AN: Gah! What's wrong with my memory?! Special thanks to onecelestialbeing for this chapter! She helped me brainstorm this into perfection. Chica, your brain and my brain ought to go on dates and stuff. (But mine might stand yours up because it's so bloody forgetful) Hahaha!
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and/or the characters of the original story created by J.K. Rowling.
As per Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' theory, there were five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It was often used in relation to death or dying. The symptoms a loved one presumed to exhibit following the untimely passing of a loved one, or of an individual not ready to face their own mortality.
No-one dear to Hermione had died recently. Though she couldn't say the same for her ignorance and a bit of her pride that she'd been so thick.
In any case, she'd gone about the whole 'five stages of grief' all wrong. So far, as she stood in front of Malfoy Manor's drawing room fireplace, all she'd experienced was denial, acceptance, and anger.
At first she had denied the similarities. She'd tried to rationalise with herself that perhaps it was all an amazing, unbelievable coincidence. Perhaps he'd been in the dark as well. Perhaps he had not known she was Athena just as she'd not known he was Legolas. Perhaps he would be just as surprised as she upon discovering her identity. But albeit Hermione knew she was a master at denial, the evidence was far too prominent to be refutable. Although she'd often thought the same for herself but had been proven otherwise recently, Lucius Malfoy was no dummy. He had to have known. He'd left far too many hints. And since he'd known, yet had refused to bring her up to speed, there was some purpose behind it, and it was most definitely devious.
So, acceptance came, followed swiftly by anger. She did not know what she was going to do, but damn it all she was going to do something. She was not going to sit idly by, twiddling her thumbs for Lucius' next move.
She glared around the huge room. Without properly thinking things through, Hermione had Floo-ed herself to Malfoy Manor uninvited. She'd not stopped to question whether she would be bounced back to her flat, the manor's fireplace prohibiting her unexpected appearance.
The last time she'd been in this place and in this same room, she'd suffered pain unimaginable under Bellatrix Lestrange's hand. She couldn't remember exactly how it had looked in the past, but she felt as if the room had undergone a positive transformation. Nevertheless, she was on a mission now, and she was not to be distracted by those awful memories. Her mission was to find Lucius Malfoy, and from the looks of the empty room, he was not here. She would have to go hunting for him.
There were two doors in the drawing room. One on the northern wall, and the other on the eastern wall to her right. Marching brazenly through the drawing room, Hermione headed towards the door on her right. It opened onto the large entranceway. To the left curled the wide staircase to the second floor, and directly ahead were the main doors to the manor. She returned to the drawing room, and had intended to use the door on the north wall, when she heard a sound – like the thump of something falling to the floor – near the fire place.
She glanced in that direction, and it was then she noticed a third door; dark brown and unobtrusive. It would most likely lead to a library or a den of some sort. Lucius or somebody who knew where he was would be in there.
So, with quick, angry strides, Hermione went to the door, grabbed hold of the knob, spun it, and pushed the door inward. Its frame knocked hard against the side of a nearby bookshelf with the force of her push. Her wand gripped in her right hand, she stomped into the room.
Lucius was standing in front of one of his six bookshelves, his upper half twisted partially to face the door. He was holding a book in a red leather casing aloft with the intention to return it to its spot on the bookshelf, and his eyebrows were lifted and his mouth parted in surprise.
"Miss Granger?" he began, sounding as startled as he looked. "How did you –"
"Hello, Legolas," she greeted with a sneer.
If Hermione wasn't so angry, she might have appreciated how quickly Lucius could drain his face of all expression. The familiar impassive mask returned, and any remaining doubts that she'd been wrong, that Lucius Malfoy could never be Legolas evaporated.
She inhaled as if she'd not done so in years, and if it were possible, she got even more furious.
"So, it's true, then?" she demanded. "You're Legolas?"
He looked away from her, placed the red leather book in its spot, and then turned to face her fully.
"You don't seem pleased with this prospect," he answered.
Her sneer fell away and a scowl took its place. "What do you think, Mr Malfoy? Tell me how you'd like it if you found out that all along someone was purposely trying to fool you into thinking they were someone they were not, and that they'd actually succeeded?"
His expressionless mask weakened and revealed a bit of uncertainty.
Quietly, "I had no intention to fool you, Hermione."
She gripped her wand even tighter, and her scowl deepened.
"Is that right?" she said in gentle tones that belied her rage. "Well, on my side of the fence it looks a lot like that was your very intention, Lucius."
He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off.
"I mean," she continued, voice still deceptively soft, "we aren't strangers. No, we've already seen to that over a week ago, haven't we? So if your intentions had been honest, why not tell me who you were? Why hide behind a fake name and fake characteristics?"
"I wanted –" he began.
"– to keep me ignorant?" she supplied in steely tones, softness gone now. "That's a given. But I'm still wondering why? Perhaps a game? A bit bored with your life? Needed some entertainment, so you thought, 'I should have a go at that stupid Granger twit. Pretend I fancy her for a bit. Maybe even set Draco up to it too.'?"
His eyes had darkened, his mouth had thinned, and one side of his jaw kept ticking as if he was grinding down intermittently on his teeth. She didn't really care. He was probably angry she'd found out his true motive. She'd been grasping at straws but his reaction was proof that her guesses were right. The evil sodding git.
"I thought you were intelligent," he said coldly. "In actuality, you are abysmally dim-witted. Or blind. One or both of the two."
"I agree," she retorted. "I was too stupid to have trusted you, and too blind to have seen you for what you really are: a manipulative, deceitful bastard!"
He stepped towards her swiftly, and, per usual, she skittered backwards. But it was in vain for his hands reached out and pulled her to him, and though she struggled, she could not wriggle away fast enough. And she hated it how easily he surpassed her in strength; hated the way he could restrain her hands as though they were that of a child's; hated the way he could immobilise her head with a single hand; hated it how even though half of her still fought to get away from him, the other half relished the heat and the firmness of his body against hers, his mouth against hers as he kissed her.
She did not like this, and yet she did.
She did not want this, and yet she did.
If confusion were personified, it would be Lucius Malfoy.
His kiss was hardly refined. It was rough and forceful, as if he wanted to punish her, shut her up and teach her a lesson. His teeth scraped against her lips and his tongue fought and dominated hers. Her eyes closed in shame as she became pliant and willing against him. She did not fight back. She gave and he took.
Gods. It was ridiculous how easily Lucius could affect her this way. She left like a traitor to herself, because even though she was still angry – so very furious – desire for him bloomed hot in the pit of her belly, and if he bent her onto his desk or dragged her to the floor and took her, she'd let him, she'd let him with an eagerness that would be stunning to behold.
No! screamed a voice in her head, and its persistence gave her the extra strength to wrench away from him.
"No!" she said aloud, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, breathing hard through her nostrils.
"Why must it be so difficult?" he asked sounding defeated. And Hermione was not sure which terrified her most: the quality of his voice or the rare display of raw emotion on Lucius' face. "What else must I do to prove myself worthy, Hermione?"
Her eyes met his. She read enough. Read too much. Understanding dawned, and it was far too scary for her to accept. Believing it had all been a game or a lie was simpler, nicer even. Ignorance was bliss and denial even sweeter.
This is too much. I need to think.
She thought she'd said it out loud, but she didn't stop to ascertain whether she did. Before she knew it, she was by the fireplace again, flinging Floo powder into the fire desperately; she was doing what she did best: running away.
A week went by, then two, then four. Autumn left, winter came. Business carried on. And Hermione, try as she might, still could not forget.
Why must it be so difficult? What else must I do to prove myself worthy?
His face that night still remained lucid in her memories. That moment when comprehension had alighted and shown her how truly idiotic and blind she'd been all this time. This realisation had so frightened her, she'd fled.
"That was a shitty thing to do," scolded Ginny when Hermione related everything during a Sunday afternoon lunch. Ginny had returned from Italy and was on a week's holiday from work. "Though I'm not all for the exchanging of the 'I love yous' and whatnot, you could have at least told him how you felt instead of running away."
"I suppose," mumbled Hermione miserably, pushing round the carrots on her plate with her fork.
"But, wow, Lucius as Legolas, eh? I suppose it's not really surprising. No wonder he kept coming round. Nobody loves books that much. Well…except you. I guess you two are quite the match."
"But it's Lucius Malfoy," Hermione whinged. "He's evil and conniving and…and dangerous!"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "And yet you slept with him."
Hermione spluttered in an effort to retort but could not find the words. They remained quiet for a moment until Hermione eventually said, "He's twice my age, though. I'm old enough to be his daughter."
"True, but he doesn't look it," replied Ginny, and she smirked. "And you would know since you've seen everything already."
Hermione blushed and returned to playing with her food. Then, her voice small and uncertain, she said: "But, Ginny, what will everyone think? He's…he used to work for Voldemort. He's done awful things. What if he hasn't changed?"
Her voice uncharacteristically gentle, Ginny replied, "Hermione, don't give a rat's arse what people think, alright? It's your life so live it damn well how you please so long as you're not purposely hurting anyone. It's probably strange hearing this from me considering my past with him, but I believe he's changed. I also believe he's serious about you. I know you've realised it too, but you're just being stubborn."
Indignant, "I'm not –"
"Point proven." Ginny smirked.
Hermione frowned at her. "What makes you think that, anyway?"
Ginny released an exasperated sigh. "Hermione, the man has been going out of his way to see you at least twice, sometimes thrice a week for the past year. He knew you weren't his greatest fan, so he adopted a different name and tried to get you to like him. For several months, he's allowed himself to be only your friend when it's obvious he wanted more than that. He's bought you a bunch of gifts including your favourite sweets, and even a diamond bracelet. Most importantly, on more than one occasion he's actually admitted his feelings for you. Is that clear enough now, oh Not So Wise One?"
Her frown deepened. "How did you –"
"I read the letters when you were sleeping…"
"Ginny! Those were private!"
"Oops, sorry," said Ginny, not sounding sorry at all. "When you've lived with a houseful of people like I have, the word 'private' means as much as cow dung, darling. Anyway, stop being selfish. I've been dying to tell you about who I met yesterday – Draco! And could you believe he asked me out? We make a pair, don't we? You get the daddy and I get the son…"
Was Ginny right? Hermione asked herself later that evening as she sat at her desk rereading one of Legolas' – no Lucius' – letters. Was she being too stubborn to see how much Lucius Malfoy had changed?
I yearn to show this person how much I've changed, but I am unsure if they will ever give me that opportunity. I can only hope.
He'd apologised, begged her forgiveness, and had pleaded with her to give him a chance. This prideful, powerful man had became vulnerable before her in an attempt to win her affections. And in all honesty, he had succeeded. Despite knowing who he used to be, she'd found herself attracted to him, liking him, wanting him, wanting to be with him. She had worried he had not felt the same, and when he'd revealed that he did, she'd grown terrified of the prospect.
What was it like being with a man like Lucius Malfoy?
Challenging, yet still so exhilarating it would be worth it.
But can it work?
At least she ought to give it a try. Give them a try. Who knew where this road would lead them? In one of her letters to 'Legolas,' she'd said, "We each could have been matched with someone else. Fate intervened. Fate knew that we'd be the perfect fit for each other." Nearly a year ago, she was so lonely she'd been driven to sign up for a penfriend service. Nearly a year ago, Lucius Malfoy had signed up for this very same service as well. They each could have met somebody else. Yet, somehow, they'd found each other.
Hermione reached for blank parchment, quill and a bottle of ink. She chewed on her bottom lip nervously, unsure of what to write. Eventually, words came to her.
Do you like fairytales? Ever since I've known myself, I've always loved fairytales – the ones with the happy endings, of course. I never really cared about the ones where the 'maiden wins her prince' type of tales. I suppose they were, nice, yes, but I've always enjoyed the ones where justice prevailed. 'The Three Little Pigs,' for instance, or 'Little Red Riding Hood,' or 'Hansel and Gretel.' Those are all Muggle fairytales, by the way. I'm not sure if you've ever read them. If not, perhaps I can tell them to you someday. In any case, I've got a fairytale I'd like to share with you now. The ending's ambiguous, though. Would you like to hear it?
Two hours later:
I've never had patience for children's stories. They've unrealistic endings and usually contain far too preachy and moralistic a tone for my liking. Perhaps I had more appreciation for them in my youth. Nevertheless, I am interested in this story of yours, ambiguous ending or not.
Fear not, my dearest elf. This tale is the epitome of authenticity, and is hardly preachy or moralistic. I believe you've heard it before. It should, however, end on a happy note. At least I hope so. I'll give you the 'abridged' version.
OK, here I go:
Once upon a time, there was a young woman named – well, her name's not very important. This young woman was lonely so she went in search of a friend (whose name is also unnecessary at the moment). Soon enough, she found a nice man – an amazing bloke, really – and so their friendship begun. They only exchanged letters. They never met. And their friendship grew and grew until, one day, they were no longer friends, but long-distance lovers (well, if one judged by the shockingly lewd missives the 'nice' man sent the young woman…).
Unfortunately, Nice Man was not the only bloke the young woman loved. The young woman found herself attracted to another bloke – Not Nice Man. He was wicked and evil and probably kicked kittens and ate children while laughing a very wicked and evil laugh – or so the young woman liked to believe – yet, despite harbouring these ludicrous ideas, the young woman still fancied Not Nice Man.
"Absolutely wicked, he is!" judged the young woman often whenever she fantasised about Not Nice Man and wanted to dispel all notions that she, indeed, fancied him to a shameful degree. "Why, he could never be like Nice Man! Nice Man is so nice! Not Nice Man is not nice at all!"
Now, the young woman was not very smart – even though she was top of her class every year during her schooling – and rather blind because, wouldn't you know – Nice Man and Not Nice Man were both one and the same! And although Nice/Not Nice Man frequently tried his level best to show her this truth, the young woman still could not see it.
"Perhaps she's a bit daft?" aptly described the young woman to Nice/Not Nice Man one night, unaware that she was, indeed, talking about herself.
Then, one evening while rereading one of Nice/Not Nice Man's letters, she discovered the truth and went barging into his home in misplaced righteous indignation. She accused him of lying to her, called him a manipulative bastard, refused to hear his side of the story – such a lovely individual, isn't she? – and stormed off without a backwards glance.
Upon reflection, the young woman regretted what she'd done. She realised her behaviour had been unnecessarily melodramatic and rude. She had to apologise. She had to tell Not Nice Man the real reason why she'd been so silly. That the idea, the fact that despite her prior judgments and beliefs, he was not wicked and evil. That he was a good man - perfect for her, really. That, all along, he'd been worthy.
That's as far as I've got, Legolas, and as I've mentioned earlier, I like my fairytales to end happily. But there's something missing, isn't there?
"Yes, I agree," said Lucius as he stepped out of her fireplace an hour later, startling Hermione. She was sitting on the floor sipping tea, her back against the edge of her sofa's seat. "You mentioned the young woman needed to apologise, but she has not done so as yet."
"It's late. My Floo channel could have been closed," she said, staring up at him.
He slipped his hands into his trouser pockets. "Likewise mine, but that had not stopped you."
Her hands shook as she settled her cup of tea on the coffee table. She rose to her feet, fighting the urge to wring her hands awkwardly. The silence between them was tense and heavy, as if sound – or the lack of it – had gained tangibility and was now making its presence felt.
"Did you know all along?" she asked softly.
He removed his hands from his pockets and advanced slowly towards her. "No, I did not. I grew suspicious when you first mentioned Draco, and when I saw the name 'Athena' on the box of sweets you'd received, my suspicions cemented. Your following letters further confirmed your identity."
Ah, so he had seen the name even though she'd tried to hide it.
She smiled shyly. "And here I'd thought you'd plotted this elaborate scheme to get me. You know, created WizFriend and rigged our meeting..."
He was standing closer now, and he looked amused. "I'm uncertain whether I should be pleased or insulted you consider me capable of being so devious."
"You are very capable, Lucius," she said. "There's always an ulterior motive with you."
"Perhaps," he replied, curving his hand around her back and pulling her gently towards him. "But I'd like to think this time it was all for a good cause." Then, "You still have not apologised. Do I have to pry it from you?"
Hermione pursed her mouth. "Do I have to say it? Better to be implicit than explicit, wouldn't you say?"
A mischievous look usurped his amused one as he bent his head to kiss her neck. She closed her eyes and inclined her head to give him better access as she smoothed her hands up his back. "On the contrary," his mouth found her earlobe, "I rather prefer it if you were as explicit as possible."
"Gods. Your mind is as dirty as your mouth."
His mouth dragged along her jaw to poise a hairsbreadth above her lips. She could almost feel him smirking as he replied,
"Of course. You bring out the best in me, my dear."
AN: Aaaand that's a wrap! Thank you to every single person/robot/ghost/sparkly vampire who has been following this story and giving it love! I hope it has ended on a satisfactory note for you as it has done for me. I'm gonna miss this fic, but I'm just not one of those 'epic' fanfic writers. Lailana, this was your gift, and I hope that you enjoyed it. I know I did not include all of your prompts, but here's hoping you don't mind (much). Anyway, 'til next time, my loves! -:blows kisses:- -:bows:- -:leaves stage:- -:closes curtains:-