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ByArrangementHeader

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Due to mature situations, this story may not be suitable for younger readers.

* * * * *

Timeline: Approximately a year and a half after Voldemort's death.


Mother looked smug. Father looked irritated – but then, he usually did.

Mother’s expression, however, probably meant that she had plans for me that I would not enjoy. Her own life had been marked by frustration and disappointment, and she was never happier than when she found a way to thwart the happiness of her daughters.

I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew what they wanted to talk about. As the eldest daughter of the family – and, to my parents’ unending regret, the heir – I was expected to ‘marry well’ as the saying goes. No doubt they’d started negotiations the day I came of age, if not before. I’d expected some hint ever since my seventeenth birthday, but I had turned eighteen just before Christmas, with still no mention of who I was expected to marry. So as I sat facing my parents, on the final day of the Christmas holidays, I had a feeling that they were about to enlighten me.

Mother started off with a speech about the necessity for an advantageous alliance, the importance of ensuring purity of the bloodline... I knew it all, as they’d both been parroting it at us as long as I could remember. Finally, Father growled, “Just tell the girl and get it over with!”

Mother shot him a poisonous look, then turned back to me. “Well, Nathalie, we have found you an extremely wealthy and influential husband. Absolutely pure-blooded. In fact we had an informal agreement just after you came of age, but the announcement had to be delayed because of the special circumstances – the proprieties must be observed, after all, particularly for a man of his social standing.”

She looked at me calculatingly. I sat quietly, waiting. She would tell me in her own good time – but how typical of Mother to go prattling on, keeping me in suspense. “I want to make it quite clear that there is to be no argument from you! A girl of your standing should realize that marriage is not about ‘love’ but about carefully-arranged alliances.”

I met her eyes steadily. “Of course, Mother. I will accept your choice without question.” Well, there wasn’t much point doing anything else.

She nodded, and glanced uneasily at Father. I must admit, I was starting to have qualms. Even Mother seemed anxious about my reaction when I heard the name of the monster I was expected to marry. “Well then – you will not be finishing your school year. You will return to Hogwarts tomorrow, when term starts and remain there until the middle of May. You will then return home and on June 1st, you will marry Lucius Malfoy.”

I stared at her, shocked.

It was common knowledge that Malfoy needed an heir. After the second wizard war ended with the final death of Voldemort, Malfoy had been facing years in Azkaban. To avoid that unpleasant fate, he had struck a deal with the new Minister for Magic. In return for receiving a token six-month prison term, he had provided the names and last known hiding places of all Death Eaters still at large. He also provided evidence of the crimes they had committed in the name of the Dark Lord.

Malfoy was no fool – he knew that any Death Eater not captured immediately would seek revenge on him. He sent his wife and son into hiding, but they had been tracked down and murdered by one of the last free Death Eaters.

He was released from Azkaban on compassionate grounds, and had properly observed the expected year of mourning. How much actual mourning he had done had been debated widely and in many cases, maliciously. But the fact remained that with the death of his son, he no longer had an heir.

Speculation had run rampant as to who he would select to provide that heir. It was ironic that with his wealth and influence, he had become the most eligible man in pureblood circles - or would have been had not most people been terrified of him. Even parents seething with ambition would think twice before offering their daughters to a man with such a dark reputation.

Except, apparently, mine.

Mother would like nothing better than to see her five daughters as unhappily married as she was herself. And Father had always resented us not being boys. The murders had occurred about a year previously, around the time of my seventeenth birthday. Clearly, my parents had wasted no time in offering me up as Malfoy’s brood mare.

Nothing could be done officially during the year of mourning – as Mother said, the proprieties must be observed! But the agreement had been made, and now the formal betrothal could finally take place.

I met Mother’s eyes once more. Triumph and malice sparkled there. She had secured one of the richest wizards in Britain as a son-in-law, and at the same time set me up with a future she was sure I would hate. I quickly dropped my gaze, drawing a sharp breath, and stared hard at my hands, folded neatly in my lap. No doubt Mother assumed that I was holding back tears...

* * * * *

I first saw Malfoy when I was little more than a child. His son, Draco, then about fifteen, had bullied his mother into throwing a lavish Christmas party, and the teenaged sons and daughters of all the prominent families were invited. I was just old enough to be included on the guest list. My sister, Anneliese was less than a year younger than me, and had protested loudly at being excluded. When my parents were firm in their refusal to allow her to attend, she made me promise to tell her every detail.

Anneliese had always been more outgoing than me. I was regarded as the ‘studious’ one, hence my sorting into Ravenclaw at school, when three of my sisters had become Slytherins. Little Sara, the youngest, would not start Hogwarts until next September, and being much more like me, might also become a Ravenclaw.

Anyway, I attended the party, behaved with impeccable manners, even danced an obligatory dance with Draco – not a pleasant experience, as his hands were everywhere – and waited patiently for the party to end. I had a feeling that the event would be more fun in the retelling than in the actual experience.

Draco’s parents had not been present for most of the party, but towards the end, they entered the ballroom to observe the social niceties. I barely noticed Draco’s mother. His father captured my entire attention – tall, broad-shouldered, his bearing haughty and elegant. And of course, that hair. I had never seen such beautiful hair, even on a woman. It flowed over his shoulders in a shimmering, iced-gold curtain.

I was at what they call a silly age. Just turned thirteen, a newly-fledged adolescent, my head full of romantic nonsense. Malfoy was in the room for perhaps ten minutes; at one point his gaze flicked over me, but I’m sure that he didn’t even register my presence. Nevertheless, by the time I left the party, I had a full-blown crush on him.

Fortunately, I had the sense not to mention it to anyone. My sisters would have been shocked. Mother would have jeered at my teenage delusions. Father, of course, would merely have been irritated.

My infatuation continued, even as I grew up and started receiving attention from boys my own age. I was considered attractive; of medium height, naturally slim, but with all the requisite curves, and had long black curly hair and sapphire eyes. I went out with a few of my schoolmates, but I found it difficult to take seriously boys of sixteen and seventeen when I was secretly fantasizing about a man almost three times my age.

And I did fantasize. Innocently enough at first, of kisses and embraces. But as I got older my fantasies became increasingly graphic. I must have spent hours lying awake, staring into the darkness of the dormitory, thinking about what it might be like to sleep with Lucius Malfoy.

Now, it seemed, I was going to find out.

One thing I knew for certain: no-one must know my true feelings – at least until the wedding ring was safely on my finger. If Mother knew that I was pleased with her arrangement, she would find some way to stop it – probably by having Anneliese take my place... I looked at Mother once more. She seemed to be waiting for my reaction. “Very well, Mother,” I said demurely.

She looked at me curiously. Finally she said, “Well... I’m glad to see you are being sensible about this.”

“Of course. I have always known that you and Father would choose my husband.” Perhaps, I thought, it would be wise to voice a mild protest. “Of course, I had hoped that it would be a man closer to my own age but – “ I swallowed, and lifted my head resolutely. “If this is your choice then I shall, of course, abide by it. May I tell the younger ones of my – of the betrothal?”

“Certainly. As of this evening it will be no secret. Malfoy is to dine with us this evening – even Sara will be allowed to stay up to dinner.”

* * * * *

I'm sure that dinner that evening was excellent, but I remember nothing of what we ate. I was seated on Malfoy’s right, and we conversed politely and – it must be admitted – rather stiltedly. To tell the truth, I was a little tongue-tied with nerves. Plus, the difference in our ages meant that common ground was hard to find at first.

Then Anneliese piped up with a comment that the Ravenclaw Quidditch team would have to find a new Keeper for the end of the season. Mother frowned; she had always considered my participation in Quidditch to be extremely unladylike. But Malfoy informed me that he had been a Chaser for the Slytherin team while at school, and we were able to discuss the sport for the rest of the meal.

Just before coffee was served, Malfoy caught my father’s eye. Father nodded very slightly, and Malfoy rose, turned to me, and said, “I wish to speak to you alone for a few minutes.”

As I stood up, he offered me his arm, and led me out of the dining room to the reception room across the hall. Evidently this had all been arranged before the meal, as he appeared to know exactly where he was going. Malfoy seated me in an armchair, taking the chair to my left, and angling it so that we were turned towards each other, though not directly face to face. He looked at me for a few moments. Abruptly, he said,

“Your mother tells me that your health is good.”

“Yes, it is excellent,” I replied composedly.

“And you are, I assume, a virgin?”

This time I felt myself blush, but replied, “Of course!”

He nodded thoughtfully. “You understand that I need an heir. I will expect you to have a child within the first year of our marriage, and a second child no later than two years after the first.”

I nodded, and he watched me for a few minutes more. Then he reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and took out a small box. “In that case...” He leaned over and took my hand, and without ceremony slid a sapphire ring onto my finger. He looked at the ring for a moment, then glanced up at my eyes. “Yes,” he said musingly, “I think that will be suitable.” He leaned closer and gave me a very brief, formal kiss, before standing and offering me his arm once more.

* * * * *

Late that night, as I changed for bed, Anneliese, Sylvie and Laurelle sat together on my bed, watching me anxiously. Sara, only ten years old, was sound asleep in her corner. Despite our ages - Anneliese was seventeen, Sylvie almost sixteen, and Laurelle fourteen - the five of us still shared the large night nursery that we’d slept in since we were babies.

Finally, I finished plaiting my hair, and pushed the three of them off my bed. Laurelle and Anneliese returned to their own beds, Sylvie caught up my left hand and gazed at the ring. “It’s beautiful!” She breathed. She looked up at me. “It matches your eyes!”

Exasperated, I pushed the little airhead in the direction of her bed, and got under my quilt. Before I could lie down, however, Anneliese came back to my bedside. "Oh Nat! How can you marry that awful man?” She put her arms around me, crying.

“I don’t have a choice,” I reminded her.

“But he’s almost as old as Father! I can’t bear to think of... that you’ll have to...” I hugged her, patting her shoulder. For a moment I wondered if I should reassure her by telling her how I really felt about marrying Malfoy. But I just couldn’t risk it – especially with Sylvie listening. She was a born babbler, and the last thing I wanted was for her to go running to Mother, prattling about how happy I was.

"Go to bed,” I told Anneliese. “You know we have to be up early tomorrow to catch the train.”

She started back towards her bed, then turned again, her eyes wet. “Can’t you even finish the school year?”

“No.” I was starting to get irritated. “It’s all arranged: we go back to school tomorrow, and stay at Hogwarts over Easter so that Mother can get everything organized. I’ll come home in the middle of May, and you three will come home a few days before the wedding, for the fitting of your bridesmaid dresses.”

Anneliese got into bed, wiping her eyes. Honestly, sometimes she acted younger than Sara. “It’s not fair...” she began.

“Oh grow up!” I snapped. “You know that this is how it’s going to be. Mother and Father choose our husbands for us. We do what’s expected of us, we marry whoever they pick, and we have children. You’d do better to stop worrying about me, and start hoping you have better luck with whoever you get.”

She curled up under her quilt, sniffling. Feeling suddenly sorry for her, I said more gently, “Well at least you know that you won’t have to marry Malfoy.” I knew that she would think it a lucky escape.

I flicked my wand and the candles in the wall sconces went out. As I tucked my wand under my pillow and pulled the covers close around me, I heard a soft sound outside the door. Mother listening at the keyhole! Well, at least I’d said all the right things.

* * * * *

As we were leaving the next morning, Mother put an envelope into my hands. “This contains the details of your travel arrangements for May, for you and your sisters. Give it to your headmistress when you explain to her why you are leaving school.” I nodded, putting the envelope into my pocket.

As instructed, when we arrived at school I met with the Headmistress. When I took my seat in front of her desk, Professor McGonagall said, “What can I do for you, Miss Desjardins? I was going to speak to you anyway, about your Transfiguration NEWT...”

Calmly, I said, “Professor, I’m afraid I won’t be taking NEWTs after all.”

McGonagall stared at me in consternation. “Not taking NEWTs? Why ever not?”

“I am to be married on June 1st. I will be going home in the middle of May.”

“But – so close to the exams!”

I nodded, and said in suitably regretful tones, “I’m disappointed, of course. But it’s all finalized. My parents have arranged a very advantageous match.”

“Advantageous for whom?”

“It’s an excellent arrangement for all concerned. My future husband requires a new heir, and I’m young and healthy...”

At the mention of the requirement for a new heir, McGonagall looked at me sharply. “And just who is it that you will be marrying?” When I told her, it was hard not to laugh out loud at her horrified expression. “Surely, child, you can’t want to marry...”

“What I want is irrelevant, Professor. I’ve always known that I would have an arranged marriage.” I handed her the letter containing the travel arrangements. After reading it, McGonagall looked up at me, her expression bleak.

“Well. It would seem that there is nothing more to be said. You may go.”

I walked out of her office, my head held high, and as I made my way to the Great Hall for dinner, I felt a quiver of trepidation. By now, many of my friends would have read the announcement in the Daily Prophet, and I knew that I would be bombarded with questions.

* * * * *

The next four and a half months flew past faster than I expected. Every day, I half-expected to receive a message that the wedding was off, that my mother had somehow found out my true feelings and out of spite had put a stop to the whole thing. But the middle of May arrived, I said goodbye to my friends, and went home to be married.

The house was in uproar. Caterers, decorators, dressmakers – every moment of every day was booked and scheduled. With so much going on, I had no time to think during the day. It was only at night, with Sara as my only companion in the night nursery, that I was able to wonder what it would be like after the wedding. Needless to say, I had heard some very unpleasant stories about Malfoy during those final months at school. For the first time, I was having qualms – not that it would change anything. It did, however, help me keep up my facade of dutiful resignation.

Malfoy dined with us on several occasions, and although our conversation became more natural, I could not let my guard down for a moment. My manners, of course, were perfect - no-one could have reproached me for lack of politeness. But I was careful never to reveal any trace of warmth, any hint that I welcomed the marriage that had been arranged for me. Once or twice I glanced up to find Malfoy's icy gaze on me, with an expression in his cold eyes that I could not read.

* * * * *

The wedding ceremony itself remains a blur. In the tradition of brides everywhere, I had a major attack of nerves on the morning of the wedding. Luckily, everything was done for me, so all I had to do was sit still while my hair and makeup were attended to, and the final adjustments made to my gown, an elaborate froth of white silk, satin and lace.

The final touch was jewelry. In a rare display of affection, Father gave me the necklace and earrings worn by his mother on her wedding day. Exquisite but tasteful, each piece was a delicate cascade of gold and diamonds.

With that final gift cold against my skin, I took Father’s arm and let him guide me to the doors of the ballroom, where the ceremony was to take place. Mother had outdone herself with the decorations. Blue and silver draperies covered the windows, held in place by live doves, fluttering gently. Flowers decorated the room, masses of them, white and every shade of blue.

As my sisters, in their pale blue gowns, prepared to follow me down the central aisle between the rows of seats, I took a deep breath, inhaling the perfume from all the flowers. Father glanced down at me, patted my hand comfortingly, and began to lead me towards the man who would, in a few minutes, become my husband.

Afterwards, I remembered only brief flashes of the ceremony. Anneliese told me later that I stood like a statue, my voice clear and cool as I spoke my vows at the prompting of the elderly wizard officiating.

* * * * *

And finally it was done.

Lucius turned the veil back from my face and kissed me – a cool, passionless kiss. And for the first time I wondered whether he had really wanted this marriage - he needed an heir, yes, but did he feel that a wife was merely a necessary inconvenience? But as I retraced my steps up the aisle, this time on my husband’s arm, I was too concerned with not fainting from the tension, or at least not tripping over my own feet, to spend much time worrying about it.

The reception seemed endless, but at least I was slightly more relaxed, thanks to my single glass of champagne. Finally, the meal drew to a close, and at some signal the doors were thrown open to the ballroom, now cleared of all the chairs. The guests filed in ahead of us, standing around the walls, and I remembered with a clutch of anxiety that it was traditional for the bride and groom to dance the first dance alone, under the eyes of all the guests.

I’d had enough dancing lessons to be a competent dancer; but to perform before the hundreds of assembled guests left me briefly terrified. Fortunately, my husband appeared to have no such misgivings. He led me to the centre of the dance floor, took me in his arms, and guided me through the turns and figures. He was, I noted detachedly, a superb dancer.

Finally the music faded, and as we moved through the final turn, Lucius bent his head and murmured in my ear, icily polite, “Forgive me. They expect it...” He stopped in the middle of the room, pulled me close, and kissed me hard. But before I could respond, he drew his head back, and led me from the dance floor.

We danced together again several times, though mercifully not alone. In between, the proprieties, as Mother would call them, were observed. I danced with Father, and various elderly male relatives. Lucius endured the requirement of dancing with Mother – who was a terrible dancer, and provided me with a moment of comic relief by stepping on Lucius’s toes at least three times. He also danced with three of my sisters, Sara being thought too young to do more than watch from the family table.

Everyone wanted to offer their congratulations in person, and after several hours of this, my head was starting to throb. At long last, Lucius tucked my arm into his, and we walked out into the brightly-lit entrance hall.

My parents and close family members lined the walls. I had imagined myself at this moment, laughing triumphantly in Mother’s face, but in reality I was too overwhelmed to do more than accept the dry peck she placed on my cheek.

Father surprised me; his eyes were damp as he hugged me, and when he kissed me on the forehead, he murmured, “Be happy, child.”

Tears suddenly pricked my eyelids, but thankfully before they could fall, Lucius pulled me to him, and disapparated.

* * * * *

After the bright lights and overwhelming noise, the change to soft lighting, warm breezes, and the sound of distant, gentle waves was almost a shock. Lucius released me. “No doubt you wish to change,” he commented as he walked down a hallway.

I glanced around. My clothes were supposed to have been brought here ahead of time. Hesitantly, I climbed the stairs, finding the way indicated by flickering candles. Sure enough, a selection of my clothes had been arranged in the large dressing room.

I managed to extricate myself from the elaborate wedding gown, and thankfully put on clothes that felt more relaxed – a very simple, knee-length dress, in deep blue silk, fastened down the front and belted at the waist with a sash. After the tortures of the high-heeled dress shoes I had endured all day, I couldn’t bear to confine my feet again, so I padded barefoot down the stairs.

I had assumed that we would be going to Malfoy Manor, but I knew from my memories of that fateful party that we weren’t there. This place was on a more modest scale, though still with an air of luxury. Lovingly cared-for oak floors wound through elegant open archways. The breezes that drifted through the wide, open windows had a tang of salt, and when I gazed out from a window halfway down the stairs, I could see the moonlight reflected on the sea, far below.

I found Lucius in the drawing room, an elegant room lit softly by drifts of candles, and a fire that crackled quietly in the carved stone fireplace. He was sitting on a long, low sofa, a glass of wine in his hand. He had removed his jacket, and the firelight played over the sleeves of his white silk shirt, and glinted on the fine gold tracery of his dark green waistcoat. He’d undone his collar, and as I approached, I noticed the diamond stud that had fastened it, sparkling in the candlelight on the low table before the sofa.

A second glass of wine stood on the table, and I picked it up and sat down next to Lucius. We sat in silence for a while, not touching, and sipped the wine, deep red and mellow on the tongue. Finally, I asked, “Where are we?”

“Italy. A small island that my family has owned for generations.” His voice was soft, distant.

“What’s it called?”

He barely glanced in my direction as he replied in that same, remote tone, “Isola di Luce. My parents also spent their honeymoon here. It inspired them when they named me.”

We continued to sit silently. I had a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach; his chilly reserve brought my earlier anxiety flooding back. Did he believe that I had not wanted to marry him? Was he really only interested in procuring an heir for his ancient family? I drained my wine glass and placed it on the table next to his half-full glass. My heart was beating rapidly. I knew that I had to convince him of how I really felt. Drawing my legs under me, I turned towards him.

“Lucius...” I paused, savouring the feel of his name on my lips. He didn’t respond, so I said more urgently, “Lucius!” He turned his head to look at me, and taking my chance, I knelt up, took his face in my hands, and kissed him as hard and passionately as I knew how.

After a few startled moments, he reached up and grasped my wrists. Our eyes locked; he stared at me questioningly, then released my wrists, took me by the shoulders, and kissed me with a fire and passion that sent an answering surge of desire rushing through me.

Abruptly, he broke away, looking at me with faintly ironic amusement. “Well, well. The Ice Princess appears to be thawing,” he said softly.

“I’m not an ice princess! I just couldn’t take the risk – if my mother had known how much I wanted this, she’d have found a way to call off the whole thing.”

He looked at me speculatively, then kissed me again, softly and sensuously, and I responded eagerly. He drew me to him, turning me in his arms, until I was lying across his lap. “Explain!”

I told him everything – my mother’s attitude, my desperate fear that she would somehow prevent me from marrying him, my decision not to let my true feelings about him show. And I told him, blushing, of how I felt the first time I saw him, of my secret infatuation that had not faded, as these teenage crushes were wont to do, but had endured and grown as I got older.

While I talked, Lucius stroked my hair and face, looking into my eyes, and I realized for the first time, that his eyes actually changed colour. From grey - true grey, not pale blue - they had changed to the intense darkness of storm clouds. As I finished my explanation, I raised my hand to touch his face, and then – fulfilling a years-old desire – ran my fingers through that stunning hair. He raised his his hand and covered the back of my hand, lacing his fingers with mine, then drew it to his lips and kissed the inside of my wrist, all the time staring deep into my eyes.

He tightened his other arm round my shoulders, bending his head to kiss me as I slid my hands up to meet behind his head. Our kiss was slow and deep, and I finally knew that all my fears – that somehow my dream of marrying Lucius would be snatched away – had been groundless.

Hooking his arm under the crook of my knees, Lucius gathered me into his arms and stood up. Effortlessly, he carried me up the winding staircase, along the shadowy hall, and into the bedroom, pausing to kiss me every few steps. Finally he lowered me onto the bed.

The bedroom was also lit with candles; there was no fire, but the sea breezes drifting through the open windows were warm on my skin as Lucius slowly unbuttoned my dress. He untied the sash, and as the dress fell completely open, he reached behind me to unfasten the catch on my lacy white bra. I half sat up, and he slid the sleeves of my dress off my arms, then his fingers whispered against my skin as he drew the straps of the bra down from my shoulders. He tossed the scrap of fabric aside, then stretched out on the bed beside me and lowered his lips to mine.

His hands drifted over my body. Gasping at his touch, I reached to unbutton his waistcoat, then the silk shirt beneath. I slid my hands across his chest, tentatively brushing my fingertips through the golden hair that covered his pectorals and marked a line down his belly.

After a few minutes, Lucius groaned and sat up, shrugging out of his shirt and waistcoat, and stripping off his trousers. He ran his hand tantalizingly along the lace trim of my panties, hooked his fingers in the waistband, and drew the flimsy garment slowly down, until finally we lay naked on the bed together. We spent a long time just lying close together, kissing and touching, caressing each other until we were both aching with desire.

He moved closer, until he was poised above me, and we kissed passionately. His eyes held mine in an intimate gaze as he whispered, “It will only hurt for a moment.”

Much later, he wrapped his arms around me, holding me so close that I could feel his heart beating wildly. I held him tightly, my face pressed against his neck, and gradually our breathing slowed. Finally and irrevocably, Lucius was mine. I was his. I am convinced that our first child was conceived that night.

As our breathing slowed, we relaxed, kissing lazily. I was exhausted from the long day, and from our passionate lovemaking, and I could feel myself drifting irresistibly towards sleep. I struggled against it, wanting to stay awake and savour the peaceful intimacy of our first night together, but Lucius kissed my eyelids, murmuring, “Sleep, my love.” His lips were soft against mine, his arms tight around me, and finally I slept.

* * * * *

I woke once in the night, and found my way in the unfamiliar surroundings to the bathroom.

As I climbed back into bed, Lucius stirred, and I moved over and slid into his arms. He was only half-awake. To my surprise, he turned me so that I was facing away from him, but then he put his arm over me, and pulled me against his chest, drawing me into the curve of his body. He kissed the back of my neck softly, then I felt him relax, and soon his breathing was slow and even once more.

For a while I lay awake, just enjoying the closeness, and the warmth of his body molded to mine. Outside, insects chirped, and the soft, distant sound of waves lulled me back to sleep.

* * * * *

The next time I woke, morning light was filtering through the gauzy draperies at the windows. The caress that had woken me was repeated as Lucius slid his hand down over the curves of my body to rest lightly on my hip. I turned onto my back to find him propped on one elbow, watching me. “Good morning,” he said softly.

He trailed his hand back up my body then cupped my face and kissed me. His lips lingered against mine as he continued to stroke me. Slowly, tantalizingly, he traced a path down my body, running his fingernails lightly over my neck and shoulders, then drawing featherlight circles on the taut, smooth skin.

As we lay together later, talking, I rested my head against his shoulder, one arm thrown across his chest, as I asked, “Did you really think I was an 'ice princess'?”

He chuckled. “You certainly gave that impression. Of course, I now understand why.”

“Well - you weren't exactly overflowing with warmth yourself.”

He stroked my back. “No, well - from what I'd seen of you, I assumed that things were going to be the same as with - with my first wife.”

“Oh?”

“That was also an arranged marriage - arranged when I was barely two years old. My first wife was - well, she disliked physical contact. She tolerated it merely as a duty. Your apparent coldness made me think you would have the same attitude. Of course...” he kissed me lingeringly, “you've proved how wrong I was about that.”

“Did you - I mean, were there...?”

“...other women?” he finished for me. “Of course. I had several mistresses over the years. Most men, you see, like to know that a woman enjoys them. You could call it pride - vanity, perhaps. With a wife who merely tolerated me, I naturally looked elsewhere for that satisfaction.”

Not sure if I really wanted to know the answer, I said hesitantly, “And... now...?”

He was silent for a moment, then turned on his side to face me. He touched my cheek, brushing my hair back from my face, and we kissed lingeringly, exploring each others' responses with lips and tongue.

“What possible reason could I have now,” he asked, his voice low, “for looking elsewhere?”

* * * * *

The next week or so passed in a timeless daze. We walked in the exquisitely beautiful countryside, and bathed in the sea at the foot of the cliffs. In the sultry heat of the afternoon, we retreated to the curtained bedroom, and made love in the shadowy half-light. In the cool evening, we lay together on the velvet-soft grass of the garden, gazing up at the stars. We even made love while immersed up to our necks in the blood-warm, gently rocking sea.

We talked, finding many unexpected points of connection. And I learnt that while there had been little in his relationship with his first wife to make him regret her passing more than superficially, his son's death had hit him very hard.

He had spent the first month following his release from Azkaban in total seclusion. Then family pride had begun to resurface, and he realized that he would have to remarry eventually, if only to ensure that the Malfoy name did not die out. He had agreed quickly to my father's cautious overtures, reasoning that it was better to get the distasteful matter of negotiations over with. A pureblood family of good standing was his criteria for selecting a wife; compatibility was of little consequence to him at that point. Having expected so little, he was doubly relieved and pleased to discover how I felt about him.

For my part, it was all I could have hoped for. Whatever face Lucius might present to the world, i was discovering that in private there was a very different side to him, an intensity and passion that even I, in my infatuated fantasies, had not imagined.

And so we passed the days completely focused on each other. It wasn't until ten days or so had passed that the outside world began to intrude.

* * * * *

We had breakfasted in bed and then - not unexpectedly - made love. Lying in his arms afterwards, I wished that this idyllic time together could last forever. I kissed his chest, and looked up at his face. “How long are we staying on the island?” I asked.

“I had originally planned on a week. Obviously, I changed my mind.” He smiled, pulling me even closer. “We must return by the 21st, for the Midsummer Ball.”

“Must we really attend it?”

He grinned suddenly. “Our non-attendance would be hard to explain, considering that we're hosting it...”

What?” I was suddenly sitting upright in bed, staring at him in horror. “We're hosting the biggest social event of the summer – in ten days?”

He laughed, pulling me back down, kissing me as he slid his hand down my spine. “All the arrangements were made months ago. You need do nothing except welcome our guests.” I must have continued to look dubious, because he touched my face and said, “I realize that the prospect must be intimidating for you - entertaining is one of the drawbacks of the position we occupy in pureblood society. But you'll become accustomed to it after the first few occasions. As I said, this time you need do nothing except attend.”

I relaxed a little. “It's all so - complicated. A month ago I was just another student at Hogwarts, with no responsibilities. Now - there's just so much to think about.”

His hand brushed my thigh. “I hope the - compensations make up for all the complications.” He drew me into his embrace, kissing my neck and shoulders.

“Oh yes!” I told him, and gasped as his lips caressed me.

* * * * *

Several nights later, we had the most violent thunderstorm I had ever experienced. A particularly loud roll of thunder woke me. I had been nervous of storms all my life, and i sat up quickly, my gaze going anxiously to the window. Lucius was still sleeping, for which I was thankful - I didn't want him to see how I flinched at every flicker and crash.

For a few minutes I sat quietly, gazing fearfully at the light show. Then an unexpectedly brilliant stab of lightning made me jump nervously and gasp. I didn't realize that Lucius was awake until he said, “Do storms bother you?”

Ashamed, I said hesitantly, “Y-yes. A little.”

He sat up and put his arms around me. I forced myself to relax and turned towards him slightly, so that my cheek rested in the curve between his neck and shoulder. “I enjoy them,” Lucius said conversationally. “The beauty - the powerful forces behind them. Not unlike magic.” He looked down at me and kissed my forehead. “You know that you have nothing to fear when you're with me.” I nodded, and raised my face, and we kissed softly.

At length, Lucius shifted down the bed, lying flat and pulling me close. Outside, the storm continued to roar, but I sighed contentedly, letting the tension drain from my body, brushing my fingers lightly over his chest. Held securely in Lucius's warm, possessive grasp, I slipped into sleep.

* * * * *

With real regret, we prepared to return to the real world. On the morning of June 21, we apparated to Malfoy Manor. As Lucius had said, all the plans for the Midsummer Ball had been laid and implemented. Several gowns had been made for me, based on the measurements taken for my wedding gown, and I chose one that complemented my colouring.

Lucius took me on a tour of my new home, which left me a little overwhelmed when it occurred to me that I now occupied a privileged and powerful position as the mistress of Malfoy Manor. As the day wore on, I started to feel nervous, and by the time our guests started to arrive, I was acutely anxious. This was more than just a ball - it was my public debut as Lucius's wife.

* * * * *

My heart was racing as we entered the ballroom together. I didn't realize how tightly I was gripping Lucius's arm until he put his other hand over mine and murmured, “Don't cut off the circulation.” I glanced up at his face, and saw the smile playing on his lips. With an effort I loosened my grasp, and we continued, greeting the many guests as we passed.

I knew that my marriage to Lucius had provoked a great deal of comment, and I was aware of many speculative glances and animated whispers. Most were inaudible, but one carried, and I clearly heard someone say, “...wonder if she's pregnant already...”

Lucius inclined his head towards me slightly, and said softly, “Well, if you're not, it isn't for want of trying!” He caught my eye, and I saw the amusement glittering in his smoky eyes. I glanced away hurriedly, suppressing laughter, and suddenly I relaxed. Let them stare and whisper. Lucius's opinion was the only one that mattered to me now, and he had made it passionately clear to me what that was, over the past three weeks.

As the evening wore on, I became aware of the desire growing within me. For three weeks, Lucius and I had been secluded together, free to touch, kiss and make love at any time. Now we were under the eyes of a multitude of guests, and were constrained to behave with the utmost decorum. Our close contact when we danced only sharpened the exquisite torture I felt, and when I met Lucius's eyes, their stormy darkness told me that he felt it too.

Although the party was centred on the Ballroom, a number of other rooms were also open, and guests strolled between them, along hallways lit with flickering candles. Lucius and I found ourselves briefly alone in a hallway, and without warning he slid his arm around me, drawing me into a shallow alcove, and turning me so that my back was to the wall. He pressed his body against mine, his hands resting on my waist. When I looked up at him, his eyes were almost black with desire.

He dropped his face to my neck, and his lips brushed my skin then he kissed me hard, and my lips opened under his. He slid his hands lower, pulling me even closer. My hands snaked up to his neck, sinking into his hair, but a sudden sound alerted us to the presence of another person.

We both looked up and saw, of all people, my mother hesitating uncertainly at the turn in the hall. Her expression suggested that she knew what she was interrupting. Her eyes met mine sharply, and I knew she was trying to ascertain how willingly I was participating in the scene before her.

Deliberately, I slid my arm around Lucius so that my hand rested on the small of his back, pulling him closer. I held Mother's gaze, turning my face towards her as I rested my head against Lucius's chest. She could be in no doubt that I was exactly where I wanted to be. For a few moments she stood frozen, then she turned sharply away, her footsteps echoing as she hurried back the way she had come.

Chuckling, Lucius hugged me hard, his arms tight around my shoulders. His lips brushed mine, and he said softly, “We are neglecting our guests. Our own - needs - must wait until we are alone.” We adjusted our clothes, and I took his arm. As we walked back towards the brightly-lit ballroom, we were the picture of gracious formality.

* * * * *

The door crashed back against the wall.

The last of our guests had departed only minutes before, but we were already on the threshold of the bedroom, our mouths locked together, kissing passionately. Lucius swung me around so that my back was pressed against one of the bedposts, and his hands moved insistently over my body. Until that moment, I had assumed that the expression “tearing each others' clothes off” was just a figure of speech; but that was exactly what we were doing to each other.

Lucius's jacket was already on the floor; I ripped his shirt open, and the buttons had not even hit the floor before I was kissing his chest. He growled deep in his throat, and there was a tearing sound as he pulled the neckline of my gown down over my shoulders and began to kiss my neck. With a final tug, he tore my gown open to the waist, and let it fall past my hips to the floor. He stepped out of his trousers, stripped the torn remnants of my underwear from my body, and then pushed me down onto the bed.

Afterwards, we lay motionless, the burning desire we had felt for each other gently ebbing in the aftermath of our urgent lovemaking. He held me tight, stroking my back and hair. He kissed my cheek and neck, and softly whispered, “I love you, Nathalie.”

I stroked his face, feeling a rush of emotion. “Oh Lucius. I love you so much,” I told him, laying my head against his shoulder.

There was nothing more we needed to say.

* * * * *

The sign we were hoping for came about ten days after the Midsummer Ball. Lying in Lucius's arms in the early morning, I felt a wave of nausea suddenly rise within me. I pulled away from him, almost falling in my haste to get out of bed, staggered to the bathroom, and seconds later I was on my knees, being violently sick.

At first, I didn't notice the chill of the tiles, or even Lucius's presence behind me, until I shivered convulsively. A few moments later, a soft toweling robe was draped over my shoulders. I leaned against Lucius as he helped me put the robe on, wrapping it tightly around me. For a few minutes he just held me; then a fresh spasm of sickness gripped me, and he held my hair back from my face while I retched miserably.

When the vomiting finally subsided, he pulled me to my feet and waited as I took a few sips of water to ease my burning throat. Then he guided me back to bed, his arm protectively around my shoulders. As I lay back against the pillows, Lucius sat on the bed beside me. He brushed the hair from my face, then smiled and put a hand gently on my belly. Our eyes met. Our suspicion - our hope - was that this was the first sign that I was pregnant.

In a few weeks, with each morning punctuated by my dash to the bathroom, we were certain. The visit at the end of July, by the Midwife who was hired to attend me, merely confirmed what we already knew. When I wasn't throwing up, I felt wonderful. As summer changed into autumn, the morning sickness subsided, my belly began to swell, and I felt the first faint fluttering as our child began to move.

Often at night, Lucius and I would lie sleepily together, his hand on my belly, hoping that he would also feel the movements.

* * * * *

The blow fell at the end of November.

We were eating a leisurely breakfast, reading the morning post. I was deciphering Sara's childish scrawl describing her latest adventures at Hogwarts - she had, indeed, been sorted into my old house, Ravenclaw - when a sudden crash made me look up. Lucius's coffee cup lay on its side, its contents soaking into the tablecloth, as he stared at the letter in his hand. His face was rigid, his jaw clenched.

“Lucius, what's wrong?” I asked.

He looked up at me, and I shrank back from the utter fury that blazed from his eyes, now glittering like molten silver. Seeing my reaction, he swallowed, choking down the anger, and reached to place his hand over mine. With an effort, he said tightly, “The Ministry of Magic has decided that I must finish the prison term they suspended when - when my son died.”

What?” I gripped his hand in both of mine.

He nodded, staring at the letter, rage and disbelief plain on his face. “I am - ordered to turn myself in at the Ministry.”

I shook my head. “You can't go. Not now...”

His eyes glittered again, as he paraphrased the rest of the message.

“If I fail to comply, the Minister will consider our agreement null and void, and I will stand trial on the original charges against me.” He met my gaze, and I saw the bleak, impotent fury in his eyes. “If that happens,” he told me, “I will probably spend the rest of my life in Azkaban.”

I was shaking, outraged, but all I could think to say was, “When do you have to go?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“And - how long do you have left to serve?”

His jaw tightened again. “Three months.”

“Three...” Unconsciously, my hand went to my swollen belly. “But that means...” I was six months pregnant. It meant that Lucius could still be in Azkaban when our child was born.

Suddenly Lucius was standing, pulling me tight against him. Forcefully, he said,“I promise you, I will be at your side when you have the baby.”

* * * * *

The day passed in a blur of misery. Lucius had to make arrangements about his current business dealings, and he was gone for several hours in the afternoon. I knew it was unavoidable, but it tormented me that he was away for any part of the time that was left before he must turn himself in.

Finally he returned, and as we tried to eat dinner - neither of us had much appetite - he asked quietly, “Do you want to stay with your parents while I'm - away?”

I shook my head instantly. “No. This is my home. I'll wait for you here.”

He nodded, abandoning any pretense at trying to eat a normal meal, and poured himself a glass of wine. We went into the drawing room, and sitting on the sofa, Lucius pulled me onto his lap, holding me in his arms as he had done on the evening of our wedding. We couldn't speak. We just held each other tightly, storing up memories of each other's physical presence, against the time when we would be separated by hundreds of miles and the dark, solid walls of Azkaban.

Neither of us slept that night. We just held each other, talking or lying silently. The baby was restless, moving almost constantly. During one particularly active spell, I took Lucius’s hand and held it to my belly, and for the first time he felt our child move within me.

When dawn began to stain the sky, Lucius was lying against the stack of pillows with me leaning back against his chest. He stroked my hair, while his other hand rested on my belly. His breath was warm against my skin as he said, “It’s almost time.” I turned in his arms, pressing my face against his chest, my arms tight around him. He held me close for a long time, but finally he kissed me and said, “I must get dressed.”

I lay curled against the pillows, listening to the sounds from the bathroom – water running, Lucius moving around as he bathed and dressed. Given the brutal, dehumanizing conditions in Azkaban, it could well be his last chance to bathe properly for months.

He emerged dressed very simply in black trousers and a white shirt. When he arrived at Azkaban, he would be stripped of all his belongings, and given the grey prison uniform to wear, and there was no guarantee that anything he owned would be returned to him when he was finally released. He sat on the bed, so that I could kneel behind him and comb out his hair. When it was done, I rested my head on his shoulder, reaching around to hold him tightly. He held my hands briefly in his. There was just one more thing...

Lucius got up and took a fine gold chain from his pocket. He slid his wedding ring off his finger, threaded it on the chain, then fastened the chain around my neck. “I love you,” he said quietly.

It was almost too much for me; I swallowed hard, closing my eyes, and finally managed to whisper back, “I love you.”

He turned my face up to his, and I looked deep into his grey eyes, seeing the torment in their depths, as I knew he saw the misery in my own. He pulled me to my feet, enfolding me in his arms one last time, seeking my mouth in a final desperate kiss. And then he stepped backwards, released my hands, and vanished.

As soon as he disapparated, I sank back onto the bed, and the sobs I had held back broke free. I wept for a long time. Only three months, I kept repeating to myself; but many of the inmates in Azkaban were there because of evidence that Lucius had given.

There was truly no guarantee that he would emerge from that hellhole alive.

* * * * *

I visited my parents for a few days at Christmas. It was the first time I'd spent time with my family since the wedding, and my sisters welcomed me enthusiastically. Even Father seemed pleased to see me.

In deference to my married - and extremely pregnant - state, I now merited a guest room, but on the first night, Anneliese crept out of the night nursery and joined me. Although dissimilar in personality, we were so near in age that we had always been close. I knew that she was inclined to believe the horror stories she'd heard at school, and still thought that our parents had married me to a monster.

After admiring my clothes and jewelery, Anneliese suddenly asked, “Is it very horrible?”

"Is what horrible?” I honestly didn't know what she was talking about, but she blushed and went on,

“When you have to - you know - with him...”

“When I... oh!” I suddenly caught on. I sat on the bed and pulled her to sit beside me. “No. It's wonderful.” She stared at me in astonishment, and I couldn't help laughing. “Oh Liese, I love Lucius. When Mother told me I was going to marry him, I was thrilled, but you know what Mother's like - if she'd realized that i was pleased, she'd have stopped the wedding somehow, so I couldn't say anything.”

“So - you like it?”

I smiled at her. “ 'Like' doesn't even begin to describe it. It's not just the physical part. With someone you love, and who loves you - well, there's a reason they call it 'making love'. Oh, I can't explain it properly. I hope that one day you'll understand for yourself.”

I jumped slightly as the baby kicked, and when Anneliese looked worried, I took her hand and placed it so that she felt the next kick. She looked at me, her eyes wide. “That's the baby?” I nodded.

“So you're happy you're pregnant?”

“Oh yes. Especially now - just knowing that a part of Lucius is always with me has helped a lot over the past month. And if things go well, he'll be released before the baby is born.”

* * * * *

The next few days passed with relatively little friction between me and Mother, but on the day after Christmas, she started to mix things up a little. She made several veiled references to Lucius's imprisonment, and at lunch she announced, “Of course, if we'd known there was any chance of Malfoy returning to Azkaban, we would have called off the wedding!”

I carefully set down my knife and fork, and looked at Mother levelly. “Mother, you know perfectly well that the only reason you would have canceled the wedding is if you had realized that I wanted to marry Lucius. The truth is, you can't stand knowing that I love my husband - and that he loves me!”

“Well! How dare you speak to me like that!”

I stood up and folded my table napkin, placing it beside my plate. “No, Mother! How dare you criticize my husband!” I turned and walked from the room.

By the time I reached the bedroom, I was ready to curse my own tongue. My sisters were supposed to return with me to the Manor, the plan being that I would see them onto the train at the end of the holidays. Now, I was sure that Mother would forbid their visit. However, during the afternoon, I heard raised voices - Mother shrill and outraged, Father brusque and vehement. After a while, Anneliese tapped on my door, and her cheeks were flushed with excitement.

“Nat - you should have been there! Mother wanted to stop us visiting you, but Father put his foot down. He told Mother that she was in the wrong, and it was bad manners for her to talk about her son-in-law the way she's been doing. He said that you shouldn't have to hear it, especially in your condition. And he's sending you home - with the four of us - tonight!”

I sat down on the bed, stunned. “He really said all that?”

“Yes! He's been different since you got married. He's told me that although he's still planning to choose my husband, I can refuse his choice if I really don't like who he picks. And he'll at least think about it, if I suggest someone.”

I pulled her close and hugged her. “I'm so glad to hear that. Is there - is there anyone you think you'd like to marry?” She blushed and giggled, but finally confessed that she had been secretly going out with a boy in her year. When she told me his name, I caught her hand. “Liese! His father is a friend of Lucius's! I can't promise anything, but when Lucius comes home, I'll ask him to see if something can be arranged.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful!” Her face glowed. “We've talked about it, and we never thought we'd be able to go on seeing each other after we leave school. If he - if Lucius would really talk to Stephan's father...”

“We'll have to wait and see, but Lucius will be home in just over two months. I'm sure he'll agree.”

* * * * *

Mother said goodbye to all of us very stiffly. Most of the time, Father let her have her own way, but on the occasions that he decided otherwise, there was no shifting him. Back home at Malfoy Manor, I sat down to supper with all four of my sisters. It was the happiest I'd been since Lucius went back to Azkaban.

* * * * *

When I took my sisters to Kings Cross in January, things went much as I had expected. Several girls were old friends, even though they'd been a year behind me, and they greeted me warmly, exclaiming that I looked well, asking when the baby was due, and tactfully not mentioning Lucius's absence.

There were others who eyed me with scorn - even disgust - and turned away pointedly as I passed. One girl, however, whose tie marked her as a Gryffindor, stepped into my path. “How do you like being married to a jailbird?” she sneered.

I'd had opportunity to observe how Lucius handled this sort of thing - with impeccable politeness, delivered in such a way that the other person was left more infuriated than ever. I smiled condescendingly. “Very much, thank you. Your parents, are they well?”

She gaped at me. Whatever she'd expected me to do, it wasn't this. Without waiting for her reply, I said, “I mustn't keep you, my dear. I'm sure your little friends are waiting for you on the train.” I inclined my head graciously, and swept on down the platform, with my entourage of sisters following in my wake.

Anneliese looked at me, impressed, and I winked at her. “Something I learnt from my husband - meet hostility with calm - and patronizing - good manners, and the other person feels that they are somehow in the wrong!”

Anneliese giggled. “She's been sniping at us ever since you got married. I'm glad you put her in her place.

* * * * *

The days passed slowly, but each one brought Lucius's return closer. At the end of January, with the baby due in a few weeks, the Midwife and her assistant came to stay at Malfoy Manor. This was something Lucius had arranged. He had wanted to take no chance of me going into labour alone.

February was almost over, and my wait - for the birth, and for Lucius's release - was nearing an end, when Father told me the news.

He apparated directly into the house - and that act alone told me something was wrong. Even family members would rarely apparate unannounced into a home. I was in the dining room, just finishing my breakfast of toast and weak tea - all I could get down first thing, now that I was so big. Father burst through the door, and came to where I sat, indicating that I shouldn't get up. He sat down and took my hands. “Nathalie - I wanted to tell you before you hear from anyone else...”

I felt a clutch of fear, as he went on, “I just came from the Ministry of Magic. There has been trouble at Azkaban. Some of the old Death Eaters staged an uprising, and it turned into a full-scale riot. The Ministry officials are getting the upper hand but... Nathalie, the Death Eaters killed several prisoners...”

I gulped, fighting down the nausea that rose in my throat. “Lucius...?” I whispered.

Father shook his head. “I don't know. It's chaos there, no-one has all the facts. I do know that Lucius was supposed to be kept separately from the other prisoners but...” Father stood up and pulled me into his arms. “Don't give up hope! I'm going back to the Ministry now, and as soon as I know - anything - I'll come back and let you know.”

I nodded, holding back tears. “Thank you, Father.”

He patted my shoulder. “I'm sure there will be more news soon. Now you must rest. Is someone with you?” I told him about the Midwife, and he nodded. “Good. She'll take care of you.” He disapparated, and I sat down heavily. So close to his release - surely Lucius couldn't be dead...

* * * * *

The morning passed agonizingly slowly. I tried to stay calm, but every time I thought about what Father had told me, a little jolt of fear ran through me. It was around noon when I began to suspect that it was more than fear rippling through my body. I lay on the sofa in the drawing room, waiting to see if it happened again. Sure enough, the heavy, squeezing sensation was centred on my belly.

Scared, I called the Midwife, and described what I felt. She sat with me until the next spasm, her hands resting gently on my belly, and after it passed, she nodded. "You're in labour. It's going to take hours, but we'll get you up to the bedroom, anyway. Plenty of space there for you to walk around if you need to."

The afternoon dragged even slower than the morning, with my contractions gradually becoming stronger and more frequent. The Midwife was concerned because I was running a fever, and when I started to become dizzy and disoriented, she suggested that I would be better off in bed.

The sky darkened, it began to rain, and by the time night fell, torrential rain was pouring down, blown by high winds so that it rattled against the windows. The contractions seemed to repeat endlessly. With my fever, my ability to keep track of time had vanished, and I had no idea whether I had been in labour for days or merely hours.

During the times when my fever peaked, I believed that I could see Lucius standing silently at my bedside, dressed as he had been when I last saw him, his hair hanging loose over his shoulders. Each hallucination ended the same way – I called his name, but as he opened his lips to speak, he faded from sight, and I wept with hopeless frustration. I started to wonder if I was really just imagining that I saw him. Could I instead be seeing a ghost? Had he died in the riot at Azkaban, and was he now trying to say goodbye before going on ahead.

A new pang gripped me, the worst yet, and I cried out in pain. The midwife tried to examine me again to gauge how far my labour had progressed, but her lightest touch was excruciating, and I shrieked, my hands clutching the sheets so hard that my fingers tore the fabric.

She paused in her task, murmuring instructions to her assistant, who mixed up a potion and brought it to me. I drank it, tasting spices and a faint bitter aftertaste. Soon, I was calmer and my hypersensitivity to touch had dulled, so that when the midwife repeated her examination, the pain was bearable. “Still a way to go,” she told me.

In a few hours, the effect of the potion had started to wear off, and with that my fever spiked again. I was sweating heavily, my head spinning, and nausea rose in waves. A long agonizing contraction gripped me, and as it ebbed I closed my eyes, lying limply against the pillows. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. I just wanted the pain to stop. I wanted the baby out of me. Most of all, I wanted my husband. Weakly, hopelessly, I called his name.

“I’m here.”

I opened my eyes, staring wildly at the figure by my bedside. “Lucius?” I whispered. Surely it was another hallucination . But in all my previous visions, he had looked as I last saw him – elegant, immaculate. And I never heard his voice.

The man who sat on the edge of the bed and took my hands was barely recognizable. His face was bruised and bloodied. His nose had been broken very recently, and blood had soaked the rags he wore, and dried in his dirty blonde beard. His hair was filthy, matted with blood and dirt, and most of its length had been hacked off raggedly.

I reached out to him, and he pulled me into his arms. Not surprisingly – given his appearance – he stank, but I didn’t care as I pressed my face to his chest, weeping. “You’re alive. You came back to me,” I sobbed.

“Yes, my love,” he murmured, kissing me despite his split and swollen lips. He looked up at the midwife. “How much longer?”

She frowned. “Another hour – perhaps two.”

Lucius nodded and stood up, releasing me. I caught his hand frantically. “Don’t go!”

“Just a few minutes. Just while I wash off this filth.” I nodded, tears still falling, watching as he walked towards the bathroom.

* * * * *

When he returned, the dirt and ragged clothing were gone, but the battered state of his face was frighteningly obvious, bruises and inflamed cuts and scratches standing out lividly against his deathly white skin. His shirt was only partly buttoned, and I could see that his wounds extended to his body. He sat on the bed and took me in his arms again, holding me silently. I relaxed slightly, but at that moment a fresh contraction gripped me. Our reunion would have to wait. I still had a baby to deliver.

The contractions were coming closer and closer together, the pain intensifying with each spasm. But with Lucius holding me, his arms around me and my hands gripping his, I knew I could get through it. “Here it comes,” the midwife told me, as I bore down, pushing with all my strength. Lucius kissed the side of my face, murmuring encouragement.

“Ah, I can see the head...” the midwife said, and at that moment I felt something give way. There was an intense, rending surge of agony, and I screamed, barely hearing the midwife exclaim, “The head tore you – but it’s through now. Just one more push...”

Somehow I managed that push, and seconds later I heard a thin, high cry. In that instant, the pain was forgotten, and the tears on my face sprang from relief and joy. I looked down as the midwife placed the squalling infant on my belly, and I reached to touch the slippery skin.

Lucius leaned forward to look, then turned to me. “We have a son,” he told me, and his lips met mine gently.

* * * * *

The midwife and her assistant continued their work, cutting the cord, washing the baby, and cleaning up the bloody aftermath of birth. I felt a prickling, burning sensation as the Midwife wielded her wand. “I healed that tear – you’ll never know it happened...” She smiled suddenly, looking at Lucius, and pointed her wand at him. There was a faint crunching sound, and Lucius grunted and put a hand to his face. When he lowered his hand, I saw that his broken nose was mended, though bruising still discoloured his puffy eyelids.

The Midwife's assistant handed a wailing bundle to Lucius. He looked down at the child, and a slight spasm of pain flickered across his face. “He looks just like...” He looked up at me, and I saw mingled joy and sadness in his eyes. I realized that he saw in our baby the echo of another child, his first son, now dead. Then he smiled, and put the baby into my arms.

I touched the downy platinum hair, then I opened the front of my nightgown, and guided my nipple into the baby's searching mouth. He latched on immediately, and I watched, mesmerized as he began to draw nourishment from my body.

Lucius slid his arm across my shoulders, then closed his eyes and leaned his face against my neck. Something damp trickled onto my skin, and I looked sideways, realizing with wonder and a surge of tenderness, that my husband was weeping. I put my free hand up to touch his as it rested on my shoulder, and laced my fingers with his. When he raised his head, he had recovered his composure, and we sat together for a long time, just watching our newborn son nurse.

* * * * *

After a while, the Midwife suggested that they should clean up the bed, and then they could leave me to rest. While the Midwife washed me, her assistant collected fresh bedding and a clean nightgown. I sat on the edge of bed, and gave the baby to Lucius while the assistant helped me into the fresh nightgown. Before she could help me get up, however, Lucius put our son in the cradle standing ready beside the bed, and lifted me in his arms.

On our wedding night, he had carried me up a flight of stairs without effort; but now he staggered slightly, and moved to sit on the wicker sofa under the window, still holding me close. As I leaned my head against his shoulder, I could feel how much thinner he was than before he went to Azkaban. I looked up at his face, but instead of asking if he had been deprived of food, I said, “Who cut off your hair?”

His face tightened slightly. “I did, after the first week - long hair is too easy to grab during a fight...” He met my gaze. “We don't need to talk about that now.” He kissed me gently. “All that matters is that I kept the promise I made to you.”

I nodded. “I'm so glad you were here to see him born. Now we just need to name him. I thought...”

“Yes?”

“Well, I'd like to name him after the place where he was conceived. I know we've talked about that, and I know how you feel about giving him his own name, his own identity. So - I thought we could call him Luca.”

Lucius nodded, took my chin in his hand, and kissed me. “Yes. We'll call him Luca.”

* * * * *

The bed was ready, made up with fresh sheets and blankets. This time, I stood up and walked the few painful steps, supported by Lucius,. Once I was settled, and the Midwife and her assistant had left the bedroom, I took Lucius's hand. “You look so tired. Lie beside me and rest.”

He nodded and walked around to the other side of the bed. I watched him, noting the utter exhaustion in every movement. As he lay down on the bed, he flinched, and shifted so that he was half on his side, facing me. I slid down among the pillows and reached for his hand once more. He had already closed his eyes, but his fingers tightened over mine. I glanced over at the cradle, then back at Lucius. My son on one side, my husband on the other. I had everything I wanted.

I woke several hours later to an unaccustomed sound. In his cradle, Luca was whimpering. I sat up, noticing that my breasts tingled, feeling full and heavy. Luca started to wail as I fumbled my way through changing him, and I was sure that he would disturb Lucius, but when I got back to bed, I saw that he was still sleeping.

After Luca finished nursing, I settled him more snugly in my arms and glanced at Lucius once more. He was lying on his front now, his face turned towards me. His skin was flushed, and it struck me that he was breathing much faster than I would have expected for a man asleep. Frowning, I leaned closer and reached to touch his cheek. He was burning hot. I cradled Luca on one arm, and shook Lucius's shoulder. “Lucius!”

He didn't stir, even when I shoved him hard. I put my hand on his forehead, shocked at how hot and damp it felt. He must be sick to have such a high fever - maybe one of his wounds was infected... I suddenly remembered how he had flinched when his back touched the bed. I pushed back the covers and pulled his shirt up. It stuck to his back for a moment, then came away, revealing a deep gash running from his left shoulder blade almost to his waist. It was more than a simple cut - it looked as if a narrow channel of flesh had been gouged out. The edges were puffy and ragged, shining wetly with blood-streaked pus that oozed from the wound.

I stared at it in horror for a few moments. Then I got out of bed and went to find the Midwife. She was with her assistant in the small sitting room assigned to them during their stay. When I appeared in the doorway, clutching the baby in my arms, they jumped to their feet looking anxious, but I said, “No, it's not me or the baby. My husband - he's ill, a fever. I think one of his wounds is infected."

The Midwife examined the wound, then told her assistant what to fetch from her medical supplies. She worked on the wound with wand and potions, and eventually looked up at me. She held a potion-soaked dressing to the wound as she said, “The wound is clean now. But the infection is in his blood stream. I've treated it, but it will take a while to clear completely.” She finished positioning the dressing, using a charm to make it stick to the skin. “Now I must check that he has no other sites of infection.”

Together, she and her assistant stripped off Lucius's clothes and began to examine him. Sitting on the bed watching, with Luca sleeping in my arms, I had a sudden urge to giggle at the thought of how Lucius would react if he were to regain consciousness now, to find himself stark naked with two strange women examining every inch of his body.

Soon, however, my desire to laugh vanished, as I saw just how bad Lucius's physical condition was. As I'd noticed earlier, he had lost a lot of weight; and he was covered in bruises and wounds, some old and some inflicted recently. The Midwife found several other infected wounds, but none as bad as the one on his back. She treated each wound, healing the minor ones completely, and covering the worst ones with medicated dressings. At last, she draped a clean sheet over Lucius, now lying face down again to keep the pressure off the worst wound.

When the two Healers had gone back to their rooms, I lay down beside Lucius. I stroked his face, brushing loose ends of white-blonde hair from his eyes. He seemed slightly cooler, his breathing less laboured. But he was still very ill, and I swallowed hard, trying not to cry at the thought that although he was now free, I could easily have lost him to blood poisoning.

Luca was fussing again, and I settled him at my breast, letting him nurse as I lay and watched over my husband.

Towards morning, I found myself dozing. I was exhausted; I'd only slept for a few hours after the birth, and my anxiety over Lucius was very wearing. My eyes drifted shut, and I could feel sleep creeping through me, when a movement brought me back to wakefulness. Lucius was stirring. He shifted a little, groaning softly, and his eyes flickered open. For a moment he stared blankly ahead, then he lifted his head and his eyes met mine.

“How do you feel?” I asked softly, trying not to wake the sleeping baby.

“Terrible,” he murmured, wincing as his swollen lips cracked and bled.

“You're ill - the wound on your back is infected.”

He nodded slightly, then put his head back down and closed his eyes. After a few moments he reopened them, and ran his tongue over his split lips. “A drink,” he whispered. I nodded, and sat up. I put Luca on the bed beside me, then reached for the water jug and goblet on the nightstand. I poured some water and as I held it out to him, Lucius turned painfully onto his side, and raised himself on one elbow. It was an awkward position, and I helped him hold the goblet to his lips while he drank.

He drained the water then lay down again, still on his side. I put the goblet back on the stand, and when I turned back, his eyes were closed. I thought he was sleeping again, but he half-opened his eyes again. “Nat...” He took my hand, drew it to his lips, and kissed my fingers. His lips were cool, the fever almost gone.

I settled Luca, still sleeping soundly, in his cradle, slid down beside Lucius, and finally gave in to my need for sleep.

* * * * *

It was a week before Lucius was well enough to get up. We spent that week sleeping, talking, and getting to know our new son. On the last day we spent in this fashion, we were lying in bed, watching Luca who lay between us, his pale eyes open, gazing upwards with that expression, common to newborns, of total bafflement at his surroundings.

Lucius placed his finger in the baby's palm, smiling at the strength of Luca's reflex grasp. I watched them, feeling a surge of emotion at the sight of my son and his father together. At length I sighed, and Lucius looked up at me. “Something wrong?”

“Not really.” I smiled. “Well, I suppose it depends on your point of view... my family wants to visit, and see the baby.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow. They'll understand if you're not up to it, I can entertain them myself for a few hours...”

Lucius shook his head. “There's no need for that. We will introduce our son to his grandparents together.”

“And his aunts? My sisters have been allowed a special one-day outing from school.”

“I don't see why not.”

We watched Luca for a while longer, and after a while I said, “Of course, it's not my sisters who are the problem - or even Father...”

I saw Lucius grin. By now he was well-acquainted with my mother's personality. I told him about my clash with her at Christmas, and he laughed. “No doubt she will observe the proprieties on a social call!”

* * * * *

My family arrived in the early afternoon next day, and the visit went off without a problem. Predictably, my sisters were thrilled with their nephew, and even Mother unbent a little when I placed her grandson in her arms. Father and Lucius talked easily, and I realized that it wouldn't take long for Lucius to slip back into his accustomed lifestyle.

* * * * *

Luca was just over a month old when I knew that Lucius had fully recovered. It was early morning, and I had just got Luca back to sleep after feeding him. I eased him into his cradle, and settled down, ready for a couple more hours of sleep, but my husband had other ideas. I turned on my side to find him watching me.

I smiled sleepily, and he moved closer, taking me into his arms. We kissed, gently at first, then Lucius's arms tightened around me, his mouth more insistent on mine, and I responded eagerly. I looked up at Lucius, shaken by the intensity of my love for him, and murmured endearments as he told me, over and over, that he loved me.

* * * * *

There is little more to tell. Luca was fourteen months old, just walking, when his brother Gervais was born. The twins, Gilles and Cesaire followed two years later. And when we saw Luca off to his first term at Hogwarts, our daughter Isabelle was four months old. Luca, incidentally, made school history as the first Malfoy not sorted into Slytherin. He followed my example by becoming a Ravenclaw. All four boys take after Lucius physically, instantly recognizable as Malfoys by their grey eyes, pale skin and white-blond hair. Isabelle has my colouring, and a double portion of her father's determination.

Lucius continued his business dealings; no doubt he has made more enemies. Although his Death Eater days are long over, his determination is accompanied by a ruthless streak, that makes him a formidable opponent in anything he undertakes.

Our marriage is that rare thing: an arranged betrothal that has proved, after all, to be a love match.


THE END

EvilOrangeBunny 02:05, May 16, 2011 (UTC)

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