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REVENGE IS ALL THE SWEETER By: Twilight to Midnight

HOMECOMING Draco Malfoy stood before the silent grave of his mother. He stood empty handed and pensive, staring down at the words engraved on her white marble tombstone. He remembered fighting his bastard of a father for the decision of what to put on her epitaph. Lucius had won. All that was left of his mother's earthly remains had been entombed under a mass of near incomprehensible Latin wordsbut Draco had the last word. When his father had died, murdered at the hand of the very master he chose to serve for failing a mission, Draco had made sure that one more word was added to that pristine slate of stone. Mother. He never needed to say more. Simply said, Narcissa Malfoy had always been, first and foremost, his mother. The rest of the wizarding world might have thought of her to be the same cruel and vicious kind of person that Lucius had been but to Draco, no woman could have ever compared to her. No other woman could ever surpass her kindness or her beauty. He felt that same void of despair as he thought of her buried in the cold ground, her grave sheltered only by tall Grecian pillars of the temple, in this desolate graveyard. Her only company were generations of long dead Malfoys each as cruel as the next, fixated on pureblood mania, just as his father had been. The corners of his lips curled in a snarl as his eyes slid to his father's grave. Right next to his mother's. Even in death, it seemed, Narcissa Malfoy could not escape the grasp of Lucius, a man who had destroyed both her body and her soul. Teeth clenched, he forced away the tears that threatened to fall. She shouldn't have died but she had refused to give up her son, her only son, to those maniacs, refused to allow Lucius to take him to kneel before that over-rated half-blood. Draco had been saved that night. The dark side had long been fighting the losing battle, you only had to look at Lord Voldemort's track record and it became rather obvious who would succeed in the end. Not one to disappoint, Potter had indeed out done himself, not only defeating the dark lord but rounding up most of his followers in one foul swoop. The feat accomplished mainly because of Granger's ingenious mind.

All that time, all the time that the second Great War had raged, while his mother had been murdered by Lucius and he in turn murdered by Voldemort, all that time, Draco had been in Italy, with Blaise at the Zabini family estate. Wisely, both Slytherins had chosen to stay neutral, neither wishing nor willing to take a side in a war which devastated the English wizarding community. That year, muggles were alerted to the existence of the magical community. How could they not be aware when one half of the London Metropolis had been devastated by an explosion of atomic proportions? The order did a magnificent job of covering it all up though. A meteor. Thrown off course by a collision with another meteor somewhere in space. So for muggles, 2007 became the year of hysteria and mourning, just as it had for the witches and wizards of England and all that time, Draco had dwelled and brooded under the warm Florentine sun, all the while wondering if his fellow housemates had chosen the right side, whether they had survived all the small skirmishes which came before the final battle. When it finally ended, when the silence had stretched across the ancient grounds of Hogwarts, after the dark lord had fallen and his followers captured, he and Blaise had listened to the live broadcast on the wireless wizarding network and all they had heard was that same eerie silence experienced by those on the battlegrounds, they had known the answer. Their housemates, young and old had not survived. They had either lost their lives or their freedom. Blaise hadn't said a thing and neither had he. What was there left to say? He had stayed away for another six years. And when those brief six years had come and past, Draco Malfoy had returned, older, wiser and much, much more aware of both self and world. He had returned to find the magnificent school still mercifully intact, his fortune untouched, Malfoy manor immaculate and the wizarding worldin tatters. The war had decimated the already tiny population of the English wizarding community and those that remained were either sick, maimed or dying. Very few were left to pick up the pieces and the ministry was scrambling for solutions. The losses had been worse than they had anticipated, a magical and untreatable plague being Voldemort's final gift had swept through the country killing thousands on top of those who had perished in the war. So the wizarding world of the United Kingdom had been brought to its knees and though the dark lord was not alive to witness the atrocities which had occurred, many felt that the English magical race would never recover, that a permanent and deadly blow had been struck.

The doe eyed house elf stood before the young man nervously, its long, bony fingers clasped tightly in the threadbare tea towel it wore around its emaciated body.

Draco Malfoy stared down at the pathetic creature and smiled sympathetically while his hand convulsed around the handle of his suitcase. The dark memories of his childhood swamped his conscious as his grey eyes swept over the familiar interior of the manor. "We kept the house clean, master. We knew master would return someday and we remembered how much master despised dirt. Always mud, so much mud, master Lucius used to say." Grey eyes shot down to stare at the creature swaying nervously before him. Draco swallowed, instantly aware of what the house-elf was referring to. He made no comment. Pausing for a few moments before the magnificent entrance hall, he met the curious gazes of all the framed portraits who were slowly beginning to recognize the Malfoy heir. Suddenly hisses and curses filled the room; his ancestors bared their teeth at Draco, their words reaching his ears conveying their vehement anger and displeasure. "Blood traitor!" "pathetic excuse for a" "Coward!" "shame to the Malfoy name" "Spineless worm!" "undeserving little brat" Draco unclenched his fists and dropped his suitcase with a resounding crash. He eyed each and every one of the portraits, meeting their long dead eyes confidently. "You may say what you like but in the end your words change nothing. The war is lost, the dark lord failed and youyou are all deadlong dead." Indignant silence filled the room leaving Draco with a bitter taste in his mouth. A familiar voice rose from the thick silence, a voice Draco had hoped never to hear again. However, this voice came not from the entrance hall but from the darker interior of the manor, from the grand family room in the heart of the house. Instant recognition filled his mind and his feet carried him through the archway of the entrance hall until he stood before the imposing painting of Lucius, hung proudly above the fireplace, the surrounding canvases crowded with the occupants of paintings from all over the manor. "Father." The painting hissed. "You are no son of mine." He could only smirk at his father's greeting, the words sliding from his mind with cold indifference.

"I have returned." Lucius sniffed in disdain. "It's quite a marvel that you can still enter these grounds. Malfoys are not cowards." The painting shot the young man an icy glare. "Just like you mother." He spat. Silence reigned. Tense, foreboding. Around the room, the Malfoy ancestors trapped in their painted canvases began cheering, their voices adding affirmations to Lucius' statement. "You're right." The young Malfoy paused for strength. "I am my mother's son." Grey clashed with grey. "Thank God." Draco hissed. With that said, Draco stripped off his travelling robes and tossed them into a nearby chair. He surveyed the dark surroundings he had not laid eyes on for nearly seven years and flinched in distaste. He remembered the frightening nightmares that these rooms had inspired in him when he was a child, remembered this room when it had been cleared of furniture leaving only his mother collapsed on the floor, writhing and screaming in agonybeggingbegging her husband not for mercy, not for deathbut for him to spare her only son. "Cue tip!" Instantly a hunched and anxious house elf appeared before him. Draco smiled at the creature he remembered as his favourite elf, recalling the amusing instance when he, in his childish exuberance, had insisted on naming the new elf after a sanitary item. Coming back to the present, Draco politely greeted the elf, once again noting the tatty tea towel wrapped around its body and smiled while he gestured to the walls of the family room. "Master requested my presence?" its squeaky voice echoed through the suddenly silent room. "Yes," Draco could only smile. "I've decided to redecorate." Cue tip nodded enthusiastically. "Of course! Whatever the master wishes. Shall I call the other elves?" "Please do." Within moments, the glorious splendour of the room was overcome with an army of weary looking house elves, each bowing politely to their newly returned master, their eyes darting to the paintings which glared down at them irately. "First things first." He began. "I want all the paintings taken down. Every single one in every single room. Then, I want my mother's picture, the one that hangs in her parlour, put right there." Draco pointed his finger at where Lucius now stood and smirked as his father threw verbal abuses at him furiously. "You ingrate!" "Spare me, Lucius."

The hunched house elves were quickly popping away, intent on their task. Cue tip remained, his loyal gaze still fixed on the young man unwaveringly. "What shall we do with all the paintings, master?" Pausing, Draco frowned as if thinking over a deep dilemma. "Lock them all in chests in the attic. You can burn the vicious ones." Uproar surged through the manor, paintings from every corner of the house screamed and roared with the indignity of being dislodged from their watchful posts but Draco ignored them all. Instead, he turned his attention back to the house elf that was cringing with the noise of the chaos. "Cue tip." The creature looked up. "I want you to go to Florence," Draco handed him a large antique skeleton key. "At the Gringotts there, you will find a vault under my name. There are hundreds of paintings I've acquired in my absence. I want you to bring them all here and place them on the walls." The house elf nodded enthusiastically and popped away, leaving Draco to enjoy the quiet which was slowly beginning to settle in the manor. He watched as the house elves took down the cursing framed paintings one by one, leaving Lucius for last so that he would bear witness to his son's actions. When at last two elves approached the gilded gold frame, Lucius was dead silent; stumbling as the two small creatures magically dislodged him from the wall and lugged him away. A smile broke onto his lips and Draco collapsed into a stiff leather arm chair. Yes. It was good to be home.

It took nearly two months for everything to be arranged as the young Malfoy wanted. After the hissing family portraits had been replaced with a myriad of both muggle and wizarding artworks, Draco had begun to dislike the rest of the interior of the house. The beautiful works seemed out of place for the heavy, dark architecture of the ancient Wiltshire manor and the cold marble floors seemed distinctly distasteful along with the heavy drapes and dark furniture. Slowly, Draco began refurbishing every room. Doing this became something of a stress relief for the young Malfoy, as if making over the house was like turning a new leaf in his life, starting a new chapter. When the works to the house were finally completed, Draco couldn't help but admire the beautiful February sun which streamed through the windows as he stood barefoot on the soft white carpet of his bedroom. His hand rested on a beautifully sculpted crystal dragon, one of the few antiques he had decided to keep, and stroked the cool muzzle of the astonishing creature. As he made his way down to the dining parlour, Draco surveyed the rest of the house proudly, smiling as he spotted a striking landscape watercolour which hung proudly upon the swirling marble wall. When he arrived at the breakfast table, Draco found everything laid out perfectly. A mug of coffee sat beside a steaming plate of pancakes; near them were pitchers full of maple syrup and honey, dishes stacked with sliced fruit and shining cutlery glinting on the pristine tablecloth.

As he seated himself, a house elf popped into view, dressed in a fresh, clean tea towel embroidered with the Malfoy crest, and handed him the newspaper and a small stack of letters. Taking a quick glance at the daily prophet headline, Draco took a small sip of his coffee, allowing the bitter liquid to slide down his throat as his eyes quickly snapped back to the large emboldened letters on the page. Nearly dropping the rest of the hot beverage in his lap, Draco Malfoy shot from his seat and brought the paper closer to his face, his eyes fixed intently on the headline. MINISTRY MARRIAGE LAW! Draco spluttered nervously and quickly began to scan the article. In his press conference yesterday, the minister of magic, Mr. Augustus Towridge, announced the instatement of the controversial post-war marriage law. "In light of the declining wizarding population in England, the ministry has decided to impose a marriage law upon all eligible witches and wizards of marriageable age (21-45). Each witch or wizard will receive information and forms via owl post and will be required to attend an appointment with ministry officials to confirm their understanding of the legal process. Each eligible witch or wizard will be required to complete the forms included in their letters pertaining to their personal details, financial state as well as a personal profile before their appointments. This data will then be collated and edited into a file which can be accessed through the ministry library by all potential spouses. There will be a three month period, from the beginning of April till the end of June, in which all eligible candidates may view these files and petition the ministry for the hand of the witch or wizard. Once a witch or wizard has accepted such a petition, the engagement will be registered officially with the ministry and the marriage is required to take place by the end of the year. Any eligible witch or wizard who does not contract an engagement by the end of the three month period will be subject to ministerial intervention (meaning a spouse will be chosen for you). If a witch or wizard has been petitioned for an engagement but have not accepted any offers by the end of the three month period, the first petition will be accepted in their stead. Eligibility conditions include Draco was torn from his perusal of the shocking article when the fire place roared to life with green flames. Blaise Zabini stepped from the grate, brushing soot from his expensive robes and strode angrily towards the blond. "Have you seen the Daily Prophet today?" He stormed angrily to the table, noting the untouched breakfast and the upset coffee mug.

"How could I not? What is this nonsense? Towridge has totally lost his mind! This has to be against some human rights law!" Draco was frowning fiercely, his anger prominent in his expression as Blaise shook his head. "Have your read the letter?" Hastily, Draco broke the wax seal on a thick stack of parchments which was previously concealed by his other correspondences and quickly scanned the several pages of contents. His frown deepened with every page, his eyes blazing with anger as he tore his gaze from the page to find Blaise pacing. "They cannot be serious. These forms! It's like" "It's like we're advertising ourselves like livestock. They even want a photo and our annual income and financial status. We might as well print a fucking flyer!" Blaise interrupted. Draco couldn't agree more. Years under his father's thumb had taught him the value of freedom and now that Draco had had a taste of it, he had absolutely no intention of being leg shackled to some bimbo who was after his money. "No," He muttered. "We're leaving now. We'll return to Italy" Blaise shook his head, his face contorted in frustration. "Nowe're English citizensthis applies to every one of us in the country or out." "Shit!" Draco began to pace. "Maybe we could choose someone we know. A friend. At least" Blaise muttered "Think about it Zabini! How many women do you know here that you could trust? Most of the Slytherins died in the war" "Pansy!" Draco sent him a look. "Fine. Definitely not Pansy." His amended. "Ah hell, what the hell are we going to do?" Suddenly, as if all the strength had fled from his legs, Blaise collapsed onto a chair, his head in his hands. "The only thing we can do now is go to that stupid appointment, suss out the stipulations and look for a loophole." Draco stated and collapsed beside him. "Dinky! Bring the scotch!"

"Thank you for attending your appointment, Mr. Malfoy. I understand this must be difficult for you" "Do you?" Draco interrupted, his tone and gaze arctic, making the man squirm nervously in his seat.

"Yes, Mr. Malfoy, I do" The man's voice quivered slightly as Draco turned to face him, the full brunt of his molten silver eyes boring into the man opposite him. For a brief moment, Draco's eyes flicked down to the man's left hand before he met those frightened hazel eyes again. A cruel smirk curled his lips as he leant forward, his eyes still arctic in their intensity. "You're married. You had the choice. You have no fucking idea what I'm feeling right now, so don't try that act with me!" He leant back, the smirk fading from his features. "Now Mr. Newman, shall we proceed?" The man swallowed nervously and pulled his left hand from the table, his fingers curling around his wedding ring. He licked his dry lips and attempted to take a deep breath in the suddenly all too confining room. He had spent all day dealing with irate wizards but this one was the most frightening by far. Something in those cold steel grey eyes warned him to tread very carefully. "RightHave you brought the" His tongue suddenly weighed a tonne. Draco Malfoy tossed a small stack of forms onto the table but he didn't say a word. Reaching forward, it was all he could do to grasp the edge of the parchments and pull them slowly towards him. As he perused the contents, he couldn't help but marvel at the man's composure. Even on paper, that same intimidating aura existed. Every single answer was elegant and educated, every word formal and refined. When his eyes finally scanned through his financial records and finally the grand total sum, his eyes bulged and nearly popped from their sockets as the sheer wealth and prestige of the man sitting before him hit him like a freight train. "Are you surethat is to sayhas there been any miscalculationsome mistake? This amount is" "The Malfoy family is an ancient one, Mr. Newman." As if that were all the answer needed, Draco Malfoy said no more. Newman nodded, wetting his lips again. "II see" Clearing his throat, he quickly ducked under the table and retrieved a camera. He held it weakly, dangling from one hand as he gestured awkwardly towards Malfoy, unsure of how to approach the question. All he received in return was that same deadpanned expression, his eyes still dark and tumultuous. With no other choice, he quickly snapped a picture and stared as the image was imprinted on film. The picture was a simple one. Just a man behind a table in front of a white washed wall. It was the man who stood out. Though his expression was severe, Draco Malfoy was an unmistakably handsome man, his gaze still frightfully intense, bore holes through him as he stared from the photograph. Quickly pinning the photo to a labelled manila folder, he shuffled through the stack of documents before him. "I trust you know the details?"

Malfoy just nodded. "If" He tugged at his collar, "If you refuse to marry or attempt to leave the country, you can be liable to legal action and the ministry reserves the right to charge you criminally." Nothing. The blond didn't react at all. "Please be reminded, Mr. Malfoy, that marriage is a binding thing. Once married, you will be unable to remove the wedding ring; you will be unable to" Draco Malfoy interrupted; his voice a threatening rumble. "I am well aware of the old magic involved in marriage. The ring can't come off, you can't cheat, divorce is practically impossibleyes?" There was a cool moment of silence before Newman carried on, he was now very anxious for the meeting to be over. "Yeahyestheuhthe ministry would just like to remind you to choose carefully" "What a redundant statement." Draco mocked. "Perhaps if I had a little more time or perhapsfree willI could." After another nervous swallow, the ministry official continued. "Your wife must be pregnant within two years of the marriage" The temperature of the room suddenly seemed to drop several degrees. "And what if the woman is unwilling? Do I force her?" The aristocratic drawl questioned. Newman swallowed thickly, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Merlin this man was dangerous. One wrong word and "Wethe ministryhopes thatyouuhwill find a compatible match" "Oh," Malfoy's tone quickly became acerbic. "I suppose that's what the photo's for, right?" The blond sent him another scathing look, his expression seemingly carved in stone. "If you done stuttering, I have better things to do with my time today." He nodded and watched as Draco Malfoy rose elegantly to his feet, silently slid open the door and slammed it resoundingly behind him.

SEEING RED 2 months earlier: SMASH! "Mione! Stop! It's really not" SMASH! "Oh Merlin! Mum gave us that as a house warming present!" SMASH! "No! Not my filigreed Chudley Cannons statue!" SMASH! "That was a mint condition collectable!" Hermione Granger whirled to face her boyfriend, her impressive mass of curls swirled around her wildly as her eyes flashed, promising him a plethora of painful experiences. "That's it? I catch you in bed with another woman and that's it?" "Mionelisten" The incensed witch gave a wild laugh, throwing her head back with mocking. "Let me guess 'It's not what I think'?" "Yeah well, it isn't what you think! You're over-reacting!" The wild haired witch started fumbling in her robe for her wand and the red haired man began to cautiously back away. "Hermionewe can resolve this without violence! Let's justput the wand awayand calmly discuss thislike adults." Without realising she had been holding her breath, Hermione release a gush of air from between her lips, sounding disturbingly like she were hissing at him. With a contemptuous glare, she raised her wand and pointed it threateningly at him. "Ronald Weasleyhow long have we been dating?" The red head began to sweat, his eyes focused on her wand tip. "Um5 years"

Red swamped her gaze for a brief second and Hermione seized a nearby teacup from the kitchen bench top and threw it in the general direction of his head. Ron ducked, but barely in time, the unfortunate piece of china smashing on the wall behind him. "SIX YEARS! We started dating during the Great War! What the hell use is that brain of yours except to store useless Quidditch facts?" Eyes blinking furiously, Ron began to inch closer to the infuriated woman but Hermione brandished her wand with a threatening sweep. Taking a calming breath, she tried to question the man before her. "Who the hell was she?" Her tone was arctic. "No oneNothing compared to you!" Hermione grabbed the corresponding saucer which had partnered the unfortunate teacup and threw it at his head only to have it smashing into wall, its fate similar to its counterpart. "You sure as hell seemed to be enjoying yourself with that no one! Let me thinkwhat were you screaming when I walked insomething along lines of 'fuck baby, you feel so perfect!'wasn't that itor perhaps you were screaming her name!" She took another calming breath which had very little effect on her nerves so she took up another glass from the countertop and aimed for his head. Again Ron ducked out of the way. Damn Quidditch instincts. "It didn't mean anything!" A furious scream echoed through the room. "Confringo!" The spell whizzed over Ron's head and struck a kitchen shelf, housing a variety of metal cooking instruments which all scattered upon the explosion of the wooden shelf. "You were shagging her in OUR bed! You're such a bloody LIAR Weasley!" She took another breath, her wand still levelled at him angrily. "You know what you mother told me today, Ronald? She said you were planning to propose! PROPOSE, DAMN IT! I was so excited I came home earlybut what do I find? YOUYOUuh! There isn't even a word for it!" Ron seemed to grasp at the thread desperately, his eyes pleading with her. "I was! I am!" He began fishing around in his robe pockets and retrieved his own wand. "Accio Ring!"

A red velvet box flew into his hands mere moments later and Ron fumbled to open it, dropping his wand in the process. Frantically, he pried open the lid and showed the ring to her, smiling hopefully. Hermione groaned as she stared at the ring. A diamond set on a gold band. Utterly uncreativeand utterly un-Hermione. She hated gold! She thought diamonds were clich.Merlin! Didn't this man know her at all? As she procrastinated, her eyes fixed on the hideous object inside the box, Ron began to kneel. In an instant, Hermione's eyes refocused on the man before her and screamed furiously. "NO! NO! Don't you bloody well dare!" The red head ploughed forward irrespective of her protests. "Hermioneyou're the love of my lifeplease, will you do me the honour of being my wife?" Hermione went pale, her jaw dropped and her wand arm fell uselessly to her side. A few moments of silence passed and only the slow ticking of a nearby clock could be heard. "You're proposing?" Her tone was eerily calm. Ron shuffled forward a little on his knees. "YesI am. Say yes, Mione!" "You're proposingnow?" The red head looked exasperated. Well! The Nerve! "YesMione, just" Her wand arm rose instantly and Hermione fixed him with a stone cold glare. "No! No, you sorry son-of-a-bitch! You have some NERVE! There is no way in hell I'm marrying you! Do you hear me? NO WAY!" Clenching her teeth, Hermione stormed to her roomtheir roomand promptly began removing all her clothes from the drawers and wardrobe. She glanced frantically around the room before she realised she had no bags in which to pack them and let out an infuriated scream. She clicked her fingers in irritation before she stomped out of the room and wrenched open the door of the hallway closet. From it, Hermione dragged her old battered school trunk and levitated it to the room. With one violent wave of her wand, all her assembled clothing, shoes and personal effects went soaring into the trunk and the lid slammed shut a millisecond later. Suppressing another frustrated scream as Hermione caught sight of a framed photo of her and Ron at their two year anniversary; she aimed her wand at the happy laughing couple.

"Reducto!" The photo frame shattered into shards, making Hermione feel mildly better. However, the rage returned moments later. Shrinking her trunk, Hermione pocketed the miniscule object and returned back to the living room. Ron was still kneeling on the floor, his expression shocked and frozen. Hermione gave him a scathing glance. "I'm leaving." That seemed to snap Ron from his stupor as he jumped from his kneeling position and turned to face her, his face a bright shade of crimson. "What? Why?" Hermione rubbed the bridge of nose. "Why? You're asking me why?" "I just proposed to you!" Ron screamed, his hands gesturing wildly at the ring still clutched in his hands. "You cheated, Ron! You're a cheater! Thenby some incomprehensible moment of pure and utter stupidity, you thought it would be a good time to ask me to marry you! Why am I leaving? What do you think?" "But I love you!" Hermione snorted with bitterness. "Yeahyou sure proved your point tonight!" She turned to leave, her hand twisted the handle of their front door of their apartment, wrenching open the wooden obstacle and froze. "You'll be back." Hermione was suddenly tempted to Avada the bastard. The tone he usedproud, smugso Ron. "No I won't Ronald. Even I have limits." She suddenly felt tired. The anger and sadness drained away, numbing her like a gust of arctic wind. Hermione's shoulders slumped; she felt a million years old. "Yeahyou will. I'm the only one who will ever want you Hermione." She twisted to face him, her eyes haunted. "You may be the smartest witch of our time, but you're also an ugly, bossy little know-it-all. No one will ever want you Hermione! Only mebecause I've known you for" Her wand snapped up again. "Shut up! You're such a bastard, Weasley! I'll never come back! NEVER! I hope you go rot in hell!" Huffing angrily, Hermione turned her back on him and pointed her wand over the shoulder.

"Avis Oppugno!" Ronald Weasley never even heard the door slam; he was too busy fending off a flock of murderous, attacking birds.

She worried her lower lip until it bled, she twisted her interlocked fingers until they ached, she scuffed her feet until her shoes were covered with dustand still, Hermione couldn't bring herself to enter Harry Potter's country cottage. The well worn dirt path stretched before her, leading to the quaint little residence that Harry shared with Pansy. Though they had started off on rather rocky grounds, Harry and the former slytherin had become one of the sweetest couples Hermione had ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Ginny Weasley had not taken the news very well. After Harry had left her in order to seek the Horcruxes, she had assumed that he would return to her. Yet, when the final battle had gone and past, Harry had sought respite in isolation, only returning after several months abroad. Instead of falling happily into her arms, Harry had told her that he believed they needed some time apart. Needless to say, Ginervra Weasley lost that infamous Weasley temper. Weeks later, stories of her escapades with the wealthiest bachelors England had to offer hit the headlines and Harry saw red. You seewhat he meant when he said 'time apart' meant time to thinknot what Ginny interpreted as 'time to fuck around'. All these years later, Harry Potter was happily dating Pansy (who was 6 months pregnant with his child) and Ginny brought a new boy-toy to the burrow for the weekly Sunday lunch. Hermione always arrived with Ron, an hour after the scheduled time to ensure that he didn't kill Ginny's latest conquest. Which brought her back to her present predicamentHer hand was poised to knock on the door when, without warning, it swung open to reveal her only remaining best friend (Ron no longer warranted mention), Harry Potter. His face was pale as ever, his hair mussed and wild, the scar on his forehead dulled after the death of its creator; Harry Potter looked every inch the boyish 24 year old boy who was only now living the life he had always wanted. He was frowning and Hermione tried to offer a reassuring smile. "Where have you been?" He sounded strangely reserved. Hermione felt an angry flush race across her cheeks. Instantly, her eyes narrowed and fixed on the cool green orbs and clenched her teeth. "At a hotel." Her tone was somewhat reproachful. Harry Potter was less than pleased. "Ron and I were worried about you. You can't just"

He never finished that sentence as there was a startled squeal behind him and he stepped aside, allowing his girlfriend to plough past him. Pansy threw her arms around Hermione and hugged her tightly, her pregnancy bump making the experience rather awkward. When the former slytherin finally released her, Pansy stroked her swollen abdomen fondly and sent Hermione a sweet smile. "Thank goodness you're alright, Mione. Ron told us that you just ran off after he tried to propose to you." She looked puzzled for a moment before she quietly tilted her head, her gaze enquiring. "Why did you" "Don't believe everything you hear." She muttered, just in time for Harry to overhear as he rushed into the cosy sitting room. He advanced on her quickly. "Ron said he proposed" Hermione snapped. "Did he tell you that I caught him screwing another witchin OUR bed? Then! Then, he had the nerve to propose afterwards." Stunned silence followed her exclamation and Hermione quietly calmed her breath. The anger and hurt which was dulled by a fortnight away flared up like gasoline thrown on an open fire. Shamefully, Hermione felt the tears well up in her eyes and run down her cheek as the memories assaulted her, salty trails marring her skin. She was furious at herself as she swiped at the tears. It was just stupidshe had spent the past two weeks going over the six year relationship again and againwhat had she done wrong? Was she at fault? Certainly, she wasn't worthy of witch weekly, but she wasn't hideous eitherexceptRon had said A choked sob broke the tense silence of the room and Hermione blinked away more tears that threatened to reveal themselves. Pansy leaned forward, her arms engulfing her in a tight embrace. "Shhshhit's going to be alright. Ron is an idiot but he still loves you, only you I'm suredon't worryI'm sure he'll apologise and come crawling back to you in no time. You just wait, in a few weeks you'll be back together" Hermione tugged her curls in frustration, a scream caught in her throat. "No! I don't want to! Youyou didn't hear what he said" She cursed herself as her voice shook from anger and irritation. Harry held her hand tightly, giving it a comforting squeeze. "What did he say?"

There was a brief pause as Hermione steadied her nerves. "He saidhe said that no one else would want me" Pansy cooed sympathetically but Harry just smiled. "Oh Mioneyou know Ronhe's so temperamentalI'm sure he didn't mean any of it. You're just overreacting." He chuckled amusedly. Pansy sent her boyfriend a scathing look and hissed, her lips poised with a scathing retort. Hermione beat her to it. She tore her hand from his grasp and swung it at him. There was a moment of shocked silence as the slap resounded through the room and Hermione darted from her seat as she watched the red handprint bloom on his swollen cheek. "Hehe" She swallowed and took a harsh breath in. "He cheats on meinsults me" Hermione cursed her shaking voice. "and you have the nerve to tell me that I'm overreacting?" She backed away from him, her eyes burning with repressed fury. Her mouth opened and closedand opened again but no words came. She was at a loss. What could she say? It was just so damn typicalthe boys always stuck togethershe was always the odd one out. Snapping out of her outraged silence, Hermione gave Pansy a brisk smile and rushed for the door, not even glancing in Harry's direction. Behind her, there was nothing but Pansy's voice as she reproved her boyfriend. "You idiot." Hermione couldn't agree more.

A Sunday. Another dreaded Sunday. The time had rolled around for yet another Weasley luncheon. Despite her newly developed hostility for the second youngest child of the Weasley brood, Hermione's heart was still firmly entrenched in this loving family. Though she had not attended the past few Sunday luncheons, partially out of anger, partially out of pride but mostly out of self-preservation, she still felt an obligation to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. After all, they were almost like surrogate parents to her. She could only hope that they had not believed Ron's twisted version of events. With a crisp pop, Hermione had appeared before the ever precarious burrow, the various additions to the house still teetering on the verge of collapse. A wave of warmth swept through her at the quaint familiar sight and it gave her just enough courage to move forward and knock on the kitchen door. Molly Weasley, a woman whose motherly appearance and welcoming air hugged her like a second skin, now seemed tired and worn. Much of the greying red hair that had first appeared during the Great War and had never quite disappeared was now even more prominent. In short, in the brief few weeks that Hermione had not visited, the Weasley mother seemed to have aged a decade and she felt a wave of guilt sweep through her.

"Molly" The elder woman sniffled and bustled forward in her apron. In an instant, Hermione was engulfed in a warm hug; the welcoming smell of food assaulted her nose as she laid her head on a warm, plump shoulder. Merlin, she had missed this. A small tear snuck from the corner of her eye but it was quickly absorbed by the folds of Mrs. Weasley's dress. However, the older woman still seemed to notice as her hands began to weave a comforting pattern on her back as Hermione let her long repressed sobs break free. "God Molly" Her voice broke. "Oh Hermione, darlingI don't know what's happened to that boyArthur and I certainly never raised him like that! I" Hermione pulled away in an instant and shook her head vehemently. "No." She sniffled a little. "It's not your fault MollyRonhe just let the whole Chudley Cannons thing go to his head" Mrs. Weasley dabbed her eyes a little. "I don't know what has happened to my two youngest children, what with Ron doing this to you and Ginny" The matron could not bring herself to finish her sentence. She shook her head and gave Hermione a weak, lopsided smile. "You've been looking after yourself these past months, haven't you dear? You look so thinand those circles under your eyes" Hermione laughed as Mrs. Weasley resumed her motherly manner, a clean handkerchief erupting from her wand and landing in Hermione's hands. Dabbing her eyes, Hermione Granger leant forward to place a fond kiss on the bustling woman and mustered a smile. "Has Ginny brought another conquest for lunch?" Molly rolled her eyes in a motherly way which only seemed to come with age and herded Hermione into the warm, welcoming kitchen. "Yes. Some American wizardapparently he owns a chain of magical beauty boutiques." The two women exchanged a glance of exasperation and amusement as they emerged in the living room, where much of the family was assembled, waiting to be called to the table. But before they entered, Molly gripped Hermione's arm tightly, holding her back with an affectionate smile. "You would be a wonderful daughter." Hermione couldn't say a thing so she just smiled and stepped away.

A sense of nostalgia greeted her at the familiar sight. It was as if nothing had happened, as if the Ron fiasco had never occurred. There was George sprawled tiredly on the sofa, his exuberant children racing around him, screaming into his one good ear. In the corner, Bill was laughing at something Fleur had said, his angelic blonde daughter perched on his lap. By the window, Charlie had his arm wrapped warmly around Luna's waist as she pointed enthusiastically at something printed in the quibbler. Percy was standing by his wife Penelope as she pulled his ear and whispered something vehement as he nodded along. And of course, Ginny. The vibrant red hair was dyed a shade darker than her natural tone and she was dressed as if she were about to go clubbing, in a slinky black dress with a handbag on her armoopsboyfriend on her arm. Hermione took the opportunity to look him over. Handsomewas the first thing that came to mind and obviously rich judging by his clothing. Dirty blond hair and blue eyes, he was the classic type that Ginny preferred. Unfortunately for Hermione, Ginny had quickly caught sight of her in all her dishevelled glory and made an instant beeline towards her, towing her new boyfriend eagerly behind her. "Mione! Finally worked up some guts to face my brother?" Her tone was amused and acerbic. Hermione forced a smile to her lips and willed herself not to lash out. "Something like that. How have you been Ginny?" The red head smiled smugly and waved her hand at the blond standing behind her. "I got a new boyfriend, have you met him?" She didn't wait for an answer. "This is Hudson, he owns a whole chain ofwellhe's very richcute isn't he?" Said boyfriend gave Hermione a smug smile, his hand drifting down to Ginny's nearly exposed backside, making her giggle in the most inane fashion as she turned towards him and latched onto his lips. It was a truly disgusting sight, to watch Ginny Weasley suck face with another random and Hermione was seriously beginning to lose her appetite. Thankfully, a commotion by the door interrupted them and Harry emerged from the crowded doorway, Pansy's hand firmly in his. As if a light switch had been flicked on, Ginny instantly straightened and donned her most sultry smile, her hand firmly holding Hudson's as she squealed and rushed over to the man-who-lived and threw her arms around him, her embrace nearly inappropriate for what was supposed to be a friendly hug. "Have you met Hudson? He's very rich" Disgusted, Hermione turned away, grimacing as she nearly tripped on a worn footstool by the empty fireplace. "Hello Hermione. Miss me?" The moment that voice reached her ears, Hermione froze. It was as if someone had replaced her blood with ice cold water. Her muscles locked and the breath whooshed out of her lungs. Only her eyelids

seemed to be working as they fluttered frantically, blinking away the burning tears of frustration and distress which seemed to swallow her whole. Hermione's knuckles were white as she clenched her fists in her frayed jumper, her lips pressed firmly together to conceal the harsh gasp that was wrenched from her chest. Slowly, dreading the sight, Hermione looked up and her plain brown eyes locked with his. The same innocent cornflower blue stared back at her and Hermione was almost deceived into believing that this was the same Ron she had loved for so damn long. The dream was shattered instantly when her eyes landed on his lips. He was smilingthat smile which said he had won somethinga quidditch game; chess matchlike he had won something crucial. Lounging there in the frayed old armchair, he looked disgustingly pleased with himself as he took in her worn state, as if she was before him on her knees, begging him to take her back. Hermione clenched her teeth. "Weasley." She hissed. The room had suddenly fallen silent, every man, woman and child watching their exchange eagerly like bloodthirsty gossipmongers. Even Ginny had relented from her high pitched flirtation, watching Hermione's unfolding distress as if it were something of a spectacle purely for her amusement. "I told you. I said you would be back." Hermione was sorely tempted to punch him. "I'm not back. Like I said, Ronald, I'll never go back to you." The bastard actually had the nerve to laugh, nearby, Hermione heard Ginny titter in amusement. "She'll go back." She whispered to Hudson who was watching with fascination. "She can't get anyone elseit's a miracle Ron's even interested in her. He's a professional quidditch player now you know" Hermione blocked out Ginny's grating comments and locked her gaze with Ron once more. Nohe looked nothing like the Ron she used to knowthere was something so different about him now. The physical shell was still there, but what was inside "If you're not back, what are you doing here at the burrow?" Her nails dug into her palms. "Just because I've abandoned you, doesn't mean I plan on giving up on your family too." Ron seemed not to hear her as he swirled his butterbeer.

"I heard you've been staying in a hotel" Hermione shot an angry look at Harry who had the nerve to look not the least bit sorry. "if you need a place to stay, you're welcome to come back home. Some of you things are still there." She laughed; a chilling dispassionate sound which made the room flinch. "Nothing I value, I'm sure." There was a frigid pause as Hermione watched the violent red blush engulf Ron's pale freckled cheeks. In an instant, he had leapt from his seat, his lips curled in a fuming sneer as he leant forward. Ron continued to force her back until Hermione's calves hit the wooden coffee table. Slowly, he leant over, pressing his body to hers. Hermione shiverednot from fear or anger or even desire, but surprisingly from disgusther body was repulsed by his touch but she had no where to go. In the blink of an eye, Ron had shoved something into her hands and backed away, his sneer fixed firmly in place. Curious, Hermione's eyes darted down and quickly caught sight of the Sunday prophet, its headline blinking to catch the reader's attention. There was no need for the gimmick; Hermione's eyes had already fixed on the title. MINISTRY MARRIAGE LAW! Her throat tightened. She knew instantly what this meantto be honest, she had been expecting it for sometime but she was never concerned about it as she had already been determined to marry Ronbut now She swallowed her dread. "What do you mean by this? You can't threaten me. Even with the law, I can marry someone else." Hermione's eyes quickly scanned a little of the article and smiled. "It says right here that witches can petition for a marriage of their choice." Ron smiled smugly. "How many times do I have to tell you Mione? No one else will want you" He said this as if he were telling a child the sky was blue. He stared at her drawn features for a moment longer before he slid his index finger down the page and pointed out a specific paragraph. If a witch or wizard has been petitioned for an engagement but have not accepted any offers by the end of the three month period, the first petition will be accepted in their stead. Ron gave her another complacent smile, like he had the right to smile at her as a lover would. "I intend to be the first."

AWAKEN FROM DEEP SLUMBER "Draco. What do you think of this one hmm? Busty isn't she? Dirty blondeMmmI like it" Upon receiving only silence as his answer, Blaise Zabini glanced up at his stoic faced friend and sighed in agitation. Draco himself had heard every single inane comment Blaise had chosen to throw his way, but putting it simply, he simply had no desire to reply to something which would obviously be redundant in the end. Despite popular opinion, Blaise was not some sort of 2nd in command to the Slytherin prince; what Blaise wanted Blaise got regardless of what Draco had to say on the matter. The mere fact that Draco had been so named the Prince was only because the Malfoys had always been particularly notorious for one reason or another. Simply putA Malfoy was never to be crossed; lest they suffer the consequences. As Draco steeped his fingers and stared aimlessly out the window, Blaise continued to ramble about a certain busty blonde with lips that, in Draco's opinion, looked disturbingly like puffer fish. "And look at thisit says hereshe enjoys shopping, social and charity events and lazy mornings in!" Draco raised a sardonic eyebrow, his gaze never wandering from the panoramic view of the estate grounds outside his window. "A perfect pureblood wife, mindless and good only for breeding." The Italian scowled mockingly but tossed the file into the roaring fire in the grate. Within moments, the file and the screaming photograph had been consumed by the flames and Blaise had once more returned to staring at his silent friend. "You're ruining all my perceptions of women." He said, petulant as a child deprived of sweets. "That was the last blonde in my stack." Blaise gestured lazily towards a messy heap of manila folders strewn haphazardly on a side table. After a small of sip of the magnificently aged brandy, the dark haired wizard had delved back into his options, this time intent on black hair. Hours more were spent in this fashion with Blaise's choices dwindling with each passing minute. The once overflowing pile of paper was now reduced to only a few on which Blaise seemed to procrastinate over while Draco continued to stare unblinkingly. "Aren't you going to have a look through your choices?" Blaise queried, his own search abandoned for the time being. The stacks of options on his desk only gained a fleeting glance from Draco before he turned his eyes to his best friend. In the soft glow of the setting sun, all Blaise could see of the blond was a halo of light and those intense mercurial eyes which seemed to stare right through him.

Standing from his armchair, Draco approached the folders in a few sweeping steps. He placed his hands upon the stack, carefully surmising their worth and spoke so quietly that Blaise could barely make out the words. "How many women do you suppose are here?" The dark haired wizard shrugged. "A good 60, 70 by the looks of it." "How many do you think would marry me because I'm Malfoy and how many would because I'm Draco?" Silence followed this question as Blaise carefully chose his words. The quiet calm of his voice belied nothing of the fury which simmered beneath Draco's words and Blaise knew his tone to be as deceptive as the eye of a storm. "There is no choice in this Draco. What other choice do we have than to read these files and hope we can pick a girl with some substance?" He gave Draco a fleeting glance. "Perhaps you should consider Pansy after all, no matter what her short-comings are; you still know what you're getting with that package." Draco chuckled coldly, his head tilted to the side as the colours of twilight cast his long shadow across the floor. "She's with Potter." There was a light thud as Blaise dropped a file onto the plush carpet. "As in the golden boy who just-won't-die?" Another mirthless chuckle followed this. "That isn't the half of it; apparently, she's pregnant with his brat." "Merlin." Blaise rubbed a hand over his eyes. "We're gone for a few years and the world turns upside down. Do you reckon she's under an unforgivable or something? Potter could have done it. He isn't exactly the saintly Gryffindor everyone makes him out to bebut he's not that adept with magicmaybe he had some help, I'll bet Granger had" Sound itself fled from Draco's ears in that moment. Instead it was replaced by a distant roar, a flood of memory, emotion and primal instinct which engulfed his senses and drowned him in the past. It was so strong, so unexpected that it forced Draco to stagger with the sheer force at which the wave broke. Long buried thoughts and fantasies surfaced and his senses tingled with renewed fascination of those long-cherished delusions. In that single moment it took for Blaise to dart forward to grasp his shaking form, Draco Malfoy had wrenched something from the deepest corner of his soul and had unthinkingly rushed forward to greet it like an old familiar friend.

Heat consumed his mind and bled unerringly into his veins. It was like an infection, unstoppable and all consuming. For a fleeting moment, Draco wondered if he was being burnt alive, incinerated from the inside out while the shell of his body remained blissfully cool and intact. Taking a deep tremulous breath, Draco felt something feral inside him wake. It lifted its head from its restraining slumber and revelled in its new found freedom. Within a blink of an eye, the long-existing restraints upon it had snapped and the blaze roared through his body, assimilating itself into every cell and every atom as if it had always been therewatchful and waitingfor just that moment when the realisation would dawn and it could assert its presence. For long moments after, Draco could do nothing but remain absolutely still. It felt as if he were adjusting himself into a new skin, new but so terribly familiar. When finally he had regained his senses, just enough to turn to Blaise and give voice to his thoughts. "We're going to the ministry. I've had an idea."

The long isles stretched before them. Even in the fading light of the day, there were still a few scattered witches and wizards thumbing through the thousands of files, their glances darting up in surprise as Draco Malfoy swept down the wide central hallway. "Malfoy, what the hell is going on? You already picked out a bunch of these stupid files. You haven't even looked at any of themDraco! Draco! Stop!" The blond stopped instantly and rounded on Blaise with alarming speed, his black robes swirling around his legs as he advanced towards the alarmed man, his fists clenched and his eyes wild. "Not hers!" Draco muttered, a smirk spreading across his face. "What?" Blaise spat nervously. "Who? Merlin's beard, Draco. What on earth are you doing? This is insanity. There is no solution to this law! Running around the ministry like a maniac will not solve any problems." Blaise paused for breath and lowered his voice so only Draco would be partial to their conversation. "Lookyou've obviously had a long daylet's just have a drink and call it a night. We can do whatever" "No!" The blond became, if possible, paler. "This has to be done now." For a moment, Blaise truly feared for his friend's sanity. Perhaps the stress had finally taken its toll on Draco. Maybe this was some sort ofDraco had started walking againwell, more like stalking.

He was intent on his destination, his eyes focused well beyond the idiots who were falling over themselves to get out of the wayor throw themselves in his way. Draco was tempted to laugh out loud when several girls, barely out of Hogwarts by the looks of them, decided they'd attempt to stop him. "Hello gorgeous." One of the bolder ones all but purred at him. The infamous Malfoy smirk spread across his features, white blond hair falling into his eyes as he landed his mercurial gaze upon the brunette who'd boldly placed a hand on his arm. She giggled playfully and stroked the sleeve of his tailored robes. "Soare you" Mercurial silver splintered into shards of ice. "No." Warning bells went off in Blaise's mind. With one hand placed carefully on his wand, ready to intervene at anytime, he gestured lazily with the other, dismissing the girls as if they were nothing more than insects hovering in the air. "Get lost brats." The brunette shot Blaise a scathing glance and directed her attention back to the blond, correctly surmising that this was the infamous Draco Malfoyand his rather infamous fortune, in fact, his file was top of her list right now. "So you're caught by this stupid law too huh?" Draco's smirk widened into a feral smile, his canines glinting in the pale light. The girl continued unflinchingly, misinterpreting his expression as one of interest. "Maybe we could help each other out, hmm?" The brunette stepped closer and Blaise hissed in warning. She ignored it. "I think you and I would make a beautiful couple. I'm sure you'll enjoy our time together." She paused, assessing his reaction. "Here, let me write down my details for you" The brunette retrieved a quill, giggling all the while as her friends encouraged her and whispered envious little remarks behind their hands. Draco watched as she reached for a scrap of parchment and licked the tip of the quill teasingly, her tongue lingering over her lips as she stared boldly into his eyes. Suddenly, as if out of thin air, Draco had his hand grasped tightly around her wrist as he squeezed tightly. His eyes held hers as the teasing glint left the pale blue orbs and fear replaced it. In a moment, she was whimpering and twisting away from him, her friends looking on horrified yet too shocked to help.

"I'm not interested in whores." Her friends gasped indignantly. "She is not a" Draco quirked his head to the side. "Oh? Then what would you call a woman who throws herself at men for their money?" There was an indignant silence as Draco released the girl's wrist in disgust. He never even looked back as she collapsed into her friends' arms nor did he see Blaise's grim expression as he followed after. His destination fixed in his mind once more, Draco allowed his fingers to run along the shelves and shelves of files. As the labyrinth twisted and turned, leading him to a darker corner of the plethora of files, he kept his eyes carefully fixated on the lettering of the files. E F G GaGeGh...GiGlGnGoGr G-R-A-N-G-E-RGranger, H.J Malfoy's lips curled in triumph, his fingers closing convulsively around the file as Blaise appeared at his side, squinting the darkness of the space, attempting to make out the name written on just another nondescript folder. "This is it? Wellwho is it?" A deep chuckle answered him as Draco Malfoy retrieved his wand and muttered a quiet "Lumos". Blaise read the name and paled. Hermione Jean Granger. As the light shone on the moving photo of Hermione, her small meek smile and dark brown eyes stared back at them shyly. Even in this two-dimensional form, Draco could sense her awkwardness and her discomfort. She looked so different from her school days, yet underneath it all, that same girl who strove for acceptance still reigned free, never allowing a more determined persona to shine through. He could easily see that she hadn't changed all that much; that she hadn't quite gotten over her constant need for approval and praise, for a sign that she was wanted and not shunned from this foreign world. "Granger." Blaise was damn near speechless. "That know-it-all, bushy haired, gryffindork? Draco, did the Italian sun get to your pale little head?" He rubbed his face, a smug smile breaking out onto his lips. "You want to spend the rest of your life leg shackled to that beaver"

With alarming speed, Draco had the front of Blaise's robes clutched firmly in his fist. He gave the startled Italian a violent shake, nearly lifting him off the floor in his anger. "Be very careful what you say about my future wife." Blaise nodded frantically, unclenching Malfoy's fist from his robes. "Duly noted."

"So? What's the plan of action now?" Blaise questioned as he lounged in the cosy armchair. There was only a mumbled response as Draco retrieved a case from his inner pocket. A pair of thin, silver framed reading glasses was clasped within his long, elegant fingers and then set gently on his aristocratic features as he swept his eyes over the details of the file. Status: Single A mirthless smirk spread across his face. Pansy had reluctantly provided just enough convoluted information for Draco to deduce that the Weasel had done something which had caused the break-up of a six-year relationship and had yet to earn any forgiveness from the smartest witch of their age. He read on as Blaise rambled. Offers Pending: 1st: Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley 2nd: Mr. Boarham John Cratchley Teeth bared in anger, Draco snapped the file shut. Damn it all! He had planned to be the first to petition! He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked up to see Blaise staring at him with a chagrined expression, clearly questioning Draco's sanity. "Isn't she to your liking anymore?" Blaise snickered. "Too tainted by the Weasel to be considered worthy?" "Watch yourself." Draco warned as he threw the folder onto a side table, snatching up his snifter of fine cognac. He shook his head wearily. "Apparently, Hermione Granger already has two suitors lapping at her heals, including her imbecile of a cheating Weasel-boy and some other random who is rather unfortunately named" Blaise huffed, snorting into his intertwined hands.

"Well, there goes that plan out the window." Blaise's expression went from bored to cheerful in a snap. "Look on the bright side! There are plenty of other charming, attractive fish in the sea, you're bound to" He stopped immediately when he saw that Draco had turned his back to him and strode across the room. From a draw within his antique redwood desk, Draco had retrieved two sheets of fine cream parchment and laid them carefully on the leather writing pad upon the expensive wood. Quill in hand, the words flowed from his mind as he carefully addressed the first letter to the ministry and the second toHermione. For a moment, as he read over the blonde's shoulder, Blaise was utterly horrified. "You're actually going to do this? You're actually going to petition forforGranger?" Blaise hissed her name in reluctance, as if the very words would summon a spectre to the room. "No Blaise. I'm petitioning for Parkinson so that I can raise Pothead's bastard child as my own." The sarcasm and irony was thick enough for Blaise to chuckle and shake his head as he retreated from his agitated friend. "Oh how noble of you Dracodidn't know you were such a Gryffindor." The blond didn't answer. Instead, he carefully folded the first letter and sealed it with emerald wax and repeated the same motion with the second. He waited impatiently as a house-elf appeared, bowing lightly and holding an empty silver platter outstretched towards his master. Without hesitation, Draco laid the two letters onto the silver and instructed the house-elf to deliver both personally, as soon as possible, which in Malfoy terms meant 'Now'. "It's the middle of the night, Malfoy. There are hardly going to be any ministry officials working at this time of night." "I want my petition processed as quickly as possible" "What the hell for?" Blaise interjected. Draco smiled eerily. "You'll see."

As the sun rose from the horizon heralding a new day, one, Mr. Boarham John Cratchley was snuggled deep in his off-white quilts, happily snoring the day away.

After allit was a Sunday and the accountant had been up all night carefully perusing some old witch's accounts and meticulously rooting out all the past instances when she had failed to pay her taxesthen carefully erasing those occurrences so his dear client would not be paying any visits to the Wizengamot any time soon. The bright piercing morning sunshine left him unaffected as all that could be seen of him was his receding hairline and thinning crown. He happily planned to remain just this way well into the morning and if need took him, well into the afternoonbut that was not to be Sharp knocks on his window snapped him out of his sluggish state, his eyes blinking away the blurry lines in his vision and focused on the owl fluttering outside, scratching at his window with sharp mangy claws. He snorted indignantly and shook his head. The ministry really needed to have their birds groomed one in a while. Pulling open the window with a jerk, the angry-looking owl launched itself onto his bed and dropped the letter on his sheets before departing in a flurry of shed feathers and gathered mud. The awkward, now disgruntled, man lumbered forward and snatched the missive up, sweeping away the dirt as he went. Perhaps the pretty little chit had accepted his proposal. Having one-third of the golden trio as a wife would be a hell of a notch under his belt, the fact that Hermione Granger's beauty held great potential was simply another bonus in the deal. Breaking the wax seal, he settled his eyes on the non-descript dark ink and uniform penmanship. To Mr. Boarham John Cratchley Petition pending for: Hermione Jean Granger. 2nd proposal. Update below: -9:30 p.m. Saturday 16th April 2008. Mr. Draco Alexander Malfoy has petitioned for Miss Hermione Jean Granger. Cratchley stared at the letter, absolutely appalled. The blood had drained from his face as he re-read that word again and again. Malfoy Malfoy Malfoy Merlin. He wasn't even aware that the youngest Malfoy had survived the war!

For a horrifying moment, Cratchley recalled the frightening instance when he had first met Lucius Malfoy. The man had been at the ministry dressed completely in black, touting an ostentatious cane with his long, white blond hair slicked back formally. By pure chance, the ministry official who had been immersed in conversation with the elder Malfoy happened to know Cratchley and was eager to show off his acquaintance with such a prominent figure and had readily introduced the two. He remembered politely shaking the man's hand and then meeting those cold grey eyes. Fear had arched through him like lightening and the man who stared him down knew it. There was something in his handshake, something in his gaze that told him that he had just walked into a heap of trouble. He had heard enough stories about the man over the years to warrant the fear but it was cemented when the elder Malfoy began dropping in at his office and insisting that he help the man 'edit' his accounts. Cratchley knew then and there where all this money was disappearing off to. Even the Dark Lord needed funding for his causes. But he hadn't dared to say a word Nearly ten years onand this He swallowed the oppressive lump in his throat. Draco Malfoy. If he was anything like his father, Cratchley wanted nothing to do with the man. After all, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Hurriedly, as if his life depended on it, he ripped a piece of jagged parchment from underneath piles of paperwork and scribbled the only words which would come to him. I, Boarham John Cratchley, hereby retract my proposal of marriage for Miss Hermione Jean Granger

Not long after Cratchley had received his letter, Ronald Bilius Weasley was woken from his deep slumber in much the same way. As he left the warm sanctuary of a miscellaneous witch's arms, he flung open the window and snatched up the letter, quickly dismissing the disgruntled owl. He smiled when he realised the missive was from the ministry. Perhaps that stubborn girl had finally accepted his proposal. It had been over two weeks since his petition and Ron knew instinctively that Hermione had to be breaking down sometime soon. Cheerfully, he returned to bed and broke the wax seal. To Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley

Petition pending for: Hermione Jean Granger. 1st proposal. Update below: -9:30 p.m. Saturday 16th April 2008. Mr. Draco Alexander Malfoy has petitioned for Miss Hermione Jean Granger. For a second, Ron had sworn that he read that Draco Malfoy had petitioned from Hermione. Laughingly, he shook his head and rubbed his eyes, intent on re-reading the short few lines of the letter. Mr. Draco Alexander Malfoy has petitioned for Miss Hermione Jean Granger. Mr. Draco Alexander Malfoy DRACO MALFOY! Ron jumped out of bed swearing viciously, waking his slumbering companion with a start. What the hell? Had Hermione incited this? Did she do this just to spite him? Merlin! That little bitch! How dare she "Ronald?" He glanced over at the bed. "Come back to bed, baby, I" Ron hissed in anger. "Get dressed and get out. I have to go talk to my fiance."

Hermione Granger had taken one look outside her window this morning and instantly thought that it would be a good day. The sun was out and not a cloud disturbed the endless panorama of blue sky. Thus, she happily showered and dressed, pushed aside her worries about the marriage law and Ron and had skipped down the stairs of her new apartment into the sparkling kitchen. After polishing off some toast and juice, she had donned her shoes and sprang out the door, eagerly anticipating spending the day in her favourite bookshop.

Moments later, she stood among the comforting confines of the shelves, happily running her fingers over the new un-creased spines of the books on display. Sighing contentedly, Hermione chose a few titles at random, checking to ensure she didn't own them; she tucked them under her arm and went to find a comfortable armchair. As she sat immersed in goblin politics of 17th century, she noticed a flash of movement from her peripheral vision and lifted her head to check and sure enough, there was the familiar store owner walking towards her, his hand outstretched, offering her a letter with a smile. "Good morning Mr. Wilcox." The man smiled in a fatherly manner. "Good morning Miss Granger. This just arrived for you." Mr. Wilcox held out the letter and waited for her to take it. However, Hermione hesitated. In a flash, the realisation that it was from the ministry dawned on her and she nearly groaned in despair. Another offerafter the last two somewhatdisappointingpetitions, Hermione didn't think she had the will to stomach another one. Out of politeness, she took the offered missive anyway, giving the elderly man a kind smile as he returned to his work. Hermione sighed. There was no point delaying the inevitable, she thought as her fingers gingerly broke the wax and unfolded the paper. To Miss Hermione Jean Granger Concerning the ministry marriage law, 2008. You have received a 3rd petition for marriage from Hermione didn't have the chance to read the remainder of the letter. In an instant, her war training kicked in and she felt a prickle of anxiety as the hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end. Without a doubt, Hermione knew there was someone standing inches from her back, their eyes fixed upon her intensely. She wanted to squirm, shy away from the stare which seemed to burn holes through her skull but she remained stillpretending as if she hadn't noticed But it seemed the person observing her was in no mood to keep his attentions discreet. With a start, Hermione saw a hand come into her line of vision. It was a male hand, large, slim and pale. The skin was smooth and the fingers were graceful. Her body was frozen still with horrified fascination as the hand moved towards her. Gently, almost as if she imagined it, the cool fingers feathered across her bare shoulder and glided ever so lightly across the line of her collarbone. They slid to a stop at the base of her neck before moving up the smooth line of her throat and brushing across her cheek in a lingering caress.

Though the fingers were cool, they left a trail of liquid fire spreading languidly across her skin. She wanted to moveshe knew she shouldbut she couldn't. Her bones felt like jelly and her mind became sluggish and dazed. Hermione's eyes were fluttering shut as the fingers moved downwards, his palm now grazing her exposed throat as his fingers ventured even further, dipping a little into the valley of her breasts and The heavy text on goblin politics dropped to the floor with a thud and Hermione snapped open her eyes and twisted away from the man behind her. Darting from her seat, her breathing shaky, Hermione whirled to face him, whoever he was. White blond hair and tempestuous grey eyes. That smirk. "Hello Hermione. It's been too long." Hermione felt a flash of fear at the sound of his voice and her eyes darted down to the long forgotten letter still clutched in her hand. You have received a 3rd petition for marriage from Mr. Draco Alexander Malfoy.

BLOOD AND MADNESS "Do you think he'll tell her?" Blaise looked over at the two women, their backs turned to the window as they gazed intently into a shallow basin of liquid. The caramel skinned girl looked up, her dark eyes glinting as she gave him a brilliant questioning smile. He scoffed lightly and tossed a stray curl from his face. "If Draco has his way, Granger will never find out. He'll just leave her to wonder in perpetuity until she decides that he's simply lost his mind and that the proposal is all one big joke." The lighter skinned girl stood from her chair, blinking her eyes as she turned to face the sun-filled window. "Blaise." The Italian didn't bother to meet her serious gaze. "Lavender." She huffed lightly and perched on the arm of chair, turning her face towards him as she swept a mass of silky blond curls over her shoulder. She stared intently at him, her hand holding his shoulder with an

unusually strong grip. Lavender pursed her lips in agitation as Blaise continued to stare unseeingly into empty air. "We foresaw it, Zabini. If this continues" Blaise finally turned to face her, an angry glare fixed upon his handsome features. "Just because two upstart wannabe seers stare into a puddle of muck, does not signify" Parvati smiled eerily, white teeth glinting against her dark skin. "You should never underestimate the power of divination Zabini. You told us yourselfyou witnessed what happened to Malfoy after the encounter. And nownow you've seen the results." She swept her arm over the surface of the intricate basin, her expression smug as Blaise grimaced. "It passed. It never came back until this stupid law came into motion. If it hadn't" Lavender pushed him abruptly, cutting him off mid-sentence. "But it has. There is no point brooding over it." His head dropped forward and he made no protest, instead, he remained silent for several moments, his thoughts heard only by himself. "This is meant to happen! This future must be realised. It's a charming human fantasy to think that we have the ability to choose our own fates, but the reality of the matter is that for a few select few, their path has already been chosen" Blaise's head snapped up. "Why Draco? Why Granger? Why not someone else? Merlin knows Draco has suffered enough during his life; he at least deserves to love the woman he's going to spend the rest of his life with. He deserves someone who will love him" "Hermione will." His eyebrows shot into his hairline, disbelief written clearly in every feature. "Granger?" He laughed incredulously. "I think she'll enjoy making his life a living hell" Lavender shrugged. "I thought you Slytherins gave as good as you got. Malfoy can defend himself." Blaise remained silent, his eyes clearly conveying his thoughts to the blonde. Lavender shrugged, her eyes flitting away as she shared a smile with Parvati. "It will work out in the end. It will. It's not going to be easy"

A sardonic smile lit Blaise's face as he quirked his head. "You once told me that no future is absolutely fixed. That there are many paths to one fate, how do you know everything will work out in the end?" Both girls shrugged. "Gut instinct." Replied Parvati, her head tilted to the side in an imitation of Blaise's gesture. The Italian stared intently at both women, his lips thinning as he stood and walked towards the door. Before he could leave, Parvati stopped him. "Don't leave yet, Blaise. I know you have one more question." For a hesitant moment, Blaise lingered on the precipice of the door. He looked back. "Draco's dreams. Did that Sicilian seer send themthat is to saydid she cause them?" Parvati smiled at him like a mother would a child. "Dreams are not the creation of the diviner; they are the creation of the dreamer."

"Well, you were right." He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what exactly did they say?" "Dreams are not the creation of the diviner; they are the creation of the dreamer." Draco stroked the midnight black mane of the Arabian horse resting obediently beneath him and twisted his riding crop in his hand. "I thought they would. Cryptic little bitches, aren't they? Did they offer any particular advice? Anything that might be of use?" There was another careless shrug. "Only that you should tell her." A burst of laughter startled Blaise and he eyed Draco with alarm, his eyes widening in surprise as Draco quickly urged his Arabian forward, the magnificent stallion breaking into a seamless gallop leaving Blaise to follow behind. The rare fine weather at the Wiltshire mansion had both men eager to leave the cool confines of the manor and with Draco's newfound fondness of muggle sports, both wizards had decided to try out the splendid Arabians Draco had acquired only days after his return from abroad.

"I don't think I will!" Draco yelled over his shoulder and pulled his horse short, whirling to face the scowling wizard who was balanced precariously on his steed, this having been the first time Blaise had ever ridden. "Why the hell not? You heard what Patil and Brown saidare you purposely trying to make yourself miserable?" The obsidian horse drew even with Blaise's auburn mount and Draco gave the horse a fond pat while he sent his best friend a depreciating smirk. "I didn't say that I would never tell herjust thatI want to even the odds, just a littleso that when I do tell her, she'll understand what torment she put me through." There was a groan of frustration from Blaise as he rubbed his eyes tiredly, his tall form slumping in resignation. "Torment? Trust me, I suffered more." Blaise exclaimed, his hands flying wildly through his hair. "How do you figure? I'm the one who had the dreams about her." "Which made you insanely frustrated" "They were rather wild dreams" Draco interrupted amusedly. Irrespective, Blaise continued. "which made you incredibly aggressive and irritable the next morning, which meant hours of dodging bludgers, for me." There was not a single trace of remorse on Draco's face as he smiled darkly with no intention of dignifying Blaise's comments with an answer. The Italian didn't expect any. He simply clenched his teeth. "So you're planning on sending prissy little Granger dirty dreamsthis can't be ethical" Blaise paused for a moment, a beautiful mischievous smile lighting up his face as his eyes glinted with glee. "Can I help?" Draco grinned, pristine white teeth flashing in a feral smile. "No needI've already taken care of that."

The house was frightfully empty when she returned. The strange combination of muggle and wizarding appliances greeted her with the same echoing silence, so unlike the chaos and merry laughter that she expected would fill a Weasley household. But noshe was no longer going to be a Weasleyshe be damned if she went back down that path.

Misery washed through her like an irrepressible wave and she silently closed the door behind her, discarding her shoes tiredly as her eyes slid shut to block out the annoyingly cheerful afternoon sunshine. As Hermione sidled into the kitchen, she took a glance at the pile of manila folders sitting upon the kitchen bench and felt that misery deepen ten fold. Slim pickings, she observed. Perhaps she was a little demanding, but was it really a crime to want a husband she could respect if not love? None of the potential candidates appealed to her at all. If the men were modest in assets, Hermione found them lacking, if the men were excessive in assets, she found them boastful. There really was no happy middle ground. Hermione let out a pathetic whimper. She didn't even want to get married! She didn't love themshe didn't love any of thembut no, that wasn't true. Hermione Granger adored Ronald Weasley, with every fibre of her being. She had loved him for so long that she could no longer separate her happy memories of Hogwarts from her happy memories of him. He had been such a perpetual fixture in her life; a man whose path was so interwoven with her own that she had never thought that they would separate. When they had first begun their foundling relationship, it had been quite literally peaches and roses. Ron had been everything she wanted in a boyfriend, sweet and attentive, he had made her feel so wanted and loved. Just so beautifullike she had never felt before. An uneven reflection stared back at her from the metallic surface of the toaster, all wild hair and plain features. Her fingers grazed the cool metal and flinched back from it abruptly. Merlinshe had been so happy! She would have been a wonderful wife; she would have loved him like he was the perfect man; like Ron Weasley deserved the absolute devotion she had offered him. Her expression darkened in an instant. Memories flooded her conscience. She could see him, as clear as day, as he thrust into the blonde witch pinned beneath him on his precious leather couch; could picture the smug look upon the other woman's face as she saw Hermione's horrified features and correctly deduced that she was the Quidditch player's long-time girlfriend, felt the bile rise in her throat as Ron had opened his shocked blue orbs and met her eyes squarely. He had the nerve to continue, his hips still moving shallowly, the flush upon his face indicative of his release. Ronald Bilius Weasley had had the guts to stare her in the eye while he fucked another woman. "BASTARD!" She screamed into the empty room. "DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU!" Hermione could feel the tears of hysteria sliding down her face as she slid listlessly to the floor. What a fool she had been trusting men like him. She had seen all the signs all those signs which should have served as a forewarning. Ronald Weasley had finally emerged from the shadow of the Man-who-lived,

come into the Quidditch glory all within his own right and for the first time in his life, Ron had felt the wonderful warmth of the spotlight focused solely on him. That was when the late Quidditch practices had started. She had thought nothing of it, professional Quidditch was a demanding sport, the practices should have been standard, been expected. Thenthe late night drinks with friends began, parties that she wouldn't 'enjoy' had followed soon afterthere were nights when he wouldn't come home at all Hermione had refused to think anything of it, had purposely discredited any suspicion which had arisen in her mind. She had been so blindly devoted. She had loved him so damn much. And he had betrayed her. Liar. Cheater. Heartless bastard! Hermione pulled herself off the floor and swiped furiously at her eyes, ignoring the rough hewn material of her sleeve as it grazed her delicate cheeks. NoHermione would never be his victim again, she wouldn't ever walk down that damned path ever again. She wanted her revenge and there could be no better way to get even than to show Ron Weasley exactly what he had lostwhat he had never deserved. Swiping again at her eyes, Hermione rounded the kitchen bench and picked up the thin stack of manila folders, a determined expression etched on her features as she opened the first file. He was blond Blond Malfoy. The idiot. What on earth what he was thinking, propositioning her like he did? Had all those year abroad totally addled his mind? Merlinfrom pureblood mania to muggle lover After the brief argument in the bookshopwell, it hadn't really been an argument, more of a minor disagreement with Draco pressing his body firmly into hers while he pinned her into the nearest bookcase. He had insisted that she would marry him; she had insisted that she wouldn't, that she would rather eat an entire hippogriff instead of agreeing to anything he said.

Draco Malfoy had laughed and dismissed her protests. He had just pressed closer, his nose lowered to the crook of neck and he breathed deeply, his every word tickling the delicate hairs on the nape of her neck. Fortunately, the elderly owner of the shop had come to her rescue, rather unknowingly and at first chance, Hermione had apparated away, her things clutched precariously in her hand, her book discarded still upon the thick carpet at his feet. Breathless and disconcerted, she had apparated to an empty meadow, not focused enough to remember how to reappear into her own apartment. Hermione had taken a few moments to calm herself and had laughed off the encounter in a rather hysterical manner and then, when she had finally come to her senses, she had returned home, only to burst into another bout of hystericalities, only this time, over another man entirely. A loud hoot interrupted her ruminations and Hermione dropped the unopened manila files in surprise. Looking up, she was surprised to find a magnificent dark eagle owl watching her intently with sharp eyes. It held its leg forward to reveal a letter tied with green ribbon. Hesitantly, she reached forward and stroked the beautiful bird. It made no sound and stood absolutely still, its leg still held forward, patiently awaiting her actions. Sighing resignedly, Hermione put aside her questions and untied the ribbon from its leg. The moment the letter slid free of the owl, there was a flutter of dark wings and soon, all that was left of the bird was a dark blob on the sunny horizon as Hermione watched astounded. How strange owls usually demanded a reply or at least some sort of treat. It must have been terribly well trained. Shrugging, Hermione eyed the ancient looking wax seal, the pattern an unfamiliar symphony of curls and designs. Unhesitant, she slowly eased open the letter and took in the sinuous calligraphically beautiful words, spaced perfectly and exuding a magnetic old-world charm. The contents itself was not so enchanting. Hermione, I have sent this letter in an attempt to aid you in the understanding of my reasoning behind this proposal She had nearly dropped the letter in her shock. What on earth? It is perfectly understandable that you would find this sudden revelation strange; after all, we were not on the best of terms in Hogwarts. Please understand that what I'm offering is not eternal devotion and love but something which, in your current situation, would undoubtedly be much more satisfying.

As I understand it, you've had a rather messy break-up with the Chudley Cannon's star keeper. I think we could help each other. After allnot all engagements must end in marriage But Weasley doesn't need to know that. Regards, Draco Alexander Malfoy Hermione was almost tempted to laugh as she re-read the words. 'I think we could help each other' Was this some sort of strange joke? Hermione didn't think she had any friends who would joke with such a serious thing. Not one of them even liked Dracobut She made a small noise of frustration and shook her head. No. It was Draco Malfoy who had lost his mind. She would ignore his proposal just like the others. If she was going to marry, she would do it on her own terms. Hermione walked to the rubbish bin and flung the letter into the stainless steel vessel. Suddenly, her expression contorted into one of pain as she hissed. The damn thing had cut her! She didn't think parchment could give paper cuts! She raised her bleeding finger to her mouth and gently sucked the thin, surprisingly deep wound, hissing as her nerves tingled with the pressure of her lips. She knew that he was trouble. Even absent, Draco Malfoy caused problemsproblems which always seemed to be involved with blood Grumbling slightly, Hermione grabbed her wand from a hidden pocket and healed the small wound with a light tap. Thinking nothing more of it, she went about the rest of her day, intent on ignoring any further advances from her childhood enemy.

Ginny Weasley lazed back against the headboard, a billow of smoke streaming from her lips as she eyed the man next to her with hooded eyes. A small coy smile lit her face as she turned to face him, the sheet slipping from her naked body as she rolled herself to face him. She observed his apathetic expression with annoyance, watched him intently as he stared blankly at the off-white wall of the motel room. From beyond the window, she could tell it was late afternoon, the day slipping into the hours of twilight as the day wore on. Yet still, he did not move, still he continued to stare blankly at nothing.

Ginny was not use to being ignored. With her flame-like curls and her dips and curves, Ginervra Weasley attracted looks everywhere she went. And yetthis man seemed not at all affected. Agitation gripped her like a storm and she angrily propped herself up on an elbow. Taking a deep draw of her cigarette, she blew the smoke into his face, laughing hysterically when he finally turned to her, an angry scowl marring his already too sharp features. Dimitri Dolohov never claimed to be a handsome man, but he was the last of his family and he had come into the Dolohov fortune after the main line of the familial tree had died out during the war against 'the light'. He didn't resent them for winning the Great War; in fact, he had them to thank for his current state of wealth. His sharp, pale green eyes swept over the form of the naked woman next to him, a sneer of disgust curling his lips as he saw the predatory gleam in her eyes. Just another disgusting little gold-digger, albeit a rather beautiful one. She was like a golden red apple, appealing and oh so delicious to look atbut underneath that rosy skin lay nothing but rotten flesh and parasitic worms. That didn't matter to himhe wasn't a man of depth. He wanted someone pretty to hang off his arm, he wanted to be admired and envied, he wanted to be acknowledged no longer the distant cousin from the tainted branch of the Dolohovs. Dimitri would keep her. It hadn't been his intention initially; he just wanted a fuck to relieve himself of the anger. But she seemed the right type, careless and mindless, stupid enough for him to manipulate. He gave her an inscrutable smile and grabbed her wrist tightly, forcing her to drop the cigarette. He pushed her back on the bed and climbed on top of her, uncaring that her back was being pressed into the still burning cigarette. Ginny whimpered and squirmed beneath his grasp but she returned his aggressive kisses nonetheless. He was the right type. He had the money. For that she could handle a little pain. Wait till Hermione heard about this.

The ache was deep and ravenous. Heat burned through her, a contrast to the cool wind which raised bumps along her skin. It made her squirm. She wanted nothing more than tothan to

The feeling was illusive, the concept just out of reach, she could almost feel the reaching and yearning, an answering call in the perpetual darkness in front of her eyes. The wind screamed among the bleak, lonely peaks, cliffs and jagged rocks jutting from the ground as she turned, again and again, searching for any sign of life or civilisation. The burning began again, overwhelming the bewilderment She moaned into the screaming winds, begging for a release from this mysterious tenderness. There was an answering sepulchral chuckle from the winds, and the burning intensified. The ball of flame spread from her chest, sent searching tendrils to every limb. Whimpers and screams reached her ears and soon she realised the voice belonged to her. The wild howling winds swirled and slowly weaved together. Like a web of spider silk, it shimmered and glistened. Then slowly, the moist winds took shape, a sinewy shape which reminded her of a tall lithe male, yet, there was something so distinctly feline about him. The wavering form was crouched in the most predatory manner, his legs unfurling as he stood, his motions graceful and dangerous, his indistinct features curled into a familiar smirk. Leisurely, it motioned toward her, beckoning with long inviting fingers. She hesitated, and he laughed. His voice like his form seemed frigid and bleak. It stepped forward when she made no move and the arctic wind which surrounded him, engulfed her. There was familiar warm scent swirling within the chilly winds. Hermione took a deep breath as the wavering body sent reaching fingers which trailed up her arms and thighs, making her ache for a corporeal touch, it made her ache for warm fingers and calloused palms. The glacial touch of the winds caressed the soft flesh of her thigh in circles, round and round, round and round. It inched slowly upwards, cool air brushing the dark hair at the apex of her thighs as it swept aside the heavy, wet material of her torn dress. An almost there touch whispered along her nether lips, slowly parting the moist folds and trailed the phantom touch back and forth until she wanted to scream with frustration. As the torture wore on, the frustration turned to desperation, the desperation to pain, all the while, anticipation and pleasure built and surged against her barriers like a flood against the dam walls, the pressure was immense and her boneless form sunk to the soaking rock face, uncaring that a rough surface was digging into her naked shoulders while she arched her hips to greet the rising winds. Hermione jolted awake, her small form trembling in the wake of the dream. She felt the cool air on her heated skin and blinked as she found her blankets twisted around her tense legs. She closed her eyes tightly, the images of her night-time madness fading into the darkness like the remnants of the setting sun.

Yet still, the ache remained, that unfulfilled ache that left her wanting and dissatisfied. She wished she could fall back into that miscellaneous fantasy and reach that illusive completion. With a frustrated groan she shook her head and fell back against her pillows, her hands pressing against her bare naval in an attempt to relieve the throbbing. Like she expected, the feeling did not subside and instead, it left her to dwell in the absence of those volatile fingers. Wanting and aching.

SAGE ADVICE The lemonade was bitter on her tongue as Ron's girlfriend giggled hysterically over one of his overused jokes. Triska was dark haired and leggy, almost taller than Ron with a figure which made even Ginny a little green with envy and what's more, she seemed to have more than two brain cells to rub together. If the girl weren't so ridiculously smitten with Ronald Bilius Weasley, Hermione might actually have liked her. The beautiful model offered her a sincere, toothy smile, the white of her teeth almost glittering in the sunlight and Hermione found she had reacted instantly, returning the friendly smile with a soft one of her own. She couldn't resent a girl who seemed so genuinely pleasant and light-hearted. Mrs. Weasley, too, it seemed, was taken by the sheer brunt of this beauty and she laughingly asked how they couple had met. Triska gave a tinkling laugh; her eyes conveying her humour and delight at the recollection. "At a quidditch match of course." Triska's voice was as musical as her laughter. "I'm a huge Cannons fan and Ronald here was just so sweet." She ruffled his hair playfully, offering him a playful wink. Ron seemed to enjoy the attention as he threw a self-satisfied smirk Hermione's way. She could only grimace, making her weak excuses as she moved away from the happy couple to refill her cool glass of lemonade. Her eyes fixated against the floating cubes of unmeltable ice floating in the glass jug, the bright lemon slices resting on top, their cheerful colour setting her nerves on edge. Hermione knew she was being petulant. Sure, she hadn't expected Mrs. Weasley to be against her son forever, but surelyno, how could anyone begrudge Triska a thing? She was every bit as perfect as Ronald Weasley had ever wanted Hermione to be, something she could never become because she simply was never that sort of woman. She preferred sensible heels to stilettos, she preferred muted pastels to bright reds and yellows and she rather liked her raucous riot of curls compared to Triska's slick, hip-length locks. No, she was no exotic beauty but Hermione always prided herself on being something more than just appearances. Another wave of laughter washed over her and Hermione felt her resentment rise. It had only been weeks ago that she and Ronald had parted ways and the Weasley family had stood firmly by her side,

but now there was Triska, and little, plain old Hermione was once more pushed to the side. She was whining, she knew, but even Pansy seemed to like the new member of the Weasley family, their flow of conversation centred on all things fashion and style. From the moment Triska had stepped into The Burrow, every inch of her had exuded affluence and confidence, instantly drawing every eye in the room. Hermione had seen the pale, freckled arm wrapped around that firm gym-acquired waist and knew Ron had brought his latest mistress. What she hadn't expected was the true and joyous nature that Triska seemed to possess. Triska Benedict was from a well-to-do family of pureblood wizards and witches, her family had remained wisely neutral in the Great War while she had attended Beauxbatons and stayed safely away from the bloody war fields in England. She was a philanthropic ambassador for her family and spent her days traversing between the poverty stricken third world nations and her home in central muggle London. She was, by every sense of the word, perfect. Just like Ronald Bilius Weasley always wanted. Hermione dragged herself from her self-pitying thoughts and into the cool, shadowed porch at the rear of the house, the precariously slanting house provided optimum refuge and she intended to spend the rest of the lunch hiding here and away from a woman who she could hardly compare to. She was clutching her glass tightly, her knuckles flushing white as she attempted to calm the anger boiling inside her. "Don't do this to yourself." Hermione started, the glass slipping from her suddenly listless fingers and dropping to the floor, the contents spilling every which way as the glass rolled away, whole and unharmed. Her eyes were still fixated upon the bright slice of lemon as Hermione drew in a deep breath to calm herself. Turning slowly, Hermione placed an ice-cold hand upon her chest, the moist coolness soaking through the thin cardigan she wore. She had to crane her neck a little to meet the other woman's eyes but Hermione knew, even before she turned, that it could only one person who had that musical voice. "Triska." The woman eyed her seriously, no sign of the previously glorious smile on her spectacular features. "Don't do this to yourself." She repeated. Hermione's shoulders stiffened in defence. "I have no idea what you could mean, Triska, but you really shouldn't sneak up on people like that." The beauty shrugged nonchalantly, her shoulders rising and falling gracefully. "Stop holding onto this. Stop holding onto him." She clarified.

Anger flared through Hermione and quite apparently, it showed on her face. She turned the brunt of her glare onto the taller woman, never a blink of waver in her glance. "If you think" Triska interrupted, her hands held up in a sign of defeat. "I'm not implying that you should step aside for my sake." Triska hesitated, wetting her lips tentatively as she proceeded. "I know who you are, Hermione. I've read all about you in the newspapers. About the war." Hermione crossed her arms and turned away, her lips thinning as she leant against the banister of the porch and glanced away into the bright afternoon sunlight. "What's your point?" Hermione asked grudgingly. The tall, leggy brunette leant beside her, her perfectly manicured nails digging into her palm as she clenched her fists. "My point being that you shouldn't let Ron treat you like thisyou knowparade girl after girl in front of youyou're a war hero, you should never take anything like this lying down!" There was a moment of disbelieving silence. "May I remind you that you're one of those girls." Triska shrugged lightly once more. "I know that. Ron still loves youor is still obsessed with having youif all that ranting isn't proof then I don't know what is. All I'm saying is that by being so resolutely single months after your break-up, especially with this law in place, wellyou're sort of giving him the impression that you're pining after him" "I am not!" Hermione protested indignantly. "I would never" She huffed moodily. There was a burst of good humoured laughter. "I'm not implying that you are. I'm simply telling you what it looks like to him; you're really not making this any easier on yourself. You could be quite happy if you moved on you knowI heard Draco Malfoy made you a proposal" Silence reigned for another moment and Hermione turned hesitantly to observe her beautiful companion. "You want Ron for yourself." She deduced; her tone cynical and deadpanned. "Trust me he's not worth it, don't make that mistake." Triska smiled sadly. "Yes. I do want him for myself. But is that such a crime? Isn't that what all woman want, to be the sole possessor of a man's heart? I genuinely do like him."

"It is a crime if that man is Ron. Don't make that mistake; Ronald isn't capable of loving anyone completely unless it's himself." An inelegant snort of laughter greeted her response. "Bitter much?" Hermione rounded on Triska, a protest poised on her lips as her eyes flashed angrily. Triska however, was smiling benignly, her expression light and teasing. "Only a little." Hermione admitted, smiling sardonically. "Besides," Triska added. "I know he wasn't always like this. There's bound to be a sweet man underneath all that anger and resentmenthe's just lost his way" "And you intend on guiding him back onto that path of righteousness?" Despite the rhetorical twist to the question, Triska didn't hesitate to reply. "Yes. I do. That's why I need you out of the way." She paused. "No offence." Hermione shrugged. "Humanitarian to the end." "Without a doubt." Triska confirmed; her bubbly tone returning as her eyes sparkled with laughter. "Do we understand each other?" "Without a doubt."

Despite all her well-to-do intentions and strongly held bleeding-heart beliefs, Hermione was not half so inclined to do this favour for a girl who was effectively making the Weasley family feel like awkward overnight strangers to her. Yes, she wanted to let go of Ron and move on, but she wasn't entirely sure that he deserved a woman like Triska who quite undoubtedly deserved far better. She did sound bitter, even to her own ears but reallythe man was unbelievable. He was little better than athan a Hermione groaned. Too bitter, she thought. The months had turned her cynical and embittered. She suddenly felt cheated of all those years of youth she had spent with Ronald Weasley, all those years she should have spent living a passionate love affair like those heroines in those dime store bodice ripping Mills and Boons. Years she would never get back. Her breath was coming in harsh gasps and new tears threatened but Hermione determinedly swallowed. Not another day, she thought. It was time to take action.

"You smell nice." "That's not the point." "In fact, you smell damn wonderful" "Malfoy" "mouth-watering" "Get a grip" "good enough to eat" Pause. "DID YOU JUST LICK ME?" Hermione's outraged scream interrupted the daily clockwork like enterprise of the Malfoy Corporation and many of the passing employees stopped mid-stride to stare curiously at the door of their boss. The disgruntled secretary cast them all a scathing look and sent them scuttling along the way, leaving the chaos and conflict well within the room. Meanwhile, inside the now notorious office, Hermione Granger was digging hastily through her purse, retrieving what looked like a crimson makeup case. She placed it calmly upon the large mahogany desk and delicately unzipped the carrier case. Malfoy watched her curiously and cleared his throat amusedly. "You look fine darling" Hermione ignored him resolutely and reached into the case and retrieved a crinkled plastic package. "It's not makeupits disinfectant." Hermione huffed moodily. "Did you hear what I said?" "It's not makeupit's" "Yes! Thank you! I meant before that!" "Ohyou mean the part where you threw yourself joyfully into my arms and declared your undying love, vowing to spend the rest of your life worshiping the ground I walk on and bearing my beautiful children?"

Hermione grimaced dramatically. "Not my exact wordsbut you seem to be getting the gist of it." She paused, smoothing the cool wet material across her skin as she sniffed disdainfully. "But suffice it to say, I'm willing to accommodate your offerso long as you are willing to listen to my conditions." Draco spread his hands as a gesture of compliance, his expression sardonic and mocking. "Condition number oneyou will not touch me unless" "No." Draco interrupted, deadpanned. He turned away from her and strode to the window, clasping his long fingers behind him as he stared out the window of the magnificent high-rise. "It's a simple condition, Malfoy." The blond spun on his heel and stalked towards her, his eyes fixed resolutely upon hers. "Not as simple as you think Granger. I know why you're here." His head tilted to the side curiously. "Weasley giving you trouble?" She compressed her lips. That was exactly it, well; more like Triska Benedict was the one giving her trouble. She had shocked herself that Sunday; instead of feeling the sweep of jealousy like she expected, Hermione simply felt resentment. She resented Ron for moving on so quickly (despite all of Triska's claims to the contrary), she resented the Weasley family for accepting and being charmed by a pretty face (though she had to admit the woman was more than that) and she resented the fact that she had to resent a family she adored almost as much as her own. Pushing aside all her thoughts, Hermione calmly stood. "Yes. Now I want your help; like you offered." Draco inclined his head lightly and laid his slim fingers on her delicate shoulder. "Then I think, I am the one entitled to making the rules and requests, wouldn't you say?" Draco didn't wait for an answer and ploughed forward regardless. "We'll make the engagement public today. We'll remain engaged for a minimum of three months" "Two." She interrupted, her eyes flashing as she eyed the slim hand upon her shoulder. Malfoy paused, letting the silence stretch. "What's the hurry? If things don't work out, then there will still be plenty of time for" "Two." "Three." "Two."

"Two and a half." Draco conceded. "Therea happy compromise." He leant down, his voice rumbling deep within his throat as his breath whispered across her ear. His eyes fixed on the gentle slope of her neck, the angle of her jaw and the smooth curve of her cheek. The silver orbs continued to wander, slowly coming to rest on the plump lobe of her ear. Draco leant forward even further; his nose nudging her voraciously wild curls as he gently nipped the soft flesh and drew the sweetness into his mouth as his tongue left a trail of Hermione stood abruptly, shaking off the restraining hands he had placed on her shoulder. "Don't you dare!" Draco wouldn't allow her to finish. Her flesh tasted sweeter than he'd imagined and like a man dying of thirst in the desert, a small drop of water in his parched throat did nothing to satiate the overwhelming thirst. His hands closed firmly around her arms, crushing the material of her sleeves. Of its own accord, his body surged forward and enveloped hers as he pushed her back. In her bewildered daze, Hermione felt her thighs hit the edge of his desk, the solid obstruction dug into her flesh until her legs yielded to the pressure and she found herself suddenly sprawled across the broad desk, a paperweight digging into the small of her back. "Stop! What are you?" Malfoy ignored her. Releasing her arms, he hands roamed her tender flesh, moving downward until he was pushing up her skirt and parting her thighs. He chuckled darkly as Hermione tried to sit up, her eyes belying her panic as she began to struggle on the desk. Ignoring her movements, Draco moved between her legs and slammed his lips onto hers, his body coveting the alluring warmth of hers. Hermione whimpered, her lips bruising under the unwarranted assault. She felt him lick her lips, probing eagerly for entrance as his lips continued to move over hers. As if Draco could sense her fear and resistance, his lips eased from hers as his eyes opened to stared deeply into her chocolate orbs. His incredibly pale eyelashes framed pools of liquid silver and Hermione watched, fascinated, as the silver heated and the light gold lashes lowered to brush his cheek. Moments later, his lips lowered to hers, this time, caressing her sensitive flesh with drugging strokes. An intoxicating mist drifted into her mind and quite suddenly, all the whirls and buzzes of Hermione's constantly flickering mind, quieted and were silenced. Not quite knowing why she did it, Hermione allowed her lips to part slowly, savouring the slow searching invasion of his tongue. As unexpected as it was, Draco Malfoy tasted incredible, like hundred year old aged brandy, mint and desire. Tentatively, acutely aware of who she was kissing, she touched her tongue to his, allowing tip of her tongue to explore the edge of his lips before delving past his teeth to meet his warm caress once more. Her body vibrated with delight as his deep laughter resonated through his chest and sank into her body.

Much to her own chagrin, Hermione felt herself squirm against the delicious weight of his body and felt his humour radiate through her once more. Almost unconsciously, too distracted by his kiss, Hermione shifted her legs into a more comfortable position on each side of his lean, masculine hips, eventually crossing her ankles across his lower back, undoubtedly wrinkling his immaculately tailored suit. A smug, self-satisfied smile crossed his lips as he continued to assault her senses. Slowly, as not to alarm her, his fingers gently stroked the fragrant skin of her collarbone, before he moved across the material of her shirt so he could cup her breast and squeeze the firm flesh. A small keening sound was torn from her throat, her body arching against him. The blond laughed huskily and his lips roved to her swan like neck. Gently, he nipped, grazed and licked as his hips shifted restlessly against hers. Draco felt his body heat, felt that deep unquenchable flame ignite and roar to life How long had he waited for this momenthow much sweeter the victory now that he had her "Oh Merlin!" Through the fog of pleasure, the exclamation registered within Hermione's mind. As her mind restarted and shook off her daze, she realised that the voice was neither Malfoys nor hers. In a panic, she jerked and tried to dislodge the hard male form pinning her to the table. Draco did not move as he turned his head to glare at the unwelcome intruder. "Get the fuck out of my office, Zabini." He turned his head back towards his blushing captive and lowered his lips once more to hers. Hermione's head twisted away as she glanced over his shoulder, her eyes widened frantically as she eyed the Italian. Her legs had slipped from their interlocking embrace and she fought useless against Malfoy to close her legs. "God Malfoy! Get off me!" She smacked his shoulders frantically as if emphasising her words. "Now!" Instead of sounding firm, Hermione simply seemed hysterical. She continued to wriggle, trying desperately to free herself and remove herself from the office with the remaining shreds of her dignity. Blushing deeply, she met Draco's amused eyes and swallowed the lump which was lodged in her throats. "Please." She whispered. Malfoy sighed and savoured a few more moments of her delicious slim body, squirming beneath his, and then released her. Adjusting the front of his slacks surreptitiously, he turned impatiently to his best friend, his eyes expressing his annoyance better than any words could. "What?" He sounded irate at best. Blaise raised his hands in surrender, a thin file held loosely in his right hand. "LookI just wanted to drop off this contract"

"Right!" Hermione exclaimed brightly, her pseudo cheer false to everyone listening; the guilty blush still staining her cheeks. She quickly scooped up her purse and swung it over her shoulder, she darted a nervous glance at Draco and quickly started for the door. "Granger." She turned slowly, mentally composing herself as she resolutely avoided Blaise Zabini's eyes. "Malfoy." The blond grinned as he perched on the edge of that devil bedamned desk. "Don't forget to contact the ministrymy dear." She gave a sharp nod and swept gracefully from the room. Draco's eyes remained fixed on her retreating figure until the door swung shut behind her. "Born to be a Malfoy." Blaise snorted and opened his mouth to rebuke the claim but Draco gave him a cool look and he promptly snapped his jaw shut. There was a shuffle of papers as Draco Malfoy began tidying his desk, absently touching the still-warm paperweight while he savoured his victory. He licked his lips lightly, a feral light glinting in his eyes as he smoothed several sheets of crinkled paper and breathed the warm scent of Hermione, which lingered in the air. "How did you do it?" Zabini's voice rang through the silent room. The blond smiled. "I didn't do a thing." Draco's voice turned mocking. "Weasley managed his amazing feat of stupidity all on his own."

Harry Potter had never felt so bewildered sincewellsince never! Here he sat, the boy-who-lived, the man who fought through the Great War and defeated the Dark Lord, here he sat with his head between his knees and the world swimming before his eyes as his breath came in short, wheezing gasps. "It's ok honey, deep breaths." Pansy cooed, her cool hands stroking his hair as she sent apologetic glances at Hermione who paid the couple no attention whatsoever as she gently blew on the drying ink and sealed the letter with a finality that made her insides clench in apprehension.

Hesitantly, she tied the parchment to the barn owl's leg as it eyed her mutely and then promptly took off in a whirl of feathers, taking her letter to its final destination. "Howhow could you?" Harry Potter turned a little green at whatever thought he'd been having and lowered his head once more to between his legs. The nausea receded little by little and raised his head once more. "Malfoy" He gasped, gagging a little at the name. "Please nopleasepleaseMerlin, Jesus, Buddha, Allahplease, not my best friend, not Hermione, take me instead!" Pansy looked somewhat bemused. "I always thought you had a thing for Draco, all those fight" Pansy tsked, shaking her head. "Repressed sexual tension I'm telling you." If possible, Harry turned a deeper shade of green, his mouth opening and closing in unvoiced protest. "Give up, baby." Pansy continued. "It's quite obvious that he made his choice; don't begrudge your best friend." "II" Pansy smacked him, suddenly annoyed, her mood swing as rapid and unexpected as to be seen only in women who were heavily pregnant as Pansy was. "Aren't you going to congratulate your best friend?" Harry looked at Hermione weakly, his eyes watering a little from the smarting slap. "God Hermione, MalfoyI meanwhat about Ron?" Hermione pursed her lips tightly, remaining in a state of deadly calm. "What about Ron?" The man-who-lived was silent until his wife smacked him again. "Yeswhat about Ron?" Pansy reiterated. Harry Potter took immediate notice of his wife's forbidding expression and promptly schooled his expression into one of subservience. "Nothing at all, dear." To Hermione, he offered her a sheepish look, and muttered quite reluctantly: "You know best, Mione." Hermione nodded her head firmly and took one fleeting glance at a very smug Pansy.

Sure as daylight itself, Hermione had learnt a very valuable lesson today. Never mess with a pregnant lady.

DOUBLE DOUBLE "Mademoiselle! S'il vous plait!" "Mon Dieu!" "Mademoiselle Granger!" Three French voices echoed each other's sentiments repeatedly, their agitated expressions darkening as each moment passed. "For the love ofstand still this instant, Granger! You need to be " The blond huffed angrily, grey orbs glaring menacingly as they met her eyes in the triple faceted mirror. "I do not need " "Yes, you bloody well do. Now stand still or I'll have the tailors jab you a few more times with those sewing needles." Hermione stilled quickly but her eyes still flashed dangerously. "This is ridiculous Malfoymy clothes are perfectly fine! I don't need any tailored robes or whatnot!" The blond rolled his eyes at the magazine open on his lap, his eyes focused unseeingly at the beauty flashing her alluring winks from the page. "Yesthey're perfectly fine for Hermione Granger. However, for Hermione Malfoy, they're downright appalling. So stand still and then we'll go have lunch." Being in Paris, Hermione's most favoured city second only to London, she was severely tempted to simply slip from the fitting platform, rip off the ridiculous cloud of wafer thin silk and march away from the demanding man who either paid too little or too much attention to her. She fluctuated between wanting one or the other, so she supposed she couldn't really scold him for itbut reallydid he have to bring her all the way across the English Channel for clothing? Three theatrically French sighs interrupted her thoughts. "Mademoiselle, these robes are the best available! This is most exclusive modiste in Europe!" This was said by the sole male among her little entourage of fashionistas. Realising that she had spoken her queries out loud, Hermione blushed, a little abashed.

"I did not mean to imply otherwise, Monsieur. I am simply unaccustomed to" Hermione waved vaguely towards the deep blue silk draped around her legs "this. ReallyI meant no offence." "If I may just offer Mademoiselle some advice?" He tilted his head a fraction, his glance sceptical. With an encouraging nod, he continued. "You are to be Monsieur Malfoy's bride. I believe it is you're right to demand the best and never anything less." All this was said with a righteous French lilt and was a sentiment seconded by Malfoy himself who made a noise of approval accompanied by a prideful smirk. "See Granger? Everyone but you seems to know how to behave as a Malfoy." "I'm not a Malfoy yet" To herself she muttered: "Not ever, if I can help it." "You will be." Draco said rather seriously, his tone making her squirm slightly on the raised platform causing another surge of irritated sighs from the French tailors. Muttering apologies to them, Hermione spent the rest of the fitting standing absolutely still and trying her best not to release the sighs of misery which seemed to be accumulating hard and fast in her throat. When finally, the ordeal (in Hermione's opinion) was over, they both gratefully exited the modiste whose employees were all equally relieved to see the fidgeting miss off, they walked down the wide smooth terrace of wizarding Paris' most exclusive shopping district, her hand tightly clasped in Draco's grip. She tried every tactic she knew to extricate her fingers but to no avail. Sighing petulantly as yet another Parisian socialite walked past them, pointing and gaping unattractively, she grudgingly relinquished control of her digits and settled instead for inspecting the pale hand which held hers. The skin tone was a shade or two lighter than hers, the hand lean and sculpted, soft blue veins lying just beneath the translucent skin, smooth skin pulled tight across prominent knuckles and finally tapering into long, fine fingers with perfectly manicured nails. His skin was a strange mix of rough and smooth, the web of skin between his thumb and his index finger roughened undoubtedly by years of gripping the handle of the latest model racing broom. The cool pad of his thumb rubbed gentle circles around the heated throb of her pulse in her wrist as she started, her eyes darting towards some poor woman who had promptly dropped her designer hand bag at the sight of Draco Malfoy and Hermione walking in such telling manner down the boulevard. "Malfoy!" She hissed, struggling against his grip once more. "They're all staring!" "Good." He said nonchalantly, the words muttered through a false smile as he waved at some acquaintance or other across the street. "What do you mean good? Merlin's beard, Malfoy! This will be"

"The talk of the town; the talk of the entire wizarding world if I have anything to say about it." Draco muttered, suddenly absurdly pleased with himself. "Parisians can be the biggest gossip on the face of the planetyour dearest Ronald will be in fits." Hermione bit her lip slightly. "You don't understand Malfoy. I don't really want Ron to be" hurt Draco felt the hand in his grip tighten around his fingers more and smiled to himselfreally, these Gryffindors were only too easy to manipulate. Meanwhile, Hermione seemed to have finally gathered her wits and sniffed as if suddenly disdainful of his rather subtle tactics, a matter she admitted rather grudgingly. "Why Paris? Why not London? Everyone knows us there." Though famous within her own right, Hermione's photograph was not as widely published this side of the Channel and she was rather worried that she would simply be labelled as an "unknown lady" and what use would that be? "That's exactly the point. If we walked down Diagon Alley, we would be stopped every other minute and plied with pleas to reveal our "story"." Draco quoted with his fingers dramatically, her hand still situated firmly in his grasp. "We don't quite have our story straightas of yet, and we wouldn't want to ruin our devious little plot now would we? After all, the Weasel would hardly give any credit to this charade if it was quite obvious you still detested me as much as you did back in Hogwarts." "I still do." "That's beside the point. Anyway, the fact that you're willing to travel with me implies a certain level of intimacy; add the romantic backdrop of Paris," Draco carefully emphasised the name with a perfect French lilt, "and voila! We have a beautiful lascivious mystery which will make every person on this planet deeply, insanely curious!" Hermione eyed him dubiously. "You must admit, Slytherins can plot like none other." She smiled reluctantly. "Shut up Malfoy." "Your every wish, mon coeur, is my command." "That is a terrible line." Hermione muttered, fighting her smile. "Ahthat would explain that charmed little twinkle in your eye."

Ronald Weasley eyed his sister, a little glint of concern colouring his features as he watched her wince again as she moved.

"What " He started, hesitantly. "It's nothing Ron." Ginny said laughingly, brushing soot from her robes. "I just pulled my back falling out of the Floo." The voluptuous red-head kissed her brother affectionately on the cheek and breezed past him into the Burrow. She found her mother fussing in the kitchen, a room which held some of the most beautiful memories. The clank of self-cleaning pots and pans and the wonderful smell of Sunday lunch filled the air, making her breath deeply. "Ginevra," Molly Weasley murmured sweetly, "come give your mother a kiss." Ginny did as she was told and moved towards the plump matron and obediently pecked her on the cheek. "How's that boyfriend of yours?" Molly enquired, her eyes still fixed on a bowl of rich batter. Shrugging nonchalantly, Ginny dipped her finger into the bowl and licked of the sweet mixture, smiling in that impish way which reminded Molly of Ginny's long-ago childhood. She gazed reminiscently at her youngest child and felt a burst of affection. Reaching across, Molly pinched her cheek. "Go say hello to your brothers, darling." The red-head left quickly and soon found her way into the cosy living room. She fixed a smile on her overly made-up face and carefully made her way into their midst, ignoring the slightly strained smiles she received from her own flesh and blood. Despite popular belief, Ginny Weasley was not oblivious to the world or her family for that matter. She knew what everyone thought of her and she was even better versed in her family's implicit disapproval. She was whore. A little gold-digger. Fake, plastic, only-her-mother knew-her-real-hair-colour kind of girl. Hell, she knew she was, she had no qualms about admitting it to her family or the world. Ginevra Molly Weasley made no apologies. Not now and not ever. In fact, she was proud and one of these days, all her plans would come into fruition and her family would finally see her as a success, like she deserved. Then she'd show Hermione, she'd show Harry. So instead of confronting those looks, Ginny pretended not to see, not to notice, she allowed her family to think exactly what the world thought and for now, she would do nothing. "Percy!"

The man in question nodded stiffly. "Ginevra." She sighed, she hated when her brothers called her that. This was going to be a very long visit indeed. Her eyes quickly took stock of the content of the room. The standard crowd hovered around the room, Potter and his little bitch at the peripheral of her vision. Ginny sniffed disdainfully, just thinking about them put her in a bad mood. She swung away from the sight and searched the room for a head of bushy hair, to no avail. She frowned deeply; Ginny had wanted to tell Hermione about Dimitri today; damn that girl, she always seemed to be ruining her life in some way or another. "Where on earth is Hermione?" She asked, feigning disinterest. "Yeahwhere is that bitch? I wanted to talk to her about that Malfoy bastard." Ron reiterated, his face flushing an angry red as his grip tightened around his drink. A burst of angry defences rushed from the Weasley family interspersed with hisses to 'watch his language'. Fleur had delicately covered the ears of her daughter and was currently glaring at her wayward brother in law. Before she could blister Ronald Weasley's ears with a scathing etiquette lesson in her accented English, Luna interrupted. Her voice held that familiar dreamy daze; her words however were laced with steel. "She's in Paris. With that bastard Malfoy." Needless to say, this Weasley luncheon was a damn memorable one.

"Why on earth" "Oh shut your mouth Ron!" "Mum!" "Listen to your brother Ronald Weasley! What did I teach you about talking with your mouth full?" "I was just asking " "You're not going to ask anything, Ron, what Hermione does is none of your damn business. After The Debacle, you're damn lucky lightening doesn't strike you down every time you say her name!" George Weasley had rather tactfully named Ron's straying as 'The Debacle' and the name had stuck. It was quite fortunate for the family especially after Fleur developed something of a penchant for referring

to that particular incident with rather vulgar French colloquialisms which little Victoire demanded an explanation for. "She's my girlfriend, so if I want to " "Ex-girlfriend, Ronald." Charlie rebutted, his usual exuberantly happy tone laced with ire. Luna placed a comforting hand on her husband's bicep, her eyes focused on the rather flushed lanky man sitting across from her. "She is no longer your girlfriend, Ron." Luna murmured dreamily, "In fact, I was under the impression that she was engaged to Draco Malfoy." Her tone never wavered from her usual eerie docility. Ron's face twisted in anger and disgust, his nostrils flaring when the name of his former nemesis was spoken. "Ferret face " "Let's call him the dragon." Luna interrupted pensively, causing the rest of the family to turn abruptly. They all stared at her with a bewildered gaze, with the exception of Charlie, who was glancing at his wife a somewhat appreciating expression. "I agree." He seconded quickly, not caring at all that he just given the Malfoy the right to be named after his very favourite living creature. Luna continued on abstractedly, seemingly oblivious to the bafflement of the rest of the Weasley family (excepting Charlie). "It seems only logicalit is his name after alland Ron seems to have such a terrible allergic reaction to his name, I mean, look at that terrible rash on his face." The Weasleys turned synchronously to stare at lanky man whose mouth had dropped open with outrage, his face noticeably red and blotchy. "I do not!" He protested angrily, half chewed pieces of roast chicken and potatoes flying from his mouth sporadically. "Ronald Bilius Weasley! DO NOT SPEAK WITH YOU MOUTH FULL!" Molly's shout was barely heard by the Weasley clan as everyone seemed to take that as the cue to burst into simultaneous laughter at Luna's comment. Ron chewed resentfully, sending a petulant glare at his mother who returned the look with one of motherly displeasure which made him stare darkly at his near-empty plate, all the while muttering darkly under his breath. Molly cleared her throat menacingly, quickly silencing that too. Meanwhile, Luna seemed to have not noticed the familial discord at all. "I think they make such a beautiful couple. They can have bushy-haired platinum blond babies"

Fleur was looking slightly bewildered while Bill smothered a cough with his napkin, his shoulders shaking as he nodded along with Luna. "WHAT? Mione with Draco bloody Mal " "The Dragon." Luna corrected distractedly, ignoring the baleful glare directed at her. "Yes, brother, you really should call him The Dragon. That awful rash is getting worse." Charlie added sarcastically, disliking the look on his brother's face. As if Ron's deteriorating condition snapped her to attention, Luna's eyes lifted from the odd engraved flask she was fingering, to her brother-in-law's face. "Oh my," She whispered in horror as Ron's face began turning a mottled shade of puce. "You are looking quite ill. But not to worry," Luna's tone cheered instantly, "I have the perfect cream for that! Daddy recommended itit'll clear up that rash in a trice!" She quickly retrieved an opaque jar from her knitting purse and twisted open the cap, revealing a rather odd smelling brown substance of grainy texture. Ginny, who was seated next to Luna, quickly backed away, her face twisted both from the idea of Hermione Granger with the rich unobtainable Malfoy and from the dubious fumes the 'cream' seemed to be emitting. With a quick wave of her wand, Luna had smothered Ron's face with the goo, her expression sweet and satisfied as she secured the lid back on, and popped the jar back into her bag. "There, can't you just feel it working now?" Only a little thrown by Luna's antics, Ron recovered quickly rolling his eyes as he balled his fists, crushing his napkin. "Yesisn't it just wonderful." He muttered mockingly. "What is it made from? The ground horn of some mythical, never before discovered creature from the fairy forest?" Luna smiled brightly. "Nope. It's actually dried koala droppings mixed with curdled hippogriff milk. Daddy says the magic is in the eucalyptus the koala eats. Healing properties and whatnot, you know." The entire table choked mid-bite and both Percy and Bill, who were seated either side of their unfortunate brother flinched away quickly, surreptitiously covering their faces with their napkins. Ron flinched, his eyes widening comically beneath the mask of brown, congealed muck. "WHAT?" Luna flashed him a startled look. "Oh! I almost forgot." Quickly, she whipped out her wand once more and pointed it at the Ron. A blast of hot air hit his face, making him wince.

"There." Luna muttered. "Now it's all dry, it will actually stay on and when it falls off, you'll be good as new." Slightly panic stricken, Ron began clawing at his face, his nails meeting the unmalleable, hard texture of his face. "What did you do?" Charlie pointed a threatening finger at his brother. "Hey, watch your tone!" "Not to worry Ronald," Luna added cheerfully, "It will fall off by itself in 3 days." "3 days?" "Wellmaybe 4, I'm not entirely sure. It's what the witch told daddy when he bought it in the Australian outback." Ron's eyes widened and he stood quickly from his chair, toppling it in the process. "YOU LITTLE !" Charlie quickly stood too, his hand on Luna's elbow, bringing her with him. "Watch it, Ron." That said, he turned to his wife, gathering up her bag and steering her away from the table. "Come on sweetheart, let's go home." "Ohbut I haven't had dessert yet" But she followed him anyway, sending a quick regretful glance over her shoulder at Molly who answered her gaze with a sympathising glance of her own. Outside the Burrow, Charlie, still holding Luna's elbow, steered her around the side of the precarious house and into a tall copse of bushes and stunted trees. "Luna! Luna, come out!" A second blonde haired, somewhat absent minded woman emerged from the foliage; her eyes alight with the deep curiosity which made Charlie love her. "How did it go? Did it work?" She whispered excitedly. The Luna standing beside Charlie winked mischievously. "Of course, we Slytherins never fail. Thank you for going along with the plan. Your husband is very clever; I had almost run out of polyjuice." The girl held up the engraved flask and shook it. The real Luna took her husband's arm as the other moved away. "It wasn't a problem Blaise; I only wish I had been there to see it."

"Not to worry," Her replicate said impishly, "You'll be around to see the results."

He stood in a chic parlour of a double-storey beauty boutique in the inner Parisian wizarding world, gazing patiently out the window, staring distractedly at the wondrously blue sky as a cloud of Morag's magical anti-frizz spray enveloped his slightly disgruntled fiance. "Stop!" She coughed, waving her hand in an attempt to disperse the fumes, her newly manicured nails aiming for the determined stylist who had called her a walking disaster and had promptly chided her for not looking after her 'birds nest' as he had so eloquently phrased it. "I vill no' stop unteel I 'ave" "Get away from me!" "Impertinente fille! Stay still zis instan' or I vill not be 'eld responsible for zis mess!" "No! Ow! My hair is attached to my head you know! Stop it! Ugh! Stop!" "Non! Jean Deveaux Pierre LeCroix vill never let a disaster valk out ov zese premises like zis! Whatat will the world think? Non! Vite!" "AH! Malfoy, if you don't get your sorry " "Voila! Oh darling, I've done it!" Hermione grunted unhappily and resisted the urge to take another swipe at the annoying Frenchman. Instead, she glared Malfoy's back, willing her gaze to drill holes through skull. The man in question turned towards her, his eyes caressing her as she sniffed in disdain. "Perfect." Draco murmured, his eyes never leaving her form. Jean nodded happily and quickly taking stock of the expression of Draco's face, smirked delightedly and bowed his head in mock supplication. "I am very pleased that Monsieur likez it. I vill leave you and Mademoiselle " Draco said nothing as the pretentious man left. Stopping behind the styling chair, Draco leant forward and met Hermione's eyes in the ornate mirror. "Look, Hermione." "What? It's just me. Nothing to see. I've suffered enough, let's go." The blond chuckled, his eyes crinkled charmingly at the corners.

"Just look." He murmured again, his soft breath brushing her cheek as his gaze swept her warm, sweet flesh. Draco resisted the desperate urge to lean forward and nip that fragrant skinbut nonow wasn't the time. Hermione looked. "Brown hair, brown eyes, plain face, mediocre body. There. Are we done with the show?" Draco sighed wearily. "You are going to be a Malfoy" She huffed, ignoring him in favour of inspecting her nails. Draco bit his tongue in frustration, his eyes belying his displeasure. "Fine." He mocked. "But you knowthis picture you seem to have of yourselfdoes it remind you of anything?" "What are you talking about Malfoy? I really would rather go home than sit here." She murmured, bristling at his tone. The blond continued, his fingers whispering, warming her just beneath the collar of her shirt. "I mean, isn't this what Weasley was implying all along? That you were plain and that he would be the only man ever to want you?" Tears began welling up in her eyes as his words echoed in her ear. "I guess he was right then." She whispered furiously, hating herself as her voice broke. "I sure as hell can't compare to Triska Benedict!" Malfoy pulled away abruptly, his spine ramrod straight as he glared down at the girl, half curled in the chair. "The only difference between you and that society airhead is your way of thinking! Hermione Granger, you are thinking like a coward. Cowards tell themselves they are cowards, so they'll never try anything new, never stand up for what they believe in, let others influence their thinking and let the most precious years of their lives slip away." "I am not a coward! I fought in the warI" "Then stop this. Stop it right now! Look in that mirror and tell yourself that Ronald shit-head Weasley is going to regret what he did to you for the rest of his miserable insignificant life!" Draco paused, his eyes narrowing as his mouth curled into a sensuous smile. "Look. Look through your eyes not his." And she did. She opened her eyes and really looked.

No, she didn't see anything spectacular, no, she was no perfect beauty, but she did have something else. Something she had never noticed before, a little exotic, almost feral inimitable qualitysomething she could use very much to her advantage, if she could learn how to use it. And now she had the perfect teacher. Hermione's gaze slid to the man who was standing over her, his head half bent, concealing a predator's smile and a gaze full of shadows. He leant down, touched his lips to hers. "Revenge." He murmured against her soft lips. "Is all the sweeter." As her tongue whispered against his, her eyes met those indomitable silver orbs in the mirror. They mocked her, caressed her, worshipped her and devoured her all at once. Yes. Now she had the perfect teacher.

LUNCH AT THE ZOO

Ronald Weasley was having a very bad day. Wellhe was having a very bad panic attack actually. After the disgusting concoction Luna had smeared on his face had flaked off, he was still left with not only the damned stench but also an unsightly purple blotch upon his chin. But oh no, that really wasn't the half of it. Ron moaned into his hands as he peeked between his fingers. Yes. Damn it, that purple splotch had returned to its original size. Breathing deeply and praying he had imagined its odd enlargement when he had practiced his press release speech in the mirror, Ron straightened again and stared resolutely into the mirror. "Triska! Have you found out what it is yet?" He screamed, frantic to be rid of splotch before his press conference. "La malediction de mal foi..." Came Triska's advancing voice before she gracefully appeared at the bathroom doorway, perfectly dressed in a pink silk number edged with a few pieces of intricately woven lace. "Other wise known as 'the curse of bad intent'; invented in 1835 by Xion Malfoyahmal foihow ironic." Her crystal blue eyes scanned the text, murmuring indistinctly as she went. "Ahadministered by a potion applied to the faceblah blah blahit leaves a mark upon its victim which inhibits the ability to lie. Hmmhow interestingI wonder how it does that."

"I don't know!" Ron threw up his hands before clasping his face frantically. As he looked into the mirror, he eyed the purple mark suspiciously and groaned. For a moment it remained unchanged but then, like an overruling infection, it became a mottled uneven maroon before spreading rapidly across his face until it covered the entirety of his pale Weasley features. "Oh dear." Triska cleared her throat uncomfortably before a spark entered her eyes. "So you can't lienot at all?" Ron glared at her as he watched his mottled skin fade from the unsightly red to a paler, tender sort of pink. Triska smiled innocently. "Do you love me?" Ron huffed distractedly, his hands smoothing over his skin again and again. "Of course I do." The pink began to darken to a violent shade of red once more. Realising his mistake immediately, Ron turned to apologise, his eyes pleading, expecting the inevitable slap that would be aimed his way. Instead, her face was void of emotion, the book of curses still clasped lightly in her hands as she eyed the purplish hue of his usually freckled countenance. "It's alright Ron. I understand." "Youyou do?" Ron stuttered as he watched Triska turn calmly in her kitten heels and close the book firmly. "Ummthanks. I" "No need for that, Ronald." A weak smile curved her lips as she looked at him from over her shoulder. Shaking herself, Triska Benedict smiled benignly and raised a hand to stroke his face gently. "Come Ron, we must not be late for the press conference." "Wait!" Ron gestured frantically toward his face. "What about" Triska shrugged coquettishly, her mouth pressed into a firm mockery of a smile. "The curse has no reversal spell, but it will wear off in a few days." "A few days?" Ron squeaked. "What?"

A deep chuckle echoed through the grand sitting room within Malfoy manor two days later, followed by barely repressible chortles as the master of the house sat in an undignified heap upon the floor, his long legs folded beneath him on the ancient Persian rug situated artistically beneath the giggling portrait of his late mother as he leant against the tastefully upholstered chaise.

Hermione fought to maintain the chagrined expression upon her face but the surreptitious twitch of her lips began to give her away. So it was a little funnyall right, it was very funny. She could only wish that she had been there to witness the spectacle of Ronald Weasley at the Chudley Cannons press conference under the influence of the mal foi curse. However, reading the detailed account in the coloured edition of the Sunday daily prophet was nearly as good; especially when said paper was being held in the long elegant fingers of her new fianc. Mr. Ronald Weasley keeper for the cannons arrived at the conference suffering from a rather nasty rash covering the majority of his features Hermione laughed out loud as Narcissa's portrait joined her joyously. answered few questionsbut when questioned about his devotion to his new girlfriend, socialite Triska Benedictviolent change in colour this reporter has deduced that Mr. Weasley was suffering from the effects of the malediction de though denied by Mr. Weasley's publicist, this reporter dares to conclude that his former fiance (Ms. H. Granger) played a part this reporter thinks it certainly would serve him right as his previous relationship ended under such iniquitous circumstances Deep chuckles engulfed the silence of the room and Hermione shook her head at Draco's dramatic rendition of the news piece. Laughing silver eyes peered at her from above thin framed spectacles and Hermione met Draco Malfoy's gaze unflinchingly. The glasses didn't dim the force of his gaze but somehow they made her more comfortable with sitting eye to eye with her former nemesis. Adjusting her fine cashmere Givenchy shrug, Hermione tried to ignore how much her outfit had cost the Malfoy coffers; an outfit in which she now carelessly sat, on the floor no less and gave the blond a small smirk. "I can't believe Zabini pulled it off. I can't believe Luna let him" Draco chuckled warmly, his eyes glittering as he laid aside the paper and grasped her wrist in a warm fond caress. "You know what they say about Italian charm"Draco trailed off as his thumb moved in light circles on her skin, resting briefly upon her pulse. "Remind me to keep him away from you." This forced a startled laugh from Hermione as she gently retrieved her arm and tucked safely by her side. Sweeping back a stray curl nervously, she managed an artless smile.

"Don't tell me the great Draco Malfoy is threatened by his own best friend." Draco grasped his heart dramatically. "No never! Malfoys are never to be outdone by anybody in anythingrest assured, my dear." Hermione emitted a sceptical hmm but allowed the statement to go unchallenged. She didn't want to quarrel with him today. Not when she was feeling so lonely. It was the first Sunday in a very long time that she had not spent at the Weasley's tilting home, surrounded by the odd assortment of loving company. Despite Ronald's annoying presence, the event was always the highlight of the week. However, since she had become engaged to the demon spawn sitting across from her, she had thought itappropriateif she gave the rest of the world the impression that she was hopelessly devoted to Draco; even if he was the demon spawn and since she was rather unsure of his welcome at the burrow among his former enemies (and of his willingness to step into the Weasley home), Hermione had thought it wiser to spend the day in his home rather than attempt any other outings. She bit her lip and shifted awkwardly at the silence which had descended upon them. She had no idea what to say to him, in fact, she had no idea how to act with him. Should she break the silence? Talk about the weathercomment on insignificant mattersmake polite small talk? Even Narcissa Malfoy had excused herself from her portrait to visit with a rather dashing looking 17th century muggle duke in another painting in the front hall. Thankfully, Draco seemed to sense her increasing discomfort and shifted his body toward her, his head tilting to the side as he studied her lowered face. "You look tired, Granger. Not sleeping well?" He asked. Damn. The dark shadows under her eyes were a dead giveaway, but she had hoped he was enough of a gentleman to ignore her current appearance. A sudden blush stained her cheeks as she remembered the reason for the circles and attempted to laugh it off. "I haven't been sleeping well lately." He raised a curious eyebrow. "Oh?" Hermione nodded as she looked anywhere but where he sat. "Nightmares." She clarified. "I see." Draco murmured, his gaze drifting to the floor as they lapsed into silence again. Guiltily, Hermione acknowledged to herself that it wasn't quite the truth. They were dreams, not quite nightmares. But they did keep her tossing and turning at night, woke her repeatedly with lingering sensations of the dream still creeping along her sluggish nerves but no memories of the content except for that same visceral longing which never seemed to abate even during the day. Draco gave her a long, strange look from beneath dusky lashes.

"What sort of nightmares, Hermione?" His use of her Christian name suddenly seemed too intimate and his gaze made her squirm. She paid little heed to the question as she tried to shrug off the feeling. "I can't remember much." She cleared her throat, thankful that she could at least tell the truth on this matter. "It changes from dream to dream" "And theykeep you awake at night?" Draco questioned. Silky curls nodded up and down. "I've tried sleeping potions and the likebut the dreams keep coming, in fact I think they're getting worse." Hermione's voice trailed off as a frustrated line formed between her brows. As if puzzling out a deep and unfathomable mystery, she bit her lip, missing Draco's blazing look before he allowed his lashes to sweep down and cover his quicksilver irises. "How odd." He said agreeably, allowing his hair to fall across his face, shadowing his expression. Shaking her head lightly as if she could dislodge the night-time wanderings from her mind, Hermione donned a nonchalant smile. "I'm sure they're rather silly and pointless it's probably just the stress from the last few weeks; they'll go away soon enough." The blond nodded thoughtfully as he looked up and settled an inexplicable look upon her. "I'm sure they willwhen they reach their"Draco licked his lips. "culmination." His wording bothered Hermione a little but she shrugged it off as nothing, after all the last few weeks had hardly been normal. "Yes. It doesn't matter really; I don't even remember them." Hermione gave Draco a quick smile. "Pass the Prophet to me Malfoy; I want to see what else is in the news today." She really just wanted to peruse the article on Ron again but Draco didn't need to know that. She only wanted to relive the flash of satisfaction as she read his answer to one of the reporter's questions. "How do you feel about Miss Granger's engagement to Mr. Malfoy?" Ron had snapped a terse No comment and promptly turned away to plant a firm kiss on Triska Benedict. It was this moment that had been captured in the moving photograph upon the sports section of the Sunday Prophet. Hermione could tell Ron was angry, even from the photo. His body language said it all. And while his team-mates around him jeered and clapped and the sceneTriska seemed to see what Hermione saw because the woman was torn between complacent resignation and furious retaliation.

It didn't matter that she couldn't remember, Draco told himself as he watched her swan-like neck bend over the article on the Weasel. Because he did. After all, he had been the one sending her those dreams for the past few weeks. She might not remember them now, but she would soon. She would recall the night on the cliffs in the howling wind with her phantom loverthe shattering afternoon among the rolling hills of the Scottish highlandsthe rathereducationalsojourn on professor Snape's desk at Hogwarts Draco suppressed the dark chuckle that rose within his throat and resisted the urge to caress the sliver of skin at the nape of her neck. or perhaps she'd remember the dream he'd sent her last nightthe one inspired by a bout of reckless galloping across his lands on the back of his prized Arabian. Would she remember her breathless gasps and keening wails; the intriguing sensation of rippling, sinewy muscle between her naked thighs as the horse shifted mid-stride; the way, she tangled her fingers in the horses flying mane as her eyes slid shut from the sensation? And whenhis haunting midnight laughter had opened her eyes, would she remember the way her head had dropped, her eyes wide and hazy as she watched the powerful sinewy form beneath her morph from fine equine flesh to flawless male musclethe way, the rough mane tangled between her fingers became smooth white-blond hairor the way the smooth flowing strides had turned into wild jerking thrusts as she instinctively drove her hips to meet him in a frenzy of heat and impulse? If her own loud moans had not woken her from her dreamDraco might just have been feeling merciful enough to allow her some form of release. She gave a small satisfied mmm and Draco shifted his attention to her once more. "What is it, love?" His voice must have come out a little huskier than he intended because Hermione gave him a mystified look before returning to the article in her hands. "The goblin council has agreed to meet with the Wizengamot on the matter of exhibiting some goblin artefacts of waroh lookthey think Godric Gryffindors sword may be includedHarry would be happy to see that." Draco went back to studying her fine skin distractedly. "Yes." He said distractedly. "Wonderful."

Snatching the paper from her hands, he banished it to a dark corner for the house elves to pick up and promptly pulled her to her feet. "Perhaps it is time for lunch." Hermione checked the delicate little watch on her wrist as she frowned. "Lunch." She echoed in an empty tone. "Don't you want lunch? You should eat; you're too small as it is." A faint whisper of disconcertion slipped into Draco's confidence. "Yes. Of course I want lunch. What a splendid idea." Her footsteps echoed emptily as she stepped into the cavernous dining room of Malfoy manor and Draco saw how her shoulders seemed to slump at the elegant but empty room. Frowning deeply, Draco graciously pulled out a chair and Hermione gave him a strained smile as she lowered herself lightly into it. Her head swung from side to side, studying the large well-lit room as he took his seat next to her at the head of the table. Her eyes dropped to the place settings and roamed the fine china and carefully polished silver with a disinterested gaze before she unrolled her napkin and placed it on her lap. The human waiter Draco had specifically hired to appease Hermione's passionate stance against houseelf slavery stepped forward and filled her glass with a fine sparkling wine and Hermione gave him a friendly smile before her eyes wandered to the shadows as if she thought there might be more hidden servants. "It's so quiet." She said. Draco nodded and took a swallow from his own glass, gesturing for the servants to bring the light salad which would be served first. "Indeed" He began. It hit him like a lightening bolt. It was Sunday. Hermione was undoubtedly meant to be at the Weasleysat the burrow. Surrounded by a raucous brood of Weasels instead of being herein the cold, lonely silence of Malfoy manorwith someone she probably didn't even like. Draco sighed and waved away the servants who were bringing forth the light, fresh smelling second course. Standing from his seat and dumping his napkin on his empty plate, Draco held out his hand to her and gestured for her to stand quickly.

Confused as she was, Hermione quickly abandoned the cherry tomato skewered on her salad fork and grabbed onto his warm hand. "What" She began. "Comelet us go see how the other half livesI've always held a morbid fascination of what lunch at the zoo would look like." Hermione gave him an incredulous look. "Zoo? Have you totally" A light came into her eyes. "Are you sure you're willing to brave a Sunday luncheon with the Weasleys?" Draco growled moodily and wrapped a possessive arm around her waist, pretending not to notice when she stiffened and fought not to pull away. "If I'm lucky, perhaps the shock of my appearance will kill WeaselbeeIf not, then I shall just have to settle for showing you off." Draco pulled her closer to him until they were hip to hip. "Have I mentioned how those clothes become you?" Hermione smirked. "My God, a complement from you Malfoy, I thought I'd never see the day."

A needle could have dropped in that moment and Draco was sure he would be able to hear the effect from a mile away. It was just that quiet. Even the birds, it seemed, had stopped their cheerful song. Potter's mouth was set in a grim line, his knuckles white as he gripped his fork tightly. Even Pansy seemed rather shocked as her eyes had popped open rather unattractively; making her resemble the pug they had all teased her of being in school. Mustering every ounce of self-control, he sent a cool nod toward the rest of the room, pointedly ignored the Weasel and quickly strode forward, producing a bottle of elf wine from his cloak and presented it to a rather flustered looking Molly Weasley just as a chunk of half chewed food fell from Ronald's gaping mouth. "Mrs. Weasley, I hope you will excuse my rude intrusion but I'm afraid I am but a mere servant to my lovely fiance's whim and she wished to be here, thus, who am I to deny her?" Molly gaped for a little while longer before she accepted the wine and murmured a weak 'thank you'. Her eye snapped up and glided over his shoulder to glance at the blushing girl formerly hidden behind his 6 foot 2 frame. "Fiance?" Molly Weasley squeaked as Arthur stood cautiously, his eyes flicking frantically from Draco to Hermione at an alarming rate; Draco was almost afraid that the poor man was on the verge of an apoplexy.

A small cough came from behind him and Draco released Molly from his silver gaze and turned towards it. "II haven't told many people about our engagement DracoIuhI haven't had the chance." "Oh?" Draco murmured, raising a curious eyebrow. A spark of mischief flashed through his eyes and he lowered his lids to hide the expression. An arm wound around her waist and pulled her tightly to his side. "What a perfect opportunity to announce it to your friendswhy don't you do the honours my love?" The blond haired devil planted a lingering kiss at the hollow of her throat and carefully suppressed the urge to smirk at the Weasel, to allow the triumphant smile to steal across his featureshe was a Malfoy after allgenerations of perfect breeding had ensured that he had the perfect features for gloating. Hermione, though none too pleased with being forced into the situation, took a mental step away from her outraged pride and savoured the spiteful look on Ron's face. "Ummyes" She shrugged sheepishly, attempting to dislodge Draco's arm from her but succeeded only in causing his grip to tighten and wind more firmly around her waist, until his long fingers lay splayed against her abdomen. "Malerr" Hermione stopped herself and carefully contemplated her next words. This had to be believable; why had she entered into this agreement if she wasn't going to do it properly? "Draco and I are engaged; we're getting married in 3 months." She forced herself to lay a hand against his and tried to turn her body to his but found she couldn't quite stomach that much false affection. Instead, she settled for a bright and patently false smile. Luna jumped up instantly, sending Hermione a conspiratorial wink, tugging a dumbstruck Charlie with her. Draco allowed her to pull away as the wide eyed blonde launched herself into Hermione's arms. "Oh! Oh, I am so happy! It's wonderful; better than the time daddy discovered the" Hermione tuned her out and smiled balefully at Charlie who was gaping open mouthed and staring at her as if she had sprouted a third eye. Luna was still babbling happily before he seemed to come to his senses and pulled his wife away so that he could place a chaste congratulatory kiss on Hermione's cheek. "Congratulations Hermione." He paused and glanced quickly at Ron, a flash of amusement entering his eyes. "You deserve to be happy." "Thank you Charlie." Hermione said brightly and turned to accept Pansy's somewhat awkward pregnant embrace. "Mrs. Hermione Malfoyoh Merlin, I think it suits you!" A stream of joyous giggles emerged from Victoire and Fleur soon joined her daughter, followed by Penelope's more subdued chuckle and Angelina's passionate bubbling laughter. And just like that, the atmosphere lightened. The wives of the Weasley brood quickly moved forward and engulfed Hermione warmly, ushering her off to the side as the men approached Draco like he were a tensed predator waiting to strike.

But Draco simply smirked at Ron and gracefully accepted the congratulatory slaps on his back. "Hermione dearare you sure you want to" Molly began. "Oh Molly." Hermione clutched the older woman's hand affectionately. "I'm absolutely positive." The Weasley matriarch smiled tightly, tears glistening in her eyes as she reluctantly backed away. "HERMIONE!" Came the loud bellow. "I forbid you to marry the ferret!" Ron's face was lit with an ugly anger and Hermione met his gaze unflinchingly. "Better a ferret than a Weasel any day."

UNCERTAINTY

"Why? Why is she doing this to me? I" Ginny Weasley stared at her hapless brother with a small pucker of a frown fixed upon her face. Her eyes glinted in the bright morning sunlight as they flickered towards the half open doorway of her apartment. She was expecting Dolohov any minute now and a man with that sort of temper did not appreciate being interrupted and waylaid by his woman's brother. She needed to get Ron out of the apartment fastshe still needed a few minutes to strip down and prime herself. Dimitri didn't like it when she wasn't wet and ready between her thighs. But she could hardly be blamed if the man was as attractive as a scarecrow with a nicotine habit. "Ronald. Merlin, why are you here?" She held up her hand to halt his protests. "I mean, apart from complaining about the bushy haired beaver." Ron seemed to collect himself, blinking away the angry glisten in his eyes before he lowered the little glass ornament he had intended to break in his fit of fury. Dropping it onto the modern kitchen bench top, he smoothed his fingers over the cool surface as his head dropped forward, his red hair sticking out from every angle. "I want her back!" The jealousy and envy roiled through him like an unstoppable wave. "I want Draco fucking Malfoy to get his filthy paws off Hermione. She deserves better!" His eyes began to glisten with frustration. "She deserves me!" Ron finished with a panting gasp, his face flushed to an unbecoming shade of red and his fingers tightened around the small glass ornament once more. Lifting it, he pitched it to the floor. It didn't break however; its fall cushioned by the thick fluffy carpet Ginny tended to favour. She rolled her eyes and picked up the crystal swan, planting it safely away from her brother's grasp on the living room coffee table.

"Then maybe you shouldn't have cheated on hernot that I blame you reallybut women tend to dislike it when they come home and find their boyfriends screwing some blonde bimbo in her own bed." Ginny planted her hands on her curvaceous hips and shook her artistically set curls from her eyes. "NowI've done my part stating the obvious. Will you please get out? Dimitri won't like" "I don't care what your snake of a boyfriend likes! Merlin, I don't even want to know. I justI wanted to know" Ron hesitated. "Well, you're a girl right?" An affronted squeak burst from her before she could stop herself and Ginny clenched her long manicured nails into her palms, digging harshly into her flesh. No point in yelling at the idiot, it would only cause another useless screaming match. "Yes, Ronald." Ginny assured sardonically. "I am a girl." Ron frowned. "Then how do you girls think? How do I get Hermione back?" An inelegant snort greeted his question. "You could start with not sleeping around so often. Or at least, be a little more discreet about it." "I can't do that!" Ron whined. "I have an image to maintain." Ginny picked at her nails with a cool nonchalance. "Yes well, Hermione" "She doesn't understand! I don't love any of those girls; I love herand besides, they're just practice, you know; for her, to make sex even better." Ron argued, his head nodding along in agreement with his own statement, his face still the perfect picture of confusion. "Of course. Are you done rambling Ron? I have a date with Dimitri." "Bondage and contraceptive spells do not count as a date." Ron spat angrily, his eyes fixing on the shadows of fading bruises on Ginny's wrist; she only shrugged. "It's the price I pay." She murmured, tipping her chin to allow the overhead light to catch the extravagantly set jewels on the earrings she wore. "What's a little pain when I could have these darlings?" Ginny fingered the cool gems. "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." Ron sneered. "Why don't you just marry the sodding bastard then?" "I don't need you to tell me that you idiot!" Ginny hissed. "I'm working on itbut Dolohov is damn careful with those birth control spells." While Ginny bared her teeth angrily, rubbing her sore wrists and contemplating her own problems, a hostile silence fell. Ron dropped himself onto a breakfast stool, his hands raking through his hair. "Mum and dad won't hear a word of it." He muttered. "Neither will Bill, Charlie or George. Percy especially has turned up his nose at it."

"At what?" She asked, still rubbing her wrists absently. "At me and Hermione getting married." Ginny snorted. "Forget it. You have Triska now; mum would kill you if you pulled the stunt you pulled with Hermione again." She turned towards him, an eyebrow raised though her expression was set into a careful indifference. "What does Harry think about it?" Ron's face pulled back in an angry sneer. "Parkinson's got him wrapped around her little finger and she's obviously going to support her former fuck buddy." Ginny didn't bother to correct her brother about the supposed rumours of Malfoy and Parkinson when they had been at Hogwarts; instead, she grimaced angrily and leaned towards him, her elbows against the cool bench top. "The bushy haired beaver doesn't deserve Malfoy." She hissed, eyes sparkling furiously. Ron flushed angrily. "He doesn't deserve her!" A disbelieving snort answered him. "Are we talking about the same man here, Ronald?" Ginny Weasley sniffed in disdain. "Draco Malfoy owns half of Europe and America and it doesn't hurt that he's very easy on the eyes. I'd give an arm to have him." "You already have Dolohov. Even you can't juggle both of them at the same time." Ron's eyes stared unseeingly at his pale knuckles. Ginny clenched her teeth. "If I had Malfoy, I would drop Dimitri in a trice. Godwho wouldn't " "That's it!" He exclaimed, surging forward in his seat and reaching across the bench top to grab her arms. Ron's gaze was feverish in their triumph as his lips worked soundlessly. "You want Malfoy, I want Hermione." "What's your point, Ron?" Her brother released an impatient sigh. "Think about it Ginny. If you can lure Malfoy away, he'll dump Hermione for you, then broken-hearted, Hermione would realise that she made a mistake and" Ginny held up her hand and stopped her brother mid-rant. "That's not going to work. He chose her for one reason or another. For whatever reason it is, I'm pretty sure Draco Malfoy isn't going to give up what he wants without a fight." Ron just shrugged, his eyes feverish with excitement. He grasped her arms tighter and shook her until her head settled unsteadily on her shoulders. "Easy. We'll get Hermione to dump him!"

"How would we " She began as she wrenched herself from his bruising grip, smoothing her curls as she stepped away. Brushing a hand down her outfit, she watched as Ron interrupted her, his gaze fixed on a reality beyond the present. "Look how Hermione reacted when she caught me with that girl. If she sees Malfoy" He drifted off meaningfully, raising his eyebrows as he spread his hands in a gesture of faked nonchalance. "She'll think Draco cheated on her and dump his like she dumped you." Ginny finished off; her head snapped towards him, a strange spark suddenly alight within her. "Especially, if she sees it's me."

Lavender circled the overstuffed armchair, her eyes fixed on the blond standing at the window, staring out onto a little quiet village township, seemingly untouched by the polished shine of modern England. No sign of urbanisation showed except for a few criss-crossing power lines which supplied the muggle households with electricity. Bolton seemed to not to have changed a whit since the second world war, still retaining much of the old world charm from a bygone era. "I don't know how you stand it here, Brown. From what I remember of our Hogwarts days, you were always happiest surrounded by chaos." Draco tapped the cold glass pane with a finger, pointing out to the small village square where the neat green lawn was shadowed only by a stone monument to the fallen. "This seems an unlikely place for you to settle down; unless this quaint little hamlet comes alive at night." Lavender Brown smiled serenely, no semblance of the giddy young girl she had been in school. "I find it much more beneficial for my sensitivedisposition." He turned away from the window at last, smirking. "Is that your way of telling me you've lost your mind?" "NO!" Lavender took a deep breath, ignoring the angry flush on her cheeks. "No. Since I have come into my full powers, I find being around too many people gives me headaches. I'm too sensitive to their fates and futures. It's a terrible thing." Draco snorted but refrained from voicing his thoughts. Instead, he calmly walked away from the window and claimed a seat by a sleeping tabby. He absently stroked its warm fur as the feline opened an eye lazily, appraising him silently before returning to its doze. "What are you here for, Malfoy? You usually send Blaise to pry prophecies from Parvati and me." A pause followed the enquiry as Draco carefully contemplated the question; his fingers paused over the tabby as his mind turned the thought over and over in his head. When he finally looked up, Lavender was leaning forward curiously, her hands braced on the back of the armchair, knuckles white with tension.

"Will she marry me?" Draco said quietly, his question directed more at the carpet than at Lavender herself. She laughed merrily. Oh how the mighty have fallen. There was Draco freaking Malfoy, uncertain of his own prowess and fate; so unlike the cold Slytherin nature she was accustomed to. "That all depends, doesn't it?" "On what?" Quicksilver eyes flashed as his head snapped up at last. "On whether you are being honest with her. Lies have a tendency to build up, one on top of the other. It all comes back to haunt you in the end." Lavender shot him a mysterious look, a hidden sort of knowledge lighting her eyes from within. Draco stood abruptly, neatly dislodging the tabby who had laid its head in his lap, rubbing its face on his dark slacks, leaving behind a mesh of fine orange fur. Nonchalantly, his long fingers began brushing it away, succeeding only in spreading rather than disposing of the fur. "I haven't lied to her about anything." "The Sicilian seer." Lavender prompted. "That is an omission not a lie. Besides, I don't see how it's of any relation." He snapped. The witch flipped her hair over her shoulder as she toyed with another tendril. She thought of her words carefully before she spoke, knowing they might anger him. "Some would feel that an omission is as bad as a lie." Silence reigned once more. It settled on them like a thick stifling coat and Draco shook his head, giving himself a somewhat dishevelled look. "There is no point in her knowing." Lavender gave him a cynical look. "The damned witch cursed me! Those damnable dreams " Draco fumed, his eyes flashing dangerously as his fists clenched and unclenched. "Created by your own mind!" Lavender retorted instantly as she stepped forward and held his gaze squarely and unflinchingly. "How could she possibly have known what was in your mind?" She shook her hair out of her eyes impatiently as she scoffed. "She cursed me." Draco forced out from between clenched teeth. Lavender gave him an exasperated look.

"You're missing the point Malfoy. All that hag cursed you with was a temporary lust spell of sorts it made you yearn for something you wanted desperately and simply couldn't have in this case, Hermione." Draco shook his vehemently, his lips pressed into a fine line. "She sent those dreams; she made me obsessed with Granger. She" He breathed deeply, his chest heaving with his effort to contain his temper. "She made me love Hermione. I've had countless men scour the country for the witch, but she can't be found. She obviously knows the severity of the situation and is " "For the last time Malfoy; love cannot " The seer threw up her hands and screamed. Draco Malfoy swung around on the balls of his feet. He paced as the panic rose in his throat and that all too familiar feeling of emptiness and loss descended and crushed him beneath its weight. His shoulders sagged as his feet wore a path in the hearth rug. The power of the spell flared and mounted in his body, feeding the panic and the fear that he would lose Hermione before he could even possess her. She would hate him if she ever found out. If she discovered that he had sent her those dreams in an act of petty retaliation for what he suffered for countless agonising months in Italyto make her suffer what he sufferedto know that unquenchable desire which refused to be sated by any replacement She would hate him for wanting her only because some witch cursed him to want her. To know that his obsession was potent enough for Draco to consider the Almas Unidas curse. Literally translated it meant united souls, more practically speaking; it was a union of life forces. Created during the 15th century in Spain by the pureblood magical elite who wanted to ensure that husbands and wives, once trapped in their arranged marriages, could not quite literally live without each other; the curse ensured not only monogamy in a relationship which a binding magical wedding could have provided but also an unequivocal physical and emotional attachment to each other. Although the human soul remained untouchable regardless of the interference of old magic, sometimes the mind and body could be manipulated for certain purposes. The enchantment would create a sort of artificial love between a couple, all Draco needed from Hermione was a mere spark of affection, a flicker of fondness; and he could conduct the ceremony without Hermione being the wiser. Most importantly; once finalised, the magic was irreversible, not only in this lifetime, but every lifetime after. The strength and gravity of the binding was so imperative that even the most devoted of lovers never considered the practice. After decades of ill-effects, even the elitist wizarding Spaniards had given up the practice. The image of her walking resignedly back into Weasley's arms made his eyes prick painfully. If there had ever been any doubt over his decision to resort to such desperate measures, Draco could not recall it. Thus, this torrent of fear lasted only a second before he reached within himself and grasped the slipping threads of his concrete stoicism. A deep breath shuddered from his chest as he straightened and

allowed the cool Malfoy mask to fall over his features. No. He wasn't going to succumb to such pitiable emotions. Dejection and failure were for commoners. "Don't say it." He said to her, a cruel smile curling on his lips. "This conversation need never come up again. Hermione will be happier without the knowledge." Lavender opened her mouth to argue but he stopped her instantly. "That wasn't a request, Brown. If I hear so much as a hint of this in the gossip papers, I'll know who's responsible." Draco's eyes were hard and unforgiving; the colour a steely grey. "I will come straight here and I will make you pay. Is that understood?" Tension stretched through the room as Lavender's eyes widened. "You're unbelievable Malfoy." She muttered. Draco drew his wand from his coat pocket and trained it on her in a blink of an eye, the blunt point of the hawthorn pressing into the underside of her chin. "On the contrary Brown, I can be quite believable." Malfoy shook his head condescendingly, allowing tendrils of platinum blond hair to fall into his eyes. "If you think that I am full of empty threats, I dare you to try me, my dear." "You're over-reacting Malfoy." "On the contrary," His voice was light and deceptively congenial, as if he were discussing the weather rather than pointing a weapon at her throat. "I think that it is quite within my rights to protect my fiance from any undesirable gossip. Relay my message to Patil too will you?" A moment later, he opened the front door of her cottage steadily and stepped onto the doorstep, calm as you please. Draco executed a shallow but courtly bow, bidding her farewell as if the visit had been a pleasant afternoon tea. As the door closed silently behind him and his footsteps crunched against the loose pathway gravel, Draco grimly raked the wayward strands of his hair back into place and as soon as he reached a secluded grove, apparated away with a crack. When he appeared an instant later in the grand receiving room of Malfoy manor, he summoned a fleet of house-elves and quickly outlined his intentions. The little creatures scurried away to do his bidding but not before one took his cloak and while bowing profusely, inquired as to whether the master would require anything. Draco dismissed him with a quick shake of the head and headed into the grand sitting room to greet his mother's portrait. "What's this I hear of you redecorating the master suite?" Narcissa exclaimed from her high-up vantage point above the fireplace. "You only had it redone a few months ago. Even with the impetuousness of youth, you could not possibly have tired of rooms you don't even use." Draco smiled fondly at the fair beauty of his mother, captured on magical canvas on her 30th birthday.

"I'm not redecorating exactly. I only wanted to add a few things for when Hermione becomes my wife. I thought it appropriate to hold off moving into the master suite until it was all official and permanent." Narcissa nodded understandingly. The grand opulence of the master suite was not for a single man. Draco hardly needed two separate bedrooms and ensuites. The two individual wardrobes itself held enough space to sleep a full grown dragon. "What sort of things have you decided to add, Draco?" She enquired, her head tipped to the side curiously. His answer was noncommittal. "This and that; just a few minor details to make it feel moreintimate." This seemed to satisfy Narcissa and Draco excused himself before bounding up several flights of stairs to reach a double paned doorway which was open to allow a stream of house-elves to rush in and out of the room. When he entered through the gilded doors, his eyes alighted upon the untouched sitting room which had two large double-paned doors on his left and right which led to the mistress and master's bedrooms. The deep masculine colours of the master's bedroom showed through the open doors. The elves had vanished the large four poster bed and were removing several of the paintings from the walls, laying them close to Draco in the sitting room. With a loud rip, the carpet was being lifted from the tarnished floorboards beneath and the house-elves carefully rolled it up and vanished it from the room, presumably to where the bed was. Next came the delicate French wallpaper which peeled reluctantly away and it too was banished to where-ever the elves deemed appropriate. When the task was finished, the army of magical creatures drained from the room, bowing copiously and enthusiastically until the final one shut the door behind its exit. Draco smirked a little as he entered the bare room and stopped in the centre of the unpolished floor. Spinning contemplatively, he surveyed his grand surroundings. Even when it was stripped of all its furnishings, the room was still permeated with elegance. Hermione would enjoy sleeping in this room once all the drama was over and done with. His parents had kept separate rooms but he certainly would not.

Hermione was in her office reviewing her meticulously compiled notes to present to the Wizengamot on Friday. For one reason or another, her co-workers had all developed a rather annoying habit of dropping by unexpectedly to greet her at every hour of the day. Even when she worked late, there would still be someone else who seemed to have coincidentally done so too. Her female colleagues especially seemed to have developed an odd interest in lurking about her office door. Even though it was nine at night, Hermione heard the sound of footsteps echoing as someone moved towards her office. There was a slight pause as the person stopped and knocked on her door. She sighed impatiently and laid down her notes. "Come in!"

The door creaked open as Hermione frowned. She really ought to have the night janitor oil the damn thing. The excessive wear of the hinges in the last few weeks was really making a mess of the metal work. "Hermione." She looked up quickly, her eyes instantly alighting on a shock of red hair, freckles and a tall lanky form. "Ronald." She said formally, remaining seated as she gestured for him to take the seat across her desk. He plopped into the chair with little grace and ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair. "I'm sorry." He muttered into his chest, his eyes fixed on the mess of papers on her desk. "I don't think before I speak. I'm just really, really sorry." Startled but somewhat unmoved by his apology, Hermione glanced up from her notes and stared at him intently. There were dark circles under his eyes, heavy bags which made him look older and as if he hadn't slept in a few days. "For what exactly?" She ventured hesitantly. Ron met her eyes and Hermione allowed his cornflower blue gaze to hold hers. "For everything." He laughed without humour, raking his fingers through his hair again. "I'm such an idiot." Hermione nodded smartly. "Yes you are, now, if you're done stating the obvious, I have work to do." He began to argue but she interrupted him quickly. "It's not as easy as that, Ron. An apology won't just fix things. It's not like snapping your fingers." "Hermione" Ron began again. "No. Please. Not now, Ron. I'm tired and I have to review my notes for tomorrow." She still held his gaze intently, a flare of resentment overpowering her pity. There was a brief pause and the silence stretched uncomfortably. Hermione's eyes fell to her notes once more but she could only read the same sentence again and again, the words draining from her conscience only to be replaced moments later when she read the very words again. "He's up to something, you know." Ron muttered. "I'm speaking to you not as your ex-boyfriend but as your best friend." Hermione sighed impatiently. "Up to something. What would that be?" Ron's head shook quickly from side to side. "I don't know. Justjust be careful ok, Mione? That's all I ask."

She nodded curtly and watched as he stood to leave. Ronald Weasley walked across the room slowly and hesitated by the door. With his hand on the handle of the door, he turned his head to speak. "If you ever need anything, Mione, I'll be here." Hermione didn't bother to acknowledge his departure and instead forced herself to look down onto her notes. But the words swam before her eyes as they flooded with tears. She didn't know where the grief rose from and she didn't bother to analyse it, instead, she lowered her dishevelled chignon to her arms and let a few piteous tears slide down her cheeks. As she allowed herself these few tears, Hermione missed the unmistakable click of shoes in the corridor outside before a crisp knock announced the presence of another visitor. Thinking that Ron had returned, Hermione swiped away the wetness on her cheeks and called him in. "You didn't forget anything Ron. Now is not the time" She trailed off as she saw the man who came through her door. "Oh!" She exclaimed bemusedly. Dimitri Dolohov offered her a cold smile and declined the seat Hermione offered him when she recovered from her shock. A chill crept up her spine as his eyes met hers and Hermione cleared her throat. "Lord Dolohov. What brings you here tonight?" The angular features tightened a little, the skin stretched harshly across his face as he frowned. "You do Miss Granger." He attempted a smile. It looked more like a grimace to Hermione. "Tell me, have you had dinner yet? Perhaps we could talk over a more comfortable setting." Shocked though she was, Hermione maintained her composure and shrugged off the sensation of foreboding as he watched her. "I'm afraid I have a previous engagement, Lord Dolohov." "This late?" He asked, his tone betraying nothing. Hermione clenched her teeth and smiled stiffly. "Yes. In fact, I was just leaving." Dolohov nodded, accepting her weak excuse. "Then, perhaps, you'll spare me just a few minutes. I want to speak to you on a matter of some importance." "Oh? What would that be?" He offered her a somewhat genial smile though its effect was ruined by the appearance of his disturbingly sharp teeth. "As you know, we have a mutual acquaintance, my girlfriend, Ginervra." His fingers traced along the spine of a book as he leant against the inbuilt bookcase. His eyes were not fixed on her; rather they were surveying his surroundings with disinterest. "Weasley?" Hermione asked, shocked.

"Yes." He replied with ingratiating humour. "Do you know any other?" He allowed the fact to sink in for a moment and moved forwards, leaning his hip against her desk. "She isup to something." Hermione released a burst of air, chuckling brokenly. "Yes. Everybody seems to be up to something these days. Perhaps you could provide me with a little more detail as to what this 'something' is." Dolohov sighed deeply, his shoulders sagging slightly as if he was shielding himself from an expected blow. "I overheard a conversationa rather disturbing one which concerns both you and me." He hesitated; Hermione was unsure why. "I was early to pick Ginervra up for a date and I, quite unintentionally, overheard Ronald Weasley and my girlfriend discussing you and your fianc." Hermione's attention was caught and she straightened in her seat. "What about us?" "Ginervra and Mr. Weasley seem to be planning on sabotaging your relationship and as much as if pains me to say it, Ginervra, it seems, is keen to snare Lord Malfoy as her prize. I believe that she would like to usurp your position as the future lady Malfoy." Hermione blinked rapidly, unsure whether she should believe a shady character like Dolohov, on the other hand, what could he have to gain by telling her this? She was already on bad terms with Ginny, so there was no friendship to sabotage there and by telling her, a virtual stranger, about how his girlfriend intended on being unfaithful wasn't a lie a man usually told. "How?" She asked cautiously. Dolohov took this to be a positive sign. He straightened and smiled tightly. "By playing on your insecurities. Men can be physically brutal; women on the other hand, go straight for the heart." He tugged off his cloak and draped it carelessly over the chair Ron had vacated a few minutes before. "You and Mr. Weasley ended you long-term relationship due to his infidelities, yes?" She stiffened defensively but nodded in agreement. "WellI believe it is Ginervra's intention to seduce Lord Malfoy and failing that, she will likely accost him when you are most likely to find them togetherintimately." Hermione sucked in a breath. That had hit the mark. She was still undeniably sore over Ron's faithless behaviour and was understandably wary about other menbut noher engagement to Draco was just a way to get back at Ron, why should she care what he did? She was breaking off the engagement at the end of the three month period anyway! Even now, she had been scouring file after file of potential candidates once it became official that her engagement with Malfoy was broken. However, just the thought that Ginny would have the gloating satisfaction of luring away her fianc made her sting with injustice.

She kept the anger from her voice as she asked: "Why are you telling me this?" "I believe you and I are both victims in this, you have the right to know." He replied instantly. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, watching as she thought things through. She bit her lip, her eyes still resting on his angular form. "Well" She began hesitantly. "Thank youfor the warning. I shall keep it in mind." Dolohov was eyeing her bookcase again. "I understand that you're pushing for the release of house-elves from domestic enslavement." Hermione blinked at the sudden change of topic. Was this why he was helping her? Did he want to interfere and perhaps put a stop to her machinations which would detrimentally influence his pureblood elf-run household? "Yes. I am." She said defiantly. "I won't" "You misunderstand my intentions Miss Granger." He interrupted her, offering another tight smile. "I wish to support your petition." She stiffened in suspicion and alarm. "You do?" "Yes. Indeed. You may count on my unflinching support. I am very well acquainted with Amos Diggory." Hermione stiffened at the name. Amos Diggory was the father of Cedric who had tragically lost his life during the tri-wizard tournament, a terrible incident which Amos had always blamed on Harry and thus in turn, his scorn had extended to Hermione. He sat on the Wizengamot council and would always go out of his way to shoot down all her ideas. "I would be happy to put in a good word for your proposal." He said, reading the look on her face with practiced skill. "Why?" She asked, more out of curiosity than wariness as the possibilities swam through her head. She had been contemplating asking Malfoy to do just this but had held back the request knowing that he might not agree with her stance or her impassioned support for S.P.E.W. Dolohov spread his hands in a gesture of peace. "I believe it is time for a change, just as you do Miss Granger. I came into the family title late in life, after the war, as you know; I was not raised with the same strictures as those who were of the immediate Dolohov line." She nodded. "Then I would be happy to accept your assistance." "Good. Now, shall we discuss this over dinner?"

LESSON LEARNT

A feeling almost akin to guilt clawed at Hermione's raw throat as she nursed a sore head and a somewhat unsettled stomach. Clutching a wrinkled copy of the Prophet in one hand and armed with several gossip rags in the other, she walked resolutely up the broad, winding drive of Malfoy's Wiltshire manor. Behind her, the heavy wrought iron gates clanged almost silently shut, giving her a sensation of safety as well as isolation. As the paved cobblestones clicked beneath her modest heels, Hermione juggled the items in her hands and shoved them precariously under one arm in order to brush her cool fingers through her curls. The breath whispered from between her lips, hissing occasionally through her clenched teeth as a wave of anxiety engulfed her. Useless though it was, Hermione reassured herself repeatedly. How angry could he possibly be? It was a simple dinner between diplomatic colleagues with a similar agendaHe couldn't possibly misinterpret it! Sure, the media had made something of a purely professional occasion but Draco would be smarterwiserand Typically male And obviously very prone to jealous rages. Hermione found that out minutes later as she stood in an opulently appointed parlour while Malfoy rested his forehead against the cool pane of the glass window, staring fixatedly out at the rolling greens of his estate. The heat and fight seemed to have drained from him and what was left was simply a shimmering ball of cold rage, silent in its nature and all the more disconcerting than his vocal rage before. "Diplomatic colleagues." He repeated; a statement rather than a question. "Yes. MalfoyDraco, the media twists these things, they're looking for a story, nothing more." "Diplomatic colleagues." He repeated again in that dead voice. Draco remained motionless as she remained silent. After several moments, he straightened and turned to face her at last; smoothing his robes, he met her eyes steadily and smiled. It didn't reach his eyes as he walked forward and pulled her into his arms. His arms were as cold as his eyes, making Hermione shiver as his embrace tightened almost crushingly around her smaller body. "Yes. Of course." Draco muttered into her hair. "Forgive me, my love." Hermione squirmed at the use of the affectionate statement but forced herself to stand still as his grip tightened. "I can be so irrational sometimes, can't I?" Draco repeated quietly as his hand traced the length of her form, coming to rest at the curve of her breast. He lifted his body away from hers slightly and allowed

the hand to wander further until he cupped her fully, unrepentantly kneading and pinching until he heard her small gasps. It was then that he pulled away, a small benign smile hovering about his lips. His eyes were ice cold. Hermione drew in a deep calming breath and forced her body to cease its traitorous sway towards his. She lifted her head proudly despite the flush which stained her creamy cheeks and met his eyes unflinchingly. "For what it's worth, I am sorry." Hermione repeated her earlier words, the only ones she had managed before that intense anger had exploded from his form and china and glass had begun shattering around them, showering Hermione with what had been undoubtedly expensive, historical pieces. Draco retained the small smile. He was a brilliant actor, Hermione mused as they stared at each other. If she hadn't known him during her Hogwarts years then she would have missed the only sign of tension which he currently showed. During his duels with Ron, in those final moments before he fled, Hermione had always watched carefully for that telling twitch of his right hand before the left would reach for his wand. The why of it, Hermione never understood, but it was happening now. Although he was loose limbed and almost casual in his body language, Hermione could see that inevitable twitch in his right hand. He wasn't going to reach for his wand, Hermione knew, it was simply a sign of anger. As if he could sense her attention, Draco's right hand loosened and slipped into his pocket, concealing from her any sign of his emotion. Ahnow he seemed the perfect picture of generous forgiveness. "No need to apologise." He replied at last. "I'm afraid I lost my temper unduly and I beg your forgiveness for any offence given." Hermione nodded stiffly. She hated it when he reverted to that formal language, it made her itch and she longed to fidget beneath his unwavering gaze. "In fact, perhaps for the purpose of repairing and cementing the solidarity of our charade, we should be seen in public more often; lest, Weasley discovers our ruse. A wise move, wouldn't you say?" Hermione clenched her teeth to hold back the curse which rose to mind and nodded stiffly. He was good. He had her there. "Of course," She conceded with as little ill grace as she could muster. "I completely agree." "Good." He said huskily, his eyes now holding a sleepy boredom, an act which Hermione heartily wished to applaud his for. "Good." She repeated instead, her voice crisp to counter his heady tone.

A deep laugh echoed from his throat, a rich syrupy sound akin to a dark promise which struck a faint memory deep within her. She squirmed uncomfortably, shaking off the sensation so as to not lose her cool. "Good." He growled and swept forward, crowding her close to his body in an instant and pressing her back against the wall. With little ceremony, he swooped down, his lips capturing hers in a bruising kiss as he thrust his tongue into her mouth and she gasped in both shock and indignation. The velvet heat of his tongue stroked the recesses of her mouth, allowing her to taste the barely controlled violence vibrating through his body. Hermione knew she was lost. To fight him while he was in this state would only exacerbate an already precarious situation. Instead, she allowed herself to melt, allowed the softness of her form to mould and give under his relentless push. Like an a conquering ruler, he sensed her submission and purred, easing his bruising kisses until his lips were barely caressing hers, the tip of his tongue lapping gently at her swollen lips. Her chest lifted and fell, brushing his chest with each breath. When finally, she had gathered her presence of mind, Hermione's eyes flickered open and alighted on the sight of Draco's pleasure filled face. His fallen angel beauty had never been more apparent to her than in this moment with his silver eyes heavily lidded and broody and his lips swollen from his own force. "I think that you are beginning to come to terms with the nature of our relationship." He murmured and lowered his head so that his teeth could nip the delicate shell of her ear. Hermione shuddered but leant towards his ministrations, sighing in frustration as he moved away once more. It was physical. That was what he meant. No matter how much she might have despised him, her body responded with fervour to his mere presence. "It's irrelevant." She replied, her eyes holding his steadily to emphasise her point. "Not so irrelevant." Draco's eyes dropped to her lips as he pressed his hips to her, grinding himself into her softness in slow, torturous circles. Even through the material of his slacks and her jeans, Hermione felt the length of him pulsing with life, desperate to seek a home inside her burning warmth. It took all her strength not to reach into his pants and release him and as it were, she had no strength remaining to stop the answering frenzy of her hips as she tried to position him as she wanted him to be. Draco was chuckling, shifting his hips and denying her the friction she craved. "If you ask nicely and add a 'please', I might just have mercy." Hermione bit her lip to hold back the instant and desperate 'please' which rushed to the tip of her tongue. She still had her pride though her sense seemed to have deserted her and right then, it was the only thing halting her pleas.

A fine sheen of sweat misted on her skin as she watched his mysterious features through slitted eyes. He seemed much more composed than she was and if it hadn't been for that feral gleam in his eyes, Hermione would have thought him completely indifferent to their position. Draco didn't touch her at all, his hands were planted firmly against the wall, entrapping her between his lithe arms and his lips were employed only in the expression of his amusementonly his hips moved in that unchangeable rhythm, circling, pushing and grinding. When finally the yearning escalated into an excruciating ache, she grabbed his belt and undid it before he could protest, tearing through the layers of restricting fabric so that she could reach the hard pulsing member, gasping at the first touch as its sheer sensation awakened yet another flash of memory and inexplicable familiarity. "What" She began to ask in confusion but all thought was cut off when Draco spun her in his arms and pressed her breasts flat against the wall. His fingers dug into the flesh of her hips and abdomen as he popped the button of her jeans and tugged the coarse material off her hips until the zipper gave and her panties followed in their descent. With a purr, Hermione welcomed the thrust of his fingers as they plunged into her core, the coolness a welcome contrast to the burning liquid of her aching body. With her head turned to the side, she could see his face from the corner of her eye as he stared with worshipful attention while his hand worked in and out of her. Protesting loudly, Hermione pushed her hips back towards him, wordlessly demanding another finger to add to the two already stroking her to climaxbut he was cruel and removed his hand instead, holding up the glistening digits so that he could study the shimmer of her wetness in the weak, dappled sunlight. "Please!" Hermione forced out and Draco slowly dragged his eyes away from his fingers and eyed her curiously. While she watched, he brought his fingers to his lips and sucked them clean. As Hermione panted, Draco closed his eyes in ecstasy until the silver orbs snapped open and his control broke. In an instant, she felt his body crowd close to hers and an instant later, felt the exhilarating burn of his cock as he thrust into her. When he was fully buried, Draco pulled himself out with an aching slowness and eased back in when she thought she might just perish without him. "Exquisite." He murmured breathily into her ear. "Absolutely exquisite." Close to tears, Hermione pushed back against his retreating cock, desperate to keep him inside her and to seek her release. It was like nothing else on earth, like no other pleasure ever known to her, she ached until she lost all thought, until all she desired was that he stayed buried hilt deep within her until the end of both universe and time. She gaspeddamn, but he made her feel so beautiful. With each entry and retreat, Hermione felt the deep glow ofsomethingseeding, nestling and growing within her chest as he whispered words of devotion, obsession and love into her ear.

The delicate slide of his flesh never lost its smooth, silky rhythm and with a terrible sort of tenderness, Hermione rose ever closer to that pinnacle until she teetered on the edge and cried out in anticipation, ready for that final push so that she could plunge into the depths of oblivion. Draco paused, smirked and released her. His hardness slipped from her soaking heat and Hermione struggled as her unfulfilled body slid bonelessly to the floor. Crying out, she turned her body so that she could face him and watched through a haze of desperation as he pulled the silk boxers over his still straining member and then fastened his pants, allowing them to ride low over his narrow hips. "What? What" Was all she could mutter as he kneeled beside her half naked form. Leaning forward, he kissed her gently against the lips and smiled briefly before he stood again. "Your punishment, my love. Think twice the next time you decide to have dinner with another man." Draco stood quickly and with one final lingering look upon her glistening face, left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Stunned, Hermione lay there, immodestly sprawled on the floor of the elegant parlour, her jeans and underwear around her ankles and her body screaming for the release which she had been so cruelly denied. Writhing, Hermione cursed Malfoy vocally and violently, spitting with anger before she gathered her wits and hesitantly touched herself. It didn't take much to bring herself to that elusive conclusion but the self-made ending was horribly anti-climatic, the small burst of heat a mere shadow of what Draco's body had promised her. Groaning and fuming with resentment, Hermione righted herself and sought a bathroom, wandering around the seemingly endless corridors until she capitulated and asked a passing house elf for directions. When she had washed away as much of the sticky dissatisfaction as she could, Hermione went in search of Draco only to be told that the master had left for the day on private business and was not expected to return to England for several days yet. Fighting the childish urge to stomp her feet, Hermione straightened, took a deep calming breath and marched angrily to the front door. As her steps clicked down the cobbled drive of Malfoy manor, Hermione cursed herself viciously under her breath. She couldn't blame the reporters or Dolohov not matter how much she wished toshe really should have known that a spoiled only child like Draco would not take something like this well. She would much rather curse Malfoy for his stunt but she had to applaud the sheer Slytherin nature of it in admiration. Damn, damn and double damn.

Draco watched her as she stomped her way out of the gates of the manor and apparate away. He would smile if weren't for the aching disappointment pulsing through his flesh. He may have taught Hermione a lesson, but it certainly wasn't a fun experience for him either. Bringing the picture of her ecstasy to mind, Draco moaned and breathed deeply, drawing in her lingering scent. He would never be able to return to that parlour without acquiring an immortal erection. Sighing softly, he headed for his

luxurious bathroomhe had a feeling that he would be spending a lot more time there before this business of the engagement and marriage was settled once and for all.

The smile on Dolohov's lips could only be called deeply disturbing if not some what self-satisfied. As he carelessly flipped through the pages of the daily prophet, a swell of success flowed through his chest every time he caught sight of the handsome image of he and Hermione Granger leaning over their respective desserts, in a seemingly romantic exchange as the reporters had suggested. It was nothing of the sort of course, Ms. Granger had been charmingly devoted to her cause and Dolohov had been sure to soak in as much information as was possible. She held a wonderful enthusiasm for everything that she loved, a spark which she brought to everything she did which made any ordinary observer stand and take notice. Ahto be the sole obsession of such a woman would be a true marvel. Dimitri stroked a spindly finger over the black and white image of Hermione as she ate, recalling the charming determination in her eyes as she staunchly promoted S.P.E.W. It was both her strength and her weakness, this determination of hers. It was most definitely a weapon Dimitri could wield, something to use as leverage and lure. What an incredible addition she would make to the Dolohov family. The intelligence, the magic, the fresh bloodsomething the Dolohovs sorely needed if their legacy was to advance into this post-war twenty first century. And what a fine conquest she would be in beda woman who didn't spread her legs for wealth and prestige. Besides, it would be his greatest pleasure to lure her away from Malfoyfinally, after millennia, a Dolohov would best a Malfoy. His ancestors must surely be applauding him from the after life. Sighing contentedly, Dimitri carefully refolded the newspaper and set it aside on the bedside table. Lazily, he slid down the pillows which propped him up in the bed and turned to eye the blaze of red hair next to him. Her body was curled into a foetal position, facing away from his; occasionally, the creamy white shoulders would shudder in silent sobs before she rolled herself into a tighter, protective shell until her face was nearly buried upon her knees. "Now, now darling." Dolohov muttered, stroking a finger down her spine. "Have you had enough time to think about your actions?" Ginevra Weasley slowly uncurled herself and turned painstakingly to face him. Tears still streaking her face, she nodded demurely. "I'm sorry, Dimitri. I should never have tried to find another man. I was very sillyI didn't" She gasped out. Dimitri Dolohov grabbed her by the throat and squeezed, cutting short any words she had planned to say. "You aren't silly, my dear, you're just a whore." The fingers tightened briefly before he released her.

Ginny whimpered and gasped pathetically, drained from her struggles the night before and aching from his rough demands when he had returned from dinner with Hermione Granger. He continued to speak, unheeding of her discomfort and fear. "A man like Draco Malfoy would never give you the time of daywith a woman like Ms. Granger at his side; you have an even smaller chance of even attracting his disdain. Stupid thing, aren't youall you're good for is spreading you legs and even then, Merlin only knows how many men have been offered that particular gift. She bit her lip as tears flowed free and Dimitri gave her a disgusted sneer. He rolled away from her and dropped his bare feet onto the icy floor, padding towards the open bathroom door without a backwards glance. Beside herself, Ginny buried her face in the crushed pillow and slammed her fist uselessly into their softness, smothering racking furious sobs as she tried to ignore the sting of her ribs. When at last she regained a modicum of control, she levered herself up on her elbows and snatched the prophet from the bedside table and threw the offending material face-up on where she lay only moments before. The image of Dimitri and Hermione smiling at each other stared up at her mockingly, taunting her. WHERE IS MALFOY? Ginny read the flashing headline and bared her teeth. Where indeed. Surely he couldn't be happy about such a situationperhaps this would be a good time toher eyes flicked to the closed door of the bathroom and shuddered. No, if Dimitri found out she had gone to Malfoy She shook off the thought and let the frustration build in her until it felt as if she could scream. That bitch! Granger! Wasn't it enough that she had Draco? She was greedy enough to try for Dolohov as well! Slamming her fist into the moving wizarding photograph, Ginny grasped the edges of the newspaper and pulled; she slashed and tore at it but the action gave her little satisfaction and Ginny was once more tempted to scream; but she dare not alert Dimitri lest he decided to punish her for the action. Gasping angrily, Ginny called a house elf to clean up the mess she had made and quickly dressed. She wanted to leave before Dolohov returned; she needed to get away for a while, even if it was only enough time for her to heal her bruises before she needed to return. She simply couldn't let Hermione get her greedy claws into Dimitri as well. Shaking out the tangle of her curls, Ginny decided to pay a visit to the bitch in person. It couldn't hurt to put Hermione down a little; it had always been a favourite pastime of hers. When she was at last satisfied with the sexed up image she exuded, Ginny apparated to the door of Hermione's central London apartment. She sneered at the disapproving look an elderly couple gave her as they walked past her and wrapped her knuckles sharply against the door.

Hermione didn't answer and there were no telling sounds from beyond the door. After several impatient moments, Ginny slammed her fist against the door again, tempted to start screaming for the bitch to come and face her. "Miss Weasleymay I help you?" Ginny whirled and nearly lost her balance on her precarious heels as she spun to face the owner of the voice. "Granger." She forced out angrily. "I want to talk to you." Hermione grinned deprecatingly. "So I'd gathered." She sighed. "About what?" The red head straightened herself arrogantly, smoothing out the creases of anger on her forehead. "Aren't you going to ask me in?" "No." Hermione replied, deadpanned. "That's awfully rude of you, Granger. Here I thought you were always such a goody two shoes." Ginny hissed, narrowing her eyes. Hermione met her gaze unflinchingly. "Times change." The two women stared each other down coolly, one simmering with repressed anger, the other, a collected sort of disdain. "Stay away from Dimitri." Ginny forced out at last. Hermione's eyebrows rose nearly to her hairline with incredulity. "What a hypocritical thing to say. Perhaps I should reciprocate and tell you to stay away from Malfoy." Ginny sneered. "Threatened are we? Worried that your mudblood self couldn't keep Malfoy satisfied?" The red head took in the other woman's stressed expression and chuckled meanly. "He's not giving it to you, is he? Oh dear; he doesn't waste his time with amateurs" "Better than being used goods." Hermione retorted, trying to let the insult slide off her. Ginny's eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared angrily. "Just keep you paws off what's mine or I'll make you regret it." Spinning on her heels, Ginny began to stalk away, head held proudly. Hermione leapt forward and grabbed her by the wrist. "Weasley!" She exclaimed just as Ginny released a sharp yelp of pain. "What do you think you're doing?" The red head yelled angrily. "Let go of me right now or you'll regret it Granger."

Hermione released a puff of breath in disgust. "What the hell has happened to you Gin? You were never like this at Hogwarts." Something flashed in the eyes of the younger woman as she rubbed her wrist where Hermione had grabbed her. "Yeah, well, times change." She began to walk away before Hermione spoke again. "Not so much Gin. What happened between you and Harry?" "It was his bloody fault! He gave up on us then he went running to Parkinson and now she's carrying his bastard child andandand" Ginny gasped for breath and rubbed her temples. She turned back to Hermione, allowing her a grimacing smile. "Like I said, times change. Why the sudden walk down memory lane, Granger? Hoping to get the old gang back together are we? Ron will be downgrading a bit if he took you back, but if you get on your knees" "God, forget it Weasley." Hermione ran a hand through her curls, snagging in a few tangles. "I was just going to say that you're just hurting yourself and your parents by acting the way you do. You're certainly not doing anyone any favours." "Thanks for that wonderful insight Granger but I think I'm doing just fine. Besides, why would I take your advice when you don't even have a family left to hurt?" Tears pricked in Hermione's eyes. Her parents had perished in the Great War and Hermione had never forgotten the implications. So instead of trying to reach out to the wayward Weasley once more, she let the woman stalk away. "A lost soul." Hermione spun and clapped a hand to her heart. "Luna! How long have you been standing there?" The doe eyed blonde shook her head thoughtfully and stroked a finger through her bangs. She was dressed in what Hermione could only describe as a grotesquely purple bagdressbag with a pair of rounded sunglasses and a haphazardly tied head scarf. She looked like a free-love agent straight out of the sixtiesit seemed Luna still had yet to grasp the concept of muggle clothing. "Only a little while. But that was all it tookshe's not terribly subtle is she?" Hermione sighed as she unlocked her apartment door and allowed Luna in. "Weasleys rarely are." Closing the door behind them, Hermione threw down her keys on the counter and dropped tiredly into a well padded couch. Sighing with genuine weariness, Hermione closed her eyes and laid her head back as Luna moved to sit beside her.

"I'd offer you refreshments but I'm afraid my body won't obey me right now." "That's alright." Luna murmured docilely. "Would you like to talk about it?" Hermione shook her head vehemently and waved her hand as if dismissing the very notion. "I don't mean Ginny." Luna said matter of factly. "I meant the little story about you and Dolohov's illicit rendezvous." This made Hermione snap to attention. Her eyes opened in an instant and she growled irately. "Don't tell me you believe that nonsense, Luna Weasley! I would never" "A picture is worth a thousand words." Hermione slumped in her seat again. "It was just a dinner between diplomatic colleagues. That's all. Nothing illicit or sinister." A disconcerting silence followed before Luna 'hmmed' patiently and enquired in an almost innocent tone: "Is that how Malfoy understood the situation?" Clenching her teeth, Hermione jerked her head to the side, gazing resentfully at a framed photo of the Pyrenees upon the wall. "Draco is irrational. As all men are." "Mmm hmm." Luna nodded absently, her eyes betraying her amusement. "So if you found a photo of, say, Ginny Weasley and Malfoy sharing an intimate dinner splashed across all the gossip tabloids you would just shrug it off and" Hermione growled heatedly, fighting the desire to rub her chest to chase away the odd feeling which rose in her throat. "Fine, fine. I get the point. But stillI went there to explain things to him and what does he do?" She paused mid-sentence, heat flooding her cheeks as she recalled exactly what he had done and the cruel condition in which he had left her in; to punish her, he had claimed. Luna leant forward eagerly. "Indeedwhat does he do?"

TOO MUCH MALFOY ON THE MIND

During the intervening days when Malfoy was supposedly away on business, Hermione exchanged several more owls with Dimitri. Her S.P.E.W. movement was gaining momentum with many of the most powerful society wives who thought her cause to be the new 'it' thing for over-dressed, under-educated trophies with too much time on their hands. And these trophy wives, in turn, passed this trend onto the less influential society wives who aimed to become a member of the most vapid creatures to exist. Hermione had received several minor and major donations already. Things were going well.

At leastthey were progressing well career wise. Her personal life on the other hand, well, wasn't that just a happy little tangle? Groaning, Hermione rubbed her eyes, willing the blurred parchment to come back into focus so that she could return to adjusting the careful wording of the bill which would void the legalised slave trade of house elves. It didn't work but Hermione figured that considering it was midnight, she deserved to clock out for now and go home to her nice empty house. A flash of muted grief moved through her as Hermione remembered Crookshanks. The part-kneazle cat had finally succumbed to old age and Hermione had buried her loyal companion on a remote part of the Hogwarts grounds which he had so enjoyed stalking. Harry and Pansy along with Luna and Charlie had attended her ridiculous little ceremony and held her while she shed a few tears and choked back her dry sobs. Shaking her head, Hermione smiled and carefully cleared her mind of the negative thoughts. Instead, she began clearing her desk, meticulously filing away her papers and stacking her precariously scribbled notes to the side so that she could review them tomorrow when she was more clear headed. With a tap, Hermione switched off her desk lamp and allowed the muted light of the corridor to guide her towards her office door. The frosted glass window which boasted her name showed the white fluorescent light just beyond, the usually cheery looking hallway was almost sinister at the witching hour. Bending, Hermione snatched up her hand bag and pulled her jacket from its hook, swinging it across her shoulders and struggling into sleeves while she pulled her wild curls from the collar. Taking one last look at her office to ensure everything was in the right place, Hermione spun and slammed straight into a tall man. "Oof." Her breath burst from between her pursed lips and Hermione reeled backwards, flailing her arms and hitting out at the solid object before her. Just as she drew breath to scream, a cool, smooth hand closed over her mouth, sealing in the air and the building panic as another hand locked around her wrists while he forced her backwards until her legs hit the edge of the desk. "Easy now, darling." A familiar voice whispered and the silhouette of a man leant forward to nuzzle her trembling cheek. "Easy." Hermione shook the hand away from her face and stared at the halo of golden hair which shone even in the dim light. "Draco?" She murmured quietly. "Yes darling?" The tension instantly drained from her body and Hermione allowed herself to lean into him, willing her erratic heartbeat to calm down. When at last, she had steadied her breathing; Hermione stood and raised her newly freed hand to his face.

"Oh Draco" She sighed, breathily, stroking his cheek. "What on earth is wrong with you?" Hermione's voice destroyed the silence. "You nearly scared me half to death!" She smacked his chest with a snap of her wrist and roughly pushed his lithe body away from herself, eyes flashing with temper as she raised an accusing finger to his chest, prodding him angrily as she fumed. "Who do you think you are? Walking in here afterwellafter last time! What gives you the idea that you can just waltz into the ministry of magic like you own the damn place and I know for a fact that even the far reaching oily fingers of the Malfoy empire have yet to lay claim to an entire government, even if you might have a few lowly minions wrapped around your despoiling little finger!" Hermione paused and drew another breath to begin all over again, her index finger making another assault on his chest. "I wouldn't call them lowly minions really, darling, after all, if a Dolohov can have at least a mid-level clerk like Diggory, don't you think a Malfoy would have some one much higher up? Someone like the chief Warlock, lets saymetaphorically speaking of course." Draco replied, lightly. Hermione gave him the benefit of a raised eyebrow; her lips pressed into a firm line. "Of course, metaphorically speaking." "He would be much more able to aid you in your cause, metaphorically speaking." "Indeed he would. But as it is, this is all metaphorical and a Malfoy such as yourself would never dirty his hands with such a business as having a high level court official in his pocket, isn't that right?" Draco chuckled appreciatively, running a gentle caress down her side. "Right, my dear." Hermione hummed contemplatively and proceeded to bat away his wandering hand. She refused to acknowledge the shiver which ran up her spine when he touched her; a strangely personal touch which dredged up memories of She cleared her throat and raised her head defiantly. "What do you want, Malfoy?" The blond spread his hands in a gesture of peace, his head tilted curiously to the side. "Is that your way of telling me that you don't want to talk about last week?" Hermione pursed her lips as the shiver morphed into a hot wave. She was sure that she must be glowing a bright embarrassed shade of red in the moody darkness. "It was a veryunjustassumption that there was something between me and Dimitri" "Dimitri, now is it?" Draco murmured in a deceptively light tone. Huffing impatiently, Hermione waved her hands.

"The point is" She tried. "The point is a Malfoy can pull better and more secure stringsperfectly legitimate strings to help you with your cause." Draco's eyes held hers firmly. "And as your fianc, I believe I am a little more trustworthy than Dolohov." "Malfoy" "Granger." The blond said sternly. "Cracks are starting to show in our faade and if Weasley clues on, then the game is forfeit." Draco stepped toward her, crowding her with his body and pushing her till she sat upon the cool surface of her desk. "You don't want that now do you? You still want Weasley to suffer a little more for what the git did to you, don't you? To teach the little Weaslette that she isn't all that?" Hermione found herself nodding unconsciously though a stab of unease made her shift as Ginny was mentioned. There was something wrong with Ginevramore than the usual nonsense too. Shaking her head, Hermione shook off her wayward thoughts. "Don't try to suck up to me afterafterwell after last time! Punish me, hah!" "I was only teaching you a lesson." Draco whispered huskily. "You're always such an astute student." Hermione tried to shift away from him but there was no where to go unless she wanted to crawl across her own desk and make a mess of her carefully organised notes. "It was ill-advised and based on your own jealous assumptions!" She fumed, rubbing her temples. Draco shrugged nonchalantly, his graceful body shifting so that he completely blocked her view of the door. "Be that as it may, think of it as a pre-emptory measure, a warning if you will." Hermione shook her head, her expression the perfect image of incredulous disbelief. "This isn't even a real engagement! Even if I hadif I did have intimate relations" "Fucked." Draco spat from between clenched teeth. "Say it Hermione. Fucked. Because that's all Dolohov is capable of. Don't pretty it up with your fancy words" Her teeth clenched, an expression of anger moving across her features. "This isn't real! We!" Hermione waved a frantic hand between them. "We aren't real! You can't justjust" She turned red. "fuck me as punishment." As she breathed erratically, Draco pressed his body as close to her as possible; he had hardened in an instant when the profanity had fallen from those puritanical little lips and wanted nothing more than to do exactly what he had done last week, except this time, he would allow her to break and allow himself to flood her with his heat. "Perhaps we should rectify that situation." He licked her neck, nibbling the silky flesh. "What?"

"Our engagement. Our agreement, if you will. Make it a permanent kind of thing." Hermione gasped. "What? Are you insane? Why would we?" Draco crashed his lips to hers, licking, biting and bruising her mouth as he stole her words. "Think about it, darling. It would save both of us from seeking another partnersomeone undoubtedly inferior to each other. What I did to you when we were young, what I said and thought they were nothing more than childish whims born from an ill founded supremist education. For that I am sorry but it shouldn't interfere with what we could be, what we should be. I could give you so much more than anyone else" Hermione gasped breathlessly into his shoulder. "No Draco" "Meet more tomorrow." Draco pulled away, straightening his cashmere coat and smoothing away the wrinkles her fingers had left in his shirt. "What?" "Meet me tomorrow. The muggle London entrance of the Leaky Cauldron. I want to show you something."

"It's not an ambush, Hermione." Pansy sighed as she stirred her Jasmine tea, absently rubbing her protuberant stomach with a mixture of affection and anxiety. "He was a bit of an ass during Hogwarts but can you expect any less of a Malfoy? If he asks you to meet him in muggle London then do it without overanalysing the whole thing." The brunette rolled her eyes. "That's me! Hermione Overanalyse Granger." Pansy chuckled, her mood shifting in a way which was unique to the odd state of pregnancy. "Funnyhere I thought your middle name was Jean." Her eyes sparkled as she laid a hand against Hermione's arm. "He's your fianc now, have a little faith." Hermione's mouth turned downwards in a severe frown as she sipped her cooling tea, swirling the taste around in her mouth as she contemplated her answer. "You want me" She gestured wildly at herself. "Hermione Granger, Gryffindor muggleborn, know-it-all extraordinaire, to have a little faith in Draco my-soul-is-green-and-silver Malfoy? Pansy, I think pregnancy has addled your brain." A laugh greeted her as Harry came traipsing into the room, covered from head to toe in splotches of bright purple paint. He leant down and gave his best friend a fond kiss as Hermione eyed him warily.

They hadn't fully made-up after the Ronald misunderstanding and what existed between them now was an awkward sort of acquaintance mediated by Pansy's somewhat unpredictable moods. "Never doubt the mind of a Slytherin. I've learnt that over the years." He smiled slightly, eyes crinkled in mirth. Pansy was instantly cheered by his answer and twisted awkwardly in her seat as she stroked his cheek. "I've trained you well." "I live to please." After one final fond look which made Hermione feel distinctly uncomfortable, Harry excused himself to clean off the paint which marred his pale skin. "We're painting the nursery." Pansy explained happily, stroking fondly over her distended abdomen once more. "I can see that." Hermione nodded politely. "Purple though? Aren't the traditional colours pink or blue?" The other woman laughed gaily and waved a dismissive hand at Hermione. "BahHarry and I don't know the sex of the baby yet so we've settled for something in between. We wanted it to be a surprise, you know." "One can never know, you're as big as a house so you could be having twins." Pansy let out a screech of laughter reminiscent of her Hogwarts days. "No, no, I've had friends who've had twins and trust me, their size is in a league all their own. Now, if you'll excuse me, mama's got to take care of some pregnant lady business." Hermione raised a questioning eyebrow as Pansy leant closer. "That's code for 'I need to pee every five minutes because my bladder is about the size of a walnut right now." "Ah. I'll justummgo find Harry shall I?" Pansy nodded wisely as she straightened painstakingly, whining as her back protested angrily against the extra weight while the brunette stood and walked towards the direction Harry had previously taken. Advancing through the cosy hallways, studying the moving framed photographs, Hermione felt a moment of nostalgia for the days when the trio had been her family. "If he makes you happy..." "What?" Hermione's eyes widened as she spun around to face the source of the voice. Harry repeated himself, still rubbing absently at his cheek to clean off the drying paint. "If he makes you happythen wellI'm you knownot so against it"

"He doesn't make me happy! He makes me angry andwell angry!" She protested loudly, pulling up a seat to the kitchen counter, eyeing the homey cottage kitchen with fondness. The warm colours welcomed anyone who ventured near and the lingering smell of baking reminded her deeply of a happy childhood with her mother bustling in the kitchen. The man-who-lived raised a sceptical eyebrow. "That's not what Luna has been saying at Sunday lunch; or is that just a tactic to make Ron jealous?" A knowing look passed between the two and Hermione let out a peal of surprised laughter as she shook her head in denial. "Nothing of the sortDraco isthat is to say, I'm just moving on." Harry gave a mock serious nod and shoved an entire cookie into his mouth. He smiled, unmindful of the crumbs which went flying as he opened his mouth. "What Ron did was stupid" "Glad you're finally acknowledging it." He gave her a reproving look and continued on as if she hadn't said a thing. "I don't approveand I certainly won't be nice to him if I see him of the streetbut I won't pull my wand on himunless he does it first; thenwellI'll make sure I curse him so badly even you won't be able to reverse them." "You doubt my ability, Harry." She smiled and leant across to hug him. "But thanksI appreciate your non-approval. It's nice to have someone other than Luna on my side." "No problem, Mione. Anytime. Come here, give me a proper hug." Just as Hermione rounded the counter and stood on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around Harry, a scream interrupted them. "HARRY JAMES POTTER!" Hermione had never seen a man pale so fast. His 5'11 frame seemed to shrink in an instant as he dropped everything in his hands and went sprinting towards the origin of the shriek. "Hold on baby!" He yelled as Hermione followed after. The sight that greeted them would have almost been comical if it hadn't been for the pained look on Pansy's face. There was a puddle of clear fluid pooling on the rug and the dark haired Slytherin looked fit to cry. For an instant, she looked like a wayward child who hadn't quite made it to the bathroom on time and holding the teapot in that awkward guilty manner, only lent more comedy to the scene. "I think my water broke." It sounded more like a question than a statement, but one look down and there was no doubt that she spoke the truth. "What?" Harry's face was a mask of panic and fear Hermione had never even seen during the days of the Great War and without warning, his tall, lanky frame seemed to drain of life and tumbled heavily to the floor.

Observing this, Pansy's mood seemed to shift detrimentally and a petulant weepy look descended onto her features as she pitched the teapot at the wall as she burst into a frenzy of shrill screams. "POTTER! YOU HAVE SOME NERVE! KNOCK ME UP AND FAINT WHEN MY WATER BREAKS! POTTER! POTTER! GET YOUR WORTHLESS GRYFFINDOR ARSE UP RIGHT NOW OR I'LL NEVER LET YOU TOUCH ME AGAIN!" She sobbed hysterically in between her words, sinking bonelessly to the floor. "WHY? WHY IS THIS?" She hiccuped and sniffled, banging her fists against the floor. Harry almost seemed to hear her screams as he sat up groggily, looking from side to side in confusion with his hair sticking up every which way and his glasses askew on his face. He looked like the eleven year old boy when he had first met the Weasley twins. "Whawhat?" His eyes landed on Pansy and widened instantly. "Pansy! Oh God! Your water broke!" Hermione didn't know who to go toor whether she should simply stand aside and watch the chaos unfold. "Do you ahdo you need any help?" She enquired as Harry whizzed past her with an overstuffed duffel bag. "Any help at all?" Pansy continued to scream. Harry continued to run. And Hermione stood there at the eye of the storm with a bubble of happiness which rose in her throat and blurred her vision. God she missed this kind of pandemonium; her life had become day after day of monotonous routine, so much so that Hermione had stopped even noticing it at all. She loved this wildnesshad missed it so desperately and even here, with Pansy going into labour, this was a moment of absolute liberation. Hermione raised her arms and spun round and round in a circle, her joyous whoops echoing in her mind and clashing with the noise around the cottage. It was incredible to finally feel the heavy weight of the past few weeks lift from her shoulders. "HERMIONE!" Harry yelled, holding Pansy up by one hand and opening the front door with another. "HERMIONE!" She looked at the couple, eyes still sparkling with mirth. "Yes?" She inquired innocently. Harry and Pansy exchanged an inexplicable look. "She's lost her mind." Pansy murmured deadpanned. "Too much Malfoy on the brain." Harry replied. They both stumbled out the door, heading towards a black muggle vehicle without a backward glance at her. She bounded after them, closing the cottage door with a firm click. She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled joyfully. "I'm going to meet Draco!"

"Jesus." Hermione thought she heard Harry mutter but it seemed completely irrelevant as he had climbed into the front seat and was slamming the door and driving away before Hermione could even protest. Waving frantically after the retreating car, she apparated away and with a solid 'pop', found herself in front of the muggle entrance of 'The Leaky Cauldron'. Hermione hoped that she had not attracted any unwanted attention with her unwarranted reckless apparition but the only humans nearby were a group of women in their mid-twenties who were whispering, pointing and shooting covert glances atahher fianc. Malfoy stood tall and proud, his lithe frame hugged by casually form fitting black jeans and crisp white polo. This was the most informal Hermione had ever seen him and as he was running a hand through his already ruffled hair, she thought she heard the nearby women release wistful sighs. She fought the urge to giggle wildly and walk up to those gawking women so that she could playfully flash her engagement ring right in their faces. As it were, she settled for smiling manically at Malfoy, a bounce in her step as she approached him. His answering smile was quizzical and the look of utter gob-smacked surprise on his face as she threw her arms around him excitedly was a picture worth a thousand words. "Yes!" She gasped out in an almost breathless excitement. Draco raised an eyebrow and lifted his arms to encircle her waist, albeit somewhat hesitantly. He kissed her gently against her rosy cheek and leant back, eyeing her curiously. "What do you mean, yes?" He asked her, his lips feathering over hers. For once it was Hermione who initiated the contact. She surged forward and pressed her lips to his firmly, moaning in delight at the instant response she coaxed from him as he shielded her form with his body. "Yes!" She gasped again as she pulled away. "Yes, let's make this permanent! Let's make our engagement real!" Draco's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline as he gaped, well, almost gaped because Malfoys don't express such crass emotions. "That's it? I don't have to seduce you or woo you or anything? You're just going to say yes?" His expression darkened and he pulled his warm body away. "What did Weaselbee do?" Hermione shook her head wildly. "Nothingnothing. I justI just think it's time I moved on. Look, I'm not saying we get married now, we still have a few months to renege on our engagementI'm just saying that we should try itfor real this timedates and all." "Dates and all." Draco murmured disbelievingly. "You're not just doing this to piss off the Weasel?"

"Nope! I went to see Harry todayoh by the way, Pansy's gone into labour" Hermione's words flooded out of her as if it were an endless, unstoppable stream. "Andand I realised something! I had a...Epiphany!" "So I see." Draco's tone was sardonic and indulgent. "Andandyou knowI realised that I don't want to be miserable anymoreeven when I'm with another man, my life is still about Ronald Weasley. Why? Why would I do that to myself?" "One could only imagine." "Regardless of the reason, I've had enough! So, let's start over!" She pulled out of his embrace and stuck out a hand. "Hello, my name is Hermione Granger, what's yours?" Draco chuckled and stared at her warmly. "Draco Malfoy. It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger." He took her outstretched hand and raised it to his lips, pressing a whisper of a kiss upon her knuckles. "You don't find this odd? After all we've done" Hermione's body heated at the implication, her mind flashing back to that day in Malfoy's parlour and how he had felt inside her, how he had felt as he moved and She shook her head to relieve herself of her thoughts but they must have been written across her face as Draco smirked in his typical trademark way and pressed a hot open mouthed caress to her inner wrist. "Not at all." She failed miserably in her semblance of nonchalance and they both knew it. Instead of bringing up the topic once more, Hermione smiled nervously and brushed back her hair. "Sowhat was it that you wanted to show me?" Draco stared at her a moment longer, his hand lingering on hers. "Very well. Come on then."

"Where are we?" It was the only question which would come to mind as she stood before the newly built red-brick building which stood proudly on a grassy plane just outside of London. She had sideapparated with Draco and wherever she had expected him to take her, this wasn't it. "You'll see." Came his cryptic reply as he offered her a faint smile. Draco's hand held hers as he walked forward, through the noiseless gates and up the freshly cemented drive. On both sides, a well manicured lawn sat littered with little garden patches full of multicoloured blooms or miscellaneous vegetables guarded by smiling muggle terracotta gnomes, many of which seemed to be oddly happy wielding a fishing rod without any bodies of water in sight. The bright, clean windows winked with light when Hermione surveyed them, trying to discover any clue which might be given but like Draco, the building kept its secrets behind its bright, beautiful faade.

"Draco" "Patience, darling." A faint sort of disquiet began to settle on Hermione as they ascended the three steps which led to the immaculate white double doors. Draco lifted the brass knocker and tapped it three times. Within moments, the knock was answered by a matronly sort of woman. She was greying a little and had a rather rotund figure; dressed in a head scarf and an apron, she looked every inch a grandmother or a favoured eccentric aunt. The moment her eyes alighted on Draco, they lit up with joy and she burst into a frenzy of ecstatic greetings, kissing him firmly on both cheeks. When Draco finally managed to introduce Hermione, she received the same treatment, wagging her finger playfully and exclaiming on how Master Malfoy's bride was such a delicate beauty and of course, completely suited to him. When at last she paused to breathe, Draco leant towards Hermione and muttered in her ear. "Mrs. Malone is the housekeeper." Hermione turned towards him inquisitively. "Housekeeper?" Draco didn't answer immediately, instead, he tapped his knuckles against the bronze plaque mounted against the wall and Hermione turned her gaze towards it, having missed it, when she entered the double doors. The Orphanage of Good Faith For the Children of the 2007 Meteor Disaster Hermione furrowed her brow, staring in confusion at the plaque. Meteor? That was the story the wizarding community had fed the muggles to account for the damage done to London during the war Draco was watching her reaction carefully, her hand grasped tightly in his. "I ran." He said huskily. "I wasn't here to fight the warI can't help the dead, but for those still living" Founded 23 May 2008, By Draco Alexander Malfoy

AN ENDLESS SUNSET Mrs. Malone nodded her head seriously as she shuffled stacks of parchment in search of a particular document.

"It would certainly be of benefit to the children. They do long to leave and an excursion to see Hogwarts would certainly motivate some of them to aspire to better grades. Some of the boys are such troublemakers." "Slytherins in the making, I'm sure." Draco murmured under his breath as he glanced up at the housekeeper from behind his reading glasses. The silver frames slid precariously down the bridge of his nose as he stared at the rows and columns of numbers on the papers in his hand detailing the monthly expenditure of the orphanage; a measly sum by Draco's standards, but enough to make a good life for the children. The serious pair sat in a sparsely decorated office tucked away in an obscure corner of the new building, away from the noise and bustle of exuberant kids going about their everyday business so that the residents were afforded an ounce of peace. As Draco's eyes scanned the papers again, ensuring that every calculation was accurate, his mind wandered to his fiance, whom he had left under the excited care of the children, who were all eager curiosity over Draco's apparent attachment to her. They had nearly shouted their questions as they asked Hermione if she were truly marrying Drake, as many of the children preferred to call him. Hermione had laughed rather nervously and allowed herself to be towed bodily away from him into the mess of a playroom just beyond the front entrance. Draco had considered following but Mrs. Malone had pulled him aside for their monthly briefing. The shock and disbelief on Hermione's face was nearly priceless and a smile curled his lips even as he fought it; he had thrown her off balance. Good, he had wanted to do just that. "Thinking about the miss aren't you, boy?" Mrs. Malone interrupted his thoughts. Draco dropped the papers into a pile casually, plucking the glasses from his face and folding them neatly before he looked up. "What makes you say that?" The older woman snorted none too delicately, moving her considerable weight about in the armchair. "You're smiling like a green boy with his first crush." She said in a knowing tone. Though a slight pink tinged his cheeks, Draco shrugged nonchalantly and stood, brushing at the invisible creases in his dark jeans. He didn't deign to reply to the comment, instead he said: "The finances seem to be in order; meticulous as always Jenny." The older woman clucked at the praise and waved him off. "You could hire a man for such administrative nonsense, boy, there's no need to do it yourself." Draco shook his head. "No, no, this orphanage is a personal endeavour of mine and I enjoy keeping an eye on it."

"It certainly is a wonderful quality to add to your merit list. Your young lady must certainly be very impressed." An eyebrow rose sardonically as Draco answered her with a goofy grin. "She likes me well enough." The housekeeper huffed slightly and bustled out of the office leaving Draco to trail laughingly in her wake. He had always liked Mrs. Malone's straight forward ways; she didn't simper or coddle and she was certainly a fine example for the children. When they reached the end of the corridor, she turned towards right, veering towards the kitchen as she shooed him up the stairs. "Go find your young lady, don't let her out of your sight, you hear me." She wagged a stern finger at him. "Hermione would not leave me." Draco replied confidently, plans swirling through his mind. "One never knows. And since you've displayed a rare and unexpected example of taste, I won't have you ruining it!" Draco laughed, not taking any offence from the housekeeper's brazenness. It was oddly refreshing. "Duly noted, Jenny." Racing up the stairs two at a time, Draco arrived in the receiving hall only to be greeted by absolute silence. Not a single child was to be seen and the silence echoed in his ears. Tilting his head curiously, he took a cursory look around and checked all the doors on the bottom floor to no avail, not a soul was to be found. After bounding up another flight of stairs, Draco was finally greeted by the sight of a young girl crossing the hallway, dragging behind her a rather bedraggled looking teddy bear which had clearly seen better days. Thumb in mouth, toddling precariously, she stopped in front of him and instantly broke into an adorable gape toothed smile, dropping the bear as she latched herself to his legs. "Drake!" She whispered loudly. Following her lead, Draco leant down and whispered to her theatrically. "Beatrice!" She giggled delightedly as she released his legs, which was just as well consider she reached only just above his knees and rather hindered Draco's movements. "What's going on, sweet pea?" He reverted to his normal tone, his voice seemingly loud in the quiet corridor. The girl scrunched her brow and raised a finger to her lips dramatically. "Shhh! It's naptime for Hermie!" Draco's eyebrows shot to his hairline as Beatrice took his hand. "Naptime?"

The little girl nodded emphatically as she towed him towards a door that stood slightly ajar. Bright sunshine flooded through and Draco was insistently pushed through by a tiny pair of hands resting ticklishly behind his knees; and there, surrounded by a crowd of little prostrate figures, was Hermione, eyes closed and lips frowning, exhaustion written clearly across all her features. Draco looked back at the little child grinning manically at him. "What have you little monsters done to my fiance?" Beatrice giggled, showing the large gaps between her teeth as her eyes sparkled mischievously. "We only played! Then Hermie read us all a storyand then it was naptime!" "Clearly." Draco looked back and assuredly, Hermione clutched a picture book in her arms as she lay, dozing on the thickly carpeted floor. Taking a quick glance at his watch, Draco noted that he had left her alone for a few hours with nearly forty sugar crazed kids with no other carers in sight. Stepping forward, Draco skirted around a dozen carelessly flung limbs to reach the grown woman sleeping among the fray. Kneeling, Draco scooped up her prone form, watching as she stirred and settled back into a gentle sort of slumber. Smiling as he whispered goodbye to a frantically waving Beatrice, Draco descended the stairs and quickly left the sleeping orphanage, knowing the moody little monsters would soon wake from their naps, hungry and grumpy from sugar hangovers. Mrs. Malone could deal with that. Shaking his head, Draco couldn't help the warm bubble of affection which settled in his chest as he watched her sleep. This woman was a bloody contradiction; exuberance one minute, exhaustion the next.

Groggily nursing a cup of coffee, Hermione leant heavily against the table top at the cosy little caf in which Malfoy had decided to stop and wake her. The strong aroma stung her nose and as she took a tentative sip, the bitter substance burned an unpleasant path down her throat. She had tried several times to initiate a conversation but Draco seemed to be oddly guarded about his charitable affairs. Any mention of the orphanage only garnered an awkward shrug without so much as a glance up from whatever he was so engrossed in. Hermione could hardly reconcile herself to this new found side of Malfoy. Yes, she had agreed to give him a chance but this revelation must surely be a leap off a cliff's edge rather than the baby steps Hermione had intended. This concept of Draco beingnicewas completely foreignand oddly unsettling. Frowning, she pushed aside her coffee, and glanced up at the blond reading the muggle newspaper opposite her. "I didn't know you were interested in muggle affairs." She tried; her tone guarded.

Draco looked up at last; the silver framed glasses perched once more on the bridge of his nose. "We live on the same planet, what concerns them, concerns me too. Global warming, the loss of our natural resourcesthe invention of the iPhoneit's all terribly relevant, wouldn't you say?" Hermione couldn't fight the smile which rose to her face. The charming little half-smile on his face was irresistible. "Do you even know what an iPhone is? Or have you simply plucked that name out for show?" Draco awarded her with an offended look. "I'll have you know, I have shares in Apple." Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a black and silver device, handing it to her nonchalantly. "And I believe in the product." Laughing with slight bewilderment, Hermione took the muggle phone from him. It seemed disturbingly surreal, taking a cell phone from Draco Malfoy but there he was, sitting across the table from her, calmly reading about the current news and events as if he had belonged to this world all along. "There's no one in your contacts." Hermione noted as she pried through the fascinating device. Draco shrugged, allowing himself a slight deprecating smile. "I'm afraid none of my acquaintances are quite as forward thinking as I am. Blaise is rather scared of his and refuses to turn it on." This surprised a bout of laughter from Hermione as she tried to press her lips together, her mirth attracting the attention of many others in the caf. "I don't suppose you would give me your number?" Draco tilted his head, lowering the newspaper onto the table and stealing a sip of her discarded coffee. "Ughthis stuff is terrible." Pushing aside the offending beverage, Hermione shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't own one." It was his turn to laugh. "You mean to say that you, Hermione Granger, muggleborn extraordinaire, doesn't own such an essentially token device?" Pitching her crushed her napkin at his head; Hermione childishly poked her tongue out at him. "I've never needed one and you obviously don't either." Shrugging, Draco took back the offered iPhone, tucking it neatly into his pocket as she scowled. "I don't but I like to be the first to have everything. Malfoy Enterprises is going to be the first to introduce the wizarding world to the joys of telecommunication next month. When these beauties become all the rage, I can happily say that I was the trend-setter." Hermione shook her head disbelievingly. "Do you really think that the wizarding world would take to such a trend? We're an old, stubborn bunch, set in our ways, anything new is considered rather gauche."

Draco shook his head in mock disappointment, his fingers intertwined as he leant forward as if he were about to share a very important secret. "They'll love it." "Is that so?" Hermione favoured him with a smirk; obligingly playing along. "Oh yes. Would you like to know why darling?" "Why?" His voice descended into a hushed whisper as he crooked a finger, gesturing for her to lean closer so that he could whisper in her ear. "Because I'll tell them to love it." Oh this was rich. Hermione let out a peal of laughter and shook her head. "Really, now; is that so?" Draco nodded his head; mockingly serious. "Yes. Mother use to play this game all the time with the pureblood socialites; she would declare that a certain style, colour or accessory was the height of fashion and the next week every woman would have a robe or handbag which fit the exact description. The power of the Malfoy name, don't you know?" His face lit from within as he continued his story. "I will never forget the summer of my eighth birthday; mother had been rather put out that Carrabelle Parkinson had shown up to my party almost as resplendent as she was, so she put about that orange was all the rage in wizarding Paris that summer." Hermione watched in fascination as his lips twitched mirthfully as he lost himself in the memory. "The next time Carrabelle visited us, she was wearing the most atrocious orange outfit. Mother nearly laughed in her face when she saw; thankfully, Pansy was born with a little more sense than to follow blindly in a Malfoys stead." She shook her head; amused that the cool blonde society image she had almost always associated with Narcissa Malfoy didn't quite fit the real woman. "It sounds like your mother had a brilliant sense of humour." Draco's smile was fond and reminiscent. "She did. And she had a wonderfully bright spirit too." The smile faded. "Father never could manage to beat it all out of her; though I suppose he succeeded in snuffing out that light in the end anyway." Having heard about how Narcissa Malfoy had died, Hermione's smile slid from her lips as she debated whether she should comfort Draco or not. He seemed to be lost in his own world, somewhere filled with remorse and self recrimination and guilt. "I'm sure you were the one who kept her sane."

The haunted silver eyes landed on her. "Perhaps. Her faith in me never wavered; even after father began to fill my head with ideas, leading me down the dark path with stories of glory and pride." He shook his head angrily. "Merlin, he was a bastard." Hermione bit her lip, an indefinable sensation moving through her chest as she reached out a tentative hand and laid it on his forearm. His eyes flashed up, the liquid gaze hardening into gunmetal grey. "I won't ever do that to you Hermione. I'm not LuciusI'll never lay a violent hand on you or our children." Her hand slipped away as she blinked rapidly to dispel the burning sensation behind her lids. "I know, Draco." She cleared her throat uncomfortably, unable to fully meet his burning stare until he blinked, breaking the spell and allowing the normal noise of the city to flood back into the little world they had created between them at that table. Until that moment, Hermione hadn't even been aware of the silent intensity surrounding them. "Too serious." Hermione heard him mutter under his breath before he mustered up a somewhat forced smile as he stood, throwing down a few bills of muggle currency and helping her stand from the booth. Escorting her out the door, Hermione glanced back to see the waiter picking up several notes of currency and staring bewilderedly after them. "Dracodid you just tip them a hundred pounds?" He answered with a smile and said no more, simply leading her to an empty park across the street. There, he sat her down on a park bench and joined her, pressing close as she squinted into the glaring light of the setting sun. As they silently watched the London skies turn from orange to red to purple to a deep calming blue, Hermione revelled in the twilight, observing the passing of another day into night. She didn't seek to fill the silence as it stretched and she was glad Malfoy didn't either. It was nice to sit with someone who could appreciate the slow passing of something as ordinary as another typical day. When at last, the street lamps flickered on, bathing them both in harsh artificial white light, Draco spoke, quietly, absently, as if he were not quite sure what to say or why he was saying it. "You can't see the stars here. I don't know how the muggles stand it." "We're not all blessed with sprawling mansions in Wiltshire." Draco's smile was boyish and smug. Malfoy was back. "Nopoor sods. They have to resort to sleeping in shanties to see the stars." Hermione rolled her eyes dramatically. "I assume you mean camping tents." "Yes. You have no idea how many bloody muggles have tried to breach our wards to set up house on Malfoy land."

"Tragic, Malfoy." Hermione responded dryly. "Truly, it is." Draco replied innocently as he wrapped an arm about her waist. "Peasants. I don't know how they live." Hermione shook her head disbelievingly. What century did this man live in? Who even used the word 'peasants' anymore, save for the truly snobbish aristocracy? As if he had read her mind, Draco turned towards her and raised an eyebrow. "The social order must be preserved, my love, and the sooner you marry into the Malfoy dynasty the sooner you can leave your peasant roots behind." She laughed and smacked him playfully, knowing full well that he wasn't serious. He returned her smile with one of his own, the tensions and arguments between them temporarily set aside as they shared a moment of peace. "So" He began conversationally. "Does this count as our first date?" Hermione shrugged uncomfortably, a slight lifting of her shoulders which dislodged the arm he had slung around her shoulders. Draco shifted back, a moment later, encompassing her in a tighter grip, breathing quietly, letting his breath brush her cool skin. She was sorely tempted to fidget but instead she mustered a weak laugh and retorted: "First dates usually involve dinner or something like that, not a trip to an orphanage." She felt him shrug casually beside her as he wrapped another arm around her waist, pulling her bodily closer. "Malfoys don't follow convention. When grandfather Abraxas was courting my grandmother, he showed her the dungeons below Malfoy manor and told her that if their children ever misbehaved, that's where he would keep them so that she would never have to tell them to eat their vegetables twice. I suspect that's how father turned out the way he did." Hermione laughed out loud as he nuzzled the side of her neck. Oddly enough, she found herself leaning into him, tilting her head to give him better access. "Nonsense." She muttered. "I can't believe that even you Malfoys are that twisted." Draco pulled away slightly and gave her an offended look. "It's true. It's all in Grandmother's diary. You can read it for yourself when I take you to the Malfoy libraries after we're married." Pathetic as it was, Hermione felt a thrill race up her spine as he said 'after we're married'. That certainty and conviction was damn near enviable. How could he be so certain that everything would simply work out like that? Her thoughts were soon ceased as she felt the brush of his lips on the side of her neck and the familiar rush of heat engulfed her. Turning tentatively, she met his gaze, the silver orbs framed by sweeping, pale lashes which made his gaze slightly ethereal.

Caught, Hermione found herself leaning forward, her hand inching up to brush his slowly rising chest. She felt Draco stop breathing, his chest stilling beneath her fingers as he waited for an indefinable something. With her heart pounding in her chest, she closed the last few inches between their lips and pressed soft flesh to flesh. Unlike their previous kisses, there was no rush, no urgency in the gesture. It was a moment of pure sensation as her gasping breaths feathered across his lips, misting and cooling between them as she leant in for another kiss equally as gentle as the one before. His lips were cool and smooth against hers; soft and pliable, giving as she retreated and receiving as she caressed. Slowly, his lips parted, releasing a shuddering breath as he leant forward and captured her in a wrenching kiss. For several eternal moments, they stayed connected, unmoving, and breathless as the world continued around them; mated and devoted solely to each other.

Cursing exuberantly and creatively under his breath, Blaise detached himself from the cloying grip of the blonde he had met for lunch and eagerly said goodbye. She had been so promising on paper; blond hair and blue eyes with a feminine disposition that came across loud and clear even on paper. What the file hadn't told him was that she didn't have two brain cells to rub together and a voice that could liquefy stone. If he stayed with her a minute longer, his eardrums would surely have burst, not to mention his brain out of pure boredom. Several couples strolled past him, eyeing him dubiously as he continued to scowl viciously. Damn them and all their happiness, Blaise grumbled, sorely tempted to shake his fist at them simply for having it so easy. They didn't have to marry virtual strangers within a year and spawn. He should've just stayed in Italyall those lovely willing ladies, eager and happy to jump when he told them to. He had planned to be a bachelor and sow his wild oats for a few more decades to come but nothe moment he step foot back in England, the parson's noose was looped around his neck, a less than subtle threat from the ministry. The parson's noose, Blaise snorted, what a thoroughly muggle expression, he thought somewhat disgusted with himself. So busy was he in chiding himself that he didn't notice a rather harried looking female heading his way, buried behind the stacks of paper she was juggling. "Holy Merlin in hell!" She yelled as Blaise slammed bodily into her, sending the parchments flying every which way. "What do you think you're doing?" Already irritable from the date, Blaise was in no mood to be polite but he swallowed the unpleasant rejoinder which rose to the tip of his tongue and inclined his head apologetically. "Sorry." Insincere! His mind screamed at him. "I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Well duh!" She threw up her hands in frustration. Thankfully most of her papers seemed to be neatly tied with ribbons and largely remained in the neat stacks in which she had organised them. As she bent to pick them up, Blaise got a good look at the top of her head. Black hair. Blaise preferred blondes. A neat bob of black hair, in fact. Cut in an efficient but fashionable manner, barely brushing her shoulders. Very professional. Blaise preferred long hair, much more feminine. She straightened, giving him a clear frontal view of a round pixyish face, button nose and dark eyes. Asian, he thought instantly. Blaise preferred European. Short too, couldn't be many inches above five feet, he thought depreciatingly, no legs to speak of. She bared her teeth, flashing a set of straight white teeth at him as she brushed off his attempts to help with her papers. "Don't bother! Those are confidential patient files, anyway." Straightforward and career oriented. God! Why couldn't he have bumped into a woman who was more his type? "Sorry for trying to help!" Blaise sneered, the polite faade fading from his mind in an instant. A flash of temper lit her dark brown eyes as she gathered all the files under her arm impatiently. "You want to help? Well then! Maybe you should grow a third eye to watch for the road because quite obviously the two your have now aren't working properly. Git!" She huffed and stomped solidly on his foot before stalking away, leaving Blaise howling in pain in the middle of magical London. When his eyes finally stopped watering from the pain, Blaise limped to the nearest lamppost and leant heavily on it so he could take his weight off his injured foot. God! What was her problem? Inconspicuously, Blaise scanned his surroundings and found no idiotic audience to share in the spectacle and sighed in relief. Damn, for someone so small, she packed a hell of a punchor stomp, as the case would have it. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to pitch away from the metal support and spin, apparating away with a loud pop, landing in an ungraceful heap on his own doorstep. Cursing loudly, Blaise pulled himself to his feet as he clung to the double doors which led into his mansion. The handle gave under the pressure of his hand unexpectedly however and unprepared and unbalanced as he was, Blaise fell forward as the door swung inwards.

With an inexplicable splash, he landed in his entrance hall, spluttering and coughing as he tried to clear his mouth of the water he had unexpectedly engulfed. "What the hell?" he bellowed loudly. "Oh! Master Zabini, you have returned. I was just about to come retrieve you." Blaise sat up, his slacks soaked through from the puddle of water on the floor. No. Puddle wasn't a good descriptiona lake more like. His entire entrance hall had turned into a bloody freaking lake. He looked up slowly at his human major-domo, his eyes narrowed as his temper reached a perilous boiling point. "What happened here?" He managed to force out. The man eyed him dispassionately as he reached down to help Blaise off the floor. "I'm afraid that during your exile" "Absence." Blaise corrected through clenched teeth. "Of course. Absence." The man corrected himself, deadpanned. "During your absence, the manor was much neglected and the gnomes took up residence in the plumbing andwellyou see the results before you." He gestured to the shallow pool of water. "Gnomes." Blaise said disbelievingly. "Everything is salvageable, sir. We have ensured that all your furniture and artworks have been removed to the upper levels of the house and" Throwing up his hands in pure aggravation, Blaise was sorely tempted to burst into hysterical laughter. Of course! The day just got better and better! "Fine!" He said. "Fine, whatever! Please have the repairs done, Cain. I'll be at Malfoy's if you need to reach me."

CINDERELLA It was with a good deal of waving and gesturing that Blaise Zabini stood before Draco Malfoy and explained his predicament. "Gnomes?" The blond asked slowly, his left eyebrow twitching as Draco tried to control his sarcasm. "And of course, the entire ground level of my house is flooded!" "Of course."

"Well?" Blaise demanded, his hair sticking up every which way from the repetitive frustrated ministrations of its owner. Draco shrugged negligently in his wing tipped armchair, the aged leather creaking as he shifted position. "You're rich enough to take up residence at some penthouse suite in a hotelin fact; don't you own a hotel, or several hotels?" Blaise gave his best friend an incredulous look. "What sort of best friend are you?" Draco smirked and shrugged again. "The only one you have, take it or leave it." A sneer curled the Italian's lips as he gestured for Draco's house elves to come forward with several suitcases of rather expensive luggage. "I'm taking up residence here." Huffing with indignant pride, Blaise marched up the winding staircase, the burdened house elves, struggling along behind him as he swore and cursed in Italian, stubbing his toe and inciting another spree of prolific and creative insults, this time, directed at the manor house itself. "That wasn't very nice, Draco." Narcissa frowned down at him from her superior vantage point. "I raised you better than that." Draco's lips widened in a winning smile that never failed to appease his doting mother. "You most certainly did. I was only teasing and as you can see, Zabini understood. He's terrorising my household as we speak." Narcissa nodded succinctly. "Such a sense of humour, from your father's side of the family no doubt." "No doubt." Draco agreed stiffly, any reference to his father being something of a sore spot for him. "If you'll excuse me" "When is Hermione coming for dinner, dear? I haven't had any female company for some time." A nervous hum began in the back of Malfoy's mind as he smiled tightly at Narcissa. "I'm still redecorating the master bedroom and I'm afraid all the bustle will make Hermione suspicious. I think it should remain something of surprise, don't you?" Narcissa clapped her hands gleefully in full anticipation of when the bliss of the newly weds would permeate the house. It had been sometime since the manor had seen any sort of happiness and the marriage of her only child was an event to be celebrated; so naturally, she enthusiastically agreed. Excusing himself, Draco followed in Blaise's footsteps and raced up the staircase, however, instead of heading towards the guest bedrooms to see how Zabini had settled in, Draco ventured deeper into the manor and found himself standing before the double paned doors of the master bedroom.

They creaked open as a house-elf emerged, bowed deeply and sidled away, leaving Draco alone in the eerie glow of candlelight which emitted from the bedroom. As he stepped through the doors, Draco carefully inspected the progress done to the room and nodded in grim satisfaction. To an ordinary observer, nothing had been done to the room; the floorboards remained unbuffed, the walls remained patchy with age and it was still completely devoid of furniture. However, as Draco leant down, he could see, despite the flickering candlelight, that the floor was covered in small carefully carved hollows, each contributing to the circular pattern which covered nearly every inch of the floor. This was only the first step to casting the full binding spell, Draco knew, but even these little markings brought comfort to the bitter cold in his chest. Hermione was one step closer to becoming completely his. The walls and ceilings needed to be covered in the symbols of old magic, but the house elves would soon begin the works on that and all Draco needed to do was to add his blood to the mix. A grim smile flickered on his face, the shifting light casting him in a ghostly manner. With a flick of his wrist, a plain silver dagger flashed into his hand. Draco calmly folded his left sleeve back, admiring the pale, flawless skin as he made an unflinching downstroke, opening the vein which rested so close to the surface. The slow ebb of deep red blood flowed down the length of his wrist and dripped silently onto the hardwood floor. He waited a moment as the blood settled and without warning soaked into the floor seamlessly. The grim smile widened as he crouched, balancing on the balls of his feet. Leaning forward slightly, he held his wrist over a hollow, allowing the flow to fill the small indent and moving onto the next, one by one. Eerily, the small hollows filled with blood solidified and became dark patches almost synchronous with the colour of the wood. "Malfoy? Draco? Where are you?" The blond straightened, an annoyed expression marring his handsome features. With a quick swipe of his wand, Draco sealed the wound on his wrist and stomped out of the master bedroom, ensuring the doors were locked behind him. As he emerged in the hallway, he spotted Blaise heading towards him, his arms held out in a questioning gesture. "Do you get fed in this place or do Malfoys think eating is too common?" He asked curiously. A forced laugh was all Draco could muster as the anger over being interrupted seethed in his veins. He held out a hand and courteously gestured for Blaise to precede him down the stairs but instead of moving, the other wizard stared resolutely at his outstretched arm. "There's blood on your sleeve, mate." His tone was guarded. Draco's eyes darted to the crisp white cuff and sure enough, there was a small spot of blood, bright as a flashing beacon, sitting there, almost mocking him for his carelessness.

For a moment, his heart froze in his chest. He couldn't be discovered; this manner of old magic was illegal and carried heavy penalties. While Draco didn't fear Zabini betraying him to the authorities, there was a cold feeling that his bleeding heart best friend would tell Hermione and then it would all be overno questions asked. "It's my own, Blaise. No need to call in the aurors yet." He replied lightly, adding what he hoped was a good-humoured smile. Blaise seemed to accept it and nothing more was said on the matter, the discussion over dinner casual, lingering on their Hogwarts memories and the old gang. "Goyle is returning to England, did you know?" Zabini said casually as he lifted a forkful of perfectly steamed vegetables to his mouth. Draco gave him a curious look. "Isn't he still being hunted by the aurors? Last I heard, he was still lurking on the outskirts of the Russian border, living a miserable existence." Even as the casual words left Draco's mouth, a tinge of worry stained his mind. While his war crimes were unproven, Draco knew Goyle had more than a finger dipped in the corrupt pie and if Crabbe had been part of the dark army, than Goyle had undoubtedly been part of it too. A shrug answered his question as Blaise continued to chew lazily, courteously smoothing the linen napkin over his lips. "The ministry is getting desperate for studs and fillies and unproven war crime allegations aren't going to hold them back from bringing another mini-Goyle into this world." The blond frowned at his friend's crudeness, the worry increasing. His world was already a tangle of complications and he had a sinking feeling that Goyle was about to add to the mess. "How do you know that he's coming back? Would he really risk it?" Blaise shrugged again; picking up his cutlery before slicing neatly through the fillet mignon. "He owled me to ask for a place to stay, apparently the ministry has refused to reinstate his family fortune and the Goyle mansion is currently home to several hundred new magical army recruits." Draco snorted inelegantly as he took another bite of the exquisite meal, wishing the anxiety with which he viewed the situation would stop turning the tender meat into bitter ashes in his mouth. "What did you tell him?" He asked casually, disguising the tension thrumming in his body. "Said yes." Ignoring the hostile look Draco shot him, Blaise continued to eat. "For old times sake. He's had it bad for the past few years, Malfoy. Goyle may have been in exile like us, but he certainly wasn't languishing in luxury like us. I think he's been punished for whatever miscellany he committed under the iron thumb of the so-called dark lord; the least we could do for him is give him a roof over his head until the sodding ministry stops abusing his family wealth." "We?" Draco hissed from between clenched teeth.

Blaise awarded him with a long-suffering look. "Yes. We. Since my manor isout of commission until further notice, he should stay here, with us." Draco snarled angrily, shoving the delicate china plate away, the beautifully prepared tenderloin now completely unpalatable as he snatched up the antique crystal glass and threw back a gulp of fine white wine. "You presume too much, Zabini." The Italian's eyes flashed angrily. "No, I don't. I allowed you to seek refuge in my home after the Dumbledore fiasco even though I knew you were on the run from the law, even though I knew that by harbouring you, a known conspirator in the death of one of the greatest wizards of our time, I would be implicating myself in the crime too. But I did, because you are my friend, because we are brothers of Slytherin's house. I never thought twice about it and all I'm asking now is that you give Goyle the same fucking second chance I gave you." Malfoy hissed angrily. "I knew you'd reclaim that debt." "Naturally." Blaise sipped his wine delicately, rolling the sharp flavour across his tongue as he swallowed in pleasure. "I'm not a bloody Gryffindor." "I don't like this." Draco muttered. "You don't have to, Malfoy. You have my word that if Gregory puts so much as a toe out of line, I shall help your house elves toss him out on his wide behind." Draco gave him a conciliatory nod and pushed back his chair warily as he allowed his body to slide until he slouched as comfortably as the padding would allow. Jerkily, he snatched the napkin from his lap and threw it onto the table as he allowed his head to fall back against the back rest. "When does he arrive?" Draco asked tiredly. An edgy silence followed his question and Blaise answered in a hasty snap. "What?" Draco bellowed as he shot forward from his relaxed posture; Blaise's answer ringing in his ears. "Tonight." Blaise repeated through clenched teeth. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but I wasn't expecting my house to be uninhabitable when Gregory arrived and I had been hoping to talk you into some sort of truce before I told you that he was back." Draco's eyes resembled to grey ice-chips; so cold was his look. Lips pressed into a firm line, his fingers gripped the edge of the dining table in a white knuckled grip. For several tense moments, he stared at his best friend until the man squirmed uncomfortably and looked away, wary of looking back. "Fine," Came the terse answer as Draco relaxed his tense pose. "But if he so much as looks at me funny, he's gone, understand?"

"Very well, but you might not want to bring Granger here until Gregory leaves. There's no knowing how he'll respond to her presence." Blaise said grimly. Draco's burst of bitter laughter sliced through the tension of the room. "I'm more worried about how Hermione will react to Goyle. I'd be damn surprised if she doesn't blast him to kingdom come." Blaise smiled vaguely; glad to have the grim mood alleviated. As they finished the meal and Blaise savoured the last melting mouthful of Crme Brle, Draco stood and stretched lazily, his profile highlighted against the classic dcor. Pacing slightly as he stretched his legs, the blond yawned lightly and cracked his knuckles out of habit. "He should be here any minute, Draco. There's no need to fidget. He'll be gone within the month." Malfoy's look voiced his scepticism as loud as any vocal objection. "It's unlikely that the ministry will clear him of all wrong doing and unfreeze his assets in four weeks time. You know how the Minister of Magic likes to enjoy the privileges from the seized property of purebloods." Draco's voice was bitter with anger as he recalled the liberal embezzlement of Malfoy funds while he had been in Italy with Blaise. The only thing that had stopped those political sods from colonising the manor was that they couldn't get past the wards. Though the ministry had been forced to pay back every bitter knut later on, Draco couldn't help but wonder if the interest from all that stolen money had funded Minister Towridge's lovely little summer house in Madrid in which he housed his latest barely legal-aged mistress. "I'm sure my manor will be repaired by then, so Goyle can come with me." Nodding stiffly, Draco watched the head house-elf, Binky, approach and offer a deep respectful bow. Unlike his fellow elves, Binky was in possession of deep, rumbling voice laced with a little authority. Merlin only knew how long this particular elf had served the Malfoy family but he was still loyal and formal to a fault. "Your guest has arrived, master. He awaits your presence in the entry hall." Dismissing him with a casual wave, Draco sighed and gave Blaise a belligerent look, his lips curled in a half-hearted sneer. "Shall we go greet the prodigal son?" Blaise rose slowly and nodded. The sight that greeted them was nothing short of a surprise. Gregory Goyle was a shadow of what he had been in their Hogwarts days. Still as tall as Draco, Gregory's wide frame had lost much of its former bulky frame. He had lost so much weight that he now seemed lanky even should he stand next to one of the Weasley boys. His rag tag clothing hung off his stiff, hunched frame and his face held all the signs of a man who had aged beyond his years. Exile had obviously mistreated their former housemate. Stepping forward, Blaise offered the man a one-armed hug, pulling his thin body in with a strength which belied his emotion.

"Good to see you mate." He offered gruffly as the skeletal man gave him an answering nod. Grimly, Draco met the eyes of his former friend, noting the deep tired shadows underneath and the deep furrows around the corners of his eyes. "Goyle." He offered, not budging from his stiff stance. "Still alive, then?" "Unfortunately." Gregory's voice was oddly distorted, as if he hadn't spoken for years and had forgotten how. A tense silence followed as Draco gestured for a house-elf to take the single suitcase at his former friend's side. With a slight glance, the hunched man forfeited the almost empty case and turned a listless gaze towards a point just beyond Draco's shoulder. "Malfoy, I appreciate your hospitality." Again that distorted voice said. Nodding stiffly, Draco looked away, unwilling to be reminded of how perilously close he had come to becoming exactly this skeletal figure before him. Blaise stepped forward, offering the hospitality that Draco would not. "Why don't you have something to eat and then we'll get you settled in one of Malfoy's guest bedrooms? Then in the morning we can go secure a solicitor to help you lodge an appeal to reclaim your inheritance." Goyle's eyes stayed on Draco as he answered; his expression unchanging. "I already have a solicitor. Mr. Carabrum will be handling all the matters." As Blaise slapped a friendly hand against Gregory's back, leading him from the entrance hall and into the recesses of the house, Draco watched with a weary eye as the hunched figure looked away from his eyes and fixed his gaze instead on his shuffling feet as he walked past. Some cold instinct told Draco to watch the retreating back of his former friend and he wearily noted the clenched fists coiled at the other man's side, almost concealed by the black cloak that Goyle wore. Gregory Goyle had changed; not only in physical appearance but also in personality. In Hogwarts, there had been a childish, belligerent air about him but now there seemed to be nothing but a chasm of emptiness perhaps tinged with the bitterness of a lost war. Something told Draco not to trust him, something which hissed in his mind about the danger that this wasted figure posed. Determined, Draco strode towards his private study. He was going to have one of his most trusted employees do some digging on Goyle. He couldn't trust the man, that was for sure, but the question that needed answering was what Goyle's intention was in returning to England; Draco seriously doubted he was eager to be forced to submit to the marriage law. It was the first principle when Draco had been sorted into Slytherin. Trust no one.

There is such a thing in muggle psychology called the Cinderella complex. While a shallow interpretation of the concept theorises about a woman's fear of independence, an in-depth elucidation refers more to the motivation behind people staying in a dysfunctional relationship. Hermione had contemplated this often since the days after her break-up with Ron. For so many years, she had obediently remained in a relationship which made her neither happy nor unhappy. Why? Fear, habit, expectation? It was difficult to say, perhaps a combination of all three. For the briefest moment, it occurred to her that she might have been jumping into a relationship for all the wrong reasons with Draco Malfoy but it was instantly dismissed. She hardly feared him, he was certainly no habit and there was absolutely no expectation from her friends to date himso why not? "Why not indeed" Hermione muttered to herself as she sat under the radiant morning sunshine on the balcony of her apartment, sipping coffee as she sparsely scanned both the muggle and magical morning newspapers. Nothing of particular interest had occurred excepting the small announcement in the social section of the Daily prophet announcing the return of Gregory Goyle but Hermione paid little attention to it as she doubted their paths would cross. Smiling vaguely, Hermione wondered what Draco was doing this time of morning. He had owled her frequently after their sojourn to the orphanage and she was now willing to admit that she enjoyed his attentions. No man had ever made her feel quite as desirable as he did; not only her body, but her mind too. Shifting in her seat, Hermione tried to ignore the tingling between her thighs and instead tried to concentrate on the steaming mug in her hands. As usual, after another one of those unfathomable dreams, she failed miserably. The sand man had seen fit to bless her with another intensely sexual vision last night and lately her mystery lover had taken a more solid form, Draco's face swimming in her consciousness even as the details of the dream slipped away. Sometimes, these dreams would be so real; Hermione would wake in the morning with his taste still lingering in her mouth and the imprint of his body still pulsing with scorching heat inside her throbbing centre. "I need a cold shower." She said to herself laughingly, shaking away the night's dreaming as she blinked rapidly. Pulling her robe closed as a cool wind ruffled the newspapers; Hermione stood and gathered her things to go inside. Taking one last look at the brilliant day outside, she turned and stepped into the warm interior; placing the cooling coffee on the kitchen bench, Hermione turned her head as a knock sounded. Frowning, she searched her mind for who could be visiting her now. She was about to dress and visit Pansy and Harry in St. Mungo's. They had owled her to tell her that Pansy had safely delivered Lily Mariah Potter into the world and Hermione was eager to see the little bundle of joy which had made her father's normally horrendous handwriting into a near illegible scrawl of what could've been hieroglyphs for all Hermione knew. As she yanked open the door, Hermione rolled her eyes and nearly slammed it shut again. "What do you want Ronald?"

The red head gave her a slight smile and gestured towards the interior of the apartment. "Can I come in?" Out of pure courtesy, Hermione stepped aside and let him pass. As he did, Ron brushed his hand casually against hers, ignoring the flinch which Hermione made no effort to disguise. "Don't make me ask you again Ronald, what do you want?" Ron smiled at her brightly, as if they were still best friends. "I thought we could head over to visit little Lily together. Get a teddy bear and some flowers on the way." A resigned sort of frustration welled up in Hermione as she shrugged. "Where's Triska?" "I wouldn't know. I broke up with her straight after I saw you the other night." He stepped in front of Hermione; his hands grasped her upper arms gently. "I realised that I couldn't leave you vulnerable to Malfoy while I dated someone else just to spite you. It put too big of a wedge between us." Hermione awarded him with an incredulous look. "Really?" She asked disbelievingly. "Whatever made you think that?" Shrugging off his hands, Hermione sidestepped him and headed towards her bedroom. Pausing, she spoke over her shoulder. "I'm not vulnerable to Draco and you put that wedge between us the moment you decided to cheat on me. It's done, we're done. You've crossed the bridge and set it alight behind you, now get out so I can get dressed and visit the Potters on my own." "Hermione. Don't be like this. I've apologised hundreds of times, I've never regretted anything so much in my life and all I want is for you to give me another chance." Ron pleaded, following as she tried to shut her bedroom door against his pushing hands. "You've succeeded, for God's sake! You made me so jealous and angry that I couldn't think straight. You've made your point! Please Mione, please, justjust give me one more chance. Come back to me!" Hermione watched as tears seemed to mist in his eyes. She shook her head as her mind wandered to Draco. She shook her head; she couldn't do this again. "What do you want me to do?" Ron asked desperately. "Beg? Is that it?" With a thump, he dropped to his knees and threw eager arms around her bare legs. "I swear on my life, Mione, I'll never do anything to hurt you ever again. I'll love you like you deserve and I'll never look twice at another women ever again! I swear! I'll marry you right now to prove it!" His cornflower blue eyes stared at her beseechingly as he tightened his grip. "Malfoy may appear charming now, but think Mione, think about what he's done to you, the power he'll have over you in the future if you do marry him!" His teeth clenched. "If you marry me, you'll have mom, dad and all my brothers and Harry there for you. A nice big family to protect you. How can you be certain Malfoy has truly changed?" A whisper of doubt curled around Hermione's heart and she tried to fight the rising anxiety over Draco. God but Ron was right on so many aspects. Wizarding marriage was a daunting thingno separation, no

divorceno escape. If she married Ron, then even if she were unhappy in the marriage, she would always be closely surrounded by the closest thing she had to family. With Draco she would have no safety net, no assurance or promise of security. If she jumped, she jumped blindly into a dark unknown chasm. Oh Harry would visit now and then, but the warmth of the Weasleys would be forever beyond her reach, Merlin knew Draco had no family left. "Come back to me Hermione. Remember what we hadwe were so happy." Hermione's eyes closed. Oh they were happy then, those glorious euphoric days after the end of the war. She had thought that she would never be happier and oh how right she had been. She never was happier. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "That was then, Ron. People change and we fall out of love all the time. I wasn't truly happy with you for those last few years and I stayed becausewellbecause I was used to it. You felt it too Ron. I had my work to distract meyou had yourego. The past isn't the future." Ron seemed to lose much of his fight as he slumped, his arms loosening around her legs as he looked down. "So you're saying no?" "I think we both knew what was coming." She replied grimly, trying to shake him off. "You're really going to give me up, for for that MALFOY BASTARD!" Ron's voice rose with each word, scrambling up as Hermione stepped away. "YOU'LL REGRET IT! HE'LL TREAT YOU JUST THE SAME AS I DID!" Hermione paled. "What are you saying?" Ron sneered. "Oh please. You think he's faithful? You think that a rich pureblood isn't sneaking around behind your back, getting some on the side? Have you even slept with him yet?" Ron answered his own question with a bitter twist of his lips. "Probably not, you were always such a prigunless of course you're afraid that he'll ditch you're pathetic bookworm ass when he finds out that all you do during sex is lie there and repeat the books you know verbatim. You're a fucking lousy shag, Hermione Granger and you" "GET OUT!" She screamed, scrambling for her wand which lay on her bedside table. "YOU ARROGANT GIT, GET OUT!" Stalking towards her, Ron smiled coolly, pleased that he had finally managed to crack her calm exterior. "Well? Have you slept with him yet?"

Hermione's silence said it all. "Of course not. GeeDraco Malfoy, Slytherin sex god hasn't gotten you off yet has he? Probably finds the task too distasteful even when he's trying to trick you into falling in love with him. He'll probably leave you at the alter and give the Prophet an exclusive interview all about you and you know what I'll do, I'll laughbecause you deserve to be laughed at for being so fucking gullible. He doesn't want you Mione; no one else will ever want you!"

CHAOS Ron had left promptly after the outburst, a smug smile fixed on his face while Hermione stared after him, shell shocked. The slam of the door echoed through her mind as if it were nothing but an empty cavern, ringing in her ears like the harsh words Ron had thrown at her time and again. She was almost numb and insensate as she staggered and leant against the nearest solid object, allowing the blunt edge of the marble kitchen table top dig into the side of her waist as her tense arm sprawled across the top, sweeping away a bowl half full with cooling porridge. She wanted to cry, God knows she desperately wanted to let those traitorous tears flow free down her face and scream and curse Ron like she should have done while he was standing smugly before her. The bile and salt which flooded her mouth gagged her and Hermione forced herself to swallow and force away whatever pity she felt for herself. She was so through with anger and she was through with pitywhat was there left now but emptiness. Hermione sunk to the floor, her thin robe ineffective against the cold which seeped through and cooled her skin. So that was it, perhaps from then on, she would subsist on a life of apathy. She would simply Oh HELL! Hermione swore at herself and swiped at her eyes. This was pathetic, she raged at herself, satisfied that her face was dry and those traitorous tears had not escaped after all. Why would she let that Weasley bastard affect her any more? Merlin, he had ruined enough of her life as it was, what she felt for him now was nothing more than what she felt for hovering insect. One thing bothered her still. Something Ron had said had about Dracosomething which had stricken a rather sore nerve. Why hadn't Dracowellwhy hadn't he tried to seduce her into his bed yet? He had come goddamn close but that instance didn't count and she had heard enough stories about Draco to know that he was by no means celibate. Staring at the bedraggled reflection of herself in the kitchen window, Hermione calmly smoothed down her hair and frowned. Well! She certainly wasn't going to win any points like this!

Sniffing indignantly, Hermione spun away. Foolish of her, it didn't matter what she looked like. A relationship should not be based solely on looks or physical attraction. If Draco Malfoy wanted her, he would want her for her mind and heart too! She would forget the idiot men for today! She was going to go out andand spoil herself! Nodding sharply in affirmation, Hermione quickly rushed to her bedroom and threw on the first outfit she saw before she rushed out the door, clutch in hand. Today was Hermione Granger's day; for herself and no one else; starting with Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlour. By some good fortune, the day was just warm enough for Hermione to venture forth without a jacket and just bright enough to warrant a pair of snazzy sunglasses. Suddenly, she felt better. This was what it should all be about. A feeling of independence swept through her, taking with it the doubts about Malfoy and the annoyance with Ron. She felt more like herself now, more like the Hermione Granger who had graduated Hogwarts, top of her class with a world of possibility at her feet. Hermione was still smiling broadly as she entered the muggle entrance of the leaky cauldron and greeted Tom cheerfully as he went about his day to day business, wiping down the scarred top of the wooden bar as he gave her a crooked smile. "Morning Ms. Granger. Anything I can get for ye today?" Hermione was on the verge of shaking her head in denial before she spotted the dark head of hair ensconced in a dark corner of pub, lit only by a flickering candle as the hand gripped a quill which raced across a thick stack of parchment. Smiling slightly, she turned away and walked towards the bar, gesturing for Tom's attention as he had returned to his chores. "Two bottles of butterbeer, please." She said, counting out the coins which she placed in Tom's outstretched palm. With the sparkling yellow drinks in hand, Hermione made her way over to the corner table and dropped herself into the opposing seat without invitation. "Well! Fancy seeing you here!" Hermione exclaimed as she pushed a bottle of butterbeer across the table. "I thought you said you'd never step foot in this place again after that spectacle you made of yourself at Luna's bachlorette party!" The woman glanced up and Hermione was greeted with the familiar features of a pretty Asian girl, similar to her own age, with pixy-like features, a button nose and a bob of black hair which framed her round face perfectly. "Mione!" She exclaimed brightly, throwing down her quill as she launched her tiny form bodily across the table to hug her. Without loud thud, the bottle of butterbeer spilled across the murky floor of the pub followed closely by the lit candle.

Hermione shrieked and untangled herself from the other woman's grasp as she watched the puddle of butterbeer flame alight, the trail of fire licked the half full bottle, prostrate on its side and the remaining contents within soon caught alight too. With a bang, the bottle exploded into shards of glass, causing both women to jump back with a synchronous screams just as Tom rushed over. Cursing up a rather creative storm, he threw a bucket of murky water on the fire, watching grimly as the liquid and flame united to create a cloud of steam covering the charred legs of a nearby table. "OUT!" Both women quickly gathered their things and rushed for the cramped little courtyard with the dead end brick wall and tapped the bricks as if the devil himself was after them. When they rushed through the small opening, barely allowing for the bricks to move away, they met each other's eyes sheepishly and broke out into hysterical giggles. "Typical!" Hermione forced out from between her laughter. "What is it about you and the leaky cauldron that always results in disaster?" Another wave of laughter swept both women as they leant against the now closed brick wall, clutching their middles as the mirth made their abdomens ache. It was in this state that the two Slytherins came upon them. Draco and Blaise eyed the two hysterical women who had their hands braced on their thighs and stopped before them, waiting to be noticed. Hermione was first to recover as she spotted the shock of blond hair which heralded the unexpected arrival of her fianc. A bright smile rose to her lips as she watched the sardonic smile curl his talented lips but faltered as Ron's words flooded back into her mind. She settled for a small, stiff grin instead and if Draco noticed anything amiss, he didn't show it. "Darling, Malfoys do not laugh like wild hyenas in the middle of Diagon Alley; it is rule number 157 in the Malfoy handbook of life." He drawled as he dropped a lingering kiss on her cheek. She gave him a cheeky grin and returned the kiss chastely. "And is rule number 158 that a Malfoy should not compare your prospective bride to a wild hyena?" Draco smirked as he wrapped an arm around her waist, turning her so that his body shielded hers from the eyes of both their companions. "Not at all. Rule number 158 states that a Malfoy bride must greet their grooms appropriately." A desperate grin tugged at her lips and she couldn't fight the goofy smile which rose to the surface. "Appropriately?" Hermione hummed deep in her throat and watched as his grey eyes melted into mercurial silver.

"Of course the handbook was written back in the 1500s so I think my ancestors had a more submissive woman in mind but I wouldn't be opposed to finding you on your knees when I come home, holding a glass of wine and " "YOU!" Came the outraged exclamation from behind Draco's shoulder and ignoring his petulant protests, Hermione shrugged off his restraining arm and darted towards her friend, guilty that she had forgotten the basic courtesies the moment Draco had come into sight. From the deep quality of the voice, Hermione knew that it was Blaise who had spoken and from the outraged expression of his face, she had little doubt that he was the source of ire which rippled around them. The Italian was pointing an accusing finger at the small Asian woman. "Youyouyou" Hermione wasn't sure whether to laugh orwelllaugh. Instead, she stepped forward and pushed Blaise's finger aside and moved to stand beside the shorter woman. "Zabini, Draco. May I introduce my friend, Cat? She's a mediwitch at St. Mungo's." The Italian wizard remained vehemently silent as Cat smirked and perched a hand on her hip. "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Zabini." Somehow, her tone implied the exact opposite and Hermione cast a confused look between the two. "Have you met?" She asked as she gave Cat a deep, penetrating look. The petite Asian gave her a crinkle eyed smile. "Nope. Never seen the idiot in my life." "Liar! I should have you arrested for assault! You" He spluttered to a frustrated stop as Draco gave him a sarcastic look. "Right. Mione darling, why don't we leave these two to get acquainted?" Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what are we going to do?" Draco's smile gained an edge as his eyes sparkled. "I was hoping we could test out that theory about you being on your knees." "Chauvinistic ass." "You love it."

"So we meet again. Zabini." Cat's expression could only be described as smug as she shifted an armload of parchment files so that they rested comfortably against her hip. "I would say that it was lovely to see you again, but we both know that wouldn't be true." "Do you really think I'm not serious? I should have you arrested for assaulting me! In fact, you're coming with me right now to find a patroller!" Grabbing her arm unceremoniously, Blaise dragged her forcefully down the street towards a uniformed patrol auror, who spied them coming easily as Cat made something of a ruckus as she was dragged. Blaise huffed as he restrained her. "Officer. This woman assaulted me! Broke my foot and" The uniform glanced away from Blaise and stared at Cat. "Is that true ma'am?" "Goodness gracious, no. I'm a mediwitch and I swore to do no harm from the moment I donned those robes." Cat smiled sweetly and glanced at Blaise. "I have no idea why this gentleman is accusing me of such a thing. He simply seized me on the street and dragged me here." The officer gave Blaise a disgruntled look. "Do you have any witnesses, sir?" "No! I wasn't with anyone at the time and I was in a little too much pain to be flagging down strangers! You can't possibly " "Perhaps you could show me your broken foot." The patrol auror gave him a deadpanned glance. "Wellit's not broken right now, the incident happened" "Your medical transcripts, then." Blaise spluttered. "Wellit wasn't technically broken, but she stomped on me and injured me severely!" The uniformed auror gave him a look before he turned to look at Cat once more. "Ma'am. Do you deny these allegations?" Cat gave the officer an outraged look. "Of course! I am barely five feet tall and weigh 110 pounds! Where as this man here" She trailed off as the officer looked towards Blaise. She glanced at the name tag on his uniform and smiled shyly as she lowered her eyes. "Officer Brand, I seriously doubt I could harm him at all even if I had done anything." Officer Brand stared at the six foot tall, lithe Italian and shook his head. "Sir. Filing false reports is a crime which can warrant up to ten months in prison" "It's not false! She knows very well what she's done!" Blaise turned angrily towards Cat, his hand still grasping her arm as he shook her. "Tell him the truth you little she-devil!" "Sir, I'm taking you into custody for filing a false report and assault."

The patrol officer stepped forward in an instant and grabbed Blaise's free arm, twisting it into a painful angle behind his back. Snapping the magical bonds around one wrist; the officer wrenched Blaise away from Cat and reached quickly for the other wrist. "Sir! Resisting arrest is an offence!" Blaise flailed wildly as his other wrist was forced into the magical bonds and officer Brand put a sedating charm on him. As the cotton wool feeling descended on his brain, Blaise glanced at the foggy figure as he was pulled away. The indistinct image raised a taunting hand and wiggled her fingers in farewell, blowing him a kiss before he felt the compressed sensation of a side-apparation dragging him from Diagon Alley. When the groggy feeling was finally lifted from his body, Blaise found himself hanging onto a pair of bars as he regained his balance and prayed that either his head or his feet would stop dancing. He blinked and watched the retreating figure of his arresting auror and was tempted to yell after him, but decided not to try his luck. When he was finally back to normal, Blaise glanced around at the large share cell and noted the distasteful grey colour scheme with the distinctly uncomfortable stone walls and benches. He assumed this was where wizards were held until they were officially charged because there seemed to be a few strays hugging the bars much like he was. However, there were also two others. One which sat on the cold stone floor, hugging his knees as he cried loudly onto his already tear soaked knees and another rather bedraggled creature who was limping towards him in a heap of rags and foul smell. "You" A skeletal finger emerged from the rags. "you have a lovely head of hair." The grimy fingers rubbed some of the silky black locks as he tugged. "I must have it!" "What?" Blaise screamed as the figure reached into the ragged robes and pulled out what looked like an animal pelt. "Like this you see." The grubby creature gestured wildly, swinging the pelt around like a weapon as he lowered the hood of the robe to reveal a bald, scarred head set with beady, sunken eyes and thin, pocked cheeks. "I have to hide this spot! This spot!" The man pointed wildly at what looked like a scarred mole on the top of his head. As Blaise watched, the man used a sharp, dirty nail to scratch it, breaking the skin and drawing a thin line of oozing blood from the wound. "The muggles! Thems the ones who gave this to me. So they can find me againso they can milk me for my magic! So I have to hide ithide itthat's right. I need your lovely, lovely hair for that"

"Give me your scalp!" The bedraggled figure screamed and Blaise's voice soon joined in the shrieks. "Officer! Officer! Oh Merlin, help!" Merlin help that 'Cat' woman! She wouldn't get away with this but good heavens, Merlin better help him first!

"So. What's wrong?" Hermione's eyes darted towards Draco only to find the grey eyes staring unseeingly down the street. "Nothing is wrong, Malfoy. What makes you ask such a question?" "Darling" His tone carried such an edge of exasperation that Hermione felt almost certain that he had read her mind; if not for the fact that eye contact was needed to practice legilimency. "It's nothing important, Draco." "Hermione." She threw up her hands and moved away from him, hugging herself as if suddenly cold in the beautiful warm day. "Look, Ron came to see me." Draco spun on his heels and faced her, his eyes boring into hers. "No." He stated, bluntly, his eyes furious and heated. "If you even think about going back to him, I'll kill him. I drag you back to me kicking and screaming if I have to, I'll " Hermione clapped a hand over his mouth and gave him a reproachful look. "The dragging won't be necessary. I turned him down. He had some rather hostile words to say to me but it's over. Completely and absolutely." Hermione put her arms around his stiff body and rested her chin on his sternum as she glanced up at his rigid expression. "What did he say to you?" Draco's tone sent a cold shiver down her spine. "It hardly matters." Draco's head angled down slowly, his eyes met and held hers. His fingers pinched her chin and tilted her head up. "It does matter." He emphasised as he gave her a bruising kiss. Pulling away, he stared her down before he asked again.

"What did he say to you?" Another denial rose to her lips hard and fast and Draco lowered his head again to give her another delirious, toe curling kiss. "MmmDraco!" Hermione tore her lips away as she glanced nervously around the street. She had never been comfortable with public displays and even Draco couldn't make her think otherwise. "Just forget it will you? It really is nothing." The look Draco gave her said it all and Hermione sighed in frustration. Hesitantly, she recounted the events of the morning and watched as Draco's expression darkened to a stormy intensity. "Is that all?" He asked finally, not a shred of emotion in his voice. Hermione nodded hesitantly and touched his hand gently. "Ron never thinks before he speaks, Malfoy. Nothing worth taking to heart. I understand that now. He's like a child. He lashes out" "Come home with me." Draco said suddenly, his eyes boring into hers. Hermione blushed to her roots and shook her head. "Draco, you shouldn't take anything he says about yourprowess seriously. He's just taking shots as Ron does, and you don't have anything to prove to me" She stopped short. "Not that I doubt you in any way! It's just" While she was rambling, Draco had apparated both of them away, causing Hermione to squeal in surprise before they landed firmly before the gates of Malfoy's Wiltshire manor. "Draco! What on earth are you doing?" He answered the question by dragging her through the opening gates and up the cobbled driveway without so much as a word. Within minutes, Hermione was standing in Draco's bedroom, twisting her hands nervously as she glanced around the room. Small tokens and photos told her that this room had been his for much of his childhood so she voiced the only though which would come to her nervous brain. "Why haven't you moved into the master suite? A house like thisyou must have one." "I will." He murmured into her ear. "On our wedding night. We will." His cool lips trailed down her throat and Hermione moved her head to give him better access. Sensing her submission, he nipped her skin gently and sucked the sweet flesh until he could see the beginning of a red mark forming on her neck. Smiling in satisfaction he pulled away, pleased as she made a reluctant pleading noise as she tried to drag him back.

The insecurity was written across her face as he pulled away and Draco knew that Weasley's hate fuelled words had gotten to her. Fury ripped through his body and Draco clenched and unclenched his fists but pulled away further. "Stay here, Hermione. I'm going to see your idiot of an ex and when I get back, I want you to be here." Draco backed towards the door of the large bedroom, his eyes burning with fire.

Hermione had paced the length and breadth of the room at least a hundred times over, had gone down to see Narcissa and enjoyed a long conversation with her regarding the possibilities of the wedding, had found the expansive kitchens filled with both humans and house elves alike, working side by side in a cohesive manner and had spoken to the head gardener who was busy replanting several rose bushes harmed by previous rains. It had been nearly three hours and still Draco had yet to return. Hermione had even found the intimidating library and wandered around the extensive collection until her feet had ached. As she reentered the Draco's bedroom, Hermione sighed and crossed to the window. It was mid-afternoon outside and the bright sunshine spilled through the glass and lighted the room into a wonderful flurry of colour and light. The deep green bed-spread shimmered and beckoned temptingly and Hermione was tempted to take a nap and simply wait for Draco to wake her. But she was tense. Too tense. What was Draco doing to Ron? What if he? Hermione laughed out loud. What did she care about Ronald Weasley, the ass that he was? Draco could do whatever he liked to that sodding bastard so long as he didn't get into too much trouble. God knows the man deserved it. Shaking her head, Hermione remembered the hurtful words Ron had thrown at her that very morning. such a prig pathetic bookworm fucking lousy shag gullible Hermione's breath caught in her throat and she wanted so desperately to run, leave and make sure Draco didn't ever find out those things about herGod, what if he really was disappointed in her, what if he really She was half way to the door when she stopped short. With a furious cry, Hermione shook those thoughts from her head and clenched her teeth angrily. No! She cast her mind back, remembered the incredible sensation of Draco buried deep in her flesh, the burning heat and hunger Clenching her teeth, Hermione felt her stubborn streak rise.

She turned from the door and her eyes landed on the bed. An idea rose to the forefront of her mind and the more she considered it, the more determined she was that this was a good idea. Giving one last look at the door, Hermione began undoing the buttons of her blouse, throwing aside the light garment as she started on her jeans. Kicking off her ballet flats, Hermione pulled the legs of the coarse material down her thighs, then her calves and threw the blue garment onto her blouse. With harried movements, Hermione crossed the room to the large closet. Throwing open the doors, she searched the rows of neatly hung clothing and pulled out simple white dress shirt. With a burst of pure reckless energy, Hermione discarded her underwear and shrugged into the white shirt, buttoning up the oversized garment till only a hint of her milky white throat showed along with a mile of leg. She contemplated lying down on the bed but her own agitation made her want to move. So instead, she planted herself before the window and allowed the afternoon rays of sunshine to caress her skin and pierce the thin white material of her shirt until her silhouette was illuminated through and through. She could have no clue what a sight she made as Draco opened the door of his bedroom and found her standing there, the nervous energy radiating off her as she stared out the window. Hermione started as she felt a pair of familiar arms snake around her waist and a pair of strong hands brush the underside of her breasts, making her rise on tiptoe and squirm in his ever-tightening grasp. "What did you do to him?" Was all she could think to ask. "Nothing he didn't deserve." Draco breathed deeply, the rise and fall of his chest palpable at her back. "But I don't think that's what we should be discussing." Ron slipped instantly from Hermione's mind as those hands cupped her fully, caressing and torturing through the material of his shirt. "Oh? What should we be talking about?" "Rule number 158." Draco relied pertly, his fingers already slipping the buttons from their respective holes. "I think you're doing remarkably well for a woman who hasn't even read the hand book yet." All the buttons had come undone and Hermione could feel the shirt gaping open in front, revealing her nakedness to his roving eye. She heard his sharp gasp and the heated chuckle which followed. "Oh my. What a sight you make." Draco murmured in her ear as he reached down with one hand and pinched her nipples until they pebbled and she bucked under his grasp. The hand continued its descent until the warm fingers toyed with the curls between her thighs. Hermione heard her breath echo harshly around the room, almost synchronous with his as he rubbed his hardness against her spine.

In a flash, Hermione turned in his arms and sealed her lips onto his. With heat, teeth and tongue, Draco returned the kiss with fervour, stripping away the shirt and lifting her, he carried her bodily until she was planted firmly on his bed, his body covering hers as he ground his cloth covered erection into the wet triangle of her heat. He stepped away for only a moment, ignoring her cries for him to return, so that he could unhesitatingly strip away his own clothing. Within moments they were pressed flesh to flesh as Hermione dragged her greedy hands over every inch of his smooth, hot skin, her gaze caught in his as he teased her mercilessly with slow rotations of his hips. "What has brought this on, angel?" He gasped. Hermione was beyond explanation. All she could feel was his body, the heat, the weight and incredible physical, emotional and mental presence. "Talk later." She pleaded, arching her hips, begging for contact which Draco would not grant. He shook his head. "Oh nowe'll talk now." Something broke in her in that instant, whether it was desperation or need, Hermione didn't care. The anticipation made her will bend and break under its pressure and Hermione bit his smug lips, drawing blood as she screamed. "Don't you want to be inside me, Draco? Can't you feel how wet I am for you? Isn't this what you fantasised about doing to me every time I bested you at anything in Hogwarts? Didn't you just want to fuck me into submission whenever you heard me being called the 'Gryffindor princess'? Didn't you ever want to destroy that innocence, cum inside me until my purity was smothered in your juices?" Her eyes blazed as his vision flickered. "Tempting isn't it, Draco? You want to find out how tight and wet I amyou want to know the noises I make, if I'll beg for you to fuck me harder, fasterif I'll scream you name when " Just as her frustration was climbing into anger, Draco thrust forward and impaled her burning, soaking flesh, throwing back his head and let free a growl of pleasure, possession and mindless fire. Arching, thrashing and bucking, Hermione joined in the primal dance of flesh and bone until the room was filled with nothing more than the sound of their joining bodies and the rejoicing hums which escaped their parched and burning throats. The slide of their slick joined bodies became wild, uncontrolled, so fast that Draco had to pin her hips to maintain the friction. He was coated in her, his body drowned in the scent of their mutual pleasure. A scream escaped her lips as Hermione burned, froze and was engulfed by the sensation of her body bursting apart, reuniting only to be torn apart once more. This could have lasted for a split second or several days, it hardly matteredher consciousness was slipping into the darkness already.

INTERLUDE She was soft and warm in the darkness under his sheets, her breath whispering quietly against his chest in a steady rhythm while he allowed his relentless hands to stroke her smooth curves. Hermione hadn't stirred since she had fainted post-coital and Draco hadn't slept. He'd been surprisingly restless, even after spending himself in her welcoming body. Instead, he chose to watch her sleep, explore all the dips and hollows he had failed to appreciate in his rush earlier that night. He had never known Hermione had such a mouth on her though undoubtedly many of her words had been triggered by a certain degree of insecurity from Weasley's idiotic attack. The thought of the youngest male Weasley brought a smirk to his face and Draco took a deep satisfied breath as he ran a firm hand down her flank. Like silk, he thought, pressing his body closer to hers, nudging her thighs apart so that he could insinuate his leg in between. She was still warm and a little sticky from their last encounter and Draco possessively rubbed himself along her sweet opening. Still Hermione didn't stir, her breathing remained steady. Sighing slightly in both frustration and amusement, Draco rolled her gently onto her back and moved with her so that his leg remained between hers. She really was taking this 'petite morte' thing a little too seriously and Draco wanted her awake so that he could top off the night with a few more orgasms before he had to relinquish her to the day. Unable to resist, Draco's hand drifted downwards, circled her naval before coming to rest at the dark triangle of curls. Patiently, he parted her warm lips and found the hooded button of flesh before he began to rub it in slow, teasing circles. Hermione continued to sleep. Growling in bemusement, Draco rubbed harder, pinched, pulled and circled. She warmed under his hand and a subtle misting of moisture pressed against his hand but it wasn't enough. In a flash, Draco threw the covers from the bed and shimmied down her body until his face was level with her dark nether curls. Rolling her thighs apart until she rested in a blatantly indecent sprawl, Draco buried his nose in her warmth and breathed deeply. He bet Weasley never understood this pleasure, couldn't appreciate the beautiful, unique bouquet an attractive woman offered. Mixed with the salty scent of his own release, the perfume was a veritable aphrodisiac. "Mmm" The noise escaped him before he could restrain himself as he took another deep breath. Licking his lips, Draco pressed forward and worshipfully caressed her warming centre. As her sweet taste settled on his tongue, Draco moaned and rubbed his hardened member against the sheets beneath his

hips. Without ceremony, Draco slid his fingers into her slick core and scissored his fingers to part her wider for his inspection. In the darkness, her sweet centre was nothing more than a shadow but he could feel her throbbing heat wafting against his skin. Purring with delight, he bowed his head again and licked her voraciously, adding a sheen to her swollen lips which made her all the more tempting to him. As he sealed his lips firmly over her opening, Draco sucked hard and allowed his tongue to penetrate her the way other parts of him longed to do. Under him, Hermione shifted, her body undulating in a primal rhythm as panting breaths filled the room. Smiling against her, he licked, nibbled, teased and played with her soaking flesh until Hermione was hovering on the brink, her consciousness returning to her just as she woke. Lifting her head, she looked down the stretch of her body only to see the top of his bent head between her spread thighs. Before she could protest, Draco seized the opportunity and drawing back his lips, he settled his teeth on her clit and bit, bit hard. With a flash of brilliant heat, Hermione shattered and let out a long, harsh scream as her body bowed off the bed, convulsing beneath his restraining hands. Laughing darkly, Draco climbed on top of her bucking body and impaled her with one strong thrust. His aching hardness throbbed within her and engorged even more with the overflow of blood. Hermione could feel every detail of him inside her, from the smooth head to the ridges of distended veins which caressed her fluttering walls. As if she couldn't control herself at all, Hermione felt her legs wrap around his back, sealing him in and refusing his exit. Still, Draco managed to pull out before ramming himself back into her giving flesh while his laughter echoed around the room. He rode her roughly, like a wild filly that needed to be broken in. She was so wet and tight between her legs that Draco could barely keep himself from just giving in. Eyes fluttering closed; Draco threw back his head and growled gutturally with rapture. His back was arched, his muscles strung tight as a bow, the moonlight streamed over him and made him look much like a silver God come to earth to make love to a mortal woman and when he finally felt the choking clench of her inner muscles, Draco arched upwards, wrapped his hand tightly in her curls and battered her relentlessly with his throbbing cock while she cried out her desperate release. He coated her insides, released his scalding seed until she was heated from the inside out and dripping with his brand. "You're awake." THE MOMENT

Hermione was scolding herself, swearing and cursing up a storm as it were, inside her head; not a whisper escaped her lips in fear that she would wake the man sleeping soundly in the large four poster bed. Draco looked like a fallen angel, half swathed in the dark sheets and aglow from the post dawn sun. He was still sprawled lazily across the bed, his arm resting across the pillow where her head had lain moments before. He would have looked like the perfect picture of satiation if it weren't for the frown marring his lips. In fact, he'd started frowning the moment she had carefully extricated herself from his grip. It almost made Hermione smile. Almostif she weren't so damned late for work! A grin tugged at her lips as she imagined Genie, her secretary, seeing Hermione in the state that she was in now, hair knotted and clothing askew! The woman was always saying that Hermione needed to get out and have some funwellshe got her wish! Shaking her head, Hermione knew that she would have to stop by her apartment and simply be atrociously late for work. Hermione's eyes wandered to Draco's sleeping form once more. Oh heck, it was worth it anyway. She deserved to be shagged senseless by her fianc once in a while, it was good for the stress levels. Brushing a hand through her tangle of curls, Hermione wandered lazily towards the bed until she was leaning over his prostrate form. With a flash, Draco's arm shot out and encircled her waist, pulling her down with a firm tug until Hermione was moulded to his body. "Morning after regrets?" He asked, his body tense beneath hers. Hermione threw back her head and laughed. "Good lord no, Draco. It's Monday morning and I happen to be late for work." Draco relaxed in an instant and returned her smile. "Then why were you sneaking off like a little thief, hmm?" She rolled her eyes as she tried to extricate herself from his firm grip; with little success it seemed. "I didn't want to wake you. You looked so peaceful and un-slytherin like." "Good God woman! You sure know how to bruise a man's egoand after last night, I was hoping for a little praise, maybe another quick tumble this morning as a reward, but what do I get instead? This is some" Hermione shook her head quickly and pried herself away. "Nono tumbles, even quicks ones. I'm very, very late." "Call in sick. I am." He pouted as Hermione shoved her feet into her ballet slips.

Hermione threw her hands up in the air in frustration as she backed towards the door. "That's easy for you to say. You own the company." When Draco began to retort, Hermione held her hand up. "No, don't. I'll see you later." Without another word, she opened the bedroom door and sprinted into the hallway. Racing down the stairs, Hermione called out a quick goodbye to Narcissa's smirking portrait and apparated away as soon as she cleared the boundaries of the Malfoy property. With a pop, she appeared before her apartment door and quickly unlocked it, running inside. She was pleasantly sore and every movement brought another familiar twinge to mind. She was covered in Draco's scent and the sensation was oddly warming; she almost didn't want to wash it off. The sticky sensation however, really had to go. The sound of wings interrupted her reverie and Hermione's head snapped up just in time to see one of the slightly incompetent public owls launching straight for her head. Reflexes still honed by the Great War, she ducked sideways and snatched the owl from the air two handed. The mottled brown bird gave her an indignant hoot before dropping its burden onto the floor of her apartment. With another offended hoot, the owl squirmed from her grip and took off for her open window. Hermione scooped up the Daily Prophet, unwrapped its confining ribbon and unrolled it on her kitchen bench top. The flashing title was of its usual sensationalist quality and Hermione gave it a passing glance before she turned away and turned back quite suddenly. "OH GOOD MERCIFUL MERLIN!" The headline flashed again and again, imprinting itself in her retinas. Sweet Merlin, her brains must have been completely addled after that night with Draco, after all DracoDraco "DRACO MALFOY! What have you done?" Hermione scanned the headline and the accompanying photograph and burst into hysterical laughter. She had not anticipated this! Not at all! Men, being men tended to resort to fists first and asking questions later, but this, this surely attested to Draco's true nature. It was just soso Slytherin! And as sure as day, this had to be Draco's handiwork. She wondered if Ron had seen this morning's newspaper yet because if he hadn't Hermione wanted to be there to witness the out burst, this surely was the show of the century!

As she wiped away the tears of laughter and blinked to clear away her mirth, Hermione scanned the article againand well, well, well, Rita Skeeter strikes again! At last we have a logical explanation for Ronald Weasley's (Keeper for the Cannons) fickle love life! For countless weeks, this author along with my dear beloved readers has watched the torrid affairs come and go. When golden couple, Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley separated, the public was distraught! Theirs was a war romance which we had sworn would last, but alas noMs. Granger has ended up in the arms of the Malfoy magnate and Mr. Weasley has ended up in the arms of another Mr.! The photographic inset was surprisingly motionless for a magical photograph, but the details, printed in colour, were faultless. The centre piece of the picture was the large, rather simple bed with Ron lying prostrate and obviously asleep upon it. His Quidditch toned physique was hidden only by a very strategically placed sheet and a darker, well tanned arm which was slung possessively over his middle. What made the picture well beyond ordinary was that said arm belonged to an equally well tanned figure with short cropped hair, broad shoulders and an obvious five o'clock shadow upon their chin. While the unknown figure had their face buried in the pillow, the features were unmistakable; this body could belong only to another man. Hermione studied Ron's face and laughed upon spotting the faint smile on his features as he subtly shifted towards the warm body next to him. As the photograph replayed the movement again and again, she released a disbelieving sigh and continued to read the accompanying article. It seems that the reason behind Mr. Weasley's short lived relationship with Triska Benedict was not another woman, as was speculated, but another man. Indeed, when this reporter was alerted to this particular piece of news, she refused to believe it but alas, here is photographic proof! A picture is worth a thousand words as they say. But fear not, Mr. Weasley, should you be reading this humble reporter's words. Allow me simply to extend our congratulations on your 'outing' and I must say, a few of the more astute followers of your progress would like to impart that we always had our suspicions and we thought it was only a matter of time. Further details on page 3. Hermione wiped her eyes again and dropped the newspaper on the bench top. Shaking her head, she bit her lip in an attempt to stop another burst of laughter. Draco was far too clever. When he said that he would deal with Ron, she thought that perhaps he would give him a warning, or a beating at worst but thisthis, Ron couldn't even retaliate against this story without seeming either completely homophobic or just an outright liar. He couldn't even implicate Draco in any wrong doing because undoubtedly, the Slytherin had been too careful to leave any hint of evidence behind; she doubted even Skeeter knew who her source was. Oh, this was too good! Hermione was sorely tempted to frame the photograph and article and hang it on her wall. Ronald Weasley had it coming but Hermione had never imagined that he had it coming in this form.

This day was just getting better and better! Hermione found herself full of mirth even as she entered her offices a very rushed hour later. Greeting her secretary Genie brightly, Hermione entered her office and found herself face to face with a very irate and considerably dishevelled man. As she opened her mouth to question him, Genie came rushing in after her, having been ignored upon Hermione's happy sweeping entrance. "Ms. Granger! I couldn't stop him; he just marched right in and" Hermione waved her secretary away, closing the door as Genie backed out reluctantly. She turned back and gestured for the man to sit. "Zabini. What brings you to my office?" The Italian didn't sit; in fact, he began to pace impatiently, running his hands repeatedly through his tangled hair. Hermione watched him curiously, still too bubbly from the last twenty four hours to feel anymore than inquisitive about his sudden appearance. As she contemplated his dishevelled form, Blaise swerved towards her and grasped her by the shoulders. "GrangererrHermione, you know I think of you like a sister, right?" He held himself awkwardly, his gaze not quite meeting hers. Hermione's eyes widened marginally, but she managed to conceal much of her surprise. Not knowing what else to say, she stuttered a hesitant answer. "Ummno?" Blaise shook his head, disappointed. "I think of Draco like a brother and since you two are practically married, that makes you my sister-in-law, doesn't it? I'm hurt that you would think otherwise! Just look at you, don't you know how much Ierrappreciate you?" Hermione's mind snapped into motion and she pried his hands from her shoulders, retreating to her desk so that she could place an obstacle between them. "What do you want Zabini?" The friendly expression melted instantly from his face as Zabini frowned. "Alright, you have me there, Granger." He gave her a half crazed smile. "Just tell me where Cat is." Hermione frowned, her fingers fiddling with her engagement ring as had become her habit lately. This enquiry was completely out of the blue; she had almost completely forgotten that they had met a few days ago. Could Zabini possibly be interested in her friend? The thought brought a smile to her face; heaven knew that Cat could do with a man who could survive her antics. What with the ministry law

coming into effect, Cat would need to be engaged soon too. It would be a stroke of skill and brilliance if she could pull off their match. She smiled as innocently as she could manage. "Why do you want to know, Zabini?" The Italian gave her sweet smile in return. "WellI met her the other day, and, what can I say? She's ignited a certainfire." Blaise bared his teeth in something resembling a grimace rather than a smile. Hermione however, saw right through his overly friendly faade. She knew from experience that no Slytherin was every friendly without a purpose and judging from Blaise's urgency and frazzled appearance, that Cat had done something a little untoward. And, miracle of miracles, Zabini had actually survived it. Perhaps here was a man who could finally handle her irreverent little friend. Making her decision, Hermione copied down Cat's address and handed it over eagerly. The little lady was about to get a taste of her own medicine and Hermione regretted only that she wouldn't be there to witness the debacle; and if things went well, then hey, Hermione would be more than happy to take a little credit for their eventuating relationship. Blaise didn't suspect a thing, he was only too happy to take the proffered piece of parchment and not look a gift horse in the mouth. He really should have known better than to underestimate Hermione's comprehension on the matter but after a stiff and sleepless night guarding his hair, his mind wasn't in the state to overanalyse the matter. Instead, he kissed her hand gratefully and left, happily plotting his next move. Hermione Granger watched the Italian leave with a smirk on her lips. Blaise seemed to have no clue how clearly his thoughts had been written on his face but she had read him as easily as an open book. Goddamn but this was going to be fun, she thought as she sat down to work. Twirling her quill between her fingers, she summoned her private owl from his perch by the window and stroked his midnight black feathers. For a moment, she contemplated warning Cat. After all, girls should stick together; but it seemed only fair to give Zabini his chance toowhat a dilemma. "What do you think, boy?" She said quietly to her owl, lest her secretary overhear. The dark owl blinked at her and turned away, finding interest elsewhere. "Should I warn Cat?" The golden eyes turned back towards her as he hooted quietly, seemingly in answer. "You're right." She nodded resolutely and sent him back to his perch. "The woman has it coming." With that settled, Hermione began shuffling the papers on her desk and sorting through her correspondence. She was just about to pen a reply to the environmental minister when she spotted the chalky black envelope sitting between the normal white letters. "Strange." She muttered to herself as she reached for the letter. The silver script on top intrigued her further as she quickly ripped open the envelope and retrieved the stiff card within which was the same chalky black.

Hermione, I don't wish to impose on your time, but I'm afraid I must speak with you urgently on a matter which could be a threat to your safety. Meet me at 'The Mint', one o'clock. Yours Sincerely, Dimitri She frowned as she looked up at the clock. It was already past midday thanks to her rather belated start but Hermione supposed she could always take her lunch break. It sounded so urgent and it could hardly hurt to meet him at a public restaurant in the middle of the day. A niggling trace of guilt bubbled in her stomach as the thought of Draco came up but she shook it off. Dimitri had said that it could be a threat to her safety and such a matter would be Draco's concern too. He would want her to go. Convinced, Hermione penned a reply and sent her dark owl out into the bright afternoon sun. She spent the next hour or so touching up on what work she could, attempting to keep a certain niggling anxiety from her mind as she pushed aside the thought of Dimitri. The war had taught her not to worry prematurely but that didn't mean she could set aside her unease entirely. Shoulders tensed, Hermione strode into 'The Mint' carefully and was immediately directed to a table half shielded in shadow. She was surprised Dolohov had chosen a muggle restaurant, and one that was relatively unknown unless you lived in the general district. From what she knew of purebloods, they were all a very showy lot. He stood when he spotted her coming, and gave her a tentative smile. Dimitri Dolohov kissed her lightly on the cheek and pulled out her chair, gesturing for her to seat herself. Hermione did so stiffly and looked around. Dolohov caught her enquiring look and smiled. "I thought it would be wise not alarm your fianc or the media." Relief washed through her as Hermione relaxed in her seat. That, admittedly, had been one of her main concerns and she nodded gratefully towards the man who was sipping a glass of white wine. "I appreciate that, Dimitri; but what was so urgent" The Slytherin sat forward and gave the restaurant a careful once over, a look Hermione recognised from her own habits during the Great War. Seeing nothing of note, he turned back to her and gave her a serious look.

"Hermione, what I'm about to tell you may come as a shock, but you must promise me not to do anything rash. Listen, consider it carefully then act." Hermione watched him, her alarm rising as Dimitri sighed heavily and rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "Tell me." She urged, leaning forwards as Dimitri waved away the approaching waiter. "Surely, it can't be that bad." His look became even more severe then without preamble, he told her. "I think you should break off your engagement with Malfoy; you must be careful, but you must do it as soon as you can manage." "What?" Hermione shot up from her seat, dislodging the napkin and several utensils in her surprise. "What the hell " Dolohov grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her down, smiling uncomfortably at the wait staff and other customers who had turned at the commotion Hermione had inspired. As the muggles returned to their own business, Dimitri leant close, close enough so that his breathing could be heard, and handed her his own glass of wine. After a fortifying gulp of the white, Hermione took a deep calming breath and turned to meet his gaze. "I don't know what you're up to Dolohov, but I will do no such thing. I don't know what provoked this ridiculous outburst but I really don't want to hear anymore about it, ok?" She tore her wrist from his grasp and made to stand again. "Wait!" Dolohov hissed. "I have good reason to ask this of you, Hermione. It's not just some selfish, jealous request." When she hesitated, he continued. "Just hear me out." Hermione hesitated, then nodded stiffly and took another sip of wine. "Five minutes. Start talking." Satisfied, Dolohov leant back and began, speaking determinedly as he tried to convey his urgency. "As you may have heard, Gregory Goyle has recently returned to England." He paused and took a bite of a breadstick. "He's been staying with Malfoy these past few days." Dolohov's eyes flashed. "He has told me a few things that I think might concern you." Hermione's suspicions sparked. With a cynical curl of her lips, she looked away and continued sipping her wine. "Really; and Goyle just offered you this information out of the goodness of his heart?" Dimitri shrugged, a slight smile touching his lips. "You've spent far too much time with Malfoy it seems." His expression smoothed. "But to answer your accusation, yes, I promised legal and financial backing to help him in his petition to reinstate his fortune. I promised this service as a friend, he offered the information as thanks." "Fine. What is this so called information?"

Dolohov paused as he took another look around. "It seems that Mr. Malfoy has been practicing forbidden magic." Hermione felt indignation rise in her throat as she tensed. "Why on earth would Draco" "Against you, Hermione. All the magic has been used against you. Get any odd dreams lately?" She began to scoff, eager to brush off his accusations but a niggling thought stopped her. If she concentrated, Hermione could almost bring up some vague imageshe shook her head and let it slip away, no, it was nothing; a barely remembered impression was not going to turn her against Draco. Dolohov's lips thinned. "Very well." He brushed off his sleeves and resettled in his seat. "You don't have to take my word for it. Goyle has seen Malfoy up at all hours of the morning, coming in and out of the master suites. Apparently, he's been stripping away the wallpaper and removing the carpet" "Oh, he's redecorating, how horrible." Hermione scoffed. He continued as if she hadn't spoken at all. "having the house elves dig little holes in the hardwood floor and filling them back up with blood. He's even been painting the walls with all these odd swirls" Dimitri watched as she paled. Hermione wasn't called the brightest witch of her age for nothing. "Recognise the curse?" She swallowed the lump that suddenly rose in her throat but it wouldn't budge. Her eyes watered slightly as she thought. Would Draco betray her like thatafter everything he said to her, promised her, would he do this "He's a Malfoy." Those words felt like a the heavy fall of a guillotine, like the slam of a judge's gavel, so final, so true and it was exactly what Hermione had been thinking. Without another word, Hermione pushed back her chair, ignoring the heavy thump as it toppled over. As chaos broke out through the restaurant, Hermione found herself running through the streets, pushing past muggles as she headed towards the entrance of the leaky cauldron. As soon as she was through the door, Hermione apparated to the outer boundaries of the Malfoy property andstopped. She stared at the ornate double gates and focused on the rolling hills beyond, framing the opulent manor perfectly. Was she really going to do this? Was she going to simply walk into the manor and accuse Draco of trying to curse her? Somehow, she didn't think Malfoy would take well to an accusation like that. Hermione wanted to trust him but Godif Dolohov was right Unwittingly, Hermione found herself furious. It was happening all over again, she was being betrayed by another man and she had been stupid enough to trust a Malfoy! Of all people! She shook her head; no, innocent until proven guilty; she held to the thought like a lifeline. Merlin only knew why Dolohov would tell her something like that, he probably just wanted her to accuse Draco and

destroy the relationship. It was a plausible reason; there were so many people on the planet who thought theirs was a relationship which shouldn't be The wards on the boundaries of the property recognised her now, thanks to a little of Draco's tinkering, and the gates were swinging open even as she procrastinated. Taking a deep breath, Hermione stepped through and followed the cobbled path up to the front door where an elf let her through. "Master is in the gardens. Pippy shall go retrieve master if mistress will wait in the parlour." Hermione nodded stiffly and as soon as it left, she turned and sprinted for the stairs. Draco had told her weeks ago that the master suite was located in the east wing on the fourth floor and Hermione climbed the stairs as if the devil himself was on her heels. Draco couldn't find her before she found the suite; she needed to know the truth before she confronted him. The master suite, however, proved surprisingly easy to find. It occupied an entire wing and the doors were open, allowing a wondrous flood of natural light. Reverently, she stepped through and attempted to ignore the elegantly furnished sitting room; instead she eyed the two sets of double doors. Unsure, she tried both. Each room was beautifully decorated without a thing out of place. However, the moment Hermione entered the second bedroom, she felt it. The little fission of power which crawled up her legs and bubbled in her chest. Everything looked fine, the wonderful intricate patterns of the wallpaper, the soft luxurious carpeting beneath her feet, it all lookednormal. The magic still hovered in the air though; subtle. She wouldn't have felt it at all if she hadn't been looking for it. Hermione was breathing heavily as the magic began to sing through her veins; retrieving her wand, she pointed it at walls and instantly, the tip lit up. Fear and bile rose in her throat. With a scream she began ripping at the wallpaper with her bare hands, her nails dug into the wall as she pulled away shreds of the fine paper she had admired earlier. Andthere "Oh God." Hermione bit her lip and roughly wiped away her tears with the back of her sleeve. "Oh Godwhat" "Hermione." Her eyes swung to his form filling the doorway, his hands held up in surrender as he approached her carefully, as if he were cornering a wild animal. "Hermione, I can explain." She screamed and aimed her wand at his chest, ceasing his progress. "Explain? How could you possibly explainthis! This!"

"I " Draco's face was pale and drawn, a fine sheen of sweat misting on his forehead as he scrambled for an answer. "I just wanted you" Hermione cried, her wand unwavering as she advanced on Draco. "Shut up! Shut up!" "Hermione, calm down. This was just a precautionthat's all, once we're married, we" Unable to think, she stunned him and bolted past his falling body. She couldn't deal with thisthis was just unbelievable, too much. "No, no, no, no"

BROKEN AND BATTERED Hermione allowed the tears to blind her as she weaved her way through the muggle London streets. Midday and the roads were teeming with the lunch crowd, smoking, eating, and screaming with laughter while she wished desperately to join in the monotony of their weekday habit. No one paid her a shred of attention as if a crying woman were the everyday norm and Hermione was just another in a long parade. She couldn't see where she was going nor did she know where she had been. She ignored all the indignant calls of bustling Londoners who stumbled inadvertently onto her path and who had to quickly extricate themselves from her stumbling path. All she could think was Not again. Dear God. Not again. But it was unavoidable; and yes, it had happened again. She had been betrayed by another man she had placed her trust in. Suddenly, sobbing openly in public didn't seem like such an offence for a dignified woman like Hermione. It was inevitable and natural and Hermione let it happen. She allowed her body to be wracked by the heaving sobs which came from deep within and shook her violently. Her throat hurt and her eyes were swollen and soon enough, the tears dried into nothing but waves of emotion. Betrayal and sadness burned like fire in her chest and Hermione rubbed the ache until the visceral pain became superficial too and a red mark lay vibrant on her chest. She asked herself again and again why this had happened, where in her association with Dracowith Malfoy she had gone wrong. "Stupid! Stupid!" Hermione's voice was husky as she admonished herself. Opening her eyes slightly, she took note of her familiar surroundings and was relieved that in her mindless tears, at least her subconscious had led her home. She was mere feet from her doorstep and Hermione had never been happier to see her doorman come into view.

The man gave Hermione a weary look but she rushed past with a quick greeting and frantically jabbed at the elevator button. Hermione waited for less than a second before her impatience overcame her and she launched herself up the flight of stairs and burst into her apartment. Throwing her keys clear across the room, she felt her knees weaken and her back hit the panelled kitchen bench top. Listlessly, she slid to the floor and collapsed on the cool hardwood floor, trying to ground herself as her palms slapped at the floor until they were numb. This was happening and the numb reality was finally beginning to set in. As painful and confusing as it was, Hermione forced her mind back to what Dimitri had said and what she had seen in that bedroom. The odd patterns on the walls, the almost imperceptible hum of magic which crawled beneath her skin and the complete lack of denials from Draco himself Hermione pushed herself off the floor weakly, locking her knees as she felt the desperate desire to sink back down and ground herself to something more solid than her current reality. Stumbling, she crossed the room and pulled down her book of forbidden curses. Confirming what she already knew, Hermione allowed the wave of betrayal to wash over her, unhindered, pushed aside the grief, marked it as useless and finally arrived at the two emotions simmering at the pit of her stomach. Angerand for the first time since the war Fear. Her hands shook as she replaced the book on her shelves and stopped herself from panic by pure will alone. God, a few more months and Hermione would've walked happily into his arms and his well set trap. Months of preparation and thought had already gone into his plan and Merlin knows what he could've achieved between now and their wedding months down the line. Was it simply a lucky escape that she had caught him unawares and escaped? Would Draco come after her now andand A myriad of dark thoughts flashed through her mind before she could stop them and the old prejudices rose like bile to her throat. A Malfoy. How could she ever have been so stupid as to trust in a Malfoy? All the years that they had spent at odds with each other; the screaming matches, the undisguised animosity. Hell! He would sooner curse her thanthan bind her to him for this life and every life after? Hermione shook her head as her temples throbbed. Whatwhy would he do that? That made no sense. Her logic told her that he wanted to make her miserable but surely not at the expense of his own happiness. It made no sense. His actions were contradictory andand Her hands began to shake again as numerous suspicions assaulted her already throbbing mind, none of which fit any logic or reason. It seemed almost as if Dracono, Malfoy had loved her; almost as if he truly had wanted to her remain by his side for this life and every life which would follow. Hermione could so clearly recall the way he had looked at her as she had wept and screamedgenuine fear. But was it the fear of discovery, of guilt, or of loss

Hermione shook her head. God! Why was she even contemplating this? DracoughMalfoy, she corrected once more, had tried to use dark magic, old magic against her, something which would have been irreversible and would have given her absolutely no choice or free will. She despised nothing more than too be trapped, tricked and The glint of her engagement ring caught her gaze. The large round diamond sat proud and cool against her finger even as Hermione burned with emotion. Suddenly, overwhelmed with disgust, she ripped it from her finger and raised her arm to pitch it across the roombut she stopped, fought her anger and lowered the offending object to the dark marble bench top. She laughed humourlessly to herself. Hermione had lost a second fianc in only so many months and with the deadline of the marriage law drawing dangerously close, she wasn't quite sure what was to be done now. How could she even fathom to go back to those dreaded archives to search for another potential mate? Look at her success so farshe had picked a cheater, a liarwhat could be next, a murderer? Hermione shook her head derisively. She could think of no other optionshe had to get another fianc to remain in the wizarding world but Merlin it hurt to even think of opening herself up to another man! She supposed she could opt for an in-name-only kind of relationship but she would never want to bring an innocent child into a world in which its parents saw each other as nothing more than indifferent acquaintances. So that was it would they come to snap her wand? Did she only have two short months in which to settle all her affairs in the wizarding world and establish some kind of life for herself in the muggle world? Hermione was unconcerned with financesthe reward money from the war would tide her over well if wisely invested and she was sure she still had some relatives who would welcome her with open arms should she ever require it. And Harry, Pansy and their broodsurely they'd be allowed to visit from time to time. She wouldn't truly be missing too muchshe could even take up some sort of muggle career to occupy her empty hours. In the muggle world she wouldn't need to worry about anyone knowing of her infamous reputation or about any men trying to trap her into an unwanted unionshe could be herself and heal, wait until she was good and ready to trust again. She wouldn't be missing a thingexcept for her magic. It was the answer, Hermione understood with sudden aching clarity. There was no way she could remain in the wizarding worldnot without a compromise to her heart, her mind and her morals. It would nearly kill her to forfeit her magic and her wand but it was better than the alternative. In the muggle world she would be without her magic but at least her 'self' would be intact if not a little bruised and battered. Hermione knew it was a drastic choice as she sat down at her study room table, but she was done with the drama of the wizarding world. She had put her life on the line and risked everything, including her

soul for the privilege of magic, even her parents had died because of her need to belong to this world. But this was itshe'd had enough. She would settle her affairs and wash her hands of this place, this world. It was time to move on.

"Here kitty, kitty." Blaise smiled a maniac's smile as he paused before an apartment door. The number shining proudly upon it corresponded with what Hermione had written and the thrill of the chase sped through his blood like good brandy. By God, he would get that malicious little piece of no good, lying, manipulative, arrogant, deceitful He stopped himself from his useless rant and shook his head. No! He had to stay calm, he had come here with a plan and by God, he would carry it out and succeed. He may be breaking a number of personal rules but hey, a man's taste should vary now and then. Since his run with blondes seemed to have come to naught, he would gladly have a taste of the brunettes, see how he fared with them for a changeand hell since the little monster made his blood burn like she did, then he would gladly use her and be on his wayif she was hurt somewhere along the way, then so much the better. So there he stood, slicked up to the nines, his family crest glinting proudly on his little finger as he ran a final cursory glance across his reflection in the ornamental hallway mirror. The casual Ralph Lauren number was cut to kill and with his hair so artistically dishevelled, Blaise fancied that he looked the perfect part for seduction. Cat wouldn't know what hit herat leastnot until it was too late. Raising a fist, he knocked on the door calmly and waited while he listened to the shuffle of steps on the other side and the silence of a pause as he was assessed through the old fashioned spy hole in the door. Her voice came through the wooden obstacle loud and clear. "What do you want?" There was no mistaking the blatant suspicion in her tone. Showtime! Schooling his features into what he thought resembled something akin to remorse; Blaise stared into the muggle style door and added a little chagrin to his expression for the sake of authenticity. "I cameI came to settle this thing between us. Whatever the hell it is. Hermione isa mutual friend of ours and I don't want to be at odds with you, at least, not until after Draco and Hermione's wedding."

There was a conspicuous pause before he heard the unclicking of locks and Blaise heartily congratulated himself on a brilliant performance. But this was only half the job done he reminded himself as her face appeared in the doorway. After one final contemptuous look, she opened the door wide and gestured for him to step inside. Blaise took advantage of the courtesy before she could change her mind. "Thank you." He said as sincerely as he could without giving away his disgust. "I hadn't hoped that you would be this understanding." Cat scoffed and turned away from him, leading him deeper into the apartment until they reached a rather small living room crammed with glaringly modern furniture which looked a little too angular to be comfortable. Opting not to risk sitting down and give away his height advantage, Blaise wandered around the little space that there was and stopped at a side table with a sleek edged mirror overhanging it. He checked his reflection again. Everything was going to planexcept for the fact that she hadn't reacted to his appearance at all. Most women would have been raking his form with a covetous eye and smiling in invitation by now but noCat had barely glanced at him and the closest thing to the seductive smile he had wanted was a contemptuous curl of her upper lip. "What do you really want, Zabini?" Blaise flinched. Damn! Surely she wasn't onto his game already? Giving himself time to compose his scattered thoughts, he chose to stay facing the small side table and picked up platinum silver photo frame, his gaze skimming across it unseeingly. "Exactly what I said before, Cat. All I want" His eyes finally focused on the photograph itself and his fist clenched around the cold metal and glass frame. "Who the hell is this?" The rage that tore through him was inexplicable and unfounded but Blaise found himself without any voice of reason right then and there. A cheerful looking Asian man stood with his arm looped around Cat within the photo. It didn't move like a magical shot but the still image spoke volumes to Blaise and he awaited her answer, tense for no real reason. He heard Cat's sharp indrawn breath and the slow hiss of its release from between her clenched teeth. "My fianc." She answered at last and Blaise felt his control on his inexplicable anger slip through his fingers. "Really?" He growled. "Granger didn't mention that." She laughed, a cold mocking sound which only fuelled his temper. "Why would she? It's none of your damn business." Her smile became mocking. "In fact, why don't you leave before he comes home and blasts your sorry ass from here to Timbuktu?"

"I'd dispose of him before he could even raise a hand!" Blaise snapped as his eyes went back to the man in the photo. Sorry little pretty boy, his mind hissed at the inanimate image, derisively noting the double sided dimples framing his carefree smile. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that. He's an auror you know. Hunted death eaters right along with Potter during the war." A red haze dropped over Blaise's eyes as he slammed down the framed picture but Cat continued heedless. "In fact, if he finds you here, I'm sure he would like nothing better than to arrest you toohe always thought you were one and same with those who followed the Dark Lord. The same ilk, only, too cowardly to risk you neck for his false promises of glory." Blaise happily embraced the haze of anger, feeding it her derogatory words and letting it burn bright and hot. "And you would marry a man of unfounded prejudices and limited intelligence." A flash of temper greeted his statement and Cat tensed as she took a threatening step forwards. "Don't you dare insult him! Ben is ten times the man you'll ever be! He has guts and he " The roaring in Blaise's ears intensified to fever pitch as he listened to her defend him. Something ugly and petty burned through his blood, something beyond his comprehension in his current state of mind. The more she spoke, the worse it became until his head was ready to burst with itwhatever it was. His conscious mind pushed aside, instinct took hold and when a wizard's instincts were triggered, he reached for his wand. Blaise showed no hesitation as he did just that. The unidentifiable emotion swirled with the anger in his blood and emerged as a blast of power from his wand tip and Blaise felt the brief drain of power calm him marginally until his thinking mind could reassert its presence. Dropping his head and shaking it clear of the angry haze, Blaise allowed himself a few calming breaths before he looked up to apologise. He needed to put his plans back on track. He really couldn't understand the sudden loss in control but if he was to succeed, he needed to backtrack and restart this entire debacle "Cat?" He called out when he no longer saw her in the living room. Hell. Now he'd done it. She'd stormed off somewhere, probably to summon her pretty boy fianc to kick his sorry arse. "Cat?" Blaise tried again. "Shit! I'm sorry for yelling at you! I didn't mean what I said about your fianc." He had meant every single word and more but she didn't need to know that. Blaise shook his headhe had probably just been a little angry that there was a fianc to put a hitch in his seduction plansnothing more.

After a quick search around the rest of the apartment, Blaise yielded nothing more than an unfinished dinner found on a kitchen bench top, a half full bottle of chardonnay, the quiet murmur of a muggle television set and a pair of cute black panties which he had shamelessly shoved into his pocket. "Hell." He muttered to himself. Where was the damn girl hiding? She couldn't have apparated, her apartment would be carefully warded against any such action and she certainly couldn't have gotten the front door open without bypassing him in the living room. Blaise wandered back into the hallway, his eyes scanning his surroundings as he cursed soundly. Maybe the chit had an invisibility cloak like Potter; God knows those damn things came in handy. But hell! She wasn't the type to run and hide, she should have been, at that very moment, cursing him from here to next Sunday. "Meow." Blaise spun. His eyes landed on the entry to the living room and lo and behold, there was a cat with dark fur, dark eyes and very, very sharp claws. It hissed at him angrily, her fur bristling with warning. He thought back desperately to his search of the house. There had been no signs of any cat living with her! No food or water bowls, no cat food for that matter, no litter box and definitely no other obtrusive signs. He was sure that Catdidn't have a cat. It hit him. "Shit!" He bent down to look at the hissing cat. "Cat? Is that you?" The black fur ball gave a furious hiss and swiped for his face with dangerously sharp claws. Blaise jumped back. "I'll take that as a yes!" He ran a hand through his hair. Hell, he had lost control again. This happened to not be the first time Blaise had done this exact same thing. Well technically it had occurred only once beforeand boy was that idiot every sorry for calling his mother a whore. He could turn her back of course, with ease, but suddenly, he wasn't quite sure he wanted to. Avoiding the dangerous claws, Blaise grabbed Cat by the scruff of her neck and lifted her from the floor. Staring at her in wonder, he shook his head disbelievingly and tried to convince himself to reverse the magicbut no matter how he tried to spin it, the idea of leaving her here to wait for her pretty boy fianc held no appeal. One glance at the photo strengthened his resolve and with a quick swipe of his wand, Blaise conjured a travelling cage. Without preamble, tossed her inside. Looking at her through the bars of the cage, Blaise could almost discern the awaiting fury on the feline features. He tsked. "My apologies, Cat but this will likely only be a temporary confinement, until I can figure out what to do with you. You really must admit, this is fitting punishment. An eye for an eye, hmm?" He flicked the criss-crossing bars of her prison, chuckling at the irony of the moment.

Blaise set the cage on the floor and went about packing a few things she would need, rifling through her underwear now became a necessity and he tried his best not to enjoy the moment too much. As it were, he pocketed another charming scarlet concoction of lace before shoving few more practical pieces into a travelling tote bag he found in her closet. After pillaging her wardrobe and toiletries, Blaise slung the bag over his shoulder and picked Cat up from the hallway floor. Without being seen by a single soul, Blaise crept from the apartment complex and apparated from view as soon as he was sure he was far from prying muggle eyes. When he arrived at Malfoy manor, Draco was no where in sight and Blaise was absurdly glad. He really was in no state to explain why he had a bag full of women's clothing and a rather irate cat in his arms. Bounding up the stairs and sprinting into the guest wing of the house, Blaise nearly slammed into Gregory Goyle as the man was emerging from his suites. "Hey. What are you?" Blaise cleared his throat and smiled as genuinely as he could. "Nothing! Not doing anything." Greg glanced at the cat with a raised eyebrow and Blaise rushed to explain. "Ohthis mangy old thing? UmmI gave her to an ex as a present but we broke up and she didn't want to keep anything I had given her sohere it is! Couldn't very well turn this poor adorable creature out into the cold now could I?" That poor adorable creature chose that moment to swipe viciously at the cage door. Goyle hardly looked convinced by he nodded nonetheless. "Have you seen Malfoy?" Goyle asked. "He didn't show for dinner and the house elves said he and Hermione might've had a spat earlier." Blaise shook his head, eager to be away with his precious burden and as soon as Goyle had turned his head, Blaise dashed down the remainder of the hallway and burst ungracefully into the rooms he'd had since the indoor flood at his manor. Throwing down the tote bag, he swung the cage around so that it could sit, facing him, upon the bed. He raised a threatening finger at the hissing cat before thinking better of it and simply retrieved his wand. Casting a simple sleeping spell, he watched with relief as the mad creature swayed and dozed off, curling it self into a protective ball. With Cat reasonably subdued, Blaise took her from the cage, placed her on the bed and returned her to her human form. She looked charming asleep, still dressed in her informal jeans and light button up shirt; but no matter how sweet she looked while unconscious, Blaise knew he couldn't trust her to remain so. Thus, with no other choice, he stretched her until she was spread-eagled on the bed and secured each limb to a post upon the bed with a length of rope. Summoning the courage, Blaise countered his sleeping spell and waited for those bleary dark orbs to finally come into focus and rest on him.

She opened her mouth, drew breath and screamed. Sweet mother of Merlin! Thank goodness for soundproof walls!

Draco woke with an aching of limbs and a bleary mind. He slowly unwound himself from the awkward position in which he found himself on the floor and carefully stretched the cramped muscles which had remained in the same position for overlong. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, Draco recalled what had happened and tensed in an instant. "Fuck!" He swore. "Merlin, NO! HERMIONE!" He raced from the torn walls of the master bedroom and glanced frantically around as if he expected her to linger. Ready to go after her, Draco was in a flurry of panic and fear. Bile rose in his throat like a bitter reproof and Lavender and Parvati's dire warnings rang like broken church bells in his head. Hell and damnation! He needed to find Hermione and explain himself, lie, cheatanything to prevent her from running from him or worse, breaking their engagement. His teeth ached as he ground them together; a lethal concoction of fear and bitter resentment swirled through his heart, spreading like poison through his blood. Ensuring that he had his wand, Draco raced down the stairs, into his mother's parlour and was running for the front door when several voices stopped him. Surprised and agitated, Draco hesitated and looked back. The portrait of his mother was fretting in her gilded frame while Potter, Goyle and a house-elf stood stoically beneath her. Goyle spoke first. "What the hell is going on, Draco?" Fury swamped him like a raging storm and Draco lurched forward, his arm swung as he landed a bonecrushing punch on Goyle's face. It hardly took a genius to figure out how Hermione had found out about the room. Someone in the manor had to have told her and as none of the house-elves would ever go against him and Blaise would surely discuss things with him first, that narrowed down the suspects to only one person. "You bastard! You fucking, spineless bastard! Do you know what you've done? Do you have any fucking clue what you've done?" Alarmingly, it was Potter who answered the heavy question which seemed to hang in the tepid air. "He's saved Hermione, that's what he's done." Draco's gaze swung to Harry, his pupils dilated in his panic, the black almost swallowing the luminescent silver whole.

"What?" Draco hissed. "What did you say, Potter?" The man-who-lived shook his head angrily and threw something at Draco who caught it as an automatic reflex from his years as the Slytherin quidditch team's seeker. It was Hermione's engagement ring. "She told me everything." Harry's eyes flashed in anger. "You're sick, Malfoy! Fucking stay away from her do you understand me?" Draco's anger threatened to consume all reasonable thought but he pulled back just enough to answer. "She's my fiance! I love her" "You don't love anyone but yourself!" Potter screamed. "The engagement is over! She's gone! I hope you're fucking satisfied!" The patient, glorious war hero was no where to be seen as his wild reckless expression took on a sheen of cold satisfaction. Harry crossed to where the house elf stood and snatched the letter from its hands. He threw the crinkled missive in Draco's face and laughed coolly. "Read it for yourself, if you don't believe me." Harry turned his back but before he left, he spoke threateningly over his shoulder, his eyes resting on Narcissa's fretting portrait. "You'll never find her, now, Malfoy. You fucking screwed up." Bitter, angry tears gathered in Draco's eyes as he watched Potter leave and ignoring his mother's frantic pleas for an explanation as well as Goyle's pained moans from the floor, Draco ripped open the letter, expecting to see Hermione's neat, cursive hand. Instead however, there was only the cold ministry issue type font. Draco Alexander Malfoy, We regret to inform you that your engagement to one Miss Hermione Jean Granger has been annulled on Miss Granger's request. No reason was given. Our sincerest condolences. Draco screamed, his heart pounding out a sickening rhythm in his chest. Disregarding the pleas of his mother's portrait, Draco crushed his fist into Goyle's face once more, rearing back for another blow, then another, then another until his hands were slick with blood. All the while, the inhuman screams, ripped, unabated from his throat, echoing with chilling fury throughout the manor.

ENOUGH FOR BOTH Hermione allowed the tears to blind her as she weaved her way through the muggle London streets. Midday and the roads were teeming with the lunch crowd, smoking, eating, and screaming with laughter while she wished desperately to join in the monotony of their weekday habit. No one paid her a shred of attention as if a crying woman were the everyday norm and Hermione was just another in a long parade. She couldn't see where she was going nor did she know where she had been. She ignored all the indignant calls of bustling Londoners who stumbled inadvertently onto her path and who had to quickly extricate themselves from her stumbling path. All she could think was Not again. Dear God. Not again. But it was unavoidable; and yes, it had happened again. She had been betrayed by another man she had placed her trust in. Suddenly, sobbing openly in public didn't seem like such an offence for a dignified woman like Hermione. It was inevitable and natural and Hermione let it happen. She allowed her body to be wracked by the heaving sobs which came from deep within and shook her violently. Her throat hurt and her eyes were swollen and soon enough, the tears dried into nothing but waves of emotion. Betrayal and sadness burned like fire in her chest and Hermione rubbed the ache until the visceral pain became superficial too and a red mark lay vibrant on her chest. She asked herself again and again why this had happened, where in her association with Dracowith Malfoy she had gone wrong. "Stupid! Stupid!" Hermione's voice was husky as she admonished herself. Opening her eyes slightly, she took note of her familiar surroundings and was relieved that in her mindless tears, at least her subconscious had led her home. She was mere feet from her doorstep and Hermione had never been happier to see her doorman come into view. The man gave Hermione a weary look but she rushed past with a quick greeting and frantically jabbed at the elevator button. Hermione waited for less than a second before her impatience overcame her and she launched herself up the flight of stairs and burst into her apartment. Throwing her keys clear across the room, she felt her knees weaken and her back hit the panelled kitchen bench top. Listlessly, she slid to the floor and collapsed on the cool hardwood floor, trying to ground herself as her palms slapped at the floor until they were numb. This was happening and the numb reality was finally beginning to set in. As painful and confusing as it was, Hermione forced her mind back to what Dimitri had said and what she had seen in that bedroom. The odd patterns on the walls, the almost imperceptible hum of magic which crawled beneath her skin and the complete lack of denials from Draco himself Hermione pushed herself off the floor weakly, locking her knees as she felt the desperate desire to sink back down and ground herself to something more solid than her current reality. Stumbling, she crossed

the room and pulled down her book of forbidden curses. Confirming what she already knew, Hermione allowed the wave of betrayal to wash over her, unhindered, pushed aside the grief, marked it as useless and finally arrived at the two emotions simmering at the pit of her stomach. Angerand for the first time since the war Fear. Her hands shook as she replaced the book on her shelves and stopped herself from panic by pure will alone. God, a few more months and Hermione would've walked happily into his arms and his well set trap. Months of preparation and thought had already gone into his plan and Merlin knows what he could've achieved between now and their wedding months down the line. Was it simply a lucky escape that she had caught him unawares and escaped? Would Draco come after her now andand A myriad of dark thoughts flashed through her mind before she could stop them and the old prejudices rose like bile to her throat. A Malfoy. How could she ever have been so stupid as to trust in a Malfoy? All the years that they had spent at odds with each other; the screaming matches, the undisguised animosity. Hell! He would sooner curse her thanthan bind her to him for this life and every life after? Hermione shook her head as her temples throbbed. Whatwhy would he do that? That made no sense. Her logic told her that he wanted to make her miserable but surely not at the expense of his own happiness. It made no sense. His actions were contradictory andand Her hands began to shake again as numerous suspicions assaulted her already throbbing mind, none of which fit any logic or reason. It seemed almost as if Dracono, Malfoy had loved her; almost as if he truly had wanted to her remain by his side for this life and every life which would follow. Hermione could so clearly recall the way he had looked at her as she had wept and screamedgenuine fear. But was it the fear of discovery, of guilt, or of loss Hermione shook her head. God! Why was she even contemplating this? DracoughMalfoy, she corrected once more, had tried to use dark magic, old magic against her, something which would have been irreversible and would have given her absolutely no choice or free will. She despised nothing more than too be trapped, tricked and The glint of her engagement ring caught her gaze. The large round diamond sat proud and cool against her finger even as Hermione burned with emotion. Suddenly, overwhelmed with disgust, she ripped it from her finger and raised her arm to pitch it across the roombut she stopped, fought her anger and lowered the offending object to the dark marble bench top. She laughed humourlessly to herself. Hermione had lost a second fianc in only so many months and with the deadline of the marriage law drawing dangerously close, she wasn't quite sure what was to be done now. How could she even fathom to go back to those dreaded archives to search for another

potential mate? Look at her success so farshe had picked a cheater, a liarwhat could be next, a murderer? Hermione shook her head derisively. She could think of no other optionshe had to get another fianc to remain in the wizarding world but Merlin it hurt to even think of opening herself up to another man! She supposed she could opt for an in-name-only kind of relationship but she would never want to bring an innocent child into a world in which its parents saw each other as nothing more than indifferent acquaintances. So that was it would they come to snap her wand? Did she only have two short months in which to settle all her affairs in the wizarding world and establish some kind of life for herself in the muggle world? Hermione was unconcerned with financesthe reward money from the war would tide her over well if wisely invested and she was sure she still had some relatives who would welcome her with open arms should she ever require it. And Harry, Pansy and their broodsurely they'd be allowed to visit from time to time. She wouldn't truly be missing too muchshe could even take up some sort of muggle career to occupy her empty hours. In the muggle world she wouldn't need to worry about anyone knowing of her infamous reputation or about any men trying to trap her into an unwanted unionshe could be herself and heal, wait until she was good and ready to trust again. She wouldn't be missing a thingexcept for her magic. It was the answer, Hermione understood with sudden aching clarity. There was no way she could remain in the wizarding worldnot without a compromise to her heart, her mind and her morals. It would nearly kill her to forfeit her magic and her wand but it was better than the alternative. In the muggle world she would be without her magic but at least her 'self' would be intact if not a little bruised and battered. Hermione knew it was a drastic choice as she sat down at her study room table, but she was done with the drama of the wizarding world. She had put her life on the line and risked everything, including her soul for the privilege of magic, even her parents had died because of her need to belong to this world. But this was itshe'd had enough. She would settle her affairs and wash her hands of this place, this world. It was time to move on.

"Here kitty, kitty." Blaise smiled a maniac's smile as he paused before an apartment door. The number shining proudly upon it corresponded with what Hermione had written and the thrill of the chase sped through his blood like good brandy.

By God, he would get that malicious little piece of no good, lying, manipulative, arrogant, deceitful He stopped himself from his useless rant and shook his head. No! He had to stay calm, he had come here with a plan and by God, he would carry it out and succeed. He may be breaking a number of personal rules but hey, a man's taste should vary now and then. Since his run with blondes seemed to have come to naught, he would gladly have a taste of the brunettes, see how he fared with them for a changeand hell since the little monster made his blood burn like she did, then he would gladly use her and be on his wayif she was hurt somewhere along the way, then so much the better. So there he stood, slicked up to the nines, his family crest glinting proudly on his little finger as he ran a final cursory glance across his reflection in the ornamental hallway mirror. The casual Ralph Lauren number was cut to kill and with his hair so artistically dishevelled, Blaise fancied that he looked the perfect part for seduction. Cat wouldn't know what hit herat leastnot until it was too late. Raising a fist, he knocked on the door calmly and waited while he listened to the shuffle of steps on the other side and the silence of a pause as he was assessed through the old fashioned spy hole in the door. Her voice came through the wooden obstacle loud and clear. "What do you want?" There was no mistaking the blatant suspicion in her tone. Showtime! Schooling his features into what he thought resembled something akin to remorse; Blaise stared into the muggle style door and added a little chagrin to his expression for the sake of authenticity. "I cameI came to settle this thing between us. Whatever the hell it is. Hermione isa mutual friend of ours and I don't want to be at odds with you, at least, not until after Draco and Hermione's wedding." There was a conspicuous pause before he heard the unclicking of locks and Blaise heartily congratulated himself on a brilliant performance. But this was only half the job done he reminded himself as her face appeared in the doorway. After one final contemptuous look, she opened the door wide and gestured for him to step inside. Blaise took advantage of the courtesy before she could change her mind. "Thank you." He said as sincerely as he could without giving away his disgust. "I hadn't hoped that you would be this understanding." Cat scoffed and turned away from him, leading him deeper into the apartment until they reached a rather small living room crammed with glaringly modern furniture which looked a little too angular to be comfortable. Opting not to risk sitting down and give away his height advantage, Blaise wandered around the little space that there was and stopped at a side table with a sleek edged mirror overhanging it.

He checked his reflection again. Everything was going to planexcept for the fact that she hadn't reacted to his appearance at all. Most women would have been raking his form with a covetous eye and smiling in invitation by now but noCat had barely glanced at him and the closest thing to the seductive smile he had wanted was a contemptuous curl of her upper lip. "What do you really want, Zabini?" Blaise flinched. Damn! Surely she wasn't onto his game already? Giving himself time to compose his scattered thoughts, he chose to stay facing the small side table and picked up platinum silver photo frame, his gaze skimming across it unseeingly. "Exactly what I said before, Cat. All I want" His eyes finally focused on the photograph itself and his fist clenched around the cold metal and glass frame. "Who the hell is this?" The rage that tore through him was inexplicable and unfounded but Blaise found himself without any voice of reason right then and there. A cheerful looking Asian man stood with his arm looped around Cat within the photo. It didn't move like a magical shot but the still image spoke volumes to Blaise and he awaited her answer, tense for no real reason. He heard Cat's sharp indrawn breath and the slow hiss of its release from between her clenched teeth. "My fianc." She answered at last and Blaise felt his control on his inexplicable anger slip through his fingers. "Really?" He growled. "Granger didn't mention that." She laughed, a cold mocking sound which only fuelled his temper. "Why would she? It's none of your damn business." Her smile became mocking. "In fact, why don't you leave before he comes home and blasts your sorry ass from here to Timbuktu?" "I'd dispose of him before he could even raise a hand!" Blaise snapped as his eyes went back to the man in the photo. Sorry little pretty boy, his mind hissed at the inanimate image, derisively noting the double sided dimples framing his carefree smile. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that. He's an auror you know. Hunted death eaters right along with Potter during the war." A red haze dropped over Blaise's eyes as he slammed down the framed picture but Cat continued heedless. "In fact, if he finds you here, I'm sure he would like nothing better than to arrest you toohe always thought you were one and same with those who followed the Dark Lord. The same ilk, only, too cowardly to risk you neck for his false promises of glory." Blaise happily embraced the haze of anger, feeding it her derogatory words and letting it burn bright and hot. "And you would marry a man of unfounded prejudices and limited intelligence."

A flash of temper greeted his statement and Cat tensed as she took a threatening step forwards. "Don't you dare insult him! Ben is ten times the man you'll ever be! He has guts and he " The roaring in Blaise's ears intensified to fever pitch as he listened to her defend him. Something ugly and petty burned through his blood, something beyond his comprehension in his current state of mind. The more she spoke, the worse it became until his head was ready to burst with itwhatever it was. His conscious mind pushed aside, instinct took hold and when a wizard's instincts were triggered, he reached for his wand. Blaise showed no hesitation as he did just that. The unidentifiable emotion swirled with the anger in his blood and emerged as a blast of power from his wand tip and Blaise felt the brief drain of power calm him marginally until his thinking mind could reassert its presence. Dropping his head and shaking it clear of the angry haze, Blaise allowed himself a few calming breaths before he looked up to apologise. He needed to put his plans back on track. He really couldn't understand the sudden loss in control but if he was to succeed, he needed to backtrack and restart this entire debacle "Cat?" He called out when he no longer saw her in the living room. Hell. Now he'd done it. She'd stormed off somewhere, probably to summon her pretty boy fianc to kick his sorry arse. "Cat?" Blaise tried again. "Shit! I'm sorry for yelling at you! I didn't mean what I said about your fianc." He had meant every single word and more but she didn't need to know that. Blaise shook his headhe had probably just been a little angry that there was a fianc to put a hitch in his seduction plansnothing more. After a quick search around the rest of the apartment, Blaise yielded nothing more than an unfinished dinner found on a kitchen bench top, a half full bottle of chardonnay, the quiet murmur of a muggle television set and a pair of cute black panties which he had shamelessly shoved into his pocket. "Hell." He muttered to himself. Where was the damn girl hiding? She couldn't have apparated, her apartment would be carefully warded against any such action and she certainly couldn't have gotten the front door open without bypassing him in the living room. Blaise wandered back into the hallway, his eyes scanning his surroundings as he cursed soundly. Maybe the chit had an invisibility cloak like Potter; God knows those damn things came in handy. But hell! She wasn't the type to run and hide, she should have been, at that very moment, cursing him from here to next Sunday. "Meow." Blaise spun. His eyes landed on the entry to the living room and lo and behold, there was a cat with dark fur, dark eyes and very, very sharp claws. It hissed at him angrily, her fur bristling with warning.

He thought back desperately to his search of the house. There had been no signs of any cat living with her! No food or water bowls, no cat food for that matter, no litter box and definitely no other obtrusive signs. He was sure that Catdidn't have a cat. It hit him. "Shit!" He bent down to look at the hissing cat. "Cat? Is that you?" The black fur ball gave a furious hiss and swiped for his face with dangerously sharp claws. Blaise jumped back. "I'll take that as a yes!" He ran a hand through his hair. Hell, he had lost control again. This happened to not be the first time Blaise had done this exact same thing. Well technically it had occurred only once beforeand boy was that idiot every sorry for calling his mother a whore. He could turn her back of course, with ease, but suddenly, he wasn't quite sure he wanted to. Avoiding the dangerous claws, Blaise grabbed Cat by the scruff of her neck and lifted her from the floor. Staring at her in wonder, he shook his head disbelievingly and tried to convince himself to reverse the magicbut no matter how he tried to spin it, the idea of leaving her here to wait for her pretty boy fianc held no appeal. One glance at the photo strengthened his resolve and with a quick swipe of his wand, Blaise conjured a travelling cage. Without preamble, tossed her inside. Looking at her through the bars of the cage, Blaise could almost discern the awaiting fury on the feline features. He tsked. "My apologies, Cat but this will likely only be a temporary confinement, until I can figure out what to do with you. You really must admit, this is fitting punishment. An eye for an eye, hmm?" He flicked the criss-crossing bars of her prison, chuckling at the irony of the moment. Blaise set the cage on the floor and went about packing a few things she would need, rifling through her underwear now became a necessity and he tried his best not to enjoy the moment too much. As it were, he pocketed another charming scarlet concoction of lace before shoving few more practical pieces into a travelling tote bag he found in her closet. After pillaging her wardrobe and toiletries, Blaise slung the bag over his shoulder and picked Cat up from the hallway floor. Without being seen by a single soul, Blaise crept from the apartment complex and apparated from view as soon as he was sure he was far from prying muggle eyes. When he arrived at Malfoy manor, Draco was no where in sight and Blaise was absurdly glad. He really was in no state to explain why he had a bag full of women's clothing and a rather irate cat in his arms. Bounding up the stairs and sprinting into the guest wing of the house, Blaise nearly slammed into Gregory Goyle as the man was emerging from his suites. "Hey. What are you?" Blaise cleared his throat and smiled as genuinely as he could.

"Nothing! Not doing anything." Greg glanced at the cat with a raised eyebrow and Blaise rushed to explain. "Ohthis mangy old thing? UmmI gave her to an ex as a present but we broke up and she didn't want to keep anything I had given her sohere it is! Couldn't very well turn this poor adorable creature out into the cold now could I?" That poor adorable creature chose that moment to swipe viciously at the cage door. Goyle hardly looked convinced by he nodded nonetheless. "Have you seen Malfoy?" Goyle asked. "He didn't show for dinner and the house elves said he and Hermione might've had a spat earlier." Blaise shook his head, eager to be away with his precious burden and as soon as Goyle had turned his head, Blaise dashed down the remainder of the hallway and burst ungracefully into the rooms he'd had since the indoor flood at his manor. Throwing down the tote bag, he swung the cage around so that it could sit, facing him, upon the bed. He raised a threatening finger at the hissing cat before thinking better of it and simply retrieved his wand. Casting a simple sleeping spell, he watched with relief as the mad creature swayed and dozed off, curling it self into a protective ball. With Cat reasonably subdued, Blaise took her from the cage, placed her on the bed and returned her to her human form. She looked charming asleep, still dressed in her informal jeans and light button up shirt; but no matter how sweet she looked while unconscious, Blaise knew he couldn't trust her to remain so. Thus, with no other choice, he stretched her until she was spread-eagled on the bed and secured each limb to a post upon the bed with a length of rope. Summoning the courage, Blaise countered his sleeping spell and waited for those bleary dark orbs to finally come into focus and rest on him. She opened her mouth, drew breath and screamed. Sweet mother of Merlin! Thank goodness for soundproof walls!

Draco woke with an aching of limbs and a bleary mind. He slowly unwound himself from the awkward position in which he found himself on the floor and carefully stretched the cramped muscles which had remained in the same position for overlong. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, Draco recalled what had happened and tensed in an instant. "Fuck!" He swore. "Merlin, NO! HERMIONE!" He raced from the torn walls of the master bedroom and glanced frantically around as if he expected her to linger. Ready to go after her, Draco was in a flurry of panic and fear. Bile rose in his throat like a bitter reproof and Lavender and Parvati's dire warnings rang like broken church bells in his head.

Hell and damnation! He needed to find Hermione and explain himself, lie, cheatanything to prevent her from running from him or worse, breaking their engagement. His teeth ached as he ground them together; a lethal concoction of fear and bitter resentment swirled through his heart, spreading like poison through his blood. Ensuring that he had his wand, Draco raced down the stairs, into his mother's parlour and was running for the front door when several voices stopped him. Surprised and agitated, Draco hesitated and looked back. The portrait of his mother was fretting in her gilded frame while Potter, Goyle and a house-elf stood stoically beneath her. Goyle spoke first. "What the hell is going on, Draco?" Fury swamped him like a raging storm and Draco lurched forward, his arm swung as he landed a bonecrushing punch on Goyle's face. It hardly took a genius to figure out how Hermione had found out about the room. Someone in the manor had to have told her and as none of the house-elves would ever go against him and Blaise would surely discuss things with him first, that narrowed down the suspects to only one person. "You bastard! You fucking, spineless bastard! Do you know what you've done? Do you have any fucking clue what you've done?" Alarmingly, it was Potter who answered the heavy question which seemed to hang in the tepid air. "He's saved Hermione, that's what he's done." Draco's gaze swung to Harry, his pupils dilated in his panic, the black almost swallowing the luminescent silver whole. "What?" Draco hissed. "What did you say, Potter?" The man-who-lived shook his head angrily and threw something at Draco who caught it as an automatic reflex from his years as the Slytherin quidditch team's seeker. It was Hermione's engagement ring. "She told me everything." Harry's eyes flashed in anger. "You're sick, Malfoy! Fucking stay away from her do you understand me?" Draco's anger threatened to consume all reasonable thought but he pulled back just enough to answer. "She's my fiance! I love her" "You don't love anyone but yourself!" Potter screamed. "The engagement is over! She's gone! I hope you're fucking satisfied!" The patient, glorious war hero was no where to be seen as his wild reckless expression took on a sheen of cold satisfaction. Harry crossed to where the house elf stood and snatched the letter from its hands. He threw the crinkled missive in Draco's face and laughed coolly. "Read it for yourself, if you don't believe me."

Harry turned his back but before he left, he spoke threateningly over his shoulder, his eyes resting on Narcissa's fretting portrait. "You'll never find her, now, Malfoy. You fucking screwed up." Bitter, angry tears gathered in Draco's eyes as he watched Potter leave and ignoring his mother's frantic pleas for an explanation as well as Goyle's pained moans from the floor, Draco ripped open the letter, expecting to see Hermione's neat, cursive hand. Instead however, there was only the cold ministry issue type font. Draco Alexander Malfoy, We regret to inform you that your engagement to one Miss Hermione Jean Granger has been annulled on Miss Granger's request. No reason was given. Our sincerest condolences. Draco screamed, his heart pounding out a sickening rhythm in his chest. Disregarding the pleas of his mother's portrait, Draco crushed his fist into Goyle's face once more, rearing back for another blow, then another, then another until his hands were slick with blood. All the while, the inhuman screams, ripped, unabated from his throat, echoing with chilling fury throughout the manor.

THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

Two weeks before Difficult though it was, Hermione forced her clenched fist to open. A silver band encrusted with diamonds fell from her hand and landed in Harry's much larger grasp and she watched as it disappeared from sight into his pocket. "What did he do, Mione? I thought you two were" "Not now, please Harry. I'llI'll tell you about it when I get back." She rubbed her eyes while she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Harry gave her a suspicious look.

"Get back? Are you going somewhere?" He frowned deeply as he grabbed her hand. "Hermione, you need to be here. Running away from Malfoy is not going to solve this problem; you need to talk to him " Hermione wrenched her arm away, rubbing the skin as though it burned. "Talking won't solve this problem either." She held up a hand as he began to protest. "No! ReallyI just need to gosomewhere, where ever. Think everything through." She fought back the tears and leapt forward, sweeping her best friend into a firm hug, hoping that she would not be forced to lie to Harry should he ask any more probing questions. To be honest, at this point, Hermione couldn't be entirely sure that she was returning at all. There were only five weeks left till the marriage law deadline came into effect and Hermione was too exhausted to even contemplate finding another fianc. Marrying another man posed another problem: Hermione didn't think she ever wanted to face Draco again. Shaking her head, Hermione forced her thoughts away and pasted a tremulous smile on her face, if only to appease Harry. She kissed him fondly on the cheek. "Please just return the ring to MalfoyI don't want to see him right now." Harry stared at her, firm lipped and concerned but he could do nothing. When Hermione Granger decided to keep a secret, only a bottle of veritaserum and a crowbar crow pry it from her, and since he had neither oh hand, Harry was forced to simply nod and acquiesce to her request. "Come home soon, Mione." Hermione agreed, eager to leave. Harry with his too perceptive eyes was a danger to her fragile state of mind and she needed to leave before she broke down and lost the courage to do what she needed to do. When she emerged from the floo at her apartment, Hermione surveyed the organised sort of chaos. Boxes of her most cherished possessions had already been sent away for storage as well as much of her furniture. All that was left were shreds of bubble wrap, wads of used tissues and the broken shards of porcelain. While she had sent the annulment letter to the ministry, Hermione had destroyed a set of plates. When she had been forced to contact the estate agent to sell her home, she had brooded over a sheet of bubble wrap and destroyed another set. When she had been forced to resign her position in the ministry, Hermione had wept copiously and destroyed yet another set. Suffice it to say, Hermione Granger was short of plates. Hermione was only glad that she had had the presence of mind to preserve her mother's fine china. She was disinclined to clean it up but she did so anyway, she was not a woman who enjoyed chaos.

Even now, as Hermione tried to escape her apparent lunatic of a fianc, she was disinclined to simply wing it. Paris had been her original destination but anyone who would know her well enough would guess in an instant where she had gone. Instead, she had decided on Italy. It must be beautiful this time of yearthe perfect place to escape and perhaps set down rootsaway from the gloomy shores of England. Yes. Italy was idealexcept that she knew no one and could barely speak the languageMerlin what was she thinking? She couldn't No! Hermione took a deep fortifying breath. No point in second guessing herself. It was already too late to turn back. There was plenty of time for regrets later. Just as she was reinforcing her courage and brushing away her doubts, a knock sounded on her front door. Hermione looked at it suspiciously. Surely Draco hadn't received the ring yet, he couldn't have come looking this soonhe just "Hermione!" The voice was familiar and Hermione sighed in relief as she rushed to admit her guest. Dolohov stepped inside, his reedy figure dressed completely in black. He smiled thinly as he surveyed the empty apartment. "Going somewhere, my dear?" Hermione nodded. "Yesyou'll read all about it in the Prophet soon enough, I expect." His cool, flat eyes surveyed her with a dangerous glint. "YesI expect I will." He slowly pried the gloves from his fingers and laid them on a nearby bench. Carefully, he wrapped his fingers around the silver head of his cane while he fixed her with a nonchalant gaze. "Where will you go?" Hermione caught her bottom lip between her teeth, debating the whether she should tell him the truth. Dimitri had been so understanding and helpful to her and she wouldn't repay his generosity with mistrust. "Italy." She sent him a small smile. "I've always wanted to go." Dolohov showed no surprise; instead, he smiled calmly and inclined his head. "A wonderful choice, Hermione. If you have not made any serious arrangements yet, may I offer my manor in Sicily? The surrounds are especially scenic this time of year." "Oh no, Dimitri, I couldn't. You've already been so good to me"

The former Slytherin held up a hand to halt her protests. He met her eyes and held her attention carefully. "I insist. It can be an overwhelming experience to relocate to a foreign country. It would be good to have a place to call your own until you can familiarise yourself with the culture and surrounds." He reached for her hand in a flash and clasped it between his warm fingers. Hermione shifted her gaze to her double door balcony, not entirely comfortable with the way in which he held her handbut if she thought logically, Dimitri was right. It would be easier if she had a place to ground herself, at least for the initial weeks. She nodded in determination. "Yes. Thank you Dimitri, that would be a great comfort. But only for a few weeks, I refuse to intrude for any longer." The man pulled her forward and engulfed her in a tense hug, making Hermione stiffen in both surprise and disquiet. "I shall write to the staff at the manor so that they can prepare for your arrival." Hermione stiffened as she felt Dolohov fist a hand in her hair and pull her face closer to the crook of his neck. With as much aplomb as she could muster, she pulled away and set his body at an appropriate distance away. "Thank you, Dimitri. I don't know what I would do without you."

"Zabini!" Draco stormed through the front door of the Italian's manor, pushing aside the hovering footman and weaving his way past several frantic house elves. "Master Malfoy!" One of the servants trailed him quickly, trying to divert him towards one of the parlour rooms, rather unsuccessfully. Draco simply pushed past him also, rushing towards the grand staircase which stood just beyond the entrance hall. "I assume Blaise is home." Draco said, his steps unfaltering as he took the stairs two at a time. "Yes sir, but " Draco ignored him; he knew exactly where he was going having been here countless times in the past. He needed to get down to the truth of the situation now; he had no patience for any delays or detours as he was planning on leaving for France that very afternoon. As he neared Blaise's private wing, he could hear for himself the truth of Dobby's words. High pitched screams echoed across the walls, interrupted only by gasping whimpers and breathless words. An insensible rage settled over Draco as he neared the door of Blaise's bedroom. With each step he took, it became startling clear that the woman's screams and whimpers were not the result of pain, but instead of pleasure. As if to confirm his suspicions, Blaise's sex-slicked voice rung out, cursing in between moans of rapture.

He was dead, Draco thought furiously, Blaise Zabini was about to die a horrible, gruesome death. No one touched Hermione except him. Years of friendship between the two Slytherins now held no weight whatsoever. All Draco wanted to do was beat that sodding bastard into submission and teach him what sort of price would be extracted for touching a woman that wasn't his. Draco angrily rammed the door, bursting into the room with a growl ripping at his throat. The sight hit him like a physical blow and Draco felt the wind leave his sails. It was unbearably painful to watch. Blaise had noticed his entrance. His dark head had twisted in Draco's direction as his hips continued to piston roughly against the woman who lay writhing insensibly beneath him, whimpering as she raised her hips to meet his every thrust. "Everever heard of knocking, Malfoy?" Blaise groaned deep in his throat as Draco turned away, unable to look at the woman. Hermione had always been the brightest witch of her age and Merlin, she had known exactly how to hit him where it hurts. His best friendhis fucking best friend. As Draco brooded, he could hear the continued activities of the couple behind him. Their screams were reaching a crescendo and no matter how much his heart ached, Draco could not bring himself to stop them. His legs felt boneless and all he wanted to do was collapse to the floor and block his senses from them. He whirled around, begging his feet to move but as if he couldn't help himself, his eyes wandered to the dark haired woman in the bed. She was still insensible to his presence but her face turned suddenly towards him. Draco felt the punch of both shock and relief as he recognised the pixyish features which were a little too familiar. "Cat?" Her eyes burst open and recognition quickly replaced the lust hazed glaze in her eyes. "Oh my God!" As embarrassment suffused her cheeks with heat, she began to buck in earnest, trying desperately to dislodge the man on top of her. Blaise however shamelessly enjoyed her actions, pinning her hips more firmly as he drove into eagerly. "Get off me, you ass!" Cat screamed, smacking him harshly as she gasped for breath. "Get offget offohohoh" Her eyes rolled into the back of her head as her eyelids fluttered close. Her entire body tensed and bowed off the bed, her mouth open in a silent scream as Blaise followed her over the edge, growling gutturally as his hips made a few final, desperate thrusts. The sated couple seemed to collapse insensibly onto the bed and Blaise lazily dragged a sheet over their bodies in a delayed sense of modesty.

"Never took you as the voyeuristic type, Malfoy." Blaise muttered sleepily as he turned his face towards blond. Draco rubbed a hand over his face as a disbelieving smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "God, you bastard, I thoughtI thought" Blaise raised a languid brow, nuzzling Cat as she slowly re-established her senses. "Thought what, Draco?" The blond shook his head as his smile widened. "Nothing." He shook his head as he took in the restraints still tied to the posts of the large bed. "Hell" He stepped forward and looked down at the woman who was usually so feisty. Cat turned her head so that her face was half buried in the crook of Blaise's neck, a blush colouring her face from her hairline to her nose, which was all Draco could see of Cat as Blaise lay unmoving on top of her. "Are you ok?" He asked. "Has Zabini done anythinguntoward?" Cat's eyes darted towards the Italian who was languidly licking her neck and glanced back towards the blond who towered over the bed. She cleared her throat nervously. "I'm fine." She squeaked. Blaise chuckled. "Yes you are." Draco shook his head bemusedly, backing away. He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his dishevelled locks. As he left Zabini manor, his heart felt lighter than it had for several weeks but even as he chuckled over Blaise's antics, the thought of Hermione intruded along with the nauseous ache of fear. He probably should have questioned Cat but Draco doubted that Hermione had told her anything. She hadn't told anyone anything. Not even the seers had divined her location. God only knew what sort of trouble Damn it! He couldn't think like that. His only hope was to remain optimistic, he couldn't let his doubts and fears cloud his thoughts. Hermione could take care of herself; she had made it unscathed through the war hadn't she? Draco groaned audibly as he apparated back to the gates of the mansion. He had to leave for Paris today; he needed to pack andhis thoughts trailed off as his gaze landed on her. Her back was to him but that hairit was unmistakable. The long brown curls cascaded proactively down her back, swaying in the light winds as she stood facing the wrought iron gates.

She didn't seem to have noticed his appearance but as his feet carried him towards her, she turned and her honeyed gazed locked with his. "Draco!" Tears glistened in the familiar chocolate orbs as she flew towards him, her arms wrapping securely around his neck as her body collided with his. The shock of her sudden appearance disappeared in an instant and Draco wrapped his arms around her tightly so that she was not allowed an inch of leeway. He couldn't bring himself to say a word as weeks worth of emotion crashed over him and washed away. "Thank Merlin," He found himself muttering. "God Hermione. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I swear I will be honest with you from this point forward. I'll never ever do anything like that ever again. I swear on the graves of all my unworthy, elitist forefathers that I" "Shhshhshh" Hermione pulled away, her hands reaching up to frame his face. As she watched, two glistening trails caressed his cheeks while he blinked furiously. "No." She said firmly as her thumbs wiped away the tears. "No, don't apologise. I should be the one apologising." "What?" Draco swallowed carefully as his eyes took in every detail of her beautiful face. He smoothed away the curls which framed her face, stroking the silky strands and breathing in her warmth mixed with the scent of the countryside. "II freaked out. It was just a huge step andand I wish you would've just told me, just discussed it with me and" Draco was hit with her words and buried his face in the warmth of her neck. He felt her pulse pound frantically against his face and turned to press a kiss against the soft skin. "I love you." He muttered hoarsely. "I love you and I was just bloody scared that you'd leave me and go back to that Weasley bastard. I was so bloody scared that you would realise you could do so much better and notnot want me." She shuddered in his arms, her hands moving to clutch the material of his shirt. "Never. Never." She muttered to him. "Let's just forget it, ok, Draco?" She rubbed his back. "Let's just go back to where we were before this entire mess happened." "No." Draco shook his head. "No, I screwed up andMerlin knows I don't deserve your forgiveness." Hermione pressed her body to his and nipped his chin playfully. "Then you can make it up to me." Her eyes sparkled like he'd never seen them and he lowered his lips to meet hers. She pressed forward aggressively, holding him to her so tightly, Draco was surprised he could still breath; but as her lips and tongue worked their way over his, he lost himself in the kiss and backed her towards the manor gates which swung open when he neared.

Draco poured all his need into her, answering her stroke for stroke as he relished her soft curves moulding to his body. "I love you so much, Hermione." He pulled away and feathered kisses across her nose. "I love you." She smiled up at him radiantly. "I love you too, Draco." His eyes widened dramatically as he pressed her towards the manor doors. "What? What did you say?" "I love you, Draco." He growled deep his throat and swung her up in his arms as Hermione let out a yelp, laughing as he carried her bodily through the doors and into the nearest sitting room. Draco dropped her onto the couch and covered her body with his, relishing the feel of her beneath him. He had missed this, missed her and by God, he'd do anything in his power so that she would never have reason to leave him ever again. "Ahem." Hermione's head snapped to the side, seeking the source of the voice. For a moment she seemed utterly lost and confused but her eyes soon landed on Narcissa's curious portrait. "Mrs. Malfoy." She said cautiously. "Welcome home, Hermione." The blonde gave a tinkling laugh. Hermione gave her an exultant smile. "It's good to be home."

"Oh Godoh Godoh sweet, merciful God! That was so" "Fun. Merlin woman, that was brilliant!" Cat smacked him harshly against his shoulder as his head dipped towards her for another kiss. "Your best friend walked in on us while we wereyou know." "MmmI think he watched for a few minutes too. Don't blame him really; you're stunning when you come." Blaise sealed his lips over hers and devoured her eagerly as he levered his body over hers once more. She eyed him bemusedly as he kissed her, allowing him to rub his incredible lithe body against her. Damn, but that was the best orgasm ever and Cat really wanted a repeat.

Blaise's chest vibrated over hers, his eyes gazing down at her laughingly. "Thank you, darling." Cat flushed instantly. "Hell." "Don't worry darling, I'm perfectly happy to oblige you." As if to confirm his words, Cat felt him prying apart her legs and settling his heavy, hot length against her. She moaned and writhed before she could stop herself and wrapped her legs around his lean body, trying to pull his body into hers. Blaise chuckled as he suckled her breast. "Allow me to correct that sentence, I'm perfectly happy to oblige youso long as you tell me one thing." Cat moaned in frustration when Blaise refused to budge an inch and tried to shift her body to meet his instead. He grasped her hips and stilled her, levelling her with a stern look. "Fine!" She rolled her eyes. "What is it?" "Who's Ben?" Cat moaned and began writhing again, pouting when he still didn't allow her to move. "Why would you want to talk? Wouldn't you rather be?" She licked her lips provocatively. "otherwise engaged?" Blaise moaned frustrated, and drove himself deep into her welcoming heat but he stilled himself, buried to the hilt and clenched his teeth as her silky flesh pulsed around him. "Who is Ben?" Cat scrunched her nose but when Blaise still resolutely refused to move, tormenting her, she caved in. "Ben is" She tugged at her hair angrily. "Your fianc?" Blaise questioned, his eyebrows raised curiously as he shifted minutely in her soft warmth. Cat moaned lightly. "Not exactly." She clutched his biceps, digging her short nails into the tense flesh. "My parents want him to be." Blaise nodded, encouraging her to continue. She huffed. "This stupid marriage law was just a catalyst. They wanted me to marry Ben even before it came into existence."

Cat frowned as she thought of it. "I'm first generation, you realise, my parents were born in the old country, I suppose you could call it. Immigrating is difficult, especially when you don't speak a shred of English and knew no one else here" She sighed and caressed his arm absentmindedly. "Ben's parents immigrated with mine, they've always depended on each other you see and" "and what could make them happier than to join the two families by having their children marry?" Blaise finished for her, the bitter anger apparent in his voice. "Will you go through with it?" Cat's grip loosened and slid down to circle his wrists. She gently rubbed the pulse point and frowned. "Probably." She felt him stiffen. "He's not a bad guy, he's great in fact, kind of like a big brother, you know. I could do worse." Blaise was tense with some unnamed emotion. "You could do better." "There's only a few weeks left till the ministry starts forcefully imposing the marriage law. If I don't choose by then, they'll probably parcel me off to that idiot, Clark, from St. Mungo's who pinches my ass every time I pass him in the corridor." She smiled, trying to infuse some humour into the situation. Blaise didn't smile back. "Would you sleep with him?" Cat shrugged. "I would need to eventually." "You said he was like your brother." "Figure of speech." Cat frowned, trying to push him away. Blaise didn't budge an inch; instead, his hand gripped her thighs tighter. "Would you fuck your brother?" He hissed. Cat looked scandalised as she tried to pry his hands away. "It's not the same thing! Damn, Zabini! What the hell" Blaise pulled her thighs further apart forcefully and plunged forward, pushing in and out of her angrily until she was gasping for breath and bucking to match his rhythm. "Marry me." Blaise hissed from between his teeth, his body in perpetual motion. "What?" She stilled beneath him, panting heatedly and staring at him in bewilderment. "Marry me!" His body was tense and begging for release but he needed her to be there with him. "Are you insane?" She whispered.

"No. You're attracted to me, I'm attracted to you. We'll always have sex as common ground. Our children can have my looks and your brainsmakes sense." Cat shook her head. "No, it does notwaitwhy your looks? What's wrong with?" The remainder of her sentence trailed away as she felt the rolling heat of her orgasm encroaching on her consciousness. Her hips rolled with his and she pressed her head into the pillows. Moaning, she closed her eyes and let the pleasure engulf her. "Say yes." Blaise hissed into her ear, licking and biting whatever he could reach. "We can do this every night, every day, any time you want" He promised huskily. "Say yes." The tension in her body rose to its peak and shattered, her voice ripped from her lips in the form of a scream. "Yes!" Her body bucked as he spilled himself inside her. "Ughyes."

CLARITY OF VISION The two men walking side by side in London's wizarding centre drew countless admiring stares. One was as light as the other was dark but both were tall, lithe and in their prime. When they passed, the crowd parted, allowing their progress unimpeded. Blaise whistled as he sauntered down Diagon alley, a smug smile curling the corner of his lips as Draco watched him with a raised brow. "Merlin, what's wrong with your face?" Draco sneered. "It's called smiling, sod. You should try it sometime." The blond gave a genuine chuckle. "Why are you smiling, then?" "I caught myself a wife." Draco coughed dramatically. "Caught? Fishing net and all?" Blaise shot him a depreciating look and brushed the wrinkles from his sleeves arrogantly. "Kidnapped would be a more appropriate term. I never said I was conventional when it came to courting women." "Didn't expect you to be, but I would've thought Cat would put up a little more resistance than that." The Italian wizard waved away the thought as though it annoyed him. Instead he turned his curious stare on his best friend. "How do you know it's Cat?"

"You were screwing her a few days ago and she had those suspicious rope burns around her wrists" Draco shrugged, grinning slightly. "Call it an assumption but I would bet I'm right." "Yes, yes, fine." Blaise's smile dropped from his lips like a child deprived of its fun. "You seem awfully cheerful for a man who just lost a fiance." A bubble of ecstatic laughter came from the blond before he could answer and it was all he could do to stop himself from skipping down the street and violating several ancient Malfoy strictures. He settled for a smug grin instead. "Hermione came home. By some miracle, she decided to forgive me. She's notifying the ministry about reinstating out engagement today." As if he couldn't help himself, he added: "Isn't life grand?" Blaise snorted. "Oh yes, grand." Sarcasm dripped from his every word but the relief and happiness in his eyes belied his words. He clapped his best friend on the back in a gesture of silent congratulations. "Never thought I'd see the day when the two of us would be so eager to get tied down." Draco shrugged. "I love her and I get to keep her for the rest of my life, I'd say that it's a great deal. As a bonus, I get to piss off Weasley and annoy Potter forevercan't really get any better." He paused as if contemplating his next words, carefully rolling them around in his mind before he ventured to speak. "Why are you marrying Cat?" Blaise raised his eyebrows, shocked at the question. "She's great in bed, of course. Plus, she's intelligent enough not to shame the Zabini name and she's a bit of looker too if I say so myself." "You don't love her." The quicksilver eyes flashed, settling into a hardened grey. "No. Hell, I'm not going to go all moony over one silly woman. Besides, it's not like Cat loves me either. She's a logical woman, she understands the deal. What do you care anyway?" Their footsteps slowed and Draco turned to face him. They were almost identical in height, easily allowing them to meet eye to eye. "I care" Draco emphasised with a grim frown. "because Cat happens to be Hermione's friend and if you hurt her then Hermione is going to send me to beat you into next Sundayand I would really prefer not to, but if Mione asks" He allowed the sentence to trail off but Blaise got the message loud and clear. He rolled his eyes exasperatedly. "You're so whipped." Draco didn't answer and shrugged instead. "Just issuing a warning." "I won't" He tucked his hands into the pockets of his slacks. "hurt her, I mean. II like her, you know." The awkward look on Blaise's face said it all and Draco felt his shoulders relax as he turned and began walking again.

"I'm surprised you're not stalking Granger. You know, in case she runs off again." "She won't. She's just gone to work. Why she feels compelled to work for the idiot ministry is beyond me, but I suppose she needs to occupy herself some how." Blaise laughed. "Of course. Sosettling into the married life already are you?" Draco rolled his eyes before he could stop himself and answered rather sheepishly. "Yeahwe're going to dinner tonight at Potter's, Pansy wants me to see the little vomiting snotball she calls a daughter. You should come. Bring Cat." "I'll ask her." Came the reluctant answer but Blaise already knew that he would be there. Call it morbid curiosity but he had been rather anxious to see what sort of offspring would result from a combination of Potter and Parkinson. He shuddered as his mind conjured little scar-faced pug nosed creatures with round glasses and ridiculous hair. He voiced the thought aloud causing Draco to laugh raucously, shattering the awkward atmosphere which had tainted their conversation earlier. "I doubt scars are hereditary features but you're welcome to look." Blaise gave him a disgusted look. "Shut up, Malfoy."

He languorously stroked down the neat bob of dark hair, tangling his fingers in the silky strands as she strode briskly before him. The material of her dinner dress fluttered behind her in the brisk night wind, tantalising him as the silky silver material wound around his legs and dared him to reach out and touch her. As if sensing his thoughts, the petite woman craned around and shot him a retraining look. She reached into her hair and untangled his rapacious fingers, twisting them with her own so that she could pull him along the weaving path leading to the charming cottage set in the cradle of woodland. From the outside, walking in the crisp spring air, nothing could look more appealing. The windows glowed with welcome, beckoning the couple with promises of comfort and warmth. Cat raised her unoccupied hand and grasped the wrought iron knocker on the wide oak door, tapping it a few times before releasing it and settling into the warm embrace of the Italian who drew her into his arms. He purred lightly into her ear, rubbing away the collection of goosebumps on her bare arms just as the door swung open. A bespectacled man with a barely contained shock of black hair smiled gently and ushered the couple in. Harry Potter stood within the cosy cottage with the air of a man well used to domesticity, a sentiment which made Blaise's lips curl depreciatingly.

"Potter." He said gruffly, reluctantly offering his hand for the other wizard to shake. Having tolerated numerous Slytherin alumni for Pansy's sake, Harry smiled calmly and grasped his hand in a brief greeting. "Zabini. You're lookingwell." Harry turned away with a wry twist of his lips and leant down to kiss Cat on the cheek. "You look beautiful, Cat. You really should visit more often; Pansy's been desperate for female companionship. Now that Lily has finally been born, they all gather in the parlour to coo and make baby noises in lieu of listening to Pansy complaining about her swollen ankles and back pain." Cat chuckled delightedly in Blaise's encircling arms while she reached into her hand bag, pulling out a bottle of fine elf wine. "Thanks for having us, Harry. You two must be exhausted, tending after Lily." Harry took the wine with a gracious murmur of appreciation. "Lily is surprisingly well behaved, she doesn't give us as much trouble as we expected." A loud wail broke the peaceful atmosphere and Blaise laughed. "You were saying?" Cat smacked him on the shoulder and stepped out of his embrace. "Is Hermione here?" She asked as she progressed further into the room. "Yepshe's with Pansy. Arrived with Malfoy a few minutes ago." A dark look settled over his features as he glanced cautiously at Blaise. "They seemed to havereconciled their differences." Having been disconnected from the world at large while this apparent incident had occurred, Cat raised a questioning eyebrow but didn't comment. Instead, she left the men to their silent, battling looks and found her way into the cosy room with the calming lavender hued walls and gentle tinkling music. Both women seated within the room looked up and greeted her with radiant smiles. Pansy was aglow with new motherhood, her face softened by pregnancy, giving her a motherly quietness which gentled even further when she looked at the bundle in her arms. Little Lily resembled her parents more than her namesake with the little tuft of black hair but her startlingly green eyes were undoubtedly her grandmother's legacy. Her pink cheeks glowed in the warm lights, her small lips puckered adorably as she gazed curiously around the room, never settling on one spot for more than a few seconds at a time. Hermione rose from her seat and smiled at Cat, drawing her into a quick hug. "How have you been?" Cat asked, concerned as she was by what Harry had hinted at earlier. "Great!" Came the exuberant answer. Her eyes glowed with the truth of her words as she looped an arm around Cat's shoulders, steering her towards the couch.

"And what about you? I heard that Blaise proposed!" Cat blushed lightly and brushed away Hermione's excitement with a flippant comment. "Oh you know how we are, madly in love and whatnot" Hermione laughed and patted Cat's hand. "Oh, don't I know it! You two were always the sweetest couple! Put Draco and I to shame, really!" She stared quizzically at the back of Hermione's riot of curls as the woman turned towards Pansy. She watched as the brunette reached out and stroked a single finger down Lily's smooth pink cheek and coo loudly. The sweet child wailed and flinched away in response and Hermione jerked her hand away while Lily cried on shrilly, refusing her mother's consolation even as Pansy held the small bundle close to her heart, soothing and hushing the child. Hermione cleared her throat awkwardly as Pansy excused herself to tend to Lily. Cat watched her closely, an odd sensation tickling the back of her mind as the other witch laughed about the fickle state of a child. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong, but Cat's intuition was rarely wrong. The first time she had met Hermione, Cat had taken an instant shine to the haphazard woman who was rushing through the ministry hallways laden with scrolls and textbooks. The next time they met and every time after, Cat had felt that same distinct, sensation of warmth, loyalty and trust. Staring at this woman now, Cat didn't feel it. This woman felt different. Despite the uncanny similarity of her appearance with her dear friend, this woman feltsticky; she possessed an almost cloying kind of aura which was not exactly dark, but felt almost lost and misled in many senses. It could simply have been that Hermione was troubled about something, strong emotions could often affect a person's persona, but this felt likesomething, no, someone else. Suspicious and not a little cautious, Cat forced herself to smile back. "I've been worrying about you; Harry mentioned some trouble between you and Draco" Cat fought the fierce frown which made the corner of her lips twitch, instead she settled for something she hoped resembled a sympathetic smile. Hermione looked away for a minute, avoiding Cat's eyes. "It was nothing; just a small misunderstanding." She cleared her throat lightly and laughed while she brought her eyes back to Cat. "Don't worry about it." Every muscle in Cat's body tensed and she barely suppressed the urge to lunge forward and give this impostor a taste of her fist. Cat had returned to her apartment a few days ago and found her muggle answering machine laden with 'Get Well' messages from her colleagues, one rather concerned query from Ben, a few dinner invitations from her parents, undoubtedly to discuss Ben and lastly, a rather strained message from Hermione telling her that Draco and her had apparently broken their engagement and that she was thinking of travelling for some period of time.

Cat herself read numerous articles confirming Hermione's claims of separation. That left only two logical conclusions: that, one, Hermione had been extraordinarily forgiving or that, two, the woman standing before her wasn't Hermione. Cat would bet her life on option number two. Anger and disgust poured through Cat's veins like liquid silver, chilling her to the core while she mentally tackled the fraud in front of her and staked her to Lily's nursery room floor. That, however, was not a wise course of action. She had no proof, in fact, she had nothing more than instinct and speculation to go on and Draco would undoubtedly stand with his fiance rather than listen to a raving woman whom he had met only twice. There had to be another way; some way to show Malfoy the truth of the matter so that he could see for himself and deal with it as he wanted. If Hermione had somehow been twisted into this nightmare, she could potentially be in a lot of trouble. Cat seriously doubted that this woman was just some obsessed stalker who had decided to take advantage of Hermione's absence and take a shot at the illusive Malfoy magnate. She bared her teeth in a semblance of a smile. "That's great to hear, Mione. I'm glad this is working out for you, especially considering that you've had a thing for Draco since your Hogwarts years." Hermione smiled brightly. "It was meant to be!" Liar, Cat seethed. Hermione had never said any such thing to her; had never even mentioned Malfoy's name until this marriage law fiasco turned up. Pansy rushed back in empty handed and smiled at both the women. She smoothed back her silky black hair and lowered herself gracefully into the rocking chair, gesturing for them to take a seat on the opposing couch. "Harry's changing Lily; I thought we could do with a little girl talk. Especially you, Mione. The things that I've been reading about you in Witch Weekly" Cat cleared her throat and interrupted smoothly. "I need to see Blaise for a second, will you excuse me?" Pansy laughed and sent her a smooth wink. "Of course! No need to be so formal; Blaise is practically a brother to me which means that you'll soon be my sister." Despite the tension in her, Cat couldn't help but smile as she left, glad that at least Blaise's friends didn't find their engagement bewildering.

When she found the two Slytherins in the dinning room, each clutching a snifter of brandy while they chatted, Cat slid close the partitioning doors, sealing them in physically before casting a silencing spell. "My dear, I know you can't keep your hands off me but really, Draco is still here and while I let him watch the last time; that was purely a one off." Draco rolled his eyes but Cat remained stoic. "I need to tell you something." Blaise laughed. "Tell away, my dear." "Not you." She pinched the bridge of her nose, frustrated. "I need to tell Malfoy something." The blond raised one aristocratic eyebrow and inclined his head towards her. Cat took a deep breath. "Don'tdon't be mad. Hear me out before you decide that I'm just full of shit." A slight frown settled on Draco's face but Cat continued regardless, casting a glance at her perplexed fianc. "It's about Hermione." Draco's frown settled into an ominous glare. "What about her? If you're about to warn me off her, don't even" "No. Noplease listen." Without a single pause for breath, Cat told him what she could about her suspicions, about her intuition, then when at last she finished, she took a deep, and much needed breath and waited for Draco to speak. Throughout the entirety of the speech, Malfoy had not said a word. The dark expression on his face said it all. "How dare you?" He hissed at last with such venom that Cat was suddenly very glad for Blaise's restraining presence. "How dare you? I know that you think I'm not good enough for Hermione but this sure is hell another level of low! Don't you think ?" "I believe her." Cat's eyes shot to Blaise, wide and disbelieving. She would have understood fully if Blaise had chosen to side with his best friend; God, they must have years of historyfrom the cradle. Draco took a deep, hissing breath. "Just because she's a good lay, doesn't mean every word from her mouth is truth." Zabini's arm shot out and grabbed Draco's shirt, tugging him forward until they were face to face.

"Watch your mouth, Draco." When he saw that nothing but suspicion simmer in Draco's eyes, he modulated his tone, calming his words, hoping that logic would cut through the emotion. "Granger is Cat's friend. You're not the only one who loves her. If Cat is telling you thatthat woman in there is an impostor, then she must have good reason." Cat pried Blaise's fingers from the young Malfoy's shirt and held onto his hand while she tugged him to her side. "Look Malfoy. You're right. I don't think you're good enough for her but for some reason or another, there is someone here, in this house, impersonating her. If I were you, I'd be damn interested in finding out the truth, settle the matter here and now." Draco's lips firmed into a thin line as he glanced moodily into the fire. "How do you propose we do that then?" He asked at last. Cat took a pair of blue framed glasses from her handbag and handed them to the blond. Her expression was fierce. "What the hell is this meant to do?" "I'm a mediwitch." Cat said as if it explained it all and this time, even Blaise sent her an exasperated glare. "Yes, love. We are both aware. What do these glasses have to do with anything?" "When you work in the healthcare system, you learn two things fast. Firstly, that all patients have the right to medical treatment and secondly, that all patients believe that they have the right to medical treatment. In short, they will demand things that they don't necessarily need, oh say, likenarcotics." "Painkillers." Blaise said curiously. "Yes." Cat nodded. "When we deny a patient something which they are addicted to, they will do anything to get around our prescribing policies, even pretending to be another patient. Everyone who works at St. Mungo's are required to wear a pair of these glasses when we meet the patients; it can see through the strongest illusion charms, potions and any other manner of deceit." Blaise whistled, impressed. "I've heard of these; St. Mungo's keeps this particular spell extremely private so that people can't formulate a way to counter its effects." Draco stared at Cat until she felt like squirming under his gaze and hoped to hell that she didn't appear guilty or unduly nervous. There were some approaching footsteps outside the door, feminine chatter flowing quietly into the room. "Fine." He said at last, slipping the square blue frames on before he strode past her to open the sliding doors and allow the two women in, followed closely by Harry.

As the friendly chatter flowed into the room, the three former occupants stood frozen, two watching the other. Cat saw Draco stiffen as his eyes focused on his fiance. The silver orbs behind the clear lenses turned frigid with stormy fury and his lips almost curled up viciously in a snarl. Seemingly unaware, Hermione sidled up to Draco and pressed herself into his body familiarly. Merlin! Couldn't she feel the humming tension in Malfoy; the volatile temper bubbling just beneath? "You look gorgeous with you're glasses on." She said as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. Draco stood stiff and unyielding but allowed the kiss. His firm arm snaked around her waist and pulled her tightly into his body while he lowered his head to the crook of her neck. Hermione giggled as Draco whispered something into her ear, his eyes met and held Blaise's who offered an acknowledging nod. The blond straightened. "I'm very sorry to disrupt your evening, Pansy, Potter but something has just come up and Hermione and I need to gotalk it out. Don't we, Mione?" The brunette laughed huskily and nodded. Harry rolled his eyes while Pansy shared a knowing smirk with Hermione. She smacked her husband on the arm. "Don't be such a stick in the mud, Harry. I'm sure whatever Draco wants to say to Hermione is very important." Hermione seem to take that as all the required permission and said an airy farewell with promises to visit again soon; Draco allowed her to prance from the room ahead of him. "Thank you." He muttered quietly and tapped the glasses still perched on his patrician features. "I'll return these to you soon."

Hermione was very glad that she had sent her luggage ahead of her. The freedom of travelling lightly while she spent a few days in Paris, reminiscing, was wonderful. The crystal clear memories that could be found in a pensieve couldn't compare to the incredible sensation of standing where her teenage self had stood years ago when Hermione's parents had still been alive. She spoke French well enough to navigate through the various quartiers and she distracted herself as best she could. While the old wound of her parents' death only throbbed now and then, Malfoy's fresh betrayal pulsed with her every breath and heartbeat. Being in the city of love and surrounded by the demonstrative French didn't help seal the wound but the majestic beauty and her memories of them helped divert her thoughts.

She left Paris after satisfying her nostalgia and headed for Italy. Submitting to whim, Hermione stopped in Florence and Rome, revelling in the culture and history while she pushed away the reality of her life. She made a detour to the rurality of Tuscany, sampled the local produce and contemplated a fling with one particular native who trailed her through the local markets. Just before she recklessly made the decision however, a memory intruded and guilt forced her feet towards her rental car. God Malfoy! If only he hadn'tif only he hadDamn it! She hated him, she hated, hated, hated himbut oh God, how she missed him. She cradled the few happy memories she had of him, enjoyed the brief months of bliss she should have treasured while they occurred. Despite it allDraco had made her happy. Ridiculously so. He had opened her eyes to another sort of relationship, one so different from the one with Ron that Hermione had felt as if she had been tossed into the freezing cold sea and not taught how to swim. The heat that she had always believed should exist in a romantic relationship existed between them like thunder and lightening, a hidden throb at times and a bright flash at others. He had made her feel alive and younga feeling so foreign to her at that time that Hermione must have given into her giddiness once or twice. Draco Malfoy had been the epitome of seduction; a man who had drawn her in and tied her in knots and here she was nowmissing him despite his betrayals. Her original plans to use him to get back at Ron had worked wondrouslybut somewhere along the line, Hermione had forgotten about those plansand Draco had become something else entirely to her. As she drove down the winding roads which led her to the beautiful province of Catania in Sicily, Hermione lowered the convertible soft top of her rental and allowed both her tears and her hair to stream free, flying behind her. On the empty country road, she was allowed to cry while a wide smile tugged at her lips. She was allowed to mourn. Just before Hermione could bring herself to present herself to Dolohov's holiday home, she couldn't resist making one last historical stop. The Castello di Aci was a magnificent sight to behold as it sat on a rocky outcropping, overlooking a vast blue sea. It stood where it had stood for over a thousand years and Hermione could feel the history practically begging her to discover and explore. The place tasted faintly of magic and the feeling made Hermione's arms prickled with the familiar tingling warmth Hogwarts had always given her. She felt safe here, she realised. For some reason, this place felt like a familiar old friend rather than a new acquaintance. As the cooler air of the castle interior swallowed her, Hermione shivered pleasantly and began to wander the dark hallways, ignored by the other tourists who were undoubtedly muggle, clutching their cameras and exclaiming over various symbols carved into the mouldings which Hermione found familiar from ancient runes. As she ascended another flight of stairs, Hermione came upon a magnificent room, flooded with sunlight from a missing wall and seemingly devoid of life. Unlike the other empty castle rooms, it was beautifully

furnished in the style of the renaissance age, rich with colour and texture, every detail present down to the last ornament and trimming. The only things that seemed out of place was the two large wing-tipped arm chairs facing away from her, placed on each side of a small table which held what looked like an regency England tea service. A thickly accented voice came from one of the armchairs. "Come sit, my child." Hermione started and began wondering if this was some kind of showif it was, the brochure hadn't mentioned it. She eased forward step by step; her combat training taking a firm hold as she silently circled the seats until she came face to face with the figure which had spoken. It was a woman. An old lady in fact. She sat, shrouded in fine white wizarding robes, her weathered hands resting calmly in her lap. Her sharp eyes assessed Hermione. "Stop reaching for your wand, my dear. I have no intention of harming you." She raised one delicate hand and waved it at the seat opposing her. "Sit. You'll want to hear what I have to say." Surprised though she was, Hermione didn't let it show. She cautiously lowered herself into the armchair and graciously took the fine china cup filled with tea offered from an incredibly steady hand. "I will not waste your time, Miss Granger." The rich Italian tone wove around her words. "I come to offer you two warnings; whether you heed them or not is your choice but I strongly advise that you do. Young master Malfoy chose to disregard our conversation, but youperhaps you will be wiser." Cautious, Hermione took a small sip from the cup and nodded for the older woman to continue, her curiosity fired by the mention of Draco. What had this woman to do with Malfoy? What had she told him...what had she warned him about? Before she could voice her questions however, the old seer's eyes glazed with a milky haze as she began to speak. "Your friend is not your friendyour visit is not a visityour freedom will end at moon's rise and begin with almost death."

GREEN Hermione worried her bottom lip as she drove up the winding driveway of Dolohov's Sicilian manor. In the failing glow of twilight, the house atop the hill looked imposing backed by the purple hue of the last light of the day. It looked old, but unlike the castello she had visited earlier, its history was not one Hermione was sure she wanted to discover.

After issuing her second warning, the old seer had stood and walked away, her steps surprisingly spry and agile for a woman who looked as if she'd seen at least a century. Before Hermione could even protest, she was gone and with her, the cosy armchair, the tea service and all the other furnishings in the room. With a pained exclamation, Hermione fell onto the cold, dusty floor of the open aired room, her fingers still curled as if they held the cup of tea she had been offered earlier. She still wasn't sure if that woman could be trustedher first warning made next to no sense and her second was so everyday that Hermione wasn't quite sure if she had been pulling her leg. Slow down at 7:15 p.m. Slow down? Hermione snorted and shook her head; she had always thought that divination was an ineffective and pointless magic but this was really going above and beyond. Why would she every listen to such nonsense? She glanced down at the digitised clock in her dashboard. 19:15, it read and Hermione scoffed, rolling her eyes just as the manor gates came into view. Remembering Dolohov's instructions, Hermione extended her hand to the passenger seat, searching for her wand which was concealed in the glove box compartment. She was supposed to use some... Hermione slammed on the breaks and screamed in horror as a dark shadow with luminescent eyes streaked haphazardly across her car's path. As the vehicle skidded to a sudden halt on the gravel path, Hermione whimpered and stumbled out the driver side door, quickly rounding to the front of the car. In the faint illumination of the still purple sky, Hermione couldn't make out any harmed form on the gravel path. A flash of movement caught in her peripheral vision however, made Hermione look up just in time to see what looked like a cat's tail disappear into the undergrowth on the side of the road. From it's less than fluid movements, Hermione could tell it had been hurt and a burst of remorse made her wrap her arms around herself. Deciding in an instant, Hermione found herself following in the cat's wake, crouching low as she pushed aside the wilderness which blocked her path. She strove forward, leaving her car behind as she emerged deeper into the dense and overgrown surrounds. The light was nearly gone and a silvery moon was rising, casting an eerie glow over the unfamiliar terrain. A pathetic mew caught her attention and Hermione's head shot to her right where she could make out the bars of the fence which must have circled Dolohov's property. At the foot of them, curled into a small defensive ball was the cat. It mewled again and Hermione blinked rapidly to clear the tears which rose in response. "Shh" She eased forward, careful to keep her voice low. "I'm sorry darling, I didn't see you until it was too lateI didn't mean to harm you."

It lifted its head from its defensive position and huge blue luminescent eyes stared at Hermione. It seemed to contemplate her outstretched hand before relaxing slightly and rising unsteadily to its feet. One paw was curled defensively off the ground and Hermione knew it must have broken something as it hobbled forward. The tiny creature must have been barely more than a kitten; its oddly striped fur was still fuzzy with youth and its small gaunt body attested to its wildness. Hermione gently scooped it up into her arms, careful not to touch its injured leg. She turned and began to follow the line of the fence, back towards the roadand stopped dead. A man's voice, one just beyond the boundary of the fence rung clear and true across the night sky. Hermione could recognise that voice anywhere. At once, her instinct kicked in again and Hermione lowered her body close to the ground, careful to shield the little fur ball in her arms. She didn't have to wait long before Dolohov's irate voice spoke again. "Where the fuck is she?" There was a harsh bang as something was thrown against the fence. "We don't know sir. She never arrived." Hermione's eyes widened in the dark. "You're sure? She should have been here a fortnight ago! You should have her locked in her bedroom right now!" There was a harsh string of profanities before Dolohov calmed enough to speak again. "Do you realise that my plans hinge on the fact that Granger is secured? Do you realise what would happen if she returns to England to that bastard Malfoy? Even that smooth talking Weaslette couldn't explain to Malfoy why there are two Hermiones." Fear and realisation clicked into place in Hermione's mind in an instant. Two? Two of her. Shitno wonder Dolohov had been so damn eager to offer her his home. He had been bloody well plotting to imprison her all alongas for Ginny Weasleyscrew that bitch! Hermione would bet that that little whore was impersonating her right this very moment! Bile rose in her throat as Draco reared up in her thoughts. Was hedid he kiss Ginny and not realise it wasn't Hermione? Did she wear Hermione's engagement ring, masquerade as Draco's fiance? Had Draco taken her to the same bed Hermione had A furious, jealous growl ripped from her lips before she could stop herself and the harsh conversation on the other side of the fence ceased suddenly. "What was that?" Hermione paled and shifted to stand. A twig cracked under her weight. "Someone's out there. Fuck! Go! GO! Get them!"

Her position given away already, Hermione shot up and launched herself into the bushes, running for all she was worth while she clutched the injured kitten to her side. She cursed herself for leaving her wand in the car and hoped to hell that her wandless magic was still up to par. She still didn't fancy going against several of Dimitri's goons while she was essentially unarmed. There was no choice otherwise however and Hermione found herself praying fervently to any higher power who would listen as the wild surrounds caught her with their outstretched branches. Despite the sharp sting Hermione felt slash across her cheek as a blinding spell grazed her, she continued running, her eyes fixated on the ever fading path in the dim light. Acute fear stabbed through Hermione. She couldn't be caught. Not now, not when she needed to return to England post haste and find Draco and Well she didn't know what she would do, but damned if she was going to let Ginny Weasley and Dimitri Dolohov get away with their schemes. Even a ferret like Malfoy didn't deserve to be trapped with that bitch. The running and her mounting fear choked Hermione's mind as she felt her heart thump wildly against her ribs; she gasped for breath as another spell narrowly missed her side. Perspiration beaded on her forehead and trailed coolly down her face. She cursed and prayed with her sporadic breaths, clutching the kitten harder to her side despite its injured protests. It was almost completely dark. The path she had forged before was fading quickly from view. Her clumsy, tired feet tripped on shadowy roots but her instincts, forged from war, guided her straight and true and soon enough, her adrenaline heightened hearing picked up the luxurious purr of her convertible. As she burst from the shrubbery, both hands wrapped around the struggling kitten, she tripped on the slight incline and went sprawling on the abrasive road surface. The harsh gravel abraded the soft skin of her forearms, drawing blood with sharp sweeps of pain. A flash of green sped over her head. "Damn it!" Dolohov's voice exclaimed. "It's Granger! Don't fucking kill her!" With a cold shock, Hermione realised that they were shooting killing spells at her. Pushed to the brink, she allowed an unformed burst of wandless magic to escape from her body and aimed it roughly in the direction of Dolohov's voice. There was pained grunt and the sound of a body crumbling to the ground and Hermione spitefully hoped it was Dolohov. Her thoughts were cut short as infuriated shouts sliced through the night air and the sound of several pairs of feet rushed towards her accompanied by Italian curses.

Panic fuelled her now and Hermione pushed herself upright; tucking the kitten under one arm as she reached for the handle of the passenger side door. From the corner of her eye, she saw several dark forms drawing near and one raised its arm to aim his wand. "Avada Kedavra!" Green light encompassed her vision just as the Dolohov's infuriated roar reached her ears. "NO!"

Merlin, he had been such a fool! The sight of her, there before the manor gates had made his heart pound so hard that he had been sure that it would burst from his chest. Then she had turned and all Draco had seen was her wondrous face, devoid of that bewildered sadness which screamed of betrayal and disbelief. Then she had thrown herself into his arms, her warm breath brushing his sensitised skin as she peppered kisses along his throat and jaw, breathing him in just as he did her. Desperate happiness had pierced him and pushed away all other thought. All that had mattered at that moment had been that Hermione had returned that at last she was safe and solid in his arms. He had wept unashamedly in her arms, kissing her with all the pent up fear and desperation which had festered like disease inside him. She had kissed him back. Wildly, aggressively, biting his lips until it bled and clutching him as if she feared he was the one who would disappear. Draco hadn't thought to question her return, he cared only that she had. What an idiot he had been. Hermione forgiving him with such ease was as likely as the moon falling to earth and yet he had blindly believed the rusebecause it was what his heart had desperately wanted. She smelled different, he realised now with furious clarity, as she walked calmly with him through the entrance hall of Malfoy manor. Hermione the real Hermione had smelt subtly of a fresh, early winter, clear with a sweet kind of cool; this woman who smelt of musky sweetness, who's red hair swung with the sway of her hips as she shot him a wanting look over her shoulder, unaware that her lie had been exposed. Through the clear lenses of Cat's glasses, Draco fixed his blazing gaze on the hazy image hidden behind Hermione's faade. This woman was taller, rounder than Hermione; her hair a long cascade of red swept over pale milky shoulders. She even walked differently, a loose swinging swagger like a woman who was well used to having a man between her thighs.

Draco's lips curled in a furious snarl as his fingers clenched and unclenched in his robes. Ginny Weasley. Bitch, his mind hissed. "Impostor." His voice whispered. She whirled around, her eyes suddenly fixed worriedly on his fearsome expression. A spark of wariness lit the dull blue of her eyes. "What did you say, Draco?" "Impostor!" His voice cut darkly, accusingly through the silence of the manor, waking his mother's dozing portrait. The Malfoy matriarch raised her head, surprise settling on her face as she glanced between her son and Hermione. "Dracowhat is the matter? Have you and Hermione fought again?" She asked, anxiety clear in her voice. "No," Draco ground out. "But, Ginevra and I are about to." Hermione's beautiful honey orbs widened, mirroring the pale blue eyes which lay hazily beyond. "Dracowhat are you talking about?" She whispered. Red hot rage shimmered through his blood as he advanced on her. "Shut up! You can drop your little act right now; it isn't going to fly anymore!" Her hands flew up to her mouth, suppressing the gasp which threatened to emerge. "Whatwhat are you talking about, Draco? Are you feeling?" Draco lunged forward, snatching her wrists as she released a panicked scream. He backed her toward the lounge, pushing until the back of her knees hit the edge of the eighteenth century upholstery and gave beneath his force. He bit back the furious roar which bubbled in his chest like acid, fighting the urge to hit herbut God help him, he would not be like his father! He would not strike a woman, not matter the circumstance. He couldn't stop himself, however, from pushing her harshly into the couch, releasing her wrists in disgust as he quickly drew his wand, watching her unforgivingly. "Ginevra Weasley! Did your rat of a brother put you up to this? Did he " Her anguished scream tore through the room as Narcissa watched on anxiously.

"I don't know what you're talking about Draco! I'm not Ginny! Merlin" Great heaving sobs tore through her as she struggled to sit up. "I love you Draco, pppleaseplease tell me what's wrong. Ppplease don'tdon't" "SHUT UP!" Draco Malfoy saw red at that moment; never had he come closer than that moment to striking a woman; causing her the pain he knew one brutal punch from his fist could cause. He knew the shape and colour of the bruise that would bloom on her skin; he knew how long that horrible mark would remain and the horrible mental scar which would remain longer. Bile rose in his throat as he thought of his mother. He was his father's son after all. Merlin how he hated her at that moment as he found his fist clenched at his side. She made him into a man he had fought all his life not to become. "Dracoplease! What's wrong?" Narcissa demanded. He didn't answer for several moments as he steadied his fury. He raised an accusing finger to the woman sitting on the couch, breathing deeply as he spoke the harsh words. "That womanthat impostor. She is not Hermione." He paused for breath as Narcissa's eyes filled with tears. "What? How can that be?" "Hermione never returned to me!" Anguish echoed through every word as the truth settled like bitter defeat on his tongue. "Thisshe never came home." His head dropped to his chest as hot, angry tears fell to the warm Aubusson carpet beneath his feet. "Insteadinstead this fraud stands in her place." He turned towards her, his eyes fierce and accusing. "What the hell did you think you could gain from thisthis farce? Money? Status? What? What the hell could possibly induce you to this deception?" A frigid silence followed his question and Draco watched the gentle sadness on Hermione's face melt into a disgusted sneer. "Everything would've turned out fine if you hadn't found out. We could've married; I could've made you happy." She stood casually, drawing a flask from a hidden pocket at her waist and throwing it carelessly at his feet. Draco shook his head disbelievingly as he picked it up and found the sickening smell of polyjuice. "No. You're not Hermioneyou could never have" "You couldn't seem to tell the difference anyway." Hermione's beautiful face curled in a snarl.

Guilt assaulted him as the truth hit him harshly. He hadn't seen the truth. He couldn't even recognise the woman he lovedbuthe hadn't wanted to seehe was so blinded by his relief that he hadn't wanted to question his good fortune. Draco clutched at the denial, grasping the slipping threads of his sanity. "NoI knewon some level, I knew." He threw out the words, uncertain. "Really?" She questioned airily. "How so?" "I"Draco's gaze sparked and firmed. "I never felt tempted to fuck you." The certainty and fact anchored him, steadied his racing mind as the truth struck him. For the many nights that he had lain beside her warm body, he had never once wanted to initiate anything despite her repeated attempts to change that. At the time, he had thought that he was simply giving her space, allowing her time to adjust and forgive before he involved sex in an already complicated emotional dilemma. He had wanted her to understand his reasoning and actions perfectly before they resumed their former relationship. He had wanted her to feel safe. Draco's eyes blazed as a smirk curled the corner of his lip. "The real Hermione could make me hard just by being in the same roomyouyou couldn't elicit that reaction even when your entire fucking plan depended on it." He gave an incredulous bark of laughter as her expression darkened, malicious anger twisting Hermione's features in a way the real woman would never have done. "You fucking ass! You'll never get Granger backDimitri has probably fucked and married her by now. She's probably running her smart little mouth all over his prick as we speakDimitri does love having a woman kneeling at his feet." She laughed harshly as Draco's previous amusement fled and he raised his wand threateningly. "What are saying? Dolohov has her? Has he hurt her? Merlin, I swear if he has touched a single fucking hair on her head" Ginny threw back her head and laughed uproariously. "Don't worry, Draco dearest, after your betrayal, she's gone quite willingly into Dimitri's arms; thanks for that by the way, I couldn't have managed that better myself." She smirked and flicked her hair back arrogantly. "I'm sure she's well on her way to settling into being Lady Dolohov. You never know, she could be carrying his spawn as we speak; Dimitri is quiteathletic." "You're lying! Even if she hated me, Hermione would know better!" "Ahbut throw the marriage law into this mess. What would Hermione Granger do to keep her magic?"

Draco's lips pulled back in a furious snarl and before he could stop himself, he lunged forward and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her as if she were a rag dole. Ginny gasped and doubled over, clutching her middle as if she had been kicked. Slowly, her skin stretched and contorted, bones snapped, joints creaked and flesh and sinew tore audibly. Pained screams ripped from her throat and Draco dropped her mutilated body onto the lounge once more, horrified that perhaps, he had inadvertently hurt her in his mindless rage. Screaming with laughter as she watched his expression, Ginny's hair began turning red, her body elongating to accommodate her superior height. Draco seemed mesmerised by painful spectacle, frozen on the spot, several steps away. She took the advantage, bolting upright and skirting the lounge as she ignored the pain and lurched for the stairs. Drawing her own wand, Ginny threw a few poorly aimed stunning spells over her head as she hobbled up the winding staircase, accommodating for her unequal legs. Draco ran after her. He knew she was heading for the guest bedrooms. There, she could access a fireplace and Floo to safetyand out of Draco's grasp. He needed her still. Needed to find out where Dolohov was keeping Hermionehe refused to believe she had married himthere was no way she would He ducked as she threw a cruciatus rounding the corner at the top of the stairs. She disappeared from sight and Draco added a burst of speed to his steps, ignoring the frightened warnings of his mother's portrait. Heart pounding as breath rattled in and out of his heaving chest, Draco surveyed the empty hallway. Untouched by light, there was nothing but shadows and closed doorsbut there! A thin band of orange light glowed from beneath the farthest doorGinny had lit the fire. Bursting into a desperate sprint, Draco leapt for the door, slamming it open as Ginny snapped her fearful gaze toward him just as the fire flared green. He crossed the room in one swift stride, wrenching her bodily away from glowing Floo fire just as a face appeared in the flames. Screaming, Ginny struggled in his arms, clawing at every inch of his skin that she could reach, desperately trying to reach her escape. Draco felt no remorse for his actions; she looked nothing like Hermione now. All he could see was Ginny and all he could think of was if Hermione was hurt. "Ron! Help me! Malfoy has lost his mind." Tears began leaking from her eyes. "He kidnapped me! He's completely insane! Ron!" "You lying bitch!" Draco snarled just as he recognised the face in the fire. The narrow, angry features of Ronald Weasley stared back at him, resentment and disgust pinching his expression as he pushed himself bodily into the Floo network and tumbled onto Malfoy's guest room floor, soot all around him.

Ron rolled with the impact, leaping to his feet in an instant with his quidditch honed reflexes. He brandished his scarred wand, its tip pointing unerringly between Draco's eyes. "First my girlfriend, now my sister? You fucking bastard!" Ron heaved a deep breath, taking a threatening step closer as he bared his teeth. "Let go of her right now!" "If you care at all about Hermione, you'll make your bitch of a sister tell me where she is!" "Never!" Brother and sister screamed simultaneously as Ginny slammed her foot down onto Draco's and Ron aimed his fist for the blond's face. Only Ginny succeeded, but it was enough for Draco to loosen his grip with a pained curse and stumble back out of Ron's range. "Tell me where she is!" He roared as he clutched a chair for support, deflecting Ginny's stunning curse with his other hand. Ron's anger burned recklessly hot as he met Draco's gaze, eye to eye. "You don't have the right to know! She's mine! She was mine from the beginning and she'll be mine again when she comes to her senses. I told her," Ron's eyes were crazed. "I told her she would come crawling back to me. I'll make her do itget on her knees and beg, beg like the whore she is" As Ron ranted and brandished his wand, Draco watched helplessly as Ginny smirked and slipped into the Floo fire. "No!" He screamed, unthinkingly lunging for the fireplace, attempting to follow. Ron's fist caught him on the chin, stunning him as he stumbled back until his back hit the cool surface of a wall mirror, cracking it in half, vertically, top to bottom. Before he could think, Draco made another leap for the fireplace but this time, he managed to stop himself just before Ron's fist could make contact again. "Get out of my way, Weasley! Your sister may be the only one who knows where Dolohov has taken Hermione!" The lanky red head scoffed. "Dolohov hasn't taken Hermione; she's simply left you." Draco let out a frustrated scream. "This is why you don't deserve her! You can't even recognise when she's in trouble! What sort of man are you when you won't even fucking help the woman you claim to love?" Ron's face turned an ugly shade of red, his body lurching forward just as Draco brought up his wand threateningly. "Just try me, Weasley." He hissed. "Nothing would please me more." "Fuck you!" Ron's voice echoed harshly across the room as he tried to advance. "You sodding, fucking, pureblood ferret! You spent all your school days tormenting her! Now you think you deserve her? Even when I've spent years with hereven comforting her after you made another one of your cracks about her blood"

His eyes were crazed as his hand tightened around his wand. "WellI'm going to make sure you never get the chance to see her ever again." Ron hissed, spittle flying from his mouth. "Watch it Weasley, you look like a rabid dog!" Ron ignored Draco's insult for the first time in his life, not rising to the bait to throw another insult; instead he opened his mouth to spit out a vehement curse. "Avada Kedavra!" Draco gasped and ducked out of the way, his eyes following the stream of green light as it missed him by mere inches, hit the vertical crack in the mirror, split into two beams and rebounded as if it were simply rays of sickly sunlight. He stood frozen as green coloured his worldno, he thought, please God no. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. Yet the ominous green light kept coming and in that split second, Draco realised that his life was over before it had even begunand he had so many regrets.

DISCOVERY AND ESCAPE "You aren't worried?" "No." "Why not?" "This is normal." "Really? A week's absence is normal?" Blaise nodded inattentively as he chewed a bite of his lunch. "He's a Malfoy. He's a little prone to brooding. A week is nothingwhen we first moved to Italy, he locked himself in his room for a month, doing God only knows what." Cat shook her head anxiously as she picked at her salad. Something just didn't sit right with her and she had no idea why. Ever since Draco had left that night with the fake Hermione, no one had heard a word from him. His secretary had even contacted Blaise in an attempt to contact Malfoy who had not come to work for several days. What was even more worrying was that she had no idea who the impostor had been and if the lunatic had somehow harmed Malfoy then Ugh. She shook off her pessimistic thoughts with a disgusted sigh and tried her best to enjoy the scenic surrounds of the exclusive restaurant. The modern, open spaced area was beautifully appointed and every customer looked affluent and well-dressed.

Blaise fit in perfectly. He even had that certain pinch of arrogance which screamed old blood. After finding that her appetite had truly abandoned her, Cat threw down her fork and sent Blaise a hard kick beneath the table. He jerked, glanced up and sent her a menacing glare. When Cat answered him with a dismayed twitch of her eyebrow, he simply sat back, patiently chewed his mouthful and swallowed. Cat frowned. "You're not worried? Not at all? Maybe we should go check on himyou know, just in case." Blaise shrugged again, dabbing the corners of his mouth with a pristine white linen napkin. Arrogant bastard. "As I have already reiterated several times; this is not unusual behaviour for Draco. If he wishes to be absent for weeks, then that can be perfectly normal." "But I doubt it's normal for Ron to be missing for a full week without contacting his family." A new voice interrupted their conversation and Cat's head snapped up with a start. "Harry!" She gasped. "What are you talking about?" The man who lived ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair and pulled a chair up to their table, resting his elbows on the empty space available. Blaise's lips twisted sardonically. "By all means Potter, make yourself at home." Cat shot him a reproachful look and glanced back at Harry. "What were you saying?" "Ron. He's been missing for a week. Molly is frantic; even contacted the aurors." "A week." Cat repeated, the feeling of dread bubbling in her throat. She glanced at Blaise, her lips pressed into a firm line. "A week, Blaise. I don't believe in coincidence." "I don't suppose the aurors have found anything?" Blaise asked, indolently sipping his glass of white. Harry shook his head. "Nothing. No sign of a struggle and none of his things are missing. All he seems to have taken with him is his wand." He tore a piece of the fluffy bread roll off and popped it into his mouth, chewing as he contemplated the situation with a thoughtful air. "I'm off to see Ginny." Cat's eyes flashed to his, curious at the sudden turn of conversation. "Why?" "Ginny and Ron have been spending a lot of time together these past few months; she might have some idea about what's going on. Ever since he and Hermione broke up, he's been actingoff. His quidditch

coach told me that he had to send Ron away to pull himself together before he loses one more game for the Canons." Blaise snorted. "As if that would make any difference to the Canons." Harry ignored him and shook his head, tossing down the remainder of the bread roll as he rose to leave. "Do you think Malfoy's disappearance has anything to do with Ron?" Cat laughed moodily. "You mean, do I think that they've murdered each other and currently exist only as rotting corpses on a torn up battlefield?" She nodded before he could answer. "Very likely scenario, I should think." Cat kicked Blaise beneath the table again, fixing him with a disgruntled stare. "I hate to say it but I told you so." Blaise glared at her. "Silence woman. I'm not marrying you for your brains; just you body." Cat laughed huskily and licked her lips. "How fortunate, because that's exactly why I'm marrying you." She sent him a wink. "Guess we're even." Blaise shot her a sardonic smirk and reached out, intending to stroke her arm but Cat pulled away and stood with a sigh. She carelessly folded the napkin in her lap and discarded it on the table. She shot him a nonchalant look and retrieved her bag from where it sat next to her seat. "Come on. You might not be worried, but I really need my glasses back." The Italian sighed as he signed the check and rushed after his retreating fiance, wrapping a possessive arm around her waist as he sneered at an idiot who had the nerve to stare. "Stop it." She whispered into the crook of his neck as she raised her eyes to his. "There's no need to be openly hostile to everyone you pass." "No," Blaise murmured huskily. "Only to the idiots who" Cat pinched him as Blaise apparated them away, appearing in the blink of an eye in front of the Malfoy manor gates. He sighed as she stroked his hair. "Can you get in?" Blaise shot her a look. "I hope so. I had access to the manor before the whole Goyle incident; let's just hope he hasn't locked us out." He released her reluctantly and moved forward, placing his hand on the wrought iron gate. There was a subtle click before the double gates swung noiselessly open as a cold breeze swept from within the manor grounds. Cat clutched her arms and shivered as the dark feeling swept over her and Blaise reached back for her hand seemingly without a clue.

She shot him a dark look. "Blaise, something's wrong. Something bad and" Cat trailed off as he moved towards her, his expression wound tightly as he wrapped his arms around her small body. He clutched her tight to his warmth and rubbed her arms protectively. "What's wrong? What is it?" She shook her head, a dark look fixed on her face. "I don't know." She disentangled herself from his arms and moved forward. "Let's go find out." Blaise and Cat found themselves within the dead silent entrance hall, looking around with puzzlement. She leant closer to his ear, overtaken by the need to whisper all her words. "Is it normally like this?" Blaise had no such qualm. He shot her a speaking look and shook his head. "There are usually house elves here, but Malfoy manor has never been a place of great commotion. It's usually silent." As they ventured deeper into the house, Cat noted that everything seemed to be in its usual place. There didn't seem to be a struggle of a battle of any sortsbut then again, the violence could have occurred anywhere. Blaise's hand held hers tightly as he pulled her into another room; this one was decorated as opulently as the former. A sudden pop of noise startled Cat and she screamed, scrambling for her wand as Blaise chuckled. "Not used to house elves are you, love?" Cat shot him a glare. "No. My family doesn't believe in slavery." Blaise sighed. "I can see why you and Granger get along so well. You two would've been inseparable if you had known each other." Cat ignored him and focused all her attention on the fidgeting elf. It waited impatiently, twisting its long spindly fingers as it awaited their attention. She poked Blaise in the arm and gestured towards the house elf. "Where's Draco? Where is your master?" She said slowly. "No need to be condescending, it understands English." Blaise said teasingly. "Where's Draco? We haven't seen him for sometime." The elf began twitching, it's ear flapped back and forth with quick jerky movements. "Wellyou see masterhe uhthat is to sayMistress Malfoythat is to say" Narcissa Malfoy appeared suddenly in a portrait frame, dislodging a rather disgruntled matron who huffed and sat down sulkily.

"It's all right." She said to the house elf reassuringly. "You may go." Narcissa turned her gaze on Blaise. "Thank goodness you're here." Blaise's expression turned frigid in an instant; his frown was fierce as he addressed the Malfoy matriarch, his fist clenched tightly at his side. "Cissa, what's going on? Draco has been missing for a week." "The house elves can't go into a bedroom unless they have express permission you see and there's no magical painting in that roomevery since Draco replaced so many of the portraits with muggle piecesI couldn't get to anyone! All our old friends have had their manors confiscated and I couldn't" "Cissa. Stop." Blaise placed his hand on the frame of the painting; the closest he could get to comforting her. He met her eyes carefully and spoke in a cool, deep voice. "Tell me slowly. What's going on?" Narcissa Malfoy took a deep, shuddering breath. "Dracohe fought withwith Hermione and they ran upstairs, into one of the guest rooms and they haven'thaven'tI haven't seen him since. It's not like him, Draco he's not" Her eyes glistened. "There was yelling and" "Damn it!" Blaise swore, running a hand through his hair as he turned towards Cat; but she was gone from his side and for one instant, Blaise felt uneasy, he had a forbidding feeling that something was wrong. Shaking his head, he pulled his mind away from the thought and left the sitting room, in search of her. By the time he found her, Cat was already half way up the winding staircase. "Where are you going? Cat! Come down here this instant!" Cat shot him a preoccupied look but did not stop. She continued up the stairs heedless of the fact that an uneasy Blaise began following her. A deep sensation of dread had been haunting her ever since she had entered the house and now, as she ran down a darkened corridor of the manor, the feeling intensified until it was like a harsh ache in her stomach, making her lunch churn uncomfortably, "Cat! Where the hell are you going?" She continued to ignore him. Cat felt a compulsion grip her as she came to stop in front of a door. Without thought, she reached forward and placed her hand on the knob, twisting and pushing until the heavy oak swung open before her. "Oh my God." The words fell from her lips before she could think to stop herself. Blaise came to a dead stop behind her, grabbing her limp hand while he attempted to steady himself. "What are you" He trailed off as his eyes took in the sight within the guest bedroom. "Shit." Blaise whispered, nearly choked as his throat closed and his face paled. He held desperately to her, begging his legs not to buckle. "No."

Cat returned his harsh hold on her hand, ignoring the creak of her bones as his hand closed convulsively. She looked at him cautiously, taking in the angry tears in his eyes as he quickly looked away, unable to pull his gaze down to where hers had stuck moments before. "No." He hissed again, his hand falling heavily onto her shoulder as if he could not support his body and his head with his failing strength. She felt her shoulder dampen as he shuddered against her, his arm wound around her as he were desperate to pull her away. Cat's eyes returned to room and jerked forward while Blaise tried to pull her away. "Stop it, Blaise." She whispered to him. "I have to check if he's" "No." He hissed against her shoulder. "He's my best friendwe" He stopped speaking as she held him tightly, moving both of them forward until she could kneel within the room. The two forms lay unmoving on the floor and strangled tears made her whimper as she took in the harsh blond of Draco's hair as he lay face down. Next to him, a shock of red hair stood in stark contrast. She recognised him as Ron Weasley; his pale freckled face was unmistakable. His eyes were closed, his lips pale and near colourless. She pushed Blaise towards Draco's prone body. "Check his pulse." He sobbed. "Go." She said again, giving him a solid push until he took a stumbling step and collapsed onto his knees heavily beside his best friend. Cat knelt by Ron and felt the odd calm of being a mediwitch sweep over her. With a cool, professional demeanour, she put her fingers to his carotid and shook. A faint weak pulse thudded against her fingers and she sighed in relief as she glanced towards Blaise who was similarly positioned. As she met his glazed eyes, Blaise let out a loud choking sob and pulled Draco's body until he turned over. Blaise cradled the blond, his hands resting on his pale exposed throat. "Thank Merlin." Blaise whispered, unashamedly holding his best friend. "Thank Merlin." The pulse beneath his fingers was weak, but it was there.

There was a large hole in the side of the car door where the killing curse had hit and as Hermione drove, the wind whistled through it, creating a headache of noise which made Hermione clench her teeth in pain.

Her head, however, was not the only thing that hurt; Hermione's leg throbbed angrily as she stepped on the brakes, turning into the rental car depot. When the green curse had hit the car door, Hermione had been fortunately spared but the metal and plastic had not been so fortunate. It had shattered under the violence of the curse and shrapnel had pierced her leg, severing a major artery judging by the amount of blood she had lost. Before she could heal herself however, Hermione had forced herself to leap into the passenger side seat and crawl across until she could start the car. She had nearly flooded the driver seat with her blood and would've happily allowed herself descend into shock if it hadn't been for Dimitri's unholy smirking face. She had started her car and with a single minded determination, she had stepped on the gas pedal and driven straight towards Dolohov's shocked face. There had been a heavy satisfying thud as the convertible knocked him down and an even more satisfying crunch of breaking bone as Hermione reversed and drove away accompanied by Dolohov's pain filled scream. Several hours down the road, Hermione had finally succumbed to her sinking eyelids and pulled over at the side of the country road. She had cast a spell on the kitten, forcing it into a deep restive sleep as she carefully bandaged its leg and then attended to her own. She pulled out the shard of metal, muffling her screams lest there be anyone nearby. Hermione had cast a quick flesh knitting spell Cat had taught her and then riffled through her bag, looking for food and water to replenish what her body desperately needed. Though she had felt dizzy and nauseous with blood loss, Hermione had forced herself to down several bottles of water to restore her fluids. Carefully bandaged and healing, her leg still throbbed as she stepped out and put her weight on the injured leg. She grimaced as she shifted and waited as the horror-struck manager of the car rental company ran out and threw his hands up in shock. "Miss!" He screamed in his heavily accented English. "What have you done to" Hermione tuned him out; his high shrieking voice was doing a number on her throbbing head and Hermione was desperate to get back to England. She needed to firstly, get to Draco and secondly, to kick Ginny Sodding Weasley's arse. "and the dent in the bumper" He continued as Hermione smirked; she sincerely hoped Dimitri would remember what she was capable of. As the man continued ranting, Hermione stared into the back seat of the convertible, watching the small kitten which was still firmly asleep. Darn it, she needed to get the poor creature to a vet, she didn't have time to stand around with this idiot. The car may have been covered in a little blood, both hers and Dolohov's, but the dent in the bumper was purely his imagination. She sighed angrily as she took out her wand. The ministry would not mind if she just used a little magic on the idiot.

"Confundus." She whispered and watched as the manager took on a look of glazed confusion. "There is no dent in the car." She hissed to him as several other customers passed. "There is no dent in the car." He repeated, toneless. "I'm going to pay for the period of the rental and for the cleaning of the car." "I'm going to pay for the period of the rental and for the cleaning of the car." He repeated again and Hermione huffed in frustration. "No." She emphasised slowly. "I will pay for it." The man nodded blankly. "Of course. I shall start rinsing away the blood immediately." Hermione paled slightly and shook her head. "It isn't blood. It'sit's uh, red paint. I ran intoa paint fight." The manager nodded blankly again. "Yes. Paint fight." Hermione cursed her idiocy as she counted out Euros and shoved them into his slack hand. She tucked the keys to the convertible into his shirt pocket and dismissed him. Walking to the back of the car, she retrieved the kitten and her bags, what she had anyway; Dolohov possessed the rest, and walked away from the rental depot. She hailed a taxi out on the road and ordered the driver to get her to the nearest vet. After 7:15, as she had decided to name the grey fuzz ball, was properly inspected and had a cast wrapped around its leg, Hermione headed to the travel agency and booked a flight straight for London, arranging for permits so that 7:15 could travel also. Feeling a twinge of guilt, Hermione had requested a room with a fireplace at the hotel so that she could contact Malfoy but when she had floo'd him at the manor, no one had answered and the result was the same when she had tried again a few hours later. As Hermione crossed to her hotel bed, she picked up 7:15 who mewled drowsily in her arms. "I guess it's just you and me, huh, darling. Ungrateful bastard isn't he." 7:15 yawned adorable, showing its fangs and went back to sleep in her arms. "It's really his fault for not being able to tell me apart from the Weasletteserves him right." The cat didn't answer as it continued to snooze and Hermione replaced him back on the bed in favour of unpacking the packages she had bought that afternoon in Rome. Hermione assumed Dolohov would not be returning her bags thus she had needed an abundance of new clothing, especially underwear. She held up a lacy emerald green pair of panties and smirked, Draco would have enjoyed it. Hermione cleared her throat and shook the thought away. Bastard.

She would be flying out in the morning thus she focused her thoughts on that instead. She opted for a quick shower, relieved to finally change into a fresh set of clothes which did not smell distinctly of day old blood. Wearily, she climbed beneath the starchy sheets of the hotel bed, almost dislodging 7:15 and laid her head on the pillow. She was asleep almost instantly. When she woke, the room was still pitch dark. Except for the flashing red digits on the alarm clock, the room was completely fathomless. She couldn't understand why she woke but some primitive instinct told her to get the hell up and move. If Hermione had been raised as a muggle, she probably have brushed off the feeling and gone back to sleep but having been raised as a witch, Hermione knew better than to discard any preternatural warnings. She jumped out of bed and rushed for her things. She didn't turn on the lights and instead felt her way around the room clumsily, shoving everything into her new travel bag which she had bought to accommodate her wardrobe. She had lost her things once; she sure as hell wasn't going to lose her new clothes now. There was a muffled thump against her door and Hermione heard the door knob turn quietly, as if the person on the other side of the door was testing it. She had locked it, she remembered smugly, and placed a few protection charms on her doorway to boot. No intruder could enter this room unharmed without her express permission. Hermione quickly slung the bags over her shoulder and scooped up the kitten. She stood very still for a second as a series of hushed voices floated through the door indicating the presence of more than one intruder. She swore quietly under her breath just as she heard a familiar voice on the other side of the door. Hell! Dolohov just wouldn't give up would he? Thought she had no doubt about her ability to take down a man in a duel, perhaps even two or three, she didn't think it was wise to brave it out when there was clearly more than three men outside her door. Another thing to take into account was that this was a muggle hotel. Any involvement violence against muggles would involve the Italian ministry which would then involve the British ministry thus resulting in an international wizarding standoff. Hermione's eyes had adjusted to the dark and they drifted to her balcony doors. Damn, damn and double damn. She gave an exasperated sigh as she silently shuffled towards the doors. The air outside was cool and there was a faint breeze which ruffled her hair. Though she knew she had no other choice than to scale down the eight storeys to the ground, a part of Hermione still desperately protested against the height. In her arms, the kitten mewled and struggled uncomfortable as a particularly strong blast of wind hit them. "Yeah, you and me both." Hermione muttered while she tucked the small fur ball into her closed jacket. From her wand, Hermione retrieved a sturdy length of rope which she tied to the balcony railing. With a

stubborn whimper, she ensured that 7:15 was protected and that her bags were secured and then, with a great shuddering breath, climbed over the railing as she clutched the rope for dear life. Pure, icy terror raced down her spine as tears began streaming down her face. She clutched at the length of rope, frozen in her movements as her mind cleared of all thought. 7:15 mewled angrily in his confined space and clawed at Hermione's thin shirt beneath her jacket. His claws pierced the delicate material and sunk neatly into the skin of her chest. The pain shot through Hermione's frozen mind like a fresh wave and she blinked, unfrozen as her muscles screamed in protest. She looked down at her jacket and silently thanked her new cat; with a burst of reckless courage, she began lowering herself down the rope until her feet touched the balcony railing of the 7th storey room. For a cowardly moment, Hermione contemplated just going through the room and taking the elevator down to the lobby but she knew that it posed a much greater danger for her to be caught. With another shuddering breath, she slipped her feet off the railing and began to lower herself further. When she was close enough, Hermione forced her aching fingers to let go of the rope and she jumped the remaining distance. Feeling solid ground beneath her feet, Hermione breathed a sigh of relief and adjusted her bags before she climbed out of the bushes in which she had landed. The garden of the hotel was modest but it served her purposes. It's shadows hid her figure and she dashed into the open courtyard with ease. There were no taxies at the late hour but Hermione had specifically chosen the hotel for its close proximity to the airport; it would barely make her out of breath to run there and seek sanctuary among the crowds. "STOP! Stop right now, Granger and this will all be better for you!" Hermione swung around stunned. Dimitri was standing there, clearly out of breath, pointing his wand unsteadily in her general direction. "It's too late Granger! Be a good girl and come to meI'll spare you any further harm." She couldn't believe the shear nerve of the idiot and with a smug smile and a flick of power from her mind, she disarmed him. With a quick shout, she stunned him and watched with satisfaction as Dolohov dropped bonelessly to the ground. Hermione gazed around quickly, smirking as she realised that Dolohov's cronies had not arrived with him. With an instant decision, Hermione transfigured his prone body into an innocent looking key and tucked him into her pocket while she walked away whistling. Hours later, Hermione Jean Granger safely boarded a flight bound for London and when at last, they were safely air bound; she unbuckled her seatbelt and entered the small cramped space of the restroom. She reached into her pocket and retrieved the silver key; with a quick smirk, she tossed it into the silver, tarnished toilet bowl and flushed it without a thought.

She sincerely hoped that Dimitri enjoyed his little stay in the airplane septic tank. As the jet touched down at Heathrow, Hermione would've sworn that she heard a desperate scream erupt from the bowels of the plane. Ahhpayback's a bitch.

AROUND AGAIN "Why hasn't he woken up?" She glanced at him with a frown, dark circles beneath her eyes. She lowered Ron's wand once more to the table and dropped into the nearest seat. Her eyes passed silently over the two hospital beds located on the fourth floor of St. Mungo's and closed her eyes wearily. Blaise paced before her, his hands clenched tightly behind his back. He stopped suddenly and stared into her eyes. "Why hasn't he woken up, Cat? He's not responding to any of the treatments is he?" Cat looked away, her grim expression eluding Blaise. She clenched her teeth and shook her head. She didn't know what to say to him. How do you tell a grown man that his best friend was beyond help? "He hasn't been responding to treatment, Blaise, because he's had no treatment." Blaise's eyes widened and horror flashed across his features as he drew her up from the rickety seat and shook her by the arms. "What? What do you mean? Why the hell not?" Cat remained limp in his grasp. There was no reason to fight him now; he needed to rage against something and he would stop himself before he harmed her. She watched the changing expressions on his face; watched the anger fade into despair. Cat raised her hand to rest on his and gently pried away his fading grasp. "What would you recommend as treatment for the killing curse, Blaise? There's nothing we can do. He's dying." Blaise shook his head vehemently and darted away from her, towards Draco's pale form. Against the hospital issued stark white sheets, the blond looked more faded than ever. "That's not true. He's alive; the killing curse would've finished the bloody job!"

Cat rubbed her eyes, tears gathering behind her closed lids. The moisture burned but she forced herself to open her eyes nevertheless and meet Blaise's accusing glare. "Look. There have been documented cases of this. You saw the scorch marks on the mirror and you saw the echo of Weasley's curse. It must have hit them both." "You're lying! If there had been cases of people surviving the Avada curse, then we would've all heard about it." "That's because every "survivor" has died days later." Cat screamed. She didn't want him to hold onto false hope, no matter how much he needed it. In the end, it would make Malfoy's death all the more painful. "I'm sorry." She whispered. "The curse must've rebounded off the mirror and hit them both. They're dying, Blaise. Draco is losing life force every moment; at this ratehe'll begone by tomorrow." Blaise paled suddenly, stumbling back as his legs gave out beneath him. "Tomorrow?" "I'm so sorry Blaise." She laid a hand on his shoulder but he shrugged off her comforting gesture. He darted forward and grabbed at Draco's limp form, shaking him violently until Blaise had dislodged the sheets. "Wake up!" He shouted. "Fuck! Justhell, this isn't the way a Malfoy dies, we've discussed this! Do you want your fortune to revert back to the ministry? Those gold grubbing, pudgy fisted bastards. You hate them remember? You hate them." He emphasised each word with a rough jerk until Cat pushed him away violently. "Stop it! This isn't helping!" She was breathing harshly, her face flushed with anger. Blaise turned a wild eye on her and laughed. He sounded wild and desperate. "Well neither are you! He's my brother, the closest thing I have to family and you're just letting him die!" Cat clenched her teeth as the fine grip she had on her temper snapped. If he wanted to rage at her then fine, but he sure as hell could not blame her for Malfoy's death. "I'm leaving." Blaise revolved to glare at her. "What?" "I said, I'm leaving. You seem to be dissatisfied with my capabilities. I'll send in one of my colleagues." Cat began to walk towards the door, snapping it open as Blaise followed stormily behind her. "That's right. Walk away! Run away from your problems; abandon your fianc." Blaise was breathing heavily; his hand clutched her arm bruisingly as he tried to pull her back.

She jerked away, furious and heedless of her words. "I'm not abandoning you, Blaise." She took a deep breath. "You're grieving, angry, so I'll forget what you've said to me. I'll be upstairs when you're ready to speak to me rationally again." She turned a walked purposefully into the corridor, ignoring Blaise's furious footsteps following behind her. "Come back here, Cat!" He shouted, ignoring the other visitors and employees who watched him with fear. "Don't walk away from me!" His words stumbled for a hopeless second. "My best friend is dying, Cat. Damn it, damn it. Don't go." She spun on her heels and paced grimly back towards him. Blaise's expression was fixed in anger but underneath it, Cat could sense the almost tangible panic. He was losing his best friend, the closest thing he had to family left alive. After everything he and Malfoy had experienced together, it must have been an almost physical shock. Cat laid her palm to his cheek and stroked the 5 o'clock shadow. She smiled fondly as she ran a finger down his sculpted jaw line and leant forward to offer him a comforting kiss. Blaise didn't hesitate to accept, he swept his lips against hers and lingered and clung until she felt him strengthen, drawing the faade of aristocratic detachment around himself like a comforting gesture. "Are you sure there is no possible cure?" Cat hugged his stiff body to her own and shook her head against his chest. She wanted so much to say yes, that perhaps there was hope, but she wouldn't give him false reassurances when he would only resent her for it after Draco passed away. "I'm sorry, Blaise. I'm so, so sorry. I" "Can't I share some of my life force with him?" Blaise interrupted hurriedly. "Isn't there a way that I could?" Cat waited for him to finish his sentence, but he never did. He trailed off in abject despair as she clutched him tighter and finally felt the slow resigned reciprocation by his body. "Even if you could, Blaise; it would be a huge burden. Should one of you die prematurely, the other would followand damn it, I know it's selfish but I want you whole; I want you to be mine alone, not" Blaise's gaze snapped away from Draco and flew to hers. His strong hands released her waist and instead, moved to frame her face. His hands tightened as he lowered his lips to her, holding her steady. "It's not selfish. You are not selfish. Don't you ever say that about yourself." Cat steadied under his mouth; felt her racing pulse settle into a gentle throb once more. Her hands wandered aimlessly on his body, seeking to reassure herself with his mere presence. One hand found the steady beat of his heart, and almost in response, Cat felt her heart synchronise to his heartbeat.

She pulled away. "Stop it." Cat muttered stubbornly. "I'm supposed to be comforting you, not the other way around." Blaise only smiled and drew her intimately close to him. "It's a comfort to hold you, my dear." Suddenly, heedless of their need for privacy, the door of hospital room swung open and a horde of Weasleys stomped in. Mrs. Weasley was in the lead and upon the sight of her pale and lifeless son, broke into a hysterical sob and raced to his bedside. Arthur followed close behind, tears glinting, unshed, in his eyes. He nodded vaguely at Blaise and Cat and went to join his wife by his dying son's bed. A large group of red heads followed. However Ron may have wronged his family in the past, blood was still thicker than water and they surrounded him, perched on his bed or crouched tiredly beside it. The only notable exception was the youngest of the brood and the woman Blaise was extremely keen to interrogate. The sight made Cat want to cry. Ron was surrounded on his side of the room. United, the group grieved and comforted him, their hopes, wishes and love focused solely on him. Draco's surrounds were stark in contrast; he seemed so alone, discarded by the world that had always treated him with a degree of contempt because of his name. His life had not been a happy one and now was ending with a strangely pointless death. Blaise would grieve deeply for him but who else would care? Perhaps Hermionethough she had run from himDraco had loved her. She had been his chance at a happier, brighter life but "At least Granger will be looked after." Blaise murmured quietly. Cat's eyes snapped to his. "What?" Blaise smiled grimly. "While law dictates that all Malfoy properties are inheritable only by a blood heir, what profits Draco made from his company were his alone. When Hermione had agreed to marry him, he set aside a large amount for her in his will. He wanted to make sure she'd always have everything Draco thought she deserved and was born to." Cat shook her head, dazed. "He must've really loved her." He turned his face away so that she couldn't read his expression, but the air was rife with his emotions. "Yeah, and Grangershe" As he hesitated, Cat pulled violently away from Blaise. She had always admired Hermione because she had always done the right thing but now, as Draco lay pale and insensate, she was running away. Maybe, basking in some warm tropical locale, not caring a shred as Blaise held vigil over his dying friend. "What are you doing?" He asked as she moved towards the door. She clenched her teeth. "I'm going to my apartment to retrieve my scrying equipment. I'm going to find Hermione. The least she could do is be here for Malfoy."

Hermione knocked on Cat's door repeatedly. Again and again, no answer came. It didn't make sense, Draco hadn't answered his Floo and Cat wasn't answering her door. Unless her memory had finally failed her, Hermione was absolutely sure that Cat didn't work today. She had already been to Zabini's place only to find his staff insistently turning her away, claiming he was with his fiance. She hadn't even known Blaise had a fiance. What the hell was going on? She briefly contemplated visiting Harry, but she didn't want to unduly alarm him when he was a new father with his hands full. She was a full grown woman; she no longer needed her best friend to defend her. Giving in to frustration as 7:15 squirmed restlessly in her arms, Hermione banged on Cat's door with sharp, resounding thumps and was just about ready to scream. "Mione?" Cat's voice came, not from behind her apartment door, but from down the corridor. "Thank God!" Hermione threw up her arms in relief. "Listen Cat, Draco's in trouble but I can't seem to find him anywhereGinny Weasley the little" "It's too late." Cat interrupted furiously. Hermione paled instantly. "What? Merlin, don't tell me Ginny's already managed to trap him into marriage. God damn it!" "What?" Cat grabbed Hermione. "What are you talking about?" The brunette witch paused in her furious rant and met Cat's eyes cautiously. "What? What are you talking about?" "Draco's dying." Cat's abrupt announcement almost seemed like some sick joke to her and Hermione was oddly tempted to laugh hysterically. What nonsense, only good people died young and Draco was so fiendish even the devil would hesitate to take him; of that she was sure. "He was hit by the Avada curse." This made Hermione even more hysterical. She gave in to the urge and released a loud disbelieving bark of laughter. "If he was hit by the Avada curse, then he would be dead already." She laughingly shrugged off Cat's firm grip and smoothed out the sleeves of her blouse. "I don't know how Draco managed to rope you into his half arsed scheme but really"

Cat grabbed her again and shook her firmly. "This isn't a joke or a scheme, Hermione. He's in St. Mungo's with Ron." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yesof course he is." "This is not a joke!" Cat screamed and shoved Hermione roughly away. "Malfoy and Weasley seemed to have some kind of altercation, probably over you. The curse must've hit the mirror and split. Both of them are terminal. The curse didn't kill them outright, but they're still dying." She took a deep breath and straightened. "Pull yourself together, Mione. Come say your goodbyes because he'll be gone tomorrow." A deep, still silence followed and Hermione's eyes were fixed to the carpet of the corridor. She breathed in and out, not quite anchored to the rather surreal world before her. "No." She denied and shook her head. "This is" "Yes!" Cat interrupted as she stormed forwards and opened the door of apartment. "Leave your things. We're going to St. Mungo's. You can see for yourself." With little ceremony, Cat grabbed Hermione as soon as she was able and apparated them to the nearest wizarding area before dragging the brunette into the throng of 6 o'clock muggle traffic. Within minutes, Cat had pushed Hermione through the door of Draco and Ron's room. She stood frozen at the sight before her. Draco lay pale as death in the small white hospital bed and Hermione felt her heart shatter at the sight. A swell of grief and regret overwhelmed her as she stepped closer; afraid to touch him for fear that he was alreadygone. She could hardly stand at the sight and her legs suddenly felt immaterial as if she had become a ghost. Her hands went to her mouth to stifle the keening scream rising from her throat but to no avail. The sound echoed hollowly around the room and a flash of movement at her side finally snapped Hermione from the morbid gaze she had fixed on Draco. "Hermione!" Mrs. Weasley stood from her son's bedside and rushed to her. "Thank goodness you're here. Ron" She stifled a sob. "He'soh Hermione; thank Merlin you came in time." Molly clutched her hand and pulled her to Ron's bed. She stood beside the other grieving Weasleys who smiled at her in despair as Molly laid Hermione's hand on Ron's cold white skin. Numb and stricken, Hermione stood still as stone, not registering her surrounds until her eyes roved the vulnerable, prostrate body and landed on his face. The freckles seemed faded and his lips thinned by sickness; the shock of red hair, however, stood in frightening contrast against the white hospital linens. She gasped and pulled her hand away as if burned. Molly stared at her in disbelief as Hermione shook her head and retreated to Draco's bedside. "Hermione! What do you think you're doing?"

Molly Weasley's question was answered swiftly as Hermione felt her knees finally give way and sent her crashing to Draco's side. Half atop his hospital bed, Hermione reached for his face and held it gently in her hands. Disbelieving shock coursed through her as she watched him. He looked like a ghost already, almost invisible against the sheets. Her fingers trailed down his neck, caressing the faint pulse which used to race and throb beneath her fingers. The eyes which would watch her in heartfelt anticipation now lay hidden behind his pale eyelids, unmoving and without any dream induced sight. She bit her lip as she felt the hot burn of tears in her throat. It ached and throbbed like a living being, engulfing her as she buried her face suffocatingly against his shoulder. From behind her, Hermione detachedly heard Cat defending her from the Weasleys' indignant words as she pushed past to stand beside Hermione. However, she barely registered a word as she buried her face more deeply against his unmoving form, waiting to wake up from this nightmare. No salvation came however as the misery numbed her and Cat placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "When?" Hermione whispered hoarsely. "Tomorrow." Molly let out a cry and clutched her son even closer to her as if she could preserve his life by shear will but Hermione ignored her. Instead, she closed her eyes weakly and prayed for oblivion. "Isn't there any way?" She whispered hoarsely, emotion distorting her voice. Cat shook her head, though Hermione couldn't see. "His life force is draining away. No magic could replace itI'm so sorry Mione." Hermione smiled grimly and shook her head. "Don't apologisedon't" A sob followed her words as she felt someone lift her limp body and place her firmly on the bed beside Draco. He still smelt like Malfoy, she thought absently as she allowed the scent to reawaken many memories. If it weren't for his stupid idea about the binding curse then they probably would have been married by now and She froze and swore. Her eyes snapping open, she stared at his immobile features. "You son of a bitch," She whispered into his ear. "Could it work?" Hermione felt as if a lightening bolt had struck her as she bolted up from the bed and jumped to her feet. She hesitated for an instant as she glanced at Ron's body and mentally apologised; setting aside years of friendship and years of love, she turned towards Cat and Blaise who stood by her side.

"I need to move Draco to Malfoy manor." Cat's eyes shot to hers. "What?" "Now. We don't have much time." Hermione insisted, stripping the sheets from Draco's bed as the Weasleys watched on in abject curiosity. Blaise sighed and nodded. "Yes. Draco at least deserves to die in his own bed." Hermione nodded, uncaring of the reason so long as he helped her; together, they gathered Draco's prone body between them and carried him out the door, leaving Cat to follow and the Weasleys stricken with disbelief. "Where's the nearest fireplace?" Blaise asked Cat who immediately steered them towards a rather cramped staff room. With a little jostling between them, Hermione and Blaise managed to manoeuvre Draco into the large stone hearth and disappear with a blaze of emerald flames. Stumbling out into the Malfoy manor entrance hall a moment later, Hermione coughed and stood, Blaise following her actions an instant later, sparing Cat a glance as she appeared grimly behind them. With the help of both Cat and Blaise, Hermione carried him up the stairs and into the master bedroom. While Cat and Blaise seemed oddly alarmed by the state of destruction within the room, Hermione was not. It was exactly as she expected and hoped, nothing had been touched since that fateful afternoon of the confrontation. When they settled him in the large ornate bed, Hermione straightened and stared at the other two. "I would like you to leave." She said, point blank. Blaise's eyes flashed to hers. "No! He's my friend and I deserve to be here as much as you domore than you in fact, who abandoned him and allowed your lunatic of an ex-boyfriend to murder him!" Hermione smiled grimly, impatient for solitude and itching for action. "I'm well aware of my actions and their consequences! But, I need you step out, now." Cat stepped forward. "Hermione, be reasonable. Blaise just wants to" "Get out, or I'll remove you forcefully." Blaise and Cat both began to protest but Hermione was too impatient to discuss anything rationally. Draco was running out of time and she had no idea how she was going to make this work. Silently, Hermione hid her hand from view and slipped the wand from her sleeve. While they were her friends, Hermione suddenly felt herself to be rather ruthless in the face of Draco's peril. No one stood in her way, even if they were unwitting innocents.

Lightening fast, Hermione brandished her wand before her and sent silent stunning spells at both of them. Though Cat almost managed to raise a shield, she had not expected Hermione to turn on her and was thus a fraction too late. When they crumpled, unconscious, to the ground, Hermione levitated them out of the master suites until she found an empty room and locked them within. Taking their wands as a precaution, Hermione left them in the corridor just outside and quickly returned to Draco's bedroom. She locked the door. Pivoting slowly around the room, Hermione checked the carvings on the wall with a brisk eye and ripped down more of the expensive wallpaper along with several squares of plush carpet. She couldn't be sure but it would have to doit was this or nothing. Throwing down her wand, Hermione stripped out of clothes and left them awkwardly on the floor. She pulled back Draco's bedcovers and unbuttoned the hospital regulated clothing, guiltily apologising to his unconscious form. Near death though he may have been, Draco was still a magnificent sight naked and Hermione felt the stirrings of something deep within her. With a fortifying breath, she straddled him gently, placing the crux of her thighs against the wiry hair which trailed down to his cockbut there she stopped. Damn it, she needed Draco's cooperation in thishe needed to bewellaroused. Hissing another guilty apology to him, Hermione shifted down and hesitantly grasped the flaccid member between her hands. She had no idea if it would even work, if he would respond to her ministrations. Does a man recognise desire even on the brink of death? After the few frustrating minutes with no reaction, Hermione was ready to cry with frustration. She laid her head against his abdomen frustrated, his limp cock still within her hands. She wished she had paid attention when Parvati and Lavender had read her those racy wizarding sex spells. Who knew she would need them with Draco Malfoy of all people. With a last burst of hope, Hermione lowered her mouth to the soft skin of the head and suckled him in with desperation. He tasted of salt and Hermione nipped him gently while she continued to ease him into her. There was no sound or move from him but almost, as if his cock had heard her last plea, it stiffened and grew within her mouth, extending until the head nudged at the back of her throat, almost making her gag. Pulling back in relief, Hermione bathed the rest of his length with her tongue for lubrication and pushed herself up until she once more straddled his thighs. Unprepared, Hermione rubbed her sensitive core against the tip of his erect cock, allowing the memories as well as the sensation of ease her tension and ignite her body. Disturbing though the

situation was, Hermione felt that familiar tendril of wet heat stroke her between the thighs, making her slick with want and anticipation. She positioned him at her entrance and almost as if she couldn't help herself, she impaled herself hard on his thick cock, screaming as she stretched with burning heat. Sobbing as pleasure electrified her body, Hermione pressed her eyes shut and threw back her head in a silent scream as her back arched helplessly. Around the room, the symbols carved into the woodwork began to glow, pulsing with the rate of her heartbeat as she closed her eyes and lifted her body slowly from his. They were almost disconnected when Hermione plunged herself onto him once more, his heated cock filling her to the brim until she was sure she would be cleaved in half. Panting, unable to catch her breath, Hermione stroked herself with his member again and again, working herself into a frenzy as her gluttonous body clenched around his, grasping his erection like a tight wet fist. The fire inside her core sent seeking tendrils out into the rest of her body; it wrapping its fingers all around her, upbraiding her skin and sensitising every nerve. With another deep penetrating thrust, Hermione lost all thought and screamed in unbelievable pleasure. The whole room was aglow with the ancient magic carved into the walls and the floor and the light became blinding as Hermione felt her body clench and burst, shattering into a thousand fragments. Deep within her, she felt the curious pull of magic, shearing something within her in half and allowing it to flow from her body into his by way of their intimately connected forms. It felt odd, she mused as she closed her eyes in exhaustion, like a part of her had left her but was still comfortingly close by. When at last she opened her eyes, she stared down at Draco's pale body, gathering her wits and smoothing out her frazzled nerves. Slowly she made to sit up but a strong pair of hands darted around her waist and held her firmly. In the blinding white magic light, Draco's wide, heated eyes seemed to almost glow with unearthly power and with a gasp, she felt his entire body tense, shift and trap hers. Arms and legs wrapped around her, Draco flipped them, unblinking, possessed, still hard and thick inside her. With a guttural growl he pulled out and shoved violently into her soft body making her every fibre sing with the glory of his possession. Over and over he thrust, filling her with his unbelievable length, his eyes never leaving hers. When she sobbed and orgasmed once more, Draco plunged within her one last time, impaled to the hilt as she felt the connection within them strengthen, solidify and he poured his hot seed into her insatiable body. The magic flared and died, retreating within their bodies as Draco sagged and collapsed onto her chest. "What" He gasped. "Whatwhat just happened?" Hermione stroked his face and swept back a lock of hair which fell forward again as she pulled her hand away. She didn't answer as Draco stared at her wonderingly.

"I'm dead aren't I. Weasley killed me and that's why I'm here, having sex with you again." She smiled in relief and pulled him down to her lips for a desperate, searching kiss. As her body caressed him, her heart, mind and soul screamed in thanks to any higher power who was listening. Running her hands down his body, she reassured herself that he was whole and unharmed and returned them to his hair, pushing his mouth onto hers hard enough to bruise. Draco groaned. "Definitely dead." His hands trailed greedily to her breasts, kneading the globes with unrestrained enthusiasm as she chuckled. "Not dead, Draco. Alive." He pulled away reluctantly and shook his head. "No. Weasley killed me." He frowned deeply. "Did the bastard kill you too? Is that why you're here?" Hermione shook her head. "Ron nearly killed you, and I," she gestured around the ruined walls of the master bedroom. "ensured that he didn't succeed completely." Draco's eyes assessed the room, slowly widening as understanding dawned and he turned towards her, distressed and ashamed. "God, Mione. What have you done?" She shook her head lightly. "I used what was available to me at the time." "You've bound us together forever! I" Hermione bit her lip, suddenly unsure. "I thought you wanted toI thought that I could save you and keep you" Draco grasped her face and kissed her violently. "I do want to!" He pulled away and stared, looking for the regret and disgust he expected but did not find. "I wasI just thought you didn't want to. In fact, we fought and broke up over this as I recall." "Yes." His golden eyebrows rose at the matter of fact answer. "And what made you change your mind?" "Ginny did, with a little help from Dimitri." At the mention of those two, Draco stiffened and clenched his teeth while Hermione continued unfazed by his obvious anger. "When I went to Italy" "It thought you were in France"

She shook her head. "Good guess but no. When I went to Italy, I met this strange old woman in Sicily." Draco's mind focused sharply and he stared at her intensely. "A seer." He muttered. "Yes. She told me that she had met you." Hermione eyed his paling face speculatively. "She gave me two warnings. Suffice it to say, they helped when Dimitri tried to kidnap me." She related the rest of the story to him, watching his expression went from concern to fury to amusement. "I found myself ratherfurious that Ginny had the gall to touch you. Perhaps you could call it jealousy. So I decided to come homehence the confrontation with Dimitri." "Septic tank?" Hermione smirked. His smirk actually. "Yes. I hope he's enjoying his stay." Draco Malfoy chuckled for the first time in months but sobered abruptly. "What did the seer tell you?" She stroked his face appreciatively and titled her head. "Do you really think you love me because she cursed you?" The moment he had dreaded for months past was finally upon him and oddly enough, Draco found himself calm and reasonable. Instead of flying into an accusatory panic, Hermione lay docile and curious beneath him, her eyes open and free of anger. "No. Not anymore. It was simply so hard to believe that I was attracted to a woman who I tormented through school. Someone who went against so many ideals that father tried to drum into me. It was easier to think she cursed me." Draco tentatively kissed her throat. "I petitioned for you hand for all the wrong reasons but by some stroke of luck, it seems to have turned out very well." He smiled into her eyes, kissing each eyelid while she lay sated. "I love you Hermione Grangerand I'm so bloody sorry for the stupid mistakes I've made." Hermione smiled softly. "Let's call it even considering I left you here to the mercies of Ginny Weasley." He stared at her grimly. "I should've known you were too strong to come back to me so easily. That was a very nave hope." "Yes. Please do remember that in future when we're married; I don't forgive easily." Draco's eyes lit up. "You're going to marry me?" "We'll have to do it next week, the law is being enforced." She watched him coyly. "I've bound myself to you, so don't even think of escaping." "Wouldn't dream of it." Draco smiled blindingly and leant down to press a firm, joyous kiss to her lips.

"I" He was interrupted suddenly with a resounding thump from close to their bedroom; raised voices could be heard screaming and yelling, though their words were muffled by the walls. Hermione blushed as Draco stared at her curiously. "Cat and Blaise. I locked them in the bathroom down the hall. They were being rather uncooperative. Perhaps I should go let them out." She made to leave, shifting from beneath his body. Draco wouldn't have it. He dragged her back and rested his body atop hers. "I have a better idea. Let's not."

EPILOGUE: A HAPPY ENDING Blaise and Cat Zabini manor, master suite "I do love happy endings." Cat shot Blaise a sardonic look. "Not entirely happy. Ron is dead, Ginny is on the loose, Dolohov is still missing and the entire Weasley family seems to have developed a deep seated hatred for Hermione." Blaise just smiled smugly. "Like I said, happy ending." "Hermione loved the Weasleys. This has hurt her." Cat bit her lip and sunk further into the plush armchair in Zabini's manor house. Blaise mimicked her actions, sipping on his brandy and puffing on a cigar as she shot him a disgusted look. It was barely ten in the morningandMerlin he was so unhealthy. "She should be glad to be rid of them. Now that she's a Malfoy, she will be introduced to another echelon of society and" "Oh shut up." Cat snapped. Blaise continued, unheeded. "so will you. You're my wife now. You shouldn't associate withoof!" Cat jumped into his lap in a flash, grabbing the snifter and flashed him a stiff smile. "Exactly. I am your wife now and as your wife, I'm going to make some changes around here." "Like?" Blaise was too bewildered to say much else.

She grabbed the smoking cigar from his mouth and ground it into the golden brown liquid with a sizzle. "Likeno alcohol before 6 p.m. and you'll quit smoking this instant." Blaise's eyebrows drew together tightly and a conceited smirk tugged at his lips. "What makes you think I'll do that?" Cat feigned innocence for a moment before turning to him with a faux sweet smile. "How much do you enjoy sex?" "Oh no!" Blaise exclaimed, dumping her from his lap as he protested. Cat landed nimbly on her feet and smiled once more. "No! That tactic might work on a weaker man but I" She stepped forward and cupped his treasured family jewels, smiling as he stiffened in her hands. "You were saying?"

Ginny Weasley Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Ohio, USA Relieved and not a little airsick, Ginny clambered out of the plane. Having never flown by the muggle style before, the experience was something of a lesson for her, one she never cared to repeat again. Swallowing the bile in her throat, she started for the airport security, fishing out her passport as she smiled at the fresh faced personnel. "Welcome to Ohio, Ms" He glanced at her British passport. "Weasley. The purpose of your visit?" "Holiday." She forced out a smile, no doubt ghastly in nature due to her current state of nausea and fatigue. "Needed some time away." "Of course Miss. You are of course aware that you are here on a travel visa and hence are not allowed to find employment. "Yes." She agreed. "Yes of course." "Then enjoy your stay." With no trouble what so ever, her baggage passed through the muggle machines and the airport security waved her through with an all American smile. Returning his smile, Ginny stepped through the door frame like structure and emerged on the other side only to be stopped by the approach of a cute little Labrador on a leash. "Hello puppy"

The dog barked and bared its teeth and in an instant security staff surrounded her. One of the large burly gun toting guards herded her into a private room and left her alone. Agitation and nerves sparked in Ginny stomach and she dropped into the hard, plastic chair with a grunt. What the hell Her solitude was interrupted as a middle aged woman stepped inside. "MissWeasley. Our sniffer dog has detected contraband substance on your person. Please forfeit said item." "I don't have any contraband substances, I swear, your dog must be wrong." "Please, Miss Weasley, we don't wish to make this any more difficult than it already is. If you do not cooperate, we will require you to disrobe and" "Disrobe?" Ginny held up her hands in surrender. "Look, all I have on me is this." She retrieved her wand. Surely no one would care about a silly little stick of wood. With surprisingly fast hands, the middle aged woman shot forward and took the wand from her hands. She smiled benignly and stamped a white form before her. "We appreciate your cooperation, Miss Weasley. Please enjoy your" "NO! Listen, I need thatughI need that thing." "My apologies, Miss Weasley but we do not allow any foreign organic materials into the country." Ginny paled and tried to protest. Without her wand, Ginny had nothing but a few changes of clothing, she didn't even have a single idea of how to get into the American wizarding community. How was she meant to survive? "I" "Good day, Miss Weasley." "But" "Please enjoy your stay." "No, I" "Goodbye."

Charlie and Luna Weasley - Forests of Indonesia "Luna. Luna, please stop. LUNA!"

The blonde held a finger to his lips and quieted his protests. Raising a hand to her forehead, she wiped away the sweat and took a swig from her bottle. "You'll scare it away." She said in a hushed, serious voice. "You've dealt with dragons; I figured you could deal with a stork." Charlie glanced at her disbelievingly and shook his head ruefully. His wife was prone to flights of fancy but they usually didn't drag him halfway across the world. "What do you want with a bird?" Luna rolled her eyes in exasperation. "It is a muggle belief that the stork brings babies to expectant mothersand I want one." Charlie stared at her, incredulous. "You want a baby?" She ignored him and frowned as she ventured deeper into the forest. Cutting down branches in her way with a rather rusted looking machete, she ignored her beleagued husband and ploughed forward. "You want a baby?" He repeated again, the noise of him crashing through the bush behind her almost drowning out his voice. "Yes." Luna sighed exasperated. "Have you been listening at all?" "Honey" Charlie growled, seized the khaki covered arm of his wife and spun her around. "You don't need a stork for that." With a scream, Luna found her self being pushed onto the lush forest floor, her husband's heated body following her an instant later as his lips crushed bruisingly to hers.

Pansy and Harry A miscellaneous farmyard "Good lord, woman. She's only" "We Parkinsons start young." Pansy sniffed haughtily, brushing back a strand of her hair as she inspected her tired looking husband. "She needs" "She's three months old; all she needs is milk, diapers and someone to listen to her screaming. Besidesshe's a Potter." "What? What did you just say to me, boy?" Harry's eyes widened comically as he took a cautious step back, his hands held up in abject surrender. He resisted the urge to cross himself as she advanced and held up a stern finger shaking with anger.

"Whatwas that?" She hissed through her teeth. "Nothing! You're rightof courseshe uh, shelet's uh" The door of the nearby farmhouse swung open and a weathered looking man emerged and came towards them. His face was serious and his expression was uncompromising but Pansy lurched to embrace him, her face stretched in a wide beautiful smile. "Uncle Leopold! So good to see you!" Pansy pulled away and watched him carefully. "You're looking very well." "Thank you, child." His eyes swung to Harry and narrowed. "Potter, I hope you're treating my niece as she deserves. She was born to be young Malfoy's bride, to be afforded every luxury as is due to her status." Harry cleared his throat. "YesPansy wouldn't accept anything less." The young woman between them beamed. "Good. I'm so glad you two get along." Turning towards her uncle, Pansy beamed in glee. "Now, I think Lily would like a nice white pony."

Draco and Hermione Atop the grand piano She was whimpering and panting so sweetly in his ear, her voice breathless and low as small beads of sweat dotted her forehead. Her eyes, closed in sweet oblivion, flickered behind the lids, her head thrown back in sweet surrender. With each thrust of his hips, she arched deliciously in his arms, greedily welcoming his hard body into her small soft form. Their naked bodies writhed on top of the great instrument, her voice the sweetest music he had ever heard. As she grew more fevered, her movements became wild, bucking until he was nearly dislodged. Draco growled and anchored his hands against the edges of the piano as he pressed her roughly onto the slick surface, heated by their sex. She screamed, convulsed and collapsed beneath him, her head lolling tiredly to the side as her eyes opened marginally. He savoured her slick fluttering centre, groaning as he forced himself to hold his pleasure at bay for the fourth time. "Please, DracoI can't anymore." She pleaded weakly, her mind drifting in and out of a dream state. "Yes you can darling" He began moving again and sighed triumphantly as she moaned and moved with him.

A whimper stole from her throat as she bucked violently. Draco watched with amazed eyes as she braced herself against the piano surface with both arms and legs and raised herself strongly against him. With the use of her limbs, her inner muscles clenched in reflex and Draco yelled, pushing into her with an unrestrained violence, sliding her up the piano surface so that her head hung over the side. "What a magnificent creature you are." He moaned against her neck. "You were made for sex." "Made for me." He whispered. "Only for me." "I'm yours." He declared. "Forever. Thank you Hermione." Draco's eyes blazed. "I'll spend the rest of my life showing you just how thankful I am." The typical Malfoy smirk curled his lips but was soon wiped away as her inner muscles began clenching once more, caressing him hotly as her body milked his cock greedily and forced him to release inside her, coating her insides with his scorching hot seed. He caressed her flat abdomen and coaxed her to accept his essence. Soon, he promised himselfvery, very soon.

INTERVIEW: Author: Welcome readers and of course a special welcome to Draco and Hermione Malfoy. I'd like to thank you both for sparing some time to speak to me and our readers. Draco: You should be thankful. I could be screwing *Hermione kicks him under the chair Draco: - in a light bulb. Those damn muggle thingsthey never last for long. *Author smirks knowingly Author: Of course. Now, some of our readers have written in with a few interesting questions, thus the sooner you finish answering them, the sooner you can get back to screwing in that light bulb. Hermione: Are they about sex? Author: Pardon me? Hermione: Are they about sex? If anyone asks me if Draco is truly a sex God, I might just scream. Draco: With pleasure, I'd wager. Hermione: Don't count on it, mister!

Draco: Would you like a demonstration? I'm sure Twilight to Midnight here would enjoy an adventure into voyeurismshe details our sex life so often. *Hermione smacks away his wandering hand. Author: Uhnohow about we do what people normally do in interviewslets get the readers a few answers to their questions. Q: Were Cat and Blaise furious when they found out you'd locked them in the bathroom? Hermione: Naturallybut they found a way to amuse themselvesif you know what I mean. Draco: They're like bloody rabbits. She's already expanding like you would not believe. Author: Really? Cat's pregnant? Draco: With the amount of exercise she gets, she's certainly not growing fat. Q: Were people curious with how Draco survived? Draco: Yes. I'm the most sought after guinea pig in history. Q: Is Dimitri dead? Draco: I wish Hermione: Oh shush. Dolohov is currently in hiding. One of the photographers from Witch Weekly caught him after he got out of the septic tank. He was the talk of the town for several weeks. Q: What happened to Ginny? Hermione: You read what happened to her. Last I checked, she was being admitted into an institution because she kept asking people where the wizarding community was located. *Draco snickers Q: Why was Draco's blood needed for the binding spell and not Hermione's? Draco: I'll take this one. You seethe binding spell works with what you muggles would call DNA, all I required was a little of Hermione'ssay body fluidoh, much like that sweet slick liquid which coats her cunt when she *Hermione smacks Draco Q: This one's for Hermione. What would you say if while you were still in Hogwarts, someone told you you'd someday end up as his wife?

Hermione: Avada Kedavra Q: This one is also for Hermione. Draco: Feeling unloved! Q: Hermione? Why didn't you tell anyone where you were going when you left Draco? Hermione: Needed some time alone withoutyou knowthis one *points at Draco* tracking me down and kidnapping me. Q: Why trust Dolohov though? Hermione: Momentary lapse in judgement is all I can say. Besides, Draco blatantly disliked him so I figured he would never go to Dolohov for help in locating me. Q: Dracowhy did you try to bind Hermione to you without her permission? Draco: I'm a possessive person and Hermione: Insecurity. Draco: Bitch Hermione: That's not what you say when we're in bed Q: Hermione, isn't Draco sexy? Hermione: Judge for yourself Q: What about the wedding? Hermione: We eloped. I'm afraid it wasn't the right atmosphere for a wedding in London what with Ron dying and all. Draco: Really? I thought it was the perfect atmosphere. *Hermione smacks Draco Q: Where's the grand wedding though? Hermione: Not much for grand weddings. Besides, after what Draco did to me on the altar during the vowswelllet's just say that I'd rather that the entirety of the influential wizarding community didn't witness that. Q: How are you dealing with your friends now that you're married to Draco?

Hermione: Well, considering that my close friends, Cat and Harry, are now both married to Slytherins, they can't say anything can they? Q: Draco, when did you realise you loved Hermione? Draco: Of pfft. That question must've come from a female. Wellduring the sexshe's just so damn good in bed.oh all right, it was a few chapters agoyou know, when she disappeared and I was looking for her. I mean I only got to sleep with her that one night and then Hermione: Please shut up Q: Did you stop loving Ron the moment you broke up with him Draco: (in a high pitched voice) Never loved himhe was so bad in bed *Hermione smacks Draco Draco: Merlin, woman! I'm all bruised now Hermione: The answer to your question is that no, I didn't get over him straight away. On some level, the fact that I loved him fuelled my need for revenge when he betrayed me. Q: When you have children, would you want a boy or a girl? Hermione: Girl Draco: Boy Hermione: Both then. Draco: I want three boys Hermione: I only want two children. Draco: We'll have the boys as tripletseffectively one, then you can have a girl Hermione: Why don't you try baring triplets then tell me how that went for you Q: Any side effects from the curse? Draco: YesHermione won't let me play quidditch anymore Hermione: If you kill yourself, I die with you and flying around on sticks doesn't seem to be the best way to preserve life. Q: Hermione, when did you realise you were in love with Draco?

Hermione: When I found myself unreasonably jealous after finding out that Ginny had been impersonating meprobably touching the things that were mine alone. Draco: Honey, I'm so glad you're so fond of my family jewels. Hermione: Hmm Q: Did you ever have crushes on each other? Hermione: No. We were enemies and not in that love/hate odd attraction sort of way Draco: That bushy haired beaver Hermione: You're one to speak; you had so much oil in your hair, I'm surprised the roots didn't just all slip out. Q: Draco, did you dream during your coma state? Draco: Nope. Zero, zilch, nada. Q: How has Ron's death affected you and your relationship with those around you? Hermione: The Weasley family is naturally reticent but I'm not sure hate is what they're feeling. Ron fired the spell which lead to hisdeath. Theyare conflicted. Harry is in much the same you know, but it helps to have Pansy on my side Q: Are the fans coming to wedding? Draco: No. Besides, as Hermione already mentioned, we eloped. Q: Does Draco like 7:15? Hermione: No! Draco thinks that the cat enjoys sleeping between the two of us on the bed, hence separating us. Oh and once he tried to scratch Draco when he was trying to ummbe friendly. Draco: Not trieddid. Hermione: You rolled over onto his tail! How would you like it if someone did that to you? Draco:I don't have a tailbut there is something down there which may resemble a tail. There is a difference however, I'd be glad to educate you. Hermione: Really now? Draco: *laughs* Yesit would be my pleasure. *Drags Hermione to the floor*

Author: *watches on in fascination* Okwhoawow, umm okAnd that concludes our interview. Ladies and Gentlemen, I sincerely hope you've enjoyed my account of the dramas of Hermione and Draco. 10 YEARS LATER Byron's eyes were fixed on the little dark haired girl who weaved her way through the Malfoy gardens. Her eyes, alight with laughter, glinted in the twilight as she screamed with delight while her father chased her. Soft wavy hair floated behind her and whipped around the outstretched branches; sliding away, the texture smooth as silk. Late spring had a brought a beautiful flush to her face and the air was laden with the smell of the apple orchard. With the fading light at her back, she looked like one of those angels his mother had shown him in his books; like she had stepped straight out of the shiny pages and into his life. At that moment, her father stopped as he was called away by his wife and the angel was left to play by herself. He stepped forward almost unknowingly and snuck behind her. He breathed her in and felt his tummy ache like when he had had too much ice-cream and his chest hurt like when mom was upset with him for sneaking out at night. "Byron, I can feel you breathing on my neck." She spun and glowered at him. Her expression, so at odds with her former smile, was cute nonetheless. "Don't you have some mud to roll in?" She sniffed. "No." Byron answered and drew nothing further than a blank. She always made him feel so stupid, as if he had nothing more to say. He was the cleverest boy in his muggle class and in a year he would be going to Hogwarts just as his father didyet, here he was, tongue tied again. She stepped away from him, still glaring. "What do you want, Malfoy?" Byron hated it when she called him by his last name. Mom did that to dad when she was mad and he couldn't help by feel as if he had done something wrong. And what was worse, she never did that to his brothers. Quentin and Gage were just Quentin and Gage to her. He was the eldest of the triplets and yet she seemed to treat him as if he were years younger. "Nothing. I" Byron didn't know what to say again. He unconsciously reached out to touch her but she pulled away and crinkled her nose. She walked away, towards Quentin. He looped his arm around her and smirked in his direction; Byron fought the urge to punch him. A heavy, familiar hand settled on his shoulder. Without looking up, he knew that his father stood silently as his side, probably smirking. "You're still young." He said, his eyes crinkled at the corners, fine lines fanning out.

Byron scowled. Draco continued unfazed by his son's surly nature. "Quentin has charm." Byron scowled even more deeply. "He will always be popular with the female sex." Draco's smiled softened as his eyes swung to Hermione. "But the right woman will see right through that charm and want you instead." "Dad," Byron sighed. "Girls are disgusting. Why are you telling me this?" Draco barked with laughter, throwing back his handsome head and drawing the eye of his beautiful mother. "Say that to me in 5 years, son." Byron ground his teeth; Quentin was whispering to her now and she was clutching his shirt and laughing, a wonderful expression on her face. Something angry bubbled through his stomach. "Quentin has charm, my charm. Gage has smarts, from your mother. You, being the eldest of your siblings, have loyalty and responsibility. It's a burden now, Byron, but in the future, women will actually appreciate it." Byron shrugged uncomfortably and shook off his father's hand. It was all well and good for Draco Malfoy to say that, after all, he was Draco Malfoy, but he was just Byron and he had yet to prove himself to be worthy of the Malfoy name. He looked up to his father, and loved his motherhe wanted nothing more than to make them proud. Draco followed the direction of his gaze; watched as Quentin made the little girl laugh. "Adrianna will come around. Just look at me and your mother." "She won't. Adie hates me." Draco laughed. "Your mother would've cursed me in the hallway at Hogwarts if she thought she could get away with it." Byron sighed. He walked away from his father, the burning in his stomach becoming almost too much to bear as Quentin reached to hug the girl. He had known Adie Zabini since birth and she had hated him since birth. Byron had an oddly distinct memory of her small, baby fist hit him square in the jaw as their parents had laid them down to sleep during their infancy. Rubbing his jaw in memory, he tapped her on the shoulder. "Adie"

She turned swiftly and the smile slid from her face. "It's Adrianna, Malfoy, what do you want?" Quentin seemed to press his lips together, suppressing his laughter and Byron glared at him. He directed his gaze back towards the slim little girl and tried to smile rather than grimace. "Do you want to go for a walk?" She smiled widely. "Why yes, I would, preferably away from you." Adrianna turned on her heel and strolled away. Quentin smiled at him apologetically. "Sorry, man. Youyou like herdon't you?" Byron flinched away angrily. "No! Of course not. She's so annoying." "You might as well have said yes." Gage said as he came strolling up. "Mom wants you to get Adrianna. Aunt Cat is looking for her." Quentin laid a hand on his shoulder and shoved him forward while Byron watched him resentfully. As he walked away, he contemplated his brothers' golden good looks. Where Byron had been dark and silent from the moment he'd been born, hence the name, his brothers had both been gifted with the traditional Malfoy blond hair. Even Gage was charming when he chose to look away from his books. With his mother's colouring, he admitted he was at least less freakishly pale than his brothers but it only frustrated him. He idolised his father but when they were in public people obviously wondered if he was his father's son. As he emerged deeper into the orchard, he spotted her dark locks just around the corner of a tree. In frustration, he leapt forward and grabbed her arm. With a startled shriek, she spun around, toppled into his outstretched arms and tripped into his lips. Eyes wide open, Byron stood fearful and simultaneously ecstatic. He wanted to pull away and push forward at the same time. Adrianna pulled away gently, staring at him open mouthed. "Oh Merlin." She whispered and if Byron had been able to find his voice, he would have concurred.

"Did you see that?" Hermione squealed from her position behind some trees. She swatted her husbands arm until he hummed in agreement. "Yes, honey."

"How cute are they?" She whispered gleefully. "Of course, honey." "We should start planning the wedding." Hermione suggested. "Whatever you want, honey." She glared at him. "Are you even listening?" "Yes. And don't you think it's a little premature to" Cat jumped out. "No! Oh Merlin, Blaise, how cute was that?" Blaise glared at Draco. "I'm going to kill you son for that." Draco just shook his head. "He's my heir; and besides, when a Malfoy decides on his mate, it's a forever kind of thing." Blaise grumbled and turned away. Draco smirked. Hermione and Cat squealed and parted to kiss their respective husbands. Life was good.

15 years later I, Byron Nicolai Pierre Malfoy take thee, Adrianna Raleigh Zabini to be my lawfully wedded wife to have and to hold from this day forward, till death do we part He kissed her and just like the first time, the thrill raced through his veins, and just like the first time, he felt that thrill of fear and ecstasy. That feeling, he hoped, would never change.