Disclaimer: All recognisable characters and plot devices belong to J. K. Rowling. No profit is being made.
A/N: Hello to new readers and old readers!
Fate is blind but your parents are not - Unknown
After spending her formative years on the run or in opposition of some racially challenged dark forces who enjoyed wearing costume masks and killing indiscriminately, Hermione found she very much appreciated the quiet monotony on her days as she approached the final year of her twenties. Her day consisted of little more excitement than deciding what to order for lunch in the company dining room and even working for one Draco Abraxas Malfoy provided little more than a momentary annoyance when she made her weekly report.
If her friends commented on her lack of romantic involvement or personal drama, Hermione took that as the best compliment she could be offered and often pitied the hysterics of her counterparts as they fell in and out of love with practiced ease.
She varied from pattern only once a fortnight, when she would make that stomach churning journey via portkey to visit Ron in California where he had happily taken up the life of a bohemian watercolourist.
So there she sat, on her fortnightly visit, dressed in shapeless tweed staring down at the toes of her sensible black loafers while Ron's life partner straightened their little bungalow with little twitters of absent laughter while she spoke of their three month old twins and Ron's upcoming showing for the echelon of society who had both time and money in abundance.
"I do make good money; better than an Auror's salary any day." Ron smiled affectionately as he leaned down to peck her on the cheek while he deposited a smiling, drooling Hugo on her lap. He cradled Rose as Hermione uncomfortable shifted, watching the child, lest he attempt to entangle himself in her hair as he did during her last visit.
"Harry sends his well wishes. He got entangled in a big hush, hush case and couldn't make it this week but he said to tell you that Pansy is pregnant again. After three girls, he's convinced this one will be a boy."
Ron toweled off the smear of colour on Rose's pert nose as he laughed. "What a coincidence. I wanted to tell you the exact same thing. Celeste is pregnant too."
Hermione congratulated the women sincerely as she sat down beside Ron with a tray of oddly coloured pink lemonade and a beaming smile.
"Harry and Ron are both having an army of kids, darling." Celeste intoned in that smooth southern drawl. "When are you going to start, hmm?"
A flush of awkward embarrassment swamped Hermione's cheeks as she gulped a mouthful of the glass of pink Ron had handed her, evading Hugo's clutching little fingers as she steadied him on her lap with a shift of her thighs. "Not any time soon, if ever…I'm just too busy for…"
"Nonsense." The drawl sharpened dramatically. "All women have time to babies. Why my mama…"
Ron patted his partner briskly on the thigh. "Why don't you take Rosie? She's wilting a little." And indeed, little Rose's eyelids were drooping lazily in the afternoon heat.
Celeste's voice softened immediately as she scooped up her daughter with a doting coo, leaving the room as Ron watched her with open affection.
"Sorry 'bout that Mione."
Suppressing an uncharacteristic burst of inadequacy, Hermione shrugged. "It's just ludicrous to think of having kids of my own now."
A long silence followed as Ron fiddled with the hem of his shirt. "I know this great bloke; you two would really get along. He's into dusty books just like you and he…he likes tweed too." He volunteered in a rush of words.
Hermione smiled, fondly reminded of their keenly graceless adolescence. "No thanks, Ron. I think I'm happier without men in my life. I like…order."
"Oh. Rufus likes order too. He's my accountant you know, have to be totally organised to help me you know. And he's an only child just like you and he'd definitely want to wait to have kids and…"
Hermione held up a restraining hand. "I'll pass."
Ron's frown crinkled the corners of his lips, and Hermione smiled at his puppy-like persona. "Enough of that; tell me how the watercolours are coming along."
Caught by the sudden change of topic to something he was considerably more comfortable with, Ron took up the conversational mantle with charming enthusiasm. Dragging out a piece proudly entitled "Femme Beauty", he began to expound at length about the play of colours and the confluence of shapes.
Though Hermione was sure that it was likely a masterpiece by modern standards, to her it looked like Hugo had gotten into Ron's environmentally friendly paint pallet, decided that the colours looked particularly delicious then promptly discovered that they most definitely were not.
It was with unabashed relief that Hermione discovered her wand vibrating in alert when Ron began to ask her for an honest critique. Pulling out the glowing implement, she read the silver spark of patterns with a frown.
"I've been summoned, I'm afraid." She smiled at Ron, handing Hugo over with relief as he fussed, his chubby paws barely missing her hair by a merciful inch.
"Why on earth are there on call emergencies in potions research?" Ron muttered, bewildered as Hugo promptly kneed his father in a sensitive anatomical location.
"Well," Hermione lifted her purse onto her shoulder with a quick, efficient movement as she spoke. "There was a potion once which blinded everyone in the entire department."
Ron grimaced with sympathy. "Glad I quit being an Auror. Would hate to come across that kind of magic in the field."
"We were researching night vision potions for ministry Auror use actually, so you probably should be glad." Hermione kissed him goodbye and patted Hugo's nappy – that being the only part she could reach without pulling him from between the couch cushions – and said a quick goodbye to Celeste who sweetly stroked her baby daughter to sleep in the other room.
Another stomach churning whirl later along with a squeezing bout of apparation, Hermione bustled into the Malfoy International Head office, a towering structure of glass and steel, newly built and surprisingly located in the London muggle business district.
Taking the inconspicuous looking elevator to the 24th floor, Hermione rushed into her cluttered office, throwing off her cloak as she dropped her purse onto her office chair, for lack of better a space. With silent steps, she rushed towards the conjoining lab door and entered a large open space interspersed with several expansive work benches and an array of bubbling cauldrons, luminescent liquids and storage drawers with a variety of files and ingredients.
Unlike the weekday staff, only a skeleton crew remained on duty on Saturday, checking and following the instructions left by their senior researchers. A pinched looking assistant rushed past her with a nod, her hands full, cradling a cauldron which bubbled into overflow. Looking about, Hermione frowned as she spotted a head of glaring blond hair as it bent over her assigned bench. Her steps faltered for a moment when she realised that the blond hair draped long and smooth down a broad back.
"Mr. Malfoy." She ventured as she resumed her stalled movements until she came to stand a comfortable distance from the man she had formerly regarded with fearful disdain. Hermione, however, was a fair minded if not a stubborn woman, so when he turned towards her, she offered a polite smile.
"Ms. Granger." He spun to speak to her and took in her appearance with a polite glance and a choked utterance which sounded suspiciously like "Sweet Circe."
"Can I help you, Mr. Malfoy?" The colour of the summons had made it clear that senior company management sought her presence but Hermione had only ever met Lucius Malfoy once at work and that was when he had hired her.
He smiled benignly as he offered his arm. "May we discuss this over tea?"
Hermione stared at the pristinely tailored sleeve, then up to the face of the man who had once held her in the utmost contempt because of her blood status, then to the proffered arm once more. Unease whispered within her and she fought not to give into instinct and slap away the offending limb. Common logic dictated that what Malfoy wanted, Hermione didn't want to give.
"I…I'm sorry Mr. Malfoy but I'm afraid I have a previous engagement and if you would not mind, I would prefer that we conduct in this business as efficiently as possible."
Lucius raised one immaculate eyebrow and politely inclined his head as his arm lowered slowly to his side. "Perhaps, we might speak in your office instead?" He purposely eyed the other employees, many of whom barely attempted to conceal their interest.
Hermione nodded at turned on her heel to head for her office. With almost noiseless steps, the senior Malfoy followed closely behind her, sliding around her elegantly to open the door for her to precede him. This polite gesture only served to unnerve Hermione further and she rushed past him with a tight nod of thanks before turning to face him.
If he sensed her hostility, Lucius did not respond to it. He smiled quietly at the cluttered space of her office and leant on a corner of her desk, careful to avoid the piles of parchment and texts.
"I won't keep you long, Ms. Granger. I had hoped to…cajole but I'm afraid that I must be blunt given the time constraints."
Here it comes. Hermione braced herself, her hand inching into her robes for her wand out of post-war instinct.
"You applied for a grant to further research and improve the formula for wolfsbane potion."
Hermione's hand dropped from her robes, her eyes suddenly sharp against his regal features. "Yes. I was rejected as Mr. Hernandez deemed it unnecessary and financially insolvent due to the small population of post-war Lycae."
Lucius inclined his head in accord and set his cane against her desk. "Well, as head of this company. I can authorise the grant you seek. All I ask in return is a few moments of your time." From a hidden pocket within his robes, he retrieved a thick vellum envelope with her name carefully inscribed atop in glowing gold ink.
She took it with caution, testing the light weight between her hands before glancing back towards him.
"As you may know," Lucius smoothed the front of his robes with a practiced hand. "My wife and I hold a summer fete each year in honour of the hallowed solstice."
Hermione did know. The ever pretentious crème de la crème of wizarding society gathered every year without exception to attend the revelry and – Hermione could only speculate – to gloat and showcase their own wealth to their international compatriots.
"The festivities will last a week, beginning this Saturday coming. There will be picnics, hunts and various tournaments to amuse our guests, all culminating of course in the traditional masque ball on the night of the solstice. All I ask is that you attend and make an appearance at every event, even should you choose to stay only a minute or two."
Hermione's look must have conveyed a deep scepticism because Lucius laughed as he picked up his cane and tucked it under the crook of one arm. "I will personally guarantee your safety, Ms. Granger. You are, after all, one of the leading talents of my potions department."
He gave her a firm look and much to Hermione's surprise, tweaked her chin with paternal sort of affection. "May I assure my wife of your attendance?"
"Why?" Hermione blurted. "What for? I may be a leading talent but surely not all of your well performing employees are invited so cordially?"
Lucius started towards the door, lips slightly curved in a smile or more likely, a smirk. "It would greatly please Narcissa if you were to attend, and myself also. We ask nothing else than for you to conduct yourself with your usual grace and courtesy. It is, of course, also a great opportunity to further your own business interests as a great many of my financial counterparts would be present and quite interested in meeting a great mind such as yourself."
Hermione nodded reluctantly, vowing to arm herself with an array of defensive potions and charms before ever stepping foot into Malfoy manor ever again. "All right; but I want the grant approved before the party."
"Naturally." Lucius handed her a heavy bundle of folded parchments. "You'll find all the stipulations fair and necessary. I trust a starting sum of five hundred thousand galleons is sufficient? With a further four and half million if necessary."
Hermione read the contract, squinting at the fine print which graciously enlarged itself for her. "I may apply for more funds if the research is going well?"
"Of course." Lucius handed her an inked quill as she smoothed the contract on her desk. "You know, most young witches would sell their family and all the treasured family pets to obtain an invitation."
"Then you should have invited one of them, Mr. Malfoy." Hermione signed the contract with an easy flourish, blotted the ink with practiced hands and folded it back up. "I look forward to your company come Saturday, Mr. Malfoy."
"And I yours, Ms. Granger." He bowed to her and left her office, leaving Hermione puzzled and wary as she glanced down at the vellum envelope.
She picked it up and cracked the wax seal with resignation, drawing out the tastefully embellished card within which held the elegantly phrased invitation in golden letters and something Hermione had not noticed before, an old silver, heavy and ornately fashioned key with a small pearl tassel.
Weighing the key in her hand, Hermione shook her head, speculating – with a certain sense of biased negativity – what the Malfoys were up to and without a doubt, the Malfoys were always up to something.
Narcissa's delicate hand rested upon Lucius' graciously proffered arm as they strolled at a leisurely pace across the lawn of the east gardens within the beautiful Malfoy Manor grounds. Her small measured steps were matched by those of her husband who casually glanced over his shoulder at his sole living heir. Draco sat in a shaded pavilion, at an intricate wrought iron table, sipping tea from an almost insipidly delicate teacup. His attention was deeply engrossed in the papers before him, allowing his parents time to themselves. Not that it was terribly necessary now that his primary place of residence was a spacious penthouse in central London.
Lucius turned back to his wife who squeezed his arm in silent entreaty once they had retreated an adequate distance and gently stroked the soft silk upon her shoulder.
"Has she accepted then?" Her smooth cultured voice carried no further than his ears.
"Yes, of course. She is, as expected, suspicious of our motives but she has agreed to attend in exchange for some financial incentive."
Narcissa's delicate nose wrinkled at the mention of money but quickly warmed to another topic, eager for an answer.
"Did you speak to her about –?"
Lucius patted her arm with a fond, tolerant smile. "I thought it imprudent to mention her manner of dress when she already proved to be rather reluctant to attend."
"Sweet Merlin, you mean to say that she's attending the premier event of the summer social calendar in all manner of artificial fabrics and poorly shaped cuts?" Narcissa seemed so horrified that Lucius could not hold back a bark of laughter as he leant in to lay a sweet kiss on her head.
"I imagine the servants will have an unfortunate lapse and very rudely lose her trunks upon her arrival. We, as the gracious hosts, will, of course, provide her with a suitable alternate wardrobe."
Narcissa smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling with mirth. "It will be an unfortunate incident but we will rally admirably." Detaching herself cheerfully from his side, Narcissa bounded towards her son, behaving like a woman half her age as she kissed him enthusiastically and apparated away, presumably to go shopping.
As Lucius leisurely strolled back to the pavilion, Draco raised his head and quirked a curious eyebrow.
"Been canoodling mother on the staircase again, have you?" He muttered as his eyes lowered once more to shuffle his papers.
Lucius flushed uncharacteristically and nearly unbalanced the tea tray as he took a well-cushioned seat opposite his son.
"Don't be disrespectful, boy." He said, trying to hide the fluster in his voice as he distractedly smoothed down his robes. "Besides, your mother and I are at the prime of our years and canoodling, as you so charmingly put it, is a natural part of our lives."
"Not so natural to a seven year old innocent on Christmas morning, rushing down the stairs to greet Santa Claus."
If possible, Lucius flushed an even darker shade of colour, bordering on Weasley puce. Clearing his throat unnecessarily, the elder Malfoy busied himself with the tea service, stirring in an excessive amount of sugar then forcing down a saccharine mouthful with a grimace.
"How are the preparations coming for the crashing bore?" Draco continued, ignoring his father's discomfort.
"Don't call the fete a crashing bore. Your mother loves this event; she looks forward to it every year and puts in every effort to make each consecutive one more spectacular than the last. She's bringing in domesticated Hippogriffs this year."
Draco paled immediately, drawing his arms in protectively to his chest, his sharp silver gaze suddenly fixed intently on his father. "Hippogriffs? What…whatever for?"
Lucius smiled at the sudden turnaround in the tone of the conversation. "For the hunt, naturally; it's become all the rage in Russia to be able to traverse the ground and the air. Augusta Zabini is quite keen on the idea."
"Well that does say something, if Augusta likes them; it must be a hell of a ride."
Draco's handsome features twisted in bemusement and Lucius sighed. "Don't let your mother hear you say that; they're as thick as thieves these days now that Bellatrix has…passed."
Killed in pitiful ignominy by Molly Weasley was what Lucius really meant but the mention of the Bellatrix Lestrange in the Malfoy household was strictly inviolable.
"I don't see why we can't all ride horses as per tradition. Why do we have to resort to those arrogant windy fleabags?"
Lucius' smile was elusive. "Some traditions are meant to be changed."
Draco shot his father a curious look. "If you say so…but really, must it be the Hippogriffs? We could redecorate the north wing of the Manor, Merlin knows those plaid curtains great grandfather favoured need to go. Then there's your hair, I mean really, sometimes I can't tell if it's you or mother from the back. The 70s have been over for quite some time really –"
"Insolent child!" Lucius thumped his cane against the floor. "Wait till your mother gets home; she'll give you the spanking of a lifetime."
"Kinky." Draco muttered. "But I'm not particularly partial to –"
"Speaking of your mother," Lucius said, giving his son one last amused look. "She would like to know if you're bringing along a date. If so, she will likely need to invite the McLaggen family to even the ratio of the sexes."
Draco frowned. "No. I know how mother despises the McLaggens. I may not even stay for the duration of the fete. There is a very promising American curse breaker that I hope to lure away from Dennison."
Lucius smiled quietly at his son. "As you please, Draco. At least be there to welcome the guests; it's the least your mother deserves."
His son nodded his acquiescence and Lucius smiled congenially, an expression that would have highly alarmed Draco had he not been so busy perusing his papers.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed the first chapter! I'm still a bit rusty and getting back into the swing of things so all comments welcome. As you can likely tell, this story will just be a little light hearted romp through the Dramione universe as I am all "serious-ed out" from previous stories.
Twilight To Midnight