Song Suggestion: Dove Cameron, Khalid– "We Go Down Together"

As always, a big thank you to MyPrivateInsanity for editing this chapter.

Trigger Warning: miscarriage (not Hermione). Felt I had to place this up top, since it can be a sensitive trigger for many.

A Flame in the Dark

Hermione found it hard to concentrate. She went to work at the apothecary and stood behind the till, feeling like a statue. When the customers came inside, she forced a smile, but as soon as they left, it slid off her face.

A nihilistic hopelessness— that was what Lucius had tried to protect Draco from. After seeing the mist, she promised herself she wouldn't sink into despair. Throughout her life, Hermione had always been steadfast in finding joy again. But the new revelation of impending doom cracked her endurance. Her joy became muted. Her hope doused.

A person's life was meant to be a domino, interacting against other people, causing a chain reaction. Whether good or bad, it was supposed to leave a lasting impression that continued after their death. The struggle for existence meant something.

But if complete obliteration was unavoidable, what was the point of trying to do anything meaningful? Everything could be wiped out in a snap. Maybe that's how life always had been and always would be— she'd just never noticed it. Now Hermione faced the existential nightmare in front of her, and it paralyzed her.

As a mirror to her apathy, Draco gained a new vigour for study, poring over the oldest texts in the library. When he wasn't working, he sat in the darkest, deepest corner, scribbling on his parchments like a madman until his candles guttered out.

"We can solve this," he told her one day. "Don't give up."

Without realising it, she fell into a deep depression, taking refuge into the secret parts of herself.

And as she traversed the corridors silently, she once again felt like a ghost.

A week later, Katie surprised her with a visit without Flint. When she arrived through the floo, sweat beaded on her forehead, her face appeared ashen, as if exhausted. Hermione assumed this pregnancy produced morning sickness like the last one

Having no idea of the remedy for that type of nausea, Hermione almost offered some water or a cracker when Dean and Pansy suddenly stepped out of the floo.

Pansy wore a sly grin, as if containing a secret.

"Dean!" Katie exclaimed.

The timing of their entrance felt suspicious. She suspected it was an attempt by Draco to lift her mood— a surprise gathering of her friends.

Pansy looked her up and down, wrinkling her upturned nose. "Navy blue looks better on you than yellow, but as I stated in my explicit instructions, sapphire is the preferred hue. And the fit still needs work. I'll send a warning to your tailor to always take your measurements thrice before ordering."

Hermione found herself warming to Pansy's blunt behaviour

"You really don't have—"

"I insist," Pansy said in a voice that left no argument. "Have fun, Dean dear. I probably won't be back to retrieve you for quite a while." She kissed Dean on the cheek. "Oh, and you owe me a favour after today."

"Whatever for?"

"You'll see."

After that cryptic statement, she disappeared with an elegant flutter of a cape.

"Pansy certainly knows how to make an entrance," Katie said.

"By your tone, I'm assuming that's an insult," Dean said, raising an eyebrow.

"Not sure."

"She'd be flattered if it was." Dean grinned. "It's good to see you both. I've missed you so fucking much."

After giving both Katie and Hermione a hug, Dean draped himself along one of the silk couches, one arm flung over the back. But before they could start a conversation, another pop of the floo interrupted them.

All of them froze in shock.

Finch hovered in front of the floo, as gangly and tall as she remembered. After catching his step from the awkward entrance, he fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt.

"Hello," he said in a soft voice.

Hermione almost gasped at the sound, having not heard his voice in almost a year.

"Finch?" Dean's voice cracked. His arm slid off the couch, mouth open, eyes wide. "What are you doing here?"

Katie made a strangled sound, placing a hand over her lips.

"I— Malfoy convinced my masters to let me out of the house. Pansy is distracting Daphne with a shopping trip. Are you not happy to see me?"

Dean shook his head, as if to dislodge something. He seemed in a trance as he slowly stood and walked toward the man he loved.

"Not happy to see you?" When Dean got close to Finch, he placed a hand gently on his gaunt cheek. "I—I've— there hasn't been a moment I haven't thought of you." Finch rested a hand over Dean's, cradling both to his cheek. "I can't believe you're real."

Finch's eyes watered, bottom lip quivering, and the energy in the room shifted. Katie glanced at Hermione, sensing the same thing.

"We'll be in the gardens," Hermione stated in a loud voice, but the boys didn't seem to hear her, lost in each other. "When you're um— ready— you can come find us. Careful though, the portraits are terrible gossips."

Taking the hint, Hermione and Katie walked out, giving each other private grins. Katie wiggled her eyebrows, and Hermione did her best to smother her laughter.

It wasn't until they made it to the gardens that Hermione realised she'd smiled for real for the first time since the mist.

Hours later, they sat outside in the middle of the largest garden.

"With all of his money, maybe Malfoy could build us a treehouse." Dean leaned back on the grass. "For old time's sake."

An albino peacock fluttered around him, spreading his plumage. Griffin—the stupidest one— had taken a liking to Dean, following him around, much to the man's amusement. Despite displaying an impressive array of feathers, the beast smelt like shite.

"I can't blame him for his attraction. I am rather fetching." Dean placed his head in Finch's lap, staring at the clouds. Finch rolled his eyes, but played with his hair.

These were their stolen moments, and she didn't interrupt them.

Hermione held Crooks close to her chest. The peacocks and her cat had a fragile truce while in her presence. Still, each time a bird wandered too close, Crooks gave a sharp hiss of warning.

With the comfortable silence, Hermione considered telling her friends the truth about what she'd learned, but she found it impossible.

There's no future for any of us. Everyone will be snapped from existence, and there's nowhere to run to escape it.

Dean and Finch seemed so happy to be near each other, and Hermione couldn't bear infecting them with the bitter reality.

But another part of her felt guilty by withholding information. So much so that her mouth opened, ready to spill the secrets that weighed on her, but Finch interrupted her attempt.

"Daphne's pregnant," Finch announced, as if he'd recited the weather for the day.

After a few confused seconds, Dean shot up from his lap.


"I— well, we managed to try the suggestions that Pansy told her—" Finch cut himself off with a deep red blush.

Dean just continued to blink at him.

Congratulations almost rolled off her tongue on instinct, but she bit it back instead, because he didn't seem happy about it— and why would he?

"So that's why they were okay with you coming over here?" Dean surmised.

"Mr. Greengrass told me it was my reward. I'm not sure he'll let me again. It doesn't matter, I suppose. After the birth, I don't think they'll keep me. He doesn't like how I'm not athletic and thinks I'll pass that onto his heirs."

"Leaving that place would be a good thing, right?" Dean asked with a frown. A fire lit behind his eyes every time Finch mentioned something about his treatment. "I thought you hated all of them?"

"I do. And I should be happy. But— I keep thinking about it. Will the baby have my hair? Or my eyes?" Finch's eyes seemed far away, as if he resided in the clouds above. "I thought I wanted nothing more than to leave, but if I leave, would I ever see my child again?"

The men were traded faster than the women. To the purebloods, they had little use. After their purpose was fulfilled, the masters sold them to whoever would take them, unless they wanted a second. The purebloods didn't like the idea of a muggleborn hanging around and defiling their daughters.

Finch's statement left a painful twist in her stomach, wishing she could wipe his worry away.

But the revelation had multiple layers of problems. Dean hadn't been able to father a child still, even though he and Pansy had been trying for nearly a year. Soon there would be invasive testing, of which she knew little, though it sounded ominous.

That Finch managed to impregnate Daphne would only be another reason to raise eyebrows.

"I need to use the loo," Katie said abruptly, standing up. Her face seemed even paler than before.

"The closest one is near the sitting room. Call for Mipsy. She'll show you."

Hermione watched her friend walk away, as the three of them lay close, side by side, staring at the wandering clouds in silence.

"I wish I had more ways to help you, but all I can give you is my love," she whispered to Finch. "No matter what, they can't take that from you. It's yours forever."

"I know," Finch said with a sigh, reaching out to grab her hand.

Katie had been absent for an hour before she began to worry.

Hermione left the boys to give them some more private time and went everywhere she might have gone. Giving up, Hermione employed Mipsy's help. Soon after, the elf popped back into view.

"Mistress Flint is in the library."

Katie never liked libraries much, so Hermione wondered why she'd be in there. An odd sinking sensation started in her stomach as she hurried along, sensing something wrong. Entering the familiar room, she travelled to the back, passing rows of old tomes. Rounding a corner, she froze at the sight that met her.

Katie had curled up on the ground under a stained-glass window, knees to her chest with both hands pressed on her face, turned away so all Hermione could see was her back. Deep sobs escaped with each heave of her trembling shoulders.

"Katie— what's wrong?"

"It's happening again. It started yesterday, but it's getting worse. I was hoping if I ignored it, then it would stop."

"What's happening?"

Katie only shook her head and stood. Before she could straighten, she cried out in pain, bent over, grabbing her lower stomach where a bump had yet to show. A small splotch of dark red stained the white fabric of her dress.

"Fuck… Mipsy!" Hermione yelled, and the elf popped into view, ears shivering with anxiety. "Go get a healer from St. Mungo's."

"No!" Katie cried. But the elf disappeared, following the bidding of her mistress.

"Here, lie down, and I'll get one of the kitchen elves to fetch you water."

Katie shook her head, face puffy, eyes bloodshot, skin sweaty and grey. Hermione didn't know if she'd ever seen her friend like this.

"I can't go to St. Mungo's. He'll find out. Please, Hermione, let's keep this a secret."

"Flint?" Hermione asked in confusion. "Of course, he'll find out. If not today, then eventually. Come on, let's sit down."

"He can't know. He can't." Katie cried in pain again, clutching her stomach. "This is the second time this has happened. If I can't carry his child to term— what will I do?"

"We'll figure that out later. This is a medical emergency! I can't just let you bleed out."

"I won't bleed out. If I wait, it'll pass like it did last time." But even she seemed to doubt that. As another wave of agony caused Katie to cry and stumble, the red splotch on her white dress grew. Hermione was left without any choice but to get a healer.

Despite her protests, Hermione walked forward and helped her lay back down. Katie seemed to be in so much shock, she let her.

"I don't want to be given to anyone else." Her friend, normally so strong, shivered in fear.

"He won't give you up for something that's out of your control. This isn't your fault." But Hermione bit her tongue, unsure if that was true. She didn't know anything about Flint. Maybe he would throw her to the side. From what she'd seen of him, Hermione didn't like him much.

And then who would she go to? And if no one claimed her, because she struggled to stay pregnant, what then?

Despite trying to soothe her, she acknowledged Katie's fears were real.

"I wanted this one." Katie fingers stroked her stomach, right above the stain of red. "I had dreams that it was a girl. She had dark hair and her father's green eyes. Marcus had already—" her voice choked. "He'd already commissioned work on the nursery, designing it himself. Said he wanted to surprise me"

Hermione didn't know what to do or say. She just held her friend, rocking her for comfort, and waited for the healer to arrive.

Draco arrived back at the manor right along with the healer. Mipsy had retrieved him from wherever he'd been. After, he set the house elves to work, letting Katie use an empty guest room to be seen by the healer there after she refused to go to St. Mungo's.

Draco stood outside the room, waiting for Marcus to arrive, while Hermione stayed with Katie as the healer looked her over, holding her hand. Dean and Finch remained in the front sitting room, allowing them to be together until Pansy and Daphne retrieved them.

"I've done what I can," the healer said after a couple diagnostic charms. "I've given you a few potions to stabilise you, but by law, since it will affect your future fertility, we'll need to speak with your master before making any other medical decisions."

Katie nodded her head in acceptance, already knowing that would be the answer. When the healer left, she twisted on her side, staring at the opposite wall.

"Don't leave me alone," she whispered. "Even when he gets here. I— I don't know if I can face him."

"I won't."

Flint arrived thirty minutes later, his cheeks blotchy, as if he'd run.

"I'm sorry I got here late. No one told—" He paused while he walked in the room. His full attention was only on her friend, who didn't turn around to see him. The colour visibly leached from his face.

"It's gone." Katie spoke to the opposite wall.

Flint tensed.

"The healer informed me."

"I'm sorry I failed you."

"Failed?" Flint's heavy features wrinkled in confusion.

A heavy silence ensued.

"The healer said it will be hard for me to conceive or carry to term. I'd– I'd understand if you wanted to find a more reliable breeder."

Flint flinched as if she'd smacked him, mouth tugged down in a harsh frown. He took one step forward and hesitated. He seemed unsure what to do before he began walking again.

After reaching the bed, he leaned over and gathered Katie in his arms. He sat with his back to the headboard and his legs straight, pulling her gently into his lap, positioning her so she faced him.

"You think I would just get rid of you?" His voice sounded harsh. Katie looked to the side, but he didn't allow her to hide. Placing the edge of his finger under her chin, he tugged her face up to his and wiped the tears from under her eyes.

"I don't know what to think."

"Why would you think I'd want another?"

"Isn't that my purpose?"

Marcus showed his ugly, jagged teeth with a grimace. His mouth moved without sound, as if formulating a response.

"Who won the last quidditch world cup?"

"The Karasjok Kites," she answered. "But what does that have to do with anything?"

Marcus shook his head. "Who is my favourite player?"

"Marsedan." She wrinkled her nose. "And I still don't know why. I've already explained to you that his stats are the second worst in the league. And he constantly overswings, causing him to miss the bludger almost half the time. It's a powerful swing, I'll give him that, but his aim is shite."

Marcus' grimace turned into a grin. He wasn't an attractive man, with heavy features and bad teeth, but with the way he looked at Katie, eyes bright green, searching her face, Hermione could see how he might be handsome under the right conditions.

"Do you see now?" He asked.

"No, I don't."

"I can live without heirs." He held her cheeks in a gentle, firm hold, pulling her face closer to his. "But who else besides you would tell me that I'm fucking stupid for rooting for the Falcons and Marsedan? Who else could almost beat me at flying?"

"You only beat me at flying because you cheated."

Even in emotional turmoil, Katie couldn't resist her competitive spirit.


All the tense lines in her body deflated, and she looked back at Marcus as if lost.

"The baby—" she said.

"The baby was ours. That's why I'm upset. Nothing more." He kissed her forehead, and she trembled on contact. His hand tangled in her hair, shoving the damp strands out of her face. "Let me deal with the ministry."

Despite wanting to honour her friend's request to stay, Hermione felt like she was intruding. When Katie laid her head on his shoulder and began to sob, she understood they needed privacy. As Hermione stood, she caught Flint's eye. He gave a nod, as if to say thank you.

Staring at the two of them, Hermione realised Katie's reluctance to liking Flint didn't have as much to do with her finding him unattractive, or in personality compatibility, but the fear of forming any sort of attachment at all. Placing her trust in a man that could hurt her was a dangerous endeavour.

It resonated with Hermione, because a large part of her felt the same. The power structure left little room for trust and love.

Knowing her friend was safe, even if only for now, Hermione slipped out of the room, sifting through her complicated thoughts and emotions.

Draco stood outside, still waiting for her. He stared at Katie's door with disquiet as it clicked shut again. Hermione placed a hand on his arm to get his attention, but he continued to stare at the door, expression bleak.

"I was there," he whispered after a moment, voice flat.


"When Deanna died."

"Oh—" Hermione was unsure how to respond. "Did you—"

"My father wanted the baby born on the grounds as is the tradition for all Malfoys. Deanna wanted to be at St. Mungo's, but he ignored her fears, confident he'd hired the best healers."

Hermione held her breath with the pause, afraid moving would cause him to close off again.

"What happened?"

He swallowed hard, and he briefly closed his eyes. "Something went wrong. Her screams— I couldn't bear it, just waiting. I'd never heard anything like it. I managed to force my way inside the room to help her, convinced she was being tortured, but it was too late. For both of them. The baby was—" he cut himself off mid-sentence. His face smoothed, occlumency shields snapping into place. "Death during pregnancy is rare in the wizarding world. I'm told the rate is much higher among muggles, but there are some things magic can't fix."

"Draco—" Hermione said, but he shoved off her arm. As if coming to his senses, he turned to her. A palpable rage rolled off him.

"What we're doing— it's a type of violence that's unforgiveable. Perhaps Dumbledore was right in attempting to eradicate us."

"You're not—"

"I don't know how to save you from this, and the thought of forcing you into it— I'm not fucking doing it."

He ignored any other attempts at getting him to talk and walked away. As Hermione made her way to the front sitting room to say goodbye to Dean and Finch, she wondered at the fear and love and pain required to bring another human into the world.

And the grief when it went wrong.

A few days later, Hermione stood behind the till at the apothecary. It had become a distraction for her. In her down time, she organised the potions, finding her system worked much better than what Draco had created.

During the process of putting the Runespoor Eggs on the shelf behind the counter, the bell jingled, signalling the entrance of a customer. Hermione straightened, prepared to smile, but stopped.

Titus filled the doorframe, wearing his full auror body armour.

Hermione remained frozen, watching as he walked inside and around the shop, boots clipping hard against the wooden floor. He studied the shelves in pensive silence. Since her stay at St. Mungo's, he'd groomed his beard into a short, attractive style. He seemed better rested, as if finding a new purpose. Instead of setting her at ease, it caused the hair on the back of her neck to rise in alarm.

She wore her disguise. Sofia Romano— a random pureblood or halfblood, escaping Italy on a work visa. But Titus had a quick mind and held multiple puzzle pieces already. His presence signalled his suspicions.

"You have a good selection of ingredients," he said, eyes still on the shelves, though she didn't doubt he'd already taken in the details of the rest of the room. "Possibly better than Mulpepper's."

This was a common trick of his. A friendly conversation to gain his suspect's trust, to lower their guard. Hermione wasn't fooled. This was an investigation disguised as a simple shopping excursion.

"Since Slug and Jiggers went out of business, Mulpepper was due for some competition," Hermione answered, attempting to steady her voice. "Their price for gillyweed is nearly criminal. Perhaps you should pay them a visit after and threaten them with a charge of price gouging."

Titus barked out a laugh, and then he shook his head, as if he hadn't meant to do that. He picked up a bottle of Baneberry and turned and walked toward the till, setting it down with a click on the counter.

Hermione attempted to control the tremble in her fingers as she rang him up— but she failed. When she reached for his handful of sickles, he grabbed her wrist.

"You're still not wearing the bracelet I made you."

He knew.

She should have known he'd see past her disguise

With a sudden spike of fear, she tried to tug her hand away, but he tightened his grip.

"Titus— please—" she hated begging him for things more than anything.

"Is this how they kidnapped you— working here alone?" He glanced around the shop, and then for the first time since entering, he met her eyes. "Or was it something else?"

"Is this an official interrogation? Because, if not, I'm not required to tell you anything."

Despite his armour, it wasn't an official interrogation, or he'd be required to bring her into the ministry.

Her wrist began to throb under his calloused fingers.

"It's reckless of Draco to let you come here alone—"

"I'm not alone. His elf follows me. Don't take this from me."

The thought of giving up her job so soon after she started made rage writhe inside her.

He stared at her wrist, thumb brushing over the veins.

"You didn't let me finish," he said in a softer voice. "I'll admit it was clever of him to give you something to do. It has the potential to keep you busy and out of trouble, so I don't want to take this from you. I just want you to be safe."

He said the word "busy" as if she was Crookshanks, clawing at the furniture when bored. She glared at him, still holding her wrist in his hand. What she hated most was that he was right. It did give her something to do. Though keeping her out of trouble proved variable.

"I'm not sure what your point is."

"Work for me instead. I need a secretary. Someone to help me fill out reports."

"I'd rather eat bubotuber pus."

Titus took in a slow, deep breath, as if to measure his response to her antagonistic answer.

"If your hesitancy is about proximity to me, then you can be reassured that you'd rarely see me. I'd give you your own office. Even your own floor, if you wished. You'd never have to interact with anyone."

He paused, waiting for her answer.

Perhaps if he'd offered it to her several years ago, she'd have leapt at the opportunity. She might have even given him the appreciation he sought for the offer. Truthfully, working as a secretary to a Mediator would probably be more intellectually stimulating than an apothecary shopkeeper, but Draco had given this to her. Without strings or expectations. Simply because she'd asked.

"I'm happy here." She tugged her wrist out of his hold. This time he let her free.

His mouth hardened in bitter lines, and he leaned over the counter, close to her. "If you want to stay here, then I insist you wear the bracelet I made you, or I'll deem this— adventure— too unsafe to continue."

Titus dropped the sickles in a pile on the counter and left the shop without looking back.

When she arrived back at the manor, Draco waited for her, standing near the fireplace, holding the leather bracelet in his hand.

Like she suspected, Mipsy had already informed him of Titus' visit and everything that was said. His occlumency shields were up, showing the interaction had bothered him.

Despite her doing nothing wrong, she felt the need to explain.

"Titus knows about my disguise. He offered me a position in the ministry, but I denied his request."

Draco studied the bracelet in his hand, and a sharp sneer peeked through. "You should have thrown this in the rubbish bin long ago."

Perhaps she should have.

"It's a good thing I didn't, because it's my only way to continue working."

"I don't want you wearing anything of his."

Her stomach clenched. She didn't either, but her desires were irrelevant. Titus was a mediator. He had the power to take everything from her

That he hadn't yet was suspicious. Either he didn't have enough evidence, biding his time, or he wanted something else. It made her wary to wear the bracelet— knowing it came with strings.

"Are you going to force me not to?"

Draco curled his upper lip and held up the bracelet. "Do you even know what charms are on this?"

She'd studied it several times. "A strong tracking charm— a complicated one, suggesting goblins helped. Various protection charms, but there is one more I didn't recognize."

"It's a charm created to monitor your emotions."

That caused her to pause. The thought of Titus monitoring anything so private made her stomach turn.

"If I put it on, can it be removed?"

Draco gave a sigh and walked toward her. When he got to her, he motioned for her to extend her wrist.

"If you'd put it on at Christmas, it would've been almost impossible to get off. But since you didn't, I was able to get the charms… readjusted."

"You went to the goblins."

"Goblins have no loyalty to wizards and, since the curse, have stopped accepting requests to use their expertise. Titus only swayed them by paying in old family relics… but I offered an even older one."

He wrapped the bracelet around her wrist. The leather was supple, soft, and fit perfectly. Titus had made the gift himself, but he'd paid a goblin to alter it.

"What did you do to it?"

"I replaced the tracking charm. He'll still think he sees you, but it's manipulated by me. The goblin struggled to remove the monitoring charm, since it had been created to be permanent, but he tweaked it to only show Titus if you're in mortal peril. I kept the protection charms in place, though you can now remove it at will, so it's been mostly defanged."

As if to show he was correct, he undid the clasp and let it slide off into his palm.

"This will only touch your skin when you're at the shop. Do you understand?"

"Of course."

"The thought of anything belonging to him being near you— It makes me feel no better than an animal. Some primitive beast." His hand traced the curves of her hips and her breasts, until his fingers curled around the back of her neck, tugging her close. "The only reason why I haven't found a way to kill him is the potential fallout, and that I suspect it might break your heart. Despite everything, a small part of your love belongs to him."

"I don't—"

"Stop. I know you aren't fucking in love with him, but you care for him. Because if you didn't, he wouldn't be able to hurt you like he does. And despite me wishing to rip away his claws, I can't fault you, because it shows your capacity to love, and how he grossly took advantage of it." His eyes narrowed, a sneer pulling his face into sharp contortions. Whatever possessive instincts he had seemed on edge, shattering his normal control. "But if you think I'll just watch from the sidelines while he attempts to manipulate you back to him with fear and threats, then you're mad. This—" he placed a hand over her heart. "Will be mine and only mine. And if he ever tries to take you back by force, I'll burn this whole wretched world to save you."

Hermione searched his face, reaching up to touch his full lips. He opened his mouth, capturing her fingertip between his teeth, licking the sensitive skin until she shivered.

He'd always felt like freedom to her, and perhaps, to him, she felt like hope. A potential for love that he couldn't find anywhere else. A last grasp at something more after having his life ripped apart, left with a cold father inside an even colder world.

Fated, he'd once told her.

A million different lifetimes, and I think it would always be me and you.

He'd chosen her long ago.

It was an obsession that didn't seem healthy, born of trauma. A part of her feared the intensity, another part wished to partake with abandon.

A sudden realisation sank into her as if someone had sparked a flame in the dark.

Perhaps she was framing her potential death in the wrong way. If everything meant nothing, then what did it matter if she allowed herself to freefall? The world would probably end in a snap before she could feel the impact.

If the purebloods escaped in excess and hedonism, then perhaps she should as well.

The idea took root. And it grew, twisting into a fever. Draco's fingers slipping under her knickers at night couldn't soothe it, because she wanted more. All day it lived under her thin skin, scorching hot, her nerves aching, needing something to fill her.

No matter what she did, she couldn't shake it. And then, on an ordinary Monday, while pacing in the garden, the fever turned unbearable.

Why shouldn't she enjoy the benefits of their arrangement? It didn't require any feelings.

The last thought felt like a lie, but it gave her an odd determination as she walked inside the manor and scaled the grand staircase, ignoring the attempts to talk by the portraits. One of them raised a haughty eyebrow, as if he could read her filthy thoughts.

"Mind your business," Hermione sneered, not even bothering to acknowledge the nosy ancestors.

She continued down the corridors until she reached Draco's study. Taking one long breath outside the door, she pushed it open.

Like most of the manor, his study was grand. He sat behind an heirloom desk, ornate and gaudy, inlaid with gold. Draco once told her that it had once belonged to a French king. Besides the desk, the rest of the room was surprisingly modern, the old and new mingling together in a way that she found pleasant.

Hermione waited for Draco to notice her entrance, but he ignored her, his concentration on the beginnings of a letter in front of him. Something for his job, she supposed, asking around for certain potions or talking to different buyers. He normally didn't like to be interrupted when busy, even by her.

As she suspected, he didn't look up.

"Draco," she said.

"In a minute."

He continued to scratch at the parchment.

Hermione grinned.

"Draco," she said again.

He huffed out an annoyed breath.

"I'm busy, Granger. I'm sure whatever you're wanting could wait for a moment— and don't look at me like that. The last time I tried to interrupt you while you were reading, you apparated away. And then, when I finally found you, you did it again. In a very rude way, I must say. So just give me thirty minutes, and then I can give you my full attention. These need to be sent out today."

She waited until he returned to work.

"Draco," she said again, enjoying pushing his buttons.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes and then went back to work.

"As I said—"

"I want to have sex."

His hand fumbled, and he tipped over the inkpot. It spilled across the desk and across his precious parchment, dripping off the sides.

"What the fuck did you just say?"

"I want to have sex."

The chair screeched and clattered as Draco stood and threw it aside, along with his quill, and stalked toward her. Ink stained the tips of his fingers. She noticed this detail as he picked her up by the waist, throwing her over his shoulder.

"I can walk."

"I'll be faster."

His steps were heavy but quick as he navigated the corridors. Hermione tried to sit up, but he manoeuvred her so she couldn't. She huffed in mock frustration.

"I thought you told me those letters were very important."

"I'll tell them I was procuring something precious and rare."

Draco made it to his room and flung her down. She landed sprawled out on the mattress, hair in a wild halo around her. She wanted to laugh, until she saw his expression— deadly serious, laced with open hunger.

"Take off your clothes." He remained standing at the end of the bed, staring at her. She sat up, so that her knees curled under her. "I want to see you fully."

"You first," she demanded.

He answered by ripping off his black shirt, pulling it over his head, leaving his hair mussed. His bare chest displayed his long toned muscles, paired with wide shoulders. The muscles sloped elegantly, little hills and valleys she couldn't wait to explore.

"Your turn. Undo that stupid fucking bow first. It's been tempting me all day."

"It's not stupid. It's the latest style from France." The top of her dress was held together by a silk bow, something Pansy ordered for her. Truth be told, she thought it ridiculous too.

"Undo. The. Stupid. Fucking. Bow."

Obeying him, she tugged on a strand of ribbon until the bow unravelled. When done, the dress sagged low on her shoulders. She hadn't worn a bra that day, because the support charms of the dress had been inbuilt. So when the voluminous fabric slid down one shoulder and then the other, the cloth waterfalled along her curves, pooling around her body on the bed, leaving her mostly bare for his inspection.

She wished to blush and began to cross her arms.

"Don't hide yourself."

Slowly, she let her arms fall to the side, allowing him to see what he wished. With his eyes skimming along her exposed skin, he didn't wait to be asked his turn. He yanked off his belt with one hand and slid down his trousers and trunks, leaving him as nude as the ritual under the moonlight. This time gentle sunshine kissed his body, and she found she liked it better. It made him almost glow, hair reflecting the light. Mercury eyes flashed as he returned her gaze.

Hermione didn't know if others found him handsome or not, but other opinions didn't matter. She could stare at him all day and never grow tired.

After a tension filled pause, he crawled on the bed after her like a predator, prowling low, and she leaned away from the movement. When he ripped the fallen dress away, throwing it off the bed, she collapsed on her back against the soft sheets.

It was then her nerves kicked in. The tremble of her body as she lay naked and exposed— something she'd never experienced. It felt like shedding some heavy plated armour. The only thing left was her knickers.

During every intimate encounter in her life, she'd worn at least some clothing, even if it was pushed aside.

Draco noticed her anxiety. He leaned down and kissed her leg, trailing up along her hips and ribs until he reached her breasts. His tongue lingered on a hardened nipple while staring up at her. Cupping a breast in his hand, he examined it in a lazy manner he hadn't before, as if he planned to suck and toy with it all day.

"There's nothing to fear," he said. "It's all in your control."

"And if I say stop?"

"Then we'll stop, of course. I truly don't mind spending an afternoon just tasting your pretty cunt." He licked his lips. "In fact, I think that's exactly what I'll do."

He helped take off her knickers— the final barrier to complete nakedness— sliding them along her legs. And then he returned to teasing every sensitive part of her body. Her breast, down her ribs, letting his tongue play along the soft skin.

When he finally got to her thighs, she spread her legs wide in welcome, twisting her hands in the sheets with the heat scorching her skin. He licked and touched her with his acquired expertise of her body, until she was riding the edge of orgasm. And then he pulled back.

"You're so fucking ready." He crawled up her body, grabbed her hips, and positioned himself. The tip of his cock pressed at her entrance. But instead of moving, he stared at her. "I want to remember this moment," he whispered. "Look at me."

Her body wanted this, but her mind had other ideas. Her heart rate increased. Panic zinged through the excitement.

"Stop!" she yelled, withholding the instinct to push him away. He froze with the command.

Every cell in her body wanted him to fuck her, so why couldn't she allow it? Hermione covered her face with her hands and turned to the side, so frustrated with herself she wanted to cry. "I'm sor—" she stopped, knowing he hated when she apologised. "I can't do it. There's something wrong with my mind. I'm broken."

"You're not broken, Granger." Though he seemed frustrated too. "We don't have to do anything."

"And if I can never do it? What if this always happens?"

He gave a snort and leaned down, once again flicking a tongue against her nipple. She arched up into the sensation. The panic hadn't erased her arousal, and it sparked like flames along her body once more.

"You allow me to touch your cunt at least once a day, and you always volunteer to suck my cock. What the fuck is there to complain about?" He sat back, and then he tilted his head sideways, eyes narrowing with thought. "If you're willing to try one more time, I think I have an idea." He produced a wicked smirk and grabbed her waist. After a hard twist to the left, he rolled them, switching their positions. Her cunt rested, warm and aching, against his lower abdomen, feeling the easy inhale and exhale of his lungs. He rested his hands on her ankles.

"I thought we already tried this," she said

He rolled his eyes. "If you want to sit on my face again, you don't even have to ask. But no— I was thinking this might be a better way to start."

"I don't understand."

"On top, you're in control. Of starting. Stopping. The pace. You can use my cock however you please."

Hermione's whole body trembled with the words. The realisation awakened a dormant section of her mind.

Relief washed over her. Draco himself wasn't the trigger like she feared and sex wasn't either.

It had always been about force. The tension fell from her body, every barrier and wall.

For so long she'd been flung around, given little choice as to how her life would go. Agency was all she needed.

Instead of letting Draco fuck her, she was going to fuck him.

The arousal was so instant and intense that she swore her cunt dripped down his skin with her anticipation. She let herself study him, so ambitious and clever. She'd never known another man like him. He could think his way out of any problem, making sure it was what both of them wanted, making sure she never sacrificed parts of herself in his pursuit.

Her heart clenched in her chest in a painful way she didn't know how to explain, excitement and pleasure mixed with a dark desire.

Hermione couldn't stop herself. She bent down and kissed him. His warm full lips grinned against her and then kissed back. He slipped his tongue past her lips enough to touch hers, a gentle stroke.

"Take what you want from me, Granger."

Hermione slid her hips down. As if it was natural, the entrance to her cunt pressed against the length of his cock. She stopped, waiting for the familiar panic, but nothing came. Draco had been right. Control was what she needed. What she craved.

She lifted her hips enough so that the tip pressed into her. Draco groaned under her, his lungs and heart picking up the pace.

"Just like that," he said. "Show me how you want—"

He cut off as she pushed down slowly, wiggling to accommodate his girth, feeling him stretch her as she took him inch by inch, until completely seated inside her.

"Merlin fuck." He rolled his eyes back, fingers digging into the skin of her upper thighs, as if trying to ground himself.

Unlike the first time she'd had sex—scared, surrounded— this time the pleasure was just for them.

"You're inside me," she whispered in awe. The whole concept was strange and wonderful. She didn't think she could ever be more filled and complete than she was at that moment. "What do I do?"


She lifted up and down and then gave an experimental rock of her hips against him, which pressed against her clit. A current went through her. Her lower body tingled.

Draco's fingers left her hips; he gritted his teeth as he dug them into the sheets.

She quickly discovered it didn't matter what she did. Not when they were both so on edge. She didn't need to worry about inexperience, because he loved every moment. So instead of being unsure, she focused on pleasure, on what movement felt good to her, until it took over her mind. Draco grabbed her breast, rolling her nipple under his thumb.

"You're so bloody perfect at this," he said. "Keep— oh fuck, I don't know if I can last long this time. I've wanted this too long."

She didn't hear him. Hermione was too lost, clenching on purpose around him loving the groans she forced from him each time.

"Granger, if you don't stop doing that—fuck, I'm coming." Draco thrust hard up into her, his moan almost sounding like agony. His fingers gripped her tight to him, and she felt wet warmth fill her.

They sat there for a moment as he panted. Despite not experiencing the orgasm she craved, pleasure buzzed through her. It didn't matter. What mattered was the intense revelation that sex didn't hurt. There hadn't been any pain at all this time. No triggers. No panic. She was no longer denied experiences by her mind, because he'd discovered the key.

Draco looked beautiful resting under her, crimson stains along his cheeks and chest from his own arousal.

"Fucking hell." He thumped his head back, closing his eyes in frustration, hands still on her thighs. And then he opened them, glaring at her. "You didn't come."

"It's okay." She moved to get off him, but he held her tight to him, cock still half hard inside her.

"Absolutely fucking not. You won't leave this bed without finishing. I have an idea."

Draco and his ideas.

Before she could reassure him that it wasn't necessary, he whispered a spell, and his finger began to shiver in an odd way.

"You know wandless magic?" Hermione asked.

"Only a little."

"How did you—"

He placed his vibrating finger against her clit, and her vision went dark as she leaned her head back, closing her eyes with a sharp gasp.

"Oh fuck!"

"That's it. Now let go. Give me your first orgasm while sitting on my cock." He made a small circle, and her eyes rolled back like his had earlier. Hermione did as he asked and finally gave in completely. By the time she came with the loudest cry she'd ever given, she was panting and trembling, clenching along the cock still resting inside her.

His hand slid away from her sensitive skin as the aftershocks coursed through her.

After the sensation passed, she collapsed against his warm chest, completely sated and connected. She basked in the pleasant aftermath, loving the way he trailed a hand along her spine, stroking her skin.

Sex wasn't what she expected. And it hadn't been perfect. But it was everything she hoped her first time would be— messy and exploring, both of them unsure and flawed.

She lifted herself on her arms, allowing her curls to dip down and brush against his chest. He looked happier than she'd ever seen him.

"Tell me why I waited so long to do that again. We could have been fucking this whole time." She gave into a strange impulse and leaned down to give a playful bite to his chest. "Let's do it again!"

He laughed. Both his hands grabbed her hips, roughly pushing along her skin to her arse, where he gave a firm smack.

"I just knew you'd be insatiable, but I'm going to need a few minutes to recover." His grin turned sly. "Until then—" he whispered the spell again, and his finger started vibrating. After a hard flip, she once again lay under his long, firm body as his hand slipped down, pressing in just the spot she wanted. "I'm going to discover how many times you can come in a row."

A/N: Summer is here, which means my previous schedule is gone. Without that, I can't promise updates, so I've made the decision to take a few months off. I know I don't have to explain why, but I feel it necessary to give my reasons for this.

-My real life deserves my full attention right now.

-While most of this is "written," I'm behind on editing. As my beta can attest, I'm a perfectionist with it, rewriting it until the chapter conveys what I want. I'm going to take this time to try and get ahead, so that when I start posting again in mid-August/ September, I can get back to once-a-week updates (hopefully until the end). There will be an upcoming section of the story where you will really want me to update faster.

-I think I just need a break from posting, and from the negative aspects that come with it, so I'm taking a long vacation to regain energy to push toward the finish line.

I know some of you have anxiety about WIPs being abandoned. I'd like to assure you that unless there is a calamity, I have a good track record of finishing fics. If you'd like to keep up with me to make sure I haven't fallen off the Earth, I'd invite you to follow me on Twitter or by joining the House Pet discords (both these links can be found on the last chapter of my fic on ao3), where I will keep everyone updated on my editing progress. Thanks for your patience and for your encouragement!