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 gave it a recent inspection.
Which is why, when a frantic Hermione showed up at her door before sunrise with a new summons for a one o’clock visit Minerva McGonagall sent one of her own to Astoria Greengrass, inviting her to breakfast.
Hermione showered, tamed her curls, put on a bit of make-up, and otherwise prepared herself for the afternoon visit. Not wanting to be shown up again, Hermione had chosen several potential outfits by the time Ginny arrived. None were up to the redhead’s standards.
“No, you’re going to wear your uniform. Emphasis on the form,” decided Ginny.
“Nothing figure-baring!” Hermione reminded her, “Or above the knee, or with too low of a décolletage, or-”
“I do know what I’m doing. Now shut it!” Ginny’s face took on a look of intense concentration as she began transfiguring Hermione’s school clothes. When she was done, Hermione found herself in front of the mirror staring in amazement once again. For the first time in eight years her grey pleated skirt hung gracefully; it was modest but showed the length of her slim legs. Her sweater followed her curves without looking thinly spread, and its V-neck dropped to show a hint of her small round breasts; it framed her dragon charm necklace perfectly. Even Hermione’s riotous hair had been tamed into submission, pulled up and away from her face by a grimly determined Ginny.
“Now off you go. You can thank me later by learning to do this yourself. Soon. I mean, what are you, five? No hugs! Go on!” Despite her harsh words, her best friend was grinning as Hermione left to find her chaperone.
Harry dropped her at Dumbledore’s office in his typical good-natured way. Hermione gave him the hug Ginny had denied her and impulsively blurted, “Now, go and do something nice and naughty to Ginny. I’ll ask Minerva to bring me to class. See you at lunch!”
She entered the Headmaster’s office and paused when she saw Astoria Greengrass, but Minerva motioned Hermione to the table with a crisp wave of her hand. “Good morning, my dear. Sit down and have something to eat. It seems Astoria is also glad to have a peer to talk with about her upcoming nuptials.”
“It’s true.” Astoria looked up from the serving of porridge she was daintily preparing and nodded to Hermione. “We’re the only two witches to receive stakes this year. I’ve often wished I wasn’t the only one.”
Hermione took a moment to study the lovely blonde witch sitting across from her at the small round table. Astoria Greengrass was an intimidating witch; besides being beautiful and poised, her demeanor was reserved. She was a year younger and in Ravenclaw, and therefore removed from Hermione’s social circle. The two certainly weren’t friends; they’d never even talked. Minerva is trying to help me, she reminded herself. Astoria is both a bespoke witch and a Pureblood; she’ll have all kinds of information and insight. She sat down at the empty place setting, filled a plate with cut fruit, and gratefully accepted the tea Minerva offered her. Then, focusing on the logical basis for this meeting she asked, “How long have you been betrothed?”
“My ceremony was the same day as yours, only it was held at my family’s estate. I waited a while until I accepted it, though – it was presented to me last summer.”
“That sounds just a bit more reasonable,” she said around a mouthful of fresh pineapple. “I’d never heard of a stake and when the Headmaster asked me if I accepted it, I said ‘yes’ like a complete idiot because I thought he wanted me to hold it for him!”
Astoria gave a small smile, the edges of her cool reserve visibly thawing. “Yes, you did do things backwards. What happened then?”
“I panicked, ran out, talked with Minerva and found out I’d legally bound myself to two wizards whom I’d never really met. Then I panicked again for a good bit.” The short explanation was amusing even to her own ears and she shared a small grin with the Ravenclaw witch.
“And then you went to the Slytherin party,” offered Astoria knowingly. “I saw you there. You and Draco were off in your own world the entire time. You didn’t look panicked that evening.”
Hermione sighed as she remembered that night. “It was like a perfect first date.”
“Only you’d already engaged yourself to him!”
“And his father, too!”
The two girls laughed together, and the ice was officially broken. Astoria confided, “You’re a very lucky witch, you know.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her,” muttered Minerva McGonagall.
Hermione wasn’t sure she followed. “What do you mean?”
“Lucius is a very attractive man,” Astoria’s tone was quite . . . appreciative. “And so is Draco. I’m not complaining about my future husbands in the least, mind you, but Circe, mother of magic did you score with the Malfoys! I’ll bet every witch in England will cry when they find their favorite bachelors are off the market.”
Hermione’s mind was assailed with the memory of her first kiss from Draco, and in an attempt to regain control of her traitorous thoughts she busied herself with a nearby tray of toast.
“Oh, you’re a blusher! I’ll bet they love that. Well, not to worry – you won’t be for long. I’m sure by next week they’ll be teaching you all kinds of wicked things and you won’t even bat an eyelash.” At the word ‘wicked’ she gave a corresponding wink, shocking Hermione. What had happened to the reserved witch she’d met upon arriving at this breakfast? Astoria noticed her expression and made an apologetic face. “I’m sorry if that was too forward. I felt at ease with you and went too far.”
Now Hermione felt badly. “No! Please, it’s so nice to have someone to speak with about all of this. I don’t mind your teasing. Would you pass the marmalade, please?”
“You don’t have any sisters, do you?” The blonde witch handed over the requested item with a kind but knowing smile.
Hermione sought refuge in the normalcy of spreading conserve on toasted bread. Eyes trained on her hands, she replied, “I’m an only child, and my parents are no longer living.”
“That makes sense.” Astoria poured herself some tea and refilled Hermione’s cup as well. “I’m used to talking with Daphne about everything. She married Blaise Zabini last fall, so I’ve heard more than my share of what happens behind newlywed bedroom doors. Oh, Hermione! You must have so many questions! Please let me help if I can.”
There was in that moment such a sense of safety! Minerva smiled kindly, her attention divided between the morning edition of the Prophet and the conversation, Astoria served the tea with graceful precision, and the air itself was laden with the comforting scent of breakfast. Hermione recognized the opportunity before her as unique. We’re the only two bespoke witches at Hogwarts. Such an offer might not be made again, especially if she took offense to innocent teasing. After a very brief hesitation she asked the first question to pop into her head. “Well, were the acceptance vows literal or figurative? Because they were beautiful but potentially troubling.”
Astoria shrugged. “I think each ceremony is different. The Malfoys undoubtedly used the traditional vows of their House. Can you be more specific?”
I can think of several very specific things. “I’ll just start at the beginning and you can start translating.”
Hermione recited the eight lines of the vows without commentary. Astoria’s mouth dropped open. Minerva summoned a decanter of firewhiskey and added a few drops to her coffee. The sound of heavy breathing became quite distinct.
Astoria tried to collect herself but she had clearly been affected by the Malfoy’s choice of vows. “Mother of magic . . . ” she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began again. “Sweet Merlin, Hermione. That’s . . . wow.”
Hermione took the opportunity to put the conversation back on track. “So do you see where I might be concerned about whether or not these are literal?”
Astoria and the professor traded glances. Minerva murmured, “She has no idea.”
“I’m quite sure most of it is literal.”
At her cry of panic her new friend hastened to reassure her. “There’s nothing alarming about these vows. Hermione, listen to me! These are some of the oldest binding vows known to exist. I know about them because Blaise gave Daphne a book of erotic poetry as a wedding gift and there was a chapter filled with old binding vows. Yours were in there. I think they’re really hot.”
“Yes, yes, they’re ‘hot’! Look, Astoria – I’m not ready for any of that; I wasn’t before . . . ” she made a vague gesture in the air with her fork, “this happened! Now not only am I forced to contemplate physical intimacy, but intimacy with two wizards I barely know on a fairly specific date! Which is only two weeks away!” As the light of comprehension dawned on Astoria’s face Hermione defended herself quickly, “I’m not a complete idiot about sex. I know the mechanics and I understand the human physiological response to sexual stimulus.”
“What you don’t know is how to think of sex as it relates to you. It’s not something you’ve thought about,” Astoria supplied in a quiet, considering manner. She seemed to sense Hermione’s discomfort, though, because she added, “let’s just focus on your vows for now.”
Hermione nodded gratefully.
“Let’s walk through it as a lesson in Pureblood tradition, shall we? It’s easy to forget you don’t know any of this; you certainly have a reputation for knowing everything else. Okay, first of all, there’s the part about your dwelling. That’s not scary at all – you’ll be brought to Malfoy Manor to live. You’ll love it; it’s a beautiful estate. I’m sure I’ll come to visit you often there, as the Malfoys and Notts have been close for generations.”
Hermione sat expectantly as Astoria continued, “Your wizards promise to bathe you in glory. This is probably metaphorical, but let’s not rule out a more literal interpretation! As I’m promised to be married it might not be appropriate for me to say this, but the thought of sharing a tub with those two men gets my knickers wet.”
We’ll be married, and married people do those kinds of things. Hermione felt she had rationalized that quite well. She couldn’t help but notice that Minerva’s expression was the same heated one she’d worn when Molly had described Harry’s visit with his girls. My favorite professor is enjoying this.
So was Astoria, judging by the look on her face. “Your wizards are going to spend a great deal of time making babies with you. Gaaah . . . sorry, moving on . . . You’ll always sit between them, which is traditional for a House Wife, and obviously you’ll sleep with them. I’ve heard that long ago in some ancient families there was a House bed, which was shared by all the spouses, but I don’t know if that’s still done. I could ask Theo if you like . . . anyway, if this is the vow that was used, you’ll be marked magically by your wizards as proof of their ownership—”
“I belong to no one but myself!” Hermione had never felt so outraged as she did in that moment!
“When you accepted, you gave yourself to the House of Malfoy and were received much like a spoil of war. Do you not understand the significance of the stake? The Malfoy wizards offered their lives to Dumbledore in service to his cause in exchange for the right to pursue your hand. Dumbledore accepted the offer, which means he considered their alliance to be of the same worth as your life.”
“You’re saying the Headmaster used me as payment of a debt!”
“No, not at all,” Astoria said in the patient tone generally reserved for children and the mentally incompetent. “He gave you to his champions as a great prize.”
“But I had a right to accept or refuse!” I am no man’s prize! I will not be ‘given’ to anyone!
“They’re as bespoke for you as you are for them. I have no doubt that any refusal would have been temporary. Think of the few times you’ve met Draco. Weren’t you drawn to his looks, captivated by his manner? He made your heart race, I’ll bet. And Lucius – did he leave you breathless?”
Hermione paused her inner tirade and looked at her new friend suspiciously. “How could you possibly know that?”
“That’s how I feel about the Nott wizards. They make me weak in the knees and ready to do whatever they want. I belong with them, and they own me. Oh, and don’t forget the last line – about your pleasure being theirs, too! Give your courtship a few days – when they’ve got you moaning with pleasure and begging for-”
Hermione’s hand flew up in the universal gesture for STOP!
Astoria changed tactics. “Hermione, let me finish! It’s not a bad thing! First of all, when I used the term ownership, I just meant that your wizards are going to feel very possessive towards you. Your handmark will fade in time, and obviously they’ll want to give you something a little more permanent than a ring. Something that will scream taken by us. They don’t legally own you, of course. That would be weird.”
“Yes, Astoria, that’s the weird part.” Do Ravenclaws even understand sarcasm?
“Secondly, your wizards will take care of you as they would any other priceless treasure-”
Astoria paused for breath, giving Hermione the chance to interject, “But I’m not a thing!”
“Hermione, you seem to be upset by the oddest parts: lots of sex, being cared for, having someone go to war for you, even more physical pleasure, being highly valued . . . I really don’t understand.”
“Well when you say it like that it all sounds very reasonable!”
“So we do agree! I’m so glad you’re coming to see things in the right light. We House Wives must stick together.”
Hermione was confused. Either Astoria had just cleverly won the argument or she had proven to be as loony as Luna. Whichever was the case, her new friend had given her much to think about.
Minerva’s composure had been restored now that the conversation had veered from anything steamy. “Well, I think you’ve been given enough to think about for one day, my dear. Shall we meet again tomorrow morning?”
She was right – Hermione had enough to keep her mind spinning for the next twenty-four hours, and it was almost time for class. The three left the office together. Astoria parted with them at the bottom of the stairs, giving Hermione a quick hug paired with a promise to be at breakfast the next day, and the professor escorted her to her first class.
Hermione’s altered uniform, even partially hidden by her robes, caused a stir among her peers, judging by the lingering glances of witches and wizards alike. Have I really dressed that badly all these years? When she finally slipped into her seat in Ancient Runes beside Harry and Luna she was feeling decidedly self-conscious. Pretending not to notice the continued general interest in her outfit she busied herself with preparing for class, ignoring the fact that her brother-figure had his hand up Luna’s skirt.
“Good morning, you two – did I miss anything important at breakfast?”
Harry gave her a grin and turned his attention immediately back to Luna’s thigh, but Luna looked up from the book she was reading with a sweet smile. “‘Lo, ‘Mione! Well, we had those yummy scones you like so much, Ron was a complete arse, and Slytherin lost twenty points because Draco hexed him.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“Okay. Have you noticed how different Draco’s been acting lately? I wonder if he’s got narleywickets . . . ”
“Sshh!” Hermione looked furtively around in fear that someone might overhear. She whispered, “I haven’t really seen much of him, except at the party and then the ceremony yesterday. What’s he been doing?”
“Oh, you know. Glaring at any boy he catches looking at you, daydreaming in History of Magic, hexing Ron – he can’t possibly like you any more than he did before you accepted his stake and he knows you’re his witch now, so I really think it might be a case of narleywickets.” Luna jumped suddenly and made a breathless noise. She turned to Harry. “Will you do that again, please?”
Perhaps she did want to know. “What?”
“He pinched my nub.” Luna beamed beatifically.
Hermione winced and clarified, “No, I meant what did Ron do at breakfast, Luna?”
“The same things Ron always does when you’re not around. You know. Oooh, like that!”
Realizing she was losing Luna’s attention, Hermione pressed on with determination. The idea that the boy she’d liked for so long might behave differently in her absence had never occurred to her and now she found herself curious. “Actually since I’m not around, I don’t.” Leaning forward to glare across Luna at Harry she added, “Could you please just wait until we’re done?”
Luna continued their conversation without batting an eye, as though chatting with a friend while being fingered by a boyfriend was a perfectly ordinary thing. “Oh. Well, that’s true. Hmmmm . . . he wondered where you were, and we said you were in a meeting with Professor McGonagall, and then he got mad. He said when he was ready to settle down he’d see to it you knew your pla-”
Luna continued in her usual dreamy tone as if Hermione hadn’t interrupted furiously. “And that when he made you his, he’d see to it your time was better spent.”
Hermione controlled her anger as best she could, but her hands clenched in white-knuckled fists and she bit clean through her lip. The taste of blood calmed her somewhat. How dare he? How dare he think I would wait for him to . . . to ‘settle down’?! Except, in her heart Hermione knew she had been prepared to do just that until very recently. Draco hexed Ron for saying those things. He looks out for me. She didn’t hear a word of the excellent runes lesson that day. On the plus side, she remained oblivious to the goings-on of Harry and Luna.
Herbology was next. Draco was in this class but his workstation was at the far end of the greenhouse. Today there was no actual work to do other than a quiz. Hermione flew through hers and then went back to triple check her answers. She was still done well before anyone around her. She handed her papers to Professor Sprout and was walking back to her station just as Draco got up to hand his in. Their eyes met and Draco smiled, then ducked his head. Hermione’s heart skipped a beat and she kept her eyes on him to see if he would look up again. He caught her gaze a second time just as a wayward thought crossed her mind, one involving the two of them gazing at each other from opposite ends of a steaming tub of bubbles. Realizing what she had been thinking at that moment, she flushed dark red. She fled back to her spot and kept her eyes trained downward the rest of the class.