Marriage is a fine institution,

but I'm not ready for an institution. ~ Mae West

Well, Hermione Granger thought to herself, looking at the man the Ministry, in all its idiotic would-be wisdom had decided she'd play brood mare for, it could have been worse.

That was what she said too. "It could have been worse."

Draco Malfoy looked at her across the dingy office and raised his eyebrows in the supercilious sneer she remembered all too well. "How, exactly?"

"You could have been Ron."

That startled a laugh out of him. "Granted. It could have been worse for you. Still not seeing how it could have been worse for me."

"Have some imagination," she said, leaning over the desk to sign the 'yes, I'll have a baby with this man in order to avoid being kicked out of the magical world' contract, the contract the Ministry had obscenely decided to call a 'marriage license.' "I could be Lavender Brown."

Another laugh and she watched his face soften for a moment before the mask was tied back into place and he was signing the contract as well.

"I have an idea," she said, "how we can handle this, get what we need accomplished, and make it not too horrible."

"If you have a way you can make marriage to you less horrible," he drawled, "I'm all ears."

. . . . . . . . . .

Blaise looked at his friend who'd been getting quietly drunk all night. "What's it like?" he asked, "Being married to her? Is she as hot in bed as her temper would lead one to expect?"

Draco cringed. He actually cringed, and Blaise narrowed his eyes.

"That bad?"

"She had me drug her into unconsciousness for the wedding night," Draco said. "She handed me some Muggle drug, said it would make her forget everything, and apologized that I would have to remember the encounter. 'We have to have sex at least once for the magical contract to consider us in compliance,' is what she said."

"Did you?" Blaise looked horrified and Draco swallowed another generous swig of his beer before nodding.

"She's the most terrifyingly practical person I've ever met. She hates me, Blaise. Hates me, but she's come up with these workarounds so we could consummate the marriage, cohabit and work on conceiving a baby, all with as little actual interaction as possible. 'I'm not living at the Manor,' she said, 'what with having been tortured in your living room I find the place off-putting. Find a flat with separate bedrooms and separate baths – '"

"Separate baths?" Blaise interrupted.

"Her highness doesn't want to risk stumbling into me coming out of the shower," Draco said, drunken bitterness finally leaking into his tone. "So, yes, separate baths. For all that we technically are living together, meeting our contractual obligations, I hardly ever see her."

"I don't want to be gross here," Blaise said and Draco snorted.

"Since when?"

"But," Blaise went on as though he hadn't been interrupted, "You have to have a baby. That's the whole point of this ridiculous marriage law. Are you planning on drugging her every time? I mean, isn't it a little vile to be shagging a woman who's not even aware of what you're doing?"

"It's a lot vile," Draco said, signaling for another beer, remembering the way when, about half unconscious but already drugged out of her mind, Granger had said, 'I wish you liked me.' That haunted him. "It's more than a lot vile. But, no, now that penis has met vagina once we're off the hook. My thoughtful wife has introduced me to some Muggle concept that involves me providing her with a 'sample' that she takes, goes into her bedroom, and uses a syringe to squirt into herself on her most fertile day. We're a little science experiment, doing our best to have a baby without ever touching."

"I'm so sorry," Blaise watched his friend down another beer.

"Oh, don't be," Draco said. "She even provided me with a stash of porn to make getting her that monthly sample easier. It's great. I just wank and give her my, umm, output in a sterile cup. We can meet the needs of the contract, have the baby, and get out, all without having to…"

"It's so great you're doing your best to drink yourself into a stupor?"

Draco raised his glass to his friend. "To the marriage law, fucking up our lives one wizard at time."

. . . . . . . . . .

He heard his father. What the fuck was his father doing in his flat talking to Granger? Draco stood in the hall, out of sight, and listened. The two were arguing about something, some obscure economic proposal it sounded like. Lucius called her a mudblood fool. She called him a pompous inbred imbecile. Draco was about to interrupt them because, as awful as this situation was, finding his father standing over the dead body of his wife at the breakfast table would be worse, or, for that matter, finding his wife standing over the body of his father, when he heard them laughing.


"Oh, Hermione," his father was saying, "You're brilliant. Impossible – and very much wrong – but brilliant."

His wife snorted. "You'll see," she said. "If this passes you'll see I'm right. It would almost be worth the disaster this bill would cause to see you eat crow and admit my analysis is dead on."

"I hope Draco appreciates you," his father said, still laughing.

"That is even less likely than you being right about this measure," Hermione said, all humor leeched from her voice. "Draco despises me. He always has."

. . . . . . . . . .

He couldn't get her the sample that night. No come-hither looks from the women in the magazine she'd provided, no close-ups of human anatomy, nothing could erase the sound of her voice saying, 'Draco despises me.' Worse, it was overlaid with the sound of her saying, 'I wish you liked me.'

Despises. I wish. Despises. I wish. Always has. Wish you liked me. Despises me.

He finally tossed the magazine to the floor of his room and threw the sterile container at the wall as hard as he could. When he went and knocked on the door of her room she opened it the standard four inches – never more, never less – and held her hand out for the container.

"I don't have it," he said and her hand faltered.

"Do you need new materials?" she asked and he flinched.

"Can I come in?" When she hesitated he added, "Please. I need to talk to you."

She opened the door and, after pointing to a hard chair pushed up against the wall, folded her arms across her chest. She hadn't decorated the room, he noted. There wasn't one personal memento, not one photograph. It looked like nothing so much as a hotel room; sterile and impersonal; it was a place to sleep while in transition from one place to another and nothing more.

Just like their relationship, he thought and sat down.

"I don't despise you," he said with no introduction and she flinched herself before sitting on the edge of her bed, feet braced against the floor.

"That's why you spent our entire childhood bullying me?" she asked, looking at the wall behind his shoulder. "Because you didn't despise me? Forgive me, but your interpersonal skills need work if that's how you – "

"I was jealous of you," he snapped and saw her eyes move briefly to his face before returning to the wall. "You were better than me at everything. Smarter. Braver. The only thing I could do better than you was fly and you managed to make me feel small about that too."

"How?" she asked, her voice a little shaky.

"Don't you remember telling me I'd had to buy my way onto the Quidditch team?" He watched her face and saw a tiny smile creep onto her mouth. "You do," he said and she nodded. "I'd been so proud I'd gotten on," he said, voice quiet in the still room. "And you made me feel… I spent that night crying in the shower where no one could hear me. I just wanted to make you cry too, wanted it so badly. I wanted to make you feel as small, as worthless, as you'd made me feel."

"You'd started it," she said and he nodded. It was a stupid, childish excuse but she was right. He had.

"I know. I was a shite to you." He rubbed at his face in exhaustion and defeat and stared down at his feet. "I'm sorry, I am. I was a kid, and an arse, and… but it never bothered you. Nothing I could do ever made a dent in your armour."

"You think it didn't bother me?" He looked up at the tone in her voice, angry, incredulous. She was trying not to cry, sitting there on the edge of her bed in ratty pajamas with her arms folded across herself as if she were afraid she would break if she released them. "I don't think a week went by for years that I didn't cry because of things you said. You taught me I was nothing in your world, that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I learned, I would never be as good as… and you know, I finally got over you, got over what you said. I had friends and a cause that mattered and I was valuable. But don't sit there and tell me all your crap didn't bother me because it came damn close to breaking me."

"I'm sorry," he said again and she was blinking rapidly and he knew why, knew she was trying to squeeze away tears. "I was a total shite. I was. But," he hesitated. "Do you think we can try again?"

She was looking at him now like he'd lost his mind.

"I don't mean be lovers or like a normal married couple, or even friends," he hurried on. "But do you think we could be… flatmates? People who don't do everything they can to avoid each other in their own home? People who pass each other the marmalade over breakfast and… and stuff?"

"Why?" She demanded.

"We're stuck here," he said, and then, "and I wish you liked me, at least a little."

. . . . . . . . . . .

"Pass the marmalade," she said, without looking up from behind the paper.

"I'm not done with it," he said, spooning more onto his toast.

"How much can one person need?" she snapped. "Pass it over."

"I like things sweet," he said, spreading it over the bread with smooth, even strokes.

"No wonder you never liked me," she said, lowering the paper and reaching for the jar.

He slid it over to her.

. . . . . . . . . .

"So, what happened with Weasley?"

They'd gone for a walk, not touching but, he thought, it was better than it had been. She didn't disappear like one of Looney Lovegood's imaginary creatures the moment he walked into a room. He was starting to think they could manage to forge a workable partnership. He was starting to think more of her than of the women in the magazines when he got her her sample, a change he was not thinking about at any other time. She, well, she just didn't flee from his presence.

"What do you mean?"

He risked a glance at her. She was staring ahead, jaw set. "You two were a thing after the war and then, when you saw our benevolent government had matched us up in their little breeding program you said Weasley would have been worse. Since you were only about one step removed from wishing I were dead, I have to assume something unpleasant happened with him."

She stopped and leaned on a wall, still not looking at him. "I came home one day and found him in bed with three women."

"Three?" Draco stared at her, feeling a sudden, unwelcome bit of admiration for the Weasel he'd never admit to her, or to anyone.

"I think they were triplets," she said and the hitch in her voice chased away his male enthusiasm for Weasley's exploit and replaced it with an uncomfortable urge to defend the woman next to him.

"How did he manage that?" he asked, using the full power of a sneer he'd worked on for years and pulling a small smile out of her.

"Well, you know, after the war he and Harry were heroes and all, and women pretty much showed up nonstop. Harry and Ginny were madly in love and they took off for the Cotswolds where they're making babies just as fast as they can as far as I can tell, but Ron, he, umm…"

She stopped and he suggested, "He decided he preferred triplets?"

"They didn't even speak English," she said with a grimace and, at that, he couldn't contain his disgusted laughter.

"You're telling me that the Weasel threw away a witch like you for women he couldn't even talk to? I mean, I knew he was an idiot but that's beyond anything I would have imagined him capable of."

"What do you mean 'a witch like you'?" she said and he shut his mouth and stopped laughing.

Finally he muttered, "It's perfectly clear what it means."

. . . . . . . . .

When she got back from her night out with Ginny, who'd come in from the country to shop or do some utterly uninteresting hero of the realm thing, she was drunk. Totally pissed, in fact. She barely made it inside the door before she sagged against the wall, her attempt to hold herself steady a total failure.

"Have fun?" he asked, planning already to engage in some good-natured malice the next morning. Banging, he thought, I'll get up and bang pots around, slam the door a little.

She was staring at his mouth with such a fixed look he almost raised his hand to see if he had some kind of food stuck to his lips until she said, "Ginny's off her head," and joined him on the couch. Not close to him, of course. She sat with her back pressed into the other side as far as she could get from him and still be technically on the same piece of furniture.

She was still staring at him so fixedly that he finally said, "I believe the schoolyard retort here would be 'take a picture – it'll last longer'," but she shook her head then froze. Apparently that back and forth movement had done bad things to what was left of her equilibrium.

"I've seen pictures of you," she said after a bit, her eyes narrowed in consideration. "They don't quite get you right."

"I had no idea you spent time looking at photographs of me. Should I be flattered or feel stalked?"

She snorted at that. "You were in the papers a lot after the war, smart arse."

"Not my best time," he drawled, trying not to remember how scared he'd been those days with Azkaban looming as a perpetual threat. "Can't say I'm surprised I wasn't my most gorgeous self."

"'snot that," she said, now nearly studying him. "It's that hint of fear behind your eyes, the one you throw a hundred walls in front of; no one's ever quite gotten that."

"Well," he said, bracing himself against her words. "If it's fear you want then those days would have been perfect."

She started to shake her head again and caught herself in time. "Not that kind of fear."

She didn't elaborate and, still tense after her unwelcome observation, he pushed back. "What makes you say your ginger friend isn't quite right in the head? Not that I'm arguing with your assessment it's just that – "

"She said I should kiss you," Hermione shook her head again before she remembered what a bad idea that was. "Said even though, yes, you were an arrogant, selfish coward and all that, she couldn't quite fathom being married to a man as good looking as you and – " She stopped and suddenly looked horrified. "I talk too much when I'm drunk," she muttered.

"Or not enough," he smirked, a smile slowly unfolding across his face. "And do you agree with the woman's assessment of my charms?"

"That you're a selfish coward?" She slouched against the back of the couch, pushing herself further away from him. "Not really. I think you just drew the short straw with the whole crazed lunatic in your house thing and coped as best you could. Doubt anyone else would have done much better."

He felt himself unexpectedly warmed by her drunken dismissal of his many failures; she might hate him but at least the loathing was personal, was because he had been such a git to her for so many years. She didn't hate him because of… things.

"How about arrogant?" He asked and she laughed.

"Oh, you're definitely that," she said. "Sitting there trying to get me to tell you you're attractive, wholly sure I will." She stumbled to her feet. "Let's pretend this conversation didn't happen, come morning, okay? Living with you, making a baby with you, is hard enough without bringing feelings into it."

She wobbled as she stood and he hurriedly sprang up and grabbed her arm to steady her. It was probably the first time he'd touched her since that horrible night he'd consummated their marriage, fulfilled their legal obligations and kept them both from having their wands broken. "Well, will you?" he asked and she looked at him again, swaying against his hand.

"Will I what?" she said, looking up at him.

"Tell me you think I'm attractive," he prompted and her eyes widened as she took in that she was standing close to him, his hands on her arms, almost leaning on him.

"You first," she said and he laughed.

"Point to you," he said and started to help her towards her door. She'd almost closed it behind her when he said, "Though, of course, you are." She stilled and he thought she was going to ignore him but she surprised him by turning and reaching out her hand to draw her fingers along his cheekbone, then down the line of his jaw.

"You're bloody breathtaking," she admitted, then took her hand away and he watched as she closed her door in his face.

. . . . . . . . . .

"I just like him," Hermione muttered over breakfast. She'd fled her flat – their flat – to meet Ginny for their planned day-after meeting and, a double dose of hangover potion later, she still seemed to remember telling Draco Malfoy she'd thought he was breathtaking – breathtaking! – before she passed out, fully dressed, on her bed. That, apparently, had actually happened. "And not just because he's pretty."

"I'll never forgive Ron for – " Ginny began, but Hermione waved her hand at the girl to get her to stop.

"It wouldn't have worked out anyway. Better sooner than later. We make better friends."

"Bet he feels awful."

Hermione laughed at that. "Hah. The letters have been filled with so much self-recrimination. Apparently knowing I got matched up to Draco Malfoy in the Ministry stud book stings a little bit."

Ginny snickered. "It should. He got paired up with some nearly incoherent fangirl with a squint and bad skin from some tiny village in Scotland and you got a man who, as much as he's a prat, is gorgeous and rich. And eminently snoggable," she added with a suggestive look.

"And pretty nice," Hermione admitted and, at Ginny's doubtful frown, she sighed. "He's been… great. This is a nightmare, of course, but he's been on board with making it as painless as possible for both of us. He's done everything I asked, kept the 'mudblood' comments under wraps. He's an easy person to live with, quiet, doesn't use all the hot water."

"Does the boy have any flaws?" Ginny teased and Hermione laughed.

"I had no idea a grown man could have such a thing for candy. How anyone can eat that much junk food and stay thin – "

"It's unfair," Ginny slumped down in her chair. "Harry's the same way."

"Bastards," Hermione muttered.

"Kissed him yet?" Ginny asked and Hermione sighed.


"Going to?"

"It's embarrassing," Hermione said. "'Hey, Malfoy, I know we've hated each other for years and I've set up a way for you to get me pregnant without having to touch me and all but I've been noticing you're awfully attractive lately and I'm starting to wonder what you'd taste like.'"

"Given all the candy, he'd probably be sweet," Ginny smirked and Hermione buried her face in her hands.

"Set him up to make the first move," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, for the smartest witch and all that crap you've always been an idiot about men. Let him feel all awkward and worried about rejection while you just bat your eyes in his direction."

"Bat my eyes?" Hermione looked at the other woman.

"Merlin. Not literally." Ginny sighed. "Just… sit closer than you have been and don't be a total bitch and maybe reach out like you want to touch him and then stop yourself and he'll be in your lap before you can say boo." She paused. "It helps if you are actually interested in what they have to say but if you aren't, just fake it. Men are suckers for that."

"He's pretty smart," Hermione said and Ginny rolled her eyes again. "He is," Hermione insisted.

. . . . . . . . .

She was behaving differently and Draco didn't like it; he knew she was up to something, but he couldn't figure out what. If she'd been any other woman he'd think she was flirting with him, albeit awkwardly, but she was who she was so that couldn't be right. She stood closer. She made eye contact. She asked his opinion about the news, though she did promptly tell him he was wrong and an idiot as soon as he shared it, which was reassuring if annoying. After that she muttered, "I'm utter shite at this."

"Utter shite at what?" he asked, a bit miffed about having his intellect compared to that of a developmentally delayed squirrel just because he didn't agree with her about the current political scandal.

"Just… never mind," and she'd stomped out of the room, leaving him more mystified than ever.

"She likes you," Blaise said one day after watching her strangely clumsy attempts at conversation followed by her predictably fleeing their flat.

Draco made a disbelieving noise and Blaise looked at him. "And you like her, or you wouldn't be so utterly clueless. Watching you two is like watching twelve-year-olds trying to figure out 'does he like me or like me like me'."

Draco ran a hand through his hair. "We're just trying to get along, be civil and pleasant and all. This isn't exactly a fairy tale romance, you know, and we have a bit of a history, none of it nice."

"Uh huh," Blaise leaned back and laughed. "You a right idiot and this is fun to watch. Can I come over for dinner soon so I can enjoy the show; two smartest people I know and they can't even figure out where the noses go."

"Your nose needs to get out of my business."

"Tuesday, then? Remember that I don't like curry."

"Arsehole," Draco muttered.

"Takes one to know one."

"Fuck. Are you twelve?"

"No, but apparently you are," Blaise smirked and looked over at the door Hermione had fled through. "I'll bring my wife. You'll like her. She doesn't talk, has only tried to poison me twice, and is already pregnant so I'm just about done with her."

"She tried to poison you?" Draco stared at his friend.

"She can't cook, it wasn't on purpose. We didn't all get paired up with delectable little packages from school, you know." Blaise shrugged. "She's more than twice my age and dumb as a rock but fertile as all hell so a few more months and it's over; it's not bad but not good either. I'd count my blessings if I were you. You and Granger – "

"Malfoy. We're married and her name is Malfoy."

"Whatever. You and Granger have a lot in common, and she's practically throwing herself at you and if you'd just get your head out of your arse long enough to notice you'd probably enjoy your marriage a lot more. I bet right now she's off sniffling that you don't like her while she hides in some book or other."

. . . . . . . . . .

He finally cornered her in the kitchen where she was pretending not to raid his candy stash. He put one hand on either side of her, pinning her against the counter, and muttered, "here goes nothing," before lowering his lips to hers.

He expected her to slap him, to wrench herself away, because despite Blaise, despite the way she seemed to do that awkward, incompetent flirting, he didn't really believe a woman who had insisted she be unconscious the one time they'd had sex had shifted her viewpoint enough to be interested in kissing him.

Apparently she had.

She stiffened at first, and he could hear her try to mutter, "What are you doing?" but he just took his hands off the counter and slipped them into her hair and then she was kissing him back, her mouth opening under his, her tongue tentatively licking along his lower lip, and he thought he might actually explode right there in the kitchen like some boy. He groaned and pressed into her and she was putting her hands on his back and he stopped long enough to ask, "this is okay?" and took her "you're an idiot" response as a sign to continue.

When he stopped, when he pulled a little away from her to look at her, her mouth swollen and a little open as she panted all he could do was visualize those lips around his cock and he exhaled heavily and tried to calm down.

"You taste like sugar," she said and he laughed.

"So do you," he said and tweaked a candy wrapper out from her pocket. She had been eating his candy. She bit the inside of her cheek and grinned at him, a little uncertain but relaxing when he muttered, "Brat." He leaned back in and kissed her again, more slowly this time, noting how she curved into him as though she couldn't bear to have any space between their bodies. He moved his lips to the side of her neck and she made a soft whimpering noise as he trailed his tongue down her skin.

"This makes things different," she said.

"Mmm?" He was too busy fumbling with some recalcitrant button on her jumper in an attempt to get access to more skin to really pay attention to what she was saying which was a mistake as she pulled away from him, backed away, across the kitchen.

"We can't do this," she said and he stared at her because they most certainly could; they were supposed to. "You're only interested because we're trapped here, bound up into this sham of a marriage by the Ministry. You don't really like me – you don't - and I think I could … I don't want to get my heart … you're a pretty great guy, Draco, and I don't want to get hurt when you leave after the baby finally gets conceived and shows up and all. I've had enough Malfoy-induced pain in my life. I don't need any more."

Just bloody hell, he thought, as she stumbled her way back into her room, that jumper half open and falling off her shoulder.

She'd managed to reject him and call him great in one bloody sentence. He stared at the closed door and began to swear under his breath. No, he was not going to accept this. Not now that he knew. He knew she thought he was - what had she called him? - 'breathtaking'? He knew she thought he was great. He knew she melted into him like she had been made just for him, like he'd been made just for her, and he bloody well knew they were compatible in ways a lot more interesting than just genetics.

For the first time he pictured a baby as something more than an escape from this marriage, an escape back to a life that would be empty without her stealing his sweets and arguing with him about politics. He imagined a curly-haired blonde daughter, flying a broom too fast and leading a group of hapless boys around behind her, and, crossing to the couch sank down into the cushions, his head in his hands. He imagined a serious son, nose tucked into a book, asking whether he could have his very own potions lab for Yule. "I could be so good to you," he whispered, looking up at her door. "We could be so good together. Just let me show you and you'll see."

And he really meant to, but she avoided him for the next two weeks and then it was time to get her a sample again and, grimly wanking into her sterile cup, he wondered if he'd ever get to even see her again so he could show her he could be more than the boy who'd picked on her in school, more than a man taking advantage of the woman he lived with.

He held the sample back when she reached for it, waited for her to meet his eyes. "I miss you," he said. "Come walking with me again tomorrow."

She shook her head and he pulled the cup out of her reach. "That's blackmail," she hissed and he shrugged.

"I just want to be with you," he said, his voice quiet. "Talk to you. I miss you. You've been avoiding me since… is it so hard to believe I might actually like you? That I might actually want to kiss you…"

"No touching," she said, her eyes narrowed and he shrugged again.

"Not unless you touch me first." Then he smirked at her. "You seemed pretty into it, you know, until you talked yourself into believing I was going to break your heart. Which I'm not. What you plan to do with mine, however, appears to be a little less decided."

She paled at that and snatched the cup from his hand. "Tomorrow," she agreed and he stepped back and let her shut the door.

. . . . . . . . . .

She'd managed to walk alongside him without touching him, without making eye contact. This wasn't fair, she thought. He couldn't do this to her. She'd spent two weeks trying to forget the feel of him pressed against her, trying to forget how every nerve in her body seemed to purr when he touched her. She'd tried to forget how fun it was to argue with him, how he could actually keep up with her, how the graceless insults that fell out of her mouth whenever she wasn't thinking didn't seem to bother him.

He was bloody well perfect and as soon as she managed to have a baby he'd be gone, back to his aristocratic, privileged world.

So not quite so perfect after all.

She blinked back tears and, caught up in trying so very hard to not notice the man next to her, she actually didn't notice for a moment when he stopped walking and frowned at her.

"What?" she asked when she realized she was three steps ahead of him.

"Why are you crying?" he asked and when she muttered that she wasn't, that it was the wind, he snorted and, catching up to her, pulled her into a fierce hug. "Did someone say something to you?" he asked. "Something to upset you? Because I can make that go away if you just tell me who brought this on."

She sniffled and let him shelter her for a moment, inhaled the clean, masculine smell of him. Then she pushed herself away and said, "It's nothing, Draco. Just the wind."

"There's no wind today," he observed. Then he said, "Say it again."

"It's the wind," she said, a question in her voice and he laughed.

"No, you idiot. My name. Say my name again."

"Don't be such a prat. I've said your name before."

"Yes," he admitted. "And I like it."

"You like the sound of your own name," she muttered. "Why does that not surprise me?" But she let him take her hand and tug her back into walking with him, shifting only to interlace her fingers with his, something that made him stop for a moment before moving forward again as though nothing had happened.

"I am, as you've mentioned, a conceited prat," he said after a few minutes. "Of course I like my name."

"I don't think I technically said you were conceited," she said. Then, flicking a glance at him, she added, "Draco."

"You implied it," he said. "Hermione."

"Was I wrong?"

"I want another kiss."

"Conceited and pushy."

He stopped and stepped closer to her, so they were almost touching, fingers still laced through hers. "You have beautiful eyes," he said. "And you're brilliant. And I like the way you taste. Also, I'm persistent."

"And as soon as we have a baby you'll leave," she said quietly.

"No," he said, just as quietly. "I won't."

"I don't believe you." The words came out of her mouth before she could stop them, like the insults she hurled at him whenever they argued.

"I know," he said. "I know you don't. Let me at least try to convince you, though. Stop hiding from me."

"Don't do this," she whispered. "Don't play with me like this. I know you can be charming when you want. Just… let's just do this baby thing and try to get out unscathed."

"Too late," he said and brushed his lips lightly across hers.

She gasped as that physical chemistry coursed its way through her veins, fire from her mouth, from that lightest of touches, that burned down to her toes. She was surprised the grass at her feet didn't scorch, that she wasn't leaving black outlines of her soles as she backed away from him, her hand over her mouth. "Draco," she said again and he closed that distance between them and took both her hands into his.

"Tell me how I can prove to you I'm not playing you," he said, lowering his face so it was hidden in her hair, that hair he'd mocked for years. "Give me a rulebook to follow and I will."

"I don't know," she said, then, "Please."

She wasn't even sure what she was asking. Please let me go. Please don't. Please stop making me think about you. Please stop making this hard. Please stop making me think you're falling for me too.

He kissed her again, then, and it became 'please don't stop'.

When he finally did, pulling away and staring at her mouth like a man possessed, she made a soft noise and he shook his head, sharply, as if he could shake thoughts from his head the way one might shake water from one's hands. She searched his face and was almost, but not really at all, shocked to see that fear of his, tucked away behind a façade he was rapidly reconstructing. He took a step backward and she thought, he's leaving. He's leaving now. She turned, planning to trudge back to their flat, to recalculate her temperature charts, to recast the fertility detection spells, to do something – to do anything – to feel like she was working to bring this nightmare to a more rapid end. Bad enough to be married to Malfoy. Bad enough to like him. But to kiss him like that and then have him prove her right by pulling away? That was unbearable. That she couldn't bear.

"Where are you going?"

His voice hung in the air, taut and afraid and vulnerable and she spun back and looked at him. "Don't walk away," he said, then, "please."

. . . . . . . . . .

She learned him, after that. Learned the scars she thought she knew, and quite a few she didn't. Learned how he flung an arm out in sleep, learned how he woke almost every night from dreams, silent and shaking. Learned that if she tried to hold him he fell deeper into that dark place within himself but that fingers brushing across his face soothed him. She learned sounds he made, learned the sound of her name on his lips as he came, hoarse and ragged and with a despair he never quite hid.

She checked for pregnancy every morning, because she had every morning since they'd consummated their marriage.

"That," he'd told her, "was a trip through hell I never want to repeat."

"I thought it would make it better," she'd said, "easier to be able to just fuck a body and not have to interact with the woman you despised."

"You have some really fucked up ideas of what's easier," he'd muttered, holding her, his face nestled against the curve of her waist while she ran her fingers through his hair.

"I love you." She'd mouthed the words while he couldn't see her face, couldn't bring herself to say them out loud.

One day the pregnancy detection spell glowed and she realized a few weeks of insatiable sex had managed what months and months of meticulously timed insemination hadn't. "Well," she said, when he found her and demanded to know why she was crying, "were you hoping for a boy or a girl?"

She hadn't expected to see stark fear on his pale face.

. . . . . . . . . .

"She's going to leave," he said to Blaise. "As soon as that baby is here, she'll run."

. . . . . . . . . .

"He's going to leave," she said to Ginny. "As soon as this baby is here, he'll run."

. . . . . . . . . .

She got bigger. He watched her get bigger and felt as though he were watching time slip away from him. They never talked about what would happen after the birth, just dealt with the inevitable pregnancy things as they appeared.

"What do you think," Hermione asked one night as he lay next to her, tracing his fingers over the curves of her abdomen. "What are you thinking when you sit there at look at," she paused. "At this."

"You," he said, voice low. "I just look at you."

"About the baby," she said, a hint of impatience in her voice, "not about your fat wife."

"I see a little girl," he said, laying his hand on her skin now and feeling that girl kick, staccato pulses pushing against he confines of her small world. "A girl with your indomitable spirit, as much of a terror as I was, marching forth with utter confidence that everything and everyone belong to her."

"Sounds like a Malfoy," Hermione propped herself up on one elbow and looked at him.

"I was pretty dreadful, wasn't I?" He flicked a glance up at her before returning his gaze to the curves of what had once been her waist.

"Oh, I'm sure I wasn't wholly delightful," she flinched at bit at a particularly hard kick. "She's pushy, this one."

"Like mother, like daughter," Draco murmured.

"Indomitable, huh?"

"Utterly so," he kissed her skin and breathed in the smell of her, of that ridiculously expensive lotion his mother had given her that, in theory, would prevent stretch marks. "I love you," he said and she stiffened under him. Even the baby stopped her relentless kicking for a moment. "I love you," he said again and then, before she could speak, before she could tell him to leave, before she could remind him that as soon as this baby was born they were done, he rushed onwards, his fingers stroking her curves. "I love how you argue with me, I love how you argue with my father, a man most people won't even acknowledge. I love how you can't flirt worth a damn because you keep forgetting to be tractable and end up telling me I'm an idiot." She was starting to soften, the tension his declaration has wrought slipping away as she lay back down and let herself preen a bin under his touch. "I love how you steal my candy and deny it even as the wrappers are sticking out of your pockets. I love how you started buying three kinds of marmalade but never said anything about it. I love how you smile, I love how you laugh. I even love that you're having our child though I'm terrified of a life without you."

"Me too," she whispered.

His heart jumped, but all he said was, "You love your laugh too?"

"Prat," she said, her voice far less tentative this time. "I'm terrified of a life without you."

"Then don't make me leave," he said, very quietly, and, when he risked a look at her face, he saw she'd narrowed her eyes and was glaring at him.

"You're the one who's going to leave, I'm not making you do anything."

"For a smart woman, you can be really stupid," he snapped. "I'm not going anywhere until you kick me out and put wards against me on the doors."

"Oh." She leaned back down. "Well." There was a long pause until she said, "Well, that sounds like a lot of trouble. Putting up wards and all."

"You mastered warding magic before most people could even find the right page in a basic manual," he said with a scoff.

"Mmm." Hermione was tugging on him, pulling him towards her, his face near hers rather than down with their child. "Maybe I'll ward you in so you can't leave."

"Creepy," he said, waiting for her to say it.

Finally, when he'd started to think maybe she couldn't, she said, "I love you, Draco. I just… you're a bloody pureblood. You're an aristocrat and I'm…"

"Back up and say that first part again."

"I love you?"

He rolled his eyes even though his heart had done that jumping thing again. "Maybe you could try to say it with a little more confidence?"

"I love you, but…"

"I know," he settled down next to her. "I'm ridiculously perfect and it's difficult to live with flawless me but, I assure you, you'll get used to it."

"That wasn't what I was going to say," she muttered.


She sighed and tipped her face towards him so he could lean in and kiss her. "I do love you."

"Then we'll make everything else work."

"Okay," she murmured. Then she suddenly remembered something. "Blaise is coming over tonight for dinner to finally celebrate his divorce."

"Let's have curry," Draco suggested and at her gurgled laugh he knew nothing could possibly be better than this life, with this woman.

. . . . . . . . . .

A/N - I think I am working my way through all the dramione tropes, one fic at a time and now I can cross "marriage fic" off the list.

Many thanks to my amazing beta, Shealone. She's got an epic of her own that I quite enjoy and suggest you try.