They remained at the reception for only about a half hour longer before Lucius made their excuses to their host.
"Lucius, must you leave so soon?" Minister Whiting asked.
"I'm afraid I must, Trent. I would never dream of sending my wife home alone, and she has had quite enough excitement for the night," Lucius replied smoothly.
"Ah, yes, of course. How thoughtless of me. I do hope the two of you have had a pleasant evening," he said as kissed the back of Hermione's hand.
"You were quite the gracious host this evening," Hermione replied.
"It was a pleasure having you here," Whiting replied before releasing her hand and shaking Lucius's. "I hope to see you soon."
"As do I. Good evening, Minister," Lucius said politely before leading Hermione out the door. Once outside, he Apparated the two of them home and proceeded to dance a small waltz with her in the foyer. "You were divine tonight, darling. I daresay everyone was quite smitten with you."
"Oh, really? You noticed?" she asked playfully. More often than not, his eyes had been on her all evening.
"Of course I did. I notice everything." He leaned down and gave her a passionate kiss. "You worried yourself for nothing. All of the gossip I heard was favourable…to us, that is. Now, as splendid as that gown is, I would really prefer to see you in nothing at all."
She giggled and shoved him playfully. "Lucius."
"If you do not wish to walk upstairs, I shall just have to Apparate you there." He wrapped his arms around her and nibbled at her neck.
"Well, my feet are a little sore…" She didn't get a chance to finish as he carried out his threat. He then began carefully unbuttoning her gown. "Would you hurry?" she asked impatiently.
"Not tonight, darling. This frock was quite expensive."
"And you think I'll need it again? Wouldn't it look odd if I wore the same dress to the next reception?"
He pulled her hair back and nipped at her ear. "Not in the immediate future, but I had rather hoped you might have an open mind about having more children." He slowly lowered the dress to the floor and waited for her to step out of it.
Turning to face him, she asked, "You want more children?"
He gently caressed her stomach. "I have always wanted a large family, but it was never possible."
She was working on unfastening his robes. "I think we can talk about that."
Lucius knew that his plan was almost complete. She was nearly his. From the way she had looked at him during the reception, this should be all she needed to be convinced that she was better off with him.
She was lovely. She might think her growing girth made her unattractive, but he found it strangely erotic. In a little more than a month, she would give birth to his child. That thought aroused him even more. Standing behind her, he pulled her tight and rubbed his hips against her, letting her feel his arousal. At the same time, he caressed her stomach, her breasts. He had to feel her. This time it was definitely no dream, and there was no need to rush; they had all evening. She quivered at his touch. "I love you," he whispered into her ear.
"Oh, Lucius," she whispered and leaned back against him. "Do you really?"
"I would have let you go if I didn't." Deciding the time for small talk was over, he led her to the bed.
She shoved him onto the bed. "I need you," she growled.
Lucius was slightly taken aback by this brazen attitude, but he was not going to complain. Situating himself behind her, his hands danced across her skin, touching her in all the places that aroused her. He delighted in feeling her squirm and hear her moans.
"Lucius, please, I've waited so long," she pleaded.
Having her at his mercy, he teased her until his own need was nearly unbearable.
"Take me," she growled.
Needing little encouragement, he could feel his release coming. Judging from the noises Hermione was making, so was hers. As she climaxed, she cried out his name and brought about his release. He held her tightly, pleased that this time it was not a dream. "How do you feel?"
"Wonderful," she sighed.
Propping himself on his arm, he admired her body. Unlike some other pregnant women, she was gaining weight in all the right places, making her figure more voluptuous than it had ever been. When she noticed what he was doing, she tried to cover herself, but he stopped her. "I want to admire you."
"Admire me? I feel like a hippopotamus."
Leaning over, he kissed her belly. "I assure you, you in no way resemble any sort of animal. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
"Liar." She laughed and tried to push him away.
Carefully moving over her, he lay so that he was facing her. "It is the truth. I am irresistibly attracted to you." He saw a tear roll down her cheek. Brushing it away, he asked, "What's wrong?"
"I've been so foolish."
He smiled warmly at her. "You weren't the fool, I was. I should have told you what I was planning. I knew how you felt about me, and I thought it would be enough. Will you forgive me?" Yes, she was putty in his hands. Her emotions were charged, and he could use them to his advantage.
"There is nothing to forgive." She shifted so she could give him a kiss. After a few moments, she asked, "How do we explain this to my parents? This is one wizarding law they wouldn't understand."
"You know your parents better than I, so I will defer to your judgement. But you must tell them quickly." He placed his hand on her belly.
Placing her hand on top of his, she replied, "I know, but not right now." Rolling over, she spooned against him, gaining comfort from his embrace.
As Hermione was lying in bed, with Lucius's arm wrapped around her, she felt happy. Suddenly, she realized that there had been photographers at the reception last night. Surely, a picture of her and Lucius would be published in the morning paper. She pulled away and began looking for her clothes.
"Hermione?" asked a very confused and half-awake Lucius.
"I have to get back to Harry's." She went through the wardrobe looking for the clothes she had arrived in.
"For what reason?"
"I didn't tell them I was going to be with you," she admitted sheepishly. "I told them I was going to my parents' house. If I don't go back, he'll be worried."
"Wouldn't they assume you spent the night there?"
"Up until they read the paper, yes."
"Are you trying to keep us a secret?" he asked playfully.
"You know how touchy Harry gets. I just need to tell him in my own way."
He rose from bed and summoned a house-elf to get her clothes. "Should I expect you for breakfast?"
Considering his question while she dressed, she finally replied, "I think perhaps lunch might be better." After kissing him, she said, "I'll try to get back as soon as possible." She held him tightly, not really wanting to leave, but knowing she had to. "I love you," she softly and gave him one last kiss before leaving.
Standing outside Harry and Ginny's house in Godric's Hollow, she knew that to get any closer would alert Harry. Perhaps he would be sleeping too deeply to wake. After all, he had no reason to suspect she had been any place other than her parent's house.
After walking up the path, she quietly unlocked the door and slipped into the darkened house. She lit the tip of her wand and headed upstairs to her room.
As she passed Harry's room, she heard him mutter, "Hermione?"
"Sorry I'm back so late. I lost track of time." He didn't say anything else, so she quickly changed for bed to get a few more hours of sleep before the inevitable discovery.
When she heard the children wake, she knew that Harry and Ginny would not be far behind. Deciding that she would do as she always did, she headed downstairs to get breakfast started while Ginny and Harry got the children dressed.
Jimmy was quite noisy as he came downstairs and was telling Ginny what he wanted for breakfast.
"You will eat what you are given," Ginny told him, for not the first time. She saw Hermione cooking eggs. "Did you get any rest last night? I know you came in late."
"I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I'll have breakfast ready in a minute." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Harry pay the owl for the Daily Prophet. She knew that he wasn't really the type to read the paper too closely, especially the society page, and she hoped that today would be no different. She wanted to be able to bring up her leaving when she was ready.
They all settled down to breakfast and Hermione ate nervously as she watched Harry reading the paper.
Harry dropped his fork to the plate and dropped the paper. "Hermione!"
"What is it?" asked Ginny.
At the same time, Hermione said, "I can explain."
"It better be a damn good explanation," Harry said.
"Harry!" admonished Ginny. "Not in front of the kids." As she looked at Harry, she glimpsed the picture and then stared closer at it, and then she looked at Hermione. "Is that really you and Malfoy?"
Hermione could see that it was a picture of the two of them dancing at the reception. Harry and Ginny were both reading the accompanying article. She wanted to explain, but thought it would be best to let them finish reading first. "Harry, please, I can explain." she said when she realized that he was at the end of the article.
"What did he do to you?" Harry demanded of her.
"Harry, please, calm down and let me speak," she replied sternly. "He didn't do anything to me. I willingly went with him last night. Stop!" she said as she saw him preparing to interrupt. "I went with him because according to the law, he is my husband. You know how important appearances are to the wizarding world." And the fact I will be an outcast if I don't go back to him, she added silently. Of course, that was really a moot point since she did want to go back to him. He said he loved her, and even if he didn't, he treated her with a great deal more respect than Draco had. Besides, she could use the Malfoy name to her advantage, and Lucius's backing had much more sway than Draco's ever had.
"You look like you were having a good time," he said while he pointed at the picture.
"For more than a year I lived at his manor. We developed a good friendship." A very good friendship, she added as she wondered how much to tell him. "Despite what you may think, we do have a lot in common, and you've seen that he isn't the same man he was during Voldemort's return."
"That's what everyone thought the first time," Harry said sarcastically.
Ginny placed her hand on Harry's. She knew Hermione's secret, but would not reveal it without her consent. "So you wanted to spend time with him?"
"I know it sounds strange, but I really do miss him. We used to take tea together, go on long walks, have intelligent discussions. He's really quite intelligent," Hermione said wistfully.
Ginny asked cautiously, "How do you feel about him?"
Hermione sighed and looked between her two friends. They weren't ready to hear her honest answer. "I'm going to be moving back to the manor."
Harry leapt to his feet and slammed his fists against the table, causing Sarah to cry and Jimmy bury his face in Ginny's side. "I forbid it!"
"It's my life and I'll do what I please. I want my child to know his father!" she replied abruptly. Once the words were out, she realized she couldn't take them back.
Harry paled. "His father? You mean…?"
Hermione rubbed her stomach protectively. "This is Lucius' child, and I love him. I'm glad that Draco was caught, and that I'm now Mrs. Lucius Malfoy. He understands me and loves me." She started calming down, realizing that getting too worked up would not be good for the baby. "He's been trying to convince me to come home since I left. It's just taken me this long to realize that's where I belong. But you can't tell anyone else that he's the father. If word were to get out…" She knew that if word of the affair between her and Lucius ever got out, they would both be discredited.
"Wait a minute? You and Lucius? But he disowned Draco for doing the same thing."
"Because he wanted to be with me, and that was the perfect opportunity. He's always thought that Draco was weak and he blamed Narcissa." Realizing that her friends now possessed potentially dangerous knowledge, she added, "No one can know. If word gets out… Well, I probably would never be able to show my face in the wizarding world again."
Ginny gently pulled Jimmy away from her so that she could give Hermione a reassuring hug. "Of course we won't tell anyone." She shot Harry a look that said he would obey that promise.
Harry and Hermione stared at each other for close to a minute.
"Harry, you can't tell anyone," she said quietly.
"How could you?" asked Harry. When she didn't answer, he got up and walked out the door.
"I hoped that he would take it better," Hermione said.
"He just needs some time." Ginny looked back down at the picture. "It looks like you had a good time last night."
Hermione smiled. "I did. He dances divinely and is so kind and gentle." She sighed as she recalled what a wonderful night it had been. "I should start packing my things."
Ginny sighed. "I'll miss having Pipsy around."
"I'll talk to Lucius. I don't see why we couldn't spare her."
"You would do that for me?"
Hermione smiled. "Of course I would." She went upstairs and it wasn't long before she was ready to leave. Sending Pipsy ahead, she went to say goodbye to Ginny and the kids, though she knew that in the days to come, she would spend quite a bit of time here. She knew that Ginny would always be her true friend.
When she returned to the manor, she could hear Harry yelling at Lucius in the study.
"If you ever hurt her, mistreat her, or cheat on her, I will kill you!"
She peered around the doorframe and saw that Lucius was unperturbed by Harry's outburst.
"I assure you that I have no intention of harming her. I have strived to protect her and ensure her happiness. Surely, she has told you that," he replied condescendingly.
"And how do I know that you don't have her under some sort of spell. I know how you are. You're…Slytherin!"
Lucius chuckled softly. "You say that as though it's something bad. I have done nothing untoward to influence her decision. Is it so hard for you to believe that we could be in love? Would you deny her the happiness that she has longed for?"
"And I'm supposed to trust you? I'm sure you had nothing to do with her marrying Draco. He was a good actor. He convinced her they were in love and look what happened. I'm not going to let it happen again."
Hermione decided she couldn't stand listening to this anymore. "Harry! What do you think you're doing here?"
He briefly glanced at her before looking suspiciously at Malfoy. "I'm looking out for you."
She crossed the room to embrace Lucius, who had stood up as she entered the room. He kissed her tenderly, not caring that Harry was watching his every move.
"I don't need you looking out for me. I'm an adult, and I can look out for myself. I've made this decision, and I'm happy with it. And I assure you, Lucius has not coerced me or used any sort of potion on me." She still didn't know the exact nature of the lotion he had given her, but she was reasonably certain it had no mind-altering properties. As she settled on the sofa, Lucius placed his arm protectively around her, and it felt very right.
Harry had a look of utter disbelief on his face. After trying several times to say something, he finally recovered his voice. "I want what's best for you. If you think this is best right now…" He trailed off when he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"I do. And I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don't need it right now. You and Ginny are welcome to visit whenever you wish."
Harry looked at Malfoy, trying to read the older man's face. "We'll do that."
"We would be delighted to have you spend the weekend here at your convenience," Lucius replied sincerely.
This seemed to be all that Harry could take. "I'll see you later, Hermione." He gave Malfoy one last glare before departing.
Once Harry was gone, Hermione gave Lucius the best hug that she could. "I'm glad you didn't start fighting with him."
He kissed the top of her head. "I knew it would serve no purpose. Why don't you get some rest and then we can work on the nursery this afternoon?"
She thought that was a wonderful idea. And she was glad that Lucius had not objected to her giving Harry and Ginny an open invitation. She knew that Harry's suspicious nature would cause him to accept the offer, and she knew that, in time, Harry would come to realize that Lucius was nothing like Draco, and that the two of them really did belong together. She could do things as Mrs. Lucius Malfoy that she would never have otherwise been unable to do. When she woke that afternoon, she would start her new life.
A/N: Thank you very much to those that have read and reviewed. I hope that you have enjoyed this story. Also, I would like to thank nota for her help in beta reading this story.
As for the final instalment of the trilogy, "Fallen from Glory", I have a couple of other projects that are begging for attention before I get to that one. I do have projects nearing completion, which is a plus. I'm still going to estimate a couple of months before I start posting it since I will want to get most of the story written before I start posting.