Hermione and Ron make it until almost April before she loses her patience for the final time with having the same fight over and over again. This time it's about Dean Thomas, but it could have just as easily been anyone. Hermione has always found it easier to be friends with boys, which Ron of all people ought to know, but all the same the thought of her spending time with a male who isn't him or Harry sends him into conniptions. They've fought over Dean, over Terry Boot, over Anthony Goldstein, and decidedly not over Draco Malfoy, because Hermione isn't stupid and knows better than to mention his name in Ron's hearing.
There's a certain irony in it, really. The only man Ron doesn't think is after her is the one that she's slept with. Hermione refuses Harry's offers of peacekeeping thinly disguised as comfort– no, that's not fair of her, he really does want to help, she knows he does. He just doesn't see that trying to mend what's been broken wouldn't be helping anymore, so she sends him off to console Ron and writes a cryptic owl to Theo Nott asking to talk.
It's not that Theo is an indifferent outsider in this, of course he isn't. But he's more patient than Draco is, patient enough to let his own agendas slide while Hermione recovers, and so she doesn't say anything to anyone, least of all to Draco, and bides her time until she can see Theo in person the next Hogsmeade weekend.
"The vagueness of your letter would put Department of Mysteries correspondence to shame," Theo says, and casually offers her his arm. She takes it, wondering if the gesture was a test or a habit– but then, with Theo, it could quite easily be both.
"I didn't want to talk about it in writing. How'd you shake loose of Draco?"
"I told him I'd be getting here late today. Come on." He uses her hold on him to apparate them both out of Hogsmeade, away from curious classmates and into a small café she doesn't recognise. All their conversations seem to happen over beverages, she thinks, and soon there's a teacup steaming gently in front of her. Hermione shifts in her chair under the weight of Theo's full attention, which still hasn't ceased to be a slightly unnerving feeling. She swallows.
"Ron and I broke up."
She blinks at him. "That's all?"
Theo raises an eyebrow. "What would you like me to say? You know I don't particularly like him, you know I have a vested interest, and I can't say it surprises me."
Hermione gapes at him. She'd thought Theo was the sensitive one.
His expression softens slightly. "I'm sorry you're upset, Hermione. But I can't say I think it's a bad thing."
She sighs and looks away. "I know it's not. That fight about you was only the beginning, I– I know it wasn't working. It hasn't been for a while, if it ever was. I have no right to be upset."
"Don't do that. You have every right to be upset."
"I shouldn't be," she protests, "this is better for both of us."
Theo watches her for a long moment. "He's been your friend since you were eleven," he says simply, and Hermione starts to cry.
"I've ruined it all, haven't I?" she sniffs, and Theo reaches across the table and squeezes her hand.
"It'll be rough for a while," he says honestly, "but I think you'll work it out. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be friends with people you've broken up with."
She glances up. "Sounds like you're speaking from experience."
"You could say that," he replies, suddenly cagey, and Hermione decides to let it drop.
"I hope I'm as lucky."
"You fought a war with them, Hermione," Theo says, 'them' because he knows it isn't just Weasley she's worried about, "it takes more than a fight to undo that."
"A lot of fights. This was just the latest."
Theo nods. "My ulterior motives aside, I really do think you're better off without that."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know." Hermione takes a long drink of her tea and rallies. "Thanks, Theo. So how's the Ministry?"
"Well, so far I've managed not to kill Blaise," Theo answers blandly, in that tone that makes it difficult to tell if he's joking, but Hermione lets herself smile anyway. It comes easier than it has in a while.
"Look who I ran into," Theo remarks when they cross paths Draco in Hogsmeade, as if it's entirely coincidence that he's in Hermione's company. Draco smirks faintly.
"She does go to school here, Theo," he drawls, "in case it's slipped your mind."
"Doesn't necessarily mean I'm bound to run into her."
"Running into her here isn't half the coincidence that running into her in France was. But if you'll excuse us, Granger, I have plans for this man."
Hermione flushes faintly but prettily, just a tinge of pink staining the apples of her cheeks. "Of course. I'd hate to interfere."
"Not what you said in December," Draco mutters, low enough that only she and Theo hear. Her blush darkens; Theo merely smiles, quietly amused.
"Feel better, Hermione," he tells her, and allows Draco to lead him off.
The bait works. Almost as soon as they're out of earshot, Draco asks, "What do you mean, 'feel better?' What were you two talking about before you saw me?"
"Ah, you hadn't heard?" Theo replies, slipping his hand surreptitiously in Draco's. It doesn't precisely surprise him that Hermione hadn't mentioned it, but it's mildly interesting information, and he makes a mental note. "She and Weasley split up."
"Did they, now." The sudden inflection of interest in his voice is only half over Hermione herself– there are few things Draco loves as much as good gossip. "What happened?"
"Got fed up with the jealous fights, apparently."
Draco arches a pale brow. "All it takes to avoid that is a strategic failure to mention who she socialises with at school. She's smart enough to know that."
"She is," Theo agrees, and they share a brief flash of a smile.
"I see we've arrived at the same conclusion."
"Unconscious self-sabotage?" Theo shrugs. "Psychology is a funny thing. Our gain, though."
"Mm. It's a funny coincidence that you ran into her like that so soon after it happened."
"Afraid she likes me better, Draco?"
"Of course she likes you better, you could sweet-talk a dragon."
Theo smirks and traces a finger along Draco's jaw. "It's not as difficult as you make it sound."
"I am so looking forward to being able to drag you off to do that whenever I want," Draco murmurs into the pillow, and Theo smiles lazily.
"I will still have work, you realise."
"Quiet. Big difference between that and only seeing you every few weekends."
"Miss you too, dear," Theo murmurs, only a little bit teasing. "How's getting ready for your NEWTS going?"
Draco lifts his head to scowl at his boyfriend. "New rule: no talking about NEWTS in bed."
"That well, huh," Theo says, a chuckle in his voice. "All right, I'll drop it. But if you want any tips, I've done them already."
"Not now. Another time, maybe." Draco turns over on his back and sighs. "I'll get through it."
"Course you will," Theo agrees, "you're bright, you'll get good marks as long as you revise."
"Thanks." There is a heavy pause, and Theo turns and props himself up on one arm.
"What is it?"
"Oh, just. So we're clear, if I were to do my revising with a certain young woman of our acquaintance..."
"I think you might need to start by learning the actual definition of the word 'revising,'" Theo replies, voice heavy with amusement, "but yes, we're clear, and it's fine. If that state of affairs changes, I'll let you know."
Draco tries to smother how pleased he is, and doesn't quite succeed. "Same for you. Assuming you can get it up for a woman without me there, that is."
"Ouch, Malfoy. Is that any way to treat the man you're in bed with, especially when he's giving you permission to have sex with someone else?"
"I'm only saying," Draco answers archly, "that I don't actually know how that works."
"Pretty sure I'd manage," he answers neutrally, "though you're more my thing."
Draco rolls his eyes. "More his thing, he says. No, really?"
Theo reaches over and thumps him on the shoulder. "Idiot."
"You wouldn't have me any other way."
Draco's lips quirk. "No, I suppose I really wouldn't."
Despite his intentions, it's actually Hermione who finds Draco first, unobtrusively sliding into the chair opposite his at the corner table of the library.
"Hey," she greets him, "am I interrupting?"
Draco blinks up at her, a little surprised at her presence, but not unpleasantly so. "No, not really. Looking over some notes, but nothing that can't wait."
She cocks her head to see. "What notes?"
"Transfiguration. Never really my favourite."
"No? I like Transfiguration. You do Runes, you should have the patience for the theoretical stuff."
"Patience has never been one of my virtues," he replies, and his lips give a wry little slant. "Not that I have very many virtues to begin with."
"You've got more than people give you credit for."
Draco smirks at her. "I don't think that's considered a virtue, Hermione, but thanks."
Hermione goes a brilliant shade of red. "That's not what I meant!" she hisses, and Draco, the bastard, just chuckles and leans back in his chair.
"No," she says, and calms herself. "You can actually be a pretty decent guy when you're not trying to make everyone think you're a prick."
Draco is actually silent for a long moment, seemingly at a loss for a reply, before finally settling on, "Still not patient."
She raises her eyebrows at him. "Are you giving me a warning, or are we still talking about Transfiguration?"
"Both," he answers succinctly, and she ducks her head for a moment.
"Theo told you about Ron, then."
Hermione nods and fidgets her fingers before finally lacing them together. "It... yeah. I didn't mention because I didn't want to..."
"Try my patience?"
"Something like that," she agrees. "I... I just got out of one relationship, I don't want to just rebound, especially since, well. You and Theo are... I like you guys, a lot, and I'm sort of short on friends at the moment."
He regards her thoughtfully for a moment. "I don't think it's a rebound when it's what you wanted to begin with. That's just fixing a mistake."
"Not at all arrogant," she chides, rolling her eyes. "Just because of one reckless moment you assume–"
"I know," he interrupts her, leaning forward. "You wanted it then, but it wasn't the time for you to take it, fine. But you've wanted it, don't lie to yourself about that."
"I..." she trails off. "Yeah, okay, I did. Maybe I should have taken it then, but."
Draco shakes his head. "Much as it pains me to say this, you shouldn't have. You'd have spent the whole time wondering if you screwed up, you know? But now you know what you don't want."
Hermione blinks at him. "Draco Malfoy," she says, "when did you get all wise?"
"I just fake it well," he says with a shrug. "Plus, of, course, I can't help but look good after Weasley. I just hope he didn't give you any diseases, like freckles."
"Jerk," Hermione mutters, without any real rancor, "I bet you freckle in the sun."
"You take that back!"
Madame Pince shushes them angrily, and Draco winces. Hermione smiles smugly at him– this round to her.
"I heard about Ronald," Luna says, plunking herself down at the Gryffindor table unceremoniously. No one around seems to take much notice, probably because Luna is generally expected to be crazy, so table confusion rates as fairly tame. Hermione just blinks at her blearily over the toast.
"Yes?" she finally says, because there doesn't really seem to be anything to reply to there, but Luna is watching her expectantly. "What about it?" Hermione has become used to hearing 'sorry about Ron,' but no such thing is forthcoming from Luna, who is quiet for a moment as she swallows an alarmingly large mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"You're okay, right?" This is, Hermione knows, socially oblivious Luna's attempt at sympathy, which is actually a lot easier to deal with than everyone else's sympathy.
"I am," she replies, "it's for the best."
Luna nods. "I think so," she agrees, and has either the kindness or the shortness of attention span not to mention that she'd pretty much told Hermione exactly that at the start of the year. "He'll find someone, you'll find someone, you'll all be friends again. It'll be good." It's a gross oversimplification, of course, but a reassuring one, and Hermione smiles.
"For... well, never mind. Just thanks."
Luna stares at her for a moment with those luminous wide eyes of hers, then shrugs and picks up the pitcher of pumpkin juice and pours some in her goblet. "You're welcome, then. I think some of us are playing gobstones tonight in the common room if you want to come. Terry mentioned. I like Terry, he's nice to me."
"Everyone likes Terry," she replies absently, because it's true, but she isn't really thinking about Terry or gobstones or really anything to do with the Ravenclaws. "I think I'm busy, though."
"Oh, that's fine," she chirps. "Busy with who?"
"Busy revising for NEWTS," she lies, because after all they're sitting at a table full of other people, Ginny among them. Ginny, who has spent the last week or so giving Hermione the stink-eye even though Hermione hadn't actually done anything wrong, and who would probably be more than happy to carry tales back to Ron and Harry. Hermione usually likes Ginny, but she can be awfully spiteful sometimes, and Ron is her brother.
"They are coming up," Luna agrees, "but I'm sure you'll do very well, Hermione. You're very clever with books." Coming from Luna, that may not quite be a compliment, but it's easiest to take it as one.
"Thanks, Luna. Everyone's told me I'll do fine, but it is the most important exam of our lives. I'm awfully nervous about them."
"Everyone gets nervous about NEWTS. All that anxiety attracts dingleboms, though, and next thing you know they're chewing up all your quills to make their nests."
Hermione smiles, turning her attention to the marmalade. "I'll be sure to watch out for them."
"You know, if it were anyone but you, nobody would believe that you were spending your Friday night revising."
Hermione looks up; Draco is leaning against one of the nearby bookshelves, watching her lazily. Hermione raises her eyebrows.
"I am revising."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," he replies smoothly, stepping closer. "All work and no play makes Hermione Granger–"
"–a girl who will pass her exams with flying colours, thank you very much."
Draco laughs. "Oh Merlin, Theo was completely right about me." He sounds equal parts amused and exasperated, and Hermione eyes him questioningly.
"I absolutely have a type. He's said that kind of thing to me so many times."
She smiles. "Bit of a work ethic problem, Malfoy?"
"In that I'm not completely insane, you mean? He certainly never needed to work as hard as he did, he's annoyingly over-intelligent. I'm pretty sure the same's true of you."
"I'm just the right amount of intelligent."
"Heard that one before, too," Draco answers, rolling his eyes. "Intelligent enough to know you can afford to take one night off."
"Intelligent enough to know you've already waited this long," she retorts, "so you can probably wait a little longer."
"Can and want to are two very different things," he murmurs, leaning against her table. "Come on, come for a walk with me."
"A walk? We'll be seen. And, look, maybe that's good for you, but right now it's really not good for me, because Ron finding out anything's going on this soon after the breakup would be–"
"–completely not your problem?"
"–bad," she corrects him, "because it'd be nice to still have my friends be my friends at the end of this."
Draco's lips press into a thin line, but he looks like he might actually be chastened. "Right. What, then, if you can't be seen with me? Do we just wait until June?" If there's an edge of thinly controlled irritation below the surface of his words, Hermione lets it be.
"I didn't say that."
"Mm. It sounds like we require a room that's rather more private than either of our dorms."
"It does, doesn't it." Hermione knows she is blushing slightly, because somehow having already been in bed with him doesn't make starting a new relationship less frightening, and she ducks her head. "I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."
Draco doesn't bother to disguise the fact that he's pleased. "See you then." He disappears among the bookshelves again, and a minute later Hermione sees him leave out of the corner of her eye before forcing her attention back to her notes. Her last fifteen minutes of revising may as well be spent actually revising, she reasons with herself, even though the odds are pretty good that she'll have to look over it all again, because her thoughts are really, really not on Charms at the moment.
It's the slowest fifteen minutes of Hermione's life before she casually packs up her notes and walks out, heading down the halls like she's strolling casually back to her dorm, instead ending up at a familiar door. She gives a little shiver as she pushes it open– so much has happened in this one room– but when she's inside it looks a great deal like... actually, like Theo's room in Nott Estate had looked, and a little of her anxiety eases with pleased surprise at Draco's thoughtfulness, even if it had simply been unconscious when he made this room.
"Thought you'd like it." He's sitting on the edge of bed, though without any real air of presumption save that he's barefoot, his toes brushing the carpet. She wonders if he chose the soft lighting in the room, too, the way the lamp is gilding his pale hair to gold. She wouldn't put it past him.
"Theo is okay with this, right? Even if he's not here?" She almost hates to ask, but she'd hate it much worse if she unwittingly caused trouble for them– she has been around both enough to know that there's something there, something she has no right to even come near without their permission. Draco, however, nods.
"He and I talked," he says simply, and Hermione tries to smother a smile.
"Really? You guys do that?" she asks in her best innocent tone, and Draco rolls his eyes.
"Not that I don't appreciate that implied assessment of my stamina, but he and I don't spend every moment we're together shagging," he drawls, sarcastic but also rather amused.
Hermione shifts her weight, looking at him, then gathers her Gryffindor courage and answers, "Can we?"
Draco's answering smirk looks like it might stretch right off his face. "I thought you'd never ask."
It's different, having the exclusive attention of only one of them, but not bad. Exciting and a little scary, but definitely not bad. Hermione is loathe to leave their temporary haven, and Draco's warmth at her side certainly isn't providing any incentive to go. People will talk if she doesn't come back to Gryffindor tower tonight, though– after all, she rooms with Parvati and Lavender– and that's talk she really doesn't need, particularly because it would be completely true.
"I should get back," she murmurs, as if saying it will make it happen. Draco makes a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat and doesn't move, which is a bit of a problem considering that he has an arm around her waist, a leg still tangled with hers.
"You don't really want to go," he says, and he's right, but that doesn't change the fact that she should, and she tells him so. Draco sighs and shifts, reluctantly permitting her to extricate herself from his hold, and Hermione forces herself to her feet. Draco watches her lazily as she dresses without any pretense that he isn't, and after a minute remarks, "I'd pull your collar up a little higher, if I were you."
Hermione tugs her shirt, hiding the marks of his teeth, and gives him a faintly scolding look because she's pretty sure he did that on purpose. Draco's expression doesn't waver, though, and he pushes himself into a sitting position. "Come here."
"I told you I need to get back."
"I'm not going to keep you long," he promises, and when she's close enough he tugs her down and kisses her breathless, then lets go and smooths her hair into a close enough approximation of its usual levels of frizz that it probably won't be remarked on. "Goodnight, Hermione."
She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and smiles at him, a little shyly but with genuine warmth. "Goodnight, Draco."
Hermione lets out a breath when the door falls shut behind her and disappears. She doesn't really want to go back to her dorm, but she does anyway, climbing on to her own bed with a cursory hello to her dorm mates. They both greet her in kind, neither paying much of any attention to Hermione– Parvati is painting Lavender's nails in some sort of elaborate, multicoloured design, gumming up a quill with polish so that she can make tiny patterns. Hermione leaves them to it, glad of being ignored, and pulls out parchment and a quill and ink. The note is brief, simple, and says all that there is to say, and when the ink is dry she heads off to the Owlery to send it before she goes to bed.
Thank you. Will I see you over spring hols?
Harry, bless him, takes the time off to meet Hermione at King's Cross when she arrives for hols. She hadn't expected him to, and he hadn't told her he'd planned on it, and her heart gives a happy stutter when she gets off the train to see him standing there, hands shoved in his pockets. He's alone, but she still hurries up and throws her arms around him, and Harry hugs her back, a little awkwardly.
"I didn't know you were coming!" she exclaims, delighted, because she really has missed him, terribly so, but he and Ron usually come as a set. Harry scuffs the toe of his trainers on the pavement.
"Erm, well. I promised Ginny I'd meet her," he explains, and Hermione backs up, stung.
"Oh. Right, of course." Her tone goes forcedly casual, but it's not very convincing. "Stupid of me, I should have thought of that."
"Not that it's not good to see you," Harry backpedals quickly, realising how it must have sounded. "Listen, we'll get together sometime over hols, okay? I'll owl you, but I really should find Ginny."
"Sure. Sure, let me know." Another pace back. "See you, then."
She makes her retreat as quickly as she can without losing too much face, and talks to Luna until she finally spots her mother. Just this once, retreating into the safety of home is all she wants, and she trails after her mum to the the car, lets herself be taken away from all the relationships she's ruining. Her mum chatters soothingly about work, about Hermione's father, about maybe taking a little trip somewhere to celebrate after Hermione finishes school. Hermione smiles and lets herself fall back into the easy patterns of family, and if her mum senses that she's out of sorts, she decides not to ask just yet.
"I have to get back to work for a few hours, I still have a couple patients this afternoon," Mrs. Granger says as she pulls the car into the drive. "I'll see you tonight, okay honey? There's snacks in the kitchen if you get hungry."
"Thanks mum." Hermione unbuckles her seat belt and hugs her mother tightly. "I'll see you tonight. It's good to be home."
She fetches her bag from the boot of the car and retreats into the house. Her dad won't be home yet, so it's just her, and she starts dragging her bag up the stairs before realising halfway up the flight that she's not underage anymore, and with a quiet smile levitates it the rest of the way to her bedroom.
Hermione's room still looks just as it always has, though it's so clean that she knows one of her parents must have been in it before she got home to dust and maybe change the sheets. It's still the same old striped wallpaper, the same soft, worn duvet, the same knicknacks on the shelves, the same books, the same view of their tiny garden out the window. She lets out a soft breath and smiles to herself, pops a CD into her stereo, and curls up contentedly at the head of her bed, reaching for a mystery novel she had borrowed from her mum over Christmas that she still hasn't managed to finish and flipping it open.
It's nice to stop worrying.
"I'm going out today," Hermione says over breakfast with her parents. She's been home a few days, enough to unwind and to finish her book. "I'm going to go visit a friend, I don't know when I'll be back."
"No idea at all?" her mother questions. "Not even a should I set your place at the dinner table kind of idea?"
Hermione smiles ruefully. "Really no idea. If I miss it I'll find something for myself, though, it's fine. I think I can handle making a meal."
"How quickly they grow up," her father says. "Take my mobile, then, so you can get in touch if you need to."
"I don't think it'll work in a Wizarding house," she reminds him gently, and he nods.
"In that case, have fun and don't get yourself in trouble."
"Okay. Thanks, dad."
"No problem." He leans over and kisses her cheek, then takes his plate over to the sink. "Have a good time, then, kiddo. I have some yard work calling my name."
Hermione makes it until just past lunch before she decides it's late enough to go over and see Theo. He had owled her the apparition point, not the same one he used– she can only assume it's because of the magic still laid on the place that he'd alluded to before, and if so she's not about to question it. Nott Estate doesn't hold unpleasant memories for her the way Malfoy Manor does, but she doesn't doubt that it's still probably dangerous.
When she apparates, though, there's the slight problem of the house being nowhere in view. It's an enormous house, practically a castle in its own right, so if she can't see it, she must be pretty far off. All around her is empty countryside on a cloudy day, but she feels a sudden puff of rushing air, and turns to see Theo standing right behind her.
"It's hidden," he says by way of greeting, and offers her his hand. Hermione takes it, and then he leads her a step forward. She feels the shift in the air around her, the hum of magic, and Nott Estate comes abruptly into view.
"Quite some security spells," she remarks, both intrigued and impressed.
"They've always been there. Well, maybe not always, but for a very long time. I don't think I could dismantle them if I wanted to, though I may try to teach them to recognise you. I've already done some work on the ones in the house itself. They can be... rather nasty to anyone who hasn't got any Nott blood."
"That seems sort of impractical," Hermione says, looking around. The isolated, unassuming beauty of the rolling landscape seems to suit Theo.
"Not as impractical as you'd think. After all, the pureblood lines all intermarry."
"Yeah." He looks faintly embarrassed. "My family. What can I say, really? I come from a long line of terrible people."
"You turned out pretty well."
"I turned out better than them," he amends carefully, "but that's not really saying very much." He lays a hand on the front door; it swings open at his touch, and he leads Hermione inside. "May I take your coat?"
"Oh, um. Sure." She lets him help her out of it and hang it up, because although Hermione would never stand for him to condescend to her, she knows that's not what he's doing, knows that this is how he's been taught to treat a woman he cares about. Theo carries off chivalry with a grace most men their age don't ever seem to mange, and Hermione is always hyper-aware of the treatment but has never yet been offended.
"I've missed you, you know. I'm being terribly irresponsible, being here instead of at the Ministry so I can see you," he says, laying a hand at the small of her back and walking with her to the sitting room. She smiles slightly, pleased and maybe a little startled by the candid admission, and moves a little closer to his side.
"It's Saturday, Theo. It's not that irresponsible not to be at the office."
"Someone's been spending time with Draco, I see," he needles her, taking a seat. Hermione settles beside him, and he continues, "He may be stopping by this evening, if you're still around."
"I'm sort of surprised he's not here now."
"I saw him the other day. He decided to give us a little time, since he sees you much more often. Unusually thoughtful of him, which makes me wonder what he wants."
Hermione laughs. "Cynic."
"Guilty as charged," he agrees. His arm is still looped around her waist, and Hermione smiles to herself and leans against him, ignoring the sharpness of his shoulder.
"I've missed you too," she says, "it feels like forever since we talked. How's the Ministry?"
"Oh, the full name. What?"
"You always do that, totally refuse to talk about work. We discuss school until there's nothing left to talk about, but I don't even know what you do."
Theo is silent for a minute. "You're not supposed to," he says at length carefully. "Only two people do, not counting the ones I work with. Am training with, rather."
It's a riddle of sorts, and Hermione is very clever. It takes only a moment for her to put together the pieces. "Department of Mysteries?"
Theo's expression remains neutral. "Perhaps."
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"Plenty of jobs are dangerous, Hermione. But yes, it is."
She lets out a breath. "The be careful."
Theo actually smiles. "I can take care of myself fine, I promise you that. But I really can't discuss it. It's been sort of rough, but I shouldn't say any more."
Hermione nods. "It's okay. But thank you for telling me. Trusting me."
Theo doesn't answer verbally, but he kisses the top of her head and pulls her in closer, and that is answer enough.
Somewhere in the house, a bell chimes. Theo sits up, reaching for his wand and throwing his robes back on. "Be right back," he assures Hermione, and disappears.
He returns a few minutes later with a certain blond in tow, and Draco eyes Hermione with a knowing, salacious sort of smile when he catches sight of her. She's under the blankets, but her shoulders are bare and her hair is doubtless a complete mess.
"Theo said you'd be coming over today," he drawls, "I see you two had a nice reunion."
"We did," Theo agrees for her, sparing her the embarrassment of replying. She's pretty comfortable having sex, but much less so talking about it. It'll fade eventually, she tells herself, and in the meantime leaves the bantering to the boys, for whom it seems to be a matter of longstanding habit.
Draco toes off his shoes and sits down on the edge of the bed, motioning Theo to join with a crooked finger. "Come here."
"You know, supposedly you were stopping by tonight to have dinner with us," Theo remarks, stepping closer. Draco eyes him for a moment, then tugs open the fastenings of Theo's robes with a quick, expert motion.
"I want dessert first."
At the mention of food, though, Hermione's stomach rumbles, reminded of just how long it's been since she last ate. The other two turn to look and her, and Theo smiles.
"You be as good as you're capable of being," Theo replies, as if Draco doesn't have him half undressed. "Maybe you're not hungry, but Hermione obviously is."
"And you never eat," Draco negotiates, "so she can go find some dinner, and I can have my way with you while she does."
"You have no patience," Theo says, and sets his robes to rights. "Dinner should be about ready, and you may join us or not, up to you."
Draco looks distinctly sulky, so Hermione sits up and kisses him. "Shh. Come eat."
He grumbles a little, but Hermione only slides her skirt on, nothing else, before getting up and heading out the door, and Draco trails quickly after her even though she has tugged her shirt back on by the time she reaches the stairs. Theo, close on their heels, smiles to himself; Hermione always was a quick study.
Dinner is on the table when they get to the dining room, and for a time there is silence as all three dig into their food– Draco, Hermione suspects, was hungrier than he let on, to judge by how much he has on his plate.
"My compliments to the elves, this is delicious," Hermione says, almost without any accusation in her tone. Theo raises his eyebrows.
"The new job doesn't really give me much time to cook," he chides gently, "but if you really want me to I'll make you a meal myself one of these days."
"Can you actually cook?"
"He can," Draco interjects, "I've witnessed it. Just as well somebody I know can."
"Then I'd like that very much."
There is a pause. "Speaking of meals," Draco says carefully, "Theo, mother would like to invite you to come for dinner on Wednesday."
Theo's lips press into a thin line. "First, I'm busy at the Ministry that evening, my hours are and will always be insane. Secondly, must I? I'm not even the only person you're seeing, but you know I'll take all the heat."
"You're the only person I'm publicly seeing," Draco corrects, slanting a brief glance at Hermione. "Look, the day is negotiable, but the social engagement isn't."
Theo lets out a defeated breath. "She's going to try to chase me away."
"You don't know that."
"Draco. This is not the opportune time to let your idealistic streak surface. I'm a man, and I can't give you an heir or prestige or absolutely anything your family cares about. I can make you happy, on my good days, but we both know how little that's worth in our world."
Draco drops his gaze and starts pushing food around on his plate. "She wants you to come, I can't disappoint her."
"This is the disappointment."
Draco squeezes his eyes shut, and Hermione looks back and forth between them. "If it would help," she says, unsure if it would, "I can be seen with you before then. It's been a month, I... it'd be okay, if it would make it easier."
Theo sighs. "I don't think it would, though the sneaking around is, I think, getting a little wearing." Draco nods agreement, but doesn't look up. "Let's talk about that later. I think we'd better deal with this part first. Draco, ask if Thursday tea works."
The tension in Draco's shoulders eases slightly. "Thank you, Theo."
"Don't thank me until I've gotten your mother not to hate this."
"I'm thanking you for making the effort." Draco reaches over and takes Theo's hand. "It'll work out, okay? You told me that at the start."
"I was trying to reassure you."
"And now I'm reassuring you," Draco answers, and glances conspiratorially over at Hermione. "Let's have dessert."
"Ah, Theodore. Lovely to see you," Narcissa greets him, perfectly polite, and a house-elf takes his cloak. Theo lays on his most charming smile and takes her fingers lightly in his, bending slightly to kiss her hand.
"Mrs. Malfoy. You look beautiful as always," he replies, and she gives a gracious smile in return.
"Thank you, Theo. Come, Draco is already at the table. You're right on time."
He nods, falling into step with her. "I'm sorry I couldn't take you up on your dinner invitation, but it was very kind of you."
"No matter," she answers airily, "it's good that work is keeping you busy."
They reach the dining room, and Draco looks up and smiles at Theo with undisguised affection. It's a relief that he apparently doesn't intend to carry on any fiction that they're anything other than what they are, and so Theo smiles back and brushes a brief kiss across Draco's cheek before taking his seat. If Narcissa is bothered by the gesture, she gives no sign; her expression remains one of perfect calm.
Tea goes by with remarkable ease. Theo's wary guard does not relax– he doesn't know Narcissa well, but he knows her well enough to be aware that she's a force to reckoned with– but she treats him with the same pleasant sociability that she always has. He remembers other visits perhaps not so different from this, lunch or tea with Draco and his mother while their fathers locked themselves away in Lucius' study.
"Draco, darling," Narcissa says, "would you be so kind as to fetch the almond biscuits? They seem to have been quite forgotten."
"Surely Hinky could–"
"Draco," Narcissa interjects, and the sweetness of her voice has a low edge of command that Draco obeys without further question. Good luck, he mouths at Theo, and then disappears from the room.
Narcissa's polite smile disappears. "Theodore," she says, "I do hope for you sake that you are very sure of your intentions toward my son."
Theo meets her gaze squarely. "I am," he answers, "and if you have a problem with his relationship with me, I'll be sorry to hear it, but I won't be chased away just because I can't give him an heir or a good name. I want to be with him, and I don't intend to let anyone's expectations stand in the way of that. I trust I'm clear."
Unexpectedly, Narcissa's expression softens. "Oh, Theo," she tells him, "let me make myself clear, then. I only want what any mother wants for her son: I want him to be happy, and as long as you're what makes him happy, you're welcome here."
Theo swallows hard, thrown both by her words and her sudden warmth. "I... in that case, I hope I'm always welcome," he tells her, and ducks his head.
Narcissa smiles. "I wish your mother could see you now," she says to him, simply, just like that. Theo looks up at her, something unguarded and raw in his eyes, and Narcissa's smile goes bittersweet, tinged with an old sadness. "I knew her when we were girls. Perhaps I should have told you that a long time ago, but I never felt it was my place while your father was still alive."
"I don't think I was ready to hear it then," Theo murmurs, "but... one of these days? I never– I don't remember her, I was too young."
"Whenever you're ready," she promises softly, "I think I owe you that."
"Thank you." Theo's voice sticks in his throat, and Narcissa allows him to lapse into silence to compose himself until Draco returns.
"I couldn't find any more biscuits."
"I know you couldn't, dear. There weren't any."
"Mother," he says, a little exasperated, and sits down again, glancing between her and Theo. "Is everything all right?"
"It is." Theo's voice sounds calmer now, surer. "Everything's fine."
Hermione is frankly terrified to see Harry again after that awkward encounter on the platform, but she swallows her fear and owls him to meet her for coffee, because she is a Gryffindor and is determined to act brave even if she doesn't feel it. She'll never have her friends back if she doesn't make the effort, she knows that much.
It's drizzling outside, a cool, grey spring afternoon when she walks down Diagon Alley under the shelter of a blue umbrella to meet him at a small café.
"Hi," she says, closing the umbrella up and walking with him to a table. He still looks the same, still Harry. There's a drop of rainwater clinging to the edge of his glasses.
"Hey." He looks just about as uncomfortable as she feels, and Hermione sighs and cuts right to the chase.
"Are you angry at me?"
A puff of breath. "Okay, fine. Yes. Satisfied?"
"Not really," Hermione replies, pursing her lips. "It's not your problem."
"Of course it's my problem, Ron's my best mate."
"And I'm not anymore, is that it?"
"I– God, Hermione, what do you want me to say? Did you even want to be with him in the first place?"
"I did. But I stopped wanting to."
"You never even tried."
"Neither did he!" she snaps. "Why am I the villain when he was the one accusing me of sleeping with half of Hogwarts?!"
"Ron's never had much that was just his, of course he–"
"–was totally unreasonable?" she interrupts. "I'm not some whore, Harry, and I won't be treated like one! He can be as jealous as he wants with his next girl, that's his business, but I won't be with someone who can't even let me have friends without going off the handle." She buries her face in her hands. "I don't want to fight with you," she concludes a little miserably, "I just want my friend back. It's not fair of you to hate me because I'm not in love with him anymore."
She must have said the right thing, because Harry's righteous anger seems to deflate a bit. "He's really upset, Hermione."
"He's allowed to be," she says, carefully refusing to judge one way or another, "but I've moved on with my life. NEWTS are practically on top of me, I have enough to be worrying about."
Harry sighs. "I'm sorry about how I acted at King's Cross."
"It's okay. I know you're in a weird place, being friends with both of us." Hermione peers at him anxiously. "You are, right? Friends with both of us?"
"I... yeah, of course. Just because I was angry doesn't mean I'm not. I can't imagine not having you around, I don't know what I would've done without you all these years. We'll be okay."
A relieved smile lights up Hermione's face. "Good. Good, I'm glad." She draws a calming breath and lets herself believe him, at least for now. "So. Tell me about Auror training."
"I don't want to go back," Hermione says into the pillow, surprised to find it's true. Usually by the end of hols she is eager to return to the familiar rhythms of Hogwarts, the classes and the people, but now going back means tearing herself from the ease of Theo's quiet presence and of not having to work so hard at hiding. She doesn't want to go.
"I don't particularly want you to either," Theo answers, "either of you. But you've got to, and you only have a little longer left."
"We have NEWTS left," Hermione replies, turning back to her familiar safety net of academic worry, and Draco groans and hits her with one of the pillows.
"No talking about NEWTS in bed. It's a rule."
Theo hides a smile.
"Don't hit me," Hermione retorts, petulant, and Theo stretches lazily and lays a hand on each one's shoulder.
"Play nice," he chides them mildly, as if "nice" has ever been a word in Draco's vocabulary. "And Hermione, you'll be fine, and I'm here if you need me, you know that. I'm busy, yes, but I can make time when I need to."
She sighs. "I know. I know, but I like having you around."
"What am I, chopped liver?" Draco mutters, and Hermione ducks her head.
"No, of course not. I didn't mean–"
"I know you didn't," he interjects, cutting off her mounting mortification. "I like having him around too. But he's right, it's just a month. And he'll come for the last Hogsmeade weekend, right, Theo?"
"I will do everything in my power to make sure I'm free," he says, carefully making no promises because Merlin knows what kind of schedule the Department of Mysteries might have him on then. It's never consistent save in that the hours are always long ones.
"Good." Draco shifts, resting his head on Theo's shoulder and brushing his lips against his neck. On Theo's other side, Hermione smiled slightly and presses closer, draping an arm over Theo's waist, fingers curling around Draco's hip.
"What time is it?" she murmurs, and Theo lifts his head just enough to see the clock.
"A little after six."
She makes an unhappy sound in her throat. "My parents are expecting me home by half past for dinner."
"You can be late," Draco tells her like the devil on her shoulder that he is. Hermione frowns at him, frustrated though not surprised that he's trying to get the better of her good sense.
"I don't want to worry my parents. Ten minutes, then I have to get ready to go."
"Ten minutes? Sounds like a challenge to me."
"Draco," Theo murmurs, "it's not like you aren't going to see her at Hogwarts."
"Who knows, with this one. All her revising."
"Quiet, Malfoy," Hermione says, snuggling closer to Theo's side. "Don't ruin my ten minutes."
They fall into silence, the only sound the rhythm of their breaths. The warmth of the bed and the bodies beside her is lulling, makes Hermione want nothing so much as to fall asleep like this, but she knows that she can't, and when her self-allotted time is up she reluctantly slides out of the bed and dresses. Theo pushes himself up on his elbows while she's tugging on her jumper.
"Want me to walk you to the apparition point?"
"I don't need you to, I know where it is," she answers, "but... I wouldn't mind the company."
"All right." Theo untangles himself from Draco and begins putting his clothes on, as well. "Are you coming, too?"
Draco shakes his head. "I'll leave you to say your goodbyes, I'll see Hermione tomorrow."
"You will," she agrees, but bends over to kiss him goodbye anyway as Theo is lacing his shoes. "Have a good evening."
"You too," Draco agrees. Then, to Theo, "I'll just wait here, hm?"
"Do. I won't be long." He slips his hand into Hermione's, lacing their fingers together, and leads her through the house and down the path, even though by now she knows the way on her own. Their walk is silent until they step through the protective spells and Nott Estate disappears from view.
"I might try to see you off tomorrow, if I can get the time," Theo says, "if that's all right with you?"
Hermione nods. "It is."
Theo tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "You know that people will probably talk."
"Maybe it's about time that we let them."
He smiles slightly. "Only if you're sure. I know you've only just patched things up with Potter."
"He'll have to find out sometime," she replies, resigned, because she knows it will probably mean they'll fight all over again but also that she doesn't want to pretend. Subterfuge is Theo and Draco's style, not hers.
"True," Theo agrees, "but that doesn't mean it's easy." He wraps his arms around her shoulders and kisses her. "You're very brave, love."
Hermione half-smiles and hides her face against his chest for a moment, fingers curled in the fabric of his robes.
"I'm learning," she says simply, and then lets go. "Bye, Theo."
"I'll see you later," he replies, less a farewell than a promise, and Hermione disappears.
Hermione remembers another day on the platform, remembers seeing Theo wrap his arms around Draco to wish him goodbye, remembers surprise and confusion and envy all mingling in her as she climbed into the train. They are together again today, not showily, but Theo's hand is on Draco's arm, and the way they look at each other suggests more than friendship. This time, it makes her smile.
"Good luck on your exams, honey," Hermione's father tells her, and she smiles at him and gives him a hug.
"Thanks, dad. I'll see you again soon."
"Write us anyway," he tells her, and Hermione nods.
"I will. Thanks for driving me."
"Anytime. Go on, you don't want to be late." He waves her off, and Hermione catches sight of Harry farther down the platform, and two heads of red hair with him. One is Ginny, of course, and the other... well, maybe she won't go over and say hello, after all. She hesitates, just for a moment, before she makes her way over to Theo and Draco anyway, forces herself to not care if Harry and Ron notice or if they don't.
"One more goodbye," Hermione says to Theo, who favours her with one of his rare, affectionate little smiles and wraps his arms around her and presses a kiss to the top of her head.
"Goodbye, Hermione. Good luck with the rest of term. And try to keep this one out of trouble for me," he adds, indicating Draco with a flick of his gaze.
"As if I could," Hermione answers, rolling her eyes over Draco's protests. "Take care, Theo."
She leans up and pecks him on the cheek on impulse, then starts to make for the train. Harry, alone, intercepts her.
"Hey," he says, clearly uncomfortable, and she wonders how much of that he'd been watching, "I just wanted to say bye."
"Bye, Harry. I'll see you when school's out?"
"Course you will." He shifts his weight. "Erm. Look, I..." he glances back at Draco and Theo, and Hermione follows his gaze just in time to see their fingers lace together, "I just want to tell you that I'm going to try not to get upset about who you spend your time with, even if I don't like them. But, uh, Ron probably won't feel the same way."
Hermione can't help it; her face breaks into a broad grin. "Thanks, Harry. That means a lot to me."
He smiles at her, maybe a little uncertain. "You've changed a lot."
"I'm still me," she promises him, "just a little more grown up, is all."
He looks as though he might speak, but instead discards words and hugs her, briefly but fiercely. "You're doing a better job of it than the rest of us, and I'm going to make you miss the train."
"Remember what happened last time one of us missed the train?" she says mildly, and Harry laughs and gives her a gentle shove.
"Go on. I'll see you this summer."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Hermione mutters, but as protests go it's pretty weak, said as it is against Draco's lips, and she doesn't even make a cursory effort to keep him from sliding a hand up under her robes.
"I'm very persuasive," he murmurs, and Hermione gasps quietly and is glad of the tree she leans against, both for cover and for not having to support her own weight. "And you're not a good girl, no matter what people think."
"You're not saying that like it's a bad thing."
Draco smirks at her. "It's not."
Both of them jump at the sudden intrusion of another voice– neither had heard anyone approaching, but standing a few feet away is an extremely cross-looking brunette in Slytherin green who Hermione recognises but doesn't actually know. Draco coughs.
"You have a hell of a lot of explaining to do," she snaps, "and you'd better start now."
"It's not what it looks like," Draco says, and she scoffs, which Hermione can't really blame her for, because it's exactly what it looks like.
"If you don't come clean to Theo about her," Tracey says her like a particularly filthy obscenity, "I swear on my parents' graves that I will."
Draco crosses his arms over his chest. "Go on then. Tell him. See what he says."
Tracey steps forward and slaps Draco hard across the face. "You don't deserve him," she hisses, and stalks off. Draco rubs his cheek a bit ruefully, and Hermione sighs.
"Why didn't you just tell her the truth?"
"One, she wouldn't have believed it coming from me. Two, Theo will be in enough trouble with her for not telling her about this, without her having to have heard it from me. Third, this makes breaking that news to her completely not my problem."
Hermione makes a noncommittal noise and runs a finger carefully across the pink mark on Draco's cheek. "She's a bit... volatile, isn't she."
"Not usually," he replies, "but she and Theo are... well, they're something. Friends doesn't quite seem to cover it."
"No, no. They never dated, but it's... weird. They've known each other their whole lives, and they're best mates, but sometimes she acts like his girlfriend and sometimes like his sister, and she pretty much always hates anyone else Theo is close with."
"Yeah, tell me about it. But you're going to have to deal with her if you want to be with Theo, so."
"I guess that's fair," Hermione replies, "since you'll have to deal with Harry."
"...I'm re-thinking this," Draco deadpans, and Hermione thumps him on the shoulder.
"Theo will sort it out," Draco promises, because he knows full well that Theo is the only person Tracey really listens to. It won't be particularly fun for Theo, but that part isn't Draco's concern, just like it won't be Theo's when Draco eventually has to break it to Pansy, and isn't that a horrifying thought. Maybe he'll get lucky and she'll stay in France.
"I hope so," Hermione says, sounding unconvinced, "and I am never doing this outside again."
Draco's lips quirk. "You say that now," he tells her, but starts heading for the castle doors all the same.
It's late when the low fire flares to life, but Tracey hadn't wanted to have this discussion while the younger students were still in the common room, and Theo is nocturnal by nature, so she had waited up and owled him a time. His face in the flames is perfectly calm.
"Trace, pet. Is something wrong?" he asks immediately, and she sighs.
"Not with me," she tells him, "but yes. Um... look, I don't know how to tell you this, but I walked in on Draco yesterday. With Hermione Granger."
Theo's expression doesn't waver. "And?"
"And I told him I'd tell you, and he said to go ahead."
"That's because Draco didn't want to go to the bother of fighting with you," Theo surmises, sounding resigned. "It's not what it looked like."
"That's what he said," Tracey answers, brow crinkling in confusion. "Theo? What's going on?"
"You're really not going to like this."
"I already don't like it."
"Touché." He pauses for a moment. "Hermione is... with us. Both of us."
There is a very, very long silence, and Tracey's expression goes cold. "Since when do you fuck girls?"
"It's not like that."
"Of course it's not."
"When you're done having a jealous hissy fit, do let me know," Theo retorts, and the floo connection stutters out, leaving Tracey staring at the dying flames.
"Somehow I get the feeling that wasn't the conversation you were hoping for," Draco drawls from the corner. Tracey doesn't bother to turn.
"Piss off, Malfoy."
Draco leans against the wall, looking at the slump of her shoulders and the lock of hair that's come loose from her braid. "There's not many people who can say Theo Nott loves them, Davis," he says, "and you might do well not to forget that."
When she turns to reply, he has already gone.
"I failed, I completely failed, I just–"
"Hermione," Draco interrupts, grabbing her by the shoulders to stop the flow of self-effacing panic, "you did no such thing. Calm down. Breathe," he stresses, before she can fit a word in edgewise for another objection.
"What did I just say?"
Hermione sucks in a slow breath, then lets it out again. "But what if I did?"
"You didn't," he assures her, because he knows by now that panicking is just what she does after an exam, but her levels of alarm seldom have anything to do with her actual marks. "Relax, Granger, it's over. You're done."
It doesn't seem to calm her down. "I think NEWTS were probably easier than dealing with... everything else will be."
"Hey, not true." Draco slings an arm around her shoulders. "You don't get any help on the NEWTS."
She manages a smile. "Thanks."
They're halfway to the dungeons before she realises where he's leading her. "Um, Draco? I don't think I'm exactly, uh, welcome down here."
"You're with me," he says like that's an answer, "and anyway I'm the only one in my dorm." He smirks. "You can't tell me you've never been curious."
Hermione sighs and accedes, because he's not wrong. Curiosity has always been her weakness, and anyway she's going home tomorrow– this is the last she'll see of Hogwarts, and the thought sends a pang through her chest. "All right," she says, "if you're sure it's fine."
"I wouldn't bring you if I thought there'd be any real trouble. Nightshade," he says, and the door swings open. The younger years are still sitting their afternoon Transfiguration exams, so the Slytherin common room is all but abandoned, save for one person.
"Draco," Tracey says, not warmly, but politely enough. She turns in her seat at catches sight of who he's with. "Oh." She seems to hesitate. "Granger. Sorry I shouted, the other evening."
"You didn't know," Hermione replies with equanimity, and Tracey gives a slight nod.
"I talked to Theo. He explained."
"Good." Acting on instinct or perhaps just impulse, Hermione approaches the other girl. "Draco said you two are pretty close. I just... want you to know that I don't want to get in the way of that at all. I know how important a good friend is."
There is a silence, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, Tracey smiles. She has a sweet, pretty smile that warms her whole face, and maybe it's a glimpse of why Theo likes her so much.
"Thank you," Tracey says, and nothing more, because there's really nothing more to say. "I'm sure I'll see you around, then."
"Probably," Hermione agrees, and lets Draco drag her down the steps to his dormitory.
"How the hell did you do that?" he mutters, somewhere between impressed and annoyed. "Tracey can't stand me."
"You're a threat," Hermione says, "and I made myself not one."
For a moment Draco just stares at her, and then his expression turns into one of unbearable smugness. "Theo and I are rubbing off on you, love."
"Absolutely are." he informs her, and flips open the lid of his trunk. A few flicks of his wand have clothes folding and book stacking– perhaps it's a byproduct of having grown up in a magical household that Draco packs so efficiently. Hermione always has trouble using spells to get her clothes folded properly, and she doesn't really mind doing it by hand in any case.
"Are not," she protests again, in a rather desultory fashion, and sits down on his bed. "Don't you get cold down here in the winter?"
"You get used to it," Draco replies with a shrug, "but yes, it's freezing in the winter. I have a hard time believing that the towers are very warm either, though."
"Well, no," she agrees, "but at least we get some sunlight. No wonder you and Theo are both so pale."
"It's the inbreeding," Draco deadpans, and Hermione gives a startled giggle. From Theo, the remark wouldn't have been surprising, but it is from Draco, a bit. His mouth curves into a wry smile, and he flips the lid of his trunk shut and joins her on the bed.
"So," he says, "you want to talk about what you're going to do with your life now that you've finished school, or would you rather have sex?"
Hermione raises her eyebrows. "When you put it like that."
Draco chuckles and stretches out on his back, and after a moment Hermione joins him, her side pressed to his as she stares up at his canopy. Draco glances over at her.
"Did I hit a sore spot?"
"Maybe," she says, "kind of. I don't... I'm not really sure what I want, now."
Draco sighs. "I know the feeling," he admits, and squeezes her hand. "I've been trying not to think about it too much."
"You're going to have to sooner or later."
There is a silence, and then Hermione turns over and climbs on top of him. "Not right now, though," she murmurs, and shuts the world out with the fall of her fluffy hair.
It's well past nightfall when Hermione apparates to Nott Estate. There is no sign of Theo himself, but she can see lights, lights where she knows the house lies. A hesitant step forward brings her through the enchantments that keep it safe– she can feel them, but they offer her no resistance, and the lamps along the path flare to life before her as she walks to the door. There is no lock– locks can be undone at a word, after all, but the door swings open at her touch, and shuts again behind her.
"Theo?" she calls out, and receives by way of answer the glow of the lamps illuminating a path down the twisting halls of the estate. She recognises only about half of the route she is following, but it leads her eventually to a heavy door that stands half open. Hermione slips inside.
It's a bedroom, larger than the one they usually occupy and done in dark wood and rich reds. The room is dominated by a wide bed; is is there Theo sits, a book lying open in his lap but his attention on her.
"Come in," he says, "what do you think?"
"I think you've been busy while I was preparing for my exams," she answers, looking around. The fabrics recall India and the far East, opulent and inviting all at once. "Unless it was always like this?" Somehow she doubts it, and Theo's nod confirms her guess, but he says nothing, letting her explore instead. One of the room's doors leads to the closet; another to the bath. The drapes are closed, but cover a wide window– a quick glance confirms her guess that it overlooks the gardens.
"It's beautiful," Hermione says, and climbs up on the wide bed with him. "I noticed you'd tinkered with the spells, as well."
Theo smiles and flips his book shut. "I thought you should be able to come and go as you pleased. Perhaps... less going, though, if you'd be so inclined."
"I... Theo." Hermione swallows. "Are you asking me to move in with you?"
"It's a very big house," he says. His tone is one of practicality, but his hesitancy meeting her gaze suggests otherwise.
"Wow. Um. Could you let me think about it a little?"
"Of course. And you are allowed to say no. There's no strings on the offer, I just thought... you'll be moving out of your parents' house soon anyway, and Nott Estate is really too big for one person." He shrugs. "Also, there's a fantastic library."
"Oh, that's just cheating," she protests, and Theo chuckles.
"Have you told Draco about this?"
"I'm planning to make him the same offer when I see him next. There's a reason I chose the largest bedroom to redecorate, though Merlin knows there are plenty of smaller ones, if you'd like a space of your own. I have one."
"Not the one I've been in?" she asks, curiosity piqued, and Theo shakes his head.
"My actual bedroom is up in the North tower. It's not very convenient, though, hence the one that's just off the stairs. Bigger bed, too."
"I bet it has an amazing view."
"It does. You can see for yourself sometime, if you like."
"I would." She pauses. "If I were to move here– and I don't know if I will, but if I did– my parents will want to meet you. And, um, Draco too."
"You'll need to train Draco if he's going to deal gracefully with Muggles," Theo says, with a touch of wry asperity, "but that can be arranged." His fingers curl into her hair. "I'm glad you're thinking about it."
"If you want to help make up my mind, you could show me the library," Hermione wheedles, rounding her eyes, and Theo cannot help but smile.
"You drive a hard bargain, Miss Granger."
"I learned from the best," she replies, tugging him to his feet. "Now show me."
"Draco, you cannot take up the entire closet!"
Theo suppresses laughter at their squabble. "I could have warned you he'd do that," he remarks as he walks into the bedroom, "I've never known anyone so vain."
"We don't all dress as if every day is a funeral," Draco retorts.
"I like black."
"But you look hotter in red. On a related note, nice colour choice for the room. Putting our Gryffindor at ease and making your father roll in his grave all in one go?"
"I'm all practicality," Theo agrees, and slips past Draco to begin rearranging the closet so that there's actually room for Hermione's things.
"Don't crush that!" Draco shrills, but Theo gives no reply, and Hermione tugs him away to sit with her on the edge of the bed.
"Maybe this was a bad idea," she says dryly, and Draco frowns.
"You're not really having second thoughts, are you?"
Hermione sighs. "Not really. I mean, of course I am, I've never done this before and it's all... scary, and exciting, and new. But I want to."
Draco smiles. "You may have some closet space," he proclaims, and Hermione elbows him.
"How gracious of you."
"Hey, from Draco that's deepest generosity," Theo interjects, and starts charming Hermione's things on to hangers. On impulse, she gets up again and goes to stand at Theo's side at the closet door, slipping her arm around his waist as she watches clothes neatly fill the closet– Theo's dark robes on the narrow wall, Draco's fussier ones on the left, her own haphazard assortment of robes and Muggle clothes on the right. Something swells in Hermione's chest, warm and overwhelming, and she turns and hugs Theo close.
"I love you," she says against his chest, and Theo runs a hand through her hair and scoops her up, carrying her the few paces to the bed and setting her down between himself and Draco. Hermione lifts her head. "Both of you, I do."
Theo's lips brush her neck. "I love you too." She feels his voice as much as hears it, the warmth of his breath against her skin. Her breath hitches, but it is Draco she is looking at, her eyes wide and a little anxious. Draco swallows and leans forward, catching hold of her by the shoulder and pulling her into a fierce, hard kiss that has her reeling.
"Should I take that as a you too?" she murmurs, and Draco's fingers clutch a little tighter.
"Yes." The word comes out ragged, and if Hermione was worried before about whether living with them would work out, she isn't anymore. Her lips meet his again, fingers attacking his robes, and she feels the shift of the mattress as Theo slides alongside them, his hands slipping under her blouse.
"Move up, both of you," he commands gently, nudging each in turn to the centre of the wide bed.
"Bossy," Draco mutters, and Theo arches a brow and then pushes Draco flat on his back.
"Only how many clothes you're wearing." He twists, inasmuch as he can with Theo pinning him down, to look at Hermione. "A little help, here?"
Hermione doesn't really need prompting to start undoing the row on tiny buttons that hold Theo's robes closed, but she smirks at Draco over Theo's shoulder before pressing a kiss to the bared skin.
"You're on your own if you want to get loose," she tells him, eyes sparkling, and Theo chuckles low in his throat.
"He doesn't," Theo tells her, and Draco doesn't object.
"Completely sure," Hermione reassures Draco, straightening his collar. "You look great."
Draco eyes his reflection uncertainly. "Muggle clothes," he says, tugging at his sleeve, but Hermione knows it isn't the clothes he's really worried about.
"We'll rip them off of you later," Theo promises. He is watching Draco fuss over his appearance in the bathroom mirror from his perch on the edge of the bathtub, dressed in a pair of black slacks and a green button-down shirt, looking far more at ease than Draco feels. Then again, Hermione hadn't hesitantly told him that her parents may have heard "some things" from their school days. It won't be Theo who is under the brunt of the scrutiny this evening, and they all know it. Draco frowns and smooths his hair for what must be the fifth time, and Hermione sighs but doesn't rush him. She can understand the nerves.
"It'll be okay," Hermione promises, resting her hands on Draco's shoulders and kneading gently at the knots of tension she finds there. "I promise it'll be okay. I already talked to them about us, they know what's going on. They're really very liberal, my parents. The worst it'll be is a little awkward. All right?"
Draco lets out a breath. "Those things they've heard about me are all true, Hermione, I don't– I don't even know how you get past that."
Hermione presses a kiss to the back of his neck and looks over his shoulder to meet his gaze in the mirror. "If you're looking for forgiveness, Draco, you have it. You're so much more than a spoiled little boy or a desperate teenager trying to save his family. If you weren't, would you even want me?"
"If you weren't," Theo adds quietly, "you wouldn't have me."
Draco closes his eyes. "We're always going to be fighting that war," he mutters, but he looks calmer. Theo gets to his feet and brushes a brief kiss to Draco's cheek.
"Hermione? You're the only one who knows where we're apparating."
She exchanges a quick glance with Draco, then nods and takes both their hands. "Then let's go."
The Grangers live in a modest house on the outskirts of London, and Draco spares a curious glance for the car parked in the drive as they walk up to the door and Hermione knocks.
Her mother answers, hugging her daughter and motioning the three of them inside. "Come in, come in. I'm Elspeth Granger, Hermione's mum."
"Pleasure to meet you," Theo says, shaking her hand warmly, "I'm Theo Nott."
"Ah, yes. The one she met on her holiday in France, isn't that right?" Theo nods, and Hermione's mother smiles at him and then shifts her attention. "Then this must be Draco, yes? Funny, you don't look like the spawn of the devil," she says mildly, and Theo fails utterly to suppress a snicker. Draco slants a glance at him, then at Hermione as he shakes her mother's hand.
"I suppose I deserved that."
"You really were a terror in school," Hermione tells him, not quite apologetic, as they move toward the living room, where Hermione's father is half-watching the evening news. He gets to his feet as the others walk into the room, and the men exchange a round of handshakes.
"John Granger," he introduces himself, "have a seat."
They all settle in, Hermione's parents each in chairs and the trio on the sofa. Both Theo and Draco keep sneaking glances at the telly, and Hermione smiles inwardly. Her mother must have noticed, too, asking, "Is the telly a bother? We can turn it off."
"Sorry," Draco says, "I've never seen one before."
Theo nods agreement. "Draco and I are both from wizarding families. I'm afraid we're a bit sheltered when it comes to the rest of the world."
"It must have been a help at school, though. Hermione's Hogwarts letter was quite a shock to us, I can tell you that! But of course we're very proud of her."
"You should be," Draco puts in unexpectedly, "she's a very talented witch, she's good at just about everything she tries."
Hermione actually blushes, but can't help but look pleased. "Except Divination."
"And what about you two?" John interjects. "Any plans now that you're out of school?"
"I've been out for a year," Theo says, "I work for the Ministry. Government job."
"Merlin, no!" Theo exclaims, "It's a magical research department, basically. The hours are terrible, but it's very interesting work."
"Another bookworm, eh?" John looks amused. "And you, Draco?"
"I won't really know my options until exam marks are in," Draco hedges, "but perhaps business. I'm rather good at Potions."
"Well, you've got time to plan yet," Elspeth says, and gets to her feet. "I'm going to get us some tea, I'll be right back." She heads for the kitchen, and John regards Hermione and the boys for a moment.
"You've got a tough road ahead of you three, you know," he says seriously, "from what I hear about your world, it's not the most accepting place, and there's going to be plenty of people who are going to make things hard for you. But as long as you boys are good to our Hermione, you're always welcome here."
"Thank you, sir," Draco says, and John smiles slightly.
"Please, call me John."
Hermione nudges him gently as her mother returns with the tea. "I told you it'd be fine," she whispers, and lets her fingers tangle with his briefly as they reach for the sugar.
Theo has been absent even more than he usually is for about a week, and Hermione has become accustomed to waking after he is long gone, and not seeing him until well into evening most nights. Friday evening, though, he returns at what is almost a normal hour, Tracey at his side. Their heads are bent together when they walk in, though when Hermione comes into view they separate. Hermione raises her eyebrows.
"Plotting something?" she asks mildly, marking her page and closing the book she was reading. Tracey and Theo exchange a glance.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Theo says, dropping on to the space next to Hermione on the sofa. Tracey smiles slightly and disappears down one of the halls, leaving Hermione free to pull Theo close and kiss him hello.
"Am I going to be let in on this plot?"
"Mhm, once Trace brings Draco back here." His teeth catch her bottom lip briefly, but he lets go at the sound of footsteps.
"Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in," Draco drawls, leaning over to back of the sofa to capture Theo's lips. "I've barely seen you, I suppose I owe Davis a thank-you for hauling you back here."
"I promise my absence has been for a good cause."
"Is that right."
"I have a plan."
Draco eyes him warily and perches on the arm of one of the chairs. "I have such a love-hate relationship with those words, coming from you."
Tracey laughs. "Don't we all."
"Draco and I both have birthdays coming up," Theo says, ignoring this, "so the three of us host a party. Hermione invites her friends, of course, because she's throwing it with us, and everyone gets to get used to the idea us us together without having to do a bunch of separate, awkward social occasions."
"That sounds like it has so much potential to blow up in our faces, I can't even begin to tell you," Draco drawls, "you're counting on Potter and, I assume, Weasley to be decorous?"
"I could owl them beforehand," Hermione offers, brow creased thoughtfully. "But, um, I think you're forgetting the part where I have absolutely no idea how to host one of those things."
"That would be where I come in," Tracey says, "if you're willing. My stupid girly upbringing should be good for something, after all."
"I hope you know what you're doing, then," Hermione says a little dubiously, "because I really don't."
"But we do," Theo says. "You've shown us your world, now we show you ours."
"Miss Granger," Narcissa Malfoy says, voice cool but polite enough. "I must say, Draco never ceases to surprise me." She extends a hand, and Hermione takes it with only a brief twinge of internal reservation.
"Mrs. Malfoy. You look well."
"Thank you, dear. My congratulations on finishing Hogwarts." Narcissa leans down, just for a moment. "Be good to them," she whispers, and then disappears back into the crowd just as Theo approaches her side.
"Okay so far?" he murmurs, pressing a champagne flute into her hand. Hermione takes a long drink.
"This is stressful," she murmurs, "I don't know how purebloods do it."
"Long years of practice. Also, as you're learning, alcohol."
She smiles, but it's tense. "None of the Gryffindors have shown up."
"Potter will," Theo replies, with such certainty that Hermione gives him a suspicious glance.
"How do you know?"
Theo smiles. "Just a hunch," he says evasively, and Hermione has learned enough about Slytherins to be sure that he at the very least knows something she doesn't, but more likely has done some meddling of his own. She decides against questioning him too closely, though– if he had wanted to be direct, he would have been.
"Whatever you say," she demurs, and allows him to lead her out to the centre of the ballroom.
"Narcissa was okay?" he questions softly, and Hermione nods.
"Did Draco talk to her?"
"He and I both did," Theo confirms, pulling her close to sway in time with the music. "I think she's as wary of you as you are of her, truth be told. You have a lot more power than she does, right now."
Hermione frowns. "I'm dating her son, not trying to... I don't even know what she thinks I might be after."
"It may have slipped your mind," Theo murmurs, voice tinged with amusement, "but Slytherins aren't used to people without ulterior motives."
"I hope you are."
Theo smiles. "Only you," he says, "but I'm getting there. Now turn around." He lets go to spin her about, just in time to see Harry step into the room with Ginny on his arm, and behind him, Ron and Luna.
"How did you get them to come?" Hermione hisses, "I couldn't even get Ron to answer my owl!"
"I may have had a word with Potter at work," Theo says noncommittally, "and may also have implied it would be very important to you that Weasley come."
"You are a shameless, scheming fiend," Hermione informs him, but she is smiling.
"You love him for it," Draco puts in, appearing out of the crowd at Hermione's other side. "We have guests to greet."
They stay a calculated pace back from her as Hermione makes her way over to her friends. Only Luna looks at ease; it is she who chirps, "Hello, Hermione!" and Hermione is glad for once of Luna's utter comfort with the uncomfortable.
"Hi," she says, trying to swallow her discomfort, "I'm– I'm glad you all could come."
"Wouldn't miss it," Harry says, gaze flicking to Theo. "Happy birthday, by the way, you two."
"Thank you," they murmur as one, and Hermione shifts her weight and remembers her manners. "Right, um. Draco you know already of course, and this is Theo."
"Pleasure," Theo says politely, and offers his hand. Even Ron shakes it, though a little reluctantly. "I hope you enjoy the party."
"Er. Thanks," Ron says, disengaging himself slightly from the others. "Hermione? Could I, er, talk to you for a minute? In private."
"Sure." She waves briefly to the boys, a little reassuring flutter of her fingers, and leads Ron out of the ballroom and to the quiet parlor, sitting down and motioning him to do the same.
"So." Hermione lets out a breath. "Harry made you come, didn't he?"
"Kinda, yeah," Ron admits, looking down at his hands. "I mean, Malfoy? Really?"
"Really," she says firmly. "He and I worked things out a while ago."
Ron's eyes narrow slightly. "How long is a while ago?"
"We had to work together on the Runes project, Ron," she reminds him, "I had to learn to get along. What was I supposed to do, just keep hating him?"
Hermione's lips press into a thin line. "I'm done fighting the war," she says simply, "and you're not angry because he's a Slytherin."
"He doesn't deserve you," Ron says mulishly, and Hermione shrugs.
"Maybe not, but I'm with him, and Theo, and that's how it is." Her expression softens then. "You must know it wasn't working between us, Ron."
"Because of me, or because of them?"
She draws in a slow breath. "Both," she says at last, and Ron nods, looking down at his hands.
"That's what I thought."
Hermione gets to her feet. "I want us to be friends again, I want... I want things to be how they were before all of this happened." She wants to say more, wants to find the words to make him understand how dearly she still cares for him, but the words aren't there. "I'll be inside," she finally says, "but you don't have to stay."
It is Draco who takes her arm when she returns to the ballroom, his eyes asking the question instead of his voice. Hermione merely shakes her head and lets Draco pull her back to the dancing for the excuse to be held. She rests her head against his shoulder and stays there, swaying in time with the music, until a voice interrupts her thoughts.
"Malfoy. Can I cut in?"
Hermione lifts her head to see Ron looking at them determinedly, and Draco nods and steps back.
"Don't step on my feet," Hermione scolds lightly as she takes his hand, and Ron smiles.
"I won't," he promises, "we'll be just fine."