Hermione laid on the lumpy mattress wrapped in Lucius's arms faking sleep. She meant to be sleeping, really, but with the way her head was spinning out of control she had no idea how that could be attempted. What had just happened? They'd had sex. Tried to have sex, more like. Shame. Triumph. Fear. Love. Anticipation. Disappointment.
When it seemed like her emotions were going to overwhelm her, she was suddenly distracted by the fact that she was still ensconced in his arms, buried in his warmth. She could feel his uneven breath on her neck, his skin against hers, and his hands...the way his thumb rubbed against her collarbone, fingers tangled in the necklace he made her. She heard him swallow hard, tightening his grip around her.
"Lucius?" she asked, her voice tentative, in the off chance he was asleep.
"Yes?" he responded. Despite her hair muffling his voice, he sounded no closer to that elusive state than she was.
The glaring red numbers staring at her from the bedside changed again, 12:03 turning to 12:04. He shifted, moving behind her to plant a kiss on her naked shoulder, which poked out from under the covers. His hands stayed firm, keeping her tightly pressed against him while his thumb continued to stroke.
She didn't know what she wanted to say, opening her mouth for a second before closing it.
"What is it?" he asked. If she didn't know better, she would think he sounded afraid. He couldn't be though, it was silly to imagine. Her analytical, logical self would have liked to knock into her what outsiders would say was common sense, but it didn't hold enough power just then.
When she didn't answer, Lucius could feel himself becoming more uncomfortable. Waiting for her to push him away, he breathed in the smell of her hair and memorized the feel of her body. He'd disappointed the girl, he felt it, and he'd hurt her.
To sleep, he'd said, and meant it. As unappealing as the notion was, as tempting as he'd found the alternative, there had been no doubt in his mind when he'd said it that it was the better course of action. They were exhausted, his head hurt, and she was barely recovered from her injuries. Emotions were running high and judgement, for both of them, was severely impaired. For a man in his forties, he'd behaved alarmingly like a fifth year boy, excited to get his first shag and damn the consequences.
"Nothing," she mumbled, twisting her body to move closer to him still, "just…"
Lucius wasn't typically the one to feel the need to fill the silence. Whether comfortable or not. Enough of his life had been filled with both to cause him to make his peace with the notion, but exhaustion lowered his inhibitions.
"Hermione," he said, lifting a hand to brush her hair behind her ears, "you're beautiful, you know." Not in the conventional way. Aesthetically, Lucius could hardly deceive himself that she was the picture of proper proportions and symmetry.
People hadn't lied when they told her that her hair was horrible, and that her face was average. He wouldn't have looked twice at her if he'd passed her in the street, or seen her at a social event, no matter how well dressed she was. Now that he knew her though, he didn't know how he could look away. Her beauty was in the way she smiled and laughed, the way her eyes lit up when she was teasing, or the triumph that spread across her face every time she caught on to something new. It was in her bizarre, unyielding belief in right and wrong, and the way she fought back hard if pushed. It was the sort of beauty that couldn't fade, even when she was half starved on the run. The kind that wouldn't fade when she aged, even the day her horrible frizzy hair turned gray, and her skin wrinkled.
"I'm sorry I didn't make you feel like you were. I'm sorry I hurt you...that it was," he flinched, "bad."
Hermione's eyelids felt heavy over her eyes. His words felt like a blanket covering her, lulling her into peace and sleep.
"I don't want to let you go." he said, "but I'm afraid you'll ask me to."
In her sleepy daze, Hermione turned towards his and planted a light kiss in the vicinity of his mouth. "I think I'd rather you keep holding me."
"Goodnight," she added, a small content smile playing on her lips, feeling more sated than if their earlier endeavour had been successful.
She closed her eyes again, snuggling into him, letting her head rest on his shoulder.
October 23, 1998
Theo didn't think his boss at the ministry fully understood how low he and Thorfinn sat in the Death Eater hierarchy. Like...how they were rock bottom. They literally, probably, were worth less to the Dark Lord than some valuable stones at Malfoy Manor. Of course, he wasn't about to disabuse the man of the notion that his favour was something worth garnering.
"Sir, we're very flattered that you graced our humble halls with your presence." the man simpered.
Theo coughed, hiding a laugh as he shared a look with Thorfinn… the ministry worker was really, really bloody far gone.
It was one of their monthly check ins, where they submitted something that shared a few key characteristics with 'paperwork', but was such a shoddy mess that Theo still cringed when he handed it in. It was all going to be rewritten anyways, he told himself, to fit with whatever agenda the department head was trying to push.
"Mr. Nott," a voice drawled from behind him, and seeing the man in front of him rearrange himself, Theo begin to have second thoughts about his earlier assessment. Headmaster Severus Snape's presence in the ministry looked like it would cause the man to fall into a dead faint at any moment. "Ministry cases have been keeping you busy?"
It wasn't like Snape to make small talk, nor was it like him to be at the ministry. Theo didn't like when people deviated from their patterns, it didn't typically mean anything good for him. Swallowing hard, he continued to fix his eyes on a far point of the hallway, refusing to meet Snape's; he wasn't going to make that mistake a second time.
"I suppose," he answered through clenched teeth. A glance to Thorfinn let him know that he, too, was terrified. He regretted having told him as much as he had, he'd put his friend in danger. He didn't have enough of those at the moment to treat them like they were expendable.
"Well, I'm afraid it will have to wait. I have my own assignment for you and Mr. Rowle. I expect you won't mind if I borrow your drones?" he asked the ministry worker, who shook his head violently, beseeching Snape to take them.
"What is the assignment, Sir?" Thorfinn asked, like a good soldier, squaring his shoulders and standing a little more upright. Theo just glared harder at the spot on the wall.
Snape didn't bother to conceal an eyeroll. "I will meet you in...say an hour...at Nott Manor."
Without waiting longer, he turned on his heels and walked away, cloak billowing behind him.
He wondered what Snape wanted.
The reluctant headmaster walked away, wondering if he was doing the right thing by placing a trail on Andromeda. The woman was friends with Lucius once upon a time, and it didn't seem unreasonable that, after exhausting every other option, he would turn to her for help. It was unlikely, but the Dark Lord would be pacified to see him do something. He hated every task that dug him further into the Death Eater trenches. The war was supposed to be over by now, but here he was hunting down his former patron on his master's orders, which he still obeyed on Dumbledore's. Merlin he was exhausted.
The young Death Eaters' blatant, deliberate negligence, he hoped, would be enough to keep them from finding anyone in the Order. Not that it was likely her home was still used in any capacity. He found himself questioning Dumbledore's orders yet again, unsure what kept him loyal to the dead man. Even if it was a fairly low risk action, like just about everything he did these days, it didn't sit right with him.
Perhaps he would follow Lucius's footsteps and disappear. There was no family or loved ones keeping him where he was. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the students. There was a death the year before, despite his best efforts to mitigate the Carrow's damage. The little girl was just barely twelve, a half blood hufflepuff who'd spoken in defense of her muggle mother in muggle studies, and had looked so broken in death. It was no longer only Lily's face that haunted him, reminding him why he fought this war as long as he did, it was hers, Charity's, and many others. Each one felt like a personal failure.
Snape didn't want to think what would happen with the Carrows going unchecked. His responsibilities wouldn't run away on their own, abandoning him for dead the way Lucius's had. He still had a purpose to serve, damn Dumbledore and his twinkling eyes.
Andromeda drummed her fingers against the table, staring out through the window at the field behind her home.
"Mum?" a voice asked, nearly drowned out by a crying child.
She heard neither her daughter, nor her grandson, with her expression still glazed over as she watched a point far in the horizon. She expected Ted to come back home any minute now. He said he would be home for supper, and he she could always count on him being there when he said he would be. He was reliable, her Teddy.
"Mummy…" Dora said again, reaching out to touch her mother's shoulder. "Dad's not gonna be home."
"You'll see Dora, he'll be home. Daddy promised he would be."
Dora started crying, while her son only wailed louder in chorus with her. Andromeda finally tore her eyes from the window, and looked at her daughter with concern. "What's wrong, child?"
"He's not coming home, Mum!" she cried out, "He's been gone over a year. You sit here… expecting Dad will just show up every day, but he's" she choked, "he's not coming home."
"Your father would never lie to me." she said, a sad smile on her face, the kind that sympathetically said she knew better, "he said he would be home for supper. He'll be here tonight, you'll see."
Nymphadora Tonks covered her mouth with the hand that wasn't securing her child to her side, stifling another sob, while gently rocking trying to calm her baby. "This isn't healthy, Mum. Dad's...no one has seen him."
"I would know if he was gone." her mother said, looking at her daughter squarely. It was the first time she'd even acknowledged the possibility, although that didn't make Nymphadora feel any better. "He's my very soul, I would know."
Her own eyes sparkled, filling with unshed tears. Nymphadora wrapped her free arm around her mother's shoulders, trying to manage something that resembled strength, biting down on her lip to keep it from trembling while she comforted her. A year of uncertainty, of having no idea if her father was safe, or even alive, while her own husband was on the run and she was in hiding in her childhood home with a baby.
She saw someone in the distance, through the same window her mother had been looking through, struggling to breach the wards. With a frown on her face, one that looked out of place even if she'd grown more accustomed to the expression recently, she nudged her mother towards the shape.
"Go...hide yourself and little Teddy. I'll see who it is."
Nymphadora's heart raced the way it always did when the cottage had a visitor, not out of fear for herself so much as her child. Her baby boy, defenceless and innocent and damned by the ministry for having a werewolf father. Trudging up the stairs, she didn't think she'd ever felt this exhausted, like the fight had been beaten out of her from months of doing nothing. A fresh wave of anger bubbled up from the pit of her stomach; at Remus for leaving her behind, and at herself for letting him.
Thank you for all the lovely reviews on the last chapter! I was wonderful to see so much of a response to it, especially since I was so nervous about posting the thing.
I'm afraid I've been super swamped with life, and haven't had time to write much. I feel like I'm trudging through this and the upcoming part of the story, and I'm so sorry if it shows in what comes out! It's part of the reason this chapter is so short.
I still need a beta reader! It would be really nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and give feedback on the story before posting it! If you're interested, please send me a pm.