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Set Fire to the Rain

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The Yule Ball – 4th year

 

Hermione collapsed onto the stairs, caring naught that the dirt and grime from so many of the other students’ shoes would ruin her brand new, silk periwinkle gown. She loved this dress… loved how the silk folds highlighted her slim figure… how the lavender blue color made her complexion shine…  But none of it mattered now.  The dress, once a symbol of her transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan for one glorious albeit imperfect night, was now just a reminder of another special occasion ruined because of Ron Weasley. She tore at her velvet heels, unbuckling them from her sore feet to toss aside on the stairwell.

 

And then the tears came, trickling down her cheeks unwarranted, no doubt smudging her perfectly well-done makeup. She didn’t even have the energy to swipe them away.  She let herself have it… a good cry , as her mother would say. She hung her head, silently sobbing against the bodice of her dress.

 

Someone stepped up on the stair directly beneath her.  Through teary eyes, she focused on the well-polished black patent leather of the man’s shoes.

 

Great , she thought wearily, Harry Potter to save the day…again.

 

“Go away, Harry,” she whimpered.  “I want to be left alone.”

 

“If you want to be alone, Granger, might I suggest having your cry somewhere a little more private?” the deep, silky, always mocking, voice sounded from above her.

 

Her head snapped up and she came face to face with Draco Malfoy.  He had removed his robes, casually slinging them over his shoulder, leaving him in his impeccably pressed white dress shirt, black trousers and those stupid, shiny shoes of his. He placed his left foot on the stair in which she sat and leaned forward to rest his forearm on his propped knee. Her dark eyes clashed with his beautiful grey gaze and then fell to his lips almost immediately, which were suddenly very close to her face. Of course, he was smirking at her… his perfect pout turned up at the corners in that irritating sneer he had come to have in all their exchanges.

 

He reached forward and with the pad of his thumb, he caught a new tear as it rolled down her cheek, gently wiping it away.

 

She suddenly realized her mouth had dropped open and she quickly closed it.  She abruptly shot to her feet, briefly knocking into him, causing them both to stumble.  He stepped back on the stair, righting himself. She looked at him, her eyes as wide as a deer’s stuck in headlights.  She glanced around, clearly startled. She swallowed deeply then bolted… flying up the remaining stairs and whipping to the left to flee down a lesser used corridor.

 

One thought played over in her mind like a broken record… Escape .

 

Cool fingers gripped tightly to her elbow and she was thrust into an empty classroom, the door sealing shut with a conjured locking spell.  Her brain froze at the sight of him…. his tall, lean figure tossing his robes and her shoes to the floor before stalking towards her.

 

She instinctively backed away, her back colliding with the brick wall of the room.

 

He closed the distance between them. His long, pale fingers encircled one of her wrists and he yanked her towards him, both his arms wrapping around her as she collided with his hard chest.  She buried her face against the soft starched fabric of his shirt and the flood gates reopened.  She wept into him, dimly aware this was Draco Malfoy…

 

Not Harry…

 

Not Ron…

 

Draco…

 

He didn’t speak, just held her tight, his hands gently caressing circles at the small of her back, his chin resting atop her head.

 

They stayed like this for what seemed like an eternity, until she no longer had any tears left… until her breath was steady and her sobs had quieted.

 

Her mind slowly came awake then.

 

She suddenly became very aware of his male presence.  Expensive cologne filled her nostrils… a heady yet clean scent that tickled her senses and started a strange fluttering low in her belly. His chest, all lean and hard muscle, rose and fell against her bosom with every breath he took. His heart a thunderous steady beat in her ears, picking up pace the more she moved against him. She licked her lips, the skin chapped and dry, and she pulled back a little.

 

For one brief moment, his arms tightened around her, almost as if he longed to hold her there against him. But his brain must have awoken too, for his arms fell away and he took a step back.

 

She openly stared at him.  His white shirt was a mess… wet and smeared with her makeup.  She instinctively wiped at her face, wondering how terrible she must look.  She gave a hysterical laugh as she realized for the first time in her life, she cared what she looked like in front of him…

 

Draco…

 

He placed his hands on his hips, snapping “What’s so funny, Granger?”  Her last name fell from his lips as if it was disgusting for him to even say.

 

She laughed again, throwing her hands up, “Nothing…Everything… This whole fucking night…” She brought her hands to wrap around herself, half turning away from him.  “Tonight was supposed to be magical…” she spoke quietly, more to herself than to him.

 

He snorted, “Every day of our lives is magical… ”  He sauntered over to where he dropped his robes, leaning down to pick them up.  He paused, his hand hovering over her discarded shoes.  He gave a quick shake of his blonde head before grabbing them too.  He turned to look at her.

 

“Tell me what he did,” he ordered, a sharp contrast to the person who only moments before was holding her in his arms, caressing her… comforting her.

 

Draco…

 

“What?” she questioned. “Wh-who?”

 

“Krum!” His fist clenched around the straps of her shoes. “The bloody oaf! Tell me and I’ll make sure he gets what’s coming to him.”

 

“Wh-why do you care?” Her head was spinning at his words; she didn’t even stop to correct his accusation.  Viktor Krum had been nothing but a gentleman all night.

 

“Because I’m the one who pointed him in your direction!” he spat with intended malice.  But not at her.  He was angry with himself.

 

She swallowed, “I don’t understand.”

 

He gave her an incredulous look, “For someone who thinks she’s so brilliant , you really are a daft bint, Granger.”  He looked down at her shoes clutched so desperately in his hand, a faraway look in his eyes. He released a shaky breath, still not meeting her gaze, “You deserved to know…” He stopped, gave a quick shake of his head then continued, “You deserved one night… away from those two… one night to shine…” He finally looked over at her, an unmistakable heat burning behind his grey eyes now, “I didn’t force him to ask you…magic or otherwise… I only…” Again, he paused.  “…I only encouraged him to look at you…”

 

She gasped.  His eyes immediately fell to her lips.

 

“Now he’s gone and ruined this for you…” More malice…more of that Malfoy anger.

 

She shook her head, the pins holding up her thick curls coming loose, setting her hair free to tumble down to her shoulders.  There was no mistaking his sharp intake of breath.  What the hell was happening here ?

 

“It wasn’t Krum,” her voice pleaded, new unshed tears making her eyes glitter in the soft light.

 

Heat flooded his porcelain cheeks.  “ Weasley ,” he choked out.

 

She bit her bottom lip, her arms tightening around her.

 

Draco studied her for a moment.  Then he dropped the things in his hands and closed the distance between them.  His palms covered her cheeks and he leaned down.

 

Hermione reared back, “What are you doing?”

 

“Shut up, Granger.”

 

He pressed his lips to hers.

 

Hermione froze, her mind completely going blank. She dug her nails into her ribs in a bleak effort to keep from reaching for him. But it was to no avail. He dragged her close and she stumbled into his embrace, her hands grasping now at his shirt, still wet from her tears.  It clung mercilessly to his muscular form and she released a gasp at the realization of exactly what he had been hiding underneath his robes these past years.

 

He took advantage of her open mouth, sweeping his tongue inside, caressing her inner warmth.  His soft lips moved against her own, sucking and bruising her tender flesh with hard kisses.  Over and over, he kissed her… until he felt her resolve break and she finally leaned into him.

 

Hermione moaned into Draco’s mouth, her tongue learning to move with his, their teeth biting and nipping at each other’s lips. His hands fell to her shoulders then moved to her hips. He dragged her closer… if that was possible…and shoved his leg between her thighs to fit her against him. Her back hit the wall of the classroom with a bruising thud.

 

“S-sorry…” he stammered, briefly disengaging his mouth.

 

Draco Malfoy was apologizing to her , she thought wildly.

 

His lips reclaimed hers, his mouth moving with hers slowly, his kisses long and more drawn out now.

 

Fuck, Draco Malfoy was kissing her .

 

She tried to follow his lead, to copy his movements… to learn… After all, this was her first kiss.

 

Draco suddenly pulled back, “Relax, Granger. I’ve got you.”

 

“Sorry.” Now she was apologizing… to Draco Malfoy .

 

He lowered his mouth to her, his thumb at the corner of her lips, urging her to open for him. She released a breathy sigh and he smiled a moment before descending for another kiss. He softly tugged at her top lip, then dragged her bottom lip between his teeth, giving it a gentle bite before again driving his tongue into her mouth.  His thigh pushed against her core, restrained by the tight fabric of her gown.  She lowered her hands to drag the fabric to her knees… to give him more access.  He growled and shifted his body, bringing his thigh higher to grind against her.

 

He swallowed her sudden cry of pleasure.  The friction of his trousers against her warmth, combined with his wicked kisses had created a wetness between her thighs that left her feeling wholly unsure of what was happening. Then he repeated the movement, and she had to bite her lip to stifle her moan.

 

Her legs began to shake and she realized in horror that she was going to come.  She was going to have her first orgasm with her arch nemesis.

 

You’re fraternizing with the enemy … Ron’s stupid voice screamed in her head. But it was enough to break her shaky disposition.

 

This was wrong .

 

She started to push against him, to free herself from his grasp. He must have assumed she had other intentions and he grinded against her once more, relishing in how she cried out his name.

 

Hermione needed for this to stop.  She wasn’t ready for this… especially not with him.  She placed her palms against his chest, ignoring the warmth and feel of him through the thin material of his dress shirt, and shoved with all her might.

 

Draco stumbled back, catching himself on a nearby desk. He turned to look at her with shock and surprise.  But the moment he laid eyes on her, he knew.

 

He took one wobbly step towards her, reaching to offer her comfort but she inadvertently shrank back.

 

Draco’s eyes went cold. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, unmistakable fury uncoiling in his muscles. He abruptly turned and stalked over to gather his dress robes, practically ripping them from the ground.  Then he hurried to the door, yanking it open. But he stopped just short of exiting.

 

He whirled on her. “If you tell anyone about this, you filthy little mudblood , you will live to regret it,” he bit out. And then he was gone, disappearing into the corridor.

 

Hermione whipped out her wand, slamming the door shut.  Then her legs gave out from beneath her and she sank to the ground, the tears tearing from her in broken sobs.

Chapter Text

5th year

 

Hermione looked around carefully, checking right and left before slipping from the castle’s doors and breaking into a run towards the Dark Forest. She crossed the invisible line and ducked behind a tall tree, where she leaned back against the cold bark and tried to catch her breath.

 

Her heart was racing at the sudden rush of adrenaline. She knew what she was doing was wrong… that if caught, it wouldn’t just jeopardize her but also the secret that she was keeping. Harry and Ron would be furious, to say the least.  But someone had to protect Grawp.  He was an innocent in all this.

 

Taking a deep breath, she counted slowly to ten. There were no alerts… no alarms being sounded.  Umbridge and her Inquisitorial Squad must have been busying themselves harassing some other poor helpless soul within the walls of Hogwarts. She pulled out her wand and the tip illuminated. Then she slowly came from round the tree and took off into the forest, the steps towards Grawp’s hiding spot memorized.

 

“Hermy!” Grawp greeted her as soon as she came within sight.

 

“Ssh…” Hermione replied but she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. He was just so delighted to see her.

 

As was customary in all their interactions, he grabbed his favorite toy - the handlebars of a bike- and rang the bell.  She took the offered toy and rang the bell too.  Grawp clapped his hands in delight.

 

“All right… all right… quiet time, Grawp.” She gestured for him to sit and he immediately fell down to his backside, giving the ground a good shake. She almost lost her footing but caught herself against a tree.  Still, it made her giggle. It was a rare sound to hear these days, with all that was happening within the school.  But there was something to be said of Grawp’s childlike innocence, even if he was over 16 ft tall.

 

She took her seat before him and pulled out the rolled up paperback from her jeans - a well worn copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard . As soon as she began to read, Grawp relaxed. He loved when she came to read to him. She wasn’t even sure if he really understood the words, but maybe it was just the sound of her voice he seemed to like so much. Because minutes later, his eyes drifted close and soon he was fast asleep. She kept reading, more for her benefit now than his. The Dark Forest, once a frightening place crawling with unspeakable horrors, had somehow become a place of solitude and quiet reflection. 

 

Her voice drifted into the darkness until it slowly died away. She sat there, staring blankly at the words before her, not really seeing them. She closed the book and let her fingers stroke over the cover as her thoughts wandered. 

 

Long fingers caressing her bare flesh… that boyish smirk he always seemed to cast her way even when he thought she didn’t notice… the delightful way he smelled…

 

Hermione swallowed as that strange feeling began deep within her core… the familiar one that kept her up at night until she finally gave her body the release it demanded why silently whispering his name.

 

She closed her eyes, blocking out his grey eyes and silvery blonde hair, and remembered now the fear in Cho’s eyes as he dragged her forward, sneering in triumph at having finally beaten Harry Potter at his own game. He was part of Umbridge’s circle… which meant he’d rather see her dearest friends hurt as long as it meant a win for Team Slytherin. She pictured this and heard his voice calling her a filthy Mudblood...anything to quench the lust burning through her in that moment.

 

But her brain wasn’t going to let her off that easily. It reminded her of the way he had looked over at her… a sadness wrinkling his eyes as she was forced out of the Room of Requirement. A brush of his fingers against her wrist as they passed one another. A hidden charm on her skin, making the effects of Umbridge’s detention less painful than the rest of Dumbledore’s Army.  She stared down at her palm now, the words that had been scratched into her friends’ hands, nonexistent on her flesh. She clenched her hand into a fist.

 

Why? She was nothing more than a filthy Mudblood to him… wasn’t she?

 

Hermione groaned, falling back into the leaves. She stared up into the canopy of the trees, the light of the full moon shining brightly down on her. She listened to Grawp snoring softly. She swallowed, her hands covering her abdomen, her fingers drifting to unbuckle the clasp on her jeans.

 

Why hadn’t she just let him finish what he started after the Yule Ball? Why did she want him so much?

 

“I always knew your taste in men was suspect, Granger, but a giant, really ?” questioned a voice some distance away.

 

Hermione squeaked, haphazardly pushing herself to her feet as she fumbled with her wand. Thankfully her jumper was large enough to cover the buttons of her jeans she had just managed to undo. She whirled around to face the boy spying on her, her wand automatically raising in defense.

 

There he was, the object of her thoughts, looking more than relaxed leaning against the trunk of a nearby tree, his arms folded against his chest, that playful smirk pulling at the corner of his delectable mouth. He wasn’t wearing his robes, choosing instead a tight black and green jumper pulled over a black button down shirt.  The sleeves had been rolled up, exposing his forearms to her. 

 

Her throat suddenly went dry, her tongue heavy in her mouth.  Merlin’s beard , she couldn’t decide if she wanted to kill him or fuck him at that moment.  She silently prayed it wasn’t the latter.

 

Without thinking, she stomped towards him, her wand still raised, “You vile, loathsome, despicable… horrible…” she stammered, drawing so close to him the tip of her wand almost touched his lips.

 

Malfoy didn’t flinch. Instead he calmly raised one hand and pushed her wand away, his fingers securing around her wrist as it fell to her side.  Then he pushed himself away from the tree and took a step towards her, closing the distance. 

 

Hermione swallowed and looked up at him, defiance in her eyes.  Christ, he was getting so tall .

 

“Let's just skip the part where you call me a prat and move right to the snogging, shall we?” he whispered, his thumb drifting over her bottom lip.

 

She snorted her disdain, “You cannot be serious!”

 

He shrugged, turning away from her, “Pity. You’re actually a pretty decent kisser.”

 

Her mouth dropped open and then quickly closed.  Was that a compliment ? She watched as he moved towards Grawp, who, thankfully, was still asleep.

 

He glanced at her over his shoulder, “Care to explain why you’re hiding a giant in the Dark Forest?”

 

“He’s Hagrid’s brother and I suggest you stay away from him!” She moved to stand between him and Grawp.

 

Disgust flitted over Malfoy’s handsome visage for a brief moment. “Hagrid…” he bit out, “That prattling fool involved you in another of his harebrained schemes, did he?”

 

“Hagrid is a friend… something you obviously know nothing about!”

 

He smiled at her, a cold, unfeeling upturn of his lips. “You think I don’t have friends? Tell me, Granger, do you spend a lot of time thinking about me and my relationships?”

 

She made a face, “Don’t flatter yourself, Malfoy. I could never… I would never give someone like you an extra second of my thoughts than was necessary.”

 

His smile faded, replaced by his normal sneer. “Of course, Granger… your thoughts are reserved only for those gits Potter and Weasley . How dare I forget…”

 

She shook her head, “My thoughts are reserved for honest, caring people with whom I can trust with my life.”

 

Something dangerous flared in his eyes and he took a step closer to her. “Did I not spare you Umbridge’s punishment? Or did you remove the charm in order to martyr yourself with the rest of your classmates?”

 

Hermione looked away, suddenly feeling very guilty.

 

“Wait a minute,” he realized, “you didn’t remove it, did you?” He grabbed her hand but she quickly snatched it back. He moved to try again but she quickly sidestepped him. “Hermione Granger, let me see your hand.”

 

“No,” she mumbled, both of them clenching into fists at her side.

 

“You don’t have to feel ashamed.”

 

“Ha!” she exclaimed. “This coming from the de facto leader of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad!”

 

He folded his arms across his chest and drew himself to his full height, “I’m not ashamed of that fact.”

 

“Of course you aren’t!” She turned away from him, her hands falling to her hips.

 

He grabbed her shoulder and cautiously turned her to face him.  She didn’t fight him. He gripped her chin between his forefinger and thumb and tilted her head to look up at him. “Why would I be ashamed when it places me in the best position to protect you?”

 

She jerked her chin out of his grasp but didn’t move away from him. “If you wanted to protect me, you have a funny way of showing it.”

 

He heaved a heavy sigh, his gaze raising to the sky above them. “Bloody hell, Granger, you’re supposed to be the brightest witch of our age but you can be so fucking daft!”

 

She again snorted.

 

He looked down at her and something compelled her to meet his gaze.  The heat she saw there made her swallow nervously. He gave his head a quick shake, then ran his hand through his stupid, perfect hair.

 

“Fuck,” he cursed. “They wanted you , Hermione. Instead of Chang… they wanted to torture you.”

 

“Oh,” she murmured, though it wasn’t a surprise. She had suspected as much but hadn’t wanted to believe it.

 

“I convinced Umbridge that Chang was the easier target… that Harry had a crush on her… confided in her…” He swallowed, again thrusting his fingers through his hair.

 

“And tonight…” he continued, “I saw you skulking about the castle.  I sent Blaise off on some fool’s errand so he didn’t see you, too, as it was his turn on patrol. And I may have slipped Filch a sleeping draught to keep him off our backs…” He shrugged. “If I’d known you were doing something dimwitted for Hagrid…”

 

“You’d what? Let Umbridge have me?” She jutted her chin towards him, challenging him.

 

There it was again, that spark of heat in his eyes. He brought his hand to her waist, giving it a firm squeeze. “No one will be having you… except me.”

 

She scoffed, “In your dreams, Malfoy.”

 

She squealed as his fingers dug into her side. 

 

He tilted his head to the side as he studied her. “In my dreams… in your dreams…” His gaze drifted to the edge of her jumper. “Confess, Granger… what were you doing moments before I arrived?”

 

Her cheeks flamed and she looked away from him.

 

“Fuck me,” he growled, “you were going to touch yourself…”

 

“Oh, sod off, Malfoy,” she replied but she still couldn’t look up at him.

 

He chuckled low in his throat… a sexy sound that had her gulping past the sudden lump in her throat.

 

“You don’t have to be embarrassed… not with me.”

 

“I’m not embarrassed! We are of an age when it is perfectly normal to…”

 

Her diatribe was suddenly cut off by the firm press of his lips against hers.

 

Hermione pulled back, her hand absently touching her lips. “What the hell, Malfoy?! Wh-why would you do that?”

 

He smiled, “Seemed the quickest way to get you to shut up, Granger.”

 

She stared at him in angry disbelief then her eyes fell to his lips. Before she knew what she was doing, she had closed the distance between them, her hands on his cheeks, her lips on his mouth.

 

He welcomed the contact, his arms encircling her waist so she couldn’t escape him.  Her mouth opened at the same moment as his, their tongues moving together in urgent need.

 

He pushed her back against a tree and firmly pressed his body against hers. He kissed her over and over, each one more passionate than the last. She moaned when he shoved his leg between her thighs as his lips slid down to the hollow of her throat.

 

“Are you going to let me finish you this time, Granger?” he questioned, his breath hot in her ear.

 

“Stop talking!” she exclaimed, her own mouth finding his again, drawing his bottom lip between her teeth before she bit down. 

 

Draco jerked against her and she could taste a small bit of his blood in her mouth.

 

“I always knew there was a bit of a bad girl in you…” he murmured, before reclaiming her lips.

 

His hands were everywhere now… pawing at her breast, fumbling with her jumper, caressing her thigh. But it wasn’t until they fell to the zipper of her jeans that she moaned his name and moved against him.

 

He froze. His gaze searched hers, almost like he was asking permission. She barely managed to nod before he was unzipping them and thrusting his fingers into the waistband of the tight fabric. His fingertips moved over her already swollen flesh, sliding easily into the slick of her folds, despite the tightness of her clothing restricting him.  Why wasn’t she wearing her blasted skirt ?!

 

Her head fell back against the tree and she dug her fingers into the bark.  He buried his face in the crook of her neck, his lips sucking bruises into her flesh as his fingers continued to explore, stroking back and forth against her core, making her whimper into the dark and quiet night.

 

“You’re so fucking wet…” he groaned. “I want to taste you…”

 

Hermione bit her lip, just the mere thought of his words alone exciting her beyond anything she had ever done with her own hand. Her hips jerked against him.

 

“Do it, Draco…” she found herself pleading.  “Please…”

 

He pulled his fingers from her pants, then fell to his knees before her. He grabbed hold of her jeans, ready to yank them down.  She closed her eyes, afraid to watch, knowing that once this was done, she was going to hate herself.  Wasn’t she ?

 

She’d never have the chance to answer that question.  Suddenly Draco’s hard form was yanked from her, pulled away by some unseen force.

 

Hermione heard Draco curse as Grawp hauled him away from her and high into the air.  Draco grabbed for his wand and she reacted instantaneously.

 

Expelliarmus !” she cried out, disarming Draco.

 

“What the hell, Granger?!” he exclaimed.

 

“I can’t let you hurt him!”

 

“Hurt him?!”

 

Grawp gave Draco a shake.  “Hurt Hermy!”

 

“No, Grawp…” Hermione tried, “Hermy is fine…”

 

Grawp looked down at her. “Hermy no hurt?”

 

“N-no, I am fine. See?”  She patted herself to show him.  “So please put Malfoy down.”

 

Grawp eyed Malfoy carefully then looked back at Hermione. He released him, letting him fall, hitting the ground hard.

 

Malfoy hollered out in pain, grabbing his shoulder. She rushed over to him, ascertaining the extent of his injury.

 

“Your shoulder is dislocated,” she tried to remain calm. “I-I have to-to…”

 

“Just do it!” he replied through clenched teeth.

 

“You- you have to lie still…”

 

Malfoy took a deep breath, then lay flat on his back.  Hermione came to straddle him, placing her hands firmly in two places on his shoulder. She gave a quick jerk and felt it snap back into place.

 

Malfoy muttered a slew of curses before relaxing back onto the ground.

 

“Are-are you all right?” she asked, her voice quivering from the threat of tears.

 

He didn’t respond, choosing to pant into the darkness that surrounded them.  He felt her there, straddling him, his shaft growing hard again at just the thought.

 

“Better now…” he somehow managed. Of their own volition, his hips rocked against her.

 

She scoffed, “You’re fine .”  She scrambled off of him, moving to retrieve his fallen wand.

 

Draco slowly sat up, watching her, seeing the shift in her, the stiffness returning to her shoulders. He already knew what was coming. He pushed himself to his feet.

 

She came to stand before him, his wand twisting in her hand. “Draco,” she started.

 

He snatched his wand from her.  “I won’t say anything to Umbridge about your little secret.”  He turned away from her, brushing himself off. He started back to the castle. 

 

He heard her tell her pet to “stay” and then she was following close behind him. He wasn’t sure why, but he slowed his pace, letting her catch up to him. When they came to the edge of the forest, he raised his hand, and she abruptly stopped at his side.

 

He glanced at her.  There was bark clinging to her unruly hair and her cheeks were still flushed, her lips pink and swollen.  Her eyes met his and there were unshed tears glistening there. It made him swallow. He jerked his head and started to walk.  She fell in step with him.

 

They hurried to a poorly lit corridor, and he pushed her against one of the stone walls, his eyes doing a quick search of the perimeter. He then gave her a quick nod and she made her way to the back stairs.

 

Draco turned away from her then. His arms folding against his chest as he stared out into the night.

 

“Good night, Draco,” she whispered.

 

“Keep out of the Dark Forest, Granger,” was his cold reply.  She said nothing. Then he listened as her feet ascended the staircase.  Once they faded, he released a shuddering breath. He stared at his fingers.  He could still smell her on them.

 

“Have a nice night, Draco?” Blaise Zabini questioned, coming from beneath the shadows of the staircase. He cocked an eyebrow as his gaze followed up the darkened staircase Hermione had disappeared.

 

Draco just shrugged. Then he gave Blaise a menacing look, “You didn’t see anything…

 

Blaise held up his hands in mock defense, “Your secret is safe with me.”

 

Draco turned back to stare out into the night. He didn’t like how Blaise had said the word secret...

Chapter Text

6th year

 

Draco sat in an alcove situated in one of the east wing’s corridors, far removed from the center of student activities.  He twisted the object in his hand, caressing its velvety texture with the tips of his fingers absently as he gazed out the large window.  The sun was hiding today, casting him in shadows to keep him well hidden.  The perfect place for a young man battling dark thoughts.

 

He sighed heavily, letting his eyes drift closed.  He focused all his mental strength on creating a wall around his mind, disassociating himself from his emotions.  As if on cue, his finger twitched against the object in his hand, reminding him that no matter how much he may protest, he’d never be really and truly free.

 

Free from the darkness…

 

Free from the light…

 

Free from his family…

 

Free from her

 

He opened his eyes, letting his gaze fall on the soft, purple shoe he had taken almost two years back.  He dragged his knuckles against the texture of the fabric, allowing the memory to intrude, if only for a moment. The way she felt against him… the taste of her innocence like honey on his tongue… how her moans had dripped into his mouth as he kissed her…

 

Fuck… he internally screamed.  He tossed the shoe aside, running his fingers through his blonde hair in anguish. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the hard wall. He’d give all his wealth for the world to swallow him whole.

 

A girl’s voice rang out, shattering his peaceful solitude. He was on his feet in a flash but when he saw the source, he stopped dead in his tracks, choosing to hide behind a column and just watched her.

 

She was carrying too many books, as was given with her.  It prevented her from protecting herself as two Ravenclaw youths harassed her, using their wands to pull at her skirt, flipping the pleated material to reveal her shapely thighs.

 

Draco felt his hand clench into a fist, bile rising in his throat as his anger flared.  He didn’t even realize he had drawn his wand until his hand tightened on the Hawthorn.

 

Hermione stumbled as she juggled the tower of heavy volumes in her hands while also pushing her skirt down and desperately trying to walk away from the two halfwits. It was only a matter of time before the books fell, cascading with a heavy thud across the stone floor. The boys laughed, high fiving one another as if they had just won the Quidditch Cup.

 

With a slew of curses, Hermione lowered herself to the ground to collect the small library. She glared up at the youths and Draco felt a small smile tug at his lips.  She was going to hex the hell out of them, deservedly so.

 

Unless Draco got to them first…

 

Draco stepped from behind the column, casually leaning one shoulder against the stone as he crossed his arms over his chest, positioning his wand in front of him.  He cleared his throat.

 

Three sets of eyes turned in his direction. Recognition was immediate; the boys taking a step back from Hermione as they eyed Draco’s wand.  He was tapping it on his shoulder as a warning. Draco held their gazes, his eyes cold and devoid of all emotion.  He purposely refrained from looking at her… afraid his Occlumency would fail him if he did.

 

“Apologize,” he stated firmly.

 

The boys’ eyes grew wide with fear.  “S-sorry...Malfoy..” they stuttered, almost in unison.

 

“Not me, you gits ....to Ms. Granger.”

 

Their mouths fell open in surprise. They swallowed, then turned to Hermione, “S-sorry...just having a bit of sport...that’s all.”

 

They didn’t wait for her to answer, turning to look at Draco for confirmation their penance was complete.

 

Draco waved his wand in the direction of the books, “Pick them up.”

 

They scrambled to the floor, practically fighting over who was going to stack the tomes.  Draco took the opportunity to cast a sideways glance at Hermione.  She had risen to her feet and backed away from the situation, chewing on the edge of her thumb in concentration.  

 

It was a mistake to look at her.  Now he couldn’t seem to drag his vision away, his eyes slowly roving down her body, drinking in how she more than adequately filled out her school uniform.

 

“Malfoy?” one of the boys questioned.

 

“Leave,” he ordered, his eyes lingering on her thighs now.

 

The boys quickly obeyed.

 

He saw Hermione release a breath, briefly glancing at him. Then she walked over to her books, lifting them into her arms.

 

The gentlemanly thing to do would be to go to her, take the books and carry them to their next destination.  

 

Thankfully, he was no gentleman.

 

Draco returned his wand and turned, walking back to the alcove.  He reclaimed his seat in the shadows, drawing his knees to his chest to rest his forearms there.  He closed his eyes.

 

He knew she had followed him even if her footsteps had been so quiet.  He could practically taste her smell as she drew close.

 

“Malfoy?” she softly called out.

 

He didn’t move. “Granger.”

 

“Are-are you all right?”

 

This got his attention.  He opened his eyes, his body straightening when he saw how close she was, having seated herself next to him.

 

“Why do you ask?” he demanded.

 

She shrugged, “You-you don’t look so well…”

 

He cringed, “Gee, thanks, Granger.” His eyes closed again, and his head fell back against the wall.  He wished she would just go away and leave him to his dark thoughts.

 

“C-can you believe Slughorn and that love potion? As if creating something so potent around all these teenagers was a smart thing to do…”

 

He opened his eyes and gave her an incredulous look.  “What are you doing?” 

 

She swallowed, “Being your friend…?” 

 

He sneered, “This again? I have friends.”

 

“Oh.” She looked down at her hands twisting in the folds of her skirt. She seemed so defeated that for one moment he almost felt guilty.  Almost…

 

His hand jerked against his knee involuntarily and he dug his fingers into his bones to keep from touching her.

 

She abruptly rose to her feet and he realized she was leaving.  He thought it was what he wanted… he’d finally be able to breathe if she wasn’t so close… but something deep sliced through his gut at the possibility.  

 

He twisted his head to look out the window, avoiding her presence.  If she thought he was no good for her before, now he was just evil incarnate. It was best they kept their distance.

 

Hermione stood there, nibbling on her bottom lip as she considered something. Then she turned towards him, hiked up her skirt and straddled his lap.

 

Draco practically leapt out of his skin, his hands falling to his side.  “What the hell, Granger?”

 

“Shut up, Malfoy,” she stated.  Then she leaned forward, brushing his mouth with her lips.

 

It was a tentative kiss… which strangely overjoyed Draco.  It meant she hadn’t been practicing with other boys… boys like Potter and Weasley .  She was still his

 

He sat forward, his hands gripping her waist so hard he was sure he would leave bruises.  He deepened their exchange, his tongue prying her lips open with a shattered gasp.

 

Her hands travelled to his hair, her nails raking through the soft locks. It felt so good… to finally have her hands on him after so many sleepless nights spent wanking to the fantasy.

 

She let one hand drift to his cheek in a gentle caress, now more sallow from the stress and humiliation of the task that had been laid before him by the Dark Lord.

 

Fuck, the Dark Lord his mission … It slowly drifted back to the forefront of his mind now.  He couldn’t do this. She was a distraction.

 

Hermione shifted against him, grinding her hips against the tight bulge there in his trousers.

 

Draco’s mind went completely blank, everything else forgotten as the world melted away.  It was only the two of them… and this

 

“Malfoy…” she whispered against his ear. 

 

“Malfoy…”

 

“Malfoy!” one of the Ravenclaw boys yelled in his direction, pulling Draco from his reverie.

 

Draco snapped his head around to look at Hermione. She was giving him a confused look.  Then her eyes drifted down and her cheeks blushed deep, her gaze lingering on his trousers for longer than was necessary.

 

Fuck, he was hard.

 

Without looking at the boys, he pointed at them with his wand, “Leave. Now.”

 

They didn’t hesitate, fleeing away from the scene as quick as their legs could carry them.

 

Hermione rolled her eyes as she crouched down, gathering and stacking the books. She stood and glanced in his direction.

 

“You look awful,” she surmised.

 

“And you are the epitome of beauty, Granger,” he replied sarcastically, giving her a mocking bow.

 

She snorted, “Same old Malfoy.” She took out her wand and whispered an incantation, floating the heavy books before her. She started to walk away from him down the corridor.

 

Something vile crept inside him at her quite obvious dismissal of him.  Before he knew what he was about, he had cut her off, cornering her against the wall.  The books tumbled at their feet.

 

She gasped, “What do you think you are doing?”

 

He placed his palms against the wall on either side of her head, pinning her in his embrace. His eyes immediately fell to her lips.

 

She scoffed, “You are not going to kiss me again.”

 

His anger seethed at her remark.  “What? Saving it for Weasley ?”

 

She met his anger, matching it with her own. “Who I am saving it for is none of your concern,” she bit out.

 

He slammed his open palm against the wall, causing her to jump. “What’s the matter, Granger? Afraid?” He was baiting her.

 

She laughed, “Afraid? Of you? Hardly…”

 

He leaned in close, relishing in how her breath caught. “Not of me…” he whispered, his breath hot against her cheek, “...afraid of how I make you feel…”  

 

He let his gaze wantonly travel down the length of her. Her breath had picked up tempo...matching the racing beat of her heart.

 

“Gryffindor’s Golden Girl… Slytherin’s bad boy… Weasley would cream his shorts if he saw us together,” he chuckled low at the thought.

 

“You’re vile!” She attempted to punch him in his stomach but he caught her wrist, pinning it to her side with only the subtlest of pressures.  She wasn’t really trying to fight him.  If he thought for a moment she wanted free of him, he’d let her go with nary a thought.

 

He interlaced their fingers.  Then using his free hand, he brought his wand to the bare flesh of her throat, tracing a path down the center of her body with just the tip, dancing around her full breasts, the curve of her hip, the length of her thigh. He stopped just short of the hem of her pleated skirt.  He licked his lips in anticipation, watching as he guided the wand beneath her skirt, slowly lifting the heavy fabric to reveal soft unblemished skin.

 

She released a shaky breath, drawing his attention back to her face.  Her head had fallen back against the wall, her eyes squeezed tight, and she was biting her bottom lip again.

 

“Look at me, Granger,” he commanded.

 

To his surprise, she complied.  Her brown eyes were filled with an unmistakable heat.  He had done that.

 

He leaned in close, his lips a breath apart from hers now.  “Tell me, do you still think of me when you touch yourself?”

 

“Never,” she spat at him.

 

He pressed himself against her now and there was no mistaking the moan that escaped her.  “Liar.”

 

His eyes travelled down again, his fingers aching to touch her bare skin beneath her hiked up skirt.  “I’ve thought about you…” he admitted.  “ Every hour of every day since you punched me in the face during third year...”

 

He started to tremble… from an indescribable want only she could sate.

 

“Draco,” she whispered, her free hand settling on his cheek, “are you well?”

 

“I rather think not,” he confessed.

 

He sank to his knees before her, wrapping his arms around her thighs and burying his head against her skirt.  He shook uncontrollably.

 

“C-can you just hold me, Hermione?” he pleaded, his voice sounding so alien to himself.

 

Her hands drifted to settle in his hair, her fingers running lightly though his soft locks, gently caressing him.  He cringed, feeling the wetness staining the plaid fabric.

 

He was crying against her, the silent tears pulling tremors from his body as he mourned the inevitable death of all the goodness he had left.

 

The death of any possible future he may have had with her…

 

She remained standing for as long as she could, back pressed against the stone wall, arms cradling him or caressing his hair or massaging his shoulders. Then, once her legs gave out and she slumped to the floor, she pulled him against her, her hands drawing patterns on the back of his jumper to comfort him the same way he had once done for her.

 

He lifted his head to meet her gaze.  With a courage he didn’t know he was even capable of, he leaned in and laid a tender kiss to her lips.

 

He pushed himself to his feet then, grabbing his wand from the floor to shove into his waistband before turning from her and walking away.

Chapter Text

7th year :

 

Hermione leaned against the column in the Great Hall, suddenly overcome with how tired she really was.  A year on the run; tortured at the hands of Bellatrix; the first leg of the Battle of Hogwarts now behind her… the adrenaline was starting to subside now, bringing with it an unhealthy dose of reality. She looked up at the grieving Weasleys, her heart lurching in her chest.

 

Dispose of your dead with dignity...

 

Voldemart’s words still pierced her skull, giving rise to goosebumps on her flesh.  She should go and comfort them…. They were her surrogate family, after all.  So why did her gaze keep flicking away from them and landing on the boy ensconced in the shadows, his lean frame propped against the wall, his head bowed?  There was still soot on his face from the fiendfyre and his normally white blond hair and sharply dressed black clothes had definitely seen better days.  He just looked so lost.

 

Hermione pulled the wand from her pocket, gazing down at the simple carved Hawthorn, unremarkable in its appearance and so unlike its previous owner.  She had pinched it from Harry, trading her wand for this one.  She didn’t even understand why. She had kissed Ron… she was with Ron now… wasn’t she ?

 

Her eyes tilted in Malfoy’s direction, the movement subtle.  She gasped when his grey eyes caught her staring now.  He held her gaze for the space of several heartbeats, his face an impassive, hard mask. His head jerked slightly to the left and he immediately turned away from her, taking the stairs behind him two at a time, disappearing out of sight in a matter of seconds.

 

Was he motioning to her?  Did he want her to follow him?  Did she simply just imagine the head tilt… her tired eyes and mind playing tricks on her?

 

While her heart screamed bloody obscenities at her brain, her feet were already moving in his direction, passing the Weasleys with nary a glance. She paused only for a moment at the base of the staircase before starting the ascent.  She didn’t see him but somehow she knew where he was going.

 

By the time she had reached the last step up to the astronomy tower, she was panting and out of breath… having run most of the way, the lack of adrenaline no longer an issue. She stopped when she saw him, his back to her, standing at the edge of the blown out façade (the tower an obvious causality of the earlier battle).  He had his hands thrust into the pockets of his trousers as his gaze travelled down into the darkened abyss before him.  He was standing so close to the edge that she was afraid if she startled him, he’d plummet to his death.

 

“Go away, Granger,” he bit out, without even a hint of turning to face her. His voice shook with malice… or was it something else entirely? He briefly glanced at her over his shoulder, sneering, “I can smell your awful perfume even through the stench of death that permeates the air.”

 

Hermione drew in a deep, steadying breath, wrapped her arms around herself and took the last step into the tower.  “I’ll leave… but only when you consent to come with me.”

 

His head shot up, his mask giving way for just a moment as he stared at her in surprise.  But as quickly as it came, now it was gone.  Only the pale, cold smirk of her bully now remained.  “Scared I’m trying to off myself, is that it?”

 

She swallowed, “The thought had crossed my mind, Malfoy.”

 

He turned away from her, “Don’t worry your pretty little head over it, Granger. Malfoys are harder than that to get rid of.”

 

Hermione couldn’t help it… her heart skipped a beat with the word pretty .  It made her visibly cringe which didn’t go unnoticed by him. He half turned towards her now, watching her intently yet saying nothing.

 

She leaned against the railing of the staircase, her limbs suddenly growing so very tired, “Why would you come here, of all places, if not to…” She stopped, the word trembling on her lip.

 

“Why do you even care?” he asked quietly. The words contained no venom.  He really was just curious.

 

“I don’t hate you, Malfoy,” she sighed, her gaze falling on the wand she twirled within her fingertips.  She didn’t even remember when she pulled it out.

 

He took a cautious step towards her. When she made no move to flee, he suddenly closed the distance between them.  He kept his hands in his pockets while he stared down at her.  She kept her gaze focused on the wand but she swallowed nervously, aware of his scrutinizing gaze yet desperately afraid to meet it.

 

“Leave with me. Now.” It was an order, not a request.

 

“You’re running,” she confirmed, her voice now shaking.  She felt the first tear slip down her cheek.

 

And just as she suspected, he reached his hand to her cheek, catching it with his thumb. With his other hand, he grabbed her chin, tilting her head to look up at him.  “We can be in France before anyone knows we’re missing.” His breath was warm against her lips as he spoke.

 

In that moment, Hermione Granger was tempted to concede… to flee with her enemy someplace safe and hide away from the magical war that waited for her down below. Her left arm started to sting under her jumper… a reminder that she could never do what he asked, no matter how much her heart may desire it.

 

She wrenched free of his grasp on her face and stepped around him. “You know I would never leave my friends.”

 

Draco leaned his hands on the railing, clenching the wood with all his might she feared he may splinter it. “ Your friends ,” he spat. He suddenly whirled on her, the mask now gone, his grey eyes raging with an uncontrollable storm, “Harry Potter is going to die! Your friends will die! There is no stopping The Dark Lord and even now he is merely toying with you all while he waits for Potter to come to him!”

 

“Harry would never,” she started.

 

He grabbed her by her shoulders, giving her a good shake, “He will! He will sacrifice himself because that is what Potter does and it’s weakness.”

 

Hermione looked up into Draco’s eyes then, her fierce loathing for the boy who had bullied her for so many years finally spilling over, “And you know all about weakness, don’t you, Malfoy?” 

 

He dug his hands into her shoulders, surely bruising her, as he searched her gaze for something… anything. “Yes, Granger, I do…” he spoke softly.

 

She reared back, confused.  She hadn’t expected him to agree with her.

 

Draco suddenly fell to his knees before Hermione, his hands sliding down to settle on her waist. She gasped, her own hands covering his in an attempt to pry them off of her but yet she didn’t make a move against him.  She simply stared at the broken boy before her, his own tears now evident on his soot dusted face.  

 

“Please, Hermione…” he begged, “…I…I…” He searched for the words, swallowing past a choked sob, “I… I fucking love you…”

 

It was as if he had knocked all the air from her lungs, her breath coming in shallow, uncontrollable bursts.  She pulled away from him, a shocked and incredulous look of pain coloring her features.  She reached for the sleeve of her jumper, yanking it to her elbow to show him the fresh and still raw cuts his own Aunt had made on her flesh.  She thrust it into his face, “Is this how you love me?!”

 

Draco turned away in disgust, the carved word MUDBLOOD making him sick. 

 

It made her lash out. She pushed against his chest, hitting him and punching him in the hardness of his lean muscles.  “You let her torture me!” she screamed.  “You just stood by while she cut me!” Her foot slipped against the wood and she tumbled into him.  He caught her with ease and she fought against his hold with everything she had, but he didn’t release her.  He took her hits, wrapping her tightly in his embrace while she raged.

 

“I’m sorry…I know…I know…” he whispered against her forehead, cradling her.  And then she was weeping.  She was on her knees, clutching at the lapels of his jacket as she bowed her head into his lap and sobbed. He curled his body over her, letting her know that for right now, she was safe… safe to let her emotions break free…. To release all the pain… all the agony …of the last year so that it crashed over them like the waves of a tempestuous sea.

 

She let herself feel for the first time in a long while… without the fear of consequence.  She didn’t have to be the strong one right now… the smart one… the one with all the answers.  Draco would be that for her. Draco Malfoy … always there when she needed him to be. She raised her head to look into his eyes.  His hands immediately fell to her cheeks, his thumbs wiping away the tears and dirt from her face.

 

“I lied to you…” he whispered.

 

Her heart clenched in her chest at his words and her stomach flipped.

 

He smirked, “I really do like your perfume… Fuck me, I want to drown in it.”

 

She laughed, good and heartily, as did he.  Then his face grew serious.  He leaned forward and she knew he was going to kiss her.

 

His lips were but a breath from hers when she stammered, “I kissed Ron.”  The words tumbled from her mouth of their own accord and the moment they were spoken, she wanted to take them back.

 

Draco stiffened against her. “I see…” he drawled, his lips so close his hot breath danced over her face, sending shivers raking through her.

 

It was a moment or two longer before his hands suddenly fell away from her face and he reared back on his heels, pushing to stand. He stepped away from her, turning to give her his back.  She could see the tension in his shoulders, his fist clenched at his side but he said nothing more.

 

“Please say something,” she begged.

 

He heaved a heavy sigh before turning to face her, his mask of indifference firmly in place now.  “So you two are together then?”

 

“No…” she shook her head, more tears threatening to emerge.  She looked down at her hands, “Yes…”

 

“Which is it – yes or no ?!” he bellowed, his voice so loud it made her jump.

 

She clamored to her feet.  “I…I don’t know.  It was sudden and out of place…” She swallowed past the lump in her throat, “Before today, you were the only one I had ever kissed…”

 

His head snapped towards her, the surprise alight in his gaze.  Then he turned away, “Impossible.”

 

She snorted her disdain in a very unladylike manner, again wrapping her arms around herself protectively.  “Yes, because I’m some great beauty all the boys long for…”

 

He took a step towards her, firmly replying, “You have no idea. ” There was conviction in his voice that she had never heard before.

 

Her mouth dropped open in surprise then she quickly closed it.  She cast her vision down to stare at her trainers.  She had to swallow down the bile that suddenly rose in her throat as she saw specks of blood on the once practical shoes.  Oh my God … she thought warily, what was she doing? Lamenting over being kissed while her friends lay dead or dying ?!

 

A shuddered sob tore from her throat and she pressed her fist to her mouth to quiet it.  She couldn’t look at him.  She couldn’t think.  So she did the only thing she knew how to do and bolted for the stairs.

 

Two strong arms encircled her waist before she could even place her foot onto the first step.  Draco dragged her back into his embrace, holding her tightly against the hardness of his chest, tangling his long arms with hers.  She struggled briefly within his grasp but then she gave in, falling slack against him.

 

“Let me go,” she whisper-cried.

 

He dropped a kiss to her shoulder, then the nape of her neck, his mouth dragging to the skin just below her ear.  “I cannot…”

 

Why ?” she pleaded.

 

He buried his face into her hair, “I’m not ready for you not to be in my life.”

 

It was enough to break her, shattering the last bit of willpower she had left. She turned to face him and crushed her lips against his.

 

He reacted immediately, threading his fingers through her hair, bringing her flush against his body. She clutched fervently at his shoulders as he kissed her over and over, his mouth pulling at her bottom lip, urging her to open for him. And once she did, he wasted no time in thrusting his tongue into her warmth, sliding into her mouth and around her teeth until he had her gasping for breath.

 

Only then did he relent and only long enough for her to breathe.

 

He was an assault on every one of her senses.  His masculine smell of sandalwood and musk invaded her nose; the feel of his hard form was a perfect fit for her soft curves; the taste of his mouth like spearmint on her tongue… Hermione couldn’t help herself -- she groaned against his lips, a guttural sound he swallowed eagerly.

 

Suddenly, their hands were everywhere, the motions frantic with a heated need neither of them would ever be able to explain.  They kicked off their shoes. She tore at his jacket, pushing it down his shoulders and off his arms before starting to rip at the buttons of his shirt.  He pulled her jumper over her head, tossing it aside, followed by the tank top underneath.  He didn’t hesitate, the palms of his hands covering her breasts through the simple cotton bra she wore, a moan of pleasure tearing from her throat unbidden.

 

Draco covered her mouth with his, muffling the sound, but his hands did not relent.  He shoved the cups of the bra up, exposing her to the crisp night air in the tower, her nipples hardening in response. She gasped, her hand clasping at the back of his neck as she pushed wantonly against his fingers, his hands kneading the mounds, his thumbs caressing the pink peaks. 

 

She arched her back, wanting more from him but not knowing exactly how to ask for it.  But he knew Draco Malfoy always knew

 

His hands slid from her front to her back, his fingers splayed against the center of her spine.  He tilted her to lean back as he lowered his mouth, his tongue trailing a path from her throat to the valley of her breasts, tasting her before he drew one sensitive peak between his teeth and began to suck.  

 

Hermione’s hands grabbed at his hair, holding him against her as she spewed incoherent words, gasping and crying out. With a distinct pop, he released her right breast, dragging his tongue across her chest to suckle the other. 

 

Her mind a foggy haze, she let go of him with one of her hands, sliding down to the pocket of her jeans to grasp the Hawthorn wand. She pulled it out and raised it above them.

 

Draco’s long fingers suddenly gripped her wrist, staying her movements. He lifted his head to look over at her clenched fist, before meeting her confused gaze.

 

The corner of his mouth curved into his patented smirk, “Nice wand.”

 

She released a shaky breath, “Stole it from Harry.”

 

Draco tossed his hair out of his eyes, releasing a joyous laugh. “Why, Granger, I think I have seriously underestimated you.”

 

She cocked a brow, “That makes two of us.”

 

He tilted his head and studied her for a long moment, before his face grew serious, “You sure about this?”

 

“Yes…” came her breathy response.

 

He took a step back, his hands falling to his belt.  “Set the silencing wards,” he replied, working to unbuckle his trousers.

 

Hermione quickly turned away to hide her maiden embarrassment as she whispered the incantations to prevent them from being disturbed or heard. Then she calmly laid the wand down and proceeded to unbutton her jeans with trembling fingers. She couldn’t turn to face him… not yet.

 

But he was already there, his hands unclasping her bra before falling to her hips, his fingers sliding into the waistband of the jeans to slowly push them down her legs. She lifted one leg then the other, kicking them away from her. He pulled her back against him then, and she could feel he had rid himself of his shirt and trousers, leaving him only in his trunks, the hard, rigid length of his arousal pressed firmly against her backside.

 

Draco nuzzled her neck, his tongue trailing a wet path from her shoulder to the sensitive skin just under her earlobe. “Turn around,” he whispered, his breath hot in her ear, giving rise to goosebumps on her flesh.

 

They were really going to do this. She was going to do this with him ... 

 

She swallowed then slowly turned in his embrace. She thought she had mentally prepared herself but when her soft brown eyes met his grey gaze, she froze.  His eyes burned with such intensity and he was suddenly trembling beneath her touch, that her mind faltered, rendering her mute.

 

With the back of his knuckles, he traced a path down the length of her, his eyes burning a trail across her skin.  He stopped just shy of her knickers, his fingers toying with the waistband of the sensible white cotton as he just stared at them.

 

Again, she swallowed, her voice shaking as she said, “If I’d known you’d be seeing them, I’d have perhaps chosen something maybe more lacy…”

 

When he said nothing, and neither moved nor flinched, she suddenly grew very uncomfortable under his scrutinizing. She shrugged, “One never knows how to dress for a battle, I suppose…”

 

“Hermione,” he breathed, “you’re perfect.” He swallowed thickly, “I simply can’t fathom why you’re here… with me…”

 

Her heart stuttered in her chest at his confession.

 

He dropped to his knees before her, his hands settling low on her hips.  He let his thumbs lightly dance over the apex of her thighs, sending a shiver of pleasure raking through her. Her hands fell to his shoulders as her knees grew weak. She looked down at him, the fingers of one her hands combing through his beautiful blonde hair as she urged him to look up at her.

 

“Draco…” she started, her voice cracking. She closed her eyes for a moment, her courage threatening to flee.

 

“You can ask me anything, my love…” he whispered, his chin resting against her stomach as he gazed up at her.

 

“Have...have you...have you done this before?” she stammered.

 

He grimaced and her heart sank. 

 

“I... have… ” he said slowly.

 

“Oh!” She was surprised to hear him admit it but not all that shocked by his answer. This was Draco Malfoy, afterall...Slytherin’s bad boy. She stiffened in his embrace as she bit her bottom lip.  She couldn’t look at him, focusing her gaze on some point beyond him, her eyes glazing over as her brain churned with emotion.

“It was just a rite of passage… for Malfoy men…” he stuttered.

 

“I don’t want to know!” she interrupted, speaking quickly but still avoiding his eyes.

 

Draco reached up and grabbed her chin, tilting her face to look down at him. His heart seized at the unshed tears in her eyes. “She was no one… It meant nothing to me,” he urged.

 

“And this?” she couldn’t help but ask.

 

He smiled slowly, “This is everything to me, Hermione.” 

 

He locked his gaze with hers, an unspoken command in his eyes for her to not turn away. His hands again settled on her hips, his fingers digging in to hold her still.  He leaned forward and her breath hitched, her heart racing at such an unnatural rate that she could hear it in her ears like a beating drum, deafening her.

 

His tongue slid against her core, tracing over her slit through the cotton of her knickers. Her head fell back as she released a soft whimper.

 

“You’re so fucking wet, Hermione…” Draco purred against her thigh, his wicked mouth planting tiny kisses on the inside of her legs. “Is that all for me?”

 

She gave a quick nod of her head, words failing her.

 

“Hermione Granger speechless… I never thought I’d see the day,” he teased, his fingertips drifting back and forth lightly over the folds of her sex.

 

“Prat,” she groaned, clutching desperately at his shoulders now as her legs trembled beneath her.

 

He chuckled low. His hands moved up to the waist of her panties now, “Do you think you need these, love?”

 

“N-no…” she gave a violent shake of her head.

 

She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt him rise up on his knees, no hesitation as he pushed the thin fabric down her thighs to her ankles where she quickly discarded them.  She couldn’t look at him while she stood like this, completely naked in front of Draco Malfoy. She had to fight the urge to cover herself.

 

She heard his sharp intake of breath. Then she felt his lips there at the soft spot where her hip bone met her thigh and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

 

“Hermione…” he whispered, “...if this is too much for you…”

 

“No!” she interrupted. She wanted this. Merlin’s beard, she wanted this with him . She opened her eyes, swallowed and took a deep, shuddering breath before meeting his gaze.  He was watching her, his head leaning against her hip. He looked so soft there, an indescribable emotion in his beautiful grey eyes.

 

She let her fingers drift through his hair, suppressing a giggle at how mussed his usually perfectly coiffed locks were. “I want you, Draco. I’ve always wanted you ...”

 

He lifted his head and smiled warmly at her. Then he bowed his head, inhaling deeply of her scent right before he buried his mouth against her feminine core with nary a warning. Hermione fell back against the railing of the staircase, her hands barely catching it in time as a strangled sound tore from her throat.

 

Draco’s tongue found her warm center with practiced skill, licking and rolling against her folds until she could feel her own juices running down her thighs.  It was exquisite torture, the pleasure that rippled through her as his mouth worked against her, but she wanted more… something was missing or elusive… she just didn’t know what. 

 

His hand traveled to the back of one knee and he guided her leg over his shoulder, opening herself to him. His tongue was slow now, giving her lazy strokes across her slit before drawing her clit between his lips. Her hips jerked against his face of their own volition and a moan escaped her lips. He took the opportunity to slip one long finger inside her, filling her while he suckled the most senstive part of her. He gave her a few quick thrusts before adding another finger, her wetness making it easy for him to slide in and out of her without hurting her.  She gasped as a wave of new feelings crashed into her. At that moment, she was incredibly thankful for his experience… or whatever the hell the Malfoy Rite of Passage was.

 

“Draco!” she cried out, her hands finding purchase on his muscular shoulders, her nails digging deep into his porcelain flesh. He quickened his pace, crooking the tips of his fingers to hit the perfect spot inside her.  She fell forward over him, her nails scratching down his back as she was hit with a blinding force of pleasure unlike any she had ever felt. Something deep and low quickened in her abdomen as he continued sliding his fingers inside her, alternating between slow movements and fast thrusts.

 

“Come for me, Hermione,” he encouraged. He lowered his mouth to her once again, his tongue rough against her core as he feasted on her.  Her head fell back, her hips rolling against him, his fingers like magic inside her.  And then it hit, slamming hard into her… her first real orgasm… shattering her inside and out as her channel contracted and her legs collapsed underneath her.

 

He reacted quickly, withdrawing from her as he caught her with ease, gently lowering her to lay down on the ground. There was something soft beneath her… his jacket, she realized. Her fingers drifted over the fine fabric, her mind foggy from the waves of pleasure still shaking through her. She was only dimly aware of him rising above her, the width of his body sliding between her thighs, spreading her wide for him. Then she felt the tip of his shaft prodding her womanhood, and reality swiftly came crashing down around her.  She immediately tensed, her thighs tightening around his hips in an attempt to close herself from the coming intrusion.

 

Draco froze. “Hermione?” he questioned, his voice cracking under the pressure. He leaned over her, his left hand coming to rest beside her head.

 

She kept her face turned to the side, her eyes staring hard at the Dark Mark there on his forearm, her throat working but the words stuck on her lips. It was a glaring reminder that what she was about to do, could never be undone.

 

She felt him shift, drawing away from her. She willed her hands to tangle around his neck, staying his retreat.  She turned to look up at him, his eyes hardened with uncertainty.

 

“You don’t have to,” he replied. “I understand…” Though the look in his eyes told a different story.

 

“Draco, please kiss me,” she murmured.

 

He hesitated for a moment, then with a quick shake of his head, he leaned down, his lips brushing against her mouth. She opened for him and his tongue swept inside, deepening their exchange immediately.

 

Christ above, she could taste herself on his tongue . It was strangely erotic and very wicked.

 

Hermione tugged him towards her now, her thighs drifting apart as she urged him to settle between them. He followed her lead, only going as far as she allowed.

 

She laid flat on her back and he rose above her, resting on his forearms. Her fingers drifted over his swollen lips. “Make me yours, Draco,” she whispered.

 

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he confided, swallowing past the tightness in his throat.

 

She moved beneath him, her hips rolling against his erection pressed firmly against the inside of her thigh. He choked on his gasp, his fingers falling to her hip to keep her still.  His eyes closed and he clenched his jaw as he fought his body’s natural instinct to claim her.

 

“Please, Draco…”

 

She watched the tick work in his jaw, then he released a shuddering breath.  He moved, rising above her, his hips pressing her down onto the ground as he thrusted hard, his member burying itself deep.

 

Hermione cried out, her insides feeling like they were tearing apart at the seams. It burned and it hurt and it was tight...too tight...he was too big… 

 

Draco’s forehead rested against her chest as he stilled.  “I’m sorry...I’m sorry….” he chanted weakly against her skin.

 

He shifted, partially withdrawing before he thrusted again, bottoming out. Again, the pain followed and she choked on his name.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted to push him away or keep going.  She couldn’t think… was too scared to even breathe.

 

But he began to move slowly, his hips searching for a rhythm, his thrusts shallow. Hermione closed her eyes, focusing on the movement, the way he slid in and out, the feeling of being so full of him and yet still wanting more. She realized the pain was becoming less and less with each thrust and he was allowing her the time to get used to the feel of him, his passion restrained.

 

“Draco,” she panted. He grunted in response, his mouth still buried against her chest. “Draco, go faster,” she begged.

 

His head snapped up to meet her gaze, his eyes still uncertain.

 

“Please...please…”

 

He mumbled something, pushed up on his hands, and thrust faster, harder against her. Hermione arched her back, her hips lifting into his thrusts as she cried out. The pain was almost gone, replaced by a primal urge long buried deep inside her.

 

She clawed at his back, his shoulders… her nails leaving raised red marks across his skin. It seemed to spur him on. He moved faster, his hips snapping against her, his groans punctuated by shouts of her name. It was hot and fierce and she could feel her slick covering the inside of her thighs, dripping down her legs as his hips rocked against her again and again.

 

She felt his fingers settle between their bodies, searching for her clit.  He rolled his thumb against her, circling over the flesh in time with each of his thrusts now.  She was so sensitive that it almost hurt but she felt the familiar pressure starting to build low in her belly from his ministrations. 

 

“Yes...yes…” she heard herself say. She clutched him tight as the explosion hit, ripping through her.

 

“Draco!” she screamed, her face burying against the corded muscle of his neck.

 

He managed only three more short thrusts before he joined her in bliss, hand pulling her hip from the floor to press against him as he came, his cum filling her. 

 

She slowly eased back to lay down on the floor, her breathing short and fast, mingling with his. He held her in place as he looked down at her, his finger pushing a stray sweat-soaked lock of hair from her face. There was raw emotion in his gaze as he studied her for a moment.  Then he laid a gentle kiss on her forehead and on each cheek before claiming her lips with his own.

 

“Hermione…” he whispered into her mouth as he kissed her over and over.  Then he shifted his body, withdrawing from her tight folds with a grunt before rolling away from her.

 

The cool air hit her wet skin and she shivered. She leaned her head back and could see it was not yet dawn, but the sky was turning a pasty grey as the sun began to rise. She heard him dressing quickly and she knew she should follow suit.  But she rolled to her side, her back to him.  She clenched her thighs together as she felt the mixture of their lovemaking sticky between her legs.  She swallowed back her tears as her brain came to life, compartmentalizing the consequences of their actions.

 

Oh God

 

Deft fingers drifted over the curve of her breast and across her ribs.  “No regrets, Granger…” he whispered into her ear. Her gripped her chin within his thumb and forefinger and turned her to face him. He stroked his tongue into her mouth, slow and lazy, dragging a moan from deep within her. He smiled down at her for a moment before rising to stand, pulling her with him.

 

He helped her collect her clothes, turning away to run his fingers through his hair, giving her some semblance of privacy to redress.  She stared at his back, the way his muscles in his shoulders tensed beneath the thin fabric of his dress shirt as she reckoned he worked through what had just transpired between them. He bent and retrieved his jacket, dusting it off, pausing at the spot of blood now coloring one part of the black fabric.  He swallowed then opted to fold the jacket over his arm instead of wearing it. 

 

She had just finished pulling her jumper over her head when he finally turned to face her.  She folded her arms over her chest and he thrust one hand into his trouser pocket as they stared at each other then tore their gazes away to look at the floor.

 

Oh God...Oh God...Oh God … she chanted over and over in her head. She heard him approach but she couldn’t look up at him.  He bent to pick something up off the floor before closing the distance between them.  He handed her his Hawthorn wand.  She stared blankly at it before raising her gaze to meet his eyes.

 

“It’s yours…” she replied.

 

“Take it,” he replied. “I still have my mother’s wand.”

 

She couldn’t seem to make her fingers move and she swallowed.  

 

“Hermione, it's okay. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stand with you.”

 

That got her attention. Her head shot up to look at him.  He brought his thumb to trace over her bottom lip and then he gave her a warm, very un-Draco like grin. 

 

“When this is done and the Dark Lord has been defeated, you have to promise you’ll let me shag you proper in my bed...” He winked at her then gave her a quick kiss to her lips before shoving the wand into her one of her hands while he interlaced her other fingers with his, turning to walk down the staircase.

 

Hermione stared at the wand clutched in her hand and then the back of Draco’s head. She swallowed, her chest constricting.  He was still a Death Eater… there would be a trial… he would take his punishment, even if it meant a stint in Azkaban… he would do it all for her.  

 

And for what? 

 

Her friends would never accept him, not after everything he had done.  She couldn’t blame him for his actions… not entirely. He was still just a kid after all; he had a fierce need to protect his family.  Just as she knew he would put everything he had on the line to protect her.

 

Oh God...Oh God...Oh God

 

His family would cast him out… Loving a Mudblood? They would never allow it.

 

He would come to hate her… he would commit himself to a life with her but the resentment they would feel at being torn away from all they knew would eventually kill any notion of love they had once shared...

 

Oh God...Oh God...Oh God

 

She raised the wand, pointing it at him. A tear slipped down her cheek. 

 

“I love you, Draco,” she whispered.  He froze in mid step, his hand tightening on hers.

 

Obliviate… ” The simple incantation spilled from her trembling lips, the tears coming hard and fast. She felt the magic pour from her and suddenly his hand was gone, falling stiffly to his side. His fingers splayed against his thigh then relaxed.  He turned slowly to look at her.

 

“What the hell, Granger,” he sneered.  “Potter have you following me now?”

 

Hermione lowered her wand and wiped at the tears with the back of her hand. “Draco..” she somehow managed to say before catching herself.

 

He reared back as if she had struck him. “You forget your place, Granger.” He took a menacing step towards her but stopped. His jaw clenched tight and his fist balled against his thigh. He almost looked confused as his brain worked to fill in the blanks.

 

She had taken it all from him - any moment of kindness he may have ever shown her - gone forever.  He would have to choose his path forward without her complicating his feelings. 

 

But it didn’t make it hurt any less.  Her heart crushed beneath the weight of the memories only she would have now, bringing with it a strangled sob.

 

She pushed past him, a silent prayer to any who would listen that he would end up doing the right thing… eventually.

Chapter Text

8 years after the Battle of Hogwarts 

 

Harry Potter straightened his tie and ran his fingers through his messy hair, trying to smooth it out.  He pulled at his robes before placing his hand on the ornate doorknob. He paused, drawing in a shallow, shaky breath. He opened the door and entered the Wizengamot chambers.

 

Minister Shacklebolt, standing front and center among the fifty or so judicial members in their plum-colored robes, turned, immediately greeting Harry with a warm smile and a firm shake, “Good to see you, Potter.”

 

“You, too, sir,” Harry replied, desperately trying to temper his nerves.  His gaze flitted around the room, recognizing a few faces. Everyone stared back, a mixture of awe and contempt lining their faces.  Even after 8 years, he was still The Boy Who Lived Then Died Then Lived Again … A fact that made him cringe.

 

“Please, have a seat, Potter,” Shacklebolt gestured to the empty chair at the center of the room… a chair often used for those being put on trial.

 

Cautiously, Harry took his seat while Shacklebolt moved to claim his chair as Chief Warlock among the proceedings.

 

Shacklebolt gave him another warm smile before saying, “Thank you for joining us, Harry. I don’t suppose you know why we asked you to meet here today…”

 

Harry swallowed, looking down at his feet for a brief moment, carefully collecting his thoughts.  “If-if you’re here to convince me to return to the Aurors, I’m afraid my answer is still a resounding no.”

 

Shacklebolt chuckled causing Harry’s head to snap up and stare at his former mentor. “Relax, Potter. I am hearing nothing but good things from Headmistress McGonagall about you.  How is Defense Against the Dark Arts these days?”

 

Harry straightened in his chair, “It’s going very well, sir.  I am rather enjoying my new position. And I’m home for dinner every night, which pleases the wife.”

 

Shacklebolt glanced at the other Ministry officials for a brief moment before turning to Harry with a smile, “And how is Ginevra?”

 

Harry looked around, suddenly feeling uncomfortable, “Ginny… Ginny is good.  She’s taking leave from the Holyhead Harpies indefinitely…” Harry smiled then, “We are expecting another baby…”

 

It didn’t go unnoticed to Harry how several members shifted in their seats at the mention of a baby, Shacklebolt included. Some members could be heard murmuring amongst themselves.

 

Harry swallowed, “Sir, I’m sure I wasn’t summoned here for small talk, so perhaps we can just get to the point.”

 

“Right you are, Harry.” Shacklebolt cleared his throat, “Actually, we here at the Ministry asked you here today with marriage on our minds…”

 

Harry stared at the Minister for the space of several heartbeats before furrowing his brow, “I’m flattered, Shacklebolt, but as I’ve mentioned I’m kinda already taken…”

 

Shacklebolt cocked an eyebrow, “Funny…” He withdrew a file folder and handed it to a waiting Auror. The young man, eyeing Harry, casually slipped it into Potter’s waiting hands.

 

Harry sighed, his fingers drifting over the cold folder before resigning himself to opening it.  He quickly scanned over the first page, then the second, but then closed it. He shoved it back at the Auror. “You cannot be serious…” was all he could think to say. Purebloods marrying Half-Bloods and Muggleborns… inconceivable.

 

Shacklebolt leveled his piercing gaze at Harry, “On the contrary, we are very serious.”

 

“It’s already a done deal,” another Ministry official chimed in.

 

Harry shot him a dirty look and the smarmy man shrunk back in his seat.

 

“You cannot force this on the Wizarding population. It’s archaic,” Harry stated firmly.

 

“We are not forcing anyone, Potter.  It will strictly be on a volunteer basis only,” Shacklebolt replied.

 

To this, Harry gave a snort of disbelief, “No Pureblood will ever volunteer…”

 

“We already have 15 Pureblood volunteers… some from the Sacred Twenty-Eight, in fact,” Amelia Bones interceded. “There’s even a Weasley…”

 

Harry sat back in his chair and let that information ruminate for a brief moment. Perhaps Ron was finally ready to move on with his life …  He quickly shook the thought away. It could easily be Percy or Charlie… No, definitely Percy. He looked up at the audience before him, “Why are you telling me this? As I’ve already mentioned, I’m married …”

 

“To a Pureblood…” the young Auror beside him mumbled.  

 

Harry gave this man a cold smile, “Yes… and?”

 

“What Daniels is saying,” Shacklebolt interjected, “is you and Ginny are a perfect example of what we hope to accomplish with this Initiative. Since the war ended…” He paused, swallowing, “Well I don’t have to tell you how we lost many lives in that battle… three times as many witches and wizards perished than in the First Wizarding War.  While there was a bit of a baby boom right after, it has died off substantially…” Again he paused, “And there has been an alarmingly high rate of infertility among the Purebloods…”

 

“And, much to their chagrin, the children that are being born are nothing more than Squibs…” an older lady Harry did not recognize interrupted.

 

“Don’t use that word,” Harry chided.

 

Shacklebolt threw the woman a cold stare before turning his attention back to Harry, “Potter, you have to understand, we are only trying to save our way of life.  It’s true, more and more children are being born without magic. Attendance is down at Hogwarts, as I’m sure you’ve seen first hand… If we don’t act now, soon there may not be any magic left in this world.”

 

Harry sighed, pressing his palms against his eyes, trying in vain to stave off the headache forming.  “And you think the answer is forcing Purebloods to marry Half-Bloods and Muggleborns...” It wasn’t a question.

 

“Not force… strictly volunteers only.”

 

“Potter, you and your wife already have a beautiful son and another child on the way.  I’ve heard people say how powerful James is and at such a young age…” chimed in Penelope Clearwater.

 

Potter couldn’t help but smile, thinking about James. Molly Weasley bragging on her grandson was not what Harry would consider as people , but it was true, nonetheless. James had already shown an amazing aptitude for magic, even though he was only 3. Harry’s smile suddenly faded, “I still don’t understand why you are bringing this to my attention. Ginny and I have been together for years, you can’t expect people to believe we were somehow part of this Initiative…”

 

“No, nothing like that, Potter…” Shacklebolt swallowed then looked Harry in the eyes, “While we have more than enough willing Purebloods, our issue seems to be getting Half-Bloods and Muggleborns to accept the concept of an arranged marriage…”

 

Harry cocked an eyebrow, crossing his arms in front of him, “Can you blame them?” There was more murmuring among the council and uncomfortable shuffling in their seats.

 

The older lady sniffed disdainfully, “Purebloods have the richest and most defined magical lineage to speak of. Half-Bloods and Muggleborns should be counting themselves lucky we have even deigned to include them in our community.”

 

“Esmelda!” Shacklebolt snapped.

 

“Lucky, you say?” Harry looked the woman directly in the eye, “Some of the finest witches and wizards I know are Half-Bloods and Muggleborns, myself included.  And last I checked, we overthrew Voldemort.  Purebloods either joined him or hid themselves away until the threat was over.  So, perhaps you should count yourself lucky we allow you to be a part of our community.”

 

“The nerve you have, Mr. Potter,” she bit out.

 

“Esmelda, that will be enough,” Shacklebolt shouted. She immediately closed her mouth. He turned to look at Harry, “You will have to forgive some of the older members of this group, Harry.  You can’t change how some people were raised, no matter how antiquated their views may be.” He shot the old woman a look of anger.

 

Harry shook his head, “It’s quite alright, Minister. I’ve dealt with this sort of bigotry all my life. As have the others like me…” He sighed, “…Which is why they will never agree to marry a Pureblood.”

 

Shacklebolt’s jaw tightened, “They might… if…” He paused for a moment, “…if we had a volunteer of some influence… a spokesperson, so to speak…”

 

“Someone of influence…” Potter repeated, a question in his eyes.  Then it hit him. He shook his head, “Absolutely not.”

 

“Ms. Granger is the perfect person for this… bright, young…”

 

“Single…” Esmelda finished.  “Though I hear she’s quite a looker so that does surprise me…”

 

Harry flew out of his chair, “Now see here…”

 

Shacklebolt reacted instantly, rising and giving the older woman a look of condemnation, “Esmelda, I think maybe you should leave…”

 

Esmelda calmly stood, smirking as she straightened her robes, smoothing the wrinkles from it, “Very well, this conversation was rather boring to me, anyway.”  She gave Harry one last look before exiting the room.

 

Harry pulled down on his robes before retaking his seat. “Who is that?”

 

“She’s harmless…” Shacklebolt replied.

 

“She had no right to speak of Hermione in that way.”

 

“And how is Ms. Granger these days?  I hear she’s also teaching at Hogwarts… Transfiguration, I believe,” Shacklebolt asked.

 

“She’s well.” Harry paused before adding, “She’ll never agree to this, Shacklebolt. You know that.”

 

“We’ve sent her letters,” Katie Bell replied, “But she never responds.”

 

Harry smiled in spite of himself, “She more than likely doesn’t even open them.  She prefers anonymity these days.”

 

“Harry,” Shacklebolt sighed, “Ms. Granger is the best of us… surely…”

 

“No, “ he shook his head, “She, more than most, has never had a good history with the Purebloods. Not to mention the fact that the whole idea of an arranged marriage goes against all her fundamental rights as a woman…and… and.. No, she won’t do it.”

 

“She might…if you convince her,” Katie answered.

 

Harry hung his head. His stomach twisted at the thought of one of his best friends subjecting themselves to this, and yet there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind that needed him to remember something… a small, overlooked detail… “Let me see the list of the Pureblood volunteers,” he replied.

 

More murmuring. “Harry, it wouldn’t be very fair to our volunteers if we shared that information…” Katie tried.

 

“The list or I walk,” Harry stated.

 

Katie looked at Shacklebolt.  He gave her a curt nod. She proceeded to shuffle some pages before handing a piece of paper over to the Auror, who turned and gave it to Harry.

 

Harry scanned the list of names, chewing haphazardly on his bottom lip as he processed the information.  He handed the paper back to the Auror. “I suppose I could talk to her…”

 

Relief flooded the Council members.

 

“That is all we are asking,” Shacklebolt replied.

 

Harry sighed, “Alright, explain it to me.”



*****

“Harry James Potter, how could you even think I would ever agree to such a… a… an archaic practice such as an arranged marriage?!” Hermione huffed.

 

She turned away from her oldest and dearest friend, scribbling questions across the chalkboard as she prepared for her next class.  She was so angry the chalk scraped and scratched over the blackboard, causing both her and Harry to cringe.

 

“Look, ‘Mione, I told them you would never agree to such a thing but they insisted I ask you anyway.”

 

Hermione slammed the chalk down and whipped away from Harry.  She went to her desk and practically ripped the drawer open, grabbing a scroll, ink pot and quill. 

 

“What are you doing?” Harry asked.

 

“Sending a very strongly worded letter to the Minister of Magic to express my absolute hatred for this Marriage Initiative and to say I will not be volunteering like some prized mare for their auction.” 

 

She yanked out her chair, seating herself before picking up her quill.  Harry’s hand covered hers, staying her movements. She sat there, staring at his hand.

 

He kneeled beside her, “It wasn’t like that, ‘Mione. If Ginny and I weren’t already…”

 

“...happily making magical babies…” she interrupted.

 

He sighed, “Yes, exactly. If I was single, they would be asking me to volunteer as well as you and…”

 

“Don’t say his name,” she replied.

 

Harry sighed again, “Alright...consider it unspoken.”

 

Hermione turned to look at Harry, “Would you do it? If they asked you… could you sit there and commit yourself to a loveless marriage to a Pureblood ? They hate us, Harry.  They hate me…”

 

“They don’t hate you…Who could hate the Great Hermione Granger …” he replied, pushing a stray curl behind her ear.

 

Hermione rolled her eyes, “Just answer the question.”

 

“I… I don’t know… maybe…” he stammered.

 

Hermione huffed, “Liar.”

 

“Look, it’s not about a bunch of men sitting around, pairing off witches and wizards.  There’s compatibility tests, fertility checks, assessments of your magical cores… they are using every means necessary to ensure they find your best match.  They want these marriages to last…”

 

Merlin , you’re actually supporting this insanity!” She abruptly stood, marching across her classroom to get away from him.

 

“I’m not supporting it necessarily… but there were some valid points…”

 

“Harry!” she exclaimed.

 

“Hermione, the truth is the magic community is dying out. Attendance at Hogwarts is at an all time low…”

 

“Oh spare me! The Ministry is trying to exert control over our bodies, plain and simple.”

 

Harry groaned. “Can we not talk about our bodies…?”

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You do know how babies are made, correct?”

 

Harry gave her a look . She simply shrugged.

 

“So I should tell Shacklebolt you said no?”

 

“Do you really have to ask?”

 

He sighed, “No.” He made his way to the door before he stopped and turned to look at her, “This isn’t about…”

 

Don’t say his name,” she warned.

 

“Ron…” he finished. 

 

Hermione cringed. “That was over a long time ago…” Hell, it never really even started, she thought to herself.

 

“Not for him…” Harry replied.

 

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest.  “Yes, well, that’s his issue to deal with.” She turned away from Harry’s scrutinizing gaze and went to the far window that looked out over the Quidditch pitch.

 

“’Mione…” Harry started then paused.  “I… I only suggested it… I mean, after everything you went through after the War…” Again that pause, still she did not look at him.  “Maybe it would do you some good to have someone… ” She slowly turned to face him. “You know,’” he continued, “…to look after you…”

 

“Your concern has been noted, Potter,” she whispered, her vision cast down, studying her sensible heels.

 

“See you at lunch?” Harry tried.

 

Hermione shrugged, “It’s either lunch with you or listen to Longbottom talk about Herbology for an hour…” She gave him a tight smile.

 

“Well, at least I still rank above Longbottom.”

 

She leaned back against the window, “Just barely…”

 

Harry chuckled but his eyes remained sad as he gazed at her.  She hated that look of pity. 

 

“Go, I have class,” she shooed him out.

 

“Alright...alright…” Harry replied, finally exiting the classroom.

 

Hermione released a shaky breath and turned back to stare out the window.  Just as she did, a blur of green sliced through the air, coming to hover just outside her window. The young Captain with his shaggy black hair and piercing blue eyes saluted her, mouthing, “Morning, Ms. Granger” before quickly flying off to rejoin his teammates. The Slytherin team was starting their practice.

 

She swallowed as memories threatened to assail her. She quickly turned back to her empty classroom, afraid of the tears that were forming. She took a deep, cleansing breath and steadied her heart. This was not the time to fall apart.

 

But her eyes betrayed her, instantly settling on the carved initials at the table closest to her…

 

DLM

 

She turned away from them and walked to the front of the class.

*****

 

Hermione climbed the steps up to her flat, located in lower Hogsmeade.  She opted to live separately from Hogwarts, much as Harry did (though he had a family waiting for him and she only had Crookshanks). Still, it made her feel like she had some semblance of a life other than the school. And Neville was all too happy to be Head of Gryffindor House.

 

She entered the small apartment, kicking off her heels and draping her robes over the nearby chair.  Crookshanks was sitting by the picture window in her quaint kitchen, gazing out at the night sky while barely acknowledging her existence. She flopped down on the well-worn couch (one of the few pieces of furniture she took from her childhood home), putting her feet up on the coffee table.  Her vision landed on the picture of her parents on the mantle of her fireplace and her heart lurched. 

 

Eight years…

 

Eight years of spells, counter-spells, memory charms and potions… but there was no reversing what she had done.  She didn’t just erase a memory… she had erased a whole person… 

 

She erased herself and now they were perfect strangers. Her heart seized in her chest at the thought.

 

Hermione choked on the memory trying to form, a strangled sob emerging. She laid back on the couch, bringing a pillow to her chest, clutching it tight. She took a deep breath, followed by another...then another… but it was no use.  The tears came anyway. She wept into the pillow until she was hiccuping and out of breath.

 

She sat up then. She closed her eyes and counted to ten very slowly. She had given the sadness its due. She released a shaky breath then rose and proceeded to go about her nightly routine.  She put the kettle on while she showered. Enjoyed a nice cup of tea while watching her favorite late night comedies on the tele. (She may be a witch, but there was something to be said for sometimes doing things the old Muggle way.  It made her feel closer to her parents, to say the least.) She brushed her teeth and braided her hair, taking a moment to simply stare at the woman reflected back at her in the mirror. Almost twenty-six… still young… but the bags under her eyes seemed to betray her.

 

Maybe it would do you some good to have someone …” Harry’s voice echoed in her head.

 

She released a heavy sigh, switching off the light in the bathroom.  She crawled into her bed, pulling the covers securely around her. Silence enveloped her. Her throat tightened and she swallowed.

 

Maybe it would do you some good to have someone…you know, to look after you …”

 

She stared up at the darkened ceiling, carefully listening to the barrage of sounds around her. She practically flew out of the bed when her door creaked open. But it was only Crookshanks.  Sensing her building anxiety, he sauntered across her bed and flopped down next to her. He allowed her to rub his belly. Hermione laid back down and clutched at her covers rather tightly. Before she knew what she was doing, she started to mentally catalog all the Pureblood men she could remember.  Most made her skin crawl but there were a few potential ones that she might be willing to…

 

She abruptly sat up.  What the hell was she even considering ?

 

She flipped on her lamp and left the bed, pacing the length of the room, wringing her hands. She closed her eyes and her brain immediately betrayed her, clouding her mind with an image of grey eyes and silver blonde hair.  She shook her head, chasing the thoughts away.

 

He would never...would he?

 

She gave a hysterical laugh.  No, he would never volunteer .  That wasn’t even a possibility. 

 

She started to tremble and she wrapped her arms around herself, seeking warmth and comfort. She bit her lip, chewing on it distractedly. 

 

Suddenly she found herself rummaging through her bedroom closet, pulling out a battered old shoebox from deep in the back corner where last she shoved it, much like her memories of him.

 

Her fingers ghosted over the lid as she whispered a simple incantation. She swallowed then slowly opened it.

 

Pictures moved inside the box, clippings from The Daily Prophet looking back at her, silently judging her. She stared at his sullen face, his features sharp and perfectly sculpted just as she remembered. But it was his eyes that drew her attention… now so devoid of emotion. 

 

Quite unexpected for an engagement announcement , she mused.

 

Her eyes scanned the headline from just two weeks ago, still holding onto a sliver of hope that maybe there was something she missed….

 

Draco Malfoy to marry Astoria Greengrass  

 

Nope, there it was printed in black and white.

 

One lone tear slipped unwarranted down her cheek and she quickly dashed it away.

 

She slammed the lid down on the box before pushing herself to her feet. She hurried to the kitchen and opened her rubbish bin, throwing the box inside.

 

Time to let old things die

 

Everyone was moving on with their lives… At least once a month she was receiving birth announcements, wedding invitations and the like, while she allowed herself to wallow in the past.

 

She went and sat back down on the couch and stared at the fireplace. She chewed on the tip of her thumb as she let herself think, her overactive mind her greatest strength and yet also her greatest weakness.

 

What could it hurt to take the compatibility test… see her match , she pondered.

 

She could always back out if it was someone she didn’t like...right ?

 

She slapped her palms against her thighs and pushed to her feet.  She went to her small desk and grabbed a piece of parchment and quill.  She jotted down one sentence and signed her name. Quickly she sealed it, grabbed her coat and raced out of her flat, headed for the post office to get an owl before she lost her nerve.

 

10 minutes later she returned to her flat.  She closed the door and slumped back against it. She shook her head, ripping off her coat.  Calmly, she walked into her kitchen, opened the rubbish bin and pulled out the shoebox. She placed it on her small coffee table and simply stared at it as she sat back down on the couch.

 

What in the hell had she just done



*****

Harry Potter was just leaving the Great Hall when Hermione joined his side.

 

“I wrote the Minister of Magic,” she replied.

 

Harry deflated, “Hermione, you didn’t….”

 

She set her chin, “I did.” She paused, “I told him I would do it.”

 

Harry stumbled in his steps, freezing in place. “W-what?”

 

Hermione turned and met his gaze, “I told him I would do it.  Don’t make a big deal, Harry.”

 

She brushed a curl out of her face, turned and calmly walked away.

 

*****

 

3 months later

 

Hermione sat at her kitchen table, the small brown envelope with the official Ministry of Magic seal clutched in her hands. She swallowed nervously.

 

“Well, open it,” Ginny urged.

 

Hermione looked up at her then slid her gaze over to Harry, who looked almost as nervous as she felt. She laid the envelope down on the table.  “I can’t.” She stood up and started to pace, her thumb absently going to her mouth for her to nervously chew.

 

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, I’ll open it!” Ginny tried to reach across the table for the envelope but her growing stomach only seemed to get in her way.  “This blasted baby!” She tried to rise and reach for the letter but Harry stopped her with a hand on her wrist and a quick shake of his head.  He returned to bouncing James on his knee.

 

“I really think this is something Hermione should do, Ginny,” he replied calmly.

 

“No it isn’t!” Hermione concluded, still pacing, her arms now encircling her as she hugged herself tightly.  “I mean, what was I thinking? This is all your fault, Harry James Potter!”

 

“My fault?!” He exclaimed.  “When last we spoke, you admonished me for even daring to bring it up!”

 

“Yeah, well, you put the thought into my head, so it’s still your fault!”

 

Ginny patted Harry on the knee, “She’s right, my love, you know what happens when you make her think…

 

Harry sighed, running his hand down his face. “Fine, then, I’ll open it.”  He carefully set James down, who immediately ran off to chase Crookshanks around the living room.  He reached for the envelope, bringing it closer, flipping it over and over in his hands.

 

“You can’t do it either, can you?” Ginny questioned.

 

“Nope.” He set it back down, letting his forehead fall against the tabletop with a groan.

 

Ginny snatched it up, “Then allow me.” She positioned her finger under the seal.

 

“Wait!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

Ginny froze.

 

She retook her seat then got back up and resumed pacing once again. “I’ve been staring at that letter for a week, what’s one more day?”

 

“A week?!” both Harry and Ginny replied in unison.

 

Hermione stopped pacing. “I… just couldn’t… I couldn’t open it.  What if it’s someone truly horrid?”

 

Harry stood and took Hermione into his arms, hugging her close, “Then you tell the Ministry no and this becomes just another part of your past.”

 

“Simple as that?” she murmured.

 

“Simple as that, ‘Mione.”

 

“You aren’t obligated to see this through,” Ginny tried, turning slightly to give Hermione’s arm a soothing caress.

 

Hermione took a deep breath, releasing it with a shudder, steeling her nerves, “All right, Ginny, open it.”

 

The young redhead smiled with glee, enthusiastically breaking the seal and unfolding the parchment. Her eyes quickly scanned over the document. “First and foremost, we here at the Ministry of Magic would like to thank you for your service… nonsense… nonsense… nonsense… Ah, here we go…” Her voice trailed off.

 

Both Harry and Hermione took a step closer, waiting with bated breath.

 

Harry cleared his throat, “Well?”

 

“What. The. Bloody. Fuck.” Ginny stammered each syllable.

 

“Ginny!” Harry admonished his wife, “James is right here.”

 

Ginny turned sharply in her chair to face them. “You can yell at me for being a shite parent on your own time, Potter!” She waved the parchment in his face until he grabbed it from her.

 

Hermione cringed, hanging her head in her hands, “Oh lord, it’s terrible, isn’t it? I knew this was a mistake…”

 

Harry’s eyes quickly read over the letter then slid his hand through his hair. “’Mione… I… I don’t know what to say…” He gulped.

 

“Suddenly my cursing seems like a moot point now, huh Potter?” Ginny replied in a condescending tone.

 

Hermione reached for the letter, “Let me see it.”

 

Harry glanced at it one more time, “Hermione, maybe you should rethink this…”

 

“The letter, Harry!” She demanded and he quickly relinquished it.

 

She closed her eyes and steadied her breath. Slowly she opened them and looked over the letter. Her hand immediately came to her mouth, “Oh my God…” she murmured.

 

There, in the fine penmanship of the Minister’s secretary’s writing, in black and white, with a 98.79% match…

 

Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

I’m going to ask you again! Where did you get this sword? Where?!” Bellatrix bellowed.

 

Hermione’s tears fell uncontrollably down her face. “We found it… we found it…”

 

“Liar!” her tormentor yelled, before waving her twisted Walnut wand towards Hermione, followed by “Crucio!”

 

Hermione’s screams rent the air, tearing from her chest as the pain from the Dark Curse seized her insides. It lasted mere minutes, but her body shook from the impact.

 

Bellatrix fell to the floor beside her then, the blade of her knife skimming over Hermione’s cheek, before being replaced with the roughness of the foul witch’s tongue. She licked at her tears, giving a mad chuckle, “Poor, unfortunate Mudblood...how sweet you do taste…” She snapped her fingers then, “Come, Draco...come and have yourself a drink...” The woman above her cackled mercilessly.

 

Bile rose in Hermione’s throat and she turned her face away, her gaze inadvertently settling on the form of the boy being beckoned by his cruel Aunt. His back was to her so she couldn’t see his face. He was hunched before the imposing Gothic fireplace, his hand braced on the mantle. His form blurred before her and she had to blink away the tears. There was a tremble to his shoulders… almost as if he was the one crying. How strange that he would cry for her… just a filthy little Mudblood…

 

The sudden tearing of the flesh of her left arm brought her back to reality and her shrill scream echoed throughout the large room...

 

*****

Hermione stood before the wrought iron gate of Malfoy Manor, the memory of that awful night as raw and fresh as the puckered scar hidden beneath her jumper. She pulled at the sleeve absently, rubbing her thumb over the carved words hidden beneath the soft fabric as if to soothe the sudden ache. Her vision blurred and she realized she was crying. She quickly wiped the tears away.

 

A crack of apparition sounded behind her. A comforting hand fell on her shoulder and she smiled in spite of her growing uneasiness. She reached up and patted the hand of her friend. “Thank you for coming, Harry,” she softly said without the need to turn around and confirm his presence.

 

Harry squeezed her shoulder, “Of course, ‘Mione.” 

 

They both turned and simultaneously released heavy sighs as they stared up at the large gate and the long path beyond. They couldn’t see the house yet, save for the tops of the steepled towers that loomed large over the tall pruned hedges.

 

“I can’t imagine having to grow up here,” Hermione whispered. “It seems so cold… unyielding…”

 

Harry snorted, “I spent my formative years in the cupboard under the stairs so I’m probably not the best person to judge…”

 

Hermione gave him a knowing smile before turning her gaze back towards the Manor. Her humor faded and she shuddered, despite the warm August afternoon.

 

“Hermione, you don’t have to do this,” Harry offered.

 

She chose to ignore him, instead looking down at her outfit. She had chosen a soft, brown Corduroy skirt that flared just below her thighs, paired with a red, long sleeved Cashmere jumper her parents had gifted her at their last Christmas and simple brown ballet flats. She had changed a half dozen times before settling on this and now she wasn’t so certain she had made the right choice. “Do I look okay?” She inquired, again pulling at her left sleeve to cover her shameful scar.

 

Harry sighed, recognizing her attempt to avoid his words. “You look beautiful,” he answered.

 

She reached up to tug on her hair, arranging her chestnut curls so they fell over her right shoulder. “My hair?”

 

Harry took Hermione by her shoulders and turned her to face him. “You look perfect.”

 

Her hands moved to her temples and she rubbed at the tense muscles, “I.. I just don’t understand. The Prophet announced his engagement to Astoria Greengrass. H-how is this even possible?”

 

Harry chuckled, “If you believed everything they print in The Prophet , then we have secretly been dating since Third Year.”

 

She groaned, “You know, wasn’t it Malfoy who fed that particular story to Rita Skeeter?”

 

Harry thought for a moment, “I think you’re right. What a tosser!” Hermione turned to meet his gaze and he gave her a wink and a smirk.

 

The crack of a second apparition sounded behind them and they both turned to see Kingsley Shacklebolt.

 

“Oh good, you’re both here.” He gestured forward, “Shall we?”

 

Hermione couldn’t seem to get her feet to move. They were firmly rooted to the spot. 

 

Kingsley gave Harry a look of concern before glancing down at her, “Ms. Granger?”

 

“Hermione?” Harry questioned.

 

She ignored them both. She took a step forward. Then another and another. She approached the gate. It slowly creaked open, almost as if it was waiting just for her. She walked through, ready to face her future… yet still so haunted by the past.

 

They trekked up the drive with her leading the way. How they must look to the casual observer: one small witch flanked by her two supposed bodyguards. She kept her vision locked on the ground underneath her feet, afraid if she looked up at any time, she’d flee in the opposite direction. 

 

They came to the Manor’s front steps and she finally gave into temptation and gazed up at the imposing house. She gasped at the wondrous site.

 

The house was great in size, no doubt about it. But in the mid-afternoon sun, it burned bright and beautiful. Suddenly Hermione had the distinctive feeling she was Icarus and she had flown too close to the sun. 

 

She studied the structure, marveling at its impressive Gothic architecture and stone façade.  She realized she had never truly seen it before today. After all, she had only been here once, and it had been rather dark (literally and figuratively).

 

Harry came to her side, “Ready?”

 

She slowly released the breath she had been holding and started to climb the stone staircase. As soon as her foot hit the great landing, the front door opened and there stood Narcissa Malfoy.

 

The tall, slim, older woman, looking regal in her form fitting emerald green robes with her white blonde hair pulled into a twisted knot at the base of her neck, smiled warmly and reached for Hermione, dragging her forward for an awkward hug.

 

“Ms. Granger,” she drawled, quickly assessing Hermione with a watchful eye, “You look positively radiant.”

 

“Um, thank you...Mrs. Malfoy,” Hermione stammered.

 

She took her hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze, “Please, call me Narcissa.” Her bright blue eyes searched Hermione’s gaze for a moment before she turned to greet the other two men.  “Mr. Potter, what a delightful pleasure to see you again. My, how you’ve grown.” Still holding onto Hermione’s hand, she leaned forward and kissed Harry once on each cheek. He couldn’t help himself, his whole face turned a shade of red.

 

“Mrs. Malfoy, hope you are doing well,” Harry politely responded, keeping his eyes locked on Hermione.

 

“Yes, very well. And Minister Shacklebolt, thank you for coming.” She repeated her greeting, one kiss for each of Kingsley’s cheeks, before she turned her attention back to Hermione. “It is so good of you to agree to come here today. I can only imagine how difficult it must be… being back here.” Again, she gave Hermione’s hand a squeeze. “But rest assured, we have moved heaven and earth to return The Manor to its former glory and to make you feel most comfortable.”

 

“Oh! Uh… thank you, Mrs. Malf…Narcissa…” Hermione’s heart clenched in her chest at the genuine look of concern on her future Mother-in-law’s face. Having never really met the Malfoy matriarch (only seen at a distance), it moved her how much the woman seemed to genuinely care.  With the exception of Sirius and Andromeda, the Black family’s hatred for muggles was legendary.  Did Hermione dare hope Narcissa’s welcoming display of kindness was the real deal?  Or was this simply a show for the Minister of Magic?

 

“Come inside, please. Draco is waiting for us all in the study,” Narcissa replied, gesturing for everyone to follow her into the house. 

 

Hermione’s stomach flipped at the mention of Draco’s name and she was suddenly very aware her palm was getting sweaty within Narcissa’s grip.  But the witch simply gave her an understanding smile and patted the top of her hand with her other as she led her through the large oak doors into the entryway.

 

She always remembered the old mansion as being dark and dreary so she was pleasantly surprised to see a large area with plenty of windows to allow in the natural light.  Sunbeams bounced off the gold and silver fixtures, giving the home an ethereal glow that made it seem very warm and inviting.

 

As they walked through the main hall, there was a large ornate staircase to the left that ascended to the next level covered in a plush grey carpet and a beautiful stone fireplace she could only assume they used to Floo, with comfortable grey Wingback chairs situated before it.  Hermione noted there were still some ladders and the place smelled of fresh paint, meaning the redecorating was definitely still an ongoing project.  Her eye caught on the distinctive shadows that still adorned the upper walls where paintings, most likely of Malfoy ancestors, once hung. 

 

Narcissa must have been watching her closely because she leaned in ever so slightly and whispered, “Draco had them moved to another wing of the house so as not to disturb you.” Hermione swallowed nervously.  She could only assume they were moved so they couldn’t hurtle obscenities about her blood status. “And you do not have to worry, Ms. Granger, we had the drawing room demolished after Draco’s acquittal many years back.  It was the first thing he did once he was free.”

 

Unable to find her voice, Hermione simply nodded.

 

Narcissa led them from the hall and down a corridor, then took a left, coming to another set of large oak doors that ran floor to ceiling. She finally relinquished Hermione’s hand and gently knocked before nudging the door open. “Draco, dear, our guests have arrived.”

 

“Thank you, Mother,” replied the cold, deep voice from the man within.

 

Hermione’s heart started to hammer within her chest, beating so frantically she feared it may burst from within. And as Narcissa glided the heavy door open and beckoned them to enter, Hermione finally caught the first glimpse of her husband-to-be… a man she had not seen in the flesh since those few stolen moments in the astronomy tower where he took her virginity and her heart… and she stole his memories. Her breath hitched and a wave of panic washed over her.

 

There he stood, lithe in frame but taller and broader than she remembered, clothed head to toe in a black tailored suit, cut to fit his body perfectly.  His back was to them when they entered the spacious room, his hands clasped together in front of him while he studied the flames burning in the cozy fireplace. His white blonde hair was shorter on the sides than she recalled ever seeing it, though longer at the top where he spiked it for one of those “I just rolled out of bed” looks that actually probably took hours to get perfect.

 

Then he turned and the whole world stopped moving so it was suddenly only the two of them standing there. He was as handsome as ever, if not more so. He wore no tie, leaving the top two buttons of his black dress shirt undone, giving her a nice view of the corded muscles of his neck and just a hint of the porcelain skin of his upper chest. 

 

Then her eyes fell on his lips, his perfected pout one of casual boredom. Her mouth ran dry and she licked her lips as a stirring of an unrequited feeling of sheer lust began in the pit of her stomach. 

 

Suddenly his grey eyes collided with hers, their visions locking. She expected hatred… yet hoped for love… or at least something …but his eyes were cold, devoid of all emotion… his body language and manners stoic.

 

It lasted for all of two seconds – his look – before he was sliding past her to extend his hand to Shacklebolt, “Minister,” he greeted.

 

“Mister Malfoy,” Kingsley enthusiastically took his hand, giving it a hearty shake and extending him a smile few people ever saw.

 

And that’s when he turned to face Hermione and Harry, Draco’s hands sliding into the pockets of his trousers as he gave them each a short nod of acknowledgment, “Granger. Potter.”

 

“Malfoy,” they replied in unison, though Hermione’s wasn’t more than a whisper, her voice suddenly dying in her throat. 

 

He barely registered their greeting, moving away from the duo to join his mother. 

 

Ever the gracious hostess, Narcissa directly went for the tea service, offering everyone tea and biscuits.  

 

Out of politeness, Hermione accepted a cup and small biscuit, though her ever persistent nerves caused the fine China to rattle as her hands shook. She looked for a suitable place to set it down so as not to draw attention to herself while Narcissa busied herself serving Harry and Shacklebolt, but every surface was so pristine and unblemished.

 

She stiffened as a warm hand settled at the base of her spine and Draco suddenly appeared at her right side. He took the cup and saucer from her trembling fingers and set it down on the nearest table.  Then, with nary a word, he shoved his hands back into his pockets and sauntered away. 

 

He still smelled so good … Hermione took a deep, shuddering breath before counting to ten.  She then swallowed and turned to watch Draco as he leaned against a long conference table, legs stretched out before him, fingers thrumming on the tabletop.  His vision was cast down to the plush carpet, his brow furrowed as he worked to collect his thoughts.

 

“Well, shall we get started?” Shacklebolt announced, drawing all eyes on him.  He walked to the end of the same table where Draco was perched, waved his wand and a pile of parchment, neatly stacked, suddenly appeared. 

 

The Marriage Contract

 

Shacklebolt gestured to the chairs on either side of him, “If the young couple would care to join me…”

 

Hermione’s heart took on a frenzied rhythm now, thudding hard inside her. She walked over to the table, Draco beating her by seconds to pull out her chair for her.  “Thank you,” she somehow managed to murmur as she took her seat.

 

He said nothing in response, simply moved to the other side and pulled out a chair for his mother on his left before he, too, sat down, directly across from Hermione.

 

She caught Harry’s eye as he pulled the chair out on her right, cocking an eyebrow in a questioning smirk. Yes, this polite Draco was a bit unnerving ... she thought as she cast her vision down into her lap.  She clenched her thighs together beneath the table out of sheer habit as a wave of heat flushed through her entire body.

 

“I assume you are all here of your own free will?” Shacklebolt inquired.

 

“Yes,” Draco replied, his eyes on his hands as he fiddled with something between his fingers.

 

“Yes,” Hermione whispered.

 

Draco glanced up at her and their eyes met for just a moment before he turned away to listen to the Minister.

 

“Narcissa Malfoy will be the witness for Draco Malfoy while Harry Potter shall be Hermione Granger’s witness.  Is anyone opposed?”

 

“No,” Draco and Hermione each answered.

 

“Very well.” Shacklebolt pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his robes then flipped to the second page of the contract before him, “For the record, will you both please state your given names.”

 

“Draco Lucius Malfoy.”

 

“Hermione Jean Granger.”

 

Shacklebolt nodded. “Once again, please confirm you are entering into said contract without coercion or manipulation by any and all outside parties.”

 

“Yes,” they answered.

 

“As with standard procedure, the Marriage Initiative states that the two parties involved, Draco Lucius Malfoy and Hermione Jean Granger, have thus agreed to be wed on a date of their mutual choosing at a neutral location.  Their magics will be bound together in ceremony and rings of fidelity exchanged. At the conclusion of said ritual, the parties will have one year from the exact time and date to produce an heir…”

 

“Eighteen months,” Draco interrupted. His gaze flitted to Hermione for only a moment before he returned Shacklebolt’s look of confusion.  “You and I agreed we would be given eighteen months instead of the standard twelve.”

 

“You are correct, Mr. Malfoy, we did agree.” Shacklebolt turned to Hermione, “Ms. Granger, any opposition to this?”

 

“N-no…” she stammered.

 

“Very well.” Shacklebolt took his quill and amended the contract. “The parties will have eighteen months from the exact time and date of their marriage to produce an heir. Absolutely no potions, spells or other means of contraception, Muggle or otherwise, may be used during the duration of the eighteen months. If, at the conclusion of the timeframe, there is no conception, the parties may choose to be separated at that time without consequence as a result of the dissolution of the marriage. Their magics will remain intact and they may go their separate ways as if none of this ever happened.”

 

Shacklebolt briefly paused, letting the flow of information ruminate before proceeding, “Conception or no, the parties are free to continue with their union beyond the stipulated eighteen months and can expect no further involvement from the Ministry in their affairs.” Again he paused, looking between Draco and Hermione. Both remained steadfast in staring at their laps. 

 

He sighed,  “However, if at any time within the eighteen months, either party violates the contract, the punishment will result in both parties being stripped of their magic, and may include but not be limited to extensive fines and time served in Azkaban. Do you understand these stipulations as I have explained them?”

 

“Yes sir,” Draco replied.

 

“Yes,” came Hermione’s response.

 

“Furthermore, during the duration of the marriage, both parties must agree no harm shall come to their spouse, magic or otherwise, in which they are directly or indirectly responsible.” 

 

Shacklebolt took off his reading glasses and looked them both in the eye. “I’m aware you two have a history. I am also aware that sometimes outside forces cannot always be controlled.  But you must look out for each other and never raise your wands against one another.  Am I making myself clear?”  His gaze landed strictly on Draco.

 

“Yes sir,” Draco swallowed. He immediately looked down at his hands, a grimace on his lips.

 

“Yes sir,” Hermione answered, even though she felt like maybe this particular point was not directed at her.

 

“Good. Now that’s settled, we will go over the individual parties additional provisions, as submitted in writing to the Ministry.” 

 

Shacklebolt cleared his throat, “First, there is the matter of the Malfoy and Black family estates. As Mr. Malfoy is the sole heir to both families’ rather vast fortunes, he has requested Ms. Granger agree to, in the event of a divorce, that she will not seek control of either the Malfoy or Black fortunes or any property acquired prior to the union...”

 

“I… I don’t want their money,” Hermione suddenly interrupted. She turned to look at Draco and Narcissa, “I don’t want your money…”

 

“We know that, dear,” Narcissa replied. “We only wish to ensure you and any children are well provided for.”

 

Hermione bit her lip and cautiously glanced across the table at Draco.  He had sat back in his chair, his arms crossed over his lean chest, watching her intently with his steely grey gaze.

 

Shacklebolt continued, “Ms. Granger will be given full access to Mr. Malfoy’s accounts during the duration of the marriage, though he requests any large purchases be pre-approved beforehand.” Hermione opened her mouth to protest but one look from Shacklebolt had her closing it in irritation. She crossed her arms over her chest, fuming in her silence.

 

He continued, “Mr. Malfoy has stipulated he will provide Ms. Granger with 10,000 Galleons for each year they are married in her private account at Gringotts, for her to do with as she sees fit. Upon the dissolution of the marriage, a lump sum of 100,000 Galleons will be paid to Ms. Granger…”

 

“That’s bollocks!” Hermione exclaimed. She looked at Draco, “I don’t want your money…”

 

He merely shrugged, “It’s only gold, Granger.”

 

Shacklebolt looked between the two of them, waiting to see if there would be any further outbursts before he resumed, “Upon the dissolution of the marriage, a lump sum of 100,000 Galleons will be paid to Ms. Granger as long as she agrees to remain discreet about anything she may or may not become privy to concerning either Mr. Malfoy or his mother.”

 

Hermione looked down at the intricately carved table, her insides lurching. They were trying to pay her off, provided their union did not last. It made her feel slightly ill.

 

“The Malfoys are also requesting any child or children , Merlin willing, be raised at Malfoy Manor. A private suite can be provided for Ms. Granger if she chooses to dissolve the union after 18 months but wishes to remain within The Manor.” Shacklebolt cleared his throat, “Ms. Granger, are these terms agreeable to you as I have thus stated?”

 

Hermione remained mute, her gaze frozen to the tabletop.

 

“Ms. Granger?” Shacklebolt repeated.

 

Harry reached under the table and took her hand in his, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

 

He’s a good man , she coached herself.  He just needed reminding ...

 

Hermione nodded, the words stuck in her throat.

 

“I’m sorry, Ms. Granger. I need to hear you say it.”

 

Draco leaned forward then, resting his elbows on the table as he stared at Hermione.

 

Hermione, refusing to meet his gaze, swallowed, “Yes, the terms are agreeable.”

 

Narcissa released a breathy sigh of relief. Hermione glanced up at Draco. He had settled back in his chair and was staring at her but showed no emotion whatsoever.

 

“Shacklebolt turned towards the Malfoys, “Ms. Granger has only made two requests to be added to this contract. First and foremost, she has asked that she be allowed to retain her last name…”

 

Hermione looked at Draco. It was his turn to study the table as he listened to Shacklebolt, but there was no mistaking the clench of his jaw and the faint clicking sound of him grinding his teeth.

 

“...for the duration of the eighteen months or until a child is born, whichever comes first.”

 

“Any child we have will carry the last name Malfoy. That is not up for negotiation,” Draco stated firmly. 

 

“Ms. Granger?” Questioned the Minister.

 

“Agreed,” she murmured, avoiding looking in Draco’s direction.

 

Shacklebolt scribbled down the note then proceeded, “Secondly, Ms. Granger has asked that she not be pressured into leaving her current employment, whether or not she becomes pregnant with Mr. Malfoy’s child.”

 

Her eyes strayed to Draco now. There was a casual upturn of his lips at Shacklebolt’s words; a patented Malfoy smirk. But as quickly as it appeared, it vanished in an instant behind his impenetrable mask.

 

“Mr. Malfoy, are these terms agreeable to you as I have thus stated?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Excellent. Then all that’s left is for the two of you to sign the contract and settle on a wedding date.”

 

Shacklebolt flipped to the last page of the contract before turning it towards Hermione. He extended her his quill. “Ms. Granger, if you would be so kind as to sign on the line above your printed name.”

 

Hermione leaned forward, finding where her signature was required. She took a deep breath then lowered the quill.

 

Shacklebolt’s hand covered hers and she looked up into his brown eyes. Worry pulled at the corners as he searched her face, “Ms. Granger, this is a magically binding contract. Once you sign, there is no going back… not without consequences.”

 

What she was about to do could never be undone

 

“I understand, sir,” came her quiet reply.

 

The Minister nodded, releasing his hold on her.

 

She bit her bottom lip as she lowered the quill to the parchment.

 

“Wait.”

 

Hermione stopped, her head snapping up to stare at Draco, his one word statement causing her insides to coil.

 

“Draco…” Narcissa’s voice warned.

 

He held up his hand to silence her, his eyes never leaving Hermione.

 

“I want to speak to Granger alone.”

 

The room became tight with tension as Shacklebolt, Harry and Narcissa shifted in their chairs. Only Hermione remained still, frozen to her spot, transfixed by Draco’s eyes.

 

“I’m not sure that is a good idea,” Shacklebolt responded.

 

Draco gave the Minister an incredulous look, “We are to be married but I cannot speak to her alone?” He snorted his disdain as he crossed his arms over his chest, “How do you expect us to fuck and make babies if we cannot be trusted to be in the same room as one another… or will Ministry officials be overseeing that, as well?”

 

Hermione felt Harry stiffen beside her, his ears turning red as he desperately tried to rein in his anger. But Shacklebolt was another story.

 

The Minister ripped off his glasses as he stood, “Now see here, Mr. Malfoy…”

 

Draco didn’t hesitate, rising from his chair in sheer defiance, his eyes locked on Shacklebolt’s. There was a sudden change in the energy of the room… akin to static electricity that raised the hair on Hermione’s arm.

 

She reacted, shooting out of her own seat, inadvertently knocking over her chair. The loud clatter seemed to diffuse the tension as everyone was distracted long enough to turn and look at her.

 

She swallowed, “I… uh… I, too, would like to speak to Malfoy… um… alone ….”

 

His gaze caught hers but he quickly looked away, he buttoned his suit jacket at the waist then casually moved aside, his hands clasped behind his back as he crossed the room.

 

Harry stood, too, “Hermione, you don’t have to do this…”

 

“Actually, I think I do,” she stated firmly.

 

Harry nodded then shared a look with Shacklebolt. The Minister threw his glasses down on top of the table and gave a dramatic sigh.

 

“We’ll be just outside that door,” Harry assured her, giving her shoulder a squeeze before turning towards the door. 

 

Hermione watched the two men reluctantly leave, followed by Narcissa. She noted how Narcissa gave one last look of worry at her son before gliding through the door, closing it with a loud thud.

 

Hermione released a shuddering breath before bending down to right the chair she knocked over unceremoniously. Then she chanced a glance over at Draco. 

 

He had resumed his vigilante stance in front of the fireplace, hands thrust into his pockets. He made no move to even acknowledge her.

 

She walked over to where he had set her untouched tea.  With steady fingers, she raised the cup to her lips and took a drink, letting the still warm liquid coat her dry throat.

 

“Alright, Granger, out with it. Why are you agreeing to all this?”

Chapter Text

 

“Alright, Granger, out with it. Why are you agreeing to all this?”

 

Hermione sputtered, choking on the sip of tea she had taken. She started to cough, swallowing a few times to settle herself before turning around to face him.  He had moved away from the fireplace now and was casually perched on the edge of his desk, toying with a round paper weight that resembled a Remembrall while watching her intently. Back and forth, he rolled it under his palm, all while he waited for her response.

 

“Why are you?” she countered.

 

The corner of his mouth pulled into a ghost of his patented smirk. He straightened, tossing the Remembrall from one hand to the other before setting it down on the desk. He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, “I asked you first.”

 

Hermione looked away from his probing gaze, focusing on her surroundings. The study was a contradiction in and of itself. Decorated in rich shades of burgundy and brown, she found it rather matched her style than any she would ever attribute to the likes of Slytherin prince Draco Malfoy. She walked to a large window, casually letting her hand drift over the heavy velvety curtain that hung there, reveling in the soft texture as it brushed against the tips of her fingers.

 

She shrugged, “The Ministry asked for my help… how could I say no?”

 

“Whatever it takes to serve Queen and country, hmm?”

 

“Something like that…” She still refused to look at him, feeling his judgmental attitude clear across the room.

 

“Hermione Granger...the Ministry’s Golden Girl…”

 

She cringed at The Prophet’s patented nickname for her. She swallowed down an angry retort and turned to face him then. Her breath caught in her throat at the mere sight of him. He had moved closer, lingering within feet of her.  The sunlight peeking through the window bathed him in it’s golden haze, brightening his white blonde hair and porcelain skin, making him glow like an angel… a fallen angel waiting to escort her into Hell itself. 

 

He was now standing at the head of the long conference table and he busied himself straightening the stack of parchment that was their Marriage Contract. She recognized it as his attempt to remain nonchalant and unaffected by her. It gave her the courage to be just a bit more daring… maybe see if she could push a few of his buttons for once.

 

What did she have to lose ?

 

She swallowed and took a cautious step forward, her arms crossing over her chest, effectively pushing up her ample cleavage for his attention.  It had the desired effect, his eyes settling on the V-neck of her jumper. “Your turn,” she replied.  His eyes snapped up to meet hers.

 

He gave her a little smile, leaning back against the table, his legs stretching out before him, crossed at the ankles, his arms mimicking her stance, folding over his broad chest. “I’ll tell you my reason when you tell me yours.”

 

Hermione scoffed, “I already told you my reason.”

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “The real reason, Granger.”

 

Fuck

 

Hermione turned away from him then, her attention focusing on a stray thread from the curtain, her fingers toying with it nervously. It was always like a dance with them… and they were both fighting to lead. But he had her at a disadvantage now… he could still see right through her.

 

She took a breath, her gaze fixed on the row of colorful flowers just outside the window. What harm would it do if she just told him the truth?

 

“I… I’m rather lonely,” she confided. She glanced at him over her shoulder for only a moment before continuing, “I thought it might be nice to maybe have a… a husband… a child… you know, without all the dating nonsense.” She turned to completely face him and waited. Worst case scenario - he laughed at her, trivializing her words.

 

Draco stared at her unrelenting for a moment before replying, “I thought you’d be married to The Weasel by now with a whole litter of his pups.” His tone wasn’t cruel or mocking; just a statement of fact.

 

She rolled her eyes, “No.” Then, thinking she needed to further explain, offered, “We’ve never… that is, to say, we don’t...No. Just no.” She hung her head, her thoughts scattering. She didn’t like talking about Ron. She smoothed out her skirt, giving herself a moment before looking up at him.  

 

“Your turn,” she whispered.

 

He continued to stare at her for the space of several heartbeats, and as unnerving as it was, she stood steadfast and met his gaze, almost challenging him in a way.

 

He finally relented and looked away. “The Ministry agreed to end my probation early and return my wand.”

 

Another statement of fact from Draco Malfoy.

 

She swallowed, “Ah.” Even though she knew she shouldn’t, she couldn’t help but feel a little hurt by his words. It’s not like he knew she would be chosen as his match when he volunteered, and she had no right to take it to heart but…

 

...It still stung. 

 

Draco Malfoy wasn’t secretly hoping to be matched with the great love of his life… This was all simply a means to an end. It was her first real clue that, deep down, he would always be the selfish boy she knew in school.

 

“At least you’re honest,” she mused, her heart clenching in deep seated despair, despite her awful attempt to compartmentalize her feelings.

 

Get it together, Granger , her inner voice screamed… sounding an awful lot like the man standing across the room from her.

 

He snorted, “I think that’s the first time anyone has ever dared to call me… honest… ” The word dripped from his tongue like acid.  He tilted his head and studied her, “I don’t want you romanticizing this, Granger.”

 

Her face flushed with heat and she had to turn away from him, her embarrassment much too evident. She knew she should say something clever as a retort but the words refused to take form. So silence enveloped them.

 

She tried to concentrate on the landscape beauty outside; all the while silently wishing he would just say his peace and they could end this awkward standoff.  Was this why he wanted to speak to her alone - to ensure she wasn’t entering into this arrangement with any preconceived notions of true love ? She had to swallow past the lump in her throat.

 

She closed her eyes and took a cleansing breath. You can do this, Hermione . She attempted a faint smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and turned back around.  She gestured around the room, avoiding his gaze, as she attempted to change the subject, “You’ve done a lovely job with The Manor.  I didn’t really see it much, last time I was here, but your mother says you’ve been making many changes…”

 

“I’m sorry…” he rushed out, interrupting her diatribe.

 

Hermione froze. She turned to look at him, “Wh-what did you say?”

 

Draco heaved a dramatic sigh, pushing himself away from his perch on the table, pacing now as he shoved his hands into his hair.  “Don’t make me say it again,” he pleaded.

 

A small smile tugged at her lips, his actions reminding her of that boy she once knew. “Oh, I most definitely need to hear it again,” she teased.

 

He gave her a scathing look, his grey eyes on fire. And then he stopped pacing, met her gaze dead on and stated, “I’m sorry… for everything .” He took a step towards her, “I was a bloody awful git to you. Please know…” He paused, “...please know, I’m not that boy anymore.”

 

Her heart literally skipped a beat inside her chest.  Her mouth opened then closed, her teeth worrying her lip as she considered his words.  She knew there was more to him… had the memories of it locked inside her mind… and her stomach flipped at the knowledge that he didn’t remember any of it.

 

Because of her

 

“It’s in the past, Malfoy. Perhaps… perhaps it should just stay there…”

 

He gave a brief nod and they shared a look of understanding between them then. 

 

He seemed to relax, his hand raking through his hair before he shoved them into his trouser pockets. He took a step towards her, his mouth turning up at the corners in a secret smirk.  It did things to her… that smirk… her throat ran dry and her insides clenched in anticipation.

 

“I never properly thanked you - for testifying on my behalf at the trial…”

 

She looked down, her foot digging into the plushness of the carpet. “D-don’t mention it…” she stammered.

 

“I saw the transcripts… the things you said…” He cocked his head to the side and scrutinized her carefully, “Did you mean it?”

 

More than you will ever know … “Every word,” she whispered.

 

“I’m not such a daft prick that I don’t realize if it wasn’t for you…” He stopped and rolled his eyes, “... and Saint Potter … I’d be spending life in Azkaban instead of discussing marriage contracts in my study with two-thirds of my sworn enemies.”

 

There it was again… that smile she couldn’t seem to suppress.  She drifted closer to him, her finger casually running along a stuffed pillow situated on the nearby loveseat. “ Your study?” she questioned.

 

He circled around her, watching her closely, “Mmmm hmmm…”

 

She gazed around the room as she found herself before the large conference table. “It’s very… well… it’s quite Gryffindor red…”

 

He cocked one perfect brow, closing the distance between them, “You were expecting Slytherin green?”

 

She pretended to consider his words, “Well… yes, as a matter of fact…”

 

He chuckled deeply, slightly leaning into her, “You should see my bedroom…”

 

Her mouth dropped open and her entire body flushed crimson red at his innuendo.

 

He straightened, his hand immediately finding its way to his hair out of a nervous habit, “I didn’t mean to imply…” He coughed. “I...uh… I meant for the color scheme…”

 

“Uh, y-yes… of course…” she stammered.

 

They both turned away from each other but didn’t re-distance themselves. Again, the silence.

 

He sighed and gave a light laugh, drawing her attention back to him. He leaned back against the table again, those long legs of his stretching out beside her.  She couldn’t help herself, giving into the urge to stare at how his perfectly tailored trousers hugged his muscular form. Her breath hitched. Seems like the past years have been very good to him. ..

 

“So you’re a teacher now?” he asked.

 

Her head snapped up to meet his gaze, a questioning look in her eyes.

 

He shrugged nonchalantly, “I did my homework.”

 

She felt herself blush.  “Uh… yes, Transfiguration.”

 

He gave her the once over, his eyes slowly roving from her face to her breasts, lingering, perhaps a little longer than was necessary, on her thighs before he again looked her in the eyes, “It suits you...but I would have thought you’d be working for the Ministry freeing House Elves or petitioning for werewolf rights.”

 

She released a shaky breath, a tiny smirk pulling at the corner of her mouth, “I figured I’d spare the world anymore of my misguided righteousness… at least for a bit.”

 

“How magnanimous of you…”

 

“Yes, well, I think I’m definitely more suited for inspiring young, impressionable minds to continue on with the legacy instead.” She looked over at him, his rapt attention making her feel a bit giddy inside, “You know, I have the highest enrollment percentage among the upperclassmen in the history of Hogwarts.”

 

He surprised her by giving a low chuckle, “I don’t think it’s because the next generation cannot wait to learn how to turn animals into goblets, Granger.”

 

She furrowed her brow, “I’m not sure I catch your meaning…”

 

He leaned into her and replied in a low, rather husky tone, “Well, if any of our teachers had looked half as decent as you when we went to Hogwarts, maybe I would have come to class more often.”

 

Again, she blushed… rather deeply and profoundly, from the tips of her toes to the roots of her hair. She had to look away from him, her eyes darting around the room as her hands fidgeted. “Oh I don’t know, Harry and Neville are young blokes and war heroes, yet their enrollment figures still rank rather low…”

 

Sensing he had made her uncomfortable, he settled back but still gave her a knowing smile, “I stand by what I said.”

 

She raised her hand to cover her face as she tried to hide her growing smile. She found she rather liked this version of Malfoy. She moved to stand beside him now, resting herself back against the tabletop and she nudged him with her elbow in a playful manner, “You know, perhaps if you had come to classes more, you would have finally bested me at some assignments.”

 

At this he genuinely laughed out loud, “Not bloody likely.”

 

She giggled, his humor infectious, conceding, “At least in potions. You were always proficient in potions.” Again, she playfully nudged him.

 

He gave a quick shake of his head, “Much to my parents’ chagrin, I think it’s my destiny to forever come in second to you…”

 

She allowed herself to laugh at that. She caught his gaze, the heat in his eyes suddenly making her very warm. She distracted herself by giving him the once-over, “Well, I must say, second place looks very good on you…”

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “Is that so?”

 

She couldn’t help it, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation, “Stop fishing for compliments, Malfoy. You know you’re fit.”

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that last part. Could you repeat it?”

 

She covered her face with her hands as she flushed crimson, “Do not make me say it again.”

 

“Oh, I most definitely need to hear it again…” he chuckled, using her earlier words against her.

 

“Okay, now you’re just being cheeky.”

 

She found she had inadvertently moved closer to his side, their arms now brushing against one another. The smell of his cologne surrounded her, intoxicating her as if it was Amortentia weaving its spell around her entire being. This was what he did to her… it was effortless and yet so seductive, the manner in which he innocently toyed with her desire… never really knowing her infatuation with him was indeed her greatest weakness.

 

He placed his left hand flat on the tabletop and leaned towards her ever so slightly, “The thousand ways I imagined this conversation going, never did it cross my mind we could actually get along so well.”

 

She gave him a lowkey smirk, her right hand lying beside his on the table, close but not touching. “Oh give us time,” she teased, “They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. I’m sure we will be hurling insults at each other mere hours after taking our vows.” She kept her tone light, teasing him gently.

 

His eyes narrowed as he studied her face, “Swot.”

 

“Ferret.” She hadn’t hesitated, the comeback rolling off her tongue.

 

And then there it was, in all it’s glory - the Malfoy smirk - that sneer that elevated her blood pressure and made her insides melt.

 

She felt the gentlest caress against her pinkie, his long finger sliding against her own. It sent heat flooding through her abdomen and she felt her cheeks reddening from it. She bit her lip to suppress a gasp.

 

She hadn’t been touched in a very long while… She internally chided herself for thinking it was intentional on his part until she felt it again… bolder now, a feather-light kiss of his fingertip across the back of her hand.

 

And then, as if he couldn’t help himself, he reached up with his right hand and lightly ran the back of his knuckles along the curve of her cheek, “I like it when I make you blush…”

 

“Now don’t go romanticizing this, Malfoy…” She meant it as a play on his awful words but her breathy delivery only made him give her a smile to rival that of the devil’s.

 

“Tell me, Granger…” he paused to draw his lower lip between his teeth, contemplating his next words. All five of his fingers caressed circles on the softness of her hand now, sending little electric shocks of pleasure throughout her body, making her internally pant.

 

She swallowed thickly.

 

He chuckled low in the back of his throat. “...are you the kind of girl who only likes to make love or do you enjoy a good fuck?”

 

Suddenly his long fingers wrapped around her wrist and he yanked her close. She let out a little yelp as she stumbled into his embrace. She was forced to catch herself with her free hand against his chest. Her fingers splayed on his hard form, touching chiseled, corded muscle that radiated warmth, despite the layers of his shirt and suit jacket between them.

 

Desire pooled low in her abdomen and she released a shaky breath as she clenched her thighs together against the dampness in her knickers.

 

In that moment, it was as if nothing had ever changed, despite the eight year gap.

 

“W-wouldn’t you like to know…” she breathed.

 

Again that smirk. He leaned in close, “I have a confession…” He brought his lips to her ear, “I was hoping it would be you…” he whispered, his breath hot against her flesh.

 

She swallowed, “Malfoy…” That was all she could manage to say.

 

“Granger…” he purred against the crook of her neck, his lips hovering just shy of connecting with her skin.

 

“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER!” a voice bellowed from behind them.

 

Hermione and Draco reacted simultaneously, whirling around to face their visitor.

 

Ron Weasley, looking all the worse for wear, stepped out of the green flames of the Floo with his wand clutched desperately in his fist. His clothes looked like they had been slept in, his ghastly red hair in desperate need of a cut and a comb. But it was his face, contorted in an ugly grimace of pure hatred, that had Draco reaching for his wand.

 

Expelliaramus !” Ron cried, clearly anticipating Draco’s move.

 

As his wand was ripped from his hand and thrown towards Ron, Draco reacted by stepping directly in front of Hermione, strategically placing himself between her and Weasley.

 

This caught Hermione by surprise. She looked up at Malfoy, her breath hitching in her throat. His eyes remained focused on Ron, his hands rising in submission.

 

“No one needs to get hurt, Weasley,” Draco tried, his voice even and controlled despite the precarious situation.

 

“No one except you , Malfoy. I doubt anyone would grieve if I ended you here and now, Death Eater scum that you are!” Ron bit out.

 

Hermione felt the rage well up inside her at his words and she turned towards Ron now. “Ronald Billius Weasley!” She tried to move around Draco but his hand grabbed her and he shoved her behind him again.

 

Ron raised his wand, “Don’t you dare defile her with your touch!”

 

Malfoy released her immediately, again holding up his hands in surrender.

 

Choosing to stay put, she cast Ron a seething look over Draco’s shoulder, “What in Merlin’s name do you think you are doing?!”

 

“Saving you!” It came out as more of a plea, Ron’s face crumbling as he stared at her longingly.

 

“Like hell you are!”

 

Draco leaned down to her then, whispering, “Let’s not antagonize the unstable boyfriend, Granger, shall we?”

 

She scoffed, “Ron wouldn’t dare.”

 

“Says you. I’m the one who’s going to get my balls hexed off here.”

 

That got her attention. She met Draco’s gaze and wordlessly acknowledged his concern.

 

She schooled her features, trying to give Ron her most sympathetic look while she cringed on the inside. “Ron, put the wand down,” she said carefully.

 

“No! Not until you agree to leave here with me!”

 

Hermione felt Draco’s body grow rigid with tension and he lowered his hands to his sides, balling them into fists.

 

The tiny hairs on her arms stood to attention, as if static electricity was pulling at them. The same thing had happened earlier when Shacklebolt had angered Malfoy. She glanced down, noticing a small blue spark flare between his thumb and forefinger.

 

Wandless magic

 

Draco Malfoy had uncovered wandless magic.

 

She wasn’t sure if she should be in awe or perhaps a bit frightened. It took some of the most powerful wizards a lifetime to accomplish such a feat.

 

Focus, Hermione. ..she chided herself. 

 

She returned her attention to Ron, noticing how his hand trembled. She had to act fast; before Ron ended up being killed.

 

“Ron, you know I can’t do that,” she tried, swallowing hard.

 

She stepped closer to Draco, partially concealing her body behind his. She reached into the folds of her skirt, her fingers wrapping around the handle of her wand.

 

“We have a magically binding contract…” she continued.

 

“You think I care!” he interrupted and Hermione immediately froze. “I volunteered for this insane Initiative for you … so we could be paired together and you would finally see how meant to be we are for each other…” He shook his head violently, “But you would rather throw me over for the likes of him !”

 

She sighed, “Oh Ron… have you gone completely mental? You cannot fault me or Draco for the Ministry’s decision. The compatibility tests were designed to…”

 

“Oh, it’s Draco , is it?! Bollocks, ‘Mione! He’s done something to you! Just look at him! He’s nothing more than a slimy, manipulative snake!”

 

Hermione groaned, “That’s enough!”

 

“No… no…” Ron shook his head, “He...he’s poisoned you...with a love potion...and...and he’s rigged the results…” He started to nod frantically, “Yes! That’s it, isn’t it? You had one of your Ministry lackeys fix the tests so you could steal my girl!”

 

Draco cocked an eyebrow, his mask of indifference sliding into place. “I think I’ve heard just about enough of this...”

 

Hermione stepped into him, bringing her front flush against his back, dragging his attention to her. She met his gaze and held it, discreetly pressing her wand into the palm of his hand.

 

His eyes searched hers for a moment, and she tried to put all of her feelings into that one wordless exchange.

 

She looked at Ron, “Are we really having this conversation again, Ronald? I’m not your girl . I just don’t feel that way about you.”

 

“But after everything we shared?!” he pleaded. “Everything we did...what I did…”

 

She didn’t have to look up at Draco now, she could hear the click of his jaw as he tightened it. Her heart started to race, unwanted memories assailing her, “Please don’t do this… please… It was a mistake. You can move on… Please just move on…” The last of her words were but a whisper and a tear slipped down her cheek unwarranted.

 

The wand in Ron’s hand shook as his own tears began to fall. “I… I’m s-sorry...” His words were for her and her alone. He started to lower his wand. 

 

Draco’s palm twitched and suddenly Ron’s wand was raised again. “ Cruc…

 

Stupify !” This time, Draco was faster, knocking Ron off his feet, crashing him into the fireplace before he could finish uttering the Dark Curse. Ron crumbled into a heap, clearly unconscious.

 

Hermione didn’t hesitate, pushing Draco aside to hurry to Ron's fallen form. She kneeled over him and grabbed his wand, picking up Draco’s, as well. She didn’t even bother to see if Ron was okay, simply stared down at his prone body, realizing, for the first time in forever, she felt nothing for the red haired man.

 

A crackle, sounding an awful lot like flames licking at tinder, and the smell of smoke drew Hermione’s attention back to Draco. She turned away from Ron just as Draco stumbled, barely catching himself on the closet table. He still held her wand and she could see a strange blue charge of static emanating from his fingers. She immediately rushed over to him, forgetting all about Ron.

 

Draco extended his hand as she came near, “Don’t. Don’t touch me,” he choked out.

 

Hermione froze in her steps, standing merely an arm’s length away from him. “Draco…” she murmured, her chest seizing in fear. She could feel a surge of power surrounding her, filling the room, making her palms suddenly itch with need for her own wand.

 

He just shook his head, drawing on all his energy to compose himself. He took a deep shuddering breath, and then the magic slowly started to dissipate. Another deep breath and he was able to right himself, standing at his full height, pulling his suit jacket down, his hand smoothing out any wrinkles.

 

She watched in stunned silence as he laid her wand gently down on the tabletop before proceeding to drop to his knees, his head bowed, with his hands resting in supination on his thighs.

 

Hermione took one step towards him before the large oak doors to the study burst open behind her, Harry and Shacklebolt practically tripping over one another, their wands raised, their eyes darting around the room, taking in the whole scene.

 

As soon as Harry saw Ron unconscious, he immediately ran to his aid, assessing his best mate. Narcissa did the same for her son, rushing to Malfoy’s side. 

 

Shacklebolt merely heaved a heavy sigh, finally lowering his wand. He came to Hermione, “Alright, Ms. Granger, care to explain what happened here?”

 

But Hermione paid him no heed. Her vision was trained on the Malfoys. She blatantly stared as Narcissa whispered into Draco’s ear, his eyes turning to meet her worried gaze. Then she wrapped her arms around his slouched shoulders, urging him to his feet and guiding him away from the fray, her mouth constantly moving but her words too low for her to hear.

 

Ron suddenly moaned, the sound tearing Hermione’s gaze away. 

 

“Ms. Granger?” Shacklebolt demanded. 

 

Her attention snapped to the Minister now, his look of irritation puzzling her. And then the strange spell she was under seemed to vanish. Regaining her wits, she spouted off, “Ron Weasley attacked us… Draco was only defending himself… defending me…”

 

“Hermione!” Harry exclaimed.

 

What? Did he really expect her to defend Ron

 

“It’s the truth, Harry.”

 

Worry crossed his features then, and he returned his attention back to his friend, who by now was moaning and writhing in pain.

 

Shacklebolt cursed under his breath. He turned away from her and made his way over to Potter and Ron.

 

Hermione’s eyes drifted over to Draco and Narcissa, now at the far corner of the room, strategically standing by a set of French style doors she could only assume led to the outside. 

 

He seemed to be arguing with her, gesturing madly with his hands, his words still quiet. But Narcissa pulled him close, whispering into his ear. Both their visions suddenly strayed to Hermione and she silently gasped, casting her eyes down. When she took a chance to look up again, Draco was slipping out through the doors, unbeknownst to everyone save her and Narcissa.

 

Narcissa met her gaze then, her head giving a brief nod towards the doors before she glided away, moving to Shacklebolt’s side now.

 

Hermione’s breath picked up in tempo, aware of how Narcissa was distracting the Minister and Harry, feigning care over “ the poor Weasley boy ”. Hermione’s feet were already moving in the direction of the doors before she realized she had made up her mind to do so.

 

With one final glance back at the scene, she carefully opened one of the doors and hurried out, stepping into the bright sunshine.

 

*****



























Chapter Text

She blinked a few times, letting her eyes adjust from being locked in a dimly lit room to suddenly being thrust into the brilliant sunny outdoors.  She was on some kind of stone terrace, the brick railing all that stood between her and a plunging downward hill that rolled out into the expansive Malfoy estate.  It was breathtaking – the view from up here – and despite her fear of heights, Hermione couldn’t help but walk over to the railing and soak in the ambiance before her.  From the green rolling hills to the large crystal blue lake, she couldn’t fathom living in such a place and not appreciating all this . It was almost like a curse had been lifted from this land, and she was truly seeing the place for the first time. 

 

She let her gaze drift over the view. There was a large gazebo situated not far from the lake, covered in hanging Wisteria. She couldn’t stop from picturing herself sitting under it, a good book on her lap, Draco’s arms around her while they watched their children chase the beautiful white peacocks through the grass... 

 

White peacocks that were now dancing along the finely manicured lawn and carefully pruned hedges. Hermione’s hand shielded her eyes as she tried to see off in the greater distance… to discern the large shapes quite a ways away.  A personal Quidditch field. She sighed. Of course Draco Malfoy would have his own Quidditch field

 

Draco…

 

Remembering why she was there, she looked to her right, noticing the terrace banked in that direction.  She followed the path, turning the corner to arrive on a large outdoor cobblestone patio with Grecian columns securely holding in place a stone awning for shade. 

 

And there he was, positioned just under the awning, one shoulder leaning against a column, his arms crossed over his chest, his vision trained on the lake. To anyone else, he was the picture of calm, but to Hermione… she could see the tension in his body as he focused on the shimmering waters sparkling beneath the bright sunlight. 

 

He was using Occlumency.  She’d lay her life on it.  And he definitely knew she was there. There was something in the way he blatantly ignored her that made her think perhaps he was trying a bit too hard to be convincing.

 

Taking a deep breath, she made her way over to him, the hard bottoms of her ballerina flats making a distinctively loud sound on the cobblestone. She moved to stand beside him – not too close and yet not so far that she couldn’t still feel the warmth of his body.  She kept her attention on the lake, her mind a blur of questions and yet she did not know what to say to him.  

 

Draco Malfoy, the enigma…a puzzle she would spend the rest of her life desperately trying to riddle out… or at least the next 18 months of the foreseeable future.

 

Silence stretched before them, palpable and stiff.

 

Not being able to withstand it much longer, she sighed, “Well, no one will ever be able to accuse us of having a dull marriage.” She kept her tone light, teasing him.

 

He turned and looked at her, his face devoid of all emotion save for his cocked eyebrow, “Indeed.”

 

She swallowed, suddenly looking down, picking at a stray bit of fuzz on her jumper. “I need to apologize to you… for Ron’s actions…”

 

“Shouldn’t he be the one doing the apologizing?” he interrupted.

 

She shrugged, “He just hasn’t been the same since the war…”

 

“And yet somehow this is your fault?”

 

“Well no… It’s not my fault, exactly…” He had startled her with the question, and she scrambled for an answer.  She wasn’t ready to share with him… with anyone, really… all that had happened between her and Ron.

 

“Then save your apology for when you really need it.” His tone was final.  He returned his gaze back to the beautiful landscape, apparently done with the conversation.

 

She couldn’t help it, she seethed with anger.  Anger at Ron, for once again spoiling an important moment in her life. And anger at Malfoy, for playing the part of the victim, as if he was still a pouty, insolent child.

 

“Do you love him?” he questioned.  He hadn’t turned to look at her, simply murmured the question into the air.

 

“I… uh… he’ll always be dear to me…” she stammered.

 

“Yes or no, Granger,” he stated firmly.

 

“No. No, I am not in love with him.”  She swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat.  “I’ve never loved him.  That’s the part he can’t seem to wrap his head around.”

 

He glanced at her, only for a brief moment.  Then he sighed heavily and turned to face her. He placed his hands behind him and leaned back against the column to stare down at her. “Go ahead, Granger, ask your question.”

 

Her head snapped up to look at him.  Her mouth opened then abruptly closed. She snorted, “Just one?”

 

That earned her a small upturn of his lips… just a tiny hint of a smile.  It was enough.

 

She fully turned her body and replicated his stance on the column opposite his own. Then she took a deep breath and met his gaze rather pointedly, “What happened back there? With the wand and the kneeling…”

 

“As you know, part of my probation for my actions during the war was to have my wand confiscated. When Shacklebolt asked me to volunteer for the Initiative, we agreed I would have my wand returned if, and only if, I never used it against a witch or wizard for anything other than defense.” He paused, collecting his thoughts for a moment before continuing, “And even then, The Auror Department would immediately be notified and I would be forced to submit to an inquiry.” 

 

He shrugged, “In all the chaos, I momentarily forgot it was your wand I held.  I assumed a handful of Aurors were going to storm in and arrest me on the spot for attacking one-third of their Golden Trio… self-defense or no.”

 

Hermione couldn’t explain it, but a crushing sadness filled her chest as she looked at him.  Draco wouldn’t meet her gaze, choosing instead to study his dragon-hide shoes. He just seemed so defeated… 

 

The Boy Who Made All The Wrong Choices

 

“I’m so sorry, Malfoy,” she replied.

 

“There you go apologizing again, Granger.”

 

She gave a little laugh, “Guess it’s something I need to work on...”

 

Silence again. She watched him, her emotions churning.  She wanted to wrap her arms around him in that moment, show him how much she truly cared.

 

“I did terrible things,” he replied quietly.

 

She took a small step towards him. “You didn’t have a choice.”

 

“Doesn’t change the fact that I still did them.” He looked up at her now, “Why are you always defending me? Merlin knows I don’t deserve it… especially from you.”

 

“Because I believe, deep down, you are a good man.”  I’ve experienced it firsthand

 

He sighed with exasperation, straightening and running his hand through his hair. “Those are some lofty expectations you have there, Granger. I’m not entirely sure I can live up to them.”

 

“Then let me help you, Draco.  You deserve a second chance.” We deserve a second chance … she wanted so desperately to say.

 

He was silent as he considered her words, his gaze returning to focus on the lake.

 

She chewed on her lip and crossed her arms over her chest, taking a cautious step towards him. “Tell me about the wandless magic.”

 

She saw his shoulders and back tense but yet didn’t turn to look at her.

 

“They took my wand… not my magic.” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Then, rather cautiously, he raised his clenched fist before slowly opening his hand, palm up. Blue flames sparked, connecting with the oxygen in the air, giving rise to a ball of orange and red flames that he held before him. 

 

Her eyes opened in wonderment and she found herself reaching out cautious fingers. He turned towards her then, and she let her hand dance through the fire, black scorch marks appearing across her hand.

 

“It’s tied to my emotions,” he murmured.  This got her attention and she looked up into his eyes. His grey gaze smoldered, almost as if the fire he held reflected through it.

 

He reached out, offering his hand to her.  She hesitated for only a moment then pressed her palm against his own, their fingers interlocking.  The flames crackled as they encircled their intertwined hands, going from orange to blue and back again.  But there was no pain… only the heat from where they touched.

 

She swallowed, an intensity filling her from the moment they were sharing.  She couldn’t look at him now, could only stare at their conjoined hands. “ He touched her ,” she whispered, “ She ignited .”

 

And together they burned …” he replied.

 

She gasped, her vision locking with his. “ In the heat of their magic …” they both said in unison.

 

The wonder of their love … she finished the poem in her mind.

 

“Draco Malfoy… a man proficient in Muggle poetry…” she said incredulously.

 

He shrugged, “You’ll find the Malfoy library well stocked with magical and Muggle literature alike.”

 

She smiled but it quickly faded. “Draco, this sort of power… it’s ancient and… and unstable… if the Ministry were ever to realize what you can do…”

 

He pulled away from her then, the magic fading abruptly.  He clasped his hands behind his back and gave her a sobering expression, “I didn’t have the old drawing room simply demolished, Granger, I burned it to ash in a fit of rage.” He sighed, “It’s why I didn’t want you to touch me in the study…” He ran his hand through his hair, “And why they can never know.” He swallowed, “Otherwise Weasley will be the least of my concerns.”

 

“I can keep a secret,” she assured him.

 

“Can you now?” he raised a questioning eyebrow.

 

“Sure… even says so in my contract…” She tried to smile.

 

His mouth turned up in a ghost of a smirk but then it vanished and he snorted his disdain, “Secrets.” He glanced over at her, “You gain nothing from marrying me, Granger… except secrets .”

 

“Well… that’s not entirely true, now is it?  I stand to make quite a large sum of money whether we stay married or not,” she joked.

 

He gave her a disapproving look before he cracked just the barest hint of a smile. “I added all that nonsense simply to toy with you…”

 

She laughed, “I kinda figured you were just trying to get a rise out of me.”

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “Worked like a charm, didn’t it?”

 

She rolled her eyes, “Yes, I walked right into it… you prat.”

 

He chuckled and then again he grew serious. He took a step towards her. When she didn’t flinch, he took another. Then another. He closed the distance between them, leaning one hand against the column behind her as he gazed down into her eyes. His body was so close to hers now and it made her swallow convulsively. “I want you to know, if you’ve changed your mind, you can walk away and we can both just go on like this never happened.”

 

She shook her head resolutely, “I haven’t.”

 

He studied her intently, searching her eyes for any amount of hesitation. “Any child we have will be constantly reminded that his father was once a Death Eater…”

 

She bit her bottom lip nervously.  “And if she’s half as brave as her mother, she won’t let any of that bother her…”

 

“Perhaps he will be smart, like his father…”

 

“Oh that’s a given…” she replied. “And a total swot… like her mother…”

 

He let one finger from the hand positioned above her head dance into her curls, finding a perfect strand and wrapping it around his pale flesh. “Between the Ministry wanting to use us as poster children for their Initiative and my own mother just itching for a reason to throw a huge party, this will be the wedding of the century…” he murmured, still trying to frighten her away, even as he pulled the curl closer, breathing in the scent of her shampoo. “Are you ready for that sort of scrutiny?”

 

Her stomach knotted at his words.  She didn’t handle scrutiny very well… she knew there would be press and interviews… her fame, after the war, had caused her to all but retreat into privacy. But this… the vultures would undoubtedly swarm.  “I’ll deal,” she acquiesced.

 

Merlin, he was so close, leaning ever so slightly into her so his lips were but a breath apart from hers.  Her body felt inflamed, the warmth radiating from him.  Or was it coming from the sheer desire threatening to engulf her from within?  She had literally held fire in her hand only moments ago, but having him so near… it was almost too much.  She was going to get burned.

 

“Will you let me protect you, Granger?” he whispered, his hot breath ghosting across her cheek.

 

Instinctively, her tongue came out to moisten the sudden dryness of her lips. “And just who is going to protect me from you ?” she challenged.

 

He smirked, shifting his posture to bring his body within a hair’s breadth of her own… close but still not touching. “Do you think you need protection from me?”

 

She shook her head.  He lifted his hand then, his fingers dancing softly across her cheek.  

 

“Wh-what are you doing?” she asked breathlessly.

 

Again that smirk, “Relax, Granger… simply conducting a little experiment to prove a theory.” He gripped her chin between his forefinger and thumb to hold her still. “We may work on paper, compatibility tests and what not, but aren’t you the least bit curious to see how well we fit physically ?”

 

He didn’t give her time to answer.  He pressed his lips to hers – a soft kiss that was over almost as quickly as it started. 

 

He released the breath he had been holding but made no move to back away. “There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he purred. 

 

It was like a switch had been flipped and a light she allowed to be extinguished eight years ago suddenly came to life.

 

She stared up at him for a moment then pushed herself up on her toes, wrapped her arms around his neck and brought her lips to his before he could step back. 

 

She had surprised him and he had to catch himself against the column so they wouldn’t tumble to the ground. But he recovered quickly and soon he had both his palms on her cheeks, deepening their kiss with a sweep of his tongue against the seam of her lips.  She moaned as their mouths became hurried, opening and exploring… teeth and tongues banging together in the heated exchange.

 

Her back suddenly collided with the column as he pushed against her, her knees parting so he could leverage his body between her thighs as he rained feverish kisses across her jaw, his tongue blazing a path from her chin to her earlobe.  

 

“Fuck, Granger, now I understand why Weasley is so loathed to be rid of you…” he murmured into her ear, his breath hot, with a faint smell of cinnamon from the firewhiskey he most assuredly had drank before they arrived.

 

She gripped his chin and turned his face to meet her gaze, “No other women, Draco. Not now… not ever…” It was an outburst of jealousy, stemming from the way their lives had been thrust together and having no knowledge of where or who he may have been with in the last 8 years.  She regretted it almost as soon as it left her mouth.

 

He reared back, clearly affronted, but then his sneer melted into his patented smirk, though it had less of an edge to it, what with his flushed pink cheeks and swollen lips, “I wouldn’t dream of it… Hermione .” He leaned in, slowly capturing her bottom lip between his teeth, playfully nipping her. “I am your eternal servant, Granger…” His tongue dipped into her mouth, eagerly caressing her inner warmth, stealing her breath until she was panting.

 

“...a fact you may come to regret…” he whispered against the corner of her mouth.

 

He eased back and met her gaze, a finger drifting over her lips. He studied her for a moment or two, the passion in his eyes giving her a wordless promise. Then he lowered his head, attacking her neck now, his mouth sucking and biting a trail to the hollow of her throat. She whimpered into his shoulder, clutching at the collar of his jacket, her mind swiftly contemplating ripping the damn thing off of him so she could taste his bare skin.

 

His tongue skimmed down her chest to the valley of her breasts and across her collarbone, his hands tugging and twisting her jumper.

 

“Draco,” she moaned.

 

“Ahem.” There was a distinctive clearing of a throat that sounded from behind them. 

 

Hermione froze, and then started shoving at the hard male body that had her so expertly pinned beneath his.  But Draco didn’t relent, his hands skating over the flesh of her abdomen with deft fingers, traveling further up her torso.  

 

When in hell had he slid them underneath her jumper ? She tried to squirm away, pushing his hands down.

 

With a reluctant growl, Malfoy finally relented, stepping back. Hermione turned to see Harry standing there on the terrace, his face ashen but his cheeks flamed red with embarrassment.

 

Draco stepped into Hermione, bringing his front flush with her back, one arm possessively encircling her waist while the other pulled her curls away from her neck.  He nuzzled his lips there, at the sensitive skin just over her pulse point. “Perfect timing, as usual, Potter,” he sneered.

 

A whimper inadvertently escaped her throat. Merlin, how she craved his touch … But now was not the appropriate time and so she shoved her elbow into Draco’s stomach, slapping his hand away. He chuckled. 

 

He took a step back, his hand shoving into his trouser pocket while she hurried to adjust her clothing.

 

“Everyone’s waiting for you two…” Harry stammered, his gaze skirting around the couple, searching for anything to look at except them.

 

“Ah, excellent.”  Draco moved around Hermione and approached Harry, giving his former adversary a hearty slap on his shoulder, “Thanks for fetching us, Potter. Auror training at its finest.”

 

Harry simply glared at his nemesis. “If you hurt her, Malfoy…so help me, it will take weeks for them to find your parts beneath the Black Lake,” he bit out.

 

Draco cocked an eyebrow, “Come now, Potter. If I even so much as step out of line, I’m sure Granger here will see to it I am well disciplined.”  He gave her the once over, winking, and she blushed automatically.  “I can only assume her bite is even worse than her bark… ”  

 

He then leaned in close to Harry, saying for his ears only, “Perhaps you should have given your scary big brother speech to your mate, Weasley. Something happened between them. And judging by the look on your face, you suspect I’m right. You might want to find out what… before I do .” He gave Harry’s shoulder another pat before moving around him.

 

Harry just stared at him blankly, watching him go.  Hermione lightly touched his arm, bringing his attention back to her.

 

“Everything okay?” she asked.

 

“Well, one of my best mates is marrying my former enemy while the other is being escorted off the premises by Aurors… so yea, just another average day in the life of the Chosen One.” He tried to muster a smile.  He took her hand in his, “Hermione, are you sure about this?”

 

“Harry, please stop asking me that.”  Her gaze followed Draco.  He was leaning against the brick façade of the house now, waiting on them, trying to seem like he wasn’t watching their every move.  “He’s a prat, for sure… but so are all you lot.” She gave him a small, knowing smile which he gladly returned.

 

“Come on,” he urged, “You two still need to settle on a date and a venue. Shacklebolt and Narcissa are arguing over the possibilities, as we speak.”

 

Draco rolled his eyes, and pushed himself off the wall.  He interlocked his fingers with Hermione, pulling her away from Harry and close to his side. She knew what he was doing – trying hard to get a rise out of Harry – but she couldn’t help it, his possessiveness made her core tighten in a delightful way.

 

“Whatever Granger decides is fine with me,” he admitted.  “The rest of you can bugger off.”

 

Hermione took a moment to let her gaze wander over the beautiful landscape of the Malfoy estate, landing on the gazebo by the lake. It really was too beautiful… 

 

She realized then raising her children here wouldn’t be as awful as she once imagined. She abruptly turned to face him, an idea forming, “Let’s have the wedding here.”

 

“What?” He was surprised. “Truly?”

 

She bit her lip and nodded. “Time for new memories, perhaps…”

 

He thrust his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the wall once again, his head spinning at her suggestion.  “What about your parents? Will they be uncomfortable surrounded by so many witches and wizards?”

 

At the mention of his words, her face fell. “Uh… my parents won’t be an issue…” she stammered. She turned her head away as a tear escaped and slipped down her cheek. 

 

He reached for her, grasping her chin lightly and turning her face to meet his gaze. “What happened?”

 

At first she just shook her head.  

 

Harry laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, “Tell him.”

 

She swallowed, “I.. uh…I had to protect them… before the war… I knew they would be a target and completely without magical protection.” She released a shaky breath, “So I… uh… obliviated them.  They now live blissfully unaware in Australia… safe but with no memory of ever having a daughter.”

 

Draco’s hand fell away from her face and there was fresh intensity in his penetrating gaze. Her stomach flipped and rolled and she started to tremble.

 

“Reverse it,” he stated simply. 

 

“I-I cannot… I’ve tried but… but I just cannot…”

 

He sighed then, the storm in his eyes cooling, “I’m sorry for your loss, Granger. But if there is anyone who can figure it out, it’s you .”

 

She shrugged, dashing at her tears with the back of her hand.  “See?  There is something for me to gain in this marriage…” she hated how her voice trembled.

 

“And what’s that?” he questioned.

 

“A family.”

 

He took her hand within his and interlocked their fingers.  He brought their clasped hands to his mouth and gently laid a kiss on her palm.  He drew her back to his side then, letting her rest her head in the crook of his arm. She relished in the comfort of his embrace that she had so missed over the years… and didn’t see the look of concern he shared with Potter.

 

*****

 

Chapter Text

3 months after the Battle of Hogwarts…

Ron walked into the small kitchen of the Burrow, where his younger sister, Ginny, was busy making dinner with their mother, Molly. He grabbed a biscuit fresh from the oven, tossing it back and forth between his hands, trying to cool it off.

 

“Oi! Those are for our guests!” Ginny reprimanded him, smacking his hand away as he grabbed for a sausage.

 

“Cut it out, Ginevra!” He moved to hit her back when she dodged around him, her elbow connecting with his back. 

 

 “Oaf!” he groaned, whirling around, with his hip colliding into a tray full of the flaky pastries his mother had just pulled from the pantry. They toppled over to the ground with a loud clang.

 

“That’s enough!” yelled Mrs. Weasley. She threw her hands up in exasperation.  “You two - OUT! Now!”

 

“He started it,” Ginny whined.

 

“And I’m finishing it,” Molly replied.  “Really, Ronald…” She snatched the half eaten biscuit from his hand, “These are for our guests!”

 

“At this point, Mum, I doubt we should consider Harry a guest…” he mumbled, grabbing the biscuit and stuffing the remainder in his mouth.

 

“Well George is bringing Angelina and then there’s…”

 

“Hello, Ron.”

 

Ron froze, his mouth so full of bread that it was impossible for him to speak at all.  He turned around and his gaze fell on one of the loveliest sights he had seen in a long while.

 

Hermione Granger stood in the entrance to the kitchen, looking a little tired and perhaps still a bit too thin, with dark circles under her eyes. She was dressed in an oversized jumper and jeans, with her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and her beaded bag slung over her shoulder. Ron reckoned she had never looked more beautiful than she did in that moment.

 

He swallowed and then had to chew and swallow again, just to get the biscuit down his throat.  “ ‘Mione… you’re back…” he was finally able to say. He took a step towards her but she immediately shrank back, her arms folding over her chest almost as if to protect herself.

 

Ginny shoved by him, knocking her shoulder into his. “She’s here because I asked her…” Ginny supplied, throwing him a disgusted look before she surprised the witch with a tight hug.

 

Hermione cringed and immediately pulled away from her friend.  “S-sorry, Gin, just…” She shook her head as words suddenly failed her.

 

“Oh, give her some space.  She’s had a long trip.” Molly dusted her hands on her apron as she came to Herimone and also tried to hug her.  Again, Ron noted how she kept her space, her hands coming up and ending the contact almost immediately.

 

Molly didn’t seem to notice, drawing back from the young woman, “You look haggard, you poor thing.”

 

“How was Australia?” Ginny asked.

 

Immediately, Hermione’s eyes darkened. She shook her head and turned away as a tear slipped down her cheek. Ron felt the unmistakable tug at his heart. He never liked to see her like this.

 

“Aww, ‘Mione… you’ll figure out how to reverse it.  They don’t call you the brightest witch of our age for nothin’…” he offered.

 

She looked up at him, her mouth opening to respond but then suddenly she turned away, her arms tightening around herself.

 

“Ginny, dear, why don’t you show Hermione to your room?  Maybe she would like to rest before dinner?” Molly tried.

 

Ginny tangled her hand within Hermione’s and started to drag her to the stairs.  She glanced back only once and met Ron’s worried gaze but quickly looked away, following the youngest Weasley as the girl was animatedly filling her in on all that she missed.

 

Molly patted her son’s shoulder. “Give her time… She’ll come around.”

 

Ron could only stare at Hermione’s retreating form, uncertainty filling him.  No one wanted to say it but the fact remained she hadn’t been the same since the war ended. She was withdrawn and quiet, especially with Harry and himself… mostly with himself. 

 

And then she took off to find her parents almost as soon as the smoke had cleared the battlefield, barely writing.  And when she did manage to, it was addressed to Ginny or his Mum… a few brief cordial words and an update on her parents. Gone was the easy banter they once all shared … something simply seemed broken inside her, making her feel practically like a stranger.

 

But she was back , he tried to convince himself. Sure, she looked different and gone were those adoring looks she used to cast his way… but she was back, nonetheless. He could make her happy again… he just knew it.  She only needed to put the past behind her… the war… the battle… the loss of their friends… Fred…

 

But most of all, she needed to forget what happened to her at Malfoy Manor.

 

He clenched his fist at his side, fury welling inside him as he again heard her screams rent the air as if it was currently happening all over again….just as it did in his nightmares night after night.

 

She was back… and he would help her to forget… for both their sake.

 

*****

 

Hermione stared at her plate, pushing the food around so the others would think she was eating, but Ron knew better.  He sat across from her at the table, just watching her. And she was making every effort to not meet his gaze, instead investing all her energy into listening to his father and Harry talk about the upcoming trials.

 

“You three are all on the witness list to speak at Draco Malfoy’s trial, so be prepared for a summons,” Arthur Weasley was saying.

 

Ron snorted his disdain, “They best not call me unless it’s to tell them what a right foul git he is. Should throw him into Azkaban with both his father and mother, if you ask me.”

 

“Well nobody asked you, did they?” Hermione snapped, her gaze moving to glare at him.

 

“ ‘Mione…” Harry chided.

 

“Yea, ‘Mione, what gives?  I thought you, of all people, would agree the Malfoys belong in prison,” Ron replied, his hurt at her words evident in his tone.

 

She snorted her disdain, her eyes suddenly full of contempt. “So I guess it doesn’t matter that Draco refused to identify us to those Death Eaters or how he wouldn’t summon Voldemort…” She turned sharply to Harry, “And let’s not forget how you’d be dead right now, had Narcissa Malfoy not lied for you to the Dark Lord himself!”

 

Harry threw up his arms in defense, “I’m not arguing with you!”

 

She returned looking at Ron, “If not for The Malfoys, we could all be dead right now.”

 

Ron’s hurt suddenly turned to anger. “You almost did die, Hermione, or have you forgotten what Draco’s lovely Aunt did to you?!”

 

Hermione reared back, her left arm immediately leaving the table to hide in her lap. “I have not forgotten what happened to me… but Malfoy had nothing to do with the demented acts of Bellatrix.”

 

Ron slouched in his chair then, his arms folding over his chest as he huffed, “He didn’t lift his wand to stop her either…”

 

“ENOUGH!” bellowed Mrs. Weasley.  Everyone turned their attention to the matriarch of the Weasley clan. “I will not have any more talk of the war at my dinner table. Is that understood?”

 

There was a chorus of murmured yeses, as everyone returned to staring at their plates. Ron glanced up at Hermione.  She was red with embarrassment… or perhaps it was with anger. He honestly couldn’t tell.

 

“So, George, how’s business at the Joke Shop?” Ginny made an effort to change the subject.

 

But before George could answer, Hermione abruptly stood. “If you will excuse me, I think… I think I need some air.” She didn’t wait for anyone’s response.  She maneuvered around her chair and fled the dining room.  

 

Molly met Ron’s gaze, “Go after her, Ronald.”

 

“Why me?” he questioned, annoyed with how quickly she had come to the defense of the ferret yet had only hatred for him.

 

Harry, ever the perfect sodding gentleman, stood now.  “I’ll go check on her.” And he didn’t hesitate, following Hermione.

 

Ron just sat there for the space of several heartbeats, aware of the looks he was getting from the rest of his family. Suddenly, someone’s foot collided with his shin and he looked over to see Ginny craning her neck towards the direction Harry and Hermione went. Ron looked down at his plate then sighed heavily before pushing his chair away from the table and also leaving the dining room.

 

He went into the small kitchen and started to pace. He ran his hands through his hair before sliding over to the sink and nudging open the window.  He could hear the voices of his two best friends now, their whispers catching on the wind.

 

“So he believes that people shouldn’t be given second chances and you’re okay with that, Harry?” Hermione replied, her voice cracking with tears.

 

“No… I mean.. maybe…okay..no… no, I don’t agree. It’s just… it’s Malfoy .  You know how he feels about him…”

 

“People make mistakes…” she was pleading, the tears obviously coming faster. “And most just need to be forgiven… We all deserve forgiveness…”

 

“Oh Hermione… you have to let this go. You did what you thought was best…”

 

“Did I? Or was I acting out of pure selfishness? I took what I thought was the easy way out and now… now I’m paying for it…” Her words were rushed, her breathing close to hyperventilating.

 

“No one blames you for what you did. And your parents won’t blame you…”

 

“My parents?” she questioned. “My parents….”

 

And then there was the faint sounds of a scuffle… rustling in the bushes followed by the sounds of retching. Ron cautiously peered outside. It was dark,  but there was just enough light coming from the Burrow for him to make out the forms of Hermione and Harry. She was obviously throwing up in the bushes and Harry was holding her hair back, rubbing soothing circles on her back as he whispered to her.  She sat down on the ground then and he sat with her. She leaned her head on his shoulder, whispering something to him but their voices were too low now for Ron to hear what they were saying.

 

His belly clenched with the all too familiar feeling of jealousy then. But not that he suspected they were having some clandestine relationship… Harry loved Ginny… but they were still close… closer it seemed than he would ever again be to Hermione.

 

Perhaps he shouldn’t have kissed her during the battle… she had been hesitant, to be sure, but still sort of receptive to it…hadn’t she?

 

Was he going completely mental? She couldn’t even look at him, let alone have him touch her without cringing… 

 

Something had changed and for the life of him, he didn’t know how to even begin to figure out what it was.

 

******

 

It was well after midnight as Ron stood in the doorway of Ginny’s room, watching as Hermione twisted and thrashed on the bed, locked in a nightmare. He wasn’t sure how the rest of the household hadn’t been woken by the noise. Even Ginny was oblivious, softly snoring on her bed over in the corner.

 

Hermione cried out then, “No! No… please… don’t leave me…”

 

Before he knew what he was doing, Ron was beside her bed.  Tears were streaming down her face, soaking the pillow but she was still fast asleep. He lifted his hand towards her, determined to just give her a shake and awaken her but as he stared down at her beautiful face tightened in a grimace of pain, he stopped.

 

A thought suddenly occurred to him.

 

Ron swallowed then lifted his wand from the pocket of his robe. “Accio flask,” he whispered.

 

A small vial appeared in his hand.  He looked down at Hermione’s sleeping form again.  She was whispering something over and over, the tears still falling.

 

He leaned closer.

 

“I love you… I love you… I’m sorry…” she was chanting, begging some unseen person.

 

Ron’s heart clenched in his chest. He took a deep breath.  He lowered the flask, careful not to touch her face with it.  He let her tears fall, capturing the glistening drops within the glass. 

 

This was for her own good , he convinced himself.  He couldn’t fix it if he didn’t know…

 

*********

 

Present Day:

 

3 weeks after signing the Marriage Contract…

 

“So he isn’t going to press charges?” Hermione inquired, absently flipping through the clothes on the rack, not really seeing any of them.

 

“Not according to Harry,” Ginny replied, her vision trained on the shirts hanging in front of her, her hand sliding them past her at such an alarmingly fast pace Hermione wondered how she managed to even see if they interested her or not.

 

Ginny had insisted the two of them go shopping in Diagon Alley on this Saturday afternoon, citing their equally busy schedules as the reason they hadn’t been spending much time together. It was partly true, what with the start of term at Hogwarts and all the craziness the Ministry had been throwing her way with wedding nonsense, but the simpler answer, she feared, was Ginny, and even Harry, just didn’t know what to say to Hermione now.

 

Between the Ron debacle at the Manor and the fact that she was still going through with this marriage to their old arch nemesis, it almost felt like if the Potters weren’t constantly questioning her life choices, what else was there left to talk about? And without anything left to say, would this be the end of their seemingly unbreakable friendship? These were the questions that had been plaguing Hermione, keeping her up at night.  These and so many more…

 

So when Ginny had owled yesterday and asked her out, she leapt at the chance. And that was saying a lot, because Hermione frankly loathed clothes shopping. But if it got her out of her apartment for a few hours and away from her thoughts, she could feign interest in the latest fashions. And maybe if she played nice, Ginny would even let her stop in at Flourish and Blotts for a new book… or three… without much of a fight.

 

“Between you and me,” Ginny continued, “I think Harry may have been the one to step in and convince the Ministry not to pursue the case. And, boy, he doesn’t want to hear my opinion on the matter, either. We got into a little argument the other night when he tried to convince me to let Ron move in with us.” She turned to look at Hermione, hurriedly adding, “Not that I would ever allow that to happen. And he won’t be at your birthday dinner on Tuesday. I’ve already told Mum she has to take him that night.”

 

Hermione smiled, in spite of herself. Until Ginny’s next words suddenly wiped if from her face, “Why? What does Malfoy say?”

 

Hermione bit her lower lip and avoided her best friend’s gaze, pretending to be much too occupied with the light grey peasant blouse she was admiring (that for goodness sake, reminded her of a certain somebody’s eyes). “Oh! You know… we…uh… we haven’t actually spoken much in the last few weeks…”

 

Ginny furrowed her brow, “You haven’t spoken… much ?”

 

“Yeah… or more like not at all since we signed the contract…” she mumbled.

 

“But you two did that interview in The Prophet … with the big announcement of your engagement…”

 

Hermione sighed, “We met with the reporter separately. I actually haven’t physically seen him in three weeks.” Now she met Ginny’s gaze, sighing, “Is that normal, do you think?”

 

Ginny rolled her eyes, “You’re marrying Malfoy, Hermione… ‘normal’ left this conversation a month ago…”

 

Hermione mustered a smile but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, which didn’t go unnoticed by Ginny.  With one hand on her growing tummy, the petite redhead waddled over to her side and laid a comforting hand on Hermione’s forearm, “I’m sure he’s just working through everything… you know, in his normal, dickish way.”

 

“Not helping, Ginny,” she replied.

 

“Sorry. But it’s Malfoy , Hermione…” she whined then stopped when she saw how it made her friend cringe. 

 

She sighed, “Okay, I’ll admit, this is taking some getting used to... We can’t all be like you, Hermione, just so accepting of the Ministry’s matchmaking…” Again, she paused, “But I will make every effort to try to be cordial to the ferret… but , I make no promises I won’t tease him mercilessly every chance I get.”

 

That earned a half-hearted smile from her closest friend. And then suddenly, Hermione was hugging Ginny.

 

Ginny patted her on the back before pulling slightly away to look at her closely, “Have you tried owling him?” 

 

Sadness shadowed her features for a moment. “And say what exactly? Hi, remember me, your Mudblood fiancé?” Hermione groaned. “I’m supposed to go meet with his mother for tea tomorrow afternoon to discuss the wedding.  Perhaps I’ll see him then.”

 

“When is the date again?”

 

“October 28th. And don’t even think about backing out.. you and Harry are the only family I have and I need you there, whether you agree with my choice or not.”

 

Ginny took a step back, “Hermione, we would never miss your wedding. If you told me you were eloping with the ferret tomorrow on the shores of Brazil, I would still be by your side.  It’s just so soon …”

 

Hermione shrugged, “I don’t see why we should wait.  We’ve settled everything… no sense in postponing the inevitable…”

 

Ginny scrunched up her face, “You make it sound so clinical. What about your dress? The flowers? The guest list? My dress , for crying out loud?!”

 

Hermione waved her off, “I’m letting Narcissa plan everything. Obviously Draco doesn’t seem too invested in the details so why should I?” She turned away from Ginny then, afraid if she looked her in the face, she’d be able to see her obvious hurt.

 

Ginny grabbed her friend by the shoulder and turned her to face her, “Because it’s your wedding… and you’ve probably been planning it since you were five.”

 

A tear trickled down her cheek, “Since I was three… but what does it matter, my own parents won’t even be there…” And the groom doesn’t even have two minutes to spare to just be with me

 

“Awww…. Hermione…” Ginny grabbed her and pulled her in for another tight hug. “If it’s any consolation, men are complete rubbish with wedding planning.  Harry had absolutely the worst taste in music and flower arrangements, I finally just had to fire him so Mum and I could finish it all.”

 

Hermione giggled through her tears.  She pulled back and tried to wipe at the tears, aware they were starting to get strange looks from the other customers in the clothing shop.

 

The last thing she needed was for the headline in tomorrow’s Prophet to read, Golden Girl Granger Weeps Over Wedding to Slytherin Heir.

 

“At least you had your mum, Ginny. I only have Mrs. Malfoy…”

 

“How is Malfoy’s mother?  Is she completely awful?”

 

Hermione shook her head, “No, she’s actually very sweet… at least I think she is. My only interaction with her was in front of Shacklebolt, so maybe it’s all an act… but I don’t think so.  I hope not, anyway.”

 

“If you want, I can go with you tomorrow and help with everything…” Ginny offered. “I make a good buffer.  No one likes to anger a pregnant woman… especially one with a fiery Weasley temper.”

 

“No, Ginny. It’s fine.” She met Ginny’s incredulous look, taking her hand and patting it, “Truly.”

 

“Well, if you change your mind… I’m here for you, Hermione. Never second guess that.”

 

“Thank you,” she replied.  And Hermione meant it. It suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted just knowing that she still had Ginny’s support in all this.

 

“Even if it means I have to sit there and watch you snogging the ferret … which if I am to believe Harry, was quite a show,” Ginny answered.

 

Hermione started to turn a deep shade of red, “Harry told you about… oh for Godric’s sake !” She buried her head in her hands.

 

Ginny giggled, “Said it took all his willpower to not punch Malfoy in the face…” She then gave her a devilish smirk, “...but that you seemed to be rather enjoying yourself…”

 

“Snogging Draco Malfoy? Well there’s a conversation I simply must take part in…” a silky voice replied from behind the two women.

 

Ginny and Hermione whirled around to come face to face with none other than Pansy Parkinson.  The tall, formerly pug-faced girl was dressed to perfection in an elegant green silk blouse and black leather pencil skirt.  She had these beautiful black stiletto heels with small silver snakes slithering up the heel to wrap around her petite ankles and silver snake earrings to match.  And her makeup was flawless, with bright red lips and smokey eyes; her long dark brown hair hanging perfectly straight and loose down her back. She was definitely dressed the part of Slytherin princess…

 

All that was missing was her prince … Hermione thought warily.

 

Hermione immediately took a step back, crossing her arms over her plain blue and white striped jumper, as if that would shield her from the woman’s assessing gaze.

 

Pansy gave her the once-over, from the jumper to her most comfortable pair of jeans with the ripped knees to her simple white trainers. She brought her perfectly manicured fingers to her chin, tapping with one blood red nail against her bottom lip while she considered her.

 

“Parkinson,” Ginny spat out, never one to hide her dislike for their former classmate.

 

“Hello fellow witches,” she purred, turning to give Ginny a cat-like grin. But it was only for a moment and then she returned her lingering gaze to Hermione again, making her suddenly feel slightly uncomfortable.

 

Pansy shifted, her hands resting on her hips, “Well, Granger, I hear congratulations are in order.  You finally caught your white whale…” She gave her a wink then, “The book reference I threw in just for you.” 

 

Hermione was taken aback, stammering, “Umm… thank you, I think.”

 

Ginny, never the shy one, took a step towards Pansy, “You can drop the act, Parkinson. Malfoy isn’t here.”

 

Pansy raised one eyebrow, “As if I would ever pretend to be nice , Weaselette… You know me better than that.”

 

“Then what gives? I thought you , of all people, would be spitting nails at the news.  Weren’t you and Malfoy like a thing all through school?”

 

“Ginny,” Hermione warned her friend. She glanced over at Pansy who was giving her this knowing smile that suddenly made the hairs on her arms start to rise.

 

“Relax, Weaselette, I may have been his date to the Yule Ball…” Again she looked at Hermione, adding, “And, yes, we did snog once or twice at the beginning of 4th year, but Draco has always had eyes for only one witch… Isn’t that right, Granger?”

 

Ginny gave her a questioning look, “What is she talking about?”

 

Hermione just shrugged, swallowing down the bile that was rising in her throat.  Did Pansy know? Had Draco shared his feelings with her all those years ago?

 

Pansy’s mouth dropped open in surprise then she laughed, “You mean he hasn’t told you?! Well, far be it for me to ruin that conversation.”

 

“Oh I don’t believe you,” Ginny snorted.  “You’re a Slytherin, which makes you a very good liar, Parkinson…”

 

Pansy clucked her tongue, “Me-ow, Weaselette… Your claws are out today. Perhaps you were too busy getting starry-eyed over Potter to notice, but my boy, Draco, spent much of his time at Hogwarts chasing this Lioness’s skirt, no matter where she went…”

 

“You mean when he wasn’t planning the murder of Headmaster Dumbledore, that is…” Ginny replied with disdain.

 

Both Pansy and Hermione turned to give Ginny equal looks of shock.

 

Ginny shook her head immediately, “S-sorry.  That was uncalled for.” She laid her hand on her tummy, “Blame it on the pregnancy hormones.”

 

A twinkle danced in Pansy’s eyes, “You slag! And here I thought you were just fat from the last baby. Potter must be very good in bed!”

 

Hermione instinctively stepped back as Ginny’s mouth dropped open. “I had James over three years ago!”

 

Pansy shrugged, “You were wise not to wait.  Keeps the Ministry off your backs about all this ‘ procreation for the good of the community’ nonsense.”

 

Hermione covered her mouth to suppress her smile.  If there was one way to get under Ginny’s skin, it was to mention her weight gain.  She almost felt bad for Pansy… almost .

 

Pansy turned and looked at her, a clear smirk on her face, “I wouldn’t laugh too hard there, Granger.  Soon you’ll be round with the Malfoy heir… That is, if you aren’t already.” She gave Hermione a wink.

 

“Hey!” Hermione exclaimed, quickly looking down at herself.  Yes, her jumper was a little big but not enough to hide a baby bump. Ginny just snickered, which earned her a smack against her arm.

 

“Ouch! Oh, come off it, Hermione, even I’m kinda surprised your knickers aren’t already balled up on Malfoy’s bedroom floor. I mean, it has been a while … and he’s always been a decent looking bloke…”

 

“Ginny!”

 

Pansy roared with laughter.  “Well, maybe it has something to do with the way you’re dressed, Granger.  And that is definitely something I can help with.” She took a step back, cocking her head to the side, studying Hermione with a quizzical eye. “Size 6, I’d wager.” She turned to the racks, randomly grabbing blouses, skirts and pants.

 

“Ummm… I really don’t know what my clothes have to do with anything.  I rather like being comfortable,” Hermione tried.

 

Pansy whirled around to face her, thrusting the collection of outfits into Hermione’s empty hands. “Oh Granger, you may be book smart but I know clothes… and men, for that matter.  Trust me.”

 

“Trust a snake…not bloody likely,” Ginny replied.

 

“Watch your tongue, Weaselette… your best friend here is about to marry one of those snakes, which practically makes us family .” Pansy wrapped her arm around Ginny’s shoulders and squeezed.  Ginny cringed and rolled her eyes. Pansy laughed maniacally then proceeded to flip through the racks of lingerie.

 

“How long is ‘ a while’ , Granger?” Pansy queried.

 

“What?” Hermione juggled the several pieces of clothing in her arms, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed.

 

Pansy crooked an eyebrow, “Potter’s wife said it had been ‘ a while’ since… you know … Just exactly how long has it been?”

 

“I don’t see how that’s any of your concern!” Hermione huffed.

 

Pansy smirked, “Oh, that long, huh?” She turned back to the racks, grabbing lacy undergarments in a variety of colors. She thrust them into Hermione’s arms, adding a corset ensemble in a deep shade of green to the top of the pile. “For the wedding night…” she purred.  She grabbed her by the arm and dragged her over to the fitting rooms, Ginny following close behind.

 

“Do you work here?” Ginny asked.

 

Again that laugh, “I own this place, dear.” She practically shoved Hermione towards one of the empty rooms but Hermione froze and turned to face the other two women.

 

“Everyone just stop. I don’t need a new wardrobe and I certainly do not need either of you commenting on when it was the last time I had sex.”

 

Pansy rolled her eyes, “Do not be so dramatic. No one is trying to change you, Granger.  You’ll always be that swotty little know-it-all with the bushy hair who will one day save us all from ourselves.” She approached her, gently bringing her hands to her shoulders and turning her to face a nearby mirror. “Clothes make you feel confident.  And a confident witch… especially a smart , confident witch… well, that is a force to be reckoned with.”

 

Hermione studied her reflection.  She was brave… and smart… no doubt about it.  But confident?  Especially around the Slytherin prince himself?

 

“Look,” Pansy continued, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but Draco likes attention… like every other red-blooded man.  If he thinks you’re dressing a little sexier for him… well, it will intrigue him. If he thinks you’re doing it for yourself though, you’ll practically have him eating out of your hand. A little jealousy never hurt any relationship.”

 

Hermione met the other woman’s eyes in the reflection of the mirror, “Why are you helping me? Aren’t we supposed to be naturally sworn enemies?”

 

Pansy’s smile faltered.  She looked down at her nails, pretending to be preoccupied with a speck of imaginary lint. “School’s over, Granger.” She then looked up and their eyes met, “As is the war.” She shook her head, smiling once again, “And you’re marrying one of my best friends.”

 

Pansy brought her hands to Hermione’s hair then, pulling it back before casually sweeping it across her shoulder. “He smiled, you know…”

 

“What do you mean?” she asked.

 

Pansy bit her lip then shrugged, “When he opened his letter from the Ministry… he smiled when he saw your name.” She swallowed, “I haven’t seen him smile since before Sixth Year. You’re good for him.” She cleared her throat then stepped away.  “Far sight better than Astoria Greengrass, for sure.” She shrugged again, “But what do I know….?”

 

Hermione sighed, resigning herself to her fate, “Alright, let’s do this.”  Pansy happily clapped her hands. Hermione grabbed the green corset set, “But this is not happening.”

 

“Spoil sport,” Pansy pouted.

 

“Oh, you have no idea,” Ginny interjected.

 

“Hey! Standing right here!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

“You, dressing room,” Pansy ordered. “Weaselette, let’s go find you something.  I’ll have you pregnant with a third child before this one is even born.”

 

“Oh sweet Merlin…” Ginny mumbled, as Pansy dragged her away. 

 

Hermione stood there for a moment, perhaps a bit in awe that she was here, being coerced by Pansy Parkinson into buying new clothes.  Is this my life now ? she wondered. Would it be so bad if it was ?

 

He smiled

 

Her heart fluttered at the words and a quickening of an all too familiar feeling began deep in her abdomen. It really had been ‘ a while’... eight years, to be exact. She eyed the green lingerie she had tossed aside. She picked it up and admired it.

 

Well, hell, if you can’t beat them, join them .

 

And she entered the dressing room.

 

*****

 

“Sorry, Granger, your money's no good here,” Pansy replied, sorting through the clothing pile.  One brow rose when her gaze landed on the green lingerie, but she wisely chose not to draw attention to it.

 

“I’m not taking these things for free, Parkinson.”

 

The woman smiled, “Certainly not. Your fiancé will be billed accordingly.” She leaned towards Hermione, lowering her voice, “Draco has already had accounts set up for you at all the shops in Diagon Alley.”

 

“Well, in that case, the ferret can pay for my things too,” Ginny replied.

 

“No, absolutely not,” Hermione put her foot down. “I can pay for my own things.”

 

Pansy sighed, “There you go with the dramatics again, Granger.  Stop acting like he’s encroaching on your woman’s rights or whatever.  Let the man spoil you. It’s only fair after all the hell he put you through in school.”

 

“Wow, I actually think I agree with the snake on this one,” Ginny said.

 

Hermione opened her mouth to protest but then quickly closed it.  Draco had his pride, of that she was most certain.  And knowing she willfully ignored his generosity just might send the wrong message.  But she hated feeling like she was using him for his money.  It somehow felt dirty to just charge her purchases to him, especially without saying something to him first.

 

Fuck, this was going to drive her insane and they weren’t even married yet.

 

She caved. “Fine. Just this once.” She grabbed Ginny’s items, “But these I am paying for…”

 

“Oh Hermione…” Ginny started.

 

But she just shook her head no, a sure sign she would broker no argument. Hermione sighed, watching as Pansy folded all her new purchases.  Then an idea started to form in her mind.

 

“So we were thinking of grabbing some lunch, Pansy… if you’d like to join us.”

 

Pansy froze, a look of bewilderment crossing her features before she hid it behind her casual, sly smile. “A snake in the lion’s den…fascinating…”

 

Ginny rolled her eyes, “Just say yes, Parkinson.”

 

She laughed. “Apparently I have no choice.  What’s next? You asking me to be a bridesmaid?”

 

“Yea, not happening,” Ginny responded.

 

Hermione shrugged, “It’s just lunch.  I mean, you said it, we’re practically family.”

 

Pansy eyed the two women carefully then gave a brief nod.  “Let me have Marigold finish this and I’ll go grab my purse.”

 

“We’ll meet you outside,” Hermione agreed.

 

Hermione and Ginny left the store, stepping out into the brisk, afternoon air.

 

“Is it wrong that I’m starting to actually like her?” Ginny asked.

 

Hermione shook her head, “People can change, Ginny.”

 

Ginny laid a comforting hand on her arm, “He’ll come around.” She then laughed, “Besides, you heard Parkinson… he smiled … no matter how cheesy yet sinister that may sound.”

 

“Oh shut it,” Hermione replied, playfully slapping Ginny’s arm.  Then both women burst into giggles.  Though she loathed to admit it, this had been the most fun Hermione has had in weeks.

 

“Excuse me, are you Hermione Granger?” inquired a deep, male voice from behind the ladies.

 

Both turned to see a middle aged man standing a little too close for comfort.  He wore a large overcoat and a hat pulled tightly around his face.

 

“Who’s asking?” Ginny butted in.

 

The man pulled out a copy of the recent edition of The Prophet … the exact one that featured the announcement of her engagement to Draco.  “I would love it if I could have your autograph…” he replied. He took a step forward.

 

Hermione instinctively stepped back. “S-sorry… I don’t think so…”

 

He took another step towards her, thrusting the paper and a pen forward.  “Awww, it’s for my little girl.  She just admires you so.”

 

Hermione again stepped back and Ginny came between them. “She said no.”

 

He tried to move around Ginny, “Please… it would mean so much to her…”

 

Hermione backed up into a post, her back colliding with the metal.  The man pushed the paper into her face now. Suddenly she felt very trapped.

 

A hand with bright red nails snatched the paper from the older man. Pansy stepped between Hermione and the interloper. “Oooo… you can have my autograph.”

 

The man’s face scrunched up in disgust, “And you are?”

 

Pansy feigned like she was wounded by his words, “ Who am I ? How dare you? I am Pansy Parkinson, the one who tried to willingly hand over The Chosen One to Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts.”

 

The man reared back, giving both Hermione and Ginny a look of pure hatred, “You are cavorting with snakes?!”

 

“Perhaps you should try reading that article you’re brandishing. I’m actually marrying one of those snakes. They make the best company,” Hermione replied.

 

He grabbed his paper from Pansy, “You lot with your ideals and inter-house unity shite… Mark my words, you’ll come to regret it.” He then turned and stormed off down the street.

 

“Well, that was just strange…” Pansy remarked.

 

“You have no idea,” Ginny responded. 

 

“You okay, Granger?”

 

Hermione was suddenly shaking, “I…uh…. Yes…” Ginny came to her side and started to rub soothing circles on her lower back.

 

“I’m missing something…” Pansy noted.

 

“Hermione kinda had a bit of a run-in with a stalker, after the war.”

 

“Stalker? Like a crazed fan?”

 

“Something like that,” Hermione murmured.

 

“They never caught him,” said Ginny.

 

“Does Draco know?” Pansy asked.

 

Hermione shook her head, “No one really does, save Harry and Ginny.  The Ministry kept it out of the papers.  It’s why I try to keep such a low profile now.”

 

Pansy looked thoughtful for a moment then replied, “Well, make sure you tell him.  Don’t let him find out something like this from someone else. He won’t take kindly to it.”

 

Hermione’s stomach knotted at Pansy’s words. She gave the witch a brief nod.

 

“Come on, let’s get you something to eat and maybe a glass of wine for those nerves.” Pansy put her arms around Hermione’s shoulders, “You’re with friends now.”

 

“Is that what we are… friends?” Hermione smiled.

 

“Well, you’re about to ask me to be one of your bridesmaids and I’m about to agree so… yes, we’re friends.”

 

Ginny cocked a brow, “Seems like the snake has earned it.”

 

“See?  Even the Weaselette agrees.”

 

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this – Pansy Parkinson, would you do me the honor of being one of my bridesmaids?”

 

“On one condition, Granger.”

 

“And what’s that?” she questioned.

 

“You set me up with Neville Longbottom.”

 

“What!?” both Ginny and Hermione exclaimed.

 

“Oh yes… I think he’s so delectable in his jumpers and corduroy trousers…” Pansy practically growled.

 

“Oh ew!” Ginny cringed.

 

“I think he’s dating Hannah Abbott,” Hermione replied.

 

“No, they broke up. He’s very single,” Ginny said.

 

“Single… taken… married… Doesn’t faze me. I’m not picky.” Pansy licked her lips and gave the girls a wink.

 

“Well, I guess I’ll mention it to him…” Hermione paused for a moment then added, “You do know he kills snakes, right?”

 

“He killed one snake… and the bitch had it coming.”

 

Both Ginny and Hermione burst out laughing.

 

“Yep, it’s official, I like Pansy Parkinson,” Ginny announced.

 

Pansy’s smile turned sly, “Aw, Weaselette… I don’t normally swing that way, but for you, I’ll make an exception…. If Potter gets to watch.”

 

Ginny gagged, “And I hate you again…”

 

“Then all is right in the world…” Pansy laughed, linking her arm with that of Ginny’s. “Let’s go eat.  You can regale me with tales of Longbottom and maybe I’ll let a secret or two slip about the Slytherin boys.”

 

“Like Blaise Zabini?” Ginny asked, suddenly very excited.

 

“Ugh, Blaise.  Why do you Gryffindors like Blaise so much…?”

 

Pansy and Ginny walked ahead, talking animatedly while Hermione trailed close behind.  She couldn’t help but turn back and look for the man that had accosted her, a shiver creeping over her neck.  But he was nowhere in sight.  She just prayed that was the last she would see of him.

 

******

Draco awoke with a start. He had to peel his face free from the parchment he had been studying when he must have dozed off.  He pried his reading glasses from his face, which had somehow twisted around his nose, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Then he stood to stretch. It was late… or early… hell, he wasn’t even sure what day it actually was.  That happened occasionally when he chose to lock himself in the Manor’s dungeons and work on his potions.

 

He moved to the supply closet, grabbing yet another cauldron to begin a third potion, a batch of Draught of Peace. Demand for the calming liquid had been high ever since the conclusion of the war, and even his own personal supply of the stuff was running a bit low.

 

He slammed the cauldron down on the tabletop and snapped his fingers, the fire beneath it lighting automatically. He returned to his ingredient cabinet, procuring moonstone, porcupine quills and unicorn horn.  He returned to his workstation, took a sip of the thick brown sludge the Muggles called coffee, cringing at the cold and bitter taste, and began to meticulously grind the ingredients he needed into fine powder.

 

Soon he was lost in his task, his brain systematically shutting down at the mundane activity.  This is why he liked to come down here.  He didn’t have to think and he, sure as hell, didn’t have to remember . It was easy and instinctual.  And it was the one thing he was good at.

 

A hissing sound gave him pause and he suddenly remembered his other two potions he had started before his unplanned nap. He hurried over to the second cauldron, giving the bubbling greenish-blue concoction two counter-clockwise stirs of the spoon.  It calmed the liquid and he was certain his momentary lapse hadn’t completely ruined the Wolfsbane potion.  The full moon was fast approaching and he had several discreet clients in desperate need of it. He watched it for a moment, satisfied it was still usable, and now turned his attention to the first cauldron.

 

He approached it with caution, noticing the pink liquid was at a fine simmer… perfect and almost ready, by the looks of it. The gentle smell wafted upwards.  He hurriedly turned away but it was futile.  His nose caught the distinctive scent…

 

Green apple tarts

 

The crisp pages of old books

 

Roses

 

Or, more precisely, the rose and vanilla scented shampoo she still seemed to favor after all these years.

 

Fucking Amortentia.

 

He backed away from the table, instinctively placing as much space as he could between the love potion and himself.  He rested against his workstation and closed his eyes, desperately trying to ward off the barrage of lustful thoughts that had been burning at the edges of his mind for the last three weeks.

 

Her warm body beneath his… the way she mewled and writhed as she came apart on his tongue… her wild curls spread against his pillows, so deceptively soft he could literally spend hours simply running his long fingers through it…

 

Hermione fucking Granger

 

The things he wanted to do to her… Merlin, he could never be accused of having a lack of imagination.

 

He slid his hand down his face, realizing he had about a week’s worth of a beard now, and tried in vain to wipe her from his mind. He opened his eyes and his vision immediately fell on the small bottle of clear liquid, almost mocking him from its place across the room in his open cabinet.

 

Felix Felicis.  Liquid Luck.  Almost impossible to brew… unless, of course, you have eight long years to get it just right.

 

He...he’s poisoned you...with a love potion...and...and he’s rigged the results …”

 

Draco cringed at Weasley’s words and his stomach roiled. It wasn’t exactly the truth. How was he supposed to know the Ministry would match him with Granger?  It wasn’t like he had knowingly plotted to have her specifically chosen for him when he agreed to participate in the inane Initiative. He had hoped … but he hoped for many things that never came to fruition. 

 

So maybe he took a few sips of the potion right before the battery of tests and interviews… but it was more to insure he didn’t completely fuck it all up, not to sway the actual results…

 

At least that’s what he tried to convince himself of...

 

He sighed, shoved away from the table and crossed the room to the cabinet, slamming the door shut with a loud thud.  If he didn’t see it, he didn’t have to think about it.

 

A loud pop sounded behind him and Draco turned to see his house elf, Flinty, looking dapper as usual in his midnight blue wizarding robes. “Master Draco,” came Flinty’s small voice, the elf giving a slight bow.

 

A small smile tugged at Draco’s lips.  Flinty had been with the Malfoys for as long as Draco could remember, a loyal elf who now served as more of a personal assistant to his mother ever since he was freed after the war.  He helped to manage the estate and employed several other freed house elves to work around the Manor… all which Draco paid rather handsomely.  But Flinty, along with his sister Sierney, were like family… and when life was at its darkest, they were the only friends he and his mother had.

 

Draco returned the bow, “Flinty.”

 

“I came to check on you sir; see if perhaps you require anything.  We haven’t seen or heard from you in quite some time.”

 

Draco cocked a brow, “We?”

 

Flinty gave him a knowing look, “Your mother is looking for you.”

 

“Ah.” Of course … He sighed dramatically. “I would like some tea, I think. And you can let my mother know you have now seen me and I am fine.”

 

“Or you could let her know yourself,” replied a cool voice from behind Draco.

 

He cringed inside, giving himself a moment to take a breath before turning to see Narcissa Malfoy standing at the base of the staircase that led into his potions lab. Flinty immediately made a quick exit.

 

Smart elf ...

 

“Mother,” he nodded. He swallowed and moved away from her, returning to his workstation but keeping one watchful eye on his mum.

 

Narcissa cautiously swept into the lab, her robes swirling around her. She said nothing to Draco, simply walked among the tables, looking in the brewing cauldrons… obviously checking up on him in as discreet a fashion as she could muster. She came to the Amortentia, leaned over it and inhaled then looked over at her son, raising one perfect brow. He said nothing, turning to focus on the unicorn horn before him.

 

Finally, no longer able to stand the silence, he said, “What brings you to the dungeons, Mother? Here to reprimand me for something, I assume.”

 

“You’ve been hiding down here for days, Draco...cannot a Mother come visit her son?”

 

He gave her a look.

 

“Oh all right... Professor Slughorn owled again. He really is considering retirement and he’s pressuring me to have you apply for the position at Hogwarts.”

 

“No.”

 

“Why ever not? Potions is your passion and you’ve always been good with children…”

 

“I already have a profession, Mother,” he replied, gesturing around him.

 

“Illegally brewing love potions in our basement for unsavory individuals is hardly a profession, dear ,” Narcissa snapped.

 

He snorted. “Yes, well, I sincerely doubt Headmistress McGonagall is going to allow a former Death Eater to come and teach at her school,” he replied matter-of-factly.

 

“You were acquitted of all those charges…” She paused then gently said, “Perhaps if Potter or Ms. Granger were to talk with her…”

 

“Absolutely not.”

 

“Why? I mean, it will benefit Ms. Granger…”

 

“No, Mother. And that’s final.” He glared at her for the space of several heartbeats before returning to his work.

 

“She’s already done enough for this family by simply agreeing to marry me,” he added, his voice low.

 

“You’re still quite a catch, Draco,” Narcissa reiterated.

 

“Not for her.” He looked over at his mum now, “If that’s all, I have work to do.”

 

She hesitated then replied, “Actually, I thought you’d be interested to know Ms. Granger will be here tomorrow afternoon for tea and to finalize wedding details… in case you wish to make an appearance...”

 

He snorted his disdain, “I’ll pass.”

 

He didn’t need to turn towards his mother to know she was giving him a disapproving look.

 

“Draco…” she started.

 

He suddenly stood, interrupting her, “Whatever Granger decides is fine with me. I’ll only get in the way.” He slid around her to stand before the Amortentia. He busied himself pretending to study it, all the while letting the smell of roses and vanilla surround him, again triggering a fantasy that fogged his mind and made him slightly giddy.

 

Fuck

 

A thought occurred to him then and he turned to look at Narcissa. “This is Granger’s wedding, Mother... do not push pureblood traditions off on her. Whatever she wants, she gets...”

 

Narcissa gave him a feigned look of mortification, “How could you even suggest such a thing, Draco?” She paused, “But it’s your wedding, too. And it may do everyone some good if you at least pretended to care…”

 

“I care. I’ve noted the date. October 28th. I’ll be the one in the expensive tailored robes standing at the end of the aisle. You won’t be able to miss me.”

 

He moved away from her then, returning to take a seat at his workstation, giving her his back.

 

Narcissa sighed, “Have you spoken at all to Ms. Granger? Perhaps you could owl her and invite her to dinner.”

 

“You’re meddling, Mother.”

 

“Seems I have to meddle, Draco. Ms. Granger is a certain type of woman... she must be wooed, not ignored.”

 

He chuckled darkly, “Yes, I’m aware of what sort of woman she is… I did spend most of my adolescence bullying her, you know.”

 

“A fact she seems all too willing to forgive…”

 

“But never forget…” he added. He pulled absently at the left sleeve of his shirt, “She’ll never be able to forget.”

 

“I think you’re wrong. Perhaps if you told her how you feel…”

 

He snickered, “Oh, and how exactly do I feel , Mother?”

 

She reached out and laid her hand over his to stop him from fidgeting with his sleeve, “You weren’t alone in that parlor, Draco. I was there, too.” She brought her free hand to caress his forehead, pushing a lock of hair away from his face, continuing, “Bella didn’t notice.  Your father was blind to it.  But I saw.” He turned his face to look up at her, his eyes searching hers. “I saw everything…

 

He looked away then. He sighed, “What do you want me to say? I highly doubt you want to hear that I’m one Floo call away from surprising her at her Flat and shagging her senseless.”

 

Narcissa raised an eyebrow, “I saw the way she was looking at you, dear, and I’m certain she wouldn’t be opposed to that.”

 

He cracked a smile.

 

She ran her hand across his face before giving his cheek a pat, “Please, Draco... shower, shave off that abhorrent beard and get a good night’s rest. Then tomorrow you come to tea...for me… and for Ms. Granger.”

 

He didn’t move. Then he gave a quick nod and rose from the table. But he stopped just short of the stairs leading from the dungeons. “Go on up, Mother.  I just need to finish one last thing.”

 

Narcissa nodded, giving him one last reassuring pat on his hand before ascending to the next floor.  

 

Draco watched her leave then waited for several minutes just to be safe.  Once he knew she was gone, he turned and walked over to his cabinet.  He opened it and reached his hand up, his fingers closing around the small vial of Felix Felicis. 

 

He stared unrelenting at it in his clenched fist for a moment before making up his mind and slipping it into his pocket. He closed the cabinet and murmured a quick locking spell before he sauntered over to the stairs, taking them two at time.

******



Chapter Text

 

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Hermione raised her hand to knock on the large oak door of Malfoy Manor. But she paused just before making contact, unconsciously waiting for the door to swing open much as it did on her last visit, Narcissa or, she rather hoped, an anxious Draco ready to greet her.

 

Alas, the door didn’t budge, remaining firmly shut, and suddenly, she was filled with even more trepidation as the feeling of being unwelcome in this place overcame her.

 

She shook her head ruefully.  She was being silly, plain and simple.  The contracts were signed; this marriage was happening… and she had already been here once before, conquering her demons of uncertainty.  So why, pray tell, were her hands starting to shake from anxiety from merely standing on the front stoop of the Gothic structure?  

 

She inwardly groaned, taking a step back from the door and turning away to face the expansive grounds.  She shook out her hands, stretching her fingers, clenching and unclenching them into fists. You can do this, she chided herself, summon that Gryffindor bravery… your Muggle courage…

 

Crack!

 

Hermione practically jumped out of her skin at the sound of apparition behind her. She turned to see a well-dressed house elf, in forest green wizarding robes decorated with garish gold moons and stars, now standing there on the porch.  He bowed low, a small hand covering his heart, as he said, “Ms. Granger, I presume.”

 

Compelled by his regal formality, Hermione curtsied.  “At your service. And you are…?”

 

“Forgive me, milady, I am Flinty, head house elf for The Malfoys. I must apologize for my delay in greeting you.  You were expected via the Floo. I was only just alerted to your presence at the front door a moment ago.”

 

“Oh! Please forgive me, Flinty.  I wasn’t aware I had been given Floo permission…” Her voice trailed off.

 

He eyed her carefully, his face screwed up in confusion, “You will soon be the new mistress of the house, Ms. Granger, of course you have Floo privileges. Or am I mistaken?”

 

Hermione froze, unsure of what to say. Mistress of the house? No, she wasn’t sure she would ever be comfortable with that title.

 

The elf shook his head, “No matter, Ms. Granger, all the details will be worked out, I’m sure.”  He offered her his hand, “May I escort you to the gardens? Ms. Narcissa is kindly waiting for you there.”

 

“Well, all right, but only if you agree not to apparate.  I’m not really fond of the practice. And you must call me Hermione. I insist.”

 

Flinty seemed to relax at that statement.  Again, he gave a small bow, “Whatever the lady wishes.”

 

Hermione reached out her hand and allowed the small elf to lead the way.  To her surprise, he chose the outdoor route, jauntily skipping down the front steps and taking a dramatic left to a hedge-lined path, bypassing the Manor all together.

 

“So, you said you are head house elf.  How many house elves are there?” she politely inquired.

 

Flinty gave a short laugh, “Master Draco said you might ask Flinty these types of questions.”

 

Hermione cocked an eyebrow, “Oh, he did, did he?”

 

Flinty nodded. “Said I am to tell you that we are all free elves and quite handsomely paid.”

 

“Well, are you?”

 

“Yes, quite handsomely paid,” he recited, “And Ms. Narcissa lets Flinty wear wizarding robes.  She even sews them herself.”

 

Now that was indeed surprising. “Flinty, if you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been with The Malfoys?”

 

Flinty stopped to consider her question. “Twenty-five years, I think. Since Master Draco was just a baby.” He glanced up at Hermione then, giving her hand a little squeeze, “He’s a good lad, Master Draco.  He treats us well… freed myself and my sister, Sierney, right after the war. But we didn’t leave. They are family, you see.”

 

Hermione nodded, “Yes, Flinty, I do see.”

 

The elf resumed walking now, taking a right then another right before quickly exiting the shadowy path, escorting Hermione into the bright sunshine and beautiful array of flowers that must be the gardens.  It was breathtaking… with peonies and roses and lilies; not to mention many species she couldn’t even name. 

 

Neville could spend days here, she thought in awe.

 

Her senses were assailed with so many colors and scents, she completely disregarded the gentle tug on her hand as Flinty moved forward. He now led her around a corner to an alcove just off the main house where a table was situated in the shade, with fine, intricate details carved into the metal which made it all seem beautifully medieval. And that was where she found Narcissa Malfoy, looking every bit the part of hostess.

 

She was clothed today in midnight blue robes, which seemed to make her bright blue eyes stand out even more against the paleness of her skin.  And her blonde hair was swept into an intricate knot, braided and pinned into a perfect bun that rested on her neck. She rose from where she was sitting on a nearby bench, her smile bright and cheery, and she met Hermione and Flinty half way, instantly taking her hand within both of hers in a gesture of comfort.

 

“Hermione, dear, it is so good to see you,” Narcissa greeted warmly. She leaned in, giving a soft kiss to Hermione’s cheek.

 

Instantly, Hermione felt her fears from moments before melt away. There was no Harry Potter today… no Minister of Magic… Narcissa’s affection was endearingly sincere, making all this much easier to endure. “Thank you, Narcissa,” she replied, returning the cheek kiss in kind.

 

“My, don’t you look lovely today.” Narcissa openly appraised Hermione’s outfit.  Taking a cue from her new stylist, Pansy Parkinson, she had opted to show a little solidarity for her new family, donning a emerald green ruffle trimmed wrap dress with long sleeves, which tied at the waist and fell slightly short to just the middle of her thighs, paired rather perfectly with her heeled knee high brown boots. How she let Pansy convince her to wear the boots, Hermione couldn’t be sure. She partially suspected Pansy hexed her into spending half of a month’s salary on new footwear, because of course “ new clothes require new shoes ”. Or something to that effect…

 

“Come. Sit. Sierney has laid out a feast for tea,” Narcissa encouraged, sweeping her arm towards the table where two places had indeed been set for tea, accompanied by finger sandwiches, small almond biscuits, and at least four different kinds of small cakes.

 

Hermione’s heart sank at the sight.  Not at the fine China or the delicious looking food… No, she despaired that there were only two teacups instead of three. Draco would obviously not be joining them. She swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat and painted on her most cordial smile. She tried to quell the thoughts plaguing her mind now.  If she allowed herself to give in to the anxiety, she’d never make it through this day. 

 

But one stray question niggled at the edge of her thoughts, and try as she might, wouldn’t be squashed: Was Draco avoiding her?

 

Flinty pulled out Hermione’s chair, then repeated the action for Narcissa. Hermione couldn’t help but marvel at how Narcissa effortlessly glided into her seat while Hermione herself had to use full concentration not to stumble over her own feet, which were actually starting to ache from the 3 inch chunky heels of her boots.

 

“Would Ms. Narcissa like for Flinty to pour?” the little elf inquired.

 

“No, Flinty, I think we can manage,” Narcissa replied, giving him an affectionate smile.  Flinty bowed and with a resounding crack, disappeared from the garden, leaving the two women alone.

 

Narcissa turned her attention back to Hermione then, raising the heavy teapot, silently asking her if she wanted tea.  Hermione gave a curt nod, and reached for an almond biscuit to nervously nibble. As soon as the flaky shortbread touched her tongue, Hermione couldn’t suppress the small groan of pleasure that escaped her mouth.

 

“Delightful, yes?” Narcissa asked, with a twinkle in her eye.

 

“That is single handedly the most delicious biscuit I have ever tasted,” Hermione confided.

 

Narcissa gave a short laugh, “Sierney has a way with desserts.  Those happen to be a favorite of Draco’s, as well.”

 

At the mention of his name, Hermione faltered, another bite of biscuit turning to sawdust in her mouth and she had to cough just to choke it down.

 

“Oh dear, are you all right?” Narcissa partially rose from her seat, patting Hermione on the back.  She offered her a cup of tea, “Here, take slow sips. I remember from last time, you are two spoonfuls of honey and a splash of milk.”

 

Grateful for the drink, she took it and cautiously sipped the hot liquid. Here she was, choking on some of the finest food this side of England at just the mere mention of Draco’s name.  Narcissa must be appalled she’s getting such an unrefined daughter-in-law and she mentally castrated herself. Get a grip, Granger.

 

But Narcissa smiled and patted her hand, “It’s all right, Hermione.  I was nervous, too, when I first sat down to tea with my future mother-in-law. And she was a monster .”

 

Hermione couldn’t help it, she laughed. And then Narcissa laughed too. Hermione gave the Malfoy matriarch a sheepish smile, “I’ve never done this before… I’m trying very hard not to embarrass myself.”

 

“Oh Hermione, we are the ones who should be embarrassed.  We haven’t always been the nicest to you…” Her voice trailed off for a moment and her face fell just slightly into a frown.  But as quickly as it came, it was gone, and she looked up into Hermione’s chocolate eyes and said in earnest, “I’m sure my son has already apologized but… please, allow me to say, I am deeply sorry for what happened to you in my home and for what my sister did…”

 

Hermione shook her head, “You’re no more responsible for her actions than Draco. And I harbor no ill will towards you… or him…”

 

Narcissa reached across the table and took Hermione’s hand within hers and gave it a squeeze. And then her smile was back, along with the cheeriness in her voice, as she settled back in her chair, “I am looking forward to getting to know you, Hermione. Draco has spoken very little about you, so most of my knowledge has been derived from The Prophet , I’m afraid.”

 

Hermione’s heart clenched in her chest. “Oh, well… I do hope you take whatever they say with a grain of salt…” she stammered. He hadn’t written… he was avoiding tea… and now she had to hear how very little he had spoken about her?  Could this day get any worse?

 

Narcissa waved it off, “I rarely believe anything that rag says. If I did, I’d be sitting here having tea with that Greengrass chit instead of you.” She took a sip of tea then, giving Hermione a knowing wink.

 

Hermione bit her lip, feeling that this moment may be her one shot at getting to the truth of the matter. She set her cup and saucer down in front of her and leaned slightly forward, “Well, now that you mention it…”

 

“Hope I’m not interrupting anything…” came a cool, distinctively male voice from behind Hermione.

 

Hermione went stock still at the familiarity of that voice. And then, as if on cue, a slight blush colored her cheeks as she allowed her mind to stray to a moment so long ago where that voice was a warm whispered promise against her thigh… begging her to come for him as he pleasured her with his mouth and fingers. She squeezed her legs together as a sudden ache began deep in her core. Merlin, she really needed to get laid .

 

“Draco!” Narcissa exclaimed with a smile, then it faded and she gave him a stern look Hermione suspected was reserved for mothers only. “You’re late.”

 

Draco came into view on Hermione’s left. He was wearing faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved white cotton shirt, with a handful of buttons that ran from the neck to the center of his chest.  He carelessly left the top four buttons undone, giving quite a peek at the muscled flesh of his collarbone and a light dusting of pale blonde hair. It made her mouth water, seeing him so casually dressed, and in Muggle clothing, nonetheless. She quickly had to tear her vision away, concentrating now on her tea, lifting the cup and saucer to keep her focus and her hands busy.

 

He shrugged, “You know how I like to make an entrance.”

 

Hermione smirked, carefully hiding it behind her tea cup as she raised it to her lips, remembering quite vividly how Draco always made a show of it, pushing open the double doors and sauntering into the Great Hall with a pack of Slytherins on his tail.

 

“You can’t hide that smile, Granger,” he chuckled.

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she lied, her smile only widening.

 

He smirked, before leaning down and giving his mother a peck on her cheek.  “I see you started without me.”

 

“Yes, well, again, you’re late. And Merlin’s sake , what are you wearing?”

 

Draco feigned innocence, glancing down at his attire, “Thought I’d make Granger here feel more comfortable…” And he turned his attention to her now, their eyes meeting, just as his body leaned forward towards her, intent on greeting her with a kiss too.

 

There it was, the clean smell of his cologne… it was so crisp and manly and did strange things to her insides. And that’s when she noticed his blonde hair was slightly wet, a shade darker than normal. 

 

Holy hell , she realized, Draco Malfoy was fresh from a shower. Moments ago, while she was being led to the gardens by his house elf, he was naked… and wet… the warm stream of water cascading over his bare, muscular flesh….  

 

Fuck, now she was picturing him showering and those new silk panties Pansy had insisted she buy were clinging rather uncomfortably to her. She had to bite her lip just to keep from whimpering as he moved closer to her.

 

Instinctively Hermione half rose to her feet to meet him halfway, her torso bumping into Draco’s as he leaned down. He moved to give her a quick kiss on her cheek, much as he did with his mother, but Hermione panicked and turned her head, the kiss landing at the corner of her mouth instead. She nearly spilled her tea down his front, had he not reached out and steadied the cup.

 

“S-sorry…” she mumbled.

 

“Relax, Granger. I don’t bite,” he purred. Then he tried again, his lips ghosting over her cheek in a feather-light caress before he whispered in her ear, “Unless you’re into that sort of thing…”

 

He took a step back and she kind of fell back into her chair, her breathing unsteady.  She set her teacup down and glanced up at him. He winked and gave her that smirk. Instantly she felt the familiar rush of heat as her entire body flushed with embarrassment.

 

He grabbed a chair, and sat between Hermione and Narcissa.  Suddenly a third teacup appeared before him and he reached for one of those almond biscuits as he faced his mother, “In all seriousness, Mother, to answer your question, I’m going riding with Blaise later this afternoon.”

 

“Explains the outfit,” Narcissa murmured. She took a delicate sip of her tea. “You know how I despise that bloody awful contraption,” she chided him.

 

“Mother, language!” Draco sarcastically admonished Narcissa. “And in front of our guest…”

 

Narcissa gave him a warning look before taking another sip of her tea.  The exchange between the two was fascinating. Few words were spoken, but they were obviously communicating.

 

Draco rolled his eyes, slouching a bit in his chair as he munched on the dessert.  Hermione couldn’t help but note how, in that moment, he looked like his younger, carefree self from their days at Hogwarts.

 

“I don’t much care for broomsticks,” Hermione offered.

 

Draco chuckled again, “Yes, Granger, I quite remember you not having a proclivity for flying. But, Mother, here, isn’t referring to me riding my Nimbus.”

 

Hermione gave him a strange look which he met with a knowing smile. “Blaise and I have taken to riding motorcycles,” he clarified.

 

“Oh! As in Muggle ones?” She was indeed surprised.

 

“Unfortunately,” Narcissa mumbled.

 

Draco simply nodded, “Part of my ‘rehabilitation’ was to take Muggle studies. I discovered many fascinating things… motorcycles being a favorite.”

 

Hermione was intrigued, “I wager it feels like flying, you know, without all that nonsense of leaving the ground.”

 

He nodded then cocked his head to the side to study her, “Why Granger, would you like for me to give you a ride sometime?”

 

He eyed her carefully, and she got the distinct impression he wasn’t only referring to the motorcycle. He confirmed her suspicion by glancing at her outfit now, his smirk fading into a frown as he took in every inch of her, his gaze noticeably lingering on her bare thighs.  Instinctively, under his glaring scrutiny, she uncrossed her legs then crossed them again.

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “New clothes?”

 

Trying to remain coy, she simply said, “Ran into Pansy Parkinson yesterday.”

 

“Bloody hell,” he cursed.

 

“Draco, dear, language,” Narcissa replied, the smile she had giving way to a playful, teasing tone.

 

But Draco didn’t notice.  He leaned towards Hermione, his expression like stone. “And Ms. Parkinson is responsible for… this ?”

 

Hermione didn’t back down from his challenge, “ This being in reference to my new clothes? Well, she offered her advice but I can make my own decisions, Malfoy.” She looked away now, taking a sip of tea.

 

“Oh, I’m sure you can,” was his response.  He stared at her for the space of a heartbeat before adding, “And what other enlightening knowledge did Ms. Parkinson regale you with?”

 

“Draco…” Narcissa warned. He glanced at his mother and then slouched back, his arms folding over his chest.

 

He was pouting now… like an insolent child. It almost made Hermione want to laugh.  Instead she calmly set her teacup down and looked him in the eye, “Why are you so interested?  Afraid she spilled your deep, dark secrets?” She was teasing him but he grew visibly uncomfortable, straightening in his seat.

 

He snorted, “Nice try, Granger. I keep my cards pretty close to the vest.  Anything Parkinson had to say was either an outright lie or an exaggerated truth.”

 

“So you admit there are a few secrets hidden in your closet, just waiting to be discovered?” she questioned, still lightly teasing him.

 

He leaned towards her again, maintaining eye contact and giving her a dangerous smile, “Yes, I admit I have my fair share as, I’m sure, do you … clearly something I look forward to exploring more in depth on our wedding night…” And then he winked at her.

 

She released a shaky breath as he moved away to settle in his chair, taking his own cup and drinking his tea, his gaze never leaving her.

 

“Well, I, for one, like your new look, Hermione,” Narcissa tried.

 

“Thank you, Narcissa.”

 

“Draco, you must admit, she looks very pretty…”

 

He straightened in his seat and leaned his elbows on his knees and studied Hermione intently, “You’re fucking beautiful, Granger.” Then he shrugged, looking away, “But I’ve always thought so, even in your jumpers and jeans.”

 

Hermione couldn’t help it, her mouth dropped open in surprise. She secretly willed him to look at her but he avoided meeting her gaze now.  He stretched his arm across the back of his chair, choosing to study the closest rose bush while he chewed on a biscuit.  Cleary, he was done with the conversation.

 

Hermione could feel the awkward tension in the air and she took a sip of her tea before folding her hands in her lap and staring at them.  Thank goodness for Narcissa Malfoy.

 

“I, too, have found my Muggle studies rather intriguing,” she said, trying to change the subject.

 

Hermione gave her a soft smile, “Oh, how so?”

 

“Well, the inventions alone… there is something called a television that I most certainly would love to see.  And movie theaters…”

 

“I’m sure Hermione isn’t particularly interested in having us pepper her with questions about her lineage,” Draco suddenly snapped.

 

Both women turned towards him then, giving him stern looks.

 

“On the contrary, I don’t mind talking about Muggles. I’m quite used to it, in fact.  The Weasleys would often…” She suddenly stopped, realizing her mistake. It wasn’t polite for her to talk about her former surrogate family… especially given the history she had with Ron.

 

Draco visibly tensed but said nothing.  Narcissa straightened in her chair, her vision straying to stare at her own teacup.

 

Silence enveloped the three of them.

 

Narcissa was the first to speak, clearing her throat before addressing Hermione, “So, I hear you are a teacher at Hogwarts.”

 

“Yes. Transfiguration.”

 

Draco turned and gave his mother a stern look now, which didn’t go unnoticed by Hermione. Narcissa chose to ignore him.

 

“And do you enjoy it – teaching?”

 

“Very much so. Especially the Slytherins.  They love to hear tales from the war.”

 

Draco cocked an eyebrow at this but still said nothing.

 

Narcissa continued, “My great nephew will be starting there soon.  Maybe you are acquainted with him – Edward Lupin.”

 

“Do you mean Teddy?” Hermione exclaimed.

 

Draco snorted, “Of course she bloody well knows him, his parents were members of the bloody Order, were they not?”

 

Both women chose to ignore him now, leaving him to stew in his sudden dark mood.

 

Hermione smiled, “I am very fond of Teddy and your sister, Andromeda.”

 

“We’ve recently reconnected, Andromeda and I. And Draco, here…” Narcissa laid a comforting hand on her son’s tense shoulder, “… has been teaching Teddy Quidditch.  He’s become something of a big brother to the young boy.”

 

Hermione turned and gave Draco a look of surprise, “I didn’t know this.”

 

Draco smiled a tiny bit, “Finally something the Know-It-All Granger wasn’t privy to…” Then he just shrugged, “My mother has a tendency to exaggerate.”

 

“Nonsense. That little boy looks up to you.”

 

Draco shifted in his seat, turning more towards the table to rejoin the conversation, “Seems we’ve now come to the point where my mother proceeds to sing my praises in a last ditch effort to convince you that marriage to me won’t be total bollocks.”

 

Draco leaned forward, placing his hand on Hermione’s knee beneath the table while he turned to address Narcissa, “You can relax, Mother, Granger here will have plenty of time to get to know me once we are married…” He started to blatantly caress her, rubbing light circles before sliding his fingers beneath her knee to tickle the soft skin there. She jumped, banging her knee on the underside of the table, startling Narcissa.  His smile grew wide as his fingers stilled yet he didn’t remove them, “… well, at least for the next eighteen months or so…” he finished.

 

Hermione turned and looked at him, “Yes, why eighteen months? All the other couples are getting twelve.”

 

Again, he tensed, withdrawing his hand from her to settle in his own lap.  He cleared his throat and shrugged, “Given our history, I thought we could use the extra time to get comfortable with one another.”  He took a drink of his tea and then proceeded to run his finger along the rim of the cup, “I never thought you’d be so… amiable…

 

Amiable… she considered the word.  She’s pretty certain he wanted to say horny .

 

“Best case scenario, I figured you’d hex me on sight,” he added.

 

That made her smile.  “And the worst case scenario?”

 

“You’d break my nose again.”

 

Hermione roared with laughter and Draco gave her his patented smirk. But Narcissa watched them in confusion.

 

She turned to Hermione, “You broke his nose?” She sounded concerned.

 

Hermione met Draco’s gaze, “Your mother doesn’t know?”

 

“Come now, Granger, my parents would have tried to have you expelled. And I was being a complete arse. I totally deserved it.”

 

He eyed her for a moment, then leaned towards her slightly, slipping his hand beneath the table once again to settle on her leg.  But he didn’t stop there. Cautiously he trailed the tips of his fingers across her knee before delving under the hem of her skirt to rest on her thigh.  She swallowed, aware of the blush starting on her cheeks but afraid to so much as twitch, for fear he may remove his hand.  And she didn’t want him to stop. She craved his touch….rather desperately.

 

“Well, now I simply must hear this story,” Narcissa replied.

 

And so they told her, animatedly explaining everything that led up to their altercation in 3rd year, with Draco supplying rather colorful commentary like “bloody chicken” when talking about Buckbeak and how he had to swear Nott and Crabbe to silence with the unbreakable vow.

 

And somewhere, in the midst of their story, Hermione’s hand had strayed to his thigh, resting comfortably in much the same manner as his was on hers. And they had both inadvertently leaned towards one another, laughing in shared jokes and teasing each other mercilessly.  All the while, Narcissa just smiled and sipped her tea as she listened to the pair.

 

“See?” Hermione was saying, “…a complete arse…”

 

“The bloody chicken attacked me!” Draco exclaimed.  “But, to be fair, a death sentence was a bit much .”

 

“Well, you can blame your father for that one,” Hermione replied.

 

Both Draco and Narcissa tensed, shattering the relaxing, playful mood.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean… I shouldn’t have said….” Hermione tried.

 

But Narcissa waved her off. “Lucius chose his path, my dear.  We’ve come to terms with it.”

 

“His path being slipping away in the middle of the night and running and hiding to avoid prosecution,” Draco mumbled.

 

Hermione looked at him, seeing the sudden sadness there in his steely grey gaze.  She gave his thigh a squeeze, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

 

Draco shrugged, “Best case scenario is he’s dead.”

 

“And the worst?” Narcissa asked.

 

“That he’s dead…” Draco whispered.

 

Crack!

 

Just at the right moment, Flinty appeared.  He gave a perfect bow before saying, “Ms. Narcissa, your other guest has arrived.”

 

“Other guest?” Hermione questioned.

 

“Yes, dear, I’ve decided to hire you a wedding planner… she comes very highly recommended,” Narcissa said with a smile.

 

Draco groaned, and Narcissa gave him a dirty look, before rising from the table. “Please show her to the gardens, Flinty.” And just as quickly as he came, the little elf vanished.

 

“You will behave, Draco,” Narcissa said, poking him in his chest.

 

Draco painted on his best sly smile, “I don’t think Granger likes it when I’m all gentlemanly.” His hand drifted further up her skirt now beneath the table, causing her to slightly jump.  Her hand fell to her lap and, through the fabric of her skirt, she dug her nails into his flesh to stay his movements.  Any further and it was going to be practically indecent.

 

Narcissa sighed, “Hermione, I feel you may have your hands full with this one.”

 

Draco continued to smile, turning now to wag his eyebrows at Hermione.  “I think I’m up for the challenge,” she replied. And Draco winked in response.

 

A throat clearing drew all three of their attentions to the entrance of the gardens.  “Ms. Emma Vane,” Flinty announced.

 

A curvaceous, statuesque woman appeared behind Flinty. She was dressed impeccably in a white, short-sleeved one-piece pant suit with her black curls falling perfectly down around her shoulders.  Her large, dark eyes immediately sought out Draco, and she wet her lips as she stared at him for a fleeting moment before meeting Narcissa’s gaze.

 

“Mrs. Malfoy,” Emma charmed, extending her hand towards the older woman.

 

Hermione knew very little of Emma Vane, other than she was the older sister of Romilda, and born without magic to a Pureblood family.  But what she knew of Romilda and her penchant for love potions in particular, was enough to make Hermione inwardly cringe.

 

Hermione tried to stand and Draco’s hand slipped from beneath her dress reluctantly.  He, too, rose and immediately took up a defensive position, arms crossing over his chest as he stood just behind her so she couldn’t see his expression.

 

“And this is the bride, Hermione Granger,” Narcissa introduced.

 

“A pleasure, Ms. Granger,” Emma cooed, offering her hand to Hermione who didn’t hesitate in shaking it, a normal practice when one was raised by Muggles, especially polite ones.  “You attended school with my sister, yes?”

 

“Yes. We were both Gryffindors.”

 

“Oh… that’s interesting… ” Emma replied.  By her tone, Hermione could tell the young woman felt the complete opposite.

 

“And this is my son, Draco,” Narcissa added.

 

Emma practically tripped over herself to push around Hermione and extend her hand to Draco. The Vane sisters obviously had one thing in common – they were bold and not afraid to show it. “It is so nice to meet you, Mr. Malfoy…” Her words oozed with adoration.

 

Draco’s eyes fixed on Emma’s hand for a moment then met the woman’s gaze, “That’s what people tell me.” His arms remained steadfastly tight against his chest, leaving Emma’s hand awkwardly just hanging there.  Finally, she lowered it and stepped away.

 

“These gardens are simply lovely. Is this where the binding ceremony will take place? “ Emma now remarked.

 

“Thank you, we do take great pride in our landscaping. But, I believe Hermione has her heart set on saying their vows under the gazebo by the lake.  Perhaps you would like to see…” Narcissa offered, gesturing to another path that undoubtedly led to the gazebo.

 

Emma cocked her head and gave Narcissa a look of sympathy, “The lake, really? How pedestrian . Perhaps the bride should reconsider…”

 

Hermione opened her mouth to retort but was interrupted with cool fingers delicately pressing at the pulse point on her wrist.  Draco stepped forward then, “What my bride wants, my bride gets.” His tone brokered no argument.

 

“Of course, dear. I’m sure Ms. Vane was merely making a suggestion…” Narcissa offered.

 

Hermione glanced up at Draco.  His jaw was tight, his teeth grinding. Suddenly his cool fingers turned burning hot against her wrist and she snatched her hand away, which proved enough of a distraction for him to tear his gaze away from the wedding planner. 

 

“Well, perhaps we should continue on to the gazebo… let me get a feel of what you have in mind…” Emma replied.

 

“Most certainly.  If you would follow me…” Narcissa started down the path with Emma in tow.

 

Hermione stared at her boots, which felt frozen to the ground, her mind reeling.  Then she felt Draco’s warm hand at the base of her spine, gently pushing her to follow the others.  Anger suddenly swelled inside her.  She stiffened against him until he removed his hand, then proceeded to walk at a much faster pace in an effort to give her some breathing room. She wasn’t certain which pissed her off more –the fact that he wouldn’t shake Emma Vane’s hand, a known Squib, or was it how he treated Hermione so dismissively, speaking for her when she had her own voice… her own opinions. Or maybe she was just so taken aback by Ms. Vane, in general, who was obviously more interested in flirting with Hermione’s fiancé than giving them the wedding of their dreams.

 

“Granger, a word?”

 

She briefly considered ignoring him, choosing instead to continue following Narcissa and Emma. But his long stride prevented her easy escape, and he was behind her almost immediately.

 

Muffliato ,” he mumbled the incantation, ensuring a private conversation.

 

This gave her pause. She stopped but didn’t turn around.  Only when he came to her side, drawing closer than she deemed necessary, that she finally turned to glance at him.  His jaw was set and there was a frown pulling at his mouth and furrowing his brow. He tried to meet her gaze, but she kept her eyes trained on the top button of his tight white shirt, anything to avoid looking up at him.

 

“You’re angry with me,” he stated.

 

“No, I’m perfectly fine,” she snapped.

 

He scoffed, “You can cut the bullshit, Hermione.” Her gaze snapped up to meet his. “I know that look and the way your voice just went an octave higher than normal… I spent enough of our school years on the receiving end of that fiery look of contempt and barbed tongue.”

 

She rolled her eyes but then said, “It’s nothing… truly.” She tried to turn to walk away but a firm grip on her upper arm stayed her retreat.

 

Her gaze fell on his fingers, clutched rather tightly around her flesh.

 

“I won’t ask again,” he bit out.

 

She lightly pulled against his grasp and he immediately let go. “Look, I just…” She sighed, quickly glancing in the direction of his mother and the wedding planner. Pick your battles, her mind screamed. She swallowed, “You were rude… earlier.”

 

He drew back like she had slapped him, “To you ?!”

 

She shook her head, “N-no, to Emma Vane.”

 

He gave her a puzzled look, his mind working to understand her meaning, then shock crossed his features, “To the wedding planner ?” He said it with such disdain, further provoking her ire.

 

She nodded, “You wouldn’t even shake her hand. I can’t help thinking it’s because she’s a Squib…”

 

He took a step back, arms crossing over his chest in defense. “And I’m a Malfoy , so naturally I would see her as beneath me.”

 

“Your words, not mine.” She shrugged, “And if a pureblood Squib isn’t worthy of your time, what could that mean for me – a Muggleborn…”

 

“A Muggleborn who is to be my wife …”

 

She made a horrible sound at that statement, snorting her disdain. “ Your wife … who apparently isn’t even allowed to speak her opinion on the matter of her own wedding. I’m not some passive little mouse who needs her rich, Pureblood husband to defend her. I think I’ve proven I can take care of myself, Malfoy.”

 

He ran his hands through his hair, “For fuck’s sake, Granger. After all this , you cannot still believe I practice blood prejudice.”

 

Now it was her turn to get defensive, “Look, I was taken aback by your demeanor, that is all.  It definitely reminded me of the git you were at Hogwarts… always teasing me and flipping up my skirt with your wand and in the same breath telling me the simple act of speaking directly to you was forbidden.”

 

He huffed, his hands falling to rest on his hips as he studied her for a moment.  Then he took two steps towards her, closing the distance between them. He brought his hands to her shoulders and forced her to face him but she kept her gaze locked on the center of his chest. “Look at me,” he demanded, his voice low but nevertheless commanding.  

 

She did as he asked, giving him an indignant look. “If I refused to shake her hand, it had less to do with blood purity and everything to do with the fact she’s an ex of Blaise Zabini.” He paused, letting that fact ruminate for a moment, before he stepped even closer.

 

His voice was a deadly whisper as he sneered, “She may pretend we do not know one another, but, trust me, Granger, we ran in the same circles for years. And, during that time, she made it abundantly clear on more than one occasion that she would quickly throw Blaise over if I would so much as look in her direction.”

 

Hermione’s brown eyes went wide at his confession and she opened her mouth to reply but he quickly cut her off, “I’m not finished.” He spoke with such conviction, his warm, sweet breath dancing over her lips from being much too close. She couldn’t restrain the gasp that caught in her throat.

 

He must have heard it because he heaved a heavy sigh now, took a step back from her and shoved his hand nervously into his hair before continuing, “The sideways glance she gave you when she first arrived… maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t…”

 

“Hmph. Oh I definitely noticed,” she interrupted with a grumpy noise.

 

“Then you should know that any person, whether they be pureblood, half-blood or muggleborn, who dares to treat you, my fiancée , in such a dismissive manner will never come to shake my hand, let alone be given a knut or galleon of Malfoy money for services rendered.”

 

He folded his arms over his chest, “Once we are finished here, I will speak to my mother and have the incessant woman immediately replaced.” 

 

He turned away then, determined to end the conversation and walk away but she found her voice now, “Did-did you do it?”

 

He stopped, his shoulders tensing, “Did I do what ?”

 

She bit her lip, hesitating. 

 

He turned to face her, calmly closing the distance between them with two long strides. He towered over her. “Say. It.”

 

Hermione squared her shoulders and tightened her jaw, steeling her nerves. “Did you sleep with her?”

 

He smirked, his eyes searching hers for a moment before traveling to her lips. “No, Granger,” he murmured.

 

She suddenly released the breath she wasn’t even aware she had been holding.

 

His thumb stroked over her bottom lip then, and they immediately parted with a breathy sigh. He gave a little shake of his head, saying in disbelief, “Even when you question my loyalty… my sincerity … All I can think about is fucking kissing your swotty mouth…”

 

He leaned in, his lips lightly drifting over the sensitive skin of her neck, trailing a warm path to her earlobe, “You are not beneath me, Hermione Granger,” he purred. 

 

Her breath caught, goosebumps raising on her skin.

 

He gave a low chuckle, then, “At least, not yet any way. A fact I hope to remedy sooner rather than later.”

 

She felt her cheeks reddening at his innuendo. Her fingers itched to slap him…. or perhaps pull him closer until he finally yielded and just fucking kissed her.   

 

But he stepped away from her now, shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and sauntered over to where his mother and the wedding planner were busy discussing plans for the gazebo. 

 

Hermione just stared after him, a bit awestruck at his words and even more so at his actions. Her entire face felt inflamed with embarrassment… or lust...probably both.

 

And then came the shame. She had jumped to conclusions about him…. yet again. She was always the first to reprimand others for not giving someone a second chance yet here she was, guilty of not heeding her own advice. And now she would need to find a way to apologize to him… or maybe not apologize, as he seemed rather objective towards her need to always apologize… Oh bloody hell, this back and forth was teetering on the ridiculous now.

 

She blew out a breath then practically stomped over to where the others were gathered.  He barely glanced her way, choosing instead to take up residence leaning against the gazebo, his pose one of casual boredom as he busied himself picking at some imaginary fuzz on his shirt.  But Narcissa eyed them both warily. Then she met Hermione’s gaze, and the anxious pity she saw there made Hermione all the more angrier.

 

“Oh, Hermione, we were just discussing the possibility of using blue fairy lights to cover the gazebo…” Narcissa tried. “I was imagining, perhaps, the vows could be spoken closer to sunset and the fairy lights would give an ethereal glow to the two of you…” 

 

She couldn’t help it, Hermione’s gaze immediately strayed to Malfoy before she turned to meet Narcissa’s concerned look. But she had no words.

 

Narcissa approached her, taking one of her hands in hers, “Is everything all right, Hermione?  You don’t like the lights?”

 

She swallowed, taking the brief moment to clear her head. “No, I actually quite adore the idea, Narcissa,” she sincerely said, attempting to plaster on her most convincing smile. 

 

It must have been enough to placate Malfoy’s mother, because she smiled, gave her hand a tender squeeze and moved on, continuing the discussion of lights and sunsets with Ms. Vane, readily including Hermione in all the decision making until her head started to spin and she was sure her dreams for the next week would most definitely be plagued with blue lights and Cornish pixies baring the rings.  

 

All the while, Malfoy seemed quite content in his boredom, never again glancing in her direction (that she noticed, anyway) and only feigning interest when pressed by his mother. If there was one more noncommittal shrug of his shoulders, Hermione swore she’d hex him.

 

Finally, after what seemed like hours (but in reality was probably a mere twenty minutes) and pages of furiously scribbled notes by Emma Vane, the pair moved away from the gazebo and now meandered toward the lake, talk turning to the possibility of an outdoor reception and the pros and cons of such.

 

Hermione just stood there for a moment, a bout of anxiety threatening to consume her. Why did she let him affect her this way? Since they were 11, he always seemed to know exactly what buttons to push that would indeed rattle her the most with minimal effort. 

 

She released a shaky breath, willed herself not to look in his direction, then made to follow the ladies. But she was suddenly stopped at the feel of long fingers brushing subtly along her back. 

 

Malfoy moved to her left, his palm pressing lightly against the base of her spine, urging her forward but at a much slower pace.

 

She sidestepped him so he wasn’t touching her. “What?” she bit out, her voice a harsh whisper, “Needing another moment to chastise me, Malfoy?”

 

He smirked, “Quite the opposite, Granger.” He paused for only a brief moment, again reaching his hand to her back and slowly rubbing circles on her spine, his facial expression growing serious, “Are you all right?”

 

Again, she tilted her body away. “I’m fine.”

 

He sighed, “That means no.”

 

She scoffed but said nothing.

 

“Look, it’s not every day your only son gets married... Mother may be a bit overly excited, but if it’s too much or seems to be getting out of control, I’ll do my best to rein her in... Just say the word.”

 

Hermione stopped walking and Malfoy followed suit.  She crossed her arms and turned towards him. “Don’t you dare,” she ordered, a finger poking him in his chest.

 

“Granger…” he tried.

 

“No, Draco. She is excited… hell, she has every right to be… and she’s been nothing but nice to me so if she wants blue fairy lights and romantic sunset vows then she can have them! Hell, if she tells me tomorrow we are to ride on the backs of white peacocks down the aisle in some insane Pureblood tradition, I will smile and nod.”

 

“Sweet Salazar!” he cursed, “That sounds rather gaudy and pretentious.”

 

“Yes… very Malfoy , if I do say so myself.”

 

He cracked a smile at that and damn it all to hell, she found herself returning it in equal measure. She playfully smacked him then, “Don’t make me laugh.”

 

“S-sorry…” he said, without even the barest hint of an apologetic tone. Then he laughed and she found herself giggling.

 

He took a chance and stepped into her, his hand falling to her hip. His humor faded as did his smile.  He frowned, his gaze fixed on her waist as he expanded and clenched his fingers, clearly testing his hold on her, silently giving her the chance to pull free. When she shifted, bringing herself intentionally closer, his eyes met hers and he said, “Thank you… for indulging my mother.”

 

“I meant what I said, she’s nice to me. My appreciation for that goes a long way.”

 

“You sound surprised.”

 

She shook her head, “No, not surprised… just relieved.”

 

He nodded once, again casting his vision to the ground, “They abandoned her, you know? All her so-called friends… after the war… Afraid to even associate with a Malfoy for fear they may be sent to Azkaban as an accessory.”

 

She swallowed and her stomach twisted. Wasn’t she guilty of doing pretty much the same when she obliviated him? “I can imagine it’s been hard… for both of you,” she whispered.

 

He shrugged, “I have Blaise and Pansy… sometimes Theo…but she was left with only her disappointment of a son for company.”

 

“I highly doubt she sees it that way,” she murmured, though having little frame of reference with Narcissa Malfoy, she wasn’t exactly held to the conviction.

 

“She’s too well-bred to say it out loud…” he shrugged.  “But this wedding has given her new life. Now she fields Floo calls all day from members of society begging for an invitation to the event.  I fear it truly has become a circus… and she’s loving every minute of it.” He paused, “So again, I say thank you.”

 

“Don’t thank me yet. You’re the one who’s footing the bill.” She cracked a smile.

 

He chuckled, “You’re marrying into one of the richest Wizarding families this side of the Atlantic, Granger, money is no object.”

 

“Says the wealthy prat,” she teased.

 

He laughed, his fingers moving to toy with the tied belt of her dress, “Take advantage of it, Granger, I don’t mind… really.”

 

“Good, because you kinda bought this dress,” she responded playfully.

 

“Did I now? Well, I’m sure Pansy added a nice commission for herself…”

 

“Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

 

He grew quiet and she watched as he continued to fiddle with her dress, almost as if he was fighting back the urge to untie it. “Draco,” she started.

 

“I have a past, Hermione,” he replied, interrupting her.

 

She swallowed, “I know…”

 

He gave a curt nod, “But I’ve never done this before…”

 

“This?” she questioned with uncertainty.

 

“Been someone’s boyfriend… ” He said the word in the same manner in which he used to sling around Mudblood .

 

“All right…” was the only reply that came to mind.

 

“But I’m willing to try… for you…” he added with sincerity.

 

She was surprised and she knew it showed on her face. “Oh…uh…”

 

He sighed, “Just bear with me, Granger.”

 

She smiled, “I think I can do that.”

 

His hand fell away, aimlessly searching for hers. He found it and intertwined their fingers, bringing their conjoined hands to his lips for a soft kiss. Then he turned and they proceeded to walk beside each other towards the lake. 

 

While she normally liked their stretches of companionable silence, she couldn’t help but ask, “So do Purebloods never date?”

 

He chuckled low in his throat, “Not as often as you would think.”

 

She furrowed her brow, “Then how do you… find a wife?”

 

He gave her a questioning look, then sighed, “Are we really having this conversation?”

 

She nudged him, “What? I want to know.”

 

Again, a small laugh, “So inquisitive, Granger.” He took a deep breath then shrugged, “It’s more or less how we were paired together. We’re born, contracts are negotiated, you come of age and then you formally meet.”

 

“That sounds awful….”

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “Says the witch who volunteered for an arranged marriage.”

 

She shrugged, “I guess…”

 

“We do occasionally have dinners… or tea… but mainly it’s to get a picture in the paper to promote the union.”

 

“So it’s all just a business transaction?”

 

“Sometimes there’s a love match… but yes, it’s all about who has the land, who needs the land… that sort of thing.”

 

She looked at him but his gaze was trained on the ground. He seemed a little sad and her heart wretched. Did he regret leaving Astoria? Were they one of those love matches he spoke of?

 

They were close to the lake now and could see off in the distance Narcissa gesturing wildly and Emma trying to keep up with her.

 

“You know, if you think she’s bad now, wait until you give her the first grandchild... She’ll be positively unbearable,” he noted with a trace of humor.

 

Her mouth dropped open, “ First ? How many children do you plan on us having?”

 

“Oh, at least a dozen or so,” he replied in all seriousness.

 

Hermione scrunched up her face, “Malfoy, that sounds like a lot of... work .”

 

His patented smirk pulled at his lips as he glanced at her from the side, “Don’t worry, Granger. I’ll make it enjoyable.” He gave her hand a little squeeze.

 

She smacked him again, “I was talking about raising that many kids, you git, not making them!”

 

He shrugged, giving her a nudge, “You know what they say, once you go Malfoy, you don’t go back.”

 

She rolled her eyes, “Ugh. That was a terrible line.”

 

He laughed, “It was. Forgive me.”

 

“There you two are!” Narcissa exclaimed. “It’s already past four, it would seem, and Ms. Vane has another appointment.”

 

“Past four?!” Draco released Hermione’s hand then, much to her dismay. “I’m late to meet Blaise.”

 

“Well, perhaps you could walk me to the Floo, Mr. Malfoy?” Emma replied, feigning a quality of innocence, all the while she was puffing out her ample bosom in his direction.

 

Hermione had enough, “I’m going that way too, so I can walk with you.”

 

Emma turned and gave her a deadly look, blinking several times as if that would make Hermione simply go away.

 

“Actually, Hermione, could you be a dear and stay? I have something I wish to show you,” Narcissa intervened, seemingly oblivious to the standoff between the two young women.

 

Hermione caught Draco’s eye for the briefest of moments before she deflated and agreed, “Of course, Narcissa.”

 

Narcissa’s whole face lit up, “Wonderful.” Then she called out,  “Flinty!”

 

Crack!

 

The elf immediately appeared. “Yes, Ms. Narcissa?”

 

“Please kindly lead Ms. Vane to the Floo.” 

 

“Oh, uh….” Emma stammered.

 

Narcissa’s friendly smile faded and she looked Emma directly in the eyes now, saying in an authoritative tone, “My son is an engaged man, Ms. Vane.  You’ll do well to remember that for all future consultations.”

 

Emma swallowed, “Yes, Mrs. Malfoy.”

 

“You may leave now.”

 

“Y-yes, Mrs. Malfoy.” And Flinty took Emma by the hand and proceeded to lead her away.

 

Hermione couldn’t help it, she smiled.  Then she glanced over and caught Draco staring at her, a smirk tugging at his own lips. He gave her a wink.

 

“If you ladies will excuse me,” he replied, giving a slight bow of his head.

 

“Do be careful, Draco,” Narcissa called after him.  He gave a little wave of his hand before he apparated away.

 

Narcissa turned to Hermione now. “You’re a decent girl, Hermione. It took everything inside of me to remain polite this entire time and not hex the little bitch. I’ll have her removed and another wedding planner hired by tomorrow.”  She took Hermione’s hand and gave it a little pat of reassurance.

 

“It’s quite alright, Narcissa. But thank you… for sticking up for me.  It means more than I could say.”

 

Narcissa gave her a genuine smile, “You’re family now and we Malfoys stick together.”

 

Hermione felt her heart clench and tears well behind her eyes. She swallowed thickly, willing the tender emotions away, “Thank you, Narcissa.”

 

“Come. Let’s go inside.”

 

And the two women walked back to The Manor, chatting the entire way.

 

*******

 

Hermione was pleasantly surprised when Narcissa led her up the main staircase to the second floor of The Manor. Hermione reckoned it was a moment akin to Alice first wandering into Wonderland. There was so much artwork and closed doors that possibly led to private quarters where the family hid during the war. 

 

Her mind chased one thought as she glanced around her surroundings, numbly listening to Narcissa as she gave her the tour: somewhere in these long corridors was Draco’s room

 

“Right through here, dear,” Narcissa replied, taking the hall on the right. She was at least three steps ahead of Hermione now and she hurried to catch up to her, puzzled at how different this way was from the other corridors. The walls were a smoky grey but hardly held any decorations except wall sconces that automatically lit as they passed, and instead of being lined with doors on every side, there were now just four, two on each side, evenly spaced out. 

 

These rooms must be huge, Hermione thought.

 

Narcissa came to the first large oak door on the right. “Draco is going to be angry with me, but I simply cannot wait until the wedding,” she said, her hand on the handle.  She gave it a push and walked in, gesturing for Hermione to follow. With a feeling of unwarranted anxiousness, Hermione entered the room.

 

She stepped into the largest bedroom she had ever been inside. There was a huge, four-poster bed situated at the center of the space, covered in the finest fabrics of red and gold with more grand pillows than any one person could have a need for.  Off to the left was a stone fireplace and two red, velvety wingback chairs and a classic loveseat carefully staged in front of it. Bookcases lined almost every wall, some already partially filled, and there was a beautiful, ornate desk situated by a large bay window, complete with parchment and ink and quills.  And beside the bed? French double doors that undoubtedly led to a balcony, where Hermione assumed was probably the best view she had ever seen.

 

She turned to face Narcissa, who was still standing by the door and a large wardrobe that Hermione guessed served as someone’s closet. She gave her a questioning look.

 

“It’s yours, Hermione.” She finally moved, gliding into the open space, her footfalls silent against the soft, plush red carpet. “I had it done in Gryffindor colors because I wasn’t sure if you had a favorite… but it can be changed, just say the word.”

 

Hers… Hermione surveyed the room again, words dying in her throat.

 

“You hate it,” Narcissa replied, her voice filled with worry.

 

“N-no.. no, please… It’s so beautiful… I just don’t understand…” Hermione stammered.

 

Narcissa approached her and took both her hands within her own and looked Hermione in the eyes, “He’s so concerned… Draco… he really wants this to work and he believes the key to doing that means making you feel as comfortable as possible.  He doesn’t want to rush things, I think… frighten you away…”

 

Hermione gave a little humorless laugh. Frighten her away…?? She shook her head in disbelief, her fist pressing against her mouth to keep her from saying something she may regret. “I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered. Unless forced … she added silently.

 

“Oh dear, I’ve upset you,” Narcissa responded and she pulled Hermione in for a hug, which she readily welcomed.

 

“N-no… it’s not that…” She stepped back, nervously twisting her hands as she looked around. “I feel like the two of you have gone through a lot of trouble for me…”

 

“It’s no trouble, dear. Truly,” Narcissa assured.

 

She gave a curt nod, still not trusting herself to speak. 

 

Narcissa moved to one of the bookcases, “Draco said you are quite the reader so I had a few books sent up from the library… and I’m sure you’ll have your own collection brought over from your Flat...”

 

Hermione nodded, “It’s perfect, Narcissa. Thank you.”

 

Some of Narcissa’s nervousness faded and she gave Hermione an understanding smile. “It’s so much change, I know.”

 

Hermione nodded again, then took a deep, shuddering breath before turning around, really giving the room the thorough once-over. That’s when she saw it - another large oak door almost hidden by the fireplace.

 

She started towards it, “Is this the loo?”

 

“Not exactly,” Narcissa answered and Hermione paused with her hand on the handle. “That would be Draco’s room.”

 

Hermione snapped back like it had burned her, staring at the door with uncertainty. “Oh!”

 

“Actually this is his personal wing of The Manor. He had his suite split to give you your privacy.” Narcissa came to her side now. “It’s enchanted… so only you can unlock it.”

 

Hermione was speechless. She worried her bottom lip as her mind twisted and reeled. 

 

“I know,” Narcissa sighed, “He can be a bit overly dramatic.”

 

Hermione chuckled. “Yes...but I… I appreciate it… all of it.” She turned to face Narcissa now, “I want this to work, too. More than you know.”

 

Narcissa brought her hand to Hermione’s face and swept a loose curl back, tucking it behind her ear. “You care for him. I can tell.”

 

Hermione gave her a shy smile, “Don’t tell him. He’ll be so smug about it.”

 

Narcissa laughed, “You really do know him, don’t you?”

 

Intimately , Hermione thought to herself.

 

“I have another surprise for you,” Narcissa said, moving now over to the large wardrobe. 

 

Hermione released a shaky breath, completely unsure of what would happen next. She could feel the anxiety building in her chest, and she desperately tried to stifle it. Once she was home, she could let the events of the day overwhelm her but not here… not in front of Narcissa.

 

“I got the impression from our correspondence you haven’t begun your search for a wedding gown yet,” Narcissa was saying, “So I had Madam Malkin send over some choices for you.” She opened the wardrobe then, revealing an array of a dozen or so of the finest dresses money could buy.

 

Hermione burst into tears. And not the tender trickle one might see in a movie, where the actress is overwhelmed and she cries so prettily. No, these were the sobbing, blubbering fountains that wrenched from deep in her chest. 

 

Narcissa immediately came to her side, hugging her and shifting her to sit on the bed. She pulled Hermione close and rubbed at her upper arms, “Ssh… love, it’s alright.”

 

Hermione cried even harder. She never expected this… warm and caring affection from his mother. If Narcissa knew what she had done...

 

“I think I’ve been a tad overzealous about the wedding and for that, I heartily apologize,” she was saying.

 

Hermione shook her head, “It’s not that…” 

 

“Is it about your parents?”

 

Her parents… She sobbed louder, burying her head in her hands. The terrible choices she has made

 

“Draco told me what happened. Maybe I can help, I’m a Legilimens, after all.”

 

Hermione’s head snapped up, “You are?”

 

“I am. Though I’ve never attempted it on a Muggle before… But whatever I can do… Hermione, we’ll figure this out.”

 

She swallowed, “You’re too good to me.”

 

“Nonsense.”

 

Hermione took a breath, “Narcissa, I’m not the perfect Golden Girl as The Prophet portrays me.”

 

“Hermione, Draco isn’t marrying you only because they agreed to return his wand. He’s trying to restore respect to the Malfoy name,” Narcissa confessed. “So you see, none of us are perfect.”

 

Hermione snorted. She had suspected as much, but in the end, she was still getting the better end of the bargain… she was finally going to be with the man she loved.

 

She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t want to disappoint you.”

 

“Just be good to my son. That’s all I desire.”

 

Hermione nodded.

 

“And a handful of grandbabies…” Narcissa added with a smile.

 

Hermione chuckled, “Draco told me this afternoon he wants twelve.”

 

“Twelve?! Merlin, that would be a lot of work!”

 

“That’s what I said!”

 

Both women shared a small giggle. Narcissa patted Hermione’s hand. “Lucius and I always wanted a big family,” she replied, her voice somewhat far away.

 

“W-what happened?”

 

Narcissa shrugged, “It proved a rather difficult venture.” She swallowed, “I had several miscarriages before I got pregnant with Draco… and then we almost lost him. After he was born, the healers advised against any more attempts. Lucius was so stoic about it… but I could tell he was crushed.”

 

Hermione felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach now, and her hand absently strayed to her abdomen. “Several miscarriages,” she murmured.

 

“Oh don’t you worry about that right now, Hermione. Purebloods are plagued with infertility. It’s the reason for this whole Initiative in the first place.”

 

Hermione nodded slowly but her hand remained protective against her stomach.

 

“Would you like for me to give you a moment alone? Maybe take a minute and let everything sink in?” Narcissa offered.

 

Hermione shook her head. “I think I just need to splash some water on my face and I’ll be okay. Then we can look at the dresses.”

 

Narcissa rose, gesturing off to the side where there was indeed another smaller door Hermione had not seen before. “This way, dear.”

 

Hermione stepped into the loo, softly shutting the door behind her. She sighed at the black and white opulent decor; with its marble bathtub big enough for four and a standalone shower. The small entrance was deceptive. This one room was almost as large as her whole Flat.

 

She walked over to the his and hers sinks, noticing a few of Draco’s products neatly lined up on his side of the large vanity. Looks like they would be sharing this bathroom and she glanced over and saw another door which more than likely led to his room, too.

 

She sighed, then proceeded to turn on the silver polished faucet. She glanced at her reflection, not surprised at how red and swollen she looked. She leaned over and splashed the cool water on her face, her breathing suddenly going shallow, the panic attack she had been trying to avoid finally rearing its ugly head.

 

She closed her eyes and she was immediately reminded of a memory of another bathroom, her small body curled up on the cold tile of the floor, surrounded by so much blood. No one had told her there would be so much blood .

 

She pressed her fist to her mouth while her other hand clutched at her belly. A broken sob tore from deep within her.

 

Several miscarriages ….

 

She frantically shook her head but the memory refused to abate.

 

Twenty weeks…a short time in reality yet it carried with it a lifetime of love. And she cherished every day… thinking how he grew just a little more… became a little more real ... 

 

She had just started to feel him move inside her; fluttering like a delicate butterfly in her womb. He had been so alive and then, in a blink of an eye, he was suddenly gone, taken from her forever. No bigger than a banana, she had held his lifeless body against her chest and wept. The last vestige of her and Draco’s love now destroyed.

 

She silently cried into the palm of her hand. She couldn’t imagine having to suffer through it again, especially over and over. That one time had nearly destroyed her.

 

Bile rose up in her throat and she barely made it to the toilet in time, tea and delicious almond biscuits definitely tasted better going down than coming up.

 

Afterwards, she washed her mouth and then her face again. But this time, she didn’t dare look at her reflection, afraid to see the deceptive woman whose lies were most certainly going to catch up to her.

 

*********

After the sixth dress, Hermione felt worn out, both mentally and physically. While they were all beautiful and well made, none of them felt right … like the one .

 

“No, it just looks wrong ,” Narcissa replied.

 

Hermione sighed, “I think maybe it’s me. I’m a mess.”

 

“No, dear, it’s the dress.” She studied her closely, “You do look tired though. Perhaps we should call it a night… maybe you can come by later this week.”

 

She nodded, “Alright.” She carefully slipped the dress down, before delicately handing it to Narcissa. Hermione reached for her own clothes folded neatly in a chair but stopped as something else in the wardrobe caught her eye. 

 

She pushed the remaining new dresses to the side as her eyes fixed on a gown sealed in a see-through protective bag. It was indeed a wedding dress, rather old but well taken care of. She pulled it out, unzipping the bag, her fingers dancing over the lace fabric.

 

There were no words to describe its beauty or why this one called to her specifically. Letting the plastic bag it had been sealed in, fall haphazardly to the floor, she held the gown before her, her heart now beating hard in her chest.

 

It was exquisite, with a plunging bodice, jeweled waistband and illusion back with diamond encrusted buttons running from the neck to the small of her back. The white tulle skirt flared in a princess cut, complete with a soft, subtle light mint green underskirt, giving it just a hint of color. It was long sleeved, which Hermione loved, and had sparkling lace appliqués of moons and stars sprinkled throughout the tulle and down the arms. 

 

She pulled it closer, detecting a pattern in the design. She suddenly whirled around to face Narcissa, “Is this what I think…”

 

Narcissa, tears in her eyes, nodded, “The constellation known as Draco… always one of my favorites…”

 

“This is your dress,” Hermione stated.

 

“Yes.” Narcissa swallowed, “I added it to the others on a whim. You see, I always wanted a daughter…” She stopped, tears starting to tumble down her cheeks.

 

It was Hermione’s turn to offer comfort, closing the distance, wrapping one arm around her soon-to-be mother-in-law. 

 

“May I?” she shyly asked, nodding to the dress she still held.

 

“Please do not feel obligated to do so,” Narcissa replied.

 

“This isn't an obligation,” Hermione whispered.

 

“Then it would be my honor, Hermione,” Narcissa said.

 

With Narcissa’s help, Hermione carefully climbed into the dress. It fit like a glove, almost like it was meant to be . She stared at herself in the wardrobe mirror, a lone tear slipping down her cheek.

 

“This is it… this is the one…” Hermione confirmed.

 

Narcissa ran her hands down the skirt, smoothing it out as she studied Hermione. “You look positively radiant… even better than I did on my wedding day.”

 

Hermione chuckled, “I doubt that.” But she had to admit, she did look good .

 

“Are you sure?” Narcissa asked nervously.

 

“This. Is. The. One.”

 

Narcissa smiled and mouthed a sincere thank you in the mirror. 

 

Crack !

 

A small elf in a cute little apron suddenly appeared.

 

“Ms. Narcissa! Ms. Narcissa!” Sierney exclaimed. “There is an emergency in the kitchen!”

 

“Oh my! Hermione, love, if you’ll excuse me. I’ll only be a moment.”

 

Hermione nodded and both Narcissa and the elf apparated away.

 

Hermione returned her gaze to her reflection, admiring the dress and it’s sheer beauty. She bit her lip, glanced around to make sure the coast was clear, then gave a little twirl, letting the skirt swirl around her. She couldn’t help it. She actually giggled girlishly.

 

“Well, someone’s happy…” a voice commented from behind her.

 

Hermione whirled around, startled. “Draco!” she exclaimed.

 

He was standing in the main doorway, leaning one shoulder against the frame, his arms crossed over his chest, a smirk pulling at his lips.

 

“I like it when you scream my name,” he purred. He pushed himself away from the door, stepping into the room. “I wonder what other things I can do to elicit a similar reaction…” 

 

He stalked towards her, his grey eyes on fire, his gait predatory.

 

She grabbed a blanket from the bed, bringing it to cover herself, “You have to leave. Now,” she tried to be stern but the smile she couldn’t hide betrayed her.

 

“Sorry, Granger, not very convincing.” He came within arm’s reach of her but stopped short.

 

“I...I thought you had left… motorcycle riding with your mate…” she stammered.

 

He shrugged, “I thought it would be in my best interest to stick around here…” He openly appraised her and she tightened the blanket around herself instinctively. “I’ve been pacing by the Floo for an hour, hoping to casually run into you before you left.”

 

Her smile widened, “How very slick of you…”

 

“But, by the gods, woman, you’ve been up here forever. I grew impatient,” he replied.

 

“These things take time, I’m afraid,” she teased.

 

He huffed, then he smiled slyly, “I think I know how you can make it up to me…”

 

She laughed, “Oh, I’m sure you do. But you must go… Now.”

 

He took one step closer, cocking an eyebrow, “Why? Afraid what might happen if I don’t?” He cautiously reached his hand out to her but she smacked it away.

 

“No! More like you’re not supposed to see the bride in her dress before the wedding.”

 

He looked confused, “Says who?”

 

She grew exasperated, “I don’t know! It’s just a tradition or something. And it’s bad luck!”

 

He rolled his eyes, “Seriously, Granger? Given our history, I don’t see how things can get any worse for us.”

 

“Be that as it may, I’m not taking any chances.” She pointed to the door, “Please go.” 

 

He made no effort to move.

 

She gave him a playful shove, “Leave, Malfoy.”

 

He caught her by her wrist and suddenly dragged her close. He stared down at her, his face growing serious, “A moment ago I was Draco… now I’m back to Malfoy…” His grip tightened and his gaze settled on her lips. There was something dangerous in the way he stared… an insatiable hunger she wasn’t sure she could sate.

 

She reached up to his face with her fingers, gently giving his cheek a soft caress before saying, “Close your eyes.”

 

“Why?” he questioned suspiciously.

 

She sighed, “Must you question everything I say.”

 

“Yes, otherwise where’s the fun?”

 

“Just close your eyes!” she ordered.

 

He groaned, but reluctantly complied.

 

“No peeking,” she said.

 

“Bloody hell, Granger.”

 

She waved her hand in front of his face before she was satisfied his eyes were closed then she shifted in his embrace, turning to give him her back.

 

“Draco, I need for you to undo the buttons,” she whispered.

 

“And how do you propose I do that with my bloody eyes closed, Hermione.”

 

She stepped back, bringing herself flush against his body, “ Feel your way…”

 

He swallowed deeply, his hands planting firmly at her waist. She could feel the air in the room shift suddenly… a pulsating charge of electricity raising the hairs on her arms.

 

He slid deft fingers from the curve of her hips, up the length of her torso, pausing briefly at the roundness of her breasts, until he found her shoulders. The palms of his hands caressed the bare skin of her neck for a moment, feeling their way until they met now in the middle.

 

With ease, the first button was undone. Followed by the second, then the third. Her breath caught as one knuckle slid over her exposed skin, blazing a fiery path down her back as his fingers undid each small clasp with painstaking slowness.

 

The garment loosened around her. She scooted away from his arms, giving him a quick look over her shoulder. “No peeking,” she reiterated.

 

“I wouldn’t dare, Granger.”

 

She watched him for a moment then quickly moved to the wardrobe and climbed out of the dress. Carefully, she rehung the garment before grabbing her dress and slipping into it. She tied it at the waist, shut the door to the wardrobe and then grabbed her boots, moving to sit in one of the wingback chairs.

 

“Okay, you can open your eyes now,” she finally replied, once she was again fully dressed.

 

He gave her the once-over, feigning a pout, “How disappointing…”

 

“You’ll survive,” she teased.

 

He shoved his hands in his pockets and just stared at her for the space of several heartbeats. “There’s something I want to show you.”

 

She visibly tensed. She wasn’t sure if she could take anymore Malfoy surprises today. “I-I’m not sure…”

 

“Come now, Granger, where’s that Gryffindor bravery?”

 

She folded her arms over her chest, “Your mother will be back any moment. I don’t wish to be rude…”

 

He flung his head back in exasperation, “Use your pretty little head, Hermione. A kitchen emergency? I don’t think my mother has ever set foot in the kitchens since I’ve been alive.”

 

She opened her mouth to retort but quickly closed it. She considered his words. “She knew you were still here,” she replied. She shook her head then, “You snakes are so manipulative.”

 

“You’ll get used to it,” he countered with a smirk. “So will you come with me now?”

 

She hesitated.

 

“I promise to keep my hands in my pockets the entire time,” he replied.

 

She smiled despite her uneasiness. “One of these days, I’m going to learn to say no.”

 

“But not today,” he said with a wink. 

 

*******

Draco pressed his back against a set of double doors and grinned mischievously at Hermione.

 

She stood before him, arms crossed in irritation and waited.

 

“You have to swear to me, Granger, that whatever you see beyond these doors will not have any bearing on your decision whether or not to end our marriage after the eighteen months,” he urged.

 

“Malfoy!” She really was exhausted.

 

“Swear it,” he ordered.

 

She rolled her eyes, “Fine. I swear.” She took a step closer, “But if there is anything illegal in there, or if this is where you decide to tell me you have a vast collection of Horcruxes, I will break your nose again.”

 

He smiled, “Of that, I have no doubt.” He pushed open the doors then stepped aside to allow her entrance.

 

Years ago, before she received her Hogwarts letter, Hermione’s parents had taken her to The London Library, one of the oldest of its kind in England. She remembered the moment she had first entered the magnificent building, filled to the brim with such a large collection of books. The best way she could describe her feeling at that time was that it felt like coming home

 

That was exactly the same feeling she had now, walking into the massive Malfoy library.

 

Hermione gasped as she saw three floors packed with books and scrolls, the smell of parchment and ink heavy in the air. There was a large fireplace on the bottom level, with comfortable grey chairs, and three large desks perfect for studying. A grand staircase carried you to the next level and then another which led to the third. There was a large floor to ceiling window that gave off the perfect amount of natural light and she could see the sun fading in the distance, casting shadows throughout the room. It was utterly beautiful.

 

“I’m never leaving here,” she whispered.

 

Draco chuckled, “I kinda figured, Granger.”

 

She glanced at him over her shoulder, giving him a sheepish smile. He was leaning back against the closed doors, hands still in his pockets, legs crossed at the ankles. He looked so breathtakingly handsome, she almost forgot about the books… almost .

 

She suddenly looked away, her throat going dry. It dawned on her they were alone… in a library… no Harry Potter anywhere in sight to interrupt them. She swallowed thickly.

 

She glanced around, her gaze finding a pile of books on a nearby table. She pointed to them, “May I?”

 

He gave a short nod but otherwise didn’t move.

 

She walked over to the pile, cautiously pulling the top one off the stack. Upon reading its title, her face pulled into a frown. She grabbed the next one and the next. Yes, they were all similar in theme.

 

She looked at him, “W-what are these?”

 

“Books on memory charms. Some of them are the only known copy in existence…” His voice trailed off.

 

She turned away from him. Oh god...oh god… oh god … She reached for one of the books, nervously turning the pages, her mind too filled with trepidation to even begin to comprehend the words before her.

 

She felt his approach rather than heard him. The plush carpets in The Manor definitely aided in the ability to sneak up on unsuspecting individuals. 

 

His body was so warm as he drew near but yet refrained from touching her. “I thought these might help you in reversing your parents’ obliviation…” he murmured, his lips ghosting over her neck.

 

“Th-Thank you,” she somehow managed to squeak out.

 

He leaned closer, the tip of his nose nudging against the back of her neck. “Granger…” he purred.

 

She released a shaky breath, “I seem to remember you mentioning something about keeping your hands to yourself…”

 

He chuckled low in his chest, a throaty sound that made her blood run hot and her knickers feel tight. He pressed himself flush against her, planting both of his hands on the table before her, effectively trapping her in his embrace. “See? No hands…”

 

She whimpered at the feeling of his hard body against her soft form. One thought found its way to the forefront of her mind: I’m in trouble .

 

She calmly laid the book she had been holding down onto the table. “You realize how cruel you are to invite the Hermione Granger into your library and you won’t even let her have a proper look around...” she replied ruefully.

 

He snorted his disdain, his lips skating over the sensitive flesh just beneath her ear, “You realize how unfair it is to tease the Draco Malfoy, Slytherin sex god , with black lacy lingerie and refuse to even let him have a decent look at it...”

 

“You promised you wouldn’t peek!” she exclaimed.

 

“Uh… hello, Slytherin… we’re known for lying…”

 

She shook her head, “Never trust a snake, huh? When will I ever learn?”

 

She gasped as his one hand slid underneath the hem of her skirt now, dancing over the bare flesh of her thigh, while his other fell to her waist, deft fingers toying with the tie of her dress.

 

“Granger, the library has stood here for a hundred years and will probably be here for a hundred more. But this...” He pulled at the belt, “Merlin knows when I’ll have another chance to see it...”

 

She gave a girlish laugh, “And if I say yes, can the self-proclaimed Slytherin sex god promise to be good?”

 

“Oh, but then I would be lying again, Granger,” he teased. He grabbed hold of one end of the tie and gave it a gentle pull, letting it come undone. “Oops...” he breathed, the word like a hot iron on her already burning skin.

 

She bit her bottom lip to stifle a groan. “Draco…” She shifted against him, wanting more than anything for those fingers caressing small circles on her upper thigh to move ever so slightly to the place she needed his touch the most. “There’s a hook...here…” She took his hand, guiding it to the hidden clasp still holding the infuriating dress together.

 

He growled, “So Hermione Granger does indeed have a naughty side…”

 

He quickly undid the hook, letting her dress fall open, then he turned her around to face him. She placed both of her hands back against the surface of the table as he pressed into her.

 

His hands fell to her waist, his fingers almost bruising in their hardness, as if he was afraid she might try to bolt at any moment. And then he leaned down, his lips hovering a fraction above hers, their panting breaths mingling.

 

He finally kissed her. It wasn’t gentle or kind. It was primal… hungry… hard and hurried. He crushed his lips to hers and she opened her mouth in delicious abandonment. It was the best fucking kiss of her life… like he wanted nothing more than to devour her or perhaps swallow her whole.

 

His tongue thrust into her mouth while his hands slid over the length of her body, memorizing every curve, every dimple. And then he pulled free, dragging his lips down to the hollow of her throat, past her collarbone, over the fullness of her breasts… the rough tip of his tongue leaving a wet trail in its wake.

 

He sank to his knees before her, his mouth sucking a bruise just right of her navel, then another at the tender skin of her hip bone. She moaned and writhed, wanting more… wanting his mouth there … in the place she ached the most.

 

“Fuck, Granger… you’re already so wet… I can smell it…”

 

She whimpered in response.

 

He growled, pushing himself to his feet, finding her mouth again with his own. His hand shifted to lay against her cheek and he kissed her over and over, leaving her little room to catch her breath before he was assaulting her again. All the while, his free hand tugged at the waistband of her panties, his inner bad boy clearly at war with his need to remain a gentleman.

 

He finally pulled back, his grey eyes searching her brown gaze, his lips so swollen she brought her fingers up to trace over them, proving to herself that this was indeed real and not another of her dreams.

 

He turned his face into her palm and pressed a small kiss against it.

 

“I think I need a cold shower,” he replied, his voice harsh with restrained passion, as he laid his forehead against her shoulder.

 

“Can I join you?” she asked.

 

His head snapped up, “Fuck, Granger… you’re not making this any easier…”

 

She sighed, running her hand through his hair then urging him to meet her lips. She softly kissed him now, gentle sweeps of her tongue mating with his.

 

He pulled back then released a shaky breath. His hands fumbled now to close her dress with reluctance, before he took a step away from her.

 

She fixed her dress, hooking the clasp and tying the belt before smoothing out her skirt. She was almost afraid to look at him. He had wanted her… but he had stopped. Why?

 

“I have an idea,” he replied.

 

“Do you now?” She was hurt and it rang true in her voice.

 

“Let me take you to dinner… wherever you want.”

 

Now she looked up at him, surprised at his words. “Y-you don’t have to…”

 

“I want to,” he said sincerely. “I’m trying , Hermione.”

 

She smiled, “Well, I have been craving pizza from this little place in Muggle London…” 

 

He frowned, “You’re going to punish me with greasy, processed food…”

 

“Oh absolutely,” she replied.

 

He smirked, “Alright, that’s fair.” He approached her, ran a hand nervously through his hair before he reached for one of her hands, his fingers toying with hers.

 

She swallowed, her throat growing tight. Then he leaned down and swept his tongue against the seam of her mouth. Her lips parted with a sigh and she moaned as he immediately deepened their exchange.

 

“And for dessert?” he whispered, his lips sliding to the slope of her shoulder.

 

“There’s a frozen yogurt place across the street, I think...” she gasped as his teeth gently nipped and pulled at her earlobe now.

 

He cringed, “You can think of something better than that, Granger.” He brought himself even closer to her now, an arm stealing around her waist.

 

She laid her hands on his chest almost as if she was going to push him away, “Sorry but I’m not on the menu, Draco.”

 

He laughed heartily, “You sure, Hermione?”

 

His lips found hers again and he splayed the fingers of one of his hands over her breast with sheer possessiveness.

 

Nope, she was definitely not sure about that, in the least.

 

She made a small noise and pressed herself into him. He drew back, “I want you… I just don’t want to fuck this up.”

 

Well, damn, she had to respect that.

 

“Some Slytherin sex god , you are…” she teased.

 

He chuckled, lifting her hand to his mouth to gently kiss, “Don’t challenge me, lion.”

 

“Oh I think you like to be challenged; it’s why we’re so perfectly suited.”

 

“Touché,” he replied. He jerked his head to the doors, “Come on, let’s get you fed. I can feel your stomach growling.” He intertwined their fingers and started to pull them towards the exit.

 

“Wait, my books!” she exclaimed.

 

“I’ll have Flinty floo them over later this evening, Granger.”

 

“Alright. But it has to be tonight. I want to get started on reading them.”

 

 He rolled his eyes, “Yes, dear,” he mocked.

 

She smacked him playfully and he laughed. Merlin, she couldn’t get enough of that sound… a genuine Malfoy laugh .

 

They left the library hand in hand, making their way to the front door of The Manor. She kept glancing at him from the side, her heart seizing in her chest at the sheer handsomeness of his profile.

 

“So, there’s this thing on Tuesday…” she started.

 

He cocked an eyebrow, “A thing ?”

 

She swallowed, “More like a dinner… with Harry and Ginny… some other Gryffindors…” For my birthday … she wanted to say, but feared it sounded too manipulative.

 

He stopped walking and turned to look at her, his smirk teasing his mouth, “Why, Granger, are you asking me to have dinner with you and your pack of lions?”

 

She opened her mouth to retort but was cut off.

 

“Draco?” called out a soft, feminine voice from behind the both of them.

 

Draco froze, his pale face suddenly going very white, his playful smile fading. He jerked free of Hermione’s hand as they both turned to see a waif-like, taller woman with long blonde hair standing by the Floo. “Astoria…”

 

She was even prettier in person than her pictures in The Prophet , Hermione noted. And she couldn’t help but notice how nervous Draco had suddenly become.

 

He stepped away from Hermione’s side, inadvertently putting some distance between the two of them now.

 

“Draco, I need to speak with you. It’s rather urgent,” Astoria replied, the look she gave them one of haughty disdain, though she made no attempt to acknowledge Hermione’s presence.

 

“Right,” he said. He glanced back at Hermione and swallowed, “Not sure how long this may take and I know you have school tomorrow…” His voice trailed off. He cleared his throat, “Raincheck, Granger?” 

 

It was like he had slapped her. Her thought process took a tumble, her words dying in her throat. She stared at him in disbelief for a moment. But she quickly recovered and opened her mouth to tell him to go to hell but something in his gaze stopped her. He looked distraught…

 

Please… he mouthed to her.

 

She simply nodded her head and quickly turned away. She started for the front door, half expecting him to catch up to her and give her a proper goodbye…

 

But he didn’t.

 

She glanced back only once, watching in jealous dismay as he came to Astoria’s side, his hand gently touching the other woman’s lower back as he escorted her from the Floo, all his attention reserved for her and her alone.

 

Hermione felt crushed and tears pricked her eyes. She pulled open the front door and hurried out.

********

 

By the time she had finally returned to her Flat, those tears had faded and now she was simply angry.

 

She entered her small apartment, throwing her Thai takeaway on her coffee table before plopping down on her sofa to pull off her shoes.

 

And that’s when she saw the pile of books on her desk. Seemed Flinty had already paid her an unwelcome visit.

 

Her aching feet finally free of her boots, she practically stomped over to the desk and stared down at the neatly stacked tower of tomes. Then with unprecedented rage, she took her hands and pushed them to her floor, scattering them everywhere, along with scrolls and quills and the large shoebox of Malfoy keepsakes she still couldn’t bring herself to part with.

 

She sank to her knees, giving into the tears as she started to pick up her mess. The shoebox’s contents had spilled, sending Prophet clippings all over. She started shoving them back into the box. But when she came to one of him and Astoria and their “engagement announcement”, she found herself shredding it in a fit of fury, a scream of pure rage tearing from some place deep within her.

 

She took a deep breath, feeling just a little bit satisfied now that she allowed herself the moment to express her anger. Then she began restacking the books, piling them under the desk. She picked up the scrolls and parchment, placing them on top of the desk and grabbed the quills and a pen that had rolled partly away.

 

She stood, setting them down. She looked at the unorganized mess, deciding she was too tired to care in that moment about cleaning it. She was about to turn away when something strange caught her eye.

 

She picked up the pen, turning the sterling silver piece over in her hand. This wasn’t hers , she realized. But it was familiar

 

She closed her eyes, looking through her mind’s eye, sifting through memories. 

 

And then there it was… being thrust in her face yesterday afternoon by the strange man demanding her autograph.

 

She dropped it immediately, letting it hit her desk. As if on cue, the enchanted object’s surface started to blur and writing began to appear, a secret message scrolled around the pen meant for her and her alone.

 

She refused to read it, choosing instead to scoop it up and hurrying into her kitchen to toss it in her rubbish bin. Then she pulled the bag from the bin, tied off the top and took it to the front door where she deposited it out into the hall.

 

Afterwards, she calmly locked her front door, whispered a few incantations to prevent any surprise visitors and locked her Floo. She took a deep, shuddering breath and made her way to her room, forgetting all about her cold food she left on her coffee table.

 

She sat at the edge of her bed, her mind and heart a torrent of emotions and unwanted memories.

 

She had a past too. And try as she might, there seemed no escaping it.

 

Would she ever be free of the mistakes she had made ?

 

She rather thought not. And Hermione laid back on her bed and began to weep.

 

*********





















Chapter Text

Hermione was running late. And tardiness for Professor Granger was a sure fire way to ensure she was in a foul mood by the time she finally made it to class with her Fifth Year students. Not an effective way to kick off one’s birthday, by any means, and add on the additional stress of very little sleep combined with the travesty of the essays she had graded last night – yes, today was not going to be a good day.

Most definitely a Tuesday , she lamented, as she paused just outside her classroom door, her right hand massaging her temples as she breathed deep. Then she pulled open the heavy door and entered. 

A hush fell over the students as Hermione calmly walked to her desk at the front of the large room, the heels of her black stilettos clicking loudly against the stone floor, her dress robes swishing around her as she hurried forth. She made a show of depositing their graded scrolls on the table closest to her desk before turning to face her Advanced Transfiguration class with a disapproving scowl. 

She folded her arms across her chest and surveyed her students, meeting each and every one of their gazes with a pointed stare.

“Care to wager a guess why I am so late?” she finally asked.

At first, nothing but silence.

“Because it’s your birthday?” one voice piped up from the back, followed by a series of snickers from the other students.

“I bet she had a fight with her Death Eater boyfriend…” voiced another, one of the Slytherin boys, to be sure.

Hermione wasn’t about to dignify that observation with a response, so, instead, her stare turned to stone. “I. Am. Late . Because I was up all night grading your essays on the importance of using Transfiguration in the Wizarding World and was simply appalled by the ineptitude and disgracefully poor writing that you all managed to turn in. This sort of work is clearly unacceptable for any student, let alone Fifth Years, who should be preparing to take their O.W.L.S., not getting penalized on poor spelling and woefully ill-informed descriptions of spells they learned in First Year. This is laziness personified.”

There was a chorus of mumbled “sorrys” and heads bowed in shame now.

“We will spend the next several days reciting the proper pronunciation of our spells…” Hermione huffed, which was met by the sound of pained moans and groans, “…and you will all rewrite your essays on two rolls of parchments…” (more groans) “… which will be turned in this Friday.” 

“But there’s a big Quidditch match between Slytherin and Gryffindor this Thursday!” complained Ben, the shaggy haired Captain of the Slytherin team. 

“And?” Hermione questioned.

 “ Come on , Professor Granger….” Ben whined, and she was very much reminded of another Slytherin in the height of his youth, who also complained a lot about assignments, and whom she was actively trying to put out of her mind. 

She approached Ben, giving him a cold look, “If Quidditch is so important to you, Mr. Ridley, perhaps you should not procrastinate and get your essay completed before the big game on Thursday.”

“Please, Professor… can’t we have until Monday?” he tried.

“Would you like to make it three scrolls, Mr. Ridley?” came Hermione’s response. 

The rest of the class groaned in unison now, with one of Ben’s fellow players throwing a balled up paper at his head. Ben shrunk down in his chair, clearly pouting.

“Two scrolls due on Friday ,” Hermione reiterated, then she turned back to her desk and picked up her text book, “Now, take out your wands and turn to page 35…” Feeling a bit flushed, all of sudden, she removed her dress robes and slung them on the back of her chair, leaving her clad in her black long sleeved one-piece jumpsuit before turning back to face her class. She felt a slight twinge of guilt at their sour faces but shook it off.

“Repeat after me – vera verto .”

 “ Vera verto ,” the students replied.

“Pronunciation is key. Again. Vera verto .” Hermione clasped her hands behind her back and began to pace up and down the rows of tables. “Use your wands,” she dictated.

Vera verto ,” the class repeated in unison, wands flicking before them.

“Again,” Hermione ordered.

Vera verto ,” they tried. 

“Keep repeating,” was her next statement, and the students obliged, some with more ferocity than others.

Hermione listened, still casually weaving her way through the tables. She almost made it to the back of the class before turning to walk between the windows and the last row of tables – the most common place for the Slytherins to sit. 

And that’s when she saw it – Ben Ripley casually dropping a folded piece of parchment on his fellow Slytherin’s table, who sat directly behind him.  The young man, Simon Rathborne, unfolded it and snickered, rather loudly.

Vera verto ,” came Hermione’s booming voice, echoing off the stone wall, as she calmly made her way down the row, her eyes never leaving that passed note. 

She came to stand directly behind Mr. Rathborne now, and he conveniently tried to hide the parchment beneath his text. 

Hermione appeared at his side and held out her palm. Simon tried to ignore it but Hermione cleared her throat.  He heaved a heavy sigh and took out the paper, passing it to the Professor. 

Hermione opened the note, keeping her face stern and cold as she looked at the contents. Later, she would have to pat herself on the back at her ability to remain expressionless in that moment. Because coming face to face with a lewd and rather detailed animated drawing of one’s self was quite shocking in and of itself, especially from 15 year old male students.

She was drawn in a short skirt and very tight blouse, the buttons barely staying clasped over her ample bosom, her curly hair three times the side of her head. She was bending over to chide a Slytherin student, one would assume Mr. Rathborne, when the animated drawing took on a life of its own.  Mr. Rathborne whispered “ engorgio ” and her boobs grew huge, almost to the size of melons; while the student behind her, vastly resembling Mr. Ridley, whispered “ wingardium leviosaa ”, making her skirt fly up.

Hermione swallowed.  She wasn’t wearing any knickers.

She watched the scene play out on the paper two more times before she calmly folded the parchment and looked up at Mr. Rathborne and Mr. Ridley, her face an impassive mask. “While I must commend the artist on his technique , I can’t help but point out that my waist is entirely too small to support breasts that big. Clearly, I would topple over.” 

The classmates roared with laughter while the two boys turned a bright shade of red.

“Furthermore, it’s leviOsa not leviosAA ; I’ve seen First Years with better pronunciation than you lot. 10 points each from Slytherin.” And with that she walked back to her desk and laid the drawing down before turning to face the class. 

Vera verto... ” she repeated. There were some moans, but the students repeated the incantation.  The rest of the hour went by uneventfully.

“Don’t forget to grab your scrolls on the way out,” Hermione called out as she dismissed the Fifth Years. She strolled to her desk and took her seat, pulling the Third Year scrolls out of her bag to begin the task of grading those. She could feel eyes on her but she didn’t bother to look up from her task. 

There was the distinct clearing of a throat, followed by “Professor Granger…” 

“Yes, Mr. Ridley?” she asked, still scribbling on the scroll with her quill. 

“I… I’m sorry,” he replied.

Hermione froze but still didn’t look up at her student. “It’s quite alright, Mr. Ridley.” She continued writing. 

“You… you’re not going to… to… tell your Death Eater boyfriend, will you?” he stammered.

She stopped what she was writing and replaced the quill into her ink pot.  She clasped her hands in front of her and looked up at Mr. Ridley, “What? And give him the same idea?” She smirked, cocking an eyebrow.

Ben relaxed, “Yeah, Mr. Malfoy has quite a reputation in Slytherin House...” He swallowed, pulling at his collar.

“I imagine he does,” Hermione confirmed. “Anything else?”

“Uh… just…” He pulled out a green apple from the pocket of his ropes and laid it on her desk.  “Happy Birthday, Professor.”

A smile now tugged at her lips, “Thank you, Mr. Ridley.” He turned to walk away then.  Hermione picked up the apple and rolled it in her hands before suddenly calling out, “Mr. Ridley?”

The young boy paused and turned to face her.

She rose from her chair, grabbing the piece of parchment with the offending drawing and walked over to him.  She held it out to him, “See that this is properly disposed of.” 

“Y-yes, Professor….”

“Perhaps an incendio will do the trick?” she offered. 

He gave her a sheepish smile, “Yes, Professor.” He took the parchment and tucked it away into his pocket.

Hermione folded her arms over her chest, “Can you do me a favor?”

“Anything,” he stated, perhaps a little too breathlessly.

“Tell the others the essay is due Monday…” 

His eyes lit up, “Really?”

“Since it’s such an important game and all…” She rolled her eyes.

“Thank you, Professor!” he exclaimed. “I expect you’ll be there?” he asked hopefully.

“Cheering on the Gryffindors,” she replied.

He gave her a cock-sure smirk, “Nah… you’ll be rooting for Slytherin…I bet my galleons on it.”

She laughed, “Go on now!” And she shooed him away.  But just before he stepped out into the hall, she replied, “And Mr. Ridley, no illustrations on your essay.”

“I promise, Professor.” And he skipped out of the classroom.  Hermione heard him greet another Professor just as she was returning to her desk.

Harry poked his head into the classroom, “I just saw a lot of pouting faces leave this classroom, Professor Granger.”

Again she rolled her eyes, “Well, they deserved it with the shoddy quality of work they’ve been giving me.” 

“Awww, come now, Professor, I’m sure it’s not all that bad.”

Hermione just snorted her response.

Harry walked in with a smile, “Happy Birthday ‘Mione.”

She swallowed, barely mustering a smile, “Thanks, Harry.” She returned to grading her scrolls.  She knew she was being rude but she simply wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.

Harry shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. “Still meeting us for dinner tonight?” He finally questioned.

Hermione sighed, “Well, now that you mention it…”

“No! Nope. You’re not backing out, Granger!” Harry interrupted.  “I have a very pregnant wife who’s been cooped up in the house with a toddler and if you’re going to back out, you have to be the one to tell her.  I will not survive disappointing her.”

Hermione relented, “Fine. I’ll be there.”

Harry clapped his hands together, “Thank Merlin ! Ginny would kill me otherwise…. And I’m not exaggerating.”

Hermione just rolled her eyes. “Eight o’clock?” she confirmed.

He gave a nod then he shuffled a little closer to her desk, “So…uh… will you be alone or… should we be expecting…”

“Alone,” came her flat response.

“Gotcha. I’ll glean from your tone that it isn’t something you wish to discuss.”

“That is correct, Potter.”

“Well, if something changes…”

“It won’t,” she stated matter-of-factly.

He gave her a curt nod. “Then… uh… try to, at least, have a better day… for the sake of your students.”  And Harry hurried out the door before she could comment on his barb.

She returned to grading the scrolls, but her vision blurred and her throat tightened.  No , she wasn’t going to cry… Sure, her birthdays usually were a disaster… after all, they were a reminder of how she no longer had her parents in her life… but this year just seemed worse somehow.  Maybe it had something to do with a certain Slytherin Prince who would remain nameless or maybe she was just starting to feel her age. Either way, she had to push those feelings down into her chest and not revisit them, especially here at school.

She choked down her sadness and tried to concentrate.  But the door to her classroom creaked open.

“For the love of Godric , Harry, I said I would be there!” she venomously scolded her friend.

“Ms. Granger,” came the stern, disapproving voice of McGonagall.

Hermione shot to her feet, “Headmistress! Forgive me, I thought you were Harry…er… I mean, Potter… Professor Potter, that is.”

“Yes, I am often confused with a young, twenty-something year old man,” she replied sardonically.

Hermione swallowed nervously, “What can I do for you today?”

McGonagall stared hard, clearly assessing her, causing Hermione to squirm under her gaze. She folded her hands in front of her, “Well, Ms. Granger, it seems I have come across something in the halls which I believe belongs to you.”

Hermione furrowed her brow, “I don’t remember losing anything…”

“Sure about that, Granger,” drawled an all too familiar male voice from behind McGonagall.

“Draco!” Hermione exclaimed.

He took a step around the imposing Headmistress, giving Hermione his most swoon-worthy grin.  Her throat went dry at the sight of him.

Today he was dressed head to toe in black Muggle attire with jeans, motorcycle boots, a too-tight v-neck t-shirt and nice leather jacket Hermione suspected cost the equivalent to one month of her salary… if not two months. It made his pale skin and grey eyes have an unearthly glow.  He looked absolutely gorgeous and judging by his smirk, he definitely knew it.

“I can only assume by your expression, Ms. Granger, that Mr. Malfoy’s presence here today is as much a surprise to you as it was to me,” McGonagall declared in her normal scolding tone.

Hermione swallowed, “Yes, Headmistress.” She met McGonagall’s gaze, refusing to even spare Draco a glance.

McGonagall turned and looked at Draco now, “Mr. Malfoy, as I’m sure you remember, we do have rules here. The next time you decide to surprise Ms. Granger with an unannounced visit, it would be in your best interest to send an owl.  We wouldn’t want you to be mistaken for an intruder…

“Come now, Professor, if I sent an owl, wouldn’t really be much of a surprise , now would it?” He gave her a dashing smile.

“Do not be cheeky, Mr. Malfoy. You may not be a student anymore but as long as you are a guest in this castle, you can still receive detention.” She paused, “And it’s Headmistress now.”

Draco cleared his throat, “Forgive me… Headmistress .”

She stared at him for the space of several heartbeats before returning her gaze to Hermione. “Ms. Granger, I look forward to the wedding,” she replied with a smirk and a curt nod. McGonagall glided past Draco now and out of the classroom, moving to shut the door. But at the last second, she seemed to reconsider, leaving it halfway open.

They both just watched her leave then stood in silence for a moment.

“She will always think of me as the boy who let Death Eaters into this school,” Draco commented with a sheepish smile. Then he turned to look at Hermione and, upon seeing her disapproving frown, his smile faded into a look of contrition.

“Malfoy, what are doing here?” She was confused but also angry.

He ran a hand nervously through his hair and took a step towards her desk, “It’s your birthday, Hermione. You didn’t really think I’d let the day pass without giving you your present, did you?”

Her gaze now landed on the long box in his hand, beautifully wrapped and tied with a sapphire colored ribbon. Most likely the handiwork of Narcissa , she imagined. She snatched it out of his grasp and tossed it on her desk, “Thank you. You can leave now.” She retook her seat and picked up her quill, returning to grading the papers before her and otherwise ignoring him.

He had the audacity to chuckle at her, which only seemed to further irritate her.  He moved to the table directly in front of her desk, a spot she often reserved for the most undisciplined of her students, which fittingly were usually the Slytherin boys. He casually leaned back against it, arms folding over his chest, legs crossed at the ankles.  He just watched her, a smirk pulling at his lips.

After about ten minutes of silence, where she made a show of continuing to ignore him, all the while forcing herself to read and reread the same sentence over and over because she couldn’t seem to get her damn brain to cooperate ( It should be a crime for one person to smell that fucking good! ), he spoke, “You can stop pretending my presence doesn’t affect you, Granger.”

She finally looked up at him, “Why are you still here?”

Again that smirk ( oh how she loathed that smirk ), “You never told me what time we were meeting your mates for dinner.”

Her mouth dropped open in surprise.

He cocked an arrogant eyebrow, “What? Thought I forgot?”

Her surprise quickly turned to anger then. “Dinner’s been cancelled,” she practically growled, returning her gaze to the scroll in front of her.

“Good,” he replied, without missing a beat, “Then allow me to take you to dinner.  I believe I remember someone mentioning a craving for pizza…”

She made a very unladylike sound, snorting with disdain, before she glanced up at him, “Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear – dinner with you has been cancelled; dinner with my mates is still very much happening.” She returned to writing on the scroll, making up some inane gibberish just to keep her hands busy.  She tried to remain as nonchalant as possible.

He drummed his fingers on the table in which he was leaning against, “Very well, allow me to take you to lunch then. You have to eat.”

She stopped what she was doing, turned and opened her right top drawer in her desk and took out her plastic wrapped sandwich and placed it beside her.  She withdrew one-half, taking a small bite before setting it down, her eyes never once looking up at him.  She continued reading.

He chucked low, “Alright, Granger. How about later… after school, perhaps? I could meet you in Hogsmeade…”

“So many papers to grade,” she interrupted, “Probably going to have to work late…” She gave him a hard look now, “… Very late …”

He met her gaze dead on, “That’s okay. I don’t have any other plans.”

She cocked her head to the side, giving him the once-over, “A busy man such as yourself? Your schedule must be so full.   Surely you have several parties to attend or perhaps afternoon drinks with your mates, where you sit around in your study discussing Muggle society over a bottle of your finest Firewhiskey with your laissez-faire attitude…”

His smile wavered for just a moment before responding, “We usually reserve the Firewhiskey and Muggle discussions for Thursday poker nights, so I’m all yours, Granger.” He paused, his expression growing solemn, “I just want to spend time with you.”

She looked down at her scroll, jotting down something as she again snorted. “Until something better comes along, you mean,” she mumbled.

He sighed in frustration, “You’re angry with me. I expected that.”

“And yet here you are…”

“Alright, let’s have it then.  Scream at me… tell me how vile I am… hell, hex me , if that will make you feel better… or break my nose again. Just don’t freeze me out.” He said the last sentence almost pleadingly.

She stopped writing. She calmly set her quill down before she stood, her hands smoothing down her trousers. She folded her hands before her and looked at him, her expression devoid of all emotion, her voice calm, “How would you feel, Draco, if we had made lunch plans just now, but before we left, Ron sauntered through that door and wanted me to go to lunch with him instead and I said yes?”

“It’s not the same….” He started to protest.

“How. Would. You. Feel.”

His face faltered, his gaze tempestuous, a stern frown on his lips, “Furious.” Then he looked down at his feet, murmuring, “Hurt.”

“No. You would have felt nothing .” His head snapped up to look at her, and for one moment, she allowed her vulnerability to show as she said, “Because I would never treat you in such a manner.”

She retook her seat, picked up her quill and started scribbling furiously. She was going to have to return this poor Third Year’s scroll with a lot of explaining. Silence enveloped them, filled only with the scratching sound of her quill against parchment.

He pushed himself away from the table and took three steps to stand directly in front of her desk. He swallowed nervously. Cautiously, he reached out one hand and ran the pad of his thumb down her cheek. She froze, tensing beneath his touch.

She gave him a contemptuous, questioning look. He showed her his finger, “You had a bit of chalk…”

“Thank you,” she replied, her tone as cold as if she was thanking him for giving her the bubonic plague.

“It’s not what you think, Hermione…” he tried, then added, “…with Astoria.”

She held her breath, trying to keep her voice even, “I’m listening.”

But he merely sighed, took a step back and again ran his hand through his hair.  She hated how perfectly disheveled he looked and yet it just made him all the more handsome.

“I don’t know what you want me to say…” he groaned.

She shook her head, “Goodbye, Malfoy.”

“I’m not leaving, Granger,” he reiterated.

She had finally had enough. She abruptly stood, slamming her quill down. She promptly gathered up the scrolls that littered her desk and her poor excuse for a sandwich, giving him her most stern look, “In forty-five minutes my class of Third Years are going to walk through that door. I expect you to be gone before then.”

She turned away, marching up the small staircase that led to her office, flinging open the door and disappearing within without a second look back.

He watched her go, tempted to follow her but wasn’t too keen on actually having his nose broken once again.

“Fuck,” he mumbled. He ran his fingers through his hair then thrust his hands into his jacket pockets, his left closing around the small box he had hidden there. He gazed around his old Transfiguration classroom, assailed by the unwanted onslaught of memories.

He slowly made his way down the middle row of tables, silently counting in his head until he came to the desk he had once called home. He walked over to it, took out the chair and had a seat. He drummed his fingers on the black top, tracing over his carved initials that were still there after all these years. He marveled at how this , of all things, somehow managed to survive the War when so many people had lost their lives.

Irony…

He took a deep, shuddering breath before whispering, “ Revelio .”

Suddenly another set of carvings in the same scrawl appeared next to his…

DLM + HJG

Draco sighed as he turned his attention to the view outside the window, the Quidditch pitch always a safe haven for his troubled mind.

*****

Upstairs in her office, Hermione kicked the door closed with a loud bang. She stormed over to her desk, dumping her arm load of scrolls on the tabletop before flopping down into her chair with an exasperated sigh. She laid her head back and stared up at the vaulted ceiling. Instinctually she started to swivel her chair, turning herself 360 degrees, watching as the world above her spun around.

That’s what it was like to be in love , she thought, as if you are constantly spinning on your axis, the blood rushing to your head, making you so dizzy until you finally just collapse on the ground in a fit of giggles.

Only she wasn’t giggling at this particular moment.

She stopped her chair, facing the mess of papers on her desk. And then her eye caught on a stray curl of sapphire-colored ribbon poking out from beneath the pile. His present to her…   She must have inadvertently picked it up when she grabbed her work.

She reached for it, choosing not to question her actions. She held it in her hands. It resembled a wand box, long and slightly thin… a little light.  Definitely not a book, which surprised her.  After all, it was always what her friends seemed to buy her and they supposedly knew her so well.

She fiddled with the ribbon.  Curiosity killed the cat, she warned herself. But when exactly did she ever listen to her inner voice?

She pulled the ribbon, letting it untie and fall into her lap. She moved her fingertips beneath the box lid, slowly sliding it up.  She hesitated in removing it entirely though. She paused, letting the ramifications of what she was about to do sink in. Would she forgive him? Or would it just solidify how wrong the two of them were for each other, despite the Ministry’s assessment?

“Oh fuck it,” she murmured.

She removed the lid. With a small gasp she stared at the contents of the box, then a tear slipped down her cheek as she sadly smiled.

*****

3rd Year:

Ron heaved a dramatic sigh. Hermione chose to ignore him, propping her book in front of her face as she studied for the end of the year exams. Feeling ignored, Ron sighed again, even louder now.

“Ron,” Harry said, “we’re trying to study…”

“We’re always studying…” Ron droned, “… and my leg bloody hurts…”

Hermione couldn’t help herself and rolled her eyes.

“And why do we have to take these exams?” He was still whining, “We saved the bloody school… again …That should at least buy us a passing grade…”

Hermione lowered her book now, giving Ron a stern expression, “First of all, Ronald, we saved the school? Don’t you mean Harry saved the school?”

“Well, you did help, ‘Mione,” Harry interjected, giving her a knowing grin.

“Second, none of us want a passing grade… we want to excel at our classes so we can…”

“Oh bloody hell,” Ron interrupted her, “Can we have one library session where you don’t lecture me about something…”

She closed her mouth in frustration. She met Harry’s gaze, and the fact that it was one of pure pity made her cringe. She propped her book back up and sank in her chair, choosing now to ignore both of her best mates.

She had just managed to finally get through two-thirds of the page she was trying to study for Ancient Runes, when she heard Ron fiddling with a wrapper before popping the hard candy in his mouth and sucking on it… loudly.

The distinctive clearing of a throat drew the trio’s attention to the front desk where Madam Pince was eyeballing them. She tapped her wand to the sign above her head which read, NO EATING. Both Harry and Hermione gave Ron an annoyed look.

“Old goat,” he mumbled, spitting the candy out into a piece of parchment. They returned to their studying.

Moments later, Hermione felt Ron kick her foot beneath the table.

“What?” she hissed.

“Sssh…” Madame Pince warned, followed by the snickering of the Slytherins at the table just to the right of them.

“What, Ronald?” Hermione whispered.

“Do you have any of those sugar quills you like so much? I need something that Pince won’t notice…” He gave her his best, most pitiful, puppy dog eyes he could muster.

“Fine,” she murmured, rummaging in her bag now. She handed it to him and he responded with a lop-sided grin, “You’re the best, ‘Mione.” Her insides fluttered at his words and she quickly looked away. She gulped and shoved her nose into her book.

Two minutes went by before he kicked her foot again. She gave him an annoyed look. “I don’t understand what Snape assigned us… do you still have that Potions book with all the notes in the margin?”

She sighed, “No, I returned it to the shelf.”

“Oh,” he replied dejectedly. Then he moaned a little, “My leg is really killing me today…”

Harry rolled his eyes and ignored Ron, but Hermione was finding it rather hard to do. “Do you want me to go and get it for you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“Oh, ‘Mione…. You truly are the best.”

She refused to look at him now as she stood. She hated how easily he manipulated her sometimes. But that’s what friends are for, right?

She walked to the stacks, her vision on her feet as her brain worked overtime deciphering her feelings for Ron. Simply put, she wasn’t watching where she was going, moving towards the Potions section based on pure instinct alone. Which was her explanation to herself as to why she had been so careless, smacking into a hard form just as she turned the corner in the section she needed. 

She stumbled back and would have fallen on her arse had it not been for the two strong arms that encircled her waist, hauling her against his hard body. Her breath was coming in short gasps as she stared blankly at the Slytherin crest embroidered on the chest of the one who still held her in his arms.  Slowly, she raised her gaze, her vision tracing over a small smirk on nice lips, sharp pale cheekbones and deep grey eyes.  Then she saw the tell-tale white blonde fringe and her mind immediately roared to life. 

She placed her hands firmly on Malfoy’s chest… his muscular form solid beneath her fingers… then shoved herself free of his grasp.  Instinctively he raised his hands in the air in a form of surrender before taking a step back from her too.

“S-sorry, Granger…” he mumbled.

She was about to retort with a hostile, degrading name-call to match his own when she stopped herself.  She screwed her face up in confusion, realizing he hadn’t said one mean thing to her. He was looking down at his shuffling feet until suddenly he met her gaze.  He shoved one hand through his hair then pushed past her, exiting the stacks.  She just stared at his retreating form, puzzling over his strange behavior.

She returned to her table, laying the book Ron had requested in front of him before mechanically taking her seat. She shifted her gaze to the right, towards the table of Slytherins, trying to be inconspicuous, but when grey eyes clashed with her brown ones, she immediately looked away. She flipped open her book and started blindly studying, the words swimming before her. She stayed like that for almost an hour, valuable study time wasted because of one run-in with Draco freaking Malfoy .

“Psst… ‘Mione…” Ron whispered.

“What?” she snapped.

“Malfoy is coming this way.”

“What!?” she exclaimed. And she turned, just as Draco Malfoy sauntered up to her chair.

“Granger…” he greeted. “Pince says you took the only copy of Advanced Potions Techniques…”

“Why don’t you sod off, Malfoy?” Ron interrupted.

Draco sneered, “I don’t believe I was talking to you, Weasel-bee…”

Ron suddenly stood up, wobbling slightly on his injured leg which only made Malfoy laugh.

“How’s the leg, Weasley? Heard you took a nasty bite from a dog…Hope you didn’t give the poor animal any of your fleas.”

“Well my leg is a far sight better than your nose, Malfoy…” Ron replied.

Draco’s sneer vanished. He glanced quickly at Harry and then at Hermione before taking a step back. “I just need to look at that book for a moment, Granger.”

Hermione looked at him then returned to her studying, “I rather think not.”

His mouth fell open but then he closed it, turned and walked back to his table.

“Right foul git… thinking he can just walk over here and ask you for a favor ...” Ron said.

“It was just a book,” Hermione replied, shrugging.

“Did you not even notice how he didn’t say one bad thing towards you,” Harry offered, “I think he’s scared of you now, ‘Mione.”

“Yea, afraid she’s going to break his precious nose again,” Ron agreed with a snicker.  “You know I heard he’s been telling everyone he fell off his broomstick. We should tell them what really happened, wipe that smirk right off his face…”

“You will do no such thing,” she quickly admonished, causing both boys to stare at her. She lowered her voice, “I don’t want to get expelled.”

That seemed to satisfy them and they nodded in agreement. Hermione tried desperately to focus on the text she should be studying but she couldn’t help feeling like someone was watching her, even though she flat out refused to look over at the Slytherin table. Finally, she relented, and dug through her bag for a sugar quill… an easy way to distract herself. She rummaged around and came up empty handed.

“Ronald Weasley, did you eat the rest of my sugar quills?!”

He sheepishly grinned, “They help me concentrate….”

“Yes, me too… which is why I have them!” She sighed in frustration, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed by the exams and Ron and whatever the hell had just happened with Malfoy. She abruptly stood.

“I’m going back to the dorm. I can’t study with all these distractions,” she declared.

She gathered her stuff and quickly turned to leave, inadvertently stepping in the way of Draco, as he was making his way out of the library.

They both just stammered apologies, simultaneously moving to the left then the right in an awkward attempt to get out of each other’s way. Finally, he just pushed by her, mumbling something under his breath. And she watched him go with a frown of uncertainty.

*****

The last thing she wanted to do on a Saturday was stand around in a crowded Honeydukes. But Ron had left her no choice, having eaten all her sugar quills which were her go-to nervous snack while she studied.  And if she was being honest with herself, they were sort of her good luck charm when it came to end of the year exams.

She waited in the long line, eyeing the last two boxes of the addictive candy just behind the shopkeeper.  She secretly hoped no one else ahead of her had the same sweet-tooth affinity on their mind, otherwise she wasn’t sure what she’d do to get through her looming Potions exam. Snape was on a tear after the events with Lupin, and all the students were being forced to pay for that little adventure.

She huffed, growing impatient. She glanced up – the boxes were still there - then stuck her nose back in her Potions book.  A few minutes later, the line moved. She looked behind the shopkeeper and her mouth fell open in shock.  The last two boxes of sugar quills were gone!

She pushed her way through the crowd until she reached the front of the line. “Do you have any more sugar quills?” she demanded.

“Sorry, just sold the last two,” he replied.

“To who?”

“I don’t know… some kid. He just left.”

Hermione didn’t hesitate, pushing away from the counter and heading for the shop’s door.  She stepped out into the bright sunshine, squinting for a moment.  She looked around but there were quite a few students visiting Hogsmeade today. And she had no way of knowing which one of them had bought the candy. Suddenly feeling very sullen she turned to make her way back up to the castle.

She was just passing the bridge when she realized she wasn’t alone.  Just a few feet in front of her, casually strolling back to Hogwarts was none other than Malfoy.  She made an audible gasp that he definitely heard.

He paused in his steps then glanced back over his shoulder.  When he saw it was her, he sneered, fully turning now to face her. “Are you following me?” he chuckled.

She made a disgusted face, “In your dreams, Malfoy.”

“More like my nightmares, Granger,” he bit out. And that’s when he shifted what he held in his hands and Hermione saw, without a doubt, just who had bought the last of the sugar quills.

“Sugar quills…” she accidently said out loud.

He shrugged, “A present for a girl.”

Pansy , she thought, with more malice than she knew was warranted. But picturing the girl with the painted-on red lips sucking on her precious candy made Hermione want to gag.

“Usually I prefer the ones I can import directly from Italy, but I guess these will have to do,” he was still talking, his haughty tone making her cringe.

She started past him, “You’re such a snob.”

“Because I have taste ?!”

“No, because you’re an arrogant, vile cockroach!”

“Try singing a different tune there, Granger. We’ve all heard that one,” and he moved to follow her.

She walked faster. His long legs easily caught up with her.

“And here I thought you Gryffindors were brave… Why are you running, Granger?  The Weasel calling you to fetch his slippers?”

She growled in disgust and tried to move faster but soon she was practically running up the hill back to Hogwarts.  She was panting and out of breath as she reached the entrance and she could only imagine what her bushy curls looked like now, plastered to her face with sweat. But it was all for naught, because he was still right behind her, his breathing normal, every piece of his hair still perfectly coiffed.

He sneered as he swaggered by her, “Good luck on the Potions exam.” And he tapped his finger against the boxes of sugar quills.

*****

“I brought you a surprise,” Ron said as he tossed his bag down on the library table, interrupting Hermione’s now fourth attempt at studying for Portions. He dug around in it until he produced a long box, slightly dented.

Her heart leapt in her chest, “Ron, you didn’t…” She quickly opened it, readying herself to be so thrilled that after 3 years, Ronald Weasley had finally done something nice for her… but what she found made her frown instead.

“Licorice wands,” he offered, “…your favorite.”

She knew she should just be gracious and nod her head but after the last few days, something broke inside her, “ Sugar quills are my favorite , Ron… and did you open these?”

“Yea well, I got hungry.  And they’re practically the same thing!” But she was dejected and it obviously showed on her face. He snatched them back, “You need to sort out your priorities.”

She knew she should apologize but it just wasn’t worth it. She slouched in her chair, trying to ignore Ron huffing as he settled in across the table.  When Harry finally showed up, he took one look at the two of them, rolled his eyes, and opened his Potions book to study.

Hermione couldn’t concentrate. Every creak of Ron’s chair or the way he would sniffle was driving her completely mad.  And it didn’t help that the Slytherins had decided to occupy the table next to theirs, Crabbe and Goyle being loud and obnoxious as usual.

Her vision strayed to Malfoy for only a second. He was deep into his Potions textbook, his brow furrowed, one hand covering his ear as he tried to tune out his mates.

She heaved a heavy sigh and started rummaging around in her bag. She needed something to help her concentrate and she had a bit of leftover taffy somewhere… Her hand closed around an object and she furrowed her brow in confusion. Slowly, she dragged it out of her bag. It was two boxes of Honeydukes sugar quills, tied together with a green ribbon. 

Her head snapped up and she looked over at Malfoy. His nose was still in his Potions book, completely unaware of her scrutinizing. She swallowed, looking down at her hand still clutching the boxes of sugar quills, her mind and heart racing.

She took a deep, shuddering breath.

“You alright, ‘Mione?” Harry asked with a look of concern.

She nodded, her mouth too dry for words at the moment. Her gaze strayed to one of the books on the table, Advanced Potion Techniques. She glanced over at Malfoy, a plan forming in her mind.

Before she could convince herself what a daft idea it was, Hermione rose, grabbed the book and walked over to the table of Slytherins. Draco looked up just as she approached.

“I think you dropped this, Malfoy,” she replied, holding out the book for him.

He stared blankly at her for a moment then looked at the book in her offered hand. She saw his jaw tense and he opened his mouth to say something.

“Hey, Granger, need a lap to sit on?” Crabbe interrupted. He thrust his leg out and gave it a little pat just as his other hand used the tip of his wand to lift her skirt. Goyle, who was seated beside him, snickered.

“Leave her alone!” Malfoy bellowed at his friends, throwing another book at the duo, hitting Crabbe in the chest.

Everyone froze at Malfoy’s outburst. Then, rather slowly, three sets of eyes turned towards the Slytherin Prince, all equally shocked at his words.

Draco slouched in his chair, giving them his most awful sneer, “She’s a filthy Mudblood … not fit to clean our dragonhide shoes, let alone sit on our laps.”

Hermione cringed as Crabbe and Goyle chuckled. She calmly laid the book on the table beside Malfoy then with as much dignity as she could muster, she turned and walked back to her table.

“What the bloody hell was that about?” Ron demanded.

But Harry took one look at Hermione and shook his head at Ron, silently telling him not to ask.

She straightened her spine, pulled her Potions textbook before her and started to read. Absently, she reached into her bag and took out one of the sugar quills.

“You have more quills?!” Ron asked in shock. Then, “Can I have one?”

“No,” she replied, her gaze never leaving her book.  She scribbled notes, letting the spun sugar dance over her lips.

After a few minutes, she glanced to her right. Malfoy was watching her, a small smirk pulling at his mouth. He gave her a curt nod and she returned it in kind. He picked up the book she had left for him and started to read. She returned to her own textbook, ignoring Ron’s huffiness and the strange flutter that had suddenly began in the pit of her stomach.

*****

Present Day:

Hermione stared down at the box of sugar quills in her lap as she wiped away the tear which tumbled unbidden down her cheek. She had all but forgotten that brief exchange in Third Year, an inconsequential blip in what was a confusing time for them all. She always considered the start of their… well, whatever it was they were in school… began at the Yule Ball in Fourth Year. But, sitting here, staring down at the insurmountable proof, she had to ask - Was it even earlier for him ?

She swallowed then pulled out the small card tucked into the box and unfolded it. In a masculine scrawl was written: 

Had Blaise bring these back from Italy

Yours

DLM

A peace offering back then and a peace offering now , she realized. 

She gathered up the box and wrappings and laid them on her desk. She took the blue curling ribbon and wound it around her index finger over and over as she chewed nervously on her bottom lip, her gaze fixed on the present before her.

“Damn him,” she mumbled, then she pushed herself to her feet and walked to her door.  She hesitated with her hand on the doorknob. She gave a quick shake of her head.  Now was not the time for thinking .  She pulled open the door and calmly walked down the stone staircase.

Hermione gazed around her now empty classroom with a heavy heart. For someone who swore he wasn’t leaving, he sure was gone now. She couldn’t decide if that made her sad or angry. At this point, she was so tired of feeling both.

She walked into the hall and glanced around. But he wasn’t there, either. She hadn’t been up in her office long, she realized, so there was still a chance she could catch him before he left Hogwarts.

Or, at least, she hoped…

She made her way down the long corridor, her heels clicking loudly on the pavement. She was still getting used to walking in such tall, thin heels but she took a chance, picking up speed until she was suddenly jogging.

She rounded the corner and instantly smacked into a large, burly shape, her ankle twisting beneath her as her shoe heel snapped. She prepared herself in the proceeding seconds to soften her fall, but Hagrid reached out his hand to steady her. 

“Oh bloody, fucking hell!” she yelled, her fingers wrapping around her throbbing foot. She grabbed for the wall with her free hand and leaned against it for support.

“Blimey, Hermione!” Hagrid exclaimed. “Yer in an awful rush!”

“S-sorry, Hagrid..” she replied sullenly, as she hobbled over to the nearest set of staircases and eased herself down to sit. She pulled her ankle closer for inspection; it was already purpling.

Hagrid lumbered forward, cautiously reaching out and offering back her broken shoe. She took it with a heavy sigh and a mumbled “thank you”.

“That looks downright awful… and on your birthday too…” he observed. 

This day truly was cursed , Hermione mused.

“Want me to carry you to Madam Pomfrey?”

She shook her head, swallowing back her tears.

“You runnin’ round here like a madwoman wouldn’t have somethin’ to do with a certain blonde wizard, now would it?”

Hermione’s head snapped up, “You saw Malfoy?”

Hagrid gave her a proud grin, “And it was a sure right thing I did… poor fella looked a little lost just wanderin’ up and down the corridors like a ghost, he was… Pointed him in the direction of the Hogwarts gates, I did...”

Hermione’s heart clenched in her chest and suddenly a tear slipped down her cheek and she hurriedly swiped it away.

“Oh now, I’ve gone and done it, haven’t I?” Hagrid sighed. 

She shook her head ruefully, “No, Hagrid, you didn’t do anything wrong…” She cast her vision down to her broken shoe, her fingers fumbling with the heel as she worked to quiet her feelings.

Hagrid turned away from her, then slowly backed up and eased himself down to sit beside her on the stairs. He gave her knee a little pat, “There now, I know all this must be hard, Hermione. I can’t speak for no one else, but I always thought you’d end up wed to Ron…”

Hermione cringed. This was what she had feared since the beginning… everyone would naturally have an opinion on her and Draco’s relationship and, barring taking her feelings into consideration, none of it would be favorable. She swallowed, steeled her nerves and tried to mentally prepare herself for what most assuredly would come next.

Hagrid was still talking, “... but I think you and Malfoy make a rather fetching pair…”

Hermione’s head snapped up and she looked at Hagrid, “Wait...what?” Perhaps she had misheard him.

“Oh aye, always liked Ron, good bloke you see, but never thought he was right for yer.” His cheeks grew rosy and he smiled sheepishly, “Probably shouldn’t have said that.”

“N-no… I want to hear it,” she assured him.

He shrugged, “Well, I mean, always thought yer needed someone more fitting for yer brains… Yer brilliant, you see? And Malfoy is also a rather bright lad...” 

He swallowed then, “Don’t much care for some of the things he has said, mind you, and I ain’t making excuses for it….but that’s in the past… and if we learned nothing from the war it’s that some people deserve a second chance... so no use in bringin’ it up… and he’s tried to make amends for all that mess…”

Hermione nodded slowly, “That was rather insightful, Hagrid.”

“Was it?” the big man questioned. He puffed out his chest, “Fancy that then.”

Hermione softly smiled, and then she remembered something, “Wait, what do you mean he has tried to make amends ?”

“Oh bollocks! Not supposed to talk about that…” 

He moved to stand but she grabbed a hold of his beefy hand, “Hagrid, please…”

He sighed heavily and looked around as if checking to see if anyone could be listening, “Well, you see, after the war, he got to feeling quite bad about all that happened...he came and repaired my hut… brought a team of workers with him and ev’rythin’... used his own two hands to lay the bricks too… never thought I’d see the day a Malfoy lifted a finger to help out old Rebeus Hagrid…”

Hermione’s mouth fell open as she worked through her sudden confusion to process his words. She couldn’t imagine Draco Malfoy lifting a finger to physically help anyone, especially Hagrid. Then she realized Hagrid was still talking.

“And after all that, imagine how surprised I was when I found out it was Malfoy who funded the sanctuary for all those poor creatures…”

Hermione shook her head, interrupting, “What sanctuary?”

“The Buckbeak Sanctuary for Abused and Misunderstood Magical Creatures, that is…” He straightened, looking proud, “Came up with the name myself, I did.”

She smiled despite the uneasy feeling growing in her abdomen. How little did she actually know about the man she was supposed to be marrying in little over a month?

“Yer won’t tell him I told yer all this, will yer? He doesn’t like people knowing… reputation and all…” He gave her a grin and a wink, “But deep down, he’s a good lad, yer see?”

“Y-yes… he’s definitely not the person I thought he would be…” She swallowed. 

Hagrid gave her another reassuring little pat on her shoulder, “Yer just need to give him a chance, Hermione. He has layers, I think… parts he don’t want no one seein’...” He turned away but immediately whirled around, “Almost forgot….” He reached into his heavy coat and produced a dented white box with crumpled pink ribbon, “Happy Birthday, Hermione. Baked it myself.”

She took the offered box, letting her fingers drift over the smashed flap. “Thank you, Hagrid,” she said with sincerity. Then, carefully, she pulled herself to her feet, using the wall to brace herself, and she laid a tender kiss on Hagrid’s cheek.

He blushed deep, stammering, “Only the best for yer, Hermione.”

And she knew he wasn’t only referring to the cake.

Suddenly a slew of Third Years came tearing down the steps, rushing by her and Hagrid.

“Oi! What’s the rush?!” Hagrid exclaimed, grabbing one boy by the collar.

“It’s Professor Potter… he’s going to duel a Death Eater!” The boy wiggled free and took off.

Hagrid met Hermione’s gaze, “Oh dear…”

******

Draco wandered aimlessly through the Hogwarts corridors, his gaze rooted on his boots, his mind a barrage of emotions long suppressed over the years with Occulmency. Coming back here was much harder than he could have ever imagined.

While his early years had its share of pleasant memories, most of them involving Quidditch, he couldn’t rightfully say he’d ever been happy within these walls… 

A stray thought tried to push its way to the forefront of his mind in challenge but he quickly stuffed it away. This was not the time to start unpacking those long buried, rather dusty memories… especially in this moment.

He had really fucked it all up with Granger. And he highly doubted his meager attempt at a truce was going to be enough to settle this. As if on cue, his left hand clenched around that small box tucked into his jacket pocket… No, this was going to have to wait , he told himself. These things take time … If he hit her with too much too soon, she’d rabbit away, marriage contract be damned. 

She didn’t choose you, he reminded himself, the Ministry did ...

He needed to come up with Plan B…

He automatically paused in his steps, his mind and body simply knowing where they had unconsciously led him.

He swallowed thickly before slowly raising his head, his gaze traveling the length of the staircase as it ascended up and beyond, disappearing around the corner.

The path to the astronomy tower.

He thought back to how often he had considered pitching himself over the railing on any given day in Sixth Year… and how his life had suddenly changed in the space of an inconceivable moment on an otherwise unremarkable day.

His skin suddenly felt hot… almost like he was burning from the inside out. He breathed in, his nostrils flaring at the distinctive smell of sulfur. He brought his right hand in front of his face, his palm blazing to life with orange and red flames. Bathed in the fiery light, his reflected grey eyes were almost silver, molten metal and haunted with the ghosts of the past.

He clenched his right hand into a fist and stepped up, compelled by some secret siren call to climb the tower.

Laughter and cheers from further down the corridor gave him pause, breaking through the fog of his reverie. He swallowed and the flames cooled until once again his hand had returned to normal.

He backed away from the tower steps, running his hand through his hair. He released a shuddering breath and turned from the temptation. He thrust his hands into his jacket and hurried down the hall, following the sound of the nearby crowd… anything to get away from the threat of reliving that pain once again.

He knew what he’d find in the crowded classroom even before he stepped inside. A small smile ghosted his lips as he entered, keeping himself discreet. He rested one shoulder against the back wall, just to the right of the door, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the action in the center of the room unfold.

A large, raised platform, running end to end of the length of the room, dominated the attention of the packed audience; children of all ages growing raucous as they watched the two seasoned wizards throwing spell after counter-spell at one another: Neville Longbottom versus true-to-form Harry Potter. 

Harry, having dodged a rather weak stupify , countered with an expelliarmus , pulling Longbottom’s wand from his hand.

“Excellent, Professor Longbottom,” Harry was saying, praising a rather sheepish and nervous Neville, “It is always best to use a charm to disarm your opponent first, as we have perfectly illustrated here… Instantly going on the offense in a duel doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win… Always remember, it is more important to stop the opposition rather than get the most hits…”

Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. “Saint Potter…” he muttered.

Harry extended his hand towards Longbottom for a quick good sportsmanship shake. The Herbology Professor looked relieved he was being dismissed. If Draco didn’t know better, he’d never believe it was Longbottom who stood his ground against Voldemort all those years ago. The man was a cowering whelp.

Harry was taking off his school robes, handing them to one of the students before he made his way to the center of the platform. “Perhaps another volunteer has the cunning foresight to challenge me…”

Draco couldn’t stand there and listen to anymore of this bluster. He turned towards the door, managing to take only one step towards the exit.

“Maybe Mr. Malfoy would care for a rematch?” Harry called out.

Draco froze mid-step. He glanced at Harry over his shoulder, meeting Potter’s green gaze with steely grey eyes. He sneered as he turned to face his old nemesis, the crowd of students gaping in awe at the appearance of an ex-Death Eater in their midst. He spread his arms wide, “Nothing would give me more pleasure than to duel the Great Harry Potter once again, but alas my probation prevents me from raising my wand against another wizard.”

Harry knew as much, so if he was seeking to discredit or embarrass Draco, Malfoy refused to bite.

But Potter only smiled, “Well, then I guess it’s a good thing I know the exact counter-spell to reverse that minute detail…” He tipped his head towards Draco, “I am an ex-Auror after all…”

Draco’s gaze narrowed and he stared at Potter for the space of several heartbeats. The room went still and quiet, the children almost afraid to breathe. Finally, he shrugged, “Alright then.”

The murmurs started as the crowd parted, allowing Draco an easy path to the dias. He sauntered forward, a smirk pulling at his lips as he climbed the few steps up to the platform. Harry held out his hand, waiting for Draco’s wand. With some reluctance he handed it over, cocking an eyebrow as Harry muttered a quick reversal before offering it back to him. 

Draco swallowed, realizing in that moment what he was about to do may very well earn him Hermione’s full wrath. But when he saw Potter’s cocky grin, something long buried and slightly resentful crept forward. While he had no more outward malice toward the self-proclaimed Chosen One , wiping the floor with him in front of his students almost felt like… justice .

Draco took his wand, twirling it within his fingers in an act of showmanship. He strutted to the end of the platform and assumed his position, arms raising in combative stance.

Harry watched him carefully. “ Disarming charms only.”

“Goes without saying,” he replied before giving Potter a wink.

Harry assumed his own stance now, readying himself, “On the count of three, Malfoy.”

Malfoy relaxed a little, grinning, “Just mind the leather, Potter, it’s Italian.” Harry rolled his eyes, so Draco couldn’t help but pull at the sleeve of his jacket and cock his head, mockingly saying, “Got a date with a girl later, I want to look my best.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry muttered. And then with a twirl of his wand, Harry called out, “ Rictusempra .”

Malfoy easily reflected the spell with a quick Protego . “Really, Potter?” he chided Harry, “The same old stale tricks?”

Everte Statum! ” cried Harry.

That spell hit Malfoy dead center, knocking him backwards onto the mat, the wind rushing from his lungs in a whoosh. The kids cheered like crazy for their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Draco didn’t hesitate, scrambling to his feet.

“How was that for stale?” Potter replied.

Letting his anger fuel him, Draco practically ripped his leather jacket off now, readying himself to retaliate. He ignored the murmurs that started as all eyes fell on the faded Dark Mark on his left forearm.

Harry, too, resettled into his stance. The two simply eyed each other for a moment, sizing each other up. Harry couldn’t seem to help himself though.  It had been a long while since he felt the exhilaration of a good fight. He cocked an eyebrow, “Scared Malfoy?”

Draco chuckled darkly, “You wish.”

Stup- “ Harry started.

But this time, Malfoy was quicker. “ Ventus !” he hollered, and a powerful wind streamed from the tip of his wand to hit Potter, sending him flying. Without hesitation, he twirled his wand, calling out “ Steleus ,” and hitting Harry immediately with a sneezing fit just as he was trying to pull himself to stand.

“ACHOO!” Harry doubled over, his hands resting on his knees.

Malfoy couldn’t hide his smirk as he clasped his hands in front of him and watched. “What’s the matter, Potter? Bad case of allergies?” he teased.

“Finite- ACHOO!” Harry tried the counter-spell but the sneezing prevented him from finishing it.

Malfoy rolled his eyes and muttered, “ Finite Incantatem .” He figured, just this once, he could be the gentleman.  After all, it was just a inconsequential duel amongst frenemies.

Harry sneezed one final time and straightened himself, surprise alight in his eyes as he studied Malfoy more intently. Draco shrugged then folded his arms over his chest, tapping the tip of his wand against his shoulder and waited.

“Thirsty for more?” Draco mocked, wagging his brows at Harry.

Harry sighed resolutely then waved his wand and shouted, “ Expelliarmus .”

Draco was ready, countering with “ Stupify !”

And thus proceeded the next ten minutes of these two wizards dueling one another, throwing spells and charms, equally countering each.  Sparks flew from the tips of their wands… red and white light dancing around the room as they dodged and weaved to escape being hit by a curse.  So caught up in their pseudo-fight, they were blissfully unaware that their audience had grown exponentially… children and teachers alike crowding the room to watch the show.

Draco had just countered Harry’s latest charm with one of his classics, Serpensortia , releasing a cobra to lunge at the Gryffindor but Harry vanished it almost as quickly as it came, the black smoke dissipating in the air. Out of breath and perhaps a bit sweaty from exertion, the two men stopped and looked at one another.  Then, they surprised everyone and shared a laugh.

Potter extended his hand as he closed the distance with Draco. “A fine duel, Malfoy.”

Draco stared at Harry’s offered hand for just a beat before he reached his hand up and shook it. “Same, Potter.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, startling both men, and, almost forgetting they even had an audience, they both turned their heads to see their little room filled to the brim with people.

They gave each other sheepish smiles now.  Malfoy drew close to Harry’s ear, “You know, this doesn’t mean I like you, Harry…

Harry’s smile grew wider, “Goes without saying… Draco .”

“Mr. Potter! Mr. Malfoy!” a voice bellowed from the back of the room. The crowd of students parted like the Red Sea as Headmistress McGonagall entered the fray.

Both young men broke contact, whirling around to face their old teacher, their wands immediately being hidden behind their backs.

“McGonagall!” they squeaked in unison.

Potter cleared his throat then and took a cautionary step forward, “Headmistress....”

She held up one finger, clearly demanding his silence. Harry shut his mouth instantly. She clasped her hands before her and gave them a cold and calculating glare, “Well, I see you both still have all your limbs and, thankfully, no one is bleeding out profusely on the floor… this time.

Harry and Draco exchanged a look then stepped further away from each other.

“Headmistress, if I may,” Harry tried again, “Malfoy and I were just giving the students a demonstration…”

“A demonstration ?” she bit out. “And what, per se, were you showing them… exactly ?”

Harry scratched his head. “Inter-house unity?” he offered.

“Are you asking me, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall questioned.

“No?”

At that, Draco snickered and Harry smacked him. Draco rubbed the spot on his chest, but still couldn’t help but smile.

McGonagall sighed, “Because you two are still standing, I suppose you think that means this was a success.” She stared at the two men for a beat or two more before focusing her attention on the students, “Everyone should immediately return to their classes.”

There were stifled groans as the students heeded their Headmistress’s demand. Draco calmly walked to the end of the platform and leapt down from the dais.

“Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall called after him.

Draco cringed inwardly.

“I think perhaps it’s time your little visit here at Hogwarts came to an end, don’t you agree?”

Well, hell. Guess now wasn’t the time to ask his former teacher for the Potions position … he reasoned. “Yes, Headmistress,” he replied.

He met Harry’s gaze, who gave him a small smile and a curt nod, which he returned in kind.  Then he sauntered from the room.

Harry cautiously looked at McGonagall. “Guess I’m in trouble now…”

“Oh you know very well you are, Mr. Potter.  But not from me…” she replied.

Harry furrowed his brow in confusion.

“I’m sure Ms. Granger will have plenty to say to both you and Mr. Malfoy. I only wish I was here to see it.” And with that, she turned and walked away, leaving a stammering Harry to deal with the coming consequences of his actions.

*****

 Hermione hobbled on her sprained ankle all the way to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, biting back the pain as she tried to hurry in her now fixed high heel. She was still carrying the cake Hagrid had given her, forgetting to leave it in her classroom, the urgency to get down the stairs and stop this dueling nonsense before someone (more than likely Malfoy ) got hurt, taking precedence over all rational thought.

But she was too late.  She was greeted with an empty room, only the platform staged at the center and the occasional scorch mark on the walls any indication of what happened here. She sighed with relief that at least there wasn’t any blood that she could discern. But the residue of charged magic was rife in the air.

She gave the room the once-over before turning to leave but then she suddenly turned back, something catching her eye. She walked over to the end of the platform, and there, laying on the stairs, was Draco’s leather jacket. She set the cake box down on the stairs before seating herself beside it.  She slid her aching foot from her stupid shoe then pulled the leather jacket into her lap.  It wasn’t damaged. It was lightweight and smelled so good. Fuck, it smelled just like him

She brought it to her nose, inhaling deeply while her heart seized in her chest. Then, for reasons she didn’t want to elaborate, she slipped it on, wrapping herself in the warmth and scent that was pure him. She sighed, tucking her hands into the pockets.  And that’s when she felt it – something a little heavy weighing down the left side. It took some maneuvering but she managed to pull out a velvet box, only a little bigger than her fist.

Her throat ran dry and her heart started to hammer in her chest as she stared down at what she could only assume was another gift meant for her birthday. She ran one fingernail along the seam, toying with the idea of opening it but decided that it was the wrong thing to do.  He hadn’t given this to her… and there had to be a reason. Though the temptation was great, she had no right to whatever lay behind the velvet folds. She quickly took the jacket off, placing the box back into the pocket before folding it beside her on the stairs.

She turned her attention to the misshapen cake box beside her. She lifted it into her lap, untied the pink ribbon and opened the flap. She smiled at the squiggly writing on the otherwise perfect dessert:  Happee Birfday Hermione

Accio fork,” she called out. Instantly a fork appeared in her hand.  And she used it to take a bite, marveling at how, appearances aside, it really was a tasty cake.

“Well, this can't be a good sign…” came Harry’s voice just to the right of her.

She gazed up at him through hooded eyes, making an unintelligent sound like a “hmmph” as she shoved more cake into her mouth.

He took a seat beside her on the stairs, “Hermione Granger sitting here alone, eating cake, while her fiancé roams about the castle… very bad, indeed.”

He reached forward then, intent on taking the fork to get a bite for himself, but instead she whacked him… HARD… across his knuckles with the utensil.

“Blimey, ‘Mione! That hurt!” he exclaimed, snatching his hand back.

“Do you really think you deserve cake, Harry James Potter!?”

Harry cringed. “I take it you heard…”

She snorted her displeasure, choosing instead to simply keep eating her cake.

“It was nothing, really…. just a friendly duel between two mortal enemies…” he tried.

“Two sodding idiots, you mean,” she replied, giving Harry a look.

Harry sighed, leaning back to rest his elbows on the steps, “Alright, ‘Mione, what gives? You’ve been in a right foul mood all day. I know you’re not one for birthdays but you seem extra irritated about this one.” A realization dawned on him and he looked at her from the corner of his eye, “What’s Malfoy gone and done now?”

Hermione paused, the bite she was about to take hovering within an inch of her lips. She laid the fork down into the cake box and drew in a shaky breath. “Harry, how long have we known one another?” she asked.

“Since we were eleven… so, what, like 15 years or so…”

She let that knowledge ruminate for a moment before continuing, “And what is my favorite candy?”

Harry sighed heavily, “For the love of Godric… if I’d known there was going to be a quiz today…”

Hermione shot him a contemptuous look.

Harry shrugged, “I don't know, ‘Mione, those weird chocolate frogs?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Okay, now tell me Ginny’s favorite candy.”

“Well that’s easy… Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans… she just loves to give me the nasty ones.”

Hermione smiled sadly, “That’s what I thought.”

“You’re not sore at me for not knowing your favorite candy, are you?” he asked.

She shook her head, “No, Harry.”

Harry turned to look at her now, and upon seeing the tears threatening behind her eyes, he reached to hug her, “Oh please don’t cry, ‘Mione. If that git, Malfoy, has done something, just say the word… I’ll make it look like a bloody accident.”

“Please don’t. It’s not him…” she urged, “Well, yes, he pissed me off… but it’s Malfoy so that’s really no big surprise…. but I ….” she paused, searching for the right words, “I… I think I’m... falling for him…” As the words finally left her mouth, she cringed and covered her face with her hands to hide away.

Harry burst out laughing, startling her.

She punched him in his arm, “It’s not funny, Potter!”

He only laughed harder, even while rubbing at the sore spot on his arm.

She shoved him a little, “Stop laughing! It’s made me a jealous ninny and… and… it’s all your fault!”

“My fault?! What did I do ?”

“You convinced me to sign up for this sodding arranged marriage and now look at me?! I can’t even get through one day without thinking about him… He consumes my thoughts… my feelings… Ugh!”

“I’m sorry, ‘Mione, but isn’t this what you always wanted?” he offered.

Her head snapped around to meet his gaze, pure surprise alight in her eyes.

Harry gave her a knowing smile, “I’m not an idiot, you know? I’ve seen the way the two of you used to look at each other… especially in 5th and 6th year…” He sighed then, “Frankly it’s why I brought the marriage initiative to you, in the first place. I saw his name on the list of Purebloods and.. I don’t know…. I just think you deserve to be happy and if Malfoy is the man to do it… well, who am I to stand in the way. Besides, he’s changed… he’s different somehow.”

“I… I can’t believe you knew…” she swallowed.

He shrugged, “What? I may not know what your favorite candy is but I can recognize your wand.”

She gave him a questioning look now.

“Oh come on! You pinched his wand from me during the battle… and you didn’t think I would notice?”

She gave him a sheepish grin, “I honestly didn’t care at the time… I just wasn’t thinking…”

“Well, I noticed you returned it after the battle so I gathered something happened between you two…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she interrupted.

He nodded his understanding. That’s what she loved most about Harry… he didn’t pry.

That sat in silence for a few minutes.

Fiddling with a loose nail from the platform so she didn’t have to look at him, she spoke, her voice barely audible, “He warned me not to romanticize this…”

Harry looked at her, his brow furrowed, “What do you mean?”

This… .” she gestured wide, “...the marriage… everything… but then he goes and does something romantic and I just get confused…”

Harry smiled, “Welcome to a relationship, ‘Mione. Men are daft and women are incorrigible…”

She gave him another playful shove, but then she grew solemn. “I’ve never been in one, you know…. a relationship, I mean.”

“You never were one to date…”

She shook her head, “No, I guess not.”

He sighed then turned to fully look at her. “Just answer me this - Whatever he’s done… in the past or here and now… are they things you can forgive?” he asked.

“Yes…” she whispered.

“Then go and find him and tell him so.” He turned away and resumed leaning back on the stairs. “But leave the cake…”

She giggled. “It really is good cake.”

“The best,” Harry agreed.

Hermione picked up the leather jacket and held it in her lap. “Do you think he’s still here?”

“He didn’t come all this way just to lose to me in a duel…” Harry’s snark was on point today.

Hermione cocked a brow and gave him another look .

Harry held up his hands in defense, “Yes, ‘Mione, I think he’s still here.”

She sighed then stood, slipping her hurt foot into her heel once again. She ruffled Harry’s hair, “Thanks, Harry… for everything.” She started to walk away but stopped and said, “But you still can’t have my cake!”

They shared a smile before she hurried out. As soon as she was gone, Harry picked up the cake box and the forgotten fork, taking a delicious bite.

“Best cake ever…” he muttered.

******

Draco stood just outside Hagrid’s hut, arms crossed over his chest, watching the familiar hippogriff as it sharpened its beak on the stem of a gigantic pumpkin.

There was a gust of wind, rustling the leaves that had fallen. Buckbeak’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowing as he carefully studied the young man before him. He took a cautious step forward and Draco held his ground, showing no fear towards the beast.

Buckbeak took another step then another, closing the distance between the two of them. Draco dropped his protective stance, letting his arms fall naturally at his sides. Buckbeak lowered his head then nudged Draco’s hand, sliding his feathered crown under his palm. 

He rubbed him playfully, his fingers sliding through the slick feathers. “Hey old friend…” he murmured. Buckbeak responded by nudging him in his chest now then lowering his head again.

A sound of more rustling leaves from just behind Draco caused the hippogriff to suddenly rear back, scurrying further into the pumpkin patch.

“He doesn’t let just anyone get that close, you know,” Hermione voiced only a few feet from behind Draco.

He swallowed, slightly embarrassed that she caught him in such a vulnerable moment. He should have smelled her coming, that warm scent of roses and vanilla filling his nostrils now.

“Guess that’s something we have in common,” he replied, making the mistake of glancing at her over his shoulder. His throat tightened at the sight of her, as it always did, making it hard for him to form a cohesive thought. 

She moved to come stand on his right and he frowned as he saw her limping.

“Granger, your foot…” he started just as she thrust his leather jacket at him, saying in a rush, “You left this…”

He slowly took it from her, “I was going to go back for it…but McGonagall sort of banished me from the castle.”

She gave him a knowing look, “Seems you and Harry were up to your old tricks again.”

He smiled slightly, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes, “Something like that.”

She suddenly looked away, her arms crossing over her chest protectively.

He chose to study the leather of the jacket clutched in his fist. He weighed it in his hand and he knew his gift was still in the pocket, untouched. He marveled at that. Any Pureblood witch would have assuredly opened it then demanded to know when he was planning on giving it to her.

But not Hermione … he thought. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

He slipped the jacket on then met her gaze dead on, his Occulmency sliding into place. “Now about that foot, Granger.”

“Oh! It’s nothing…. I just tripped… sprained it, I think.”

He cocked a brow, “Rushing off to stop a duel, perhaps?”

She gave a low chuckle then swallowed, “Something like that…”

“Granger, whatever will I do with you?” He shook his head. Then in one quick movement, he swept her off her feet - literally - his right arm sliding beneath her knees and his left arm cradling her back, pulling her tight against his chest.

“Draco!” she shrieked.

Buckbeak let out a squawk.

“Quiet, Granger, or you’ll spook the bloody chicken.”

She clutched at his jacket now and her heart was racing, her breath dancing across his neck. It made his blood run hot and his groin tighten in response.

He quickly carried her over to the front of the hut, gently setting her down on the bench located there, a mix of relief and frustration filling him as he disentangled their limbs. 

He knelt before her, sliding her foot from the confines of her shoe, “Hermione Granger… always first to take care of others but completely disregards her own well-being…” He shook his head ruefully as he withdrew his wand from his pocket.

She just watched him with hooded eyes, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth in that oh so distracting way of hers. It made him want to fucking kiss her… to feel those teeth skimming over his bare flesh…

He stifled a groan, choosing to concentrate on her injury, softly cradling her bruised foot as he rested it on his thigh. “ Episkey ,” he murmured, the tip of his wand tracing over her small foot.

She released a shaky breath, then rotated her ankle, testing it.

“Better?” he questioned, his grey eyes finding hers. He let the tips of his fingers ghost over her skin.

“Much…” she breathed.

He swallowed and nodded. Then he abruptly shot to his feet, moving from her to go stand a few feet away. He leaned his right arm on a wooden support beam, gazing out across the rolling hills, his thumb tracing over his lips as he worked to get himself under control.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “For this… and for the sugar quills.”

That got his attention and he looked over at her, shrugging, “They’re your favorite.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “but why do you know that?”

He furrowed his brow in confusion. For fuck’s sake, what was he supposed to say? That he spent much of his youth staring at her mouth sucking on the spun sugar, all the while just wishing she’d wrap those gorgeous lips around his cock….

“I just do,” he answered and he turned away from her again.

Silence stretched around them. He tried not to look at her, instead he watched Buckbeak move about the pumpkin patch, catching bugs. She came to stand beside him and he tensed, straightening and folding his arms over his chest.

She said nothing and he wondered if she needed him to speak first.

He groaned and shoved his hand through his hair. “Look, Granger, I know I was rude on Sunday.” He side-eyed her, waiting for her reaction.

“You were a complete arse,” she replied solemnly.

His chest tightened, “I do have my reasons…”

She snorted. “Let me guess… because you are an arse?”

He smirked, “Fair enough.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket to keep himself from reaching for her.

“Thank you for returning my jacket,” he said, his knuckle gliding over the velvet covering of the present he had hidden.

“You’re welcome,” she whispered, glancing at him for only a moment.

He sighed then leaned in, silently praying she didn’t jerk away. When she didn’t move, he pressed his lips to her cheek in the lightest of touches. “Happy Birthday, Hermione.”

He stepped off the porch now. Though the day didn’t go as he had hoped, it wasn’t a total loss. She probably just needed time.

“I lied to you,” she called out to his retreating form.

Draco froze and half-turned to look at her. He furrowed his brow and gave her a questioning look.

She shrugged and wrung her hands before her, “I… uh… I don’t have any more classes… if...if you still want to spend some time with me.”

A smirk pulled at his lips as his stomach fluttered at her words. He took a step towards her. She stepped down from the porch but still lingered a few feet away. Her coyness, on any other woman he would find it rather annoying, but with her, it was simply endearing… which surprised him immensely.

He held out his hand towards her, “What do you say, Granger, wanna go for a ride?”

*****

Hermione clung desperately to Draco, her arms encircling his waist, her fingers locked together in front of his stomach. She could feel the hardness of his muscles as he flexed his abs every time he shifted gears on the motorcycle.

The wind whipped around them, throwing her wild curls behind her, and surrounding herself with his pure, manly scent. She couldn’t help herself… nuzzling her nose against the curve of this jaw, inhaling deep and reveling in the feel of having him so close and completely at her mercy. She flexed her fingers, fighting back the urge to slide them beneath the hem of his t-shirt. She relaxed and simply allowed herself to enjoy the ride.

The Scottish countryside flew by as he accelerated. She deepened her hold on him and if she was a betting girl, she’d wager he was doing it on purpose in an attempt to keep her close.

When he asked her to go for a ride, she figured he meant on a broom, which made her stomach flip-flop at just the thought. She didn’t like heights and he well knew it. But he surprised her when he wheeled out the Honda Shadow from Hagrid’s shed. It was black and silver… very sleek… with a hint of emerald green accents.

Very Slytherin

She laid her cheek against his shoulder, the soft leather of his jacket cool against her flushed skin. She closed her eyes and just felt

Felt the air stinging her face…

Felt the roar of the engine as it vibrated beneath them...

Felt the warmth of his body enveloping her…

Felt his heart as it beat frantically within his chest…

He was excited… she reckoned it was from the thrill of the ride…. because she felt it too. But she knew deep down, her excitement was tied more to this man, and not so much with the bike.

He started to slow and she opened her eyes. He had turned off the dirt path and was now driving over rougher terrain, the Scottish mountains surrounding them on all sides. He eased the bike closer to the side of a cliff before finally coming to a stop, turning off the engine.

Her ears rang as the loudness of the engine died away. With the toe of his boot, he nudged the kick stand down and hopped off before turning to face her and offered his hand in assistance.

She carefully climbed off the big machine, taking his hand… not because she needed it…. because she just wasn’t ready to end their physical contact yet.

He intertwined their fingers and led her to a small set of flat boulders for them to sit on. He released his hold on her then, shoving one hand into the pocket of his jacket while he thrust his other hand through his hair.

He was obviously nervous. 

She focused her attention on the view before her. It was simply beautiful… the Scottish highlands adorned with the beginning colors of the Fall season… the mountain ranges dwarfing the two of them. 

All the power in the world at their fingertips, and nature still had its way of making them seem so minuscule in comparison , she thought.

“So is this Draco Malfoy’s make out spot?” she teased.

“Is that what you think of me, Granger?” he questioned.

She met his gaze and her heart skipped a beat at the way his eyes softened as he looked at her.

“No, Draco,” she whispered with every ounce of sincerity.

He looked down at his black boots, the toe of one shoe drawing circles in the dirt. “I… uh… I used to come here during 6th year… a lot actually…” he started but then stopped.

She understood his reluctance… 6th year was probably not his favorite topic of choice. She remained silent, though, giving him the time to collect his words. If he was choosing to open up to her, she’d listen.

“Being forced to murder someone is a definite cause for reflection,” he finished, his tone surprisingly devoid of all emotion. He glanced over at her then, trying to gauge her reaction.

Slowly she took his right hand within her left, her fingers closing around the coldness of his skin before gently bringing his knuckles to her lips for a gentle kiss. “You never had a choice…”

He snorted in obvious disagreement. He pulled out of her grasp then, and with great reluctance she let him go. He turned to look at her now, and the heat she saw there in his gaze sent a shiver down her spine.

“Why is it when I look at you, all I can see is forgiveness,” he swallowed, “...you make me feel as if there isn’t anything I couldn’t do… just as long as you’re there beside me…” He turned away now, “I’ve never known such affection, Granger.”

Her heart broke as she gaped at him. “You’re a good man, Draco… I’m only sorry it took the Ministry’s interference for me to see it.”

She wanted to say more… to tell him the truth of their past and confess her sins but her tongue stopped cooperating. It felt like lead in her mouth, heavy and coppery. 

He sighed, his vision again cast down at the ground. “The other night… with Astoria…” he began.

“You… you don’t have to tell me…” she interrupted.

He met her gaze. “I want to,” he assured her.

She took a deep breath and tried so hard to steel her nerves but her heart was beating atrociously fast… surely even he could hear it.

“When we were young, our parents came to an agreement that we would eventually marry when we came of age...Fuck, I didn’t even know her…” Again, he stopped.

She waited, watching as his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed nervously.

“When the War happened and it was almost certain Voldemort was going to rise to power, marrying some random Pureblood witch was the furthest thing from my mind…” He looked at Hermione, “So you can imagine my surprise when, after my acquittal, my mother and I were informed by the Greengrasses they wanted to enforce the archaic contract my father had signed on my behalf. They flat out demanded that I hold up my end of the bargain or risk a stint in Azkaban.”

Hermione was stunned. While Pureblood traditions were a foreign concept to her, throwing someone in Azkaban over a change of heart seemed rather extreme, especially when he, himself, never even signed the contract to begin with.

He looked off in the distance, “The war had depleted quite a bit of their wealth, you see.”

She watched him nervously toy with the ancestral ring on his right hand now, a symbol of the duty he held for the Malfoy name.

He shrugged, “I tried to go along with it, for the sake of my mother, really. Seeing her son thrown into prison to further pay for the sins of his father, she didn’t need that…. but I was so tired of everyone telling me what I can and can’t do… I wanted my life back and the freedom to make my own choices.... whether they were right or wrong, at least it would be my own consequences I had to deal with.”

“So you fought for your freedom…” she replied.

He nodded. “It wasn’t pretty and people were hurt…” he whispered.

“People like Astoria?”

“Yes.”

Hermione swallowed. She wasn’t sure what to make of this conversation. Her potential happiness meant someone else’s chance was seemingly destroyed. It made her slightly queasy.

“I don’t love her, Granger, and I don’t think she loves me. She just didn’t understand why I fought so hard to be free of one marriage contract only to tie myself to another…”

Yes, Hermione, too, was puzzled by the action. “Marrying a Pureblood wouldn’t do you and the Malfoy name any good. It would look like you were still stuck in the old ways… just like your father before the war.”

Draco sadly smiled as he studied her carefully, “You really are the brightest witch of our age, Granger.”

Hermione looked down at her hands folded in her lap now. “You could have told me all this, you know.”

Draco sighed heavily. “I’m not good with the truth, Granger.”

She barked a laugh, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

He chuckled but then grew serious. He shifted then, surprising her by falling to his knees before her, caring naught for the dust and dirt caking his jeans. He took her fidgeting hands within his, letting the pads of his thumbs drift over the tender skin of her wrists. If he only knew how such a simple caress stoked the flames of desire deep within her abdomen. Her breath caught in her throat.

“I’ve done many terrible things in my life, and you, of all people, have seen me at my worst...” he whispered, the fingers of his right hand sliding slowly over her left forearm, an unspoken reminder of the Mudblood scar she kept well hidden. “I didn’t want to give you yet another reminder of the selfish prat you’ve come to see me as…”

Oh boy . Hermione had to swallow back the sudden tears that were threatening to emerge in that moment. 

“D-Draco…” she stammered. Confess , her mind screamed, for he was the least selfish person out of the two of them at that moment .

“Hermione, if I made you feel like you're not the most important person in my life now, I am truly sorry.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the velvet box, carefully laying it in her lap. “Happy Birthday, Granger.”

She sat there, stunned and bewildered at what was happening. This was not the same boy who teased her relentlessly about her teeth and her hair… Draco Malfoy had turned into a man so repentant of his mistakes and so eager to move beyond the past, that it positively frightened her to her core.

She slowly opened the box, unfolding the velvet wrappings with careful precision. There in the center lay a very familiar object… a beautiful golden snitch. It immediately sprang to life, its wings fluttering as it hovered there between them.

“It’s the first snitch I ever caught at Hogwarts,” he said, a hint of a whimsical tone in his voice. “I remember thinking at the time that I had caught the greatest prize of my life and never would I ever experience such a feeling again…” He swallowed, his eyes leaving the snitch to lock with hers. “And then I opened my letter from The Ministry and I saw your name…”

Hermione released the breath she hadn’t been aware she’d been holding. He was blushing now… Draco Malfoy was blushing and it was all for her.

“They have…” he started.

“Flesh memories,” they both finished in unison.

He smiled at her… a genuine and pure grin. Then he swallowed, “I’m terrified I’m going to fuck this up, Hermione…” He reached out his hand and the snitch settled into his palm. He closed his fist around it for a brief moment. 

“Perhaps we can be terrified together?” He opened his hand then and Hermione watched as the snitch whirred and buzzed before the gold covering slipped back to reveal the most stunning ring inside.

Encased in white gold lay a large emerald-cut diamond at the center surrounded with a halo of sapphire stones.

He carefully withdrew the precious ring from the snitch and it closed and flew back into the safety of his pocket. He held it up before her, “It’s the Malfoy diamond… My father gave it to Greengrass as collateral. Astoria finally returned it to me on Sunday…” He swallowed, “I wasn’t sure she would, given how I threw her over, so I was rather surprised when she showed up unexpectedly.”

He cleared his throat, “I spent all of yesterday at the jewelers, having it sized and set for you. I thought you might like the sapphires, your birthstone, as they are a symbol of loyalty and trust… and believed to protect from harm those you uh… care for the most...” Again he swallowed, “A perfect representation of what I’d like to build the foundation of our marriage...If you’ll have me, that is.”

He stopped talking now, taking her left hand in his, the ring hovering over that finger as he waited for her to say something. She just stared blankly at the piece of jewelry, her breathing suddenly picking up in pace. 

She closed her eyes and tried to stop her overactive brain from ruining this moment. He was here… the time was now… and she strongly wanted to believe they would survive whatever the future wrought, as long as they were together.

“Yes, Draco.”

He smirked, pressing the ring onto her finger, the band magically resizing itself to be a perfect fit. “Fuck, Granger, you had me worried there for a minute,” he replied.

She giggled, “You surprised me, is all…”

His hand cupped her cheek and his smile faded as his thumb traced over her bottom lip. “Get used to it,” he replied.

He leaned in and kissed her. It was a gentle sweep of his mouth for all of two seconds before he deepened it with urgency. It was primal, how he took control, almost as if he needed to devour her or perhaps swallow her whole.

She pulled back, trying to catch her breath, but his hand tangled in her curls, holding her still as he nipped at her lips with teeth and tongue. Her hand covered his and she was surprised to feel how hot his skin was, almost as if he was holding fire with that one touch.

“Draco…” she murmured. And his lips met hers again, his tongue driving into her mouth with wild abandonment, swallowing any of the pleas she might have made.

He had lit the match and now the flames would slowly consume them until there was nothing left but the ash of their past sins. And Hermione Granger no longer gave a damn about being careful.

He finally broke the kiss, his forehead resting against hers. “I suppose I should be getting you back…”

She silently moaned as she knew it was getting late. She could see the sun cresting over the mountain tops even now, casting the sky in hues of pink and purple.

She nodded once and he immediately pulled away from her, pushing to his feet with ease. She followed suit and they walked back to the motorcycle in silence.

He hopped on the bike and started it, the engine almost deafening. He waited for her to join him but something stopped her. She approached him, her hands covering his cheeks and she bent down to kiss him long and thoroughly until he groaned with pleasure. 

“Come with me tonight,” she breathed across his lips.

He smirked, “Is that an order, Granger?”

“Maybe,” she teased.

He released a shaky breath then, “Fuck, woman, you will be the death of me.” But then he nodded, “As you wish, birthday girl.”

She climbed onto the back of the bike and wrapped her arms around him. She buried her face into his neck, relieved he couldn’t see the cheesy grin she just knew was all over her face.

*******




























Chapter Text

Draco stepped out of the Floo, giving his charcoal grey suit jacket and slacks a quick dusting off. He unbuttoned the jacket and shrugged out of it, carefully laying it over the back of Granger’s wingback chair. He smoothed his hand down his light grey Oxford shirt, giving himself a quick once-over to make sure he looked his usual impeccable self.

“Malfoy?” he heard Granger’s tentative voice call out.

He cocked a brow, “You were expecting someone else?”

He heard her snort. “I’m not ready yet so make yourself comfortable. There’s hot water in the kettle if you want tea…”

“Got anything stronger, perhaps?” he asked, his gaze flitting around the tiny Flat. It was small but had a cozy feel to it. Much like the witch occupying it…

“Umm… you might find some firewhiskey under the sink in the kitchen.” Her voice was loud but muffled, followed by a creaking door and bare feet shuffling across the hardwood floor before another door creaked closed.

He followed the sound, walking down the narrow hall of her Flat, finding only three doors to choose from: a small one at the opposite end was obviously just a closet, while the other two, diagonal from one another, had to be her bathroom and her bedroom.

The bathroom door was partially open but the light was off. He could smell the faint hint of roses and vanilla in the muggy air, and he deduced she was fresh from a shower. 

His gaze fell on the bedroom door now. It was cracked open just enough for him to see a stream of light and hear her shuffling about. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and softly pushed open her door, careful not to make a sound.

He licked his lips at the sight that greeted him. Wearing only a fluffy pink towel wrapped around her curvaceous body, she was standing in front of her small bed, two outfit choices laid out in front of her. She had her left hand extended, admiring her new engagement ring in the fading sunlight which streamed in from her window. 

It made his heart seize in his chest - the way she stared at the diamond and sapphires, the softest, most whimsical smile tugging on her lips. And before he knew what he was about, he had drifted to her side, his arms encircling her waist and pulling her flush against him.

She gasped and tensed within his embrace, clearly indicating he had taken her by surprise. But he nuzzled his nose against the side of her neck and she sighed breathlessly and melted back against him.

He growled low in his throat when he felt her acquiescence. His grip on her waist tightened possessively and his warm breath danced into her ear. Salazar , he silently cursed, she smelled like Amortentia personified . He could drown in her scent… and die a happy man.

She made a sound, something incoherent but so fucking animalistic, it heated his blood and hardened his groin almost instantly. Emboldened, he pressed his erection against her buttocks now, making his desire for her known. 

She shifted against him, intentionally or not, he couldn’t be sure, and it was his turn to moan, a gasp escaping unwarranted from his lips as he fruitlessly pressed his mouth against the bare flesh of her neck. 

She was still slightly damp from her shower, droplets of water clinging to her naked skin. He couldn’t help himself then, the flat of his tongue gliding over her softness, trailing to just behind her earlobe, before he released a shuddering breath that gave her goosebumps and had her writhing against him.

“Fuck me,” he muttered as he dug his fingertips into her hips to stall her movements.

“I’m trying ,” she begged, and she ground herself against his member while urging his hand to sink lower towards the apex of her thighs, seeking the friction both of their bodies were obviously craving.

Draco sputtered a response. He had two choices before him now: rip that fucking towel from her body and fuck her hard against the wall or step away and allow her to dress so they weren’t late to meet her friends.

Decisions… decisions…

He reached his hand up and took her chin within his fingers and guided her to turn and look at him. He laid a sweet and tender kiss to her lips, his tongue slowly entering her mouth in a sweeping motion, thoroughly stealing her breath until she had no choice but to break the kiss just to breathe.

Her honey colored eyes searched his for a moment, her pupils blown wide with heat and lust. She let her left hand caress the light stubble that still dusted his cheek. He had been in too much of a hurry to return to her side after he Floo’d home to change, he didn’t even think to shave.

She turned in his embrace now, bringing her front against him. She let her fingertips ghost over his mouth and she bit her lip in contemplation, her other hand toying with the knot of her towel.

He could practically hear the wheels spinning in her brain, trying to make up her mind if she wanted to stay there in that moment with him or move forward with her birthday plans.

He’d never make her choose between him or her friends, this much he had sworn to himself.

He laid a soft kiss against each tip of her fingers then pulled back, stepping away from her, careful not to let her think he was rejecting her.

He cleared his throat, his hand moving to his neck habitually to adjust his tie. Another thing he had forgone in his haste… no tie tonight, his top two buttons left undone just the way she seemed to like it.

She crossed her arms over her chest, holding the towel firmly in place. He shoved his hand through his hair, his gaze shifting to the floor, then glancing around her sparse room before landing on her once again.

“I’ll go… wait… in the other room…” he stammered.

She swallowed and nodded.

“Right,” he murmured and lunged for the door. Firewhiskey was definitely a sound option now, to cool the boil in his blood.

But he stopped just short of stepping out into the hall. He glanced over his shoulder at her, “Go with the grey dress… it shows more leg.” He released a deep sigh as he openly appraised her, “Fuck, I do like your legs, Granger.”

She gave him a knowing smirk, “Alright, Malfoy.”

He smiled then gave her a quick wink before he left her bedroom.

It was half past the hour when she finally emerged from her bedroom, looking every inch the breathtaking goddess he had spent countless nights imagining. 

Dressed in that tight grey dress that fell short around her mid thigh and strappy grey stilettos, she had left her curly mane free but it looked so soft and silky, falling in ringlets around her shoulders. 

Draco clenched his hand around the tumbler of firewhiskey he held to keep himself from reaching for her, gave her a tight smile then returned to perusing one of her many bookshelves. He plucked one random book off the shelf and studied it closely… anything to keep his attention focused elsewhere.

“I see you found the liquor,” she laughed.

He took a sip and mumbled a “hmmm”, his attention completely focused on the tome in his other hand.

And that’s when he felt it, something warm sliding against the bottom of his leg. He looked down to see a rather large and very old orange cat steadily brushing against his trousers, weaving its form between his feet.

Hermione hurried to his side, scooping the beast of a feline into her arms. “S-Sorry… he’s usually not this friendly with strangers…”

“You still have your cat,” he surmised with a trace of humor.

Draco felt an odd twinge of jealousy as he watched Hermione nuzzle her plump, orange companion. Surprisingly, the old guy let her without a single protest. 

She swallowed nervously, “I hope that’s okay. We’re sort of a packaged deal.”

Draco gave her an incredulous look, cocking an eyebrow, “Why wouldn’t it be okay?”

“Oh, well... I don’t know. I’ve never really seen you with a pet and...um, well Ron hated him so...” she stammered.

Draco rolled his eyes, “Yes, because Weasley and I have so much in common...” he replied dryly.

“N-no... I didn’t mean to imply....”

“It’s only a cat, Granger,” he interrupted. “I mean, I’m more of a dog person myself, but how much trouble can one cat truly be? Besides, the Manor is large and I’m sure he’ll find plenty of mice to keep him entertained.” Draco shrugged.

Hermione chewed on her lower lip, “What about your mother? I mean, there would be cat hair and...and...”

Draco was puzzled, “And?” But then he sighed, “Granger, you could show up with a second husband and five children, and Narcissa Malfoy would welcome you with open arms, so desperate for company she is these days.” He gave her a small smile, “To her, you’re perfect.”

She swallowed, “And you?”

His smile shifted into his patented smirk and he studied her for a moment, before he shook his empty glass, “How about a refill?”

“Perhaps some tea instead?” she tried, putting Crookshanks down.

“Spoil sport,” he lightly teased and it earned him one of those soft smiles that he hated to admit, made his heart stutter in his chest. He quickly turned away, focusing again on her book collection but all too aware of her every movement.

She walked into the kitchen and started preparing the kettle, one eye keeping vigilance on Draco. He continued to peruse her bookshelf, his hand absently straying to pet Crookshanks every time the cat nudged him, which was surprisingly often.

He saw the neatly stacked books Flinty had brought her Sunday night, there, on her small desk beside the bookshelf. A notepad full of handwritten notes lay beside them with several post-its highlighting specific passages.

“Someone’s been busy,” he chuckled. He glanced over at her and she was turning a shade of red, blushing hard.

She shrugged as she reached for two mugs, placing a tea bag in each. “Trouble sleeping…” She avoided meeting his gaze, concentrating on the task before her.

He turned away, remorse making his stomach tighten. He hadn’t meant to upset her Sunday night and he secretly hoped her sleep deprivation had less to do with him than typical Granger-induced stress.

Don’t be an arse, Draco, he chided himself. For once in your life, try not to fuck this up.

His fingers toyed with the pages of the notepad, his brain whirling with self-flagellation as he reminded himself again to go slow. He could’ve slammed her against a wall and fucked her in her room earlier, she was more than willing, but the fact that he stopped himself… well, if that wasn’t personal growth, he damn sure didn’t know what was.

But now they were back to that stiff awkwardness and he found himself silently wishing he had thought to drink a small sip of his Felix Felicis when he had briefly gone back to the Manor.

His fingers ghosted over the lid of a shoebox there on her desk, his movements perfunctory and absent-minded as he tried to come up with a solution to their sudden problem. But when her small hand slammed down on the lid as he moved to lift it, startling him from his reverie, he found himself face-to-face with a very nervous witch.

She slid the box away from him, clutching it to her bosom. “N-not that…” she whispered and turned away from him.

But he grabbed her wrist and whirled her to face him. He cocked an eyebrow, “Well now I have to see it.”

“Please don’t,” she pleaded.

He furrowed his brow, and a sinking feeling deep in his gut started to gnaw at his insides. “Secrets, Granger?”

She was worrying her bottom lip again, staring down at the box in her grasp. And then her gaze fell on the ring on her left hand. She offered him back the box with a shaky sigh of resignation, “Just don’t be mean, Malfoy.”

It was like being punched in the face all over again. For fuck’s sake, what was it going to take for her to see he was a changed man?!

But one look at her face settled his anger. For the first time since they met back in First Year, Hermione Granger looked afraid. And it wasn’t the type of fear someone might feel if, say, they were faced with the return of The Dark Lord…. No, the fear written all over her face in that precise moment was the type when you’re afraid someone you cared for might think less of you.

And Draco Malfoy knew that particular fear all too well.

He tried to meet her eyes but she refused to look at him, a blush staining her cheeks once again. She hurried back into the small kitchen, busying herself with making the tea. But her hands were noticeably shaking.

He stared down at the box in his hands. A greater man would have set it aside and sauntered over to his witch and snogged her senseless until they were both clawing at one another’s clothing, the box forgotten.

He swallowed. But Draco Malfoy was a selfish git. And he wanted all of Hermione Granger, deep dark secrets and the like.

He pulled off the lid and paused to release the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding.

There, staring back at him, were several clippings from The Prophet, his own image moving within the captured moments. He sifted through them - the oldest going back as far as when his father had been sent to Azkaban right after Fifth Year. 

There was green and silver curling ribbon tucked into a corner of the box and he pulled it out for closer inspection. He looked up to see Granger staring at him, nervously chewing on the end of her thumb. He raised an eyebrow in question.

“It’s... uh… from your big semi-final Quidditch win in Fourth Year…” she whispered. “I collected it from the field after everyone left.”

He didn’t know what to say. He carefully picked through the box, cringing at The Prophet’s over abundance for reporting on every possible date he had over the last eight years. He pushed them aside and found a folded piece of parchment beneath the stack.

“Oh god,” Hermione gasped. She buried her head in her hands, suddenly too mortified to watch.

He unfolded it and had to suppress his smile. It was a stray bit of his Arithmancy work from Fifth Year… in which he had busied himself by drawing constellations along the edge in his boredom. Only Hermione Granger would get off from his scrap piece of schoolwork...

He refolded the page and laid it back in the box, along with the ribbon. He calmly set it down on the desk and closed the lid. He slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers and cleared his throat. Only then did he chance another glance in her direction.

Hermione had turned away now, leaning back against the breakfast bar. He just stood there watching her, silence dragging seconds into minutes.

Finally, she spoke, but refused to face him, “Say something.”

He smirked, “Seems you have a bit of an obsession with me, Granger.”

She snorted, pushing herself off the counter. “I hate you…” she muttered.

His smirk grew broader, “Hate me… love me… still an obsession.”

She groaned, moving to stir the steaming tea in one of the cups. There was no mistaking the shaking of her hands as the spoon rattled against the ceramic.

He closed the distance between them now, sliding his hands around her waist to interlock their fingers while bringing his front flush against her back. He tried to ignore the fact that she fit so perfectly within his embrace, every delicious curve melding against the hardness of his form.

“How long?” he whispered against her skin as he feathered tiny kisses along the line of her jaw.

“Fourth year… the Yule Ball…” she answered honestly, then he felt her tense beneath him at the truth she just let slip.

“You looked fucking gorgeous that night,” he agreed, his chin resting on her shoulder. He swallowed, “I…uh.. I wanted to be your date...but I knew I never stood a chance. So I urged Krum to ask you…”

She turned in his embrace and gave him a startled look. He returned it with a shy smile, “Anything to keep you away from the Weasel and Potter…”

An inescapable sadness filled her eyes then and she opened her mouth to say something but he stopped her with the press of one finger against her lips.

“I’ve got you beat, Granger,” he removed his finger and drifted his lips over hers, catching the shaky breath she gasped. “You’ve been the Star of my wank fantasies since Third Year… right after you punched me in my face.” He moved his mouth to suck a bruising kiss against the tender skin between her shoulder and neck. 

She whimpered in response, fueling the fire already rebuilding itself throughout his body. She even tilted her head to the side to give him greater access. “You were being such a git...” she huffed, her voice a strained whisper.

Fuck… every fiber of his being screamed in conjunction for him to flip her around, press her down onto the counter, hike up her skirt and take what she was unknowingly offering. He ran his tongue to the hollow of her throat, purring, “Mmmm... but you liked it...” 

“What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment.” She shrugged, her hands clenching tightly to his shoulders. Her eyes drifted closed and her head lolled back. A beautiful moan of pleasure escaped her lips then.

“I’m almost certain all I heard was ‘Draco, please punish me ’...” he growled, his hands moving to splay along her spine, his deft fingers finding the zipper to her dress rather easily.

She gave him a playful smack, “Of course that’s what you heard…” She almost giggled but it turned into a sharp intake of breath as his teeth skimmed over her collarbone. 

“Tell me to stop, Granger,” he practically begged, one hand pulling at the zipper now while his other drifted to squeeze her backside.

“S-stop Granger…” she murmured, and her lips found his neck, the tip of her tongue tracing a wet path to his earlobe, which she then sucked between her teeth, nipping him.

He jerked against her. Bloody fucking hell.  

Draco lifted his head and his mouth descended on hers, his kiss one of pure desperation. And she met him eagerly. Their hands were everywhere now, caressing… teasing… wrinkling the finely pressed material of their clothes, making them both look completely disheveled. And yet neither of them seemed to care.

It wasn’t until he had her pinned against the counter, his leg forcing her thighs apart, that she weakly stammered, “D-Draco… s-stop…”

She was clutching fiercely at his shoulders, her nails practically digging into his flesh. He immediately pulled back, but didn’t step away. He rested his forehead against her chest, his fingers clenching the cheap material of the countertop with such ferocity, he could feel it crack under the pressure.

“Draco…” she started.

“I just need a minute, Granger,” he interrupted, his voice low and harsh.

She swallowed, her hand straying to caress his hair, her fingers trailing through his platinum locks in a quiet, almost loving manner. “I want you…” she whispered.

He shifted, looking up into her soft, brown gaze. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited to hear you say that?”

She gave him a sad smile, “Since Third Year, perhaps?”

His entire body tensed beneath her touch, “It sounds pathetic when I hear it out loud.” He again buried his face into her shoulder.

She shook her head, “I kept your homework for the last eleven years, Draco… no one is more pathetic than me.”

He smiled in spite of himself, “Fair enough…”

“Hey!” Again she playfully smacked him.

He looked up, a new fire burning in his gaze. “Pathetic together then?”

She returned his smile with one of equal measure, “Together…” Then she leaned forward and grazed his mouth with her lips. It took mere seconds before they were snogging each other hurriedly once again, their hands pawing needingly at their clothing.

His hand gripped the back of her neck and he pulled free of her, his forehead resting against hers. “Granger…” he warned.

“I know… I know…” But even as she panted the words, her lips sought his, her tongue dancing into the warmth of his mouth.

It was her turn to pull back slightly this time, “We should stop…” Her words came as more of a plea than a statement.

“Mmmm…” he mumbled, peppering her cleavage with bruising kisses. They achieved his desired effect as she groaned, arching her back to give him even more access.

“Draco… Draco… Draco…” His name fell from her lips in prayer. “I-if we don’t show up at The Three Broomsticks, Harry will come looking for me.”

Draco chuckled low, “Your friends are entirely too involved in your personal life.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she laughed.

His eyes immediately fell to her lips and he leaned in, giving her one last lingering, breathtaking kiss that he dragged out until she was mewling inside his mouth.

He broke away then, trying to step back but she wouldn’t release him. 

“Revisit this later?” she asked, the urgency in her eyes giving him pause.

“I’m not going anywhere, Granger,” he replied, giving her a chaste peck on the tip of her nose. This time, when he pulled away, she let him go.

He reluctantly left her in the kitchen, moving into the sitting area where he quickly found his suit jacket and slid it on, buttoning it at the waist. He was aware she watched his every move.

“Shall we?” he asked, gesturing towards her front door.

She shook her head, collecting herself. “Just let me fetch my purse,” she swallowed.

He gave a curt nod and watched as she hurried back to her bedroom. Once out of ear shot, he took a slow, deep breath… his nerves getting the best of him in the moment. 

She was back in a flash and he prided himself on being carefully put back in control, his features schooled behind his impassive mask. But it took him a moment to realize she was talking.

“Were you able to owl Pansy,” she was saying, his brain working hard to catch up in the conversation.

He slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers as he moved to follow her out of the Flat. “Yes. She said she will meet us there… though why you felt the need to invite her is beyond me.”

Hermione stopped and looked at Draco with confusion, “She’s your friend…”

He cocked a brow, “And?” He smirked, “Don’t tell me you invited her so I’ll be more comfortable, Granger… Because it’s a bold lie… especially for you.”

“Okay, fine,” she huffed. “I promised her I’d introduce her to Neville.”

Draco’s smile widened.

“You don’t look surprised,” she replied with a quizzical stare.

He shrugged, “She’s always been inclined towards hapless creatures… they don’t get more hapless than Longbottom.”

Hermione scoffed, “Neville is a great guy, Malfoy. Pansy would be lucky to have him.”

Draco pretended to be offended, throwing his hands up in mock defense, “Easy there, Granger… I happen to like Longbottom.” He placed his warm hand on the small of her back, leading her down the staircase. “Unless, of course, this is where you tell me the two of you once shagged... then the wanker better have his last will and testament written…”

She gave him a mischievous grin, “What? Is Draco Malfoy suddenly the jealous one in this relationship?”

They stepped off the last step and out into the open street of Hogsmeade. Draco glanced around, noting the few stray people walking down the cobblestone path, hurrying off to their destinations. The sun had set and there was a noticeable chill in the air.

He intertwined his fingers with Hermione’s, and quickly yanked her into the shadows beneath the staircase.

She softly yelped as he pressed her back into the brick facade of her apartment building. He pushed his hard body into hers now, one of his hands tangling into her curls. “You’re my witch, Granger,” came his deadly whisper, his teeth nipping at her lips.

She released a shuddering breath, squirming as she rotated her hips against his. She gave him a wicked smile as she watched him close his eyes in a failed attempt to remain in control.

Hermione closed the small distance between them, her mouth capturing his in a fierce stamp of ownership. “And you’re my wizard..”

He couldn’t help but laugh. Fuck, she was definitely on fire tonight … and so possessive . It did something strange to his insides just then… hearing those words tumble from her mouth.

He leaned in close, the pad of his thumb pulling ever so slightly at the corner of her lips. “What I would give to fuck this pretty little mouth of yours…” he growled low and deep in his chest.

She made a small whimpering noise that hardened his cock almost instantaneously. Then she surprised him by drawing his thumb into the warmth of her mouth, sucking tenderly at the tip before skimming the flesh with her teeth.

Sodding hell… fuck… fuck… fuck…. His mind prattled off a thousand expletives as his hips pressed unforgiving into her own. And she responded in kind, with one of her luscious legs wrapping around his calf, urging him closer.

The grip he had on her curls tightened as he raised an eyebrow, “Hermione Granger has a bit of a naughty side. Trying to make me uncomfortable before we go have dinner with your friends?” He chuckled low, his thumb thrusting between her lips.

“You started it,” she panted, giving the underside of his finger a very wet lick.

“I did, didn’t I?” he whispered, then quickly withdrew his finger and replaced it with his tongue, kissing her good and hard now.

He swallowed every moan… every passionate sound he drew from her breath until her entire body was clinging to him in wanton desperation.

“You’re killing me, Granger…” rushed out from his lips, the words hot against her cheek. “But it shall be a good death… a happy death…” he finished in her ear.

Hermione whimpered in response.

With a final kiss to her lips, Draco stepped away from her, casually draping his left arm over her shoulders and they slowly walked together towards the restaurant, their eyes only for each other as they made small talk and teased each other playfully.

And suddenly they were there at The Three Broomsticks, the faint glow of light streaming from the large windows in front of the restaurant. It was packed tonight… more than likely brimming with Gryffindors. She immediately interlocked their fingers and started for the door but he didn’t budge.

She turned and gave him a look of confusion, “Draco?”

He swallowed and tightened his hold on her hand as his face hardened, “Aren’t you going to read me The Riot Act and tell me to be nice?” 

She stepped into him, her free hand lightly caressing his cheek, “Just be yourself, Draco. That’s all I ask…”

The way she was looking at him in that moment, he almost believed her.

He brought their conjoined hands to his lips and laid a tender kiss on the back of her palm. Then he gestured them forward, “Into the lion’s den…”

She took a deep breath, “Famous last words.” 

He pulled open the door and waited like any other gentlemanly wizard would do. But she was having none of it. She squeezed his left hand in reassurance before laying her other hand on his wrist, drawing him close to her side… a distinctive show of loyalty and unity. 

They entered the restaurant side-by-side… together .

 

******