Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction set in the Harry Potter universe – all recognisable characters and settings are the property of J. K. Rowling and her associates. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is made from this work. Please observe your local laws with regards to the age-limit and content of this work
Warning(s): Attempted non-con/rape, references to sex with dubious consent, general angstiness.
Author's Notes: Written for curia_regis in the rarepairs challenge. Was asked for Lucius/Hermione, angst, plot and dystopia. It sort of went spinning off into the troposphere, but all those things are still there! Many thanks to B for the thorough beta.

The Skin Trade

Long spidery fingers brushed over the band of crimson silk that encircled Lily's neck. Stained and calloused, the index finger slid under the silk just under the second black 'S' that marked the collar as Severus Snape's. More accurately, marked the girl wearing the collar as Severus Snape's. From Lucius' vantage point beside the elaborate marble fireplace, Lily looked happy. Surrounded by Severus' friends – who were, by proxy, her friends – and at the centre of attention, head tilted to one side as she listened attentively to her master.
Lucius twirled the thin stem of his champagne flute between his thumb and fingers, observing the couple, tuning out the words Severus had chosen to mark the occasion.

It was an uncommon toast, to the tenth anniversary of a Master and slave relationship. Unheard of, if only because most slaves never lasted that long.
Lucius wondered how many in this crowd knew that there was something particular about the way that pale hand rested on the nape of Lily Evans' neck; something tender and warm, that most of the husbands present probably couldn't share with their wives, let alone their own sundry mistresses and slaves. Lucius knew it had certainly been a long time since his hand had lain on Narcissa's bare skin without her flinching or shifting away from him.

When the other guests had vacated the Malfoys' drawing room, Lucius approached his old friend. The couple were preparing to leave, and Lucius felt it was his duty to say something before their exit. His position as patron-but-not-host of the party complicated the rules of etiquette, but Severus had never been fond of socialite practices.

"Thank you for tonight," Severus said tightly before Lucius could make any comment. The poorest of men were often the proudest.

"More than welcome, Severus. My gift to you both."

Severus nodded, black eyes flitting about the room and finally resting on Lily. She was gathering champagne flutes, rims stained with lipstick, and placing them together on a table for the house elves.

He became aware that Severus was watching him. "I'm just sorry Narcissa couldn't be here," Severus said softly, sipping the last of the champagne.

"Mmm," Lucius hummed.

"She must be very busy with the wedding arrangements. And then, of course, birth arrangements are bound to follow shortly after – assuming Draco does his duty. It makes me very grateful." Severus looked wistfully at his Muggle-born slave girl. It sickened Lucius when he got this way: condescending, deluded. It was a miracle the Dark Lord let him keep her, proof that he liked to play sick games even among his own followers. It would surely only be a matter of time before Severus took a step out of line, and Lily would be removed from him. "You should think about it," Severus finished, with a smirk twisting his mouth.

"Thank you, Severus, but I have a wife," Lucius replied, not bothering to keep contempt from his voice.

"So do I," Severus said softly, "of sorts."

He turned away as Lily returned to him, eyes lowered to the floor, hands folded before her. She was a vision in deep, emerald green raw silk, cut to hug the curves that Severus ensured she kept. Thick, red hair swept neatly off her face, pale skin, and full red lips. She had aged better than Narcissa, an astounding fact that Lucius found difficult to accept. Slaves were thin, hollowed, with dead eyes and overly made-up faces. He could not deny Severus had treated her well, humanely even, and he was reaping the benefits.

Snape ran his fingertips up her bare arm, and Lucius noticed the blush that crept down her neck and stained her cleavage. "Time for bed, Lily," he whispered against her ear, fingertips brushing over the inside of her wrist before linking their arms. He gave Lucius a final stiff nod. "Thank you again. I will see you in the morning."

Too anxious to receive his own present from Lily, he turned on the spot and blinked into thin air before Lucius could reply.

Upstairs, Narcissa was already in bed. In her bed. Naked beneath his robe, Lucius entered the dark room and waited for his eyes to adjust. He could just make out the lump of her curled body beneath the bed clothes. In the silence of the dark, he could hear her breathing. Steady and slow, but not heavy enough to be asleep. As quietly as he could, Lucius padded barefoot across the room, and lay slowly on the unoccupied side of the bed. He reached out a hand, stroking the ash blonde hair that had first made him fall in love.

"It's all over, Ciss," he whispered, shifting close enough to lift Narcissa's hair to his face, to smell her. "Just you and me now."

Pulling the straight sweep of her hair back, exposing her neck, he stretched closer to her and pressed his lips softly against her shoulder. The muscle beneath the skin was tight, but her skin was warm and inviting. Lucius' eyes strained to see in the dark, but her face was blank and impassive. His hand on her shoulder, pulling, trying to turn her. But now the resistance, that spark of defiance that had once been endearing, and was now just frustrating.

"I'm tired, Lucius."

Lucius sighed. He wasn't even hard. His body knew better by now than to get aroused.

"Of course," he said. His voice was just like normal – clear but quiet, the consonants clipped and sharp in the muffled silence of Narcissa's large, empty bedroom. Lucius swallowed, and the hand on his wife's shoulder squeezed in a friendly gesture. "I'll see you in the morning."

Without fuss, without complaint or argument, Lucius stood and exited the room.
Narcissa made no other reply. She never did, not any more. He climbed into the bed in the adjoining bedroom. It had once been a guest bedroom. He had once enjoyed situating Severus in this room, saying a cheerful goodnight to him, then having loud and passionate sex with his wife, certain in the knowledge his miserable friend would not be getting an easy night's sleep in the next room.
Lucius lay on his back in the centre on the large bed, cool sheet covering his naked form. He stared at the ceiling, caked in shadows, a blank unrefined grey.

He closed his eyes to sleep, but the red of his eyelids melted into the red of Lily Evans' hair. It fell in curtains, obscuring her face, partly covering her naked breasts, as she rose and fell on the man beneath her. That man could have been anyone, but Lucius knew it was Severus. Severus' stained hands gripping her hips, Severus' strangled groan. Evans' movements became more frantic, her back arching as she rolled her hips, head falling back so Lucius could see those green eyes staring glazed and pleasure-filled at the ceiling. Then a blonde head as well, pale lips and a deep pink tongue running up the column of Lily's throat, white teeth grazing the skin, grey eyes staring directly at him. Narcissa's hand ran down Evans' abdomen, fingers turned down, until they ran over her-

"Good morning, sir!"

Blinding white drowned out the images that occupied Lucius' mind, and he started upright, the sheet pooling around his hips. The large yellow eyes and flapping brown ears of Inky the house elf filled his vision, and Lucius hastily raised his knees to hide the not-so-small matter of his erection. "What time is it?" Lucius asked tersely.

"It is eight o'clock, sir. I was asked to deliver a message before you went to breakfast."

The elf held a silver tray, balanced atop one hand, on which sat a small scroll of off-white parchment. Lucius picked it up, using his wand to break the green seal. "Thank you, Inky, that will be all. Oh, and wait half an hour before waking Mrs Malfoy." Inky turned. If she was surprised – and there was no reason she should be – her saucer eyes showed nothing of it.

Eyes scanning the parchment quickly, Lucius muttered under his breath, "Lucius, if convenient meet me in Diagon Alley at eleven, I have a gift for you. If not, let me know when. Best wishes, Severus."

With a sigh, Lucius sank back down onto the pillows, tossing the letter over the side of the bed. Bugger Severus and his dramatics. And his secrets. And his woman. And his happiness.

One hand snaked under the sheet. A house elf and a letter had done little to dull his reaction to his imagination's delights. Half an hour should more than allow him time to re-live the writhing bodies that had haunted his dreams.

*

Three hours and an awkward breakfast later, Lucius stood at the entrance to Diagon Alley. The popular street was surprisingly quiet, regular shoppers kept at home by the miserable, drizzling rain. Only those consumers with a purpose graced the alley, moving purposely from one destination to the next, heads bent forwards against the wind and the rain.

Shops had thrived under the Dark Lord's dictatorship. Not simply because people craved possessions when they couldn't have power or autonomy, but because the Dark Lord sanctioned certain retail outlets that the Ministry had never even considered a possibility. The more progressive shops that had previously been relegated to Knockturn thrived out in the open, and alongside them parlours and bars provided a class of illicit pleasure that was no longer illicit. Even at this time of day, traffic into Crouch's Kittens was as regular as any of the more vanilla pubs. Discreet small print on the sign by the door promised 'clean, quality visual entertainment for the indiscriminate wizard'. He had entered the establishment once, when it first opened, and sat at the Dark Lord's right hand.
He had watched quite calmly as the Dark Lord received what Crouch had termed special treatment. And watched just as impassively when the Mudblood received her own special treatment, at the hands of three other Death Eaters, while the Dark Lord laughed. Lucius had not entered the place since.

"Not interrupting, are we?" Severus' familiar smug voice asked.

"Not at all," Lucius replied, turning to his oldest friend. He was dressed for the elements, in a thick black cloak. In his pale hand he loosely gripped a black leather leash. Lucius followed the line of the leash upwards, to the standard black collar that circled Lily Evans' neck. It had been so long since he had seen the two of them in public, rather than the privacy of their or a friend's home, that he was almost startled to see the regulation plain black leather. Not to mention the drab black slave uniform that Severus was all too happy to dismiss in the comfort of his own domain. "You're late, I was waiting.
What's all this about?"

Severus looked at Lily and smiled. Her eyes were downcast, as they should be.
Lucius felt a stab of pity for Severus, for his friend truly didn't comprehend how this relationship worked. It was all too convenient for him to forget that Lily was his property rather than his partner. "I have a gift for you. Come with me."

Snape turned sharply and walked away. His stride was longer than Lily's and the leash grew taut, collar tightening imperceptibly around her neck. Lucius walked a step behind Severus, happy to let him lead, until he paused in front of a shop Lucius had always managed to avoid. Its innocuous sign read The Imporium. The windows were blacked out. People walked past it on the street without a second glance.

"Not my sort of gift, Severus," Lucius muttered, glancing about.

"Are you sure?" Severus said, leaning closer so the leash tightened once more about Lily's throat. Lucius heard her small intake of breath. He looked at her, and her green eyes stared back at him. "Not just one girl, one perfect little girl to keep your bed warm while Narcissa is ... busy?"

Lucius scowled. "You know nothing about my home life, Severus," he hissed. "I won't contract myself into a false relationship. No matter how well it may have worked out for you."

The younger man looked crestfallen. It was an expression Lucius had not seen in him in many years, certainly not since he had acquired Lily Evans, bought and paid for.

"May I?" Lily asked softly. Lucius raised his eyebrows in surprise. Speak when spoken to, otherwise shut up – those were the terms of Lily Evans' contract, and even with such a master as Severus Snape she was careful to play the good girl.
A Mudblood with her brains knew well enough not to push it and jeopardise her lucky escape.

Severus only nodded in response. Lily's eyes were trained on the ground as she spoke, "Think about more than yourself," she whispered, close enough that he doubted Severus could hear. "I've watched you. You're not vicious, and you don't get angry. More than can be said for the bloke who owns this place." Her eyes flicked up to his, shining. He suddenly doubted that this was Severus' idea.

Ten years ago, this had been Lily's home. Not for long. He knew that it had taken Severus no more than a month to save enough money to buy Lily Evans, the girl he had wanted since he was a child. That month in the shop front and back store room must have left quite an impression.

Lucius sighed. "No harm in looking, I suppose."

He had half expected naked bodies in cages. This sort of thing had always seemed very sordid. On the outside, slaves were supposed to be little more than house elves, there for domestic service.

But then, what was the use of a domestic who couldn't use magic?

Most of the women and men in these places were Mudbloods, imbued with magical abilities that were suppressed. They were never trained; they were not allowed to use or own wands. Their only real purpose lay in the sex they promised.
Consensual (or partly consensual) sex with a regular partner without attached strings, given with the knowledge that it had to be better than a life in the strip bars, or deep underground in the Gringotts vaults.

But there was nothing seedy about the neat, clean office-type space of the shop's interior. Black leather chairs, wood panelling. It could almost be a gentlemen's club.

"Professor Snape!" the proprietor beamed, arms spread in enthusiastic greeting.
He seized Severus' hand and shook it with energy. "A pleasure to see you again." His eyes slid to Lily, narrowing slightly. "And your girl. All is well?"

"All is marvellous, thank you. In fact, we were celebrating ten years together only last night."

"No! Ten years, already? Professor, you're making me confront my age."

Severus nodded, and raised a hand to gesture towards Lucius. "Mr Fry, this is my good friend-"

"Ah, but of course I know Lucius Malfoy. A pleasure to meet you in person, sir." Lucius took the balding man's hand in his own firm grasp, and shook once. "How can I be of assistance?"

Lucius glanced at Severus, raising an eyebrow. "My friend would like to make a purchase."

"Then please, gentlemen, take a seat and I shall see what can be done for you."
He waited for Severus and Lucius to sit in the provided chairs. Lily stood at Severus' side, head bowed. If she noticed his hand tucked under her cloak, fingers wrapping lightly around her thigh, she did not let on. "Now, Mr Malfoy, what are you looking for?"

Lucius cleared his throat, shrugging elegantly. "I am a novice at this kind of thing. I place myself in your hands."

"Never a wise move," Severus said, smirking, "this old rogue would set you up with an ugly syphilitic squib and charge you the earth before you have time to blink." He stared unblinkingly at Fry, who was clearly unsure of whether or not Severus was joking. "Lucius would like a woman. Young. Clever," he glanced sideways to see if his suppositions on his friend's tastes were accurate. Lucius carefully schooled his face into a mask of blank composure. "A bit of fire, he likes a challenge. Oh, and with a bit of class, he doesn't want to be ashamed to take her out."

Fry sighed heavily. "The clever ones are more popular than you might think.
Personally, I'm not one for a woman who talks back, but they seem to be in vogue at the moment."

"I'm sorry, then, but you won't be able to help us. I won't have a woman who can't form a sentence." Lucius shifted forward in his seat, ready to stand.

"But," Fry said, eager to recall his poor bluff, "there is one girl who might suit. Just brought in, barely seventeen. I've been keeping her back, thinking she might do for a very special customer."

Severus smirked, head tilted slightly to one side. "Your surely could not hope for a higher profile patron? Unless, you expect the Dark Lord himself to walk through the door?"

Fry smiled unctuously and gave a funny little bow to Snape. "I agree entirely, sir. One moment." He disappeared through a black velvet curtain.

"I nearly had a get-out clause there," Lucius muttered, relaxing back into his chair once more.

Severus chuckled. "Too hasty, Lucius. Not like you. Consider the options before deciding absolutely. He might be bringing out Venus herself."

"I very much doubt it," Lucius replied, thinking of Narcissa when she was seventeen. Small breasts and slim hips and miles of warm creamy skin.
Aphrodite, he had told her. If her parents wanted to name her from mythology, she should have been Aphrodite.

"Mr Malfoy," Fry said, as he pulled back the curtain. "Allow me to introduce Hermione."

More mythology. Named for intelligence and practicality. Hardly the name for a slave.

The girl that stepped slowly past the curtain was small, her eyes down-turned. Long, curly hair, mousy brown and needing a wash. Her face was pale, but Lucius couldn't tell if that was real, or the effect of harsh lighting. She wore a white robe, tied tight at the waist. The V was shallow, she had fastened it to show as little as possible. But she couldn't help the length of it, the fact that the hem ended near the top of her thighs. Beautiful legs, shapely, smooth, unblemished skin. And neat little bare feet.

"Look up," he said softly.

She started at his voice, like some kind of animal, timid of people. Then she raised her head. More clear skin, nose just a tad too long, and a mouth that hadn't done much smiling. Her eyes were still trained on the floor, but he could see something of their hazel colouring, and the long lashes that fringed them.
Fair play to Fry, he hadn't dolled her up in make up for the punters. She was clean from head to foot.

"Mr Malfoy will, of course, want to see all of her before making a purchase."

Lucius wondered for the briefest moment whether Lily would be jealous at the gruff arousal in Severus' voice.

"Of course," Fry replied. "Robe off, Hermione."

Hermione did not seem surprised by this request. Small, tactile fingers untied the knot of silk at her waist, allowing the robe to fall open. Another strip of unmarked skin, the shallow valley between her breasts, smooth flat stomach, and the neatly trimmed fuzz of hair between her legs. She shrugged off the robe.
Small breasts, rose tipped nipples, full fleshy hips. She could almost be a picture or a statue, so still and perfect was her body. "Turn," Severus instructed, leaning forwards in his seat. Lucius noted dimly that his hand had vanished deeper into Lily's cloak.

Hermione obeyed immediately, turning to face the curtain. Lucius swallowed. The curve of her spine was clearly defined and, running down diagonally from her right shoulder blade, was a long purple bruise. A second, smaller one on her left thigh. A third, greenish in colour, on the back of her arm. Something cold and hard gripped at him inside, a strange cross between anger and desire. He very much wanted to see that expanse of skin clear and unblemished.

"We'll expect a reduction for the damage," Severus said coldly.

"Girls will fight amongst themselves, especially animals like this. She looks meek, Mr Malfoy, but you'd be surprised. She can be a lion when she gets going. I want four hundred Galleons," Fry said.

Severus snorted, and drew breath to make his argument.

"Done," Lucius said shortly. He looked away, focussing his attention on Fry. There was something unpleasant about gazing at an unwillingly naked woman. "Put some clothes on her, I'll take her now."

He watched Hermione's shoulders hunch at his poor phrasing.

*

Even his wedding night hadn't been so awkward. The girl lying naked in the middle of his bed was like a game with no instructions – he knew he wanted to play with her, but couldn't figure out quite how to get it all started.

Lucius cleared his throat. "Sit up, Hermione. I want to talk to you."

She hid her surprise well, but not quite well enough. Lucius caught the slight frown, the hesitation before she pushed herself upright and crossed her legs.
"This is my bedroom. No one else comes in here. I should tell you I'm married, and I have a son. But he's getting married soon, and won't be living here any more. In this room, you're not my slave. We aren't equals, and we never can be. But you can talk here, and you can make it your own. But only in this room. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," she said softly.

He nodded once, and paced across to the window, drawing the curtains on the bleak winter sun. "Now ... tell me what you like."

She hesitated. "What I like, sir?"

Lucius glanced at her over his shoulder. "What you like. In bed."

He could have sworn he heard her swallow while his back was still turned. "I don't know, sir."

Whether because she was a virgin or because she had never enjoyed sex, Lucius didn't like to imagine. He remained on the opposite side of the room, but turned to watch her carefully. "Well, it's going to be very important that you like what we do together. I have no intention of hurting you. That's not what I enjoy. I understand that you had no say in this transaction, which is unfortunate, but I want to assure you that I am not interested in anything other than consensual sex."

"May I speak freely, sir?" Hermione asked, her breathing becoming more rapid.

"Of course."

"I would need to find you attractive to enjoy sex with you."

Lucius smiled, fighting back the laughter that threatened to spill out of him. It was refreshing to hear a woman be so blunt, even at the expense of a small portion of his pride. "Very true. Do you not find me attractive at the moment?"

She squirmed under his close scrutiny. "That's not what I meant..."

"But it's a valid question. Am I attractive to you?" He watched her draw breath to answer, but cut her off. "Hermione, you need to look at me to know."

And she did. She raised her face, cautiously at first. But then her eyes scanned him quickly, flickering over the details of his appearance. Lucius moved towards the bed. Her face wasn't afraid, but she frowned in deliberation. "You're handsome. And I think you're honest – you didn't hit me for what I said before." She looked up at him, her gaze bolder than it had been before. "I like your smile. But you're not ... there's something missing."

She had relaxed against the pillows, hands folded neatly on her stomach, apparently unaware of her nudity. Lucius stood over her, observing her with the same scrutiny she had used to judge him. "I find you very attractive. And I would very much like for you to find me so." That was an understatement.
Lucius' body had responded unquestioningly to hers. "What can I do?" he asked simply, kneeling on the bed beside her.

Hermione frowned, reaching a hand out to him and touching the crisp cotton of his shirt. "Could I touch you?" she asked, voice barely more than a whisper.

"I would like that very much."

*

At breakfast the following morning, Lucius was positively buoyant. Smiling graciously at the house elf who poured his orange juice, he merrily tucked in to his scrambled eggs on toast. Draco scrutinised him warily, finger holding a place in the textbook laid open beside him, other hand absently stirring his bowl of cereal. Lucius only smiled at him, gesturing towards the book. Headmaster Snape had kindly allowed Draco a two week leave of absence for the time before his wedding, ostensibly to allow him to prepare. He had been warned harshly by his teachers not to allow his work to slip in all the excitement. With a frown creasing his forehead, Draco bowed his head, studying the long passage once more.

Narcissa ignored them both, hidden behind the Daily Prophet with only a tall glass of milk in front of her.

Part of Lucius wanted to talk. Obviously, not about his previous night's activities. But being with Hermione had released something within him – a need for human contact, conversation, anything that might link him back to the people that surrounded him.

As he drew breath to make some inane comment which might, he hoped, spark off a more interesting discussion, Narcissa said from behind her paper, "I understand you've bought yourself a whore, Lucius."

There was a loud, brittle chink of steel on porcelain as Draco dropped his spoon. The boy was careful to keep his head bent, but Lucius could tell that his grey eyes watched him closely. He swallowed, slicing neatly at his toast and piling on egg with his knife. "Beg pardon?" he said, hoping desperately that he had misheard her.

"A whore, Lucius. You have bought one and secreted her somewhere in my house."

He kept his breathing slow and relaxed, though his heart was pounding. "'Whore' is a bit of a strong word, don't you think. I've certainly added a new domestic to our staff. Hardly worth mentioning, really. How did you...?"

Narcissa lowered her paper, smiling sweetly at her husband. Her grey eyes were cold, though, and bore into him, challenging. "Oh, you know how gossip spreads. It cropped up in conversation with Bellatrix."

Already? Lucius wanted to demand, but he knew better than to challenge his wife when he was in the wrong. He brought the toast up to his mouth, and crunched on it thoughtfully.

"What is the little tart's name? I would like to meet her," Narcissa continued, turning the page of the Prophet and glancing over its columns once more.
"Hermione," Lucius croaked, before taking a large gulp of orange juice.

Narcissa nodded, eyebrow raised. "Hermione," she repeated, "very pretty. Have her come to my room after breakfast."

His son was now openly watching him, eyebrow raised to match his mother. Lucius ground his teeth, jaw tight as he said, "Of course."

*

PART TWO

As was her morning custom, Hermione stretched her arms high above her head, fingers curling in the silk curtains that surrounded Mr Malfoy's bed. Her toes pointed down and her muscles tightened, forcing out the stiffness that had set in during the night. Relaxing once more, she brushed the hair away from her face, and rolled her head to the side. Light barely broke through the heavy curtains. Mr Malfoy had risen early that morning, and without waking her. She had only been in his house a week, but it was long enough to know that that was unusual.
Only a week. Her lips twisted in a wry smile as she considered the phrase. Just one week, and it already felt like she had served a life sentence. How many more were still to come?

Mr Malfoy himself was alright. More than alright, considering what she had been told to expect from a master. But his friends and family were very odd.

She had been sent to Mrs Malfoy after her first night in the large, ancient house, and had taken the opportunity to glance about her, taking in her surroundings. Mrs Malfoy's room was similar to Mr Malfoy's. Both were elegant, but without personal touches. Neither room felt lived-in – no clothes draped over chairs or discarded on the floor, no books on shelves or on the bedside table, and the perfumes on the vanity had been decanted into unmarked bottles.
She had been only nine when she first displayed magic, and was removed from her parents' care to Muggleborn House, but she remembered what an adult's bedroom should look like.

Mrs Malfoy herself had been elegant, even in a silk robe. Her hair fell in a single silver cascade, perfectly straight, not a hair out of place. Her face was beautiful, though, when Hermione dared look closely, she could see the tell-tale lines of age beginning to creep up on her eyes and mouth.

Mrs Malfoy had requested that Hermione remove her robe. This, in itself, was not so odd. She had been required quite regularly to display herself at Mr Fry's shop, where men usually took one look at her hair and her wide hips and her bruises, before moving onto the next girl. But it was different doing it for a woman. There was a similar clinical interest to the way most men had looked at her, but it was different somehow, and made her skin crawl. She had been relieved when she was told to go back to her room and get dressed.

After that, it was very rare to see Mrs Malfoy. Any messages for her husband she sent via the house elves, or their son.

"Good morning, Miss Hermione!"

She smiled, sitting up in bed, oblivious to her nakedness. "Good morning, Inky. How are you today?"

The small elf dragged back the heavy curtains, allowing weak winter light to illuminate the bedroom in shades of grey. "Inky is doing good this morning, Miss Hermione. If you is coming to breakfast, you will has to be quick. The elves is all in a tizzy this morning." Inky smiled genially at Hermione, as he lay out her long black dress on the bed. "It being Mr Draco's wedding day tomorrow."

"Of course," Hermione said.

"Yes, all of Miss Astoria's family is here today, and Mrs Malfoy is wanting it all to be perfect."

Hermione nodded, plucking at the linen of her dress before sliding out of bed. "Alright, Inky. I'll be down in a moment."

"Yes, Miss Hermione."

She smiled at the elf as he disappeared with a crack back down to the kitchens. They were funny little creatures, but she had a special fondness for house elves. Their lot seemed to be even crappier than hers.

Mr Draco's wedding day. Or at least, the eve thereof. No wonder Mr Malfoy had been so early to rise. Draco was an odd one – that much she had gathered from the handful of times she had glimpsed him. Her days were usually spent in the confines of Mr Malfoy's room, where she darned socks and mended ripped clothes, or took up hems. But she still had to make her way through the house to get to the kitchen, located three floors away from Mr Malfoy's bedroom. Draco was usually conveniently present on this route. He lounged against doorways, dallied in hallways, never saying anything to her, but watching her with a cold stare.
Then, on the one day she had been required to visit the drawing room, when Professor Snape and Miss Lily visited, Draco found an excuse to come in. Unseen by his father, who was deep in discussion, he came to stand beside Hermione, looking at her frankly.

When he left, he walked past her, hand brushing over the curve of her arse. It was the sort of trick Mr Fry used to play, to gauge the girls in the shop. If they were outraged, he wouldn't bother much again, and lowered their price to get rid of them. If, like Hermione, they bit down on their tongues and firmly reminded themselves that it wasn't so bad, that it was better than where they'd come from, he'd be sure to visit them again within a couple of nights. Their prices went up. Some stuck around for months, no matter how pretty or charming they were. Had Hermione known this the first time, she would never have been so compliant. Unfortunately, no one had explained the rules to her, and by the time she was re-visited by Fry and she began to fight back, it was too late.
Somewhere in his twisted logic, he had decided that a girl who didn't fight straight away either wanted or deserved what he had to offer. There was no room in that thought process for the possibility of a girl trying to get by with her head down.

Cinching the knot good and tight around her waist, Hermione smoothed her hands down the plain dress. She moved over to the mirror and brushed her hair with quick, rough strokes, then adjusted the black collar that encircled her neck so the silver 'LM' sat squarely beneath her chin. With a deep breath and her head held high, she left the bedroom and walked down to breakfast.

*

At parties like this, Hermione was never entirely sure what, exactly, was expected of her. She had been asked to come downstairs as a domestic, to hand out canapés from a tray – but should she speak to the guests? Should she approach Mr Malfoy and stand with him, as Miss Lily stood with Professor Snape? As she felt Mrs Malfoy's beady eyes on her back, she guessed that the latter was out of the question. Which was a little depressing. Most of the men watched her with unveiled interest, some finding an excuse to touch her waist or elbow as they took nibbles from her tray.

Her smile never faltered, because she knew better than to betray anything from inside herself. But she was grateful when her tray was finally empty, and she had to return to the kitchen.

"Hello, Hermione."

Although startled, Hermione tried hard to hide it, to turn smoothly towards the voice that had softly called her name. "Good evening, Mr Draco," she said, voice as level as she could make it.

"Are you enjoying the party?" His lips twisted into an expression that was not quite a smile. His eyes were too hard.

Hermione summoned a smile and nodded, holding the silver tray in front of her like a shield.

"I need to bring a gift down for Astoria. Father said you should help me."
Hermione tried not to show her wariness, but she paused, glancing towards the door that led down to the kitchen. "Just leave the tray there. It won't take a moment," he added, taking a step towards her and holding out his hand. "This way."

She nodded, turning to place the tray on a side table, then following Draco up the stairs. It didn't take long to leave the hubbub of the party behind them, moving instead into the private part of the house. When they entered Draco's room, it was perfectly silent. Hermione swallowed, standing awkwardly just beyond the doorway.

This room was personal. There were books and clothes, photographs of friends that moved about in their frames, an expensive looking broomstick propped in one corner. Yet it looked no more welcoming for containing traces of Draco's life. The bare floorboards and green walls were still cold, despite the flickering glow from candles that floated near the ceiling.

"I'm getting married tomorrow, you know," Draco said. The statement was followed by the soft snick of the door closing.

Hermione's shoulders tightened. She stood perfectly still, like an animal certain it has heard a predator. "I know, sir."

A cold chuckle, that sounded nothing like his father's throaty laugh. "We're the same age, you and I. You don't have to call me sir."

His hand on the small of her back, fingertips tracing the base of her spine. She swallowed down the familiar panic that always rose when she found herself in a situation she couldn't control. "It's part of my contract, sir. It's magically binding, I can't break it."

He glided into view, nodding sagely. His grey eyes gleamed, though it could have just been the effect of the candlelight that made them seem malevolent. His hand followed his movement, circling her waist and ending on her hip, fingers gripping slightly tighter. "What else does you contract say about me?"

It crossed Hermione's mind to ask about the present, to try and divert his attention away. But then his face was already pressed to her neck, wet lips sliding along her skin. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, hands balled into fists at her side. "I'm getting married tomorrow," Draco repeated, before she could force her lungs to take in some air and answer his question.

"I know, sir," she stammered.

"Shhh," he hushed her, a hand tugging her hair aside to afford him better access. "I'm getting married, and I've never even been with another woman. Can you imagine anything more depressing?" Hermione could almost have laughed, if it weren't for the sharp nip of Draco's teeth against her neck. "I'll end up like my father: sexually frustrated to the point where he has to pay for a woman." He pulled back and smiled at Hermione, his hips shifting closer so she could feel his erection against her stomach. Draco's hand slid under the linen of her dress, hot and clammy, pushing it back and exposing her shoulder, sliding lower to cup her breast. "And not even a woman," he continued, pinching her nipple too hard. "A nasty, dirty little Mudblood." He leant forward and nipped at her lip, other hand tugging at the knot of her dress, pawing for skin. His voice was a cracked whisper when he finished, "And I get to thinking, why should anyone pay to fuck an animal like you. I'm doing you a service."

Her dress was open and his hand was between her legs, and Hermione tried desperately to remember how she was supposed to get through this without crying.

"Draco, that's enough."

They both stilled completely.

The room was silent so long she started to doubt her ears, to think that she had imagined the familiar voice. Then he swam into view, blond hair gleaming in the candlelight, face hidden in shadows. Mr Malfoy laid a hand on Draco's shoulder, but he remained wrapped around Hermione, hands still sweaty on her bare skin.
"Your mother's looking for you, she wants to start the toasts."

He pulled away so slowly, leaving Hermione half-naked and shivering. "I was just-" Draco began.

"Downstairs, Draco. Now." Lucius' voice was perfectly calm, but left no room for argument.

Eyes avoiding Hermione's, Draco shifted away from her, and quietly left the room.

Lucius took a step forward. He, too, seemed incapable of meeting Hermione's gaze. Perhaps he did not want to see the single tear that traced a path down her right cheek. He gently pulled together the folds of her dress, picking up the linen sash and tying a surprisingly neat bow. His hands smoothed over her hips, firm and assured, not a trace of the clinging grip that his son had used.

"Go back to the kitchen, I'm sure the elves could use your help," he said, clipped consonants hinting at the anger that lay beneath his soft tone.

She nodded, turning on the spot and forcing her legs into movement. Hermione paused at the door. She could hear Mr Malfoy breathing behind her, but he had made no steps to follow her. "I'm sorry," she said quietly over her shoulder.

"Whatever for?" Now he sounded tired, and Hermione felt an unpleasant stab of guilt that she had caused that tone of voice.

Hermione shrugged, glancing back at him. She had no answer, but still knew it was her fault.

"Go on, Hermione."

She nodded, and walked away.

That night, Mr Malfoy did not want sex. He held her close when he finally came to bed, at around two in the morning, and she tried to touch him. She stroked her hand over his face, ran her bare foot over his shin, and kissed him slowly in the way she knew he liked. But he held her hand tightly and pulled her close, refusing to let her move. Within a few minutes he was asleep.

She tried to tell herself it was because he was tired and, at the same time, prayed to whichever god would listen that he would not take her back to Mr Fry.

*

"Hello, Hermione. Mr Malfoy said I would find you here."

Miss Lily was dressed in a long green cloak with silver clasps, distinctly different from the regulation black in which Hermione had wrapped herself. Her red hair gleamed brightly in the colourless day. Hermione found herself envying the other woman for her place with Professor Snape. She had never heard of, let alone seen, a wizard lavish such attention on his slave.

"Good morning, Miss Lily," Hermione said. She shifted along the bench, making room for her companion.

They both sat for a few minutes, looking out over the expansive lawns and occasional topiaries that made up Malfoy Manor's grounds. Mrs Malfoy was out with her sisters for the day, so Hermione had deemed it safe to venture from Mr Malfoy's room. In her relatively short life, she had seldom had the opportunity to venture out of doors and so, even on a grey day in January, the rather plain garden held more appeal for her than the rest of the grand house put together.

"I was told what happened," Lily said suddenly. Hermione continued to stare out across the lawn. "Mr Malfoy told Professor Snape, and he suggested I should speak to you."

"What did he think you should say?" Hermione asked softly.

"You know, I was in my twenties when they passed the laws about Muggleborn rights. I already had a life. I was married, I had a son – however briefly." Lily frowned into her lap, fingers twisting in the green wool of her cloak. "Severus has been my friend since we were children. You know, I like to think that he bought me to keep me safe," she looked at Hermione with a small, sad smile, eyes searching hers. "You girls go through hell in those shops, and it was worse then when they had first passed all the legislation. It was like opening the floodgates of hatred. All that resentment against Muggleborns, power out of no where, able to live in both worlds and decide for themselves which way to go. I like to think that he just didn't want me to end up somewhere terrible." She looked away again, "but I know that isn't true. You know, he wears my wedding ring on a chain round his neck?"

Hermione sighed. Try as she might, she could not raise sympathy for a woman who had at least had some semblance of a life, even if it had been taken from her. A small, cold hand covered hers, squeezed her knuckles. "You think I'm lucky. And I am. I love Professor Snape, in my own way, as much as any dog can love an owner. I have no competition, no other person in the house to show the slightest bit of interest in me. But our situations are not so very different. Draco is gone, you won't have to worry about him any more. And Mrs Malfoy stopped caring yonks ago. Professor Snape says she just became a different woman, once it became clear there wouldn't be any more children. To all intents and purposes, you have Mr Malfoy to yourself."

Hermione smiled wanly. "I should be thankful?" she asked.

Miss Lily shook her head, red hair falling forwards to partially obscure her face. "No. Not exactly. But you should know that it gets easier. It's already getting easier."

Hermione thought of the previous night. For the first time her mounting moans of pleasure had been entirely genuine. The small spark that she had felt on her initial encounter with Mr Malfoy, had grown and grown with each subsequent night spent in his bed. Then, finally, as he thrust into her and slid his hand between them to stroke her, something within her had burst in a shower of white light. She smiled, remembering the grateful groan Mr Malfoy had made as he collapsed on top of her, and the way she had wondered if perhaps he was able to tell the difference.

"Yes," she finally agreed, standing in one fluid movement. "It's getting easier."