A/N And here we are, my dear readers! The final chapter of this naughty novella. Woot! I owe so much to my beta StoryWriter831 without whom I am a hot mess of angst, insecurity, and indecision. She has helped shape this story so much (but don't blame her for the Obliviation, that was all my fault!) so big love and endless kudos to her. I also have a small but awesome band of regular reviewers and cheerleaders whose support has meant the world to me...you know who you are. This is dedicated to you guys.
Lotsa love and lols, xox artful
PS I've gone back and re-edited the whole fic, so I'm hoping I've caught most of the little errors which I had been blithely ignoring up until now.
Fools Rush In, But Gentlemen Gracefully Saunter
Waking up in St Mungo's Emergency Department with no recollection of the preceding six months of her life had been, Hermione thought, a total drag.
Primarily, she resented the loss of whatever information she had garnered over that substantial period, especially the headway she knew she must have made at her still-fairly-new position on the DIMC. Then there were all the spells, potion-making techniques, and wand-work which, according to her diary, she had continued to keep diligently abreast of. Not to mention her grasp of political and current affairs which was now hopelessly out of date.
It was this last deficiency which Hermione was attempting to rectify as she sat by her fire surrounded by several stacks of Daily Prophets. She had worked her way from April through August and had one more week in which to cram in the remaining month before she started back at work.
She heaved a morose sigh. Scanning each headline for pertinent information was no easy task. She kept imagining her own story springing up before her eyes in nightmarishly-lurid font. 'POOR ME, POOR ME, POUR ME A DRINK: Ministry Poster Child Buckles Under Pressures Of New Position!' In her head, this was accompanied with a picture of her sprawled in a puddle of her own vomit.
She shuddered at the mental image, a cold sweat creeping over her body as she reflected on how narrowly she had missed making the front page.
Seemingly, she had been found unconscious but unharmed outside the entranceway to her flat.
"Magical Misadventure Under Incapacitating Influences" was the official finding. "Completely Shit-Faced" would be a less euphemistic way of putting it.
According to witnesses, she had had quite a few glasses of strawberry champagne at the Ministry Masque, and it was thought that upon returning to her flat she had somehow accidentally Obliviated herself while unlocking the front door. Unlocking the door, for crying out loud! Something she could do in her sleep! Just not an alcohol-induced one, apparently.
Hermione blushed, remembering her humiliation in having to admit the truth to the various concerned friends who visited her during her three-day stint in St Mungo's. She could've cheerfully punched their noses at their pitying expressions, their delicate hints about the stress of her new position causing her to behave erratically, and their gentle warnings on the dangers of drinking alone. Self-righteous meddlers. As if none of them have ever had a little too much to drink and miscast a spell. Hmph!
The only comfort she could take was that her boss, Mr. Barrowland had promised—thank god—to keep the story out of the papers. She had rather expected him to hand her her notice and was gratified to learn that her merits apparently outweighed her liabilities.
Hermione almost ripped the page of the newspaper as she turned it, her anger once more getting the better of her. How, how could her life have turned into such an—an exploded cauldron? She, who always strived so diligently to achieve perfection in everything, how could she have messed it all up so terribly? She didn't even particularly like champagne!
And to make matters infinitely worse, it seemed (according to the papers, anyway) that that detestable, unmitigated arse of a Death-Eating pig, Lucius sodding Malfoy, had somehow insinuated himself onto the DIMC! Just how he'd managed that was beyond her. She could only suppose he blackmailed, bullied or bribed some half-witted imbecile into aiding his appointment.
Hermione wrenched another page irefully over, almost tearing it in half.
The mere thought of his sneering countenance filled her with utter wrath. Clearly her plan to find incriminating information on him with the aid of a little Polyjuice—the drinking of which, by the bye, was the last thing she could actually remember—hadn't worked at all. It had been a reckless venture anyway, and she supposed she should count herself lucky not to have been caught by the rotten son-of-a-snake. But, oh! How she dreaded having to sit at the same committee table as him, forced to listen to his delicately barbed quips, forced to encounter his supercilious expression whenever she met his eyes...
Arrogant! Conceited! Prejudiced! Did-she-mention-Arrogant! Scoundrel!
Another violent turn of the page brought her face-to-face with the man who was currently, and most unwelcomely, dominating her thoughts.
She eye-rolled at the photo. Him, foppishly overdressed and preening, waltzing past the camera with some half-naked floozy—uuh?! A loud gasp escaped her lips. It was her! The half-naked floozy was HER! What in nine circles of hell was she wearing, or rather not wearing? And more to the point—why was she dancing with Lucius Malfoy?!
No bloody way!
Her eyes were glued to the photo with horrified fascination. There was no mistaking it. That was Lucius Malfoy, sweeping past the camera with the most obscenely smug smirk on his sharply chiselled face, and that was Hermione Jean Granger, wearing not much more than a couple of sparkly red flowers held together with a scrap of lace, embraced in his arms. (Admittedly, she did look rather fabulous, and those shoes made her legs look like they went on forever, and her hair was actually quite sexy with that golden feather draping down her bare bac—) Um, hello? Ground Control to Mind! We're still on the whole DANCING WITH LUCIUS MALFOY BOMBSHELL!
Hermione reined in her wildly-reeling thoughts and took a more scrutinizing look at her own expression. She was relieved to see that her smile was so false and sullen as to leave no doubt upon her real opinion of the situation. Clearly, it had been some stupid media stunt she'd been coerced into complying with.
The headline blared, 'TAKES TWO TO TANGO: Malfoy & Granger Go Toe-to-Toe With Dance of Progress at Ministry Masque.'
Beneath it the article began, "Controversial DIMC appointee Lucius Malfoy and celebrated war heroine Hermione Granger last night demonstrated their solidity and unity with a symbolic waltz which political pundits are calling "a coup for the Ministry"...' The rest of it was a straight-up propaganda piece, detailing the Ministry's inroads with blood status relations and excusing Malfoy's appointment to the DIMC, as well as mentioning Hermione's "interesting choice of muggle attire" no fewer than six times.
So THIS was why she was so indispensable to Barrowland! The bloody Ministry was using her to deflect Malfoy's unpopularity! And this—this was the Masque at which she had got so drunk she couldn't perform a door-unlocking charm. Well, frankly, she couldn't blame herself! Getting boiled as a newt was probably the only way she could possibly have coped with having to dance with that—that—that reprobate.
Hermione slammed the page over, not wanting to offend her eyes with the detestable picture another second.
Unfortunately, the following spread wasn't much better. Another huge photo of her, this time standing on a platform holding an oversized cheque. From the angle it was taken, the photo actually made her look like she was naked. The caption read, 'Miss Hermione Granger "bares" a generous donation for the St Mungo's Refurbishment Fund.'
Ugh. Fucking gutter press, scraping the barrel with their sleazy innuendo instead of reporting actual journalism.
She threw the whole sickening item away in disgust, knocking the remaining pile of unread newspapers over as she did. Grumbling, she reached for her wand to re-stack them but paused as her attention was arrested by a half-covered photograph on the front page of one paper, featuring what looked like a familiar cascade of blond hair.
Maybe an announcement of Lucius Malfoy's untimely demise, she thought hopefully.
She drew the paper out from under the others, noting as she did that the date was recent—in fact, only a few days ago. As she stared at the headline, Hermione's face broke into a smile of genuine delight, the first in the whole duration of her four-week, home-based "convalescence".
'MALFOYS SEPARATE! Rumour-Mill Goes Into Overdrive As Power-Couple Confirm Divorce Proceedings!'
"Hah!" Hermione exclaimed. "That should bend his broomstick!" Lucius Sacred-Twenty-Eight Purity-Personified Malfoy, always flaunting his beautiful wife like the most glittering jewel of his collection. Not so infallibly perfect after all! Just let him try to bully her at work now, and she'd rub this newest failure right in his detestable face.
Hermione moved to the couch, newspaper clutched in hand, making herself comfortable as she prepared to ingest every sordid little detail the Prophet had managed to dig up. Those investigative journalists were so diligent and credible.
She snuggled back into the cushions and smoothed out the newspaper on her lap. She almost felt like pouring herself a glass of strawberry champagne.
Hermione let out a small screech of irritation as the doorbell rudely interrupted her gleeful perusal of the front-page feature. Damn it! Could she not read her juicy gossip in peace without being harangued by some do-gooder armed with soup and sympathy?!
She jumped up and barrelled over to the door, scolding words already tumbling out of her mouth as she unhooked the latch. "I told you, I'm perfectly fine! Could you all please stop worry—"
She jerked the door open and for several long seconds just stood there, staring up at the wizard darkening her doorstep, confounded into total silence.
"Ing," she finished at last.
Lucius Malfoy smiled. Not smirked, or sneered, or simpered, but actually smiled. Rather dazzlingly, if she cared to admit it. Which she most definitely did not.
"Ms. Granger," the blond wizard addressed her in a civil tone, disorientingly devoid of sarcasm, "how nice to see you looking so well. I trust you're feeling better after your...er, 'car' accident, I think I read in the Prophet?" So saying his silver eyes swiftly surveyed the issue still clutched in her hand, across which his own face was so prominently displayed. With a small gulp Hermione quickly hid the newspaper behind her back, then hastily threw it behind the door, flinching at the tell-tale rustle as it hit the wall and fell to the floor.
"I'm very thank you, doing well for asking," she blurted, flustered into incoherency by being caught out so obviously reading the article about him. She flushed to her hairline. "That is, I'm doing very well, thank you for asking."
"I'm glad," he replied with a sincerity more disarming than an Expelliarmus spell. "We've all been...most concerned."
Hermione was alarmed at exactly how strong an impulse she had to return his smile. Disgusted with herself and suspicious of the man causing her so much confusion, she forced a scowl upon her face instead. "What do you want, Malfoy?" she snapped at him. "Because you're not going to get it, whatever it is."
Lucius Malfoy's eyes gleamed with amusement as he spread his hands in a gesture of entreaty. "Only to see how you're getting on, my dear.—Oh, and to give you this." He produced from beneath his robe a large black folder and held it out to her with a flourish. Was it a mocking flourish? Hermione wasn't sure, and her scowl intensified.
"What is it?"
"An official copy of the minutes from the last six months Board meetings," Lucius replied suavely. "You did request them, did you not?"
"Y-yes," Hermione admitted, still wavering between suspicion and downright distrust. "How did you know that?"
"I overheard our Chairman asking the secretary to prepare them for you, and since I happened to be heading to this neighbourhood on another matter..." He shrugged airily. "I volunteered to make the delivery."
Hermione dissected his reply for any hint of backhanded insult or double-entendre but came up perplexingly empty-handed. It really seemed like the man might...might simply be doing a good turn for a sick colleague? She supposed stranger things could happen. The sea could spontaneously turn into 332.5 million cubic miles of butterbeer, for example.
She grumbled out a very unwilling, "Thanks."
"You're welcome, Ms. Granger," Lucius replied smoothly, apparently quite unperturbed by her ungraciousness. "Well, I mustn't keep you from your rest. I very much look forward to seeing you at work next week." And with the most graceful movement in the world, which seemed somehow utterly natural yet ridiculously gallant, he caught up her hand, bowed over it and brushed it with his lips. For a second, his eyes lifted to connect with hers and Hermione's pulse leaped erratically in response to something molten and imperative and unmistakably covetous behind that cool, silvery gaze. Hastily she snatched her hand from out of his long fingers, swallowing dryly as she watched him straighten up to his full height again.
"Goodbye, my litt...ahem. Goodbye, my dear," he murmured, and she thought she must be going mad for his voice actually sounded tender. "These are also for you."
Shocked into momentary paralysis, Hermione observed the wizard elegantly saunter a few feet away and Disapparate. She stood riveted to the spot, inundated by a tidal wave of confusing sensations—a spiralling warmth that seemed to begin where his lips had touched her hand and was quickly spreading over her entire body; a kind of dizzying intoxication from the heady scent he left behind, of fine cigars, expensive cologne and unequivocal masculinity...and a strange disorientation at the caressing tone of his voice and smouldering lustre of those silver eyes. Most disturbing of all was an encroaching awareness of a warm dampening of her lacy knickers.
What in Hades' Handbasket is wrong with me? she wondered.
She stared down at the bouquet of twelve exquisite cream-coloured blooms, which Lucius had placed on top of the black folder. Each flower was at that beautifully-fragile stage of unfurling, the leaves were beaded with a dew-charm, the stems de-thorned and wrapped in gauzy layers of gold tissue, all held together with a bow of pale-green silk ribbon.
Sighing, Hermione shut the door and padded back inside. She supposed she ought to throw them on the fire, but to be perfectly honest she had never been given anything so beautiful in her life. It really would be criminal to burn them.
...Besides, it wasn't like she was fooled by his act. She knew a charm-offensive when she saw one, especially when it manifested with gallant hand-kisses and gorgeous roses. She would easily resist whatever scam he was trying to get her onside with.
Oh, no, I'm not stupid, Hermione thought, as she brought the bouquet to her nose and inhaled its delightful fragrance. I know his game.
I mean, it's not like he's trying to seduce me.
D'aw! I'm feeling a little emotional right now. I really hope you enjoyed this story and, most importantly, got some good giggles out of it. I'd love to hear what your favourite scene was, and if you'd like to see an eventual sequel. Lucius is levelling his silvery gaze at you and drawlingly observing that you *might* like to add it to your list of faves. Conceited wretch! ;) See you all again soon! *kisses*