This story was one of three "one-shots" that won a poll survey I put to the readership, asking them what Christmas-themed stories they wanted me to write for the holiday season (2010). Out of twelve options to choose from, the prompt that fans chose as their first (top choice) favorite was: "FLUFFY/ROMANCE DRAMA genre – Christmas Masquerade (Voldemort lost the war)". So, this story below fulfills that request, and is dedicated to all who participated in the poll! I hope this story meets with your approval!


STORY DETAILS: A Draco Malfoy x Hermione Granger one-shot story. Story is novel compliant up until after the Final Battle of Hogwarts (May 2, 1998). From that day onward, it's an Alternate Universe (following the EWE [Epilogue? What Epilogue] format and characters are a little OCC [out of character] as a result of the plot). THIS IS A ROMANTIC/DRAMA STORY.

TIMELINE: December 25th, 2010 – September 26th, 2011

SUMMARY: Divorcee and single father, Draco Malfoy, makes a bet with his meddling, well-meaning best friends to get out of the house for one night and stop his moping. Attending the Ministry charity event of the year – the annual Yule Masquerade – gives him the opportunity to forget his negative past history for a little while, in the hopes of picking up lady companionship for the night. Seriously nervous about putting himself back out there on the dating scene at the age of thirty, he reluctantly goes – and unexpectedly meets the woman of his every fantasy. But will the sexy divorcee Hermione Granger want him once the masks comes off and he's finally revealed as her childhood tormentor?

OTHER: This was an exercise in 1st person writing for me (something I have only done once or twice before).

RATING: NC-17 (M – including explicit consensual sex, profanity, alcohol consumption).

PICTURES TO GO WITH THE STORY (get rid of all spaces in this URL to load it properly): http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / One-Shot%20Christmas%20Stories



Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Thirty was the age that wizards – and from what I understood, Muggles as well - generally acknowledged and accepted as the definitive line that evidenced the end of one's reckless youth. By then, a man's place was anticipated to have been stamped out in the world; he was presumed to have actually accomplished something grand, rather than to have made vague promises to the effect that one day, when there was more money, more ambition, and more opportunity, to get around to it. My father had been crystal clear to that effect this past June, when I received a rather embarrassing verbal dress-down by him after I had just blown out the candles on my cake to mark the attainment of such an historic milestone:

"Scoring the passage of one's life with an important achievement is expected of a Malfoy, son. You've already been given three decades to do so, and what have you to show for it?"

Yeah, thanks for the pep talk, Lucius. Never mind that seventeen of those thirty years were spent in youth, learning how to behave as a proper adult. And let's not forget that for the last thirteen of those years, our family has been trying to crawl out of the mire that you threw us into by hooking your coattails to a madman.

It would be extremely disrespectful to point such truths out, however, so the best I could offer to counter my father's argument was the rebuild efforts I'd physically done at both Hogwarts and in Diagon Alley immediately after the war, my work on various charities, my annual attendance at all War Memorial events (despite the looks of undisguised mistrust, and even disgust I still received from some attendees at such gatherings), and my four-year old son, Scorpius – the son of a pureblood, loveless match made to reestablish our family reputation.

And what had I gotten for all of my hard work? A father's continued disappointment, a mother's sympathetic, but inadequate, counter to her husband's feelings, and a wife that walked out on me to be with Marcus smegging Flint, my smarmy former House- and teammate I'd once punched in the nose after a Quidditch game for daring to laugh at me for losing the Snitch to Potter.

As to that last, I feel as though I won out, though. Flint could keep the shrew I'd married, as I'd kept the real prize: Scorpius had been assigned to my sole custody after a rather short, but nasty legal battle a few months ago. He was my one non-negotiable in the divorce proceedings that had concluded in May. As far as I'd been concerned then, Astoria could take the furs, the jewelry, the money, my favorite broom (spiteful, greedy bitch), but not my Scorpius. I had adamantly refused to give up the boy. She'd fought me on that too, though, just to get under my skin, and so I'd done everything in my power to stop her. Thousands of galleons and four months of daily visits to the Ministry later, and she'd finally up and relented one day without a look back, signing over all rights to me. I'd never figured out why, and honestly, I could have cared less. I'd have gladly traded away every knut in my private vaults at Gringotts to keep my son, for he was my pride and joy, my only smidge of true happiness. I adored the pip with every ounce of love I had in me, and I'd have been bloody-well damned if I'd have handed him over to my ex-wife's poisonous, venomous arms.

Witches: they'd overall been the bane of my adult existence, generally speaking, and the reason why I was feeling particularly tense and fretful tonight.

All right, I'll admit: officially jumping back into the dating scene after almost six years was enough to make me chew my fingernails off. The idea of getting shot down by some young, hot thing now that I was older was daunting. Did I still have the Malfoy mojo, or would my age and the years of cultivated cynicism ruin it? Would I end up looking like some sort of pathetic, perverted codger, past my prime and desperate, or would I give the impression that I was merely a sophisticated, cultured, and seasoned man seeking the companionship of an intellectually-stimulating and attractive woman for the evening, as I was hoping to appear?

Gods, what I would give to be twenty again and free of such doubts!

After the war, I couldn't have scrounged a date in the wizarding world to save my life, but I hadn't let that get to me. Instead, I'd simply turned to the Muggle scene for sexual company – partially to rancor my father, I will admit. At the time, all of my mates had been in the same boat, as all of our fathers had been involved in one way or another with the Dark Lord, so we'd hit the London club district together every weekend to drown our sorrows in demon drink and our late teen-early twenty libidos in willing slags - and the issue of blood purity hadn't even been a factor, as we'd all had enough of that shite.

I'd waded through girls like water then, sometimes two a night, and always casting a Contraceptive & Disease Charm on my pecker before the drinking started to ensure I didn't breed or catch something. It had been one debauched, rowdy party after another, and the only time I'd come back down for a heavy dose of reality had been during the annual holiday marking the anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts – called 'Victory Day' by the wizarding world.

I'd finally sobered up and stopped my whoring at twenty-four when I'd met the pretty, pureblood-bred Miss Astoria Greengrass. She'd come to the Hogwarts Memorial on V-Day that year, and had been gathered about the commemorative plaque in the school's courtyard along with everyone else, listening to the speeches and the roll call of the names of the departed with only mild interest, her eyes scanning the crowd, looking over every available male in assemblage, assessing them for potential. When those pretty, lavender-blue eyes had lighted on me and she'd coyly smiled, I'd easily fallen under the charms of Her Royal Snake-ness, the Queen Viper. We'd started dated soon after (well, as soon as I'd convinced her that the size of my family's vaults hadn't suffered under the Ministry's punishments), and we'd married the next year. She'd gotten pregnant the following January, and by October of 2006, my son had come into the world.

What I hadn't known, of course, was that she'd begun seeing Marcus Flint, an ex-lover of hers, as soon as she'd supplied my heir. In a nutshell, she'd used my son's birth to assure her hooks into my family's money and had left us both to rot afterwards with nary a care. When her cuckolding had reached the point that even my father had felt the need to speak to me in private about it, I'd realized that my infatuation with my wife had always been one-sided and would never bloom into the love I'd hoped for. At first, I'd been crushed by her rejection and embarrassed by my own stupidity, but anger had quickly replaced both emotions – especially in the face of her contention to steal my son from me.

Long story short, it had taken a few months, even pushing my lawyer to move along the proceedings, but our divorce had at long last finalized just this last May.

But now, here I was at age thirty: a single father, lonely and wanting companionship, and staring down the length of a wand at absolutely no good prospects to fill the vacant spot left by Astoria when she'd turned her back on our family. I wanted to just once have meaningful sex and a shared affection with a woman who'd want me for the man I was, and not for my money. But more than anything else, I was desperate to find a woman who would be a good mother to my son. Narcissa was a wonderful influence on Scorpius, but I could tell he wanted a real mum, not his grandmother. For Merlin's sake, he'd cried for over a month about the fact that Astoria had rejected and abandoned him so heartlessly, and it had taken me another month after that to convince the child that none of it was his fault, and that he was loved. I feared, however, that he would never truly believe me until a woman I called 'wife' accepted him as her own, too.

And that was really the only reason I'd allowed myself to become trapped by this foul bet by Theo, Blaise and Greg into cruising the nightlife once more. To make that happen, I had to allow myself to become vulnerable. I had to date.

My friends, those cunning bastards the lot, knew my predicament well, and so they'd cleverly devised a scheme to get me moving in the right direction: a bet. I either took a woman home to my bed tonight, or I lost a thousand galleons (split between the three vultures). This would be the first step in reclaiming my confidence, they'd professed.

I was nervous. No scratch that - nervous didn't begin to cover it. It was not the loss of the money that was the heart of my concerns; the Malfoy vaults were quite filled to bursting. It was the fear of rejection. Astoria had done a number on my self-esteem, and it had been too many years since I'd turned on the charm to win a lady's temporary affections. Did I still have it, or would I flop terribly and go home tonight alone, tail tucked firmly between my legs?

As I considered the coordinated clothing I'd planned to wear to tonight's Yule Charity Masquerade Ball for the hundredth time, I wondered if I wasn't one of those sad sacks who tried to appear younger by wearing flashy clothing that only made them look ridiculous. Was the black velvet jacket too over-the-top? Would the showing off of my pecs and abs (which I had taken good care of through proper exercise in the need to burn out the anger I still harbored at my ex-wife by punishing my body with repetitious physical training) be too flashy? Should I throw a shirt on under it to cover up? The outfit was definitely something I might have worn years ago when I was twenty-pounds less muscle, fancied I was invincible, and wholly uninterested in social gossip. Now though, I knew better, and I wondered if the clothing would only give the appearance that I was pathetically attempting to reclaim my glory days and would end up a laughing stock in the society pages as a result.

Blaise showed up at my Floo bang on time seconds later, reamed me a new one for wanking-off and not getting ready, and then called the other two stooges in to back him up. By the time Goyle appeared, I'd already had Theo harping at me for ten minutes about which cologne I should wear, how I shouldn't color charm my hair black, because my platinum locks were, in his words, "to die for and should never be covered up" (he'd promptly lost that battle when I pointed out that only purebloods had natural platinum hair, and I wanted a woman not to consider my blood status as the major prerequisite for striking up an initial conversation with me, as Astoria had done), and reminding me to freshen my breath with a Rinsing Charm. He was such a flaming, bloody poofter it drove me spare some days.

"Where's your boyfriend?" I demanded of Nott, elbowing him in the gut to get him to stop pawing all over me as he dragged me into the bathroom to fix my hair like some clucking messer. Theo and I had an unspoken understanding: he could look, he could even play a little, but he could not touch in a manner that would upset me, because he knew I didn't swing that way (that agreement did not, it seemed, preclude him from making the offer to do so just about every time we hung out, though). The guy was a little in love with me; I'd known it since fifth year back in school, when he'd outed himself in confidence and admitted to having feelings. He'd finally walked out of the closet, head held high, by the time he was twenty-two – much to nobody's surprise by then, however.

"We'll catch him up. He went ahead with the lovely Ms. Pansy to critique my work decorating the hall for the Yule Charity Committee this year," Theo explained, assuring my jacket lay just perfect across my shoulders with an adjustment here and there. "The theme is 'Winter Lover's Land,' so I brilliantly charmed snowflakes to fall. They disappear just before they hit the floor - no mess to clean-up! Clever, I know," he bragged, loving to incessantly talk to anyone who would listen about his work as an interior designer for special events like tonight's hoopla. "Oh, it's all so very romantic… but then I'm hoping for a little Christmas Cupid to put in an appearance tonight, as you well know, darling!" he flashed me a mischievous smile in the mirror before smoothing down the back of my velvet jacket, making sure to follow the curves, ending in a small pat for good measure. I ignored his devious groping, used to it by now.

Fussing over imagined creases in my leather pants next, he tsk'd aloud in clear distress. "Oh, no, no, no! The cut of these do nothing for your sexy arse, baby doll," he chided me, kneeling down and holding his hand up at me. "Hand me my wand on the counter so I can fix the problem with a tuck here and there."

I sighed. "No one's going to see my bum with the jacket in the way."

He slapped the back of my leg, brooking no argument on his wise fashion counsel, and reluctantly I did as bade, feeling his magic wash over me a second later: my slacks melded to the curve of my backside. "Per-fect-o," he happily sing-songed.

"Am I done now, mum?" I sarcastically bit, as he regained his full height. He pursed his lips, made a motion for me to spin around so he could make a last minute check, and when he was satisfied, he declared me ready.

"Scrumptious," the guy smacked his lips. "I could eat you up. You sure you don't want me to before we leave? I promise it'll only take five minutes… three if I swirl my tongue just so."

I swear if he wasn't my best mate, I'd have killed him by now.

I walked out of the bathroom without another word, and grabbed my mask off the bed. Greg – who was the tallest of us, standing a good four inches higher than my six foot, one-inch frame – helped to tie the ribbon about my head. That done, I cast a Cooling Charm over the whole of my body to keep the perspiration at bay.

"Wicked," Blaise grinned. He'd helped me pick out the blue-green leather dragon mask at a Carnivàle shop right on the main canal in Venice (where he'd picked up his own costume and mask – mimicking a piratical highwayman) and was inordinately proud of the choice. "You're so getting laid tonight, buddy."

"He hardly has to go out for that," Theo snarked, readjusting the ruffles on his huge black, taffeta neck bow and then reaching for his own mask. "If he'd just let me service him, none of this would be an issue."

Greg sighed, fidgeting with the Sultan's headdress he wore one more time. "We ready?"

It was a well-known fact amongst us over the years that when Goyle finally opened his mouth to complain, it meant he was running out of patience and someone was going to hurt for it. Theo and Blaise zipped their lips to avoid a pummeling.

I lifted my wand, the same as the others. "See you at the pub," I offered, waiting for them all to leave before Disapparating to The Leaky Cauldron.


We walked to the entrance of Spinner's Hall, located right across the street from La Cerise, the gentleman's masked establishment at the far end of Diagon Alley. As my eyes traveled the length and width of those tall, ancient doors across the way (ones that, ironically, I'd never entered, even though the place was practically designed for a wizard like me in mind – pureblood, rich, available…), I schemed a fallback scenario: if I seemed in jeopardy of losing the bet at the Ball, I'd simply saunter over to the brothel. Of course, it would cost me three times the amount I'd have to pay out to my mates if I did decide to pick up a courtesan for the night, making the effort quite cost-prohibitive, but desperate pride called for desperate measures.

Gods, I was hoping I wasn't quite that pathetic as to have to buy a girlfriend yet.

I presented our tickets to the doorman. The party inside the hall was already in full-swing, it being nine o'clock. I paused just inside the entry, looking about as best as I could through the infernal mask. Several faces turned to see who the newcomers were, many of them female. I scoped the room, but didn't get a good enough gander as I was pushed from behind by Blaise to move further inside.

Clearing the entry, I spied the bar on the wall opposite the dance floor and sauntered up. Ordering Firewhisky for myself and my three companions, I handed them each a shot glass. We saluted each other, taking turns initiating the night's revelry in the old Slytherin tradition.

"Here's to getting you done proper tonight, mate," Blaise offered to me, chugging his drink in one go.

Theo grinned and tapped the edge of his glass to mine. "Here's to hoping you'll get a second date out of it, at least." He sipped his drink, made a face and finished it off in a quick jerk of his head, pinky extended.

Greg was slow coming up with his toast,. "Here's to finding and keeping love," he finally wished, gulping down the amber liquid, shocking each of us into gaping silence in the interim. We all knew Goyle was a shy and sensitive bloke when it came to the subject of romancing the ladies, but still, that had seemed a rather uncharacteristic thing for him to say.

I raised my glass high to my mates. "Well, here's to hoping I meet an enchanting woman who likes children. Oh, and may she have a nice bum, too," I grinned and downed my drink in a toss.

Blaise ordered another round for all of us, thrusting the miniscule glasses into our hands. "I spy-" he stated, looking about the room, signaling that the game had begun, "The Mata Hari."

Glancing about, I caught sight of the one he'd picked out for me, and recognized her even with the mask over her eyes. "Daphne Greengrass. Not a chance in Hell," I let him know with a firm shake of my head. My former sister-in-law was absolutely off-limits, being as malicious of temperament as her little sister.

Theo took his turn next. "I spy… I spy… hmmm… I spy Juliet to your Romeo."

I found this one much easier, as her outfit looked like something straight out of Renaissance Italy, and shook my head again. "I think that's the She-Weasel. The red hair gives it away." To confirm my suspicions, Potter walked up to her just then and placed a chaste kiss on her lips. It was definitely him; he was the only dark-haired wizard I'd ever met who had problems getting his hair to play nice with a comb.

"Damn, you're right," Theo cursed. "There's that hunk of a husband of hers now." His eyes lit up and he licked his lips. "Lucky bitch."

Another one of those confessions Theo had given up to me back in school: he'd secretly crushed on Scarhead as well. In fact, he'd confessed after one too many butterbeers that it had been his biggest wank fantasy to see me and my worst childhood rival go at it in front of him. I'd boxed his ears for that one.

"I spy… Santa's pretty helper," Greg stated, with some amount of interest in his voice.

This time, it was easy to spot the prey as she was actually sauntering across the room towards the bar where we stood. Instantly, my gaze was riveted to a pair of toned legs that went on for miles, and a tight, lithe figure that sexily swayed with a killer walk. Dressed in a sweet, short sequined dress – cherry red with white fur trim at the bottom hem and black ribbon ornamentation around the middle under her breasts, lifting them – with a white satin mask that had soft white feathers and some sort of black snowflake-flower adornment on one side, and with long, chestnut waves of hair floating about her, she was the center of my world from that point forward.

My glass slipped from my hand as my fingers went numb with shock. Fortunately, Blaise's reflexes hadn't atrophied over the years since he'd quit Quidditch, and he snagged the glass before it dropped too far, sloshing only a bit of the contents. "Yep, we found our winner. Go get her, tiger!"

My friends scattered in a trice, leaving me alone as she approached. Quickly, I turned about to make it appear I was going to order something, composing my fast-beating heart. Man she was dazzling! I listened in on her conversation with the barkeep.

"Hi, Dean," she greeted the man behind the bar serving up the night's alcoholic delights, and I hazarded a glance up to note that it was, in fact, my former schoolmate, Dean Thomas. "How goes the volunteer work?"

The man shrugged a pair of hefty shoulders. Shite, he'd grown up - and out - carrying quite a bit of weight around the middle now, and sporting a neatly-trimmed goatee to offset his closely-shaved skull. "Anything for the cause, you know. What'cha having, darling?"

"Do you know any Muggle holiday drinks?" she asked, and her voice was so familiar that I could almost place it. There was a lilt to it that hummed along the back of my senses.

Thomas nodded. "The standard. Test me."

One perfectly painted fingernail (the color matching her dress), tapped at her bottom lip (also colored that same cherry-red). "Do you know how to make a Jack's Christmas Lemon Drop?" Her friend shook his head. "Oh, it's easy! Mix one ounce Grand Marnier, two ounces of lemon Vodka, one ounce of lime juice and a twice of lemon. Voila! It's a little sour, but if you like that sort of thing, it's got one heck of a hammer behind it. Not for light-weights."

Something about the way she lectured was familiar, too. I continued to listen, curious to see if I could place her.

"Oh, no wait!" she stopped him as he reached for the ingredients. "A Peppermint Stick – I think I'd like that better. I'm into sweets just now. One and a half ounces of white Crème de Cacao, one ounce of Peppermint Schnapps and one ounce of light cream, topped with a candy cane."

Dean gave her a smile. "No surprise that you know this stuff, darling. You always were the Queen of all things Trivia," he laughed, and worked up her order, passing it off to her with a bow. "Tell you what: I'll offer these as the drinks of the night, if anyone's interested. Let 'em know, yeah?"

From the small, beaded bag attached to her wrist, she passed over some galleons, and even left him a generous tip in his jar. "Thanks, Dean. Happy Christmas!"

"Happy Christmas, 'Mione!" he called back, then turned to fill someone else's order further down the bar.

Mione… Mione… Her-mione. Hermione Granger.

Oh, fucking hell, no way! The goddess of the grip-me-hard hips was Gryffindor's Virgin Princess?

My pulse sped up, and I felt a sweat break out above my lip - Cooling Charm be damned! I looked back, watching that delicious arse walk away and wanting to chase it down.

Now that I was paying attention… The hair was tamed, but those were definitely dark amber-chestnut curls, weren't they? And clearly, this breathtaking vision of loveliness was good friends with Potter and his wife by the way she approached and crowded in close, touching her friends when talking with a familiarity that one didn't show towards mere acquaintances. And that voice was definitely unmistakable when taken in context.

Yes, there was no doubt now that my choix de nuit was none other than Hermione "Iron Knickers" Granger. When the bloody hell had Gryffindor's Bookworm grown up into such a lovely, shaggable creature? It seemed impossible to reconcile for several long minutes that this delectable witch across the room from me was the same bushy-haired bint that I'd grown up with.

Why hadn't I seen this incarnation of her at some point over the last few years? Given how small the wizarding world really is, you'd think I would have run into this sexified version of her at some point - at a V-Day Celebration at Hogwarts, or at one of the charity board meetings (as her name always appeared on written appeals for funding). Honestly, though, I couldn't call up any reliable memories except the announcements in The Prophet about her divorce a couple of years back. Even then, I could vaguely remember that the image of her face on the front page when the story broke had been obscured behind a book as she'd made her way across the Ministry lobby to its lifts. The angle hadn't allowed much of a body shot, from my recollection, so there was no way to know if this new make-over was a new thing, or if it had been there for much longer.

Seriously, how could I not have seen someone as stunning as her walking about Diagon Alley, though? Had my head really been that far up my arse for so long, or was the alteration to her appearance one of those physical re-affirmation things that people did after ending a long-term relationship? Had divorcing Weasley changed her so drastically that she'd gone through a massive make-over, turning herself into the ideal centerfold for PlayWiz for the next decade and a half?

She laughed at something Potter said, throwing her head back and closing her eyes in unabashed gaiety, exposing the long line of her golden throat, and everything in me flush hot with need. In a flash, I imagined her tossing her head about in that same manner, the curtain of her hair swaying as I thrust away into that tight, little body…

Gods above, she was drop-dead gorgeous! Her body was supple and toned, her skin glistened with fairy dust under the lights, and her crimson-painted lips were enticing to watch as they curved into brilliant smiles as she shared in the joviality with her pals. Slytherin, help me, but I was suddenly very struck with a keen infatuation of the witch I'd once professed undying hatred of. If that wasn't the most ironic paradox I'm sure the cosmos as ever known, I didn't know what would qualify.

Observing her for a good ten or more minutes, I ordered another drink from Thomas, who somehow convinced me to try the Peppermint Stick as my dazed and confused brain mulled over other pressing matters - namely, the fact that Granger hated my everlasting guts and my chances for making my intended target for tonight had just dropped to zero percent.

Shite, this was so not going to happen, was it? There was no way she'd notice me in this room full of men - eligible or not - much less agree to let me fuck her up against the closest, private wall until she screamed my name like a sacred prayer. She was, plainly put, out of my league.

This was Karma come back with a vengeance for all the awful things I'd said and done in my life, wasn't it – most especially to her?

My balls shrunk up in my shorts, tucking in tight with an emphatic, 'you better believe it, buddy.'

"Problem, bro?" Blaise sauntered on up sly. Taking my unconsumed drink from my hand, he sipped at it and made a noise of surprised pleasure.

"I-it's Granger," I managed to rasp, my entire attention fixated on the sparkling of her dress as she shifted, and on the bend of her elbow as she waved about her free hand while animatedly talking. I wanted to lick right there, and suckle on that soft-looking skin…

Blaise paused to put the now-empty glass down on the bar, having consumed my drink in seconds. "No shite?" He glanced over at her and whistled. "Wow, I didn't even recognize her. She's a total knock-out! What a difference a dozen years makes, hmmm?"

I licked my lips, swallowed a few times to try to moisten my desert-dry mouth. "She'll never go for me. Pick someone else." Even as I said it, I could hear the disappointment in my tone.

My friend rather firmly shook his head. "That's now how this game is played, Drake. You've elected to take your two rejections up-front. Third time's the charm. You know that."

I shook my head, made to run a hand through my long bangs, and instead adjusted the infernal mask on my forehead. "I'm telling you, she won't touch me once she figures out who I am." I sighed. "I forfeit. You guys win." Turning back to the bar, I ordered another shot of Firewhisky, even as Blaise ordered another of those candy drinks for himself. "I knew this whole idea was a mistake. I won't be able to get her out of my head now. She and that cherry-red dress are going to torture my every dream from here to eternity and back. Thanks a lot, bro."

"You know, for a dragon, you act more like a chicken, Drake," Zabini challenged. "Just go ask her to dance. See where it goes from there."

I was so disappointed that I wanted to rip the mask right off my face and storm out. Here, again, was just one more reminder of how my past eventually caught up with me. The most delicious woman I'd ever laid eyes on and she was the one girl I'd just had make cry back in school.

"Look at her, Blaise." I turned my head, finding her easily now, that red dress a magnet for my attention. "Every man in this room – minus maybe Teddy and his boy toy, and probably Potter – wants to take her home on their arm tonight. She's like Circe and Aphrodite rolled up into one. Way too perfect, too beautiful." I turned away, looking down at my hands resting on the bar. "Besides, the moment I walk up to her, she'll figure out who I am." I pointed to the dragon's mien lying across my own (which now seemed like such a bad idea), and shook my head. "There'll be no chance for any kind of normal conversation once she recognizes me and you know it. I'm her childhood nemesis, and a former Death Eater to boot – and reformed doesn't count to too many people in our world, so don't argue the point." I laid my hands along the sides of my head in despair. "Gods, why was I such a fucking idiot as a kid?"

Zabini put a hand on my shoulder. "You've changed, Drake. A lot has happened in twelve years. You've grown up, worked hard to atone. You're on a load of Charity Boards to raise money for various causes that benefit a lot of people, you always attend the V-Day stuff, and you're a fantastic dad - Scor worships you. Give yourself a break, yeah? Maybe she'll be willing to see how different you are now. You'll never know if you don't try." He placed his untouched specialty drink before me, adjusting the candy cane so it jauntily hung off the lip of the glass. "Take this to her and I guarantee you'll have an opening. That is one seriously yummy drink."

I took a deep breath and sighed, ready to call it an evening.

"She's coming back for a refill," the bartender offered, and I glanced up at the man who, when I was younger, I might have spit upon because of his blood status. To my surprise, he kindly nodded to the drink in front of me with a shite-eating grin. "Bloody shame I just ran out of Peppermint Schnapps, too. She's into sweets, not sours tonight."

It took me two seconds to catch on… and I still paused, unsure.

Was I really going to let this chance slip by me without even a token attempt? There was a lot against me, sure, but maybe my mother and my friends had been right when they'd encouraged me to go to this Ball tonight. Maybe at thirty-years old, it was time for me to grow into the man I was meant to be and to stop living in the shadow of my past mistakes. Besides, how many times would the universe hand a man like me a decent opportunity before finally giving me up for a lost cause? I was betting my bag o' luck was getting close to empty in that regard.

Both Blaise and Thomas encouragingly nudged their chin at the chilled drink in my hand and I nodded, my decision made. "Thanks," I murmured to them both, tossed some galleons from my pocket onto the bar, and then grabbed the drink and turned to face destiny.

Recalling my days of lady-killing in Muggle bars, I affected a nonchalant swagger and made a bee-line straight for Granger, meeting her half a dozen steps out into the room. Forced to stop because I was in her way, she politely excused herself and tried to go around me, but I held out the drink to her. "Bought you a refill." Technically, it wasn't a lie, since I'd thrown the money for it at Thomas' hand.

She looked up at me, down at the drink, and then back up into my eyes. "Did you now?"

I nodded. "Mmmm. Noticed you ordering one earlier, and thought I'd have one on stand-by, just in case. Good thing, too, because the bartender's out of Schnapps, now."

Those pretty painted lips of hers curved into a smile that made my testicles drop and swell. "Are you always prepared to assure a lady's pleasure then, Mr. Dragon?"

Holy cats, did that subtle sexual innuendo come out of Granger's mouth?

"Always," I slyly replied, adding a drop or two of honey to my tone. "I love to anticipate her needs and then to utterly fulfill them when she'll allow me the privilege."

That smile grew into an all-out grin. "I suppose we'll see if that's true or not, won't we?" she practically purred. Taking the glass nimbly from my hands, placing the straw between her lips, she began sucking. My cock nearly jumped out of my pants at the way her cheeks hollowed.

I titled my head. "What shall I call you, angel?" I held out my hand. "Since you've already settled upon a nickname for me."

She looked up at me with enigmatic, dark-cider eyes. "Hmmm… 'angel' is nice. No one's ever called me that before. I rather like it."

We shook, and her fingers were a bit frosty from gripping the cold glass. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," I bent and deftly flipped her hand about, kissing the back of her knuckles with polite decorum, "my Lovely Angel of the North Pole."

"Goodness, it seems chivalry is not dead after all," she laughed, and it was a thoroughly merry sound.

Slipping her hand into mine, pressing our palms together, she encouraged me to walk at her side around the outside of the room, away from the noise of the dance floor. We passed by Teddy, who gave me an innocuous salute, and to my amazement, I spied Greg chatting up a woman near the coat closet. I assumed Blaise was still hanging out in front of the bar as we made the half circuit towards the dance floor.

"That's a lovely mask," she broke the ice. "Marco Ruggini's shop in Venice?"

"Yes," I affirmed for her, rather surprised that she'd have correctly guessed. "You do business with him?"

She shrugged. "I've been helping to put on this charity event for the last ten years. You get to know the hand of the makers of most of the finer quality masks if you ask around. Yours has Ruggini's signature detail – the way he treats the leather so it will allow for a layering of dyes, and then applies a specific glamour charm over all of it to make the colors iridescent. I've yet to see any mask maker who does so beautifully a job. I'd love to learn his patented secrets."

Of course she was brilliant, too. I hadn't forgotten that glaring detail.

Her smile softened. "I've never been to Italy, but I've always wanted to go. My parents were always rather conservative about such trips, never straying off the island for the continent. The furthest I've been was to Hogwarts in Scotland, I admit."

"I make it a habit of taking my son to Milan at least once a year, where my friend's family holdings are located." Better to get it out up-front that I was a man with responsibilities to a child. If she didn't balk, then I'd take that as a good sign.

Her smile was brilliant and to my relief, she didn't bat an eye at my revelation. "I think that's a fabulous idea! Your son is very lucky to have such an adventuresome father." She tapped the side of the mask. "Did he help you pick this one out?"

I shook my head. "That friend who lives in Italy – he took me into the shop, pointed it out to me."

"Well, it's rather fetching on you," she decided, turning those teasing, firecracker eyes upon me. "You've quite convinced me. I'll take a holiday there next year sometime. Maybe I'll even go to Signore Ruggiri's shop and see if he has any more of these styled masks in other colors – perhaps red. I'd love to hang one on my wall for art." She gave me a rather mysterious sideways glance. "It's strange, but I've come to realize over the last few months that I quite like dragons, even though they have, in the past, terrified me."

I turned my head to glance down at her. "You, afraid of something? I'm finding that hard to believe."

She hummed with sincerity. "Oh, yes. I used to have nightmares about them, you see. For years and years, one particular dragon would chase me down the corridors at school. Then, one day, I rode upon a real one, and although it was a frightening experience, it was also magnificent. I've not since had a single bad dream about dragons – only good ones."

I paused in mid-step and turned my full attention to her. "You actually rode a dragon?"

Nodding, she drew herself up. "I assure you, I did. An elder Ukranian Ironbelly, during the war. She was guarding something important, but my friends and I set her free." Hermione's smile dropped into a frown. "Poor thing was so badly beaten by her captor, and the chains about her had dug under her scales, into the very flesh. I felt such pity for her."

I was riveted by the tale. Had Granger really done something as amazingly wild as riding upon a dragon? What I wouldn't give for such an experience! "What happened to her?"

"My former brother-in-law, Charlie, is a dragon tamer who was hired by the Ministry to track her down after the war ended. He found her almost a year later, dead in a cave, not far from where we'd managed to jump off of her back. She'd been ill, apparently, and finally succumbed once she'd reached freedom. It was very tragic." She touched her beaded bag. "My second wand's core is made of her heartstring, which Charlie sold to Mr. Ollivander once they'd recovered her body."

"Second wand? You mean you lost your first? Misplaced it, perhaps, in the laundry?" I teased, trying to lighten her mood, my interest in her unquestionably piqued. It seemed there was a lot about the lovely Ms. Granger that I didn't know. Like any good enigma, each piece of her life's puzzle that was revealed only enticed me to know more about her, to delve deeper into the secrets of her heart.

She squeezed my hand in small rebuke and laughed. "No, I didn't misplace it. I'm hardly that kind of a ninny."

We smoothly swerved together in tandem to avoid an on-coming couple walking in the opposite direction, and I found we flowed quite well together, almost in sync. "Well, go on then," I prompted. "How did you lose your first wand, and what were both of your wands made of?"

Gods, that was an embarrassing line! It was about as suave as, "hey, what's your sign, baby?" Everyone in the wizarding world knew those were the two piss-poorest ways to open up a dialogue, but it seemed the most natural thing to ask, given the subject. Besides, I had an inkling she'd love to talk more on the subject, being as enamored of anything and everything magic as she'd been growing-up.

"Well, my original wand got taken from me during the war by Snatchers," she admitted. "I never recovered it. It was unstained and made of Vine wood with a dragon heartstring core, too. Mr. Ollivander had carved a unique leaf pattern about its handle. I loved how feminine it looked and felt. I've never seen one like it since."

My heart nearly stopped. I'd seen one exactly like it - up close and personal, in fact.

After Granger and her friends had escaped from my home that awful day they'd been brought in by Greyback and Scabior, I'd been left wandless, as Potter had taken my beloved Hawthorne wood wand with him when he'd Disapparated out with help from the elf. Not wanting me to be defenseless, my mother had graciously given up her Elm wood-manitcore hair wand to me. But, due to my carelessness, I lost her wand in the Room of Requirement when it had burned. So, when mum had found the Vine wood-dragon heartstring wand in our house a month after the war had ended (it was discovered by a house-elf who was thoroughly cleaning the Drawing Room, at mother's behest), my mother adopted it. The Ministry's probation terms had made it plain that neither of my parents were allowed to purchase new wands as punishment for their misdeeds. However, the Vine wood wand had been found, and as such, it fell into a technical loophole that my mother ruthlessly exploited. To everyone's surprise, the new wand had taken to her.

Hermione's first wand was now in the possession of my mother, and I didn't think the woman would give it up, as she'd grown quite fond of it over the last twelve years.

"After the war, I used a wand that I had… borrowed… from a witch who was… deceased," she continued. "It never felt right, though, and I wanted to exchange it for so long, but there was always too much that needed to be done with the rebuilding efforts to take the proper time to go down and purchase a new one once Mr. Ollivander reopened for business. But when Charlie found the dragon's body, it was like-" She paused, her free hand coming up to rest above her breast. "I had the strangest sensation, as if I was meant to have a piece of her heart. I went to Ollivander's shop that very day and begged him to make me a wand with it," she continued her fascinating tale. "He had it made in five short days: Blood wood with the Ironbelly's dragon heartstring for the core. The moment I picked it up, I was bathed in warmth and light, and I knew it was perfect. It fit my new temperament better than the old one would have, it turned out, as I'd changed because of the war."

Utterly amazing. I was enchanted by her story – by her. "Blood wood: fiery and passionate, calling to the element of fire," I recalled our fourth year Charms class with Flitwick. "A potent wood coupled with dragon heartstring. I bet you're a powerful Charms caster with it."

She glanced up at me in surprise. "You know something of wand-making?"

I shrugged. "A bit. When I got my new wand, it piqued my interest, so I went to speak with John Ollivander a couple of times about it. Potions were more my thing growing up, but wands..." I considered it now. Yes, it was a fascinating art, appealing to a side of me I hadn't given much thought to. "I'll admit to a certain fancy for wishing to learn the craft."

She actually giggled and deepened her voice in a cheap impersonation of a really bad pick-up artist. "So, what's your wand, baby?"

Merlin, it was as if she'd plucked that thought right out of my head! I could help but laugh.

"My first wand was Hawthorne wood with unicorn hair core, but after-" I paused, unsure how to phrase it delicately. "After the war, I bought another one. My second one is made of Black Limba wood with a serpent scale at its core – black desert cobra. It's good for defensive spells and potions that require a binding enchantment."

She held up my arm, turning it over to show-off the silver serpent cufflink I'd attached to the divide. "Big fan of snakes are you?" she asked with some amusement.

Uniquely perceptive, too, this one.

I snickered. "Sure, I guess you could say I'm a fan of the Linnaean class of Reptilia." I bumped her shoulder in a friendly gesture. "That turn you off, knowing I'm a friend to serpents?"

That glorious mane of dark tawny hair slid across her shoulder as she shook her head, and that mysterious smile perked her full lips again. "It's been my distinct pleasure to recently discover that some of those I'd thought to be the most cold-blooded of characters actually have a warm heart lingering inside. It's turned my prejudice right on its ear, I'll admit."

These words turned around and around in my head. Was Granger, perhaps, compassionate enough to forgive me my trespasses of her from so long ago? Could I dare hope?

Her hand pressed into mine as we slowly meandered about through the room, winding this way and that in a nonsensical pattern, talking and enjoying each other's company for the better part of the next hour, unconcerned and uncaring of the people or events around us. We talked about Potions (we both agreed that Patented Daydream Charms were wonderful, and jokingly shook on sharing one someday), about Divination (I did some of my favorite impressions of Trelawney over the years, making Hermione roar with laughter), and about Astronomy and Astrology (we debated on the date and reason for the decisive schism of these two branches of study in modern Muggle thought). By this time, we'd made the whole room several times over, and were nearing the bar area again. I felt a clutch in my heart as the conversation wound down, wondering if she'd let me go now and bid me goodnight. Instead, she redirected us through the center of the gathering area, directly towards her friends.

"Hey, let me introduce you to some people."

Bloody hell! There was no way I could get around this, unless I distracted her. "Wouldn't you rather dance?" I asked, trying for the diversion, but she was having none of it, her firm grip on my hand insistently pulling me after her.

"Passing the friend test is an important step in whether I'll want to dance with you or not," she coerced.

Bloody, bloody hell! Potter was going to know the second we looked at each other who I was. You can't stare across a Quidditch pitch or classroom or Dining Hall for so many years with hatred and loathing upon a person and not recognize their eyes down to the minute detail. "Maybe another drink first?" I offered, giving some resistance to our forward momentum. Hell, if I was going to do this and get my lights punched, at least I could excuse my stupidity in picking-up on Granger as drunkenness.

By this time, however, we were at the outward circle of her friends. "Hey," she called, inserting us into the throng. "Why aren't you all out there tearing up the dance floor? You have to make my event fun so people will come again next year!"

The She-Weasel (now She-Scarhead, I guess) turned and looked up at me in surprise. Her eyes went wide for a moment, and then she nodded in greeting. "Hello."

I bowed at the waist. "Well met, my lady," I used the old wizarding greeting, hoping to throw her and the others off the scent. "Happy Christmas."

Potter turned to me, and I could swear he stared a little too long before raising his hand for a shake. "Hi."

I took the proffered hand, and firmly shook. "Well met, sir," I greeted. "Happy Christmas."

His lips twitched, and he adjusted his mask. I wondered where his glasses were. Did he even use them anymore or had he finally gotten his eyes spell-corrected? "Happy Christmas," he returned. "Cool mask."

Conscientious of how obvious the choice had been, I touched one of the curling sides of leather. "Thanks. Nice outfit," I returned with a snarky grin (he couldn't see it because of my face covering, but I know he heard it in my voice). Potter was wearing tights. It went with the whole Romeo theme, but still - tights! Theo was probably having a field day.

My former rival understood my meaning, and looked down at his blue-colored leggings. "Yeah, I blame her," he indicated his wife with a quick kiss pressed to the back of her hand. "She wanted to go matchy-matchy, and I learned the first two times never to say 'no' to her when she's pregnant - especially if I want to keep my nads."

Surprising even myself, I let out a good laugh at that. Potter was actually kind of witty. "I quite sympathize." Astoria had been a raving beast about any perceived slight during her 'nine-month ordeal,' as she'd always referred to it. "It's better to be in your wife's good graces than sleeping in the doghouse."

Harry laughed and nodded. "So I've learned, the hard way."

From there, we spent an amicable hour or so conversing on a variety of topics, similar in ilk to the ones I'd embarked upon with Granger, including the masks, Italy, and then world travel in general. The discussion naturally and smoothly flowed from that to the topic of the next Quidditch World Cup in 2011. We compared our picks for the final contenders for this next round, and to my delightful astonishment, we all meshed on our preferences, believing that England's National Team would make it to the final four, but probably lose to either South Africa or Spain this year, as they had the fastest Seekers currently in play. I even grudgingly had to admit that Weasley (who had entered the sport five-years previous for the Chudley Canons, after the last Death Eater had been captured and he'd retired from the Auror's office) made an excellent choice for a Keeper for the home team this time around, as he rated amongst one of the top five Keepers in England's professional history for the most number of saves.

It was a lively discussion overall, and I admit I was rather taken aback by that fact that we all got on so well, as I'd always assumed any type of interaction with this group would result in my being insulted, perhaps even hexed, and most assuredly slinking back into the shadows to avoid notice.

"Okay, you can keep him," Mrs. Potter declared to Granger as the discussion neared its optimal conclusion. "I approve."

I glanced at my 'date' and noted a blush creep up her neck. She began tugging on my hand. "I think I want that dance now," she insisted, pulling me away. I gave a small bow to Potter and his wife, excusing myself as I was dragged off.

As we hit the edge of the dance floor, I put my weight behind me to stop Granger, and with a smooth tug, took the lady into my arms. We danced to a slow, jazzy version of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside,' by some male and female duet I didn't recognize.

"You know this song?" she asked with some small wonder.

I nodded. I had been in and out of the Muggle world for a few years back in my young adulthood, after all. "Why shouldn't I?"

Her gaze dropped to my chest and she shrugged. "Not many wizards do. A small group of us Muggle-borns have been doing our best to bring some Muggle music into this world, but it's slow-going."

"It might have something to do with the fact that Muggle electronics don't work around magic," I replied. I'd found that out when every non-magical chick I'd picked-up had complained that her cell phone or digital watch or alarm clock died soon after I covertly cast the spell to prevent pregnancy and disease upon them. "Which makes me wonder: how did you get these sound systems to work tonight, given the limitations?"

That sultry smile was back across her face, melting away her unease. "I simply figured out why magic and Muggle electronics are incompatible and re-engineered the sound system to prevent it from happening."

"Specifics, madam," I prompted, whirling us about in a series of three fast circles, before slowing us down again. I forgot how much fun dancing was; I hadn't done it since the day of my wedding years ago. "Don't leave me in suspense."

My partner cleared her throat, and I couldn't help but smile, knowing an educational lecture was coming. "Well, do you know what a wave frequency is?"

I nodded. We did have a phonograph at home, and I'd had tutors as a child to instruct me in why it worked.

"Good, because that's the backbone of the theory," she explained. "See, the frequency of the wave that magic creates through the atmosphere causes electromagnetic interference in a localized area, emanating out from a point of origin in a concentric wave pattern. It works a lot like ripples in a pond when you've thrown a stone. When a witch or wizard casts a spell, the casting actually gives off two bursts of energy. One carries the actual spell – the Stupefy, Expelliarmus, Diffindo, Accio, and etcetera - to its target. The other burst of energy is a general, low-level area-of-effect series of residual static bursts that the magic caster themselves creates from their own life aura to give the strength to the spell they've just cast. It's the reason there's a flash of light when a spell goes off, even if the spell is done with gentle control, like an Obliviate or a healing enchantment for scars. These series of bursts emanate outward from the caster like the ripples upon the water. They dissipate over time, but are initially rather strong. This energy causes all of the problems with Muggle electrical equipment. Specifically, the rippling effect continues to bombard the electronic circuits inside a device until they literally burst from the stress. They call that 'overloading' or 'short-circuiting' in the Muggle world. Through a lot of trial and error – about a year's worth, on and off - I figured out that if you double-lined an electronic device with copper shielding, then added nickel over it, like they do in the Muggle world to prevent unauthorized signal tapping, it works to turn away and disperse the magical ripple, nullifying its effect on circuitry."

My jaw literally dropped open. Thank Merlin for the mask, as I was sure I looked quite foolish with such an expression on my mug. "Angel, there is nothing simple about what you've accomplished here. It's sheer genius! Do you realize that your discovery has the potential to open up an entire new world for wizards - including the use of computers, cell phones, cars, and anything battery-operated?" I shook my head, stunned by such brilliance. "I have to admit that not much impresses me anymore, but you... you're not only stunningly beautiful, my lady, but you're masterfully intellectual."

Her blush was bright enough across her face for me to see the edges of it peeking around the mask, where it met the apple of her cheeks and she shyly dropped her gaze to my chin. "Um, thank you for such a lovely compliment. But really, my former father-in-law was critical in helping to crack the case, tinkering in all things Muggle. He's figured out how to make a car actually fly, you know. It even has its own personality, of a sort. Now that is an achievement of epic proportion."

I turned her about in two more fast whirls, slowing down again. "I still say you're the brightest witch I've ever known, hands down." And I meant it. She'd been a wiz back in our school days, and it seemed she'd never let her brain go idle. "You must work in the Department of Mysteries."

She tilted her head, and gave me a rather peculiar look through the holes in her mask. "On occasion I'm farmed out by my boss to them, if that Department needs an outsider's opinion, but I'm actually assigned to Magical Law Enforcement. I work in the Law Offices on cases of domestic violence and child custody."

I felt a chill shoot up my spine at her words. I'd had to petition that office to keep Scorpius, fighting Astoria tooth-and-nail for my son's sole custodianship. Why had I never seen her there, though? I'd spent the better part of four months in that office, day after day. "I see. Um, would you like a drink? I'm finding that all of this dancing is making me quite thirsty."

She nodded. "Sure."

I bought her a crisp, white wine, and ordered a bourbon for myself. Thomas gave me the thumbs-up when Granger wasn't looking and I tipped him extra in thanks. We found an empty table in a darker corner of the room to sit and talk.

"So, you're not married anymore?" she inquired.

I started, catching my control in time to keep from spewing my drink across her lap. "How did you come to that determination?" I caught the fumble, feeling the alcohol burn down my throat as I too quickly swallowed it.

Reaching out, she tapped my left ring finger where there was a clear indent where a ring had once sat. I huffed in amusement, adding another tick in the column in my head that said she was perfect.

"I divorced this last May."

"Seeing anyone?" she boldly asked.

I chased down the rest of my bourbon, feeling it warm my stomach and give me courage. "Nope. You?"

She held up her left hand and wiggled the bare fingers for me. "Divorced almost five years. Was seeing someone for a while after, but he cheated, too. Haven't been on a date in over two years." She made a sour face but managed to soften it with a self-deprecating smile. "Pathetic, I know."

I sincerely looked her over. "You have so much to offer. Why hold back?"

Dark cinnamon orbs stared at me and she pursed her lips, and I could tell that she was contemplating telling me something important. "I think… it might be the same reason as you – fear of rejection."

I shook my head. "You, rejected? I would think it would be the other way around. You're bloody brilliant, dramatically eye-catching, and your heart seems to overflow with compassion and caring. I mean, you annually put on a charity event for sick children. How many people can say that? You're funny, you smell amazing, and you are a graceful dancer. A man would have to be a bleeding idiot not to fall for you."

Her answering grin was utterly engaging. "I'm also very brave, for having ridden a dragon once. You forgot that."

I patted her hand in mock punishment for her audacity and she took a long sip of her wine. "I was trying to be serious, Gr-g-girl."

Whoa, almost blew it!

Putting the glass down on the table, she sat back in her chair. "Tell me instead: what are your best attributes, Mr. Dragon? I know only that you've traveled through Europe with your son, that you like Quidditch overly much, that you're intellectual on a spread of subjects – all of which fascinate me, too. I know that you dance like someone who's had a lot of practice, that you're not married any longer," here her voice dropped into a husky timbre, "and that you cut a very fine figure in those clothes."

I stopped fiddling with my small, half-glass, locking gazes with her. There was a charged atmosphere between us that I could nearly taste on my tongue. "That all, angel?" I prodded, wondering what else she'd say. "Anything else about me you particularly like?"

She leaned forward in her chair and the little black bow that covered the middle of her dress, highlighting her cleavage, was begging for me to rip it off with my teeth. "I like that you paid attention to what I ordered to drink and that you offered me yours as an opening line," she admitted, licking her lips. "I liked that you were willing to meet my friends and give them a chance. I like how you walked me around this room several times and how you twirled me about the dance floor like it was natural." Her eyes boldly roamed my whole body, head to toe. "I like how you're sitting in that chair like you own the room. I like how intense your gray eyes are. I like how you call me, 'angel.' And I especially like that you're sitting there right now wondering what I would taste like if given the chance to sample me."

My heart skipped two beats, and everything inside stilled. My cock was a hard line in my leather pants, chafed by the need for freedom.

She tilted her head just so, and the naked length of her neck tantalizingly came into view. "Is there anything about me that you like?"

I nodded. "I like a lot about you, angel. I like the way you walk. You flirt and tease with your swaying hips and toned calves and pretty ankles, and I can't help but wonder what those amazing legs of yours would feel like wrapped around me." I leaned forward in my chair. "I like how your outfit begs me to play it seductive and take it off of you nice and slow, while simultaneously compelling me to shred it with my teeth." I placed my hand on her knee, gently smoothing over it with caressing circles. "I like how you knock me off my feet with that smart mind and tempting mouth of yours." My fingers very leisurely inched up her bare thigh. "I like how fearless you are to sit here and try to seduce me in a room full of people, most of whom are intently watching you. It makes me realize that you like to break rules." I leaned forward near her ear, careful not to let my mask scrape along her skin, but close enough so she could hear me. "You're fearless and sexy, and every one of my wet dreams rolled up into one. Do you know, angel, that I'm never again going to want a woman as much as I want you? You're going to haunt me all the rest of my days now."

She pressed those cherry-red lips to my exposed ear. "Take me out of here so we can be alone."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, I knew I couldn't do what she asked, and I sighed with resentment, angry at myself for letting things get this far, knowing that there was no chance for a future here as soon as the mask came off and the reality was revealed. I hated that I'd tainted this relationship before it had even started by being so foolish as a boy.

Pulling away, I regretfully shook my head, cupping her chin with my fingers. "Angel, once you find out who I am, all of this will change. You'll hex me and you'll walk out that door without a backward glance - and you'd be right to do so. Let's just… enjoy this time we have here, so at the end of the night, we'll go our separate ways without a bad thought to ruin this memory." It was the alcohol talking, I knew; it usually put me in a good mood at first, but the more I consumed, the darker my thoughts became. Right now, I was staring hard into the pit of despair.

Her hands flowed up my chest and around the back of my neck. "Do you know what else I like about you?" she continued the game, clearly ignoring my rejection of her incredible offer.

"No," I bitterly replied, wishing I'd never started this foul game, cursing this stupid bet.

I felt the ribbons on my mask tugged, fall apart under her fingers. "I like how you've tried to make amends for your past, Draco," she sincerely stated.

I jerked back in surprise - how had she known? - but her hold on me was tight enough to stop me, especially when she hopped out of her chair and spilled onto my lap, pinning me down. One of her hands slid around my throat and reached up to remove my mask. My heart beat so hard that I felt it stretch my ribs in its bid to escape the confines of my chest.

"I like that you come to every V-Day ceremony as a way of making penance," she continued, "even if you do stand in the back silent and unobtrusive. I like that you always visit Severus Snape's grave before you leave as a way of thanking him for all he did for you." The mask slipped off and into her hand and she pulled it away, revealing my face to her questing gaze. I felt a wandless, silent Finite Incantatum cast upon my hair through her fingertips, the tingling residual of her magic spilling down my back as my mane bled back to its natural color. "Much better," she happily sighed.

I shook my head and shut my eyes. "Granger, I-"

She put a finger over my lips to hush me. "I'm not finished yet. Let me get through my list, please." She primly cleared her throat. "Where was I? Oh, yes… I like that you knew who I was, and yet you've been willing to put away all of your past prejudice against my Muggle-born status – something that had been so important to you when we were children - to try for something with me tonight. It shows me how much you've grown and changed over the years." Her fingers ran through my hair, and her nails gently scrapped my scalp, causing shivers. "I like that you fought for your son against your nasty, cheating ex-wife. I saw the paperwork pass my desk when you filed it, but had to recuse myself from the proceedings because it would be a conflict of interest, given our past history. I paid close attention, though, I'll have you know. For four months, every day, you were in our offices, and you never gave up. It's clear to me that you love your son very much, and I admire your conviction to keep him. It's made me respect you in ways I'd never thought possible."

I felt my throat convulse around the lump that had formed there. My mind was a tornado-like spiral of thoughts and emotions. I'd vastly underestimated this witch, again. How much did she really know about me? When had she figured out my identity? What gave me away, and was this blatant seduction of my senses and my soul just a game to her – a revenge for the years I'd made her cry? Would she walk away once I'd admitted to wanting her so bad that it hurt?

Her lips lightly brushed mine, like an angel's kiss and I groaned, my hands magnetically drawn to touching her thighs and hips against my will. I was fourteen all over again, and this was the night of the Tri-Wizard Yule Ball instead, and I was unable to reconcile my thoughts for her again. Was she the Princess of my dreams, or my most hated enemy? Would she bring me Heaven or work me up, then leave me in Hell without satisfaction?

The answer came in her next breath.

"I'm glad I was convinced by a friend to make a move on you," she whispered, leaning into my ear. "I've been thinking about it for a couple of months. Besides, he's been absolutely relentless since your divorce about how you and I were a perfect match just waiting to happen. I think tonight proves he was right, don't you?"

Wrapping my arms about her waist, I pulled her in tight, groaning as she came into contact with my erection through my clothes. "You're sure?" I asked as I reached up to pull on the ribbon that held her mask in place, pausing with my fingers rubbing the silken length. "It's me, Granger. Are you absolutely sure you want to try for something here? What would your friends think?" I offered her the final out. "Last chance."

Her hand moved up to grip my wrist and stop me, and I felt an aching disappointment flood through my system. Had I, in fact, been made a sucker?

That beguiling smile reappeared. "It comes off in your bed tonight or not at all, Malfoy."

Too tempting, but I had to know where this was going before we budged an inch. The younger version of me would have jumped at the chance to pin her to the nearest wall and shag her senseless, and not cared about anything beyond that. However, the older, wiser, more circumspect Draco Malfoy wanted to know if this was going to be merely a one-off for her, or if she was hoping for more.

"Will you still be there tomorrow morning?"

Those rich, dark gold-mahogany eyes stared at me for a moment, and I watched with fascination as her throat jerked in a swallow of nervousness. Apparently, my angel was just as apprehensive as I was about crossing this particular line, knowing it would forever change us both. That fact made me like her all the more.

"I'd like to be," she admitted. "Would you mind?"

I shook my head without a second's pause. "I'm big on morning sex."

Her relief was evident in her eyes even as her mouth curved into a sinful smile. "Me, too."


We Apparated into my room through the wards, which recognized me and let me pass with my guest. For several long seconds, neither Hermione nor I moved as we adjusted to the realignment of our senses. Her sinuous arms were tightly wrapped about my neck, and her head was tilted back as she bravely met my gaze. I absorbed the moment, committed it to memory, recognized it for the gift it was, and then I leaned in and grabbed her lips, unable to wait any longer. I tossed my mask onto the floor without a second thought.

She tasted of the wine she'd been drinking, and her mouth was as soft and luscious as I'd believed. Her tongue, when it peeked out to play, was a teasing mistress that nearly brought me to my knees with its passion to mate mine.

I'd wanted to take the removal of our clothes slow, to savor every bit of our consensual, unified surrender, but that was explosively impossible when her lithe body rubbed up against mine and she groaned in a husky alto that resonated down my spine, making my dick harden to steel.

The zipper of her dress coming down in the back was as loud as our gasping, moaning enticements to each other. "Leave the shoes on," I bid as I backed her towards my bed, yanking the small, ribbon-like halter straps from her shoulder and pulling the dress off of her to reveal her bare, beautiful breasts. My mouth sought those perfect globes of flesh out with no delay as I lifted her effortlessly in my arms, hurrying us into the center of my mattress.

From this angle, lying back with her dark hair fanned out across my dark green satin coverlet, her curving, sexy body almost completely revealed to me, she was a tempting goddess. Golden, shimmering skin that tasted of sugar and honey from the fairy dust beckoned me to sample every inch, while a thin strip of satiny white cloth separated my eyes from her most intimate secret; I planned to take that offending little thing off with my mouth.

Her nimble fingers made quick work of my velvet jacket, and of the button and zip of my leather trousers. Those, unfortunately, were a little harder to remove, so I had to lean up on my knees to take them and my pants down. I shucked my shoes and socks and yanked everything off, tossing it aside. Completely nude for her for the first time, I oddly felt a moment's shyness as her eyes appraised me. That painted mouth – obviously charmed to keep its color for the night – smiled with wickedness, and she crooked a finger to coax me closer. I crawled over her until my bobbing cock hovered over her midriff, as she wanted.

The first stroke of her warm fingers over my shaft had me shaking. I was so hard it hurt, and just that little touch sent me spiraling closer to release. Slytherin help me, I prayed I didn't spill my seed simply from her touch like some adolescent teen with no control. That enticing hand stroked up and down, nice and tight and slow - just as I liked. She hummed in approval, letting her exploring hand cover the entire length and width of my penis, down over my sac, cupping and rolling it, then up the entire length again to swipe over the weeping tip, spreading my slick response across the pink crown.

"Fuck," I shuddered.

Her free hand touched my pecs, smoothed up my throat to my cheek, enticing me to look into her eyes again. "It really has been two years for me," she admitted, and I liked the bashful blush that ran up her neck and into her cheeks. "I wasn't exaggerating."

I nodded. "About that long for me, too." Astoria had cut me out of her bed about that time, and she'd soured me to the idea of getting involved with any woman again for far too long.

Hermione's naughty grin gave me only seconds warning that she was up to no good, as she got her elbows under her. "Let's make up for lost time, then, shall we?"

When she engulfed my cock in the hot, wet cavern of her mouth, I threw my head back on my shoulders and cried out in ecstasy. Unwitting, my hips pulsed forward to meet the back of her throat. Gods above, that felt divine! Her delicate hands pushed me into sitting back on my knees as she came forward, flowing along with me into a much better angle for us both. She bent her head to take me deep in a single pass.

"Oh, gods! Hermione!"

I was mumbling a string of incoherent ramblings as my fingers ran through that luxurious, caramel-amber-dark chestnut hair and guided her over my length again and again. Looking down, watching my shaft sink between those lips… I reached the edge too fast and gently tried to pull her off. "I'll come," I warned her, but she bucked my attempts to stop her, pulling my hands to her lovely breasts and encouraging me to play instead. I did as she bade as she continued to suck with that same, insistent pressure she'd done with the straw earlier that evening when finishing her Peppermint Stick drink.

Her mounds were glorious, soft and round under my palms, and her rosy-beige nipples were ripe for plucking, taut and desperate for my attention. I gave it, swaying my hips at the same time, pulling on those little buds with a bit of pressure, drawing them out from her body until she whimpered. The vibration shot through my shaft, making my balls tighten.

"I'm so close, Hermione," I murmured and gasped as her silky, wet tongue twined around my flesh on the pull-out. "You don't have to-"

As her mouth slid faster over me, she gripped my hips, digging her nails in. It was her signal for me to shut the hell up and let her do as she wished. I got it. I gave in.

It had been too many years since a woman had done this for me. Astoria had never wanted to try, and the last girl… Shite, had it really been when I was twenty-one? I loved getting a blowjob, and I hadn't realized until just then how much I'd missed it. To me it was such an erotic thing to do, not dirty or nasty, but sexy. It required me to submit to my woman's attentions, told me that she liked me enough to want to please me, forced me to relinquish everything and just trust. That it was Gryffindor's former Princess, Hermione Granger, sucking me off now…

That did it. With a final surge into her mouth, I came hard. Shooting across her tongue, down her throat, I felt her swallow around my tip, sucking deep to encourage every drop from me. She hummed in pleasure again, and that tremor made my sac pulse, pumping more semen into her.

I could have happily died right then, my cock in her mouth, my seed sliding down her throat to fill her belly, her eagerness to please me evident in the way she held her mouth as far down as she could, and pressed in close. My hands smoothed through her curls again, and I lovingly rubbed her as she pulled away, seeming reluctant to part with my flesh. She even placed a rather adorably chaste kiss to the tip in farewell as she leaned back and away.

I could feel her insecurity begin two seconds later – not at what we'd done, but at how I'd view her after she'd given me the blow of my life. In an effort to ease her distress, I pulled the ribbon away on her mask and lay her back into my mattress, aligning our bodies so I wouldn't crush her with my weight, but so I could look her in the eye. I cradled my tired penis against the tiny pair of knickers that still modestly covered her up, and pulled the mask off her face, setting it aside.

She was so beautiful - every bit of her, inside and out. Why had I never noticed before how enchanting she was?

Well, actually, I knew the answer: because I'd been too wrapped up in my own internal brooding about my past mistakes to seriously consider her as a potential for a relationship. To be fair, though, never in my wildest dreams could I have ever predicted I'd end up falling for her, though, and in such a short period of time, too.

My heart gave a lurch as our eyes danced across each other, the same wariness reflected in both our faces. I ghosted my fingers over her cheeks, caressing her with tenderness to ease her discomfiture. "My turn," I tried to ease the tension by promising her attentive reciprocation.

Utilizing all of my skill, I methodically laved my way down her body, concentrating on discovering, and then exploiting every spot on her neck and shoulders that elicited a reaction, marking her further downward with nips and bites, suckling upon her puckered and willing nipples. I licked the crevices of her elbows as I'd wanted, and over the sensitive parts of her wrists and hands. I stripped her of her knicks with my teeth, as I'd secretly promised I would, exposing her to my hot stare by opening her legs wide to my attentions. She had the prettiest pussy I'd ever seen. I lapped at those delicious, rosy lower lips and tickled her clit, flicking and nursing on it until she creamed hard on my tongue.

Her flavor was delicious, her scent enticing, and I was obsessed with it, bringing her again this way, the second time also piercing her tiny opening with two fingers to prepare her. By then, however, I was roaring to go again, so when she orgasmed, with a quick move and a last adjustment, I slid my solid cock into her still-convulsing channel, nice and smooth, joining us to the hilt. I stilled only when every inch of my penis was enveloped in her velvet, honeyed heat. We kissed for that motionless minute, and I was surprised to discover that she actually enjoyed sampling her tangy-sweetness upon my tongue.

When she began lapping the last of her juices from my chin, I found I was unable to bear the idleness any longer. I needed to move, to fuck her as we both wanted. I pulled back to begin establishing our rhythm - the one that would uniquely belong only to us.

Surging into her with long, thick strokes, with measured lunges that had me withdrawing nearly to the tip, only to bury back into her liquid, silken canal on the next hard plunge, I discovered the perfect cadence and force for us. Comfortable with that rhythm, I found her sweet spot next by tilting my hips just so and caressing her clit at the same time with my thumb, transforming her delightful mewling into wild, begging cries in moments. Wantonly, she pleaded for me to go deeper, to slam harder, to take her faster, and once again, I gave her all that she wanted without a second thought. Grabbing one of her legs, I pulled it over my waist, and began pounding as she wished, while in my chest, my heart slammed a beat that was timed to our melding bodies.

As we mounted our shared pleasure, I kissed her with all of my gratitude for this opportunity, with all of my wishes for us to do this again, and with all of my emerging, romantic feelings for her into her mouth, wanting her to experience my full desire for her. To my astonished wonder, she took my offering and gave it back to me with equal measure.

"Gods, you are so amazing," I moaned, as I pulled my face back to watch the changes in her expression as her climax hovered on the brink. She tightened around me, pulling my body in closer, murmuring my name over and over. I was entranced by the fire in her eyes, by the very thin sheen of sweat above her lip and upon her brow, by how her cheeks matched her lipstick. "Hermione, come for me."

She nodded and whimpered as she reached her end at my bidding. Gripping my shoulders tight, tossing her head back and arching her spine, she obeyed in an explosion of powerful, constricting pulses that pulled me in as deep as I could go, and she shouted my name in rapture. I came with her a second later, forcibly dragged over the edge by her orgasm, pumping my seed into her hot, tight sheath. I called to her, pressing my face into her throat, and found Heaven in my angel's arms.

I've never been a romantic like Greg or Theo or even, in his own screwed-up way, Blaise, and yet there I lay, limply sprawled across Hermione Granger in the panting aftermath of the greatest, most meaningful sex of my life, unable to even gather the strength to roll off (not that she would have let me, so tightly was she clasped around me now), and I felt my heart call out for this amazing witch in my arms.

How it was possible to fall in love in one night? Did she feel the same? Could she?

She nuzzled my neck and let out a contented sigh. "I'd bet myself that it would be mind-blowing with you," she whispered around a yawn. "Seems my instincts were spot-on."

Letting out a tired huff of amusement, I managed to regain enough energy to soothingly stroke over her hair. "I could say the same. I think my head is stuck on Cloud Nine."

Pressing small kisses along my skin, she practically purred with satisfaction. "So, you still want me here in the morning, then?"

I nodded. "Stay as long as you want, angel. I could definitely get used to this every day and night."

That hum of happiness she gave had my libido stirring again. Pressing her lips to my ear, she breathed a sultry invitation that had me hardening inside of her. "So, Draco, the next time you fuck me," she drew out the profanity to make it sound like the wickedest of phrases, "can I take the heels off?"

Miracle of miracles! Despite having already come twice in less than an hour, apparently my body forgot it was thirty, believing itself to be sixteen instead.

Growling with renewed excitement, I bit down over her pulse with just the right pressure, my body surging back to life. I grabbed her thigh and tucked it tight around my waist, rolling my hips. She let out a gasp of delight. "Not tonight you can't," I denied her request. "Tonight, Granger, I'm going to fuck you," I pulled the same vocal trick she did, and I pulled my face away to watch how those two dirty, little words made her light up, "with them on, in a variety of ways. And tomorrow night, you can wear a different pair for me - something in red, to commemorate your Gryffindor conquest, if you'd like."

That enigmatic smile was back, making my cock harder than granite in a second. "And the night after?"

I nodded as I thrust deep and hard into her, held still a moment, then pulled back to repeat. "Dark green, to honor the fallen Slytherin in me."

Her gasping moans punctuated each of my driving lunges. "And the night after that?"

"Gold, to match the highlights in your eyes."

We continued the game until we were both too breathless to speak, entwining our hands and our hearts up together at the same time as losing our senses to a multiple of sinful, carnal delights.


"Aren't they just so cute? I told you they'd make a fantastic pair!"

My eyelid twitched open to behold a sight that had me quickly sitting up and assuring Hermione was adequately covered up. "Motherfuckers!" I hissed low to my three peeping friends, not wanting to wake my lady up. She'd had a rather busy night, what with coming under my thorough attentions another three times before dawn. "Get the hell out of here!"

Blaise grinned, Theo beamed with quixotic joy, and Greg simply blushed, looking anywhere but at the bed.

"We just came to see how things went," Zabini whispered and pointed to the love bites all up and down my neck. "Guess you won the bet, huh?"

I shook my head, glanced at Hermione, who was still very much asleep, and indicated the door. "Later. Noon lunch at Poseidon's. Scram."

The trio of troublemakers did as I bade as quietly as possible, with Theo throwing a last wink over his shoulder at me. "You're welcome, beloved. Enjoy her!" he cheered, shutting the door behind him.

I let out a sigh of relief, and turned to my companion. Somehow, I'd ended up squished into a small allotment of the mattress, while she lay sprawled over the larger portion of the King-sized area. She'd also managed to hog most of the covers, as well as the pillows, her long, curly hair flung all about as if she already owned my entire bed. Funny enough, I didn't mind in the least. In fact, I found it rather amusing and endearing.

If this wasn't real love happening, I didn't know what to call it.

Waking her as I'd promised (my morning wood sore, but firmly in attendance), I took her from behind, entering her still-damp channel with a quick tilt of her hips and an easy, gliding shove. She came awake soon after, moaning as I brought her into full awareness with my insistent adoration.

"Morning, my angel," I murmured in her ear, kissing the delicate lobe.

She stretched and tightened around me. "Morning, my dragon," she smiled.

Happy at being referred to as 'hers,' I passionately thrust into her to the hilt.

"Oooh, yes, like that!" she keened. "Don't stop!"

We played most of the morning away in such a manner, delightfully pleasuring each other, and giving no thought whatsoever to the repercussions.

"Morning sex is the best," she sighed in limp contentment hours later. "In fact, sex with you is pretty fantastic. I've decided to keep you."

I kissed her temple, gently trailing my fingers up and down her arm. "Happy Christmas to me," I cheekily grinned.



September 26th, 2011 (exactly nine months + 1 day later)

"He's beautiful," I whispered in awe, lightly touching the fuzz of dark, curly hair on my newborn son's little head.

I'd completely missed out on Scorpius' birth. That fateful October, Astoria had stolen from her separate bedroom in the middle of the night, gone to St. Mungo's without alerting a soul, and then owl'd me later that next morning to let me know my son had been born.

This time, though, I'd had a front-row seat for all of the awful beauty that was bringing a new life into the world, and it had been the most profound experience of my life.

I kissed my wife with as much tenderness as I could impart. "Thank you, angel."

Ours had been a rather rushed General Registry Office wedding as soon as it had become apparent that someone had forgotten to cast the Contraceptive Charm the night we'd first gotten together and shagged like bunnies. Oddly enough, neither of us had really been upset by the 'accident.' In fact, Hermione and I had taken it in stride, decided to call it official, and simply popped down to the Ministry to make it legal because, by then, there was no denying that we were very much in love.

We clunked foreheads. "Well, I didn't do it alone, I can assure you," she tiredly joked. "You helped, somewhat."

"Are we still naming him what we agreed?" I asked.

She nodded. "If you want."

I thought it was a capital idea, actually. "Scorpius got stuck with the family naming tradition, so I think little Theodore Blaise Gregory Malfoy here would be quite fine with his escape from that mold, named for his godfathers instead."

That beautiful, mysterious smile crept over her face. "You know what this means, don't you?"

I shook my head. "No, what?"

One delicate, dark eyebrow crept upward as she smirked. "He'll be the only Gryffindor in history to be named for four Slytherins."

My jaw hit the floor. "Gryffindor? Are you kidding? His chances of being sorted into your old House are slim-to-none. You're more Slytherin than I am!"

She affected an innocent expression. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, darling."

I assessed her for half a minute before deciding to 'out' her rather brilliant, most assuredly Slytherin-like manipulations.

"I'm talking about Astoria relenting in her custody battle for Scorpius without a fuss one day, out of the blue - a day that just happened to coincide with the both of you returning from a holiday in the French Riviera," I stated. "A jaunt, I'm told by your lovely co-worker, you decided to take on the spur of the moment - camera firmly in hand - when the request to reschedule my son's custody hearing crossed your desk." I smirked at the blush that ran up my wife's cheeks.

I continued my relentless exposure of the truth, watching my wife's face all the while, noting the subtle changes that gave away a guilty conscience.

"As you are no doubt aware, darling, it was required back then that I receive a copy of all official documents in that case, and so when I was digging around in my old files, I actually found that paperwork. I thumbed through it, re-reading it all to make sure everything had been done properly, so Astoria could never exploit a loophole. And wouldn't you know, I found a rather queer fact that made bells go off in my head: it seems my ex-wife's return from that trip to France was actually three days earlier than she'd indicated on the request to delay the hearing form, and it also coincided with the same day that she'd signed the Official Relinquishment of Parental Rights form, giving up all custody of Scorpius to me."

I spun one of Hermione's curls around my index finger, grinning like a mad cat at her, enjoying the play of emotions across her face.

"Now, when I started to wonder what might have motivated my vicious ex to not only return home from her trip early, but also to immediately sign away all ability to make my life hell, I started poking my nose around your office to find out if something nefarious had gone on that might jeopardize my custody rights," I confessed. "Did you know that your office colleague is chock full of interesting tidbits about you, darling? Information she'll willingly give up for a smile and some flattering words. She told me all about your short, impromptu holiday to the French Riviera - including the dates of your absence. She even showed me some lovely, standard touristy images of the beaches you gave to her upon your return. Let me tell you: I was quite surprised to note that your days off during that trip had just happen to coincide with Astoria's."

Hermione's eyes went wide and she swallowed, knowing she'd been thoroughly caught in a wrong-doing. "Not in front of the baby, dear."

I chuckled at her attempt to deflect. "He's apparently inherited your penchant to sleep through the sun exploding. Hoorah for us!" I pushed the curled strand of long hair over her ear and let it unwind from my finger. "I'm guessing that you took terrible sympathy on my plight, having seen and heard Astoria for many months coming in and out of your office, knowing that she never had Scorpius' best interests at heart and that I did. Taking up the mantle of 'the righteous savior' once more, you decided to step in, followed her to France, got some rather incriminating pictures of her and her lover, Marcus Flint, engaged in some of their more… interesting entertainments… and threatened to go public with them if she insisted upon her claim just to spite me."

My wife was biting her bottom lip now; Hermione only ever did that when she knew she was in trouble. "I… well, I needed the holiday for... um, for health reasons, you see. I was suffering from unresolved job rage. Besides, what you suggest sounds horribly unprofessional for any sensible person to do - which I ever am. Just ask anyone. It might even jeopardize your custody case, allowing it to be reopened, if it were ever determined to be true. And I shudder to consider the criminal repercussions for such illegal acts…"

I nodded with all seriousness, trying to keep the smirk off my face and spectacularly failing. "Yes, I suppose it's a much bigger trouble to get into than, say, entrapping and blackmailing an unregistered Animagus." I'd heard about that little scheme against that rotten skag, Rita Skeeter, from Potter. Brilliant really – and my wife had only been fifteen at the time!

She cleared her throat. "That might be a toss-up, for one seems to involve a form of kidnapping, while the other appears to be an abuse of a public office and coercion."

I chuckled, amused by her artful dodge-and-weave tactics. My Hermione had been quite the law-breaker in her youth, it seemed, if even half of the stories I'd heard over the last nine months from Potter and his wife were to be believed. I thank Merlin everyday she hadn't been on Voldemort's side in the war.

"All right, then how about this instead," I attempted a different tactic. "That 'friend' who convinced you to make a move on me that night at the Yule Charity Ball - I've puzzled it all out. It was Nott."

Theo, who had been hired as the interior designer on this charity event for the last half decade had worked alongside Hermione Granger, obviously, as she'd been the coordinator of the entire event since its inception. They'd obviously formed a close friendship in all that time (something Theo tended to do with most ladies, as they all found his flirtatious gayness to be fun and charming). My best friend had always meddled in my personal life, wanting to see me settled and happy with a girl, since he knew it couldn't be with him. He'd disliked Astoria from the first moment they'd met (I should have listened to his good intuition then), and had continually threatened to one day find the woman of my dreams for me. I always thought he'd been joking.

And that night nine months back, my effeminate friend had shown an extreme concern with my appearance, fussing about me more than usual. I'd thought it was simply because I'd agreed to finally consider the dating scene again in general, but it seemed he'd had a specific agenda then: he'd wanted me to look my best for Hermione, the girl he was trying to set me up with.

"Once you agreed to Teddy's plan to set us up, he brought in Blaise and Greg, knowing they'd be interested in seeing me hooked-up and happy, too, and that the extra pressure would work to get me where I needed to be on the appointed date," I explained.

In retrospect, what gave them all away was that Blaise had been far too encouraging.

"Just go ask her to dance. See where it goes from there… Take this to her and I guarantee you'll have an opening. That is one seriously yummy drink… That's now how this game is played, Drake. You've elected to take your two rejections up-front. Third time's the charm. You know that."

No one in their right mind – especially Mister Gamble-o-holic - would have wanted to see me succeed if it meant losing out on a few hundred galleons in a bet.

"Picking my former sister-in-law and the She-Weasel as the first two women for me to approach had been a ruse to force me to disqualify two options up-front," I laid it all out with some measure of smugness. "That way, I'd have had no choice but to take Greg's third option, which just happened to be you, oh-sneaky-wife-of-mine."

"I spy... Santa's pretty helper."

That had clearly been a coached line. Greg wasn't the meddling type, in general, and he'd always hated playing the "I spy" game back when we'd tramped through Muggle clubs together.

My wife's cheeks turned ruddy with her mortification at being found out.

I leered at her, licking my lips at the thought of how delicious Hermione's deviousness was. It turned me on to know the lengths she'd gone to, the hoops she'd jumped so we could be together. "You got Potter and his wife to come to the Ball so they could give you a second opinion, though, still unsure as to whether it was a good idea to date me. I know he recognized me even then, and yet he hadn't seemed too surprised that I stood at your side. Obviously, he'd been forewarned you might be bringing me by for a 'test run.' You wanted to see if I could make nice with your friends. I take it I passed?"

She nodded, but we both knew I had, so it was really a rhetorical question.

"And Thomas," I concluded, "You hired him as the barkeep and convinced him in advance to listen in on my conversation with my friends. If at any time he didn't like what he'd heard, he was to give me a copy of the drink you didn't order – the lemon one – to give to you when you came back to the bar. That would be your signal that I was 'sour.' If he thought I was a right fellow, I was to get the Peppermint Stick to give over to you, signaling to you that I was 'sweet,' so to speak."

Sighing in admitted defeat, my wife gave me a small bow of her neck. "Finally, I am unmasked! My husband is, indeed, Slytherin's Greatest Prince to have figured it all out."

I kissed her full on the mouth, claiming my prize. "And you, wife, are my Slytherin-like Princess whom I love and adore for her veiled guile."

We sat up for a little while longer, watching our son coo in his sleep, and then family and friends were allowed to trickle in to join us in our silent twenty-four hour vigil of our child's first day of life, per tradition. An exhausted Scorpius - who had been awake all night through the labor, sitting with Narcissa and Lucius out in the hallway, demanding to stay nearby and resolutely awake for when his sibling came - climbed determinedly up onto my lap, kissed his little brother, welcoming him into the world.

"Hi, mama," he kissed my wife on the cheek. "You okay?"

Scorpius had taken to Hermione as if she'd belonged to him from the beginning, his little heart desperate for her love - and she'd given it freely and in full bounty, assuaging my concerns about her acceptance of a child from another marriage. I knew after their first meeting that I'd found the woman I'd spend my life with by the way she played with my son like he was of her own flesh and blood.

"Mama's fine, little love," she reassured him, kissing him on the forehead. "Look who finally came out to stay! This is your little brother, Theodore."

Scorpius looked at the baby and smiled. "He has a funny name, but he's quiet, so I like him." He proceeded to snuggle back into my arms and give a wide yawn. He placed a protective hand upon Theo's tiny body, and promptly fall asleep.

As I took in the company that crowded the room then - Theo (quietly crying in joy, and holding his boyfriend's hand), Blaise and Pansy (who were eyeing each other; it was clear they'd shagged and were awkwardly feeling their way around that to decide what they wanted next), Greg (who was still single and looking, but happy nonetheless), Harry and Ginny (who had become my enthusiastic Quidditch buddies after we'd attended practically every World Cup match leading up to and including the finals this past summer), my parents and Hermione's parents (who stood shoulder-to-shoulder, despite their blood differences; I was fairly proud of Lucius for that capitulation), as well as the entire Weasley clan, including Ron (all of whom had come mostly for Hermione's sake, I knew, but were there nonetheless), I realized something profound: at thirty-one (and this time without my father's nagging prompt), I had finally discovered that which had eluded me for so many years… my life's most important achievement…

The love and acceptance of family and friends.



Yes, I made a shameless plug to my other fanfic, "La Cerise: The Sweetest Cherry" in this , but I couldn't resist. ^_^

Got the idea for the wands' woods and cores here: www . wizardwands . net

Draco's 2nd wand:

*NOTE: Draco's 1st wand (the one he got at Ollivander's when he was 11 yrs. old) is revealed by JKR as Hawthorne wood with unicorn hair core. You can see a picture of the one used by Draco in the movies (and reproduced for retail sale by The Noble Collection) here: http:/ / www . noblecollection . com

Black Limba wood: Draws off the element of earth. A strong woods used for defending and repelling dark being magic or casting powerful hexes. A neutral wood indifferent to the will of its owner. Excellent for defensive spells, charms and hexes.

Serpent Scale: The serpent is a mystical creature often misrepresented in literature. Dangerous and stealthy, the serpent was summoned to guard and defend ancient temples or places of power. They have the power to heal, poison or provide expanded consciousness, which would make a wise choice for one who wishes to brew potions or cast defensive spells. A serpent scale would make an excellent companion to woods that draw off the element of earth and water.

Hermione's 2nd wand:

*Note: Hermione's 1st wand (the one she got at Ollivander's when she was 11 yrs. old) is revealed by JKR as Vine wood with dragon heartstring core. You can see a picture of the one used by Hermione in the movies (and reproduced for retail sale by The Noble Collection) here: http:/ / www . noblecollection . com

*NOTE: Hermione had used Bellatrix Lestrange's wand (see a picture of it here: http:/ / www. noblecollection . com) after she'd lost her Vine wood wand to the Snatchers (JKR wrote that into the novels, if you'll recall). Whatever happened to Bellatrix's borrowed wand and Hermione's 1st wand (the Vine wood) were never revealed by JKR, however. I am assuming, based upon Hermione's character (as established in the books) that she'd not want to hold onto Bellatrix's wand or use it for longer than necessary, so she would have replaced it most certainly. Hence her 2nd wand in this fic.

Blood Wood: A fierce companion for those of a passionate nature. Draws off the element of fire. Recommended for one with experience and discipline. This is a wood of strength and energy. Will produce potent magic out of love or anger. Excellent for increasing magnetism in rituals.

Dragon Heartstring: A creature of legend, the dragon symbolizes wisdom and longevity. The dragon is fierce and strong, and would make a ferocious enemy or marvelous friend. The heartstring of a dragon would be a wise choice for one who wishes to cast extraordinary hexes or defensive spells. Would also make an excellent companion to woods that feed off the element of fire.

Narcissa's 1st wand:

*NOTE: Narcissa's wand is never discussed in the novels, and not revealed for its materials in the movies, although The Noble Collection did manufacture copies of the wand Narcissa used in the movies for retail sale. It looks to be made of dark, solid, not very porous wood, hence the reason I chose the materials for it below. You can see an image of her wand here: http:/ / www . noblecollection . com

Elm Wood: A wood of femininity. Draws off the element of earth. A strong, neutral wood that can be used for protection or hexes. Seeks a companion of strength. Excellent for destructive spells, protection, and defensive magic.

Manticore Hair: The manticore is an intelligent yet ferocious creature. With the brave heart of a lion and the cunning head of a human, the manticore is not a beast to be trifled with. A manticore hair would be a wise choice for one who wishes to cast dangerous hexes or miraculous charms. It would make an excellent companion to woods that draw of the element of earth, as the manticore dwells in the depths of dark forests.

Although Mr. Ollivander's given name is never given in any format, I chose to give homage to the fine actor who plays him in the movies, Mr. John Hurt, by giving the character Mr. Hurt's first name. Hope that's okay with you!

In case you were confused by the Quidditch World Cup dates being reset, here they are: Summer 1994, Summer 1998 (cancelled), Summer 1999 (rescheduled date for previous cancelled game), Summer 2003, Summer 2007, Summer 2011, etc. Make sense?

There was an old Victorian Era custom that stated that a baby's chances of surviving the first year and beyond was dependent upon how much love he/she received within the first 24 hours after their birth, so it was often a tradition for family and friends to come and stay with the baby and his/her parents for as long as possible during that timeframe, talking and being merry and praying for good wishes to God for the child's health and happiness. They called it 'the sitting,' hence where we get the term, 'babysitting.'