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Chapter Image by SillyBeee @TDA

 

 

 Draco Malfoy sat slumped in his seat in the family carriage, glaring out the window. He had been in a foul mood since the moment he had found out that he would be marrying Hermione Granger. It had been years since the last time his betrothal had been brought up, so he had begun to think that the marriage his parents had arranged for him wouldn’t happen.


 It was for that reason that he had allowed himself to get close to Astoria Greengrass. They had been seeing each other for several months and things had progressed so quickly between them that he could actually see himself having a family with her. He should have known better.


 His parents, specifically his father, expected him to end things with Astoria so that he could make good on a marriage that had been arranged for him before he was even born. It angered him. Why did he have to sacrifice his happiness? And for whom? Hermione Granger? It just wasn’t fair!


 Oh sure, she wasn’t actually a Granger, as Draco had found out two days ago; she was a Zabini and his rightful future bride. Rightful future bride my arse, he thought bitterly, Astoria is the one I should be marrying, not Granger.


 Astoria Greengrass was of pure blood and came from a long line of powerful witches and wizards. Not to mention, she was beautiful beyond belief. She could turn the head of even the most powerful wizard and make him think twice about being unfaithful to her. Any man would be lucky to have her attention and Draco was that man.


 Then there was Hermione Granger… Zabini. Sassy, raised by Muggles, little miss know-it-all, bushy-haired, and not pretty in the slightest. There were so many things that disqualified her from being a prospective wife to him that he was surprised his father was entering back into the agreement that had been made with Pietro Zabini before Draco and Hermione were born? Why did it have to be her of all people?


 Draco’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his mother’s smooth voice, “Draco darling, don’t slump like that, you’ll get your new dress robes all wrinkled,” she said softly.


 With a heavy sigh, Draco sat up and looked at his parents questioningly. “Can you please tell me, again, why I have to marry Granger?” he implored, “It seems to me that Astoria would make a more suitable…”


 Mr. Malfoy silenced him with a look. “We have had this discussion already, Draco.”


 “But, Father, Astoria and I have been seeing each other for so long now,” Draco argued, “Why can’t you just open marriage negotiations with her father instead?”


 “Because an arrangement was made between your mother, me, and the Zabinis,” Mr. Malfoy stated, “That is all you need to know.”


 “But Granger’s an absolute bore! Always walking around with her nose in a book, thinking she knows everything.”


 “Draco, that is no way to talk about your future wife,” Mrs. Malfoy chided.


 Mr. Malfoy leaned forward slightly. “Let me be perfectly clear,” he began sternly, “You will be on your best behavior at this dinner and any future events involving Hermione Zabini. She is your fiancée and you will treat her with respect… even if she has miraculously come back from the dead. Is that understood?”


 “She was never actually dead, though; was she?” Draco pointed out, “She was taken to the Grangers and raised as a Muggle.”


 Mr. Malfoy’s cold gray eyes flashed in anger. “Is… that… understood?” he repeated.


 Draco knew that it was pointless to argue with his father when his mind was made up. “Yes, sir,” he said begrudgingly.


 “Good. Now, there will be no more talk of this. You will marry Hermione Zabini and that’s the end of it.”


 “Draco, I know how much you wanted a marriage with Astoria, but your father and I…”


 “Narcissa, I said there was to be no more talk of this,” Mr. Malfoy stated roughly, “He’s a Malfoy and he will uphold our agreement with Pietro and Marjorie. Isn’t that right, Draco?”


 “Yes, Father,” Draco agreed, knowing full well there would be dire consequences if he didn’t obey.


 He couldn’t disagree that marrying Hermione would be good for his family. The Zabinis, like the Malfoys, came from a long line of wealthy, pureblood Wizards and Witches. Financially, and magically, there was no doubt that he and Hermione were a good match, but physically? How was he going to make this marriage work if he wasn’t even attracted to the girl he was going to marry? On the other hand, he had always thought of Blaise as a brother, and with this marriage, he truly would be, but he wasn’t completely certain that thought alone would be enough to get him through this situation.


 It was twenty minutes later when Draco’s thoughts were interrupted, this time by the sight of the large brick Zabini mansion. Well, this should be interesting, he thought as they pulled into the long, circular driveway. I wonder what Granger… Hermione… thinks of all this anyway. Probably searching through books to find some way out of this, knowing her. Not that it would do her any good. She’s as bound by this arrangement as I am.


 The carriage came to a stop in front of the grand mansion and the door swung open. Draco took a deep breath and stepped out onto the gravel drive. He then turned and held his hand out for his mother, his steel gray eyes never leaving the mansion door which was now opening to greet them.


 “Sir and Mrs. Malfoy, and Master Draco we is been expecting you,” squeaked the little house-elf as she came running out.


 “Gripa, go and see how long dinner is going to be please, I will take it from here,” Mr. Zabini called, walking toward them.


 “Yes, Sir,” Gripa replied quickly, her tiny legs scurrying as fast as they could.


 “Pietro, how good to see you,” said Mr. Malfoy with a pleasant grin.


 “And you!” Mr. Zabini returned, pulling him into a hug. He then turned to Mrs. Malfoy and kissed her hand as he said, “Narcissa, always a pleasure.”


 “Thank you so much for having us, Pietro,” Mrs. Malfoy said sweetly.


 Mr. Zabini beamed. “Oh it is our pleasure, we are glad you could come,” he told her, turning finally to Draco. “And here is the future son-in-law, how are you my dear boy?”


 “A bit shocked, really,” he answered.


 “Yes, well I do not think you are the only one. Blaise tells me that you and Hermione despise each other?” Mr. Zabini asked, leading them all into the warm mansion.


 Draco cleared his throat, “Well, we cert…” he began.


 “However uncivil their interactions have been in the past, I’m sure all of that will be forgotten now that Hermione’s true identity has been revealed,” Mr. Malfoy interjected, “I mean, really Pietro, hiding her with Muggles? How utterly improper of you.”


 “Now, Lucius, you know quite well that we will do anything to ensure our children’s health,” Mrs. Zabini said as she greeted them in the foyer, “And these Muggles were very kind and certainly fit to care for her.”


 “I have no doubt about that,” Mr. Malfoy replied, kissing her hand, “Marjorie, you’re getting lovelier every day.”


 Mrs. Zabini blushed slightly as she turned and greeted Mrs. Malfoy with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, “So wonderful to see you, Narcissa,” she said.


 “You too. I can’t believe this day is finally here!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed, “Where is the bride-to-be?”


 “She should be down any minute,” Mr. Zabini said.


 “Will the rest of the family be joining us tonight as well?” Mrs. Malfoy questioned.


 Mrs. Zabini shook her head and said, “Not this evening. Pietro and I didn’t want to overwhelm Hermione too much on her first night home. She’s had a pretty rough day as it is.”


 “I can only imagine, what with learning who she really is and whatnot,” Mrs. Malfoy said.


 “Yes, but she seems to be handling it all right,” Mrs. Zabini stated.


 “That’s wonderful to hear! Marjorie, I’m so excited!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed, “Now that Hermione is home, the wedding can take place as we always dreamed.”


 Draco cleared his throat. “If you will excuse me, I think I’m going to see if I can find Blaise,” he said politely. He wasn’t really interested in hearing his mother and Mrs. Zabini gush about the pending nuptials.


 “He should be nearly finished getting ready for dinner. You can go on up,” Mrs. Zabini told him with a kind smile.


 Draco nodded and made his way to the staircase. All the talk about his betrothal was making his head hurt. In all honesty, he could understand why his parents had arranged this marriage between himself and Hermione; it was a smart match. Smart match indeed, Draco thought, seems more like one of Father’s business arrangements.


 He ran his hands over his face in an attempt to rub out whatever emotions he might be showing. Growing up, he had never truly been allowed to show his emotions; his father saw emotion as a sign of weakness. However, at the moment, he couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy at the thought of what Hermione was thinking about all of this. Why I’m feeling that why, I have no idea, he reflected, it’s not like we’re on good terms, or anything.


 For the past six years he and Hermione had done nothing but fight with each other. Names had been called, spells had been cast… could they really get past all that and find love with each other? There’s no way that’ll happen, he thought, there’s too much bad history between us, not all my fault, of course, but she’d most likely hex me before she’d ever forgive me for anything.


 A small smile came to his face as that thought crossed his mind. If there was one thing he genuinely liked about Hermione Granger… Zabini… it was her quick-witted ability to shoot insults back at him and his friends without hesitation. Most of the students at Hogwarts were afraid of him and his friends for one reason or another, but Hermione wasn’t. He could see it in her eyes. Not to mention, she’s wicked smart.


 Smart women were a secret weakness for him. He also liked women who wouldn’t just give him what he wanted. Contrary to what his schoolmates thought, he liked the challenge of working for the things he wanted, whatever they may be. When things were just handed to him, he felt spoiled (which he knew he was anyway) and unsatisfied. However, when he had to work for things, he felt a sense of pride and satisfaction when he finally got them. Hermione was certain to be a challenge; he’d known that since he’d first met her.


 Just then, Draco’s thoughts were broken by his name being called. He looked up the hall and saw the familiar figure that was Blaise. “Blaise, how you doin’ mate?”


 Blaise smiled, “Can’t complain. You?”


 “I don’t know really. Nothing seems to be making sense right now,” Draco answered.


 “If it makes you feel any better, Hermione’s not doing much better.”


 “Has she staged a one woman revolt?”


 Blaise chuckled and tugged on his shirt cuffs to straighten them out. “Actually, she’s been rather… cool… about everything.”


 Draco snorted disbelievingly. “You’re kidding.”


 “Well, she’s not jumping for joy about any of it, but she hasn’t cursed us,” Blaise noted, “And we both know how capable she is with that wand of hers.”


 Draco shifted a bit.“So what’s it been like with her here?”


 “A bit awkward, but nice. I mean; I’ve always known I had sister, but now she’s actually around and I’m looking forward to getting to know her.”


 Draco arched his brow. “Blaise, we’ve gone to school with her for the last six years; you already know her,” he said, “Or have you forgotten?”


 “Of course I haven’t forgotten, but just because we’ve gone to school with her, doesn’t mean we know her.”


 “Right,” Draco said dismissively, “So, how do you think she’s really taking the news of being a Zabini?”


 Blaise shrugged. “Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to really talk to her. As soon as we got home I brought her up to her room,” he said, “but she seems to have accepted it, at least a little.”


 “Hey, why didn’t you tell me that was your sister anyway?”


 “I never knew she was,” Blaise confessed, “but I can’t say I didn’t have my suspicions. I didn’t know for certain until last week when my parents told me where she had been all this time. What about you? When did you find out about your betrothal?”


 Draco ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I’ve known about that since I was a kid. Granger being your sister, though, I didn’t find out about that until two nights ago. My parents wanted me to have time to prepare.”


 “Prepare for what?”


 Draco shook his head. “Not ‘for what’,” he said, “Just ‘what’.”


 Blaise looked at him curiously. “What are you…?” Before Blaise could finish his question, however, Hermione’s bedroom door opened.


 Draco’s steel gray eyes widened slightly at the sight that was just a few feet from him. Standing just outside her doorway was a very elegantly dressed Hermione, her usually slightly ragged appearance nowhere to be seen. Draco couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she stepped carefully out of her room and closed the door. He looked her over carefully, surprised by what he was seeing.


 Her tiny feet were clad in a beautifully made pair of ballet flats of the deepest green with silver ribbons that climbed their way up her delicate legs and disappeared under her matching dress. The dress, Draco noticed, didn’t really leave a whole lot to the imagination with the way it formed perfectly to her figure, held up by spaghetti thin silver straps. Her hair, for the first time since the Yule Ball during their fourth year, had been swept off of her neck into a neat French twist.


 His eyes were suddenly drawn to her hands as she smoothed the front of her dress. Her hands were bare, not that he had expected to see the ring he’d sent her gracing her finger so soon; though he was a little taken aback to find that he felt an inkling of disappointment. He had worked hard on that ring and was proud of how it had turned out. Before he could think too much on it, he found himself looking into Hermione’s honey brown eyes.


 Hermione gave him a small, nervous smile and looked down at her feet. Draco cleared his throat and quickly looked away as well. Blaise beamed at his twin sister and walked over to her, taking her small hands in his. “Hermione you look absolutely stunning!” he exclaimed.


 Hermione looked up at him. “Thank you, Blaise,” she said, “So do you.”


 Blaise spun around so that she could get the full effect of his black suit and gave her a small bow. “Thank you,” he replied, “Well, as you can see, the Malfoys have arrived. Allow me to present you to your husband-to-be, Draco.”


 “You don’t need to introduce us, Blaise,” Draco said, a bit sharply, “We’ve known each other since first year.”


 “There’s no need for you to snap at him, Malfoy,” Hermione stated coolly, “He’s only being polite. Something you obviously have trouble comprehending.”


 Draco’s eyes narrowed slightly for a moment, then, remembering his father’s words, softened a bit. “You’re right,” he said. He then turned to Blaise, “I’m sorry mate. I didn’t mean that how it sounded.”


 Blaise smiled. “Hey, tensions are high right now for the both of you; you’re bound to snap sometimes,” he said, “No problem. Are we all good?”


 Hermione gave him a small nod and opened her hand. She was holding her engagement ring and was incredibly nervous about what she was about say. She wasn’t sure that she would be able to make Draco understand her reasoning behind not wanting to wear the ring just yet and it worried her that he would be offended. However, it was very important to her that she not wear the ring until the time was right, not just for herself, but for him as well. “Um… Mal… Draco, I know this might sound a bit crazy to you,” she began, looking up at him, “but um… I’ve always dreamed that… Ever since I began dreaming about getting married…”


 She furrowed her brow and bit her lip for a moment. She then took a deep breath and started over. “I’ve dreamt about my engagement since I was a child. Part of that dream involves my future husband putting the engagement ring on my finger,” she stated, “and, as beautiful as this ring is, I’m not exactly ready to…”


 Draco cleared his throat. “I understand,” he told her, “and, if you’re agreeable, I’d like to start fresh.”


 Hermione gave him a slight nod. “I’d like that.”


 I guess I’d better start learning how to deal with this if I’m going to be married to her, he thought. “Listen,” he began, “I’m sorry for treating you the way I have over the years. I have no excuse for the way I’ve acted other than; it’s how I was raised. Is there… ahem… Is there a chance that you could forgive me for all that I’ve said and done to hurt you?”


 Hermione was silent for several moments before she nodded and said, “Yes, I think I can do that; given time.”


 Draco took the ring out of her hand and held it up a bit. “How about I hold onto this until we’re both ready for it to be on your finger?”


 “That sounds like a good idea,” Hermione agreed, looking down at her feet.


 When she finally looked up, she noticed that Draco was twirling his finger in front of her. “Turn,” he said simply.


 Reluctantly, Hermione obliged and turned gracefully so that he could get a good look at her. “Something’s missing,” Draco said, chin in hand. After a few moments, Draco reached inside his dress jacket pocket and withdrew his wand. May as well play the part properly.


 Wordlessly, Draco drew his wand around in the air. It took a few seconds for Hermione to realize that the silver smoke now coming from the wand’s tip wasn’t, in fact, smoke at all, it was silver. Her eyes widened in amazement as the silver began to take shape. She gasped softly; Draco was making her a necklace. She watched as he worked, noticing that he, indeed, had a talent for jewelry making.


 It wasn’t long before the necklace was finished. Draco pocketed his wand and, with Seeker reflexes, caught the necklace before it fell to the floor. He held it up and cleared his throat before saying, “May I?” pointing at her neck.


 Hermione gave him a nod and turned so that he could put the necklace on her. She looked down at the chain and noticed that it was exactly like the band of the ring that sat comfortably in Draco’s pocket. The head of an emerald eyed snake came into view just below her collarbone followed shortly by a curved tail just an inch below that. The tail was that of a rattlesnake, its rattler made of diamonds, encircling a princess cut emerald.


 Hermione’s breath caught in her throat at the beauty of the necklace Draco had just made her. She held the diamond encrusted tail with the emerald wrapped protectively in its coil gently in her hand as she examined it. It suddenly became clear to her just where her ring had come from.


 Draco watched her silently through curious eyes as she looked over the piece of jewelry around her neck. He couldn’t help thinking that she was actually sort of beautiful. Wait a second… this is Granger… I mean; Zabini… loyal best friend of my two most hated enemies, he thought, I can’t be thinking she’s beautiful… but, she is gonna be my wife…


 Both Hermione and Draco were brought out of their thoughts when they were interrupted by the squeaky voice of the house-elf. “Master Blaise, Mistress Hermione, and Master Draco, your parents is looking for you,” Gripa told them, “They is already seated in the Grand Dining Room.”


 Blaise cleared his throat. “Thank you Gripa. We’ll be there shortly.”


 Gripa scurried off as fast as her little legs could take her and disappeared around the corner. Blaise walked over to Hermione and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Come on, we should all get down to dinner before Mum and Dad throw a fit,” he said, “They’re sticklers for being on time.”


 Hermione nodded and then looked nervously at Draco. “Thank you for the ring and the necklace,” she said softly, “They’re beautiful.”


 “You’re welcome,” Draco replied, scarcely above a whisper.


 Hermione gave him a small smile. She then took her newfound brother’s now outstretched arm and headed down the hall.


 Draco shook his head as he stood and watched Hermione and Blaise walk away. He and Hermione had just had a brief moment of kindness and he had initiated it. This may be easier than I thought, he told himself. He shook himself from his thoughts and began to follow Blaise and Hermione down to the dining room.

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Meanwhile…



 “Pietro, how is business going?” Mr. Malfoy asked as the four adults walked through the mansion to the Grand Dining Room.


 Mr. Zabini smiled as he said, “Things have never been better. In fact, we are going to be receiving a shipment of rare documents supposedly written by the four founders of Hogwarts next week.”


 “Pietro, that’s remarkable!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed as her husband pulled out her chair for her, “The museum must be very pleased.”


 Mr. Zabini’s cheeks pinkened slightly as he bowed his head. “Yes, well, we still have to have the documents verified, of course, but it does look promising,” he said, “If all goes accordingly, the documents will be ready for display once the expansion of the Founder’s Wing is complete next week.”


 “Narcissa, you and Lucius simply must go see the new Founder’s Wing when it’s finished,” Mrs. Zabini cooed, “Pietro’s shown me the sketches, they’re simply amazing! Oh, and Darling, you should take the children before the Grand Opening. I think Hermione would find it fascinating.”


 Mr. Zabini nodded in agreement as they all sat down. “Yes, I am certain she will, though I think Blaise would find the whole thing incredibly boring.”


 “Yes, that’s probably true.”


 “Draco tells us that Hermione is a lover of books,” Mrs. Malfoy stated, taking a drink of her wine.


 “A love of reading tends to run in the family,” Mrs. Zabini said with a smile. “I sometimes have trouble getting Pietro to come to bed when his nose is in a book.”


 “Pietro was quite the schoolboy when we were children,” Mr. Malfoy agreed. He then glanced around impatiently. “Where the devil are those children?”


 “I’m sure they’re on their way, Lucius,” Mrs. Zabini said, “Please be patient, Hermione’s new to our family and needs time to adjust to everything.”


 “Forgive me, Marjorie,” Lucius said graciously, “I often find myself being so intolerant of tardiness that I forget how to be accommodating for such circumstances as this. What was it that caused you to send your only daughter into the Muggle world?”


 Mrs. Zabini turned and smiled. “Oh, here they are!”


 Mr. Malfoy narrowed his eyes infinitesimally at his childhood friend. He could feel that there was something going on, and he was determined to figure out what that something was.

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