May, eight years prior
The moon was hidden behind a thick patch of silvered clouds. Only the light from the flickering bonfire in the clearing behind him let him see the path he followed. Draco pushed the lightweight mask off his face, let it rest on his forehead, with his fringe dangling over it like the ridge of a waterfall. Heated from the multiple glasses of apple-flavored alcohol - one of the local women had called it scrumpy - he was too hot under his mask and robes. He chuckled to himself, warm and languid with drinking, and shrugged his heavy outer robes off. He left them in a lump on the ground, meshing with the leaves and dirt under the trees.
Draco stumbled along the path until he saw a shape ahead of him, a short person in the middle of a wider spot in the path. There was a break in the trees overhead, and as the clouds moved from in front of the moon, he saw a mass of thick, dark curls surmounting pale robes in a material so light it seemed to float as she moved. The woman swayed in the moonlight, dancing to music only she could hear, and Draco smiled. There was the young lady he'd been looking for ever since he left the bonfire, a woman to share the evening's festivities, to celebrate with under the trees and the moon. He tugged his mask down over his face, adjusted it against his cheeks, and walked out of the shadows.
She turned as she heard his footfalls, and beneath the edge of her half mask, he saw her mouth open. Draco held his finger up in front of his mouth, forming the gesture for silence. Her eyes were only a gleam behind her mask, but the tilt of her head and the curve of her lips were promising. Draco approached her, both hands held wide, and she copied the action. He grinned and dropped his hands to her waist, the curves of her hips enticing under his palms. He stroked her sides, the material of her robes soft as feathers beneath his hands.
He waited to see if she would balk, if she would push him away. She didn't. She reached up and put her arms around his neck, threaded her fingers through his hair, and tugged him down for a kiss. The edges of their masks rubbed as their lips met, but he didn't care. Her lips were softer than her robes, her breath was hot against his skin, and her mouth tasted of apples. She swept her tongue across his, bit at his lip. Draco shivered when she tucked her body in closer to him and brought her mouth to his neck. She worked across his throat, kissing him from pulse point to pulse point.
He slipped his hands up her back to tangle in the ends of her curls, his fingers gathering up the heavy strands in fistfuls. With a gentle force, he pulled her head back and bent to kiss her again, to claim her mouth and every part of it as his. She made a quiet sound, a soft noise of need, and Draco smiled against her lips. She tasted like desire, and he took her hands to draw her into the shadows beneath a stand of trees, off the path and into the dark.
He'd thought she might refuse him, but the smile she wore beneath the mask told him that refusal was not a worry tonight. The bonfire, the clouded moon, and the small mugs of blood-heating scrumpy - all of it was leading to a night he was certain he'd never forget. He took her hands and drew her into the shadows, then drew her to the soft ground. A whispered charm and a flick of his wand cleared the rocks and twigs from the ground beneath them, cushioned the few roots that pushed up through the dirt.
He kissed her again, kissed her carefully, and she pulled him to stretch out on the forest floor. He lay at her side, brushing his hands over her body, exploring the soft curves beneath her floating, delicate robes. With some hesitation, he let his hand settle on the small mound of her breast. She took a deep breath, her chest moving under his hand, and even in the dim light, he could see her smile. In a whisper that was barely more than a breath, she told him to go on, and Draco shivered with the anticipation of it.
He found the fastenings of her robes and opened them, then pushed the sides apart to expose her pale, unblemished skin to the moonlight, to him. He ran his fingers across her collar bones, trailed down the length of her sternum, then carefully, slowly, circled her nipples, left, then right. They stiffened in the chill air and Draco made a soft, purring growl deep in his throat. "If I may?" he asked in a murmur, and at her nod, he bent his head over her chest.
Draco paid homage to her body, treated her breasts with reverence. He peppered kisses across her skin, mouthed a trail of kisses in the valley between her breasts. She arched up beneath him as he moved across her chest, pushed into the touch of his lips. Draco shivered and tipped his head, brushing his fringe across her breasts. She made a soft noise and her hand slipped around the back of his head, threading through his hair. She plucked at the ribbon holding his mask in place and he lifted his head, shaking it in denial. Part of the rules of the night, part of the dreamy state from the festival, was the masks, the shining, mysterious cover of their faces. "Leave it," he murmured. "Leave mine, leave yours. Just for tonight."
In the shifting moonlight, he saw her nod, saw her smile. She scraped her teeth across her bottom lip and levered up on her elbows to kiss the point of his chin. "Just tonight," she whispered. She drew her hand along his jaw and down his throat to toy with the collar of his shirt. Draco let her unfasten the buttons halfway down his chest, let her slip her fingers under the material. She stroked his clavicle and trailed her nails down until they brushed across one of his nipples. He stifled a sound of surprise as his body reacted to the touch.
Draco bent his head and drew one of her nipples into his mouth. Against his tongue, her skin was pebbled and warm, and she tasted faintly of soap, smelled slightly of lavender. He liked it, but liked even more the feel of her nipple between his lips. He closed his mouth slowly, pulling back to draw her nipple into a stiff point. He licked and laved her skin, blew across the dampened peak until it hardened even further from the contrast of cool air and heated mouth.
With deliberate care, he leaned over her to pay close attention to the other nipple, until both were straining skyward. He opened her robes further, pushing the fabric apart to lie on either side of her body, exposing her entirely. Draco took a moment to examine her, letting his eyes roam over her form. A narrow waist flared into delightfully curved hips and down to rounded thighs. Her mound was a patch of thick, dark curls, trimmed into a neat triangle. Draco bent to kiss the point of her hip and moved across her stomach. She giggled and writhed when he drew too near her navel, and Draco grinned.
As he worked over her stomach, his lips brushed across skin that was slightly puckered, and he raised his head to look at her. A narrow, pale silver line ran up her side, arrowing up to point at the underside of her breast. Draco's brows furrowed, and he touched the scar in bewilderment.
She pushed his hand away. "No," she muttered. "Don't touch. Don't look."
"How did this--"
"Don't," she said again, her voice barely audible, her hand spreading over her side to cover the scar. "I don't want to talk about it."
Even with the soft quality of her voice, Draco could hear pain in her words, and he shifted up to kiss her again. "It's not there," he whispered. "Not tonight."
The tension in her body eased after he spoke, and her hand moved away from her scar. Draco smiled, kissed her one more time, then rose up on his hands and knees over her. He kissed her throat, kissed her breasts, and edged down, kiss by kiss, to her thighs. As he moved, she spread her legs, and he stretched out between them. He pillowed his head on her thigh and took his time about examining her. She had plump, pink labia, and as he opened them gently with his thumbs, she glistened in the moonlight. Draco purred with deep satisfaction. Wet already, and her clit just begged to be licked.
He wriggled closer to her, unconsciously grinding into the ground without care for the dirt that was bound to be staining his trousers. He needed the friction on his cock, needed some sort of firm touch, but he wasn't going to distract himself from paying attention to her sweet, heated cunt. He licked his lips and leaned forward to claim her. Draco started with the point of his tongue, probing between her labia and deep into her inner folds, tasting her salt, her feminine flavor. He stiffened his tongue and pushed into the narrow channel. With each lick, each swipe of his tongue, the glistening moisture of her body grew, until she was practically dripping over his fingers as he held her open.
Draco lifted her clit on the point of his tongue, then circled it in slow, firm movements. He listened to her breathing, to the soft noises she made, for guidance. When she breathed faster, he repeated his actions; when her breathing slowed, he tried something new. He sucked and licked at her clit until her thighs were trembling around him, until her hands locked in his hair and pulled him so close that the edge of his mask brushed the thick curls of her mound. She muttered something unintelligible, then her fingers tightened even further in his hair, and her voice rose up in unstrung cries as she came.
Draco lifted his head to watch, to admire her body as it arched and convulsed. She was beautiful in the moonlight, her small breasts swaying as she gulped for breath, her thighs taut and trembling beside his head. Draco pushed up on his elbows to kiss her hips, then rose up on his knees to unfasten his trousers. He wrapped his hand around the length of his cock and gave a slow stroke, sending more blood pulsing to his erection, causing his shaft to throb in his palm. He pulled his foreskin back and ran his thumb over the head, spreading thin beads of clear, sticky fluid to coat his skin.
As her orgasm eased and she sank into the rumpled fabric of the robes beneath her, Draco pushed his trousers down his thighs. He shuffled forward and leaned over her to kiss her nipples, pulling each one into his mouth and rolling it over his tongue before he let the head of his cock probe at the entrance to her body. She purred, she smiled, and she reached for his shoulders, gripping them tight as he pushed into her so slowly that he could feel the narrow ridge of his cock slide over every inch of her. His head dropped and he watched as he entered her, and he groaned deep when he'd sunk in her to the root.
She felt amazing. Her cunt gripped him tight, pulsing around him with the last spasms of her orgasm, and her arms slipped around his back, under his shirt. She dragged her nails down his spine, leaving trails that felt like fire in his skin, and Draco groaned again. He braced on his hands and bowed his head to watch as he slid out of her and pushed back in, his cock already shining from her wet channel. He moved slowly, taking his time, enjoying the heat of her body, the slick warmth of her inner muscles.
Her hands slid down his back, already damp with the sweat of exertion, and she dug her nails into his arse, urging him into her. Draco muttered encouragement, though he wasn't entirely certain it had been in English, and thrust harder. She arched beneath him, pushing her breasts up, and dragged her hands up his sides and down his arms. He shifted, twisted, and caught her hands, pinning them to the ground beside her shoulders. The sound she made was a joyous, delighted laugh, and as Draco lowered to his elbows, her hands still trapped under his, she arched again to rub her nipples against his chest. Even through his shirt, Draco could feel them, feel the stiff points, and his body reacted, his hips snapping to shove into her cunt.
He dropped his head to her shoulder, the upper curve of his mask pressing into his forehead, and he picked up speed. He slid into her, faster, harder, until she made soft cries with each thrust. He could feel her body quivering under him as she struggled to pull her hands out of his grip, and he tightened his hold. She moaned, the sound of intense arousal in her voice, and Draco chuckled in deep pleasure.
He held out as long as he could, but the scent of lavender soap filled his nose and the heat of her cunt filled his body, and Draco felt the familiar tightening low in his abdomen. He turned his face to her neck, licked her throat, and whispered. "Close."
She arched up to him, squeezed his fingers hard, and matched his whisper. "Please."
Draco's voice strangled in his throat, emerged as a harsh and broken cry, and he thrust full into her. Every muscle in his body stiffened at once, and he came, heat flaring over his skin from scalp to toes. Each convulsive spasm sent a spike of sensation through his body, almost painful in its intensity, and he collapsed on top of her when his muscles relaxed. He released her hands, and she smoothed them over him, one pushing his hair, soaked with sweat, back from his forehead, the other brushing down his back, tracing his shoulders and spine through his shirt.
May, eight years since
Draco thumped his coffee cup down. "C'mon, Pansy, give it up. You know that I'm looking to start a family, but I can't just marry the first woman who looked at me the right way." He raised a brow at her. "Blaise got to her first, after all."
Pansy smiled and wrinkled her nose. "You took too long, darling. I wasn't planning to wait until you got out of prison. But let's face it; none of us are getting any younger. My girls are practically out of Hogwarts by this point. You need an heir, now that your father's gone."
"I know. Just looking for the right woman." Draco leaned back in his chair, rocking it onto its rear legs, and hooked one ankle around the table leg for balance. "What should I do? What do you want me to do? Should I take out an advert in the Prophet? 'Single, wealthy, pure-blood man seeking woman for breeding of child, blond, pointy, and pale.' That would go well. I'd have to dig a moat around the Manor."
Pansy stirred sugar into her tea for the eighth time. Draco made a face of disgust and she stuck her tongue out at him, not needing to ask why he was grimacing at her. They'd had that conversation hundreds of times since they were children. His sweet tooth was nothing compared to hers. Most of the sweets and treats his mother had sent him at Hogwarts had gone to Pansy, especially once she hit puberty. He'd given in to 'menstrual girlfriend' self-preservation early, and made a monthly request for chocolate wands and licorice whips.
Pansy licked sugar off her spoon and pointed it at him. "It's not as complicated as you're making it seem, Draco."
"Difficult enough. Good luck finding someone who'd be willing to marry someone with my history. Breed another generation of Malfoys." He sneered into his coffee. "Arrogant, evil, Dark-aligned Malfoys."
"God, you always have to look on the bad side, don't you? Unhelpful ferret."
"Sorry." Pansy simpered at him, clearly not sorry in the slightest. She knew that nickname irritated him. "Everyone's grown up, Draco. Everyone knows why you did what you did. You can stop being bitter and moody over it any time. It's getting a bit old." She sighed and thumped her spoon onto the table. "And so are you. You're in your thirties."
"That's not old, dammit."
"It is if you want to have children that you don't need to chase in a wheelchair. Any chance that you might have slipped up somewhere in the past and have a kid or two running around?"
Draco glared at her. "In case you forgot, you were the one with the libido issue in our relationship."
She preened. "I know. But the point stands. You weren't exactly careful when we were together."
"You were on seven different kinds of birth control, Pansy. I didn't exactly need to be." Draco shook his head. "I didn't need to be that careful with you, and Montgomery, well. Only had sex with her twice, to be honest." He snickered. "And believe me, what we did, odds of her getting pregnant would have been really slim."
Pansy snorted and Draco grinned, holding his hands wide. "Yeah, it's what you're thinking. What can I say? She had the arse for it."
Draco and Pansy both startled as the door banged open and a small thing scurried into the shop and straight up to the counter. It took them a moment to realize it had been a little boy, in Muggle clothes and an odd floppy cap. The colors were mismatched, the shoes were trainers in two different styles, and there was a cloak worn around his shoulders in an odd cape-like style. Draco glanced at the door to see if the child belonged to anyone, and groaned when he spotted a harried looking woman with bushy hair. "Granger," he muttered, turning back to his coffee. "Haven't seen her in years. Thought she moved to Australia."
"No, that was her parents. She's been out of circulation for a while, though. Surprised to see her here." Pansy didn't bother to speak quietly, didn't bother to avert her eyes, and Hermione stopped at their table, glaring down her nose at them.
Pansy smiled wide, showing off all her even teeth. "Hi," she said brightly. "I was just telling Draco I hadn't seen you in ages. Still on your house-elf saving crusades? Tough to keep up these days, since you're not in the papers every week."
Hermione huffed and opened her mouth, but before she could retort, a voice called from the front of the shop. "Mummy! Can I get choc sprinkles?"
Somewhat to Draco's surprise, Hermione muttered a curse under her breath. "No, Leo," she called up in return. "We talked about this. Chocolate syrup or chocolate sprinkles. Not both."
"Leo?" Draco snorted into his coffee cup and raised a brow when Hermione glared at him. "What? I'm amused. Sounds like the perfect name for a Gryffindor's child."
"Leopold. He's named after my grandfather."
"Leopold. Granger, that's a horrible name to saddle a child with."
She rolled her eyes. "And Draco is so much better." A crash came from the counter area, and Hermione rushed up to handle her son.
"Why does everyone think my name's funny?" Draco muttered over his coffee. He tried to put Hermione's interruption out of his mind, and focused on his problem. "All right, so back to the issue of the next generation of Malfoys." Pansy was silent, and after a moment, Draco looked up to see her staring at Hermione and Leopold with an odd satisfaction in her face. "Parkinson!"
She blinked and glanced at him, then looked back to Hermione. "Does that boy look familiar to you?"
Draco took a disinterested glance, then shrugged. "Looks like a little boy."
"Take another look. Closer."
Draco sighed. He sipped his coffee and examined the child. "What am I looking for?"
Pansy grumbled. "Look at him, Draco. He doesn't look like Granger. Do you think he takes after his father?"
Draco knew that if he didn't indulge whatever flight of fancy Pansy had decided to go on, they'd never get back to the topic at hand. He looked the boy over. Average height for a child, maybe a touch short. A little on the slender side. Sharp jaw, big ears, pointed nose.
Hermione caught the boy's cap as it slid off his head and pale, straight hair shone in the bright lights of the shop.
Draco choked on his coffee. "Fuck me."
Pansy broke into gales of laughter, rocking in her chair until tears started to pour down her cheeks. "Oh, Draco. I think she already did."
"Draco, this is idiocy. You're done some foolish things in your life, but this?" Pansy flicked a bit of lint off her shoulder and examined her nails.
"Keep your voice down." Draco watched from behind a cart selling gerbil tails and hedgehog spines as Hermione escorted her son into a stationery shop. He didn't expect they'd be in the shop long. Leo seemed to have a short attention span. Draco knew what that was like. He'd hated shopping trips unless they were shopping for him.
He nodded in resignation when the pair emerged after only a few minutes. Parchments and quills wouldn't hold a little boy's focus for long. He'd never been interested. He expected his son would be the same, if this boy was his.
"I find it rather ironic that we're doing this after all your complaints back in school," Pansy said, her voice so close to his ear that he jumped and banged his elbow on the cart. Swearing, he glared at Pansy, who looked unrepentant. "Stalking, Draco. You whinged about that for months. Now you're doing it? Do you really want to steal tactics from a Gryffindor's match book?"
"Playbook. I've told you not to use Quidditch references around me. You always got them wrong." He moved away from the cart, following Hermione and Leo through the crowds out enjoying the weather. He tried to guess which shop Hermione would enter next, and grinned despite himself when Leo broke away and dashed into Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Pansy clucked her tongue and sighed. "That poor woman. She's going to spend the next fifteen years listening to the kid go on and on about Snitches and Bludgers and broomsticks. Frightfully dull, as I remember."
Draco grimaced at her as he made his way to the window of the shop. "You said you liked it when I talked about Quidditch." He peered in the window, pretending to examine the display.
"Yes, and you said you liked it when I talked about the latest Parisian fashions. We both lied." She admired her reflection in the window and tucked a lock of her hair back. "You know there are easier ways to go about this."
"I've already put some feelers out," he said, watching the boy poke around the small pennants for various teams in the league. "The only information I've managed to get so far is that the kid wasn't born in a wizarding hospital. I'm having trouble getting anything else. I don't have many contacts in the Muggle world."
"I'm surprised you even have one," Pansy said, smoothing her thumb under her lip to remove a smudge of lipstick. "And don't look at me. I'm not giving you any of my contacts. You want to go about this in your own sneaky fashion, you will do it on your own. I told you to talk to her."
Draco turned away from the window as Hermione and her son left the shop, the boy clutching a Magpies pennant and waving it wildly overhead. Hermione caught his eye and paled, then scurried off with Leo, hurrying him along without a look back. Draco made a face. That moment of fright in Hermione's face had only firmed up his suspicions.
"C'mon," he said to Pansy, grumbling. "Let's get out of here."
Draco rambled around the sitting room of his flat, grumbling under his breath at the little information he'd managed to gather. Hermione had been unfortunately clever. There were hardly any records of the boy at all in wizarding society. "This is shit, Pansy. If you're going to have a man's kid, the least you could do is give him a hint. Let him know that he'll need to make plans for ... I dunno, schoolbooks and shoe shopping, or whatever it is that children need."
"Draco, honestly. Stop your whinging. It's unbecoming." She put aside her tea and eyed him. "If you want my help, you'll start from the beginning."
"We've been over this."
She smirked at him. "No, you've avoided going over this, but now you're on the verge of giving up entirely, judging from how much that vein in your forehead is throbbing." Draco growled and rubbed his forehead. Pansy knew him too well. She giggled and curled her long legs up beneath her on the sofa, her pumps abandoned under the coffee table. "No you're going to tell me, because you always give in eventually. How did this happen?"
He hated it when she was right. Draco surrendered. He needed to talk this out. "Well, you see, a witch has a cauldron and a wizard has a rod, and they get together to stir--" He ducked, laughing, as she threw a balled up parchment at him. "Beltane, Pansy. That has to be how it happened. You remember, I told you about that holiday. Take a note; don't get drunk during fertility festivals."
She rolled her eyes. Draco sprawled onto the sofa beside her, his head on her thigh. She carded her fingers through his hair, pulling the long strands straight to dangle off the opposite side of her lap. "So you were on holiday, and there was a bonfire, and a lot of drinking."
"A lot of drinking."
Pansy laughed and scratched behind his ear. "Then you, what? You snuck off into the woods."
"And shagged some random woman up against a tree?"
Draco wrinkled his nose with a hiss. "Not like that. It wasn't like that."
"Whatever you say, Draco." Pansy trailed one nail around the curve of his ear. "So you discovered a woman out in the shadows, got your blood pumping, and you ... surrendered to the magical evening?"
"You've been reading those trashy novels again." Draco closed his eyes and sighed. "It was dark. I was foxed. She was pretty. Far as I could tell, at least. Could have been a hag under that mask, but she had a hell of a body. Couldn't help myself. You know I've never been the best with refusing an offer, especially when it's that obvious. Besides, it had been months since I'd dumped Astoria. Not that I was getting much action from her in the first place."
"You idiot." She said it with two decades worth of affectionate friendship behind it, and she stroked his hair again. "Astoria wouldn't let you get a hand on one tit until she had that marriage contract sewn up, told you that when you first started seeing her. So you decided to shag some bird at a random forest party in the middle of Cornwall? For god's sake, Draco, if you wanted to get laid that badly, you could have looked me up again. Blaise wouldn't have minded."
"No, he'd have tried to join in. Thanks, but no thanks. Once was enough." Pansy and Blaise had an understanding in their marriage. Neither of them handled monogamy well, and they liked to share. He'd made that discovery after a night of good food, better wine, and Pansy's cheerful goading. Good thing there was a large bed upstairs, they'd decided. All three of them at once took a lot of co-ordination and even more space.
She clucked her tongue and grinned at him. "Blaise keeps asking when you'd like to come over for dinner again. Think he's smitten with you, darling. Not that I blame him."
"Shut up. Help me figure out what to do." Draco folded his arms over his chest. "Either I did get Granger pregnant back then and she's kept it a secret for eight years - which I find oddly difficult to believe, considering that every woman I know would have pounced on a paternity suit within moments of conception. Malfoy sprog equals Malfoy vaults, y'know." Pansy tapped him on the forehead, making a face at his choice of words. Draco muttered an apology and continued. "So either she's kept it a secret, or someone's having a go at me, and that kid was a ringer. I just need to figure out which."
"Are you going to talk to her about it now?" she asked, tracing his brows with her nail.
Draco exhaled slowly. He'd known all along that he'd reach this point. He just wished it could have gone differently. He didn't want to go to Hermione without all the facts already in hand. "I have to. I have to, Pansy. If he really is my son, I have to talk to her about it." His voice softened and he tipped his head away from her touch. "You know why."
Pansy sighed and laid her hand on his chest, over his heart. "I know."
Draco stayed silent for a moment, eyes closed to keep his emotions hidden. He didn't like discussing this with anyone, not even his best friend. After a minute, he managed to shove all his thoughts away, into the back of his mind, and he sat up. "Find out where she lives."
It took him several minutes to talk himself into actually doing this, then he knocked on the door of the little stone cottage. A familiar voice called to him to wait, just a moment, and Draco took a deep breath. The door swung open and Hermione stood there. She stared at him, mouth open in a gape of surprise. Draco tried to speak, tried several times, then finally blurted it out. "He's mine, isn't he?"
"No! No, he's-he's-he's--" Hermione looked down. Her shoulders slumped and she rubbed her forehead. "Figured it out, did you?"
Hermione sighed and held the door open wider. "Suppose you might as well come in, then. We should talk."
She led him through the house and out to the back garden, set him up at a round table with a glass of lemonade. She sat on the opposite side of the table, and they remained quiet for a little while, both of them watching Leo play in the grass with a stuffed dragon. At length, Draco took a breath and cleared his throat. "So is he my son?"
Hermione shifted in her chair and leaned back, then curled her feet up beneath her. "You honestly have to ask that question?"
He looked at the little boy playing in the grass, straight blond hair shining in the sun. Leo wiped his pointed nose on his sleeve and looked to them with a wave and a smile. Even at a distance Draco could see the grey eyes that were an exact match for his own. He returned the boy's wave with some hesitation, then looked to Hermione. "Why didn't you tell me? Eight years, Granger. Eight years, and you didn't even bother to send me a note? 'By the way, Malfoy, your kid has a birthday coming up.' Would it really have been that difficult?"
"Would you really have wanted to know? How should I have gone about it?" She put on a prissy voice, her lips pursed like Madame Pince had always done whenever he'd returned a book late. "Maybe like this? 'Just to let you know, Draco Malfoy, I've given birth to a little boy who looks a hell of a lot like you, so in case you're interested in getting to know your half-blood child, here's my direction. Stop by any time.' Right, Malfoy. That would have gone over so very well. We would have had to set up parental visits in the long-term ward at St. Mungos after you went insane from the lunacy of it."
"Am I?" She made a sharp gesture and glanced at him. "Am I, really? Did you forget that I'm Muggle-born and you're--"
"A Death Eater? A convicted war criminal? A former resident of the Ministry's finest luxury prison?" He finished, after she'd been silent for too long. He didn't try to hide the resignation in his voice. The mistakes he'd made all those years ago were never going to disappear. No one could forget about them, least of all him, and he braced himself to get up and leave. Hermione's expression, empty of the anger and hatred he expected, kept him in his chair.
"Well. Yes. Some of that. But I meant a pure-blood." She folded her arms and curled in on herself as she watched Leo play. "And very arrogant about it, too. Not a person in the world would have believed for a second that you'd acknowledge him at all, much less that you'd want to have anything to do with him. I didn't say anything because I reckoned that it wouldn't matter. I didn't even realize who he resembled until he was a couple of years old, anyway. Babies don't look like much of anyone the first eighteen months or so."
"You didn't know it was me, then? That night?"
She shook her head and tucked a curl behind her ear. "Blond fellow in a mask, that's all I remember. I had a great time, and I thought it would be just a pleasant memory. I didn't even know I was pregnant for four months."
Draco's brows furrowed, and he realized he must have made a questioning noise, because Hermione shrugged. "My cycles have been a mess since your aunt tortured me." Her voice held no accusation, but Draco flinched regardless. That was something else he'd never be able to forget. He started to apologize and Hermione ignored him, continuing as if he'd never made a sound. "Going months without a period isn't unusual for me. I honestly had no idea until I went for a physical. I just thought I was putting on weight. Gave up chocolate and everything until Molly suggested I might be pregnant. She would know."
She held her glass of lemonade between both hands, fingers curled around it as condensation dripped from the bottom. "I went to three doctors - Muggle doctors - and two Healers at St. Mungos, just to be sure. Every test confirmed it. Four months pregnant. I did a lot of thinking. I knew I had to have conceived that night in Cornwall. I hadn't been with a man in nearly a year prior to that."
Draco leaned back in his chair, watching Leo roam about the grass with the toy dragon. "That's ... surprising. I thought you were with Ron Weasley."
"I was. Had been. We broke up." She cleared her throat and sighed, then took a sip of her lemonade. She put the glass down and locked her hands together, fingers interwoven. "Actually, I broke it off. He spent so much time at his brother's joke shop or at Auror training. It felt like he didn't know what to do when we weren't busy trying to slay evil wizards or some other adventure-seeking rubbish. Like he didn't know what to do with me." Hermione shook her head and made a sound that wasn't quite a laugh. "I told him once that he had the emotional range of a teaspoon. It grew a little as we got older, but it never did get much past ladle-sized. I needed more than that. He didn't have much time available for me, he didn't have much emotion available for me, and ... and why am I telling you this?"
Draco shrugged. "Because you like to talk? You always were a bit on the babbling side once you got going. I remember that much from school." It was his turn to make that not-laugh sound, and one corner of his mouth quirked up in a morbid amusement he couldn't seem to help. "You know, if you'd talked louder than a whisper that night, I'd have known it was you in a second."
"Same to you, Malfoy. Your voice is distinctive. Always has been, with that drawl."
"Spend a lot of time listening to me? Why Miss Granger, I am astonished. Thought you were more like to be the type who would generally stick your fingers in your ears and hum loudly whenever I opened my mouth." Draco's lips curved on both corners in a genuine smile, and he glanced sideways at Hermione, who had twisted one of her curls around her fingers and was sucking on the ends of her hair. It was an oddly vulnerable gesture, almost cute in a way, and he looked away as soon as he'd thought the word. He coughed, cleared his throat, and returned his attention to Leo. The boy was building a castle out of sticks, with handfuls of grass for a roof, and the stuffed dragon lurking in the background. "So, er. So you were four months along when you found out you were pregnant."
Hermione stirred, and he caught her nod in the corner of his vision. "I thought about terminating, but it didn't feel like the right option for me. I'm glad I didn't, now. Leo's the pride of my life. He's ... Malfoy? Malfoy, are you all right?"
Draco realized he'd gripped the arms of his chair with such force that the wooden joints had creaked. It took him a long moment to gather enough control that he knew he wouldn't shout when he opened his mouth. "Terminating," he said in a flat voice, massive amounts of effort put into keeping his words steady. "You considered ending your pregnancy? Killing my child?"
"It's not as though I knew it was your child at the time, Malfoy." Hermione huffed and slapped her hand on the table, rattling ice in the pitcher of lemonade. "Even if I had, what would it have mattered? We weren't married, we weren't even dating. We weren't even friends! You were a one-night stand, and it was my decision."
Draco closed his eyes and fought for his control, fought to keep his temper in check. She was right. It had been her decision. He had no call to be angry at her for something that had happened eight years ago - or that hadn't happened, as it turned out. She had decided to go through with the pregnancy, to raise Leo on her own. He told himself to focus on what was in front of him. A healthy, cheerful son. "I'm sorry," he said at length, his voice far softer. "You're right. It was your decision. May I just say, in that case, that I'm quite glad you kept him?"
"I don't know whether to be more shocked that you apologized or that you're glad to have a half-blood mystery child running about England." Hermione looked at him, and he saw both amusement and wary concern in her face.
"I have very strong feelings on the subject of families, Granger."
Hermione snorted. "You don't have to tell me that. I remember seeing your parents at the end of the war, the look all three of you had when you were sitting in the Great Hall." She leaned back in her chair and sighed. "Remember your testimony, too. At the trials. Did it all for your family, yeah?"
"I always do." Draco watched Leo playing for a minute, then raised his chin. "I want to show you something. Will you meet me next week?" He met her eyes. Hermione looked mulish, and Draco held his hand out to her. "I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. Please."
She stood beside him, her hands tucked into the folds of her cloak. Draco stayed silent for several minutes, long enough that he was sure she was beginning to suspect he wouldn't speak at all. He intended to, he wanted to, but he had to build up the courage for it. Courage wasn't something he'd ever had much of, except when it came to his family. As he stared at the row of headstones, he built up that courage. This was about family.
"They're so small," Hermione said, her voice a mixture of confusion and sorrow. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, watched as she slowly knelt at the foot of one of the graves. "They're all tiny, Draco. What is this?"
"My brothers." Draco took a deep breath and hunched his shoulders into his cloak.
Hermione turned her head to look up at him through curls that had fallen into her eyes. He'd rarely seen a look of that much intense shock on anyone's face, and it was both gratifying and terrible to see it on hers. "What? Brothers?"
"And one sister." Draco shook his head, flicking his hair out of his eyes. "My mother.... I was never meant to be an only child. Mum tried, several times after me." He nodded at the small stones. "Four miscarriages. Two stillbirths." He inclined his head to the last stone, the one Hermione knelt in front of. "And Cassiopeia. She was born when I was seven. I haven't done any research into this, you understand, but I'm fairly certain I was the proudest big brother in history." He'd hoped that a joke would make this hurt less, but it made things worse and he gave up on the idea.
"I started trying to teach her to catch a Snitch almost from the day she was born. I was convinced she'd be the first female Seeker that Slytherin house had ever had." His voice thickened as he spoke, and he cleared his throat with a cough. "She died a few weeks shy of her first birthday. We never did determine why. Crib death was the best explanation any Healer could give us. After her, Mum quit trying." Draco exhaled slowly and forced himself not to chew skin off his bottom lip from the anxiety of speaking with such honesty about a private family matter.
He looked down at Hermione, at her dark curls piled in the hood of her cloak, at her shoulders hunched over her knees. "My parents wanted more children. I wanted siblings. I was heartbroken when Cassie died, and I decided then that I would do anything to have a family when I grew up."
Hermione sat back on her heels, her hands resting limp on her thighs. "So you brought me out here to show me this because you wanted to make a point? I'm not getting it, Malfoy."
"Because I wanted you to know how important family is to me. How many times we've tried and failed. I'm the last of the Malfoy line, as well as the last of the Blacks. After me, there is no one else. Or there wasn't. I want you to understand what that means, and why, despite your blood, my beliefs, and our history, I will do anything for my son. You're not the woman I would have chosen, and if I could have foreseen this, I would have prevented it, but I would rather have a half-blood child than none at all."
Draco had the decency to flush at the bitterness in her voice. "I assumed that you'd prefer I didn't lie to you. You've been hiding him from me for years. I understand. I reckon you didn't want to have a child that young, and even if you did, you certainly wouldn't have wanted it with me. We're in agreement on that aspect of this situation. However, I intend to make the best of it. I want children, Hermione. I'm not going to turn my back on this one, no matter the circumstances. I will give this child all my support and every opportunity I can provide him. All I ask is that you work with me, not against me. Allow Leo to know me as his father, not just as your friend from school."
She didn't respond, but held one hand up. Draco braced his feet and wrapped his fingers around her wrist, giving her a steady base so she could get up without struggling. She got to her feet and pulled her hand away quickly. "Draco." She pushed her hair out of her face and pulled her cloak tight around her body. "Draco, I will work with you. I'm not happy, I don't like this, and you're right, you're the last person I'd have chosen to father my child. Honestly, I would have turned you down that night if I'd known it was you, no matter how good a kisser you were at the time." She sighed and folded her arms beneath her cloak. "I'd rather not do this, but it's not as though you gave me a scarf I can return because it's the wrong color. You gave me a son."
"Yes." Draco faced her, his heart pounding against his ribs. He feared a refusal, feared it more than anything he had ever done in his life. "I gave you a son. Will you do me the same in return? Will you let me get to know my son?"
She looked at him for long enough that his racing heart threatened to stop. Finally, she nodded. "Maybe. It depends. I won't let you disrupt his life, but we can see if he's willing to-- how he reacts to you." She looked at the tiny stones again, her voice softening. "Come to tea next Saturday."
Draco stared across the table as Leo dipped his toast soldiers into a glass of something thick and pink. The action was familiar, as were so many of the child's mannerisms. Draco had always thought he'd learned most of his gestures and habits from Lucius, but the more he looked at this little boy, the more he wondered if some of it was simply in the blood. A specific tilt of Leo's head, a particular way of shrugging, even the uncertain half-smile when he'd first greeted Draco at the door - it all reminded Draco of himself.
He shook his head and sipped his tea, strong, milky, and highly sugared. "Did your mum tell you who I am?" he asked, flicking a glance at Hermione who sat with her shoulders hunched and her hands tight around a ceramic mug that had stopped steaming minutes before.
Leo nodded and sucked the liquid out of one of his soldiers. "You went to school with her. And Uncle Ron and Uncle Harry. They were Mummy's friends." He eyed Draco and knotted his brows. "Never said you were her friend."
Draco laughed under his breath. "That's because I wasn't. Not back then. But we're grown-ups now, and things should be different."
Hermione made a soft noise and Draco gave her a warning look. If she got huffy, Leo might get suspicious that there was more to this than just tea. He had no intention of losing out on the chance to get to know his son because Hermione felt like being a mass of disbelief.
Leo didn't seem to notice, too busy lining his soldiers up and carefully peeling the crusts off one. "So you want to be friends now?"
"In a way." Draco stirred more sugar into his tea. "I want to get to know your Mum. And you. I think we could get on rather well, if I get the chance."
"Mm." Leo pushed his plate back and hopped down from his chair, rushing out of the room.
Draco raised a brow and looked at Hermione. She sighed. "Sorry. He has appalling manners. Gets that from--"
"If you say he gets that from his father, I'll be terribly put out, you know."
She smiled. "Well. Now you'll never know what I was going to say."
Draco shook his head and sipped at his tea, uncertain what to say. It seemed odd to be sitting there at her table, having a quiet tea. He had to admit to himself that he didn't know what to say. Didn't really know what to do. He had never planned for a situation like this, not once in his life. He'd always assumed that he'd marry some pure-blooded woman, have an heir, and life would fall into place. This development, a son who was seven years old and a woman he barely knew beyond some old memories, was something he didn't know how to handle.
He didn't know if anyone knew how to handle this. He sighed and stretched, then looked at Hermione. "This is awkward, isn't it?"
She chuckled. Her hands tightened around her mug. "That's an understatement. Malfoy, I'm not certain if this is such a good idea. We're going to be tense and anxious around each other all the time, I suspect, and that's not good for Leo. Maybe we should just forget about this for now, wait until he's older."
"I've already missed seven years." Draco shook his head. "No. No, I don't want to wait any longer. I've missed seven years, Hermione. If we put this off, then what? I miss another seven years? Wait until he's old enough to go to Hogwarts? Wait until he's leaving Hogwarts? Wait until he's got a job, or until he's getting married? I can't do that. I can't wait any longer. I understand if you're nervous, or if you're frightened. I am too. But I have to do this. I have to get to know my son, before it's too late."
"Too late for what?" Leo bounded in and stood beside Draco, peering up at his face.
"Er." Draco cleared his throat. "Too late for more tea. Don't want to be up all night." His ears heated at the idiocy of the excuse, too sudden to really be good.
"Oh." As inane as it had been, Leo accepted it. He looked down. "What's this?"
Draco glanced down as he felt small fingers on his arm, and he stiffened as he realized that his sleeve had ridden up. The bottom edge of his Mark was showing below the cuff, and the snake's head was exposed. The Mark was faded and broken, but still visible. Still recognizable to those who knew what it meant. Draco looked up and met Hermione's eyes. She chewed on her bottom lip, then nodded, just once, and Draco exhaled slowly. "It's a tattoo," he told Leo in a quiet voice, not wanting to describe the process of the Dark branding to a little boy. He still had the occasional nightmare about it; Leo didn't need those images in his dreams.
"What's a tattoo?" Leo pushed his sleeve higher to look at the design, and Draco let him. The muscles in his arm tightened as Leo ran small fingers around the snake and skull. "Why do you have it?"
"I was, er. When I was younger, I was in a group. Almost like a-a club. We all had one of these so that everyone knew we belonged to the same group." Draco spoke slowly, picking his way through his memories, trying to figure out how to explain his history to a little boy who knew nothing about it all.
"Was it a fun club? Did you have parties?"
Draco laughed silently, bitterly. "Not, er. Not really. It wasn't a good club, no." He sighed and pushed his hair back, and rubbed the nape of his neck. "It was definitely not a good club. I was very stupid when I was a young man, and I did some very bad things. That's where that came from."
"Did you have to sit in the corner?" Leo looked up at him, grey eyes wide. "Mummy makes me sit in the corner when I do bad things."
Draco chuckled. "In a manner of speaking. I was in trouble, that's for sure. It wasn't a corner, but I did have to sit by myself for a while."
"How long? Mummy makes me sit for ten minutes."
Draco looked at Hermione, raised his brows, then looked down at Leo. "Two years."
Leo gaped at him, his little face astonished, and he sucked in air before whispering. "What did you do?"
Draco shook his head, then carefully pulled his arm from Leo's small hands and tugged his sleeve back into place. "I did some bad things. I hurt some people. That's ... all there is to it. I was bad, and they put me in the corner for it."
"Did you say you were sorry?"
Draco blinked at the question. He furrowed his brows and cocked his head to watch Leo, who was looking at him with an expression of such earnestness that Draco wanted to laugh. He knew better than to do something that Leo might take as poking fun, though. They were very much alike in that regard. "Pardon?"
"Did you say you were sorry? Is that why they let you out of the corner? Mummy won't let me up until I say I'm sorry."
"Ah." Draco looked over Leo's head at Hermione, then away, unable to meet her eyes. "No. No, I never did."
"You should." Leo patted his arm, maturity in his voice that didn't belong there. "I feel better when I'm sorry. Maybe you will too."
Draco sat bolt upright in bed, a sudden noise waking him. His heart raced and for a moment, he felt an intense fear, his sleep-filled mind telling him that he was young again and the Aurors were raiding his house, tearing down tapestries to look for secret passages, threatening his mother's china and the gallery of portraits who all stared in horrified disgust at the vile men invading the Manor. He grabbed his wand off the bedside table and rolled out of bed, crossing to the door to peer out of it with caution.
He spied the last remnants of green flame dying in the Floo, and a small shape huddled on the floor in front of it. Far too small to be an Auror, and Aurors usually didn't invade a home while sobbing to break a man's heart. Draco snapped his wand and the candles around the sitting room lit up, golden light reflecting off the pale hair of the little boy crouched by the fireplace. "Leo?" Draco asked, his brows furrowing.
He hitched up his pyjama bottoms and strode in to kneel beside the child. "Leo," he said in a quiet voice. "What are you doing here? What's wrong? Is something the matter at home?"
Leo uncurled from his huddle and flung himself into Draco's arms, nearly knocking them both over with the speed of his movement. "Draco," he sobbed, burying his face against Draco's chest. "Draco, don't go away. Don't let Mummy take you away. Don't ever let Mummy take you away. I want to see you all the time, and I don't want to have to stop, so don't go away, please!"
Draco raised his brows, completely flummoxed as to what the child was saying, but he rather thought a clear understanding would have to wait until Leo calmed down. He settled into a cross-legged posture and held Leo in his lap, rocking the boy gently and humming to him. "I'm not going anywhere," he said quietly. "I'm right here. I'm not going to go away. I'll sort this out, don't you worry. I'm not going to go away, I promise you." He patted Leo's back and rocked him until the sniffles and weeping ceased.
Leo fell asleep in his arms, and Draco managed to struggle to his feet without waking the child, then made it into the bedroom and put Leo down on the bed to sleep while he dressed. He'd take Leo home and get to the bottom of this.
Draco shifted Leo in his arms and tugged the edge of his cloak further over the child's back. As he approached the small cottage, he saw lights streaming from every window, saw movement in every room on the bottom floor of the building. Several people appeared to be pacing around the house, and Draco patted Leo's back as he walked up to the front door. "Looks like you've gone and got Mummy worried sick," he murmured to the little boy he carried. "Trouble maker. Sounds familiar."
He knocked on the door and waited for the hubbub of voices to die down, for someone to open the door. He hoped it would be Hermione, rushing forward to see if someone had brought her son home to her, but the figure that opened the door was short, with a thatch of messy black hair, round glasses covering green eyes, and a famous scar. Draco stifled a curse in the back of his throat and raised his brows. "Potter."
"Malfoy?" Harry's voice was full of shock and his eyes were so wide that Draco could see whites all around the green. "Malfoy, what the--" Harry spotted the child in Draco's arms and sucked in a breath so sharply Draco was surprised it didn't whistle. "Leo. Leo, oh my god. You found him? You found him?"
Leo stirred in Draco's arms and Draco shushed the child in a soft voice, patting his back beneath the folds of the cloak. "Lower your voice, Potter," he said with a glare. "Can't you see the kid's asleep?"
Harry's gaze flickered from Draco's face to Leo's, and Draco wondered if Harry knew who Leo's father was. He suspected that the truth wasn't any secret to Harry. Someone who every newspaper article described as having his mother's eyes and his father's hair was bound to be sensitive to parental resemblance. "Stand aside," Draco said, inclining his head to the door. "I don't want him taking cold."
Harry moved out of the way, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. Draco walked in and ignored the crowd in the sitting room. He took the stairs with Leo cradled in his arms, and within seconds heard footsteps behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to assure himself that it was Hermione, and nodded when he was proven right. Her eyes were wide and worried, red with crying. "He's fine, Granger," Draco said as he turned around again. He waited at the top of the stairs, unsure which room was the boy's. "He's completely fine."
Hermione chewed on her lip and nodded, tears filling her eyes again, and she passed Draco to open a door halfway down the short corridor. Draco walked in after her and settled Leo onto the small bed once Hermione had pulled the blanket back. Leo stirred and whimpered, and Draco brushed his fingers over the child's forehead. "Shh," he murmured. "You're safe. You're home."
The boy muttered and Draco leaned down to listen. He straightened up and looked around the room, then snatched the stuffed dragon from atop the bureau. He nestled the toy in Leo's arms. "Digger's safe too."
Leo smiled and hugged the dragon, then was asleep again within a heartbeat. Draco turned to Hermione and gestured at the door. "You're probably going to want to screech," he said. "Might want to do that downstairs. Kid's had a long night."
"How did you find him?" she asked, as she closed the bedroom door behind her and followed him down the corridor.
Draco rubbed his forehead and stopped a few steps down. He turned to discover he was on eye level with Hermione. He looked at her for a long moment, then shrugged. "If we needed any proof that he's my son, we got it tonight. He came through my Floo. A Floo that's warded to prevent anyone but a blood relative from entering." Draco made a helpless gesture. "Congratulations. His blood's half mine."
He continued down the stairs and went through the sitting room into the kitchen, past Harry, three Weasleys, and what appeared to be every member of that damn club Draco had helped break apart back at Hogwarts. He pretended not to see them, but went straight to the kettle. As he'd expected, Hermione had tea on, and he poured himself a cuppa, finding the mugs easily. They were in the most logical spot, a cabinet directly over the kettle. It was a twisted amusement for him to act as though he was welcome in Hermione's house, in front of her friends, and he wanted to get the full benefit out of it before they ganged up on him and tossed him into the street.
"Sugar?" he called, and snickered into his mug as he heard a collective gasp from the sitting room. He pushed away from the counter and leaned through the doorway, waggling the mug. "Granger, where's the sugar?"
He waited in the kitchen as Hermione chivvied her friends out of the house, waited for her to check on Leo one more time. He finished his tea and set the mug aside as Hermione walked to him. Her face twisted up and she raised both fists as if she was going to pound him a good one. Draco braced for it, but Hermione's anger faded and she burst into tears. She flung herself into his arms and Draco caught her.
She sobbed into his jumper, her head rocking against his chest. In her incoherent weeping, Draco caught a few words, most of which seemed to be Leo's name and wails about his safety. Draco held her until the spate of hysterics seemed to ease, patting her back with one hand, rubbing her spine and the tense muscles between her shoulders. "Granger, it's all right," he said over and over. "It's all right. He's fine. He came straight to my flat. Nothing happened to him. I know he worried you, but it's all right now. He's safe."
"He could have been hurt!" she wailed, and sniffled into the wool of his jumper. Even through the thick material, Draco could feel moisture, and he stifled a sigh as he realized she'd wept straight through to skin.
"He could have been, but he wasn't." He patted her hair and cradled her head to his shoulder. "He came to me. I'm not entirely sure why, because he was crying - gets that from you, I take it. Mumbled something about running away because Mummy was mean to him and wouldn't let him have friends. I'm fairly certain I got that wrong."
She stilled, and after a long minute, she sighed. "No. Not entirely." She raised her head and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I told him that we weren't going to be seeing you anymore, that we weren't going to be friends. He chucked a fit."
Draco's arms tightened around her so quickly that she hissed in a brief moment of pain. He released her and stepped back, shoving his hands into his pockets to hide the sudden tremble in them. "Why would.... Granger, why would you tell him that? He said something about you making me go away, but I thought he was just confused and upset. Now it's true? What the sodding fuck, Hermione?"
"Language," she said, the rebuke half-hearted. She remained silent for a long minute, then looked at him, her eyes still shining with tears. "Because last night, I was getting him ready for bed, and I found something drawn on his arm." She touched Draco's left sleeve. "He'd drawn a Mark on his arm, Draco. Because he wanted to be more like you. Because--because." She turned away from him, twisting her hair up into a bun and shoving a quill through it to hold it in place. "Because he's going to get too close to you."
She rattled cups at the sink as Draco stared at her back. He swallowed and shook his head. "I thought-- That's what we agreed on, letting him get to know me. I'm sorry about the-the ... the drawing, but I swear to you, I wouldn't have encouraged him with that. I'd never even let him see it, if I could avoid it. It quite literally can't be removed, or I wouldn't have it at all. It's just a symbol, one that doesn't have any meaning to me anymore."
"Yes, it does," she mumbled, dumping half a glass of lemonade into the drain. "It still means most of that. Everything it used to stand for, all those years ago. Pure blood and all that rubbish. Everything you are and everything he can't be. He'll get too close, and what if you leave again? Find yourself that pure-blood woman and breed a couple of pure-blood children, and then you abandon him just when he's got to know you and care about you. I won't let that happen, Draco."
"I'm not going to abandon him. Granger, if you ever let me tell him the truth, tell anyone the truth, I fully intend to have him legally declared my heir. I want to be a part of his life. I want him to be part of mine." Hermione wiped down the counter with a sponge, not looking at him, and Draco exhaled slowly. He took the sponge out of her hand, chucked it into the sink, and lifted her chin. "You know all of this. I know you know it. You have to know that I already care about him. He's my son."
She shook her head again, and Draco felt his heart clenching. "Hermione, please. Please don't take him from me. Please, give me another chance."
Hermione looked down, chewing on her lip. "I don't know if I can."
He caught her arm and pulled her close, bending his head to whisper to her. Family was the most important thing to him, always had been, and he knew his voice would shake if he tried to speak aloud. "Please. I need this. I need him. Hermione, give me a chance. I've made mistakes, I've done some truly stupid things, but please. I'm a better man now. Let me prove to you that I can be a good father to him. Give me a chance."
Draco wrote for the magazine Blaise and Pansy had founded several years before, an endeavor that kept him occupied well enough. He'd taken the flat in Diagon Alley to be closer to work. He hated the squeezing feel of Apparition and only used the Floo when he had no other choice, thanks to years of nightmares about Crabbe's uncontrolled Fiendfyre, so he'd needed a home nearer London than the Manor. The flat gave him a small space to write in peace.
Draco stared at the pile of notes he'd gathered. This was tricky enough to write with a deadline breathing down his neck. It was twice as difficult with someone pounding on the door to his flat. Draco tried to ignore the noise, assuming Miss Stonefoot down the hall had locked herself out of her flat again, but she usually gave up after a few knocks. Whoever this was, she wasn't giving up. The knocking kept going and Draco finally tossed his quill down in frustration. He shoved his hair back and tightened the elastic that held it at the nape of his neck, then stomped to his door and yanked it open.
Hermione stood in the corridor, Leo propped on her hip with his stuffed dragon clutched to his chest. "Malfoy," Hermione said, her face full of harried relief. "Thank god you're home. I need a favor."
He stared at her and raised both brows.
"Please," she said. She pushed Leo into his arms and Draco automatically gripped the boy. "I have an emergency to take care of at the Ministry and I can't find a minder on such short notice. Please, please take care of Leo for a couple of hours. You wanted another chance, here it is. I'll be back as fast as I can."
She dashed down the corridor before he could speak, and was out of sight before he could blink. Draco looked at the little boy in his arms, then shrugged. He never passed up an opportunity, and this one had been quite literally thrust at him. "So what's your dragon's name, again? I don't think we've been properly introduced."
"Digger." Leo held the dragon up and wriggled it so that it appeared to be grinning at him. "He says hello."
"Hello, Digger." Draco gave the stuffed toy the dignity he thought the child expected from him, and carried Leo and Digger into his flat. "Mummy has an emergency, hmm?"
"Yep." Leo wiggled out of his arms and Draco set the boy on the floor before he fell. Leo put Digger in a chair and immediately set to exploring the sitting room. "Said she needed somebody to mind me, and you were better than nobody, and you had a vested interest. What's vested interest mean?"
"Grown-up stuff." Draco settled onto the sofa and watched the child poke around his furniture. This was an unexpected turn of events. Fortunately there wasn't much breakable in his flat, but he wasn't precisely prepared for having a little boy in the house. Surroundings or self. Draco realized that despite his desire to get to know his son, he had no idea what to do with a child. He supposed he would have to figure that out, and quickly.
Leo shoved both hands into the cushions of a chair, came up with a broken quill, and brought it to Draco. "What's this?"
"A quill. I use them to write."
"Because I write to make money and have something to do."
"Oh." Leo set the quill down on the coffee table and flittered about the room. He came back with an elastic clutched in his fingers. "What's this?"
"An elastic. I use them to hold back my hair."
"Because it gets in my eyes otherwise."
"Oh." Leo put the elastic down and took off again. Draco slumped into the sofa and rubbed his forehead. He could already tell where this was going to go.
An hour later, Leo had asked him questions about everything in the sitting room, the loo, and the kitchen, and Draco had a throbbing headache. He set the boy down at the kitchen table with a piece of toast and slipped into his potions lab to whip together a headache remedy.
He'd only managed to get the ingredients out of the cabinet when he felt the distinct sensation that he was being watched. Draco glanced over his shoulder to see Leo peeking around the door frame, toast crumbs on his chin. "What's this?"
He let Hermione in and went straight to the lab, expecting that she'd follow him. He couldn't leave Leo alone for long. The boy was as curious as his mother and had already poked through every vial and bottle he could reach in the lab. "All right, Leo. What are we up to now?"
Leo danced on the wide stool Draco had transfigured for him. "Leaves!"
"Quite right. Care to watch, Granger?" Draco stood at the counter and looked at the door, grinning at the spell-shocked look on Hermione's face. "What do you think, Leo? Think Mummy should watch us make a potion?"
"Malfoy!" Hermione's jaw dropped and she shook her head so hard that her curls flew around her face. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Making a headache potion. Leo's been quite the help, I have to say. Tell your Mummy what we need to do next."
Leo flourished a glass stirring rod and made a crowing sound that Draco tried not to notice was very familiar. "Leaves in the cauldron, and stir four times windowsheep."
Draco broke into a coughing fit to cover up his laugh, then stood behind Leo. "Widdershins. Correct." He held the stirring rod just behind Leo's small hand, and they stirred the thick liquid together. "Next?"
Leo looked up at the ceiling, an intense look of concentration in his grey eyes. "Allow to steep for three minutes, skim the top, and drink once cooled." As he recited, his voice took on Draco's accent and intonations, and Draco looked somewhat guiltily at Hermione.
Hermione didn't seem to notice, her face full of surprise. Draco helped Leo down from the stool, urged him to go wash up, then turned to Hermione. "He needed something to do, and he was really interested in watching me brew. I let him help to keep him out of trouble." Draco gestured at the dozen bottles lined up on the counter. "Turns out he has a knack for it."
"Like his father." Hermione folded her arms and cocked one hip against the counter. "He also has an absolute obsession with Quidditch, you know. He listens to the game on the wireless every time the Magpies play. Won't even move until the Snitch is caught."
Draco smiled. "Magpies are my favorite team. They rather have to be, actually. I hold the majority share in their club."
"I know. Read all about the purchase in the Prophet." She raised a brow. "Saw the pictures. You looked rather smug."
"I'd just bought my own Quidditch team. Wouldn't you be smug if you'd fulfilled a childhood dream? Bought ... I dunno, bought your own bookshop?"
Hermione made a face, and Draco hid a smile. Put the Quaffle through the hoop on that one, he thought. He turned away and wiped down the counter with a damp cloth. "Had a good time with him today," he said, glancing sidelong at Hermione. "I wouldn't mind spending more time with him. Just us. Without there being an emergency involved."
She chewed on her lip and watched him clean up the lab. "I don't want to confuse him. I don't...." She broke off and looked away.
Draco closed his eyes at a small stab of pain in his chest. "You don't want him asking questions about who I am. Don't want him to start suspecting that I'm his father." He folded the cloth up and placed it on the counter, staring down at it to keep from looking at her. "You want to keep lying."
"It's not like that, Malfoy." Hermione stepped up beside him and leaned into his line of sight. "There's more than that to this. It's all complicated and muddled."
"What were you planning to do?" he asked, gripping the folded cloth in his fist. "When were you going to tell him?"
"I don't know. Give me time!"
"You have had eight years. How much more time do you need?" Draco fought to keep his temper, struggled to keep his voice steady. He wasn't going to shout and startle Leo, bring up those questions Hermione clearly wanted to avoid. He'd let her procrastinate a little longer, as much as it galled him.
Hermione sighed and turned away. "I'm going to tell him. Eventually. I just haven't decided how."
"You have to decide soon," he said, looking at her. "You're not going to be able to keep it quiet any longer. I know, now. Pansy knows. Everyone will know."
"I'll think about it," she said quietly. "I have to plan." She cleared her throat and clapped her hands, calling for her son. "Leo! Time to go!"
"Mummy! Wanna stay!" Leo called back. "More potions! And Draco said I could have a blood pop!"
Hermione put her face in her hands. "Please tell me he gets that sweet tooth from you."
Draco chuckled weakly, putting supplies away. "Yeah. Sorry. They're in a jar by the sofa."
She huffed and stomped out of the potions lab. Draco heard her chattering at Leo, though he couldn't make out the words, then the boy shouted an obviously coerced farewell to him. "I'll see you later, Draco! More visits! Mummy promised!"
Leo scrabbled through the envelopes and scrolls the post owl had delivered earlier that day. Hermione went to stop him and Draco gestured her to a halt. "Let him play. The important post gets delivered to the Manor. He can't hurt anything."
She nodded after a moment, and sat on the sofa, curling up in the end opposite of Draco. "I wanted to thank you for taking him last week. I just couldn't find a minder in time."
"Don't worry about it, Granger." Draco leaned back and crossed his ankles under the coffee table. He stretched to roll his shoulders, hissing when the left popped. That damned Transfiguration incident in fourth year hadn't left him unharmed, especially after the false Moody had bounced him off the walls a few times. Four broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder joint. He still owed Pomfrey a little revenge for laughing off his injuries, he thought. "Nothing to fret yourself with. We were fine."
"Draco, what does d-e-n-i-a-l spell?" Leo held a parchment up in front of his face and Draco glanced over.
"Denial," he said with some distraction. "Honestly, Granger, I didn't mind watching him. I did enjoy the chance to spend some time with him. Like I said before, I wouldn't mind the opportunity to do so a little more often, honestly." He shrugged at the confused look Hermione gave him. "What? I want to get to know my--"
"Malfoy," she said with warning in her voice and a glance at Leo.
"Your son." Draco sighed and raised a brow at her. This dance they did around the subject of Leo's parentage was annoying as anything.
"What does o-r-g-a-s-m spell?"
"Orga--." Draco leaned forward and eyed the parchment Leo was holding. "What do you have there?" Leo gave him the parchment and Draco read it over quickly. He blanched and went to crumple the parchment up, but Hermione snatched it away from him.
Draco buried his face in his hands as she read. She glanced up at him, her lips twitching, eyes sparkling. "Leo, sweetie, stay right here and play. Draco?" She stood and inclined her head toward the kitchen. "Give me a hand in there, would you?"
He stifled a groan, and followed her into the kitchen. "Don't," he said in a quiet voice. "Just don't even start. It's a living, all right?"
Hermione held the parchment up with both hands. "Dear Tabby," she read. "Last week my wife and I experimented with orgasm denial."
Draco flushed bright pink and snatched the parchment from her. He crumpled it up and tossed it on the table. "Stop."
Hermione laughed so hard tears filled her eyes. "You? You are the writer of Tabby's Torrid Tips?"
Draco groaned aloud this time, and leaned against the counter with his arms folded, staring at the toes of his boots. "Yes. I write an advice column. A sex advice column. Get your laughing out now, please."
"What's the matter, Malfoy? Couldn't find a better job?"
Draco stiffened and ground his teeth. Hermione's laughs faded, and Draco looked up to see her staring at him with shame in her eyes. "You couldn't, could you?"
"No." Draco took a slow breath, shoving the old irritation into the far corners of his mind. "No, I couldn't. After the war, the trials, after I ... er. Served my time. After I was released from Azkaban, I found out I'd been blacklisted. The Ministry seat I'd been expecting, gone. Any shot at going into professional Quidditch, gone. I looked for a couple of years, went on so many interviews that I lost count. No one would hire me. No one wanted me associated with their company. Maybe they figured I'd try to use my salary to raise a new Dark Lord or something."
He shrugged and pushed away from the counter to put the kettle on. "Pansy and Blaise finally took a chance on me. Gave me work at their magazine. I can't put my name on the column, though, and no one can really admit that I'm employed there. They let me run a 'guest' column, once, under my own name. A few years ago. Two hundred subscriptions were cancelled and someone broke in and destroyed the printing press."
He rummaged in the cabinet for two mugs and set them on the table with the sugar bowl. "Things are a lot different these days. I'm almost a respectable citizen. Don't cause any trouble, don't do anything dark and evil. Bought the Magpies, donate every year to the Orphans' Fund, sponsor at least one participant in that Muggle-Wizard cultural exchange program I believe you were quite instrumental in creating some years back. I probably could write under my own name, now, but Tabby's practically an institution. No need to chuck a Bludger while I'm winning the match."
"Why do you even need work?" she asked, one curl twisted around her finger. "What about-- I mean, you just said all that, about the charities and things. Aren't you, er?"
"Rich? Ridiculously, filthy rich?" Hermione nodded, and Draco shrugged again. "Yes. But the Malfoys didn't get rich by sitting around, and we don't stay rich by wasting our time and money. I actually would have inherited less after my father's death if I hadn't found employment. Conditions of my great-grandfather's will. Besides that, I like to stay busy." He set two mugs on the kitchen table and flicked at the crumpled parchment. "And you have to admit, I write a good column. Most popular one in the magazine."
Hermione's cheeks were pink when Draco looked at her, and she looked away. She cleared her throat and huffed, apparently at herself. "Yes, you do. Learned a few things from that column." She glanced at him and gave a small smile. "And now that I make the connection between you, Tabby, and that bloke eight years ago, I can say with confidence that you do know what you're talking about. Was probably one of the best shags I've ever had."
Draco dropped his spoon, spilling sugar across the tabletop, and Hermione laughed. "What, never heard that before?"
He cleaned up, damning himself for the hot blush he could feel in his ears. "No. Not. I mean, yeah. I've heard it before. Just never expected to hear it from you."
When he looked at her, she was blushing as well. Before either of them could speak again, Leo came running in, flourishing a broken quill and demanding that Draco fix it. He crouched to help the boy, leaving the question of the reason for Hermione's blush for later.
Draco finished admiring the drawing Pansy's youngest daughter held out for his approval, and patted her head before she scurried off. "Cute kid," he said.
Pansy closed her book and smiled indulgently from her chaise. "I know. She told me she's going to marry you when she grows up, by the way."
Draco laughed and stretched out in the chair, his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. "No thanks. The combination of you and Blaise is too much for me." He tucked his hands behind his head and sighed. "Granger's starting to warm up a little. She's agreed to let me have some solo time with Leo. Not too comfortable about it, I could tell, but Leo was too damned excited for her to say no. We're going flying this afternoon."
Pansy raised her brows and Draco grinned. "All right, so I may have invited him to go flying before I mentioned it to her."
"You're a bad man, Draco Malfoy."
He laughed again and stood, rolling his shoulders. "That's what they tell me." He crossed the room and bent to kiss Pansy's forehead. "Have to go. Don't want to be late. Granger might change her mind."
Draco stooped beside Leo and blew cool air across the dirty rash on his knee. "It's all right, kid," he said quietly, as he used gentle, careful brushes to clean dirt and pebbles from Leo's skin. "It happens to everyone when they're first learning how to fly. Everyone crashes a time or two." He used his wand and a delicate cleansing charm to clean and sanitize the wound. "You should have seen me when I was about your age."
Leo sniffled and scrubbed the sleeve of his robes across his eyes. "Did you crash, too?" He scraped his bottom lip between his teeth and watched Draco with hopeful wariness in his expression.
Draco hid a smile, and nodded with as much of a serious demeanor as he could muster. "I did. I crashed all the time. I was a little clumsy when I was a kid. Used to trip over things in the house, hit the walls all over the place. Mostly it was because I just wasn't paying enough attention to where I was going. Not the best sort of behavior to possess when you're trying to learn how to fly, believe me." He brushed grass off Leo's trousers and muttered a simple charm to mend the tear in the fabric. Rather than stand up and encourage Leo to jump straight onto the broom again, he settled down cross-legged by the boy and plucked a few blades of grass. He laid them out across his thigh. "I fell off all the time," he said again. "My father, he was beginning to think I'd never learn, I'm sure. I was so afraid of disappointing him."
Leo shifted, picking some grass in imitation of Draco, and he settled on the grass with his knees touching Draco's shins. "But you learned how."
"I did. It took me a long while, though." He tapped one of the grass blades on Leo's leg. "That one's too short."
The boy discarded that blade without questioning Draco's statement, and picked another one.
"Took me a long time. I practiced an entire summer. Every day, as soon as the sun came up, I was outside with my broom. There's this meadow out behind the gardens of my parents' house. I'd go out there, trailed by Mimmy." Draco stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Foolish to expect the boy would know what he meant. Leo wouldn't have had a personal house-elf. With Hermione's crusade to save the little green creatures, Leo had probably never seen a house-elf at all, unless Hermione had a habit of bringing them home. "Mimmy was my nurse. She followed me around everywhere. Of course, that was her job."
Leo furrowed his brows in an expression so familiar that Draco forgot what he was saying for a moment. He coughed to focus his thoughts and helped Leo work through the collection of grass blades, picking out ones that were just the right length, just the right shape. "I'd go out to the meadow, every day, dragging my broom with me. I was about your age, but I was smaller. My broom was loads taller than I was, so I had to haul it behind me. Tore the bristles up something awful over the course of the summer."
He laid a few of the grass blades on his knee and started forming a braid out of them. Leo watched him intently, then began to copy the motions. Draco nodded and continued with his story. "One time, I managed - somehow and I have no idea how - to get up in the air. Pretty high, too. Must have been three, four feet up." Leo laughed, that high-pitched and joyous child laughter that seemed to make the sun brighter, and Draco grinned. "Oi, for somebody who was flying all on his own, that was the same as miles up. So I was flying, all by my lonesome, and then I lost my balance. My legs locked up and I grabbed onto the broom, but it was too late. I spun around the shaft. Ended up clinging to the broom, upside down, and shrieking worse than a Howler."
Leo broke into giggles. "Bet that was funny to see!"
"Bet it was," Draco agreed. "Naturally, at the time, I didn't think it was funny. Not even a little bit. I'm shrieking, I'm stuck, and Mimmy is jumping up and down, trying to grab onto the broom or onto my robes or onto anything, so that she can get me down. But I panicked, and I squeezed the broom too hard, and then whoosh!" He clapped his hands and shoved one up, his fingers held tight and flat to resemble the broom. "Up I went. I shot straight into the air, did three or four loops, and came straight back down. Before I hit the ground, I managed to let go, and then I hit the ground anyway. Leo, let me tell you something." Draco shook his head and let out a low, soft whistle. "Hurt like he-- mad."
Leo looked at his knee and poked it carefully. He wrinkled his nose up. "Ouch."
"Ouch is right. I landed on my hand, broke three fingers." He held his right hand out to Leo and pointed to the three outside fingers. "See? They're a little crooked."
Leo glanced up at Draco's face as if he were asking permission, then took Draco's hand and examined the fingers carefully. He turned Draco's hand over and poked at his palm. "Look," he said, pointing to a spot on the webbing at Draco's thumb. "I have one too!"
Draco raised a brow, and turned Leo's hand up to expose his palm. On Leo's palm, just at the base of his thumb, was a small, horseshoe shape, whiter than the skin around it. It was an exact match to the shape on Draco's hand. Draco sighed silently. And his was an exact match for one on Lucius Malfoy's hand. Abraxas Malfoy had one as well. Every Malfoy male did.
He realized Leo was watching him, and he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, you have one too. We have a lot in common, Leo."
"Our eyes are the same color. Hair, too." Leo leaned forward and tapped Draco's nose as he put one finger on the tip of his own. "Same nose."
Draco closed his eyes. Hermione had not given him one indication that it would be all right for him to tell Leo the truth. Not one hint, not one breath. It ached deep in his chest that he wanted to. He couldn't, though. If he spoke out of turn, she'd take the boy away, and he could not allow that to happen.
He opened his eyes to see Leo staring at him, bottom lip caught between small, even teeth. "Your Daddy taught you to fly?" Leo asked. Draco nodded and Leo looked down. "I don't have a Daddy," he said, in a voice full of a little boy's sorrow.
"I know," Draco said. It took him a minute to gather his control enough to speak again without his voice shaking. "I know you don't. I'm sorry for that. Everyone should have a Daddy." He cleared his throat and ruffled Leo's hair. "Will I do, for now? Good enough to teach you to fly, maybe?"
Leo looked at him, then flung both arms around him and squeezed hard. "Yeah," he said, the words muffled in Draco's shirt. "Yeah, you'll do."
"Draco, will you please just do something for me? I swear, it will take care of all your problems, solve your issues, and make you a much happier person all around."
Draco raised his head from Pansy's desk and stared at her with wariness. "What," he said, voice flat.
"Fuck her already!"
Draco swore under his breath and shot a look at the office door. Even though it was closed, Pansy's voice carried, and Draco didn't want the entire office questioning his personal life. They were a building full of nosy parkers as it was. "Keep your voice down," he snapped. "You think I want everyone in my business?"
"No, I think the author of Tabby's Torrid Tips would be a little less of an idiot when it came to women." Pansy flicked her wand and Summoned a tea tray to her desk. She munched on a small, frilly biscuit as she stared at Draco, then spoke around crumbs. "You're miserable, you're whinging, and your column's been late the past three months in a row. I haven't seen you this moody since you found out Greg had been having an affair with Daphne for years. Yes, I was also appalled at his taste, but there was no need to sulk like that."
Draco stole a biscuit. "Your only advice is to shag her? She's irritating, frustrating, confusing. Half the time I think she has a fancy for me, and the other half I think she's having a go at me. I honestly cannot tell with this woman." He broke the biscuit in pieces and stared at his hands. "Would like to know which way is up when it comes to her. Leo's easy to figure out, but Hermione? I've never had this much trouble with any woman. I'd rather face down that hippogriff again than try to figure out if her...." He sighed and shook his head.
Pansy finished off another biscuit while watching him crumble up his, and when she spoke again, her voice was full of amusement. "Oh, darling. You have it bad, don't you?"
"Have what bad?"
"You like her." Pansy laughed and bounced in her chair, sing-songing. "You like her, you like her." She clapped her hands and giggled. "This is fantastic. God, I wish I'd paid more attention in divination class. I might have seen this coming."
She furrowed her brows as she poured tea. "Actually, now that I think about it, I should have seen this coming. You were almost as obsessed with her in school as Potter was with you. You hardly shut up about her. Are you sure you didn't know it was her at Beltane? Some sort of subconscious plotting, maybe?"
"Are you insane?" Draco stared at Pansy, stared as if she were a house-elf who suddenly started belting out Celestina Warbeck's entire catalogue of musical nonsense. "I don't like her! She's obnoxious and annoying and she always has to be right, and let's not forget that she hid my child from me for years!"
"Mm-hmm." Pansy leaned back in her chair, her teacup cradled in both hands. "Obnoxious, annoying, always has to be right, easily identified by the hair. Maybe I'm being silly, but that reminds me of someone."
Draco growled. "You're not being very helpful. Thought you were supposed to be my best friend."
"I am. And I'm helping. It's not my fault that you've got yourself so twisted around that you can hardly make sense." She set her tea down and looked at him, her face serious. "Draco, this isn't the first time I've seen you like this. Believe me, I've known you practically since you were in nappies. This is exactly how you get when you're attracted to someone. Maybe you just can't admit it to yourself yet, I don't know, but the truth is you fancy her. The question is what you'll do about it. You can't stop seeing her, after all, or you'll just prove her right about abandoning the boy. You can be selfish, but you're not a complete bastard. You're not going to break his heart."
"Might break mine." Draco toyed with the remnants of his biscuit, avoiding Pansy's eyes. He refused to believe that she might be even slightly right. It wasn't possible. He was only interested in Leo, only interested in his son. Hermione drove him mad, that was all.
"Ask her out, Draco. It's a simple enough thing."
"You have a very odd definition of the term 'simple', you realize that?"
She laughed. "Everything about this is a bit odd, darling. Usually the child comes after the relationship. Since you've already gone and muddled that bit, why not ask her out? Take her to dinner. Find out if I'm right, and I am, and you actually like her. Think of where to go from there." She took up her tea again and smirked at him. "I know what Tabby would suggest."
"Granger, will you stop fretting? Pansy's great with children. She has three of her own." It had taken him one hell of a bribe to get Pansy to agree to mind Leo so that Draco could take Hermione on this outing, but not much beyond that, since it had been her idea in the first place. Convincing Hermione had been the difficult part.
"Probably just like her, too." Hermione twisted her hands together, the leather of her gloves making a squeaking sound with every twist.
"As a matter of fact, yes." Draco held the door of the restaurant, gentlemanly instinct leading him to a semblance of chivalrous behavior despite being unsure she'd enjoy it. From the glare she gave him, she didn't particularly want it. Draco sighed and went into the restaurant first. "Her kids are just like her," he repeated, picking up the thread of their conversation again. "They're bright, creative, clever, and loyal. Wisteria, Camellia - they're dead brilliant. Cam's going to be up for Ravenclaw prefect next year and Wisty is looking at an internship at Gringotts over the summer. Dahlia's just a year older than Leo, and I expect they'll get on great. Digger seemed to like her, at least." There had been a bit of an awkward moment when Draco had introduced his good friend and her daughter to Leo, but Dahlia's stuffed unicorn, Points, and Digger had bridged the gap.
Hermione gave him an odd look, and he raised a brow. "What?"
"Just ... seems unusual to hear you going on about someone's children like that. You seem to know them fairly well."
"She's my best friend. They're my god-daughters. Of course I know them well. They spend half of summer break with me while Blaise and Pansy go off to the south of France every year." He shrugged his cloak off for the witch behind a low counter and touched his wand to a square inlaid in the counter-top. A bright sparkle appeared and the number 183 faded into and out of existence. He lifted his brows at Hermione and nodded to the witch. "C'mon, hurry it along. Give the woman your cloak, Granger. We have a reservation and they'll sit us by the kitchen if we're late."
Hermione was already pulling off her cloak before he'd finished speaking, and he snapped his mouth shut with a snap when he saw the dress she had on underneath it. He didn't know much about women's fashion, except what he'd caught when Pansy would prattle on, but he did know what he liked. He liked this. High-necked and ruby red, it clung to her body from shoulder to hips, skirts flaring out to swirl around her legs. It was a ridiculously modest dress, covered her completely even down to her wrists and ankles, but the fabric clung to her like water and Draco couldn't take his eyes off her. "Damn," he muttered when he realized he'd been staring. "Last time I saw you looking this good was the Yule Ball."
Hermione blinked and held her small, strapless bag to her chest, arms folded over it in a protective stance. "You thought I looked good that day?"
Draco felt his ears heating and knew he was starting to turn pink with embarrassment at being caught out. "Yeah. Er. Actually." He coughed and rolled his eyes at himself. "Actually got into a heap of trouble for staring at you. Pansy elbowed me so hard I had a bruise on my ribs for a week."
Hermione raised both brows in surprise, and to Draco's astonishment, she blushed. It was a deep, raspberry pink, and he found it oddly attractive on her. "Thank you," she murmured. "You look quite nice yourself. Those robes set off your eyes."
Draco blushed as well. He could feel heat moving from his ears down the back of his neck, and he turned away with a cough, chiding himself for acting like a teen on a first date. "Our, um. Our table should be ready." The restaurant's host appeared, saving him from needing to explain his temporary embarrassment and confusion.
The host led them through the dining hall to an elegant table beside a wide bow window. Outside, the view stretched for several miles, over rolling hills of deep green grass dotted with patches of trees, past a narrow river that sparkled as though it were full of gems. The sun dipped close to the horizon, staining the sky in pinks and purples, with a few glowing streaks of pale gold.
"Beautiful," Hermione said in a breathy whisper.
Draco smiled and nodded. "I've been coming here for years. It's one of my favorite places." He held Hermione's chair for her, answering to the call of manners ingrained in him practically from childbirth. Once seated, Hermione fidgeted with her water goblet and looked around as though she were expecting a waiter to arrive with a menu. Draco bit the inside of his cheek to hold back a smile. "If you were expecting a menu," he said in a low voice, pitched for her ears only, "you can stop expecting. Jean-Michel, the head chef, makes what he damn well feels like every night. You don't choose your meal. He chooses for you."
Hermione's brows furrowed and she wrinkled her nose. Draco did his best not to notice that it was a cute expression. "That hardly seems fair. What if he makes something that I don't like? What if he makes something that I'm allergic to? How could he possibly know in advance what people are going to want? This is no way to run a restaurant, Malfoy."
Draco held up both hands, laughing now and unable to stop himself from it. "Slow down, slow down. One question at a time. Granger, don't worry. Jean-Michel has been a chef for seventy years. As soon as you walked into the building, you crossed a spell-line. He knows your allergies, your preferences, your hates. Jean-Michel knows more about your food choices than you do. Believe me. Whatever he puts in front of you will be the most delicious, most perfect meal you've ever had."
It was clear that she didn't believe him. Draco stifled the urge to roll his eyes. The woman just had to see everything for herself, couldn't take anything on faith. He'd be proven right before long, though. That would have to be enough for him. He could hold back for a little while, if that meant he'd have the opportunity to be smug later.
That opportunity came quickly. Hermione sat glaring at him for a few minutes, silent, with her arms folded under her breasts, then a pair of waiters appeared, each one carrying a large silver tray. They left the trays hovering in mid-air beside the table, and began laying covered plates on the table. Draco didn't have to look at his. He knew the chef would have presented him with a lovely chicken cordon bleu, steamed vegetables, a miniature baguette with a small selection of flavored oils, and half a dozen oysters, each plate charmed to stay warm or cool as needed. Jean-Michel hated him for it, but Draco insisted on having all his courses at once so he could pick and choose as he liked.
He waited with interest to see what would arrive for Hermione. The waiter lifted each cover in turn, and Hermione's eyes grew wider and wider with each new dish. Welsh rarebit, a bowl of a thick and creamy soup, two slices of thick toasted dark bread. Draco laughed as the last plate was uncovered. Half a dozen oysters. "Seems we have more in common than Leo," he said quietly, nodding at her plate.
Hermione stared at him, mouth opening and closing like a fish that'd just been provided with some particularly tasty flakes. "This. This. This is."
"This is precisely what you wanted?" Draco smiled and raised his eyes. The wine steward caught his gaze and immediately came forward with a bottle. Draco approved the label with a nod, and returned to grinning at Hermione after the thick, blood-red wine had been poured and the staff had left them alone. "I told you," he said. "Jean-Michel is an artist. Wouldn't have pegged you for a rarebit woman, though. Bit cheesy, I would have thought."
"My grandmother," she said quietly, her eyes on her meal. "It was her favorite recipe. I haven't had it in years." She bit her lip and exhaled slowly. "It can't be...." She took a bite, and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she opened them again and Draco's smile faded as he saw tears glistening in her eyes. "It is," she murmured. "It's exactly her recipe. I'd recognize it anywhere. How did--"
Draco watched her in silence, waiting for her to look up. "Magic."
They walked along the shallow canal that ran through the center of the park. Overhead, the stars had a sparkle Draco had only seen on rare occasions, a twinkle that somehow felt special. He tried not to consider that maybe it had something to do with the woman walking beside him, her cloak wrapped tight around her, the hood dangling between her shoulders despite her repeated efforts to keep it up. Her hair refused to let it stay, and Draco had decided that he found that adorable. That mass of curls wasn't the horrifying rat's nest it had been back in school. Now it was thick and luxurious, and it looked ridiculously touchable. He had to shove his hands in his pockets to resist the temptation to stroke it. That was something he wouldn't be able to explain if he had a thousand years and seven languages from which to choose his words.
Hermione cleared her throat and glanced at him after they'd walked in silence for a few minutes. "What are we doing out here?" she asked, her voice soft.
"Taking a walk, Granger." Draco raised a brow and gestured at the park around them. "I would have thought that would be fairly evident. Pardon me for saying, but I'm a little afraid to wonder about your observational skills if you didn't catch on to that."
She huffed and stamped her foot, and he hid a smile. The needling comment had been deliberate, just to see her reaction. Her eyes always shone when she was aggravated, and he'd seen that aggravation frequently over the summer. It was amusing, and a little bit attractive, and thinking that distracted him from hearing anything except the last word she said, his name. His first name. A name that seemed to be wrapped in silk, the way she said it. "Sorry," he said, shaking his head at himself. Two simple syllables should not sound so fascinating no matter whose voice they were in. "If you could repeat that?"
She tossed her head, making her curls fly around her shoulders. "I said, of course it's fairly evident that we're taking a walk. What I'm wondering is why. Actually, I'm wondering about this whole evening. Dinner, I understand, I think. It's been a long time since I had a grown-up night out, and I appreciate it. But the rest? A walk through a moonlit park? What's next, sharing a dance under the stars and a frantic kiss at my front door?"
Draco stopped dead on the path, the image of it rolling through his mind. He tried to fight it back, but his thoughts locked onto the picture of her wrapped in his arms and pressed to the door of her little cottage, her lips warm as they moved over his and her breasts soft against his chest as she breathed. "It's, er. It's nothing like that," he said, turning away so she couldn't see the bright flush rising up in his cheeks as he struggled with his own imagination. He silently damned Pansy. She'd been right. He did like Hermione. "I just wanted to have a pleasant night. Is there something wrong about the idea of having a good evening with the mother of my child?"
"No." She stepped around him and peered up into his face. Before he could look away again, she caught his chin and held it firm between her thumb and index finger, her grip surprisingly strong. She held him still and she examined his eyes. "No, there's nothing wrong with that, but why do I get the impression that's not really what's on your mind right now?"
Draco stammered and sputtered for a moment, then he sighed and his shoulders slumped. He rubbed the base of his skull, feeling a knot of tension forming that would lead to a headache for the next three days if he didn't take his personal brew the second he got home. "Well. That. That was the original point of this evening. I did just want to spend some time with you, y'know, get to know you a little better. Usually Leo's there, so we spend most of our time talking about him. I wanted to talk about you for once." He closed his eyes and slid his hand up her arm to wrap his fingers around her wrist. She didn't resist as he pulled her hand away from his chin. He ordered himself to let go, but his body seemed to be unusually disobedient, and he shamefully hoped that she wouldn't jerk away from him after he kept speaking. He liked the feel of her fingers in his. "But, er. But you're very pretty tonight. Not sure if you're aware, but that dress could make a statue get up and dance. And we've had plenty of good conversations over the summer. And, forgive me for it, but I can't stop thinking about having a son with you, and the process involved in getting that son, and how fucking good it felt. And maybe another round might be a great thing, but even more than that, I'm having a good time, and I like you. You, as a person, as a woman, as someone I would like to get to know even if I didn't have a kid with you. So, yeah, maybe I was thinking about kissing you a little bit. Especially since you just brought it up, thanks ever so much for that."
"Are you serious?"
Draco opened his eyes to see bewilderment in Hermione's face, not the shock or disgust he'd half-expected would be there once he'd admitted that he did want to kiss her. "Yeah," he muttered, looking down. "I'm serious. I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't serious."
"You want to kiss me? Not afraid that you'll get tainted with Muggle germs?"
"For god's sake, Granger." Draco pressed his lips together and growled, then looked her full in the face. "Is that all you think of me? Still? Have I said one prejudiced word to you this entire year? Have I acted, even once, like I'm still that little bigoted arse that I was when we were in school? I grew up. I grew up and things changed, and maybe, just for one second, could you consider that I'm not an idiot boy anymore? I'm sorry for what I did back then, Hermione. I'm sorry for how I treated you. I'm sorry for all of it, but most of all I'm sorry that you can't believe that I'm not that fool any longer." He jerked his left sleeve up and shoved his fingers into her hair, putting the faded Mark in her line of sight. "You think maybe this might have taught me a lesson?"
She caught her lip between her teeth and stared up at him, her eyes wide and dark. Draco couldn't resist any longer. He tightened his fingers in her hair and pulled her closer, tipping her head up to his. He kissed her, and she stood frozen. He decided, after a few seconds, that he'd made a bad decision, and he started to pull away, an apology forming in his throat. "I'm sor--"
"Don't you dare, Draco Malfoy. Don't you dare turn away from me. Not when you finally gave me that apology. I was waiting for that." Hermione grabbed him and yanked him down again, smashed her lips to his and kissed him.
It wasn't against her front door, and it didn't follow a long, romantic dance, but there, under the sparkling stars, with his fingers locked in her hair and her fingers digging into the back of his neck, it was a frantic, glorious kiss. Draco growled and dug his teeth into her lip, scraping across it as he lifted his head. "Are you sure?"
"No. But I want this tonight."
"Leo," she murmured, shaking her head.
Draco swore silently and tugged her closer, his hands falling to her arse. "Yours, then. Chuck Pansy out, check on the kid, and then toss a Silencing charm up. Sound like a plan?"
Hermione laughed and wriggled her hips to rub against his groin. "Now."
There was no way that what they did was going to be called 'making love'. It was going to be sex, pure and simple. Hard, needy sex. Draco couldn't decide if he should strip first or if he should undress her, but Hermione answered the question for him. She yanked him into the bedroom and ripped his belt off, then flung it across the room. She jerked his shirt out of his waistband and practically shredded the buttons to get it open. Draco sucked in a breath as her hands spread across his chest, her palms flattened over his nipples. He'd never expected they would be that sensitive, had never really noticed any sensitivity in any of his sexual encounters before, and Pansy had certainly done her best to ensure that every part of him had been explored with fingers and tongue. Hermione's touch was different, and he had to stifle a yelp when she scratched her nails across the small, stiffened nubs.
Hermione growled, sounding quite a bit like the lion that had been her house's mascot, and she wrapped both hands around Draco's ribs as she stepped closer. She tipped her head and licked one nipple, and Draco gave up on the very concept of holding back noise. He groaned, deep in his throat and full of need, and felt his skin heat as Hermione laughed in the most wicked fashion he'd ever heard any woman laugh. She licked him again, the point of her tongue circling his nipple, then she breathed across his skin. The cool air made his nipple stiffen even more, and he felt his body tighten, felt his cock harden. Hermione pushed his shirt off his shoulders, her nails scratching down his biceps and forearms. He jerked, unable to stop the reaction, when her fingers trailed across the faded remnants of the Dark Mark in his left arm, and he had to fight not to hide his arm behind his back.
She grabbed his wrist. "Don't," she said, looking up to him. "Don't hide it. Don't hide from me. I know your history, I know your past, and right now I don't care. I don't give a damn what you did. I was at your trial, Draco. I heard your testimony. I know why you did what you did, and right now, it doesn't matter." She lifted his arm to her mouth and licked his wrist, then mouthed kisses along his forearm, tracing the outline of the faded Mark. Her tongue followed the line of the snake, followed the curves of the skull, and she kissed away his past. Once she'd covered the entire Mark, she dropped his arm and went up on her toes. She kissed his chin, then his lower lip, and Draco bent his head to hers as she kissed his mouth.
Her arms went around his neck and she held him tight, her fingers threading through his hair and pulling the strands straight between his shoulders. Hermione grinned at him, then wrapped her fingers in the thick strands and made a fist, holding his head in a firm grasp. She tugged his head down and kissed him again, kissed him harder, until their lips were pressed together with such force that he was almost afraid he'd lose the feeling in his mouth completely.
He couldn't bring himself to care. If she kept kissing him like that, he'd be happy to kiss until his lips went numb. She fit against his mouth like she'd been made specifically to fit there, as if they'd been one mold connected at the lips, broken apart years ago. Draco slipped his arms around her and held her close to his chest, his hands sliding up her back. He wasn't sure which of them opened up first, and was positive that it didn't matter. Hermione's tongue slipped across his, deep into his mouth, warm and firm and slick, and Draco started forgetting how to breathe.
Before he could go completely light-headed, Hermione pulled back. She hooked her fingers in his waistband and tugged him to the bed. He felt her catch up against the end, and she sat on the edge of it. She unfastened his trousers, her fingers working at the buttons. As she worked, she brushed her fingers over his swelling erection, deliberately teasing him. She outlined the shaft, pushing the material of his trousers firmly over his cock. She pressed the palm of her hand along his length; her nails prodded at the ridge around the head.
"Granger, you keep doing that and I'm going to need a few minutes to recover before we can go any further." Draco raised a brow at her, grinning as she laughed.
"Just as long as it's only a few minutes."
"Well, ten maybe. Twenty at the maximum." Draco made a helpless gesture, then yelped when she leaned forward and kissed his cock through his trousers. "I'm, er. I'm not as young as I used to be."
"None of us are." Hermione leaned back and cupped her breasts, holding them up with a contemplative expression. "These sagged a bit, especially after Leo was born. Breast-feeding does a number on the body."
"Nothing I disagree with," Draco said. He gave her as much of a serious look-over as he could manage while his cock was throbbing for more of her touches, for more of her lips. "I think you look good."
"For my age," she said, her eyes narrowing.
"For yourself." Draco cupped her chin, lifting her head so that her eyes were better able to meet his. "Hermione, I think you look good. Better than good. I'd go so far as to say fantastic."
She chewed on her lip, then appeared to decide she'd believe him. She nodded and stood, turning her back to Draco as she lifted the mass of her hair off her shoulders. "Unzip me, then?"
"God, thought you'd never ask." Draco slid the zip down her back, his fingers trailing along her spine as each inch of skin became exposed. He leaned down to kiss the knob of her spine, and let his lips travel across her shoulders as he pushed the dress off. His hands slid over her collarbones and down to cradle her breasts in the lacy cups of her strapless bra. He glanced at the band across her back, but it was a solid line, and he smiled. Slowly, he reached between her breasts to flick the clasp open. The bra fell to the floor, and Draco tugged Hermione back to lean against his chest. He rubbed his palms across her breasts, feeling her nipples stiffen in his hands.
She tipped her head onto his shoulder and brought her hands up to cover his. "Like this," she murmured, edging his fingers aside. Draco looked down over her shoulder as she showed him, with light pinches and tugs, just what she liked best when it came to her nipples. He copied the movements, his breaths starting to become soft little pants as she purred and wriggled in his arms, her arse rubbing against his trousers, against his stiff cock.
They made a simultaneous decision to separate, and they both stripped at top speed. When they turned to face each other, they both froze, then broke up laughing. Each had turned with one hand pressed to ribs, hiding a scar behind their palms. Draco shook his head and moved his hand, exposing his. "Potter," he said, brow raised.
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, then moved her hand. "Dolohov."
He twisted his arm and showed the faded mark in his skin. "Dark Lord."
After a heartbeat, she stepped forward and drew his head down. She nuzzled into his throat, kissed his neck, then sank her teeth into his shoulder and dragged her nails down his back. Draco hissed, swore, and writhed, and Hermione stepped back with a look of determined pleasure. She trailed one finger over the reddened impression of her teeth, and she smiled. She seemed pleased with herself for leaving a mark in his skin. "Mine," she said, her voice in a purr.
Draco stroked his cock as he stretched out across the bed at Hermione's imperious gesture, and she crawled up from the foot of the bed to straddle his hips. "You Gryffindors always this impatient?" he asked with a laugh, his hand sliding up her thigh to toy at the trimmed curls covering her mound.
"We are when we want something enough," she said, and slipped her hand down to join his. Draco's eyes widened as she guided his fingers into her folds. "Like this," she said again, rubbing her clit in slow circles. Once Draco had found the rhythm that appeared to satisfy her most, judging by the way her back arched and she gave a long, low moan, she dragged her hands up her body to tug her nipples into peaks. Draco's cock throbbed with anticipation, but he forced himself to keep in control, to wait and wait until Hermione shuddered.
"Going to come," she grumbled, her head tipped back and her eyes closed. "In me, Draco. Need you in me. Now."
He groaned and gripped his cock tight. She raised up and lowered, surrounding his shaft with wet, slick heat. She sank onto him, took him in fully, and dropped her hand to her clit. She rubbed fast, rubbed hard, and came, slamming her hips down hard. Draco almost lost all sense of his humanity as her cunt pulsed and gripped around him. Until she stopped coming, he couldn't move, could hardly breathe, couldn't do anything but watch one of the most beautiful sights he'd ever been privileged to witness.
"Gotta move," he grunted, sliding both hands up her ribs to tweak her nipples when her body finally slumped. "Hermione, I gotta move. On your back, woman."
She lay on his chest and they rolled together. They weren't familiar, practiced lovers, and couldn't manage the maneuver without separating. Draco growled in dissatisfaction and knelt up between Hermione's thighs. He grabbed her behind the knees and hauled her close, then pushed into her again. He swore deep and violently when he'd filled her, and fell to his hands over her. Hermione wrapped her legs around his thighs as he stretched out for leverage.
He thrust hard, fast, making her breasts sway with every movement. One of her hands shot up over her head to press against the wall, keeping him from shoving her into it. Her other hand slid down his back and onto his arse, where she dug her nails into one cheek. "Harder," she demanded. "Hard as you can."
Draco's laugh was dark and triumphant, even more so when he widened his arms for better balance and it changed his angle enough that she could slip her hand between their bodies. He felt her fingers brushing against the shaft of his cock as he thrust, then she twisted them and gasped as she rubbed her clit in a rhythm that matched his.
It seemed like only seconds before her back arched and she came again, shrieking, her throat distended and her breasts heaving. Draco groaned as her body gripped him, and he slowed for a moment, just long enough to hold himself back while she finished. She collapsed, sweat beading her forehead and chest, and he smiled down at her. Remembering the last time they'd done this - the first and only time - he bent his elbows to kiss her, and he whispered. "Close."
She opened her eyes and reached up to cup his cheeks. "Please."
Draco dropped to his forearms, wriggled his hands under her shoulders, and gripped her tight as he gave the few, final thrusts that would push him over the edge of his own orgasm. It felt as if his skin were on fire, as if his brain were melting, and he groaned her name in a broken voice. The force of it made him dizzy, and when his muscles untensed, he fell atop her, his head pillowed on her shoulder as his cock slowly softened inside her. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Can't move. Sausted."
"Little exhausted myself," she said quietly, running her fingers through the damp strands of his hair. "Rest, Draco. Rest up." She tipped her head, kissed her forehead, and he shut his eyes with a smile as he heard the promise in the next words. "Night's not over."
"Good morning, Draco!"
Draco groaned, and attempted to roll over, but the blanket covering him was held down by a weight at his side. He opened his eyes and blinked as Leo stared at him with a huge smile. "Oh, god," he muttered, fully awake in a heartbeat. Hermione was going to kill him. He'd meant to leave before the boy woke up, but they'd both fallen asleep after round three of some incredible sex, too exhausted to even try to move. "Um. Leo. Good morning. Where's your mother?"
"Shower. She doesn't know I'm up. Dahlia looks like her daddy."
Draco blinked at the apparently random statement, brows furrowing.
Leo sat cross-legged beside him with Digger perched on the mattress by his knee. "I asked Dahlia why she doesn't look like her mummy, and she said she looks like her father. Then she said I don't look like my mummy, so I must look like my father. Then she said that I look like you, and Miss Parkinson choked on her tea and made us go to bed, so I think she didn't want us to talk about it any more." He peered at Draco, his little face serious. "I want to talk about it."
Draco's heart sank. All their efforts to avoid this discussion, to put it off until Hermione felt ready to tell Leo the truth, wasted. "Leo, that's ... that's not something I can decide. You have to ask your mother if that's something you can talk about."
"Mummy won't tell me the truth." Behind Leo, Hermione appeared at the door, wrapped in a thick dressing gown with her hair twisted up in a towel. Draco held his breath as he saw her flinch. Leo didn't move. He kept his eyes on Draco's. "I want to be told the truth, Draco."
"Leo...." Draco took the boy's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Leo, I'm sorry. It's not my place to say."
"Not your place," Leo said, jerking his hand away from Draco. "Not your place, not Uncle Harry's place, not Miss Parkinson's place. It's no one's place to say. Everybody knows and nobody will tell me the truth. I want to be told the truth, Draco." He stared at Draco and tears started to fill his eyes. "Everybody knows, everybody! It's a secret that's not a secret, and everybody knows so it's stupid to keep the secret, but no one will just tell me." His hands curled into fists and he slammed them onto his knees. "I'm not a baby! I'm seven, and I can see the truth. I just want to be told! Everybody says I must look like my father," he cried, his voice breaking. "I look just like you. Tell me you're my father, Draco. Tell me!"
Draco closed his eyes, unable to meet the anguish in Leo's gaze while his heart shattered. He couldn't say yes without breaking his promise to Hermione. He couldn't say no without lying to the child, to his son.
The weight of the mattress changed, and Draco opened his eyes to see Hermione sitting behind Leo, her arms wrapped around him. "I'm sorry," she murmured to Leo, resting her chin on top of his head. "It's a bit rubbish to keep a secret if everyone knows, you're right. I'm sorry, Leo. I'm so sorry, little lion. Draco is-- He's--" Her voice cracked and she burrowed her head against his shoulder.
Draco sat up and tucked the sheets around his hips. He took Leo's hand again, turning their palms over to display the white birthmark they both had. "I'm your father," he said quietly, meeting Leo's grey, tear-filled eyes. "I'm your father. You're my son. That's the truth. I didn't know about you before, and I regret missing out on all of it, but I found out, and I wanted to be part of your life. So now I know, and now I am. And now you know. And now you're going to be my son all the time, and I'll be your father."
Leo tore out of Hermione's arms and flung himself at Draco. He clung tight, his head tucked to his chest. Draco held him close and spoke softly. "You're my son, Leo. I'm your father. I'm your--"
"Daddy." Leo lifted his head and beamed through his tears. "You're my Daddy. Now I've got a family. Mummy and Daddy, and Digger."
Draco chuckled and looked at Hermione. She twisted her hands together, watching the two of them. Draco held his hand out to her, and she took it with a quivery smile. "That's right," Draco said, smiling back. "Now we're a family."
"Brilliant." Leo snuggled into him. "Family. Now I have a question." He looked up at Draco's face and cocked his head. "Why are you in Mummy's bed?"
"Draco, c'mon! C'mon, we're going to miss the whistle!" Leo tugged Draco's hand, hauling him up the stairs of the Quidditch stands. He ran into the owners' box and claimed a seat at the front, his Magpies pennant waving overhead.
Draco joined him and nodded to Reginald Marner, the owner of the Tornados. "Evening, Reggie. Your Keeper back on form?"
"Top-notch. Going to block your boys, every ball." Reginald nodded at Leo. "Who's the sprog?"
Draco smiled, unaccountably thrilled to say this for the first time to someone other than a close friend. "That's Leo. My son."