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"I'm engaged to MALFOY!?!" Hermione shrieked, knocking over the chair she occupied across from Dumbledore's desk as she stood up in alarm.

Somewhat numb, she only barely heard Schmidt mutter, "I see you weren't exaggerating Professor."

Dumbledore shook his head. "If anything, it was an understatement."

"But…but…I don't love him. I don't even like him. We aren't even capable of exchanging more than two words without some sort of insult at least implied!" Hermione protested to the executor of her father's estate.

"That doesn't change the fact that this arrangement is still legal and binding," Schmidt explained. "Not to mention the fact that love, as most people your age understand it, is something that is vastly overrated. Love is a conscious choice that two people make, agreeing to cohabitate and take care of each other regardless of what life chooses to throw at them and provide a stable environment in which to raise children, and not an emotion. You and Mr. Malfoy will learn to do this, because your only other option is to cohabitate but be at each other's throats for the rest of your lives. Do you really want a marriage based on emotion alone? Just look at divorce rates in nations where 'feelings' are understood as the basis of 'love' and marriage. It isn't pretty. Emotions burn out eventually, but commitments made by two people who make a conscious decision to have a mutually beneficial relationship and take care of each other endure."

"I don't want to have any kind of a relationship with that spoiled, conceited, self-absorbed ferret! Wait…children! I am not going to have kids with him! Isn't there some way out of this, any way at all?!" Hermione said.

"The only way to avoid the marriage, and the subsequent children," Schmidt explained, "is if one of you break your wand and go to live with the Muggles, or if one of you dies. Anything else simply won't work, the magic surrounding the contract…the document you showed Professor Dumbledore yesterday…is simply too strong; nothing else will void it. You could literally flee to China, lock yourself in a box, drug yourself with a sleeping potion that should make a giant sleep for a week, and you would still find yourself in a white dress standing before the alter on the day appointed for your wedding--which is a week after your graduation by the way."

Hermione felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. She could marry Malfoy, or she could break her wand--she knew that there was no way he would break his. The very thought of Draco Malfoy living life as a Muggle, working as a store clerk somewhere, was preposterous. She could marry a man that would very probably become a Death Eater, or she could give up the wizarding world forever. If the marriage had been the only factor involved, she would have snapped her wand right then, but there was more to this. Voldemort might come after her, either to kill her or use her as bait for Harry, and she would not be able to defend herself at all. Harry might try to save her, and Voldemort could kill him. Even if she married another wizard, like Ron, it would be some protection but she knew that she couldn't live in the wizarding world and not be a part of it. It would be like being a drug addict working in a factory that produced morphine. But if she married Malfoy and had his children…would they turn out like their father? Which scenario would break her heart the most?

Hermione started to cry almost uncontrollably. She only barely heard the Professor ask Schmidt to leave for a few minutes, to go settle in his room, while Dumbledore tried to calm her down a little. The graying, bushy-bearded man nodded and got up from his chair. After Schmidt left, Dumbledore righted her chair--otherwise she would have sat on the floor right where she was--and handed her a handkerchief.

After a few minutes, when she was able to speak again, Hermione asked, "Why did my father do this to me? Didn't he know what he was doing?!"

"You father never explained why he made this arrangement," Dumbledore answered slowly, "but he did say that he made sure that there were…safeguards…in the contract."

"What do they do, keep him from killing me or something?" she asked, bitterly. She had the feeling that Malfoy wouldn't be much happier about this…arrangement…than she was. Hermione wasn't sure if it would be past him or not to try to kill her to avoid the marriage.

"Actually yes, among other things. Some of them were already in effect, some came into effect only yesterday. For example, had either of you tried to kill the other or tried to do something that would caused permanent physical harm, you would not have been able to perform that action. Now, however, you can't jinx each other or otherwise cause less serious physical harm while you could before. It also guards against any…infidelity on either of your parts."

Well, at least Malfoy couldn't abuse her. And this also explained why Ron couldn't kiss her last night, the engagement had already gone into effect and she wasn't allowed to kiss anyone other than her fiancé.

'Oh Merlin, Ron!' she thought numbly. How would he react to this?

Dumbledore interrupted her train of thought. "There's more to this situation than just the marriage, however. Your father was an expert on Old Magic, and was working on a project for the Order when he was killed. Right now all I can tell you is that his research is of the utmost importance, and could mean the difference between victory and defeat in the war against Voldemort. If you choose not to break your wand--you have a place in the contract to sign saying that you understand it and will honor it instead of breaking your wand--I would like you to continue your father's research. I myself am not sure exactly how far he got, but you are probably the only one capable of continuing his work."

"…there are doors only your voice will open, and explanations only your eyes will see," Hermione quoted. Her father could have hidden clues that only she would have access too.

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, but keep in mind that it will be dangerous. I also want you to join the Order upon graduation. Your job will probably be one of the hardest, though. You will be doing your job right under the nose of a man that will almost certainly become a Death Eater."

"I understand," she whispered. And her father's project could be the difference between victory and defeat in the war against Voldemort. She knew what her decision was.

"Another thing is that there is one out where you will be allowed to divorce Malfoy. If he is caught in Death Eater activities and convicted, you may divorce him and get all assets--including complete custody of any children."

So there was a way out. Hermione knew that she would probably be the only wife of a Death Eater who was praying that her husband would be caught and shipped off to Azkaban. With a nod, she sealed her own fate, and the fates of those that would be affected by her actions.

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