Disclaimer: In its use of intellectual property and characters belonging to JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et cetera, this work of fiction is intended to be transformative commentary on the original. No profit is being made from this work. To the extent permissible by law, I retain the rights to my language/text/story.
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?
Betas: Mccargi and Ravyn
Chapter Four: Happily Never After
Indoor weather systems aside, Draco supposed the rest of the meeting went as well as could be expected.
Which was to say, poorly.
Granger was on edge, obviously upset, frustrated and angry as a hellcat. Her skin was unnaturally pale, her full lips colourless. Her eyes held a fanatical light that Draco vaguely recalled from O.W.L. revisions. And her body held a familiar readiness, her hand gripping her wand like a warrior ready for battle.
The revolting Miss Ridgebit continued with her effusive explanations of the marriage contract, unimpeded by the death glares or homicidal body language. Draco's mind whirled as she talked, half of his brain paying attention, the other jammed with thoughts, plans, schemes. All interspersed with chastising himself for his stupid display of power.
Draco had noticed odd displays of accidental magic, increasing in frequency over the years. His old wand, the familiar length of hawthorn he had used throughout Hogwarts, did not respond to him like it used to, before Potter, before the Elder Wand. Potter had given it back to him after his trial, saying he preferred to use his own newly repaired wand. But the wand had switched allegiance, Harry Potter had used it to duel the most powerful wizard ever to live, and somehow it left its mark on the hawthorn, right down to its unicorn hair core. When his emotions got the best of him… things… would happen.
He demanded another wand from Ollivander, after a ghastly nightmare had set a terrible fire in his bedroom, but after trying all of the other wands in the shop, none fit as well as his hawthorn wand. So he was stuck with it and with the accidental magic.
So when he was angry, he was dangerous; his magic was a wild thing, lashing out at whoever displeased him.
And he was angry. So very, very angry.
"… and now I will leave you two alone to get to know each other better," Miss Ridgebit tittered slightly, as if at a silly joke, "but as you already know each other so well from school, I'm sure you'll start to get on splendidly."
Draco, suppressing his grimace, stood and took the revolting woman's hand, bowing slightly over her be-ringed fingers. He smiled slightly at her obvious pleasure. "Good afternoon, Madam."
Hermione, her expression one of haughty disapproval, said nothing.
Miss Rigbebit bustled to the door, and with a quick, "Tata!" and a slam of the door, they were alone.
He was alone with his fiancée.
To Hermione Granger.
The weight of it settled into Draco's stomach like ten stone.
His future bride did not look happy. To say the least. He had seen Granger smile before, and it relaxed her face from its usual pinched expression of disapproval. She was not smiling today. He wasn't sure if she would ever smile again, to be honest.
"Why?" Hermione said. Her voice was trembling slightly and her hands were white as they gripped her armrests, but her eyes had the intensity of a Sphinx. "Why didn't you agree to the alternate match?
"Why do you think, Granger?"
"That's why I'm asking you, you giant prat!" Hermione snapped, springing from her chair. "I'm sure they could have found you someone more suitable."
Draco's face was hard, cold, as he sized up her small frame. "Do you really think that I can afford to buck Ministry mandates?"
Hermione, taken aback, said, "Well, I suppose not, given your situation."
A harsh laugh escaped Draco's stiff lips. "'My situation,' indeed. You know nothing about my situation."
Hermione blinked at the bitterness in his tone and pursed her full lips. She laid a tentative hand on his broad chest, feeling the incredible heat through the silk. "I can't know unless you tell me, Malfoy."
For a moment, Draco considered telling her. Telling her about the frustration, the bribes, the threats, the doctor's appointments, and the research. Wildly, he wondered if she would be moved to pity him, and the thought of those dark eyes softening made his hand tighten around his wand and lean closer to her small body, close enough that his breath rustled her wild curls. She was pressed against the wood panelling of the room, trembling. Not with fear. No, not Granger. She trembled with a repressed energy, a banked rage that was almost comforting after years of icy cold paranoia.
"I am not the husband you were seeking, and you are most certainly not the sort of wife I was raised to expect." This close to her he noticed that her dark eyes were flecked with bits of amber and that she had the longest eyelashes he had ever seen. They were almost… lovely. Blinking a little, he came back to himself. "We will be complying with the Ministry. We will get married within the month. You will have all the access to the Malfoy vaults required to be ready for a ceremony fit for our status."
"But why? Surely, between the two of us we can figure out how to get out of this marriage. Even if we can't get out of marrying at all, certainly someone else would be better suited." Hermione laughed, a bit madly. "Anyone would be better suited to be husband and wife."
The shadows behind Draco's eyes darkened considerably. "There are things that even money can't buy, Granger. I need the ministry. I cannot afford to rebel, not when I'm so close…"
"Close to what?" Hermione whispered, looking up, her face inches from his.
"None of your business," Draco hissed.
Hermione's gaze darted to his mouth quickly, and then quickly jerked it back up to his eyes. Biting her lip, she said, "Perhaps I can help. If I we work together on your, um, problem, then we may not have to get married."
Draco felt a sudden surge of white-hot rage- rage at her, his helplessness, at this law - melting his bones with its force. "I don't need you or your pathetic help," Draco spat. "You always have to rush in to save the weak and helpless- am I right Granger?" His hand slammed against the door, inches from her head, causing her to jump. "Perhaps the world and its problems would be better off without your disgusting pity."
Hermione stiffened at his words, her face contorting from calculating worry to violent fury in moments. Without thought, she lashed out, the palm of her hand yearning for the satisfaction of hitting his sculpted cheek.
Quick as lightning, Draco caught her wrist in a crushing grip before flesh could make contact with flesh, Seeker's reflexes intact.
Hermione gave an involuntary grunt of pain. Draco closed his eyes and then his grip unexpectedly gentled, his hand caging hers with the pressure of a butterfly's wing.
"You will live your life; I will live mine." Draco stepped back from her abruptly, dropping her hand, leaving her feeling strangely bereft.
Hermione was breathing like she had run a marathon, her anger pooling in her blood, like her magic, giving her power. To hurt. To destroy. "And when the time comes to prove our fertility scores? What happens when no - what did you call them? - paragons, are produced from our marriage? What will the ministry say then?"
He stopped, mid stride, and turned to her, pinning her with his gaze.
Hermione leaned back against the wall, knees suddenly weak.
Draco's voice lowered, and his eyes dropped to her lips. For a brief moment something indefinable, something hot ignited behind his eyes, but it was gone so soon that Hermione felt she must have imagined it.
"They can fucking deal with it."
Harry Apparated to the grassy field outside the Burrow, as he had a million times before, this time with an unfamiliar clenching in his gut. Please let her be here.
After the debacle at the ministry, he had rushed away from Ginny, needing to go, to get out of there. Ron had followed, as he always did, and Apparated him to an abandoned beach. Saying nothing, his redheaded friend sat quietly on a weather-beaten log as Harry screamed and ranted and raved and blew up things. Harry wasn't sure how long he had been there. It could have been minutes, could have been hours, but as he came back to himself, as the rage subsided, a new emotion began to surface.
He had left Ginny there, at the Ministry. What kind of boyfriend, what kind of lover did that make him? She was in the same mess as he was and he had left her.
He always left her.
He had sat quietly beside his oldest friend and stared at the ocean, the sound of the grey waves not doing anything to soothe his soul. "Ron, I don't know what to do."
Ron fiddled with a green stick, methodically peeling off the bark in precise strips. Once the stick was naked, the wood white and pristine, he flung it into the ocean, where it was gobbled up by the waves. "Harry... That is a decision only you and my sister can make. I've thought of you as another brother for almost as long as I've known you. As far as I'm concerned, no matter what you do, you will always be my brother, even if you don't end up marrying my sister," he said as he shot Harry a lopsided smile. "But you may have some convincing to do if you want me to accept that nagging pug, Parkinson, as my sister!"
"Thank you," Harry said, "I think I know what I have to do."
So he went to find Ginny.
He went to her flat first, with no luck. He didn't have any better luck at his place. Or the Holyhead Harpies pitch. By the time he made it to the Burrow, it was twilight, and Harry was tamping down his panic.
The late-September evening was perfect, unseasonably warm with no clouds and a slight fresh breeze, hinting at cooler weather to come. The leaves on the trees had started to turn a bright gold, and the squirrels and rabbits were dodging garden gnomes in an attempt to obtain late harvest vegetables from the garden. Harry took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped into the home of the only real family he'd ever had.
Somehow, he expected the house to be different, to feel different after the shock of the day. Harry smiled wryly. If seven children and a war couldn't destroy this place, a stupid law certainly can't.
Hearing pans clunking together in the kitchen, he took a deep breath and strode in that direction. He paused in the doorway and leaned into the doorjamb a moment, fondly watching Molly Weasley competently swish her wand, setting potatoes dancing around the peeler and a roast into the oven. As she set herself to the task of fixing a salad, Harry decided to make his presence known, clearing his throat awkwardly.
Molly twirled around, eyes wide and wand raised before she realized who was at her kitchen door and rolled her eyes. "Merlin, child! Don't startle me so! I'm not getting any younger, you know."
Harry leaned over, grazed her cheek with his lips and squeezed her shoulder. "Sorry, I know." Hesitating for a moment, he blurted, "Is Ginny here?"
Molly's her shoulders sagged as she remembered his probable mission and her only daughter's unhappiness. She glanced at her worn, beloved clock, the hand pronouncing 'Ginevra' was still stuck at 'Lost.' Sighing, she wondered why life was so unfair, and why these young people who had already suffered so much still had such a hard journey ahead of them. "She's in the garden. Here," she said and handed him a tea tray, heavy with plates of food, a pot of chocolate and a mug, "take this to her. She hasn't eaten a thing all day."
He found her in the back of the house near the garden. He remembered that she used to play here as a girl, and that it was always one of her favourite places. Balancing the tray carefully, he approached on quiet, Auror-trained feet. She was curled up with her back to an old oak tree, obviously deep in thought. Harry's heart ached to see her so small, so forlorn. Usually, she was a bright ball of energy, his light. "Ginny…"
She looked up, her eyes covered by a curtain of red hair. "Harry…"
Harry ignored the pounding in his chest and approached carefully, like she was a timid rabbit, and set the tea tray down beside her. "Um, your mum was worried. She sent you a tray."
Harry's heart ached for how sad she looked and felt the tide of guilt come back. She was here without me to face this. She shouldn't have been. Poor form, Harry. Hands shaking a little, he set about pouring a cup of tea for her: milk first, just the right amount, no sugar.
"Here," Harry said as he handed her the hot brew. Hesitating a little, he put one arm around her shoulders.
"Thank you," Ginny said reflexively, curling her hands around the warm mug. She burrowed her slim body into Harry's warmth and sighed, taking an experimental sip.
As they watched the sky darken from twilight to inky black and Ginny drank her tea, Harry was struck again by the unfairness of it all.
He had fought a war. Lost his parents and countless friends. He had died. For what? It was a joke, a cruel, sad joke to do this to them. To, once again, tear his life apart, just when he had found some sliver of peace.
Nervously, he tightened his grip on Ginny's shoulder. Gathering his courage, he said, "We could run away together."
Ginny's eyes leapt up to his, full of hope. "What?"
"We could run away," Harry said, voice eager, getting louder with enthusiasm, "and live far away from here, away from this law. I've thought it through. We would have to live as Muggles, as the tracing charms would find us otherwise, but I think we could manage it."
Ginny's look of bright hope diminished. "I don't know anything about living as a Muggle."
Harry pressed his lips together in irritation, and his arm fell away from her shoulders. "I didn't know anything about living as a wizard until I was eleven, and I know it's intimidating, but we could manage."
Ginny made a non-committal sound that frustrated him to no end. Couldn't she see that he was trying? That he was fighting for them? What he was willing to give up for her? The wizarding world was his home as much as hers, his true home, but he would give it up if she only asked. Couldn't she see that?
"What about children, Harry?"
Harry felt the question as if he had been punched in the gut. He licked suddenly dry lips. "Children?"
"I haven't forgotten what that… that marriage counsellor said, Harry." Ginny said in a small defeated voice, "Our fertility scores are dismal, and if we do manage to conceive a child, it will most likely be deformed or a squib."
"I..." Harry began, feeling lost, "I suppose we could adopt a child." As he said it, Harry actually rather liked the idea. A child, an orphan like him, given a loving home. He could do that.
"I suppose," Ginny said, "but I've always hoped for a big family."
A silence grew between them like a cancer, each of them lost in thought as the night grew colder, the sky darker.
"Why did we never talk about this before?" Ginny said as she shivered, "Why did we wait this long?"
Harry smiled, but it was without humour. "I thought we had all the time in the world. Foolish, really." He looked at the clear night sky and thought of his parents, dead at the age of twenty-one. "I should know better."
Ginny curled up further into herself and said quietly, "I don't think I could live as a Muggle, Harry," she raised eyes heavy with tears to his, "but I don't think I can live without you either."
She scooted over to his side, closing the distance between them and grabbed his hand. "Harry. I love you, and you love me, but I'm not sure that this will work. Maybe in another life where the marriage law didn't exist and we had time to work through our issues we would have had a chance. Maybe we wouldn't have." Ginny smiled a little, without humour. "We will never know, will we?"
"Ginny," Harry whispered softly, feeling his heartbreak all over again as her hand squeezed his. Reaching out with his other hand, he softly caressed her cheek, sticky with tears.
Ginny closed her eyes, and placed her cool palm over his hand. "Kiss me Harry, one last time."
And so he did.
Meanwhile, in another part of Britain entirely, a group of wizards sulked around a fire. Admittedly, the fire was in a large, posh mansion, but they still fancied themselves like the manly men of old, loaded with testosterone. They were uncharacteristically quiet, reflective. Working their way towards being seriously sloshed.
After the war, after the Dark Lord, Draco had seriously contemplated selling Malfoy Manor. It had been in the family since the first Malfois had come across the Channel with William the Conqueror, but to Draco, it had a feeling of slime, a taint that it could never shake.
There, in the library, the Dark Lord had tormented his parents.
There, in the blue parlour, Greyback had murdered a Muggle-born classmate.
There, in the formal dining room, Nagini ingested the corpse of his Muggle Studies professor.
There, in the drawing room, his aunt tortured Hermione Granger.
There was a time he couldn't bear it, a time when he thought he would go mad from the memories. They consumed him, shamed him. He took to drink, to potions, to dark arts… nothing worked to cleanse his mind. His paranoia, already honed to a steel blade by the Dark Lord, became overwhelming to the point of agoraphobia and insomnia. He existed, mind tormented by knives of fear for months after his trial, haunting his own house at all hours of the day or night, avoiding dreams.
Until his mother got hold of him and forced him to seek help. Until he realized the depths to which he had sunk and begun to take hold of his life again. Until…
He had people who needed him. For them, he could dredge up enough bravery in his shrivelled soul to cope with the lingering stresses of war. Nevertheless, he was still changed, still plagued with nightmares, still ready for battle. It was better than being haunted by despair.
And he had the Manor all but demolished and fully redecorated. That helped too.
The mansion was completely unrecognizable from the shadowy Gothic monstrosity of his youth. The finest architects and interior designers had taken his cue and injected something to the house that it never had before.
The old library, for example, had been paneled with beautifully aged dark walnut stretching to the ceiling. Ornately carved wooden gargoyles atop the shelves would rustle and turn to stare at the visitors, a feature that a young Draco had always found incredibly creepy. The fireplace had been black iron, large and imposing. The furniture was bulky and made of leather and, while comfortable, the chairs always gave Draco's younger self the impression he was being swallowed whole. The paintings in that part of the house were of his coldest and most imperious relations, icy blond and scowling.
Voldemort had loved it.
Naturally, it was one of the first rooms to go.
The architects first enlarged the windows, stretching them from floor to ceiling. The walnut, along with the gargoyles, was axed. The ceiling was vaulted and painted a pale cream. A magical mural depicting pastoral scenes from Wiltshire stretched around the top third of the room. Burnished gold oak shelves were stuffed to the brim with the books collected over generations. The walls were painted a rich turquoise, giving the room a soothing feel. The fireplace was still enormous, but made of a white marble with golden veins shot through it, and, with a large fire roaring in the grate, a lovely warm hue infused the room. There were large overstuffed chairs and sofas in cream or red scattered throughout the room, and various magical instruments, astrolabes, and globes, whirred softly saving the room from solemn silence.
Draco was pleased with the results. It was now one of his favorite places to spend an afternoon, a place he could relax as much as he ever could nowadays. The disapproving frowns of the portraits made his enjoyment of the room that much sweeter.
Now, however, the décor was the furthest thing from his mind. He stood at the sideboard near the fire and poured himself a generous snifter of Firewhiskey attempting to escape, not visions of the past, but a pair of fine dark eyes. He took a long, slow pull, emptying the glass in one swallow. Grimacing at the burn, he set to pouring himself another.
"Come now, leave some for the rest of us," called Greg. "We all need some Ogden's right now." He wasn't looking at Draco, not really, his usually passive face had taken a haggard expression. He fidgeted on his couch like a restless flobberworm, obviously ill at ease.
Draco grabbed his glass and the mostly full bottle of Firewhiskey and headed for the sofa nearest the fire, his back to the wall with a good view of the entire room. He sent a quick, habitual glance to the slightly open door at the other end of the library before flopping down dramatically. He lazily flicked his wand and two snifters floated to Blaise and Greg.
He tossed back the remainder of his glass. Warmth pooled in his stomach, and his head felt both light and muddled. Draco knew that if he didn't slow down he was on his way to becoming sensationally inebriated.
He took another long drink and smiled, showing sharp teeth. "Cheers, mates."
"To your matrimonial bliss with the illustrious Miss Granger," Blaise said with a wicked grin.
"Fuck," Draco said, flinging one arm over his eyes. "My life is over."
"Come now, Granger isn't too bad," Blaise drawled as he sipped his whiskey from his current slouch on the floor by the fire, looking for the entire world like a contented cat. "At least she's a looker."
"And the most annoying, bossy, swotty cow that ever existed." Draco snickered at his own wit and took another sip, hoping to quell the sense of impending doom.
Greg stared at his brandy as if it held the secrets of the universe, the dark circles under his eyes harsh in the firelight. "At least your future wife isn't in love with another man," he said quietly.
Blaise grimaced, and looked as contrite as Draco had ever seen him. Which wasn't very. "I am sorry, mate. That won't be easy."
"None of this is."
They sat in uncomfortable silence drinking whiskey, lost in thought, the only sound the popping from the fire.
Greg, after three more snifters, was well on the way to being pissed. He grabbed the bottle and poured himself another. His dark brows furrowed deeply over his brown eyes, said, "I'm not sure the Ministry's thought this through."
A snort came from the general vicinity of the sofa.
"Really," Greg said, his voice slurring. "The whole point of this is to rebuild the wizarding population, right?"
Blaise, coming out from a light doze at the sounds of conversation, lifted his head from the blue and cream Aubusson carpet and squinted at Greg. "What are you on about?"
"The marriages were all arranged according to who will have the most powerful children, but there was nothing in my contract that stipulates that we will need to have those children."
"You actually read it?" Blaise asked, his usually crisp syllables indistinct. "I'm impressed. I proceeded immediately to drinking."
"Well, the ministry certainly can't regulate, well, guarantee that, ah…"
"Merlin, Greg, are you such a prude that you can't you say it?" Draco sneered. "The ministry needs us to fuck our future spouses frequently and regularly to have hordes of squalling brats that will save the wizarding world."
Goyle's stern features flushed a bit. "Yes, 'zactly."
"Well, I certainly won't have any trouble with that," said Blaise, putting his arms behind his head and smirking.
Draco shot Blaise a vicious look. A vision of Granger, naked, spread out on his large bed popped into his brain unexpectedly, her large eyes dark with lust and her lovely skin flushed with desire. He squirmed a little on the couch and took a long drink, savouring the distracting burn. "Just because you're marrying Astoria, I don't see why you have to gloat."
"You and Astoria don't suit anyhow."
"What do you mean by that?" Draco frowned from his sofa. "We got on perfectly well on our date last night. I was going to ask for another today, actually."
Blaise took another sip and his bleary eyes narrowed.
Draco continued with his rant, "She's beautiful, she's elegant, and she's polite. Why shouldn't she be mine? I need to marry, I'll admit, but why shouldn't it be my choice who I wed?"
"You may be surprised," Greg said in his quiet voice. "You… you and Granger have a lot in common."
Draco sat up straight, sending imaginary daggers at Goyle with his eyes. "Never say so! I will admit she has certain… physical charms, but as soon as she opens her mouth I want to Avada myself."
He raked one long-fingered hand through his blond hair, his voice growing louder. "I've hated her ever since I saw that frightful bush she passes for hair when we were eleven. And while I'll admit that we've gotten on better then I get on with her two best friends, it's certainly nothing I would base a second-rate marriage on, let alone a successful one."
He leapt up from the sofa and started to pace, flicking his wand in and out of his wrist sheath, faster and faster, like he was preparing for a duel. "All I've wanted since the war was some peace. Is it too much to ask? Now I'm supposed to invite a nagging shrew into my life and a battle into my bedroom." He halted by the fire and stared at the flames, breathing hard, head high, body rigid, his wand out and ready for battle.
"Draco?" a weak voice called out from the open door at the other end of the library.
Draco's already tired face seemed to collapse in on itself for a brief moment. All too soon, the moment of vulnerability was over and the stoic mask was back on.
"I'll be there in a moment," he called into the other room with a strangely gentle voice. He stood slowly, feeling aged beyond his years. "I trust you can show yourselves out? I have other things to attend to at the moment."
Blaise nodded slowly and slanted a look at Greg. "Of course. Of course." He stood and hesitated briefly. "Do you need anything?"
Draco smiled without humour. "Everything and nothing." He closed his eyes briefly before walking towards the open door. "Can you change the past?"
Author's Note: I'm back! Hopefully I will be able to write more consistently now that residency is over. We will see. Still trying to get back into the game. I'm so rusty! Anyway, I would like to thank my wonderful betas Mccargi and Ravyn for helping me out with this chapter. They polished it and made it shiny! Thanks for everything guys!