"There was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her."
Hermione woke in warm sunlight, feeling lazy and contented. She stretched as she opened her eyes, looking around and realizing from the silence that she was alone. Her mouth started to turn down, but then she noticed something on the pillow next to her. She shifted up, yawning, and saw that it was a single, magnificent gardenia - all creamy white petals and deep green leaves. She smiled and lowered her face to it, inhaling its scent of ineffable sweetness, then sighed, gazing dreamily out the window for several moments.
Suddenly she giggled and shook her head, snapping out of her daydream to extend a finger and stroke a soft petal, but as soon as she touched the exquisite flower, it spun on the pillow, it's leaves growing to extend around its white center. When it stopped, a deep green envelope sat in its place, a bold and familiar 'H' penned on the front. She smiled in delight at the exquisite magic, then immediately ripped at the envelope. The paper within was thick, the precise shade of the flower - and it held a light whiff of gorgeous scent.
"Remarkable," she breathed, turning it over in her hands. It read simply,
Be ready at 11? I'm taking you to lunch.
She huffed a huge, satisfied sigh and flopped back on her pillow, clutching the note to her chest. She lay there for quite a few moments just breathing, remembering favorite parts of the night before and enjoying the idea of the day to come, before it suddenly occurred to her to check the time.
She sat bolt upright, shite actually the light looked quite a lot like mid to late morning. Leaping out of bed and finding her clock under a discarded undergarment, Hermione realised she had exactly 20 minutes to get ready. Racing to the shower and throwing on the kettle on her way, she gave herself ten minutes to luxuriate in the warm water before jumping out and pulling on a deep red, linen dress - one of her favorites. She dragged a comb through her hair and was just putting the finishing touches on her makeup when she heard a light knock on the door. Funny, she thought as she padded over to open it, she hadn't heard the crack of apparition…
She pushed at the heavy wooden panel, feeling a bit shy, suddenly - her cheeks warming and her mouth tugging up at the corners. He was half turned away from her, glancing over his shoulder at a slight disturbance coming from the hippogriff field. She had a split second to admire the line of his back and shoulders in a soft white shirt, before he turned around.
"Good morning," he said, a smile pulling at his mouth too.
Hermione didn't like this feeling of shyness in herself, so instead of answering, she stepped out of the doorway, went up on tiptoe and pulled him down for a kiss. She'd meant it to be a sweet hello, but the moment her lips touched his, she couldn't help herself and her tongue flitted against him. He opened with a slight smile and slid his arms around her waist, pulling her close. Then moving his hand up, he wound his fingers into the damp hair at the nape of her neck, tilting her head back and deepening the kiss. Sunspots danced behind her eyes and after a few blissful moments, she gave a little moan of pleasure. The sound seemed to recall him and he pulled back gently, his eyes locked on hers with an amused warmth.
"A very good morning," he murmured, running his hand down from her neck to skim her clavicle and shoulder.
She bit her lip and raised a brow, "indeed."
He laughed softly, finishing the path of his hand by twining his fingers with hers, which somehow made her heart skip even more than the kiss. "So you saw my note? And you're free for lunch?"
"Yes, you clever wizard. That was a lovely bit of magic. And I just realised I'm starving."
His eyes crinkled, "Wait, did you just get out of bed? You absolute laggard. I've been up for hours! Had a fly around the pitch, breakfast with my aunt, looked out the car…" he laughed as he defended himself from the slap she tried to land on his forearm.
"Shut up, Malfoy," she glared at him but was unable to keep her smile from growing. "What's this about a car? And where are we going?"
"Nowhere until you put on some shoes," he stared pointedly at her bare feet.
"Oh bollocks!" she dashed back into the cottage and re-emerged with some very fetching sandals, a sunhat, bag and sunglasses.
"Very nice," he murmured, looking her up and down. "I particularly like how that dress buttons all the way down the front… But the hat will have to go in the boot."
"Oh? Why?" she looked up at him, "and where is this automobile?"
"I parked on the road and walked up. Didn't want to scare our friends in the paddock."
"That was sweet of you," she laced her fingers in his as they turned toward the path to the road.
He glanced down at her and she felt her insides do the familiar flip.
"The car is a Citroen DS - a 1963 - and it's a cabriolet, hence your hat going in the boot. And we're going to an out of the way little muggle place. It has a Michelin star, but it's rarely crowded for lunch. I think you'll like it."
"I'm sure I will."
Hermione leaned back and groaned, "I think the soup put me over the edge."
"Gannet," he said, smiling at her. "You didn't have to eat it all, you know."
"But it was soo good." Her eyes took on a dreamy quality.
Just then the waiter appeared asking if they wanted coffee. He looked at her and she nodded. "I didn't get much sleep last night," she murmured.
Draco suppressed a grin and ordered two espressos then leaned back, taking in her beautiful profile as she looked out over the vineyard they were seated practically in the middle of.
She turned back to him, "this is all so lovely," she gestured to their idyllic surroundings - white umbrellas, crisp tablecloths, a trellis with green vines snaking over their heads - and the grapes, rolling back in orderly rows as far as the eye could see. "How did you find it?"
"Lucretia," he said. "She knows every good place in the area. This is one of her favorites."
Hermione stretched in the sun, and his eye was caught by the graceful line of her long neck, which brought on a flash of memory from last night. Maybe they shouldn't have ordered coffee… they would be that much closer to leaving, to her cottage, to privacy. He continued to gaze at her and she flicked her eyes to him, brows raised. He schooled his features. Gods, he couldn't remember the last time a woman had distracted him so thoroughly.
He cleared his throat and took a sip of wine. "Tell me about your parents. They left Britain during the war, correct?"
Her eyes drew down and she sighed. "Yes, I altered their memories the summer after sixth year and sent them to Australia for their safety. They've been there ever since."
"Altered their memories? How so?" He'd heard something about this, but never the whole story.
"Well in order for them to be truly safe, to know that they wouldn't try to come find me or help me and place themselves in the line of fire, I had to … remove all traces of myself. Full obliviation." She looked down again, playing with her napkin.
He leaned toward her, placing his hand near hers on the table. "I had no idea. I'm so sorry." She glanced up and met his gaze, her eyes glassy with unshed tears.
"Thank you. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done."
He touched her hand. "And after the war?"
Her fingers brushed his and she sighed, "well I was able to remove most of the spellwork, but a lot had happened by then."
He tilted his head, wanting her to go on, but not wanting to push.
"Before I came back, my mother fell pregnant and had another child. A son - my brother Henry. He's almost 10 now."
"They were young when they had me, but frankly it didn't occur to me that it might happen." She gave a self-deprecating little laugh. "He's not magical. And they're all very happy - he's the reason they didn't want to leave Sydney."
He frowned, "But I'm surprised they wouldn't want to be closer to you."
She sighed - a huge sigh, and her eyes were sad. He suddenly felt protective, angry, at these people he'd never met.
"I think," her brows drew together. "I think that it was very difficult with me. And I never realised because I was so caught up in the magical world and the war and these huge world-altering events that I found myself in the middle of. But it was devastating for them. We had been a unit of three all my life. We were very close. And," her eyes turned up slightly in the ghost of a smile, "as you know we were very middle class." He inclined his head. "They never meant to send me away to school or to lose me from their lives so completely. Of course I would have gone to university, but Oxford and Cambridge weren't far." He snorted affectionately and her smile emerged briefly, but then her face grew serious again. "So when I was subsumed so totally and taken away from them, I think it was fairly awful - especially for my mother. Looking back now I can see how much pain she was hiding."
They paused for a moment as the waiter appeared with their coffee.
He sipped thoughtfully. "This is actually something I've been thinking about in a professional capacity. Something we could do at The Meadows for muggle families like yours - who have a magical child."
She nodded. "That's a wonderful idea. It's needed. Because there was nothing. They had less than a year to get used to the idea that I was a witch - that there was an entire world of magic - and that I would be leaving home, essentially for good, at eleven years of age. And there was no support from Hogwarts, rather just an expectation that they would go along and be fine."
He gazed at her, ideas blooming and taking hold in his mind. A muggle support and integration program… classes and counseling groups. He could liaise with McGonagall and house part of it at Hogwarts. He could ask Hermione to consult on it… She spoke again and he pulled his attention back.
"So when they had Henry, it was like they started over. They were so happy when I came to find them. I nearly didn't restore their memories." She paused and looked out over the vines again. "And when I did, they were almost angry at first. It was difficult for them to put the two halves of their lives back together." She brought her eyes back to his and lifted her brows. "So that's my sad story. But at least they're happy. And my brother is a hoot. I try to go down and see them once a year."
"Does he know that you're a witch?"
Her lips tightened. "No. They asked me not to … I think after what happened they wanted to banish as much of the magical world as they could. And they also feared for Henry's safety."
It sounded to Draco like they'd banished her too. He took her hand and stroked the back with his thumb. "I'm really very sorry," he said. "You didn't deserve that."
"Thank you. But I've had a lot of years to come to terms with it. And being an honorary member of the Weasley clan helps." Draco couldn't help an internal grimace as she took a deep breath and straightened to sip her coffee. "And are you close to your mother, post-war? Have her views changed the way yours have?"
He snorted and looked away. "No, and no."
Her face fell. "I'm sorry too, then."
"Yes, well," he pulled his hand back and raked it through his hair. "She's very rigid in her thinking. Our opinions over my choices diverge quite markedly at this point." He made eye contact with the waiter and signaled for the check. "Ready to go?"
"Ok," she smiled at him. "Will we just drive back or do you have other plans?"
He leaned back and smirked at her. "Yes."
"To which?" her exasperated smile was so fucking charming.
"Both. Yes, we're 'just' driving back and yes, I have other plans. They involve getting you alone again."
"Oh." Her blush was also fucking charming. He rose and held out his hand to help her out of her chair and they began walking out of the courtyard.
"Hmm?" Something in the look she was giving him was sending off faint alarm bells in his mind.
"Do you ever let people drive your cars?"
He stopped short and looked at her. She looked back at him. He shifted and averted his eyes.
"No." His hand spasmed around his keys.
"Interesting." She continued walking. He was still standing there, looking after her. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. "Well aren't you coming? I thought you said you wanted to get me alone."
He blinked twice and went.
Later, they were laying on her couch, limbs entwined. She'd put something soft and pretty on the turntable and they were having more of the good white wine. Late afternoon sunlight slanted through the thick glass of the cottage windows. Her fingers were slipping slowly and rhythmically through his hair and he didn't know if he'd ever felt so relaxed.
Unfortunate that he'd have to ruin the idyll.
"So I do have to go," he murmured against her temple.
"You do?" She glanced up at him.
"Auntie has asked me to be home for dinner. I would fob her off except for feeling obligated because I stay with her."
"No, you shouldn't fob her off." She sat up and pulled the belt of her silk dressing gown a little tighter, then leaned down to kiss him softly. "I've had a good share of you over the last twenty-four hours."
She started to pull back, but he didn't let her, sliding his hand over the back of her head to hold her in place.
"Tired of me already, Granger?" he said against her mouth. He felt her answering smile.
"If you let me answer that truthfully, you'll probably be late for dinner."
He shifted to pull her whole body down on his, "tempting."
"Draco," she laughed as he started to pull at the tie of her gown.
He sighed and stilled his hands. "You're right. I really do need to get my own place here, though. I have a bit of property nearby. A few acres of vines and a level building site. I'll show it to you. I've been planning on doing something with it forever."
"I'd love to see it. Maybe some evening this week?"
He sighed, "Well the other thing is, I have to go to London tomorrow. Until Friday. Maybe Thursday if I can be ruthlessly efficient."
She frowned. "Mmm. Four whole days. I'll miss you."
"You have no idea," he kissed her soundly and rose up, picking up his trousers and shirt.
She looked up at him from where she was kneeling on the couch, the tips her long curls just brushing the tips of her breasts, the outline of which he could clearly see through the thin silk of her robe. She truly had no idea.
"What are you going for? Meetings?"
"Yes, and interviews. I'm trying to hire a new head of Operations. Scintillating stuff."
"I find it interesting."
He half smiled at her. Of course she would. "I'll give you a rundown on the promising candidates when I see you next." He buttoned his shirt. "And what is your plan for the week? How's progress with the herd?"
"Going very well, thanks. I think we're within striking distance of an agreement on the bill language. And all of the signals coming from London seem to be favourable as well. I actually expect to be done here fairly soon."
He felt a small stab of melancholy at the thought that their time in France would come to an end, but brushed it off. It wouldn't be for weeks yet."That's brilliant. I didn't think it would go this smoothly."
"Neither did I, but I'm glad of it, even though I wouldn't mind idling away here for another few months." Her thoughts seemed to echo his. "When does Astoria go to school?"
"September 1st. Daph and I will be trekking up to the Pyrennees with her."
"So soon! I'll have to be sure to make some more time with her before she goes. And how long is Daphne staying this visit?"
"I know Astor would like that. And I believe Daph and Theo meant to go to Paris today, unless she really hit it off with your friend..."
"Oh I'm sorry to miss them. I'll have to owl Rémy and see if I can get the details at lunch or drinks," she pursed her lips speculatively.
He gave her a level stare and she blinked, then stood up to place her arms around his waist and gaze into his eyes. "Have I told you today how very attractive I find you? It's extremely difficult to let you go."
He laughed softly and drew her in for a deep kiss that he broke only when he was worried it was about to go past a point of no return. He took a ragged breath and collected himself. "Until Friday? Or Thursday if I possibly can."
"Until then." She gave him a lovely smile as he disappeared.