Hello again! Thank you for all your reviews and expressed concern for me! I am doing much better, my life is finally sorting itself out. I won the custody battle, and am happily situated in Austin with my kiddo, where we live in our new apartment with my best friend and our attention greedy cat. My work is going very well, I actually paid off my divorce in full a few weeks ago, which is such a relief! I have enrolled in school now that I am debt free (yay for more impending debt), and I start classes next month. I'm pursuing a degree in nursing, so it will be quite the career change from hairstylist to nurse! School will take up a lot of my time, but I am determined to finish up this story before classes start. I will be rapidly updating chapters, so I hope all my loyal readers will forgive me for being absent for so many months! Thank you for all your encouragement and kind words, it means more to me than you'll ever know. Love and appreciate you all! Now for more Dramoine:

Hermione stormed out of the conference room, unable to stifle her anger any longer. She made her way down the hallway, the clicking of her heels echoing off the walls. She could hear Draco calling after her, but she ignored him. Her head was spinning with thoughts-furious, enraged thoughts.

She stepped back into the ballroom, bombarded with the sounds of music and social activity once more, and she immediately crossed over to the bar to request a strong drink. No sooner was it in her hand, she downed it, slamming the glass a little harder on the glinting quartz countertop than was necessary.

"I take it the meeting was quite strenuous for you, then?" came Narcissa's musical voice from behind her.

Hermione fought the urge to tell Narcissa to go and stuff it, instead focusing on her breathing. The now empty glass on the counter in front of her cracked, and she knew her magic was getting out of control.

Narcissa eyed the girl and the now ruined glass apprehensively. "Don't let them see you bothered, girl. You put up a brave front-that's the first rule of succeeding in this society."

"You'll forgive me if I don't give a shite about society's rules," Hermione snapped at her.

The matron tsked her and took a slow and graceful seat beside her, seeming completely unaffected by Hermione's obvious mood. She smiled at the bartender, giving him a wave of her hand, and with a small nod of acknowledgement, he walked to the other side of the bar, giving them their privacy. "Ladies do not curse," she said calmly. "It is ill mannered and lessens the severity of a woman's tongue. We don't require poor language, our tongues are sharp as a sword."

Hermione shook her head and sat quietly with her hands in her lap, staring at her cracked glass and trying to blink back the angry tears that were burning her eyes.

"Oh, now don't you cry," Narcissa said, her tone softening. "You'll ruin your makeup. Take a deep breath, swallow those tears, and come take a walk with me."

"A walk?" Hermione repeated confusedly.

Narcissa rose slowly to her feet, sweeping a fresh glass of champagne off a floating tray as it passed them. "Yes, dear. I do so enjoy a walk around the gardens when I'm overwhelmed. These parties can be so taxing. Join me."

Hermione glanced around, seeing that Blaise was holding Draco back at the door. Draco watched her with obvious concern, ignoring the hushed whispers of his friend. She wasn't ready to talk to Draco yet, she was too angry. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and followed the woman who was once a sworn enemy out through a side door.

They walked in silence through the dim hallways, and Hermione's eyes flitted around nervously for anything she recognized.

"I redecorated the entire mansion after the war," Narcissa told her as she led her towards a large set of glass doors. "Out with the old, in with the new, all that."

"Wish you could say the same for your views on blood purity," Hermione mumbled under her breath.

Narcissa paused with her hand on the door handle, giving Hermione an arched eyebrow and a look of obvious disdain before she opened the doors. Hermione swore she heard something about Draco finding his match, but she didn't catch it all. Instead she followed Narcissa outside, down the steps, and onto a gravel path that led into a lush and beautiful garden.

Hermione looked around curiously, greeted by the bubbling sounds of a water fountain and the soft music of nature- cooing doves and chirping insects. They walked in silence for a few minutes, and Hermione reached up to wipe any trace of tears away, once more taking a deep breath and trying to calm herself.

The older woman cleared her throat. "If you have any desire to clear your frustrations from your system, now would be the ideal time."

Hermione stared incredulously at Narcissa as the gravel crunched under their footsteps. "You want me to vent to you?"

Narcissa paused to touch a blooming rose, smiling softly at it. "Well, better to do it in private than creating a scene at a public function."

She scoffed. "No thank you."

"Stubborn girl," Narcissa sighed. "Tell me if the meeting was successful, at least."

"I don't think Finton Greengrass will be interested in the company, if that's what you're asking. But Canton and Clearwater are investing, so yes, it was successful."

Narcissa nodded, moving on along the path. "Good. Draco works so hard, I would hate to see his new project fail."

"Are you referring to me, or to the company?" she asked defensively, feeling her hackles rise.

Narcissa's eyes widened, her face the perfect depiction of innocence, but Hermione wasn't fooled. "I was, of course, referring to the company. You are no project, even I can see that. You need not be so defensive with me-I am the last person to question your capabilities."

Hermione felt immediately the harsh sting of shame. "I'm sorry," she ground out, "I'm just… Greengrass set me off."

The blonde woman nodded. "So it would seem. It will do you good to master that temper of yours. And if you're open to any advice from a woman more experienced with these kinds of people than you-I would suggest that you don't walk around with that giant chip on your shoulder. Some people will treat you differently because of your heritage, that is a fact I am sure you are well acquainted with. Accept it, and rise above it. Your success will be limited if you behave as if you are some kind of firework, going to sparks and fire any time someone calls you a name or offers an underhanded insult."

Hermione's blood boiled, the alcohol in her system loosening her tongue considerably. "I am aware of this. You don't need to address me like I am a child. And I don't go off like a firework! I have faced more bigotry in your beloved society than I think you realize-and gracefully. I've held my tongue. I've risen above it. It's nothing new to me, I've faced it ever since I came into the magical world-at the hand of your family and your own son, in case you've forgotten."

"And yet, here we are."

Hermione didn't know what to say to that, and she was beginning to wonder why she even agreed to come out here with Narcissa. Gods, the woman was good at being a bitch under the pretense of being decent. How did she even manage to do that?

"Well, if the way Finton stormed into the ballroom all a bluster is any indication, then I would count your interaction as a success. So congratulations. I had no doubts the meeting would go any other way but yours. You're stubbornness rivals that of my own child, and you two make a formidable team."

Hermione stared at her. Was she...praising her? She rubbed her forehead. Surely, the champagne had gotten to her. She had had too much to drink, and now she was hallucinating. "Why are you even bothering with this?" she asked Narcissa. "You don't even like me, you've made that very clear."

Narcissa's mouth turned up in that trademark Malfoy smirk. "I respect you, and I accept that you and my son will be together for the rest of your lives. The fact that I find you uncouth, lacking culture, and untailored for society is a separate matter, and one that holds little significance in light of my son's well-being."

At this, Hermione couldn't help but laugh bitterly. "What does that even mean?"

"It means, ungrateful girl, that I am trying to help you. You are a part of the Malfoy family now, and I would prefer to see you and my son succeed rather than fail. If this means I must keep my opinions and criticism to myself, and help guide you-"

Now Hermione really laughed-a giggle, even. She tried to contain both the laugh and the words that followed it, but she was unable. "When have you ever kept your opinions and criticism to yourself? All you do is make snide comments when I'm around. I don't want your help, I don't need it."

"Ah, that is where you are wrong. Don't let your pride be the cause of your own downfall, girl. You've worked too hard for that. Gods above, you are an angry thing!" she exclaimed, sounding exasperated as she eyed Hermione curiously. "What has you all up in a fuss? This isn't about me. What is this about?"

Hermione wanted to remain silent, not to speak to the likes of Narcissa Malfoy, but once more she found her tongue loosened by the alcohol in her system. It was a testimony to how much she had had to drink, because she couldn't stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth... "I know about Astoria," she said softly. "Draco never told me he was engaged."

Narcissa hummed in understanding.

"Greengrass was enough to set me off. He was rude. He wouldn't make eye contact, he all but refused to even acknowledge I was in the room-he was so bold as to even bring up my blood status! In a business meeting! The war is over! I bled for that disgusting rodent of a man, whether he wanted me to or not, I fought and bled to save that horrible man in a war that he didn't even have the guts to involve himself in! And he had the nerve to publicly express bigotry directed at me. I just...I can't believe that after all we've been through, all we've done, that people can retain disgusting views such as blood purity."

"And where does Astoria come into this?" Narcissa asked quietly, continuing to lead Hermione along the garden path.

Hermione swallowed thickly. "He just threw it out there, really. Said he had no confidence in investing at a risk with a Malfoy. He made it sound like Draco had proved unreliable because he backed out of a lifelong betrothal."

Narcissa stiffened considerably at this. "The nerve of that...that bottom-feeding...rat," she breathed. "FInton Greengrass had us backed into a corner. He forced our hand, we had no choice but to back out of our contract with him."

At this, Hermione's heart broke a little bit. "What?" she asked falteringly.

They turned a corner and approached a white iron bench, where Narcissa motioned for them to take a seat.

Frantic questions running through her head, Hermione allowed herself to be seated, waiting for an explanation.

"The sacred twenty eight have survived throughout the centuries due to betrothal contracts. Draco was engaged to be married to Astoria Greengrass before he was ten years old." Noting Hermione's crestfallen expression, she waved her hand. "Oh there is no need for jealousy or hurt here, girl. He never could quite tolerate the girl. Rude child-he used to hide in various places throughout the mansion whenever the Greengrasses came over for a playdate, and I know he avoided her at school," she said with a hint of a humor at the corner of her lips. "He was never very happy about the betrothal-constantly complaining and whining about what a dull girl she was. Dull and always angry with him for how he treated her," she added with a sigh. "And I heard of his escapades with the girls at school, so no doubt she did too."

Hermione shook her head. "Why would you sign your son into a marriage contract before he was ten? That's insane."

"To guarantee continuation of the Malfoy line and maintain our...our…"

"Blood purity," Hermione finished for her, disgusted. "I'm so tired of hearing about blood purity," she groaned. "It doesn't even work! There is an inarguably high rate of squibs and non magical children born to pureblood families versus mixed blood families, do you know that? And-"

Narcissa cut her off with a glare. "Regardless, it is how we have done things for hundreds upon hundreds of years. But after the war, the Malfoy name was in poor standing, as you well recall. Poor Draco was on trial, Lucius was on house arrest and awaiting his sentencing…" she trailed off, her cool and aloof mask slipping for the first time that Hermione had ever witnessed, and Hermione noted that she looked truly sad.

"Then what happened?" she prodded.

Narcissa blinked rapidly, her mask once more settling over her features as she swallowed before continuing, "Finton came to us demanding a great sum of money as insurance in the event of Draco's incarceration. None of us were sure of how the trial would go. He was innocent, just a child, but…" she shook her head once more. "We had...limited funds, as the Ministry had seized and frozen our assets. He demanded a great sum of insurance, and we couldn't pay it." She sat up, squarely her shoulders proudly. "So he gave us the option of buying out of the contract-a more reasonable sum, one that was feasible. If we refused to buy out the contract, were unable to follow through with the terms we had signed to, then Greengrass would inherit the entirety of the Malfoy fortune and estate. Everything tied to the Malfoy name would go to him until Astoria was married, then it would go to her and her new husband." She sighed. "Our hands were tied, we had no choice. We bought out the contract, and the betrothal was void."

Hermione scowled. "And he brought that up at a business meeting? Why that's...that's…"

"Shameful, truly," Narcissa finished, looking quite peeved herself.

After a few moments of silence, Narcissa rose to her feet. "Well, Miss Granger, let's go back inside. Regardless of whether or not you want my guidance, I am offering it. And I think it's time to learn a lesson on exacting revenge."

Hermione couldn't deny that she was curious. "Revenge?"

"Come, dear, and I will show you." She offered Hermione a smile, her eyes glinting in a way that promised menace.

Hermione couldn't resist a smile herself, and she rose to follow Narcissa out of the garden and back into the ballroom.