Song Suggestion: Maxence Cyrin- "Where is My Mind" (The Pixies Piano cover) AND Tamino- "Habibi" I couldn't choose.

Update Schedule: This time of year I always get SAD (seasonal depression). I've avoided it so far, but to protect myself from burn out during the winter, I'm going to slow down my updates to every other week. This will last until after Easter (mid-April) when I plan to get back to once-a-week updates after I get more vitamin D. I petition that we start considering hibernation as a species. Next update will be February 5th.

Thank you, MyPrivateInsanity for being the best beta!

A Decent Offer

After apparating, they arrived in front of Malfoy Manor. Though her mind was still trudging through molasses, she managed to glance around in subdued fascination.

The Nott grounds always had a wildness to them— sprites zooming through the leaves, gnomes peeking through the brush. It resisted being contained and groomed. In contrast, the Malfoy grounds looked to be kept in strict order. The gravel walkway glowed pure white, stark against the manicured hedges, even in the darkness. The moon shone bright over the white stone structure, looming before her like a beacon under the stars.

A pale spectre walked across their path. Hermione blinked a few times before she comprehended that she stared at an albino peacock.

"Is that the homicidal one?" she asked, remembering his loathing of the peacock Alfred.

Malfoy's lips twitched once, before his expression fell again.

"Lucky for you, no. Alfred's progeny are just as bloodthirsty though. You'll meet them soon enough. This one is named Griffin. He might be the dumbest living thing I've ever encountered. He probably doesn't even know where he is. I'm not sure how he survived to adulthood."

Indeed, the peacock seemed to be rotating in confused circles.

This time Hermione's lip twitched, though it dropped fast. Everything hurt too much. Her spirit rubbed raw under her ribs. Each attempt at emotion brought agony.

She brushed away her thoughts before they could choke her and followed Draco as he entered his manor, gravel crunching under their feet. The old iron doors opened to a magnificent sight. A wide pale staircase curved up to lofty heights. It had shiny marble flooring and stone walls, with velvet emerald curtains framing the largest windows she'd ever seen. The foyer was taller and more open than Nott manor, with several chandeliers to light their way. Landscape art pieces and portraits lined the upper walls, surrounded by ornate frames. It was much brighter and lighter in tone than Nott manor, absent of the familiar suit of armour and outdated, gaudy gold accents she'd come to love.

Her soul mourned for a moment— a sharp ache of homesickness. Injured, mentally and physically, she wanted nothing more than Bitty and Tabitha, a warm bath, and her soft bed.

"Welcome home," Draco said.

It didn't feel like home.

"Will your father be staying here?"

"No." He paused and curled his hand into a fist. "He knows I'd probably curse him right now. We have several other properties that he can go to and rot inside. It will just be us."

Arriving at her new home made her remember the journey to Nott manor, the way she'd clutched at Titus, smelling of cinnamon. The instant pain almost broke her, understanding that in many ways he hadn't been her saviour. Even though he loved her, he'd been her jailor. And no matter what Malfoy told her about her new home, she knew all she'd done was trade one gilded cage for another.

She followed him, scaling the grand staircase into a maze of corridors. The old portraits whispered as she ascended— one even hissed "mudblood!"— until Draco threatened them with removal.

She clutched her robe tight around her, wishing to cleanse herself. Hermione wondered if she would ever feel clean again.

They ended at a set of impressive double doors with the Malfoy crest carved into the center. Draco put a hand on the door, activating the blood wards, and then he glanced back, eyes roving over her face as if to assess her mood. She found it hard to read him, as usual, but she thought she might have seen a flash of something that resembled longing.

The door opened with a creak, revealing a room that rivalled Titus', dark and moody. Heavy ebony furniture decorated the room. The only other colour was a dark red bedspread— his favourite colour, she remembered.

Hermione was a girl used to luxury, but even she was impressed by the sight before her. Thick black curtains covered the walls and framed the four-poster bed. Other than that, his room held little decoration, beside a few photos displayed on shelves and tabletops.

In one, his whole Slytherin team hovered in the air on their brooms after a victory, the celebratory fireworks bursting in the background. Beside it was another of him and Goyle, both sneering at the camera, and surprisingly one of Theo flying alongside him.

On his bedside table perched a photo of Draco as a baby in the arms of his mother. Hermione walked forward and picked it up to view it better. She'd never seen his mum before. A delicate woman stared back, the sister of Bellatrix Lestrange. Silvery hair went past her shoulders with black strands mixed. Baby Draco kept taking fistfuls of it, attempting to chew, while his mother patiently detangled the pudgy fingers with a soft smile.

"It's the only photo I have of her," he said behind her. "My father has taken the rest."

Pity trickled from her brain into her stomach, watching this moment forever lost in time. But an intense jealousy replaced it, because she didn't have a similar photograph. Was there a moment in time where her own mother glanced down at her with patient love? Was there an image of her father rocking her? If there was, she'd never seen one. The only pictures she had of them rested in her memories. She couldn't conjure their faces even if she tried.

"This is your room?"

"It is," Draco answered.

Did he expect for them to share a bed? A blush threatened to overtake her cheeks at the thought. She shook her head, wondering why she felt so awkward at the idea. She currently had his cum on her thighs and stomach. It shouldn't be more intimate than that, but somehow it was.

Hermione glanced at the other bedside table. Her own face smiled back, standing next to Theo. She bet he'd somehow gotten the photo from her brother.


Did he know about the ritual? Or had he been as in the dark as Draco? She wished to share a bed again with him like they'd done as kids. She'd curl up beside him, wrap their fingers together. He'd be her flotation charm, keeping her above the rough waves.

"You have a photo of me?" Hermione turned around to view Draco.

He still refused to look at her. She wished she knew him enough to detangle his expressions. Was he thinking how the reality of obtaining her was different from his fantasy?

A little elf popped into the room before he could answer. She held a delicate cream silk nightgown with embroidered roses that bloomed with each twist of fabric.

"This is Mipsy," he explained. "She'll help you get clean and dressed. She's been— well, she's been very excited to finally get to meet you."

"Hello Mipsy."

Mipsy blushed with pleasure.

Hermione really wanted Bitty, but she nodded and followed Malfoy's elf into the bathroom.

The bathroom, like the rest of the manor, was luxurious. A giant rainfall shower was stationed in the center, and beside it rested a large tub big enough to swim in, already filled with steaming water. Flower petals floated on the surface, and she watched as Mipsy poured a pink potion in, meant to soothe aching muscles.

With the privacy, she shed her robe. For the first time, she studied what had been done to her. Nine marks marred her skin on her lower stomach. Solid lines, each raw and bleeding.

"Mipsy cannot heal those." The elf frowned at the wounds. "Blood magic needs to heal on its own, but Mipsy has a salve for after."

"Will they be permanent?"

Mipsy blinked. Her ears twitched, showing her discomfort.


Hermione found she didn't care. The ritual scarred her soul. She'd rather it be visible, as a reminder.

"Is the Malfoy binding spell permanent?"

Mipsy paused, as if horrified by the thought. "Is Mistress Hermione thinking of leaving—"

"No," she assured her. "I'd just like to know."

"The binding marriage magic Master Draco used can be reversed. Or so the elves whisper."

Most wizards dismissed what the elves knew. But their memories were long. They held a more comprehensive history of the families— especially when it came to their magic— than what a person could find in a library.

She gave a nod, and then when Mipsy beckoned her forward, Hermione sank into the warmth of the bath, hissing with the pain of her wounds.

When Mipsy left the room to get a hair potion, Hermione tugged herself out, dripping along the marble floor, and picked up her stained robe. Searching the fabric, she found the poison she'd concealed, and ripped the seams. The vial tumbled out into her hands. She hesitated, wondering if she should dump it down the sink before anyone saw it.

Fearing the elf would appear at any time, she opened a random drawer under the sink. Finding it empty, she stashed the vial toward the back and put a simple concealment charm on it with wandless magic.

She'd need to renew it every week or so, but the charm should hide it from the elves while she contemplated what to do with it. Satisfied with the hiding spot, she shut the door and stood up.

Just in time.

"Oh, Mistress Hermione," she heard a diminutive voice beside her. "You shouldn't have gotten out without Mipsy."

Several hours later, she emerged clean again with her hair brushed, dried, and curled. She wore the acromantula spidersilk nightgown Draco provided, more luxurious than anything she'd ever owned. It must have cost a fortune and slid like water against her skin.

Exhaustion tugged at her body. She wished for nothing more than to enter oblivion and not return for a long time.

Draco sat in a wingback chair near his fireplace, facing the bed. He still wore his white robe. The front gaped open showing his alabaster skin, and he rested his head against the fingers of his left hand, keeping his head tilted, as he watched her crawl into his bed, getting under the covers.

"I'll need a bonnet," she said.

"A what?"

"For my hair," she explained. "My curls will— oh, it doesn't matter I suppose."

But Mispy had already popped away on the hunt for one.

Draco grimaced and stood up, holding two potions. When he walked over, he extended his hand, and she couldn't stop the flinch at his proximity. Logically, she understood that he had no choice in what he did, but her body didn't care. If possible, his frown deepened. She'd never seen him look so miserable.

"I'm not getting under the covers with you, Granger," he said. "I'll spend the night— elsewhere. I merely wanted you to have the most comfortable bed. This is just a sleeping draught." He held up another vial. "And this is a contraceptive potion."

She drank the dreamless sleep, hoping her nightmares didn't overcome the potion like they sometimes did. But when she went to swallow the contraceptive, Draco stopped her with a hand on her wrist. The touch burned through her before he quickly pulled away.

"Eventually, we'll have to conceive a child," he said. "But we're only required to produce one."

"I'm not an idiot."

"Of course not." He visibly bit his cheek. "It's just if you don't ever want to—be intimate with me again, then you can let nature take its course. There's a chance you could get pregnant, relieving you of any future duty."

The offer made her heart lurch. He still looked ill and pale.

The sex and the pain that came afterward mingled in her mind. Just the thought made her whole body shudder with tension. Her body recoiled, remembering the agony.

She shook her head. "No, I don't think I could stand to be pregnant right now."

Maybe he understood, because he grimaced again and stepped away. She drank the potion, tasting the bitter notes of oak bark.

Draco hesitated by her bed. His eyes weren't on her, but on the red covers encasing her.

"There's no need to be afraid," he said. "I won't touch you again unless you want me to."

Her heart pounded, wondering at the way her soul twisted at his words.

"What if I never want you to?"

"Granger—" he whispered, still unwilling to look at her. "After tonight, I fully expect you to never want me to touch you again."

Hermione took in the defeated bent of his posture. His fists clenched. Mouth in a thin line.

"But if we don't conceive a child, they'd eventually try to take me away."

"I dare them to try," he seethed in a hard voice. "Tonight was the last night I ever play by their fucking rules. You don't need to worry. I won't hurt you ever again." As if he couldn't stand to be in her presence a moment longer, he turned and exited the room, leaving her to curl into his sheets. Despite all of the horror she'd endured, the scent of him still comforted her as she fell asleep.

Hermione woke up to find Mipsy an inch from her face. She gave a low shout of surprise, scrambling away.

Mipsy looked distressed, but she still bounced on her toes in excitement.

"Master Draco told Mipsy to keep a close eye on Mistress Hermione. Mipsy waited patiently for Mistress to wake up. Come, come, breakfast is waiting."

Hermione's heart beat fast from the surprise, but then she snorted out a laugh. House elves sometimes took their commands literally. Draco had told the elf to keep a close eye on her, and Mipsy followed the order without question.

Hermione smiled at the little elf—surprised she even could— finding the creature endearing, reminding her too much of Bitty.

Hermione allowed the elf to wash and clean her again, used to an elf helping her get ready for the day. The routine calmed her. After donning another silk dress, much too grand for everyday, she fidgeted while being led down the stairs.

A full breakfast awaited her in the breakfast nook, though her stomach tumbled too much to eat but a few bites of toast and a grilled tomato. The room gave a great view of a garden, and she sipped on a cup of tea, letting the peace envelop her.

When finished, another elf named Minty cleared the table. Hermione almost got up, unsure what else to do with her day.

Before she could think too hard about it, Draco walked inside the room and hurtled to a stop when their eyes met. He visibly swallowed and trekked forward as if on a mission. When he got to her, he slapped a scroll down in front of her, along with a quill and ink pot.

"Make your list," he said.


"Of what you want in life. Like I promised. Write down your every dream and desire, no matter how extravagant, and I'll do my best to provide it."

Hermione chewed her bottom lip. She almost asked for clarification, because surely he didn't mean everything, but Malfoy exited with a furious flutter of his cloak as if he still couldn't stand to be in the same room with her.

Hermione smoothed out the parchment and dipped the quill nib into the ink.

If he wanted to offer her everything, then she'd give him a list that could challenge him.

Twenty minutes later, she went on a hunt for Draco. She found him in one of the front rooms at a writing desk, filling out a scroll. A book on rare potions lay open beside him.

Hermione wondered what he did for a career. She'd heard from Theo that he'd turned down an auror position. Did he work at all? He certainly didn't need to with the level of wealth he had, though she doubted Lucius would allow his heir to sit idle among his treasures.

Draco looked up as she walked inside and tensed as she got closer, but he was occluding too much for her to guess what he felt. He was no longer the carefree boy who flew her to the glade. The man in front of her felt like a stranger— harder, angrier. The night before made it awkward to exist around him.

She handed him her scroll and watched as he unrolled it to read the contents. A little smirk tugged up the side of his lip as his eyes pursued her notes.

"Number one," he read out loud. "Unrestricted access to the manor's library, potion room, and duelling room." He looked up. "Honestly Granger, you're making this too easy." His eyes flicked back down. "Access to any magical object in the manor. A new wand, if possible. Ability to see Theo or friends any time you desire. The ability to travel to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade without permission. An owl. A career. Acquire Hopper. Acquire—" He glanced up. "What the fuck is a Crookshanks?"

"My cat."

He seemed to consider that.

"If he's with Nott, it might be… difficult to get him, but I'll find a way." Draco looked back down at the list. "Teach you apparition. And Occlumency." At the last one, he finally hesitated. "A visit to your old muggle home, along with a photograph of your parents."

He slowly set down the scroll, leaned back in his chair, linking both hands on his chest, and stared at her, eyes picking her apart. Titus prided himself in his ability to read people, but she thought Draco might be better. It made her feel oddly self-conscious.

"Your wish is my command." He bit his bottom lip and slowly dragged it out. She watched the movement with fascination. "I thought the list would be longer."

"I might think of more," she warned, wondering how far she could push. Titus would have shut her down long ago, unwilling to give her anything that might endanger her.

"I hope you do. After all, I have a lifetime now to spoil you."

Her heart lurched, though she wished it didn't. He looked like a Fae prince sitting in the morning light filtering through the window behind him, glinting off his pale hair. She thought of him moving over her under the stars, eyes filled with guilty pleasure, and a blush heated her cheeks.

No, she needed to stop thinking about that. Because despite what he promised, she still didn't feel safe or comfortable enough around him to allow herself to trust him.

He must have seen her sudden shift of mood, because he cocked his head to the side.

"Would you like to cross off an item on your list?"

Draco walked through the corridors, and she trailed behind him. It felt like a maze, though it didn't seem much bigger overall than Nott manor.

They stopped in front of a nondescript door.

With permission, he pricked her finger and smeared a crimson drop on the door handle, showing they protected it with blood wards. It glowed after he mixed it with a drop of his own blood.

"You now have unrestricted access to the library." The lock clicked open. "Are you ready?"

She'd never been more ready. Excitement buzzed along her skin. She wondered how she could feel the beam of happiness in her soul after what she'd endured. But it couldn't be contained. She nearly vibrated on her toes.

"Well, hurry up and open the door," she said.

He rolled his eyes.

"Still a swot, I see. I think you'd sacrifice me to some dark god to get in here."

"Don't give me ideas."

He snorted, and the door swung open to reveal a dream. She'd never seen anything like it, not even Hogwarts— much grander than the image he'd shown her. The room was the size of a normal ballroom, with floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled to bursting with old and new tomes.

"Are they alphabetical?" she asked, sounding breathless.

"By author. They are also sectioned out by genre." He walked into the room behind her, eyes on her face."Though you can organise it in any way you'd like."

She couldn't contain her shock.

"You'd let me organise your library?"

"Granger, this is your library now." He couldn't seem to tear his eyes from her face as she glanced around in awe.

She thought of her tiny, treasured library under her floorboards and the mini one in the treehouse that had been taken away by Titus.

And now, if Draco was to be believed, the entire library—thousands of books—were all hers. Could a person experience an orgasm without sex? Because she stifled a moan at the back of her throat.

"Mine?" In pure euphoria, she outstretched her arms and twirled, almost crashing into a chair. "I don't even know where to start."

He placed both hands behind his back and shifted his weight. A pleased expression broke through his stern countenance.

"How about you start with the thing you've wanted to learn about the most. The thing you've been denied for years." He gave a nod. "I'll get out of your way."

She already knew what it would be.

When Malfoy left, proving that what he said wasn't some cruel trick—he was truly going to let her read anything she wanted—she flicked her wand up and said the spell to find books in the stacks.

"Wandless magic." Her heart had palpitations when the books she needed glowed and floated off the shelves toward her.

Hermione woke up hours later to Draco gently taking the book out from under her.

"It's a good thing all of our books have preservation spells. You've drooled on this one."

She wiped her mouth, feeling a bit embarrassed. She bet her face had lines from where she'd taken a nap at an awkward angle.

"Wait," she said. "Give that back. I was in the middle of—"

"You haven't eaten since breakfast. Minty spent all day preparing dinner. I think–" he looked at the title. "The Fifteen Expressions of Magic can wait for a few hours at least. Your exhausted brain can thank me later."

"My brain is doing just fine, thank you very much. Though I suppose I could use some sustenance before another round."

He set the book down on the old table. "Zavilda's book is much better than this garbage. You shouldn't waste your time."

She tugged back her head and frowned.

"That's preposterous. Zavilda completely ignores the fact that different cultures use various wand cores. His theories are flawed by his bias."

"I'm sure you've already thought of an essay to go with your opinion."

"It wouldn't be hard to create one."

"And I suppose you're going to lecture me the whole way to the dining room."

"Well, if you've come to the conclusion that Zavilda is better than Merridan, then I must help reeducate you."

As she walked through the corridors, expounding on Zavila's faults and Merridan's genius, she thought she might have seen him hide a grin. For a moment, she wondered if he really believed his stance at all, or if he'd just wanted to hear her argue hers.

In the middle of lifting a bite of fish into his mouth, Draco paused, looked at the door, and frowned.

"What?" Hermione asked. She set her fork down.

Draco set his down too, sat back, and looked at her for a long minute.

"We have a guest— an unwelcome one." The Malfoys had advanced wards, so he already knew who it was, and he wasn't happy about it. "I'd ask you to stay seated while I deal with it, but I assume you'll be stubborn, leaving me with no choice but to let you follow me."

"Yes, of course."

Draco sighed but looked resigned and stood, setting his napkin down on the table.

"Very well," he said. "Though I doubt you'll be happy about it either."

The walk to the main sitting room didn't take long, since it was next to the dining room.

When she entered through the ornate French doors, Hermione almost toppled over in shock.

Titus stood there, waiting inside the boundary spell around the fireplace for unsolicited guests. She'd never seen him so unkempt. Dark circles smudged under his eyes. Eyes bloodshot. It looked as if he hadn't slept in years. Hair mussed, though it seemed as if he'd attempted to brush it.

Blue eyes flicked to her once, going from her head to her feet in a quick sweep, as if to look for injuries. A wince betrayed him, before he smoothed his features out.

After his inspection, he set his eyes on Draco, who didn't bother to hide his disdain.

"To what do I owe the displeasure of your presence in my family home?"

To the outside perspective, Titus must seem calm and collected, but Hermione knew him more than anyone. His fist kept clenching at his side, and his eyes narrowed. He was distressed. It made her heart beat hard in her chest, hating the new distance between them.

She wished to explain her choice. How she couldn't bear to be caged like she had been any longer. How, so far, Draco had let her do as she wished, and that it hadn't been a lie. How Titus letting her be a part of the ritual, knowing what would happen, broke her heart in irreparable ways.

Despite all that, against all logic, she still loved him. And seeing him in any kind of distress made her almost ill, knowing nothing she could say or do would make it better.

"I have a proposition," Titus said finally.

Draco's entire demeanour reeked of hostility. From this angle, she could see the man he could be to others. A cruelty rested behind his eyes. He didn't bring it out around her, but she knew he was capable of ruthless things.

"Sit down, and we'll discuss it as gentlemen." Draco motioned toward the couches, and the boundary spell vanished. "Mipsy!"

The little elf popped into view, wiggling her ears.

"Yes, Master Draco?"

"Bring us some tea."

When Mipsy left, both the men went to the couches that faced each other. They were a delicate yellow shiny fabric that looked as if it would rip and soil with the slightest touch. The elves must have a hard time cleaning them.

The men took their seats opposite one another, both with backs ramrod straight, as if loosening their postures would signal weakness.

Not feeling comfortable enough to sit, Hermione stood behind Draco's couch. The back rose up in a delicate curve with a wooden edge. She rested a hand on it, trying to find balance, mentally and physically. Seeing Titus again threw off her equilibrium.

After his initial inspection, Titus kept his eyes on Draco, for which she was grateful, because she didn't know if she could stand the questions and accusations and apologies in his gaze.

Mipsy arrived with tea. Titus thanked the elf, but didn't drink it, holding it in his lap. Neither man spoke while trying to silently intimidate the other.

"What's your price?" Titus asked finally after a stare down.

"Pardon?" Draco's lips tugged up in a cruel grin.

"I'll give you anything."

"Anything?" Draco drawled, sounding like his father. As if he was a cat with a mouse. "That's a dangerous, open-ended offer. And for what are you willing to give anything?"

Titus clenched his jaw. She saw the ripple of the movement in the muscles in his neck.

"You know what I want. And I'm prepared to pay any sum you ask of me."

Titus wanted to buy her. She shouldn't be shocked, but her mouth hung open. It was a clever idea, she realised, because by doing this, he wasn't attempting to sway her choice— he was swaying Draco's.

"You'd give me your vaults?" Draco asked, raising an eyebrow.

Titus hesitated, but gave a single, severe nod.

"I make more than enough to keep us in a similar style of wealth."

"And what if I asked for your manor?"

"There are other Nott properties I can relocate to."

Draco relaxed, but Hermione knew it was just a ploy. The games they played right now were deadly serious.

"It's unfortunate for you that I don't need vaults or a manor."

Titus narrowed his eyes further. Surely, he must have known that would be Draco's response, so that wasn't the end deal. Like any good bargainer, Titus started small.

"I'd be willing to do… other things. Political things. Surely, there are people you'd like to eliminate without repercussions."

A painful silence followed, filled with horrible implications.

"Oh, there are quite a few people I'd like to eliminate." Draco glanced at his nails in a nonchalant fashion, as if to check for non-existent dirt. He set down his hand and straightened again, showing interest. "So you'd be willing to kill off anyone I'd like? What if I told you that I'd like a seat on the Wizengamot?"

"I'd ask you which seat looked the most comfortable." Titus' whole body looked like stone, unmoving. She didn't even think he was breathing.

Draco grinned, as if intrigued. Hermione hesitated. She didn't know Malfoy well enough to see if he was joking or truly considering it.

"How deliciously corrupt you are, Nott. And here I thought you were the knight of wizarding Britain, saving us from the evil terrorists." Sarcasm dripped from him like venom.

Again, Titus betrayed himself by thinning his lips. What Draco said got under his skin.

"Only for her. Do you accept the deal or not? A favour for Hermione… anything you'd like."

"If only my father wouldn't object," Draco pretended to pout. "He wants an heir so badly."

Titus seemed to have trouble composing himself.

"I— understand," he bit out. "I'm willing to wait until she's given you one, along with the condition that she gets access to the child as its mother, of course."

Her heart spasmed at the thought. Did Titus just expect her to get pregnant, give birth, and then leave the baby behind? She didn't wish to be a mother, but she already knew that she'd set fire to the world if anyone ever thought of separating her from her baby.

"And what if I want two? An heir and a spare?"

Titus closed his eyes briefly.

"Then I'd ask that you let her live with me while she's producing them for you."

Producing them? As if she was just growing vegetables to give away. Hermione bit her cheek to keep from saying anything. She glared at Titus, but he still refused to look at her.

"Hm, that sounds like a decent offer." Draco grinned. Hermione dug her fingers into the wooden edge of the couch so she didn't reach out and strangle him. Why did she choose such a prat again?

"It absolutely is not a decent offer," she couldn't stop herself from adding.

"No, it's a solid offer," Draco said. "Just think, I could stop by anytime I fancy and shag you silly until you're round with my child. Tell me, Titus, where is the best place for a good fuck in your manor? I think I'd like to bend her over the kitchen counters once. Or maybe you'd be amenable and let us use the master bath? Or possibly your own bed? Yes, I think I'd enjoy filling her cunt where you sleep."

The teacup shattered in Titus' hand, liquid spraying everywhere. He trembled a moment, before he looked down at his hand, as if hating he showed any emotion. A quick flick of his wand and the teacup reassembled in his lap, including the liquid.

"You will talk about Hermione with respect," Titus said.

"Respect? Is that what you're offering her?" Draco crossed his legs, letting one ankle rest on the opposite knee, and leaning back with confidence. "The answer to your proposition is a resounding no. If it was up to me, I'd never let her see you again. There's nothing you could offer that could compel me to part with her."

Titus' face shuttered. It reminded her of the time when he tortured Blaise, as if putting on his Death Eater mask. The darkness inside his expression made her soul shiver in dread.

"I thought it was up to you." Titus cocked his head. "Perhaps it's not. Your father is the true head of the family. I think I'll give him the same offer. For years, he's wanted more leverage over me. And he'd still get his heirs in the process. Like you said, it's a solid offer."

At the mention of his father, she thought she might have seen a small crack in Draco's façade.

"My father doesn't make decisions for me." Draco set his teacup down on the low table between them. "You see, unlike you, I'm not a controlling arse. Hermione can go wherever she wants. I've given her no restrictions. She could go home with you right now of her own volition." Draco leaned forward as if to tell a secret. "But the cold truth—the truth that will haunt you the most—is that she won't. Because Hermione chose me. And I'm going to make sure that decision remains unchanged."

The words settled like the ash after a volcano, incinerating things as it landed around them. Titus broke composure and snapped his eyes to her, half pleading, half accusing

Hermione couldn't stand it any more. The rage she suppressed so long boiled up inside her. It must have been brewing for half her life, and it hurt her chest keeping it inside. If she stayed one more second in the room, she'd murder someone. Instead of violence, she twisted and walked out, fed up with everyone.

"Sprite—" Titus called. She ignored him, slamming the French doors behind her. Instead of leaving, she pressed herself against the wall, close enough to listen in, hand to her chest, trying to slow her heartbeat.

"You're going to fuck up, Malfoy," she heard Titus say in a threatening tone a little after she'd left. "You can't help yourself. You're too much of an arrogant little prick, thinking you can do whatever you want without repercussions."

"Well, if that's all, Nott, then I think I'll get back to Hermione while I can." She heard fabric rustling and assumed they both stood up. "Tonight, when you're in bed getting your cock sucked by some whore, crying pathetically while imagining the taste of her cunt, just know that I'm thoroughly enjoying everything you've dreamed about."

The silence felt more violent than war.

"I don't have to imagine her taste."

"Is that so?" Draco gave a harsh laugh. "Well, I've touched her intimately several times too, long before the ritual. I didn't even have to talk her into it like you probably did. She makes the most delectable noises when she cums, doesn't she?"

There was a long silence as Titus comprehended what Draco told him. That it hadn't been just a kiss. A part of him probably suspected it. Her fingers shook, angry at the revelation.

"One day, I'm going to hold your severed head in my hands."

"What's with you and severed heads? You're starting to become a cliché. Get back to me when you make an original threat, and then maybe I'll shiver in my boots." Draco's voice didn't hide his disdain. "Get out of my manor, Nott, and don't ever step inside my wards again, or I'll take your head. Oh, and this is yours." He threw something that jangled as it landed. "The blood money I owe you. Thanks for raising her."

"You can keep your fucking money. In the future, just remember that I attempted to be civil. You'll regret making me your enemy."

She heard Titus step away, toward the floo. Heard him grab at the floo powder on the mantle.

"Hermione wants her wand back," Draco added on. "Along with all of her things."

"If she wants her things, then she knows exactly where to find them."

The pop of the floo sounded as Titus left Malfoy manor.

Hermione breathed heavily against the wall, her anger growing as she waited.

The rattle of the French doors signalled Draco's exit as he stepped through. Hermione wasted no time and pushed at his shoulders as hard as she could. He stumbled and righted himself, blinking a few times in confusion.

"What the fuck, Granger?"

"You're exactly like him! I really thought you might be different, but I was wrong."

He curled his lips in a sneer. She attempted to push him again, but he grabbed her wrists and shoved her against the wall, while she began to struggle. If she could, she'd punch him in the nose. Her rage was so great that she forgot to use magic, responding like a feral beast.

"I'll try to ignore that you went psychotic for a moment. I honestly don't understand what you're mad at me for."

"You told him about us— in the glade. That was supposed to be a secret."

"Why does it matter if he knows?"

Hermione kicked at his leg, so angry she could scream. Something in her brain felt close to snapping. Her trauma was hardening into something savage.

"I'm not some— some competition to see who's the best. I'm more than something to brag about."

He pulled his head back, sneer deepening.

"You're mental. He was trying to buy you, Granger!" He leaned forward, their lips only centimetres apart. She didn't know if she wanted to kiss him or claw off his face.

"Maybe you should have sold me." She sneered back. "After all, you certainly enjoyed yourself at the end, gloating about having me and touching me as if I'm an—" she searched for the word, spitting mad. "An object! If I'm just that to you, then you might as well sell me for the highest price."

He grabbed the bottom of her chin in a firm hold, fingers pressed into her cheeks. "I anticipated you'd be infuriating, but you're exceeding expectations." His eyes locked on her lips, as if he wanted to bite at them. Then he sighed and let her go. She sagged against the wall. "Give me a month to prove you wrong. If at the end, you still want the Butcher, then you'll be free to go back to your old cage and lock yourself inside forever. I'm not going to stop you. But— fuck, never mind. Goodnight, Granger."

He frowned at her, as if disgusted, and then he turned and left, stomping off down the corridor, leaving her alone in an unfamiliar place. She slid down the wall, placing her head in her hands, and trembled.

She glanced around at the cold decorations. The beauty of Malfoy manor resembled a knife, with an edge sharp enough to cut. Nothing out of place. Nothing imperfect.

Hermione didn't think she could ever consider it her home.

Not for the first time did she wonder if she'd made the wrong choice.