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Whole and Against a Wide Sky

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A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky! -- Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Hermione stared at herself in the mirror over the vanity, focusing all of her considerable brainpower on simply breathing in and out.

Before her was an image she recognized, but just barely. Her hair had been cajoled into relinquishing its frizz, her curls spilling about her face and down her back fetchingly. Her face was rosy and soft from its recent scrubbing. She'd been dressed in a translucent mauve dressing gown, with delicate ruffles and lace about the collar. It was a shell, with the full sleeves of her white shift emerging from underneath to her wrists, from which wide lace spilled-out to all but obscure her hands. She looked beautiful, she knew, but that was not what she found so foreign in her reflection. It was the glaze of shock in her eyes; where she was accustomed to seeing keen understanding and preparedness, she now saw only the stare of a lost girl.

Behind her were three women, each one older than the next, all talking incessantly. Being scions of the Malfoy line in varying degrees removed, they'd been tasked with the ancient pure-blood tradition of preparing the bride for the proverbial wedding night. Taken from the reception without warning and brought here to be bathed and changed, Hermione had felt like a prize pig being prepared for a roast. She had tuned them out once they had begun speaking of the "wifely duties" in which, they lamented, a pure-blood would have already been well-schooled, and all of which were surely unknown to a Mudblood. Being treated thus was far from a surprise to her; she'd lost all illusions about her place in this world long ago.

After the Battle of Hogwarts hopes had naturally been high, thinking the end of Voldemort and his crazed minions surely meant the end of injustice and government machinations once and for all. Looking back, Hermione could see that this belief had been ridiculously naive and flew in the face of significant evidence to the contrary.

The ranks of Death Eaters were only in the dozens, whereas the true power brokers throughout the Ministry, the merchant class, and the fourth estate numbered in the hundreds. When the Dark side had seized control, they'd taken it from those who had been happy to grant it to them. Power in the wizarding world was, and always had been, about following those with money and influence and was only secondarily about blood. As time marched on, the attachment to lineage and name became ever more distant.

Once the fighting was over, and the hard-liners and lunatics with brands on their arms and fervor in their chests were accounted for, the pragmatists, who always went the way of capital and clout, remained. The trouble was, they looked and acted just like everyone else. Those with Dark ties but without money were fed to the dogs, but an awful lot of families, with legacies inextricably woven into the fabric of the greater society, held positions that had to be salvaged. To penalize the sheer number of those involved, even indirectly, would surely cause the collapse of the economy. By necessity, schemes were hatched and plans set in motion.

Just three months after the final battle, The Marriage Act was only one amongst a slew of financial, political, and social policies rolled-out to the public to show the healing power of the Ministry. Blood was no longer an advantage; it thus made perfect sense for the old guard to embrace what was, and it so happened that public opinion leaned toward Muggle-borns, Harry Potter, and a new social order. This proposal then cleverly allowed those who might have been castigated in the harsh post-war glare to literally wed themselves to the light.

From there, traditional marriage regulations put them in a position to keep those uppity Mudbloods close and under their thumb. They could wind their way around the innocence and popularity of the Muggle-borns, all while ensuring the most important things in their way of life were left undisturbed.

With pure-bloods and Muggle-borns between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five subject to it, the law required all to marry within six months of its passing or face incarceration in Azkaban. The piece de resistance of the whole scheme, however, was the fee required of the pure-blood making the proposal; this assured that young adults from the important (read: wealthy) families most in need of a shine to their reputation would have little to no competition for what was a small a pool of eligible Muggle-borns.

Like most people, Hermione had greeted the edict with disdain, sure that it would be overturned due to its utter absurdity. Though couched in lofty language about breeding tolerance, welcoming outsiders, and strengthening the wizarding lines, she believed it would surely be seen as a ploy for greater government control. But as she witnessed public response, her reaction changed to one of disbelief. The greater population of wizarding Britain was solidly middle-class and half-blood and had very little interest in the ambitions of those on either end of any spectrum. The promise of a lasting peace was enough to make them care not how extreme the measures would be to get it. After all, they weren't subject to it, though it was acceptable for half-bloods to marry pure-bloods with Ministry approval. Harry and Ginny were saved from separation, but Ron was unable to get a hold of enough money to beat the bids of all who had offered for Hermione, leaving no chance that they could be matched.

Hermione had made a go of it with Ron in the months following their frantic kiss in the midst of battle, but they had gotten stalled somewhere just inside the starting-gate. They had flirted with being boyfriend-girlfriend, but something led her to keep him at arms-length. He seemed unambivalent about moving their relationship forward, but she could never get rid of her uneasiness around him. Beyond kissing and groping, she couldn't get comfortable with laying herself bare, or rid herself of the feeling that they may have been friends for too long to be anything more.

She would, however, have certainly preferred to have been betrothed to him over being given to a virtual or literal stranger and had felt humiliated by the whole process. It was as though she were up for auction, and it was only a small comfort that all Muggle-borns were subjected to it, male or female. The pure-blood was charged with making the offer, and the Muggle-born viewed as the prize of the deal. Justin Finch-Fletchley was slated to marry Pansy Parkinson next week, and Hermione had heard that Dean Thomas was in negotiations with the Greengrass family, though she'd forgotten which of the two daughters was making the proposal.

Hermione's attention was jolted back to the room.

"If only he hadn't insisted on getting one of the opinionated ones," the oldest of the old biddies (as Hermione had taking to calling them) said in her nasally tone. "I've heard that she calls for an end to disciplining house elves on grounds of cruelty!"

The women seemed to have forgotten she was there – unless their disdain for her was so great that they truly cared not at all for civility – and had retired to the sitting area once they'd finished assisting her.

"That's not the trouble I have with it, Ermengarde," the fattest of the lot whined. "It's that she's so well known for her exploits. All that business during the conflict, it just..." Here she lowered her voice but not her volume, into one of those quasi-whispers meant for uttering only the most unpleasant things. "Now, I know we need them, but I just feel that to have such a high-profile one sends the wrong message about how we feel about all of this."

The stupidest harpy chimed in, "Well, it seems like there can't have been much of a choice, or surely he would have chosen someone far less... plain."

"As you know Calliope, a Malfoy never accepts anything less than the best," Draco interrupted in a cool tone with just a hint of amusement, leaning in the doorjamb with his arms crossed. "And I assure you, that record continues unbroken here."

The three ladies all squealed and cooed their greetings at the sudden appearance of the Malfoy heir. Hermione saw his reflection in the mirror before her, but neither turned to greet him nor met his eyes when he looked her way.

She had grown used to Draco's presence in the past few months and had actually found herself enjoying his company on occasion. She'd even gone so far as to be relieved to see him a few times, when he'd rescued her from social awkwardness or interminable conversation. She was not willing to admit to feeling relieved now, as he expertly dispensed with the women coolly through a few thinly veiled insults, but made herself busy at the vanity and tried to get a hold of the hysteria brewing in her belly.

At the exit of the three witches, Malfoy let out a great sigh in the blessed silence and proceeded to unbutton his dress robes, looking curiously about the suite. It was new to Hermione as well; she'd been in one of the guest rooms downstairs until that night and had been moved here upon becoming a Lady of the manor. It connected to Draco's suite through her dressing room, though she'd never been in there.

"I'm sorry I was so long in getting here," he said as he slipped his robe off his shoulders and laid it out on the sofa. Disgust dripped from his voice as he continued, "Father was keeping me busy glad-handing his contacts. If your mother hadn't asked where you were, I would still be stuck talking to Henri Tuteur from Gringott's branch in France."

Hermione took a steadying breath, refusing to allow the tears that threatened to spill upon hearing of her mum. She had wanted to say goodbye to her parents, to try to smooth over their lingering fears about their daughter's fate and her role in a world they could never understand. She felt silly being so emotional about it, like a child crying for her mummy, and kept her head down and hidden from Draco's view as he walked through the sitting area to where she was near the bed.

Studying her from a few paces behind, he crossed his arms and said, "The Erinyes didn't do anything to upset you, did they?"

Surprised at his reference to the mythical Furies, Hermione's eyes snapped up to meet his. At his smug smile, she guessed that had been his purpose and remained silent, moving toiletries about on the table to hide the shaking of her hands.

He cocked his head to the side and began loosening his cravat. "They didn't, did they, Granger? I mean, you should know that at least half of the inbred jokes you've ever heard were written about those birds," he said with a smirk.

Suddenly infuriated with his wry tone, she stood abruptly and rounded on him, shaking hands be damned. "Why didn't you tell me, Malfoy?" She tried and failed to keep the panic from her voice.

He furrowed his brow and regarded her carefully, pulling the tie from around his neck. "I didn't know. Well, I did know about you needing an escort, or whatever they called it. I knew there was something about that, but I didn't know who—"

"That's not what I'm talking about. Why didn't you tell me about..." She gestured futilely at the room and between the two of them as his brow knitted in confusion. "Did you think it would be some great fun at my expense to... to spring this on me?"

Taking in her stance, the nervous tightening of the tie to her gown, and the way she crossed and uncrossed her arms over her chest, Draco's eyes widened in comprehension. "Hang on. Are you saying... you didn't know about the consummation?"

Hermione's cheeks heated. "You didn't tell me!"

"Since when does anyone need to tell you anything!" he said, exasperated. "Besides, you were in the room when the bloody contract was read."

"Yes, but... " She was going to sound stupid saying what she was about to say, but he was looking at her expectantly, and there was nothing for it. "The language was ancient and so poetic... I thought it was metaphorical." She blushed impossibly redder, and the embarrassment fueled her irritation. Her hands landed firmly on her hips as she added, "Besides, I didn't think the Malfoys would sully themselves with marrying beneath them in anything but name only."

A shadow came over Draco's face, and when he replied his voice was flat. "You underestimate my father's survival instinct, Granger. He wouldn't have allowed for any loopholes which could hurt his advantage at any point in the future." Something clouded his eyes, but it was gone before she could understand what it was. Shaking his head, he breathed out heavily. "Now I understand why... I'd thought you were being remarkably calm about all of this."

Hermione had been many things, but calm was not one of them. She'd petitioned the Wizengamot, staged a protest, raged in the newsrooms of The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler, and slammed the door twice in Lucius Malfoy's face before accepting the inevitability of her betrothal. Her parents, along with the Weasleys, had wanted her to run away, but she wouldn't hear of it. She'd fought for her place in the wizarding world, and she wasn't about to be exiled from what was her only home. To do so would be to validate the beliefs of those who were prejudiced against her kind. She wasn't happy to be marrying just shy of her twentieth birthday, but she did belong in this world, and she wasn't about to relinquish her place in it any more than she would have before fighting a war to secure it. Hermione was never one to give up, but she knew when to give in, bide her time, and set her sights on the future.

Draco, on the other hand, had been strangely silent and notably absent from much of the maneuvering and negotiating. When she'd had contact with him – during the engagement, wedding planning, and all social occasions involved – he'd been polite, if sometimes distant, and a few times surprisingly pleasant to be around. She wondered at that, as he seemed calm even now, and she was still anything but.

"Why are you so calm then?" she blurted.

He shrugged. "What is there to be upset about?" Moving to sit on the upholstered bench at the end of the bed, he slipped off his shoes. "It's no different than what I've expected my whole life. One arranged marriage is the same as any other."

She watched as he took off his socks, a bit mesmerized by how methodically he stretched out his toes and kneaded them into the carpet. Blinking, she looked back up to his face. "Are you kidding? How can this be even remotely the same? You hate me, and I know you don't think very highly of..." she trailed off, gesturing at herself vaguely.

With a sigh, he said, "I don't hate you, Granger." He unbuttoned his vest and the top two buttons of his shirt. "This may shock you, but I got over childhood rivalries years ago. A few things more important have happened, don't you think?" He looked to her with a hard expression, and her stomach twisted at the scolding. She shrugged to brush it off, but stood uncomfortably before him.

Leaning forward on his elbows, he rubbed his face roughly, and when he continued his tone was perfunctory. "Father suggested you, and I had no objections. Dynastic matches are always made with the greatest advantage in mind, and I admit it was a relief when this no longer meant blood. Frankly, the most pure lines have produced some of the world's most dull girls." He shook his head at that, and a sincere smile lit his face as he looked up. "Except for Pansy. I tell you, that Hufflepuff is going to have his hands full with her."

He raised an eyebrow and added with a pointed look, "It's his loss though, if he can't handle a spirited girl." His tone seemed suggestive, and Hermione must have been giving him an exceptionally wary look, because he rolled his eyes then and said, "Don't think I've been harboring some burning passion for you all these years or anything, Granger. I just don't think we're all that poorly suited. I'm sorry that you weren't aware of what was to happen tonight, but... it can't be helped, so..."

She studied him as he concentrated on taking off his cufflinks. They hadn't had much to do with each other for a couple of years, their sixth and seventh years involving, as he said, more important things. When she saw him again for the first time at the reading of the marriage contract, she was struck by how much he'd seemed to have grown and changed, as though he'd aged a decade in the months since the final battle.

His mother had died almost immediately following the end of the war. The official word was that she'd been killed in an anonymous hit, assassinated by a rogue Death Eater for her betrayal of the Dark Lord. Rumor had it, however, that the family had been subjected to ritualized punishment by the deep underground of true believers. Further murmurings abounded, saying Lucius had made a deal to walk away, or that Narcissa had sacrificed to save Draco's life.

Whatever had happened to Narcissa Malfoy, it was clear that it had wrought an irrevocable change in both father and son. Lucius stalked through each day with the trustfulness and trustworthiness of a wild animal, far more dangerous than before. In contrast, a weariness clung to Draco, who Hermione knew had been very close with his mother, and a deep pain sometimes pierced through from the depths of his eyes. At times, his chief emotion seemed to be indifference, as though he'd come to believe hopefulness and striving only brought disappointment and grief.

Hermione's musing ended as Draco leaned back on his hands, legs outstretched and crossed. "By the way, why didn't you think..." Raising an eyebrow and looking up from under heavy lids, he said, conspiratorially, "What do Muggles do on their wedding nights anyway, that you were surprised—"

"I didn't say they didn't, Malfoy." She fidgeted, looking everywhere but back at his wicked expression, feeling suddenly out of her depth. "But they just don't have to when it's a marriage of convenience, so I just figured... And there definitely aren't spells to check and know when it's happened, or... or a time limit." She looked to the clock and her stomach dropped. "Oh my God, Malfoy. It's... it's by midnight, right? It's getting late, and we... we have to—"

"Granger..." He got up, studying her warily.

"It's fine, let's just..." She turned toward the bed, hands fisted in the skirt of her gown, not at all sure what she planned on doing.

"Granger!" The note of alarm in Draco's voice had her turning back. He stood at the foot of the bed, still as a statue. "Granger, are you... You have done this before, haven't you?"

Hermione decided upon her brave face as she placed her hands on her hips and looked him squarely in the eye, shaking her head. Draco's face went white as a sheet, and her stomach twisted with humiliation.

"I'd just assumed... you and Weasley," he said weakly.

"You heard about Ron and me?"

"Everyone's heard about you and Weasley," he said, giving her a dry look, "whether they wanted to or not."

"Well, then why didn't you yield your offer to him? You could have... Why didn't you talk your father out of—"

"There were over a dozen offers for you, all of them able to pay far more than he ever could," he said coldly. "And trust me, you wouldn't have rather ended up with any of them."

Hermione felt a chill at that. She hadn't known all of the names on the list, but from Draco's expression, she was inclined to believe she should be grateful to be where she was.

"Okay... okay." Turning half away from him, she tried a confident tone. "Let's just get this over with. It's not a that big of a—"

"Granger." He ground out, sounding rather affronted.

She rounded on him. "Stop saying that! You'll have to find something else to call me, you know, because it's not Granger anymore, is it. My name is Malfoy now, and you're Malfoy, so it's... it's just going to get ridiculous! I mean, it's absurd isn't it? What are we supposed to call each other?" Her arms, having been gesturing wildly, fell heavily at her sides.

Draco was looking at her as though she were a bomb set to explode if he moved the wrong way. Shock still edging his expression, he shrugged one shoulder and said carefully, "I just always assumed you'd hyphenate."

She breathed out what would have been a laugh if she had been in any less distress. The tension seemed to leave the room at that, and they stared at each other for what felt like minutes. His expression was serious, and only a slight trace of panic remained, so she anchored herself on him. Her breathing slowed to match the deep, even rhythm of his own.

Finally, Draco held out his hand and gestured for her to sit on the bench at the foot of the bed. At her hesitation, he said, softly, "Please, Hermione."

The shock of hearing her name from him, said with such tenderness, had her moving jerkily to sit with her hands clasped in her lap, legs stiffly together. She could well imagine what she looked like, and she tried to shake loose all the anxiety and nervousness clinging to her bones. He paused only a moment before falling to his knees, his palms pressing into the edge of the cushion on either side of her.

Draco looked down at her hands, collecting his thoughts before beginning softly, "Listen, Granger. I know that I've been a prat to you and to your friends, and I've... done some bad things." He swallowed thickly, and looked up at her, plain sincerity in his expression. "But I don't hurt women. I would never force—" He was caught in his thoughts for a moment, before shaking his head as if to clear it. "It's ridiculous to ask you to trust me, I know, with all that's happened, but... I swear I won't hurt you, Hermione. I swear on my mother's ashes I will never hurt you. Could you... trust me?"

Hermione's heart was pounding and she was breathing in short pants, frozen by his haunted expression. He reached up and placed his palm on the side of her face, the tips of his fingers sliding into her hair, and pulled himself close to her ear. He spoke to her then as though he were trying to block out the others in a crowded room, imparting a secret for only her to hear.

"This world is so fucked, Granger," he whispered brokenly, "and I'm so fucked-up... but we can be alright, can't we? We can be okay together, even in all of this."

It was like a vow, a solemn pledge far more important and meaningful than those they had spoken in front of God and everyone just a few hours ago. Dizzied by it, Hermione's hand came up to touch his chest, and she felt her heart lurch at the fierce beating of his. He pulled back to look at her, pain warring with expectancy in his look.

Hermione breathed out slowly. Diving head-first into the promise in his eyes, she nodded.

His lips curved into a small smile as he breathed out hard through his nose, leaning forward to place a lingering kiss on her cheek. Sitting back, his hand slid from her face, reaching to clasp hers in her lap. "It'll be okay," he murmured softly.

She held his gaze for a few moments more, and nodded again.

Draco regarded her seriously for a minute, and she willed herself to sit still as he took her in from head to toe. Finding some affirmation, he nodded curtly and reached out to grasp her foot. He held it lightly in his warm palm, fingers brushing her ankle, and carefully unbuckled and removed each heeled slipper. Pausing, he held both of her stocking feet in his hands.

It was strangely comforting, having her feet held, the arches resting on his fingers as his thumbs smoothed up and down over the top, back and forth across the toes. She twitched every time his fingers moved just so, a tickle causing her foot to jerk. As a particularly wicked swipe caused her to pull her foot away entirely, he looked up at her with a grin, his eyes soft with amusement.

Hermione suddenly felt silly just sitting there doing nothing. It was no more his doing that they had to be here than it was hers, and her stomach lurched at the thought of being a disappointment to him. Feeling confident at least in this, she reached forward and wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, tugging him closer. He seemed unsurprised but moved slowly, looking in her eyes until she could feel his breath on her face. Once there, he glanced down at her mouth and waited, forcing her to lean forward to press her lips to his. He held still as she softly kissed once, twice, and a third time before she pulled back to look at him.

"Thank you, Draco," she whispered.

His eyes slid shut as he dipped his head in a nod. He looked back down to his hands where they wrapped around her ankles and began smoothing them up her legs, softly caressing the calves with light pressure. He pulled first one foot then the other to drape over either side of his legs where he knelt. Running both hands flat up the inside, he opened her slightly and pushed up the skirt of her gown to rest on her knees. Hermione must have stiffened at that, because his eyes shot back up to hers, and he leaned in to give her another kiss, though no deeper or more fervent than before.

Hermione had never been kissed like this, so sweetly and innocently, like the small talk exchanged at the meeting of strangers. Ron had always taken control of it all, zealously diving in, pushing his own agenda and taking what he wanted. Draco seemed to be asking questions with his kisses and waiting patiently for her answers. Her hands slipped into his hair unconsciously, concentrating on nothing but the place where his warmth met hers.

He'd worked his hands under the fabric of her shift to unhook her garters and broke the kiss to glance down as he rolled a stocking down her thigh. She shuddered as his fingers brushed the sensitive skin. Her reaction had him reaching quickly for the other, one hand pressing firmly against her thigh, trailing down the bared skin as his other hand removed it slowly. The tingle was still rolling through her as he kissed her again, closed-mouthed but with more insistence, still refusing the gentle prodding of her tongue.

She was so distracted by this slow burning of their mouths, delighting in the softness of the blond hair slipping through her fingers, that she didn't notice him discarding his vest and unbuttoning his shirt until he took her hand and placed it flat on his bare chest.

The sensation had Hermione pulling away from the kiss. He'd placed her hand in the center of a scar that ran diagonally from his left shoulder down to below his right ribcage. She watched her hand brush back up over his shoulder, fascinated by the feel of the raised skin. As she dragged it back down and toward the other end of the scar, he un-tucked his shirttails from his trousers and pulled the shirt off entirely. Soon, she was enthusiastically running her hands over all the parts he'd revealed, smoothing down his biceps and scratching across the soft hair of his forearms, unable to stop touching the firm, soft, warmth of him.

When she noticed his chest rising and falling in rapid pants, she looked up to find him studying her with a dark, hooded look. She blushed, not knowing how long he'd been watching her, and her hands jerked back to flutter between them indecisively. He had run his hands up her legs and was cradling the backs of her knees, his thumbs moving slowly back and forth over the sensitive skin there. Tingles were shooting all through her as he leaned forward, taking her mouth in a searing kiss.

A high-pitched whimper escaped her when she felt his tongue finally touch lightly on her own. Draco pulled her legs wider and moved between, straightening on his knees to press forward. The hands on the backs of her legs coaxed her forward to the edge of the bench, her inner thighs meeting his bare skin, and his tongue dove in fully to twist with her own. The sensation of skin-on-skin was overwhelming, but she didn't have the capacity to analyze it, busy as she was being snogged into incoherency.

Their moans overlapping, she wrapped herself around him, arms, legs, mouth, and beating heart.

Her hands slid up his neck into his hair, dragged down his spine, and scratched around his shoulder blades to tickle his ribs. His hands were rubbing the backs of her thighs, smoothing up her waist, tangling in her curls. They were sucking, and biting, and licking at each other with abandon. This was all perfectly normal.

Indeed, Hermione had started to feel as though there had never been a time when she wasn't kissing Draco Malfoy when there was a jostling, a pushing, a pulling, a squeezing, and a sudden shift in gravity that turned her about and landed her dumbfounded astride his lap on the bench.

Looking at his raised eyebrows, she saw he wasn't too far gone to be smug as hell to have befuddled her so completely. Hermione felt exposed and a bit cold there, hovering as she was slightly above him. She began to fidget, a bit embarrassed now by her earlier zeal. Draco sat there taking her in, ghosting his fingers over her thighs. Hermione was wondering what the hell he was doing just looking at her like that when he slid his hands to her waist, angling her and pulling her forward to nestle against the hardness there.

She gasped as her eyes shot to his. The candid expression she found, along with his quickened breath, flushed face, and darkened eyes, was the answer to a question she hadn't even thought to ask. Beyond laws, beyond duty and compulsion, Draco wanted her. The heady realization of her power and desirability made her feel invincible, and a breathy giggle bubbled out of her. Pushing her feet underneath his thighs, she took hold of his shoulders and experimentally pressed down against him. He looked up at her, hands loosely gripping her hips, and raised his eyebrows in invitation.

Well, Hermione thought.

She was no shrinking violet (despite some damning evidence to the contrary that evening), and she was ever so curious about the light stubble that she'd felt in the burn of his kisses. Sliding her palm against his jaw, she felt the rasp against her hand. At Draco's low hum of approval, she angled around to the other side and leaned in to press open-mouthed kisses, bites, and licks through the roughness up to his ear. As he moaned and lightly rolled his hips against her, she pulled back to look at his face.

His eyes slid shut as she ran her hand up to swipe the pad of her thumb over the softness of his eyebrow, loving the contrast to the roughness of his beard. She leaned forward to drag her lips across it, humming at the silkiness. She bussed around the velvety skin of his eyelids as his fingers clenched on her hips, his breaths pulling in erratically and coming out in hard bursts against her throat. Reveling in each reaction, she saw how it could become addictive to lose yourself in another person's pleasure. She made her way back down to his mouth and flicked his top lip with her tongue. He moaned and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her down hard against him. Threading a hand deep in her hair to take back control, he kissed her soundly.

In short order, he'd untied her wrap and was pulling it down off her shoulders. She felt vulnerable then; the ruffles and lace had been nicely covering her front, now bare to Draco's bold appreciation. The gown underneath was old-fashioned, a modest scoop neck with full sleeves puffing out from the shoulder like a peasant's undershirt. But where a simple tie would have held the neckline together, this was cut open nearly to the waist, and laced-up loosely over her cleavage.

Draco's attention was focused entirely on the area peeking through the lacing. She could feel her skin flushing and was about to make a remark about his apparent inability to make eye-contact, when he reached out one finger to touch her. She shivered as he dragged it behind the shell of her ear, down the side of her neck, along her collarbone, and over her chest. Finally hooking one finger in the criss-cross of the cord, he grasped the end and untied the bow. He wrapped his arms tight around her, crushing her to him, and kissed the patch of skin he'd revealed. She threaded her fingers in his hair as he kissed and licked back up to her neck.

Hermione decided to just wait until later to be mortified about the sounds coming out of her, the way she was grinding wantonly against him, and the wetness she could feel against her knickers. This was wise, because when he slid both hands around and up to cup her breasts through the silk, he hummed a wicked chuckle against her neck at her guttural moan. When he squeezed gently and swiped his thumbs, her nipples hardening, all ideas and decisions flew, and she was lost in the feeling. She clung to him, giving herself over to the attentions of his hands, mouth, teeth, lips, fingers and tongue.

When Hermione came back to herself, she was being lifted by her arse to her knees as Draco pulled one leg up to slip out from under her. She twisted around, sitting on her bent legs to watch him, and her breath caught when he looked up from unbuttoning his trousers. He was nearly unrecognizable then, so far was he from the pointy-faced little boy she'd known. He'd bounded so far into manhood without her noticing that it was a shock to feel the desire shoot through her at the look of him.

While a voice in the back of her head observed that it was rather convenient to be attracted thus to her husband, her sensibility blushed at the very notion that she found herself with what amounted to a crush.

Draco's look was inscrutable as he raised his chin, gesturing for her to move onto the bed. She took a deep breath, turned, and climbed over the footboard. Flipping over, she crawled backward, watching him as he walked slowly around and pulled off his trousers. She couldn't help but look at his tented pants, surprised to see that they were boxers of royal blue silk. Aside from the fact that she would have cynically guessed Slytherin green, she somehow had him figured as a y-fronts man. Her contemplative expression must have looked like consternation, because Draco froze. When she looked up, he looked wary.

Hermione suddenly felt like the nerves might burst through her skin, and had absolutely no clue what to do with herself. She laid down, head against the pillows, legs stretched out, hands clasped over her stomach, as he moved slowly toward her.

He bent over the end of the bed, his hands pressing hard into the mattress, and a tingle of anticipation shot up to her center at the feeling of his hot breath on her foot. Kissing her toes lightly, he looked up at her, and she wanted to squirm out of her skin at the look in his eyes. As he held her gaze, she didn't notice him moving his hand to run a single finger up the sole of her foot. He laughed outright as she squealed and jerked away from the tickle with an exaggerated spasm.

"Cute, Malfoy," she said, shaking her head.

But the smirk on his face was so familiar that she was dizzy with the realization that this was Malfoy, and she was struck by the thought that everything was going to be okay. She'd been through so much with him; growing up and experiencing the horrors of the war together, even if technically on opposite sides, made them nearly kin. The enmity between them bonded them somehow, and she realized that he had been witness to the darkest hour of her life and had seen her at her worst, writhing and screaming under Bellatrix's wand. It was a moment of unparalleled bleakness that her closest friends would never be able to understand, and it somehow seemed fitting that he was here with her now, that they should share this.

Hermione could trust Draco as the guardian of her secrets.

"Okay," she said with a nod and a shy smile as he crawled over her. "It's okay."

Nodding back slowly, Draco hovered on his hands and knees, looking at her as though her thoughts could be read by sheer force of will. She reached up and pushed her fingertips into the hair at his temple, thumb smoothing over his eyebrow, and she suspected that he could see her hand shaking, but pretended not to notice. The furrow of his brow relaxed under the brush of her hand, and when his eyes opened to fix her with his gaze, she took a deep breath and started to spread her legs. She stilled when she felt his hand come down on her thigh.

Lowering his head so that his lips nearly brushed hers, Draco sshhhh-ed her lowly before taking her mouth in a kiss that made her heart flip at the sheer sweetness of it. He moved to one side, resting his knee between her legs while stretching out beside her, propped on an elbow. Though his hand moved lightly on her stomach, his concentration was quite obviously on her breasts and the lacing that kept them from view. His hand slid up and made short work of it, hooking a finger in each criss-cross and drawing his arm back to deftly pull them from the eyelets.

He folded the fabric back as though opening a present, humming in appreciation at the sight of her bared to his gaze. His fingers dragged up to circle one breast before palming it with a light squeeze. She brushed the blond fringe back from where it had fallen in front of his eyes and smiled at his complete concentration. Gasping as he leaned forward to swipe his tongue over the peak, she forgot to note anything from then on but the wet cavern of his mouth. She was so sensitive and responsive at this point that she fairly writhed against him. Fingers fisted in his hair to hold him to her, a steady stream of moans came out from deep, deep inside her.

The way he was sprawled had her leg pinned under his own, and she realized that this left her spread wide when his hand moved up to her center. While he kissed and nipped his way to lavish equal attention to her other breast, the sensation that shot through her when he brushed his fingers up and cupped her through her knickers had her eyes sliding shut and a pleading groan pushing out of her.

Yanking the thin scrap of fabric to the side, he touched the tips of his fingers through her curls to the swollen folds beneath. Rubbing gently, coaxing her open, he swiped one finger from just inside her opening up to her clit. She gasped and arched up roughly, jostling him so that he lifted his head from her breast to look at her. A mixture of wonder and desire in the eyes that raked over her, he repeated the motion again, and again. He'd pushed two fingers inside her, dragging them up to circle her clit, when he stopped abruptly and leaned back.

"Show me, Granger," Draco whispered roughly.

Hermione blinked up at him, but didn't even pretend not to know what he was talking about. She only paused briefly before reaching down to peel her knickers off of clumsy legs, as he moved away to remove his pants. She laid back down as he rolled back and slung his leg back over hers. His cock stiff and rubbing hotly against her thigh, he released a plaintive moan at the contact.

He looked up at her and then to her hands, pressed indecisively palms-down on her stomach, before moving his hand to cup her and wait. Getting the idea, she took a deep breath and slid her hand flat over his. She moved it down, her fingers using firm pressure to guide a finger on either side of her clit, directing him to rub and squeeze the way she liked. Draco hummed his approval and encouragement as he followed her movements.

Having discovered what her body was capable of years before, she'd never felt comfortable enough in her time with Ron to allow this liberty. Maybe it was something about the way he had kissed, because Ron had never struck her as though he could respond to direction or be sensitive enough to her reactions. It seemed far too delicate a task to risk trying. But now, even with her leading him, the difference between touching herself and being touched by Draco was tremendous. As she steered him down to push two fingers inside her, he dug his arm under her to wrap about her shoulders and crush her to him. He kissed her fiercely then, thrusting gently against her leg in time with his fingers. She felt overcome, cradled as she was against him, his embrace making her feel cherished.

He took over entirely then, stroking in and out, bringing her higher and higher until her muscles began to squeeze his fingers. Then, quickly rolling up to balance on one arm, Draco positioned himself between her open legs, pulling his fingers from her slowly. She looked up at him as he was poised just outside her entrance, his hand stroking himself. She found herself wanting to reach out and touch the velvet heat she'd felt against her thigh, but had no idea how to go about it. His eyes rolled languidly up, and he held himself very still, waiting, his eyes fixed on hers.

Hermione nodded.

Something like gratitude passed over Draco's face. She was astonished to realize that the gift of her trust was as valuable to him as his patience and kindness – his trustworthiness – was to her. We can be alright, she thought; we can be okay together. He leaned down to place a kiss firmly to her cheek and breathed her name as he slid himself into position.

It was then only a brief moment of pressure at her opening, the sensation of something not quite right, when, before she had adequately marked the occasion, he pushed into her. Her head snapped back, pushing into the pillow, and she gasped on an inhale. But the pinch of pain was over in an instant, leaving behind a sense of... rightness.

Draco's body went still against hers, his breathing shallow. She only had time to note that his heart was pounding as hard as her own when his mouth came down on hers to kiss her hungrily. His elbows were pressed to the bed next to her shoulders, and he shook slightly with the effort of keeping himself motionless. She raised her legs to wrap tightly around him, trying to channel the sudden rush of affection swelling in her chest. The move angled her such that he slid farther inside her, and they both moaned at the sensation.

He pulled back enough to look at her, the same mixture of wonder and desire in his eyes as before. It was a marvel that she could be privy to such raw emotion from Draco, who held himself always so tightly shut. Running her hands up his chest and neck to grasp his jaw, she moved her hips unconsciously against him, and he gave a long, low groan. Pulling slowly out and rocking back in, he began a rhythm that was steady and perfect.

Hermione tried to hold on to the experience, to focus on Draco and burn the image of him like this into her memory. But her eyelids were too heavy, and she had been too far gone already to do anything but hold fast to him and return the heat of his kisses. Her only thought was that it felt bloody fabulous, and fabulous, fabulous, fabulous ran like a mantra in her head with every thrust.

Her climax hit her suddenly, and the feeling of clamping down around the heat of him, spinning out of control only to return safely in his embrace, was so much better than anything she'd felt with her fingers that she wondered why every second of every day wasn't spent in the pursuit of this.

When she came back to herself, she realized that he had stilled his movement and was watching her, waiting for her eyes to focus again on his. It surprised her how comfortable the moment was; how simple it could be to be Draco and Hermione without the outside world with their laws and prejudice to muck it up. Her lips curled into a shy smile, and he answered with his own before kissing her lightly.

He began to move again, dropping his head to suck and bite at her neck as he sped up, one hand fisted in her hair. His arm slipped under her hips to drive himself deeper, his every other breath coming as a gasp or a hiss. Hermione reveled in the closeness, the sweat, the heat, the abandon, the bumping of clumsy bones, and the inelegant brilliance of it all and thought, yes; the pursuit of this was most rewarding indeed.

Draco finally arched and thrust deep, his muscles locked, an almost surprised moan shaking loose from his belly as he found release. Hermione studied his face as the furrow left his brow and his jaw went slack against her hand. He looked so relaxed, so at peace, and so vulnerable, that she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and coaxed him to collapse fully on top of her. Resting his forehead on her shoulder, his heart pounded against her, and she held him close until he pulled out and rolled on his side next to her.

She turned to look at him, staggered by what she and Draco had again passed through together, struggling to grasp what their future could hold. Because the thing was, it wasn't simple to be Draco and Hermione, and it never would be.

He laid so still then, the only movement the gradually decreasing rise and fall of his chest, that she thought he might have passed out until he said, groggily, "Alright then?"

"Fabulous," she said automatically, and the embarrassed giggle that followed had one drowsy grey eye squinting at her before sliding shut. When there was no more conversation forthcoming, and he looked damn near unconscious, she turned over on her side to face him, eyebrow arched. "Just out of curiosity, what exactly would you be doing now if I'd said I wasn't alright? You're well-nigh dead over there, so I fail to see how—"

"Sshhhh..." His arm flashed out to wrap about her waist and pull her against him. "...Knackered."

Hermione turned over with a sigh and wriggled back into his warmth. The night could be bearable, she thought, with Draco wrapped around her to ward off the chill, and difficult questions could be put off until later. They always found a way to be waiting for you in the morning.

His breath was long and even against her neck, lulling her mind to calm along with it, when she heard a series of what sounded like very distant sonic booms, and felt pressure in her head like her ears needed to pop. Almost immediately, Draco stiffened and sat up, wide awake and out of bed like a shot.

"The wards. Get dressed," he said tightly, rushing to put on his pants and fetch his trousers.

Hermione realized with a start that her gown was actually still on her, hanging off one arm and gathered about her waist, and set about pulling it back up over her shoulders. "What's happening? Draco, what's that noise?"

That had him stopping abruptly. "You can hear it?" he said, brow furrowed as she nodded, before comprehension dawned on his face. "Oh, yeah, it's probably the ceremony, or the consummation. It makes sense you can hear it now."

"Draco, what is it, and what's wrong?" The booms were getting louder and more frequent, and the pressure in her ears was becoming uncomfortable.

"The wards. They're the same as the ones on my room, but Mum must have..." he trailed off, finishing the buttoning of his trousers before looking up at her, raking his fingers through his hair. His look was distant as he said, "My mother set the protective wards on my suite years ago, and she must have extended them here, for when... What you're hearing is someone taking them down to get in, and they'll be here any minute so..."

He was looking at where she held the gown closed with her hands, and it took only a second for him to process that the laces that held it together had been thrown gods knew where earlier in his haste. He looked around hurriedly and found her wrap on the floor, pushing it at her as the noise stopped abruptly and the ache in her head broke with a pop.

She donned the wrap and tied it to cover her as best she could, getting out of bed to stand beside it when Lucius and the red-faced Ministry official who had been witness to the wedding strode through the door. Draco, having placed himself between Hermione and the unwelcome visitors, looked coiled and ready to strike. Lucius looked wholly at ease and unconcerned with trivial things such as privacy as he led his companion toward them.

"Draco, you know Mr Mockridge," he drawled, gesturing lazily to the Head of the Goblin Liaison Office, who had such an air of unease about him that his palms must have been perpetually damp. Draco only nodded, and Lucius turned to the man. "You may proceed. I'm sure you'll find everything in order."

"Have you come to collect the sheets?" Draco said coldly.

"Oh, no, no, Mr Malfoy," Mockridge said with a nervous laugh. "I'm here as a formality, it's only a formality, you understand, in cases of requests for special consideration. We'll just be checking..."

Mockridge drew his wand, and Hermione saw Draco tense and instinctively flinch toward his robes where she knew his wand lay. The man drew a wide circle in the air in Draco's direction, then flicked it abruptly toward her, whereupon a yellow light flew from it to hover over her. The light turned into what looked like drops of water which rained down, turning purple as they hit her before dissipating.

"Yes, yes, it's as I figured, Mr Malfoy," Mockridge said to Draco. "We can't have people profiting from this business if they aren't making a sincere effort, now can we? Otherwise, the Marriage Law would just be a farce, wouldn't it?" He laughed clumsily, becoming more self-conscious at the blankness of Draco's stare. Turning awkwardly back to Lucius, he said, "It's all in order, then."

"You'll be sure to note it in the committee report, Cuthbert?" Lucius' tone was as imperious as usual, and if one just observed his behavior here, no indication of the need to rebuild his image or his power would be evident.

"Yes, Mr Malfoy, I've spoken with the Gringott's liaison, and International Magical Cooperation is ready to approve the transfer to your account by next week, so I don't see any—"

"Excellent," Lucius said, somehow making even his approval sound dismissive. Mockridge bowed and scraped his way out the door, and Lucius returned his attention to his son. "Draco, I'd like to see you and her down at breakfast tomorrow. There are some important—"

"You're referring to Lady Granger-Malfoy?" he challenged, spine stiff and chin raised in the face of the shock that passed over Lucius' expression. "She's hyphenating," Draco added with a smirk, deliberately misinterpreting his father's reaction upon hearing Hermione referred to with a title he clearly did not feel she deserved.

"Yes... well," was the sum total of Lucius' reply, disdain dripping from it. "As I was saying, I would like you and... your wife at breakfast to help entertain our guests. A few members of the Finance committee have stayed the weekend, and some fellow named Stevens from Muggle Relations will need some finessing."

"I haven't been much of a fan of your business transactions in the past, father. If it's all the same to you, I think I'll just bow out of this one."

Lucius actually flinched at that, just a small twitch of his eye, but it was an impressive point to Draco nonetheless. When he spoke again, his tone was more glacial than Hermione had ever heard it. "You'll come play host to our guests, Draco," he said, then finished cryptically, "you should never forget that my fate is ours." With a nod to Hermione, who had become so used to being ignored that she was rather comfortable in her invisibility, he swept from the room.

Draco stood looking where his father had been for a moment before going to fetch his wand. After resetting the wards, he turned to her, apologetic. "I didn't know—"

"So I gathered," she said dryly. "I should have figured, really, the contract said something to that effect, but—"

"I thought it was metaphorical." Draco shrugged, shaking his head, an embarrassed smile playing on his lips as he saw her answering grin.

Hermione partially stifled a yawn and glanced toward the bed. The stress and exhaustion had caught up with her, and she coveted the feel of the pillows. She regretted it almost instantly, realizing that Draco had seen and might take it as a dismissal, and she wasn't quite ready for him to go. It wasn't likely that he'd stay though; the peace of the world they'd built together for that short time had been broken, and an undeniable awkwardness was left in its place.

"I've reset your wards to admit no one but me without your invitation," he said, adding hastily, "if that's alright with you."

"Of course it is, Draco," she replied just as quickly.

He nodded, then dropped his gaze to the floor. "They'll keep you safe. My mother was very talented. Her skill with protection spells was unequalled." He raised his head and said urgently, "If anything ever happens, if you ever need... Just come here and you'll be alright."

Hermione had no idea what to say about his mother, as anything she could think of just sounded to her mind like too little, or far too much for the fragile moment. She could appreciate that he'd had more cause than most to worry about contingencies and safe places in cases of emergency, so she refrained from reminding him of her capacity to take care of herself. It was unlikely that she'd cower from anything the world could bring on. Her marriage, her position in society, and the state of this world in which she lived was unlikely to change any of that. Instead, she held his gaze, trying to convey all that she could not name; her understanding, her respect, her affection, and her gratitude. She fancied she could see much the same in his lingering look.

"Right. I'll... leave you to it then," Draco decided abruptly. "It's been a long day." He looked about absently before gesturing toward his room. "I'll just be through there, so..." He looked at her for a moment, then released an exhausted sigh and said, "I'll be in to take you to breakfast then, okay?"

Hermione nodded. "Okay."

Draco pocketed his wand and with a stiff nod walked through the door to her dressing room. Closing it after himself, he left the suite almost oppressively quiet in his wake.

Hermione looked about the room to the various items he had left behind, still laying where they had fallen, and felt abruptly compelled to gather them up to store them properly for his return. She folded his robes, shirt and vest, her hands smoothing over them as she placed them on the padded bench. Finding the cufflinks there, she put them on top of the pile, and his shoes she arranged beneath, lined-up and pointed out.

She could still discern his scent lingering on his things, in the air and on her skin, and if she gave in to the temptation of holding the fabric of his shirt up close to breathe it in as she folded it, no one was there to see.

As she extinguished the light, she thought of their future, living side by side, and the infinite distances they would surely have to traverse between. Before getting into her own bed, she walked through the darkness to the door connecting their rooms, pulling it open wide in invitation.