It was the homework that got her, all the homework she'd done and proofread for years. Well, that and that she'd made the plans, done the research, found the spells and once it was all over she'd somehow become the also ran. She was the sidekick to the buddy picture of Harry and Ron, the chosen one and his best friend. It was infuriating. She'd spent months thinking about how everything had been bungled after the war, how perfectly good power vacuums had been thrown away for money and fame. How it wasn't even her money and fame. She could run things far better. Other people really couldn't be trusted to make decisions.
For example, why would you even call yourself the "Dark Lord"? Honestly, if you wanted to basically announce to the world "I am up to no good" that was a darn good way to do it but for a man who really wanted to take over it was a stupid way to go about it. A woman who really wanted real power would be smart enough to have a title like "Assistant Deputy Researcher of Uninteresting Artifact Misuse and Runic Translations"; she'd go about acquiring minions and power and influence until it was too bloody late for anyone to do anything about it. You can't mount a noble force to take down an Assistant Deputy of Research; you'd just look silly.
She tapped her fingers on the table, watching Harry and Ron hold court at the bar. Neither of them glanced her way; she doubted they even knew she was here, sitting in the shadows, watching them bathe in their glory.
"Does it ever just chafe your arse, Granger?"
"What do you want, Malfoy?"
"I'm just enjoying watching the show. Kicked you to the curb, did they? Third wheel much?" He throws back a drink, not, she's guessing, his first, and tosses today's paper at her; it's another glowing bit of selective hagiography. Harry and Ron beam at the camera on the front page, arms around each other. "Learn More About the Boy Heroes Who Saved Wizarding Britain"
Sometimes the little trick pony show makes her want to vomit.
She turns to actually look at the boy – the man – who's slid into the chair across from her. He's still pretty, with that blond hair and that ridiculous bone structure. He's got a mean look in his eye but he's clearly directing it at the bar, not at her. She, she suspects, is meant to be his audience so he can rant about how much he hates Potter and Weasley. She cuts him off.
"I opted not to participate in the song and dance routine and was promptly written out of the narrative. I didn't suffer and sacrifice to whitewash this administration. So, yeah Malfoy, you can call it kicked to the curb if you want to. Wanker." She downs her shot. "I just can't believe after everything the Ministry did to Harry he'd sign up for this little bread and circus crap. I thought we were going to reform…"
"...everything?" The blond snorts. "You were going to make everything better? Make it all fair and just and shit like that. I'm surprised you were that stupidly naïve. I always gave you the credit for being the brains in that little operation. My bad, I guess." He sighs. "Don't you ever even want credit for everything you did?"
She bites the inside of her cheek. "I did, when I thought that credit would translate into power, that I would be able to…"
"Yeah." She tapped on the paper, poking Ron in his grinning head. The picture flinched away from her finger and she began to hit it harder and harder until both images were cowering in the corner of the frame. Draco Malfoy watches her, clearly fascinated. "I don't think I care much about reform anymore, though. I think I might become an assistant researcher. The Assistant Deputy Researcher of Uninteresting Artifact Misuse and Runic Translations, to be precise. I think I might become so dull and forgettable that no one spares me a second glance."
"Is this a purloined letter kind of thing, or are you actually planning to fade away into an obscure and tedious job?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you begin to interest me," he looks steadily at her, and then throws some money on the table. "Would you care to join me for another drink away from the vulgar crowd?
"I don't think I'll be going anywhere private with you. Forgive my cold cynicism in not trusting a man who tried to murder his school headmaster."
"It was a stupid assignment."
"I beg your pardon." Not that she didn't agree with him, but she was interested in his reasons.
He shrugs and slouches back in the seat, eyes on the bar again. "Terrorism isn't really an effective way to stage a coup. If he'd actually marched into the Ministry, announced he was in charge, and distributed some form of bread and circuses to appease the masses, along with a tax cut, that might have worked. Better still to have a figurehead in place and control things from the shadows. But that fool wasn't interested in the mundane details of power, he just liked violence. He was like a toddler flailing about, knocking things over. No sense of strategy at all."
"And how," she asks, "would you have done it?"
He looks at her and smirks. "Not quite the idle question, is it?" A shrug. "I'd do away with the identifying tattooing and creepy fireworks. I'd keep a low profile – Assistant Deputy Researcher, I think you suggested. I'd slowly collect a following whose personal loyalty was unquestioned and avoid the temptation to torture them at will. It's fine for people to fear you, but to fear you're an unpredictable madman, well, I've noticed that that doesn't lend itself to success. I'd place my people in positions of increasing importance in government while manipulating public opinion. The election that made me Minister would be the last one anyone would participate in, and they'd cheer me for stripping them of their franchise. Propaganda is a far stronger tool than violence. Hail Caesar." He raises his glass to her in a mock toast.
"And why haven't you put this excellent plan into place?"
"'Malfoy' isn't really a name that inspires people these days. I'm just a tad despised. That's quite a bit to work against. There isn't anyone left in pureblood society that really inspires the plebian masses. You could do it." He looks at her. "Except for the mudblood problem. The war heroine thing would work in your favor, especially since you've been so brutally shoved out into the cold by the current party in power; the old, entrenched families don't really care for Potter. But blood status prejudice is just too much to overcome. Pity, really."
She reaches across the table and picks up his wand. It's such a gross violation etiquette, so unheard of, that he tries to grab it back instantly and she holds it out of his reach.
"Merlin, Granger, you can't just go about taking people's wands. What's wrong with you?"
"You lay out a plan for quiet revolution and then you complain I take your wand? Why shouldn't I summon an auror and turn you in right now?" She's running her fingers along the shaft of the wood and has tipped her head to the side. He's mesmerized by the sight of her hands, can almost feel them on his skin as she moves them over his wand.
"Because," he finally gasps when she stops moving her fingers and points his own wand at him, "Because you want to do it, because you're sitting here contemplating revenge on the people who dismissed you, on taking over and doing things properly. Because you're smart enough but you're still almost totally transparent and I can read every thought you have as it flits across your face. Because – for Merlin's sake would you stop pointing that at me and give it back – you'd make a hell of a Dark Lady and you're clever enough not to turn down my help if I'm offering it."
"Not Merlin, Malfoy," she breathes. "Nimue." She gestures with his wand towards the bar and it take all of his control not to snatch it back from her. "They're Merlin. And I'm going to lock them up in a tree. Metaphorically speaking, of course."
He puts his hand out, a silent plea for the return of his wand, and she sets it in his palm, leaving her hand on his and he feels his pulse surge wildly in his veins.
"It's true." Her hand is still across his but she's speaking in an almost totally unconcerned voice, as if she weren't acknowledging plans of insurrection, as if she weren't accepting his help. His, let's be honest, drunken offer of fealty. "The most effective route to power would be divide, or unite, people around an already existing concern. Unfortunately the only really contentious issue in wizard society is the blood status thing and, as you pointed out, I'm not exactly positioned to take advantage of that one."
"What if you were pure-blood?"
"What if galleons rained down from the sky?"
"No. I'm being wholly serious. If you were widely believed to be a pure-blood you could do it."
"And how, exactly, would I make people believe something so patently false?"
"Well, you can't just come out and announce you aren't a mudblood. No one would believe you, and, besides, such a lack of finesse is pathetic. No. We start a rumor that you have to be a pureblood. Just a couple of whispers in the right place, has to be a pureblood, do you really think a mudblood would be so powerful, so quick to pick up magic. Propaganda." He shrugs, but doesn't pull his hand away from under hers. "People's innate prejudices will do the rest. It would help if we were a couple. No one who knows me would think I'd date a mudblood."
"And when someone flat out asks me," she muses, "I'll just deny it."
"Better yet, don't quite deny it. 'I have the greatest respect for the people who raised me and would never deny them that way.'" He runs his tongue around his lips. "The pure-blood obsession with family loyalty will end up working to your advantage too. 'The girl is so loyal she won't even denounce her adoptive parents. Blood will out, no muggle-born would ever be that faithful' and so on."
"You have begun, Draco Malfoy, to interest me." She takes her hand away and he slips his wand back into a pocket. "I think I will take you up on that drink, if the offer still stands. We can talk about how I will ascertain whether I can trust you."
He stands and offers her his arm, with the full formality he'd give to a woman at a pureblood gathering. "My lady?"
"Yes," she said. "I am."
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N: Please do not download or save my work in any other formats. Thank you.
On the off chance you didn't read too much Arthuriana in your youth, Nimue is Merlin's student and she betrays him and magically traps him in a tree. She also is the Lady of the Lake (Monty Python's 'watery tart') who gives Arthur his sword in some versions of the legends.