A/N: I know, I know - it's been way too long since I updated this story. But sadly, I'm lacking time to write at the moment. So be patient with me, the updates come when they're ready.
In the meantime, you grace me with all those lovely reviews and other support. They're so very much appreciated. THANK YOU!
Tons of hugs and kisses for MrBenzedrine for proofreading this for me.
I know many of you are curious about Hermione's tattoo, and I hope I did you justice with it.
Together, the group entered the studio and immediately were greeted by a man whose appearance screamed 'cool artist'. Hermione didn't know what exactly made artists so recognizable, but this guy wore soft-looking linen clothes, including a shirt that showed off the many tattoos curling around his arms. Also, he and had his wand tucked behind one ear in a fashion that resembled the way Luna carried hers.
"Malfoy, mate!" He pulled on Draco's extracted hand and engaged the wizard in a one-armed hug. Hermione's fingers itched to grab her wand, expecting someone would be Avada'd the next second, because it was so unreal to see the Malfoy scion, ex-Death Eater, and suit-wearing pureblood hugging another man like that. However, Draco didn't land himself in Azkaban by using a set of Unforgivables and simply said, " 'Evening, Mike. Thanks for having us here so late."
"Well, who am I to deny a customer?" Mike, probably the owner of the studio, replied. Hermione exhaled slowly. So, they were familiar, and after the bald man greeted Pansy with a kiss on the cheek, it dawned on her that at least those two had already visited this place. The assessment, in turn, piqued her curiosity.
"You look a bit flabbergasted," Theo observed, and the others turned toward her.
"Well, I simply didn't expect to see Draco in this, -for him- rather unusual territory."
Mike barked a laugh at that and clapped her on the shoulder. "Not the usual pureblood princess, is she?"
"Salazar, no!" Draco grinned, and Hermione felt herself oddly blushing at his words. Mike greeted Theo and Blaise with a handshake before he led them to a more private area that wasn't visible through the front window. Pansy immediately plopped down in one of the cozy leather armchairs in the room and started sifting through some magazines, framed by Theo and Blaise.
"You first, mate?" Mike addressed Draco. "Still taking that constellation?"
"Yes." Unceremoniously, Draco unbuttoned his shirt and handed it to Hermione, while she started at the blond's naked torso shamelessly. At least, it was unceremoniously for him - not so much for the onlooking witch. For her, it was seeing a Christmas present unwrapping itself. The first few buttons revealed the hard planes she had already felt beneath his clothes on occasion - and was instantly delighted because she had been wrong in one point. She had expected Draco to be the type of man who shaved his chest hair - perfectly groomed creature he was - but there was a quite appealing layer of dark blond hair to be seen. Not enough to crawl from under his collar and be visible for the world (she had this discussion with Harry once), but a perfect amount of it to shout masculinity.
"See something you like, Granger?" Theo asked, amused.
"Yeah. Fascinated with, really." She snapped out of her reverie, realising how her words had sounded and looked into Theo's and Blaise's saucy grins.
"I meant Draco's tattoos, idiots. Merlin, you're worse than Ron!" Indeed, she was fascinated by the full set of Quidditch spheres on Draco's skin, the highlight being a beautiful Snitch on his left pectoral. She had fully expected to see a giant dragon curled around his shoulders like she had seen on Charlie's body (a very fond memory which involved a very hot summer night in a dragon sanctuary and a midnight bath). The witch stepped closer, her fingers hovering over Draco's chest where the Snitch sat, not daring to look into his face. She tilted her head, inspecting the artwork. From close up, she could see the golden ball had something engraved on its surface - 'Malfoy 7', the Seeker position. Maybe she had underestimated how much Quidditch meant to him. Playing certainly did wonderful things to his physique, framing his body with wiry muscles and hard planes, making it hard to solely focus on the tattoos. She lifted her head, staring into those dangerous, silver eyes.
"May I?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper. He nodded, faintly smirking, probably aware of how she had checked him out. Her fingertips touched the wings of the snitch, surprised how warm his skin was, and the small thing flapped its wings. Hermione felt the childish joy of having discovered something new in the world of magic. She giggled, her palm splayed against Draco's chest (ignoring the impulse to trail it over the dark blond hairs below his navel - yes, of course she had seen them). "I want one."
"We're not going to talk you into something you don't want." Draco's voice was unusually soft then, maybe reminiscent of the way they both had received the first imprints on their bodies; his an omen of death, a skull, penetrated by a snake, and hers a permanent reminder of the place in the magical world Bellatrix Lestrange had seen her. "But if you really want one, this is the best place to go. Observe Pansy and me, and we'll see how you like it, yes?"
Pansy? Oh right, there were others in the room. She had forgotten that momentarily.
"Cool. Then let's get started," Mike stated, and with Draco sitting down on a chair that reminded her of one her parents used to have in their practise, Hermione could concentrate again.
When he started pulling out an old-fashioned pencil and paper, Hermione asked, "So, how is this going to work? I mean, I know about the workings of a muggle tattooist, but there have to be some differences, right?"
Mike looks at her companions as if asking, "Really?" and the others nodded in unison. He explained that while many magical tattooists still use the old-fashioned bewitched needle, Mike belonged to a newer school of artists who worked with a charm and their wand. He did the sketches per hand, but when it came to transferring the image to the client's skin and actually attaching it permanently to it, he used his wand. It still stung, of course, but he was faster with the help of the charm, and the place healed quicker, while the infection risk was lower. Then, if the client wished so, he applied the charm for movement. The extent of the movement could vary: Draco, for example, had a stationary Snitch that could move its wings and flutter a bit, but the others could move all the time if he commanded them to. Naturally, the moving ones were much more expensive than the others. Hermione suspected that Draco's Snitch was largely fixated for the dramatic effect - not for the lack of money.
Truly fascinated, the brunette watched as Draco's constellation was applied to his left shoulder blade, itching to run her fingers over the smooth skin there. The blond sat very still while Mike worked, leaning forward and resting his arms on the chair's back, only flinching once when the artist's wand hovered over a spot particularly close to his spine, setting the muscles and sinews in his upper body and arms into motion. It was only fifteen minutes before the artwork could be admired, but Hermione felt flushed by the time Draco finally slipped into his shirt again.
After a short pause and a glass of water, Mike addressed Pansy. "Darling, what can I do for you today?"
"I want a flower." The witch spread her legs, unashamed, and pointed at a spot right above her mons venus. "Here." The tattooist merely raised an eyebrow. Hermione presumed it wasn't the first time a woman wanted an inking there.
"Do you want it to move?"
"Naturally. I mean, it has to grow back every time I'm 'de-flowered' and someone 'plucked my pansy', right?" she explained and held the displayed sketchbook for the others to see, her finger on a drawing of a viola. Hermione giggled heartily when she saw what Pansy wanted to get.
"Uhm… Pansy, are you sure you want that one?"
Sparing the other women the in-depth explanation of genus and different species, Hermione stated, "I'm just saying that this one is a viola, but not a pansy. You know, while all pansies are violas, not all violas are pansies."
Pansy seemed to ponder her words, before Draco commented dryly, "That means your little joke wouldn't work. You don't even get the flower you were named after." Hermione could tell this was friendly teasing, as the Slytherin witch didn't glare at the blond but instead featured a wicked smirk.
"I've never been good at Herbology. Might need a little help with that and come back another time to have it done." She turned towards Hermione then, still smirking. "Longbottom - he's quite good at that botanical stuff, right? He's also grown quite delicious. Maybe I can talk him into it..." she trailed off, probably already plotting how to approach Neville and convince him into her pansy-business.
And while Pansy got a good ribbing by the three boys, Hermione took the chance and explained Mike what she wanted to have. The bright artist sketched it, asking for a spelling or her opinion in between, but after only a few minutes, he was done.
"Perfect." Hermione smiled at him, honestly in awe at the talent. She hadn't been aware of Draco stepping behind her and watching over her shoulder at the design.
"'Homines sunt, non dei'," he read, thoughtfully. "That's from Petronius' Satyricon, I believe?" The witch nodded, astonished again at the intelligence and knowledge behind his often so arrogant front. "Shooting from a wand and surrounded by sparks." He still kept his gaze on the paper in her hands. "A very thoughtful decision, Granger." And to her, it sounded like an honest compliment. His grey eyes certainly conveyed a certain amount of admiration that threatened to fray her nerves.
"The Blacks had an extensive collection of historical texts in Grimmauld Place. I used to hide their while my friends were thoroughly enjoying their respective partners company," she confessed, a voice in her head asking her why it was so easy to tell him what had taken quite some time to realize herself.
"Call me snobbish, but the books were the better decision." Draco winked, and then the tense moment was over.
As she had decided the place for the tattoo would be on her side between the curve of her hip and the midst of her ribs, she had to remove her bra so Mike could move freely over her skin. A sticking charm assured her shirt would be kept in place and not reveal more of her than necessary. Nonetheless, she caught Draco staring at her when she peeled her black bra off from under her top, his eyes darkening. Then, she handed him the item, and that shook him out of his thoughts. Hermione didn't comment on that, but she found the very slight blush creeping over his pale skin adorable. Making Draco Malfoy blush by only displaying this small amount of her female body and clothes was something she wanted to save in a pensieve.
"Ready? We can still stop, no problem," Mike said to her, wand already in hand.
Suddenly, Hermione got hit by a bout of nervousness - not exactly fear, but still. It must have been apparent on her face, because Draco drawled from next to her, "Need a hand, milady?" in a playfully chivalrous way and extended his hand for her to hold. Without hesitation, she grabbed it. It was warm and slightly calloused - and surprisingly calming.
However, she couldn't stop a slight flinch when she felt the first invisible needle transferring ink deep into the layers of her skin. But Draco remained a gentleman and rubbed his thumb over her head without commenting on it. She relished in it, until -
"Bloody hell, Granger!"
- She squeezed his hand really, really hard when Mike reached a particularly sensitive spot between her upper ribs.
"Shall I call you the iron lady with a grip like that?"
Her face heated up in embarrassment, and she wanted to apologize for her violence, but Blaise spluttered, "Imagine this grip elsewhere!"
Her embarrassment forgotten, she shot the man a scathing look that would have Hungarian Horntails crying for their mummy and replied, "Yes, imagine me jerking it off," before she had realized the double meaning behind it. One, two second seconds of stunned silence, and then everyone around her broke out in roaring laughter - even Mike, who had the presence of mind to interrupt his work. "Oh, not like that, you perverts!"
A little while later, Hermione lowered her top again after admiring the piece of art now on her skin. Not only was it gorgeous, but it also made her feel a bit daring, a little less of the good girl so many people liked to see in her.
"What about you two?" she inquired Blaise and Theo. The latter vehemently rejected and mumbled something about an ink allergy, and Blaise explained how his mother would probably disown him. "Well, from my Gryffindor point of view it sounds like you're too much if a pansy ass to get one," she commented in return.
Blaise deadpanned, with a wink, "Salazar, such dirty words! Only for clarification - I have been up Pansy's arse and it's perfectly cozy in there. That doesn't lead me to getting a tattoo, however."
Hermione laughed and wanted to continue the pleasant back-and-forth with the Slytherins, but then Draco announced that he had activated the portkey (an old umbrella Mike had stored for him).
When their feet touched ground in the Head dorms again, Pansy, Blaise, and Theo said their goodbyes: Pansy with a kiss on the cheek, Blaise with one on her knuckles. Theo copied his friend's action, cheekily adding, "Hermione, you're welcome to spend the night with us any time in the future."
"Thank you, Theodore, what a generous offer."
"Oh, we Slytherins can be very generous with our affections if we choose so."
"Yes, and the Patil twins can attest that, too," Draco stepped in and practically shoved his friends through the door, leaving the two of them alone in their quarters again.
"That was a wonderful evening, Draco. Thank you for taking me with you." And she meant those words. She couldn't remember being so relaxed and free for ages, inhibited in the best sense of the word. The blond, in an unusual display of sheepishness, put his hands in the pocket of his trousers and shrugged, stepping closer to her. Though she was so very tempted to point out the cuteness of that, she overplayed it by saying, as bossy as she was able to, "And you're welcome to tell me how much I owe you." Draco's head snapped in her direction, surprised. "Sometimes, you're not the sneaky snake you think you are. I saw you slipping the Galleons for my tattoo into Mike's hand."
He lifted his shoulder as if to shrug again, but then his disturbingly irresistible smile reappeared. Just when she pondered what he thought about to trigger it, he leaned down and gently pressed three kisses on her face.
The first one on her cheek shocked her, but made goosebumps erupt everywhere on that side of her body, rendering her motionless.
The second on her nose that made her smile and warm inside.
And the last one, the shortest one, was pressed on her lips after a brief hesitation on Draco's side. She closed her eyes, expecting and wanting him to come back for more. But when he didn't, she opened them to see him grinning at her.
"Consider me paid."
With a feeling that was equally humour and indignation, she watched him strolling to his bedroom, hands still in his pockets, and decided, for once, not to over-analyse what had just happened.