The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

beta credit: Brightki and CoquetteKitten.


Hermione’s conclusion filled her with a gripping sense of urgency as well as irritation. Sweet Circe on a broom, it’s my wedding day – as if that’s not enough of a hint for those two to give up! “They probably slipped in when the Weasleys all came, or later, when the Delacours and Fred and George arrived. Meanwhile, we’ve been . . . we’ve been breakfasting! The guards-” There was the distinctive crack of Apparition and Bowly was suddenly standing beside them, wringing his hands anxiously. The way he was looking at Hermione caused her stop midsentence. And I’m not going to be giving my wedding present to Lucius and Draco any time soon, apparently.’


The house elf looked between the three of them, his ears flattened against his head, and cried, “Masters and Lady, bad magic has breached these walls!” At Hermione’s sharp intake of breath he continued quickly, “There is wandfight in the Lady’s suite.”


“Ginny!” Impulsively, Hermione lifted her wand and began the turn to Apparate when she was stopped by a pair of large, strong hands.


Lucius was frowning down at her as he pocketed her wand and pinned her to his broad chest. “Absolutely not.” She opened her mouth to argue as she struggled against his grip, but Lucius had turned his attention to summoning the nearby Crabbes and Goyles and addressed them as soon as they gathered near the breakfast table. “Pansy Parkinson and the weeded sixthborn of the House of Weasley have entered the estate somehow without setting off the wards and have recently been in the Lady’s rooms. Miss Ginevra Weasley is also there and may require assistance.” He slowly released his tight hold on her, although one hand was still closed firmly around her upper arm. “Organize your families immediately, but four of you will to stay with our witch.” He glanced down at her with narrowed eyes. “She will undoubtedly insist on joining the hunt.”


Hermione watched with distracted admiration as Lucius cast his Patronus, calling, “Kingsley, they are here and have already attacked someone.” The silvery fox leapt from the tip of his wand and bounded out through the French windows. Meanwhile the two senior guards fired off Patronuses of their own, and within seconds the sounds of Apparition filled the room like exploding popcorn. For the briefest time it was crowded with dark-robed figures, but then Gore and Vincent began barking orders and there were immediate cracks of Disapparition as groups of guards left to their assigned positions. Lucius all but picked up and carried a resistant Hermione across the room and out to the rose garden. Draco followed closely behind. When they had passed through the French windows, the elder Malfoy relaxed his hold and hissed in her ear, “Promise me you will listen and obey.”


An image of Ginny being attacked by Pansy assaulted her imagination. She pulled back slightly and looked up between her two wizards, a retort ready to fly from her lips. The look of frustrated concern on both of their faces, however, stopped her in her tracks. “I promise to listen.”


A vein near Lucius’ temple pulsed visibly, and the muscles of his jaw flexed. “This is our wedding day, Hermione. I do not wish to fight with you, but I will not lose you to senseless obstinacy or impulsivity. If you must participate, you will do so on my terms.” When she hesitated to answer, he ground out, “Either you will do so, or you will commit yourself to the enchantment of the Captor roses for the duration of the hunt. Your guards will remain with you regardless of your choice.”


I just want to get to Ginny. If I tried to Accio my wand he’d be able to grab it before it got to me, and even if he didn’t that scenario couldn’t end well for me. Hermione glanced at Draco to find a forbidding expression on his handsome face. And he’s not going to side with me. A look back at Lucius showed that he was awaiting her reply with barely veiled impatience. Another thought of Ginny, possibly lying helpless far across the manor, came to mind. She blurted, “Anything – just please let me go to Ginny!”


The two Malfoys exchanged a quick look over her head. Draco answered, “You’ll stay with your guards and one of us at all times. No wandfight unless unavoidable. No Apparating by yourself, and no approaching anyone on your own.”


“Yes, I promise! Let’s just go!” She grabbed their hands and tried tugging them back toward the study.


They both resisted, communicating silently again for a few seconds. Lucius growled, “Someone must oversee the search from here. As much as it pains me to say this, it should be me.” He paused momentarily, and Draco drifted a few feet away. Then Lucius said in a very different voice, “Tell me there is a gift or promise I could give that would entice you to stay with me, my lovely one.”


Hermione looked up in surprise at his gentle, pleading tone to find him regarding her with an expression to match. There were tight lines around Lucius’ eyes and mouth. He’s afraid. The mighty Lucius Malfoy is offering to beg. She lifted a hand to his cheek. “I promise to obey your terms.” Then she stretched up on tiptoes, pressed a soft kiss to his chin, and pushed against his chest. “Now go and oversee us all.”


She watched him close his eyes and swallow. When he looked at her again, any trace of tenderness was gone and in its place was his usual mask of smug arrogance. “You will stay within an arms’ length of Draco at all times, or I will put you over my knee – and there will be no pleasure in it for you.”


The threatening tone in which that last part was delivered sent a shiver along Hermione’s spine that stemmed from both intimidation and desire. Merciful Merlin, but he’s delicious when he’s aggressive. I like being threatened. I’m beyond deviant . . . She threw her arms around his neck and dragged him down for a brief but searing kiss. When their mouths broke apart, she managed to whisper, “That was the hottest thing you’ve said to me yet.”


Lucius’ mouth twitched. “I shall have to work on my seduction technique. In the meantime, pet,” here he kissed her lips chastely, “try to resist your attraction to danger and come back to me quickly.” He gave her backside a swat that made her yelp.


Hermione turned to leave, relieved that Lucius had regained some semblance of the control he needed. Her younger wizard was looking at her expectantly as he held out a hand toward her. “Come along, little witch.” He threaded his fingers through hers and pulled her along with him into the manor.


As they passed through the French windows into Lucius’s study, several things caught Hermione’s attention at the same time. The first was the fact that, with the exception of the senior and junior Goyles and Crabbes, the room was empty of guards. The second was a puff of Floo soot from the large hearth, followed by the emergence of a team of Aurors. The third was the nearest timepiece. With shock, she realized less than five minutes had passed since Bowly had first confirmed the break-in. Despite the new arrivals, Draco didn’t pause at all; in fact, he merely nodded to the newcomers and continued out into the corridor. There he stopped, wrapped an arm around her and, as soon as their guards had caught up to them, simply said, “The corridor outside her rooms.”


The familiar sickening spin of Side Along didn’t last nearly as long this time. Within seconds, Hermione was recovered fully and aware that there was no noise coming from her suite. She reached for the handles of her suite doors. Draco jerked her back against him almost brusquely, causing her to squawk, but he silenced her with a hand over her mouth.


“Stand away from the doors, Lady,” Vincent Crabbe Sr. murmured. When she complied, he blasted them open unceremoniously with a wave of his wand. Unfortunately, whoever was within the room had been expecting them, and targeted the wall in front of them with a powerful Confringo.


The force of the explosion sent the six of them hurtling into the far wall of the corridor, although Hermione flew backward into something comparatively soft, considering the stone construction of the manor. The guards showed an immediate display of impressive reflexes, quickly casting an Impedimenta to arrest the forward propulsion of debris and then a Repello to send some back as a modified weapon. They’d also cast a Salvio Hexia around her immediate area, its soft shimmer highlighted by the dust-filled air. Hexes were being fired back and forth now.


The soft something under Hermione groaned, and she realized that she was lying on top of Draco. He groaned again quietly. Her rapid ensuing movement proved too much for the delicate engagement gown she still wore; several distinct rips could be heard as she clambered from her wizard, and her first thought was relief that she suddenly had much more freedom of movement. A hurried check of his limp body found a large lump on the back of his head, and her hand came away from it wet with blood. “Draco!” She whispered frantically. “Draco, wake up!” She gently patted his cheek, sighing with relief when his eyelids fluttered open. “How badly are you hurt?”


The blonde wizard grimaced and sat up slowly. “I need Greg.” He touched the back of his head gingerly and looked at her with a confused expression before attempting to get to his feet. “Where is Greg?”


Hermione couldn’t decide if she was worried or affronted. What’s Greg Goyle got to do with this? When she was able to easily pull Draco back down by her side, she settled on being worried. “Draco, the guards have us under protection for the moment and you obviously need medical attention. Stay here and I’ll-”


His long fingers closed around her wrist like a vise. Draco’s normally pale skin took on a slightly greenish tinge as he interrupted, “Get Greg now,” and slumped against her shoulder.


Now pinned under his dead weight, Hermione realized how heavy Draco really was. She struggled against him for a moment and then decided that calling for help would be necessary, especially since her wand was trapped under both of them. Looking around, she saw the most recent object of her fiancé’s desire crawling toward them stealthily. With the last breath of air in her lungs, she wheezed, “Greeeg.” Greg Goyle hoisted the Malfoy wizard easily, much to Hermione’s relief. “Oh, thank Merlin. He’s bumped his head and asked for you before he passed out.”


The dark-haired wizard nodded in an unsurprised way and took a small box from a pocket of his robes. He set it down, aimed his wand at it, and muttered, “Engorgio.” Seconds later, he opened what looked to be a Mediwizard kit. He spoke to Hermione as he pulled two small bottles from the box and carefully administered their contents to the unconscious wizard. “He hit his head during the match on Saturday and got a nasty concussion. Didn’t want to miss his date with you in Hogsmeade so he didn’t tell Madam Pomfrey. I’ve been treating him for headache and inflammation since, although what he really needs is a good week of sleep and quiet.”


Despite Greg’s quiet, unworried tone (or perhaps because of it), Hermione saw red. She hissed, “Do you mean to tell me that he’s been injured for . . . for seven days and has been allowing a school friend to treat him? And that no one’s bothered to tell me?” A hex hit the wall above them, sending a shower of dust over their heads, and they both leaned over Draco protectively. Hermione realized he still held her wrist tightly, despite his unconscious state.


“I’m a certified Mediwizard, Miss Granger, and studying to be a Healer under my father. I spend my summers at St. Mungo’s. Believe me, if I thought Draco needed more expert care, I’d have insisted.” Greg glanced up at her with a solemn smile. “Quidditch is a rough sport, as you well know. He’s tough.” Then he waved his wand neatly over Draco’s head and murmured, “Rennervate.”


For the second time in five minutes, Draco opened his eyes. “Ugh.” He looked at Greg first. “My head?” At his friend’s nod, he turned to Hermione. “I’ll be fine after an Invigoration Draught.” He looked around. “Where are the others?”


“You’ll be fine?! After an Invigoration Draught?! Where are the others?!” Hermione’s voice wound tighter and higher, getting progressively louder. “What on earth is wrong with you – you, you . . . you moron!”


Another hex rebounded off their warded area. Draco took the small vial proffered by Greg and downed its contents, all the while keeping his eyes – which were rapidly gaining their usual focus and gleam – on Hermione as she ranted. When she opened her mouth to continue, he leaned down and stole a quick kiss. Then, having silenced her temporarily, he gave her a smug smirk and stood, hauling her to her feet by the wrist he still held in his grip. “I wondered how long it would be before you started coming up with affectionate nicknames for me, sweetheart. Let’s get you out of here.”


The moment Greg had shrunk his kit back to pocket size, a somewhat distracted Hermione found herself being dragged over rubble away from her suite of rooms. She dug in her heels the moment her brain cleared. “Not if Ginny’s in there.” Draco looked down at her, and at the slightest visible crack in his resolve she begged unashamedly, “Please, Draco!”


Her husband-to-be waffled for a moment, but finally turned to Greg with a questioning look. The dark-haired wizard replied, “From what I could tell, there was only one of them in there. The rest of the guard entered just before I got to you.” Hermione took advantage of Draco’s hesitation to pull him back the way they’d just come. The three of them paused at the blasted edge of the wall, listening for any noise within the room. There were heavy footsteps and low voices, but nothing else, and Greg mouthed, “Wait.” He peeked around quickly and then his shoulders relaxed. “All clear.”


Hermione squeezed Draco’s hand tightly and stepped around the corner. There she saw the two Crabbe wizards standing guard as Gore tended to Ginny, who was lying on the carpeted floor. As she tried to enter the room, though, she met an invisible ward that thwarted her attempts. The younger Malfoy wizard tightened his hand over hers as he explained solemnly, “I can’t enter these rooms, Hermione – I took an oath. That means you can’t enter them either, because I’m not letting go of you.”


“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. It’s missing an entire section of wall – it’s not even a bedroom anymore, really,” she reasoned.


Draco was having none of it, although he sweetened his reply with a soft kiss to her temple. “You agreed to this, sweetheart.” He called to the guards, “Is she alright?”


Ginny responded to his question herself with a groggy, “I’m fine – just got hit with a good Stunner.” She sat up with help from the elder Goyle wizard. “It looks as though my wand has been taken. And you aren’t going to believe what I have to tell you.”


After walking out to stand with her friend in the corridor the redhead proceeded to tell her story – of how Bowly had brought her to the room and left to gather a few supplies for her. Ginny had buckled down to work (at the mention of her project, she looked at Hermione meaningfully and then at the desk on the far side of the room), stopping when she heard a noise from the dressing room. She’d gone to the door, thinking her mother had popped back up to get something for Hermione, only to find Pansy Parkinson digging through one of the closets while wearing a wedding gown. A drawn-out wandfight had ensued, during which Ginny’s attention had been divided between Pansy and trying to protect what she’d been working on. She’d caught the Stunner, but only after getting in a Stinging Hex of her own. “I have no idea how long ago that was, though,” she concluded remorsefully and added only to Hermione, “And I don’t know if the project was saved. If she saw it . . .”


Vincent Crabbe Sr. quickly sent a Patronus to Lucius with the information, and Hermione hugged her friend. “I’m just so glad you’re alright. Bowly heard you two fighting and reported it immediately – and that was about ten minutes ago, by my calculation. As for what you were working on,” here she glanced longingly toward the desk Ginny had indicated, “I’d go and look, but somebody won’t let me out of arm’s reach.” She sent a pointed glare toward her oblivious fiancé, who was absorbed in conversation with the Crabbe wizards.


Ginny smirked. “The Bossiest Witch of her Age finally met her match, huh?” She leaned to whisper in Hermione’s ear, “Nice collar, by the way, pet. I’ll bet you just love curling up in your wizards’ laps and having your tummy rubbed.”


“It’s not a-” Hermione blushed and bit back a smile, rolling her eyes at the same time. “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”


“If it were me, I’d just lay back and purr,” her friend’s smirk stretched to a full-blown grin, and she turned back to the room. “As long as we’re waiting for orders, I’m just going to go see about the you-know-whats.” She was intercepted by Gore Goyle, who shook his head firmly and sent Greg in her place. The two witches exchanged mortified glances, and then Ginny quickly told him what was needed. The dark blush suffusing Greg’s face when he brought the stack of framed pictures back to them – wrapped in Hermione’s silk dressing gown – caused Ginny to snort uncontrollably and Hermione to turn a similar shade of red. She glared at her friend, performed a Shrinking Charm on the large bundle, and shoved it into Ginny’s hands in a none-too-gentle- way. The redhead tucked it into a pocket and continued snickering for far longer than was necessary.


Finally, the spectral fox of Lucius’ Patronus appeared, ordering them to search for the intruders on the rest of that floor, warding off rooms as they went. Vincent Sr. took point and led them further down the hallway while his son warded the already searched suite. The Goyles began the same process on the rooms along the other side of the hall. Ginny, who was wandless, was relegated to the rear of the group. Hermione had been trying to pretend Draco wasn’t still holding onto her as though she were a small child in a busy store. She finally turned to him and said grudgingly, “How’s your head?”


They paused in the corridor, momentarily forgetting what was going on around them as they gazed at each other. The blond wizard treated her to an almost-smile, and the curly-haired witch almost forgot she was irritated with him. “Never better.” He rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand. “I know you don’t like this, but I’m not sorry for wanting you safe.”


She remembered how, even unconscious, he had protected her from injury not so many minutes ago, and what Greg had said about Draco forgoing medical attention so as not to miss their date. Hermione’s heart and mind were divided, but only for a moment. She wrapped his arm around her shoulders in a proprietary way and sighed at the pleasant weight. “You are, you know.”


She could hear the happiness in his voice. “Am what?”


“You know what I mean.” Hermione found herself smiling now.


Draco made a thoughtful sound. “I do know that I’m handsome and clever. Is that what you mean – or were you referring to the fact that I’m also intellectually gifted and athl- oof!” He looked down at her with a trademark smirk. “That’s quite a left jab you have, Miss Granger.”


Hermione tried to pretend her fist wasn’t smarting a bit after punching it into her husband-to-be’s rock-hard side. “You’re a moron, Mr. Malfoy.” At his delighted chuckle she persisted, “No, really, Draco! How could you have possibly thought it was a good idea to chug down a few potions and say nothing about the fact that you’d bruised your brain last Saturday?”


“If you’re so worried about my health, perhaps you’d better stop attacking my internal organs.” He stroked the fingers of the hand she held around her shoulders against her necklace.


She shivered at the warmth of his touch.   “And you took me on your broom!”


They had stopped any forward progress several sentences and touches ago, and now Draco drew Hermione into his arms. He leaned down to her level and murmured against the corner of her mouth, “That’s right – how could I forget? Miss Hermione Granger rode my Firebolt last Saturday.” Kiss. “Although technically, Hermione,” here his eyes darkened several shades. Kiss. “I didn’t take you on my broom.” Kiss. “Would you like that? To be taken high in the air, on a broom?”


The double entendre, delivered as it was against her mouth and in a dark tone, sent a thrill zinging along every nerve in her body. It also sent a deep flush to her face. She whispered his name in a pleading tone, not quite sure what it was she wanted.


Suddenly there was the unmistakable sound of a hex hitting its mark in the room just ahead and to their right. There was a deep cry and a crash, and Vincent Sr. stumbled from the room, clutching at his shoulder. Streams of blood coursed down his robes and pooled on the floor at his feet, and he stumbled to his knees before falling to the floor. “Park- . . .” His son never batted an eye, but motioned to Gore and charged into the room.   Noises of wandfight ensued, the crashes of hexes intermingling with the voices of the combatants.


By the time Hermione and Draco made it to his side, Greg Goyle was already there, staunching the flow of blood and administering healing potions with Ginny’s help. He looked up at them. “He needs to be Apparated to the study now.”


Draco seemed torn for a second, giving Hermione an almost pleading glance, but Ginny interrupted in her matter of fact manner. She picked up Vincent’s dropped wand and said, “I’ll go. Get out of the way.” She wrapped an arm around the unconscious wizard. “Be back in a sec.” Then she was gone with a quiet crack.


Greg began packing up his kit quickly. “Move out of the middle of the hall, Draco. You’re an easy target.”


Draco practically sneered at the observation and growled, “Yes, well, I’m not the one she wants to get rid of, am I!” It must have occurred to him that Pansy’s real target was also in a vulnerable position, because he looked down at her with a frown. “Come on, little witch.”


They moved as one along the nearest wall, both clutching their wands. Draco had grabbed her hand at some point and he was almost crushing it in an iron grip. When she couldn’t bear it any more, she pulled against his hold and whispered, “Too tight!”


He glanced down in confusion and immediately loosened his grasp. “Forgive me, sweetheart,” he breathed. “I . . . I don’t like wandfights. They remind me of the . . .”


His hesitance was heartbreaking in its honesty, especially when Hermione’s brain quickly filled in the word war. He’s sweating, and his pulse is racing. “I don’t really want to be here, either, Draco.” And it was true – she didn’t. She’d far rather be doing pretty much anything else in the world other than waiting to hex or be hexed. The idea of Ron and Pansy terrorizing her new family, though – it made her blood boil and her resolve harden. I will hunt them down and hurt them for what they’ve done. As soon as I figure out how to get Draco to let go of my hand.


There was an explosive boom, and another, much smaller, segment of wall was sent hurling into the corridor just in front of them. They both jumped back and Draco stepped in front of Hermione just as Pansy Parkinson herself jumped through the new opening. She caught only a glance of Pansy, but it was enough to see that she was indeed wearing a wedding gown, and that she looked delighted to see Draco. Pansy planted herself strategically against the far wall, with a clear view of both directions.


“Draco!” She cooed. “Look – it fits perfectly! It’s a sign, darling!”


Hermione peeked between Draco’s wand arm and side just as he raised his wand and choked, “How could you – that’s Hermione’s dress! Get it off now!”


Pansy had her wand aimed directly at Draco, but she was smiling flirtatiously. “Take it off? You bad boy – we aren’t even betrothed yet! I would, though, Draco,” she crooned, “for you.”


What on earth is he waiting for?! Just hex her! Hermione made the slightest of sideways movements, and Draco promptly stepped back and pinned her foot under his. Other than that, he didn’t acknowledge her presence. Instead, he said to Pansy, “I’ve been looking for you. Where’s your boyfriend?”


Her coquettish manner morphed to rage instantly, complete with bared teeth and a white knuckled grip on her wand. “Don’t call him that – he is nothing more than a means to the end of your Mudblood! Where is she, Draco? Where’s the Mudblood whore you’ve been dallying with recently?”


“She’s with Lucius. Tell me where the weeded one is, and then you and I can discuss your grievances.” She can’t see me – Draco’s hiding me behind his robes. And he’s trying to find out where Ron is. Oh, my clever snake! Hermione kept her eye to the tiny space between Draco’s arm and side, all the while fingering her wand nervously. I need to keep my mouth shut.


Pansy laughed. “’Discuss my grievances’? Oh, my darling, other than your little whore I have none – and I plan to do away with her as soon as possible. I came to you today to find that my dress was ready and waiting in my room, and that you’ve been looking for me! Everything is perfect!”


“Not everything, Pans. There’s still the wizard you brought with you. I can’t have him ruining today. Tell me where he is, please.” Draco’s tone was lacking in feeling, but Pansy didn’t seem to notice in the least.


“Oh, alright,” she conceded with a happy smile, “but only because you’re right – he would ruin everything.” She sighed and admitted, “Ron’s on the main floor now that he’s armed. He’s to stay there until we find the Mudblood.”


“That’s an awfully big area. Any place in particular?” Draco asked casually.


At that moment, unfortunately, Ginny reappeared directly behind them with a loud crack and set into motion a series of unfortunate events. Time seemed to slow, noise faded, and the sudden action around Hermione was reduced to almost sluggish movement. Draco shifted to see who had Apparated, exposing Hermione to Pansy’s view; Pansy shrieked and hurled a hex their way; Draco shoved Hermione violently away from the shot of white light coming from Pansy’s wand; and Hermione heard her own voice cry out Protego even as her wand hand performed the appropriate movement. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the remaining guards come running, no doubt responding to the sound of Pansy’s noise. Her shield flew up, repelling the hex back onto Pansy, who screamed as her own Anteoculatia hit her with all its original force. Hermione saw the stone floor of the corridor rapidly approaching her face as the guards surrounded the now antlered intruder and took her wand.


Then the strange feeling passed with a rushing noise, as time sped to its appropriate pace and sound returned, and the flooring of the manor loomed before her face. I’m falling again. Why am I always falling? The irritating thought was interrupted when, instead of hitting the floor, she was caught around the middle by a pair of strong arms and hauled upright against a broad, hard chest. One fantastic lungful confirmed that it was Draco. When she finally managed to turn around in his embrace, she looked up into his handsome, solemn face. “Are you alright?” To their left, the guards were gathered around the screeching intruder, but didn’t seem to be doing much. To their right, Ginny stood close by.


Draco held her close and lowered himself to the ground, settling her into his lap as he echoed, “Are you alright?” Under Hermione’s hand his heart still thundered, but his expression was one of immense relief. He stroked a hand over her curls, and she gave a small sigh of contentment. Over his shoulder he called, “Would someone please make that noise stop? It’s giving me a headache.” He murmured as if to himself, “I need another potion.”


Hermione raised her hands to run her fingers through his soft, pale hair and made a sympathetic noise, but Ginny interrupted, “Oh, no – this is not the time to go off into one of your romantic bubbles where you forget the rest of the world. Come on, get up!” Hermione was brutally ripped from the arms of her wizard by the surprisingly strong redhead, protesting fiercely the whole way. Ginny was unapologetic. “Shut it. We have work to do, and Lucius is going spare wondering how you are. Go pop down and give him a quick snog so we can find that idiot br-” She stopped herself just in time, amending her words quickly. “So we can find He Who Must Not Be Named.”


Draco groaned as he stood to his feet at their side, but Hermione appreciated Ginny’s attempt at humor. Laughing beats worrying any day. “You mean The Ginger Lord?”


The three remaining guards had performed a Silencio as well as an Immobulus on Pansy by this point, and Hermione’s quip carried the short way across the corridor. Now they looked toward her, their expressions ranging from shock to amusement. Gore gave her an approving nod, as if to reiterate his statement from the morning before: ‘Darkness has been banished from this House’. Then his eyes went to her wizard. Aloud, he asked with obvious concern, “Are you well, Draco? You look quite pallid.”


The younger Malfoy said nothing, and a quick glance at his waxy complexion showed the real reason for his recent groan. That blow to his head must’ve been far worse than he’s been letting on. Hermione spoke up in a tone that brooked no argument. “I’m going to Side Along him to Lucius’ study now.” Draco leaned heavily against her and his eyes dropped shut.


“Not inside! Apparate to the corridor outside of it,” Gore warned, “There’s no telling how many people there are within at the moment. Vince, you go first, then Miss Granger, and-”


With the urgency that accompanies the welfare of a loved one, Hermione barely waited for Vince to Apparate, wrapping an arm around her fiancé and imagining the closest corridor location to Lucius’ study she could visualize most clearly. Their Apparition was successful but unlucky, for it put them directly in the path of the wizard formerly known as Ron Weasley. Also, Vince was nowhere in sight.


Hermione froze, her eyes locked with those of her former friend and crush, and tried to push back against the increasingly unsteady weight of Draco. Ron’s expression was crazed and slightly unfocused, but his wand was steady as he aimed it straight at her. The redheaded wizard never took his eyes from hers. “Well, if it isn’t the pain in my arse herself. What’s wrong with lover boy?”


Mother of magic, what have I done? Where is Vince?! The fact that Draco hadn’t yet seemed to notice Ron didn’t bode well for his current condition. Hermione snapped her mind out of its guilty loop of realization. “He’s hurt!” Her wand hand, which had dropped to her side at the completion of the Apparition, was now trapped at her side under Draco’s solid form and caught in his robes. She struggled to extract it while maintaining her upright position valiantly, to no avail. He’s going to collapse on top of me any second, and then what will I be able to do? “Don’t involve him in this.” I’m sorry, Draco!


Ron grinned, running his eyes over her torso. “He’s already involved. He’s finally marked you, I see. You know what that means.” He was rubbing his free hand over the front of his trousers suggestively. “Help me out with this problem, ‘Mione,” he whined, “It never goes away!”


She shuddered under his leer and quickly catalogued his appearance. He was in hospital robes, barefoot, and had some sort of thick metal band around his neck. His face was no longer the ugly shade of red it had been earlier in the week, but there was no Glamour now to hide the pustules that covered every inch of exposed skin. Merlin protect us, that must be Ginny’s wand. He’s mad as a march hare and armed. She tried to ignore his lewd suggestion much as Draco had done with Pansy. Buy time. “It means that it’s time to give up, Ron. You need to go back to St. Mungo’s.”


He stopped stroking his shaft and growled angrily. “You’ve got to be the stupidest swot in existence – that’s not what it means at all! It means that the Malfoys need to be eliminated, starting with this ferret.” His gaze was on her chest again. “I like that dress.”


No! Somewhere nearby there was a very quiet footstep, but Ron didn’t seem to notice. Hermione raised her voice in an effort to draw attention. “I won’t let you touch him!” Draco sagged against her even further, his head dropping heavily on top of hers.


“He’s not the one I want to touch,” he smirked. Ron smirking wasn’t something Hermione ever wanted to see again. Oh dear Circe, I’m going to vomit. He took a step toward them, and even though he was still several yards away it felt far too close. “In fact, I think it’s time to stop this game.” With several rapid movements of his wand hand and a barely audible mutter, he cast something directly at Draco.


Hermione finally allowed Draco’s dead weight to topple her in an effort to dodge whatever Ron had just sent their way, but felt it hit her wizard directly. They toppled to the ground in a heap just as Vince appeared from around the corner and distracted Ron, who took off. Vince left in swift pursuit. Noises of Apparition could be heard then, and the Goyles ran straight to them. Gore threw up a protective shield while Greg once more took out his Mediwizard kit, pulled Draco off of Hermione gently, and began running scans. The elder Goyle asked gruffly, “What’s he been hit with?”


“I don’t know! He was already barely conscious when it happened.” Hermione watched tensely as Greg finished his scans. This is my fault – I didn’t Apparate to the right place. She whispered, “Oh my love, I’m sorry.”


The two guards remained silent, and Hermione interpreted this as their disapproval of her actions.   After a whole minute without speaking and several administrations of various potions and healing charms, Greg shook his head in frustration. “He has a concussion, but no other physical signs of a hex. It must have been one aimed at his mind, or something very dark.”


Hermione looked up hopefully. “If we could get his wand, we could use Prior Incantato . . .”


“I can hear wandfight from here,” Gore said flatly, “He’s already fired off another charm or hex by now.”


Voices could be heard coming around the corner, and the three looked up to see Lucius approaching, wand raised. Gore dropped his shield, and the elder Malfoy dropped to his knees beside the inert body of Draco. “Don’t tell me – he hit his head again.”


“Ron hit him directly with some hex as well – or something even worse – and he isn’t responding to Greg’s treatment,” Hermione murmured. She looked up at him hesitantly, sure that he somehow knew what she’d done.


Lucius arched one aristocratic brow and turned to her. “I wouldn’t have thought that one would have the discipline or capacity for dark arts.”


Hermione shook her head vehemently. “He doesn’t. I’m willing to bet it isn’t that at all.”


“Something of a mental nature that isn’t dark,” mused Lucius.


“And there was no light.” A lightning bolt hit Hermione’s brain then, and she offered, “It could have been a Confundus charm. It makes sense – he was already nearly unconscious, so no one would see the effects. It could even be what’s keeping him from waking up.”


The counter curse was quickly performed, and Draco’s eyelids fluttered slightly. Gore gave a small smile. “There’s our young prince. Greg, get him to the study and lay him down on a couch. Ward the room and don’t let anyone in or out until I send my Patronus.” He glanced around at the small group until his eyes settled on Hermione, and then he grinned. “And don’t let this one out of your sight.” The younger Goyle complied, using a Mobilicorpus to gently transport Draco.


Gore Goyle’s amused order gave Hermione pause for thought. I thought they were upset with me. She looked at him, guilty and confused, but Lucius was already guiding her to her feet. He pressed a kiss to her hand and looked between her and the elder Goyle suspiciously for a moment. “Is there something you need to confess, pet?”


She opened her mouth, ready to bare her soul and accept whatever punishment he decided was fitting for endangering Draco and herself, but Gore laughed and said, “It appears our future Mistress hasn’t been allowed to acquaint herself with the corridor outside your study yet, Lucius – let alone the rest of the manor. Have you been keeping her locked away all week?”


Lucius’ mouth twitched. “Perhaps.” He narrowed his eyes slightly at her, leaning in slightly as he murmured in a silky tone, “Did she wander off?”


A delightful thrill ran up her spine and caused her to shudder in anticipation, but Gore’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts. “No, but she Side Alonged Draco to this odd spot. Took a moment to find her.”


Lucius looked around at the place where they stood just as Hermione did the same. When their eyes met, he smirked and she blushed in realization of just where exactly she’d Apparated. This is where we kissed after my spanking yesterday morning, on our way back to the great hall.   It’s not even close to where I meant to end up. Her wizard looked pleased. “That is most gratifying to hear, my prize.”   He walked with Hermione to his study, pausing to kiss her hand again at the door.


She resisted his efforts to guide her through the doorway. She wanted to be near Draco, and yet a large part of her demanded proof that justice would finally be served to the two menaces. She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut short by the arrival of Hugo Crabbe, who grinned down at her as he said to Lucius, “He’s been captured, and the Aurors are preparing to take them both into secure custody.” The huge guard left as quickly as he’d arrived.


“Oh, this should be excellent,” Hermione said in an anticipatory manner. “I can’t wait to see those two packed up and shipped out for good.” She turned in his arms and pulled the study door shut behind her, adding, “Don’t even think about robbing me of my fun. I’m coming with you.”


The elder Malfoy was regarding her with amused surprise. He offered his arm courteously and drew her hand under it to rest on his strong forearm. “You would choose to spend more time in the company of those two idiots rather than at Draco’s bedside?”


“Well, when you say it like that . . .” He’s teasing me. The choice is mine. “Yes. He’s probably sleeping, and what Draco doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”


Lucius’ eyes twinkled down at her as he remarked appreciatively, “Spoken like a true Slytherin. If we hurry, we can return before he wakes.”


As they rounded the last corner, Hermione said quietly, “There are so many questions I have for him, and so much I’d like to say.” Glancing up to Lucius, she added, “Do you think he’s even capable of comprehension?”


He rubbed his thumb against the soft silk covering her lower back, but this time the gesture was one of comfort. Hermione took advantage of their lack of company to lay her head against the side of his strong chest – something she hadn’t yet done while walking with him – and Lucius smiled gently down at her. “I think that my bespoken one has a tender heart, if even now she wishes to reason with and understand such a creature.” He lifted his hand to her head and stroked his fingers through her curls. “But, in answer to your question, I do not think him capable of such. His mind has become riddled with his disease until all he can think of is his obsession with you and the desires of his flesh.” She shivered at that, and Lucius wrapped his arm around her protectively. He continued, “Do as you like, but neither is worthy of your slightest regard.”


“Is there nothing you’d say to either one?” She asked curiously.


Lucius shook his head. “My refusal to give in to their demands for attention will far outweigh any words I might choose. Do as you like, though, pet.”


The two entered the great hall to find it filled with people and a heavy silence. Harry and his girls stood with the Weasley family, while nearby the Delacours sat quietly on a couch. The guard families stood at varying degrees of attention – some had taken stations around the perimeter of the large room, and some stood or sat with wands at the ready. Gore and Hugo were with the Aurors near the enormous hearth, where Pansy and Ron stood in magical restraints. At the sight of an antlered Pansy wearing the Malfoy wedding dress, Lucius gave a low growl but he said nothing.


Fleur came to Hermione’s side and took her hand. The action drew the attention of the two criminals, who both began struggling against their bindings. It was obvious that they had been silenced, and Hermione sent a mental word of thanks to whoever had thought to do that. The blonde witch whispered, “That was the longest hour of my life – I’m so glad to see that you’re safe.”


The loyal presence of her chaperone brought every emotion to the surface, but she shoved them back down as best she could. I will not cry in front of Pansy Parkinson. Hermione breathed back, “One of the guards was badly hurt, and Draco too. I just want them gone forever.” She glanced at the Aurors. “What are they waiting for? Why don’t they just take them away?”


“I think they’re waiting to see if you and your wizards wish to address them first.”


“What?!” She hissed. Suddenly she understood Lucius’ words – the fact that the two so desperately wanted her attention caused her to ignore them out of spite. I won’t give them the satisfaction. I’m sure killing them with my bare hands might feel slightly better, but this definitely works. “No – I have nothing to say to them.” She exchanged a meaningful look with her elder wizard, who nodded and walked slowly toward the group at the hearth.


There was a flurry of activity, and a portkey was produced by one of the Aurors. Ron and Pansy were magically bound to it, the Aurors took hold, and it activated in a burst of bright light. In that rather anticlimactic way, the House of Malfoy was finally rid of Pansy Parkinson and the weeded sixthborn of the House of Weasley. Silence prevailed for a few minutes in the great hall, until Lucius said calmly, “Those of you who were involved in wandfight or pursuit, or witnessed either, will be interviewed by the Ministry shortly. Until then, the wards will prevent you from Flooing or Disapparating from the estate.” He hesitated and added gravely, “We are sorry to have brought this upon you all.”


Hermione watched as her husband-to-be approached Arthur Weasley. The fatherly man looked on the point of tears, and, when Lucius clapped him on the back in a supportive, masculine way, he collapsed in the blond wizard’s arms. She went to Molly, who was nodding at her with a tremulous smile. “Oh, sweetheart,” she crooned, smoothing down the front of Hermione’s dress and patting her cheek, “Oh, but you’re a sight for sore eyes. I’m so glad, my dear – so glad to see you safe and sound. Where is Draco?”


“He, errrrr, hit his head rather hard. He’s in Lucius’ study. I should probably get back to him, in case he wakes up.”


Molly enfolded her in a motherly hug that felt wonderful. “Of course you should, sweetheart. Why don’t you go take care of Draco, and the girls and I will check in on you in a bit? We have a few things to do first.”


Hermione snorted indelicately. “A few things? Please forgive me, Molly, but I don’t think even you can turn this disaster around.” She sighed against Molly’s shoulder.


Molly drew back with a slightly offended expression. “Hermione Jean, I cannot believe you said that. Now, you go do as I say, and let’s not jump to silly conclusions. Off you go!”


Hermione found herself being shooed away by not only Molly, but by Ginny and Luna as well. “Fine – I’m going! Nice to see you all, too!” She huffed with a poorly concealed smile. It was nice to have a family comprised of so many strong individuals, even if some of them were bossy, or slightly lunatic, or embarrassing . . . she decided to stop before she lost sight of all their good qualities. Fleur and her sister were motioning for her to join them on the couch where they sat with their father, and she wandered that way.


Reynard Delacour stood and bowed to her. “Mademoiselle Granger, it is again a great pleasure.”


She gave an awkward, shallow curtsy. It felt odd for a wizard other than one of her own to greet her in such a formal way. Maybe it’s a Pureblood thing, and I’ll just have to get used to it. “Hello, Monsieur Delacour.” She turned quickly to the younger blonde witch and smiled. “So . . . never a dull moment with those Weasley wizards!” Then she winced, recognizing her gaffe. Trying to recover, she quickly corrected, “I mean to say, errrrr, that is – well what I meant was . . .Oh.” She trailed off miserably. “May I begin again?”


Gabi gave a silvery laugh of pure delight. “I thought it was hilarious!”


Hermione looked back and forth between the Delacours, finding that both Fleur and her father also seemed to be amused. Fleur took pity on her, finally. She whispered excitedly, “Hermione, my father has granted precedence to both stakes, and Gabi and I find that our hearts are in accord. Mr. Weasley has offered to find a Ministry official to perform my binding ritual as soon as he is cleared to leave the manor. I will be bound to Bill, Charlie, and Percy before your reception!”


If it was possible, Fleur was even more beautiful in her happiness. Hermione surprised them both by shrieking loudly and throwing her arms around her friend. “That’s wonderful!”


The blonde witch froze at first, but relaxed into the congratulatory embrace – especially when Gabi said loudly, “Oh, Phlegm – lighten up!”


Fleur pulled out of Hermione’s hug to glare at her little sister. “Don’t call me that, Gabrielle.”


“Don’t call you what, Phlegm? I don’t understand,” Gabi answered with a look of utter innocence on her perfect face.


Do not call me Phlegm,” the chaperone growled.


“Girls, that’s enough,” admonished Reynard without looking very concerned. He was communicating with Mr. Weasley from across the room, and from their gestures it looked as though they were making plans to have a drink together shortly. Hermione looked at the nearest timepiece, to find that it was barely ten o’clock. It seemed a bit early to drink in her mind, but then again they’d just made plans to join their families twice over, and she’d had celebratory alcohol at her wedding shower.


The Delacour sisters certainly looked angelic, but their eyes had narrowed to angry slits and their wands were now drawn on each other. Hermione backed away, citing Draco as her excuse. A glance toward the Weasley wizards proved that they were all avidly watching the quiet altercation with admiring smirks. Did they just – are they taking bets?! Reynard seemed to have given up trying to gain control of the situation, and he followed Hermione’s retreat.


“I don’t understand – Fleur is so level-headed! Is this common?”


The Delacour wizard scrubbed his hand over his face and sighed, although he was still smiling. “You have no idea. My youngest daughter has the ability to climb under anyone’s skin at will, and she delights in winding up her older sister in public settings.” He added in a thoughtful voice, “Perhaps it’s not such a good idea for them to be marrying into the same House.”


Hermione smirked as she turned away toward Lucius. “Monsieur Delacour, trust me – these are matches made in heaven.”


Lucius watched her cross the great hall with an admiring expression. He bowed over her hand and pressed a kiss to it, and the small curtsy she made was anything but awkward. Because nothing is awkward with Lucius Malfoy. “My prize, you look radiant. Will you join me in my study now?”


“Oh, yes please.” As they walked in the customary way, she recounted her conversations with Molly and the Delacours. Lucius listened contentedly as she talked, and when they had rounded the corner and were no longer in sight of the great hall and its occupants, he pulled her close to his side. She concluded her monologue by asking, “What on earth does Molly think she can do in a such a short amount of time?”


“The manor is nearly indestructible, pet. Whatever damage has been done can be undone with little effort.”


“The manor is not indestructible, obviously,” she argued.


Lucius chuckled. “The same magic that transforms the plants and animals on this piece of land runs through the walls of this house. I’ve told you before, my lovely: ley lines. The property sits over more of them than should be possible. Molly will have no difficulty accomplishing her goals this morning.”


“Lucius, there are entire walls missing in my suite.” She wanted to believe him, but her sense of logic contended that even magical repairs took time and energy.


Lucius smiled in a predatory way. “Then it’s a good thing you have no need of your own room tonight.” They reached his study, and he ushered her in. The curtains had been drawn, the fire lit, and two couches had been lengthened and widened to accommodate the sleeping forms of Draco and Vincent Sr.


Greg Goyle sat between them, reading quietly in a chair. He looked up when they entered and said quietly, “They’re both doing well. Vincent will be down for a few days, but Draco’s feeling better already – he’s just dozing between his potions. I’ll just be out in the garden.”


Hermione made her way to Draco’s makeshift bed and crouched down on the floor beside him. Despite her best efforts to leave him alone, her hands made their way to his tousled hair. She combed it away from his face, stroking her fingers through it gently. His lips shaped into an almost-smile, and he said sleepily, “That had better not be you, Greg. But don’t stop.”


She pressed a kiss to his forehead and whispered, “Yes, because Greg Goyle would play with your hair and kiss you.”


He smiled wider this time, but his eyes remained closed. “He might. He’s very nurturing.”


“How does my favorite moron feel?” His cheek was begging for a kiss now, and she generously gave it two.


Draco sighed through his nose. “My head hurts, sweetheart. Please don’t stop touching me.”


Hermione crept up onto the edge of the couch, and within moments the two had curled around each other. Draco’s head was wrapped in her arms and pressed against her chest, and his arms were entwined around her waist. She continued to play with his hair.


At some point Draco must have opened his eyes. “Hermione?”


“Yes, my love?”


“How did the front of your dress get ripped open?” He shifted his head slightly, and suddenly she could feel him smiling against the bare, inner curve of her breast.


Hermione looked down, slightly shocked to see that the deep V neckline of her reception gown had been neatly split along the center seam right down to the high waistline of the skirt. Gracious Merlin, no one’s said anything. Not even the girls. “Errrrr, I heard it rip several times this morning. I don’t exactly know.” Maybe no one noticed – after all, we were rather busy. A mental image of Ron eyeing her up and down came to mind, causing her to shudder. The movement caused Draco to groan in pain, and she apologized profusely. She sought something else with which to replace the memory of that and finally settled on Lucius’ admiring gaze in the great hall. That caused her eyes to narrow for a moment. He knew! Then again, Lucius probably wouldn’t have wanted her parading around in front of the Weasley wizards bare breasted, so it probably wasn’t as bad as she first assumed. Draco’s got his face planted in my ribcage – of course he saw it right away. “I’m sure I can fix it before the reception.”


“Unzip your gown, little witch.” He traced his fingers up the back of her gown, even as his head flopped tiredly against her. “I want to see my wedding present to you.”


“That won’t happen until you let that subnormal brain of yours heal.” When his clever fingers slid the sipper down an inch, she whispered firmly, “No.”


His low whine was particularly pitiful as he argued, “I’m fine.”


She laughed quietly, and then realizing by his pouty silence that he was serious, pulled back to look him in the eye. “No. I’m not making conjugal visits to my brain-damaged husband in the Janus Thickey Ward at St. Mungo’s. You can just be patient and wait until I say you’re better.”


“Hermione,” he began, his voice stretched with pain, “I-”


No.” She tried a different tactic, peeking out of the corner of her eye to see Lucius sitting nearby, watching her with a peaceful expression on his handsome face. Then she turned back to Draco, pulling slightly back. “I’m not taking off my dress, but you can feel them.” That caught his attention, but its effect was the reverse of what she wanted. His hand slid around to her side, thumb brushing over the shape of her shield, and then he was pushing her torn dress out of his way. His gaze was much less sleepy as it riveted on her bared breast, and she gently but firmly removed his hands, inching backward to create more space between them. “No.” It probably would have been best to just get up and move to a safe distance, but the idea of being any farther away from him right now was unthinkable.


Draco dragged her back to him easily, shook his head between her small breasts and tugged on her zipper again. She wracked her brain for an image he might possibly decide was worth waiting for. My wedding present to him and Lucius!   What would Ginny do? Better yet, what would Astoria do? She closed her eyes briefly, channeling the sexual confidence of her friends. Oh, dear sweet Circe, here goes . . . Fighting a blush, she looked down at her husband-to-be. “I have a present for you, Draco, and you’re going to love it. Pictures of me in varying states of undress.” He hesitated in his efforts, and she continued whispering as she stroked his hair, “If you rest, I’ll give you one in a little while.”


He looked up at her with as much intensity as his headache and the potions allowed, and the resulting expression was slightly dreamy. Hermione decided it was a very good look for him. “Undress?”


She bent quickly to kiss his head so he didn’t see the uncontrollable smirk on her face. “Mmmhmmm. I’m riding your Firebolt in one, Draco. Isn’t that what you want – for me to ride your Firebolt?”


He groaned quietly, and she continued, “And there’s another of me in my bed. I’ll bet that’s something you’ve imagined – me in that bedding you had designed.” Draco gave another almost inaudible groan, and his eyes closed. He pulled her closer with one arm and nuzzled her breast, tracing the outline of her shield through the fabric of her dress. “There’s another of me in part of my school uniform. Surely that’s a picture worth waiting for.”


The blond wizard made a low sound of pure agony. “Only part of your . . . Merlin. Yes, please. Anything, Hermione. I’ll do anything. Just let me see them.”


She pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Then be a good boy and do what you’re told. As soon as your head stops hurting so badly, I’ll give you the first installment.”


Draco gave an acquiescing grimace. “Lucius warned me that you could be devious, but I didn’t believe him. You really should have been in Slytherin.”


Hermione breathed a laugh just as a silent timer went off on the side table. “I think it’s time for your next dose of potions. I’ll just get Greg.” She slid his head back onto his pillow despite his protests and stood, peering down at the bodice of her dress. Sure enough, at some point during one of their struggles, it had split down the front to show a long, narrow stretch of skin. She flashed Lucius an irritated glance, but he only smiled smugly.


Greg, it seemed, didn’t need to be told he was needed. He came through the French windows at that point and went straight to his youngest patient, administering several potions before disappearing back out to the rose garden. Draco drifted off into sleep almost immediately.


No longer needed as a pillow, Hermione stood idly for a moment before realizing that Lucius was regarding her in an almost hopeful manner. For some reason this struck her as amusing. Lucius wants his cuddle time. She went to him and tried curling up on his lap as was her wont, but the restrictive skirt of the reception gown impeded her efforts.


In frustration she resorted to sheer stubborn force, at which point the seam along her upper thigh gave out with a loud, high ripping noise. Lucius’ ensuing laughter was quiet but full, and it vibrated through her body where it leaned against his. He, too, seemed to find the new neckline of her gown fascinating, and he ran his fingers along the exposed skin repeatedly. “What was it you said that so enraptured Draco just then, pet?” Lucius ran his lips slowly down along her cheek to her mouth, then pressed them to hers in a rhythm of aggressive push and seductive pull. “Hmmmm?”


Completely distracted, she opened her mouth to answer and was silenced by the intrusion of his warm, wet tongue. “Mmmmmmm.” In this Malfoy-induced state all coherent thought faded, along with both the recently passed and still impending events of the day, until all Hermione could do was try to remember how to breathe. Physical desire, kindled by Draco’s own, was slowly catching fire in every part of her and she felt its flames lick along her bones and tendons with delicious heat.


Lucius pulled away with a smirk, much to her dismay, and he resisted her efforts to recapture his talented mouth. “Ah, ah, ah – what were you saying to Draco? Something tells me it bears repeating.”


Hermione gave a small growl of displeasure as the fog in her brain cleared somewhat. Oh, you want to tease, do you? I’m becoming quite proficient at that myself . . . She ran her fingers down the front of his waistcoat to the waist of his trousers, where she barely dipped her fingertips beneath the soft wool fabric. She swiped her tongue across the corner of her mouth and didn’t even try to hide her saucy smile as she replied, “I was telling him that I sat for some pictures for the two of you.” The curly haired witch leaned in close to her wizard’s ear and whispered, “Pictures for our boudoir.” Her wizard’s eyes glazed slightly, and his smug expression morphed into one of deep thought, so she added, “And if you’re a very good boy, I’ll give them to you in a while.”


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