Malfoy went back to his mother after three days, presumably to report successful debauchery. I didn't ask. I cleaned up after we'd eaten breakfast then plodded around the house tidying up to avoid thinking about things. Like how carefully I had read the legal definitions of contraception.
I had used no charm, hex, curse, jinx, malign transfiguration, potion or alchemical substance. I bet the Ministry thought they'd stymied a work-around when they also listed pills. But they hadn't specified injections. Granted, because I was under surveillance I couldn't go to a Muggle doctor myself as some prod-nose would definitely ask my GP what I'd requested. However, Hannah could. She Confounded the doctor, brought the needle in sterile packaging to me and I'd injected myself in the club toilets. Classy.
For all the skulduggery, it might not work. That was what was bothering me. The brand of progestin contraceptive I'd used at a 3% failure rate in ordinary conditions. I was cutting it close, and no amount of vigorous scrubbing or intimate personal hygiene was going to settle my mind. Crossing my fingers and hoping Malfoy was shooting blanks wasn't a sound strategy either.
I felt a hypocrite for talking about trust while having no intention of discussing my reproductive health with my soon-to-be husband until we were married. Once I had complied with the contract and the Ministry couldn't haul me back to Azkaban, then I'd talk to him about it. Assuming it worked. We might be having a very different conversation.
Someone Apparated into the back garden. Wand in hand, because an excuse to hex someone would be wonderful right now, I checked. It was Ron, with a picnic hamper. I rushed outside and hugged him.
"You okay?" He asked into my hair, arms tight around me. I snivelled something. We went inside and he unpacked an enormous Black Forest gateau. "Mum made it. She thought you could use cheering up. She threw a cake tin at Dad when he tried to steal some of the cherries."
I ate cake. Ron sat and watched me eat for a bit then got up to raid the fridge. That was not a good sign.
"I'm not happy about marrying him." I said, giving him an opening if he wanted to rant. He just nodded.
"But you're going to have to, right?" He spoke to the leftover quiche. "Or it's back to jail."
"I'm not just shrugging and giving up." I caught myself before I said 'I'm not taking this lying down' because neither of us needed that mental image. "But, yes, for the time being."
"I'm not happy about that either." Ron brought the whole plate of quiche to the table and angrily stabbed it with a fork. "I don't want you to think that I'm going to be a git about it." He paused to chew and glare at the egg pie. "I thought a lot while you were away. Got bloody angry."
"Me too." I agreed, licking cherry jam off my teeth like it was blood. There was an after-taste the sweetness couldn't hide. "Ron, did your mother tell you not to eat any of this cake?" I asked oh-so-casually. I got an affirmative around a mouthful of quiche. I put my fork down.
"Don't ask. She didn't say what it was." He speared a cube of ham out of the quiche and vengefully bit it. "She did say if I'd got you in the family way I could've spared you this."
"Lovely." I put a hand on his. "This isn't on you." He looked at me with his bright eyes, as blue as the summer sky that used to make me feel giddy. Used to. "I love you and I want you to be happy. Having a baby before we're ready, before we wanted to, could've ruined our friendship. I'd rather resent Malfoy than you for pushing me into something."
"He does make a very pretty ferret." Ron grinned. He leaned in then sat abruptly back, thinking better of kissing me. "Merlin, this is awkward."
"It's okay." It wasn't really. But I did want him to find some happiness. "Hannah Abbot's single. She's a nice girl."
"She is." He agreed tentatively. I put a hand on his shoulder and a serious expression on my face.
"Go have fun with her. With anyone you fancy. Be moderately irresponsible so I can live vicariously through you. Harry's no thrill. He and your sister are too sweet together." I smiled. I was glad Harry was enjoying some good karma. God knows he'd earned it.
"I reckon I can be moderately irresponsible." Ron smoothed a hand through my hair. "I love you too. I'd kill Malfoy for you. I thought about it."
"So have I." I sighed. "He's an arse but this isn't his fault. And he's signed up for an unspecified duration of my nagging." I grinned. "Which I will be doing to the best of my ability. I'll have him volunteering in soup kitchens before the end of the year."
Ron laughed. We talked about inconsequential stuff, vague plans for travel and caught up on things I'd missed while imprisoned. It was nice. He was my friend. I would fight to keep him in my life. He rushed off to help George, having lost track of time, leaving the hamper. I checked over the food and found most of it had been doctored with what Madam Pomfrey had euphemistically called 'menstruation regulators'.
The plant extracts weren't as reliable at the standard potion but they would help. Molly had included a short note saying that if I wanted any more 'home-cooking' I had only to ask. I had plausible deniability. My conscience smarted more over involving Molly in what could be criminal charges than over the deception.
The ethical qualms evaporated entirely when I finished sorting through my correspondence from the Ministry. I'd lost my job and because I had gone to Azkaban for a 'crime of moral character' I was ineligible to be rehired. I could appeal, after a probational period of ten years exemplary conduct. I wasn't going to appeal. Well-behaved women seldom made history.
So what was I going to do?
I took stock of my life. I had to organise a wedding. I had to spend a nominal amount of time with Malfoy. What did he want to do with his life? It wasn't likely he wanted to study at a Muggle university but he could certainly enrol in a general course if something caught his interest. Or that could be our time apart, which would mean we'd have to live together.
The Ministry had specified co-habitation but that simply meant the same residence. If I didn't see Malfoy during the day, I'd have to see him at night. I corrected myself. He would have to see me. It was important I keep that perspective. He needed me. I didn't need him.
So, what did I need? A plan, was my first immediate answer. Wedding. House. Meeting with the goblins to sort out my finances. A briefing on Lucius's sentence. Final check of my parents' paper-trail in the UK. I wrote down everything in a nice, clear list that made me feel much better. Empowered. Free.
I was making a shopping list when Malfoy returned. He looked polished in a suit and formal robes. An elf in a pale grey pillowcase accompanied him, carrying a wooden coffer. He looked around at the kitchen then shuddered. The elf, not Malfoy. I continued writing.
"This is Rolly." Malfoy introduced the elf. "He is going to keep house for us, as we are going to be busy. Mother insisted."
"That's nice." I considered how much ink I would need and doubled the quantity on the list. I'd stock up on quick-drying, waterproof speciality blends too as I anticipated sending a lot of letters. The Malfoys had owls enough I didn't need to buy one or constantly duck out to the Post. I would charm the letters for privacy, just in case Narcissa tried to spy on me more than with a single elf.
"Mother would like the wedding to be at Malfoy Manor." His tone suggested he was waiting for me to lose my temper. He'd be waiting a while. I was going to be mature and level-headed about this fiasco.
"Your mother will be disappointed." I looked up. "Rolly, are you aware that until Lucius is released from Azkaban or we get Draco off the Creature Registry, I am the Head of the House of Malfoy?"
"Yes, Mistress." Rolly looked like he would rather pull out his own tongue than admit it but he was loyal. Whether that had been beaten into him, I didn't know. Lucius had been horrible to Dobby. The social dynamics between house elves and wizarding folk was far more complex than I had understood when I had start SPEW. I still knew cruelty when I saw it however.
"I would like you to act as Draco's personal attendant. I don't require you to do more than that." Whatever Malfoy ordered the elf to do was between him and Rolly. I didn't want to get too comfortable with having someone at my beck and call. I shifted my attention to the wizard. "Ignoring what your mother wants, do you have any preferences about the wedding?"
"Not ignoring what my mother wants would be one of my preferences." He said with some force. "I'm her only child. It's bad enough we have to marry like this without excluding her."
"I doubt Merlin would be capable of excluding your mother." My tact had evidently become rusty during my incarceration. The snide remark got Malfoy's back up. "She can be involved. But Malfoy Manor is non-negotiable. Ron, Harry, Luna and Dean will all be at the ceremony. Even if I could force myself into that bloody house again, I wouldn't do that to them!"
I was standing and shouting when I finished, surprising myself with my own vehemence. Malfoy took a step closer, towering over me, trying to use his height to dominate the conversation.
"He's been here." His possessiveness was blatant.
"He has." I confirmed, rankled. "What do you think happened? My boyfriend popped by and despite me spending the last couple of days in unholy debauchery with you, I decided to shag him on the kitchen table?" I grabbed his tie and pulled his face closer to mine. "Go on, have a good sniff."
"He wants to take you away from me." He might have sounded plaintive and I might have been sympathetic but he ground the words out between his teeth.
"He's hardly the only one. I've had a good few offers to smuggle me out of the country." It had been tempting but I had decided against life on the run or as a Muggle in favour of reforming the system from the inside. Less dramatic, more pragmatic. "And yet, here I am, arguing with you."
"How can you be so irritating and so arousing at the same time?" Malfoy demanded, sliding closer until we were chest to chest. I still had hold of his tie.
Upstairs, I knotted his hands in the dark green silk and vanished his clothes. After our consent ritual. I never wanted to forget that. I kept my clothes on and the door firmly locked. Rolly had instructions, from Malfoy, to inform visitors his Master and Mistress were not at home.
"You seem to think I am going to indulge you." I slid a hand down his chest, curling my fingers so my nails scraped down his pale skin. I traced the pink lines with my other hand. He closed his eyes as he shivered from the sensation. When my fingernails reached his public hair he twitched. I circled my fingertips around the base of his shaft. "But I don't think I will."
I explored his body instead. He had scars. I touched every one, wondering how and when he'd suffered. Some I could guess. Buckbeak. Harry's Sectumsempra. The Dark Mark. He flinched when my fingers traced the serpent, his eyes screwing tighter shut.
I smoothed my hand up his arm, across his chest, my fingers moving lightly up his neck, along the line of his jaw. I touched his lips with a fingertip then followed the touch with a kiss. His breath caught.
I pulled back and his eyes opened. He watched me step out of my knickers. I climbed onto the bed, hitching up my skirt but not removing any more of my clothes. The dichotomy between him naked and bound, and me fully clad and free excited him. I saw the flush of his arousal before I straddled him.
I didn't move. I was still a bit tender so riding him at a gallop didn't appeal. It was different to feel him inside me. Nice, I suppose. Not clinical or invasive or demeaning or any of the other adjectives I had anticipated. I didn't feel a wondrous, magical connection to him. But I did have to admit to myself there was a closeness. A sharing.
"Where do you want to get married?" I asked, settling my weight on my shins. Draco groaned.
"You're asking now? Now?" He made a noise like a strangled growl, bucking his hips under me.
"Shorn of artifice and cunning, yes." I put my hands flat on his chest, thumbs rubbing small circles around his nipples. He made more noises. I let him move against me. The slow staccato pace was almost a massage. I could get used to this.
"Glynn Nathan." He panted. "The Cuva." He subsided onto the bed, glaring at me. "Muggles call it St Nectin's Kieve. They trample over the sacred sit, but it's beautiful."
"In Cornwall, near Tintagel." I recalled after some thought. I'd read about the site in reference to clootie wells but I'd never been there. No memories of my parents and it wasn't Malfoy Manor. "We'll have the ceremony there, then hold the reception in Tinworth. Fireworks on the beach."
That settled, I explored more of what I might learn from Draco's body. I climbed off him after I had brought myself to a gradual sweet climax then undressed as he lay there breathing hard, probably half expecting me to leave him unsated. I didn't. I tucked myself in behind him, touching him, kissing the sweat from his neck. I used my hands to bring him to orgasm then undid the silk tie.
"Bitch." Malfoy growled.
"You can leave whenever you like." I nestled into the pillows. He stayed where he was, the little spoon. I cuddled against him and he relaxed. We had a nap together, wanting to preserve the intimacy. I woke to him running his hand over the bruise-scar that stretched from my sternum to my hip.
"You were in the Hospital Wing a long time. I noticed that. Even with everything else going on." He shifted onto his elbow so he could look down at me. "I want a wedding feast." He demanded. "A formal one like my grandparents had. Ten courses. A thousand guests."
"A thousand people?" I stared at him, wondering if I was dreaming or if he was concussed. "Are you mad?"
"Pragmatic. I want to rebuild my family's reputation. And you want to heal the wounds from the war. A lavish party now that most of the rebuilding is done won't offend anyone's sensibilities." His mouth twisted into a serpentine smile. "Didn't you ever imagine your dream wedding as a girl, Granger?"
"I imagined going to university and becoming a professor. I used to play dress-up with my mother's mortar board." I hadn't in fact much considered getting married as a child. I'd pictured myself wearing academic robes as my parents had when they had got their graduate degrees. My only wish concerning my wedding came from attending a family friend's when I was ten; no pinchy shoes.
"That should not surprise me." He smirked then coiled against me like I was a sun-warmed rock. "I don't give a damn who you invite or even what we serve. I want the best and brightest to toast us, even if they choke on their champagne." His breath brushed against my neck in a long sigh. "I want my life back."
"What do you want to do with yourself?" I didn't care about the wedding, not really. It wasn't mine, just something I had to have.
"Once I can fucking think again, I'm going to get my Charms Mastership. I've arsed about long enough." He sounded angry and purposeful.
"Why Charms?" I would've guessed Potions if I'd had to pick.
"Such of the family businesses that the Ministry hasn't seized are concentrated around manufacture. I need to know about Charm creation and enchantment if I'm going to innovate." I felt his lips curl against my skin, showing me a smirk I couldn't see. "I could lounge at home, socialise and buy expensive tat as most pure-blood spouses do. Fancy a drone for a husband?"
"I do not." I didn't say that he wouldn't be going on any shopping sprees because I had control of the purse strings. I wasn't happy about holding that leash either. "I think Charms is a splendid idea. I might do the same. Or Transfiguration. Both fields are fascinating."
"You won't be able to transfigure yourself when you're expecting." He cautioned, actually sounding concerned.
Ah, yes, that. I wanted to have this discussion after we were married but ignoring the opening or brushing off the subject would very likely come back to bite me. I turned my head to look Malfoy in the eye.
"I'm using Muggle contraception. It's not on the Ministry list. I don't know if it will work. Everything I've read about Veela breeding has been frustratingly reticent about the physiological processes." I said all that on one breath then inhaled deeply. "I intend to keep doing everything I legally can to put off having a baby."
I felt the tension run through him. We were lying skin to skin. The muscle contraction as he reacted to what I had said told me that despite the even tone he used to ask his question he wasn't happy. Far from it. The Slytherin mask was firmly in place. We could've been discussing the weather.
"How long do you plan to put it off?" He didn't pull away from me. He didn't move.
"I don't know." I gave it some thought. "If I had married someone I loved and planned for a family, I think I would've started trying for my first child in my late twenties. Depending on our financial situation. Certainly not before I was twenty-five." Of course, I was currently unemployed and a multi-millionaire. Never expected that. "My mum had me when she was thirty. That's fairly normal for Muggles."
"Thirty." He said it like I had said one hundred.
"Witches have had children well into their sixties, if they're healthy and have avoided the Dark Arts. Muggles usually need medical help to get pregnant after forty-five but it's far from impossible." I explained as though it would make any difference. "I know you want an heir. I want kids too, just not right now."
"My parents tried for eight years to have me, and kept trying for a second child. You don't understand how difficult it is." He stopped, evidently not liking the pleading undertone to his voice.
"Think of it this way." I searched for a détente. "Say we'd had a drunken one-night stand at the graduation party and a few weeks later I told you I was pregnant, what would you have done?"
" I would assume the baby was Weasley's and wait until you gave birth to confirm paternity." He answered promptly. "If the baby were mine, I'd acknowledge him. In the fullness of time, if I didn't have any other children I would legitimise him so he could inherit." He regarded me flatly. "My child would want for nothing. Even if you and I couldn't be in the same room without curse each other, I would be there for my son."
"Or daughter?" I questioned. He shrugged.
"Malfoys have had only sons for generations. If I had a daughter, I would be delighted." Quite a different sort of smile than usual brightened his face. "I would teach her how to dance and take her to the theatre. And show her how to hex anyone who crossed her. She'd be my princess."
"You said ages ago you wanted sovereignty. So do I." I didn't want to be a broodmare.
"I could wait until I was twenty-five." The words were hesitant, already bunkered down to face an explosion.
"I would appreciate that." I didn't have many options and I wasn't sure how successful they would be. "I'd suggest condoms but they're banned too. I can probably thank generations of half-blood mistresses for the Wizengamot being so aware of conceptive methods." I scowled at the pernicious legislators. "There are plenty of things we can do together that won't get me pregnant."
"I didn't mind what we did." Malfoy told my shoulder, resuming his basking pose. "I'll never admit it in public but I like you on top." His hand strayed to my breast in an impertinent caress. "Want to punish me for my presumption, Mistress?"