Neville considered sending his patronus for Harry or, really, anyone sane, but Hermione was smiling. He hadn't seen a real smile from her since third year. Merlin. He couldn't be the one to ruin this for her.
"Ours aren't as grand as those you have on the Salisbury plain, but they've served this family well." Gran dragged them to the outer ring of their standing stones. "There's no need for pomp and circumstance. Pledge your troth. If the stones find you worthy, the runes will appear."
Hermione stared at the circle of stones standing within a ring of trees. The magic of the place was tangible. She swallowed and glanced around at all of them.
"Are you sure about this, Hermione?" Neville cupped her shoulder. "If it works, there won't be a way out of this."
"I tried it the modern way. It didn't work." Hermione looked at the ring on her finger. "I'm trusting the magic."
"He's still gonna be Malfoy." Neville glanced at the blond man holding her hand.
"I think she's aware of that fact, Longbottom." Draco met his eyes steadily. "Brightest witch of her age and all."
"Fine." Neville forced a smile to his lips. "Then come have a private chat with me to allay my fears."
"Neville." Hermione huffed out a white breath into the night air. "This is my choice."
Draco glanced toward Hermione and smiled. It was an odd expression on his face. The usual mocking quality of his expressions was absent. Neville swallowed and turned his gaze back to Hermione.
"I'm not doubting your choice." He cringed internally at the lie. "There are a few things that should be said man to man before you attempt this insanity."
"It's okay." Draco kissed her cheek and Hermione jumped slightly at the contact. "I should hear what he has to say."
She released his hand and glared at Neville. It was unnerving to be on the wrong side of her ire. He felt his cheeks flush as he stepped away from her with Malfoy.
"She isn't tossing hexes at you, Longbottom." Draco's amusement was clear in his voice.
"Might as well." Neville glanced back at her. "It's never a good idea to be on the wrong side of her."
Draco cast a muffliato with concise and minimal wand work, and stared at him with cold grey eyes. Neville took a deep breath. He was no longer the tormented boy. Men did what was needed, and Hermione needed someone to do this.
"She's my best friend." Neville tilted his head toward Hermione. "She has been since the first train to Hogwarts. I've watched her fling herself into danger time and again because of Harry and Ron. There were times I hated them. The war would have come to a very different conclusion without her. Not that she gets the appreciation she deserves."
"Anyone with sense is aware of that fact." Malfoy glanced toward her. "She's remarkable. It used to make me furious. The ease with which she mastered the most complicated magics disproved all the vile idiocy my father pedaled as facts. It's a pity I was too stupid to appreciate her then."
"We'd all been raised with our prejudices." Neville frowned. "I was raised to despise you and to pity her. I learned to appreciate her right away. I'm not quite there with you."
"Yes. I am not your favorite person, or your choice for her." Draco rolled his eyes. "I understand."
Neville fought the urge to hit the smug bastard in the nose. Counting to ten wasn't working to alleviate the desire. Was there a number high enough? Really, no.
"If this works, you will be married to my best friend. She may be a muggle born witch, but don't make the mistake of thinking she lacks a strong family at her back." Neville took a deep breath and plunged forward. "I need a vow from you. I need to know you'll take care of her. The war left some deep scars. She can't live at your manor. She still wakes up screaming most nights. I don't think that place would be good for her."
"I don't live there." Draco examined the backs of his hands carefully. "I'd tear the whole cursed thing down if my father would allow it."
"Ron spent a lot of years undermining her confidence. She seems so fierce, but she needs someone strong at her back." Neville locked eyes with Draco. "Promise me you will be that man."
Draco nodded and raised his wand. There was no tremor in his hand, no hesitance in his manner. The sounds around them faded away.
"I will do my best to stand beside Hermione in the future regardless of the outcome of this night. I will endeavor to be her friend and to give comfort where I am able." Draco's wand glowed with his words getting steadily brighter as each one left his lips. "This I vow. So mote it be."
The glow turned into ribbons of light that wrapped around the blond's tall frame and sank into his being.
"Are you two finished?" Hermione called to them. "We don't have all night."
Neville watched his Gran as they moved back toward the women. The witch was up to something. It didn't bode well for the future of her victim. The bad side of Augusta Longbottom was no place he wanted to be.
"Marriage by the stones is the oldest of magics." The older witch smiled at Hermione. "It is the merging of magic, body, soul, and destiny. Enter this circle with that in mind. Be honest with yourselves and those that watch us all. May magic guide your hands and hearts."
Neville eyed his grandmother carefully. There had to be something he wasn't seeing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a narrow wooden box. It was intricately carved with runic protections.
"This was my mother's and her mother's before her as far as my lineage can trace." Augusta smiled and traced the runes with her fingers. "I was not blessed with a daughter or a granddaughter, and the war has robbed you of a mother. I would like to gift this to you. Will you accept this gift?"
Hermione nodded and reached out for the box. The power from within the box surged toward her and wrapped around her in a golden band. The runes on the box shifted visibly, and it floated through the air from the older witch to the younger.
"Use the athame in the box to make your offerings." Augusta smiled as Hermione nodded.
Neville watched Hermione and Draco join hands. It was odd how natural it looked. Hermione glanced back at him as they walked into the stones, and that smile was back.
"She didn't know the significance of your gift, Gran." Neville sighed.
"We can tell her later." Augusta grinned. "The second that blade pierces her skin, she's one of us."
"If it works, she'll be Hermione Longbottom for seconds." Neville frowned.
"But she'll be your sister long after I'm gone. Her surname means nothing to that. I'm an old woman, Neville." His grandmother clutched his hand. "Those two will shake this world. I have no doubt, but they'll hold family sacred."
"So, Dad tried to marry two other witches before Mom?"
"Merlin, no." Augusta chuckled. "When he was five he tried to bond with his stuffed dragon. Then he convinced James Potter to try it when they were six. They were both adamant that girls were disgusting. Those boys were always good for a laugh."