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'Just breath in, and breath out. Put one foot in front of the other,' Hermione thought as the doors opened for her. Just the same, the blood drained from her face as she started walking toward where Draco waited for her at the alter. She walked alone, instead of with her father, who was sitting in the front pew with her mother. Hermione had agreed to 'a marriage ceremony appropriate for the only surviving heirs of two ancient houses' to keep Narcissa from going insane because of the small size of the wedding, and that meant that she would have to walk this stretch of isle alone. Of course, Narcissa hadn't read the contract, so she didn't know that this particular ceremony was what was required anyway. However, Hermione wasn't going to tell her that, and apparently Draco had not told his mother either.

She was halfway there now. Up at the front stood Draco Malfoy--dressed in forest green robes worked in silver thread--waiting for her, and the ministry official that would conduct the ceremony. Hermione let her gaze waver over to the people sitting on her side, and it snapped back to looking ahead of her when she noticed Ron and Harry looking back at her. She was afraid that if she looked into Ron's eyes right now, she might try to turn around and run. Of course, she knew that she couldn't, so it wouldn't work. If nothing else, she would keep a little dignity.

After what seemed like forever, or else half of a second, Hermione got to where she was suppose to be. She handed her bouquet of white roses--Hermione had thought that white was appropriate because it was the color of mourning in some countries--to Ginny, who was dressed in a muted blue dress. Then the official began to speak.

"We are gathered here today before these witnesses to join Mr. Draco Malfoy and Lady Annora Alys in matrimony, in accordance with wizarding law. This joining of the two ancient houses of Malfoy and Alys has been prearranged by contract. Will the witnesses of the reading of said contract, in the absence of Lord Alys and Lucius Malfoy…"--Hermione could swear that the official mumbled 'at least I hope he's absent,'--"…please stand to give testimony that this arrangement was made with all legality and is binding."

Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape stood up for a second, and then seated themselves. The official continued. "While the contract binds you to what it binds you, only your integrity will hold you to your vows. Do you, Draco Malfoy, take Annora Alys as your lawfully wedded wife from this day forward? Will you tend her as you tend your own flesh in all circumstances be they good or bad, protect her from harm as if defending your own life, provide her future children with a stable home, and embrace with your heart, mind, and body only her so long as both of you live?"

"I so swear," Draco answered. His voice and manner were steady, but it was the steadiness of a man that was only collected because what he was mentally comparing this experience too had been much worse.

"Do you, Annora Alys, take Draco Malfoy as your lawfully wedded husband from this day forward? Will you tend him as you tend your own flesh in all circumstances be they good or bad, protect him from harm as if defending your own life, provide his future children with a stable home, and embrace with your heart, mind, and body only him so long as both of you live?"

"I so swear," Hermione managed to answer.

The official nodded. "In our world, the giving of rings has long been a tradition. In arranged marriages, such as this one, they serve an additional purpose. Will the bride and groom now join hands with the thumb of your right hand resting on the ring of the other person?" After she and Draco did as they were told, the official said, "In arranged marriages, there was once a problem with the assassination of one of the spouses, so this custom was installed to rectify this situation. Should your integrity not hold you, should the contract be destroyed so it will not hold you, blood may yet hold you." As the official spoke, Hermione felt something prick here thumb, and a drop of her blood made contact with Draco's ring. Instead of smearing it, however, the blood drew into a thin red stripe around his wedding band. Hermione looked at her ring, and could tell that the diamond and the surrounding emeralds had now turned red, as if they were rubies. Rubies the color of fresh blood.

"As blood is life," the official said, "so are you now bound. Neither of you may take the life of the other, or be involved knowingly in that taking in any way. In this manner is the Old Magic invoked, and the bond made. Should either of you, in violation of the Old Magic, knowingly contribute the death of the other, the blood will stand witness against the transgressor. That person shall have their magical powers transferred to the nearest innocent individual, and then death will take the transgressor."

Hermione blinked in confusion; this sounded eerily like what had happened when Voldemort had tried to kill Harry the first time. But there was not time to contemplate that thought right now.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. May you not regret this day, instead finding happiness in each other. May you bear heirs; children that will give you joy. May you find love to bless this union, and solace in each other during the storms of this world," the official finished.

Hermione and Draco inclined their heads toward the official, who bowed at the waist to them. Then Hermione took Draco's arm, and the newly wedded couple walked down the isle together. Belatedly, Hermione noticed that she had married a Death Eater, and she hadn't trembled at all.
…………..

"I'm almost surprised that there hasn't been any duels yet," Draco said, as he danced with Hermione at the reception that followed the ceremony.

"That's because my side is just waiting for the potion that was in the punch to kick in," Hermione answered.

Draco couldn't stop a small smile from forming. "So I should assume that your side has already taken the antidote?"

"Naturally."

After a while, when things were winding down, Draco noticed Hermione's parents beckoning to them from the hallway. "I think your parents want to talk to us," he said.

Hermione followed his gaze, and nodded looking somewhat nervous. "Look Draco, I haven't told them much, but I'm pretending not to be miserable. Please don't do anything to ruin that image," she asked imploringly.

Draco blinked in surprise; this was the first time she had asked him for something. Keeping her parents in the dark about the state of things was clearly important to her. It was an area of vulnerability for her. "Alright," he answered. Her eyes were so big, so brown.

They walked over to where her parents were, and then a little farther into the hall so they would have comparative privacy.

"Well," Mrs. Granger said, "that was an…odd wedding dear, but it was still lovely."

"Thanks Mom," Hermione said, giving her foster-mother a hug.

"And by the way," Mr. Granger said, "who was that old fellow that was down here before the reception examining the refreshments? He said that you said he could do it, Hermione."

"Oh, that's just Moody," Hermione answered with a smile, "and he just tends to be a little paranoid. And I did tell him he could test the refreshments if it would make him any happier."

"Yes, well," Mr. Granger said, his face loosing its light expression. "On to business then. We know that this isn't something either of you would have chosen, and there appears to be…tension between the two groups here today, but…. Hermione, your mother and I just want you to be as happy as you possibly can. No matter what, you are still our daughter, and we love you very much. It doesn't matter what happens, it doesn't matter what you do, you will still have our love, and I just want you to know that. You've turned into a beautiful young woman, both in form and in spirit, and we are proud to be a part of your life."

For the first time that day, Draco saw tears in Hermione's eyes as she hugged her parents. After a few moments, Mr. Granger continued. "Draco, just one thing; I want you to take good care of my little girl."

Draco nodded as he shook Mr. Granger's hand. "Yes sir, I will."
……………………

'Well, it's over now,' Hermione thought as she got into the shower and turned the hot water on. And it was over; the marriage had been consummated, just as the contract demanded. After leaving the wedding, they had gone to their house and did what they had to do. She had told Draco just to get it over with, but he had been, well, gentle with her. And he had told her that she was beautiful, he had even sounded like he had meant exactly that.

She hadn't expected that. Hermione didn't know what she had been expecting really, but it hadn't been that. She hadn't felt any sort of burn or anything on his arms, but she knew that the Dark Mark was there somewhere. He was a Death Eater. Why would a Death Eater be gentle with anyone, even if she were his wife? And there was also the fact that he had been polite to her parents at the wedding.

Well, Hermione knew that she and her husband were now connected in some way that she couldn't explain, whether they wanted to be or not.

Sighing, Hermione turned off the water and started drying off. Standing in the shower wouldn't bring her any closer to the answer to her questions, and there were some things water could not wash away.

After getting into a nightgown and robe, she walked over to the medicine cabinet. She had stocked it earlier that week, she knew it was here somewhere…. Finally, she saw the correct label, and removed a bottle of sleeping potion. She knew that she would never go to sleep tonight on her own.

After taking the recommended dose, she walked out of the bathroom. Draco sat in bed, dressed in pajamas, with a book in his hands. Suddenly she felt very tired, and started leaning against the wall.

"Hermione, are you all right?" Draco asked.

"I just took a sleeping potion…" was all she was able to say before she fell into a deep, restful sleep.
…………

Draco managed to freeze Hermione in midair before she hit the floor. Making a mental note to remind her to get a slower acting sleeping potion in the morning, he floated her into the bed, unfroze her, removed her robe, and then covered his wife up with blankets. Then he got into bed, but instead of turning out the lights right away he just sat there, watching Hermione sleep. He hadn't been lying earlier when he had told her that she was beautiful. She was the most exquisite creature he had every laid eyes on.

He had been ordered to be kind to his wife, and to watch in case she let anything slip, but he wanted to treat Hermione well anyway and not just because she might let her guard down if he was kind to her. Truth be told, Draco felt guilty, even though he told himself continually that this situation wasn't his fault. She hadn't wanted this, any of it. Even her vast fortune and the new prestige and title she had gained did not seem adequate compensation, in her eyes, for being married to him.

That did bother Draco. She had what he had always considered most important in life, and would give it up in a millisecond if that would mean that she could make her own choice as far as her marriage was concerned. Hermione considered what she wanted in a marriage to be more valuable than money or prestige. Meaning that there was something that she wanted that couldn't be purchased with either of those things. It wasn't a concept that he was use to, but it did prove that there were some desirable things that couldn't be bought. 'Though, come to think of it, there's truth in that. There are some things that you just can't buy,' he thought to himself, 'and Hermione already has one of them that I never could get.'

Simply put, assuming that what Hermione's foster-father had said was true, she was loved unconditionally. Draco knew that he had never had that with his own father; his father's love or approval had always been conditional. Draco had always been expected to behave in a certain way, and had known that there were some actions--like if he had married a mudblood or refused to join the Death Eaters--that would result in his father disowning and disinheriting him faster than you could say 'Merlin's beard.' So, he had always behaved in an acceptable manner, and had always been a dutiful son.

Maybe he just wanted too much. People approved or disapproved of you based on your station and actions. It was too much to hope that someone would ever give him more than he had earned. That wasn't how things worked; yet, it was the way things worked between Hermione and her foster-parents.

Sighing, he continued to watch Hermione as she slept. Well, whatever the situation between Hermione and her foster-father, Draco knew that he had not been lying when he had promised to take care of her. He would. He couldn't really explain it, but he knew that he and his wife were connected in some way. Hermione was…special, and not just because she was wealthy or had prestige. She deserved to live, and Draco would do everything he could to ensure that. Of course, that would involve getting her through whatever the Dark Lord wanted with her alive. And after that, she would have to live peacefully under the new order that would be put into place once England, and then the world, was conquered. Also, assuming that contract couldn't be overridden, she would have to remain his wife, but even throwing that in Draco thought that it was better than death.

He waved his wand and turned out the lights. Maybe someday Hermione wouldn't hate him. Draco kept hold of that thought as he went to sleep.

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