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Even when your father and I began courting, we still weren't getting along. We were, however, more honest with each other than I suspected we would be. Brutally honest in fact…

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"I hate you Malfoy," Draco heard Hermione say as they walked along the path that lead towards Hogsmeade.

"I've noticed," he replied, dryly. "And it's 'Draco,' Hermione. We're suppose to be practicing calling each other by our first names, remember?"

At least that was what Schmidt had asked them to do today. According to the balding man that was walking far enough away that he could clearly see them, though not hear them unless they raised their voices, a couple that had been engaged for well over a month should be on a first-name basis with each other.

"Fine," Hermione said, "I hate you Draco."

"In case you haven't noticed," he said, drawing his cloak tighter around him in effort to shut out the chilly air, "I'm not enjoying this any more than you are." And that was the untarnished truth. There were some parts of the engagement that he especially hated, like the fact that he couldn't even look at another girl, or at least in that way, without getting a blinding headache. It hadn't been something that was easy to get use to. At least the headache would fade as soon as he looked away. Still, training himself to look girls in the eyes instead of paying more attention to their curves wasn't easy to do.

'At least Hermione isn't hard to look at,' Draco thought to himself. If his fiancée was the only girl he could look at, well, he made sure to get an eyeful at every available opportunity. Right now she was dressed in jeans and a sweater with her Hogwarts cloak over it, but he had a good imagination and was quite willing to use it to try to figure out what her modest attire hid.

"You could have fooled me," Hermione said, glaring at him. She had noticed what he had been doing.

"There's nothing in the contract that says that I can't look," Draco said defensively. He just couldn't touch unless she was willing.

"Well, enjoy your eyeful," she bit, "because that's all you're going to get."

He didn't really expect to get more than that, most of the time anyway. "We'll have a hard time fulfilling section twelve with just an eyeful," he said wryly. A little more than that was necessary to provide the mandatory heirs.

Hermione turned a little pale. "I have three years, and section thirty-six," she answered.

Of course, thirty-six, the section that gave the conditions under which she could divorce him. Well, he simply couldn't let himself get caught in that case. His course was already set there, and he suspected that she knew that as well as he did.

"Fine, so you hate me," he said. "Why?"

She looked at him like he had just asked her why water was wet. "You want the complete list? I'm afraid Hogwarts would run out of parchment if I tried to write that out."

"Just the top few items on your list will do for now," he answered, not knowing why he had asked in the first place.

"Fine," Hermione said. "You think that you're better than everyone else, but the standards you use to come up with that conclusion--which I disagree with by the way--you don't apply universally."

"What?"

"Think about it. You think that you are better than other people because you are richer and have a 'better' bloodline than they do. Not only are your standards illogical--where someone is born is no fault or virtue of their own!--you don't apply them when you would come out on the bad end of the deal. My family is older than yours, and thus 'better,' and I am richer than you. According to your logic, that would make me 'better' than you, but you don't treat me that way. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that you are insecure and use your bloodline and fortune to put on a front that you use to bolster your self-esteem."

"That's rich. You do exactly the same thing," he replied.

"I do not!"

"Oh yes, you do. Except with you, it's book-smarts instead of money or bloodline. You have to be the best in your classes…all of them. And you are…"

"That's different," Hermione interrupted. "I got to be the best by merit! And I don't shove the fact that I'm smart into everyone's faces!"

"No, it's not that different at all," Draco continued, "and I imagine that you'd be devastated if someone smarter than you got transferred here from another school. Being smart is just something you use to bolster your self-esteem. And by the way, you do shove it in everyone's faces. If I had a knut for every time I've seen you practically dancing with eagerness with your hand in the air when you knew an answer no one else did, I'd be richer than you if I had started out as a pauper."

Hermione bristled like a cat that had been rubbed the wrong way. "That doesn’t change the fact that you fear loosing your status more than anything else."

"That doesn't change the fact that you fear failure more than anything else," he bit back.

They went the rest of the way in silence. They weren't married yet, so there was no reason to continue to bicker like they were, for now anyway.
……………………….

For Hermione, the year was going by entirely too fast. Before she knew it, there was sufficient snowfall for Schmidt to agree that staying indoors was acceptable. So they found themselves playing chess in the common room of the guest quarters, where Schmidt was presently staying, every week instead of going on walks. One evening in February, they lost track of the time.

"It's your move," Draco said.

Hermione nodded, considering the chessboard. The two of them were the only ones in the room--well, the only ones still awake. Schmidt snored softly from a large chair near the crackling fire. Finally, she moved a piece.

"Your turn," Hermione said.

While still staring at the chessboard he said, "You know, my mother is starting to make wedding arrangements. If there's anything special that you want, you might want to talk to her about it soon."

Hermione sighed. "All right. If I don't, she'll probably have several hundred people there, and no one that I know."

"You want a smaller wedding?" he asked.

"Yes. Why, any objections?" The way Hermione saw things there was no reason to make this whole deal any bigger of a farce than it already was.

"Oh, no objections," Draco said grinning for a second before returning to frowning at the chessboard.

"What's so funny?" she asked before she could stop herself. Had she just possibly ascribed the human aspect of humor to this creature?

"Oh," he said, "I was just thinking that we'd better have few enough guests that everyone can watch each other without too much trouble. Otherwise everyone will be absolutely certain that someone could have had the opportunity to poison the punch."

In spite of herself, Hermione giggled. The mental image of Moody sniffing suspiciously at the punch was just to real not to. Draco glanced up at her curiously before making his move, and Hermione saw only one move she could counter with.

"It's a stalemate," she said after she moved her piece, and then leaned back in her chair to stretch a little.

Draco nodded, also leaning back into his chair. "Yeah. Say, we've never finished a game before. I wonder what time…."

Hermione's eyes wandered up to the clock above the mantelpiece. It was almost midnight. "Oh dear," she said. It was past time for even Prefects to be out in the hallways. And she and Draco couldn't exactly stay in the guest quarters either.

"Well," Draco said, getting up, "I guess that I'd better walk you to your dorm then."

"How…" Hermione trailed off as she saw what Draco was pulling out of his book bag. Apparently Harry wasn't the only student with an invisibility cloak.

"Got it for my last birthday," he said. "You coming?"

"Ummm…" Hermione said, thinking.

"Well, look at it this way," Draco said. "While my reputation might benefit from you staying out of your dorm all night, yours wouldn't."

And he was right. Hermione didn't want to be starting any more rumors than might already be floating around. "Not to mention the fact that you would like your hide to remain in one piece, and it isn't a good idea to push Harry and Ron any further than absolutely necessary," she said, walking over so he could drape the cloak around her.

"That too."

After they left the guest common room and had been walking a while Hermione whispered, "Why did you have this thing on hand tonight?"

"I was going to sneak into the restricted section," he whispered back. She stiffened a little. "Like you've never done that," he whispered again.

As a matter of fact, she had, and recently. Which was why she had stiffened. She had discovered that on the band of her ring, the back part that normally hid in the fold between her palm and finger, was a gray dot that turned green once a month. A little research told her that the ring was one that was designed to reveal when she was fertile--when the dot turned green--and then could monitor any resulting pregnancy. The dot would turn blue if it was a boy, pink for a girl, red if medical attention was needed, and black if the baby died. . If the ring were a family heirloom of an ancient house, which it probably was, it would also serve some importance in the wedding ceremony. It hit too close to a subject Hermione didn't want to think about.

After they got near to her dorm she thanked Draco, got out from under the cloak, and walked over to the picture of the fat lady. Wondering if Draco had stayed to listen, Hermione gave the password. "Malfoy is a git," she said, and the fat lady sleepily waved at her before letting her in. It had been Ron's turn to choose the password that week. Apparently Ron had been tired when he thought it up; he usually used more…creative…language to describe Malfoy.

As she walked toward the stairs up to her room, she heard a voice. "You were sure gone a while."

Hermione turned around to see Ron sitting in a chair near the fire, watching her with a betrayed look in his eyes. "I just got caught up in a good chess game," she answered.

"Uh huh."

"Really, I did," Hermione said, taking the chair across from Ron. "As if that's never happened to you."

"You're not falling for him," Ron said. Hermione wasn't quite sure if that was a statement, or a question.

"No, I'm not falling for him; him or anyone else," she said.

"Um, Hermione," Ron started, looking distinctively uncomfortable, "we don't really need to talk about this now…"

"Yes, Ron, we do," Hermione sighed, "and now is as good as a time as any. I can't love him for the obvious reason that falling in love with a Death Eater is not a good idea, and I can't fall in love with anyone else either."

"I wasn't aware," Ron deadpanned, "that a contract could control your emotions as well as your actions."

"It can't control my emotions, but that doesn't mean that it would be fair to the other person or myself. There's no sense making oneself more miserable than absolutely necessary over something one can't have," she said, her gaze never leaving Ron's eyes.

"But he'll get caught by the Aurors, and you can divorce him then! We…you can do whatever you want then. You can't give up," Ron said fervently.

"And how long would that take? The last war lasted ten years," she said bitterly, "and even then, some of the Death Eaters got off free. This isn't some bedtime story, and even in stories not all of the endings are good or happy."

After a few seconds of silence, Ron spoke up again. "I'd wait for you."

"I know you would," Hermione started, "but please don't. I can't offer you anything guaranteed, not to mention that one or both of us could be dead before this war is over."

Ron looked at her in amazement. "How can you be so cold?" he asked.

"I just can't get much use out of a heart that's broken. You try it," she snapped before she could stop herself.

Ron looked like she had slapped him. "I have," he growled, "and you are right, it doesn't work very well." After a few moments of awkward silence, with obvious strain in his voice, he asked, "Hermione, there's just one thing that I have to know; do you feel anything more than friendship for me? Anything at all?"

It took her a few seconds before she could get her voice to work again. "No Ron. You are one of the dearest friends that I have ever had, or probably ever will have. I can't begin to describe what you mean to me, but as a friend. I suppose that our relationship could have…changed…into something deeper given some time and attention, but it never fully had the opportunity. I don't think that it ever will now." And that was the pure truth.

Hermione left the common room and Ron, who had his face in his hands, and went up to her dorm to get ready for bed. She managed to keep the tears back until she got into her bed, and then fell asleep crying.

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