Chapter Sixty-Eight: Friday 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.

 

Their small crowd, centered as it was in the center of the great hall, erupted in several different but equally quiet conversations. Fleur all but attacked Gabrielle and her father, pulling them slightly aside and whispering furiously, and Hermione did the same to the twins, her wizards flanking her possessively. “What in Merlin’s name is going on, you two!”

 

Fred (or was it George? She’d never been able to tell them apart) shrugged. “She’s our-.”

 

“Little firecracker, and we’ll-“

 

“Not share her with any singleton, regardless of familial-.”

 

“Relation. Especially not Percy.” They exchanged knowing glances. “She’d chew him up and-“

 

“Spit him out, she would!”

 

The odd way in which Fred and George finished each other’s sentences had always left Hermione a bit dizzy. After a moment’s pause, she clarified, “She’s the other Weasley bespoke witch.”

 

One twin turned to the other with a mournful expression. “Our Hermione has finally cracked our code, Fred.”

 

“Pity it just-”

 

“Happened now, when she’s realized-”

 

“The only Weasleys she ever wanted-”

 

“Are off the market.” George swiveled his head toward the curly-haired witch and said pityingly, “You’ll just have to make do with these two snakes, love.”

 

Hermione snorted. “I’d have been sent to Azkaban for using an Unforgivable on at least one of you if we’d ended up together.” She gave a mock shudder, adding, “Within hours of the beginning of our courtship.”

 

Fred clutched at his chest. “Hurtful words, princess!”

 

“Will you demand your brothers cast unanimously today?” Draco’s polite question cut through the playful banter. Hermione realized there was much she wanted to know without knowing exactly what questions to ask, and she gave her younger wizard’s hand a grateful squeeze.

 

George nodded. “We won’t let this one-”

 

“Slip by. She’s-”

 

“The One.” By the end of the short discourse, the twins had reverted back to the tense looks they’d worn when they first entered the room.

 

The very fact that they were more serious than she’d ever seen them before prompted her to blurt impulsively, “What are you waiting for? Go!”

 

Lucius chuckled quietly at her side. “Have you spoken with your brothers?”

 

The twins shook their heads, and began another confusing double-volley of information. “We’ve only just arrived. We met-”

 

“Reynard yesterday in Diagon Alley-”

 

“Purely by accident, and he had-”

 

“Our firecracker with him. He was on his way to the Burrow to grant precedence, but-”

 

“We recognized Gabi outside Fortescue’s-”

 

“And she insisted they stay in London.”

 

“She’s a little tyrant, that one is!” Fred and George concluded together and grinned speculatively at each other again.

 

“Do you mean to say that Monsieur Delacour has accepted your stake for Fleur? That’s wonderful!” Hermione moved impulsively to hug the twins, but was firmly held back at the last minute by Lucius. She shot him a questioning look, but he was glaring at the two Weasley wizards with narrowed eyes. Just then her stomach gave an embarrassingly loud growl.

 

“Will you join us for breakfast, sweetheart?” Draco wore an attentive expression as he looked down at her. “We were just on our way to the morning room.” He turned to Lucius and added, “Unless plans have changed?”

 

Lucius was still staring down the twins, who looked moderately terrified. “They have. Trinket!” The house elf Apparated with her usual energetic crack, curtseying low before her master. In a kind but unyielding tone, he ordered, “Please note the increase in guests and serve breakfast in the morning room accordingly. The Lady will dine with us in my study immediately.”

 

Trinket bobbed her head energetically and a second later, a loud dinner bell sounded across the house. She turned away from the Malfoy group, announcing, “Breakfast awaits all guests of the Manor! Please follow closely!”

 

The words brought the otherwise dead room to life. Luna skipped over toward the housekeeper, tugging Harry along behind her, and the Weasley family (short the twins) followed. Most of the Crabbes and Goyles went as well, with the exception of four formidable looking wizards who stayed at the other end of the room.

 

Ginny, who was carrying a rather large package, made a beeline for Hermione. “Need to talk to you. Now!”

 

Hermione’s eye lit up with comprehension, and she all but dragged her friend away from the curious Malfoys. “How’d it go?”

 

Ginny’s lip curled with disdain. “As if you have to ask. They’re perfect, and I thought I could slip up to your room and finish them. Alright with you?”

 

“Absolutely! Gin, you’re the best witch ever and-”

 

I know, I know – you’d be a wreck without me,” the redhead finished with a smirk. “It shouldn’t take me long – where shall I bring them?”

 

Hermione made a snap executive decision and called for Bowly, noticing that Lucius was now talking with Fleur. The solemn house elf Apparated with a soft sound and looked around in concern. “Bowly serves the Lady with pride. Is something the matter?”

 

“Nothing at all, but Trinket is busy, and I didn’t know who else to ask for help.” She paused in a moment of self-doubt. “Did I interrupt something very important?”

 

Bowly’s ears rose expressively. “Nothing is more important than serving you, Lady. What is your need?”

 

“Would you please take Ginny to my rooms and give her any help she needs, and then when she’s done, bring her to me?” A stray thought crossed her mind. I’m having breakfast with just Lucius and Draco. Which means she could walk in on so much more than just breakfast. She added quickly, “Errrrr, I actually just need what she’s working on. You could help her get to the morning room.”

 

Bowly nodded in his serious way. “Of course, Lady.” He turned to Ginny. “Are you ready, miss?” Ginny nodded, her face flushed with excitement, and Hermione just had time to give her friend a quick hug before she Disapparated with the house elf.

 

When Hermione returned to her wizards, she found them alone save for the remaining members of the guard families, with the Delacour family and Weasley twins walking together towards the promised breakfast. “Where are they going?”

 

“To breakfast, of course.” Lucius answered, as if the answer were obvious.

 

“Surely the stake is more important than eggs and toast,” argued Hermione in disbelief. “Shouldn’t they be on their way to the Ministry already?”

 

Draco laughed quietly. “He’s teasing, sweetheart. Come along, and I’m sure you can convince him to share the whole nefarious scheme along the way.” He held out a hand to her. Lucius was offering his arm as well, and she went to them.

 

She looked over to her shoulder to see Fleur disappearing out the far doors of the great hall. “Is it alright to be so far from my chaperone?”

 

Lucius leaned and murmured in her ear, “Would Mademoiselle Delacour allow something that might taint your virtue, pet? Would I?” At her acquiescent look, he added, “This is the day of our wedding, and her role is purely a formality. Still, I have surrounded us with witnesses.” He waved a hand around them as they walked.

 

The guards were just visible along the edge of her vision. She craned her neck and saw that she knew them all. “Oh, hello Vince – and Greg! And who’s back there farther? Is that . . . It is! It’s Gore and Vincent! Good morning!” This last part she called out to them all, and she received a good-natured reply from each. The guards flanked them, two ahead and two behind, and didn’t seemed inclined to chat. Hermione turned her attention back to the promised explanation, and demanded, “Tell me what’s going on at once!”

 

“It would seem that Reynard received the first Weasley stake, liked the feel of its magic, and went to London at once to see what he could find out about the boys. His younger daughter saw it as an opportunity to spend two extra days in England before her sister’s wedding, and so insisted on accompanying him. They took a room at the Cauldron and went into Diagon Alley for ice cream at Mademoiselle Delacour’s behest, where they were found by Fred and George Weasley,” Lucius supplied calmly.

 

“And so Monsieur Delacour simply forgot to send word to Fleur that he’d granted the stake precedence?!” Hermione felt righteous anger on behalf of her chaperone!

 

Her two wizards chuckled and Lucius continued, “He doesn’t claim to have forgotten at all, and a day and a half is nothing, pet – Albus made us stew for six months.” He looked down at her with a meaningful smile. “Allow Reynard his mischief – I’m sure those two girls give him more than his share of grief.” Over her head he added to Draco, “I cannot understand how fathers become such slaves to the whims of their daughters.”

 

Draco shook his head in agreement, and the young witch watched their exchange in amusement. She’d bet handfuls of Galleons that these two wizards would be putty in the hands of a little platinum-haired girl! An unbidden image sprang to mind of Lucius feeding the peacocks with such a child, holding her in his arms and speaking gently. Hermione shook her head to clear the thought; it had been so strong, and had had such emotion attached to it that she decided to file it away for later analysis. Children weren’t something she necessarily wanted right away, but now she had two husbands and a huge home to fill with love and laughter, and the idea was a very pleasant one. I told Draco we’d conceive the sun, moon, and stars together. Our children will be so beautiful . . . Her next thought was aimed directly at the covenant. And don’t you dare try to manipulate me into becoming a baby machine! Let it happen when it’s supposed to. At the covenant’s burst of almost uncontrolled amusement, she added a comprehending Oh. Right.

 

The idea of her eldest husband-to-be with a child lingered in the back of her mind the entire short walk to Lucius’ study, so much so that she missed part of the conversation going on right above her head. When they reached their destination, Lucius was saying, “ . . . Two o’clock in my rose garden. We’ll activate the Floo in here just for them.”

 

“Just for whom?” Hermione asked curiously, pausing just inside the study. She noticed that Vincent and Vince took up positions at either side of the outer doorway, and Gore and Gregory filed through the study and out into the rose garden, standing with their backs to the French windows. They seemed to know to avoid the golden Captor roses.

 

Draco smirked down at her. “Astoria wants to see you today, and her wizards are bringing her here for a quick visit at two o’clock. We’ll receive them in here.”

 

The thought of seeing her new friend was pleasing, but one detail rankled in her brain. “Why in here? Won’t we be out in the formal gardens all day?” They approached a small table that had been set up near the hearth and laden with food.

 

Lucius choked on a full, loud laugh. He simply said, “Trust us, my prize; it’s best that way.”

 

She turned to Draco, who was blushing deeply. “Does this have to do with the fact that a Ravenclaw has married in to the House of Notties?”

 

He made a strangled sound, but answered, “It has everything to do with that. Knowing Theo and Nick the way I do, nothing would surprise me.”

 

Hermione’s imagination supplied several possible scenarios, all of which involved the sorts of toys she’d received for her wedding. Great and gracious Merlin, she’s going to come all decked out in Circe-knows-what! No wonder we’ll receive them in here! “OH.”

 

Lucius took her chin in his hand, guiding her to look at him. “Remember: there is nothing wrong in any act of mutual pleasure, pet. However,” here he stooped to press a sensual, closed-mouthed kiss to her mouth, “I refuse to share what is mine with anyone in any way. And I will not have the wizarding world thinking otherwise.”

 

The burning look on Draco’s face confirmed he shared the sentiment, but he followed up with a light, innocent brush of his hand against hers that sent a sweet thrill up her spine. Hermione stood beside the breakfast table, dazed by that simple touch, when she felt each of her hands being taken by a different Malfoy and tugged in opposite directions. Each wizard looked down at her first with an expectant look, and then at each other with a frown. The tugging started and stopped again. Merciful Merlin, they’re going to tear me in two pieces. Lucius and Draco were obviously in the middle of a silent conversation, and Hermione saw where this was headed.

 

“Absolutely not! You are not fighting over me like some . . . like some toy. I’m my own person, for Circe’s sake, and at this particular moment I choose not to sit on anyone’s lap.” She directed a warning look in each of their directions. “Now you two sit and behave.”

 

Draco looked as gravely confused as he had at the Slytherin party, when she’d first scolded him, but Lucius was merely amused. He lifted an eyebrow and smirked. “Pull your claws in and come curl up on my lap like the good little kitten you are.”

 

Hermione was slightly incensed, and her shrill tone reflected it. “Claws are only part of my arsenal – this kitten fought in a war!”

 

The elder Malfoy’s drawl was as silky as ever, but a cautionary edge had crept into it. “And spent time in my dungeons for her efforts. Would the kitten like to see what other kinds of trouble she could find?”

 

From the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Draco raise a hand to his face and pinch the bridge of his nose. She drew herself up to her full height, which was still considerably less than either of her wizards. Tilting her chin so she could look him in the eye, she opened her mouth to snap an impulsive reply . . . and thought better of it. Had either Malfoy wizard yet spoken to her in a disrespectful manner? Was she not a member of this dignified family? And how had he gotten taller all of a sudden? And even more imposing! And slightly terrifying . . . I am a Malfoy, and as such I will choose my words wisely. Her eyes, which had been narrowed in anger, relaxed back to their natural shape, although her hands remained on her hips. But I am certainly entitled to stand my ground.

 

Lucius seemed to interpret this as Hermione giving him his way. He sat and extended a hand to her, waiting. Draco was still standing motionless on her other side, face half-covered by his hand. Drawing a deep, calming breath, she replied, “No, I understand that there’s some basis of tradition for you to feed me, and you obviously enjoy me sitting on your lap. For this meal, however, we’re going to all sit in our own seats and feed ourselves. That’s final.”

 

The two wizards must have realized she wasn’t backing down. Draco drew her chair for her and pushed her to the table, and Lucius leaned to place her napkin on her lap.

 

“We weren’t fighting over you.” Draco offered her a serving basket of scones and pastries, and his expression was a mixture of caution and confusion.

 

“That’s a bit hard to believe, Draco. For a moment I thought I was going to be pulled in two.”

 

“He’s correct. We were merely deciding who would hold you and who would feed you. In the future we will plan ahead.” Lucius still looked amused with her, and perhaps a bit pleased as well.

 

He likes it when I stand up to him. A comment of his from yesterday morning came to mind, and she blushed deeply. It makes a certain part of him stand to attention. And he still plans on winning. She tried to maintain the upper hand, if indeed she had it. “In the future, I’d like it if you were to ask me whether I’d like to sit on your lap or in my own seat. Pass the pumpkin juice? Thank you.”

 

Lucius was twinkling at her as if he knew the reason for her blush. “You look enchanting this morning, pet. Try this.” He has got to be the most arrogant wizard I have ever . . . Her brain drew up short and quickly corrected the thought. No, he isn’t arrogant – he admits when he’s wrong, and doesn’t think he’s smarter than me. He’s just supremely confident. Hermione tried to resist him for the span of one second, but part of what drew her to him was the very thing she found so maddening! He was offering her a fork laden with some heavenly-smelling substance, and finally she opened for it.

 

“Oh, Luuuuuucius. Mmmmmmmm,” she moaned around the mouthful of smoked trout and scrambled egg. “So gooood.” When her mouth was no longer full, she looked over the table for the dish. “Where is that? I’d like some of my own, if you please.”

 

It happened to be sitting on the far side of Lucius’ plate, and he grinned darkly. “You’re welcome to come share it with me, pet.”

 

Really, he was incorrigible – and also quite possibly one of the two most irritating, most magnificent wizards she’d ever met. She made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. “Oh, honestly!” She pushed her chair out from the table and stood, dropping her napkin to her chair. “The only reason I’m doing this is because I want those eggs. And you,” here Hermione looked over at Draco, “Had better find something equally wonderful for me to eat, because I’ll be over to bother you shortly.” Her younger wizard grinned and began looking over the table studiously while she went into the open arms of his brother.

 

Hermione sank onto Lucius’ lap and immediately stole a lungful of his scent. From her nook, she mumbled against his neck, “For the record, you didn’t win.”

 

His laugh was loud and happy-sounding and then he said quietly in her ear, “Do you think so poorly of me, pet? I merely wanted to hold you.” His arms had closed around her tenderly, and he kissed an imaginary line down her neck and fabric-covered shoulder. “Although, you sound the slightest bit defensive. Perhaps that is because your position is marginally less secure than mine, hmmmm?”

 

She laughed softly and lifted her head to press her mouth to his. “Maybe.” Lucius’ arms relaxed their hold, and she took the opportunity to casually lean away, pick up the serving bowl of eggs and trout, and slip back to her own chair. She smirked at him as she spooned a portion onto her own plate. “Maybe not.”

 

The elder Malfoy laughed again, and Hermione decided that every day should begin with that sound. He looked boyishly happy as he leaned back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other. “Draco, what in Merlin’s name shall we do with this witch?”

 

Draco looked up from the scone he was neatly devouring, eyes devoid of all guile as he looked between the other two. He turned abruptly toward the door behind him as if he’d heard a sound, and when Hermione turned her attention that way he sprang from his chair and pounced on her. She gave a shriek and dropped her knife and fork loudly on her plate. “Draco! What are you- Aaaaaagh!” Her words dissolved into wild giggles as strong fingers dug gently into her sides. As he tickled her, he picked her up and returned to his own chair, caging her with his long arms. “D-d-d-d-raaaaaco! S-s-s-t-o-o-o-o-p!” She managed to wheeze out eventually, but he only redoubled his efforts, moving his torture to the sensitive area around her collarbone.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry little witch – did you say you ‘top’? Did you want to be tickled up here?” He chuckled darkly as he continued. “You’ll find I’m nothing if not thorough in my endeavors.” She was reduced to silent shaking by the time he stopped. When she had recovered enough to sit up and breathe somewhat normally, Draco grinned down at her victoriously and replied to Lucius’ original question, “I say we keep her.”

 

Hermione tried to free herself from the arms wrapped around her as Lucius argued, “She’s a troublesome little minx. Always trying to get away from us.”

 

“I am not!” She quickly amended that statement. “Not all the time.”

 

“If only we could show her what she means to us, perhaps she might decide to stay,” Draco offered in a considering tone. His hair was mussed up from their brief struggle, and the curly-haired witch thought it was a very good look for him.

 

She regarded him suspiciously. It was becoming painfully obvious to her that her younger wizard was far more calculating than he first appeared, and that he had an uncanny ability to sneak past all her defenses when he wanted to get his own way. “What does that mean?”

 

Draco turned the full power of his ocean-colored eyes on her. This morning they were the silvery shade of white-capped waves at night, and she quickly found herself lost in their current. He leaned closer, leaning his nose against her temple. “We could give a gift to show our esteem of our beautiful bride.”

 

Oh, no you don’t! Hermione recognized the momentary flash of cunning in his gaze just as his beautiful words fell on her ears, and she warned, “Draco, if this is an attempt to give me more deviant body jewelry . . .”

 

He pulled back and gave her a blank look. “I beg your pardon?”

 

“Don’t try that innocent act with me, Mr. Malfoy you know exactly what I’m talking about!” Her hand went automatically to her chest, drawing his attention there, and she saw comprehension dawn in his eyes. Draco’s expression would have been cocky except for the drool in the corner of his mouth. She pushed a finger under his chin, effectively shutting his mouth. “Exactly.”

 

He swallowed. His hand came up to push hers away, and he traced a finger over the outline of her shield. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to let me see them,” he breathed. While he was speaking, he had slid his other hand up her back and was now playing with the zipper of her whisper-thin bodice.

 

Hermione smiled and wriggled out of his embrace. “Firstly, you’re lucky to be seeing any of me this morning as it is. Secondly, do you ever think of anything other than getting me out of my clothes?” She kept her voice at the same intimate pitch he’d used, and their words were breathed against each other’s skin like the promise of kisses.

 

Draco gave a self-conscious smirk and blushed. “Not really. I hope that doesn’t send you running and screaming for the door, Miss Granger.”

 

She ran her fingers through his soft hair, smoothing it back into place. “Not at all, but I don’t intend to strip down for you just yet.” Keep looking at me like that and I might change my mind.

 

There was a small sound behind them, and their bubble was broken. Lucius was accepting a letter from a Tawny Owl, offering it a large bite of trout. He looked over at them with a grin. “Don’t let me interrupt.” He opened the letter and began reading.

 

The moment had passed, however, and Hermione returned to her own seat after stealing a rasher of bacon from Draco’s plate. “Would you please pass-” Her sentence trailed off when Lucius suddenly sat up straight and reduced the letter to a pile of ash with a silent yet violently-cast Incendio. “What is it, Lucius?”

 

The elder Malfoy looked positively murderous. His hands, which rested on the edge of the table, curled into white-knuckled fists. “It would seem that St. Mungo’s is missing two patients this morning.”

 

No, no, no! A mental image of a pustule ridden Ron, leering at her and holding her prisoner in the school dungeon came to mind. “Are you saying that Pansy and-”

 

Draco cut her off hastily. “He’ll be found quickly – he has a permanent locator. Do you think they’ll stay together, though?” His fine brow was furrowed, and Hermione leaned over and smoothed it with her thumb. Lucius’ only answer was to excuse himself from the table and cross to a large portrait at the side of the hearth. He swung it forward to expose a safe in the wall, which he opened. Meanwhile Draco was standing and drawing her up as well, pulling her protectively into his arms.

 

Hermione struggled against his tight hold, arms pinned to her sides. “Oof! Draco, not so tight! You said yourself just now – they’ll be caught in no time at all.”

 

“Do you have any idea what kind of security nightmare this is?” He looked down at her somberly. “We’ve opened the grounds to hordes of people, and anyone can get in between noon and sunset.”

 

She glanced between her two wizards. “I assume the Ministry has been notified?”

 

“Yes,” Lucius answered in a preoccupied tone from where he stood. “Supposedly, the incident was officially reported an hour ago. Ours was merely a copy, sent as a courtesy.” He glanced up and added in a scathing tone, “Lead Healer Flambolt seems finally to understand the precarious nature of his position.”

 

She finally worked her arms up and wrapped them around Draco’s neck. “It’s not necessarily a nightmare; between you two and Molly, every eventuality was planned for. For the sake of all that’s magic – you had Percy Weasley himself set up the security system! Worst case scenario: they try to enter the checkpoint outside the estate and get caught there.” She tried to smile encouragingly, but barely managed a wavering twist of her lips. Her vivid memories were enough to send shivers of unease down her spine, but she recognized the emotion as her own rather than that of the family magic. “Let’s decide what to do together, and then not worry about things we can’t change. Our covenant is more than capable of taking care of us.” Well, I’ve certainly come full circle in a few short days. The thought enabled her to smile a bit more steadily.

 

Draco didn’t look reassured in the slightest, and his arms tightened around her again. “I can’t lose you, Hermione. I’ve only just got you.” The last part was whispered against the top of her head.

 

Lucius had returned to their side. “No one is going to lose anybody. However, our gift now seems more appropriate than ever.” He was holding a velvet jewelry case in one hand and clapping Draco’s shoulder with the other. “Pull yourself together, Draco, and let our witch breathe.”

 

Draco loosened his death grip on Hermione with obvious reluctance. She looked between her two wizards curiously. “Is this the gift you were talking about? What does it have to do with Pansy and R- errrrr, him?”

 

Lucius opened the box, revealing what could only be described as a lattice of small, perfect stars.   He lifted the necklace from its nest and held it toward her, letting it drape across his large palm. It looked even more delicate there and Hermione reached a finger to touch it, feeling an equally delicate pulse of magic emanate from it. “Oh.” She looked up into his eyes. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

Draco’s long forefinger came up to move alongside her own over the rows of brilliant-cut diamonds for a moment. Then he kissed her cheek tenderly and left the study through the French windows, leaving her alone with Lucius.

 

Hermione hadn’t looked away from her elder wizard, but now he broke their gaze and looked down at the object in his hand. “I commissioned this piece on the day Albus granted our stake precedence, and it was finished just in time for today.” He took hold of her hand where it still hovered over the short necklace and, raising it to his mouth, pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Happy wedding day, my prize.”

 

Lucius was looking at her expectantly and she realized she’d been staring at him dumbly. Blushing, she smiled and picked up the lovely thing. “Will you help me put it on?” She offered it back to him.

 

“It would be my pleasure, but be warned; once fastened, it will never be removed.” He made no move to take it from her, but stood patiently while she processed his words.

 

Hermione withdrew her proffered hand and frowned in thought, a semantic question coming to mind. “Do you mean ‘will’ or ‘can’ – is it charmed?

 

”I mean that I will seal it round your neck and it will stay there forever, under a Goblin enchantment. Tonight when you become our Wife, I will add this to it.” From the jewelry box he took a small, platinum pendant set with more diamonds, and Hermione immediately recognized it as the Malfoy crest.

 

She marveled at its exquisite detail even as she smirked. “You’re doing it again.”

 

“What is it I am doing, pet?” Lucius looked down at her with twinkling eyes.

 

“Peeing all over me.” At his look of faux shock and denial, she continued, “Making a public claim! Marking me! You know exactly what I mean, you snake!”

 

He grinned playfully. “I will continue to do so for the rest of my life, as will Draco. If we are yours, Hermione, then you are doubly ours. Do you intend to refuse my gift on these grounds?”

 

“No, of course not – how could I refuse such a thoughtful present! Oh!” She’d walked right into that – curse her Gryffindor tendencies!

 

Lucius wore an exultant expression but he said kindly, “It’s yours to do with as you like, although I hope you will choose to wear it.”

 

“It is gorgeous.” She began handing the necklace to him again, pausing with her fingers wrapped around it to clarify, “It will never come off? Can you lift the enchantment?”

 

He shrugged and gave her a puzzled look. “Why should it ever leave your throat? For my part, I want nothing more than to see it on you at all times – as you sleep and bathe, and go about in the world. I had it made with your pretty little neck in mind, and have imagined you wearing it since then.”

 

“Wearing it all the time could be uncomfortable.” She scrutinized the intricate metalwork, wondering what it would be like to always have something round her neck. Like a dog collar, almost. Actually, exactly like a dog collar – it’ll even have an ‘I belong to’ tag. It certainly didn’t look like one, though. The diamonds glittered up at her hopefully, and their magic danced along the skin of her palm temptingly. Lucius had this made just for me. He might be one of the two most possessive wizards I know, but he loves me and won’t force it on me. Even after he’d admitted this was another way of marking her as his own, he was giving her the choice. Her heart clenched with a fierce pang of her own possessiveness. Mine.

 

Lucius slipped the crest-shaped pendant back into the box and set that on the breakfast table. “It’s been charmed for comfort. I daresay you’ll soon forget that you’re even wearing it.”

 

“It sounds like you thought of everything.” He loves me and wants everyone to know that. She pushed it back into his hand before she could change her mind. “I’ll gladly wear it for the rest of my life.”

 

Lucius’ face lit up like a young boy’s on Christmas morning. He motioned for her to turn around as he took the necklace from her and called over his shoulder, “Draco!” They both watched the younger Malfoy look up from where he stood conversing with the two Goyles. “In here.” And when he entered the study and was approaching them, Lucius added, “You should be here for this. Conjure a mirror, will you?”

 

Hermione bit back a nervous smile as the enchanted diamond necklace, warmed by Lucius’ hand, tickled over the skin of her collarbones. She felt it snug around her throat for a split second, and then any sensation of wearing it disappeared. Her hand flew up to make certain it was indeed there. Sure enough, she felt the rows of precious stones under her fingertips. “Lucius, what was it you meant about this gift being more appropriate than ever now? What does it have to do with Pansy and . . . him?” Draco drew near holding a small hand mirror, his eyes glued to what the elder Malfoy was doing. He offered it to her blindly.

 

The point of Lucius’ finger pressed gently against the back of her neck, and she realized he was sealing the enchantment. After a moment’s pause, he responded, “Our bespoken one has a talent for getting herself into trouble. Now she will be easily found at all times.”

 

“What?”

 

At Hermione’s confused tone, Lucius chuckled. He ran his fingers around her throat, following the lines of the necklace. “Do you like it?”

 

The curly-haired witch looked at her reflection and forgot to ask Lucius for clarification. The breathtaking choker sat low on her neck, glittering against her creamy skin, and she could picture the pendant hanging in the hollow of her throat. Lucius was right – whatever enchantments had been placed on it kept her from being aware of its presence. Through the mirror, Hermione watched her husband-to-be’s thumb trace back and forth over the diamonds and felt the heat of his body against her back. Rub, rub, rub. A pleasant ache sprang up deep in her gut at the familiar motion. “I love it.” She turned and wrapped her arms around his neck, her heels bringing her a bit closer to his imposing height. “Thank you.”

 

He ran his hands lightly down her back and leaned down to press his mouth to hers chastely. Hermione wanted more than that. She sucked and licked at his bottom lip until she felt his lips curve into a smile and his hands slide down further, curving over her backside. “Don’t play with fire, pet.” He pulled her against him so that she could feel his body’s response to her attentions.

 

Draco had been standing quietly beside her while Lucius sealed the clasp of the choker, and Hermione gripped the front of his robes, drawing him in for a kiss. He was far less inhibited in his response than Lucius, and pushed his tongue between her lips immediately. When they broke apart for air, she turned back to her elder wizard, sliding a hand down between them to wrap around his hardening erection. “Don’t worry, I know what to do, Lucius.” She looked up at him through her lashes. “Shall I put out your fire?”

 

Lucius closed his eyes and inhaled sharply before he stepped away from her.   “Draco, what in Merlin’s name shall we do with this witch?” His tone was amused, but his normally silky voice was slightly roughened.

 

The younger Malfoy chuckled as he took advantage of Lucius’ retreat and pulled the young witch into his own arms. He looked down at her with quickly darkening eyes. “I can think of hundreds of things I’d like to do to her.”

 

Hermione tugged him down for a sweet, lingering kiss and, when her brain finally cleared afterward, pushed him gently away. She said reluctantly, “We should finish breakfast. I have a feeling we’ll need our strength today.” Her wizards followed her example, and soon the three of them were seated at the small table once more. Between bites, her fingers continually touched the strands of diamonds around her neck, and eventually she remembered that Lucius hadn’t actually answered her question. “You still haven’t explained. How is this gift especially appropriate now, and how will I be easily found?”

 

It was Draco who actually replied. “The necklace is charmed to act as a locator. Lucius and I will always know where you are now.” The look of beaming satisfaction was wiped off his face almost immediately by her small shriek of outrage.

 

“What?!” Well that would have been nice to know before I agreed to wear it! “You can’t just . . . I don’t even . . . This is . . .” She huffed, glaring at each wizard in turn before viciously stabbing her fork into an unsuspecting pile of eggs and trout. “You two are preposterous.” And it’s permanent. And Lucius made sure I was given a clear choice in the matter. I’m an idiot.

 

The elder Malfoy was watching her like a hawk, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly. “Do you have plans to lead a double life, or keep your whereabouts unknown to your husbands, pet?”

 

She followed that line of thought down several paths, finally deciding that she’d probably never have a valid motive to hide from either Lucius or Draco. “Of course not! Still, you’re both impossible! You purposely didn’t tell me that until you sealed the enchantment!”

 

“Does it matter to you that much that we’ll be able to find you?” Draco looked mystified at her mild outrage. “Its purpose is to help keep you safe.”

 

The Malfoy men took the traits of Slytherin house to an entire new level, in her opinion. They’re cunning, resourceful, and ambitious, but they’ve added integrity and love to the mix! It was confusing enough to make her head ache. When at last she answered, her tone was softer and resigned. “No, not at all – but I still would have liked to know beforehand. You didn’t even hint at the gift’s real purpose.”

 

Lucius raised one elegant eyebrow. “I specifically told you yesterday morning that you’d wear a locator, pet. Had you forgotten so quickly?”

 

The conversation surrounding her spanking flooded her mind, and her eyes widened in understanding. “Oh. You did, didn’t you?” She nibbled on her bottom lip musingly. Interesting that the only other person I know with such a thing is the wizard formerly known as Ron Weasley. Although his probably isn’t nearly as pretty as mine. I wonder how many other . . .

 

He interrupted her train of thought, leaning toward her and continuing softly, “Furthermore, Draco explained the real purpose of this gift earlier – to show esteem for our bride.” Hermione melted a little bit at his words, but he wasn’t done. “I would have everyone know the value I place on my bespoken one, Hermione – including her.”

 

My silence yesterday was interpreted as acquiescence. “I can see I’m going to have to start keeping track of every conversation with the both of you,” she remarked dryly. Draco seemed to sense her reluctant amusement, because he visibly relaxed and began eating. “Did you really expect me to pay close attention to anything you said in here yesterday morning?” Her lips curled into a smirk as a particularly vivid mental image came to mind.

 

He looked downright entertained at that point. “In honesty, my prize, I first spoke of a locator before we left Hogwarts Tuesday evening.” His eyes dropped to her necklace and gleamed in a possessive, pleased way.

 

Comprehension dawned, and for a moment all she could do was blink. Finally she managed to say, “Mother of magic . . . This is my collar and bell.”

 

Lucius gave a wolfish grin. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” he patted his thigh and crooned in the soft, encouraging voice one would use to lure a cat.

 

Hermione snorted pumpkin juice through her nose at this, and, when she had recovered shot a warning look his way. “I just remembered I have some things to do before the reception.” He laughed happily again, and she relented slightly. “Stop calling me a cat, and I might stay.”

 

His eyes twinkled and his mouth twitched slightly. “Admit that you enjoy my teasing, kitten, and I might reward you with a mouthful of cream.”

 

Hermione’s body reacted immediately to his double entendre as she remembered her own use of it just the night before, and her mind tried to fight the sudden swirls of brain-addling lust as she searched for a comeback of equal wit. Draco, however, chose that moment to bring them to heel conversationally. He said in his grave way, “As much as it pains me to say it, we have more pressing things to discuss. Lu, the guard families need to know. And we need a plan.””

 

All humor slowly drained from Lucius’ handsome face at Draco’s words, and his eyes narrowed dangerously. “I know what you’re thinking, and I won’t agree to it.”

 

The younger Malfoy wizard’s handsome features hardened into a stern expression. “We must maintain an accurate perspective of priorities.”

 

“Would you please stop talking in your own secret language and include me?” Hermione demanded.   They both turned to look at her warily, and she continued, “I’m not going to sit quietly and then go along with whatever you two decide without me.”

 

Lucius pursed his lips for a moment and finally said in a reluctant way, “Draco would like to cancel the reception and forgo the full-moon ceremony in favor of being wedded immediately. I oppose this vehemently. We have won you, followed the rules of the courtship to the letter, and you have taken our rune. Today the world will celebrate with us. We will not turn from what has been set in motion.”

 

Draco gave a disapproving growl, countering, “Regardless of what we both want, I’m right. There are two idiots on the loose, one of whom is probably mentally compromised and most certainly infectious. The other isn’t any better – Pansy’s obsessed with the idea of being the Malfoy House Wife, and sees you as her biggest obstacle. We could lock this place down tight until they’re caught, and there’d be no risk to you or the public.”

 

The idea of another VMV outbreak was sobering, and Hermione nodded thoughtfully as she pondered his words. Lucius must have interpreted this as her agreeing with Draco, because he argued, “They’ll be caught long before the reception. The locator would have responded instantaneously to its charm.”

 

Hermione’s brain had begun whirring at high speed at the start of the conversation, and now her mental gears spun with enough internal noise to drown out any external distractions. There was the distant hum of male voices, but otherwise she was alone with her greatest asset – her intelligence. Just a minute later, though, her concentration was broken by a rather loud, startling sound. As she jumped from her chair, her wand flew up defensively, and she looked about for the cause of the noise. She found her two wizards looking at her with concern, and realized that Lucius must have slammed his hand down on the breakfast table. “Sorry.”

 

Draco and Lucius stood politely, obviously waiting for her to sit down once more, but Hermione ignored the courtesy and continued to stand, trying to gather her previous thoughts. “I was just thinking . . . Are locators common for House Wives?”

 

Draco made a frustrated sound. “Hermione, we can talk about that later. At the moment-“

 

“No, no – hear me out! I need to know how common these devices are.”

 

“Many Pureblood Houses use them for the protection of their Wives. They have been traditional for centuries,” answered Lucius cautiously.

 

She nodded absentmindedly and chewed on a finger for a moment. “Because if I were going to sneak into a highly fortified estate during a large public event in the company of someone wearing a locator, and I knew that piece of information, I’d use it to my advantage.” Comprehension was dawning in Draco’s eyes, and Lucius cursed quietly. She concluded, “I’d plan to be as close to another locator as possible. And I’d sneak in long before the event started. In fact, I’d already be here.”

KeyBackKeyNext