside her.

She whimpered and bit her lip, the combination of his words - words that echoed the ones she’d written in her letter to him - and the sensation of his splitting her open scrambling her ability to think.

“Not for one f*cking second,” he reiterated, pressing a few inches deeper.

“I love you, Draco!” She cried out, lifting her hips from the bed to draw him in all the way to the root.

“I love you, Hermione,” he answered on a groan. Careful not to squish her, he lay his body weight against hers and slowly began to rock his hips, f*cking her deeply.

No one would call their coupling smooth. In fact, there was an urgency and desperation to it that seemed to have stolen any finesse that either of them possessed. They seemed to claw at each other, constantly seeking a deeper, harder, more intense coming together. By the time they both came - Hermione all but sobbing as her fifth org*sm tore through her and Draco cradling her almost reverently as he followed only seconds later - they were both slick with sweat and flushed from head to toe.

It took nearly five full minutes of near catatonia as they tried to catch their breath before Draco finally drew his softening co*ck from inside her and rolled onto his back next to her. Seconds later, he reached over and drew her to his side, wrapping his arms around her and brushing a kiss to the top of her head before pulling the blanket over their quickly cooling skin.

“Bloody hell,” he moaned, shaking his head.

“Agreed,” she murmured, tucking her face in against his neck and breathing him in.

“I will never get tired of that,” he vowed.

“Better not,” she replied before pressing a kiss against his throat. “I can’t live without it now.”

“Is that so?”

“Mmhmm. Like oxygen.”

“Lucky me,” he chuckled.

They fell into a comfortable, contented silence then, curled up against each other. Draco dragged his fingers through her hair until she was all but purring like a kitten and every so often she would brush another kiss over his pulse point, but it was nearly a half hour before Hermione broke the silence once again.

“Is it wrong to be sort of happy that I got cursed?” She asked quietly.

Draco stiffened. “What are you talking about?”

“If I had just walked out of the Ministry like I had planned, do you think we would be here now?”

Draco’s instinct was to immediately insist that they would, but after he’d taken the time to consider the progression of his thoughts and feelings on their relationship over the three days that she’d been unconscious, he was less sure.

“I don’t know,” he finally answered honestly. “I’d like to think I’d have pulled my head from my arse without you having gotten hurt.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter now,” she replied, nuzzling back in against him.

“You’re right,” he answered, holding her a bit tighter. “Weasley visited you in the hospital, you know.”

“Ron?” She asked, shocked.

Draco growled. “As far as I know, he’s still alive. So, no. Ginny. She came ‘round in the middle of the night.”

Hermione froze for a few seconds before lifting her head to look at Draco. “She did?”

He nodded.

“Do you… I mean, did she…” Hermione trailed off, gulping. “Did you talk to her?”

He nodded one more.

“And?”

He chuckled softly. “Give her some time. I’m pretty sure she’ll come around.”

Hermione felt something calm in her that she hadn’t even realised was still unsettled at Draco’s confident tone. She didn’t want to press for further information, sensing that whatever Draco and Ginny had spoken about while she’d been unconscious was private, so she did her best to just trust him.

Already, though, she was planning on writing her friend a letter and apologising for the secret she’d kept. Now that she knew Ginny still cared enough to visit her in the hospital, she was determined to do whatever she could to repair the damage she’d caused to their friendship and let the other woman in through the walls she’d so determinedly erected after their last day of school.

“Also, she apparently knew about us all along,” Draco added, apparently amused.

Hermione lifted her head again and stared at him, eyes wide. “What did you just say?”

“Between her, Neville and Theo it seems like we were a lot less sneaky than we thought we were,” he answered with a shrug, tugging her back into his body.

“Gods, we were stupid, weren’t we?” She laughed, tucking her face into his skin.

“We ended up here, so I think it was worth it in the end,” he replied, twisting one of her curls around his finger absently. “I don’t think I would change anything.”

“Promise?” She asked quietly. Considering the amount of pain and trauma they’d been through to get to the point they were, she wouldn’t have blamed him if he felt like it wasn’t worth it. Still, she hoped he did. She did, after all

“I promise.” He vowed softly, kissing the side of her head once more.

“Can I call you Draco now?” She asked between kisses along his jaw.

“Are we going to pretend that I haven’t been letting you call me that for months?” He asked, amused.

She giggled. “I didn’t think you noticed most of the time. We were almost always naked when I did it.”

“I noticed everything, Hermione.” He paused, smirking. “Especially when we were naked.”

“You never said anything.”

“Maybe I didn’t want you to stop.”

“I won’t then,” she said firmly.

“Better not. Or I’ll redden your arse,” he teased, giving a quick slap to her behind.

“Don’t threaten me with a good time,” she joked, nuzzling into him.

As she began to feel her eyes drooping, all of the exhaustion that had been building for what seemed like years finally catching up to her, she fought to keep herself from succumbing to sleep. She desperately wanted to continue to be wide awake in this very moment.

“Go to sleep, baby,” he murmured, as though he could read her mind.

“Don’t want to,” she mumbled stubbornly. “I’m not ready for tonight to be over.”

“We’ve got our whole lives, Granger. I’m not going anywhere.” He promised.

She quite liked the sound of that.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Sleep came easier that night for both of them than it had in years.

THE END.

Notes:

I very sincerely can not even express how I'm feeling as I'm posting this final chapter. I loved sharing Forward Momentum & Falling In Love in the first half of 2023, but the experience of sharing this story with you all and having all of the incredible feedback has meant the world to me. I've always loved writing, but finishing things has been a struggle my whole life, so to not only finish something but to finish something that I really love and to have so many people loving it along with me has meant so much. Thank you so much for all of the feedback - even when you maybe hated me a little for the pain. I get it.

A couple of people have asked about what I have coming next and so far I have a few different things planned and a few ideas. There will likely be a one shot companion piece to this story coming soon where Ginny gets her groove back because I put her through it in this story and I kinda wanna give her a little something. And then the other one I have planned will be... something a little different. It'll still feature Dramione, but also a third party. I don't want to give too much away (the struggle with finishing things, you know) but I have a really good idea of what I want to write there so I'm hoping to get going on it in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you again so much and I really hope that I landed the plane in a way that makes up for all the ripping of hearts out!

xo, VanillaSage

The Injury Of Finally Knowing You - VanillaSage - Harry Potter (2024)
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