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Chapter 24 : Chapter 24
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Hermione stood in the ballroom, a glass of champagne in her hand. She watched masked couples spinning about the center of the dance floor. She saw her friends at the banquet tables enjoying the spread Narcissa and Ginny had set up. She observed notorious Death Eaters, albeit behind masks, laughing and chatting.
The calming draught had long since worn off and, though she was glad the worst of it was over, she longed to be numb. She knocked back the flute of alcohol and deposited it on the passing tray of a server.
She sighed and removed the white feathered and jeweled mask from her face and placed it on the table of honor behind her.
When she turned back around to face the crowded room, she was met by a most unwelcomed site.
A tall, handsome man, dressed fully in black with a simple black mask covering the upper half of his face stood before her.
And she knew exactly who he was.
The black wavy hair, the golden complexion, the dark stubble sprinkled on his chin and the almost-black irises all told her.
“Rodolphus,” she acknowledged him in barely a whisper.
“Ma’am,” he replied taking a step closer, invading her personal space.
He reached up and twisted a loose tendril around his long finger. “I must say, you look absolutely delectable.”
Hermione shuddered and glanced about her quickly.
He leaned in further, his lips just close enough to her ear that his whispered breath tickled. “Perhaps the next time Lord Malfoy is gone, I’ll have a taste, hmm?”
He leaned back and uncurled her hair from his finger. As he pulled away, he subtly let it slide down the exposed flesh of her neck.
Hermione blanched and pulled back.
“Sir, kindly remove your hand from my person,” she said in a firm voice, sounding every bit like an offended duchess. “Your comments and your… proximity are neither appropriate nor desired. Behave yourself.”
A wicked smirk crossed his lips and he stepped away from her. He bowed low and captured her hand as he did so. He planted a polite kiss on the back and released it.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said and disappeared into the crowd.
A look of disgust crossed her pretty lips and she discreetly wiped her hand on her skirt. Some strange test? She wondered. She flicked a derisive brow up quickly in acceptance that she would never understand and quickly pushed the encounter from her mind.
Only just in time.
Harry and Ginny approached her, flanking a slightly flushed Ron. Lavender followed meekly behind, not wanting to be seen by the newly wedded Hermione.
“Great party,” Harry said as soon as the group was before her. He smiled and his eyes darted between Ron and her nervously.
“Yes, it turned out quite smashing,” Ginny added and prodded Ron in the ribs as she did so, with an innocent smile.
Ron reached up and rubbed his chin, never making eye contact with the woman in white before him.
He furrowed his brows and sighed, “Can we talk, Mione?”
She only stared at him, but he took it as an acceptance.
He glanced at the others and they fell back into the crowd to give the two space.
“I…,” he rubbed his chin again and his eyes flicked over the multitude of guests. “Thanks for inviting us. You didn’t have to, but I’m glad I didn’t have to miss it.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. Only because you would have missed all the free food, she thought wryly.
“Look, I know I was a right arse and mucked things up royally, but … I still care about you. I… you’ve been in my life for as long as I can remember. I mean, truly, I don’t remember what life was like before we rescued you from that troll. And it’s been… different since… I know we can’t be as close we were… but I… I’d like to still be friends, if it’s possible. I really…” he skipped a beat. “I really messed things up and I’m sorry. You…” he scuffed his shoes on the floor and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“You have no idea how sorry.” He sighed heavily and continued staring at the floor, though the pink in his cheeks blossomed brighter. “And uh… you know how I feel about all this,” he waved a hand about them, gesturing to the party. “I just want you to know that… well I’m here for you. Like Harry is, I mean. I’d do anything for you. Anything.”
Hermione felt her eyes misting and for a moment he was just the boy she’d gone to school with, one of her best friends.
“Thanks, Ron,” she answered softly.
He nodded and continued to not make eye contact. He looked ever where but at her.
“You uh… you look great,” he said sheepishly.
“Thanks,” she said again.
“Well, I think that’s all I really wanted to say. I… could I write you? Just to check in? Just as friends?” His eyes finally found her face.
Hermione thought a moment and smiled sadly, “I’d like that, Ron.”
“Great,” he clapped his hands together and shuffled nervously some more. “Alright, I’ll let you get back to… partying.”
Hesitantly he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a one-armed, guy hug.
Hermione felt a mixture of emotions as she watched his ginger head disappear into the crowd. Anger, she was still hurt by his actions. Sadness, he’d never really be the same friend he was in school, it would always be awkward. Happiness, she felt like a weight was lifted finally, a blockage was removed, she and Ron and… made up? Well… something like making up, she figured. But it felt good whatever it was.
She leaned back against the table behind her and took in the merriment around her. Such an odd night, she thought. Her eyes skimmed the tables and guests.
Candle light and dim chandeliers had the ballroom glowing golden. Each table had a gorgeous centerpiece of flowers: white lilies and roses, baby’s breath, gardenias, and purple orchids.
Whoever chose purple? Hermione wondered. No matter. It was a regal color and made the wedding truly fit for royalty.
Half the guests had removed their masks, the other half (the unsavory half) had kept them firmly in place.
Without ever intending it, Hermione had created a way that both good and evil could attend her wedding without one fully being aware of the others. She shook her head, if only Harry knew that five steps behind him, one of the Lestrange brothers flirted shamelessly with his secretary.
A large, dark chest obstructed her view and she looked up at the offender’s face.
“May I have the next dance?” Lucius Malfoy asked her, his tone as cool and detached as ever.
She nodded mutely and watched him disappear into the crowd.
Down the rabbit hole, she found herself thinking for not the first time since arriving at the Malfoys’ ancestral home. One would think she would have become accustomed to such peculiar occurrences over the duration of her stay at the Manor, but the actions of Lucius never ceased to amaze her. He was truly a conundrum.
She gazed into the crowd with a look of pure confusion and wonder. Was she the only sane person at this soiree? Had the entire lot gone mad?
She lifted another glass of champagne from a passing server and cautiously sniffed the contents.
Smelled fine. She took a sip and mentally gagged at the taste. Tasted normal.
She lost track of time as she people-watched. It seemed only moments later when a large, warm hand grasped hers and she found herself being led onto the floor.
Not surprisingly, he had absolutely perfect form. He locked his frame in place and lightly grasped her tiny hand in his. She methodically placed her other on his shoulder; the fine silvery hairs of his pony tail tickled her fingers. She felt his other hand grip her waist and suddenly, she felt very nervous.
She swallowed and heard the music key up. The waltz began.
It was the first time she had danced that night and the sheer size of the dance floor was baffling. Not to mention, she knew this song to be a particularly long one and did not at all look forward to the next awkward eight minutes.
It was impossible to not be led by his imposing form. He had the grace of a ballet dancer, or a panther, she thought. She felt her own experience to be far inferior; however, she considered disdainfully, she had only been dancing for 10 years. He had at least 40 on her. She knew him to be right at 50 now, still ridiculously young for a wizard. And she knew his type began formal dancing when they began receiving tutors, before ever attending Hogwarts.
“You dance remarkably well…” he said, breaking their uncomfortable silence.
“For a Muggleborn?” she supplied.
He said nothing but his eyes met hers for a moment.
“My mother insisted I take lessons the summer after I started Hogwarts, when she found out that dances were occasionally held at the school and in society. I had several years of ballet and jazz when I was younger, but ballroom dancing dominated my learning after that.”
“Intriguing, and what, may I ask, does ballroom encompass?” He was making small talk, and she knew it.
She smirked and began listing them, “Minuet, Quadrille, Polonaise, Pas de Gras, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Charleston and some Swing.”
“My, you have learned quite a bit. Though I dare say, half of those are far too… exuberant to be found at most Wizarding social gatherings.”
“Perhaps it’s time to move forward then?” She was goading him slightly. She knew several of the dances were Wizard dances that had crossed to the Muggle world, but several (such as the Tango and Swing) were Muggle dances that had gained popularity in the Wizarding world.
“Perhaps,” he answered politely.
He was far to refined for her taste. It was nothing but politeness and charm from him it seemed. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She knew he could be incensed if the right buttons were pushed. But unlike with Draco, she was quite unwilling to push him that far.
He continued to lead her gracefully around the room, through the other staggered couples that were dancing, though not nearly as pleasantly as Hermione and Lucius. She knew a great many eyes followed them as they took their turns.
“Thank you for… for letting my friends attend. I know the dangers involved but it means a great deal to me,” she said.
“Thank yourself. You put the ridiculous idea of masks into Narcissa’s head,” he stated, clearly scornful of the idea himself.
“I feel the same way you do, but Narcissa and Ginny became insistent. But I suppose I should be grateful, they wouldn’t be here otherwise,” she added, more for herself than for him.
“Indeed.”After several beats, he spoke again. “Was Rodolphus giving you much trouble?”
Hermione’s eyes widened slightly, she didn’t know anyone had seen that little exchange.
“Not much, just being… creepy,” she answered quietly.
“That is his … modus operandi, my dear. But don’t fall into some false sense of security. He is not to be trusted. Don’t let him ever think you’re interested…” he glanced at her again and she knew the full warning of his words.
She nodded and continued to be led around the floor.
“Another you would be wise to avoid is Yaxley,” he met her eyes and she could feel the light touch of magic.
She flushed and wondered about the evening she spent in the wine cupboard. Did he know?
He smirked at her, and she thought vaguely of the resemblances between father and son.
“Another suggestion, if I may be so bold, you really must learn Occlumency. Especially now.”
Her cheeks turned redder and she couldn’t meet his face.
He knew she was terribly embarrassed and he was beginning to see why his son enjoyed prodding her so much.
“I apologize, sir, for eavesdropping. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t want to be caught,” she still couldn’t look at him.
Her heart was racing.
“I suppose I could Obliviate you,” he suggested.
“It’s not necessary,” she finally looked at him and he raised a quizzical brow. “Really, it’s not. I didn’t hear anything important.”
“No you didn’t. But I suppose I shouldn’t really expect much more from one such as yourself. I needn’t tell you how utterly rude your actions were.”
She felt her hair bristling.
“Sir, if you would like to speak of rudeness, I’d be happy to oblige you…”
But she wouldn’t have the chance. The waltz stopped. He released her hand and took a step away. He inclined slightly and spoke, “Thank you, madam, it has been most enlightening.”
His haughty smile only infuriated her more. Who does he think he is? She hissed mentally.
As he straightened himself and began to leave her on the floor he paused momentarily by her to whisper, “I am Lucius Malfoy. And keep in mind what I suggested.”
She flushed again. Occlumency, she thought. Very Soon.
She was pink in the face and angry. She spun around and glared at his arrogant, blonde head. She practically stomped back to her table and took a seat at it. She wasn’t conscious of it, but she pouted like a three year old. She had been bested by the other slimy git.
Foul, loathsome, evil, self-righteous….
She mentally ticked off a slew of vibrant adjectives for her father-in-law.
But as she calmed, more tumultuous thoughts entered her mind. He had easily read her thoughts. How much had he seen? He hadn’t seemed so terribly angry. He didn’t even seem to think it was that surprising or rude even. His comments seemed more for show than anything. Whose side was he on anyway? And was he offering his own services to teach her Occlumency or was he suggesting she learn it elsewhere? Why would he give her such a warning as that? Shouldn’t he want her duplicity exposed?
He was such an enigma, a conundrum. Indeed, she thought, using the man’s own word. She could spend years with him and not understand him, she knew.
She felt the presence of another and looked up. Both Draco and Perseus stood above her.
She glanced between the two men and waited.
Draco glared at Perseus and spoke, “I’m taking the next, and you can have the one after.”
Perseus rolled his eyes. “Would you have even asked at all if I hadn’t been on my way here first?”
“Was I asked?” Hermione questioned, for she had missed it entirely if she had been.
“You know the traditional order the dances must fall in, don’t be ridiculous,” Draco said to Perseus.
Both men continued to ignore her completely. She huffed.
“Now you’re worried about tradition? Where was that concern-”
“Oh bugger off! This is a formal engagement and is governed by rules we were both raised to adhere to. As I said, stop being ridiculous, cousin,” Draco was getting angry.
However, Perseus didn’t let his temper show. He looked down at Hermione and said, “I believe you are taken for the next two dances.”
And he walked away, leaving Draco fuming beside her. Why did he get so angry so quickly? He has such a short fuse, Hermione thought.
“Well, come on,” Draco snapped at her. He grabbed her forearm and began nearly dragging her to the dance floor.
As the music started, Draco gathered her up, quite a bit closer than his father had held her, and began their dance.
“Why are you so angry?” she asked him as she watched his nostrils flare.
“Leave it,” he muttered.
She rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Did you and my father have a nice time?” he asked, in the same snippy tones.
She looked at him in shock, “You can’t be serious… are you jealous of your father?”
“Hardly,” he snapped. “What did you talk about? He walked away grinning like a fool.”
She hesitated, trying to decide what to share and what to keep close.
“We discussed dancing and manners. He told me I should be wary of Rodolphus and Yaxley, but your mother had already told me as much.”
“What was he smiling about?”
“He believes I’m an ill-bred and rude little Mudblood. Surely you know that,” she bit.
Whether he believed it or not, he dropped the subject.
Several minutes passed and she felt some of the tension leave his form.
She finally worked up the nerve to ask about the thing that had been worrying her for weeks.
“Draco…there’s… something I wanted to ask you. I just thought of it really but there hasn’t been a chance and as this is the first time…” Hermione rambled nervously.
“Yes…?” Draco asked, clearly annoyed, as he continued to lead them in a waltz around the ballroom.
“What? Spit it out already.”
“Well, it’s the um… wedding night and well…what exactly…”
“Oh…oh,” Draco said in realization. He hadn’t put much thought towards that matter. Well.. he had but he imagined his thoughts on it had taken a slightly different turn than hers had.
“We don’t have to…. right?” she asked nervously; this was not a conversation she was enjoying.
“Yes, actually, we do. It’s part of the ceremony. We have to,” Draco said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
“Well…what if we don’t?”
“That’s not an option. We have to.” He began their third turn around the room.
“But what if we don’t? What happens?”
“Alright, you obviously aren’t understanding this,” he was getting pissed again and she regretted bringing it up. “There is no option of not doing it. I’ve never heard of a wizarding couple that didn’t consummate the marriage. You just have to.”
“Well do you honestly think they’d run around making headlines about how they didn’t do it?” Hermione asked in a huff.
“Granger. You can be so thick sometimes. It’s part of the binding spell from the ceremony. It has the effect of a lust potion that gains intensity as the night goes on. You simply can’t avoid it.”
“Is the thought of having sex with me that bad?” He asked rather loudly.
“Merlin, Draco! Keep your voice down.” Hermione looked around the room quickly. She didn’t think anyone knew exactly what he said; only that he had been on the loud side. “And…no…yes…no. That’s not an easy answer. Look. No, because…well…for obvious reasons, you are a very attractive man. You aren’t repulsive or anything that would make a woman not want to…”
His lips curved into a haughty smirk, all traces of his angered seemed to have evaporated.
“Oh, don’t get full of yourself. Anyway, I think it’s safe to assume that you have plenty of ….err… experience.-”
“Yes, I think that’s safe to assume,” he added, still smirking.
“-You wouldn’t be a bumbling idiot that would royally screw it up. But, all of that aside, yes, it is a bad thought because… I don’t love you.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything!” Hermione hissed at him.
To all those who took the time to watch them, it was painfully obvious the two were deep in the midst of an argument. Though, if one did not pay attention it would have been easy to miss as they did not falter once in their waltz.
“I don’t understand…”
Hermione sighed heavily.
“It wouldn’t be special, Draco. I don’t love you. I might like you…like as in find you tolerable most of the time- half of the time- but I don’t love you, not now, if ever.”
Draco frowned at her. The words stung slightly. But had he expected something different? “I’ve been with plenty of women that didn’t love me.”
“You think they didn’t love you. Did it ever occur to you that you might have been breaking many hearts all these years? For most women…it means something, whether they admit it or not.”
“Well that’s stupid,” Draco said in annoyance.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him.
“No matter, you don’t really have a choice. You’ll enjoy it.”
“Could your ego be any bigger?” Hermione asked. “You are unbelievable.”
“No, dear, I’m very believable. I bet your problem is that you’ve never been with someone that knows what they’re doing. Am I right?”
Hermione glared at him.
He squeezed her hand tightly to get her to answer.
“You know I’ve only been with Ron, damn it! Quit squeezing, that hurts!”
“So I figured.” He grinned devilishly.
“You’re an arrogant bastard, Draco Malfoy,” she whispered.
“Honestly, did you not think this would come sooner or later?” He studied her for a moment. “You didn’t think we’d actually get married, did you? You didn’t think we’d go through with it. What was your plan, Granger?”
Her eyes met his and for a moment fear lit them. What did he know? Had his father told him anything before now? Surely he couldn’t know about her true purpose. Could he?
“I…I don’t know…” She swallowed. “I never thought about it. And you can’t really call me ‘Granger’ anymore, you know.” She tried to distract him.
“I’ll call you whatever I like. And you need to get used to thinking about it. You’ll be doing far more than that in a few hours.” His tone hinted at anger again. “And don’t forget, you’re the only woman I’m allowed to touch and if you think I’m going to be satisfied with one night over the course of a lifetime…” He glared at her maliciously. “You’re sorely mistaken.”
Hermione’s eyes widen slightly at the darkness of his comment.
Where had this fury come from? Why was he so angry? She just couldn’t wrap her mind around it. Unless the reality of the marriage and the impending night were bothering him as much as they were her. But he had agreed to all of this. He couldn’t really be that angry about it. What on earth was his problem?
“Really, what is the matter with you? Are you upset with me? Have I done something?” She demanded.
“A great many somethings, one of them being breathing.”
“Sod off, Malfoy,” she snapped.
They were utterly hopeless. She’d have been better off marrying Lucius, at least she and he could go five minutes without wanting to kill the other. Or at least they could act like it.
He formed several choice retorts to her comment but the very thought of what he would have implied was affecting him a great deal. Hell, it had been months since he’d been with a woman and the tension and frustration were possibly the highest they had ever been.
Just watching her, in her low cut gown, with more than eyeful of cleavage spilling over the top was driving him mad. And she had gone twirling about the room with his father, hugging the Weasel, and flirting with Rodolphus. Rodolphus, damn him, had been indecently close to her. He was furious and… well he couldn’t get the quickly approaching wedding night off his mind. Every time he looked at her, all he could think about was ripping that pretty white dress off of her and…
“Malfoy,” she hissed angrily. “Where were you?”
He sighed and felt the strong need to readjust himself. Angry. He needed to be angry or drunk. And he really needed to get away from her. Being so close to her was not helping at all. He saw, on one of their turns, Perseus watching and gave him a sharp nod.
The American man stepped into their path and politely asked to cut in. Draco obliged without a word to her and disappeared before she even knew what was happening.
“What on Earth is the matter with him?” she asked the handsome, dark haired man who now held her.
Perseus had an idea and smiled at her devilishly. “I’m sure he’s just excited.”
She looked at him like he had truly gone off his rocker, “Excited about what?”
He shifted his jaw and bit his tongue and let his eyes do the talking. He glanced down at her décolletage and licked his lips before meeting her gaze again.
She blushed crimson.
“No, he’s not… he doesn’t see me like that,” she stumbled, “I can assure you.”
She was feeling extremely exposed and uncomfortable. Now every face she saw as they danced around the room seemed to be a man gawking at her.
“It’s not possible. I’m a Muggleborn, your type doesn’t…”
“My type? Are you terribly sure? Because I dare say, you are the slaughter lamb in the wolves’ den, princess.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I keep hearing that tonight, but I’m thinking perhaps you and Draco are the ones being ridiculous.”
“What are you talking about? Speak plainly.”
“I’m talking about your…obvious attraction to one another. It’s palpable. And, Mrs. Malfoy, I promise you, even if he weren’t interested, every other Pureblood man in this room is.”
“That’s absurd. They all hate me; they know what I am…”
He smiled and shook his head, “He’s right about you, you can be extremely dense sometimes.”
She shut her mouth and focused on all the familiar faces they passed. She was looking for something in those watchful eyes that would prove him wrong.
“You really don’t know how beautiful you are, do you?” he finally asked.
“I’m not beautiful. Narcissa, Asteria, Ginny…”
“Yes, they are gorgeous women… but you have a… je ne sais quoi… you are forbidden in ways they aren’t. You don’t know you’re beautiful and it’s obvious in the way you carry yourself, and that is so innocent. Your wild hair is exotic and completely abnormal. Your eyes are… large and inquisitive. You know so much but you see so little. You are so… naïve. You are beautiful, Hermione. Maybe not in the same way the Purebloods are, but I promise you, all of their husbands are watching you right now.”
“Why is innocence and naivety attractive? I don’t understand that.”
He shrugged. “Men are equally as attracted to innocence as they are to experience. One is easy and a sure thing, the other is… deliciously corruptible.”
She snorted. “Your type would have a hard time corrupting me.”
His face took a more serious tone and he studied her eyes, “I hope your right. I truly do.”
The waltz ended and he led her from the floor, back to her table. He inclined slightly before disappearing into the mass of guests.
Hermione felt exposed and… ogled. She began slipping through the shadows and toward the terrace. She needed air, she needed to breathe. It had become stifling in the crowded ballroom.
She let herself out onto the porch and shivered as the cool night air caressed her bare shoulders.
The clouds and long since departed and the silver light of the moon lit the grounds. She took the three steps down into the gardens and breathed deeply.
The fresh aroma of rain clung to the air and she was air of the moisture clinging to the bottom of her skirt and soaking her satin shoes. She was aware and didn’t care. She followed the path into the garden.
Draco had seen her slip out and worked his way to the doors, quietly exiting the loud party as well. He stepped onto the wide terrace and only saw the silvery blue of her white dress as she vanished down the garden path and out of sight.
Where was she going?
He followed her into the stillness of the night.
He had been completely unable to clear his thoughts in the time since he left her. And it helped none watching her being held so closely to Perseus. Sure, it enflamed his anger as he had watched his cousins hand dip precariously down her lower back, but it had done nothing to help with his other problem.
Not even the nattering of his mother and her ‘friends’ could distract him.
“Granger!” He hissed, only twenty feet behind her.
She spun around with wide eyes and her hand at her heart, drawing his gaze down…
“Oh, Malfoy, you gave me a start. You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that…” she began rambling.
He didn’t speak. He simply crossed the distance between them. She backed quickly away and into a large statue of Tiberius Malfoy on his favorite black stallion.
“Draco…” she started, seeing the wild look in his eyes.
But it did no good; he swooped in on her and wrapped one arm around her waist, pulling her to him and threaded the other into her hair, completely immobilizing her.
In the matter of seconds since he had called her name, she barely had time to process what was happening.
His lips collided with hers hungrily and he pressed her against the concrete behind her. The kiss was demanding and heated, like the few before it had been. And she felt how excited he truly was pressed against her thigh. She tried to push him away but hadn’t the strength and was quickly losing the desire to.
His lips left hers and started trailing down her neck as his hands began sliding over the silk of her stomach.
“Draco,” she gasped, still trying to regain some control of the situation.
“Shouldn’t… have worn… this dress…” he muttered between his heavy breathing and kisses.
She opened her eyes and looked over his shoulder and inhaled sharply at what she saw.
Draco’s head snapped up, that was a sound women didn’t make when he was doing what he was.
He hadn’t the chance to look over his shoulder when darkness closed in on Hermione and she went limp in his arms.
Well, that surely kills the mood, he thought dryly as he gathered her weight and glanced behind him.
His eyes widened and he whispered to the night, “Oh shite.”
O.M.G. Two updates in one week. And this one is much longer. I hope you all enjoy it. There's still so much story left to tell. I feel like I'm moving at a snail's pace but .... to go any faster I'd feel like I was leaving out precious details. But at anyrate, I hope you all enjoy this chapter! There should be another up in a week or so, hopefully! :)
Thanks for all the lovely reviews! I absolutely adore reading them. They make me so happy!
And for anyone who is interested, I posted pictures of Hermione's dress and mask on my blog on the forums. So go check it out. Just use my meet the author link and go to my profile from there.
Until next time - T_S_P
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