This was my very first D/Hr fic and only my second ever fanfic. As such, I am insanely fond of it. It's mushy. You have been forewarned :) The description of Draco's Bachelor Party prompted some readers to request that I write that story too. Thus came the prequel, The Bachelor Party. I'll upload that soon if I haven't already done it by the time you read this.
Part One: Hermione
It was quarter past two on a Sunday morning, when Hermione Granger was awoken by the sound of a dying bird outside her bedroom window.
Or at least that was what she had thought it to be at the time. For obvious reasons...
Grimacing, Hermione sat up against the headboard of the tiny bed.
She didn't have to wait for very long. The horrible sound struck again, confirming that it wasn't merely her imagination, nor was it an effect of long-term sleep deprivation, of which she was a chronic sufferer.
Silently cursing her interrupted slumber, she threw the covers off and swung her feet to the floorboards. It took her another minute or so for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Confident that she could make her way over to the windows without falling over and waking up half the household, she stood, hiked up the edge of her cotton nightgown, and padded over to inspect the noise.
A slender, quilt-covered bundle on the floor released a sleepy murmur. This was shortly followed by the appearance of a small hand, which emerged from under the blankets to tug them further upwards. The person, and indeed there was one hidden under the mountain of bedclothes, was completely covered, save for a few locks of russet coloured hair.
Hermione might have felt bad at being offered Ginny Weasley's bed, while Ginny opted to sleep on the floor of her own bedroom, but in truth, Ginny was the sort of girl who could sleep through magical Armageddon and the following post-war celebrations. Growing up in a family of six brothers had long accustomed her to the art of sleeping like the true dead. Said art required heavy bed clothing (a must for basic noise insulation), and no less than three, extremely dense ("None of that goose down nonsense...") pillows.
As such, Hermione was able to step over Ginny and continue her mission to investigate the noise without fear of waking her friend.
"Oh, of all the-," Hermione muttered, grabbing hold of her wand from the bedside table. It was going to be a timely intervention, certainly. For the creature that was making the pitiful sound was surely in the throes of painful death.
Bracing herself for the worst, Hermione parted the curtains, unlatched the window and stuck her head outside.
"Took you long enough," snapped the brusque voice of Draco Malfoy, who was indeed perched, but not on the windowsill. He was hovering in the air, seated across his blood-red, Mayweather Scorpion Tail.
Hermione gasped. Her lungs filling with air in an instinctive motion, ready to scream. Looking slightly alarmed himself; Draco darted forward and quickly slapped a hand over her mouth.
"Shush. It's just me," he said, feeling the need to state the obvious.
Shock gave way to relief, which in turn gave way to a prickling annoyance.
"What, pray tell, is wrong with tapping on the window?" Hermione demanded.
"Tapping at windows is for plebs," Draco told her, with a grin. "You look peeved, Granger. Why?" He had the audacity to ask.
"Why?" she asked, in a harsh whisper, shoving him hard in the chest, such that he floated backwards a little. "I'm not the one lurking outside teenage girls' bedroom windows making dying Joberknoll noises at an obscene hour of the morning!"
Hermione realised that she had lost Draco's undivided attention at mention of the words 'teenaged girl', 'bedroom' and 'obscene', all in the one sentence. He was now busy attempting to look over her shoulder, presumably to catch a glimpse at the other occupants of the room.
Or other 'occupant', as it was.
Draco waggled his eyebrows. Hermione observed a flash of even, white teeth from inside the raised hood of his black, travel cloak. "So what have you and the girls been getting up to this evening? A bit of champers, a bit of girly maintenance, doing each other's hair, perchance?"
"Don't be cheeky," Hermione warned, even as she resisted the urge to pat at her hair. It probably looked a sight, which was usually the case for her, after being horizontal for more than an hour. "The other girls have gone home, although Lavender took forever to get out the door..." Hermione lamented. She narrowed her eyes at her fiancé. "And you still haven't told me what you're doing here. The boys will go mad with worry looking for you. I entrusted them to keep an eye on you tonight."
The sound of someone coughing from the room above interrupted their conversation. This was followed by a shuffling noise, before a door was softly shut.
"Keep your voice down. You'll wake up old Weasley," Draco said, hovering up the outer wall of the house to have a look.
Hermione was left staring at the hem of Draco's charcoal trousers and black Hessians for a good five minutes, while his Scorpion Tail hummed hypnotically in the wind. She had never noticed it before, but the toes on his right boot were a great deal more scuffed than the left. It was probably due to the extraordinary amount of time he spent with one foot folded behind the other, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against whichever wall or pillar was handy- the classic stance of Pureblood Arrogance (or as Ginny put it, 'Essence of Git').
"They've gone back to bed," Draco informed her, when he was once again hovering at eye level. He was now close enough that Hermione was able to see the lines of fatigue around his eyes, along with the purple shadows on the tops of his cheekbones. Even his eyes, which were usually a startling shade of gunmetal, were lacking their usual glacier-like clarity. The scent of red wine on his breath indicated that he was at least slightly tipsy. It belatedly occurred to her that he had been speaking in his usual volume, not whispering like a ninny, which was what she currently felt like.
Her annoyance increased by a fraction.
"You're not supposed to see me now, it's bad luck," Hermione reminded him, even as she tugged him closer to inspect a strange, shiny stain on the front of his cloak. She licked her fingers and attempted to remove the sticky substance from the ridiculously overpriced cashmere/wool blend. Hermione had been there the day he had purchased the garment at an up-market, Muggle men's store in London, and had to restrain herself from making 'fanning-at-face' motions when the saleswoman had informed them of the inflated cost.
She supposed she couldn't fault him for being fond of aesthetics. He wasn't used to the sub-standard, but as the future Mrs. Malfoy-Granger, she felt it was within her rights to utter the phrase, 'bloody rip off' when she felt the need.
"What do you mean I can't see you now?" Draco was saying, pulling at the hood of his cloak to further cover his face. "I'm seeing you in ten hours, whereupon I will courageously and stupidly agree to see you every day for the remainder of my natural life. And will you please leave that, alone!" he shooed her hand away from his cloak. "Trust me, it's not going to come out."
"How goes the bachelor party then? Not too good, seeing as you've absconded. And why won't this stain come out?" inquired Hermione, not willing to give up on the cloak.
Draco puffed up with annoyance. "Alright. The concise version, then." He sucked in a deep breath.
"Firstly, the bachelor's party was not so much a party for the bachelor, as an excuse for guests to drink themselves into a stupor and proceed to make general arses of themselves on numerous tabletops. And mind you, there were an unnecessarily large number of tabletops for a small venue as the Three Broomsticks. I shall be lodging a complaint with the appropriate ministry department just as soon as I find out what it is called. Secondly, yes, I have absconded from my bachelor's party because I grew bored of hearing Potter and Weasley confess their undying yet purely platonic, brotherly yet manly love for each other after every other pint. Finally, the stain, Granger, if you must know, is 'Lumin Essence' Potion. Fred and George Weasley thought it would be riotously funny to trial their latest product on the celebrating bachelor. I suspect it was slipped into my glass and spilled on my cloak at some point between the Veela Contortionist and Oriental Fire-breathing segments of the evening."
Hermione blinked at him for several seconds as she processed the data. "Veela contortionist?"
Draco looked forlorn. "False advertising, anyway. We suspect she was only half-Veela." He then proceeded, with a pained expression, to lower the hood of his cloak.
"Draco, are you...are you glowing?" Hermione demanded, an incredulous look on her face. She was used to his extremely fair colouring, but she was positive that he was now giving off a light, pearlescent sheen. He looked...well there wasn't another word that came to mind besides angelic. Which was about three points shy of hitting irony right in the proverbial bull's eye.
"Another Wheezes success," Hermione goaded, with a grin.
"Much merry had already been made at my expense, I'll have you know. But lucky for me, the gathered guests have an extremely short attention span thanks to the enormous tab at the Three Broomsticks this evening."
"Was it raining in Hogsmeade?" Hermione inquired, seeing that his hair and cloak were slightly damp. She tucked a lock of long, white-blond hair behind his ear. His hair wanted cutting, it was already growing past his shoulders, but Draco refused to cut it until after the wedding. According to Draco, his hair would be his last hurrah at 'disrespectability'. Hermione thought he was lucky not to have encountered Molly Weasley in the course of the wedding preparations. She would have taken her wand to his head faster than he could say, 'crowning glory.'
"Just a slight drizzle," Draco confirmed, catching hold of her fidgeting hands and clasping them between his. "It won't catch up to the Burrow, which is why I wanted you to accompany me on a short flight." Draco removed a silver timepiece from his pocket and flicked it open. "I estimate that Potter and Weasley are likely to notice my disappearance in under an hour, when the effects of the last round begin to wear off..."
She had to ask. The Draco Malfoy Bachelor Party was a much talked about social event, as of course, was their wedding. Half of male wizarding Britain had clamoured to receive invitations to the celebration. The final guest list however, comprised of a select few. "Who else was invited?"
"Hogwarts boys and professors, ex-professors. I must say Lupin cut quite the figure in his Muggle Zoot Suit. And when the dancing started, he-"
"Zoot suit?" Hermione repeated, with raised eyebrows. "Dancing?"
"Didn't you know? It's a theme party, '1920s Mugglewear'. Potter's idea, apparently. Now that he's got plenty of time off, what with not having to dodge Death Eater curses at every turn, he's been trying to catch up on this past century of Muggle culture. "
Hermione slapped on what she hoped was a neutrally curious expression. "Anything else I should know? Did you have a stripper? I heard Ron was going to order one?" she inquired, in a tight voice.
So much for honesty among best friends. From what Ron and Harry had told her, the party was to be a 'low key affair with drinks, crisps, dips and the minute possibility of a very mild stripper'.
She was going to have a very stern talk with the Boy who Fibbed.
Draco, meanwhile, was taking a suspicious amount of time to come up with an answer. "There were a few, ah, risqué segments...yes."
Hermione was silent.
"Honestly, I have no idea about these things. I've spent my youth in dark, badly lit, manor libraries reading Shakespearean tragedies and plotting ways to escape the clutches of my insane, homicidal father. I believe Weasley is the expert in the area of smutty, past-times. Perhaps you should ask him?" Draco ventured, in an annoyingly cheerful voice.
But when that didn't wring a response from Hermione, he threw up his hands. "Granger, I escaped to come and see you, didn't I?"
And so he had. It was almost too easy to forget that he was currently conducting a hushed conversation from atop his broom, with Hermione partially hanging out of Ginny Weasley's bedroom window.
Hermione gathered her hair to one side of her neck, as she was wont to do when she was having difficulty articulating something. "It just feels like everyone's trying to make up for the years we should have spent growing up, having fun...going to pubs and getting pissed. All the usual things people our age do. Only we're trying to squeeze in too much too fast now. It feels artificial, all this celebrating. Like it's still too soon..."
Draco's face lost its casual expression in the space of a heartbeat. "Don't begrudge children their lost childhood," he said, in a soft voice. "They're entitled to their celebration, and we've worked bloody hard for it."
"But we buried five classmates not a month ago," Hermione pointed out. "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry currently comprises a dungeon lavatory, a couple of still smouldering doorway frames and the largest pile of ash anyone has ever laid eyes on."
"How nice to have a walking, talking, Pensieve. And here I was thinking I had to purchase one from Diagon Alley." It was rare that Draco turned the scalpel-edge of his tongue on her, and it wasn't a pleasant experience.
"Fine. I don't mean to be a wet blanket. It's all a little fresh in my mind at the moment..."
Draco sighed; he maneuvered his broom closer, such that he was flush against the side of the house. His face was inches away from Hermione's.
"Dumbledore had that old talk with you about time healing wounds, dulling memories, mending scars...etcetera, etcetera?"
"Yes," said Hermione.
"Good. It's a bloody good talk, that one. There wasn't a dry eye among all the old Headmaster portraits in his office by the time he was through with me."
Hermione shot him a watery smile. "Tell me more about the party."
Draco cocked an eyebrow. "Glutton for punishment, eh?"
"I need a laugh," Hermione insisted.
"Well that's good, because I wanted to be the first person to tell you that Snape, despite numerous wagers to the contrary, is a happy drunk."
Hermione gasped. 'No! Not Snape!"
"Oh, yes. To think that all it takes is a tankard or two and the man's serenading, 'Sweet Polly She Lived by the Ocean' to the old witch that runs the Three Broomsticks cloakroom." Draco checked off his fingers as he went along. "Now let's see...Flitwick is an angry drunk, Neville Longbottom is a philosophical drunk, the Weasleys are all cheeky drunks, Seamus Finnegan is a randy drunk, Hagrid is a bawling drunk, while Remus Lupin has an uncanny ability to not get drunk..."
Hermione digested these facts with her usual head for details.
"Potter and I were making mental notes about everything we had to describe to you, knowing it was going to be the piss-up of the century. But being a cheap drunk, he started babbling incoherently after drink number four, and I was able to make my escape and come here."
Hermione felt it was her duty to defend Harry. "Harry isn't used to holding his liquor. Not all of us have had the privilege of having wine served with most meals, you know."
"More's the pity," said Draco, examining an imaginary manicure.
It was at this point that Hermione caught him frowning at her chest. He reached out and flicked at a bit of peach frill, giving Hermione a questioning look.
"The garden gnomes are under new, improved leadership. They've been stealing clothes off the line in protest of the frequent de-gnomings. Ginny was kind enough to lend me one of her nightgowns," Hermione explained, feeling irked that she felt compelled to defend her borrowed sleeping attire. Not everyone was so fortunate as to sleep in four hundred-point, Egyptian cotton every night.
"When we're married, I shall outlaw all lace that isn't French," Draco declared, with a royal wave of his hand.
Hermione rolled her eyes, but given the darkness inside the bedroom, the gesture was probably lost on her fiancé.
Draco was now patting at his broom handle. "Come along then, Granger. We don't have all night."
Of all the times to start sneaking out of bedroom windows to run off with boys in the middle of the night, Hermione mused, as she hitched up her nightgown and carefully swung one leg over the window ledge. To her irritation, she chose that moment to be overcome by a fit of giggles.
"Shh!" Draco shushed, but it was quite obvious that he found their current situation just as amusing. Neither of them were the sort who participated in illicit late night escapades. It was quite out of character.
Once she was safely sitting on the bedroom ledge, a light breeze stirred the frills on the sleeve of her nightgown, which promptly snagged on the window latch. Hermione was sure that the ripping noise that resulted when she lifted her arm to reach for Draco was going to wake up Ginny, if not the rest of the Weasley household.
This was all too much for Hermione, who had to bite on her fist to muffle her bubbling laughter.
With an impatient snort, Draco grabbed Hermione firmly about the waist, easily hoisting her in front of him on his Scorpion Sting. The broom dipped briefly at the added weight, before steadying itself.
"This is insane," Hermione whispered, as she pulled her nightgown down from where it had ridden up over her knees. "And I hate flying."
"You'll have no argument from me regarding that first part," Draco said, as he attempted to shut the window. The hinges were extremely rusty and made a large amount of noise. With a final wince, and a glare at Hermione who had started giggling again, he presently completed the task.
"Are you cold?"
She was, but she'd be damned if she was going back in the bedroom to fetch a robe now.
"No, not really."
Draco was already removing his own cloak. "Put this on," he ordered, settling the garment about her shoulders. The cloak was luxurious, to say the least, but with the added warmth from Draco's body, Hermione felt downright decadent. Sighing, she scooted closer to Draco. A bit too close, too quickly, apparently, for she felt him grunt softly and readjust himself.
"Comfortable?" he asked, once they were in the air.
The cold wind on her face felt wonderful. Combined with the excitement of actually sneaking off from the Burrow, Hermione wondered how she was ever to get back to sleep.
"Extremely. Where are we going?"
"There's a creek by an apple orchard not too far from here. I passed over it on the way," Draco told her, his lips inches from her ear.
Over time, Hermione had come to take secret delight in Draco's voice. While most people would probably have thought it too dry, too cutting and too prone to sarcastic quips, Hermione was of the opinion that Draco's voice suited his appearance. It was as smooth, easy and cool as fine glass. He never raised his voice; in all the time she had known him, not even to taunt Harry in the middle of Quidditch matches. Draco was the kind of person who became deathly still and silent when he was angry, which Hermione felt was a good deal more effective than Ron's blustering tirades when he was peeved about something. A sinister glare worked infinitely better than a loud, shrill, "Honestly, Hermione!"
"We're passing over a Muggle village," Draco chose to inform. And indeed they were. The idea of being spotted in the air didn't seem as disastrous as it should have been. Feeling more carefree than she had in months, Hermione smiled as she pictured the possible, local newspaper headlines the next morning.
'Woman in nightgown spotted hovering over Ottery St. Catchpole' or 'Luminous Man makes eerie trek over sleepy, rural village.'
The remaining ten minutes of flight were spent in silence, and it was easy to enjoy the charming scenery of the countryside. She wondered that it had never seemed odd to her, that they spent much of their together in perfect silence. In fact, they enjoyed their long bouts of quiet as much as they did their verbal sparring.
It also gave Hermione a brief moment to recapitulate on the whirlwind developments of the past year. The fact that she, Hermione Granger, was currently seated astride a broom flown by Draco Malfoy, with said Malfoy seated in a very familiar fashion behind her, was inconceivable.
Hermione's love of intelligent discussion was matched only by her love for reading. She liked nothing more than to unravel complex puzzles, to ponder over long abandoned mysteries. And Draco Malfoy was about as complex as a twenty year old youth was likely to get. He was quite brilliant, in Hermione's authoritative estimation, if rather pessimistic. Her experience of working with him during the course of the war had showed him to be an exceptional tactician and planner, even If he was a lousy motivational speaker. His pre-battle briefings would have been all the more effective if he didn't insist on ending every other sentence with, "...and that's if we're all not dead by this point."
She was under no illusions as to the mammoth challenge ahead of her. There was an ominous, vast, gulf between them that was the thirty-seven nightmarish days when Hogwarts was involved in a final siege battle against Voldemort's combined forces.
Like Harry, Draco and all the other key players in the Second Confrontation carried the guilt of casualties with them.
Hermione would have loved to have assured Draco that it was unlikely that the fate of the wizarding world would ever be the sole responsibility of one so young and so undeserving of such intolerable pressures. But of course, given the Way of Things (namely, the existence of one Harry Potter, scourge of evil wizard villains) it would have been a lie.
They had assumed responsibility the moment they had lifted a wand in defence or put a quill to paper in planning, no matter that they had been children. Many things had changed over the course of their seven years at school. Hermione was adaptable, but she still missed the comforts of the familiar.
Draco was the only one who still called her 'Granger'. Everyone else referred to her by her Christian name, even people she did not know. It was the price paid for the role she had undertaken during the war, and the price paid for standing by Harry Potter's much publicised side. She missed the anonymity, of being able to shake a person's hand and introduce herself. Now that she was about to marry Draco, whatever semblance of normality and privacy was going to get thrown straight out the window.
They had brought about a remarkable outcome for their community, but sometimes, Hermione still wondered at the costs.
Part Two: Draco
His fiancée was barefooted, Draco belatedly realised, as he watched Hermione walk along the edge of the creek.
And she had lovely feet.
In fact, there was little about Hermione that wasn't lovely, or alluring or calming. Not that he was the kind of man that would ever speak about such things to her. Draco wasn't given to passing compliments or whispering endearments, although this was a trait he hoped would change over time. He did deliver praise occasionally, but these were usually hidden under a layer of subtext so thick, that so far only Snape, Dumbledore and Hermione had been able to differentiate the barbs from the butterings.
The trouble was that he had a fixed view of the world. And the world, in Draco's opinion, was too tarnished a place to waste time with pointless, flowery prose. Sarcasm got the job done and the point across in a much more concise fashion.
At some point in their last two years at Hogwarts, he had begun to notice that there was much more to Hermione than the bushy haired, bossy, know-it-all he had previously thought her to be. Oh, she was still opinionated (and still possessed of an alarming quantity of thick curls), but it took the end of his world as he knew it, and no less than an all out war against Voldemort, to make him realise that there were certain things in life that were truly special.
He called her Granger, just to be contrary, just because he knew it irked and pleased her at the same time. And how he yearned to please her. But Draco also knew that someone with as many secrets as him, was going to find it a hard task. He tried his best to keep that aspect of him camouflaged, for the most part. He could not tell her that he had already purchased a new estate, which would be their primary residence once they were properly married. Not wanting to ruin the surprise, but nor would he risk buying something that was not to her tastes, he had taken Katherine Granger, Hermione's mother, on a spot checking tour. Luckily for him, both mother and daughter shared similar tastes and Katherine had given him her stamp of approval.
He would also neglect to mention the fact that he had hired a phalanx of bodyguards to watch Hermione whenever she was on her own. Draco was thus able to keep a daily record of her activities, no matter where he was, or where she was. Hermione would have been ropable if she knew about the surveillance; enough to possibly even walk out on him. But Draco loathed leaving her unprotected. The threat of Voldermort had been neutralised, true, but there were still elements about, from both sides of the fray, who would have taken great pleasure in harming him in the place where he was most vulnerable- Hermione.
"Granger don't drink that," Draco chided, distracted from his maudlin meanderings by the sight of his fiancée scooping water from the creek with cupped hands.
Hermione looked up over her shoulder. Dressed in her nightgown as she was, with the sheer quantity of messy, toffee-coloured curls, she resembling nothing so much as a child caught in the act of doing something mildly naughty. "Isn't it safe?"
"Call yourself a Muggle...really," he tutted. "That creek runs by a Muggle commercial orchard. It looks to be man-made so I'd rather you not take the chance of drinking fertilizer run off."
Hermione's eyes widened slightly. "Wouldn't have thought of that," she admitted, coming to join him under a tree. Draco pulled his knees up against his chest, and patted the space on the ground between them. Hermione sat in between his legs and settled herself against him, resting her folded arms on raised knees.
They made an odd sight, sitting as they were in the middle of an orchard in the early hours of the morning- two skinny almost-adults, a combination of retracted limbs, brown curls, fair skin, peach lace and a multitude of black, Italian wool.
Idly, Hermione took hold of his hand to run her fingers over the large cygnet ring he wore on his right, third finger. It was a Malfoy family heirloom, Lucius's ring, and the only thing he had consciously kept of his father's. There was widespread speculation about how Draco had come to possess the ring. The common postulation involved Draco removing it from Lucius's dead person. Nastier theories had Draco demanding the ring before his parents' execution. Hermione knew neither scenario to be true. Lucius had simply removed the ring at his own behest and Draco had simply taken it.
Draco's voice was slightly slurred when he next spoke. "I can't seem to part with that particular piece," he told her, in a rueful tone. He sounded immensely tired.
"It's very pretty," Hermione crooned, lulled by their peaceful surroundings and the fact that she hadn't really had a decent night's sleep in about two months. "I could do with something like that, for tomorrow. You know, something 'old'? I've already burrowed a pair of my mother's pearl earrings, and Harry gave me this," Hermione held out her wrist, where a silver charm bracelet jingled lightly. "Molly Weasley knitted me a pair of blue woolen garters straps...."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Did she now?"
Hermione groaned at the memory, but it was an affectionate groan, if there was such a thing. "Yes, and the 'something blue' came with a sermon on marital duties."
"Molly Weasley would know...what with the seven children," Draco said, sounding amused.
"Shut up. I already tried not to think about it when she was telling me about always being obliging and supportive, about how the marital union is a sacred pairing. That was before she started going on about conjugal stuffs..."
Draco chuckled. "Sounds like I'll be owing Molly a debt of gratitude."
They were silent for a long moment. The scent of the orchard, the gurgling of the creek, and the sound of birds waiting to herald the approaching dawn, infused their surroundings. Indeed, the sky was beginning to change colour. Black was giving way to magenta, deep indigo, pinks and grays.
"You recall Binn's fifth year lessons on the Dragon Culling of the Middle Ages?" Draco said, after a time.
Hermione twisted her head around to give him a look.
Draco chuckled. "Yes, well. No doubt you took extensive notes. So happens that one of my ancestors was involved in that nasty business. She gained notoriety by slaying a particularly fearsome Romanian White that was wreaking death, destruction and general barbequed chaos all over Europe."
"Romanian Whites are a myth, Draco." It was more of a statement, rather than a question. Hermione had her head against Draco's chest. Her eyes were closed, but she was still very much awake. And listening. "You're referring to the legend of White Sores?" she clarified. It was one of those well-known fairy stories witches told their children to get them to go to bed. Blow out the candles and go to bed, or White Sorres will stop when he flies overhead...
Draco nodded, his chin bumping on the top of Hermione's head. "The dragon known as White Sorres is a fine legend, but it so happens to be based on fact. Usille Malfoy, my ancestor, spent sixteen years tracking down that particular dragon across the European continent.
"Sounding very myth-like so far," Hermione opinioned, ever the skeptic. "Especially the part about the female ancestor," she mused, "from what I know, most of these vanquish and conquer stories involve big, strapping, sword carrying, warrior types."
Draco's answering smile was known only to him. "Ah, but my ancestor slew White Sorres because her lover, Gregory the Debauched, who I have on good authority, was as you say, a big strapping, sword-carrying bloke, was killed attempting to hunt White Sorres. Usille swore revenge at the death of her husband. She picked up Gregory's sword where he had fallen, and resumed his task."
Draco paused for effect, during which he also started counting to ten.
On six, Hermione twisted around to look at him again, "So? What happened?"
He reached into the left pocket of his trousers and pulled out a small black velvet pouch. "Usille Malfoy, grief stricken and driven nearly mad by her quest for revenge, combed the coastal caves where Sorres was rumoured to hibernate during the warmer months. She followed a trail of scattered sheep bones, whale carcasses, scorched crops and abandoned villages, until one day, she happened upon Sorres, slumbering in a cave on the coast of Genoa. There, she crept up upon him and pierced him through the heart with Gregory's sword, thus finishing her husband's work and avenging his death."
Hermione sat up to face Draco. "But steel cannot piece dragon hide."
"Ah, but this was steel tempered with blood-magic. Gregory was an evil bastard - and don't let this get in the way of what is really an excellent story - but it was rumoured that Gregory had his swords cooled in the blood of virgins after they were folded."
Hermione grimaced. Such a practice was archaic, but not unheard of. "That's a horrible dark enchantment."
"Oui. And so, the sword penetrated the dragon's chest, piercing White Sorres's black heart in a single, decisive stroke." Draco thrust his arm out in a mock parry. He thought he had quite a flair for story-telling, if Hermione's wide-eyed expression was any indication.
Hermione frowned. "So, she killed the dragon, but that's not where her revenge ended."
Again a question, not a statement. Draco idly wondered if people's perception of Hermione's brilliance was due in some small part to the fact that she never asked questions as such, (and thus avoided revealing ignorance), but merely challenged statements.
"She killed it," Draco confirmed, "and burnt the carcass, embedded sword and all, until it was dust and ash. Save for one, small, part."
Draco untied the drawstring cord of the pouch and tipped its contents into his palm. There, smooth, shiny and quite ordinary, was a piece of black glass roughly the size of a man's thumb. It was suspended on a roughly hewn, gold chain. The glass was a deep, cloudy black and completely flawless, save for a sharp, metallic glint that shone through from the centre.
"White Sorres's heart, in the intense heat of the inferno, was reduced to a crystalline rock. Inside it, remained a minute shard from Gregory's sword."
Hermione-the-skeptic gave way to Hermione-the-closet-sentimentalist. She looked enraptured.
"Feeling a mite charitable towards Gregory the Debauched now, are we?" he teased, but his voice had dipped to a huskier timbre.
Hermione did not respond, instead she reached out a hand to touch the pendant, and was startled when Draco closed his fist around it and pulled away.
"No touching yet. The crystal will feel like hot coals against your skin. Unless we perform a specific charm."
"But you're holding it."
"I'm a Malfoy," Draco shrugged, with an acceptable amount of smugness. "It's a blood thing." He cleared his throat, turning his silver eyes down to the pendant. "Anyhow, this is the 'old' item I thought you might like to have, for tomorrow..."
Hermione stared at him.
Draco mistook this silence for uncertainty. He retrieved the pouch to put away the pendant. "Of course, you don't have to have it, if it's not to your tastes. I know it isn't terribly valuable. The chain's a right mess... But then you've never been one to wear ostentatious things-"
Hermione cut him off by squeezing his wrist. "Of course I'll have it, you dunce. It's remarkable, and certainly a great deal older than any of my Gran's baubles."
Draco stared back at her. The Lumin Essence had worn off by now, but his eyes were very bright. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. What does the charm entail?"
"Well, there's the fiddly bit. Usille wanted to honour her love for Gregory, and punish Sorres beyond death. She chiseled off a portion of Sorres's heart and be-spelled it with a Union Charm. The pendant has since been passed down from along the Malfoy brides. "If you speak the words, Granger, we'll be bound until we're dead."
Hermione resisted an amused smile. Draco made it sound like a horrible fate. "Well, that sounds a lot like what we're agreeing to do tomorrow, don't you think?" she asked gently.
"This is true-er," Draco told her, with such an earnest expression that she had to swallow the cursed lump that had set up residence in her throat. Really, since the war, she had been reduced to a sniveling, over-emotional, piece of milk toast.
"Did your mother wear it?" Hermione asked, very carefully. She wasn't about to accept something from him that had the potential to cause him pain in the future, no matter that the pendant came with the best intentions and the most interesting story she had heard in a long time. History was not a benign thing. When it wasn't busy repeating itself, it had a nasty habit of stirring up painful memories.
But Draco was shaking his head. "Not Narcissa, no." "What do we have to do?"
"Say the words."
"Then tell me the words."
Draco looked about as uncertain as Hermione had ever seen him. His long fingers passed over the stone, caressing its smooth contours. He seemed to be steeling himself for the process to come.
"Alright," he finally said, looking up at her. "The spell is spoken in French, but you can speak the words in English."
Hermione had to bite back a rebuttal at his casual dismissal of her bilingual abilities. She was aware that while she was well versed in French, she was also possessed of the most appalling accent. Still, some tact was called for.
Draco was waiting for her to look at him. "Are you ready?"
She met his eyes, and nodded. He gathered a breath, and began:
"Je n'errerai plus."
Taking his free hand in hers, she repeated the words, "I will wander no longer."
"Je resterai à tes côtés."
"I will remain by your side..."
Draco paused, swallowed, and then continued. "Je marcherai où tu marcheras."
"I will walk where you walk..."
"Je dormirai là où tu dormiras."
"I will sleep where you sleep..."
"Ces mots seront mon voeux solonel."
"These words will be solemn vow," Hermione finished, just in time to catch the tear that willpower had no hope of containing.
Draco's gaze was piercing. His grip on her hands became slack, as if to release her, but then he seemed to change his mind. "Pour tous les temps," he said, almost in a rush.
"Yes," she agreed, sniffing. "For all time."
He was all-smiles now. Hermione stared, transfixed, like a deer caught in extremely high-wattage headlights. He looked all of ten years old.
"You added that last part to it, didn't you?" she asked, through blurred vision.
He nodded, and it would seem that he wasn't quite finished as yet. "Hermione Granger, will you accept this charm and honour the commitments spoken in your vow?" he spoke in a brisk, businesslike manner that was completely at odds with the emotion he had sparingly revealed to her moments before.
"Good." Draco kissed her briefly on the lips before passing the chain over her head.
Hermione gasped. The heat of the stone was intense. It felt heavy, like iron warmed by fire. A dragon's heart...
It was finished. The charm was done. And it seemed that her fiancé had shown as much of himself as he was comfortable with, for one day. Hermione was used to this, she understood Draco, and as such, forgave him.
Draco was already on his feet, broom in hand. "We'd better get going. The Three Broomsticks closed an hour ago."
She got to her feet, brushing the dirt from her behind. "Lead the way."
Hermione climbed through Ginny's bedroom window shortly before the sun made a full-fledged appearance over the Burrow. The clock on the wall next to Ginny's lopsided wardrobe revealed that it was, 'Eight hours and forty-six minutes to Malfoy-Granger Wedding.'
Ginny had shifted positions over the course of the night, seeing as the top of her head was now visible from under the blankets. Hermione stood over her for a moment. She might have been the family fire-starter, the hotheaded, risk taking, teenaged bane of the Weasley household. But in sleep, Ginny was all peaches, cream and youthful innocence.
That was the one good thing about fighting in a war where the soldiers abreast of you were so near your own age. It was a constant reminder that they had not only fought for the sake of all magical folk at large, but that they had fought for their own futures as well.
Smiling, Hermione bent down to pull more of the blanket over Ginny. The younger girl did not stir. There was still two hours of sleep left before Molly would awaken them, and Hermione meant to make the most of it.
She settled into bed, still wrapped in Draco's silver stained cloak. For the first time in a long while, Hermione fell asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow, the dragon's heart at her breast, only just beginning to cool.
Chapter End Notes:
The prequel is 'The Bachelor Party'.