Chapter Sixty-One

They had a date.

Hermione was beside herself with nervousness. She wished she'd had time to stop by the shops and buy something new to wear, but work had kept her back until six and Draco was expecting her at the Manor at seven-thirty. Damn, she should have pushed it to eight.

She couldn't believe how nervous she felt. It was ridiculous.

After a quick shower (just being in the shower stall since their previous encounter on Saturday night had her blushing), she laid out a few outfits on her bed (the bed too made her blush) and contemplated what to wear.

This was important, and so she was going to make an effort.

There were two dresses on the shortlist. There was an elegant, metallic teal cocktail dress she had never worn.

It was serious, sexy, fitted and low at the front. There was also a more light hearted number in peach chiffon which made her feel like she was going to a school formal.

In the end she decided to forgo the dresses and opted instead for elegant comfort. She was in enough of a state already without having to worry about spilling out of her outfit over dinner. Though really, Hermione doubted she had enough in the chest for that to ever be a genuine concern.

It the end, it seemed an easy choice. The straight legged, aubergine wool and cashmere blended pants fit like a dream. Her mother had commented that they made her look taller than she was. They ought to fit well, for the price she had paid for them. She topped it off with a silver silk camisole that had freshwater pearls sewn into the lace trimmed décolletage. She had laid out a seamless, strapless bra but then, on a whim, decided to forgo the bra altogether. The feel of the silk against her bare breasts as she slipped on the camisole made her feel daring.

A little daring was ok.

Hermione then selected a soft, angora cardigan that was a shade darker than the silk. A wool-lined, long, trench coat in a smoky grey topped off the ensemble. She made it out of her bedroom before realising that the store tags were still on the coat and then hurried to the kitchen to find some scissors.

Make up was minimal, as was her wont. Hermione spritzed some perfume into the air and walked into the fine mist, sneezing once. At the door, she slipped on a pair of, matte silver, closed-toe heels over the stockinged feet and checked herself in the mirror one last time.

This final appraisal resulted in her undoing another button on her cardigan. She pulled on a soft pair of black gloves from the hallstand and grabbed a matching, thick scarf.

"Ready?" she said to her reflection, sounding a little breathless.

Honestly, it was a worry how often she talked to herself in the mirror.

The face that looked back at her was flushed with excitement.

Hermione Apparated outside the main gates of Malfoy Manor ten minutes early, but in her heels, in nearly took her that long to walk down the long carriageway. Draco's security was top-notch now. She could feel herself walking into the warded property boundary and suppressed a little shudder of relief when all hell did not break loose. The wards accepted her, as Draco had assured.

Toolip answered the door. Hermione had to stifle a laugh at how seriously the house elf was taking her duties that evening. Toolip curtsied low and swept her thin arm out with a dramatic flourish.

"We welcome you to Malfoy Manor, Miss."

"Um, thank you, Toolip."

"If Miss will kindly accompany Toolip to the drawing room? Master Draco is to be meeting you there."

"Very good," said Hermione, biting down a smile.

The drawing room in question was in the west wing. The sound of her heels on the marble floor echoed along the corridor. It felt odd being back in the house under such pleasant circumstances after the recent Death Eater attack.

Malfoy Manor had suffered no ill effects, however. The only noticeable difference was that the ballroom was cordoned off while the windows were repaired, and that the old wards had been revived. No one was going to be doing any gate-crashing again unless they were either very powerful or very stupid.

She didn't have to wait long in the warm and welcoming drawing room, which was just as well because she was fidgeting too much to be able to sit down in one place for very long. Draco was buttoning his cuffs as he strode through the doors.

"Sorry, I would have met you at the door myself, but I was speaking on the Floo with Alastor Moody."

Hermione suddenly wished she had worn a dress after all. Draco was dressed very much for fine dining. He was wearing an exquisitely tailored, moss green robes. He looked…

"You look beautiful," he said. The warmth in his eyes told her that he meant it.

"You too," she said and then wanted to smack her forehead.

They stood there staring at each other, before Hermione remembered that she hadn't kissed him in greeting.

Unfortunately, Draco seemed to remember this at the exact same time. They leaned towards each other and might have bumped foreheads if Draco hadn't tilted his head at the last second.

Toolip was standing at stiff attention beside a drinks trolley, so a passionate embrace was probably not on the cards. Accordingly, Draco's kiss was soft and light. Hermione breathed in his mild, spicy aftershave and felt a little giddy. She wondered if her perfume might be having the same effect on him. Probably not. Draco didn't do 'giddy'

"How was work?" he murmured, after they pulled apart. They were still standing very close together.

"Busy. Good," she nodded.

He held out his arm towards a velvet upholstered chaise, "Would you like to sit down and have something to drink before dinner?"

"Oh no, thank you. I'm quite alright," said Hermione.

She couldn't contemplate having anything stronger than water to drink in her current state. Her stomach was already attempting to defy gravity.

To her surprise, Draco looked a little at a loss. She could have kicked herself. Sitting down for pre-dinner drinks was the done thing, wasn't it? Drinks provided a bit of social lubrication. But then they shouldn't need social lubrication. Also, social lubrication was what had started their tumultuous relationship in the first place.

God, did it really have to be this awkward now? Why was he being so formal? A well-mannered Draco was unnerving to everyone concerned, Draco included, apparently.

"Are you hungry? You must be." He gave her an intense look and held out his arm, which she took. "We'll head directly to dinner then."

They progressed to the dining hall, which wasn't too far from the drawing room. That was a shame really, because Hermione rather enjoyed the short stroll. Having never seen the main dining hall, she gawked a little at its size and didn't realize that Draco had drawn her chair out for her.

"Thanks," she blushed and unfolded her napkin. This was all very far removed from the last time they had taken a meal together at the dingy little sushi bar on Euston Street.

At some unseen command, Toolip literally materialized at her elbow and started to serve the first course, a soup. It was a simple, warming corn and leak veloute and was ideal considering the weather.

Draco was seated too far away. 'Too far', by Hermione's definition, meant that she couldn't see the subtle changes in his eyes that gave away his thoughts more easily than the rest of him. She couldn't pick up the smell of his sexy aftershave either.

"Moody tells me that they're not having much luck in tracking Snape, although there was word of a sighting in Valencia," he informed.

Hermione fiddled with her soup spoon. "Snape cooling his heels in Spain? What a concept! How reliable is the source?"

The corner of Draco's mouth lifted. "About as reliable as the numerous claims that my father is in North America. Although one never knows."

They continued talking about Snape's disappearance until the next course arrived. It was cheese of some sort with what Hermione recognized to be arugula dressed with a lively vinaigrette and crisp bread. Genuinely curious, she asked Draco what the cheese was.

"Burrata," he replied. "Do you like it?"

"It's very nice," she answered. Undoubtedly, it was all very nice. If only she could let herself enjoy what she was eating.

She took in the surroundings as they ate, noting the portraits on the wood-panelled walls and the lovely, high, moulded ceilings. The hall was long enough that it took three massive chandeliers quite easily.

The third course was seafood, a cake of crab with chilled cucumber and crème fraiche. Toolip remained in attendance, in the event that their wine glasses needed refilling.

It occurred to Hermione that neither she nor Draco had taken more than a sip or two since the dinner had started. She looked up at him and was startled to note that he was staring down at his plate with a troubled expression.

"You know what? This isn't working for me."

Hermione felt her stomach lurch. "The crab?" she asked, even though she knew that wasn't what he meant.

Draco pushed his chair back and threw his napkin on the table. "I have a better idea." He picked up his plate and then held out his hand to her. "Come with me."

All her worries dissolved in the face of the gentle mischief in his eyes. It was enough to make her fall in love with him all over again.

Hermione picked up her own plate and then took his hand. "Where are we going?"

"The library," he announced, in a manner which suggested he hadn't known their intended location either until he had said it. He asked Toolip to redirect the following courses to the Manor's library instead.

A fire had already been built in the long, split level room. In front of the fireplace, Draco pulled off his shoes, sat down cross legged on the thick rug and patted the space beside him. Hermione slipped out of her heels and gladly sank down beside him.

They talked and ate, where possible, with their hands. And this time, there were numerous refills of their wine glasses. Before they knew it, the entire bottle had been finished. Two hours passed by incredibly quickly.

The fire had burned down to glowing embers by the time desert was served.

"I feel bad. I think I ate most of that," Draco said, putting down the spoon he had used to eat Hermione's portion of the chocolate mousse.

She didn't think he looked particularly sorry about it, so she poked him in the ribs.

Hermione then used the tip of her index finger to wipe off the last remaining dab of mousse. She sucked on her finger thoughtfully as she stared into the fire.

Draco watched her. "Tell me this was a good idea."

Hermione distractedly popped out her fingertip from her mouth and only then noticed his glittering gaze. "This was a fantastic idea. I don't suppose you get to dine like this very often at home?"

Lying on his side, he propped himself up on his elbow and tipped back a healthy swig of wine. "We only used to take our meals in the dining hall. Or on the occasions that Lucius and my mother were both out, I conspired to eat in the kitchens with Toolip. She makes a most excellent Bubble and Squeak. We did have a picnic once on the grounds. Not my mother's idea, obviously, but Goyle and Blaise were over and we were practically wrecking the house. So we were banished outside."

Mention of Blaise didn't have the depressing effect she thought it might have had. Or should have had. It was just a memory. A fond one, apparently, despite everything that had happened. Memories were funny like that. It wasn't always easy to delete the attached emotions, even if you didn't want to recall feeling them. Hermione knew this all too well.

She guessed there was more to the story. "What happened?"

Draco stuck his tongue in his cheek. "It rained. Being in the middle of a sticky summer, we thought it was the best thing that could have happened. We still had out picnic, ate soggy sandwiches and drenched potato salad. Mother had a fit at the amount of mud we managed to track back into the house."

Hermione smiled, revelling in hearing these rare snippets of Draco's life. There was a whole world to experience with him and a past to familiarize herself with.

"I feel new to this," she heard him say next. And there was a more serious edge to his voice. "I don't like being…uncertain. You're going to have to give me some guidance."

With studied concentration, he slid a curled knuckle from her bottom lip, over her chin and down her neck. It stopped at the first button of her cardigan, skimming the top of her camisole. Her skin became gooseflesh all over.

"I don't think you need guidance," she said, huskily. "You seem to know what you're doing more often than not."

Draco's answering smile was pure sex. "I mean everything that comes before and after. What do nice girls like to do outside of bed?" His voice was a low rumble she swore she could feel vibrating in the core of her.

"Whatever gave you the idea that I'm a nice girl?" Hermione replied seriously. She placed her palm over the pronounced bulge in his pants. She was well aware that he'd been hard for the past hour.

"Granger, I have to be honest. Dinner was the last thing on my mind the moment you walked through the front door. But I know we need to be doing other…" she scratched her nails down along the fabric covered ridge, "things," he finished on a groan.

"Really?" Hermione said, "I'm sure we'll eventually settle into a comfortable rhythm." At mention of 'rhythm', she had him unzipped and free, lying across her small, warm palm.

She sighed. The wine made her brave and more than a little impatient to touch him. The firelight turned his pale skin gold. He was hot and very sleek. The familiar smell of him was intoxicating. She squeezed along his shaft and was delighted when a tiny drop of dew appeared at the tip. Hermione bent her head and flicked out the tip of her tongue to taste him. Her palette still held a trace of chocolate. The combination of flavours was not unpleasant.

Draco hissed and caught her about her shoulders. "Stop that."

She looked up, smiling. "Why?"

"Because If I come now, I may not have the energy or inclination to take you on the walk I have planned. That is, if you're agreeable?"

She was.

**

It was a trip to sum up the past. It was cleansing, really. The dinner date had started the process, now the walk they took through the Malfoy grounds marked the start of whatever lay ahead.

Draco insisted on bundling her up in an additional layer on top of her trench coat. The cloak he put on her was from his Hogwarts days. It was huge and smelled a little like the Great Hall, if indeed the Great Hall ever had just the one smell. There was always woodsmoke. It was bacon and eggs on some morning, fresh, buttery scones on others. Hermione liked it best on Yule mornings, when the scent of Christmas fruitcake seemed to cling to the walls.

"Warm enough?" he asked, once they were outdoors.

She nodded. They were both wearing gloves, but she thought she could still feel the heat from his hand.

They walked through a wooded area at the back of the estate. It was the same path where they had stumbled across Carmen Meliflua and Tandish Dodders on the night the Death Eaters attacked the Manor.

But this time they continued on a narrow, paved pathway, winding deeper into the woods. Hermione noted that they were walking on a gentle incline, judging from the feel of the ground under her feet and the tension in her calves.

Soon, they came to the top of a small hill that overlooked the Manor from the back of the property. From this vantage point, the house and the village of Thimble Creek were nestled in a valley below. The innumerable windows of Malfoy Manor were aglow, from east wing to west wing. It was an impressive sight.

"I had this put in last week," he said, indicating a gothic-looking, covered, lookout point at the top of the hill. It still smelled freshly of varnish. "This whole area is covered in wildflowers in the summer. My mother liked this spot and I thought I should do something, you know?"

She knew. He meant he should do something meaningful now that his mission had been accomplished.

Hermione stared down at Malfoy Manor and wondered what Narcissa thought about when she had taken in the same view.

They stood inside the small structure. Draco wrapped his arms around her from behind and rested his chin on her head.

"What will you do now?" she asked him.

He was still staring at the house. "Make love to you in every room." She felt him grin.

"Except your father's study," she said, primly.

He considered this. "Yes, every room except that."

"Seriously, though. What will you do? I can't see you being content to play lord of the Manor indefinitely."

"Ah, but being lord of the Manor requires more than strutting around in tight riding pants, brooding over absinthe in the evenings and tormenting the household staff with my debauched demands."

She giggled at the hedonistic picture he painted. "Explain 'debauched demands'."

It took him a moment to locate a suitable example. "You remember old Aramis in the painting I questioned during the attack last week?" Hermione snorted, remembering the old man that had ogled her. "How could I not?" "Well old Aramis was said to have installed a weekly wenching night…"

The giggles promptly turned into laughter.

"It was every Thursday. He'd send someone down to the village. And if a suitable girl could not be found there, he'd have a companion sent from London."

Hermione got a hold of herself "Please, tell me there's an autobiography somewhere I could read. The Malfoys suddenly sound even more interesting."

"The name Malfoy was not always associated with the Dark. We had quite a colourful, almost flamboyant history. Until my father, of course. Lucius brought back black, in more ways than one."

"Where do you think he is? Your father, I mean." Hermione asked.

"If I had to put money on it, I'd say he's on his way to meet up with Snape, if they haven't already done so." Draco's tone was amusement on ice.

"Do you think you'll ever see either of them again?"

He nodded. "Sure of it. In the meantime, I have all this to land to work with. Pansy did a fantastic job in my absence. Maybe it's time a Malfoy heir paid more attention to husbanding what he's inherited. I'd have to get to know my home all over again. And maybe while I'm busy doing that, you could get to know me..."

He sounded almost scared. She spun around in his arms to face him. "I do know you. I know enough about all the more important bits to know I love you."

She felt him shiver a little at that declaration. Draco pushed back the hood of her cloak so he could look at her face. "I will never tire of hearing you say that."

"Then I'll remember to tell you daily."

**

Elsewhere, in the not so distant future…

The tall man with the straw fedora was an easy target. Or so the young pickpocket thought. He looked like one of those over-confident, tourists who had strayed from the herd armed only with his brand spanking new, Lonely Planet guide. The khaki slacks he wore had pockets everywhere, but the one that most concerned the pickpocket was located on the right, front-side. It was deep and was gaping enticingly.

His wallet would be in there. Or perhaps a hotel key.

The thief followed the man through the marketplace. It was Sunday and the bazaar was in full swing. What had once been an empty square, Jemaa el Fnaa was transformed into a myriad of rows and alleys, created by the existence of hundreds of colourful stalls. You could buy anything and everything in Marrakech. You only had to know where to look.

The man walked exceedingly quickly despite the thick crowd. And perhaps that alone ought to have been enough to put the thief off his goal. As adept as he was in skimming his way through the people, the pickpocket still found himself out of breath by the time he was two or three strides behind his intended target.

He kept his eyes on the prize, on that slack pocket, weighted down by something he hoped would pay for a week's worth of fun.

There was a commotion nearby. Two hawkers were arguing and exchanging a barrage of extremely colourful abuse. A crowd had stopped to watch this minor amusement. It didn't matter how good the man was at weaving through the crowd, there was simply no way around the bottleneck until people dispersed.

Now was his chance. The thief approached from behind, curving his arm forward and around, his practiced fingers slipping deftly into the pocket without touching anything in particular. Not yet. There was no wallet. His thumb and index finger closed around a slender piece of…wood?

The thief was momentarily confused.

A strong hand suddenly covered his. The grip was crushing. Eyes the colour of hammered steel looked down at him from under the brim of the straw fedora.

"I think not," the man said.

The boy's English was limited, but he understood enough to know he was extremely lucky when that iron grip slackened and he was released.

He scrambled away into the crowd as quickly as he could.

A highly annoyed Lucius Malfoy made his way out of the market place and to the outdoor café where he knew Snape was waiting.

Hogwart's former Potion Master was nearly done with his mint tea by the time a disgruntled Lucius pulled up a chair.

"I gather you had no luck finding a newspaper?" Snape inquired with a raised eyebrow.

He was, as always, dressed in black. Lucius could not fathom how he managed it, seeing as the dark colour attracted the heat like flies to a heap of dung.

Still, such attire had its uses. When they had passed through South America, Snape had sometimes been mistaken for a priest and had cleverly said nothing to put good Samaritans off the notion of feeding a dusty, travelling padre.

"Maybe there really aren't any bloody wizards here," Lucius postulated. Lucius thought swearing was crass and common, but Snape guessed that an extended period of living in what definitely qualified as hard times had humbled him somewhat.

Lucius took off his hat and threw it on the table. "No bloody news about anything happening outside the bloody city. I don't know why I let you talk me into coming here."

Snape was an ocean of calmness, in comparison. And just the tiniest bit smug. "Oh, there are wizards here. They're just not so open about it. There are worse things to fear than Voldemort." He reached down into his lap and retrieved a tattered copy of the Daily Prophet. It was hardly a current edition. In fact, it was nearly a year old. But it was the exact edition they had been looking for.

Lucius snatched it. "Where did you find this?"

"It pays to ask people nicely sometimes, Lord Malfoy."

This earned Snape a narrow-eyed look from his travelling companion. "That's my son's title, if you please."

"I do beg your pardon," said Snape, with great dignity. "Are you going to read it or not?"

Scowling, Lucius peeled open the yellow, bedraggled paper, flipped carefully to the society pages at the back.

He must have found the article he was looking for, because his eye widened and then narrowed and occasionally, there was a derisive snort.

"Fifty guests! Can you believe that? That's hardly a rabble, let alone a proper wedding."

"Small and intimate," Snape opinioned.

"I had three hundred at mine," Lucius muttered.

"Yes, and look how well that turned out for you."

"Dumbledore married them!"

Snape shrugged. "He does have a license."

"They held it at Hogwarts." And this time there was neither approval nor disapproval in Lucius' voice, so Snape said nothing.

Lucius continued reading, making a cutting comment here and there. When he was done, he carefully folded up the paper and sat back in his chair.

"Has your curiosity been satisfied now?" Snape inquired.

A noncommittal grunt was Lucius' response, but Snape noted that he looked content. Happy, even.

"Good." Snape paid for his tea.

The two men left the roadside café and proceeded to the train station to catch the non train to Fez.

It never did for fugitives to stay in the one place for very long.

~The End~

Chapter End Notes:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To everyone who followed the story, whether it's been since my recent activity here at Granger Enchanted or since DB was archived at Coloured Grey five years ago now, thank you.

Writing this story has not always been a bed of roses. There was a while where DB was doomed to become abandoned, but thankfully, with some assistance, I was able to keep going.

I'm upset I've lost all the feedback accumulated in that time. Hopefully, CG will be up and running in the near future and all will be well. It's nice to look back at a record of comments, especially when they were made as I was writing.

I have to apologise for the typos – I know there are still a lot in the text and it can make for annoying reading. The entire story is in the process of being beta'd for spelling and grammar, so in a little while, I'll go through each chapter and make the required corrections. My aim was to get the story posted somewhere quickly, in response to emails asking me where the bloody hell the story had gone.

There is a small group of people who have made this story possible, whether through influencing me with their own amazing works, or through their support and friendship in the community. I hope they know who they are.

I really do appreciate all the reviews and emailed feedback. It helps me improve!

Coming soon - I'm up to the 4th chapter on a Lucius/Hermione at the moment. Soon to be posted here. Am finding LM/HG seriously tough to write. I hope some of you will go on to read that one too.

Some background regarding this fic:

Dragon's Bride was written in response to a series of challenge prompts issued by a shipper by the name of 'Piia', on the 'dracohermionecommunity' yahoo group sometime in 2004. I was brand, spanking new to the pairing and making new friends. I thought participating in a challenge would be, well, challenging.

I recall thinking - Tattooed? Drunk? Married? I MUST WRITE THIS!

What was supposed to be my attempt at a classic, D/Hr cliché eventually became this multi-chaptered beast.

All the challenge lines were underlined in the story. Did you spot them?

From Chapter Four: The Gryffindors at breakfast in the Great Hall after the Graduation Party.

Harry started laughing, while Ron seemed torn between sympathy and anger. "Neville! You're a dead man! That's my sister!"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "What shocking hypocrisy, Ron. I have six brothers, it's not like I haven't seen a-"

Ron slapped a hand over his sister's mouth. "You're supposed to be sweet and pure. Mum would have my head otherwise. Accordingly you have most certainly not seen one of those," he said, very clearly, as if proper enunciation would make it true. "Neither will you see, er, one until you're at least thirty."

From Chapter Twenty-Nine: Draco and Hermione at the Cobblestone Inn.

"What do you mean only one room and only one bed?"

From Chapter Fifty-Two: Hermione and Ginny visit Azkaban

"The Malfoy heir's return, is all I was told. Routine questioning to wrap up the case." The young guard leaned closer to Hermione. "Word is that Snape freaked out when he heard Malfoy was back. Maybe he thought it was the other Malfoy, you know, the father."

From Chapter Sixty: Hermione and Crookshanks

"You are so sleeping on the couch tonight mister," she scolded, but then completely ruined the threat by cuddling him.