Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Depressing, but true.
Whew. I got a fair amount of writing done last night, so we're in the clear! No slacking for me until this story is done. Thanks so much for the reviews... Hilarious how we're all cheering for Draco to just fucking tell her already. None of that in this chapter, alas. Just some mild smut and some major drama. You know. Just that. As you can probably guess, shit goes DOWN after this chapter... So review, my dears! Oh, and I've added more goods to my profile, including some AMAZING fan art for this story (as well as some from The Boy in the Hammock, a little delayed). Merciful heavens, you folks are talented!
While Draco was shuffling awkwardly around his true feelings for Hermione, Lucius was losing patience elsewhere.
He was growing tired of Harry and Ron hinting that they were close to a breakthrough, and decided to take matters into his own hands. If the imbeciles were so close, why was the Dark Lord still in power? Narcissa needed to be avenged and he was done with waiting. Telling Draco how they fell in love had reopened old wounds and unleashed painful memories. He was itching for retribution. Apparently handing them what was essentially a manual of Death Eater operations wasn't enough for the bloody Order. It was time to steer things right, as much as they would let him.
He began popping into Headquarters for a couple of hours a day to meet with the core group. Hermione had adjusted the floo so he could get through without being rerouted, pleased that he wanted to take a more active role in the planning. Although everyone was a bit standoffish with Lucius at first, it was clear they appreciated the guidance, and slowly, they warmed up to him.
Everyone, that is, except Mad-Eye Moody.
The two men still hated each other with a fiery passion. Mad-Eye seemed convinced Lucius was fixing to turn on them the second he had a chance, despite everyone's protests to the contrary. Lucius sneered that if the Order needed the help of a wandless former Death Eater so badly, perhaps Mad-Eye should get into a new line of work. The spat kept things just frosty enough not to be overly chummy, but Lucius seemed to prefer it that way. He wanted to see the Dark Lord brought down - he didn't want to make friends.
The deeper he got into their operations, the better he became at directing them. He tweaked their plans, pulled them away from pointless missions, and taught them the secrets of the manor bit by bit. They had a ways to go, but they would get there. He could tell they all wanted to fight. For him, he'd been separated from his wand for so long that he was content with the planning for now. He liked the control it gave him, and he finally felt useful after so many months of passive, albeit comfortable, existence.
Mad-Eye made things difficult as much as he could - he refused to tell Lucius the nature of their final mission, the one that was holding them back so far, but Lucius could figure it out on his own. It was clear that they were having trouble finding the last horcrux. Lucius had given them the location and security details of the sanctuary where Nagini was being kept - he didn't see what the delay was. Idiots. No matter. Eventually they would succeed, and then things would really start to move. Until then, it was all about preparation.
Lucius was free to roam around Headquarters on his daily visits, but the door to the basement remained locked to him. He could guess why. Wolf was being held down there. The Order made sure to keep the area well secured, especially now that Lucius was a fixture in the house. Everyone could see the murderous glint in his eye when anyone discussed their Imperioused prisoner.
Miraculously, it had become clear that Wolf didn't seem to have passed any of Hermione's security information along to the Death Eaters, likely an intervention from his 'weaker side' as he still liked to call him when he was aware enough to speak. He spent most of his time under sedation so that he wouldn't try to end his life under the order of his host, and he was being treated by Rose when he was fully unconscious. Everyone wanted to know who had cast the spell that kept him captive, but unsurprisingly, he'd been extremely uncooperative when they attempted to find out. Tonks still had scars to prove it.
Under the roof of 12 Grimmauld Place, the official and unofficial members of the Order inched closer to their looming, terrifying goal.
The new spare hours of alone time in the house had a curious effect on Draco and Hermione.
Despite the fact that they were both adults, they suddenly felt a bit like teenagers while their parents were on vacation, and began to act accordingly. Although they shared a bed, the depressing reality of the night terrors kept them sobered, and they hadn't pushed their boundaries beyond the comforting routine they had established. Having time alone when sleep wasn't in the cards changed things completely.
The first few days, they simply snogged and groped each other for an hour and a half until they were panting and flushed, their clothing technically on but completely askew. Draco threw himself into a cold shower afterwards so that he would be able to function normally for the rest of the evening. Merlin knew that woman drove him to complete stupidity with a simple heated look - recovering from these intense snogging sessions was getting more and more difficult.
One day, Hermione brazenly announced that she was taking a shower, and that Draco was welcome to join her. Draco's jaw dropped to the floor, and he ran after her like a lost puppy. Under the steaming water, naked and slippery with soap, Draco dropped to his knees and decided that since he couldn't figure out how to tell Hermione he was in love with her, he would put his mouth to use in other ways. When she climaxed against his tongue, perched on the edge of the bath with her thighs propped up on his shoulders, repeating his given name like a mantra, he wondered briefly if she would ever consider having his babies. He wanted her that much. He wanted her forever.
The next day, she reciprocated, and Draco was astounded that he had ever been annoyed with her mouth in school. Her lips used to remind him that she was an insufferable swot. Now they made him delirious with pleasure, and when she flicked her tongue up his length, he exploded with a convulsive gasp, whimpering as he came down from his peak.
Some days, she used her hands on him until he completely lost it, coming so strongly that he could barely hold in his hoarse cries.
Some days, he finished her with his fingers until he could feel her walls tightening and convulsing around his digits.
He was still waiting for her signal when she was ready to go further, but if he got to pass the days like this, he wasn't about to complain. In his strange cocoon, hidden away from the war, he decided that he had the rest of his life to make love to her. There was no need to rush it.
Lucius frowned at the Order members gathered around him. Surely he had misheard them. It was too soon for this.
"What do you mean you're ready?" he asked.
"Just what we said, Lucius," snarled Mad-Eye. "We're ready for the final battle."
Lucius's frown deepened. "I was not under the impression that you were sufficiently prepared to attack the manor. You said you still had missions underway. Crucial missions."
Lupin cut in, shooting a harsh look at Mad-Eye. Everyone was getting tired of the bickering between the two men. It was a veritable pissing match. "What Moody means to say, Lucius, is that Harry and Ron finally finished the mission they've been working on for quite some time, and they were successful, thanks to your clues. We are now able to facilitate a meeting between You-Know-Who and Harry in the form of what we hope will be a final battle. We wouldn't have been ready at this point if it weren't for the information you've given us, but with your help, we feel we're prepared."
Lucius looked around at the faces in the room, taking in each expression. They ranged from being defiant to being terrified. He wondered how ready they really were. There was no going back once you decided to invade the house of the enemy.
"When are you hoping to do this?" he asked.
"In two days," said Harry. Lucius couldn't read Harry's expression, which troubled him.
"Who knows about this?" he asked.
"Only the people in this room, but after this meeting, we will start alerting our supports and safe houses," said Ron. "We'll need all the help we can get."
There was a strange, oppressive tension in the air. Everyone looked at Lucius expectantly. He resisted the urge to sneer. What, now they treated him like their leader? It was almost comical - they'd all spent so much time preparing for this, and now that it was upon them, everyone was scared out of their wits. Lucius wasn't scared, but then again, he still had no wand. He had no choice but to remain home while everyone else threw themselves in the line of danger. He wasn't sure how he felt about that yet.
"What can I do?" he said, eventually.
Harry appeared to relax. "We were hoping you could go over the plans, see if you can spot any problems. You and I can do that, Lucius. The group needs to prepare and I can relay any changes to them."
"Of course," said Lucius.
"Alright, let's go, you lot... We've got a battle to win," barked Mad-Eye, shooting a final glare at Lucius. He returned the look in spades.
The group started to filter out, and Harry came to sit in front of Lucius. Lucius could tell he had plenty on his mind other than the final battle. The young man rubbed his scar agitatedly, and then glanced over his shoulder to make sure everyone was gone. With a flick of his wand, he placed a silencing charm on the room.
Lucius arched a cool eyebrow at him.
"Listen, I had some things I wanted to discuss with you before we go over the plans," said Harry.
"That much is obvious," he replied, dryly.
Harry cleared his throat. "Okay, to start, I've been trying to get Mad-Eye to give you back your wand. You and Draco. So you can both fight if you want, or defend yourselves or... I don't know. He's... He's not agreeing, to say the least. Still thinks you're some sort of threat. Placed a charm on your wands... Anyway. I'm not happy about it, but he'd not changing his mind. Says you'll get them when you really need them. Stubborn as hell, he is." Harry rolled his eyes at this point, much to the surprise of Lucius.
"I know you're not a threat," he continued, looking Lucius straight in the eyes. "In fact, unless I'm way off the mark, I believe you've had a genuine change of faith. I believe it's because of Hermione. I think you've grown to care for her, and she's opened your eyes. You never would have given us so much information if it wasn't for her."
Lucius didn't bother to interrupt, and Harry took that both as an affirmation and an invitation to keep talking.
"I also know that Draco and Hermione are together. They seem to be crazy about each other, as bizarre as that is. I won't pretend to understand it. Although Draco and I have never gotten along, I can see how well he treats her, and I'm not interested in questioning her judgement. She deserves to be happy, and he seems to keep her that way."
Lucius was genuinely surprised at Harry's mature insight. He'd been judging the boy a little too harshly, perhaps. He assumed Potter and the Weasley boy were simply biding their time until they could corner his son and threaten him away from Hermione.
"Look... I'm going about this the wrong way," Harry said, running his hands through his messy hair, looking exasperated. "What I actually want to say is... Ron and I... We don't want Hermione fighting in the final battle."
"Excuse me?" Lucius said, not following Harry's logic.
"You and Draco will be without your wands, so you won't be able to fight either. I want Hermione to stay in the house with you both. I don't want her to come try to help and have a relapse, or get hurt, or killed... I want her to be safe. You've probably noticed her tweaking the security at the house since Wolf got in - that place is a fortress. Probably safer than Headquarters. She's got all kinds of strange spells guarding the house now. I want her to stay there during the battle, and that way... If I'm not successful..." he trailed off, looking away.
Lucius was disturbed. "Mr. Potter, are you insinuating what I think you are? If you are unsuccessful, as you've so helpfully dubbed it, and the Dark Lord triumphs, you are hoping Hermione will stay hidden in the house as he takes over our world?"
Harry frowned. "I didn't really mean for you to take it to that extreme, but something like that, yes. You and your son would be safe too. And if I'm successful, she'll still be alright. Obviously I'm hoping to be successful."
Lucius sighed and shook his head. "You've known her far longer than I, and you're still suggesting this?"
Harry looked away, guiltily.
"She would never forgive you for leaving her out. You know this. Give her the option, Mr. Potter. Perhaps she would choose to stay at the house with my son. Merlin knows it would kill her to leave him. But give her the option. If she finds out that you've gone to battle without telling her..."
"Yes yes, I know. She'll flip. More than flip. I don't even want to think about it, frankly. But my concern is her safety, not whether she'll ever talk to me again." Determination set in on his face, and Lucius frowned.
"Why should I agree to this?"
"Because you care about her too!" Harry said, looking desperate. "You know there's a huge risk of her freezing up if she goes to fight. She's been doing so well lately, but that's inside her house. She slips into a state at the wrong time and she's dead, Lucius. I can't live with that. I don't want to risk losing her, especially not after everything she's been through. If she knows, she'll insist on coming. She knows how short we are on Healers. She has a completely insane sense of duty, and now that she's getting better, I think she'd risk herself again."
Lucius sighed heavily. Harry had a point, of course. Hermione was far more vulnerable than others in battle. Being surrounded by that much death and chaos could certainly send her into one of her fits. He shuddered to think about what would happen to her then - losing focus for a second meant certain death when faced with fully-trained Dark soldiers.
But to lie to her? He didn't care if she never forgave Harry, but he didn't want her angry at him. And he didn't even want to consider how she would react if her friends simply never came back. That would break her mind for good, recovery be damned.
"I can't make any promises, but I will try to stay out of your way if you insist on going through with this. If she asks me directly, Mr. Potter, I will not lie to her. I don't like the idea of being dishonest with her."
They held each other's gaze for a long moment. "Okay. If that's all you'll give me, I'll take it," Harry said, sounding defeated. "Now can we look through the plans?"
Harry and Ron came to visit Hermione the following night. They had been stopping by less and less lately, and she was thrilled to see them. When they stepped out of the floo, she let out a happy cry.
"You're here! I feel like you guys never come visit anymore!" she said, hugging them both.
"Sorry 'Mione... We've been really busy," said Harry with a strained smile. Ron wore a matching facial expression. They both looked anxious.
She raised an eyebrow at their funny demeanour, but didn't say anything. They would tell her over tea, no doubt. Maybe Ron was finally going to fess up to dating Rose. Hermione had seen the looks they shot each other, and thought they made a cute couple - she didn't understand why the boys were acting so weird about it.
But tea was a very quiet affair, and the conversation was one-sided as Hermione tried to get them chatting. She looked between her friend's drawn faces and felt a pit of worry start to grab hold in her gut. This wasn't about Rose.
"Harry, Ron..." she said, trying to sound casual. "Is everything okay? You'd tell me if something was wrong, right?"
She caught their guilty looks and clenched her jaw. She did not like being kept in the dark.
"'Course 'Mione," said Ron, putting on a fake smile. "We're just tired is all."
"Okay," said Hermione, stirring her drink, worry burrowing a little deeper inside her. It felt like Hogwarts again. They acted this way every time they hatched a hairbrained plan without her. "So I don't need to worry that you're both planning to do something stupid?"
She saw their eyes widen just a fraction before they remembered to hide their surprise.
"Come on 'Mione. Since when do we do that?" Harry joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Hermione glanced over at Lucius, who was reading on the couch. His jaw was clenched too. He didn't look impressed.
Uh oh, she thought. This isn't looking good.
"Is everything going okay with your mission then?" she asked. Last time they had updated her, things had been going really well for them. The information they had gotten from Lucius had sped up their work, and they were getting closer than they ever had to ending their search. They had even found the location of the final horcrux. That was at least a month ago, though. What had happened?
"Oh, yeah, things are great," Ron croaked. "Really great. We're, uh, super close to finding it."
Hermione tried not to narrow her eyes at his obvious lie. If she had to guess by his tone, they had either not found the horcrux after all, or they had already destroyed it.
If they hadn't found it, well then, it would just take more time.
If it was destroyed, then...
Hermione choked in her tea, coughing violently as it traveled down her air pipe. Both Harry and Ron stood up quickly and patted her on the back as she regained her composure.
If it was destroyed, and if they had gotten enough information on the manor from Lucius, then they were ready for battle.
No. Not a chance. They would tell me if they were planning something so serious. They wouldn't do that to me. They wouldn't lie to me.
A few tears escaped her eyes, and she wiped them away, mumbling something about how they were brought on by the coughing attack. Her boys nodded in understanding. She tried to sort out the facts in her mind. The horcrux had been the missing piece for so long. The other obstacle had been infiltrating the manor, but with Lucius around, that probably wasn't an issue anymore.
She glanced at Lucius again. He was rubbing his temples with a scowl on his face. Something was bothering him.
They wouldn't, would they? They wouldn't leave for battle without telling me.
"We should get back, 'Mione," said Ron quietly. "Got some things to prepare over at Headquarters."
When they stood by the floo on their way out, each of them crushed her into warm hugs. It was a much more serious goodbye than the usual peck on the cheek. The pit of worry in her stomach started to branch out to her toes.
"You know we love you, right 'Mione?" said Ron, his voice wavering.
"Yeah, you know that, right?" echoed Harry.
She looked at them in alarm. Was it her imagination running wild, or were they just confirming her biggest fears?
They wouldn't do that to me. They would tell me. They wouldn't leave me here.
"I know, and I love you both too," she said, warily. "But what's going on? You're not keeping anything from me, are you? You're both acting very strange." She knew she was starting to sound panicked, but she didn't want to accuse them of anything before she'd had a chance to think everything through.
They shook their heads. "We'll be back again in a few days," said Ron. "Just going on a quick mission."
They wouldn't do that to me.
With a last look, Harry and Ron disappeared into the flames.
Hermione glanced at Lucius while he pretended to read his book.
"Did you find that they were acting strangely?" she said. Lucius looked more agitated than ever. She was starting to feel sick from nerves.
"They are always acting strangely in my opinion, my dear," he responded non-committally.
They wouldn't do that to me.
She headed back to her bedroom with a slight run. Draco was just stepping out of the shower when she barged through the door.
"Malfoy?" she said, panting. He raised his eyebrows at her as he towelled off his hair.
"Granger?" he responded, looking worried. "You okay?"
"I'm just..." she felt her voice crack. "I'm just..."
He was at her side in two long steps, tucking his towel around his waist as he walked. His hands went to her shoulders.
"What's wrong? You're upset."
She felt like she was hyperventilating and fought to keep her breathing in check. The panic was rising in her throat.
"Harry and Ron..."
His eyes narrowed.
"What did those tossers say?"
"No no, nothing like that... It's just that they were acting strange just now. Really strange. Draco, I'm worried they're going to do something stupid."
His eyebrows rose at the sound of her using his first name. She usually only used it in the throes of passion... Or when things were getting serious. Not that he was really complaining. Still, it told him she was really affected by whatever happened with Potter and Weasley.
"What kind of stupid?" he asked, carefully. It was all too easy to insult her idiot friends, and she probably didn't need that right now.
"You don't think... I mean... " She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "You don't think they would leave for the final battle without telling me, right? Honestly, I think I must be getting paranoid or something, but they were being really odd and I couldn't help but wonder... "
She trailed off, biting her lower lip and frowning as her brain ran circles around itself.
Draco didn't know what to say. On one hand, it would be stupid and cruel for Potter and Weasley to leave her in the dark about something so important. On the other hand, they did go to insane lengths to protect her. It was one of the only things Draco respected about them. He really, really hoped there was no final battle in the works. Everything had been going so well lately.
"Is there a reason they would do such a thing?" he asked gently, trying not to make any concrete statements about her friends' intentions.
She bit her lip harder, and he cringed as he saw a drop of blood rise to the surface.
"They may have convinced themselves that it would be the only way to protect me. To stop me from trying to help."
They stood in silence for a moment. Draco eventually took his thumb to her lip and very gently brushed away the blood.
"What are you thinking, Granger?"
She leaned into his touch and closed her eyes for a minute.
"I think I'll floo to Headquarters tomorrow and talk to them. This could very well be my imagination, and I don't want to raise the alarm for nothing." She smiled at him then, and he kissed her softly.
"Bed?" she said. He was all too happy to pull her under the covers, trying hard to ignore the feeling of dread that was building in his stomach.