Prologue: How the Whole Mess Began
A/N: This story isn't going to fluctuate between past and present, don't worry. The first little chunk is just how the whole mess began (hence the chapter title).
Thanks toharrypotterluver123 for betaing! Any mistakes are probably mine, I made some tiny changes before I posted this.
I'm going to try and introduce CHAPTER TITLES in this story, and I'm disproportionately excited about it!
Five years ago:
"Drakey!" Screeched a voice entirely too loud for the quiet atmosphere of the library. Hermione rolled her eyes and leant her head closer to the thick book she'd been immersed in before the rude interruption. She didn't mind that Malfoy seemed to use the library just as much as she did, but Parkinson frequently found him there and proceeded to irritate everyone in the immediate vicinity upon finding the precious 'Drakey'.
She almost smiled when she heard Malfoy snarl something no doubt insulting to the high-pitched parasite that seemed to stalk him. The blond Slytherin's favourite place to study just happened to be right next to the table Hermione had claimed as her own at the starting of first year, so she had a front-row seat to their dramatics.
"Draco Malfoy, if you don't pay attention to me, I'm going to tell your father that you're not taking this relationship seriously! We're going to be married after we've finished school and you're never anything but mean to me."
Hermione's eyes widened slightly at the revelation that Malfoy was engaged to Parkinson. She'd known somewhere in the back of her mind that traditional Pureblood families often paired off their children at a young age, but she'd never bothered putting much thought into it. They were twelve for goodness sake; much too young to be worried about marriage. The brunette was unsure whether she should feel sorrier for Parkinson or Malfoy; either way, they probably weren't going to have a very happy marriage.
"Pansy," Malfoy gritted out between obviously clenched teeth. "What can I do to make you go away and leave me in peace for once?"
She started whispering quickly and rustling papers, Hermione couldn't make out any more of their conversation so she blocked out their quiet argument. Hermione went back to the book she was reading; the Chamber of Secrets had been opened and she needed to find out what kind of monster could possibly be prowling the halls of her beloved school at night.
Their quiet discussion finally ceased, but Hermione was too immersed in her reading to notice. She didn't hear the quiet growl, the scratching of a pen or the grudging footsteps approaching her table.
A shadow appeared, blocking out the light she'd been using to read. The Gryffindor tore her brown eyes from the page and glared up into the grey ones of Malfoy.
"What do you want Malfoy?" She demanded irritably, wanting nothing more to get their exchange of insults over with so she could back to her reading.
Surprisingly, the blonde pulled out the chair opposite of her and sat down. "I need you to sign this paper." He said, pushing towards her a sheet of paper with his ostentatious scrawl already decorating the bottom on a dotted line.
Hermione looked between him and the paper suspiciously. "Why would I want to do that?"
"Because Parkinson's got it in her thick head that it would be hilarious to have both of us sign our names and then draw a heart around them or something. I don't know, but she's sworn to never set foot inside the library again if we both do this."
Parkinson would never disturb her reading again? It was an appealing thought, but Hermione wasn't sure she could trust Malfoy – scratch that, Hermione was positive Malfoy couldn't be trusted. She hesitated and stared hard at the innocent-seeming piece of paper. Hopefully, the heat from her look would make it reveal whatever underhanded Slytherin plan was underway.
"Don't tell me she doesn't bother you almost as much as she bothers me Granger; I see your shoulders tense every time you hear her voice and I'm not sure you've noticed, but you mutter under your breath when you're annoyed."
Hermione snapped her eyes up to the git; he paid that much attention to her? Even though she was an insignificant Mudblood? If that was the attention he paid to the people he hated, she didn't want to know the level of attention he gave to people he liked - it was probably verging on stalker territory.
She continued to hesitate, looking dubiously at the paper. Despite the deviousness that was seemingly inherent in every member of the Slytherin house, Hermione didn't think Parkinson had the brainpower for anything that she wouldn't be able to reverse with a little research.
With one last weary look at Malfoy and a sigh, Hermione signed the piece of paper underneath Malfoy's name. It was greatly disconcerting that the paper briefly glowed, but nothing further seemed to happen. Her eyes snapped to Malfoy's and she saw that he was just as surprised and worried by the glowing as she was, but he quickly suppressed his emotions when he noticed that her eyes were on him.
Without another word, Malfoy snatched the paper and stormed back to Parkinson, who squealed happily and ran out of the library, leaving them to finish their reading in blessed peace.
Hermione was anxious about what evil scheme Parkinson was cooking up, but as the weeks gradually passed with no mention of the mysterious paper and the monster she'd been researching started attacking students, the small incident in the library was pushed to the back of Hermione's formidable mind and eventually forgotten.
Hermione stared in confusion at the ring that just refused to slide onto her finger. For some reason, magic propelled it from her left ring-finger every time she tried to wear the blasted thing.
When Ron had first given her the ring, she'd been thrilled; it wasn't an engagement ring, but it was a promise ring. Ever since they'd started dating, there hadn't been much doubt in anyone's mind –save perhaps Hermione's- that the two members of the Golden Trio were going to end up happily married. She'd been afraid that Ron would have trouble committing to one person when he could have the fawning attention of many women for his contribution to their victory in the war. The inferiority complex he'd developed had been a major roadblock in their relationship since before it had even started, but her ring proved that he was ready to grow up.
She tried to put it on the right finger one more time, watching as it was repelled and bounced to the table. Sighing, Hermione put it on the same finger of her right hand and went back to her books. Seventh year was almost over, so she was taking advantage of Hogwarts expansive library while most of her classmates were outside enjoying the warm spring day. She was going to miss the library more than anything else once she'd graduated.
At first, Ron had been hurt that she wasn't wearing the ring on her left hand, but Hermione had quickly shown him that it wasn't by choice. The one time Ron had tried to help her put the ring on for her, it had burned them both, leaving angry red welts where it had been in contact with their skin. After that, they had agreed that it was perfectly fine on her other hand – even if the meaning was somewhat reduced.
The doors to the library slammed against the wall as someone burst in. Hermione glanced up; frowning, with what Ron and Harry called her 'librarian look', at the intruder.
"Granger," Malfoy growled as he stalked across the otherwise empty room and angrily sat in the chair opposite her.
Hermione got a strange sense of déjà-vu at the action, but she dismissed it as something silly; if Malfoy was willing to lower himself to sit with her, then his reason for doing so was something more important than the vague recollection prodding her brain.
"What Malfoy?" She sighed, wanting to get their little confrontation over with so she could go back to her reading.
"Do you remember in second year when Parkinson made us both sign a paper?"
Ah, that was why the situation was oddly familiar. Wait, why was he asking about it, the whole episode was years ago.
"Vaguely, why?" She asked. Suspicion was always best when dealing with Slytherins. Upon remembering the incident, Hermione was unable to believe her twelve-year-old self had been so stupid as to sign something one of the snakes had handed to her – whether anything bad had come from it or not.
Malfoy reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. Their signatures were still scrawled across the bottom of the page as she remembered, but the top part was no longer blank. He smoothed the paper flat on the table before sliding it across to her.
Hermione continued to look at him suspiciously, but allowed her eyes to scan over the words.
"No..." She whispered, horrified by what she was reading.
Malfoy had his elbows on the table and his head resting in his hands, looking depressed. "I'm afraid so, Granger. Trust me, I'm not any happier about this than you are."
"No." Hermione said again, more firmly. There had to be something they could do. "Where's Parkinson?" She demanded.
Malfoy still had his head in his hands; he didn't even lift it to answer her question. "Her family fled after the war, she owled those papers to me yesterday from some undisclosed location." He looked away and mumbled something that sounded a lot like 'probably because she knew I was going to murder her one I found out'.
Hermione read over the paper again. "Why would she do this?"
He pulled out another piece of paper and threw it in her general direction, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else at the moment. The sentiment was very familiar to Hermione; she was feeling the exact same at the moment.
Carefully smoothing out the creases, Hermione bent her head to read, hoping that there wasn't going to be any more bad news.
As you know, I'm in hiding and have no intentions of ever showing my face London's Wizarding community ever again. Don't remind me of commitments I've made (like our engagement), as that won't work. You're an insufferable arsehole and I was only ever nice to you because our families required it. I never liked you and I was NOT going to marry you, so I found a way out early on.
I'm sure you remember the incident in second year with that little piece of paper I had you and the Mudblood sign; I thought it might be interesting for you to know what you two were committing to. Enclosed you'll find that very paper, I'm almost sad I won't get to see the fallout.
"There has to be another option," Hermione said, turning an accusing stare on Malfoy. Why was he just sitting there looking defeated? Shouldn't he be frantically trying to get out of this situation, to flip it in his favour in some clever and sneaky way?
"You don't think I've tried to find other options?" Malfoy snapped, finally lifting his head to glare at her. "I sent both papers to Father as soon as I'd read them. He's had them extensively tested by the best lawyers money can buy and they've assured him that the contract is both legally and magically binding."
"Why should I believe any of this is true?" She was hoping that Malfoy was playing some kind of elaborate prank on her. How the whole thing would be funny had yet to present itself, but it had to be anything other than the truth.
"I heard the Weasel complaining that you couldn't put his ring on a certain finger."
She didn't see how that had anything to prove their current predicament. "So?"
"Our unwilling agreement's not going to let you promise things that aren't within your ability to promise. If it had been an engagement ring he'd given you, the pair of you would be in the hospital wing right now."
Hermione paled and looked accusingly at her ring - she knew the ring itself wasn't to blame, but she refused to believe what Malfoy was saying despite the overwhelming evidence in his favour. She pulled off her ring and tried putting it on the proper finger one more time, only to have it fly off once again.
Malfoy scoffed at her refusal to believe what was literally right under her nose. He snatched the ring when it rolled across the table to bounce on his arm. Before she had time to react, he grabbed her left hand, shoved the ring on the proper finger and then dropped her hand like it was on fire. It was just a normal ring when he had been holding it; there was nothing stopping her from making promises to him.
Horrified, Hermione looked between the papers and the blond across from her. "You're serious about this, aren't you? This isn't some kind of elaborate, cruel joke, you're actually telling the truth, aren't you?"
"Granger, my sense of humour may be a little twisted, but this entire situation is beyond the far side of sanity; no one sane would find this funny." He glared at the letters. "Which is why Pansy probably thinks the whole thing is hilarious."
"I can't do this! I won't, I'm too young." She insisted. Maybe they could put it off for a few years until they'd had time to try and work something else out?
Malfoy snapped his fingers in front of her face when she looked like she might pass out. "Pay attention Granger. Read the fine print! I thought you were supposed to be big on reading."
Hermione had long ago learned that trying to burn holes in his blond head didn't do anyone any good; it was like he was immune to dirty looks, which wasn't actually surprising at all considering how often they were aimed in his direction. She didn't bother wasting the energy to give him a nasty glare before she turned to the fine print.
"There's a time stipulation." She said in an empty voice. With every new discovery, Hermione watched her hopes and dreams for the future move farther and farther out of her reach.
Quickly scanning the entire document, she found that there were no specifics on what would happen if they didn't go through with the stipulations of the contract they'd signed.
"Malfoy, what happens if we just... don't?"
"Do you really have to ask? The same thing that happens if you break any magically binding vow: death."
Defeated, Hermione copied Malfoy's position, bringing her own arms to the table and resting her head in her hands.
"When's your birthday?" She asked, her voice laced with resignation. If there was no way of escaping this mess, then she wanted to know how long her period of freedom was.
Hermione nearly fell out of her chair; of course it was only a few weeks away. She knew he'd had more time to deal with the shock of the entire situation because he'd seen the letters the previous day, but he was disturbingly calm considering it had only been around twenty hours of extra time.
"Is there any chance you skipped a year and it'll be your 17thbirthday?" She knew the answer before he even gave her a look that asked if she was really that stupid.
"Look Granger," he finally said. "I'm making an effort to be civil because it will be exhausting to be at each other's throats all the time, but you're making it very difficult. Could you at least try not to be so..." He was struggling not to say something outright offensive; she could see it in his eyes.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him; it seemed that his version of civility wasn't much different than his version of anonymity. He was still antagonizing her on purpose; he just removed the blood slurs and direct insults.
"What kind of twelve-year-old girl carries around a marriage agreement?" Hermione burst out. Pansy Parkinson was more devious that she'd given her credit for.
"A Slytherin one who isn't happy with her fiancé. She couldn't break the legally binding contract we had, so she somehow managed to get her hands on a legally and magically binding contract that cancelled out the first one. Do you have any more unimportant questions, or are you finished wasting my time?"
Her fingertips were cold and she felt a little dizzy; Voldemort was nothing compared to this.
"What are we going to do Malfoy?" She asked in a rare moment of vulnerability. Why did Ron and Harry have to have Quidditch when she needed them? It wasn't like they could do anything about the situation, but Malfoy wasn't the most comforting person.
"I thought that was obvious Granger; we're going to do what will keep us alive. We're going to get married before I turn 18 and we both die for breaking our word." He grumbled. "Now if you don't have any more useless questions, I need a drink."
She watched numbly as he got up and left the library with just as much commotion as he'd caused when he entered. Short of a miracle, he was still going to be Malfoy when they were married, so Hermione was relatively certain one of them was going to end up a widower before the first week of their marriage was finished. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear to keep it out of her way, Hermione turned back to the contract to see what the specifics on 'accidental' death were.