Means of Persuasion
Just a Penniless Writer
Standard Disclaimer Applies
Author's Plea: About 4 years behind schedule and probably ruins the mood of the previous parts, but this was actually my original idea for the ending - I just couldn't write it. I still don't think I wrote it effectively. If you dislike it, I fault you not, but at least you had 4 years to enjoy the other installments so my conscious is clear. Enjoy if you can.
It took a week. Even he was unable to contradict his nerves at waiting for the potion to take effect. It was a long week, but when he received a card on the seventh day excusing Severus's usual visit due to his 'fiancée's unfortunate bout of illness', he knew all was well.
He went about his day with so much satisfaction that his Ministry appointed guard questioned him repeatedly regarding his motives. While he appreciated the suspicion, he did not appreciate the annoyance.
However, he did not sleep as a satisfied man. As someone who rarely bothered with insignificant dreams or such, he was ill equipped to deal with the haunting image of blank eyes following him through his subconscious.
It was altogether ridiculous. Absolutely bloody ridiculous that he should feel even the slightest inclination towards guilt. He had done nothing the witch hadn't practically begged for. If anything, he should feel cheated out of a more entertaining battle of wills. Instead, he found himself drinking to near stupor in the long evenings and waking in the dead morning hours.
On the fourteenth day since his tea with the Mudblood, he found himself facing an unexpected visit by Severus. If the dour man noticed his less than perfect appearance, he said nothing of it. Of course, that in and of itself was unremarkable -Severus was a man of few words. Still, Lucius couldn't quite say the spark of something in his friend's black eyes was simply the thought of his upcoming freedom.
"She is at St. Mungo's still," Severus stated plainly. "The Healers believe a mix of stress and exhaustion caused her collapse and the subsequent loss of the child."
There was a laden pause before he continued.
"Whatever your choice of abortant potion, I commend you. They found nothing to suspect anything but natural causes."
Lucius grinned, but even he knew it was grimmer than it rightfully should be. He had succeeded. He had freed his friend from matrimonial doom, freed the Mudblood from ill-fitted motherhood, and, most importantly, freed himself from debt. There was absolutely no reason for him to be anything besides inordinately pleased.
Regardless, complete satisfaction still eluded him. Hollow eyes still followed at the edge of his consciousness. He could do nothing but grin and curse it.
Her progress was slow but steady. An article on page five of the Daily Prophet told the sad story of her illness and the heartbreaking loss of the child. A week later, an article on page four covered her separation from her fiancée.
He could have stopped then and been far the better for it. However, any belief that the nightmares would stop once he received confirmation that the engagement was defunct was torn to shreds within days.
The hollow eyes were more than irritating. When no amount of liquor ended them and no amount of exhaustion bought him freedom, he took to making cauldrons of Dreamless Sleep. He was well informed of the possible side effects, but dismissed them as the failings of weaker men. He was far too strong to succumb to potion abuse.
Within a day his sleep was sound, and within a week he was back in form. Within a month, he took his nightly dose without second thought. The next month, he sought to wean himself off, but found that one thought of hollow eyes brought the bottle back. By the third month, he could admit privately he had a problem, but it wasn't something he couldn't handle. If his inhibitions were lowered and his mind prone to occasional fuzziness, he would simply refrain from social company during the evening hours when the lure of another dose took control.
It simply wouldn't do to lose now, when he was finally getting everything back in order. If it took a bit of potion addiction, then that was simply the price of business.
"Mr. Malfoy? May I come through?"
The Mudblood looked different. It could have been an effect of the green tint from the Floo, but the shadows missing from beneath her eyes were more than just the odd lighting.
She was… refreshed. Refreshed was dangerous.
"This is not a particularly good time, Miss Granger."
"I assure you, I will not take much of your time."
The firm jaw told him she had no intention of accepting any excuses he had to offer. Though he was inclined to shut the Floo completely, Lucius could not ignore the threat laced in her tone.
"Very well, Miss Granger. But I must insist you not stay overlong. I was about to retire for the night."
Even through the green glow of the Floo, he could see the hard glint in her eyes. She was planning something, but it was tough to keep his wits about when he was already feeling such a strong pull for the Dreamless Sleep. Repressing a grimace, he stepped back to allow her to walk through the fire and into his parlour.
As she dusted the minuscule amount of ash that had defeated her charms, he took note of her appearance. Everything he saw made him tense. She was more than simply refreshed – she was rejuvenated. Her rosy cheeks and bright eyes told nothing of the illness she'd endured.
This was more than dangerous.
"While I do appreciate your visit, I will not be good company for much longer. Is there a particular purpose for such an unexpected social call?" he said with attempted nicety. Even he could hear how brittle his tone had become.
"I wanted to thank you for your rather moving speech last we spoke. Though I am saddened by the loss of my child, I must also admit a bit of relief. You are correct – I am not interested in motherhood."
"There is no need for appreciation."
"On the contrary, I believe there is. You gave me much to think about. The traditional family life may be something my friends can enjoy, but it is not a goal of mine. I can see that better now. I suppose being so adamant about keeping the child was only because I wished to keep Severus and saw no other way. He is not suited for fatherhood."
He was growing nervous just as she was growing bolder. He could see her assuredness in every line of her body.
"However, he is also not suited for an alliance that extends farther than association. He would not make a good husband."
Though her tone was light, her eyes were hard as steel and twice as lethal.
"Not a good husband at all, though he does make for an excellent indebted associate. I can see why Dumbledore kept him for so long."
She was pouring herself a glass of his port. He wanted to stop her but the words wouldn't come.
"The best debts are those that can never be repaid. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Malfoy?"
He gathered his wits about him for a defense. Still, it would help if he only knew what she was after.
"That entirely depends on whether or not you are the debtor."
She smirked slightly, and in the wavering firelight with the glass of his finest port poised by her lips, she was more frightening than Voldemort had ever been. His fingers itched to snatch the liquor from her. However, following such wonderful port with Dreamless Sleep would be uncouth so he refrained.
"Lucky me, then."
Sipping her drink, she moaned softly in appreciation for the taste. It was a particularly excellent vintage she was filching, after all. However, he was left concerned with her audacity and more concerned with what that one little noise had done to his nerves. His mind, already murky from addiction, and his body, already trembling from need, seemed in agreement over how much that moan from her filthy lips was appreciated.
Turning his head sharply in a vague hope to dislodge this thought, he turned his gaze to the wall. A portrait of his grandfather caught his eye – the smugness of the painted man was all too apparent and there may have even been a glint of respect. The dead man even raised his own glass of painted port in recognition.
"Your family isn't entirely hopeless."
Her voice... It was ringing faintly in his ears, but he was having more trouble concentrating with the passing of each second.
"What do you want, Miss Granger?" he said wearily. The game was not in his favour and he saw no point in drawing out his loss when he was in no condition to compete.
He turned to meet her eyes so quickly it only further exacerbated his fried nerves.
"Severus is not an ideal candidate for husband... but you are."
His silence must have been telling.
"You, Mr. Malfoy, are going to be my greatest prize."
That woke him from his stupor. As consigned as he was to losing this battle, his dignity was still smarting enough without such insults.
"I am no such thing!"
She smiled as she took another sip of his port.
"I admit, the idea took some... consideration. When I first approached Severus for his assistance, I was not expecting him to offer you. Though I took care after the war to keep you within reach, I thought there were certainly far more likely candidates for my husband. He convinced me otherwise. Attractive, wealthy, basic intelligence, uninterested in children... you have a few redeeming qualities."
Her eyes were practically glittering from the glow of the fire. He swallowed thickly. The direction of her statements was completely unexpected, but somehow, seeing her like this – powerful, confident, manipulative—was making her all the more dangerously attractive.
"But it was the challenge that drew me," she said airily. "I've been dreadfully bored lately. Severus was quick to point out your high tolerance to most spirits and potions, so a more meandering route was necessary. You had to be brought into the game believing you were in control of the board. I'm almost disappointed you made it so easy."
And he could see it all before him, so crystal clear. There had been no child, and there had been no engagement. It had simply been a lure to entice and distract him until her trap was sprung.
"You've been drugging me," he stated dully.
She set her glass down on his desk and approached him slowly, as if expecting him to act as a wounded animal. At this point, he wasn't sure himself.
"Would you think less of me if I were?" she said softly as her hand cautiously, confidently rose to his overheated cheek.
"Prejudice is too entrenched. My political aspirations are at a stand-still while I remain unmarried. My ambition requires nothing less than the Wizengamot. I need the proper husband to get there."
Her voice was enthralling, and he wondered idly if she'd laced her words with an unspoken spell. He definitely believed her capable of such.
"Now... Lucius... I believe we have taken this dance far enough. Believe me when I say I only took such trouble because I want my husband to actually want me. Blackmail can only get you so far."
He didn't even see her other hand move until it rested on his other cheek, her hands gently forcing him to meet her gaze.
"I'll let you sleep Lucius. I'll make it all stop: the dreams, the potion. Just say yes."
His eyes felt so heavy. His shoulders felt so weary. Her hands felt so warm. The trance was effective, and he was just so tired...