There was some punishing before Malfoy took himself off again. I kind of liked it. It was fun to explore. I'm not entirely sure what I think of fooling around with Malfoy. We're stuck together for the interim but that doesn't mean we're trapped in a Jacobean tragedy of unrelenting woe. So, maybe, I can be a bit hopeful.
I tell myself that repeatedly as I organise a wedding. The Cornwall bit was actually easy. I made a few phone calls then Apparated to Tintagel and rented a car. St Nectan's Kieve was in a nature reserve and although it had a walking trail ending in a hermitage to cater to tourists, there was enough of the wild magic that I understood the appeal. The waterfall on the River Trevillet and the woodland were restful. Refreshing. A good place for new beginnings.
The river valley was narrow and the basin, the kieve, was shallow. If we wanted to ritually bathe in the waters then the wedding party would have to be small. Six people at most or it would start to look like a municipal swimming pool. I sat on a damp rock idly staring at a tree with strips of cloth tied to its branches, the clooties of the clootie well, and told myself I didn't mind so much.
The location wasn't somewhere I would've picked so it held neither expectation or disappointment. We didn't need to make a spectacle of the rite. Malfoy and I could do this for ourselves quite privately. Half and hour, an officiant and two witnesses. That seemed a bit sparse even for an arranged marriage. Conversely, we had the gargantuan feast. Did I want to mammoth events? I did not.
I drove back to town, did some grocery shopping then shrank it discretely before returning the car. When I got home I owled Ginny and Luna wanting their input for the ceremony. I should make a little effort just so it didn't look like I was being dragged by my hair. There might be a nice handfasting ritual that would be appropriate for the setting. Something casual. It was bad enough I had to share my body with Malfoy. I wasn't going to bind my magic to him too.
I made a pumpkin curry for dinner while Rolly sulked. Malfoy had left him with nothing to do and nicely reared pure-blood witches did not chop vegetables in their own kitchens. My cooking habit was clearly going to rankle the house elf. Having him pouting at me wasn't adding lustre to my day. I made it worse when I asked him what he'd like to do because serving his people was his raison d'etre. I had to forbid him from shutting his fingers in a drawer when he complained I wasn't ordering him about.
So we compromised. Rolly peeled the pumpkin, which I could never do neatly, and stirred the curry after I'd made it while I looked through some books on marriage rites. There were a surprising number of them, old hold-overs from the days where couples crafted their own personal rituals unique to their magic. If I incorporated some Arithmancy into the choice I could find an array that would suit us.
Ginny, Molly, Fleur, Angelina and Luna found me scribbling away. They Apparated into the back garden then trudged in as though they were bringing food to a wake. I was hugged sequentially as Ginny opened a bottle of wine. She'd brought several.
"It's not as bad as that." I accepted a glass and sipped it. The Harpies had a lot of corporate parties so Ginny had developed a taste for expensive plonk. She'd brought a nice Riesling and quaffed it like beer because she didn't want to get pretentious.
"You've just got out of jail. Wait a bit then tell me being shackled to the Ferret isn't that bad." She shook her head, helping herself to the biscuit barrel. I hadn't baked anything but I had bought fancy shortbread. "Merlin, I'm hungry. Bloody coach had us doing point drills all afternoon."
"Have some curry. There's naan in the bread box." I offered then extended the catering to the rest of my guests. Rolly leapt to bring everyone bowls, which got me a lot of looks. There wasn't anything I could say beyond whinging so I shrugged.
We ate and chatted and flicked through books. Molly reminisced about her vows. She and Arthur had chosen a vernal blessing to invoke a fruitful marriage, about which she smiled fondly until she espied the hamper by the kitchen counter. Her expression changed and she said tightly that perhaps I would prefer something more formal.
Fleur tried to persuade her mother-in-law and sister-in-laws that I wasn't damned to endless misery but they didn't want to hear it. I think she came solely to be the upbeat note in the dirge. Angelina urged me again to leave the country. Facing Malfoy in Quidditch games had convinced her irrevocably that he was a vicious, conniving little shit.
"I think waking up has opened his eyes." Luna mused, meticulously spearing each piece of cauliflower with her fork and examining it critically before eating it. "It's difficult to tell with someone who has been asleep for so long. He may still be lost in the bad dream."
"What rite do you think we should use?" I asked generally while looking at the tranquil blonde.
"Oh, the four elements should do, don't you think? Your fire and earth to his air and water." She stirred her fork in the curry, searching for hidden brassica. "A good balance, and he'll feel properly married."
"Who gives a damn about what he feels?" Ginny put her wine glass down with a pugnacious slam.
"Hermione does." Luna answered simply, more frankly than I would have. Ginny muttered something that might've been 'bloody Veela' then apologised to Fleur.
"Honestly, it's not because of the mating urge." I tried to explain and got four sceptical faces. Even Fleur thought my dislike of Malfoy was being ameliorated by his aura. The more I tried, the more quietly sympathetic they got. No one patted my head and said 'there, there' but that was certainly what it felt like. I diverted the conversation to what I should wear as my current choice was a petulant combo of jeans and a jumper.
That was a tactical error. The levity I'd hoped to inject turned poisonous as the Weasleys collectively decided I was out of my mind. The Hermione Granger they knew would not be distracting herself with fripperies when her liberty was imperilled. I wasn't sure if they expected me to be bitterly drowning my sorrows in Ginny's Riesling while bemoaning my fate as a bride sacrifice or to run amok through the Ministry slinging curses.
I back-pedalled, tried again to explain, made it worse then found myself defaulting to the rationalisation I had used in Azkaban. Better to go on my terms headlong into the fray than to die by inches in a small grey box. More dramatic than I wanted to be but they accepted that as genuinely Hermione. I suppose I should take it as a compliment that they assumed I'd go down kicking and screaming. I'd like to think I'd be a smarter martyr than that.
No one was in the mood to talk about posh frocks least of all me so we finished the wine and the curry talking about politics and how I might rattle the dovecotes. Ginny's suggestions became more and more scatological as the Riesling progressed. Molly took her home after she suggested spiking the Ministry's drinking water with U-No-Poo. Angelina stayed a bit longer to assure me I had friends and one word from me would see Malfoy in St Mungo's.
Fleur was more encouraging. I could mould Malfoy as I wished and one day he would be a worthy spouse. I nodded to that, having said much the same to Ron. I planned to use nagging and stubbornness rather than outright command or the feminine wiles the French witch seemed to assume I had. Her suggestion I get pregnant quickly left me gobsmacked.
"Ze Malfoys love no thing more than family. You saw how they were in ze battle, calling for their son. And you know Narcissa when her son was pining." Fleur's tone held a hint of censure at my refusal to acknowledge my mate-bond with Malfoy. "Have a child with him and you will bind both son and mother to you."
"I'm not going to use my child as a human shield!" I protested. Fleur gave me an unreadable look then took her leave to return to Victoire. Of course her tactic would work. Particularly in the wizarding world. People clung to their heirs. Bill would never leave Fleur and Malfoy would never abandon his child. Narcissa would probably overlook any number of my failings if I gave her a grandchild.
"I don't think you can evade motherhood." Luna remarked, wiping a piece of flat-bread around her bowl.
"I don't think so either." I agreed. "But I can put it off until I've got my life more in order. Hopefully." I sat back in my chair. "If I get a house near a good primary, I could send my nebulous offspring there. Home-schooling and private tutors produce very inconsistent results." It felt good to plan. "A small school, secular. Easier to manage covering up accidental magic."
"If you have a Mastership, you can teach." She popped the bread into her mouth then smiled. "This is very tasty curry. Mixing together disparate ingredients makes something wonderful."
"Good point." I studied her for a moment then nodded. Luna had been Sorted into Ravenclaw for her insight. "I'll think on that."
"You look nice in blue."
The non sequitur made me smile. I did indeed look presentable in most shades of blue. Something in navy or indigo would do. I wasn't going to marry in pure white or celebratory red. I looked up the elemental rite while considering an officiant. While there were many people I would have chosen to perform my wedding ceremony, I didn't want to make any of them bind me to Malfoy. Misery might love company but I didn't want to inflict it on anyone.
Luna had just left when Malfoy returned looking gruntled. He looked so chipper I was immediately suspicious. He eyed the remains of the meal then sat down at the kitchen table with an air of tolerance. I frowned at his gracious disregard of the crumbs and dishes. I got in return a Slytherin smile.
"Alright, I'll ask." I sighed as he was clearly waiting for an inquiry. "What have you done?"
He pulled a small box from his pocket and set it on the table before me. Leather, embossed with a gold crest. Sanctimonia Vincet Semper glittered at me. I opened the little container and beheld a ring. I couldn't just 'see' it. This was bling worthy of a 'behold' or even a 'harken'. A ruby the size of my thumbnail glittered at me set in gold.
"Please tell me you didn't throw your money away on this." I stared, a leaden feeling in my gut.
"I can't buy anything. You control the vaults." Malfoy's indolent posture vanished. He straightened in the chair, his eyes narrowing. "It's an heirloom. I looked for hours to find one in Gryffindor colours. Rare in my family, as you might expect." He frowned when I snapped the box shut. "I thought you'd like it."
"The ring is beautiful." I began. He shook his head, snatching the box back and cutting off my platitudes.
"You're fucking determined to be a martyr." He stuffed the container angrily back into his pocket and stood to leave.
"Sit down!" I ordered. Malfoy sat, glaring bitterly. I took a breath. "Sorry, but you need to listen to me." I apologised for the direct command. He continued to glare. "Thank you for the gift, Draco." I used his first name deliberately. "I appreciate the gesture." I saw his sneer grow. "I do!"
"But you reject it." His feathers were ruffled.
"You can't seriously be bringing shiny baubles to your mate in a courtship display." I boggled at him. He shifted, still glaring but defensive now. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. He would not take that well.
"I don't fucking know how to deal with this." He made an angry gesture between us. "It bites away at me. I notice stupid things. I nearly brought you my favourite scarf." He grimaced. I smiled. I couldn't help myself. He looked like a sad kitten.
We got married on the solstice, at midnight standing in the pool at the foot of the waterfall with bluebell flames lighting the glade. Harry and Ron were there. Narcissa officiated. If she wanted her son married so badly, she could speak the rite herself. Malfoy didn't say much during the ceremony. Most of his attention was on the rocks and the cascade, drinking in the magic. My mind was curiously still. I noticed my feet were cold and the water creeping up the thin fabric of my dress but only incidentally.
Mostly the wedding just sort of happened. We Apparated there. We Apparated back. We broke bread with our witnesses and they toasted us. Then my friends and my mother-in-law left. I sat on the sofa in the undecorated living room and charmed myself dry. The feast was tomorrow. I'd shoved everything on Narcissa as she knew how to organise it far better than I did. The Malfoys had a small castle with a feasting hall because of course they did.
"Do you feel any different?" Draco asked, sitting down beside me.
"Not especially." The rite had been interesting, like a well-balanced equation in Arithmancy. An energy exchange to resolve and compliment our magic. "A bit high, perhaps. I don't know." I didn't feel drained or anything I could describe. "I liked the incantation. Your mother spoke the Ancient Greek perfectly."
"She practised. The ceremony was very important to her." He paused, possibly expecting me to scoff. I didn't. I had a pretty shrewd idea of how far Narcissa would go for her son. "After the rite, it's traditional for the groom to give the bride a gift. It's assumed in reciprocation of her gift to him of her virginity." I gave him an icy stare. He took a deep breath. "After the ring debacle, I put a lot of thought into what to give you."
Malfoy stopped talking. I waited, marshalling a polite acceptance speech for whatever present he'd picked. The thought that counts and so forth. He took another breath then turned his hands palm up to show me he was unarmed. A truce gesture.
"I'm sorry." He said quietly but firmly. "I'm sorry for calling you names and being cruel to you. I'm sorry for making you feel less welcome, less worthy than other witches." He wet his lips, his eyes meeting mine. "I'm sorry that you had to fight people like me to be accepted into society where you rightly belonged, and I'm very sorry that same society has forced you into a life with me."
The quiet stretched between us. I made a decision. I mightn't like Fleur's strategy but her advice was sound. Luna, Hannah and Susan all had a point too. Self-sacrifice didn't necessarily leave you lacking something. If I shed my expectations and embraced this new opportunity in front of me I might achieve far more than I would otherwise. Stepping into the unknown was frightening. But their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.
"I'm not sorry." I said, putting my hands on his. "I'm nervous as Hell. I never expected this. I can adapt, though." I curled my fingers around his and tugged him closer. "Think of it as a journey." I kissed him softly. "Come walk with me?"