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Lust, War And... Love? by linkar
Chapter 18 : Turning Point
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9

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     Hermione buttoned up her coat as she left the Great Hall. Most people were still in the Hall but she could not stand being near Ron and Harry. She saw Malfoy emerging from the stairs to the dungeons and heading to the exit. Reluctant to bump into him in the doorway, Hermione dawdled inside a little. Draco’s face was sombre, and he did not seem to notice her.

    The front door closed behind Malfoy, and Hermione, after a momentary hesitation, walked through the entrance too. From the porch steps she could see him strolling down the road and away from the castle. It was still a good while before the start of the game, and throngs of students hadn’t crowded the path to the Quidditch pitch yet. Hermione set off down the road, careful to maintain a good distance between Malfoy and herself. The last thing she wanted was to appear to be chasing him.

    The sky was clear and cool, and thin ice crackled under Hermione’s feet. The invigoratingly fresh air perked her up, and her hurt receded a little. Still, the bitterness from the unfairness of life lingered in her heart. If Ron found out about her being snogged by Malfoy, pretending to be Nott, almost in front of the Fat Lady, why didn’t he try to talk to her instead of sneering at her all the time? She could make amends, after all. The worst thing about it was that she wasn’t even sure that Ron knew about the snogging incident.

    Harry acted like a major sham lately, and it annoyed Hermione constantly. First, the dubious Potions textbook, then his apparent abuse of the Felix Felicis. Every time she heard him casting Muffliato, she wanted to scream at him to stop putting himself on par with Malfoy. His regular sessions with Dumbledore certainly made him too big-headed to listen to her admonishments.

   Draco was the one who was more decent to her than anyone else. No matter how icily she tried to treat him, he sought her affections. How more pathetic could it get? Her only admirer was a Death Eater, overwhelmed by the potion-induced lust. Hermione watched the blond-headed figure walking ahead of her. She thought about their date tonight, and warmth pooled in the bottom of her belly. In fact, she felt very much like sending him a note with a suggestion to skip the game and hole up together in the Room of Requirement instead.

   Hermione trod on, her eyes fixed on the tall figure ahead of her. Suddenly, Malfoy did something that brought her to a halt. Instead of turning left to the Quidditch pitch, he turned right and headed in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione took a deep breath and picked up her step, determined not to lose him from her sight.

   Gravel crunched under Draco’s boots, as he walked, deep in thought. When he turned off the main road, he glanced in the direction of Hagrid’s cabin. It showed no signs of life. Everyone in the castle was too preoccupied with the Qudditch game to notice him sneaking out early. Draco wasn’t fond of the idea of visiting the Forest but the Malfoys’ house-elves had difficulty Apparating into the castle because of more stringent security measures. The Hogwarts house-elves were obviously instructed to watch out for strangers, and Draco’s house-elf, Aldi, already got in a fight with one of them. More experienced Darfy could get past them, but Draco discouraged his Mum from sending the old scumbag whom he couldn’t stand at all.

   Draco’s eyes scanned the shrubbery on the fringe of the forest. No sight of Aldi. Warily, he walked between trees, straining to see his house-elf.

   ’Crack!’ Startled, Draco jumped back. Aldi materialised in front of him. His knobbly hand held out an envelope. Draco snatched it, and Aldi disappeared the same second. He tore the envelope open and was about to retrieve its content but a sound of twigs snapping under someone’s feet made him freeze.

   Wand on the ready, Draco turned his head cautiously. It definitely was someone smaller than Hagrid. Then he saw a slender figure in a dark coat, trying to blend with a tree trunk. His heart jumped, part with excitement, part with alarm.

   “Oi, Granger, fancy to see you here!” Draco shouted, the envelope still in his hand. Merlin, was she growing so fond of him that she followed him to the Forest? He still had a little time before he had to go. “Nice day it is, isn’t it?”

   “Yeah, great for a walk, Malfoy!” Hermione did not want to show how much she was taken aback. Of course, he will try to get rid of her before continuing with whatever plans he had got. “I’d better be going back - the game starts soon.”

   “Let’s have a little snog, Granger.” Draco walked up to her. Hermione’s cheeks were rosy from the cold air and he wanted to kiss them. “You’re lovely today.”

   Hermione saw the envelope in his hand and wondered what it could be. Draco followed her stare and grinned. “A letter from home.”

   “Ah…” She looked at his face. He was now standing directly in front of her, his chest a few inches from her torso. His proximity made her heart flutter. “Is everything okay at the Manor?”

   “Perfectly okay,” he said huskily and drew closer, bringing his body flush with hers. She shifted away, stepped on something and lost her balance. His arms flung around her in an attempt to prevent her from falling. Something flew out of the envelope and got lodged in the pleats of her coat. She caught it with her fingers before it fell on the ground.

   “A chocolate frog card?” she wondered. The same moment he tried to yank the card out of her hand, his other arm wrapped around her waist. She held on to it for dear life.

   “No - give it back to me!” He yelled into her ear but it was too late. They both felt the jerking sensation behind their navels, and sped forward together in a whirl of wind.

   Then they slammed into a dirty plank floor in a darkened room. Hermione hit her head on something and groaned from the pain against her will. In an instant Draco’s hand was on her mouth and she found herself staring into his face, pale with fear.

   Silencio! He removed his hand, and she realised that her voice was gone. Hermione scrambled to her feet and saw Draco sending the card back into the envelope with his wand. Then he quickly looked around, grabbed her by the arms and dragged her behind what looked like a store counter. She attempted to put up a fight only to get bound by ropes from his spell. Draco opened a large cupboard under the counter and roughly stuffed her into it. Petrificus Totalus. Her body went stiff, her knees pressed against her chin, and her elbows uncomfortably squashed against the sides of the cabinet. With a wave of his wand, he removed the ropes. The doors closed, leaving her in the musty darkness.

   Draco straightened up. Thankfully, no one was here yet. He walked around the counter and entered the adjoining room. It was littered with empty boxes and bits of wrappings. Nobody was in the room, nor was anyone present in the next one. Relieved, Draco returned to the front room. The light seeped in through the narrow gaps between the boards on the windows, and dust danced in the thin sunbeams. He strained his hearing: Granger was perfectly quiet in the cabinet. Draco sat down on a low display shelf, which creaked under his weight slightly, and did his best to blank out his mind.

   Hermione was suffering horribly. Her back ached from the cramped position, and a permanent urge to sneeze tormented her. The cupboard smelled stale and apparently was full of old dust which now clogged her nasal passages. But the spell that Malfoy cast on her prevented her from sneezing or coughing out whatever she had inhaled.

   It was clear that the chocolate frog card was a Portkey but Hermione had no idea where it took her and Draco. She remembered Harry’s story about Draco leaving him motionless on the train, and fear crept into her heart. What if Malfoy would leave her here to perish and return back to Hogwarts alone? Was it a plot to lure her into a trap for some horrific purpose? Dumbledore’s advice about not going out of the castle alone or with Draco came to her mind, which didn’t make her feel better either. Anything was possible. She could be Imperiused and sent back to Hogwarts with a task to kill whoever they wanted to eliminate. Then Hermione thought of the Tri-Wizard Tournament Cup that brought Harry and Cedric to that graveyard in Little Hangleton. Was she to face the Dark Lord now? The idea made her want to vanish into non-existence on the spot. The worst thing was that she couldn’t do anything, even to move her finger or cough the dust out of her lungs. Her wand in her pocket poked her under her arm uncomfortably, and there was no way she could use it. She could hear Draco’s steps in the room. Something creaked - a chair? Then all went quiet.

   “Ah - here you are, Draco!” Hermione heard a shrill female voice that sounded familiar. “Katz isn’t here yet?”

   “No, Aunt Bella, ” Malfoy answered, his voice wavering. “You - what’s up?”

   “Fenrir came along -we’ve got some business to attend to,” Bellatrix said sneeringly. “A big event, and I’d expect you to partake in it too.”

   “A nice holiday feast in Foxley Wood,” another voice barked harshly. “The Dark Lord gives the honours to us all there.”

   “Is that on the full moon?” Malfoy didn’t sound too happy. “Wait - Muffliato!”

   Hermione heard no more of the conversation. Fenrir - was that Fenrir Greyback? The thought of it made her shudder. She managed to tag along with Malfoy right into a meeting of Death Eaters… No wonder he stuffed her into a cupboard and out of sight… Now she could only hope that Malfoy wouldn’t forget to retrieve her from the mouldy cabinet after the meeting.

   “I trust there‘s nobody else here,” Bellatrix sneered at her nephew. “Fenrir - go and have a look around!”

   “I checked every room myself before you Apparated in,” Draco said quickly. “But anyone outside could overhear us.”

   Fenrir strode past Draco towards the back rooms. A powerful stench of dirt and sweat emanated from him. Draco made a good effort not to cringe. In a few minutes the rangy werewolf emerged from the door and walked behind the counter.

   “Katz is running late, Auntie Bella,” Draco said, looking away from Fenrir and straining to keep his mind blank. “No idea why.”

   “Don’t see anyone here.” Fenrir circled around the counter. “Not even a mouse.”

   ‘Pop’. Katz appeared in the middle of the room, nearly tumbling into Fenrir, as the latter cut across to join Bellatrix and Draco in another corner. Fenrir gave a growl and Katz jumped away. Draco noticed that Sebastian looked decidedly dejected.

   “What held you back, Katz?” snarled Bellatrix, her thick black hair falling on her sunken cheeks. “Too afraid to appear after you messed up?”

   “I - I had to help Dolohov with that matter of his,” mumbled the pudgy Death Eater and sidled up to Draco. “Took longer than we thought.”

   “Tell Dolohov to take his shoddy business of racketeering somewhere else!” Bellatrix prodded Katz in his chest with her wand, and he flinched. “Because of him and damned Mulciber, the peddlers leave Knockturn Alley in droves. I need stuff for my potions, go there and - poof - the vendor’s gone!”

   “He ordered me - I had no choice, Bellatrix…”

   “You two better get done what the Dark Lord wants!” was her shrill reply. “If Dumbledore’s still alive by Christmas, you both are dead!” She turned to Draco. “Rumours are that the girl taken to St. Mungo’s isn’t Granger. Explain me that.”

   “I learned that Potter and his friends were watched that day.” Draco’s hands were icy cold. He prayed his Aunt wouldn’t cast a Cruciatus on him. “I switched at the last minute. I didn’t have time to explain it to Sebastian in the pub.”

   Draco glanced at Katz and the latter nodded quickly. Thanks Merlin, he didn’t try to shift the blame onto Draco.

   “Okay, you both already got a little taste of the Dark Lord’s wrath!” Bellatrix walked in circles, her hand with wand twitching. Fenrir cackled ominously. “If you don’t get it done by the holidays you’ll face the Dark Lord in person. What’s the progress with the Vanishing Cabinets, my boy?”

   “It will take a lot of time.” The thought of seeing the Dark Lord again made Draco shiver. “I found the right combination of spells but the process is slow. I guess I’d be able to get it done by February, Auntie Bella.”

   “If you want your mother and father alive, you’d better hurry up! Lord Voldemort doesn’t have much regard for dawdlers!”

   “I’m glad to serve the Dark Lord,” Draco said quickly, keeping his mind sufficiently blank. “I’ll do my best to fulfil his orders.”

   “Lord Voldemort’s wish is our law,” Sebastian added sycophantically.

   “OK, you both got the message. Remember, boys - you‘re to help me with the holiday preparations!” Bellatrix put her hand on Greyback’s shoulder. “Some yummy Muggle kids to serve for you and your friends in Foxley Wood, Fenrir.”

   The werewolf clicked his tongue loudly and grinned savagely. Bellatrix put her arm around his elbow and they both Disapparated. Draco and Sebastian exchanged glances.

   “Reckon we’ll have to round up some Muggle spawn. Greyback makes me gag.” Katz twiddled his wand. “It‘s full moon on the Christmas Day, right? Any ideas on finishing Dumbledore off?”

   “I’ll come up with something.” Draco sat down on the display shelf and it creaked again. “No one can stand being near Fenrir. Except my Aunt.”

   “Care for a drink?”

   “Nope. I’d rather go back to Hogwarts.” Draco wished for Katz to leave right away but he knew he had to be friendly with Sebastian. “Where are you going? The Three Broomsticks?”

   “No, I’m off to Diagon Alley.” With these words Katz spun on his heels and Disapparated.

  His head hung low, Draco stared at the dirty floor between his feet. Was there a way out of this nightmare? He was such a failure, he could not even muster himself to fulfil the tasks given to him. The prospect of hobnobbing with despicable werewolves sickened him no end. Then he thought of his Mum being at the mercy of Lord Voldemort at the Manor, and a chill ran down his spine.

   Draco heaved a big sigh. He’d better release Granger, who must be already suffocating in the cupboard.

   Hermione heard approaching steps, then the cabinet doors opened and she saw Draco’s black boots in front of her. He muttered a spell. Her limbs and voice came alive. She struggled to get out of the cupboard. Draco’s strong arms pulled her out and up to her feet, bringing her face close to his. The same second Hermione sneezed with all her force, hitting his collarbone with her forehead. Her legs and arms, after falling asleep in her contorted position, now were prickling mercilessly.

   “Ahem - is the meeting over?” she asked and leaned against the counter. “What’s this place?”

   “Meeting?” Draco glanced around. “We are in Zonko’s - it’s boarded up now.”

   “I heard the voices before you cast the Muffliato!” Hermione stared into his grey eyes. 

   “That was my aunt - just a family visit.”

   “Bellatrix? I think I met her at the Department of Mysteries. Thanks for hiding me from her.“ Hermione paused. “And someone named Fenrir. Greyback?”

   “Yes. You’d rather not want to meet him either. He‘s revolting.”

   “Seems that he’s your family’s friend,” Hermione smirked and looked down on her coat which had streaks of dust on it. She cast the Scourgify and wondered what her hair looked like after the cupboard.

   “Not mine, certainly.” Draco plucked something out of Hermione’s locks. “You’ve got a dead spider in here.”

   Hermione transfigured a crumpled piece of wrapping into a hairbrush and started combing her mane ferociously. Draco leaned against the wall, watching her flip her hair to the front over her shoulder. His eyes followed the deft movements of her hands. She had such gracefulness to her, and he wanted to dig his fingers into her curls. Draco stepped closer to her, breathing down her neck, and she turned around, her eyes questioning him.

   Her heart skipped a beat as her gaze met his darkened stare. She could see the passion and despair in his face. But she couldn’t allow herself to melt in his arms in this apparently very unsafe place.

   “No - not here…” Hermione stepped back and his hands were on her waist in an instant. “Anyone could Apparate here, right?”

   “Only a kiss…” he whispered and their lips met. Hot wave coursed through Hermione’s body, and she knew Draco felt the same.

   His tongue stroked the insides of her lips, and he wanted to sink into her warmth. Most of all, Draco longed to forget about the things he was to face and to do, and to believe that eliminating them from his mind would erase them from the reality too. That his father would be home and not in Azkaban, that the Dark Lord would never make his appearance, that his mother would write him happy letters and that Aunt Bella would be still a half-imaginary relative locked up somewhere far away.

   The tip of her tongue caressed his and Draco loved her responsiveness. Her body was warm and soft in his hands, and he savoured the feel of her bosom against his chest. It was so normal and sane to have her in his embrace, and he craved the sanity and normalcy of dating the girl he desired most. Not hiding in faraway corners, not exchanging clandestine messages and not dodging his so-called fiancee and her minions, but being able to talk to her in public, sit together in class, do homework in the library and much, much more.

   The way Draco ravished her mouth made Hermione dizzy. She could only wonder what the conversation between him and the others was. There was so much passion in his kiss, and his eyes were filled with emotion, not lust. She was losing her power to resist him, and it scared her. His hand slid up her abdomen and the same second her stomach growled loudly, making Hermione realise how hungry she was. He noticed it too and relaxed his hold on her lips.

   “Draco - Draco, could we go back to Hogwarts?” she whispered, her wide open eyes looking into his face. “I didn‘t have breakfast.”

   “I missed it today too.” His voice was husky. “Let’s grab something to eat here before going back. Madam Puddifoot’s?”

   “Are we on a date?” she attempted a sarcastic smirk but her shaky voice betrayed her. “I’m not fond of Madam Puddifoot’s anyway.”

   “Let‘s have a date. A real one.” Then he smiled wryly. “I don’t like the teashop either. Too much pink for my taste. The Three Broomsticks?”

   “If no one from Hogwarts sees us there…” Hermione was not so sure about the idea.

   “Don’t worry - everyone’s at the Qudditch game still. Let’s go.”

   They left Zonko’s Joke Shop through a back door which they opened with the help of the Alohomora spell. There were not many patrons in the Three Broomsticks, which put Hermione a little more at ease. It was well before the lunchtime still.

   “What are you going to have, Hermione?” Draco asked when Madam Rosmerta greeted them at the counter.

   “Ahem - a butterbeer and a croissant maybe.” Hermione studied the display shelf. “I’m going to take that one with apple filling.”

   “All right. A pitcher of butterbeer, an apple croissant for her and a ham sandwich for me, please.” Before Hermione had time to fish her money out of her pocket, Draco already put a handful of Knuts and Sickles on the counter and Madam Rosmerta had everything set out for them. He glanced at the coin purse in Hermione’s hand. “It’s on me. I’m the one taking you out.”

   They sat down at a table and Draco poured the butterbeer into tall glasses. Hermione took a bite out of her croissant. It was incredibly odd for her to sit here with Malfoy and be treated by him to a drink and croissant. Worse even, she had a hard time coming up with a topic for a conversation. They leapt from the mutual animosity straight into the ultimate intimacy, and had almost nothing in between. She watched Draco dig into his large sandwich.

   “I didn’t know you could use a Portkey at Hogwarts.” Hermione finally broke the silence.

   “Only in a few spots on the grounds. The wards aren’t so good in the Forbidden Forest.” Draco looked up at her. “Why did you follow me there?”

“I saw you walking ahead of me.” Hermione hoped he wouldn’t suspect her of spying. “I didn’t feel like going to the game, really. I had an argument with Harry and Ron at breakfast.”

   “Ah. It wouldn’t make sense to watch the game anyway. Everyone knows Potter’s got his Felix Felicis.” Hermione having a rift with her cronies was good news but Draco was far from rejoicing at the moment. “Next time you want a stroll on the grounds, send me a note beforehand, okay? My aunt kills first then thinks.”

   “What was it about? Some Death Eaters plotting?” Grudgingly, Hermione had to admit that Malfoy was right about the Felix Felicis.

   “Nothing important - my aunt wanted to see me, that‘s all. She isn’t in a position to come to Hogwarts openly.”

   “But you cast the Muffliato!”

   “Because I don’t want you spilling it to others.” Draco leaned closer to Hermione. Could she understand it after all? “Goyle and Crabbe’s fathers are Death Eaters. Old Nott is in You-Know-Who’s closest circle. If the boys hear your chat and blab to their dads, you are in a big trouble. Me too.”

   Was he menacing her? Hermione gazed into his eyes. His face was tired and pale, and his voice was a strange mix of sinisterness and bitterness.

   “I don’t think it could get worse after everything I’ve been through.” She raised her chin and held his stare.

   “You love getting in trouble like any Gryffindor.” Draco ground the bottom of his glass into the wooden surface of the table. “This time it‘s no joke. I’ve seen people tortured and murdered. No Dumbledore around to come to your rescue. Got it?”

   “You’re the one saving me, Draco.” Hermione smiled at him.

   “I can’t protect you from everything if you don’t listen to me,“ he said gravely. “If I tell you not to go somewhere, don’t go there, okay? Watch what you say at school too. Did you know that Theo will be made a Death Eater when he turns seventeen?”

   “Does Nott want to be a Death Eater?” Hermione instantly remembered walking in on Padma and Theo snogging in an empty classroom during one of her patrols.

   “Nobody’s asking his opinion.” Draco leaned against the chair back. “No one bothered to ask me either. Bloody Potter together with Dumbledore got my father jailed. The moment I was back home, You-Know-Who came to the Manor to give me a sweet talk.” He laughed and Hermione heard the gall in his tone.

   “If your father didn’t go to the Department of Mysteries, he wouldn’t be in Azkaban then,” Hermione remarked, watching his expression.

   “Don’t touch my father, Granger.” His face became strained. “When You-Know-Who orders you something, you got to serve him, no questions asked.”

   “I think there’s a choice still.” Hermione looked into his pale grey eyes.

   “Yes, if you want to get killed.” His words fell heavy on her ears.

   “I think sometimes a death is better…” Hermione paused. Draco’s pain was too apparent. “You have the right to be upset about it because it was your father. I would be the same if my own dad did something like that.”

   “We’d better go back before the game is over,” Draco changed the subject abruptly. “More butterbeer in your glass, Hermione?”

   They stepped out of the pub and into the sunshine. Draco produced the envelope with the card and put his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. They held on to the Portkey together and in a few seconds they found themselves in the shrubbery on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione Scourgified her coat again, and Draco pulled her close.

   “See you tonight,” she muttered after their kiss and hurried off to the Quidditch pitch. Draco’s eyes followed her till she disappeared from the sight. 

   In the Room of Requirement Hermione stared at the bottle of the Calming Draught on the small table. It’s been a couple of hours since she left Ron suffer from her yellow canaries in that classroom. Upon taking her refuge in the Room she swallowed two tablespoons of the Calming Draught, cried out her remaining tears and tried to read several books that she had Accio’d from her dorm. Although it was dinnertime and she was quite hungry, she couldn’t muster herself to go to the Great Hall and see Ron in Lavender’s company there. The bitterness at his betrayal gnawed at her insides. Furthermore, Hermione was now almost certain that Ron knew about the cursed snog that Draco forced her into on that night in the seventh floor corridor. Malfoy was the scourge of her life.

   Hermione studied the bottle again and put it back into her bag. She wasn’t going to get herself drugged to the kilt. She still was to do her patrol with Thornton and have the usual Saturday night date with Malfoy afterwards. She’d stay here for awhile and then sneak out to the kitchens.

   The moment Hermione reached into her bag for a book, she heard someone come into the Room. Her head jerked up. Sure enough, it was Malfoy with a sack in his hands. The ultimate bane of her existence.

   “Dinner, Hermione?” he grinned and held the package out. “Here are some sandwiches from the Great Hall.”

   “Ahem… Thanks,” Hermione opened the sack and fished a butterbeer bottle out of it. Draco had such an uncanny ability to detect her presence in the Room. “You figured out I was here.”

   “Well, you weren’t at the dinner tonight. Everybody was talking about those yellow birds of yours. Weasley was quite a sight to behold.”

   “I think I ought to set a few canaries upon you too,” sneered Hermione. “For ruining everything between Ron and me.”

   “How did I screw you up with Weasley?” bristled Draco. “Did I make him snog Brown?”

   “By your snogging me in the hallway on that night! By your butting in with your messages every time you saw me with Ron! By your making Heorte Lustbaere!” Hermione sank into the green chair and was now crying unabashedly.

   “It isn‘t my fault you drank the potion!” Dark madness swelled in Draco’s chest. “Do you think Ron wanted you that much? If he did, he could fight me! He could duel me!”

   “You’re a cruel, senseless Death Eater!” Hermione screamed. “You hurt me like hell!”

   “You don’t hurt me, Granger, do you?” Draco clenched his fists. “You give me that icy look all the time! No matter how much you like my fucking, I’m always beneath you!” He drew a breath and glared at sobbing Hermione. “You don’t want to talk to me except when you need the fix! I please you in bed and the next day you’re all over Weasel! You’re a cold, arrogant, prissy skirt!”

   He halted, breathing heavily. Hermione shrank back in her chair, pulling her feet under her long robe. Her head was splitting, her eyes were already devoid of tears and dry sobs were shaking her entire body.

   “Don’t talk like this to me…please…” she whined. “It’s just that - that this potion thing is so - so wrong…”

   “Do you like my snogging you? Caressing you? Shagging you?” He was now towering over Hermione in her chair. “Tell me!”

   “Yes… and thank you for the sandwiches too…” She looked up at him and reached for the sack on the table.

  “I’m not supposed to get head over heels with a Mudblood like you, but I damn love it with you!” Draco crouched before her. She flinched at his use of the word but said nothing. “Everything is so wretched, really…” His voice trailed off.

   “What do you mean, wretched?” She took a good bite out of her sandwich. Her hunger had got the better of her now.

   “Everything… The Dark Mark, my dad, and now they want me to have Christmas with werewolves,” he blurted out.

   “Christmas? Werewolves?” She swallowed another bite.

   “That’s why Aunt Bella and Fenrir Greyback came. You-Know-Who wants a holiday bash with them.” Draco knew he probably ought not to share it with Hermione but now he didn’t care. “It’s miserable. If I skip it, I’ll get tortured again.”

   Her eyes shot at him. “Tortured?”

   “Yes. You-Know-Who tortured me through the Dark Mark the night after the Hogsmeade thing. Right after we parted that night. I passed out on the floor in the corridor.”

   Hermione studied his face. His voice was shaky, and something in his eyes made her believe him. “Did he do that to you again?”

   “No. But I’m afraid it can come upon me anytime. Whenever he isn’t happy with me.” Draco wished he could lay it all in the open to her - the stubborn Vanishing Cabinet, the plot to murder Dumbledore, the plans to Imperiuse her but it was not possible. Instead, he sat down on the floor and rested his forehead against the arm of her chair. 

   Hermione finished her sandwich and took another from the sack. Her hunger abated, which made her feel a little better. She ate in silence, her eyes fixed on the blond head next to her knee. Was he ready to turn away from the Dark Lord? Hermione wanted him to be on her side so much, it made her heart ache. If she knew he was not an enemy anymore, she could let herself love him. She still had feelings for Ron but Draco already had his hold on her too. In fact she was much more drawn to Malfoy now than to Ron or Harry for that matter.

   “Was the poisoned necklace connected to the werewolves in any way?” Hermione asked cautiously.

   He glanced at her quickly. “Forget about the necklace, okay? That thing is over now.” Draco was not going to let all his defences down. Nor he wanted Hermione to know too much and become a prime target for Lord Voldemort and Death Eaters.

   “Dumbledore knows so much about You-Know-Who - he was the one who took him from an orphanage to Hogwarts.” Hermione muttered.

   “Did he live in an orphanage?” Draco was clearly surprised. “I know he’s Slytherin’s heir.”

   “Yes, his mother was a descendant of Salazar Slytherin but his father was a Muggle.” Hermione wondered if this fact could further undermine Draco’s allegiance to the Dark Lord.

   “You mean he’s a half-blood?” His tone rang with unbelief. “How would you know?”

   Hermione launched into a long recount of everything Harry told her after his lessons with the Headmaster. Draco produced another butterbeer bottle from his bag and kept sipping from it while listening to her keenly. When she finished her narration, she looked at him, anxious to know his reaction.

   “Merlin’s pants, he never told anyone that much about himself, I guess,” Draco mused. “Are you sure it’s all true?”

   “That’s why he hates Dumbledore - because the Headmaster knows so much about him!”

   “Well, if he’s really a half-blood, and his father was a Muggle…You should’ve heard what he said about my dad. Rat.” Draco spat the last word out and finished his butterbeer. He wasn’t very sure if he ought to believe everything Hermione told him. Maybe he could try and find out more from other sources…

   “Draco - do you want to have sex now?” Hermione Banished her empty bottle. “If you need it, we could do it before my patrol.”

   He got to his feet and gave her a long look. “Do you really want it or just let me have it?“

   “I - I don’t know… I can give it to you if you wish.” Hermione averted her eyes from him.

   “I don’t like it that way. I want you to want it too. That you desire me too.”

   Hermione got to her feet and straightened her robes. “I myself don’t know it. I’m sorry I’m so rattled now. I think I do like you.” She looked at him and saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Would you be here after I’m done with my patrol? I hope I’ll calm down a bit then.”

   “I’ll get some homework done here while you’re on the patrol.” His voice was thick with anticipation.

  “I’ll leave my books here. Feel free to use them, Draco.“ Her eyes met his eager gaze. She smiled weakly and left the Room.

   When Hermione parted with Cassie on the third floor, she stood in the empty corridor for a few minutes. The patrol was uneventful, save for a nice chat with Nearly Headless Nick in front of the Great Hall and a short verbal duel with Peeves who tried to turn a statue upside down in a hallway near the library. Thornton did not talk much which Hermione appreciated a lot because she was very much absorbed in her own thoughts.

   Hermione walked up the stairs slowly. She wanted to sort out her own feelings before coming back to Malfoy in the Room. Was she attracted to him? The honest answer was yes. Did she love him? She didn’t know. Did she love Ron? She used to think so but now she didn’t know either. Merlin, what’s love after all? The only part she understood was that it wasn’t only the lust that made her want Malfoy. Would she be happier if she could be with Draco openly? Sit with him in class, study together with him in the library, snog in a nook somewhere? If there was no Lord Voldemort, no Purebloods and Muggleborns, no Death Eaters? Probably yes… It made her want ever more to convert Draco. If such a thing was ever possible…

   She paced back and forth along the wall that hid the Room of Requirement. It was going to be different this time, and her heart was full of trepidation. She knew Draco had more than lust for her, and he desired more than just sex from her. How much could she give him without the fear of losing herself to that dark abyss the image of which had been haunting her lately?

   The door appeared in the wall, and Hermione pushed it open. Her eyes met Draco’s apprehensive stare instantly. He had been waiting for her. Hermione doubted he‘d had much of his homework done… A warm wave filled her heart. She came close to him, sitting in his chair, and weaved her fingers in his blond hair.

   “I want you now,” she whispered, and he looked up at her face. “I really like you, Draco.” Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say the words ’I love you’

   Malfoy was on his feet now, his arms around her body and his mouth on her lips. She closed her eyes and surrendered to his hungry tongue. Locked in each other’s embrace, they inched towards the bed until she hit it with the backs of her thighs and they tumbled onto it together.

   “C’mon, my sweet…” Draco breathed into her hair and helped her fingers undo his belt. He peppered her cheeks and neck with small kisses, and then his hands unbuttoned her robes. Her desire flooding her, she pulled away and sat up to take off her clothes.

   He lay on the bed and watched her strip. Draco loved the sight of her uncovering her body for him to play with. Then, naked, she leaned over him and unbuttoned his shirt, and he watched her body move temptingly. He savoured the slender look of her shoulders and arms, the feminine roundness of her hips and the delicate skin of her soft abdomen.

   Hermione took his shirt off and trailed her fingers over Draco’s chest. She admired his masculine shoulders and lean torso. Her forefingers drew circles on his skin, and he moved his head from side to side in response.

   “Your looks turn me on so much,” she said. Now she had set herself free to express her admiration of him, and it made her feel incredibly good. His heavy-lidded eyes steadied on her face and a smile crossed his lips. She ran her hands over the small blond curls on his chest and down his abdomen. “Let me take off your trousers…”

   Her soft voice was like a salve to him. When she turned her back to him and started pulling his clothes off, he put his hand on her hip while helping her undress him with the other. Draco stroked and squeezed her smooth flesh tenderly until his trousers and underwear were tossed aside and she turned her flushed face towards him.

   “You’re - you’re such a bastard,” she said, not really meaning it. “You’re touching me everywhere.”

   “Sit down on my stomach, Hermione.”

   Hermione turned around and straddled him. He bent his knees, and she leaned her back against his thighs. It was something they did the other day, and the anticipation of what was to come aroused her a lot.

   “Your skin is so delicate and smooth,” he whispered as his fingers caressed her abdomen and travelled down her hips to her thighs. Her body swayed from his ministrations. “You’re good, you love it, Hermione…”

   “You’re making me so hot, Draco,” she muttered, revelling in her sensations.

   Draco ran his hand along the inner side of her thigh. She was glowing in her reverie on top of him, and he felt her warm flesh against the skin of his abdomen. Her body arched in rhythm with his caresses.

   “Move - move over…” he croaked. The sound of his voice sent a hot wave through Hermione’s crazed body. Half-consciously, she slid off him and settled alongside Draco, her leg draped over his thigh.

   “My - my Draco, I love this - I always love it… go…more…” He soaked in her half-coherent mumblings as he took all of her. She was so willing and it was insanely gorgeous to have her now.

   “You’re so hot and sweet… I love it too …” he uttered. Their lips moulded together, and their tongues danced fervently.

   Hermione sank into him completely. His masculinity enveloped and filled her, and she cherished it. The aching sweetness of her sensations rippled through her body. When it was over, he lay very quiet, his arms still holding her in his embrace. She relished the feel of him, the scent of his skin and hair, and the sound of his breathing.

   Then, already under the covers, Draco spooned Hermione’s deliciously sated body and wrapped his arm over her stomach. Without any words, they drifted into sleep.

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