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Youth in Retrospect

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Ribbed for Her Pleasure

 

She’s buying a box of condoms when she meets him.

“Those are shit, you know,” he says, jerking his chin at the pale purple box in her hand. “Can’t feel anything.”

She stares at him for a moment too long. The bell above the door jingles merrily as a rowdy group of schoolboys enters the store.

“Excuse you,” she replies, cheeks turning pink.

He arches his neck to huff at the remainder of the queue; a middle-aged woman is arguing with the girl behind the register and holding up her credit card with a rather venomous expression.

“Just being honest,” he replies, shrugging.

She purses her lips. “I didn’t ask for your opinion, honest or not.”

He snorts. “Yeah, you obviously didn’t ask for your boyfriend’s opinion, either.”

She grits her teeth. “Stop talking to me.”

He rolls his eyes and continues to wait. Several minutes pass in uncomfortable silence. She squints at the counter again—the middle-aged woman is still arguing with the cashier, and a receipt is now being brandished with particularly virulent enthusiasm.

“This is ridiculous,” he mutters to himself, tapping at the screen of his silver-backed iPhone. Hermione pointedly inspects a cutout cardboard display of Black Cherry Pina Colada flavored chewing gum. She frowns. Who would even want that? “I fucking told Lestrange not to be late—Christ, do none of these people have anything better to do?”

She glances at the contents of his shopping basket; a single container of strawberry Greek yogurt, two rolls of bright blue painter’s tape, a travel pack of medium-flow tampons, and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate baking chips.

“Because it’s their fault that the shop is understaffed,” she drawls, peevishly. “And who are the tampons for? You? Or your girlfriend?”

He scowls. “That wasn’t clever. At all.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be.”

“Well—good. Because it wasn’t.”

“Mm, yes, you’ve mentioned that already.”

“Thought you didn’t want me talking to you?”

“I don’t. I just want to know if there’s a girlfriend I should send my condolences to.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Hardly. But anyone stuck dating you for any length of time deserves at least a greeting card, don’t you think?”

He sneers, not bothering to respond. Hermione checks her watch; the argument at the register has escalated into a screaming match, and the cashier’s hand is twitching furiously as it hovers over a panic button.

“No girlfriend,” he finally says, tone caustic. “Tampons are multifunctional—they’re good for bloody noses as long as nothing’s broken.”

Her mouth falls open. “Get a lot of bloody noses, then?” she manages.

“No,” he replies, sounding amused. “I own a boxing gym. We host a lot of, ah, competitions. It can get…messy.”

She blinks, reflexively squeezing her box of condoms. She notices his appearance for the first time, gaze skimming over an obscenely tight white t-shirt and long, loose-fitting black gym shorts; he has a tattoo on the inside of his left forearm, but she can’t make out what it is. His jaw is scruffy, unshaven, and his skin is perfect. She sees a clunky flash of silver studding his tongue as he licks his lips, watching her with an arrogant arch of his brow. He’s tall, lithe, graceful—he doesn’t really look like an athlete, but she thinks there’s something intimidating about him, regardless.

“Messy,” she repeats, voice faint. “Right. Um. That’s—”

She’s interrupted by the shrill, piercing shriek of the store’s fire alarm. The cashier is now wielding a small canister of pepper spray and shouting unintelligibly, while the middle-aged woman has knocked over a countertop display of Five Hour Energy bottles in her haste to depart unscathed.

“Yeah, that’s it, I’m done. Lestrange can get his own bloody yogurt,” he hisses, kicking his basket to the side of the aisle and maneuvering around the queue to get to the exit. He pauses next to Hermione and snatches the condoms out of her hand. “Seriously, don’t buy these. They’re like sandpaper. Your boyfriend definitely hates them—he’s just too spineless to tell you.”

He’s gone before she can inform him that she does not, in fact, actually have a boyfriend.

 


 

Extended XL with Climax Control Lubricant

 

She reasons that her date with Evan Rosier hasn’t been a total disaster—he’d managed to stop staring down the front of her dress long enough to pay for dinner, at least. The last football player Harry had set her up with hadn’t even been able to properly pronounce her first name.

She grimaces at the memory.

Fucking Viktor.

“Fancy a drink?” Evan asks when they’re standing outside the restaurant.

She’s shuffling her feet and chewing on her bottom lip, trying in vain to phrase a polite rejection of his advances—she partially hopes that her admittedly odd behavior might just do the job for her, really. But he is apparently impervious to her unique brand of awkwardness, because his pretty blue eyes are glinting with wicked, wicked promise in the dim yellow streetlight and his enormously broad shoulders are slouching with an easy sort of confidence, as if he’s completely certain that she won’t say no to him, and all she can suddenly remember is that she gulped down three glasses of Chardonnay before their entrees arrived and her brain now feels curiously fuzzy.

“I have an early lecture tomorrow,” she hedges, half-heartedly.

He loops a well-muscled arm around her waist, leading her up the street and around the corner. She trips over her high heels twice—he chuckles at her clumsiness and hauls her body in closer to his. She considers pulling away, but she’s rather cold, and he’s rather warm, so she just…doesn’t.

“Oh, come on, Hermione,” he cajoles, stopping in front of a tall green door; there isn’t a visible sign—or a window, for that matter—and the paint is peeling. A crudely drawn skull has been painted above the dented brass doorknob. It looks familiar. “Just one drink, yeah? It’ll be fun.”

She hesitates. Harry did often say that she needed to loosen up a bit—and this was all his idea, anyway, wasn’t it?“ Well…”

Evan winks, dragging his hands down to her hips. “One drink,” he says in what he likely believes is a deep, seductive purr.

She smiles weakly and nods. It isn’t as if she has to go home with him. “One drink,” she agrees, following him inside.

The interior of the pub is as dark and dingy as she feared it would be—the walls are ancient, exposed red brick, mortar chipping and edges crumbling, and the high-perched bar stools are all rickety, knotted hardwood, long legs bolted to the floor. A few young men are clustered around a black-and-white dartboard in the back, while an old Journey song warbles through the tinny, outdated speakers. The bar is sticky with spilled alcohol, and three half-empty bottles of whiskey are resting on the corner closest to the dartboard. She doesn’t immediately see a bartender.

“This is the Chamber,” Evan says, guiding her further into the narrow room. “It’s not really open to the public—a, ah, friend of mine owns the place—he doesn’t usually show up till late, though. Come on, let’s grab you that drink so you can meet everyone.”

Three hours later, one drink has turned into six, and she’s having trouble recalling precisely why she hadn’t been planning on sleeping with Evan. He’s so handsome. And strong. He’d won three dart games in her honor, as well as an arm-wrestling contest with someone named Mulciber. He had also been kind enough to introduce her to her two new best friends, Edmond and Abraxas, who are so much funnier than Harry and Ron, really, and much less pushy, too—

“Do you believe in soul mates?” she slurs, leaning into Edmond’s chest; Abraxas pats her fondly on the back, grey eyes glassy, and slurps at his full tumbler of whiskey. He perks up when he hears the opening chords of a Michael Jackson song begin to play.

“Yep,” Edmond answers, thumping his fist against the bar. “Abraxas—Abraxas and I are soul mates, have been since school, and now—now you’ve come along and we can all three of us be soul mates, but maybe not the same kind of soul mates, because, y’know, you’ve got tits, and even though they’re really nice—I mean, really nice, remind me to congratulate Rosier—we’re more…gentlemen’s gentlemen, if you catch my—”

Abraxas groans, butting his head into Hermione’s shoulder; directly behind them, she hears Evan and Mulciber drunkenly sparring by a stack of gym mats. She briefly wonders where the mats have come from—surely they’re out of place in a pub?

“Babe,” Abraxas says, waving his hand, “she wasn’t propositioning us, Christ. Just—be quiet. All of you. 'Thriller' is on.”

Hermione coughs out a laugh and then hiccups. Her mouth tastes like the inside of a Guinness brewery, which she distantly recognizes isn’t something she normally likes. Is that what she’s been drinking?

“What’s so great about 'Thriller'?” she asks, yawning into the emerald green cashmere of Edmond’s jumper.

He hushes her. “Don’t get him started. This shit is sacred. He even knows the dance,” he tells her grimly.

“It’s not just a song, ‘Mione—it’s a way of life,” Abraxas adds.

“Oh. Alright, then.” She drags her fingers through Abraxas’s hair, studying the silky blond strands with something approaching reverence. “Wait—the dance? Really?”

Edmond sweeps his arm across the top of the bar, accidentally knocking over an empty whiskey bottle. It crashes to the floor. No one pays it any attention.

“Yeah, before—before we met Tom, we were roommates at Eton, and he used to put on the music video every night,” he says, voice lilting pleasantly. “We weren’t tog—together yet, so I’d always try to get him to take his shirt off when he practiced—God, he looked good like that, all sweaty and—”

“Oi!” Abraxas hisses. “You’re ruining the chorus.”

“Heaven forbid,” Edmond deadpans blearily. “Not the chorus, you say?”

Hermione chortles, slapping her hand over her mouth. “Does he have the jacket, too?” she asks, glancing over at Evan, who now has Mulciber in a rather impressive looking headlock. Really, he’s quite fit. She should definitely shag him. She takes a second to consider what type of condoms he might like best—that awful, rude, not at all terribly attractive stranger had been so insistent that she was using the wrong ones, but she’d bought them anyway, mostly to spite him, although perhaps she should have listened—

“Gets it dry-cleaned twice a month,” Edmond sniffs.

She can’t recall what they’re talking about, and dutifully decides to change the subject. “Right. Er. Do you happen to have any inside knowledge regarding Evan’s condom preferences?” she inquires, privately pleased with how well she’s articulated her question; she may be drunk, but she’s still lucid. Mostly.

Abruptly, however, the music stops. Abraxas chokes on a sip of whiskey. Edmond gapes at her in helpless, albeit horrified, fascination. Vaguely, she registers Evan and Mulciber tackling each other to the ground, one of them—she honestly can’t tell who—grunting in triumph. Perhaps someone’s won?

“Um—” Edmond tries.

“Sweetheart—” Abraxas starts.

“Fuck yeah! Take that, you mangy ponce!” Evan shouts as he springs to his feet and kicks at Mulciber’s lower back with the heel of his boot. Hermione notices that they’ve both taken off their jackets; matching black tattoos, blurry in her current state, are inked onto their left forearms. How bizarre. Has she seen those before? “Wait till I tell Tom I finally—”

The front door swings open with a dramatic squeak of its hinges.

An impossibly familiar man strolls into the pub.

He’s wearing snug black trousers and a tailored white button-down. A skinny, checkered violet tie is knotted loosely around his neck. His hair is swept back, off his face, and she thinks she sees the outline of a pack of cigarettes pressing against his front pocket. His eyes fly over the occupants of the bar, as if cataloguing them—she startles a bit at the oddness of that thought—and linger on her for several inexplicably tense moments. He doesn’t acknowledge her. She isn’t relieved. She isn’t disappointed. She’s—fucking drunk, really. She doesn’t know what she is. This is all Harry’s fault.

“Tell me what, Rosier?” the stranger eventually asks, turning towards Evan.

Evan offers him a sheepish grin. “Got the jump on Mulciber, sir,” he replies. “Could’ve knocked him out, too, I reckon, but—”

“Oh, that’s shit,” Mulciber interjects, looking sour. “I let you bloody win so you wouldn’t have to get your arse kicked in front of your girl—”

“Piss off! You didn’t see that elbow coming and you fucking know it—”

The man from the chemist—Tom, she thinks in a daze that she firmly instructs herself not to analyze too closely—exhales impatiently, moving further into the pub. He stops next to her and Edmond and Abraxas. He smells like tobacco and sandalwood and she is suddenly gravely concerned about her relative lack of self-control while inebriated.

Your girl, Rosier?” Tom echoes. He gestures at her dismissively, and she bites back her protest that she isn’t Evan’s anything—Tom strikes her as unreasonably aggravated by the possibility, and Edmond’s hand is wrapped around her upper arm in a grip that feels rather like a warning. Which is ludicrous. Honestly. What is wrong with her? “This one? Your tastes are usually much less…refined. Have you turned into a real boy now, Pinocchio?”

Evan flushes a peculiar shade of pink at Tom’s mocking tone. She winces; maybe that’s why she hadn’t planned on sleeping with him. She can concede that he does seem a bit dim.

“Er,” Evan says, clearing his throat. He glances over at her, and she studiously avoids his gaze. “I mean—yeah, that’s Hermione, I guess.”

It isn’t an explanation—it’s barely even an introduction—and Tom’s answering expression is incredulous.

“Hermione,” he says slowly, dragging out the syllables of her name. It sounds like a caress, gentle and soothing. No—it sounds like fucking sex. She realizes that he’s staring at her; at her bare thighs, specifically. She’s inordinately proud of herself for making the effort to shave her legs that morning. “Rosier is the boyfriend too spineless to complain about the condoms?”

Mulciber guffaws from the corner, and Evan punches him in the chest. Meanwhile, Abraxas begins to shake with what she can only assume is silent laughter. She logically concludes that Edmond would probably be much more frantic if it was a seizure.

“Maybe,” she hears herself say. She isn’t sure what she’s doing. Evan is certainly not her boyfriend, but Tom looks so affronted by the notion—she can’t tell if it’s on her behalf or Evan’s, and that bothers her. “Or maybe I’m cheating on him. Who knows?”

Abraxas falls out of his chair, cheeks a brilliant, cherry-red from lack of oxygen. Edmond is pressing his lips together, presumably hiding a grin of his own. Mulciber has given up on holding himself in a standing position and collapsed onto the mysterious pile of gym mats. Evan simply appears to be confused. Tom, though—

Tom narrows his eyes and steps closer. His posture is stiff. He is so much bigger than her, despite how slender he is; she feels an unexpected thrill of anticipation curdle down her spine.

“No,” he says, folding his hand into his trouser pocket. She wonders what he’s reaching for. “I don’t think so. Tell me, princess, did you end up buying those condoms?”

She furrows her brow. Her thoughts are sluggish. The lights behind the bar are twinkling in her periphery, and she’s distracted by the way they turn into a trembling line of thick, nauseating yellow when she blinks.

“Yes,” she says honestly. She licks her lips. Was Guinness always so sour? “I didn’t know which ones would be better, and you left before I could ask.”

Tom’s teeth gleam white as he smiles at her; it’s a dangerous smile, really, quite patently sinister in the gloom of the pub, but it isn’t a deterrent. She still sort of wants to pet his face.

“Allow me to remedy that,” he murmurs, plucking a square foil packet out of the back of a black leather wallet and holding it up between his middle and index fingers. Her stomach lurches. He then leans forward, breath swirling hotly against her ear, and tucks the condom into the side of the scandalously low-cut neckline of her dress. She can feel the ridged, metallic edges scrape against her skin, her breasts, and she thinks, dizzily, that she finally understands the meaning of the word erotic.

“What?” she whispers, eyes unfocused. The walls are…tilting. No—the floor is. She flaps her arm out, expecting to hit the bar. Nothing’s there. Do rooms spin? Does that happen?

“Hermione?”

The muscles in her abdomen are vibrating. It’s highly unsettling. She needs to sit down again. When had she gotten up?

“Shit, she’s going to be sick—”

She sees a checkered violet tie. Is that silk? It’s probably very soft. She should touch it, just to be sure. It might make a decent enough pillow if she can convince its owner to let her take it.

“—the fuck did you assholes give her, rubbing alcohol?”

Something itchy is stuck in her bra. She means to paw at her dress, maybe pull it down so she can get comfortable—the bodice is too tight, she should have worn something different, God, why does she listen to Harry—but then she swallows, repeatedly, and the motion makes her…shudder?

“—not our fault she’s fucking tiny, Tom, what do you even care—”

She’s so tired. God. Her ankles are awfully wobbly, too.

“—look at her, d’you really think she’s cut out for your version of a bloody drinking game—”

Her arms flail out again. She doesn’t think she told them to do that. Her wrist smacks something firm. A body? A wall?

“—swear to fucking Christ, I’ll lock you both in the fucking ring with Greyback if she isn’t—”

She ruminates on the uselessness of her tonsils. She tries to giggle. Something smoky and tangy and horrible bubbles across her tongue. Is it a liquid? The bar is swimming. She has to close her eyes. No. No. That’s so much worse.

“—Rosier’s fucking girlfriend, not yours, maybe let her go—”

She relaxes into whatever—whoever?—she’s leaning against. She doesn’t fall, which is lovely. She’s tired. She’s warm. Her hair is being tied up very carefully. She should say thank you.

“—letting you imbeciles near her, fuck, she isn’t even coherent—”

She rubs her nose against something. A shirt? A hand is awkwardly rubbing her lower back. She’s floating in a cloud of sandalwood. It’s weird. Her mouth feels weird.

“—literally acting insane right now, Tom, maybe she just needs to sleep it off—”

She’s tired. She wants to sleep. But her stomach is…contracting?

“—fuck fuck fuck look how white she just got—”

A distressed moan escapes from the back of her throat.

“—oh, God, it’s like Yaxley’s wedding all over again—”

Her internal organs feel as if they’re rearranging themselves. Instinctively, she sits up.

“—quick, get her to the fucking sink—”

The air shifts.

She twists her torso around.

She doesn’t know where she is.

Is she flying?

“—not going to make it, fuck, this is going to be so gross—”

She sees a checkered violet tie, and she tastes chocolate and bleu cheese and white wine and halibut in a lemon butter sauce and stout beer and peanuts and whiskey and it all churns and melts and congeals and she can’t—she can’t—

She heaves.

She blacks out.

 


 

Double Ecstasy XL with Ultra Smooth Lubricant

 

She adjusts her oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses and taps at the ATM touchpad. She hates carrying cash, but she desperately wants an éclair and the bakery down the street from her new flat doesn’t accept credit cards. It’s ridiculously antiquated—the smug, handwritten ‘CASH ONLY’ sign in the window had done nothing but infuriate her when she’d first caught sight of it—but Harry, the bloody traitor, had brought over a pastry box full of muffins one weekend and proceeded to ruin her forever. She has no qualms about blaming him for her loss of dignity in the face of a good croissant; her life is much less complicated when everything is Harry’s fault, anyway.

The ATM beeps and asks her for her PIN.

She punches in the numbers with perhaps more force than strictly necessary.

“—of course, Mr. Riddle,” she hears a nervous, twittering older man mutter from a few feet away. “I would never dream of—”

“You would, and you did,” someone familiar interrupts sharply.

Hermione ducks her head and glowers at the rotating hourglass on the ATM screen. Why did she say she wanted a receipt? Why would she sabotage herself like that?

“I assure you, Mr. Riddle, that any misunderstandings on the parts of my associates were purely the result of—”

“A clerical error, yes, so you’ve said,” that haunting, silky voice finishes smoothly.

The hourglass stutters.

She glances furtively to her left.

The man that Tom is talking to has a gigantic purple bruise blossoming across his jaw and is dressed in an expensive, double-breasted pinstripe suit.

She frowns.

“—believe that’s all,” Tom’s saying, his tone patronizing. “I mostly just wanted to follow up with you on what was discussed during Mr. Rosier’s earlier visit—he can be so unforgivably blunt, can’t he?”

The ATM printer squawks.

Her heartbeat ratchets up.

She can’t quite determine if she’s excited or anxious. It’s maddening.

“—important to me that we’re communicating clearly, you understand,” Tom continues. “I’m a man of my word; I’d hate for Mr. Rosier’s message to have been…muddied during delivery.”

“Of course, of course—” the other man blusters.

The ATM spits out her debit card.

She grabs it, stuffing a wad of cash into her wallet as she turns quickly towards the exit—

“Hermione?” Tom calls out. “Is that you?”

She freezes in front of the bank’s frosted glass double doors. She spins around, removing her sunglasses and immediately pasting an embarrassed grin onto her face—it isn’t exactly a stretch for her to feel embarrassed around him, is it?

“Tom,” she replies, fidgeting. “What a—surprise.”

Tom saunters towards her, his expression unreadable. “Yeah,” he says, curling his tongue around the ridge of his teeth and playing with the round silver stud pierced through the middle of it. “It’s been awhile. You’re not still sick, are you?”

It hasn’t been awhile. It’s been two days. She feels compelled to argue with him about this, but decides that doing so would be counterproductive to her ultimate goal of fleeing as swiftly as she possibly can.

“No, all better now,” she replies, unease mounting. “But—I am in a bit of a rush—”

“That’s good. Edmond and Abraxas were very concerned,” he interrupts. “You are apparently their…spirit animal. Whatever that means.”

She feels an unwelcome flash of annoyance—he’s so condescending. “It’s a sex thing,” she says flatly. She doesn’t really want him to be able to tell if she’s serious or not. “Incredibly kinky. Evan even filmed it. You wouldn’t be interested.”

His tongue stud clacks against his teeth, as if it’s judging her. “I take it that you’ve used the condom I gave you, then?” he asks, leaning sideways into the wall and crossing his arms over his chest.

“I can’t imagine why you think it’s any of your business if I have or not.”

He smirks and nods his chin at a spot behind her shoulder. “He’s my business, princess, and I like knowing what—and who—he gets up to when I’m not around to supervise him.”

Puzzled, she looks around the bank; her eyes widen when she sees Evan standing next to a closed teller window, flirting outrageously with a tall, leggy blonde in a microscopic pink dress. Hermione cocks her head to the side. Did no one explain to Tom that Evan is not actually her boyfriend? Edmond and Abraxas must have had a reason to lie, but—

“Evan’s so friendly, isn’t he?” she simpers, decisive. “His personality is really such an excellent complement to mine—I can be rather standoffish, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Tom says darkly.

“We’re good together, is what I’m getting at,” she goes on, pretending to wave at Evan; the blonde is now running her hands down the front of his shirt, toying with his belt buckle. Hermione soldiers on. “In every way.”

Tom scoffs. “Yeah, that’s why he’s cheating on you.”

“We have an open relationship.”

“No, princess, that’s just called cheating.”

“Just because you lack the maturity to explore the emotionally enriching possibilities of polyamory—”

“That’s an awfully complicated word for cheating.”

“You’re an ass.”

“And you’re in denial.”

“At least I don’t verbally accost perfectly innocent strangers when I’m in line at the chemist.”

“I was offended by your choice in condoms.”

“Well, I’m offended by your unsolicited commentary on my life.”

“If you see a crime being committed and you don’t speak up, do you or do you not become an accessory to that crime?”

“Is that a public service announcement? Are you going to tell me to wear my seat belt next?”

“Is that not something you do regularly?”

“Maybe I like to live on the edge.”

“Maybe you’ll break your neck on your way home.”

“Maybe I won’t.”

“Do I also have to remind you to practice safe sex? Or has Rosier talked you out of it? He’s a wily bastard, that one.”

“You were one of those abstinence-only people who disapprovingly handed out free condoms at the student health center on Sundays, weren’t you?”

“You’re not funny, princess.”

“I’m not joking.”

He hums. “I think Rosier’s about to get some mileage out of that condom.”

“Good for him. I’m glad he’s utilizing the innate flexibility of our open relationship.”

“Indeed. That girl is…not subtle.”

“No need to sound so disgusted—I’m sure she’s a very nice.”

“Not my type.”

“Well, no, she wouldn’t be, would she? That stick up your arse must be quite difficult to measure up to.”

He doesn’t reply.

She risks a look in his direction.

His lips are twitching, and she has to fight off a small, happy smile when she realizes that he’s enjoying himself with her. She doesn’t get the impression that he laughs a lot; he seems the sort to jeer, or taunt, or chuckle cruelly at others’ misfortune. The thought makes her unaccountably sad.

“Oh, look,” he announces, “they’re going to fuck. In public. Someone should take bets on how long it takes them to get arrested.”

“Someone?”

“Not me,” he drawls. “I’m very law-abiding.”

“Yes, I’m sure. That’s why you were threatening that poor man with the bruise on his face. Because you’re so law-abiding.”

He’s quiet for a moment. “You heard that?” he asks with practiced nonchalance.

She chews on the inside of her mouth and turns to watch Evan and the blonde. They’re kissing rather voraciously against a loan officer’s desk; a white plastic placard on the computer keyboard reads ‘OUT TO LUNCH’ in neat block letters.

“Can humans detach their jaws like pythons, do you think?” she muses, ignoring Tom’s question. She doesn’t know what he does for a living—she doesn’t really want to speculate on it, either—but she guesses that he does a bit more than own and operate a boxing gym.

He straightens slowly, sidling closer to her, and drapes a deliberately proprietary arm across the back of her shoulders. She doesn’t shiver, but it’s a near miss.

“Well, if they can’t, Rosier’s certainly going to be disappointed.”

“It’s like he wants to eat her face.”

“Speaking of eating—”

“Are you about to say something gross?”

“Edmond and Abraxas request the company of their spirit animal at brunch. Is that gross?”

“I said it was a sex thing, didn’t I?”

“Are you coming to brunch, or not?”

“Is this a double date?”

“You have a boyfriend.”

“You gave me a condom.”

“To use with your boyfriend.”

“Speaking of—”

“Are you about to say something gross, princess?”

She snorts out a laugh before she can stop herself.

His hand tightens on her shoulder.

 


 

Twisted Ultra-Thin XXL with Spermicidal Lubricant

 

Tom isn’t wearing a shirt.

He’s standing in the middle of one of his gym’s boxing rings, soft black sweatpants slung low across his hips, and he isn’t wearing a fucking shirt.

Hermione’s mouth goes dry.

Her fingernails dig into the pages of her chemistry textbook.

She feels an uncharacteristic bout of hysteria spring to life in the pit of her stomach.

He isn’t wearing a shirt. Why is he doing this to her? What is she being punished for?

“Um,” she says, unable to look away.

“’Mione?” Edmond asks, sounding vaguely worried. “You said you needed to study. I was instructed—quite sternly, I might add—to make sure that you did so that we can go to Pottery Barn later. Abraxas has a thing about throw pillows and I guess he trusts your judg—what are you staring at?”

Tom has a very neatly manicured line of dark, wiry hair trailing beneath his navel. She wants to lick it. His abdomen is flat, leanly muscled; his chest is broader than she expected, too, nipples dusky pink and pebbled from the air conditioning. She thinks he might be sweating. A thin black cord is hanging around his neck, and a gold ring with an oval onyx pendant rests between his collarbones. His skin is pale, mostly flawless, marred only by a waxy pink scar stretching horizontally from one ribcage to the other. She wonders who had hurt him; she wonders if the brief flare of fury she feels at the thought of someone daring to hurt him is an early marker of insanity or not. It probably is. She’s unlucky like that.

“What?” she blurts out, belatedly.

Edmond looks perturbed. “God damn it,” he groans, slumping backwards in his seat. “Tom? Really? You couldn’t have just been happy with bloody Rosier?”

“I was never with Rosier,” she retorts automatically. She pauses. “Wait, why does it matter? What are you talking about? What’s wrong with Tom?”

Imperiously, he arches a brow.

She narrows her eyes.

He drums his fingers against the hard plastic surface of the table.

“You made a bet with Abraxas, didn’t you?” she asks shrewdly. “That’s why you never corrected Tom when he assumed Evan and I were together.”

He deflates. “Can you just wait to shag him? Another two weeks? I have to let Abraxas wear the jacket in fucking public if he wins,” he whines, plaintive. “And he always wins, ‘Mione, do you understand how many conciliatory blowjobs I’ve given in the past six months alone? Do you? No, you do not. You do not understand. My pride is at stake.”

She picks up her discarded mechanical pencil and fiddles with the detachable eraser. “I thought you liked giving blowjobs—God knows I’ve walked in on enough of them. But—the point is moot. I’m not going to shag Tom. The jacket can stay in the figurative closet for a little while longer.”

“Oh, you’re going to shag him. You basically just did, with your eyes, and if I wasn’t so open-minded, I would be pretty fucking uncomfortable right about now."

She blushes, kicking at his ankle under the table. “He doesn’t like me like that. It doesn’t matter.”

His jaw drops. “Are you—you’re not serious, are you?” he bleats in disbelief. “He’s all but pissed on you to mark his territory—I mean, fuck, he took you for frozen yogurt last night. He let you put sprinkles on his vanilla chocolate swirl, and I don’t even mean that in a dirty way. I mean that he literally let you put sprinkles on his ice cream.”

“He likes them,” she says defensively.

Edmond blinks, and then blinks again. “No,” he says slowly, as if he’s speaking to a very small child. “He likes you.”

“You’re wrong,” she insists. “We aren’t—it isn’t like that. We bicker. We talk about books. He always gives me condoms to make fun of me because he knows I’m not—experienced. I suppose we’re friends, but it isn’t any more than that.”

His expression is incredulous. “Tom doesn’t have friends.”

She drags her pencil down the warped silver spiral spine of her notebook. “Besides—he’s a criminal,” she continues, as if he hadn’t said anything. “My parents are dentists, Edmond, I can’t date a criminal.”

“He’s not a criminal, though.”

She glares. “He keeps a cardboard box full of passports in the trunk of his car.”

“So? He’s a collector.”

“He said he likes to wear black because it’s the only color that effectively masks bloodstains.”

“He’s a boxer. He punches blokes for fun. Didn’t he tell you about the tampons?”

Edmond.”

He huffs out a frustrated sigh. “Fine. But he isn’t a criminal, ‘Mione,” he says. He waits. The corners of his lips quirk up. “Criminals get caught.”

She ducks her chin to hide her answering smile. She then looks up, through her lashes, and glances over at Tom again.

Their eyes meet.

He smirks.

And her heartbeat…skips.

“You’re not going to wait two weeks, are you?” Edmond asks glumly. “God damn it.”

 


 

Thintensity Magnum BareSkin Non-Latex

 

The rain is relentless—it stings her bare skin as she runs across the street, crisp and cold, and Tom’s hand is slippery against hers as he all but drags her into the covered alcove entrance of a small, independent movie theater. A tattered paper poster advertising a special matinee showing of Invasion of the Bee Girls flutters feebly on the lamp post behind them.

“Fuck,” he mutters, shaking out his head, water clinging to the ends of his hair.

“Well, that escalated quickly,” she remarks, teeth chattering. She’s wearing a sleeveless, knee-length white sundress, and the neckline is square, cut low, trimmed with lace; the burgundy silk push-up bra she’d rather optimistically put on that morning is visible through the thin, rain-soaked fabric. His eyes keep darting to her breasts. She fights the urge to cross her arms over her chest. She wants him to look. She doesn’t want him to look. She—fuck. She feels as if she’s on the verge of something—an endless, terrifying fall—and she isn’t sure what will greet her when she finally reaches the ground.

It doesn’t help, she thinks wryly, that his own clothing is sticking like a second skin to every plane and ridge and delicious dip of muscle on his almost preternaturally perfect body; distressed designer denim clings to long, slender legs and narrow hips, a heather grey cotton t-shirt shrinking over his abdomen, exposing the crystal cut lines of his pelvis and a strip of plain black elastic that she can only assume belongs to his underwear. She looks at his face. His gaze is intent. His lips, she notices with a jolt, are slick and full and a vivid, ruby red—

She swallows.

She tries to focus on the sound of the rain pelting the asphalt.

She isn’t particularly successful.

“Hermione,” he says, and his tone is—different. Softer. No. Harder. She can’t quite tell. He is always such an enigma.

“I hope you didn’t make a reservation,” she babbles, twisting the strap of her sundress around her fingertip. “At the restaurant, I mean. There’s no way we’ll be on time, and I know how irritated you get when people are late—I’m like that too, actually, we have that in common—not that we have things in common. Because we don’t. You’re—tall. And, well, quite a bit older, and, and—athletic. And, I mean, I trip getting out of the shower, I’m rather a mess—”

He places his hand over her mouth.

His skin, she knows, should be freezing—ice-cold and wet—but she feels the calluses at the base of his fingers, feels them scratch against the bow of her lips, and the sensation is shocking and intimate and scorching in the worst way, a searing, illogical burn that cannot be normal, no, she cannot allow it to be—

Hermione,” he says again, stepping towards her.

She breathes out, into his palm, and it is tremulous. “Yes?” she asks, voice muffled.

He removes his hand. She doesn’t miss it. She doesn’t.

“Rosier was never your boyfriend.”

Her eyelashes are thick and heavy, clumped together from the rain; she blinks and feels them catch. “No,” she admits.

He takes a second step. She sees a flash of the stud in his tongue as he opens his mouth, pauses, hesitates, reaches out to touch her bare shoulder. Goosebumps erupt along her arms—his thumb traces a gentle path across the divot of her clavicle. She thinks he might be chasing raindrops.

“You threw up on me that night at the bar.”

Another step.

He drags his thumb down her chest, stopping when he reaches the rounded mounds of her breasts.

Her gut clenches. “Yes.”

His finger drifts.

Her nipples tighten.

“You ruined my tie.”

Her knickers are damp from the rain, from her, and the tacky taunting rasp of lace against the very tops of her inner thighs is electrifying.

“Yes.”

Another step.

He’s impossibly close now.

The denim of his jeans is rough against her ankles.

“You haven’t used any of the condoms I’ve given you.”

His other hand comes to rest beneath the hopelessly wet tangle of her hair, along the nape of her neck; he squeezes, just once, and she arches her back with a gasp.

“No.”

One last step.

His body is molded to hers like a magnet, all of his angles corresponding to all of her curves—

“I’m going to kiss you now.”

She shifts her hips, searching for friction. “Yes.”

He lowers his head. “I’m going to fuck you later.”

The bulge of his cock grinds into the space between her thighs.

Her toes curl. "Yes."

His breath ghosts across her skin. "I'm going to eat you out first."

“Yes.”

Her lips part, grazing his, and the hand on her neck moves down, fingernails scraping over spine.

“I’m going to make you come on my fingers, and my tongue, and my cock.”

She’s panting into his mouth, her breasts crushed against his chest, and her body feels strangely taut, muscles strung out and nerve-ends fraying, aflutter, but she doesn’t know what she wants, what she needs, because it has never been like this, never, she has never been so aware and alert and alive

“Yes.”

He rolls his hips with deliberate slowness, the rigid line of his cock pulsing against her stomach. “I’m going to lick you everywhere.”

She shudders. “Yes.”

His hand drops to her arse, cupping, kneading, a single slender fingertip slipping into the cleft and pushing up, down, in. “I’m going to taste you here.”

Heat pools in her abdomen. “Yes.”

His other hand trails over her breasts, pinching at her nipples through the wet silk of her bra. “I’m going to taste you here.”

His tongue darts out, and he draws it teasingly over the cushion of her bottom lip.

“Yes.”

The hand at her arse moves even lower, under her skirt and around to the front of her body, the flat of his palm slapping against her cunt—

“I’m going to taste you here.”

She inhales sharply. Three of his fingers are curved over the crotch of her knickers, rubbing against her clit. Without warning, he swipes them down, slightly spread out, and she whimpers.

Yes—”

Suddenly, the theater doors burst open, a large crowd consisting of mostly young men flooding into the covered alcove, chattering with excitement; the tension between her and Tom seems to snap, and he stumbles backwards, immediately reaching out again to grab her waist.

“—fucking classic, it is—”

“—travesty they don’t make films like that anymore—”

“—helps that queen bees are such a good metaphor for gold-diggers, yeah—”

“—nothing on Vicious Lips, though—”

“—can wear me out whenever they bloody well like—”

The crowd disperses as umbrellas are unfurled and nylon rain jackets are zipped up. She and Tom get a few odd looks, but no one tries to speak to them, which she’s grateful for—she’s still dazed, still shaky, still not entirely certain that she would be able to hold herself upright if Tom happened to let go—

“You said you were going to kiss me,” she reminds him, gripping his shoulders.

His expression ripples with wonder—and then he’s smiling slowly, fondly, and dipping his chin, nudging her jaw with his nose. “I did,” he agrees, nodding seriously.

She has to bite down on the inside of her mouth to stop herself from giggling. “I’m also rather curious to see if any of those condoms you gave me are as fantastic as you’ve implied,” she continues.

“I suppose I could spare a few hours to test them out.”

“It might take more than a few hours—you’ve given me quite a lot.”

“Are you always this demanding?”

“Then again…maybe it won’t take more than a few hours.”

“Next you’ll be asking to measure it.”

“I do have some measuring tape, actually.”

“For emergencies, I gather.”

“No, Abraxas needed it. He’s very particular about his throw pillows.”

“I don’t really want to discuss Malfoy.”

“We could discuss condoms.”

“I don’t want to discuss condoms, either.”

Now who’s demanding?”

“Still you, princess.”

“That’s debatable.”

“It isn’t.”

“It is.”

“It’s a bit difficult to kiss you when you won’t shut up.”

“That does sound like a challenge.”

“And yet you’re still talking.”

“I enjoy irritating you.”

“Is that why you keep putting sprinkles on all my food?”

“You said you liked—”

He surges forward.

She emits a small squeak of surprise as he fuses their mouths together.

And her lips tingle and her pulse races and her bones melt—

She laughs into their first kiss.

She’s helpless.

She’s happy.

 


 

Extended Ultra Natural Lambskin with Continuous Silkiness

 

Tom’s arm is a warm, comforting weight across the back of her chair. She prods at an unevenly browned scallop with the tines of her fork, not feeling particularly hungry, and looks at the opposite end of the table.

“It’s not that bad,” she consoles.

Edmond skewers her with an unimpressed glare. “He found the only bloody restaurant in London that takes reservations for karaoke,” he replies, bypassing his plate of squid ink gnocchi in favor of a mostly full glass of vodka. “And you think it’s not that bad.”

Tom coughs, thumping his chest with his fist, and she digs the point of her elbow into his ribs.

“The stage is small,” she tries, and then winces. “Not a lot of room to…dance. If that’s what you’re worried about.”

Edmond mewls piteously. “He can adapt it,” he says, knocking back the shot of vodka. “The dance. I’ve seen him do it. There’s shimmying, God, this is all your fault, ‘Mione, if you had just kept it in your trousers for another week—”

She takes a calm sip of champagne. “You’re being ridiculous. I talked to him before he went to—”

“I’m really not,” Edmond interrupts. “Ask Tom. Tom’s seen the jacket. It’s an exact replica. I can’t even pretend that people might think it’s a coincidence—it’s custom made.”

Tom grunts. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s…well, you’ll see. Malfoy doesn’t really do things by halves.”

She sighs. “Just…shut up. Both of you. He’ll be up soon, that Shania Twain girl just finished her set.”

Edmond wails in dismay. “I'm not letting him near my arse for at least a month—”

Tom chokes on his bourbon.

“—go to hell, Riddle, this wouldn’t even be happening if you had some bloody self-control—”

Hermione massages her forehead.

“—motherfucking beautiful rat bastard bitch of a fucking cunt—”

The lights begin to dim.

“—oh, don’t look at me like that, Tommy, ‘Mione’s told me what a fucking mouth you’ve got on you in the bedroom—”

The velvet curtains open.

Abraxas steps onto the stage, microphone in hand, and gets down on one knee.

The restaurant goes quiet.

Edmond stares, nonplussed. “Well, that’s—well.”

 


 

Committed Monogamous Relationship and Birth Control Pills

 

“Did you know?” Tom asks her, crossing his ankles and leaning back against a rather precarious stack of cardboard moving boxes.

“That Abraxas was going to propose? Yes, I helped him plan it,” she replies, tucking a flyaway strand of hair behind her ear and frowning at a sheet of blank white labels. “Did I already mark where the towels were?”

“Mulciber took them. What do you mean, though, you helped him plan it?”

She sniffs, consulting the neatly typed list taped to the side of the refrigerator. “I wanted all the linens together. Now everything’s out of order.”

“I’ll have Yaxley deal with it. He wanted to see the new house, anyway.”

“You know I don’t like it when you have your—er, employees—do things for me. I can organize my own stuff.”

“Were you going to call them minions again?”

“No. Of course not. That was one time—”

“Tsk, tsk. Stop changing the subject. You planned the 'Thriller' proposal? I should’ve known Malfoy wasn’t clever enough for all that.”

“It was his idea, actually—I just had to make sure he won the bet.”

“Bet?”

“Yeah, after that first night—when I ruined your tie—they had a bet about when you and I would…”

“Consummate our relationship?”

“I was going to say ‘fuck’, but—yes. Essentially. Did you throw away my stand mixer?”

He saunters around the kitchen island, hands tucked into his trouser pockets. “I bought you a new one,” he answers, moving behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist. “It’s turquoise. It looks better with the backsplash.”

“Did Abraxas tell you to say that?”

He drops his chin onto the top of her head. “He’s nesting.

“It isn’t his house.”

“Oh, it isn’t? And here I thought he’d all but moved in with us.”

“Are you jealous?”

“I don’t get jealous, princess.”

“You were jealous of Evan.”

He presses a firm, open-mouthed kiss to the side of her neck. “Rosier’s an imbecile. I wasn’t jealous—I knew I was going to win.”

She turns around in his arms and flattens her hands against his chest; the ring he always wears around his neck is directly in her line of sight. She knows the story behind it now, knows precisely what it represents and what it means that he never takes it off—she trails her fingers around the outline of it, tapping the fissures in the onyx, and smiles softly.

“You knew, did you?”

“Indeed,” he drawls. “My seduction techniques were foolproof.”

“Your seduction techniques involved throwing condoms at me with varying degrees of animosity and then hoping that I’d ask you for a practical demonstration.”

“Which worked. Clearly.”

“There was also the sprinkles thing—that was adorable.”

“I wish you wouldn’t bring that up as often as you do. I have a reputation to maintain.”

She pulls him into a kiss, slow and affectionate, and then rears back. “What is that? Did you eat something with—coconut? Possibly bleach?”

He rolls his eyes and rummages in his back pocket, producing a half-used pack of chewing gum with a flourish. “Lestrange made me go to a bloody cake tasting,” he explains. “The last bite was fucking awful, some kind of chocolate sponge with preserved lemon curd—the only thing he had in his car was this. It’s not really that bad, honestly—quite…tropical. With a twist. Not bleach.”

She takes the gum.

She reads the label.

She makes an exaggerated face.

She remembers the day she’d met him, remembers a shopping basket full of strawberry yogurt and painter’s tape and tampons, of all things—she remembers being angry and intrigued and embarrassed, remembers snapping at him and taunting him and thinking that she’d buy a dozen boxes of those horrible fucking condoms on principle alone, just to make a point—

She laughs.

She wonders if she hadn’t loved him even then.

Black Cherry Pina Colada?”