Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Draco needs a bride. Hermione needs a new start. A new Ministry mandate solves both of their problems. So why are they so unhappy?
Chapter Three: The Malignant Ministry
The Atrium of the Ministry of Magic was once again unexpectedly crowded early Thursday morning. This time, it was not just with the youth of wizarding Britain gathered in the hallowed halls, but jam-packed with possibly the entirety of the wizarding population, from blushing youth to elderly grandmother, rich, poor and everyone in between. They filled the giant hall, but more and more people crowded in, and the fireplaces started to leak green smoke from the high-volume floo traffic.
They all had one thing in common.
They were angry.
Incredibly, emphatically angry.
The problem with angry witches and wizards is that by the nature of magic, every magic user allowed to use a wand should be considered armed and dangerous. And a horde of enraged armed and dangerous people certainly was Law Enforcement's worst nightmare.
Yet the poor Aurors were torn. They were ordered to control the giant mob of furious wizardkind. Yet, most of them were also incredibly angry with the government, their employer, as well. It made for poor enforcement, to say the least, when the majority of those responsible for controlling the mob felt like joining it themselves.
"…This law is shite!"
"The Ministry has no right to do this!"
Incoherent screams and angry mutterings were the order of the day. The atmosphere was tense, thick with a violent energy. The people were waiting, waiting for a signal to destroy the place, to quiet down, to murder their elected officials, anything.
They needed answers.
Human nature dislikes the disruption of the orderly nature of things. The way things had always been is the way things always should be. Even those who profess to like change hate it when it comes too fast, even if change is necessary.
It makes people ugly.
For the life of her, Hermione couldn't remember ever being so angry. Not when she slapped Draco Malfoy silly for making fun of Hagrid. Not when Umbridge ran Hogwarts. Not when Bellatrix LeStrange tortured her at wandpoint. No, this situation had twisted her guts into a ball of screaming fury.
And the fact that she was even remotely associated with a government that would do something like this? Absolutely abhorrent.
Someone screamed obscenities about the Minister, and blasted a vicious hex at the Fountain of Magical Brethren, a stream of red light blasting the majestic golden wizard. The statue's hat and a significant portion of the head were blown away.
The crowd cheered.
Hermione could feel nothing but approval. She was sure the violence felt good.
Ron, pale and tight-lipped in his black leather combat outfit, led the offender away. She wondered how he was able to control himself. Last night, he was just as angry, if not angrier than she was.
He was the one who screamed until he was purple.
She was the one who threw things into the fireplace to hear the satisfying smash.
Harry drank himself into oblivion.
After breaking most of the glassware in the flat, Hermione thought it was a good idea too.
In the midst of the shouting in the atrium, Hermione noticed Draco Malfoy standing at the edge of the crowd, just behind her. He wasn't screaming himself hoarse like other concerned citizens, but he was, to her, just as upset in his own subtle way.
Draco was most definitely on edge, frazzled even. It had been years since Hermione had seen him anything but immaculate, but today he was simply dressed in shirtsleeves and trousers. He wore no tie. Hermione was momentarily distracted by the unaccustomed view of his pale throat, the long elegant line of it marred only by a day's growth of beard.
He was leaning against a column, eyes wary, his face tense. His expression was filled with the expected anger, but with something else as well. It wasn't quite fear, it wasn't anxiety… It was a quiet alertness, an edge that Hermione had always found in battle, but seemed slightly out of place for a situation such as this.
The crowd, riled up once more, surged forward, pushing her into Malfoy's side. He stiffened; his had quickly going to his wand.
"Excuse me, Malfoy," Hermione said, in what she hoped was a neutral tone.
Draco narrowed his eyes, but his hand inched away from his wand.
An encounter with no pithy comment on my heritage? Hermione thought, He must really be off his form today.
Standing so close to him, Hermione couldn't help but notice the dark circles under his eyes and the tension in his face and felt something like camaraderie with the former Slytherin. She was sure she looked no better.
The crowd surged again, and they were unexpectedly pressed together from chest to ankle. And Hermione was suddenly aware of Malfoy, more than she had ever been in her whole life.
Her first impression was that Malfoy was as fit as he looked- no glamour charms needed. She would be surprised if there was an ounce of fat on his tall muscular frame. His body radiated intense heat, almost burning her through her thin robes. He smelled expensive- like French cologne and spicy wine, but tinged with a faint aroma of freshly cut grass and a slight musk that made Hermione have an embarrassing urge to bury her nose into the skin of his exposed throat.
A fierce wave of mortification surged through her, and her face felt hot and cold all at once. Her gaze flew to his face, and met his, her breath coming in short gasps.
She was arrested by the intensity there, the banked emotion.
What is he thinking? Her lips parted softly, and his grey eyes focused on them. She saw his throat bob slightly as he swallowed hard, and a lock of pale blond hair fell into his eyes. Hermione's hand itched to sweep it back.
Suddenly, Harry's calm voice - calm, clear and distinctive - washed over the crowd, and the mob quieted down. Hermione, no longer pressed to Malfoy's lean body, stumbled back a little, disoriented.
When Hermione's wits returned, Malfoy was gone.
After their Hero spoke, the mass of wizardkind certainly wasn't pacified, but the atmosphere did grow marginally less dangerous.
Until Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared.
Dressed to the nines in an expensive Muggle suit, Kingsley looked handsome, professional, and forbidding. A knot of Aurors, dressed in intimidating black leather, surrounded him, wands drawn, and their faces grim as the crowd hollered obscenities, booing and hissing.
The mood was violent, precariously on the edge of a mass riot.
Kingsley held up his hand, and the crowd quieted, albeit slowly, the mob's thirst for blood barely banked.
"My countrymen, my friends. You have all received your letters summoning you here today. And I know you are angry, and that you seek answers. I know that this comes as a shock," Kingsley's gaze hardened, his stance becoming more aggressive, reminding Hermione of the Auror she once knew. "But it was a necessary shock."
Shouts erupted, and the Aurors conjured a strong shield blocking the many hexes headed in the Minister's direction. "This new Marriage Act was not created on a whim. It was not a power play. Indeed, it may still prove a futile effort to stem the disaster that approaches – our extinction."
The room was abruptly silent, the violence replaced with something just as potent, just as intoxicating to the masses– fear.
Kingsley continued, seemingly oblivious to the chance in the assembly. "I have declared the country to be in a state of emergency."
"The birthrate per couple is currently less than one. Some families have been fortunate enough to have more than one child, but most have not. The experts at St. Mungos assure me that if these birth rates keep going the way they are now…"
He paused, closed his eyes, and then continued.
"We will have bred ourselves into extinction within four generations."
The crowd gasped.
"The Statute of Secrecy was proclaimed to protect our population. Instead, it seems to have doomed us. It is the same with the magical populations of every country across the globe. We have been in contact with the other wizarding communities in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia, of Africa, and we have all reached the same conclusion. We, the magical, are dying."
"This is a crisis. A crisis fuel by generations of fear, a fear of the new, a fear of the outside world. This is a global crisis, but our country is in a more fragile state than those of the rest of the world. Precipitated by the extermination of Muggle-borns and of half-bloods by those who followed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Britain's population is even more delicate. We are not so lucky to have a varied genetic pool."
"In other countries, their governments have decided to let participants who wish to marry be subjected to tests to determine their fertility. If they are suitable, then they will be allowed to wed. Here, in Britain, we must be more radical."
"Using blood, we have determined the matches that will produce the strongest children, the most magical children. These are the children that will make the wizarding world stronger. The world will no longer be 'pure,' but it will be something better."
"It will be healthy."
"We know that relationships are personal business, and business that a government shouldn't go mucking about in. If it weren't for the terrible situation, we wouldn't have even dreamed of it. But this is a crisis. Those wizards who wish to contest the pre-arranged matches on the grounds of being in a previous relationship must submit themselves for testing. If there is no consanguinity in their family trees, and if their compatibility is the same or greater than the compatibility of the pre-arranged matches, then we will consider the petition. Until then, the matches are legally binding."
The crowd started to rumble at this, regaining a hint of its earlier animosity.
Kingsley held up his hand, and the audience quieted, faster than before. "It is a great burden we place on the young people of this generation and perhaps the next - the survival of our people and our way of life rests on their shoulders."
"As such, we the Ministry declare that anyone refusing this decree shall be treated as a traitor to wizardkind everywhere, and be treated accordingly. Banished, magic bound, to live as a Muggle forever."
Kingsley sharply inhaled, and then his shoulders sagged slightly, as if bowed by the weight of his words. But the moment of humanity was brief, and then Kingsley was once again unreadable. "Good morning to you all. And good luck."
The Minister descended from the makeshift podium and into the bowels of the Ministry flanked by a quad of Aurors, but they were no longer necessary. The crowd was as silent as a grave.
"This is possibly the most unromantic business in the history of time. And I've seen dad's Valentine's gifts." Ron said sourly.
Harry nodded gloomily and Hermione couldn't help but silently agree. They waited together in a nondescript hallway in the bowels of the Ministry building, huddled together in a shell-shocked cluster with family and friends waiting for their names to be called. After Kingsley's speech, the crowd had grown remarkably docile, accepting their fate and this new law when just moments before they were ready to tear the Ministry apart with their bare hands.
Hermione wasn't quite as convinced.
However, with no imminent riot to take care of, Harry and Ron were discharged from Auror duties to wait with the rest of the anxious masses for the news.
To be told who they were going to marry.
It was rather daunting.
They waited in small shell-shocked groups, huddled with friends and family, waiting for the Ministry to shackle them to another poor soul for the sake if future generations. Hermione, while as shocked and appalled as everyone else, was still angry. Kingsley's pretty speech didn't satisfy her need for knowledge.
Hermione, when looking at the situation objectively, could see the irony in it. Muggle-borns were now prized for the very thing that they were despised for in times past. Their new blood was no longer frowned upon, but very much desired. But Hermione couldn't be objective. No matter how much she told herself that the Ministry's explanation for the law made a certain ruthless sort of sense, the crusader in her couldn't get her mind around the violation of human rights inherent in such a policy. She could buy that the population was in trouble and that drastic measures needed to be taken, but why this scheme of matchmaking? What purpose would it solve if the couples inevitably hated each other and the government?
The more Hermione thought about it, the angrier and more confused she became. She had taken to pacing agitatedly, trying not to notice the steady stream of people going in and out of the innocuous wooden door and the expressions on their faces.
The waiting was unbearable. They tried to make nervous small talk, but as the youth of wizarding Britain was called, one by one, even Molly grew silent.
"I just hope she isn't a troll," Ron said, haven taken to blathering inanely in his shock, or fidgeting with his wand. "Merlin, what if I have to marry Bulstrode, or something equally as repulsive? I mean, just the logistics of… of… ugh! I wonder how the officials in Internal Affairs plan to manage that?"
"I'm sure they have something equally as invasive to our privacy and against our human rights." Hermione said acidly, her toes tapping against the floor.
Even though they tried to put on a brave front, they were obviously worried. Ginny had Harry's hand in a death-grip. Ron ceaselessly prattled. Neville was picking at his fingernails. George cracked joke after joke, jumping a mile when a new name was called. Molly and Arthur were putting on a brave front, but would speak in hushed, harsh whispers at various intervals, throwing nervous looks at the innocuous door. Percy, trying his best to be supportive for once, would periodically go to get updates from his bureaucratic friends, unfortunately only heightening the tension of the small group.
Hermione had a tight knot of nerves in her stomach and every once in awhile the sour taste of acid would rise to the back of her throat. The candidates would walk through various doors when their name was called overhead, obviously leading them to a common area inside the building where the matchmakers would introduce them to their Ministry-sanctioned spouse. Couples stumbled out of the door, looking overwhelmed, horrified or pleased, depending on the match.
It was hell to watch.
After an eternity, a magically amplified voice called, "Ronald Bilius Weasley. Ronald Bilius Weasley."
Molly clutched at his shoulder, her face white. Ron gulped. "It'll be fine, mum. You'll see." Giving them a sickly smile, he walked through the door.
If the waiting was unbearable before, after Ron left it became completely intolerable. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like hours. They stood in a tight, tense huddle, and Hermione almost wished for one of George's pranks to lighten the mood. But no such luck- grim faced like the rest, George clutched his wife Angelina's hand like a life preserver.
When Ron finally stumbled out of the door, clutching the hand of Luna Lovegood, it was almost anticlimactic. After the rush of family members feeling out Ron and Luna's take on the match, Hermione approached them with a tentative smile. Luna smiled back serenely.
"Are you happy?" Hermione asked.
"Oh yes," Luna replied, "After our date last month, I knew that Ronald and I would end up together eventually, he just hadn't seen it yet. This just sped things up a bit."
Hermione leaned up and whispered in Ron's ear, "Really?"
Ron just flushed and smiled sheepishly.
With a lighter heart, the group waited for other names to be called. Percy was matched with his longtime girlfriend Penelope Clearwater. Charlie with a old flame from his Hogwarts days. Neville with Hannah Abbot,
After a lunch of cold sandwiches and iced tea provided by the Ministry, Harry and Ginny were called. Ginny squeezed Hermione's hand hard, but walked to the door with a confident stride.
The family continued waiting, their mood still glum, but the exhausting edge of anxiety a bit doused.
Harry and Ginny stumbled out of the room looking shell-shocked, clutching each other tightly. Hermione scrambled to her feet from her place on the floor. "Harry? Ginny?" she said, her voice tentative. "What happened?"
Ginny, still clinging to Harry's shirt like a lifeline, burst into tears. Her knees buckled, and Harry gently sat her on the cold floor, one hand clamped around her waist, his other hand stroking her fiery hair gently, soothingly. Ginny's hand snaked up around his neck into his messy hair at his nape, and Harry closed his eyes, suspicious moisture clinging to the corners of his dark lashes.
Hermione glanced at the others, helpless. It was obvious that something bad, very bad, had happened. It was less obvious what to do about it, as the assorted Weasleys and friends stared at each other and at the pain in horrified fascination.
Kneeling at their side slowly, Hermione placed a hand on Harry's shoulder blade. He flinched at the contact.
Harry's eyes opened and Hermione felt her gut clench at the anger and helplessness in them. Oh, Harry. Oh no. Not you.
Hermione bit her lip, drawing blood. "Something happened, didn't it?"
"What the bloody hell do you think happened?" Harry stormed away, his face a mask of anguish and anger.
Spurred into action, Ron followed him immediately, his long strides catching up with Harry's shorter ones. Arthur looked between the two highly distraught young people, and with a significant glance at his wife, took off after Harry. Molly knelt beside Hermione next to her daughter and took Ginny in her arms.
The two women waited patiently, and soon Ginny's sobs quieted to a steady hiccupping. Wearily she scrubbed at puffy, red eyes. "I must look a fright."
When Molly and Hermione remained silent, Ginny sighed. She began to speak slowly, as if the words themselves were heavy weights. "The Potters and the Weasleys are apparently second cousins. According to the medi-witches, we have a seventy percent chance of having a squib," Ginny closed her eyes tightly, as if willing the thought away. "I've never seen Harry so angry. He was so calm at first, but when they told us we could never be together, he started to lose it. And when they told us who I was matched with…"
Hermione felt the small coil of dread in her gut expand and settle in for an extended stay. "Gin, who is it?"
"Goyle," Ginny said, her face eerily blank.
"Goyle," Ginny laughed bitterly. "Goyle's parents immigrated directly from Germany. His bloodline is apparently in no way related to mine. The Weasleys are apparently hard to match because we're related to everyone," Ginny said, tears streaming down her face. "But our match is bloody outstanding."
"And Harry is… My Harry is going to marry Parkinson. I… Oh, I'm going to…" Ginny grabbed a rubbish bin, and promptly heaved her guts into it.
Hermione sat on the hard wood floor next to her, Molly on the other side. They both took turns petting Ginny's hair and saying soothing nonsense. When Hermione's worried eyes met Molly's and Hermione had to look away to hide her rapidly welling tears.
It wasn't fair. They had fought a war. They had brought down Voldemort, the darkest wizard who had ever lived. Weren't they allowed some peace? Weren't they allowed to be happy?
Happiness was not their destiny.
Their destiny was, as always, to save the world.
Tears streaking down her cheeks, Hermione clutched Ginny's narrow shoulders until her name was called. Leaving her heart-broken friend on the floor with her mother, she stood unsteadily. She squared her shoulders bravely and scrubbed her face with a quick glamour. With the illusion of courage, she went to meet her fate.
Hermione walked through the door with a sour feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had faced other obstacles before – madmen, madwomen, torture, N.E.W.T.S. - but the last time she had felt this overwhelmingly helpless she was being tortured at wandpoint by Bellatrix Lestrange.
The door opened into a dark corridor, surely appropriated from some horrid Gothic novel. The darkness did nothing to calm Hermione's fears. She marched down the gloomy passage past a long series of forbidding doors, each with cheerful little signs in pink lacquer proclaiming, "Not here, Miss Granger!"
Her thoughts tumbled through her brain too fast for her to process – What if it's someone I know? What if it's someone I don't know? What if he's ugly? What if he's mean? She walked down through the endless black corridor, mind numb, as the doors continued to say, "Keep walking Miss G!"
Finally, Hermione stopped in front of the door whose sign read, "Right here, Miss Granger!" She did not enter. She put her palms on the cool wood and took an unsteady breath. Steady your nerves, Hermione thought, clenching her teeth, you can do this.
Before she lost her courage, she rapped on the door sharply.
"Come in!" a cheerful, muffled voice called.
Hermione lifted her chin, quickly smoothed her hair and plastered a polite smile on her face. She pushed open the door, and hid her trembling hands. "Um, hello. I hope you haven't been waiting…" Hermione trailed off as she saw who was waiting for her.
The man was tall, blond and athletically lean. His face was cruelly handsome, all planes and angles, no softness in his features. As she approached, his back sharply stiffened from an indolent slouch like he was stung with a stinging curse.
And she knew him. Merlin, yes, she knew him.
Her eyes focused on Draco's pale face in shock. Blearily, she was impressed with his composure because other than the dramatic widening of his eyes and the accelerated rate of his breathing, he was quite expressionless. In contrast, Hermione was sure her mouth was flapping like a goldfish. An unattractive goldfish at that.
Fish aren't attractive, Hermione thought, Oh my. My mind's cracked, hasn't it? The world started to tilt crazily and Hermione suddenly felt overheated and cold at the same time, and Malfoy's face was covered in such lovely sparkles…
A hand on her arm steadied her while the edges of her vision went black. A smooth male voice spoke quietly while strong hands and arms supported her limp body. "Granger? I'm leading you to a seat."
Hermione gratefully felt her backside being parked on something solid and the man spoke again. "I suppose this answers the question about foreknowledge of the match rather handily, doesn't it?"
The world righted itself slowly, and Hermione soon felt stable enough to open her eyes. And promptly felt like shutting them again when the man kneeling before her looked like the one blond, pointy-faced bully she could never, ever forget, even if she wanted to. Determining that she was in no immediate danger of collapse, Malfoy rose from his position in front of her swiftly and took his seat in the large wing-backed chair beside hers. He fidgeted for a moment, his hand caressing his wand briefly, the movement carefully covered by a lazy shrug of his shoulder. He was on edge, but was very, very good at concealing it.
Interesting, Hermione thought, Malfoy still has some of his battle tics.
A glass of pumpkin juice was shoved into her hand by an elderly witch in a set of blindingly bright lime robes. "Oh, Miss Granger! Are you quite alright? Do you need medical attention?"
Hermione shook her head gingerly, grimacing at the nausea the motion produced. "No, I'm quite alright. I think that with a little rest I will recover promptly."
The tiny witch pursed her lips thoughtfully. "We can certainly delay the meeting if you wish."
After taking a long swig of pumpkin juice and making sure her voice was steady, Hermione said, "Thank you, but I would like to continue with the meeting," She smiled, looking rather anemic. "I'm feeling much better already."
Draco and the witch both looked doubtful, but Hermione glared at them and the witch, at least, looked appropriately intimidated. Draco, however, seemed amused. Hermione narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin in a look that always cowed Harry and Ron, but Draco's lips only twitched in response.
The witch introduced herself as Miss Imelfa Ridgebit, official 'Marriage Liaison' of the Ministry. She was a small, older creature, obviously color-blind. Dressed in bright lime green robes decorated with an abundance of ruffles, she looked rather like a neon birthday cake. The ensemble was completed with cotton-candy pink necklaces, ringed round her neck, and sparkly rings on every finger. Hermione could care less about fashion, but even she winced internally at the bright outfit. Miss Ridgebit shuffled the papers on her desk for what seemed an inordinate amount of time before she handed them each a thick stack of parchment with a final flourish.
Hermione scanned at the first page and grimaced at the amount of legalese she was going to have to wade through. Because there had to be a loophole in this hellish situation, and if there wasn't she was damn well going to create one.
"Now that the excitement is over, I just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to finally meet you both!" Miss Ridgebit beamed, her puffy little cheeks getting plumper with adorable dimples.
"From your reaction I assume you are already acquainted?" Hermione would swear it was physically impossible, but the witch's smile widened further.
Hermione managed a nod, not trusting herself to speak. From the corner of her eye, she saw Draco do the same.
"Oh, lovely!" Miss Ridgebit, whom Hermione was now quite sure was insane, actually clapped her hands in delight."That will save quite a bit of time!"
Hermione barely restrained herself from cursing the daft cow, and snuck a glance at Draco. She was gratified to see him glowering at the woman with the cutting stare that she remembered from school. That the witch was too stupid to notice the danger she was in certainly wasn't his fault.
Miss Ridgebit leaned forward and said, in a hushed voice, "The Ministry is very excited about this match."
"Are they?" Draco drawled, his voice dripping with ice.
The Ridgebit woman continued on, oblivious. "Oh yes. In fact, it is possibly the most spectacular match of the bunch!" She picked up a piece of parchment from her towering stacks and adjusted her spectacles. Scanning the parchment she practically cooed with pleasure. "Why, you will have virtually no chance of having a squib. And, my look at that fertility score! Oh, magical potential and intelligence probabilities are very impressive as well."
"And do you happen to know the height and weight of these paragons?" Draco said snidely, "I'm keen to know their eye color. How about you, Granger?"
Hermione, felt a large, soon to be vicious headache coming on. The information she was hearing was just too surreal. In no sane universe was she compatible with Draco Malfoy, and the very thought of fertility scores made nausea rear up, full force. She was sure she looked like a goldfish again. Desperately, she said, "How can we verify if this data is accurate? I have never heard of anything, magical or muggle, that can produce these sort of results."
The bubbly little woman had the audacity to look smug. "That is classified information, Miss Granger." She smiled brightly. "All you need to know is that the methodology is incredibly accurate."
Screw hexes, Hermione now wanted the personal satisfaction of strangling this woman. All you need to know, indeed. It set her teeth on edge and made her anger level rocket from 'highly inflamed' to 'severely dangerous.' She clenched her teeth producing a fierce grinding noise, causing pains from where she was crushing her molars together coursing through her skull. "So I'm just supposed to take the Ministry's word that my best match is with Draco Bloody Malfoy?"
The elderly witch blinked. "Yes, of course. The Ministry has only the best interests of the wizarding population in mind."
Hermione felt like laughing hysterically, then hexing the bloody idiot, and then strangling her. "Then I'm afraid to inform you of a miniscule face that escaped the infallible Ministry's notice." Hermione gestured to both Draco and herself with a wide sweeping motion. "We. Hate. Each. Other."
"Well," said Miss Ridgebit, "I know that the selection committee took into account many different factors when deciding these matches and a history of social antagonism and other past relationships ranked highly in the process. I can assure you, if they matched you with each other even with those past factors taken into consideration, the committee must firmly believe that you can work things out." She then proceeded to smile brightly as if her speech made everything all better.
The roaring sound in her ears couldn't be the world collapsing, but she certainly felt like it was crumbling into dust at her feet. Hermione knew that she would be an emotional wreck later. She felt frustrated tears threatening to leak out, felt the fine trembling in her hands. She was entitled to a breakdown right here, in front of this crazed, idiotic witch and the unbelievable prat she was apparently supposed to marry. But that was not who Hermione Granger was.
Shoving emotion aside, Hermione's brain went into survival mode. Acidly brutal thoughts about how her future was being decided by a committee and what she would like to do to said committee if she ever found out who was on it gave way to a niggling idea. It was a small idea, a small hope, but she had to try…
Even if it failed, it would buy her some time.
"I have another proposal to put before the committee before the betrothal between Malfoy and I is finalized." Hermione swallowed the acid that rose to her throat as she said the words. Now I know there is a hell. And I'm in it, she thought. "I would like to propose an alternate match, with Viktor Krum."
Hermione felt, rather than saw, Draco startle at the name and wondered what was going through his head. He had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout this nightmarish encounter, except for a few digs at the moronic Miss Ridgebit. Sneaking a peek at him through her lashes, she noticed how very, very still he was, like he was poised to attack. Quickly assessing his hands and posture, she determined that he was not in any danger of reaching for his wand. Somehow, that made her more nervous. What was he up to?
Miss Ridgebit stared stupidly at Hermione for a few moments. "Isn't he the Bulgarian Quidditch seeker?"
Nodding, Hermione said, "Yes, and as he and I have almost no chance at consanguinity, I propose you run your little… test… using him as a potential husband."
"A Bulgarian national? I don't know… there would be quite a bit of paperwork…"
Hermione spoke quickly, shoring up her paper-thin plan. "Oh! Of course Viktor would immigrate to Britain after our marriage and not the other way around. I am just too attached to my native country."
Hermione could practically see moment the reality of the offer clicked in Miss Ridgebit's tiny brain. "He is a world class Seeker. If he became a British citizen…"
Hermione smirked. "Of course he would play for England when he emigrates! Now, if you'll consider…" Hermione paused as a drop of moisture fell on her cheek. Wiping it carelessly, she continued. "If you'll consider the possibility of granting an extension of…" More drops of liquid fell on Hermione, splashing her robes.
"What the…?" Hermione looked up. Dark grey clouds were pouring from the edges of the room, swirling and streaming around the head of Draco Malfoy. Blinking rapidly, Hermione tore her gaze from the indoor weather system to look at his hands. They were clenching the armrest of the chair so tight his knuckles were white. No wand. Gasping, her eyes flew to his face, startled by the display of wandless magic.
It was raining in earnest now. Draco's blond hair was plastered to his head and streams of water ran down his pale skin. His mouth was set in a grim line, and his jaw was tense with emotion.
His eyes were furious.
"I accept this betrothal," Draco said, his voice tight, "If Granger thinks that she can up and marry some foreigner, she can forget it."
A bolt of lightening slammed into the desk punctuating his statement, blinding Hermione. It was followed by a loud clap of thunder.
How like Malfoy, Hermione thought, her rage and horror growing. She dragged her trembling fingers through her soaking wet hair. So bloody dramatic.
Self-control snapped. Standing up, she furiously marched to the seated Draco. "There is no way I am marrying you!" She shrieked, her wand out, poking it viciously into his soaked chest.
Draco slowly stood up, his tall body unfolding from the chair gracefully. Immediately, Hermione grew uncomfortable at his nearness, but refused to be the one to back away. He grew closer and closer until they were almost touching and she could feel the heat of his body through her water saturated clothes, could feel the tension in his lean frame. She looked up, up and met his grey eyes and shivered at the hot rage there.
Draco shoved a soggy piece of parchment in her face. "The match proposal states that both parties must agree to the investigation of a possible alternate betrothal." He bared his teeth in a cheap facsimile of a smile. "I don't agree."
Hermione grabbed the parchment, stunned. Reading the rule, she felt the energy and rage drain, leaving her body feeling empty and worn. She looked up from the document and stared at Draco's cruel, beautiful face.
Draco didn't answer, but his eyes seemed to soften. But if he was going to speak, he lost the opportunity as Miss Ridgebit started to babble delightedly.
"Lovely, lovely! Now let me go over the details. Fist things first, the marriage has to take place within the month…"
Hermione supposed the woman talked for some time about settlements, expectations and the like, but she didn't remember any of it. She was too shocked. She couldn't take her eyes off of her fiancé's pointy, calculating face as he quietly absorbed the information Miss Ridgebit was all too happy to impart. With a quick drying charm they were all comfortable again, sitting quietly together, calmly discussing their betrothal.
It was enough to make Hermione want to cry.
Yesterday, she had craved change, wished for it, begged for it.
She put her head in her hands. The fates certainly were evil little bitches.
Authors Note: I know that updates on this and my other WIPs are long overdue. Hopefully this will tide you over a little! I had great fun with this chapter and playing with the Marriage Law clichés that we all know and love. Many, many thanks to Ravyn for the beta- you're a lifesaver!