Draco busied himself lighting the fire and pouring them both some tea when they got back to her suite. Their suite, now. Hermione pulled off her flat, practical shoes, set her wand on the desk where she'd copied out so many memos and all those pages of meeting notes, and took the cup he handed her with a strained smile.
"That was not awful," she said.
He raised his brows and she began to laugh. "He made you kill a woman," Draco said. "And the pink filling in the cake tasted like flowers."
The cake had been a bit too sweet, though she'd laid that at the feet of the heavily scented air. When everything around you was cloying, whatever delicate flavor the pastry chefs had worked into their creams had no chance. "I've had worse cake," she said.
"That I can believe." Draco sounded as if he were trying to be condescending but it wasn't quite coming out. "But your childhood of bad Muggle cake isn't the standard I was hoping to exceed at our wedding."
She poked him with one finger. "I'm going to make you eat those words in Muggle bakeries."
"Threats will get you nowhere."
She sat down on the floor in front of the fire. The whole dress fluffed around her like a parachute before settling down in a ring of white. She almost didn't want to take it off. The top was tight, and she was ready to breathe freely again, but the sheer feminine pleasure of the full skirt was something she would miss. Life should have more ball gowns.
"More ball gowns and less murder," she said.
Draco sat next to her. "What?"
She scooted closer along the floor so she could lean up against him. The dress wadded up in great piles of fabric and he pressed his lips against the side of her forehead before she nestled against him. "Too much murder," she said.
"Not quite the usual thing," he said before hesitating then going on in a bit of a nervous rush. "You okay?"
She was and she wasn't. It was hardly the first time, and if anyone deserved it it was one of that pair. Still, was it bad luck to murder a person on your wedding day? If not, it probably should be. "I'll be fine," she said. She looked into the fire. It didn't have the same heat as the one she'd kindled earlier. It just flickered and waved at them both from the log some servant had probably laid in the grate. "What now?"
"We have sex," Draco said rather baldly. "To complete the bonding."
Hermione screwed her mouth up and nodded as she kept looking in the fire. A log crackled and broke into two pieces, each of which settled down further and nestled themselves into the growing pile of black and white ash. Of course that was what they did. Naturally that was what bonding wedding rituals required. And it was normal to have sex with your husband the night of your marriage. It would be weird not to.
"I should take the dress off," she said.
"I didn't mean right this second."
She twisted her head so she could look at Draco and he seemed just as nervous and uncomfortable as she felt. She had to remind herself that he was even less experienced than she was. "Well," she said. "It's hard to relax in it."
"Oh," he said. "In that case."
She shifted so he could undo all the endless hooks and buttons she'd used magic to do up earlier. His fingers trembled as he fumbled with the tiny things. "Can you imagine having to sew all those on?" she asked.
He let out a laugh. "No."
"Probably a good thing neither of us wants to be a seamstress."
His hands steadied after that, and as each inch of her dress opened up she could feel her ribs expanding and her body releasing. White silk hung between the bones that had pressed into her. The dress became a waving flag, or maybe a line of drying laundry. She stood to wiggle out of it, left in a petticoat, stockings, and bra. She wanted that bra off too, and slipped into the bedroom to get it off. She should have been surprised to find the white negligée set out on her bed – their bed. She wasn't. A little horrified, maybe, because that had to have been a gift from Narcissa and some things didn't bear close examination. One of them was your mother-in-law buying you a slip of a thing with lace and seed pearls, the sort of thing designed to catch a man's eye.
It was comfortable, though.
"Nice," Draco said when she reemerged. He swallowed hard and tried to look nonchalant but the immediate tening of his trousers reminded her how inexperienced he was at all of this. How odd to be the savvy one. All the other men in her life had at the very least had serious girlfriends before her. He'd pulled his shoes off and undone his tie. He'd slung his jacket over a chair. Still, though, he was dressed and she was in lingerie and however nervous he was, the power imbalance of that made her nervous too until she spotted the hole in one of his socks. She pressed her lips together to try to hold in the laugh. "What?" he asked.
She pointed at the hole and he looked down at it. "Yeah," he said. "I know."
"How do we start this?" she asked.
"I ravish you with my tremendous prowess?" he suggested.
"I should do the ravishing," she said.
"That would work too."
He said it so dryly that she laughed again, and he wiggled the toe with the holey sock and she laughed harder, and then it was just the two of them again and not this tense, political couple who'd gotten married and done murder and chatted after with one person after another as though nothing untoward had happened at all. She'd danced with Dolohov. She'd danced with his son. She'd cut the too-sweet cake and tossed a bouquet of lilies and pretended not to feel people's eyes creeping over her all night.
It was good to be just them again.
She sat next to him and tugged on the white tie draped around his neck. "Come here often?"
He set a hand along her lower back and pulled her toward him, then made a face. "These bead things are pokey," he said.
She leaned in closer despite his objection to the surely expensive pearls, and began to undo the buttons on his shirt. "You looked nice," she said.
"A man is supposed to look good on his wedding day," Draco said. "I think it's an insult to the bride to not make an effort."
"Oh, and you wouldn't want to insult me," she said wryly. She set her hand against the warm skin of his chest and felt the rise and fall of his breathing.
"Not anymore," he said. "Never any more."
Then they were kissing and this was a thing they knew. She could make her way from here, from the feel of his hand creeping up her back until, heedless of the little pearls, from his mouth on her neck, from her lips on his throat. This was a ritual as old as humanity and, if Draco had never drunk from this particular well before, he made up for the lack as the fire sang then whispered then settled into silent coals.
"Is it okay to love you?" she asked when they were done. His clothes had been pushed to the side. Her nightgown had a rip in the chiffon even magic wouldn't be able to repair. She'd felt the bond tighten during their night's revels. It had wrapped around her and held her so closely she had worried for a brief moment she might never breathe again, then had released, still there but already as familiar as a hand, as much a part of her as her own body. No wonder Narcissa had never once contemplated betraying her husband. It would be a betrayal of yourself. You might as well cut off your own arm.
"Love me?" Draco asked. "It's fine. Probably a bit of poor judgement on your part, but I'm hardly going to object."
She hit him.
He rubbed at his arm and pulled his face into a fake pout. "Great," he said. "Barely married and she's already abusing me."
She was about to apologize when she realized he was laughing at her behind that petulant lower lip and the words died. "You jerk," she said.
"Your jerk," he corrected her.
"Now what?" she asked.
He eyed her and said rather dryly, "Honeymoon on a tropical island to start. Then running an underground resistance movement so we can tear down the government and put Potter on a float and parade him around London as the Chosen One."
"Huh," she said.
"Has the plan been changed?" he asked.
"I was hoping for sleep," she admitted.
"Sleep I think I can offer." Draco stood and scooped her up. She was about to tell him not to strain himself. She could feel one of his hands trembling against her skin. The pleased look in his eyes stopped her. Carrying her across this arbitrary threshold, from their sitting room to their bedroom, meant something to him. She let her eyes close and her head fall against his shoulder so he could have his moment. He set her on the bed and then frowned when he realized she was on top of the blankets. She scooted herself up so she could slip under them and he shut the door with a wandless charm before climbing in next to her.
He wrapped an arm around her waist and she closed her eyes. It had been a long time since she'd slept next to another person. She let his steady breathing lull her and, before long, she had fallen into a dreamless sleep.
Morning came with a bright winter sun. "Merry Christmas," Draco said when she stirred.
She laughed. "I think I already got my present." She wiggled her hand and the diamond on it glittered when it caught the light. A Christmas Eve wedding wouldn't deter Narcissa Malfoy from doing the right and proper thing on Christmas morning, no matter how exhausted she was. Staff helped, of course, but Hermione would be willing to bet her mother-in-law had been up until the wee hours of the morning making sure everything from the one event was swept away and everything for the next was in place.
Her mother-in-law. She couldn't decide how she felt about that. Better than the father-in-law, she supposed.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
"The stockings will all match," he said. He was trying to summon a certain nonchalance but she could see his childish pleasure in the traditions under all of that. "If my mother had to throw them all away and buy all new to make sure yours fits in perfectly she will have."
"Paper crowns?" Hermione asked. She peeked down at the edge of the bed but, thank god, Narcissa had not crept in in the night to hang the stocking there.
"Oh yes," he said. "And a pudding."
Hermione didn't want to ask about the Queen's Speech. It had been a thing when she'd been a child. Her grandparents had insisted and the whole family had gathered around. She'd always been bored out of her mind. Funny that was the thing she missed. Funnier that she missed it now. Maybe it was all the opulence of the Manor. It made one think of royalty. The Weasley's had been vaguely aware that Muggles had a Queen, but they'd seemed to see it as one more odd thing about Muggles. "Like in a storybook," Percy had said once. He'd been trying to be polite but it had come out a bit skeptical. She so rarely thought about the Muggle world anymore, but holidays and traditions brought back the ache of how things had been before she'd known about magic or war.
"I like pudding," was all she said but he saw the hesitation on her face and the brief shadow that clouded her eyes.
He touched her arm. "What sorts of things did you do as a kid?" he asked.
"The same, really, I'm sure," she said. "Stockings and my dad usually had a drink in his hand by breakfast, and we had turkey and puddings in the afternoon. Usually a bit early so we could watch the… the Queen's Speech."
"Huh," Draco said. He sat up and headed for the shower but she could see him thinking. "Did I ever tell you one of my great grandfathers wanted to marry Elizabeth I?" he shouted out over the running water.
She'd gotten up and begun trying to decide what to wear but she stuck her head into the bath at that. Draco had a bar of soap in one hand, his back to the door, and buttocks she felt oddly guilty for admiring. They were married – they'd consummated that union multiple times – but she could still feel a blush steal onto her cheeks as she watched water run down his back, over that arse, and then down his legs. He was too thin but all those years of playing Quidditch had given him something.
Something she was staring at.
"No," she managed to say. "I didn't know that."
"Given that," he said, "I'm sure we could find a radio around and tune into it. If you wanted."
She could feel a tear stinging at the corner of one eye. "That would be nice," she said.
. . . . . . . . .
A/N - Thank you to akashikadoesthings and rosella1356 for alpha and beta reading this for me. It's been a difficult chapter and I appreciate their help more than I can say.
Thank you also to you for reading. Like many writers, I long to enchant you and hope that I have.