Written for my darling beta, thehalflie's, birthday, under the penname Silburygirl on LJ.
Lowering her wand with intent, fury glistening in her eyes, Hermione Granger cast a spell intended to raze entire forests to the ground. It shot forward in a stream of fluorescent purple, which glowed for a moment before fading, as her previous hexes had done. The object of her wrath didn't so much as shudder.
She generally disliked losing. Particularly when the winner was an inanimate object.
One would think that one would grow used to the sensation as one spent more time in the Wizarding world, she thought, but that was a gross assumption made by Purebloods, such as the one lounging against the wall next to her.
"I don't think that this door will stand for having a hole blasted through it," Lucius Malfoy remarked, flicking his hair back in a gesture that should have been far more feminine than he made it seem. "It's made from wood with a reputation for having a nasty temper."
Hermione had never heard of wood with a mind of its own and said as much, sceptically, aiming another spell at the door.
"Ah, yes, I forgot—"
"Practically a compliment."
He smirked. "No, I couldn't forget that. I had forgotten that the donation of the sentient wood to guard the Department of Mysteries is a family legacy, and that, in this day and age, it is hardly the sort of thing that anyone would care about. My dear Great-great-great Uncle Roland would be appalled at how little a public service means."
"I have a hard time believing that any member of your family would do something for the public good."
"Oh, he didn't; he just wanted his name permanently etched into the stones holding up the Ministry. It's over there if you'd like to see it."
"Nice try," she said, "but no. You're not distracting me."
"Why would I want to? Watching you lose to a door is entirely too entertaining."
"A sentient door."
"It's still a door."
Another forty-five minutes assured her that nothing she did would break down the door. When she found herself using Jelly Legs in an attempt to reduce the wood to a quivering pile of gelatinous goo, she gave up, pocketing her wand and sliding down the wall until she was sitting.
"Unless your Malfoy ancestors taught you the secret art of taming the wild wood, I think that we're stuck here," she said, focussing on picking at her cuticles to avoid his look of triumph.
"Oh, bravo!" His applause echoed through the vaulted ceilings, a sharp reminder of how alone they were.
"I spy with my little eye something that is … blue."
"You can't choose a prophecy," Hermione said, clenching her fists to keep her hands from strangling him of their own accord. "It's too bloody obvious. The point of the game is to keep the other person guessing."
"Ah," said Lucius. "But of which prophecy am I thinking?"
She briefly, lovingly, cherished the idea of shaving off his flowing locks hair with a simple spell; the state of her sanity if they were forced to spend days together before someone showed up to rescue them was not something she felt comfortable contemplating. "I hate you. I really, really do."
A warm smile spread across his face, monumentally increasing her irritation. "Do you really? Narcissa said that I was losing my touch when she left me, so it's nice to hear that her claims remain unconfirmed."
It crossed her mind to correct him by saying that she not only hated him, but pitied him and his sunken face that looked as though he had aged decades in the space of years, pitied his need to compensate for his deterioration with even more elaborate clothing than before—enough fur and jewellery to weigh down his shoulders even further and give his posture a distinct stoop—and formal speech. It also crossed her mind that he had a wand, and thirty years more experience than she.
She sighed. "Twenty questions, then?"
Forty-three minutes (she was counting) and dozens of guesses (she had lost track around eighty-seven) later, she found herself trying to explain why the third room to the left on the fourth floor of the East Wing of Malfoy Manor was not viable under the category of 'place'.
"But it is a place." By this point, they were sitting side-by-side, backs against the wall, so Hermione had to twist to see his expression. His lip was curled and forehead wrinkled in bewilderment that was laid on entirely too thickly.
"Well, for one thing, until this moment, I didn't realise that there was a third room to the left on the fourth floor of the East Wing of Malfoy Manor."
"That's hardly my fault. Being a Malfoy, I had assumed you would."
"The only time I've been inside, I was too busy being tortured to glance at the blueprints, and we didn't make it much farther than the drawing room."
"I do hope that you will forgive me for allowing my sister-in-law's indiscretion to go unchecked—usually, we prefer to give our prisoners the full tour of the house and grounds before proceeding to any unpleasantness. It's only polite."
She searched his face for signs of mockery, but there was no more than the usual arch to his brow or glitter to his eyes; perhaps this was the man's elusive sense of humour. Even if there had been no harm intended (doubtful), his words still carved a hole in the space below her diaphragm. Her arms tingled as though numb from pain, and fury made her head spin; he had never apologised, never had to compensate. He hadn't lost his fortune or his home, hadn't gone back to prison. It was as though Voldemort stealing his wand had absolved him of all responsibility.
"Why are you here, anyway?" she asked, forcing herself to meet his gaze. "I suspect that this room hasn't got many pleasant memories for you—the place where it all started to spin out of control, really."
His eyes held hers for a moment, before flicking to the left, beyond the rows of prophecies; he wasn't nearly as subtle as he had once been, as though the gaudy robes hadn't already told her that. "I was curious about something that I had seen."
His shrug was more a collapsing of shoulders than a controlled movement. "I don't see that it's any business of yours."
"Except that I'm a Ministry employee who saw you coming down here—"
"But not, if I recall correctly, an Unspeakable, so you ought not be down here either."
Not for the first time, she longed for the ability to give a thoroughly withering gaze; she settled for narrowing her eyes. "I think that they would rather I knew their secrets than you. What do you want with the Veil?"
He climbed to his feet and approached the first row of prophecies, keeping his back to her. "What do you think I want, Miss Granger? That I want to create one of my own? Use it to conquer death? I have never desired immortality."
He turned in her direction, and she realised that his face didn't look old at all. It was a bit thinner in places, perhaps, but still smooth. The age was all in his eyes; the blue was so pale it nearly blended into the white, and his eyebrows twisted around them in an expression of utter hopelessness. Even if he wanted to hex her, he might not be able to effectively.
There was really only one use for the Veil if one didn't want to use or harness its power.
"Oh," she said, eyes widening. "You wanted to—"
"Let us not be frank," said Lucius. "I know that you've worked it out, and I'll now tell you that I hadn't yet arrived at a decision. That's all that needs to be said."
She nodded, perfectly aware that the pity she had been holding back was flooding her face.
"Accompany me to dinner, and perhaps I'll forgo making the decision altogether."
It had been a mistake to think he would be enraged by her compassion; he was the sort of man who would use it to get her into bed. She wasn't entirely certain that it wouldn't work.