A/N: Still don't own HP. And I think that's probably for the best.

Huge thank you and shout out to my fabulous beta, shealone. If you haven't checked out her stories, you should. I'll wait right here for you to get back.

Back? Wonderful. I told you that you would like her stuff. :) I would also like to thank those of you who have favorited, followed, and reviewed. It warms the cockles of my heart. I'll shut up now...


Chapter 5

21 September

7:30pm

The Marriage Sorting

The Great Hall, Hogwarts

There was a definitely an air of anticipation and trepidation over the entire Great Hall. Dinner ended at exactly 7:00 p.m. and all students under seventeen were banished to their common rooms for the night. The library was closed, and the prefects had to make due with their House baths for the evening. Several hundred previous Hogwarts students descended for the ceremony. The tables were banished in favor of settees, on which the girls sat while waiting for their names to be called. After the Sorting Hat announced the pairs, they would each sit with their intended spouses while waiting for the end and photographs.

At the front of the room sat the Sorting Hat on the stool. The brim opened and the Hat launched into a song about unity, marriage, and magic. When its song was done, the Headmistress started her list:

"Abbot, Hannah"

Hannah approached, sat down, and braced herself. The Sorting Hat shouted "Anthony Goldstein." Hannah got up and went back to her settee where Anthony joined her.

When he reached her, he took her hand, drew her forward into a hug, and then kissed her cheek. It was incredibly sweet, and Hermione hoped that she would have a similar feeling for her betrothed. At the front of the room, McGonagall continued to call names.

"Davis, Tracey."

"Ronald Weasley." Tracey's eyes widened. Ron went forward to meet her.

As far as Hermione knew, Ron had never had a conversation with Tracey, but Hermione had worked with her before on various school projects. An audible gasp was abruptly cut off as Tracey and Ron met on her settee. Hermione and Harry nodded at him in encouragement. He took her hand and kissed the back of it.

Tracey gave Ron small, almost shy smile. Ron was a big man, so when he sat down, he stretched his arm on the back of the settee. It was almost... protective.

So caught up in watching Ron's interaction with Tracey, Hermione was startled when she heard McGonagall call her name.

She felt the eyes of everyone upon her, but a particular pair burned. When she turned around, the person she saw was Draco Malfoy who watched her so intently that she felt well and truly exposed. She wondered what was going on behind the expressionless gaze. Steeling herself, Hermione sat down. The hat greeted her.

Miss Granger, oh I see. Just as I thought. Definitely not Mr. Weasley; I have known that for years. So smart, so brave, so willing to do what it takes to make, hmm, Yes… I think I know.

By that point, Hermione felt as though she had been sitting there for an eternity, but only a few seconds had passed. She felt her palms begin to sweat and she had a sinking feeling that she knew exactly where this was going. She closed her eyes as though that would help.

No, not Mr. Longbottom; he's smart, and he's certainly brave, but he's not for you.

"Please don't, please don't… what about Seamus or Dean, a Ravenclaw, any Ravenclaw? Terry is very nice."

Hmm, Harry Potter might be a good match…

"Dear Merlin, no, not Harry! It would be like marrying my brother!"

Well, if you are sure, better be… Draco Malfoy!

Her eyes flew open and locked with the darkening gray of Malfoy's. Hermione sat, frozen, as the Headmistress pulled the hat from her head. She felt a comforting squeeze on her shoulder.

As the Headmistress turned to call "Greengrass, Daphne," Hermione held Draco's gaze. And, for the first time, Draco directed a genuine, but brief smile in her direction; it morphed quickly into his customary sneer, so quickly she almost thought she had imagined it.

Hermione moved toward Draco and saw Harry's wide-eyed gaze directed at her.

At the same time, Ron leapt to his feet. "That's not right! She can't marry the Ferret! He's a bloody Death Eater!"

The rumble in the Hall grew louder. Kingsley Shacklebolt shot to his feet.

In the meantime, Hermione reached her settee. Draco met her there, reached out for her hand and, rather than kissing the back of it, pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her wrist. "Hello, love." As they sat down together, the protests continued unabated.

"Silence! If you are not silent immediately, I will have the Hall cleared," Kingsley insisted. The din died considerably. "Headmistress, who was next?"

"Greengrass, Daphne."

The Sorting Hat only took moments to shout "Harry Potter!" And as the din rose again, Draco leaned to Hermione and whispered in her ear, "What do you know about this law, Hermione? I'd say it's my bloody business now."

Hermione nodded. "Did you know we were going to be paired?"

"How the hell would I have known? You're the one meeting with the Minister of freaking Magic." She could hear the anger and frustration in his tone.

"I know, I know. Sorry. I'm just… just give me a minute, please." She looked at Harry, who was passing by with Daphne, and reached out to squeeze his hand. They nodded in solidarity with one another. She watched as Harry drew Daphne into a brief embrace and kissed her cheek. After they sat, Hermione turned her attention to Draco.

"Kingsley came to—"

"You call the Minister of Magic by his first name?"

"Do you want to hear this or not, you great prat?"

Draco raised his eyebrows. "My apologies. Please continue."

"He came to ask Harry, Ron, and I to be the face of the law; to encourage people to go along with it without complaint or worse, rebellion."

"You agreed to this?"

"We did."

"Does how I feel about it have NO bearing?"

"Yes, of course it does. That is why we told him on Saturday that we would only go along with it if our fiancés were on board."

"Well, thank you very much for small favors. But it's not like I'm going to have much choice anyway."

"Lovegood, Luna"

"Neville Longbottom!" Hermione smiled when she heard that pairing. She knew they were good together! It was fortunate for Neville that his girl friend was a half blood. He would have been devastated to have to leave her.

Hermione shot Draco a quizzical look at his statement. "We can talk later, please. I know you don't want to marry me, but I'm NOT going to force you into being the poster child for this infernal law."

"Hermione, you won't have to."

"Patil, Padma"

"Terry Boot!"

"Patil, Parvati"

"Blaise Zabini!"

"If the Ministry wants me to be on the publicity team, I have to be on the publicity team. My parents are in Azkaban and I'm essentially on probation. I can't really say no."

Hermione grimaced at that. She reached over and squeezed his hand, much like she had with Harry, but the contact was all too brief and fraternal from Draco's point of view.

"Weasley, Ginevra"

"Michael Corner!"

Hermione's head whipped around. "I'll be damned. It's like the Sorting Hat was sitting in on our game of Truth or Dare. And I had forgotten the Patil twins weren't Purebloods."

"What a coincidence." Draco's voice was dry. "Yeah, the twins have a Muggle born grandmother. I don't think they talk much about it."

Thankfully, the remaining pairings only lasted a few minutes. While they were waiting for their photo opportunity, Draco decided that he might as well see just how far he could push his bride to be. He leaned over, put his hand on her face, pulled her towards him, and murmured in her ear, "Oh, Grangerrrrrr…"

Slapping at his hand like an annoying bug, Hermione snapped, "What, Malfoy?"

"Do you realize that I am going to be the first and only man to take you to bed? You are going to have my children." Was that an undertone of glee in his voice?

Hermione blanched and looked frantically around the room for an exit. Shite, shite, shite. She had cursed more in the last few weeks living in close quarters with this man than she had in almost an entire year with Harry and Ron on the run, camping in the freaking woods. Draco was not good for her peace of mind. Ha! That was an understatement if there ever was one. She needed some air. Just then, McGonagall interrupted her thoughts of flight.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy, your photo, if you please."

Mindful that this photo, at the very least, would be on the front page of the Daily Prophet tomorrow, both Draco and Hermione smiled. Well, Hermione smiled, even if it was a bit strained. Draco employed his infamous smirk. Before she realized what he was going to do, he leaned over and kissed her on the lips in front of Merlin and everybody. Hermione jerked back.

"I was right; the look on Pot-head and Weasel's face is worth the price of admission." Draco's whispered taunt had Hermione's head jerking around.

The looks on their faces were, indeed, priceless. Harry looked... ill. Ron's face, however, had turned an unfortunate shade of puce, which clashed horribly with his ginger hair. Thank Godric Ron had learned some control over his temper; otherwise, that earlier outburst would have been much louder and quite a bit longer, but Hermione knew not to push their luck.

As she pulled back, Draco followed her. "Turns out I don't mind kissing you in the Great Hall. We should do it again sometime," he said.

Hermione simpered so that the cameras would not catch anything amiss, but the look in her eyes had sent better men than him running for cover.

She turned her head so she could whisper in his ear, "If you pull another stunt like that, I am going to curse your family jewels into oblivion."

His low chuckle reached her ears. "Bring it on, Granger. Now smile for the reporter."

Knowing they were already under a microscope, Hermione smiled again in the general direction of the photographer and sought out her best friends' gazes to reassure them that she was fine. She saw Harry quickly, as he was on the settee beside theirs, but Ron was headed toward the doors with Tracey. Where were they going?

Fortunately, the photographer was moving on to Harry and Daphne. Harry, ever the gentleman, held Daphne's hand and kissed the back of it for the camera. Only Hermione could see the ire behind his eyes; Ron would have recognized the expression as well.

Professor McGonagall, following the photographer, spoke briefly to each couple. When she reached Hermione and Draco, she said, "You need to meet the Minister, Mr. Weasley, Miss Davis, Mr. Potter, and Miss Greengrass in my office." She looked between the two of them. "And try not to kill each other in front of the camera."

"Headmistress, I would never dream of harming a single hair on the head of my loving bride." Draco's sarcasm truly knew no bounds. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder in a mockery of an embrace.

"Yes, but you wouldn't lift a finger to help me, either, now would you, my ever devoted groom?" Hermione could not resist jabbing verbally at Draco as she dug her elbow into his - surprisingly firm - abs. Why did she have to notice his abs, now, of all times?

As he opened his mouth to no doubt let forth a torrent of abuse, the Headmistress interrupted. "My office. NOW, if you please, Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy." Thus chastened, the pair headed for the doors of the Great Hall, followed shortly by Harry and Daphne.


Monday

9:00pm

Headmistress's Office, Hogwarts

Kingsley viewed the six young people arrayed in front of him with some trepidation. He had gone to battle with the Gryffindors; he knew exactly how to push them, when to push them, and when to leave them the hell alone. The Slytherins he did not know nearly as well. And their House training ensured that he could not easily read their thoughts and emotions. Give him the transparency of Gryffindors any day of the week.

He felt most keenly for Hermione; he had debriefed her on her year searching for Horcruxes, and knew exactly what she suffered at the hands of Malfoy's insane bitch of an aunt. Thank Merlin Bellatrix Lestrange never bred. That was one gene pool that needed chlorine, as the Muggles would say. He repressed a shudder at the thought of a Black/Lestrange offspring. That level of evil would be – unnatural.

"Thank you all for meeting me here this evening, ladies and gentlemen." Six guarded nods answered his cordial greeting. "I have asked Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Granger to be at the forefront of this Marriage Law."

Tracey's eyes widened slightly and she swallowed uncomfortably, but she completely composed herself within seconds. If he had not been watching closely, Kingsley would have completely missed Daphne's eyes narrow infinitesimally. Within a split second, her displayed emotions smoothed out to her neutral, Slytherin appearance. As for Draco, he had no change of expression. None.

"They have agreed to take on this task," he paused when Harry cleared his throat as if to remind the Minister that there was more to this truth than what he had divulged. Kingsley continued, "provided that you will all agree to help us as well."

Both Tracey and Daphne looked at Draco, despite his somewhat precarious social and legal position, apparently, he still held sway with his classmates. Acknowledging their glances as permission to speak for them, Draco asked the most obvious question. "Why should we?"

"Mr. Malfoy, it is the right thing to do."

"Appealing to our nobility and sense of moral obligation is not an effective bargaining tool, Minister. We are Slytherins."

"Mr. Malfoy, I can force you to do this."

"Minister, if you attempt to force my fiancé to do this, I will not cooperate." Hermione's statement was unexpected and, from Kingsley's point of view, quite unwelcome.

"What do you mean, exactly, Hermione?"

"What I mean is that I will not cooperate if you make this unpleasant for Draco." Both Harry and Ron's eyebrows shot up at this. "However, if you are willing to ask and play nicely and he agrees, then I will be more than happy to uphold my promise to help you."

Draco schooled his features to conceal his shock. Why was she doing this for him? What was in it for her?

"Am I to understand that there is a prior relationship between the two of you?"

"No, Minister, you are not. I am taking this stand because it is the right thing to do."

Kingsley ground his back teeth together. "Very well, then. Mr. Malfoy, what would it take for you to agree to help us with this law?"

"Truthfully, I am not sure, Minister. Perhaps you could explain what helping you would entail, so that we can make more informed decisions."

"Very well, you would work with our Public Relations Department to promote the Marriage Law and show how fortuitous these matches actually are." At that, the six young adults laughed.

"Fortuitous? Really Minister? Fortuitous? Have you met Draco? How is Hermione's match at all fortuitous?" Ron could not keep his mouth shut on that one.

"Ron, shut up!" Harry and Hermione hissed at him.

"No, really – how could they have been matched? He stood by and let her be tortured in front of him!" Ron spat out.

"Don't judge me, you prick! You have no idea what was going on."

"Stop it! Just stop it! Ron, I'm willing to accept this match, and Draco and I will sort this out, without your help!" Hermione stepped in to bring Ron down from his high horse.

"So, it's Draco, now?"

"Ron!"

"Weasley, you had her to yourself for a year. If you had wanted her, you should have made a move then. She's mine now."

"Draco – SHUT UP!" Hermione had had enough. "Silencio! Silencio!" Pointing her wand at Draco and Ron in turn. "Minister, please continue."

"As I was saying, I would want you to work with our P.R. Department to promote this law. It would require you marrying sooner rather than later and preferably having a child on the way well before the two year deadline. Your weddings would be more public than you might have initially planned, and you will be asked to make a number of public appearances. Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley would be released from their Auror training as necessary in order to perform this service for the Ministry. Your weddings, clothes, room, and board would all be gratis, of course. Miss Granger, could you release your spell? I believe that Mr. Malfoy has something he would like to say."

Hermione obliged with a wave of her wand and released them both.

"I want Blaise."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. If I'm expected to go on tour, I need to have at least one mate with me. Besides, it would be very symmetric; two Gryffindor males, two Gryffindor females, two male Slytherins, two female Slytherins, all getting along. Very House unity and all that shite." He smirked at that.

"Very well, let's bring them up here." Kingsley sent his Patronus to the 8th year common room to find Blaise and Parvati.

"Sir, what about school? I want my degree!" On that point, Hermione would not budge.

"Hermione, I understand. I was thinking that you and Draco, as well as Mr. Zabini and Miss Patil, if they agree, would tour on scheduled weekends over the Yule and Easter holidays. Mr. Potter, Miss Greengrass, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Davis would have a separate schedule but could make joint appearances at your weddings and the Yule holiday Ball. Now that Mr. Malfoy has brought it up, Mr. Zabini and Miss Patil would be excellent additions." This solicited a snarky eye roll from Draco. "Are those your only conditions, Mr. Malfoy?"

You wish, Draco thought. "I want my probation lifted. I'm not going to live in fear of getting in trouble at school and being sent to Azkaban. And I want my mother released from Azkaban. She needs time to recover and to be at my wedding. And I want my father's probation period dropped. Once he comes home, he's home."

"You will still be liable to the school for breaking the rules here, but there will be no consequences otherwise. You will be just like another student. Is that acceptable?" Kingsley asked and Draco nodded. "Your mother will be released before your wedding and will be allowed to attend it, of course." Again, a nod. "As to your father, I cannot lift his probation entirely. He received a very lenient sentence as it was. However, I would be willing drop his probation to twenty years."

"Ten years."

"Done."

Hermione had a sneaking suspicion that ten years had been Draco's aim all along. So did Kingsley.

"Ladies, what would it take to persuade you to be a part of this campaign?"

"My mother is in Azkaban. She never took the Mark. I want her home. That is my only demand, and it is non-negotiable." Daphne was definitive.

A knock sounded at the door and McGonagall, Blaise, and Parvati entered. "Please, have a seat, Mr. Zabini, Miss Patil," McGonagall encouraged.

Kingsley had taken the opportunity to review a file. "I will have your mother released. But she will have to be subject to house arrest, the same stipulations as Mrs. Malfoy. She will be allowed to attend your wedding and reception, and she can entertain, but she cannot leave the house and grounds of your family estate." Daphne nodded her assent.

"Miss Davis, do you have anything which we can help with? Something that will persuade you to be a part of this?" Tracey, a half-blood, was never really a member of the power structure of Slytherin House, but she was a Slytherin. Her family actually fought against Voldemort, so none of her nearest and dearest were in jail.

"Sir, I have nothing to ask at this point. I reserve the right to ask for a favor in the future, provided my fiancé is still willing to participate." Ron nodded.

Malfoy smirked. He wondered if Kingsley realized that this proposal was dangerous. There was no telling what the Davis witch would ask for at some point in the future.

Kingsley agreed to Tracey's terms and explained the situation to Blaise and Parvati. After a whispered conference, Blaise answered, "We would be happy to participate and support the Ministry in its time of need, of course. But if we need the Ministry in the future, we would expect that the Ministry would be willing to help us."

Kingsley knew he was dealing with the snakes, but he hoped these deals weren't going to be venomous.

"Well, I will leave you all here. I'm sure that Minerva can make arrangements for you all to discuss your schedules and plan wedding dates. Remember, the Ministry will pay for your weddings and plain wedding bands, but not engagement rings. Those will be at your discretion. Also, your weddings need to be sooner rather than later. All four need to be no later than the Winter Solstice. We will be filming over the Yule Holiday and you will all need to attend the Yule Ball here at Hogwarts as happily married couples. You will all have tomorrow off from your work or your classes as I am sure you will be up late this evening. I suggest you take tomorrow to get engagement rings. Your first photo shoot is on Saturday. The photographer will be here at 10:00 a.m." And with that, he was gone.

"Since it is so late, and you have much to discuss, you may all stay here at the castle. I trust you can find your own accommodations, either with friends or in the Room of Requirement?" McGonagall asked and they all silently nodded. "Excellent, then I will see you all in the morning, for breakfast. I will see to it that the 8th year table is expanded to accommodate you all."


A/N: Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts!