"You're serious?" Pansy narrowed her eyes and looked at Hermione as she waited for the trick. "You'll let me plan the Easter Cotillion? The whole thing?"
"I don't want to do it," Hermione said. "And Draco has become obsessed with some project he's working on with a broken Vanishing Cabinet. You'd think it was a matter of life or death the way he spends all his time sending apples through that thing." She shrugged. "I mean, if you don't want to, let me know and I'll - "
"No!" Pansy almost shrieked before Hermione could take her offer away. "I can do teapots pouring out flowers as centerpieces and white rabbits on all the tables and it will be brilliant - brilliant - and you'll just mangle it the same way you do your shoe choices!"
Hermione tried to contain her hurumph of irritation. She knew she should take points from Pansy for the extremely-out-of-dress-code heels the girl had on but she was torn between her admiration that Pansy could even walk in them and her responsibility as Head Girl and admiration had won. She still didn't like having her own practical, comfortable shoes maligned. "Why do you care so much?" she asked. "It's just another dance."
"It's such an important event," Pansy said. Hermione sighed. The condescending tone meant Pansy was about to lecture. "Well, it used to be. Now it's nothing but a dance, you're right, but it used to be the day you flaunted your promise rings and let everyone know you weren't doomed to be some old maid who'd have to become a school teacher or healer or politician or some dreadful, peasanty thing like that."
Hermione decided not to pursue Pansy's assessment of medicine as a career for peasants and instead focused on what was a promise ring. Pansy held out her own hand that had a tiny diamond solitaire on it. "It's not an engagement ring, it's the ring saying you will be engaged as soon as you graduate."
"You're engaged?" Hermione asked in stupefaction. As far as she had been able to determine, the whole of Pansy's social life was staring at Cho from afar and buying shoes. How had she spent enough time with someone to have a relationship? "Or engaged to be engaged or whatever that thing means?"
"As if," Pansy said. "It's my promise to myself not to marry some penis-toting moron no matter how much my mother clutches at her pearls and wails I'll be a failure in life and she'll never have grandchildren and why do I hate her so." She smiled slyly at Hermione. "Lots of parents show up for the brunch the following day. It's a good time. You can meet my mother."
Hermione failed to see why she should be subjected to a pearl-clutching wailer and was about to say so when Pansy added, "And Draco's."
Hermione stared at the tiny ring in horror as she followed where Pansy led. "They're super conservative, aren't they?"
"Ask Draco to recite his genealogy sometime," Pansy said as way of an answer. "I made him stop when he'd reached his great-great-great grandparents but he could have kept going. They socialize with the Goyles and that crowd."
"Shite," Hermione said.
"I'll make sure we're at the same table," Pansy said with glee. "This is going to be so much fun."
. . . . . . . . . .
"Darling." Narcissa Malfoy's hand reached out across the table, picked up a croissant without looking, and retreated back behind the copy of The Daily Prophet the woman was reading. "Have you looked at this yet today?"
Lucius preferred to drink only coffee in the morning, unsweetened, and he was sipping at his daily cup of nearly toxic brew as he sat at the table with his wife. "No," he said. "You have, as usual, stolen it."
The thief in question folded up the paper and slid it across the table to him. "I think you should, at least the editorial section."
Lucius picked the wretched rag up and opened it, expecting to read another bit of idiocy singing the praises of one of Dumbledore's darlings. Last week it had been a piece suggesting all traditional magical practices utilized sacrificial kittens or some such nonsense. The logic had been poor and Lucius had cast it aside before finishing it lest he be tempted to write a rebuttal. That would just bring the Ministry's Committee for Dark Magic Eradication to his doorstep again, as if his great grandmother's grimoire were harboring the secret to raising armies of undead soldiers instead of recipes for better hiccough cures and how to ease the pains of childbirth. His eyes widened when he saw the title of the article Narcissa surely had in mind. The Case for Traditional Methodology. The writer, a name he'd never heard, boldly suggested that Hogwarts was remiss in not offering classes on the very practices the Ministry was trying to eradicate.
"Who is this?" he asked Narcissa. "Whoever this is, she just scuttled any chance of a job or influence; unless she's a Muggle-born she's ruined her life, and how would a Muggle-born even learn about Samhain in Dumbledore's Hogwarts?"
Narcissa took a dainty sip of tea.
"You know something," Lucius said. He didn't know why he was surprised. Narcissa always knew something.
"I know she sometimes has difficult monthlies," Narcissa said, "and that she appreciates good chocolate."
Lucius set the paper down and studied his wife. Her smile became more self-satisfied than that of a cat who'd gotten into a bowl of heavy cream and finished that treat off with a canary. "She's Head Girl," Narcissa said at last. "She and Draco know one another fairly well, I'd say. Not, perhaps, everyone pretending not to notice how large that premature baby is well, but well enough."
"Well enough he's told her about Samhain?" Lucius frowned. "If anyone got wind he still kept traditional celebrations he could be painted as a Dark wizard. That could have ruined his career."
"Or made it," Narcissa said. "A politician with a Muggle-born wife who embraces traditional customs?" Her smile got even more pleased with itself. "I think she's a little get-out-of-Azkaban card in that regard. As you mentioned, no one can accuse the Muggle-born Head Girl of having any kind of conservative, Grindelwald-ish agenda or, worse, being in league with that cretinous so-called Lord Voldemort. Who better to stave off the slow creep of Ministry oversight than a man with a Muggle-born wife? And preferably at least one adorable half-blood toddler."
Lucius set the paper down and picked up his coffee again. He did have the most brilliant wife imaginable. He wasn't even surprised when the morning owl brought a letter from Draco asking whether they could plan a shopping trip together in Diagon Alley before the Easter Cotillion.
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco didn't understand why people were snickering at him until Theo, his face a study in neutrality, handed him a copy of The Daily Prophet. He read Hermione's lengthy, detailed, annotated, footnoted opinion piece on why Hogwarts should be teaching traditional magical customs with growing horror.
"Now turn to page three," Theo said. His hands shaking, Draco did what his friend suggested and there he stared at the photograph. Someone had sent the Prophet a photo of him, his arm around Hermione, as they both laughed at some joke. 'Is a mud vessel the best way to contain a dragon's fire?' the caption under the photograph asked. 'Head Boy and heir to the Malfoy fortune, Draco Malfoy, is getting serious with activist Muggle-born, Hermione Granger. See her article advocating a return to traditional, long decried, magical customs in the opinion section.'
"Done," Draco whispered. "I'm done for." He looked down at the picture of the pair of them and saw his hopes for a political future evaporate. He was already the son of a man accused - though never convicted - of crimes and now he was publicly linked with a woman one step away from being branded a Dark witch. Samhain scared people after Grindelwald and Voldemort and his girlfriend had announced in the paper the school should be teaching it to children. He turned the pages back to her article. 'We cannot allow fear of past monsters to cut us off from a rich magical heritage,' she'd written.
"It's not that I don't think she's right," Theo said as Draco turned back to the photograph. Theo stopped speaking and Draco turned to see the very right, very impolitic witch coming up to them. "Granger," Theo said then, looking at Draco, he muttered, "I have to go do… something," and fled.
Hermione looked at the photograph, read the caption, and Draco watched her shoulders tense. "Mud vessel?" she asked in a hurt whisper. She took a step backward and he saw something glitter at the corner of her eye. "Well," she said. "That seems a little rude." Her voice shook a bit but she didn't break. "What else can one expect from the Prophet, though."
Draco thought about his dreams of being the youngest Minister in history and looked at the woman holding herself with great care at his side and took a deep breath. "Hermione," he said.
"I was… it would have been far more romantic to have gone on a walk and done this the proper way. I've asked my father to take me shopping for…but I don't have it yet, and… would you, uh, consent to wear my, uh, ring?" By the end of the stammered sentence he was staring down at her feet and wondering if Pansy had loaned her the very sharp black pumps she had on because they seemed a little more polished than the practical shoes she usually wore.
"A promise… the thing people show off at the Easter Cotillion… are you sure?" Hermione sounded absolutely dumbfounded.
"Well, it would have been classier to have waited to have the ring in hand," Draco muttered, "So I wouldn't fault you for waiting to see it before you decide, but," he swallowed hard and continued. "I do mean it. And I planned on asking you before…that." He pointed to the photograph with the cruelly phrased speculation. "But it seemed like maybe - "
She grabbed him and then engaged in a display he knew she would normally deem inappropriate. Wildly inappropriate.
He hoped the same arsehole who'd taken a shot of them on the sly and sent it to the Prophet got an eyeful of this.
. . . . . . . . . . .
"Honestly, Pans," Theo said. "This is getting old."
The pair of them were sitting with Neville in the Quidditch stands watching Cho Chang fly yet again. Rather, Pansy was watching Cho and Theo and Neville were engaging in one of the public snogging bouts that made Hermione mental. Pansy crossed her arms and tapped her high heel against the wooden floor boards of the rickety stand and glowered at the pair of them. "And what should I do?" she demanded.
"Ask her out?" Neville suggested. "What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Pansy gave him a look that implied her opinion of his intelligence had just dropped. "I," she said, "am not one of you rush-in-where-nargles-fear-to-tread Gryffindors. I like to be cautious."
"Coward," Neville said. "Just wave her down and ask her to the Cotillion."
"The Cotillion?" Pansy said. "For a first date?" She snorted as if the utter social faux pas of that was the problem, not her abject terror at having the object of her crush turn her down. It was just that Cho had such fabulous taste. Most Hogwarts students dressed as badly as Draco's Granger with jumpers that should be binned and shoes that left practical behind and sank all the way into ugly. More, Cho had the body to wear her taste, thanks to all that Quidditch. Pansy leaned on the edge of the stand and sighed as Cho flung herself after the Snitch and all she could think was how much better those Quidditch leathers looked on Cho than they ever had on Draco. She had the best smile, and a cute little brown owl that brought her mail, and Pansy had overheard her getting into an argument with another Ravenclaw about the importance of having printed invitations set the entire tone of a social event, and she was just perfect.
Pansy slouched and was about to just give up and admit she'd never have the bravado to approach Cho when Neville hooted and waved and caught the girl's attention.
"What are you doing?" Pansy hissed as Cho flew over to them but both boys smirked at her as they flew down the stairs.
"Just ask her out," Theo yelled up and Pansy turned back from their retreating forms to find herself face to face with Cho.
"Hey," she said, cursing how she could be utterly poised and together with anyone else but not the one girl she'd like to impress.
"Those are nice heels," Cho said.
Pansy glanced down at her feet and admitted to herself that they really were nice, even by her standards.
"They'd look good on your floor," she said.
Cho looked startled for a moment and then her gorgeous, wide smile lit her face. "Or up around your ears," she suggested.
Pansy decided that while it might be tacky beyond measure to take someone to the Easter Cotillion as a first date - honestly, it was as if Neville had been raised by a vulture or something, he was so clueless about the way normal people behaved - but if you had already exploited Hogwarts' antiquated rules about how boys couldn't go into the girls' dorms but other girls certainly could, than it probably didn't count as a first date and thus was completely fine.
. . . . . . . . .
After the blood incident at the Yule Ball, Hermione had been wary of wearing white again. It seemed like tempting fate. Pansy had laughed at her plans to wear red and gold as a nod to her house colours. "Are you trying to look literally like a scarlet woman?" she'd asked and at Hermione's confused, babbling response, had groaned, gotten a pass from Dumbledore, and hauled Hermione and Cho to London to shop for robes.
Cho and Pansy were, Hermione had to admit, well matched. They both had ridiculously fervent opinions on fashion and could both walk in shoes that looked more like torture devices than footwear. Cho admitted over what Pansy had said would be tea and which turned out to be ale ("they're both liquid, close enough for Ministry work") that she used some floating charms akin to what you'd find on brooms to take some of the weight off.
Now, as Hermione put on the vintage white dress with a pink overlay she had to admit Pansy had been right. She looked ethereal and innocent and lovely and exactly like the girl you'd take home to mother. She glanced down at the ring on her hand. Draco had come back from a shopping trip with his father and fumbled with the box and almost dropped it in the lake before he'd gotten it open and said it was a bit silly to be nervous now that she'd already said yes but he was anyway and would she wear his little ring to the Cotillion.
Draco's definition of a 'little' promise ring made her suspect any actual engagement ring would be on the order of 'you could take someone's eye out with that!' Three diamonds, only two of them things she would have called 'little', sat atop a thin gold band. It was delicate and perfect and amazing but she suspected she'd have the most impressive bauble at the dance though, of course, as Pansy had pointed out only the most conservative and traditional families still treated the affair as a place where intentions were made public.
Hermione was pretty sure the day her picture laughing with Draco had appeared in the Prophet their relationship had been made a lot more public than she liked. If she ever found out who had sent that photograph to the paper they'd be sorry. If she ever got a moment alone with the muckraking, unethical reporter who'd run it with the vulgar, speculative caption, well, that 'Rita Skeeter' would get a piece of her mind. She'd already decided if there was a shred of dirt on that woman anywhere, she, Hermione Granger, researcher extraordinaire, would find it and ruin the filthy trollop.
She gave her hair one last pat, set aside her thoughts of vengeance, and pushed the door of her room open and found Draco waiting for her in the common room. "You look beautiful," he said. She flushed a little. She still wasn't accustomed to being thought of as the pretty girl but she'd decided she could get used to it. It wasn't as if he didn't think she was clever as well; that afternoon's study group with Theo had made his appreciation of her intelligence clear when he'd groaned, dropped his head to the table with an audible thunk, and muttered at least he was the pretty one in their partnership because he clearly wasn't the smart one. The application of runes she'd come up with, she thought, had been pretty good.
"I like the rabbit," he said, touching a small white pin she'd set into the waistband of the dress.
"Nod to Beltane," she said. Dumbledore had commented on her opinion piece in the Prophet. He'd suggested with a twinkle in his eye that she was naive and didn't understand the history of how Dark wizards had used traditional magic as their springboard for corruption. He'd suggested she stick to children's stories in the future. "You controlled the curriculum, Headmaster," she'd said. "If I don't know the history, perhaps that's because you've attempted to erase it."
She hadn't cited Muggle literature at him about he who controls the past controls the future. She suspected he was well aware of the sentiment, if not the exact quote. It did explain why the history at Hogwarts was so painfully dull, taught by a lecturing ghost guaranteed to make most students fall into either sleep or numb resignation.
Draco ran his thumb along her mouth. "You," he said with resignation, "are the worst politician's wife ever."
She smiled at him, a little uncertainly, until he tugged her up against him and she muttered not to crush the chiffon as he kissed her. "But you're perfect for me," he said against her mouth. "My brilliant, beautiful, unstoppable, perfect Hermione."
. . . . . . . . . .
Pansy had outdone herself at the Cotillion. Flowers twined up columns and Hermione kept thinking she saw spring songbirds darting around the ceiling. Pansy had cast illusions on the tables to make them seem as if each had a pool in the center with one or two yellow ducklings splashing and making peeping noises. The effect was so good Hermione had to ask Draco in a whisper whether they were real because she was gripped by a momentary concern for unsanitary duck feces near the food.
Draco cast a finite on one at their table and it resolved down into a rubber duck. "All glamours," he said.
"Don't ruin them!" Pansy said as she flung herself into a chair next to Hermione. Cho laughed and re-charmed the rubber back into fluff and the duckling peeped in illusory protest until Cho returned it to the pool. Pansy smirked at them in delight at her new girlfriend's talents and demanded they agree with her that Cho was simply the best. Cho rewarded the praise with a kiss that made Hermione sink lower into her chair. Was no one capable of restraining themselves in public?
A glance over at Neville and Theo suggested that no, no one was. She caught sight of Blaise and Ginny and cringed. She really should go tell them to break it up because there were limits.
That excellent and responsible decision was thwarted by the arrival of two of her least favorite students who eyed the kissing Pansy and Cho with a look that made Hermione want to shove blunt objects into their testicles.
"Cool," Greg Goyle said as Vincent Crabbe leered behind him. "Lesbians! Can we watch?"
Hermione had her hand on her wand but before she could draw it Cho broke off the kiss and, without raising her voice, said, "Ask again and I'll hang you upside down from the ceiling and shove snakes in your mouth." It was clear that Cho meant every pleasantly spoken word.
Greg looked uncomfortably at Draco as if he expected his fellow Slytherin and the Head Boy to do something about Cho's threat but Draco just seemed to be holding back laughter. "Fine," Greg muttered. "Laugh, arsehole. You're the one dating a Mudblood."
Cho gasped and covered her mouth with her hands and all eyes flicked back and forth from Draco to Hermione. Hermione had her hand on her wand, ready to draw it and unleash any number of spells that were quite off limits, but Draco stopped her. "I know you can handle him," he said softly, "but would you allow me to do it instead?"
Hermione let go of her wand and Draco leaned over toward Greg. "Say it again," he invited, " and I'll hex you so you can't ever get hard again." Greg paled and a slow, cruel smile spread across Draco's face. "Don't think I can't. Do we understand one another?"
Greg gulped and looked over at the refreshments table. "Cupcakes," he said with desperate eagerness before he fled, Vincent at his heels.
"Not that much of a threat," Pansy scoffed as she watched the retreating pair. "It's not like his prick gets attention from anyone other than himself anyway." Cho almost choked on her laughter and the tension softened.
"What was that all about?"
Ron still hadn't forgiven Hermione for betraying Gryffindor and consorting with a Quidditch enemy in the form of Draco Malfoy. He liked Greg Goyle even less, however, and was always happy to see the a man he called 'the gormless lump' put to flight.
"Greg needs his mouth washed out with soap," Cho said to the group that had joined them and stood at the edge of the table, dyed carnations pinned to lapels and dresses. Cho and Pansy exchanged a look that shared their view of the flowers Harry and Ron had gotten for, and from, their girlfriends but for once Pansy didn't say anything.
"Many soaps are toxic," Luna said. Hermione glanced at the blonde girl with irritated resignation. She and Harry had started dating, or something, during the winter and that meant that not only did she have to put up with Lavender Brown clinging to Ron, there was now also Luna, who wandered about with vacant eyes saying absurd things that everyone pretended made sense or were at all relevant to the conversation. She'd added a radish to her blue carnation corsage and Hermione wasn't even surprised.
"All the better," Cho said. "Hi Looney."
Harry stiffened at the perceived insult but Luna just said, "Hi lesbian Cho. I'm glad you and Pansy finally stopped staring at one another and started having actual sex. You were making my head ache." She leaned to Ron and said. "Unresolved sexual tension gives me migraines."
Lavender's brittle smile became even more tight as she saw the ring Hermione wore sparkle in the light. "Is that a promise ring?" she asked.
Hermione nodded and Ron let out a huff of disgust. "Do people still do that?" he demanded. "I thought promise rings had gone out with hoops and waiting for marriage."
"Yes," Lavender said. "Some people still do that." She slammed her beaded bag down on the table and muttered, "Not you, obviously, but some people," before stomping off toward the toilet.
"What was that all about?" Ron demanded.
"My head hurts," Luna said.
. . . . . . . . . .
Brunch came far too soon the next morning. Draco had kept Hermione up until it was no longer late but was instead early as they took advantage of their private dorms. They might have not technically needed contraceptive charms, but Draco had cast one anyway just in case.
Bleary-eyed, Hermione stared into the mirror and tried to find and hide the red marks her enthusiastic partner had strewn about her neck. At Pansy's insistence, she had purchased a white suit that was conservative and pretty and just the thing for meeting your boyfriend's traditionalist parents, but it didn't provide a lot of neck coverage. She decided to add a scarf just in case the glamours didn't hold up.
When they joined the Malfoys at the table which Pansy had indeed decorated with teapots pouring out spring flowers, Hermione was pleased to see that Pansy had not led her astray in her choice of attire. Narcissa Malfoy had on a very similar suit. Draco kissed his mother's cheek and shook his father's hand and introduced Hermione to both of them with an attitude that wouldn't have been out of place on a small child showing off the first prize ribbon that he had won at the fair.
Narcissa asked Hermione what she planned to do after leaving school and Hermione was forced to admit that she doesn't have any specific plans. "I was considering researching and writing a book on traditional magical practices," she said. She cast a slightly guilty look at Draco. "I'm not sure, however, given what Draco –"
"Ah, yes," Lucius said. "I read your article in the Prophet and was most impressed. As I'm sure you can guess, I am quite in agreement with your argument."
Hermione fiddled with her napkin and took some time to spread it across her lap, then took a sip from her water glass and then set the goblet down on the table with care. At last she said, "I am afraid that I might have hurt Draco's chances for some of the positions for which he has been applying. Perhaps I shouldn't have –"
"Nonsense," Narcissa said. Never dim your own light to advance the career of any man." She patted her husband on the arm and he beamed down at her. "Not even one you adore," she added.
Hermione flashed a wan smile at Narcissa and let the woman direct the conversation. Somehow, by the time the cheesecake had appeared she has agreed to help with not one, not two, but three charitable organizations with which the woman was involved. "We always need additional brilliant women to help us," Narcissa said. "Charitable work is an excellent way to develop your leadership skills," she continued and while Hermione agreed in theory, she had the suspicion she had just been railroaded by a master manipulator.
"Now that that is settled," Narcissa said as she set her fork down and patted her lips with her napkin, "please do tell me that you will join us for our family Beltane celebration."
Hermione threw a panicked look at Draco. She remembered Pansy and Theo talking about how traditional Beltane celebrations tended to involve sex in the fields and she had the horrible fear that she had just been invited to an orgy by this lovely woman with her immaculately coiffed blonde hair and her perfect suit and her very large diamond ring. Narcissa saw the look and said smoothly, "We generally light a bonfire behind the house, sing some traditional songs and toss a few seeds as a symbolic wish for a fruitful year into the flames before retreating back to the house for drinks and themed desserts."
Hermione tried to control her relief. "That would be lovely," she said. "Thank you so much for inviting me."
Draco looked up annoyance as an owl appeared and dropped some mail on to his plate. "I thought they weren't supposed to deliver this morning," he muttered. "Pansy will be so upset they've spoiled her perfect event."
Pansy, for all that she had said that she would make sure she was at the same table as Hermione and Draco's parents, was not to be seen. She had been running hither and yon all morning trying to ensure that everything went as she had planned.
"Are you going to open it," Hermione asked and, with a shrug, Draco ripped open the envelope.
He read the note first one time, and then again as if he could not believe it. He turned to Hermione, his eyes shining, and said, "I got it!" He passed her the note and she read it, holding it so that his mother could read it as well.
Dear Mr. Malfoy. We are pleased to offer you the position of clerk for the Wizengamot during the upcoming year. We were very impressed by your application but, more, we were impressed that you (and your lovely significant other) are unafraid to take a stand against prevailing popular opinion. So many young wizards are only willing to make safe and uncontroversial choices and that is not possible in a true leader. Please let us know by the end of Friday whether you wish to accept the position.
Narcissa made undignified squealing sound which she quickly covered by taking a sip of her water. Lucius coughed and then said, "I'm so proud of you, son."
Hermione engaged in a display that she would have condemned and any other student, especially since it was in front of parents. Neither they nor Draco, however, seemed to object.
A flock of doves burst into the air behind them right as Draco whispered, "I love you," into Hermione's ear.
"Dammit, Greg," they heard Pansy screaming. "You've ruined everything! The doves were supposed to go free when Dumbledore makes his speech about everyone going forth into new lives! Why is no one competent but me?!"
She was of course only too good for him; but… nobody minds having what is too good for them. ~ Jane Austen
~ finis ~