Hermione dredged her way up the overgrown cobblestone path to Malfoy Manor in the dull haze of twilight. She felt inexplicably drawn to the notorious man secluded within those ancient walls, and the fluttering of her stomach intensified with every step.
The bleeding heart of Hermione Jean Granger did not stop at caring for suffering magical creatures. There was something about a suffering man that appealed to her as well. She'd fallen for them before, wanting to fix and comfort them. She knew that Lucius Malfoy still despised her, but the fact that he was unattainable made the journey both safer and more exciting in her mind.
A leaf crunched on the dry ground as someone stepped too close behind her in the shadows. She attempted to draw her wand, but her unknown foe was too quick, and she fast found herself tasting the rich leather of a gloved hand as it clamped down on her mouth. She was pulled tight against a hard body, and when a gentle breeze carried long blonde hair into her line of sight, Hermione stopped struggling and let her back relax against Lucius' chest.
There it was again; it was a feeling of her heart beating uncontrollably. She couldn't stop it. Her body would not cooperate in calming itself. She knew that she must look flushed, but she couldn't stop the heat on her skin or the heartbeat thumping so loud that she could hear it in her ears. She tried her best not to look embarrassed, but it took all of her strength to steady her voice and clear her thoughts. She wondered how she could be overjoyed and angry at the same time.
Lucius' hands stilled, but he did not let go of Hermione. "You stopped fighting?" There was disbelief in his tone.
"Because I realized it was you, Mr. Malfoy," Hermione replied in a shaky voice.
He grabbed her shoulders and spun her around to face him. "You realized that a former Death Eater was attempting to subdue you, and you relaxed?" He sounded incredulous.
"You could have been anyone. Your grounds are so vast, and the house looks empty. It could have been a burglar, an escaped Death Eater, or a murderer . . ."
"I am a murderer, Miss Granger," Lucius simply stated.
"Oh." Her one word response was the only explanation that he received from her as she boldly stood in front of him, looking into his eyes with care and what he assumed to be pity.
He took a deep breath and continued to return her gaze. He was momentarily at a loss due to the fact that he had begun to fancy her quite a bit after his last meeting with her.
It angered him more than anything; the young Mudblood dominating his every thought as if he were some lovesick schoolboy. He was constantly on edge with thoughts of her, and it made him nauseous at times to think that he would either do anything for her or throw her from a cliff depending on how much will power he could muster at any given time. There was just something about her that was getting to him to the point where he could physically feel it in his chest, but most of the time it did not feel pleasant at all. The rest of the time—now as she was in his immediate presence, looking up at him—it felt truly amazing.
Lucius immediately removed his hands from the enigma that was Hermione Granger. Taking a step back, he said, "Why are you trespassing on my property?"
Hermione's eyes fluttered before focusing on her handbag from which she pulled a small vial. "I came here to show you this memory. The Ministry has already seen it, but I thought it would set your mind at ease if I showed it to you, too. You asked to see it if you remember? It's the events leading up to the attack on Scorpius from my point of view, and it proves that Harry didn't have anything to do with the snake before telling it to go away. It could have only there by chance—a fluke . . . You can keep it for as long as you need it."
Lucius slowly took the memory from the woman's outstretched hand, brushing his fingers against hers in the process. He thought that he felt her shiver at their contact. He couldn't be sure, but he did notice that she was suddenly playing things very casual.
Hermione brushed her hair behind her ear and placed her hand on her hip, looking around at the neglected rosebushes surrounding them. "I apologize for disturbing your evening, Mr. Malfoy. I'll just be leaving . . ."
Lucius interrupted her. "I loathed you when I walked into your classroom last week."
Hermione shuddered. "That's—predictable."
She held herself tight against a chill that came out of her imagination, looking down at the scattered leaves until she felt his hand against her face.
She leaned into it.
He spoke again. "How did you change my mind so completely throughout the course of one conversation?"
"I don't know what to say, Mr. Malfoy."
"Do you know what to do?" He cupped her cheek and stepped closer.
She faltered. "Maybe."
He smiled. "Maybe?"
She slid her arms up to his shoulders, placed her face against his neck, and kissed it.
Hermione returned from Malfoy Manor to find the door to her quarters slightly ajar, so she called out as she entered.
She lit the sconces to discover Ron sitting in the dark and looking straight at her.
"Ron? How long have you been here in the dark? Are you okay?"
She rushed to his side, but he held up his hand in protest.
"I told you to stay away from the Malfoys, Hermione!"
She was shocked. "You asked me to stay away from them, but I didn't know it was an order! What is wrong with you? Since when do you tell me who to talk to? I didn't think you were that serious about it. I can handle being mocked by a Malfoy for my blood status."
He stood and raised his voice even more. "You were there for two hours! Why?"
"How do you know how long I was there, Ronald? Are you having me followed?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "The Malfoys have been attacked more than once, Hermione. I thought you were smart. Of course there are Aurors watching the property."
Hermione thought of the moments she spent in Lucius' arms and got nervous. "Surely a criminal like Lucius Malfoy didn't agree to have Aurors spying on his home."
"That's why we're only keeping someone posted outside the gates. He just has a look around the perimeter every so often, which is why it is even more dangerous for you to be there. What if Malfoy had hurt you? I doubt anyone would even hear you scream!"
Hermione put her hands on her hips. "Ron, that's ridiculous."
"Ridiculous? For a convicted Death Eater to harm a Muggleborn?" Ron was losing control of his emotions, which was obvious from the way that he was spitting his words and turning red.
"I think you need to calm down," Hermione pleaded.
"No! Why were you there?"
Hermione showed him the vial. "I went to give him this. It's my memory of the attack. I was going to leave it there, but he insisted that I could wait while he viewed it. I was just helping him understand what happened to his grandson that day."
Ron looked disgusted. "Why would you help Lucius Malfoy?"
"He's really not that bad anymore," she said.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Hermione? Have you turned into a complete idiot?" Ron was suddenly in front of her, shaking her.
Hermione pushed him away. "You're hurting me! I think you should leave now. You're being hurtful and rude for no reason. Maybe we should take a break form each other for awhile."
"But, Hermione, we're getting married."
"I'm not so sure that we are. I'm sorry, but I've been having doubts . . . and then you come into my room and start insulting me and ordering me around . . . I need a break." She turned and ran from the room.
"Where are you going?" Ron shouted as her footsteps echoed down the corridor.
Harry found Hermione sitting at the Hog's Head, nursing a pint and nibbling disinterestedly on a plate of chips.
"For Merlin's sake, Hermione! How long have you been in here? I've been looking all over the castle for you!" Harry leaned against the chair next to her.
She didn't even look at him. "What time is it?"
"It's past midnight," Harry said while ordering a Firewhiskey.
Hermione looked at him. "Well then I suppose I've been here for about four hours . . ."
Harry interrupted her. "We need to talk."
She rolled her eyes and said, "I'm not ready to talk about Ron, so you can just . . ." She stopped talking as she noticed Draco Malfoy walking up to them in his Auror robes. She looked at Harry and realized that he was still in his as well, which meant that they must have been working late for some reason. Something wasn't right. Draco looked bothered—more alert than usual with a deep frown dominating his features. "What's happened?"
Harry swallowed the contents of his glass and whispered, "Andromeda Tonks is dead." He seemed too calm as he fought to keep control of his emotions. He couldn't quite meet her eyes, and he tapped the empty glass repeatedly on the back of the chair.
Hermione's voice trembled, but she was determined to ask her questions. "Was it a snakebite? Why would it go after her?"
Draco answered, "It looked like she either lost control of the animal . . . Or someone murdered her."
Hermione shook her head and asked, "What do you mean 'lost control'?"
Draco was clearly angry. "There was evidence present that she had bought the creature illegally from Albania and was keeping it there."
"Where?" Hermione looked back and forth between Harry and Draco.
Harry leaned in close to Hermione and whispered, "It was Ron who found her. She was at some dodgy hotel room at the end of Knockturn Alley. Someone heard screaming coming from inside. The owner said that it had been rented to the same person for months, but he wouldn't admit to ever seeing Andromeda. He said that someone else paid for the room. He couldn't remember their face clearly, but he knew that it wasn't her. Bloody hell, he couldn't even tell us if it was a man or a woman that paid for the room! Something about too many robes and it being dark."
Draco added, "Of course you can't believe that load of bollocks. He'll never cooperate. His particular brand of clientele wouldn't like that."
"What evidence is there of murder?" Hermione asked.
Draco said, "The evidence was too perfect. There was documentation of her travel and the name and information of the seller was written in a journal next to her body. Someone wanted us to know that she was responsible . . . Or they wanted to make it look like she was."
Hermione stood and gathered her things. "I think we should continue this conversation elsewhere." She then turned to Draco and said the last words that he ever expected to fall from her lips. "Draco, will you take us to Malfoy Manor?"
With a member of the Malfoy family in tow, the three friends were able to Floo directly into the house from Hogsmeade. They arrived in the study as Lucius stood at a close distance and patiently awaited them.
Draco spoke first. "Hello, Father." He didn't expect much of a greeting from his father as they still had a tumultuous relationship, but he was surprised that the man was not even looking at him when he returned a greeting.
Lucius merely said, "Hello, Draco." He was watching Hermione, waiting for an explanation as to why she would request a visit to his home at such a late hour. "It's not that I'm not pleased to see you, Hermione, but I'd like to know what has happened to make you ask my son to bring you to my home all the same."
Hermione could tell that he was happy to see her, but he didn't know how to communicate that under the circumstances. She wasn't sure either. She didn't want to seem too forward and risk making everyone in the room uncomfortable, but she told him the truth simply and directly. "I was worried for you. Someone else has been murdered, and I immediately thought to come here. I needed to speak with Harry and Draco in a more secure location about what happened anyway. The case is becoming more personal to Harry's family as well."
Harry and Draco glanced at each other quizzically in regards to the familiar conversation between Lucius and Hermione, but they both decided to hold their comments for a more appropriate time.
Lucius asked, "Who was attacked?"
It was Draco who answered, "Aunt Andromeda is dead. The circumstances are unsure."
Draco took the liberty of offering Harry a chair, and both men were seated, assuming that the conversation from the pub would immediately continue. However, Lucius did not take his seat, but approached Hermione. "Come with me for a moment?" She nodded, and he turned to the others. "Gentlemen, please excuse us for a moment."
"Father?" Draco started to question.
Lucius quickly continued, "We shall return promptly, I promise." With that, he placed his hand on the small of Hermione's back and guided her out of the room with him.
"It's hard to believe that it's only been hours since I've seen you. It feels like days," Lucius said as he took her in his arms.
Hermione quickly took in their surroundings. "Is this your bedroom?"
"Yes. I wanted to bring you here earlier, but I didn't want to seem too forward." Lucius kissed her ear as she slid her hands underneath his shirt.
Hermione laughed. "You didn't want to seem too forward? You practically had me undone in your garden. I wanted to beg you to bring me here, but I didn't want you to think I was too easy." She fought to regain her composure. "We shouldn't stay here too long. There are important things to discuss. We've lost someone . . ."
"I understand, my dear, but what you must understand is that I don't want to miss this small opportunity for intimacy with you. If I had been murdered instead of Andromeda, you wouldn't be here with me now. We can take just a moment to enjoy each other's company. The reality waiting for us downstairs will still be there when we are finished." He backed her against the bed.
She felt the mattress against the back of her legs and sat down slowly. As Lucius knelt in front of her and lifted her skirt, she was more than a bit nervous, but as soon as she felt his warm breath against her inner thigh, she fell back onto the mattress and let ecstasy devour her.
Harry looked like he was somewhere between wanting to avoid acknowledgement of the situation with Lucius and Hermione and needing to be angry about it. He kept his silence and patiently waited for everyone to be seated.
On the other hand, Draco looked like he was beside himself with glee, waiting for the first opportunity to attack Hermione with a joke or some kind of sarcastic witticism. The endless possibilities were running through his thoughts and causing his usual smirk to deepen. Hermione and Draco had never quite got past throwing smart little insults at each other, though their tone was now playful rather than malicious.
Lucius started the meeting by saying, "I'm not sure how I can help with this discussion, or the investigation for that matter, but I am here and available should you need anything."
Draco took the moment as an opportunity to engage Hermione. "Hear that, Granger? He's available if you need anything . . . Although from the color of your cheeks, I'd say he already gave you something you needed. Of course, I'd also say that you need his hair care secrets more than you need a shag at this point. I know yours is always a mess, but you couldn't even bother to brush it out a little bit after a roll in the sheets?"
Draco looked proud of his little rant as he snickered to himself. Hermione scoffed, "Are you finished?" As Draco shook his head, Lucius looked unsure about their banter, and Hermione continued, "Because that was rubbish. I could do better when we were eleven . . ."
Harry interrupted with impatience. "Can we just move on with our discussion? It's almost dawn for fuck's sake."
Hermione sighed and crossed her legs. "What else can you tell us about Andromeda's possible involvement?"
Draco said, "Well, I've never known her to be able to speak to snakes, so I would suppose that she had an accomplice. He or she is probably foreign based on the purchase of the creature and the fact that there aren't many known Parselmouths in Britain. It looks like she had some disagreement with this unknown person, and this person murdered her. They attempted to make the crime scene look like Aunt Andromeda was solely responsible for the murder of my mother and the attack on my son." He could no longer keep a strong façade, so he put his head in his hands and waited for the wave of emotion to wash over him before continuing. "The question is . . . What was her motive?"
Everyone sat silent for a moment and contemplated the question.
Lucius spoke. "She was here for Cissy's funeral and chastised me for losing their inheritance. She despised her sisters and me. She could have been seeking revenge on the Malfoys. I know she blamed the death of her daughter on our ideals and influence, but I can't imagine her hurting Scorpius."
Draco said, "No, I don't think she would have hurt him. She was his godmother. She loved him, and she was always civil even if she didn't actually speak to me and Astoria very much. She did despise Father and Mother though."
Hermione said, "But she was in a financial bind."
Harry hastily interjected, "What are you implying? She was only doing what is best for Teddy."
"That's just it, Harry. What if she meant to gain control of Scorpius' inheritance? He's only a child, and she would have been named his guardian if his family had been murdered," Hermione added.
"You know Andromeda, Hermione! How could you suggest that?" Harry asked.
Hermione averted her eyes. "I'm just trying to sort this out, and she had a plausible motive. That could even explain why she was murdered. She was definitely upset about what happened to Scorpius, and she arrived to see him in the infirmary before his parents or Lucius arrived. Maybe her accomplice targeted the wrong Malfoy. Maybe you should ask how she found out about the attack before the rest of the family. I was there. I remember. It didn't seem odd at the time, but now that I think about it . . . I don't want to believe it, but people change, Harry."
"They also die, Hermione, and I don't want to dishonor her memory by making her a suspect. You've always been brilliant at solving mysteries, but I think that we should look for other possibilities before condemning Teddy's grandmother."
Draco said, "The war made a criminal of me; it made you and Granger heroes. It made orphans grow up without their families, and cowards turn on their brothers, so why couldn't it have made Aunt Andromeda vengeful? The evidence of her involvement speaks louder than your words, Harry. You are right that she might not have been involved for the reasons that Hermione has given, but she fits into the puzzle somehow. She can't be completely innocent at this point."
Harry stood. "Fine. We still need to gather more information. We need to assign Aurors to protect every member of your family. The murderer is still out there, which means that even Teddy is at risk. I'm going to insist that he stay in Britain and under my protection until this is sorted." Harry turned to Draco and continued, "I suggest that you and your family stay here. Malfoy Manor has more security than your home, and there is certainly enough space for all of you."
"I'm sure that Father wouldn't want us here," Draco argued.
"Now is not the time for dramatics, Draco. I insist that you all stay here. Mr. Potter is right," said Lucius.
Draco sneered. "Did you just say, 'Mr. Potter is right'? When it became apparent tonight that you are fucking Granger, I deduced that you are losing your mind, but now you are agreeing with Harry? Who are you?"
Lucius kept his eyes on his son and gave him a deadpan response. "I am your father, and I will do whatever I can to keep you from a murderer."
"Well, I guess that means you will have to leave the house as well," Draco spat.
Harry shouted, "Shut it! People are dying, so just do what is best, and stay here. We are all exhausted. Make your arrangements. We will regroup tomorrow. Hermione, you are a witness, so I'll be contacting you. I appreciate your help, but you should probably try to keep yourself confined to Hogwarts." He looked at Lucius. "I'm sure you understand that her involvement with you puts her in danger, Mr. Malfoy."
Hermione wanted to argue, but she held her tongue for the moment as Lucius agreed with Harry.
Harry continued, "I'll escort Hermione back to Hogwarts now. We'll see what we can do about extra security as soon as possible. Goodnight."
As Hermione and Harry began to leave, Hermione felt that wonderful and agonizing feeling in her chest that was becoming common for her when she looked at Lucius, but it climbed to a fever pitch with the knowledge that she had to leave his presence for an uncertain amount of time.
Hermione knew that Harry was uncomfortable about what he had witnessed at Malfoy Manor, but she had little patience for him after the night's events. She hoped that they would be able to discuss things with as little accusation as possible. As soon as they arrived in her quarters, Harry finally verbally expressed his frustration with her.
"I came to you tonight to tell you devastating news about one of our friends, and your response was to take me to your lover's home where it looked to me like you got thoroughly fucked while Draco and I waited in the study," Harry stated as a matter of fact. He then asked, "What is going on? How does Ron—your future husband and my best mate—fit into this?"
Hermione explained, "Ron and I had an argument. We aren't getting married. That's why I was in Hogsmeade, and if you must know, Lucius and I were not lovers until tonight. As soon as you told me that there was another murder, I needed to see him. I was worried. I had to be with him, Harry. I couldn't stop myself." She sounded desperate and passionate.
"You talk about him like that, and you expect me to believe that you weren't cheating on Ron?" Harry asked.
She was moved to tears. "We've talked about my feelings for Ron so many times, Harry. You know how I truly feel about him. I love him. I do, but after the last conversation Ron and I had, I can't marry him." She paused to wipe the tears from her face. "This thing between me and Lucius happened suddenly, and it's the most real . . . I think about him constantly. I want to be with him always. He came here to thank me for helping Scorpius one day, and his presence—his mere presence in the room made me feel more than alive somehow. It was like I was no longer just breathing, working, talking, or whatever. I had a new pulse running through me that was both amazing and terrifying. It was so strange to me at first. The feeling was just so nerve shattering, but in a good way. I didn't know if it would happen again, but I wanted it. I wanted to feel that way again. I went to see him to show him my memory of the attack that I had taken to the Ministry, and the rest of the world didn't matter anymore. As soon as I saw him again, he was all that I cared about in that moment, Harry. I kissed him, so I was unfaithful to Ron, just as you said I was. I left Lucius, and I came back here where I broke my engagement with Ron. I went to the pub after that, and you found me there."
Harry embraced her and spoke gently. "I hope you are sure that this is love. You had quite a crush on Viktor a few years ago as I remember. If I had known that your dark wizard phase wasn't over after that . . ." She gave a nervous giggle and held him tighter, but he continued, "It's happening very fast, and Lucius Malfoy is not a good man. I don't want to see you get hurt for no good reason when you may grow tired of him in the end and wish you hadn't left Ron. I know you've been separated before, but I don't think he'd want a relationship with you if he ever found out that you left him for a Malfoy."
"This is different, Harry. It's . . . consuming."
"Sounds unhealthy to me, Hermione."
Hermione looked up at Harry, holding his gaze as she began to speak in her usual sincere and analytical manner. "What if it's not supposed to be? When I was sitting at the Hog's Head, I thought about love in the way that I now understand it, and this is going to sound trite, but I can compare it to any of life's addictions or pleasures." She thought for a moment and continued, "Chocolate, for example. I don't need it to stay alive, but I quite enjoy it, so I'd say that I need it to really live. I find enjoyment in it, and it makes me happy. Because I know how good it is and exactly what it tastes like, I would miss it if I never had it again. My life would be missing something, you understand? It's like eating or drinking too much, but the difference is that it's a complete mental addiction; there are no physical effects except for the ones produced by the mind, which can be far more powerful."
Harry laughed. "If I had thought of that, it wouldn't have sounded half as intelligent as you made it sound. You have a gift. Maybe you should have convinced Professor Snape to let you read all of Ron's essays aloud to him before he graded them when we were in school. Ron would have received top marks for sure."
She smiled, but it was only for a moment before saying, "I know it's a silly analogy, but I'm serious. That's how I feel."
"I understand exactly what you are saying . . . more than you know, in fact. I've got to get home," Harry said.