From what Hermione could discern, Sirius hadn't needed to give Draco's plan to finish the war any real thought, he could only concentrate on the fact that he thought it was the most hilarious thing he'd ever heard. He'd not only immediately agreed to it, he'd promised to help promote it once it came time to present it to the Order.
Hermione wasn't so sure, especially given Sirius' propensity for recklessness. She understood and appreciated the plan, but she was frightened and Sirius' easy acquiesce. It made her question whether he, or perhaps all of them, were being too cavalier with their lives, or the fate of their whole world.
It didn't help that Hermione knew she was struggling with her own feelings about it all, she could admit to it. It felt like her heart raced a little faster in her chest everyday, she just didn't know towards what end.
She wanted to think that they would win, but she had to consider the fact that the world as she knew it could be blown to bits. In some ways that would be a good thing, but in others…she just didn't know. Because even if they won, there would be some major readjustments in their society. She knew enough about history to acknowledge that they'd just be entering another dangerous time and she wondered if she'd have the energy to keep fighting.
If they lost, at least she would die with the people she loved. Her acceptance of that idea gave her chills.
She had a sense that Draco felt the same way. Maybe that had something to do with the urgency she felt, an urgency which was drumming within each of their breasts and doubling the feeling.
She knew for certain that her hunch was correct when she woke one morning to the feel of his finger tracing her collar-bone.
Love and longing.
She'd been aching with it for weeks, but she hadn't known how to express that feeling. Draco had been right there in front of her; she told him she loved him, she made love to him, but it hadn't felt like enough.
"Marry me," he murmured, the most beautiful, shy look on his face.
She blinked at him and frowned. "What? Yes, of course, I already told you that I would. What's going on?"
He took a deep breath. "Marry me this summer, after I come of age. I don't want to wait any longer. I want to call you my wife."
Hermione considered this for a few moments as she wondered as if it would be like giving up, but she quickly concluded that she just wanted to call him her husband and that she didn't really care about anything else. "Okay," she agreed, matter-of-factly.
"Okay?" He reared back and arched an eyebrow at that unenthusiastic response.
"Yes," she reached around and grasped the back of his head, pressing his forehead against hers, "but only if you promise me this is not you accepting the worst. Because I want to be married to you, and I want it to be for decades."
"I'm absolutely not. But you know better than anybody what we're up against. I don't want to hold back for the sake of ceremony, to wait until the idea is more socially appropriate." He kissed her forehead. "But we'll have to let Mother throw us a big to-do when this is all over."
She chuckled, knowing that Narcissa would never let them get away with quiet, uncelebrated nuptials. "I'm okay with that."
"And it can only be family. Until Voldemort is defeated, it would just be us completing the ritual, we couldn't register at the Ministry."
"I know that Draco," she chuckled, "in fact, I prefer it."
"I just don't want to deprive you of anything," he sighed.
She caressed his cheek. "I actually think that sounds kind of perfect: just us and the people that we love. So? How about the Saturday after the end of term?"
His face broke into a picture of such perfect happiness that she wished she had a photographer to capture it.
Hermione smiled when she spotted Luna waiting for her during her usual morning walk with the dogs. They didn't have a regular schedule for meeting Luna, she just seemed to pop up at the most fortuitous times. The Philosophers immediately came to a halt and sat with a mere hand gesture from their favorite blonde friend.
Draco would be so envious if he could see it. But they'd decided that while Mia Garnier could be allowed to forge a tentative friendship with the quirky Ravenclaw, that Draco Malfoy being seen to do the same would be suspicious.
There was also the fact that Hermione and Luna only spoke during Hermione's early morning walks with the pups and Draco would do anything to avoid waking up earlier than absolutely necessary.
"Hi Luna," she greeted softly.
The blonde just beamed at her and they walked, trailing along behind the dogs until they reached a rock they favored, on which Luna cast a warming charm and Hermione cast some privacy wards, and they crawled up on top to watch the puppies play in front of them.
"How are you?" Hernione asked softly.
"I'm okay, I miss you," Luna answered.
Hermione tried not to let her reaction to those words show, she didn't want Luna to feel pitied. Because Hermione knew what it was like to be ostracized. To be bullied. To be misunderstood.
"I miss you too. And I'm sorry Luna."
Luna knocked their shoulders together none too gently.
"I didn't say that to make you feel guilty. You, Harry, and Draco are very good friends. But now I understand the stress you must have been under for a long time."
Hermione let out a long breath. "It's exhausting. I feel like a terrible person even asking you to help."
Luna shrugged. "I'm my own person. I could have said no."
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek. "I hope you understand how strong you are."
"Except I need you to tell me what you've put in those biscuits that's hypnotized my dogs."
She felt more than she heard the smaller girl giggling against her side. "Peanut butter."
Hermione froze, her head whipped around to look at Luna. "Are you kidding me?"
Luna simply shook her head.
"Draco Malfoy's dogs have been thoroughly tamed by a muggle treat-"
Luna giggled louder.
"I didn't-" she heaved in and out, "mean any offense, dogs just like peanut butter but-"
Hermione tried to stifle her own giggles, if only to finish this conversation. "If I can't manufacture a conversation where you get to tell him this yourself, I promise to give you a very good reenactment of his reaction," she held her hand out for Luna's.
The blonde took it, and squeezed, but after a moment the mirth quickly melted off of her face.
"Okay, what's going on?" Hermione asked.
"Theo wants out."
Luna dug into her pocket and pulled out her set of dice. "This kind of out."
"Fuck," Hermione murmured, and then bit her lip, surprised at her own language.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" Luna asked quietly. "I think it's brilliant."
Hermione took a few deep breaths. "It is. It's also terrifying."
She took a few more deep breaths and then set some more wards that she hoped would keep anybody who was antagonistic away, but also wouldn't scream that they were trying to keep people away. She was still working on subtlety in her protective enchantments.
"Okay," Hermione hurried to speak to her friend, "please tell me what's going on. But also, if I've put you in trouble, we'll protect you, and your father, don't hesitate to ask. Actually, if you're in trouble for any reason, you can come to us."
Luna was a fierce witch, Hermione had witnessed her wand work, but not only was she still just fifteen, she was small. Disarmed- Hermione shuddered to think, possibly because she easily could have been in the same boat. Physically small, largely untrained.
Hermione knew that she could have been in a position that was much much worse. Not just small, but muggleborn. At least Luna had her blood status on her side, and Harry was doing his very best by the M.A. But it wasn't enough.
Luna's smile was genuine. "I'm okay, but thank you." She lowered her voice even though she knew their surroundings were silenced. "He's afraid," she breathed against Heriomione's ear, but it was such a hard phrase coming from such a normally light witch that Hermione drew her closer, "he came of age this Autumn, he thinks he'll be made to take the Mark over Yule."
Hermione's heart stopped. Or her blood ran cold. Perhaps she stopped breathing. There were a dozen cliches to prove that cliches existed for a reason which she felt in this moment.'
She took a deep breath. They'd spoken about the possibility of this moment a dozen times: she, Draco, Harry, and Sirius, but in many ways she never thought that it would come, with Theo or with anybody else. "He'll have to speak with Sirius, he understands this, right?"
"Maybe even Harry first- our plan is shaky…"
Luna reached over and plucked Hermione's thumb from where it was digging between her eyebrows.
"He wants out," Luna emphasized.
"Of course, of course," Hermione shook her head out of her own spiraling. She took several deep breaths. "I guess part of me never thought this would work at all?"
"So," Hermione sighed, trying to gather her thoughts. "He should speak to Harry first? To ease things along, since they go to school together?"
"No," Luna responded quietly. "He needs to speak to Lord Black. He will not trust anybody else. The title is meaningful toTheo, it gives him confidence that he can be protected. Harry wasn't raised in pureblood society and he's still just a teenager."
It only took a moment for Hemione to realize how stupid she was being. "Of course." Hermione nodded
Harry was not of age, and as much as she even hated to recognize the established way of things, the fact was that he was not a pureblood, much less a member of the Sacred 28, and for the moment that meant that while he was regarded as a celebrity- perhaps he could be even termed a myth- his influence was limited. And that mentality was part of the game they had to continue to play upon for the time being.
"And unfortunately it will have to wait until we leave for Yule, Theo can't just disappear from Hogwarts, so Lord Black needs to be there to greet him," Luna continued quietly.
Hermione nodded. "I'll apparate to Potter House myself if that's what it takes to make sure Sirius is on the platform that afternoon. I'm certain he'll be anxious to help, but I promise you, he'll be there. Please relay that to Theo."
"Thank you," Luna leaned against Hermione's shoulder as she watched the dogs play. "He's scared."
"Aren't we all?"
"Yes, but we're a different kind of scared. Daddy would die before he let me be hurt. I don't think Theo has anybody like that."
"You're right," Hermione sighed, "it's so important to have somebody who cares."
Luna beamed at her and Hermione was looking forward to telling Draco how they might have made a - even if it was just a small- difference.
"So, you like him?" Hermione asked, attempting to lighten the mood, if even just a little.
"Who?" Luna asked, but the way she avoided Hermione's gaze was telling. Especially for Luna, who never obfuscated, and it told Hermione a lot about her true feelings.
"Theo?" Hermione insisted, nudging her friend.
Hermione just nodded. "Then that's yet another reason to keep him safe. And, I very much hope that we can maneuver things so that you can both be present when Draco and I get married."
Luna let out a little gasp. "When?" She asked
"This summer. Life is short, and while we hope for the best, I want to be his wife…if it ends that way. Actually, however it ends, I want to be his wife."
"May I make a wreath for your hair?"
"For my wedding?"
Luna just nodded, normally so self-assured, Hermione could see insecurity in her eyes.
Even if Hermione didn't always understand Luna's way of seeing the world, she loved her friend. Not to mention that trusting something that she didn't understand had led her to the love and greatest joy of her life, so she didn't hesitate.
"That would be wonderful Luna. We want it to be intimate, that's the whole point really," Hermione swallowed the knot in her throat, "thank you," she surged forward and enveloped her small friend in her arms, the embrace she received in return was deceivingly strong.
It was the Eve of Christmas Eve and most of the people that Hermione had come to consider to be her family had planned to celebrate the occasion accordingly: with a dog race.
Hermione woke up on the morning in question to the sounds of her betrothed bustling around her childhood bedroom like the hounds of hell were on his heels.
But in reality, it was just The Philosophers, who thought their human father must have been doing something interesting in order to be awake so early and they were bustling along with him.
Crookshanks was seated on the dresser, glaring at them all.
"Good morning, Love!" Draco beamed when he saw that Hermione was awake.
This was coming from a wizard who she'd almost had to hex on multiple occasions since they started sleeping together, just so he would get out of bed in time for breakfast
Now that she thought about it, the way he was behaving was a little manic.
"I got you something," Draco continued, oblivious to her thoughts, "will you wear it?"
Hermione could only nod, as she continued to attempt to decipher the situation.
"Okay, we have to go and prepare. I'll see you in about an hour?" He gave her a perfunctory, distracted kiss, and herded the dogs out the door.
Hermione looked at Crookshanks. "Any insight into what he's up to, Old Man?"
She knew that this was the day that Draco and Sirius were due to race their dogs on the agility course in Ireland, but Draco's intensity seemed a little over the top.
Crookshanks licked his paws.
"You and Nox could star in a soap opera," she rolled her eyes and unfolded what she now realized was a t-shirt that Draco had left for her and meant for her to wear. The front read: "TEAM MALFOY" the back read: "The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts -Aristotle"
She was officially betrothed to the most ridiculous man alive.
She absentmindedly wondered if this was Draco's way of placing his bet on Aristotle, or if he was honoring Plato's more laid back nature in not wanting to be quoted by his namesake.
Hermione clapped her hands over her eyes at the very thought. Apparently, Draco's dramatics had rubbed off on her.
She lowered her hands and glared at Crookshanks "You, Draco, Nox and the dogs could definitely star in a soap opera, it would be so popular, but I will not be a part of it," she accused him, even as she pulled the t-shirt over her head. As she continued to bathe himself. He was as unaffected as her parents were when she met them in the kitchen and she realized that they were similarly attired to herself.
"Oh gods it's a conspiracy," she breathed.
Her mum wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "One in which you're fully involved."
"Admit it, you think it's cute," Helen insisted.
Hermione told herself that she only resisted the urge to cross her arms over her chest in denial of her mum's claim because it was easiest if they all took the portkey which hung around her neck to Ireland, or as it was to be called today: The Land of Black vs. Malfoy. Not because she actually did think thr shirts were kind of funny.
Her day became infinitely better when they arrived to find Harry donning a cowboy hat. His warning of: 'Don't you dare laugh,' had absolutely no effect on her. And she didn't even feel badly about it, because Claire, who was hovering at Harry's side, was barely suppressing her own laughter.
In the end, "Team Malfoy" prevailed. Except it wasn't the Malfoys who Draco had been training; it was Francesca and Lucius Malfoy. Hermione and Harry grinned at each other when nobody else was looking after it was all over.
Both The Philosophers and The Outlaws had seemed largely confused as their respective owners tried to run them through the course. Afterwards Lucius - who stepped in and acted like he hadn't been planning this for months- led Francesca, resplendent with a pink ribbon around her neck, through the course in a time that couldn't even be disputed because none of the other dogs had effectively completed it at all.
Sirius had whinged and moaned, and then gotten drunk.
Draco had pouted but had emerged from his funk surprisingly quickly, apparently not wanting to waste a rare day with his family.
Hermione and Draco had made plans with Harry and Claire in the muggle world after Christmas, but they could count the days with which they'd been able to spend with what she and Draco would consider their entire family over the years, and this was one of them, and she was pleased he wasn't wasting it.
Hermione laid her head on Draco's lap that night and reached up to stroke the hair at the nape of his neck. "I know I've given you a lot of shit, love, but they're good dogs."
He just scratched at her scalp but she took the answer for what it was.
"And I know I had a lot to say when you brought them home. But you're wonderful with them, I love watching you with them. With Nox. With Crooks. You're going to be an amazing father. I feel so lucky to have you. I just wanted you to know that."
He leaned down and kissed her nose. "It means so much that you feel that way. I love you," he whispered against her cheek.
"I love you, too doesn't seem like enough to just say it. But I do."
Lucius limped away from his latest meeting with The Dark Lord. There had been a raid on a muggle town, a supposed Yule gift for his most loyal supporters. His call had come too late to warn anybody, Lucius had just been expected to participate, and he'd had the terrible feeling that it had been a test. He could only talk his way around things for so long.
He'd basically handed The Dark Lord the Ministry, but man expected more blood lust amongst his followers. And while Lucius appreciated that Bellatrix had essentially been taken out of action out in the field, it gave her even more opportunity to whisper into their Lord's ears.
He was beginning to think his son's terrifying plan to take out Voldemort (he cringed even thinking the name) was their best bet. The Dark Lord was getting restless- more than restless, vicious- and because he was being egged on by some of his more unhinged followers, it was only going to get worse.
Lucius at least had a plan to eliminate the Lestrage brothers, involving a bomb using fertilizer which Richard Granger had helped him engineer. The components were entirely organic or muggle, he didn't think anybody would suspect they hadn't just blown themselves up in their own greenhouse as an effect of their own insanity. And it would further the narrative that the Azkaban escapees were unhinged, but that wouldn't be enough to disrail the Dark Lord's followers.
However, soon, controlling the Ministry with his money wouldn't satisfy The Dark Lord. He would want to use the imperius curse, or violence, or Draco; he had already demonstrated his willingness, even his glee, at using Draco. And Lucius had to admit that because of that, his son's plan was the best that they had, and that he was no longer a boy who couldn't decide for himself.
It made him ill. Could he allow his son, and his daughter, to risk themselves in such a way? Did he even have a choice? He'd helped train them to fight a war, all the time denying that they would ever really need the knowledge. But he saw it behind his wife's eyes- she had done everything in her power, but ultimately she knew it would come to this.
Their children would not be spared. They would fight or they would be hounded for the rest of their lives. Claire could have bowed out, and they'd even tried to force her hand into doing so, but she hadn't.
Pride fought with fury at the thoughts of these children he'd helped raise.
He lurched into the manor and they were waiting for him, Draco and Hermione were staying with the Grangers but he was happy that somebody had summoned them for Narcissa's sake. Except that it meant that the people he loved most in the world were witnessing him with blood dripping from his robes.
His. But not only his.
He had only a moment to be horrified at what they were witnessing before he collapsed.
"I've got him," he heard somebody yell and then he felt thin arms wrap around him, "you do the destination, I'll do the rest," she murmured.
Mignonette. His Mignotte had him. That felt completely right but at the same time completely wrong. But he would never fight her. He concentrated on the sitting room to his suite, gave her a nod, and felt her whisk them away.
"I could have done that Mignonette," he slurred.
"No, you couldn't have," a voice he recognized as his son answered, "you"ve been unconscious for five minutes, you needed help apparating," Draco was trying to sound resolute but Lucius thought he heard a tremble in his usual even tone.
"The Manor is safe," he defended weakly, "I could have walked."
"Father, stop trying to protect us, we know better. We could have knocked you over with a feather."
The tremble in Draco's voice had gone, now he was angry. A part of Lucius wanted to scold the boy, but he wasn't a boy any longer, and wasn't this exactly the kind of thing he wanted to teach him? To not mindlessly follow the instructions from his youth. To be a better husband, and one day, a better father.
"You need blood Lucius." It was Severus who was speaking, Lucius had no idea when he'd arrived.
"He needs blood. He needs a blood transfusion. His magic is too depleted for a blood replenisher." The man explained, no longer directing his words at Lucius, and if Severus could ever sound panicked, he did at this moment.
"I don't care, I don't care," he heard Narcissa crying, "what do we need to do?"
"Me!" He heard Hermione yell, "My blood type is O negative, I can do it." He only vaguely understood the meaning of her words, and then he lost consciousness again.
He awoke to the sight of his wife at his side, nervously rubbing his arm. His mouth was dry and his head was throbbing, but he was immediately drawn to the other side of his bed where his son was seated next to Hermione who seemed to be testing how often she could get away with slapping his wrist.
Narcissa leaned in to whisper in his ear: "They're playing a game of sorts, how often she can catch him off guard. Like everything is normal, for a few moments. Like she just did something silly, as opposed to life altering." Narcissa took a long breath. "And he can't decide if he is grateful or furious."
"What did she do?"
"She literally gave you her blood."
Lucius could only suck in a breath.
"Apparently," Narcissa licked her lips and looked away from him in a very uncharacteristic display of insecurity, "it's not abnormal for muggles to donate their blood to other people, because they don't have other potions. But it's usually very clinical. The way that she did it- directly from her to you- is dangerous. And…" her breath hitched, "she knew that it was dangerous but she didn't hesitate."
He wasn't surprised. This was the same girl- woman- who had apparated him through what she knew could be lethal wards at a mere nod.
"They're better at this than they should be," he commented as he watched Draco and Hermione.
She glanced at him, a question in her eyes.
"Dealing with life threatening situations," he provided.
"I didn't mean to raise a couple of soldiers," Narcissa answered sadly, slumping in on herself.
Lucius rubbed the top of her hand with his thumb in a consoling gesture; it was the best that he could do, he was too sore and exhausted to move any further. "No, we raised a couple of survivors."
The look that she gave him was one of the most heartbreaking things he had ever seen and he watched her consider her words before she spoke.
"You should know very well that those are not necessarily two separate things, but that they still shouldn't have to have been either."
Author's Note: Sorry this is later than I promised, but I had jury duty, and it was emotionally exhausting. Also, more about Theo in the next chapter, I don't want y'all to think I forgot about that huge decision. We're racing towards the end, I hope to have updates coming more quickly.