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In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see...
GORDON LIGHTFOOT

~~ 6 August 2003 ~~

The journey from London by Muggle train had been exhausting. Hermione Granger pulled her scarf over her head, and set off from the isolated station.

As she trudged down the country roads, hemmed in on both sides by drystone walls, lashed by the driving rain and dodging the occasional Muggle car as it shot past her in a shock of spray, she felt as though she were constantly slipping between one world and another...

At last she found the stile, climbed over, and tramped across the muddy field.

The cliff edge appeared suddenly, a ragged line in the turf torn by some gigantic hand. Hermione followed it northwards until she reached the path, then climbed slowly down to the sea.

There, hiding behind a tumbled rock, with a clear view of the stone quay, she huddled in her sodden raincoat, and waited.

...

Family members and friends soon began to materialise, arriving in twos and threes. Hermione spotted Lucius Malfoy, released from Azkaban two years earlier on compassionate grounds—though rumour had it that the dragon pox he'd claimed he was suffering from was in miraculous remission—and, beside him, his wife, Narcissa, looking thin and anxious.

Hermione felt a deep pang of sympathy for Narcissa Malfoy...

A gasp ran through the crowd, and Hermione, turning seawards, spotted a tiny boat, struggling to materialise between the muted greys of sea and sky. It came up beside the quay—ropes were thrown and secured—and, one by one, its trembling occupants disembarked.

Hermione's breath caught in her throat.

He was taller than she'd remembered, pale and emaciated, and his filthy hair hung in tangles down his back. She saw his mother run to him and throw her arms around him, and saw him cling to her as though his freedom depended on it.

And then, to her horror, Hermione saw him turn, and stare straight at
her...

...

~~ 24 March 1998 ~~

“Harry,” said Hermione, “please—you must rest.”

She and Harry, and Ron, had been locked in the cellar of Malfoy Manor since Dobby's attempt to Apparate them to safety had been cut short by Bellatrix Lestrange's knife. They'd all been devastated by the little house-elf's death, but Harry had taken it especially hard.

“Every time I start to nod off,” he sighed, “I see him, Hermione.”

In what little light Ron's Deluminator could still provide, Hermione felt Harry's forehead; he was, as she'd suspected, feverish. She turned to Ron for help.

“She's right, mate,” Ron said. “Where's that water jug?” He searched around in the shadows, found it, and handed it to Hermione, who brought it to Harry's lips.

“Right,” Ron continued, after Harry had taken a few sips. “It's your turn for a couple of hours with the blanket—just try and get some sleep, and Hermione and me'll be working on a plan to get out—” He turned his head sharply, and listened.

“Someone's coming!” said Hermione.

Ron clicked the Deluminator, whisking the light away, and hid it in his pocket, and the trio huddled back against the wall, waiting.

Moments later, the door opened and Lucius Malfoy entered—unshaven, and looking disturbingly feral—with his wand raised. “Miss Granger,” he said, “come with me.”

Ron's arm shot out to shield Hermione. “Why?” he demanded.

“She'll not be harmed,” replied Lucius. “You have my word.”

...

The Parlour was a cosy family room, with chintz sofas and a coffee table arranged around the fireplace. There was a cheery fire crackling in the grate, and fresh cut flowers in a vase on the sideboard.

The effect was surreal.

Somehow, thought Hermione, they've managed to keep this hidden from You Know Who...

“Miss Granger,” said Narcissa Malfoy, graciously, “please take a seat. I'm sure you would like some refreshment.”

Painfully aware that she hadn't had a proper wash in weeks, Hermione perched on the edge of one of the sofas, and watched Narcissa pour tea into an exquisite china cup.

“Draco, darling, do come and sit beside Miss Granger.”

Hermione felt Draco sit down and, carefully balancing her teacup and saucer on her lap, risked a glance at him.

God, she thought, he looks worse than I do.

“Now,” said Narcissa to her husband, who was lurking near one of the windows, “my dear?”

Hermione noticed a pile of books, and what looked like several complex number charts, lying on the table beside him; Lucius Malfoy had apparently been performing Arithmancy...

He cleared his throat. “We have a proposal for you, Miss Granger,” he said.

Hermione's teacup rattled in its saucer.

“If you agree to co-operate with us, we are willing to set your friends free.”

If I co-operate?

“What would I have to do?” she asked, cautiously. Her mouth was dry, but she didn't dare try swallowing any tea.

Lucius Malfoy gestured towards his number charts. “It seems,” he said, “that if this war is to end, and we are to survive it, you will have to marry Draco, Miss Granger.”

Marry...?” She turned to Draco. He was studying his hands, twisting his signet ring around his finger. He has really beautiful hands, she thought, stupidly. “I don't understand...”

“For reasons that are not entirely clear to me,” said Lucius, “your marrying Draco, today, Miss Granger, will ensure the best outcome for all of us.”

“Which is?”

“We will all survive. Including your friends downstairs.”

“But he will win?”

“We don't know about that,” said Narcissa, quickly, and Hermione wasn't convinced she was being told the truth.

“The point is, Miss Granger,” said Lucius, “we will all survive—”

“If I marry Draco.”

Hermione looked from Narcissa to Lucius and then to Draco himself, waiting until he raised his head and met her gaze. The Draco she'd known at school had been confident—arrogantBut, she thought, attractive with it. This Draco was broken. In this Draco's silver-grey eyes she saw nothing but fear and misery, and she felt sorry for him.

“You need my consent,” she said, with a sudden flash of insight.

“That's correct,” said Lucius. “The marriage must be voluntary.”

“But if I say no, you'll put me straight back into the cellar, and then—what?—you'll summon You Know Who?”

“If you say no,” he replied, “we all lose, Miss Granger.”

Hermione frowned; something else had occurred to her—from the moment Dobby had announced he'd come to rescue Harry Potter, the Malfoys had known exactly whom they were dealing with.

“Why hasn't Madam Lestrange summoned You Know Who?” she asked.

“My sister,” said Narcissa, “is confused—”

“Father Obliviated her,” said Draco, bluntly.

Hermione stared at him.

Then, “Can I, um—can I have a moment?” she asked, waving her hand to explain that she wanted to stand up and walk around.

“Of course,” said Narcissa.

Hermione set down her teacup and got to her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco's mother give him a sharp jerk of the head, meaning, Go with her, and thought, She really does think he's irresistible...

She walked over to the window and stood, arms folded, looking out into the gardens, where a soft rain, falling on the topiary hedges, was making the dark leaves shine. She was thinking of Harry and Ron, locked in the cellar...

If the Malfoys set them free, she thought, they'll be safe, for now, and can keep looking for the Horcruxes—

“Say yes,” said a quiet voice.

Draco had come up beside her, and was speaking so softly, Hermione wondered if, for some reason, he didn't want his parents to overhear him. She edged a little closer and, without looking at him, tried to show him that she was listening.

He moved away.

Hermione closed her eyes.

Saying yes would mean staying behind, alone.

Saying yes would probably mean having to have sex with Draco Malfoy...

But saying yes would mean that Harry and Ron were free!

It was obvious that Lucius and Narcissa were as terrified of You Know Who as she was, and trying—in their own way—to undermine him and, although it was hard to see what her marrying Draco would achieve, Hermione knew from experience that Arithmancy often revealed the weirdest connections between events, and she was quite sure that Lucius was confident his calculations were correct...

Why else would he be willing to marry his precious, pure-blood son to a Mudblood?

Though it sounded like Draco might have a plan of his own.

But Harry and Ron would be free, she thought, and I would be on the inside. Who knows what I might be able to see, or hear, or do to help them?

Generations of women have had to lie back and think of England. Surely I can close my eyes, grit my teeth, and have sex with Draco Malfoy?

She turned back into the room.

“All right,” she said. “First, set Ron and Harry free. Then I'll marry Draco.”

...

She asked for five minutes alone with her friends, to say goodbye.

Ron, of course, was angry—swearing to Merlin he'd kill Lucius Malfoy, kill Narcissa Malfoy, kill 'that bloody little ferret'—but Harry listened to all of her arguments and, in the end, she managed to persuade both of them that she knew what she was doing.

As she watched Lucius Apparate them to safety, she could only hope that it was true.

...

Lucius Malfoy performed the handfasting, with Narcissa and one of the house-elves as witnesses.

Narcissa had dressed Hermione in robes of champagne-coloured lace and arranged her hair in a loose chignon, pinning her curls with a pair of yellow diamond combs, and adding a scattering of tiny lilac flowers.

Draco was dressed in traditional robes of black moire silk and was, as usual, impeccably groomed.

We couldn't look any nicer, Hermione thought, if the wedding were real.

“Do you come here,” said Lucius, “voluntarily, to enter into marriage?”

“Yes,” said Draco.

“Yes,” said Hermione.

“Then hold hands.”

Hermione put her hand in Draco's, and felt a strange jolt, like a shock, pass between them. She stared up at him...

Lucius, meanwhile, was draping a long, white cord over their wrists.

“Will you honour and respect each other?” he asked, and—when they'd both agreed—he brought one end of the cord up and over, binding them together. “Will you support and assist each other in times of pain and sorrow...”

Hermione listened carefully. To every question, she answered “Yes,” and nothing she agreed to seemed to give Draco or his parents any special magical or legal power over her, nor to deprive her of the right to make her own decisions...

“And so,” Lucius concluded, tying the ends of the silken cord together, “the binding is complete.”

...

~~ 30 July 2003 ~~

“Malfoy's being released,” said Harry. “A week today, on the sixth.” He showed her the official notice.

Hermione, who was technically in a hurry and had just popped in to say 'hi', pulled up a chair and sat down.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“I...” She tried to fathom her complicated feelings. “I don't know.”

Harry leaned back, opened his desk drawer, and took out a bottle and a glass.

“Firewhisky?” said Hermione.

“You need it.” He poured her a generous measure.

“No, I mean... Since when have you kept a bottle of Firewhisky in your desk drawer?”

“Since I was made Deputy Chief Auror, and learnt the true meaning of 'stressed'. And don't change the subject.” He pushed the glass towards her. “Drink.”

Hermione hesitated.

“Go on.”

She picked it up, knocked it back in one, and immediately wished she hadn't.

Harry came round and slapped her on the back.

“Thanks...”

“You're welcome. Now, are you”—he perched on his desk—“going to meet Malfoy off the boat?”

Hermione thought of all the times her attempts to contact Draco had been rebuffed. “I really don't think he'd want that.”

“Maybe not. But the question is, Hermione, what do
you want?” He folded his arms. “Look, you've never told me exactly what happened between you and Malfoy when you were cooped up in that place together,” he said, “but I know you. And I know there must be a reason you've never moved on.”

“You sound like a women's magazine.”

“No, I sound like my wife. And Ron's wife. When they get together to discuss how, given the opportunity, they'd set the world to rights.”

“Draco and I can't divorce until the twenty fifth of March, 2004—I know the
exact date, Harry, because he's already hired a lawyer—and I can't do anything until I'm free. It wouldn't be fair...”

Harry looked at her thoughtfully. “Go and meet him off the boat,” he said, at last.


...

~~ 24 March 1998 ~~

Draco's parents escorted them upstairs to Draco's bedroom, which someone had thought to decorate with garlands of roses, orange blossoms, and fig leaves—For fertility, thought Hermione—and then, to her relief, they left them alone, closing the door behind them.

Hermione sat down on the bed.

She knew that she and Draco were supposed to have sex now.

From what she'd heard, he'd already done it, not just with Pansy Parkinson but also with Millicent Bulstrode (who'd boasted that, when he'd shagged her, still in his Quidditch leathers, she'd felt as though her hair were curling, though Hermione thought that a very strange thing to say), and with Tracey Davis and her two cousins (one after the other, in quick succession, apparently), and with Daphne Greengrass (who'd described, in detail, how he'd 'fucked her brains out' and how she would pay him to do it again).

Hermione had found that last part intriguing...

But, despite their rocky patches, she'd always assumed that Ron would be her first—that they would marry, and go on honeymoon, and share a wonderful wedding night somewhere romantic and tropical—and the thought of her first's being anyone other than Ron...

She sniffed back a sob, and pulled herself together.

Ron is safe, she told herself. Ron and Harry are probably back with the rest of the Order by now. She wiped her eyes with her hand. The important thing is that, this way, the war will soon be over.

“Let's hope so,” said Malfoy.

“What?” She looked up at him, frowning. “Are you using Legilimency on me?”

He raised a finger to his lips and, sitting down beside her and drawing his wand from his immaculate sleeve, he quietly cast a white-noise spell.

“What my parents told you,” he said, “was true, as far as it went, but it wasn't the whole truth. I'm supposed to get you pregnant. They want a pure-blood-Muggle-born child.”

“Why?”

Draco shrugged. “I don't know. They won't discuss it with me. That's how I know it's not straightforward.”

Hermione wondered if she could trust him—

I don't want him to win,” he said, “any more than you do.” He fell silent, and Hermione watched him, twisting his signet ring around his finger. “Look,” he admitted, at last, “I know I haven't always been nice to you—”

“You've always been absolutely horrible to me.”

“I looked out for you at the Quidditch World Cup, didn't I?”

Hermione was surprised. “Yes, you did...”

“I've always sort of liked you.”

Boys, she thought.

“And I'm not sorry it's you now.” He turned to face her. “Because you're clever.”

“Draco,” she began and, without thinking, touched his arm. A jolt shot through her, making her gasp, and she could see from the look on his face that he had felt it, too. “Um”—she tried to get her thoughts back on track—“do you have a plan?”

In answer, he turned, searched under the pillows, and brought out a tiny, ancient volume. “There's a spell in this book,” he said, “that allows a bride to fake virginity—”

“I am a virgin.”

“You are?—I mean, yes, of course you are, but just listen to me...”

Hermione was surprised how much like his old self he'd suddenly become, as though something had made him forget his fear. He's treating me like one of the Slytherin girls, she thought, very aware that, when he leaned closer, his thigh touched hers.

“I don't think we should do it,” he said, “not until we're sure of Father's plans for the baby, but we'll have to make it look as though we've done it, to keep him off our backs.” He paused, waiting for Hermione to catch up.

“Oh,” she said, after a long moment, “you mean blood on the sheet.” She felt like she'd fallen through a portal into the Middle Ages. “You've really thought this through, haven't you?”

“The Deflowering Spell I was telling you about does two things. First, it puts the husband to sleep and gives him some sort of wet dream—we don't really need that, but we can't cut it out because it's part and parcel of the spell. Secondly, it creates a bloodstain.”

“How?”

“It doesn't say. But it was devised by a woman for women...” He shrugged.

Hermione held out her hand. “Can I see the book?”

Draco handed it over.

Hermione speed-read the page—A Spell to Mimick Deflowering. Everything he'd told her about it appeared to be accurate. “What if your parents examine me?” she said. “They'll know my hymen's still intact.”

“They won't examine you. Mother wouldn't let Father do that. It would be in bad taste.”

“But what if they do?”

“They won't.”

“But what if they do, Draco?”

“Then I'll stall them somehow,” he said, with a touch of impatience, “and you'll”—he took the book back and flipped a few pages—“use this.”

Hermione read: “A Spell to Vanish the Membrayne. What is this book?”

“It's called A Handbook for Pure-blood Wives.”

“Lovely.”

“Pure-blood marriage,” he said, “is about inheritance, so legitimacy's vitally important.”

“And sometimes needs to be faked.”

“And, sometimes, doubt needs to be nipped in the bud,” he corrected, closing the handbook. Hermione watched him hide it.

“So I won't have to lie back and think of England,” she said, suddenly remembering where this conversation had started.

“Only in your dreams, Granger,” he replied.

“Actually, in your dream, it seems, Draco,” she said, getting in the last word.

...

They took turns to undress in the bathroom.

Once they were back in the muffled safety of the four poster bed, Draco read out the Deflowering Spell and, after a slightly heated discussion, it was decided that Hermione, being the bride, should be the one to cast it.

Draco let her use his wand, and she prepared herself by trying out some simple magic—levitating his dressing robes and opening a cupboard door—surprised how comfortable the wand felt in her hand, and how easily it seemed to work for her.

“Right,” she said, “I'm ready.”

Draco lay on his back and folded his hands upon his chest. “You'll need to hitch your night robes up,” he said.

“Oh, yes...” Hermione made sure he wasn't looking, then pulled the fabric up round her waist. “Okay, here we go.” She swished Draco's wand, and pronounced the incantation, “Virgo Exhibio.”

Immediately, she felt a sharp pain between her legs, and blood began to flow. She set the wand on the night stand and lay back, gritting her teeth. Beneath her, the bed felt wet. Then, as suddenly as the pain had come, it went, and the bleeding stopped.

Draco, meanwhile had fallen asleep.

Hermione heard him groan.

Then he moaned, in obvious pleasure, and she remembered what he was supposed to be dreaming about, and—curious—turned onto her side to look at him.

She couldn't miss his erect penis, tenting his night robes, and she was astonished by the size of it, and at the effect it had on her—how much she wanted to pull back the thin cotton and see it properly, how much she wanted to feel it—and then she was ashamed of herself for thinking such things—

Draco cried out, and his penis jerked, soaking the front of his robes.

Hermione shuffled backwards and, turning onto her other side, closed her eyes tightly.

...

~~ 26 March 1998 ~~

The following morning, one of the house-elves changed the bed and, as Draco had predicted, hurried the bloodied sheet away for inspection.

“Now what do we do?” said Hermione.

“We stay in here as much as possible,” Draco replied. “I've made sure there's lots of books, and ink and parchment, and the house-elves'll bring us food and anything else we want.” He beckoned her onto the bed. “He can't see us when we're in this room,” he said, quietly, “and nor can my aunt, because my parents have set up wards and illusions to hide you.”

“And your parents can't hear us when we're inside your white-noise spell.”

He nodded.

“So we're safe as long as we stay within these four posts. It's like a shark cage...” She looked up at the bed's curtained canopy. “Listen, I've been thinking.”

“What?”

“As soon as it's plausible, we should tell your parents I'm pregnant.”

Draco frowned, settling back against the pillows, obviously trying to think it through, but Hermione could see from his expression he didn't think it was a good idea.

“Hear me out,” she began.

“No,” he said. “They'd know there was no baby.”

“We'd say I'd lost it. There must be spells in your handbook we could use.”

Draco thought some more. Then he shook his head.

“Why?” she asked.

“It's too—I don't know—complicated,” he said.

“What you mean,” said Hermione, “is that it's one thing to let your parents think you're boinking me round the clock, but another thing to actually lie to them.”

“No, it's not that...” Draco sighed. “If you want the truth, I don't want to know what Father has planned for my son.”

“Your son?” Hermione was incredulous. “It's just as likely to be a daughter, Draco—and it's ours, by the way, because I'd be doing most of the work.”

“We Malfoys don't father daughters.” She scowled at him. “Why are you making all this fuss over something that might never happen?” Her scowl deepened. “Oh, all right. Our son, or—or our daughter.”

“If it wasn't so arrogant and sexist and totally self-centred,” she said, “all this 'fathering' and 'my son' business would be sweet...

“Anyway,” she continued, “this is my thinking: if you tell your father there's a baby on the way, and he gets careless and lets slip what his big plan is, we'll know what to do.” She realised that Draco was staring at her as though she'd gone crazy. “What?”

“You'd have a baby just to defeat him?”

“I've done more dangerous things,” said Hermione.

“Look,” said Draco, “Father's not some heroic Gryffindor, like you. He's a Slytherin, like me, and he'll choose the sensible option—if he has to, he'll settle for covering his own arse.” His voice dropped. “He may even be planning to hand the baby over to him.”

“God!” Hermione flopped down on her side of the bed. “Well, we have to do something, Draco,” she insisted. “That was the whole point of getting married.”

...

~~ 1 August 2003 ~~

Hermione stood in the bay window of her little flat, looking down into Diagon Alley.

It was a pleasant evening, warm and summery, and half the wizarding world seemed to be sitting at the tables outside Pucey’s Wine Bar, enjoying food and drinks and laughter.

She wished she felt like joining them.

Harry had been wrong. She had had lovers since Draco—there'd been whatsisname from somewhere in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, and thingummy from the Goblin Liaison Office, and that other guy from the Floo Network Authority.


But I'm like that man, she thought, recalling a case in the Muggle psychology book she was reading, who had his first orgasm standing in a river and, ever after, has had to sit in a bath of cold water to get off...

Harry's right, she decided. I do need to move on. I just need to exorcise Draco first.

...

~~ 1 April 1998 ~~

Days passed, and they settled into a routine.

At first they were bored, but Draco had an excellent collection of books, and could fetch others from the manor's Library and, once they started working together on Advanced Rune Translation, their voluntary imprisonment became more bearable, except when their natural competitiveness led to squabbles.

But they were no closer to learning Lucius's plan, and now they had another problem to deal with.

They'd started fancying each other.

Big time, thought Hermione.

She knew that her interest in Draco had begun when she'd seen him come—even if most of it had been hidden under his night robes—and she suspected that Draco's interest in her had begun at exactly the same moment.

She found herself noticing him—his sensitive hands, his broad shoulders, his taut muscles and, most of all, the fascinating bulge in his trousers. She'd also noticed that, at least once a day, he'd disappear for ten minutes or so, and come back in a very much better mood...

Hermione had never masturbated, but she knew enough to be sure that, for her, ten minutes would only make matters worse, and that that was the last thing she needed. One day, during one of Draco's absences, she'd searched through A Handbook for Pure-blood Wives, hoping to find a spell to give a frustrated bride quick relief—and then she'd been horribly embarrassed when he'd returned, blushing furiously and trying to pretend that the room was too hot for her. Another day, having suggested that they should each work independently, she'd spent the entire afternoon and most of the evening scouring Draco's books for contraceptive charms, just in case she should suddenly have need of one...

God, she thought, why won't he ravish me, like he ravished Tracey Davis and her two cousins?

Three girls, one after the other!

He could do
me three times...

God, I need a glass of water!


She padded over to the bathroom and opened the door—

Too late, she saw that Draco was already in there, standing by the lavatory, one hand on the wall, the other grasping his erect penis and working it hard.

Hermione froze in the doorway, transfixed.

“Will you go away,” he gasped. Then, “Please! Go AWAY!

“Um...”

“Can't you see I'm—nnnnnnnnnngh!” he sobbed, and his upper body suddenly jerked forward, and Hermione watched his erection stretch in his hand—once, twice, three times, four—and great gouts of thick, white semen spurt out of it.

...

They both behaved as though it had never happened.

Days turned to weeks, and they worked through Defensive Magical Theory, and through volume one of Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts.

Most of the time, Hermione enjoyed Draco's company. She knew he fancied her, but he also seemed to like her, and—more and more—she found herself liking him. He was clever, and as interested in the theory of magic as she was and, by working together, they were making astounding progress. And, although he could still, on occasion, be a spoilt brat, and was always pretty full of himself, he treated her as an intellectual equal.

The problem was that she literally could not stop thinking about what she'd seen in the bathroom.

She thought about it in the morning, when she woke up lying beside him; she thought about it at night, when she lay awake, listening to his steady breathing. It would take her by surprise whenever she felt the warmth of him as he reached past her, or when she smelled his scent...

Then she'd remember the way his orgasm had overwhelmed him—the way he'd sobbed—and she'd wonder what it must feel like—

“It's like an itch,” said Draco, “that won't go away, so you have to scratch it, and then you come, and everything just empties out of you, and you feel fantastic—until you start to itch again...”

He fell silent, and Hermione was tormented by yet another highly detailed vision of the bathroom incident.

“What about love?” she croaked.

“Then they're making you come, aren't they?”

“Do you love Pansy Parkinson?”

Draco shrugged, and they were silent for a long time.

Then Hermione said, “Draco, will you please stop using Legilimency on me?”

“You have to stop me yourself,” he replied.

“That's blaming the victim.”

“No, it's not. I'm being serious.” He set down his quill. “You're safe in here, but if my parents ever decide to stop protecting you, you'll have to keep things hidden from him—especially all that stuff about Potter and Weasley and lockets and swords.”

Hermione stared at him.

“Don't tell me. I don't want to know,” he said.

“Will you teach me Occlumency, then?” she asked.

...

Draco went down to the Library, found a book entitled Occlumency and Legilimency, and they set to work.

“You can't improve your Occlumency,” he explained, “unless someone's using Legilimency on you, so that's where we have to start. D'you know the basics of Legilimency?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

“It's best to keep it simple. Don't delve into someone's mind or they'll know what you're doing; just 'catch' their feelings and memories as they pass you by, then think about what they tell you.”

“You're really good at that—the interpretation part, I mean,” said Hermione.

“Mmm. Well, you're easy to read—much too easy, in fact. Look, I'll show you the difference between open and closed.” He gave her his wand and indicated that she should enter his mind.

Legilimens,” she said. Then, “Wow!”

“Shit,” he said. “You might have had the decency to steer clear of that, Granger.”

“Says the person who thinks nothing of invading my mind whenever he likes!” she retorted, though she was blushing crimson.

“Just try again.”

Hermione cast the spell again and, this time, could find nothing beyond a jumble of childish sulks and resentment.

“Well?” said Draco.

“That's amazing,” she said. “It's like you're an idiot.”

“Thank you. Now it's your turn. Give me my wand. I'm going to show you what it feels like when someone just rips into your head, like he would.”

“Draco...”

“Your head's full of me. I know. You're only human.”

Hermione found herself laughing. “Prat!”

“Ready?”

“Yes.”

Legilimens.”

The bedroom disappeared, and Hermione's vision was filled instead with images of Draco—Draco asking her to stay behind and marry him—Draco in the bathroom—Draco in his wedding robes—Draco in the bathroom—Draco handing her his wand—DRACO IN THE BATHROOM...

Hermione screwed up her eyes and tried to will the images to stop, but that only made them move faster and faster—Draco in the bathroom—Draco in the bathroom—Draco—Draco—Draco—

Suddenly, it was over.

“Actually,” said Draco, breathlessly, “that isn't a bad defence. I can't imagine even him wanting to keep poking around in your head, when all he's getting's an eyeful of my boner.”

“Draco!” Hermione slapped his arm, her face burning with shame.

“Severus told me,” he said, seriously, “to empty myself of all emotion, but my aunt says it's better to use strong emotions—hatred, resentment, contempt—that's the sort of thing he expects from you; the sort of thing he understands. You saw what I used.”

After a few exercises in summoning 'strong emotions', some of which made Hermione feel very uncomfortable, Draco decided it was time to put her to the test.

“Okay,” she said, “but let me try it my own way.”

“Go on then.”

She took a deep breath and prepared herself, clearing her mind and calming her feelings, then she searched out a particularly happy childhood memory and let it fill her heart. She heard Draco say the word and, for a split-second, she wanted to think of Harry, but instead, she thought of herself, running through the park in her red wellingtons...

After a few moments, when Draco hadn't said anything, she asked, “Well?”

“Good,” he said. “Cute. That would totally baffle him—all the”—he waved his hand—“dappled sunlight and the splashing in puddles.” He put his wand away. “But try not to look as if you're about to lay an egg.”

...

~~ 4 August 2003 ~~

Hermione waited for Cattermole to leave the interrogation room. It was highly irregular for an Auror to leave a civilian alone with a prisoner, but Cattermole owed her a favour.

“Look,” said Reggie Fletcher, nervously, “if it's about them house-elves, I didn't even know they was in there—wherever
there was.”

“It's not about the house-elves,” said Hermione. “Fortunately, the house-elves were only mildly traumatised by your safe-blowing spell—no, it's about a favour I can do for you.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. “You say that Filius Jordan had you under an Imperius Curse. The Aurors can't confirm your alibi because they can't find him, but
I may know where he is.”

In point of fact, she'd already told Cattermole where to find Jordan, but there was no need for Fletcher to know that.

The burglar leaned back in his chair and studied her dubiously. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don't,” said Hermione, “but what have you got to lose?”

“Depends what you want in return.”

“I've heard,” she said, leaning forward and speaking softly, “that when a prisoner's released from Azkaban, he's brought to the mainland by boat and that, although the quay itself's unplottable, there is—owing to an unexpected landslide—a section of path from which it can clearly be seen, and that you know how to find that bit of path.”

“Who told you that?”

Hermione shrugged.

Fletcher looked round the room, nervously.

“No one else can hear us.”

“And if I tell you, you'll sort my alibi?”

“I have the Interdepartmental memo right here.”

Fletcher's eyes narrowed. “You planning to off some geezer as he climbs ashore?”

“Does it matter?”

Fletcher shrugged...

All right,” he said, at last. “First, you take the train to Leeds—Muggle East Coast line, mind you, 'cos no one bothers to watch Muggle transport...”


...

~~ 30 April 1998 ~~

“You've been so good for Draco,” said Narcissa. She'd invited Hermione down to the Parlour for tea. “He's almost his old self again.”

Hermione nibbled her cake. She couldn't help liking Narcissa. She loves Draco so much, she thought, she assumes that I love him too. She can't imagine how anyone could not love him.

“I did want to ask you something,” Narcissa continued, “just between the two of us, Hermione, dear—might there... Might there be a chance that we'll soon be hearing the patter of tiny feet?”

Hermione blushed, but she knew she'd been handed a golden opportunity. “Do you think, Mrs—um—Narcissa,” she said, trying to sound as though her mother-in-law's advice was all-important to her, “it would be wise for us to have a child, when—well, when the times are so unsettled, and Draco and I are from such different backgrounds?”

“I think,” said Narcissa, “that a baby who unites your... natural talents, my dear, with Draco's... advantages will give people hope—show them that there's a different way forward.”

Hermione nodded, thoughtfully, and did something unforgivable.

...

“I'm sorry,” she said.

“Did Mother know?”

“No—well—I mean, I don't think so.”

“I suppose it had to be done,” he said. “And I...” He was sitting on the edge of the bed, and Hermione noticed he was twisting his signet ring. “I could never have done it to Mother. Did you find anything?”

“Well...” She sat down beside him. She knew exactly what he was afraid of. “I got absolutely no impression that they're planning to sacrifice it, or give it to him, or—or use it as a potions ingredient, or anything like that. Your mother's really looking forward to it. She seems to think a mixed blood baby—our mixed blood baby—will unite people, even Death Eaters, against You Know Who—magically, somehow. She's so proud of you Draco; proud that her little boy's going to be a father.”

Draco lay back on the bed. “Another baby with the power to vanquish him,” he said, thoughtfully. “A second chance, if Potter fails...”

Then Hermione voiced what they were both thinking: “We need to do it, don't we?”

...

“Be quiet,” said Draco.

They'd sealed the door and, for good measure, wedged a chair under the handle, undressed, and now they were lying in bed, facing each other, naked under the bedclothes.

“I didn't say anything,” said Hermione.

“No, but you're thinking—why, in Merlin's name, are you thinking about Tracey Davis? And her two cousins?”

“Why are you using Legilimency on me?”

“What d'you think makes me so good at shagging? I find out what a girl's feeling, and...” He fell silent. Then, “Habit,” he confessed.

“It's perverted,” said Hermione.

“Tracey Davis,” he replied. “And her two cousins.”

“Exactly!”

They scowled at each other.

“Look,” Hermione admitted, at last, “I can see there'd be benefits, once you knew and trusted one another, so I'll let it go. But”—she leaned closer, and whispered—“will you just do it, Draco? Please?”

Draco raised his hand and, with his long, elegant fingers, stroked her cheek, and they both gasped at the jolt that passed between them.

“Is that normal?” said Hermione. “I mean, is that what happens when you're about to make love?”

“No...” He leaned in, and gently kissed her lips, gradually kissing harder, and harder, until she could feel the sensation spreading right through her body, gathering in her nipples, and in that elusive place deep between her legs...

She sighed.

Draco moved and she followed his lead, turning onto her back and sinking into the bed. He settled his body on hers and, loving his weight, she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer, feeling the big, hard ridge of his erection against her belly.

She slid a hand down between them, and grasped it.

“God,” she said, closing her eyes and smiling, fascinated by its swollen shaft, and the hot, velvety smoothness of its head.

Mmm,” Draco sighed, “d'you want to try sucking it?”

“No,” she said. “I want it inside me.”

He kissed her again and, sliding his hands down to her waist and lifting her, he moved his hips and—murmuring, “Guide me in,” without breaking the kiss—he eased its head inside her.

Hermione wanted more, and tried to wrestle him deeper but he held himself back, and then spent ages, slowly inching into her, stopping when she yelped in pain and waiting for her to recover.

“I didn't expect you,” she said, “to be like this.”

“Like what?”

“Gentle with me.”

“You're my wife,” he replied. “Besides,” he added, his lips grazing her neck, “if you enjoy it now, you'll want to do it again.”

Hermione smiled. “That's a sound strategy.”

“I know.”

He slid one leg outside of hers and, knee drawn up, began to thrust. With his hips raised and twisted, his strokes were powerful, grinding into her, and Hermione loved it—the brute force that wasn't brutal at all. She experimented, asking him to go deeper, or faster, or harder, and he would, for a while, but then he always seemed to know when to go shallower again, or slower, or to thrust more gently, and she found that every change was wonderful. She put her hands on his chest and pushed, and felt an instant reward as some different part of him collided with some different and deliciously sensitive part of her...

“Not yet,” he groaned.

She released him, and brought her hands down to his hips, spreading her fingers over his buttocks so she could feel the muscles moving under her fingertips, and she laughed at the practical demonstration of cause and effect. This is why, she thought, happily, the sight of muscular thighs turns women on!

Then she lost herself in the shagging, giving and taking, and taking, and taking more, until—just when she was hoping it would never, ever end—Draco shagged her right to the edge, and she fell over it, and then she found out what all the fuss was about.

...

“DJAAAAAAAAAH!” screamed Draco.

Hermione watched him arch his back and strain to empty every last drop of himself deep inside her and, tears running down her cheeks, she tried to scrunch herself up tight and hold him there forever.

Then he finished and, with a sob, collapsed, his head coming to rest upon her bosom, and she gathered him into her arms.

...

~~ 5 August 2003 ~~

We were just children, thought Hermione, working a good coat of dubbin into her fell boots, for Reggie Fletcher had told her that—if she wanted to remain undetected—she must on no account take anything magical with her, including her wand, so there could be no warming or waterproofing charms...

We were thrown together. But we made it work. And if we'd had more time...

She sighed.

Tomorrow, she'd be seeing Draco for the first time in five years—if only from a distance, because the Malfoys had obtained an injunction to prevent her going within fifty yards of him.

She buffed her boots with a soft cloth.


I won't be seeing the boy I clung to, she thought, banishing the rush of physical desire that always assailed her when she remembered making love with Draco, though she'd never learned to stop the feelings of tenderness that always came in its wake. I'll be seeing the man who doesn't want anything more to do with me, with his pure-blood parents, and—maybe—with whatever pure-blood baby-bearer he's got lined up now.

I'll be seeing the real him.

And saying goodbye.

She replaced the lid on the tin of dubbin and packed it away with her shoe brush and cloth. Then she went into the bathroom to wash her hands.

“After tomorrow,” she told herself in the mirror, “you'll be free of Draco Malfoy.”


...

~~ 1 May 1998 ~~

“D'you think that's done it?” she asked, stroking Draco's silky hair.

“Naaah,” he replied. “I think it'll take a lot of shagging to get you pregnant.”

Hermione smiled. “You're just saying that because you want an excuse to do a lot of shagging.”

Draco lifted his head and, grinning, moved his hips, pressing his erection, rock hard again, between her legs. “Do I need an excuse?”

They kissed...

“I would like to try sucking it now,” Hermione whispered, blushing—

The bedroom door burst open, sending the chair they'd used to barricade it flying against the wall.

“Enough of that!” cried Lucius. “It's started, Draco! We've been summoned!”

...

The Malfoys wouldn't allow Hermione to go with them, arguing that the Dark Lord would know, the moment he saw her, that they'd been intending to use her as a weapon against him, and would not only kill her instantly, but would also kill them and Draco, and that their deaths would be long and lingering.

“Besides,” said Narcissa, kindly, “you may have a baby to think of now.”

With her fingers crossed behind her back, Hermione promised Lucius that she would not attempt to leave the manor after they'd gone—though her defiance was to prove an empty gesture when, try as she might, she could not break the wards...

As the Malfoys prepared to Apparate to Hogwarts, Hermione ran up to Draco and, on tip-toe, took his face in her hands and kissed him. “Be careful,” she whispered.

...

~~ 3 May 1998 ~~

Two days later, Aurors came to Malfoy Manor and told Hermione that the war was won. Draco and his family had, they said, been arrested and were currently imprisoned in the Ministry of Magic, awaiting trial.

Hermione was free.

Arthur Weasley came for her, and took her to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, where she was reunited with Harry, Ron and Ginny, and learned the terrible price the Order had paid for its victory. Harry showed her Severus Snape's memories and, even as she was marvelling at Snape's courage and single-mindedness, she found herself wondering how his sacrifice might affect Draco, and what it might tell her about the fatherly feelings Snape had always shown towards him...

Three weeks after she and Draco had made love, Hermione went to Boots the Chemist and bought a Muggle pregnancy test. At first she doubted the results but, when she had her period a week later, she was forced to accept that there wasn't going to be a baby.

She couldn't believe how lost that made her feel.

When she'd explained to the authorities why she'd married Draco, they'd assumed she'd been under the Imperius Curse, and when she asked to speak for him at his trial, they told her that the testimony of a person who'd been placed under the Imperius Curse by the defendant was inadmissible in court.

When she applied to visit Draco in Azkaban, all of her applications were turned down, and her appeals were caught up in red tape. When she took her case to Kingsley Shacklebolt and he promised he'd look into it for her, she thought she'd succeeded at last, but then—after she'd waited months to hear back from him—he told her that Draco was refusing to see her, as was his right.

When she tried to contact Draco's mother, she was told that Narcissa Malfoy was convalescing in France, and could not be reached...

It all began to wear her down.

Then, shortly after Lucius Malfoy had been released from Azkaban, Hermione received a visit from Hector Beamish of Aubrey, Beamish and Cauldwell, who told her that, by wizarding law, a separation of five years and one day starting on or before the first anniversary of the marriage but counted for legal purposes from the date of the first anniversary—

What?” said Hermione.

—a separation of five years and one day, starting on or before the first anniversary of the marriage, but counted, for legal purposes, from the date of the first anniversary, was incontestable grounds for divorce, and that proceedings would begin on the twenty fifth day of March, 2004, whether her husband had been released from Azkaban by then or not.

That was the final straw.

Hermione knew she must accept that her marriage to Draco was over.

She'd completed her education, and had been offered a job at the Ministry on a fast track to a responsible position in the Being Division but, emotionally, she was in a state of limbo—married and yet not married, trying to build herself a life when, in her heart, she knew that the most valuable thing she could expect from life had already been lost.

...

~~ 6 August 2003 ~~

Come to me...

Hermione froze. She knew the voice was Draco's, but she couldn't tell whether the words were a figment of her own imagination, or whether her husband was somehow speaking to her from across the windswept bay.

Their eyes met.

Is it Legilimency? she wondered. Draco had always had an uncanny ability to read her mind. Can you plant ideas in my head as well?

Come to me, Hermione...

But you're the one who abandoned me, she thought, willing him to hear her. You're the one who wouldn't let me visit you, who didn't want me at your trial—you even retained a divorce lawyer! And she let all the feelings of bewilderment, betrayal and—yes—of unrequited love she'd kept carefully imprisoned for so long escape, and fill her heart to overflowing.

She sensed a confusion that wasn't her own, then a flash of anger aimed at Lucius Malfoy, and then she gasped, for her head was suddenly filled with an image of red wellington boots stamping happily in a puddle!

Please come to me, Hermione...

And that was all it took.

Without another thought, she launched herself towards her husband, scrambling through the fallen rocks, cutting her hands and barking her shins, tearing her raincoat and ripping one of the soles from her boots, all in her determination to reach him.

The boat had cast off and was pulling away and people were Apparating their loved ones home, but Draco was still standing on the quay.

Waiting for her.

Hermione climbed up the final boulder and slithered down the other side and, as her feet touched the path, she slipped, and fell into the water, sank, and, with a stab of panic, felt the sea close over her head.

For what felt like an eternity, she hung there, shifting again between one world and another, desperately wondering where she belonged...

Then she heard Draco's call and, following her sense of him, she swam upwards—arms pulling and legs kicking—broke the surface and, with great, gasping breaths, she scrabbled for a handhold, and then a foothold, and then dragged herself out, shivering.

She struggled to her knees.

Draco, leaning heavily on his mother, was shuffling towards her.

No! Go back, thought Hermione. Go back to where you're safe! I'm coming to you! I love you, Draco! I want to give our marriage a chance! Please, let's give it a chance! Nothing—not the sea, not magic, not your father's injunction—nothing can stop us if we decide to give it a chance!

She got to her feet.

“Her-mi-oneeee!”

His voice was rough from years of silence, but it was
real, and it was telling her everything she wanted to hear. Breaking into a run, she flew to him, and they fell into each other's arms, and held each other tight.

THE END