Ambition's End: Prologue

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine as they all belong to JKR.

There are two ways to tell a man to do something. The first ensures that he will do as requested. The second will make him do anything but what was asked of him. In fact, chances are he will do the exact opposite instead.

Hermione Granger stumbled upon this truth during the winter of her third year of Hogwarts when Harry refused to heed her warnings about the Firebolt. She practiced both ways the next two years after that, finally perfecting the art of the second method at the end of her fifth year. It took her longer to master the first way, men being the stubborn creatures that they are, but eventually she learned how a gentle tone and a soft touch could sway even the most obstinate of men. By the end of what should have been her seventh year, she was a past master of both methods. She was well on her way to becoming an expert on getting people to do what she wanted without them ever realizing that they were being used.

Witches who relied upon their physical charms to manipulate men were mere novices— initiates really—compared to her. There was only so much a wizard would do for a witch who too eagerly spread her legs for him. Hermione knew that it was better to dole out one's affections sparingly, if at all. She knew how to let a man wonder about how soft her breasts were, how sweet her kisses would be, and how good it must be to fit so snugly inside of her. Give a man a kiss, and he'll stay with you for a day. Promise him one, and his fantasies would make a part of him yours forever.

So it was that by the time Hermione had turned twenty, she had all the tools she needed to make her fondest ambition real. It was the same ambition that caused the Sorting Hat to put her in Gryffindor all those years ago, fearing what may be if it placed this most cunning of witches in the House where she truly belonged.

"Is he drunk?" she hissed viciously. She peered at her friend's red eyes and took note of his shaking hands. "Ronald Bilius Weasley! I expressly told you not to let Harry have anything to drink!"

Ron winced. He knew that tone of voice only too well. Hermione Granger was peeved with him, and it would take a miracle for him to get out of this one with his skin intact. She whirled around to face him, planting her hands on her hips.

"I cannot believe your stupidity," she cried. Noticing Harry's grimace of pain, she lowered her voice. "How is he supposed to function if he can't put two words together to save his life?"

"But Hermione!" Ron protested. "You saw how he was. He was an absolute mess just thinking about speaking in front of all these people. I thought a sip of firewhisky wouldn't hurt."

"Sip? He looks like he drank half the damn bottle."

"More like all of it," Ron muttered. He could practically see the steam rising from her head at those words.

"You are an incompetent fool," she told him. She looked down her nose at him, and he suddenly felt only two feet high. "It isn't any wonder why no witch will have you."

"You did," he replied sullenly.

"That didn't last long, now did it? Thank Morganna I ended it when I did. Now run along. Go find your sister and see if she needs any help." She rolled her eyes. "Merlin knows that you've already done enough here."

"Hang on," he said, ignoring her dismissal. "Do you really think this is a good idea? Perhaps it would be better not to—"

"Not to what?" Her tone held all the chill of winter and more.

Ron gulped. He gathered his courage and forged ahead. Maybe now was not the best time to raise this point, but no one else in their group had dared to. "Not to do this. Not to make Harry give this speech you wrote for him. Blast it all, Hermione, do you think this will work? I mean, this marriage law idea is ludicrous, but it has so much momentum….do you think that one speech from Harry will stop it?"

She skewered him with a glance. "I'm sorry. Are you casting aspersions on my plan? The one that everyone agreed was brilliant?"

"No…well…that is, I…" His voice trailed off as he realized that the air around him had only got colder.

"Don't forget who is paid to think around here. It certainly isn't you," Hermione said. Her voice had never been as heartless as it was now. She folded her arms across her chest and continued, "Yes, I do think everything will go according to plan. Harry's speech will have the desired effect upon the marriage law debate. I have goals in life that I want to achieve, and I won't let some idiot pure-blood stop me from that. Now get going."

This time he did as asked and fled.

What Harry had gone on to say that day became legend. He deviated again and again from the speech Hermione had prepared for him, ranting drunkenly how pure-bloods were to blame for everything bad that had happened during the war and how the marriage law was their last ditch attempt to prevent them from getting what they deserved. He wasn't given a chance to elaborate that point. Hermione pulled him from the stage then and there, but the way he waved his wand about as she dragged him away left an enduring impression in the minds of all present. The coalition that had banded together to oppose the marriage law suffered a mighty blow that day as nothing could be done to erase what had been said.

The coalition was quick to provide the press with a copy of the prepared speech. It took a bit of arm twisting, but most papers agreed to quote from the text rather than from what was actually said. To everyone's surprise, that only made things worse. Pure-bloods had become paranoid after Harry had all but threatened them with death and destruction. They found malicious intent in every word written, though none was meant. It was soon apparent that the coalition was fighting a losing battle.

Still Hermione Granger managed to rip a thread of victory from the jaws of defeat. The marriage law did pass. All pure-blood wizards would be required to find a half-blood or Muggle-born witch to marry. In exchange for the coalition dropping its resistance and thus ensuring a speedier passage for the law, a provision was added that allowed witches the right of refusal. No witch would be forced to marry against her will. If a pure-blood wizard could not find a willing witch, then he would be the last of his line. None of the old families were worried about this fate; there were many more Muggle-borns than there were pure-bloods, and it was assumed a bride could always be bought.

It was a shock to them all when news broke that Katie Bell had refused the proposal of Marcus Flint. After injuries had forced her to retire from Quidditch, she should have leapt at the chance as it would have conveyed financial security on her. To pour salt to the wound, her refusal was widely published. In next to no time, Flint became the laughingstock of the Wizarding World, with many a gossip spreading lurid tales of what made him such an unacceptable choice.

No other pure-blood wizard would make the same mistake. Their options would be vetted to gauge a witch's amenability along with her beauty and power, all three seen as necessities for a bride. An offer would not be made unless it was certain the witch would say yes. The humiliation born by Flint was not something any other wizard would wish to bear.

It was only natural that some wizards, whose families' reputations were in tatters after the war, would turn to blackmail to find a willing witch.

"You are very clever. Full marks to you for your research," said Hermione, "but I fail to see why you bothered to bring this to my attention." She looked up at the wizard who had insisted on meeting with her. He was easily six inches taller than her, even with her heels. She knew the disparity in their heights was to impress upon her just who had the power in this confrontation.

"Is that so, Granger?" He leaned against the wall, his eyes half-lidded as he examined her. "Should I have brought it up to Potter and Weasley instead?"

"What difference would that make? My friends are loyal, Malfoy. You would have to do far worse to get them to doubt me. If that's your game, then this little meeting of yours has been a waste of my time." With a toss of her head, she turned and walked away.

"Is that so?" His tone turned vicious as he caught up to her in two steps, seizing her arm and twisting it behind her as he forced her against the wall. She gasped in pain. He let go of her arm in favor of planting his hands on either side of her head. "And what do you think the Daily Prophet would think if I told them? Do you think your friends will be able to stop you from being eviscerated in the press? Plenty of what you did in the war had questionable ethics at best. If all your actions were to be re-examined, do you think that you'll get off so lightly if my research becomes common knowledge?"

Hermione bit her lip, visibly shaken from the thought. "What do you want?" she ground out.

"What makes you think that I want anything from the likes of you?"

"If you didn't, you wouldn't have bothered with any of this." Hermione locked eyes with him. It wouldn't do to let him think that she was too weak. "You would've have just gone about your merry way and done your best to ruin my life."

"That's funny. Because that's exactly what I intend to do." He paused to see if that got a response out of her. It didn't. "I need a wife," he continued, "and I shan't let a witch do to me what that bitch did to Flint."

"Ah. Marcus Flint." Hermione smiled sweetly. "Poor Katie. She was in tears when she received his proposal. It was dreadful."

"Shut up!" he shouted, banging his fist against the wall beside her head. "That fucking slag led him on! For two months, they saw each other and she let him think that he had a chance. As soon as she had the chance though, she stabbed him in the back." He huffed in anger. "Everyone knew she had refused him before he received the official response."

"And now, almost a year later, Flint still hasn't found any witch willing to have him. No shock there with the sort of performance issues—" She stopped when he grabbed her by the shoulders hard.

"Enough," said Malfoy. "The only pleasure I will get from complying with this damn law is making sure you are as miserable as I am. Tomorrow you will receive official notice that I've asked for you. You will send an affirmative response within the hour."

"And if I do not?"

"Then you can kiss whatever respect and position you've managed to earn in the Wizarding World good-bye. Have I made myself clear?" He lowered his head so his nose was practically touching hers, as he stared her down. She was the first to look away.

"Crystal," she whispered.

"Perfect. Till tomorrow, love," he spat the last word out as though it were a curse.

She stood silently against the wall for several minutes after he left, her heart racing though not from the fear he thought he inspired in her. No, Hermione Granger was trying to come down from that euphoric high she felt once she realized what Malfoy's intentions were. It wouldn't do to prance around the office with a stupid grin on her face, no matter how well things had went here. No, she didn't want to broadcast to the world that everything—all of her plans, all of her desires—was finally falling into place.

A/N: I haven't ever seen this twist in a marriage law fic, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. Like? Dislike? Please leave a review to let me know.