Chapter 24 – The one where people have naked conversations, in every conceivable way

Or, if there were a sympathy of choice
War, death, or sickness may lay siege to it,
Making it momentary a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both Heaven and Earth,
And ere of a man has the power to say, 'Behold!'
The jaws of death do devour it up,
The quick, bright things come to confusion.

Lysander to Hermia – A Midsummer Night's Dream

"What do you think you're doing?" Hermione squeaked while sitting up on the bed.

Draco Malfoy had already removed his shirt and toed off his shoes. He was unbuckling his belt and unzipping his trousers. He pulled the belt out of the belt loops with a loud 'whoosh' and threw it over his shoulder. Then the trousers slipped easily down his legs. "I'm getting comfortable, and you?"

She shook her head in confusion. "And me 'what'?" She scrambled to the edge of the bed and dangled her legs down the side.

"What are you doing?" he clarified, removing one black sock and then the other. Hooking his thumbs in the waistband of his shorts, she covered her face with her hands.

She heard the wisp of fabric against his legs. Then she felt the bed dipping behind her. He was apparently on top of the bed, completely naked. She decided she wasn't so pissed that she couldn't enjoy the view, so she lowered her hands, and turned her head to peer over her shoulder.

Draco was leaning against the headboard, in a half-recline position, ready for action it would appear (by the state of his erection). She threw a pillow on his lap and moved to mirror his pose, still fully clothed.

"Please, Draco," she implored, "We've made our decision, and it probably wasn't the right one, but your child is more important than us. We have to be unselfish. We can't vacillate now. I need you to be strong with this, because once in my life I find that I can't… I can't be the strong one this time."

Draco said, "I see a pissed Granger is morose and sullen. Good to know for future reference. Now let me tell you something, little lion. I'm not going to go through with marrying Astoria if it causes you pain. I don't mind having pain myself, in fact, I rather think I deserve it, but you don't."

He moved to sit a bit more upright, his muscles and tendons rippling as he did. He seemed lithe and graceful. She hated him right now, but she loved him even more.

Hermione stood from the bed, removed all of her clothing save for her knickers and bra, and said, "I can't believe I'm doing this." She sat back down beside him. "Have you ever heard of a quote by Shakespeare about 'quick, bright things'?"

He reached over and brushed her hair from her shoulder. "I believe so. From A Midsummer's Night Dream, yes?"

"Yes." She grabbed his hand in both of hers. "I always liked that expression, even though it's brief, it's to the point. Our relationship is sort of like that… quick and bright. It started quickly, with instant passion and enough wattage to light an entire town."

"How is this relevant?" he asked, pulling his hand from hers, but then quickly grabbing one back so he could hold it in his.

"Don't you see, Malfoy?" she beseeched. "We're like two characters in a Shakespeare play. I don't know if our story is a comedy or tragedy, but I do know that it's a major farce. It happened too quickly – almost unrealistically – just like the characters from his stories. A man sees a woman from across the room… falls instantly in love… goes to her balcony and proclaims that love. Of course, she falls instantly in love with him, too."

"I think you're getting your Shakespeare plays confused. The quote is from one, but you're comparing our story to that of Romeo and Juliet, and I don't like that. For one thing, I have no intention of killing myself, and I won't let you die, either."

She made a small mewing sound of frustration, pulled her hand from his grasp and said, "But our relationship is a farce, Malfoy! We all called Ron and Astoria's wedding a farce, but this is the true farce! It's false and not meant to be."

He threw the pillow that was on his lap to the side. "To be or not to be, that is the question," he quoted. "Now let me tell you something, Miss Granger. So what if I fell in love with you quickly? That doesn't mean it's not real. That doesn't mean it's not meant to be. I saw you at the damn engagement party not so long ago, we talked and even flirted, oddly enough I quoted Shakespeare to you and I decided right then I wanted to get to know you better, because yes, I felt a spark… 'Quick, bright things'."

He started to say something else but she interrupted. "We're like Romeo and Juliet! We fell in love too fast! One look and you were over the moon! One kiss and I was gone! I've never felt like this before! And it's highly unfair that a stupid little piece of parchment with a stupid custody agreement written on it can stop us, but it has!"

Draco hung his head and sighed. "This isn't a conversation to have nude," he decided. Moving to his feet, he found his boxers, slipped them on, threw a silk robe to her and said, "Join me." He opened the door to the balcony and sat down in a chair in the corner.

Slipping the robe over her knickers and bra, Hermione walked out to the balcony and sat on the arm of his chair.

"You know, little lion, it's grossly unfair to compare us to Romeo and Juliet. For one thing, Romeo loved someone else until he saw fair Juliet across a ballroom. I, on the other hand, can unequivocally tell you that I've never been in love until now. I know you feel the same. I'd also hate to think of ending up dead like Romeo and Juliet. That wouldn't be pleasant at all." He leaned over and kissed her shoulder, then pulled her down to his lap.

She let out a strangled sob and said, "So it doesn't strike you as odd that I came here a few days ago engaged to one man, fell in love with you, became engaged to you, and then gave you up so easily?"

"That last bit is odd," he said lightly. "The Granger I knew growing up never gave up on anything. She persevered and if there was a hurdle in her way and she couldn't find a way over it, she'd go under it, or around it. She didn't give up. Why then, does it feel as if you're giving up on us?"

"I have a headache," she replied, placing her cheek on his shoulder. "In a garden full of blooming flowers, I picked you, for better or worse, so I won't give up so easily. I'm sorry I've been acting strangely. I might have had too much wine at lunch."

"Are you calling me a bloom?" he asked, a smile gracing his handsome face.

Raising her head she asked, "Is that all you heard? I said that I'm going to stick by you, you stupid idiot."

"Now I'm a blooming idiot," Draco said with another grin. "Shall I wax poetically about how I saw you in the garden at Penelope's house, the night of her engagement party, and my heart almost stopped beating? That you think you followed me outside, but I lured you out there with the sheer hope of my future dreams. With all that I am and with all that I shall ever be, I shall never be happy without you." His fingertips were gliding up and down her arm. "This brings me back to what I said before, if this is causing you too much pain, we'll find another way. I won't remarry Astoria."

She placed a hand on his cheek. "The main reason you wanted to marry was to obtain custody of your daughter. You can't do that by marrying me."

Draco replied, "I won't marry anyone then. I'll let Fiona continue to live with my parents. I'll see her often. And you and I can still be together, and after Fiona is of age, we'll marry."

Hermione laughed even as tears sprung to her eyes. "We'll be so old," she said with a grin, although a single tear raced down her cheek. "You would then hold the distinct title of 'the man I was engaged to the longest' instead of 'the man I was engaged to the shortest'."

"I'm ignoring that comment." He pulled her closer and kissed the single tear on her cheek. "You know back at lunch, Corner had the right of it when he said you were beautiful. You are, and I love you more than I thought possible."

"You do realize he only said those things to make me feel better, there's nothing between us any longer. I only want to marry you."

Suddenly, she pushed away from his chest and threw her arms in the air. In Hermione Granger fashion, she stood from his lap and began to pace back and forth. "THIS IS MADNESS! I love you and want to marry you on Sunday just as we had planned! I'm a smart woman! Smarter than stupid Lucius Malfoy…" she turned to Draco and said, "No offense intended."

He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Believe me, no offense taken. You can call him stupid. At least you only called me an idiot."

"I'm ignoring that comment," she said, repeating what he had told her. "It's too bad we can't pretend you're still going to marry Astoria, and then do something insane, like, tell your father that he should grant you custody, fully and unequivocally, before your wedding, as a sign of good faith, and then at the last minute you pull the old switcheroo and under the veil is none other than the woman you love, and the woman you want to marry, me."

Draco stood up so fast he almost stumbled. "WHY CAN'T WE DO THAT?" he shouted. "It's perfect, and I have no compunction about lying to the old man. He's done it to me enough, but do the custody papers give him leeway to do such a thing?"

Hermione sat down in his chair. "The custody papers he presented to us might not, but they're the original papers signed by the Parkinsons. They stated that unless you married a pureblood, Fiona would stay with your father. But I bet anything Lucius wouldn't take the chance that his granddaughter might not stay with them, especially with Pansy still walking and breathing. I would almost bet your life that he has a new custody agreement granting him full rights to Fiona."

Hermione leaned forward in the chair and continued. "The papers Mr. Parkinson signed over were very deliberate in its wording. It said that you couldn't have custody unless you married a pureblood. But in the interim, there had to be papers that granted full custody of Fiona to your father, because a little codicil in the original papers wouldn't be enough to grant Lucius full parental rights!"

"Why didn't Corner think of this?" Draco pulled her up by her hands so she was standing in front of him.

"He might have just assumed, as I did at first, that the custody papers your father showed us were the only ones there were, but I bet my life this time that the original custody papers became null and void the moment your father obtained custody!" Now Hermione seemed excited.

"It will be tricky to convince the old man into signing over custody before the wedding," Draco said.

"Then let him do it afterwards," Hermione said with a smile. "We'll have Michael draw up the new papers, and the wording can be such that custody will be transferred from your father and mother to you and YOUR WIFE! It wouldn't matter who the wife was at that point. It means you and Astoria will have to continue to be lovey-dovey until Sunday, and then on the day of the wedding, I'll be the woman under the veil, not her! We won't reveal anything until the last minute!"

"I think I like the sinister side to you," Draco said lazily. "But doesn't the officiate have to say our names? If he calls you 'Astoria' I hardly think it would be legal. You could always marry me under Polyjuice potion." He laughed.

She didn't. "I'll marry you as myself, thank you, but we can't tell anyone but Astoria and Michael. All this means is that you simply have to get him to sign her over to you BEFORE the wedding, not after. Agreed?"

Draco threw his arms around her and kissed the side of her neck. "I agree. Now may we make love?"

He pulled her into his arms. As he held her, she realized that this was the man she would love for a lifetime. Against impossible odds, two people who were once enemies were now lovers. How could she not love him? He wanted to make her happy. She had yet to be engaged to someone who put her happiness first – and this coming from the most selfish man she knew.

She pushed away from his chest to gaze into his eyes. "I've wanted to marry someone like you for a very long time and I'm not giving that up, ever. And while I'm not certain we should make love right now while we have so many things to do, I would be happy to make love to you."

"Happy indeed," he quipped, taking her by the hand and leading her back into her bedroom.

Draco removed his shorts in seconds, and then reached over and took the silk robe from her shoulders. He didn't kiss her immediately, but he did rub his hands up and down her arms as he guided her to the bed. When they stood against the bed, he framed her face with his hands and only then did he bring his lips to hers. After kissing her mouth, he moved his lips to eyes, her chin, and both cheeks and finally, with his hands still on her face, he kissed her forehead.

Draco Malfoy just discovered something about himself. If he loved someone as much as he loved this woman, then nothing short of death would keep them apart. If that made him like Romeo, so be it. "I really do love you," he replied.

"And I you," she whispered back.

"You have beautiful lips," he said, kissing her once more. One hand was in her hair, "And as Corner pointed out, your hair is soft and one of your best features." He reached behind her and unhooked her bra, then in a quick movement, pulled her knickers off, and then he pushed her lightly. She landed on the bed.

The sunlight streaked through the windows, washing her body with a golden glow. The last time they made love he couldn't appreciate her lovely body as they kept most of their clothing on, so now he wanted to look to his heart's content. Desire coursed through his body. Placing one knee on the bed beside her and supporting his upper body on his arms, he leaned over and kissed her with a long and open mouthed kiss.

He wanted this to be perfect for her, so he made sure she was aroused and ready. He kissed her over all, tasted and teased and brought her to near completion, and only then did he enter her. Quick, bright things, his foot. There was to be nothing quick about this, although bright might describe it well.

He went slow, but steady. He continued until she was calling his name. Lowering his head to her shoulder, he whispered her name back to her, and only then did he feel his own release. He rolled off her to his back, but pulled her to his side. The golden light from the windows was now bathing her face and hair and his heart felt close to bursting.

"Draco," she repeated, closing her eyes.

"Hermione," he replied, closing his, too.