Habitually, Hermione's thoughts and reflections were counted amongst her best companions, but not tonight, on the night she was scheduled to lose her virginity to Draco Malfoy because of an alchemy accident.

She had packed a bag full of supplies, notes, and other things they might need – more than they could possibly have use for, she secretly knew – and had double- and triple-checked that everything was accounted for. Beneath her robes was the lingerie Ginny had helped her pick out. It was a simple, silk negligee in silver with a tie behind her neck that held it all up. At the last minute, she nearly balked at wearing it – but despite how displeased Draco seemed to be about their intended coupling, whatever his reasons, she knew this would be his first time, too. She owed him at least her best attempt.

As she shrugged her robes on over her uniform, her sleeve rode up on her left arm and her eye caught the disfiguring Dark Mark. Arrested by the sight for a moment, she scanned the somewhat blurred lines of the ugly tattoo, her finger reaching out to trace the snake that writhed from the mouth of the skull. She wondered what had been going through Draco's mind when he got it, and not for the first time, she was struck by how much he had grown, morally. When had he started to have second thoughts? Before the war? During it? Or afterward?

Ruefully, she slid her sleeve back down and straightened her robes. On her way out of the shared dormitory with her overstuffed bag of supplies, Crookshanks sidled up to her legs and brushed against her ankles.

"Not tonight, Crooks," Hermione whispered softly. He watched her leave, his reproachful eyes following her as she went. Somehow, it seemed an ominous beginning to the evening.

As she made her way through the common room, she would almost swear that the other Ravenclaws could somehow tell she was wearing only lingerie without any knickers under her school uniform and robes. Despite Ginny's reassurances that it would help to set the mood when the time came, it only made Hermione feel more naked, more exposed. She wondered again if it were too late to change.

She met Draco by the dungeons, as promised. He was finishing collecting the essence of Salt, which he had been begrudgingly brewing for the past month. Like the last time, it was a viscous purple paste that reeked vaguely of low tide. Worriedly, she fretted, That isn't going to help set the mood either.

Noticing her, he gruffly asked, "Have everything?"

Hermione nodded.

He jerked his head toward the corridor outside the potions lab and suggested, "Let's go, then."

They began their seemingly random traipse of the castle in silence – a silence which persisted through the duration of their wanderings, both preoccupied as they were with private thoughts. Draco's strides were long, so that Hermione had to quicken her pace just to keep up with him. Soon enough, she realized he did not consider it crucial that they walk side-by-side. With a sinking heart, she fell back and descended into her own reflections, feeling more and more that the lingerie had been a terrible idea.

Just when Hermione thought she could take no more of the grating friction between them and was about to suggest that they scrap the whole plan, she heard Draco's voice from the corridor ahead, "I've found it."

She frowned. Despite that they had actively been looking for Ravenclaw's study for nearly an hour, its discovery wracked her with mixed emotions. On the one hand, she was relieved their search was now over… but on the other, she had entertained a vague sort of latent hope that it might not appear at all. Thus, their decision to move forward with the mandala had been partially out of their control. Instead, it almost seemed as if the room had been waiting for them to find it.

Perhaps it had, she thought as she turned the corner. She glared at the gold trim that ran the border of the door frame, uncharitably wondering if it was shining more brightly than before, simply to mock her. A glance at Draco revealed he was wearing the same sort of expression that marred his brow any time the Ravenclaw tower guardian tried his patience with a difficult riddle.

"I wasn't sure we'd be able to find it," he murmured. Hermione thought he sounded disappointed that they had.

She opened her mouth to ask him if he would prefer they turn back, but he wrenched the door open before she could get the words out. Timidly, she followed him down the now-familiar passage littered with fallen stone and coated in centuries of dust, to the unadorned door at the other end. He entered without her, leaving the door partially open behind him. With a swallow, she stepped into the study.

Yet again, the feeling of the room having just been occupied was prevalent. The floor remained littered with objects and crumpled bits of parchment, though some of the artifacts had been changed for new ones. Someone had leaned a seven-foot-tall barbed pike against the wall, casually as if it had been a walking stick. A pile of books on the desk were stacked comparatively neatly, but was fifteen tomes tall, which made Hermione uneasy.

Draco was waiting for her in the center of the room, the toe of his shoe nervously drawing circles in the aegean carpet. He stopped when she entered, brusquely querying, "Where's this area you spoke of, then?"

She opened her mouth to again try asking him if he would prefer not to go through with their plans, but shut it again. After all their preparation… and this was the easiest way… and they were ready for this step, anyway…

But are we ready, though? Not long ago, she would not have hesitated to answer in the affirmative. For the past month however, Draco had only minimally interacted with her, just enough to prepare for this evening. Hermione had taken to spending more and more time with Theodore, who must have sensed that trouble between the couple was bubbling away at a full boil, because he avoided speaking about Draco unless Hermione questioned him outright. Even then, her queries were met with simple, vague answers.

Then, only four days ago, Theo had essentially disappeared. He ceased showing up to classes and was absent during mealtimes, though Merlin knew where he was hiding himself instead. Hermione had tried to ask Draco about it yesterday, but he had snarled at her not to worry herself over Nott, putting an abrupt end to the conversation entirely.

She began having second thoughts about their equinox plans… which naturally gave way to having second thoughts about their entire relationship.

How could they possibly try to make things work between them, if Draco could not even come to terms with the idea of making love to her? How on earth were they ever to work out as a married couple? Should she scrap this plan and simply go through with the divorce?

No, she decided, firmly.

She wanted this with him… even after a month of his coldness, because she knew what was beneath it. She knew who Draco Malfoy was now, and she loved that man, the exceptional wizard hidden beneath his mask. He was her choice - whether or not she was his any longer. Even if it was only to be once, this had somehow become about finally taking that step with him, just as much as it had become about unbinding them.

Hermione frowned as this realization cemented itself into her mind. When had that occurred? When had her priorities shifted?

"Decido Templum," she incanted. Just as it had on the day she and Luna had stumbled across the room, a ladder of highly polished wood descended from a trapdoor in the ceiling.

Draco looked upward dubiously, squinting at the dark opening. Hermione wondered if he was squinting more because he needed his glasses or because he was actually curious.

"I'll go first, shall I?" she offered, shouldering her bag.

Without waiting for an answer, she reached for the ladder and began the climb, made somewhat more awkward by the uneven weight distribution caused by her supply bag. She hoped the swish of her robes around her ankles would hide the fact that she was not wearing knickers under her uniform skirt, in the event that Draco decided to stand underneath her as she ascended.

Like before, the chamber had the aura of a forest sanctuary. The low dome of the walls and ceiling were covered with twisting tree limbs and winding vines. Tiny fairies twinkled like stars throughout the area, hiding amongst the natural forest that grew there, or else shrouding themselves behind the bolts of bronze-threaded samite that hung loosely from the boughs.

The moment Draco's head emerged into the bower, his eyebrows immediately raised up toward his hairline. He reverently effused, "Woah."

"Yes," she agreed, her breath catching a bit.

Still half-in, half-out of the sanctuary, he reached slowly out to touch the floor, which was comprised of a soft grass and the same pale blue flowers as before. His fingers paused near one of the tiny petals.

"Myosotis," he identified.

"Muggles call them forget-me-nots."

He glanced upward at her, then hauled himself the rest of the way inside. His gaze was immediately caught by the silvery outline of the mandala already drawn into the grass, then by the luxurious pile of pelts in the center of it. "I don't think you're likely to forget anything that happens here, Hermione."

An awkward silence quickly blossomed between them and Draco looked embarrassed. It was the first emotion other than anger, annoyance or despair that he had shown her in weeks, and her heart leapt to see that side of him again.

He tried, "Not that… well… I don't really know what I'm doing…"

"Neither do I," she swiftly reminded him. Her heart was still fluttering madly. "Come on, let's inspect this mandala. It's only an outline, so expect we'll still have to draw our own over the top of it with the Salt..."

They did. Unlike the time they had excitedly prepared their design down by the Black Lake, silence permeated.

Draco had nicked another paintbrush from the abandoned art classroom and set to drawing their mandala over the pre-existing one. Meanwhile, Hermione began laying out the groundwork for the alchemical symbols for earth and fire, in the appropriate quadrants. Finally, once the Mercury and Sulfur samples had been made as an offering, and Hermione had removed the pelts in the center in favor of some more comfortable blankets, everything was set up.

They stepped backward, but Hermione could not admire their handiwork like she had the last time they set up a mandala. Glancing at Draco, she noticed he looked a bit green, and recognized that her next order of business was making him feel comfortable.

The problem was, she did not have the foggiest how she was supposed to do that.

"Draco?"

He turned.

"Do you want to…? That is… are you ready…?"

Letting out a deep breath, he ran his fingers through his hair nervously, "I'm sorry. Come here?"

Crossing tentatively to him, he pulled her into his arms gently, wrapping himself around her. Resting her head against his chest, she could feel his heartbeat. It did not seem irregular, but the usual sense of easy confidence he so often exuded was conspicuously missing. Starved of attention from him, she wanted to hold him for hours... hours they did not have.

Raising her head, she pressed her lips to his, then pushed gently away, working at pulling off her school robes. By way of explanation, she told him, "I picked out something – or, well, Ginny helped – for you."

Despite everything they had done together, undressing for him this time was revealing in a new way. She pulled her uniform tie off, shucked her shoes and socks, then her robes, peeling away the box-pleat skirt and starched white shirt of her school uniform. Now clad only in the silken slip that barely covered the tops of her thighs, she finally chanced a look up at him.

Draco was standing rooted to the spot, his eyes blazing with… something.

Feeling overexposed, she tried to cover herself with her arms, "Do you think it's too much?"

"Look at you, Hermione…" Reaching out for her, he pulled her back into him. "You're beautiful."

"Kiss me," she commanded.

Their lips met again, and though it felt correct when their tongues melded, something felt slightly off. It was almost as if something was eroding between them: not enough to cause alarm, but just plenty for discomfort.

Slowly, he began shedding his own robes, picking the buttons apart of his uniform shirt, all while kissing her. At some point, he had to step away to pull off his trousers and Hermione's eyes fixed onto him.

Between the two of us, we certainly have a lot of scars, she noticed as she took in the sight of them all reflected onto his pale flesh. The most prevalent of these were the small burn marks that riddled her person from her stint in escaping the Lestrange vault at Gringotts. The largest scar was Draco's, left over from Harry's Sectumsempra, and ran from his shoulder down to his hip. Her own eye-grabbing bruise of mottled blue-and-purple skin, courtesy of Dolohov in the Department of Mysteries, ran like twin lightning strikes down his rib cage.

Her eyes took in the sight of the light, jagged mark on Draco's thigh, which she had no idea the origin of, then combed over to his inner arm, where Buckbeak had struck him in third year for being a prat. She tried to avoid looking at the 'Mudblood' scar on his right arm, or the Dark Mark on the left – two disfigurements in direct juxtaposition of one another.

When she looked back up at his eyes, Hermione was unnerved to find Draco studying her intently with a strange expression written all over his face. It was unusual to see his emotions so plainly, but what truly felt wrong was the expression itself.

There was no mistaking it: regret.

"Draco?"

An instant passed when they both knew.

"I can't do this, Hermione."

"Yes, you can! We can…"

"No," he told her firmly.

"But… we've done everything, prepared all this… we're so close… why not?"

"It just feels so incredibly wrong," he stressed.

She took a step back, a new fear dawning. "Is it me?"

"No!" he exclaimed, taking two steps toward her. Grasping her hand, he reiterated, "No. It isn't you."

"What, then?"

"It's this," he gestured to the eerily silent bower with its twinkling fairy lights. "It's that," he gestured now to the mandala drawn on the forest floor. Then, slowly bringing her hand up to rest on his chest, he quietly added, "And this."

Her mouth had gone dry. "I thought… I thought you liked what we did?"

"Oh, I do," he assured her, leaning in toward her to nuzzle up against her ear. The skin-on-skin contact of their mostly-naked bodies caused a shiver to work its way up and down her spine. "Believe me when I say, I very much want to continue… but not this way. Not when it all just feels so incredibly wrong."

"But we could be free," she whispered, her eyes trained on her own inner forearm, where the Dark Mark glared at her hatefully. "We have this moment to unbind ourselves."

"I can't," he reiterated. "I can't do this, Hermione, because I don't want this to be a sham, too. Like our wedding."

She could feel her own resolve weakening, even as a tiny piece of her heart seemed to break. Her own argument sounded small and unimportant, even to her own ears, when she made it: "Don't you want to get rid of all these scars?"

He ran his thumb along her cheek, brushing her skin softly. "Honestly, I only care because you care. I could give a flying fuck about mine. I want us to have a future – and scarred or not, I'll be grateful to keep you."

"We can have that," she promised in a whisper, her heart flipping with delight at his words, "and we can still obliterate all these things… start over fresh. No arthritis, no scars…"

"I don't think I could have loved you, if you didn't have those scars." He continued, "Also… I need to tell you something."

In a deluge, out came everything Theo had said to him five days ago. From the moment in the story where Nott had stepped into their married suite, then to part where he had accidentally contaminated himself with the truth-compelling powder, Hermione was riveted. When the bomb came that, in an alternate future, Hermione had married Theodore, she opened her mouth to protest.

A moment later, she closed it, because the truth was, she could see it. Theo was different from most other wizards his age: lost, remorseful - but hilariously snarky, and loyal. She could clearly see how, had circumstances been different, she might have fallen for the Seer.

But that had not happened, and instead, before her was a young man who, despite being similar in many ways, was something more. Here was a person with depth, who recognized the importance of mutual respect between them, and who had overcome prejudice all on his own without her having to show him why his previously bigoted ways had been wrong. He was his own man - and he willingly wanted to share his future with her. And what a glorious future it had the potential to be. With how ambitious and intelligent they both were, Hermione clearly could recognize how easy it would be to succeed at whatever they opted to take on, if they were working in tandem.

Enigmatically, he broke her train of thought by beginning, "If you can look past my family's name and reputation…"

The thought remained unfinished. Hermione watched the adam's apple in his throat bob as he swallowed heavily, trying not to look at her.

"I can," she told him quietly, hating when he spoke of his past in relation to them. "I can see the man you've become - and he is who I want."

"You're not mad that I kept all that from you?"

She shook her head. "That would be awfully hypocritical of me, don't you think? I just wish you hadn't let it hurt you for so long before you told me. I hope you know that regardless of what alternative future Theodore might once have seen, you are the one I want."

He frowned, "It doesn't bother you that he altered the future to suit his own purposes? That we may have only ended up bonded to one another, because he couldn't not mess with the things he had Seen?"

"On the contrary," she answered, "I'm so very glad he did. Remind me to gift him a thank-you present."

Incredulously, Draco only gazed at her for a moment as if she had finally proven she had gone 'round the bend. A moment later, he huffed out a single laugh.

"Oh, just kiss me already," she snapped, grinning.

He did so willingly; that kiss was a promise, and they both knew it. A promise of things to come, of their future. When they parted, he leaned his forehead against hers and told her in a low voice, "I've got to be the luckiest bastard in Europe."

With a shy smile, she queried, "Does this mean we're not going to hide anymore?"

"I don't think I could stand another day, hiding you," he told her frankly. Glancing around the bower, all draped in quietude, he encouraged, "Come on, let's clean this up and get out of here. This place smells like a seaport and gives me the creeps."

They dressed quickly, each stealing secret glances at one another as they did so. Once the Three Essentials had been vanished, and Draco's carefully drawn mandala had disappeared, the two descended the ladder once more.

"Wait," she stopped them, fishing into her bag. Pulling out both Ravenclaw's and Slytherin's alchemy journals, she fitted them back onto the shelves. At Draco's questioning look, she reminded him, "We said we would put them back."

Taking a final glance around Rowena's hidden study, they finally closed the door behind them. Somehow, Hermione knew she would never be back.

Once their feet had returned them to the present Hogwarts, she said, "I want to drop my bag off in our suite. Do you… want to come?"

Draco acquiesced and led the way. This time they walked side-by-side. Neither could seem to take their eyes off one another.

"Hermione?"

"Hmm?"

"I have a lot of regret over how I've treated you over the past month. I've been downright rude to you…"

"Stop."

"...Which wasn't right of me. They were my demons, which are not your responsibility…"

"Aren't they, though? We are married."

"...Yes, we are, which meant I should have treated you with more respect. This is not some silly relationship between schoolchildren and I had a responsibility to explain to you how I was feeling about the mandala. I'm… very sorry."

"I know you are," she told him smilingly, heart soaring.

They had to stop to wait for one of the staircases to rearrange itself. The corridor was deserted, but even if it hadn't been, Hermione would still have intertwined her fingers through his. They quietly revelled in the rightness.

"I meant it, you know?" he pressed. They began up the staircase toward the third floor. "No more hiding…"

"I know." Hermione's broad smile widened and she squeezed his hand. "Don't worry, I am completely uninterested in a life without you."

"I don't deserve you," he castigated himself, "especially not after being such an arse…"

"Hush," she commanded. "That's in the past now, where it belongs."

On their way to the third-floor, her brain was working in overdrive. Would it really be so bad if they had to share all their physical marks and aches forever? Not really, so long as we can do it together.

She knew she still wanted to work on what Germain had hinted at and suggested toward a possible way of harnessing quintessence. Only this time, rather than her biggest worry being on separating them, she was going to focus on something infinitely better: her relationship with Draco. That, above all things, had been given secondary status, almost from the get-go.

Acceptance, it turned out, was the easiest way out, their surest cure… and it had been available to them the entire time.

Dumping her bag of now-unnecessary supplies onto the couch the moment she meandered in, Hermione turned to Draco to make a joking remark about their wasted preparation.

The thought died on her lips at the look on his face.

Saying nothing as he crossed the room toward her, his intent was perfectly clear nonetheless. He kissed her lips, then her cheek, her jaw, her neck, smoothing his hands over the tops of her shoulders and part-way down her arms before curving them down, around the small of her back.

"I don't suppose," he drawled, his eyes heated as he played with the little bit of silvery satin ribbon peeking out the back of the neck of her robes, "you would let me have another glimpse of that little number you've got on under those robes… after all, I barely got a good look the last time…"

She chewed her bottom lip suggestively and tilted an eyebrow at him. "Is that so?"

He pressed another kiss, two, three, at the corner of her lips. Hermione had never felt more adored than in that moment, almost like he was kissing her reverently.

"I suppose…" she inhaled sharply as he moved back down to her neck and peppered more needful kisses there as well, "…I suppose that would be alright."

Her robes seemed to come off more slowly this time, and almost of their own volition; her shoes and socks were forgotten from the moment they were discarded. Draco shrugged off his robes as she began working on her uniform skirt a second time.

Coming up close to her as she picked at her buttons, he murmured, "Shall we head into the other room, where we can be more comfortable?"

Seeing through the request in an instant, Hermione snickered, "Are you attempting to take me to bed?"

"I know, not very smooth." He grinned somewhat sheepishly, but also defiantly. "Give me a break, it's my first time consciously trying to seduce you. Usually we just work one another up into a state of frenzy and seek release because we're both about to burst."

His statement was true, but the acknowledgement that he was trying to seduce her sent her stomach aflutter with both nerves and something else. She thought back to only an hour ago, when she had consciously reminded herself, It's his first time, too...

Deciding for open honesty, she only said, "You don't have to try to seduce me, Draco. I'm yours."

Turning on her heel, she took the initiative and shucked off her skirt, now moving to work on the buttons of her uniform shirt as she padded into their bedroom ahead of him. She left her discarded clothing in a pile on the floor of their living area.

The unused bedroom was silent and dark, though a couple candles guttered to life the moment she entered. Her fingers suddenly seemed clumsy on the buttons of her shirt, taking her twice as long to undo them than was usual. Once she finally got enough open, she slid it over her head and let it fall to the floor.

Draco was leaning against the doorframe, watching her undress the rest of the way. Now, she stood before him again in the lingerie Ginny had helped her pick out - but this time, very aware of the way his eyes combed over every inch of her body.

As he drank in the sight of her, she grew uneasy. What if he found a flaw to fixate on? She was not exactly one of the women that usually graced the cover of Witch Weekly… she was just Hermione...

"Stop."

She froze, stiffening.

"I can see what's running through your head, and you're beautiful."

Chancing a look up at him, she found his eyes had become stormy; she could not read them. Tentatively, she queried, "Are you only going to stand in the doorway?"

He hesitated. Fixing her with a frank look, he warned, "If I kiss you, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to stop."

That's the idea…

"Kiss me, then."

It was almost as if he was pulled to her by some unseen force, like a magnet; one moment he was standing in the entryway, affecting an entirely unconvincing nonchalance, and the next he was kissing her, incapable of keeping his hands to himself. Maneuvering them backward, Hermione felt the backs of her knees hit the bedspread.

His hands were everywhere, but she still needed more. His lips and his tongue were ravishing her mouth, but it was not enough.

Slipping his hands between them to yank his shirt over his head and allowing it to fall to the floor, Draco gently rocked her backward onto their bed and hovered over her. Hermione could feel her whole body vibrating with anticipation, but though she could feel the length of him hardening through his trousers, he only continued kissing her.

Finally, once she was feeling distinctly like her eyes had begun to cross, she murmured, "Draco?"

"Mm?"

"Are we… only going to kiss?"

He chuckled, rolling off of her. She sat up to gaze at him.

"You know I can't resist you," he told her. Climbing behind her over the bedspread, he positioned himself so that he sat behind her, their legs dangling together over the side of the bed. Then, pressing kisses along her back, he reached behind her neck and pulled the tie of her negligee. It fell open and her breasts spilled out, and when he cupped them, pressing kisses along the back of her neck as he kneaded them, Hermione decided that for someone who had claimed not to be very smooth, he was doing a pretty good job. She could feel the nakedness of his chest pressed against her back, the heat of his skin warming her where she was exposed.

There was a chill in the chamber that seemed to seep out of the stone walls and that, coupled with the anticipation swiftly building in her core, had hardened her nipples into taut peaks. Draco pinched one and rolled it, causing her to elicit a gasp. He was still littering purposeful kisses along the back of her neck, her shoulder blades, and the side of her jaw. She shivered.

He paused, "Are you cold?"

"No," she answered, shifting so that she could stand to turn around and face him. Placing her hands on the tops of his thighs, she saw his eyes flicker toward her exposed breasts before he forced them back to her face. "I was just thinking that when you're sitting behind me like that, I can't even see you. I haven't done much of that in the past month."

"I know," he admitted. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize."

He quirked an eyebrow at her.

"Really," she pressed, taking his hand for emphasis and squeezing it, "don't. I'm tired of apologies, especially from you. You have no need to offer me them."

"Don't I?"

"A compromise, then," she proposed.

"I'm listening."

"Do you want to stay with me, Draco?"

He frowned, then stood so he could speak with her on equal footing. Taking her other hand so that he was now holding both of them, he reminded her, "You know I do."

She leaned in close to the shell of his ear to whisper, "Then make a wife of me."

Expecting that his lips would have crashed into hers with a sinful promise at her blanket statement of readiness, Hermione was surprised when he hesitated.

"What is it?"

He fiddled with the tie of her negligee, which was only held up at her waist. "Are you sure?"

She reached up to tuck a stray lock of blond hair behind his ear and tried to make him understand with her eyes that she was being completely truthful when she answered, "Beyond a shadow of a doubt."

The tensile strain that had been evident in his expression for the past month or more seemed to ease away. Tilting her head down, he kissed her forehead and then pressed his own against hers, closing his eyes as if to bask in the moment. He said, "I've waited a long time to hear you say that."

Don't I know it, she thought, wishing their path to now had been less fraught with indecision and stubbornness. Most of it her own.

She thought of the way Draco's pale eyes had sparkled when they had successfully made their mandala, torrents of wind and rain ensconcing them in their glory. Their combined cleverness and magic had conjured something beautiful... and it had been on that night that Hermione had truly, undoubtedly discovered that there was a depth to Draco Malfoy she had never expected to see.

Her fingers found the button of his trousers and freed it before she began working at his zipper. Draco helped her slide them down his legs, leaving him clad in only his boxer-briefs. By now, she was no stranger to the look and feel of his shaft and though it had been nearly a month since they shared any kind of encounter, she felt mostly confidence as she kissed down his neck, swiftly sliding down the smooth planes of his chest and stomach, and hovering over his hips.

Hooking her fingers under the waistband of his underwear, she kissed his member through the material; his eyes were rooted to her, hypnotized. As she slid the garment down, Hermione found herself face-to-face with his insistent erection. Glancing up at him, she saw that he was watching her with intensity, his face overcast with want. She batted her eyelashes teasingly and smiled.

Kissing the tip of him, she swirled her tongue across the head once, earning her a stifled groan. Pleased and intent on teasing him, she kissed where his waistband had sat again, just above his shaft, and then kissed up his chest before capturing his lips. In that kiss, she tried to convey the playful, part-wickedness that was currently trilling through her body.

Draco was ready to match her appetite; his slate eyes were smoldering with need. In a single, fluid motion, he stripped her of her negligee, which had pooled around her hips and sat, waiting for removal. Picking her up by her rump, he tossed her gently onto their bed before crawling atop her. Caged in by his arms, which had landed on the bedspread by either sides of her head, Hermione's body was hot where he touched. She vibrated with both eagerness and a touch of nervousness, somewhat deadening her pliancy.

"Relax," he murmured into her mouth. It somehow sounded more like a caress than a suggestion.

"I am relaxed," she answered, a little too quickly. With her newfound false bravado, she continued, "Draco, I want you."

His lips crashed onto hers somewhat clumsily and impatiently. When he broke away, he breathed out, "I'll go slow."

Her body tensed up a little. "Okay."

When he kissed her next, it was deep, passionate, and honest. She could feel the press of his erection, heavy against the skin of her stomach as he kissed her ears, down her neck, then licking each of her nipples on his way down. He continued downward to admire what he was about to take, licking at her slit briefly to wet her, then staying a bit longer to help prepare her. The strokes of his tongue, hot and wet, caused her legs to fall open to him more, allowing him better access.

When he lifted his head after only a few moments, his fingers skimming along the prickled flesh of her hipbones, stomach and breasts, he looked her frankly in the eyes and queried, "Ready?"

A shy smile, masked with decisiveness; her cheeks flushed. Her eyes gave him permission even before she agreed, "Yes."

The slightest flicker of a smirk. He repeated the promise, "I'll go slow."

Pressing her legs even further apart to open her up to him, his eyes had darkened with a hurricane of emotions. It took a few tries for him to fit the crest of his cock at her entrance and not to slip off. He met her eyes, she offered him a nervous smile and he notched into her just a bit.

She inhaled sharply. He shot her a last questioning look and she nodded, gripping his shoulders.

Steeling herself, she squeezed her eyes shut in worried anticipation, only to ease them open again when Draco pressed a soft kiss to her lips. Melting into him just as he pushed - hard - she felt herself give beneath the pressure, and elicited a low whimper into his mouth before ripping her lips from his.

Though she had expected the spike of pain, her eyes pressed shut as she attempted to accommodate him. In what she hoped sounded like a brave voice, she admitted, "Ow."

Sounding worried, he tentatively queried, "Should we stop?"

Her eyes wrenched open again to find him regarding her with concern. Despite everything - with how much had led them to this moment - she glanced down. She could not see where his body joined with hers, as their bodies were pressed together, but she could feel the intrusion. Nerves frayed, she barked out a nervous half-giggle, "Draco, you're inside me."

"Ye-es," he agreed, looking momentarily concerned for her sanity. "Do… you want me not to be?"

"It stings a bit, but I think…" by now, the initial pain had already begun to dissipate. Grimacing, she wiggled her hips a bit to adjust, and Draco hissed out a ragged breath. "What?"

"I'm not entirely sure I'm capable of stringing together a coherent thought at the moment," he admitted shakily.

She frowned, "Is it bad?"

Sounding somewhat strangled, he disagreed, "No… no, just…"

She giggled. It was not often Draco Malfoy found himself at a loss for words. The way his cheeks had tinged pink and how his eyes had gone slightly glassy was adorable. "Try moving."

He hauled in a breath and pulled partway out of her, only to slide back in with a groan. "I'm not going to last very long."

To her mind, maybe that was not such a bad thing, as she was still having a difficult time wrapping her mind around the fact that this was actually happening. He moved again, hovering over her as he thrust slowly, and she glanced down. Her eyes caught the place they were fused, and somehow that made it all the more real.

Her eyes met his and found them rooted to her face. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled him in for a kiss and requested, "Don't stop."

The first couple of his thrusts following her words were somewhat clumsy, until he found a rhythm to his movements. She felt on fire, her fingers tangled into his hair, and soon enough, the act ceased being something to be borne and began feeling pleasurable. The sting and burn had faded away, leaving only the feeling of being filled to capacity, again and again. She leaned upward to kiss him at the same time he leaned down to do the same, and their faces ended up colliding, noses bumping.

"Ow!" she exclaimed.

He burst into laughter, falling somewhat on top of her and accidentally sliding fully out of her. It was so awkward, she began to giggle.

Still grinning broadly and trying to stifle his snickering, Draco tried to line himself back up to her entrance to continue, but ended up spearing her in the leg, which made her burst into a second fit of giggles, that quickly transformed into a sharp gasp when he actually found his way the rest of the way back in. It did not take more than a couple thrusts for them to find their rhythm again, all their nervous awkwardness forgotten in the time of two heartbeats.

Soon, a strange sensation began building in Hermione's sacrum - a familiar, delicious sensation like the build up of an orgasm.

"Hermione…" Draco gasped out. There were beads of sweat building up on his forehead. She surveyed him; he looked close. That same sort of contracting of his brows was occurring that usually happened when she brought him to completion with her mouth or hand.

She knew she was not going to be able to join him; he was going to finish before her. Ginny had said that would probably happen. Hermione leaned in - carefully this time, as she had learned her lesson - and kissed him before murmuring, "Don't stop."

"I don't… think I can," he gasped.

His movements, which had picked up a steadiness, suddenly became erratic. With wonder, Hermione thought she could feel him growing harder inside of her, and then, with a great gasp, his cadence suddenly slowed and there was a sensation of being filled with warmth.

He thrust once more, his deepest yet, and remained there. Quickly, he leaned down, brushing a sweaty curl or two away from her forehead, and pressed a lingering kiss there.

When he pulled himself from her body, there was a sensation of being emptied. Hermione gazed up at him to find his eyes fixed on her quim.

"Gods," he murmured.

She glanced down to find that her most intimate place was slick and covered with his release. Looking swiftly back up at him, there was a moment that passed between them where he simply stared into espresso-colored orbs and she gazed back into his grays with their tinge of azure blue. Then, a grin broke free, stretching across her mouth, "I can't believe we just did that."

A carefree, almost boyish smirk tore across his face. "I love you."

She laughed, hugging him around the neck and not caring that they were both sweaty and quickly becoming smeared with other bodily fluids. "I love you too."

He sobered a moment, the smirk sliding away, and looked at her seriously, "I feel bad that I didn't get to bring you. I just… I couldn't…"

She pressed a finger to his lips. "Stop. It was perfect."

He snorted disbelievingly.

"Okay," she amended, "it was perfect for a first time. Ginny told me that women rarely get to orgasm during their first time having sex. But I'm sure you'll make it up to me next time."

He snatched at her hand where it had crept down to cup his face, and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of each of her knuckles while maintaining eye contact. "I very much look forward to next time, wife…"

She shivered.

"And the next time… and the next…" he was kissing down her hand now, pressing a heavy kiss to the inside of her wrist. "And the time after that…"

"Draco!" she gasped, tearing her arm away from him and giggling. Her legs squirmed and she pulled the sheet up around her waist. Hesitantly, she admitted, "I think I need a bit of time before we can do that again."

Face crumpling somewhat with concern, he queried, "Did I hurt you?"

"No," she assured him. Then, with a glance around their finally-used bedchamber, she requested, "Will you stay here with me tonight?"

"I'd love nothing more..."

The sea of stars beyond their window shone in the sky for a few hours yet, until one-by-one they winked out, exhausted at the very idea of daybreak.

.

.

Author's Note: I have been agonizing over this chapter for weeks now, but I'm still not convinced it came out right. So, I apologize for the longer-than-usual wait, but also for the content.

Several large swimming pools full of smooshy gratitude to my beta, I was BOTWP, for helping me get this to a place where I finally felt okay with posting it.

I also want to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to leave a review. Yes, I'm sometimes terrible at responding to them all... but I love reading them as they come in, even though they sometimes make me smile inappropriately in public spaces. Seriously, thank you.