"Scorpius, stop that," Hermione scolded the child as he played with his breakfast. She really tried to interject a forceful note into her voice, but found it difficult as it was good to see the youngster so happy. Despite his personal tragedy, discipline must not be neglected she reminded herself.
They were enjoying a breakfast of fruits and croissants that the house elf had prepared for them when Scorpius decided to pretend the sliced apples were airplanes. The more time Hermione spent with the boy, the more she discovered that he had a sharp mind and inquisitive nature, but could be very impulsive and silly.
Ignoring her reprimand, he continued to buzz the apple sliced around the room. "Did you ever ride on a big airplane, Miss Hermione?" he asked.
"Scorpius," she said with stern tone. He looked back at her with wide, innocent eyes, but that expression didn't fool Hermione this time. "Sit down and either eat your apple or set it back on your plate. Your grandfather will be very displeased if you don't learn not to play with your food during meals."
Scorpius immediately sat down and ate his apples. According to her parenting guide, the best way to teach children proper behavior was to take away privileges; however, Hermione found that evoking the wrath of Lucius was even more effective.
"That's better," she praised the little boy.
He reached for the croissant. "But I can play with my food once the meal is finished?" he asked, smiling.
"No, don't ever play with your food. That's very bad manners," Hermione replied, feeling a little exasperated.
Scorpius raised his croissant in the air. Hermione glared at him, and he grinned and quickly bit into the croissant, dripping blueberry filling down his chin.
"You're a mess," she laughed, reaching for the napkin and dabbing at his chin. "Now I know why all of your prospective nannies were completely twisted in knots over you."
"Twisted in knots?" he echoed excitedly. "Like in a game?"
She laughed again, but before she could answer another voice spoke to them from the doorway, "I seem to have missed all the excitement."
"Lucius!" Hermione exclaimed, as their eyes met. Her heart leaped in her chest and her throat went dry. Would she ever get used to his presence?
"Grandfather!" Scorpius scrambled out of his chair and ran to him. It was obvious that the little boy adored Lucius, no matter how afraid he was of his disciplinary measures.
"Come and eat with us," Scorpius said, jumping up and down at his side. "But you can't play with your food until after breakfast is finished. Miss Hermione said so."
"I certainly did not," she countered. "I never said you could ever play with your food."
Lucius sat down and winked at Hermione. "Then we should do whatever makes Miss Hermione happy."
Hermione blushed. "Why, thank you."
An owl flew into the room and dropped a letter on Lucius's plate. He opened it and quickly perused the contents. Hermione noticed his jaw clenched several times.
"Bad news?" she asked.
"Not bad. It was from St. Mungo's. Narcissa is out of her coma."
The air was rich with scent of wet earth and leaves, as Hermione followed Lucius along the trail that led to the woods at the edge of the Malfoy grounds. It had been the first time they were seeing each other all week. He and Scorpius were busy visiting Mrs. Malfoy in her ward. All Lucius had said on the subject was that she had an amnesia and couldn't recall anything after the Battle of Hogwarts. Hermione felt more and more like the worst person in the world. Narcissa Malfoy had done nothing to her, and yet Hermione was having an brazen affair with her husband in the home that they had built together. Her face burned with shame.
They came to a clearing and stopped near a pond of crystal water.
"This is beautiful!" Hermione breathed out as she dismounted from her mare.
"I'm glad you like it," Lucius said.
The house-elf had prepared a romantic picnic for two with chicken sandwiches, plums, grapes, and assorted pastries under the canopy of shimmering cloth that kept out the chill of late autumn.
"Is it just us?" she asked.
"Yes, of course. Be sure to handsomely tip your waiter," Lucius joked as he filled their glasses with sparkling white wine.
Hermione reached up to kiss his cheek. "So far the service here is excellent."
They devoured their sandwiches, then moved on to the pastries for dessert. Hermione bit into the hazelnut one and nearly swooned at the taste. She closed her eyes and chewed slowly to savor the light, creamy flavor. When she opened her eyes, she noticed Lucius was watching her with a curious expression.
"I take it the dessert meets with your approval?" he asked.
Hermione laughed. "How could you tell?" she joked back. When they were alone like this, she could almost forget everything else. "Let's walk around, so I can work some of this off."
They took a turn about the water in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
"Do you come here often?" she asked, gesturing around.
"I did when I was younger. As a child I used to play here by myself for hours."
"Was it lonely for you?"
"No, it was great fun... I can't believe I'm telling you all this," Lucius admitted.
Hermione chewed on her lip before asking her next question, "What was it like growing up here, with so much privilege?"
"My life was like that of any other wizards in some ways. What becomes tiresome is being seen as an institution. I took advantage of it. I always enjoyed the power and influence. I never knew what it was like to have none of those things until the war..."
Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, feeling completely at peace. Every moment with Lucius was so special. Hermione could easily imagine a future with him. Then she yanked herself back from such thoughts. There was no future. Narcissa was out of her coma, soon she would have to leave St. Mungo's and come back home. This was her home. Hermione was the interloper.
"Care to race back?" Lucius asked once they mounted their horses again.
"You're on!" Hermione replied, sending her mare into a gallop. They raced swiftly through the woods and across the meadow. The world rushed by her in a streak of rich colors. From the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Lucius pulling ahead of her, but she caught on. The horses were side by side until the very end when Hermione pulled ahead and won the race by a nose. She climbed off her mare with a grin on her face.
"Congratulations," Lucius said with a wry smile.
"Thanks! We were pretty great," she replied smugly.
"And so modest," he teased.
Hermione's heart fluttered as Lucius took her into his arms. He kissed her slowly and deeply, as if they had all the time in the world to be together. She was melting, losing herself in the glorious sensations swirling through her body.
When the kiss ended, Hermione drew in a deep breath. "Was that my reward for winning?"
Lucius touched his forehead to hers. "No, that was my consolation prize for losing. This is yours..." He lowered his lips to hers for another passionate kiss.
Before she could lose herself in his embrace again, Hermione pulled back.
"Lucius, we need to talk."
"Right now?" he grumbled.
"Yes, now," she insisted. "We can't keep avoiding this discussion forever."
"What discussion is that?"
"Isn't it obvious? Lucius, your wife came out of coma. She'll be coming home eventually. We can't carry on like this. I know neither of us planned for this to happen, but this has to end ... doesn't it?" Hermione couldn't bring herself to look him in the eye as she said it.
"Is that what you want?" he asked evenly.
"This isn't about what I want. It's about right and wrong. This is wrong. I don't want to be the other woman, Lucius. Even if your marriage was effectively over before, your wife doesn't remember that now and so she doesn't deserve this."
"I don't need a lecture on right or wrong. I know the difference. This is different. It's not some tawdry affair. What we have is..." He gently brushed her cheek with his knuckles.
"Is what?" Hermione prompted when he didn't continue. Her eyes filled with tears.
"I don't know. I'm not good with romance, never have been. I know it's rare," he said, piercing her with his gaze. "I may not have the proper words to express it, but we both felt it that first night at Wordsworth's. Hermione, what happened between us cannot be undone." He moved to touch her face again. "Do you regret it all now, is that it?" He looked almost frightened to hear her answer.
"No, not a bit," she quickly reassured him, then looked down again. "But it can't continue now that Narcissa will be recovering. You know neither of us would carry on under her roof while she needs care and starts to put her life back together. She'll be grieving for Draco and Astoria all over again ... it wouldn't be right. It's the lowest of the low."
He sighed. "I know."
"There is only one logical conclusion. We have to end it, Lucius." Her voice cracked and her hands shook as she said it.
His mirthless laugh startled her. "Do you really think it's that simple? Just because it's wrong for us to be together doesn't mean we can wish our feelings away. We've tried restraint before."
"I'm not saying it'll be easy. We just can't get carried away," Hermione reasoned. "No matter how we feel or how much it hurts, we have to stop. We have no future, Lucius! If we continue, it'll end with more tears. Someone once told me you can't build happiness on someone else's sorrow. And that's exactly what we'll be doing if we selfishly carry on."
"No future? Is that how you saw us all this time?" His tone was ice cold.
"Not ideally, but realistically it's true. What did you think would happen? Narcissa would wake up and grant you a divorce, and then we'd ride off into the sunset together?" Hermione was nearly hysterical now. Why couldn't he understand? Why was he making it so difficult? Couldn't he see that they had other people to consider?
"So we should be miserable and disregard our needs entirely? There's no prize for martyrdom, Hermione."
"There isn't one for adultery either," she countered.
"Look me in the eyes and tell me it meant nothing!" he said fiercely, grasping her to him.
Hot, thick tears flooded Hermione's eyes. "It's not what I meant. It was everything!" She started to sob.
Lucius pulled her close. "We'll figure this out. Once Narcissa recovers, I'll petition for divorce. I'll be free then, and none of this will be wrong ever again," he promised.
Hermione drew back from him. Somehow it all sounded like a distant, impossible daydream. She was not going to fool herself into thinking it would all come true. There was always a possibility that old feelings could come back and the couple could reconcile, leaving her even more brokenhearted.
"I have to go," she squeaked out, wiping away at her tears. "We should both take time to really think this through. Ending a marriage is not an easy decision. I can't ask it of you; only you can decide that, so take your time and figure out what you really want."
"You are all I want!" He remained intractable.
"Once you're living with your wife again, you may think very differently. I don't want to get my hopes up, only to have them dashed. She really needs you now; it would be cruel to just drop divorce on her lap. The holidays are coming up, so let's discuss our situation afterwards."
His eyes widened. "That's almost two months."
"It's best to just focus on our families for now and then discuss how we want to proceed with our situation," Hermione said.
Lucius looked part wounded, part enraged, but he didn't say anything. Nor did he try to follow her when she turned and walked back to the manor. By the time she stood in the fireplace to use the Floo Network, he still hadn't returned to stop her. Hermione couldn't tell if she was more relieved or disappointed. She knew she was doing the right thing, but no platitude could soothe the ache in her heart.
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