Lucius stalked into the Headmaster's office, his face stony, his eyes ablaze and his hair blowing back a bit from his rapid pace. "Severus, everything has gone to Hades. Narcissa has filed for divorce-with cause. Couldn't you have held the letter?"
Severus stared blankly at his friend. "What bloody letter, Lucius?"
"The. Bloody. Hogwarts. Letter."
"Who in blazes would get a letter at the Manor?"
"I got the letter, because I'm the only living parent, and apparently, the owls required a response from a responsible adult, when she didn't reply timely."
"You aren't making any sense, Lucius. What letter?"
"The one addressed to Celeste Malfoy-Bonaventura!" Lucius had lost any aplomb he might have carried at this point and was practically hyperventilating.
"Did Draco have an affair on the continent?"
"Have you not been listening to me? She isn't Draco's, Severus. She's mine. Her mother wanted me to have nothing to do with her, but, Severus, you know my ancestry almost as well as I do. You know what it means for a Malfoy to have a daughter. Unfortunately, Narcissa intercepted the letter and thought the same thing you did until Draco informed her that he had no issue ion his wand."
"She exercised her out clause then?"
"Oh, yes. She's already moved from the manor. She didn't know the significance of a girl; it isn't something I bandy about. Draco is waiting for me to explain. What do I do, Severus? Business is easy, family is not."
An unexpected voice came from the doorway. "Take control of the situation. Tell the media why a Malfoy girl-child is significant or drop hints that it matters. Find your daughter. For Merlin's sake, tell them your wife wouldn't have you in her bed after she bore your heir. Just don't let anyone bother the child." Lucius turned to see Hermione Granger standing there with Draco behind her.
"Ah, Lucius, let me introduce you to my Deputy, Professor Hermione Granger, who is also the Transfiguration Mistress and will be Head of Gryffindor beginning this year, and of course, you know Draco, but you might not have known that he is to be the new Potions Master and Head of Slytherin." Severus was rather delighted by the look of consternation on Lucius's face.
"And how does Miss Granger know the importance of a girl-child to a Malfoy?" Lucius ground out from between clenched teeth.
"I told her, Father." Draco looked smug until his father's unyielding gaze got to him, and he looked down at his feet before looking back up at Lucius. "Who was the witch, and why did she matter so much?"
Hermione saw the look on Lucius's face and excused herself.
"You do not have to leave, Miss Granger. Since you had so many opinions on what I should do, and certainly since you will be one of her teachers, and possible Head of House, you may stay." Lucius did not realize how much his request sounded like a command.
Hermione narrowed her gaze at the imperious man, then came to some sort of internal decision and nodded, moving toward her favorite chair.
She's so much like Belinda... Lucius tore his gaze from the young woman and turned to look at all of his rather fascinated audience.
"Where to begin... the beginning, I imagine." Lucius sounded nothing like himself, but when Draco looked like he was about to speak, Hermione pinched his thigh, making him jump, but no longer about to interrupt. "Shortly after the second war, when we were barred from England for a period of two years, Narcissa and I went to Italy. She left me shortly after to pursue a paramour in Paris, and I attempted to re-invent Malfoy Industries. Unfortunately, I could no longer do that myself, due to the damage being a Death Eater did to my reputation. I required an intelligent person to fill the local CEO position—someone knowledgeable about both the Muggle world and the magical one. To that end, I found a Squib daughter of an old Italian wizarding family, the Bonaventuras. Belinda was, well, she was everything Narcissa was not: fiery, passionate, outspoken and more than willing to work hard. Not to disparage my ex-wife, she did everything she could to keep the family together and alive during the Year of Terror."
Hermione smiled to herself, she could hear the capitalization in his speech.
Lucius continued, unaware of Hermione's amusement. "Belinda had wild dark hair and sea-foam green eyes; she was stunning. She felt me to be 'imperious, impetuous and impossible'... " Lucius smiled at the memory, able to quote Belinda without trying. "But we worked well together, rebuilding my decimated business and restoring my fortune. She was worth every penny she was paid as the CEO of Malfoy Italy, which caters to the Muggle side of my businesses. She helped me form new business contacts and to build upon my hard times as proof that I could, in fact, work hard."
Lucius took a deep breath, and saw that he had captivated his audience. Draco was starting to show signs of understanding how his sister came to be, Severus looked a bit jealous, and Hermione, well, she just looked to be lost in the romance of it all.
"I never told her how much she meant to me, not in bed, not at work, never. It is one of my biggest regrets. I'm quite certain Belinda thought I considered her one of my many conquests. She knew that Narcissa and I lived separate lives. Thinking back on it, I doubt I understood the depth of my connection to her, never having experienced love before, until she told me of the child she was carrying, as well as the fact that the child was a girl."
"Why didn't you just tell her what a girl meant, Father?"
"I stuck very closely to my upbringing and decided that telling her of my love would give her a weakness to exploit. Instead, I signed her death warrant."
"Why would you say that, Mr. Malfoy?" Hermione was genuinely intrigued.
"I didn't know that the Bonaventuras were very good at masking a child's accidental magic, channeling the energy in some way to the wards. Although she was a Squib, Belinda was easily able to add the correct runes to the wards; one of her cousins made the potion for her. But like the Borgias and other Italian families, money begets poisoners. Around three years ago, Belinda's health began to decline. Had she been more willing to rely on me, I could have told her it was a slow-acting poison. As it is, when she finally did call me, it was far too late. I have sent a few letters over the years, but they were returned unopened. I believe the child thinks I had her mother murdered." Lucius bowed his head, his distress evident.
Severus's eyebrows were up into his hairline. "If she has family, Lucius, why would you receive the letter?"
When Lucius just shrugged, not knowing the magical intricacies of Hogwarts letters.
"None of her immediate family is magical, and the Malfoys must have asked for the 'magical-issue' clause when they sent their first child here." Hermione's lecture tone made Severus roll his eyes at his new Deputy.
"I am just appalled at your manners, Professor. I had asked Lucius the question, not you. Did I miss the over excited hand-waving, Professor Granger?"
"I don't know, Headmaster... did you?" Hermione's cheeky grin made both Malfoys laugh.
Trying to keep the verbal sparring to a minimum, Lucius interjected, "Exactly, Professor Granger." He knew better than to call her Miss after Severus had so pointedly used her title. One or the other would hex him, and he wasn't up to dealing with it.
"So, back to my original problem, what am I to do about this?" Lucius addressed his question to the room at large.
"I have a series of ideas, if you wish to hear them, Mr. Malfoy." Hermione looked at Lucius warily.
Lucius laughed. When his seemingly inappropriate response trailed off, he spoke. "My dear Professor Granger, I more than anyone understand the value of public perception. I know very well that if it appears that you are on my side, or at least the child's side, things will go far more easily for her. Tell me what you think I should do."
"First off, we should tell Harry." She raised her hand to quell any objections. He and Draco have become friends, more so since Ron and Ginny both left to play Quidditch. He, more than anyone, could be her champion, since he lived through something similar. You know, come to think of it, we may want to see what Ginny Weasley is willing to do, as well. Ever since her experiences her first year, she has donated quite a bit of her time to the pediatric psychological trauma ward at St. Mungo's" The men all nodded thoughtfully. "Next, if she is uncomfortable at Malfoy Manor, maybe she can stay here with Draco. It will give her a sense of safety, and since you are allowed by the wards to visit at any time, you can begin to build your relationship with her. If you have any letters or other communications showing you were trying to care for her, you should give copies to Draco so he can give them to her. Most definitely give her any information that shows why a girl-child is so important to a Malfoy."
"This is good, sensible advice, Professor. But what of the press? This is not something I know how to do... make myself likable and a victim. It goes against my very soul." Lucius' impassioned response in his distinctive aristocratic drawl caused Hermione to blush.
Severus noticed the blush. So the little lioness has a weakness for attractive blonds. I wonder how she is going to deal with her discomfort.
Hermione gathered herself, used to dealing with her body's inconvenient reaction to various attractive men—and their annoyingly sexy voices. She smiled at Lucius, a smile he recognized, being a predator himself most of the time. "Mr. Malfoy, I want you to know that I am giving you this next bit of advice because I feel for your little girl, not because I've suddenly found a soft spot for you. Hit the press hard. Don't tell them exactly why a girl-child is so important, but tantalize them with hints. You obviously have your heir, and most Malfoys did not procreate past that, even with their mistresses. Play their sympathy... don't let your ex-wife do it first." As Lucius was processing her unexpected instruction, Hermione turned to Draco. "I'm sorry, Draco, I know your mother loves you and you love her, but I have a feeling she is going to try to turn this little girl into a pariah. Don't let it happen. If nothing else, you can give Celeste a safe-haven."
Both Malfoys nodded at Hermione, then at each other. They took their leave, with Lucius turning back as he walked out the door, saying, "I will send you an owl with the best time for you and Mr. Potter to meet Celeste, Professor; I thank you for your assistance. I am in your debt."
"How did you do that, Hermione?"
"Present the man with all the pertinent facts, despite whatever inappropriate thoughts you may have been distracted by at the time?" Severus stated with a superior smirk, black eyes sparkling with amusement.
"Oh, I've had lots of practice, Severus. It takes practice and a little talent to appear sweet and innocent when some Wizard with presence and a sexy voice turns your inside to mush." Hermione winked at him as she strode out of the office, leaving a rather stunned man in her wake. She saw his stunned visage and grinned. That was fun!
What the bloody hell did that mean? She couldn't have been flirting with me, could she?
Hermione walked quickly down the hallway to her quarters. She plopped into her favorite chair in front of the fire and took a deep drink from the glass of chilled Muscat wine the elves had ready for her.
How could she have let herself show how she felt about Lucius Malfoy? She must have been ridiculously obvious if Severus had called her on it... She'd always thought the elder Malfoy was a rather safe object of fantasy—considering how completely unlikely it was she'd ever have to deal with him or that he would be single. And what was she going to do about Severus? She pretty much just told him he turned her on as well. "A worry for another day, right, Fuzzball?" Her new familiar just looked at her and meowed. She moved to her desk and wrote letters to Harry and Ginny, then prepared herself for bed.