Chapter Fifty-Four: Wednesday Afternoon

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 retained her clarity of purpose in the library, much to Draco’s dismay. In fact, she didn’t even want a full tour of it until she’d done as much research as she possibly could in the relatively few hours they had. “We’ll use that as a reward when I’m done!” She’d said brightly when he had offered.

 

Draco had given her a smile that bordered on a grimace. “That sounds like a very Gryffindor idea.” Still, he’d led the witches to the back of the archive’s ground floor, to a place obviously designed for research. Then he’d Summoned Bowly and requested any work related to Hermione’s search parameters to be brought to their station. Books began appearing right away, neatly stacked on the table before them.

 

Fleur daydreamed at a nearby table for a while before wandering off with a distracted, “Just stay in the library, you two.”

 

Hermione raised her head and stared after the retreating blonde in shock. “Did she just say what I thought she did?” She thought for a moment. “Who would have thought meeting Bill and Charlie Weasley would do that to anyone?” Why am I questioning it? Go with it!

 

Draco looked up hopefully. “How do you feel about that tour now?”

 

She swatted his arm, laughing. “Help me or go away.” When he leaned toward her with obvious intention, she pushed her palm against his forehead. “No.”

 

He sighed good-naturedly. “Where do you want to start? Traditions, history, law, or personal account?”

 

“There are personal accounts?” Hermione was instantly intrigued.

 

“Of course – many Malfoy house wives left their diaries and journals to the library. Some are probably too old to be of any use, but-“

 

“I want to read them all! Make a pile on that far table,” she ordered, feeling the familiar thrill of research run through her entire being. So much to read, and so little time! “I’ll start with the larger works, and take the diaries with me to my room if I don’t get to them this afternoon.”

 

Draco complied with twinkling eyes and an almost-smile. “What next?”

 

“How about law and tradition? I’m curious how these marriages are governed, and we can follow the ensuing development and change in traditions. I don’t suppose there’s any pertinent historical works?”

 

Her wizard pushed a heavy tome toward her and sat down at her side. “Have at it. I’ll start with this one and mark the spots about house wives.”

 

The two lapsed into silence, and Hermione used a complex search charm to seek out any laws pertaining to house wives. In a relatively short amount of time, she had a rough list. She was amazed at how far the wizarding world had come, despite its archaic tendencies.

 

‘A house wife shall be fed and clothed by her husbands’ seemed to be the earliest enacted law to protect witches against poor treatment. The same section listed the basic rights of a house wife: food, shelter, clothing, and a wand. Education, furtherance of personal success, and ownership of property were not mentioned, and as Hermione read in a later chapter, a witch’s wand could be confiscated or even snapped by her husbands for ‘unseemly behavior’. Cross-research in a book of history confirmed that witches were dominated by their husbands and had to obey them, but were treated well and with courtesy. Treatment seemed to be based on their social rank.

 

“I always want for the wizarding world to be advanced, but it wasn’t – still isn’t!” she remarked aloud. At Draco’s questioning look, she explained what she’d read.

 

“The wizarding world is ancient, sweetheart. Thousands of years ago, no matter how powerful her magic was a witch was considered property. Most ancient families interpreted this in a good way – their house wives were their prized possessions, worthy of a House’s absolute love and protection. There were some, though, that needed to be held in check by laws.” He added, “I understand it was much the same with Muggles.”

 

“I can’t even wrap my mind around that notion,” she huffed. “I’m not some thing to be acquired and treated as a pet, or a piece of art! I belong to no one!”

 

“Of course not, but you don’t seem to mind Lucius’ pet names for you,” he smiled with one eyebrow arched meaningfully.

 

“They’re . . .” she thought of the sweet sobriquets he had for her – pet, my prize, my lovely. “That’s not what he means at all! He’s being affectionate in a rather old-fashioned way, that’s all.”

 

Draco nodded in agreement. “Exactly. But they’ve been around for a long time – as long as those ancient perceptions of witches and house wives. As we’ve advanced, we’ve eliminated the need for such laws. Don’t let that thought ruin your enjoyment of Lucius’ names for you.”

 

“I like your names for me just as much.” Just thinking about you calling me by one of them in that voice of yours . . .

 

His brow furrowed. “I don’t have any nicknames for you.”

 

“Little witch? Sweetheart?” She smiled shyly at Draco. “I like them just as much as his.”

 

“I guess I do call you those, and I’ll remember that.” He steered them back toward their previous topic. “The vestiges of the old ways are all around us, though.” At a glance toward her inquiring expression he added with a blush, “The traditions. But let’s finish up with the laws, first.”

 

I wonder what has him embarrassed. Hermione pulled another old law tome across the desk, running her fingers over the soft, aged leather. It would have been easier to Summon it, but she liked touching her reading material as much as possible – it was half the experience, really. This particular book was a later edition by at least five hundred years, and the section governing house wives reflected that. ‘A house wife shall have the right to inherit and own property, including house elves’. That’s a bit better. Minus the whole ownership of another sentient life form. She continued reading. ‘The wand of a house wife cannot be confiscated or broken by her husbands.’ “Draco, why didn’t Professor Bins cover any of this in History of Magic?”

 

“He didn’t cover a lot of law anyway, but these are particular to the marriages of Pureblood Houses, of which there are only twenty-eight in England. Most countries have even less. That’s rather a special interest topic.”

 

“Do you know all these laws?”

 

“There aren’t that many. I had a tutor before I went to Hogwarts, and this was the sort of thing I learned from him – all the Pureblood-specific laws and traditions. The most recent one was made less than fifty years ago.”

 

“What was it?” She shuffled through the piles on the table, trying to locate a newer looking book of wizarding law. Giving up finally, she looked at Draco impatiently. “Well?”

 

“It gave a house wife the right to pursue occupation and a career as long as it wasn’t detrimental to her House.”

 

She pinned him with her gaze, her brain whirring busily. “What, exactly, does that mean?”

 

“When it was created, it meant that neither job nor career could interfere with her House duties, including child-bearing. The House always comes first.”

 

“I will not be a baby machine!”

 

“Of course not, but the future of a pureblood House depends on its house wife. When she agrees to bind with the wizards of an ancient family, she’s promising to bear their sons and daughters.”

 

“How many children is she expected to bear? Because I don’t relish the idea of being pregnant for the rest of my life!”

 

“I agree with you – house wives aren’t baby machines. Just look at our own House – one extreme example is Calpurnia, who bore only Lucius.” Draco added in a thoughtful tone, “You know, the Malfoy wizards are held to the same standard – we must put the good of the family ahead of all else. There’s no double standard there.”

 

“Just so we’re clear – I will not be the next Molly Weasley.”

 

He laughed, comprehension dawning across his face. “We definitely don’t need to have six sons. A few would be nice, though.”

 

I’d like to have a family with you and Lucius. “More than one, for sure. I never liked being an only child.” She shook herself out of her reverie. “Alright, so I am legally afforded the right to pursue a career and do things other than churn out little Malfoys. I want to move on to tradition.”

 

That turned out to be more of a rabbit chase. The traditions of house wives were woven in to every other aspect of the wizarding world, and Hermione was, quite simply put, overwhelmed. Draco tried to give her a brief overview. “The laws were put in place to control the actions of baser individuals, but the traditions of the Pureblood families are what actually govern us. We’re taught them from the time we learn to understand speech. They’re heavy on ritual and influenced by the covenants. They were begun in the dawn of time and will continue until its end.”

 

I cannot believe I let these wizards distracted me from studying. Studying! Now I’m so far behind it’s ridiculous. “In that case, I’m overwhelmed – I don’t even know where to start. In the interests of time, I’d like a brief overview of what I need to know for the next two days. Then I’ll make a reading list and plot out a course of study. If the rest of these books are about Pureblood traditions,” here she indicated the remaining towers of tomes and parchments on the table, “I’ll need at least a few months to thoroughly research them. And that’s not even including the diaries!”

 

She glanced at the piles of small leather-bound books on the next table longingly. The spontaneously recorded words of my predecessors. Something told her that they had been waiting in the library just for her. At that thought, deep in the recesses of her awareness, the covenant purred. She turned her inner dialogue in its direction with a quick but reverent thought. You were with every Malfoy wife, and now you’re with me. I’ll follow your guidance; I promise.

 

Hermione glanced at the nearest clock. She wondered when Lucius would be done with his Paris meetings. A nervous feeling about the upcoming ritual was beginning to flutter in her stomach, and she firmly disregarded it. Worrying can’t help, but knowledge can. “Can you do that, please? Walk me through the next two days as you understand the traditions involved?”

 

Draco seemed to have picked up on her nervousness, because he stretched out a hand and closed it around one of hers. His thumb rubbed a soft, comforting pattern into her skin. “Of course, although you’ll be getting the wizard’s version. I don’t know how different it will be. Let’s back up a bit. What do you know about stake casting?”

 

Hermione felt her body respond to Draco’s innocent touch as though he were doing something far more sensual. Struggling to concentrate, she pulled up a mental list of what she’d learned in the past two weeks. “Ummm, a wizard must be eighteen to cast one, and a witch must be sixteen to accept. The stake must be cast unanimously to achieve precedence in the event that more than one family casts. The witch has the right to accept or decline it, and if there are more than four wizards she chooses the two or three whom she will marry. The remaining wizards begin the search for a bespoke witch all over again. Oh, yes,” she narrowed her eyes at Draco, “the wizards may watch their bespoke witch being offered their stake, but they must remain unseen and unheard. Is there anything else?”

 

He had the grace to blush. “Only that the witch doesn’t have to accept right away.” The blond wizard chuckled softly, reaching out to run his fingers along her bare arm. “You have no idea what you did to me and Lucius that day, when you just took it from Dumbledore.”

 

She shivered at his touch. “I didn’t know any better! Although knowing what I do now, and feeling how I do, I’m glad I did it that way. No hesitation, no extra time in which to second-guess my decision. It’s the most ignorant, impulsive thing I’ve ever done, and also the best.”

 

He leaned down as if to kiss her and stopped with a grimace of apology. “Sorry, I’ll be good.” He looked away and cleared his throat. “Let’s see, next is the part between when the stake is offered and accepted. It’s called the consideration, usually.”

 

“Does it have rules like the courtship?” She thought about what Astoria had told her about that time, when the Notts had pursued her with flirting and letters. It sounds a bit like dating, really.

 

“Just one, but the consideration rule is immutable. There is no physical contact beyond holding hands. Breach of that is grounds for dissolution of the stake.”

 

So, not like dating. “But it’s not an actual law.” Hermione was a bit confused.

 

“In Pureblood society, traditions hold far more power than the ordinances of any government, regardless of where you may be in the world. The Wizengamot even recognizes their weight. Shall we continue?” At her nod, he went on. “When the bespoke witch accepts the stake from the patriarch of her family, she sets into motion preparation for the binding ceremony, also called the ceremony of acceptance. It’s usually held as soon as a Ministry official can be procured, although in our case we wanted to give you time to reconsider your decision.”

 

“You would have let me get away?” The thought of being without either of the Malfoy wizards caused her heart to clench briefly in almost physical pain.

 

He treated her to one of his best almost-smiles. “We would never have tricked you into a marriage you didn’t choose for yourself. If you’d run screaming from the Headmaster’s office that day, we’d have switched to plan B.”

 

“The job offers from the various Malfoy companies.”

 

“Precisely. We would have met eventually, gotten to know each other, toured the library, and fallen in love. You would have been our wife either way.”

 

I’m going to marry you and then we’re going to christen this library couch by couch. “You’re awfully cocky, Mr. Malfoy.”

 

He smirked and shifted his chair even closer to hers so that their knees almost touched. “You’re marrying ‘awfully cocky Mr. Malfoy’. You like it.”

 

“You know I do.” She blushed and dropped her eyes, smiling to herself happily. Draco moved their clasped hands from the arm of the chair to her thigh. His thumb began moving against her leg now, causing goose bumps to break out over her exposed skin. I want you. Again Hermione shook her head to clear it of the quickly gathering fog of lust. “Okay, we’ve run through the stake casting, the acceptance, and I’ve actually been to a binding myself, so tell me about the rune marking ritual. Why’s it usually held right after the binding?”

 

“Because once the bespoke witch bears the rune, no one can challenge the stake and its acceptance. You’ve been walking around with that pretty handmark and nothing else for a week and a half too long.” He seemed unable to stop himself from kissing her this time, and she melted into the sensation of his lips moving against hers. Hermione’s desire, which had been burning like a hot ember deep in her gut, burst into a tiny flame.

 

Eventually she came to her senses and pulled away, saying almost reluctantly, “We need to stay on track. Why a rune? Why not a ring, like every other culture?”

 

“It was a ring for a long time. It still is, for some.”

 

“Why do I have to have a rune, then? Maybe I’d prefer a ring.”

 

Draco was plainly uncomfortable, and shifted in his chair again. “It’s not the kind of ring you’re thinking of. I mean to say it doesn’t go on your finger. Errrr, that is . . .”

 

“Mother of magic – Astoria’s piercings are actually traditional?” She blinked several times in surprise, testing out that information against her reaction. The image of those jeweled rings, gleaming silver against the pale pink tips of Astoria’s breasts, was mixing with the desire already within her. I’m obviously not repulsed by the idea.

 

“Very, although as usual the Notts have put their own unique interpretation on it. They’re obviously ring wizards.”

 

Ring wizards? There’s a term? “When did rings start to be replaced by runes?”

 

The subject seemed to be affecting Draco, because he was positively squirming in his chair. “The mark on the skin was favored by the ancient Norsemen who conquered the British Isles, and a few families who originated here kept the tradition alive.”

 

“Does that include the Malfoy family?” I’ll bet not. She hadn’t given any thought to her future surname until just now, but it had a slightly foreign flavor to it.

 

“No, we’re Gallic – the family seat is in Aude. We spend summers there, usually.”

 

At her blank look, he added, “The southern region of Languedoc-Roussillon.”

 

“This might shock you, but I don’t know much about France beyond the obvious tourist spots.”

 

He thought for a moment. “It’s not far from the Cité de Carcassonne.”

 

Hermione brightened. “Now that I know. We went on holiday there when I was young.” Like a dog with a bone, she returned to their former topic of conversation. “Is the rune visible? I mean, would I be able to see it?” She tried to imagine what it would look like to have such a permanent mark, and her hand rose to caress the skin along the low neckline of her sundress unconsciously.

 

Draco was watching the motion of her hand with a heavy-lidded stare, and his hand, still resting on her leg, released hers and wrapped around the top of her thigh. “Of course. So will we.”

 

“And traditionally it goes here, because it’s in place of the ring?” She stroked her fingers along the small swell of her breast, fascinated by the way his eyes tracked her hand’s movements.

 

The blond wizard reached toward her and ran one finger slightly lower than her own, curving it inward to the shallow valley between her breasts. “It can be anywhere on your body, but it would be lovely here.” His eyes were glued to his own hand now as it continued to stroke her breast.

 

“And you’d rather I have a rune? Is that a trend, or a personal preference . . . sorry, I don’t know what I’m talking about.” She dropped her fingers to play with the top button of her dress nervously, and his gaze followed. I wish he’d tell me what he’s thinking.

 

He looked conflicted. Finally he said, “It wasn’t something Lucius and I felt we could bring up before now. Somehow, ‘Hermione, would you rather be branded or pierced?’ didn’t seem to fit in any of our conversations. We tried to think of it from your point of view and decided a rune might be more acceptable to a Muggle-born. Then as we got more comfortable with each other, we were talking or doing other things. I’m sorry for that.”

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for – you were trying to be sensitive and doing an excellent job of it. For heaven’s sake, Draco – do you remember how the two of us blushed at everything up to a few days ago? And Muggles aren’t as different as you think.” She noticed he was watching her finger fiddle the button in and out of its buttonhole and continued, “You didn’t answer my question, though.”

 

It was his turn to blush. “I just want to see you marked as a Malfoy once and forever.” He stole a quick kiss.

 

He’s dodging me. Hermione summoned up her courage and began slowly popping the buttons of her dress. I did this earlier, but the memory’s a bit fuzzy. I know he liked it. She slid the straps off her shoulders, baring herself to her wizard. “If it were up to you, which would you choose for me?”

 

Draco’s mouth dropped open and his eyes glazed over. He seemed to be having a hard time swallowing. In an action made bolder than she actually felt by the arousal coursing through her, the curly-haired witch raised a hand and smoothed it over the firm curves of her chest, tracing them slowly. “I just want to know, Draco: are you a rune wizard, or a ring wizard?” Because I don’t think I’d mind either way if you’ll just keep looking at me like that.

 

He slid out of his chair to kneel between her legs, wrapping both arms around her and pulling her to the edge of her chair. Her breasts were directly in front of his face now, and he lowered his mouth to cover them in soft, wet kisses. All the while, a hungry noise emanated from deep in his throat. Hermione pulled away, lifting his chin with one hand so that they looked at each other directly. “If it will help you be honest with me, I’ll pay you the same courtesy. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I liked the way Astoria’s looked. It was very . . . arousing.” She blushed deeply and looked away. “But I think I would have thought the same if she’d had a rune marking instead.” A fleeting, horrifying thought crossed her mind. Sweet Circe, I’m turned on by looking at other girls’ breasts. The covenant stretched along the edge of her consciousness, both amused and disagreeing with her self-assessment. Its response relieved her immensely, and she turned away from her internal dialogue.

 

Draco fought against her hold on his face, eventually winning and returning to his ministrations. “Oh, no – your turn, Mr. Malfoy.” She pulled away again just before he made it to one of her nipples. I’ll forget my own name if that happens. “Rune or ring?”

 

He looked positively anguished but finally murmured, “Ring.” Draco closed his eyes and dropped his head to her shoulder, speaking quietly into the skin of her neck. “I’ve known about this tradition my whole life, but it wasn’t until you entered the Yule Ball in that purple dress that I realized the implications of you wearing a Malfoy ring.” He ran his nose along her neck, inhaling as he went. “The thought of something like that hiding under your clothes for only me to see and touch . . .” he let go of her left side and raised his hand to her breast, rolling and tugging at its peak until she gasped. “It became a standard part of every fantasy from then on.”

 

Hermione’s finger threaded through Draco’s hair, unconsciously tugging at it. That’s right – Draco’s been fantasizing about me for years. Despite the fact that she’d known this for a while now, the thought was heady. “And what about Lucius?”

 

He was pulling her down off her chair and onto his lap, wrapping her legs around his waist. Without conscious thought she complied, drawing as close to him as possible. “He’s the most traditional Pureblood you’ll ever meet; a ring would definitely be his first choice. Must we talk any more?”

 

His words cut through the haze in her brain. She struggled against her body, which demanded that they continue, and it took several moments before it obeyed her. “We need to stop, Draco. There’s so much I need to know about the rune ceremony tonight.” Hermione paused. “Errrrr, is it even called a rune ceremony if I choose a ring? Never mind. Stop!” Laughing, she struggled out of his arms and back into her chair. “Back to work. Now.”

 

Draco scrubbed one hand over his face and followed her actions, first adjusting his tented trousers with a grimace. “Could we please move on to something else?”

 

“After you answer my question.” She looked at him expectantly as she worked her dress back up to its proper place and buttoned it closed.

 

He sighed, a disappointed expression on his handsome face. “Alright. It’s called a rune ceremony regardless, because the House rings are inscribed with the same runes used to mark the skin.”

 

Her curiosity reared its head. “Can I see one?”

 

His mouth dropped open again. “Of course.” He sat there another few seconds, staring at her blankly before rousing from his stupor. “You need to choose your rune anyway. Come with me.”

 

Draco took her by the hand again and led her toward the wall, veering to follow it for a ways. They stopped before a large oil painting of an imperious-looking blond wizard, who was garbed in the fashion of a time long-passed. He spoke to her wizard. “This is the one for whom you have waited?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Draco replied respectfully. With that, the painting swung forward from the wall and revealed a niche containing a small wooden chest. Draco picked it up, put the painting back in place, and motioned for her to follow him back the way they’d come.

 

“He wasn’t very chatty,” she remarked when they were back at their table spot.

 

Draco smirked. “That’s great-times-twelve grandfather Louis. He doesn’t talk to women.” Then he added hastily, “Don’t take it personally; it’s how things were done back then.”

 

Hermione waved it away, more interested in the chest than any perceived slight from her future family’s ancestor. “Open it!”

 

Draco waved his hand over the box and the top three drawers slid open with audible clicks. “These are the Malfoy rings. You’ll bear the rune of your own choosing.” Draco’s quiet tone was absolute, and left no room for argument. Even if it had, Hermione found none in her. He sounded very much like Lucius in that moment. “Or, rather, it will choose you.”

 

She wasn’t prepared for their beauty, nor the power they exuded from their velvet-lined beds, and didn’t catch that last thing Draco said. No two were alike in either way. Hermione hesitantly reached out a finger toward the first one in the top drawer. It was a small, ancient-looking ring of a dark metal with a mysterious rune affixed to its lower curve. She gasped when she felt the ring’s magic reach out and flow over her skin, much as her stake had.

 

“What does it feel like?” He moved to stand behind her, one arm wrapped just under her breasts.

 

She leaned back into him for a moment, craning her neck to look up at him. “Can’t you tell?”

 

“They only respond to bespoken ones.” He was focused on her hand, where it hovered above the first drawer.

 

She ran her finger through the air just above the ring again. “It feels very old, and murky, and . . . weird.”

 

“Not the right one, then. Move on.” He was stroking her neck with one finger as he leaned over her shoulder, head close to hers.

 

The next ring was horrid, and the one after that was beautiful in all but its magic, which was oppressive. Carefully she went through the whole top drawer but each one felt slightly off.

 

Draco’s words came back to her, and she finally processed them. “It’s the rune I feel, isn’t it? I’m looking for the one that feels right.”

 

He kissed the corner of her mouth. “Keep going.”

 

He likes this. A lot. Hermione closed the first drawer and turned her attention to the rings in the second. These were all silver, and several were similar to the ones she’d seen on Astoria. They were strung with jewels and runes that sparkled in the bright light of the library, and Hermione eagerly stretched a finger toward the first. The magic that curled up her finger was light-hearted and happy, but almost vacuous. Several rings later, she began to grow worried. “Draco, what if I don’t find one? Has that ever happened? Has there ever been a house wife without a rune, or is that grounds for dismissal? Oh, Merlin – I’m going to be the first defective bespoke witch! It’s because I’m Muggle-born, isn’t it!”

 

He was laughing at her silently – she could feel him shaking against her. “Be patient, Hermione. We have lots more to go through.”

 

Reluctantly, she closed the second drawer. Despite their beauty and lighter magic, none had inspired a feeling akin to the one she’d felt when she accepted her stake. That’s what I’m looking for – I’m sure of it. The third drawer went the same way as the first two. The more she touched them, the more convinced she became that she wanted one, and she was growing frustrated with her lack of success.

 

“That’s the lot of them. I was right – I’m defective.” Tears sprung into her eyes, and she fought them back. Draco was reaching an arm around her to the box and pressing a switch somewhere on the bottom. A previously hidden drawer popped out, revealing three last rings. She caught a glance of tiny platinum bars, capped on each end by jewels, right before Draco covered her eyes with his hand.

 

“Try these.” He caught her hand in his and held it to the first ring, at the same time pinning her against the table’s edge with his thighs. Oh. She tried to focus on something besides the feel of his hard, eager body pressed against hers. The rings. Luckily Draco took charge. “What about this one?”

 

She felt warmth and liveliness. It could be that one! “It feels good!” Hermione jumped at a tickling sensation on the side of her neck and realized he was kissing her.

 

“Now this one.” He moved her finger sideways, still shielding her vision. The magic in the second ring hummed with power and vitality.

 

“That one might work, too! Thank Merlin – I’m not a freak!”

 

His lips were moving down to her collarbone, and she could feel them curve into a smile. “What about this one?”

 

Hermione quieted her mind as she felt a new, different magic purr along the length of her hand before it slipped under her skin. It sparked a reaction that traveled along every nerve in her system, and made her sharply gasp aloud. It was the tactile equivalent of her Amortentia. “Oh, Draco. This is the one.”

 

His lips left the crook of her neck, and she could hear the smirk in his voice. “I know. You’re glowing already.”

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