I do not own Harry Potter or any of its characters; J. K. Rowling does. In addition, I do not make any profit from this fanfiction. I would like to thank Glorioux, Lima Bean and Valady – my brilliant betas. A special thanks goes also to my consultant Ignaty.
To Be a Woman
Chapter Twenty One
How Do You Take Your Tea? Milk and Sugar, Please…
How Do You Like Your Man? Persuasive and Persistent, Please…
A loud, sharp crack startled Hermione. She instinctively jerked her head only to be met by unblinking, yellow eyes fixed upon her. "Casimir!" she exclaimed, and hysterical thoughts immediately flooded her mind. What else could Severus' elf possibly want from her? She clearly wasn't ready for more drama in her life. A millisecond later, however, she noticed that the elf wasn't the only visitor. Right in the middle of the room, filling almost the entire space by their quite demanding presence, stood the very wizards over whom Hermione had been agonizing for the last few hours. Caught completely off guard by their sudden appearance in her flat, she muttered in bewilderment, "What on Earth are you two doing here?"
As if in a trance, the trio just stood there, frozen, and staring at her. None of the three intruders deemed it necessary to answer her question, and for a while, the only sounds in the room were their breathing and the wall clock's rhythmic ticking.
Feeling the ire once again raising in her heart, Hermione used the pause to draw a calming breath. She regarded both wizards thoughtfully, taking in Severus' composed demeanour and Lucius' horrible state of dishevelment—never was the contrast between the two so stark. One had lost all his elegant indifference, turning into a quaking ball of open nerves, while the other still resembled a cool marble pillar. The only thing that united them at that moment was the burning fire in their eyes. She had to admit though that intensity of Lucius' grey gaze penetrated her skin almost literally, causing her heart to pump the blood through her veins in a feverish tempo.
An indefinite number of minutes passed in absolute stillness. At last, Casmir decided to make a move, effectively breaching the silence by his feet's noisy scraping over the wooden floor. The little elf walked behind Severus, touching his master's elbow in the process, as if encouraging him to act. Surprisingly, the elf's nudging manoeuvre had worked, because the next second Severus cleared his throat and spoke. "Miss—".
Hermione frowned and quickly opened her mouth to interrupt. Casimir, however, was quicker. He pulled his master's sleeve forcefully, and Severus, realizing his mistake, hastily corrected himself. "Hermione," he began again in his deep voice. His black eyes peered into hers gravely as he took three deliberate steps toward her. "Hermione, I need to apologize for my behaviour. The way I had treated you that day, after your presentation, was wrong."
The sound of her name leaving Severus' lips abruptly ended Lucius' trance, and the blond wizard jumped into action with urgency. Moving swiftly across the room toward Hermione and purposely cutting through Severus' path in the process, he blurted, his habitual drawl and finesse entirely forgotten, "Hermione, please, forgive me. I love you, witch. Please, let me explain myself."
With the two wizards talking simultaneously, a loud, violent pulsing in her head caused Hermione to cringe. With a groan, she pressed her thumbs into her temples, trying to ease a terrible headache. She wasn't ready for this. She wasn't even ready to face them, even less so to talk to them. She felt that her head was about to burst. "Enough!" she shouted.
Both wizards halted their movements and fell quiet instantly. Letting her eyes slide over their crestfallen faces, Hermione sighed wearily. Then, she turned to Lucius. "Why are you here, Lucius? In my letter, I specifically requested to give me time and space to think."
Lifting her pale face to him, she continued, "You lied to me, Lucius, manipulated me, and used me in your elaborate game. You betrayed my confidence. I don't know how to trust you after this. I need time to sort this out, and you will need to wait until I do."
"Hermione," he said, with his arms already reaching for her, the blond wizard attempted to come closer. Sensing his intent, she raised her palm in a forbidding gesture and nailed him to the floor with her quiet order, "Lucius, no, don't come any closer."
Lucius visibly flinched. Hermione's biting words and tone denied any chance for argument, and he obeyed her command. She gave him a small, sad nod and moved to face Severus, who had been motionlessly and soundlessly watching her dialogue with Lucius. Gazing searchingly into his face, she walked to him and asked, "As for you Severus, I have a few questions. Is it true?
"Everything that Casimir told me. Is it true? Do you care about me?"
Severus, confronted with her straightforward question, managed only a curt nod. Not moving her eyes from him even for a second, Hermione continued, "Do you love me?"
Severus nodded again.
"No," snapped Hermione at him, her chest heaving. "Damn it! Can you say the bloody words, Severus? I want you to say it. I want to hear you saying it. Do you love me?"
"I believe so," rasped the wizard, obviously choking on the words.
From the room's far corner, Lucius echoed Severus' answers with a low growl. Unable to remain calm, the blond wizard began to pace the room's breadth, huffing and muttering something incoherent.
"Then why?" Hermione came even closer to Severus, minimizing the distance between them to mere inches. As the memories of his cruelty flowed through her mind, the anger filled our witch's heart, and she let her voice creep higher. "Why did you hurt me so? I don't understand you, Severus. Why did you push me into Lucius' arms?"
The wizard tilted his head to her, so they were face to face, and their noses were almost touching. He met her glare steadily and, carefully weighting each word, uttered, "I believe that I made a mistake, Hermione. It was an inexcusable lapse of judgement. I regret hurting you and I am profoundly sorry for the pain my actions had caused you. I," Severus paused and took a breath, "If you would allow me, I would like to try and fix my shortcomings. I would like to start over, Hermione. Would you let me?"
Silence cocooned the room again. Lucius' nervous pacing stopped, and two wizards focused their attention on the witch's face, waiting for her answer.
Hermione kept her gaze on Severus for a minute or so, trying to identify emotions that were brewing in her heart. Then, her eyes slowly moved over to Lucius, and for a moment, she watched him. Finally, stepping back from the wizards, she shook her head and whispered brokenly, "I do not know. I truly need more time. Please give me, let's say—a month." With these words, Hermione retreated to a living room window. There, standing with her back to the wizards and staring blankly into darkness behind the glass, she continued, "You two have wounded me greatly. I have nothing to say to you, except that I am extremely disappointed and hurt. In four weeks, I will decide if I want anything to do with either of you. As for now, I am truly tired. Please, leave."
Not inclined to move from her position by the window, Hermione heard Casimir's distressed gasp, which was followed by Severus' calm voice. "Very well, Hermione. If this is your wish, I will patiently await your decision. I hope to hear from you in four weeks."
No sound came from Lucius, and less than a minute later, two loud Apparition pops announced the wizards' departure.
In a futile attempt to lessen the pressure behind her eyes, Hermione closed her heavy eyelids and blindly sank into the armchair. There, she drew a heavy sigh and muttered to herself, "Here we go, all alone again."
"No!" a familiar baritone sounded from somewhere in the room.
Being startled for the second time during the night, Hermione cried out, "Lucius! Why are you still here? I thought you had left with Severus. You should leave."
In the next instant, Lucius was kneeling right next to her armchair and his arms were wound possessively around her legs. He locked his red-rimmed eyes on her. "No, I won't leave without you, witch. You are mine. You promised me. You have my ring on your finger. I am not waiting a month. I am taking you home tonight. I love you, Hermione. I cannot breathe without you. You are going with me, witch. I insist."
Hermione huffed in annoyance and tried to stand up, "Don't you dare to talk to me in this tone, Lucius. You lied to me. You betrayed me. You are in no position to make any demands."
Her attempt to free herself only caused Lucius to press harder and more tightly into her. Looking straight into her eyes and grazing his chin over her knees' sensitive skin, he muttered, "I did manipulate you, Hermione. I won't deny that. But only because I had desired you from the moment I had seen you at the ball. Yes, I had done everything in my power to have you, and I don't regret it. I would do it again on a whim. My only regret is that I hadn't told you the truth earlier."
At this point, Lucius' lips replaced his slightly stubbly chin as he covered her knees, legs and thighs with fluttering kisses. "Hermione, I love you," he hummed against her skin. "I want to marry you, to have you all for myself. All my knowledge and all my skills are at your service. I will assist you in any project or quest. Please, come with me, witch. I missed you terribly."
A hot and heavy wave of desire surged through her body with high voltage intensity that didn't allow Hermione to deny that she bloody missed him as well. However, our lioness wasn't willing to give up that easily. Thus, gathering all her strength, she began again, "Lucius, I have to think. As I told you before, I need more time, let go of me."
Lucius uttered a guttural groan and sprang up, forcing Hermione to stand up with him. "No, you don't. There is nothing to think about, Hermione. Your heart had already decided, and that is why my ring is still on your finger. You love me witch, just as I love you. Admit it." With this, his mouth covered hers in a passionate, demanding kiss.
Hermione's delicate fists furiously pounded into Lucius' chest for a full thirty seconds, my darlings, maybe thirty-five at the most. Eventually the thumping ceased, and after a soft, defeated moan, her greedy, little fingers found their way into his blond locks.
"That's my girl," murmured Lucius, his usual drawl already in place, as his mouth moved down Hermione's neck.
She tilted her head to the side, giving him a broader access to her overheated skin. "Never lie to me, Lucius. I won't tolerate it and won't forgive you again," she whispered.
"I know." Lucius leaned back and looking straight into her eyes spoke. "Truthfulness is not my strongest trait. I cannot change myself, Hermione."
"I am aware of that," she tried to interrupt.
"Shhh." Lucius pressed a finger to her lips. "Let me finish, my darling. As I was saying, I cannot change. However, I just might learn to control the urge. As long as my other desires are satisfied, of course," he added with a low, suggestive chuckle. "Speaking of which, may I finally take my witch home?" purred the wizard against her ear, already nibbling at it playfully as his nimble fingers found her soft flesh.
Hermione couldn't help but smile. Oh, how quickly her crafty blond snake came from utterly distressed back to his arrogant and smug self. Yet, he was right—she loved him. She felt so at home in his arms that there weren't any doubts left.
Lucius' whisper, "Hold onto me, my little Kneazle," was her only warning. Seconds later, she was laid carefully onto the silk covered bed. There, hovering above her and looking down into her face, the wizard suddenly became serious and spoke to her in an urgent voice choked by emotions. "I love you, Hermione Granger. I don't want to be without you. This bed, this Manor, this life is nothing more than a miserable, cold grave without you. Don't leave me, witch."
There, as Hermione laid in the Manor's bedchamber, watching Lucius' handsome face and listening to his declarations of love, she felt how happiness filled her from her toes up to every springy curl of her messy mane. Never would've she guessed that she would find love in this particular wizard's bed.
Oh well, my dear friends, as my grandfather used to say, you never know where you would find and where you would lose. And thus, our girl smiled at her fiancé, who was still muttering his concerns and revelations, grasped his face in her hot palms and said, "I am not going anywhere, Lucius. I have urges as well, you know. And besides, I love you."
"Minx." Lucius smirked, and with a sigh of relief, he kissed her.
Sure enough, the next moment, our lovers were forced to address those brutally compelling urges of theirs. Both of their thirsts proved to be unquenchable, and so for a long, long while they just kept going, right until they fell asleep from exhaustion.
To the Victor Belong the Spoils
Four weeks later
Severus was in the middle of the brewing process, when sad-eyed Casimir appeared in his laboratory with a quiet pop.
"Two letters comes for you, Master," sobbed the elf, biting his trembling bottom lip under his master's probing glare.
Severus, surprised by Casimir's emotional state, removed a cauldron from the heat in which simmered a potion, and took the letters from the elf's wrinkled fingers. With a muffled sob, the elf immediately disappeared from the lab. The Potions master shook his head at Casimir's antics and turned his attention to envelopes in his hand.
The first letter came from the Manor, and by the look of it, Severus could unmistakably guess its content. With the Wizarding world being as small as it was, he already knew about Hermione and Lucius' impending nuptials. And although our Potions master didn't expect to be invited, apparently he was. The wizard thoughtfully scanned the invitation's posh adornments and decided against opening it. He knew everything from the Prophet. He wasn't going to attend, so what was the point?
The second envelope surprised Severus—it came from Narcissa. The wizard arched his eyebrows, spelled the letter open and began to read.
I hope this letter will find you in good health and, most importantly, mood.
Everything is splendid on our side as well. As you know, Draco and Lucius had reconnected after Scorpius birth, and we see Lucius and Miss Granger here, in France, quite regularly now. Scorpius is growing to be a happy little boy with a strong and loving family around him. Frankly, it is enough for me to be thoroughly pleased with the turn our lives had taken.
As usual, my dear, I have a favour to ask. I assume that you are already aware of the wedding ceremony that is planned in three months. Lucius had told me that you are invited. I would be delighted, Severus, if you would agree to escort me to the nuptials.
Please, my dear friend, think about it.
I would love you to join us for tea today, Severus. Serving usually starts around 5 o'clock.
We would need to discuss details, in case you would agree to accompany me.
Looking forward to see you,
The scent of vanilla and white musk filled our Potions master's nostrils. Severus inhaled deeply and walked to the lab's wooden bench. Sitting down, he reread the letter again. Then, he glanced at the clock—it was half past three. He still had about an hour.
Forty minutes later, the potion was finished and corked. In another twenty minutes, freshly shaved and clothed in meticulously pressed and buttoned black robes, Severus stood in front of the fireplace. Narcissa's phrase, which she told him a month ago, came to his mind. There is nothing wrong in seeking a little bit of happiness, she said to him then. The wizard chuckled "indeed", and with a precise movement of his long fingers, fixed his white shirt's collar. In the next instant, with a dramatic billow of black, he disappeared in the Floo.
As green flames swallowed the Potions master, a small shadow appeared from nowhere and walked to the desk where Severus left Narcissa's letter.
"Missus Narcissa," muttered Casimir dreamily, after he read the fragrant parchment. "Hmm," he creaked, and a mischievous smile suddenly lit up his face.