Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author Notes: This story is written in response to a challenge by Scarlet.  The terms were that I was to continue the story after "She was Draco Malfoy's mistress".  Here's the original story and challenge –  .

I have tried to keep the characters close as close to canon as I could, but naturally, plot holes and slight OCC are inevitable.  I hope to hear what you have to say about this, so do review!  Thanks.

Secrets

By Campy Capybara

----'--@

A murmur spread amongst the guests as she entered the room.

She owned respect born of fear as the most powerful witch alive. If not in her own right, then certainly by association.

The best friend of Harry Potter.

The foremost protégé of Severus Snape.

But the ultimate scandal attached to the name of Hermione Granger brought with it, also, her greatest power.

She was Draco Malfoy's mistress.

----'--@

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a highly circulated women's magazine such as Witch Weekly reports that the very married and elegant war heroine was carrying on a torrid affair with the very married head of the Malfoy Empire, the story must therefore be true.  Especially if neither the Potters, nor the Malfoys would confirm or deny the allegations made by the magazine.  Consequently, after over five years of such reporting, the rumours had since become public knowledge, and then, become fact as well.

Therefore the arrival of the 35 year-old Hermione Granger on the arm of her very young and handsome unknown escort to the celebration of the Draco and Pansy Malfoy's fifteenth wedding anniversary undoubtedly caused quite a stir amongst the guests.

"The nerve!" hissed a whisper from a gaudily-robed witch to her companion.

"Indeed!" was the answering reply.

"Has she no shame?  No common decency?" another admonished, as the guests turned their furtive eyes towards the handsome couple at the door.

"Who's that escorting her?  One would think that The Man Who Triumphed would know better than become The Husband Who Was Cuckolded," sniggered a wizard whose eyes lingered on the still lovely form of Mrs. Potter.  "Robbing the cradle now, is she?"

Speculations about "the other woman's" appearance at the anniversary dinner without her husband, and the identity of her escort were quickly deliberated, and wild conclusions were formed.

The poised couple were ushered to their seats at the table of honour directly in front of the stage, where the Master of Ceremony prepared to begin the proceedings.

A quick sonorous spell and a hand gesture for silence, the MC had the guests' fullest attention, in great anticipation of what was to come.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here this evening to celebrate the fifteenth wedding anniversary of our hosts, Draco and Pansy Malfoy.  Could I invite you to please rise, as we welcome the happy couple with our best wishes?"

Music struck up as all eyes turned towards the entrance again.  The striking pair at the door paused before the guests and commenced to walk stately towards the stage.

With a murmured "you may be seated" to the guests, the MC allowed Draco Malfoy to take over the proceedings when the couple got onto the stage.

"Friends and family, thank you for making time to grace us with your presence this evening," Draco began.  "Both Pansy and I are most grateful for all your love and support in our marriage all these years."

Some heads nodded in the room in response to his gracious words, whilst others cynically snorted at Draco's statement, eyeing the red-robed brunette who was sitting just below the stage.  They could not fail to notice that she was holding hands with her young escort.  Most guests, however, were riveted to the blond, hypnotising man addressing them, who continued, "These fifteen years also mark the fifteenth anniversary of the fall of the Dark Lord – and the ensuing peaceful years are well-deserved and well-earned."

The audience spontaneously cheered and clapped heartily in agreement.  Most of the guests had survived the dark days more than a decade ago – neither those days, nor the sacrifices made then, could be easily forgotten.  Indeed, the ensuing prosperity of wizarding UK were founded on those who gave their all, in order that those that survive might have a secure future.

Allowing the applause to die down, Draco Malfoy swept his wintry eyes across the room, meeting the eyes of all his invited guests, and finally alighted on the face of the woman seated just before him.  "Therefore," he whispered, his voice catching, and the sonorous charm carried the whispery nuance across to all his guests, even as he kept his eyes on Hermione, "therefore, it is time for me to enter into my own peace and happiness."

The room seemed to take in a collective breath in shock.  What on earth did he mean?

Pansy Malfoy stepped up next to her husband and placed her right hand on his left shoulder in support.  She took his left hand in hers and gave Draco a watery smile before turning to the audience.

"My friends," her lovely contralto sounded clearly across the hushed room.  "Each of you invited here tonight was present at our wedding fifteen years ago; some of you are here representing friends who have fallen during those dark days."

She blinked way the tears threatening to fall, recollecting faces that no longer were in the crowd.  Taking a deep breath, she continued, "We have invited all of you here because you were witnesses to an elaborate deception—"

A loud gasp, and incredulous murmurs broke out amongst the tables.  Pansy raised her voice to recapture the attention of her audience, "Please, friends, please allow me to explain!"

When the room quietened down sufficiently, Pansy took another cleansing breath and gripped Draco's hands tighter.

"My marriage to Draco was part of Headmaster Dumbledore's elaborate plans to deceive the Dark Lord and his minions."  More murmurs followed with Pansy's implication that the venerable late Headmaster of Hogwarts had a hand in a deception that lasted fifteen years.

Pansy raised her hands to forestall further discussions.  "We needed at that time to convince the Death Eaters that although Draco had indicated his reluctance to join the Death Eaters, he was still partial to their cause.  Lucius' test of Draco's loyalty was to have him marry the daughter of an old Slytherin family.  Those were dark times, and I am sure you are all aware that trust was a rare commodity - no one could be trusted.  Only Headmaster Dumbledore, with his Mirror of Erised, was capable of knowing the hearts of all who approached him to serve in the fight against Voldemort – all whose heart's desire was the eradication of Voldemort and his minions."

The guests were by now, silently enthralled in Pansy's storytelling.  No one made any comment, but a few eyes flickered to Draco Malfoy, who was staring intensely at the brunette seat at the first table, whose hand was still grasped in her young escort's.

"So when Draco went to see Dumbledore about Lucius' demands for him, Dumbledore came to me.  Needless to say, I was very reluctant to marry Draco – not because Draco hasn't any good qualities, mind you, he was certainly handsome enough—" Pansy winked to lighten the sombre mood, and much to the amusement of her audience, Draco gave a derisive snort, closed his eyes and shook his head at her jibe.  He looked up again and gave the guests a wry smile.

"—But I was already secretly in love with another," continued Pansy wistfully.

"Oh," a witch in purple robes gasped aloud, covering her mouth with her hands.

Pansy smiled softly at her.  "Yes, I was already in love with another, and when Dumbledore came to me with this proposal, I was more than reluctant – I was devastated that I could not be with the man I love," she sighed, "But that wasn't the only tragedy in this story."

Pansy turned her face towards Draco and continued, "You see, unknown to all, Draco himself had pledge to marry his secret love, a woman who had bore him a child two years prior."

The suddenness of the bombshell created a tumultuous reaction.

"A child!" gasped an elderly witch to her husband.

"How romantic!" sighed a teenaged witch who had accompanied her parents to the dinner.

"Is this even possible?" a wide-eyed portly classmate of the couple asked aloud.

When the noise died down, Pansy continued her story.

"For the sake of his child's life, Draco had to hide his family from Lucius.  We were all so young then; barely out of our teens…" she collected herself and continued, "Anyway, when I first laid my eyes on his precious 2 year-old, I knew that I had to do all I could for the baby's sake.  Fortunately, the man I love was in total agreement to the deception we had to go through."  Another watery smile, and a single tear raced down Pansy's cheeks in her reminiscence.

"You all know that wizarding marriages are the most binding of all old magic; there is no way out of a marriage unless death breaks the covenant.  So it was with heavy hearts that Draco and I prepared to be married."

A few ladies in the room were sniffling into handkerchiefs conjured from the air.

"Unknown to us, Dumbledore had consulted with Professor Severus Snape, our old Potions Master about the problem, and they discovered that the ligare charm performed at weddings binds the person of witch and wizard for their lifetime, even if the person is in disguise," she paused, dramatically, and broke into a great smile, "both Hermione and myself took the Polyjuice potion to marry the men we love."

The shock and uproar of the guests was even louder than after the announcement of a Malfoy love-child.  The implications of Pansy's words were too extraordinary for words.  Wouldn't that mean—?

"Yes, the wedding you attended fifteen years ago was that of Draco and Hermione," declared Pansy, as she walked downstage towards the brunette, who was by now teary-eyed and still clutching the hand of her escort, "Hermione?"

Hermione stood up and faced the other woman.  Letting go of the young man's hand, she threw her arms around Pansy and hugged the other woman, to the stunned silence of the crowd.

With a whispered "go" from Pansy, Hermione walked up the stage into the arms of the love of her life.  "Hermione!" Draco breathed.

"But what about Harry?" shouted an incredulous Sir Ronald Weasley, the knighted manager of the Chudley Cannons.

"Yeah, and the baby?"  Echoed another, from across the room.

This time, the story was continued by Hermione, "Please, let me speak," she gestured with her left hand, as she held Draco's tightly in her right.

By now, the guests had forgotten all about the dinner.  Instead, they hungered to know more about this intriguing story.  Many of the guests felt bewildered, for all of them had known both the Malfoys and Potters on some level.  Some of the guests felt betrayed and angry; especially those that had known the two families far more intimately.  Nevertheless, they acceded Hermione's request to speak, and settled down.

Hermione let her gaze stray into Draco's eyes; "We found each other in the last month of our seventh year at Hogwarts."

A stunned silence met Hermione's statement.  Has it been for so long?  Many in the room wondered.

Draco nodded in response to Hermione's sweet smile, lifted their linked hands and kissed the back of her hand tenderly, in encouragement for her to continue.

"Draco had wanted to make our relationship known to all when it happened, but I stopped him.  It was in the beginnings of the war, and I knew that we had many obstacles we had to overcome; after all," she gave a wry smile, "you don't go from enemies for seven years, only to fall in love."

Hermione took a fortifying breath, "It was hardest not to tell the people we love, it agonised me to think what Ron and Harry would say to all this.  I feared that they wouldn't understand," she paused, sending an apologetic look to her red-haired best friend, who was slumped in his chair, staring hard at his water goblet, looking as if the water held the secrets of the universe.  "Ron and Harry had their duties to perform, and I couldn't tell them when it happened; and then… and then when we found that we were having Xavier, we couldn't… I couldn't risk Xavier – Xavier was all I had of Draco during those dark times when we were in hiding.  Then when full war broke out, and Ron and Harry were facing so much pressure in their Auror training and working against Voldemort, I couldn't tell them; I… we, that is, Headmaster Dumbledore and I couldn't afford to distract them, so we kept the truth from Harry and Ron and everyone else.  Professor Dumbledore was the only one who knew that Draco and I were in love."

"We were only 17 then," she pleaded for understanding, "and things were pretty much black and white; Draco had baited, taunted and gotten the Gryffindors into so much trouble that naturally we only saw him as the enemy.  Added to the fact that Harry kept seeing Lucius whenever he dealt with Voldemort or his minions, we just assumed that Draco was cut from the same cloth as his father.  But Draco—" she turned back to the blonde next to her, "—he was under pressure to toe the family line, and even when he made things hard for Harry and Ron, he never caused any harm to come my way."

Hermione rolled her eyes and smile, "Fine.  That's not quite true.  His threats and name calling hurt greatly, and his densaugeo in my fourth year mortified me. Then again, that hex wasn't aimed at me, now was it, Ron?"  She saw by the tilt of Ron's head that he had made a decision about her confession, and was pleased to see that it was in her favour.

"Well, who knew that ferret boy over there was a poor shot?" he volleyed back, good-naturedly, to the laughter of the other guests.  Draco merely smiled back at Ron with thanks in his grey eyes.  Hermione grinned at the red-head.

"Many of you were witnesses to our fights – coming from opposing houses, this isn't something new or strange.  But even during those times, I must admit, there was something about Draco that I fancied," she confessed shyly.  "Even when I slapped him in my third year – well, in my defence, he had insulted Hagrid, and I was just so angry and so disappointed in him for being so mean… Anyway, if you recall, I totally missed Charms because I ran to the lake and cried," she blushed.

"But Draco never sought to get back at me for slapping him.  I was waiting for his retaliation, but it never came.  Frankly, it was then that I started looking at him a bit differently.  Honestly," she smiled, "he was just like a enigma that I was obsessed with solving.  He was a subject that I took a secret delight in studying." She cut her eyes to Draco, who silently returned her amused smile.  It was obvious to all that Hermione's confessions were not new to him.

"In our fourth year, at the Quidditch World Cup, when the Death Eaters began their attacks, it was Draco who warned Harry, Ron and I about the attacks against muggles."  She frowned, "That was something that the three of us couldn't understand – especially after the slapping incident in the previous year, we thought that the Death Eater attack at the Quidditch World Cup would have had been the perfect revenge.  But Draco's intervention was so out of character for him; that is to say, that he even cared about what might happen to me if the Death Eaters got a hold of me…" she trailed off with a shudder.   "What Harry and Ron didn't know was that about a week after we got back to Hogwarts, Draco met me in the library and asked me in a round about way about that night.  At that time, we weren't sure about Draco's loyalties, so I cut him off.  Later on, in hindsight, I recognised that he was concerned about me, even though publicly he would never admit that he cared for a Mudblood."

"It was a few months later, at the Yule Ball in our fourth year, that I discovered that I might mean more to Draco than he let on.  It was just another piece of the puzzle that made him so intriguing to me.  You may remember that I went to the ball with Viktor Krum," she smiled at the Bulgarian ambassador's table, much to the delight of the two young children who looked up at their father for his role in this fairy tale.  "And whilst Viktor went off to get some refreshments for us, I overheard Pansy complaining that Draco was paying more attention to me than to her."  Hermione's twinkling eyes met her friend, who had taken over her seat at the table of honour.  "You can imagine how flattered I felt to hear what Pansy said.  From then on, I unconsciously looked for more pieces to fit the puzzle that was Draco."

"We were both made prefects in our fifth year.  Although opportunities to work together then were few, sixth year prefectorial duties forced us to work together on various school projects.  Whilst our partnership then was still strained, we were able to work more civilly with each other, still strained, but without resorting to immature name-calling and childish pranks," Hermione recalled.

"Needless to say, it was a strange dance we engaged in; on one hand, greatly compelled to one another, and on the other, enemies on opposing lines," Hermione caught Draco's eyes, and turned back to the room.  "And it all came to a head in our seventh year."

----'--@

Hermione trudged the dark corridors towards the Gryffindor Tower, on her way back from an intensive revision session for her NEWTs in the library.  As usual, she'd plain forgotten the time and missed curfew.  Fortunately, the professors were more lenient on the seventh years, knowing that for many of them, swotting in the Common Rooms was difficult and distracting, so the professors trusted that the seventh years would be matured enough to have legitimate reasons for being out of bed at midnight.

Well, except for perhaps Professor Snape and Filch, thought Hermione with a grimace.

Suddenly, Hermione spied light seeping from the door of the disused Charms classroom.  Perhaps another seventh year was also revising for the NEWTs like herself, and had forgotten the time.  It would not be an unusual occurrence; the Ravenclaws were known to indulge in all-night study sessions closer to major examinations.  Curious about the person or persons in the room, she silent made her way to the door, which was ajar.

"…impossible!  But… but the Concealment Spell?  That's a wickedly advanced piece of Charm," the awe in the voice was evident, "But do you think that's wise?  I know you've always been protective of her – Merlin knows, you'd never let any of the Slytherin pull a prank on her, but what if your father finds out?  What if she finds out?" the vaguely familiar male voice continued, concern and worry evident in his tone.

Apparently, what had probably started as a study session had become a private heart-to-heart.  Hermione was well aware that sometimes the quiet of a late night study session with a friend was conducive for emotional confessions that would never take place in the light of day.  Since she really couldn't identify the voice speaking, she decided not to eavesdrop at what was apparently something to do with matters of the heart.

Backing away from the door, she suddenly froze when she heard the answering voice.

"I don't know… I really don't know what to do – it's the only thing I'm able to do to hide her from him.  I can't let him harm her, Blaise, I can't!  She doesn't deserve what Father has in store for her, I can't…I won't allow that to happen."

It wasn't so much the sentiment expressed that immobilised Hermione – it was that voice, in such a whisper and with such an unfamiliar mix of desperation and longing that kept her by that door.

She was familiar with that voice of course.  She had heard it daily – laced with malice, taunts, and insults – in that cultured, low drawl that never failed to cause her to retaliate with the appropriate sparring words, the appropriate flashes of angry eyes and the appropriate flushes of hate.  Unknown to all but herself, it was also the same low drawl that had always sent a betraying thrill down her spine, pooling in the pits of her stomach, flushing her cheeks for a whole other reason.  It was the same voice tinting her dreams and wilful daydreams sitting alone by the lake or after a long night of revision.

Curiosity and hope burned strongly in her heart as she strained to catch each nuance of the voice in such an alien tone.

"Do you know, Blaise?  I've been obsessed with her since our third year.  Sure, at first, my obsession with her was because of that slap she gave me – I was abiding my time, looking for an opportunity to seek revenge.  But somehow, instead of growing bitter with her, I… I found myself… intrigued – for wont of a better word, yes I suppose – intrigued with her.  I don't know, Blaise.  I think it was the fact that unlike the goons with her who would actively seek to make life difficult for me, she didn't.  She could have – she certainly had plenty of opportunities, but she didn't.  And that intrigued me."

A thoughtful sigh, and he continued, "But it wasn't until after the Yule Ball in our fourth year, that I started dreaming about her.  Since then, Blaise, she's been haunting my dreams; and recently, the dreams recur almost nightly.  So, what does a fourteen-year-old do when he starts dreaming about a girl whom he has been picking on almost from the start of their knowing each other?  Well, he panics," a self-depreciating snort, "Initially, I tried to push her away in every way I could think of, attacking the goons that she's always with, but nothing worked.  Later, it became just a war of words and a barely-there civility.  It's such a joke—" a deep breath, "—we tear each other down during the day, but at night, when I lay on my bed, all I can think of is how I want to take her into my arms and tell her… tell her I don't mean whatever I say in the light of day, that I do those reprehensible things because that's what's expected of a slimy Slytherin, and that it's because there no way that anyone will ever believe that I – that Draco Malfoy – could ever feel anything but hatred towards a Mudblood!"  The rising anger in his voice broke into breathy laughter.

"It's utter madness, Blaise," he continued, more broken and subdued than Hermione ever heard him before.  "It's ironic that the only person that I'm infatuated with is the only person I can't ever have and can never tell.  I can't ever tell her that I admire her courage and compassion.  I can't tell her I am in awe of her brilliance.  I can't bloody tell her that each time we cross paths, I don't want to remain aloof with her, but I just want to… I just want to…" he trailed off.  "I only know that I cannot simply go on without her knowing, yet for her safety, I must," he breathed, almost inaudibly.

A long silence followed the confession.  Hermione could feel her heart race and her hands grow cold.  The Slytherins have yet mentioned the girl in question, but she could make an intelligent guess as to whom they were talking about.

Blaise broke the stillness; "But if your father finds out…"

Another derisive snort, and Draco answered, "But he won't, would he?  I'm his Slytherin son, am I not?  Especially since I've been at them since first year, haven't I?  Is anything going to change?  Father believes that my allegiance to Dumbledore is a strategic positioning to make sure that they've got a junior Death Eater on the inside.  Father's generation doesn't realise that their 7-year scramble to defeat a boy; an ordinary boy has alienated the lot of us.  Their archaic ideals of what the wizarding society ought to be – Blaise, you and I both know what Voldemort means for us—"

"—the Dark Ages," Blaise intoned grimly.

"Right in one," Draco intoned grimly.  "We'll be thrown back to the Dark Ages, 'cause the Dark Lord would never just be satisfied with the wizarding world.  He'll want more, and you know that would throw us back to the good old days of witch hunts and what-nots."

"True," the other boy mused reflectively, "we might have magic, but they have numbers; it is inevitable we'll be easily overpowered."

Another pause of silent musings, only to be broken by, "Besides, she won't find out about what I've done.  Don't forget, Blaise – Hermione hates me."  A pause, and Draco continued in an exasperated tone, "Fine, perhaps hate is too strong a word – we have worked co-operatively on school projects before.  But the point is that she doesn't like me or trust me, and that means that she'll never figure out that she's been protected by the Celarius I've charmed her bracelet with—"

Hermione gasped softly, as she fingered the silver charm bracelet she'd received on her sixteenth birthday.  She'd often wondered who had gifted her with the exquisite jewellery (she had suspected Harry), but some of the presents she had received were not tagged, and because of the sheer number of presents, she couldn't keep track of all who had given her presents.  She didn't want to ask around as to the person who gave her the bracelet, for fear of offending those who had given her gifts of lesser value.  Therefore after checking with Professor Flitwick, who had given her a thoughtful look and cleared the bracelet of dark magic, she had appreciated the sentiment the bracelet represented and had worn it since then.

"—will keep her from Father's tagging Charms.  It's not quite Fidelius, but it's enough to keep him from knowing her exact whereabouts, and should be useful to deflect some hexes.  And as far as Father's concerned, she had sensed his tagging Charms each time that she was tagged and had performed the Celarius herself."

With the evidence of her name confirmed on Malfoy's lips, and the charm bracelet on her right wrist, Hermione felt that she had heard enough.  To say that she was shocked was an understatement – there were too many threads to unravel with this midnight confession between the Slytherins.  She did not want to dwell on what her bracelet meant – it was too close to what she had harboured in her heart of hearts as an impossible dream.  She knew that she needed to get away from the door and to think.  She mustn't be sidetracked by Draco…no, Malfoy.  She needed to think what it meant for Dumbledore's Army to know that they might have support in their fight against Voldemort's Dark legions from the most unlikely quarter.  With a whispered silencio to her feet, she ran as fast as she could back to the Gryffindor Tower.

----'--@

The first and second years were huddled in small groups in the dark dungeon.  A few of the girls were trying to contain their tears, comforted by their friends.  The boys were subdued and some were just staring glassy-eyed out into the dimness.

But at least they are safe for the time being, Hermione thought, as she surveyed the sealed room.  She turned to the only other seventh year with her – Malfoy, who was busy organising a few less traumatised boys and girls to distribute the emergency chocolates, bottled water and blankets to the groups, by their dim wandlight.

Hermione was exhausted.  When the Death Eaters had broken though Hogwarts' wards, the Hogwarts ghosts and portraits had raised a cacophony of warning cries, literally loud enough to raise the dead.  With the emergency drill exercises the school had conducted since discovering that Voldemort had plans to attack the school within the year, the first and second years knew instinctively to make their way to the shelter in the dungeons, where they would be hidden until the Headmaster had the situation under control.  At least she hoped that he would soon get things under control.

Hermione had lost Ron, her duty partner in the melee, but as she was herding the young ones, Malfoy was on his way up from the dungeons toward the Great Hall, where the major attack was taking place.  Seeing how Hermione had trouble herding the younger kids as well as countering hexes from a masked Death Eater, he helped provide much-needed backup by casting the Impedimenta on the Death Eater from behind, freeing her to concentrate on moving the young ones down to the shelter.

When they got to the underground shelter, both Malfoy and Hermione had sealed the room magically.  Hermione then moved around the groups checking for injuries and healing them with mediwizardry skills gleaned from Madam Pomfrey, whilst Draco got busy organising the supplies.  Fortunately, except for some scrapes and bruises, there were no major injuries sustained by the kids.

Hermione was taking a breather in a corner of the room, away from the younger students, when she felt a warm blanket cover her shoulders.  "Best keep warm," Draco mumbled to her as he awkwardly moved away towards the first and second years on the other side of the dark room.

Where Hermione sat, she could hear Draco's authoritative, yet comforting tones apprising the younger students of the situation.  He reminded them of the drill – they would be put into a magical sleep, and when the situation was stabilised, they would be awakened.  He advised them to get comfortable under the blankets before eating the dreamless sleep-laced chocolate.  "It will be over before you know it, and I promise, on Slytherin honour, to enervate you when the worst is over."  The younger ones felt assured because they knew that despite Slytherins being cunning and wily, to swear by Slytherin honour was the most solemn oath a Slytherin could make, and therefore was not lightly given.  The Slytherins' warp sense of honour would ensure that the promise would be carried out to the letter.  Comforted by the prefect's sincerity, the students quickly settled down.  After acknowledging their fellow refugees, the first and second years ate their chocolates, arranged their blankets and fell asleep.

After checking that his instructions were followed, and all the first and second years were sleeping soundly and comfortably, Malfoy walked over to Hermione and crouched down to her eye-level, as she kept vigil over the students.

"Granger?" he asked awkwardly, "How are you holding up?  Could I get you anything?"

Hermione looked up at him.  "No… um thanks, I'm fine.  Just exhausted."

"Well," he was hesitant.  He seemed as if he wanted to say something, but decided to end with, "If you need me, I'll be over at the supply cabinet."  Unfolding himself gracefully, he started to move towards the other side of the room.

Not knowing whether it was her fear for her friends trapped outside the safe room, or the weight of responsibility she felt at watching over the lives of the younger students, she felt the insane need for companionship, even if it was with Malfoy.  And no, it has nothing to do with what you found out two weeks ago, she admonished her subconscious voice angrily, as her left hand nervously played with the bracelet on her right wrist.  She noticed that like herself, Draco was clutching his wand possessively in his right hand.

"Um… Malfoy, if… that is, if you've… um… the kids are already sleeping, there's no need to be at the supplies cabinet…" Hermione paused, closed her eyes, took a bracing breath, and tried again.  "Malfoy, could you… that is, would you please sit with me for a while?"

Draco's awkwardness was quickly dispelled when he watched with slight amusement at the way Hermione hemmed and hawed through her request for him to stay by her side.  However, dropping to sit beside her brought all his nervousness to the fore, especially when Hermione scooted over to him and offered to share her blanket with him.  Draco was feeling far from the chill of the dark dungeon, but he carefully schooled his face from displaying anything other than impassivity, sharing the warmth of the blanket with her.

They sat side by side silently for minutes that felt like hours.  Each person's thoughts churned from worry at what was happening outside of the sealed room to a great awareness of the nearness of the other person's warmth and scent.

Finally, when the weight of the silence became unbearable, Hermione whispered into the void; "Why aren't you working on your father's side?"

Startled out of his silent musings, Draco turned to the girl at his left and looked at her, pondering how best to answer that question.

"I don't know," he replied simply.  His slate grey eyes looked fast into her dark brown eyes.  He turned from her eyes and stared out over the sleeping students on the other side of the room, and continued quietly, "What makes you think that I'm not?  I could have been on my way to the Great Hall to lend my support to the Death Eaters, you know."

"But you didn't," Hermione countered quietly, laying her left hand on his left arm.

He turned back to her at her touch.  "But I could have," he insisted.

"You wouldn't," Hermione was adamant.  "Besides, that's moot now.  You've saved us from that Death Eater from the corridor."

The couple lapse into silence again, since Draco had nothing to counter that statement.  Quietly, he said, "But how would you know that I won't betray the lot of you to my father later?"

"You wouldn't," Hermione's tone brooked no argument.  "You wouldn't sit here with me if you wanted to betray us.  After getting the lot of them sleeping, you could have easily hexed me and unsealed the door yourself."

Draco snorted at Hermione's logic, "You're such a Know-It-All, Granger."

"Why, thank you for that compliment, Malfoy," she returned his wry smile.

"It's Draco," he looked intensively at her.  "Malfoy reminds me too much of my father."

"Well, Dray-co," Hermione emphasised his name, "you still haven't answered my question."

Draco looked over at the sealed door, which was glowing with a faint red light.  When any of the Hogwarts staff gave the password, the light would turn green, a signal for the watchers inside that the worst was over, and they could then come out.

"Why do you want to know, Granger?" he asked.  He had turned back to stare at the door.

"It's Hermione.  Granger reminds me too much of my father," she quipped.

Draco shook his head and chuckled at how easily Hermione threw his own words back at him.  Still avoiding her question, Draco asked again, lifting his brow elegantly, "So, Herr-my-oh-nee, why the need to know?"

"Haven't you figured it out yet?"

Draco shook his head again, this time frowning.

"I always have an insatiable need to know everything.  How else can I maintain my know-it-all status?" she smiled teasingly at him.

Amused, Draco gave her a wry half-smile.  The Hermione he knew did not have conversations with him that did not pertain to their prefectorial duties or school projects.  The Hermione he knew kept her distance from him with perfect civility.  The Hermione he knew would never cross wit with him, unless to counter his nastiness towards Potter and Weasley.  The Hermione he knew would never have this teasing repartee with him, which nonetheless left him feeling that the hundreds of imagined conversations he had with her were but pale imitations of the real pleasure of talking with her.

"How well you avoided answering my question, Hermione," he drawled in acknowledgement, a slight smile touching his lips.

"But I did answer your question," she insisted, adding softly, "But you haven't answered mine."  She returned to picking nervously at her bracelet.

Draco's eyes fell upon her nervous habit of playing with the bracelet he had anonymously given her for her birthday last year.  It had always given him an inordinate feeling of pleasure to see her unconsciously fidgeting with it when she was anxious or in deep contemplation; it was as if he'd marked her without her knowing it, and he felt that propriety pride at protecting her with the Celarius Charm that the bracelet carried.  Most Slytherin of me, he mused wryly, I wonder how she'd feel to know that the bracelet came from me.

Looking to avoid her weighty question, and curious at her feelings towards his birthday gift to her, he commented nonchalantly, "That's a nice piece of jewellery.  A gift from your parents?"

Hermione blushed.  She had known for the past two weeks that the bracelet was Draco's gift to her, and that he had in a typical Slytherin fashion cast an advanced protection charm on it.  She felt an immense rush of emotions tugging at her core – warm pleasure, shyness, and intense curiosity at why he would draw her attention to the bracelet; and she could only answer with a quiet, "No, not from my parents."  Continuing softly, with a steadfast look at the silver jewellery and stroking the fine detailing with her index finger, with, "I don't even know who gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday.  It's perfectly beautiful, and I've often wondered who would have gifted me with this.  I would have much liked to thank the person personally, especially since wearing it makes me feel like there's someone watching over me."  She concluded, looking up into Draco's slate grey eyes.

At that moment, Draco had to bite the inside of his lips to keep himself from grinning madly, She'd called it 'perfectly beautiful' – she'd called my gift 'perfectly beautiful'!  Draco felt as if he'd been hit with a hundred Cheering Charm, all imploding simultaneously within him.  He wanted to kiss her there and there, and tell her… tell her… tell her something, anything.

But Hermione wasn't finished.  With a mischievous glint in her eyes, she added, "I really don't know why the person has remained anonymous.  Perhaps she feels shy about giving such an expensive—"

She? The word filtered into Draco's endorphin-fogged brain.  Hey, wait a minute…

"How would you know that it was a girl that gave you that?" he interrupted.

Gotcha!  Hermione laughed internally.

"Draco, it's more than obvious that this exquisite piece of jewellery was picked out by a girl.  Besides," she shrugged, "if it were a boy, he'd probably be gay to have such magnificent taste in jewellery."

Draco was indignant!  To have his Malfoy sexual orientation questioned was not something to be borne!  He knew that there were rumours floating around that alluded to this, especially since he seemed not to be interested in anyone from Hogwarts' female population after his fifth year very public break-up with Pansy Parkinson.  But he was a virile hot-blooded male – not some pansy, dammit!  His temper rose, and as angry people were often not thinking people, Draco narrowed his eyes and blurted out, "I'll have you know, Hermione, that I personally designed that bracelet, and had the Malfoy goblin jewellers create it to my exact specifications!  And contrary to your narrow-minded prejudiced beliefs, not all men with 'magnificent taste in jewellery' are GAY!"

Hermione merely grinned impishly at his explosive reaction.

When Draco realised with horror what he had inadvertently revealed, he spluttered, "Not that I… um, that is to say, I…"

Regaining his composure with a quick breath, he turned his gaze back to Hermione, realising that she must have already known that the bracelet was from him.  For a while, they appraised each other silently, one of them wondering how this revelation would be accepted, and the other trying to reconcile the puzzle, wrapped in an enigma that is Draco Malfoy.  She thought that his procuring the bracelet to contain the charm was the extent of the gift, but to realise that he had even gone so far as to design the bracelet with her in mind…

"Thank you for the bracelet, Draco," Hermione whispered to the Slytherin, as she leaned forward and gave him a kiss on his left cheek, "and for the Celarius," she continued, with another kiss on his right.

Draco breathed in Hermione's scent when she neared, and released that breath in a sigh.  He felt his heart racing after the first kiss, and at the second, his heart stopped cold.  Shit! She knows, she knows, she knows…

Feeling Draco's sudden tensing, Hermione sat back and distanced herself a little from the boy to explain herself.

"Two weeks ago, while I was making my way back to Gryffindor Tower from the library, I overheard you talking to Blaise," she confessed into the dark.  "I walked around school in a daze for a few days after that, confused and not knowing what to do about what I'd learn from your confessions to him.  The way I saw it," she glanced at the blonde seated slightly apart from her, "I had only two options: one, to totally ignore what I'd learn and to carry on as if nothing has happened.  Or two, to find some way to thank you for your gift."

She allowed Draco a moment for what she'd said to sink in, and then, "I've been looking for a way to thank you for the past week, but something or other always crops up.  I've toyed with the idea of sending you an owl post, but I felt I needed to thank you in person.  And then… and then, when the alarm rang out, I thought I'd lost that opportunity forever," she trailed off.

"You're wrong, you know," Draco murmured into the quiet.

Hermione shook herself out of her silence, "Pardon?"

"You're wrong.  You had a third option," he said, and clarified further when he saw her confused head shaking, "You said you had two options; to go on as before or to thank me.  You had another option, you know – you could have confronted me and returned me my gift."

"No, I couldn't," Hermione countered immediately.  "I could never return my bracelet to you.  It's your gift to me.  It's the only thing I have that you've given me, and it's all the more treasured because I know it's from you."

"Hermione," Draco breathed.  Dare he hope?  Dare he believe what she was hinting at?

"I've always thought that you hated me, the way you bullied Harry, Ron and I.  Or at least, that you disliked me.  Even so, there was always something about you… something about you that drew me to you.  I dare not confess my feelings to anyone because—" a derisive snort and a roll of her eyes, "—well, because you were our nemesis, and would've used this to your advantage.  Honestly, I'd be mortified if anyone thought that I was infatuated with you, lumping me together with all the other girls in Hogwarts with crushes on you," Hermione looked away from Draco, got up and walked up to the sealed door, which still glowed red.  Lowering her voice, she added, "Although… I had harboured hopes when Pansy complained of your inattention to her at the Yule Ball in our fourth year, but I hid those hopes as deep as I could because… because you did not change."  At the back of her mind, she wondered how Harry, Ron and the Professors were faring.  Surely the Aurors would be lending their aid by now.  What was happening outside?

"Even then?  In our fourth year?  You liked me even then?" Draco tried to wrap his mind around Hermione's confessions, even as his eyes followed the Gryffindor's walk to the door, "I thought you've always hated me."

He scrambled up and walked towards her, trapping her by the door.  Hermione was still facing the door, not noticing that Draco was standing just behind her.  "I missed a whole period of Charms in third year because of you.  I was angry and disappointed with you and went to the lake and cried my heart out."

Hermione's bold Gryffindorish confession of her feelings left Draco speechless. 

He looked down at Hermione's untamed mane and leaned his face in, as he placed his left hand on her left shoulder, and he whispered into her right ear, "And I never knew…"

Gently, he turned her around, and tipped her chin up. His fingers traced the line of her jaw, where her skin was so soft.  "I'm sorry I'd made you cry, Hermione," he searched her warm brown eyes, "I'm sorry for all the times I called you names or hurt you."

Draco surreptitiously slipped the wand he was holding in his right hand into his wand pocket, and with his free hand, he traced her eyebrow and cheeks.  Her eyes slowly closed as she felt his soft caress on her face.  "Oh, don't close your eyes, Hermione.  You've got such beautiful, warm eyes," Draco murmured.

Hermione's eyes flew open and she saw Draco leaning down to her.  She felt his lips lightly caressing hers.  Her own answered his with a warm eagerness that took him by surprise momentarily, and then he forgot to even think.  Their sweet chaste kiss turned more passionate, and when they finally broke apart for air a while later, they were both flushed and breathing heavily.

Draco looked up at the door.  It was still glowed red.  What was taking them so long?  Surely one side would have overcome the other by now.

Hermione followed Draco's line of sight, and discerned where his thoughts were.

"Draco," she said, as she pull him away from the door to where they were sitting, "we need to talk."

They sat side by side, and then Hermione decided to crawl into Draco's lap.  Draco wrapped the blankets around the both of them, for the dungeon had gotten much cooler.  Sitting quietly by each other, their thoughts turned to their allies beyond the sealed door.  Worry, fear and concern were soon overwhelming their hope.  The chill in the room did not help remove the ominous fear that descended upon Hermione that her friends were lost to Voldemort's attacks.

"Draco," she whispered, burrowing deeper into his warmth, needing that comfort from a familiar person, even if she had view him as her nemesis until about 2 weeks ago, "there is a possibility that Hogwarts has fallen to Vol…Voldemort," she trembled, "too much time has passed."

"Hermione, I promise you, if that comes to pass, I'll do everything in my power to protect you," Draco promised with steel in his voice.  "My father still believes I'm on his side.  I can convince him that I've captured you and ask for you as my reward.  You will be under my protection; I'll not let any harm come to you."

Hermione shook her head sadly, "No, Draco.  You might be able to save me, but what about the others?" she gestured to the sleeping children.  "What about them?"

"But don't you understand, Hermione?  I don't care what happens to the others – only what happens to you," he said, resting his forehead on hers.  "I'll do anything to make sure you're safe – you know that."

"But—"

"Hermione," the boy interrupted her protest, "I had already given up everything the minute I gave you that bracelet.  Had my father found out about the Celarius – let's just say that disownment would be the least of my worries."

Hermione's eyes widened.  She had not considered that implication during her 2-week reflection.  That was a declaration if there ever was one.

Hermione's silence made Draco uncomfortable.  "Look, Hermione," he tried to explain, "I know what I said… I… I don't mean to make you uncomfortable.  The thing is… the thing is I've been in love with you for ages.  I know all this comes to you as a surprise, and that this isn't the perfect time for all this confession," he tried lightening the gravity of the moment with a self-deprecating shake of his head, "but I want you to know that I'm not expecting you to do anything about this.  I mean, I know that it's one thing to secretly lik—"

Hermione had cut off Draco's rambling with a swift kiss.

Draco sighed, "—but quite another thing—"

The girl in his lap punctuated this with another kisses.

"—to expect—"

Another kiss.

"—you—"

Kiss.

"—to reciprocate—"

A kiss, and a "Shut up, Draco!" punctuated with yet another kiss, which the young man responded to ardently.

They finally broke for air, gazing into each other's eyes, momentarily forgetting about their precarious situation in the attack.

It was Hermione's glance towards the red-lit door that brought the severity of their circumstances back to them.

"Hermione, I know this isn't the time or place, but if… but if Hogwarts fell, I'd do anything to protect you.  It sounds selfish, but dammit," his exasperation was reflected in the hard glint of his eyes, "Hermione, I just found you; I can't afford to lose you."

Hermione chewed on her bottom lips.  She knew exactly what Draco meant, even if it offended her Gryffindor sensibilities.  She knew exactly what it meant for her and their charges if Hogwarts fell to Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  She had a clear idea of the atrocities that would be done to them – death, in fact would be a blessing in the light of the vile tortures the Death Eaters delighted themselves in.  She and the others would be mere spoils of war; and if Draco—

She shuddered, not daring to continue her line of thought.

Quickly sorting through her emotions, Hermione gave into her Gryffindor impulsiveness; and with a sudden determination, she turned to Draco and said, "Draco, I want," she hesitated, "and I want you to do something for me.  Please promise me."

Draco's Slytherin wariness kicked in at her request, especially since she had asked him to make a promise she did not lay down the conditions for.

"Hermione, you know I'd do anything for you," he answered cautiously, "even be civil towards Potter and Weasley, if you want me to."

Hermione smiled because she knew that it took a great deal out of Draco to make that offer, but that wasn't what she wanted.  "Do you give me your promise?" she asked again.  She knew that dealing with Draco meant dealing with Slytherin cunning, a challenge she enjoyed going up against, for Draco had once again, side-stepped her request easily.

Seeing that Hermione had left no options open for him, Draco looked at her and solemnly promised to do as she asked.

"I want you… I want you to," she stammered nervously, dropping her eyes to her fingers toying with the bracelet, "…"

"What was that, Hermione?  I couldn't catch the last part.  Could you repeat what you said?" he asked, concern evident on his face.

Hermione took a deep breath, turned towards Draco and kissed his lips with a renewed vigour.  All thoughts of requests, the impending surrender, Death Eaters, gloom, fled Draco's mind.  There were only lips – her lips! – and hands and deep breaths, and groans of pleasure flooding his mind.

Hermione broke from the kiss, looked into Draco's eyes, and with a glint of a strength Draco had never seen in her eyes, she told him, "I want you to make love to me."

Draco's eyes widened and he blinked.  Did he hear her right?

Seeing the obvious question in his eyes, she furthered, "We may not live to survive this war, Draco, and even if we managed to survive it according to your plans…I will be," she hesitated, "there's no guarantee that I will be given to you.  And I may be forced to… to… to do that under duress.  I don't want my first time to be like that, Draco.  I don't want it to be like that," she shook her head empathically, eyes tearing up, "I want… I want my first time to be with someone who loves me.  I… I am afraid, Draco," her tears fell from her chocolate warm eyes, "because at this point, I'm not in control.  I… I need that control.  I need to be able to have some control over my life."

Draco looked at Hermione intensely, belying the thoughts and emotions churning within him.  He understood what Hermione was saying – this was the take-charge girl that he admired, and to see her in such an uncharacteristic manner – he had to ask, "What about Potter and Weasley?"

Hermione felt as if she had been stupefied.

Quietly, Draco added, "You forget, Hermione, what if Hogwarts won?  I don't want you to regret this if I accede to your request.  I don't want to have to deal with Potter and Weasley and their self-righteousness when we get out of here.  And Hermione," he paused, looking for the right words, "I don't want to lose you because of this.  I won't be able to love you only this one time.  I want to love you again," he placed a tender, chaste kiss on her forehead, "and again," a kiss on her nose, "and again," a final kiss on her lips.  "I want to love you forever," he declared, his forehead touching hers.

"We might not have forever," she responded, "we might only have tonight, but Draco, I know what you're saying.  I love Harry and Ron, but they are like brothers to me – I would never… I would never ask this of them if either of them were here."  She took a deep breath, adding, "I ask this of you, because… because I," a grimace, and then, "oh never mind.  Forget I asked."

Hermione made as if to get out of Draco's lap, but she was held down by his hands on her waist.

"Hermione, wait."

When the girl in his arms finally stopped struggling, he continued with a half-smile, "Far be it from me to deny my lady love her wishes.  But are you sure?"

She nodded, blushing.

"No regrets?"

"Never."

"And if we do survive?  What then?" he asked apprehensively

"Draco, I want you to know that I'm not taking this lightly, neither am I able to tell you what tomorrow may bring.  I know that you're in love with me," she smiled shyly, "and I think… I think that I am in a fair way to joining you."

Draco's face literally lit up the dim room.  Not even his memories at finally catching the Snitch before Potter did in his sixth year compared to what he felt at that moment.  He answered her with a passionate kiss.

Their kissing this time was more fevered and intense.  Draco knew what this kiss would lead to, and he wanted to make sure that Hermione would have only good memories of what this night wrought, when, not if, everything was resolved.  He sought to let her see his passion and longing in his gentle ministrations to her needs.  This was her first time, and he wanted it to be special, even though they were in a room full of sleeping younger students, with the grave likelihood of Death Eaters storming through the sealed door.  He wanted to hurry, but he didn't want to rush the lovemaking.  He felt a strange emotional mix of fulfilment, silent promises made, and hope for a future he wasn't sure there would be with this girl he had obsessed over since his third year.

As for Hermione, Draco's passionate assault on her senses sent her free falling in a realm she had no foothold on.  In this place, she could not rely on her hard facts and study notes.  In this place was only a sensory paradise – of seeing her lover's face surrendering to her touch; of sighs and moans and delightful groans; of tasting sweet lips and salt-tinged skin; of breathing in her lover's scent, blending with her own; of touch – o glorious touch! – branding her as his alone.  This was a paradise the bookish young girl had experience vicariously by eavesdropping on her roommates whispered comments late at night, a paradise experienced through novellas she'd be hard pressed to admit reading, a paradise that haunted her dreams which she'd never let known in the light of day.

Later, as the lovers lay entwined in each other's embrace, under the warm blankets, the war forgotten for those brief stolen moments, they whispered promises to each other mingled with kisses and sighs.  Hermione knew then that whatever the future may hold, she would never leave her lover's side, for he had not just made love to her; he had worshipped her, body and soul.  He had pledged his life to protect her, and it was not something Hermione took frivolously.

Finally, after 16 hours trapped in that room, the warm red glow from the door turned abruptly green, an obvious change in the dimly lit room.  Quickly and wordlessly, the new lovers gathered up clothes and changed into them, tidying themselves up before raising both their wands out before the door.

At Draco's signal, Hermione spelled the door open, whilst Draco provided back-up, just in case the wizards behind the door were unfriendly.

"Hermione!" was the loud greeting from a very agitated Ron Weasley.  "I'm so glad that you're alright!" he exclaimed, as he pulled the girl into a bear hug.  "We were worried sick!"

In the ensuing chaos of noise and activities – enervating the sleeping students, explanations of the skirmishes at Hogwarts, and of the time taken by the Professors to put the Castle back into some semblance of order before getting to the sleeping children; Draco and Hermione were pulled apart and their secret tryst was never discovered.

----'--@

"We kept our relationship secret our seventh year on because Lucius and many of the Death Eaters managed to retreat, and Voldemort was still at large.  When I found myself pregnant with Xavier the day before graduation, both Draco and I went to see Headmaster Dumbledore with our plight," the elegant woman revealed to her captive audience.

"Dumbledore sent me on a scholarship to study magic in the prestigious Sekolar Sihir di Indonesia, which, as you all know, is unplottable and located on one of Indonesia's thousands of smaller unmapped islands.  I left UK for Indonesia about two months later, four months pregnant with Xavier, before anyone could suspect any scandal.  There, Draco and I had our idyllic little family," she smiled in reminiscence.  "It was not all a bed of roses, though – there was a war in UK, and like it or not, Draco and our family was tied to whatever happened here.  We owe Dumbledore too much.  I worked on a potion with Professor Snape, researching the magical ingredients found in South East Asia, whilst Draco continued his work spying on Lucius' activities.  Of course, it was very difficult for Draco, for he had refuse to take the Dark Mark, giving the excuse that he could continue to provide Lucius information much easier without the mark.  After a couple of years though, Lucius sought to tie Draco down through marriage."

Hermione frowned, "Through all this time, Xavier was hidden safely in Indonesia with the trustworthy Indonesian nanny in our employ.  Draco and I had to live a secret life commuting to our house in Indonesia.  It was easier for me.  Doing research meant that I need not maintain a public profile and so I spent a great deal of time with Xaiver," she smiled at her handsome boy, who was listening avidly to her story, "but it was different for Draco.  However, we were always careful to make appearances both separately and together at various wizarding events to ensure that our relationship remained secret, until such a time that the secret could be revealed.  It was bearable for a while, but then Lucius recalled Draco back to Wiltshire to 'do his duty' to the Malfoy name," her voice hardened in sarcasm.

"Again, to Dumbledore we went, and he had contacted Pansy with our problem.  But my heart broke when I realised that I will not be able to marry Draco, the father of my Xavier; and neither was Pansy able to marry the man she love."  The women exchanged a look, and Hermione resumed her story.

"Pansy came to our Indonesia hideaway with her lover, and both Draco and I were very surprised to find that it was Harry—"

The audience exploded into exclamations once more.  Many in the audience had already suspected that the mysterious fourth person in the tale was Harry Potter and the confirmation of it only cause them to confer more with each other.  But where was he?  Where was the Man Who Triumphed?  Where was the Hero of the Wizarding World?

Hermione continued her story and the people quickly settle down.  "Like Pansy said, Professor Snape discovered that ligare bound a marriage even when the couple is under disguise, so I took Pansy's place at the wedding.  A month later, she took my place at what was to be my wedding.  No one knew; not even our best friends," she trailed off, with an apologetic look towards Ron and Ginny, who were the Potter's best man and bridesmaid; and Blaise and Millicent, who were the Malfoy's.

"Getting married was the easy part, staying together, being seen together in public was the difficult part.  Then, about a month after the Potter wedding, the final war took place, and we won.  Finally, we thought, finally, the truth can be revealed!  But—" Hermione could not continue; her face crumpled and twin tracks of tears traced down her cheeks.  Draco gave his brave Gryffindor wife a gentle hug, wiped her tears with his thumb, and took over the story telling.

"Forgive my wife," he said, with a pleasure that lit up his slate-grey eyes.  "This part of the tale is very difficult, especially for her."

The distinguished blonde man silently considered how best to continue the tale.  "As you all know, Harry and I were both seriously injured in the war.  Whilst recuperating, the media frenzy at the time focussed greatly on the parts we'd both played."  Wryly, he added, "Naturally, Harry was the Man Who Triumphed; but my part in the war was much more ambiguous.  No reporter dared to question my true allegiance; just as no reporter worth his salt would dare to print that I was actively serving in Dumbledore's Army.  This did not matter to me in the least, because I thought that finally, Hermione and I could be open about our relationship.  Finally, Xavier can come home to live with us in the UK."

He stopped his tale, and the room was silent.  Each person in that room knew that the reason for the 15, nay, 17-year secret would be revealed soon.

"Dumbledore came to me one night during my convalesce in St. Mungo's.  He requested that I keep my relationship with Hermione a secret for some time longer.  Until all the Death Eaters were rounded up, Xavier would not be safe, he said.  I knew this was true – as it was, my status was ambiguous and I worried that Hermione and Xavier might be targeted to get back at me, especially if the deception at our wedding was revealed.  Dumbledore then gave me another reason – a far more pervasive one.  He said that for the sake of rebuilding the wizarding society, we should keep the truth hidden for a while longer.  The fact that Harry the Hero had participated in a deception, might be used by some wizards to create post-war chaos, where order and rebuilding were most needed.  Dumbledore convinced me that Harry understood the situation and was willing to continue our deception for a while longer.  Hermione was not happy about it, but since we owed much to Dumbledore, we agreed.  Two months later, Dumbledore passed on, and the secret transferred to the new Headmaster, Professor Snape, who had already suspected the truth when he was asked about ligare and the Polyjuice."

"One year wasn't enough for the scars that Voldemort caused to heal; not two years or even five years.  Rebuilding our society took a great deal of time.  If it wasn't dealing with the Giants, it was dealing with House Elf rights," he smiled wry at his wife, who blushed.  "Since our system of governance has changed, Potter had an intensive time dealing with one issue after another.  By the time Xavier was old enough to attend Hogwarts, we had already been living this way for nine years.  In a sense, we've gotten used to having to resort to Polyjuice in the UK, or living for months away in Asia, whilst Potter and Pansy were coping in UK.  Fortunately, Potter had a home in Madagascar where they could retreat to for weekends and holidays, away from prying eyes."

"However, when the owl came to enrol Xavier to Hogwarts, we went to Headmaster Snape, who helped us procure an unplottable in UK, where we could live as ourselves apart from our 'public selves'.  Unfortunately, it was during this time that unsavoury articles started circulating about Hermione and myself because we were sighted quite often in each other's company."

Some witches and wizards in the room had the good grace to blush.  Others were fidgeting uncomfortably, having believed the Witch Weekly articles.

"Hermione and I felt that with the articles and gossips, it would be the best time to reveal the truth about our marriage, but Pansy's mother was then suffering from cancer.  For Pansy's sake, we continued the charade for another three years, until Mrs. Parkinson passed on.  By then, Xavier was already in Hogwarts, and we felt that the inevitable media circus would be detrimental to his forming friendships in school, and to his studies, so—"

A murmur began at the back of the room which interrupted Draco's story.

"It's Harry Potter!" an excited cry rang out across the room.

"I wonder what he has to add—"

"—why's he so late?"

The murmurs crescendo in volume until the Man Who Triumphed, winked up at his boyhood nemesis and best friend before turning to Pansy Potter, dipping his wife and bestowing on her a most dramatic kiss.

The shocked crowd lapped up the antics of their favourite icon, and began cheering and wolf whistling.  Righting his wife, he led her to her seat, mussed up Xavier's hair, and hopped up to the stage.  Giving Hermione a kiss on both her cheeks, he turned to Draco and shook his hand, patting Draco's should with the other.  The handsome, dark haired man then addressed the room.

"I'm sorry for being late to this party," he grinned, obviously not at all sorry for his late entrance.  "I'm sure Pansy and the Malfoys have probably filled you in about the various details about our wedding," his eyes twinkled behind his glasses, reminding all of another well-loved and well-missed twinkling pair of bespectacled blue eyes.

"The reason for my tardiness is also the reason why we are revealing all today," he smiled, almost bouncing on his feet.  "I just Apparated from St. Mungo's, and the Mediwizards have just informed me that there'll be a new Potter joining my little family next February," the wizard ended his announcement, face ready to burst in joy.  Draco moved up to Harry to offer his congratulations.  And Hermione gave her growing up best friend a congratulatory hug.  The crowd broke into wild applause as Xavier escorted Pansy back on stage to her husband, and he joined his parents.

"Yes," continued Draco, who was interrupted by the arrival of Harry, "when we heard that Pansy was in the family way, we decided that this was a good time to come clean with our secret.  Besides," the man gave his characteristic smirk, "Xavier will also be a brother soon, and we wanted to be able to enjoy life as a family."  He turned serious, thoughtful, "I think we deserve that.  It has been fifteen years, and whilst what we did to ensure that our way of life continued – that magic continued, open honesty about who we are has been denied us.  We understand the sacrifices that must be made, and with the impending arrival of our children, we want them to be able to know their papa and mama as their friends do."

Draco draped his arm around his son, who had his mother's warm chocolate eyes.  "We owe a great deal to Xavier, Hermione and I," he said, linking his other hands with Hermione.  "Xavier has never complained or grumbled about what we had to go through as a family.  In fact, Xavier's most eclectic primary education in muggle primary schools across Asia has blessed us with a compassionate and understanding young man, whom I am so very proud of," he squeezed his son affectionately.  "And both Hermione," he glance at her with a genuine smile, "both Hermione and I are proud to announce that our boy Xavier, has just received a Hogwarts letter stating that he will be made Head Boy in the coming term at Hogwarts," the proud parents grinned at their son, who returned an identical grin, as the room applauded the young man.  Harry and Pansy offered their congratulations to young Xavier as well.

"And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we ask that you share in our celebration and joy, by partaking in our celebration dinner, which we have withheld long enough.  Enjoy!" he declared, as a feast appeared before each table.

The end.

----'--@

Author's End Notes:

Here, I would like to express my thanks to Mariedel z, who came up with the part where Hermione traps Draco into admitting that he gave Hermione the bracelet by questioning his sexual orientation.  I'd have thank you at the top, but it might give the scene away.  Thanks!

Also, more details about Xavier Malfoy can be found in the next chapter.