Warning: This story is rated M, because there might be some stronger language, sensitive subjects and racier scenes at one point or another. If you're not comfortable with this, proceed with caution and please do not hold it against me XD

Disclaimer: I write this merely for my enjoyment and yours, I do not derive profit from it. Everything recognisable belongs to j k, I am merely borrowing her magical world and characters.

Chapter 1 – What's Free-Will Got To Do With It?

The mid-afternoon sun is stubbornly trying to seep through the heavy dark curtains covering all three floor-to-ceiling windows in my bedroom. The unbidden thought that this would have been a nice day to play Quidditch pops in my mind, and then I quickly shut it down. That was before.

I can hardly recall the last time I played. Probably in my fifth year. That was basically the year I last did most things I used to like to do. After that, came the things I had always thought I would like to do, and from then on it's been pretty much all about the things I have to do.

And speaking of things I have to do, there's the impatient knock on the door, followed by the thousandth reminder of what I have to do today.

"They're expecting you in less than an hour, how much longer are you going to take?" Mother hisses as she comes into my room, purses her lips in obvious displeasure at my appearance and takes upon herself to fumble with my collar and smooth the robes on my shoulders. Then cups my chin forcefully and, inspecting my face with her lips even more pursed, if possible, accuses "You're pale."

"I've always been pale, Mother." I say, resisting the urge to roll my eyes.

"Well, you're looking positively sickly."

"Then maybe I had better not go." I say, pulling free from her hold and turning back to the full-sized mirror with just a hint of a sneer "I don't even see the point in going, Mother, you've already arranged everything, anyway".

"It's a formality." She replies simply "And one you will observe with all the dignity and grace that is expected of you."

I Apparate in the middle of a lone dirt road cutting through rolling green hills. To my left, the road disappears down a slope, at the foot of which I can glimpse a church tower and a few little houses. To my right, the road leads down to a small roman stone bridge across a stream, and then up to a Tudor-style manor house atop of another hill. I make my way toward the latter.

I'm not even through the open gates of the property, when the sound of a beat reaches my ears. And the closer I get to the house, the clearer the latest Weird Sisters single sounds, blaring from an open window on the third floor.

"Guess I'm the only one who's expected to show dignity and grace" I mutter to myself, as I climb the front steps and ring the doorbell.

It was the train ride back to school at the start of third year. I had settled into a compartment with Crabbe and Goyle and was eager to have a good laugh with them about all that nonsense of Sirius Black being a ruthless murderer on the loose and after Potter.

But I was interrupted by the compartment door sliding open, to show a grinning Pansy Parkinson, who squealed excitedly "I thought it was you!" and pranced into the compartment uninvited, followed by her proclaimed best friends, Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davies.

Well, I didn't mind too much, really. Pansy was always an eager listener, and the other two were basically her version of Crabbe and Goyle, so it only meant a bigger audience for me.

I impatiently awaited for the commotion of stowing the luggage and rearranging the seats to end. When we were all perfectly settled, with the girls huddled together with their pets and their magazines and what not on the seats across from us, I started on the hilarious subject.

Only to be again disrupted by the compartment door sliding open. This time to reveal a pigmy of a girl with long light brown braids and a pair of garish violet spectacles that appeared way too big for her small face.

"What do you want?" I snapped irritably at the inconvenient little firstie.

She didn't even blink. Strutting into the compartment like it had her name on the door, she went straight to Daphne, sitting by the window, and, extending a hand, demanded "Money for the sweets trolley."

"What?" said Daphne. Like I said, girl version of Crabbe and Goyle.

"Money for the sweets trolley." the girl insisted.

"What about the ten Knuts Mum gave you at the station?" asked Daphne, and it was at that moment that it made sense that they must be related. I supposed there must have been some similarities, but I didn't care enough to observe past one being blonde and the other brunette.

"I'm saving that for something else." the girl replied with a shrug, her hand still extended expectantly.

"That's your problem! I'm not giving you mine!"

I confess I was a bit surprised to see Daphne display so much assertiveness. Granted, she was speaking to a miniature of a firstie, but in two years of having her for a classmate, I don't think I'd ever heard her speak enough to even recognise her voice. The most I'd ever heard her doing was giggling at whatever Pansy said.

"Oh well" the little girl said with a theatrical sigh "Then I guess you should know that that little crystal ball that came with your Teen Witch last month is not too reliable."

"The crystal ball showed you she'd give you her money?" Pansy asked scathingly.

"Oh no" replied the girl, now turning to face all three of them with a cocky little smirk "It showed me what you lot asked it during your sleep over last week." Then recited "Crystal ball, crystal ball, will the boys notice that our boobies are starting to show?"

Daphne, Pansy and Tracey all flushed to the roots of their hairs. I couldn't help sniggering, and of course Crabbe and Goyle followed suit. Pansy took a horrified glance at me and then they all began frenetically fumbling with their robes, as the girl went on "Crystal ball, crystal ball, there's a boy in our…"

"Here's eight Sickles!" Pansy screeched, almost at the same time Daphne squeaked "Fine! Fine! Here!" hastily pushing about a dozen silver coins she'd just fished out of her pockets onto the girl's hands, while Tracey almost jumped over Goyle's legs to hand over a few Knuts, whimpering "That's all I have with me, I swear!"

"Why, thank you so very much!" the girl cheerfully chirped, pocketing her haul. And with a victorious smile, pranced to the door.

Before leaving, however, she turned shrewd, mischievous big blue eyes to me. "Are you Draco Malfoy?"

I heard three sharp intakes of breath.

"Yeah" I replied lazily.

"And which one is Blaise Zabini?"

"Not here, now get out!" snapped the girls, and with a devious chuckle, the little girl finally slipped out.

"Is it too much to hope for that she gets Sorted in Hufflepuff and Grandmother pulls her out of the school for shame?" Daphne whined.

I snorted. If that girl was a Hufflepuff, then I was Harry Potter's best friend.

I am ushered by a cross-eyed house-elf down a hall to a drawing room where practically every surface is adorned with either a lacy apron, a jar of flowers, or both. Two women sit as straight as rods on a couple of armchairs, even though one of them looks old enough to have seen the Goblin Rebellions. The woman, I mean, though the armchair also looks about as ancient.

"Mr. Malfoy" she greets, affecting dignity and poise "How delightful to have you here today."

"Mrs. Greengrass" I greet, taking her hand.

"Oh please, Honoria will do. Otherwise there are two of us here." She says with what I'm sure is supposed to be a ladylike titter. "This is my daughter-in-law, Drisella."

The younger woman's slender hand is limp as I take it in mine, just like the smile on her sallow face as she all but murmurs a greeting back.

"Please, take a seat." Says the matron, indicating an ugly puke green sofa to her left.

I wonder if it would be terribly rude to sit on the one opposite instead; I don't much like to have my back to the door. But then standing here hesitating might come off just as rude, so I grit my teeth and sit where I'm told.

"My granddaughters will be coming down in a minute." She primly assures me, and no sooner has she said it than a clicking of heels is heard in the hall outside.

Moments later, a young woman with big blue eyes and long, dirty blonde hair comes in, greets me coyly, and gracefully sits on the sofa across from me.

"Where's your sister?" the oldest woman asks in a deliberately calm voice that does not quite go with the flash of irritation that flits across her eyes.

The sheepish expression on Daphne's face and an additional apologetic half-shrug are the only answer she provides before the house-elf appears with tea and biscuits.

The matron is just ordering it to go check that her other granddaughter is ready, when something in the direction of the door, behind me, causes her breath to hitch and her lip to curl.

I turn around, to see a girl with a sarcastic smirk if I ever saw one standing by the door. In obvious deliberate contrast with everyone else in the room clad in proper fine robes, she's wearing a pair of ripped jeans and a t-shirt. But that's not the most garish feature of her appearance. Nor are the hideous violet spectacles perched on the bridge of her small nose. It is rather her hair, which, last I remember, was long, sleek and a light brown, and is now long, sleek and bright purple.

"What happened to your hair?" the older woman hisses, and I'm somewhat relieved to learn that this is not its regular appearance these days. I don't think I could have stood walking around with someone looking like that.

"A potion exploded" the girl replies with a mock simper, plopping down heavily on the sofa next to her sister.

The matron harrumphs and glares at her for a moment, before catching herself and putting her elegant pose back in place. "Well, you'll remember Mr. Draco Malfoy, a former classmate of Daphne's from Hogwarts…"

Dragging her big blue eyes to me with an unimpressed look, the girl says "Finally left the cave, have you? What's the matter, bat life doesn't make little Malfoys?"

"Astoria Marie!" her grandmother hisses.

"What! Everyone knows that's why we're here!"

Her grandmother seems about to erupt. I put on my best arrogant smirk and say nothing, but there's nothing I can do about the slight flush that I feel creep to my ears.

The old woman shoots the girl a wilting look that promises repercussions later, and quite forcefully says "Astoria, why don't you go play something for us on the piano?"

"Because we're not in the nineteenth century." the girl retorts with a hard look right back, and I know she's not referring simply to playing for the entertainment of the guests.

Grandmother and granddaughter hold each other's fierce gaze for a moment. Then the girl gives in with a sarcastic smile. "Fine." And springs up from the sofa.

There's a bit of strained silence, in which everybody sips their tea and pretends not to notice the stomping footsteps, the brash scraping of the piano stool against the floor and the harsh flipping of pages before a low, haunted melody fills the room.

Then the matron turns to me and begins to make polite conversation, to which I reply curtly, with my mind often wandering wistfully to the seclusion of my bedroom, which has been my refuge for the past two years.

When I decide that this pointless chit-chat has been going long enough and I'm starting to really just want to go back home, I take a deep breath and come out with the words that I'm here to say.

"Lady Honoria, I would like to ask for your granddaughter's hand in marriage."

The two older women grin in delight and, if I'm not mistaken, in relief, as well. The melody from the piano turns into a distinct funeral march.

This is all Mother's fault. She thinks marrying me off with a girl from an upstanding good old wizarding family that hasn't been connected with the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters is the best way to restore our family's good name.

We've all managed to avoid Azkaban on account of Mother's lie to the Dark Lord that probably saved Potter's life and allowed him to win the war. But it's never been the same again.

I don't really care, I would be perfectly content not leaving the manor for the next ten years or so. But Mother insists it's time "to move on" and "make amends with society" and other rubbish.

Apparently, all the donations, all the fund raisers, all the formal declarations of support of the new Ministry and whatever else she's been up to was proving insufficient, so she set me up with the little brat of one of her old school friends. I was surprised to hear Mother even still had friends, I was under the impression everyone was either dead, in Azkaban, or scrupulously avoiding associating with the likes of us.

But I suppose the girl's family must be as desperate to be rid of her as Mother is to see me up and about again. And now that Theo Nott is courting the older sister, I get stuck with the younger, crazy one.

The sunlight pours through the three floor-to-ceiling windows into my once comfortable bedroom. It's useless to complain about the excessive brightness by this point, Mother says "we're turning a page" and "there is to be no more darkness in this house".

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that at least this wing of the manor was spared of all the flowers and sashes infesting all of the ground floor and gardens.

I check my reflection on the full-sized mirror, smooth down my already sleeked back hair and adjust the goblin-silver cufflinks with the family crest.

This is all for the good of the pure and noble Malfoy name, I remind myself.

And I must remember to place a complaint with Twilfit and Tattings, because my tailor-made dress robes are positively strangling me!

"Stop fumbling with your collar, it'll look rumpled."

Mother just came in, nearly blinding me with all the diamonds refracting the already excessive light in the room. "You look stunning, Mother" I remark with just a hint of sarcasm.

She approaches me for the customary inspection of my appearance and verification of my paleness. When her hand rests on my cheek a little longer than necessary, I know what's coming, so I roll my eyes and pull free before her pale blue eyes start getting all shimmery.

Thankfully, she gets the hint and lets me go with just a quiet "You will do well, Draco." Then turns to leave.

Halting at the door, she remarks, as though in an afterthought, her normal collected tone back in place "Your father wants a word."

I can't help a pang of envy as I enter Father's study. At least in here curtains and shades are still allowed to fulfil their purpose.

Father is sitting behind his desk with a tumbler of Firewhiskey in front of him. I sit on an armchair facing him and, without asking, he makes a glass pour itself for me. "Are you ready?" he asks rather sternly.

I refrain from shrugging and instead reply with a hollow "Yes, Father".

"The time for little boy's whims is over, Draco, you must take on your responsibilities and do your duty to this family."

My fists clench on the arms of the chair. I haven't been a little boy in a long time. I've taken responsibilities and I have the Mark and the criminal record to prove it. But of course all I say, instead, is "Yes, Father".

"Do you know what to do?"

How stupid does he think I am?

"Tonight. You know the, er, mechanics of the procedures?" he asks, rather sneering.

I can feel the warmth creep to my ears. Must he always think me incompetent in all matters? "Yes, I know."

She's late. Again. I suppose a little tardiness is traditional, but this is preposterous!

I fight the urge to check my watch again and do my best to remain standing properly straight and collected, but it is made all the harder with the growing general restlessness. The murmuring around the stifling tent is intensifying, the ladies puff and fan themselves with increased vigour, and several exuberantly adorned big pointy hats swivel precariously this way and that.

Her grandmother is trying and failing miserably to maintain a dignified pose, sitting straight as a rod and looking straight ahead with all the air of someone mentally listing the most gruesome hexes she knows. Her mother looks up at me and tries to smile another of her limp smiles. I ignore her and look at my own mother. She's looking as perfectly composed as ever, with only a discreet purse of her lips betraying some degree of annoyance.

I fix her intently, trying to convey how this is all her fault. If the girl doesn't show, it will be perfectly humiliating. And Malfoys don't get humiliated by some girl!

At last music starts playing, and the murmuring stops as everybody turns as one in their seats. But I can't really say if I'm relieved or more uneasy still.

This is all for the good of the pure and noble Malfoy name, I remind myself as I take a deep breath and follow everyone's gaze toward the entrance of the tent.

And there she is.

Okay, I have to admit she actually does look really quite pretty. I reckon a sappier man might even go as far as calling her beautiful.

Then again, I suppose if you looked past those hideous violet spectacles of hers and the perpetual chocolate stains about her person, she was never exactly an eyesore.

But now, in her simple yet elegant white gown that hugs her perky bosom and round hips quite flatteringly, with her hair thankfully its natural light brown and topped with an exquisite goblin silver tiara and a tasteful traditional veil, and her hideous violet spectacles nowhere to be seen, she could've walked right out of the cover of one of Mother's bridal magazines.

Well, except in those magazines the wholesome bridal picture isn't usually topped off with a stony-faced far-off look.

And suddenly I'm pulled out of my momentary witless gawking by the realisation that renewed murmuring is breaking out here and there throughout the tent.

I clench my clammy hands into fists as I feel warmth creep to my ears, before I realise every eye is still trained on her. The unsmiling bride that seems to be taking an exceedingly long time to walk down the length of the aisle. Alone, I notice. There's no fatherly figure walking beside her.

Oh, honestly! Couldn't they have found an uncle or family friend to give her away? I wonder what Father will think of this.

And the murmuring seem to keep intensifying.

I swear if she were coming any slower, she'd be going backwards! God, it's taking everything in me not to snap at that obnoxious brat!

After what feels like an eternity and a half, she finally reaches me. I try to turn my inner scowl into a passable outer smile as I take her hand in mine, but the little brat seems to make a point of looking like she's stepping on burning dragon dung for all to see.

Oh no, if she thinks she can go around in a tantrum embarrassing me in front of everyone, then she's got another thing coming. I squeeze her little hand hard until she winces.

She glares up at me. I glare back down at her.

The minister clears his throat.

We all turn to him, and the little brat can't seem to let go of my hand fast enough.

"Dear friends and family" the balding old minister begins to recite quite loudly, probably to drown out the renewed bout of murmuring. "We are gathered here today to celebrate the joining in holy matrimony of two loving souls…"

There's a quiet snort, and I immediately turn to glower at the little brat, before I realise it's me the minister is frowning at. Good Merlin, Father must be mentally Crucioing me right now!

The old wizard quickly restarts spewing his memorised rubbish, but I can't bring myself to listen to a word he says. My ears are ringing, my robes are strangling me and my skin is practically melting in this bloody stifling tent.

This is it. I'm about to be bonded for the rest of my life with this woman with whom I have never even had a civil conversation.

The sound of my name eventually pulls my attention back to the withered old face of the minister, who's loudly demanding "… take Astoria to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death does you part?"

I take a deep breath - it's all for the sake of the pure and noble Malfoy name, I remind myself – and open my mouth to reply. But all that comes out is an embarrassingly garbled croak. Oh God! I can feel my ears burning as I clear my throat and try again. "I do."

The minister nods and turns to the little brat. "Do you, Astoria, take Draco to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death does you part?"

He waits. We all do.

She's not looking at him, or at anyone, really. She's just standing there eerily still with that faraway look on her face as she stares at some point on the wall ahead. It doesn't even seem like she's noticed him at all, and I wonder if she's going to put us through the embarrassment of making him repeat the question.

Or worse, if she's going to say no. I'm not entirely confident she's not crazy enough to do that.

After what seems like a decade, she finally deigns to hollowly mumble an "I do." And I let out a breath I hadn't even noticed I was holding.

As bidden, I turn to face her, she turns to face me. And I just hope Father won't notice how my hand is now shaking, as well as clammy.

"I give you this ring" I say, willing my stupid hands to be steady as I take hers in one and pick up the smallest shiny gold band with the other - wouldn't it be the cherry on top of the cake if I dropped the bloody rings now? - and gingerly slip it on her slender finger "as an eternal symbol of my commitment to you."

It's only as I breathe a sigh of relief at completing the task without giving these vultures reason for more murmuring that my eyes register the faded white writing all over the back of the little brat's hand.

I scowl. Of course it would be right up this little brat's alley to shove some rude message under my nose at this moment. And next second an uncomfortable weight drops into the pit of my stomach, because that's not paint on her hand; these are scars…

But before I can make out the words, she's impatiently pulling her hand out of my grip with a wilting look my way, even as she vows her eternal commitment to me.

Just brilliant.

The old Minister launches into yet another long-winded speech full of pretty, empty words, during which I lose myself in wistful thoughts of my bedroom, cool and dark and empty of resentful brides and scathing murmurs and gawking stares.

"… I now pronounce you husband and wife."

There's nothing for it now, it's official. And now I'm supposed to kiss her.

As I gingerly place my hands on her small waist, my brain kindly decides to remind me how very long it's been since I last kissed a girl. So long that it seems like it was in another life. And, in a way, it was.

Her hands come to rest very lightly on my chest, as though trying to make as little contact as possible. I repress a snort and lean in slowly.

She actually smells really nice. Sweet and enticing, but natural, not like she's drowned herself in some expensive flowery perfume… I realise I'm practically sniffing her inches from her face. God, how ridiculous! Focus, Malfoy, get this over with!

I close the rest of the distance - since she doesn't seem at all inclined to - and kiss her on the lips.

Which are actually quite soft.

For a moment, I fear she isn't even going to respond, the brat. Great, Father will think I don't even know how to kiss a girl!

But then her lips start moving in time with mine, and it isn't so bad, really. It isn't bad at all. Her mouth is warm and inviting, and God, she actually tastes even sweeter than she… Ouch!

Evil brat just sunk her teeth in my bottom lip! I think I taste blood!

I pull away, glaring at her. To find her smirking nastily back at me.

God, this is going to be a long life…

A/N: Here's a brand new story that's been brewing in this head of mine for some time now. Hope you've enjoyed this first chapter; if you could drop me a line and let me know your thoughts, I'd be much obliged :D

Happy reading, everyone!