“Welcome, Miss Granger.”
This couldn’t be happening. She fixed her gaze on Kingsley, refusing to acknowledge the source of the voice. Kingsley bowed his head. His mouth was twisted into a grimace.
“Hermione…” The pleading tone wasn’t possible to miss.
She lifted her chin slightly, trying to disguise the panic slowly creeping from her twisting stomach onto her face as disdain. She didn’t spend seven years fighting the most powerful monstrosity the wizarding world had ever known for this. She wouldn’t do this. She couldn’t.
“Shall I presume that you’ve gone deaf, Miss Granger?” On the contrary, she could practically hear the smirk twitching on his lips as he spoke. Her nails cut into her palms as she stiffened, staring Kingsley down. He shifted his weight and cleared his throat.
“Hermione, the law is the law. You, of all people, should know why I have to do this.”
“This isn’t the law, Kingsl- excuse me, Minister. I should know. I helped you write it.”
“Yes,” he answered. One hand rose to his face, and he rubbed the seemingly permanent furrow on his brow. “It seems that we overlooked one small detail. Mr. Malfoy is not a criminal, Miss Granger.”
“Yes, I’m very pleased to announce that I, along with Narcissa and Draco, have been pardoned for our… participation in the war. We were under the influence of the Imperius curse.”
Her blood – her dirty blood, as he had often called it – boiled. Her heart pounded like a drum of war in her ears. “The hell you were!” The words surged out mercilessly. Her legs moved of their own accord, and she lurched forward. “You lying, slimy, disgusting bastard! You have tortured and murdered dozens of people! If you think for even one moment that I would ever accept any kind of bond with you, a pathetic, lying, horrible excuse for a man, you are out of your mind! I should hex you right now, you-“
The next word died on her tongue. Her mouth snapped shut, startled by the roar of the otherwise soft-spoken man, and resumed her former distance from the sneering blond. Kingsley returned to a normal volume, but each word was spoken with gravity. “The law states that, “in order to restore the population and break down the status system, one person of each Pure-blood family unit may choose a romantically uninvolved Half-blood or Muggle-born witch or wizard to integrate into the lineage.” You wrote those very words, Hermione.”
Kingsley hesitated for another moment, then straightened up and continued. “Hermione, listen to me. By doing this, you prove that these unions are possible. If you go along with this, if you can appear to get along with the Malfoy family, however difficult that may be for you –“
Lucius snorted, and Kingsley shot him a dirty look.
“-and for Lucius, it will reassure the rest of the world. This is the most important proposition made yet.”
She spun on her heel and marched toward the door. A hand closed around her wrist, just tightly enough to catch her attention. Hermione closed her eyes tightly and counted to ten before looking over her shoulder at her friend.
“This is a beacon of hope, Hermione.” Kingsley spoke in a low voice. She glanced behind him furtively, and Lucius sneered and looked away. She saw a hint of frustration crack his icy composure for a split second. She faced Kingsley again.
“Don’t do this to me,” she whispered.
“Think! You, a hero of war, an accomplished Auror, a visionary of medical progress – someone indisputably and unanimously trusted across the wizarding world – joining with the Malfoys, the most powerful, outspoken bigots in existence. Think of what this will do for us. For the world.” His eyes softened. “I know this is hard, but… Hermione…”
"I understand." From between clenched teeth, loudly enough for the Malfoy patriarch to hear, she growled “Very well, Mr. Malfoy. I accept your proposal.”
“Excellent.” They stared at one another. The brunette saw her own hatred mirrored on his face.
“Good,” Kingsley said. She watched as the wrinkles in his brow melted away and his shoulders sagged with relief. “Hermione… I can’t thank you enough. We just have to do some paperwork, and you two are free to go.”
As Kingsley stepped back, Lucius approached. His hand lashed out and grasped her wrist in a vice-like grip. From the corner of her eye, she saw the former Order member tense. Before Kingsley could so much as speak, her free hand flew to her wand and drew it. The vine wood tip hovered centimeters from Lucius’s forehead.
“I can see that our union will be most… entertaining,” he drawled. His fingers slid from her wrist to her hand, and he raised it to his lips. She felt heat rush to her cheeks as embarrassment took over. She’d been too quick to react: her fear was now obvious. One of his eyebrows lifted ever-so-slightly in one smooth, elegant motion that bespoke volumes of amusement and triumph. Now he knew. He would undoubtedly use this against her. I'm an idiot! She was frozen in place, staring at him. He stared back.
"Miss Granger, I must insist that you refrain from drawing your wand on me every time we touch. After all, we will be doing so quite frequently in the near future." His lips pressed firmly to her knuckles. A shiver wracked her body. One corner of his mouth twitched up in the famous, infuriating Malfoy smirk. He released her hand. She drew it to her chest as though she'd been electrocuted. On some level, she almost felt as though she had been.
"Now, let's get these ridiculous forms filled out. Take a moment to enjoy it - this will be the last time you sign your name as Granger, after all."
Hermione Malfoy… How did this happen to me?