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: this chapter was first beta’d by bunnyhops. CoquetteKitten recently gave it a spit shine.
Hermione and Draco had talked into the evening. They’d kept the conversation relatively light, choosing to skirt the topic of the courtship and anything too closely related. In fact, their talk had been much like Hermione imagined it would be on a first date. Better, really, if she compared this to the awkward evening she’d spent evading Viktor Krum’s paws at the Yule Ball.
They’d shared favorite school experiences and even traded compliments shyly. She’d told him of her detailed plans to ‘foil his own fun’ at this very party, and he’d laughed a soft, husky laugh. In the end, Harry had come to the table and practically dragged her away. By the looks on his and his girls’ faces, the three were in a hurry to find some public place to defile. Hermione had almost suggested they just shag each other at the party so she could stay a while longer, but then thought better of it.
Draco had brought her hand to his mouth and bowed over it slightly for a moment before gently kissing the back of it. Hermione had blushed and wished him pleasant dreams, and then allowed Harry to chaperone her back to the Gryffindor common room. From there, she’d floated up to her room in a daze.
Now she lay in her bed, pleasantly confused by her jumbled emotions. Had she suddenly discovered a heretofore-suppressed desire to marry two strange wizards straight out of Hogwarts? Absolutely not! Did she regret her rash acceptance of that beautiful war stake? Of course! Could she even now, at the very edges of her awareness, feel the war-stake’s magic . . . purring as if in sentient contentment? Yes . . . But had she enjoyed her time with Draco Malfoy? Most certainly. She smiled at the realization and began replaying some of the nicer moments in her mind over and over.
They’d sat at a table in a corner, and it was small enough that if they both leaned across the tabletop they could carry on an audible conversation. Draco’s arms were folded on the tabletop in front of him, but Hermione’s nervous fingers toyed with a serviette for a good while before he tugged it from her hands with an almost-smile and found her another glass of champagne. That helped a bit, and talk turned to their favorite things. Draco said his favorite color was green.
“Shocking.” Hermione smirked.
Draco looked down quickly at her dress, and then up at her face, letting his eyes travel over her hair before returning to her eyes. “You’re wearing my favorite shade tonight.”
“I am? That’s a coincidence.”
“A very happy one. You look lovely in it.”
Hermione swooned a little. No one had ever paid her such a romantic compliment before.
She went to bed early that night, eager to dream about the evening, but not before she carefully hung up the beautiful green dress.
The next morning came and went, and Hermione slept on. She finally awoke at noon, startled by the loud pop of another summons. It landed in her lap. This one was for the first official visit by the Malfoys, and Hermione was instructed to appear in Dumbledore’s office at four o’clock. Not knowing what else to do, she drew on her robe, left her room, and began the convoluted process of going to Professor McGonagall’s chambers. It seemed like another impromptu meeting was in order.
After waking Ginny (who groggily demanded a brief explanation), who went to find Luna, who was probably with Harry, who would need to escort her to McGonagall’s rooms, Hermione went back to her room and decided to use what might be a large chunk of time wisely. She showered and, back in her robe, began digging through her clothes for something that might be appropriate for such an occasion. It wasn’t that she didn’t have nice things, but Draco’s wonderful compliment from the night before kept playing through her thoughts. Surely I have something else that might make me look . . . lovely?
By the time Ginny returned to tell her that she had found Luna, who had woken Harry, who first begged a shower and then would be waiting in the common room, Hermione was a wreck. The contents of her wardrobe and trunk were scattered everywhere, and the young witch was crumpled up on the floor, gently hugging the beautiful bottle-green dress. She looked up at her friend’s arrival. “Oh, Gin. What am I to do?”
As the youngest child (who happened to be the only witch) in a large and less-than-prosperous family, Ginny sussed out the situation immediately. Hands on her hips, she adopted a tone eerily like her mother’s. She seemed to be channeling Molly directly, in fact. “Hermione Jean Granger, stop your moping this instant! Yes, you looked amazing in that dress, and Draco noticed. But good grief (here her voice had hit a shrieking pitch briefly which made Hermione actually flinch)! He’d notice you the same way if you showed up in a house-elf hanky! Oh. Well, yes he would, wouldn’t he! That might not be the comparison I was going for, but you know what I mean!!! Now quit sniveling and help me sort through these things. Honestly. Must I do EVERYTHING?”
Hermione was sufficiently terrified, and helped clean up the mess and make a pile of possible outfits. Ginny looked through the garments and decided upon a long green silk scarf. “Right. Off we go. We’ll fix the rest of you afterward.”
Hermione tried to argue that she couldn’t exactly wear just a scarf, but Ginny pushed her out the door and down the stairs to Harry, shouting the whole time. “Come on, you two! We don’t have time for all this lollygagging! Let’s go, let’s go!”
As Ginny dragged them out the door and down the hall, Harry threw a disturbed glance at Hermione. “She’s scary when she’s like this. What did you do to set her off?”
“Just do what she says.” Hermione didn’t have the heart to tell Harry that she had the seen the future, and that in it Ginny bore a striking resemblance to her mother.
They arrived at Professor McGonagall’s chambers breathless, the redhead still clearly in charge. She dismissed Harry, telling him she’d let him know when he was needed again. Harry paused momentarily, and then with a shove of his glasses to set them back in place, meekly made a suggestion. “About that. I was thinking that we could maybe use the charmed Galleons to communicate. What do you think?”
Hermione was surprised she hadn’t thought of that herself. The coins, along with many other war relics, had long been hidden at the bottoms of trunks by those who wanted to forget why such things had been needed in the first place. Harry’s idea was a solid one; using them would mean she’d always be able to contact him and thereby avoid being in breach of the courtship rules.
“That’s brilliant, Harry! I’ll hunt mine down when I get back to my room and you do the same. Can you meet us back here, say, in an hour?”
“Add another thirty minutes to that and it’s a deal.”
Harry and Ginny exchanged a look in which Ginny was clearly communicating a warning to him.
“Or not. I’ll see you in exactly sixty minutes.” He turned and took off running down the hall.
Hermione turned to Ginny. “Do I even want to know?”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Well, we’ve left Luna to keep him company, and their idea of a-”
“No, I most definitely do not. That’s quite enough, Gin.”
Professor McGonagall answered their knock quickly with an air of premeditation, and so Hermione knew the older witch had been expecting them. Ginny was talking before the door was completely open. “Right. So Draco paid Hermione a very nice compliment last night, and now she’s in a panic about what to wear this afternoon. We have three hours to get her ready, but I’m sure she’ll want to waste — sorry, spend — part of that having one of your empowering chats, so here’s the plan.”
The plan, it seemed, was the transfiguration of a green silk scarf into something worthy of another nice compliment. Hermione was relegated to the couch as the other two talked and gestured, all the while giving her appraising glances. It was actually a good plan, seeing as Ginny was a fashionable dresser and their professor was skilled in transfigurations. Hermione was humbled by the fact that it hadn’t occurred to her. Brightest witch of my age, my sainted aunt. No wonder Ginny was so cross with me!
It took twenty minutes of rapid-fire, whispered discussion, and only one attempt. The dress was perfect, and a very un-Hermione-like gasp fell from her lips when she’d donned it. It hung on her shoulders by thin straps, skimmed the curves of her torso, and then flared out at her hips in a long kerchief style. She gave an impulsive swirl, and the silk followed her movements gracefully.
“It’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever . . . it’s so . . . ”
“Yes, yes — thank us profusely. Just warn your wizards not to use Finite you-know-what-um, or we’ll get to test my house-elf-hankie theory. Never mind, Professor. Enjoy the moment, because as soon as we get back to the dorm I’m going to yank that hair into submission.”
Harry was waiting in the hallway when they stepped through the doorway. Hermione promised to return for a preparatory meeting at three o’clock, and was promptly dragged off by Ginny.
The redheaded witch could certainly follow a schedule and manage staff, as evidenced by the fact that Hermione found herself back outside McGonagall’s door with Harry with two minutes to spare. As soon as the door swung open, Harry was off like a shot, calling out a reminder for her to use her Galleon to summon him. The professor followed him with her eyes until he rounded the corner, murmuring, “Such stamina . . . ”
For the first time since people had begun commenting in her presence about Harry’s sexual proclivities, Hermione found herself replying. “That’s for sure. If Professor Dumbledore only knew what kind of man he’s allowed to act as my brother.”
McGonagall waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, my dear! That old fox doesn’t miss anything that happens in this castle. Regardless of Harry’s preferences, the Headmaster knows that boy thinks of you only as a sister. He was by far the safest choice. Now, to business.”
Hermione was handed quill and paper to ground her thoughts, and they began. Apparently this first visit was to be highly structured, and the young witch needed to be in the know.
“First of all, there is your entry and the introductions . . . ”
They proceeded to the crux of the visit, which was the public acceptance of the war-stake before all vested parties. There would be a representative from the ministry to witness this part.
“You must not hesitate, Hermione. I know you too well to think you would make a scene at this point. You must take the stake without pause . . . ”
After the short ceremony of acceptance, there would be time to talk with each of her future husbands individually.
“This is a chance to break the ice, so to speak. You are not the first witch to accept a stake from virtual strangers, which is why traditional courtships are set up the way they are. You will have many visits between now and your wedding ceremony in which to become familiar with your wizards . . . ”
Many visits, she learned upon asking, meant as many as could be fit into the next two weeks. This caused a small meltdown, as Hermione hadn’t realized she would be married so quickly. “An accidental acceptance becomes legally binding. I’m betrothed to not one but two wizards, one of whom is about twenty years older than me, AND I’m to marry them in TWO WEEKS!”
No amount of furious argument changed those facts, and Hermione knew it. Still, it felt good to blow off some steam.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Hermione! You enjoyed yourself with the boy last night. You’re being a bit unreasonable.”
“I’m still being married off! In TWO WEEKS! To TWO wizards!”
“According to a very ancient and still popular tradition you followed by accepting the Malfoy war-stake, which happens to be both magically and legally binding.”
Professor McGonagall was determined to keep her on track, too, and only gave her a few minutes to vent before returning to the original topic.
The visits, she explained, would be mostly impromptu. It seemed that Lucius Malfoy was an aggressive businessman and had a tight schedule, so Hermione would have to be on call every day. She and Draco would be allowed to see one another outside of the visits so long as Harry chaperoned.
“One more thing, dear: at the end of the visit, there will be a few more ceremonial parts. I won’t trouble you with them because it’s best to keep them spontaneous. Now summon that athletic brother of yours; it’s time to get going.”
“Thank you, Professor. I’m so grateful to you for all your help. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.”
Minerva McGonagall’s eyes misted over, and she smiled tenderly at the young witch in before her. “Oh, my dear, you aren’t alone at all. And I think it’s time you started calling me by my given name.”