St. Mungos, June 2005
She stood in the hospital corridor for a few moments, feeling the need to catch her breath after running up to the third floor so quickly that it felt like liquid cement was running through the veins in her legs. The graveyard shift had just commenced and two orderlies who had been giving her surreptitious glances eventually approached with paper and a quill. Hermione glanced up at them and the look on her face must have made them think twice about asking for an autograph.
She turned the doorknob and entered the room.
Two guards were standing on either side of Malfoy's bed. Seamus said there had already been a little trouble once word had got out that Malfoy was currently at St. Mungos. A small group of people had protested outside the office, calling for Malfoy's former death sentence to be reinstated. People never forgot that he had killed Harry, but they seem to like forgetting why it had to be done.
"Can you please give me a minute alone with him?" she asked the guards. Her tone of voice did not suggest they had a choice.
"Miss Granger," the younger guard said, "I'm sorry, but we have orders."
She nodded jerkily. "Right. Well, here are some new orders. Leave this room right now or I'll have you transferred to some stinking Ministry piss pile up north. Way up north."
Discretion was the better part of valour. Hermione Granger was a member of a small group of men and women who were considered wizarding national treasures. It was probably a good idea not to give her a reason to dislike you.
They left Hermione alone with the silence and with Draco. Her hands clenched into tight fists as she approached the bed.
"You stupid, pathetic, son of a bitch," she hissed, in a tremulous voice. "What gives you the right to decide when you get to die?"
Draco was awake, but his face was turned away from her. He inhaled a deep, staggering, breath.
"Look at me, damn you!"
He turned to her, his face was a ghastly shade of grey and his lips were tinged with blue. They had treated him in time, Seamus told her. One of the guards had found him unconscious on the floor of his cell, lying in a growing pool of his blood. He had apparently pulled out a spring from his mattress and scratched two, ten-centimetre, vertical gashes on each wrist.
"Why did you do it?" she demanded.
He licked his parched lips. "Because I'm done," he said, in a hoarse voice.
"That's right, you are almost done! You're going to be released any week now. I'm asking you again, Malfoy. Why did you do it?"
He was too weak too keep up his facade of
indifference. Hermione watched his face crumple, seeing up close the
complete and total desolation there. It was reminiscent of the time he had attacked her during the first interrogation, only now he was lucid.
"You've got the information you needed for your report. Why are you still here?" he asked the question as if it were the reason for his attempted suicide. Hermione was immediately incensed.
"Because I can be here," she replied, and then more softly. "I want to be here."
"Don't come anymore. Please. I don't want to wonder if you're coming back each time you leave," he told her, with anguish. "It's too much."
Her eyes filled up with tears. She knew she was going to be harsh, but she also knew that cruelty would reach him better than kind words. "Fine," she nodded. "Crawl away and die then. I thought I was rid of you for sure," she said, and then she put her face in her hands and sobbed.
Malfoy was staring at her with genuine horror. "You keep the hell away from me," he rasped out, looking like he wanted to pull out a crucifix against her at any minute. He looked genuinely terrified of what she was doing to him.
Hermione glanced up at him. "Is that what you really want?"
His eyes closed and he collapsed back against the pillows, exhausted. "I just want to be free. I don't want to feel. No more nightmares. No more hoping either. You make me hope, Granger. It hurts."
She loomed over him, her face a cold mask of fury. "And you call me a coward? If you ever do anything like this ever again, and I'm guessing that if you did, you'd probably get it right the second time, know that I will hate you. I will hate you more than those people carrying signs outside the Hospital, demanding that we import a Dementor from Bulgaria just to suck out your soul, because you deserve it. You will die knowing I hate you even more than them, Malfoy.
He gave her a tender smile. "You couldn't hate anyone."
"I will make an exception," Hermione assured him. She took hold of his bandaged hand and kissed his palm. "Just tell me you won't do it again."
His grey eyes were dark, dark pools. With a groan of defeat, his hand curled around the back of her head and he pulled her down into a kiss. It wasn't the stuff of crystalized sexual tension.
It was a kiss designed to offer comfort and take comfort; clumsy, wet, noisy and a bit salty from her tears, but it did the job.
Hermione sat in Seamus' office and thanked him when he handed her a tissue. She blew her nose and then regarded her old school friend and the Warden of Azkaban, with a sheepish look.
"I'm in love with him."
"Yes, I know," Seamus said, not unkindly. "Hermione, you turned in your final report months ago, but you've still been coming back to see him for interviews. I think it's been obvious to everyone except you. Malfoy certainly caught on earlier than you did."
She remembered what Draco had said about not wanting to wait for her to come and see him anymore, and she sent Seamus a stricken look. "Are you saying that his suicide attempt is my fault?"
"Fuck no! It's his life, Hermione. However, it's my duty as your friend to tell you that I have a huge problem with what you've just told me."
"And that is?"
"He's a train wreck," Seamus stated plainly. "I suppose it wouldn't do any good to tell you you're making your life more complicated that you can handle?"
Hermione snorted. "Seamus. Have you seen my life?"
He laughed. "Yeah. Well, he hasn't been a model prisoner by any means, but he's been the most interesting one I've ever had to deal with. Think I'll almost miss him."
She got what he was trying to tell her and practically jumped to her feet. "You're joking? Who signed the release papers?"
"Scrimgeour himself. Keeping prisoners we don't need anymore costs money. The trials are over now, Hermione, and people are keen to move on. When Malfoy's well enough, we will be escorting him back to the mainland and then he's on his own. He doesn't have a cent to his name and he'll be leaving Azkaban with the clothes on his back. Which is where you come in, I suppose?" Seamus gave her a knowing look.
There was nothing else to be done about it, thought Hermione.
Draco would have to come home with her.
"I thought we could have lunch in the gazebo today, if the weather stay's nice," Hermione suggested over breakfast.
It was their last day at Mulberry House and she couldn't have been more miserable. The thought of going back to work, of going back to her small, poky flat with its massive, invisible walls between them was agony. Draco would spend his day concocting new ways to reclaim his fortune with Zabini, and Hermione would return to the Ministry to a job she wasn't interested in doing any more.
Ron would continue to regard her in that half-disgusted, half-pitying way. In another ten months, Draco's probation period would be over and then what? He could open his own bank account, run a legitimate business under his own name, buy property and move to Botswana. Would he leave her? She swallowed the lump in her throat. Perhaps she was conceited to assume that he really was in love with her. Hermione wondered if she had misread him badly. She realised she was being dramatic, but the thought of never seeing him again made her want to curl up into a ball and never have to face the outside world ever again. When had she become so dependent, so needy?
He ought to have been these things.
"Alright," he replied.
She set her fork down and stared at him. He was cutting a thin sausage into perfectly even pieces. She felt like reaching across the table, grabbing his plate and hurling it at the wall. His fucking breakfast received more attention than she did. Good lord, she was now jealous of sausage! Hermione resigned herself to the fact that she had gone insane from emotional and sexual frustration.
"And after that I want to go for a hike." Needless to say, hiking wasn't entirely painless for him.
"When we're back home tomorrow, I thought we might visit Seamus and Lavender at their new house." He hated Azkaban's Warden with a vengeance and this at least, made his reply to her a little more strained than usual.
"Fine," said Draco.
"Alright. Okay. Fine. Is that all you can say?"
He put his napkin down and stared at her. "What would you prefer me to say?"
"How about, 'I can't stand that posturing Irish git and his simpering doily of a wife'? I know that's how you feel about the Finnegans."
Draco looked so thoroughly confused that for a moment, her irritation waned. "I don't understand. Do you or do you not want to go to visit them?"
He was missing the point entirely. She threw down her napkin and stood up. "I can't take this anymore. I am sick and tired of you being so bloody agreeable all the time. You were more interesting when you were a complete arsehole!"
"Hermione, calm down."
"I will not! I did not sign up for happily ever after. I've been battling the forces of wizarding evil since the age of eleven. My life was never meant to be a fairy tale! I need a healthy disagreement every once in a while. Where's the man who tried to strangle me at Azkaban the first time I saw him there?"
The look of incredulity on his face was almost amusing. "You want me to strangle you?"
"Yes! I mean, no! I just want you to get angry for once! Lose your temper! Tell me off! You must remember how to from school. Do you remember Hogwarts, Draco? You hated the sight of me! Ron and I argued every day. I always knew he cared enough about the relationship to not let me just steamroll over him all the time!"
"Steamroll?" Draco repeated the unfamiliar term. His colour was rising at mention of Ron. Hermione thought this was a good sign and plunged onwards.
"You insult me every time you bury your anger, because you think my feelings for you are so trifling that I'll walk out at the first sign of dissent? Is that it? Tell me that's it because I'm going out of my mind trying to figure you out. I can't give you any more time, Malfoy."
He stood and cocked his head to the side, as if a new angle would make her seem less crazy to him. "Let me get this straight. You have a problem with my manners?" he asked, very carefully.
"Only because you never had them before! This new Draco Malfoy is…is…" she struggled for a word that was effective but non-offensive.
"Boring?" he supplied. His face was flushed. She could see his pulse in the vein that was standing out at his temple. "That's what you meant to say, isn't it? You think I'm boring." There was a measure of hurt in his voice. But not hurt enough to be furious with her yet.
No. Not that. He was never boring. Draco couldn't have been boring to Hermione even if he was sound asleep.
"Send me an owl when you find your temper! I'll be at the Burrow." Hermione knew she was going too far in goading him about running to Ron, but truly, she was at her wits end. If that didn't get his knickers in a knot, nothing would. She ran into the kitchen as fast as her sore ankle would allow, thinking to use the back door to escape into the yard and cry her eyes out under the gazebo.
She had taken three, limping steps towards the door when an earthquake hit the Manor. Or at least, that was what it felt and sounded like. Suddenly, there was no back door. There was, however, a huge gaping hole where the door had once been. It was smoking around the ages and enough dust was suspended in the air to make her cough.
A family of ducks that had been enroute to the lake were staring at them with amazement.
Hermione's jaw dropped open as she spun around to face the culprit.
Draco stood behind her, holding a smoking wand, hell's fury on his face. "What kind of manners would I have, if I didn't open the door for you to leave me?" he whispered.
"I wasn't-" she began, but he cut her off by taking a menacing step forward.
"Angry enough for you?" he inquired with a raised eyebrow. "Or would you prefer my hands wrapped around your throat?" His eyes dipped to her neck with sinister intent. "You know how I like to please."
Hermione's hand instinctively went to the wand holster at her hip which obviously wasn't there because she was supposed to be on holiday with the man she loved, not defending herself against his inner Death Eater.
"If you run to Weasley, my dear, I will not be responsible for what I do to the both of you when I find you. I don't care if they send me back to Azkaban for the rest of life."
He wouldn't let her speak. It was wonderful. "And the next time you lecture at me to avoid flying because it's too dangerous, to not lift something, to watch myself on the wet pavement, to not go out at night in case I get attacked by some crazed Potter devotee, I swear Hermione, I will turn you over my knee and beat you until you are black and blue!"
He was shouting now. Oh, this was good..
"I'm just trying to look after you," she stated, in a tremulous voice. She realised she had been edging around him because the back of her waist met with the kitchen counter. She was trapped.
He continued stalking her, his eyes blazing. "Yes, that's what I've been telling myself all these months. Sweet, kind, Granger, as bereft as the rest of us and yet still putting your saintly, bushy-haired self out there," he sneered. But almost as if to soften the comment about her hair, he buried one hand into her thick curls, moulding it to the shape of her skull. "You rescued me and took me home like an abused, abandoned puppy, you now think you know what's best for me in all matters, don't you, pet? You think you can fix me like a broken sink?"
Hermione was stunned at what she had unleashed. "You cannot blame me for worrying about you."
"Granger, if I survived two years at the mercy of depraved madmen, believe me I can manage tying my own fucking shoelaces without injuring myself!" he roared at her. She felt the force of that shout in her teeth.
"Then why not tell me so!" she demanded.
"Did it ever occur to you that I hold back because I'm terrified of what I'll do, what I'll become if I let myself go?"
"What you'll do?" she repeated, shaking her head. "I don't understand!"
Draco showed her. "This," he breathed, running the hand that was in her hair down to her waist. He squeezed hard, too hard. "The nightmares I tried to run away from that night you came to see me at St. Mungos. I was so dark for so long, I'm afraid it's left a permanent taint on my soul, Hermione."
Hermione raised her chin. She wasn't afraid of him. She knew he wouldn't hurt her, even if he didn't trust himself. "I'm a big girl, Draco. Why don't you try me?"
The molten hot look he gave her seared her to the soles of her feat. His mouth twisted and his breathing became harsher. His eyes were telling her lewd, incredibly graphic things. "You want me to be the Death Eater that I am?"
Oh God, yes. She did. With all her being. She had fallen in love with the courage and resilience of the unbelievably complex man she had come to know in Azkaban. He was still there, under all that grating civility.
And she was head over heels in love with him.
"I want you! I don't feel like I have the real you sometimes."
The smile he gave her made her stomach summersault.
"Then, Miss Granger, introductions are in order."
Draco scooped her up, took two steps forward and Hermione found herself sitting on the counter top. Too far back apparently, because he pulled her closer, settling himself between her legs. He speared the fingers of one hand through her hair, while the other frantically undid his belt and slid it from the loops around his trousers. It fell to the kitchen floor with a dull, metallic thunk. Not once did he break the kiss. Not even for air.
The kiss was wild, savage, the result of long-suppressed desire for her and much more besides. Hermione wondered how she could she have ever doubted that he wanted her? The guttural, primitive sounds he made spoke more eloquently of his need for her than a year's worth of gentle conversation.
His ran his left palm from her shoulders, squeezing there first as he had done to her hip moments before. And then he dragged that warm palm downwards, down over her sternum, stopping to squeeze and knead at both breasts. His tongue was in her mouth, seeking out the sensitive areas under her top lip, running across her teeth. He pulled her bottom lip into his mouth and tugged lightly, before sucking on it. Months of knowing her body from sight translated into re-learning it with touch. Every rough stroke of his hand made her feel like he was memorising the lines of her body, the dips and hallows, angles and soft places.
"I need more...much more," he whispered to her, brokenly. Hermione recognised it as a promise and a warning of what was to come.
And then he stepped away from her altogether until he was no longer touching her and not one bit of their clothing was in contact. She felt like she had just run a marathon. Her heart was slamming in her rib cage. She leaned back on her elbows because there didn't seem to be enough air between their bodies to sustain them. They simply stared at each other, a pause in time, for breath as well as reaffirmation of what they were about to do together.
The front of Draco's pants was undone. Underneath, he was wearing the boxers that he had slept in. The blunt, engorged tip of his cock showed through the waistband. It was lightly glistening with moisture. She could barely tear her eyes away from it, but his eyes were demanding her attention. They had turned a deep, stormy brown.
Hermione groaned, reaching for him. But he was quicker. Just as he had been in that Azkaban interrogation room two years ago, when he had wrapped his his hands around her throat.
Draco grabbed hold of the buttoned edges of her blouse and ripped it open with explosive force. The white pearl buttons clattered to the floor every which way.
His long-fringed eyes were downcast, but she didn't need to see them to know that they roamed over her breasts, an invisble caress that made her flush deeply. He pushed her back gently until she was lying across the counter and then his mouth was on her.
He bent forward and covered her breasts with both hands, murmuring over them. Hermione barely registered what he was saying through the cacophony of desire roaring past her ears. But she caught the words 'beautiful' spoken over and over.
He licked broadly on the underside of one sensitized breast and she whimpered, her own hands running through his soft hair, pulling his head closer and deeper into her. When he finally began to suck on a nipple, she gasped and arched and he gratefully obliged by sliding a forearm under her back so that he could bend her further into him as he suckled.
"Draco...oh my god."
She was shaking so hard her teeth chattered. It took great effort not to leap off of the kitchen bench from the volatile sensations coursing through her. This was more than mere desire, this was visceral. The toes of her left foot accidentally brushed his erection and his mouth opened against her breast in a gasp of surprised delight.
That was apparently just the punctuation he needed because he pulled away again and violently pulled down her pyjama bottoms and underwear in one swift, downward motion. The material gathered around her ankles. Not content with just that, he pushed her knees up until she was completely exposed to him.
Her palms were braced palms down on the counter, on either side of her. Hermione lifted her head to stare at him with uncertainty.
He replied with a look so full of love that all her lingering doubts evaporated.
"You have no idea how long I've waited."
She wanted to say, yes, she did know how long. She knew very well, but her tongue was incapable of forming the words.
He kissed her stomach, dipped his tongue into her navel and whispered how good she tasted there. Hermione could barely hold her head up, but too look away was impossible. Their first time together was going to be branded into her memory forever. His mouth moved lower and lower still until he placed twin kisses on each of her hip bones, followed by the insides of her thighs. And then, with a shudder, he slid his warm hands down from her raised knees to the juncture of her thighs and then into the very heat of her.
Hermione felt his thumbs open her up gently, there was a brief pause where all she heard was his breathing. Or was that her breathing? Whoever it was was trying to get air in and not doing a very good job of it.
And then she felt his breath between her legs, a soft sigh of introduction followed by the tip of tongue gently opening her up further until she was parted.
He stroked her, lightly at first and then heavier, small stabbing motions with his tongue that had her delirious and thrashing her head from side to side. His lips closed around her for a more aggressive exploration before his tongue swept inside her for a brief, sweeping taste.
Draco retreated. She saw that his hands were shaking where they rested lightly on her waist.
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered. "Draco...please. I'm coming out of my skin."
He stepped back, breathing so hard she thought he might hyperventilate. He shoved a hand under her neck and hauled her up so that she would look at him.
"My turn," he said, with a piercing silver stare. He was all Draco in that moment, but she didn't think she could even recognise his voice.
His other hand had freed his cock from the prison of his clothes and the sight of it nearly made her weep. She had seen him naked before, of course, but never with the knowledge that she could touch, suck, hold and love him to her heart's content.
Draco pulled her pyjama bottoms off her feet, taking care of her injured ankle and when she might have given him another plea, he drove into her, filling her to the base of his cock in one massive thrust.
The pleasure of it was beyond enduring. Hermione gasped, a scream lodged in her throat. She felt full and tight with the warmth of him, the wonderful, head-spinning sensation of his pulse beating deep inside her. Twin hearbeats, almost.
Draco thew his head back, his hand gripping her hip hard enough to bruise. "Hermione..fucking hell."
And then he was slamming into her again and again. Her fingers gripped to the edge of the counter each time he pushed her too far back. He assisted by sliding his hands under her bottom and lifting her lower half entirely off the bench and onto his cock for each deep stroke.
One particularly angled thrust tipped her over the edge and Hermione came with a shattering cry. She felt that orgasm in every nerve ending of her body. Her toes curled against his hips.
Draco grunted, shut his eyes and slid into her once more before he joined her in release. Even through the haze of her own climax, she felt the leap of his cock insider her as her muscles contracted around him, intimately squeezing him as he emptied himself in heavy, hot, pulses.
He collapsed on top of her, the side of his face pressed against her chest. Hermione wrapped her legs around him and promptly burst into tears.
Needless to say, he was rather appalled until Hermione assured him that no, he hadn't hurt her or disappointed her. He had scared her some, but she didn't think he was in a state to hear that just now.
"Then why are you still crying?" he persisted in asking.
"I don't know," she sniffled. "I can't seem to help myself."
She was sitting across his lap in one of the kitchen chairs as he stroked her hair and soothed her. This was less than fifteen minutes later and she could feel his hot, wet, erection pressing against her thigh.
"Is this going to happen every time I touch you?" he asked. The worry in his eyes made her get a hold of herself.
Hermione sat up a little straighter and swiped the back of her hand under her nose. It wasn't the most elegant of actions, but she had long ago resigned herself to the fact that Draco wore the manners in the relationship.
"I'm just emotional."
His eyes turned frigid. "Is this usual for you. With Weasley, I mean. Did you always used to...cry?"
She shook her head. "God no. Rest assured this is a new development." She stared at his chest, thinking how much she wanted to nip on the enticing muscles on either side of his shoulders and his pectorals and his abdominals and everywhere else he grew muscles.
"I've got snot on you." She wiped that too with the back of her hand.
He hadn't stopped touching her. His fingers ran over her belly, massaging at her lower back, lifting and cupping her breasts. Weighing them with his hands. "You know I nearly disgraced myself when you stepped out of that bath yesterday."
"When you could have disgraced yourself in the bath with me."
"I'm a fool," he agreed, diplomatically. A quick shifting motion brought her leg around him so that she was straddling him. He reached between them and slid into her with a long, drawn out groan.
"Who would have thought that I'd have you?" he asked, sounding so incredulous that he wrung a shaky chuckle out of her.
"I don't know. Seamus, most of the Azkaban guards, Ron, half the Ministry. Suffice to say, I think they thought it was a sure thing the day I took you home."
"About..ahh, all the...things I told you, um, earlier..." he said haltingly, as he slid out of and into her again. His mind was still on higher matters, apparently.
"Just tell me you love me," she urged.
"Iloveyou," he hurriedly rasped out. Hermione had taken over the rhythm and was riding him slowly. Her pelvis ground into him. Her palms rested on either side of his face. She stared into his eyes, searching.
It was gratifying to see him so distracted. "I..oh, I love you."
"Again," she demanded, her voice rising. If he responded, she didn't hear, because she was in the delightful process of splintering into a thousand pieces.
"I am so hungry right now."
"Me too," Draco said.
Hermione yawned. If it was a hint of one of them to goad the other into getting up, it didn't work.
Unfortunately, they were in no condition to search for their own food, let alone move. So they stayed where they were, on a long couch in the rose parlour. Hermione was naked and draped over Draco. Somewhere along the line, Draco had reclaimed his boxer shorts. She couldn't recall if it was after the bedroom and the bath, or perhaps when they walked past the kitchen to become acquainted with the carpeted floor of the library. Or maybe it was when he went to use the outhouse and then returned to find her sitting on the pianoforte wearing only her toe-socks.
Hermione tossed her hair over her shoulder and shivered when Draco ran a fingertip down her spine. Her skin was covered with a fine sheen of perspiration.
"Am I crushing you?"
He made a pfft noise. "My broom weighs more than you do."
"Does that mean you're going to fly again when we get back?"
"Fly, ride, fuck, attempt to become a cat person, yes. All of the above."
She rested her elbows on his chest and her chin in her hands. He lazily stroked her bottom as she started down at him. "Spit it out, Granger,"
They had been too cautious with each other for far too long, for her to shake the habit. "The past doesn't just go away overnight, Malfoy. I'm worried you'll relapse."
His eyes darkened momentarily. "I guarantee I'll relapse, but just be there to catch me and we'll be fine, I think."
So simply said and about as honest as he could possible be with her. Hermione rested her cheek against his chest, liking the up and down sensation from his breathing. "I couldn't do it, you know. I couldn't have killed Harry, even though I knew what was happening to him. The rest of the team was still too far away to help in time. Malfoy, if you hadn't been there, Harry would have been lost in the worst way imaginable."
Draco shut his eyes. "Looking back, it couldn't have happened any other way. I know how Snape felt the day I raised my wand to Dumbledore."
Hermione shivered from the memory. "You're right about some things leaving a permanent taint on the soul. I see Harry's face everyday, asking me to kill him all over again. Some days, I think I can. But most of the time, I'm glad you did it," she said, so softly he had to hold his breath to hear her. Hermione gave him a sorrowful glance after this confession. "That makes me a terrible person."
He shook his head at her. "No. That makes you someone who loved him."
The couple was dead to the world, but Jonathan supposed that fifteen hours of nearly continuous sex would do that to a person. He took the fresh blanket that Stebbins had kindly fetched from the linen closet and draped it over Draco and Hermione.
When that was done, Esther stepped into the circle of her husband's arms. They looked down at the sleeping lovers. "It is almost enough, is it not?" she said softly.
"Almost," he agreed. The grandfather clock in the foyer announced that it was midnight.
"All Hallow's Eve," Esther said sadly.
And yet they had not been released from the house.
The curse had not been lifted.
Hermione kept the car engine running to give the heater some time to warm up. Meanwhile, Draco stood on the front step of Mulberry House and fidgeted.
They left a long note apologising for the missing back door and Hermione accordingly attached a substantial cheque to cover the damage. She also included her profound thanks to the invisible staff that had taken such exceptional care of them during their stay. This was followed by a postscript informing the staff of the visitations of a certain chubby feline by the name of 'Brutus' and urged them to look after him if they could.
Not wanting to be outdone, Draco commandeered the note and added his own post, post script, giving his compliments to the owner of the remarkable horse in the stables and left their address in case the beautiful mare was ever up for sale.
Hermione was ransacking the upstairs bedroom in search of her beloved toe-socks, declaring that she couldn't possibly leave without them. Only a man in love with Hermione could be jealous of her unabashed affection for toe- socks, Draco thought. He fidgeted some more with the ring he had stashed in his pocket, wishing she'd hurry up.
She emerged shortly, shut the doors and then gave him a breathless, brilliant smile. Her toe-socks were waved in the air triumphantly.
Draco's rehearsed speech fled from his brain. Oh well. He would have to improvise.
Hermione's jaw dropped open when he produced the ring from the pocket of his coat. The large, yellow diamond sparkled like a pinch of trapped sunshine. She exclaimed that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever laid eyes on.
Draco hugged her tightly. Some of the speech was coming back to him now. "You brought me back. You gave me a reason to be back. I love you, Granger. Say you'll marry me?"
She didn't say anything for the longest time. Her lack of response was starting to annoy him. "This is the part where you normally say 'yes, my love, yes, a thousand yeses', or some such thing," Draco muttered.
Hermione burst into tears for the second time that week. "Yursqushme," she said against his chest.
She pulled away with some effort and then stared up at him with shining eyes. "I said you're squishing me. I'd like to give you an answer, if you let me have some room to do it."
Draco waited. He tapped his foot, even.
Arrogant to the end, Hermione thought. She was grinning like a fool. "Yes, I'll marry you, Malfoy."
He squished her again.
Blaise, was of course, working in his office when Draco walked in.
His business partner shot to his feet as soon as he saw him. "What the hell happened?" Blaise demanded in a shout.
Draco thought his friend's reaction a bit over the top, but he supposed with the amount of care and attention Blaise had put into organising the retreat, he had some stake in the marriage proposal too.
"Whatever commission I'm paying you, double it. That holiday was the best thing I've ever done. Bear in mind I'm including that time we set off a Dungbomb in the third floor girl's bathroom at Hogwarts. You'll be pleased to know that Granger has agreed to the ah, merger."
Blaise looked apoplectic. His dark, handsome face was becoming faintly blotchy. "What the fuck are you talking about?! The manager of Mulberry House has called me at least a dozen times this week!"
Draco frowned. "Is it about the damage to the kitchen? Because we left them enough money to put up a third floor."
"What? According to them, you never arrived!"
"I'm serious, Draco! They had a full staff waiting for you the whole week. I've been worried sick and I even contacted the Ministry and was forced to flirt on the phone for twenty minutes with Terry Fucking Boot to try and find out if you'd contacted them. They said they haven't heard anything from Hermione since they day you two set off!"
"I don't understand," Draco insisted, "We found the house! I mean, it was a little strange that we didn't see the staff the whole time and there was the whole outdoor toilet situation…"
Blaise was staring at Draco oddly. "Malfoy, sounds to me like you and your fiancée stayed somewhere for the week, but I assure you, it wasn't at Mulberry House. I suppose we now have to add breaking and entering onto your list of exploits."
"I'll be damned," said Draco, at a loss for words. He sank down into one of Blaise's ridiculously uncomfortable chairs.
His worry now gone, Blaise was beginning to see the humour in the situation. He started laughing. "Well, that has always been my opinion of marriage."
The house aged two-hundred years overnight.
The villagers in the area who had been past the dirt track that led to the place were amazed that they had never before noticed the old building. It caused quite a sensation. Conservation experts from the local shire were invited to take a look.
It seemed remarkable that nothing had been removed or vandalised in all the time it had been there. The gilded furniture was covered with two centuries of dust; the marble floors in the foyer were dull and stained from the water that dripped from holes in the ceiling. Wallpaper peeled from the penetrating damp. The carpets and drapes were disintegrated in some places and the overgrown gardens at the back of the house and crept into the kitchen over time due to the fact that there didn't seem to be a back door.
All in all, it was an extraordinary find.
Of particular interest were the two portraits in the parlour at the front of the house, which were the only clues as to the former owners. Lord Jonathan Sandhurst, Earl of Claremont and Lady Esther St. James, it was later discovered, had vanished without a trace in early 1806. They were rumoured to have eloped.
The portraits, along with several other items were removed, restored and displayed at the local Town Hall museum for visitors to speculate at the mystery of the house, and the young couple that had once called it home. What was an even greater mystery, however, was the thoroughly modern, pristine, thank you note that had been found on the pianoforte in a front room, and an attached cheque for a tidy sum of money made out to an exclusive hotel located some fifty miles in the neighbouring county.
Both were dated on Halloween, 2006.