Most of the ceremony passed in a daze. Hermione walked down the aisle surrounded by so many impossibly out-of-season Easter lilies the air felt heavy with their scent. They pressed in on her as she passed people she despised and people who despised her. Draco waited, inevitable black dress robes a solid thing to grab with her eyes and hold on to like a lifeline. She could feel the diamonds at her ears and the diamonds on her wrist. When he slipped the ring on her finger it gave her another glittering shackle. When they kissed to seal the magic and the vows and the bonds, she could feel the fire of the spell burn through her. It left light instead of ash in its wake. She was the burning star. She was the enchantment. She held his hand to proceed back up the aisle and out and when his fingers tightened around hers it was the first real thing in the whole ceremony. She leaned against him when they were briefly free, out of the heady, suffocating ball room with its flowers and audience.
"You okay?" he asked.
Before she could answer, Narcissa pressed a champagne flute into her hands. "Those bonding spells can linger," she said. "This will clear your head."
Hermione was fairly sure no one had ever suggested champagne for that before, but she took a quick sip and almost sneezed as the bubbles tickled her nose. And then the crowds were on them and it was receiving line time. Someone had the sense to open a window and cold air blew in but it was the only refreshing gift to be had. Person after person paraded by her, squeezing her hand and simpering that it was just so lovely to see this sort of thing. You knew the war was over when love that crossed class boundaries like this was a thing you could celebrate. At least three people congratulated Lucius on his open mindedness in her hearing. She'd have expected him to agree, and perhaps he did with the first one. By the third he was looking at the well-wisher with undisguised contempt. "She's a Malfoy," he said as if he were wondering whether he needed to use smaller words to convey her new-found superiority to whatever trash had presumed to condescend.
"Well." Hermione found herself face to face with Alecto Carrow. She took a rapid swallow of her champagne but it didn't help. The sour-faced woman didn't disappear. Pity. She'd hoped maybe the sneer sitting atop her thick neck was some kind of post-bonding hallucination. There hadn't been any others but a girl could dream that a head cleared by champagne would include a head free of the sight of the Carrow woman.
"Alecto," Hermione said. "How wonderful you could make it."
"We were afraid you'd miss the last bus out of the swamp," Draco added.
"Swamp?" Alecto asked.
Hermione made a show of sniffing the air, then said, "You mean you don't live in the muck and filth? My mistake. I'm so sorry."
Alecto took a step closer. Hermione could feel her breath on her face, and smell it too. It wasn't good. Strong, but not good. "The only filth here is you," she said. "The Malfoys have polluted their house with your blood. May your children -."
Hermione was never to find out what curse Alecto wanted to spew all over her theoretical children because Yaxley came up behind her and set a hand on her shoulder, stopping her invective and leaving her mouth gaping.
"You'll catch flies," Draco said, and she snapped it shut.
"My Lord," she said, half turning and all sycophantic delight. If she bowed and scraped her submission any lower, she'd have to lie on the floor.
"The Malfoys are a valuable ally in the Ministry," Yaxley said. "Lucius, I know, has retired from active government service, but they remain influential, Alecto."
That sounded like a warning to Hermione. Alecto didn't hear it. "She's a mudblood," she nearly hissed.
Hermione reached into the deep pocket of her wedding dress and pulled out her wand. As soon as she had the length of it free, she whipped her arm up and jabbed the point into Alecto's neck. It pushed into the flesh and a shadowed indent circled the tip of the wood. "What did you say?" she asked.
Alecto swallowed and her throat convulsed. "My Lord," she said. "You can't let her -."
Yaxley patted her on the shoulder and she stopped speaking again. "I do want to tender my apologies," he said to Hermione. "Work has been so busy lately I quite failed to get you a wedding gift. You know how things are."
"Quite," Draco said. He barely didn't stammer and Hermione was reminded this was the man who'd tortured him and ordered his torture. "Please don't worry about it. Just your presence is honor enough."
"No, no," Yaxley said. "It's so gauche to not give the happy couple a token. And I have the perfect thing right here."
"My lord?" Hermione had no idea what he was talking about.
"Alecto." Yaxley patted her on the shoulder. "You can have her life."
"What?" Hermione was absolutely sure she'd heard that wrong.
"Just kill her," Yaxley said, and she knew she hadn't heard it wrong or, rather, she'd missed that it was an order. "Put her down like the mad dog that she is." He leaned forward and said in a stage whisper that carried throughout the whole, large room. "Though Narcissa would probably prefer it if you didn't get blood on her carpets."
Hermione handed the glass of champagne she still had in one hand to whatever poor soul had the misfortune of being behind Alecto in the receiving line. The witch, a middle-aged frump with too many sequins on her robes, took the half-drunk flute and faded back into the crowd. Everyone wanted to see, but no one wanted to be too close. Well, she couldn't fault them for that. It was human nature to stare at a disaster, even if you despised yourself for doing it.
Yaxley's smile bared too many teeth.
He probably wanted her to cast an unforgivable in front of this crowd. That was his style, wasn't it? If you could make people complicit in their own degradation, you had them. They couldn't separate themselves from you after that. Not without admitting they'd done horrible things.
Well, she'd already done a lot of horrible things.
She pointed her wand at Alecto and whispered the spell. She'd found it in a book on the medical arts, of all things. The difference between healing and hurting could be such a narrow one, after all. Sometimes a person's heart became arrhythmic. Too fast. Too slow. Irregular. A spell could reset it to the speed the mediwitch selected. It was wonderful magic.
She selected a speed of zero. No beats at all.
Alecto stood still for a moment. She looked puzzled, probably because nothing obvious had happened but possibly because she was still trying to understand that her master had handed her over as a sacrifice. Then her body began to slump. Her knees buckled under her and she leaned over, like a melting candle that had gotten a little bit off center and slowly collapsed. There was a bit of a gasping wheeze as she tried to breathe, and then she was unconscious on the floor.
"Is she?" Hermione heard someone ask from the back of the crowd. She didn't answer. She stood and looked down at the lumpish woman who had tortured Draco, who had tortured schoolchildren, who had taught schoolchildren to torture. Her lips were turning blue, and her skin growing paler with every tick of the clock. She looked waxen and dead, though any decent healer could have brought her back still. Another whispered spell and a lick of flame grew from the center of Alecto's black dress. It reached out, hungrily, and lapped at the fabric. There was a pause as the fire seemed to collect itself, then it sprang upward in a great rush and the crowd all stepped further back, driven away by the wall of heat expanding outward.
Hermione stopped the fire before it could singe the carpets or floor under them. It took far more magical finesse to keep the blaze to just the body and she was pleased with herself, despite the atrocity of the whole event, when she ended it all and the fire had been hot enough to reduce even the bone to ash but hadn't destroyed a single fiber of Narcissa Malfoy's surely priceless oriental rugs.
She smiled at Yaxley. Did he look momentarily shaken by that show of power and control? She hoped so. She hoped a tiny fission of fear bloomed in the rotted core of what passed for his miserable soul. I'm coming for you, she whispered in the privacy of her own mind. You shouldn't have made your partisanship of me quite so obvious because now you can't afford to alienate me. It will make you look afraid and dictators and bullies can't ever have people thinking they're afraid.
"Well done," he said. "Ice and fire."
"It seemed poetic," Hermione said. She looked down at the pile of black ash and made an exaggerated face of distaste. "But maybe we should all be careful about where we step. I'd hate to track that all over the Manor."
"Indeed," Narcissa said. She raised her voice a little. "I hate to cut the receiving line and cocktail hour short, but let us all proceed to dinner. While we eat, the staff will clean that up and by the time we cut the cake and the music begins, there will be no worries."
Relieved to know what to do, the crowd followed her to the dining room. Hermione hoped the kitchen staff was up to seamlessly rushing out the meal. She hadn't even thought to ask what Narcissa had selected. Wedding food was all the same in the end, and what was always forgettable would be moreso after that murder.
After Yaxley tipped his head to her and strode off, Hermione whispered one last spell, a tiny bit of transfiguration.
"Father?" Draco asked.
Lucius was standing in the receiving line, glass still in his hand. He seemed a bit stunned. He looked at his champagne flute, handed it off to a passing caterer, and a cold smile tugged at his mouth. "If I'd realized all I had to do to get him to kill that harpy was marry you off, I'd have done it ages ago."
Draco's laugh was more than a tad uneasy. "Father?" he asked again. "Are you okay?"
"More than," Lucius said. "Pity you don't have a brother, though. Maybe Lord Yaxley would kill off Amycus at a second wedding." He turned the title into absolute contempt.
"Mr. Malfoy?" Hermione said. It was half a question.
Lucius straightened his robes with a fussy gesture that wouldn't have been out of place on a dandy in a romance novel. He became briefly very concerned with a cuff-link that had twisted the wrong way, then with the pleating in his fancy white scarf. She waited with more patience than she'd have expected to have for Lucius Malfoy. When at last he was satisfied with the way all the accoutrements of his wealth and power sat, he said, "You should really call me father, Hermione. It sends a message."
She glanced at Draco, who shrugged. She was on her own with this one.
"Well, then, father," she said. "We should go sit down. They are probably holding the meal for us and if we wait too long, Narcissa will be annoyed with us."
She gestured toward the door and, with a sniff in the direction of the pile of ash, Lucius stalked off.
"After you," Draco said, and she let him take her arm and lead her out. She glanced back at the last few stragglers. Percy, in his disguise, was one, as was the reporter. She saw Percy lean down to what had been Alecto and pull the last bit of magic she'd worked out of the ashes. He held the phoenix feather in his hand and glanced at the reporter. She looked back in terror and awe. The handful of remaining guests gasped audibly as Hermione slipped out with her husband to drink good wine and accept congratulations on her marriage. They'd eat the dinner, and cut the cake, and dance to musicians far too talented to be trapped playing weddings. It would be banal and romantic and political and dull.
And the story of the feather would get whispered from ear to ear all night long.
We wait to rise.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N - Thank you to stefartemis for her medical expertise in explaining to me what happens when your heart stops. Her patience with me is a gift. Any errors in description are my fault.
Thank you to tamrapraxidikefor beta reading. She is an utter gem.