IMPORTANT A/N: Firstly, my apologies for the extremely long delay. Secondly, I have adapted this story to include back story from the seventh book (except for the epilogue, of course, which would be hard to use in this case). The changes I made in earlier chapters were not important to the plot (bits of back story), so you don't have to reread unless you want to; however, future chapters may have spoilers for those who may not have finished HPatDH yet. Hopefully everyone has though.
To Have, Not to Hold
What did you do, Hermione?
I know about the Priest. News comes in, even where I am, but your message is more troubling than those reports.
It's never black and white. And the lines don't seem to exist when you're fighting, Herm. You're too smart to ask those questions—you already know the answers, which makes me wonder . . . What's happened? What have you done?
Please, tell me. I could never hate you, Hermione, but I certainly can't help you if you won't tell me what you're planning. I understand your frustration with the Order—you should recall that I'm the one who decided to get out of our world. But you can still talk to me, even if I'm not around.
For the second time in as many days, Hermione found herself standing within the towering walls of Malfoy manor. It was an improbable situation. That alone left her with a strange feeling of delusion. But the drop in the pit of her stomach came from the man beside her, guiding her toward the dining hall with a gentle hand on the small of her back. He released her into a high-backed chair, pushing her into place in front of a silver setting.
Lucius silently made his way to the opposite end of the table. There was the ghost of a smile on the man's face, and Hermione was certain it was due to the noise they had heard when she'd entered the manor—the Prophet's other source reporting her presence on the arm of the Lucius Malfoy. Scandalous. As planned.
The wizard probably would have commented on her performance had the "couple" been alone.
Hermione could feel those familiar gray eyes piercing her somewhere at shoulder level. His eyes were as intrusive as his father's, but Draco's. . . Draco's gaze was paler, angry and defeated and somewhat helpless all at once. And they were hidden. His blond hair had, at least, been washed but was not combed back, its long length covering most of his face. Even so, Hermione could see the tightness around his jaw and wondered how he was able to keep his hatred in check, his infamous tongue in his mouth.
Something Lucius has told him, most likely, Hermione reasoned. Lucius was one father who, even in this modern age, took to heart his role as Lord of the Manor, holding dominion over son as he would another other object in his home. Still, knowing instinctively that Lucius was in control, it was hard for Hermione to see a silent Draco. In fact, she had barely noticed him at all, sitting so quietly at his father's end of the table when she'd first stepped through the doors.
The dog will bark when his master commands it, I suppose, Hermione silently huffed, instantly feeling sheepish. Was the character she was presently playing, any better?
"How is the Ministry treating you, Hermione?" Lucius asked. His eyes had darted to his sown when he'd paused to say her first name.
Hermione saw Draco's pointed chin shake as his lips opened and closed with little more than the sound of a breath escaping.
"I'm sorry, did you say something, Draco?" Lucius cocked his head, obviously more interested in the young man's rely than he was Hermione's. "Do speak up."
"Same as always," Hermione piped, interrupting the growing tension. "Jenna will be gone most of the month—the Minister fowled up our situation with China in his appearance last week, and now the Chinese are threatening to withdraw from the treaty."
Lucius nodded, dutifully listening. "When will we have a Minister with a brain, I wonder?" he sighed with a twitch of a grin.
"Soon. Soon enough, I'd venture," Hermione answered, somewhat amused. He was an actor, Lucius. "Anyhow, I spent the last few days preparing Jenna for her presentation with the Chinese council—she's especially favored by several of their elders, so the Minister, of course, wants her to clean up his mess. I won't be attending the talks this time, as I've done in the past. Jenna's afraid that this deal might take several weeks of back and forth negotiations, and she needs someone to pass her reports off to."
"How unfortunate. I'm sure the ambassador would have enjoyed hosting our announcement party." Lucius frowned but his disappoint didn't remain. "Of course, we were planning on a smaller gathering for the actual wedding, so it's nothing to reschedule over—actually, it might work out better this way."
Hermione felt it, still hanging in the air, a word, perfectly placed: wedding. Men like Lucius did not ramble. He had decorated his comment with purpose.
Draco's head darted up.
"Wedding. . ." the young man hissed.
"Ah, yes." Lucius stood, walking to the end of the table. He settled behind Hermione, a hand on her shoulder, a family portrait. "Since you are still living here, Hermione and I feel it proper to let you be one of the first to know that we. . ."
A short burst of laughter cut off the man's voice. Draco's shoulders were shaking.
"That's your scheme then?" Draco's laughter ceased, as quickly as it had began. The wizard threw up his arm, sweeping off the barren setting before him, utensils clattering to the floor. "You're fools," he said, his voice almost calm.
Lucius didn't move but to tighten his fingers on Hermione's shoulder, as if asking her not to stand, not to add to the spectacle. "Now, now, Draco," the older wizard chided with a cool, patronizing tone of voice she recognized. Hermione could almost hear a condescending chuckle within his words. "If you keep that up," he continued, "I'll have to dismiss you before supper."
Draco shot up from his seat.
Hermione's body tensed, her hand in her wand pocket. But the wizard didn't charge toward her, only glaring down the table at the witch. "You're an idiot if you think this will. . . You don't know. If you knew, you would never have come to this place," Draco sneered, as if she had spoken, as if she had told him he was wrong.
"You are dismissed," Lucius said, his voice as low as a whisper.
Draco shook his head, gripping his hair with one hand as if he could rip the scalp from the bone. His teeth were showing, clenched, stopping whatever comment that existed over his tongue. He released a grunt of frustration and quickly crossed the room, slamming the dining hall doors shut behind him.
Hermione could hear herself breathing, heavily. She didn't know why the wizard's antics had sent chills down her arms. She'd known he'd do as his master commanded, after all.
Still, this was not the Draco Malfoy she'd known.
"You'll have to forgive him." Lucius leaned over her shoulder, tapping her goblet with his wand. It filled with something dark and cold.
Hermione heard Draco's thunderous footsteps, fading away into the depths of the manor.
"You did that on purpose," she accused. "You didn't even plan a dinner, did you? You just wanted to get a rise out of your son."
"Oh, Hermione. What sort of a gentleman do you take me for?" His hand slid softly, slowly from her shoulder. "Of course, I had dinner planned. For two."
Hermione opened her eyes lazily, a moment of confusion washing over her. She'd fallen asleep on her sofa the night before, still in her bathrobe. She didn't know why she'd chosen not to greet her bed.
The witch sat up, glancing over her shoulder. An owl fluttered at the window impatient.
"Just you hold it," she commanded with a drawl, plucking a coin from a side table and standing with a stretch. She walked to the window and cracked it open. The owl swept in, dropping off her paper and taking the fee from her fingertips in one swift movement.
She wanted tea. And she would have put on the kettle, had her clouded eyes not found the name Malfoy glaring at her from the front page of the Daily Prophet.
And then, she found her own: Hermione Granger Weasley, assistant ambassador to Jenna Tompkins and widow of well-known auror Ronald Weasley, was seen. . .
A booming knock sounded from outside her door, and the paper slipped from Hermione's hands, fluttering to the floor. It came again, an apprehensive series of chirps, followed by a voice almost as annoying: "Excuse me, Ms. Weasley. Are you in, Ms. Weasley?"
Flauntus Piper, of the weekly column "Piper's Pips". Rita Skeeter's understudy, the young gentleman the vicious reporter almost unforgivably sent to Hermione anytime gossip was needed from her division of the Ministry. Rita, these days, never appeared directly to Hermione, sending her handsome, chipmunk-like yes-man instead to get the juice.
Hermione could only imagine one reason why he would be here.
"Ms. Weasley, I know you're in there—I can see your shadow under the door. I'm here concerning your relationship with Mr. Lucius Malfoy. Don't you want your side of the story out there, Ms. Weasley? Ms. Weasley?"
Hermione walked back to her bedroom, not caring if Flauntus heard her footsteps and only vaguely aware that her neighbors were probably hearing the commotion outside her door. She had other things on her mind at the time. Like the hundred or so other people she knew who were probably opening up their papers with their morning brew in one hand.
They would have found out soon enough anyhow. But, still, Lucius said it would take longer, a few days. . . This was just too fast. Hermione had planned to get some work done for Jenna before all hell broke loose amongst the gossipers. Hermione'd planned to tell the people she cared about before the papers told the whole story.
Why the hell had she listened to Lucius anyhow? She had the brains. She should have known the paper would try to hop on the specifics as soon as possible.
Hermione slammed her bedroom door shut, turning the courtesy lock. The robes she'd worn to Malfoy manor were still on her bed, her wand laid atop them. She had left them there the night before, too lazy to even clean them before she'd fallen asleep on the sofa outside, with the nagging idea of reading a book to calm her nerves.
The evening at the manor had been. . . odd. Hermione hadn't been sure what she'd expected when Draco had stormed out of the dining room. Lucius, though, must have had some clue because he'd picked up as if it was normal, as if it was real, their dinner for two. It had felt real. . .
Hermione frowned. It had felt like a night between two people who already knew one another, dining with idle chatter, nothing which told of their lives, their pasts, no first date material. Had anyone been watching, they would have thought that the couple settled down for a boring meal every evening, enjoying only the presence of one another and fine food.
Lucius hadn't kissed her when she'd left. The reporters must have been gone. The lesson, learned.
Hermione opened her wardrobe and pulled out a crisp navy blouse and a matching, knee-length skirt. They were plain, the color submissive. They weren't favorites, but she didn't have the strength to care about clothing. Something normal was her mantra, something everyday that people at work won't notice.
I don't want to be noticed. She knew that was an aimless venture. Hermione's torrid affair with a recently widowed Malfoy would be the hot topic, no doubt.
The heartbeat was loud. A part of her was panicking, another laughing at her nervous reaction. Honestly, this was what she was expecting. This was her plan, in action. Still, the reality was, at last, sinking in.
She was scared.
"Hermione? Hermione, where are you?"
The sound of two pops had registered, but Hermione hadn't realized that they were apparitions and not knocks at her door until a familiar voice called out her name.
"Mum, calm down—she may not even be here. She's probably at work already," said a second voice. "Just be rational."
"Rational? Rational, Ginerva? Did you even read this?"
They were outside, probably in the living room Hermione had just fled. Hermione recognized the voices instantly. They belonged to Molly and Ginny Weasley.
"Merlin's beard," Hermione breathed. She reached down, clasping tightly to her wand, anxiously stepping forward and back again.
"Hermione?" It was Ginny this time. Hermione didn't answer her call.
I can't. . . I can't right now. Not yet. It's too soon.
She would go. She'd have to go, somewhere without those accusations, anywhere. She saw her door knob turn and closed her eyes, apparating to the first place that came to mind.