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Fuck, Marry, or Kill

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“Ladies’ choice. Missionary, on top, or from behind. Which will it be?” Draco said as he watched his new wife angrily pace up and down the bedroom.

It was like playing the weirdest game of ‘fuck, marry, or kill’.

“None of them,” Hermione said, her nostrils flaring with rage.

Draco rolled onto his stomach. From where he lay on the bed, he had a perfect view to watch her arse jiggle as she marched. He smirked to himself and wondered if she’d be less eager to take out her frustration through pacing if she knew he was ogling her.

“I’m fine for trying anything kinkier later on.” He kicked his legs up and curled his toes. “But for our wedding night why don’t we stick to something simple.”

“Shut up, Malfoy. This isn’t a wedding night.”

“Yes, it is, light of my life. We were both there when the Ministry official pronounced us man and wife. Now we are on our honeymoon, staying in this delightful resort for the next week.” He could’ve sharpened knives on his sarcasm.

“This is utter bollocks. Complete bollocks.” She threw her bouquet of lily-of-the-valley onto the floor. Then stood on it.

Draco didn’t value his father’s advice much, but the older Malfoy had imparted the invaluable wisdom of agreeing with whatever one’s wife said if he wanted to have sex tonight. Draco meant to start this marriage with that philosophy.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “total bollocks.”

Hermione jerked to a halt and glared at him as if he was the root of all her problems. Which, at the current moment, he supposed he was.

“It’s all a joke to you, isn’t it?” she said, her voice shaking. “You think it’s all a big laugh that the Ministry has taken away hundreds of people’s freedoms with this inane marriage law. Paired people up with complete strangers,”— she gave Draco a dark look —“or worse.”

Her words hit him like a slap. “It could have been worse,” he said, sitting up. “It could have been Goyle. Instead, you got me. Wealthy, good-looking, and passably intelligent. So suck it up, Princess.”

Fuck his father’s advice.

Draco got up off the bed and stood in front of his wife. She only came up to his shoulder, but she stuck her chin out and glared at him. “I’ve been to Azkaban,” he said, suppressing a shudder,  “and I have no desire to go back there. If you wanted to martyr yourself on the altar of good intentions, then you should have done that before you said, ‘I do’. We’re stuck with each other now, and if you go down, so do I.”

“Azkaban or marriage; it’s hardly a fair choice.” 

“It is, however, still a choice.”

She looked like she wanted to stamp her foot. “I hate you.” He could see in her eyes that she regretted it the moment she said it, but it was too late. There was no point pretending that Hermione Malfoy, née Granger, would ever love him.

“At this precise moment, the feeling is more than mutual.”

Hermione bit her lip. “Why us?” she asked. “Why did they pair us?” She seemed to deflate before his eyes, and, for a second, he felt like a right bastard.

“Merlin knows,” he said, looking down and studying his hands. The wedding ring felt heavy, and it rubbed at the skin between his fingers. The question had been bothering him too, but the Ministry were being incredibly secretive about the whole process. “I have a theory they put all the names into a hat and picked at random. How else can you explain Blaise Zabini and Luna Lovegood?” He hesitantly reached out and touched the top of her arm. It was probably a completely inappropriate time to notice how soft her skin was.

“Well, we have exactly”— he glanced at the bedside clock —“fourteen minutes till midnight. We have to consummate this marriage before then, otherwise we’ll be arrested. So, unless you believe that sleeping with me is worse than spending an eternity with the Dementors, would you please pick a position?”

He watched the indecision play across her face. “Behind,” she finally said. “Then I can pretend it’s not you.”

Draco bit his lip, holding back the retort. “Wise decision.”

He stripped off his jacket and tie then stopped when he realised she wasn’t removing her clothes. “Please, don’t tell me you want me to undress you?”

“No. Don’t take off anymore.” She slipped a hand under her dress and tugged her underwear down her legs. “I can’t have what we're about to do imitate a real wedding night. Our marriage is for procreation.” She lifted her left hand, where her new wedding band glinted. “Nothing more.” The clinical tone in her voice made Draco feel sick.

“What are you trying to say, Granger?”

“Malfoy,” she said and gave a hollow laugh. “It’s Malfoy, now.”

Draco snorted. “You’re always going to be Granger to me.”

“What I’m trying to say, Malfoy,” and she shot him an acerbic smile, “is that we are going to do this consummation as quickly, and as efficiently, as possible.”

Draco frowned as he watched his wife walk to the end of the bed and bend over. “You can’t be serious?”

“I am.” Her voice was muffled by the duvet. “Will you get on with it? It’s almost eleven fifty.”

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know we don’t have much time, but I can perform wonders in less than five minutes.” He thought he heard her snort.

“Not interested.”

Draco walked towards her back and uttered a curse before driving his hand under the skirt of her dress and lifting it. He was right. His wife did have a great arse. Shame, as it seemed she’d never let him appreciate it.

He undid his belt, and the jingle of the buckle was the only sound in the room. He grasped his erection, pumping his fist along it in an attempt to get himself hard. It wasn’t too difficult. His wife may hate his guts, but she was an astonishingly beautiful woman, and he’d been imagining having sex with her for the best part of an hour. Ha. Who was he kidding? The best part of a decade.

Hermione held herself very still as he slid a hand down her arse and cupped her sex. She was warm and dewy. He glanced at the clock.

He slipped a finger between her folds, massaging her silky wetness, and searched for the little bud of her clit. Draco had enough faith in his abilities to believe he could get Hermione and himself off before the clock struck midnight. He pressed the pad of his finger to her clit and started rubbing in smooth firm circles.

“Malfoy, we’re not doing this for sexual gratification,” Hermione abruptly said. “I’m not interested in being another conquest.”

Draco’s hands stilled on his wife’s sex. She was un-fucking-believable. “You’re my wife.”

“Only technically.”

“For the love of Merlin.” Malfoy raised his eyes to the ceiling for a moment then, when it failed to provide any answers, took a deep breath. “Will you at least let me give you an orgasm?”

“I don’t want one.”

He blinked at her clothed back in astonishment. “Who doesn’t want an orgasm?” 

“This person doesn’t."

“Fine,” he snapped. He reached across her back and swiped a tube of lube out of the gift basket, which had been left on the bed. A gift from the Ministry, for the happy couple on their special day. There was squirty cream, chocolate icing, and a selection of flavoured lubricants. No condoms, however. The Ministry’s hint was all too clear.  

He squeezed some of the strawberry flavoured gel into the palm of his hand. Dipping two fingers into the gel, he slid his hand between Hermione’s legs again. He was applying sexual lubricant to his wife’s cunt, and it was the most un-arousing thing he’d ever experienced. This included the time he’d inadvertently walked in on Goyle playing hide the snake with Millicent Bulstrode during sixth year.

“How does that feel?” Draco said as he covered her opening with lube.

Hermione's back was impossibly rigid. “Cold,” she said, snapping the word like a twig.

Rolling his eyes, he smoothed the rest of the lubricant over his erection, then positioned himself at her entrance. “Are you sure about that orgasm?” He felt it was gentlemanly to offer one more time.

“I’ve never been so sure about anything in my entire life!”

“Just wonderful,” he said and pushed himself into her heat.

Draco couldn’t suppress a groan as he drove into Hermione. She was hot, and wet, and tight. Too tight. She was squeezing him like a vice. He stilled.

Her breath was ragged, and he felt her walls flutter as her muscles tried to accommodate his size.

Usually at this point, Draco would start talking, telling his partner (or partners) how beautiful they were, how good they felt, and how much he was looking forward to doing all manner of filthy things to them. Or describing all the things he’d already done to them. Or them to him. He had a very vivid imagination.

He felt Hermione might curse his balls off if he tried that. Instead, he opted for something safe and significantly less sensual. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” Her reply was more of a hiss than a word.

“This is ridiculous,” Draco said between gritted teeth, “I’m going to touch you.” He snaked a hand and brushed her clit.

“Don’t you dare. I don’t want any pleasure from you, Malfoy.”

Her words stung, and he wished they didn’t.

“Understood.” He placed a hand on either side of her hips. “I won’t move my hands from here.” He gently rolled his thumbs across her skin.

“Be certain that you don’t.”

Draco kept his thrust short and shallow. She was still tight, and firmly clenching his cock with every piston-like movement of his hips.

She felt good though. Hot and wet, and he had to keep biting his lip to stop himself from telling her how amazing she was.

He squeezed her hips, letting his thumbs rest in the hollow where her arse met her back. She adjusted her stance, raising her pelvis slightly. Draco responded in kind and bent his knees to angle his thrusts upwards. He started pump and fill her to the hilt. Hermione seemed to like it because she was panting now. Not uncomfortable breaths like she’d been winded, but little gasps that sent a shockwave of awareness straight to Draco’s balls.

It gave him an idea, which was an incredible feat considering that all his blood was concentrated in his dick and not his brain. He stepped forward, forcing Hermione to also move closer to the bed. His wife, in perhaps a subconscious move to get away from him, had positioned herself close to the corner of the expansive bed. Not breaking his strokes, he nudged her ankle with the corner of his shoe. She parted her legs a fraction. He did it again, caressing her ankle bone with the toe of his shoe. She opened wider, and he nudged her forward so that she straddled the corner of the bed like a gymnast would a pommel horse.  He thrust her pelvis down. Hopefully her sex would now be rubbing against the bedsheets. The Egyptian cotton sheets had a two thousand thread count and were as smooth as silk—which was vital as he liked to sleep unencumbered by clothes. Such satin-like sheets were less useful when providing friction for his unwilling wife’s cunt to be stimulated, as he was endeavoring to do now. Fortunately, the duvet cover was boarded with a decorative Morris-esque pattern of flowers and vines. In classic commercial fashion, this extra embroidery was made of significantly lower quality thread. On another occasion, he might have complained to the management, but Hermione was making little noises of pleasure, so he was willing to be generous.

Now that Hermione was panting and sighing, Draco couldn’t control his movements anymore. He was pounding into his wife’s lithe body with such force the headboard began to knock against the wall. Echoing thumps mimicked the slapping of their bodies. Her developing cries and the small undulations of her hips were spurring him on.

He was roughly fucking her now, his hands clutching her hips so hard he thought he might leave bruises. His balls were tightening, and he could feel that familiar dizziness in his head. Hermione was still gasping and almost writhing underneath him as the weight of his body rubbed her against the bed.

Draco wanted to feel her come. He wanted it more than anything. To feel the flutter of her walls as she spasmed around him, but he knew it was too late.

His hips jerked and, with a deep thrust, he came. He slumped forward and rested his forehead between Hermione’s shoulder blades. Darkness was encroaching on his vision, and he rapidly blinked to get rid of the black dots.

Hermione lay still beneath him. Her only movements were the rapid rise and fall of her body as she breathed. He let go of her hips and placed his hands on the bed either side of her, winching himself off her back. They both made a noise as he slid out of her swollen core.

He backed off a few paces, a little stunned from the intensity of his climax. He could officially tell the Ministry that his marriage had been consummated. Thoroughly consummated. However, he’d be happy to try again if they weren’t satisfied.

There was a rustle of clothing as Hermione stood up. She smoothed her dress back down, covering her backside once more. Draco ardently hoped that wasn’t the last time he was going to see it.

“And with only a minute to spare,” she said. Her voice was a little husky, but she didn’t sound breathless or shaky. “Cutting it a bit fine, weren’t you.”

Draco casually tucked himself away and buckled his belt. “I never like to fuck under time constraints.” He glanced at the clock and then at her. Her cheeks were stained pink, and her hair was a halo of riotous curls around her head. She looked like she’d been ravished. “I can do a lot in one minute,” he said, dropping his eyes to where her sex was hidden behind her dress. She would still be wet, and it would be easy to send her over the edge with a few clever twists of his fingers.

“That’s not necessary,” she said and climbed onto the bed.

Draco eagerly watched as Hermione crawled over the duvet. But then she lay down, with her feet where her head should be.

“Granger, this might be a stupid question, but what are you doing?”

“Something I saw on a Muggle documentary.” Hermione was lying on her back with her legs up in the air. She straightened them and rested her calves against the headboard. “It helps conception.”

Draco’s stomach dropped. “Of course, how could I forget. Sex between us is just for procreation and nothing more.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his tone. Like acid, feelings of anger and resentment welled inside of him. His lust died. “Well, I guess you won’t need me for the rest of the night.”

“No, I won’t,” she said simply. A book sailed past Draco’s head, and she held out her hand and caught it. She snapped it open. “Have a nice time, Malfoy.”

He cracked his jaw. “I’m going to find the bar.” Grabbing his jacket, he strode to the door. Even if she begged, he wouldn’t stay now.

“Goodnight,” Hermione said, dismissing him as if nothing had happened. “I won’t wait up.”

He slammed the door of their hotel room behind him. He waited, hoping to hear the patter of her feet as she came after him, but he knew he was deluding himself.

He stalked along the corridor. He wanted a drink. A big drink. He wanted to forget that his wife had just used him like a horse put out for stud.

Draco Malfoy had just had sex with Hermione Granger, and now he really needed to get drunk.

 

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy was on his honeymoon. He should be ecstatic. His wife was attractive, young, and they never stopped having sex. But that was the problem. All they did was have sex.

Well, almost all.

Granger had dragged him around some medieval fortification. Draco didn’t understand her fascination with the crumbling pile of bricks, or her emphatic assurance that this dusty old ruin had once been crucial to the religious-political powers of fifteenth century Spain.    

She had then insisted that they visit the Picasso Museum and had proceeded to bore him stiff with the distinction between analytical and synthetic cubism. From what he could tell, there was no difference; except that the women depicted in the bronze statue Fernande looked to be in a lot of pain.

Draco was distinctly Renaissance in his views on art. He liked paintings of nude women who had all their features intact and considered that the placement of a fat cherub in the corner of the canvas to be the height of artistic sophistication. He’d expressed this opinion while gazing at Bust of a Woman with Arms Crossed Behind her Head , and Granger seemed to have missed the irony in his voice.  

She’d somewhat left him alone after that and only summoned him when he was required for a tumble in the hypothetical sheets.

 

The first night, after that frankly awkward consummation, Draco stumbled back into their room sometime in the early hours of the morning. He found the bed, worked out which side his wife wasn’t on, and promptly passed out.

When he woke, Hermione was sitting beside him. She held a vial of hangover potion in one hand. The other hand held strawberry flavoured lube. He downed the potion and had been relieved when his headache stopped so that he was able to open his eyes without wanting to die. He took the lube from her, and she rolled on her side. He’d wrapped one arm around her sternum, and the other arm was trapped below her head.

He hadn’t lasted long. While the potion might have cured the hangover symptoms, he was still groggy and tired. He just wanted to fuck his wife, so he could go back to sleep.

She hadn’t spoken a word when he’d finished; she just gotten out of the bed and went into the bathroom.

Draco had heard the taps running, and he’d tried to stay awake. He wanted to talk to her, see her, get any reaction from her, but he fell unconscious before she unlocked the door.

When he woke up for the second time that day, she hadn’t been there. It was late afternoon, and Draco found her by the resort’s pool. She was basking on a sun lounger and wearing the smallest bikini he’d ever seen. It showed off her body in a way that made him want to simultaneously drag her off and ravage her, and blind every male in a ten-meter radius.

The next afternoon, she’d gone on all fours at the edge of the bed. He’d grabbed the lube, pulled up her sundress and pushed into her.

She’d done that weird position on the bed after, the soles of her feet flat to the ceiling. He’d checked out the cover of her book as she read it. It was called ‘How To Get Pregnant’, which was written in bright primary colours, and below the title there was a photograph of a smiling infant.

It was enough to make a man weep, it really was.

On the fourth morning of their honeymoon, he decided to try a different tack.

Granger was awake and already reading her book; the one with the sickeningly happy baby on the front. She glanced at him before reaching over and picking up the lube. She held it out. He didn’t take it. He just lay there, his eyes silently mocking, as if to say, ‘You want it? Then come get it’.

Hermione sighed, and, without warning, she pulled off her sleep shorts and straddled him backwards. He heard her take the cap off the lube before dropping the tube off the bed. She shuffled back until his erection was nestled between her cheeks, and then she sank down.

Draco had made an embarrassing noise as he watched Hermione reverse ride him, her arse jiggling every time she sank onto his cock.

He’d come after approximately thirty seconds. A record he hadn’t achieved since he was sixteen.

After that mortifying display, he’d not protested.

It became a routine.

Some mornings, Granger would bend over, and he would come. Some evenings, she’d grip the headboard while he knelt behind her. It was simple, uncomplicated sex, and he loathed it.

Hermione was in the pool. Draco watched her as her arms sliced through the water, propelling her from one end of the pool to the other. It was like that first night, when she’d paced the length of the hotel room, again and again, waiting and prolonging the point when she’d have to sleep with him.

He was pretending to read a book. One of her baby books. As they were in Spain, there were a limited number of English books, and he’d been forced to compromise. He was doing a lot of that this week.

In between staring at his wife, he’d actually learned a few things from the book. That sperm could last up to seven days in a woman’s body. That the egg had a limited amount of time to be fertilised. That having sex every day or every other day ups a couple’s chances of conceiving.

It was safe to say that the Hogwarts curriculum didn’t exactly extend to sex education. To be honest, he wasn’t sure which one of his professors would have been qualified to teach it. McGonagall looked like she was born to be a nun. The less thought about Dumbledore’s genitalia, the better. And Snape must have died an unrequited virgin.

All thoughts of Snape were banished from Draco’s mind as Hermione climbed out of the pool. Almost a week in the sun had turned her skin a golden brown, and freckles dotted her body like fairy dust. He carefully placed the open book over his crotch.

She picked up a towel and patted her arms dry. Draco could see the outline of her nipples through the clinging material of her swimsuit. It struck him that he’d been married for six days and had yet to see his wife’s breasts. They looked firm and pert. Granger was petite, so her breasts would be a handful. Her nipples looked small from what he could make out through her costume. If they matched her lips then they would be pink, probably with small areolas.

“Malfoy, can you stop staring at my breasts?”

“I was just wondering what they looked like,” he said frankly.

She didn’t reply, and she wrapped the towel around her shoulders. She sat down on the lounger beside him, and, reaching over, she plucked the book off his lap. He hissed as the pages fanned and brushed his erection. Hermione glanced down and then back up into his face.

“Shall we go upstairs?” she asked.

Draco was usually happy to hear those words. “No. I’m going to stay by the pool.” He was. He was firm in his resolve.

She stood up and tucked her book under her arm. Then she walked away. The high-rise style of her suit cut into the tanned expanse of her arse cheeks. Although he slightly hated himself, Draco got up and followed her.

She was only a little way ahead when he caught up with her.

“Granger,” he called.

She turned, an eyebrow cocked in question.

“Come here.”

She rolled her eyes but did as he requested. “Well?”

“The air conditioning unit is back around that corner. There’s nothing behind it. Just bare wall.”

“I fail to see how that matters?”

Draco leaned in so he could whisper into her ear. “You wanted to fuck, right?”

The air conditioning unit was large, and noisy, and jutted from the wall, blocking every pedestrians' view of where Draco had Hermione pressed up against the brick. Pinned between his erection and the stone.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place had never seemed more appropriate.

Draco’s left arm was leaning against the wall at Hermione’s eye-level while his right hand pushed aside the crotch of her suit. Her body was wet from the pool, and he reasoned that this was why her cunt was wet too.

From behind, Draco slid his hand around the front of her suit, and with thumb and forefinger he shoved the material aside. Coincidently, entirely by accident and not at all by design, the heel of his hand pressed on to Hermione’s clit.

He slid into his wife. Her heat and moisture welcomed him in.

Although they were outside, Draco kept his strokes slow. He adjusted his hand so that his palm rubbed her clit. Her breath hitched.

He propped his chin on the crook of her shoulder, and she rested her head on his forearm. He didn’t talk to her, or fill the silence with pretty words, but he did start making noises. With each pound of his hips, he’d groan or grunt into his wife’s ear.

When she clenched around his cock, he gave a low moan.

He started moving his wrist in circular motions. Precise, small circles, like an ever-narrowing ring. He deepened his thrusts, making her rise onto her toes to meet them. His knuckles were being scraped raw by the wall, but he didn’t care. Hermione’s inner muscles were fluttering, and she was joining in with her own groans.

He didn’t want to ruin it, but he wanted to tell her how she felt. Granted, it was a habit of his to talk while he fucked someone. But he truly felt the urge to explain to her how incredible this was. To tell her how she sheathed his cock in her silky channel, or what the plump press of her arse was like against his hip bone.

He bit his lip and concentrated on fucking Hermione to climax.

Draco kept his wrist bent and continued to rub her clit. It was slow but rewarding work, and he let himself come as Hermione’s orgasm peaked. She writhed and pressed her hips back as she shattered around him. The sensation was glorious, and the sound she made was sublime. A pitched keel that turned to a sob just at the end.

He stayed there, sunk in her, as their breathing settled. Then he pulled out, removed his hand, and righted her swimsuit.

She lowered her feet back to the ground. There was a sweat patch on his arm from where her forehead had been. He didn’t pass comment; instead, he picked up her towel and the book from the floor and handed them to her.

“See you tonight,” he said and walked away.

She didn’t follow him, and he didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved.

The next morning, he took her from the side again. Purely in the name of aiding conception.

She kicked off her shorts, and he’d settled behind her, spooning her without really touching. He grunted when he entered her, and he could tell she liked it because she spread her thighs further. His arm underneath her was firmly holding her thigh to keep her steady; his fingers digging into her flesh. His other hand slipped down to find her clit. She stilled when he openly touched her sex. She looked down, and he knew she must be watching his hand pressing her clit and his cock moving in and out of her. He kept up his pace, and she soon started to move her hips in time with his thrusts.

She didn’t come.

He played with her, brought her to the edge a couple of times, but hadn’t tipped her over it. She hadn’t asked, and he hadn’t given.

He stayed inside her after he came. He’d read that the longer he remained in her after sex, the higher her chances of conceiving were. He also really liked to feel her cunt massage the head of his cock, which was sensitive after his ejaculation. However, he thought she might prefer the first reason to the second.

She did eventually get up, and he watched her arse wiggle as she walked towards the bathroom.

He thought she might have touched herself in the shower. When she came back into the room, a small smile was playing around her lips. She perched on the bed, sitting on the place he’d fucked her in only fifteen minutes ago as she silently combed and dried her hair.


 

“Why is it so urgent that you become pregnant?” he asked.

They were eating breakfast in their room. They’d ordered room service their entire stay which didn’t seem an unusual thing to do as they were newlyweds. Although Draco didn’t think many newly married men woke up to find their wives looming over them with a grim expression, holding an egg timer.

Hermione was upping their sessions to every day. He’d already had her against the headboard. He’d gotten her close to one orgasm, but she kept telling him to focus on his own sexual climax. The one that mattered, to use her own words.

He also had to stay in her for at least two minutes afterwards. Which is why she had procured the egg timer.

“Because the sooner I get pregnant, the sooner we can get divorced.” She buttered her toast and took a large bite.

Draco tried to not show his surprise. He drank some tea. “And how, dear one, have you come to that conclusion?”

“The Ministry enacted the marriage law for population reasons. Two wars have caused a dent in birth rates. Unless there is a baby boom, we are going to start noticing this lack of population growth in the next ten years.” She sounded as if she’d swallowed a textbook.

“Pairing all the randy Wizards and Witches in Britain together will certainly do that.” A lump was forming in his throat. He thickly swallowed his tea.   

“It’s a logical plan, until you consider that we’re humans and not animals.” Draco didn’t mention that fact that she’d been treating him like a prize stallion all week. “Most couples might manage a couple of years of marriage before they seek a separation.” She waved her toast in the air like it was a pointer she was using to elucidate her argument.

“Surely a separation which the Ministry will not allow.”

“Perhaps not straight away. But if a couple has already had a child, then the entire purpose of the marriage is fulfilled, and there can be no reason to not grant the divorce.”

“Ah, I now understand your cunning plan. You’re intending to get ahead of the game and already have our brat in short trousers by the time everyone else is petitioning their divorces.”

“Exactly.” She sounded far too smug. Draco was sure he could change that.

“And this is why you have me mounting you like a broody mare every few hours,” he commented, with chafing dryness.

“Quite.” She had the courtesy to blush. “Also, you mustn’t masturbate before I conceive.”

Draco inhaled part of his tea. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t had a chance to have a wank. Every time I get the hint of a boner, you’re on me like a moth to a flame.” He grinned unpleasantly. “It’s doing wonders for my ego.”

She gave an uppity sniff. “Only until I’m pregnant. You can…wank all you want after that.”

“And why is that? Because you’ll be done with my services?”

“Once I’m pregnant, we never have to sleep together again.”

He barked a laugh. “You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? But, no. You don’t get to ride me like the latest racing broom and then discard me at the end of the season. You and I, Granger, are going to come to an arrangement.”

“What will happen if we don’t?” she asked and tilted her head in the way which made him want to scream at her gall.

“Because if we don’t, I’ll abstain from all sexual contact with you.”

He prayed to Hades that she wouldn’t call his bluff. Although, if she didn’t, it would mean she really wanted this divorce more than anything else in the world. Even her pride.

“What are your terms?”

“Only two terms,” he said. “We have sex regularly, even after you become pregnant. And you come. I don’t care how. Your fingers, my fingers, my mouth, my cock, your vibrator. But you’re not going to deny yourself orgasms. It’s not in my nature to be a selfish lover and I’ve reached my limit this damned week.”

She bit her lip, her white teeth burying into the plump centre. “Alright,” she sighed. Only his wife would sound depressed at the prospect of regular sex and multiple orgasms.

“Good.” Draco loudly pushed his chair back and stood up. “I’m going out.”

She nodded, but absently. It was as if she was concentrating on something far away from this hotel room and their marriage.

Draco went for a jog along the beach. The sand dunes were difficult to run on, and his feet made an unfamiliar squeaking sound as they rhythmically hit the seashore.

He hoped there was a Muggle park or track he could run on when he moved to London. Granger had a house in somewhere called Guilford. He hadn’t seen it, but he’d sent his luggage around on the morning of their wedding. With Granger blowing hot and cold with him like that air conditioning unit, he was going to need some activity which left him unable to over-think. In this instance, sex didn’t count as an activity. Sex with Granger was closer to a parliamentary debate.

It had been another stipulation of the Ministry’s marriage law that the couples had to live together. Apparently to encourage intermarital relations, whatever that meant.

Hermione outright refused to live at the Manor, and he hadn’t pressed the subject. It was a reasonable point to concede. Not that he didn’t seem to be making many unreasonable concessions anyway.  

His marriage appeared to be nothing but compromise.

He’d started running not long after he’d been acquitted and freed from Azkaban.

The first run started as an accident. He’d been walking in the grounds of the Manor and surveying the damage done to the estate under Voldemort's reign and, subsequently, by the Ministry’s tireless raids. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The lawns looked like they’d been ploughed. Great clods of earth had been hacked from the turf, and the grass was streaked with mud and blood. It had dyed the dirt a royal purple. The flower beds were ravaged, and the petals from rare and beautiful flowers were crushed into the soil. Where spells had hit them, the manicured hedges were black and maimed; their stems cauterized and branded with magic.

Draco had paused and stared at his mother’s summerhouse. Panes of glass were broken or missing altogether, and the walls had been besmeared with blood and slurs. He’d pressed a finger to traitor and felt the bubbled paint under the scorched words.    

He’d remembered how it had been, and how, on long summer days he and his mother would hide from sun and seek sanctuary in its cool embrace. They would stay there, concealed together, until the shadows had grown and crept up the walls and the sun had been swallowed by the horizon.

He’d tried to wipe them away. The words. He’d balled his robes and rubbed at them. They wouldn’t come off, and they’d seemed to grow in size and darken in colour until they were all he could see. He’d felt blinded by them, and then it was like some great pressure behind his eyes had broken free, and he’d felt the dampness on his face.

He recalled turning away and stumbling towards the common. The trees were the same; their bark felt the same under his palms. He’d staggered from trunk to trunk, slapping his hands to the wood and enjoying the bite of pain. He’d increased his pace and run until only his fingertips brushed the trunks. He had started to sprint flat out, so that the vision in the corners of his eyes became blurred and warped. Brown and green merged into one steady stream until he burst out of the woods and into the farmland and downs beyond.

He’d tasted dust and smelled the sharp tang of manure. In the sun, the corn stood like erect spears: golden and glinting, and seeming to go on till the ends of the earth. Draco had known this was impossible, of course. Beyond this valley, the county rolled over onto the Roman Fosse Way which bisected the Malfoy lands like a knife through butter.

He’d waded through the field, and watched, mesmerised, as he stirred the stalks into life. They’d shaken and sounded like the flick of a thousand pages being turned. A cacophony of noise which seemed to deafen in the windless landscape.

He’d collapsed somewhere in the middle of the field. Breathless and boneless and too exhausted to think or remember.

All he’d been able to do was lie there and bask in the sun. He’d only gotten up when a rather pissed-off farmer turned up with a gun. The farmer rented the land from the Malfoys, so Draco had managed to play the Young Maister act and smooth over the trespass charges.

At the farmer’s behest, Draco had retreated up the track he’d created. His feet had broken the corn, snapped the heads and threaded the stalks, and turned up the damp earth.

He’d started running every day and often followed that first random path through the trees, yet  he refrained from returning to the field. Corn may not be beautiful like flower petals, but it looked the same when stamped into the mud.

 

The seawind struck his cheeks, and he tasted salt and copper. His heart sped up, knocking in time to his footfalls, and sent a shock of endorphins surging through his system.

Running gave him a release that sex and flying could not. With sex and flying, there were so many distracting variables: wind speed, low flying birds, the naked woman next to him. He didn’t need to run to forget Azkaban anymore, but it was a very self-absorbing activity.

It was certainly a welcome diversion from the Hermione Granger shaped problem in his bed.  

Sex with Granger had been...unexpected.

He imagined he’d experience what other people did when they received a brown tax envelope by owl. Increases in heart rate, sweating, and a disturbance in the balance of his mind.

He hadn’t been joking with her when he’d said he was at his limit with their one-sided love making. He really could not understand her issue with orgasms. Or was her issue with him?

Of course, Granger had a problem with him on a fundamental level. To her, he was, and this was a direct quote, ‘all that was wrong with men, society, and the Tories’. He’d had to ask her what a Tory was, and he’d been answered with a scathing look.

He quite liked her sharp mind and wit when they were not being directed at him, which, admittedly, was most of the time. Although the thought of being an after-thought to her didn't sit well either.


 

Draco was determined to not prematurely ejaculate. Not this time.

Hermione was on top of him, and her dress stretched over her arse cheeks as she straddled his hips.

She had a birthmark shaped like a crescent moon on her right shoulder blade. It peeped out from under the strap of her dress, smiling at him. He felt an urge to touch it and trace the edge with the side of his finger nail. But he kept his hands, resolutely, on her waist.

Draco stiffened when she lowered herself onto him. He wasn’t sure if she’d already applied lubricant because she was wet. His erection slid in easily, and she barely needed time to readjust before she started to rock her hips.

He could feel her touching herself. Her fingers occasionally slipped of her dewy clit and brushed the base of his cock where they were joined.

Maybe she’d been aroused for a while because soon her inner muscles were undulating and her thighs trembling. When she came, he gripped her waist harder. He took over, pulling her up and down as he jerked his pelvis to his own release.

Hermione stilled as the last few shudders of pleasure shot through him. She didn’t move, and his cock pulsed inside of her. He heard her whisper something.

“What?” His voice was gruff and layered with sex.

“Thirty-four, thirty-five. Nothing,” she said, “I’m just counting. Thirty-six, thirty-seven…”

He understood why when she reached sixty and restarted the count. The egg timer was on the other side of the room.

 

The morning after, they returned to England which was as grey as Spain had been blue. Hermione had wasted no time when they arrived. She'd given him the briefest tour of her two-up-two down semi-detached house and then left for the Ministry. She would have a pile of paperwork a mile high, apparently.

“Come to my office at one o’clock,” she’d instructed. She took a handful of floo powder from the flower pot beside her fireplace. “I should be able to spare ten minutes.”

Before he could protest, she threw the powder into the fire and said, “The Ministry of Magic”. The fire engulfed her, and Draco was left with the imprint of her silhouette burned onto his retinas.


 

He wanted to say he’d been strong and resisted the urge to visit his wife at the appointed time, but he failed. He was knocking on the door of her office five minutes before the clock struck one.

She raised a finger as he entered, the universal sign of ‘Don’t talk, I’m working’. While he waited for her to finish writing, he locked the door, closed the window blinds, and cast a Muffliato charm.

“Busy day,” he commented as he undid his belt.

“Very,” she said. “I take a week off, and an international disaster happens. I have a fire meeting at half one with the French Ambassador. Apparently someone has been leaving Portkeys around Wizarding London that are magicking people onto the top of the Eiffel Tower.”

“Do they suspect Dark magic?” He slid his hand up her skirt and brushed her clit.

“No,” she said. She clutched the side of her desk. “Just a stupid prank. They’ve had to obliviate hundreds of Muggles already, and confiscate every camera in the vicinity. As you can imagine, there are a lot of cameras at the top of the Eiffel Tower.”

He grasped her hips and spanned his hands across her smooth skin. “A worrying matter indeed.”

“I’m going to ask Harry to spare a few Aurors to go and assist the French Ministry.”

“I’m sure they won’t mind a holiday in Paris.” He grunted as he entered her. The front of his legs slapped the back of her thighs.

“I was thinking the same thing.” Her knuckles were now white where she held the desk for support.

He started a steady pace, and his fingers remained on her clit. Lazy brushes which had her bucking underneath him. “Any leads on who could be manufacturing the Portkeys?”

“Not. Yet.” Her words were staccato and shot from between pants. “I haven’t had time to do research.” Her breath hitched as Draco deepened his thrusts. “Been up to my neck in correspondence.” He pulled her hips back, and she took more of him. “My secretary can’t speak French very well. Had to check his translation.” She gasped and came around him.

“Try Cobbs & Webb’s in Knockturn Alley.” He punctuated his words with deep thrusts. “If I recall correctly, they were skilled at turning everyday items into Portkeys.” He groaned with his own release. “Their speciality was door knobs.”

He watched the ticking clock as he waited the mandatory two minutes. Then he pulled out and, gallantly, fixed her skirt.

“Thank you for the tip,” she said. She walked over to the window and opened the blinds. The waxen winter sun filtered into the room. It dully lit her features and reflected off her curls.

He smiled at her phrasing. “You’re welcome.” He opened the door.

 

Chapter Text

“How’s married life?” Blaise Zabini said and picked up the cup containing his low fat soya latte with extra foam. He stuck his little finger out to the side in a gesture that never normally failed to get Draco’s back up.

Draco ignored Blaise and slowly stirred his own black coffee. “Granger wants a baby,” he flatly announced.

Blaise didn’t pass comment at Draco’s use of ‘Granger’ instead of his wife’s given name, but his eyebrows shot up at the word ‘baby’. “You must be a very happy man.”

“I’ve never felt so used.” He sighed and pushed his drink away. “She can’t stand me.”

“You always get morose when you’re waiting for a woman to fall in love with you.” Blaise chuckled, and his eyes lit up with malice. “And, if what Luna’s told me about your wife is correct, then you might be waiting a very long time.” He propped his elbow on his knee and watched Draco from underneath his lashes. “How many times have you had sex since you got married?”

“Nearly every day.”

“She can’t dislike you that much then.”

Draco sat up. “Do you know what Granger did?” he said indignantly.

“Do tell?” Blaise said. The smug bastard was looking more and more amused.

“She drew up a schedule.”

Blaise slapped his hand to his face. “The horror.”

“You don’t understand,” Draco widened his eyes, “she created a sex timetable, or, as I called it: the fuck schedule.”

Blaise frowned slightly. “You mean, you have timetabled sex? Like a school timetable?”

“Yes.”

Blaise’s tongue poked out the corner of his mouth. “She did always seem to be organised. I’m not surprised she likes to be bossy in bed too.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Does she play the professor, and you the naughty student?”

“She isn’t being kinky. It’s to optimise her chances of getting pregnant. I’m serious.” He pulled out a folded piece of parchment and unfolded it. He held it in front of Blaise’s face. “Look.”

“It’s colour-coded,” Blaise said, sounding shocked. He peered closer. “It’s labeled Hermione and Malfoy. You’ve been reduced to your surname on your own shag schedule?”

“Fuck schedule,” Draco corrected.

“You’ve sunk so low.” Blaise shook his head sadly.

Draco shoved the parchment back into his pocket. “She announced it on Monday, at breakfast.” He said ‘at breakfast’ as other people said ‘genocide’ or ‘political reform’. “She turned to me and said,” Draco pitched his voice in a falsetto, “Malfoy, you need to ejaculate during sex every day.” He coughed. “It was like she was talking about the weather, or what she was going to do that day, and not my dick.”

“Sounds like she was announcing what she was going to do that day.”

He shot Blaise a blithe look. “I was eating my breakfast, and then I was discussing bodily fluids with my wife. I lost my appetite. I couldn’t finish my egg.”

Blaise pulled a face. “I can quite understand. A man can hardly eat egg whites when he’s talking about his egg –”

“Zabini,” Draco snapped. “Not another word.”

Blaise looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh. Draco scowled and hoped he’d choke on it.

“When’s your next,” Blaise paused as if searching his vocabulary to find a word for what Draco and Hermione were doing, “appointment?”

“In ten minutes. We’re meeting at my office. She could only ‘fit me in’ around her lunch break.”

“Then why are you here drinking coffee with me when you could be pleasuring your wife?”

“Nope.” He fixed Blaise with a look of overwhelming despair. “Sex is just for procreation.”

“Who the fuck are you, and what have you done with my best friend?”

Draco pinned a smile to his lips. “Marriage. Marriage is what has been done to me.”

“Fuck.”

“Looking forward to your own wedding?” Some of the old swagger was back in his voice. Blaise would soon be joining him in matrimonial bliss. A misery shared is a misery halved. He held back a smirk.

Blaise pensively looked down into his coffee. “I’d be lying if I said I was ecstatic at marrying an almost perfect stranger on Saturday.” He nodded once to himself and then downed the rest of the complicated drink. “Luna’s weird, but in a good way. And the sex is great,” he said, the words a rush. “After the wedding, she wants to date. I know we’ll technically be married, but I’m rather intrigued about seducing my own wife. It seems very bourgeois.” Blaise eased his way out of his chair and adjusted his suit jacket. “We should go on a double date.”

Apparently everybody else was having sex for the sake of sex and not for some procreative mission to save humanity.

“Double date? I can’t believe those words came out of your mouth.” Draco’s pinned smile slipped into a smirk.

“Not as disbelieved as I am that you’re only having sex for procreation.” Blaise shivered. “What a horrible concept.”

Things had not been going well since Hermione’s period started. Not that the bouts of unemotional sex they’d been engaging in could have been classified as a ‘successful’ marriage.

The week after they returned from their honeymoon, Draco had been about to floo from his office to Hermione’s for their afternoon ‘appointment’ when an owl arrived. Her note was simple, and she informed him that she’d started menstruating and there was no point in him coming over.

He hadn’t.

Instead he’d sat at his desk and brooded. He watched the seconds tick by and ran through what they would have been doing in his mind. Skirt up, knees bend, thrust, thrust, thrust.

 

It was almost comical.

Without their breaks to fuck, he’d barely seen his wife. For a whole five days he was reminded of what life was like without her. He’d suddenly had more time. He had played quidditch with Zabini, Theodore Nott, and a few of the other remaining Slytherins. He’d been surprised that they didn’t ask him what it was like shagging the Gryffindor Princess. Draco had a suspicion that Blaise was behind that.

He’d explored Stoke Park and run along the grasses and paths for hours at a time. He grew to hate pedestrians. And prams.

Once, he’d clipped the side of a buggy while maneuvering his way around a shoal of mothers and had received a tirade of fury from the women which rivalled Professor McGonagall’s shrillest scolds. He was normally good with women. Very good. But he’d been at a loss on how to charm what felt like fifty women who surrounded him and demanded tribute. He’d stammered an apology and then, in sheer desperation, had asked the make of the buggy. He’d said his wife was trying for a baby and that he was ignorant of these things. It had been like magic (and he was a wizard, he should know). They’d stopped yelling and had started pouring names at him like Mothercare, Kiddies-Kingdom, and Huggies. He’d barely gotten away with his life and the advice of what was the best brand of breast pump to buy.

He drank to pass the time. Which is what he’d been doing when Hermione came to him after six days.

He’d been lounging on her sofa – sorry, their sofa (what’s mine is yours and all that malarkey) – and nursing a glass of some rot he’d found in her cupboard. He’d decided that he really must introduce her to better spirits. Then he’d remembered, with sobering clarity, that she wouldn’t touch a drop until after she’d had the baby.

Baby. To his whisky-soaked brain it seemed an odd word. Like mollusk. Or candyfloss.

Until he’d met the mothers in the park, the concept that sex with Granger, and the subsequent pregnancy, would result in a baby had seemed fairly abstract and distant; a bit like Christmas in July. However, since then, the subject of the baby had been niggling at the back of his mind. It was like something he could see out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned to get a clear look it would be gone.

He swallowed more of that godawful whisky, and his mind began to spin pictures of some rosy-cheeked child – possibly the one on the front cover of Granger’s book – with blond curly hair and dimples. Brown eyes, he’d decided, like their mother. His regressive-gene grey eyes could die with him.

Hermione’s hand had reached out and taken the glass from him. She’d gripped it from the rim and, to him, her hand looked like a large pink spider.

“I’m not in the mood for games, Granger,” he’d said, although slurred would have been appropriate too. “I won’t be chastised by you for drinking.”

“I have no interest in what you do or don’t drink.” Her breath had tickled his neck. He’d shivered. She’d hovered over him and knelt over his splayed legs.

Draco had heard the unmistakable sound of his zip being undone.

He had been about to snap some witty remark at her when her hand had closed over his semi- interested cock, and his brain went blank. She’d pumped him. Her hand was small, but her grip was tight.

It was the first time she’d touched his cock outside of actual sexual intercourse.

He’d closed his eyes and rested his head back against the sofa cushions and enjoyed the feeling of his wife’s hands on him. The drink had muddled his brain, and he hadn’t noticed what she was doing until the tip of his cock touched her opening. His hips had automatically snapped upwards; his dick wanted to be settled in her warmth. He’d groaned, loudly, when he was sheathed inside of her, and her hips pitched back-and-forth like the momentum of a sprung a jack-in-the-box.

He’d had enough self-preservation to keep his hands respectfully on her waist. What a joke. He was inside this woman, and his hands were ‘respectful’. He should’ve been touching her all over; cupping her breasts, teasing her nipples, and palming her arse as she mounted him.

 

She hadn’t even been short of breath.

He’d squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see her face as she watched him come. Not like this. Not as she’d systematically rode him to release.

She hadn’t bothered to wait the two minutes. She’d just got off him and left the living room.

La petite mort .

Draco now understood why the French said it was to die a thousand little deaths.


 

“You’re late,” Hermione snapped at him the moment he walked into his office. She’d obviously been waiting for him.

“I know.” He wasn’t going to apologise for his spontaneous meet up with Zabini.

She stood in the middle of the room, and her hands gripped the handle of her bag like it was a lifeline. “I’m ovulating.”

“How fortunate for you.” He let his eyes linger on her and watched her uncomfortably stiffen under his scrutiny.

“That means -”

“I am aware of what it means, Granger.” He closed the door behind him and began to undo his tie. “However, I have surprise meeting with the board at three o’clock, so can we get on with this?”

She opened her mouth, and Draco was sure she was going to complain. “Strip off, Granger –” he showed his teeth, “–you may be ovulating, but you’ve only got thirty minutes to get me to orgasm before my meeting.”

Hermione fixed him with a filthy glare, but she started to unbutton. She was wearing a jumpsuit, and for them to have sex, she had to undress to just her bra. This was the most nude he’d seen her since she’d worn a bikini on their honeymoon over a month ago. She folded her arms across her chest, like a corpse, and covered the top half of her body.

“Don’t be shy.” He undid his cuff with a swift flick of his wrist. “We are married after all.”

His mocking tone seemed to rile her, because she stomped over and stood, expectantly, in front of him. Her chin was up, and her hackles were raised, and her eyes flashed like the trickle of amber whisky in a glass.

Draco was hit with an overwhelming desire to kiss her.

By the way her lips twisted and thinned, he doubted she was struck by the same fancy.

“And where shall we go today?” he asked, a sneer warping his own mouth. “The chair? The desk? The carpet?”

“You bastard.” He felt the hiss of her words on the newly exposed skin at the base of his throat.

“But at least choosing a position will be easy. From behind. So, you can pretend it’s not me inside of you.” His laugh sounded bitter. “Who is it that you imagine, Hermione? Which face do you picture instead? Brown hair, black even? No, I just bet it’s red.”

Her cheeks were flushed but with anger rather than desire. “Shut up.”

She pressed a hand to his chest, and her nails scraped the fine cloth of his shirt. She was breathing hard, and her shoulders rose and fell with each inhale. Her mouth was open, and her lips were ruddy. He could see a slight tremble in them.

He wanted to kiss her.

He leant in close to her so he could see the pitch black of her pupils swallow the brown. The image of the cherubic-cheeked child, with Hermione’s eyes, flashed into his brain. He approached, and her eyes narrowed. She looked at him as if he was an invading army. Draco felt something snap inside of him; something small and fragile which was cut by the loathing in her expression.

Hurt her.

“Does it eat you up inside,” his voice slithered like a snake in the undergrowth, “to know that your child will be Malfoy blond and not Weasley red?”

The crack of her slap echoed around the room. Like a bee sting, the pain radiated out from the point of contact until the right side of his face felt numb. His tongue lashed out, and he tasted copper.

He wiped the blood away with his thumb. “I guess I deserved that.”

“You did.” Her voice was ragged and split like the frayed edge of a cotton t-shirt.

“I apologise,” he said. He licked his lip and the cut smarted.

She stood on the balls of her feet, so her mouth was almost brushing his bruised cheek. “He’s twice the man you’ll ever be, Malfoy.”

Draco didn’t comment on the commonplace cliché of her statement.

“Perhaps that’s true.” He moved his head away from her and looked her squarely in the face. “But I can’t compete with a dead man.”


 

Smoke and mirrors. The phrase kept echoing around his head during breakfast with Hermione the next day.

He professionally rustled his paper. “There’s been a rise on the price of Goblin-made items,” he informed her. “Apparently it has something to do with the abundance of Leprechaun façades that have been inundating the market.”

“Fascinating,” she said. She sliced the top off her egg. The yolk spilled down the shell and pooled at the bottom of the egg cup, smearing the white porcelain. Potter had given that egg cup to them as a wedding gift. Not a set, just a single egg cup. Obviously, he’d had images of Hermione eating breakfast alone and bereft her husband's company. How wrong he’d been proved.

Draco picked up a jug decorated with a painted bluebell patten  – a gift from his mother – and poured a soupçon of milk into his teacup. The whole nine piece tea set had been yet another gift from Narcissa.

“Goblin manufacturers Nobbs and Nixs have announced that they’re taking commissions again.” He stirred the tea, and the silver spoon clinked against the side of the cup.

“Indeed.” There was a little crunch as she dipped half a piece of toast into the yolk.

“I was thinking what this table needs is a Goblin-made centerpiece.”

“I’d much prefer an ice bucket.” There was a much louder crunch as she bit into her toast.

“I’ll order one. We’ll need it extra large to accommodate all the ice.” Draco licked his fingers and turned the page. “How sad, it seems that one of the Weird Sisters is facing charges for improper use of magic and exposing himself to a Muggle woman. Oh – and they mean that literally.”

Hermione kept her eyes on her egg, but she shook her head. “What is this country coming to.”

Draco cleared his voice and read from the paper, “In the early hours of this morning, Mr Myron Wagtail was found in the fountain in Trafalgar Square wearing nothing but a Union Jack flag and a smile – that’s something at least.” He took a sip of tea. “Mr Wagtail, the front man for the globally successful band the Weird Sisters, proceeded to remove the flag and frolic in the fountain, all the while singing the band’s hit single ‘This Wand was Made for Waving’. Confirmed by eyewitnesses, Mr Wagtail continued in this manner for some time until a Muggle woman, on her way home from her Muggle job, stopped and asked him what he thought he was doing. At that point, Mr Wagtail showed her his wands.” Draco closed the paper. “I think we can both guess where that was heading. So, are we going to talk about this?”

The question seemed to catch her off guard. She looked up. Her toast was halfway to her mouth. “About what?”

“You and I,” he swiped his finger back and forth between them, “and our current pony ride around the subject. We are British, but there really is only so much our congenitally repressed natures can forgive.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” She added an extra ‘h’ to ‘what’.

“I’m all for lying back and thinking of England,” the corners of his mouth turned up, “but I’d much prefer to lie back and think of you.”

Her cheeks hollowed like she was sucking a large and sour lemon. “What sordid thoughts go on in your brain are your own business.”

“Well, I’m going to tell you what I’m thinking right now.” He lowered his tea cup without a sound. “I’m very tempted to clear this table and shag you on it.”

Two spots of colour appeared on her cheeks. “Your mother would be devastated if you broke her tea set.”

“Not if it was in the name of procreation.”  

“I’m visiting you this afternoon.”

His eyebrow quirked. “Are you?”

“Yes,” she said, and it was the first time her voice didn’t sound politely calm. “Just because I consider you to be a toff with the morals of a snake that doesn’t mean my immediate plans have changed.”

Draco folded the paper and dropped it onto the table. There was a fleshy, slapping sound as the paper made contact with the wood. “I’ll make you a deal. I won’t mention your past, and you won’t mention mine. Fair enough?”

 

She lay on her front. She was flat on his desk and pressed into the surface he’d worked on for the past seven years. He cupped a hand over her sex and felt her wetness. Her arousal glistened on his fingers as he gripped her hips and thrust into her.

“Fuck,” slipped from his broken lip.

His pumps were brutal, rough, and he chased his own pleasure. He drove her into the wood, and her body was slight and sweet under his generous assault.

She liked it.

She gave unsatisfied whimpers as her swollen core drenched his cock. She was milking him, soaking with desire, and Draco didn’t know when he’d ever felt anything so good.

His climax was spectacular, and it had been easy to wait for Hermione’s requisite two minutes to catch his breath before he pulled out and finger-fucked her to her own release.

He walked away from the desk and left his wife panting and shuddering on the wood. He picked up her discarded clothes and placed them next to her on the desktop.

“I’ll be late tonight,” he said. “I have a meeting which I suspect will run over. We can postpone this evening’s entertainments till the morning, or shall I wake you when I return?”

“Wake me,” she said. Her face still pressed into the desk.

It was only after he’d left that Draco realised that he’d shouted her name as he came.

 

Luna Lovegood and Blaise Zabini got married in a chapel which adjoined a prestigious Wizarding hotel by Loch Eil, in the Highlands of Scotland. The hotel fitted the groom’s sophisticated tastes and the bride’s peculiar ones. Luna insisted there were Will-o'-the-Wisps in the thick woodland around the hotel and chapel. Draco just thought the lights were the headlamps of Muggle cars as they drove along the road.

There were three things Draco liked about this wedding destination. The scotch and the Aberdeen angus steak were the first two. The last was the four-poster bed he and Granger were sharing. His head had filled with all manner of wicked and filthy ideas when he saw it.

Due to the wedding, the reception, and then the evening banquet, Hermione had been forced to break from her strict shag routine. While the ceremony was going on, he had offered to take her over the toilet cistern in the chapel’s tiny loo, but he didn’t think she appreciated his offer.

Instead, they’d slipped away after the speeches. Draco’s best man speech had been met with applause and a certain amount of loud jeering from the Slytherin table. Blaise was the third of their crew to tie the knot. Theo was next; getting hitched to the old Ravenclaw Seeker, Cho Chang.

“Be careful with the dress,” Hermione snapped at him. His hand was under the layers of skirt where he was trying to find her cunt between the tulle layers.

“Only Lovegood would choose such a frou-frou bridesmaid dress.” He missed again and grabbed another tulle handful. He was hard, and his erection was uncomfortably rubbing against the tartan. He wanted her kneeling on the bed and clinging onto one of those pillars as he took her. “Just take it off.”

“No. I’m not wearing a bra. I couldn’t wear one, not with the backless cut of the dress.”

Draco stifled a curse. “Take it off. I won’t touch you.”

“But –”

“Merlin, give me strength… Granger, I’m horny. I don’t want to grab your tits.” Lie. “I just want to shag you.” Also, a lie. He started flicking the row of pearlized buttons that held the dress together.

She helped him get the mess of a dress over her head, and he even acquiesced to her wishes and hung it up in the wardrobe before he rejoined her on the bed. He only momentarily looked at his wife’s breasts. Her nipples were pink; just like her lips.

He briefly thanked Blaise for the man’s ridiculous notion to have all the groomsmen wear kilts. He lifted his kilt, something he never thought he would do, and positioned the head of his erection at her entrance.

She sighed with him as he plunged into her.

Pausing, he grabbed her hands and arranged them on the post. Then he seized her hips, pulling them flush with his, and fucked her. Fucking was the only way he could describe what he did to her. It was short, violent, and to the point.

Rather than him pushing into her, he concentrated on moving her back against him. The ancient bed trembled less, and he was gratified by the short gasps she gave each time his cock slid into her.

She’d come, which was great. What was better was that she’d moaned when she did. That low noise spurred him on, and he’d picked up his pace, dragging her climax out another few seconds.

Blaise had sent him a knowing wink when they’d slipped back into the reception an hour later. Draco thought it might have been Hermione’s hair that gave them away.


 

Draco stormed down the corridors of the Ministry and towards Hermione’s office door.

She had to stop summoning him whenever she wanted him. He might be able to resist her tersely worded notes, but his dick couldn’t.

He walked into her office without knocking. “You have to stop ordering me here when you want. We have a fuck schedule, you’re the one who arranged it –” Draco’s rant broke off when he noticed Hermione wasn’t alone. “Potter?”

“Good morning, Malfoy.” Harry didn’t look too impressed with his entrance or with the knowledge that his precious best friend had a ‘fuck schedule’.

Draco stopped dead. “What a horrible surprise. Hermione,” he turned to his wife, who was as white as the sheets they’d shagged on last night, “I believe you may have sent me an owl by mistake.”

“No, not a mistake,” she said, a little breathless and frantic. “A few weeks ago, do you remember me mentioning that someone was leaving active Portkeys around London which were transporting Wizards onto the Eiffel Tower?”

“Yes.” Draco also recalled her telling him about it as they had sex over that desk. The desk which Potter was leaning against so casually. Draco wondered if he could drop it into a conversation with Potter that he and Granger had shagged on every flat surface in this room. “I recommended you investigated Cobbs & Webb’s in Knockturn Alley. Why?”

“We struck gold,” Harry said leadenly. “They were creating the Portkeys.”

“Then you are both very welcome. Although a consultant's fee would not be out of the question.”

Harry scowled. “Always money with you, isn’t it?”

“However,” Hermione said, holding up a hand, “someone else has started the same trick. Only they’re sending people to the top of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin.”

Draco raised an eyebrow but made no other remark.

“It’s almost an identical method. The Portkeys are objects like doorknobs or a letter opener.” Harry crossed his ankles and frowned at the end of his shoes. “The only difference is that on one of the wizards apprehended by the German Ministry there was an artefact. A Dark object. I don’t know all the details yet, but the next two people who were transported didn’t have anything on them. We believe that whoever is making these Portkeys is running a smuggling ring and muddying the waters by placing decoy Portkeys.”

“We were hoping that you might be aware of any black-market traders in Britain?” Hermione placed her hand on Draco’s arm.

He tensed under her touch. Outside of intercourse, she tried to not touch him or encourage him to touch her. When she made physical contact with him during sex, he could see there was a rationale behind her actions. She needed him hard, so she held him. She needed him to enter her, so she positioned him.

This touch was soft and tentative, however. It was as if she thought he was some starved dog that would bite if she moved too quickly.

She looked more like the animal. Her teeth were whittling away at her lower lip and the epidermis was fraying under the pressure. She’d already bitten her nails to the quick.

He made himself relax.

“In Knockturn Alley, there’s Noggin and Bonce.” He consciously rested his hand over hers. “They used to run illegal trading out the back. Don’t be put off by the shrunken heads, they’re just for show. Mostly. Also, the Curiosity Shop often had items that looked benign but held great Dark magic. I’d have to do some research if you wanted other traders in Britain or abroad.”

Since he took over the family business, he’d been slowly lancing the more illegal aspects of Malfoy Traders, which had grown like rot under his father’s rather lax and sporadic rule. The company was legitimate now, yet Draco still had enough black market contacts to be useful to Granger.

“Would you–” she paused “–would you try and find out more?” She looked up at him; her eyes bright and interested. It was disquieting to be on the receiving end of anything but Hermione’s scathing expressions.

The promise fell off his lips before he could stop it. “I will.”

She smiled at him, and warmth touched her eyes, turning them to molten caramel. He wanted to run his thumb along the lines of her smile and memorise them before they disappeared.

There was a sound of the door being opened. “Good. Pack your bags, Hermione. We shouldn’t be more than three days.”

Draco tore his eyes away from Hermione’s face and glared at Potter. “Pardon?”

“Hermione’s coming with me to Berlin.” Harry stopped on his way out. “Need someone from International Cooperation to be the diplomatic voice above the crowd.” His tone was gruff as if he resented having to explain himself. “Can you be ready in an hour?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I’ll meet you at the Portkey office.”

The door clicked shut.

“Three days?” Draco said, masking his disappointment with a drawl. “Whatever will happen to our timetabled sessions?”

She averted her eyes. “We’ll have to put them on hold. Three days is a long time.”

“How long will it actually take you to pack?”

Her lips moved as she considered it. “Forty minutes.”

“That gives us twenty.” Draco slung his jacket over the back of a chair. He rolled up his cuffs. “Lock the door.” She looked undecided and was nibbling her lower lip like a rabbit. “Lock the door, Granger. I want to make you come.”

He’d stripped her of her trousers and pushed her back against the flat of her desk. She’d protested when he’d shoved her neatly ordered files onto the floor, but she’d stopped talking when both his hands started stroking her cunt.

He rubbed deep circles over her clit and soothed and petted her folds. With her legs open, he could smell her arousal; a musky damp scent that made him grow hard. Not that he wasn’t constantly hard for her anyway.

He slicked a finger inside her and curled it so he could brush her ‘g-spot’.

Her teeth still cut into her lip, but now she was doing it to stop from crying out.

“Open wide,” he said. “I want to hear you.” When she didn’t do what he asked, he started to massage her with the pad of his finger. “Let me hear you.”

She opened her mouth but only let out a breathy gasp.

He added another finger.

“I know you can do better than that,” he said, speaking slowly. “I recall the moans from this morning. You made a delightful noise when you came.” He started pumping at an unhurried pace. A frustrating pace. “I want you to make that sound again but coming around my fingers instead. Can you do that? Can you clench – oh, you can.”

He upped the speed of his thrusts as a reward.

“Good girl,” he said. He knew in any other situation, Hermione would hate the patronising tone of his voice. Her moisture flooded his hand. “You're close. I can feel you're close. You’re fluttering around my fingers. Ah, I can’t tell you how good it feels when you do that around my cock.” At the word ‘cock’, Hermione groaned.

“If you come, I’ll fuck you on this desk. I will. I’ll slip between your thighs, and you’ll wrap your legs around my waist.” Draco didn’t get to finish describing what he would do next because she shuddered and came under his touch, gasping and moaning.

Her eyes were lidded, and she was looked up at him in a daze.

“Thank the gods,” he said. He quickly undid his belt and slid into her. Her channel was still spasming from her orgasm, and he felt no qualms about bringing her to a second shallower climax with his cock. It gave her something to think about for the next three days.

The fact that he also got to come deep inside her was a bonus as well.


 

Draco was getting along fine without Hermione.

He told Blaise so.

“I’m fine.” Draco lifted the frying pan off the heat for Blaise’s inspection. “Rare or Medium-Rare?”
Blaise gave him an offended look. “Rare. I’m not a heathen.”

“Why are you here bothering me and not bothering your wife?”

“Because Luna,” Blaise pointedly over-pronounced Luna’s name, “reminded me that it was my solemn duty as your only friend –”

Draco glared at him. “You are not my friend.”

“See, Malfoy,” Blaise waved his hand in Draco’s general direction, “this arrogant attitude is why people don’t like you.”

“Pot, kettle,” he said, employing a phrase Granger liked to use on him.

Blaise ignored him, or perhaps he just wasn’t educated enough to understand the nuances of Muggle phraseology. “Anyway, she told me that as your only friend I must comfort you in times of distress. Such as your wife leaving you to galavant around Europe with Potter.”

Draco brandished the kitchen tongs at him. “Correction. They are working, not galavanting. And people do like me.”

Blaise snorted and muttered something which sounded a lot like prat.

“Do you want this twenty-eight day matured Argentinian imported steak, or not?” Draco placed the steak on a plate and waved it tantalisingly under Blaise’s nose.

“Give me that.”  Blaise held out his hand. “Your wife doesn’t like you.”

“I grant you, my wife is an exception to this rule.”

“This is amazing.” Blaise moaned as he took a bite of the steak. “When did you learn to cook?”
Draco shrugged. “Granger has an abundance of cook books. Which is incredible considering the woman lives on frozen macaroni and cheese.”

Blaise gave him a sly look. “Are you learning how to cook for her?”

“No. I’m learning to cook for myself so I don’t die from synthetic cheese exposure.”

“Liar. You’re trying to make Granger like you. No wait,” Blaise pointed his knife at Draco, “you’re trying to make her fall in love with you.”

“I would never be so conventional.”

“But you are. Learning to cook. And bringing home imported steaks.” He turned the knife to point it at the food. “I bet these were going to be for you and Granger before she threw you over for Potter.”

“Just eat your food and go away.” Draco stabbed at his steak.

The truth was that things had been awkward – or more awkward – between Granger and him since he’d nearly kissed her. And then covered up his injured pride by mentioning Weasley. And then angrily fucked her over a desk.

Their sex was still physical and hot; that had never changed. She’d started schooling her features, however. He watched her fashion a mask whenever she was around him. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it would build; her eyes would harden, the corners of her mouth would turn down as if they were being pinched, and there was a constant frown between her brows. She’d avoid meeting his eye. Or concentrate on his forehead or on a point just beyond his left ear. He’d found this so disconcerting that a few times he’d broken off their conversation to turn around and make sure there was nothing behind him.

She’d looked at him with such a hopeful and unadulterated expression when he’d promised to help her and Potter. It had been bracing and refreshing, and, like ice-cold lemonade in summer, he’d felt all the breath knocked out of him for a second.

“I know you. You do this.” Blaise said, and his eyes perceptively danced over Draco’s almost-stupid smile. “When you were trying to seduce that French wine merchant’s daughter, you went and bought the vineyard next to her family’s property.”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Draco's mouth widened to a grin.

That had been a good summer. If only he could remember her name.

“Sure, it worked. Until her father threatened to put you in the grape crusher.”

Maria, that was it.

There had been a lot of shouting in French, and Draco wasn’t certain the girl’s father had wanted to kill him or just slightly maim a part of his anatomy.

“The vineyard was a valuable, worthwhile investment,” Draco said, folding his arms. “Look, Zabini. Granger isn’t the type of woman to fall for a candlelit dinner.”

Hermione Granger didn’t do romance. Draco was aware of this, and this was why he’d spent the past two days researching and compiling information on every Dark trader in the United Kingdom. He still wasn’t done. He knew he’d have to make a trip to Camden Lock and call in a favour with Kelpie King. The things he was doing for her. The last time he’d seen King, the giant of a wizard had threatened to slice out his spleen over a misunderstanding with a shipping order. He was going to endanger himself, life and limb, and all because she’d batted her big brown eyes at him.

Draco stabbed at his steak. “I have the perfect relationship – sex and no talking. Why would I bother learning how to cook for her?”

Blaise gave a noncommittal shrug. “You make a valid point. Hand me a glass of that Pinot from your vineyard, which you absolutely didn’t buy for the purpose of seducing a woman.”

Draco loudly cracked his jaw but mutely poured Blaise a glass of wine. “I don’t need to seduce Granger, I’m already sleeping with her.” He sipped his own wine.

“True, true. But not because she wants you, she just wants your… what’s the Ministry correct term for spunk?”

Draco’s wine went down the wrong way, and he spluttered. “For fuck sake, Zabini. That’s my wife you’re talking about.”

“I know she’s your wife.” Blaise slowly crossed his arms. “All you ever do is call her your wife. Have you ever actually called her Hermione?”

He briefly thought back to that time when he’d called her name as he’d climaxed. “I have.”

“Other than during your wedding vows?”
Draco sucked his lip. “Possibly not,” he said, avoiding Blaise's eyes. “But all she does is call me Malfoy.”

“For one thing,” Blaise raised his index finger, “your name is actually Malfoy, whereas her name is no longer Granger. Point two,” he lifted his middle finger and waved the offending digit in Draco’s direction, “if you keep only doing things tit-for-tat then you will never get anywhere with her. You’ll just circle each other like a couple of Goblin wrestlers until one of you dies.” He spun his wine glass like a connoisseur, which he most certainly was not. Other than the colour, Draco wasn’t even sure if Blaise could tell the difference between a Chardonnay and a Merlot. “Which will probably be you,” Blaise brandished his middle finger again, “because she’s a vastly more violent person than you are.”

“Hermione isn’t violent.”

Blaise threw his head back and laughed. “Then how do you explain that cut lip you were sporting at my wedding?”

Draco unconsciously touched his healed lip. “I may have said something –”

“– Malfoyish.” Blaise slammed his glass down, and the wine sloshed over the edge. “Luna was right about you. You really are the auditor of your own undoing.”

“Carefully Blaise, you’re using words of more than one syllable.” Draco took a restorative drag of wine. “What else has Mrs Zabini been saying about me?”

Blaise’s cheeks flushed. “It’s Mrs Love-Zabini-Good. She wanted a double-barrelled name, but she said that Lovegood-Zabini didn’t give off the right aura.”

It was Draco’s turn to laugh. “And does she? Love Zabini good?”

“Shut up, Malfoy.” Blaise viciously chewed on his last piece of steak. “Luna also told me something very interesting about Hermione.”

Draco sat up in his chair. “Which is?”

“She doesn't like roses. So you ought to get rid of that bouquet you have in the hall.” Blaise stood up and clapped Draco on the back. “Tell you what, I’ll take it off your hands. Luna loves roses. And by the way, she does. Love Zabini good.”

“Fuck off.”

Blaise only left after he’d exacted a promise out of Draco to follow through with that double date and bring Hermione around for dinner. He’d swaggered off with the flowers as well.

 

That evening, Draco found himself looking across the living room for Hermione. She normally sat curled up in an overflowing armchair with a stack of books beside her. When she read, she had a habit of playing with her hair. She’d curl her wild curls around her fingers and leave them in spun ringlets.
She also made noises.

Little sighs and the occasional grunt when she disagreed with something she’d read. It was alarmingly sexy and unconsciously done.

He’d watch her for hours, his own voyeuristic activity concealed by a book, as she read and touched herself. They were unerotic touches, but just the sight of her fingers brushing a lock of hair away or feeling a spot on her neck could arouse his interest.

She lacked arts and finesse, and she seemed blissfully unaware of her beauty. Whenever she did try to employ sexual arts on him, she always looked strained. When she gripped his cock and pumped him, there was a technical element to her actions. It was as if she’d read it in a book, or textbook, and she was simply employing her hands for the purpose of getting him up and not pleasuring him. He supposed he would never receive a handjob from her given that she’d made it clear that she only wanted him to come inside her.  

He was fine without Hermione.

The house was empty, but he’d grown up in a large and almost unoccupied manor.

Nevertheless, nothing could’ve prepared him for the fear that gripped him when the next morning Potter’s stag Patronus bounded into his office window.

At St. Mungo’s. Hurry.

 

Chapter Text

“Where’s Mrs Malfoy?” The name felt foreign and unwieldy on his tongue. Mrs Malfoy was his mother, and it didn’t seem right to refer to Hermione under his name. No matter what Blaise said, Granger really did suit her much better.

“Second floor, room six,” said the receptionist. She held a copy of Witch Weekly in front of her face. Draco’s own face smirked at him from the front cover. “You’ll need to leave your wand here. No unsupervised magic is allowed on the wards.” She said the words as if she was checking each one off a list.

Without taking her eyes off the magazine, she pushed a bucket towards him. There was a rattle as wands bounced and hit the sides.

His face was so tense that he felt like he had a case of lockjaw. He added his wand to the bucket without complaint.

No one asked him for identification. He was obviously recognisable, however he needed to have a word with Potter about the slapdash security. Confiscating wands was hardly a safety measure; not when half the magical population knew some form of wandless magic.

Draco ran up the stairs and counted the numbers till he reached her room.

The scene was surreally similar to the last time he’d seen her. Hermione was sleep in a hospital bed, and Potter was standing beside her like an oh so useless guardian angel. They both looked pale but unharmed. Potter appeared annoyingly undamaged.

Draco strode into the room and deposited himself in the only chair beside her bed. He languidly propped his right ankle on top of his left knee. The pose had the effect of making him appear unconcerned and nonchalant. It also prevented his legs from visibly shaking.

“Explain.” Draco’s tone was precise, his manners perfect, and he didn’t even raise his voice. “She’s a civilian. You are the Auror. How – and I’ll use small words, so you’ll understand – how is she the one in here?”

At Draco’s words, something collapsed inside Harry. It was like Harry’s arms and chest had been held up by threads which had snapped, leaving him slumped over his own body. “I – I don’t know how it happened.” He sounded lost, and Draco didn’t have one ounce of sympathy for him.

“Focus, Potter.” Draco breathed through his nose and deliberately prevented his fingernails from digging into his palms. “How did she get hurt?”

“She was hit with a stunning spell. I didn’t recognise the spell, though.” Harry’s mouth was a thin line, and he seemed to have to push the words out. “While we were in Berlin,” he said, “there was a new Portkey apparation. The wizard was English, and we thought it would be a advisable to go and speak to him at once, at the top of the Brandenburg Gate.” Harry suddenly winced. He pressed his hands together like a prayer and held them in front of his mouth. “Hermione was talking to the wizard and requesting that he come into custody quietly.”

Draco highly doubted that it had been Harry’s idea to go and speak to the unknown wizard without a stitch of backup.

Harry paused. He clenched his jaw and squeezed his eyes shut. Draco had previously seen Aurors use this technique. It was particularly effective for rapidly processing combat memories and preparing them for extraction and use in a pensive. The Auror would focus on the memory and internally pick out every little detail which they may have overlooked, essentially forcing themselves to relive the experience with the gift of hindsight.

Harry’s breath was laboured. “Hermione was talking – she wanted to run some location spells while the magic was fresh. He dropped something – it made a noise – like a knife being dropped – like metal – it’s a doorhand – no – a knocker.” Harry’s hands flew to his wand holster. “He’s pulling his wand out –”

“Potter!”

Harry’s eyes snapped open. He blinked and looked down at his empty hand.

“You handed your wand in at reception.” Draco sat back in his chair, but his knuckles still burned bright white from where he’d gripped the armrests. “How did you get her back to London?”

Harry slowly stood up. It was like he was putting on a coat. With each movement, he seemed to regain some of himself until all traces of vulnerability were masked. Reliving the memory or the shock of miming his own stunning spell seemed to have woken him up. He looked sharper – nastier.

“Ironically, a Portkey,” Harry said. “Baddon in the Portkey office organised an emergency Portkey for us.” He fixed his robes, hiding his empty holster. “I wanted to get her out of the country, back home.”

A hush descended over the room. A sickroom hush, which had nothing to do with Hermione’s unconscious state.

“How close did you get Weasley to home before he died?” Draco said, his tone deliberately neutral.

“Budapest.”

Draco checked Hermione. She was still, and she was breathing. “Did you incapacitate the wizard in Berlin?”

“I got him. He’s locked in the German Ministry for Magic.”

“What did he have on him?” Draco’s eyes latched onto the slow rise and fall of her ribs. Her jasmine perfume was in the air; a faint scent which was almost overpowered by the smell of disinfectant. It hit his nose like a hacksaw.

They must be smuggling something incredibly Dark and powerful to warrant an unprovoked attack. He must widen his research and spend a day in the library. Malfoy Manor had the largest collection of Dark art and magic books in the British Isles – he might as well use them.

“A small bronze statue of a bull.” Harry moved to stand on the other side of Hermione’s bed. His eyes looked hard and more than a little fierce as he turned them on Draco. “We don’t know the extent of the Dark curse on it, so I’ve got people guarding it until we can get an expert in. The bull – does it mean anything to you?”

“You mean in my previous career as a Death-Eater?” Draco didn’t stumble over the familiar epithet, but he laced his question with sarcasm.  

Harry shoved his hands into his pockets. Draco would have bet good money that Harry’s hands were clenched into fists.

“Yes.”

“No, I’ve never heard of any Dark curses or organisations which operate under the emblem of a bull, or any other barnyard animal.” Draco forced a smirk. “Us nasty wizards generally prefer snakes, wolves, and other carnivorous creatures with an unfavourable reputation.”

“Look into it.” Harry barked the order at him like a dog.

“You mean research the Magical symbolism of the bull as well as all the global traders of Dark objects? Really, Potter; I need to start charging you for my time.”

“I could always just ask your father.”

Draco’s voice was smooth and slippery as silk. “You could. He could probably do with a project. Azkaban can be so dull during the winter. I jest, Potter.” Draco touched the edge of the blanket covering Hermione, rubbing the wool between his fingers. “I’ll do it. In fact, I’ve already comprised a file of illegal traffickers in Britain. I’ll have my secretary send it to you.”

“Much appreciated.”

Draco didn’t think Potter could physically say ‘thank you’ to him. The sky might fall down, or pigs might start flying.

Draco had a limited knowledge of magical healing, but Hermione’s vital signs seemed strong. There was no beep of machinery, or the slow suction of air as she breathed into an oxygen mask. The room was quiet, and the only sound was her regular inhalations. It was like they were at home, in bed, and Draco was falling asleep to the silent lullaby of her breathing.

He wanted her home.

He understood some of Potter’s desire to bring her back home – although he doubted that Potter considered Draco’s bed as Hermione’s home.

If Draco had woken up and found her still asleep, he would have slid his hands across their mattress, up over the smooth skin of her backside, and between her legs. She was always warm in the mornings.

He hadn’t seen her in days, and this was not how he wanted her coming home. In his fantasy, there was no Harry Potter in the room. His more carnal thoughts deviated to more base desires: shagging her rotten in their hallway was his current la passion. He’d press her up against the wall, and she’d clench as he came deep inside of her.

Coming.

He frowned.

He hurriedly scanned Hermione again, automatically looking at her lower abdomen. It was ridiculous: it would take weeks for a pregnancy to physically show.

“What have the Healers said about her condition?” Draco asked Harry and tried to not let his apprehension show in his tone or manner. He arranged himself in the chair, and one arm languidly draped over Hermione’s bed.

Harry only spared Draco a glance. “She should wake up sometime in the next twenty-four hours.”

“Is she –” he stopped and sucked in air, “– pregnant?”

“No, she’s not.” There was a note of sympathy in Potter’s voice. It made Draco want to hit him.

“Do you know her plan?” He threw Potter a sidelong glare. “The one where she has my child and then leaves me.”

Unblinking, Potter met his look. “Yes.”

Draco slid his hand under the blanket and laid it next to Hermione’s bare arm. “Did you suggest it to her?”

“No.” At least Potter was consistent with his apathy for him.

“So she thought it all up on her own.”

“She wants to subpoena the Wizengamot, make them scrap the marriage law,” Harry said.

“Let me guess,” Draco said, evenly. “With her as the martyred figure head with a babe in arms.” He didn’t need to wait for Harry’s confirmation. He chuckled. “She always knew how to put on a show.”

“I have to go back to Berlin,” Harry said and looked down at Hermione with a stupidly noble expression. “I need to interview the wizard who attacked Hermione.”

“I hope you will send him my personal regards.” He flashed Harry a vulpine grin. “I’m sure he’d have heard of me.”

When Hermione woke up, she didn’t look pleased to see him. This was no great surprise. Hermione hardly ever looked pleased to see him. Even when she came during sex, her expression was one of resentful pleasure. It was as if she begrudged herself the climax.  

“Where’s Harry?” had been the first question out of her mouth.

“Gone back to Berlin.” Draco closed his eyes and stretched.

Hospital chairs were damned uncomfortable. Since he wasn’t allowed to use magic to transfigure the chair in case it interfered with Hermione’s medical spells, he’d had to sleep in the thing all night. He opened his eyes to the unwelcome, but not wholly unexpected, sight of Hermione trying to get out of bed.

“What are you doing?” he said and stood up. He could almost hear his back creak in protest. “Get back into that bed.”

“I need to go.” She had her bare feet on the floor and was trying to untangle herself from the sheets. It was a pathetic display of independence.

“If you don’t get back into that bed right now, I’ll make you.” He stood in front of her and crossed his arms, effectively blocking her escape.

She scowled and gave a humourless, challenging laugh. “How will you do that?”

“I haven’t decided yet.” He leaned down so he could look into her face. “I could call the Healers and have them explain to you why you need bed rest, or” – he saw the reflection of his smirk in her glassy eyes – “I could simply hold you down. Really, it’s your choice.”

She slipped back under the covers, but not before calling him a bastard.

He walked to the far wall and leaned against it. He almost groaned as the hard surface hit his spine. He wasn’t going to sit in that chair ever again.

“You must be feeling better if you can swear at me,” he said conversationally.

“I am better.” Hermione looked too hopeful. “Let me prove it.” She made to get out of bed again, and Draco pulled another muscle racing towards her.

“Not a chance,” he said.

He pressed a finger to her forehead and pushed her back onto the pillows.

She pouted up at him and then appeared to realise what she was doing, and to whom, and stopped.

She gave a superior sniff. “I’m fine.”

Draco stabbed his finger at her left hand, where a drip fed potions straight into her veins. “That is the exact opposite of fine.” He went to sit back down on the chair and then thought better of it. He perched on the end of her bed and fixed her with a resigned glare. “Potter told me some of what happened in Berlin. He was very loyal. He even said that it was a joint decision to go and confront the suspected Dark magic smuggler.”

Hermione rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “Stop talking.” She pressed her fingers into her temples and groaned.

“Of course, you were able to confirm that he was a genuine smuggler when he incapacitated you. I never thought I’d say this – but thank Merlin for Potter. You could have died.” He ground the words out as if vocalising his fear might make it true.

He’d felt fear when Potter’s message arrived. A cold dread which settled in his stomach like a stone. Suddenly his whole body had started sweating. It was like there was a vice around his ribs, and no matter how hard he breathed he couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen into his lungs.

He’d missed his apparation point three times and kept landing streets away from St Mungo’s. He’d had to prop himself up in a back alley. Surrounded by bins and fag butts, he’d spent five minutes regularising his breathing. Holding the breath in and counting up to ten before exhaling. His heart rate had settled, and his body still trembled, but he was able to use his magic.   

Hermione laid her hand over her eyes. He couldn’t tell if she did this because she had a headache or because she didn’t want to look at him. “It was a stunning spell. I was in no danger.”

“Did the eighty-five foot drop off the Brandenburg Gate not constitute as danger in your mind?”

“I wasn’t near the edge.” He could practically hear her rolling her eyes.

“Why were you not more careful.” He gritted his teeth, and felt his jaw ache. “You could have been pregnant.”

She sat bolt upright and glared at him. “Don’t you dare. I took a test that morning. I knew I wasn’t pregnant. How dare you suggest that I would harm –” her eyes went unfocused, and she clutched her head.

Draco stood up and took her arm. “You’re right,” he said and lowered her onto the bed. “That was wrong of me.”

“He could’ve been a victim,” she said weakly. “I wasn’t going to frighten him any more than he already might be.”

He pulled the blanket up to her chin. “I know, I know,” he soothed.

“He looked frightened,” she said, and Draco presumed she was talking about the bastard who’d attacked her. “He was English, but,” she frowned, “the spell he used, it sounded Spanish – no, Italian.” She mouthed a word. “Excerēbrō,” she muttered.

“To make senseless,” he automatically translated. He brushed his hand along her temple, and she shivered at the contact. “Do you want a pain potion?”

“No, I’ll be fine.”

He ruefully smiled. Her stubbornness was almost endearing.

“Then at least go to sleep,” he said.

Two lines appeared between her brows, but she closed her eyes.

Her breathing settled, and Draco resigned himself to another day in the chair.


 

“And how are you feeling this morning, Hermione?” The Healer looked awfully cheery as he took Hermione’s vitals the next day.

“Better,” Hermione said. “When can I leave?”

“When I feel satisfied with your recovery. Do you still have a headache?”

Hermione shook her head.

“In that case,” the Healer said, “I’ll be happy to discharge you on the condition that you rest for a week.”

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “A week!”

The Healer’s smile fell on Hermione like sun through a magnifying glass.

“Yes. You were unconscious for over a day,” the Healer said. Draco had a feeling he’d given this speech before. “Your body needs time to heal, and stress or work may be detrimental to your recovery. You don’t want to end up back here because you overdid it.” The Healer spoke to Hermione like she was a naughty adolescent.

“Thank you, Healer,” Draco said, glibly cutting in. Hermione looked like she might start shouting. “I will make sure she follows your instructions to the letter.”

Draco stood up as a signal that it was time for the Healer to leave.

“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” Draco said as he escorted the Healer to the door, “when I say I hope we don’t see you again for a long time.”

The Healer chuckled appreciatively. “Not at all. Bring her back to hospital if her headache returns. Other than that, I’m not concerned.”

“Excellent.”

Draco opened the door, but the man didn’t seem to take the hint. He stood there and gave Draco a knowing smile, like an uncle gave to his favourite nephew. “I noticed a couple of bruises on her hips.”

Draco frowned. “From the attack?

“You can make love,” he said and winked, “but be gentle with her.”

Draco felt an unfamiliar prickling sensation in his cheeks. “I’ll bear that in mind.”


 

“Malfoy?” Hermione said from where she lay next to him on their bed.

Draco didn’t look up from his book. He was learning some fascinating facts about how the foetus grew in the womb although he was very pleased that Muggle pictures didn’t move. Otherwise he might never be able to look at his wife’s vagina in the same way again. “Yes, dear one?”

“We haven’t had sex in seven days.”

Draco was taking the Healer’s advice to be gentle very seriously and therefore hadn’t touched Hermione since he brought her home yesterday afternoon. He’d been imagining having Hermione in bed for days, and now she was here, and he couldn’t touch her. Hermione had made it very clear that when they had sex it was to be emotionless, rough, and brisk. Gently laying her down on a bed and making slow love to her didn’t fall under the category of the quick shag.

“I’m aware.” Draco licked his finger and turned another page. “My dick has been mourning the loss.”

Last night it had been torturous to sleep next to her. Since they started sharing a bed, she'd always fallen asleep on her side with her back to him. The nights away from him appeared to have altered her usual sleep pattern, and he’d woken up at two in the morning with Hermione lying on top of him. Her arm was over his waist, and her shirt had ridden up, exposing the underside of her breasts. He’d gently rolled her back onto her side of the bed, gently readjusted her top, and then he got up and went to vigorously wank in the bathroom. Except he hadn’t. He’d just pulled down his boxers when he remembered he wasn’t supposed to masturbate. He’d silently sworn, and then spent ten minutes mentally cooking coq au vin. He had been just thickening the wine sauce when his erection gave up the ghost.

“My ovulation has most likely passed.” Hermione let the ‘but’ linger in the air.

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Granger, are you asking me to have sex with you for a purpose other than the begetting of offspring?”

“I haven’t started my period. There's still a chance that I have miscounted and got the date wrong.” Even she didn’t sound convinced by that argument.

He closed the book. “If I must. But – and this is a significant but – you have to take your top off.”

He thought it might be a sticking point, but he smiled like the cat that had the cream when she pulled the t-shirt over her head. “And the bra,” he said.

She unhooked her bra and lobbed it across the room.

“No touching,” she said as she pulled down her underwear.

Draco looked her up and down with an appreciative leer. “What about with my mouth?”

Was that a hitch in her breathing?

“Not that either.”

“As you wish,” Draco said. She went to roll over, but he stopped her. “Oh no, dear. The Healer said that I was to be, and I quote, ‘gentle’. Pounding into you from behind – while utterly delightful – is not what I would describe as gentle.”

“How then?” She crossed her arms over her naked chest.

Draco was momentarily distracted by the movement. “Huh.” He shook his head. “Right.” He placed a hand between her closed knees to open them. “Like this.” He smoothly slipped his body between her legs. His chest brushed her pebbled nipples, and he had to stop himself from moaning.

He propped himself up on his elbows and stared down at her face. “Acceptable?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She sighed and wrinkled her nose. “Yes.”

“Would you mind?” He nodded his chin downwards. “My hands are preoccupied.”

She reached down and pushed the waistband of his boxers down just enough to free his erection. She kept a hand on him as she guided him into her body.

“I see you’ve missed me,” he said when he realised how wet she was.

She groaned a little as he pushed into her. “I’ll put my t-shirt back on,” she said.

“Duly noted.”

It was a novel experience, making love to Hermione Granger. For one thing, she seemed inclined to touch him more. She placed her hand on his hip as he sunk into her. Her fingers tightened as he built his rhythm. She rested her other hand on his shoulder, and her thumb pressed into the dip beside his collarbone.

His strokes were controlled and slow, and when she arched her back, it took an insane amount of self-control to not thrust himself in to the hilt.

Gently, he kept telling himself.

She wanted him to go deeper. She kept undulating her pelvis, and she was squeezing his hip painfully hard.  

Her eyes were closed, and her slow exhales cooled his heated cheeks. If it wasn’t for the slight tremble of her bottom lip, she could have been asleep. He adjusted his arm and freed one hand, touching the corner of her mouth.

Her eyes flashed open, and her eyelashes touched the skin below her eyebrows. The black of her pupils stretched and conquered the brown. He wanted to slip into the darkness and forget himself in her.

Wetting the edge of his thumb, her tongue crept out and moistened her lips. He pushed the pad of his thumb into her bottom lip and parted her mouth. She ran her front teeth along the top of his digit and it grated against his skin. The burst of pain sent a jolt of lust from his hand, down his spinal cord, and into his pelvis.

“Harder,” she said against his hand. Her demand over-rode his will, and he slapped into her skin.

She sighed.

He thrust again, and his hip bones drilled into the softness of her thighs.

Her thighs. He knew he’d groaned like a starving man at a feast when she’d gripped him between them. Her legs flexed and pushed him deeper, and her foot dug into the base of his spine to hold him close.

He grazed her cheekbone with the back of his hand. Her skin was soft and damp.

“Faster.” Another command.

He sped up. He knew he shouldn’t – Doctor’s orders – but she felt too good, and she was looking up at him with molten heat. She was tightening, and quivering, and on the point of falling apart. He just couldn’t hold on.

“Hermione.” Her name was drawn from him like a prayer spoken in the dead of night. He buried his head into her neck and tasted the salt on her skin as he lost himself.

Her legs slackened and fell away from his hips like spring blossom. Then her hands were on his shoulders, pushing him up, and shoving him away.

He groggily rolled off her. He lay on his back and blindly blinked at the ceiling of their bedroom. 

He heard her whimper, and there was a slick sound.

Draco tilted his head. Hermione was touching herself; fingers buried in her cunt and thumb pressing her swollen clit.

He didn’t hesitate. He reached out and touched her. She was too far gone, and all she did was moan when his hand cupped her breast. Quickly he got to his knees, leaned over her, and latched his mouth to her nipple. He lathered and worshipped her peak until her skin was red. Then he sucked it into his mouth.

He felt her cry building in her chest before it burst from her lips.

“I said no touching.” Her voice was thick and muzzy, but she didn’t sound too annoyed.

He smiled against her breasts, their softness cushioning the sharp line of his jaw. “Or kissing. I remember. But I couldn’t help but participate.” He kissed the underside of her breast, and the stubble on his chin rubbed at the pale skin on her ribs. “Tell me to stop.”

He placed kisses up her sternum before sliding his mouth to the other breast. He licked around her nipple and blew hot air on her skin. Her skin contracted and became peppered with gooseflesh.

“Stop.”

Draco pressed a final precise kiss on the top of her nipple, and then he sat back on his haunches. His eyes swept up his wife’s body. “You're beautiful,” he said, his tone jaded.

Hermione didn’t look at him as she shuffled off the bed. “I’m going to have a bath.”

“Would I be wasting my breath if I asked to join you?”

She stood in the doorway of the bathroom. In the electric light, her spine looked unnaturally curved, and her profile was as haughty as the bust of Nefertiti.

“Yes.” She snapped the door shut.

Draco laughed as he propped his hands behind his head. It was a bitter laugh, and it chafed his lips.  

 


He started to work from home. This was in part because he didn’t trust Hermione not to sneak back to the Ministry. A tiny part of him also liked being close to her, even if she was sitting reading in the next room. He decided if Blaise commented on his new work arrangement then he was going to swear that the only reason behind why he’d relocated his desk to the dining room was because of the sex.

Being banned from work, Hermione was putting all her efforts into her baby plan Mark 2: have as much sex as physically possible and hope something sticks. Draco was fully on board with being ravished every few hours.

Sex with Granger was hot.

Especially the angry sex, although they had little else. He’d not tried to make love to her again, and she seemed more comfortable with their abject fucking than anything with emotion or feeling.

He was getting more sex than he’d ever had in his life, and he’d once held the prestigious title of the Slytherin Sex God.

Her stamina was incredible – or perhaps it was her resolve to get pregnant and divorce him. Draco couldn’t be sure. He didn’t hold much belief in the success of Granger’s plan to divorce him; he knew wizarding politics – he’d been practically raised on them – and he doubted she could wiggle her way around a bunch of bureaucratic fat-cats whose arms were up to their elbows in bribes.

Either way, Hermione was doing a great impression of a woman who loved having sex with him.

The morning after he’d made love to her, he’d woken up to Hermione’s hand cupping his balls. It hadn’t taken much persuasion to get him between her thighs and pinning her to the bed. He’d especially liked the bit when he’d hooked her knee over his shoulder and stimulated her G-spot.

He’d lain there panting, and trying to remember his name, and then the witch had climbed on top of him and pressed her pussy into his groin until he was hard. He’d slid in; her channel slick with her juices and his cum. Her nipples had been clearly visible through her shirt, and her breasts jiggled with every pivot of her hips. He’d climaxed remembering their softness under his hands.


 

“On your hands and knees, Granger.”

Hermione calmly looked up at him. She was lying on the sofa, her feet propped up on the armrest and a book held up in front of her face. “What do you want?”

Draco walked towards her, took the book out of her hand, and threw it onto the coffee table. “Hands and knees,” he repeated.

She arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because I dropped my wand and I need you to help me find it,” he said. Sarcasm dripped from his words. “Why do you think? I would have thought after the number of times you’ve walked into a room and told me to drop my pants that you’d recognise when I want to fuck you.”

She slowly turned her wrist and checked her watch. “We still have another half an hour before you're scheduled to come.”

He felt his hackles rise. Before he was scheduled to come. She’d obviously forgotten the three orgasms he’d given her this morning. Two with his hand, and one with his cock.

“Would you prefer me to spend the next thirty minutes before my ‘appointed’ orgasm, making you come?” he said as sweetly as an unripe apple. “Instead, I can get on my knees and eat you out. At least my mouth would be preoccupied.”

Spots of colour appeared on her cheeks, like two dots of paint. “Where do you want me?” she spat.

He pointed to the carpet. “Take your dress off first.” 

She ripped the garment over her head, leaving her in her underwear. She pulled down her knickers but left on the bra. She went to the patch of carpet and descended to her knees.

Draco knelt behind her, leisurely unbuttoning his slacks. He pressed a hand to the middle of her back, pushing the front half of her body to the ground. She gave an indignant snort but obeyed, lowering her face to the floor.

He smoothed his hand down her arse, which looked even more amazing due to the position he’d put her in. Arse up, face down. He cracked a smile. “You can scowl all you want, love,” he said. “I won’t be able to see.”

Her cunt was tight. This was not entirely due to the angle she was bent at; she wasn’t as aroused as he’d like her to be. He guessed this was what happened when he initiated sex and not the other way around.

He stilled inside her. “This won’t do,” he muttered and reached round to stimulate her clit. She said something – he thought it might have been ‘bastard’ – but her voice was muffled by the carpet. “What was that?” he asked, rubbing her bud. She said it again. “I agree.” He pinched her clit. “I am a fantastic lover.”

She started shaking. It could have been from desire, or it could have been from laughter. Draco wasn’t sure. Either way her clitoris was slippery under his fingers, so his labours hadn’t been in vain.

He kept the pressure on her clit as he started to rock his hips, easing his cock further into her body with short bursts. Merlin, it was difficult to control his rhythm when all he wanted to do was slide into her heat and thrust until he spilt. On another day, he might have done that. Hermione often seemed to prefer it when he came in her quickly and then finished her off with his hands.

But today, she’d rankled his pride.

With his free hand, he squeezed her arse and patted the plumpness with his palm. “You look good, Granger. Splayed, silent, and being fucked. You wear it well.”

Christ. She actually snarled. Like a cat. Or, and here Draco mentally rolled his eyes at the thought, like a lion.

“Seems like kitty’s got claws,” he said, and sped up his thrusts. “Next time you ride me, I hope you’ll use them on my back.”

She gave another growl, but Draco felt her walls start that familiar fluttering around him.

He gripped the inside of her thigh, lifting it upward at a right-angle. It was probably an uncomfortable position for her, but if he could stimulate that right spot inside of her, she soon wouldn’t care.

Her growl turned to a groan, and she clamped his cock as she came around him. Success. If anyone else had been in the room, he would have raised his hand for a Muggle high-five. As it was, Draco had to be content with clutching Hermione’s thigh and slamming his hips into her as he sought his own release.

“Get off,” Hermione said the moment he came. Her back was rigid.

Draco smiled. He couldn’t help it.

“We have to wait the two minutes,” he said with purposeful glee. He reached over and grabbed her wrist, and his softening cock slid further into her with the movement. He twisted her wrist and checked her watch. “Only another ninety seconds to go.”

With his free hand, he squeezed her arse, massaging his thumb into the space above her glute muscles. “I hope you’ll let me spank you one day,” he said conversationally.

“Dream on, Malfoy.”

“I will. Do you want to know what else I dream about?”

“Not in the slightest.”

He ignored her. “You, me, and chocolate sauce. I’ve always wanted to lick it off your navel. And then, you, in your old Hogwarts school uniform. I could be the professor, giving you detention in the dungeon.” He paused for a second, the true horror of his words hitting him. “Did I accidently just say I wanted to role-play being Professor Snape?” He shuddered. “Well, that’s shattered that fantasy.”

“I have dreams too,” Hermione said, her voice breathless.

Draco’s cock stirred inside of her. “Yes?”

“Yes, I dream about you and premature hair loss. We already know you can do premature ejaculation.”

“Do you often cut yourself on that tongue of yours? Or do you just save your ire for me?”

“Only you.” He ignored the way his heart jumped at her words.

“Ah, our time is up.” He let go of her wrist and pulled out of her. “But just before I go.” He raised his hand and gave her arse a single light slap. “That’s for the premature hair loss comment.” Then he rushed to his feet because now he needed to find somewhere to hide before she hunted him down.


 

Granger was pacing the hall. After living with her for the past two months, Draco had come to realise that when Hermione started pacing, something bad was about to happen – usually to him. He kept his eyes firmly on the parchment in front of him as he heard her pass by the open dining room door. He was reading a proposal for the transportation of luxury goods from Italy into London. Draco was suspicious of the proposal, but that might have just been because it was Zabini’s company producing and sourcing these luxury goods.

Hermione huffed and marched back the way she’d come.  

“Anything the matter, love?” Draco called. He heard her flounce into the room. “You seem,” he glanced up, “troubled.”

She gripped the back of a dining chair. She wore a scowl, and her eyes narrowed as she looked at the piles of work around him.

“I’m bored,” she said, jerking her chin up.

Draco held back the taunting remark that wanted to trot off his tongue. “How about reading a nice book?” he said. He’d intended it to be a sincere suggestion, but it sounded fairly caustic.

The chair rocked as she forcibly let it go. “I feel fine. Better, in fact. I’m going back to work.”

Draco was out of his chair and blocking her way faster than he could say ‘fancy a quickie?’

“The Healer said –”

“I know what the Healer said.” She put her hands on her hips. “But not achieving anything is making me as stressed as I would be working.”

Draco was highly dubious of her logic, but he kept his opinion to himself. He looked at his paperwork and then back at Hermione. “I could… we could,” he pointed to the ceiling, “if you so desired.”

“No. I want to use my brain, Malfoy.” She’d been getting terser and terser as her mandatory week off dragged on.

“Speaking of work,” Draco deliberately looked down at the parchment he’d been reading, “I should get back to it. Do you have anything else to tell me other than that you're bored?”

Her eyes lit up, and some of the sourness left her face. “Do you need any help? I could take notes, catalogue your files, or read through your company policies?”

“I appreciate the offer,” he said, carefully choosing his words. Hermione wasn’t blinking and was staring at him with an owl-like fixation. It was unnerving. “I’m quite capable of –” he broke off.

She did look fine. A little pissed-off, but fine. She hadn’t had anymore headaches since leaving the hospital, and she seemed to be keeping up with more active bursts of sex.

“Alright, there is something you can help me with.” He dropped his quill and stood up. “I need to go and see a man with a dog.”

 

Chapter Text

“King. Kelpie King.” Draco cupped his hand and shouted. “It’s Draco Malfoy.” There was an autumn chill in the air, and Draco’s breath fogged in front of him like smoke. “I need to have a word with you.”

High walls surrounded Camden Lock. The smell of spices and incense from Camden Market drifted in, followed by the accompanying noises of chatter and laughter that Draco always associated with the area.

“King,” Draco shouted again. His words seemed to be swallowed by the water. Its inky blackness looked as cold and as deep as a well.

There was no answer. Only an occasional hollow thunk as a barge hit the side of the canal. The canal water lapped at the brick banks, and the sound reminded Draco of the pants of a large dog.

The mooring point was empty. Suspiciously empty.

“There’s no one here,” Hermione said. Her nose was red, and she was rubbing her hands together for warmth.

Draco’s eyes darted from side to side. “They’re here. They’re just hiding.” He shouted the last sentence as if hoping the jeer would make them show themselves. Camden Lock was never left unguarded. If anyone or anything wanted to travel through these waters, then they had to get past Kelpie King’s boys.

Hermione shivered. “Malfoy, there’s no one here. You’re just making a larger than usual prat of yourself.” Her voice was hot and annoyed. She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her large winter coat. “If I’d known you were going to have me traipsing around London, I would’ve brought my gloves.”

Suddenly there was a laugh and the sound of heavy footfalls.

“Would you Adam and Eve it. If it ain’ young Malfoy,” a man said. Like a blackjack, the voice cracked and struck the words, beating them into submission. He stopped about ten meters away from where Draco and Hermione stood. “I told my lads they must be mistaken. I told ‘em that Malfoy wouldn’t come waltzin’ into my manor as if he owned the place. And yet,” he raised plate-sized hands in the air, “here you are.” He smiled – or rather, he showed all his teeth. “And what have I done to deserve such an auspicious visit by his highness ‘imself.” His accent progressively developed more of an East London drawl. Obnoxiously so.

Well, if Kelpie King was going to play the cockney barrow boy then Draco wasn’t above acting lord of the manor.

“The pleasure is all mine, King,” Draco said. He polished off the greeting with a flourishing bow.

“Cheeky ponce.” Kelpie King reached inside his coat pocket and produced a thick cigar. He poked it into his mouth but didn’t light it. He never did. Instead, Kelpie would grind the Cuban between his back molars until it was a pulp. He’d occasionally spit the pulp at passers by, his staff, or people who had generally annoyed him.

Kelpie King was a big man. He was the approximate size of a front door. He also looked like he’d walked into one. His face was large, and flat, and shaped like a shovel, and even at this distance he towered hostilely over Draco. It was an act. Well, mostly an act. Kelpie could still probably snap him like a twig if he wanted to. Kelpie had been a player in the running of East London for the past twenty years and controlled the canal system for the whole of southern England with an iron fist, and no one got that much power by just being a gormless thug.

“Here, boy.” Kelpie clicked his fingers.

There was another sound of approaching feet. Draco winced at the noise. He remembered all too well who those small pattering feet belonged to. A dog trotted into view from around the corner. The dog was tiny – or perhaps its minuscule stature was accentuated by its master’s enormous build.

“Fuck,” said Draco. “That little shit’s still here.”

The dog sat beside Kelpie. It innocently wagged its fluffy white tail.

“What’s wrong with it?” Hermione asked. She was eyeing Kelpie and the dog with keen interest.

“Diminutive, treacherous bastard,” he muttered, ignoring Hermione’s question. “I’ll make it into a pair of mittens.”

Kelpie grinned and bit down on the cigar. “I said I’d chop you like a jellied eel if I ever saw your mug round here again.”

“My spleen, actually,” Draco said, also grinning. “You said you’d slice it into bite-sized chunks and feed it to your dog.”

“That’s not a dog.” Hermione said, never losing out on an opportunity to correct him. “That’s a phouka. I can tell by the eyes: they always have golden irises. A phouka is a magic spirit that can take on the shape of animals. They're generally regarded as harbingers of good fortune, or portents of bad luck.”

Kelpie’s small blue eyes cleverly darted over Hermione. “The bint’s got brains. It took that one,” he jerked a thumb at Draco, “months to work it out. Not the brightest thing in Christendom is he, ah’? Wasn’t till Puck had found the stash –”

“I told you, King,” Draco said, thinning his lips, “I didn’t know about the drugs.”

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “Drugs?” she asked Draco, astonished.
“Magical drugs. Red cap. Bloweed. Fairy’s Dust.” Draco folded his arms. “The reason I am out of favour with King here is due to a misunderstanding with a shipment I asked him to transport.”

Kelpie spat on the ground. “Come off it. It weren’t no ‘misunderstanding’, or Cadbury’s Flake.” The dog gave an annoying yap in agreement. “Yous were trynna’ do me out of my bees and honey right to my boat race.”

“As I explained at the time,” Draco said. “I did not know that the gentleman in question was playing on both sides. I run a clean game, King. I am more scrupulous than my father.”

“You didn’t give me the geezer, did ya’ tho?”

Draco frowned. He’d had some version of this conversation with Kelpie what felt like a hundred times.

The shipment had been from Prague. There was a demand in Britain for rare gems and ores from all over the central Europe. These gems could be used in potions and spell work, and Draco had arranged for his company to buy and distribute them to British purchasers.  He’d organised the collection from the Czech Republic, and then Kelpie’s men had picked up the order in Essex and floated it down the canals and into London. It was a smooth operation, and Draco had not been actively involved with it since the initial deal was struck.

He knew Kelpie. The man was a bastard, but he was a principled bastard. Kelpie didn’t like Dark magic; something about it itching his skin, and he’d explained it away as part of his lucht siúil  ancestry. Draco didn’t particularly care. If Kelpie was punctual and trustworthy, he could have as many itches and funny feelings as he wanted.

Then along a stretch of canal in Little Venice, Kelpie got a feeling. Or rather, Puck the faithful pomeranian phouka picked up a scent. Hidden in a amethyst geode was sufficient blow to stone a mountain troll.

His working relationship with Kelpie had somewhat disintegrated after that.  

“I dealt with him,” Draco said.  “He was my employee and therefore my problem.”

“How exactly did you deal with him?” Hermione hissed in his ear.

Draco turned to her. “I brought him to the Ministry and gave him to Potter. I’m not a smuggler, and I don’t personally import illegal items.” He lifted an eyebrow. “What did you think I was going to say? That I’d broken his legs and thrown him into the Thames?”

“No, of course not.” Hermione shook her head. She was plainly embarrassed.

True, when Draco had brought the scum to Potter, his arm had been broken in three places, but Draco had no idea how that injury occurred.

Somewhere in Amsterdam, this employee had snuck the drugs into the shipment. It was too large an amount to be for personal use or individual dealing, and Draco suspected someone higher up and significantly more intelligent had tried to take advantage of his family’s less than stellar reputation and use his company as a mule.

That had all been six months ago, and his investigation into the matter had ground to a uneasy halt. Too many leads and not enough time. With Kelpie's refusal to work with him again, Draco had been forced to be a little more clever with how he transported his stock over land and sky. The marriage law had also come into effect about this time, and he’d become a little...distracted by his fiancée.

“It’s a bad business, Malfoy. Left a nasty taste,” Kelpie said. Like the hand of a benevolent god, Kelpie bent down and patted Puck on the head. “I ain’t normally one to give a gag like yourself a second chance, but there’s a lady present. On your bike now, and I won’t be forced to blow a kneecap in.”

“A very generous offer, King, but I’m afraid I do need to have a little chat.”

“That’s a shame, a real shame.” Kelpie shook his head in a way which suggested it wasn’t really a shame that he’d had to break Draco’s knee. “You can come out now boys,” Kelpie shouted to the deserted yard.

Half a dozen men appeared out of the canal boats to stand on the boats' bows. Several more walked around the corner of the craggy walls, and more still perched on top of the stone barriers that enclosed the lock.

Kelpie walked towards Draco, and the ground seemed to shake with every step.

Draco considering himself a fairly imposing figure. He had an aristocratic bearing which spoke of money and breeding even before he opened his mouth. He was taller than Potter, but not as stocky or as broad. He was bigger than Zabini, but lacked Zabini’s graceful posture. However, Kelpie dwarfed him.

Kelpie’s fetid breath hit Draco’s nostrils, and for a moment Draco could taste fish and salt. “Which leg would you like Raspberry Rippled? Left or right?” Kelpie said, his eyes twinkling under a thick-boned brow.

“Excuse me?” Hermione said. Draco closed his eyes. She sounded like she was interrupting a teacher in class and not talking to one of the most dangerous men in London.

Kelpie didn’t have much magical ability and had never received any formal training, but he didn’t need it. He had other ways.

“You can’t seriously be intending to break his kneecaps?” She lifted her head and stared defiantly up into Kelpie’s face.

“I believe he said just the one kneecap, dear,” Draco said with false joviality. His heart might have been lifted by Hermione’s defence of him, but he had a feeling she would have protected anyone in the same situation.

“I won’t be breaking,” Kelpie said, “but my boy there will.” He jabbed his banana-sized thumb in the direction of a beefed-up young man. The man smiled; his steel plated teeth glinted in the sun.

She took a purposeful step towards Kelpie. “I hope you realise,” she said. She sounded like she was forcing the words out through gritted teeth; her voice was high-pitched with annoyance. “I will not stand here and let you harm him.”

Kelpie made a rude noise. “You ain’t got a choice. You can’t pull a wand out in the middle of my patch. This is Muggle London. We ain’t allowed to use magic here.”

“I don’t need a wand,” she said, and her eyes flashed like lightning. “I’m Hermione Granger. Who are you?”

Draco wished he’d had a camera to capture Kelpie’s expression for a later date, so he could have sat back with a drink and enjoyed the emotions that ruptured on Kelpie’s face. The big man’s mouth twisted with rage then popped opened with confusion as he finally recognised Hermione’s distinctive curly hair. He looked like he was trying to catch flies.

Kelpie removed his cigar and stuffed it, half chewed, into a pocket. “Gordon Bennett! Hermione Granger,” he said. He sounded as astonished as Draco had ever heard him “The Hermione Granger. Who worked with Harry Potter?” His accent had all but disappeared..

She tilted her chin a little more until she was almost looking straight up into the milky blue sky. “Yes.”

“Cor’,” Kelpie breathed. Draco was sure if the man had been in possession of a hat then he would have taken it off. Kelpie’s mouth was still open, and he looked a little dazed as he said in reverential tones, “Hermione Granger, in my gaff. Here,” he frowned, “why you hangin’ out with this slimy ponce?”

Draco let out a grunt of pain as Kelpie’s hand jabbed into his solar plexus.

“She’s – my – wife,” Draco managed to get out. Merlin , it hurt to breathe.

“What!” Kelpie looked outraged.

“Do you ever read?” Draco said, trying to control the urge to vomit. “It’s been over the papers for months.”

“I don’t read the papers. I line the bins with ‘em,” Kelpie hooked his hands in his belt loops.

Hermione stepped around Draco, who was bent double, and approached Kelpie. “I have no idea what Malfoy did to you – I’m sure he deserves some of your displeasure – however, I would consider it a personal favour if you didn’t break his kneecaps.” Her tone was sweet and as subtle as the flavour of acacia honey.  

Kelpie's sigh sounded like a wind turbine. “I’m a fan, I really am, but I can’t let the ponce go without a little roughing.”

“I need to talk to you,” Draco said, biting out the words. “It’s important.”

“Is there somewhere we can discuss matters, Mr King?” Hermione said.

Mr King .

Draco ducked a little lower and smiled to the concrete.

“There is,” Kelpie said it as if Hermione was dragging the admittance from him. He gave another long sigh. “Sorry about this. I’ll pull it, but his nose will bleed like a pig for thirty or so.”

“Sorry about what?” Hermione said, a little laugh bubbling through her voice. “I don’t understand?”

Draco did. He spun up and backed away from Kelpie. “Look, King,” he said and raised his hands in a pacifying gesture, “let’s not be hasty. We can come to some arrang –”

Draco didn’t finish his sentence because, at that moment, Kelpie raised his fist and punched him in the face.


 

When Draco regained consciousness, his head was balanced between Hermione’s breasts. He tried to smirk up at her, but his face hurt too much to pull off the movement. He grimaced instead.

“Fuck,” he said. His mouth was sore – no, his whole face was sore. He felt like he’d been smacked with the flat of a shovel. Then again, for all intents and purposes, if Kelpie King had punched him, then it was like being hit by a shovel. He clicked his tongue and winced at the taste of stale copper in his mouth. He tentatively touched his bottom lip with his tongue, and it stung at the contact. The punch had smashed his teeth into lip and cut it to ribbons.

“You're awake,” Hermione said. She sounded more than a little relieved. “How do you feel?”

“Like I got hit in the face.” His tone was parchment dry.

Her lips twitched. “I can only imagine. You look quite a sight. Black eye, bleeding nose, split lip.”

“Yes, I get the picture,” he said, waving a hand and immediately regretting it. Pain sprang to life in his neck. He screwed up his face and felt the dried blood crack around his nose and mouth.

They were inside Kelpie’s barge; Draco recognised the godawful decorating from his previous dealings with the man. Celtic plaid curtains paired with chintz upholstery.

Hermione was sitting on a bench that ran across the back of the barge, and her back was propped against the wooden side. Draco was nestled against her with his long legs stretched out along the bench.

“I don’t think your nose is broken,” she said and prodded the side of his nose.

“Ouch!” Draco flinched and scowled at her. “I could’ve told you that.” Through the barge's window, Draco could see pairs of feet walking along the pavement, but there was no sign of their host. “Where’s King?” he asked.

A flicker of something passed over Hermione’s face. “He’s making us a cup of tea.”

Draco’s eyebrows shot up. “Making tea? Kelpie King is making tea. What did you do to him?”

“I may have yelled at him for punching you.”

Draco didn’t care about the pain. He beamed at her. “I am very sorry I was indisposed. I would’ve enjoyed witnessing you go against King. I heard he once wrestled a ogre and won.”

“I hope that wasn’t a comparison between me and the ogre.” Hermione pushed her hair back behind her ear. “I work in the department for Magical Cooperation, remember. I can be very convincing. I simply told him that he needn’t have resorted to such violence.” She flicked her eyes downwards. “He’s a very odd man,” she said, conversationally. “Do you think he’s part giant?”

“I’m sure there is some giant in there somewhere. One of his parents hailed from Ireland, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a Fionn mac Cumhaill in his family tree.”

Hermione hesitated. “Did you – bring me here knowing that Kelpie was likely to attack you?” Draco’s eyes watched as she sucked her lower lip into her mouth.

“Perhaps.” Draco was becoming increasingly aware of how soft Hermione’s breasts felt against his cheek. How amenable would Hermione be to having sex in a barge? He had the whole broken and battered look going on – it might be enough to swing a pity fuck. “Has he shown you his tattoo yet?”

Colour flooded Hermione’s cheeks. “Yes, he did.”

His lip curled into a smile, or as much as a smile as he could manage with his injuries. “I always liked the realistic specks of blood on Potter’s face, and the way the light plays off Voldemort's hairless head. It’s very artistic.”

“Oh, do shut up.” She pressed a hand to her mouth to try and stifle her giggles. “I didn’t know what to do when he started to take off his shirt, but then I saw – I saw it and –” she stopped talking as her laughter overflowed into uncontrollable fits.

Her chest was shaking so much that Draco was forced to sit up. “He had it done last year. I was like you – equally baffled to why he started stripping – but then I saw it. His artistic veneration to Potter, capturing the imagined moments as he vanquished Voldemort. Potter, astride Voldemort's dead body, with his wand raised into the air in triumph. It brought a tear to my eye.”

Granger looked beautiful when she laughed, and she had a beautiful laugh. It was low, breathy, and impossibly sexy. Draco hadn’t heard it many times before. He’d experienced her barks, sighs, and occasional snorts, but little of her genuine laughter.

She threw her head back and exposed the long arc of her neck, and his head was filled with thoughts of marking her pale skin; branding it purple, and then watching the bruise fade to a smug green over the days.

He suddenly wanted that: to be able to lean over and press his mouth to her body and not be afraid of her rejection.

He went to bite his lip and gnaw on it until the uges went, but his front teeth reopened one of the cuts and blood filled his mouth.

“Damn,” he said, and pressed the heel of his hand to his bleeding lip. Hermione abruptly stopped laughing. “Granger, would you mind doing a quick Episkey ? I don’t fancy bleeding everywhere while I talk to King.”

She raised her wand and muttered the spell, and she also added a Tergeo .

Draco felt his face knit itself back together. The blood on his lip was sucked back into his body, and the cuts scabbed and healed in rapid progression. He gave the lip an experimental bite.

“Why have you brought me here?” she asked and put away her wand. “I hope it wasn’t to ingratiate yourself with him so he’ll agree to let you use the canals again. While I appreciate that you are a legitimate businessman, I don’t believe Mr King is.”

Draco rubbed his jaw, feeling for any spots that the magic might have missed. “Potter has asked me to continue my investigation into potential Dark magic traders –”

“You don’t think Mr King is involves with such matters?” Hermione straightened her spine and worry streaked her face.

“No, not with a I-Heart-Harry-Potter tattoo on his back,” he said. He briefly brushed his hand down her arm. Her coat was thick, but he could feel the shape of her arm underneath. “Kelpie King has his fingers in a lot of pies, and the likelihood is that he will know something, or someone.” He crooked a smile at her. “You, my dear, are here to be ornamental and to distract King from, well...punching me in the face again.”   

Hermione opened her mouth – probably to argue with his description of her as ‘ornamental’ – but the barge gave a sudden lurch, and the unmistakable voice of Kelpie boomed through the cabin.

“I’ve got tea,” Kelpie said. He appeared to have dropped the act. His accent wasn’t as thick, and he said ‘tea’ rather than employ rhyming slang and call it ‘Rosy Lee’.

“Thank you very much, Mr King,” Hermione called back.

“I see Sleeping Beauty has arisen,” Kelpie said as he pulled back the curtains – which separated either end of the long barge – with his elbow. “Your missus was beginning to fret.” He handed Hermione a cup of what Draco supposed was tea. It was brown and steaming, at least.

“I highly doubt Hermione has, or ever will, fret over me,” Draco said, and he fixed a smile to his face. “Where is my tea?”

“Shove it.” Kelpie jerked a thumb backwards. “Kitchen’s that way.”

Draco didn’t get up. Instead he leaned back onto the bench and casually threw his arm behind Hermione’s shoulder. Kelpie's sharp eyes didn’t miss a trick.

“I don’t mind your lady wife being here – she can stay as long as she wants – but you,” Kelpie said and there was a meanness in his voice, “can bugger off.”

“Mr King has been telling me all about your disagreement,” Hermione said, her voice acting as a balm on Draco’s frazzled nerves. “I have to say, Mr King,” Hermione turned her exacting gaze on Kelpie, “that I do believe that Malfoy didn’t know anything about the stowaway narcotics. He had expressed to me, on several occasions, his desire to separate his company from his family’s past. I don’t believe he would put his company in jeopardy for – how did you put it – ‘enough pixie dust to blow your brains.’”

“She is completely correct, King,” Draco said. “If I was going to screw you over, then I would have done it for considerably more money and not been caught.”

Kelpie crossed his arms, which were so big that he could only really cross his wrists. “I don’t trust you, Malfoy. You’re a city slicker and don’t smell right – to me, or to Puck.”

Draco wrapped one of Hermione’s curls around his finger. “Your own odour is hardly to be desired,” he curved his lip, “and don’t even get me started on what your dog smells of.”

All joviality left Kelpie’s face at Draco’s mention of the man’s obnoxious little phouka, and King’s brows lowered like approaching storm clouds on the horizon.

“Draco, please,” Hermione quickly said. She shrugged off Draco’s encroaching hand. “Both you and Mr King are injured parties, and there’s no need to fight each other anymore. Mr King,” she smiled, “I have a favour to ask of you, on behalf of Harry.”

Predictably, Kelpie’s eyes lit up like a fucking Christmas tree.

“Harry Potter?” King said, his voice hoarse. “Needs a favour of me? Chuffin’ Nora. Whatever it is, consider it done. I wouldn’t be here if You-Know-Who was still around.” He screwed up his nose. “He didn’t much like magical folk workin’ with Muggles.”

Draco silently agreed.

Kelpie worked indiscriminately, switching between the magical and Muggle worlds with the toss of a coin. If they had the readies, then he would work with them. As long as they weren’t ‘posh wankers with airy-fairy ethics’. Apparently .

From broken conversations with Kelpie over the years, Draco had been able to ascertain that Kelpie had gone underground (or further underground) during the second wizarding war; having, and probably accurately, concluded that a half-blood, half-giant something-or-other, Muggle-loving wizard was going to be high on Voldemort’s eradication list.

Kelpie pulled out his mangled cigar and bit into it. “How can I be of service?”

“There have been Portkey apparations in France and Germany,” Hermione said, all business, “at the top on the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate. We believe that this misuse of Portkeys could be a way of smuggling items into these countries.”

Kelpie snorted. “Hardly smugglin’ if it’s in broad daylight. Can’t think of a less hidden place. The top of the chuffin’ Eiffel Tower?” He spat, and crunched on the tobacco. “How do you know it isn’t kids mucking about?”

“When I tried to speak to one of the wizards that apparated, he reacted...negatively,” Hermione said.

Understatement of the century. Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. “He stunned her unconscious for a whole day.”

There was a whistling sound as Kelpie sucked in a breath.

“According to Potter,” Draco continued, “this wizard was holding a bronze bull imbued with an intoxicating amount of Dark magic.”

“If any tea leaf was running a new game on my patch, I would’ve heard,” Kelpie said. “I’ll keep me’ ear to ground, but from the sounds of it these glitters aren't smuggling. What you have to understand, Miss,” Kelpie nodded at Hermione, “is that criminals aren't smart. We don’t plan a fleece to thrill, or for shits and giggles. We plan it to work, and for it to be as under the radar as possible. Excuse my French, but any buggers appearing on the top of the fuckin’ Eiffel Tower want to be seen. They want to be noticed.” There was a sound, like the groan of a giant, as Kelpie stood up. “You’ll have to pardon me now. I’ve got my lawful and completely honest business attend to.” He flashed a blue-eyed wink.

“Thank you for your time,” Hermione said. She lowered her untouched tea to the floor. “And your help.”

“Utter pleasure.”

Draco didn’t get up. Instead, he lounged back and crossed his ankles, and fixed Kelpie with a lazy smirk. “What about the bull, King? Do you have any insight to offer on that?”

Kelpie’s eyes lowered and hardened. “I suggest you have a word with your old man. When it comes to Dark magic and that bullshit, I leave it to the experts.” He offered his arm to Hermione. “May I see you safely to the Market?”

Hermione looked a little phased by Kelpie’s barbarised gallantry. Her voice briefly caught in her throat before she recovered. “Eh – Yes.”  She hesitated but laid her hand on top of Kelpie’s trunk-like forearm.

Draco was forced to watch his wife walk away on the arm of Kelpie.

He swore and quickly got up and went after them.

Hermione almost looked like she enjoyed the big oaf's company. She was smiling up at Kelpie as if spring had just come, and she seemed so diminutive and fairy-like beside Kelpie’s bulk. Draco was sure he swore again. His head felt like a fish bowl, and his vision was slightly swimming. Probably an after-effect of that punch.

He raked a hand through his hair and tried to get the normally manageable locks under control.

“Oi, Malfoy.”

Draco lowered his hand from his head and glared at Kelpie. “Yes. What is it now?”

“I want a word.”

Draco angled his mouth upwards and blew a strand of hair out of his eyes. “Now he wants a word,” he muttered under his breath.

Hermione’s eyes were rapidly flicking to Draco and then back to Kelpie. She looked like she was watching a very quick game of tennis.

“Go ahead, Granger.” Draco waved a hand at her. “I won’t be a second.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, and, as if drawn in pencil, her brows faintly lined

“Never been more sure,” he drawled. “Run along.”

That worked. Hermione glared at him and jutted her chin out in a way which Draco was finding more and more adorable. She was so incensed at Draco’s dismissal of her that she turned on her heel and stormed around the corner without a backwards glance at either Draco or Kelpie.

“You know, you’re a right wanker,” Kelpie said. He pulled out another cigar and viciously bit off the end. “How the fuck did you,” he jabbed the cigar butt in Draco’s direction, “end up with her?”

Draco posed his head and smiled. “Luck of the draw.”

Kelpie grunted. “She said somethin’ about a law. Fuckin’ disgrace.” He took out his anger on the cigar. Since Hermione left, some of Kelpie’s viciousness had seeped back into him. His whole body seemed to expand. Draco realised that for Hermione, Kelpie had been reducing the amount of space he took up, making smaller movements and trying to not impose his size on her. But now he seemed to be growing; bellowing and blowing like a storm in full force.

“Has anyone ever told you that is a truly repulsive habit?” Draco said and stepped back to avoid low flying tobacco.

Kelpie ignored him. “I told her, I know a bit of river bottom that no one will trench for a good long while.”

“I’m sure if Granger wishes to dispose of me, then there will be many people offering their services.”

Kelpie loomed over Draco, and the sheer breadth of his shoulders blocked out the sun. “I should have kicked you in the cobblers when I had the chance.”

Draco readjusted his stance so he could look Kelpie full in the face. It was not a sight for the faint-hearted. From this proximity, the pores on Kelpie's nose looked like the pits and spoils of Grime’s Graves.

“She wouldn’t have thanked you for that,” Draco said. His smile a little strained now. “It's the one part of me that she’s actually attached to.”

Draco watched in disdain as Kelpie’s molars pulverized the cylindrical tube. The irony of the imagery was not lost on him.

“What was the word, King? Unless you were using it as a metaphor for getting another punch in.” Draco quirked an eyebrow. “You do know what a metaphor is?”

“Shut it,” Kelpie growled. “I don’t know much about Portkeys, or apparations, or whatever you – la-de-da – educated bastards do. But there’s something brewing. There’s been a lot of shifty buggers trynna’ hitch a ride on my boats. From France, Greece, Italy, all over Europe, and further. I’ve told me’ lads to not take anyone on board, but a few always slip through. It’s like muck spreading, Malfoy. I can smell it in the air.”

Draco frowned at that information. People were always illegally entering countries, and most of them were not travelling for nefarious purposes. Yet, a marked increase – enough of an increase for King to notice it – that must be important. He’d be damned if he knew why it was important.

“Right,” Draco said, suddenly grim. He turned away from Kelpie and walked towards where Hermione had disappeared.

“If I see you around –” Kelpie started, but Draco interrupted him.

“Let me guess.” Draco stormed back, and his breath came out like steam. “You’ll gut me like a fish? Decorate the inside of your barge with my entrails? Tie my dismembered body to the bow and sail upstream?”

Kelpie looked affronted. “It’s a fucking barge. You don’t sail it!” He rolled his Atlas-like shoulders back. “Nah – I was gonna give you a wedding gift. But we can do the stuff with entrails if you’d like.”

“Great.” Draco kicked his heels backwards and gravel skidded away from him. “Fucking fantastic.”

Kelpie’s laugh was broken and as subtle as a cement mixer. “You berk,” he wheezed.

Draco stopped walking away. “King,” he said. “I’ll forgive you that one punch as I woke up with my face in my wife’s breasts. However, if you ever lay a finger on me again,” he gave a little shrug, “I will break it.”

Kelpie cracked an uneven smile. “That’s the first honest thing that’s come out of your mouth.”

 

“Have the grown ups finished talking?” Hermione’s words cut the icy air.

Draco stopped in front of his wife. They were barely out of earshot of Kelpie himself, and undoubtedly the big man had one of his boys following them to make sure they left. Now the boy would get to witness their spat.

“Can we do this in a minute?” His face felt tense and numb, and like he’d been shoved face first into a bucket of freezing water.

He went to walk past her and towards Camden Market, but Hermione grabbed his upper arm and dug her fingers in. She tugged him around and forced him to look at her. Her face was flushed, and her eyes were dark and seemed to burn.

“How dare you dismiss me,” she said, panting in her rage. “To have your ‘men only chat’. I have more right than you to know what is going wrong: I work for the Ministry.”

He held back a sigh. “It wasn’t like that –”

“Then what was it? Because it seemed to me that you waved your hand and expected me to clear off –”

He wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose again to try and alleviate some of the pressure that was building there. He blinked a few times and hoped the rapid eye movements might clear his head.

“– when all I way trying to do was make sure he wasn’t going to punch you again. Just, as I might add, you asked me too.” She used her grip on his arm to jab the finger of her other hand into his chest. “Asked me in the most insulting way imaginable. Ornamental . Really, is that how you perceive me? As an ornament?”

He clapped his hands over his eyes. “Granger,” he said, his voice muffled by his hands. “If I could interrupt the feminist tirade.”

He lowered his hands and tried to school his expression. The pain in his head was blossoming and bleeding into his brain like ink in water.

“The entire reason that we had to have our ‘men only chat’,” he said, his tone impossibly precise, “– as you dubbed it – was because you work for the Ministry. Kelpie was hardly going to incriminate himself in front of someone who works for the magical government. Or place you in an awkward position. I know he looks thick.” He gently pulled his arm out of her grasp. Her hand fell away. “But I highly doubt anyone can actually be that thick. Our chat was discrimination against your job, not because you're a woman.”

The static between them was palpable, and it crackled in the air like miniaturised lightening. Draco imagined that he could see little bolts in Hermione’s hair. It billowed like clouds, and her curls were shaded like the grey underbelly of a tempest.

He was expecting the sting of her slap, or the slide of her words under his skin as she cursed him. Yet nothing happened. She just looked at him: sullen and still, like the air before a summer storm.

She wanted more.

He took a breath. “I will admit that ‘ornamental’ was inappropriate. It was in reference to you as a war heroine and not a physical compliment. Although,” he constructed a half-hearted leer, “I do find you both distracting and enjoyable to look at.”

He stopped and waited.

That must be enough . He’d suitably prostrated himself, and gone through the issues she’d raised: ticking them off one by one. If he was her employer, then he would have said he’d covered actions for complaint; apart from the last comment which would have left him open for a sexual harrassment suit.

Hermione pursed her lips, but didn’t open them. In response, he felt his own mouth droop.

The anger crawled up inside of him and settled somewhere below his diaphragm; a sharp biting rage that gnawed like the teeth of some unseen beast.

What more did she want from him? The question plagued him in the early hours of the morning. In the comedown of his orgasm. In those strained and reticent moments which were becoming a fixture in their relationship and as punctilious as his morning coffee break.

A muscle near his jaw twitched. “I need a drink and a sit down.” He was going to be gracious even if it killed him. “Would you care to join me?”

Her brows drew together, and she tilted her head. It was as if she was staring at a painting she couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of.

"Do you understand,” she said, starting slowly, “that society and thousands of years of culture tell me that I’m lesser. That even a hundred and fifty years ago, I would be unable to make a decision without my husband's guidance. You compound this prejudice when you take away my choices."

He stared at her. “I waved my hand at you. That is hardly taking away your choices.”

"You may feel that I need plausible deniability as a Ministry employee, but I don’t agree.” Her last sentence lingered the air as puffs of cloud. “Your failure to consult me on this treats me as if my opinion and time are worth less than yours, and as if I’m not a partner."

“We're hardly partners.” He made a snort that slapped the back of his throat. “You simply tagged along because you were bored.”

She took a step towards him until he could feel the heat of her breath on his neck. He shivered. It was cold, and she was warm. It was just an autonomic reaction.

"Either you can treat me as an equal and have my cooperation, which means discussing things with me before they happen. Or you can have me in opposition,” she said, her tone infuriatingly reasonable.

He tried to keep his breathing regular; to keep it together. However, it was proving a challenge when the discomfort of his headache was rapidly being outstripped by her remarks.
She rose on her tiptoes and spoke into his ear. “Possibly you’ll believe me when I say that I’m more than your equal when I devote my entire attention to a matter. Right now, I'm Gryffindor enough to set myself on fire to watch you burn.”

He was glad she couldn’t see his face. She would have dined out on his expression of barely-suppressed rage.

“I'll have to take option two,” he said. “I dread to think a what would happen if we actually started being civil to one another. I would much rather get scorched as you burn yourself in the name of whatever fruitless cause is your current obsession.”

Her sigh fluttered passed his ear. “Here was I thinking you were too much a Slytherin to stand for anything other than bigotry and self-interest. Goodbye, Malfoy.”

She walked away from him and took her warmth with her.

Fuck it.

Chapter Text

Draco did what all blokes did when they were out of sorts with their wives and sought sanctuary and solace in the pub.

The Kings Neck in Camden Town was something of a dive. The smell assaulted his nose with a combination of yeasty beer and male body odour. The lighting was dim. It gave the pub a dingy and dungeon-like aspect which as a Slytherin alumni made him feel right at home. The decoration was atrocious and had possibly been dredged up from sometime in the previous century. The walls were painted a visually-impairing shade of yellow which was incongruously Warhol when compared with the Victorian-esque fixtures of the wooden bar and the cracked leather clad barstools.

Getting drunk probably wasn’t the wisest course of action, but he already had a headache, so, he’d reasoned, why not make it so much worse.

He’d bought the cheapest cider that was on offer, which could explain why he already thought he was going to be sick. It wasn’t the foulest cider he’d ever imbibed. No, that honour was held by the barrel of scrumpy he’d consumed the summer after he’d been released from Azkaban. Those scrumpy hangovers had caused him to feel as if his tongue had melted in his mouth and his brains dripped down his nose.

Draco gingerly picked up the slippery pint glass and took another swig. It tasted of bitter-apples; an acerbic tang which suited his current emotional state. Still, he pulled a face like he had picked up a dead vole when it hit the back of his throat.

He lowered the glass and propped his elbow on the bar. Beer spilled by previous customers, and whatever else was on the surface of the bar, stained and soaked his sleeve. He started to leisurely run his finger around the rim of the glass. Above him the bare bulbs glinted off his half-empty glass and reflected the rows of bottles behind the bar, stretching and distorting them like a funhouse mirror.

He dropped his chin onto the heel of his hand.

He seemed to spend most of his life watching Granger walk away. It had its perks. Or should he say perts. Even when she’d turned her back on him this afternoon, he hadn’t been able to stop himself admiring her. He didn’t need to see her face to appreciate exactly how angry she was. Granger had a great strut, and she walked as if the pavement had insulted her grandmother. She’d swung her hips, thrust her legs forward, and put on a burst of speed as she’d propelled herself away from him.

He’d gone after her. Of course he had. He had an apology ready and waiting to be trotted out the moment he caught up with her. By the time he’d rounded the corner, she’d vanished. She’d either apparated or disappeared into the crowds of tourists and locals in Camden Market.

He’d considered slipping into the market to see if she was there, but had thought better of it. Camden Market was labyrinthine. The stall-lined corridors twisted and turned like twine, and on every corner there seemed to be a shop that sold hookah pipes and shisha tobacco, and these almost identical storefronts mislead and duped the trusting visitor.

Over the decades, the market’s passages had grown organically and like the high hedges of a maze; they enclosed, hemming and pinning the wanderer inside fissure-like spaces; encompassed, like the smallest figure in a Matryoshka doll.

He’d avoided the market; he had no desire to be strung along for hours. Instead, he’d cut through Camden High Street. The Kings Neck was the first establishment he saw. The pub’s countenance was dire, plastered with terracotta tiles that were chipped and cracked, and therefore it suited his plan of getting utterly sozzled perfectly.

He was drinking to forget, but he couldn’t place his finger on exactly what he was trying to forget. Was it their argument, her accusations, their marriage. Or was it simply that he wanted to forget her. Drive her from his brain like a hot poker. Like she was an infection: a hot, dull ache that was festering and seeping further into his soul with every passing hour. He needed to cauterise a wound; cut out the sickness, and sear her from his skin.

Draco leaned back in the barstool and stared at the ceiling. He’d never felt this way about someone before. It was an all-consuming desire not just for her body, but for her . He’d had lovers and plenty of them. He was discerning in his choices, but he catered to a wide-range of tastes. But he hadn’t – he hadn’t. It had been sex with some light-companionship thrown in; there were emotional and physical attachments, but he wasn’t cut-up when an arrangement came to an end, either naturally or abruptly. He would admit that he had a tendency to distance himself if subjects pertaining to commitment and future plans kept cropping up. He was rich and successful, and after a while people became a little fixated with the prospect of what he could do for them.

He’d married Granger, however. He’d made the biggest commitment he could make to another person, and she seemed to have no idea.

Maybe Blaise was spot on. Draco shuddered. Maybe he did want to seduce Granger . It was awful to consider that one’s best friend might be right about something.

Granger was certainly appealing on a physical level. He was attracted to many people, but there was an element of boyhood fantasy with her. He’d been brought up to hate her purely due to her antecedents, and then in school he’d grown to develop a form of infatuation with her. It was a competitive obsession; one driven by personal desire to be unsurpassable.

His current fancy must have something to do with this. They were feelings which resonated with his past ambition to beat her academic skill.  

He could assure himself that his feelings were not to do with her as an individual.

It was a physical attraction – nothing more.

A physical attraction because he was having sex with her. And only her.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone celibate once he’d found out that he was going to marry Granger. It had been a logical choice at the time. She seemed the type to like monogamy, faithfulness, and – that dreaded word – fidelity.

She’d been angry enough with the situation without him shagging half of London in the meantime.

There was also the problem that other partners had paled in comparison when he’d realised that sleeping with Hermione Granger was a certain – and not to mention imminent – prospect.  

As a teenager he’d never imagined her naked...until he was at least sixteen, and then those imaginings have been somewhat abstract and focused on what was under her top. He had formed a juvenile picture of her on her knees sucking him off. He still fantasised about that, but now it wasn’t with a desire to dominate her out of hatred. He wanted her submittance to be voluntary. He wanted her to sink to the floor because she desired him.

Images of Granger filtered into his cider-soaked brain, and he was so distracted that when he set the empty pint glass down, he missed the paper coaster by three inches.

Draco raised his hand and signalled for another drink. The barman was efficient, and almost immediately Draco was sipping at the slightly frothy top of a new pint. This stuff really did get better the more he drank.

He’d been here for over two hours, and the only thing that had bothered him was the frankly sickeningly-coloured walls. However, at the start of his fourth or something glass, even the walls were losing their repugnance.

Light bounced through the cider and caught on the bubbles as they made their slow ascent through the liquid. Each little bubble was like pin-prick of light, sparkling like stars in an amber coloured sky.

He slowly blinked and looked beyond the alcohol. The world was soft and unfocused so the colours of the pub’s brown and yellow decor flowed together like wet mud.

Hermione’s colouring was like mud: her hair, her eyes. Like the rich lush earth of a ploughed field. Brown, and as dark, as when a plough’s metal shin broke the earth’s dead crust to overturn and expose the fresh soil underneath. Freshly turned earth may be fertile, but it had to be cultivated before anything could be sown, otherwise it was just useless clods of dirt.

He pressed his lips together, and his grip tightened on the glass.  

Granger – she was frankly a witch with a capital ‘B’.

What did she want him to say? Did she want to hear about Kelpie’s illegal activities and then feel honour-bound to arrest him.

All he was trying to do was what Potter and she had asked. She held his arm and smiled up at him. Merlin , she’d practically begged him. And yet, he was constantly being berated and treated like a contemptible bastard. He wasn’t a saint – by the gods, he wasn’t – but neither was he the root of all evil on earth. He was just a man caught in a situation which, for once, was not of his own creation.

He took another long gulp of life-affirming cider.

She was so frustrating. Her use of – every single phrase against him. It was exhausting – she was exhausting.

His thoughts were sluggish as if they were crawling through tree sap, and by the time they arrived at the front of his brain they were slippery and difficult to keep hold of. A couple of times he and Blaise had tried to play quidditch while drunk. Over the gardens of the Manor, they’d managed to get their brooms up in the air, but no matter what Draco did, he couldn’t catch the quaffle. His reflexes were still there, but it was like he was viewing the world a few seconds behind reality. His fingers would only brush the leather as the quaffle sailed past him. His thoughts were like that quaffle: fleeting and out of his reach.  

Hermione had to be out of it because of her job, because of her connection to the ministry and law, and everything else that people like Kelpie King disliked. He’d needed King to talk. He’d planned it: soften Kelpie up with Granger, and then he’d take over.

He did consult her – he did – he did consult her – just not then. She had to trust him – he knew best. In this – on being conniving – he knew best.

The world was cut in half as his eyelids drooped. He blindly fumbled for his collar and pulled it open. The air was warm on his exposed neck.

He should give up and resign himself to the rest of his life with a woman who couldn't stand to be in the same room as him. She wouldn’t achieve her ridiculous divorce plan. This was a law, and a law for a reason, and if Hermione Granger couldn’t get herself out of this law six months ago, then what chance did she have now that they were married.

They were married. It should be different.

 

Like the shadow of a rising fish, he remembered the day he’d received the letter: the one which informed him that he was required by law to get married and then to whom. It was a clever ploy of the Ministry’s to announce the marriage law and the recipient's intended fiance in the same dispatch. It had certainly stopped him from complaining.

Hermione Granger: recognised as the brains to Potter’s woefully substandard brawn, brilliant in both her academic and Ministry career, and the poster girl for all Muggle-borns. Her list of accomplishments read like an ideal resume.

How could he not smirk when he read the letter.

She hadn’t been so mollified by the knowledge that she was going to be leg-shackled to him for the rest of her life, or ‘not a single minute’ which is what she announced when she barged into his office that morning.

He remembered there had been fire in her eyes and ice in her words.

“I don’t believe you have many options, Granger,” he’d said. “It’s either Azkaban or me. While I’d like to say that isn’t a hard decision, I have a feeling for you it is.” He’d stayed seated behind his desk and eyed her with a look of predatory interest. A sharp-eyed gaze that he hadn’t allowed himself until then, but now that they were going to be married...

Over the years, he’d become familiar with her face, but only in an objective sense. He’d watched her at Ministry and social functions and studied her expression on the covers of publications. She was one of the few people whose face was on the front cover of The Daily Prophet more than his.

She was less gangly than she had been at school, and her face had lost that gaunt look which it had in the months succeeding the war, but she still held herself in that same haughty manner: her shoulders back and her chin stuck into the air like an ode to defiance.

Her upper lip had warped in a very familiar way as she looked down her nose at him. “I wouldn’t count on it,” she’d said in frosty accents. “I don’t care if I have to lobby the Ministry every single day: I will never marry you.”

“Famous last words.” He’d got up in one smooth movement and stalked towards her, buttoning his jacket as he walked. “I say we make the best of it.” He’d grinned unkindly. “Should we have a practice run of the wedding night?”

She’d stepped smartly back. “Don’t touch me.”

From this close proximity, her eyes had seemed to burn. Flecked with amber and gold – like sparks that shot from a blacksmith's hammer.

“You cannot honestly tell me that you’re happy to have me ,” she touched a hand to her collarbone, “as your wife? I’m Muggle-born. I fought in a war against you. I was at your father’s sentencing.”

He didn’t even blink at the mention of his father.

“All water under the bridge,” he’d said in an airy tone which he didn’t feel.

He’d stepped towards her.

“I find that very hard to believe.” She’d stepped back.

“Will you believe that I am quite willing to make the best out of an awful predicament?”

“Doubtful, very doubtful.” Her eyes had narrowed. “I wouldn't be surprised if you’d arranged this whole situation.”

“What? An entire law just so I can get into your knickers?” He’d made a derisive noise as he breathed out. “I want to fuck you, Granger, but not that badly.”

He’s said it to shock her, and it had the desired effect. His office door had made a little rattling sound as her back hit it.

“Then bribe – or blackmail,” she’d said, sputtering like a dying candle flame. “I’m sure someone would’ve taken an anonymous ‘donation’ just to swap a couple of names around.”

That wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion, he’d inwardly conceded. If he had known about the law, then he might have been tempted to rearrange a couple of matches – what was the point of having money if he couldn’t swing things his way on occasion – but the news had been as much of a surprise to him as it was to her.

He’d placed the flat of his hand against the door so that his thumb was on the same parallel line as her eyes. Her face was pinched, but her bottom lip was still deliciously plump at the centre.

Her eyes traced the length of his arm, up his shoulder and neck, before settling on his face.

He’d been sure his pupils were dilated; eroding at the grey like acid.

He’d leaned forward until he could smell the delicate jasmine of her perfume.

“You know,” his words ghosting her face, “you really are very attractive. I’m rather looking forward to aspects of our marriage.”

She’d shoved her head back into the wood, away from him, with a crack.

“I will never accept you as my husband.”

She’d opened the door and backed out of his office.

 

Even now her phrasing still bothered him.

I will never accept you as my husband .

She had been true to her word.

He had her. Their marriage was legal and binding and consummated. He’d fucked her, and some dark part of himself was gleeful that he’d had his lascivious way with Hermione Granger.  

He fondled, caressed, and come in her body, but he’d never once touched her mind. It was as if she kept slivers of herself locked away, hidden from him so he could only see a partial view of her. He’d seen glimpses of these fragments in the way she’d spoken to Kelpie King and in her playful interaction with Potter. But he was always the spectator: the intruding interloper. It was like looking at the sky from between bars; the brilliance of the moon and the azure blue of dawn would be latticed and blocked by strikes of iron.

It wasn’t enough.

He was coming to realise that just sleeping with Hermione was never going to be enough. He was jealous of the people she gifted with her smiles. They seemed to have no idea of what they were receiving; ignorant of the rarity and the value of her affection.  

Perhaps he was incorrect, and she hadn’t hidden parts of herself away. Perhaps the picture he was viewing was what she allowed him to see. Perhaps, instead, she’d compartmentalised him in that big brain of hers. Formed a fleshy prison around that part of her head that considered him; where she could organise and neatly file him to be catalogued under a number to be recorded and referenced when required. Like when she needed him to get an erection.

He didn’t want to be boxed or compartmentalised. He wanted to own her, and for her to own him. Her smiles, and her soul, and everything else good and worthy about her. It was a base and predatory instinct that disintegrated his reason and good sense like grain ground between millstones.

I hate you. I will never accept you as my husband .

He craved her acceptance, her approval, and even, in a small way, her love. Her rejection of him was a physical pain, like he was swallowing hot coals, or acid that slow-burned and ate at his insides.

She’d slept with him, but she had never once recognised their marriage as anything other than an obstacle to overcome.

I'm Gryffindor enough to set myself on fire to watch you burn .

He was already burning; she was the fuel.

 

Draco stood up, and the world tilted. He grabbed the bar and anchored himself as his stomach threatened to draw inspiration from the vomit-coloured walls.

The barman gave him a bemused look. “Decided you’ve had enough?”

Draco kept his eyes fixed on a bottle of Bacardi white rum and waited for his balance to adjust. The bar’s surface was concerningly sticky under his fingers, and he tried to suppress his grimace as he spoke to the barman. “I’m going home to make love to my wife.”

The pronouncement came out of his mouth a little louder than he’d expected, and there was an encouraging jeer from the back of the pub.  

“Then you’re not going to need this.” The barman picked up Draco’s almost full pint glass and poured it down the sink. “Mate, with the amount you’ve had you’re going to embarrass yourself.”

Draco nodded in silent agreement and then regretted this as his head span again. He took a few long breaths. “I’ve already embarrassed myself.”

The barman’s mouth turned up in a half-smile. “Fair enough. Try, ‘I’m sorry, and I’ll never do it again’.”

Draco grabbed his coat and tried to put it on before realising it was inside out. “I called her ornamental,” he pulled the sleeve the right way out, “and she called me a bigot.”

There was a high-pitched noise as the barman sucked in a breath. “That may take more than an apology.”

“I have my methods.” Draco was tempted to tap his nose but he was afraid he might miss.

He staggered towards the door and opened it. An icy wind hit his face and filtered past him into the musky warmth of the pub. It was early evening and the temperature had dropped into the minuses, but the cold was refreshing, and the smell of London traffic was preferable to beer and body odour. He peered out into Camden. The street was bustling with evening commuters and people heading out for whatever entertainment they could find on a Thursday evening. The sudden beep of a car horn drew Draco’s attention, and he watched as a driver gesticulated at a pedestrian walked in the road. The for-hire black cab behind the car caught Draco’s eye and caused him to smile.

“You might want to try that apology first, mate,” the barman called in a ‘rather you than me’ voice, “just in case she doesn’t let you in the door.”

Draco raised his hand in a salute and walked out into the crowd.


 

Draco knocked at the Zabini-Lovegood abode, but because he’d known Blaise for most of his life, he was knocking at the back door rather than the front.

Draco kept tapping at the patio door even as Blaise slid it open.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Blaise stuck his hand out and effectively blocked Draco’s entrance into the house.

The house was a terrace and situated in a picturesque white crescent in Notting Hill. The rooms were narrow, but the house made up for the lack of footprint in height. It was an impressive six stories tall, including a basement kitchen which overlooked a Sunken Garden.

Draco looked past Zabini, into the kitchen, and at the gleaming marble countertops and Scandinavian minimalist furniture. The kitchen looked colourless and tasteful, and distinctly lacking any of Luna Lovegood’s heinous interior design ideas.  

“Let me in,” Draco said. The night air, which had seemed invigoratingly fresh and bracing, was now causing his extremities to go numb with cold. At least he could feel his extremities now which meant some of the cider was working its way through his system.

“I can’t,” Blaise said, his teeth gritted in a whisper. He jerked his head to the side. “They’re here.”

Draco raised an eyebrow at Blaise’s dramatic pronouncement. “Who's here?”

“My wife, your wife, and Potter’s wife.”

Draco blanched. “Fuck,” he said, copying Blaise’s whispered tone.

“You’re being dissected. I haven’t heard this much yelling since my mother’s fourth divorce.” Blaise’s mouth tilted up. “Is it true that you once came after thirty seconds?”

“Fuck.” It seemed to be the only word he knew how to say. “It was one time. The witch .”

Draco bashed his head on the glass door, causing Blaise to wince at the noise.

“Not so loud!”

“I came here to sober up.”

“I can smell why.” Blaise wrinkled his nose. “Cider? I know you’re from the West Country, but do you have fit the stereotype –” Blaise abruptly stopped talking as a loud laugh echoed through the house. “Potter’s wife,” Blaise said. He looked back at Draco, and his eyes narrowed in determination. “You need to go before they see you.”

“For fuck’s sake, Blaise. Let me in. I’m cold, and I’ve drunk too much to walk back to Granger’s house.”

He obviously looked pathetic enough because Blaise stepped back from the door.

“Fine,” Blaise said. “But when Hermione kills you, can you try and not bleed on the carpets. They’re from Italy.” He softly slid the door closed behind Draco.

“I know where they're from.” Draco shook his hands and tried to get some life back into them. “I was the one who imported them.”

“Oh yes, I forgot that.” Blaise rolled his eyes and held out a hand for Draco's coat, making a 'hurry up' gesture. “So, what’s the plan of attack – and please don’t say you’re going to rely on your natural charm because that never works.”

“It has yet to fail.” His fingers were stiff, and he struggled to unbutton his coat. It wasn’t the elegant entrance he was used to.

“Frankfurt.” Blaise's expression was carefully neutral, but Draco could see the smile lurking behind. Fucker .

“Now Blaise,” Draco said with purposeful slowness, “we promised not to bring up Frankfurt every time we argued.”

“No, you promised," said Blaise, who, seeming to give up on Draco taking his coat off any time this century, folded his arms. "You weren't the one who had to spend the night in a Muggle hospital.”

“No, I spent a restful and erotic evening in the Muggle jail.” Draco rolled his shoulders and shoved his coat off. “He was going to punch somebody eventually. The man was itching for a fight.”

Blaise threw his hands into the air. “Only because you asked his girlfriend and his little sister for a threesome – and they agreed.”

Draco gave a slanted smile. “As you said, natural charm.” He held out his coat for Blaise to take.

“Seven stitches, Malfoy. On the inside of my mouth.” Blaise took Draco’s coat and promptly dropped it on the floor. “Done in the Muggle way with a needle.”

Draco sighed and picked up his coat. “I defended your honour, did I not? I hit him back for you.” He deftly threw it over the back of one of the metal barstools that was tucked under the breakfast bar. “You shouldn’t have gotten in the way.”

Blaise’s brows snapped together. “I was trying to stop you having another Muggle brawl.”

“You did a marvelous job. When the polizei arrived, they knew exactly who to arrest.”

“If Hermione doesn’t kill you tonight then I might.”

“Hopefully she will spare you the trouble.” He ran a hand through his hair, endeavouring to straighten out the damage that Kelpie King’s punch, hours spent in a pub, and then a brisk walk around London had done. “How do I look?” He turned towards Blaise.

Blaise’s mouth was poker-straight. “Like a smug git.”

“How I usually do, then.” He stopped combing his hair with his hand and pointed to the kitchen door. “Is she upstairs?”

“I’d been doing such a good job of staying out of the way and avoiding pissing off anyone’s wife, including my own, and then you show up and that plan turns to shit.” Blaise’s tone was resentful, and similar to that of a teenager who had just been told to clean their bedroom. “Follow me.”

Blaise led the way out of the kitchen and up a short flight of stairs to the ground floor of the house. If Draco remembered correctly, there was a lounge and a dining room on this floor, and then on the second floor was a sitting room and Blaise’s study – although Draco had no idea why the man needed a study as he never seemed to work.

The sound of feminine chatter was getting louder as they approached the lounge.

Draco moved towards the door but was stopped as Blaise’s hand shot-out to grabbed his arm.

“That floorboard creaks,” Blaise whispered and pointed the board Draco was just about to stand on.

Draco gave Blaise a withering look. “Are we really going to creep up to the door and eavesdrop?”

“Yes. You don’t want to interrupt them at a crucial point in their conversation, also,” Blaise smiled nastily, “you might get to hear some of what they’re saying about you.”

He hoped Hermione wasn’t regaling her friends with a narrative of him being knocked out by a single punch this afternoon. Knowing his luck, that story was how she’d started the conversation.

Draco deliberated whether he wanted to be the type of man that listened in on his wife’s private conversations.

He leaned closer to the door.

“– that slimy git.” She-Potter had a distinctly husky voice, and Draco briefly wondered if she used that tone on He-Potter in the bedroom. “The only thing he had going for him was his reputation and even that’s a load of bollocks.”

“Hermione didn’t say that Draco was an inexperienced lover.” Luna’s lilt-accented voice broke She-Potter’s rant, and Draco could have kissed her for it. “She just said he could be a bit quick.”

There was a snorting noise from behind him.

Without looking, Draco reached back and grabbed Blaise by the collar of his shirt. The message was clear: shut up or die .

Quick . She was the one who wanted it quick, he thought. He’d wanted to spend hours working out how to produce a purring noise from her. How could she –

“How big would you say, Hermione?” Ginny said.

Draco stopped breathing.  

There was a pause before Hermione replied, “Oh, smaller than that.”

Draco’s grip tightened on Blaise’s shirt, but it was no use. The man was silently shaking with laughter.

“Smaller,” Hermione said. “Even less.” Another pause. “Goodness Ginny, I can’t eat all of that.”

“Luna, I hope you don’t intend to stint on cake too?”

There was the clatter of crockery.

“The bigger the better,” Luna said. “When it comes to cake.”

Draco exhaled and relaxed his hold on Zabini’s shirt. If they hadn’t been spying on their wives, Draco was sure that Zabini would have started moaning at how Draco had creased the silk. Instead, both men leaned closer to the door until their noses were pressed into grain of the wood.

With all the subtlety of a Slytherin, Draco turned the doorknob and opened the door a fraction. A slither of light spilled into the dark hallway, and, for an instant, the sudden brightness blinded Draco. He rapidly blinked to adjust his vision.  

The three women sat in arm chairs which were clustered in a semi-circle around a low coffee table. From the angle that she sat at, Draco could see Hermione's face. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked tired, and there was a faint line between her brows. Ginny passed her what was possibly the smallest slice of cake in the world.

Ginny leaned back in her chair and stuck a fork into her own cake. “You will learn that one of only joys of being pregnant is the guilt-free eating. That is when you’re not throwing it back up.”

The last time Draco had seen Ginny was at Blaise’s and Luna’s wedding and, apart from refusing the champagne, she hadn’t looked pregnant. This had changed over the past few weeks, and now she was sporting a bump under a t-shirt which had printed on it ‘Boy, Girl, or Burrito?’.

Gods, that was what the world needed: a Weasley-Potter hybrid.

Draco suddenly had the image of his own beautiful blond-haired, brown-eyed child laughing and running about in some imaginary garden, but then the imaginary sun was covered by a cloud, and in this now shadowed and murky garden, Potter’s scruffy urchin-like offspring appeared.

Oh my Merlin .

His child and Potter’s child were going to grow up together, play together, and most likely become friends.

Compared to the cold and the walk, nothing was as sobering as the thought of play-dates between his perfect child and Potter’s menace.

“I’m not pregnant yet,” Hermione said and placed her untouched cake onto the coffee table. Draco wasn’t surprised. Hermione always lost her appetite when she was upset about something.

Last week he’d discovered a Raymond Blanc book in her collection and had spent two hours following the recipe for beetroot risotto. He’d peeled what felt like a hoard of beetroots, and chopped the ingredients with a precision he hadn’t used since his potions exam. All for nothing as Granger pushed the risotto around her plate like a pile of newt spleens. He’d discovered later that she’d turned down his magnificent feast just because she’d found out that a Muggle friend of hers had missed out on some professorship in Oxford. No wonder she couldn’t stomach cake when she was being questioned by her friends on their sex life.

“How is that possible?” Ginny said, frowning. “Malfoy seems to have been shagging you like a ferret in heat.”

“Ferrets rut,” Luna said, halting the conversation as effectively as a Muggle lollipop lady stopped traffic. She flourished the word ‘rut’ like a big yellow sign.

Both Hermione and Ginny turned and stared at Luna.

“A male ferret is called a hob and the a female a jill,” Luna said, her tone rising and falling like ocean waves. “You’re right in a way, Ginny. Male ferrets do go into heat like females, but it’s called a rut instead. Ferrets have a fairly violent mating process, and the hob often bites the jill on the neck to trigger ovulation.” She looked at Hermione and blinked. “Maybe his sperm have low motility?”

“I hope you’re talking about Malfoy now and not ferret,” Hermione said, and her eyes brightened with amusement.

“Or perhaps you’re having too much sex?”

Ginny’s nose wrinkled as if she had smelt a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes dung bomb. “Yeah, maybe things are getting ‘diluted’.”

Draco turned and glared at Blaise. Blaise was doubled over, clutching his side, and making little breathy noises like he was about to die. Which he might well do , Draco thought. He shot Blaise a venomous look before raising a single finger to his lips. When this didn’t have the desired effect, Draco jerked his head towards the door in a ‘they’ll hear us’ motion. The electric light seeping through the open door highlighted Blaise’s face and shimmered off the unshed tears in his eyes. Blaise managed to nod and clapped his hands over his mouth to smother the sound of his sniggers.   

“It’s a possibility.” Hermione’s voice sounded distant, as if she was thinking through a complicated arithmancy equation, and when Draco turned back to look at her, she did seem to be staring in space. “If I’m not pregnant soon, I’ll visit a fertility specialist.”

A fertility specialist? They’d barely been trying for two months – was seeking medical help really necessary at this point? He’d briefly skimmed the sections in Hermione’s baby books pertaining to fertility issues and alternative methods of conception, but he’d read with a pinch of salt as these were Muggle books. They were young and reasonably healthy, something was bound to happen soon enough.

Even so, he should perhaps speak to his mother. She would be certain to know more about magical conception than he was. After all, for generations of Malfoy women the main prerogative had been to produce an heir, whereas for Malfoy men it was to ensure the fortune for the next seven or so generations. Hermione was, rather ironically, falling in with his family’s traditional values. Wouldn’t his father be proud . That thought crept up on him, and he felt an ominous prickle on the back of his neck.

A witch-like cackle emitted from Ginny. “Merlin, can you imagine Malfoy’s face when they present him with one of those little plastic cups.”

Draco lifted an eyebrow and wondered what exactly he would be expected to do with a plastic cup. Judging by She-Potter’s mirth it was undoubtedly something humiliating if not potentially painful.

“I think I’ve been on the receiving end of that particular expression.” Hermione’s voice quivered on the edge of laughter.

“Are you enjoying sex with Draco?”

Luna’s question seemed to affect Hermione as much as it did him.

Hermione let out a high-pitched cough. “What – uh?”

“I read a theory once that when women are trying for a baby, they should ideally be climaxing during sex.”

“I heard that too,” Ginny chipped in. “Something about the cervix contracting and holding the sperm in –”

“Not while I’m eating, please.” Hermione scrambled for her plate and poised her fork above the cake as if to imitate the act.

“Well, are you?” Ginny’s commanding tone was only matched by the way her eyes narrowed.

There was a frigid pause. Draco’s ear burned as he waited for Hermione’s answer.

He could see her expression change, but he couldn’t read these changes in their entirety. She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth as if she was chewing her answer. Her pink cheeks were a sign of embarrassment, but embarrassment at what? Was her discomfort due to this conversation, or at what her answer might be? Was she ashamed of him, or herself, or simply self-conscious?

She wasn’t a shy creature. Yet, when he considered how reluctant she had been for him to see her nude, perhaps she was more insecure than he’d initially suspected. He’d presumed that their clothed sex had been her forming an obstacle: a physical barrier between her body and his. A fairly useless barrier given that they were having sex, but what did he know about the psyche of Hermione Granger.

He didn’t think Hermione had a kink for clothed sex. He couldn’t imagine her being the type of person to tear at her lover’s clothes with an attitude of ‘I must have you now’, before giving up halfway through undressing because she simply couldn’t wait. That was far more his cup of tea. He may have, on occasion, used that very same line. He recalled employing it on during a drunken dalliance with a cabaret performer in Amsterdam. She’d known just enough English to get the gist of what he was saying and apparently found it romantic enough that they’d ended up doing a number of glorious and possibly illegal activities in the shadow of one of the city’s more modern bridges. He only remembered this detail because in the middle of February, painted steel on bare skin felt as cold as one would imagine. He’d had ice burns in places he would rather not disclose, and these had detracted from the post-coital bliss of sleeping with a woman who could bend over one-hundred-and-eighty degrees both ways. It had been an eye opening experience, and he’d vowed to never have open-air sex again unless he was in a hot country.

He knew that in a physical sense, Hermione must enjoy sex with him. This wasn’t just his arrogance talking – this week she’d asked him to sleep with her. She’d done it in a roundabout way, with her seduction being preoccupied with ovulation and menstruation, but she had still asked him. And, while this was an obvious sign of pleasure, she also climaxed. On occasion it took some persuasion, however he was confident that they were sexually compatible. It was their emotional compatibility that he couldn’t be sure of.  

There was an emotional standoffishness between them, but not the anonymous distance of a one-night stand. With Hermione, it was a self-imposed distance. A lack of emotional connection wasn’t necessarily a draw-back in sex. He’d often found that his relations with more...unknown people had been frenzied: with the other so preoccupied in their own pleasure that he could detach from sentiment and just fuck. For him, however, here was a huge difference between having sex with an almost stranger and sleeping with Hermione, his wife, and the future mother of his child.

Hermione released her lip, and Draco registered how pink and plump it had become in her mouth.

“Yes,” Hermione said and then frowned as if admitting she enjoyed sex with him was something she begrudged and disliked. “The sex is –”

Enjoyable, mind-blowing, the best I’ve ever had . Draco could think of a number of ways for her to end that sentence.  

“– good,” she finished.

Blaise let out a stifled, but derisive, snort.  

“And are you,” Luna made a complicated hand gesture that Draco couldn’t decipher, but he concluded that he needed to have a word with Blaise about the man’s technique, “every time?”  

This time, there was less of a pause before she answered, “Almost.”

“He might be speedy, but he’s obviously doing something right,” Ginny said and smiled in a way which if she’d been a man Draco would have described as a leer. “Multiple?”

Hermione couldn’t seem to get the words beyond her mouth, but she made a little noncommittal noise.

“Maybe all that talk about him wasn’t just talk?”

“There have been lots of photographs and interviews in the papers,” Luna said. “I even ran articles on him in the Quibbler. Sex sells, and Malfoy’s sex life has been pretty sensational.” She looked up at the ceiling as if searching for clues. “I’ve always wondered how he ended up having an orgy with Lorcan d’Earth?”

“What!” If she’d been eating, Draco was certain that Hermione would have choked on her cake.

Draco wanted to hit his head against another door.

His sex life was the stuff of gossip and, in the case of those seventeen hours in Dublin, legend. He’d found the entire interest around these episodes of apparent sexual deviance to be quite useful. For one thing, it stopped the world from focusing on his less than perfect past. He would much rather be known as the man who potentially shagged a half-vampire singer during an interspecies orgy than the boy who tried to murder Dumbledore.

Judging by the way Hermione’s frown was maturing into an all-out scowl, he presumed she had been ignorant of the the Lorcan d’Earth incident.

Like Hermione, Lorcan d’Earth had been another remnant of Draco’s teenage fascination. His deep infatuation with Lorcan was the only time he’d ever wished he could trade in his Malfoy blond locks for gothic black, and he’d even copied Lorcan’s slicked-back-almost-widows-peak hairstyle for a few years.

“Oh yes,” Luna said. “I got a tip off from someone staying at the hotel, and I took the quickest Portkey I could to Dublin, but by the time I arrived, Draco had checked-out. All I could find out was that Draco, Lorcan, all of Lorcan’s entourage, and a few other witches and wizards had stayed in Draco’s suite that night.”

Hermione sat up straight. “Then how do you know there was any type of carousing?”

Luna smiled indulgently at her. “I visited the hotel, and I got a clue from the room full of sleeping people and the surfeit of used condoms.”

He wanted it on record that he hadn’t actually had sex with Lorcan d’Earth. Had he seen the half-vampire naked – yes. Had he and Lorcan been in the same room whilst engaging in sexual activities – yes. Had he potentially shared some bodily fluids with Lorcan – maybe.

He’d been young and decidedly more foolish when he’d met Lorcan and his posse in Temple Bar, Dublin. He’d been on a high. He’d travelled to the capital of Ireland for a single night to broker an import deal with a shipping yard; his first successful deal since taking over his family’s company. He’d walked up the River Liffey and stumbled into Temple Bar before navigating his way to the more magically inclined bars. It was in the apply named Obliviate that he’d met Lorcan d’Earth.

Draco hadn’t often experienced the sensation of being star-struck, but he’d been almost struck drunk just by the sight of the supernatural rockstar. He’d felt giddy and had babbled his way into Lorcan’s good books with a series of, for once, heartfelt compliments. Through the imbuing a plethora of very fine Irish whiskey, and in taking a shine to two or three of the witches which followed Lorcan, Draco had suggested they reconvene to somewhere a lot more private.

The orgy was an accident. To call it an orgy would be a gross exaggeration. It was more a party that got a little wild and had a few too many naked individuals. To be honest, he missed most of the debauchery because in classic celebrity fashion, there was the main org– party in the suite’s living room and the private, more exclusive party in the master bedroom.  

Merlin knows what happened in the rest of the suite, but he’d spent a long night with a few close and personal friends...getting frankly close and personal.

He’d possibly slept for half an hour before he’d had to leave to catch his Portkey from the Dublin Transport Office at six o’clock in the morning. He’d been a bit drunk still and hadn’t been paying a massive amount of attention to how the living room, three bathrooms, other bedroom, and balcony had looked. However, if the dry cleaning bill he received from the hotel was anything to go by, then things had got extremely untidy.  

At least Draco now knew which reporter he had to thank for starting that particular rumour mill.

Lorcan had gone on to write a chart-topping song called ‘My Deathly Lover’, and had sent Draco backstage passes to his next sold-out tour. Draco hadn’t attended, however he had disposed of them for a hefty profit. Obviously, the gossip that Lorcan had shagged an ex-Death Eater had done wonders for his undead reputation, and the star wanted to recoup on this new-found level of hedonism.

Hermione was molesting her lip with her front teeth. Draco’s jaw tightened as he watched her cheeks lose their rosy blush and turn pale.

“I had no idea,” Hermione said faintly.

Ginny raised her fork in the air as if she was suggesting a toast. “To Malfoy, the amazing shagging ferret.”

“Rutting,” Luna corrected.

“The amazing rutting ferret.”

“Can we not talk about Malfoy’s past sexual relationships – it makes me feel like a name on a list.”

Hermione’s voice had the same effect of a sudden April shower on a picnic, and Ginny and Luna’s laugher abruptly ceased.

“My marriage is a fiction, and I feel like I’m play-acting.”

Hermione lightly brushed her fingertips along the rim of the plate, and he was sure she must be tracing the floral pattern around the rim. It’s what she did at home during breakfast when she thought he wasn’t looking. She’d assume he was preoccupied with the paper, and she’d start to touch the painted bluebells on the cups and saucers his mother had given them.  

“Don’t you find it just a little bit arbitrary that in this marriage law the consummation was only valid if the man orgasmed.”

She glanced up, seemingly to gauge Luna and Ginny’s reactions. Her eyes were dark, and her lashes vibrated as she blinked.  

“I studied that law,” she said. Her voice was low and calm, and, like the sea, deceptive. It hid what lay beneath the surface. “I read through every section and every clause, and not once does it discuss the female orgasms. The woman’s pleasure during consummation – on a night that is supposed to be a shared between two people who have promised an emotional and social commitment to one another – is entirely omitted. As if it didn’t matter, or occur, or even exists.”

She gripped the plate, and the skin around her knuckles looked thin and bleached.

“On my wedding night, I told him to get on with it. It was awful.” She was fitting the phrases together like building blocks. “I told him to get on with it. I didn’t want anything from him – I didn’t want to feel. I couldn’t bear pleasure from him.”

“This law is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels that I cannot even begin to articulate them. When it came to it – the consummation – I found I couldn’t do it. When we were in that hotel room and I”– like a flame that had been hit with a surprise gust of wind, her eyes glittered and wavered to the corners of the room –“if I could have chosen to go to Azkaban then, I would’ve.”

Her nostrils flared, and he watched her catch her breath. She looked brittle, like burnt wood or bone, and like she would splinter at any moment.

“He pointed out that if I didn’t cooperate, then he would also go to prison, and while I can make that choice for myself, I will not take that choice away from him. I will not be the one responsible for putting him back into Azkaban.”

She then frowned, and she lifted her chin. “Even if he is a complete bastard.”

Draco’s mouth curled. She did have a very unique way of uttering the word ‘bastard’. It was like getting slapped in the face, and she spoke it as if she was imagining hitting him in the mouth.

Ginny's reaction was quintessentially British. “Tea,” she said as if it was the balm to all hurts. “I need tea. Decaffeinated tea. Herbal, if you have it?”

“Yes,” Luna said, with alarming brightness. “Tea.”

Draco didn’t look at Ginny and Luna. His entire attention was preoccupied with Hermione.

It was as if someone had cast Lumos and the dark edges of a room had been illuminated.

Luna stood up and hurried to the door. “It’s been over a quarter of an hour. I don’t know where Blaise has got to.”

Looking like a couple of naughty schoolboys who were about to get caught peeping into the girl’s changing room, Draco and Blaise scrambled away from the door.

Luna pulled the door open. “He only went to boil the kettle. Oh –” Her mouth popped into a silent ‘o’. “I’ve found him. He and Draco are standing outside the door.”

There was a smashing noise.

Draco wasn’t a betting man, but if he were he’d bet then that was the sound of Hermione’s plate shattering on the floor.

Hermione came into view. There was a vein pulsing on her forehead, and her eyes burned like piping hot caramel.

She turned on Draco. “This had better be not what it looks like.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Ethics is the triumph of freedom over facticity [...]’
The Ethics of Ambiguity , Simone de Beauvoir

 

“You look good enough to eat, my dear.”

She felt his words on the shell of her ear. Hot, breathy words which caused her spine to stiffen and the fine hairs on the back of her neck to stand upright.

He was close. Too close, but she couldn’t see him. He was out of her line of sight, hiding behind her as he examined her. She knew he must be surveying her. He’d dressed her up like a doll.

She was gilded in white and silver: white dress, with embroidered lace accents in such fine grey-coloured thread it appeared to be liquid mercury. It was tasteful, and as one would decorate a drawing room in some grand period house.

She was furnished except for her neck and hands. These were bare of ornamentation.  

She turned her head so she could glimpse the side of his face.

His eyes were eating her up. Or the single eye she could see. It was trailing down her body like a hand. Like his hand. Like his hand would be.

Her stomach rolled, and a bead of cold sweat ran down her neck before plummeting into the bodice of the wedding dress.

“I see you couldn’t bring yourself to wear the necklace,” he said.

His hand swept around her body, enclosing her without laying a single finger on her. His fingers convulsing with a dexterity that didn’t seem human. They were long, with perfectly rounded and polished nails. The nails were clipped short. Freshly cut, if she was any judge, and then smoothed with an emery board. No jagged edges which could tear.

The drop of sweat slid down the valley of her breasts.

“And I picked out the rubies with your partiality for Gryffindor in mind.”

If she hadn’t been able to see his mouth move into something like a smile, she would have almost believed the wounded tone of his voice.

“How generous of you,” she said. She couldn’t instill anything in her voice. She sounded flat, and like planed wood when all the splinters and grooves had been sanded down until only the grain was visible. Telling of the tree’s life before it was cut, and felled, and chopped into workable pieces.

“Wasn’t it just,” he said, and this time, he did touch her. The back of his hand glanced the curve of her waist. It was a light touch, and hinted at supple caresses.

“I have no interest in jewelry, Malfoy.”

“Then we shall just have to consider other means to embellish your neck red.”

He showed her his teeth: his canines looked impossibly white and sharp.


 

Since the final battle, she could count the number of times she’d been aware of Draco Malfoy on a single hand.

The first had been when she’d sat in the audience for the announcement of his father’s sentencing – the lifelong verdict – to Azkaban.

They’d been younger then. Or, at least, Malfoy now seemed younger when compared with the man that presently stood behind her, examining her like a piece of meat for the cooking. And eating.

There had been something boyish about his shoulders and adolescent in the way his eyes danced around the large echoey room, seeming to take in everything but the man standing in chains in the middle of the floor.

He had looked at her. It had been fleeting, but their eyes had met over the sea of black hats that was the Wizengamot. His stare had been blank, and like brushed chrome it seemed to have nothing beyond but compounds and alloys.

He’d not looked at her again, and, in turn, she’d actively avoided looking at him.

The capering motion of his eyes had reminded her too much of that night in his ancestral home.


 

“I would normally comment that it is bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding.” He propped his elbows on his knees, turning his chin so he could lean on the heel of his hand and watch her under lazy eyes. “But in our case, the luck really can’t get any worse.”

It was the first sensible thing he’d said all day, and she silently agreed with him.

She shuffled and tried to find a comfortable position on the chair. The dress Malfoy had ordered for her was figure-hugging and really made for standing up in, and not slouching in a chair – as he’d so graciously pointed out.

The chairs were Ministry official, made of hardwood which had no give, and she’d never actually sat in one before. She didn’t normally stray into the Ministry’s registry office, what with her own department being on the fifth level of the sub-terranean building. This first level of the Ministry was sufficiently less plush, and these chairs confirmed all her worst fears about monetary attitudes in the Ministry. Not that she hadn’t been questioning their ethics for months.

“I wish you’d let me host this wedding at a hotel,” Malfoy said, his tone accusatory. “Somewhere, anywhere. Merlin , even the Shrieking Shack.” He frowned and adjusted his posture. He was obviously finding these chairs as uncomfortable as she was.

“We could be married by now and sipping on champagne.” He drummed the fingers of his free hand on his thigh. “Instead we’re stuck here, waiting like a couple of uncultured rustics, for some bint to check our identities. Because” – and he shot a look at the door, marked registry office, beside where they sat – “we are so difficult to recognise.”

Hermione couldn’t join in with his complaints.

The longer they had to wait, the longer she was Hermione Granger and not a Malfoy.

They were alone as they waited. The corridor was bare and completely still.

It was like a clock had stopped, and her ears were waiting on the tick. For months, each each tiny jump around the clock’s face had been a tally, a countdown, a grain of sand, a descending note, and all to avoid this day.

Now everything was still.

Motionless: glassy and stagnant, like a greenhouse in summer, or a china doll's eyes.

The universe had stopped breathing; there was a hand around its throat.

“There seemed little point in celebrating,” – the word ‘wedding’ wedged in her throat, as did ‘marriage’ and ‘ceremony’, so she finished with a self-explanatory – “this.”

She dipped her fingers into the ridges of the lace on her sleeve. The lace was sheer, like gossamer, and her skin peeped through the silver swirls and curls. “This isn’t the happiest day of our lives for either of us.”

There was a pause; a terse silence which gave her the impression that he was mulling over her words. “Did you imagine it would be?” he finally said.

The patterns of lace seemed to coil and curve in on themselves. Ever flowing, ever spiralling, with no escape.

“Yes,” she said, looking up and at the blank wall ahead of her, “but that was when I thought I’d be exchanging vows with someone I could tolerate.”

He made a disgruntled noise. “Your bluntness is a club to the cerebellum. Although,” he continued in a milder tone which could have been described as ‘reasonable’, “I must be grateful that your attacks are as obvious as a bull in a china shop. I’d dread to think of how deadly you could be if you employed some stealth.”

She stuck her nail into her arm. The material didn’t tear. “I don’t approve of hiding behind words.”

“How noble of you to consider yourself above half-truths and exaggeration.”

Noble is the wrong word.” She grated her nails up her arm. They bumped against the material, but it still wouldn’t snag. She wondered if he’d instructed the dressmaker to sew in an unbreakable charm. He’d possibly been expecting her to rip the dress to shreds the moment it was delivered to her this morning.

“Then what word would you use?”

Ethical would be closer to the truth.” She crossed her hands on her lap, slotting her fingers together like mechanical cogs in a clock.

“Only closer, my dear. Perhaps you favour common human decency? Behaviour that conforms to an accepted standard. But whose standard?”

She clenched her jaw, but kept her eyes averted from him. “There isn’t some figurative bar to reach, Malfoy.”

His foot tapped a few times. Out of tempo, like a troupe of tap-dancing toddlers. It was provokingly out of rhythm.

She ground her teeth. The scraping of her molars together seemed incredibly loud to her ears, and she wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d heard it even above his incessant tapping.  

“In your quest for a solution, you must conquer something – but what? The moral compass of the Ministry?” His foot hit the floor. “Me, perhaps.”

It wasn’t a question; his voice didn’t rise with a punctuation mark.

She squeezed her hands, and her knuckles whitened. The skin stretched over the bones, exposing the ridges and dips in her knuckles.

“Ah, there is your dilemma. You can only be ethical if there is a problem to solve. A cause for you to correct.”

He laughed. It was bitter and breathy, and it rasped against her eardrums. She felt it on the side of her face and neck, a hot gasping.

“Without your causes, what would be the point of you.”

Her shoulders stiffened as his mirth stroked her.

He will press his nose into the side of her neck and sniff and pant into her skin, his body wracking over hers. He will be jagged, his movements jarring and his pushes pointed. He will breathe into her ear, that uneven rasp which spoke of his pleasure. Satisfied, but only temporarily.

He’d gorge on her. Sate himself on her, and in her, and around her. He’d hem her in between his body and a flat surface.

She could almost feel the weight of him. The press of his hips into her thighs. The jockey of his legs along hers.

There was a prickle in her cheeks, like she was being stabbed with a thousand minute needles, as the blood rose and stained. Like a drop of ink, colour blotched her cheeks, and there was nothing she could do about it.

He would see, and he would know as easily as if he’d read her mind.

The tapping ceased; his breathing increased.

“People don’t need to have a point to exist, Malfoy,” she said, her voice shaking with the effort of not fleeing. “Their autonomy should still be respected.”

His eyes would be locked on her profile. His pupils large and animal-like in how they bloomed. In the dark his eyes would glow. The pale grey a phosphorescent ring around the black. So black, so dark. She would fall.

“How very idealised of you.”

There were particles of dust in the air, hanging as if supported by invisible threads, but his words made them swing and jump away.  

It was almost like looking at the night’s sky: those tiny specks, pricked by the early autumn sun. Except they were as small and as insignificant as they appeared; whereas the stars were bigger than the mortal mind could fathom. Or at least visibility fathom. Mathematically, their size was easier to conceive. However, as it often is with humans, the most common way of grasping at the infinite was literally.

She’d sought for Pegasus last night.

The constellation wasn’t at its peak, but she’d been able to see the massive supergiant in the sky. She’d crawled out onto her roof and laid back on the tiles. It had hurt. The tiles were cold and uneven, and there must be some bruises on her back. Pegasus wouldn’t rise until the end of the month, but, being one of the larger constellations, it nonetheless dominated the mid-September sky.

Each star made up part of the horse. Algenib for Pegasus’s wing. Another was called Enif from the Arabic for nose. This embodiment of the stars wasn’t limited to animal, however. There were man-made elements to this celestial horse. The star Markab was called so because it represented the saddle.

It was curious how a constellation, a cluster of orbiting bodies and composed of chemicals, could be mythologised. Yet man still tried to tame and domesticate, by giving this imagined representation of a horse a saddle. The saddle-like star simultaneously asserted man’s control over the heavens and reduced this corporeal wonder to nothing more than a prized mule. A living commodity to make man’s life as unexacting as possible. The purpose of a horse, even the mythological Pegasus, was to transport the rider from A to B.

The saddle came to define the horse's function: it was to be ridden.

Was her own life going to be constrained by such phrasing?

The Marriage Law was as confining and as derogatory as that saddle, and, like a horse, her body was going to become a means to an end, an end which was not her own.

Enif was the brightest star of Pegasus. While the star was the ‘nose’ of the horse, she’d always thought of it as the head. It guided the direction for the rest of the celestial body. The head represented the brain, intellect, and reason.

She’d tried to use her head to reason her problem. To come to a solution logically. She’d rallied other witches and wizards affected by the law, produced petitions to the Head of the Wizengamot, and read ninety-eight books on magical law, theory, and practice. She’d presented the authorities with alternatives, statistics, and examples from Muggle history. The drops in birth rates and marriages after the World Wars, and the social and financial incentives which the British government had put in place.    

She’d been met by stony silence and furtive glances when she spoke of the measures taken by Muggles over fifty years ago. The implication that the wizarding world was less progressive, less sophisticated, less innovative… was an unpopular one. But, honestly, if they were going to set up a mandatory breeding program in the twenty-first century, then they were going to be called a group of primitive, chauvinistic clowns who wouldn’t know their wand from their elbow. As they looked down at her from the high benches, their chests had puffed out, their faces scrunched up, and their entire posture had reminded her of an group of infantile Mandrake roots.

She’d been shivering when dawn had filtered into the blue. The tiles had leached her body heat, and the early morning chill had settled into her bones like winter’s frost. She’d kept her eyes trained to the sky, and only when the approaching sun had diffused the horizon red did Enif disappear.

Red sky in the morning.

The sky turned red because of particles. Molecules and tiny particles in the atmosphere scattered the light, refracting the rays along the rainbow, but the colour was determined by what size the particles were.

Red sky was no harbinger of doom; it was all determined by dust.

If the right pressure was exerted, she would shatter like a the top of a frozen lake. It would be freeing to be that fragile: to have the option to be that frangible. She could disintegrate into very small parts, and the breeze could diffuse her into the air. Then she could change the colour of the sky.

She’d sat up; she wasn’t going to find her resolution in the stars.

Today was the September equinox: an even split between night a day. Twelve hours before Pegasus was visible again, and by that time she would be married.

 

She heard the shift of expensive fabric.

“Well, are you not going to ask me the same question?” he said, and he managed to inject his clipped upper-class accent with a lazy drawl.

She unclenched her hands and felt that slight burn which indicated she’d cut her palm. “Which question?”
“Whether I imagined my wedding day to be some maudlin day of happiness.”

She angled her head so she could see him.

He was wearing a Muggle suit, and she wondered if it was on her behalf. Recently, she’d only ever seen him in suits. Maybe it was his ploy to lull her into a false sense of security: a superficial way to make it appear as if he was no longer bigoted and corrupt. It would look good on the front of The Daily Prophet. It had looked good. The paper’s caption last week had been flattering: ‘Hermione Granger’s fiancé seen in Diagon Alley in Muggle attire.’

When she’d read that, she’d asked him if he bought from Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row, London. She’d meant it to be biting, but he’d calmly replied that he would never be so plebeian as to buy. He acquired, instead. She’d had no idea if he meant his suit or the company of Gieves & Hawkes.

His mouth widened as their eyes met. It wasn’t a smile exactly. It was thin; then again, Malfoy did have thin lips. They were fine, but there was no cupid’s bow to soften: the middle of his top lip peaked to an almost vertical apex, like of the summit of two distant mountains.

When stretched, his lips looked bleached.  

“It’s only basic civility to ask, Granger.”

She pressed her own lips together.


 

The second time she’d seen him, she’d just undertaken a position at The Department for International Magical Cooperation. It was a low-ranking job as an undersecretary for the Magic Office of Law, and she remembered Ron teasing her, telling her she was a ninny for starting her Ministry career at the bottom of the ladder.

She couldn’t quite summon up the sound of Ron’s voice, but she recalled, with precise clarity, the way his face and his eyes had crinkled in laughter. The pale red of his lashes which quivered as he shut his eyes, closing off their forget-me-not blue.

They had all been in The Three Broomsticks drinking, or, in Hermione’s case, sipping on an orange juice. Harry had dubbed it a final hurrah before they entered the great and strange world of full-time employment.  

Her face had been pulled in an prolonged smile as she listened to Harry and Ron’s chatter, and their Trelawney-like predictions on their Auror careers. It seemed as if they would be detaining numerous Dark wizards every week and would still be able to clock off at five each evening.

She’d said nothing, but kept her glass covering her mouth.

There had been the cursory glance their way – Ron had chosen a table in the middle of the room. He always did. Now, she thought this might have been some shallow grab at fame on his part. Extending their importance in the wizarding world, to the point where he almost shoved it into people’s faces. Not that anyone seemed to mind. They’d not had to buy a drink all night.

As they moved from Butter Beer to Fire Whiskey, she’d still been startlingly sober. It had been an evening which had tested how much orange juice she could drink before giving up and moving to plain water. Even that proved too much for her bladder, however.

It was a universal truth that all pubs in Great Britain, whether wizarding or Muggle, had ghastly ladies’ loos.

The floor would always be wet, there was never any toilet roll, and there was always that annoying beep from the air freshner which hadn’t been refilled in months.

The men’s toilets were just as awful, but they didn’t seem to mind as much. This was perhaps because they didn’t have to sit on a cracked toilet seat.

She’d looked towards the far side of the room. She could have cursed Ron. Due to him advertising their status in the pub, she’d now have to navigate her way to the toilet and dodge her way around groups of witches and wizards who would try and engage her in conversation. Which wasn’t a problem normally. But right now she needed the loo.

She couldn’t have taken a direct route because the cameraman from the Prophet was lingering, oily,  by the bar, and there were a group of teenagers gawking and wearing Harry Potter t-shirts directly in front of where she sat.

Standing up, she’d made her excuses – not that Harry and Ron were paying her that much attention – and started skirting the edge of the room. Very much taking the long way around.

She hadn’t noticed him until she was on her way back from the bathroom.

He been in the corner of the pub, tucked into a booth, and bent in talk with a group of Goblins. While their conversation seemed clandestine, and as if it was being conducted in whispers, she hadn’t believe it was underhand. All the Goblins’ faces had been friendly, or as friendly as Goblins could look. Their teeth weren't bared, and their claws weren’t extended towards Malfoy’s throat – which would have been a classic sign of aggression in Goblins. If that had been the case, she would have felt the need to intervene. She’d said to herself that this would only be in order to avoid extra paperwork in her new job.  

Rather than go past him again, she’d made sure to walk through the throng of people.

She’d sipped another orange juice and wondered what he was doing at The Three Broomsticks. Obviously conducting some deal, but it couldn’t be anything illegal given that their discussion was happening in a popular pub during the Friday night rush. Even Malfoy wouldn’t be that stupid, especially with Harry, Ron, and her sitting not ten meters away. Maybe he hadn’t seen them? No, there was no way that Malfoy hadn’t clocked them the moment he’d entered the bar.

Harry and Ron’s voices had rolled over her as she slid her eyes over to where Malfoy sat.  

His face had been open, but open like a painting: created. His eyes had been focused on his companions, his mouth undulated with rapid movements when he spoke, and he nodded with apparent sympathy while he listened.

Her eyebrows had quirked when he’d waved his hand at the Goblins’ protests and reached inside his robes to produce a handful of glittering coins. He’d dumped the lot on the table, gulped the last of his drink down, and stood up.

She’d almost spat out her juice as Malfoy practically bowed over the table. He pressed his thumb to the outstretched hand of the biggest Goblin, who must be the leader. Her eyes had narrowed as she’d peered over the rim of her glass and glared. She couldn’t believe he’d had done that. Touched what he would have once dubbed a ‘lesser race’ and partaken in a traditional Goblin gesture of respect.

A deal must have been struck, only she had no idea what.

She’d leaned back in her chair to try and get a better look.

What was he doing? Was he... smiling ?

Malfoy had been politely smiling at the Goblins, and the world hadn’t stopped turning. But that controlled stretching of his lips had seemed constructed, too impeccable: as if he’d learnt these facial expressions from a manual.

How to interact with Goblins 101? Speciest: the dos and don’ts? How to lose your bigoted ways in ten easy steps? Step One: Realise that you have to pretend you do not consider yourself the centre of the universe.

He’d appeared to not see her, Harry and Ron as he strolled past them and out of the door. She was certain he’d been pretending. He, like her, had probably wanted to keep his head down and get out of this packed bar.

Nevertheless, it was fortunate that Harry and Ron had been so preoccupied that they’d failed to notice him.

She’d been grateful for that. Malfoy always set Ron’s teeth on edge.

Ron had thrown his head back and laughed.

She couldn’t remember his laugh. It had probably sounded beautiful.

Ron had turned and smiled at her, a genuine and slow smile. He’d reached out and placed his hand over hers.

She’d felt nothing as she answered his smile.  


 

“Now she wants romance,” he said, but from the way he stared into the sky, she presumed this was more to himself. “Although this garden is a sad excuse, more of a courtyard really, but what should we expect from the Ministry really?”

There was a scraping sound as he pushed his nail under the peeling paint of the garden archway.  

“You should see the gardens at the Manor. Begonias for days –”

He was wittering. She was standing under some desperately decrepit archway on the ground level of the Ministry, and Draco Malfoy was wittering at her. If it wasn’t for the sharp pain in her lungs, she might have thought she was delusional.

“– and in March the Calla lily blooms. This lily by itself isn’t the most impressive sight, I grant you, but when there is a forest of them it is quite astounding –”

The panic had only been fluttering in her stomach when she’d made a break for it and retreated along the corridor and towards the garden. Now it was rioting.

He’d followed her. She was beginning to get the impression that he would always follow her: almost on her heels, his footfalls in time with hers.

Each step behind her and brought her situation into sharp reality. There was something about the echo; it was the only sound, but it bounced and recoiled off the walls until it was all she could hear. That heavy pounding which drowned her breaths and her heart.

She’d broken into the garden. Smashed the ‘closed for the weekend’ sign with a slightly too-violent unlocking charm.

The colours had spun. Blues, greens, with pricks of yellow and pink for flowers. Everything was so bright. It was like nothing had shade, and what she was seeing was the raw pigment. Saturated, and her eyes had soaked it up.

She groped the air.

“Granger?”

She clung to the fine material of his jacket. It was soft under her questing fingers.

He made a noise of approval.

“I must know –” he sounded so warm, so gentle as his hand crept around her waist “– what has persuaded you in this change of attitude. Just so I may employ it in the future.”

There were a few roses remaining on wooden arch they stood under. Withered husks of deep colour that smelled slightly too sweet. A sweetness of decay.

“It will be awfully useful when I want to fuck you.”

She wrenched away from him and grasped for wooden lattice. As the frame shook, a few petals fell. They fluttered red before her eyes.  

She gulped the sickly-sweet air. “Shut up.”

“Tell me, are you ever tempted to answer me civilly?” He braced his arm on the top of the arch so he could lean over her.

More petals fell, and their velvety texture tickled the tops of her feet.

“Never.” She’d had to force that single word out. She wanted to say more, wanted to curse him, but she was afraid that if she opened her mouth, then she wouldn’t stop until her voice gave out.

The air between them vibrated with his chuckle. “We are meant to be getting married at this precise moment. You’re not getting cold feet are you?” He theatrically sighed. “It would certainly be a case of my loss, and the Dementors’ gain. Honestly, I have to be a preferable option to perpetual imprisonment.”

She tried to look past him and at the mass of dry leaves and veiny flowers. Perhaps if she focused on something else, she could squash whatever was squirming inside her like an animal. Trap it, and bury it.

“I’m not a bad shag, Granger. You never know, you might enjoy it.”

Sex .

It was always sex with Malfoy.

He seemed to ignore the actual marriage part of their circumstance. It was as if the marriage certificate would be just another slip of paper to sign, and their vows – if she could call them that – were recycled words, like reciting a spell before raising a wand.

Maybe he was trying to make her refuse him? Taunt, parade, and leer at her so she’d back out and be sent to Azkaban. To have the life sucked out of her by the Azkaban guards. Like the fall of dirt on a coffin, their breaths would rattle off stone walls.

What a choice. To have the life sucked out of her by the Dementors, or her happiness squandered by Malfoy.

“Two words.” He bent down, and his teeth gleamed in the afternoon sun. “ I do . And then you are mine.”

There was no lie in his eyes.

There was no trick with his words.

There was just hunger.

Hunger in him. In the way he leaned over her as if to pounce, and in his smile. It was as a gash, a bloody wound. So red, and as if he’d been gnawing on his mouth for years. Staving off the craving with the taste of his own blood.

He was starving.

Visibly salivating over her, as if the light catching his eyes was saliva, the whiteness around his irises were jaws, and his pupils the dark tunnel of his gullet.

He was going to gobble her up, swallow her whole.

It was a devastating discovery.

He wanted her.

He’d told her how much on several occasions and all in the past few weeks.

I want to fuck you, Granger.

It was as if the law had unlocked a rampant interest in her. A dizzying amount of interest. He looked at her like she was rare, but collectable; like a butterfly. Poison in the pin was an old lepidopterist's trick. She was something to fasten to one place, and hold behind glass, and admire for the play of light on her pretty colours.

I need to...

Always that same monosyllabic language, as if he was imagining the act as he spoke. It was in the briskness of his words, the way his mouth jerked on the last ‘k’, and the perpetual amusement that danced in his eyes like a Hollywood vaudeville act.

...fuck you.

He sent ripples of awareness through her mind and body.

Gods, Granger .

A tight knot of understanding in her lower belly.

I’ll strip you .

A warning in her brain, like the tinny sound of a smoke alarm when the batteries had gone flat.

Worship you, my dear .

Each corner of his smile pierced her, and opened up that small part of her that was hers and no one else’s. A skewer in her heart. He twisted it, and punctured into her.

Under my hands .

The pain was palpable. Spiking her diaphragm as she tried to regulate her breathing.

Eat you .

A cry in her blood.

“Fuck.” His curse bit the air.

She blinked into his face. Her pupils swayed, like a pendulum, as she tried to focus, but all she could feel was him.

There was the subtle scent of his cologne; something woody with undertones of wealth.

He, however, was a bit blurry. As if his features had been coloured with chalk pastel then smudged.

He was standing in front of her and holding her elbow. Centred, like gravity. Grounding her to the earth like dirt.  

If it wasn’t for the sleeves of the dress, his hand would be on her skin.  

“You’ve gone a deathly colour, my love.”

She became aware that his other hand was under her chin, tilting her face upwards. Then two fingers on her carotid artery. She felt the jumps of her pulse. Rapid, like the hurdles in the Olympics.  

“Breathe,” he said in an instructing tone of voice. “Then hold it.”

She didn’t. She couldn't. She didn’t want to.

There was a ringing, a high-pitched hum which felt almost out of reach of her ears. She knew there wasn’t any sound. It was her brain: it was being denied oxygen and was signalling to the rest of her senses that something was wrong.

“Do it. It’s a Muggle technique I learnt after I was released,” he added, like he was name-dropping.

Her heart rate was heavy, her arms twitched with each push of blood, and her fingers closed painfully tight around the arch.

“Effective and quick. Do it, Granger.”

As if he was afraid of puncturing her skin, the pressure of his fingers on her neck lightened.

“I’m going to count to ten, and then you are going to breathe out.”

The pain sliced the underside of her lungs, but she inhaled, and air scoured her teeth.

“One. Two. Three –”

His count was slower than the standard second, like he had his own internalised clock. She found herself following the measured beat of his voice. It was simple, the next number was expected, and she had no compulsion to interrupt.  

“– Five –”

She was able to see him properly, but before she could focus on him, she swivelled her eyes away. The layers of foliage behind his head were crisp, and she followed the slice of one leaf to the next.

“– Nine. Ten.”    

In anticipation of him telling her to, she exhaled.

She counted three more of his long seconds before he broke the silence.

“Better?”

As she nodded, his nails skimmed down her neck. He briefly dipped into the hollow of her throat.

“Where did you learn that?” she asked, falling back to questions and information.

He trailed her collarbone. “Just something I picked up on my travels.”

“Travels?”

It would be easy to tilt her head and offer him her neck.

Some small, giddy part of her demanded that she do this.

To look up at him through the tangles and briars of her hair, and then, like closing a curtain on the first act, to demurely lower her lashes back down.

To the wagging tongues and eager eyes of the Ministry officials and staff, the scene might have been romantic. Two figures framed by an archway of roses. They must look like something on the cover of a cheap paperback. But she didn’t feel like a heroine, and Malfoy certainly wasn’t a hero.

“I’ve been something of a curiosity,” he said. His finger reached the limit of her dress. His thumb slid along the edge, skirting the hidden parts of her skin with the tip.

He was like a general before a battle: testing the limits, and scouting out the enemy terrain.

A shiver weaved up her spine, and she imagined it as a spark which was zig-zagging up between her vertebrae. Her skin would break out in gooseflesh and become evidence of his fingers on her. He would think her so easy to conquer then.  

Her body was the land; her will his enemy.

“I had no idea that people could find you so interesting.”

As if the wind has picked up on the chilly tone of her voice, a breeze rustled through the garden. It shook tendrils of her hair and set the leaves and the roses free. The leaves and petals spiraled around them, similar to sycamore seeds, before corkscrewing to the ground. Like rice, she thought.

The roses were dying, and Malfoy’s grip on her elbow was increased, inversely printing the lace pattern on her skin.

“Well –” a smile in his words “– you are one of the few people who appears to not find me utterly fascinating.”

He thrust the finger under her dress.

“Whereas I find you,” he said, and stroked the untouched skin, “very entertaining.”

She raised her hand to tuck her hair back behind her ear; on the way back down, she shoved his hand out and off her.

“I’m not an afternoon’s diversion,” she said, and jostled her shoulder into his chest to hurry him away.

He made something like a snort, but there was a leer in it. “I would imagine you’d take much longer than an afternoon.” He did take a step back. “No more than a week, though. You are entertaining, Granger. Just not captivating.”

She could hear the shrug in his voice, and that sharp smile, and the air of unabashed luridness made her blood boil.

She jerked her head up and stared at him for the first time in what felt like a century.

She raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. “For someone who is adamant that you do not find me ‘fascinating’, or ‘captivating’, and whatever throwaway phrases you’d use, you’ve expended many hours trying to convince me differently.”

“Because it amuses me, my dear. It might be a foreign concept to you.”

“The stripping of our civil rights is not amusing.”

“I beg to differ.” He cocked his head to the side, looking at her like she was a curiosity. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years.”

She wanted to hurl words at him; to let them pour through out of her like molten lead down a castle meurtriére.

“If my reaction earlier wasn’t enough to convince you,” she said, icily, “then I shall make it quite clear. You –”

She saw his father in him then, or rather how his father had been. It was his eyes. They were like some great stone wall. Colourless, and steep. To gain purchase, she’d have to shove her fingers into the pits between the stone, and even then it would be a scrabbling climb: full of scrapes and cuts.

She recalled how his eyes had been, jumping, dancing, and never able to focus on one thing. Here, he was locked on her. It was a stare so like his father’s: proud, and full of the promise of overbearance… yet, there was a lack of disdain.

The absence of hate was perturbing enough to make her stutter and halt.

“Spit it out, Granger. We haven’t got all day.”

He still sneered like his father, however.

She tucked her hand into the crook of her elbow, and, out of his sight, dug her nails into underside of her arm. For a few seconds, she closed her eyes. It was easier to remember who she was when he wasn’t fixed on her.

“Please,” she said, “just stop. Stop baiting and provoking me.” She winced at the smallness of her voice. “And touching. Stop touching.”

“You touched me first.”

“I was confused.”

She squeezed her eyes further shut as the silence lingered.

“I understand you perfectly.”

“Thank you,” she said, rushing, “for earlier when –”

“Pardon, Granger, I hate to interrupt,” he said, “but I can’t have you deluding yourself into thinking I did any of that out of any concern for you. I simply do not wish to have it going about the Ministry that my bride was a gibbering mess before she married me.”

She didn’t open her eyes until his footsteps had gone and only the wind remained.


 

The third and final time she’d noticed him was last summer. This was also the one time he’d spoken to her. Only a single word each; however, it was the only exchange they’d had in years.

“Granger.”

He’d inclined his head as she walked by.

He’d been leaning against the wall beside the lifts and as the call button had been lit and flashing orange, she’d concluded that he was just waiting for the lift. Innocently waiting, with no alternative motivation.

She’d been so surprised to see him on her floor at the Ministry that she’d almost dropped the stack of papers she’d been holding – the files and forms from the Troll king, who now, after many years, wished to attend that year’s International Confederation of Wizards and Magical Creatures. If she had tripped, like her feet had wanted her to, then she wouldn’t have wagered a single Knut on him bending down to help her pick the papers up off the floor.

She had glanced at him, but the glance had turned into a stare.

His hand was stilled as if caught on motion capture film, and in the act of raking the hair off his face. It was silky looking and almost feminine in length. Like the lines of a wheat field, she could see where his fingers had groomed and pushed and the strands into artless design.

Her stomach had fluttered in a way which she hadn’t been able to define. She’d felt a sting of guilt thought as if she was betraying a dear memory.

His eyes hadn’t strayed from her face. There was a precision to his gaze, and his constricted pupils tracked her progress down the corridor. They were like dots made by a black permanent marker. It had made her wonder if he always viewed the world through a pinpoint.

“Malfoy.”

She’d not stopped walking.

There are some eyes that can eat you .


 

I always go to the Erl-King and he lays me down on his bed of rustling straw where I lie at the mercy of his huge hands.

He is the tender butcher who showed me how the price of flesh is love; skin the rabbit, he says! Off come my clothes.

The Erl-King , Angela Carter

 

Chapter Text

‘The problem with courtship is precisely a problem of mutuality [...]’

Feminist Readings: Geoffrey Chaucer , Jill Mann


 

Yesterday, he’d promised to strip her if she hadn’t worn the dress.

“I’ll strip you,” he’d said. His hand had been white where it gripped the door handle of her office. So white that she’d been able to imagine his bones creaking under the pressure. He’d looked like he was on the point of turning the handle and storming out, and she didn’t know which had prevented him more: her refusal, or his desire to win.

“I will do it, Granger.” He’d gazed down his nose: a perfect slope from which to glare. “In front of all those Ministry employees and officials. Wear the dress I send, or I’ll cut off whatever you have on and burn it.”

Her quill had made a splintering sound. “You wouldn’t dare.”

She’d wanted to stand up and stride towards him as her enemy, but she preferred to keep her desk between them. It seemed like a good idea to have something solid – a tangible barrier – blocking her body from his eyes.

He’d bared his teeth. “Just wear the dress I’ll have sent over tomorrow morning, and then you won’t have to find out if I’m lying or not.”

“You don’t get to order what I wear.”

“On this occasion, I will.” He’d released the handle and stalked towards her.

She hadn’t flinched when he’d slapped his hands on her desk, or even when the force of his hand had lifted and scattered the parchment. A letter from the Italian Minister for Magic had tipped onto the floor. His foot had torn it when he’d curved over the desk towards her.

“You have dictated every other aspect of our wedding. You wanted it at the Ministry registry office. Fine . You insisted that we not invite a single guest. Fine . You decreed that –”

“This is not a real wedding, Malfoy.” She’d felt the magic crackle on the tips of her fingers: little white hot sparks which would singe his skin if she touched him. She’d stabbed her fingers into the wood to blunt the magic and prayed he didn’t realise why. “What we are completing is no more than a transaction for breeding rights.”

His brows had been bound like oak, and his eyes flashed like a sudden frost.

Black ice, she’d thought. He’s like black ice. She’d fall, if she didn’t watch her step.

“You want a child?” His voice had shuddered.

The question had hurt. A small wound, like a paper-cut. A bit sore; a little ache.

She’d wished to drop her eyes, to turn her head away; but she couldn’t. Not when he would see and read something into her actions.

It was all about appearances with him. Or perhaps it was performance? He seemed to be playing a role, some fictitious part in a play which only he had the script to. He might think she also had lines; that she was also acting her part.

Was she?

No .

She didn’t play games, or act parts, or darkly dart across a space with the purpose to deceive.

“That is the entire point of the law,” she’d said, schooling her features.

“I am aware of what the law implies. That is not what I asked.”

There was a fear, however. It lingered; pale and loitering. A fear he would use her. Fear she would be defined, remembered, and regarded as nothing more than the carrier of the Malfoy heir. The mother who ruined the bloodline.

She’d licked her lips and then nipped at them, suddenly dry. “I – I –”

He’d lowered himself further, so he’d been almost lying on her desk. She could see the lines around his eyes. Thin lines, like a freshly spun silken web.

“Do you want a child?” He’d spoken slowly, accentuating every word with uncomfortable clarity.

The tendons in his neck had been tense, thickly corded and like branches, and his Adam’s apple had bobbed slightly when he’d swallowed.

He’d caught her in his words. No matter her answer, she would be giving too much of herself away. She could speak the truth and have him know, or lie and prove him right.

“One day,” she’d said and snapped her mouth shut.

“You are actually willing to carry my child?”

“For the purpose of this law, yes.”

She’d noticed him check himself. For a split-second, his mouth had dipped.

“I see.” He must have seen something in her own face for he turned that droop into a curve and then a sneer. “Very well,” he’d said, and it seemed so insufficient and so unlike him that she’d opened her mouth to reply, before closing it.

“Is that all?” she’d said, instead, and picked up a fresh quill. She’d pointedly ignored where his elbow rested on her stack of correspondences. “Because I’d like you to leave.”

“Of course.” He’d gracefully pushed himself upright, and she’d been almost jealous by the ease with which he moved his body; such control and certainly that his muscles would bend or tighten to his will.   

She’d felt him move away and towards the door.

“I have conceded everything, and I have done it all for you.”

She’d not looked up, but let his words spear the bow of her head.

“However, you, in turn, are going to turn up in a white dress, holding a damn bouquet. I ask so little.” A pause. “Just give me this single concession.” The door snapped shut.

She had pressed her palms into the top of her desk and dug her nails in. Hard. Then she’d bend over and picked up the letter from the Italian Minister for Magic – the one which he’d ripped – and began to read the broken English once more.

She’d worn it. The dress had arrived the next day at her home rather than her office. It was beautiful and glamorous, and she felt entirely like she was a child playing dress up. But she’d worn it. On that single issue, he had been correct. She hadn’t wanted to find out if he’d been lying.


 

“The answer is yes, in case you ever wondered.” His voice was perfunctory but laced with irritation, like the sting of antiseptic on a skin abrasion.

He’d been like this since before the ceremony. Or, at least, with her he was. There had been an absence of that sardonic tone as he’d spoke to the hotel manager. All charm and smiles; he could turn it on like a switch.

It was a relief to be free of him : those charms and those smiles. His scorn, his sneers, and the sharp lashes of his tongue were easier to cope with. He was tart, and, like a lemon drop, he made her mouth scrunch up.

She stood a little far off but turned her body so she could keep him and the ocean in her sights.

The ocean breeze swept away the burn of the late afternoon Spanish sun, making her skin feel simultaneously balmy and cool. She shivered as a stronger gust blew over them, and her arms broke out in gooseflesh. Freshly plucked, she must look: pale, like a goose ready for the roasting.  

From the high altitude of their hotel suite’s balcony, she could see the rolling mountains and the valley, almost pressed, between them; all leading to the sea which stretched like the sky, endless and azure.

Almost endless.

Malfoy’s profile was as angular and as terrible as those mountains, and it perforated the blue. He was staring straight ahead, but it was a forced stare. It was as if he was lancing the horizon with his eyes.

She could tell from the tight creases of his jacket that there was tension in his shoulders and neck. His muscles would be taut, and his skin stretched like thin, vellum parchment. Bloodless; without colour.

Her nails weren't long, but could she score his skin? Mark him like an illuminated manuscript with red eosin ink?

The thoughts were as trespassers, and she shook her head as if the physical action of refusing would make them depart her brain.

“Yes, to what?” she asked him, more out of habit than design.

She was still holding her bouquet of lily-of-the-valley, and she threaded her thumbs between the stalks to stop her hands from bunching and crushing the posy.

“I did contemplate my wedding once or twice.” The blandness in his voice was deceptive; his bowed back revealed the strain underneath.  

He looked at her then; dragging his eyes away from the sea and glittering waves. His face was sharp as if the resolution had been turned up: enhancing his features with an unnatural labour. The artfully teased pieces of hair fell and rippled, like kite strings, in the wind, throwing his eyes into shadows. She couldn’t see if his pupils dilated for her.

He seemed to take her silence as an invitation to continue. There was a plainess to his tone that she hadn’t experienced recently. “It would have been in summer,” he said with unvarnished terseness, “at the Manor, and my mother would have been there.”

His words were bare and untreated, and, like fresh wood which has had its bark stripped away, they splintered under the pressure.

She felt him slide under her skin.

She would not picture the Manor, but, instead, thought of a county estate in Derbyshire that her parents had taken her to visit one summer holiday. Stately rooms of brocade and gilded gold which edged the centre of the house like a puzzle box so that every room would have a garden view. The gardens, designed by someone like Lancelot Capability Brown, would be beautiful but immaculate. Each leaf would be clipped, each blade of grass arrow-straight, and not a single rose would dare not to bloom in the height of midsummer. It would have been a flawless canvas to have a wedding on.

It must have rankled his florid sensibilities to have his wedding in a registry office and wearing only a tailored suit without even a button-hole.

Earlier this afternoon, he’d plucked the quill from her unresisting hand and dipped it in the magically binding ink. Malfoy’s signature had occupied the marriage licence, and, like its owner, it was sprawling and jagged. He’d held no regard for the dotted line or the written request to ‘sign here’, and the letters of his name had overflown and dwarfed her own meagre mark.

She’d pictured cherry blossom at her wedding. The wafer thin petals would have drifted on the wind and caught in her veil and then in her hair.

She’d wished for blossom and had received dying roses.

As Malfoy ran his palm along the stone parapet, there was a faint scraping sound, and it drew her attention back to him as efficiently as a click of his fingers. She watched, breathless, as he raised his hand and pushed back his hair. A long, clever stroke that caught all the stray strands and exposed his eyes. Like the Rorschach Test, his pupils were blooming under the touch of her gaze: growing and staining the lightness of his irises.

There were laughter lines around his mouth; however they were slight, almost delicate, and not as pronounced as the ones between his brows or around his eyes. Those grooves around his eyes deepened, but their severity was sliced by his eyelashes. Such a fine pale line of colour; so blond that the silky length of them almost glowed white in the sun.

“However –” the corner of his mouth twitched upwards, and he touched his bottom lip with a thumb as if holding back a smirk “– if I had to imagine a bride, then they could not have compared to the vision that you are.”

She felt the blush: that warmth, which brushed along her cheeks and that couldn’t be mistaken for the sun’s rays. She swiveled on her heel so she was facing the sea. Like the cover of an old and valuable book which has turned solid with age so that it cracks and groans if opened too far,  he could now only study a small area of her face.

“That was my decision,” she said in a measured voice. “Thank you for accommodating it.”

“You are more than welcome.” He laughed, darkly. “I can be very accommodating for people such as yourself.”

She snapped her head back to face him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

As he lowered his hand, he waved it languidly in her direction. It was an all-encompassing gesture and travelled the length of her body. She saw his fingers slightly wave as he skimmed her waist and hips.

“Such poise, my dear,” he carried on as if she hadn’t spoken. “Such refinement.” His gaze was one of appreciation, yet the type of appreciation usually reserved for renowned piece of art. Something fixed, something still, something dead. “And all mine.”

“I am not yours, or anyone's.”

“Not ownership in the mercantile sense, my love. But, forgive me, I get a thrill out of knowing I’ll be the only person to know you from here to eternity.”

She slapped the bouquet of flowers on the parapet. A few petals broke off and bounced to the floor. “You’re alone in this conception.” She raised her chin, and bit the inside of her mouth as she sucked her cheeks in.

He sighed, but it was full of amusement. “I am aware of this. Yet –” his smile was as lightning: brief and blinding “– my sense of anticipation does not decrease in the slightest.”

Like the roll of clouds which signal an approaching storm, a flutter of the prospective rippled in her lower belly. Alike to those broiling clouds, he approached. He made no sound, but the very air moved around him. It was like a friction: as if the air had become solid, or, rather, he made the air come alive. Breathing life into it; disturbing its composure.

The atmosphere crackled as he approached her, and the hair on the back of her neck stirred in response.  

“You are all I could have envisaged in a wife.” He was to her side, and she had to strain her neck to keep him in her sights. “Beautiful.” He pressed his mouth closer. “Brilliant.” The sharp ‘t’ kissed her neck. “Beguiling.”

She swallowed a breath, and it felt icy cold on her lips. “What about love?” she said, her voice husky, and weaker than she would have liked.

“Love.” He snapped the word, and it was a huff of heat on her skin. “I was not indulged to expect love.”

She balled her fists and hid them in the folds of her dress. “I was.”

“But not from me?” His lips were at her ear.

So close. So close, he could touch her?

She shut her eyes on that glittering ocean and his piercing smile. “Never,” she said, and under the mercurian dress, her thighs trembled.

“We understand each other so perfectly.”

She drew in a breath and tasted sea, and salt, and him. Like wood smoke, he lingered on her tongue.

“We don’t understand each other, Malfoy.” Keeping her eyes closed, she twisted her head to the side: away from him. “I doubt we ever will.”

She felt his anger in the sound of his breath. Sharp. Short, bursts.

“Well, thank the gods that we will have the rest of our lives to endeavour ,” he gritted the word out, “to comprehend the other.”

“You can do that, but I won’t be wasting my time.”

Merlin ,” he cursed. “I cannot be having this conversation with you turned away like some martyr waiting for the stake. Look at me, will you.”

She curved her body even more, so her back was almost to him.“Whether I look at you,” she said, addressing the sky, “will not change the bearing of this discussion.”

He grasped her elbow, and her eyes shot open. The world spun as he turned her: the blue and gold of the ocean was replaced by the blanched whiteness of his face.

Perhaps it was because of his pallid complexion or the ocean behind her, but his irises seemed to take on the hues of the sea. Their grey had been washed away, and undercurrents of turquoise surged through the cerulean. Lapis lurked around his pupils, flowing into the black.

“If you are going to reject me so out of hand,” – he pressed her into the stone – “then you will kindly have the courtesy to pronounce it to my face.”

Her scowl slashed her brows, and she jerked at where he held her. “Don’t you dare –”

“Dare what?” He stepped forward and sunk his body into hers. “To touch you?”

The parapet dug into the base of her spine, and his hip bones drove into her soft underbelly.

She lowered her eyes: tracing down his neck to the cut of his throat. Blue veins, which throbbed like the heart of a rabbit under his semi-translucent skin.

“Yes,” she whispered, and his pulse visibly jumped.

As he slid his hand down her arm and enclosed her wrist, the material of the dress tugged slightly. “By tonight, I will have done much more than merely touch you.”

She shivered against him. She was so aware of every slice and ridge of him. From the pressure of his hand on her arm, to the rise and fall of his chest which brought his body into further contact with hers.  

“You will not know where I begin, and you end.” Like the touch of fine china, he stroked the bones of her wrists. Such a tender touch for someone who held her in his grasp.  

He nimbly caught her other hand as she raised it. He plucked her sleeves between his fingers and caught her wrists. He pushed their conjoined hands down, down between their bodies; forming a knot which separated them.

“Let go.” She jerked her eyes up and glared at him.

His eyes flickered across her face; such eyes. The black had spilled into the blue. It was as if the sea was banished from them, and they were now cavernous in their depths.

She could slip into those eyes and forget all. She could crawl into him, and along that hollow tunnel of his pupils. Seat herself in the centre of him and bury herself within his reach. She could steep herself in him. Saturate, and drown on him.

She blinked; a smile flicked across his face. He was expecting her to.

“I can never lose sight of who I am.” She clenched her fingers, and her wedding band delved into her skin and burrowed into her pelvis.

“You will.” He moved deeper, closer; so those black pupils stretched her eyes. “Even if it is only temporarily, my dear.”

He shifted his hips, bracing himself between her legs.

He was an intrusion, and the warmth of him trickled down her body, like honey, and pooled in her belly. It slipped down the contours of her stomach, easing its way to the juncture of her thighs.   

To her horror, she felt herself slicken.   

“I will make you forget,” he promised. He declined his head. The movement shielded her from his eyes, but brought his mouth to her skin. His words sucked at her neck.

“Forget who kisses you.”

He untangled one of his hands from hers, but still kept her wrists pinned with a single pinch of his fingers, and brought it up and behind her back. His fingers dragged across her back, sliding into every dip of the lace.  

“Who touches you.”

He stopped at the central line of the dress: where the seam divided into buttons. Three buttons, to be precise. More like clasps, or hooks. Easy to flick open.

“Who will whisper to you in the night.”

Her blood hummed in her body, singing a rapid tempo in her ears, as she stared blindly at the sandy brick of the hotel.

“Who will strip you.”

His thumb skimmed her vertebrae as he slid the first button from its clothed prison. The loosening of the ties that bind.

“Who you will come for.”

Her body lightly trembled as he dipped a finger between the open fold of the dress: a single finger.

She was aware of the emptiness behind her. How the balcony dropped and tumbled downwards, and that the only thing holding her up was Malfoy’s finger, which hotly stroked: back and forth; tracing the split of her bones. The wind could ripple through her, shattering her, and the last thing she would have felt was his touch. The dryness of her eyes was almost painful, as if her unconcentrated stare was being abraded by the brick. As if the stone was eroding her eyes; yet, if she looked away, then her pupils would fall on him. Fall on those flashes of gold in his hair which leached the sun of its light.  

He added another finger as he undid the second clasp.

“And then,” the curl of his lip connected with her jugular, “you will open your eyes and remember exactly who made you scream.”

For all its sharpness of shape and sound, his mouth was pillow soft.

She brought her foot up, and in a sharp relief, slammed it on his toes.

“Fuck.”

His hand was clear of her.

“Fuck.”

He stepped back.

“Fuck.”

She stumbled past, and her ring caught on the dress; the lace ripped open, and her skin seeped out.


 

She’d called them the screaming necklaces.

His gifts, that is.

The first one had arrived six months ago, the day after the Marriage Law was announced.

Having somehow bypassed the Ministry’s security checks, the jewellery case had been on her desk when she arrived. Almost as if it had been waiting for her, the embossed silver ‘M’ carved into the leather seemed to come alive: gleaming keenly as the scutes of some tropical, deadly snake.

She’d blinked at the case and mentally run through all the spells and rules Malfoy must have used and broken to get it into her office. She’d calculated at least twenty-six spells. However, she’d have to do some research into how many rules.  

She’d calmly rolled up her copy of the Prophet and, so she wouldn’t have to touch the case, used it as a baton to push the case off her desk and into the bin. She’d then picked up the bin, opened her office door, and unceremoniously dumped it outside. The metallic clang of the bin hitting the floor had still been reverberating in her ears when she’d gone back into her office and, firmly, shut the door behind her.

At first, she’d felt the sound more than heard it. Like the buzzing of a mosquito at night, it had started as a whistle: a thin, reedy sound and just on the point of hearing. She’d ignored it, presuming that it was just some nonsense going on in the main office.

An hour later, however, the screaming had began.

Her secretary had staggered into her office, his face screwed-up, and his hand flapping like an agitated moth around a lightbulb in the direction of where she’d left the bin.

The necklace – as she discovered when she summoned the bin back into her office and opened the case – was charmed. Imbued with a charm to ‘make a loud and annoying noise’ until the intended recipient wore it. Malfoy’s note, informing her of this fact, had been bluntly put. Excessively blunt. It was almost as if he didn’t want to waste words on the subject, or perhaps he felt less was more. The less he put, the less she could argue with. Not that she couldn’t have written an entire three roles of parchment to him on the wrongness in the entire principle of a booby-trapped necklace.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised. He did, after all, have a history with cursed necklaces.

There had been a slight tremble in her fingers as she’d pulled out the glittering mass of diamonds and wrapped it around her neck. The gold had been clammy and cold, and she’d briefly wondered if the owner’s hands would be equally so. Unfastened, it had lain around her neck, and yet it had still screamed.

Wear it , he’d written.

Her fingers, stiff and unyielding, had fumbled with the delicate clasp as she fastened it. As soon as her finger left cold metal, the wailing had ceased.

Like a collar, it encircled her bare neck.

The silence had felt almost deafening, so loud, so awful had been that scream. It wasn’t a human or an animal cry, but a constant pitched shriek which didn’t waver or take breath. The sheer inhumanness of the sound almost made it worse, because she was hearing an manufactured sound. An artificial scream of pain.

It had perhaps been naive to hope that Malfoy would only present her with the one gift: a single token of his esteem. However, that hope had been crushed when a week later another case was ready and waiting when she arrived at the office at eight o’clock.

She’d pondered on how long she could leave the necklace before the screaming became unbearable. It turned out she’d only been able to stomach thirty minutes.

Afterwards she’d been grateful that no one else had been in the office that early. No one had witnessed the crime of her taking a pair of magicked pliers to the emerald and diamond necklace which probably cost more than anyone in her department made in a year.

The next week, it had been a sapphire creation which she’d pulled apart. She’d lined the stones up, like toy soldiers, on her desk: the smallest a speck of glitter, and the biggest the size of a Galleon. Out of their settings, they’d not shone so brilliantly and had almost seemed dull when paired with the dark brown wood underneath.

The week after, a platinum collar embedded with chips of opal had been at the mercy of her hands.

She’d hesitated over a garnet pendant the size of her thumb nail and cursed herself for the millisecond of enjoyment she felt when she slid the fine chain around her neck. It had nestled between her breasts; a plump tear-drop made even redder against the whiteness of her skin. She’d sighed as she sliced the chain into four even parts and again when she placed the components into an envelope, wrote Malfoy’s business address on the front, and sent it to the Ministry’s owlery to be delivered.

One time the necklace hadn’t stopped screaming.

He must have changed the charm, she’d thought as she fastened it for the sixth time. Altered it, perhaps? Or developed the spell just so she would have to contact him?

She’d sworn when the clasp had snagged on her poloneck and the fine wool had pulled, ruching like a ladder along the weave.

There had been no notes, letters, or correspondence since that first gift; no acknowledgment of the numerous bits of necklace she’d sent him over the weeks. She’d felt this silence of Malfoy’s was noxious; like resentment, it grew with each passing week, with each gift, with each rejection. Without a sound, the air between them had become thick with poison.  

She’d relented and gone to Malfoy, but it had taken another hour and many desperate pleas from her staff.

He’d had the audacity to look surprised when she charged into his office and flung the necklace down in front of him. She’d flooed to his building, and the whole time the necklace had been wailing like a constant and high-pitched foghorn. She’d not been able to explain the situation to Baddon, the Head of Magical Transport, and the older woman had waved her through the department and cleared her access to use the floo in record time.

There was something to be said for running through the Ministry, clutching a diamond necklace to her chest, and wearing an expression on her face which spoke of limited patience. It had certainly upped everyone’s ability to get out of her way.

When she’d arrived at Malfoy’s offices, her presence had incurred a similar effect: that of a cat amongst the pigeons.

She’d not seen him for weeks, yet it hadn’t been enough.

The last time she’d been here, he’d caged her in. His arms had been like brackets around her body, his hands affixed to the door, as he’d whispered to her how he was looking forward to ‘aspects’ of their marriage. Like the heat of his body, it was burned into her memory.

She’d pointed at the necklace that lay curled and motionless on his desk. “Make it stop.”

His eyebrows had quivered, but she’d been unsure if this was with amusement or confusion. He’d stood and walked towards her. Apart from that small movement of his eyebrow, his face was blank; unreadable, like an unblotted piece of parchment.

As he’d moved towards her, he’d swiped the necklace; he’d held it out in front of him like a bejewelled garotte.

The step back she’d taken had been involuntary, but his pupils had narrowed as he took in her movement. It had been a sharp stare, and, as if her feet had been skewered to the floor, she’d stopped retreating immediately.   

“I can’t,” he’d said. He’d shouted, but she’d still had to watch his lips to understand the complete sentence. “Only you can.”

As she’d shaken her head, more of her hair had broken free of the low ponytail it had been secured in. The curls had spun in front of her eyes and cut her view of him into uneven pieces.

“It won’t stop,” she’d tried to say, but her voice had been drowned under his accursed necklace.

His eyes had started to dance then; roaming down her body with an easy which made her spine stiffen and her knees quiver. They’d alighted on her neck and widened with glee.

He’d started to laugh. She’d not heard his laugh, but, by the unbending of his mouth, she’d been able to imagine the deep huskiness of it.

He’d reached a hand towards his own neck, tugged at his collar, and exposed a slit of pale skin which was white and, like the surface of fresh milk, looked beautifully smooth.

“Bare skin, my dear.” He’d tilted his chin up, so she could count the thin bones which jutted from his neck like Adam’s ribs. “The charm will only break if it touches your bare skin.”

All she’d been able to do was glare, and even that had been cut off when she’d pulled her sweater over her head. She’d kept her head high as she’d stood before him in a thin camisole top. He’d been able to see every dip and rise of her chest.  She’d gripped her jumper between her knees and held a hand out for the necklace.

He’d ignored her hand and had stalked around behind her.

His breath had tickled the dip between her shoulder blades, and she had shivered when he’d placed the cold metal of the necklace on her collar bones.

“There” – the screaming stopped as he fastened the chain – “peace is once more restored. But,” he’d said as he’d walked back to face her, “I fear, not for long.”

“You –”

“I thought you appreciate all the elements of how the charm worked.”

“– bastard.”

The smile he had laid on her had been styled with the sole intention to deceive: awashed with admiration and affection.

“Can you not chop this one up into little pieces?” He skipped away from her and settled back behind his desk. “I don’t especially mind, but my jeweler is beginning to take it personally.”

She ripped the arms of her jumper the right way around. “Stop sending them.”

His laugh had been low, and his eyes had, once again, danced as they deliberately alighted on her. “They are tokens of my high regard for you.” He’d raised a brow in a gesture she couldn’t have mistaken the meaning for. “A regard which is only increasing by the minute.”

She’d hurried and pulled her jumper back over her head. Glaring, she’d raised her chin. “I don’t want your tokens or gifts, Malfoy.” She’d swept her hair back from her eyes. “You’re wasting your money and my time.”

“My money is of little importance. But what an offending crime to have taken up your precious time.” He’d raised a hand and splayed it on his chest in mock contrition. “Accept my most humble apologies.”

She’d looked from his ridiculous pose to his ridiculously large smile and turned on her heel.  

“How is storming the Ministry and demanding that they release you from this oppressive Marriage Law progressing?”

Her hand had paused on the door handle. “I’m not working on behalf of myself,” she’d said, crisply and cooly as she tightly gripped the handle.

“Of course not,” he’d said, the amusement catching in his throat. “However, forgive me if I am wrong, but a sizeable part of your motivation is your impending marriage to yours truly?”

She’d jerked the handle down and stormed from the room, and, knowing what she would see, she’d not bothering to answer or look back.  

His laugh had only been muffled by the door and not silenced.


 

“Granger, I understand that women have a secret and often mystical relationship with the bathroom, but may I request that you not make this a permanent one.”

Even through an inch of wood, the caustic tone in Malfoy’s voice bled through the door like acid.

The hotel room’s bathroom was approximately the size of a large double bedroom. The space was more than sufficient to fit the few fixtures in the room, and she appreciated the spatial interior decisions as she was seriously considering never leaving and – as Malfoy feared– taking up permanent residence here.

“As your devoted and entirely unreluctant husband” – there was a couple of impatient raps from the other side of the door – “I would like to have my first dinner as a married man actually with my wife.”

As she rested her head against the door, the wood felt cool against the side of her face. Her fingers traced down: her index finger followed the score of a single grain and pursued the dimples and wavers in the line.

Not wearing a watch, she could only estimate how long she’d been in here; but, by now, the tips of her fingers knew each shift in the wood’s grain.  

She touched metal, and, instead of ignoring it, she stopped and laid her hand over the handle.

“Can we continue as we mean to go on – with a fight,” he said, and she could easily imagine the half-smile in his words being replicated on his face. “A verbal one, to clarify. I don’t fancy being on the receiving end of one of your right hooks for a second time.”

She flicked her eyes up to the mirrored wall in front of her. She looked a mess, yet her face was concerningly hard. The lines between her brows were becoming as tattoos, she saw them so regularly.

Ever since the Ministry’s Marriage Law, her face had been getting harder. Sometime she caught flashes of herself as she passed mirrors and darked windows, and she barely recognised the scowl that stamped her features.

The inevitable has happened this afternoon, and at least that was one battle over; if lost. Perhaps her position, her appearance of agreeing with the marriage law, could work to her advantage? It would be easier, at least, only fighting on two sides rather than three. Just Malfoy and the Ministry; she’d lost to marriage.

This evening, her hair was a lost cause. Curls, like a thicket, surrounded her face and their darkness highlighted the ghastly paleness of her cheeks. Between the ceremony at the Ministry, the Portkey to Spain, the muggy heat of the Spanish sun, and finally, Malfoy’s interference, the twisted arrangement hadn’t survived the day’s events.

The day had been a struggle – and he was right in his assessment – a fight.

Like her hair, she wasn’t sure how many more of these days she could survive. How long she could survive him.

He might want a verbal fight, but she … she didn’t think she could cope with many more sparring matches with him. Not for the moment. Not while the wounds were fresh and the memories sharp.

Could she persuade him? Turn him so they didn’t fight, so they worked together?

An impossible thought. He was too suspicious; too unhampered by the events to want to work.

Using him might be the only option. Then again, wasn’t he using her – wasn’t the Ministry using her like a mule, like an animal? Limited to her reproductive functions on one side, and her physical attraction on the another. They were all going to use her; she had no agency in the matter. Her reaction to this use, however, was her choice, and, like Jason and the Symplegades, she had no option but to proceed.

The dress Malfoy had ordered for her was maintaining some semblance of sophistication. Nevertheless, she thought that was more because of the fine style of the dress, rather than the woman inside it. Until this dress, she hadn’t understood the principle that clothes could wear the owner and not the other way around. The embroidered silk looked wrong on her, and she felt oddly small, diminutive in the tight cut and wrapped sleeves. He’d used those sleeves like a straight-jacket, pinning her wrists by pinched the material with his thumb and forefinger.  

Had he chosen this dress for that reason, she wondered. Dressed her up like a doll, so he could undress her like one.

When she’d been a girl, she’d owned a paper peg doll. The type of ancient toy where she’d spent ages with her child-safe scissors cutting out the doll, the clothes, and the accessories, which had turned out to be the most interesting part of the toy. She’d folded down the flaps and placed the clothes on the doll and stared at it. The clothes had slightly swung as they’d hung off the paper frame of the doll, but at the faintest movement and the dresses would drop and leave her bare. In her mind that doll had been useless: both as a toy, and as a girl. How could the doll hope to function in a world where she wasn’t able to walk, move, talk without her clothes falling off?

The white and silver dress she wore now was simple to undo. It would only take a flick and twist of his wrist and the silk would flutter down her body and pool at their feet.

He’d only had the third clasp left when she’d shut herself in the bathroom. The first two were still open, gaping to reveal the rivets of her spine. Her fingers could only aimlessly brush the hooks, such was the angle of the fastenings.

It hurt her palm where she gripped the door handle, a hot dull ache, and she wished the metal would give in under her hand. To break, and become redundant, unusable, and then she wouldn’t have to go out.

“I won’t touch you,” he said. There was a pause, a halting pause like the stutter of a record player. “Again.”

Her fingers didn’t move.

He sighed, and it must have been a deep sigh for her to hear it through the door. That or a dramatic one. “Come out, Granger.”

She didn’t believe him, and he seemed to read her mind because he added, “I know my word on the subject does not count for much –”

That was a rich statement; as rich and as outrageous as she was certain he was.

“– and I admit I was a tad hasty with my attentions –”

She wanted to shout and then, perhaps, throw something at him.

“– and I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending I don’t have anything but carnal intentions towards you –”

There was grit in his words; ground out through a clenched smile.

“– however, we can put everything else on hold for the moment.”

Another sigh seeped through the wood, and this one lacked the melodrama of the first.

She smoothed her thumb over the handle, and it rattled in its cradle, slightly. He would have seen the movement, and she silently cursed herself.

“Just dinner, Granger,” he said, and his voice was eager as if almost leaping on the subtle shift of the door handle as a sign of her leniency. “That is all. I swear that on your perception of my bastardly traits.”

Nerves and nausea had gotten the better of her for the past two days, and her stomach felt empty, and, apart from water, there really wasn’t anything to eat in a bathroom. Next to the sink there was a phone which she could call the hotel’s concierge, but that would still require her leaving the bathroom to recieve room service.

There was just silence from beyond the door, now. No more knocks and sighs.

Had he gone?

Was it better to know where he was – have him in her sights – than have his whereabouts unknown?

If she could see him, then she would know what he was up to. She could track his movements, analyse his gestures, and follow the lines of his eyes as they softened and hardened.

She looked up at herself and saw the pallid colour of her face. The colour drained, and her lips a chapped paleness. There were smudges around her eyes as if shadow had been painted underneath them.

How had she got here – hiding in a bathroom from Malfoy?

The Ministry, the marriage, and him; these problems swirled around her brain, mingling with the anxiety and humiliation of this entire day.

No one at the Ministry had been able to look her in the eyes for days. They knew. They knew exactly what they’d done. To her. To all the people who fell in the age catchment of this law.

Malfoy seemed to be one of the few people untouched by recent events. So wrapped up was he in his bower of mercantile bliss, that he couldn’t see the wood from the trees. By the time the effects of the law were felt by him – the years of loneliness, lovelessness – it would be too late from him to do anything about it.

But she, she could see clearly.

She rubbed the fragile, bruised-like skin under her eyes with the heel of her hand.

Her voice might have been drowned, but that wasn’t the only weapon she had at her disposal.

If men like Malfoy, if institutions like the Ministry, operate under appearance and performance, then so would she.

Reap the harvest of her thoughts, and hope the autumn bore fruit.  

First, food, she decided. She needed food. If not the company, she could sit in silence and enjoy the food and the weather. Simple pleasures to distract herself. Distract herself. To direct her mind away. Far away. Away.

She opened the door in a rush, and he blinked down at her.

“Hello,” he said, and his voice sounded like the plucking of a string: melodic and fixed.  

As quickly as she’d come, she turned her back to him. “The dress. Do it up.”

There was a pause, a small one, and she felt the tickle of his breath on the back of her neck.

She closed her eyes and waited for his comment, or remark, which would be designed to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Certainly.”

His fingers were efficient, more efficient than when he’d undone the clasps, and soon she felt the dress enclose her once more.

“Wife, dearest,” he said as she pivoted around to face him, “shall we go?” He waved to the door, and, as he raised his hand, the light of the setting sun glinted off his wedding band.  


  

'The problem of courtship is precisely a problem of mutuality: if the impetus towards the avowal and consummation of love is not exactly equal on both sides, one of other of the lovers must assume the initiative and thus run the risk of coercion, of imposing desire on the other, instead of meeting it in the other. Modern eroticism submerges this problem in the myth of the Simultaneous Kiss (bowdlerised correlative of the Simultaneous Orgasm), a familiar cliche of the movies. '

Jill Mann, Feminist Readings: Geoffrey Chaucer