Welp, here it is :) Part 3 of my little fest romance. Thanks once again to my team In Dreams, LightofEvolution, and MH Calamas
And thank you to all of you who are reading, reviewing, following, and favorite-ing!
Lord Granger shakes his head, looking taxed behind the mahogany desk in his study. "I am afraid it is binding, my dove. Unless a suitor were to counter with an offer that could not be denied, the wedding will commence in two months."
"But… that is so little time." She feels like a little girl again, near weeping and helpless as the world shifts around her.
"I should like to ensure I might see you in your bridal gown," her father tells her, and that makes the tears fall, stubborn as she was to keep them at bay.
Rising from his chair and wrapping one arm around his daughter, he shushes her lightly. "I know it is a frightful thing, to grow into a woman. To join your husband's house. But you, my brave girl, will flourish wherever you may live."
"Where I may live?"
"Well, in Scotland, of course. The professor has only stayed so long in order to negotiate your hand."
She pulls back from his hold, gaping at her father whom she loves more than anything. "No! I can't leave you! Surely he must know I would want to stay until...that is…" She sobs once again, unable to finish the thought, to put words to the reality her family must face. Francis Granger doesn't answer, just holds her close once again, and lets her weep.
"Draco, you have no choice!" Theo is railing at him now, pacing up and down the library and uncaring if his voice is heard by his family or staff. "If you do nothing, she will be taken away! And do you imagine that great Jackanape will keep the Granger property once her father has passed? Do you want that for her?"
"Of course not," Draco denies, vehement and angry himself. Hermione finally confided in Theo that the health of Francis Granger is, in part, the cause for such rushed nuptials, and Draco's heart breaks for her. "Do you believe I would not bid for her hand if I had the means? You could court her, Lord Nott!"
"You craven, selfish fool," his cousin spits in response. "You know she does not care for me in that way! And she never will! But you, you complete buffoon, with you she might actually be happy."
"And if I decided you are correct? If I tell you she is worth dying for, which is what reclaiming my name might mean, just what do you recommend? Come on, Theodore, you have the answers! Shall I send word to dear Lucius that I ran from his Emperor's ranks to hide in England? He will disown his son before giving me a fortune for a bride... If he doesn't have me killed first. You do not know my father," he finishes in an angry rasp.
They stand a moment, panting and staring each other down. Finally, Theo shakes his head in disgust. "She's worth it. She's worth anything. If you won't help her, maybe I'll do as you suggest and marry her myself. At least she will have a man who sees her value."
"I see her value," he says, emphatic, and suddenly feeling spent of rage. "I simply do not have the currency to be worth her."
"I might have argued as to your worth, but if you insist on this inaction, perhaps you are correct."
Once again, Draco is left to his thoughts when his cousin tears from the room, the door slamming against the wall in his wake.
A month passes quickly, and Hermione sees Draco in the gardens frequently again. Though he no longer ignores her so resolutely, he does not seem to relax in her presence. He is kind, asking after her health, but is careful not to spend too much time alone in her presence.
Perhaps, she reasons, it is all for the best. Her childish fantasy of love and happiness is not meant to be. She will marry an aging professor and relocate where she has no family, no friends, and live a solitary existence with only her books for solace.
She was assured by her new betrothed weeks ago that his library is unmatched. "Even better than this Nott fellow's. Though he has a fine little hobby," he had gone on, smugly, "you will be helpless but to admire the collection I have amassed." His droning had continued, just one more in a history of conversations that had very much to do with braggadocio and very little to do with courting.
Hermione cries often; hiding away in her rooms or the Granger gardens where she will not be disturbed, she is in mourning before a body has even been laid to rest. Her father's health continues to weigh on her mind, now mired with the tragedy that she will not even be allowed to visit him in his final days.
Her figure is slim, food no longer holding much interest on most days. The professor, having secured his prize, has travelled home to ready a place for her in Scotland. She is grateful not to have the constant strain of his presence, but it only serves to remind her how much she dreads being his wife.
More days pass, and Hermione is fitted for the gown in which she will marry Horace Slughorn. Making her Hermione Slughorn. She shivers when she thinks on it, even the name feeling tarnished and distasteful. Her dress must be tailored twice, her loss of weight making it hang from her shoulders. "Dear girl, you need t' eat," the seamstress tells her. "Quite normal, bein' jittery before your big day, o' course, but men want a bit o' meat on yer bones."
Hermione feels her stomach turn at the thoughts of why Professor Slughorn would find weight on her to be pleasing and the liberties he will soon be legally given with her body.
With only two weeks before her wedding day, a missive is delivered to Francis Granger, his face going blank as he reads.
When he looks up to find Hermione and her mother watching, he clears his throat. "It seems we have another suitor for our Hermione."
If her heart had stopped beating, she feels it restart now, heavy and fast, a single pound repeating against her bones.
Theodore? She had hoped, as despair had clung to her, hoped he might consider her hand if only to save her from her fate. She knows he adores her, just as she adores him. And while Theo's proclivities do not include those of her persuasion, he will not see her doomed to loneliness and devastation.
"He's travelling and will arrive tomorrow. I've no idea how he might even have known of you, but he's travelled some distance."
He looks up, seeing his daughter and studying her. "Is this… welcome news?"
Hermione is not sure how to respond. Not Theodore then. Another, unknown party? It is certainly not terrible, her pending nuptials feeling every bit a noose closing around her neck, but what of this new suitor? What if he is a worse fate?
So, she answers with bald honesty. "I suppose I cannot know which fate holds more appeal until I've met him."
Her parents exchange a look before, eventually, her mother rises. "Come, dear, let us find you a dress for the meeting." She allows herself to be led back to her chambers, gowns being pulled in quick succession until her mother draws out a frock the color of clear skies. She's not worn it in two years, but with her new slimmer figure, it is one of the few more formal gowns that might fit.
Besides, of course, her wedding dress.
When she sleeps that evening, she isn't sure if she is hopeful or dreading the following day. At the least, she can take solace that her worst future is with the professor and his home in distant land. Her lot can only improve from here.
Austere would be the word to describe the man in the Granger's parlor. He is quiet and stern, and Hermione is nearly terrified at the idea of speaking to him, less likely more intimate relations.
"Ah, Hermione, come meet our guest."
She is led in the room by her mother, her father taking her hand once she enters and directing her the rest of the way to the center of the room. The stranger stands and stares her down. "Hermione, this is Baron Lucius Malfoy."
"A pleasure," she demures, offering a curtsy to their guest.
"Mademoiselle Granger," he answers back, a French tongue thickening his words and not sounding at all to be a man interested in wedding a bride. "I've come on behalf of my son," he says, straight to the heart of the matter. She almost appreciates the lack of pleasantries. This is a business deal, after all.
"If I may, Sir," Francis interrupts, "Why has your son not attended the meet as well?"
"My son," Lucius sneers, "is indisposed. However, I am assured by my cousin Thoros that Mademoiselle Granger would be a pleasing match."
Nott? Theo's father is involved? Surely this man's son cannot be a brute if her family friend would encourage the match. Though her heart is still wrapped up in grey eyes, she feels a modicum of relief that she might avoid life with the professor.
"Though," the man has continued, "I do not personally see why such a large dowry is required." The once over he pans down her frame is quite unwelcome, and Hermione bristles.
Her father does as well, if his clipped tone is any indication. "She has a previous suitor. Any new arrangement will need to be considered a superior match to go forward."
"I see," the man says, either uncaring or unbelieving if that is true. "No matter. My wife insists I secure my son's happiness, and that is my only aim. Here," he offers a parchment to Lord Granger to take. "My offer; everything required plus a small increase for haste. And now, if you will excuse me, I have a pressing matter to attend."
With a nod that is barely even courtesy, he breezes past the Grangers and shows himself to the door.
In stunned silence, the family loses itself in thought. It is her mother who speaks first. "We've a choice to make, then…"
Clearing his throat, her father speaks. "It is, in fact, a generous sum, however...better the devil you know…?" He looks at his wife for confirmation, appearing a bit lost.
"You suggest we should ignore this new offer and abide by the Professor's sum? Hermione?"
She looks up to see her parents both looking at her with anxious faces. "I don't… I'm unsure."
"Take the afternoon, darling. We will discuss further at dinner." With a nod of agreement to her mother, Hermione slips out of the room.
Draco is listless. It is a constant state since he heard that Miss Granger's wedding was all but accomplished, the agreement settled between all parties concerned. He has also noticed she seems unwell, and he hurts for her. Just after the day they were interrupted in the garden, after Theo had taken him to task for his cowardice, he had gone to Thoros Nott, begging for a sum to bid for her hand. Draco had promised that, on the death of the elder Malfoys, he would not make any claim at all to the inheritance, allowing the entirety of the estate to be allocated to their Nott cousins. The man had sympathized, but said he did not have the capital to invest in such a future, needing to reserve funds to find a match for Theodore in the coming years.
Draco had, next, entreated Theo to make good on his threat to court Lady Hermione. At least she would be near. She would be safe and with her family as she wanted. A cordial and polite marriage, simply without romance, is more than some people are able to boast.
He doesn't sleep most nights, thoughts and plans swirling in his exhausted mind.
Draco had considered taking up a trade to earn his own fortune, but realized as soon as he'd thought it that the time required was too long. He considered stealing enough, but fear of the gallows kept him honest.
Finally, only three weeks before Hermione's wedding, swallowing all pride and without regard for his hard-fought freedom, Draco had drafted a letter to his father.
He had tried to give it to Theo, begging him to send it by the fastest means he could afford, but Theo had given him an even expression and said, "It's too late, Draco. You know this will never reach him in time." And he had known, but it had been a testament to his desperation that he had made the attempt. Watching her waste away, feeling himself breaking for her, he would have faced his father a thousand times for merely a chance at her happiness. He hates himself for his hesitation.
Less than two weeks now before she is wed and gone forever. It is on a quiet morning in Nott Manor, Draco's clothes hanging sloppily from his frame and dark circles beneath his eyes, that he stumbles through the main house on his way to the kitchens and stops short when he sees the party in attendance.
Baron Malfoy is seated with Thoros Nott, Theo just to his father's left. When his footsteps echo into the room, then coming to an abrupt halt, three sets of eyes turn toward him, and all three men stand.
"Draco." His father, known as a man who is guarded and aloof, chokes out his son's name in relief and hastily steps forward.
"Père?" Draco sounds confused to his own ears and looks for Theo. His cousin is looking back at him in challenge.
"Your father came straight away, as soon as he received my message last month. It's such fortune your memory returned to you, is it not?"
Draco looks from his cousin to his father, but doesn't have time to react when Lucius crushes him into an embrace that steals his breath, tears filling his eyes. In all his life, Draco's father had never embraced him. His arms circle around his father's back, and he clings like a young boy.
When they part, Lucius places his hands on Draco's shoulders, holding him at arm's length. "I cannot imagine the harrowing journey you must have had. It is a divine miracle you came to our cousin's house, not knowing who you were."
"Yes…" he agrees, unsure. "A miracle, indeed." His mind is turning faster than his thoughts are realized. Finally, he settles on a question that seems without peril. "Where is Mother? Is she well?"
Lucius waves away his concern. "More than. I expect she will arrive within mere days. She was quite eager to join me, but the vessel I boarded in Normandy was of questionable construction. I requested she wait for a more secure ship to take her."
Draco looks again to Theo, glancing over his father's shoulder to find the young man gesturing that he carry on with some untold conversation. It does not take long for Draco to realize what it is.
"Father, you've come at a fortuitous time. I have found a lady of impeccable charm that I would make my wife."
"Oh, oui. La fille de Granger... I was informed. Your offer for her hand has been made. We can finalize the arrangements in the morning."
Draco's eyes are wide, and he can't seem to find a response. Mistaking his quiet for something else, Lucius pulls him into another embrace. "A miracle, mon cher fils. You need not speak; I feel it, too."
Hermione sleeps very little that night. At dinner, she had pushed food around her plate and listened to her parents argue over the choices laid before her. The Malfoys of France offered a generous sum, but on behalf of a man she's never met. He is young, they understand, which is an advantage over Master Slughorn, but his father refused to guarantee his health, stating he had been through some difficulties of late. What if her new husband suffers afflictions of his body or mind?
With the professor, the unknown is removed from the equation. He is older, a braggart, and generally a source of irritation to those around him. This new suitor is younger, wealthy, but otherwise a great mystery.
These thoughts led her to insomnia and a rather poor disposition the following day. It is with this mood she greets her oldest friend. He's seating in their small receiving room, smiling at her cheerily. She mostly closes the door behind her, regardless of what polite society may say. "My dearest, Lady Granger."
"I've no interest in your glib or flippant persona this morning, Theodore."
He frowns at her, but his displeasure doesn't seem entirely sincere. "But, Hermione," he mock pouts at her, "I'd have thought to find you in good spirits. It isn't every day a suitor knocks on your door."
"Apparently for me, it is more often than your average lady," she gripes out, crossing her arms over her chest.
Theo laughs and stands to greet her. He kisses both cheeks and then cups her upper arms gently. "Hermione, I've not come alone to visit. I bring a guest to see you."
"Oh?" She looks around at the empty room, just on the verge of asking if this guest is incorporeal, when footsteps echo down the corridor, and the door creaks open.
The softest of platinum hair and eeriest of grey eyes greet her gaze as Theo's servant steps into the room.
His attire is decidedly more proper today. Gone are the servant's frocks, replaced with the finest of fall front trousers and a beautifully fitted tailcoat. He looks different, but also entirely Draco.
While it is a pleasure to see him (and equivalently painful), this is not what she had imagined. She turns back to Theo. "When you said guest…" she prompts.
"Just so," is Theo's irritating, smug answer. Perhaps he should marry Slughorn.
An admonishment is resting on her tongue, but Theo, the utter snake, is sliding around her toward the door before she can utter a word. "I will let Mister Malfoy explain. I've no desire to be a part of your harpy screams when you know you've been had."
"What?... Mister Malf- Theo!" But he is gone, leaving only a rather nervous looking Draco in his wake.
She huffs and turns to the servant. "I suppose you are here to take me to Mister Malfoy, then?"
With a clearing of his throat, he manages, "Not exactly."
Hermione feels her eyes narrow. "I feel you know more than you are saying."
"Lady Granger…." She watches him steel himself, eyes squeezed shut for a moment. "Hermione, I have an apology to offer and a question to ask. Your forgiveness will be vital to the question."
Hermione sighs, angry with herself for the aching of her heart. She hasn't time for this; Hermione has a marriage offer to answer. "And what grievance should I have with you to forgive?"
"I have not been entirely free of falsehood in regards to my name."
"Your name isn't Draco?" she asks, confused, her brow wrinkling.
"It is," he rushes to assure. "Though, I never offered my surname."
"And that is?" She is growing impatient as he lingers, stalling each word and phrase.
A long beat of silence, and Hermione is on the verge of bursting from her own skin. She feels her ire build and is fit to explode when he finally answers with a deep breath.
"Malfoy. My full name is Draco Lucius Malfoy, and I've come to ask, Lady Hermione Granger, for your hand."
Draco wasn't sure what to expect, fully prepared to grovel for his pretense, to beg forgiveness for being untrue. What he had not expected, was for the love of his life to calmly walk from the room in search of her parents. Trailing after her, as well-trained as her Helios, they find Lucius and the Grangers in the solarium.
"Father, Mother, Lord Malfoy. I have reached a decision and would like to accept the generous offer from the Malfoy family. I shall write of my regrets to Professor Slughorn."
And with that, she turns on her heel and vanishes.
Everyone blinks. Once. Twice. Then Lucius takes to his feet. "Well, then, such a... pragmatic child. I believe you've chosen well, Draco. Shall we prepare for your mother's arrival? Thoros will not have the amenities ma chère femme will require, no doubt."
Having no other course, Draco bows to the Grangers and follows in his father's wake.
In the days that come, Hermione insists upon keeping her original wedding plans, only the groom and his family to change. Narcissa arrives just in time to take over many details, but declares the bride "acceptable enough"; high praise from the Malfoy matriarch.
Draco sees his intended virtually none at all. He mostly frets, pulling Theo into private conversations. "Do you think she means to do me harm? I've never seen her angered, cousin, but this… poise she shows… she's terrifying."
Theo just laughs and claps his arm. "You wanted her, my friend. All that is Hermione Granger is about to be yours."
"Theodore, what is she thinking? Is she speaking to you? Theodore…!" But his cousin merely walks away, chuckling like a villain.
"Are you ready?" Narcissa is looking over her son, tears sitting in the corners of her eyes. While most of the world sees only a cold and calculating aristocrat, Draco is afforded rare glimpses of a woman who, he has never had reason to doubt, loves him deeply.
"I am nervous, Mother. I fear that… I may have angered my bride."
"Because she does not speak to you?" his mother inquires, her brow lifting. He only nods in response. "I am sure there will be time enough to talk this evening, mon petite chou. Whatever you have done was not cause enough for her not to accept your petition."
"Unless she means to smother me in my sleep," he mutters, and Narcissa Malfoy laughs.
"Such an imagination! Come. Let us meet your bride. I have a surprise for you after the ceremony."
Hermione is, as Draco had known she would be, a vision in ivory and gold. To think he nearly lost her, that she would have approached another man in her finery, makes his heart clench. Unfortunately, she is as cold and removed in his presence on their wedding day as she has been for the week. She does not speak to him, but repeats her vows to the officiant. She does not look at him, but instead concentrates on their bound hands and the other faces in attendance.
At the festivities that follow, Draco learns of his parents' surprise. The Malfoys, having forged a friendship with the Grangers in the very short time they have spent in England, have decided to purchase a summer home in Wiltshire. This will allow them to foster kinship as well as spend time with Draco since he will "obviously be staying with his new bride." Hermione perks up considerably at this, tearfully hugging her father, but she still refuses to look Draco's way.
They are long, endless hours, watching her from afar as she dances and laughs with Theodore or speaks to her mother in hushed tones. Draco is miserable, even as he feels elation that she is his wife. Tonight, he repeats, a mantra in his head, tonight he will grovel if needed and win back the affections of this woman whom he loves with his whole heart.
Midnight has struck and gone when the last guests leave, and Hermione and Draco are shown to their bridal suite. The room has been offered by the Nott family since the Malfoys are far from home, a guest suite with luxurious design.
Hermione enters first and Draco follows after, turning to close the door behind him and leaning his palms on the wood. He breathes deep ready to beg, to entreat mercy. He will offer her everything he has and more to see her smile, bright as the winter sun, gifted to him once more.
When he turns, she crashes into him, arms twining around his neck. "Finally!" And her mouth seals over his.
He could devour her, starved as he has been for her affection. Their first intimate married kiss, and he throws himself into it like a man dying. He laps at her lip, testing her boundaries, and finds she has none for him when her lips part.
When her hands move from his neck, palms resting against his chest and fingertips scratching lightly at him through his coat, Draco pulls away to lay his forehead against hers. "My love?"
She hums in reply, fingers playing with the short hairs on his neck. "I had thought… You have been cross with me, Hermione. Should we not speak?"
"Cross with you?" She leans back, her eyes searching his.
"Well, yes. You've not spoken to me. Hardly looked at me. I know I did you great disservice with my lack of honesty. But you must know, I will be nothing but truthful with you, I swear it. You are most treasured, and I respect and appreciate you, my Hermione."
She blinks up at him before finally releasing one of her darling, very unladylike, little laughs. "Cross with you? Draco, you never lied to me. I never asked your name and you never gave it. By my calculations, I am an equal party in my ignorance. As for this past week, I could hardly look at you for want of tonight. Draco Malfoy, if I had been able to corner you into a private room, I fear you would not have a maiden in your bed."
It is his turn to be struck with silence. Slowly, a smile starts to creep on his face, but abruptly stops. "Wait. Was Theodore aware you did not wish me ill?"
"Of course." She smiles. "He knew of my elation. I tell him everything."
"That Godless bastard…"
"Now, now, none of that. He is, afterall, the one who summoned your father. I think you can call it a draw, could you not?"
Draco searches her face, looks into the eyes of his beautiful wife, and agrees that, he would suppose, Theo can live to see another day.
"Now, Monsieur Malfoy, take the maiden to your bed."
With no hesitation, Draco does as he is bid.
Tah dah :) I hope you enjoyed it. There is a possibility I might write an epilogue. I was out of word count for the actual fest piece, but now I can go crazy. I'd love to hear if you would enjoy just a bit more. Thank you once again to all of you here with me!
And, if you haven't, check out the In Another Life fest on AO3! There are amazing pieces from pirates to film noir to superheroes and tons more!