Disclaimer: The HP world is my playground and nothing more.
A/N: When better to perform a fanciful foray into Lumione than right before the end? My thanks to thehalflie for making this much better than it might have been.
He should have killed her the first time he laid eyes on her. Of course, they had been in a bookshop at the time, full of witnesses who would be more than pleased at the opportunity to testify against him, but he ought to have known then the sort of trouble she would cause him. It wasn't as though his son had ever suggested otherwise; all of the information he needed to arrive at this conclusion had been placed at his fingertips for years.
Then, again, three years later in the Department of Mysteries he had been given another opportunity, yet held off. He had spent twenty-six months in Azkaban, swearing that the first opportunity he had to wring her tiny Mudblood neck, he would—quite literally—snatch it.
Unfortunately, before he could do so, she saved his life.
It wasn't as though she had wanted him to live, or had even acted consciously. Both of them just happened to be at the final showdown between Harry and the Dark Lord and she had seen a man in Death Eater robes aim a curse at an unidentified figure in the crowd. Acting purely on instinct, she tackled him and they both watched as the green stream of Avada Kedavra sailed over their heads.
In retrospect, she wondered why she hadn't recognised his hair from the distance, but put it down to bad lighting, panic, and closing her eyes as she lunged.
Once she had recovered her breath, she glanced down, to notice with a stifling sense of horror whose life she had saved. Only one word had escaped her mouth in response to the situation: "Fuck."
From here, there are a number of hypothetical scenarios that might have taken place. Lucius might have recovered his wits and hexed her into oblivion, Hermione might have done likewise, or they might have gazed into each other's eyes and, amidst the raging chaos around them, recognised some sort of shared lust that would overcome them at a later, more convenient time. Unfortunately—or, perhaps fortunately, depending on one's point of view—none of these took place: the first because Lucius was clever enough to realise that he now owed her a life debt, thus making attempted murder an unwise course of action, and the second because Hermione also realised this and wanted to only one-up him on equal footing.
The third simply didn't bear thinking about.
The battle ended without offering Lucius the opportunity to return the favour, and, as he preferred not to owe anyone anything, he began his campaign of releasing himself from the clutches of Hermione Granger. Hermione, who had never planned to hold anyone in her clutches in the first place, was just as irritated about the situation, as it forced her to spend far more time in his company than would be otherwise necessary while he attempted to place her in, then rescue her from, mortal danger.
After eight months of ducking into shops in Knockturn Alley that she wouldn't otherwise be caught dead in when she saw the swinging blonde hair approach and checking behind the shower curtain every time she went to the loo, she was, quite frankly, fully prepared to ignore the Ministry's full pardon and kill him herself. That, she had decided in a fit of rage, would negate the life debt quite nicely.
However, as Hermione was generally not of the murderous sort and preferred to stay out of Azkaban, she opted for the slightly less satisfying but more legal option of meeting him to discuss the situation over lunch.
"I assume that I have you to thank for the charming locale?"
Hermione scowled as she slid into her seat; of course he would be here before her. "I thought that you might appreciate the privacy. The press hasn't been particularly kind to you of late."
"Nor to you, I've noticed," he countered.
"Still, this meeting would be a larger blow to your reputation than to mine."
In spite of herself, Hermione did a quick scan about the restaurant for beetles. The last thing that she wanted to read about over breakfast tomorrow morning was her sordid affair with Lucius Malfoy.
Reminding herself that she was attempting to strike a deal with him, she gritted her teeth and smiled. "I do apologise for putting you in the absolutely horrible position of being forced to dine in a Muggle restaurant, but can you think of a single place in Britain that we could have this conversation undisturbed?"
"My home?" he suggested blithely, arching an eyebrow as he took a sip of his water.
She ended the conversation by flipping open the menu and scanning the entrees, refusing to make eye contact. Neither of them wanted to be here, so it would be best to get this over with. She had still retained some hope for the meeting to be a quick and relatively painless execution, when he decided to make a fuss about the wine.
"Will you have anything to drink with that?" It had been such a simple question, really. Unfortunately, its simplicity had Hermione longing to bury her head in her hands.
"And what would you recommend as a pairing with this particular vintage? Indeed? Miss Granger, I believe that is what you were planning to order."
She bit back the response that she would like to move past the planning stage and actually eat the meal. At this rate, they would still be on the second page of the wine list for weeks and the worst bit was that their waitress was leaning over him with a rapt smile that gave the impression that she had never met anyone quite like him, thoroughly unaware that she was giving him prime viewing position of her cleavage.
"You say that it has chicken? I'm afraid that won't do. No, it's only the chicken that I don't like. The pesto, then, without chicken. Tofu replacement? Why, that's simply fascinating. We'll each have one of those. And, yes, the whole bottle, please."
After sitting through nearly half an hour of this, Hermione couldn't care less what he had ordered for her, even if it did include the word 'tofu'. The hole in her stomach was markedly larger with each passing moment, and she had to fight the urge to covet the breadbasket.
"I take it that you have learned to live with the current arrangements?" she inquired tartly, giving in and snatching a piece of foccacia.
"They are passable," he agreed. "But no more talk of trifles. You clearly had something in mind when you invited me here."
She sighed heavily. "Yes, I did."
He gazed at her expectantly, with a hint of sarcasm, and she grew annoyed at the way his features were perfectly poised all over again.
"I want you to stop trying to save my life when it doesn't need saving."
"But, my dear, that piano that fell from the fourth floor in Diagon Alley might have resulted in something dreadful—"
"Had I not just happened to be walking slightly faster than was calculated?" she cut in. It wouldn't have been a concern, had you not paid Ollivander's assistant to drop it for you."
"I did have to pay a considerable fine for damages to the street," he agreed. "That was rather foolish of me."
"I should have just let you die," she moaned, not caring that she had voiced her thoughts loudly enough for the next table to hear her. It earned her a shocked look from two gossiping middle-aged women, but she hardly cared.
"Might I remind you that, at the time, I was on your side?" he pointed out.
"That's hardly the point. Anyway, you must admit that this is getting ridiculous."
He tipped his head in agreement.
"And I know that you want to be free of this silly life debt as much as I do."
"I'm surprised that you felt the need to state the fact."
"Never underestimate the stupidity of your opponent," she shot back and he made a noise that might have been deemed a snort from a lesser man. "Anyway, I've been reading up on the subject and, as it turns out, there is a way to break the bond—"
"Curse," he interjected darkly.
"—without my life having to be compromised."
He scowled. "But that was really the only part of this that I enjoyed."
"The sacrifices we make," she replied coolly. "There is a ritual that we can perform, only if both parties consent to be released from it." As a ray of hope spread across his face, she added, "Unfortunately for you, I have terms."
She could tell that he was disappointed that she wasn't that eager to rid herself of him. "That was depressingly deceptive of you, my dear," he remarked. "I assume that they are non-negotiable?"
"Very much so. I require a substantial favour."
"No," he said flatly, although there were the beginnings of a smirk touching the corners of his lips. "Not that. I realise that you must be eager to find a reason to end your relationship with the Weasley, but I refuse to sleep with you to demonstrate what people with healthy sex lives experience."
If she hadn't been so horribly offended, she might have laughed. "Actually, I broke up with him six months ago…" She trailed off as she realised that he had been baiting her.
"I see someone else taught you that lesson, then?"
"That is absolutely none of your business," she snapped. There was no way in hell that she was telling him her sexual history, even if he was absolutely correct in his guess.
"It's alright," he said, in a falsely soothing tone. "Severus already told me all about it."
Torn between mortification and fury, she clenched her jaw and willed herself not to respond. A few deep breaths later, and she could speak again without causing a scene.
"Believe it or not, my sex life is not the topic at hand," she informed him. "Although I may have just changed my mind about who I want to publicly humiliate."
"Ah," Lucius smiled. It was an expression that made her want to shudder, although not entirely out of horror. It was also the look of one conspirator to another, a look of understanding. "Then it's to be revenge, is it?"
Almost imperceptibly, her expression both hardened and relaxed simultaneously. "That it is."
In spite—or perhaps because—of Granger's precautions, Lucius woke up the next morning to a picture of him and Granger sitting across from each other in the corner of a restaurant on the cover of the Daily Prophet's Saturday special edition. Her head was thrown back in laughter and he wore an expression of distinct amusement; it was the perfect opportunity for the press to start a new chain of gossip and a perfect reminder of the accord that they had reached.
Not surprisingly, he was able to recall that moment with glistening accuracy in his mind—Granger had just described to him in tantalising detail her fantasy of plucking Rita Skeeter's beetle legs off one by one. He had been forced to confess that he had often indulged in the same thought.
At any rate, this was the perfect opportunity to put their plan into motion. They had already discussed how to best go about creating a suitably sized scandal, but it seemed that the situation had already been created for them.
As a cup of tea and his breakfast appeared before him, a contented smile stretched across his face. He folded the paper and placed in the empty chair next to him. Granger, he assumed, would be more than willing to do all of the work. He only need sit back and watch things fall into place in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
On any other day, Hermione would have been furious. This article, however, had been more or less a godsend. She hadn't wanted their meeting to be made public, lest someone guess what its true intent had been, but the article left little room for doubt. Besides, society was depressingly shallow enough to eat it up, with room for aperitifs and dessert.
A pop in her fireplace informed her that the explosion was already beginning.
"Hermione," Ron's voice yelped, "please tell me that it isn't true."
"What are you on about?" she asked.
"You and Malfoy." He was practically choking on the words. Lovely. Not only was she trapped in a lifelong friendship with her first formal boyfriend, but she was going to be forced to deal with his spittle as well. Absolutely sodding lovely.
"You know perfectly well that Draco and I are nothing more than good friends," she replied, enjoying the frustration that was marring his features.
It occurred to her at times that she might be a touch bitter about their relationship—she had only slept with Snape after walking in on him and Lavender—but comforted herself with the knowledge that yes, the sex had been that bad.
"No, not Draco! Lucius!"
She remained diplomatically silent. Ron had a horrible habit of assuming the worst, and she intended to exploit that to the fullest.
"Aren't you concerned about it?"
Mildly puzzled was the strongest emotion that she let show. Let him think what he would.
"Hermione Granger, you have to be kidding me." The outrage was far less satisfying, she found, than the disbelief that anyone else could ever replace him in her heart. Granted, Lucius Malfoy was a bit of a stretch, but he was much better looking than Snape had ever been and even Ron had been forced to accept the fact that she had shagged him.
"Don't go anywhere. I'm getting Harry and we're coming over there," he commanded, disappearing from sight.
It was purely by chance that Lucius arrived before either of them. Both of them, it seemed, had shared the brilliant idea of keeping their stories straight, and, as she had frantically paced through her kitchen, the buzzer for her flat began to ring. Assuming it was Harry and Ron, she opened the door to the building without speaking and, with a sigh, waited in the hall.
She had never been more shocked to see the top of a blond head ascending the stairs before in her life.
"Why on earth are you here?" she exclaimed, receiving a scowl in return.
"I'm only here to make sure that you don't, in some misguided attempt to salvage your reputation, ruin the golden opportunity that's been placed in your hands."
She snorted, gesturing him into her flat. "After the last six months, I have no reputation to speak of, so I wouldn't even bother trying."
"Isn't that what this whole endeavour is about?"
Sighing heavily, she replied, "No. I thought that I made it perfectly clear yesterday; I'm in this for the revenge. Rita Skeeter has managed to worm her way back into freelancing for the Daily Prophet and it's partly my fault. I want to ensure that she never works again."
He was looking at her oddly, but before she could ask what it meant, he was giving her a nod of approval.
"Anyway," she continued, suddenly finding herself at a baffling shortage of words. "Harry and Ron are on their way here, so if we're going to get our stories straight, we ought to do it now."
A moment later, both of them were in dressing gowns, and Hermione was opening and closing her mouth furiously.
"I don't think that the story could be made straighter," he remarked, stretching himself along her couch. "Now if you wouldn't mind joining me…"
Mutinously, although willing to admit that he had a better grasp on the world of manipulation, she sat stiffly next to him. With a soft tutting noise, he grasped her firmly by the waist and pulled her so that she was curled up next to him.
"Relax," he whispered in her ear, in a tone that managed to both be irritating and soothing at once. "Even silly boys can be perceptive on occasion."
Something about the way he purred 'silly boys' made her mind jump to other things, which only caused her to tense further.
"Maybe they'll just think that they've set me off," she remarked, not wanting to have to appear to enjoy languishing in the embrace of Lucius Malfoy.
"Have they ever displayed a level of perception that advanced?" he scoffed.
Conceding the point, she forced her muscles to go limp, muttering, "If you even think about groping me, I'll hex your balls off."
It was hardly something that he broadcasted loudly or frequently, but Lucius Malfoy had never been a fan of shrinking violets. Narcissa, in spite of her public appearance, could hardly be described as one, which was why she had had the audacity to offer to divorce him in the first place, and, while Hermione Granger could be described a great many things, bossy and irritable among those, a comparison of her personality to any sort of flower was certainly not one of them. The situation that they were in amused him terribly, and the fact that she was squirming uncomfortably in his arms only added to his satisfaction.
His enjoyment only multiplied as the other two thirds of the Golden Trio came bursting through the door, looking murderous. Oddly enough, this was the situation that finally enabled Granger to relax properly, bringing her into direct contact with his erection. The touch of pink that coloured her cheeks was the only sign that she noticed it, and he applauded her mentally. Some of the doubt about her ability to behave discreetly seeped away; the rest dissolved when she rolled over and pressed her mouth over his in a surprisingly insistent kiss.
Before she turned to deal with the invaders, she lowered her lips to his ear and hissed, "Don't think that you're about to get away with anything, you dirty old man."
It wasn't meant as anything but a threat, but it made him smirk anyway. In less than a day, she had managed to almost entirely reverse nearly all of his previously held opinions about her and he had a new goal, in addition to ridding himself of the life debt.
Sleeping with Granger wouldn't be completely necessary, but he liked to think that even semi-reformed, ex-Death Eaters deserved a little fun now and then. Not to mention that she had a delightfully firm arse.
The second that they had left, she was on her feet, ranting. The words that were pouring out of her mouth had never even been consciously thought, and she was dimly aware of the fact that the man on her couch seemed entirely too entertained by her fury.
"Are you certain that it's the press you want revenge on?"
She ignored him, continuing on her tirade against interfering friends and ex-boyfriends. Halfway through a sentence, she was interrupted by another buzzer. Entirely forgetting her train of thought, she ran to the window and looked down at the entrance.
"How do you feel about moving our relationship to the next level?" she asked, transfiguring her dressing gown back into her normal robes.
He raised an eyebrow. "Miss Granger, I hardly feel like we've mastered this particular aspect of it. Are you sure that you're emotionally—"
"Oh, shut up," she snarled. "Molly Weasley's down there and if I have to listen to another one of her sermons, I might actually go after her with the bread knife."
"Point taken. I take it that you shall accompany me to Malfoy Manor?"
He really was quite fetching when chastised, she remarked mentally. She would have to try it more often.
Half-guiltily, she excused the inappropriateness of the thought by reminding herself that the entire situation was too far out of control to maintain any sort of standards. At any rate, the threat of having one's ear chewed off by Molly Weasley was enough to make anyone look attractive.
Without even bothering to change his clothing back to what it had been, he was across the room and linking his arm through hers before she could open her mouth again.
Later, when Hermione had the luxury of a private bedroom in Lucius Malfoy's… well, he called it a house, but she thought of it as a moderately large castle, she would have time to reflect on the next course of action and perhaps even conclude that both of them had overreacted slightly. A single news article was hardly cause for alarm.
Still, Lucius had only made the front page of the Daily Prophet when sent to Azkaban, and the closest Hermione had ever come was the third page in—she didn't count the one mention of her name in the article about Harry Potter's triumph over Voldemort—so their concern was hardly unprecedented.
Reflection, however, was a luxury that she would not be able to afford for quite some time, as her host was busy arranging a room for her to stay in, ensuring that it was properly aired out and that the bed sheets were fresh. This heretofore unseen domestic side left her mildly bewildered—was this closer to the actual Lucius Malfoy than what she had always assumed was the beginning and end of his character?
By the time that he had ensured there was a fresh vase of flowers on the writing desk, she was coming dangerously close to liking the man. It was vaguely annoying that he thought he could waltz in with his blonde hair and order some house elves to redecorate a room on her account, with the implicit result that she would appreciate the gesture.
Of course, he then led her away from the plush haven of comfort, commenting on the lunch menu. By the time that she was tucked into bed with her feet curled around a hot water bottle, they had come no closer to discussing the situation at hand. She had been half-expecting this, and therefore was fully prepared to stay up making mental lists of things to go over.
She had not, however, been prepared for the extreme levels of comfort that she was currently experiencing and their militant ability to drag her into sleep. It was all very annoying, she thought with a happy sigh.
Lucius, on the other hand, was rather accustomed to comfort in varying degrees and, thus, had no problems staying awake quite late in the library. Initially, he had just meant to enjoy some brandy over a book that he had been especially looking forward to, but he found his mind to be too restless to comply with his demands. And, so, he allowed it to turn towards solving what he had termed The Granger Dilemma.
At the moment, she was asleep in a distant wing of his house, by all accounts content and subdued—for the moment. In the morning, he was fully aware that she would be sufficiently relaxed and therefore eager to proceed with planning. He was glad of it; the sooner he was released from the life debt, the happier he would be.
He briefly considered his earlier decision to attempt seduction in the process and wondered whether he ought to consult Severus in the matter. Of course, a voice in the back of his head reminded him, that might be considered cheating. If it were to leak, people might argue that it was Severus who had seduced her twice and Lucius never.
Not to mention that the process was already simplified drastically by the fact that she was currently staying with him. It increased his opportunities to observe her immeasurably and greatly improved the likelihood of a return visit.
At breakfast, Hermione was shocked and pleased to be presented with a colour-coded list detailing different courses of action that could be taken against the Daily Prophet and Rita Skeeter. She had been fully expecting to be forced into doing the hard bits herself as Lucius watched on smugly. The fact that he had come up with suggestions on his own, without her threatening to hex him, gave her hope.
Libel was one, although that would be costly and difficult, given that although she had labelled Lucius a 'sadistic philandering prick', that was hardly more than common consensus. While Skeeter had written extensively on Hermione's love life, she had been sure to remain as inoffensive as possible when detailing trysts—with a pursed mouth, Hermione had to admit that it took a degree of skill to do so.
Lucius' second idea was blackmail, although Hermione was forced to point out that the woman had registered her animagus status the year before, thereby giving them nothing to blackmail her on. Besides, she had already attempted blackmail and it clearly hadn't succeeded.
His third suggestion was far more confusing. Rather than directly and transparently attack the paper, which would inevitably be a losing battle when they were controlling the stories, he proposed creating a back story to their supposed romance that was so unbearably drab that the public couldn't possibly take interest after the first waves of shock. When she pointed out that this made absolutely no sense in the context of making Rita Skeeter wish that her parents had drowned her at birth, he merely smirked.
"Firstly, what leads you to believe that they didn't try, and secondly, the idea is only half-formed. You will forgive me for having dozed off at that point."
Still, she had the distinct feeling that this idea might be able to lead them somewhere useful. "You don't recall what made you think of it?"
"I was attempting to create a preposterous back story to this mess; as no relationship with me could possibly be dull, it would only be too perfect. Unless you are my dear ex-wife," he added, thoughtfully, but Hermione thought she could detect a twinge of bitterness.
"Such modesty is astounding."
She was rapidly being reminded of why she didn't like him, and it seemed that it had less to do with Muggle torture and unethical behaviour than it did with a thoroughly conceited and annoying personality.
"Maybe we should switch tactics," she suggested after a long pause, tugging absently on a strand of hair that had fallen in her face. "We haven't got any really good blackmail material, unless you know something that you aren't telling me, and we can hardly sue them when any jury is dead-set against you."
"You could sue, with me providing the financial resources," he answered, "although it would inevitably leak and we'd be back at square one."
Her mouth tightened, as if she was trying to hold something back. Later, she knew that she would regret her next words.
"Well, we've already got the Prophet thinking that we're involved in some wild romance, and they've brought the rest of the Wizarding world onto the same train of thought. We wanted some sort of scandal that would present the Prophet and Skeeter in a bad light, but we have the opposite. Harry and Ron… well, you've seen them already… And I've no doubt that Molly Weasley is absolutely fuming."
"You're suggesting that we use this situation for evening out personal vendettas?" His eyebrows were raised sceptically, tone dripping with sarcasm. It made her smile.
"Why wouldn't I, when the opportunity has so obligingly arrived on my front doorstep? Besides, you're forgetting the life debt."
"You miss my point. You won't go through with it—you must realise that."
Until those words, she had rather been enjoying the conversation. She was suddenly reminded, in spite of the fact that he seemed willing to tolerate her and she was beginning to admire his hair, to whom she was speaking.
"And why won't I?" she asked stiffly.
"Honour and friendship," he replied dismissively, waving a hand. "Possibly guilt. Guilt catches up with all of your kind eventually."
"Muggleborns?" she offered, feeling fury well up even more rapidly.
Their eyes met for a moment, his slightly mocking, hers angry, determined, possibly even hurt.
"Just watch me," she said coldly.
All in all, Lucius was pleased with the morning's progress. He had uncovered her true aim, which was far more personal than he had initially anticipated. Of course, he ought to have realised that her grudge against the paper was hardly large enough to constitute a revenge plot.
Some days, he worried that age was making him soft and dulling his perception.
He didn't know what had triggered this rage at the people she considered friends and he didn't particularly care—it was enough that her eyes had taken on a strange, almost manic gleam. The closest comparison that he could come up with on the spot was Bellatrix Lestrange. The only source of comfort that he could draw from this line of thought was that if she had the slightest tendency towards murder, he would be dead by now.
Of course, he couldn't help but like the twists and turns this plot was taking. Narcissa might know him well enough to see through the plan, but she wouldn't guess that he hadn't yet slept with Granger—that tended to be his first step in any relationship with a member of the opposite sex—and that was the bit that would upset her.
At which point he would calmly point out that she was the one who had filed for divorce in the first place.
In all truth and honesty, Hermione didn't want to inflict any lasting damage on Harry or Ron. Molly, she was less concerned about because the woman had lost all of her respect when she made it clear that she would take Rita Skeeter's word over that of a normal human being. It had been years since the Triwizard Tournament, but the memory still had the power to make Hermione furious.
She had never objected to the statement that she knew how to hold a grudge.
All she wanted was to remind them that her life was hers to do with as she liked, and she could only hope that a sudden, torrid affair with Lucius Malfoy that ended with them parting on amicable terms would be just the thing. She had hoped that this was what would happen with Severus, but then he started talking marriage.
Not to mention that she was going out on more of a limb this time.
Of course, she didn't explain any of this to Lucius; she knew he could work out most of it on his own.
So, as they left the breakfast table, it was with expressions of smugness on both parts. There was now a plan, or, at the very least, a semblance of a plan and they had sorted out all the priorities that needed sorting out. Lucius would have his revenge on Narcissa, and Hermione would get to see his library as a by-product of annoying Harry and Ron.
She returned home that night to a floor covered in letters that had been hastily dropped by various owls. A Howler or two were lying by the sofa, and a thick wad of paper that she imagined was probably filled with a lecture long enough that she would probably fall asleep reading it.
With a sigh, she marched over to the first Howler and prepared her ears for torture. A moment later, Molly Weasley's voice was filling her head as it screamed about the immorality of her behaviour and the cruelty she was inflicting upon Ron. Hermione, who had been hoping that the woman would finally accept the fact that she had moved on, felt cool relief trickle through her; there was no way she would ever be allowed to touch precious Ronniekins again after soiling her bed with Lucius Malfoy.
The second Howler came courtesy of Remus Lupin. This was slightly more unexpected, as she had only heard him truly raise his voice once. This almost made her feel guilty, before she realised that Harry must have put him up to it. Still, it was an impressive speech involving fire and brimstone and the dire ends that witches involved with Malfoy came to. She almost applauded when it was done—she hadn't thought the werewolf had it in him.
Feeling more amused than chastised, she began to sift through the rest of her mail, curious to see what other people had to say. The giant letter came next and, as it turned out, it was not a lecture, but an overly long inquiry from Ginny about how Lucius was in bed, demanding detailed examples. Tossing it aside with a snort, she picked up the next one, smiling as she read it.
You've got the entire staff in a bloody uproar and they're all asking me questions. Kindly cease carrying on this public relationship, or at least tell me what you think you're playing at. McGonagall won't sodding leave me alone until I pass the message on.
She flipped the bit of parchment over and grabbed a quill, scribbling her response rapidly.
Don't tell me that you're having difficulty believing Lucius and I have fallen madly in love. You, of all people, ought to be acquainted with his softer side.
And what's this I hear about you spreading tales of your sexual exploits? The version I had recounted to me was physically improbable and far more exciting than the event that memory provides.
It only struck her after she had finished writing it that she didn't have an owl with which to send the note. With a sigh, she stood up and pulled her shoes back on to go out to the nearest owlery. She really needed to do something about the bird situation.
Two weeks and several nights out with Lucius later, Hermione was beginning to feel suspicious of him. The press was having a field day, they couldn't stop bickering, and she had a horrible feeling that he was enjoying himself far too much.
Of course, so was she, though she would never confess it to him. At some point, she had also allowed herself to admit that he was attractive. Or, at the very least, his hair was.
She found this, in addition to her occasional fantasies about said hair, thoroughly annoying.
She had also, during their numerous dinners, begun to notice something quite strange in his diet pattern.
"Lucius," she said, fidgeting anxiously with her necklace and glancing around the restaurant, feeling the prickle of a camera lens from some remote location. "I know that I was a bit odd about that house elf thing and all, but despite what you may have assumed from what you know of me, I'm not a vegetarian. In fact, before last week, I'd never tasted tofu."
She was not prepared for the startled look she received in return.
"I'm sorry," she apologised, biting her lower lip. "I hope that wasn't offensive."
"Hermione," he replied, "I'm perfectly aware of the fact."
"So why… Oh." Her mouth went slack. "You've got to be joking."
A slight shake of the head confirmed her suspicion.
"You're a vegetarian?"
He leaned across the table and grasped her wrist, hissing, "Be quiet! It's not exactly something I like to advertise."
Her face split into a grin and she began to giggle as she repeated the phrase, "I can't believe it. The big bad Death Eater doesn't want to hurt the little animals… Surely you must see the humour in this situation."
Looking distinctly disconcerted, he leaned back. "If you're going to taunt me, at least have the grace to cast a silencing charm. We're trying to manipulate the press, not feed them information."
"No," she replied, a self-satisfied grin itching at the corners of her mouth. "I'm trying to manipulate people who think they know what's best for me into leaving me the hell alone and you're helping me so that you don't owe me a life debt any more. None of this is intended to be in your favour."
He sighed, taking a sip of water. "And, here I was worried that I'd have to start liking you."
"I just can't believe that you're—"
"Say it one more time without the benefit of a silencing charm and I swear on my ex-wife's shoe collection—which I'll be castrated if I destroy—that I'll hex you into next Tuesday."
Still smiling, she pressed her lips together and raised an eyebrow at him.
"If the Prophet runs a story—"
"It'll be one that absolutely no one believes."
In spite of the fact that he was feeling slightly queasy over the thought that the general public might soon learn that he felt stabbings of guilt whenever he was confronted with the prospect of eating dead animals, Lucius was finding the meal enjoyable. Once he had managed to convince Hermione to stop using the word 'vegetarian', some of the panic subsided, and he was able to consider that this situation might well work in his favour.
Perhaps, if he were able to convince her of his bleeding heart, he would be able to…
No. She would never buy it.
Besides, it wasn't as though it was a habit he'd adopted recently. He'd always had something of a weakness for large brown eyes, which he seemed to associate with any meat that was placed on the table before him from an early age.
It was at that moment that he took notice of the wide brown eyes across the table from him. He hadn't heard what she had said, but judging by their expression, she was expecting an answer.
So, instead of replying, he turned his most charming smile onto her, glanced down at his half-eaten meal and around the restaurant, and said, "Charming as this situation may be, I think that it's time to move elsewhere."
The expression of confusion that flitted across her features was positively delightful; he hoped to remove all traces of it by the end of the evening. Her subsequent smile of agreement was more than enough to support this.
Half an hour later, they were sitting by the fireplace in his library, sipping at a newly opened bottle of wine. The firelight was reflecting off of Hermione's glass, casting an odd, red light onto her face that helped to illuminate the expression on her face. Torn between that same confusion and amusement, she glanced at him uncertainly from the chair that she was reclining in.
"So, now that I know your deepest, darkest secret, it shouldn't hurt for me to ask more," she remarked.
His only response was to smirk.
"Why did you leave your wife?"
The smirk lessened. He'd been hoping that she would ask his favourite colour; there was a lovely speech about silver brocade that he had planned out precisely for these occasions. "What makes you so certain that I left her?"
His reply had the desired effect. Her eyes widened, and she had to take another sip of wine to brace herself.
Perhaps it was because the wine he'd had with dinner combined with this was taking its toll on his mental faculties, but his foolish mouth continued to talk. "We parted on entirely amicable terms. She had given me the heir I needed; I gave her a substantial shoe collection and a comfortable annuity." His streak of honesty stopped short of mentioning that he was jealous she had found someone to replace him already.
Hermione appeared mildly surprised by this bit of news. "Well, that certainly wasn't what I expected to hear."
"That she wasn't some poor, abused specimen that I tired of?"
"No, the truth."
There was a moment of silence as both of them regained their balance. Lucius found himself once again distracted by the large brown eyes that were staring distractedly into the fire, and found himself wishing that they were examining him instead. He was starting to feel a bit annoyed that they weren't, actually. He was generally accustomed to women who couldn't help themselves, and was finding his normal routine of seduction inadequate for the present situation.
"Do you have any idea where we're going with this?" she said finally.
Once again, she was asking the unexpected. "How do you mean?"
"I just feel like… We've plotted this whole thing out to upset people and throw them off balance, but do we have an end in sight? At some point, we have to go back to our normal lives."
"I had just assumed that when we tired of the game, we would stage a quiet break up and go our separate ways and you could release me from this ridiculous little life debt. A few days later, once the pain of losing me as a sexual companion has subsided, you could admit to the press that yes, the sex really was that good and I could make some passing remark about how Mudbloods make good pets. Only, more diplomatically, of course."
She chewed at her bottom lip. "I suppose that makes sense."
"Of course it does. It's the only logical course of action."
A small, equally logical part of his mind was reminding him that this was Hermione Granger, and Hermione Granger did not find arrogance attractive in the slightest. Hence, if he still wanted to sleep with her, he ought to shut up.
Only, she was smiling at him rather than scowling, and nearly bowling his mind over in the process.
Hermione wasn't sure what she was supposed to think, or if, in fact, she ought to be thinking at all. She had a feeling that if she could work out the answer to this quandary, she would be able to work out Lucius' intentions, which seemed rather up in the air at the moment.
Her assumption upon leaving the restaurant was that he was bringing her back to Malfoy Manor to shag her senseless—which, after about three seconds of examining her morals, had seemed like a thoroughly pleasant idea—but that didn't seem as though it was about to happen. Instead, he appeared thoroughly content to sit and talk.
The only plausible reason for this was that he was either drunk or well on his way to being so. She was perfectly aware that she wasn't that unattractive.
Feeling slighted, she arose from her chair abruptly. "Do you mind if I look at your books?"
"Not in the slightest. Would you accept my offer to give you a tour?"
"Seeing as you would know where everything worth reading is to be found, most certainly."
He guided her to the first row in the stacks that had stretched out behind them, gesturing to it grandly, and beginning to spew out information at random. A frisson of pleasure ran through her as he plucked out a book from where it was nestled and gave her the history of it; his library rivalled the top-security one in the Ministry. She even spent a brief moment wondering if it would be possible to marry into the family to have access to it, but came to the conclusion that she wasn't really marrying material. Not even for this many books.
That conclusion, however, was being sorely tested as he led her through more and more rows, until she was very nearly ready to propose on the spot. By the time he had finished, she was very nearly panting. Until, of course, she noticed a shelf hidden away in the back corner that hadn't been included in any of his speeches.
"What about these?" she asked, approaching them.
On closer examination, they proved to not be the most impressive books in his collection, nor were they in mint condition, but it didn't stop her from kneeling almost reverently in front of them.
"This," he replied, lowering himself so that their eyes were level, "is my personal collection."
It was almost too much for a bookworm to take. She ran a hand over their spines, mentally checking off the ones that she had read. It appeared that they had disturbingly similar taste.
"Do you mind if I…"
She had been about to ask him if she could borrow one of them, but trailed off as his hand wrapped itself around her outstretched wrist and tugged on it gently until she rotated around to face him.
"You are aware that the books will still be here tomorrow."
The soft, half-whisper that his voice had taken on sent a shiver down her spine as she admired the glow created by the way the fire was reflecting off of his hair.
"Will I be, though?" came the inevitably and annoyingly coy response.
Lucius, however, seemed to be endeared, judging by the methods used to shut her up rather quickly. The force with which he applied his mouth to hers was enough that she doubted her ability to pry herself away long enough to protest.
Not that she was remotely tempted to do so.
Breakfast was a languid affair. Neither of them bothered to get dressed, so they ate omelettes in dressing gowns while pouring over that morning's Prophet, reading aloud some of the more extreme speculations.
"Oh, look here," Hermione announced, jabbing a finger at the bottom of page five. "Someone's written in about the story they ran on us last week, announcing your immorality to the world."
"As if the world isn't already aware," he remarked. "Ought I be feeling insulted?"
"I shouldn't think it unreasonable."
"Section F has a feature interview with sources close to Ronald Weasley, expressing his devastation at your current choice of paramour," he commented. "Would you like the entire article, or merely the highlights?"
"Highlights, please. I can only handle so much tripe in one sitting."
As he recited quotes detailing Ron's current heartache, it occurred to Hermione that she was being used in far more ways than she had previously considered, and, surprisingly, little of the feeling was related to Lucius Malfoy. Theirs was a mutually parasitic relationship; the rest of the world seemed to be feeding off of her, without giving her a chance to dole out what she was receiving. The really cynical bit of her was suggesting that Ron himself was feeding the paper the information himself.
She wouldn't put it past the bugger.
It took her a moment to realise that Lucius had stopped talking and was now staring at her with the closest thing to concern that he could muster.
"You're pondering," he remarked.
"That I am," she agreed.
"Not having second thoughts, are you?"
Her mouth curved into a smile that had taken on an uncanny resemblance to his. "After that gem?" she snorted. "Hardly."
They were prevented from continuing on this vein by a tousled and half-awake Draco stumbling into the room.
"Morning, Father," he mumbled. "Morning… God, Granger, are the papers actually right for once?"
"Morning, Malfoy," she returned with an easy smile. "And, yes, it would appear that they are."
"And this is one of those situations from which I am now going to politely excuse myself before I start inventing mental images that I'd be happier without," Draco remarked, stealing a piece of toast from the plate in the middle of the table before sauntering out.
It took another week, when Lucius insisted that she join him at a formal function, for Hermione to realise that she might have waded in a bit over her head. In addition to the fact that she hadn't bothered to replenish her dress robe options for several months, she had a meeting until six that evening, which would mean careful manoeuvring would be required for her to show up in time. She understood his motives for inviting her perfectly; it didn't mean that she was overjoyed at the prospect.
Still, Harry, Ron, and Narcissa would both be there, as well as a number of reporters, so she knew that she would have to suck it up and look happy. She was also painfully aware that everything down to the brand of her stockings was about to be scrutinised.
Since Lucius would look at her like she had gone mental if she tried to talk to him about her stockings, she settled for paying a visit to the one other man who had been forced to sit through a large number of Narcissa Malfoy's miniature fashion parades.
"Granger, what one earth are you doing here?" Snape glanced up from his desk in the dungeons classroom, setting down his quill.
"I could say the same to you. I've never understood why you reaccepted your position here—I thought you hated it."
"Call it overdeveloped masochism," he replied, raising an eyebrow. "Now, I'm assuming that you want something from me, since I can think of no other earthly reason for you to be here."
"Not even the pleasure of your company?"
"Straight from the lips of Lucius Malfoy."
They settled into a brief, yet awkward silence, and Hermione was reminded that he had genuinely fallen for her, however confused he might have been about the matter. It made her feel slightly guilty about coming to him for advice about Lucius, but she consoled herself with the fact that he had probably seen right through the ploy from the beginning.
"I need your fashion sense," she blurted. It wasn't until the words were hovering in the air between them that it occurred to her precisely how silly they sounded.
His eyebrow shot up so high that it seemed to be buried in his hairline. "Surely Lucius is better for this sort of thing."
"If I feel like being mocked for the entire evening because of it," she snapped back. "I'm only asking me because you told me that Narcissa spent so much time talking about clothes that even the most reluctant person would come away with detailed knowledge on the subject."
"That is true," he acquiesced, picking up his pen and shuffling through the papers on his desk.
Annoyed that she seemed to be being ignored, she muttered, "Look, just give me a colour, a style, and a brand and I can work the rest out myself."
He continued to scribble, not acknowledging what she had said.
"If you don't want to help me, that's fine. I can go."
He thrust the scrap of parchment out towards her. She accepted it curiously, examining the sketch of the dress robes that he had drawn for her. Underneath, in his spiky writing, were the name and address of a shop in Diagon Alley, and a recommended size.
"I didn't know you could draw," she remarked, biting back a comment on some of the more revealing aspects of his suggestion.
"You'll want to wear your hair up with it, and a very small amount of jewellery. Lucius ought to appreciate that; Narcissa's fault was that she would be practically falling over from her diamonds."
"And you're certain I can pull it off?" It was really a far lower cut than she was accustomed to.
"As if it were made for you."
Snape, as it turned out, knew perfectly well what he was talking about. Additionally, rather than leaving the selection of accessories to her, an owl arrived two mornings before the dinner bearing shoes, a necklace, and a handbag. He had attached a note that read, quite simply:
Granger, you owe me.
She thought the reminder rather superfluous; her gratitude as she sprinted from her Wednesday night meeting into her cubicle was overwhelming. Changing into the dress was a matter of seconds, and a handheld mirror assured her that her hair was still in place and her makeup hadn't smudged. A simple balancing charm assured her that she would be able to walk properly in the heels, and she was ready.
When she met Lucius in front of the Ministry buildings, he didn't comment, merely returned her nervous smile with an appreciative look.
"Severus requested that I give you these," he said, offering a velvet box to her.
Curiously, she accepted it and opened it, grinning at the contents. Matching earrings.
As she hooked them into her ears, Lucius remarked, "He really is quite worryingly fond of you."
She laughed. "As long as no one's deluding himself…"
"I wouldn't worry; the note he sent made it seem as though he were entirely resigned to his fate."
Hermione felt oddly touched by the selflessness of the gesture and, for a second, really wished that she had been able to fall for him. As they apparated to the dinner, she wondered briefly if he would be there so she could thank him, but brushed it aside. She would need to be fully focussed to survive this.
Much to her surprise, Hermione found the sociality of the event remarkably easy. Maybe it was the knowledge that she had one of the most dangerous wizards in Britain attached to her arm, or maybe it was the fact that said wizard was murmuring dry remarks about everyone else into her ear, but there were only two moments where her smile grew forced. The first was when she found out they were at a table with Arthur and Molly Weasley, while the second came in the guise of Ginny Weasley and waited until the end of the evening to pounce.
Lucius, for all of his premonitions that the evening would be a disaster, was finding himself pleasantly surprised with his date. Her dress was absolutely smashing, making him almost immediately begin plans for how to go about removing it, and she didn't even pretend to be offended when he made a disparaging remark about Potter and the Weasley girl, who were clearly in the midst of some sort of argument.
Whilst he would be quite happy to find the person responsible for the seating plan and torture them in creative ways, he supposed it could have been worse: they could be sitting with Narcissa.
So, rather than plotting, he amused himself by telling outrageous stories about the people sitting near them that she didn't believe for a second, while tracking the expression on Molly Weasley's face as it moved from disapproval to extreme shock and horror. She seemed to have been ready to accept that Hermione was under some strange sort of spell; the thought that the spell was merely his personality appeared to be too much for her.
Hermione, he assumed, had also been following this progression, because just when Molly's face began to hold a tint of purple, she leaned across him and said, "Mrs Weasley, I'm so sorry! I forgot to thank you for the kind advice in your letter—it was incredibly enlightening."
Lucius, who had heard nothing whatsoever about a letter, both pricked up his ears and admired the apparent sincerity of her tone.
The older woman faltered, setting down her napkin. "I'm… so glad." To her husband, she added, "I'll just be a moment," as she pushed back her chair and marched away.
Lucius used the excuse of kissing her cheek to mutter in her ear, "Good show. I'm going to go have a word with Severus, if you don't mind?"
"Thanks for waiting until she left," Hermione whispered back, catching his wrist with one hand and tugging lightly at his hair with the other.
Hermione watched him go wistfully, wishing that she didn't have to be left alone with Arthur's accusing eyes and the four strangers that occupied the other half of the table.
"That was thoroughly unnecessary," he remarked quietly, and she nearly squirmed with guilt.
"She isn't my mother," she replied, betraying no hint of this, "and she has no right to interfere in my personal life. I don't care what she thinks—I didn't go round trying to twist Ron's heart out of his chest. He managed that one quite nicely on his own."
Arthur looked like a man who had been caught saying something that he didn't fully believe. "I must confess that we were rather… confused by your choices. Severus was somewhat understandable, but Lucius Malfoy…"
"Has been nothing but a perfect gentleman since we began seeing each other," she finished for him, her tone firm. "He hasn't done anything that I was at all unwilling to have him do and, well…" She floundered, suddenly aware that she was discussing her sex life with Arthur Weasley, and began fiddling with her fork.
He cleared his throat, looking somewhat redder than usual, and they were saved by Lucius' return. "You should be receiving a surprise of sorts sometime soon, my dear," he announced, sliding back into his seat.
"It's hardly a surprise if you let me know ahead of time," she replied dryly.
"But I haven't told you what it is," he protested, looking thoroughly smug.
Bewildered, she was forced to wait until dessert, when a note scribbled on the back of a napkin was delivered to her by a server.
The designer sends his compliments and, out of gratitude for the honour you have visited upon him, would like to reimburse you.
Her mouth formed a small 'O' at the arrival of this news. Looking behind her at the server, she asked, "Can you tell me who sent this?"
He shook his head.
"Can I pay you for the information?"
After a moment's hesitation, he nodded, and gestured discreetly to a familiar man a few tables away.
"Snape?" she hissed. "You've got to be joking."
"Oh, he's quite serious," Lucius replied, smirking. "But don't make it known. The poor man would die of shame."
"Don't tell me you arranged this," she said, almost snappish.
"Oh, he was quite insistent in the matter. I only spoke to him to make it clear that there would be no exchange of favours."
She accepted his explanation with a sigh, and asked, "Have you got a pen? I suppose I ought to thank him."
Lucius procured one, and she flipped the napkin over, writing her response.
The recipient expresses her gratitude to the designer most profoundly and would like to ascertain that she has been correct in ascertaining his identity so that she may properly thank him later.
A few minutes later, the server was back.
Absolutely no exchange of favours.
She showed the note to Lucius with a laugh, and caught Snape's eye as he raised his goblet to her. The remainder of the night passed without incident, until Hermione excused herself to use the ladies room before leaving. After checking her makeup quickly, she began threading her way through the room back to the table.
All would have continued to move smoothly, had she not been intercepted by Ginny, who looked about ready to burst into tears.
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" the redhead asked, clutching Hermione's arm tightly enough that she was sure there would be a mark later.
Nodding, she allowed herself to be dragged away. The girl was obviously desperate.
In the foyer, Ginny finally burst out what she had been suppressing, choking back a sob in the process. "I think I just broke up with Harry."
"What? What happened?"
"Well, he's been upset because I told him I didn't want to get married for at least another few years—"
"Smart of you."
"—but he keeps saying things about how we're meant to be and it's fate, so we shouldn't try to circumvent it… And when I told him that was stupid, he asked me why I was still with him, so I told him that if it helped him understand, I wouldn't be with him anymore. And… and, the worst part is that I think I meant it."
As the tears began to spill over, Hermione felt a fierce feeling building inside her. "Good for you," she said.
She nodded firmly. "If Harry can't respect your decisions, then you were right in giving him the boot. Either he'll wise up, or you'll move on."
Ginny wiped at her nose, giving the other girl a watery half-smile. "Thanks. You know, it was you and Lucius Malfoy that really set me off… You look so happy, and it's funny, because I never expected it, but so does he."
Hermione's encouraging smile froze in place as something twisted at her gut. "What do you mean?"
"Even Ron's noticed it, and you know how thick he usually us about this sort of thing," Ginny prattled on as the something in Hermione's stomach stopped twisting and began to sink.
Had she… Was he…
At what point, if any, had their relationship ceased to be the purely professional one of teaching the rest of the world a lesson?
She almost began an examination of her feelings there and then, but partly because of fear of what she might discover and partly because she it was the sort of thing to be reserved for when she was alone, she quickly decided against it. Leaving Ginny calmer, albeit still red-eyed, she returned to the table, paying close attention to Lucius' reaction. The smile was perfectly calculated, she knew, but that didn't account for the way his eyes lit up—she was used to them holding the same cold expression. Almost against her will, she felt a glow build up from somewhere under her rib cage.
Damn. It seemed that Ginny had been right.
"If I had known you would take so long, I would have made you wait," he remarked, standing and offering her his arm.
She smiled and accepted it. "Sorry. Ginny's just broken up with Harry and she needed a bit of a cry."
His eyebrows shot up. "She broke up with him tonight?"
Hermione nodded. "Apparently."
"Brave of her," he said, then closed his mouth on the subject, but she had the distinct impression that he was impressed.
As he settled her cloak around her shoulders, she leaned into him, inhaling deeply. While this might have drawn a sharp remark a month ago about asthmatic difficulties, tonight it only resulted in him resting his chin on the crown of her head. Maybe it was that, or the moonlight that they strolled out into, or maybe it was something that had been inevitable from the moment that Hermione had accidentally saved his life, but Hermione made a sudden and impulsive decision.
"I'm going to end the life debt. I think we just took half the Wizarding world down a peg or two, never mind settled our personal grudges."
For a moment, he looked blank, but as the thought registered, she saw a combination of relief and something that reminded her of desperation cross his features, before it was smoothed away into an impassive mask.
"I suppose that this is your way of saying you're finally that sick of me?" he commented softly, and there was a hint of cruelty in his voice that had been absent for at least a few weeks.
"Hardly," she retorted, and it occurred to her that she might have insulted him in some way. "I just think that I've achieved my end and it's hardly fair to keep you tied up now that I've done that."
She knew full well that the moonlight was illuminating her face as well as it was casting shadows over his face, just as she knew that her expression was revealing the fact that some piece of her was hurt by his words.
Regaining some sense of himself, he smiled down at her, making the backs of her knees curl. "I'm assuming that you're up for one last shag, at the very least. I've been positively aching to get you out of those robes all night."
The corners of her lips curved upwards as she peered up at him through her eyelashes. "Better. I'm up for several."
The next morning, Lucius awoke, tangled in someone else's legs, trying to remember why he had been dreading morning. The memory that the legs with which he was currently entangled would be leaving shortly returned to him within moments. Next to him, Hermione stirred, opening an eye.
Before she could so much as speak, he rolled on top of her. He was going to put this off as long as possible.
"So I suppose that you'll want me to start preparing the ritual right away, then."
Hermione made a half-hearted attempt to roll out of bed, but was stopped by a hand reaching across to grab hold of her waist.
"You wouldn't think of getting up at this ungodly hour," Lucius replied, surprising Hermione with the speed of his recuperation.
Several of such occurrences later, Hermione was forced to point out that it was well after two in the afternoon. "You know, just because you won't owe me a life debt anymore doesn't mean I won't sleep with you," she added, feeling that her suspicions were being confirmed.
He mumbled something into the pillow.
Giving in, she rolled over and pressed herself against him. "I suppose it's fortunate that I had the foresight to book today off…"
Breakfast, given that it was served at nearly six o'clock in the evening, might have more accurately been referred to as dinner, had it not been for the fact that it was a fanciful pancake concoction. However, in spite of the many ways in which the meal was visually appealing, neither of them felt much like touching it.
Hermione because she didn't want to leave afterward and Lucius because he didn't want her to leave, although neither of them was willing to vocalise this shared desire. Due to this, the evening might have ended disappointingly, perhaps even tragically, had it not been for the unexpected, yet timely, arrival of Severus Snape.
Severus had been in a moderately decent mood, as much as he was able to manage one, up to the point when he entered Lucius' dining room. While he was perfectly aware that Lucius and Hermione had spent the previous night shagging their brains out, he was not prepared to deal with the possibility that they had continued to do so throughout the day. He had felt compelled to help Hermione out of some sort of annoying compulsion due to an affection that he couldn't quite shake; it didn't mean that he wanted her relationships with other men rubbed in his face. Bloody ungrateful, if you asked him.
He had conveniently forgot that he was visiting purely of his own volition, with the intent of giving Lucius the cheque for the dress so as to avoid having to speak to Hermione. Clearly, this was a flawed plan.
Still, it gave him a rather nice view of her in nothing but a dressing gown, and he couldn't complain about that. He had a sneaking suspicion that it was a view he would never be privy to again.
When Hermione, quite diplomatically, left the room—she'd always been a clever girl—Severus sat down across from his friend and opened his mouth to voice his reasons for turning up. A more distraught Lucius than he had ever seen cut him off before a sound escaped his lips.
"She wants to leave me."
Severus, who had just been reflecting on the way that Hermione's eyes were clinging to the blonde man with a fondness that he couldn't help but envy, couldn't not think this statement anything short of ridiculous. "Surely you're mistaken, or at the very least paranoid after what happened with Narcissa."
"No, I'm absolutely and completely certain."
Severus tightened his lips, trying to remember the last time that he had called Lucius Malfoy an idiot to his face. The memory was hazy, possibly due to the immense amounts of pain that had followed, but he seemed to recall that it hadn't ended well.
Upon further reflection, he came to the conclusion that his mind was in the annoying habit of using slight euphemisms to describe unpleasant experiences.
"What's got you thinking that?" He allowed a note of incredulity to creep into his voice, and prayed that the blonde man wouldn't take offence. He needn't have worried; Lucius was too entrenched in his current emotional torment to notice.
The outpouring that he received by way of response would have been enough to make him drop something in shock, if he had been holding something suitable. As it was, his lower jaw fell several inches with a pain-inducing force, and he tempted to burst into laughter. That the combined team of Lucius Malfoy and Hermione Granger had managed to successfully dupe the entire Wizarding world was beyond hilarity, yet absolutely sodding brilliant.
That they were now managing to dupe themselves was almost too much to consider.
So, against his better judgement, Severus was forced to say, "Lucius, I think you're a bloody idiot."
Either age had tempered his itchy wand hand, or his distress was great enough that he could only stare at Severus in confusion. Severus, for his part, didn't particularly care which of these it was; he was just grateful that he wasn't involved in a full-scale collision with the nearest wall.
"You've got the girl wrapped around your bloody finger," Severus continued. "Everyone at the banquet last night noticed, just as they noticed that you're completely entangled with hers." Sweet Merlin, when Lucius regained his senses, he was going to die. Still, his traitorous mouth continued, "I haven't got a clue why you haven't picked up on this yet, unless you're so completely besotted that you're out of your mind."
Clearly he was, since the only reply to that statement was, "Well, why hasn't she said something?"
At this, Severus couldn't resist the urge to roll his eyes. He might as well push the envelope as far as he possibly could, as these opportunities didn't present themselves regularly. "Because, as far as she's concerned, she's been your little Mudblood pet for the last month or so, and you haven't said anything to make her think otherwise."
"Well, she certainly wasn't objecting," he muttered, looking sulky as he realised that he was quite possibly being reprimanded.
"Look, if you don't go chase after her right now and tell her, then I'll have no qualms about going after her myself, and maybe this time I'll get it right," Severus snapped, finally losing his patience.
This seemed to pull Lucius back to his normal state. "You wouldn't dare," he hissed, and Severus thought that he'd finally crossed the line as Lucius stood menacingly.
Fortunately, he turned away from Severus and sprinted to the door. A few seconds later, there was a resounding crash as he presumably found Hermione, some muffled shouting, and some more crashes as they (hopefully) resolved their differences. Judging by the sounds of the accompanying noises, it was in a non-violent manner.
So, it was with a heavy sigh that Severus forced his attention onto the piles and piles of food on the table before him. Since pancakes and whipped cream was as good a comfort food as any, he heaped some onto a plate and began to eat.
He could only hope that his life would move upwards from this new low.
So, while it had never before occurred to Lucius that he might come to appreciate the fact that he hadn't killed Hermione Granger on sight, it was something that inevitably came to pass. In retrospect, he even came to feel something close to gratitude for the life debt that had brought him not only some of the most energetic sex of his life, but also emotional satisfaction, which was a concept that even he had difficulties applying to himself some days.
Severus remarked frequently that Hermione had made him go soft, but Lucius usually silenced that by replying that at least he hadn't gone all poncy and become a world-renowned fashion designer, thank you very much. Of course, although he would never publicly admit it, there was some truth in the statement: he barely felt tempted to violence when Severus' new choice of career brought him into a romantic proximity with Narcissa.
When he voiced his fears on the matter to Hermione, her laughing response was that it simply didn't matter. Falling in love with Narcissa was likely punishment enough.
In all honesty, Lucius couldn't bring himself to disagree.
Still, as unlikely as it seemed, they seemed to be happy enough and Lucius, in a surge of acceptance that came rather late in life, realised that he was hardly one to judge.