Chapter Fifty-Seven: Wednesday Evening

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

beta credit: Brightki and CoquetteKitten.

 

They sat in silence for a while, tangled in each other’s arms. Finally Lucius said in a low voice, “However capricious your decision to move our ceremony to tonight, it was also serendipitous.”

 

Hermione tipped her head where it rested on his broad shoulder so that she could see his face. “Because now I’ll wear a ring instead of a mark on my skin?”

 

One side of his sensual mouth curled in a smirk. “I won’t contest that, but I meant that you had time to learn more about Pureblood tradition.” He leaned down and kissed her head. “I struggle with remembering how little you know; for me, the customs of our society have been ingrained since birth, and I don’t know where to begin with you. Your poise under this set of circumstances is truly admirable.”

 

“In some ways, it’s no different than when I learned I was a witch. Except, of course, that there’s no one definitive textbook for bespoke witches, is there – like Bespoke Witches: A History. If there were, I’d have read it through several times already! And I’ve been nothing but distracted and self-conscious since accepting that stake.” She sighed. “Why wasn’t I fighting for being in the library, looking for information about all of,” she waved her hands between the two of them, “this? I know I haven’t been that single-minded swot I was once for a while, but I didn’t even try.”

 

Lucius tightened his arms around her. “Would you believe me if I told you I think it was the Malfoy covenant?”

 

“What do you mean?” Absently, Hermione wound a lock of his hair around her fingers, marveling at its silky texture.

 

“I have felt for years as though I knew you, both through Draco’s constant updates and those of Voldemort’s spies. This past year you have been a different witch – almost aimless by the standards to which you held yourself before. Draco has maintained you suffered greatly during the war, and I agree that the valor you showed came at considerable cost. You gave your mind and body necessary time to heal these past months, Hermione. In a similar way, I think the covenant has been guiding you in your approach to this betrothal. It has been with you since you accepted the stake, after all.”

 

She continued to play with his hair, spiraling it around her forefinger in a curl. “Making me do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do? Or, in this case, keeping me from things, like independent study?”

 

“Leading you along the best path. Perhaps it had some knowledge of what would happen if you followed that other course.”

 

“I certainly wouldn’t have spent as much time daydreaming, or being ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to visit with you and Draco. And poor Harry would have been living in the library for all that time as my chaperone.”   She released the lock of hair, only to find that it defied her attempts to wave it. It dropped, smooth and heavy, against her palm.

 

“I make no assertions to understanding the covenant fully, but it does alter us at times.”

 

The young witch sat up straight in his arms, looking at him with slight apprehension, the wonder that was Lucius’ hair temporarily forgotten. “Then are we transformed into something we’re not, really? Have we been changed from our own selves?”

 

He frowned. “How do you feel right now?”

 

She thought for a moment. “Terrified, and resigned, and utterly exhilarated. Like I was born for this, kept ignorant until now, and must play a lightning round of catch-up. It’s my greatest fantasy and worst nightmare wrapped together in one destiny.”

 

“Do you feel as though you’ve been manipulated?”

 

She traced a finger along the placket of his shirt, pressing enough that she could feel the dip and swell of his muscled chest beneath. “No, that’s not what I meant at all – I feel more like myself than I have in so long! It began last night, when I arrived here, and the feeling has been growing stronger ever since – as though I’ve come home. And I’ve been given the greatest challenge of my life! But I have so much to learn and do – and so little time. And the thought of all those books and diaries . . .” She licked her lips in an unconscious, predatory manner.

 

Lucius smiled down at her. “Those don’t sound like the thoughts of someone who’s been changed into something she’s not. And it doesn’t sound like she’s been manipulated. Guided, perhaps.”

 

“Have you never questioned the Malfoy covenant?”

Mercurial as ever, Lucius underwent an immediate transformation from happy and relaxed to stiff and forbidding. “I’ve already told you about that.”

 

Narcissa. “Will you tell me about her? I mean, I’m taking her place. It seems only fair.”

 

The question obviously irritated him, and he growled, “She has no place in this House; you are taking the one destined only for you. Yes, I doubted the family magic. When Draco was born, I realized I had been wrong to do so. And as far as fair goes . . .” He huffed. “Not today. I don’t want to squander this time speaking of such things.” Lucius’ body was still tense beneath hers, but he reached for her and pulled her against him, burying his face in her hair.

 

His gaze had been positively glacial, but it had no effect on the curly-haired witch other than to inspire impish compassion. She had been speaking the truth earlier when she’d said she wasn’t afraid of him. Hermione pressed a soft kiss to the skin of his neck. “We could always talk about Ron Weasley instead,” she ventured with a gleam in her eye.

 

Hermione.” The single word was a warning in itself.

 

I’ll let you off this time, but you will talk to me eventually. “Oh, alright. So you’re saying that the covenant had a plan, and now we are watching it come to fruition.”

 

“I believe so. It brought me Draco and you, and it guided you to spend these last two weeks developing relationships with us.”

 

She could see his point. “It’s certainly easier learning about your culture when I don’t feel awkward around you. It was awful before, with the few things Minerva did tell me.” Learning I would be marrying two men without really knowing either of them, for instance. The memory brought every anxiety about the next upcoming hurdle to her mind. The rune ceremony. She twisted in his arms until her back was against his broad chest, stretching her arms up behind her to wrap them around his neck. It was easier admitting her fears without looking at him. “We never finished talking about tonight. I’m nervous.” Despite my dreams, I don’t know if I’m ready for the three of us to be so intimate together.

 

His arms wrapped around her in a comforting way. “About which part, pet?”

 

Hermione’s chin tilted up as it did whenever she faced her fears head-on. She swallowed and began resolutely, “Being with both of you at the same time. Like that.”

 

“Like what, my prize?” He kissed the top of her head lightly.

 

She twisted her head enough so that she could just see his expression out of the corner of her eye. “You know what I mean, Lucius.” This isn’t the time for one of our games.

 

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

 

He sounded genuinely confused, so she pressed on. “Draco told me! He . . . he said . . .” She hesitated, trying to couch her explanation in terms that would both satisfy his question and preserve her dignity.

 

Now he was vexed, but she knew it wasn’t with her. He bit out, “Oh, for Merlin’s sake! Tell me exactly how the boy cocked this up.”

 

Hermione turned back to her original position, facing her wizard. She flashed him a quick glare of caution. “Don’t you dare assume Draco did anything wrong! He was very sweet when he said it, and it was only afterward that I began thinking of what he meant.”

 

Lucius was obviously trying to contain himself. He took a deep breath before saying slowly, “What was it he said?”

 

She blushed but answered, “We were talking about what would happen after you set the rune or ring, and he said that we would worship each other. In light of the fact that I’m supposed to arrive wearing only a ceremonial robe, I thought that was fairly self-explanatory. Molly mentioned it earlier, too.”

 

He closed his eyes and shook his head as a small smile played on his lips. “And your vivid imagination assumed that the two of us would ravish you simultaneously within an inch of the rules.” Lucius leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her mouth. “Oh, my lovely one.” He leaned his forehead against hers and stayed in that position.

 

“You mean we won’t be . . . errrrr, ravishing each other?” Her blush was surprisingly slight, and she chalked this up to the fact that her curiosity was once again rearing its head. She leaned back so that she could look at him directly. “What will we be doing then? You yourself said-“

 

He interrupted her with another kiss, a brief but sensual touch of his mouth against hers. “Hush, and listen.” Hermione found herself snuggled into her nook, with his hands stroking her back and his chin resting on the top of her head. “I can see where Draco’s poetic eloquence may have filled you with apprehensions. Clearly you have no idea of the power you hold over us. You will guide us, Hermione, and we will follow tonight. This begins with what you choose to wear, and continues until we conclude the ritual and exit the warded site. We have no agenda.”

 

“I’m so confused!” She growled against his neck, for once immune to the scent of his skin.

 

“Tonight you’ll enter the circle, we will make our vows, and then Draco will hold you in his arms while I set our ring. It won’t take long – if we had done it this morning, we would only have said the vows and set the rune, and I still would have made my first meeting.”

 

In comparison to her former nerves, her relief felt almost like disappointment. “That’s all? Molly made it sound like . . . well, you know Molly.”

 

She could hear the irritation in his voice. “Forget everything that silly woman said.” He seemed to be breathing her in for a long moment, and then he said, “In consideration of your . . . divergent heritage . . . and ensuing apprehensions, I suggest we recreate this particular tradition. We can begin with dinner – one such as we shared last night?” At her nod, he continued in a considering tone, “Perhaps you’ll consider wearing a new gown for us in lieu of the traditional robe; that way you don’t overanalyze your choice of garment.”

 

“That sounds acceptable. Fleur and I could finish with the presents before dinner instead of later in the evening.” She paused and then added, “So there won’t be any ravishing?”

 

“Let us keep our focus on the meal and setting the ring. If at any point there is a mutual need to be worshipped, as my brother said, you have only to say the word.”

 

I want to touch you, Lucius. I just don’t know if I want to do it for the first time with Draco there, and vice versa. But I’ll keep an open mind. She sighed and wove her arms around his neck. “My Lucius – how is it that you give me such confidence? I feel as though I can do anything when I’m with you.”

 

“Turn away from the things that have caused you to doubt yourself, my prize. Here in this place, accept your destiny and take your rightful place as the Wife of a great House. You are a queen in our world.”

 

Hermione responded to the beautifully worded sentiment by drawing him down for another, more heated kiss, sliding her hand beneath his loosened shirt collar to feel his warm skin. She let him dominate her mouth, reveling in the realization that he only did so because she allowed it. Finally, they pulled apart to breathe. “I love you.”

 

“And I you.” He shifted uncomfortably in the chair and changed the subject abruptly. “Draco mentioned you would like a picture taken of your handmark – shall we have Trinket do that for us?”

 

“Yes, please.” She slid her hand out from under his shirt reluctantly, enjoying the expression of pleasure that crossed his face.

 

The picture turned out differently and far better than she had imagined. It was of her sitting in Lucius’ lap, her back to his chest and legs between his, with her right hand raised behind her head and intertwined in his thick, pale hair. The left curled up over his right arm (wrapped tightly around her), his hand cupping her left breast possessively. Lucius gazed at the camera triumphantly until Hermione, whose radiant face was tilted up and eyes locked on his, murmured something and he looked down at her with an adoring, playful expression. As the house elf had aimed the camera at them, she had been only vaguely aware of the placement of his hand. Now that it had been captured forever in a magical picture, she was in turns shocked and aroused. “I can’t believe you did that! Now we can’t put this out anywhere – it will have to go in a private room!”

 

Lucius grinned wolfishly at her. “What an excellent idea, pet – pictures taken expressly for our boudoir.”

 

The laugh bubbled out of her before she could stop it. “Perhaps it’s time to go find Fleur.” Reluctantly Hermione untangled herself from her wizard’s arms and stood. “Come with me?”

 

“With pleasure.” He rose from his chair and offered an arm to her gallantly, which she took with her left hand. As the two crossed the room, he stroked his fingers over her beautiful handmark and murmured, “We should have a picture taken of the three of us tonight before your handmark begins to fade.”

 

They stepped out into the garden and walked a few steps beyond Fleur on the path. Then, with a mischievous smirk on his handsome face, he called out theatrically, “Oh dear, I have a business Floo call to make.” The chaperone stirred and looked toward them. Lucius turned to Hermione and said with twinkling eyes, “I’m afraid I shall have to cut our visit short, my prize. I look forward to seeing you tonight in the library at seven o’clock.” With a deep bow in her direction and a courteous nod of his head to Fleur, he was gone.

 

Fleur gave a puzzled frown. “Don’t you want to spend a few minutes with Lucius? He’s only just returned.”

 

Hermione stared at her innocently. “Fleur, it’s four o’clock. We’ve been standing here talking while you’ve been mooning by the gold roses for nearly an hour! Honestly, what kind of chaperone are you?”

 

Not long after, she and Fleur entered Lucius’ study to find him at his desk, immersed in parchment and supposedly preparing for his Floo call. After securing one last kiss and a promise that he would find Molly and send her their way shortly, she left with the Frenchwoman in tow. They made their way back to Hermione’s suite by a straightforward route.

 

Trinket seemed to have been alerted to the change in plans, for the gifts were piled on the rug just inside the opened French windows. Sunlight streamed across the room, and a light breeze brought with it the scent of spring. The two witches set about opening the wrapped boxes as quickly as possible, employing magic to do the work for them.

 

Meanwhile, they lay side by side in a patch of sunlight on the soft rug, talking quietly together. Hermione was determined to ask as many questions about the rune ceremony as possible before Molly got there, but Fleur was having difficulty paying attention. “What do young Pureblood witches get taught about rune ceremonies? I mean, what happens after the vows and the rune setting?” She flourished her wand, sending a pile of tissue and empty boxes to an empty corner of the room.

 

The Frenchwoman was on her back, head resting on her hands, and gazing dreamily out the windows. “Hmmmm? Sorry. It all depends. If you don’t know your wizards very well, it will most likely be short and formal – but if you are familiar with them, then you’re free to explore the boundaries set by the rules. It can be as long as you like, providing your chaperone guards the site well. Oh, that one is very pretty!” She directed a flowing taupe gown of almost transparent chiffon towards the growing pile on the foot of the bed.

 

That is the vaguest answer possible. Hermione turned her head toward her friend. “Which do you think Lucius and Draco will expect?”

 

Fleur gave a small tinkling laugh. “I think they are asking each other the same question about you. Don’t worry, their regard for you is deep. They won’t do anything to make you feel uncomfortable.” She sighed. “I have always dreamed of being a bespoke witch, and now that it has happened I cannot think of anything else. Tell me about the Weasleys.”

 

Obviously she was going to have to invest in this conversation to get anything out of it. “Arthur and Molly have seven children. Errrrr, that is to say, they had seven children. The sixth son, Ron, was weeded recently, I think.”

 

Fleur’s head shot up, and she had an odd expression on her face. “Lucius spoke to me at length about him, but I had forgotten all about him in my excitement. You should not speak so freely of him.”

 

Hermione responded with great curiosity, “What did he say about him?”

 

“That he was a scoundrel who had treated you dreadfully and dragged his family’s good reputation through the mud. I was told that if he were somehow to escape and approach you, that I should use any means necessary to stop him.” She added in an undertone, “I was, of course, warned of his condition.”

 

“Do you know anything about what happened to him after he was taken from Hogwarts?”

 

“That’s a better question for Molly, don’t you think?” From the tone of her voice and that weird look, Hermione deduced that Fleur didn’t wasn’t very keen about the subject.

 

“Yes, I suppose it is.” She sighed. Like pulling teeth. “Back to the ceremony, though. How does one prepare for such a thing as group intimacy? I’ve dreamed about it, and fantasized about it while awake, even, but now that I’ll be with both of them tonight in a romantic setting . . . I’ve only ever kissed one in front of the other once.”

 

Fleur rolled her eyes. “Oh, please – if it’s anything like the meal last night you’ll do just fine.”

 

“What do you mean?” The curly-haired witch started on another present, lazily directing its unwrapping.

 

The chaperone paused from her own work and gave her a sharp look. “Are you serious? You are! Hermione, last night at dinner the three of you were a study in group intimacy. Lucius was feeding you suggestively, Draco’s hands were everywhere, and you were draped across them both.”

 

Hermione had the grace to blush. “You saw that, did you?”

 

“Of course I did. What I want to know is, if you were so comfortable last night, why are you nervous about tonight?”

 

“Because you were there! Tonight I’ll be alone with them, and I’m not sure what they’ll expect. What am I supposed to do?” An unbidden image sprang to mind of entering the magic ring only to find her wizards already naked, asking her to strip down and perform oral sex for them. She shook her head forcibly. That’s ridiculous. Lucius and Draco would never, ever . . . OH. In that moment her brain and emotions aligned. “You’re right. They would never want me to feel awkward. They love me.”

 

Her friend’s expression was mildly incredulous. “Are you sure you’re the one they call the brightest witch of the age? I would have thought that was obvious.”

 

“Yes, well even incredibly smart people can panic.” She steered the conversation away from herself quickly. “Charlie works on a dragon reserve in Romania, and Percy is a Ministry of Magic employee. The twins own their own business – Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.”

 

That seemed to do the trick, and for a few minutes the two witches worked through more packages and talked about Hermione’s second family. Fleur seemed to have a hard time believing anyone could think of Bill and Charlie as brothers, but Hermione was adamant. “They’re brothers to me – loud, slovenly, sweaty, and irritating.” When she saw Fleur get derailed at the word ‘sweaty’, she added, “Let me guess – Charlie had his shirt off when you saw him.”

 

Fleur gave a small, self-conscious smile and nodded. “How long does it take to cast a stake, do you think? They left at noon and it’s four now. Will they go to see my father today? Oh, no – my father.” Her face crumpled.

 

“What does he have to do with it – you’re twenty-three years old! Can’t you speak for yourself?” Hermione couldn’t imagine why a full-grown witch wouldn’t be able to grant the stake precedence for herself, but Fleur’s horrified expression set her straight. “Apparently not.”

 

When Hermione motioned for her friend to continue, the blonde explained, “He’s overprotective, to say the least. He wouldn’t even permit me to attend the Triwizard Tournament when I was at Beauxbatons! He’ll want to see what they’re made of – probably try to scare them off. If that doesn’t work, he’ll want to see all their financial records, proof of employment, and-“

 

Hermione interrupted at that point. “Triwizard Tournament? Why couldn’t you attend?”

 

Her question was met with another roll of the eyes. “Father got some Owl from an old acquaintance advising him to keep me far away from Hogwarts for the time being. I would have loved a chance to compete.”

 

Hermione could easily picture a levelheaded, competent Fleur solving the puzzles and facing the dangers of that event, and said as much to her. “Perhaps there was a reason, and it will all make sense in time.” She couldn’t shake the feeling that Professor Dumbledore may already have been dabbling in Fleur’s affairs at that point. I wonder if Monsieur Delacour considers the Headmaster an old acquaintance . . . With that thought in mind, she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your father finds the Weasley men charming.” Or at least completely overwhelming. “Bill is a deadly wizard on any given day, and it’s nearly the full moon right now – nothing will scare him off. Charlie’s a man’s man – you know, the sort who can talk to anyone and end up making a new friend.” He knows more dirty jokes than any wizard I know. “Percy excels at record keeping, and he’ll probably bring every pertinent scroll with him.” If your father likes self-important suck-ups, he’ll adore Percy. “And the twins – well, hopefully the other three get in a good word first. They’re, ummmm . . . very special.” She saw that her friend was listening raptly, so she concluded encouragingly, “And don’t forget – you’re their bespoken one. They’re not going to take no for an answer.”

 

Fleur nodded hopefully and turned her attention to the last few presents. When they had been unwrapped and their contents laid to rest on the bed, she concluded, “I can’t worry about what I can’t change. Still, if I am offered the Weasley stake I will accept it without hesitation. I know in my heart this was meant to be.”

 

At that moment there was a knock on the door and it was opened. A loud, happy voice called out, “Yoo-hoo! Where are two of my favorite witches?” And in popped Molly.

 

For the first time in a long while, the young witch was very glad to spend some time with the bossy Weasley matriarch. For one thing, there was no meal for her to manipulate Hermione into overeating, and for another Minerva was not in attendance. Also, she was already compiling a list of questions about the rune ceremony, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley men. She attacked immediately.

 

“Molly, I’m so glad to see you! Come in – we just finished opening my trousseau. Would you like to look through it with me?” She estimated the number of questions she had and compared it to the stack of clothing on the bed, determining a rough pace for her interrogation. Then she quickly prioritized the information she wanted and began.

 

Predictably, Molly’s eyes welled up with tears of gratitude. “Oh, sweetheart – I’d love to!”   Without looking directly at Fleur, she grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her toward the bed. “Come, Fleur – let’s sit. That’s right, sit down with me and let’s watch our lovely bride-to-be show us everything!” The two sank down amidst the piles of garments, and Hermione began.

 

“While we’re at it, we can pick out what I’m going to wear to my ceremony tonight.” When Molly didn’t say anything, Hermione deduced that Lucius had explained the change of plans to her. I wonder if he warned her not to set me off — perhaps she’ll keep things tame! It seemed too much to hope for.

 

The curly-haired witch held up a butter-colored dress made of heavy silk cut very much like the first dress her wizards had ever given her. The only difference was that this one had a daring neckline that looked as though it would drape low, exposing much of her chest. “Ladies, I give you dress number one.” Hermione held it against her torso and spun playfully. “What do you think?”

 

“Oh, it’s lovely! Perhaps not exactly the message you want to send, though?” At Hermione’s questioning expression, Molly added, “Lucius talked to me at length about your worries, dear. I hope you’ll forgive me for adding to them. It’s difficult for me not to jump ahead as though you’d been taught all of this.” She rubbed her hands together in a determined fashion. “Let’s see what else you’ve got.”

 

As they worked their way through the large pile, Hermione slowly primed Molly for pumping. She began with a general question that should have been asked over a week ago. “What did your mother tell you about bespoke witches when you were young?”

 

The older witch smiled reminiscently. “From the time Pureblood witches are little, they are prepared for the possibility of being a bespoke witch. It’s every girl’s dream. Mothers begin by telling the stories of famous House Wives throughout wizarding history. I understand many Muggle fairy tales are based on these! They tell their daughters to remain true to the hope, which is a very old-fashioned way of saying to save their first kiss and keep their knickers on.” While she was speaking, Molly was rifling through the garments nearest to her. She held up several tiny sheer slips. “This lingerie is very nice. Just look at the lace detail!”

 

Hermione pushed past her initial desire to change the subject. “It is. I like the violet one. But go on with what you were saying, Molly.”

 

“Where were we? Oh, yes. By the time Pureblood witches leave for school they know the basics – stake casting, consideration, acceptance, and sometimes even the traditional rules of a courtship. It isn’t talked about openly outside of the home, of course. The rest is usually left unspoken until a stake is cast. No sense cluttering a young witch’s mind with knowledge she may not need. Of course, at some point she’ll be told, regardless of her status, so that she can pass on the knowledge to her own daughters. When I realized Ginny wouldn’t be a house Wife, I began teaching her the rest.”

 

“When do they find out about runes and rings?”

 

Molly shook out a robe of pale blue silk satin, dividing her attention between the garment and the question. “This color will compliment your hair and eyes beautifully. Well, obviously they’ve seen their own mother’s at some point, dear!” She turned to Fleur. “When did you learn?”

 

The beautiful Frenchwoman was admiring a pair of elegant heels. “My mother’s rune is set in a traditional ring. I remember as a young child being fascinated by its outline under her formal apparel, and she explained it to me then.”

 

Hermione looked at Molly contemplatively. “I decided I wanted a ring after I saw the Malfoy runes. It felt right.”

 

“That’s lovely, sweetheart! Very traditional. I chose to have my skin marked instead, and although I’ve never regretted my decision, I must admit to the teensiest bit of jealousy whenever I see a House Wife with a ring.”

 

That made Hermione forget about the seal brown velvet traveling cloak in her hands. It fell to her feet with a thick, heavy sound as she asked warily, “How many House Wives have shown you their rings?” And what kind of social situation calls for that?

 

Molly paused in confusion and then burst out laughing, waving the young witch’s concern away with a sweep of her hands. “Oh, no – we Wives don’t go about topless, if that’s what you’re thinking. And other than a few Ravenclaws who enjoy exhibitionism, I’ve never actually seen a ring. What I meant was that they’re often visible under fine fabrics – as Fleur said about her mother.”

 

“Thank Merlin! Errrrr, you know what I mean.”

 

The three witches set about sorting the items by type in unspoken agreement. Lingerie was tossed Molly’s way; shoes, outerwear, accessories and even the odd book went to Fleur; and Hermione continued to dig through the gowns for something perfect to wear to the rune ceremony. There were dozens, and for the most part they were long, flowing, and made of exquisite silks – chiffon, Dupioni, taffeta, charmeuse . . . eventually she gave up cataloging the myriad types.

 

Hermione decided not to push her luck regarding Molly’s heretofore omission of rune ceremony personal anecdotes. I think it’s time to move on to the next query. Not that there’ll ever be an appropriate time to bring up her youngest son. “Molly,” She began quietly, holding up a frothy, strapless coral dress and quickly moving on to the next, “How is Ron?”

 

The older witch gasped quietly, shooting a scandalized look around the room.   “You mustn’t mention his name!” When Hermione opened her mouth to respond, Molly said in a warning tone, “Do not. He has been weeded.” The look on her face was similar to the one Fleur had worn earlier while talking about the same subject.

 

But I’m not going to find out unless I ask! I need to know! “Please, Molly! I don’t even know what not to ask or say – explain it to me the way you would to a small child.”

 

Molly thought for several long moments and finally said in a hesitant manner, “Very well.” She went back to organizing the gifts. “If you were much younger, I would simply say that he is gone forever. As you grew older I would be forced to clarify – this is no different. Hermione, you must understand that this is the way of the old Houses. When . . .” She seemed to be grasping for the right words. “When a covenant recognizes that one of its wizards is deficient in some way, it withdraws its power – sometimes immediately, but mostly in a protracted way, almost as though it’s giving the wizard an opportunity to change his ways and prove it wrong.” She looked around the room again furtively and nearly whispered, “These things are never talked about outside of one’s family.”

 

Hermione nodded in understanding but pressed on. “You’re saying he might have been identified as weak, and your covenant pulled away from him? Is that why he was such a—errrrr, sorry.” She finished awkwardly.

 

“He was always the weakest of the six, making poor choices and focused on the superficial – wealth and status, mainly. When he deserted you and Harry during the hunt for the Horcruxes,” Here Molly clutched at her chest and was visibly upset, “I knew. I knew, but I still hoped it wouldn’t come to pass. Then it continued to get worse after the war – his philandering, his poor treatment of you, and all those secretive trips he took last summer. Not that they’re much of a mystery any more. Arthur spoke to him numerous times, as did the other boys, but he refused to see the fault in himself. The Weasley covenant found him deficient, and now he has been weeded and will be struck from the family tree. He has no place, no inheritance, and no name.”

 

“So you’ll never see him again?”

 

“When he’s done at St. Mungo’s, he’ll be transported to his permanent residence under guard. Lucius was very kind to make such arrangements for him; I know he did this on my behalf. He will be well looked after, and unable to harm anyone again.” She added as an afterthought, “Even if he weren’t afflicted with VMV, he would never be admitted into Pureblood society again.”

 

“That seems rather drastic, don’t you think? I mean, yes – he was perfectly awful these past two years, but he isn’t a murderer! Why can’t we say his name?”

 

Fleur spoke up. “It’s because to us he no longer has a name. Our families are ancient, and our traditions are absolute. In order for us to prosper in future generations, we adhere to the rulings of our covenants. It is widely accepted that the birthrate of squibs is directly linked to the progeny of weeded wizards. Now imagine an ancient House brought to its knees by a single generation devoid of magic! It would be the end of that House.”

 

Hermione asked, “But if they’ve been weeded, how is it they’re having children at all? And why haven’t I heard anything about this correlation between squibs and . . . errrrr, you know?” She sent an uncomfortable glance Molly’s way and picked up a black gown, absentmindedly holding it up to her torso without giving it more than a perfunctory glance.

 

The motherly witch explained, “Wizards who are weeded aren’t shunned throughout the wizarding world. They are free to make their own fortunes, to marry, and to begin families. The Ministry doesn’t make official record of weedings, although emphasis should be placed on the word official.”

 

“So it’s been recording them and collecting the data? Fascinating.” Hermione gave a few seconds of thought to that research opportunity before returning to the conversation at hand. “But he’s your son! How can you just—“

 

She was interrupted by Molly, who said firmly, “He is no longer my son, Hermione.”

 

“How do you feel about that?” The young witch passed a large velvet box to Fleur distractedly, who peeked inside to determine its contents.

 

The blonde witch shook her head in sympathy. “You won’t understand until you’ve been part of this culture for some time. This is how it’s done.” She scrutinized the gown Hermione was still holding up. “Not that one.”

 

Molly added, “It wasn’t a sudden thing. He was clearly headed toward this for quite a while, and our entire family knew it. We’ve had ample time to accept this, as well as the comfort of our covenant.”

 

“Does this happen often? Weedings, I mean.”

 

Molly’s eyebrows hiked up her forehead. “No! There hasn’t been one in the House of Weasley in generations, and never in Arthur’s direct male line. The Blacks had more than their share of them – it’s no wonder that House is gone forever. But that’s a topic for another time.”

 

Hermione blinked several times, trying to determine how honest it would be appropriate to be with her motherly friend. Finally she said bluntly, “I can’t decide if I’m horrified that you’re so matter of fact about this whole subject or relieved that you’re not grieving. And I feel guilty because even though I’ve just found out R- errrrr, he’s been disowned by his family, I’m positively giddy about all the studying I have to do now. He and Harry were my only real friends for a long time, and I’ll miss the way he used to be.” She lifted the next dress from the pile, struck by the significance of its bottle-green color. That’s the same shade I wore to the Slytherin party.

 

“Find time to process and grieve, but don’t do it now. As far as my own feelings, the heartache was over and done with when he endangered you and insulted Lucius and Draco in such a way. There’s a reason these things aren’t talked about, Hermione. Now that you’ve taken the edge off your curiosity, let’s talk about something else.” As if to prove that she would brook no argument, she turned to the chaperone. “Fleur, dear, I talked with Arthur by Floo just before I came up here. We agreed it would be alright to tell you . . .”

 

The voices around her faded as Hermione twirled around several times, wrapped up in thought. As her brain whirred and processed, the bare skin of her lower legs registered the cool, silky waterfall of fabric moving fluidly with her.

 

Molly paused mid-sentence with a pair of silk stockings in her hand, distracted by Hermione’s movement. “I like that one.”

 

Hermione was jolted from her pensive mood and looked down at the gown she was holding. She lifted it up, admiring the way the color shifted subtly from deep green to black in the light. It was simple and elegant, like every other dress in the pile, but there was something different about it. It’s the color – it’s Slytherin green. Fleur agreed in her bossy, sisterly way. “That’s the one you’ll wear.” She was rounded the far side of the bed and walked briskly toward the curly-haired witch with arms outstretched. “Give it to me and go get in the tub.”

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