Chapter Fifty-Six: 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.

 

She looked away from her young wizard’s eyes to catch sight of the beautiful, spectral animal slinking gracefully around them. It was a large, lush-coated fox, weaving its tail gracefully. Just as it fully materialized Lucius’ voice intoned, “In the garden, pet.”

 

The curly-haired witch returned her attention to Draco, who was smiling in an accepting way. I’m leaving him to kiss his brother . . . and then some, probably . . . and he’s okay with it. This is going to be our version of normal for the rest of our lives. She laughed self-consciously. “That’s my cue.”

 

“You’d best hurry, he’s an impatient wanker.” As soon as the word was out of his mouth, he looked horrified and added, “My apologies. I didn’t-”

 

Hermione burst out laughing. “I like when you’re you, Draco – you don’t have to apologize. I’ll see you in a while?”

 

He nodded, pressing his lips to hers one last time. “In a while.”

 

With a shared look full of promise, they parted. Hermione went in search of Fleur immediately, finally finding her draped over a couch nearby. She clapped her hands imperiously, snapping, “Up you go! Lucius is home and expecting me.” She grabbed hold of her chaperone’s hand and dragged her to a sitting position, ignoring the ensuing complaints. “You can think about Bill and Charlie anywhere. Oh, I know – there’s that lovely spot right by the pretty gold flowers. Do you remember the ones I’m talking about? Who knows – the boys will be back soon and maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of them from the garden.”

 

That unlikely suggestion seemed to do the trick. Fleur hurried through the large house alongside Hermione and even seemed to enjoy being teased about the Weasleys. “Wait until you meet the rest of them. Percy’s a bit of a- ummmm, well he’s very big on rules. And the twins are everybody’s favorite. Oh, and wait until you see Charlie shirtless. I think of him as a brother, but I still get distracted by the sight.”

 

“And Bill? How did he get the scars on his face?”

 

Hermione hoped her chaperone wasn’t concerned with anything as superficial as a few permanent marks. Her hackles rose slightly. “Werewolf. Bill is the bravest wizard you’ll ever meet, Fleur — he just happens to like steak tartare during the full moon. He’s a wonderful man.”

 

Fleur didn’t seem to notice the tone her charge had taken. She replied absently, “I thought it added to his appeal.” A second later she added, “I like steak tartare as well.”

 

Enough said. She looked at their surroundings. I’d say we’ve been walking for at least twenty minutes. That’s longer than it took last time. The large main corridor they’d been following had seemed straightforward, and they hadn’t veered away from it, but it seemed to be taking them an awfully long time. “Are we going the right way, Fleur?”

 

Fleur gave her a condescending look. “I told you it was easier to Apparate around this place.”

 

Hermione gave a growl of frustration. “Fine. But that’s not a permanent solution. Oh, come on, Fleur! Not Side Along!” The chaperone flashed her a warning look, composed herself, and Apparated them both to the hallway outside Lucius’ study.

 

Not wanting to waste any more time, Hermione burst through the door and hurried across the dark room. She called back to her chaperone over her shoulder. “Hurry!” Dashing through the open French windows, she managed to remember just in time to avoid looking at Lucius’ guardian roses and to bring them to Fleur’s attention. “They’re even more beautiful in the afternoon – don’t you think?” Fleur didn’t answer, and when the curly-haired witch turned to look, she saw the Frenchwoman standing once again in a pleasant-looking daze before the flowers in question.

 

Hermione raced along the path toward the arbor of blue roses named in her honor. She called out quietly as she ran, “Lucius, I’m here!” As she rounded the last corner, her dress caught on a piece of nearby trellis and she pitched forward inelegantly. It was too late to arrest her fall with magic — her wand was in her pocket – and the paved path was going to take all the skin from her knees. That was her last thought before a strong arm caught her around the waist mid-fall and set her back on her feet.

 

The race to Lucius and ensuing flirtation with disaster had left her bright-eyed and breathless. She stood panting in the safe circle of his arms, her hands clutching his robes.   When she finally looked up at him, his handsome face wore an expression of amused concern. “Where is the Fiendfyre, pet?” He smoothed down the skirt of her dress and hugged her close.

 

Hermione laughed, almost giddy in her delight to see him, and stood on tiptoe to wrap her arms around his neck as best she could. “You’re home so early!” She stretched to kiss his chin.   “We followed the main corridor from the library and after twenty minutes of walking decided to Apparate. I missed you terribly!”

 

Her words seemed to please him greatly, because his handsome face broke into a broad, happy smile just before he kissed her silly. The skilled ply of his mouth against hers felt playful, and the young witch felt the same rush of confidence she did every time she was with him. Eventually he pulled back, but as he began to straighten to his full height, Hermione tugged him back down for one last quick kiss to his jawline. She grinned, biting her lip. His hand brushed her curls away from her face gently and then held them back in a loose fistful as he pressed his own smiling lips to hers one more time. “And I you. Did you take the second stairway as you left the library?”

 

“What? No – why would we have—“ Suddenly the route of her first trip to the library came back to her, including her questioning Draco about using staircases to access a room on the ground floor. She wrinkled her nose in confusion. “How does that work?”

 

Lucius answered, as if the single word answered the question with clarity, “Leylines.”

 

I’m going to have so much to research I might die from happiness. “Of course.“ She turned her attention downward from his face when a flash of white fabric below his jaw caught her eye. Lucius had removed his cravat and unfastened the first few buttons of his high collared shirt. Further inspection showed what she in her previous dither had failed to notice – he had removed his outer robes and rolled his sleeves up over his strong forearms, and stood before her in comparative undress. Hermione traced her fingers from his strong chin down along his neck to the hollow of his throat. “You’re practically naked, Lucius.” She ran her hand down the placket of his shirt, to where his richly embroidered waistcoat covered his lower chest and abdomen.

 

His eyes closed in pleasure. “Your grasp of basic language seems to be slipping, my prize. Must I teach you the meaning of the phrase ‘practically naked’?

 

Yes, please. She stroked her fingers along his jaw, fascinated by the barest scratch of stubble there. “How were your meetings?”

 

“Successful. They were also very long and tiresome. I spent the majority of my time with my hand in my pocket.” His pale blue eyes twinkled down at her.

 

She toyed with the topmost button of his waistcoat, enjoying the natural banter that she had only ever found with him. It was as arousing as the rest of him, and her body responded accordingly. “Oh — did you bring along a distraction?”

 

“You could say that, although it was hardly big enough to be called anything at all.” Lucius’ hand, which until now had been wrapped in her hair, slid down her back, pulling her against him. He leaned over her, causing her to bend backward slightly. “I spent the greater part of this morning with a flimsy excuse for a pair of knickers wrapped ‘round my left hand, thinking of you not wearing them, and trying to hide the proof of such thoughts from the people around me.”

 

“You know, I would have gladly been your pocket distraction if that were possible. Then I could have been wrapped ‘round your hand in those flimsy knickers.” She arched further into him as she felt his large hands curve over her arse, and wrapped her arms around his neck for stability.

 

“I far prefer to enjoy you out of them. In fact, I suggest that in the future, we keep this arrangement.”

 

Hermione breathed a soft laugh. “What, me going without undergarments and you keeping them in your pocket?” The desire that had sprung up from their repartee began to pool in her gut.

 

“Precisely.” Lucius hummed his approval into her ear before brushing his lips against the sensitive skin just below it.

 

She hadn’t ever felt anything so exquisite as his mouth in that spot, and gave a small noise of approval. “How did you manage to come home so early? I didn’t expect you until much later.”

 

“Bertrand.” He continued to tease her neck with his mouth, explaining, “He’s a sentimental fool, and needed only to be told why I wanted to leave before the end of the business day.”

 

Hermione was mortified. She pulled back to look her wizard in the eye. “You told him that I put off our rune ceremony until tonight? I hope you let him know I didn’t know what I was doing!”

 

He was barely holding back a smirk. Lucius gently took a handful of her thick hair and used it to turn her head. He resumed his heavenly ministrations. “I simply told him I missed my bride-to-be. The idea of a bespoke witch postponing her rune ceremony would have been incomprehensible to him.” He toyed with her curls, sending little shivers of pleasure along her spine.

 

The curly-haired witch drew away from him again with a skeptical look. “Your cousin willingly stepped in for you? I thought he and Achille were gone today and tomorrow.” She sighed when he followed her movement, claiming her neck again with his lips.

 

“He might have caught a glimpse of my pocket distraction.” He chuckled deeply. “Once his heart started up again he was only too eager to send me back the arms of my vixen.”

 

His words cut through the fog developing in her brain. She shoved Lucius away from her forcefully, practically hissing. “You showed him my knickers?!”

 

Lucius’ amusement showed plainly on his face. “Pull your claws in, kitten. It allowed me to escape, and made an old man very happy for a few moments.”   He laughed again. “It’s probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to him in decades.”

 

His buoyant mood was contagious, and in spite of her embarrassment, she snorted. “You actually showed him my knickers.”

 

“It was obvious he was going to turn down my request, and then I accidentally drew them from my pocket.”

 

Accidentally?”

 

Lucius looked shocked, but his eyes were dancing. “Of course, pet – what kind of gentleman flaunts his exploits? However, once they were out and hanging from my finger, his eyes became glued to them. At that point it was like taking a chocolate frog from a very small child.” He wrapped his arms around her again, pulling her against him once more.

 

 

I am marrying into a house of snakes; I shouldn’t be surprised. She bit her lip in an effort to keep from smiling, secretly enamored with the idea that he’d done it to get back to her more quickly. “That was quite a strategic move, I suppose.”

 

He was grinning wolfishly down at her as his hands dropped to her buttocks. “Of course it was. It’s another argument in favor of me keeping your knickers for you.”

 

A burble of laughter escaped her. “It’s the only one, Lucius!”

 

“Nonsense.” He gave her bottom a squeeze and leaned down to give her one of his patented tonguefuls. Then he cancelled out the seductive tone of his actions by stepping back, taking her by the hand, and leading her to a nearby garden bench. They sat, as was their custom, Hermione perched on one of Lucius’ thighs. The elder Malfoy pressed a soft kiss to her temple. “Before I get carried away, tell me about your day, my prize.”

 

Until that moment, Lucius had so dominated her attention that she’d forgotten how beautiful his garden truly was. Now, casting a lingering look around her, Hermione was again struck by the sheer magic of the place. In this corner alcove of the garden where only the Bespoke roses grew, every ruffled, pale blue bloom seemed to have turned toward them. She felt the magic reach out to her and then course through her, and she reveled in the knowledge that this was where she had always been meant to be. Dumbledore was right – I am grateful to him. Then Lucius called her name softly, and she forgot about the splendor around her.

 

Hermione snuggled into her nook, rubbing her nose against the bare skin of his neck. Her hands wound tightly around his shoulders. Mine. “Minerva found your good Firewhiskey and made Irish coffee until we were all a bit tipsy. It made certain parts of it more bearable. Thank goodness for Sober-Up.”

 

“Indeed. Did you stay within the Manor?” His fingers were running up and down her arm in heavenly patterns.

 

She raised her head to press a series of kisses along his strong jawline. “I didn’t so much as go near a window.” How did I keep from kissing him before last Saturday?

 

Lucius breathed a few silent breaths of laughter against the top of her head. “Good girl. How did you like your gifts?”

 

She felt his eyes boring through the top of her head, and met his gaze with a blush. “The ones I got from the witches were . . . interesting, and we all fell asleep after I’d opened just one of yours. Fleur and I will finish later tonight.”

 

His lips were twitching. “Interesting? Would you care to show them to me?” One of his long fingers strayed to stroke the curve of her breast, sending goose bumps along every inch of her exposed skin.

 

It took a moment for her to process his question. “No!” She cried belatedly, and then recovered herself. “I mean, maybe later. Not later today, but later later.” She gave an inward groan and squeezed her eyes shut, allowing Lucius to pull her head back gently. “Go ahead – enjoy my blush. You know exactly what kinds of things they gave me, and you just like to fluster me.”

 

He laughed outright. “I enjoy ruffling your pretty feathers, it’s true. Would you like to tell me about the rest of your day so far?”

 

“Draco had Bowly pull every work relating to history, laws, and traditions regarding house wives. Oh, and the personal diaries! I cannot wait to get started on those.” She looked up at him, glad to see he enjoyed her excitement. “But there was so much, Lucius! In the end Draco gave me an abbreviated lesson. I think I’ll need several more over the next two days . . .” She trailed off, lost in thought.

 

Lucius interrupted her musings. “Have you found a preference regarding instructors, pet?” His fingers had stopped their stroking, and there was a trace of stiffness to the way he held his body in that moment.

 

He sounds the tiniest bit insecure. She was puzzled for a moment, and then it hit her: he’d already lived through one marriage, however brief, in which he hadn’t been his wife’s choice. Lucius is going to doubt himself and me until after tonight. Perhaps even longer. “I prefer all of my instructors – you and Draco especially, but Fleur and Molly as well.” The young witch tipped her face up and murmured, “Will you teach me something new, Lucius? There’s so much I don’t know.”

 

His muscles seemed to relax. He leaned down to her level and pressed his mouth against hers, intoning, “Where shall I begin?”

 

Hermione was relieved to have made the connection in time to reassure Lucius, but her heart still ached for him. She thought quickly. “Not here. Let’s go inside and sit in your chair.”

 

That seemed to please him immensely. “Of course.” As they stood and headed toward the house, she appropriated one of his arms and wrapped it around her shoulders. Then, using her own to envelop his waist, she turned her head into his side, hiding her anticipatory grin. Hermione was suddenly looking forward to seeing Lucius’ face when she told him her news.

 

When they came to the final bend before the guardian flowers, Lucius pulled her to a stop. “Hush.” He was looking at her intently, and it occurred to her that he was performing wandless magic.

 

“Disillusionment?” She mouthed. He nodded, motioning her to precede him past Fleur and into the study. At the door he ushered her inside and cast a quick Muffliato. It was a good thing, too, because right then Hermione gave a startled shriek. “All Knowing Circe Above – the rug just moved!” She drew her wand instinctively and aimed it across the room.

 

Lucius gave a loud, hearty laugh, which calmed the young witch somewhat. He looks so young when he does that. She looked back toward the far end of the room. I know it moved. “Oh. Oops.”

 

There, lying almost stone-still before the fireplace, two enormous wolfhounds regarded her solemnly. They were shaggy and warm-eyed, and Hermione looked back at Lucius with a cautious gaze. “Are they . . .?”

 

He answered her by taking her hand and leading her toward the dogs. The closer they got, the larger they appeared to be. Merlin – they’re in scale with this house. Lucius made a clucking sound and the two animals rose soundlessly and approached. Standing, their heads reached her chest level, but the giant dogs seemed benign. “Hello,” she offered politely. Her hand came up as if to pet one on the top of its mammoth head, but hung in mid-air between them. It cocked its head at her words, and she said to no one in particular, “I’m sorry for my hesitancy, but the last time I cozied up to a dog it stole my wand and helped kidnap me.”

 

Was that . . . did it just smile sympathetically at me? Hermione had the strangest feeling that the dog had understood her. She looked at Lucius for explanation. He was smiling as well, and his hands were buried in the other hound’s shaggy brindle coat, scratching behind its ears. “These, my lovely one, are Castor and Pollux. They’ve been my companions since Draco first left for school.” He added in answer to her questioning look, “Malfoy hounds are exceptionally intelligent.” He turned back to the dogs. “Alright you beasts, that’s enough for now. Give her time to acclimate.”

 

Hermione was sure they both nodded at her wizard before returning to their resting places. “I hope I didn’t offend them, but the whole Pansy thing was a bit off-putting. I just need a bit more time.”

 

“They heard all about it yesterday morning. Don’t worry, they took no offense.”

 

She stared at her handsome wizard for a moment. “If anyone else in the world said that to me, I’d think they were crazy. Where have they been until now?” They’d have been impossible to miss if they were anywhere nearby.

 

“Bowly sent them to the groundskeeper’s house when I was delayed overnight at Hogwarts on Monday, and they’ve just come back this morning.”

 

Hermione blushed and nodded. There was nothing to say other than to reiterate her apology, and she didn’t want to rehash the awful incident. The hounds returned to their original places, settling back into an almost unmoving state, and Lucius led her to his chair. She was a bit unnerved by the idea that the dogs might be listening to the ensuing conversation, but didn’t want to offend them or Lucius by bringing this up. He knows as well as I do where this lesson will inevitably end up. Do they? She shook off the thought as she settled onto his lap.

 

The elder Malfoy pulled her once more into the nook between his jaw and shoulder, cradling her head with one hand. “What shall we talk about today, pet?” He murmured in her ear.

 

She took a long hit of his innate fragrance before replying, “Let’s talk about the ceremony, please.”

 

The fingers of his other hand began drawing patterns on her shoulder, and he kissed her head. “Very well, as soon as you’re ready we’ll meet in the library, third floor. I assume Draco showed you the site of the ritual?”

 

He lifted her hair to skate his fingers over the bare skin of her upper back, and she shivered appreciatively. “Yes.”

 

“And you understand that Mademoiselle Delacour will guard the perimeter of our site?”

 

“Mmmmmm. Yes.” Now he was rubbing her neck with his strong fingers, and a sweet, tender mood seemed to prevail.

 

Hermione raised her free hand to the back of Lucius’ head and unbound his hair. She dragged her fingernails over his scalp and through his thick pale locks. He hummed contentedly and continued, “Did you pick your rune with Draco?”

 

This would have been the logical place in their conversation for the young witch to declare her intentions regarding the tradition, but the mischievous part of her that had only seemed to awaken after she’d met Lucius Malfoy reared its head. “I don’t want my skin to be marked with a rune. We talked about this, Lucius.” She kept her lips from his neck as she spoke so that he couldn’t feel her smile. What does it mean to be a ‘ring wizard’? When did Lucius become one?

 

“We did.” His hand paused in its ministrations to her neck briefly and then resumed its massage. “And I told you we would have you marked as the Malfoy house wife for all the world to see. This is non-negotiable.”

 

His tone was firm, but Hermione pressed on. “I still don’t understand why I can’t have a ring instead.”

 

“I do not expect you to understand,” he growled, “I expect you to trust me.”

 

“You don’t like rings?” She looked up at him innocently, biting back the impish grin that threatened to break through.

 

He dropped his head against the back of the chair. “Draco and I agreed that as a Muggle-born witch, a rune would probably be preferable to you in the end. The traditions of the Purebloods are much different than those of the Muggle world, and even the rest of our world finds some of them to be archaic. This custom in particular is not widely published –”

 

Is he blushing? He is – Lucius Abraxas Malfoy is blushing like a schoolboy! She interrupted impishly to continue her mock argument, “They must not go on your finger, then, because Astoria doesn’t wear one and I know she has a ring.” She kept her face straight and eyes wide as possible. “Can’t you just explain it to me so I can understand?” How the tales have turned – less than a week ago he was calling me an ingénue, and now he’s the one that’s having trouble talking!

 

“Very well.” He was shifting her body so that her legs curled up over one of his legs and she faced him almost directly. He moves me as easily as if I were a small child. “You have bound yourself to the House of Malfoy, pet, and you will have a rune – but the mark should be your choice. I think we have found our lesson.”

 

She kissed his cheek. Enough torturing. For now. “And you know I love learning, but I think you should know-“

 

“Ah, ah, ah. Hush.” She felt him take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. “You smell like jasmine. I missed you very much today.” She ran her fingers through his hair, waiting for him to begin. He kept his face close to hers, and when he spoke it was against her skin. “In ancient times the rune of the House Wife was cast in a ring, and in keeping with those earliest cultures it was worn-“

 

“Lucius, I was jok-“

 

“Hermione,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “You asked me a question. Common courtesy demands that you listen to my answer.”

 

“It’s worn in the left nipple. I know.” She tugged his hair lightly, feeling him shudder in response before her words sank in.

 

He pulled back with a blank look. That’s as close to shocked as Lucius Malfoy will probably ever look. She felt a mild sense of accomplishment. “You know?”

 

“Draco told me today. The two of you seem to think it’s unique to Pureblood wizarding families, but, other than the magic part, body piercing is actually quite common. To the wizarding world it might seem like an ancient tradition, but for Muggles it’s gone in and out of fashion several times over the centuries. It should have been obvious much earlier to me because of Astoria’s piercings, although to be honest I don’t like to ask her too many questions.”

 

Lucius have a visible shudder. “Ravenclaw witches have always terrified me.”

 

“She gave me a very pretty anal plug, which I honestly hope never to use.” However the more I think of it, the more I’m intrigued by the idea of the matching wandless vibrator.

 

He snorted. “Let’s not open the Nott wedding gift.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know – it might be fun to see what it is. Just because.” She smirked and changed back to their former subject. “You could have just told me, you know, instead of dancing around the issue.”

 

“I apologize for that. In my defense, just last Friday you were a completely different witch. Do you remember not even being able to say the word ‘fantasies’?”

 

She nodded, biting her lip to keep from smiling too broadly. “You were very testy just now.”

 

“I apologize for that as well.”

 

“You’re forgiven. Draco told me you were volatile.”

 

“He was correct.”

 

“He also called you an impatient wanker.”

 

Lucius burst out into gales of laughter, and any tension remaining between them dissolved. When he’d wiped the tears from his eyes and finally stopped chuckling, he said, “I thought we’d established this morning that teasing isn’t nice, my prize.”

 

“Actually, we agreed that teasing without fulfillment isn’t nice. I intend to deliver on my promises.”

 

His blue eyes regarded her warily for a moment. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, Lucius, that I want to bear my Malfoy rune in the traditional way. I told you before – I don’t want my skin to be marked with a rune. I want a ring.”

 

His fingers tightened their hold on her momentarily. “Is this true, Hermione?”

 

She pressed her lips to his, licking his bottom lip and pushing her tongue into his warm, willing mouth. When he began to dominate the kiss she pulled back just enough to speak against his lips. “I won’t tease you without fulfillment again, my love. Yes, it’s true.”

 

His mouth met hers again in a series of deep, warm, wet kisses that were simultaneously happy and fierce. When they finally parted to catch their breath, he replied hoarsely, “You cannot comprehend how much this pleases me.” He raised a hand and traced a line from her swollen lips, down her neck, to her breasts. It spanned them, thumb and middle finger barely brushing against quickly tightening peaks.

 

She became aware of his erection pressing against her thigh and fleetingly wondered how long he’d been so aroused. I can feel how pleased you are. Hermione felt him trembling beneath her and asked with concern, “What is it?”

 

“I am trying very hard not to terrify you.” Lucius’ eyes, which had tracked the movements of his hand, rose to meet hers with a flash of intensity that had her squirming in his lap.

 

But I might like it. She realized he was holding himself back by a thread, every muscle tensed as a means of control, and the thought that she had done this to him was heady. Hermione pushed her chest into his fingertips as she felt a rush of wetness between her legs. I really wish I had my knickers on right now. “I’ve faced down a dragon, a dark lord, and an unintentional engagement to two men – I can handle you.” She leaned toward his ear, adding in a conspiratorial tone, “I’m not afraid of you, Lucius Malfoy.”

 

“Then you are truly my bespoken one,” He murmured, raising a hand and curling it around her neck possessively. He looked away from her briefly, saying to the hounds at their feet, “Perhaps Draco needs your company more than I do at present.” The large dogs rose gracefully to their incredible full height and padded out of the study, both pausing at the door to turn and give Lucius a certain look that Hermione couldn’t quite place. Were they . . . smirking?

 

Lucius’ shaggy companions were forgotten as the desire that had moved between them like an undulant wave suddenly crested. He drew her face to his, pressing a sinful, lingering kiss to her mouth. “I’m going to touch you now, pet.” Those words instantly turned the want inside of her to need, and she moved to straddle his lap and reconnect their mouths. He wrestled the skirt of her dress up around her waist, sliding a hand along one of her slender thighs and up to palm her bare bottom. He pulled away from her lips to whisper hoarsely, “When has there ever been a piece of flesh so perfectly formed as this arse of yours?” He gave it a firm squeeze, and Hermione pushed back into his grip.

 

I think Lucius is an arse wizard. Lucius was regarding her with heavy lidded eyes as his other hand curled around her hip. “Tell me which rune chose you.”

 

Hermione was having difficulty concentrating on anything other than the feel of her wizard’s thumb rubbing back and forth along the hypersensitive stretch of skin where her leg and torso joined. The problem was furthered by the fact that he had begun to caress her neck with his mouth in a sequence of open-mouthed kisses and gentle bites. Still, she strove to maintain cogent thought. I’m the- nngh — brightest witch of my time – Oh.   I should be able to multitask, for Merlin’s sake! Oooh. Finally she managed to answer. “Can it be a surprise?”

 

His reply was given to the skin along her collarbones, which he was licking and nipping in tandem with the motion of his thumb. “Tell me.”

 

There was a coil of pleasure winding in her gut. Hermione spread her legs further apart, that he might extend his touch. She turned her attention to his ear and lightly sank her teeth into it. “Why do you need to know now?”

 

Lucius growled against her neck, pulling back far enough to look her in the eye. “Tell me.” His hand moved away from her hip, causing her to make a noise of disapproval. He smirked, trailing his fingers over the skin of her stomach in a downward path. As they reached the short, sodden curls of her mound, he spoke against her mouth. “Tell me it was the matriarch’s ring. The one with the emeralds.”

 

Hermione couldn’t answer immediately; her motor function had temporarily short-circuited in the overload of sensory input from her wizard’s hand. His fingers had slid between her lower lips and begun to move in an agonizingly slow rhythm that only increased the ache already there. She tried to speak, but just then he started a circuitous pattern around the hood of her clitoris. Her hand went to his head, twisting a handful of his long, pale hair in her fingers. She could only breathe, “Oh, gods.”

 

He kissed her, sucking on her already swollen bottom lip before pushing his tongue into her mouth. When they paused to breathe, he murmured, “Our beautiful bride will be adorned with jewels meant only for us to see. Will you open your dress for me, Hermione?” The curly-haired witch complied eagerly, unbuttoning the front of her dress and sliding the straps from her shoulders. Lucius regarded the newly bared skin with a hot gaze as his fingers began to move in earnest. He looked into her eyes. “Tell me.” He lowered his mouth to one breast and teased its nipple with his teeth and tongue.

 

Any fight in Hermione was quickly being overshadowed by the almost painful coil of need that was straining to release within her. She managed to stall a few more seconds, until the moment that coil snapped and the most incredible feelings of relief and pleasure resonated throughout her entire being. “Nnnngh, Luc—oh, please—yes, yes, emeralds—OH! Oh, Lucius!”   She continued to pant his name as her orgasm played itself out, finally dropping her head to his shoulder in a boneless state of euphoria.

 

He made a hoarse sound and shifted beneath her. “You may withdraw your claws, kitten.”

 

At his words, Hermione realized that at some point she had sunk her nails into his upper back. Hastily she rubbed over the skin, feeling the twin rows of indentations even through the fabric of his shirt. “I’m sorry for that.” He was looking at her with glazed eyes, and his brows were drawn down. It was obvious that he was at the very least uncomfortable, and Hermione was reminded of the inequity of the courtship rules. And to think, I thought those rules were in the wizards’ favor until this morning. They’re in nobody’s favor!   “I’m sorry for this, too,” she added, placing a small hand over the large tent in his trousers.

 

Her action caused him to chuckle again, and he removed her hand quickly. “Don’t be. I like your little claws, and the rules are only temporary. But let’s not push my limits, shall we?”

 

“It—“ She was too sated to blush, but she looked away for a moment before meeting his pale blue eyes. “It doesn’t feel right at all to be the only one enjoying myself.”

 

“What if I told you it gave me immense pleasure to touch you?” He stroked one finger over the curve of her cheek.

 

She leaned into his touch. “That’s all fine and well, but I want to touch you, too.”

 

He closed his eyes and gave a thick swallow. “I beg of you, Hermione — please think of something else to talk about.”

 

That snapped her out of her haze. My poor Lucius! The first thought to cross her mind was of her chaperone. “We’ve completely forgotten about Fleur! Perhaps it’s time to wake her up.”

 

The elder Malfoy glanced at the large grandfather clock in the corner of the room. “Nonsense. We’ve been in here all of thirty minutes, pet. Mademoiselle Delacour is no doubt enjoying whatever daydream she has been caught in. The charms of that flower suspend both mentally and physically, so its prisoners suffer no ill effect.”

 

“That reminds, me – oh, I cannot believe I haven’t told you this yet! The Weasley men are probably right at this very minute casting a stake for her.” When Lucius only raised an elegant eyebrow in response, she added, “She’s bespoke.”

 

His mouth twitched, and he gave a huff of amusement. “That old goat.”

 

He knows Professor Dumbledore was up to something, too. “Before we left the school, the Headmaster asked me to trust him. How could he have known, though?” She curled up against him contentedly.

 

Lucius shifted her leg away from his hard shaft with a reproachful look. “Behind that doddering façade is one of the most gifted wizards of all time. I have seen him, given mere hours, extrapolate complex connections between events and people and then employ his considerable talents to bring them together. In this particular case, he has orchestrated your acceptance, my choice in chaperone, and I would go so far as to suggest he somehow influenced Molly and her boys. There’s no other way to explain the fact that they were willing to help her here, knowing you were with us. He has singlehandedly secured House Wives for two ancient families in the space of two weeks – although I suspect his dabbling began not long before I first employed Mademoiselle Delacour.”

 

“I’ll grant that his strategy worked with me – but you were the one who discovered me, all those years ago. How could he possibly have known Fleur, whom he’d never met, would be a bespoke witch for the Weasleys?”

 

“I may have found you myself, but that man used you as bait to lure me to his side, and then used our stake in his favor.” His tone was one of grudging admiration. “In the words of Theodore Nott, Albus Dumbledore is one frightening bastard.”

 

“You do realize that I never would have accepted your stake if you hadn’t fought on the right side,” she challenged, eyes narrowed slightly. “You could just as easily say that he used the entire war in your favor.”

 

He raised one large hand and tenderly brushed a few stray curls from her face. “I would have done anything for you, my prize.” Hermione swooned just a bit. She slid down to nestle against the broad chest of her wizard, making sure to avoid his persistent erection.

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