Chapter Seventy-One: Friday

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

beta credit: Brightki and CoquetteKitten.

 

Hermione took as deep a breath as she was able to manage in the slim-fitting, high-waisted reception dress and peeked out the window drapes into the formal garden. I can do this. People had begun arriving several minutes ago, as evidenced by the rapidly filling queue. Needing an escape from impending reality, she let her thoughts wander backward.

******

The Aurors came and interviewed Hermione, who was surprised both to be deferentially addressed as ‘Lady’ and at the level of respect the title seemed to command. Shortly after, Molly had declared Fleur fit for her binding ceremony and left to oversee the reception opening, inviting Gabi to go along with her. The young girl happily agreed. The four remaining witches had stayed to talk in Hermione’s suite until the last possible second.

 

Fleur absentmindedly smoothed a hand down the white ceremonial robes she wore, packed by her mother and sent along with her sister. Ginny asked, “Don’t you need a chaperone today?”

 

“My father has generously offered to serve as my proxy chaperone until one has been secured,” Fleur said, her matter-of-fact tone tempered with happiness.

 

Hermione bit back a smirk, wondering how the Weasley wizards would feel about that. She could just imagine their frustration when Reynard Delacour thwarted their every advance on his daughter. “You deserve that, Fleur,” she offered with a straight face. Something that had been niggling at the back of her brain made it to the front just then, and she asked,   “What about your mother?”

 

Fleur’s beautiful face frowned in confusion. “What about her?”

 

“Well, doesn’t she want to meet the Weasleys and see you before your ceremony?”

 

Comprehension dawned on her friend’s face, and she explained in her pragmatic way, “My mother is a recluse, as many half-Veelas are, and rarely leaves our home. My father sends owls often, and she has been involved in this process at every point. And as far as I am concerned, she is with me in the best of ways: here.” She tapped her chest. Hermione knew her face was awash with sympathy, but Fleur waved a dismissive hand. “Save your pity for someone who needs it, Hermione. I have a mother, and she loves me. She simply cannot always be near me.”

 

******

 

There was a series of quiet thumps as Greg Goyle set down his Mediwizard kit on a side table and set about measuring Draco’s next set of potions. Her younger wizard had been moved to this large room at the back of the manor whilst she’d been in her suite, and a bed had been brought here for him. He lay sleeping quietly, his skin in pale contrast to the dark green silk bedding. Hermione sneaked a peek back out at the crowd waiting patiently, like ticketholders in line to enter a Muggle circus freak show.    I’m a Gryffindor, for Circe’s sake. Hermione turned back to her thoughts.

 

******

 

Luna had piped up in a dreamy voice, “And where will you stay during your courtship?”

 

“I will return home with my father when I have completed my duties to you. It’s the most practical solution. After all, it would hardly be respectable to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Percy has said he will arrange for a set of Portkeys so that he and his brothers may travel back and forth freely.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘it would hardly be respectable’? I’ve been staying at Malfoy Manor for days,” argued Hermione.

 

“Yes, but you are an orphan. Staying with your future husbands is traditional, provided you have a conscientious chaperone,” said Fleur in her most maddening older-sister manner. “I made sure that you were never left alone in a compromising situation.”

 

Hermione couldn’t help that snicker that escaped. “I’m going to remind you that you said that later today.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” A hint of suspicion had crept into Fleur’s voice. There was a knock on the outer door, and she kept her eyes on Hermione as she went to see who it was.

 

“You’ll see,” sang Hermione. She stuck her tongue out for good measure.

 

Fleur opened the suite doors and looked over her shoulder with a look of flushed excitement. “It’s time for me to go,” she called softly. “My father is here!”

 

Hermione crossed the room and hugged the beautiful blonde witch fiercely. They shared a look of understanding, and for a few seconds she couldn’t think of what to say. “We’re going to be relatives, you know.”

 

Fleur’s breathing was hitched, as if she’d just run up a long flight of stairs, and her eyes were bright. “Our children will grow up together.” She turned as if to leave and then asked in a hurried whisper, “Be honest. The marking – does it hurt?”

 

Hermione smirked evilly. “I seem to remember you not wanting to be told anything.” When her chaperone’s expression morphed into one of pleading, she relented and shook her head. “Not in the least.”

 

Ginny and Luna joined them then, and the redhead shared a brief hug with her future sister in-law. “I’ll deny ever having said this, of course, but Bill, Charlie, and Percy are wonderful men. I know you’ll be very happy with them.”

 

Luna gave the Frenchwoman a pleasant smile that was just to the left of completely sane. “I dreamed about your marking ritual. It was extremely erotic.”

 

In an uncharacteristically gentle gesture, Fleur kissed Luna’s cheek. “Then it will be so, because Draco has told me that you are a seer. Thank you.” She glanced happily at the three witches. “Until this afternoon, my friends.” And in a graceful flurry of traditional white robes, she was gone.

 

Those last two words lingered in Hermione’s ears as she watched Harry’s girls begin changing into the finery they’d brought to wear to the reception. ‘We’re her first friends,’ she thought, once again struck by the magnitude of the statement. She watched her best friend shuck off her sundress and slip into a flattering gown of pale green. “Wow, Gin. That’s lovely.”

 

“Of course it is.” Ginny looked over with a smirk. “Ten Galleons says Fleur gets marked in more than one way.” At Hermione’s expression of confusion she added, “What? It’s the full moon, and she’s binding with a latent lycanthrope. I bet Bill sinks his teeth into that pretty white neck of hers.”

 

“He wouldn’t!” At Ginny’s skeptical look, Hermione’s confidence in that statement faltered. “He would? Sweet Circe . . .” For some reason the idea of Bill biting Fleur struck her as mildly hilarious, and she began giggling. “Oh, poor Fleur!” She wheezed the words out when she caught her breath, only to set off another set of giggles.

 

Ginny snickered, “It’s a good thing their wedding ceremony won’t be a full moon ritual. Can you even imagine what their first time would be like?” She tipped her head up at a funny angle and gave a comic wolfish howl.

 

No, Hermione couldn’t, and she had no desire to do so. “Ugh. We’re talking about your brother, Gin, whom I also consider to be one. That’s just . . . ugh!” It was time to change the subject. She turned to Luna, who had donned a violently yellow gown and was now clipping sunflowers in her hair. “Luna, you look . . . very unique.”

 

The dreamy-eyed blonde beamed absently. “Thank you, ‘Mione! That’s just the look I was going for.   I hope you won’t mind, but I think I’ll head downstairs and look for Harry. I’m suddenly in the mood for-”

 

She was interrupted by Ginny, who said sternly, “What did I tell you, Lu?”

 

Luna gave a little moan. “That Harry’s tired and needs a break. But Gin, I want-”

 

Ginny swatted Luna’s backside, effectively silencing her again. “Not about that! What did I say about polite conversational topics? And no, you may not leave.”

 

“Ooh! Don’t tease, Gin!” At an admonishing look from the redhead, she added in a docile tone, “That sex isn’t one of them.” She glanced at Hermione. “I’m sorry. I just really miss . . . HARRY right now. Was that better, Gin?” She looked pleased at Ginny’s nod regardless of the fact that it was accompanied by a roll of her eyes.

 

“Don’t mention it, Luna,” Hermione offered sympathetically. She knew exactly how Luna felt, even though her own verbal filter was intact.

 

******

 

Greg was gently nudging Draco, and Hermione left her spot at the window to help. She sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned over his pillow. “Wake up, sleepyhead. Time for more potions.”

 

Draco made an adorable moue of annoyance at being woken. “Mmmm-mmmm.”

 

Hermione ran her fingers through his soft, pale hair and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Draco, if you wake up, I’ll give you a present.”

 

He sighed and opened his eyes, quickly squeezing them shut again. “Too bright.” Greg extinguished the nearest source of light, a giant candelabrum that sat on the bedside table, and Draco tried again. “Thank you.” He looked up at Hermione with confused, slightly unfocused eyes. “Is it already our wedding night? Why are you still dressed?”

 

******

 

It was nearly time to head downstairs. Hermione took one last look in the looking glass and turned again to Ginny. “And you’re sure there’s no special protocol I’m supposed to know and follow for the next eight hours,” she stated again uncertainly. She glanced at Luna, who seemed to be performing one of her protective spells over in one corner, adding, “Because if you slap my bum like you just did Luna’s at any point during the reception, I’ll hex you six ways from Sunday.”

 

Ginny huffed and struck a defensive pose, a hand on one jutting hip. “Exactly how many Pureblood receptions have you attended? None? Really, because this is my . . . well, I haven’t exactly saved programs and kept count, but I’ve been to more than my share!” At Hermione’s expectant look, she continued with a derisive shake of her head, “Honestly, ‘Mione, you stay with your wizards, you smile, you make pleasant small talk – that’s it. The rest is up to you.”

 

“That’s what I need know: the rest of it!” she growled.

 

Ginny looked as though she was arguing with herself internally. Finally she said, “Well, since you asked . . . you might want to work on hiding your impatience with people in general. I know it’s hard for you, being the cleverest witch of the age and all, but you still have to be nice to the common people.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed, and her arms came up to cross over her chest.

 

“Oh, like you don’t know how irritable you can be when you doubt someone’s intelligence,” Ginny replied with a smirk.

 

Hermione’s eyebrows hiked up into her hairline. “I’m very patient with people less intellectually fortunate than me!”

 

“You happen to have the lowest tolerance for idiocy of anyone I’ve ever met, with the exception of Professor Snape. Merlin rest his soul.”

 

“Merlin rest his soul,” Hermione intoned automatically. Then she realized what her friend had just said. “What?! How can you say that?!”

 

Ginny’s expression was incredulous. “When have you ever refrained from sharing your opinion of someone’s shortcomings?”

 

“I am incredibly patient,” Hermione muttered. “For your information, I haven’t been the slightest bit irritable with anyone other than you or Fleur for the past three weeks. And you two don’t count.”

 

Ginny blinked several times and said slowly, “That’s because you haven’t talked with anyone else outside of Lucius and Draco, and they’re easily on your level. Obviously Fleur and I don’t count because we’re smarter than you.” At Hermione’s choked noise of shock, she added, “Oh, please – you can barely tie your own shoes.” They shared a brief grin, but Ginny wasn’t done. “Today you’ll be expected to listen and smile politely regardless of who’s talking or what they’re saying. You need to follow Lucius’ lead.”

 

“I can do that easily!”

 

The redhead sighed wearily. “Alright, I can see you need a list of prohibited behavior. Are you ready? Number one: no opinions of any kind. At all. Number two: do not correct anyone. At all. Number three: do not spout facts. At-_

 

“Yes, yes – ‘at all’. I get it!”

 

“Hermione,” Ginny said earnestly, taking hold of her shoulders and shaking them gently, “You asked for help, and I’m giving it to you. Now, unless you intend to alienate major Ministry officials, Malfoy business associates, the other Houses, or – heaven forbid – the reporters, I suggest you listen!”

 

Ginny’s voice went on after that part but Hermione heard none of it, so focused was she on what had just been said. “Oh, sweet Merlin. You’re saying I’m going to utterly embarrass Lucius today.”

 

******

 

Greg offered to wait outside the room, saying the potions would keep for another fifteen minutes or so, and left. Hermione pressed a kiss to Draco’s beautiful mouth. “No, the reception hasn’t even started. How are you feeling?”

 

“Is this another dream?” He closed his eyes and smiled. “Because I keep having the most vivid dreams. Hmmmmm. Are you sure it’s not our wedding night? I could have sworn you were just screaming my name in pleasure.”

 

“I think that’s the potions talking.” She breathed a quiet laugh. “Or the fact that you’ve damaged that handsome brain of yours.”

 

Draco opened his eyes. They were a washed out grey at the moment, as tired-looking as the rest of him. “You said I could have a present. Does that mean you have more than one for me?” Oh, thank Circe. His short-term memory and reasoning skills haven’t been impaired. She was just going to answer when he whispered, “I can see Luna’s narleywickets. They’re everywhere.”

 

Hermione groaned internally. But he’s delusional. “That’s wonderful, Draco. Maybe you’d like to wait for your present. I could give it to you after you have another nap.” Is he pouting? He is! I’ll bet he was the sweetest little boy . . . She shook her head to clear it of that distracting thought.

 

He reasoned, “If this were a dream, you wouldn’t be wearing clothes and I wouldn’t have this painful hard-on. On the other hand, if this were real life, you’d never have offered me a present and then taken it back.” He grimaced. “Thinking makes my head hurt.”

 

Hermione swung her legs up so she could lie beside him on the bed. She cradled his head in her arms so that he lay once more with his face between her breasts. “Well, my clothes are on, and I’m going to give you a present. By your own logic, that means this isn’t a dream.”

 

“That’s half a shame,” he murmured into the delicate fabric of her bodice. “Because my cock aches like a motherfucker.”

 

She couldn’t help it – she simply could not contain the burble of laughter that rose from deep within her and escaped noisily. He’s hilarious! This must be how Harry feels about Luna’s lack of verbal filter all the time. Glancing at the nearest timepiece and seeing that Greg would be gone for another thirteen minutes, she whispered conspiratorially, “If you promise to be very quiet, I’ll help you with that.”

 

“I really hope this isn’t another dream, Hermione.” His voice was muffled, his mouth pressed as it was to her breast. “Although I wouldn’t mind if you were naked.”

 

******

 

Ginny had rolled her eyes. “Oh, for the love of magic. I never said that!” She sighed heavily. “You’re not going to embarrass anyone as long as you remember that today is about being introduced to the wizarding world as Wife to the House of Malfoy. Think about it this way: it’s your big chance to make Lucius and Draco look good. They chose you as their Wife; people want to see what makes you so alluring to them. Be yourself – you’re clever and funny, and you’re very likeable when you hold back on the impatient know-it-all routine. I know, because I saw you do it once.”

 

“Errrrr, when was that?” Hermione had swung to the opposite end of the self-confidence spectrum in a matter of seconds and was now analyzing her social skills. ‘She’s right,’ she thought, ‘I’m completely impatient with people I find lacking in the brains department.’

 

“When you went to the Yule Ball with Viktor, of course,” Ginny replied, as though that answer was obvious. “Regardless of the fact that you two had nothing in common other than both being attractive and socially inept, you charmed his socks off for the entire evening.”

 

“I did, didn’t I,” mused Hermione. She thought back to that evening so many years ago with a smile. It had been a matter of sheer determination on her part, but she’d succeeded in swallowing down any and all irritation for several hours. “I focused on the positive: he had nice eyes and was a good dancer. OH. I see.”

 

Ginny pretended to wipe tears from her eyes. “As much as it pains me to admit this, my awkward little swot is all grown up.”

 

Hermione gently punched Ginny’s arm, which, to a girl with six brothers, was the equivalent of a hug. “And for the record, I know how to tie my shoes.”

 

“You’re going to take our world by storm, ‘Mione,” she said softly, a hint of real tears in her eyes. “I’m proud to be your friend.”

 

Now Hermione did hug her best friend. “When I’m photographed for the society pages, I’ll be sure to admit that you dress me on a daily basis.”

 

Ginny snorted softly. “Don’t forget to tell them I make up your mind for you as well.”

 

“Well, you can tell them that. After all, it’ll be hard to get a photograph of me without you. You’re a bit clingy. Hand me my lip gloss, will you please?”

 

“Yes, yes – I tolerate you, you tolerate me. We’ll be enduring each other’s company for the rest of our lives. Time to go. Here, take the rest of your pictures.” Ginny passed off the shrunken packages and the requested item with a warm smile and turned to the blonde dancing and chanting nearby. “Come on, Lu. Let’s get ‘Mione to her wizards.”

 

******

 

Hermione slid off the bed, despite Draco’s protests. From the foot of it she retrieved her handbag and dug through it until she found the framed print she’d chosen to give him first. She returned it to its original size and handed the large rectangle to him. “Happy wedding day, Draco.”

 

He gave her a loopy grin. “How did you manage to wrap up a hand-job?”

 

“Oh, Draco!” Another happy laugh escaped her, and she dipped to press another kiss to his mouth. “We’re definitely going to have to hide you until you get your filter back.” Hermione directed his attention to the package. “You unwrap this, and I’ll unwrap you.” She slid her free hand under his duvet. He took the present from her and began tearing the paper, but paused with a groan when her fingers trailed along his trousered thigh. He really is adorable. She stopped and said as sternly as she could manage, “I’m not going to touch you unless you unwrap your gift.”

 

Draco ripped the rest of the paper off in one obedient movement, and then looked at her expectantly. If Hermione hadn’t been so amused by his altered state of mind she would have been disappointed at his apparent disinterest in her present. As it was she had to remind herself that this wasn’t really Draco, and when he was feeling better she could give each picture to him all over again. She ran her hand up over the soft wool of his trousers until she came to his belt, which she quickly unfastened. The button and zipper were next to be undone, and then she was untucking his shirt and slipping her hand into his boxers. She had done this only the one time before, but a wave of ownership washed over her as her fingers brushed against his soft, warm skin. Already it felt right. He’s mine, and I’m his. And yet I’m still blushing.

 

He held her gaze from under heavy eyelids and groaned deeply when her fingers closed around his erection. “Nnnngh.” He flung back the covers. “I want to watch.”

 

“Absolutely not!” Hermione practically yanked the covers back up in panic. “Greg could come in at any moment, Draco. Now, are you going to behave, or do I have to stop?” She moved her hand along his hard shaft, stroking her thumb along the little ridge that Lucius had pointed out only the night before. “Look at what’s in your hand, Draco. Do you see what I gave you?” He made an incoherent sound and thrust into her grip. With her free hand, Hermione took the framed print from him and held it up in front of his glazed eyes. “It’s a picture of me in that beautiful bed.”

 

She ran her thumb over the tip of him and spread the leaking fluid around. Lucius had wanted her to wet his flesh last night, and Hermione hesitated only a second before removing her hand long enough to lick it palm to fingertips. She returned to her previous ministrations, much to his loud approval and increased hip thrusts. “Hermione . . . so good . . . Circe!” One of his hands worked its way under the covers and closed around hers for a moment, guiding her movements. “Faster,” he croaked.

 

She complied with his directions, noting with satisfaction that his hand fell away almost immediately. Good thing I’m a quick study. “Look at the picture, my love. I’m in my bed without a stitch of clothes on, waiting for you. Can you see?” Inwardly she congratulated Ginny’s decision to pull her knickers down out of sight for the shot.

 

His eyes flicked to the picture, and it was as though he just now realized what it was he was looking at. “Circe’s left tit. That’s you, and you’re naked in that bed. Merlin, that feels . . . Ohhhhhhhh.” His voice trailed off in a moan.

 

Hermione looked down at her younger wizard, confidence zinging through her system. Every word, every movement, every bead of sweat that now stood out on his face confirmed that he was aroused by her and that she was bringing him pleasure. She drew her hand out from under the bedding and re-wet it with another long lick. Even that gesture seemed to please Draco. Struck with a sudden idea, she murmured, “I had a dream last night about this picture, Draco. We were at the Yule Ball together, and when we were done dancing you took me back to your room.” Her imagination supplied the fantasy all too willingly, and she felt her own body responding to it.

 

Draco groaned louder. His eyes were glued on the print. Now he ground out between hip thrusts, “I . . . same dream. Nnnngh. You took it off . . . so slowly. Mmmmm.   I made you mine . . . you cried my name. Oh, like that. Fuck, Hermione.” With a few more synchronized movements of his hips and her hand, he came with another loud groan.

 

Hermione quickly cleaned him up with a Scourgify, but not until she’d licked some of his fluid from her fingertip. He watched her in hazy fascination and caught her hand before she could clean it. “Do that again.”

 

“What, this?” She ran her tongue up her forefinger where a stream of ejaculate trailed down.

 

Draco grinned sleepily. “My Wife swallows.”

 

Hermione snorted indelicately at that. She cleaned her hand. “My husband knocks his head into hard surfaces.”

 

“I shouldn’t be so crass around you, but whatever I think just seems to come out of my mouth. May I blame it on my current condition?” He looked up at her hopefully.

 

She grinned and nodded. “I love your beautiful manners, but I also like when you just say what you’re thinking. You should never apologize for that.” I like filthy-mouthed Draco.

 

He gave a contented hum. “In that case, you should know I spend most of my time thinking about having sex with you.”

 

Draco took his potions, and he spent their remaining few minutes together staring at the picture and making increasingly coarse remarks. Then he fell into another deep sleep, the frame clutched tightly in his hands. There was a warning knock on the door and it opened a few inches. Greg called out, “Okay to enter?”

 

“Come in, Greg. He’s just fallen back to sleep.” Hermione stood from where she’d been sitting on the edge of the bed and rolled her stiff shoulders. When the young guard crossed the room to check on Draco, she asked hesitantly, “When do you suppose he’ll stop blurting whatever he’s thinking?” A mental image of him verbally regurgitating to Greg what had just happened came to mind, and she winced.

 

Greg pursed his lips and frowned thoughtfully. “The pain potion is the cause of that, for the most part. His concussion is giving him a huge headache, and we’re treating that as well as mending the actual damage. The fact that he only complained about the light this time shows improvement. We’ll start weaning him off the pain potion soon.”

 

The encouraging words brought a smile to her lips. “You’re a handy friend to have.”

 

The dark-haired wizard actually blushed, which further endeared him to Hermione. “The Goyles have been Healers for as long as anyone can remember.”

 

“Tell me more,” she urged, intrigued.

 

“I’ll sit for my exams in two years, and then I won’t have to work under my dad’s supervision as much.” He blushed again and turned to his Mediwizard kit, packing it up. “There’s nothing more to tell.”

 

It was obvious Greg wasn’t much of a conversationalist, and so Hermione was left on her own for a few minutes. She took the opportunity to gloss her lips and take up her previous place at the curtained window. Just as she was about to peep out again, the door opened and Lucius entered. He called softly, “Where is my prize?”

 

Hermione hadn’t yet seen her elder wizard look anything less than elegantly turned out and supremely confident. Now, though, he seemed to have transcended his normal levels of these qualities. She drank in his appearance from head to toe, memorizing the way he looked in that moment. He leaned against the doorframe gracefully, somehow appearing even taller and more broad-shouldered than usual. Robes of the deepest blue velvet covered a crisp white shirt and peacock blue waistcoat, and the neatly corded queue of his pale hair fell over his shoulder in shining contrast. His mouth was curled in a smirk, and his pale eyes twinkled in the dimly lit room.

 

Done with her quick perusal, she flew to his outstretched arms and stood on tiptoe to wrap her arms around his neck. She looked at his face intently, wondering what was different, until he raised an eyebrow and murmured, “What is it, pet?”

 

“I don’t know,” she admitted with a slight frown, “but you seem taller. And even more confident. Have you used some sort of charm?”

 

“Certainly not.” He chuckled and stooped to lean his forehead against hers. “I’m sure it is because I am about to introduce my beautiful Wife-to-be to the world.”

 

His breath moved against her lips, and she was so caught in the sensation that she almost missed his words. It’s because he’s so happy. It’s made him larger than life. “That could be it.” She brushed a hand over one velvet lapel, tracing the serpent embroidered there in silver thread, and shivered in nervous anticipation. “Is it time?”

 

“Not quite yet,” he murmured. He grasped her chin in one large hand and held her face immobile while his glowing eyes swept over it. “I’m going to kiss you first.” Then Lucius did just that, moving his mouth against hers until Hermione sagged against his chest and forgot about everything but the sensations of his lips and tongue. When he pulled away, she tried to remember how to breathe. His eyes catalogued her features once again, and he said in a satisfied tone, “Now it’s time. Come along, pet.”

 

Hermione pressed her nose against the front of his shirt, filling her lungs with the heavy masculine scent that she had come to associate with confidence, lust, and love. I’m a Gryffindor; I can do this. She stepped back, comforted by the fact that the fragrance of her war stake now lingered on her. It’s just a very large crowd of people. Looking up, she saw that the faint pink gloss she’d had on her lips was now staining those of her wizard. They’re only here to gawk. That’s fairly innocuous. The curly-haired witch wiped the makeup from Lucius’ mouth with her thumb. Rub, rub, rub. When his eyes darkened she was struck with the realization that she had turned his own game on him, and it caused her to smirk. He twinkled down at her, murmuring, “Well played, pet. Now fix your pretty lips, and we’ll be off.”

 

Ginny’s advice came to mind. Find something positive about each person I meet, and refrain from opinion-based conversation. Lucius Malfoy looks edible even when wearing lip gloss. That is most definitely a positive thing and not an opinion at all. Hermione crossed the room once more to Draco’s bed and hunted through her handbag for the required item. As she glossed her kiss-swollen lips, her eyes fell to where her younger wizard lay in deep slumber. She walked the few steps to the head of the bed and ran her hand through his soft, pale hair once more before returning to Lucius, who now looked downright impatient.

 

He offered her his arm and led her out into the corridor, where Gore and another large guard (who was surely another of his relatives) stood and exchanged a silent signal with the elder Malfoy. The two wizards fell in step a few paces behind them. When they had nearly reached the massive doors leading out to the formal garden Lucius said, “The first order of business will be to issue a statement to the press regarding Draco.”

 

The door loomed just ahead and through it she thought she could make out the chatter of a large crowd. She dug in her heels and looked up at him in panic. “I need a minute.”

 

He raised an elegant eyebrow and continued to propel her toward that ominous door. “Surely you aren’t nervous, pet.”

 

Hermione leaned back, resisting his forward motion. It’s time to be honest. “I’m a little concerned about embarrassing you and bringing shame to the House of Malfoy,” she joked, although her tone was dismal.

 

“Impossible.” Lucius was grinning down at her, obviously amused. “I am incapable of that emotion.” He leaned down further to murmur in her ear, “Besides, a witch as beautiful and of such incomparable wit and intellect as you hardly has reason to worry. Come.”

 

“I’m quite serious, Lucius!” She pulled against his grip on her arm, successfully halting his larger, heavier form.

 

He paused yet again at her urging, looking down at her in concern. Her eyes must have reflected the angst within her, because Lucius leaned down to cup her cheek. “Who has filled you with such needless concern, pet?” He gave her the full attention of his intense gaze.

 

Hermione took a deep breath and blew it out in a frustrated sort of way. “All of these people here today – they’re here because of you and Draco. Either they’re your business associates or part of your fan club, but either way, this day is about you. I don’t want to make either one of you look bad.”

 

“Impossible,” Lucius repeated, and then opened his mouth as if to add something but paused. He seemed to be considering his words, and his mouth was slowly shifting into a smirk as he finally said, “Unless I were to discover you are not a member of this ‘fan club’ of mine. Tell me, pet: do you keep my picture under your pillow and kiss it every night?” From the corner of her eye, she saw his hand reach out and grasp the heavy door handle.

 

The latch clicked open, but his teasing and the accompanying twinkle he was directing her way caused her to reply automatically even as she heard the sound, “Absolutely not. Your ego is far too swollen already.”

 

The door swung slowly towards them, and a ray of soft sunshine fell across their path. Lucius, who still leaned down slightly to even out their height difference, wrapped one large hand around her waist and said with a wolfish grin, “You wound me grievously, Lady.”

 

The opening door had nearly disclosed them to the waiting crowd, but in that moment the two were encased in an all-consuming bubble of intimacy. Hermione couldn’t help the indelicate snort of laughter that burst from her. Lady indeed! She stood on tiptoe, clasping him by the lapels of those lovely dark blue robes, and kissed him soundly on the corner of his smiling mouth. Then there was the unmistakable click of a camera shutter and their bubble was popped.

 

 

 

*          *          *          *          *          *

 

 

Hermione heaved a sigh of relief as the mammoth doors closed behind them, and sent an absent smile to the two guards who still accompanied them. A twenty-minute break in the privacy of the manor sounded absolutely heavenly at the moment. She was vaguely aware of Lucius guiding her along the corridor toward Draco’s temporary room but her mind was far away, caught up in processing her first exposure to a Pureblood reception.

 

At the door they were stopped by a guard she hadn’t met yet. He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes meaningfully at Lucius, then tipped his head further down the hall. The elder Malfoy made a sound of annoyance and looked down at Hermione, obviously in irritated. Finally he sighed. “It would seem we have visitors, pet. Brace yourself.”

 

******

 

For two hours she’d stood beside her elder wizard. Two hours! When she first realized that her impetuous kiss had been caught on film, she’d jumped back and met Lucius’ gaze in apology, only to find him looking even more pleased with himself than usual. He’d led her out onto the wide top step in his formal way and then drawn her against his side.

 

There was a small crowd of reporters and their accompanying photographers arranged at the base of the steps, all demanding attention in a relatively polite manner. Those first few minutes of the reception belonged to the press, it seemed, and Hermione absorbed every detail and sound in an effort to gain understanding of the situation. Outwardly she attempted to keep a smile plastered on her face, but inwardly she was having a good shriek. ‘Merlin’s Bludgers, why doesn’t anyone think I need to know about these things?!’

 

Both the journalists and the crowd in the queue immediately seized upon the fact that Draco wasn’t with them. Amidst the general roar, one especially loud press member called out, ‘Mr. Malfoy, where is Draco? Turn this way for The Prophet, please.” There was a chorus of shutter clicks.

 

“Draco is recovering from a rather nasty bump on the head received during the last Quidditch game at Hogwarts last week. He bumped his head again earlier this morning, and is resting under private care within the manor.” Lucius drawled in an unconcerned tone. When the gaggle of correspondents began speaking all at once, he silenced them with one raised hand and added, “I am sure he will join us later, although I would ask that you respect his convalescence.” Lucius had employed a Sonorus for the benefit of the crowd, and at these words a distressed murmur began. Somewhere far back in the queue a girl shrieked out Draco’s name in an agonized sort of way, and the cry was taken up by dozens more.

 

The elder Malfoy turned with a slight smirk to Hermione and lifted an eyebrow as if to say, ‘you were warned’. Their two guards moved to stand closer to them, wands held inconspicuously at the ready. Hermione valiantly resisted the almost overwhelming urge to turn and screech back, ‘He’s MINE!’

 

 

******

 

They exited the small drawing room without saying a word. Once the door was closed, however, Hermione rounded on her elder wizard. “Not one word, Lucius! We will never speak of this, and I will never enter that room again! I cannot believe I was looking forward to that visit!””

 

He nodded in agreement. “You have my word.” They walked back toward Draco’s room. As they neared the door, he added, “I’m tempted to have you Obliviate me, pet.”

 

She glanced up at him contemplatively. “That’s a very good idea, Lucius.”

 

Draco was awake when they re-entered the room. He was propped up with pillows and looked as though he’d just awoken.   Hermione crossed to him and leaned to kiss his forehead tenderly. “How’s my favorite moron?”

 

“Much better.” He smiled beatifically. “Is it time for another present?”

 

She couldn’t resist running her nose along his cheek and pressing another kiss to the lobe of his ear. “Have you been a good patient?” Good gracious Merlin, I want nothing more than to crawl under those covers and cuddle with him.

 

Lucius sank down gracefully onto the foot of the bed, sprawling to lean on one forearm. “Oh, yes; an update is in order. After all, the witches of the British Isles are worried about you, Draco,” he intoned with a smirk.

 

Draco groaned, although he seemed more disgusted than in pain. “Do they realize it’s my wedding day?” His eyes were slightly unfocused as he called across the room, “D’you hear, Greg? I’m Hermione’s favorite.”

 

******

 

When the awful noise was finally ceased, the reporters began their questions in earnest and the preliminary air of courtesy thinned. Hermione gathered that each journalist was limited to only one or two questions, and was relieved each time a question was directed at Lucius. Her luck held until nearly the end, when the final journalist called out “Turn to the left for Witch Weekly, please. Miss Ganger, would you give us a genuine smile?” With great effort Hermione complied, and was taken slightly aback when the dark-haired young woman said, “You look lovely in that dress. It’s obviously couture; may I ask whom you chose to design your wardrobe?”

 

Hermione blinked in surprise, thinking, ‘Of course, the one question I get and it has to be about fashion. Mother of Magic!’ Finally she stuttered, “Errrrr, thank you. I have no idea.” She glanced up at Lucius, who wore a faintly amused expression on his handsome face, and then back at the reporter. “I mean to say, it was a gift from my fiancés.” As the reporter’s magic quill began scribbling furiously, Hermione asked suspiciously, “Is that a Quick Quotes Quill?”

 

“Yes, but only for the sake of convenience. I heavily edit my notes.” From the gleam in the woman’s eyes, it was apparent she was looking for a story angle. “What kind of witch wouldn’t want to be involved in such an exciting and personal decision?” Changing tacks, she added, “Or is it that you weren’t allowed?”

 

Hermione still stood at Lucius’ side, her hand drawn under his arm and resting on his forearm and covered possessively with his other hand. Now she raised her free hand and settled it over his in an unconscious gesture of protection, and she narrowed her eyes slightly at the female reporter.

 

She was just opening her mouth to break all three of Ginny’s rules with gusto when she remembered her friend’s advice: ‘Be yourself – you’re clever and funny, and you’re very likeable when you hold back on the impatient know-it-all routine. I know, because I saw you do it once’.

 

Along the edge of her awareness, the Malfoy covenant stretched languorously and seemed to be waiting expectantly for her decision. ‘Clever and funny and likeable,’ she thought. Her mind raced quickly. ‘Be myself.’ The family magic sent a wave of amusement her way. ‘Oh, I see. Thank you.’

 

A split second’s observation of the reporter gave Hermione just the positive focal point she needed, and she stared into the young woman’s large, wide-set, intelligent brown eyes before offering honestly, “The kind of witch whose best friend has been dressing her for years.” The allusion to Ginny caused a genuine smirk to bloom on her face, and she continued, “I’ve only just been allowed to start tying my own shoes.” Some of the reporters laughed at her joke and she concluded, “Honestly, my interests lean more toward current research in practical applications of magic than fashion. The fact that Lucius and Draco went to such effort to relieve me of that responsibility shows how well they really know me.”

 

Within her the family magic gave a purr of approval, and Hermione let out the breath she’d been holding. She felt Lucius give her hand a discreet squeeze, and saw that the Witch Weekly journalist was nodding at her in a pleased manner. There were a few more pictures taken, and then as if on cue the reporters began to disperse. Lucius and Hermione began descending the stone steps to the reception line, and he murmured silkily, “Well done, pet. Why on earth were you so nervous beforehand? You handled that splendidly.”

 

“I wonder how pleased you would have been had I followed my first impulse and bitten that woman’s head off. She was baiting me! It could easily have been a disaster, Lucius! Thankfully the cov- Oh, bother. Here she comes now.”

 

The Witch Weekly reporter approached them waving a business card. “Miss Granger, I hope you will consider giving our publication your first private interview as Wife to the House of Malfoy.”

 

Hermione smiled politely as they continued walking past the dark-haired woman. “I’m afraid I’m not the sort of witch to increase your readership, but thank you.”

 

“On the contrary, Miss Granger,” the reporter persisted, walking along beside them, “I think our readers would be thrilled to know the Malfoy Wife is more than just a lovely face. You’re a brilliant and kind-hearted war hero, the kind of woman every good mother wants her daughter to emulate. You’re exactly the witch our publication wants.”

 

Hermione paused and looked at the woman closely. Her dark hair was cropped short and her intelligent brown eyes gleamed under finely arched brows. There was something oddly familiar about her. “What is your name?”

 

“Calliope Tremlett.” She shook her head and grimaced. “Let me guess – I look familiar. It’s because of my brother Donaghan.” When Hermione looked nonplussed the reporter added with a roll of her eyes, “Plays bass for The Weird Sisters.”

 

Hermione nodded absently, already circling back around to Calliope’s previous statement. “That certainly sounds very . . . progressive.” She looked at the business card still waving in front of her face and nodded her head again. “I’ll . . . consider it.” She took the card and handed it to Lucius, who tucked it into a pocket of his robes.

 

Calliope Tremlett gave a wide, toothy grin that begged to be returned. “Sounds fantastic. I’m looking forward to it already.” She turned to go and called over her shoulder, “Expect my owl sometime next week!”

 

Lucius chuckled quietly as they neared the reception line, and Hermione glanced up at him in consternation. “I spoke too soon. What have I just got myself into?”

 

“It sounds as though you’re being vetted as a national role model.” He looked down at her with twinkling eyes. “I promise you a lesson devoted to the wizarding press as soon as we are free of distractions, my prize.” He led her to the head of the queue where there was a garden table and a comfortable-looking wingback chair pulled up to it, presumably for Draco. On the ground nearby were dozens of baskets piled high with cuttings of the blue Praestruxit roses, and her elder wizard gestured toward them with his hand. “A gift for each guest. It’s-“

 

“Let me guess – it’s a Pureblood tradition,” Hermione hazarded. She noticed for the first time that the enchanted roses formed a narrow, waist-high barrier complete with thorns between the Malfoys and their guests. “And just when exactly do you think we’ll be distraction-free?”

 

Lucius made a thoughtful noise as he continued to steer her toward the throng of people. “That is an excellent point to be considered at a time when we are without distraction. For now let us greet our guests, pet.”

 

Hermione had consciously ignored the crowd until that moment, but now the loud wave of voices crashed over the wall of her concentration. The reception line had begun to move toward them.

 

******

 

The young Goyle wizard stood from where he’d been sitting at a table littered with potions bottles and approached. “I think it’s safe to begin weaning him from the pain potion. Another few hours of rest and he should be able to sit outside with you.” His normally serious face broke into a broad grin as he added quietly, “I’m sure more than a few guests will be happy to hear that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to step out and have a word with my dad.”

 

Lucius stood and walked with Greg to the door, where they talked briefly. Meanwhile, Hermione asked Draco through clenched teeth, “Why are hordes of girls in the formal garden right now crying over the fact that you bumped your head?”

 

He gazed at her as one would a small child and said in a patient, explanatory tone, “I’ve been EBC since I was fourteen.”

 

“I have no idea what that even means, Draco.” And I’m not sure I want to.

 

“England’s Biggest Catch,” he prompted with the same patient air.

 

“According to whom? If that’s even real, it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she scoffed. Sweet Circe, let this be the drugs talking.

 

He continued calmly, “The press, of course. I’m very handsome, Hermione. Rich, too. And I was a spy during the war, which makes me very mysterious and dashing. All in all, you’re very lucky to be marrying me.”

 

Her younger wizard had not yet incited Hermione’s temper, but now he was causing a vein in her temple to throb and her vision to become tinted with red. She took a deep breath and began talking herself out of any drastic actions. I am conversing with a heavily medicated person. I love Draco, and have no desire to harm him in any way.

 

Lucius must have returned to the bedside at some point unnoticed by her, and he obviously had overheard much of the conversation. From directly behind her he laughed quietly and said, “So much for being Hermione’s favorite.”

 

Hermione jumped at the sound of his voice and bumped into Lucius’ hard chest. “Oh!” She turned around quickly. Catching sight of his amused countenance she growled, “He has got to be joking.”

 

The smile on his aristocratic face morphed into disbelief. “Surely you read the papers, pet.”

 

“Of course I do! I read the business sections regularly, and sometimes the headlines if there’s something of interest happening. The last time I saw the Malfoy name in print, it was in reference to a recent corporate merger.”

 

Lucius drew her into his arms and gazed down at her with approval. “You are without doubt the most perfect woman in the world.” At her slightly mollified expression he continued, “However, there is more to a publication than those two sections. I speak of the society pages, of course. The world is fascinated with people of power and money, and follows such lives avidly. The Malfoys are featured regularly in Wizard Watch, for example.”

 

Hermione slipped from Lucius’ embrace and mulled this over for a few seconds. “You’re saying that people actually follow you and Draco via the society pages, and that’s where he got that ridiculous title.” I honestly thought Molly and Minerva were joking about that.

 

Draco supplied helpfully, “Don’t be jealous, Hermione. I’m sure you’ll have one soon enough. Even Lucius has a moniker. It’s-”

 

Lucius actually snarled. Then he said in a low, threatening tone, “Not another word, EBG.”

 

The younger Malfoy stopped himself midsentence and gave a martyred sigh. “Never mind.”

 

Hermione couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped her. While the idea of living such a publicly scrutinized lifestyle was slightly horrifying, the situation itself was hilarious. Her younger wizard, it would seem, was a heartbreaker who, at some subconscious level, was quite comfortable his status. ‘Mr. ‘You’re Very Lucky to be Marrying Me” won’t be living this down any time soon, she thought with a grin. As for Lucius, he apparently had a following of his own, if the fact that he was embarrassed by the press’ moniker for him meant anything. He’s still blushing! Hermione giggled madly at the thought of how quickly she could discover his secret with a little bit of research.

 

Both Malfoys were looking at her with concern, and so she stifled her laughter and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Sorry, it’s all just a bit overwhelming.” She was overtaken with another bout of giggles, and added with difficulty, “Said the witch who accidentally accepted your war stake three weeks ago! Honestly, people would eat this up on toast!” Her uncontrollable laughter slowly ceased. “Let’s talk about something – anything – else.”

 

That statement seemed to penetrate the addled fog in Draco’s brain, because for one fleeting moment he reverted to his courteous, earnest self. “It’s very kind of you to take your break in here with me, especially when I’m not exactly in my right mind. Thank you.” With a brow furrowed in concern he went on, “I hope I haven’t said anything to offend you.”

 

Hermione stalked to his side and leaned down until her nose nearly touched his. “I haven’t hexed you yet, but it remains a distinct possibility.” She kissed his nose for emphasis. Reaching for her handbag on the bedside table, she sat down onto the bed near Draco and began hunting through it. When she’d selected two of the miniaturized wrapped boxes and returned them to their original size, she offered them to their prospective recipients. “I’d like to give you another present before our time is up.”

 

******

 

As the first guests approached, Lucius murmured, “I will introduce you formally to each Pureblood House, but there is no protocol with the other guests other than standard courtesy. Your task is to present each person with a rose when I turn to you. It is both a gift and a signal for them to move along.”

 

He nodded to the advancing group once in a courteous manner while Hermione stooped to pick up a rose basket. They were a handsome, well-dressed family of six, one of whom was a familiar looking young man directing a friendly wink at her. Hermione smiled brightly at her former classmate as Lucius said, “Miss Granger, allow me to introduce the House of Macmillan.”

 

The Macmillan wizards bowed, and Mrs. Macmillan stretched out her left hand toward Hermione with a warm smile. “Welcome, Lady.”

 

Hermione raised her own left hand, meeting Mrs. Macmillan’s above the rose barrier. She was surprised when the woman lowered her head and kissed the back of her hand tenderly. “Thank you,” she replied, unsure of what was expected of her. Mercifully, at that moment Lucius looked down at her with a slight nod. Hermione recognized this as her cue and gently removed her hand. She gave a rose to each member of the family, and they left.

 

Half a dozen more Pureblood families followed, and soon Hermione was automatically lifting her left hand to accept each House Wife’s kiss of greeting. She took copious mental notes of the fascinating protocol, eager to write it down later. Even the wizarding households that didn’t belong to Pureblood society followed what seemed to be well-known and lovely conventions, and they were equally intriguing. So rapt had her attention been, in fact, that she was surprised when the first two-hour ‘shift’ came to a close.

 

As the guards escorted her and Lucius back toward the manor, a lightning bolt of thought struck her brain. ‘Sweet Circe, forget starting my own diary – I’m going to write a definitive reference work on bespoke witches!’ The idea brought a genuine smile to her lips, and Lucius noticed at once.

 

Bending slightly to her level as they walked, he murmured, “What has my lovely one glowing with such happiness?”

 

She looked up into his handsome face and nearly moaned, “Oh, Lucius! I just realized the research possibilities involved with wizarding social mores!”

 

******

 

Both wizards perked up at the word ‘present’, and Lucius came to sit behind her on the edge of the bed. Draco began ripping the wrappings from his package immediately, but Lucius moved yet closer to her. When his torso was pressed lightly against her back, he wrapped his arms around so that he held his own gift in her lap. Murmuring in her ear as he began carefully peeling off the paper, he said, “You could have saved us both the trouble and simply wrapped yourself up, pet.”

 

The words tickled her ear, as did his long fingers whenever they brushed against her stomach or thighs. Lucius seemed intent on drawing out the process as long as possible, until Hermione grabbed it from him and tore the remaining wrapping off the large framed print. “I would have suffocated by now, you tease.” She waited for his reaction, gratified when she felt him freeze in place.

 

The moving image looked up at them from her lap. In it, Hermione lounged in a tub filled with bubbles. Her hair was piled high on her head, but errant curls cascaded down to brush against her gleaming, wet skin.   The girl in the picture looked at them with a secretive smile as she lifted her arms from beneath the water and ran a dripping flannel over one bare shoulder.

 

When Lucius finally moved, it was to run one forefinger over her photographed form. With it he highlighted a shining rivulet of water that ran from her collarbone down between her bubble-obscured breasts. “And I would have caught this drop of water with my tongue.” He inhaled deeply against the skin of her neck and then darted out his tongue in demonstration.

 

In an instant the desire that had raged between them earlier was rekindled. Hermione turned in his arms and pressed her lips to his hungrily. Lucius groaned and laid her down over his brother’s outstretched legs, pushing his tongue deeply into her mouth.

 

The passionate kiss would have escalated to something far more satisfying, but it was halted when Draco shifted in bed and kicked his legs, which lay beneath the two of them. When Lucius looked up with a growl, Draco gave them an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I was trying to get more comfortable.” He lifted his own framed print and added, “And my attention was elsewhere.”

 

Lucius gave a long-suffering sigh and sat up, pulling Hermione with him. He smoothed the front of his robes. “It’s just as well. Our time is limited, and our witch has been sealed into her gown by a tyrant.”

 

Draco didn’t answer, and a glance in his direction showed that he was looking at his gift intently. Hermione and Lucius traded a few more lingering kisses and caresses, but the moment had passed for anything more. Eventually she broke away with a soft smile and moved to the head of the bed, curling up beside Draco’s pillows as much as her slim-skirted dress would allow. She leaned her head near his.

 

The picture he held in his hands was the one of her in the Malfoy library. In it, she sat at a reading table, pouring over a book and nibbling on a quill, dressed only in an unbuttoned oversized uniform shirt and a Slytherin tie. Her eyes flicked up to the camera at one point, and at the same moment the shirt slipped from her shoulder. The image hinted at more than it actually revealed, but Draco’s eyed were glued to it.

 

“You spent nearly every afternoon in the school library,” Draco murmured. “I used to go and watch you from behind the nearest bookshelf, wishing I could just walk up and talk to you.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Lucius stand and cross the room to the table where Greg had been sitting earlier. She returned her attention to Draco. I had a stalker in school. Only the fact that it was Draco makes that idea romantic. Hermione stroked her fingers through his soft, pale hair. “Why didn’t you?” The pain potion must be wearing off. He sounds more like himself than he has all morning.

 

He exhaled quietly. “The Headmaster’s orders. You had your mission, and I had mine. Neither of us could afford to be distracted. Besides,” he said in a wistful way, “You had your heart set on someone else.”

 

“Oh, Draco,” she whispered. “I’m sorry you had to be so alone for so long. And I’m sorry you had to watch me make a fool of myself over R- over him. I hope you know that you were always going to be the one I chose.” I just had to engage myself to you in order to find that out.

 

He tilted his head and smiled dreamily. “I love this picture. It makes me think in the crudest terms imaginable.”

 

“Tell me.” Hermione shivered in anticipation, hoping he would continue and that his words weren’t fueled solely by the pain potion.   She was rewarded after waiting only the span of a few heartbeats.

 

“It’s just another of my numerous fantasies, Hermione.” He looked away shyly. “Trysting in the library, and after we’d . . . you’d wear my shirt and go back to studying as if we hadn’t just . . . And you’d look at me like that.”

 

She blushed at the vivid picture painted by his halting words. How is it we’re back to being shy with each other? Aloud she said, “I’d hoped you would like this one.” She ran a finger over the print. “For what it’s worth, you’re the only man I’ve ever dreamed of defiling a library with.”

 

Draco looked at her with swiftly darkening eyes and sat up quickly. The action caused him to grunt in obvious pain and clutch his head, breaking the mood. “Bad idea.”

 

“I’ll get Greg. You need more pain potion,” she soothed, pushing him back to his pile of pillows.

 

“No more potions, little witch. They knock me out, and I want to spend today with you and Lucius,” he argued.

 

Hermione silenced him with a kiss. “The day’s only just begun. You have plenty of time for one more nap.” Then she fled before he could open his mouth again.

 

The remaining few minutes of their first break revolved around coaxing a very reluctant Draco to take one more dose of pain potion and then a mad, last-minute dash to the nearest loo on Hermione’s part. Only those two could distract me from a full bladder for that long, she thought as she paused to quickly inspect her reflection in the mirror. The witch looking back at her had an air of excited confidence, and her eyes shone brightly. That’s the look of someone in love. She looked closer. It’s also the look I get when I’m enjoying a research project. How luck am I that I’m up to my armpits in both! Finding Lucius and the guards waiting in the corridor, she grabbed the elder Malfoy’s hand and began tugging him along. “Chop, chop – I have more to learn about Pureblood wedding receptions!”

 

******

 

This time the two hours flew by. Hermione saw many fellow Hogwarts students, and while she’d never considered them friends, she certainly knew their names and the houses they’d been sorted into. She was disappointed when more than a few witches pretended they’d been close friends with her at school, and she felt the same stinging sensation in her heart she’d had last Saturday, when Lucius attended the Quidditch match and many students had done the same thing. Between guests she muttered, “They either scorned or ignored me at school, and somehow think I may have conveniently forgotten the fact. Well, you know what they’ve forgotten: when it comes to memory, I drew the longest straw.”

 

While it was difficult for Hermione to stomach such transparent falsehood, the same could not be said of her elder wizard. Lucius was magnificent in these instances. He smiled and nodded politely, completely unperturbed by the gushing and awkward flirting, and somehow sped the favor-mongers on their way. It didn’t hurt that he somehow knew to draw her close to his side during those interactions, and seemed to understand how she felt. After she’d made that remark, he laid his free hand over hers, where it curled around his forearm, and gave it a comforting squeeze. “I find it helpful to think about something else entirely in these situations. Smile, pet.”

 

“What do you-” She stopped to greet the young family now in front of them, whom she now knew by their approach weren’t part of Pureblood society. “Thank you for coming,” she said with a smile, and gave each of them a blue rose. No sooner had they moved on than Hermione returned to her interrupted conversation. “What do you think about?” She glanced up at him.

 

A nuance of amusement passed over Lucius’ aristocratic features. He replied sotto voce, “For the past hour I have been entertaining myself with thoughts of soft, wet skin and bubbles.”

 

His answer rendered her tongue and brain useless. Finally, after smiling and handing out roses to the next few guests using muscle memory alone, she whispered longingly, “Lucius.” His reply was a deep, satisfied hum that somehow traveled from his body to hers despite their limited contact.

 

The queue died down after that and Lucius suggested they take the opportunity to walk about. With their guards a few paces behind at all times, they left the formal gardens. Although she’d spent very little time outside during the past few days, it was obvious that the grounds directly around the manor had been drastically altered for the reception. Below the formal gardens, in the fields that ran down to the river, the flags on the tents waved in a gentle breeze, and the sound of music floated up from the stage on the bridge. Guests roamed the lawns and sat in the tents, and children played everywhere.

 

They walked a slow circuit around the entire manor, and no detail escaped her cataloguing gaze. They passed through the arch of trees that led to the maze (a guard stood barring the entrance) and made their way over the lawns near the veranda of the morning room. That area had been turned into an enchanted play-garden of sorts – it was as though an entire village had been shrunk and painted in primary colors and then filled with petting zoo animals, and the concept screamed Fred and George Weasley. It was teeming with young families at that moment, and Hermione noticed her wizard’s eyes lingered on the scene although he said nothing.

 

The animated topiaries were even more fantastic than she’d remembered, and she affectionately petted each one they passed. Albus strutted boldly through the crowds, his peahens scuttling along behind. The water in the enormous fountain at the center of the circular drive had been frozen into an ice sculpture of a magnificent peacock, and roses climbed riotously up the columns of the elaborate portico.

 

Rounding the far side of the manor, Hermione ground to a halt. She didn’t think she’d seen this garden before, and she turned to Lucius. “Was this here before?”

 

He smirked and gave an eloquent shrug of his shoulders. “This is the other half of my rose garden. It appears when it feels sociable.”

 

Hermione looked back at the scene in front of her. The garden was enormous and butted up to the heavily windowed side of the manor. Climbing roses and ivy covered every inch of stone, and flowering trees added shade. There were trimmed shrubs and manicured hedges and a fountain, but primarily the place had a gloriously wild look. Several groups of people were walking through it at the moment. She took a hesitant step forward, feeling the pulse of strong, almost sentient magic. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean that sometimes it’s here and sometimes it isn’t,” he said in a thoughtful tone. “I suppose it has to do with-“

 

“Ley lines,” she finished with him, shaking her head in disbelief. “I find it difficult to believe that something so elemental could feel so . . . conscious.” The garden seemed to shimmer in the spring air, and then it was gone. The people who had just been admiring a grouping of plants looked around in shock at the abruptly bare lawn, and then wandered back toward the front of the manor. “What just happened?”

 

Lucius smirked again. “I believe you offended my garden. You’ll have to learn to watch your tongue, pet.”

 

“Why am I not surprised that your garden is moody, Lucius?”

 

He replied with a deep peal of happy laughter. “I happen to know you like my moods.”

 

******

 

Draco was awake when they returned, but he was still heavily medicated. Hermione couldn’t help laughing at his loopy expression.   “Oh, you silly snake! What are we going to do with you?”

 

It looked as though it was taking great effort for him to keep his eyes open as he said hopefully, “You could give me another-“

 

She covered his mouth with her hand, glancing to where Greg, Gore, and Lucius stood behind her. Turning back to her younger wizard, she said firmly, “Do not make me hex you, Draco.”

 

“I was only going to say ‘present’,” he said with an innocent smile. His heavy lidded eyes told a different story altogether, as did his waggling eyebrows.

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. She was beginning to think that filthy-mouthed Draco wasn’t nearly as much fun when he had no control over his impulses. “Not one suggestive word. Do you understand?

 

He was looking at her cunningly. “That depends.”

 

“On what?” Hermione growled.

 

Draco laughed. “Lucius is right. You look just like an angry kitten when you do that.” At her warning look he closed his eyes and smiled. “A very beautiful kitten that should curl up here on my lap so I can rub her pretty-”

 

She cut off whatever he was going to say with her hand once more. “No. If you’ll promise to be quiet, I’ll give you another present when Lucius is done.” She kept her hand in place until he nodded his head in agreement.

 

Lucius called her name, and she went to where he still stood with the Goyle wizards. “What is it?”

 

“Draco should be well enough to sit with us in the reception line as soon as he’s more alert. However, the effects of the pain potion won’t have fully worn off at that point. We have been discussing the wisdom of letting him out in public in this state. What do you think?”

 

******

 

They continued around the manor until they’d come back to the formal gardens, and now they made their way down the stone staircase to the lower fields. “This is marvelous,” she exclaimed at one point, when they passed under a colonnade made of ice. “And what’s that divine smell?”

 

Lucius raised his cane and pointed to a large tent near the river. “The elves are preparing an outdoor dinner. Over there,” he gestured to another tent, this one directly below them at the base of the steps, “Are more immediate refreshments. Would you care for something, pet?”

 

“That would be lovely,” she said, realizing how long ago her last real meal had been.

 

They reached the tent just as a large group of people descended upon it, but Lucius guided her to the front as if they were the only two there. Hermione noticed how the crowd parted for them and fought the self-conscious feeling that threatened to overwhelm her. She tilted her chin up into the air and smiled pleasantly at each person they passed, relieved when the worst look she received was one of admiration.

 

The witches at the counter wore Fortescue’s uniforms and were serving ice cream and cold drinks. “Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy, Lady. What’s your fancy?”

 

Hermione beamed at the pleasant women and looked through the glass front of the freezer. “Some of that, if you please,” she said. Seconds later Hermione was the lustful recipient of an ice cream cone mounded with a decadent chocolate concoction. She thanked the server and watched as Lucius took a spoon and small bowl from the tray on the counter. As they walked away, she said, “I hope you don’t think I plan to share this with you.”

 

He chuckled. “Believe me, pet, I have no desire to deprive you of your treat. However,” he ordered in a stern tone, “You will put it in this bowl and eat it with a spoon.” At her disbelieving look, he leaned to speak directly into her ear. “This is not the day to tease me by running your tongue up and down an ice cream cone.”

 

Her eyes widened in comprehension, and she smirked even as she blushed deeply. She took the proffered bowl and complied right away. Looking up at him from under her lashes she said demurely, “I suppose that means you won’t feed it to me, then.” Lucius cleared his throat, and she couldn’t help but add, “And I probably shouldn’t suck on the spoon, either.”

 

It looked as though he was trying not to smile when he replied, “Be a good girl, Hermione. At least for now.”

 

Hermione and Lucius toured the lower fields much as they had the lawns of the manor. Everywhere they went, people stopped to congratulate them and ask about Draco. “He’s resting,” Lucius said each time, “but he’ll be with us in the reception line later.”

 

They found Fleur and her fiancés, her father in tow, at the top of the stone steps near the formal gardens. It was obvious the three Weasley wizards weren’t about to let her out of their close proximity any time soon and so Hermione settled for a few vague pleasantries and some sharp-eyed observation.

 

Aside from the Frenchwoman’s incandescent smile and the fact that her ice-queen persona had melted, nothing stood out until Bill said something to her in a low voice, and she craned her long white neck to look up at him. The movement exposed the fact that the stretch of skin where her neck and shoulders joined was covered in a thick gauze bandage. Fleur noticed Hermione’s glance and blushed a deep red, but she held her gaze and smiled blissfully. Hermione continued the light conversation for several more minutes, but from that point on her mind repeated the same thought, ‘Oh, dear Merlin. Ginny was right – Bill bit Fleur!’

 

******

 

Hermione blinked several times, looking from Lucius to Gore, and then to Greg. Finally she blurted, “That’s the worst idea ever. Have you-” she blushed and looked over at Draco, who was watching them curiously from his bed, and then turned back to the three wizards. “Have you heard him? He’s completely uninhibited, not to mention delusional.”

 

Lucius argued, “This is his wedding day. Surely there is some way he can be part of the reception.”

 

“Well, the only things that come to mind are Langlock and Imperius, and the use of the latter comes with a life sentence in Azkaban,” she hissed in a whisper.

 

Gore raised an eyebrow. “Imperius could work.” At her noise of shock, he cracked a smile. “That was a joke, Lady.”

 

Hermione turned her mind back to the problem at hand. “Is there some way to neutralize the pain potion, or to purge it from his system?”

 

The large guard looked at her thoughtfully. “If he had ingested too much of it, a bezoar would be used and have that effect.” He turned to Lucius. “The worst it could do is nothing at all.”

 

Lucius nodded decisively. “Excellent. Proceed at once.”

 

Gore gave quiet orders to his son at once, and only minutes later Draco was physically restrained and the hard, nasty item shoved down his throat. Hermione crouched near his head and spoke sympathetically in his ear. “Try to relax, Draco. It’s to clear the potion from you.”

 

“Aaaagh! Nnnngh!” He gagged and groaned for what seemed an eternity, causing Hermione to feel a bit nauseas herself. Finally it settled in his stomach and he lay panting under the web of heavy arms. “You can all get off me now,” he said hoarsely.

 

Hermione exchanged a glance with Lucius, who asked Gore, “How soon will we know if it worked?”

 

It was Draco who answered. He glared at the elder Malfoy and practically snarled, “Oh, it worked, Lu. My head is clearing as I speak.” He made a pitiful noise and draped a hand over his eyes. “Merlin above, I hate you right now.”

 

Lucius merely chuckled. “I’ll go get your things, EBC.” He Disapparated with a commanding crack.

 

Hermione, who still stood near the head of Draco’s bed, raised a hand as if to touch him but hesitated. Draco seemed to see the movement from behind his hand. He murmured, “Please.”

 

That simple word was all it took for her to plunk down on the bed and take his head in her arms. “How do you feel?”

 

He sighed against her breasts. “Well, the narleywhickets are gone but my mouth tastes like goat. Was that truly necessary?” He wrapped his arms around her middle and pulled her closer to him.

 

Hermione laughed softly. There’s my Draco. “Yes, but I’m sure you can have a drink to wash the taste down.”

 

“What I need is a toothbrush and an entire tube of toothpaste. Wait – did he say EBC?”

 

Hermione stifled a giggle and kissed the top of his head in lieu of a response.

 

They snuggled together until Lucius Apparated back to the room. “Enough dawdling. I brought your things to the restroom down the corridor because the Goyles don’t want you Apparating just yet. Go on.”

 

Draco muttered something unintelligible and slowly pulled away. As he sat up and began easing off the bed, Hermione cried, “Wait! I have a present-giving schedule to keep. Don’t go anywhere just yet.” She pointed at the nearest chair and looked pointedly at Lucius.

 

Their immediate compliance brought a triumphant smile to her lips. Luna was right again; this present was perfect. As she sorted through the remaining four packages, though, she frowned. Choosing the next set was easy, but it would be difficult to decide which of the last two photographs went to each wizard. She chewed her lip and decided not to worry about it. Hermione restored them to their original size with a wave of her wand and turned, a gift in each hand. She said playfully, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”

 

******

 

 

They exited the manor in a dignified tangle of arms, with Hermione between her wizards. The queue was every bit as crowded when they returned to it, although this time it seemed to be full of young women and school-age girls. Hermione recognized many of their faces and realized they’d already been through the reception line earlier. Apparently these were Draco’s fanwitches, and news of his imminent recovery had been spread.

 

As they drew near, the steady buzz of voices increased in volume. Draco muttered with a smile plastered on his face, “Oh Merlin, I hate this.”

 

******

 

Hermione handed out the gifts and watched as the Malfoy wizards made short work of the wrapping papers. The moment Draco’s was revealed he gave a crow of delight and fell back on the bed, holding the framed print above his head. “Oh, little witch. You have no idea,” he murmured appreciatively. He lay partly on the bed, with his knees bent and his bare feet on the floor.

 

Lucius opened his as he had the others, in a dignified, unhurried pace; although Hermione saw his shoulders rise and fall with several quickened breaths. When at last the paper fell away, his mouth dropped open.

 

She went to her elder wizard first, allowing him to draw her onto his lap. “Happy wedding day, Lucius.”

 

His eyes were glued to the print. “That is what you keep saying, and yet those words seem inadequate in describing the emotion within me.” He spared her a quick glance before returning to stare at her photographed image. “I see that my garden shares my feelings.”

 

Hermione looked down at the picture, remembering the moment it had been taken. “At first I was just going to lie down in the flower bed,” she said softly, “but it was as though the roses were whispering to me. I took off my dress and they twined themselves around me so gently, I couldn’t feel the thorns.”

 

She heard him swallow thickly, and when she cast her eyes at him saw that his eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Go,” he breathed, “See to Draco, pet.”

 

Hermione pressed a tender kiss to his trembling mouth and obeyed, recognizing that this picture held far more meaning to Lucius than the previous two. Draco seemed engrossed in his own gift until she stood between his legs, at which point he grabbed her nearest hand and pulled her down on top of him.

 

He grinned up at her. “You’re wearing my jersey.”

 

“I’m only wearing your jersey,” she corrected with a corresponding expression.

 

The smirk slipped from his handsome face, to be replaced by a look of intensity. “And you’re riding my Firebolt.” He lifted one dark blond eyebrow expectantly.

 

“You said that’s what you wanted,” she whispered, leaning in closer. Her eyes were drawn to his beautiful mouth, which was drawn into his patented almost-smile.

 

Without warning he rolled them over so that he lay over her. He dipped his head as though he was going to kiss her, but bypassed her mouth and ran his lips along her throat. “I’d like to kiss you,” he murmured against her neck, “but I have goat breath.”

 

The spell of the moment was broken, and Hermione pushed him off with a laugh. “We’re probably out of time anyway.” She sighed, wondering what she was in for now that EBC was joining the reception.

 

*****

 

Five minutes into the third quarter of the reception, Hermione was ready to kill every female guest under the age of thirty. Many were pleasant to her, some seemed not to notice her presence, and a few regarded her with blatant envy. All, however, made it clear that they were there for the express purpose of seeing and conversing with Draco Malfoy. Lucius observed with clearly discernible amusement from Hermione’s other side.

 

Draco may have recovered from the side effects of the pain potion, but he was still recovering from his concussion. He looked tired and was even paler than usual. His sense of humor and propriety had returned, fortunately. He had sunk gratefully into the chair that awaited him, holding Hermione’s hand until she absolutely had to pick up the nearest rose basket and resume handing out the blue flowers. As they’d taken their places, he pulled her down to his level and implored quietly, “For the love of Merlin, please don’t make me hand out the gifts.” He covered the action by playfully snatching the rose she’d automatically taken from the basket.

 

The logic behind his request became apparent when the first eager witch stepped forward. She smiled happily at Hermione and wished her many happy returns of the day, then turned and bobbed a quick curtsy to Lucius. Then she directed all of her attention to the younger Malfoy, and her expression almost fanatic. “H-h-hi, Draco,” she stammered.

 

Hermione watched the interaction closely. Draco smiled politely at the witch and said in a very reserved tone, “Thank you for coming.” It wasn’t anything like the way he interacted with her, and it was fascinating to see the change in him.

 

It couldn’t have been more than a second or two that she stood and watched, but suddenly she realized that Draco was looking at her expectantly. Remembering her duty, she extended the rose in her hand toward the witch before them. “Thank you for coming.”

 

The witch looked down to where Draco still held the blue rose he’d taken from Hermione only seconds before. “I’d like that one, please.”

 

Hermione’s fingers closed around the rose stem in her hand so tightly a thorn punctured the skin of her thumb. That wild, possessive feeling threatened to overwhelm her even as she heard Draco say firmly, “This one belongs to Hermione.”

 

Somehow she extended the rose in her hand to the bold witch, who took it with obvious disappointment and moved out of the queue. After several more young women had passed through the line, all with varying styles of the same forwardness, she remarked through clenched teeth, “I don’t remember it being like this at school.”

 

“You’ve cut yourself on a thorn.” Draco took hold of the bleeding digit and brought it to his mouth, where he ran his tongue over the torn skin. He took out his wand and healed it with a quick charm. “Hogwarts is very strict about that sort of thing.”   As the next dreamy-eyed guest stepped in front of them he concluded glumly, “School was my safe place.”

 

Thankfully the queue was filled with an equal amount of families and elderly people, and Hermione was able to distract herself with the observation of more wizarding etiquette. She met the elderly French cousins Achille and Bertrand, who were at once ancient and charming and utterly roguish. As she handed them their roses, Achille winked at her and said in halting English, “Alas, I had hoped for the . . . how do you say . . . slip de femme.” Her blush burned long after Lucius had supplied a smirking translation at her insistence.

 

Minerva swayed through at some point, one hand clutching a cocktail glass and the other hanging onto the arm of the Headmaster. “Have you been to the bar yet, Hermione?” At Hermione’s answer to the negative, her favorite professor leaned in and whisper-yelled, “Holy hell, but Molly knows how to throw a party! The only thing missing is male entertainment. I told her, you know-” She was interrupted by Draco, who tactfully redirected her attention to a different subject.

 

Meanwhile, the Headmaster twinkled down at her in that favorite-uncle sort of way. “I believe this is yours, Miss Granger,” he said kindly. He levitated a tremendously large tome over the rose barrier and into her outstretched arms.

 

Hermione clutched at the reference book she’d lost in the Hogwarts dungeons just a few days previously as though it were an infant. “Oh, thank you, sir! I was so worried about it. I really can’t thank you enough!” She hefted the heavy thing and ran her cheek against its ancient leather cover, earning a smile from both her wizards in the process.

 

The Headmaster continued to regard her with a twinkle in his eye, but he asked in a serious tone, “Are you prepared to be happy, my dear?”

 

She understood his meaning at once. “Incredibly so, sir.”

 

“Then I have received all the thanks I require.” He looked at the Malfoy wizards and then back at her. “We’ll meet again, of that I am certain. Until then, I wish you many happy returns of this day.” He was gone before Hermione had a chance reply.

 

Molly and Arthur made their way through, much to Hermione’s delight.   After the formal introduction had been made, the Weasley Wife reached over the rose barrier and pulled Hermione close enough to cover her cheeks with motherly kisses. Out loud she exclaimed, “Oh, Arthur, just look at my girl!” Then she whispered in the young witch’s ear, “Don’t let these silly witches get the best of you. They’ll lose interest soon enough.”

 

Hermione smiled gratefully. It was exactly what she’d needed to hear, and as usual Molly had been the one to say it. “Thank you for everything! What you’ve done . . . all of this,” she gestured vaguely with her hands, “I’ll remember every detail forever. How can I ever . . .?”

 

Molly gave a happy sob and patted Hermione’s cheek as she stepped back. “Oh, my sweet girl!” She glanced at the crowd behind her in the rose queue. “But I’m holding up the line. I’ll see you after all this is done, and we’ll have a nice dinner together before the ceremony tonight.”

 

Arthur shook Draco’s hand once more and clapped Lucius on the back. The two older men were grinning and the younger Malfoy was blushing, and Hermione suspected she didn’t want to know what it was they had been talking about. She was unexpectedly relieved to see the next guest descending upon them.

 

Hermione held the last wrapped pictures in her hand. She’d returned to the manor with the guards as soon as the reception line had been closed so that she could retrieve the last of her gifts to Lucius and Draco. There wasn’t much time for dawdling – her wizards needed to join the feast with the guests, and she needed to go with Molly. Still, she paused to take a deep breath.

 

As she left the room where Draco had recovered, she looked down at the innocuous-looking packages.  A frisson of nerves ran down her spine. She’d kept these two for last, aware they would evoke the strongest reactions in her wizards, and she couldn’t help but wonder what they would be. Did I go too far? Should I not have asked to use the House bed? Ginny and Fleur certainly hadn’t thought so, she reminded herself.

 

She took a breath and stepped out into the corridor. The manor was so quiet after the noise of the crowds all afternoon that the sound of the guards’ heavy boots behind her was like thunder. They’ll love them, just as they loved the others. And this will be the first one Draco sees without being under the influence of that awful potion. No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than she wished it hadn’t. What if he’s mortified? She shook her head. All this thinking at cross-purposes was making her dizzy.

 

The main door loomed ahead. Before she could think up any more worrisome questions, she strode to it, pulled it open forcefully, and stepped out into the evening air. Her wizards both stood across the formal gardens, their faces turned as if watching for her return. Oh, for Circe’s sake. They’re going to love them, and then we’re all going to wish I hadn’t been sealed into this dress by a terrifying house elf.

 

As she walked toward Lucius and Draco, Molly appeared at the head of the stone steps and made her way in the same direction. The Weasley Wife’s cheerful voice was directed at the Malfoy wizards but easily carried to Hermione. “Where’s the Wife-to-be?”

 

“Here I am, Molly! I just had to get something from inside,” she called out as she neared the three by the stone rail. Well, this is awkward. The two guards faded into the background nearby, and for a moment Hermione wished her mother-figure would as well.

 

******

 

The end was finally in sight. At seven thirty, the reception line had been closed, and twenty minutes later the last guest had been introduced to Hermione and given a blue rose. She walked between Lucius and Draco through the now quiet formal gardens and looked down over the stone rail, to where all guests were slowly congregating in the fields below.

 

The sun wouldn’t set for at least another hour, but the elaborate reception feast was being laid out along the tables under the tents. Lucius watched quietly, his warm hand wrapped around Hermione’s waist, while Draco held her hand and leaned against the rail, much recovered but still tired. Hermione herself was grateful for the relative quiet, drinking it in after the long, noisy afternoon. Molly would collect her in a few minutes. They’d go to Hermione’s suite for a meal together, and then they’d prepare her for the full moon ceremony. She wouldn’t see her wizards again for several hours at least.

 

Hermione realized she needed to give the last of her presents to her husbands-to-be. She stepped out of their embrace, explaining, “I have one last present for each of you. I’ll just go get them.”

 

Draco smiled, and the world tilted sideways for a moment. “Hurry back.”

 

Lucius’ reaction was a bit more practical, although he caressed her cheek as he said, “Don’t forget your guards, pet.”

 

******

 

Molly held her arms out toward Hermione, smiling as she bossed, “Well, come on! Come on! We have a lot to get done. What do you have there?”

 

Hermione clutched the packages to her torso for a second, and then forced her muscles to relax. “The last of my wedding presents for Lucius and Draco.”

 

Molly clearly didn’t understand the nature of the presents, nor the sanctity of privacy. “Oh, how lovely! Go on, open them!” She motioned impatiently with her hands. “Let’s see what they are, shall we?” She grinned conspiratorially at the Malfoys.

 

Lucius quirked an eyebrow at Hermione, and Draco blushed deeply. “Errrrr, Molly, about that . . .” the young witch trailed off helplessly, shooting both wizards a withering glare. Neither of them are going to be any help at all, she thought in frustration, and there’s no way Molly is getting a look at these!

 

She sighed in resignation, ran through her options, and selected the one that promised to leave everyone’s dignity intact. It involved tapping in to her Slytherin tendencies. She said in a regretful tone, “Actually, Molly, these are magically sealed. They won’t open until right before the ceremony tonight.”

 

The Weasley Wife looked disappointed, but accepted the words without question. “That’s alright; you can tell me all about them over dinner.” There was a shout from the bottom of the stone steps, and she paused. “That sounds like Arthur. I’ll just be a moment.” She hurried in that direction.

 

With movement made uncoordinated by frantic haste, Hermione shoved the packages at her wizards and said hurriedly, “These are . . . they’re for the both of you. I mean to say, they don’t have a specific recipient.”

 

Draco was looking at her with a mixture of shock and respect. “You just lied to Molly. And very well, I might add.”

 

Lucius chuckled. He ran a finger under the folded edge of the wrapping paper covering his gift and popped a piece of the Spello-tape loose. He smirked and murmured silkily, “Whatever would she say, pet?”

 

“If you think of it, Molly should be very flattered.” She shrugged. “It’s what daughters do.” The woman in question seemed engrossed in a loud conversation with someone at the bottom of the steps and had her back to them. Hermione watched as Draco followed his brother’s example and began carefully opening the package.

 

Lucius slid his framed print a few inches out of its giftwrap but kept his eyes on her. He leaned in, his words ghosting across her cheek. “They lie to their mothers?”

 

She shivered in pleasure when his warm breath fanned over her skin. “When there are naked photographs involved, Lucius, yes – that’s exactly what they do.” The curve of her smile brushed the edge of his jaw.

 

He moved yet closer, and now his lips moved against hers in the facsimile of a kiss. “Must I remind you what the word ‘naked’ means, pet?”

 

“No,” she murmured against his mouth. “I think you’ll find you don’t. But if you’d like to check my work . . .”

 

Lucius stood to his full height and looked down at the package in his hands. “I’m considering it.” His gaze narrowed in consideration when it shifted to where Molly talked loudly away.

 

Draco had made short work of unwrapping his gift. She shivered again as he looked up at her, his ocean-colored eyes darkening to a stormy hue. He took hold of her upper arm, dragged her further along the stone rail away until there was a semblance of privacy, and then pushed her up against it. His arms caged her in, and he pressed his body against hers so that she was forced to lean back to see his face. “Is that what you want, little witch?”

 

Hermione’s body responded to his forceful reaction in equal measure.   Her brain clouded over, her gut pooled with desire, and her knickers were suddenly very, very wet.   She hadn’t seen which picture he’d opened, and now she strained to catch a glimpse of it where it was tucked under one of his arms. From the colors along the exposed side, she knew it was the one of her bent over the arm of Lucius’ wingback chair, her arse barely covered in white ruffled knickers and sticking up into the air impudently. “It was . . .” she panted, “It was a fun game. Yes, I want to play it again.”

 

“You want to play games with me,” he clarified in a dark voice that made her squirm against him.

 

She clutched at the lapels of his robes and tried to pull him closer, but he resisted her efforts. The reception outfit made it impossible for her to fit her body to his in any satisfactory way, and she whimpered in frustration as she repeated, “Yes, Draco.”

 

He gave her a wicked smile. “Don’t tease me, sweetheart.”

 

“Then stop teasing me,” she countered with a moan. She tugged harder at his robes. “Kiss me, Dr- Mmmm!”

 

He kissed her almost roughly, devouring her words. His lips pushed and pulled, suckled and bit, and he thrust his tongue into her mouth in deep strokes. When they broke apart to catch their breath, he said in a voice deepened with adrenaline, “Every fantasy, Hermione. We’re going to fulfill them all.”

 

“Mine, too,” she added in a happy, breathless voice.

 

In the blink of an eye the sexy, confident man who had just reduced her to a needful, writhing mess morphed back into her gentle, playful young man. He pressed his mouth to hers lovingly and said huskily, “You have no idea how much I love the pictures you gave me today.”

 

Hermione curled her arms around his neck, running hers fingers through the soft strands of his hair. She kissed the corner of his beautiful mouth and whispered, “I’ll look forward to you telling me.”

 

I’ll look forward to showing you,” he countered. Someone was calling to them. Draco stepped back, much to Hermione’s dismay, and gave her a lopsided smile. “Time to go.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Perhaps you should head back; I need a moment.”

 

She nodded apologetically. “I’ll see you in a few hours.” Knowing he needed to . . . adjust . . . or whatever it was that men called it when their trousers got too tight, she turned toward Lucius.

 

The elder Malfoy stood where she and Draco had left him, holding out his hand to her. Hermione went to him at once, curling into the broad warmth of his chest. “I’m sorry to have interrupted, but from the sounds of it Molly is nearly done,” he said quietly.

 

Hermione paused to listen, and agreed. Whatever it was Molly had needed to discuss, it was being wrapped up that moment. She pulled Lucius down for a quick kiss, which turned into a series of toe-curling tonguefuls. When she pulled away to breathe, she noticed his picture was still in its paper. “Why haven’t you opened it yet?”

 

He raised both eyebrows and said nothing for a moment. When he finally answered, his words were punctuated by the sounds of approaching footsteps on the stone path. “I refuse to be rushed.” As Molly drew near, he murmured, “Anticipation is half the pleasure, pet.”

 

“Here I am!” The Weasley Wife looked slightly frazzled, but her bright smile was genuine. “Are you ready to go, sweetheart?”

 

The young witch grinned back at the motherly witch. “Yes, Molly, I am.”

 

“Good, good! Let’s just Apparate to your suite, shall we?” Without even waiting for a reply, Molly spun on her heel and Disapparated.

 

Hermione gave one last look toward Lucius, who was watching her with heavy-lidded eyes. She darted a glance to Draco, who had just joined his brother, and blew him a kiss before returning her gaze to the elder Malfoy. When she was sure he was paying attention, she mouthed the word ‘naked’. Then she bit her lip to control the satisfied smirk that threatened to break through and Disapparated with a saucy crack.

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