Thank you for all your support and appreciation. It's been fascinating to look back and revisit this. I've changed as a writer since this, some would say not for the better, I'm sure, but there we are! Watch this space for more, and watch/like my Facebook page (Laurielove) for even more. And, in the meantime, I'll leave it to Lucius and Hermione to have the last word.
It was with an overwhelming sense of excitement that Hermione prepared for the New Year Ball.
She took herself off on a day trip to Muggle London to choose a dress. Shopping had a become an unwanted but necessary evil in recent years and she rarely derived pleasure from it, but on this occasion she found herself flitting from boutique to department store trying on a myriad of dresses in search of the perfect one.
She considered an emerald green taffeta gown with a full skirt and plunging neck line, but decided she looked like an inflated Slytherin meringue. She nearly bought a dark red satin slip dress which fell elegantly but merely skimmed over the curves Lucius was so keen to see.
It was only a few minutes before five, in a small shop off Kensington High Street, that something caught her eye.
The dress was made of a deep gold silk, adorned with tiny pearls along the neckline which curled down in a feathering arc to the waist. It was fitted, elegant ... tight. As soon as she tried it on she knew it was the one. Turning to glance at herself in the mirror, the corners of her mouth curled up. Her shape had filled out that little bit more in the last week, and her lush curves seemed to be poured into the burnished silk.
Lucius would approve.
She didn't show him the dress until the night of the ball. She could tell he was curious about it; he'd tried to sneak a look in the bag when she'd brought it home, but she'd playfully slapped his wrist. In return, he'd playfully smacked her arse. She was able to distract him from further prying by slipping into his arms and pulling him into bed. When they finally got out again two hours later he'd forgotten all about the dress.
As the date of the ball drew nearer, Hermione's excitement grew. Her initial apprehension about revealing the relationship had dwindled. Lucius had helped with this - his forthright determination surprised but delighted her. In any case, the important people knew already: Harry, Ginny, Draco, Ron. It was true that her engagement was not known to them, but the initial shock of the relationship had already been absorbed. If anyone else wished to gossip and whisper, so be it.
On the day of the ball, however, she noticed that Lucius' hitherto ebullient mood had become rather subdued. It didn't surprise her. He hadn't been out publicly in the wizarding world for so long under any circumstances, and here she was asking him to appear with her as a couple for the first time in the most exposed public arena there was. She sat next to him on the sofa after lunch and rested her head on his shoulder, taking his hand in hers.
"Are you alright?"
"Hm," he affirmed, entwining his fingers in hers but not taking his eyes off the Daily Prophet. "Why would I not be?"
"Tonight's a bit daunting for me, I suppose."
"Is it?" He continued to stare at the paper.
"A little. And ... possibly for you too."
He sniffed, turning to the next page.
"Thank you for being so wonderful about it," she continued.
"I've told you ... I've wasted too much of my life. You are my future; I wish to begin it. Although, I concur ... the phrase 'baptism of fire' does spring to mind. Still, I've known worse."
She looked up at him. At last, he turned away from the paper and met her eyes. His mouth turned up slightly and he bent slowly to kiss her before returning once again to the paper.
"I love you," she murmured.
"Good ... because I love you too."
She grinned and rested her head back on his shoulder.
"Of course ... if your arse doesn't look good enough in this gown of yours, we'll turn around and come straight back."
Hermione didn't even allow Lucius to see her as she was dressing. She piled her hair in lush curls on her head, allowing a few tantalising strands to fall around her face. She'd put on some of her own jewellery: a necklace and bracelet of her mother's which complemented the dress perfectly. Lucius had been instructed to wait in the hall for her.
At quarter to eight she was at last ready and closed the bedroom door carefully. Her stomach lurched dramatically, partially with excitement but also with the eddying currents of nerves which had beset her all day.
Steadying herself, she held her head high and walked to the staircase.
Reaching the top, she looked down. Lucius was at the bottom, inspecting his fob watch, his brows slightly creased. He glanced up and saw her.
Hermione stood at the head of the staircase of Malfoy Manor, bathed in the bright glow of the star from the Christmas tree.
Lucius Malfoy didn't believe in angels, but for that moment, he allowed himself to believe he was wrong. The woman stood above him, luminous, radiant. If he blinked he feared she may vanish.
Certainty suddenly and irrevocably dispelled any dark remnant of his past. He was complete.
She moved down the staircase, a smooth gliding spirit of gold. It seemed as if the house itself bore her down, careful not to damage the fragile creature it had grown to depend on in the last few months.
Hermione was by now standing before Lucius. Her cheeks were flushed; she wasn't sure how he would react to her dress. He seemed a little unnerved. She took in the sight of him before her. He had on the finest frock coat, out of which could be seen a pristine glimpse of white shirt. Over the top he had placed the most immaculately tailored black dress robes she had ever seen. She ran her hand up his arm; the material reminded her of the ears on the rabbit she had kept as a child. She smiled. "You look gorgeous."
She dared a glance up at him. He was frowning a little at her, seemingly preoccupied. Her mouth dried up instantly. Did he not approve of her dress? Was he having doubts about the evening?
"I ..." His words did not come.
She gripped his hand. "What is it? I ... can take it off, wear something else ... we don't have to go if you don't want to."
Finally he looked into her eyes; in the midst of the grey she saw an additional spark, a real one this time, caused by tears.
"You have overwhelmed me."
Hermione swallowed. Her hand came up to his face, and she stroked over the high, noble cheekbones. "Lucius ..." Standing on tiptoe, she reached up and kissed him, soft and gentle. She kissed his lips, kissed his cheeks, kissed away his tears. He closed his eyes and the past and the present were bound.
He had fallen in the garden, tripped on a stone, a deep cut on his knee seeped blood, he was crying, a woman was rushing to him, holding him, stroking him, his mother ... she took his head and kissed his cheek, kissed away his tears, took away the pain ... always ... the kiss takes away the pain ...
She smiled as he stared once again into her.
The clock struck eight. They should go.
Lucius inhaled deeply and raised himself tall, his eyes falling over her body.
"You are perfect," he said.
"I hope it's ... tight enough."
He moved into her, his hands running firmly down the smooth silk encasing her waist, over her hips, coming to rest over the curve of her backside. He gave the plump, ripe flesh a good squeeze, his focus fully restored at last.
"Oh ... I think that will do nicely."
She laughed and glanced back up at him. "Ready?"
He nodded. Lucius held his arm out for her; she linked hers into it and together they disapparated from the Manor.
The New Year Ball was held in the Ministry function room. Function room was hardly the right term for it - it was as ornate and opulent as a ballroom in the finest Regency country estate, putting similar Muggle venues to shame.
Hermione and Lucius arrived in her office, a few floors up from where they needed to be. It was deserted and they took a moment to gather their senses. But their fortitude was fired and they walked out through the pristine hallways, their arms still linked, tall and elegant.
Hermione tried not to look at anyone directly. The first witch who noticed them started, an audible gasp escaping her as if she had just seen the ghost of her bitter enemy. A wizard standing talking in a corner did such a perfect double-take that Hermione almost giggled aloud.
As they moved through a denser crowd of people, the chatter grew quiet, hushed, until at last it stopped completely. The throngs of witches and wizards gathered for the ball fell into a stony silence as Lucius Malfoy walked through them with Hermione Granger on his arm.
Hermione stared dead ahead, as did Lucius.
As the silence continued and all eyes burned into them, Hermione felt her resolve shudder for the first time. She gripped Lucius' arm hard and felt him pull it tighter into him.
A voice, so familiar and welcome came just as she feared she would weaken further.
Harry Potter walked purposefully through the crowds and came straight up to them in full view of the assembled guests. He immediately leaned in to kiss Hermione warmly.
The dark-haired man then turned his attention to her partner. "Lucius." He extended his hand firmly.
Lucius glanced down and paused briefly, not due to a reluctance to shake Potter's hand, but because he was taken aback at Harry's clear acceptance of them so publicly.
"Harry." He shook the hand warmly. "Good to see you."
"And you. Are you both well?"
Harry was smiling reassuringly at them, trying to cajole them into relaxation; he could sense their tension. A woman appeared at his side.
"Hello, Ginny," Hermione managed.
"You look gorgeous, Hermione." Ginny smiled softly.
"Thanks." Hermione shuffled a little and turned awkwardly to Lucius, not sure what to say. "Um ..."
"Mrs Potter. How charming you look tonight."
Ginny blushed and glanced hesitantly up at Lucius. "Thank you," she mumbled.
Lucius extended his hand to her. She stared at it for a moment in the same way Lucius had stared at her husband's earlier, but then she reached out and took it, and before she realised what she was doing, instinctively leaned into the man for a polite kiss of greeting.
Lucius started momentarily, but with his usual smooth aplomb, reached in and kissed Ginny once on each cheek.
There was a further moment of silence between the four of them.
"Right! Drink?" Harry's grin forced them to focus, and with an awkward laugh, Hermione asked for a glass of dry white.
At last, the silence around them began to be filled with muffled conversation. There was no doubting the topic, but now the great and good of wizarding society had the decency to at least pretend to ignore them.
Lucius guided Hermione over to the bar where Harry handed her her drink.
"That's the worst bit over," she muttered to them.
"You've done the right thing coming here tonight. Just get it over with. Let everyone know categorically. The more upfront you are about things, the less opportunity they have to gossip and spread rumours."
Hermione smiled, aware that no one had yet commented on the object gleaming on her finger.
"Hermione!" She recognised the low booms of Kingsley's voice behind her.
"Hello, Kingsley." He kissed her warmly before turning to Lucius.
"And Lucius ... good to see you here ... yes ... very good indeed. I am glad Hermione convinced you to get out - good of you to accompany her tonight after all the work she did for your library." Kingsley was studying Lucius curiously, but had clearly not realised the true nature of his and Hermione's relationship.
"Hermione's work has been extraordinary. I'm very fortunate to have had her in my home ... and now in my life." Lucius bent down and, in full view of the Minister for Magic, kissed Hermione on the lips. She couldn't help but return it.
Kingsley was silenced and let out an awkward laugh. He glanced at Hermione, but when he read the clear joy in her face his face broke out into a cautious grin. "I see ... Hermione, when you visited me the other day, you left me feeling as if all had not been said ... I think I now understand why."
Hermione laughed and raised her glass to her lips.
"Mione!" Ginny's voice had a sharp edge of shock to it.
Hermione turned to her. She was staring at her ring. Hermione saw no point in hiding it. She looked down and moved the glass to the other hand, revealing the ring to the group. Lucius curled his arm around her waist.
"Hermione and I are engaged to be married."
Kingsley coughed again. Harry downed his whiskey in one.
Silence once again threatened to destroy all they had built up since arriving.
"Well, I expect to be chief bridesmaid, but whatever you do, don't bloody make me wear pink!"
Hermione glanced at Ginny. Her friend was smiling across at her, an accepting glint in her eye. Hermione flung her arms around her dearest friend and clung onto her, whispering a private, "Thank you," against her ear.
The tension diffused and they all settled into easy conversation.
At length, Hermione and Lucius felt confident enough to stroll through the room. Many people came up to them, chatting animatedly and intimately, more out of sycophantic curiosity than anything, but it was easy and good-humoured none the less.
It was Hermione who saw Draco first. She spotted him on the other side of the room. He looked remarkably relaxed. His hand was clasped around the waist of his wife and he kept glancing at her with appreciative warmth.
But then he raised his eyes and saw them. The colour drained from his face briefly and Hermione saw him swallow hard. He whispered something to his wife and motioned her over.
Hermione hadn't seen Astoria since school and barely remembered her even then. It struck her what an open and pretty face she had, clearly radiant in the first flush of a revealed pregnancy. But as the two approached, it seemed that it was Astoria who looked the most nervous out of all of them.
"Draco." Lucius reached out to shake his son's hand before turning to Astoria. "My dear, I haven't had the chance to congratulate you in person. I can't tell you how wonderful your news is to me. Please let me know if there is anything I can do or get for you, you have only to say."
"Thank you, Lucius. It's nice to see you here." Astoria glanced meekly at him before turning her flushed face to Hermione. "Hello, Hermione. I can't have seen you since Hogwarts."
"That's right, Astoria. Congratulations on your fantastic news." She turned to her husband. "Hello, Draco."
"Did you have a good Christmas?" Lucius asked genuinely.
"Yes. Very good." He hesitated. "You?"
"It was an extraordinary Christmas. Draco ..." Draco glanced up at his father, his face still set straight. "Hermione and I have some news for you. We are going to be married."
The muscle in Draco's jaw worked frantically. He coiled himself in. If it had not been for the occasion and the sake of his wife, Hermione feared he may have struck his father.
Again, it was Astoria who stepped in. "Congratulations, both of you. What an amazing year this will be for the family." She reached in and embraced Hermione in a warm and tender hug, kissing her on the cheek. Hermione clasped her to her, grateful for the sudden onslaught of female solidarity.
Draco's chest rose and fell as he struggled to draw in his temper, but he did.
Lucius eyed his son coldly, resenting the aggression he had barely masked in front of Hermione. But then Draco's head dropped and he sniffed in, almost in defeat.
"Well, good luck to the both of you ... you're going to bloody need it!" He gripped his wife's hand and tried to pull her away, but Astoria resisted.
"You must come over to the house soon. It'll be good to catch up."
"As must you to the Manor. Some time in the next few weeks. Sunday lunch perhaps," suggested Lucius.
"I'll look forward to it." She smiled broadly before at last letting Draco pull her away.
Hermione glanced up at Lucius. He turned to her and cocked an eyebrow. Despite Draco's anticipated hostility, things had moved on. Draco clearly adored his wife and her attitude had been perfect. She could win him round.
They were brought out of their contemplation by music. The band had started; couples started to move onto the dance floor.
Hermione smiled. It had been so long since she had enjoyed an event like this, but she hung back, not presuming to inflict a public dance on Lucius.
She glanced around; it seemed Ron wasn't there, of that she was thankful. Harry and Ginny had taken to the floor. Hermione smiled as she looked at them, still clearly so happy together.
Lucius' voice took her by surprise. He was looking down at her with a faint smirk, his arm extended.
"Are you sure? We don't have to."
"How can I resist an opportunity to get my hands on you in that dress?"
She smiled and took his arm, allowing him to lead her onto the floor. The couples around them glanced curiously, but by now Hermione was on such a high that she almost welcomed their stares.
Placing her hands on his shoulders, she felt him grip her waist hard, his fingers stroking the smooth silk of her dress over the flesh held so tightly inside. He cocked an eyebrow. "Very nice."
Lucius moved her smoothly. She looked nowhere but into his eyes, the room blurring around her as they danced. He pulled her hard against him, causing her desire to ignite immediately.
"Love you," she mouthed up to him.
"Love you," came the reply.
They danced long after many others had left. By the end of the evening the stares and whisperings had largely faded away. There would clearly be much material for the gossip pages of the Daily Prophet, but they'd survived the evening.
After saying their goodbyes, the two of them apparated, happy and tired, back to the Manor.
Hermione was surprised at how wonderful it was to be back home. The hall glowed with its usual splendour. She walked in and stood, letting her head fall back.
Hands ran around her waist and pulled her back against a firm chest.
"It was a wonderful evening."
"Not over yet." Lucius' head had dipped to her neck and was kissing and nibbling along it.
"And you like my dress."
She laughed and spun away from him. "In that case, I'd better not take it off!"
Lucius stood apart from her, his lips curled up tantalisingly, but then he began to step towards her, his eyes taking in every inch of her as she stood, one hand on her hip, swaying a little, her body beckoning him ever closer. When he reached her, he slowly brought his hands to her waist, gripping hard as he had on the dance floor.
Moving his head to her ear again, he whispered gruffly against it, "Turn around."
She did, slowly, with a deeper undulation than was strictly necessary. When she had gone one full circle, he grabbed her suddenly again and pulled her into him. She could feel his arousal hard against her belly and rubbed against it, prompting a groan from him. His hands dropped to her arse and he grabbed tight, pulling it harder into him before stroking up and down the rise of it.
She smiled, her head falling back as desire engulfed her.
He was insistent.
"Yours," she groaned into the expanse of the hallway.
Throwing her head back to look at him, she raised a teasing eyebrow. "My Lucius."
"Yours ... always yours." One of his hands had reached back up to her breast and was plying it in desperate fingers, his voice reflecting his gruff urgency.
She pressed fully along him, her mouth close against his, but denying him her touch. He tried to capture her lips but she pulled back the merest fraction.
"Show me," came her hoarse, dark whisper.
She gave him her mouth at last, opening wide to be devoured by his searching tongue. He pushed her back, aiming to go upstairs, but they got no further than the bottom step. Hermione fell back onto it and immediately he had pushed her dress up to reveal her stockings and suspender belt. With a grunt of appreciative delight, he tore them down so that she was open and ready for him. Tossing aside his dress robes, he released himself quickly and with barely a second's preparation plunged fully into her.
He moved inside her powerfully, affirming his need in long hot strokes which she met and absorbed. Their pleasure rose mutually and rapidly.
"Do you feel that? Do you feel me? There is no doubt, no doubt, my darling, my love ... I'm yours, I'm yours forever ... nothing can change that ... nothing ... nothing ..."
He came hard, his eyes closing as pleasure burst out of him. Hermione's climax followed almost immediately and she gripped onto him as the room spun around her, an uncontrolled cry breaking the silence of the hall.
At length, Lucius carried her upstairs, still dressed in her golden gown, and after undressing each other, they fell into bed and slept.
The Christmas tree had to come down, but they kept the star, which burned stronger than ever. It was placed on a plinth in the hallway as a moving ornament, casting its light forever into the Manor.
Winter moved into Spring.
They occasionally discussed the date of their marriage. People asked often, but they laughed off the question. There was no rush. They suspected that when they did marry it would be an instant decision which would be done quickly and privately.
Hermione got to know the house and the gardens well and spent many hours opening up the various rooms, exploring and discussing how best to use them with Lucius.
She spent a lot of time in the walled garden. After the frosts and snow of winter, it had been the first place she had chosen as a retreat. If Lucius ever lost her, he was sure to find her sitting on the bench in the garden, reading or writing. Sometimes she would reach out and he would join her, but at other times he was happy to hang back and watch her silently.
They spent a lot of time in the library. Hermione discovered a great deal of new magic through her further research of his volumes. She was always careful to replace any books she took down in their correct place. But high up on one shelf there always remained, deliberate and obvious, a space where once had sat a large book, a book gilded around the edges and with an intricate pattern of vine leaves adorning the cover.
Slowly, the house was opened up. Harry and Ginny would visit frequently, and eventually Draco and Astoria. Draco remained cool with Hermione but she sensed a gradual thaw, especially as he delighted in his wife's burgeoning pregnancy. It gave Hermione a strange satisfaction to see her bitter school enemy developing into such a genuine person through his love for his wife and unborn child.
In June Astoria was safely delivered of a little boy whom they named Scorpius. Lucius visited them at their home initially, reporting back with clear delight at how much of a Malfoy the little boy seemed already. Hermione had raised a wary eyebrow.
They started to come round to the Manor increasingly often, and Hermione discovered in Astoria a good friend.
As she and Lucius stood and waved them off one day, she spoke warmly, "He's such a gorgeous little baby. Draco's a good father ... and a surprisingly good husband."
"Well, he is my son, after all."
She dug him in the ribs.
Lucius stood on the steps of his family home. "It is good to have a child in the house again."
Hermione said nothing.
"Do you like children?" His question was thrown into the air almost flippantly. She didn't at first answer.
He held her round the waist. She gripped his hands tight. "Yes, I like children."
"Hm." He sniffed a little. "On the whole ... so do I."
With that he turned and led her inside. For the time being, that was all that was said.
Summer came: days filled with walks and picnics and discussions. And soon the long days grew shorter yet again.
It was a year since the day Hermione had first arrived at Malfoy Manor. A year since she had been guided into the sitting room to find Lucius Malfoy, alone and in darkness, beckoning her towards him.
Hermione had just come in from an early morning walk in the grounds. She replaced her coat on the stand, picked up the few leaves which had blown in with her, and stood now, as she had initially that first day, small, inconspicuous almost in the vast hallway. The clock ticked as it had then; the smells were much the same, although the air was less stale, now tinged with a light lemony perfume.
Her relationship with Lucius was inextricably linked to the house. She had grown to love it, and it had welcomed and warmed to her, wary at first, but growing in trust and confidence as with any initially hesitant friendship.
And now, as she stood within it, it breathed around her, and she with it.
She glanced up, questioning the very timbres. "Happy?"
At first it was still, but then came the answer, soft but certain.
Hermione smiled and dropped her head. At first, she was willing to believe it was indeed the house which had replied. But when strong hands encircled her waist, and firm lips sought out the cool skin of her neck, she knew the response had come from a far more tangible and tactile source.
As she dropped her head onto Lucius' shoulder, Hermione whispered back her own confirmation, her own truth, truth which was absorbed by everything around her.