Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am making no money from this story, all Harry Potter copyrights belong to J.K. Rowling.
Summary: Draco needs a bride. Hermione needs a new start. A new Ministry mandate solves both of their problems. Fighting a war was definitely easier than this.
Chapter One: Blood Calls To Blood
The Great Hall of the Ministry of Magic was oddly crowded for a Saturday morning. It was even more unusual to see so few wrinkles and grey hairs gracing the smooth marble halls. Instead, the youth of wizarding Britain queued up, each in a varying state of boredom. A few forward-thinking individuals brought books, or a copy of this morning's Prophet. One cheeky Muggleborn had even brought a copy of the Times and enjoyed puzzling the purebloods with obscure Muggle references as he struggled with the weekend crossword.
"What's an eight letter word for 'clichéd and trite' that begins with a B?"
The fellows in line gave him a blank stare and went back to counting the ceiling tiles.
"Right. Useless…" he muttered under his breath.
"Sir?" A polite, crisp voice inquired, "I think the word you're looking for is bromidic."
The young man blinked and chewed on his quill as he contemplated the maddening little boxes. "Fantastic! That fits perfectly! Thank you, er…"
"Granger. Hermione Granger."
The man's eyes widened dramatically as his gaze shot up from the puzzle to stare at the small brunette in front of him. "Erhm, uh, yes. Yes."
He shook himself out of his temporary stupor for a moment and finally remembered his manners. He smiled and said, "Thank you, Miss Granger."
She turned around to talk to her companions. Harry Potter! Ronald Weasley! In front of me in the queue at the ministry! He took the opportunity to sneak a closer look. Potter and Weasley were often in the papers nowadays, but Hermione Granger tended to keep a lower profile. As such, he really hadn't seen a proper photograph of her since the three graduated and went out and about into larger society.
She was shorter than one would expect of a heroine. In his mind, a Heroine always conjured images of a woman of Amazonian proportions, but Hermione Granger was definitely a bit too shrimpy to appear one of the more feared and deadly witches of the modern age.
She was also a bit plainer than he had imagined. Not that she wasn't beautiful, but she looked… well, she looked too normal to be Hermione Granger. She looked like a pretty English girl, with lovely, even features. She looked like a girl who woke up, just like everyone else, early on this godforsaken Saturday morning, rolled out of bed, not bothering with makeup, fancy hair or other accoutrement.
Maybe he had watched too many Muggle movies, but when he had imagined a heroine, the woman who faced Voldemort alongside Harry Potter, who had belonged to the Order of the Phoenix at the tender age of fifteen, who had captured Death Eaters during her Fifth year, who had shattered the NEWT records… Well, she just wasn't what he expected.
With a shrug, he went back to his crossword. Fifteen down looked to be a bitch…
The shrill, tinny voice of the Ministry official cut through the discordant buzz filling the large antechamber in the bowels of the building. Squinting through thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, she scanned the crowded room impatiently.
"Brown, Lavender!" She barked. Her beady, black eyes focused on the pretty blonde standing at the front of the line. "Registration form and identification?"
The pretty witch handed the paperwork to the prune-faced woman and said, "Urhm, I'm so sorry, but I'm afraid of needles. There won't be any needles will there?"
The beady black eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "Klaus!"
A large man lumbered out of the door behind the woman and stood beside Lavender.
Lavender did not look amused.
"Klaus, we have another fainter. Use the special precautions."
Lavender sputtered and turned a magnificent shade of green as Klaus gripped her upper arm and easily dragged her towards the door by her bicep.
The Heroes of the Wizarding World stood in line, like everyone else, watched this little drama with sleepy interest. And, just like everyone else, they were bored out of their mind. Taking what little entertainment from this situation as could be gotten, Hermione had taken to scrutinizing her fellow captives.
Therefore, Hermione watched the spectacle at the front of the line with some amusement, some pity. Lavender was silly, but she didn't deserve to be treated so callously. But then again, it was just a blood draw. She smirked a little then rolled her eyes. "I can't believe that you used to date her."
Ron, busy picking at his nails, said absently, "Oh, I dunno. She had gorgeous tits."
Hermione slapped him upside the head.
"Hey! What was that for?"
"That was for being crude."
"But you aren't my girlfriend anymore," Ron whined, "It doesn't matter what you think… Ow! What was that for!"
Hermione sniffed disdainfully as she daintily removed her heel from Ron's now injured foot. "That was for womankind everywhere."
Ron's bright blue eyes narrowed in annoyance at the petite brunette. Glowering, he said, "Harry, mate, don't you agree with me? It's abuse, right?"
Harry grinned. "Don't drag me into this Ron. I know better."
Hermione resumed her fierce study of the crowd, she said, casually, "Where is Ginny this morning? I thought all wizards and witches between the ages of eighteen and thirty had to report to the Ministry today."
"She's coming later," Harry said tersely.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Why? And do be honest Harry." She grinned slyly, "You know I have alternate methods of getting information out of you."
Harry shifted his weight uncomfortably in remembrance and sighed. "All right, all right. Well, we were going to come together, so I went to her flat to pick her up and we got into another fight."
"Yes, again." Harry rolled his eyes. "I asked her to hurry up because we were supposed to meet you at six. Then she got upset. I asked her why, and she said, 'You know why!'"
"She still not mad that you went to the fair with us instead of to that concert with her is she?" Ron said, "Because that's just silly. Who wants to see Celestina Warbeck anyway? She's about eighty years old and sounds like a warbling troll."
Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "But taken with the fact that you still live with us, and the matches you've been skipping…"
"Oi!" Ron said, irritated, "It's not his fault that the Harpies have been scheduling matches on our on call weekends! Aurors don't exactly have the most flexible schedule."
Hermione huffed in exasperation. "Even so, Ronald. Can't you see how that would make a girl insecure?"
"Yeah," Harry sighed. "But that's not the worst of it. We argued about that, yeah, but then…" Harry trailed off, looking embarrassed.
Hermione made an encouraging noise in the back of her throat. "Then?"
Harry sighed, "She asked me to live with her again. And when I said that I wasn't, well, ready for that yet, she sort of… went crazy."
Hermione winced. "Oh, my. Yes, that would do it."
Ron snorted. "Ginny? Go nutters? That never happens."
Harry gave him a quelling look.
"What? She's completely batty. Once, I told her that her robes were looking a bit tight, and she hexed me bald!"
Hermione laughed incredulously. "Ron, luckily you never said that to me, or else you wouldn't have been able to pee standing up for weeks. I think your criteria for 'nutters' needs some re-evaluating."
Ron's eyes widened and he shifted his weight uncomfortably. Harry guffawed and clapped Hermione on the back.
"Good one, Hermione." Harry's smile fell as he contemplated his dilemma. "But I do need some advice. What should I do about Gin? I love her, but she's just pushing our relationship too far too fast." Harry sighed and shuffled his feet morosely.
Hermione touched his arm gently, searching out his green eyes. "Harry, I'd say you need a serious talk about the status of your relationship and where you want it to go and where you see it going. She just needs some reassurance that she's the most important thing in your life. Do something romantic, do something fun, anything. But talk to her, for goodness sake! Meanwhile, this situation is only going to get worse."
Ron nodded. "Right. Look at Hermione and me. We talked it out when we started having problems and decided that we were better as friends. That was over a year ago. All in all, there was minimal awkwardness had by all. Except by Mum. Who was, as usual, a complete pain in the arse."
"You're right," Harry said grimly. "But talking to her when she's mad like this…"
"I'm sorry mate. Bugger if I know what to do."
Harry smiled weakly. "Thanks anyway."
Hermione's eyes narrowed as Lavender staggered out of the room, pale and sweating profusely, leaning heavily on Klaus. She winced in sympathy, remembering Lavender's phobia involving blood.
She was jerked out her reminiscing by Harry. "Why are we here anyway? And why isn't there anyone here over the age of thirty-five?" Harry said for the about the tenth time that morning. "I know we've been joking about it, but can we really trust the ministry?"
Ron's brows furrowed and his face soured. "I don't know, but I don't like it."
"There's something dreadfully odd about this situation," Hermione said. "Demanding that wizards donate blood? It's suspicious to say the least. With the blood-replenishing potion there's no demand for blood products like in the Muggle world. I don't understand why we need to be here."
"I just have a bad feeling about this," Harry repeated. "Blood can be used for very dark magic and with the government the way it is…"
"But what can we do about it?"
The three friends lapsed into thoughtful silence as the line slowly crept forward.
"Speaking of dark," Ron muttered.
Hermione looked up sharply but only saw the back of Harry's cloak. Harry was in battle mode, using his greater bulk to shield her from whoever it was coming towards them. His back was tense, his hand was steady and his fingers loose, ready to grab his wand out of his back pocket at any moment. Cursing her height for the millionth time, she wiggled her way past the tall males to see what they were glaring at.
Oh, Hermione thought acidly, Malfoy. Here I thought it was someone interesting.
Draco Malfoy. Pureblood. Wealthy. Syltherin.
Utter, complete bastard.
When Draco Malfoy was a boy, he was all angles. Cheekbones, chin, brow, nose, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. He was a skinny boy with a skinny, pointed face that, at worst, made him look like a sub-species of Rodentia and at best only modestly tolerable.
Now, as other boys grew rounder and lost their youthful good looks, the extra pounds that Draco had gained in the five years sine Hogwarts suited him. He no longer looked like a Picasso study in triangles.
He was not profoundly handsome. Nor was he conventionally good looking. Hermione, after careful study, could only classify his bizarre appeal as disturbingly sexual.
His was a beauty of symmetry, sharpness and masculinity. Cruel, thin lips - mobile and expressive. Sharp, straight white teeth. A chiseled, clean jawline. High, knife-edged cheekbones that framed stormy grey eyes. Straight blond brows were angled just so, to appear both fey and dangerous.
And his body… Hermione sighed at the waste. He had been painfully thin while in school, but with the added lean, wiry muscle, his body could now be appreciated by the female gender.
Only if they could look past his charming personality, of course.
He strolled into the Ministry like he owned it. Gregory Goyle loomed over him like a dark shadow. It was common knowledge that after the Battle of Hogwarts, he had appointed himself as Malfoy's bodyguard and head of security.
Draco barely glanced at the line and strode confidently past the rest of the queue. The heels of his Hessians echoed in the suddenly quiet hall as he and his looming guard made their way to the front of the line.
Hermione felt a dark emotion burning in her gut as he stopped in front of them.
His eyes raked them, took in their sloppy appearance and sneered. "I see the big, famous heroes still have to wait in line with the rest of the peasants. I would have thought that the Ministry would be kissing your shiny arses, but I am proven wrong. But with a Weasley amongst your number, where else could you be but bringing up the rear?"
Ron's face flushed bright crimson, and he clenched his hands into tight fists.
As Ron retorted angrily, Hermione rolled her eyes. Oh, Ron. Why must you fall for his stupid lines every time? Sometimes you're just too easy… Hermione flushed at this traitorous thought, and concentrated on staring sufficiently balefully at Malfoy's sneering face.
The exchange was so familiar that they might as well have done it via rote memory. Hermione barely listened to the mocking and the insults and wondered at the dark circles under Malfoy's eyes and the lines of strain around his mouth that hadn't been there a few months ago.
"… spineless, inbred coward…"
He doesn't have the complexion for stress, Hermione thought absently.
"… that's right, you're too poor properly groom yourself…"
Formalities concluded, Draco swept to the front of the line, leaving the Gryffindors behind him.
"Does anyone know an Elizabethan play about the battle of the sexes that begins with the letter M?"
Mandrag's Café wasn't the best café in wizarding London, nor was it the most popular. On that particular morning, however, it boasted a phenomenal increase in its usual Saturday AM patronage. Happily situated next to the telephone booth entrance to the Ministry, it had always survived on the convenience of location rather than excellent service or wonderful cuisine. Being that this was an unusually busy morning at said Ministry, Mandrag's was a surprised benefactor of the strange Ministry mandate.
The small, wobbly tables were packed with young wizards and witches, most of them trying to forget the ruination of their Saturday morning by brightening it up with a cheerful breakfast out. Unfortunately for them, the café had not heard of the mandate and the waitstaff was unable to accommodate the influx of new patrons, leaving the dining experience something to be desired.
One table in particular received distinctly sub-par service, even by Mandrag standards. Three infamous wizards sat in a dim corner booth with cracked, blood-red vinyl cushions. They seemed completely unfazed by the palpable dislike of the waitress, most of the patrons and of the world in general.
Gregory Goyle sipped on his skinny raspberry macchiato (extra whip, chocolate drizzle) slowly even though it was ice cold by the time the waitress had gotten around to bringing it to the table. He put it down and stirred the pink coffee vigorously with a bent spoon, glaring at it all the while, as if hoping to revive some flavor into the disappointing beverage. Giving up, mused in his quiet voice, "I still haven't been able to dig up anything about this particular Ministry mandate. It's driving me batty."
Blaise raised an elegant brow. "I'm surprised. Your contacts are top notch."
Greg scowled, the expression carving deep lines onto his stern face. "Usually. Right now they can't tell me shite about this mandate. It is not sitting right with me, especially now that the ministry has my blood sitting in their vault."
Blaise took a sip of his sludgy cappuccino, his fingers tapping restlessly against the cup, his elegantly manicured nails making annoying click-click noises on the porcelain. "Peculiar. Very peculiar. There are endless magical uses for human blood, and none of them sit well with me."
"I know," Greg said grimly. "I have a bad feeling about this. But as former enemies of the state what else can we do but obey like good little citizens?"
"Draco? What's your take?"
"Couldn't care less," Draco sneered, annoyed at being pulled out of his private musings.
Blaise rolled his eyes and the conversation resumed, this time without even lip service paid to Draco's presence.
Draco didn't give a flying fig what Blaise or Greg thought, as his mind was elsewhere. The Ministry mandate bothered him, of course. The whole bloody setup practically screamed 'nefarious plot.' But as his usual Ministry contacts could not bribe, threaten nor get their hands on any sort of lead, he triaged that worrisome annoyance farther down his mental list. If the war had taught him anything, it was to expend energy on problems he could do something about and to leave the rest for later.
He sipped his coffee slowly while beating down competing feelings of exhaustion and frustration. Was there no acceptable female on this entire godforsaken island?
He had to find a wife, and soon. He was the only heir to the Malfoy fortune, and with that came significant responsibilities. Chief among them was marrying a pureblood and popping out a passel of brats. Draco enjoyed his bachelorhood as much as the next bloke, and certainly thought twenty-three was too young to marry.
His parents thought differently.
If he didn't want to be saddled with an ugly, stupid but undoubtedly pure cow, Draco had to take matters into his own hands.
And now that Father is… Draco cut off that line of thought abruptly and concentrated on the task at hand. Namely, finding his future wife. While the other former Slytherins were conversing quietly, he snapped open his briefcase and leafed through his recent correspondence. Finding the letter he had in mind, he quickly re-read it.
Your Father and I have agreed to your request. You may continue the search for a bride on your own. However, we are not prepared to wait forever. You may have until the end of the year to claim her hand, or we will take the decision out of yours.
Your loving Mother
Much better than he was expecting, but less than he had hoped. The end of the year was four months away. Still, it wasn't a total loss. Shoving his half-finished breakfast to the side, he quickly scribbled a reply.
I am most thankful for your consideration of my unusual request. Be assured I will procure a suitable bride by the appointed time.
He folded the note quickly and slipped it into his jacket pocket. The first step had been cleared, but there was still the task of finding said bride within the time limit.
Feeling a headache coming on, Draco leaned on the breakfast table, narrowing his eyes a little as he mentally ran over his list of options. In his mind, he started to methodically make notes. Let us go over this again, shall we? Not that I missed anything the first time.
Pansy Parkinson, Daphne Greengrass, and Millicent Bulstrode were sitting a nearby booth, sipping cappuccinos and giggling over a letter Daphne had received from an admirer she had met while on holiday in the French Riviera. Draco winced at the thought of wedding and bedding one of his former school chums. Ugh, marrying one of them would be like marrying my sister. If I had one, of course.
The younger Slytherins had the correct breeding, but again, there was no mystery, no intellectual challenge in marrying someone who was so similar to one's self.
Bored with the prospects in his backyard, Draco decided to broaden his horizons. A radical thought, but if one was going to research anything, he reasoned, one must be thorough. Leaning back in his seat, he glanced about the cafe while munching on his last muffin and scoped out his possible prey.
His gaze first landed on a group of former Hufflepuffs. Pathetic. As if I would ever touch one of those bints. Still for the sake of his future, he must steel himself to mentally check every possibility, no matter how repulsive they may seem.
Hannah Abbot was sitting at the coffee bar and was currently making calf-eyes at Ernie McMillian, giggling every so often at one of his comments. Draco retched a little in his mouth.
A knot of female Ravenclaws sat by the sad, crumbling fireplace. Draco recognized Lisa Turpin and Padma Patil from his year, and thought a few of the other girls looked somewhat familiar. They looked to be discussing something very seriously, very sedately.
They interested him about as much as watching his mother knit. He liked a girl with a little more passion, a little more bite.
And Turpin had on a tweed jacket. Tweed.
The rest of the café was sadly filled with couples and men.
He was doomed.
I might as well let Mother and Father arrange a marriage for me, Draco thought melodramatically. I'm not even sure why I bother.
As Draco contemplated a lengthy and undoubtedly futile sojourn to the continent, the café door gave another cheerful chime. He drained his over-brewed, bitter coffee and contemplated the possibility of caffeine jitters versus feeling completely alert. He glanced at the new arrivals and his mood soured even more.
A cuppa to go, then.
Of course, Potty, Weasel and the Mudblood had to patronize the same café as he did, at the same time. Of course.
The adulation of the Gryffindorks was almost too much for Draco to handle. The staff practically fell over themselves to seat them. The manager came out to wait on them personally. They probably would get the meal on the house.
"I think we've overstayed our welcome," Draco said bitterly. "Let's pay the tab and leave."
Blaise, always calm and composed, looked amused by his reaction but said, "Let's."
But the check was a long time coming. Their surly waitress looked at them sourly and sulked off to hover around Team Idiot like the rest of the lemmings, leaving Draco seriously considering whether to dine-and-ditch for the first time in his life.
As he waited, he glared at their table, somewhat grateful that they didn't notice the group of Slytherins, but also somewhat offended. However, wounded pride aside, it afforded him an opportunity to really study the group in a way that he had not since Hogwarts.
It somewhat surprised him how little Potter and Weasley had changed. Most everyone else had either gained a little weight, cut their hair, changed their clothing style, or something in the past five years. Put them into their school uniforms and they could have stepped into class without missing a beat.
Probably so that they would be recognized more easily.
Granger had not been an attractive child. She was a small thing, and had been absolutely overwhelmed by her own features. Everything about her screamed too much. Too much hair, too much teeth, too much eyes, too much mouth.
However, he had to admit that by the end of their years at Hogwarts, she had grown somewhat less cow-like. Her face had grown and settled in to a pleasant evenness, her features well balanced. Her teeth, thanks to him, were small and straight. Her hair, of course, had still been a complete nightmare.
Yet when she wanted to, she could even look pretty.
Not pretty… His mind whispered. He brushed it off and continued his study of the girl.
The last time he had really paid any notice to her had been during and after the last battle against the Dark Lord. Then, she had been painfully thin, almost wasted looking. The constant stress she had been living under had made her skin wan and pale, dark bags hung under her eyes, and her hair had been worse than ever, snarled and matted.
Now… Well, now she looked positively lush in comparison. Her face no longer looked thin and gaunt, her cheekbones no longer knife-like, but striking. Her lips still hovering on the border of ridiculously full, but they were now balanced by the rest of her face. Her brown eyes were wide and almost too big in her heart-shaped face, but the sharp, biting intelligence kept her expression from vacant and naive. Her hair, that Achilles heel, was still itching for a good hair product, but had been tamed to where the frizz was actually somewhat charming rather than revolting.
She was still too much. Too much intelligence, too much snark, too much abrasiveness, too much lushness, too much hair, too much lips.
She was the exact opposite of everything he was looking for in a woman.
The sour-faced waitress had finally given them their bill. Draco put down a galleon for a nine knut tab, but didn't want to wait for the change.
"Draco," Greg said, mouth curving snidely. "Do you want to give the idiot brigade a hard time?"
Draco felt an uncomfortable churning sensation in his gut as he stared at the table across the room. "No. Let's just get out of here."
So Draco, Blaise and Greg left the gloomy café quietly, and the Gryffindor Trio never noticed.
A/N: A new story? Yeah I know. I resisted writing this story for months, but it won't be silent anymore. Unfortunately. So here is the beginning of my Marriage Law fic. *sigh* Who knew I could be so cliché? Many, many, many thanks to Ravyn for being my beta and overall writing buddy. Without her, none of this would have happened!