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Hermione and Draco left the patio with smiles on their faces. They passed their first test with Ara and things were looking brighter. They both went back to their bedroom and let out strong strings of laughter.

“Where the hell did all of that come from?” Draco asked her as he chuckled.

“I don’t know.” She admitted as she wiped a tear from her eye. “But I’m glad that I was able to do it.”

“Thank Merlin for you being a damn good liar. Don’t take off your shoes.” He added as he saw her slipping off her pumps. “We’re going out.”

“Out..? Out where..? Come on, Malfoy, your Aunt is out of our hair for the rest of the day. I’d much rather lie in bed.”

“As much as I’d rather like to do the same, we have to go to a jewelry store.”

“…A jewelry store?”

“Yes, a jewelry store.” He repeated irately. “I have to buy you a ring.”

Hermione glanced down at her left hand and saw that it was bare. She looked up at Draco who was just about to leave, expecting her to follow him, and she smirked. She thought about what Ginny would tell her right at this moment and produced a true smile: Make him buy you the biggest diamond in the shoppe…

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione had learned by now that Draco hated using the Floo Network. The only time she’d see him use it was going to his Aunt’s home, which she found out was the only way she allowed someone to get in.

“She considers apparation an intrusion.” Draco mumbled. “Like as if getting soot all over the floor isn’t bad enough,”

As bad as she didn’t want to say it, he had a point, but before Hermione could relay any of that to him, he led her into a ring shoppe (which to her dismay was in Knockturn Alley). For a place that was known for the Dark Arts and leaving such a negative aura on a person, Hermione was thoroughly surprised to be standing in one of the best-looking shoppes she’d ever been in. An Engorgio Charm was placed on it to make it twice its size, the floor was covered in a lovely dark purple carpet, and the walls were in a lilac wallpaper. A chandelier or two was placed about and everywhere she looked were rings of all proportions on display. She was completely mesmerized.

“Still alive, Granger..?” Draco asked impatiently as he waved a hand in front of her face. Hermione blinked twice and then subtly shook her head. “Choose a ring so we can get out of here already.”

“For goodness sake, Malfoy, you can’t take a woman to pick out an engagement ring and rush her.”

“It’s not even a real engagement!” He said in a hushed tone. “What do you care?”

“If I’m going to be wearing this thing for a year, I’m making sure it’s worth it.” Hermione told him matter-of-factly, and then smirked at his groaning.

Now Hermione wasn’t a flashy type of woman. She wore the same earrings every day, occasionally the necklace her father gave her with the letter “H” on it, and a bracelet that Harry and Ron chipped in to buy her for her birthday. Other than that, that was it, so she was completely baffled as to what she wanted as she gazed through the glass cases of the rings on display.

“I’ll be in the shoppe next door.” Draco told her as he began to exit the jewelry shoppe.

“You honestly can’t wait a bit for me to choose a ring?” She asked angrily.

“Why? When I can spend the time you waste in here on an engagement ring, that has no meaning,” He added in a whisper. “In a shoppe that has my interests?”

Before Hermione could respond, he was out of the door. She huffed and turned back to the engagement rings with less lust in her eyes. The subtle excitement she had when she first laid her eyes on them was gone, and now all she wanted to do was close her eyes and point to a random one so she could get out of there as quickly as possible, but a voice from the shadows of the shoppe stopped her from doing so.

“He’s wrong you know.” The voice said. “A ring means more things than you could imagine.”

Hermione was staring in the direction of the voice, and out of the corner of the shoppe came a stout elderly woman who wore a diamond ring on each finger. She smiled a crooked smile and cupped her hands on one of the glass cases.

“It’s hard engagement ring shopping with men, I know.” The woman confided. “Men don’t know what to look for. They merely see a ring to propose with; something pretty to the eyes. Women don’t just see beauty, however. They see their lives in it.”

The woman gave a soft chuckle. She unclasped her hands and motioned to all of the rings and said, “Go on. Take a quick look around. Don’t linger on a single case. Just glance, and stop at the first ring that catches and holds you.”

With some hesitancy, Hermione did as the woman said. She looked around, merely passing a glimpse over each ring without even being sure if she was looking at a ring, or simply the reflection of one. Yet as she was thinking this, she stopped. There was one, a beautiful one, with intricate designs, and probably cost the most money. Without her realizing, the old woman had seen the ring Hermione was staring at and took it out of its case.

“Come,” She said, and Hermione went up to her. “Your life is complicated.”

“What?”

“Your life,” The woman repeated. “Has many complications in it… You chose a very detailed ring, my dear, with three diamonds in it. The two smallest diamonds are you and your fiancé. And you may notice that they are the furthest apart; never touching, never even seeing each other because of the larger diamond in between them. The larger diamond is one of the things keeping you together. It’s rather sad to held together by material things… But, I’m not here to judge. Shall I bring this to the cashier’s desk for you?”

Hermione nodded and brought Draco back in so he could pay for the ring. He was rather relieved that the ring didn’t cost too much, but it was still a lot nonetheless. As they were leaving, Hermione told him to hold on for a moment so she could say a last word to the jeweler. He moaned bitterly, but she ignored him as she went up to the old woman and asked in a whisper,

“What’s the second thing?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“About the ring… You said the larger diamond was one of the things holding the ring, or, I suppose, me and Draco together. What’s the second?”

“The band,”

“The band..?”

“Yes, the band. Without the band the ring would completely fall apart. It is the strongest part of the ring you bought, which represents the strongest part of your relationship.”

“Humph, I wish I knew what that strong part was.” Hermione frowned. “I’m pretty sure that it’s not even there because I certainly don’t see it.”

“Of course you don’t see it. You’re too focused on the diamond in between you two! But, be honest with me,” The old woman laughed and smiled, “Who buys a ring for the band?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione left the jewelry shoppe and Flooed over to Ara’s mansion in a bit of a daze. What on earth was that old woman going on about? Was there really more to a ring than she originally thought? More importantly, did Hermione believe what she had said?

Sighing, she dusted off the soot from her clothes and realized that the mansion was rather quiet. It gave Hermione quite an eerie feeling. She had never liked living in large places for this very reason, and knew that she would only gain closure after going back to the suite; so that’s where she went after realizing that Draco had left her side long ago. When Hermione reached hers and Draco’s bedroom, she stared at him puzzled because he was holding up a rather expensive looking tux.

“Going to a fancy party without me?” She asked him in order to break the awkwardness of her staring.

“Humph, I wish…” Draco told her as he laid the tux onto the bed. “But there’s something in the closet for you too.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and went into the closet, and sure enough, there was an elegant sapphire dress hanging there, along with all of the works: sapphire shoes, earrings, shawl, and a purse.

“You have clothing in your closets as well, then?” Narcissa’s voice came from the doorway. Hermione poked her head out from the closet and crossed her arms.

“Are we supposed to be going somewhere?” Hermione asked her. Narcissa gave her an arrogant shrug of her shoulders and occupied a seat in the room.

“I wouldn’t know. Ara, that prick of a woman, does things on a whim and doesn’t have the common courtesy to let others know.”

“By the looks of the attire it’s obviously formal.” Draco said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Knowing that it’s a formal affair Ara has us going to doesn’t assuage my worries.”

“What are you worried about?” Hermione wondered. Both Narcissa and Draco stared at her. She was expecting a response, but because they didn’t say anything, and because their stares lingered, she knew that they were worried about her.

“Me..? You’re worried about me? What for..?”

“What for...? Granger, be realistic.” Draco chuckled. “You’re many things but you’re hardly ‘formal’ material.”

“What, just because I’m a muggleborn and because I’ve never actually been to a ritzy gathering, I can’t be formal?”

“Not without a bit of work first, no,” Narcissa brooded, and stood to her feet. “Come, we have quite a bit of work to do. If I know Ara, and I do, whatever we’re going to will start tonight at eight…”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Tugging, pulling, some dye, a bit of rouge, a poke here or there, and that was just the work done on her hair and face. When it came to her nails and feet, Hermione wanted to scream. Any woman would’ve been happy to be taken care of by four spa specialists, but she wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. Four and a half hours were spent getting “beautified” in order to fit into Narcissa and Draco’s world of being formal, which left her two hours to shower and dress, and an hour to give the hair stylist time to get Hermione’s hair in its perfect and final position. When she was finally finished, and standing in front of the bedroom mirror, Hermione wasn’t sure who she was looking at. A few delicate curls were hanging about her face and the rest was gracefully piled on the top of her head. Sapphire studs were in her ears, and a beautiful sapphire pendant sat in the middle of her chest.

“Close fitting clothing suits you.” Narcissa grinned rather approvingly. Hermione looked in the mirror again and smoothed her hands over her front. She wasn’t a tight-clothe-wearing person, but she had to admit that being able to compare herself to an hour-glass gave her a bit of a self-esteem boost.

“Mother, is Granger ready yet…?”

Hermione turned in the direction of Draco’s voice and began to feel rather self-conscious. She was expecting him to say some sort of disparaging remark followed by that stupid smirk of his, but he didn’t do either of that. If he had, she would know how to handle the current situation, but what Hermione was finding hard to deal with, was Draco saying nothing. He just stood there, staring at her, seeming, if she was correct, at a loss for words.

“You were saying something, Draco?” Hermione prodded him. He jumped out of his slight reverie and cleared his throat.

“Nice work, Mother,” He said to Narcissa. “But she’s missing something.”

“…Malfoy, you insensitive little-”

“Relax, Granger. You’re just missing the ring.”

Draco took out a small velvet box from his pocket and tossed it to her. Hermione messily caught it and watched him go over to his mother so she could put on his cuff links. Sighing, Hermione opened the box to see the engagement ring that they had bought earlier that day. She slipped the ring onto her finger and frowned. It felt so fake; a purposeless ring on an undeserving finger.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was a knock on the bedroom door at about ten to eight. Narcissa took the “pleasure” in opening it, to see none other than Ara in very elegant wear. Hermione was rather impressed, and was tempted to give the woman a compliment, but fought against it, because there was no way that that bitter old troll deserved it.

“Well, you’re dressed and ready. Excellent,” Ara said with a genuine smile. “Now let’s get a move on.”

“Wait,” Draco halted her as he readjusted his cuffs. “Would you mind telling us where exactly you’re carting everyone?”

“…Just to the main dining hall for your engagement party.”

“What?” Narcissa blurted out. “Ara, that’s absurd. You didn’t even know who to invite!”

“What was there to know?” Ara asked with a narrowing of her eyes. “A few of Draco’s friends, friends of the family, family… That’s not too hard, now is it Cissa?”

Hermione heard Narcissa mumble a “No, it’s not,” and a few curses that went unnoticed to Ara, who had already begun to lead the way out of the bedroom. The trio slowly exited the room and followed Ara down a series of corridors until they had reached two large oak doors. On the other side of them they could hear people talking, glasses tinkling, and music.

“Narcissa, you and I will enter the room through another way. You two,” Ara pointed to Draco and Hermione. “Will stand here and wait until I introduce you. The doors will open and then you can enjoy yourselves.”

Hermione watched as Ara led Narcissa away from them and then when they were finally out of view, she let out the aggravated sigh that she had been holding in for countless minutes.

“Enjoy yourselves?” She repeated. “She wants us to enjoy ourselves? Your aunt is completely insane! Just about everyone in that room hates me because I spent most of my Hogwarts days with Harry and Ron hunting them down! I refuse to go in there.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

Why? This doesn’t make any sense. Why would she care if we went to a stupid party or not, aside from the fact that we would’t be ‘honoring’ her efforts? This doesn’t help in any way to prove how much we love each other.”

“Oh, yes it does.” Draco said grimly. “Auntie Ara probably wants to see how I’ll defend you.”

“Defend me?”

“Yes… As you so eloquently put it beforehand, just about everyone in that room hates you. They’re going to taunt you, degrade you, everything of the like. Auntie Ara knows that and expects it. And, if I love you as much as I’m supposed to, I shouldn’t stand for any of it. And I won’t.”

Ara’s voice, which had been booming from the other side of the doors, had stopped. The engagement party was a test; just another stupid test that had Hermione’s stomach in knots. No, she wasn’t worried about Ara finding out that they were fakers. That was quite far from her mind by now. What was making her sick was the idea of willingly going into a snake pit and purposely getting bitten. She was taking slow breaths now and nearly shivered when Draco’s arm appeared around her waist. Hermione looked at him and saw that his jaw was clenched. Was that because he hated the idea of touching her? It was possible, but Hermione on the other hand thought it more along the lines of him wrestling with the idea of having to protect her from all of the verbal abuse at any and every given time until he was free to lock himself away in their suite.

The doors opened, and as Hermione stared at their faces, most of whom she knew very well and were wearing smirks, Draco’s grip on her tightened. And somehow as they were descending the stairs and growing closer to the landing and their leering guests, an odd sensation came over her, which she concluded was a feeling of safety.
_________________________________________________________

author's note: omg, dear readers of this story and any other story of mine: you must hate me!! lol... i havent been posting much on any of my stories, so sorry bout that, but that's what happens when you get to college i guess. but just know that i havent forgotten about any of my stories and i intend on posting on every one of them!! :)

-WP PLZZZZZZ REVIEW!!!! i'd realli appreciate it... im feeling kind of rusty lol *angel face*

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