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Universal Truths

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"If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore"

Draco shut the door of the Citroen and turned his steps up the path to Hermione's cottage. He half smiled - the way had become very familiar over the last few weeks. He saw Penelope in the paddock with the Hippogriffs and waved. Wilhelmina noticed him and ruffled her wings in greeting. He inclined his head to her.

Inhaling deeply, he crested the hill and noticed that the air had changed subtly — and the light too. Summer really was ending and Autumn was almost upon them. He'd be taking Astoria to school on Tuesday. He sighed, hoping she'd be well there.

But then the door swung open and Hermione looked out, barefoot and in her dressing gown, and his melancholy thoughts flew away. She also waved at Pen, then beckoned him inside with a quick greeting. He ducked through the doorway into the cozy little room. He would miss this place. He'd spent so many pleasurable hours here.

"What are you smirking at?" she asked with a suspicious smile as she hustled back to her bedroom. "And I'm still getting dressed! You were so cryptic about where we were going today that I couldn't decide…" her voice trailed off and he ambled toward the bedroom door.

"I'm smiling because I was just thinking of all the agreeable times I've spent in this little cottage. And put on something on the warm side. There's a nip in the air." He lounged in the doorway and crossed his arms. "Although what you're wearing right now is quite nice."

"Heyyy," she looked over her shoulder. She had just slid off her dressing gown and was standing in front of her wardrobe in nothing but a very pretty sheer peach set. The thought of disrupting her toilette crossed his mind — it was a distracting bit of lingerie — but he was looking forward to the day's plans. So he stayed in the doorway as she donned a pair of muggle jeans and a soft shirt, then pulled on an oversized jumper.

"Boots or sandals?" she asked him as she did something to her hair with her wand.

"Boots. We'll be doing a bit of trail-walking."

"Ooh, sounds nice. I haven't worn my jeans and boots in what feels like a very long time." She smiled at him and leaned down to do up her laces, and his mind drifted to what was now a favorite memory of her walking up Theo's driveway.

"Ok, ready!" her bright tone interrupted his reverie. She approached the doorway, but he didn't move. She stepped very close to him until her breasts were just brushing his crossed forearms. He looked down at her and he did smirk this time.

"What?" she said, peering up at him.

"Just deciding if I should let you pass - or if we should scrap our plans and spend the day in bed."

"Tempting." She raised her eyebrows and he uncrossed his arms to pull her to him, capturing her lips in a long kiss. Her hands slid up to his jaw and held his face. "Very tempting," she murmured after a good while. The corners of his mouth lifted and she pulled back very slightly. "But I am curious about these mysterious plans of yours."

He took a deep breath and stepped back. "Then let's go. We can spend the day in bed anytime." He felt a genuine smile steal across his face at the thought that it was true. She took his hand and they walked out the door.

~oOo~

Hermione craned her neck as Draco pulled the car to a smooth stop at the side of the road. They had driven for about thirty-five minutes into the country and had long since turned off the road onto a private gravel track. They were well and truly in the middle of a beautiful nowhere - nothing around but vineyards and trees. When he cut the engine, the silence of the countryside was complete, but for the trills of a few birds.

"Where are we?" she asked, turning to face him. "And how will we get anywhere from here?" She didn't see any sign of a trail or a path, although the land did rise into beautiful hills on either side of the road; the ones on the left smooth and undulating and those on the right bright with crags of white limestone.

Draco tossed her a quick grin and hopped out of the car. He leaned into the back seat and picked something up off the floor.

To Hermione's alarm, it was a broom.

She gave him a look and his grin widened. "Come on, it won't be that bad."

"It will be. I don't like flying."

"But you've never flown with me."

"I've seen you fly. It's not reassuring. Quite the opposite, in fact."

"It's not going to be like a Quidditch match," he shook his head. "It's a very different type of flying when one has a passenger."

"Yes that's what Ron said too. And Harry."

"I promise to be smooth and gentle. No sudden movements. I used to take Astoria up when she was small, you know."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Why doesn't she fly with you anymore?"

He laughed. "She has her own broom!"

"But I thought she hated Quidditch!"

"She does! Or at least she finds it profoundly boring. Daft girl. But that's what I'm trying to tell you. All flying is not Quidditch. Not all dives and feints and whiplash-inducing changes of direction."

Hermione was feeling green just at his words. She let out a huge sigh.

His eyes softened. "Look, it's the only way to get there. And I really want to show it to you. It's my property. You know, the one I spoke about a few weeks ago."

"Oh, of course." She tilted her head back, looked skyward, then unbuckled her seatbelt. She did want to see it — the country was so beautiful here. And if they had to fly, the views would probably be breathtaking. Also the fact that he wanted to share it with her set off something warm and sweet inside of her.

"Fine," she finally said. "But no sudden movements! And if I tell you I need to get down, you have to listen! Right away."

He put up his hands and spoke softly, "Ok, ok." He leaned the broom against the car and pulled her up out of her seat and into his arms, resting his chin on the top of her head. Her arms went slowly around him. "I will be careful," he murmured, "but what is it you don't like? Are you afraid of heights?"

"A bit," she mumbled into his shirtfront. "And when I fly by myself I don't have good control. When I'm with someone else, I tend to feel sick - especially if they do any of the things you mentioned earlier."

"Ah," his hand stroked over the back of her head. "Well, I used to tell Astoria to look at the horizon, but I'm not sure if that actually works with flying."

She chuckled. "No, I think that's for boats. But let's stop talking about it and get it over with. The dread is half the problem."

"Right." He set her back and picked up the broom, which she did notice seemed to be different than the sleek racing variety Quidditch players used. It looked quite sturdy and actually had two small seats built into the handle. He noticed her looking and smiled, "Old Faithful here won't win any sprints, but it's much more comfortable for two." She gave him a half grimace-half smile.

He swung his leg over the front seat and looked over his shoulder at her, the light breeze ruffling his bright hair. God, he was gorgeous. She should focus on that and not the terrifying thing she was about to do. Taking a deep breath, she climbed on behind him, snaking her arms around his lean waist in a death grip. She could feel his chuckle. Then he reached behind him and hitched her even closer, so her core fit tightly against his lower back. Hmm, she'd always been too paralysed with fear to consider the potentially stimulating possibilities of this… She relaxed a bit then and molded against him, resting her cheek against his upper back and inhaling the warm cotton scent of his shirt.

"Ok?" He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb.

"Ok."

Hermione closed her eyes as he kicked off and they rose steadily, then started forward. She kept her eyes tightly closed, but could feel an instant difference in the air. It was warmer and more still. She could also tell that they had gone in the direction of the limestone side of the road. She didn't feel that they had risen that high, so she cautiously squinched one eye open and saw that they were skimming just over the tops of the vines. If she reached her foot down she could almost touch them. They weren't moving too fast, but definitely briskly.

"These are my grapes. Mostly Cinsault," he called over his shoulder. "Lucretia manages them for me and farms out the picking to a local vintner. Makes a lovely Rose."

Hermione nodded against his back, then plucked up the courage to fully open both eyes. The surroundings were gorgeous. Rolling rows of green broken only by the large, stony outcrop she'd seen from the road.

"That's where we're going," he said, indicating the huge rock with his head. "The building site is right at the top, so we're going to start rising. But I'll go slowly."

Hermione very much appreciated the play-by-play and felt herself relaxing even as they started to rise and circle around to the right. The cliff was less sheer here, and as they curved, she could see it was actually a hillside that had been carved in half. Probably by some prehistoric glacier or river. The vines stopped abruptly at its foot, but swept up the back section in a rolling wave. It was absolutely gorgeous and she forgot to be frightened for a bit as she simply stared.

"It's so beautiful, Draco!" she called.

"Glad you opened your eyes!" She saw a quick glint of white teeth over his shoulder and squeezed him in response, again feeling his answering chuckle.

She didn't know if she wanted to stroke his ego by admitting it, but she privately acknowledged that she'd never felt so secure flying with someone before. He really was very steady and in control; his confidence complete. With Ron, it always felt like he had something to prove, and so he'd go fast and reckless to prove it. Harry just couldn't help himself - it was so hard for him to hold back - and hard for him to understand her fear. He and Ginny would do the most heart-stopping stunts when they flew together…

But this was … nice. She felt safe. Even though now that she looked around, she realised they had flown quite high. The grapes were far below them and she could see dark water marks on the face of the cliff. A moment of heart-wrenching fear grabbed her and she buried her face in Draco's back, taking deep breaths. She felt his arm slide around behind her in a quick half hug. He stroked her once and she felt their ascent slow.

"We're over the top of the cliff now," he called. "Going to land." He pulled his hand back and steadied it on the broom.

Hermione raised her head and saw they were just a few feet above a meadow of wildflowers and grasses. Draco guided the broom softly to the ground and she felt her feet touch earth again. She sagged against him with relief.

He waited a beat until she sat up and then dismounted, turning quickly to give her his hand. She stood up on legs that were only a bit wobbly. He was looking down at her with a slight frown, his eyes searching her face.

She offered him a small smile. "That was actually ok. Until the bit at the end when I realised how high up we were."

"Yeah, I'm sorry." He dragged his fingers through his hair. "I should have gone the longer way around instead of up the cliff face. But you seemed like you were doing ok until then."

"No it wasn't bad. It was just the surprise, really. I had been enjoying myself and not paying attention. If I'd been tracking more closely, I think I would have been fine - but let's take the long way back," she finished quickly.

He still looked concerned so she reached up and pulled his face down for a kiss. "It was quite nice wrapping myself around you like that. I think I could even come to like that part of it," she breathed against him. She felt his lips relax and he kissed her back with interest, sliding his arms around her waist.

"Should have known you'd like that part."

She deepened the kiss and they were occupied for a moment, his hands running under her jumper to sweep up her bare skin as she sighed. "Just how alone are we up here?" she asked as her lips wandered close to his ear.

"Exceedingly alone." He arched into her. "There's no road or path and it's heavily warded."

"Mmm…" she moved against him in a suggestive way. "Near death experiences do make me want to prove I'm alive," she whispered with a mischievous smile.

He pulled back and looked at her. "Near death? I was in control the whole time, woman."

She laughed, "Gotcha." Stepping back from his embrace, and his eye roll, she threaded her fingers through his. "I actually felt very safe." She squeezed his hand. "So give me the tour. What are your ideas and plans? This place is marvelous."

And it was. As she'd suspected, the views from the top of the cliff were incredible, unbroken swathes of green in every direction, a golden haze hanging over the vines. And in the far off distance she could see the spires of the city - so small it looked like a play set. A few tiny villages nestled in pockets of the hills as well. She realised she hadn't even explored half as much of this area as she would have liked.

Draco swept his arm to encompass the large flat meadow they were standing in. "This is the building site. I'd like to put the house just here, where we're standing. Nothing huge and very modern. Lots of windows. And a deck around the whole thing. I'd like the wall that faces this way," he pointed toward the sheer cliff face, "to open completely to the outside space."

Hermione nodded, envisioning it all. "Sounds absolutely amazing. I think it's the right decision to go with something spare."

"Yes, I want it to complement the landscape, not overpower it."

She murmured her agreement as he turned and faced the other direction. "And I think a pool and guest house somewhere over there. In front of the orchard."

"There's an orchard!?"

"Yes, just down the way. There are some ruins as well. This was the site of a muggle monastery at one time."

"Can we go see it?" Hermione was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet.

He smiled down at her. "Yes of course. Come on."

They walked across the meadow, which was quite large, until it started to slope gently downward. As they descended, Hermione could see the gnarled shapes of regularly planted trees in the distance.

"What are they?" she asked, shading her eyes with her palm.

"Apple. And they still produce good fruit - small, but sweet. There may be a few ripe ones even though it's a bit early."

"Let's go see!" Hermione took off running down the gentle path and heard his quick steps behind her.

~oOo~

Drawing back his arm, Draco launched his apple core into the far reaches of the orchard. Hermione watched him, then followed suit.

"You were right," she said. "They're delicious."

"We'll pick a few more before we leave. I'm sure the Weasley children would like them."

"Good idea." He watched as she got comfortable against the trunk of the old tree they were sitting under, straightening their picnic blanket, then tilting her head back and closing her eyes in the dappled sunlight. "And I'll have to thank Mimi for that gorgeous lunch."

"Mmm-hmm, the lemon tarts were a nice touch." He put aside the small basket their meal had been in, then folded her discarded jumper, placed it on her lap and lay his head on it - stretching his legs out with a sigh. She looked down at him with a little smile and brushed her hand through his hair. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

He found that he liked her caresses a bit more than he cared to admit. He'd had so few in his life. ...Perhaps when he was very small.

Her hand had stilled, so he pulled it to his lips, placing a kiss on the inside of her wrist. They sat for a few moments in contented silence, listening to the breeze rustle in the leaves of the apple trees.

Draco felt himself drifting off when she suddenly spoke. "So what is the history of this place? Did Lucretia give it to you? Or is it just part of the estate?"

"My mother actually gave it to me," he said, opening his eyes and looking into hers. "She inherited it directly. It's an ancient carve-out from the main estate." He looked away. "She deeded it to me in secret when things got bad with my father - when he became more heavily involved with Voldemort. She had an idea of what was coming. I think she always hoped I could come here, escape here, if I needed to. She actually encouraged me to. Just before I took the mark. I was too afraid of what would happen to her if I did, but she always said I should come here after. If he won."

He looked up at her again, half afraid of what he might see in her face, but her eyes were sympathetic.

"What do you think would have happened to you? If he'd won?"

He felt a blast of bitter laughter blow past his lips. "Probably wouldn't have lasted six months. He hated my family by the end. And he'd gotten quite fond of the Manor. No, I don't think any of us would have lived long." She made a small sound of dismay and placed her palm against his chest. He covered her hand with his.

"I did think about this place, though. As a kind of escape when things were very bad. Maybe I could have faked my own death and made it here. Lived as a muggle - just farming grapes. Or defected and made it a safe house. Helped the other side…Something. But I couldn't take the torture and the killing."

"Do you still have nightmares?" she said softly.

"Sometimes."

"I do too," she sighed.

He sat up and turned toward her, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. "I'm sorry."

"I hope you're not apologizing to me again. We've been through that."

"No, I'm just sorry for it all." He held her gaze as her mouth twisted into a small smile. Her eyes held sadness, but also understanding.

He leaned forward and kissed her softly, sliding a hand into the hair at her temple, then ghosting his lips to her throat. He lingered there, just breathing, thinking that being with her was something like healing.

Her hands lifted into his hair again then her fingers stroked lightly down his neck. He sighed at the caress and tilted his head back to look at her through slitted lids. A strand of her hair lifted in the soft breeze and he captured it between his fingertips.

"Do you quite understand how beautiful you are?" It was almost an academic question. He wondered if she knew and just tried to downplay it or if she truly had no idea.

She smiled slowly and leaned forward to kiss him again. "I could ask the same of you." He chuckled and pushed himself up, keeping his lips on hers as he shifted to sit back against the tree and pull her into his lap. She went willingly, straddling him and placing light, teasing kisses along his jaw and cheek, followed by a nip to his earlobe that made him shiver with pleasure. He ran his palms up her thighs and pulled her closer. Desire kindled deep and he swept one hand up the length of her back and over her neck to hold her against him as he explored her mouth with increasing intensity.

Her fingers tightened on his shoulders and he ran his other hand under her jumper to palm the sweet weight of her breast, brushing his thumb over a taut nipple. She sighed, shifting against him, and he inhaled deeply at the exquisite friction.

"You did say we're quite alone here?" she breathed against his lips.

"Utterly," he tilted his head back against the tree trunk as her lips left his to wander down the column of his throat.

"Good." She muttered an incantation against his skin - warming charm - and then drew back slightly to pull her shirt over her head. The pretty peach mesh of her bra did nothing to conceal the dark buds of her nipples, which he quite liked. He leaned forward, sweeping his hands up her back, and took one in his mouth, laving the soft flesh through the filmy fabric. She arched into him and he moved to the other, giving it equal attention.

After a moment he pulled back, wanting to appreciate the site of her, lips swollen and eyelids at half mast. Then he reached out to slip her bra strap down, pushing the fabric over her breast until it caught on her bare nipple. His gaze caught there for a beat, a flash of white hot desire coursing through him, before he leaned forward to take her into his mouth again. Her breath hitched and she dug her fingers into his hair, moving against him and sighing his name. His tongue swirled against her and he pushed the other strap down to free the other breast, rolling the nipple between his fingertips. She pulled at him again but he leaned back once more, wanting to get his fill of looking at her; in the open air, head thrown back, bare breasts free of her disheveled bra. He didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful or erotic sight.

She sensed his regard and tilted her head to look down at him, her eyes dark with desire. Reaching around she went to unhook her bra but he stopped her.

"Leave it. I like it this way."

A lazy smile stole over her face and she moved her hands back to slide under her breasts and lift them, her fingers teasing her own nipples as she looked deep into his heated gaze.

Desire exploded through him again and with a deliberate movement, he reached forward and captured her lips, surging slowly up and holding her against him as he placed her on her back. She settled with a sigh and looked up, eyes dreamy as her fingers went to his shirt and pulled it over his head. She then ran her nails lightly up the planes of his chest and he shuddered with pleasure. The light breeze lifted again, warm against his bare back.

Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to see all of her, naked, in his field. His fingers went quickly to her waistband and she began helping him, shimmying out of her tight trousers and pretty knickers as he did away with the rest of his own clothing, kicking down his trousers and pants.

Once they were free of their clothes, he ran his hands over her golden skin and sweet curves — then his teeth over the satin of her shoulder. She gasped and he moved his lips to her clavicle and then her breasts. The pads of her fingers stroked over his back and down to his arse and back up again, the caress unbearably lovely.

"I want to taste you," he whispered against her skin as he trailed his lips down her belly. He felt her answering shudder and glanced up to see her cheeks flushed, her lips parted and her gaze trained on him.

The sight was like a spark to dry tinder and he moved his tongue quickly to her core, licking and swirling there until her moans turned into gasps. He was so intent on the sensation of her - the taste and softness of her flesh, her writhing movements - that he barely noticed she was tugging on his hair until she spoke.

"Please," she gasped, "please Draco. I need…"

He understood instinctively what she wanted and went up on his knees, looking deep into her eyes as he grasped her hips and pulled her toward him to slide his throbbing cock into her tight warmth. The feeling of being slowly sheathed by her when he was so extremely aroused was exquisite, and he groaned deep in the back of his throat. Her answering moan - long and low - echoed in the air around them and he thought it might have been the most seductive thing he'd ever experienced. The feel of her dragging against his cock as he moved in and out. Gods.

He went down on his elbows so he could kiss her as he fucked her and she met him ravenously, tonguing deep into his mouth. She also shifted her hips and legs so he could thrust deeper and when he did she cried out against his lips. This drove him to fuck her furiously, bury himself in her — mine-mine-mine — until she was gasping his name over and over.

He could tell she was close, building; could feel her muscles fluttering against him. She pulled back and arched her neck against the blanket, breathing heavily and watching him, dragging her fingernails over his chest and shoulders. He realised he was very close too - so he moved his hand to her clit, finding the hard little nub of flesh and stroking against it with sure, steady pressure. Her hips bucked off the blanket and she screamed.

He tilted her up and adjusted his knees so he could push even more deeply, feeling his release mounting in a powerful wave. Her response was wordless, her cries almost guttural. The sound drove him even further into his own pleasure and he gasped her name. Her hands had left him and she was pinching her nipples between her fingers, keeping her dark gaze on his, when her walls started to clench around him. The sensation undid whatever control he still had and he thrust ferociously, mindlessly until his orgasm ripped through him just as hers subsided.

He existed in a weightless place of ecstasy for a long time before coming back to awareness, collapsed against her as if he had died the best sort of death. He came-to via her fingers, slipping absently through his hair in the now-familiar caress. He arched into it and sighed her name, finally drawing back to look at her face. She wore a lazy smile, but her eyes were deep, fathomless.

"Do you know, I believe we fit together rather well," she murmured, one corner of her mouth lifting higher.

"If by 'fit together well' you mean have the most earth-shattering sex I've ever experienced in this life or any others I may have lived, then I agree," he said with his own smirk.

She chuckled and pulled him against her, nuzzling into his neck. "Yes, that's exactly what I mean."

He laughed softly and rolled them to the side. "As much as I'd like to stay here like this, I think it's beginning to cool down."

"Mmm hmm," she sighed, slowly getting up and reaching for her knickers. He propped his head on his hand, enjoying watching her step into them. The view of her pretty little arse under the sheer mesh was still extremely enticing.

"Luckily there's a nice warm bed back at your cottage," he murmured, raising a brow.

She raised her own brow back then buttoned her jeans and pulled her jumper over her head. He spotted a twig in her mussed hair and grinned.

She looked down at him. "While the view is magnificent, I do think you should probably put on your clothes before I take off that warming charm," she said, her eyes dancing.

"You wouldn't." He sat up, reaching for his things and magicking himself back together. "Much easier this way, you know."

She snorted and he pulled her to him, meaning to place a light kiss on her lips, but she held him tightly and ran her hands up under his shirt, her palms sweeping his skin. He gave a light growl and smiled against her mouth, deepening the kiss and sweeping his tongue against hers. It seemed he couldn't get enough of her.

But the light was fading and he didn't want her to have to fly in the shadow, which might be frightening for her, so he lifted his lips from hers and braced his hands on her shoulders. "Ready to get on the broom again?"

She groaned, "I suppose. As ready as I'll ever be."

He chuckled, "come on. It won't be that bad. Now you know that I'm not going to practice my Wronski Feint... And we'll go the long way round."

"Ok." Her knitted brows were adorable. Although he didn't like that she was afraid. Maybe they could work on it. He'd like to see her confident on a broom someday.

They walked back toward the meadow for a clear shot over the trees.

"So what is your timeline for all of this?" she asked, sweeping her hand to encompass the building site.

"I've been working with an architect in Paris on and off. I think we're almost there with the design for the house. And I'm also going to need a road for my cars," he grinned and she laughed. "I'm hoping it will be habitable by late Spring and finished in a year or so?"

"And will you be based here?" she said - a little shyly, he thought.

"No, I think my base will still have to be England - London and Wiltshire - for the time being, but I'll want to spend more time here - especially with Astor at Beauxbatons."

"Of course." She looked down and he wondered very much what she was thinking. But then she looked up again, this time with a light smile. "Well it's beautiful - and it's going to be splendid."

He nodded, looking forward to the day he'd be able to show it to her, hoping that she'd want to see it. That she'd still be in his life. But all he said was, "thanks." Curse his reticence.

"Ok let's not put this off any longer!" she said a little too loudly as she hopped on the broom. He settled himself in front of her and with a slight frown, lifted them gently off the ground.