this would have been up last night, but I found myself falling asleep at the keyboard...
well I would have hoped for more after such a long haitus, but this is all I got for now. enjoy!
"Carlise?" Ron asked as Harry was saying,
"Isn't that Whittier's bird?"
I nodded to both of their questions, and felt my throat get tight and dry.
"What's he want?" asked Ron.
"How am I supposed to know?" I snapped, because my nerves were already shot long before Carlise showed up. "I'll go check." It sounded shaky, even to my ears.
Magnus writing after all this time had to mean trouble. Prat couldn't have picked a better day, could he?
By now it had been over a full minute, and Carlise was beginning to get impatient, hooting and tapping at the window insistently, her wide eyes blinking, searching for the owl treats she knew I kept (left over from days when Magnus' owl was a more common sight at my window, and I'd gone out of my way to buy her favorite).
"Maybe you should get that," Harry prodded.
"Or I could get it for you," Ron offered in a distinctly disturbing tone of voice.
I was tempted for a moment, then thought better of it. It wasn't poor Carlise's fault her owner was a self-centered bastard, and I didn't trust Ron not to overreact. Not, of course, that Ron was usually cruel to owls, but who knew if he'd make an exception to the rule for the guy who broke my heart? I decided it was better not to chance it.
Besides, there was no way Ron would be able to resist a peak at that letter, and the last thing I needed was him flying off the handle. What if he apparated to Magnus' apartment? It would be fun to watch, but assault on an auror carried heavy penalties.
And I doubted Magnus had anything to say to me that wouldn't result in anger. "I've got it," I told my best redheaded friend, and scooted my chair back, and, laying my cards on the table with a "don't peak, boys," for warning, I stood, and made my way to the window by way of the mantelpiece (where I kept my owl treats).
Carlise watched my progress intently, her gaze following me from the table to the fireplace and back across the room to the window, where I lifted the latch. She fluttered into the air as I pushed the window open, and settled back on the sill as soon as it was clear, her beak dipping eagerly into the offered bowl.
"Hello, Girl. It's been a while, huh?"
She made a noise in her throat I took a greeting, but didn't stop her eating to thrust her leg out and present me with her cargo.
My fingers fumbled clumsily with the string until Harry came up behind me and snipped it with a pair of scissors.
I hadn't heard him come up on me (which said a lot for my state of mind at the moment), and when my startled eyes met his, he gave me a wink. "You looked like you needed a hand." He explained. I nodded in reply, and turned my attention back to the letter.
"What's it say?" Ron called from the kitchen, where I could hear my refrigerator opening and closing.
"None of your business." I replied automatically.
"He wants to see her tomorrow!" Harry was apparently reading over my shoulder.
"Do you mind!" I hissed at him, pulling the parchment to my chest.
"He what?" Ron bellowed, scrambling out of the kitchen, and ripping the letter from my grasp.
"He wants to see me tomorrow, Ron," I repeated in my best explaining voice, as I took my letter back.
"Well… there's no way you're going, right?" Ron spluttered.
I raised one eyebrow. Malfoy was rubbing off on me.
We called poker knight a bust, the owl sort of ruining the jolly mood we'd had going, and the boys had offered their services as escort tomorrow, but ultimately went home with my firm denial and a "see you on Thursday" ringing in their ears, and I was left alone to brood.
It's silly, I know, but (and I'd like to believe it wasn't just me, but all women, though I've never done any extensive research on the subject) I wanted nothing more than to go the this meeting tomorrow looking as desirable as possible. It wasn't as though I wanted him back, or anything really silly like that, I just wanted him to know what exactly what he was missing. I wanted him to want me.
The moment the coast was clear, I fairly flew down the hall to my room, throwing my closet open to find the most flattering outfit I owned. And everything was just wrong. Too loud, too subdued, too dark, too light, too tight, oh way way too loose… suddenly my wardrobe was comprised entirely of outfits that made me look horrendous. Malfoy would probably be proud of me for finally coming to admit it.
I pushed past everything else, reaching deep, deep down, into the farthest recesses of my closet, and pulled up an unopened clothing package.
It couldn't hurt, right? I mean, I wasn't exactly overly confident in Malfoy's taste, but I'd already considered and discarded everything else, hadn't I? So really, there was no reason not to just… open it up… and… take… a… peak…
I prepared myself for the worst, and lifted the lid.
And closed it right back up again. Took a breath, and lifted it one more time to make sure that I'd seen correctly.
I picked up the dress by the straps, and pulled it out of the box, giving it an appreciative whistle. It was fine silk, almost sheer, and a shade of blue that flirted dangerously with green where the light hit it. The real kicker, though, were the copper threads. They comprised the straps, and were woven randomly into the body of the dress. It did not escape my notice that the color set off my hair and eyes.
I'll be damned, but Malfoy had a phenomenal eye.
The dress would be a bit much for Salvatore's, the muggle Italian restaurant that Magnus had chosen for tomorrow (a place we frequented, as wizarding establishments would have been a higher risk factor for running into someone from work), but I thought that might just work to my advantage. Meeting at Salvatore's seemed a blatant attempt at sentimentality, and out dressing Magnus might be the best way to turn the tables… make him uncomfortable.
My eyes traveled up the slit on the right side of the dress, and I smiled… yes, it would do nicely.
And suddenly, I was on alert, my eyes darting to the still open window, and what I could almost have sworn was the sound of wingbeats, but my eyes met only the night.
There was a letter from Malfoy sitting on the kitchen table the next morning. I saw it immediately, but despite the fact that it's mere presence was making me nervous, I refused to read it on an empty stomach. I had enough to deal with today, without having to deal with my number one annoyance before breakfast. What if he said something to interfere with my enjoyment of my pancakes? No, I deserved to derive pleasure from my meal today. So I pushed the letter out of sight, and out of mind.
Instead, I tried to focus on putting the pancakes into my mouth and chewing. I was incredibly nervous about meeting Magnus later, after all, and was infinitely glad that I hadn't put on any weight since the last time I'd seen him.
And then I decided that that wasn't a healthy topic of thought either. I decided to take this morning of my last day off to try and make some more headway in the Ridgback case. Malfoy may have insisted that Serena Geranium was not a suspect, but I still wasn't sure. Something about that name fired neurons in my head that wouldn't let me just drop it. I decided over my third pancake that I'd spend the morning looking over the Daily Prophet archives in the London Wizard Library.
My morning decided, I forewent a shower (I'd just have to take another one in a few hours anyway, when I was readying for the evening) and pulled on a pair of not-too-dirty blue jeans, and a black t-shirt (the outfit of choice for a morning spent combing through archives). A quick (but thorough) brushing of my teeth, and I was in my fireplace with a handful of floo powder, and a moment after that, I was stepping out of the huge ornate hearth in the lobby of the LWL.
I gave myself a quick dusting, and hoped I didn't have any ash smeared across my face, then I made a b-line for the archives.
It didn't take too much time to find mention of Serena Geranium. I mean, I was there for over three hours, but considering I had maybe four years worth of news to go through from the period right before Lucius Malfoy's return to prison (and Draco Malfoy's subsequent take over of the company) to the present, three hours wasn't all that long a time. And after reading the article, I knew why my brain had seized upon Serena as being involved. Less than a year after Malfoy's take over, she'd thrown herself from a tower. Her family confirmed that she'd been suffering from a growing depression, and her sister, an R. Geranium, was certain it was because of the loss of her job.
Now that I'd read the archives, I remembered this case. Malfoy int. had been vilified in the media, but Malfoy had refused to comment. Could that be the motive? Maybe I'd track down this R. Geranium.
It was odd that the Prophet wouldn't supply her name, but it wouldn't take much digging to find the birth records from St. Mungo's.
It certainly was strong motive, though. Revenge for your sister's suicide. I wondered if that had anything to do with Malfoy's reaction to the mention of her. Could he have been feeling guilty?
It was a scary thought… it would mean that Malfoy was almost human.
But all this cloak and dagger would have to wait, I realized with a start. The clock in the archive room read a quarter to three, and I still had a million things to do before I was ready tonight.
I suppose, all things considered, it really wasn't all that surprising to find that the dress fit me like a glove (a particularly sexy, elegant glove). Malfoy had, after all, been responsible for that dragonhide number. Still, wearing the reminder of Malfoy's uncanny visual talents was a bit disconcerting, but it hung off my shoulders in a teasing caress, and clung to my hips like a lover, and I looked damned good in it, and that was exactly what I was going for at the moment.
I was terribly glad I hadn't worn it to the opening. A picture of Malfoy and I was bad enough. A picture of Malfoy and myself in this dress could potentially kill my reputation all-together.
And I was terribly glad I had worn it tonight. Magnus wouldn't know what'd hit him.
I let the concierge show me to the table where Magnus was waiting, and gave him a nod as he left me with my companion.
"Hermione," Magnus greeted, and I took a certain feminine pride in the huskiness of his voice.
"Magnus?" I countered coolly.
"You're early." His eyes followed me to my seat, and I knew he was watching my legs through the slit. Magnus had always been a sucker for nice legs.
"So are you," I observed, picking up my menu and looking at the aperitifs in an attempt to hide my smile.
He gave an uncomfortable cough, and I felt my smile deepen involuntarily.
How should I do it? Let him down easily, or, rip his heart from his chest, and stomp all over it, like he did mine.
"I don't recognize that dress," he said, after a moment.
"I didn't own it when were together," I informed him.
"Well, I wish you had, you look absolutely incredible.
I couldn't wipe the grin from my face.
He coughed again. "I guess we should get down to business, huh?" he asked.
I prepared myself. Here it comes… please, please… Hermione, I love you
"I hear you're working for Malfoy these days."
Take me back, darling. Wait… what?
"I mean, I saw you in the paper with him, you must be pretty close to him by now."
"Um…" I was confused, caught off guard. "Not really."
"Oh, well, surely you're getting a little bit of an idea of how his business works… I mean, I know you, you can't help but figure things out."
But my confusion was clearing up quickly. "Did you invite me hear to discuss Malfoy's business?" I asked darkly, as the floor was dropping out from underneath me.
"What?" he seemed shocked at my anger. "you know we've been after him for years now. You were one of the biggest proponents of the act."
I stood, pushing my chair back. "Don't owl me again," I warned.
"Wait… Hermione… Hermione? Hermione, you still look beautiful." He called to my retreating back.
"Get bent," I instructed, as I stormed off.
Alohamora didn't work on my door. It was a safety precaution, of course. I wouldn't want just any wizard barging in here whenever they felt like it. It had seemed like an outstanding idea when I'd placed the charm. Now I'd just walked home in uncomfortable pumps to blow off a little steam, and had to dig through my purse for keys with vision made foggy by unshed angry tears. All I wanted in the world was to be on the other side of that door, curled around a pint of iced cream and the bottle of scotch I'd bought at the corner store.
I felt relief sweep outward from the pit of my stomach as I finally (finally) heard the click of the key in the lock, and then felt its progression halt, and reverse, snapping inward with the force of a physical blow. I felt like throwing up. Malfoy was here.
He'd pulled my old, ratty armchair over to face the door, and I had to wonder if he'd intentionally angled the lamp just so in order to cast his face into ominous shadow. I wouldn't put it past him… he was such a drama queen.
"It's about time, Granger." The amusement in his voice hid an underlying fury.
"What are you doing here?"
He tossed something at my feet, and I looked down to find an unopened envelope. "You didn't read my letter," he said darkly.
"Go away, Malfoy, I'm not in the mood." The sad thing is that I couldn't even muster up the energy to be really, really angry with him.
"Whittier." And his voice sounded so poisonous that it sent icy fingers dancing across my spine.
"What?" I replied, as though I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Whittier." He cocked his head, leaning forward so that the light caught his sharp, elegant features. "Magnus Whittier… surely you remember him, you were shagging him for months, weren't you?"
"How do you know that?"
"My dear, everyone knows that." His grin held no warmth. I thought of how charming he'd been yesterday, and the way he'd danced his way back into my good graces the night before, and was once again baffled at how this could possibly be the same man. He seemed ready to murder now. "That dress looks good on you, by the way. Wore it out this evening, did you? To see an old friend."
"That isn't any of your business." I informed him.
"It is when you're discussing my business. Your old friends down at the ministry seem hell bent on finding fault with me, and I have it on good authority that you were out with you're old pal Whittier tonight, in that," he paused to give me an appreciative look, "absolutely stunning little number I bought for you."
"For God's sake, I didn't ask you to buy me this dress. If you're so possessive of it, why don't you just pee on it?" Men! Sometimes they just made me sick. I felt all the rage I'd had toward Magnus this evening, seeking out a new target.
And it all evaporated in an impotent puff as I found myself gazing directly into Malfoy's steel eyes. I would never understand how he managed to move so fast and so quietly, like a breath. And there he was, inches from me, so close I could feel the heat radiating from his body, smell his sharp, pepper and clove smell. "I have a better idea." I held my breath as he leaned over to retrieve the envelope, and let it out in a nervous rush as he straightened and grabbed my chin. He cupped it, as though it were fragile, and I felt every muscle in my body tense in anticipation.
"It has the details of your next job in it," he said, shoving the envelope into my chest, and brushing past me, "I came here to brief you, but I really don't feel like discussing it now… by the way, Granger, clean yourself up, your mascaras running."
I slammed the door after him, and screamed in frustration. Then I threw it wide again.
"Fuck off, Malfoy!"
"That's what I have assistants for, Granger!" he shouted back, without even turning.
That was disgusting, and I barely restrained myself from hurling something heavy at him. I slammed the door again, and then did it a couple more times for good measure… and then I found myself sliding down it, those threatening tears running more freely now.
It was always two steps forward, one step back with us, wasn't it.