Rewards and Compensations
"That was quite a lunch."
"Realistically, how long can we do this?" Hermione asked Draco, as they moved in tandem—a beautifully, achingly slow motion.
He grinned at her, sitting on his lap and facing him, their bodies seemingly bonded together by the afternoon sun that gleamed the ruffle-trimmed window and lit the parlor of the cottage.
"I don't have to be realistic," he said with an especially vigorous upward thrust that caused her to bite her lip. "I'm a wizard."
She stopped and looked into his mischievous grey eyes, shining like chrome in his present delight. "You didn't."
"I did," he proudly confirmed, kissing the bitten bottom lip.
Hermione responded with her own playful smile. "Well then, this is as good a time as any to stop," she said in a teasing sing-song, preparing to dismount.
"You stay right where you are, Granger," Draco demanded, grabbing her hips and pushing her back in position. "This is my reward."
"Reward for what?"
He shrugged and reestablished their rhythm. "Maybe not so much reward as compensation..."
Before Hermione could argue, he expounded on his theme. "...for you leaving me three times, for wanting you for years and having to watch you with Krum, McLaggen, Weasley." He gave an extra jolt on each name and Hermione moaned in reaction.
"You always had someone on your arm."
"Not the same," he stated emphatically, looking at her flushed face and grinning. "Besides, you don't seem to mind this at all."
She answered with a low chuckle. "True. I believe this is the most fun I've ever had trespassing."
Draco's grin widened. "We're not trespassing, love; we own this place."
He nodded and impaled her at the same time. "I bought it at the beginning of the term and I have the scroll here to make it half yours, with your signature and a knut." He lowered her surprised face for a kiss. "I told you I'd always have secrets and would reveal them when it was time. It's your graduation present, along with this."
He held out his hand to Accio from the other side of the room a small velvet gift box. "Remember?" he asked, showing her the Slytherin/Gryffindor bracelet he'd originally given her at Christmas. "I've always fantasized about your wearing nothing but this," he said, clasping it on her naked arm.
She smiled and he made a mental note to add a gem to it to match her big, brown eyes. Dark citrine would be perfect, or maybe amber.
"Why is it that everyone doesn't see what a lovely, considerate man you are?" Hermione asked, resuming their briefly interrupted action.
"Because I only am with you. The rest of the world will always see me as cold and calculating and I like that; it gives me strategic advantage. Can you live with that, everyone thinking you're with a cad?"
She studied him quietly, as he pushed some of her chestnut brown hair, fuzzing in their activity, away from her face. "Will you hurt anyone?"
"Will you do anything criminal?"
"No," he assured her. "I like seeing how much I can achieve within the law. It's more challenging. And I'd never embarrass you."
She shrugged in acquiescence. "Then, yes, I suppose I can live with it. I love you."
Draco nuzzled her neck. "Say it again."
"I love you."
"In French," he requested.
"Je t'aime. In German," she countered.
"Ich liebe dich. In Latin."
"Te amo. In...Bulgarian.
He pinched her hip. "Obicham te. In..."
Multi-lingual declarations of love while being shagged within an inch of my life, she thought to herself, as Draco finally shifted to lay her on the long sofa and pump more insistently.
She stroked his face. Stubbly cheeks, electric eyes and a sexy smirk—he's absolutely perfect. Thank the heavens he found me and persuaded me to give us a chance.
"Ah, Hermione," he breathed in her ear, and she sighed in bliss, with a touch of misgiving.
Realistically, I don't know how long this can last. She clutched him tightly. But it's so much more than I would have ever imagined.
"I might have to have your girlfriend to come and challenge me. I believe you're getting worse," Lucius said, tossing his robe on the bench in the Ministry locker room and preparing to strip for what had become his routine—Quidditch with Harry, stretch out the rookie Auror's torture with his shower and primping, then a meeting with the Minister.
"Whatever," Harry answered with a shrug. According to the plan, he hadn't even broken a sweat on the pitch. He patted his body, then made a show of looking around the damp, slightly musky room, the walls covered by cubicles and long rectangles, from which hung wizards' robes, towels and some brooms. With his innate sense of the dramatic, he gasped. "I left my wand out there; I'll be back in a moment."
Lucius tsked at his detail's carelessness, and was about to remove his trousers, when another rookie Auror entered. "What are you doing here?" he asked with undisguised contempt.
Ron stood a few feet from him, his arms crossed over his Ministry robe, which he hoped lent him some authority in facing the half-naked man. He'd prepared himself for this confrontation for days—mentally trivializing the man who used to scare him half to death, convincing Harry to facilitate it, and controlling his own volatile, red-haired temper.
"I thought we should talk," he said simply, anchoring himself to the wet floor, with his feet wide apart—an instinctive pose for a combatant. "You and your son arranged for lunch with Hermione and her parents after graduation, a public display with the 'new, appealing champion for equality,'" he said with audible air quotes, repeating the phrase that the Daily Prophet had used in describing Hermione after her speech. "You thought it gave your whole reformed Death Eater farce a ring of authenticity, especially with your adoring wife at your side." Ron's fists involuntarily clenched against his ribs.
Lucius's closed-mouthed, barely-arcing grin begged to be punched. "Yes," he hissed. "A living testament to that old axiom, 'Love conquers all,' particularly Draco and the girl. They are quite taken with each other, aren't they?"
Revulsion rose from Ron's stomach, along with his ire. His ears, he knew, would be approaching a rosy color now. He wanted to conclude this before they reached scarlet. "I'm watching," he said, pushing his lowest, most menacing voice from the bottom of his throat. "If they want to be used by you, fine. I can't do anything about that. But if I see a hint of you forcing them...I've got a big family and a dead brother that we all want to avenge, connections in key places. All I have to say is it's open season on Malfoy; they don't even have to know why. We can make you wish for death."
Lucius dropped his chin to hide the worried expression that had replaced the infuriating grin. He raised his eyes with an arched brow. "And what is to prevent me from going directly to the Minister about this little tete à tete?"
Now Ron grinned. "You're still meeting with what's left of Death Eaters. It might be just to talk about old times, but it's still prohibited under your probation. You say anything to the Minister, and I'll report that and you're back in Azkaban."
Lucius fell to the bench behind him and looked up into the freckled face of the formerly insignificant child, who now had him trapped. "Does anyone else know?" he asked in a quiet, demoralized voice.
Ron shook his red head, almost enjoying himself. "Not even Harry. It's our secret, as long as you're only re-living your pathetic glory days, and you never have Cissy anywhere near them."
Hearing his wife's name coming out of that despised mouth...Lucius raised his head. "You think you can control me? You sniveling son of a pauper. My son and I hold everything you could have ever hoped for. They're ours to do with as we wish."
Ron advanced on him, speaking in a voice choked with suppressed passion. "Unlike you, I won't enslave a woman with magic or threats, and lucky for your spawn, he hasn't either. But if you or he ever hurt either of them, I will take back everything that you and that skinny, white-haired ferret have taken from me. Depend on it," he said, towering over the older man. He turned on his heel and left.
Lucius stared at the floor and exhaled deeply, feeling the air leave his middle-aged, sinking chest.
He donned his shirt and robe as Harry returned. "I'm feeling a bit tired," he said in a deflated tone. "I think I'll just go home. You'll make my apologies to the Minister?"
"Of course," Harry answered, impressed with how well Ron seemed to have done his job. "I'll escort you to the exit."
With drooping shoulders, Malfoy carried his bundle of sweaty clothing and allowed himself to be led through the Ministry, where he'd previously felt such power, the stench of his unfreshened body trailing him, like a skunk who has just released his stink and is now defenseless.
Ron watched from a far corner of the atrium, the consummate Keeper, ever on guard.
"So that's little Scorpius," Ron said, louder than he'd intended. Hermione, stooped down to clean her young son's face, looked up when she heard the name.
"Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited your mother's brains."
"Ron, for heaven's sake," his wife said, "don't try to turn them against each other before they've even started school."
"You're right, sorry," Ron said, lovingly touching her cheek.
Hermione rose and looked across the short distance at the other family, remembering her past with the father. She whispered something to her husband and he nodded in agreement. They walked hand in hand with their older child to where her former lover and his spouse stood with theirs.
Ron and Draco stood face to face for the first time in almost nineteen years, their past mirrored in the eyes that gauged each other carefully.
"Weasl...Ron," Draco began, "Hermione and I are having a party this evening at the site of the old Shrieking Shack. We'd like to invite you and your lovely wife to join us."
"Please come, Astoria," Hermione said, addressing Ron's wife. "Now that our children are going to be in school together, it would be nice for us to be able to put aside our differences. Harry and Ginny will be there."
Ron turned his head toward his sister and best friend, busy with their children, then looked at his first love. She was still beautiful, though obviously older than the woman at his side, who had forgiven him that Valentine's Day humiliation and helped him banish his ghosts—most of them anyway.
The things your mother and I did for each other, he thought to himself with an inward smirk and a fleeting glance at Draco, before looking beyond him to where Narcissa stood, holding the hand of her younger grandson.
Ron gave her a small wink and she smiled in recognition, still quite lovely, even as she approached sixty. Widowed for eight years, she was currently being pursued by the debonair new Minister of Magic, Ron knew. He silently wished her happiness.
"Yes, let's, Ron," Astoria cajoled, tugging his sleeve.
He smiled and kissed her temple. "Whatever you want."
"Daddy," said Rose, coming back to say goodbye to her favorite person. He knelt to hug her and give her final instructions and teasing.
"Oh, look at the pretty little redhead," exclaimed Finola to her sister witches.
They eyed approvingly the girl with her father's blue eyes and ginger tone, enriched to a deep copper shade, with Astoria's contribution of dark hair and alabaster skin.
"Ronald's girl—what would you expect?" observed Clothilde. "Glad he's done so well for himself."
Pleasantries exchanged, the parents separated to conclude their goodbyes to the children, anxious about their first trip on the rusty, wheezing Hogwarts Express.
"Scorpius doesn't seem to be able to take his eyes off of her," Jean noted, thinking she would have loved to have seen Tommy G with his first crush, as the blond boy turned his head to watch the vivacious Rose enter the train.
"Oh, he'll never do anything on his own," Clothilde said with a grunt. "He's as careful as his mother."
"Let's go with him!" suggested Finola excitedly. "Hermione doesn't need us anymore."
"Good idea," Hester seconded. "We can make sure he behaves himself, unlike his father at times."
Scorpius suddenly ran for the same car that he'd watched Rose enter and Draco snickered, "A true Malfoy man. Father would be so proud, even if she is a Weasley."
Hermione gave him a playful jab in the stomach, then accepted his hand to walk back to Narcissa and Hugo.
"Have you ever regretted choosing me?" asked Draco in a surprisingly pensive, unconfident voice, having noted that Ron had more hair than he did now and seemed to be almost as successful, carefully managing Astoria's inheritance and acting as a partner in his brother George's enterprises.
Hermione stopped to look at her husband, her eyes wide in disbelief. "Are you serious?" She took his hand and placed it on the side of her head so that he, as a Legilimens, could share with her their memories—some sweet, some sexy, some heart-breaking, all centering around her and Draco, loving and supporting each other, in a life that offered so much...
"How much time do we have at the cottage before the party?" he asked, fixing his eyes on her with a familiar gleam.
"Enough," she answered with a smile, "even if we fly."
They kissed Hugo, who was excited to spend the night with both Nannie Cissy and Mere, then hurried to a secluded corner for their transformation.
The large eagle owl flew over the train, heading to the castle in the distance, with the bronze snake draped around his neck. Loving the experience and her life, Hermione knew that she couldn't have asked for more.
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