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The next Monday morning, Hermione walked to breakfast early, thinking. Yesterday had been 'meet the parents' day. First she, Malfoy, and Professor McGonagall had gone to her parent's house to explain the situation. It had gone better than she thought it would, mainly because, for some reason, Malfoy had decided to be…polite. To Muggles. Hermione couldn't quite understand that.

"Either he's still in shock, or McGonagall threatened to ban him from Quidditch if he wasn't," Hermione muttered to herself.

"What was that?"

Hermione blinked in surprised and turned around to find Parvati walking a few steps behind her. "Nothing," Hermione said, and continued walking.

After that, she had gone to meet his mother. The snooty, blond woman covered her surprise well. If Hermione hadn't known better, she would have thought that someone Narcissa Malfoy thought of as a 'Mudblood' turned out not only to be a Pureblood richer than she, but also engaged to her son, every day. The woman had smiled, served tea, and made small talk. Hermione had made her mind up right then and there to spend as little time as possible in Narcissa Malfoy's company; she preferred snakes to act like snakes.

They hadn't seen his father for obvious reasons. If the man ever did come within Hermione's range of sight, the very least she would be trying for would be to cause him serious injury. Come to think of it, though, Draco might even help her with that. He didn't seem any happier about this arrangement than she was.

"Did you and Ron have a fight or something?" Parvati asked.

"Why do you ask that?" Hermione sighed. This whole bloody thing was going to come out sooner or later, and she wasn't looking forward to when it did.

"Oh, because Ginny keeps looking at you like you're going to explode, Harry looks like he's going to hex someone, Ron's depressed, and you look like your mother cursed you with her dying breath," Parvati answered with manufactured mildness.

"Let's just say that I now have the bragging rights on the worst day ever," Hermione said, sitting down at the Gryffindor table and helping herself to some breakfast.

"Ron really cares about you, you know," Parvati said gently, taking a seat across from her.

"I know," Hermione sighed as an owl delivered her copy of the Daily Prophet. She placed a few knuts into the bag on its leg, and the owl flew off leaving her to her breakfast and paper. There were a few more students coming in, now, but she was the first one to be delivered a paper.

Hermione unrolled the paper. "Oh, bloody hell," she said as soon as she saw what was on the front page. Someone had been very cute.

"What is it?" Parvati asked.

Hermione held the paper so no one else could see it, and read as quickly as she could. As she finished reading the article, she started hearing starts and exclamations from the few other students that also took the paper, and the startled sounds spread.

She couldn't stand to be in the Great Hall another minute. Hermione stuck a few bananas in her bag to eat--she was hungry--and got up, almost bumping into Harry.

"Where are you going Hermione?" Harry asked.

"To either find someplace to scream or else to strangle my majordomo, whichever I can manage to do before class the easiest," she said a good deal more calmly than she felt. "Read the morning paper," she said, giving him her paper--the one with her picture on the front page and a headline that read "Missing Heiress Found: Marriage Contracts Apparently Good for Something (locating heiresses namely)."

"I don't want to talk about it," Hermione announced to the Gryffindor table that had grown deadly quite when they noticed her approaching at dinner. She sat down beside Ginny, and started eating mechanically. Gradually, conversation restarted with everyone giving her as much privacy as possible. She was grateful for that.

It hadn't taken long for what was printed in the paper to spread throughout the school. That she was an heiress and a lady, that she was engaged to Malfoy because of an arranged marriage. Of course, every house took it a little differently, and a little listening from the bathroom stalls gave Hermione a good idea of what everyone was saying.

The Ravenclaws didn't think it was too bad. After all, she was inheriting a vast fortune, and just imagine all the things she could do with that. She could afford the most rare books, the most extraordinary magical items. Her title would allow her to champion any cause she thought worthy; though they did admit that having a father-in-law that was a Death Eater would be disconcerting.

The Hufflepuffs were a little more sympathetic. As far as they were concerned, no amount of money or prestige could mitigate being married to someone one hated; and Hermione and Draco most definitely did hate each other.

The Slytherins, in general, thought that it was a mutually beneficial deal all around. Malfoy gained by marrying into a family of high status with an unsullied reputation, which could soften the blow his own family reputation had undergone with the revelation that his father was a Death Eater and some status of his own could be regained. Hermione gained obviously from her inheritance and the revelation of her real status in the wizarding world, and her marriage provided her with a means to perpetuate her bloodline--which was her right and duty as the last of her line. For such obvious gains, the two of them could learn to live peaceably together, never mind that their pre-engagement hobbies had included finding ways to make the other miserable. The only thing they really seemed regretful about was that they had lost their chance to make a 'good impression' on a potentially influential person.

Hermione's own house members, the Gryffindors, weren't happy at all. Once it became clear that Hermione didn't have a choice in the matter, confusion turned into sadness and anger. Some of them, the other girls especially, looked like they would offer their shoulder for her to cry on. The rest, well, Hermione suspected that Draco would not leave his common room unaccompanied anytime soon if he was planning on keeping all of his limbs intact.

There were, of course, exceptions to the rule. Pansy Parkinson had been blubbering off and on all day--even in class! It was starting to get on Hermione's nerves, not that she had a lot of nerves left for anyone to get on. But she knew that she had to keep going, there was nothing else she could do.

After she finished eating, Hermione got up and went to the currently abandoned Divination classroom, where she had been instructed to meet Schmidt. They still had to set up a 'courtship schedule.' She sighed, knowing that Malfoy would be there too.

But when she got there, the room was dark. Hermione left the door open so she could walk to the candles on the other side of the room to light them, but the door slammed shut behind her. She reached for her wand, but it slipped out of her fingers and landed on the floor. 'Rats, this is all I need,' Hermione thought, getting down on her hands and knees to feel around on the floor for her wand.

She continued to feel around, but her hands rested on something round and smooth, and it began to glow. Hermione had just realized that she held a crystal ball when it started to glow. She stared at it for a long minute before she heard a voice whisper, 'beware of he who comes after you to this place,' and then the crystal ball went dark again. Hermione still gazed at the ball, not knowing what to make of it. This was the first time she had ever seen or heard something in a crystal ball, but she didn’t need any particular warning to beware of Malfoy. That went without saying.

"Hello, anyone here yet?" she heard from the doorway, and the tip of a wand lit up to reveal Mr. Schmidt.

"Yeah," Hermione answered, "but I dropped my wand."

Schmidt obligingly brightened the light on the end of his, and went to light the candles while Hermione found her wand, which had been lying three feet behind her. After she picked it up, she turned around to address Schmidt.

"Why did you give that interview to the Daily Prophet?" she asked. There had been a few quotes from him in there, so who else could have given it?

"To get things out in the open as soon as possible," Schmidt answered.

"Why? I didn't want everything to be out in the open yet! I know that I said that it could be in the Daily Prophet, but I wanted a little time for the shock to wear off first!"

"Simply put, a fast cut heals more quickly than a slow one does," he explained. "You could drag things out, but that wouldn't help you. You aren't good enough of an actress to hide that something was going on, and your friends would only grow more and more confused, and angrier at you. By the time you finally would have told them, most of them would have made up their own reasons why you were being distant and moody. Not only could their suppositions of what they though was happening could have hurt you, but when the truth came out they would be angry at you for hiding it from them, and a good many of them could have abandoned you. This way, getting it all in the open at once--and I did make sure that you had already told your close friends, they appeared as miserable as you--no one has any time to make up any of their own suppositions. You will also notice, assuming that you read the article completely, that I made sure that it was noted that it was an arranged marriage. No fault of your own in other words for the sake of your relationships with people who do not appreciate Mr. Malfoy."

"In other words, everyone I know and like," Hermione muttered before speaking louder. "But that was still my decision Schmidt, not yours."

"But it was for the best…."

Hermione interrupted, "I don't care. If you have advice, I will listen, but I am not a child any longer and I will not be treated like one. I won't have you making my decisions behind my back."

Schmidt was saved having to respond by Malfoy stumbling through the door. He blinked once or twice, his eyes adjusting to the dim lighting, before coming over and handing her a small box.

"Here," Malfoy said, "I believe that you're required to wear this."

Hermione opened the box, wiping a little more dust off of the lid, and took out the ring that it housed. The gold ring held a rather large diamond, surrounded by smaller emeralds. The pattern was elegant enough not to be considered truly bulky; if the ring had come from any hands other than Malfoy's, she would have thought it beautiful. Then she noticed that there were snakes in the design on the band leading up to the arrangement of jewels, but what surprised her was that there were two snakes twined around a pole like the symbol Muggle medical personal used. It confused her a little. "Who picked this out?" she wondered out loud.

"Your father actually," Schmidt said.

Hermione frowned at nothing in particular, and placed the ring on her finger. The ring must have had magical qualities, because it shrunk to accommodate the size of her finger. "Fine," she said, "then let's get on with it."

After about ten minutes worth of arguing with each other, Hermione and Malfoy revised and finally agreed upon the schedule Schmidt had drawn up for the courtship. They would meet once a week and go on a walk with Schmidt trailing behind them to 'chaperone.'

'Like we need a chaperone,' Hermione thought to herself. 'We won't need one for the usual purposes, and that contract will keep Malfoy and I from killing each other, so Schmidt's only real use will be to make sure that the date actually happens!'

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