Chapter Fifty-One: Wednesday Morning

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.

 

The trek across the house seemed somewhat faster to Hermione because she recognized several landmarks along the way. A rudimentary map was beginning to form in her head, and she added things to it as she walked. The enormous house looked to have even proportions from the outside, but within its walls was a maze of high-ceilinged hallways, staircases, and galleries. “Isn’t the Morning Room on the first floor? I thought we passed through it last night.” She was confused because they had gone up and down several flights of stairs already.

 

“Yes, it’s on the east side of the house directly across from my study,” Lucius replied. He walked with her in the somewhat formal way he seemed to prefer –her arm drawn under his, with her hand resting on his broad forearm. Draco was on her other side, and his hand rested on the small of her back. It was the first time the three of them had walked anywhere in this manner, and she was struck by the balance and rightness of it. Fleur floated gracefully directly behind them, and Hermione tried to ignore her completely.

 

“Then why are we going up and down staircases?”

 

Draco chuckled. “It’s faster this way, trust me.”

 

“That doesn’t make any sense! How can it-“ Why am I arguing about something he clearly knows more about than I? “Never mind. I believe you.”

 

Eventually they found themselves outside the tall doors of the Morning Room. The Malfoy men paused, sharing a quick glance. Hermione was instantly suspicious. “What was that look for? What’s going on?”

 

Fleur made a strangled sound. “You’re either hungry or you’re not, Hermione! Let’s go! I need more coffee.”

 

Draco recovered quickly and gave her a (had she been wearing any) knickers-dropping almost-smile. “Ready for your sex-addled biddies?”

 

“Is that what you’re nervous about?” Suddenly she brightened. “Why – are you planning to stay and join the conversation?”

 

“A wise man avoids the company of more than one woman at a time, pet,” Lucius intoned with a smirk. “Come along.”

 

The two men drew open the doors, and Fleur brushed past, obviously in search of the coffee pot. Hermione wandered into the room she’d seen only in passing the evening before. She took in the way the morning light, streaming through the wall of opened French windows, transformed the large area. Flowers bloomed everywhere in huge planters, and the small trees she’d admired previously filled the high spaces above her head with bright color. For a moment, she didn’t notice anything else other than the beauty of the columned room. It’s awfully quiet in here for Molly and Minerva together. Then she realized that tiny twinkling lights and gauzy streamers had been strung through the trees surrounding the central seating area, and that there were more than three guests seated on the couches.

 

“Ginny? Lu? What are you-“

 

She was cut off by the combined shrieks of all the witches present. “Surprise!”

 

Hermione blinked, speechless. She turned to her wizards. “What is this?” She gestured vaguely toward the middle of the room with one hand.

 

“It would appear to be a surprise party in your honor, my lovely.” Lucius took her by the hand and led her down the shallow steps to where her guests were already making their way toward her. She was immediately snatched into a tight embrace by Molly Weasley and eventually passed along to Minerva, who first set down a champagne flute filled with a bright orange beverage.

 

The professor took the young witch by the hands, squeezing them in her own and blinking back tears. “Oh, my dear girl!” The older witch was so overcome with emotion that she quickly turned her back to wipe at the tears on her cheeks.

 

Astoria was the next to hug her. “I’m so glad to share another breakfast with you, Hermione! We have so much to talk about! I can’t wait to show you my-“

 

That sentence won’t end well. She interrupted quickly, “Astoria, it’s lovely to see you! Let me just say hello to Gin and Lu before we sit down, won’t you?”

 

Luna was smiling sweetly, and Ginny was grinning like a madwoman when Hermione fled toward them. “You have no idea how thrilled I am to see the two of you,” she whispered to the redhead when they hugged. Aloud she said, “I thought you had plans for this morning!”

 

Luna beamed at her. “We can have uninhibited sex with Harry any time, but you only have one wedding shower. Isn’t that right, Gin?” she turned her dreamy eyes toward Fleur, who had approached them holding a steaming mug of coffee. “Who’s this, ‘Mione?”

 

Hermione braved a direct glance at the breathtaking chaperone and felt a pang of sympathy for her. Fleur’s chin was raised defiantly, and she had the same icy expression on her lovely features that she’d worn all yesterday. Poor Fleur – coffee deprived for hours and now surrounded by women! And she’s still getting over the fact that I’m not a pushover. She stepped toward her newest friend and linked their arms in a gesture of solidarity. “Girls, this is my friend Fleur Delacour. She also happens to be our chaperone. Errrrr, hang on. We’re going to need to cast a rather large Interpretor.”

 

Hermione dragged her guests together and cast the charm that would allow them all to converse easily. She watched Luna and Astoria engage Fleur in pleasant conversation almost immediately, seeming not to be affected by her Veela heritage. Molly and Ginny, however, watched with hackles raised.

 

Oh, no, no, no. I’ll not have anyone treat Fleur less than kindly. She chuckled internally. I’m starting to talk like Lucius. To the Weasley women she said quietly, “Molly and Ginny, she’s very nice after she gets her coffee, and also very used to women being extremely uncharitable toward her. I hope you’ll give her a chance.” As an afterthought she added, “It helps if you don’t look at her directly.”

 

At that moment, Lucius spoke. “Far be it from me to interrupt this gathering, but Draco and I must bid you all good morning.” He bowed in the group’s general direction, and then kissed Hermione’s hand when she went to him.

 

“Surely you’re not leaving right away? You haven’t eaten yet.” She tugged at his hand hopefully.

 

He retained her hand in his, rubbing his thumb back and forth along its back. “My portkey is set for fifteen minutes from now.”

 

Minerva called out from where she sat. “Oh, Lucius – don’t even pretend you’re going to leave. You haven’t missed one of our meetings yet!”

 

Lucius cleared his throat meaningfully. Suddenly, like tumblers in a complex lock, vague memories of that sound, along with images of her first meetings in the Headmaster’s office, clicked into place in Hermione’s brain: A throat being cleared, a hanging tapestry, and the way Professor Dumbledore and Minerva seemed to include both in their conversations. Both her wizards knowing that she’d met with Astoria before she told them herself. She rounded on the Malfoy men furiously and hissed quietly, “In the hall.” Hermione turned to her guests. “We’ll just be a moment.”

 

Fleur, whose equilibrium seemed to have been restored by adequate caffeine intake, set down her mug and floated gracefully to Hermione’s side. She looked the tiniest bit amused and murmured for only the curly-haired witch to hear, “This should be good.”

 

The two witches swept out ahead of Lucius and Draco, who only paused to bow in the direction of the other ladies. As soon as they’d exited the room, she slammed the doors shut with a flick of her wand. She blinked furiously and paced back and forth, stabbing her finger towards them as she said, “You. And you! You were behind the tapestry in Professor Dumbledore’s office when I accepted the stake! And during the breakfasts with Molly and Astoria! And every other one of my meetings with the Headmaster and Minerva! You eavesdropped on my private conversations!

 

Fleur blended into the wall behind them, and Hermione promptly forgot her presence. Draco was looking at her wide-eyed, like an animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, but Lucius was unrepentant. His amused smirk raised her ire to yet another, much higher level. “Aaah — the kitten finally shows her claws.”

 

“Hermione, please don’t misunderstand-“

 

She cut off Draco’s quiet plea. Was her hair actually emitting sparks? She could feel the electricity of her temper crackling within her very bones! “You had no right! How dare you!” She stood as tall as she could and tilted her head back, glaring at the elder Malfoy in outrage. Then she put her hands on her hips in a challenging stance. “You will apologize to me immediately.”

 

In hindsight, she realized her tone may have been a bit peremptory. Suddenly Lucius loomed. He leaned forward just enough so that any superiority of stance Hermione had held for that short amount of time was lost, and he looked down at her with a warning look in his glacial eyes. “It would be wise for you to carefully consider your words, pet.”

 

Her hands fell from her hips of their own accord, and she shifted uncertainly under his penetrating gaze. She gulped, dropped her eyes, and changed her tone somewhat. “I would like to know why you invaded my privacy like that.”

 

Lucius’ eyes were still slightly narrowed when she chanced a quick glance back up at his face. “It was within our rights.” He sighed, holding out his arms to her. Hermione’s limbs responded automatically, stepping into his embrace before she realized what she had done. She felt him press his lips against the top of her head, and the tender action soothed her temper somewhat. He continued, “Again, you have the disadvantage of not understanding courtship tradition. All this time, I’d assumed that Minerva had explained the most basic of them to you when she was meeting with you privately in her rooms. Those we did not see or hear.”

 

“She was busy talking me out of running away,” the young witch growled, “and then she mainly focused on my courtship rules and the binding ceremony.” It was her turn to sigh, and then she turned to Draco.

 

The younger Malfoy drew closer hesitantly. In the tone of voice one might use to attempt to calm a savage beast, he explained, “Wizards have the right to watch their stake being offered to their bespoke witch. They aren’t allowed to influence her decision in any way, and so they must remain silent and unseen. When you didn’t say anything ever, I thought you just didn’t want to talk about your meetings. Forgive me, please.”

 

Hermione found his earnest entreaty adorable and gave him a small smile. “Come here, you silly snake.” She pulled him down until he was leaning close to her face and kissed his cheek. “It’s a very good thing I’m so stubborn and want to marry you, because these rules and traditions might send a lesser Muggle-born witch packing.”

 

Draco brushed his lips against hers. She sensed him relax, and he said, “I’m so very glad you’re stubborn, Miss Granger.”

 

Hermione’s anger had subsided at the realization that they hadn’t known the extent of her ignorance. “We’re going to search that entire library for information on pureblood courtship and marriage traditions, and then we’ll hunt for everything we can find on house wives.”

 

“Agreed.” Draco looked at Lucius, who still held Hermione in his arms. “I’ll give you two a moment, since you’re leaving shortly.” He stepped back.

 

Hermione turned her attention to Lucius. “Who planned this wedding shower?”

 

“Draco and I, with the help of Molly.” He ran one long finger over the curve of her cheek.

 

“That was very sweet of you, although something tells me it was less about a romantic gesture than it was about the fact that I’m an orphan. Does tradition dictate that you take that responsibility?”

 

“It was neither romance nor responsibility — we did it for our bespoken one because we love her.”

 

“Oh.” She was speechless for a moment. “Really?”

 

The elder Malfoy was twinkling at her, and almost immediately she forgot why she had been so angry. “Despite her temper.”

 

She melted into a small pile of goo right there in the hallway. “I need to kiss you.” Hermione flung herself into Lucius’ open arms and pulled him down to her level. Their lips moved against each other lovingly, tongues pushing and sliding against each other sensuously until Hermione moaned softly into his mouth. Fleur cleared her lovely throat. The curly-haired witch drew back just enough to murmur, “I apologize for my disrespect, my love.”

 

“Maroon and gold,” he intoned. He kissed her again, and she felt him smile against her lips. “In the future, I won’t assume you know everything.”

 

Draco had been standing quietly beside them, watching her with a relieved expression. As she pulled away from Lucius she caught the younger wizard’s eye, and Hermione felt it only fair to kiss him in the same spirit of apology. As with most of their intimate moments, it escalated quickly and would have resulted in Hermione being pinned to the nearest wall and Draco’s hair being tugged into disarray, had not their chaperone intervened. “That is quite enough, you two.”

 

Hermione counted to ten, took a deep breath, and said to both Draco and Fleur, “And while we’re in the library, we can draw up some basic chaperone ground rules for the next few days. I’m sure we can come to some agreement.”

 

Fleur pursed her full lips in thought and then nodded hesitantly. “I agree to consider your suggestions.”

 

I’ll take it. “Sounds good to me.” She turned to Lucius, reaching up a hand to play with one of his waistcoat buttons. “I want you here today. Isn’t there any way you can stay home with us?”

 

He appeared to be considering something carefully, and she tugged the button hopefully. Finally he said, “I really must go, but I will do what I can do to cut the meeting as short as possible. Perhaps . . .” He nodded and bent to kiss her nose. “If I send my Patronus ahead of me, will you meet me in my garden?”

 

Hermione pulled him down for a sweet kiss. “Of course, my love.”

 

Lucius gave her a disappointingly chaste kiss, and Hermione was about to give in to her disappointment when he raised his cane between their torsos. He was watching her, one eyebrow raised, as he ran one hand slowly down its length. She squirmed in place, trying to rub her slim thighs together. Now would be an excellent time to be wearing knickers. “Be a good girl while I’m gone, pet.” With the thumb of his free hand, he rubbed her bottom lip back and forth, back and forth.

 

Impulsively she grabbed the cane and kissed the top of the snakehead with a flick of her tongue. She looked up at Lucius through her eyelashes. “Yes, sir.”

 

He shook his head slowly, laughing through his nose. “You may well kill me yet. Come here, and let me give you a proper good-bye kiss.” Lucius proceeded to give her one of his tonguefuls, moving his strong mouth against hers until she was dizzy, and ignoring Fleur’s protests completely. When he pulled back, he swiped his thumb against her bottom lip once more. Rub, rub, rub. Then with one last kiss to her forehead, Lucius was gone. Hermione watched him stride gracefully down the hallway until he was out of sight.

 

“Enough wasting time. We have a busy day – let’s get started, Hermione!” Fleur’s arms were crossed over her chest and her foot was tapping impatiently. Her face, however, bore an understanding expression.

 

Aha – she enjoyed the view, too! Hermione gave a Malfoy-esque smirk. She said in an undertone, “Je ne sais quoi?

 

Fleur rolled her eyes and actually gave a real smile. “Meh, he’s all right. I think I’d grow tired of all that blond hair, though.”

 

Draco chuckled, opening one tall door and holding out his hand towards Hermione. “Shall we try this again?”

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