Author Notes: I'm not sure whether I should thank or curse ponekad for their artwork which resulted in this monster. I'll leave that up to the readers to decide. I'd also like to thank my betas, MazVN & Little Dollface, for working so quickly. Any mistakes that linger are completely their fault, as I am above reproach. ;D Finally, a fair warning: There are mentions of past infidelity which could be upsetting to some. Proceed at your own risk. Also, beware of an unsubtle exploitation of various clichés!
This is a repost of a fic written for a fest months ago. It's based on a beautiful piece of art linked in my profile. It is 15 chapters long, but I won't spam those on alert with it all at once. If you must know what happens next, go to Hawthorn & Vine, linked in my profile, to read the full fic. Thank you.
Draco slowly let his gaze slide over the serious faces in front of him, trying to figure out if this was some sort of elaborate prank. 'You're kidding, right?' he finally asked when nobody volunteered any further information.
'You have no idea how much we wish we were.' Potter did that extremely annoying thing where he ran his hand through his hair, making it all stand on end. 'We're out of options here.'
Draco leant back in his seat and let his gaze rest on Weasley. He looked put off, but then again, he always looked put off around Draco. Weasley didn't really seem to have much to add today, though, which was new. He usually loved to make inane digs whenever Draco was forced to check in at the Ministry. Right now, however, he was just determinedly staring at his own hands, placed on the large, simple wooden desk before him.
The wankers had literally forced Draco to come down to the Ministry for an extraordinary meeting under the terms of his probation for this?
'And I don't suppose you're really giving me a choice about it,' Draco concluded, everything considered.
Potter shrugged but avoided eye-contact. 'Things could get more difficult for you if you declined,' he admitted. 'But they'd also get vastly easier for you if you should choose to cooperate.'
Draco had to snort at that. Obviously they had very different ideas about what constituted "easy". He looked over at Granger. She'd been even more quiet than Weasley, just sitting there, positively oozing steely determination and self-sacrifice. It was nauseating. 'Aren't you going to say anything?' he asked her.
She blinked as if confused to be addressed but didn't get a chance to reply before Potter cut in, 'Hermione already agreed,' he said. 'Catching and convicting this perpetrator is our number one priority.'
'Things really changed around here, didn't they?' Draco asked. 'I never thought I'd see the day when Granger of all people couldn't answer a simple question on her own.'
Potter's cheeks went slightly pink. 'Don't try to toy with us, Malfoy. What'll it be?'
Draco looked at Granger once more. She looked about as happy as he felt. 'What was I getting for my troubles, again?' he asked.
Weasley finally seemed to have become bored with his hands because he looked up and sneered. 'You'll be bloody free from us, Malfoy. Isn't that enough?'
He did crave freedom from the constant scrutiny of the Department of Magical Law like he craved nothing else, but he wasn't sure that it would be enough. 'What about my trust fund?' he asked.
Potter shook his head. 'I can't touch that. You know it's tied up until we're sure that it's all legit.'
It had already been tied up for years, and the way things were going, Draco wasn't sure he was ever going to see any of it again. 'Give it back to me and we have a deal.'
'He just told you he can't!' Weasley hissed.
Granger cleared her throat. 'I... um... I think that if you file a request, you could get at least a partial release of... of his means due to the extent of his cooperation and the fact that he's showing willingness to... reform at the expense of his personal comfort.' She grimaced as if she'd bit into something very unpleasant.
'A partial release would be a good start,' Draco immediately said.
Potter growled. 'Fine. I'll file a request for ten percent of your frozen assets to be released.'
'I wasn't thinking that partial. If I have to do what you want me to do, it'll take money. Lots of it. And I'm not spending everything I'm getting on this scheme, either. I'll need extra for that.' He glanced at Granger, who paled and looked like she was going to be sick.
They were very much in agreement about the desirability of Potter's plan, then.
'Ask for twenty percent now with another forty percent at completion, requiring Malfoy to sign that he's giving up the remainder,' Granger said, her eyes fixed on the table in front of her.
'I'm not giving up anything!' Draco objected.
She looked up to pin him with her stare. 'Right now, all the money is lost. If you do as Harry asks and show some goodwill, you may get up to sixty percent granted. If you dig in your heels, you will get nothing. Do you understand? The Ministry wants to keep the money, and currently they very well can.'
Draco bit back a retort and looked away. She was right. The bureaucrats had swooped in like vultures at the very first chance they got and had locked down every account the Malfoys had in Gringotts. Fortunately, they'd had accounts and valuables in various other places, but they still currently had problems maintaining the illusion of grandeur. The manor was in need of repairs that Draco hadn't been able to provide with his own wand, but they simply couldn't afford to fix it. Just living in a manor was bloody expensive. And the grounds... they had barely been maintained at all for the last two years.
'You sure he should even get that much, Hermione?' Potter said, his voice laced with doubt. Even this git wanted to keep the money, it seemed. Bloody priceless. Robbing someone of their entire life savings in the name of justice and the law was apparently fine with these "heroes".
Granger shrugged as if she had no opinion of her own. 'We need him. If he's not motivated, we'll never succeed. I say give him whatever he wants to make it happen.'
It was all Draco could do not to smile to himself at that. Insane plans aside, he liked the idea that these people needed him and were willing to go out of their way to please him to get his help. And it really looked like he might get some of his money back soon! Sixty percent was still a substantial sum. Then he could take it and finally leave the country and start a new life for himself. He'd been wanting to do that for years, but the terms of his probation and his lack of finances had kept him right here in England to be scoffed at by both Hero and Villain alike.
'You really want to catch this bugger, don't you?' he asked Granger without even attempting to hide the smugness in his voice.
She shot him an extremely annoyed look. 'You're only just realising that now? Did you miss the part where I have willingly agreed to marry you?'
Hermione's stomach heaved and she swallowed hard so she wouldn't lose her breakfast. It was quite stupid, really. Smiling at Malfoy and pretending to be infatuated with him wasn't repulsive enough to warrant such a violent physical reaction, but, nevertheless, she'd been feeling ill ever since the idea had come up a few days ago.
There would be a public wedding. To Malfoy.
She couldn't even begin to describe how much that upset her. She couldn't begin to explain it either. She couldn't remember ever having given much thought to anything wedding- or happily-ever-after-related, but to know that people would think she was marrying Malfoy of her own free will! It was upsetting and nauseating and crushing and a dozen other things, none of them pleasant. Not to mention that any wedding after this would be tainted with the memory of the first one, even if the first one would - fortunately - be a complete fake, a setup to catch a killer.
Harry had, however, admitted to her when he'd asked that this was his very last resort, and if this didn't help them stop the murders, he didn't know that anything could. He'd said they might actually have to put a temporary ban on pure-blood/Muggle-born marriages for people's own safety. If that happened, the murderer would win. He would have terrorised their whole society into submitting to his bigoted beliefs, and that was not something Hermione could live with.
'Whoa, whoa!' Malfoy held up his hands. 'I thought you said this wouldn't be real? It would just be a sham?'
Hermione took some pleasure in noting the brand new green tinge to his pallor at the idea that it might be a real wedding.
Harry had frowned and now glanced at Hermione, his concern evident. 'It is,' he said. 'Except that for all intents and purposes, everyone will believe it's real. Every single person not present in this room will believe it. That means all your friends, all your co-workers, all your family-'
Malfoy sat up straight so fast he must have pulled something. 'Family? You mean to say-?'
'Yes,' Hermione quietly said. 'Our parents. They'll be there, and they will believe every second of it. And they'll believe every second of what comes after as well, until we either catch the killer or call off the scheme.'
He violently shook his head. 'No. Just... no! I am not fooling my parents into thinking I'm marrying a Muggle-born!'
Hermione didn't answer. Her mother would be giving her "the talk", gleefully ignoring that Hermione hadn't exactly lived a sheltered life, and her father would be giving her away. They would be so happy for her. And she had to do it with Malfoy. She looked over at Ron and caught him looking back at her. He'd wanted to do the scheme with her. Ron was, however, a known, vocal blood traitor, plus he was a known active Auror, even if he'd been on an extended sick leave lately, trying to recover from his last case. They simply weren't sure he'd draw out the maniac. Also, Hermione really wasn't at all certain that faking a wedding with him was the best of ideas on a personal level. It would be too difficult to explain to him why she didn't want to make it real without putting another dent in their friendship. So, instead, now Hermione would be misleading almost everyone she loved best, "marrying" someone she actually didn't like on any level.
It would be worth it, though. They would catch this killer, and that in itself would be... worth it. People would live. Her parents would understand once she explained it all. There would be plenty of first times for other things. It was no big deal.
It was just going to be a sham and not really her first wedding. She could pretend to like Malfoy. She really could.
Draco sat, ramrod straight, and stared at Granger, who was sitting at the other side of the table in the cozy, yet - of course - pricey, restaurant. She looked about as comfortable as he felt, her hands in her lap, and her gaze anywhere but on him. He couldn't believe what they were supposed to be pretending to do. He couldn't believe the schedule they were on, either. A couple of weeks of fake dating, and then he was supposed to stage a rather public proposal, followed by an insanely rushed engagement to lead up to an impossibly extravagant wedding, leading to a honeymoon in a remote, relatively isolated yet still common location that they wouldn't tell him about.
'Can you tell me anything about this mission of yours, then?' he asked, most of all to break the silence.
'It's confidential,' she muttered.
'Considering that I'm helping you and probably risking my life to do so, I think I earned the right to know a little,' he insisted.
She finally looked at him. 'Ok. Someone appears to really disapprove of pure-blood wizards marrying either Muggles or Muggle-born witches, because whenever they do, the Muggle-related end up dead, except in the one case where it was the pure-blood who died in defence of his bride, who was saved by the timely interference of a Hit Wizard. We don't have enough clues to catch him and, frankly, there aren't that many weddings of the kind. So we're staging this one.'
He shot her an appalled look. 'So I am putting my life on the line here!'
Hermione shook her head. 'No. This is why you're "marrying" me. Even though my actual job is much more docile than Harry and Ron's, I'm actually a trained Hit Wizard, who can both secure the criminal and keep you safe. And they've assigned another Hit Wizard and an Auror to keep us both safe on the honeymoon. They'll mostly stay hidden, but remember that even they need to be convinced that our union is real.'
'How do you know it's a "he"? It could be a witch.'
'It could be. Except a Hit Wizard saw him last time when she tried to capture him and he attacked her with a knife. She's the one assigned to our case, actually.'
'I see. And you just happen to be a Hit Wizard too, huh? I always thought you were a paper-pusher. I've never seen you when I've been called down to Magical Law to check in.'
She frowned at him in that swotty Granger way. 'I am not a paper-pusher. I do important work. But as for me being a Hit Wizard, it's a long story, involving Harry and Ron getting a little too high on testosterone and bragging a little too loudly about their qualifications. I finished training in record time just to shut them up, but I never had any interest in actually working the job.'
'So... you have no experience?' Draco wrinkled his nose.
She pursed her lips. 'Well... there was this one Wizarding War, if you'll remember...'
'Great.' He grimaced. 'And how do you know that I'm not the killer?'
'I don't,' she calmly replied. 'But we considered the possibility and found it highly unlikely. Besides, if you'd like to kill me, I think you should be allowed to try.'
Personally, Draco didn't feel like one had to be a serial killer in order to want to kill Hermione Granger, but maybe that was just his experience. 'How many of these do you reckon we'll need before making the announcement?' he asked without further comment. By "these", he meant awkward pseudo-dates.
She shrugged and grimaced. 'Enough to convince people that we've fallen madly, passionately in love.'
He snorted. Right. Granger wasn't particularly his type on any level. 'For anyone to buy that, you'd have to... upgrade a bit,' he informed her, mostly to be a nuisance. He sincerely doubted that "upgrading" would help much.
She stared at him. 'What's that supposed to mean?'
He indicated her form. 'Apart from liking my witches pure-blood, I also like them stylish. You need to invest in robes that suit you better and maybe get a haircut that doesn't look like you did it yourself.'
She gaped and then snapped her mouth shut, narrowing her eyes at him. 'There's nothing wrong with the way I dress or the way I look. You'll just have to pretend to be over your shallowness!'
'Yeah, I don't think I can do that,' he said with a dismissive wave.
Hermione got to her feet. 'You think you can say whatever you want because we need you, don't you?'
He smirked. He knew he could. She was very much out of luck if she thought there was any way he wouldn't bother her as much as he could until this was over.
She smiled back at him and leant over the table to whisper. 'Just remember that if you're not useful, you'll get no money and I might just find an excuse to send you back to Azkaban myself. You think I won't? That I'm too honourable? Have you even met me? I'm very... goal-oriented.'
His smirk froze. 'You wouldn't.'
She was still smiling. 'Obstruction of justice, Malfoy. If you get in my way, you will feel the consequences. Help me achieve my goal and we'll become fast friends to our mutual benefit. Your choice.'
This wasn't the way he remembered Hermione Granger at all! She hadn't always been this vindictive... had she? He hadn't quite found his tongue before she was gone, leaving him to pay for two untouched meals.
Hermione stalked through the vast, expensively decorated room that had been referred to as Malfoy's "office" and dumped her armful of packages on his desk. When he simply frowned up at her from the chair he'd never got up from, she placed her palms on the desk and leant forward. 'What is this?' she growled.
He raised an eyebrow. 'It looks like it's you imposing on me in my own home, rudely cluttering up my desk, and adopting a confrontational stance without having been provoked.'
She ignored his pretentious ignorance. 'Do you realise what the penalty for attempting to bribe a Ministry official on duty is?'
'Ah,' he said, glancing at the boxes again. 'So that's what you're about. But it's not a bribe. It's my condition to do this scheme, remember?'
'I already told you to deal with-'
'I'm facing enough ostracising and ridicule as it is, Granger. I have standards. Upgrading to them is fairly simple - just wear the clothes and present yourself pleasantly. I know you can do it; I've seen you at formal functions. And after we're done, just donate the clothes to someone in dire need, if such a person can be found. I don't see the issue here.'
Hermione scowled. If it had been a more reasonable request, she'd probably have gone along with it, but as it was, he was telling her that it was only socially acceptable for him to be seen with a Muggle-born if she pampered her looks as if she had nothing else to take pride in? It was disgusting. 'The issue is that I morally object to your shallow terms.'
He merely shrugged. 'Object all you like as long as you do it.'
She took a good long look at him. He was really digging in his heels on this issue, wasn't he? She was very much tempted to do the same, but the fact of the matter was that she had to pick her battles with him or risk getting nowhere. She just wanted this whole thing to be over and done with.
'Fine,' she abruptly said. 'But then you must make one concession for me as well.'
'I will not dress as a Weasley.'
'Ha. Ha. No. Your house-elf. The one that let me in? Release her.'
He grimaced. 'You still on about house-elves, Granger? No. She's happy here. Besides, I can't clean a damn mansion by myself.'
'Then hire someone; I don't care. You could even pay the house-elf if you want. But she's to be freed. Nobody would believe that I would marry a wizard who would keep house-elves.'
They held a glaring contest.
'You'll doll up every single day, then,' he finally bit out.
'I'll doll up for our meetings,' she agreed. They probably wouldn't be able to meet every single day as she had to keep up a front at work and he had to... well, she wasn't sure what it was that he did, but she assumed he had to keep doing it.
'No.' He shook his head. 'If others run into you when you're not with me, they must still find you passably attractive and polished enough to fit a Malfoy. It's the only way they will even remotely be able to excuse my behaviour.'
'And who will excuse my behaviour, then?' she growled. 'I don't see you living up to my ideal of a wizard.'
He merely smiled at her. 'Just tell them I'm really good in bed.'
She couldn't help but laugh at that. In fact, she laughed so hard that he began looking annoyed. 'Sorry,' she finally managed to wheeze, 'but that really won't convince anyone.'
'I think people will be just as convinced that you find me appealing in bed as they will that I find you appealing at all,' he snapped.
She pursed her lips and nodded. 'You're right. You're absolutely right. So, as of now, you need to fake a change.'
He stared at her. 'What?'
'A change. A sudden sympathy for the plight of the Muggle-born and other oppressed groups.'
He leant back, crossing his arms. 'This isn't funny.'
'Didn't mean it to be. You're going with me to the fundraiser for abandoned half-human children in a couple of days.'
'To the fund- oh, come on! There can't be too many abandoned half-breeds!'
'Half-humans! And there are more than you'd think due to insensitive, privileged gits like you!'
He sighed very deeply. 'I suppose I'm expected to donate as well?'
She bared her teeth at him in what she couldn't quite make into a smile. 'Just be happy I don't make you adopt one.'
Draco looked around, feeling uncomfortable. This wasn't his scene. This really wasn't his scene. The place looked posh enough with formalwear and champagne flutes on floating trays, but the appeal was ruined by all the decked out half-breeds mingling with the benefactors. The people setting this thing up should know that most witches and wizards didn't mind giving money to a good cause, but they never wanted to be near the thing they were paying to help. Nobody wanted to be close to ugliness.
Half-human children, indeed. He shuddered. Revolting.
'Fancy meeting you here, Malfoy!'
Draco jolted but then swiftly put on his social smile before looking at the person who had approached him. It was Cyrus Gamp. Lovely. Draco hadn't considered that other pure-bloods might be here tonight to pay lip service to this idiotic cause.
'Hello, Gamp,' he politely greeted. 'What brings you here?'
The older wizard shrugged and took another long drink from his glass. 'I imagine what brings you here as well, Malfoy,' he finally said. 'This is the price of respectability these days.'
'I know.' Draco wrinkled his nose at what could only be a half-troll girl giggling a few feet over. 'There are so many real orphans after the war. I'd imagine they'd put some effort into taking care of them instead of this circus,' he said.
'And what exactly do you mean by that?' Granger's cool voice asked from behind him.
Draco flinched. Of all the people to sneak up on him and hear... He slowly turned back around.
'Oh, look! My wife wants me,' Gamp hurriedly said. 'Nice seeing you again, Malfoy. Miss Granger.'
Acknowledging Muggle-born in public was, after all, another price of respectability these days.
Granger didn't even return Gamp's greeting but was still looking at Draco expectantly.
'You know what I meant,' he said, making no excuses.
She crossed her arms over her chest. She'd actually followed his directions and worn new robes today, he noted. It was still a discreet colour and cut, but at least it hinted that there might be something worth investigating underneath. That would suffice. A Malfoy wouldn't propose to a tart either, after all. Her modesty could be worth something. Although, she really could do with a haircut and a manicure.
'No, I really don't,' she replied. 'How are these not real orphans? They are children without parents!'
Draco grimaced. 'Sure. But why do we have to take care of them? They don't belong here. Let the trolls and goblins and giants take care of their own!'
She had bared her teeth at him as she heard him speak. 'They are just as much outcasts there as they are here,' she hissed. 'And we are supposed to be more civilised than the trolls and the giants!'
'But the kids won't become civilised! This is the house-elf thing all over again. You're trying to save creatures by imposing your own values on them.'
She shook her head. 'This won't work.' Then she turned around and walked off.
It took Draco a minute to realise that she wasn't going to finish the conversation with him and then it took another minute for it to dawn on him that he might've just lost his fortune. Again. Groaning, he went in the general direction that she'd left, hoping to find her and talk some sense into her head. It took him a good fifteen minutes before he finally found her outside with her back to him, leaning her hands on a railing.
'Those robes can't be very warm,' he said, not sure how to start the conversation. 'Where's your cloak?'
'Go away, Malfoy,' she replied.
'We always knew we wouldn't agree. We just have to pretend it doesn't matter.'
She slowly turned around. 'I can't pretend that well.'
'So I will keep my mouth shut and donate,' he said with a shrug.
She shook her head. 'I can't believe I ever thought I could even pretend to marry someone like you. It won't work. You're much too self-centered.'
'That's not fair! You're just pushing the wrong causes on me. Aren't there more relevant fundraisers you could-?'
'Relevant? Fair?' she hissed, taking a step towards him. 'It's people like you who make it virtually impossible to create lives for half-humans - half-Veelas notwithstanding. Half-goblins are too small, half-giants are too big, half-trolls are too ugly, and half-vampires are too scary. But people are not just the sum of their blood or their race, Malfoy. A five-year-old half-human is still a five-year-old child, and people are constantly treating them like hideous monsters, when they are really just scared children. If I could've made you see that, then I would've had hope for your humanity. As it is, I think it's fairly clear who's the monster here.'
With that, she made her second grand departure.
Draco found himself still repulsed at the thought of the small half-troll, but now he felt a little bad about it. And very annoyed.
That Granger had always been such a nuisance and now she was going to make him work for his money too?