Chapter Seventy: 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.

 

The look on Lucius’ face was priceless. Whereas seconds before he’d been brimming with his usual brand of amused confidence, now he simply gaped at her speechless. Hermione bit the corner of her lip hard enough that she was able to keep a straight face. I’ve reduced Lucius Malfoy to . . . whatever this is. It seemed only right to go in for the kill. “What’s the matter, Lucius, kitten got your tongue?”

 

The aristocratic blond wizard snapped out of his stupor. “If I’m a good boy, pet?” Lucius leaned toward her slowly with an indecipherable expression on his face. “I haven’t been a boy in a very long time, and I have no desire to be good.” He spoke those last few words against her temple and ran the fingers of one hand across her collarbones.

 

That’s right, he wants to corrupt me. His touch and tone created within Hermione acute physical desire. Sweet Circe, how is it he’s able to turn the tables on me so quickly! Fortunately, her mind was only slightly clouded with lust and still able to predict the next few probable twists and turns of this game. I wonder . . . She turned her head slowly and pressed her lips to his. When he responded, she gave a moan of pleasure and opened her mouth immediately. The moment Lucius pushed his tongue into her mouth, though, she firmly sucked at it and closed her teeth just enough so that he would feel them against that wet, vulnerable flesh; and when his eyes flew open in surprise, she was already looking at him in heavy-lidded triumph.

 

The next ten seconds were a blur of action and reaction. He broke the kiss only to grab her by the waist and stand, and then his lips were on hers again and he was pushing her against the nearest wall. “Oh, kitten, but I love your claws,” he groaned, his voice much rougher than it had been a minute ago. The sound intensified the pleasant ache that had been building in her sex to a needy throb.   More. Lucius drove her body into the wood paneling with the force of his movements, lifting her higher by his grip on her waist. His mouth moved to her neck, where he bit and sucked without mercy, and his hips pressed into her stomach with urgency. More. Hermione’s arms tangled immediately around his broad shoulders and her legs fought the constraints of her gown’s slim skirt. More. She made a noise of frustration and he seemed to know exactly what it was about because the next thing she knew, Lucius had taken the recently ripped side seam of her skirt in one fist and torn it open down to the hem. He pushed the offending material up and out of the way, stooping to run his hands up the backs of her thighs, cup her backside, and hike her up to his level. The frantic urgency of his motions caused her to scramble higher against him and secure her legs around his middle. Now his hips were seated between hers, and finally his hard shaft was pressed against her seam. They both moaned at the incredible sensation. More.

 

Just as Hermione arched against Lucius, though, the heels of her shoes pressing into the backs of his legs, his eyes flew open and he seemed to realize what he’d just done. Within the space of a heartbeat he broke their heated embrace, set her on her feet, and was now stepping away, growling, “Witch, you will be my undoing.”

 

Even in her lust-addled state, the curly-haired witch couldn’t help but think that it was the second time in less than a minute that he had been less than his usual collected self. Her victory in unsettling her wizard, however, was short lived. Her body had been teased with the promise of pleasure and now rioted against the injustice of his retreat. “Lucius!” she protested.

 

Lucius pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes tightly closed, as he answered, “I am not a nineteen year old boy,” he dropped his hand and looked at her, “And I will not be ruled by my impulses.”

 

No, no, no, no! That was a very good impulse! Hermione tried to think her way around her wizard’s argument. She approached him slowly, stopping only when the toes of her shoes were touching his and she was looking directly up into his handsome face. Laying her hands against his chest she countered, “Yes, so you’ve said. You’re not a boy, and you don’t like to be good. Tell me, my love,” she murmured, “does that mean you’re a bad man?”

 

He took another step back, bumping into the side of his armchair in an uncharacteristically graceless way. “It means that I am attempting to exercise self control.”

 

“But I like your impulses!” She cried softly in frustration, stepping toward him again. “Lucius, I want you.”

 

The confusion cleared from Lucius’ noble features abruptly. His eyes narrowed as he loomed over her, and now he was once again the predator. Hermione shivered in anticipation of what might come. He stalked her slowly until the wall behind her cut off her backward retreat. He leaned down, bracing his weight with one hand against the dark wood paneling near her head. “You want me, do you? I can assure you that I want you. However, I think that in the excitement of this moment what we want are two very different things. You want to feel pleasure, but I want much more. By the most ancient of traditions, pet, I may take what is mine at any point of our wedding day.” His lips were close to her ear, tickling that sensitive skin with every word. “I am released from the primary rule of our courtship and may breach this pure body with my tongue; my fingers; my cock.” As he said that, his free hand traveled down her torso to cup her mound possessively. Hermione gave an involuntary groan, but he removed his hand and continued, “Would you like that, sweetling? To be taken like the prize that you are right now? Hmmmmm?”

 

“Nnnngh,” she replied cleverly.

 

“Why would I settle for a few hurried touches when I am allowed so much more?” Lucius pulled back and stroked a finger down her bared sternum. “It would take very little convincing to make you believe it is what you want as well, and then where would we be? Sharing our first coupling against a wall in a space shared by guards, where any number of other people might burst in.” He leaned to press a chaste yet sensual kiss to her parted lips. “Of course, that could happen regardless of what we do. I leave it up to you, Hermione. Do you still want me?”

 

Hermione’s body was still thrumming with desire, but her brain processed Lucius’ words, and she grimaced. She looked at him for barely a second before dropping her eyes. “No,” she whispered. “Not here. Not like that.” He was right, of course. What if Molly had walked in on them just a few seconds ago? What if Greg had needed Lucius, or Vincent had woken from his potion-induced slumber? She would have been mortified even though they hadn’t been doing anything much beyond kissing, really.

 

Lucius tilted her chin with one strong finger so that she was forced to look him in the eye again. He looked amused, and he kissed her again, this time with one of his patented tonguefuls. When they broke apart to breathe finally, he murmured silkily, “I promise you that I will not make a habit of denying such demands after today, regardless of propriety.”

 

That elicited a rush of arousal fluid into her already damp undergarments. I think he just said he’s not averse to sex in public places. She moaned his name hoarsely in supplication. “Luuuuuuciuuuuuusss.”

 

Both seemed to immediately forget their agreement of only a few moments before. Lucius kissed her again unreservedly, and Hermione pressed herself against him. Their hands moved over each other’s bodies purposefully; Hermione’s ran hers over the broad expanse of chest directly in front of her, and Lucius’ went straight to her arse. She was just contemplating how best to even out their difference in height when he reeled away from her with a scowl and a ragged sigh. “Fucking hell. We need a diversion.” He scrubbed a hand over his face in a frustrated way. Hermione opened her mouth to argue, hands on hips, when she noticed Lucius’ eyes taking in the state of her ruined dress with a speculative air. She was disappointed, however, when his only reaction was to nod and say, “And I know the perfect one.” With that simple statement, the passion of Lucius’ darker side was quickly restrained by the formal courtesy she had come to know so well.

 

There was a whining noise coming from somewhere, and it took a few seconds for Hermione to realize it was she who was making it. She practically growled, “My mind knows you’re right, but my body is thinking something else entirely right now!”

 

He chuckled and offered her his arm. “Come, pet. Let us see what can be done about this gown of yours.”

 

Hermione took his arm and walked with him unhappily to his desk. “I hope you’re satisfied,” she muttered peevishly, “because I am positively miserable right now and my knickers are drenched. That’s not a good combination.”

 

Lucius laughed quietly and stole a kiss. “I think that bodes well for later tonight. Don’t you agree?” Then he summoned a house elf, one Hermione had not yet met. “Beetle!”

 

A tiny, wizened creature Apparated into their presence. “Master summons Beetle?” Its gender was indeterminate, but it was hands-down the oldest house elf Hermione had ever seen.

 

The elder Malfoy nodded respectfully. “This is the Lady, Beetle, and she requires your help with her garment.”

 

The elf bowed stiffly to the curly-haired witch. “Welcome, future Mistress. How may Beetle serve?”

 

“Errrrr,” Hermione glanced at Lucius dubiously. “Well, my dress has been badly torn. Is that something . . . I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble . . .” she trailed off uncertainly. Merciful Merlin, what’s an ancient thing like that doing still working?! She rethought her recent reassessment of house elves and their employment by magical households.

 

Beetle stepped very close to her and examined the torn seam carefully before turning to Lucius and saying sternly, “What has Beetle told Master about ruining the Lady’s garments? First they are always wrinkled, and now they are torn!” He (or she) held out a small hand in a peremptory gesture. “Please.”

 

Hermione stared stupidly, until Lucius said in an amused tone, “You mustn’t keep Beetle waiting, pet. You heard her. Off with your gown at once.”

 

Despite the fact that she had been more than willing to be stripped of her clothes only heated minutes ago, Hermione now realized she had no desire to bare herself in Lucius’ study with the possibility of so many different intrusions. “I beg your pardon?”

 

Her wizard doffed his outer robes, holding them up as a makeshift screen. “Quickly, my prize. Beetle’s time is most valuable. We mustn’t keep her waiting.”

 

It’s a she. Hermione unzipped the tattered garment with a flick of her wand and slithered out of it quickly. She passed it around the robe to the house elf. “Thank you very much for helping, Beetle. It wasn’t the best dress to wear for a wandfight.”

 

Beetle’s forehead wrinkled even more as she said in a reprimanding tone, “That is what you will say to Beetle’s face? That this long seam has been ripped during a wandfight?”

 

The young witch peeked her face out and blushed. “Errrrr, not that one.” She opened her mouth to continue but was cut off immediately.

 

“Beetle will take this for mending,” the tiny creature said, “and Master will keep his hands to himself.” She shook a gnarled finger at Lucius. “Or Beetle will find out.” She disappeared with a crack that sounded as stern as the rest of her.

 

Hermione regarded her husband-to-be with shock in her brown eyes, but he was looking away like a chastised child and wrapping his robe around her shoulders with the utmost decorum. She spun toward him, securing the oversized robes around her. “Lucius, were you just scolded by a-”

 

He interrupted with a furtive glance around the room. “Hush!” In a low tone he added, “She hears everything.”

 

“But she’s your-”

 

“Yes! And when you know her as I do . . .” He trailed off with an uneasy expression. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy is slightly terrified of a house elf. The thought caused a giggle to erupt from deep within her. He looked down at her with narrowed eyes. “You will understand.”

 

I’ll bet she helped raise him. Hermione tucked that thought away for future analysis. Outwardly she said, “Isn’t she a bit . . . advanced in years to be still working?”

 

Lucius smiled down at her softly. “Come sit with me, lovely one, and I’ll tell you a secret about house elves.” He sat down in his desk chair and drew her down onto his lap. It wasn’t nearly close enough for Hermione’s tastes, but she reminded herself of the potential for interruption and of her wizard’s wisdom. He drew her head to that fragrant nook between his jaw and shoulder and continued quietly, “Their vitality is inherently linked to their need to serve. When they cease serving the family to which they have bound themselves, they cease to be.”

 

Hermione took a hit of his scent and murmured, “Do you mean to say that if she retires . . .?”

 

“Indeed.” They were quiet for a moment, before he added in a different tone of voice, “Besides, pet; if Beetle were not here, who would pick up my shirts from the floor?”

 

You could, you snake!” She poked him gently in the side as the realization of what he had said crashed over her. Lucius doesn’t want to lose an old house elf, and he lets her talk to him as though he were a child. I was right – Beetle helped raise him.

 

He looked at her with a playful frown. “And deprive Beetle the pleasure of admonishing me on a daily basis? Nonsense! She’ll be thrilled to have your things to look after now; I’ve restricted her to laundry duty for years, and with Draco home so little she’s constantly hoping I’ll dribble soup down my shirt and make actual work for her.”

 

She regarded him for a moment, heart full of that wild, protective love which had sprung up so unexpectedly during their short courtship. “I love you.”

 

His well-formed mouth turned up into a very small, very genuine smile. “I assure you, I return that sentiment with the entirety of my being.” They lapsed into a comfortable silence for a time, until Lucius chuckled and said, “That brain of yours is working away quite noisily, pet. Care to share what has you thinking so loudly?”

 

“”Several different things: I was wondering if Reynard Delacour’s decision to grant precedence was jeopardized by R- by him at any point. And what am I going to wear to the ritual tonight, now that my gown is on its way to a Ministry holding cell? Then I thought of the Nott’s visit today, and what it might be like.” She sighed against his scarf and shirt collar, playing with a button of his waistcoat. “Mostly, though, I was thinking about the clumsy way I fought today.”

 

Lucius ran his hand over her curls and down her back and, in a very masculine-minded way, began at the beginning of her list. “That one has been weeded. His actions carry no weight, because he has been stricken from our society. I’m sure Reynard will discuss the issue with Arthur this morning, but obviously the Delacour covenant desires these unions.”

 

Hermione raised her head to look at her wizard. “I just realized that Fleur and her sister have no brothers. Is this the end of the House of Delacour?”

 

“It is for Reynard’s direct line, although his family is large and the name itself will continue.”

 

“Do you worry about that?” She suddenly regretted her earlier fantasies of the platinum-haired daughter. What if we end up with only girls? What if we don’t end up with any children at all? What if I am the single-handed cause of the end of the Malfoy line?

 

Lucius interrupted her bout of internal angst with a smug smirk. “I plan to prove the vigor of the House of Malfoy to you in short order, my prize.” It was his turn to sigh as he shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “Perhaps we should move to your next pondering, although I’m afraid the subject of your wedding gown might lead along the same path.”

 

“Ugh. I cannot believe that troll found it and decided to wear it!” Hermione fumed, “I never even got a good look at it.”

 

“It was spun of Acromantula silk,” he murmured, pulling her back to her nook, “and very lovely. It had dozens of buttons down the back. I looked forward to taking it off of you slowly.” His hand trailed down her robe-covered back.

 

Hermione gave a quiet breath of laughter. “Of course you did. Well, in that case, I’ll just look for a gown in my closet with lots of fasteners. That’s alright, isn’t it, that I won’t be wearing the dress you had made for me?” She remembered their brief conversation about wedding plans and her dress quite clearly. Lucius had been adamant on only two points: being married on the estate and her wearing that dress.

 

He dipped his head to catch her eye. His were twinkling, although his mouth was set in a serious line. “There was a matching veil that seems to have eluded Miss Parkinson. Find it and wear it in lieu of your dress when you come to us tonight.”

 

Sweet Circe, he’s serious . . . Hermione’s mouth opened and closed once or twice while her brain took that thought and ran away with it. That requires further analysis. Much further analysis. Finally she found her voice. “I thought you wanted a lot of buttons.”

 

Lucius broke his gaze with a chuckle and straightened his neck. “I want you, my prize. Wear what you like, so long as it was given to you by us.” He shifted again beneath her. “I believe you also had questions about your friend’s visit this afternoon.”

 

Hermione’s mind was still caught up on her wizard’s suggestion. It made her heart race, and she couldn’t decide if it was from anxiety or arousal. Shaking her head, she cleared that thought from her brain. “Should I be apprehensive? You and Draco looked a bit nervous when we discussed it earlier.”

 

This elicited a full-bellied laugh from the blond wizard. “I think it is always wise to be apprehensive when approaching any social situation involving a Ravenclaw witch. As for this particular instance, you must prepare yourself for the fact that Astoria will most likely be garbed only in her rune and whatever jewels her wizards have given her.”

 

Hermione whipped upright in his lap, practically screeching, “Are you saying she’s going to be completely naked?!”

 

Lucius shushed her, glancing across the large room at the two sleeping wizards. “She may wear a few charmed objects as well, but they will most likely do nothing more than highlight her state of undress.”

 

“Why would she . . . never mind that question, I know the answer. Why would the Notts want to parade their bespoke witch around like that in front of other wizards?”

 

“Honestly, pet, I cannot wrap my mind around that notion. However, having known Theodore well all my life I have considerable insight into the lifestyle he espouses. His philosophy of sexual gratification has always included bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and pleasure found through pain.

 

  1. How did I not see that coming? Huh. Aloud she said, “That makes sense. “

 

Lucius regarded her with one eyebrow raised incredulously. “This doesn’t bother you, or raise more questions?”

 

“There’s a correlating Muggle lifestyle. I was, uh,” she blushed, “exposed to it once.”

 

“In what way?” The elder Malfoy’s voice had taken on a forbidding tone.

 

She rushed to clarify, “No, no! Nothing like that. During the summer of my fourth year my parents and I went next door with a basket of wine and fruit to welcome the new neighbors, and the woman answered the door nude except for a collar and chain around her neck.” The memory caused her to give an embarrassed snort and cover her face with one hand. “I was understandably confused, and my parents felt it necessary to explain alternative lifestyles in a fairly detailed way. Let’s just say I don’t have any questions.” That seemed to appease her wizard’s jealousy. She looked at him shyly and added, “You know, you fall under some of those categories yourself, Lucius. You like to discipline me, and you’re definitely dominant, sir.”

 

His eyes darkened and he drew her toward him, saying against the corner of her mouth, “Indubitably, and you seem to like that, pet; your body responds to me in the most delightful manner.” Hermione’s heart stuttered as he kissed her forcefully, parting her lips with a strong thrust of his tongue. The desire that had been denied earlier welled back up even stronger, and she squirmed on his lap in an attempt to get closer to him. When he pulled back he purred in that silky tone of his, “It’s responding right now: your arousal has soaked through my robes and trousers. What shall I do with you, my lovely one?”

 

Hermione groaned, but not in pleasure. We’re right back where we started. Knowing that they were seconds away from doing something they would both regret almost instantly, she stood from his lap. “Not a thing, except dry that wet spot on your trousers. I’m going to do the same to my knickers and these robes, and then we’re going to sit side by side and avoid any and all potentially troublesome topics.” She performed a drying charm as soon as she’d finished speaking, and then sat on the edge of Lucius desk a good foot away from him.

 

He had dropped his head to the back of the armchair, eyes closed in obvious frustration, but then nodded his head. Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes, they were still wild and dark. “But I do like your claws, and would be disappointed if you ever submitted completely to me. I have no use for a spineless woman.” He took in her new seat of choice and leaned toward her. “Do you know how many times I’ve thought about taking you on this desk?”

 

“Not helping, Lucius!” Hermione hopped off the desk quickly and walked around it to sit in a chair facing her wizard. “Aren’t you supposed to be the wise, responsible one that keeps me from acting out my impulses? Does the term ‘maroon and gold’ ring a bell? New subject!”

 

Lucius snarled. He took several deep breaths, muttering what sounded like a string of rather coarse words under each one. Finally he said, “You think that you fought clumsily today?”

 

This had been the most troubling of her initial thoughts. She frowned and propped her head on her arms where they lay folded along the edge of the desk. Studying the grain of the desktop closely, she replied, “Well, I certainly wouldn’t have made it into the Auror program with a demonstration like that.”

 

Hermione could tell by the warm, amused tone of his voice that Lucius was smiling. “That is your secret aspiration, then?”

 

“No, of course not! That doesn’t mean I’d want to be dismissed as a poor candidate.”

 

He chuckled. “So, despite the fact that you have no desire to be an Auror, you would wish to be considered a good prospect.” When she didn’t argue, he continued, “Such an enviable position, to be excellent at so many things, pet.”

 

“I’m not, though – that’s just my point! Today I did nothing to distinguish myself in terms of something as basic as self-defense. I barely defended us from Pansy’s attack, and then when I Side Alonged Draco I couldn’t even get to my wand. It’s like I forgot everything I’d ever learned,” she finished gloomily.

 

“Tell me what happened this morning, and come sit with me again. I promise to be a good boy,” he added with a grin.

 

Hermione complied, relating the events of the morning thus far as succinctly as possible. When she was done, he asked kindly, “Do you not sit here unscathed?”

 

Her reply, spoken into her nook, sounded uncertain even to her own ears. “Yeeeees?”

 

“Then it stands to reason that you defended yourself adequately in both situations.”

 

“Lucius, that was sheer dumb luck – something that to this point, only Harry and R-“ she sighed, the memory of a happier time ending abruptly at his name, “only those two were ever accused of. I was the clever one of the trio. I’m not supposed to need luck.”

 

Lucius traced comforting patterns over her back and said nothing for some time. Finally he said in a thoughtful way, “You hold yourself to an exacting standard, pet. By your own account you not only deflected Pansy’s attack, but you took care of Draco and stalled her fellow intruder until help arrived. That is a very satisfactory performance, in my opinion.” When she remained silent, he continued, “I can think of one particular wizard who might be secretly relieved that his ‘little witch’ did not singlehandedly save the day. Such a feat would be disheartening to all but the most supremely confident of wizards.”

 

Hermione looked up to see him regarding her tenderly. She looked across the room to her younger wizard sleeping soundly on the converted couch. He looks like an angel. Lucius’ word repeated in a loop in her brain. Ron hated that I was so clever. I don’t think Draco could ever resent me for being myself, but Lucius is right. I didn’t need to be the hero today. “I suppose you’re right.”

 

He lifted an aristocratic eyebrow. “Of course I am, pet.”

 

Rather than take his bait, she continued quietly, “I’d be happy never to throw another hex for the rest of my life. There was enough of that for so many years . . .”

 

“I will happily remind you of that statement when I finally manage to set off that short fuse of yours. Verbal sparring is more to my liking.”

 

And spanking. Hermione bit her lip to contain her grin. “Are you implying that I have a quick temper, my lord?”

 

“There was no implication, my lady,” he deadpanned, “Your irritability is legendary.”

 

I wonder what he’ll do to REALLY set me off the first time. A lighthearted giggle escaped her at that thought. “Oh, Lucius. You have no idea.”

 

Draco was stirring again, and the small alarm sitting on the table near his head was flashing. By unspoken agreement, they rose from the desk chair and went to him. The younger Malfoy’s eyelids fluttered open as Hermione sat down beside him.

 

Greg came in from the rose garden and began pouring several potions into dose cups. He knelt near Draco and asked in his deep, quiet voice, “How’s the head?”

 

Draco sighed through his nose and closed his eyes again. “It would be fine if you’d stop shouting.” He added drowsily, “You should have breasts, Greg.”

 

Greg shot a concerned look at Lucius as he increased one of Draco’s potions before administering them to him. He murmured, “That’s what we needed to know. Let’s just send you back to dreamland for the rest of the morning.”

 

The sight of the tough-looking young guard treating her wizard in such a nurturing manner filled Hermione’s heart with tenderness. Oh, Draco – you silly, silly snake! All of this is because you didn’t want to miss our first real date. She thought back to that wonderful trip to Hogsmeade, and how she’d worn his scarf. I’m going to wear it to his bed sometime. He’ll know exactly what it means. When she broke out of her contemplations, she saw that Greg and Lucius were talking quietly a few feet away. Draco drifted off to sleep almost immediately, so after kissing his forehead several times and smoothing back his hair she joined them.

 

“ . . . so out of sorts,” Greg was saying, “He should be kept sedated, otherwise he’ll be climbing out of bed every chance he gets.”

 

Lucius nodded and squeezed the fingers Hermione wove through his own. “Stay with him today, Greg. I know he would prefer your company over anyone else’s.”

 

“Yes, sir.” Greg grinned. He added almost apologetically, “I’d far rather play nursemaid to an injured Draco than to have to beat the witches off a healthy one. That’s nobody’s favorite assignment.”

 

Hermione’s eyes narrowed at the thought of another woman putting her hands on either Draco or Lucius. “I’ll gladly take that one,” she growled, to Lucius’ obvious amusement. Beating off witches? Her earliest talks with Astoria, during which her new friend had hinted at the popularity of the Malfoys, came to mind. I suddenly have a lot of questions for Molly and Ginny.

 

There was a flash of light, and a spectral bear lumbered through the air to them. Gore Goyle’s low voice intoned, “All’s clear, Greg. Two Aurors are headed your way.”

 

A knock sounded on the door only seconds later, and Lucius went to open it, motioning for Hermione to stay with the guard. The door was barely open when Molly came barreling through, with Harry’s girls and the Delacour sisters right behind her. He raised a hand in warning and pointed to the sleeping patients. “It must remain quiet in here.”

 

“And quiet it shall stay,” Molly said in a stage whisper. The Weasley matriarch gave Lucius a bone-shattering hug, her eyes searching the room for something or someone. “The Aurors will be here soon, and I’ve told them they can interview Hermione last. She’ll be in her rooms with us.” When they met Hermione’s gaze, Molly promptly forgot all about the wizard in front of her and hustled across the room. “Oh, sweetheart! What’s wrong with our boy?”

 

It was Hermione’s turn to be crushed in those arms. “Oof!” When Molly finally stepped away and Hermione’s lungs filled with much needed air, she answered, “He hit his head on Saturday and didn’t want to be sent to the infirmary, so he said it was nothing. It would have been fine, but then this morning he got sent flying and hit it again on the stone floor.”

 

“Oh, that poor boy!” She tutted sympathetically. “Such a typical man.”

 

“Now he’s a bit loopy, but I’m not really sure if that’s from banging his head or the potions he’s taking. Greg plans to keep him sedated all day, and Lucius will have him transported to a room at the back of the manor so he can be near us.”

 

Molly nodded. “Well, that will certainly shorten the reception line a bit. Most of the young witches will skip it completely, I dare say.” Just then the flock of girls descended on them.

 

It was a perfect segue into what Hermione wanted to talk about at the moment, but before she could even open her mouth Fleur said, “Hermione, Mr. Weasley was allowed to Floo call a Ministry friend, and has secured him as an official! He will be here as soon as the wards are dropped!”

 

The news was like a wet blanket to Hermione’s burning questions, quickly dousing their urgency. She reviewed her knowledge of binding rituals and Fleur’s exposure to the Weasley wizards, and several points of concern came to mind. She dragged Fleur a few steps away. “Isn’t this a bit soon? I mean, you’ve known about them all of two days, and probably spent an hour total with them! Now you’re ready to simply bind yourself to them without even a consideration period?!”

 

Fleur beamed at her. “Yes, Hermione. I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life, and it’s what I want.”

 

“But you hardly know them!”

 

“I know that the covenant of my father’s House approves, and that the Weasley covenant desires this union as well. They’re good-hearted and handsome, and look at me with respect and admiration. Most of all, they don’t seem to notice the fact that I’m part Veela. We have the rest of our lives together to learn the rest.” She grasped Hermione’s hand and said earnestly, “This is the way of our culture.”

 

Our culture. Her friend had said that last part in such a way that Hermione knew she herself was included in the statement. Our culture. She’s right – it’s mine now, too. And she certainly looks ecstatic. Still, she persisted, “Not even a short consideration?”

 

“This, from the witch who accepted her stake without any thought whatsoever!” Fleur’s head shook back and forth firmly. “Not even a short one.” Her eyes seemed to be seeing something visible only to her, and she smiled a secret smile.

 

Oh, merciful Merlin, she’s thinking about her rune ritual. Bill and Charlie and Percy . . . just . . . no. Ugh. Out loud she said, “Well, we’d better go get you ready. I could probably look in a mirror while we’re at it.”

 

Molly interrupted then. “Sweetheart, where on earth is your lovely dress?”

 

“Errrrr, it got torn.   You know, chasing intruders and all . . .” she trailed off, hoping Molly didn’t press for details. She didn’t. “Beetle is mending it.”

 

The Weasley Wife was obviously surprised. “Did you say Beetle has it? Merciful Merlin, she’s still around . . .” she looked over to where the elder Malfoy was talking to Greg Goyle. “Who would ever have thought that wizard would be such a softie about anything, let alone house elves!”

 

Hermione smiled in a warning sort of way. “Don’t make me Obliviate you.” Because I would. I’d do anything for my wizards.

 

Molly waved away the remark but the expression in her eyes was one of understanding. “Say goodbye to Lucius, and we’ll go finish what we started before this day turned into a game of Exploding Snap.”

 

“Hold that thought.” Hermione turned to Ginny and caught her eye, raising her eyebrows meaningfully. Ginny patted a pocket in her robes and beckoned her over. When Hermione reached her friend, she whispered, “I was going to give the pictures as a set to both Lucius and Draco, but that plan’s gone out the window. Instead, I’ll give Lucius one now and another each time we check on Draco during the reception. What do you think?”

 

Ginny chewed on the side of her mouth and stared off into space as she weighed Hermione’s decision. “That’ll work, although I would have loved to be a fly on the wall if you’d been able to do it the way you’d originally planned. Oh! Bowly wrapped them for me while we’ve been in the great hall. Which one do you want first?”

 

“I have no idea! You’re the creative mastermind; what do you think?” The curly-haired witch hissed in mild frustration.

 

The redhead sighed and rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Hermione. What are you, five? Fine, I’ll make up your mind for you.” She looked through a handful of miniature gifts wrapped in familiar, dark green paper. Closer examination showed that each one had a tag identifying which picture it was. Ginny selected one and tore off the tag. “Give him this one first.” At Hermione’s questioning look, she elaborated sotto voce, “It’s the ballroom one.”

 

“Excellent. Errrrr, hang on to the others for me, will you? And keep everyone away for a moment.” As soon as Ginny began bossing the other witches around, Hermione hurried to Lucius’ side and tried tugging him toward the French windows.

 

In his typical way, he took control of the situation by threading her arm through his and leading her there in a dignified fashion. When they reached one of the open doorways, she paused. “We don’t need to go outside, Lucius. I just wanted to give you something before I go with Molly.” And the rest of the Weasley circus. She hadn’t looked up at him yet, and now a wave of nerves passed over her. What if he doesn’t like it? What if it’s too tame for his tastes?

 

Lucius tipped her chin upward with one strong finger and asked gently, “Whatever could have you feeling timid, pet?”

 

She leaned against him, soaking up his confidence, until she was able to reply, “I have something for you; or the first part of it, at least. I’ve decided to give you my gift in installments.” Hermione tapped her wand on the miniature box in her palm, muttering a quiet Engorgio, and then handed the restored present to her wizard.

 

There were wide, shallow stone steps leading from the entrance of the study down to the rose garden, and Lucius guided her to sit with him there. The gold roses bloomed before them in all their hypnotic glory, and Hermione realized she would have to keep her eyes on her husband-to-be in order to avoid them. She shifted so that she was angled toward him and watched him unwrap the large flat rectangle. Lucius’ long fingers made quick work of the paper and Spell-O Tape, and within the space of a breath he was looking down at the large print of Hermione climbing the grand staircase of the ballroom, her lavish gown unlaced and trailing low on her back as she glanced over her shoulder into the camera’s lens. She watched him look at her image, watched her image look up at him with that secret, almost sultry smile and hold the front of her dress to her half-revealed breasts. The chandeliers of the ballroom cast intimate light over the equally intimate scene, and Hermione willed him to like it. She held her breath when he said nothing, but simply traced a forefinger over the glass-covered image repeatedly. Finally she whispered, “Do you like it?”

 

Like it?” Lucius drawled, skewering her with an intense look. “Does a man like to gaze at the object of his desire?” He shook his head. “No, I don’t like it at all.” Her heart dropped, but he was still speaking. “I love it. I need it.” He returned his gaze to the picture and traced his finger over her form again. “It is the most perfect gift I can imagine receiving.” She blushed with pleasure, gratified by the fact that he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes off the gift. When he did, his expression was both wild and reverent. He stood and pulled her to her feet, then down the steps and away from the French windows. “Thank you.”

 

“You’re-” He swallowed the rest of her reply, moving his lips against hers worshipfully. Their arms wound around each other and they remained close after the kiss ended.

 

Finally Lucius spoke into her hair. “Go, before I decide to steal you away.” He pulled back and gestured further into the garden “Please tell Greg to summon me when the Aurors arrive. I have a sudden need to commit this picture to memory.” When she turned to leave he added, “I eagerly await to the next installment, Hermione.”

 

She floated back into the study, her mind still with Lucius in the rose garden as she spoke with Greg and then joined the gaggle of witches. Fleur gave her a condescending smile, but Hermione couldn’t find it within her to be irritated. In fact, she returned the look with a goofy grin devoid of any sentiment other than sheer happiness and didn’t complain when the Frenchwoman still insisted on Side Along Apparition. The group left for her suite almost immediately.

 

As soon as the short bout of dizziness passed, she was gratified to see Molly launch into her bullying prep routine with Fleur and herd her towards the bathroom. Gabi followed, teasing her older sister the entire time. Hermione smirked, knowing that a pre-ritual bath was in order and remembering how much Molly enjoyed washing hair. Gabi was sure to run commentary on the entire process. The day was getting better by the minute! She hoped her chaperone got at least one mouthful of bathwater.

 

Her attention was drawn by a subtle shift in her environment. Something felt different, and Hermione catalogued the condition of the outer room with surprise. “How is this possible?” She walked slowly to where there had been a large hole not so long ago. She ran her hand over the perfectly restored wall.

 

Luna spoke from directly behind her, causing Hermione to nearly jump out of her skin. “Ginny and I set it to rights while you were with Lucius and Draco, although I expect we had help from the manor itself.” The curly-haired witch opened her mouth to question that ridiculous statement, and Luna added, “It’s all these Ley lines; I can feel them. Oh, and I think there’s a localized infestation of thrushmunchers.” She beamed in that slightly mad way of hers. “I do hope you’re wearing my gift, seeing as it’s the full moon.”

 

Hermione blinked several times, stripped of speech. At last she ventured, “Errrrr, the wall looks great.” She was saved at this point by the crack of Apparition. Turning around she found Beetle standing expectantly, reception gown in hand. With a feeling of immense relief and gratitude toward the wizened elf for the interruption, she said, “Oh, thank you, Beetle!”

 

She reached out to take the garment, but Beetle held up one finger commandingly. “Beetle knows many wizard customs. Lady’s reception dress will stay on and will not be ripped again.”

 

Hermione blushed. “Of cour-”

 

The finger wagged furiously, and was now paired with a narrow-eyed glare. “This will be so because Beetle has sealed the seams and will now seal Lady into the dress.”

 

Sweet Circe, Lucius is completely justified in being terrified of her. She nodded frantically. “Yes, Beetle.” At a very clear wordless command, Hermione stripped out of her borrowed robes and reached for the gown, telling herself all the while that undressing in front of the house elf was no different than doing the same with a seamstress.

 

Meanwhile Luna kept up a running commentary on Hermione’s shields and choice of knickers. “Such detail, and if you get up really close, you can see the outer edge of the filigree is actually a snake, ‘Mione!” She had stooped to peer closely at one shield, and Hermione was only able to keep from shoving her away after tapping into heretofore unknown reserves of tolerance and tranquility.

 

Living most of the last eight years in a girls’ dorm had desensitized the curly-haired witch to the varying states of female nudity common in such a familiar environment, and she’d even grown fond of sharing the pool-sized prefects’ bath with Ginny. However Luna Lovegood took such intimacy to uncharted places. Ginny had invited her to one of their shared baths just once, after which Hermione had threatened to drop out of Hogwarts if there was ever even a hint of a recurrence. Now she took a deep cleansing breath and gently steered Luna far enough away that she could no longer feel her friend’s breath on her nipple. “Yes, and you’re welcome to look at them any time I’m not wearing them. Now help me get this dress over my head, please.”

 

Seconds later, Hermione realized that Beetle hadn’t been joking. The house elf sealed the gown‘s zipper magically and said in a satisfied tone, “Beetle will release the charm after the reception. If Master asks, tell him his naughtiness has worn out Beetle and she is napping.” She bowed stiffly and then Disapparated with a crack that somehow sounded tired.

 

The curly-haired witch found herself alone again with Luna and thought quickly. “Oh, look! Gin’s out on the balcony. Let’s go join her.” She fled without waiting for a reply, although Luna didn’t follow. A glance behind showed that she had climbed up on the big bed and was jumping enthusiastically in the middle of it.

 

When she reached Ginny’s side and looked down at the grounds, she found herself once again unable to make coherent sound. Below her the proof of Molly Weasley’s hard work and brilliance stretched as far as she could see. In the fields below the formal garden were dozens of large marquee tents, whose gauzy curtains were gathered at the corners to show decorated tables and chairs within. The tents were strung with high-flying banners of deep green that flapped gaily in the wind, and it looked as though they were lit from within by fairy lights. Near the river, a large area had been raised several feet in the air for a dance floor of sorts; the nearest bridge looked as though it had been transformed into a stage.

 

It all paled in comparison to the formal garden, though, where almost every species of Lucius’ roses ran rampant in riotous glory. They had invaded every inch of soil, wrapped themselves around the balcony as well as the staircase leading to the fields below, and climbed the side of the manor clear up to her suite at the top of the house. Hermione reached a hand through the balusters to brush her fingers against the nearest bloom. How could this have happened in a few short hours? Although honestly I haven’t so much as looked outside since yesterday . . . regardless, I’m sure if I ask, the answer will involve Ley lines. She shook her head. It was just another tantalizing research opportunity that would have to wait a while longer.

 

It was difficult to see anything in much detail from this height, but Hermione realized that the roses followed a pattern of sorts that seemed to snake through the garden. She turned to Ginny. “Is that a . . . rose queue?”

 

The redhead nodded. “Don’t tell Mum I said it, but that idea was positively ingenious. She and Lucius started it early in the week, and put everyone to work on layering the final charms early this morning. Look.” Ginny traced the path of the queue through the air with her wand. “The guests will enter the formal garden and queue up to meet you, and you and your wizards will stand there and receive them,” she pointed to a spot close to the back of the house. “You were originally supposed to be in the dead center of the garden, but Mum changed that the moment she found out about Draco. Now you’ll be able to just turn around and slip into the manor.”

 

“That’s where I’m going to spend the next eight hours,” Hermione mused thoughtfully.

 

“Not really. You’ll take breaks to see Draco – his injury and absence are going to send the reporters into ecstasy, by the way – and I’m sure you and Lucius will do a fair bit of wandering around the grounds. Wait until you see the front drive,” Ginny answered with a pleased smile.

 

“This must be the most lavish, most beautiful reception . . . ever. Molly has done so much for me; I wish there were some way to repay- The thought fragmented as she remembered Draco’s words at the wedding shower. “Ginny, has Draco said anything about the trip he promised your parents to that resort in Mumbai?”

 

Her response included a dramatic eye roll. “Do not speak of that. Yes, it’s all set and they leave tonight as soon as the full moon ritual has been completed. Their luggage was sent by portkey when we got here. And it’s all they’ve talked about since Wednesday morning!” Ginny’s expression became one of pathetic longsuffering. “It’s bad enough knowing your parents still break the bed regularly, along with other appalling acts, but when they talk about it . . . ‘Mione, it’s not right. I’m just glad we decided to move into Grimmauld straight away, without all that traditional nonsense of living separately before the wedding. I might have died from the horror.”

 

Hermione was still thinking about the fact that Draco had done such a thoughtful thing for the Weasleys. I’m so glad he followed through with his promise. Not that he wouldn’t – Draco is very thorough. He really is a superior wizard. Processing the rest of Ginny’s rapid-fire speech, she argued, “I don’t know, Gin. Don’t you still want to be performing depraved acts with Harry and Luna when you’re their age?” Her mind had immediately jumped to a future where she and her wizards were still stealing moments together despite the world around them. I want to be like Molly and Arthur someday.

 

Ginny dismissed the argument with a laugh. “Of course, but that’s different!”

 

“Do you think that’s how your children will see it?” the curly-haired witch asked with a smirk and a raised an eyebrow.

 

Ginny groaned. “Now you’ve gone and given me perspective, which is something I could have done without! And stop channeling Lucius – you’re already smug enough.” When Hermione refused to stop gloating, the redhead hissed, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my mother’s company is preferable to you right now.” The two girls burst out laughing at the same moment.

 

“How will I manage to keep myself busy while you’re honeymooning?” Ginny asked fondly. “And who will dress you and tell you what to do?”

 

Hermione wrapped an arm around her best friend’s shoulder and guided her back into the bedroom. “Honestly, Ginny, I might just have some of that figured out by then.”

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