It was a Christmas gift that he planned for a year.
They were married in January. The first and most publicized wedding to showcase the new Marriage Law, a law designed to promote peace and unification amongst purebloods and muggleborns; designed to eventually blur all lines until pureblood was a thing of the past. It was to be a lavish, expensive affair; The Princess of The Revolution marrying the Dark Mysterious Turncoat who’d helped to turn the tide of war. It would be a fairy tale match…after a little convincing.
“Do you not want to help Wizard England?” the publicist had asked them, both of them looking as if they’d been handed their death warrant.
“Of course we do,” Hermione snapped, looking at Draco who was resting his chin in his hand, staring out the window at the sleeting sky, his eyes reflecting the exact color of the clouds. “I just don’t think the public will buy it.”
“They’ll buy it,” Draco said, the first words he’d uttered since their pairing was announced.
“What makes you say that?” She asked.
Finally he turned to look at her.
“Because we’ll be the ones to sell it.”
A designer from Paris built a gown of creamy white silk that hugged her hourglass shape before spilling out into a long train with nearly eighty pearl buttons down the back. She wore an heirloom diamond and jet tiara that Narcissa tucked into her hair with a smile. Draco sat in on the fitting sessions, although he was consumed by his work, making annotations in books until Narcissa demanded he look up.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” she asked, fluffing and smoothing the train.
Draco looked, his eyes showing nothing, his face a well-practiced mask, but he did nod.
“It’s lovely. Well made.” Then for a breath, a blink, he held Hermione’s gaze before nodding again and adding, “exquisite.”
Narcissa sat down with Hermione to plan a guest list, explaining that she had 263 guests but she was welcome to invite as many as she wanted.
“Will your parents be in attendance?”
“No,” Hermione said, a bit too quickly, looking down at her hands. She wanted to get past this part…this aching, heartbreaking part without giving too much information.
Draco looked up again, watching the women talk, Hermione worrying her sapphire and diamond engagement ring with her thumb, chewing on her bottom lip. He’d only spent a few weeks with her and already he was picking up on her signs…her indicators. She was uncomfortable.
“My parents are…unavailable. They’re…I’ve obliviated them for their protection. They live in Australia now. It’s ok, really.”
She could feel Draco’s stare and when she looked up his brow was furrowed, his lips turned down into a frown.
It was a standard wizard wedding ceremony, with vows and poems and declarations of consent and everything went as expected, until they took the bonds.
“Please grasp each other’s right wrist,” the officiant said, “for the rite of matrimony.”
A ribbon of pure amber light wound its way around their clasped hands, its intensity forcing her to look away, squinting her eyes. Somewhere in the crowd someone gasped. She heard murmuring. It seemed odd to see it so bright, so warm and steady. With other weddings she’d attended the marriage bond had been a cool blue white and not nearly as blinding, pulsing with her heartbeat. She looked up at Draco who for once had dropped his mask of indifference, his eyes now wide with surprise. Before she could say anything, the officiant moved on, the light surrounding them disappeared and Draco’s eyebrows lowered, although she noticed that he looked at her quizzically for the remainder of the ceremony.
“With these vows the marriage bond is created. May the light grow stronger and brighter with time, as your commitment to each other deepens and your trust grows. Mr. Malfoy, you may kiss your bride."
She’d expected a chaste kiss on the cheek. Instead he lifted his hands to cup her face, his fingers long enough to reach around to the back of her neck. She closed her eyes and he kissed her, his mouth open just enough to capture her lower lip between his own. Then he pulled her in closer and tipped her face downward to place a traditional kiss of protection on her forehead, one hand still strong and heavy on the back of her neck, a comforting sort of pressure. It was all for show of course, but still it felt nice. They fit.
“Congratulations Mrs. Malfoy,” he whispered into her hair.
After the reception they stood outside the small stone guesthouse behind the manor, Draco guiding her with one hand on the small of her back. The entryway was adorned with thick swags of evergreen, winterberries and white roses from Narcissa’s hothouse. Hermione could see through the windows that the inside was warm and welcoming, flooded with candlelight and a roaring fire. With a wave of his hand, Draco opened the front door but Hermione hesitated, a playful smile on her face. He could see that she’d had more than enough champagne.
“What?” he asked, trying to hide the tension bubbling through his veins, the strain in his voice. They hadn’t been alone together in days.
“You’re not going to carry me over the threshold?”
He stared, confused, his brow wrinkled.
“Why? Are you hurt?”
She laughed nervously then and shrugged, waving him off.
“No, no nevermind. It’s just…it’s a muggle tradition, carrying your new wife over the threshold of your new home, your new life. I was…it was just a joke.”
He didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile. But he did see the brief flash of sadness in her eyes and it all washed over him at once: why she’d wanted the five tier white cake and the giant bouquet, why she’d twirled on the dance floor in her two thousand galleon dress, smiling in his arms as they waltzed across the room for the cameras and gossip columnists. This was quite possibly her only chance at the wedding she’d dreamt of since she was a child, her only chance at the fairy tale. The Ministry had seen to taking all of the romance and whimsy from marriage, but she’d still clung to it.
She moved to step inside but he stopped her, easily sweeping her up into his arms and stepping into the guesthouse. She laughed in a way that he hadn’t heard in years, kicking off her high heels, and he quickly put her back down, his arms still wrapped around her waist while she looked around the room. There was a fresh bottle of champagne on the coffee table by the fire, a small stack of gifts and scrolls on the sideboard wrapped with silver and white ribbons. In the candlelight her eyes glittered gold, her cheeks flushed pink. She was…beautiful, and suddenly it struck him. She was his.
She pulled out of his arms, feeling her cheeks burning with what she had to assume was drunkenness. And yet she could still feel his hands on her hips…the exact pressure of his fingers.
“I know you have your own suite in the Manor, but this is something of a Malfoy tradition,” he said, holding a hand out to indicate the single bedroom.
“Right,” she said, nodding, unable to form better words. She was distracted by his tousled hair; his hands fiddling with the buttons of his crisp white shirt, the way his eyes reflected the candlelight. It had struck her when she was walking down the aisle how grown up and handsome he was, but it still surprised her when her heart sped up.
“So I don’t know about you, but I’m knackered. I’m going to change and get some sleep,” he said. “We’re both adults here…surely we can share a king sized bed.”
“Of course,” she said, adopting a businesslike tone. “Of course.”
His hand was on the back of her neck then and she felt her pulse race just as it had when he kissed her. He felt her muscles twitch, her body stiffen; he’d frightened her.
“Sorry, I only…did you need help?” He asked. “With your buttons?”
“Oh,” Hermione said, finally breathing again. “Yes, thank you.”
In February they went back to work after a decadent honeymoon through some of the more ancient wizarding landmarks of Europe. For any other couple it would have been perceived as romantic, and indeed they did their part by appearing in public holding hands, smiling warmly for cameras and laughing at the reports of their whirlwind romance that were published in the newspapers and gossip rags like Witch Weekly. One of the favorite shots was Draco kissing her hand over a café table while Hermione smiled. They’d laughed about it later, how they’d seen the very poorly hidden cameraman behind the tree and decided to give him what he was waiting for.
But the publicity wasn’t always positive.
“They think you’re frumpy and plain and not living up the to the image of pureblood aristocrat wife,” Draco read aloud while they sat at in a park in Amsterdam drinking elf wine. She was relieved to see him roll his eyes. “I think we’ll have to go shopping. Turn you into a real society wife, dripping with jewels, velvet robes and beaded gowns and all that rot.”
“What a waste,” she said. “Spending thousands of galleons on clothes so people can talk about how much they don’t like what you’re wearing.”
“Couldn’t agree more, love, but we are the face of the success of the marriage law,” he said. “Appearance is everything to the ministry. Besides, I thought girls liked shopping.”
She was about to snap at him, but saw by the arch of his brow he was teasing.
“You seem…so relaxed,” she said. “They’ve legislated marriage…they’ve literally done away with romance…true love. It doesn’t matter to you that they’ve dictated our futures, using us as pawns?”
He shrugged, running one long finger over the rim of his glass in a way that she found…entrancing. “That’s marriage I suppose. I never expected anything more. I’ve known since I was a child that I’d never be able to pick my own mate or marry for love. Nobody does in our circles. It’s all blood protection and business. Love isn’t profitable.”
“It’s powerful though.”
He nodded slowly, looking away from her insistent stare, focusing instead on the canal behind her.
“That it is,” he said, nearly to himself.
As spring bloomed she stood beside him at the War Orphan Gala, smiling at the well wishers, classmates pointing out yet again that it was hard to believe such sworn enemies could find love, triggering their well practiced script.
“Perhaps it was all a ruse back then,” he would say. “What do you think Granger?”
“No,” she would answer, looping her hand through his elbow. “I most certainly thought you were a wicked little ferret.”
“So little has changed,” he would reply, and everyone would laugh at the successful show they’d put on.
They played their parts and made their appearances, every event becoming easier, their conversations more comfortable. He held her hand even when there were no cameras, smiled at her when no one was watching. And she was surprised when he asked her to dance even after the Ministry had gotten their pictures. But as the Gala wore on she saw his smile fade. She watched as he had a heated discussion with two men, leaving them frowning, rolling their eyes. He waved off a reporter before making his way to the bar. What had started sweetly was quickly going sour and she was compelled to go to his side as she watched him throw back his third scotch in thirty minutes.
“Are you ok?” She asked, watching his hand tremble as he put the glass on the silver tray one of the house elves presented.
“I’m fine,” he said, his tone clipped. “I just…you know I don’t like this. I don’t like being on display. Pressed on every side.”
Hermione stepped back and watched his eyes darting around the room as he chewed on the cuticle of his thumb. When he caught the eye of anyone she watched as his hand absentmindedly rubbed over the inside of his forearm as if the mark still burned, although she knew it no longer worked, its creator long dead.
“Draco,” she said, lacing her fingers into his, holding him steady. “No one here is judging you.” But even as she said it, she looked up to see Hannah and Dean whispering in the corner, looking over at him with an eyebrow raised.
“Everyone is judging everyone. That’s what these galas are for, love.”
As the minutes ticked by he got worse, until she could all but feel his pulse in the tips of his fingers, see the sheen of sweat on his forehead. He had a fourth drink and Hermione shook her head at the waiter, indicating he should NOT return.
“Where is your mother?” She asked, pulling him into the crowd.
“Why? Are you going to tell on me?” He asked, lashing out to battle the panic and regretting it instantly. Fortunately she was used to it and his bitterness easily bounced off the armor she’d created.
Hermione saw Narcissa across the room.
“Mrs. Malfoy!” She pulled Draco to Narcissa’s side. “I’m so sorry. I’m afraid we have to go.”
“Go? Why we haven’t even served dessert yet!” Narcissa pouted at the two of them.
“I know, but I’m…I feel sick. I’ve felt terrible all day and now I’m just…sick to my stomach and exhausted. I would let Draco stay but I’m afraid if I tried to apparate home…”
“No no, of course not,” the older woman said, putting a hand to Hermione’s forehead. “You’re not warm. Sick to your stomach you say?” Her eyes lit up and she smiled excitedly.
“Mother…” Draco rolled his eyes.
“I’m just curious! I’ve said nothing!” Narcissa said, still smiling, and Hermione decided to humor her.
“I guess we really don’t know. Perhaps I’ll have to check with the healer!”
Draco openly gawked at her and Hermione winked. In one quick, obvious lie she had expertly excused them for the rest of the night.
They floo’d back to the manor and he walked her to the staircase. She was beautiful in her champagne colored gown, the delicate double strand of pearls showing off her slender neck and collarbones. The candle sconces threw light off the diamonds in her wedding ring and the topaz gems in her hair clip so that she sparkled even in the shadows. She was more beautiful to him now than on their wedding day. There was something different, softer and easier about her. She smiled sleepily and pulled the clip from her hair letting it tumble down past her shoulders in a cascade of curls.
“Why did you do that for me?” He asked as they stood together on the landing, her room off to the right, his in the opposite wing.
“I could tell you were miserable. I didn’t…” she paused, unsure of her words for the first time in years. “I don’t like to see you suffering. I want you to be happy.”
His eyes lit up and he blessed her with a brief, beautiful smile before clearing his throat and letting his mask return. He grew so tired of wearing it, especially around her.
“I want you to be happy too,” he said, stepping closer. “I hope you’re not miserable here with me.” He pulled her hands into his, remembering the kiss on their wedding day, the one night they’d shared in the guest house sleeping in the same bed.
“No,” she said, sweeping a lock of his hair back from his forehead. “I’m not miserable.”
Her fingers lingered on his cheek and he bent down, his lips just a breath from hers.
“Miss Hermione! I was told you were sick…let me get you to bed!” Milly the house elf with her impeccable timing appeared just beside her, tugging dramatically at her dress.
With the arrival of summer they had tea on the veranda, overlooking the newly budding flower gardens.
“I feel badly that your family couldn’t see you get married. I know it’s something little girls dream of,” he said. “Most little girls,” he added when he saw her eyes flare in preparation for an argument.
“It’s fine,” she said with a shrug, not meeting his eye as she made her excuses. “Those are all just fairy tales we carry with us in our youth, right? I…I gave up believing in them long ago.” Her smile was shaky, small. “It’s enough for me that I know they’re safe.”
He asked her more about her family, where she’d sent them…what they were like, their passions, their traditions, her pet hedgehog Phyllis? He found himself needing to know everything that had created her.
“Do you miss them?” He asked. “That’s a ridiculous question, of course you miss them, I mean…does it hurt…everyday?”
She was surprised at the depth of emotion in his question, at the desperation in his tone.
“Yes, but it hurts most around the holidays. The big social events and gatherings…when I’m used to having family. I miss them most at Christmas, when the whole world is immersed in magic and I’m the one wishing it never existed.”
Of course there were still heated arguments between them, there were still slammed doors and clenched teeth.
“You say I wear a mask, but you hide your emotions from me just as well. A heart of stone,” he growled. “You aren’t the Granger I knew in school…the witch who was overwhelmed with passion for the welfare of house elves and hippogriffs, who dared to have sympathy for an injured bully. It’s as if you feel nothing now, I dare say you’re as cold as I am!”
“The world is a colder place! I’ve learned that while I live in a world of witches and wizards that there’s very little magic to be found. Everything is for the good of the ministry or the good of Wizard England. Everything is about keeping up appearances, building strength. Nothing is from the heart. It’s like waking up and realizing there isn’t a Santa Claus, that there’s no magic to be found…no matter how many spells you know how to cast.”
“You never know Granger,” he said, taken aback by her pessimism. “Life may still have a surprise or two to throw your way.”
In the Fall they stayed up late on weekends, walking the grounds on cool evenings. In October they were caught in a sudden rainstorm coming back from the forest and Draco pulled her into the guesthouse, warming and drying them both; starting a fire as the wind whistled through the windows.
Huddled from the storm with nothing but an old bottle of scotch, they found themselves nostalgic for the early days at Hogwarts, talking about their favorite classes, the teachers they admired and the ones they hated. Draco told her stories of the glass walls of the Slytherin common room where they could watch the giant squid and other mysterious lake creatures swimming past in the murky water.
“It was always comforting to sit there and watch them. I felt most at home by those windows,” he said. “When I was homesick first year, a blubbering mess, I pretended that the squid was my pet…part of my family…someone who cared for me.”
“You had a thousand friends,” Hermione said. “It’s hard to believe you ever had time to feel lonely.”
“I had a thousand people who were told to be my friend. People whose parents told them to be nice to the Malfoy boy. I had sycophants and hangers on. When I really needed someone…when my whole life fell apart…they were nowhere to be found.”
More drinks were poured and the storm raged on. She explained muggle video games and her Saturday football league that taught her to hate sports.
“I like this place,” she said, curling up on the sofa, a slightly softer, more comfortable piece of furniture than the “good” pieces in the Manor. “It’s the perfect size. It reminds me of home.”
Everything about the guesthouse was cozier, lower ceilings and exposed timbers, old, time-softened quilts and warm, golden light from candles and oil lamps. The wind outside howled louder slapping leaves and tiny broken branches against the glass. Lightning flashed, the thunder shaking the walls. Their conversation died, but they made no move to return to the manor, conveniently ignoring their ability to apparate. They were comfortable together.
A log snapped in the fireplace and Hermione jumped, spilling the rest of her drink down the front of her v-neck shirt.
“You’re hopeless, Granger,” Draco drawled, pulling out his wand and cleaning the mess, his eyes watching the liquid drip down between the valley of her breasts.
“You can’t take me anywhere,” she said, laughing, mesmerized by how the fire had turned his usual silver eyes a darker grey. She’d never noticed how long his lashes were, so fine, light as his hair. She’d never been so close.
The room was silent again and her eyes fell to his mouth, his lips wet with scotch, slightly parted. He was watching her eyes, her pupils blown wide, her lower lip trapped between her teeth. In the silence he was close enough to hear her breathing. And then his lips were closed over hers, his arms tight around her as he held one hand to the back of her neck. She moaned, her mouth opening, her tongue seeking his as they moved closer together, her hands on his chest. She pushed him backwards crawling up his body, stretching out over him as he slid his hands down to grab her hips. He was already hard, she was already wanting and he tipped her face back to press kisses to her neck, to the soft patch of skin behind her ear. Her hips rolled as a moan escaped her lips. Daring her to stop him, Draco slid a hand up beneath her sweater over the flat plane of her stomach, up towards the satin of her bra.
“Draco, you can…”
A broken branch from one of the willows crashed through the front window, sending glass and wood and rain showering over them, blowing the fire out, leaving the room cold and dark. Two elves appeared almost instantly to assess the damage, chattering and wailing at the disaster. The guesthouse would need extensive repair. They returned to the Manor and the moment was gone.
Hermione became quieter and more distant as winter approached. Draco gave her space, but also encouraged her to come with him Christmas shopping, even suggesting they visit Muggle London to see the decorations and visit Bond street where she’d gone window shopping once as a child. The electricity buzzed in his ears, the crowds pushing in from every side but he gritted his teeth and carried on.
“So loud,” Draco said, as they squeezed their way through Harrods. “Loud and bright and…bloody aggravating. Is it always like this? Is it really necessary to put fairy lights on everything?”
“Always,” she said, laughing, gathering up her boxes and bags with the biggest smile he’d seen in weeks. “And I wouldn’t change a thing!”
She threaded her hand through his elbow and they sat in a pub sipping cider, but he could see that there was sadness behind every moment of joy, regret and nostalgia passing over her face like clouds blotting out the sun.
“Thank you,” she said, when they were back at the manor, leaning in to kiss him goodnight.
On Christmas morning she woke early, before the sun was up, her bedroom thick with fragrance; pine and cloves and fresh oranges. Blinking awake she saw that her room was filled with ropes of evergreen boughs heavy with pinecones and oranges, gilded walnuts and gold ribbon. As she got out of bed she noticed the fairy lights. They were strung from the corner of her fourposter to the door of her room, blinking white even though they were clearly not plugged in. A card hung from a gold string with her name on the outside.
The lights lead out of her room, through the darkened corridor and down the main staircase, another card waiting when she got to the first floor.
DON’T GIVE UP ON FAIRY TALES GRANGER
The manor was silent and dark, the first glow of dawn starting to peek through the frosted windows. Still the fairy lights blinked, leading her down the hall and through the kitchen, where the elves were just waking to prepare breakfast.
The lights above her head lead her towards the kitchen door. She summoned her cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders before stepping outside. Floating in mid air and swaying in the icy wind, the fairy lights blinked with one last card waiting for her by the hedges.
I PROMISE YOU OUR LIVES WILL ALWAYS BE FILLED WITH MAGIC
The lights lead to the guesthouse. The windows glowed with golden light and Hermione raced toward it, clutching the cloak tight around her shoulders.
The door opened wide and Draco was waiting for her in his pajamas and robe, holding two mugs of tea. A short, fat Christmas tree sat in the corner, decked out in red and green baubles and colorful lights, piles of shining gifts packed around it. Somewhere, music was playing.
“I think you’re right, Hermione. This place does feel like home. I’ve told the elves to move our things here. There’s only one bedroom but I think we can share it,” he said with a grin.
She wanted to say something clever, something deep and important, but when she tried to speak her throat tightened, her eyes stinging with tears. So instead she pulled him into her arms, hugging him tight, her head tucked under his chin. They fit together perfectly.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“Let me show you something,” he said, pulling back and holding out his right hand. “Take my wrist.”
When she did he looked down and whispered, “Vinculi Revelare” and in an instant the glowing bands appeared, pulsing their blinding light.
“I’ve only ever seen this at two weddings in all my life. Do you know why my mother nearly fell out of her chair at our wedding? The purer and brighter the light, the deeper the bond, and pure amber is the rarest of all. It pulses with our heartbeat. We’re soulmates, Hermione. We were meant to find one another. Law or no law.”
He let go of her hand and the bonds disappeared, but Hermione still stared down at her palm.
“I don’t understand…why didn’t you…why would you let me go a whole year not knowing?”
He stood close, running his fingers through her hair, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand, every touch running through her like electricity.
“Because I didn’t want you to feel trapped by it, burdened. I wanted things to proceed naturally. I already felt something for you when we were married but you wouldn’t have believed it. I wanted to see if it was even possible that you could feel the same.” He tipped her chin up and smiled, staring own into her tear-filled eyes. “I wanted you to kiss me when we were trapped together in the rain because you wanted to, not because you were compelled by some ancient bond.”
“I’ve wanted to,” she said, smiling. “For quite some time.”
He pressed his lips to hers and she melted against him as she felt a weight lift in her heart, a relief at finally knowing that what she’d felt for him for months was true and real and that as strange as it seemed, he felt it in return.
“I have something to give you,” he murmured against her lips. “Sit.”
They moved to the couch and Draco took her hands in his.
“I love you Hermione. I could give you the world to show you how much. I could buy you…countries if you asked. I could take you around the globe, cover you in jewels but I know there’s only one thing you want.”
He pulled a parchment from the pocket of his robe and Hermione reached out for it with a shaking hand and a lump in her throat. She unrolled it and read: “Wendell and Monica Williams, 17 Leicester Street, Fitzroy Victoria”
“I found them,” he whispered. “I’ve seen them. You look just like your mother. All those weeks I was away on research…I was looking for them. I haven’t said a word, because I wanted to be sure. It had to be right. I wanted you to love magic again and believe in fairy tales and be happy at Christmas. I wanted you to see how powerful love could be. I want to see the old Hermione…as insufferable as she may be. I can bring them back to you. We can have them back.”
She looked up finally, tears running down her face, the parchment tight in her hand.
“I can't believe you did this for me,”
“I love you, you mad bint!” he said, relieved to see her laughing. “I love you and I don’t want to see you suffering. I want you to be happy.”
He pulled her into his arms and she clung to him, her parents’ names still tight in her hand.
“I love you, too,” she said, her eyes shining. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Malfoy.”
“Merry Christmas Ms. Granger.”
Their hearts beat in unison as they kissed again and throughout the Manor grounds, the fairy bulbs burst with light.