Ginny opened her eyes slow, feeling as though she'd been asleep beneath something dark. Something that was somehow heavy yet weightless, all at once. Dreamless—blissfully so.
She squinted uncomfortably against the light in the room. The realization came only a moment later that the light was actually soft, it was the way the illumination reflected off the white walls that made it seem so bright. She recognized that simple sterility, took comfort it in. Though . . . .
How the ruddy hell had she gotten to the hospital wing at Hogwarts? Last she recalled, she'd been in Hogsmeade. Blaise had pulled her into an alley and started snogging her senseless. That had been quite nice, actually. What then?
She scrambled to recall.
A flash. Yes, she remembered a glimpse of that horrible nightmare version of Blaise running through her mind and then a soft, rolling blackness washed across her consciousness, consuming her. Like drifting off to sleep, only she couldn't fight it.
The last thing she recalled was Blaise Zabini's voice calling her name in a panicked tone.
She tried to sit up, but was immediately stopped by a weight pinning one side of her covers in place. Looking down, she saw Hermione. The brunette witch had pulled up a chair beside her hospital bed, her arms folded atop the mattress and her head down, sound asleep.
"She's been here," Madame Pomfrey said, her voice soft as she stood from behind the front desk,"off an on—mostly on—since you were brought in."
Ginny's eyes widened as she watched the elder witch draw close to her. "How long ago was that?"
Madame Pomfrey checked the girl over as she answered, "Two days ago."
"I've been out for two days?!"
Ginny's shout startled Hermione awake. She sat bolt upright, wiping reflexively at her bleary eyes. "I'm up, I'm up, I swear!"
Laughing despite her current confused state, Ginny finally sat up, herself, and latched her hands around her friend's. "It's okay, Hermione. I'm . . . I'm okay."
Nodding, Hermione uttered a short, relieved laugh of her own. Collecting her thoughts fast, she focused her gaze on Ginny's. "I'm so happy you're awake! You look rested. How d'you feel?"
The ginger-haired witch spared a moment to take stock of herself. "Actually, I feel fine. Good, even." Nodding, she asked, "So? What happened? With Blaise and the alley and whatever else I can't remember that led to me being here? I mean everything."
"Everything?" Draco asked, as he sat on the bed in their shared quarters. "And she believed you?"
Hermione shrugged, nodding. "She already knew about you and me, and after already having that nightmare about Blaise, she actually wasn't all that surprised by any of it. I think, also, everything we've all been through since starting at Hogwarts probably helped in that regard."
He snickered. "I suppose you've a point, there."
"She, um, she is confused about something, still, though."
Draco's brows drew upward. "What's that?"
Swallowing hard, she dropped her attention to the toes of her shoes. "Whether or not any of it was genuine, because she was starting to like him."
"Starting to? As is no longer does?"
She heaved a sigh. "No, as in still does, hence her confusion."
"Well, if it helps, I think he was genuine. I think that's why that nightmare-thing of his was able to target her so easily, because he was already interested in her."
"She wanted to know when she can see him again." Hermione shrugged. "I think she wants them to sort their feelings out together."
"Probably the best way. I'm sure that pain in the arse Firenze will let us know as soon as it's safe for her to see him again."
"Yeah, I'm sure he will." She sat beside him on the bed, letting herself fall back to stare up at the canopy. "Speaking of, was there any decision reached on telling Blaise's mum about all this?"
"Turns out my parents will be handling that, thank God. With Professor McGonagall's help."
She uttered a little small sound of relief.
Leaning back on his elbows, his grey eyes locking on the window. The sun hadn't yet set, but the moon was already visible in the sky. "Um, so . . . . D'you think your centaur friend meant this waxing moon or just any waxing moon?"
She followed his gaze, her expression somber. "I suppose any would do, but we can't wait on it. The sooner we figure this ritual out, the sooner Blaise is safe. We also have no idea when the pain from these bloody lines in my back might return."
"Right, that pesky long-transformation business of yours."
"I've been thinking," the witch started softly, "so much of what's happened has involved some level or another of us acting on instincts we didn't know we had. Maybe we should just go into the forest and . . . I dunno, see what we feel."
"Well, he did say we had to prove something to the Wood. That mean we have to have sex in the forest?"
Biting her lip, she held in a laugh. "Think so. Wouldn't be the first time."
"No, actually. This'll make it our third, if my count is right."
A smirk curved his lips. "So, that's the plan?"
"You got a better one?" she asked, one brow arching.
He rolled onto his side, pillowing his head on her breast. "Nope."
"Good. So let's get some sleep now, and we'll go at sundown. Give us time before your transformation in case we have to stumble about a bit to find whatever it is we're looking for."
"What do we do after this, though? Like, once you're officially the avatar of the Lady?"
"We . . . find a balance, I suppose. The centaurs clearly don't expect us to forfeit our human lives, so I think we just . . . like everything else with this, we kind of figure it out as we go along. For now, we focus on securing the Heart of the Wood and finishing our education formally."
"We have weird priorities."
He put an arm around her waist, holding her tight to him and letting his eyes drift closed.
Entering the forest that night, Hermione wasn't entirely certain what she expected to feel. Draco seemed equally unsure. Standing beside her just inside the tree line, he took her hand in his and simply started walking.
They wandered together in silence. Each time they passed beneath a swath of moonlight breaking through the forest canopy, Hermione thought she felt . . . something. She wasn't sure what, just some small, niggling impression of a thought forming.
Eventually, long enough and far enough in that she considered his transformation might be starting soon, she recognized where they were. Where they had just 'aimlessly' wandered to.
Lifting her free hand, she pointed at the veil of leaves. "The Lady's Fountain is right on the other side of that."
"That can't be a coincidence," Draco's voice escaped him in a whisper.
"No, it can't," she agreed. Moving through the leaves, she tugged him along to follow behind her.
The moonlight bathed the waters of the spring silver, the slick grass on the knoll in the center glittering like strands of emerald, just as last time. Its illumination struck the couple full-on, now, no cover or dispersion from the forest canopy.
She felt . . . lighter, suddenly. Closing her eyes, she tipped her face up to the moon and inhaled deep.
Then she heard it. The voice drifted through her mind, soft, lilting. For a few heartbeats, she nearly thought she was imagining it. It was both familiar and wholly new, all at once.
Draco kept respectfully silent. He wasn't certain precisely what was happening, but something told him not to interrupt.
After another deep breath, she opened her eyes and turned, smiling as she met his gaze. "I understand now. And I think you're going to like it."
His brows pinched together a half-smile curving his lips. "Oh?"
She nodded. She started undressing, pointing toward his clothes with her chin. He followed suit. When they were both stripped bare, she one more took his hand, this time guiding him through the water to the knoll.
He let her guide him to sit on the damp grass. The feel against his skin was strangely pleasant, inviting. "You going to share with me how this is supposed to go? Because I could start changing any minute now."
Nodding again, she straddled his lap. "It spoke to me."
He tipped his head to one side his fingers stroking her skin nearly out of habit. "It? The Wood?"
"Yes. I never heard it before, but I know in my heart that's what it was." Her gaze searched his face. "To claim you entirely, I have to prove to the Wood that I accept both sides of you."
"That I recall." With all they'd been up to since this began, he was already hard simply from the weight of her body atop his.
"So . . . we've, well, the term making love doesn't feel like it applies to everything we've done, but it does tonight. We've shagged while you're a satyr, and shagged while you're human . . . ." A blush tinted her cheeks as she went on, "In order to prove that I accept both, though, I have to make love to you while you're both."
"Both? You mean as I'm—"
"As you're changing, yes."
His eyebrows shot up. "Can we start a little before? Because once it starts, I'm not sure I can control—"
Hermione pushed him to lie on his back. "Shut up," she said, laughing.
He gave up any further facetious argument or nitpicking as she leaned over him, her mouth capturing his in a kiss. She pulled his arms up over his head, pinning them to the grass.
"Try to stay like that," she whispered against his lips.
"Not sure I'll be able to . . . ." His voice trailed off as his grey eyes lightened, the silver of his other form flooding in, seeming to glow beneath the moonlight.
"I am claiming you," she murmured, slipping one hand from his arms.
Her fingertips trailed along his skin. Down over his chest, his abdomen. Between their bodies. He exhaled a delightful hissing breath as she grasped him gently and lifted, positioning him beneath her.
His hair was growing longer now, the curved, elegant horns just beginning to peak out of his hairline.
She lowered herself over him, a shuddering exhalation tearing from her lips as he entered her. The groan he uttered as she started rocking against him was a sound of mingling pleasure and pain.
He fought to keep his arms up as she'd instructed, but it wasn't easy. The curving of the horns back over his head wracked his skull with pain, as surely as the feel of her, warm and tight, as she moved over him sent delicious tremors through his body.
"Sorry," he breathed the word, his arms moving of their own volition, hands gripping her arse with splayed fingers.
She nodded, bracing her palms on his chest. She supposed that was all right as long as he didn't try to take control. He seemed content simply hold her to him as she worked herself against him, his silver eyes swimming a bit as he stared up at her, watching her face all the while. His long, pale hair pooled around him in the grass, pale gold against a sea of glittering emerald.
God, he was beautiful.
His transformation finished, the pain releasing its hold on him. The relief of it was overwhelming, coupling with the sensation of her body gripping his as her motions caused him to sink deep and withdraw, again and again.
He was trembling and he didn't even seem to notice. But she did. How could she not? Every shiver moved him beneath her just enough, brushing tight against the sensitive little bundle of nerves between her thighs.
He wasn't sure if he was supposed to hang on for something. Didn't matter, her movements were getting faster, a little clumsy.
"Granger?" he whispered, his voice laced with anguish.
She only nodded, her eyes drifting closed as she forced a gulp down her throat. Her entire form was tense against his, she could feel the grip of her body around him tightening.
His hips jerked upward, thrusting hard as he froze.
She met him in it, stilling over him. Her head fell back, spine arching. Neither of them expected the scream that tore from her lips.
Neither expected the crystalline wings exploding from the lines in her back as she came.
He could only stare up at her in wonder as he spent himself—a bit grateful for that potion from Madame Pomfrey at the moment. Draco used his hands on her to move her over him now, the feel of her trembling against him drawing every last drop from him.
As it ebbed, she drooped forward over him, taking back the last few heartbeats of movement. She ground her pelvis against his, the last motion slow, long, shivering.
She stilled again, listening to their mingled breaths in the forest night. That had been strangely quick, and yet somehow incredibly perfect.
Lowering herself, she rested her cheek against his chest. He circled her with his arms, carefully avoiding her wings.
"So I guess that was the ritual, after all?"
She uttered a quiet, airy laugh. "Mating ritual, yes, I guess so. Sort of right there in the title."
He chuckled, the sound warmer than anything she ever thought she'd hear from the lips of Draco Malfoy.
"So . . . . I'm afraid to check for myself. What do they look like?"
Peering over her shoulder, he lifted a hand, his touch delicate as he explored the glittering appendages with the tips of his fingers. "Like stained glass." He tilted his head, meeting her gaze. "Beautiful."
"Oh, thank God. I was worried they'd be, like, those little white moth wings, or something."
"D'you think you can fly?"
Hermione grinned, shrugging in his embrace. "Don't know. Not going to find that out tonight."
"But this was it, though, right? The 'claiming?'"
She closed her eyes and breathed deep. Beneath the wash of moonlight, in the arms of her Consort, the water of her fountain sweetening the air . . . . And she simply knew.
"Yes. I can't quite put it into words, but I can sense it. There's a connection now. The Heart of the Wood, I can feel it."
One of his brows arched. "What does it feel like?"
"Wonderful, actually. Calming." She nodded against his chest. "Like when you know something feels right, but you're not sure why."
He smiled. "Sort of like us?"
Again, she nodded. "Sort of exactly like us. Are you okay to sleep here? Because I don't think I'm moving any time soon."
"As my Lady wishes."
"Oh, shut up, Malfoy."
Draco started to laugh, but stopped just as fast.
The abrupt halt to that mirthful sound alarmed her. "What?"
"No, nothing, really, I was just thinking . . . . We'd better hope your transformations are like mine. Can you imagine the spectacle these wings will create at school if they don't go away at sunrise?"
"Sweet Merlin," she said softly, shaking her head. She hadn't thought on that. But, in this moment, she didn't want to think on it. There was nothing to do but cross that bridge when they came to it.
Loosing a content sigh, she closed her eyes and tightened her arms around him. "Let's let that be a problem for the morning."
Thank you so much for taking this journey with me, and being so patient—for literal years—with me and this story. Love you all 😊