Hermione had barely made it home.
May 2nd, Ron had said. It's been one year. Let's celebrate. And they had. They had celebrated until she'd ended up in their bed, wishing the room would stop spinning, dreading the pain the following day would bring.
The sunlight seemed unusually bright and she groaned when it pushed its sharp rays like daggers into her eyes. Ron seemed to be having the same experience and he propped himself up on one elbow, looked at her, and collapsed again. "Did you rob Gringott's again after we got separated?" he asked.
Hermione's only response was to pull the pillow over her head.
"No, really," he said. "Where'd you get that ring?"
Hermione pried open one eye and peered out from under her hiding place with some confusion at the giant diamond sitting incongruously on her index finger. It glittered. It winked. It was big enough you could probably use it to kill a man. She had no idea where she'd gotten it. "Dunno," she said. "When I feel less like dying, I'll figure it out and get it back to whoever handed it to me."
"Bet she's freaking out she lost her ring," Ron said. "Whoever she is."
Hermione turned over under her pillow and went back to sleep. Mystery rings could wait until she didn't have this Merlin-be-damned hangover.
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco Malfoy drank the third dose of hangover potion and, at last, felt better. May 2nd, Blaise had said. That bastard's been dead a year. We should celebrate.
And they had. They'd gone from pub to pub all night until they'd ended up in one with Harry Potter and his band of misfits. The tiny Weasley girl had waved at Blaise and before Draco could object they'd all been seated at the same table, drinking pitcher after pitcher of not very good ale enjoying the temporary comradeship of the very pissed. Neville Longbottom had gotten on the table and sung the Hogwarts anthem. Dean Thomas had done a mock broadcast of their little underground radio and had everyone laughing. Hermione Granger had gone to the loo and come back to no open seats and ended up on his lap.
That, Draco thought, was the best way he could explain how very, very drunk they'd all been. He didn't even like Granger, for all he had a certain grudging admiration for her cleverness and a newfound appreciation for the scent of her hair. More, he knew she hated him. But when he'd patted his lap and said, "Just put your pretty arse here, Granger," she had.
They'd been terribly, absurdly drunk, all of them. It was the only explanation.
"Draco," his mother's voice carried up the stairs. "Could you come here a moment?"
He changed to clean trousers and considered that he really needed to find a flat in town where his mother, as much as he loved her, couldn't interrupt a man's hangover or his attempts to recall what he'd done after the lap sitting incident. He was pretty sure he'd invited Granger to join him for ice cream, and they'd gone staggering down the street to pound on the locked door of Flortescue's, laughing. After that it was a bit of a blur.
"Draco!" His mother sounded more insistent this time.
He found her, along with his father, in the second library, the one with the Malfoy family tree painted on the wall. The Blacks had their tapestries. The Malfoys had a mural, though 'mural' didn't begin to explain the magical charm of the thing. Each name was written in the witch's or wizard's own handwriting. He'd loved to study the looping curls of the antique penmanship when he'd been little, and would stand on chairs to read the older names. His own had shifted to his blocky letters as soon as he could write, and he'd see his name change over the years from a child's awkward scrawl to the neat letters his governess had insisted he learn to make.
"Perhaps you could explain this," his mother said, and pointed to his name, joined now by a neat line to 'Hermione Granger.'
Draco blinked a few times.
"Have you called in a repair-witch?" he asked.
His parents exchanged one of those parental glances that suggested they thought their child was not catching on quite quickly enough.
"Nothing is wrong with the magic, son," Lucius said. "Do you have something you need to tell us about last night?"
"I assure you," Narcissa said, "We'd not… all we care about is your happiness."
The words sounded a bit rehearsed and, while Draco was impressed they were both willing to accept a marriage as disastrous as one to a Muggle-born who hated him would be, the idea was ludicrous so he dismissed his mother's effort with, "This doesn't make sense."
They exchanged another one of those looks.
"It would seem," Lucius said, rather slowly, "that in addition to getting foully drunk last night, you somehow went through a marriage bonding ceremony with Miss Granger."
"Not possible," Draco said, though the horrible, hazy recollection of the pair of them chatting up some old witch in an alley behind Fortescue's bubbled to the top of his brain.
"Very much possible," Narcissa said.
"Then I'll get it… undone," Draco said. "I'll go over there and tell her about this and we'll just go and undo it."
Another parental look.
"That is probably not possible," Lucius said. He sounded rather amused now and that began to push Draco into a sullen fit exacerbated by the return of his pounding headache.
"I don't even like the stupid, ugly Mudblood," he said as ungraciously as he could. "But she was the best student in our year, better at magic than you ever were, and she'll hate this as much as I do. She'll find a way to erase it."
And, with that, he stormed out the door of the library.
Lucius looked at Narcissa again, trying to control the way his own head had begun to pound. "I do hope he doesn't call her that to her face," he said. "That might not go over well."
"The stupid girl who is better at magic than we ever were," Narcissa said. She sat down and began to laugh. "I suppose it's cruel not to tell him that marriage bonding spells only work between people who have a genuine connection, or what will happen as soon as they touch."
"Boy just stomped out in a fit of rage," Lucius said. "I find I'm a bit peeved with him. Let him find that out the hard way."
Narcissa made what sounded like a very unladylike snicker.
. . . . . . . . . .
Hermione thanked Kreacher for the tea and pushed the book away. She and Draco had been going through every book on marriage bonds in the not inconsiderable Black library and, though quite a few books were damaged beyond repair, the ones they'd been able to read all said the same thing.
"We were drunk," Draco said desperately. "How can you consent to a permanent magical bond when you're so pissed you can barely stand upright?"
Hermione closed her eyes and tried to erase the memory of reading how magical bonds of this sort, the sort that would show up on one of those ancient pureblood family trees, could only be formed between willing participants who had a true connection. She didn't even like Draco Malfoy. He was an arrogant, cowardly human being, as close to a racist as made no difference, and she was the race he hated. Oh, he was clever, she'd give him that, and resourceful, and war had matured the tilt of his pointed jaw to something resembling attractive, but he was still Malfoy.
"Didn't matter," she said. "Or has your pureblooded brain already forgotten the cautionary tale of Clarice Selwyn?"
Clarice's parents had decided to force a marriage between her and a Crabbe she didn't like, if by 'didn't like' one meant 'had threatened to forcibly geld'. They'd planned to do this by drugging her to the point of insensibility so she'd wake up married and have to make the best of it. Hermione was pretty sure, if the historical accounts of Clarice were at all accurate, that 'the best of it' would have involved murder, but it hadn't come to that because the magic had refused to take. The pair had no true connection and no amount of intoxicants could hide that. The rest of the wedding ceremony had gone badly.
"I hate to interrupt whatever odd little fantasies you're having," Draco said, "but I don't feel anything approaching true love for you. You're smart, and brave, and very pretty, but I don't like you."
"Well, I don't want to be married to you, either," she snapped. "But I'm not seeing a solution here."
"The Malfoy library," Draco said. "It's got more books, in better condition." He poked at the moldy tome he's been reading last. "We'll find an answer there."
That glimmer of hope made his eyes sparkle, Hermione thought. The grey seemed to come to life. She hesitated, however. Malfoy Manor held only bad memories. The worst memories.
Draco seemed to read her thoughts. "I could bring the books here," he suggested. "I could see how being in… that might not be the place you'd like to spend your Monday."
"This is already the worst Monday ever," Hermione said. "I think I can endure Malfoy Manor."
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco didn't think much of Hermione's honesty. From the moment they apparated to the gate and began walking up the drive, she nearly shook with fear. He didn't blame her. He still avoided certain rooms, and this had been his home the whole of his life and he had good memories to balance out the bad. All she had was being tortured. "I won't leave your side," he said as they reached the door. "It'll be fine."
The wan face she turned toward him wasn't filled with gratitude for that offer but she didn't quite spit on him either. "Wonderful," was all she said. "I'm sure your presence will help tremendously."
He held the door for her, led her to the main library, spread books out on the table. They read for hours. The elves brought them lunch. The elves brought them dinner. At last, they gave up.
"So," Hermione said. "Married."
"Forever," Draco said, glumly as he watched the way the setting sun came in through the window and turned all her curls into a riot of different shades of gold and brown. "You and me."
Hermione pushed her chair back. "We can live separate lives," she said. "It doesn't have to change anything."
"Enforced, magical fidelity," Draco said.
She sagged a little and looked down at the giant ring he'd somehow gotten her. He hoped he'd paid for it. Some parts of their wedding night remained a mystery to both of them. "This is tacky," she said. "Too big."
"And it doesn't fit right," Draco said. He reached out to touch the ring, planning to say he'd get her something more to her taste, or that she didn't have to wear it. It wasn't like he cared if she wore his ring. His finger brushed over the back of her hand and they both jolted back.
Hermione's eyes went wide and he swallowed hard and tried to ignore the way his cock had just sprung to attention and was demanding he do something about that now, now, now. "What was that?" she asked.
"I touched your hand," Draco said.
The look she gave him was scathing.
"I don't bloody well know," he said. "Was there anything in the books?"
The sun had set and they were on their third pot of tea when she finally found a passing reference to the way touch reinforced the bond, eliciting sexual desire. "It will fade," she said, sounding a bit desperate. "I think. It's supposed to make the honeymoon more… honeymoon-like, but in a few months we'll be able to touch without - "
"Right," Draco said. "It won't matter. We'll go our separate ways and just… be."
"Right," Hermione said. They regarded one another in the dark room, lit now only by the few lanterns they'd brought to the table where they'd worked. "A lifetime of just… being."
Draco thought he should be pleased to discover there were worse fates than being married to Hermione Granger. He wasn't.
"Shall I walk you out?" he asked.
She nodded stiffly, her hair bobbing about her face, and stood up. "That would be very thoughtful," she said.
He set a hand across the small of her back to help steer her toward the door. It was just a simple, courteous gesture. It didn't mean anything. He surely hadn't done it on purpose.
She gasped at the touch and stopped walking. "Maybe just once," she said into the silence and then they were devouring one another.
"Twice," she said afterward, when he lay next to her on the oriental rug, his trousers over a chair, his pants still clinging to one ankle. "If we did it once, twice isn't much worse."
"Three times?" he asked after that, his face still between her legs.
"Three times," she agreed.
. . . . . . . . . .
Narcissa examined her nails as Lucius brushed out his hair. "How long do you think they held out?" she asked him.
"By dinner they still hadn't touched," he said.
"Impressive," Narcissa said. "Of course, they also are still in the library and it's three in the morning."
"I have a feeling they've touched by now," Lucius said.
Narcissa controlled a snicker.
. . . . . . . . . .
Hermione sat in the flat she still insisted was too lavish and rubbed a hand across her belly. "I hate this," she said.
Draco handed her a glass of water.
"I hate this, and I hate you, and this is all your fault," she said.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"My hands are swollen," she said. "My feet are swollen. I can't wear my ring, I can't drink alcohol, I can't - "
"I'm sorry," Draco said again.
"It was only seven times," Hermione said. "How could I have gotten pregnant that first night when we just - "
"Might have been the next day," Draco said. "We had more energy then."
Hermione shook her head. "We were looking for a flat the next day," she said. "Because I said I wasn't living in the Manor."
"You were tortured there," Draco agreed.
"And your mother is too cheerful over breakfast," Hermione said. Narcissa had been very cheerful over breakfast the morning following their day of research. She hadn't asked once why, exactly, Hermione was still in the house, or where she'd slept, or what all the red marks on her neck were. Instead, she'd asked Hermione bright question about her work and did she have opinions about politics and had she been to the Creevy photography exhibit that had just opened? Hermione would have been grateful for the unexpected acceptance if she hadn't been so tired. So very, very tired.
"We did end up christening every room in this place," Draco said. They'd signed a lease on the first place he'd deemed acceptable, the elves had moved in a bed from a spare room at the Manor, and they'd fallen into instant, deep sleep, wrapped around one another as if they couldn't ever get enough.
He still couldn't get enough though, as the magic had faded, that had been due less to raw lust and more to the grudging admission that being smart and pretty and brave were things he rather admired. He'd set out to woo her properly, seven years of misery to undo, and if the lust helped, so do the way he'd wrap his arms around her and listen - really listen - to her talk about what it had been like to be part of the despised minority and what he'd done to make that worse.
Ron knocked but, as usual, didn't wait for them to answer before he opened the door. "Hermione," he said. "Aren't you in labor yet? Merlin, you're as big as a house. You waddle."
"Fuck you," she muttered. Ron looked smug. He'd laughed himself sick when he'd found out she'd gone and gotten married to Malfoy. He'd been less amused when he discovered it wasn't reversible, and downright angry when he realized she meant to go through with it. A brief span of true ugliness had ended when Ron had discovered a side benefit to being a single war hero was adulation at the hands of young, pretty women. A lot of young, pretty women.
"You still plan to name the poor kid Scorpius?" Ron asked. "Because if you ask me, that's downright cruel. I mean, I'll still be the godfather, but that name. Why?"
Hermione glared at him.
Ron raised his hands in laughing defeat. "Not that anyone asked me," he said.
Draco sat down and began to rub Hermione's swollen feet. "I love you," he said.
She huffed out a grouchy sigh and then sagged and admitted, "Marrying you wasn't the worst thing I've ever done."
"Is she always this gracious?" Ron asked as he flung himself down in one of their comfortable chairs and proceeded to make himself at home.
"You were friends longer," Draco said. "You tell me."
"Yep," Ron said. "Always this gracious."
. . . . . . . . .
A/N - For the amazing and wonderful LadiePhoenix, the kindest person in all of fandom. Get well, my friend!