Chapter Sixty: Thursday Morning

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.

 

Hermione looked at the extra people in her dressing room. Molly, Ginny, and Luna were each regarding her with varying degrees of concern, and she tried to give a reassuring smile. “Good morning. I didn’t expect to see you quite yet.”

 

Molly sank down onto the couch beside her, reaching out to cup the curly-haired witch’s cheek in a motherly way. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

 

A sudden onslaught of tears threatened to spill over Hermione’s lower lashes, and her chin trembled with the effort to keep them from doing just that. She shook her head and took a deep, shuddering breath. Molly looked around at the other three witches and directed them to leave with one firm nod of her head towards the outer room. She turned back to Hermione, drawing the young witch against her comforting form and pulling a handkerchief out of her dress pocket. “Alright, you decide what you want – a good cry first and then talk, or talk first and then good cry.” She handed the folded linen square over and sat quietly, all the while rubbing Hermione’s arm lovingly. “There, there. Shhhh.”

 

It turned out that the good cry came first. As she let it all out, the young witch snuggled against her mother figure, grateful for the presence of Molly Weasley in her life. Eventually, her eyes dried and she stopped sobbing. With a hiccupping sigh, she raised her head. Molly was smiling softly at her. “Now that you’ve got that out of your system, how about a nice, cool washcloth and then we can talk.” It was more of a command than a suggestion, but Hermione found herself nodding in agreement even as Molly summoned a washcloth from the bathroom and doused it with a precisely cast Aguamenti. Then, pressing it to Hermione’s red eyes, she began, “You know, I had a bad case of nerves on the day before my wedding. Everything had gone smoothly up until that day, and then . . .” She lowered the washcloth a bit and looked at Hermione. “I guess I wasn’t as ready as I’d thought I was.”

 

Hermione took the wet cloth from Molly and put it over her eyes again, laying her head on the back of the couch. “I just had an argument with the Malfoy covenant, and I don’t think I won.”

 

The witch beside her laughed out loud. “Is this a case of nerves or bruised ego?”

 

Hermione gave another deep sigh. “Both? Neither? I don’t really know. This whole . . . thing . . . has been such a whirlwind, and I’ve been completely caught up in spending time with Lucius and Draco. Every once in a while I remember that I still have no idea exactly what I’m doing, or what will happen tomorrow and after that. And to make matters worse, it feels like this covenant is guiding me away from researching anything!”

 

Molly took Hermione’s hand and held it between her own. “What is it you need to know right now, sweetheart?”

 

“I know nothing of Pureblood history, or customs, or society; I don’t know the first thing about being a House Wife; I obviously don’t comprehend the full ramifications of being a bespoke witch!” Something else occurred to her mid-rant. “And I have only the faintest knowledge of the Malfoy business empire!” Great – something else to add to this mess!

 

Her anxiety must have been evident, because Molly made shushing noises and squeezed her hand gently. “Have you talked about this with Lucius and Draco?”

 

“Yes, but most of our conversations unravel fairly quickly . . .”

 

Molly grinned in an understanding way. “That’s the way of things when you’re in love. Has either of them expressed concerns when you have talked?”

 

“No. In fact, they just dismiss it like it’s not important. Lucius said I could ask you anything, and offered to teach me himself, but he’s as distracted as I am!” Unbidden images sprang to mind of just how distracted she and Lucius had been over the past two days.

 

“Perhaps they don’t mind the fact that you’re new to it all.”

 

Hermione snorted. “Of course they don’t – they know everything already! How can I pass being a bespoke witch when I don’t even know what one is, exactly?”

 

“Pass? I wasn’t aware that there was a test given to bespoke witches.”

 

“You know what I mean, Molly! I’m going to be a failure, and embarrass myself and the two of them in front of the entire wizarding world.” She closed her eyes and finished in a whisper, “I feel so ignorant.”

 

“Do you honestly think you’re the first bespoke witch to enter Pureblood society without an understanding of it?”

 

This had been niggling at the back of her mind since yesterday afternoon, and she seized the opportunity to ask, “Please explain how a House can retain Pureblood status if the bespoke witch isn’t Pureblood. That makes no sense whatsoever!”

 

Molly raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Obviously she’s bespoke. Everything about her is perfect for that House.”

 

“That isn’t an answer, Molly,” Hermione growled.

 

The motherly witch tried again. “The blood status of the ancient Houses is passed through the male line. When a bespoken one accepts the covenant of that House, she takes on the blood status of her wizards’ House.”

 

“So the ancient Houses aren’t really Pureblood.”

 

Molly looked horrified at that statement. “Of course they are, Hermione! They carry within them the covenants, and the blood of the wizards who created them!”

 

“I’m sorry if I said something inappropriate, it’s just that I’m trying to understand it all. You’re saying that what makes someone a Pureblood is their male line and carrying a family covenant?”

 

The older witch seemed appeased. She clarified, “Yes, although not all Pureblood wizards and witches carry a covenant. At some point in his or her ancestry, an individual broke away from an ancient House, whether through marriage or weeding. Their blood is still considered pure, but they aren’t part of Pureblood society, so to speak.

 

I am entering an exclusive society completely wrapped up in thousands of years’ worth of tradition and history just waiting to be studied. If I don’t die of frustration, I might still die of happiness. “Did Voldemort know all this?”

 

“That, my dear, is another subject altogether, and one you should avoid around Lucius – unless you like listening to him rant.” She stroked a hand over Hermione’s curls. “Hermione, if you take only one piece of my advice, let it be this: trust your covenant. If you are already aware enough of its presence within you to be arguing with it, you must have an unusually strong affinity for each other. Let it care for you and your wizards. Trust it.”

 

“So I have to let go of my obsession with the acquisition of knowledge,” she joked half-heartedly.

 

“Absolutely not! Never! That would be denying part of what makes you unique. But perhaps focus on other things for the next few days. I know how you are with books, and once you begin this research of yours, no one will see you for hours at a time. That’s not exactly the way to spend the day before your wedding. Or the day after.”

 

A twinge of guilt spread through her. That’s not exactly the way to spend any part of a two-week engagement. The covenant seemed to agree, judging by the smug satisfaction it was emanating at her epiphany. “I can learn as I go – on the job, so to speak.”

 

Yes. And what a job it will be, sweetheart! Oh, just you wait until the first time the three of you-“

 

“Suddenly I feel much better!” Hermione interrupted quickly, interpreting Molly’s lustful expression as a red flag. Although she’s really the only person I have ask about such things. She added, “Maybe we can talk like this again later on.”

 

Molly kissed her forehead and replied, “I won’t leave until we do. Now let’s get you dressed. I know the girls are dying to see you, and I can think of two wizards who are anxiously awaiting you in the morning room.” She stood, pulling the curly-haired witch to her feet and leading her to the wall of closets.

 

They spent the next few minutes in comfortable silence as they perused the now-burgeoning storage space. Every so often one of them would pull out a gown, holding it up for approval from the other, and finally Molly gave an exultant crow. “Oh, my – is this a- It is!! Here – this is what you’ll wear today.” She was holding up a somewhat familiar-looking, flowing gown of transparent chiffon in a warm shade of taupe.

 

Hermione eyed it apprehensively. “It’s beautiful, Molly – but it’s see-through. I think it might be a nightgown, like that one.” She gestured to the blue nightgown where it hung on a nearby valet hook.

 

Molly laughed. “Oh, no – this is a vintage engagement dress. I haven’t seen one in years. Trust me, put it on.”

 

I’ll do it if only to humor her, then she’ll realize it’s a negligee. Hermione stepped into pair of beige lace knickers and then dutifully slipped out of her robe. She lifted the delicate gown over her head, feeling it slip over her skin as it slid down her body. Smoothing it, the young witch turned to her mother figure with one eyebrow quirked, but Molly just beamed as she zipped it up and then pointed to the nearest mirror. “Well, go on – have a look!”

 

Hermione walked to the mirror in a silent flurry of chiffon, and what she saw caused her mouth to drop open. The gown was just two steps short of being completely transparent, but somehow managed to be almost demure. The end result was the preservation of modesty in the most daring way possible. It was floor-length, cut in a generous A-line to ruffle out with even the slightest movement, and flowed like shimmering streams of light. The bodice was fitted and had a deep V-neck, formed by the wrap of the delicate fabric over her breasts, and it was held up with delicate straps. For the second time in less than twelve hours, Hermione felt that she had never worn a garment so beautiful in her life. Still, it wasn’t exactly something she wanted to wear around anyone but her wizards. She gave Molly a dubious look. “It’s gorgeous, but I feel half-naked in it and we have company.” I can see my ring through it plainly, for one thing.

 

Molly shook her head. “It’s charmed. I recognize the feel of the magic woven into the cloth.”

 

“Errrrr, what?”

 

“It’s charmed, sweetheart. To anyone but you and your wizards, it’s just a lovely dress. This is probably a family heirloom; I can imagine any number of Malfoy bespoken ones have worn it.”

 

Hermione stiffened at the information. “You mean Narcissa wore it.” For Abraxas. And Lucius.

 

Molly gave her a shrewd glance. She seemed to be considering something, but finally said, “Yes. I’m sure she did.” Hermione’s face must have been sending out clear signals of distress, because the motherly witch added, “Lucius gave me permission to talk about her, if you like.”

 

The young witch considered the offer. I want to know, and yet I don’t. It could affect my relationship with Lucius. Still, she nodded firmly. “Yes, please.”

 

“Do you want the short version or the long one?” Molly looked resigned.

 

“Let’s start with the short one. I can always ask questions.” Hermione Summoned a chair from across the room for herself, while Molly sank back down on the couch. “Lucius says she was horrid – but you said she was Arthur’s favorite cousin.” Arthur Weasley didn’t seem the type to favor the kind of person Lucius had described to her.

 

Molly gave a heavy sigh. “She was a lovely child – spoilt, but lovely. Arthur was her favorite as well, and so I’m sure she was always on her best behavior around him. And they didn’t spend much time together – just the odd family get-togethers once or twice a year.”

 

The older witch was plainly hesitating, so Hermione prompted, “Well, go on – tell me what I need to know.”

 

“I only know what I heard from others – we didn’t see Narcissa much after she entered Hogwarts. People talked about her beauty, yes – but more than that, they talked about her cold personality and questionable companions. Abraxas recognized her as bespoken, and pursued her openly, much to the dismay of many.”

 

“Lucius said his father desired her at an inappropriate age. Is that what you mean?”

 

Molly had a look of discomfort on her face. “The Pureblood tradition is one of discretion. Wizards do not openly pursue their bespoke witches, which is why many times the wizarding world doesn’t find out until the actual wedding. It gives witches in high-profile considerations privacy and keeps them from feeling pressured into accepting the stake. And,” she added after a moment’s pause, “in the case of the Malfoy stake, Abraxas was chasing after a thirteen year-old girl.”

 

Hermione felt a number of emotions all at once – mainly disgust, but also insecurity. “That’s awful. She, ummmm, she must have been breathtaking.”

 

“Only on the outside, unfortunately. Narcissa accepted the stake on her sixteenth birthday, became the Malfoy House Wife two weeks later, and gave birth to Draco a year and a half afterward. Then she was dead within a month, and no one grieved her passing save her sister.”

 

Her fiancé’s words played back in her head: ‘I became smitten with the idea of her in my bed’. Another wave of self-doubt crashed over her. “Not even Lucius?”

 

“Hermione, ninety-nine percent of the time, House marriages are the happiest in the world. They’re founded on compatibility, nurtured by the family’s covenant, and given a lifetime to grow into something truly beautiful. Once in a great while, though, a covenant chooses a witch who seems to be . . . less than a perfect choice. Of course, in the end it’s clear that there was a plan, and that the covenant was right in the first place. When Draco was born, it was obvious that he was the culmination of one such plan. Lucius fell in love with that baby and never gave his dead Wife a second thought.” At Hermione’s skeptical expression, Molly reiterated, “It’s true. He has been waiting for you for nineteen years, and the love I see in his eyes was never there before now.”

 

The young witch mulled over what she had just heard. Lucius had already told her most of it, but hearing it from Molly gave it more credibility. “He does love me very much already,” she murmured to herself.

 

Molly overheard the remark. “If you want further proof, I have plenty. You know, every time I ask for his opinion regarding wedding plans, he first asks if I think you’ll like it. You’ve got him wrapped around your finger – at least, as close to that as anyone could ever get with Lucius Malfoy.”

 

Another thought struck Hermione, and she asked worriedly, “Will it bother him to see me in this dress? Will it remind him of her?”

 

“Sweetheart, he wouldn’t have given it to you if he didn’t want to see it on you. Besides,” Molly wiggled her eyebrows, “he won’t be able to think of anything besides you, even if he wanted to.”

 

She stood and looked at herself again in the mirror. The young woman looking back at her was lovely, if a bit insecure-looking. Hermione raised her chin and stared down her reflection defiantly. Lucius and Draco love me. Nothing matters more than that in this moment. She was pleased to see the change in her mirror-image expression, which was now poised and confident. That’s more like it. She went to Molly, wrapping her in a fierce hug. “Thank you for everything, but especially for this. I’ll try to let go of the things that aren’t important in the here and now, and I won’t worry about what’s happened in the past.”

 

“You don’t always have to know everything, my dear girl. Sometimes the best parts of this adventure are the surprises, especially when you have wizards who love you as much as yours do.” She patted Hermione’s knee firmly. “Now enough of this. I just had the best idea! We’re going to get you a book – one book – for today. Bowly!”

 

The tall house elf appeared, looking puzzled to find himself in Hermione’s dressing room. He bowed low. “Bowly serves the Lady with pride. What do you require?”

 

Molly gestured wildly for Hermione to answer, and she did after only a moment’s hesitation. “I would like one of the Malfoy House Wife diaries to read outside the library, please. Would you bring it to the morning room?”

 

Bowly nodded solemnly. “Right away, Lady. Do you have a preference regarding the volume?”

 

“No, I don’t know enough about them to choose myself. I guess any one will do.”

 

“Very well, Bowly will do his best.”

 

“Thank you.” The words were barely out of her mouth before the serious house elf Disapparated with a quiet crack. The two witches headed for the door leading out to the bedroom, Hermione lost in thought. The taupe dress floated about her legs weightlessly, lending an ethereal grace to her movements.

 

“What’s going on in that head of yours now, sweetheart?”

 

She answered absently, “Hmm? Oh, I was only wondering about house elves and their grammatical rules regarding the use of personal pronouns.”

 

Suddenly Molly gripped her arm and jerked her sideways, disturbing the young witch from her ponderings. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy researching that someday, sweetheart. Until then, watch where you’re going. You almost ran into the door.”

 

“Oops.” They passed through the broad doorway side by side to find the outer room empty. “Where are-“

 

Hermione’s question was cut off by the unmistakable sound of Ginny’s laughter coming from the balcony. Molly pulled the young witch into one last hug, patting her cheek and saying, “I’ll be here all day. If you need anything – anything at all – Trinket will know where to find me. Now, go and have some fun!” Molly spun as if to Apparate, but nothing happened. “That’s odd. I wonder if Lucius is testing the wards this morning. Hmmm.” She tried again, with the same result. Sighing, she headed toward the door. “By foot it is, then.”

 

Before she made it that far, however, there was the sound of pounding feet in the corridor and then hands beating heavily on the door. More than one muffled voice was calling out, “Hermione! Hermione, are you alright?”

 

At the noise, the three other witches rushed in from the balcony. Fleur’s wand was drawn, and she ran to Hermione’s side with it raised before her defensively. Hermione drew her own, as did Molly, who approached the door cautiously and called out, “Who’s out there!”

 

“Molly, open this door at once!” Lucius’ unmistakable voice thundered loudly. The frantic beating on the door resumed.

 

The witch in question turned quickly to the rest of them, saying in a quiet, urgent tone, “I’m sure it’s nothing, but all of you go into the dressing room and follow Fleur’s orders. I’ll open the door when you’re out of sight.” She made eye contact with the Frenchwoman, and it looked as though they were having a silent conversation. Seemingly satisfied, Molly nodded. “Of course.”

 

Fleur ushered Ginny, Luna, and Hermione through the door. Her tone was cold and businesslike as she ordered, “Hermione is to be protected at all costs, which means I will be focused solely on shielding her. The two of you will stay out of my way at all times.”

 

She was brusquely shoving Hermione farther into the room even as the curly-haired witch argued, “Oh, for Merlin’s sake – I’m perfectly capable of defending myself!”

 

“Silence!” Fleur stared her down without a trace of the humanity she had shown recently. She added in a voice completely devoid of emotion, “If you attempt to do anything stupid, I will not hesitate to stun you. Now get back and be ready.”

 

She’s not joking. Acquiescing reluctantly, Hermione retreated a few paces. For several seconds there was silence, and then the sound of the door opening. Draco was nearly yelling. “Where is she? Is she all right? Who has entered this room?”

 

“Hermione is well, Draco. Why did the internal wards go up just now?” Molly managed to sound concerned and soothing at the same time.

 

“Hermione!” Lucius sounded so desperate that Hermione’s heart hurt on behalf of his suffering. She began walking toward the bedroom. Fleur stopped her forward progress with a warning look.

 

Fine. Instead, she called out calmly, “I’m right here, and I’m fine, although I’d like to know what’s going on!”

 

“I need to see her! Fleur, let her come out here!” Draco sounded equally upset.

 

Hermione caught Fleur’s eye, and the chaperone called back, “What is the significance of the place called Thuban?”

 

Immediately Draco answered, “It’s my eternal residence.”

 

Looking partially satisfied, Fleur countered, “And what of Lucy?”

 

There was a loud snarl from Lucius. “That is not the correct question, Mademoiselle!”

 

Fleur was obviously placated by the odd conversation, and gestured for Hermione to follow her to the bedroom. “It’s really them.”

 

“Well, of course it’s them! Honestly!” She huffed, knocking into her chaperone none too gently. That’s for treating me like a weakling.

 

Fleur gave an unrepentant shrug. “Standard lockdown procedure.”

 

In the outer room, they found Molly standing defensively before the door and the Malfoys standing in the corridor, wand (and wand hand, respectively) aimed at the Weasley matriarch. That’s right – they aren’t permitted to enter my room. They both looked somewhat relieved when she came into their view. Lucius held out his other arm in an unmistakable gesture, and she went quickly to stand between him and Draco. “What on earth’s going on?”

 

The only immediate answer she got was to be sandwiched between the two of them, Lucius in front with his back pressed to her, and Draco behind her and slightly to the right, his wand still directed toward the two witches in sight. Lucius demanded, “Which of your husbands fathered your eldest son, and what item of Gideon’s did you give to Harry Potter on his seventeenth birthday?”

 

Molly shot back quickly, “Septimus, and it was Fabian’s watch.”

 

Hermione felt Lucius relax the tiniest bit. “Mademoiselle Delacour, please approach.” She peeked out from under his upraised left arm to see Molly shift and direct her wand at the chaperone. Lucius continued, “Where did we dine last night, and from whom do you wish to receive an owl?”

 

Fleur answered promptly, “I ate here in the room, before your rune ceremony. My father.” At Lucius’ waved hand, she crossed to stand beside Molly.

 

Molly looked over toward the dressing room. “All right you two, it’s your turn.”

 

Ginny and Luna appeared from the dressing room. Suddenly Draco pulled Hermione so that she was almost completely behind Lucius’ broad back. “We just saw Ginny downstairs. She arrived late.” Hermione wriggled against the hold her wizards had her in until she could just peek around Lucius’ right side.

 

Molly looked nonplussed. “No, she came with the rest of us an hour ago.” She turned to her daughter. “How many pearls are on the Prewett diadem?”

 

“There’s no such thing as ‘the Prewett diadem’,” Ginny said quietly. “Will someone please explain what’s going on?”

 

Luna wandered toward them at that point, a faraway look on her pretty face. “What an odd time for the narleywhickets to manifest again.” She looked toward Hermione. “’Mione, I saw your gifts just now. Ginny will do an extraordinary job.”

 

Hermione regarded her sweet, eccentric friend fondly. Ten Galleons says no one’s even going to bother questioning Lu. She’s inimitable. She was correct.

 

Lucius finally spoke, his voice resonating through his body and traveling through Hermione’s own. “The wards went up automatically a few minutes after someone who looked like Ginevra Floo’d into my study. That means the intruder has tried to access a restricted area.”

 

Molly was already shooing the three other witches from the bedroom. “Come on, let’s stay together.” When they entered the corridor, the older witch grabbed hold of Draco’s arm. “Where are my boys and Harry?”

 

Draco and Lucius backed out farther into the hall, making room for the flow of bodies through the doorway but never relinquishing close proximity to Hermione. She lowered her wand, which had been raised to this point. The younger Malfoy replied, “They were in the formal garden not long ago. They won’t have realized anything has happened.”

 

So someone has entered the Manor disguised as Ginny. Whoever it is, he or she knows that Molly is helping with the wedding, and where the Malfoys keep – what? What’s kept in a restricted section here? “It’s someone who knows about the wedding, knows Molly is helping and that a visit from Ginny wouldn’t draw attention, and is acquainted with the Manor house intimately.” All eyes were on her, and she realized at some point she had begun to think aloud. Directing her attention to Lucius and Draco, she asked, “Who doesn’t want us to get married and knows where ‘restricted’ things are kept? And what kinds of things are restricted?”

 

The two wizards appeared to communicate wordlessly before Lucius answered, “Hermione and Fleur will stay here until the guard families arrive. They would have received a warning when the wards were raised and activated their Portkeys at once. The rest of us will begin a search of the house.”

 

Hermione was having none of that, and said so in no uncertain terms. “No. I realize that-“ As Lucius opened his mouth to interrupt she raised an eyebrow in warning, continuing, “I realize that your objective is to keep me safe, and that locking me in a small room at the top of the house seems to be the best way to accomplish that. However, I’m not a damsel in distress. I happen to be quite handy with a wand, and intend to stay with the rest of you.” She let her eyes travel from Lucius, to Draco, and on to Fleur, adding, “If you attempt to do anything stupid, I won’t hesitate to stun any of you.”

 

Draco was frowning, and Lucius looked positively livid. Fleur, on the other hand, looked as though she was fighting to keep from smirking. When the three of them opened their mouths with the obvious intention of discussing it amongst themselves, Hermione decided to nip it in the bud. “It’s not open for deliberation. Now, let’s not just separate and search blindly before we think strategically.”

 

She turned inward, letting her mind do what it did best – gather the facts, lay them out, and analyze them. The process was such an inherent part of her that there was a physical reaction to it – her body began its accompanying habit of rhythmic pacing, fingers of her left hand drumming against her lips unconsciously. Slowly, her finely honed sense of concentration shut out all external factors until her mind was able to whir without distraction. “I think it’s obvious that Polyjuice has been used, which has a relatively short period of usefulness. This person might be seeking some magical item or perhaps a potion – something to help maintain their deception. The fact that they went searching for this . . . something . . . suggests that they haven’t brought any more with them.”

 

As she mentally organized the data, it began falling into place. As she visualized the information, she vocalized it. “This, in turn, suggests that they know the manor so well that they knew where to find what they need next. They’ll have no idea that the wards were raised because they haven’t tried to leave yet. This may be because they haven’t panicked yet, or because they feel secure in their hiding place. So . . . confident to the point of arrogance, familiar to the point of sloppy planning, and desperate to get into this house the day before our wedding . . .” She left the sanctuary of her mind to return to the corridor outside her bedroom, focusing on the faces of her wizards. “The only logical answer is Pansy Parkinson.”

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