In response to a prompt by Anonymous in the In_Another_Life_2018 collection.
Prompt: Medieval AU: The heir to the throne must select a partner, or risk forfeiting their position. I'm SO excited to post this story! I loved everything about this challenge, and can't wait for everyone to read it. This story is in two parts, part one being my submission for the fest, then I will post part two later. Hope you all enjoy! Just to help the back story along, this is how I've pictured everyone's rank in my head:
James and Lily- Duke and Duchess
Lucius and Narcissa- Duke and Duchess
Draco- In Riddle's kingdom he would have been a Duke (or the heir of), in Granger's kingdom he is the ward of Sirius, who is raised by him and works for Remus, simply because he likes it. He understands that he is not royalty here, and I'd like to think that Remus made him a humble man. (I also like to think of this as background WolfStar, but if that's not your thing it's easily forgotten.)
I also have an AO3 account, for anyone that prefers to read there :)
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"Draco, listen carefully, my son." Narcissa's whispers doing nothing to hide the panic in her voice. We are leaving this place, do you understand? We are running away tonight. I need you to do exactly as I say."
"Yes, Mother." Eleven year old Draco nodded frantically.
He was scared and confused since his mother never acted like this. She was the picture perfect pureblooded wife of Lucius Malfoy, advisor to King Riddle, and faithful follower in all of their King's vicious actions. Until the husband she despised had told her that he wanted to recruit their son into the ranks of King Riddle's men. The mindless soldiers that were expendable and worthless.
No. Not her son. Not her Draco. She had to send him away.
"I have family in another country. We can go there, alright Dragon?" She took his hand in hers. "Stay close to me."
Draco's small hand held hers tightly, terrified to let go. Quietly, they walked the stone halls of the lavish castle in which they lived. King Riddle taxed his villagers to fill his vaults, instead of providing for his people. They were disposable, worthless. The men that plowed the fields could be replaced in a moment, making him a much feared leader. Narcissa was certain that his only truly loyal followers were the men he kept close in his inner circle, which included her husband.
Lucius Malfoy was the worst kind of man. He took what he wanted, fueled his King's desires for more, and never disappointed him. King Riddle's rule would still go on without Lucius, but the two together were downright evil. They enjoyed the torture of the poor peasant girls, or beating the boys that delivered the grain to the castle.
Narcissa wished that she could help them all, but for now she could only worry about Draco. Her beautiful boy that she tried so hard to keep hidden away from it all, the only light in her life.
They made it to the stables, where Prometheus was saddled and ready to go. If she rode all night, they wouldn't need any provisions, and the less they carried the faster they would go. Lucius wasn't a stupid man by any means, he would notice her absence quickly. She just hoped that she gave herself enough time to get Draco to safety.
"Up you go, Dragon." She said quickly as she hoisted him onto the tall creature. "Alright, hang on tight." She climbed up behind him and took off, praying to anyone that was listening to help her pull this off.
They couldn't have been gone long, two hours at most, when she'd heard it; the faint sounds of horses and yelling from behind her. Narcissa had assumed that her plan to cut through the mountains to the north would throw them off. She should have known that she really didn't have any secrets of her own. This was how her cousin Sirius Black had escaped all those years ago, and she foolishly thought she was the only one who knew that. She was hoping for more time, she knew King Granger's boarders were patrolled often, if they could only make it there. Prometheus must have felt her fear, since he began an incredible pace as Narcissa kept glancing behind them. They had to make it.
They were close enough that she could hear individual voices now. Lucius was with them, as well as his seconds, Snape and Lestrange. This chase wasn't going to last long, she knew it. She had to make sure that Draco was safe, this wasn't an option. Without warning, an arrow flew right passed them.
"Mother, what's happening?!" Draco cried out.
"It's alright, darling." Her voice breathless. "Draco, I need you to listen to me. Take-" She screamed in pain as an arrow plunged itself into her shoulder.
Draco tried to twist around to see it, but Narcissa wouldn't let him. Breaking the arrow as close to her body as possible, she threw the shaft down to the ground, never breaking her control of her horse.
"Take this." She said between gritted teeth. "It's a compass. Travel north. Just keep going north, and you'll make it. In your satchel, there's a letter. Give it to the guards."
"Mother, no. You can't. We were to go together-"
"Draco, please." She begged. "Promise me you won't stop, that you won't turn around. Please, just keep going. Find Sirius, he will protect you." Her breathing was labored and her body was weak. She had to give Draco as much time as she could to allow him to get away. "I love you."
Draco turned and looked at her with tears filling his eyes. "I love you."
"Promise me, Draco."
With a final kiss to his forehead, she leapt off the horse with her sword drawn. Lucius wouldn't pass up the opportunity, he would stop to fight her.
Draco leaned forward as close as he could to the horse's mane, tears streaming down his cheeks. He wouldn't look back, he'd promised her he wouldn't. He just had to keep going, had to-
He heard her scream. The sound went straight to his chest, griping his heart like a vice, but he didn't turn around. He knew she was dead the moment she jumped off the horse.
"A few passing stragglers thought they saw King Riddle's men heading this way late last night." McKinnon said to her superior.
Sir James Potter rode alongside her, heading to the closest border between the two lands. "But why here? Those mountains are treacherous to cross, and there hasn't been any sign of movement in weeks."
"I'm not sure, Sir. It doesn't feel like a set up."
If Marlene McKinnon knew anything, James was sure she would tell him. She was a loyal guard, and he trusted her instincts with his life. It was just before sunrise, the first streaks of light just breaking through. James had decided to come out and take a look for himself once word came back that Riddle's men were on the move.
"Keep your eyes sharp, McKinnon. Something about this doesn't feel right."
The morning passed slowly and uneventfully, and James was just about to call it when a horse appeared on the horizon.
"Steady." He ordered, seeing that McKinnon also saw the approaching horse. "It's just one."
James had to agree, if there was one, there was always more. He was surprised that the rider, a mere child, came right up to them, barely stopping in time before crashing into them.
"Are... are you... guards?" The boy asked shyly and out of breath.
"I am Sir James Potter. Servant of King Granger."
"P-please... help... help me." Draco's shaking hands tried to open his satchel to retrieve the letter, his fingers chilled to the bone. His vision was going black, and he couldn't see. He had to give the letter to this guard, he'd promised his mother.
James watched as the boy struggled with the bag that was slung over his shoulder, the moment he grasped a rolled up parchment, the boy seemed to pass out.
"Whoa!" James jumped off his horse and made it just in time to catch him before he hit the ground. He unrolled the letter, hoping it was some kind of identification. As he read his eyes became large and worrisome.
"Sir?" McKinnon questioned.
"We need to get back to the castle. This letter is addressed to Sirius. This boy... he belongs to Narcissa."
Eight Years Later
"A good match will get you far, Hermione."
Hermione barely contained her urge to sigh. Her mother had been going on and on over breakfast about finding a husband for her eligible daughter. You have been of age for two years, Hermione. There are several suitable gentlemen after your attention, Hermione. The kingdom will soon fall to you and the husband you chose, Hermione.
"Hermione, are you even listening?" The Queen asked her daughter.
"Of course, Mother." She really wasn't. She'd heard all of this before.
"Sir Harry stopped by yesterday to meet with your father." She added, if only to get her daughter's attention. "The move against King Riddle needs to be made soon."
Hermione finally looked up to face her mother. "I beg your pardon, Mother, but what exactly does this have to do with me?"
"Your father has made an arrangement with King McLaggen. Prince Cormac has offered for your hand in marriage, and this union would provide the forces we need to-"
"Mother, surely you jest! Prince Cormac is-"
"A perfectly eligible gentlemen, comes from a fine family, and has the resources we need available to end this war."
"I will not be marrying him." Hermione said stubbornly.
"I must say that he was not your father's first choice, however since you have been so obstinate in your decision you have left him no choice."
Hermione's eyes dropped to her unfinished breakfast. "I will not marry Harry."
"I simply do not understand why." Her mother's exasperated tone showing her annoyance. "He is a wonderful man and would take great care of you."
"I know he would." Hermione conceded. "Is it so awful to want to marry for love instead of obligation?"
"You cannot tell me that you feel nothing for him."
"I am not marrying Harry, Mother." Hermione said sternly.
"Then I suggest you prepare yourself for King McLaggen's visit in three weeks time. The marriage contracts will be signed then unless you come to a decision yourself."
"I have made my decision!"
"A reasonable one." Her mother's tone indicated that this conversation was over, and without another word Hermione rose from the table and walked out of the breakfast room as graciously as she could.
Hermione walked through the castle at a slow pace, her mind deep in thought. She didn't understand the rush to get her married off. Surely the kingdom being at the brink of war was more important than her choosing a husband. Out of all the suggestions that her mother had made, Sir Harry was the best choice, but she couldn't do that.
Sir Harry James Potter was her best friend and had been ever since she met him. His father, Sir James Potter, was her father's loyal advisor and had been ever since he became King. Harry's mother, Lily, was the personal healer to the royal family. Hermione loved her dearly, often going to her for advice over her own mother. Not that Hermione didn't love or respect her, but there were just things that she couldn't see. Things that she would never understand since she was Queen. Lily Potter never judged Hermione, never scolded her or said she should cast her feelings aside and do the right thing for the kingdom.
James and Lily were one of the very few couples Hermione had known that had married for love. James had met Lily in the village, while Lily was training with their local healer. They really had a fairy tale love story. Her own parents had an arranged marriage, to broaden the horizons of two kingdoms that now lived harmoniously because of their match. Hermione knew her parents loved each other now, but they didn't always. Hermione had too much to accomplish, too much to learn, too much to see before she married. She didn't want her love life to be determined by which land had the most cows, or could grow the most corn. She wanted to give her heart to someone that would value it. That would take her opinion seriously and wouldn't become offended every time she opened her mouth.
"Lady Hermione!" A sharp voice called out.
Hermione looked up just in time to see Harry collide into her, pulling her out of the path of a horse with an out of control rider. "Finnigan, get that animal under control!" Harry barked at his knight.
"Yes, Sir! I'm trying!"
"Are you alright?" Harry asked as he pulled her away further.
"I'm fine, thank you. I wasn't paying attention."
"I could tell that much. You never would have walked right into the training area otherwise." Harry said with a smile. "What brings you here?"
Hermione let out a dramatic sigh. "Breakfast did not go well."
"Ahh." Harry said as they began to walk the perimeter of the training field. "Well Hermione, this would all be solved if you would just marry me and bear my-"
"Harry James Potter you will not finish that sentence if you know what's good for you." She scolded.
Harry couldn't help but laugh at her. "You know I am only teasing."
"I know. Some days I just can't stand it."
"Come with me to town." Harry said suddenly. He had to get her mind off of this, or she would think about it all day. "The spring weather will improve your mood."
"Harry, you need to train these men. Finnigan has set himself on fire twice this month, and Longbottom is terrible with hand to hand-"
"Seamus had been getting additional training from Dean Thomas, and you know Neville just needs a little extra time. He mastered wielding a sword, didn't he?"
Hermione let one side of her lips curl into a smirk. "Only because you tricked him. Telling him he was going up against little Colin Creevey and really having him duel Ron was a terrible idea."
"You mean a brilliant idea." Harry said playfully.
"Only because he was certain that Ron would kill him!"
"You over exaggerate." Harry answered nonchalantly. "Come. Ron can handle this."
Hermione sighed, but knew Harry was right. Ronald Weasley was Harry's right hand man, the one that he brought into battle every single time. The bond that Harry had with Ron surprised everyone, but the two seemed to connect right from boyhood.
Ron was born a peasant, the sixth child of seven, to a very loving family that owned the local Inn right in town called The Burrow. James and Lily often brought Harry to play with the other children, and James had insisted that Hermione go as well. The King and Queen trusted his judgement more than anyone, and Hermione adored their trips into town when she was a girl. When Harry was old enough, he was taken in for knight's training, always knowing that it was what was expected of him. Hermione thought it a blessing that he actually enjoyed what he did. Ron had remained his best friend all throughout training, often dreaming of Ron fighting by his side.
Two years back, Harry was given orders to take his men to the far boarder of Riddle's lands and patrol. Not a single word was heard from them for nearly three weeks. Hermione was beside herself with worry and so was Ron, who threw caution to the wind and rode out to the boarder in the dead of night, knowing something was terribly wrong. He found half of Harry's men dead or severely injured, and Harry himself struggling to get his men to safety by himself. They had been ambushed, Riddle's men waiting for him the moment they came into view. Ron helped Harry the best he could, bandaging and cleaning wounds and getting soldiers ready to make the journey home, when another attack was made. Harry, overcome with exhaustion, didn't see the soldier coming up on him, and Ron took a sword threw the shoulder, just as he pushed Harry out of the way and sliced the man open, killing him before he could kill harry. When they had returned, Harry had given the tale of Ron's bravery, and demanded he be made his second in command, for he would never go into battle again without him.
"Thank you, Harry." Hermione said as they walked the dirt path from the castle into the heart of their beloved little town square. "I need the distraction, but at the same time I also need to figure out what I am going to do."
"What do you want to do, love?"
Hermione placed her hand on Harry's arm that was currently looped threw hers at the elbow. "They want me to marry McLaggen."
Harry stopped walking abruptly, making Hermione nearly stumble when she was pulled backwards. "Forgive me, what?" He sputtered.
"You heard me. His father's army is strong. They think that uniting our forces will help us win the war."
"Prince Cormac McLaggen? That's their choice?"
"Well it's either him or you, and I would never do that to you, Harry." She said as she pulled him along to continue walking.
Harry kept his eyes on the ground, his good mood deteriorating quickly. "Maybe… maybe we should give this some serious consideration." Harry's grave voice breaking her heart.
"It will leave you free to marry Ginny once I marry someone else."
"I can't let you marry him. At least we would be happy together, Hermione. We have common ground, it wouldn't be a bad marriage."
"I know that Harry, I do. I just want to marry for love."
"You wound me, Princess." He said dramatically as he clutched his chest with his free hand.
"Are you going to stop by?" Hermione asked once they made it to the cobblestone streets of the square.
Harry didn't bother to pretend he didn't know what she was asking. "Yes."
"Good. I will visit the library first."
"Oh, I have a good five hours, then."
Hermione shoved his shoulder playfully. "I will see you soon."
"Of course." Harry bowed, even though he knew Hermione hated it, then headed off towards the Inn.
Hermione opened the door and instantly felt better. The smell of paper and books was always so calming to her. She was surrounded by maps, scrolls, and books on everything the local librarian could get his hands on. He was a simple man, never required much, and Hermione adored him.
"Ahh, I was wondering when you'd be round." A tall thin man rounded a row of shelves and smiled at her.
"Hello, Lord Lupin." She said kindly.
"If I am Lord Lupin, then I shall have to address you as Princess Hermione."
"Oh, is that what we're playing today, Remus?" She joked. "Have you got anything new in?"
"A few things. Draco's just returned from a journey west. He's brought several titles that might interest you."
"Draco's back?!" Her voice laced with excitement, making her cheeks quickly blush. "I mean, well... I was not aware he would return so soon."
"A few days early." Remus said casually. If he noticed Hermione's change in attitude, and truthfully it would be hard not to, he didn't comment on it. "He's in the back, if you'd like to have first look."
"You're a saint, Remus!" She grinned as she tried her best not to run, although she was sure she wasn't fooling him at all. Remus was one of the smartest people she had ever met, it astonished her every time she visited that he was humble enough to be the town librarian.
Slowing her pace as she heard the sound of books being sorted and crates being opened, she peered into the doorway and saw Draco looking at each book he had brought back with him. He was a stunningly beautiful man. When Sirius took him in all those years ago he treated him as if he were his own son. He gave him the best clothes, the best education, taught him to fight. Hermione had seen on several occasions the duels that he would have with Harry, and Draco had won nearly half of them. His shoulder length straight blonde hair was always pulled back at the nape of his neck with a black silk ribbon. His attire always consisting of black and white. Today though, when he wasn't expecting to be seen, he'd worn a forest green shirt, with fitted black trousers. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and a few strands of hair that were no longer secured by the ribbon were framing his face. Hermione had never seen a more perfect man.
"I wasn't expecting you back so soon."
"Hermione!" Draco squealed in surprise. He cleared his throat to try to regain his composure. "Princess Hermione." He corrected with a bow. "I've just returned last night."
"Then this is quite the pleasant surprise." She walked further into the room to look at his crates of books. "I-" missed you. "Have been in need of a distraction of late."
"Hopefully I can assist with that." Draco gave her a genuine smile, happy to see her so soon since coming back home.
She looked beautiful. Her brown curls pulled back and her peach colored dress made her complexion glow as if she had been gently kissed by the sun. Miss Parkinson certainly knew what she was doing when she designed her dresses for her.
"What are you looking for?" He asked her as she came closer.
"Anything to take my mind off of my parents and this ridiculous notion of marrying-" Hermione stopped before she embarrassed herself any further. "I apologize. It's terribly inappropriate of me to speak that way."
"I won't hold it against you. There's been talk of a visit from another kingdom in the coming weeks. Does that have anything to do with your… situation?"
"It does." She sighed as she picked up a book and flipped through it absentmindedly. "I'm to marry a Prince from their kingdom. I've just been told this news recently."
"I take it you don't want to marry this Prince?" Draco asked her bluntly. If she was sharing he assumed he had the right to ask questions.
"Well I don't want to marry Harry, so this is what has been decided for me."
Draco swallowed harshly. He didn't want her to marry Harry either. His heart couldn't handle it if he had to see them together for the rest of his days. He knew of course that Harry didn't want to wed Hermione either, Harry was his best friend too, after all. It would selfishly be easier for him if she were to marry this other Prince, at least he wouldn't have to see the woman he loved but could never have day after day.
"Enough of this talk for now." Hermione said suddenly, pulling him out of his thoughts. "Tell me about your trip. Tell me everything!"
Draco allowed himself to smile at her giddiness to hear about his travels. "It was pleasant. I always enjoy meeting new people and hearing different stories. Oh!" Draco plopped his books he held in his hands back in the crate and ran to the corner of the room to a much worn out satchel. "I spotted these and thought of Remus, but couldn't resist purchasing a box for myself as well."
Hermione watched with interest as Draco pulled out a small box, then unwrapped what was inside. "What is it?" She breathed.
"They call it fudge. Try it, it's delicious."
Hermione gracefully picked up a small square and placed it on her tongue. "Oh my heaven!"
Draco couldn't resist the giggle that bubbled up inside him.
"Draco, these are wonderful! I've never tasted anything like it!"
"I will gladly make this trip several more times, just to be able to have this." He popped his own square into his mouth, savoring the sweetness of it.
"We better stop, or else this entire box will be gone." Hermione joked as Draco handed her another square.
"If that is what you wish."
"Tell me of your next visit, I'll place my order then."
"Of course, my Lady." He set the box back in his satchel, then turned back to her. "I should get back to sorting these books."
"Oh, of course." Hermione tried her best to mask her sadness. "I'd hate to keep you… unless… unless you desired the company."
"I'd love nothing more than-" Draco caught himself before he said something stupid. "Do you not have other engagements for the morning?"
"I do not, as it were. I did plan to stop at the apothecary eventually, but that trip is not pertinent at this point in time."
"You should make the trip today. Miss Luna has had some wonderful ideas lately."
"Oh?" Hermione said curiously. "Anything interesting?"
"Nothing that I can comprehend, but her brilliant mind has never led me wrong before."
Hermione and Draco spent the better part of two hours sorting books into different piles, only to resort those piles at least three different times. Several arguments were had over how to classify certain titles, and which books should be placed on the display at the front of the shop, versus filed away in their correct spot on the shelves. The dust from the travel worn crates was making her dress terribly dirty, which Draco felt horrible about. She was a princess for God's sake, she should not be here sorting dusty books with him, but Hermione didn't seem to mind. Actually, she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself.
"There you are." A familiar voice said from behind them. Hermione looked up to see Harry smiling at the both of them. "Did you make it anywhere else?"
"I did not. Draco has kept me occupied all this time." Her face lit up with a joy that neither of them missed.
"I'm glad. We should be heading back now, I'm sorry to say."
"Oh." Hermione all but pouted as she set her books down in their designated pile. "I haven't even had the chance to make any purchases yet."
"Well then I suppose you shall just have to return tomorrow." Draco blurted out.
Hermione beamed at him. "Perhaps I will."
Hermione had spent nearly every day in town for the next two weeks. Most times Harry would accompany her, but there were a few occasions she had to go with a companion from the castle. Hermione always chose Lavender, her personal advisor. Lavender was always out spoken with her thoughts and emotions, and was never afraid to tell Hermione what she truly felt. She gave honesty, truth, and devoted loyalty, and Hermione adored her. Everyone knew of her interest in Ron, and therefore his interest in her. Hermione wouldn't be surprised at all if Ron had soon made it official and asked for hand. She used the excuse that she needed a new dress made for the festival, and since she only exclusively dealt with Miss Parkinson's daughter Pansy, all she had to do was place and order with her and Pansy did the rest, never failing to deliver an excellent design. Lavender was easy to distract, and therefore once that was done Hermione was able to spend quite a bit of time alone, or rather at Remus's library with Draco.
"The festival in honor of Father's birthday is coming up in a few days." Hermione said casually as she and Draco re-shelved books together. Draco of course immediately protested this, saying that a princess should not have to do this kind of manual labor, so of course Hermione ignored him and began doing it anyway.
"It is. Are you looking forward to it?"
"Very much." She answered truthfully. "Will I see you there?"
"Sirius and Remus of course are attending, they wouldn't miss it for the world."
And you?" She persisted. "Will you be attending?"
Draco had to stop and wonder just what he was doing, why he was putting himself through this. He and Hermione had had several conversations about the possibility of her upcoming betrothal, the bastard was even expected to be here just days after the festival. He just couldn't stay away. He laid awake many nights wondering if this was all worth it, knowing that he was just setting himself up for even more heartbreak by spending so much time with her.
"Would you like me to?" He asked quietly.
"I would, yes. Very much."
Her answer was instantaneous. He looked at her, searching for anything that would tell him to leave this alone, but all he found was truth.
"Save me a dance, my Lady."
Hermione's entire face lit up. Before she could respond she heard heavy footsteps coming towards the small back room. "Oh, Harry. Hello. What are-"
"Your Highness, I need to speak with you. Urgently." Harry's serious tone had her standing at once.
"Of course." She turned back to Draco, sad that her precious time with him was being cut short. "I will see you at the festival."
"Of course, my Lady." Draco bowed then watched them leave. He did not have a good feeling about this.
They walked the path that led them back tot he castle in silence.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked, her voice full of concern.
"Please forgive me for being so forward, but what are you doing?" Harry asked harshly. "Do you understand that Draco has feelings for you? That somehow he still believes that you might chose him? Hermione we both know that you can't!"
"And why can't I? What if I want to?"
Harry sighed as he slowed his pace and turned to face her. "It's just who he is, you know this."
"I do not! I want to marry for love! And I love him!" Hermione gasped, she never meant to say those words out loud.
"You are going to hurt him so much more in the end by doing this."
"You are doing no better, Harry Potter." She shot back.
"I'm asking you not to hurt him anymore. You know that you are as good as betrothed to McLaggen. I have made no such promises-"
Hermione scoffed. "You offered for my hand! How was that not making any such promises?"
"Damn it, Hermione this is different!" Harry shouted, his patience wearing thin. "My parents are not the King and Queen! My parents do not rule an entire kingdom! If I were ever given the chance to marry Ginny it would not be the scandal it would be if you threw everything away and married Draco, and you know it. His father is a tyrant and is the loyal advisor to a King we are at war with!"
She could feel her anger in the form of tears welling up in her eyes. "Of course. I understand that perfectly. Thank you for you advisement, Sir Potter."
"Hermione, I didn't mean-"
"I wish to be alone." She said forcefully, and began the walk back to the castle by herself.
Hermione had skipped her own dinner with her parents, pleading a headache. She could always have one of the maids bring something to her room. She hadn't seen anyone since her argument with Harry that morning, and had stayed in her rooms to think about what Harry had said. Deciding that it was time to confront him, she quietly made her way down to the private chambers of the Royal Advisors, where she knew Harry would be having dinner with his own parents.
She longed to be able to join them for meals instead of her own formal sittings with her parents. James and Lily were always so affectionate and kind. A not so small part of her was jealous over it. Pushing those thoughts aside, Hermione tapped on the door, then waited for permission to enter.
"Ahh, my princess, what brings you here at this hour?" James said as he ushered her inside.
"Are you feeling better, my lady?" Lily asked her immediately.
"Yes, thank you. I'm sorry to intrude, I was just hoping to speak with Harry." She looked over with pleading eyes where he was still seated in their spacious siting area, a glass of firewhiskey in his hand.
"At your service, your highness."
Lily looked between them, worry showing in her features. "Is everything alright?"
"I angered Harry earlier, and I came hoping to apologize." Hermione blurted out.
"Oh my dears." Lily's kind voice nearly making Hermione's eyes prickle. "You mustn't quarrel with each other. It is not the heart's fault that it wants what it wants."
Hermione looked horrified, that now more people knew her secret.
"Do not be alarmed, my dear." James said to her as he guided her further into the room. "Remus speaks so highly of you, and you know that once Sirius has figured something out, the man simply cannot keep it a secret."
"Has anyone spoken of this to my parents?" Hermione asked cautiously.
James shook his head. "No, however I have been trying to persuade your father to allow you to choose someone of your own heart's desire. King McLaggen many have strong forces, but an army is no reason to force your only child into a loveless marriage."
"Hermione." Harry came to her side and set her down on a nearby sofa. "I sincerely apologize for my rude behavior earlier. I was not upset with you, merely the situation. Please forgive me. I know how you feel and it was cruel of me to imply otherwise."
"I wish I were someone else." She whispered as she laid her head on his shoulder.
"I know." Harry's quiet voice only reaching her ears.
They sat for a moment, with no one speaking as Hermione and Harry comforted each other.
"I've come to a decision." Hermione said as she picked her head up and dabbed at her eyes with Harry's proffered handkerchief. "I am accepting Prince Cormac's offer of marriage when he arrives."
"My child," Lily rushed out. "You do not have to make such a decision right now-"
"I do. I have put this off far too long and need to think about the people of my kingdom." She turned to Harry then. "Just give me the festival. I will tell him myself, I would just like that one night. After the wedding, then you'll be free to-"
"Hermione, I cannot let you do this!" Harry burst out as he stood. "You are not going to sacrifice your heart for mine."
"At least one good thing should come out of this!" She yelled right back.
Harry took her hands in his as he knelt in front of her. "I hate everything about this."
"As do I."
"You should just marry me." Harry said softly.
"We will grow to resent each other, Harry. I couldn't bear it if that ever happened."
He came close and laid his forehead against hers. "I will do everything I can to make the day of the festival the best it could possibly be for you. You have my word."
Harry turned to face his parents, their faces full of heartache. "I shall accompany her highness back to her chambers."
"Of course." Lily said as she came forward and pulled Hermione into a hug.
"I'm terribly sorry for ruining your-"
"Hush child." James said with a gravelly voice, clearly overcome with emotion. "We will do all we can."
The morning of the festival came and Hermione's heart was full of excitement and sorrow. Her breakfast with her parents was filled with the same dribble as it always was, it made Hermione wonder if they even realized how miserable they made her. Breakfast was the only meal she took with them of late, but neither seemed to notice or care.
Pansy had come by just after they had finished, and Hermione could not have been more relieved. She had no idea what the dress was going to look like, and was ready to see Pansy's creation. The seamstress helped her into the dress, then led her over to a mirror that hung on Hermione's wall.
"Oh, Pansy." Hermione gushed. "This is beautiful! Your best yet!"
"Thank you, princess." Pansy beamed at her.
The dress was long and had a scooped neck in a beautiful jade color, the fabric the softest silk Hermione had ever felt. It flowed around her freely when she twirled, loving the freedom of movement it provided. A sheer hunter green overlay covered her arms down to the wrist, and buttoned at the neck, leaving the cape like garment open in the front.
"I brought this as well for you, my lady." Pansy said softly.
Hermione turned to face her and was speechless once she saw what was in her hand. A braided silver headband, with a small dragon woven into one side. She took it and rubbed the pad of her finger over the beautiful silver dragon.
"A gift for you."
"Pansy, I cannot accept this." Hermione said as she tried to give it back.
"It is not from me, my lady." Pansy said gently.
"I beg your pardon?" Her voice raspy with emotion.
"He came and placed an order, and I was working on your dress. He will match you tonight, and had this commissioned for you."
"Oh, Pansy." Hermione let a few stray tears fall before she realized she was crying, then turned away embarrassed.
"I am sorry Miss, that you have to let him go. We all wish it were different."
"I will never let him go." She whispered. "He will really match my dress?"
"Oh yes!" Pansy said brightly. "It was a pleasure to design these for you both."
"You always do amazing work, Pansy. I thank you." She turned to her friend and smiled. "I hope you will stay and fix my hair? You know I alone am disastrous."
"I had already planned on it." Pansy smiled back.
Hermione seated herself beside Lavender in the third row of the boxed seats of the jousting arena. Her parents were two rows above her, with James, Lily, Sirius and Remus in the row just below them. The next two rows were taken by Lords and Ladies of their lands, which Hermione enjoyed very much. She could converse with others without feeling as if she was ignoring her duties as princess.
"Hermione." Lavender whispered from behind her.
"Pardon me." Hermione said to Lord Patil. He was a remarkably smart man, and even though his daughters were wealthy, they taught lessons to the town's children. Hermione envied them.
"Just there." Lavender carefully tilted her head towards the grounds where the villagers where gathered to watch the event.
Hermione saw Draco walking in with Ginny and taking a spot right in front. He had worn tight tan trousers with matching camel colored boots, and sure enough, a matching jade shirt. His shoulder length blonde hair was also tied back with a jade ribbon. She felt her heart skip a beat once he'd seen her, giving her a small bow.
Draco stood with Ginny in the front row at the jousting tournament. Harry and Ron were participating as always and they both wanted to watch them. Ginny's entire family was watching of course, but she chose to stand with Draco instead.
"Did you match her on purpose?" Ginny whispered to Draco.
"Maybe. I went to pick up an order for Sirius and she talked me into it. I must not hide it as well as I thought I did, it will be quite obvious after this evening."
"Love, you are not hiding anything. Especially not in these last few weeks."
"Harry's really upset about it."
"I don't understand why. He's doing the same thing. Just let me have what I can."
Ginny discretely held his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Because it hurts more."
"I'll worry about that later." Draco said to her. He desperately wanted this night to be truly magical. He knew they would have to stop seeing each other after next week, he just needed this one night.
The crowd began cheering and clapping wildly as their favorite champions rode out into the arena. Harry rode around and gave a few waves and generous smiles, his eyes finding Ginny's almost immediately. He threw her a subtle wink, making her blush and his smile even brighter. She watched as Harry, her Harry, rode over to where Hermione and the rest of the royal family was seated. Hermione walked down to the front and tied the bright red and gold scarf Ginny had made for him around his jousting lance, as was custom when a gentlemen was after a lady's attention.
"If she wasn't so bloody nice I really would hate her." Ginny said to Draco.
"If he wasn't so bloody nice I would hate him, too." Draco agreed.
They watched helplessly as the two people they so desperately loved were forced to act as if they didn't exist and only had eyes for each other.
"His favorite colors." Ginny said breathlessly. "My initials are in the embroidered one corner."
"He'll keep it forever, you know that."
After the tournament was over and everyone was free to mingle and enjoy themselves, Ginny stayed with Draco until either Harry or Hermione showed themselves. They had made their way to the decorated courtyard, where more food than the entire town could eat twice over was prepared. Draco was eyeing the spun sugar when he heard a soft familiar voice beside him.
"Is that for me?"
Draco looked to Hermione, trying to hide his smile. "Absolutely not."
Ginny burst out in laughter, making Harry grin and Hermione pout.
"Here." Ginny said as she handed her a bag, then took one for herself.
"Why thank you, Ginny." Hermione took the bag, intent on ignoring Draco for a few seconds more while she ate.
"You did very well today, Harry." Ginny said kindly.
"Thank you. I do enjoy it very much."
"As you should. You're good at it." Draco said seriously.
"I said the same thing not too long ago." Hermione said to them both. "You're a natural, Harry."
"Perhaps. Has anyone eaten yet? I've been paraded around long enough, and I'm ready to let go a bit."
"Here, here." Hermione said with giddiness.
"Well then, let me get the lady a drink." With a bow, Draco wandered off in search of drinks for everyone.
The foursome found a tall round table and shared a meal as if they did this all the time. The laughter was infectious, and soon there wasn't a face that stopped to speak with them that didn't walk away with a bright smile. Hermione of course attracted a lot of attention, as did Harry. To their credit, they kept the distractions to a minimum and were very kind to passersby that they were indeed enjoying the festivities with their beloved friends.
As the night went on tables had been cleared away and several musicians had begun to play.
"Oh! Let's dance!" Hermione squealed.
"Isn't it customary for-" Draco began, but was quickly cut off.
"Not tonight. Mr. Draco Malfoy, would you honor me with a dance?"
Draco was speechless. He looked at Ginny for guidance, but Harry had already taken her hand and kissed her knuckles as he bowed to her, asking for a dance of his own.
"It would be my genuine pleasure." Draco said quietly as he looked into Hermione's eyes.
Linking her arm through his, he guided her to the middle of the courtyard, with Harry and Ginny following right behind them. The music began slow and formal. Bowing to each other they began the dance, with everyone stopping to watch them. Draco stepped and turned to the tune perfectly, making their movements look effortless. They held hands and twirled right on cue, spinning around each other, bringing each other close then pulling away.
Draco cherished every moment. Every time his hand held hers, the way that he knew her smile was just for him. For tonight, he could forget that she was a princess and he was nothing, that she was meant to marry another man even though he knew it in his very soul that she was meant for him. For tonight, she belonged to him.
Hermione swayed to the beat of the music as it picked up for a faster medley, immensely enjoying herself. Other paired dancers soon joined them, and the attention was off of her quickly. This night was everything that she had wanted. The atmosphere was refreshingly laid back as the night went on, and less and less people were looking at her, or talking to her. This night was for her and for him, and she was stealing every minute she could.
"Pardon me, might I cut in?"
A deep voice had Draco turning around instantly.
"Prince McLaggen!" Hermione gasped in surprise.
The tall man flashed her a brilliant smile. His perfect features and sandy blonde hair would have any other girl swooning over him, but not Hermione.
"I- I was not expecting you for several more days."
"Well, your father had informed me of the festivities, and suggested I arrive early to enjoy the night with my fiancé."
Hermione was crushed. Before she could decline and say that she would much rather finish her dance, Draco bowed to them both.
"Thank you for the dance, princess." His eyes held all the pain that he felt. With a muttered your highness in the prince's direction, Draco walked away.
"Dancing with the peasants." He mocked. "How very noble of you."
Hermione turned and flashed him a cold glare. Draco is not a peasant. He is a brilliant man who happens to be the ward of one of her father's closet friends! She would never understand why Draco was treated the way he was. He was still Sirius's blood. The circumstances of his arrival and unyielding loyalty to their kingdom should have him receiving praise instead of the scorn he receives so often from her father. She wanted to run after him, to make him understand that she never wanted any of this, that her heart only wants him. Her eyes caught Harry's as she was backing away, and he shook his head. He knew exactly what she was thinking. Not now, he mouthed.
Hermione dipped into a curtsy to cover herself. "I would love to dance. Thank you for gracing me." The words felt vile on her tongue, the prince seemingly oblivious to her distress.
Hermione left his company the moment she could, searching for Draco. She didn't care who saw her or what they thought she was doing. This night was supposed to be for them. Not finding him anywhere, she asked Ginny and Pansy if they'd seen him, but neither one had spotted where he'd run off to. Thinking that he had just left the party, she ran further down into the town square, heading for the library. She tried the front door but it was locked, so she ran around to the back entrance, hoping he hadn't locked that one. No such luck.
"Draco!" she screamed as she pounded her fist on the door. "Draco, please! Please let me explain! Draco!"
Draco stood in the darkness of his private rooms on the third floor, watching Hermione. He heard her pleas, part of him wondering why he didn't want to let her in. His heart longed to hold her in his arms, desperately needing her touch, but he couldn't give in. Despite what Harry seemed to think Draco never believed that Hermione would chose him. He knew his blood would always haunt him. He knew falling in love with the princess of this kingdom that he would forever pledge his loyalty to wasn't the most brilliant of ideas, but the heart wants what it wants. At least that's always what Lily had told him. However, Prince McLaggen was here and it was official now, either the king had signed the contract without telling Hermione, or she just never bothered to tell him. Either way, his broken heart couldn't do this anymore.
Hermione waited outside the library, waiting for it to open. After Draco refused to speak with her last night she went back to the castle, skipping the rest of the festival. It was a restless night, and she woke with a terrible headache, but she had to see him. She had to tell him.
Hearing the lock click Hermione appeared in the doorway, giving Remus quite the scare.
"Goodness, Hermione!" He exclaimed as he clutched his chest. "What are you doing here this early? Is everything alright?"
"Remus, I'm terribly sorry, I need to speak with him. Is he here?"
Remus's eyes became sad. "He's in the back."
"Thank you." She breathed as she flew past him.
She found Draco in the small storage room where he always was, where they always shared their time together. "Draco."
His head shot up, as if he wasn't expecting to see her so soon. "Hermione."
"I'm sorry, I-" she swallowed harshly, trying to suppress her emotions. "I would like to speak with you."
Draco barely nodded, so she went on.
"I never wanted this. I fought so hard. I never wanted any of this."
"Any of what?" He asked.
"An arranged marriage. I wanted to marry for love. I want to marry someone who respects me, who listens to my ideas, who will laugh with me and... I just never wanted this. I'm so sorry, Draco! Harry told me I would hurt you, but I couldn't stay away! I had to have more with you!"
"Don't do this." He pleaded. It only made it hurt more. "We can't-"
Hermione waited for him to go on, but he never finished his sentence. That was when she noticed his traveling cloak and satchel by the door. "You're... You're leaving."
Draco nodded as he averted his eyes. "I can't watch you marry him. I have to leave."
Hermione could feel her chest getting tight, and her throat constricting. "For how long?"
"I don't know."
"Take me with you." She blurted out in a panic.
Draco's head snapped up to look at her. "What?"
"Take me with you, Draco. We can live this life together and go wherever we want-"
"Hermione, you do not know what you speak of! You have a home, and a kingdom. You can't leave that behind. If you could you wouldn't be following your father's wishes. You can't throw it all away just for me."
Tears filled her eyes. "But I want to. I love you. I have loved you for... for so long, Draco."
"Please, take me with you."
He closed the distance between them and cupped her cheeks with his hands. "I can't, my love. It was never meant to be, I come from a different world. I love you, I always have, but you can't give it all up for me. I'm not worth it."
His lips moved slowly towards hers, and when they touched Draco's very soul came alive. He knew he shouldn't be doing this, she was promised to another, someone better, but in this moment he just couldn't bring himself to give a damn. He took one of her hands and place it over his heart, his voice barely a whisper. "It beats for you."
They stood there in silence, each trying to memorize everything they could about the other.
"I must go." He whispered to her, his lips still grazing hers.
He began to move away, but she couldn't let him go. Not yet. "My heart will always be yours."
Draco's knuckle stroked her cheek. "And mine yours."
"I'm so sorry, Draco."
"I'm sorry, too. This was always out of our control."
When he backed away this time she didn't hold him back. Even though it tore her apart inside, this was best. She couldn't look at him everyday either. Knowing she could never have anymore than mornings sorting books in the stock room, a sweet shared between them, a smile filled with secrets. Taking a moment to gather herself, she stood staring at the door, listening as he rode off. She had no idea when she would see him again... if she would see him again.
"He's gone." She told Remus as she came into the store front. He'd been re-shelving books, trying give them all the time they needed.
Remus nodded. "I am sorry, Hermione."
Hermione could feel her head jerk in a nod. "Me too." Her quiet voice showing her heartache.
"Would you like me to send word to the castle for someone to escort you back?"
"No." She said quickly. "No, I will be fine. I'm... I'm going to... walk."
"As you wish, my lady."
Hermione walked aimlessly through the village, not paying attention to anyone that was also out and about. It was still quite early in the morning, and those who did notice her didn't make conversation, which she was grateful for. Finding that her feet carried her all the way to the other side of town where the The Burrow was located, Hermione went inside. Molly Weasley made the most delicious food, and Hermione was thrilled whenever she could stop in. Molly must have been down in the kitchen preparing breakfast for her guests, since Ginny stood at the front desk.
Ginny looked up at the sound of the door opening, ready to greet the next customer, when she saw Hermione instead. And she knew.
"He's gone." Hermione croaked out.
"Percy, I'll be right back." Ginny called into the small office located behind the reception counter. Without waiting to see if her brother responded, she grabbed Hermione's hand and led her up several flights of stairs, to her private room.
Only then, in the comfort of her friends arms, did Hermione finally break.