Author's Note: This is my first LM/HG fic, and I'm very excited for it! Oh yeah, and I don't own anything Harry Potter, nor am I making any money off this. The fun of writing LM/HG is enough for me (as are lovely reviews… hint, hint). I might change the rating later on, but I'll be sure to let you know in advance if the prose gets a little hot and heavy.
And now I'm going to repeat the salient points: this will be an LM/HG fic; I love reviews.
She ran a thumb down the shiny cellophane wrapper and reflected that it felt exactly the same, no matter where she went. That squeaky noise, that faint whine never changed. If she had been feeling better, she might have thrown the pack into the gutter in anger, but she really needed a fag. Hermione scrabbled with the cellophane for a moment and ripped it off, casting the flimsy sheet, almost impossibly thin, to the pavement, where women in spiked heels would trample it and dogs shit on it. They would be tiny dogs, of course, the only sort which could squeeze into the matching tiny flats.
Perfect white circles gazed up at her, each face a little like the moon, rough and spotted with craters. She shook out one slender stick and contemplated the simple design with its single purpose of carrying an addictive drug into her respiratory system, her blood, and eventually her brain. It never took so long, but maybe the effect of that first drag was simply psychosomatic. If it were, she didn't care. It felt so good.
She tried to lose herself in contemplation of the whorls and swirls in the smoke she exhaled, rising into the blue sky. Most days, she could forget her troubles for a little while as she pondered the striking picture the old church made against the clear sky, the ancient stone somehow rendering the blue even bluer. On cloudy days, the stone church loomed over the crossroads, shadowing the modern traffic lights and cars and recalling an era of cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages. And at night, neither the traffic lights nor the cars could dispel the darkest shadows lurking around the steeple and the pointed roof over the nave.
But her mind insisted on returning to the slip of paper crumpled in her possession. Not paper, parchment, yellowier and heavier than the bleached wood pulp, beaten thin, with which she had grown up. Hermione could picture that first piece of parchment she had received so many years ago emblazoned with her name in bright ink. Lately she had begun to wish that she had never seen that letter, for if she had not, she would not have this new letter burning a hole in her handbag. If she had not, she could sit here and bask in the sunshine and enjoy her smoke and glass of Riesling.
It did her no good to dwell on 'ifs', though, so with great reluctance she fished around in her bag and brought it out to rest on the table. The mild, warm sunshine reflecting off the endless stretches of pavement did nothing to cushion the shock that rose in her every time she read those words.
"Ludicrous," she muttered, "The nerve." Disdain darkened her quiet voice as she glared at the parchment as she might regard a piece of trash smeared with unmentionable stains. Still, she made no move to brush it from her table. In fact, she arranged her wine glass with care that it would not drip on the message.
She stared at the parchment for a few minutes, then removed another sheet from her handbag. The handwriting on the two slips matched exactly, as she knew they did. "Stupid, arrogant git," she whispered viciously. A passing waiter shot her a curious glance, but she was too absorbed in her reading to notice.
But she was not angry at the man's stupidity – in fact, he was far from it – or his arrogance, to which she was quite accustomed. She was so irritated because he was, in the end, right. A rather periphery concern was how he had managed to send the message to her at all. As she frowned, she finished her Riesling and was surprised to find the glass empty. With a long-suffering sigh, she left a few coins and made her way back to a tiny flat with a pretty little garden view.
The climb up four steep flights of stairs winded her as usual. Naturally, there were no lifts in the building. She tossed her handbag on a coffee table and went to gaze out the window. Little as she liked giving up magic for weeks at a time, it was relaxing to leave the gore and casualties of war behind for a while, and she had grown up as a Muggle, after all. It felt… quaint, when it was not overly frustrating.
Shadows in the garden lengthened as the evening wore on, and she left her small bedroom for the kitchen down the hall. In little time, she had prepared a pasta meal and returned to her room to bring out a mostly-full bottle of indifferent rosé wine, made worse by the time it had spent in the coolest corner of her non-air-conditioned flat. She found a glass with only a little bit on stickiness on top of the coffee table and nestled in the wide window seat to eat and drink.
She watched the bright floral spectrum beneath her window fade and melt into shades of grey touched with orange from sodium streetlights. When the sunlight failed, she switched on a dim yellow light and replaced the dish of her lap with a book and another cigarette. Not even the shock of the message she had received could completely spoil the pleasure of reading, though she did find her mind wandering from the pages more often than usual.
Strains of raucous Irish folk music drifted up to her, finally breaking her concentration for good. She hunted a scrap of paper to mark her place before pulling a jacket from her closet and leaving down the stairs, recalling only when she reached the bottom that she had forgotten her pack of fags. Tonight she had plans to wander the streets in the midst of another open-air music festival. The Irish musicians a little ways down her street drew a huge crowd by the time she reached them, twirling and shouting in an ever-spinning wheel around the central players.
After watching the dance for a few minutes, she decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to join in the manic whirling. A snake of dancers passed near her, and she hooked one elbow through another young woman to join the sinuous line. She danced until she had lost her breath (it must be the smoking, she thought) and felt a cramp in her side and then slipped out of the crowd to see what else the night had to offer.
In the distance she could see a group of singers perched on some kind of vehicle, crooning to a sizeable audience. She made her leisurely way to the melodic R&B group, content to pick out phrases here and there that she understood. A few songs later, she stirred and went to seek out new entertainment. As she meandered, she stopped for a few minutes at several gatherings, but none held her attention for long.
Finally, the night began to cool, and she started to make her way back home. Sometime during the evening, she had crossed the city's central river, the Seine, and now she followed a thin stream of people over an ornate bridge. Had she stood on one of the bridges running parallel, she would have seen a gilded gold angel hovering in a beneficent position over the water. She stopped halfway to look down the river at the city, monuments and office buildings lining the banks.
She leaned her elbows on the cool stone and watched glints of reflected light sparkle in the river's dark currents. A stream of slow jazz drifted through the night air, thus completing the idyllic Parisian night.
"Lone Mudbloods should not place themselves in such precarious spots," a male voice purred in Hermione's ear as a strong hand clamped on her upper arm.
She struggled as her captor dragged her shoulder over the edge of the bridge. It would not be graceful, but… she hooked her knee around the man's thigh and shoved backwards. When they fell together in a heap, she twisted around and scrabbled until she found a long, slender wand at the man's waist. His larger hand crushed hers, but she refused to relinquish her grip, even as tears came to her eyes. She thought she had recognized the voice, and the face she saw confirmed her suspicions. Malfoy the Elder, sender of a very suspicious letter she had received earlier.
"Let me go," she hissed, "or I'll cast every hex I know and a few I've thought about trying, right at your-"
"Truce! I only came to have a word with you, girl, and as a sign of my good faith, I'll remove my hand, so long as you allow me to stand." His warm breath brushed her cheek. Odd, she would have expected frost to form in front of his mouth.
True to his word, Malfoy loosened his grip and actually let her hold on to his wand. She sighed, somehow annoyed that he had proven honest in even this simple matter, and clambered to her feet, still clutching the length of wood. As she did so, the strange and amused looks passers-by were giving them registered, and she felt a sudden, juvenile urge to pout and stick her tongue out at them. He rose much more gracefully and looked down at her with a little smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"I don't see what you have to smile about," she said. "I could maim and kill you at any moment."
He laughed. "Because you hold that? Physically, yes, you are capable, but I know you. You would as soon strike a child as an unarmed man under truce."
His all-knowing tone infuriated Hermione more than the smile, and she almost retorted with a painful curse before she realised, a split second before she would have spoken the words, that he was most likely goading her into doing just that. No doubt a man like this had rigged his wand to inflict a nasty surprise on anyone who tried to use it without his permission. She should know; she had such protection cast on her own wand.
Scoffing, she let her hand fall to her side. "Then say whatever you came to say. It's getting cold out."
"Perhaps we could retire to a more hospitable setting? I'm sure you must have a favourite café where we can sit and converse."
She considered his proposal and nodded. "Fine. But first…" In one quick movement, she raised her hand and flung Malfoy's wand over the side of the bridge. It seemed to hover in the air for a moment before falling into the river with a gentle splash.
"Oh, give over," she interrupted. "If you can't retrieve your wand from a little bit of water, you're a sadder specimen of a wizard than anyone thought."
He glared but did not contradict her. They walked together in silence, each keeping a suspicious eye on the other. She brought them to a cosy bar and café, lit by a handful of flickering light bulbs. Malfoy chose a table for two in a dark corner, a good distance from anyone else. She eyed the unobtrusive ashtray and thought wistfully of her newly-opened back at home. A waiter asked them what they desired and, without consulting Hermione or the menu, Lucius ordered a bottle of their best red. Her estimation of him rose a scant point at his flawless French.
Once again she thought of the picture they presented: an older man with a distinctly aristocratic cast and a pretty young woman (for so she was and had only discovered it very recently) sitting in a shadowy corner late at night, staring at one another as if the rest of the world had disappeared. It was better than wrestling on the ground, she supposed. Nonetheless, she hastily tore her brown eyes from his cool grey and glanced at her surroundings.
"You're more of a challenge than I suspected," he said without preamble. "My son underestimated you at school, but I promise you, I will not repeat his mistake."
Was that a compliment or a threat? His tone seemed to carry hints of both. She fought the blush that tried to rise in her cheeks. Just because she had not heard so much as a kind word from anyone in the wizarding world for weeks…
As she opened her mouth to deliver a snappy rejoinder, the waiter returned with a bottle and two deep glasses. He showed the label to Malfoy, who gave the barest nod. He did the same for the tiny amount the waiter proceeded to pour into his glass. She watched as her glass filled with the rich wine.