I was actually quite surprised to find that some readers thought that the last chapter was the end of the tale, when that was never intended! I had this chapter almost completely written out back when I'd written chapter five of this story. I tweaked it here and there, but this was always how the story was meant to end.
Malfoy Manor - Wiltshire, England
April 10, 1816 (Wednesday night)
Hermione rubbed her distended belly, trying to ease a bout of nausea. Apparently, her son hadn't liked what she'd eaten for dinner. She hadn't felt this awful since the early months of her pregnancy.
Her husband's warm arms came about her, taking over. His fingers stroked the soft muslin fabric of her nightdress in circles over her skin. "Feeling any better?" he murmured gently in her ear. He'd noted her earlier distress and had just come from drawing a bath; the scent of lavender oil lingered upon his hands. "Do you want some tea?"
Relaxing into his strong embrace, Hermione shook her head. "No, thank you. Your son is just finicky. Apparently, he does not care for gravies."
Her lover kissed her temple. "He must get that from your side. You eat the blandest food on the planet, love."
She chuckled. "Yes, well, you tend to enjoy the hottest spices from the Orient upon your edibles, so your taste is suspect from the beginning."
The thought of the hidden places of the world where a person might visit and hideaway made her sigh, as her mind strayed once more upon that topic which had consumed her for the better part of the last year. "I wonder where he is now. Is he safe? Has he found what he was searching for yet? When will he come back to us, Draco? I miss him so much."
The subject of Pyg had become something of a sore spot for them both, her husband more than her in that he blamed himself for the initial magical alteration upon the little Puffskein, which was the cause of his metamorphosis. Even though he'd spent only a little bit of time with Pyg, Draco believed with all his heart that had he never stepped foot past the walls of La Cerise with the tiny creature, that Pyg would never have become something greater than what he'd been born to be – and he wouldn't be suffering as a result.
The same afternoon her adopted son (for that is how Hermione considered Pyg) left on his grand adventure, Aurora had explained to them both her last discussion with the little beast-turned-boy, as well as shared her thoughts on his physical and mental advancement. Hermione had found herself agreeing with the Madame's assessment that the magic upon the House had been the catalyst for Pyg's change. She never blamed Draco for this, for how could he have ever known, as he'd been completely ignorant of the spells laid out within the foundation of the House. Besides, she now believed whole-heartedly in things playing-out exactly as they were meant to, and truly thought that Pyg's change had been part of his miraculous destiny.
Draco swallowed with heavy emotion. "I'm sure he's well, love, and he'll come home to us soon."
"I pray so," she whispered, closing her eyes and sending a good thought out into the cosmos for her sweet, baby Pyg.
The ache in her tummy became more pronounced, reminding her of the type of cramping that came with her menses.
Within an hour, her water broke.
Six grueling hours later, Scorpius Abraxas Malfoy was born into the world.
To Hermione and Draco's disappointment and sorrow, Pyg had not appeared to witness the birth of his half-brother. Nor did he return for Scor's first, second, or even fifth birthday. It seemed the little Puffskein had, for lack of a better understanding, simply vanished from the face of the earth.
His parents, however, never gave up hope that someday, he would come home.
Snape Residence – Spinner's End, England
April 11, 1824 (Thursday evening)
Ciara waited until her parents had retired to their room before closing her eyes and calling out in a whisper to the one person she knew wouldn't be far away on today of all days.
"Pygmalion, are you there?"
The mattress sunk a bit under his weight as her best friend, Pygmalion, simply appeared next to her with a soft 'pop,' of compressed air, lying above the covers.
Turning onto her right side, she found herself practically nose-to-nose with him. "I knew you'd come," she insisted with firmly-held faith.
His white hair matched his white grin, which was full of mischief. "I haven't missed your birthday yet, have I?"
She shoved him playfully and he shoved her back, his hair changing color to pink. "So, what new things did you see this time?" she eagerly asked, anticipating a whopper of a story. Last time, he'd traveled to Egypt and spoke to THE Sphinx. Lucky devil!
He told her of a wondrous land called Greece, which was to the East, just past Italy. "It's a busy place, Ci, with lots of ships coming in and out of their many harbors. They speak a different language and the regular people wear the softest clothes – like the things you wear only they're not fu-fu frilly."
Ciara indelicately snorted. "I hardly enjoy wearing such girly things, Pygmalion. You know I'd rather have breeches, but mother and father would blush my hide if I dared." She rolled onto her back and petulantly whined. "I wish I were a boy! You get to run around like a loon and no one cares if you climb trees or spread your legs wide."
Her friend chuckled low, and the sound hinted that he knew something she didn't, but he didn't elaborate. His mane turned blue as he tugged on a lock of her long, chestnut brown-black hair. "Stupid, if you were a boy, I wouldn't like you as much. Now, do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?"
Reaching up, she entwined their fingers to keep him from pulling her hair again. "Of course, tell me everything!"
She was having a hard time keeping her eyes open after an hour of him droning on about his adventures in the lands that, according to Pygmalion, birthed great people who were responsible for art and government and thinking. "Thinking?" Ciara was skeptical. "No one invented thinking. It just… happened!"
Her companion gave her a look that told her to be quiet so he could continue. She clamped her lips together and listened.
"…and a long time ago, they believed in many strange gods and goddesses that lived in the sky and granted people wishes sometimes," he finally ended his tale.
Her eyes widened, her curiosity piqued. "How extraordinary! What kind of wishes?" she breathlessly asked. Maybe she could appeal to these gods and goddesses and ask them to make her a boy so she could wear breeches instead of petticoats.
Her best friend shrugged. "Well, for example, they made people fall in love. Like the Greek sculptor, Pygmalion – who I'm named after - and his wife, Galatea. They had to turn her into a human first for him, because she was a statue he'd carved."
Ciara drew in a sharp breath. "Incroyable!" she sighed in her grand-mere's native language.
Pygmalion nodded with assurance, his hair changing to yellow in a flash. "Galatea was the most perfect woman in the world and he loved her from the moment he finished shaping her and looked upon her face. He asked the Goddess of Love to make her real for him, and she did! They fell in love and kissed and had lots of babies. But the really important part of that story is that Pygmalion carved out his own destiny! He believed so much in what he was doing, that the Great Lady of Love gave him what he most wished for: a life together with the woman of his dreams. I think that's rather neat."
"Hmmm, so you're named for him, this Sculptor?" she asked around a yawn, putting a hand over her mouth as was polite.
Pygmalion gave her a mysterious smile, his tresses shifting to pink again. "Actually, my first name used to be Pygmy, because I was so small when I was littler, but when I heard Pygmalion's tale, I decided I wanted to be like him, so I changed my own name, all by myself!" He seemed particularly proud of that fact.
It was so hard for Ciara to keep her eyes open. "You did? You're amazingly brave, my Pygmalion!" She suppressed another yawn behind her hand. "I wish I could change my name and make myself a boy. Do you think this goddess will grant me my wish, too?" This time, her yawn was loud and long. "Oh, I'm so tired and it's late. Can you tell me more later?"
Her best friend squeezed her fingers once – a comforting gesture. "Sorry, I forgot how young you are and that we're already past your bedtime."
"You're not that much older than me!" she drowsily protested.
Pygmalion's hair altered to red and he gave that queer chuckle again – the one that said he knew something more than her – but he didn't reply, instead snuggling closer and putting his arms about her, holding her to his chest, stroking her hair as Ciara always adored. "Sleep, Ci. I'll watch over you. Just remember: you can't ever tell anyone about me. It's our secret, right?"
Settling down to the sound of his solidly beating heart, inhaling the scent that was uniquely Pygmalion's – spicy exotic oranges – Ciara gave herself over to her dreams. "Right, our secret" she murmured.
The last thing she remembered was hearing Pygmalion whisper against her hair as he placed a kiss upon her head. "Happy birthday, my Galatea."
Diagon Alley - London, England
June 3, 1836 (Friday night)
Ciara fiddled with her hair, nervous as a cat with his tail too near a rocking chair. Her best friend, Evelyn Zabini, smacked her hand and fixed the chignon so it was perfect once more. "Be still, Ci! You'll ruin the style."
"I can't help it!" Ciara protested, forcing her hands to be still in her lap. "It's our debut and I'm not even sure I'll know any of the men downstairs! Most of them are probably from Hogwarts – not Beauxbatons, where you and I were enrolled - and perhaps there are even a few from Durmstrang. I know Scorpius will be here, because Aunt Hermione confirmed it for me just last week, but I know he hasn't come for me." She gave her best girl friend a pointed look, which Evvie ignored (although she did prettily blush, the rosy shine to her mocha cheeks making her positively radiate with happiness). "Thank all the gods my father has been banned from the premises by mother, however. It would be a terrible night to have his dark, scowling countenance scaring off all prospects for any of us."
"I've heard that Scorpius's cousin, the very handsome Andrus Nott will be in attendance," Evelyn confirmed as she turned and took a last primp into the looking glass, "although I do believe he's already set his sights upon one of the Potter twins." She made a disappointed moue in the mirror. "Shame, that."
Ciara snorted indelicately. "I hope for his sake he chooses Lily, as Abigail is a spitfire."
Evelyn shook her head, fixing a stray bit of hair that had fallen from its pin. "Yes, well, our 'spitfire' firmly has her eye fixed upon my cousin, Louis."
Ciara's dark brown eyes went wide, and she turned to her friend with marked surprise. "Hasn't he already made his way through this house's compliment of companions, and in less than a year?"
The other witch hummed her acknowledgement and grinned. "He is quite the naughty boy, yes. I heard that Uncle William was very similarly tempered until he met Aunt Fleur, however, so the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in Lou's case."
Shuddering at such unfaithful frivolity, Ciara turned back to give her reflection a final once-over. "I hope he and Abigail match and he doesn't plead suit for me. I'm not much of an opinion for well-used goods."
Her friend reached out and smoothed down the back of Ciara's long, Parisian silk dress, assuring it lay properly. "I wouldn't fret, Ci. Some man of worth will present himself to you this summer. I predicted it, after all, when I divined the tea this afternoon." She paused, leaned forward and pressed their cheeks together. The two women – best girl friends since childhood, thanks to their parents' affiliations - stared into the mirror at each other with abiding hope and tender feeling. "You are the belle of the ball tonight in this lovely two-toned rose-colored frock you wear," her friend complimented her with all sincerity.
Ciara blushed and playfully nudged Evvie in the ribs. "I think you look equally as stunning in your layered Italian ruffles. The warm bronze amplifies your beauty, and the synched waist makes you appear diminutive." She turned and placed a friendly kiss on her friend's cheek. "Ma soeur, every man tonight will vie for you - Scorpius most assuredly amongst them."
Her beautiful, mocha-skinned friend held her breath, her gaze reflecting hope and desire for the young man in question. "Do you truly think so?"
A firm nod. "Absolutely," Ciara confirmed with all earnestness. "He's the love of your life - has been since we were all children, and our parents gathered us together for holidays. It's time you two settled what's always been between you."
Her friend beamed, but very quickly, the smile dropped as a thought entered her mind. "And what of you? Oh, are you sure you're ready to do this, ma soeur? I know how you feel about the subject of entertaining a man after… well…"
The tightening in Ciara's chest was immediate, and she moved away, turning her attention to the back of her friend's dress in a reciprocal straightening gesture. "I know you think I made him up, but Pygmalion was real, Evvie. I swear it to you. I haven't gone mad."
Three months ago, when they'd begun their training in the House, she'd finally confessed about her childhood secret to Evelyn. Her friend had been skeptical of Pygmalion's existence from the start, simply because she'd never seen him appear in person in all the time they'd been playmates. Despite that, she'd seen how Ciara had suffered over the years since his disappearance, and for that reason alone, Evvie had been willing to dance around the uncomfortable subject, only occasionally questioning whether the boy had been merely an imaginary friend (and then only when Ciara had set her heels in to avoid discussing a future without Pygmalion in it).
The fact was, Ciara believed whole-heartedly in the boy who'd been her true best friend - so much so that she'd never once given up hope to see him again someday, even putting her life's pursuits and the possibility of a love match with another on-hold for the last two years, since her graduation. It had only been to appease Evvie, who was desperate to hook Scorpius Malfoy before his attention wandered, that Ciara had agreed to join La Cerise at all.
Thinking about her clandestine playmate again brought butterflies to Ciara's stomach…
Her earliest memories were of Pygmalion and she playing together in secret, sometimes in her room, sometimes in quiet areas of the house when her parents were preoccupied, and still other times while running around the vast gardens of the Manor at Wiltshire when her parents would drag her there as they spent time with the Malfoys, their dearest friends, and she'd tried to avoid Scorpius, who always picked on her for being a girl.
At six, Pygmalion had taught her Wizard's Chess in her father's study, at eight to swim in the ocean without fear, and at nine to waltz in the attic of her family's home. Randomly, he'd appeared to her at night to tuck her in and hold her as she'd slept, keeping her childish night terrors at bay with his calming presence and that odd purring noise that rumbled from his chest.
The last time she'd seen him had been her tenth birthday. He'd lain in bed with her, as he'd always done at night and especially on her birthday, and they'd talked for a while as she'd digested her cake and recounted for him all of the lovely presents she'd received that day. It was only as she'd been ready to drift off to sleep that he'd dropped the awful news upon her: he was going away again, and this time, he wasn't sure when he'd be back. He'd said he was close to discovering a way to stay with her for always, but time was running out. As a child, she hadn't understood how final such words had been, but as an adult looking back, she could recall now how nervous and frightened he'd seemed.
He'd taken her first kiss from her that night. Oh, she'd kissed Scorpius on the cheek plenty of times, but this was a different sort of kiss. Pygmalion had told her to close her eyes, and when she had, he'd pressed his warm, soft lips to hers. It was innocent, as chaste as one could get, and yet there had been a world of feeling contained in that guileless kiss. Now, in retrospect, she realized that it had been Pygmalion's way of saying goodbye.
There hadn't been a day that had gone by since that he wasn't in her thoughts, however. He'd even invaded her dreams at night as she'd gotten progressively older, admittedly in an increasingly more romantic and sexual manner by the time she'd reached her seventeenth birthday. He'd changed in those dreams, filled into the man he'd been meant to become – handsome and gentle in temper, with just the perfect touch of dominating male to make her shiver with delight. There were times upon her awakening that she would swear to the lingering touch of his lips and hands upon her – in her. Oh, the naughty things she dreamed about him… She could never tell a soul, for she would be marked wanton for sure!
Perhaps Evvie was right, though, as she considered her position here, just moments away from debuting at the most prestigious gentlemen's club in all of Europe…
"But," Ciara forced herself to admit aloud, "I also recognize that you are right to warn me of the folly of holding onto feelings for him when there has been no word of him for ten long years. It's quite possible that his silence all this time could mean that he's… well, that's he's… he's no longer with us." She choked on the thought. "If I'm to have a future, as you correctly remind me, I must look ahead, not behind."
Despite her brave words, tears hotly prickled behind her eyelids, fell down her cheeks, and a small sob escaped her lips.
She'd promised herself she wouldn't do this again. She'd sworn just three days past that she would try to let him go soon… and yet Ciara realized in that moment that she didn't know how. She had loved Pygmalion all her life. How did one simply discard such a soul-deep connection? And what if he wasn't really gone forever? What if he did come back, only to find her already married and with child? Something deep inside rebelled at the thought of allowing another man to touch her. I'm his! screamed in the vaults of her mind, echoing down into her heart, taking hold and refusing to let go.
"Ci," Evvie gently pulled her back into the present. "We don't have to go down there. We can pass over the event. The Potter twins will still debut. We can try another time – or never, if you decide this isn't what you want. I don't mind. I want you to be happy first and foremost, and if you're not ready to take this step, then I'll stand with you until you are."
Grabbing onto her courage, Ciara firmly shook her head and composed herself once more, reaching for a handkerchief atop her boudoir to wipe at her eyes. Thank goodness her face paint had already been sealed to prevent its smearing! "No, I won't delay your happiness a moment longer! You have waited too long to meet your destiny with Scorpius, and you have done so for the last two years for my sake alone. I have been too selfish, ma soeur. Tonight, that ends."
Ever supportive of each other, the two women helped finish each other's preparations. Evvie gave her the finishing touch of tying about her head the beautiful, gold-gilded leather mask that her father had gifted to her from a specialty shop in Italy. Her friend touched the embossed leather flowers on the side of the mask, their color matching her gown perfectly. "It is a stunning piece," the witch smiled. "Very feminine and very much you, Ci - now that you have outgrown your desire to play at being a boy."
The two chuckled over such silliness from their youth.
Ciara helped her friend into her own mask – a leather cat's face made by the same artist, a gift from Mr. Zabini to his daughter. "And yours matches your personality – and your dress – perfectly as well, for you are as mysterious and beautiful as Bast herself," she compliment Evvie as she tied the ribbons carefully about her friend's head.
When they were ready, the two young women took a final glance in the mirror, and then hugged each other. "Luck be with us both!" Evvie wished, and Ciara enthusiastically nodded.
They reached the top of the stairs, standing off to the side and out of sight of the crowd gathered in the Entrance Hall a moment later. The murmur of voices engaged in conversation from the assemblage below was rather loud, indicating that the place was packed. Ciara assumed her mother, still the House Madame all these years later (despite her numerous attempts to retire), had opened the Ballroom up to allow for a free flow of air, dispersing the stifling body heat.
Abigail and her twin, Lily, appeared at Ciara's side a second later. Despite not attending the same school (the Potters had both gone to Hogwarts), there was no animosity of any kind between the four women, as they had all been occasional childhood playmates (often the Potters were on the same guest list as the Snapes and Zabinis to attend special holidays at Malfoy Manor). Besides, the quartet had spent the last three months in training together with the Abbess, and had become fast friends as a result.
"Ready?" gentle Lily asked, nervously adjusting her layered chiffon, pastel green-colored gown and leather face covering – a white half-mask with lace, embellished with a light spring leaf pattern, white ceramic roses and green ceramic berries across the top. Her pale blonde hair was up in a lightly-held up-do, showing off the back of her long, attractive neck.
Ciara nodded. "Your gowns and masks – they are simply wonderful!"
"You both are visions," the younger twin kindly returned. "The pink brings out your cheeks, Ci, and the rosy-bronze, your skin tone, Evvie."
Abigail, ever the more dominant of the siblings, took her sister's arm to restrain her from making a fuss. She had chosen a silk-chiffon, sapphire blue gown to compliment her features, her hair left to trail over her right shoulder, down over her bosom in ringlets. Her mask was a thing of great extravagance – a half-face dyed leather piece (the color perfectly matching her gown) with blue feathers and silver embellishments. "We four shall be the debut of the century, for sure," she proclaimed, a twinkle in her green eyes.
Their mentor and instructor – Ciara's mother – appeared from down the hallway, bustling forward, all business. Despite the fact she'd earned more than enough to retire from the position, she had remained to be the Madame of the House under the direct request of its owners, the Malfoys. She lived off-property, however, in Ciara's family's home in Spinner's End, leaving the caretaking of the House's needs in her absence to Dobby and his trusted staff of elves (who had simultaneously proven themselves more than capable protectors and servants).
"Are you ready, my little ones?" she asked, her accent returning in her nervousness. It was one of her mother's quirks.
Four heads nodded in unison.
"Excellent! Then, I will escort you one at a time down the stairs, and the Keeper will announce you," she explained. "You will each be passed off to a trusted hand - all except you, my Ci, as I will be your guardian for the night's endeavor. Once all four of you are properly announced, your guardians may begin making your introductions to the potential beaus. Are there any last minute changes to your aliases that I need to inform The Keeper of before he pronounces you to the host?"
Everyone shook their heads.
"Good, good. Then, I shall begin with you, my dear Abigail, then Lily, then Evelyn, and finally Ciara." She held her arm out to Abigail. "Shall we, my dear?"
Abigail released her hold on her sister, stepped back and took a deep breath, let it out slow, and then laid her arm elegantly across Aurora's. The two moved to the head of the stairs, and began down. The voice of The Keeper – Evvie's uncle, and the same man who'd held the position for nearly twenty years now – rang out true in the quieting room below.
Ah, now her choice in gown and mask made perfect sense, Ciara thought.
A hush followed the first pronouncement, and within moments, Aurora had returned. She took Lily's arm. The younger twin gave them all a tremulous smile, and then she was off as well.
"Mademoiselle Fleur de Lis."
"A give-away, that one," Evelyn whispered, for everyone knew that the French royal symbol meant, "Lily Flower."
"Your turn next," Ciara whispered, and the two women clung to each other, their anticipation thick.
Before she took the House Mother's arm, her friend turned to her once more, biting her bottom lip with uncertainty. "Scorpius will definitely notice me, oui?"
Ciara nodded most assuredly. "Absolutely. He's totally smitten with you, Evvie. Everyone knows."
"Too true," Ciara's mother chimed in, taking Evelyn's arm in hers. "The young man in question completely ignored the Potter girls, his eyes firmly fixed on the stairs, waiting. It is no question as to whom he intends to court, Cherie."
Evelyn let out a tiny squeal of delight behind her lips, and then quickly composed herself. "Yes, well, let's give him a run for it, shall we?" With that, they went on their way.
"Le Chat Parisien," the Keeper called from below.
Nervously pacing back and forth as the final candidate for the evening, Ciara waited until her mother reappeared on the stairs and came to her. They reached for each other, and her mama carefully embraced her, conscientious of not ruining her daughter's appearance at the same time as offering her comfort. "I am very proud of you for agreeing to take this step, bébé. For the last several years, you have been withdrawn. I have seen it. Something saddens your heart. It is not an easy thing for a woman to put aside her suffering and fears, and to believe that something better awaits her. It takes incredible courage. No matter the outcome of tonight, I am pleased you have shown such initiative."
Ciara deeply inhaled and let it back out. "Down those stairs a new destiny awaits me, mama. I must be willing to embrace it if I wish to find my happiness again."
"Oui, mon noir. Life is about taking chances." She fondly caressed Ciara's jaw. "As I did with your father to beget you."
Stepping back and taking her mother's arm, Ciara tried to quell the pixies rioting in her stomach. Something was going to happen for her tonight, one way or the other. She prayed for the strength to see it through. "Guide me as you ever have, mama."
The two walked to the top of the stairs together without another word. Trying to control her quickly beating heart, Ciara swallowed hard and held her chin up. No matter what, she would be poised, calm, and charming, as her many lessons before this night had prepared her to behave.
"The Lady Galatea," the announcement rang through the hushed room.
Ciara and her mother took the stairs one at a time, and she focused on keeping her footing, on appearing regal, on doing her family proud. A good first impression was everything.
As they approached the bottom of the stairs, she noted the other three debutants standing to the side with their guardians at their sides; Evelyn's mother for her, Aunt Hermione for Lily, and Abigail's mother at her arm. The eyes of the crowd seemed locked upon her, and every face was masked, but none of the men, aside from Scorpius (wearing a conspicuous, leather dragon-faced mask), and Scorpius's cousin, Andrus (donning a black half-mask that had an embossed snake writhing across the entire right side) were familiar. She didn't spy Uncle Harry or Uncle Draco in the crowd, and she knew her father would not be there.
She was shocked by the sheer number of available bachelors in the room, many of them gazing at her with distinct interest.
Well, it seemed she was in for a long night, like it or not.
By the second hour of introductions, Ciara believed she'd met every suitor in the room at least once (minus Scorpius, who stuck at Evvie's side, glowering at the competition, and Andrus, who stayed near Abigail, but who's eyes constantly followed Lily when he didn't think anyone was looking, and Louis, who hovered around Lily, but watched Abigail with the same intensity) and was thoroughly exhausted from the effort of fronting false cheer. Why had she believed again that tonight would hold something special for her? Thus far, none of the bachelors had interested her in the slightest. They were too tall or too short, too aggressive or too passive, too polite or too rude. She hadn't agreed to a single first interview with any of them. Perhaps her standards were too high?
Oddly, her mother didn't seem in the least bit surprised by her behavior. In fact, she seemed not to be concerned, too preoccupied with looking about the room as if seeking out someone or something, and frustratingly not seeing it.
Needing a break, she improvised a lie that would allow her to step out for a bit on her own. "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, Madame," she requested of her chaperone and the ring of men surrounding her. "I have need to take leave." Everyone in polite society understood that to mean she was would seek out the water closet. It was the worst excuse in the cosmos, but the one most likely to allow her some alone time. Disentangling herself from her mother's arm, she made her way out of the room and down the narrow, adjoining hall towards her destination, where she proceeded to sit in front of the vanity mirror for a good ten minutes, trying to work up the energy and bravado necessary to continue the evening's farce for another hour.
When she felt there was absolutely no further delay that could be legitimately tolerated, she readjusted her mask, smoothed down her dress a final time, and forced her feet back towards the Grand Ballroom.
As she returned, a man she hadn't remembered meeting stood in the dead center of the room, in direct line of her intended path. It appeared as if she was his intended target of interest from the way he candidly stared at her as she made her way back inside. Clad in a very well-tailored waist coat of grey-blue, a vest of light gold, a pair of white breeches, black cravat tied into a bow at his throat, and matching shoes that glimmered, he was the paragon of men's fashion for the day. His dark blond hair was cut short, however, and he bore no sideburns or facial hair, which was in direct counter to the day's trend. His skin was nicely tanned a golden hue, from what little she could see of it under and around his striking mask – leather shaped into the mien of a wolf, painted arctic grey and white with gold highlights. The coloring of his clothing and his face covering brought out the beauty of his grey eyes…
… eyes that were evocatively familiar.
No! No, that is just… wishful thinking, she firmly told herself so as not to raise her hopes, for fear of having them crushed when the man revealed himself not to be the one she'd been waiting for. I am being silly and fanciful.
The wizard patiently watched her come closer and then stepped intentionally in front of her as she made to go around. He executed a formal bow with all respect accorded to her station, forcing her to come to a halt less than an arm's length away to avoid their collision.
His smooth movement brought back memories of waltzing about an empty sitting room as a child.
It couldn't be!
Foregoing a proper introduction, the potential suitor took the initiative to greet her, including reaching for her hand without her or her chaperone's express permission. When his fingers lightly touched upon her tips to bring her knuckles up to his mouth for a polite kiss, magic sparked between them, causing Ciara's heart to pulse in her mouth.
"I told you I would return for you," he murmured gently, his voice a deep, husky tone that made her insides flip around even as he took another step forward, moving into her private space. His gaze through the eyelets of his mask dropped to her pink-painted lips and his lids lowered with blatant desire. "My Galatea."
Trembling with suppressed emotion, Ciara felt unexpected tears slip down her face, staining the underside of her mask. Was it possible? Could this really be him? "Pygmalion?" she whispered, afraid that just by saying his name, he would disappear again.
"You are quite late, bébé," her mother jibed at the gentleman, cleverly inserting her presence into the conversation, stepping alongside Ciara and purposefully taking her arm. Glancing at the woman out of the corner of her eye, she noted that her mama was looking up at the young man – Pygmalion, it had to be - with clear recognition and… was that, relief? "And where have you been, young sir? I expected you much sooner – years so, in fact."
Pygmalion's smile was hidden by his mask, but she could feel it and see it crease the corners of his eyes through the slits, even as he bowed low to Aurora and kissed the back of her hand in greeting as well. "I have been, as you have no doubt guessed, Madame, searching for that thing we last discussed upon your balcony the morning my mother and father walked about the rose garden together. You may be delighted to know I discovered it – and just in the nick of time. The repercussions of such a postponement, however, have taken me many long years to recover and to regain my bearings. It is only recently that I have been able to be up and about, in fact. As for where I was tonight… First, I had to stop at my parents' home to inform my father of my return. Then, after learning of my Ci's debut and where my mother and half-brother could be found, I hurried to ready myself to attend your gala affair. And finally, I stopped at your home in Spinner's End and had a rather frank talk with your husband. All of that together is responsible for my delay." He bowed again to both ladies. "I apologize for missing the official pronouncements."
Her mother gave him the once over. "Did you now – speak with my husband, that is? And pray tell, what did you two sly devils discuss?" she dryly teased with an easy manner, as if she and this potential suitor were old friends.
His gaze eloquently swung back to Ciara. "His permission to court your daughter," he explained, his gaze darkening with desire as he looked down upon her.
In a move guaranteed to disqualify him from any auction or solicitation within the House, he removed his mask in front of the whole of the room, showing the world his face.
In the bearing of the man that gazed upon her with love, Ciara saw the impression of the boy she'd once known. "Pygmalion!" she cried with joy, throwing herself into his arms, placing a kiss (a quick, but unquestionable declaration) upon his lips right there in a room full of the wizarding haut ton, uncaring of the repercussions. Her tears flowed down her cheeks in hot rivulets.
Arms that were as warm and comforting as she remembered came about her, holding her close, cradling her to his heart. "I've walked the world to find a way to be with you, my Ci," he told her, speaking with tender feeling, his hands raking through her hair, taking it out of its chignon and possessively fingering through the freed strands. "I've loved you from the moment I heard your tiny life beginning in your mother's womb, I watched you grow and regretted leaving your side, but now it's finally possible for us to be together. I want you for my own - no more waiting." He pulled the bow on her mask, and tugged, removing it from her person in one fell swoop, handing it and his mask off to her mother – assuring she was now as equally disqualified as he. Truthfully, Ciara could have cared less; all she'd ever wanted was right here, right now, and he'd confessed to loving her with an equal intensity as she felt for him!
From behind, Aurora chuckled with great amusement. "You, Monsieur, are still the same precocious boy I have ever adored, and I am pleased to know you have found your destiny at last, my sweet Pyg – although, I admit, I am eager for the details as to how you accomplished such a miracle at long last." Ciara turned her head slightly and noted her mother giving him another shrewdly roving examination.
"Later, I will tell all," he promised. "Now, I intend upon kidnapping your daughter - with your permission, of course?"
"Oui," her mother made a shooing motion with one graceful sweep of her hand. "This, I have been expecting since the afternoon you informed me of my condition as a new mother, and required my protection of my daughter for your eventual return. Your hair changes that morning - bleu, rouge et blanc…" She gave him a shrewd smirk and fondly patted his arm. "Well, l'amour is in the blood of we French, you well know. We have a keen nose for it."
Pygmalion laughed and bent his neck low in silent concession to Ciara's mother. "You are, as my father has ever been so fond of pointing out, the Queen of your Dominion, Madame."
Aurora reached out and grabbed her daughter's hand, kissing it. "Your destiny awaits, bébé. Go with your parents' blessings."
Placing his mouth to her ear, Pygmalion bent to wrap his arms about Ciara's waist. "No more delays. Hold tight, beloved."
She did, and with a 'pop' and the feeling of warm air passing through her every layer of skin, they Disapparated.
He took her to her bedroom upstairs, bespelled the walls and door for their complete privacy with a negligent wave of his hand and a few, softly spoken words, and then his mouth was on hers and nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Ciara threw herself into the kiss she had waited her whole life for. It was everything she'd ever dreamed – passionate, loving, and desperate never to end. His tongue slipped between the seam of her mouth, opening her up to his exploration, teasing, coaxing hers to come and play. His lips were fire and ice combined, tingling her spine as they moved down her throat to seduce her thoroughly. "You are mine," he repeatedly whispered in her ear, against her burning skin, into her mouth as he claimed her thoroughly.
In a blink, her dress was unbuttoned and slipped from her arms and waist, to pool at her feet. His jacket and vest were undone, his cravat slipped free of his neck, his shirt opened and discarded into the growing pile of fabric on the thickly-carpeted rug. That a man was taking such liberties and undressing her should have been scandalous, as no male had dared look at her nude, adult form before, much less touch it. However, with Pygmalion, Ciara felt instinctively shameless, as if their touching were the natural order of things. Gone were shyness and the polite mannerisms that a debutante was meant to maintain. Love guided her conscience and moved her body.
Their bare skin touched as he unfastened and discarded her bustle. The temperature of his skin against hers was almost unnaturally hot, and he was hard, every inch of him stretched with taut muscle. Her fingertips glided over his flesh, even as his teeth nipped at her pulse. He touched her everywhere, moved as if he already knew exactly what she liked and craved. "I've dreamed of this in excruciating detail, even as I slept to recover my strength," he whispered in her ear. "Did you feel our minds touch, my Ci? Do you remember our shared dreams?"
Her thoughts were scattered, and it took her a few moments to accept that such magic as he'd spoken of could actually be possible. "How could you accomplish such a thing? Surely, not with Legilimency?" she asked between panting whimpers as his fingers caressed with wild devotion. "All these years, you were really in my dreams? Touching me like… like that?"
"Like this," he demonstrated by dipping his head and taking one cherry-colored nipple into his mouth. Nursing upon her in so intimate a manner made her spine arch of its own accord, thrusting her breast deeper into his mouth. She dug her nails into his shoulders for purchase and threw her head back with wild abandon, reveling in the delicious sensation. Her amante groaned as his hands slipped past her lingerie, inching it from her hips, allowing gravity to take it and baring her to his lustful stare. "I'm going to do to you everything we've dreamed together and more, beloved."
Picking her up, he dragged her to the bed and laid her down atop the goose-down coverlet. It was so soft, in direct contrast to his rigid body as he shed the last of their clothing with hurried, almost expert touches and lay atop her.
Pressing his hand to her belly, he rubbed across her womb, and his hair abruptly changed color to pink, and that odd trilling-purring noise erupted from his chest, just as it had when he'd been a child. There was no time to question the seemingly uncontrollable phenomena that she'd always taken for granted before as being somehow intentional, however, as suddenly his fingers were dipping between her legs and touching her intimately, diverting her attention to the sensations he inspired instead. His hair shifted color again – red this time – even as his head dipped to join his naughty hand.
She practically came off the bed as his tongue swept through her center seam, flicking and sucking upon the tiny pearl of her pêche. Liquid desire melted her lower body, set her aflame, and with a gasp, she cried out, feeling the most wonderful clenching warmth throughout her womb. "More," she begged her lover, and he supplied, bringing her to culmination by lovingly lathing her slit, penetrating her with a single finger and stroking a spot on the upper inside of her body that caused sparks behind her eyelids to ignite.
Even as she was relaxing from her petite climax, her wizard shifted atop her to reclaim her lips. "I love you, my Ciara," he whispered as he lowered his hips and without delay, slid his solid staff between her legs, entering her very slowly, very carefully until he was buried within her to the hilt. His hair had shifted color in a frenzy of uncontrolled action throughout the breaching of her virginity – white, blue, red, pink, purple, and returning to and settling upon red. There was no pain, as she'd been told to expect, only the oddest sensation of being stretched to accommodate their joining, and she suspected he'd done something to prevent her from feeling the discomfort associated with losing one's innocence.
"Gods!" he hissed into her shoulder, shuddering as he immediately found release, pumping his hips with each explosion of his seed, moaning against her skin. He didn't stop moving even as his body regained control, continuing to arc into her with long, thick strokes, his mouth biting down on the lee of her shoulder and neck as he slowly built her need up into a pulsing, reckless lust. One of his hands cupped her hip, pulled her up off the bed to create an angle for his thrusts that sent her spiraling into the heavens on dizzying wings. Everything within her coiled and released, coiled and released, stealing her breath, making her heart beat into her gasping mouth. The flood of his second orgasm filled her, and around a deep, masculine groan of satisfaction, he bit down harder, marking her indelibly as his.
They declared their love for each other even as a golden rush of light and magical sensation gripped them, intensifying the feelings of the moment, bringing them both again in a flash of rapturous ecstasy.
Had he done that? she would later wonder. But no, he'd seemed as surprised by the magic as she had been.
Giving and taking all the rest of the night, Pygmalion taught her how to love with her body just as thoroughly as he had with her heart all those years ago, relentless in their coupling. He'd admitted in a whisper in her ear, even as he'd entered her the second time, that he'd been as much a virgin as she. That they had been each other's first and only had bonded them up even tighter into the other, allowed them to explore the art of love making, discovering together the wonder and beauty of the act.
Hours later, exhausted, sweaty, and thoroughly sated, he finally allowed them respite, both of them too unused to the physical exertion. Holding her to him just as he had when they'd been children, he touched her hair, ran fingers down her arm, lulling them both into a state of blissful relaxation.
"You're not human, are you?" she finally worked up the courage to ask, her fingernails absently scraping across his left peck with light strokes.
Her amante took a deep breath. "I am now," was what he settled upon finally. "But I seem to have retained some instincts and abilities from my previous life."
Ciara considered what he hadn't said, however. "That's why you went away, wasn't it? You were looking for a way to… change… so we could be together."
A gentle kiss alighted atop her forehead. "Yes."
Gnawing on her bottom lip, she mulled his words over. "So, in a way, you were like the Pygmalion and Galatea of myth, only you were both of them combined – the destiny you carved out for yourself was to become human," she realized.
He tugged her hair in that familiar way he'd always done in the past. "Yes, but in a way, you are also my Galatea, Ci: my perfect woman, whom I loved even as I helped shape you."
That gave her significant pause. He had been a very important part of her growth, hadn't he? He'd taught her how to play freely, to enjoy challenges, to love unreservedly. He'd taught her to read and to love the classics, how to appreciate music, how to give herself over to frivolity and laughter. Everything they'd ever done together as children had led her to become the woman she was today. He'd always been her Pygmalion, hadn't he? "I love you," she proclaimed, hugging him fiercely and lifting her head to kiss him with all of her abiding feelings. "No matter your origins, I love you with my soul, Pygmalion. I always have."
His hair flashed through a rainbow of colors to alight on red again. Slipping his fingers down over her abdomen, he rubbed in circles, and then quite suddenly stilled. He tilted his head, as if he were listening for something, and then his head jerked back and he looked down at her, at first with dawning surprise, and then slowly, a small, almost arrogant smile crawled up his cheek. "You've conceived."
Ciara stopped breathing. "What?"
He flipped her onto her back and reentered her body, as enthusiastic now as he'd been their first coupling, hours previous. "It seems your father and I will have to have another discussion sometime soon. It's only proper to ask his permission first, I understand."
"Permission? Pygmalion, what are you-?"
He began thrusting away then, and directly, Ciara lost track of all thoughts and time as she gave herself over to her beloved once more.
A month later, they were officially married.
Malfoy Manor - Wiltshire, England
December 24, 1844 (Tuesday night)
"Tell us the story again, papa! You know - the one about your change!"
Hermione watched as her daughter-in-law, Ciara, passed the hand of their seven (almost eight) year old son, Alexander, into her husband's, giving him a smirk that silently mocked: "I told you so."
The recap of Pyg's transformation from magical creature to human had become something of a Christmas tradition over the last four years; perhaps because the story of true miracles was something everyone - especially impressionable wizarding children - enjoyed hearing.
His dark golden-blond hair turning black, Pygmalion Malfoy (as he'd legally changed his name, once she and Draco officially adopted him just days after his return to their life) rudely stuck his tongue out at his wife and then made up for it by blowing her a kiss. Honestly, the two of them were even more lovely-doves than Scorpius and Evvie, who were working on child number three now!
"Yes, let's hear the tale again," Evvie prompted, taking her cuddly, six-year old daughter, Azaria, into her lap. "I still can't believe it, even after all these years!"
Next to her on the sofa, Scorpius was cradling their four-year old son, Ladon. The man laughed. "Imagine how I feel, never knowing I'd had a brother out there - and that he'd started out as just a runt ball of fluff! It still gives me the hivvies thinking about it!"
The two men – who'd taken to each other as if they truly were blood siblings once Pyg had come home – gave each other mirror grins.
"Yes, yes, fine," Pyg resignedly agreed, conjuring a loveseat with a snap of his fingers and settling himself and Alex down into it. His hair was an adorable shade of rose, indicating that he was embarrassed. Next to him, the son mimicked his father's ability, having established just two years ago that he was following right along in Pyg's footsteps; making him officially the world's second Metamorphmagus (his father deemed the first). "Are we all ready, then?" he asked, looking about to assure everyone who was interested was settled down to listen.
Hermione glanced about; everyone was relaxing back to enjoy the tale.
Ginny, whose hair was streaked with white now, and Blaise, who kept his head shaved on account of his going bald at an early age, took up the remaining two spots to Scorpius' left, leaving her parents and the Potters to occupy the larger, second couch in its entirety, their vast family growing as Lily and Andrus were expecting their second, and Abigail and Louis their first (the twins wore pregnancy well, despite the obvious discomfort of carrying around such weight upon their middles). A pepper-haired Harry (whose hair was so thick that it seemed impossible that he'd go bald) and Luna (who showed absolutely no signs of aging aside from some small smile lines about her eyes) gathered two of their grandchildren onto their knees, settling back to hear the fabulous tale of Pygmalion's transformation once again.
Severus, whose glossy, white hair was gathered back into a short tail, and Aurora, who matched her husband's coloring, took up the two cozy seats before the fire, their aging bones needing the warmth, hands clasped tightly to the other. The years had begun to unkindly show in the old Madame's face and about her neck, the same as Severus. The depth of their feelings for each other, however (still so evident in how closely they sat and how she leaned her head on his shoulder), only proved that love transcended the physical.
Ciara moved a chair between her mother and her husband, so she could be close to both.
Theodore, whose face had narrowed and lined with age, and Astoria, who was now pleasantly plump from a combination of giving birth to five rowdy offspring (only Andrus, her eldest, was in attendance) and a healthy addiction to chocolate bon-bons, took chairs next to each other near the back, their two grandchildren sitting with the others on the floor, gathering around Pyg, their cherub faces lighting with excitement. Hermione and Draco had tentatively allowed his half-brother back into their lives years ago after a very long, emotionally-difficult road to forgiveness for them all (mostly, this was accomplished by Theo sincerely apologizing for his part in causing harm between them all, years of tentatively proffered dinner, opera and tea invitations, and then later accepting work in Draco's shipping operations and having established himself as not only an able employee over the years, but an earnest manager within the last four). Since then, things had greatly improved between the three of them. As for the man's wife - neither Hermione nor her husband had ever forgiven Astoria for her part in nearly ruining their happiness. However, as part of Theo's "package," and because her children were their nieces and nephews (and Hermione firmly felt that offspring should not bear the brunt of their parents' mistakes) the white-haired witch was tolerated. Thankfully, Theo kept her under control quite ably in public to avoid any conflict, and Astoria's temper had vastly calmed with age.
The only people missing to make the picture perfect were her parents, who had moved to Australia years ago to help establish the first dental practice on the continent, and Abraxas, who had died two years this coming spring of old age. Hermione missed her parents being close-at-hand, truly, but she had just broken the fast with them earlier today when she'd Apparated over to spend all morning and most of the afternoon with them before her guests arrived for Christmas dinner. Draco's curmudgeon grandfather, though… there was a special place in her heart that remained vacant with the passing of the old codger, for she and he had formed a unique bond as he'd taken up the mantle of being her father-in-law in Lucius' absence. In the end, the former dark wizard had found his absolution, and although he had carried many regrets throughout his long lifetime, they did not weigh upon him as heavily as they once had as he'd closed his eyes for the final time. It had been a good passing.
Draco sidled up behind and wrapped an arm about her, pulling her into him. He kissed her graying brow. "Why is my lovely wife hiding out in the back like some skulking stranger? Last I checked she was still mistress of this house and it is Christmas Day." He playfully tsk'd. "Lurking in dark corners is not allowed by such a lady at such a fine hour."
Glancing over her shoulder at him, Hermione was still amazed with how beautiful her Draco was. At fifty, his hair was shorter, receding a bit at the widow's peak, but like his grandfather, he would be blessed to keep the majority of his whitening-blond mane, most likely, for the remainder of his life. There were some deep lines on his face now, too, but they were good, honest ones, put there by a combination of many years of smiles and hard work. His arms were still strong, they still cradled and comforted her, and she loved him more and more as every day passed. How blessed she'd been some thirty years ago when she'd stepped foot into La Cerise to make a new destiny for herself and met this man of her dreams.
"I do not skulk or lurk, husband. Nor do I prowl. Those are all your favorite pastimes, if I recall correctly," she disputed in a low, teasing hiss, even as Pyg began his tale of being picked out by Draco and brought to the House as a gift to settle a dispute between The Dragon and his Princess about the existence of Puffskeins. "I loiter."
"Hmmm, well what say we 'loiter' on upstairs to our bedroom soon," he nuzzled her neck, brushing aside the collar of her fancy dress to get at the skin underneath. Even after all these years, and the birth of their son (there had been severe complications with Scorpius' coming into the world, and as a result, she hadn't been able to conceive after him, much to both her and Draco's disappointment), and the toll of creeping age, he still found her desirable. He made her feel beautiful every time he so much as glanced at her.
His lips sealed themselves over her ear. "I've been dying all day to push this dress up over your hips and see what's hidden underneath." The length of his hardened erection evocatively ground against her backside. "Did you change into the Italian corset, garter and stockings I bought you?" he naughtily whispered, covertly molding their bodies together.
When she'd opened his present this morning, in their ritual private exchange of gifts, she'd been both amused and shocked to find he'd outdone himself again when it came to gift-giving. The lingerie set he'd procured for her had been sewn together with twenty-four karat gold thread, and was a very wicked three-piece, if she'd ever seen one. It was even more risqué than what he'd bought her for their first wedding anniversary – and that lacy bit had come from France! Of course, she'd immediately changed into the set as soon as the opportunity had presented itself. "If you wish to find out the truth of that matter," she mischievously rubbed her hind against his covered cock, "I am afraid you will have to wait until our guests are either settled for the night or have left for their homes."
He growled low against her throat. "Tease."
She grinned at him over her shoulder. "You married me knowing that much, so what does that say about you, beloved?"
He mock sighed as if the world were ending. "That I, my lovely, am an unrepentant glutton for punishment."
She patted his cheek fondly. "Patience, My Dragon. All good things come to those who wait."
They settled against each other to listen to Pyg's story…
"Ironically, the secret to my final transformation was at La Cerise all along, in the foundational walls of the House. The spell cast centuries ago by the original owner of the establishment, Lycinus Black, had been meant solely for his heirs, but ancient magic has never been completely stable, and so it affected every person who frequented the House. That which changed me for the sake of my parents' romance, also prepared others, too, like Miss Ginevra and Mister Blaise, and the Madame," he looked over at Aurora and smiled at her, "for her husband, Mister Severus. And others…" He looked over his shoulder at Theo and Astoria.
Pyg was socially polite to his Aunt and Uncle, but he had never wavered in his dislike and mistrust of them after that day he'd witnessed Hermione's heartbrokenness by their scheme. He was very careful not to show it in public, like just then, but deep down, Hermione could feel his disapproval for their presence in his family's home.
He turned back to his main audience. "I'd thought about that fact as I finally gave up my search and came home to La Cerise to die. By then, I was physically hurting, feeling in my weakening heart that my end drew near, for I had outlived my intended lifespan by several years. I tell you truly: I was quite embittered that I could not make my wish of becoming human come true up to that point. I recall Apparating into the basement of the House, kneeling down in the middle of the room where my mother had worked to clear it so long before and reading the spells engraved upon the walls again, I looked for guidance. Finding none, in a last, desperate act, I clasped my hands together, and used the remainder of my strength to beg the universe for a miracle, cutting my hand and rubbing my blood into the foundation, promising that I would take over the charge of caretaking the House, if it needed. In exchange, like the Sculptor Pygmalion in Ovid's story, I prayed for my wish to be granted, too. I thought of my Ciara again, and how much I longed to tell her that I loved her just once before I passed on." He turned to her, gripped her hand across the sofa's arm and held tight. They shared that secret smile of lovers who knew each other's hearts. "As I closed my eyes, I felt a wave of magic pour over me – golden glowing, sparking across my very soul. It was beautiful and painful at the same time. I fell unconscious. Five years later, I awoke in the same spot, completely untouched, having completed my metamorphosis, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis stage. I knew with having to look upon myself that I'd been changed permanently, as I could feel the shift in my magical aura. Like an Animagus changing between forms, I still had my magic, my heart was the same, but now I was definitively human."
Aurora interrupted at that point, to interject something important to the young ones. "Understand, little ones, many of us had gone down to the basement often in that time, but never did we see our darling Pyg there. We all thought him still off on his journey."
"It was the magic of the House," he explained. "It hid and protected me even while it changed me, knowing that I had to age at the same rate as my future wife, so we could have the full life together that the House's spell promised – and so that I could fulfill my end of the bargain with it to assure its continuance." He cleared his throat and recited from memory what, to Ciara, sounded like an old poem or blessing:
"I sing for you the first spell, which is most useful.
May you never go where calamity awaits you; may no harm obstruct your desires;
that you throw off all which you deem to be evil; be your own master.
May you carry hence, my son,
for abundant fortune you will have throughout life.
This, your rich mansion shall forever be known to men.
I sing to you the second spell.
A sunny maiden was destined to be your wife.
Need summoning need.
Once the eye has beheld a delightful spectacle, it ever yearns to return.
Maiden then willingly becomes your beloved.
Marriage then becomes your purpose.
Children then become your fate.
I sing to you the third spell.
Your wish has come true - she greets you with a kiss;
Such a beautiful sight is a source of delight - one in love with another.
No longer need you wait for the fulfillment of your desire for her,
nor you for her love.
Now it is certain that you two shall be together for the rest of your lives."
"And when you woke up, you raced to Auntie Ci's side to marry her," Azaria excitedly proclaimed. For a child of six, she was rather sharp.
Pyg nodded. "That I did," he agreed, glancing at his wife again. They took a moment, and then he turned back to the attentive, little faces. "And so, the moral of the story is-?" he prompted them.
"True love conquerors all!" Azaria proclaimed with stars in her eyes.
Alexander reached across the space and gave her leg a pinch, causing her to yelp in surprise. "No, it's that magic and faith are inter-… inter-… combined!"
Ladon, who was sitting on his da's lap and was closest to Alex, kicked his cousin for hurting his sister (it didn't matter that she was a year older, and quite a bit taller than he). "Don't pick on girls!" he protested.
Azaria shoved her little brother's shoulder and he fell back into their father's arms. "I can fight my own battles, Laddie!"
Seeing how things were quickly devolving now that it was getting later and the children tired and cranky, Pyg stood up. "Yes, well, you're both right. And may none of you ever forget it."
Alex flicked Azaria's temple to get even for her shoving him.
"And that," Pyg signaled by standing up, "is our cue that Christmas is officially over for the lot of you. Say goodnight and goodbye to everyone, Alex, and then it's off to bed with you."
Hermione stepped out of Draco's arms to fulfill her duties as hostess. "Would any of you care to stay? We have plenty of guest rooms available if you're too tired to Floo or Apparate home." It was the polite offer to make. Immediately, all of the cousins were begging their individual parent groups for permission to spend the night at the Manor House. "Leave them here, if you wish," she offered to the young couples. "It is Christmas, after all, and even parents deserve a treat." The implication was clear: alone time for the adults wasn't something any sane person should pass up.
Lily, Andrus, Abigail, Louis, Scorpius, Evvie, Pyg and Ciara all agreed, and a rousing cheer went up from their offspring, who began running about the place like wild monsters, their flagging energy renewed.
Draco saw their guests off to the floo after they hugged goodnight and wished a Happy Christmas to each other, and Hermione quickly gathered up the little scallions and headed them off to the East Wing of the Manor House – with instructions to Mippy, their House-elf to assure that the children behaved, changed, and went to bed immediately.
Almost an hour later, her husband entered their bedroom, locking the door behind. "Alone at last," he let out a deep sigh and chuckled. He came up behind her as she sat in her chair before her vanity mirror, working on removing the pins from her long hair, letting it down with a contented sigh. Play-slapping her hands away, he finished up the work of releasing the long, flowing curls from their tightly-held chignon, running his fingers through it and massaging her scalp. "I have always loved your hair, my Princess. Never, ever cut it."
She smiled at his reflection in the mirror. "Then, I shan't," she easily agreed. "So long as you never stop touching it like this."
He helped with her necklace clasp, and when she was jewelry-free, he moved her to her feet and began unbuttoning the dress, watching her in the mirror. "Do you remember our first night together, when I took down the buttons of that beautiful, white gown you wore?" he murmured with seductive heat against her earlobe.
Hermione nodded. "Every minute of that night has everlastingly etched itself into my memory, my Dragon. It was the happiest day of my life."
Draco nuzzled her, and sighed in contentment. "Mine, too, my lovely. Every day since has been a blessing, but that night you became mine in all ways. The spell brought us to each other, and fulfilled its promise that afternoon at the auction - just as it did for our Pyg and our Scorpius, and just as it will for Alexander, Azaria, Ladon and the others someday as well."
That comment brought up something that had lain dormant in Hermione's mind for so many years; now seemed as good a time as any to bring the issue up. "Draco, can you answer something for me?" He distractedly nodded, even as he continued unfastening the line of buttons on her dress. "It's just that, I've never understood what that old coot, Lycinus, did to be forced to build La Cerise to begin with, and why, if he was of the family Black, your family's last name is Malfoy, even though he'd your direct ancestor?"
Draco paused and leaving her dress hanging open on her shoulders, he wrapped his arms about her waist. "Pyg and I did the research soon after he came back into our lives. What we discovered cast a… poor light… on our family's history, which is why we both agreed not to discuss it in public." He shook his head with discomfited shyness. "Lycinus had been a bad man in life, dabbling in Dark Arts and engaging in questionable business. He'd wronged someone high up within the Wizard's Council and for his transgressions, he was severely punished: hexed by will of the Council not to procreate. It was a social death sentence for the man back then, as no wife would want a man unable to give her children. Shamed and publicly humiliated, the Black family disowned Lycinus, too. They cut off his inheritance, threw him out of their familial home, eradicated his branch on the family tree, and branded him with the name, 'Le Mal Foi' meaning, 'The Bad Faith.' In a snub meant to spit in their eye for their rejection of him, Lycinus officially adopted the alias as his own, changing the spelling slightly. He became the first, true Malfoy." Twirling one of her curls about a finger, he did not look at her again as he told her the whole truth of his family's sordid history.
"As Lycinus neared old age and still remained without an heir, he panicked. He'd spent the remainder of his life after being cursed looking for a way to break the sentence placed upon him by the Council. Penniless, he figured out how to swindling greedy witches and wizards out of money by taking fake curse-breaking exploration trips across the globe. He'd go, but not for the purpose he'd told them – he was looking for ancient magic to aid him, realizing that nothing in modern practice could undo the hex. One day, he chanced across a book written by some Muggle Arab named Ibn Fadlan about traveling with a group of Muggle Norsemen. By delving deeper, my ancestor discovered information on ancient practices that these Vikings engaged in to deliver them from wicked spirits and curses. It took him years of translation work, but he finally developed the spell that he eventually carved into the foundation of La Cerise. He built the House using more swindled funds, and then evoked the spell using the ancient rituals, and… voila! At the age of fifty-eight, he took a wife – one of the first to come to La Cerise, called there by the spell - and within three years, they had three sons."
Hermione was confused. "But who did Lycinus make such a magical contract with? Who has the kind of power it takes to keep a curse such as the Council cast from being fulfilled once it's been sealed? Not a mere wizard or witch, surely? Not even the great Merlin could have accomplished such a task!"
Draco smirked. "Who else but the three goddesses of Destiny? If you look at the rune translation work you copied down, you'll see it in the runes themselves. Pyg caught it when we went back over them and looked carefully. Lycinus couched his spell as one devoted to Balder, the Norse god of light and happiness, and Freya, the goddess of love, the hearth and home, but the greatest devotion is given over to the three Norns: Urd, who represented 'fate', Verdandi, who represented 'necessity,' and Skuld, who represented 'being.' They empowered the spell and allowed him to cheat his fate as the Council had deemed for him years before."
Unable to help herself, Hermione scoffed. "There are no such beings, Draco. They're superstitious myth, nothing more."
He grinned slowly at her in the mirror. "You thought the same of Puffskeins once, if I recall correctly."
The reminder made her wince. That had been the most mortifying error of her life.
Was it possible that such beings could exist? she wondered. Perhaps they were just very powerful witches, who had the ability to answer his spell's wish? Her mind turned the idea over and over, and it wasn't until she was standing before the mirror in nothing but the Italian lingerie set her husband had gifted her that she realized he was taking advantage of her distraction to seduce her.
To her surprise, however, he'd stopped, his eyes fixated upon the little adornment she had magically sewn into the top band of her slip-panties. He reached over and fingered the green ribbon that had been the symbol of their courtship all those years ago. "You remembered," he grinned, his face instantly transported to the young man he'd been thirty years prior.
Hermione gave him a smug smirk, and raised an eyebrow at her husband. "I never forget," she reminded him, just as she had that night of their final interview, when she'd worn it in the same location.
Their eyes met in the mirror – silver locked with bronze – and he renewed the vow he'd made to her that reckless night in the rose garden: "Je t'aime, ma Princesse. Pour tout l'éternité, je vous aimerai."
Hermione's tears waver before her eyes and she leaned back into his strong embrace once more. "Forever and ever? In this lifetime and the next?"
Draco nodded. "It will be my manifest pleasure, my lovely. I would paramount enjoy the opportunity."
She turned in his arms and reached up on tiptoe to kiss his mouth, letting her fingers slide through his soft, platinum hair. "Sounds like fun. I think I will keep you, Monsieur Dragon."
He backed her towards their bed, ravishing her mouth with each step. "Please do, my Princess," he chuckled as he dropped them down to lie upon the soft mattress to make gentle love to her again. "Definitely do."
Electrifying sparks danced continuously between them as their bodies met, much as it had thirty years before, reminding them both of the unending miracles that their magic made possible.
AUTHOR'S FINAL NOTES:
Remember to check out the images that I've chosen to go along with this fic on my Photobucket site here (remove all spaces from the URL for it to load properly): http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / La%20Cerise-The%20Sweetest%20Cherry
This story has finally reached its conclusion – there will be no sequel. I hope you have enjoyed this trek into Regency Era-early Victorian Era England with our HP friends. I apologize for not being able to fulfill one requirement by Lady Serpentina (the noncon Dramione scene), but I just didn't think I could pull it off in this story, given its direction. I hope you don't disapprove.
Please review, if you feel inclined! I'd love to hear your final thoughts on the story!
CHAPTER END NOTES:
During the Regency/Victorian eras, a 'gravy' was a spicy sauce (crème or au jus, either one) that was glazed over the tops of dishes, usually meats. The term has since morphed into a more benign/buttery flavored crème sauce.
The name 'Ciara' is Irish for Dark or Black (named for her hair color).
Incroyable = French for "incredible."
During the 1830's, women's fashion was all about breadth – wide hips and sleeves on dresses, lacy collars and bust lines that did nothing to emphasize a woman's natural curves. Frankly, the garb is quite hideous for women, IMHO. Just ten years later, it improves greatly, but unfortunately, the time period of Ciara's debut coincides with the decade of ugly dresses. For that reason, I have taken GREAT (unapologetic) liberties with the fashionable dresses I've assigned our girls in Epilogue #3. Since we are all aware that fashion in the wizarding world is quite different from the Muggle world (the two share similarities in the past that lessen as one gets closer to modern day, the gap between them widening, so that the wizarding world by Harry's time in the late 20th century seems to enjoy a fashion that combines elements of Victorian, Regency and Renaissance time periods), it shouldn't be that far of a stretch for you to believe that by 1835, the wizarding world is once more slowing and going backwards in adopting new fashions, rather than going forwards (as the Muggle world does). At least, I hope that explains away my fashion inaccuracies for this chapter… Oh, bother! Just go with it, people!
Ma Soeur = French for "my sister."
Bast = A beloved ancient Egyptian goddess whose head is that of a cat, and whose body is that of a female human.
Fleur de Lis = French for "Lily Flower."
Le Chat Parisien = French for "The Parisian Cat."
Oui, mon noir = French for "Yes, my black one" (in reference to Ciara's hair and name).
Haut Ton = The high society (the elite). Synonymous with the term 'beau monde' (referenced in chapter 3).
Bleu, rouge, et blanc = French for "blue, red and white" (referencing chapters 5 and 14).
L'amour = French for "(the) Love."
Remember when Lily Potter evoked some mysterious ancient/old magic to cast the protection spell upon Harry in the novels? Well, JKR never tells you how Lily actually managed to accomplish that spell (she just said it was cast and voila! - the reading audience believes it). We only know that the spell took the sacrifice of Lily's life (blood and flesh both) to accomplish the goal of casting a life-long protection about her child, and that the magic in question was an evocation of love. It is this same, nebulous magic that I use for this fic to explain the spell on La Cerise.
Wizard's Council = The predecessor to the modern day Wizengamot, according to JKR-canon.
In Norse mythology, the Norns are the demi-goddesses of destiny. They control the destinies of both gods and men, as well as the unchanging laws of the cosmos. They are represented as three sisters: Urd ("fate"), Verdandi ("necessity") and Skuld ("being"). They live at the base of the World Tree Yggdrasil in the realm of Asgard.
The Elder Furthak runes Ansuz, Thurisaz, and Wunjo (all on the North Wall of the House in this story – see the image here: s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / La%20Cerise-The%20Sweetest%20Cherry / ?action=view¤t=) are runes attributed in secret prayers given to the Norns. That was a little foreshadowing for you, history/mythology buffs out there. ^_~
Ibn Fadlan = (full name: Ahmad ibn Fadlān ibn al-Abbās ibn Rašīd ibn Hammād); a 10th century Arab traveler, he is famous for his account of his travels as a member of an embassy of the ArabAbbasidCaliph of Baghdad to the king of the Volga Bulgars. His story is referenced by author Michael Crichton in his story, "The Eaters of the Dead" (adapted to film as "The 13th Warrior").