Gaining admission to Gringotts proved somewhat more difficult than Hermione had expected. She was barred at the entrance since no one with her name had a vault—no one with the name Granger and no one with the name Granger-Malfoy.
Draco had ensured it that way.
“Try Hermione Malfoy,” she said and the fastidious goblin behind the reception desk perked up.
“Malfoy? Why didn’t you say?”
“I already did—never mind.” Unorthodox double-barrel reclamations held no water in the sexist cesspool of pureblood money and its archaic banking ways.
“A drop of your blood, Madam.”
“It’s Ms.” Hermione held out her left hand for the pinprick to be made. “Where’s your prisoner? Charlie Weasley?”
“The one that tried to thieve from your husband, Madam Ms?”
“Ex-husband—oh forget it! Lead the way.”
Her heart still thrummed, its furnace stoked by a guilty conscience and the fuel of Draco’s hands upon her. He had been so close to kissing her like he’d done that first time and she’d wanted him to; to take and to keep on taking. Harlot! She was ashamed and aroused at what they had almost done. If Charlie hadn’t broken the spell and returned her to her senses, they would have; her blouse and her skirt would be in ruin, her knickers vanished away, and she would have come from all the ways that he’d touched her. No one else could; nobody knew the silent depths of her depravation. Only Draco had dug and uncovered it like some archeologist of lust. He was profane in his proficiency when it came to her body.
“You always wanted it. I know. Wound so tightly like a top; I’ll pull your string and you’ll go.”
Those were his words as he had staked his initial (and she feared eternal) claim. And he was not wrong. The fire was burning in her blood; her ribs were melting from the heat inside her chest. It did not go away, only grew when he touched or he looked, yet he could not tell her the truth.
“When this is all over, I’ll tell you.”
Tell me what? she thought. That you’re a selfish, conniving, possessive prick? What a surprise. Try harder, darling. Tell me something I don’t already know.
As they descended deep into the vaults and deeper still to a special dungeon she had never seen, her faithless thoughts were interrupted by a growing echo of voices.
“Trouble afoot,” the goblin said.
“When is it not?” Hermione overtook the shorter creature and rounded a corner to see. Trouble had been her childhood and she’d made a career of it later. She was a talisman for danger and hence the best story, according to Draco, who relished the returns when it came to her peril.
And now the danger was greater than most.
“Release my son at once!”
The stout woman stood in a herd of goblins and wizards, the latter all aurors, though none Hermione knew. Charlie was just visible between the iron bars of a cell, his wonderfully big hands hanging through the gaps in a tired dejection.
“Charlie!” Hermione called and he smiled and waved and the fire was doused in a moment.
“Mistress Hermione Granger-Malfoy! Oh my goodness, is it really you?”
Her arrival was made official by her dear assistant Millie, who had saved her from danger more times than any other creature—before, during or after the war.
“Am so glad you’re here!” The elf wrapped her tiny arms around Hermione’s calves, her disproportioned face gazing up adoringly. “I missed you! I missed you so much!”
“I missed you too, dearest Millie. Now tell me what that dastardly ex of mine’s been up to. I know you will.”
“Master Draco loves Mistress Hermione Granger-Malf—”
“No need for the full name please. And don’t tell lies. A good journalist lives off the truth.”
“Hermione, please make these goblins see sense!” Molly had her by the arm and was dragging her to the throng; she nearly tripped over in her heels, since Millie was still clinging. “My Charlie never stole a thing!”
“Fraud,” said the goblin who appeared to be in charge, at least by his clothes and the ornateness of his glasses; Hermione was certain she had seen him before. “Forgery. Cursed artifacts trying to be passed off as currency.”
“Slow down,” Hermione said. “So it was a set up? Zabini!” She pulled out her wand and cast a Jelly-Legs curse. The tall wizard went down like a washed up octopus, barely making it to the hallway in his attempt to escape. “Talk. And fast. And in English to boot.”
“But you know Italian, tesoro,” he said.
Hermione nudged him onto his back and pinned him with a stiletto to the chest. “I’ll send you back to Draco as a poorly made leather bag. You know how he hates shoddy workmanship.”
“You’re fucking hot when you get like this.”
“Keep flirting; it’s not helping your case.”
She reversed the hex and helped him to stand. He took her by the elbow and led her to a more secluded corner.
“He did this for you,” Blaise said.
“Because. The man is nuts. You’ve made him fully mad.”
“He was the one who drove me to madness—”
“No. You don’t see. He’s not been himself since you left. He’s not been himself since he met you.”
“We were eleven.”
“Not then. Since he really knew you. Ever since the trial.”
“I don’t see—”
“You got too close.”
“Stop talking in riddles!” Hermione stomped her foot. “I’m so tired. It was always like this. Playing games. Always guessing. Never saying what he thought. Just help me to release Charlie.”
Blaise took her hand and kissed it. “If that’s what you really want.”
They returned to the crowd and he ingratiated himself with Molly Weasley. Hermione went to the bars. She let Charlie take her left hand, his thumb brushing over her ring, and she remembered Draco doing the same. She remembered his long elegant fingers gently handling her own as he slipped the weighty heirloom upon it.
“It was a mistake,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry. We can still get the Portkey—”
“Hush. It doesn’t matter. We’ll sort this out, you’ll see. We’ll be gone before midnight and we’ll be wed by tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait to marry you.”
His guileless stare made her stomach churn; couldn’t he see what a cheating whore she was? It had been such a balm in those early days; the simplicity of his wants. He had pursued her like a proper courtship. He was handsome and strong, and the sex was good. It was easy. Soft and comfortable. No arguments. No extremes. Nothing to push her to a place she had never been. She was tired of being challenged, of being teased, of being unsure. She was tired of the stretch of her feelings, like an ocean vast and deep, which Draco had filled the volume of.
“Me too,” she said and leaned through the bars to kiss him. It didn’t feel like Draco; nothing did and that was good and it was right.
“You’re going?” Millie said, tugging on her ankle again. “But you just came back to save that poor elf. You wouldn’t let one of us die, would you, Mistress Hermione Granger-Malfoy? Not the Dementor’s kiss!”
“What time is it?”
Millie produced a pocket-watch that looked mysteriously like Draco’s. “Just after a quarter past six.”
“There’s only half an hour!” Hermione looked at Charlie. “I’m coming back; I promise. You wait there. This is important.”
“I have to see this through!” It was a mantra that she lived by and had mostly succeeded at until the failure of her marriage.
“You’re not coming back,” Charlie said.
“If you go, he’ll get his claws in you.”
“I can handle dragons; you taught me that. And I don’t need ultimatums, just time. A couple more hours.” She was leaving him now. “I know you can wait for me.”
His smile turned sad as he waved her goodbye.
“Explain again.” Potter dislodged his glasses askew while squeezing the bridge of his nose. His dark curly hair had turned to salt and pepper. That was what three kids and leading a bunch of clowns did to a man, Draco supposed.
“As you can see,” Draco gestured to the cell, “the elf overpowered your two good men, having picked the lock of his shackles with this,” he held up an earring, “the property of one Hermione Malfoy née Granger. Seems that orders were not entirely followed due to her malign influence.”
“‘M sorry, Harry,” Ron mumbled from behind the bars. McLaggen looked too embarrassed to talk.
“And you were witness to the escape?” Potter asked.
“Why, I could barely see. I was cowering for my life.”
“And why were you here?”
“To offer my apologies for my wife’s malfeasance.”
“A watertight story,” Potter said.
“It’s not like I make a living off of leaks.”
Draco straightened his cuffs then patted the shorter man on the shoulder. “You take things from here. I’m off to see how the Wizengamot are handling this. Nothing sadder than a Dementor without a soul to kiss.”
He strolled out the Ministry dungeons as he heard Potter’s yelling begin. He tossed Hermione’s earring up like a lucky coin, catching it in his palm and pocketing it. He might have even whistled if he could carry a tune. He lit a cigarette instead and made his way to the main atrium. There were crowds of people and general chaos, including an unseemly line for the public floos.
He turned to find Zabini approaching. “My good man. What’s the brew?”
Zabini looked somewhat sheepish for a snake in the grass, never a good sign. “I might have lost a Weasley.”
“Make it a good one.”
“How does the matriarch sound?”
“Like a blood clot waiting to clog up my coronaries. I’m too young and too healthy for a heart attack yet.” He stubbed his cigarette out and disappeared it with his wand. “Be a sweetheart and clear me a path to the nearest floo. I need to call the office.”
Blaise did what he did best like the failure had not occurred, a series of unnoticeable hexes being cast until people moved aside and Draco could jump the queue.
“Scram,” he said to a whiskered crone who was struggling to reach the floo powder bowl. He threw a handful of dust into the fireplace and poked his head through. “Greetings, Panse.”
“Draco, darling.” The fashion editor had her delightful gams propped up on his desk while filing her nails. “I was just holding the fort. Nott’s been a dreadful bother.”
“If the two of you fucked on my desk, I expect an exclusive for the gossip column.”
“As if he’s anything to write about. What can I do you for?”
“Has Granger made any contact? Or an enraged flame-haired dowdy old witch trying to burn us to the ground?”
“Nothing so fun. It’s been so boring without you.”
“Have them hold the front page.”
“It’s not been written yet.”
“I know. I’m working on a lead. That nefarious little Abner’s escaped and the Ministry’s up in arms. Tell Bones the Politics Desk is an MLE auditor from now until I say it isn’t. No Chosen One front is going to cover up this mess. And since I’m feeling verbose, I’ll pen that editorial on the Minister myself.”
“When do you ever not feel verbose?”
“It takes a special sort to shut me up, as you know.”
Pansy studied her fingertips like they were diamonds of undetermined carats. “I hope this all works out for you, Draco. Divorce never was your thing.”
“Let’s not make this personal. The timing’s all off.”
“Let me know when it isn’t.”
“Panse, my girl, you know you’re first on the list of people I’d never tell.” He blew her a kiss as she flipped him a french polished finger. “Parkinson and Nott have been rutting again,” he said, straightening up and brushing the soot from his robes.
Blaise gave a wry smirk. “I thought he had the mumblemumps.”
“Probably caught it from Panse.”
They shoved their way back through the crowded atrium, making a beeline for the lifts. As they waited for the doors to open, Millie appeared at Draco’s feet.
“Mistress Hermione!” she cried. “I’ve lost her!”
“Seems to be something catching, wouldn’t you say, Zabini?”
Blaise shrugged innocently.
“Where’d she go?” Draco said.
“We were leaving Gringotts about to head here when this sick old elf appeared.”
“By sick and old, do you mean Abner?”
“Yes, that’s him!” Millie slapped her sallow cheeks. “Oh no! You mean—?”
“Yes, very good.” Draco pattered her ears as she started crying. “So Granger’s gone gallivanting with a fugitive house-elf.”
“Now there’s your story,” Blaise said.
“I couldn’t have planned it better.”
They entered the lift and zigzagged their way to the second level. As they exited into the hall, various members of the council were already bustling into the main chamber.
“They still planning to re-elect the MLE Minister?” Blaise asked.
“Not if I have anything to say on the matter.” Draco handed the inconsolable Millie over to his friend. “Take care of this one. And why not see if you can’t reunite the disparate Weasley clan.”
Blaise gave a salute as the elf kept on sobbing. “Master Draco, I’m so sorry!”
“Come now, you need to stay strong.” He chucked her under her wobbly chin. “Don’t you see, Millie, my love? Everything is coming together.”
The terrified house-elf had apparated them six times all over Wizarding London by now. Hermione felt dizzy and sick from the travel.
“I need to sit down.” So she did on damp steps at the base of a door tucked down a narrow alleyway. “Talk to me please and tell me again.”
“Mister Draco said I should find you. That you’d help me, just like you promised.”
“Yes, I did. And I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner. But going on the lam? And kidnapping me? I don’t think the Wizengamot is going to listen—”
“That’s just it, just like Mister Draco said. They woulds not listen to me. But to yous, Mistress? Why, you’s is brave and good and a hero. You’s saved all the elves just like me.”
“I’m not as good as you think. I’m no good at all.”
“What makes Mistress says that?”
Head down, she looked at her hands, held palms up. The thin band shined in the drizzly air. Her hair was taking up moisture and would be an unsalvageable mess, just like the one she was in now. Not only Abner, but the rest of the stew.
“What am I thinking?” she said. “I’m being a coward.”
“No, you’re not!”
“You’re sweet. And a little bit bonkers. Bless you, Abner. Will you go back? I’ll take you and we’ll tell them the truth. I’ll defend you, just like I promised. I won’t let the Dementors touch you.”
“Dear brave Mis—”
“There they are!” A pair of aurors rounded the corner and pointed their wands. “You’re under arrest.”
“Do as they say, Abner,” Hermione said, rising from the stoop. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“You as well, Ms. Granger,” a tall female auror said.
“What on earth for?”
The auror nodded to her shorter wizard partner, who produced a scroll and cleared his throat. “One,” he announced, “aiding and abetting the escape of a Ministry prisoner. Two: blackmail of Ministry Law Enforcement officials. Three: harboring an escaped convict. Four: obstructing the course of justice. Five: kidnapping—”
“That’s quite enough!”
“You have the right to remain silent,” the female auror began.
“I rescind it.”
“Very well.” A silencing spell was cast and Hermione had her wand taken by an overly aggressive Accio. She and Abner, now back in magic-suppressing cuffs, were led down the alley from whence they came.
“Side-along?” the male auror said and took her arm without waiting for a response. Hermione closed her eyes as they popped away and reappeared in the Auror Office. Harry was there and rushed to her aid.
“What’s this?” he demanded as Hermione swayed and was sick onto his shoes.
Oh dear, she thought as Harry released the spell and she could finally speak. “I made a mess,” was all she said, the world spinning a bit too fast and too strong. She knew what was coming as her eyes rolled back and her body gave up the effort of standing at all.
“Order, order!” The Chief Warlock slammed his gavel to little effect. The council was already arguing over what to do but no one was listening. Draco uncapped his hip flask and wordlessly toasted to the mayhem. The press gallery always had the best view.
He wondered what he looked like as he had stood trial. No one occupied the accused’s bench now. He had been young and an idiot, still mad at the world and the injustices he felt. All that privilege had counted for nothing in the grand schemes of life and death. And fairness was entirely subjective. He was guilty in the eyes of most and the proceedings were just a formality, the veneer of civility, which was the worst kind of all. True breeding was more than a performance and did not exist by the mere gift of one’s blood. Class came from some place deeper and that day he had seen it.
“I do not believe that a child should be punished for the failings of the society that nurtured them so poorly. Draco Malfoy was just as much a victim of this conflict as any Muggle-born wizard or witch, myself included.”
There had been gasps as she had spoken and, if not for his self-discipline and Occlumency walls, one of the gaspers would have been him.
Madder than a box of chocolate frogs had been his verdict on Granger at the time but it was a diversion and an excuse. Something changed in his whole outlook, more than from the sounds of her screaming on his drawing room floor or the hateful scar that his aunt left upon her. Changing the world took courage and it took seeing yourself as no better or worse than your enemies were. There were no enemies, not really, unless you tried to seek them out. And every creature was capable of failure and therefore worth defending. That was Granger’s sickness and she’d infected his blood. He would not be the Ministry’s scapegoat and he would no longer let them off the hook.
“I SAID ORDER!”
A tenuous silence took root and the MLE Minister was brought out. Draco knew him well. A half-blood career sycophant, he had glad-handed and yes-manned his way up to the top. That made him devoid of all conviction and easy to manipulate to any cause, particularly if demonstrated to be of benefit to his own. Equal rights for house-elves did not take as much persuasion as his wife had been expecting. A few expensive dinners and shallow conversations, the career opportunities that could be sought and the backing of an influential paper. Draco did not believe that upholding the truth meant adhering to a hopeless good; success required flexibility, not a stiff moral backbone. Results were what counted and so required whatever means that they took.
A longstanding point of disagreement but how he loved to argue with her like it was their foreplay (which, of course, it bloody well was).
“Minister Bartholomew Reginald Pendragon, please stand,” the Chief Warlock said.
Funny that it was the accused’s seat that those elected to office also used.
“You have adequately served your term as Minister for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and upheld your duty in such an important role. The Wizengamot had convened to vote on the re-election of you to this position. However, we find our attention diverted by the disappearance of a notable prisoner—”
“HOLD THE COURT!”
The doors burst open and a raging Potter entered, the scar on his forehead virtually glowing in rage. He had the aforementioned house-elf by the scruff as he led him in.
“The prisoner’s been apprehended,” Potter declared. His four-eyes searched the room and landed on Draco. “No thanks to him.”
Draco put away his flask. “Looks like this is my cue.” He rose from his seat and descended to the floor as the council jeered and several aurors closed in.
“Distinguished witches and wizards of the Wizengamot,” he nodded towards the speechless form of Pendragon, “and those not so distinguished,” he began, “if it may please the court, I request a precious minute of your time.”
“What is the meaning of this?” the Chief Warlock demanded.
Potter sighed. “I believe Malfoy may have had something to do with the escape of the prisoner.”
“Trying to cover for the Golden Girl? How noble.” Draco looked to the open doors as said Golden Girl stormed in.
“Draco!” Aurors stepped aside as she swiftly closed the distance. Her hand swung back and she slapped him hard. Draco tasted blood; he saw fire.
“Who the fuck is this?”
“Hermione!” At that moment Charlie Weasley appeared. He was accompanied by the somewhat disheveled visage of his mother plus a redeemed Blaise Zabini and now smiling Millie. “They told me you were arrested,” Charlie said.
Potter sighed again.
“Well…” Granger looked like a frizzy-haired deer caught in lamplights.
“Are you okay?” Charlie took her by the shoulders. “I managed to clear things up with the goblins and then Mum was needing my help. But it’s alright. I spoke to Percy and got the Portkey. We can leave as soon as you want.”
“Let’s go now,” Hermione said and took him by the hand to lead him towards the exit.
“Stop that impostor!” Draco produced his wand and shut the doors with a wordless spell. “That thing is not Granger.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry said.
“Oh Charlie, he’s trying to hurt me. I told you he’d gone mad.” The oversized Weasley had his paws around her and pulled her close.
“You better have a good explanation, Malfoy. You’ve been trying to ruin us all day.”
“Guilty as charged but that is not who I’m after.”
“Malfoy,” Potter moved closer towards him; an Expelliarmus could only be mere moments away.
Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out Hermione’s earring. “Here.” He tossed it to the now bemused Head Auror. Still Potter was an annoyingly effective Seeker and snatched it in one hand.
“That thing claiming to be Granger has two earrings on. Also, I’m fairly certain that it’s really Skeeter.”
Potter blinked as Weasley took a step away to finally scrutinize his supposed fiancée. “You mean—?”
“Polyjuice,” Draco explained. “She may be an animagus but she is of limited talent.”
The fake Hermione sneered and her form began to change. “Damn you!”
“You try and regularly fail. Don’t think I don’t know all the ways you’ve tried to sabotage my paper and endanger my star reporter.” He crossed the floor to stare down the older woman, who was already being restrained by aurors before she could turn into a beetle and fly away.
“How could you?” she spat.
Draco smiled in a way that made the repulsive Skeeter shiver. “I spent an apprenticeship learning all your tricks. But today you made a rookie mistake: don’t impersonate the one person I know better than any other. And maybe stop using that same awful perfume.”
Hermione edged her way to the entrance of the council chamber. She looked pale and still felt a little unsteady, having woken up on the couch in Harry’s office to be told that he’d already taken Abner to face the Wizengamot. She didn’t know if she was too late but, given the density of bodies currently blocking her way, proceedings surely couldn’t be over.
She was right as she gradually nudged her way towards the front. Someone was speaking and the voice she heard was unnervingly familiar, as known to her as if it were her own.
“My wife may not be here right now to defend the convicted house-elf know as Abner so I shall attempt to in her more learned stead. The elf you see before you is loyal and good. He is not a murderer but a kind and compassionate soul that followed his orders right up until the dying wish of his only Master. That is the burden and the beauty of house-elves, and we fail to honor these noble creatures if we deny who they are. No murder was committed. At a push, in the grossest Muggle terms, it could be argued as manslaughter. But the Muggles have a better term: euthanasia. Assisted dying. Don’t you see? You would kill this elf to prove that he is as flawed as we are, but all you prove is your own callousness and cruelty.
“I do not rely on my words but those that my wife had composed earlier today in an article meant to save this victim of his own circumstance from the Dementor’s kiss. But I fear there are no ears for justice here, no eyes to see the truth, no hearts open to change. My wife believes that all can change and that all are capable of good. She believed it of me as a sneering, arrogant youth brought to his knees by a war that spared no one. And in a way I could not appreciate at the time, it was then that I fell in love. That is what kindness does: begets more kindness and breeds compassion and gives life to hope.
“My wife saved me like any other magical creature, dismissed and denigrated by the world and in need of a champion. So do not punish her for helping Abner in his feeble escape. Do not punish Abner for being the very best of house-elves. And do not punish Pendragon for being an egotistical and populist fool swayed by words and even galleons of praise,” Draco produced a wad of parchments from his robes, “as these documents show. But let his trial for corruption be on another day.”
“Potter,” Pendragon cried, “do fucking something and shut this lying bastard up!”
Harry accepted the documents from Draco then turned towards his current boss. “I think your re-election might be on hold now, Bart. Let’s talk about it back in my office.” And the now erstwhile MLE Minister was taken through a side door by Harry and half a dozen other men with much resistance and continued swearing.
Draco cleared his throat and regained the room’s attention. “Forgive the interruption. If I may continue, perhaps punish Skeeter”—what had she got to do with any of this?—“for being the worst kind of gutter hack. But mostly, punish me for being madly in love with my savior and doing anything to win her back.
“In closing, I ask the court to grant Abner a stay of execution and to spare him from the Dementor’s kiss. And to drop all charges against Hermione Malfoy—”
“For the love of god, Draco, it’s still Granger!”
She pushed her way through the remaining bodies until she was fully in the room and only one body was left. The only one she could see, the only one she loved, the only one it had ever been.
He smiled when he saw her. “Eavesdropping? Really. We’re not a tabloid publication.”
“That was quite a speech,” she said.
He moved closer, sliding an arm around her waist. “Had a inkling you were listening. And as to your first point, you’re still technically Hermione Granger-Malfoy.”
“We’re still married.” He beckoned with a conductor’s hand and Millie hurried over, holding a red velvet box that she passed up to Draco. “I had this dug out from my vaults by the goblins today. Strange coincidence.” He flipped it open to reveal his heirloom ring. “But stranger still, when I had one of their specialists look into it for me, it seemed that all my suspicions were correct: that seal of ancient matrimony and protective charm formed by our blood has not actually been broken.”
“I’m going to actually kill you.”
“I’m not sure even that would work.” Draco glanced at something past her shoulder and she turned, the rest of the room finally coming back into focus. The council and still numerous aurors were all gaping from where they sat or variously stood. Quills were scratching and cameras were flashing from the floating pit of the press gallery. And Charlie was staring forlornly close by the entrance, with Molly glaring by his side and Blaise grinning (he even dared to give a triumphant thumbs-up).
“My apologies,” Draco said to Charlie. “But she was never yours.”
“I was never—”
“You still love him,” Charlie said. “Stop lying to yourself and to me.” He stepped forward and held out his hand. “You’re wearing the wrong ring.”
“I’m so sorry.” He graciously hugged her as she cried and she loved his strong arms; she would miss them but they didn’t fit. “You’re a good man—” she tried.
“I don’t want to hear it.” She slipped off the slim and simple band and dropped it into his waiting palm. “Good luck,” he said, wiping a tear from beneath her eye. “And Malfoy? If you fuck this up again, I’ll turn you into dragon food.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Draco said. He stood behind her and she did not resist as he turned her around to face him. “I did fight for you.” He took her left hand and pressed a kiss to the now naked groove on her third finger. “I know I promised an explanation when this was all over, but what’s better than reporting the news if not making it?” He took the heirloom ring and slipped it back on where it belonged. The fit was instant; the magic flowed. She felt it as she had on their wedding day, saw it in the same way that he looked at her now. “I love you,” he said. “Only you, ever you. And my promise is forever. I’ll take care of you every day that is to come as I did every day that came before it.”
“But all those times—”
“What about them?”
“It always seemed like I was only important to the story. Even when I got hurt, if not for Millie—”
“She was my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be with you. But I always knew where you were and I always kept you safe. I didn’t want you to know how much I worried; you’d have never done that incredible work that you did. But it made me a nightmare at the office. It was better that you never saw it.”
“You were always there if I got hurt.” She remembered it well—waking up in St. Mungo’s or out in the field, after any danger, after Millie had seemingly saved her life—Draco was always the first to appear. “I thought it was to check my copy,” she said.
“Darling girl. Of course it was. I’m still your editor.”
“Fuck you, Draco.”
“But I’ve always been your husband first.”
Her heart had burst and the ocean was flooded. “I love you so much,” she said.
“I know.” He took her in his arms, the best fit there was, and he kissed her finally. At last, at last, at last, she thought. What a fool. What an idiot to believe she could ever have lived without this; without her work and his world and without him.
She had always been his girl Granger.
“Hermione Malfoy narrowly avoids a bigamy charge. That’s quite the headline.”
“It better not be.”
Draco laughed as she fought for the parchment, catching her off balance enough to drag her onto his lap. “Tell me. Which part do you object to?”
“The name part obviously.” She wrapped her arms around his neck as his hand explored her stockinged thigh. It disappeared under her skirt to explore the soft, smooth skin she insisted she must hide. “Bigamy’s a forgivable sin,” she explained, trying to maintain her composure. “I always thought it might be fun to collect husbands, keep a spare—”
Draco unclipped a suspender, his thumb edging ever higher. “Am I so easily replaceable?” he said.
He stroked over warm lace as she let go and squirmed. “Very well.” His hand made a full retreat. “I’m sure any cretin knows how to reduce you to a wanton mess with barely a finger. Good luck in all your future endeavors.”
“Have I made my point?”
“Make me come if you want to prove it.”
He did. The evidence lay in the state of his desk and the now pliant and incongruously quiet Hermione draped like a sated cat in his arms.
“I’ve been thinking of a honeymoon,” he announced into the silence.
He slapped her arse then rubbed over the bare flesh. “I’ve been wondering about Romania.”
“You’re not going to parade me around in front of Charlie—”
“As if. I’d rather never see him again. But a source has been in touch to say there’s a growing illegal trade in dragons’ eggs.”
“Charlie never knew—”
“If you dare to start that list, we’ll be here all day.”
“You are jealous and cruel.”
“And vindictive and possessive and petty. Don’t forget the last two. I’ve hired a castle in Transylvania.”
“Are you for real?”
“About the dragons’ eggs—?”
“No!” She sat up to smack his chest. “A real honeymoon?”
“A working holiday. Your favorite kind.”
“You haven’t changed at all.”
“Why would I need to when you love me as I am?”
“And will you treat me as you always do?”
He reached for her left hand and kissed the ring she would never take off again. “I’ll be the perfect pureblood gentleman.”
“So the legends are true? I thought such creatures can’t be real.”
“This one’s been in hibernation. Being your boss has failed to bring you to heel so I will kill you with kindness. Romantic gestures, effusive compliments, maybe flowers.”
“Forget the flowers. What about the sex?”
Insatiable minx. Thank Merlin the rest of the world didn’t know. “Routine,” he went on, “and always—always—on a bed. Twice a month until you get pregnant. That’s what tradition states.”
She feigned going faint. “You just painted me a nightmare.”
“I thought you loved me as I am.”
“I take it all back,” she said, the back of her hand pressed dramatically to her forehead.
Draco held back his grin. “Can I get you pregnant anyway?”
Maybe she really was going to pass out.
“Aren’t you ready?” he said.
“I want to stake my claim for good.”
“You sexist pig!”
“What’s wrong with a man wanting his woman fat and immovable with his child?”
Hermione took his face in her hands, her smile bright like the best kind of headline, her kiss sweeter than the greatest scoop. “My one and only man Malfoy,” she said, “if I dared to start that list, we would most definitely be here all day.”