One month left. One month of glorious freedom, and then his life would be over. It might as well be over, anyway, for all they were making him do. He had known this was coming for five years, ever since his parents had pulled him aside after graduation, but that still didn't make it any easier.

He remembered the night of his graduation with poignant clarity. His mother had pulled him into a tight embrace, tears and pride shimmering in her eyes.

"We're so proud of you, Ducky, darling," she had sniffed, holding him at arms' length.

"Ahem, yes, right," his father had said softly, glancing around quickly to make sure no one was seeing his wife's rather emotional display. "Now perhaps you can put aside childish things and actually do something useful." He had doused the last word in ice, indicating that he felt his son's efforts at school had been anything but.

"Yes, yes, like finding yourself a nice girl to settle down with," his mother had added, as if her husband hadn't insulted their son at all, but had made an excellent point instead. Draco had simply rolled is eyes and begun to walk out the big oak front doors and into the cool twilight. He was used to tuning his mother out when he didn't particularly like what she was saying. She continued talking, with Draco only catching bits of her speech here and there.

"—important to produce heirs to the Malfoy name—"

Yes, he had known all along one day he would be reduced to a breeding horse. He sniffed in disgust, now offering his hand to help his mother into the carriage that would take them into Hogsmeade. He managed to cover it with a small cough as he muttered, "Yes, mother."

Seemingly satisfied, his mother had continued, "And of course, with only four years until your 22nd birthday, you really haven't that much time to waste—"

"What's significant about my 22nd birthday?" Draco had asked, more for the sake of conversation than anything else, but growing a little alarmed at the direction this was going.

His mother had paused a moment, sharing a knowing glance with her husband. Draco listened to the sound of the carriage wheels as they rumbled over the streets of Hogsmeade. He would remember that sound forever.

"It's the day you must announce your engagement to the wizarding community, of course," she had finished quickly, "it's tradition."

Lucius, who had been silent this whole time, seemed to be studying Draco's reaction now, searching for (anticipating?) any sign of weakness. Draco steadied himself, gathered his wits together and forced his face to become impassive.

"And if I don't?"

"Then your mother and I shall choose for you," Lucius had whispered, arching an eyebrow at his son.

And although Draco had tried, there really was no way out. He had whined, pleaded, begged, threatened, but nothing would sway his parents. Apparently, on the day he had been christened, he had been entered into a magical contract by his parents, as was the tradition among pureblooded families. The terms were that he was to marry a pureblooded witch of reputable family, and to have committed to do so on the day he turned twenty-two. The idea was to insure heirs for the family name. To further the line. A fucking breeding horse.

And now there was only one month left until that fateful birthday. Draco had decided, after no amount of kicking and screaming had changed his fate, to instead pretend that the deadline didn't exist. He lived his life, having as much fun as possible, shagging as many girls as possible, and "sowing his wild oats" before he was forced to settle down.

But there was no denying it. His parents were now becoming serious about his decision, asking pressing questions almost every day, dropping heavy hints about the girl they had chosen for him if he couldn't make the decision himself.

He was beginning to feel trapped, and getting desperate. There had to be some way out of this. Some sort of loophole…but wait!

Draco, who had been pacing in his room up till this moment, suddenly did a little jig of happiness, inwardly grateful that no one could see him in such an undignified situation. He composed himself and began thinking rapidly.

What if…what if he found a girl that his mother and father couldn't stand, the exact opposite of everything they're looking for? Someone who'd do everything wrong and be the worst possible thing for the Malfoy name? They would refuse to let him marry her, he would say it's her or no one, and they would release him from this stupid contract because it would be preferable for him to stay single than marry her.

"Perfect," Draco whispered. "But who is she?"

Hermione Granger skipped lightly down the stairs, humming to herself. She was visiting her parents during a long weekend off from her job at the Ministry, as the assistant to the assistant of the Head of Magical Law Enforcement.

"Mum? Dad?" she called as she reached the bottom of the steps. "Where are you?"

"Kitchen, darling!" her mother called. Hermione turned left and breezed into the bright kitchen, where her mother and father were sitting across from each other, looking serious.

"I-Is everything okay?" Hermione asked, eyes darting back and forth between her parents. It wasn't like them to look so grave.

"Sit down, dear," her father said, indicating her empty chair at the table. She sat, beginning to feel slightly unnerved. What was going on?

"Darling, we've been meaning to tell you something," her mother began.

"We wanted to tell you on your 18th birthday," her father interrupted.

"But with the war—"

"We didn't think you could take it, so we decided to give you some time—"

"And who really knows how much time is right?"

"Months? Years?"

"Anyway," her mother said on a sigh, "we think it's about time."

Hermione's eyes had flown back and forth between them during this tennis match of words, trying to discern their meaning. The only thing that happened during the next few silent moments was that she became more confused and nervous, if that were even possible.

"Honey, when your father and I got married, we wanted…to begin our family right away…"

"But after three years of trying," her father interrupted, putting his large hand over his wife's small one, "we still didn't have any luck. We started to wonder if anything was wrong. So we went to a doctor."

"We found out that—that we weren't able to have children," her mother said around a slight sob. Hermione's thoughts were racing as she tried to wrap her mind around what she was hearing. But how…

"So we started looking into our other options. The doctor we had seen recommended a local adoption agency, so we went there and we found—"

"You," her mother finished, staring with bleary eyes at Hermione.

"Me," whispered Hermione softly. She lowered her eyes to her hands, trying to force her mind to work, but all sorts of emotions at once were making her thoughts very cloudy indeed. Tears were spilling over her cheeks before she could stop them, and in a moment, her parents were wrapping their arms around her.

"Please don't hate us for not telling you sooner," her father said, his voice rough with emotion as he pulled his daughter close.

Hermione felt the arms surrounding her. She knew her parents loved her more than anything in the world, and what it had cost for them to tell her this. She loved them too, but now there was a nagging question pushing itself to the forefront of her mind.

"So," she sniffed, gently loosing her parents' arms and composing herself. "Do you know their names?"

Her mother and father looked at each other over Hermione's head and understood that she was asking about her birhparents. Nodding, her mother crossed the room to the kitchen counter, returning to the table holding a thin envelope. She laid it down in front of Hermione.

"We requested this from the agency the day we officially took you home," she said quietly, sitting down across from her daughter. Her husband joined her. "We never opened it."

Hermione took the envelope gently in her hands. She felt strangely numb. This envelope held much more than just paper. If I open this, it makes it all real, she thought.

"Do you think," she said softly after a moment, "that I could be alone for a while?"

"Of course, darling," her father said as Hermione bent to kiss him. She hugged her mother gently and gave them each a watery smile.

"I love you," she said firmly. Then she took the envelope and climbed the stairs to her bedroom.

When she had safely shut the door behind her, Hermione sat down at her desk and flipped on the light. She examined the thin white envelope, stamped in the upper left with the agency's address. Just as her parents had said, it remained sealed. It had begun to yellow around the edges, a testament to the twenty-one years it had presumably spent in a box or drawer, just waiting for this moment when it would reveal its secrets. Hermione's heart beat harder.

There was nothing incredibly remarkable about it; it really was just an envelope. But to Hermione, it meant the end of everything familiar and safe. And she wasn't sure she was ready to know for a fact that the two people below her in the kitchen weren't her real parents.

"But they are my real parents," she scolded herself. "And the contents of this envelope won't change who I am or what I stand for. It'll take more than a piece of paper to do that," she said defiantly, reaching for her letter opener. She paused, her hand hovering in midair above it, willing herself to pick it up.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. It really won't matter, she thought, trying to soothe her rumpled spirit. I'm still me.

She gripped the letter opener with a shaking hand, feeling the cold metal press into her skin for a long moment. Then, with a grand flourish, she slit open the envelope and pulled out the folded piece of paper, discarding the envelope in the rubbish bin below her desk to give her something to do while she struggled to get a hold of herself. Her heart hammered in her chest and her breathing was unsteady. She sighed in exasperation.

"Honestly, you've faced Death Eaters and dementors, but you can't open a letter? Are you a Gryffindor or not?"

The words seemed to give her renewed strength, if only for a moment, and she unfolded the paper and spread it out on the desk in front of her. After a moment of waiting, she realized her eyes were still closed. Are you afraid of a piece of paper? Open your eyes, you coward! She did.

The paper lay there on the desk,staring innocently up at her. Hermione felt her uncertainty and apprehension melt away and laughed in spite of herself. It was only a piece of paper, after all, and in a moment she felt the undeniable tug of the words that were written there, the words that told her story. The paper was calling to her, begging her to read its contents, as if it knew this was its moment, its sole reason for existing, and it knew its destiny was seconds away. She could deny it no longer, and she began to read.

It was a copy of the record that had been made the day she was brought to the adoption agency. She savored it slowly, committing every word of it to memory. Hermione sifted through the information there and was able to put together the story.

She had been brought to the agency as a small baby by an older woman who had wished to keep her identity anonymous.The old woman had said that she lived next door to a young couple in her apartment building, and this was their child. The couple occasionally asked the old woman to babysit while they went out for dinner, and she was happy to oblige them, as they were such nice young people and always helped her when she needed them.

They never came back one night; instead, the woman had been visited by a policeman bearing terrible news. She was shocked to find the young couple had been killed when the taxi they were taking was involved in a horrible crash. The old woman knew the child had no other living relatives, and not knowing what else to do, brought the baby to the nearest agency.

Hermione's birth parents' names were Phillip and Moira DeMont. Nothing else was discernible from the paper, except that the old woman insisted the child keep her given name, Hermione.

A few hours later when Hermione went down to dinner, she tried valiantly to act as if everything were quite normal. Her parents decided to do the same. Only once did her father mention the envelope.

"I haven't opened it yet," she had lied, surprising herself even as she said the words. But immediately she knew hat she didn't want them to know just yet. She would tell them, she knew, but right now none of them were ready.

There was no more talk that night of envelopes or agencies, and Hermione and her parents had a normal family dinner. Except perhaps that her father was making more jokes than usual and maybe Hermione and her mother laughed a little too hard in response.

That night Hermione's dreams were interrupted by a woman with long, slightly frizzy hair, and a man with chocolate brown eyes very like her own.

A/N - 03-18-08 - I went back and re-edited this chapter, correcting some errors and changing some wording to make it better. No major details were changed, however. Hope you enjoy:D