That Sunday the Burrow had been decorated with flags stuck in every possible spot and the scraps of silk waved in the morning breeze making the house and yard look like an endlessly shifting kaleidoscope. Draco's shoulders were hunched up by his ears and he tugged the sleeve of his shirt down over his wrist again, as though hiding the Mark would somehow make his past equally invisible. "I'm not sure this is a good idea," he said again and Hermione leaned into him as reassuringly as she could. Playing Quidditch with Harry was one thing. Having Ginny in a silk robe at breakfast in his flat, her hair up in a messy top-knot as she argued with Blaise about some obscure coffee point that no one but them cared about was one thing. Going to the home of the family he'd been raised to despise, the family who'd been raised to despise him, was another.
"You said you wanted to meet your aunt," Hermione said, "and your cousin."
"I know," Draco muttered, "but I was thinking perhaps a nice quiet luncheon someplace she would be socially constrained from yelling at me."
Hermione gave him an amused, if somewhat condescending, smile. "Draco. Your aunt Andromeda was raised by the same woman who raised your mother and she was sorted into Slytherin. She doesn't yell. She gets quieter."
Draco swallowed. He knew the quiet menace of the Black women all too well. "Maybe we should go home," he said.
"Too late," Hermione said as a boy, loosed from the grip of his grandmother's hands, ran across the brown grass as fast as his chubby legs would go and lunged at Hermione. She scooped him up with a laugh and handed him to Draco. "Teddy," she said, "Meet your cousin, Draco."
Draco got the look of terrified responsibility people unused to children get when one is placed in their arms. 'Don't let me drop this' his eyes begged, as well as, 'what if it doesn't like me?' and 'is it potty-trained yet?'
"Hi," he said to the boy, who giggled and grabbed a handful of Draco's hair and tugged on it.
"Hermione," Draco asked, "how does he have the white Malfoy hair?"
"He doesn't," said an older woman who'd glided across the dead lawn far more gracefully than the barely-not-a-toddler in her care. "He has brown hair."
Draco looked at the platinum blond hair on the little boy in his grip and said, "Uhhh…."
"He's a metamorphmagus," Hermione said, rescuing him from his obvious confusion. "It mostly comes out in the hair now but he'll change his skin tones and eye colour too sometimes."
"Wow," Draco said, not sure how to respond and unwillingly impressed at the unusual and valued talent. "Just… that's really rare."
"His mother, your cousin, was one," the woman said. "I'm Andromeda Tonks. You must be Draco Malfoy; there's no mistaking you, certainly, as you're the mirror image of your father."
Draco flinched. "So I'm told," he said.
"Tricky things, mirrors," the woman said. "They seem to show exact duplicates but, really, everything is reversed."
"I would like to be his opposite," Draco muttered.
Andromeda Tonks smiled, a bit of a wry expression that spoke of broken dreams and a life that hadn't turned out the way she'd hoped. "That would be good," was all she said. Teddy began to squirm and Draco set him down and the boy ran off in pursuit of whatever had caught his eye, his blond hair white in the sun. "He likes you," she observed. At Draco's quizzical look she explained, "He's keeping the hair instead of shifting to the newest thing."
"Oh," Draco said. Hermione touched his arm and let him know she was going to go see if Molly wanted anything, a transparent excuse to leave him alone with his aunt as Hermione was not the first person anyone thought of when they sought out kitchen helpers.
"She loves you," Andromeda observed as she watched Hermione walk away.
Draco put his pureblood mask on, shutters slipping into place over his eyes and his posture subtly shifting to that of arrogant disdain. He looked more like Lucius than ever with just that slight change of body language and any trace of his earlier discomfort at meeting his aunt and cousin was hidden.
"You get my sister's expression when you do that," Andromeda said, unimpressed. "Like you can't quite believe you're being asked to mingle with people whose personal hygiene is inadequate." She studied Draco for a moment and then added, "I did it too, for years. People would say something about Ted and I'd become all Black. He never understood why." Her eyes looked into the past. "She probably won't either."
"Hermione doesn't need defending from anyone," Draco said.
"No?" Andromeda shook herself back to the flag-filled garden at the Weasleys'. "That's why you wore some hideous, showy ring for a while? One that seems to have been replaced by something far more discrete?"
"She didn't need to explain herself to people," Draco said. "It was simply easier to take steps to ensure no one asked her to."
"Oh yes," Andromeda nodded, "so much simpler to let people think you'd contracted an engagement that, if it had suddenly disappeared, would have left you as a laughing stock. You'd have been the butt of jokes for years. Couldn't even keep the interest of a woman raised by Muggles. So unfortunate. Simpler to risk that that then let the woman tell a few hidebound – "
"It was more than a few," Draco said. His tone was short. "She was a veritable commodity."
"So you protected her." It wasn't a question and Draco's Malfoy arrogance sagged for just a moment. Most people wouldn't have seen the minuscule change but Andromeda had been raised by Druella Black and he might as well have shouted his feelings from the rooftops. "You are quite a bit different than your father." She paused and added slyly, "Though I'm sure he was quite pleased to hear you're marrying within the august ranks of the elite."
Draco snorted at that. "He would have been more pleased if she hadn't informed him she was planning on having his cell stripped of whatever contraband he's managed to accumulate. I don't believe he thought she had quite the right pureblood attitude."
"Oh, I don't know." Andromeda was clearly amused by the idea of an unhappy Lucius Malfoy. "I think my mother would have approved of the tactic of making your enemies uncomfortable for spite." She laughed, the sound sudden and bitter. "It's what she did to family, after all."
"It's what we all do," Draco said, turning away from her to watch the Weasley clan set out food on outdoor tables. Molly had herded her children into doing her bidding and even Blaise had a platter loaded with jars of condiments. Draco spared a moment to wonder if the man had brought his own mustard selections as some kind of hostess gift designed to spare him from whatever inadequate offerings his fiancé's mother would have had on hand. It was a common enough trick with wine and he wouldn't put it past Blaise to do it with mustard.
"Except those of us who risk ridicule to protect someone from minor hassles," Andromeda said.
Draco's voice was neutral as he turned back to smile at his aunt. "Then I guess it's good for me that it worked out."
"Draco Malfoy," she said holding her hand out, "it is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance."
He kissed the back of her hand and bowed slightly. "Andromeda Tonks, I am honored to be admitted into your circle."
. . . . . . . . . .
"Traditional?" Molly Weasley looked at Luna Nott with mostly concealed horror. "You mean traditional traditional?"
Luna stood barefoot on the wooden porch with a glass of lemonade in her hand. She'd added several grass clippings to the glass and they floated on the ice daring people to ask why they where there. She smiled and took a sip. "I'm pretty old fashioned," she said. "Conservative."
Theo almost choked on the starter he'd just put into his mouth. He hadn't parted from Luna's side since they arrived and their obvious devotion to one another both charmed and startled everyone who saw them. The member of the Sacred 28, the last bastion of social prestige and elitism, and this peculiar girl seemed an odd match to most people.
"To be married with no barriers between yourself and your beloved ensures a lifetime of honesty," Luna continued. "Sympathetic magic."
Molly Weasley almost glared at Ginny. "This will not be happening at your wedding," she said. "Dress robes and guests!"
. . . . . . . . . .
Hermione tucked her hand into Harry's as they watched most of the rest of the young adults fly brooms at breakneck speeds above the Weasleys' property. "You happy?" he asked her. He'd sat out of this round of play to get a chance to talk to her alone.
She nodded. "Thanks for getting him back into Quidditch."
Harry shrugged. "It's nothing," he said though they both knew it wasn't. "He plays fair, which is more than I can say for George."
"Draco plays fair?" Hermione asked.
"He make Percy look footloose and fancy free," Harry said. "It's like he wants to make sure everyone knows he's following the rules. All the rules." He glanced at her. "Don't worry. We'll knock that out of him eventually."
At that she laughed. "You and Pansy okay?" she asked.
Harry grinned. "How much detail do you want?" he asked.
"Oh Merlin," she said, throwing her hands over her ears with exaggerated drama. "None."
. . . . . . . . . .
Ginny pressed Blaise up against the back wall of the shed, her skirt hiked up and he realized with a combination of eagerness and horror that she wasn't wearing knickers. "Ginny," he groaned. "Your family is right over there. They're all here. They're eating cake and toasting Hermione and Draco."
"I know," she said. "They're distracted." He couldn't see her grin in the darkness but he could certainly hear it. "How fast can you be, Blaise Zabini?"
He slipped his hands under her arse and pulled her against him. "Pretty fast," he growled in her ear. "Minx."
. . . . . . . . . .
Hermione signed her name and handed the grimy bit of parchment back to the indifferent Ministry employee. Everything in this office had the dreary feel of institutional utilitarianism and Hermione spared a moment to wonder how the Wizarding world had managed to get hold of what were clearly battered, Muggle, metal desks and mismatched filing cabinets. They all had the dull feel of items no one could quite justify throwing away because they still have many years of use left in them but that no one really wanted either.
It made the faded picture of a happy couple framed on the wall behind them even more incongruous and hilarious.
"You understand that this document is legally binding," the woman said, a litany she must repeat multiple times each week to whatever wizarding couples made their way to this department. Hermione took a moment to picture them: girls probably in white dresses clutching bouquets; boys gulping nervously as they did the right thing. She supposed she and Draco seemed out of place. He stood, every inch of him a study in patrician disdain. From the shoes he had on, which probably cost more than this poor government employee made in a month, to the bespoke shirt, he was wealth. She hadn't bothered to put on any kind of wedding gown but had on sensible, flat shoes and a pair of trousers that were good for travel. They hoped to get settled into their hotel in Assisi that afternoon and start exploring the local churches. Hermione had made up a list of every Muggle church within a 50-mile radius of their hotel and planned to drag Draco to all of them.
No, they didn't look at all like the usual couple that got married in this government office.
"Yes," Draco said in answer to the woman's question. "We're quite aware of the binding nature of marriage contracts."
The clerk gave him a look filled with sullen resentment. Hermione had rarely seen Draco outside his own sphere since Theo had begged her to be pleasant to the man and she had forgotten how effortlessly arrogant he was, how he grated on people simply by existing.
"Alrightty, then," the woman said. "I need you to both verbally confirm that you are entering into this contract of your own free will, that no threats or coercion have been used to bring you to this point, and that you are fully cognizant of the indissolubility of your lifelong marital bonding." She glanced up at them when they didn't respond. "This is where you say 'I do'."
"I do," Hermione said, taking Draco's hand in hers.
"I do," he replied, the words clipped and devoid of any obvious sentiment though he squeezed her fingers.
"Then you're married," the woman said, turning to file their paperwork. "Have a nice life."
"Thank you," Hermione said. "We will."
They were halfway down the hall when Draco asked, "Do you think she knows she mispronounced cognizant?"
"Probably not," Hermione said.
"I love you," he said.
She stopped in the hall and turned to him and, in full view of several Ministry employees, kissed him. "We get to do this in public now, right?" she whispered in his ear.
He laughed and, picking her up, swung her around and said, "Like you'd let a silly thing like pureblood customs stop you."
Then he returned her kiss with interest.
~ and they all lived ~
~ happily ever ~
~ after ~