Chapter Four

The Perils of Being Accommodating

"You had near an entire week and nothing?" Draco shook his head as he grumbled. "Brightest young mind Wizarding Britain has to offer, my arse."

Hermione let out a groan, her head falling back to stare up at the ceiling. The days Drusilla had given them before their meeting had flashed by in a blink. Now, Hermione was seated between Draco and Harry—who both wore scowls and sat with their arms folded across their chests—as they faced the Matchmaker's desk.

She hadn't seen Harry since the night they'd kissed, because she'd spent most of that time absorbed in her search for a way to reverse the Match's results. And Draco . . . .

She'd like to be able to say she hadn't seen Draco since that impromptu—and notably disastrous—first meeting with Drusilla, because she and Draco simply didn't cross paths that frequently. Though they both worked for the Ministry, their departments were floors apart.

But . . . .


Three Days Earlier

She hummed a bit under her breath as she paused before the mirror propped on the end table beside her door. Her hair was . . . well, it was as tidy as it was going to be, held back from her face by pearlescent black barrettes that matched her outfit, and her cute—but sensible—strappy heels.

Sighing, she shook her head as she gave her makeup one last look. Pressing a finger to the matte red on her lips and pulling it away, she marveled again at the staying power of Wizarding beauty products. No wonder Narcissa Malfoy always looked so irritatingly bloody flawless.

Squaring her shoulders, she opened her door and proceeded down the stairs. Cho and Luna would be there any moment. She hadn't even wanted to go out, but then those two didn't take no for an answer. She dreaded the idea of them sneaking into her flat while she slept and absconding with her.

Would hardly be the first time for that, though.

She straightened herself again as she reached for the knob of the front door, missing the silhouette against the window. Opening it, she let out a gasp as she stopped herself just short of walking face-first into someone.

"Draco?" Blinking hard, she gave him a once-over. He looked like he'd popped over from his office. His supervisors probably loved giving him extra tasks that ensured he got out of work later than everyone else in his department.

"Granger, why . . . ?" His question trailed off as his gaze moved over her, taking in the black dress that clung to her so— "Why are you dressed like that?"

"I'm going out dancing with Cho and Luna," she said, lifting her chin defiantly as she crossed her arms beneath her breasts and arched a brow. "Not that it's any concern of yours. What are you doing here?" She wasn't even aware he knew where she lived!

Giving himself a shake, he pushed past her to stand in the building's small foyer. "I came to check on your progress with reversing the Match. And, maybe, call me mad, see if I could do anything to help." He ignored how her brows shot up in surprise at his use of the word help. "I didn't expect I'd be intruding on your very busy social life!"

Hermione ground her teeth before she could work up a reply—why did he always have to be such an arse? "I have barely slept or eaten in three days, because when I wasn't at work, I was so busy looking for something—anything—that might help. They're my friends, and they were worried that I was going to burn myself out, so they insisted on taking me someplace fun tonight."

His grey eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

Feeling oddly put on the spot, she shrugged. "When Ravenclaws tell you you've been working your brain too hard, you listen," she said, glancing away.

He still didn't look pleased, still didn't reply.

She held in a groan as she shuffled her feet in her cute-but-sensible shoes. What the bloody hell was he expecting her to say?

"Look, I will get right back to my research in the morning. However, right now, I just need to unwind a little. And . . . ." She shook her head, unable to believe what she was saying. "And thank you for offering to help. I appreciate it."

Draco nodded as he squared his jaw. "So, you're really going out like that?"

Pouting, she looked down at herself. Other than a flash of leg and the barest hint of cleavage, she wasn't showing too much skin, the dress was brand new, so the material wasn't beady, or snagged anywhere. In fact, she thought she looked quite nice!

"What's wrong with it?"

"Is Potter going to be there?"

Her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of how that question fit in with his first one. "No, it's just us girls. Why would—?"

"Dammit, Granger," he said in a hissing whisper as he shook his head. "At least if you were meeting him, I'd understand."

Her confused pout shifted to an irritated frown. "Well, then please explain your logic to me, because I don't understand."

Draco's face fell—apparently he hadn't realized he'd have to give her a reason for his irrational-seeming nonsense. "Um, it's simply if . . . ." He swallowed hard and tried again. "If you fail at finding a way out of this, then that means we're actually stuck getting married, doesn't it?"

Hermione's brows shot up again. "Stuck?" She knew he was just as displeased about the situation as she and Harry were, but he didn't have to be so rude about it.

Oh, wait. This was Draco Malfoy, maybe he did.

"Yes," he said, nodding as he took a step closer. "And if that's the case, you're technically an engaged woman. Is it really appropriate for you to go out looking like that, under those circumstances?"

Her spine stiffened as she stared up at him. She knew moving closer to her had been intended as a bit of an intimidation tactic, but the wash of pink tinting his pale cheeks said otherwise.

"So, um . . . ." She forced out a breath, aware of an unwelcome rush of warmth in her own face. "Then what you're saying is you think I look nice?"

He sneered and cast his gaze off to one side. "I didn't say that!"

"Oh, okay. Well, then," she started, waving at him dismissively, "if you only came to complain at me, you can just leave. Luna and Cho will be here in a moment, anyway."

"Merlin, you're just as much a pain in the arse now as you were when we were at Hogwarts."

"I'm a pain in the arse?" Hermione puffed out her cheeks as she tried to calm herself and failed. "You're one to talk! I didn't pop up on your doorstep and insult your wardrobe!"

His eyes narrowed and he grinned mirthlessly as he tapped pointedly at the low-cut neckline of her dress. "Nothing in my wardrobe leaves my bits out for all the world to see!"

"Wha—?" Hermione's eyes went wide as she dropped her gaze from his just long enough to look to where his finger was. There was the barest line of her cleavage peeking out—hardly a scrap of shadow against her skin, for pity's sake.

"I'm not showing anything to anyone, Draco," she said in an angry mutter of words. "And even if I was, they're my bits to show!"

She slapped his hand away, but he caught her wrist. Frowning, she tried to tug out of his grasp, but he held tight. Instead, she found that her attempt only pulled her closer to him.

Draco stilled as he realized his mistake. He relinquished his hold on her, but the blush in her cheeks and the warmth of her breath against his jaw as she stared up at him . . . .

Hermione had no idea which of them moved first, or quite how she ended up with her back pressed to the wall, but somehow his mouth was on hers. Her arms were around his neck and her fingers raked through the ends his pale hair.

He braced his palms on either side of her as he tilted his head, his tongue darting between her lips. It didn't help the way she made that sweet little whimpering noise as she opened to him.

She pushed forward a bit, leaning into him as she nipped at him. Hermione gently caught his tongue between teeth, suckling at it.

A pained groan worked its way out of Draco's throat as his hands slipped from the wall to skim down, along her sides. Dear God, did she always kiss this way? He pulled her more tightly against him, before the way she was kissing him back made him wonder just how talented her mouth really—

He broke the kiss, tearing himself away from her. To her credit, Granger looked rather dazed, as though she wasn't quite certain what had happened.

Flushed and flustered, he opened his mouth to speak, lifting a hand to shake his finger at her. Yet, no words would come.

Biting hard into his bottom lip to hold in a sound of frustration, he dropped his hand again. With a shake of his head, he turned on his heel and stalked out the door.

Catching her breath, Hermione blinked hard a few times. Oh, dear, this was starting to become something of a pattern, wasn't it? Second time in less than a week that Draco Malfoy had yelled, kissed her, and then stormed off.

Chewing her bottom lip in worry, she nodded. If this was how things were going now . . . . Oh, she'd better find a way out of this marriage nonsense, because this simply could not keep happening. It couldn't!

Pushing away from the wall, she ran trembling fingers over her dress and smoothed her hair as best she could. All the while, she thanked God for her flawless magic lipstick.

She stepped out onto the stoop, glad the girls hadn't arrived yet . . . only to glance down the block and see them cross paths with the storming Draco. Her shoulders slumped as they looked from him as he passed, to Hermione.

And, after exchanging a glance, Luna and Cho both granted her mischievous grins.

Yup, Hermione thought with a frown as she hung her head, they've already guessed what just happened.


Now

She thought she'd probably seen him more in the past week than she had in the entire four years since they'd left Hogwarts.

But Draco's grumbling, and Harry's irritation with Draco's attitude—though, Hermione would wager a guess that Draco's little visit the other day probably factored in there, as well—weren't the only source of her discomfort.

No, she thought with a pout, nodding to herself. She was certain the biggest contributor to that was the presence of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, standing at the back of the office. Hermione was certain she could feel the heat on the back of her neck every time the silent, but visibly fuming Lucius exhaled, despite how far away the pair stood.

Drusilla pursed her lips as she made the calculations and jotted something in the scroll open before her. "So, six months . . . . Ah, April twenty-fifth, wonderful!" She lifted her head and smiled at Hermione. "Spring weddings can be such lovely affairs; do you not agree?"

"Sure," Hermione said with a curt nod. She preferred summer, herself, but she was so tired and strained from this last week she didn't care to argue. With any luck, it would never come to pass, anyway.

"Now, the question of where to have the ceremony—?"

"If I may?" Narcissa said, taking a perfect, delicate step forward. "I would like to offer the gardens at Malfoy Manor for the occasion."

Draco's face fell and Harry's eyebrows shot up. Hermione winced, refusing to look back at the elder witch. She could only imagine Lucius was turning blazing-red eyes on her, right now, as though this entire mess somehow rested on her shoulders.

"Narcissa," Lucius said in a hiss, as though to confirm Hermione's thought.

Narcissa arched her brow as she waved her husband off. She was not having any of his nonsense today. She was going to make this work, somehow, because it had to work. "As the Ministry well knows, the gardens on our grounds are rather extensive, quite enough room for the ceremony and reception, I should think, and a ballroom in case the weather turns inclement."

Hermione risked a glance at Draco. He caught her gaze and shrugged. Apparently this was news to him, as well.

"That's a very generous offer, Narcissa, I shall note that as an option," Drusilla said, nodding as she scribbled away at her scroll. "Now, Miss Granger, are there any specific practices you'd like included in the ceremony, or would you prefer strictly Wizarding-traditional?"

Hermione shrank down in her spot between Draco and Harry. She knew perfectly well why the question was left to her. She was the only Muggle-born in the room. Apparently, with his still-recent status as a pure-blood, Harry's childhood spent living as a Muggle didn't factor in.

She cleared her throat as she tipped her head side-to-side. "Wizarding-traditional is fine. My family isn't very religious." Though, it was jarring suddenly to wonder if her parents would be the first Muggles to set foot on the Manor grounds.

Again, Drusilla nodded as she scratched out another notation. "And as for the honeymoon?"

Harry held up a hand, a bit overwhelmed that the Matchmaker had clearly expected they'd have discussed all of these points, already. "Hang on. Can we have time to talk about that?"

"Certainly." Another notation. "And, I suspect you will want time, also, to decide on sleeping arrangements?" She went on as Hermione sank lower, still, into her seat, Draco froze entirely, and Harry tried desperately to form a response that simply wouldn't come. "That is a question that has never come up before, but then this is such a unique circumstance."

After a moment—during which Hermione was trying very hard not to imagine the looks on Lucius and Narcissa's faces—Drusilla nodded again. "Very well, so matters of the honeymoon, we can schedule another meeting to sort that. Miss Granger, in regard to your wedding attire, and that of your bridal party, if you need, we can arrange a meeting for you with several—"

"No need, Drusilla. I will assist her with that."

Hermione felt her heart drop into her stomach as she turned, nearly against her will, and looked to Narcissa Malfoy. Drusilla was moving so seamlessly from one topic to the next that Hermione had barely caught up with the change in subject before Narcissa had spoken up. The pale-haired, meticulously put-together woman offered the younger witch a small smile.

"I . . . I don't know—"

"Miss Granger," she said, taking a step closer. "I apologize if the offer seems abrupt, but I know many of the shops and boutiques to which you will need to go, and while I know you would prefer your own mother with you . . . . Muggles simple cannot travel to some of these establishments."

Hermione nodded stiffly as she understood. They'd have to Apparrate to reach some of them. "Oh, well, then my mother can come with us to the shops that are . . . easier to get to, yes?"

Narcissa nodded, and Hermione saw what she thought was an attempt at understanding flash through the woman's eyes. "Of course."

"Well, then, the finer details will be sorted when the time calls for them. Now, there is a matter I must discuss with the brid, and her grooms." Drusilla arched a brow as she set aside her scroll and clasped her hands atop her desk.

"Now, see here," Lucius said, frustrated by his lack of input on the matters at hand. "I am not going anywhere until this meeting is concluded."

"Lucius, you are welcome to stay," Drusilla said through her teeth—Hermione was having difficult time trying to discern what pushed the Matchmaker's buttons, and what she took in stride. "However, the matter will be rather personal. I should think you would not want to intrude on a discussion regarding your son's se—"

"Fine! All right, have it your way!" He moved as he groused, storming to the door and, after taking a moment to hold it open for Narcissa, he stepped through and slammed it shut.

"I see your father's still all sunshine and kittens," Hermione said in a whisper, afraid Lucius might hear her through the door.

Draco squared his jaw, unable to do anything more than nod, even as Harry snickered on her other side.

"Ahem."

The three exchanged a quick look before they returned their attention to Drusilla.

"Now, I will inquire . . . . You are not virgins, are you?"

The way they all shifted uncomfortably, not looking at her, or each other, was all the answer she needed. "Right. Well, normally, this does not need emphasis, as Matched partners who are would typically be reluctant to go too far before their wedding night, anyway. However, as this is such an unusual case, and you three do have a rather . . . intense history, I must insist . . . ."

They all seemed on the edge of their seats as they waited for Drusilla to finish.

"No intercourse until the wedding night."

All three wore the same shocked expression as they gaped at the Matchmaker.

Hermione, her heart still in her stomach, and iced over now, murmured as she shook her head. "The way I feel right now, they'll be lucky if they even get any on the wedding night."

Draco scowled and Harry gave her a look that clearly said, What did I do?

"Miss Granger, I understand you are a bit overwhelmed just now, but the marriage will not be considered finalized until it has been consummated."

Hermione's brow furrowed as she wondered aloud, "How will you even know—? Oh, my God. There's a spell woven into our rings, isn't there? Some sort of sensor?"

Drusilla nodded. "Do not worry, we cannot tell anything specific. Only that the terms of the engagement, and marriage, are being adhered to. It is this same spell that will act as a deterrent if . . . ." She leaned over her desk a little, speaking directly to Hermione. "If either one of them gets too close."

At the wizards' bewildered expressions, Drusilla rolled her eyes. She was trying for a delicate touch, but that was clearly not working.

Shoulders drooping, the Matchmaker shook her head. Honestly, three of the brightest students Hogwarts had ever seen sat before her . . . how could two of the three be so bloody thick? "Fine, bluntly, then. If either of you tries to so much as stick a pinky in your bride-to-be, you will be deterred."

"Oh, my God," Hermione said as she shrank down, covering her face with her hands. Why did they make Drusilla have to say it?

Draco and Harry simply stared at the witch behind the desk, each blushing furiously.

"Now," Drusilla said, forcing a smile and nodding as she reached for her scroll, once more. "Shall I owl you with the date for our next meeting?"


As the three trooped from the Matchmaker's office and into the corridor, Narcissa puzzled over why they all looked in such a state of shock.