Draco wasted no time planning the wedding. Hermione knew he was worried that she would back out again and he wasn't going to give her the chance.
"You look stunning," Ginny said. "These lights just make you shine. Why is it so bright in here?" Ginny looked around the bridal section of Selfridge's on Oxford Street. Hermione could tell that Ginny was feeling awkward sitting in the muggle department store.
"Muggles like it bright," Hermione said looking up at the bright LED lighting shining down from every direction. She didn't really notice such things, but Ginny was used to windows or magical light. It was odd the things the wizards picked up on in the muggle world, but there was definitely a sense of sensory overload as everything was brighter, faster and noisier. Oxford Street would be a challenge for anyone, but luckily the bridal department was more quiet and sedate.
Hermione had tried on three dresses. They all looked nice, they all looked bizarre on her. The idea that she was getting married was surreal as was seeing herself in a wedding dress.
"I can't believe you are marrying Draco," Ginny said. "All from a stupid little kiss in a Parisian disco. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"No," Hermione admitted. "Everything you're thinking, I've thought myself a hundred times. I am scared out of my friggin wits."
"Then why are you doing this?"
"Because I love him and I don't think there would ever be a point where I would not scared of this. But he is it for me, the one. I obviously refused to believe that for a while, but I think I knew."
"Pfft," Ginny said. "I still think he's put an Imperio on you, I keep checking... I think I might find that time turner and go back to school to inform you that you are going to end up marrying the Ferret. I can just imagine your look of abject horror. What point do you think I should go to? How about the time he shoved you into the wall? Or the time he 'accidentally' spilled that potion on you? How about when you hit him? That would be a good point. Maximum horror on your face. Maybe the first time he called you a mudblood? Or just one of the many times he was staring holes into your back at class," Ginny said with a tart look. "Oh, Merlin, it just hit me, he's been yanking on your pigtails for years. That is beyond disturbing."
"Has not," Hermione said rolling her eyes.
"Then all of a sudden, you are out of your mind at that disco and you are down his throat like you'd found ambrosia there. Do you think he planned this all along?"
"No of course not. You're being completely ridiculous."
"This is Draco Malfoy we're talking about. He is certainly devious enough or has he got you too wrapped around his finger to see that?" Ginny said.
"First of all, he would never have the patience for such a long standing thing. And secondly, could you seriously see Draco back in school looking at me thinking 'I'm going to marry that girl one day'?" Hermione wasn't going to mention the weird fascination that Draco had admitted to having for her back then. It would only give Ginny fodder. Hermione was also grateful that she had not known about it at the time, it would have screwed with her head completely during those sensitive and formative years. Looking back, on some level she must have known it. She had always been aware of him.
"I concede your point. Although I think he would have done you in a heartbeat. You didn't see him, there was no shocked dismay on his face on that dancefloor in Paris. He was taking everything you were giving."
Hermione didn't highlight that she had gone for him like a heat seeking missile. But it didn't matter, what mattered was the understanding they had now. That they had been attracted to each other on some level was in the past and not perhaps surprising as it now ended up that they were planning a life together. If anything the consistency in Draco was reassuring. He'd always wanted her and he'd manipulated her to get what he wanted. That was part of his nature.
She put on a dress that had a sheer material over silk. It slipped into place and it had a black ribbon across the waist. Hermione looked at herself in the mirror and held her breath.
"That's the one," Ginny said behind her. Hermione knew it was true, she just knew instantly that this was her dress. This was the dress she wanted him to see her in. "You look beautiful," Ginny said gently. "You're going to have disturbingly beautiful babies, these little elfin looking things."
Hermione couldn't even think of babies yet. She didn't dare think what they would look like, she would freak herself out because if she allowed herself, she knew she would get this gut wrenching ache for them. And it scared her. She felt instinctively that she would love them completely and unconditionally, and she would know fear, true fear. There was nothing to fear when there was nothing to lose. Because she would suffer a living death if something ever happened to them, any of them.
Hermione stood and looked at herself in the full length mirror in one of the room at Malfoy Manor. Her dress was on, her hair was perfect and her make up was tasteful. She had conceded and let the ceremony take place at Malfoy Manor. Her parents weren't wild about it, but they promised to behave. She knew they thought she was settling by staying in the wizard world. Draco was right, they were kind of snobbish, seeing the wizard world as backwards and static. They did have a point, but she also knew that they didn't quite understand what it meant to be a witch and they never would.
Narcissa had grudgingly admitted that her dress was moderately pretty, but the woman was put out that Hermione had refused to wear her dress. Narcissa hadn't quite understood how headstrong and stubborn her new daughter in law was, yet. Hermione knew that Narcissa believed that muggleborns were weak and pliable, a stereotype that had perpetuated amongst the purebloods for some reason.
Hermione had decided to consider her in laws as an unfortunate burden. Her parents and the in laws would never see eye to eye. They were extremely uncomfortable in the same room together and Hermione found that amusing if nothing else. Each party looking down on the other, both incensed that the feeling was returned by the other. Prejudice served no purpose she decided and if they wanted to engage in such behaviour, they were on their own and she would not take any of it on board. She had enough real problems to think about and one of them walked through the door.
Blaise closed the door behind him. He looked gorgeous as always in his tailormade Italian suit.
God, doesn't he ever give up, she wondered.
He turned and looked at her and seemed to freeze.
"You look stunning," he stated blatantly.
"It is not too late you change your mind," he said. "Malfoy doesn't deserve you. Why does he get to marry you?"
Hermione didn't want to have this conversation. She had heard it all before.
"It should be me," Blaise said.
"It was never going to be you."
"I made one little mistake and you refused to forgive me. And then you give yourself to him of all people."
"He loves me," Hermione said. He came up and stood behind her in the mirror. There was something he wanted to say, but he had trouble forming the words.
"I love you," he finally said quietly. "Why does he deserve you and I don't? He is not better than me. If anything he is worse."
Hermione could see that there was actual hurt and confusion underneath Blaise's arrogance and bravado. She drew her eyebrows together.
"Is it because he is wealthier?"
"I don't understand. I offer everything he does, but you won't look twice at me. We were good together, why would you pick him?"
Hermione closed her eyes and swore silently. Sometimes she wished the Slytherins really were as shallow and they made out. It wasn't that you scratched the surface and they relieved themselves, you had to dig deep, but eventually they showed themselves when cornered.
"Because it's always been him, I just didn't know it."
Blaise was looking down at his hands.
"Even if things had never gone wrong with us," she continued, "it eventually would have. Even if you never put a foot wrong-"
"He would always have been there," Blaise finished. She could hear the hatred in Blaise's voice.
"We would never truly have fit together," Hermione said trying to get him to understand that it wasn't just Draco in their way. It was her.
"We fit perfectly."
Hermione was silent. She didn't know how to answer that. For a while they had been very good together.
"Draco has been in my head since I was eleven," she said. And it was true, he had occupied a significant piece of her mind since the moment she had met him. His presence and opinions had been integral to her formation of her own identity, of her values and of her perspective on the world. He had been her greatest detractor and challenger. She might have ignored him for many years, but that place in her head was always there, it unlocked with visceral impact whenever he was near, linking with everything that made her the person she was.
She didn't know for sure if she and Blaise could ever had been the perfect couple. On paper they were good, they had the same profession and interests. The sex was great, but then Draco had happened. She'd completely dismissed it at first.
"Perhaps we could have been a scorching hot couple if things had been different, but as it is, it can be no other way." Her statement was meant to cement things in his mind, but they were doing so in her own as well. She finally understood that things could be no other way. Draco was the big arc in her whole life, more so than Harry had ever been. Harry had just accepted anything she was, Draco had challenged everything and as a result she'd been shaped in light of his prodding.
"I never intended on hurting you," she said. "But perhaps it was lucky that it finished when it did."
"I could have convinced you if you'd only given me the chance."
"You need to find someone else to convince," she said. "Someone who you develop a deep understanding and fit with."
"You mean someone I've tortured since first year?" he said sarcastically. "Because you know, not everyone who tortures you loves you, I would have hoped you'd grown to understand that. By your reasoning, I should revisit the person who suffered my complete and total disdain," he said with pointed incredulity. "In all truthfulness, I would rather stick my dick in a guy than put it in her. Tracey Davis, even her name is common."
Oh god, Hermione thought as Blaise turned into a sixteen year old boy in front of his eyes. "Ran off to Australia just after sixth year. Although... she is back now. Lost some weight too, I've heard."
I'm so sorry, Hermione said silently to the girl she never knew. "No, I think you should definitely leave her alone," she said, but she could see a glint in his eye. "Because we are much more mature now. Aren't we?" Blaise nodded absently.
What have I done, Hermione asked herself after she dismissed Blaise from the room. It was time and she couldn't think about Blaise and his disturbing reaction to this girl.
Hermione walked into the room where everyone was seated. There was a gushing sighs as she walked in. Pansy didn't sigh, Pansy was sitting shooting murderous looks and her, and Hermione gave a beaming smile. But enough of Pansy, Hermione thought and turned her attention to the centre of the room. Draco looked up and she could see relief in his eyes.
"You weren't certain I would show up," she said when she got to him. He gave her a challenging look and she knew it was true. She smiled.
"And you're here now," he said. "No escaping now."
"Now for the handfasting," the Minister said. Of course it would be the friggin Minister, Hermione thought. She grabbed Draco's wrist as he did hers. His wrist felt solid and warm.
I love you, he mouthed very slightly so no one else would pick up on it but her. She blinked slowly in response as the Minister went through his speech about the importance of marriage and family. He then cast a spell that flowed around their wrists and sank into their skin as they gave their permission for the joining.
She was amazed that her nerves had held. She walked into his embrace when it was done, needed him to hold her as she sighed out the tension in her.
"I love you too," she said. He held her for a while as the others got up and started chatting.
"Let's go dance. Are you hungry?"
Not for food, she wanted to say. She just wanted to be with him, she wanted the night to be over so they could be alone, but instead she had to sit through this massive party that the Malfoys had planned. She nodded a they turned toward the grand room that had been set up for the main festivities. Narcissa did know how to plan a party, Hermione conceded.
She gave a wave to Harry, Ginny, Ron and Katie, who all looked awesome. Even the Weasleys were present and Headmistress McGonagall. She saw Hagrid too. All the Slytherins. And her parents, who were being guided by the Weasleys, who they actually liked somewhat.
"Our nearest and dearest," she said. "Oh and that's up with Blaise and Tracey Davis?"
"Ugh, don't ask," Draco said.
"She's back apparently."
"Not for long, I wager."
Hermione wondered if she needed to have a little chat with Harry, have him watch out for the girl until they figured out what was going on.
They stood by themselves for a while until Draco led her out onto the dancefloor. Everyone was watching them as they had the first dance.
"No regrets?" he asked.
She smiled at him. "No."
"Good, because it wasn't going to turn out any other way."
Hermione didn't want to know exactly what he meant, but she chose to acknowledge the fact that they loved each other and which made this inevitable. If he meant something a little more considered, she didn't need to know.
"I think I need a kiss now," she said and he complied to the cheer of the crowd.
A/N Thanks everyone for reading and reviewing. It has been a long journey for this one. I am starting another soon. Much darker, probably the darkest I have written so far. Might not be to everyone's taste. See you soon, Camille