A/N: Hi guys, I know I promised some of you that this chapter would be up earlier, but well, it wasn't (I really need to stop making those promises - apparently it's bad luck).
I'd like to thank A Pirate By Any Other Name, aredente farfalla, Sampdoria, FreeSpiritSeeker, POM-frenchreader, HP-Lette-Fan and crysta656 for their reviews. And of course to my beta for continuously sacrificing his free time.
"I'm a grenade and at some point I'm going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?" ~Hazel
John Green, the Fault in our stars
The room was filled with the faint melodic sounds of 'Brahm's Lullaby'
'Thank Merlin for magic.' Hermione thought as she slumped down onto the couch and watched the keys on the piano sink and release again, as if they where played by invisible hands. Esmeraude was in a cot next to it, fast asleep, finally.
It had taken Hermione more than an hour to get the girl to fall asleep, for some unknown reason Esmeraude had decided that she didn't like to take naps, and outright refused to close her eyes. Hermione now understood what Lucius had meant two days earlier. Not that she was going to tell him that, she would never hear the end of it.
She sighed. Two days. It had been two days since that kiss. And Hermione had dared to hope that maybe everything would turn out all right. She felt foolish now. Her husband had gone back to locking himself inside the library. He had been writing so much that Hermione suspected that he was either trying to divert his attention, or was outright avoiding her. Either way, she was not happy about it, and it made her feel more miserable than she had felt in months. If she had known that kissing him would result in this, she wouldn't have done it. It seemed to have ruined the tentative friendship they had built over the past few months. And it wasn't worth that. She sighed again and took out her wand, with a complicated movement she conjured a bubble spell around Esmeraude's cot and the piano, tuning out all the sounds outside the bubble. Then she conjured frail glass flasks, setting them next to her on the couch. Once she had conjured about a dozen of them she proceeded to throw them up in the air, and, using her wand as a racket, to smash them against the wall at full speed. It was useless and childish, but, oddly enough it made Hermione feel better. Once the last flask slammed into the wall with a satisfying crash, Hermione felt slightly better. A last swish of her wand made the pile of broken glass on the floor disappear.
"Oh dear, venting our anger are we?" Hermione looked up to where she had heard the voice. The enormous painting of a landscape to the left of the couch now also held the life sized portrait of Narcissa Malfoy, smiling sadly.
"So what has that idiot of an ex-husband of mine done now?" she asked, the smile on her face not enough to hide the fact that she was clearly not happy with said 'idiot of an ex-husband' right now.
Hermione shrugged. "Nothing really."
"Oh come on Hermione, I might be a painting, but I am not daft. You are not this upset over nothing."
"I feel that Lucius has been avoiding me for the past two days. Ever since...well, you know."
"How should I know?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow. "You don't honestly think that we don't know that you are spying on us every chance you get, do you?" she asked.
Narcissa tried, and failed, to look offended. "Well, I have never... But that's beside the point now. Lucius really needs to pull his head out of his...oh, pardon my French. I mean he needs to start understanding what is important in life."
Hermione couldn't help but crack a grin. She wondered which of the portraits in Malfoy manor had inspired Narcissa to use such crude language, but didn't comment on it. "I'm not sure you can convince him of that."
The sparkle in Narcissa's eyes was impossible to miss. "I would like to say that you underestimate me. But I am afraid that you may be right. However, I know someone who can."
That spiked Hermione's curiosity. "Who?"
"Now, that is my little secret." Narcissa replied, with a wink. "Let's just say that Lucius will never know what hit him. Now don't break your pretty head over it, this one is on the portraits. Good afternoon Hermione." With that Narcissa left the frame and Hermione could swear she heard her muttering about idiotic stubborn men. From the corner of her eyes she thought she saw movement in yet another portrait, but by the time she had turned to look at it, the fluttering of black fabric was gone.
Lucius kept writing, pointedly trying to ignore the scowling portrait in front of his desk.
"She is perfectly miserable"
"yes, I heard you."
"She was smashing objects against the wall!"
"You can't do this to her. It's not fair towards either her or yourself."
Lucius sighed. "I will be the judge of that. It was a mistake, I let my emotions get the better of me and it was a stupid decision."
"Love is never a mistake."
"Who says I'm in love?"
"You never were a good liar Lucius, but this must be your worst attempt so far."
"Okay, so what if I am in love with her? It doesn't change anything."
"It changes everything! Please don't break both your own and her heart, just because you think you don't deserve to be happy. I made that mistake once, and see where it got me."
"I thought you where doing pretty fine lately."
"I am dead, Lucius."
"Well, yes, but apart from that."
"Yes, apart from that I'm doing great."
Lucius flinched at the sarcasm in his oldest friends voice. "Look. Severus. I understand where you are coming from, I really do, but this is different."
"I don't see how."
"I refuse to give Hermione a happy marriage only to make her a widow. I can't do that to her."
"And so you decide to break her heart while you are still alive instead? Really Lucius, as much as it pains me to admit, Hermione is a smart girl and she can decide for herself whether she wants this or not."
"She is only a girl."
"A girl who has fought in a war. A girl who, already in her first year, was declared 'smartest witch of her age'. A girl who could have had everything she ever wished for by now, but instead chose to do what she thinks is right. And made that choice far before she fell in love with you."
Lucius opened his mouth to argue. "Sev."
"No. Let me finish. Hermione knows what you have done in the past, correct?"
"Well, yes, most of it."
"And she knows what you are planning to do?"
"Yes, of course she knows. That is why she is here in the first place."
"And yet she loves you and wishes to be close to you. And you want the same. However, you are the one refusing to acknowledge it. I think you must ask yourself who, out of the two of you, is the idiot."
"I never said she was an idiot."
"Then stop treating her like one! Man up and go talk to her. And I'd recommend you do that before Narcissa gets a hold of you. She is practically seething."
Lucius gulped. Even in death his late wife could be terrifying. He nodded and got up. It was time he talked to Hermione.
Hermione heard the door open and responded immediately. Her hand drifted towards her wand and at the same time she angled her body as a shield between the door and Esmeraude, effectively hiding the sleeping infant from the line of sight. Of course it took less than a second for her brain to catch up with her instincts and she relaxed against the back of the couch again. Lucius stalked into the room and for a moment he looked every bit the arrogant pure-blood that she had once thought him to be -admittedly, that he once had been-. His silver hair and black robes swirled around him, his shoulders where straight and tense and his face was blank. Hermione felt her stomach drop.
"Hermione. I think I..."
"No, Lucius, don't you dare say it was a mistake." Hermione felt hot tears burning in her eyes and cursed her voice for trembling. "I understand if you don't want to continue what happened. But please, please, don't say it was a mistake." Hermione couldn't help it, the tears started flowing. All the tension from the past few days finally spilling over. She knew what she had said was true. As much as she hated to admit it, she would understand it if Lucius didn't want to continue whatever it was between them, for whatever pathetic chivalrous reason he had come up with this time. But she could not hear him say it had been a mistake, she wouldn't be able to stand it. Lucius had made her feel special in a way no man had ever managed before. Not Victor, and definitely not Ron. And the idea of that small flame of self-esteem being kindled, only for it to be gruesomely kicked out again made her feel almost physically ill. The next moment she felt the warm pressure of two arms around her and soft strands of hair that where far to sleek to be her own tickled her face. Lucius had sat down next to her and held her tight. He hoisted her onto his lap and pressed her flush to his chest. Hermione couldn't help it, she just kept sobbing, burying her face in her husband's neck. She felt the texture of his scars and almost moved away, but his arms kept her securely locked against him. She realized he hadn't as much as flinched at her touching his scar, even if only accidentally. "Hush angel, it's okay...it's okay. It wasn't a mistake, I promise. I came to offer my apologies. I've been acting foolish for the past two days and I am sorry."
It took a while for Hermione to process Lucius' words. After his behaviour of the past few days she had expected everything but this. Finally her sobs turned into hiccups and eventually she fell quiet. She looked up at him. His silver eyes stared straight back at her. Suddenly Hermione felt foolish and again she turned her face away, this time to dry her eyes. "Sorry, I'm acting silly."
"Not really." Lucius took a deep breath, deciding that if they where going to build this relationship, honesty was probably a good first step. "I sincerely considered breaking this off before it would go to far. But an old friend talked some sense into me. Besides, I am rather sure that my attachment to you is already too strong. I cannot bare the thought of losing you. However, I think you should know that I also feel that, by not breaking this off, I am being selfish. You will eventually lose me Hermione. And I am not an easy person to be with. I am very set in my ways. I have lived through too much and I've seen too much. I care for you deeply and I have hurt so many people, I don't want to hurt you asw..." Hermione cut him off by pressing her lips against his. The tears she had shed made their kiss wet and salty but it didn't matter. She put her hands on either side of his face, mumbling words of comfort against his lips. They had a long road ahead of them, and things were not going to be easy. But they would try, and they would cope. Everything was okay for now.
Neither of them noticed the two portraits in a frame in the corner of the room. The blonde woman was practically glowing with glee. The frown on the face of the raven haired man next to her did not lessen and his face did not show any emotion whatsoever. But he didn't pull his hand back when the woman next to him grasped it.
A/N:So, that was chapter 22. Please leave a review (no matter how long or short). It makes my day so much better!
On a different note: I have been trying to decide if I should add Lemons to this story and I simply don't know. So I'm leaving it up to you, my readers.
I made a poll, which you can find at the top of my profile. Let me know what you want (smut or no smut, that's the question)
Really looking forward to your reviews and answers to my poll.