Morning light cut a sharp angle across the two sleeping bodies - quite naked - barely draped in white bedding. The male grumbled against the intrusion and nuzzled further into his pillow. His lovely partner chuckled. "You are not a morning person."

He grinned. "You're not just discovering this."

"No." She kissed his shoulder. "But I don't mind." A sigh. She stretched, swatted at his wandering hand. "We should get up. I'll have to be home before mother and father."

Draco groaned. "I know, I know."

"Not too much longer, darling." Astoria promised. "As soon as our engagement becomes official I know they'll become more lenient."

"Then I can make it official?" He brightened, head popping up from pillow.

She sat up, fussed with the satiny edge of mussed duvet. "I don't know, Draco. It just seems so fast! And you still haven't really talked to your mother about it."

"My mother already knows, Story. Trust me. She has every expectation of me announcing our pending nuptials any day now."

A sharp, worried look. "What else does she know?"

"Not this!" Draco sat up, too. Rubbed sleep from his eyes. "I promise I've been most discreet. She knows I work all the time now."

"Your mother is a very shrewd, very intelligent witch."

He chuffed. "Believe me. I know that much. D'you think it's been easy hiding this from the Queen of the Slytherins?"

"It can't be as easy as hiding it from my parents." She laughed. "Thank the gods they love to travel so much." Her eyes softened. "I suppose...if you're really ready...we could tell them soon."

"How soon?"

She swung out of the bed, pulling the heavy hotel duvet with her. Draco snatched at it, but was left cold. Her eyes teased him from the lavatory door. "How about next weekend?"

"But I thought we were going to Greece next weekend!" He was gathering clothes from the floor, stumbling over his trouser leg.

"We can tryst some other time, lover!" Her melodic voice echoed off pink marble. "Don't you think this is more important?"

He stepped into the lavatory, leaned in the doorway to be heard over her bathwater. "Absolutely," he agreed. She was beautiful in the muted, soft lighting. Hell, she was beautiful in any light. "I love you," he murmured.

"Then come have a bath with me," she invited sweetly. He was quick to accept, and they settled in mounting bubbles and glorious garden bath. "Besides," Astoria continued, "you need to spend more time with your mother. It's been weeks. I know she's dreadfully lonely."

Draco kissed the side of her neck. "I know. In fact, I'm surprised she hasn't demanded my presence for dinner by now." His forehead creased as though this thought had just struck him.

"She knows you have a life." Their feet played under the steaming water. "She's giving you space. So I'd say she deserves some time with you now."

He nodded. "So be it, then. I'll stay with her at the manor next weekend. She'll love it. And then say...Saturday? We'll meet up with you and your parents for dinner? Some place nice. Mother loves to go out, and I haven't taken her in ages."

"Exactly." Story sighed. Her piled brown locks dipped into the wash. "Saturday will work. Mummy and diddy leave for the Hebrides on Sunday."

Draco scowled at the word 'diddy.' He always did. "Good then. I'll go see...mother today and make the plans."

"Perfect. Now that that's out of the way…" She turned in his arms, a slippery minx.

"Merlin, you're insatiable."

"You love it."

"I did not deny that fact." Water sloshed onto pink marble.

"And you talk too much." Her hungry kiss properly stopped his affirming reply.


It was well after noon when he breezed into Malfoy Manor. He was no longer surprised by the appearance of new window hangings or some new furnishing or other. His mother was enjoying redecorating, and he was keen to see her happy. "Mother!" He called for the witch in question. What was surprising was the lack of her presence in the drawing room or on the side patio - her favoured tea locales. In fact, there was no tea at all, it seemed. "Mother?" He called again on the main staircase.

Nib popped onto the landing ahead and Draco paused. "Nib. Where's my mother?"

The elf vacillated slightly. Draco eyed it. "Missus has not risen yet, Master Malfoy."

His laughter was completely unbidden. "Are you joking? Of course you're not joking." But Narcissa Malfoy never slept in. Never. Sudden concern. "Is mother ill?"

"Er…" The elf stammered.


He looked up. "Mother!" She'd appeared just behind the elf, physically dismissed the creature with a graceful hand on its submissive head. "Are you well?" She looked well enough, he supposed. Well enough for a woman still in a dressing gown. Not to mention the insanely uncharacteristic smeared makeup and bedhead.

"I'm fine." She spoke well enough as well, haughty as ever and as if she were dressed to her usual ten's. "I simply wasn't expecting you." She gestured down the stairs. "Tea?"

"Well, yes mum. Tea. It is nearly one." He watched her descend the stairs, followed suspiciously. "Are you certain you're alright?"

"Nib! Tea!" She sang out. "The solarium, please." Her slippers padded softly the high polished floor. "I was out rather late last evening." Out? He slowed as they passed the drawing room, thinking she might prefer tea there, but she was continuing on briskly. "Are you coming?" She asked.

"Huh? Yeah." But a glance into the drawing room showed him something… He had to backtrack for a doubletake, but just as he peeked around the archway again, Nib was popping out. His eyes settled on the tea table there. The glinting object - that had looked suspiciously like a pair of spectacles - was gone. "Hm." Draco shook his head. Must have been the light.

"Something wrong, darling?" His mother peered from the solarium French doors expectantly.

"Thought I saw something," he murmured, finally following her.

She was seating herself primly to the teak table there. "Probably the darkened edges of the Draco-shaped vacancy that daunts me of late," she drawled.

He winced. "I'm sorry, mother. I'm just so -"

"Busy?" Her brow asked. "I'm certain you are." Nib popped in. Tea appeared. She immediately set about briskly preparing a cuppa.

He'd expected her mild resentment, but not quite the sharp edge of sarcasm. Suddenly he realised just how long it had truly been since he'd seen her. His tea was bitter despite the lumps. "I really am sorry."

She shrugged. Slytherined indifference. "I know you're dreadfully caught up. But you could owl at least."

"I could," he conceded. "And I will from now on. In fact, I intend around more for you, mother."

"Oh?" She neatly opened a scone. "The Ministry shan't crumble in your absence?"

"There's always the threat of that, mother." He knew humour could soften her, and was pleased to see a genuine smile begin. "So." He took up his own scone. "I wasn't aware you were out last evening."

"There are many things of which you are not aware, son."

"Oh." Well that gave him pause. "I suppose if I visited more, I would know." At her amused nod, he gave a conciliatory bow. "I do intend to rectify the situation."


"So what did you do?"


"Last evening, mother." She was being purposefully difficult. His punishment, he supposed. Very well.

"Oh that. Another play." Casually, she dabbed at her mouth with a serviette.

"What play?"

"The Dance of the Wizard's Daughter."

"Sounds dreadful."

"It was…" She breathed deeply. Looked rather dreamy for a moment. "Incredible."

Draco swallowed a rather heavy grape. "That good, huh?"

"The best yet." She poured more tea.

Draco nodded. "I suppose Potter attended with you? Again?"


Was she blushing? He wasn't certain. "Well. I'm glad the two of you have found this…common interest."


"Mother." He cleared his throat, decided to table the 'too much time spent with Potter' discussion for later. Much later. "I wonder if we might spend next weekend together. I thought perhaps we could dine out? Do some shopping?" Her eyes were wide with surprise and...something else? She was clearly suspicious. He sighed. "The truth is...Astoria and I were hoping to have you and her parents to dinner next weekend."

Her eyes went from wide to narrow in a nanosecond. "I see."

It was his turn to most definitely blush. He even squirmed a little. Damned himself for it. Cleared his throat. "Do you?"

"Oh, I think I do." She folded her serviette beside her teacup. "Well, I suppose Sunday will be fine."

"We were thinking Saturday."

"I have plans Saturday."

He blinked. "What plans?"

"A date with doom."

He blinked even more. "What? What are you -"

"The play!" She insisted as if it was world common knowledge. "A Date With Doom. And I don't want to miss it. It's completely sold out and this is the first show since the Alphard Theatre remodeled."

"But…" He was genuinely aghast. "Mother. Couldn't you -"

"What about the following Saturday?" She asked helpfully. "There's a vampire farce we were interested in that evening but I suppose we could forego it."

"We?" He slapped the table, frustrated. "You and Potter!"

She shrugged, face a pall of innocence. "We've a common interest, darling."

"Damn. Mother." He leaned on the table, serious. "Are you and Potter…" But he couldn't even finish the question. It was simply not feasible, anyway. He sighed heavily. "The Greengrasses will be in the Hebrides that weekend."

"Oh. What a pity." She popped a pear slice into her mouth.

"Well, perhaps we could all go together this weekend!" He brightened. "The Greengrasses might enjoy a day of doom."

"Date With Doom," she corrected. "And unfortunately - as I've already said - it's sold out."

He slouched in his seat. Defeated. "Dinner beforehand?"

"We've made reservations at a new restaurant. Indian food, I believe."

"And I suppose the restaurant is booked solid now?"

She shrugged. "How should I know? It isn't my restaurant."

He couldn't bear it any longer. Had to know. "Mother. Exactly how many of these evenings have you and Potter had now?"

Her icy blue eyes cast to the ceiling, thinking. "Oh...when did you...lose those tickets to him?"

"That was seven weeks ago."

"Ah." Her calculations concluded. "Seven times, then."

Draco squinted at her. She smiled back. "Mother. It's just an observation, but these evenings sound rather like dates to me."

"Don't be ridiculous," she dismissed. "Harry is just a genial, relatively intelligent companion to me. Like you said, darling. Shared interest!" She patted his hand.

"Hmmm." Draco took her at her word, if begrudgingly. "I just want to make sure the only passion between you and that smarmy Gryffindor is for plays."

"I assure you, son," she assured him. "For Mr. Potter and I...'The play's the thing.'"


Harry propped on his elbows when the witch returned. "Am I in danger of hexing?" His glasses - briskly delivered earlier by Nib - glinted when he removed them again.

Narcissa grinned, closing her door behind her. "Not today." She shed her dressing gown and crawled back into bed.

Harry happily pulled her over his body. "Everything alright?"

"Mmmm." A leisurely kiss. "Perhaps. For now. I suspect my son intends to announce his engagement to the Greengrass girl. Finally." She rolled them, slid her legs up and around sinewy lover.

"What makes you think that?"

"Oh, he was quite put out that I won't be able to attend dinner with himself and the Greengrass clan next Saturday."

He paused in nuzzling her neck. "Narcissa. If you want to spend time with your son -"

"I'm spoken for next Saturday, Harry." She pushed his head up, made him meet her eyes. "I'm afraid I've become rather attached to our play dates."

"Me, too!" He insisted. "But there will always be other plays."

"I was referring more to the play that comes after the dates, Harry."

"Me, too!" He insisted again, laughing. "I just want you to know that if you wanted to cancel, I would understand."

"While I appreciate your...flexibility - " and she undulated suggestively against his hardness to demonstrate " - I have no intentions of canceling our plans."

"Good." Harry kissed her again. "Because quite honestly I'd be devastated if you did."

She chuckled lowly. "Damn your Gryffindor earnestness." She hummed under his ministrations. "The antagonist has exited stage left, Harry. Fuck me properly."

He took direction well.


"Potter, I've a bone to pick with you." Harry whirled behind his desk to find Draco Malfoy leaning on it. Menacingly. Staring at him. "Hopefully not an orphan's bone."

He swallowed. "Draco." Feigned casual. "What's the problem?" Aurors busied around them. Missives whisked through the air, folded projectiles.

"The problem," Draco began, "is that you are now an inconvenience to me."

Harry pushed his glasses up. "How so?"

"I need my mother."

A series of blinks. "I don't follow."

"You never do." Draco's wand briskly summoned a nearby rolling chair. The auror who was about to sit in it promptly oophed to the floor. "I attempted unsuccessfully to invite my mother to a very important dinner this weekend. I was informed under no uncertain terms that she cannot attend due to a prior engagement. With you."

"Ah, yes. A Date with Doom." He didn't consciously smile. But it happened.

Draco scowled at said smile. "Yes, Potter. You shall have a date with doom if I am unable to corner my mum. I have a very important matter to discuss with her and the stars are not properly aligning for this to happen."

"I see." Harry sighed heavily. A small part of him could not deny the pleasure in inconveniencing Draco Malfoy. Alright. A large part of him. "I wish I could help you. The play is sold out. It's a rather exciting event as the theater is -"

"Yes, yes reopening. She's already told me." Draco rubbed his face. Harry grinned, but the grin fell as soon as Draco's face was visible again. "Potter." Calming. "Harry. I shall...level with you." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Astoria and I have decided we are ready to announce our engagement. Thusly, it is imperative I have her in attendance with the Greengrasses."

Now, Harry grinned openly. "Congratulations, Draco!" He spoke loudly, knowing how many heads would turn.

And heads did turn, much to Malfoy's chagrin. "Shut it, Potter!" He physically clamped a hand over Harry's open mouth. Then realizing the desperation in his action, withdrew it quickly. He was wiping it on his pants when he spoke more lowly. "You're an arse." He rose. "There will be other plays. Cancel this one. Her disappointment won't last, I assure you." Turned to make a dramatic exit.

Harry shrugged. "I can try, Draco. And I will try," he assured. "For you. But...I'm afraid your mother's quite insatiable when it comes to...plays."

This had the desired effect. Draco stopped steps away. Turned slowly. A true snake would have envied the slit of his Slytherin eyes. "Merlin help us both, Potter, if I just detected even the slightest innuendo in that statement."

"Of course not!" Harry spread his hands in surrender. "I'll talk to her."

"Bloody well right you will." The dramatic exit re-ensued.

"What was that all about?" Ron rolled up. "More favours?"

"Yep." Harry spun in his own chair. "But this time I'm the one holding the cards, it seems."

"Good." Ron nodded sagely. Spoke slowly. "Goooooood."


The rain blew in past his guest when he opened the door. She was heavily cloaked and hooded, breathless from apparation and the weather. "This better be bloody important."

"It is." He smiled when she dropped her hood. "Really, Narcissa? There's no need for incognito skulking. I've made sure the house is empty."

"In case you didn't notice, there's practically a monsoon."

"True." He hung her cloak on a peg, ushered her down the hall. "You look lovely."

She touched her neck. Always did when he complimented her. Some strange leftover self-consciousness. He found it charming. The way he found many things about her disturbingly charming of late. "Thank you."

He seated her on his less-than-Malfoy settee. "Shall I have Kreacher bring tea? You look like you could use something hot in you." Her brows and lips quirked. He coughed. "I mean…"

"Tea would be lovely." She removed her gloves. Set them on his tea table. "For now."

His loins stirred. "Kreacher! Tea!"

Over tea, she got directly to business. It was her way. "I assume my son has confronted you regarding this weekend?"

She knew everything. "He did indeed." Harry sighed. "He really wants to see you. Apparently the Greengrasses -"

"He wants to finally announce his impending marriage to Astoria." Narcissa licked her spoon. There was nothing suggestive about the gesture except for her steady stare.

"He told you?"

"Not exactly, no."

"Why can't the two of you just -"

"Talk?" She interrupted. "That is a question to ask my son, I'm afraid. Harry." She set her cuppa on its saucer. "I have never given Draco reason to hide anything from me. The fact that he has done so for this many months is distressing to me." She shrugged. "I suppose this is my way of punishing him."

Harry nodded. "I understand. And I will confess I find it rather enjoyable myself. On many levels." He sighed. "Narcissa."


"We talk. Don't we?"

"We do." She wore her expectant expression.

"I guess I've wanted to know for a while now…" He licked his lips. Gathered Gryffindor courage. "Am I just...a means to torture your son?"

Thunder rattled Grimmauld's windows. Witch eyes softened. "I have far worse methods to torture my son, Harry."

", then."

The conversation was becoming too intimate. He could see it happening. She made to stand. "I should go."

"It's storming!" He stood to intercept her.

"Harry -"

"Just don't go," he said. It sounded pitifully close to pleading. "We don't have to talk. Just...just don't go." His mind worked quick calculations, attempted to ignore why it was so important to keep her.

"Harry," she repeated. Her hands wrung helplessly. She sighed and sat. Picked at her lips. "What have I done?"

He sat, too, and leaned forward, hoped his sudden worry didn't show. "Are you...regretting this… relationship we have...developed?"

Her eyes cut to him, face still turned to the shadow. "Relationship," she chuffed ruefully. "Gods, I'm old enough to be your mother."

"But you're not my mother."

"No. I'm Draco's mother." She stepped from her shoes and settled, thinking. "And you're right. I should talk to my son."

Harry nodded. His damned Gryffindor earnestness could not conceal his frown. "So, you're canceling date."

"Not at all." Her stockinged toes caressed his table edge. "But I suppose we could invite the Greengrasses to dine with us beforehand."

It was inconceivable. Insane. Surreal. He grinned. "Us?"

"I'm willing to make some exceptions." Her eyes darkened. "But I'm not willing to make exceptions when it comes to you, it seems." He didn't address that confession, but she could see the pleased glint in his eyes. "Meanwhile. There's a dreadful storm out."

"There is."

"I would rather not apparate again."

"I wouldn't let you." He licked his lips and attempted casual. "You're more than welcome to stay here."

"More than welcome?"

He blushed. "I know it's not our usual routine, but -"

"Habit is a great deadener." She relaxed in his wingback, caressed the chair's brocade arm.

"It is."

"How are Kreacher's breakfast skills?"

"Dismal. But mine are passing fair." He touched her flirting toes. Swallowed heavily, and plunged. "We should get you out of those wet clothes."

"Indeed." She extended a graceful hand. He took it, pulled her to her feet.

"My bedroom is…" A gesture.

"Lead the way." A smile.

Perhaps it was the weather that pressed them so close together. The penetrating chill pushing blood to the surface of such sensitized skin. Perhaps it was the taste of fresh tea deepening their kisses. Perhaps it was the strangeness of his bed beneath them - unfamiliar territory for this activity - slowing their explorations. Perhaps a different angle - some variant perspective - altering his thrusts, the motions of their bodies. Perhaps it was what she feared to voice that made her all the more vociferous in her vocalizations. Perhaps he simply needed to be heard over the thunder rumbling.

Whatever the case, they couldn't deny something was different. That the setting had changed the plot. That this particular one-act bordered less on farce and more on romance. That this was more like making love.

And after, the alien language ensued. Bastioned in blanket, they talked. The witch's tired tongue less reticent. Her satisfied mind (and body) more malleable. Rain - now a steady peaceful patter - provided score.

"What would you do if Draco found out about this?" Harry stroked her shoulder. Kissed it.

She reciprocated in action, tracing invisible lines on his chest. "I can't say. What would you do?"

He laughed softly. "I don't know either. Cast some orphan-protection charms, I suppose."


"Nothing." They lazed. He wondered and (still) worried. "Narcissa. When you get tired of me, what will we do?"

He felt her lashes flutter against his breastbone. "What if I don't get tired of you?"

"What if I fall in love with you?" He volleyed boldly. She wasn't running yet. It helped that he'd kicked her clothes beneath his bed discretely. Little Slytherin cracks in the Gryffindor facade.

"What if we stop playing at hypotheticals?" She propped on her elbows, not running, but looking at him. Their eyes were adjusted to the dim. Her mentality was adjusted to him. "Say it, Harry. Because it's the only way I'll know what my reaction will be."

He could appreciate that. "I think I'm falling in love with you, Narcissa."

She closed her eyes. Bent her head as if in silent prayer, and maybe she was. "Goddess help me."

"I'm sorry."

She rolled from his loose embrace, but not from the bed. Instead, she stared up at his embossed ceiling. "I am, too." Her voice was rather watery. Wavering. "I feel...quite complicated emotions, Harry. I don't know if it's love or infatuation or…" She rubbed at her face. "Temporary insanity."

He stared at her. "I don't suppose it matters. So long as we're happy." She sniffed, controlled whatever was melting her tone. "Are you happy?"

"Yes, dammit!" She snapped, then tisked an apology. "Forgive me. I'm tired."

"Let's sleep, then." He could see her considering. "I promised you breakfast, after all." He sighed. Tried honesty. "I want you to sleep with me. I'd like to hold you. Wake up with you."

"Oh, shut up." She muttered. But buttered, she shifted impatiently. Snuggled against him and pulled his arm over her. "I'm staying."

He grinned against her mussed hair. "I'm glad."

"You're barmy."

"I'm a sentimental Gryffindor."

"Who very Slytherinly hid my clothes beneath your bed."

"That was an accident."

"Bollocks." But she laughed. "Good night, Harry."

"Good night, Narcissa."

There were so many things left unknown. So many things left unsaid. But patience, he'd learned, was prudent. And the heart could wait.


"How do I look?"

"For the tenth time, darling, you look perfect." Astoria brushed hands down the front of Draco's jacket. "Stop being so nervous."

"How are you not nervous?" He asked incredulously. "Your parents. My mother. Harry Bloody Potter. It's practically a media circus!"

Story laughed. "Pacing in front of this restaurant is not going to help, Draco. Look." She took his hands, stilled him. "I love you. And you love me. This is naught but a formality. It's not as if they'll disapprove of the union. So stop fretting, relax your scowl, and straighten your shoulders."

He caught her glance just past his shoulder. "Are they here?" He hissed.

"Which they?" She asked with a smile.

Rolling his eyes, Draco turned. "Mother!" He embraced the witch. Her heels put her just a few inches beneath his chin, so he kissed her temple. "You look stunning." And she did - hair softly bunned, an elegant drape of velvet and damask moulding her fit form.

"Thank you, darling." She gave a half-turn. "It's new. Miss Greengrass." Appraising. Intimidating.

Astoria gave a meeting-the-queen curtsy under Draco's sympathetic stare. "Ms. Malfoy. I'm so pleased to see you again."

"Of course you are." But Narcissa's smile seemed genuine beneath its cool curve. "And you look lovely."

"Thank you." Astoria wisely and adeptly avoided ma'am's and madam's. She knew better. Not to mention one look at the blush on Harry's Potter's face - the Gryffindor man-boy lurking just behind the Slytherin matron - had told her that her future husband might be quite put out should he learn the true nature of his mother's recent 'play dates.' Impressive, her mother in law's sensuality and grace… She gave another curtsy. "Mr. Potter. A pleasure to see you again, as well."

"Miss Greengrass!" Harry opted for a warm handshake under Draco's penetrating scowl. "It's been too long. You look great!"

"I'd say we were rather under dressed," Draco commented gamely, taking in Harry's trim charcoal suit. "Is that a new suit?"

Harry gave an arm stretch. "It is. Linen, I believe."

"Huh." Draco gave his own appraisal. "It's not bad." He turned back to his mother. "I suppose we owe you our gratitude for making the time to dine with us this evening. I know pressing."

"Very pressing," Narcissa drawled. "But not so important as to take me from my son and his beautiful companion. Shall we await your parents' arrival inside, Astoria? Our table is prepared to seat six, now."

Draco gestured for Harry and Narcissa to enter first, openly scowling at Potter. Harry smirked smugly back. Astoria nearly laughed. Lagging a bit behind, Draco whispered in her ear. "You handled mum's intimidation tactics well."

"Not really," she whispered back. "I nearly wet myself."

He hid a laugh, following an elaborately dressed Moroccan maitre' d through a maze of low tables and busy diners. Seeing Harry's hand graze the small of Narcissa's back, he stopped. Astoria bumped his elbow. "What's wrong?" She asked.

Draco's nostrils flared. "Nothing. Probably nothing."

They were seated quite privately, a pall of suspicion and nervousness laying heavy over appetizers and pitchers of rich wine. The Greengrasses were as prompt as anticipated; he handsomely bedecked in fine brown robes, she in cornflower blue. Clearly conservatives. But also clearly taken with the idea of dining with The Chosen One (much to Draco's chagrin), and pleased as punch to see said Chosen One as a friend to their daughter.

And Draco had to admit that Potter and his mother were dreadfully charming, easily buttering the Greengrasses to giggles and guffaws. It was striking, sobering even, to see how Narcissa smiled so deeply, laughed so truly, and leaned so intimately toward the Gryffindor. And something almost envy-instilling in Harry's ease, how he leaned in the thick piles of plush pillows, sharing jokes and anecdotes. Anyone would have thought they made a lovely couple - the witch made girl again and the boy made man by witch.

Anyone but the witch's son.

And the witch's son was realizing quickly that he'd been completely Slytherined. He was coming to the conclusion that yes, most probably, Harry Potter was fucking his mother.

And he wasn't certain how he felt about that. In fact, he was so distracted, Astoria had to nudge him from his reverie. "Hey. You alright?" She asked quietly.

"Hm? Oh, yeah." He rubbed her elbow. "Yeah, I'm fine. You?"

She smiled shyly. "I think your mother and Harry are planning to leave for their play soon," she hedged.

"Ah, yes." Time to do or die. Draco cleared his throat, timed well to coincide with a lull in lively conversation. "Excuse me," he said. Suddenly, all eyes were on him. Expectant eyes. Suddenly, he was nervous. He shook it off, standing. "Astoria and I are so pleased that we could all dine together tonight. It's been difficult for us to arrange time all together like this." A calculated glance at his mother. "But this is important." He swallowed heavily. A stone settled in his stomach. He faltered.

But his mother caught his eyes with a calculation of her own. A gaze softer than any he'd seen from her for some time. Wide eyes and lips pursed not in expectation but an expression he recognized from his youth: the look that said, 'Of course you can do this. So stop being silly and get it over.' He smiled at her.

"Mr. and Mrs. Greengrass. This may not come as a surprise, but...I love your daughter. Dearly." He took Astoria's hand. "Mother. The three of you raised us properly. Wisely and with love. You taught us everything we know, and we respect that. That's why we wanted you all to be present now...when I ask for Astoria's hand in marriage."

This was pureblood tradition at its finest. The presentation of the amorous couple before their parents. An open floor for criticism, judgment, pragmatism or (hopefully) approval. And the elder purebloods recognized and appreciated the tradition.

The witches broke silence. Matriarchy reigned in this tradition. "Ms. Malfoy." Mrs. Greengrass' kind face promised tears. "Your son possesses a fine brevity and understanding."

Narcissa's chin rose. Pride. "Mrs. Greengrass. Your daughter is composed and undeniably suitable." A pointed look at Draco's slightly astonished face. "I...approve of their union."

The promised tears were delivered on a happy clap. "Oh, wonderful! Maximus!" The Greengrasses embraced, clearly thrilled at the prospect of their daughter's marriage. Attentions turned to the happy couple, and the rest of the exchange dissolved in a haze of relief for Draco.

The Greengrasses departed with promises of future dinners, vacations together and a meeting to discuss wedding plans. Narcissa, socialite she was, handled the good-byes with grace and aplomb, seeming not in a hurry despite the fact she was very much in a hurry. Draco barely managed to catch her by the elbow. "Mother," he spoke quietly.

She recognized his desire for discretion and waved Harry on to mingle with Astoria. "Yes, son?"

He was at a loss, really. Felt the need to say something, but what? "I...thank you, mother. For your diplomacy and your...approval."

She blinked. "Part of me was tempted to deny."

"What?" He tugged her further away from possible ears. "Why?"

"You've had no need to lie to me, Draco. For all this time. I know that tradition is hardly what it once was. I know that you're not working weekends. I know that you're intimately involved with the girl. I'm hurt that you've deceived me." She was drawing on theatre gloves, not seeing her gobsmacked spawn. "All of the time you spent evading me could have been spent talking to me. I would like to have been a confidante to you. A friend. A mother."

He looked at his shoes. "I see." Scuffed the cobblestone. "I don't know how to apologize."

"Don't." Gloved fingers patted his cheek. "Just make it up to me." She moved to join Harry.

"Mother." She turned. "Same goes for you. In a way, at least." He nodded toward Astoria and Potter. "You're sleeping with him, aren't you?"

Her brow rose. "Not exactly sleeping." At his nauseous face, she walked on. "But that's a thing we can discuss later on. With all the lovely time we'll be spending together during wedding preparations."

Harry watched the Malfoys' rather tense confrontation...rather tensely. He chewed his lip with worry. "It's alright," Astoria said softly. "I think Draco's managed to put together that you and his mother are a bit more than...stage afficianados."

Harry looked at her sharply. "What?"

Astoria chuckled. "Oh, stop Harry. I'm hardly one to gossip. I think it's lovely. The two of you are really quite sweet together. It sort of...fits."

Sighing heavily, he rubbed his blushing face. "It's not really serious."

"Hm." Astoria was watching the Malfoys, too, particularly Narcissa. "I don't know if she feels that way."


His interest - his hope - was endearing to the young witch. "Really. I can tell when a witch is happy. And that's a happy witch."

Harry grinned, turned to his approaching companion. "Well. That makes two of us."

"Two of us what?" Narcissa asked, taking his proffered arm.

"Oh. It seems Miss Greengrass likes plays, too."

Narcissa gave the girl a knowing smirk. "I'm certain she does. Good evening Miss Greengrass." A nod. A curtsy. "Come Harry. I don't want to miss a programme."

Exit All

AN: It's been a while. Sorry about that. I've received so many lovely reviews and encouragements to finish this story, that I truly felt obligated to do so. Thanks, everyone - for prodding me in the right direction. It's good to be back.