Hermione was in Flourish and Blotts savoring how normal it was. The book shop had closed during the last months of the war. It would only have been used as a vehicle for propaganda, anyway, so it was best that they had boarded it up and fled.
It had been eighteen months. Hermione hadn't come back to Diagon Alley in all that time, unable to bear the broken images she saw in the Daily Prophet. Now it was mostly reconstructed and every shop was bustling like the war had never happened. Even Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was going strong; George had continued it with Lee Jordan. They kept Fred's Order of Merlin in the window of the shop for inspiration, and though the two of them felt that their products had dropped off in quality without him, the public clearly disagreed.
Being here in Flourish and Blotts was the crowning glory. This was the ultimate return of freedom. She could once again peruse the aisles of the gargantuan bookshop, pick out whatever she wanted, and read without a care in the world.
The store was exploding with new books. War was rife with stories and as such a thousand biographies, memoirs, and novels had come out in the time immediately afterward. She herself had been asked multiple times to write one. Hermione had never felt the urge and it seemed kind of absurd to write a memoir when she only had nineteen years under her belt.
Hermione rounded another corner and stopped. In the aisle in front of her no less than four people were standing completely still. All of them were at various points in the same book; a slim white volume with red lettering on the cover.
"Excuse me," she asked the man closest to her, who was also furthest in the book, "but what is that you're reading?" He looked up.
"You haven't heard of it?"
Hermione shook her head.
"It's causing a lot of buzz," he said. "No one knows who wrote it." He reached over a short woman and plucked a copy from the shelf. Handing it to her, he said, "I won't ruin it for you."
Hermione examined it as he moved past her, probably seeking a quieter place to finish the book. The cover was a bright shade of white, adorned only with bold red letters that looked like they had come from a typewriter. FAIM, it was called. Beneath the title, in lowercase, it said 'a memoir'. She frowned. Faim meant hungry in French, didn't it? Yes, she remembered that. There was no author and no blurb on the back of the book. Just that stark word. It was genius, really…even the book was hungry.
She opened the book to a random page.
He thought when he was young that black and white were the same thing. They were both nothing, equally empty. However, he found out later that black was the absence of all color and white was the presence of every color. It seemed somehow unfair.
Why, he wondered, was presence better than absence? Why was everything better than nothing? Why did black denote cold, evil, and depravity, where white stood for light, purity, and goodness? Winter was white, he sometimes felt like screaming, and winter killed everything. Night was black and night renewed the world, enabled it to face itself when the sun rose again. Black and white were not black and white and nobody could see it but him.
Hm. So far so good. Hermione turned back about thirty pages.
…and when the open palm met his cheek the sound echoed off the high gothic archway.
"Don't say that!" she shrieked. "Never say such a thing again!" Her face was like that of a horse worked into panic; wide-eyed, nostrils flaring, rearing up and away from the threat of his words. She was the filly and he was the snake, the thing coiled in the grass trying to bite her and inject her with the venom of reality.
Hermione chewed her lip. Two for two. Now it only had to pass one more check. This was how she picked books. If she could turn to three separate spots in the book and find what was written interesting in each place, she usually bought it. She turned further toward the back, but not far enough that it would ruin the ending.
It was no surprise to him that men abused power. He knew from experience that so little of it was ever given that when it came, men lost their minds and their morals. Power was a fast woman, all dark makeup and milky thighs, straddling you on a first date. She let you touch her and when you felt how hot and slick she was you wanted to own her cunt forever.
Hermione coughed slightly and looked around. She was sure she was blushing. Oh, heavens, she wasn't a kid! She could handle sexual metaphors and the c-word. She had read worse. She forced her eyes back to the page.
He began his copulation with power like anyone else; tentative, but when he found that it was good he wanted it more and faster and harder. She was a willing lover and it coaxed more pleasure out of him than he would at first admit. In fact she wrung him dry and when he was with his wife he couldn't make himself desire her. Not until he realized that he could bring that power with him to the bedroom, anyway, and that…that made his toes curl. His wife never knew it, but from that day forward every encounter was a ménage a trois; him, her, and his silent, invisible mistress.
Oh my. This person certainly knew how to spin a metaphor. She felt mildly dirty and…yes, that passage had made her more aware of certain regions of her body and how neglected they were. If one page of a book could make her horny, it was time to get some action. She sighed; that was easier said than done since Ron was away at auror training.
She was startled out of her thoughts by someone clearing his throat. Unwittingly she had blocked the entire aisle, standing right in the middle of it to read. The other three readers were gone; she was the rude one, obstructing the flow of customers.
"I'm s--" she stopped, stunned. It was Lucius Malfoy at the end of the row, waiting more patiently and calmly than she would have expected. His face, always so aristocratic, was neutral. His cornflower eyes flickered to the book in her hands. To her great surprise, a slight smirk pulled his lips and he said,
"Are you reading about Mistress Power?"
Hermione blushed worse than she was already blushing. Obviously he had read the book. And Jesus, was she really that obvious? No. He was only trying to embarrass her. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
"Yes," she tried to recover. "It's an…apt metaphor."
"Indeed," he responded. And that was all he said. No backhanded cruelty, no vile names, no Slytherin rhetoric…Confused, Hermione moved aside to let him pass. It would surely come now, some nasty comment about how mudbloods ought to behave around their superiors.
He kept his silence, though, and brushed past. However, before he turned the corner he paused and looked back.
"If Mistress Power makes you blush…wait until you meet Mistress Pain."
And then he was gone in a flick of pale platinum hair. Hermione stood there for five whole minutes, trying to process the odd encounter. When she realized she couldn't, she walked towards the counter as if hypnotized. Her legs were rubbery as she paid for the book.
She could barely wait to get back to her flat and read it. Once there she devoured it. The author's talent was undeniable; he – for she was certain now that it was a man – wove the story in rich insights that were often a little disturbing in their accuracy. This was a person who understood the world around him and a person who understood himself, but sometimes had trouble putting the two together.
The book only chronicled his life up until he was twenty-three. Could a twenty-three-year-old really write something like this? Something so…terrible in its own enlightenment? Some of the things that happened to him were gut-wrenching but Hermione's sympathy evaporated time and time again when he later did something similarly awful to another – and knew very well that he was recreating his own hell in someone else. In spite of his heartlessness, she couldn't bring herself to dislike him. Yes, she hated everything this protagonist did, but she didn't hate him. It was disconcerting. By being unable to hate him, it felt like he had somehow…won.
Ginny knocked on the door a moment later. It was only a formality; Hermione was helping her study for NEWTs. Ginny let herself in and made a beeline for the couch. The redhead collapsed onto it with a sigh.
"Tough day?" Hermione asked, pushing the book out of her mind.
Ginny held out a bandaged hand. "Hagrid ran out of flesh-eating slug repellent and didn't tell anyone."
Hermione winced. Poor Ginny. She was almost done with school; Hermione had finished about six months before. Hermione's year on the run should have meant that they finished together. However, many students had received abysmal grades at the Snape-run Hogwarts and chose to repeat the year with a clean slate rather than graduate on time with awful grades. Ginny often voiced that they should have been credited with straight O's for tolerating Snape and his entourage, but there was no bite in the insult.
"So what did you do today?" Ginny asked, blowing a strand of hair out of her face.
"I went to Flourish and Blotts."
Ginny's eyebrow went up. "Are you going to be able to pay your rent?"
Hermione stuck her tongue out and then responded, "Of course. I only bought one book."
"Only one? I'm impressed."
"I know." Hermione picked up the paperback and held it out to Ginny. "Heard of it?"
"Oh, yeah," Ginny nodded, waving her off. "I read it last week."
"Did everyone know about this book before me?"
Ginny shrugged. "I read it because Amelia Wentworth in Ravenclaw said it was the most disturbing book she ever read."
"You read it, Hermione. You don't need my opinion."
"I know, but I want to know…how did it make you feel?"
Ginny smiled, knowing what she was getting at. She had been confused by her own reaction until she had talked to Amelia and found out that she wasn't crazy. "If you must know, Hermione - and I'll only admit it to you - it made me feel sick and horny at the same time."
"Oh thank God! I thought I was the only one," Hermione exclaimed. At several points in the book she had had to close it and take a few deep breaths. She had the feeling this author could make anything dirty. Even certain things that were horrible held an erotic undercurrent that made her feel ashamed for responding to it. He was really bloody talented and probably knew it.
"Do you think it's really a memoir?" Ginny asked. "I'm not so sure."
Hermione considered. It was written in the third person; wouldn't most people write their memoir in their own voice? There was also a certain vagueness about the way he described things. He told you enough to understand what was happening, but frequently left you to imagine exactly how. And there was not a single name or proper noun in the entire book. She could understand that. If it was real a lot of people could get in trouble, because many of the he's and she's in the tale had done terrible things...
"Me either." She frowned as an odd feeling settled in her stomach. "God, I hope not."
A month passed and Hermione forgot all about the book and the odd encounter that had come with it. She was leaving the Ministry after an interview, one that had gone quite well. Most people had expected her to go straight to University after graduation, but the war had shifted her priorities and her ideas. Now she wasn't at all sure what she really wanted to do. There were so many options, healing, potions, charms, and advanced transfiguration among them. How was she supposed to choose?
Mr. Weasley had gotten her an interview in his department. Being a muggleborn was an immense perk, of course. She was fairly certain she'd gotten the position. If she had it would be perfect; she'd gain good experience, make money so that she could pay for her own university fees and her flat, and have enough time to really think about what she wanted to go to university for.
As she left through the visitor's entrance her stomach rumbled. She had skipped breakfast, worried that her nerves might give her a shifty stomach. Now she was bordering on ravenous. Well, there were enough little cafes on her walk back to King's Cross that she was sure to find something to eat.
Ten minutes later she ducked into a small, cozy tea shop. She had about forty minutes before her train. She had decided to go see her parents, feeling like she hadn't in a while, instead of going back to her flat. Walking up to the counter she ordered a muffin and a cup of Darjeeling. That would hold her over until whatever ridiculously large dinner her mother insisted on cooking.
A few minutes later, tea and muffin in hand, she turned and had to decide where to sit. The café wasn't crowded but it wasn't empty. People were interspersed typically, each putting proper space between themselves until it got too crowded to do so. Wait just a bleeding minute…
There he was again. Lucius Malfoy. Again! In a muggle café! He was at a table with another man and both were, shockingly, in muggle clothing. Though Malfoy's robe was draped over his chair; he probably wouldn't be caught dead without it.
He looked different in muggle clothing. The pair of reading glasses perched on his nose added to the strange vision. He was talking animatedly with the other man, gesturing now and again at a stack of parchment that was between them on the table. Hermione moved back towards the counter, which would partially obstruct her should he suddenly look over.
"Hey," Hermione said to the girl, "that blond man – have you ever seen him before?"
The girl leaned over to look and nodded. "Yeah, this is the third day he's been here." She smiled. "Not bad to look at, is he?"
"Do you know the man that's with him?" she asked, ignoring the other comment.
"No, first time I've seen him. Looks like some kind of meeting."
"Thanks," Hermione said, nodding, and moved away. If she sat in the booth that was furthest back, she could watch Malfoy and his friend without them being able to see her.
She drank her tea slowly, barely tasting it. She was riveted on Malfoy. Why would he meet someone here, in muggle London? Why would he try to blend in, to look ordinary? That was something the Malfoys simply didn't do. Who was his companion and what on earth were they discussing?
She was halfway through her blueberry muffin when Malfoy reached out, took the stack of parchment, and tucked it into his robe. Then…yes, this was the part she'd been waiting for. Money changed hands – Malfoy to his visitor – and the deal was made. She would bet her left arm that it was something suspicious. A damn good thing she'd seen him; the git was still up to his old tricks, manipulating and tricking and behaving like a foul bigoted creep. Well, this time he wouldn't get away with it.
Hermione wolfed down the last of her muffin, unable to tear her eyes from him as his guest got up and left. Thankfully Malfoy loitered a bit longer, finishing his tea and giving her time to manage the last gargantuan bite. As she wiped the crumbs from her face, he stood up and gathered his robe from the back of the chair. At the last second he dug in his pocket and left some change on the table – muggle money! Never in a million years would she have expected that small kindness. No wonder the counter girl liked him.
He was leaving. Now was the time. Hermione stood and followed him. He was a good block ahead of her, walking quickly. Odd; he was heading towards King's Cross, as well. Good. Maybe in the process of foiling his plans she might not miss her train.
Five minutes went by before opportunity presented itself. There was an alleyway coming up ahead. Hermione sped up and as he passed the alleyway, she pounced. He let out a muffled curse as he was propelled into the dark, narrow space and groped for his wand, which she had already ripped from his pocket. Recognition flashed in his eyes, along with a few other things, and she braced herself for whatever bile he would spew.
"Are you mad?" he whispered harshly. "A muggle could see us!"
Hermione got right to the point, not even registering how strange it was that that was his only concern. "I saw you in the café making your little deal. Give me the papers or get ready for me to call the Aurors."
For a long minute he didn't answer. Then, "This is a mistake, Granger. It isn't what you think."
"Then there shouldn't be any problem with giving me the papers," she said forcefully.
"Yeah, because they've got something horribly incriminating on them, don't they?" Hermione spat. "Fine. I'll let the Aurors take them from you, Malfoy." She raised her wand to call them.
"No!" he said sharply, raising his hand in a gesture of supplication. "No. That isn't necessary." She had been right to play the Auror card. If there was one thing Lucius Malfoy didn't want, it was to become embroiled in more legal trouble or go to Azkaban. "But I'm telling you," he went on, "it's not at all what you think."
"Let me see them!"
His eyes told her well enough how he felt about her ordering him around. If looks could kill, she'd be a pile of dust. But slowly, driven by the fact that there was no other alternative, he reached into his robes. His hand emerged with the stack of parchment.
"You cannot tell anyone of what you see, Granger," he cautioned. He seemed…worried? Of course he was worried, he'd been caught in the act!
She plucked the parchment from his hand. Keeping her wand carefully trained on him, she unfolded the healthy stack and found the first page. It was handwritten in black ink.
Soif, it said at the top in sloping letters. French for 'thirsty'. Some kind of code word? She read on. Three paragraphs in, she realized it was a story. Four paragraphs in she realized it was a sequel. Oh God in heaven – it was a continuation of that book that had unsettled her so much a month ago. Faim.
She almost dropped the papers. He noticed it and reacted quickly, one hand clasping the side of the stack.
"I swear, if you drop those…!"
Hermione was in shock. "It's you!"
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, that should be obvious."
"You wrote that book! Oh my…" Hermione's jaw fell as memories of the book returned to her. The things those words had done to her! Lucius Malfoy's words!
He ignored her epiphany. "Are you happy now, Miss Granger?" he asked, infuriated.
"With your paranoia?"
"I'm sorry," she apologized quickly, though Lord knew he didn't deserve it. "I…how on earth did you get it published anonymously?"
"It's very simple. I found a publisher, made an agreement with him that made him rich, and for that he keeps my identity a secret and publishes the book. The sales and royalties go to an untraceable account in Switzerland."
She shook her head, overwhelmed. He had just given her a blueprint of pure cleverness in five sentences or less. The thought of the number jolted her back to reality.
"Shit, my train!"
She practically threw the stack of parchment back at him. She was not going to miss her mother's cooking, not even for the prospect of interrogating this utterly mystifying man. It was better not to know. That was what she told herself as she ran. With a Malfoy, it was better not to know…