Heart pounding and breaths coming fast, Hermione Granger ducked behind a bookcase and peered cautiously around the corner. Seeing her pursuer, she quickly retreated in the opposite direction, weaving her way through her fellow patrons of Flourish and Blott's. At that moment, she did not care that her darting behind bookshelves and running as low to the ground as she could manage was earning her several puzzled glances and even a few stares. At that moment, all she cared about was making it to the front door without being seen by Draco Malfoy.
She did her best to make her way to the front of the shop while simultaneously avoiding the areas near where she had last spotted him. She made use of bookshelves, tall table displays, and a gaggle of housewives hovering around Rita Skeeter's newest biography, all imperfect disguises, but the best she could do. At last, she found herself crouching behind the display nearest the door. Looking underneath the table for the telltale shine of his appallingly expensive shoes, Hermione recognized his feet and peeked around the side of the display. His profile was to her, and he appeared to be asking after her to a stranger who, with a look of annoyance, pointed to the back of the store. Draco's eyes followed the stranger's hand, and Hermione bolted out the door while he wasn't looking.
Immediately after her first breath of fresh air, she collided with a passerby. "Oh, sorry—" she began, not intending to stop for a proper apology, and then she looked up and recognized into whom she had most indelicately crashed.
"Well, well, well," Lucius Malfoy purred, "what have we here?"
Under normal circumstances, Hermione was perfectly capable of appreciating and even enjoying irony. She was not, however, under those circumstances at present. She closed her eyes briefly, letting escape a frustrated sigh, and said, "Please, Mister Malfoy, not now."
"Ah, ah, ah," he tutted, gently but effectively blocking her escape by placing his arm in her way. "Come now, Miss Granger, where are your manners?"
"I must have dropped them when I was fighting for my virtue," she answered testily as she adjusted her blouse, which was hanging crookedly on her shoulders, and tossed a strand of hair out of her face. Her eyes were bright with irritation at having her escape delayed, and at the all-too-recent memory of being accosted in the bookstore.
"Ah," he replied, a charming yet patronizing smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "An avid admirer? Tell me, Miss Granger, whose attentions are you so desperately fleeing?"
"Your son's, as a matter of fact," Hermione answered, completely out of patience. "He clearly didn't hear the word 'no' enough as a child, something for which I likely have you to thank!"
"Yes," Lucius said, nodding gravely. "The stubbornness he comes by naturally, but he is undeniably incorrigible, and I regret that it is very much my fault."
"Somehow I doubt your sincerity," was Hermione's retort, and she leveled him a scathing look. "Now, if you please, I must be going. He'll be coming out that door any moment—"
And, as though summoned by their discussion of him, Draco stepped onto the pavement.
"Shit!" Hermione whispered, darting behind the nearest available object large enough to conceal her, which happened to be Lucius, and grabbed fistfuls of his cape. "Please," she breathed, not above begging, "hide me!"
There was a pause, and Lucius drawled his son's name. "Draco."
Hermione gasped silently and tightened her grip on his robes.
"Father," Draco replied, sounding somewhat surprised to see him.
Hermione held her breath, certain that she was about to be revealed.
"What brings you here?" Lucius asked.
"I'm meeting Blaise," Draco easily lied, "but I was a bit early. Just killing time."
"Killing time," his father slowly repeated, the condescension in his voice too evident to be overlooked by even the simplest mind. "It has always bemused me, Draco, how easily idleness comes to you. Do find some useful employment when Mister Zabini joins you, hmm?"
And then he Disapparated, and as Hermione was clutching onto his robes for dear life, so did she.
When Hermione met solid ground again, gasping and clutching her side, she had no attention to spare for her surroundings, and it did not occur to her to inquire after them. "Does that ever get easier?" she managed to wheeze.
"You grow accustomed to it," Lucius replied. "But it never becomes pleasant." He began to walk at a leisurely pace down the lane onto which they had Apparated, and although he found it curious, he did not question it when she fell into step beside him.
Many minutes were spent in slightly uncomfortable silence, and Hermione had not the foresight to see that what she said next would serve only to heighten the awkwardness of the situation. "I was sorry to hear about your divorce."
Lucius took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and exhaled slowly through his nose. Narcissa had left him nearly a year ago, but the divorce was only one month old. It had been, at first, rather tricky to accomplish, but then the Preservation of Magic Act had been passed, and one of its clauses stipulated that purebloods marry outside their group, and vice-versa, to ensure that the Wizarding race would continue to grow. Narcissa could no longer bear children, but the Ministry was almost too keen to reintroduce Lucius into the pool of eligible pureblood bachelors. "Yes," he began. "That alone might have been bearable, but the Ministry has since been urging me to select another wife."
"That's funny," Hermione replied in a tone that suggested she found not one single thing humorous about her situation, "the Ministry has apparently been urging all the purebloods to select me."
This piqued Lucius' interest, and he turned his head to look at her with one eyebrow raised. "You have suitors apart from my son?"
"I do," she affirmed, slightly affronted by the surprise in his voice. "Several. Draco is without a doubt the most persistent, but Ronald Weasley is not far behind."
"Ah, young Mister Weasley," Lucius said, smiling in amusement. "I'm sure his courtship is most refined." His sarcasm was subtle, but detectable.
"Mostly it consists of him turning up uninvited, being socially awkward, and looking confused when I remind him – repeatedly – that I am not his girlfriend."
Lucius laughed quietly to himself, and Hermione was surprised to find it a pleasant sound.
She looked up from her reverie to discover that they had approached Malfoy Manor, and she ceased walking with a startled "Oh!" Then, at the question in his eyes, she said, "I hadn't realized where we were."
"I would have informed you, but you didn't ask."
Hermione was silent.
"I trust that you can Apparate on your own?"
She shot her gaze to him and frowned, more than a little miffed that he willfully underestimated her abilities. "Of course I can."
He chose to ignore the fact that he had offended her, but granted her a shallow bow. "Then I will bid you good day."
With her brow still slightly furrowed, she nodded in return and said, "Thank you for... um... well, for hiding me from Draco." She chuckled a little awkwardly.
He barely tipped his chin in acknowledgement, turned on his heel, and continued on to his house.