Blood and Connection

Chapter Eight

I walk through the Atrium, keenly aware that I am being watched.

The elevator announces its arrival with a chime, before the doors spring open to reveal Lucius Malfoy, conversing with a tall, pasty man with sandy brown hair and nondescript features. I need to get on the lift, and I make my way there.

At the sight of me, both men shut their mouths sharply. I want to know what they were talking about. The sandy-haired man nudges Lucius and mutters his goodbye. I reach the doors and am pushed bodily out of the way with a well placed elbow. Lucius Malfoy shoves me aside, and I, not expecting such tactics, fly into the floor.

"It's where you belong, Mudblood," Lucius hisses as he walks away.

I pull myself to my feet. No one helps me. People stand, stare, whisper… but never help. I enter the lift, and when I turn to look back into the Atrium, I see a hundred blank, expressionless faces looking back at me.

Funny how one can go from being the War Heroine to the Social Outcast in the space of a few days. Funny how such an aristocratic, high-born 'gentleman' as Malfoy can be so base and low. Funny how such a man is to be my father-in-law. I wonder, as the doors close, if he's yet heard the news that I am to join his family.

.

.

.

'AND THEREFORE THINK HIM AS A SERPENT'S EGG,

WHICH, HATCH'D, WOULD AS HIS KIND GROW MISCHEVIEOUS,

AND KILL HIM IN THE SHELL.'

TREAD SOFTLY, FOR YOU WILL DROWN

"A death threat? You aren't serious…"

"Read it. It's… its there."

"You're sure?" he asked me, his brows furrowed as he read through the short lines.

"I'm sure," I breathed. I wondered why I wasn't more panicked. I should have been frightened. Terrified, maybe. But I wasn't; I was inexplicably calm.

"What is this? I don't recognize this quote."

"It's Shakespeare, a muggle poet from a few hundred years ago. It's very popular even now, and it wouldn't be that hard to find the reference."

"What does it mean?" He looked at me, very white.

"The 'serpents' egg' is referring to me. Essentially it means that, so far, I am a mild problem. And they are going to kill me to prevent me from growing into a bigger problem."

"Maybe it's just a warning," Draco insisted. "What if you're making it out to be more serious than it is?"

"It is a warning, of sorts," I said. "Whoever sent it wants me to shut up and quit while I'm still a small enough problem that they can let me live. 'Tread softly' suggests that they're giving me a chance to toe the line, but 'or you will drown' means they're serious."

"Do you think its from the same people who kidnapped you? It must be…"

"I don't know. I have lots of enemies. It could be half the Wizarding population. But yes, I think you're right."

"Did you have to go and paint such a big target on the back of your head during the war?" Draco snapped.

"Everyone had a target," I said, smiling. "Mine was just a bit longer-lasting."

"Pity," he said. He returned the note to my hands. Why had they used Shakespeare? I was never going to be able to read it the same way again, I thought. "We need to test it for magical residue and signatures. If this is serious, you're going to need protection," he told me seriously.

I was suddenly very annoyed. "I'm not going to go around with a bodyguard. I'm perfectly capable of handling myself." I had survived the entire war without one, and I wasn't going to get one now, just because someone had decided to voice what everyone was thinking.

"How do we know it's only one man? What if it's a group? What if they're stalking you? Hermione, this is serious. We don't even know – how did they get in here? Is the door open?" He went abruptly to my balcony door and tried to open it, but it was locked shut. "They got past the wards, somehow."

"Did you feel anything?" I asked, wondering why I wasn't more concerned.

"I wasn't home – the resonation of a ward going off is only really powerful when you're close, or at home. We were too far away for me to have noticed much of anything…"

"Would a House Elf have noticed something?"

"They would have brought it to my attention immediately…" He snapped his fingers anyway and called the head House Elf. "Was anyone in Hermione's room today? Anyone at all, apart from her?" he asked the Elf seriously.

"No, sir - no one at all."

"Was anyone in this Wing of the Manor at all? Did you see anyone strange?"

"No, sir - no one. The only one who's been in the wing today besides you and Miss Hermione was Master Lucius in the Library."

"Ok. Thank you, you can go. But – if you or any of the other Elves see or hear anything suspicious from now on, you are to tell myself or Hermione immediately, understood?"

"Yes, sir. We will, sir." The House Elf bowed so low that its nose nearly touched the floor before disappearing with a pop.

"He was very eloquent, for a House Elf," I said with surprise. Most Elves had a tendency to sound not unlike stereotypical African-American slaves from the nineteenth century.

"'She', actually. Minky was my grandmother's elf for years, and my grandmother couldn't tolerate bad English, so all of her personal Elves were educated." He rubbed the bridge of his nose with long fingers. "We need to show that note to Abraxas. Come on," he said. He held out a hand to me and helped me off the bed, and we walked together to Abraxas' study in the South Wing. Abraxas held nearly all of the South Wing at his disposal, and when he lived in the Manor, usually for the summer, he took residence there and banished all other living things from the whole of it for however long he stayed. He said that he despised being interrupted, and ordinarily, Draco wouldn't dream of venturing there for anything, but this was important, and Abraxas had to be told.

When Draco and I pulled closer to the slightly ajar door of Abraxas's personal office, we heard raised voices. Abraxas was arguing with his son, loudly, and one or the other of the two of them was banging a table or some other surface with a fist or foot.

"…you bring disgrace upon the family, Lucius… you always have! This is just one more incident – soon its going to be one incident too many, and then I won't be able to bail you out…"

"You're one to talk, Father – you've never done anything for this family… nothing!" Lucius spat.

"Nothing? Nothing! If I've done nothing, then you've gone and regressed! When I gave you my title, the Malfoy name commanded respect! You've done everything you could to ruin it!" Abraxas' tone was cold and furious.

"I have raised this family to the heights it's never been before!"

"No, you've driven her into the ground, Lucius! And you seek to drive her further. Your alliance with Vil-" Abraxas was cut off.

"-There is no alliance!" Lucius roared. "There never has been. That 'alliance' is no more than the fanciful imaginings of a disturbed old mind!"

"If there is no alliance, then why have you been corresponding so heavily the past few years? Ever since your pardon, you've been after him like a stray dog," Abraxas demanded icily.

"…You only seek to –"

Draco knocked on the door before Lucius could reply. Draco pushed the door open wider, and I could see both men, furious and stony faced, spring instantly to face the door.

"Draco, this isn't a good time…" Abraxas said in a distracted way, but Draco walked in anyway, tugging me along beside him.

"Sorry, Grandfather, but this is urgent. Hermione's been sent a death threat."

Abraxas paled, and Lucius stared incredulously. I held out the letter and handed it to Abraxas, who took it and read it swiftly.

"Who?" Abraxas asked quietly.

"No name," Draco said. "They left it on Hermione's desk. Don't know how, either. They had to have come past the wards."

"It's not very specific…" Abraxas said, rereading the lines.

"It's not meant to be," I said. "I haven't done anything specific yet. They're warning me away from digging further into anything. So far, I've barely scratched the surface."

"Surface of what?" Lucius sneered.

"Blood research," Draco said absently, moving to confer with Abraxas.

"Blood research?" Lucius demanded incredulously.

I shrugged, determined not to let Lucius get to me. "I'd like to determine the origination of magic, and if it's connected with Blood or genetics."

"Blood," he repeated, his eyes unfocused. Suddenly, he whirled on Abraxas. "You dare – you dare accuse me of ruining this family, and yet you bring this… this whore into my house, where she can spread her filthy lies!" He screamed.

"Get out!" Abraxas finally exploded, losing his temper. His voice was so loud it hurt my ears, and I had never seen him look angrier. His face was violently tense and red and there was a vein pulsing on his forehead. "Get out of my office right now, before I throw you out."

"This is my house!" Lucius roared. "This is my house!" Suddenly he quieted and pierced me with a dangerous stare as he continued speaking to his father. "She's got you right where she wants you, doesn't she," Lucius hissed. "Right where she can blindside you and ruin you, and you won't even know until it's done. You'll regret this, mark my words. You'll regret the day you let a Mudblood taint the Malfoy line!"

I tried not to feel ill while he hissed such dreadful things about me, but it was hard. As he brushed past me to storm out of the office, slamming the door behind him, I wondered what it would have been like to marry into a family that actually liked me.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. You shouldn't have had to listen to that," Draco said quietly.

"It's alright. I'd rather know what people think."

"That's the wrong thing to say, Hermione. 'People' do not think that about you. Lucius thinks that about you. Lucius is disturbed in his mind, and he always has been. Don't let him drag you down. Don't think on it," Abraxas said, coming to stand by me. He patted my arm gently and ushered me over to sit in a soft chair near the fireplace. I knew better than to believe him that only Lucius thought what he did about me, but I didn't say anything.

"Come, we need to discuss this," he said firmly.

.

.

.

The next morning, when the sun was still a few hours from being fully arisen, I changed into my other form for the first time in a week and slunk out the door. The cool air beckoned me, and I followed the faint line of shadow cast by the house until I reached the edge of the trees, where I loped off down the path, enjoying the feel of the wind against my face.

I padded down the path until I reached the soft sand of the creek where I had come with Draco before. It was secluded and quiet and I lay down in a patch of sand where the sun was just beginning to show itself. I lay there for over an hour, thinking about everything.

In the sunlight, my coat was not quite as black. I could see the faint tracery of a patchwork of true black spots and an undercoat that was simply a very dark chocolate brown. If I looked at my reflection in the water, I could see lighter flecks of golden brown around my eyes. I was a panther, but I was also a Jaguar, and in the sun, I could see it.

But I was thankful for my dark, camouflaged colors very quickly. Someone was coming down the trail on horseback, hooves clopping in the heavy gravel. I wasn't in the mood to be seen, so I quickly leapt into a tree and climbed my way to a branch high enough to be out of the way.

The horse, unlike the rider, noticed my presence almost immediately. It began to shy and prance frightfully on the spot, kicking up dirt and rocks as the rider attempted to control it. I couldn't tell who the rider was. They were cloaked, even though it was a warm morning, and their face was covered. Eventually, the horse, though unhappy, settled enough to walk skittishly beneath me, quickening its pace as soon as it was past. I heard muted male tones, and from the slight glint of blond peeking from beneath the hood, I surmised that it was Lucius. Draco was working, and Abraxas no longer rode.

I followed him.

I kept to the shadows, skirting behind, watching, padding silently through the trees and underbrush. The horse did not forget my presence and fought with Lucius the entire time, and he resorted to using a tight, iron grip, sawing heavily on the reins, and kicking every few feet. I wished I could convey to the poor animal that I was merely curious, but I couldn't do so without making my presence known. I decided that later, maybe, I would visit the stables in my Jaguar form and apologize.

He stayed on the path until just before the lake, where he turned right into the forest, onto a small path that was well hidden from the main road. It led around the lake and up to the cliffs, opening into a small clearing just where the trees thinned before reaching the edge of the sheer rock. There were hundreds of birds' nests in the trees, and as soon as Lucius reached the clearing, the sound of his horse and his grunted noises of frustration sent the lot of the birds into the air in a flurry of wings and feathers and cries of annoyance, blackening the sky with their sheer numbers.

I moved around the clearing and hid myself under a pine tree with thick, sweeping branches that covered the ground, leaving just enough room for me to crouch down and watch.

Lucius paced, waiting so long that the birds got over their fear and returned to their nests. By the time they did, the sun had moved higher into the sky already.

I heard the guest long before Lucius did. From the other side of the clearing, heavy boots crunched and stomped through the forest until another cloaked figure stumbled his way into the clearing, dark and swearing viciously.

"We couldn't meet anywhere else, Malfoy?"

"I've told you, my movements are watched. I can't leave my property without some nosy ministry rat knowing about it."

"Pity," said the second figure, but he didn't sound very sorry at all. He pulled a small something from a deep pocket and handed it to Lucius, who tucked it in his sleeve. "It was delivered, then?"

"Yes," Lucius said.

"And?"

"No one suspected. You're clear."

"Good. I'm counting on you, Malfoy," the figure said warningly. Lucius snarled.

"You'd better keep your word," Lucius snapped. "If I find so much as a whisper of the brat, I'll know exactly where to look."

"There won't be anything to concern yourself with," the figure said. "I have as much to lose as you do, remember?"

"Fine. Just keep in mind, I know your secrets…" Lucius laughed coldly like a crazed man before issuing a command. "Now get off my property before someone knows you're here. My bastard son might feel the wards."

"I'm going. See that it's delivered properly, Malfoy…"

"Get out," Lucius said. He turned and vaulted back onto his horse, adjusting his feet in the stirrups for a split second before turning and galloping back into the forest the way he had come.

The second figure looked after Lucius from under his hood until the sounds of the horse's hooves faded away behind the steep walls of rock, before whirling around and Apparating away on the spot.

I waited five minutes and crossed through the forest and back to the Manor, whipping past trees and branches until I had overtaken Lucius, who was confined to his meandering path, and I beat him home.

.

.

.

I hurried to my bedroom and changed quickly, pulled my clothes on, entered my lab and pulled down a potion that was under stasis, quickly heating it and stirring it into wakefulness. I was gasping for air and flushed from running, and I had to concentrate for a good ten minutes to get my breathing and heart rate under control. When Draco walked in a half hour after I'd come back, I appeared as though I had been in the lab the whole time, and he didn't suspect that I had gone out at all.

Should I have told him? Said something about his father's scheming? I wanted to, but I didn't know anything, save for the fact that Lucius was up to something. It wasn't enough information to haul out the Aurors for. So I kept silent, and pretended not to have heard anything at all.

"Good Morning, Hermione," Draco said upon entering. He held a small plate of toast in his hands and he set it beside me before sitting on a nearby stool. "What are you working on this morning?"

What was I doing? I glanced down quickly to make sure. "I'm breaking down the components of blood into their molecular components," I said quickly.

"What will that do?"

"It'll show me how magical blood is formatted." I pointed to the wall, where I had stuck a blown-up poster of the DNA chain found in muggle blood. "That is a genetic map, found in muggle blood. It's found in every cell in your body, and it's a sort of instruction manual."

"And we have those too?"

I was nearly inexplicably proud of him for using the word 'we', signifying that he, at long last, was accepting that he and I were the same. I smiled. "Yes, we do. They are why you have blond hair and I have brown, why yours is fine and straight and why mine is thick and bushy, why you have grey eyes and why I have brown."

"Okay. So if Muggles have already found this chain, why do you need to find it too?"

"Because Muggles don't have magic, but we do, and I don't know why. If I can find a 'magic gene', or something similar, I can prove that magic is genetic and passed from generation to generation."

Draco looked confused. He was very intelligent, but he was not scientific, and I was using too many new words for him to follow very quickly. "But we already know that magic is passed through generations."

"Yes, but Wizards only know about half of it. 'Pureblood' and 'Half-Blood' are terms that suggest we know magic is genetic, but with a term like 'Mudblood', I don't really think we do. Genes don't just pop up out of nowhere. Even if magic is genetic, Muggleborns don't just sporadically develop a gene that says they have magic. It has to come from somewhere. I have a few theories, but I won't know for sure until I can compare some strands. I think it might have something to do with the parents of Muggleborns being 'carriers' of the magic gene." I noticed his blank stare. "It means they have the same gene, but it's either recessive or just 'turned off', so to speak, so they don't have magic themselves, but they can pass it to their children."

"Recessive?"

"Genes can be dominant or recessive. It's the combinations of recessive and dominant parent genes in different ways that decide the offspring genes. For example," I said, and I pulled a piece of paper and a pen towards me, "blonde hair and brown hair. Blonde hair is recessive, and brown is dominant. A child with blonde hair has to have a parent or ancestor with blonde hair to be blonde. A child of two brown haired parents will not be born with blonde hair, unless both brown haired parents are carriers of the recessive blonde gene."

I wrote down 'b' for blonde, and 'C' for brown and drew an example Punnet Square.

"This is called a Punnet Square. The square at the bottom represents the blonde child. So, see, the parents have a twenty-five percent chance of having a blonde child, and a seventy-five percent chance of having a brunette child. The genetics of the magic gene in its basest form might look like this, but it would also be much, much more complicated. I can't really make a chart for it until I know how magic is transferred, because with magic, apparently, if the current theories are correct, it can just spring up from nowhere, so the genes aren't passed genetically. And I'm not sure what the rates are for Squibs and magical births to Pureblood and Half-Blood families, so I won't be sure if the results of a Punnet Square would be even remotely correct… it would appear to be somewhere between a 25:75 ratio, but I've never heard of that many Squibs being born."

Draco looked considerably impressed. "I had no idea it would be so complicated," he said after a moment. "No wonder the Purebloods were so upset with you, they probably couldn't understand a word of what you were saying."

"Exactly," I said, heavily annoyed all over again. "They wouldn't sit still long enough to listen to me. They just wanted me gone, because they were afraid of my results. But even if my results are radical, it won't change much but the idea that Muggleborns somehow 'steal magic'".

"People don't like change," he said.

"People are irrational," I told him.

"And scared," he added.

"I don't see why," I said, but I could see his point. People through history had always been afraid of change, and I wasn't too hopeful that Wizards would be any different.

"They'll get over it," he assured me.

"I hope so." I remembered something I'd wanted to ask the night before. "By the way… Would it be alright for me to invite Harry and Ginny for a visit?" I still wasn't ready to see Ron, but I missed having a friend.

His eyes darkened at Harry's name and his jaw clenched a bit, but, stoically, he didn't say anything derogatory. "You live here too," he said, "you can invite whoever you want." He swallowed. "As long as I don't have to be there."

I laughed. "You don't have to come," I said. "I just wanted to ask you first."

"Don't worry about it," he said. "When are you thinking about inviting them," he asked, "so I can make… arrangements."

"Tomorrow?"

"Fine with me," he said brightly. "I'll be at work!"

.

.

.

Dear Harry and Ginny;

Don't worry, I'm alive and well. In fact, I was wondering if the two of you might be interested in coming for a visit tomorrow; say around ten o'clock in the morning? We could have brunch, whatever you'd like… I miss both of you, so please, please say you'll come!

I've settled in pretty well, it isn't so bad being here. Draco's signed me up for etiquette lessons at my request, so I'm learning how to be a proper Pureblood wife who doesn't offend anyone and everyone. (I figured it would be handy for later, but I'll tell you everything in person!) I went to my first dinner party last night and I think I did alright; it was at the Hamiltons, that old family in business with everyone with money. Lady Hamilton mentioned that I should read the papers, as apparently I've missed quite a bit, but I let my subscription lapse right after the Battle of Hogwarts, so I was wondering if you might bring me some copies if you haven't thrown them out. I'm curious, I have to say. I wouldn't care, but she hinted quite heavily that the articles weren't pretty… and I'd rather know before going to another party what people are saying.

I'm getting along with Draco quite well, better than I'd hoped. He isn't much like he was in school. His grandfather, Abraxas, is also quite surprising. I was expecting someone much more like Lucius, but he's very… different. Like how I thought the Aristocracy was supposed to be – stuffy and reserved, but polite and respectful. I like him.

I haven't seen Lucius or Narcissa much.

Anyway, I'm running out of parchment. Please come tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, give me a date that works for you! I'm completely at your leisure!

I miss you both very much and look forward to seeing you,

Lots of love,

Hermione.