Chapter Fifty-Two: 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.

 

Hermione’s immediate response to her wizard’s remark was to squeeze his hand and say happily, “You’re going to stay, Draco? Oh, please say you will!”

 

“Uhhh . . .”

 

He glanced down at her with an uncertain look, and Hermione tried pouting her lips the way she’d seen other girls do. “Pretty please?”

 

It seemed to work. Draco said reluctantly, “Very well, but just for breakfast.” He gestured for them to pass through the door.

 

The young witch turned to her chaperone as they all walked back into the Morning Room together. “Fleur, did you know about this shower?”

 

“The Malfoys requested that I keep the three of you on schedule this morning, but didn’t say why. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a shower present for you.” Fleur said this in her usual abrupt manner, but Hermione interpreted it in the spirit it was meant. She feels a bit guilty. Her brain jumped ahead several moves in the conversation, chose a course of strategy, and rated its chances of success fairly high.

 

“That’s quite all right – although if you really feel badly, you could always reconsider your chaperoning tactics and call that a present.”

 

Fleur hesitated and said cautiously, “Perhaps we can negotiate a treaty of sorts after the party.”

 

“If it would make you feel better about not having a gift for me, then I think it’s a good idea.” Hermione wondered if she was laying it on too thick, but Fleur’s normally suspicious nature didn’t catch on to the ploy.

 

It looked as though Astoria was regaling the two older witches with some lurid tale, while Ginny and Luna curled up together like two cats across from them. The redhead perked up as Hermione approached. “What was that all about?”

 

Hermione glanced around the seating area and ventured, “Oh, nothing, really – I just wanted to say goodbye to Lucius.” Time to change the subject. “Well, errrrr . . . shall we eat?” She looked around. “Draco, do you suppose Trinket would-“

 

At the mention of her name, the house elf appeared near the open French windows. Shortly after, a large round table heavily laden with food materialized beside her. The fresh morning breeze picked up the enticing smell of warm pastries and fresh fruit, and the group made their way across the large room. Trinket curtsied dramatically. “Breakfast is served!”

 

Draco remained standing at Hermione’s elbow until the ladies had seated themselves, and then he pulled out her chair for her. Blushing at his chivalry, the young witch sank into her own seat and pulled him down to the one beside her. The food was passed, and there was silence while everyone enjoyed the first few bites. When she reflected on it later, Hermione realized she should have appreciated the quiet more.

 

She had just broken off a bite of pain au chocolate (or ‘chocolatine’, as Fleur had corrected in her bossy-big-sister voice) and put it in her mouth when things began to go sideways. Molly asked her, “What will you three be doing after the honeymoon, Hermione?”

 

Hermione swallowed her bite of food. ”I’ve been a little distracted since we got here, and we haven’t done much talking,” she answered cautiously, glancing at Draco out of the corner of her eyes. He was looking down at his plate with a concerned look as she finished, “I’m not really in a position to say yet, really.”

 

Luna, who seemed to have been off in her own world until just then, piped up. “Positions? Which one do you think you two will try for your first time?” She raised her slightly unfocused eyes to Hermione and moved them to Draco with pleasant expectation.

 

The curly-haired witch blushed to the roots of her hair. “Would someone please pass the Mimosa pitcher? My glass seems to be empty!” Despite trying to create a diversion, she was telling the truth — the first drink had gone down quickly and smoothly. On the plus side, it was already sending a slight buzzing sensation along her limbs.

 

Molly was laughing and clapping her hands. “Oh, you darling girl — of course you’ve been very distracted! Why, I’m sure you’ve done very little talking at all! Minerva and I placed bets on how many times—“

 

It was Draco’s turn to interrupt. “Molly, you’ve put such tremendous effort into wedding preparations – how can we ever thank you?” His tone was confident and charming, but when Hermione stole a peek at him from the corner of her eyes, she saw that he was beet red. She reached under the table for his hand and gave it a comforting squeeze.

 

Minerva, who was working away at her own pitcher of the fizzy orange alcoholic beverage, joined the conversation. “You should send her and Arthur to a wizarding couples’ resort. The Harmandir Sahib in Mumbai is run by a former Ravenclaw – it’s very kinky, I hear!”

 

“You don’t need to do anything – I did this as a gift to the three of you,” Molly replied firmly.

 

Draco’s blush had ebbed, but Hermione was filled with a sense of foreboding. No, no, no, no, no!!! Her wizard continued, “Of course I need to do something, Molly – you’ve been my favorite aunt all my life. Have your bags packed before you arrive on Friday, because I’m going to do whatever it takes to book you and Arthur a room at that resort.” He flashed the older witch a dazzling smile.

 

Astoria bounced up and down in her chair with obvious delight. “I know the owners of the Harmandir! They’re friends of my parents. Sai and Avani Khan were both Ravenclaws, and their integration of bondage into tantric sex is amazing. And speaking of amazing,” she continued, flashing Hermione an angelic smile and raising one hand to the buttons of her sundress, “I’ve been dying to show you my-“

 

“Ginny! How is Grimmauld Place?” Hermione interrupted desperately. Whatever she has under that dress cannot be allowed to see daylight.

 

Fleur looked slightly confused. She looked from Hermione to Draco and said, “What’s-“

 

Ginny interrupted innocently. Too innocently. “Same old place – dusty, dark, inhabited by that horrid house elf. Why?” She turned to Astoria. “What did you want to show us, Tory?”

 

The beautiful blonde Ravenclaw wasted no time. She said proudly as she unbuttoned the front of her dress, “My piercings! Look – Theo did them himself!” Suddenly, her dress was wide open and Hermione saw a pair of enviable breasts, the nipples of which were both pierced with bejeweled silver hoops. They were connected by a delicate, split chain that draped between them and then ran down over the milky skin of her stomach. Holy mother of Merlin, I think that’s connected to . . . Hermione’s internal commentary was cut short by Astoria, who was running her fingers along the chain. “He finally pierced the hood of my clit last night! Isn’t it amazing?”

 

For a brief moment, the curly-haired witch found herself mesmerized by the motion of Astoria’s fingers along the chain and her accompanying expressions of pleasure. The blue and green gemstones flashed in the light, contrasted perfectly by creamy skin and pale pink nipples. Sweet Circe, she has the most perfect breasts . . . She wondered what it felt like, and what the Notties thought of the piercings. Of course they like it – they did it! Her eyes slid to Draco’s speculatively, to find him hiding behind a napkin. Astoria was tugging gently on the vertical chain now, and humming in apparent pleasure.

 

Hermione was pulled out of her helpless staring by a choked noise from beside her. Draco! She snapped back to her senses. “Thank you, Astoria! All right, you can put those bad girls away now. Errrrr . . . Draco, do you need a drink?”

 

Her wizard was beyond red. The skin of his face was almost purple, at least what could be seen from behind the napkin. Hermione filled his water glass and handed it to him. “I need to leave now,” he whispered desperately. He stood up so quickly that he tripped on the leg of his chair. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve just remembered something that needs doing immediately.” He looked everywhere but at the blond Ravenclaw who had paused with her fingers on the chain.

 

Hermione wrapped an arm around Draco’s side and shot a nasty glance around the table. “I’ll just walk you to the door. No, Fleur, you stay here.”

 

The chaperone, somewhat distracted by the ongoing show, nodded and remained at the table. They crossed the large room and stood alone in the doorway, hidden by a row of large columns. Draco murmured in his serious way, “Hermione, I swear to you that I closed my eyes the moment she began to unbutton her dress. I saw nothing.”

 

The young witch looked at him “But you were blushing – surely you saw her . . . her . . .you know.”

 

“She had just bared herself in front of me! Of course I was embarrassed!” He sounded shocked.

 

“You didn’t see anything at all?”

 

“I looked away when she undid that first button. I have no desire to see Astoria Greengrass unclothed.”

 

“She has amazing breasts.” Even to herself she sounded insecure.

 

Draco’s eyes dropped to her chest. “I’ve never noticed. I like your breasts.”

 

“Really?” She looked down and raised her hands to cup the small orbs. “They’re definitely not amazing.”

 

Draco leaned down and put his hands over hers. “I think they are. Do you remember the first time I . . .?” His fingers flexed, and Hermione rearranged their hands so that his were underneath hers. He squeezed the lush flesh and rubbed her nipples through her dress until they both gasped quietly. “You, on the other hand, can unbutton your dress any time for me.”

 

“Draco . . . mmmmmmm . . . do you . . . does that appeal to you? You know . . .” Hermione was grappling with the knowledge that the idea, at least, of her friend’s piercings had been arousing. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been turned on since Lucius wound me up in the garden, and now Draco’s got his hands on me . . .

 

The young wizard groaned quietly. “I’m still stuck on the thought of you unbuttoning your dress. Let me enjoy that image a bit longer.” He stole one last, brief, hungry kiss, releasing one breast and gripping her arse with his free hand. The motion brought her abdomen flush with his erection. Draco sighed, dropping his head against her shoulder. His hands stayed where they were, but he said, “I really do need to leave – and not just because Lucius was right about Ravenclaws. There’s a lot to get done this morning if we’re to spend the entire afternoon in the library.”

 

She ran her fingers through his hair, tugging the soft locks into disarray. “What did he say about Ravenclaws?” I will remember to use our time in the library wisely, and not be distracted by Draco. Much.

 

Draco kissed his way up her neck and thrust his hips against her once. “One is terrifying, but two can make a grown man cry. He once told me never to enter their commons at Hogwarts – now I understand why. How long do you think those women would let me keep you here?” He’d backed her against the nearest column, keeping their bodies pressed tightly together. Hang the research – I’ll have the rest of my life to learn as I go. It’ll be just me and Draco . . . and Fleur. The last part of that thought was like a bucket of cold water thrown over her head.

 

Aided by that, she processed his words finally. Several scenarios came to mind, none of which were ideal. Hermione pushed against Draco’s chest until he released her and stepped back. “Please go before one of them comes to drag me back. At least you can save yourself.”

 

Thankfully, it was Fleur who came round the columns looking for her just then. The irony wasn’t lost on Hermione. Who’d ever have thought I’d be happy to be interrupted by Fleur? When the two witches got back to the table, the others looked at her expectantly. Astoria, finally clothed again, asked, “Is he gone?”

 

“Yes, no thanks to you!” Hermione took her seat and began picking at the cooled chocolatine once more.

 

Molly said, “Thank goodness! Now we can really talk!”

 

“Well done, Astoria!” chimed Ginny.

 

Hermione’s mouth dropped open. She gazed at each smirking face and recognized that her only ally was Fleur Delacour. They shared a wide-eyed look, and then the chaperone lifted her chin determinedly and nodded as if to say ‘let’s do this’. “You mean to say you were trying to get rid of Draco?”

 

“Of course – this is a wedding shower. Men aren’t allowed.” Astoria explained as if to a very young child or very stupid person.

 

“Why’d you feel the need to do it that way? You could have just asked him – it wasn’t as if he wanted to be here in the first place!”

 

“That would have worked, too.” It looked as though the thought was only just occurring to Astoria. “Oh, well.” She added brightly, “So what did you think of my piercings?”

 

Hermione planted her face in one open palm. Meanwhile, Minerva seemed to be feeling the effect of the Mimosas. “What I want to know is why you aren’t bearing the Malfoy rune yet!”

 

The curly-haired witch gaped. “You can tell?”

 

“Of course we can tell, sweetheart! Anyone who knows about that tradition can tell just by looking at you,” said Molly. “And besides, your handmark hasn’t faded.”

 

Molly’s comment brought back Lucius’ words from earlier that morning: ‘the meaning of the rune a house wife bears is a secret shared only between her and her husbands, and it is visible only to those who are looking for it.’ “Oh. I thought you had to look-look for it. You know.”

 

“It only takes a glance. If you were already marked, we’d see a glow about you. Now that you know how it works, look at Tory and see if you can tell,” said Ginny.

 

Sure enough, armed with this new knowledge Hermione detected an aura of light around her friend’s body. “I see it! Thank you for explaining that.”

 

“Don’t think you can dodge my question, Miss Granger,” Minerva said sternly.

 

“Oh, errrr . . . it seems that Lucius and Draco agreed at the beginning of the courtship to let it follow its natural course. This morning I learned when it’s usually done, so I’m sure when I ran out of the binding ceremony they decided to let me set the pace.” Here she looked at her former head of house reprovingly. “They’ve been assuming all along that I knew far more than I actually do. We were going to do it this morning, but I ignorantly got Lucius to agree to move it to tonight.”

 

Minerva winced. “Oh, dear. I’d assumed you began researching pureblood marriage traditions straight away. It seemed logical, given your incessant thirst for knowledge and the fact that you didn’t ask any questions. And I can only imagine how you managed to get Lucius Malfoy to that!” She drained another Mimosa with gusto and hiccupped. “Why didn’t you, incidentally? Research, I mean.”

 

“I’ve been a little . . . distracted.” Well, that just sounds lame. She tried again. “I haven’t been myself for the past two weeks – my priorities are different, I can’t concentrate, and my principles – I give in to almost everything, and can’t seem to stay mad even when I have good cause!”

 

“You’re in love,” sighed Molly happily. “The first months are like that.”

 

Ginny added, “Don’t worry – it doesn’t last long. Before you know it, you’ll be your old self.”

 

“I’ve gone about this whole thing backwards! You all knew your wizards before you got serious with them, and you knew all these traditions. What happens when this love-haze is gone, and we’re still getting to know each other? Will we only be bound together by magic?” Will they still love me then? Will I still love them?

 

Molly got up from her chair and rounded the table, pulling Hermione into a tight hug. She seemed to have read the young witch’s thoughts, because she whispered in her ear, “That’s when you’ll understand what being bespoken truly means. The covenants don’t make us love someone, and they don’t influence whom we choose. They simply identify individuals who are so right, so perfect for us that it seems created by magic. You’ve found your true loves, sweetheart, and they’ve found you. You’ll be happier than you can ever imagine. You’ll also be frustrated by them regularly and even angry with them sometimes. The only magic involved is the kind you create together with the help of your family covenant. It’s the most powerful magic you can imagine.” She pulled away just enough to catch her eye as she finished, “I promise.”

 

Hermione hugged Molly in an equally fierce grip. The comfort emanating from the older witch was almost palpable, and she soaked it up greedily. Even though I’m not marrying into her family, she treats me like a daughter. “Thank you, Molly.”

 

“Of course, of course!” She kissed Hermione’s forehead tenderly. “ Now let’s sit you down and fill that plate up. Sit! No arguments, young lady.” With that, the emotional moment was gone and Molly had returned to her usual, domineering, and slightly irritating self. Hermione sighed and dropped her napkin back onto her lap. I guess I’m not done eating.

 

Luna smiled dreamily from her table spot. “There must be other things you don’t know, ‘Mione. What else can we help you with?”

 

Hermione gulped down the rest of her drink. Lucius said this would be a good opportunity to learn. “I’m going to need quite a bit more alcohol before I’m ready for that.” I might need it just to make it through this shower.

 

The conversation swirled around in its usual gutter of choice, with Astoria updating them all raptly about her improvement in oral sex, Molly’s fond remembrances, and Minerva’s side commentary. Only now Ginny and Luna had been added to the mix, and Lucius had been right – Ravenclaws were terrifying in groups of more than one. Luna was asking, “Where will you be joining with Lucius and Draco-“

 

Minerva spluttered into her drink and interrupted, “I’ll tell you where she’ll be joined to them-“

 

Hermione interrupted her quickly, blushing. This woman teaches impressionable children! “Honestly, I have no idea. I intend to rectify that situation in the next day and a half.”

 

“Speaking of rectums, you’re going to love my gift!” Astoria said eagerly.

 

Good Merlin . . . “I didn’t say-“

 

“Oooh, let’s do gifts! We can talk at the same time!” Luna had already hopped up and was skipping toward the couches.

 

Molly said, “We should shut the doors. The boys will be working near the labyrinth, and if I know Lucius he’ll have already told you to stay far away from them until you’ve been marked tonight.”

 

The young witch sighed. The breeze was lovely, and she didn’t like being reminded yet again of her mistake. “You’re right, I suppose. Would someone mind . . .?” She gestured toward the doors. “I’m not going anywhere near them.” Somehow the worst possible scenario would unfold, and Lucius would find out.

 

Fleur got up and went to follow Molly’s suggestion but paused on the threshold, inadvertently drawing attention to herself. Hermione was reminded once again of the disparity between the chaperone’s allure and the way she dressed. Her dark-colored dress was modestly cut and covered her from the top of her neck to the tips of her toes, and her hair was pulled back severely into a braid. Still, she was the most beautiful woman the curly-haired witch had ever seen.

 

“She certainly dresses discreetly,” observed Minerva. There was grudging approval in her tone.

 

Ginny scoffed quietly, “If that’s what you want to call it – I’d say she dresses horribly.”

 

That’s going to stop instantly. “That’s enough, Gin. She didn’t ask to be part Veela. She hasn’t done anything to warrant your sniping.” The redhead had the decency to look ashamed.

 

“Poor girl, she probably knows she can’t win either way,” Molly remarked in a sad voice.

 

Just then Fleur turned her lovely face toward the group of women across the room from her. “Those men are your sons, Mrs. Weasley?” She called out loudly.

 

“Yes, dear. That’s Bill and Charlie. They’re on holiday and agreed to help me. It’s our family’s wedding gift, you see.” She had begun walking toward the chaperone, still standing at the last open door. “It’s hard to miss them with that hair, isn’t it!”

 

Hermione’s heart was filled with love for the older witch, who was clearly trying to be friendly to the breathtaking chaperone. She watched Molly laid a tentative hand on Fleur’s arm as they stood and talked quietly, both gazing out at something hidden from her. She turned to her other guests just as Trinket popped back into the room. “May Trinket clear the table, Lady?”

 

“Oh, yes. Thank you for the breakfast, Trinket. It was delicious.”

 

The little house elf beamed. “Thank you!” She continued to stand near Hermione, looking at her expectantly. Finally she ventured, “Does the Lady wish for her gifts to be brought here, or will she bring her guests to her room after the meal?”

 

Oh, that’s right – all those boxes from Lucius and Draco in the dressing room. Hermione thought about the beautiful suite she’d barely had a chance to enjoy. I’d rather not defile it with the conversations that will undoubtedly ensue. “Will you please bring them here?”

 

“Gladly, Lady!” She Disapparated with a crack that somehow sounded happy.

 

Fleur was calling out again, this time to her. “Hermione, Molly says it’s safe to leave you in the company of Minerva. Is this so?” She seemed to be shaking her head slightly, as if hinting at the answer she desired.

 

Technically, yes. Although that all depends on what I’m to be kept safe from. “Yes. At least, the headmaster gave her chaperone rights at school.”

 

“We’ll just be a minute, dear! I just want to check on the boys and continue my conversation with this young lady. Come along, Fleur!” The chaperone sent a worried glance toward Hermione, who just smirked evilly. Miss Bossypants has just met her superior.

 

“Absolutely! Take your time – we’ll be fine!” She waved mockingly at the Frenchwoman, who was now being dragged helplessly across the flagged patio towards the labyrinth.

 

With the clearing of the table, the drinks had disappeared, but Minerva had risen to the challenge. She seemed to have a nose specifically designed for sniffing down alcohol, because it took her all of five minutes to discover the sideboard located on the far side of the room. “Aha! Forget Mimosas – we can have anything we like! Lucius certainly stocks this well. Let’s see . . . how about . . . good heavens . . . is that hundred-year-old . . . it is!” She stood triumphantly holding an ornate bottle of what could only be firewhiskey.

 

And here we go. “Don’t you think it’s a bit early for that, Minerva?”

 

“Nonsense! We just need a little coffee to add to it, that’s all. Summon that excellent elf of yours, Hermione! This is just begging to be opened.”

 

“Errrrr . . . why not?” She shrugged. I did say I’d need more alcohol to make it through this. Sweet Circe protect our livers. “Trinket?”

 

Crack! “Yes, Lady?” She looked pleased to have been summoned.

 

“May we please have some coffee, if it isn’t too much trouble?”

 

Trinket clasped her hands together ecstatically. “Nothing is too much trouble for you! Coffee coming up right away!” She Disapparated and shortly after that, a tray appeared on the low table between the couches. On it were a carafe, small mugs, a bowl of sugar, and a plate of cookies.

 

Minerva set to work at once, and within minutes Hermione found herself curled up on a couch between Harry’s girls, sipping a surprisingly good Irish coffee. The taste of the alcohol seemed so marginal that she abandoned her former fears. Molly and Fleur returned, and something had shifted between the two. Fleur seemed relaxed, and she wore a small smile on her face. Molly looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. Talk was minimal until the first cups had been emptied, at which point boxes began to be shoved at the curly-haired witch.

 

Ginny was the fastest. Her package was big and wrapped in hot pink paper and bow. She was clapping her hands excitedly. “This is from all three of us, although Luna has one of her own to give as well. Oh, hurry up and open it!”

 

Hermione tore off the paper and opened the box with the same amount of caution one might use if there were a danger of poisonous snakes lurking within. At first glance, there was only an incredible amount of tissue. Digging through it revealed several handfuls of knickers, which made the ones her mother had given her seem quite modest. She looked up at her best friend with a relieved grin. That coffee takes the edge off, that’s for sure. And thank goodness it’s only underwear. “Naughty knickers! Thanks, Gin. You’re the best.”

 

Ginny squealed. “There’s more! When Harry realized what I was looking for, he took me to the most incredible shop in Highgate! He offered to pay for whatever I wanted, just so long as he didn’t have pick out your knickers, so I went a bit crazy. Lucky you!”

 

Hermione found the ‘more’, and she didn’t take any of it out the box. She looked up blankly. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are these . . .?” How am I supposed to know what to do with these?

 

“Sex toys! I bought some of my own and already tried them out – magic doesn’t seem to interfere with the ones that need those badder-things!”

 

“Batteries,” corrected Hermione automatically, still gaping in shock at the arsenal of pleasure-related objects Ginny had given her. Harry bought his ‘sister’ sex toys. I wonder if he knows. “Errrrr, thank you.” She set the box down at her feet hastily, but not before closing it completely.

 

Thankfully, Minerva distracted the others before they could demand to see the rest of Ginny’s gift. “My turn,” she sang out gleefully. “But first, another round of coffee. Come on, girls – mugs out!” When the last cup had been refilled, the professor held out a small gift to the curly-haired witch. “This is from both Albus and me.”

 

Hermione was filled with a sense of foreboding for a few seconds, until she realized what was in the box. “Oh, it’s jewelry – they’re lovely. Thank you, Minerva!” Indeed, they were tastefully eye-catching. The exquisite chandelier earrings looked like they were made of platinum and set with flashing emeralds and diamonds. Oddly, they had no posts or clips – just small flexible loops at the top. “Ummm, how do they . . .”

 

“Just ask Lucius – I’m sure he can figure them out. If his hands are half as clever as they look . . .” Minerva trailed off with a heated look in her eye. She roused herself and said briskly. “Who’s going next?”

 

Molly leaned forward to get a closer look. “Aren’t those-“ she was cut off by the professor.

 

“Let her enjoy her earrings, Molly.” The two older witches exchanged odd looks, and Hermione decided not to pursue that conversation. She set the jewelry box aside and gulped down the rest of the yummy coffee in her mug. Minerva noticed right away. “More Irish coffee for the guest of honor! Who else needs a top-up?”

 

Hermione’s toes were numb, and she felt more at ease than she had in quite a while. I can’t believe Draco kept me away from this stuff. I love firewhiskey! Out loud she said, “Fleur, what’s got you staring out the windows? You’ve been doing it off and on since you sat down.”

 

The chaperone, whose cheeks were flushed a pretty shade of pink, said quickly, “I’m only watching to make sure Molly’s boys don’t stray too close to the house.” She seemed in a hurry to change the subject, because she added, “I’ve never had coffee like this before. It’s very good.”

 

Minerva actually smiled at Fleur. “Have another mug, my dear.”

 

Molly’s attention was also divided between the party and something outside when she asked, “All right, who’s giving the next gift?”

 

Hermione voted for one of the beautifully wrapped boxes from her wizards, choosing one of the larger ones. When the silver ribbon and green wrappings fell away she rooted through the multiple layers of tissue and finally pulled out a pale violet gown made of delicate silk organdy. She stood up, holding it with reverent fingers, and listening to the faint whisper of the fine fabric.

 

The room was silent as Hermione held the garment against her body, running one hand gently down the simple bodice to the full, floor-length skirt. In a fit of whimsy she spun in a small circle, watching as the dress shone and hung in the air like gossamer. It was Ginny who spoke first. “Merlin’s left nut – that’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen.”

 

Her expletive caused Hermione to snort with loud laughter, and the spell was broken. Molly scolded her daughter half-heartedly for her language even as she laughed, Minerva surreptitiously refilled all the mugs, and Fleur helped Hermione to pack the gown back into its box.

 

The next mug of spiked coffee went down even faster, and Hermione was starting to find humor in everything. The same was true of Ginny and Fleur, although Luna and Astoria seemed to have more of a tolerance for the drink.

 

Luna’s gift was both disturbing and confusing, even when she explained it patiently to Hermione. It consisted of two galleon-sized convex circles of silk (with what appeared to be adhesive on their concave sides) and a pair of black patent leather knickers that were missing an integral portion. The curly-haired witch looked at her sweet friend for clarification while alarm bells went off in her mind. “Are these . . .?”

 

Yes, to keep thrushmunchers away!” Luna smiled serenely. “You should always cover your nipples during the new moon.”

 

Hermione held up the crotchless knickers and giggled. “But it’s okay for the thrushmunchers to get at my . . .?” She waited patiently for what would undoubtedly be an even more ridiculous answer. Thank Merlin Draco left when he did.

 

Luna scoffed. “Don’t be silly, ‘Mione! Those are very good for your pussy – they let air circulate constantly. Harry approves of them,” she added, as if her fiancé’s endorsement of the garment carried extra weight.

 

“Of course he does, Lu! They allow instant access to your . . . pussy. I’m sure the pasties only add to the appeal.”

 

Fleur gave a burble of silvery laughter. “Hermione said ‘pussy’!”

 

Ginny snorted indelicately. “Say it again, ‘Mione!”

 

Hermione blinked slowly. She was having trouble tracking objects with both eyes. “It again. I think I might be drunk.”

 

There was a small chorus of laughter, and Fleur slid off the couch onto the floor in a graceful heap. “I might be as well,” She said owlishly, before she burst out giggling again.

 

Minerva guffawed. “Now we can have fun.”

 

Astoria insisted that she give her present next, and for some reason, the boxed set of wandless vibrator and anal plug seemed hilarious to Hermione. She wouldn’t have had any idea at all what it was, but her friend had immediately told her. She laughed uproariously. “A butt plug! Thank you, Tory! It’s the best present so far! I can’t wait to show Draco!”

 

That set off another round of twitters, and most of them laughed so hard they were crying by the time they settled down. Molly sighed, wiping the streams of tears from her cheeks. “Oh, sweetheart. You might want to keep that one wrapped up until after the wedding.” She looked as though she was having a difficult time controlling her laughter. “You know.”

 

Hermione giggled again. “No, I’m fairly certain I don’t know.”

 

Fleur attempted to sit up straight from her spot on the floor. She raised one finger in the air and said, “Wait – I know this one! It’s the unbreakable courtship rule!” She continued in a silly voice, “No penetration of any kind before the wedding ceremony,” and then collapsed in a snickering heap.

 

“Wait – what? Doesn’t oral sex count as penetration? I mean, there’s an object, an orifice . . .” She looked around the room dizzily.

 

Astoria sighed and flopped back dramatically on the couch. It seemed that the firewhiskey was catching up with her, as well. “Nope.” She popped the ‘p’ at the end of the word. “That you can do. And you can have as maaaaaany orgasms as you want. And you can be pierced, and tattooed, and bound, and OH! Wand play! You can engage in wand play, Hermione!”

 

Hermione curled up against Luna. “What’s wand play?” She asked no one in particular.

 

“It’s something you should really learn with your wizards.” said Molly mysteriously, “Ask Lucius and Draco about it sometime.”

 

“Okay, well . . . “ she tried to think of another question. “What about my rune ceremony tonight – what should I expect?” That was a lot easier to ask than I was expecting. Thank goodness for firewhiskey.

 

Astoria made a purring sound. “Mine involved a standing stockade and a cat o’nine tails. I had my first forced orgasm, Hermione!” She moved her hand to her stomach, playing with her chain through the fabric of her dress, and gave a low moan. “I can’t wait to get back to my wizards.”

 

Hermione blinked several times, attempting to ingest that information. Once again, Minerva came to her rescue. “Every rune ceremony is different.”

 

Molly had a sentimental look in her eyes as she said, “Mine was very traditional. I wore the customary white robes, and I chose to let the Weasley wizards see all of me during the ritual. I was laid out on a raised bed, and they marked my left breast.” She nodded to Minerva who had made an approving sound. “As I said, very traditional.”

 

“So nothing kinky?” Tonight I’m going to be alone with both of them. A shiver – whether of nerves or desire, she couldn’t discern – ran along her spine. I’ve dreamed about it countless times since accepting the stake, and it felt natural and right.

 

“Oh, sweetheart – there’s nothing kinky about doing what you like with the men you love! I might not have been bound and whipped, but we certainly had fun! That was the night I was introduced to wand play.” She smiled with satisfaction. “I’m going to have to make Arthur something special for dinner tonight. He’s going to need some extra energy.”

 

Hermione realized she’d lost Molly to her fantasies and turned to Minerva. “Tell me what a traditional ceremony involves, please.”

 

The professor’s answer was succinct. “Tonight you bathe and strip, put on a ceremonial robe, meet your wizards at the appointed spot, and let them place their family rune on your skin. You may choose to take the robe off or leave it on. I suggest the former. More coffee?”

 

One of these might be nice before the ceremony. “Maybe just one more. Easy on the whiskey. Anyone else?”

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