Hostage of War
Pairing: Draco Malfoy/Hermione Granger
Other characters: Albus Dumbledore, Lord Voldemort, Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy, Blaise Zabini, Severus Snape, Fenrir Greyback, Nymphadora Tonks
Summary: At the brink of extinction, the leaders of Light and Dark invoke an age-old custom to secure an armistice. For some, peace will come at a great expense.
Author's Notes: A huge thank you to Softobsidian74 for alpha reading and to Sempra for being an absolute stellar beta!
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A cold wind blew across the ravaged countryside not far from Hogwarts. Hermione Granger pressed her hands into the small of her back, bending backward to relieve the ache that had become a constant reminder of her work. She could have levitated the dead bodies over the battle field, but she felt it would dehumanise them, to disentangle their limbs with magic as if they were ragdolls.
She carefully extricated arms and legs from the piles, straightened appendages and repaired robes torn to shreds to give the departed a modicum of dignity. Then, and only then, did she levitate them into the designated grave and move on to the next.
Looking around, she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, smearing blood over her face. She had no more tears.
Resigned, Hermione bent down to remove a hand from another's throat and placed it on the opposite shoulder. The other hand still held his wand, and she left it there when she moved it across the body to the other shoulder. She did not know the man, but he had died fighting, as had so many others.
The last battle had cost so many lives that, in the end, when the leaders called to retreat, only a few dozen on either side had stared at each other in bewilderment. Hermione had kept a record of the numbers for each battle. There was nothing to worry about anymore, really.
In the next battle, or the battle after the next, magical folk in England would be extinct.
The Great Hall of Hogwarts held what must have been the nation's entire wizarding population that supported the Light. The hall was not empty by any means, all tables were full, every seat taken, but that it was able to accommodate half the magical populous of the British Isle was frightening.
Hermione rested her head on her hand, her elbow propped up on the table, eating her stew. Her parents had raised her better than that, but she was too tired to care or even notice.
A firm hand landed on her shoulder, the grasp not hurting her, yet it was clear that it was a command rather than a request.
"Miss Granger, a word if you please."
She looked into the Headmaster's gray face and nodded, taking a last spoonful of stew while already rising to her feet.
She followed him through the battle ravaged castle, past paintings mourning the destruction of their homes, pitifully trying to avoid the slashes in their canvasses.
The Headmaster did not direct her to his office as she had expected, but led her further and further up, climbing endless stairs until he pushed open the doors to the platform at the top of the astronomy tower.
The sun was setting. It was August, the days long and the weather beautiful. The waning sunlight painted red, pink and orange hues over an otherwise clear blue sky.
Albus Dumbledore stood at the battlement, silently taking in the grounds and observing her watching the sunset. The soil was upturned and there was an eerie silence from the forbidden forest, as if all the magical creatures had fled their habitat.
"It is truly beautiful."
Hermione nodded, waiting.
"We have lost too many, Miss Granger."
"It is the end, isn't it, Headmaster?"
He turned to her sharply, fire and passion in his eyes and features. Hands lined with age gripped her upper arms so hard, pain shot through her.
"It does not have to be! Miss Granger, we can prevent this. We can prevent our society becoming what most of the world already believes us to be: a legend." He let go of her arms and turned back to the quickly darkening landscape. "Doing so will involve great personal sacrifice, Miss Granger. Great personal sacrifice."
When she remained silent, he sighed.
"I know we are demanding so much of our young generation, to fight a war that was started such a long time ago, so much weight on shoulders so fragile; so much horror for eyes so young."
He turned to face her once more.
"This is not the first time our world has faced extinction. History is littered with societies, Muggle and wizarding, who have pushed one another to the brink, yet they managed to step back from the precipice and find another way. The time has come for us to once again take a lesson from the past."
"Miss Granger, when nations at war came to the point where neither could win, when a truce was essential to let the people, the economy and the land," he gestured to the torn soil and ripped trees, "recover and regroup, do you know what has been done for centuries? In both the magical as well as the Muggle realm?"
Hermione could think of a number of things but could not find one that applied to their situation. With a furrowed brow, she waited for the Headmaster to elaborate, afraid of what she might hear.
"Hostages are exchanged, Miss Granger."
Her face fell into an unreadable mask, and her mind rushed through historical facts, trying to analyze what this would mean. Julius Caesar, King Alfred's wife, King Richard the Lionheart, Vlad Dracul...
"Of course..." Her voice sounded flat in the silence of the night.
"Hostages have to be important figures for either side," her first-in-command hurried to say.
"It cannot be Harry, of course."
"Of course..." she echoed.
"Miss Granger, the hostages would be treated very well. There are stringent laws and strong magic protecting a hostage of war."
She did not reply.
"We need time, Miss Granger, or we will cease to exist. We might even be able to make allies in the families that take our children in or in the hostages sent to us. It could be the start of ...Diplomatic relations. A coexistence that allows us to prevail is needed."
"At least two years."
He did not try to convince her that two years would pass quickly.
"When do I have to go?"
The old wizard stood taller and seemed to shed decades.
"Thank you, Miss Granger. Thank you."
She felt empty and detached as she stared at him, not seeing him at all.
"Rise, my most trusted servants."
Lucius Malfoy, Esmeralda Zabini, Claudius Nott and Pendragon Parkinson rose from their kneeling position before the throne-like seat of the Dark Lord.
"Our losses have been substantial."
"There have also been losses on the other side, my Lord. Just one more strike and victory will be yours!" The female voice from the side of the room sounded crazed, high pitched and stumbled over her own words.
Only Bellatrix Lestrange was reckless enough in her insane devotion to her Master to overlook his solemn mood. She crawled to his feet as soon as the effect of the Cruciatus curse allowed and kissed his extended dragon hide boot, thanking him for the attention.
"As I said. Our losses have been substantial. In order to rid our world of all the impure specimens that call themselves wizards and witches, we need resources. Both monetary and in numbers."
Lucius Malfoy sighed inwardly. Being singled out at a meeting was always a bad sign. Being singled out when the Dark Lord spoke of monetary funds was a very bad sign for his vaults.
"Dumbledore has approached me. The light is weak. They are grovelling at our feet, afraid to die."
Uneasy glances were exchanged among the ranks. Each and every one of them had lost a loved one to the merciless battles.
"We are going to call an armistice. In that period, we will triple our efforts in our preparations while the light will waste their time on infrastructure. At the end of the two year period, there will be no stopping us. We will wipe them out."
The Dark Lord rose from his ornate armchair and turned to leave, scarlet lined black robes trailing behind.
"Lucius, for the span of two years, you will take Hermione Granger into your household. Esmeralda, you will house Ginevra Weasley. Pendragon, Claudius, prepare to hand over your children to the Light."
He strode to a high door in the wall close to the throne, shocked faces on all his disciples in his wake. "You are dismissed."
His father had been summoned earlier in the evening, and he had not expected him to return any time soon.
A swift return could mean very bad news, indeed.
Lucius nodded curtly at his only son, shedding his Death Eater robes and throwing them with a flourish into the air, only for them to be caught by a house-elf that popped into the room for the mere fraction of a second.
He set his silver mask on a side table with a careless motion and drew a hand over his face.
His wife swept into the study moments later, touching her cheek to his and kissing the air.
"Sit, both of you."
Lucius started pacing the length of the room and back before coming to an abrupt halt in front of his waiting family.
"The Dark Lord and Dumbledore have declared an armistice," Lucius announced.
The statement drew gasps from both his wife and his son.
"You know what happens in case of an armistice. We will exchange hostages."
Narcissa's gaze flew to her son, a hand pressed to her mouth and worry written all over her face.
Draco sat up straight and hoped that his father did not realise how hard his heart had started beating.
"Will I be sent away, Father?"
Lucius looked at him, startled.
"What? No. No, but we will be having company for the next two years or so."
This time, Narcissa launched herself at her son, enveloping him in a crushing hug, kissing his hair.
He let her hold him for several seconds before he carefully disentangled from his mother's arms. She sniffed a little and sat down next to him on the sofa.
"Who? Who has the Light decided to hand over?"
"That Granger girl."
Draco was on his feet before he had registered his own action.
"The Mudblood? Father, surely you jest!"
"Sit down, Draco. You know me better than that." He took a swig out of his crystal tumbler. "We will be obliged to tolerate her here, moreover, treat her ..." his face adopted a pained expression, "as an equal."
Draco looked on in horror.
"She is not a doll for you to play with, Mother. More the studious type."
The weather had changed from as hot as summer can be in Scotland to cool enough to warrant pullovers in order to ward off the cold. No woollen cloaks, yet, but from one day to the next, the year was waning, nature readying for the arrival of the resting period of winter.
Hermione rubbed her fingers that were feeling stiff from being exposed to the cold wind. Her surroundings seemed to mirror her feelings.
Agreeing to deliver herself into the hands of dark wizards, Death Eaters, in order to save her world had been one quick, heroic gesture full of foolish Gryffindor bravery. Now that she was standing on top of a hill not far from Hogwarts, her trunk next to her, she felt as if she was awaiting her death sentence.
Please not Voldemort himself. Pleasepleaseplease.
She could hear Ginny sobbing quietly into her father's dark brown robes. A while ago she had averted her gaze to afford the Weasleys a bit of privacy.
With her parents in Australia, there was nobody here for her final goodbye besides Dumbledore.
The order members had arrived very early at the designated meeting point. Huddling together in smaller family groups, Hermione and Dumbledore stood apart and solitary. Arthur and Molly Weasley were trying to console their youngest child.
There was a tiny stab to her heart when she thought about her oblivious parents, working hard on making their new dental practice near the Sydney harbour a success. Even if this war ended, Hermione doubted that she would have the heart to take that new life from them and bring into a world they could not understand.
Why did it have to be so cold?
Hermione was glad that she had braided the mass of her hair into a tight French braid as she had become accustomed to ever since the fighting started. At least she would not end up making a fool of herself by battling her hair after the wind had whipped her curls all around her face.
With loud cracks announcing Apparition, several cloaked figures appeared about twenty metres from where their group was standing.
Voldemort, in the centre, stood out; the others wore identical black Death Eater robes and silver masks.
At a sign from their Lord, the others pushed back hoods and removed masks to reveal their faces.
Hermione had trouble breathing and Ginny's sobs had gone eerily quiet.
The petite black-haired witch next to him was unknown to Hermione, and she could not assess whether she would be the lesser of two evils. Blaise Zabini was standing at her left, so she was probably his mother, and he was representing the Head of the family. Hermione thought she had heard that Blaise's father had died when Blaise was still very young. Or was Blaise to be a hostage like her?
Theodore Nott and his father were also there. Maybe one of them would go to live with the Notts? Hermione did not know anything about them besides the fact that they served Voldemort.
Hermione was not sure what would be worse: living with Lucius and Draco Malfoy, being more or less alone with Hogwarts' playboy for two years or going with the Notts, as they were an unknown entity. Was there a Mrs. Nott? Lady Nott? If so, why was she not present?
Pansy Parkinson stood next to her father, her face blank as if under Imperius.
The Dark wizards outnumbered the Light, Hermione noted uncomfortably.
She looked over to Ginny, and the younger girl met her eyes with a worried frown.
Dumbledore nodded to the new arrivals and started the ritualised exchange of hostages as tradition dictated.
"We have come to secure peace."
"And so we will for the agreed number of moons."
Voldemort's hissing voice made the words sound false and empty, making a mockery of the ritual.
"We are offering one of our brightest lights to you, to honour this pact."
Dumbledore rested his hand on Hermione's right shoulder and squeezed lightly.
"My faithful servant, Lucius Malfoy, will have the honour to house her."
Hermione's heart skipped a beat, and only then did she realise that it had been beating much faster than usual.
Would they call her a Mudblood and use her as a servant? No, they couldn´t, it was not allowed. They had to behave civilly.
With determination, Hermione turned around to her leader and knelt down, kissing the back of his hand to satisfy tradition. After she straightened, she wrapped her arms around the old body that felt so frail beneath the voluminous robes.
"Goodbye," she whispered. "Make it worthwhile."
She felt his bearded, scratchy nod against her cheek and parted from him with tears in her eyes.
Unsheathing her wand, she turned around and traversed the green towards Lucius Malfoy, her trunk levitating behind her.
She fell to her knees, with hardly suppressed rage at the subservient gesture, and offered her wand. It was customary to arrive unarmed at her host's home.
Lucius Malfoy accepted her wand and extended a hand to help her stand. She knew all movements were choreographed like a dance but was nevertheless surprised that he did not flinch when her ungloved hand touched his.
Hermione stood behind the blond man and observed first Theodore go through the motions of the exchange, taking his place with Lavender's parents, then Ginny, who seemed unsure to whom she should offer her wand. In the end, Mrs. Zabini took it, but handed it to Blaise. Ginny solved the problem of uncertain hierarchy by standing behind both Blaise and his mother.
Pansy was the last one to pass to the other side and stand with Arthur and Molly. Outwardly calm, her terrified eyes and shaking hands belied that she was terrified.
Voldemort and Dumbledore first cut the ball of their hands and then raised their wands to speak the final words. Magic flashed, spread like a dome and then vanished in a rain of sparks.
Their fate was sealed by magic and blood.
The Notts and Zabinis Apparated away nearly simultaneously. Just as Lucius Malfoy took her elbow and turned to transport her side-along, Hermione heard the loud sob of Pansy breaking down.
Lucius Malfoy let go of her hand immediately after his home materialised around them. Felled by the momentum of Apparition and the unexpected loss of leverage, Hermione tumbled to the flag stone floor..
"Graceful as ever, Granger."
Hermione looked up into the faces of Draco and Narcissa Malfoy.
"Conceited as usual, ferret?"
Unfortunately, Draco Malfoy just scoffed softly.
"Careful here. Equal treatment goes both ways. We have to treat each other as," and here his face had a disgusted expression, "family. So as long as you would not call your brother a ferret, I suggest you refrain from it in this house or the premature end of this truce will rest on your shoulders."
Racking her brain for a witty response that would surely come to her in a few hours time when it was too late, Hermione tried to get up from the entrance hall floor with the bit of dignity she had left.
What a way to start the next two years.
"Nonsense, Draco!" Narcissa Malfoy placed a delicate hand on her son's shoulder and pushed him toward Hermione. "Remember your manners and help her up."
Draco closed his eyes and sighed. When he looked at her again, his face was free from malevolence. He took a step in her direction and offered his hand to assist her.
Hermione needed to stare at the hand in front of her for several seconds before she could decide that it would turn events from bad to worse should she refuse his offer.
"Thank you," she said, straightening up.
Narcissa's face lit up in a smile.
"Now that this is cleared up, I would like to welcome you into the house, Hermione." She kissed the air next to Hermione's cheeks right-left-right, as the French greeting went, and then held her by her shoulders at arm's length. "You poor girl!" she exclaimed. "What you must have suffered in the war!"
Without comprehension, Hermione looked at the pure blood woman.
"I will instruct the elves to run you a regenerating bath and place extra beauty potions on your vanity."
Oblivious to the affronted look on Hermione's face, she looped her arm through the girl's and proceeded toward the wide stone stairs leading to an even wider landing.
"Then, when you are settled, I will take you to my seamstress to outfit you with respectable robes. We can't have you walk around in tatters."
Hermione looked down at her clean dark jeans and light mac coat. Although her clothes were decidedly Muggle and a far cry from the elegant style the Malfoys seemed to prefer even during daytime on a weekday, Hermione bristled at being called ... ugly? Had Narcissa Malfoy implied that she was ugly?
Narcissa chatted on animatedly, outlining visits to beauty salons and fabric stores, the hair witchery and the shoemancer.
Because she did not know what else to do, she let herself be led up the steps but could not keep from looking over her shoulder in horror into the amused faces of the Malfoy men.
"Welcome to hell," Draco mouthed before displaying a vicious smirk.
Hermione was surprised to see that her accommodation was comprised of a spacious bedroom with adjoining bathroom instead of a corner in the servants' quarters.
She was also very thankful that they had decorated in colours other than Slytherin's. Her room had a homely feel to it with pale yellow wall coverings and gleaming mahogany furniture.
Compared to her narrow bed at Hogwarts, set in a row of many more beds, this room felt too large, too luxurious. In any of the houses of the Light side, a room like this would be occupied by at least ten homeless witches or wizards.
Feeling guilty, Hermione wanted desperately to go find a Malfoy and ask for a place in the attic or with the Elves.
But then, the laws pertaining to hostages were clear and strict as she had researched prior to her hand over. The Malfoys needed to treat her like family or give her at least all the privileges that a daughter of the house would enjoy.
Asking for lesser accommodations would insult the family and only result in being taunted by Draco.
For all intents and purposes, she would have to accept them in lieu of family just as they were forced to accept her.
Affection could of course not be ordered.
Hermione doubted that they were very affectionate toward each other anyhow.
Her reflection in the faceted crystal mirror looked nervous.
Hermione had brought her one and only set of dress robes which were a rather muted affair as she had bought them for a memorial service. The black looked very severe. It reminded her of the man they had buried, and the pang in her chest surprised her with its force, even more than a year later.
Her wand had been on top of her things in her trunk when it was delivered to her room and Hermione now used it to quickly lighten the colour of her robes. Grey still gave a depressing impression so she changed to a golden chocolate brown that brought out the natural highlights in her hair.
"You look worn out and impoverished, dear."
She gave the thing a withering scowl. A talking mirror was just what she needed. Especially since she would not want to know the answer to any question that started with 'mirror, mirror on the wall...'
For now, her looks would have to do.
She had been informed that supper would be served at seven o'clock, so she needed to leave now or be late for the first meal with her hosts.
Malfoy Manor was not as grand as she had imagined it. Of course it was a large house with many reception rooms and bedrooms, and the finishing touches were of a very high quality and spoke of a long history of proud inhabitants who loved to put their mark on the property.
But somehow she had thought of a wizarding manor as being something akin to a fairy tale castle, complete with turrets and battlements and maybe even climbing roses all over its walls.
In truth, Malfoy Manor was not very different from a Muggle manor, which simply meant the biggest house in the village.
Letting her gaze drift over ancient oil paintings, tapestries and suits of armour, she had to admit: it was a rather nice manor, indeed.
When she reached the entrance hall, she found Draco Malfoy pacing at the bottom of the stairs in a set of charcoal dress robes. He halted when he became aware of her descending the steps.
"Well, at least you know how to dress for supper, albeit rather commonly."
He offered his arm and she rested her hand on it, wondering whether he would bear her touching his person if his arm had not been protected by several layers of robes.
Bloody, stupid Mudblood!
The elves should have put up locking and silencing spells. Obviously, she did not have herself under control.
What was she playing at raising such a ruckus in the middle of the night?
With a sound of indignation, Draco swung his legs over the edge of his bed, snatched his wand from its place on the bedside cabinet, stomped to the door and threw it open to the hall.
Like a cloud of thunder, he rolled toward the Mudblood's room, ready to take her apart and put her firmly into her place. Armistice or not, her behaviour was unacceptable.
Without the least bit of decorum, he pounded on the polished oak of her door.
He waited several seconds in mounting anger. This uncultured bint did not even have the decency to answer when called upon. This just served to show how a Muggle upbringing could thoroughly spoil someone. Or maybe it was truly the blood. Granger had been exposed to real culture, wizard culture, for years by now. And still she did not know how to behave in polite company.
For instance, one should not let a caller stand outside the door in silence.
The moaning and groaning had stopped at some point during his angry advance. She was probably embarrassed that he had heard her and was now hiding under the duvet in mortification.
Served her right.
He smirked. He would tease her mercilessly during breakfast. If he had to treat the Mudblood like a sister, teasing and pulling pig tails was certainly within the parameters of 'equal' treatment.
Turning around he wanted to make his way back to his own room when the mumbling and moaning started again.
Infuriated and tired, he whipped around and simply used his magical signature identifying him as a Malfoy, to open her door, causing it to bang against the wall of her room, surely damaging the priceless silken wall covering.
"Granger!" he hollered.
It was extremely dark in the room. She had closed the wooden shutters on the inside of the window, preventing the moon-light from seeping into her room.
"Lumos," he ordered in a loud voice, unconcerned about waking her.
The Mudblood tossed and flailed in the wide sleigh bed. By now, duvet only covered her lower half, and she was even fighting this minimal restriction of her legs.
So she hadn't been engaging in some outlandish activity, but rather had been having an unnerving nightmare.
Unnerving especially for him.
This would not do.
He stalked to her bedside and poked her with his wand.
She whimpered and moved her head from side to side.
A mischievous idea formed.
Time to pull pig tails.
Draco sat down on the edge of her bed, his hip lightly touching hers. He grasped her shoulder firmly and shook.
"Harry? Oh Harry I had a terrible dream!"
He tentatively wrapped an arm around her.
Granger clung to him, sobbing violently.
"It was horrible! Albus and Voldemort had declared a truce and that meant hostages had to be exchanged."
Draco barely kept himself from flinching at the casual mention of the Dark Lord's name. Granger trembled in his embrace and made the crook of his neck wet and slick with hot tears and sweet smelling face cream.
"I had to go to the Malfoys, and they were so cold to me!"
Cold, were they? Draco wanted to know how far he could push her with his little game and slid his fingers into her hair at the nape of her neck. He delicately pushed her head back and swiped his thumb over her cheek to wipe away some tears that might still be there.
She sniffled a bit, but felt very pliant and even leaned into his cupping hand. The trust she was emanating was pleasant and discomfiting at the same time. She was stupid to trust anybody like this. Dark room or not. And he would show her just that.
Draco leaned forward and pressed his lips against her slightly open mouth. For several moments, nothing happened and Draco noticed several things. She had gone completely still. Her lips were salty from her tears. Beyond the salt, the Mudblood tasted ... good. Like fresh, warm bread. Like cinnamon swirls. Like hot cross buns with butter.
He let his tongue glide along her lower lip and further. That propelled her into action, suddenly pushing against his chest with all her force, her legs struggled against the cover, but he was sitting on its edge and it effectively restrained her to the mattress.
Soft breasts were pressed against him, and he could feel the heat of her skin through the thin silk garment she wore.
What had started as a little game to aggravate her was quickly getting out of hand. He used his body weight to tip her backward, and with her hands pushing against his shoulders, she had nothing to brace herself on and fell onto her back with a muffled groan...
She might have been very agile with her wand, but physically she was no match for him. It was easy to take advantage of her confused and tangled state and pin her to the bed with his body.
She squeaked in surprise, and he realised she must be feeling how hard he was, even through the quilt.
He moved away from her lips and started sucking the delicate skin of her throat relentlessly.
She made a keening sound and tried to wriggle away from him. In her attempt she only succeeded in lodging him firmly between her thighs.
"Is this how you would treat a sister, Malfoy?" Her words were choked and angry and made him come to his senses.
Raising up on one elbow, he reached for his wand and cast Iluminate. Candles and sconces flared to life. Granger looked ravished and deliciously helpless beneath him. He saw outrage and fear and it turned him on even more.
But he knew she was right.
"No, Granger, not a sister, although I might be willing to invoke some very old Pureblood customs for you." Her eyes grew wide with incredulity, and he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "But you know, cousins are not forbidden to us."
He gave a sharp thrust that made her cry out in surprise and maybe pleasure. Then he released her and sauntered out of the room, unabashedly showing off his state of arousal.
He did not bother to close the door and heard her jump out of the bed and run across the room to slam the door shut once she deemed him far enough away. Waiting patiently, he listened to her dragging or pushing a heavy piece of furniture against the door to block it.
It was beyond him why she thought that should stop him or why she did not levitate whatever it was. He shook his head.
Always forgetting that she is a witch.
"Goodness, Granger! Are you planning on taking up a toil to plough the earth, as your name suggests? You cannot possibly think your attire is suitable for a family dinner!"
Hermione looked down on herself. Black jeans and a light cotton cardigan in red had seemed to be acceptable for a weekday dinner, since she had been dining by herself most days, but tonight Draco had obviously changed into dress robes after wearing sufficiently elegant robes all day.
"Are you expecting guests?"
She did not want to cause discord on the first 'real' supper with the family. Dinner on the first night had been a disaster. Lucius had never showed up, having been called away by his Master; Narcissa had sent her apologies, stating that she had a headache. She had sat in her funeral robes at the long table, across from Draco, silent and awkward until he, too, was summoned. After that, food had been served in her room, at the small table near the window, and she had been grateful for the solitude. Being called down for supper had been unexpected.
Draco looked at her incredulously.
"You mean otherwise you would insult my parents with this attire? No, Granger, we are not expecting guests. Now I suggest you run up to your room, pull on something less offending to the eye and be down here in a matter of minutes for the aperitif."
For a few seconds she stood motionless, trying to figure out whether she was about to walk into some sort of trap.
"Move your arse, Granger; I won't be able to make your excuses forever!"
She ran up the staircase, taking two or three of the low steps at a time. Draco mumbled something that could very well have been 'undignified, graceless klutz', but she did not care.
In her room she opened her wardrobe and began flipping through the hangers, desperate to find one of her robes. Something told her that even an evening gown would not pass for dignified if it was a Muggle garment.
Finally she found the light blue robes. They were not as delicate and elegant as Narcissa Malfoy's robes, but they would do for the evening. She remembered well how out of place and sad she had felt in her altered funeral robes.
Running down the stairs again, she nearly tripped over her low heeled shoes.
To her surprise, Draco was still waiting in the hall, hands clasped behind his back, studying a still life with visible impatience.
Hearing her clicking steps on the stone floor, he turned around and scrutinised her from head to toe.
Her hair was still untamed and absolutely everywhere. He was secretly pleased that she did not restrain it any longer in those long braids. She looked more like the Granger he had known in school, with her curls tumbling down her back. The sky blue robes were on the plain side, more suited for an outing during the day than a formal family dinner, but she would have to do.
He held his arm out to her and she simply stared at it.
After a deep sigh, he rolled his eyes.
"Put your fingertips on my forearm, Granger. I am going to escort you to dinner. We have done this before, remember?"
She looked flustered and slightly alarmed, but approached him with hesitant steps.
"Right." She looked at his arm as if hypnotised.
With a huff, he took her hand in his and placed it on his arm.
"There. Not that difficult, is it?"
He was well aware that she had been keeping a careful distance of several feet from him since her first night at the manor. The hand on his arm trembled like a bird ready to fly away at the first sign of danger.
The double door to the dining room opened of its own accord and he walked through, forcing her to stumble along like a clumsy, child playing dress-up, unaccustomed to the long skirt and slippery shoes.
Lucius arched his brows at his son's entry, the hostage on his arm. It was indeed proper etiquette, but he had obviously expected a debacle of some variation or other, taking her upbringing into account.
Draco went through the motions of supper as expected and led the witch on his arm to the liquor cabinet. On a silver-plated tray, a milky substance stood waiting in an intricately cut crystal decanter next to a jug of iced water.
"How much water do you want in your pastis, Granger?"
"What, no absinthe?" she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Draco rolled his eyes.
"Pastis is an anise-based aperitif, and you should mix it with water unless you want to be drunk before the first course arrives, Granger."
"I know what pastis is; my family has a holiday home in the south of France," she hissed low into his ear. "I just don't care for the taste of anise or liquorice. I simply didn't want to be rude in rejecting the aperitif, but could not decide whether I'd prefer a smaller but stronger drink or a diluted taste that would take me ages to get down."
"Gee, thanks for not being rude, then. You can ask for something else, you know."
She had the grace to blush. Being on the defence around him had become second nature, and she did not expect him to simply ask her a question without ulterior motives.
"Sorry. Would you happen to have some grenadine syrup? That would be fine."
Draco looked at her curiously. Interacting with her in a civil manner felt surreal and dangerous.
She nearly appeared to be a somewhat decent witch.
"Of course." He reached for a tall bottle on another tray and added red syrup to one of the glasses, turning the drink a pinkish colour.
He noticed that her cheeks had turned rather pinkish, too.
There was an awkward silence when Draco and Hermione joined the elder Malfoys near the fire place.
It was quite clear that Hermione was not a guest but an outsider placed in their midst.
Narcissa smiled sweetly at the girl.
"So, you have been to France?"
Thankful for the pointer, Hermione tried to smile back.
"My family has a holiday home in the Camargue region. We used to go there every summer before ... before the war became too intense. My parents were even thinking of relocating there for their retirement."
Completely disregarding the awkward silence that followed, Narcissa exclaimed in a cheery voice: "The Camargue! How lovely! I always adored its rustic beauty. The white horses, the flamingos... Have you ever been to a bull fight? They are quite the spectacle."
"Er, we try not to support that particular custom..."
"No matter, no matter!" Narcissa placed her hand on Hermione's arm just above her wrist.
"We also like to spend our summers abroad. There is, of course, the ancestral home in Normandy, but we have another retreat on the Riviera."
"The Malfoys are from Normandy?"
"Yes." Lucius joined the conversation. "Marellus Malfoi followed William to England." He downed the rest of his aperitif. "The Malfoys have been in England ever since."
"How about your family, Granger? Do you know which farm your ancestors slaved away on?"
She refused to give Draco the satisfaction of seeing her riled up.
"No, I do not know. But my mother's maiden name is Beauregard, so we assume that her ancestors also came over from France at some point."
They slowly walked from the fire place to the long dining table, where Lucius drew out the chair for Narcissa and Draco automatically did the same for Hermione.
Conversation was hard work at best, but Draco noted that his mother looked particularly pleased that their hostage knew which cutlery went with which course and did not eat with her elbows on the table.
Who would have thought that the Mudblood had basic manners?
Having an outsider in his home was aggravating. Draco Malfoy valued his privacy. With Granger in the house, he couldn't relax and sprawl over the sofas in the drawing room in his under robes anymore.
Not that a Malfoy would ever do something as undignified as that, but now that it seemed impossible, the urge to sprawl and walk around half dressed was mounting.
Thankfully, she had elected to stay out of the family's way as much as possible, evading his father's annoyed silences and his mother's attempts to dress her in soft pink frilly robes.
The only person she could not avoid and who could not avoid her in turn was he himself. Hogwarts had been closed from the middle of their sixth year onward, and the war had prevented any form of tutoring to be effective.
Although he had been able to keep up with the sixth year studies, the seventh year curriculum had been commenced again and again after numerous interruptions by the events of the war and obligations to the Dark Lord. All to no avail.
Starting his studies over with the Mudblood know-it-all had been a daunting prospect, but to be honest, it was almost pleasant having somebody to study with.
He liked to watch her.
She was chewing the feathery end of her quill while concentrating hard on her history essay.
Private tutors who only divided their attention between two students meant there was no reason to wave her hand in the air in the most annoying fashion, and their fast-paced discussions in every single lesson, regardless the subject, was ... exhilarating.
After only a week they had already covered two weeks worth of lessons and their tutors were thinking about giving them research projects to work on and broaden their knowledge beyond N.E.W.T. level. The only reason they had not started yet was the reluctance of their pure blooded teachers to force one of their own to work closely with a Mudblood.
He was looking forward to working with her on a joint project without close supervision by a tutor.
After the first night, in which he had barged into her room to witness her nightmares, she had been amusingly skittish.
Her quill was now scratching away fervently, obviously hardly able to keep up with her thoughts. She obviously struggled between quickly putting her thoughts on paper and still maintaining her neat, even style of writing.
The fluttery sleeves of her new robes were pushed out of the way of her quill but threatened to smear the fresh ink by constantly gliding down her forearms. Very slowly, Draco moved his hand over to her bare skin. In her ignorance of pure-blood culture, she was probably completely unaware of how enticing her arms looked to him. Pure-blood girls never showed an inch of skin on their arms and legs after a certain age. At Hogwarts the Slytherin girls had always opted for long sleeved blouses and either worn tights or knee-highs and skirts of the appropriate length.
He had to smile when he thought back to the dormitory talk with Blaise and Theo. The half blood and Mudblood girls of the other houses had been the topic of choice on many nights. The short sleeves on their blouses in summer, the ankle socks and knee length skirts and-oh gods!-the flimsy tops and short skirts on the weekends.
Surely, Granger would be appalled should she ever find out that she had been the centre of many wanking sessions for any Slytherin interested in girls. Markus Flint had been teased mercilessly for weeks after he had forgotten to put up silencing charms and a muffled cry of 'Granger!' had sounded past his drawn bed curtains.
Draco himself had entertained thoughts of her more than once ever since he happened to walk by her when returning a book to the library. She had been perched on one of the tall library ladders, reaching for a thick, mouldy-looking tome with worn off old lettering. He had happened to look up, coincidentally, of course, and caught a glimpse of red, low cut knickers and nothing else under her grey uniform skirt.
That night, he had fisted and tugged at himself imagining her wearing a matching bra to those red knickers and slowly crawling up to him in his bed.
Imagining touching her was allowed, he had decided.
And now he had the opportunity to do so every day.
He drew a finger along her exposed forearm, and she jumped in surprise, drawing the tip of her quill from one side of her parchment to the other, smearing more than one paragraph.
"What are you playing at? Do you want me to mess up my magical creatures essay so you can get me into trouble with Professor Morgwin?"
"As if I needed to resort to that, Granger." And then in a lower tone: "Does it excite you, being so close to me?"
She wordlessly moved one seat down, out of range of his hands.
Draco smirked at her bent head, her unbelievable hair falling over her face, concealing a blush, maybe?
He had not missed how the fine hairs on her arm had stood and how goose bumps had spread over her skin, leaving a prickly trail in his finger's wake.
"So, Granger, will you be able to touch a unicorn?"
The quill in her hand paused her fluent writing, and she looked up from her parchment very slowly.
Draco felt a warm rush of satisfaction as Granger gaped at him and blinked slowly.
"Are you showing yourself some respect and waiting or are you the Muggle that you seem to be and have put out already?"
"That is none of your business, Malfoy."
He bade his time.
"Nobody wants to touch you?"
She ignored him.
"On the other hand, it might be quite the opposite. I mean, you weren't surprised to find a man in your room in the middle of the night."
She suddenly looked sad and he pushed on, sensing the near victory.
"Is Potter good in bed?"
"I am not a whore, Malfoy. Harry and I might share a bed on occasion, but that does not mean we share our bodies."
"So nobody wants to touch you, then." He leaned back. "Understandable."
Granger closed her book with a bang and stood.
"Have you looked around, Malfoy? The wizarding world is nearly void of wizards nowadays. Do you honestly think I am waiting for a hypothetical wedding to some hypothetical wizard, who will be thrilled at being able to rid me of a tiny piece of skin? For the last few years I didn't know whether I would wake up the next morning, and I am glad, so glad, that I had a wizard, who was kind and loving and gentle when we needed it and quite the opposite when we needed that. I am glad I had those moments with him, because now he is gone and nothing will bring him back and I miss him and ... and ... and I hate you!"
Her voice was choked, and she quickly gathered her parchment and quills and made a mess of it while trying to pack them too quickly, destroying her days' work but not caring.
He had not expected this.
And aggravating her did not feel as good as it should have felt.
"How is life with Granger, Draco?"
Blaise Zabini leaned against the window frame in Draco's room, seemingly observing something on the grounds outside with apt interest.
"Why do you ask?"
Draco came up next to him and followed his line of vision to a warmly bundled-up Granger on the front lawn.
She crouched down, making her woollen cloak fan out behind her on the damp grass.
A white peacock eyed her suspiciously, cocking his head to the side, seemingly trying to decide whether the lure of whatever she had on her outstretched palm was worth the risk of coming any nearer to the human.
"Unsurprisingly, she appears to have taken an interest in the livestock."
The peacock could no longer withstand the temptation and took two more tentative steps forward.
"And the animals feel right at home with her."
The white bird pecked at her hand a few times, becoming bolder and bolder until Granger suddenly jumped up, shaking her hand wildly.
"Or maybe not."
"No, really, Draco. Is it that bad?"
It is not as bad as it could be. She does make an effort not to be in the way, but I still can't imagine her being here for two years."
Blaise nodded with a pensive look on his face.
"Ginny is quite agreeable to live with."
"The blood traitor?" Draco's eyebrows nearly leapt off his face. "Ginny?"
Blaise ignored the disbelieving tone and carried on.
"Do you think this armistice will be good for anything?"
Draco had also thought about this. Returning to his studies in earnest had meant thinking about the future.
It was nice to think that one might have a future.
"I would not count on it, Blaise. We will probably just go back to where we left off and eradicate them or they will eradicate us."
"The Dark Lord said that we would need time to recover. Maybe the armistice could be extended? It has happened many times before..."
"What is this Blaise? Dreaming of a future with a blood traitor? Has she managed to trap you already?"
And as an afterthought:
"She is not pregnant, is she?"
Blaise finally averted his gaze from the girl in the gardens, chasing and being chased by the peacock.
"But think about it. How many pure-blood girls do you know that are not yet betrothed? How many are left?"
Draco looked at his friend in mounting horror. He had always assumed that he would get married one day to uphold the Malfoy name, but since he had never expected anything but an arranged marriage, he had never wasted any thoughts on whom he would marry in the end.
"I am comfortable being in Ginny's company now that we are over the awkwardness of the situation. She is easy to talk to and so ... enthusiastic."
"I can make her happy with the smallest of things. She is so amazed and excited about anything new she experiences. We went to my grandfather's house in Venice, and you should have seen her! The other pure blood girls I know would have feigned disinterest, or even worse, I think they would have been disinterested. With her it was like seeing the town for the first time."
Draco watched Blaise becoming more and more distressed.
"I don't want to face her in battle in two years time!"
"Blaise, you need to keep your wits about you! The war is not going to disappear just so you can be happy with your hostage!"
"I know!" He sounded miserable.
After a little while, Blaise added something seemingly out of context.
"I hear that Pansy has grown quite close to the Weasley mother. Unsurprising given that her own mother passed away when she was small." Draco did not react. "The Weasleys have a lot of pure-blood sons."
Draco looked out of the window into the darkening gardens to the front of the manor.
Granger stood, bent over, one hand resting near her knee, the other near her face with her forefinger extended. The peacock seemed nonplussed by her scolding.
The silky fabric of her robes felt strange when she walked along the corridors or climbed the stone staircases.
For years and years her choice of clothing had been dictated by practicality. It had to be resilient, warm in winter, and most of all it should under no circumstances hinder her movements while fighting.
Now she was wearing silken robes that fluttered when she moved. Narcissa had been devastated when Hermione had insisted on the more simple styles and darker colours. She would have so loved to see her in pastel pink.
In the end she had agreed that Hermione was not five years old and that she did not feel comfortable wearing happy colours in the current situation. It would soon be the winter season anyhow, so darker colours were permitted.
Hermione could not help but wonder what her life would have been like without the war, without the disappearance of her parents, without the scars on her body and soul.
Her life at the manor felt just as awkward as she had imagined living life with her parents in the Muggle world would be. In a way, war was all she knew. Her formative years had been spent fighting. Although the mere absence of wand-to-wand fights did not make her feel particularly safe with the Malfoys, she did relish the opportunity to rediscover simple pleasures such as reading without interruption or conducting research without the time pressure of an impending attack.
She was roused from her musings when she heard Narcissa's call for Draco and his rushed exit from his room.
Her curiosity was piqued.
It was risky to eavesdrop on her hosts. Keepers. Hosts. But knowledge was power, and she could always feign ignorance and claim to have just happened upon them by chance.
She could hear voicesas she neared Lucius' study. Narcissa's and Draco's voices she could clearly distinguish. Then she heard Lucius and the voice of another man.
No. It could not be.
With a shaking hand, she pushed the study door open a bit further. She had never been in that room, preferring to give the man a wide berth. He had been nothing but polite, but she did not want to take any chances.
Her hosts were assembled around the wide desk; Lucius seated behind it, Draco in the armchair in front of it with Narcissa standing behind the backrest, one hand placed on the aged leather.
A tall painting, not quite life-size but grand enough to warrant a wall to itself, hung to the right of the desks'.
It's occupant she would have known anywhere.
All three living Malfoys turned at the sound. Her voice came out so strained, yet hopeful and starving.
"Loutre?" The paintings voice was just as hopeful.
Otter, the French term of endearment that Severus had found so fitting for her.
"Severus." This time, her voice did break under the pressure of oncoming tears ending the man's name in a high-pitched sob.
She rushed forward, past the shell-shocked Malfoy family, and placed a hand flat against the bottom of the canvas, as far up as she could reach.
The man in the portrait immediately fell to his knees, robes bunching up in a black cloud around him on the painted stone floor.
"Albus sent you here? Is he insane?"
"I thought all your portraits had been destroyed!" She wiped the streaming tears with her sleeve, soaking it in a matter of seconds. "I thought you were gone for good!"
He placed his hand against hers, fingertips touching the ball of her hand, separated by canvas and paint and magic.
"Ma loutre, I am not really here, just a memory of my former self."
She ignored what he was saying, resting her forehead on the gilded frame of the painting, crying violently.
"I miss you so much!"
"I miss you, too."
The likeness of Severus Snape, executed traitor to the Dark Cause, remained silent while Hermione cried herself out.
When the shaking of her shoulders subsided, a clearing of a throat drew their attention to the owners of the house.
"Care to explain this, Severus? Not only did you pretend to be sleeping until today but you then raise quite a few questions with your behaviour toward ... our guest."
"I don't think this is any of your business, Lucius."
"Why do you, of all people, have a portrait of him anyway?" Hermione cried indignantly.
"Why, excuse me. This is still my home, and I may have portraits of anyone I please, anywhere I please."
Hermione did not back down, but sniffed and stared into his face.
"I had a portrait of Lucius in my chambers, Hermione. We knew how dangerous this war was, and we wanted to ensure each other's memories would be preserved."
She eyed the aristocrat with a changing perception.
"Was he such a good friend?" And then, before Severus' portrait could answer, "Closer to you than I?"
Jealousy ripped at her heart.
"Nobody was closer to me than you. But the portrait was safe in the manor. Please forgive me for not telling you."
His gentle voice mollified her, enjoying the long-missed baritone.
"Well." Lucius was obviously uncomfortable with the situation. "I think we should give you some privacy." He motioned for his wife and son to vacate the study. "But I warn you. Everything in this room is warded. Do. Not. Even. Try."
Hermione nodded absently and clutched at the carved picture frame.
Narcissa looked reluctant to leave the room, but decided to merely place a comforting hand on Hermione's shoulder to convey her understanding.
Draco seemed even less inclined to leave, but a nudge from his mother made him get up from his seat and move to the door.
His godfather and the Mudblood were whispering to each other, looking sickeningly lovey-dovey.
It was disgust that was churning in his stomach.
Even if it felt remarkably like jealousy.
He trailed behind and watched as Granger once again forgot that she could do magic and lugged the heavy armchair across the room to the portrait. Pushing the backrest flush against the wall underneath the frame, she shed her shoes and climbed on top of the upholstered seat.
Now her face was at a level that allowed Severus Snape to sit comfortably and see eye to eye.
Draco huffed softly. They were oblivious to the rest of the world.
A dead man and a Mudblood.
Later, when he was sitting over his Arithmancy parchments, his thoughts wandered back to the image she had displayed.
Suddenly so very vibrant and alive.
Granger had very pretty feet.
As delicate as her hands, come to think of it.
He was lagging.
The ancient runes translation was exacting, but the matter was very dry, Goblin laws. Goblins were known to cover every angle of an issue and never leave loop holes in their laws.
Just the thing to get Granger excited. She was bent over her books, cheeks flushed, her quill scratching over her parchment at a pace that would suggest her to be under threat of death to finish.
Her enthusiasm irked him today, as he was not feeling like working himself.
Settling for watching her and staring into space, he went about finding a new way to aggravate her.
She was too amusing when provoked.
Absentmindedly, Draco kept reaching for the bowl with shelled almonds, tapping them with his wand. The shell cracked with a soft scrunching noise, and he popped the kernel into his mouth.
Exasperated, Hermione tried to ignore the persistent noise in the silence of the library, until she could take no more. She stood so abruptly that her chair teetered on its hind legs before falling forward and rocking a bit back and forth
Bent over the wide table, she caught his hand in the bowl and held on.
"Can you please stop doing that? It makes me crazy!"
He looked at her with cool eyes; his gaze strayed down to where the generous neckline of her deep blue robes ended. His mother had probably not intended to display what his eyes now had access to.
She either did not notice or was too unused to clothing that could become revealing if one did not take care. He met her eyes in amusement.
She huffed but still did not let go of his wrist. His skin was warmed by her grip and tingled in interest.
"The noise makes it hard to concentrate; could you at least cast Muffliato?"
He looked pointedly at her hand and she let go, sitting down on her chair with a thump.
"I am allergic to Muffliato."
Now she tried to run her hand through her braided hair and only managed to get her fingers caught in the complicated slings of locks. His mother was truly putting her through the paces. In two years she would leave this house behaving like a proper witch. It would be interesting to see what Narcissa's finishing school approach could accomplish.
"Who has ever heard about somebody being allergic to a spell?" she cried, desperately trying to untangle the small ring she wore on her right hand.
He shrugged. "It gives me a headache."
She closed her eyes, and he thought she might break out in tears of frustration.
"It would not even be on you, just on the bloody almonds!"
He loved how harried she looked.
"I am shocked!" He placed a hand on his own chest. "You are suggesting I ingest something I am allergic to?"
She mumbled something that sounded very much like 'I hope it kills you'.
With glee, he tapped his wand against the almond he had been holding the entire time. The shell split in the middle and revealed two kernels.
A perfect Philomena.
"I tell you what, Granger. If you participate in a pure-blood custom with me, I will refrain from eating shelled almonds in your presence." Which left a myriad of other nuts as well as other shelled things he could still eat and annoy her with to no end.
Although the thought of eating mussels or lobster in the library horrified him, it would horrify her so much more.
She narrowed her eyes.
"Does this particular pure blood custom involve anything about cousins, because I can tell you, Malfoy, I will certainly not..."
"Hold your horses, Granger-or do Muggles use donkeys to work the earth? Anyhow, no, nothing like that." He produced the shell with the two kernels. "This is a Philomena. I will eat one and you will eat one. The first one of us to remember when we see each other tomorrow and to say 'Good Morning Philippine' wins. They can ask the loser, most probably you, Granger, for a small gift."
"Why do you say Philippine if this is called a Philomena?"
Draco sighed deeply.
"Who cares, Granger? Merlin, leave it to you to question everything. Don't pick it apart, just have fun." Or let me have fun at your expense.
"Why do you want me to do this? What kind of gift?"
"Anything, Granger. Anything."
"Never. Who knows what you will ask for!"
Now he had her.
"So you admit that I am superior, since you won't be able to remember such a simple thing for one day. Are you scared, little Gryffindor?"
He could see her instinct to back away warring with her natural inclination never to back down from a challenge. So easy to manipulate.
"Alright. Give it to me."
She accepted one of the kernels from his hand and inspected it carefully before popping it into her mouth.
He followed suit and started chewing.
As soon as some of the almond had gone down, magic started swirling between them in a pale yellow figure of eight motion.
Hermione sat in shocked silence.
"You made me enter a magical contract."
Draco shrugged nonchalantly.
"Serves you right for not being able to withstand a challenge. Sometimes I wonder what you Gryffindors would do if someone challenged you to poison yourself."
He rolled his eyes and strolled from the room, determined not to forget about the Philomena tomorrow morning.
A 'Good Morning Philippine!' on the lips, Draco entered the dining room only to find Hermione's chair empty.
Feeling a bit foolish, he murmured "Good morning, Mother. Father."
The morning certainly did not start as expected. Draco had carefully waited a full fourteen minutes to be sure to be the last person to enter the dining room for breakfast. Hermione usually sat with her back to the door, as did he himself. She would have had no chance at all to be the first to remind him of the Philomena.
Granger had obviously had the same plan.
Fourteen minutes stretched to half an hour at which point Draco was in a sour mood. Granger seemed to want to ambush him at a time when he would never suspect it. But that wouldn't work. He would be attentive.
Lucius suddenly hissed in pain and let the chair scrape backward noisily on the marble floor while he stood up, holding his left arm, just as Hermione rushed into the room. Her apology for having overslept was cut short by the sight in front of her.
Lucius did not have to tell his wife and son where he was going as he summoned his black cloak and silver mask.
They watched the head of the Malfoy family go with a resounding crack of Apparition.
Hermione felt that her breathing was too loud in the following silence.
"I think I better prepare myself," Draco said, getting up from his chair, childish games forgotten.
They waited a long time.
By an unspoken agreement, Hermione waited with mother and son, breakfast cold and ignored on the polished table.
Draco sat on one of the sofas, Death Eater robe draped over the armrest, mask on the side table. He had dressed warmly and now sat waiting for the dreaded burn in his arm, foot jumping nervously.
His hiss of pain was nearly drowned out by the loud sound that announced Lucius' return.
He did not lose time.
"Draco, come. Miss Granger, you, too."
Hermione stood, an icy feeling spreading through her, making her heart stumble.
Lucius held his hand out to her.
She slipped it slowly from its sleeve at her forearm and placed it in his palm. She then lifted her eyes to his and looked at him with trepidation.
"You will get it back."
Something must have happened.
Albus had assured her that nobody would step out of line, that everybody was well aware of the laws concerning hostages.
The same laws that protected her in the Malfoy household could easily demand her death.
Narcissa Malfoy stood at the table, a frown on her pretty features.
She watched in silence as her husband clasped the shoulder of the girl and then all three of them spun away.
The room was vast and dark. So cold and imposing.
The few torches in scones along the circular walls did little to illuminate the hall. For a moment she caught Ginny's worried eye a few black robes down. Blaise Zabini was standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders.
A sea of black stood to either side of the throne, and Hermione realised that she and Ginny were the only ones in attendance who were not in Death Eater robes. Hermione deeply regretted wearing the ridiculously cheerful magenta robe that Narcissa had talked her into.
A very thin robe.
Hermione could not suppress a shiver, and she wrapped her arms around her middle. She had been here for mere seconds and already she had to clench her jaws to keep her teeth from chattering.
Lucius was standing next to her, and suddenly she could feel a warm presence behind her, not truly touching at all but shielding her back from the damp drafts that wafted through the catacomb-like room.
"It's me," Draco whispered when she flinched away.
She was only too aware that this setting could not mean anything good.
Neither for them, nor for herself.
Voldemort appeared directly in front of his gaudy seat, shortly followed by two Death Eaters, who had their hands firmly clasped around the upper arms of Albus Dumbledore and Arthur Weasley.
"My followers have been attacked. Is this how you honour the agreement, Albus? You were the one talking about family life and a reprieve for the young." He stood. "It was a picnic, Albus, a picnic! Children were present!"
"I do not know who did this, Tom. Please consider that no one was harmed. A mere prank, a foolish one, but nevertheless a prank rather than an attack."
"It matters not. I demand retribution."
Hermione saw Arthur tense, his gaze flicking to Ginny.
Draco's hands dug into her robes from behind, holding her in place unbeknownst to others.
"What kind of retribution do you chose, Tom?"
"I am not willing to call this armistice off as of yet."
"I appreciate it, Tom." Albus inclined his head.
"Now, which one should it be, Albus?"
Voldemort stood and glided closer to the two shivering girls. He let one very long, claw-like fingernail scrape over Ginny's face, from her brow over her cheek down to her chin.
She did not flinch but tried to follow the movement with her eyes without moving.
"Would you like to watch while your daughter pays for the foolishness of your peers, Arthur?"
Hermione saw Arthur close his eyes in pain.
Her own parents did not even know that she existed anymore. And they were certainly not here to watch whatever debasement she would be subjected to.
Hermione surprised herself with the force and volume of that one exclaimed word.
Voldemort seemed disbelievingly amused.
"A volunteer? How delightfully brave and stupid. But your lot never was one for self-preservation, were you?"
He strode back to his seat and leaned back comfortably.
"Lucius, would you like to do the honours?"
Draco's hands were still holding her robes, and she was unable to move away from him and do something even more stupid than offering herself up for punishment. Lucius took a first step toward her, and she inwardly tried to remember all the punishments that the laws cited.
Having a goat lick salt from the soles of her feet.
Caning was supposed to be crippling if done-well she could not add the word 'right' in good conscious-if this was the intended outcome. Or if executed by an amateur.
Rape. Multiple even.
She put that on top of the list of probable scenarios.
Please not the goat.
She had stared dumbfounded at the picture in the old law book.
But then she had read on and a feeling of horror had gripped her. The rough tongue of the goat first made the victim laugh helplessly. The urge was so violent that many passed out from lack of oxygen or literally laughed themselves to death. If that did not happen and the licking went on long enough, the tickling sensation turned to one of pain, a feeling that the underside of the feet was being removed and the grainy tongue licking directly over exposed nerves and bones.
"But I think that Draco has a score to settle from his schooldays. I think you will have to step aside for your son this time, Lucius."
Lucius retreated back into the line of minions, and Draco held her robes tighter than ever.
"Get on your knees, Mudblood. I am sure you know what to do."
The relief that flooded her was nearly comical.
The incident must have been a minor one to force Voldemort to stay within certain limits in his punishment.
She only had to perform fellatio on a man she was forced to live with for more than another year.
Straining against Draco's grip, he released her and she turned around.
The only thing she could see of his face behind the mask was his eyes.
They held no compassion.
Draco slid his hand into her curls at the nape of her neck and tightened his grip.
She held his gaze.
He did not caress the nape of her neck underneath her hair or try to whisper reassuring 'I'm sorries'.
Not that she had expected that.
This was not some twisted romance novel after all.
But he did not smirk at her either. His eyes were a careful, determined blank as he asserted pressure on her shoulder with his arm that rested there from cradling the back of her head.
Forced to her knees, the thin material of her skirt immediately soaked through with a cold, wet, slimy substance she did not want to think about.
Shutting the rest of the room out, she concentrated on the next task at hand.
Get shaking fingers to undo the buckle.
Think of peace.
Muster courage to go further.
Falter and try again.
In a twisted kind of way, Draco felt her hesitate and tightened his grip on her hair once more, jolting her back into action.
She unbuttoned his fly with difficulty, afraid that they might get impatient and change her ... task.
Thankfully he was already hard. It would be over more quickly then.
She had felt a tightening of her stomach at the thought of sucking his limp dick to life.
Opening her mouth wide she closed her eyes and shut out the scene around her. The floor was still cold and hard and slick with unmentionable wetness, and there were still dozens, if not more than a hundred men, watching her on her knees in front of Malfoy.
Though grateful that it was not somebody like Dolohov, who was a brute in all things. She felt anything but lucky that she had to face Malfoy in ten minutes. Tomorrow. Next week. In two months. At Christmas and Easter.
Her tongue moved in practiced patterns along the underside of his cock.
Think of peace.
At least he tasted clean. Thank goodness for Malfoy vanity and immaculate grooming.
Think of peace.
Through her concentration she could hear unhappy murmurs from the assembled men.
Malfoy seemed to realise this too because he suddenly had both of his hands in her hair, pulling her face all the way to his groin.
Surprised by the sudden movement, she made a distressed sound, and out of pure reflex and instinct, her hands came up to his hips, trying to push him away.
He was going too far, she could not breathe and started struggling.
It was impossible to remember what she was supposed to think about.
Her stomach was heaving; her throat constricting, the cut air supply made her eyes water and tears of strain and panic made their way down her cheeks.
He simply held her there, her nose pressed into his blond, wiry hair, and she could not stop fighting and screaming around his piece of flesh, her throat clamping down on him.
There were cheers now.
Her throat constricted again.
Her stomach lurched upward.
She could feel it on her lips and on her tongue. Contractions travelling down his cock. One, two, three.
She could not breathe.
Just leave me in peace!
And then she fell backward, hands and bottom instantly covered in pungent moisture.
The damp, stagnant air filled her lungs in gulps in between coughs.
"This was entertaining, although not nearly as much as it could have been. One more digression, Albus, one more, and we will be entertained, here as well as on the battlefield."
Albus and Arthur were escorted out of the room and after Voldemort left, one Death Eater after the other Apparated out.
Hermione was still on the floor, staring blankly into nothingness.
Draco kept a careful distance, and it was Lucius, who bent down to take her by the arm and help her to stand.
He steadied her when she nearly lost her footing in the entrance hall of Malfoy Manor, then quickly let her go.
Hermione wiped at her chin and seed-stained robes, smearing the fluids, unable to remove them.
She felt so dirty.
"Spare me, Draco."
She turned to the stairs, still tasting his skin and sweat and seed in her mouth.
"Draco!" Narcissa Malfoy stood at the top of the stairs, an ethereal figure in a flowing white negligee and dressing gown."Let the girl go rinse her mouth and brush her teeth."
Surprised, both Draco and Hermione stared at Lady Malfoy. There was nothing sweet or shallow in her voice, only practicality and knowledge.
The small elf winked into the breakfast room.
"Is Miss Hermione still in her room? Maybe she is unwell?"
"Miss Hermione is not on the estate, Mistress."
Simultaneously, a chair hit the marble ground with a loud clatter and paper rustled as a newspaper fell to the surface of the table.
Lucius stood, his face white with fear and rage.
The small creature shivered and bowed to its master.
"The wards show that Miss Hermione has left the estate at three thirty-two this morning."
"In the middle of the night?" His voice was faint. "Why was I not alerted?"
"WHY was I not alerted?"
The elf cowered.
Lucius had actually never given order to be alerted should Hermione leave. She was here voluntarily; she knew what would happen should she leave. She would never compromise the peace.
But apparently she had.
"Lucius." Narcissa put a soft hand on her husband's arm. "Let us go to her room."
Draco was already on his way out of the dining room and the first to hurry up the stairs, taking two or three steps at a time.
He should have insisted on talking to her yesterday. Had she run away because of him?
The door to her room was closed, but unlocked. The bed looked slept-in with slightly rumpled sheets, a dent in the pillow and one corner of the golden yellow duvet thrown back as if she had just got up.
Her robes and Muggle clothes were still in the wardrobe, and a quickly performed spell told them that no items had been removed.
Toiletry items, a few make up things and the hair care potions in golden glimmering flasks that Narcissa had gifted to her stood undisturbed in front of the mirror and on the edge of her built-in bathtub.
"It does not look like she ran away," Narcissa remarked in a slow, pensive voice.
"Or she does not want it to look like she ran away." He pushed his hand into his hair and caused a few strands to slip out of the ribbon at the nape. "The Dark Lord will not like this."
His outward appearance remained relatively calm, but his eyes and a slight tremor in his voice belied his distress.
The disappearance of the Granger girl could jeopardise well-laid plans that ought not to be disturbed.
Draco's eyes fell on the tall window.
"I will search the grounds, just in case."
His mother had moved close to his father, to comfort and be comforted. He left the stairs and entrance hall behind him and exited into the gardens. The grass was still damp and a veil of fog wound around the group of trees by the lake.
Draco stilled and felt a calm dread settle on his shoulders as he stared at the object on the ground.
Hermione Granger was a Mudblood and might not appreciate fine robes and regard anything beyond the absolute necessary as frippery, but even he had to admit that she was magical. No witch in her right mind would run away and discard her wand while doing so.
As he had foreseen, his father was in the study, pacing at a frantic speed between the fire place and the portrait of Severus Snape.
He stopped abruptly when he became aware of his son in the doorway.
Draco took the opportunity to walk into the room without haste. He was very aware of the two pairs of eyes following his every move. When he reached the desk, he placed the slim piece of vine on its shiny surface.
"I don't think she left voluntarily."
His calm demeanour gave his words more force than agitated yelling and screaming could ever have done.
He was aware of movement in his peripheral vision as his godfather slumped in his painted armchair, his face covered with his hands.
"This is not good."
Lucius looked no longer pale and aristocratic. His skin had taken on a greyish, sickly colour.
Severus' portrait raised his head and with urgency and determination in his voice addressed his friend.
"Go to him. Go now, before whoever has taken her informs him. Be upfront, be enraged, offer yourself up for punishment."
Lucius had already started dressing in his dark cloak and summoned his mask.
"Buy us some time, Lucius."
Lucius inclined his head in a jerky fashion, as if the dread he was feeling had suddenly stiffened his bones and joints.
Even his Apparating sounded subdued.
As soon as the head of house had left the manor, Severus Snape jolted into action.
"Draco, have a comfortable portrait taken to the lab, something with a table and a chair in it will do."
"Of course, an oil painting with table and chair to the lab. Anything else? Painted wine and fruit?"
"Don't dawdle, boy! Let the elves look for something appropriate and then meet me in the lab with some of Hermione's hair."
"Will the lock that I carry in a locket above my heart suffice?"
Snape's portrait was quite clearly not amused.
"Alright, alright. I'll check her room. I'll send a house-elf to inform you when your office painting has been installed in the lab."
With that he swiftly left the study, calling for an elf to look through stored away paintings as he was certain that no such picture adorned the walls of the manor.
Her room was not far, and he felt a strange pang when entering. The open books on her vanity that was obviously not used for its intended purpose, the strewn-about quills and a half-eaten, browning apple made the room-sad.
Shaking himself out of this unfamiliar mindset, he started for the bathroom in search of a bit of Hermione Granger.
Her hair was everywhere. Always.
It stuck to her robe, accumulated in the corners of rooms with marble or parquet flooring and got into his way while trying to study a particularly rare book with her.
She was shedding hair like a bloody cat.
Why was there no hair when he needed it?
He had searched the bathroom for her hairbrush.
Every woman had a hairbrush, right?
Apparently not this one.
All he could find was a wide-toothed comb made of horn.
And not a single hair.
The next second he could have hit himself. There he was, mocking the witch for forgetting her magic once in a while.
"Accio Hermione's hair."
Three single, brown hairs floated from her pillow into his hand, and he left her room with long strides in the direction of the manor's potions laboratory.
It did not even occur to him that he had used her first name.
The ropes bit into her numb flesh, sending small sparks of pain into her hands and arms.
Her mouth was dry and sticky as if she had been ill without proper care for a long time.
She remembered the small parchment origami bird that had desperately flung itself against her window last night. Had it been last night? Probably. She did not feel bad enough for having been unconscious for several days. But one never knew with magic...
She had opened the window and seen Ginny in front of the gates, obviously in great distress.
Hermione had grabbed her wand and run down the stairs and out of the house.
Seeing Ginny like that only hours after they had averted a new breakout of war had had Hermione in a panic. If Ginny had lost her nerve and run away from the Zabinis, all hope was lost.
Or maybe the Zabinis had hurt Ginny? Some followers might be overeager to please their Lord and punish her on their own volition.
Stupidly she had swung open the gate and stepped out of the wards.
And then nothing.
She was lying directly on a hard stone surface, and where her arms and legs had not gone lifeless from lack of blood flow, she could feel her flesh growing unresponsive from cold.
Forcing herself not to panic, she took in her surroundings. It was a rather large cave; bones, rotting leftovers from week-old meals and ashes from burnt wood made it apparent that somebody or something lived in the inhospitable place.
There was a clatter of loose stones on stone, rolling down or sliding a short distance after being stirred by footsteps.
Fenrir Greyback rounded the corner, and his mouth twisted into a caricature of a smile when he saw that Hermione was awake.
"There you are! And I thought you might have decided to die before we could have our fun."
Hermione could not disguise her shock when a woman rounded the corner of the cave's entrance. Nymphadora Tonks. She stumbled while trying to free her wand from her robe pocket and when she was unsuccessful, latched onto Greyback's arm.
"You promised she wouldn't get hurt!"
"Get away from me, Metamorphmagus! You have served your purpose, now hold your tongue!"
"You said we would simply end the armistice so I could find justice for Remus!" Her voice rose to hysterical heights. "You said she wouldn't be hurt, that you wanted revenge for Remus as well!" She started tugging on his arm and he turned around, snarling in annoyance.
He flung her from him, against the stone wall of the cave, hitting her head with a sickening crunch.
She was still.
Hermione felt sick. In spite of the fact that Tonks must have impersonated Ginny in order to lure Hermione beyond the protection of the manor.
Greyback crouched down in front of Hermione, taking her chin in his filthy hand, yellow, ragged nails digging into her skin.
With a sudden movement of her head, she dislodged his grip.
"What do you want, Greyback?"
"What I want? Many things. I want the promises the Dark Lord made for my pack to be fulfilled."
He roughly rolled her onto her back and trailed a hand over the front of her nightgown.
"You have grown since I last had the pleasure of feeling you, Mudblood."
She fervently wished that she'd worn one of her warm flannel pyjamas instead of the knee length nightgown.
"I want this ridiculous truce to end and have free reign to hunt on the battlefield."
He straddled her and ripped her nightgown in half.
"It's all your fault, you know? First you save the day by so eagerly stepping forward to suck cock and then you run away, overcome by shame. Or maybe the mean, mean Malfoys treated you badly?"
Although he was not in wolf form, his teeth felt dangerously sharp against her skin, toying with her fears, threatening to bite at any moment.
"But fret not, by the end of the week, the world as you know it will have ceased to exist."
She tried to struggle, but the restraints and his weight on her made it impossible for her to have any effect on him.
He suddenly lunged forward, his upper body burying her and knocking the air from her lungs.
Hermione braced herself for a vicious attack, anticipating teeth and claws to tear at her skin and powerful paws to break her bones.
She could hardly breathe; the stench emanating from him was unbearable. The attack, however, did not come. Instead, his stiff body was heaved aside and Draco Malfoy stood over her.
"You look a mess, Granger."
A quick Finite Incantatem let the ropes fall away from her wrists and ankles, and blood rushed back into her hands and feet.
And a bit friendlier:
"Can you stand?"
Hermione tried to make her useless hands grasp the lapels of her thin dressing gown to draw it closed and cover herself.
Unsuccessful, she looked up at Draco.
"I am afraid not any time soon."
He bent down, took the dressing gown in hand and secured it firmly with the tie around her waist. He quickly crossed the cave and performed a spell over Tonks' still form, shaking his head to her unspoken question and returned to her side.
"You are really more trouble than anything else, Granger."
His voice belied his relief. If the guided Apparating potion had taken any longer to brew. Seeing her underneath the beast after the strange dark tunnel had first sucked him in and then spit him out not three yards from her had been horrifying.
"How do I know that you are you? I've been fooled by someone impersonating somebody I trust all too recently."
He looked at her silently. Then he smiled.
"Good morning, Philippine!"
"You are annoying." She gave him a relieved smile. "And I never thought I would ever say this, but I am glad it's you!"
He held onto her limp hand and Apparated them away.
There was straw underneath her bottom when they materialised in a compact room with lime-plastered walls and bulky, primitive wooden furniture.
Draco helped her on top of the bed along the wall, near the hearth. Hermione started flexing her fingers and watched him light a fire.
He scribbled something on a small piece of parchment and sent it into the flames, vanishing it instantly.
"What did you do?"
"I sent a message to my mother."
"By Floo?" her voice was alarmed upon this reckless stupidity.
He shook his head.
"Internal Floo network. It only accesses other Malfoy properties; nobody from the outside is able to breach the system."
"Other Malfoy properties?" Hermione looked around. The accommodation appeared to be rather basic for a Malfoy property. "Where are we?"
"In the Master's chamber of the first Malfoy estate in all of Britain: our safe house."
Hermione looked around, blinking. Vertical beams showed between the lime plaster of the walls. The room was not big by any means, but for 11th century standards, it must have been downright decadent with the large fireplace, the wide wooden bed and numerous pieces of furniture.
"The very same, Granger. You really retain everything you hear, don't you?"
She shrugged. "I try. What do we do now?"
Draco took a deep breath and released it slowly, hands on his hips.
"I gather that you are still unable to use your limbs?"
"At the moment my hands and feet sting horribly."
"Alright then. I hope you don't weigh too much, Granger."
Draco strode over and lowered himself onto his knees to slip his arms under her knees and around her back.
Struggling to lift her, he finally stood and walked the few steps to the bed with her, dumping her unceremoniously on top of it.
"Oof! What was that for? Why did you not just levitate me?"
His expression turned serious.
"We should not perform magic until we know it's safe. Even here. During the war, there was dark magic that allowed us to monitor specific wands. It is not easy to perform and quite draining, but Severus thinks that whoever kidnapped you might try to get you back at any cost."
"I thought it was a bit too easy to get out of that cave. It was a shock to see Tonks involved."
"Greyback was not so much of a shock." He grew very still for a moment. "The way I found you in that cave... Did he hurt you? Did the beast touch you?"
Hermione could feel the colour rising in her cheeks until her forehead and ears glowed.
"Not any further than what you saw."
She started flexing her hands and wiggling her toes systematically, seemingly concentrating very hard on reinstating the regular blood flow.
"Look, if he bit you or scratched you or anything, you have to tell me."
"He didn't. Really, he didn't." She finally looked him in the eye. "You came just in time."
Before he could reply or even think of a reply in the suddenly awkward atmosphere, the fire in the hearth came to life with a coughing sound to spit a cloth-wrapped parcel onto the flagstones in front of the fire place.
Draco scooped it up and opened it on top of the wooden table. There was a flask of pumpkin juice, steaming roast chicken, sandwiches, fruit and what looked like fairy cakes.
She had not been aware of it, but the sight of food made her stomach grumble.
Draco busied himself with retrieving three wooden plates with high edges or low bowls and what looked like wooden soup cups with a shiny strip of silver around the rim and two handles on either side.
He placed some chicken and a sandwich on two of the plates and handed her one.
"We'll have to eat with our fingers. Mother forgot that people used to carry their cutlery around with them; somehow we never thought to place any here."
"I have eaten with my fingers before; I will live, Malfoy," she answered, rolling her eyes while she took the plate from him, settling into a cross-legged position.
"I am sure you have."
She chose not to react to the veiled insult and started eating instead, famished after the cold hours in a damp cave.
Draco poured pumpkin juice into the drinking bowls and passed one to Hermione before placing the fruit and cakes on the third plate and hesitating for a second. It looked like he wanted to move to the bed, but then sat on the bench instead and started eating.
He waited for her to finish before he spoke again.
"There was a message from mother."
She waited for him to continue, and when he did not, she grew impatient and pushed her plate away from her.
"What does it say? Why didn't you mention it earlier?"
"Father thinks that more than a few people were involved in your kidnapping. The werewolves are running wild. Several members of the inner circle have requested for the Dark Lord to end the truce. They will meet with the Light tomorrow at the stone circle near Inverurie."
"So we just have to be there in time! When they see that I am back, they will have to keep the truce!"
Draco didn't say anything.
"They have to, right?"
He looked away and crouched down to stoke the fire.
"Draco, you are frightening me!"
"I just hope they believe us. If the Dark Lord thinks this is a plot by the Light and my family is involved in it..." he trailed off.
"What will they do?" She could not manage more than a whisper.
He looked at her for a while.
"You are right. We'll just have to be there in time."
Ignoring her frown and questioning looks, he took her plate and put it on the table. He took off his shoes and sat down on the foot of the bed, leaning against one of the posters.
"What if they don't believe us? It does not look good that Tonks was involved. What will they do, Malfoy?"
He looked at her with honest eyes.
"Do not worry about that. If they don't believe us, neither of us will walk away tomorrow."
She closed her eyes and nodded.
"They will not make it quick, will they?"
She nodded once more, a rocking movement of her whole upper body.
The laws pertaining to truces had been established to instil fear. Fear for the loved one, fear for the family and the whole country, should the armistice fail.
Finally, she opened her eyes. "I don't want to sleep tonight."
His astonishment was written all over his face, and Hermione backpedalled visibly as she realised just how her statement could be interpreted.
"I mean, I'd just like to rest a bit and talk, if that is alright with you."
They were most probably going to die tomorrow and she wanted to bloody talk?
Draco groaned and slumped against the poster.
"Fine then. Talk. Is that what you did with Snape? Sit around and discuss potions?"
"What has anything got to do with what I did or did not do with Severus?"
"Nothing, nothing. What is it with you two anyhow? Isn't he a bit..." dead "...old for you?"
"He is... was not that old!"
"Twice your age!"
"As long as I am of age!"
"True. Nevertheless, a bit strange for a girl in her early twenties. Did that start in school?"
"No, it did not!" she spat.
"So, what made you turn to the evil Potions master?"
"He is not evil! We were working together after my parents..." She blinked. "After I was all alone. We became comfortable around each other. Maybe I needed someone with a bit more experience in life. I will never regret being with him."
Her voice sounded final, and Draco desperately wanted to ease the tension and take his mind off what might happen the next day.
"He was still old," he teased.
"I was born old."
Draco raised an eyebrow and smirked.
"I know a peacock who might disagree."
For a moment she looked at him without understanding before blushing violently.
"You've seen that?"
She groaned and flung herself backward against the pillows, her hands pressed to her face to hide her embarrassment.
While eating, her nightgown had ridden up on her thighs, and the satin robe was not full enough to cover her crossed legs. The dark, shadowed space between her legs had already been an enticing sight when she was sitting and eating. Now the space was not nearly as shadowy and dark anymore. She must have completely forgotten what she was wearing, splaying out on the bed in front of him the way she was.
His body reminded him that he was young and very much alive at this point of time.
He shifted uncomfortably and adjusted the folds of his robes.
His body was adamant that it had been quite a while since he had had female company. Revels were sparse since the beginning of the truce, and Pansy was sitting amongst redheads, learning to knit hideous sweaters.
Hermione stared at the ceiling and stretched one of her legs toward him.
For the second time in not so many days, he noted that she had very pretty, small feet.
His body insisted upon the need of procreation in the face of near certain death.
He watched his hand make its way to her ankle.
"Nice view you are giving me here, Granger."
Before his hand could reach her skin, she snatched her foot away and sat up.
"Hands off, Malfoy! Did you expect me to fall on my back out of sheer gratitude?"
She sounded aggravated, as if this was far closer to the truth than she wanted to admit to herself. He decided to push her a bit.
"And here I thought you were already on your back just a few moments ago."
She placed a quick, well-aimed kick on his thigh.
"You are thoroughly annoying!"
"You are arrogant and self-centred!"
They both must have moved without noticing as they found themselves suddenly close to each other.
"You are so uncultured!"
"You are stuck in the 15th century!"
They were leaning toward each other with narrowed eyes, supporting themselves with their arms on the mattress.
"You smell like honey."
He looked at her mouth.
"What?" This time it was more of a trembling whisper.
"Gods, I love your hair."
This must be a dream, since he would never admit such a preposterous thing while awake.
And then his hand was digging into the curls at the nape of her neck, pulling her head to the side and suckling her neck.
Her hands were in his hair, too, drawing him closer, encouraging him to do whatever it was he seemed to have set his mind to.
"I love your hair, too."
A very nice dream for sure.
He smiled against her skin and shifted his weight, making her topple to the side.
With some effort, she managed to pull his head away from her shoulder so she could look into his eyes.
"This is only for now; it cannot go any further tomorrow."
He looked at her, his face expressionless but his breathing laboured. "Who the hell knows whether there will be tomorrow?"
She let go of his hair and he descended on her mouth, nipping and biting and licking.
Although his build was very slim, he was still taller than her, and his weight on top of her made her open her legs further to accommodate him.
He could feel her move to make space for him, and his body aligned with hers as if they were two halves of the same, making a whole.