Well, this is a little story idea that I needed to explore. I have no idea how long it will be, but you are welcome to come along for the ride. My stories don't tend to be short. With that having been said, I have about 20k words thus far and it's not winding down yet. I will post more frequently in response to reviews, so please, review! Thank you.
Hermione squinted to make out the stutter in the peaks, her tired eyes causing the colors to blur. She had been working non-stop for the past twelve hours on data analysis from the newest family that had agreed to DNA testing after their third grandchild had been confirmed as a Squib. It was heartbreaking and difficult for them to accept. Sadly, this had been the progression of her research for the past two years, as more and more families confronted what was looking like an epidemic loss of magic. Ironically it had also catapulted her from a ridiculed Muggle-born who "couldn't renounce her inferior birth" to a celebrated researcher with ample funding from the Ministry of Magic.
"Working late again, Miss Granger?"
Hermione resisted the urge to shiver as the mellifluent voice drawled through her name, a familiar if slightly unpleasant scenario unfolding.
"There's nothing unusual about that," she replied calmly, breaking warily away from her focus on the screen to look at her boss.
Lucius Malfoy. His silver grey eyes glinted with something, a hint of antagonism and mischief. He liked to stop in the lab before he left occasionally, keeping it irregular enough that she could not successfully avoid him. If past 'chats' were any indication, he would distract her long enough that it was pointless to pretend she could regain her focus, causing her to grit her teeth in vexation.
"Well, it's not as if you have anyone to go home to, I suppose," Lucius commented, amused by the snap of irritation in her eyes. It was so pathetically easy to rile her, he didn't know why he bothered…but of course that was untrue. He knew perfectly well why he bothered, petty though it may be. It was the only form of punishment he could inflict on the Gryffindor princess, heroine of the wizarding world, while appearing to be a caring and diligent boss. She always left after their little tête-a-têtes so amusingly flushed.
Hermione closed the laptop with a snap and stood, causing Lucius to raise his eyebrow mockingly. The man looked nowhere near his age, which was unfortunate, because it made it easier for him to charm his way into any position he wanted in the Ministry. Hermione had firsthand, bitter experience in that, as he had deprived her of the position she had wanted, the Head of the newly created Magical Research division. Notwithstanding his years as a Death Eater, the public had a short memory and even shorter patience for the time required to complete research on this scale. Lucius had swept his way in easily by promising to increase the funding, personally hosting balls to woo reluctant Ministry officials into loosening the purse strings, and presenting her early research findings with such eloquence that even Hermione had grudgingly admitted that he knew how to get things done.
"My personal life is none of your business," Hermione retorted, condemning herself for the blush that rose every time he made a snide remark about her lack of a love life.
It wasn't her fault that Ron had felt overwhelmed with tenderness after Lavender had been bitten by Greyback during the final battle. She herself had felt nothing but compassion when Ron had explained how he felt drawn to Lavender after Bill's experiences. Certainly the sight of the pair of them together while everyone drew breath and slowly picked up the pieces was enough to stir even the coldest of hearts. In the end Hermione had not found it in herself to be bitter toward Ron—what chance did a bright and talented witch stand against a rival whose injuries and lifetime condemned her to a worse status than a Mudblood? She admired Ron for standing by Lavender. The wedding a year ago had been beautiful, she'd even cried. If a small part of her heart admitted she was relieved she would no longer have to pretend an overweening interest in Quidditch, she had the grace to ignore it.
Lucius strolled over to finger through her latest notes, scanning their contents easily. "It looks like your personal life may soon be the Ministry's business, Miss Granger, if your results hold."
Hermione struggled for composure as he deliberately infringed on her personal space, his thigh carelessly brushing against her arm as he sat jauntily on the edge of her desk, ignoring the disarray he caused to her papers. It was easily fixed with a wave of her wand, but that ignored the point. He was always like this, deliberately insulting her with little gestures and comments designed to remind her of her inferiority.
She raised her nose to him and looked him straight in the eye as she said, "I sincerely doubt that the Ministry is going to be able to do anything other than recommending genetic screening to prospective partners. The rest will be common sense enough for the problem to correct itself."
Lucius chuckled, his wand dangling lazily from his right hand while his left plucked a piece of paper from the desk seemingly at random. He looked at it briefly and then met her eyes with his own, a glacial coldness in them. "I think you suffer greatly from your lack of experience, Miss Granger. I pray I will be there when you are enlightened as to the…ramifications, should your results hold."
"I won't pretend to understand what you are talking about," Hermione said, then reached for the paper to stuff it in her briefcase. Lucius held it back easily, forcing Hermione to bend over the desk toward it, her color rising with her temper. Her fingers were itching to remove her wand from its holster up her sleeve, but that would be a dangerous mistake. Lucius was not to be trifled with, regardless of his petty games. She had no desire to find herself in Kingsley's offices again after a run-in with her boss.
"Ah, ah, ah, Granger," Lucius' breath tickled her ear as he leaned forward to whisper, "We wouldn't want a repeat of last month's unpleasantness, would we?"
Hermione wasn't worried about holding her own against Lucius in a petty duel, but she had other considerations. While Lucius could easily smooth over another smoldering office, Hermione knew that Kingsley was on a short leash with the plethora of Squibs discovered through her test, and the public was itching for a scapegoat. If she acted up now, she would be thrown onto the pyre of public ire, research or not.
"I need to take that home, sir," she spat out, refusing to look at him when his face was inches from her own.
"Testy, aren't we, Mudblood?" His voice was smooth as silk and dripping with poison. "Your research would be so lacking without my patronage."
"The only thing lacking is a bit of respect for my work," Hermione said with some heat, finally giving in to temptation and shooting a venomous glare at Malfoy.
"I almost believe that you don't like me," Lucius purred, his eyes flashing in response.
"I don't," Hermione hissed, finally reaching the paper with a lunge and snatching it from his unresisting fingers. Puffing her breath a bit, she retreated backward and stuffed the paper haphazardly into the case.
"I wonder, will you also require protection when the public realizes what you've done?" Lucius' gaze was calculating and cruel, his mind turning over the latest additions to Granger's numbers. It was time for a few casual conversations with a select few of the Ministry.
"I can protect myself," Hermione said archly, flicking her gaze to the faint silvery scar that lingered just at the hairline of Lucius' left eyebrow. Lucius nodded drolly, watching the witch as she beat a hasty retreat after her last salvo. He cocked his head to the side and removed one piece of paper from her desk. A small and petty revenge, but satisfying enough when she spent half an hour trying to "Accio" it tomorrow morning. Pursing his lips in a hint of a smirk, he sheathed his wand and ambled out. He had a dinner meeting with the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at Chez Merlin, and he knew just what he would be talking about.
"Are you quite certain that the results are that clear?" Calvin Yaxley nursed his firewhiskey the way an old woman nursed a colicky baby, jiggling it with his hand and occasionally causing a belch of flames to erupt from the glass.
"Would I not be the first to wish for any other result?" Lucius replied thoughtfully. "The only reason I took this post was to keep a very close eye on Granger's work."
"Yes, well…" Calvin hesitated, but the four firewhiskeys that preceded this one overcame whatever reticence he harbored to share, "We all rather assumed your interest was due to some…er, deficiency in Scorpius…"
Lucius' grey eyes turned as cold as steel, and his wand hand twitched visibly. Calvin gulped again and continued hastily, "Of course I knew that couldn't be the case—one of the oldest Wizarding families in Britain, naturally your stock would not be affected…"
"Of course my grandson is fine," Lucius hissed, then tamped down on the spurt of anger. He had known what people would say, but Yaxley was the first person foolish enough to say it to his face. If he didn't need the man's cooperation, he would have hexed him. As it was, he smoothed his impeccable robes and gestured to Calvin's glass. "Another?"
"I shouldn't…" Calvin began to say, but Lucius tut-tutted and waved his wand in a lazily elegant gesture to refill Calvin's glass. He could have done it wandlessly, but he preferred to keep that little talent to himself unless absolutely necessary. There was only one person alive now other than Draco who knew about that, he mused, and stopped that train of thought. First things first.
"Terrible times, Calvin. Of course, we hope that things will get better, that people will do the right thing," Lucius paused, gauging correctly that he had Calvin's full attention, "-but sadly, I can say from personal experience that when faced with a very difficult truth, we are terribly bad at making the best choice. We selfishly consider only ourselves, and then what happens?"
Calvin swallowed reflexively, his expression sad and morose. "Yes, yes, I know what you mean. Terribly hard to hope we've all grown since then, with the circumstances possibly being so, er, unfortunate."
Lucius leaned in closer and said with quiet sincerity, "Dire, friend, dire. That is the word you seek. Because if Miss Granger's latest results show the same trend…we could well see the end of Britain's wizarding community within two generations."
"Surely it is not that bad, Malfoy," Calvin said, drawing himself up in a manner that he probably supposed made him seem more imposing, but really made him look a bit like a pompous ass, which of course is what he was. But he was a useful pompous ass, so Lucius mentally gritted his teeth and parried.
"If you think the extinction of the magical community here would not be such a loss, then by all means sit on your wand and let it happen. I merely wanted to warn you…because when the word gets out," and it will, if I have anything to do with it, "You will be blamed for doing nothing about it. You've seen how the public is already crucifying Miss Granger for having the unfortunate joy of discovering a means of uncovering this little problem—imagine how they will respond when they find out that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has done nothing for decades about inbreeding, even though it's against the law and everyone knows it is on the books."
Calvin blanched as Lucius smoothly drew himself up from his chair. His work here was done. Casually he tossed a handful of Galleons on the table and said, "See you tomorrow in the office Yaxley."
"Draco!" Lucius bellowed as he strode into Malfoy Manor, his robes billowing behind him in evidence of his displeasure.
"Do stop yelling, Father. Astoria is having a terrible time getting Scorpius back to sleep," Draco intoned lazily as he appeared from the west wing of the manor. Given the recent climate in the Wizarding community and the age of the Fidelius charm on the Manor, Draco and Astoria had elected to temporarily take up residence in the hithertofore unused section of the Manor. Lucius didn't give a damn, and it had given him an opportunity to boot a few house elves up the arse to get it cleaned up for Draco's little family.
Since Narcissa had died, Lucius had no one to please but himself, and quite enjoyed the freedom of doing as he liked with the place. Narcissa had always been so damn irritating about the décor and fussy about the placement of the tiniest of bric-a-brac. It had been an annoyance which he would never admit to missing.
Her death had come as a bit of a shock to his system. It had happened nearly three years ago, an ambush attack near Diagon Alley by Thorfinn Rowle. He had been captured and was tidied away by Potter before Lucius could do anything to express his rage and anguish, then sent to Azkaban by the Wizengamot. Lucius had wondered if Narcissa had simply given up, it having been a particularly low point in their lives. She had not been a terribly efficient dueller but she had been able to defend herself ably enough in the past. He hadn't been there and could only curse himself for it…
"What can I do for you, Father?" Draco said pleasantly, bringing that train of thought to a halt. Draco had removed his healer's robes, but Lucius knew that his son was not best pleased to be back home where he was at his beck and call.
"Nothing terribly onerous, Draco, simply come and talk to me in my study," Lucius requested with enough arrogance that they both knew it was a command, not a request.
As Lucius swept through the doors, he turned to look at his son and wordlessly probed his thoughts. Draco's mouth twisted into a smirk and Lucius drew back, irritated. "It's not yours yet, son."
"And we both know you would not have heard that if I had not let you hear it," Draco retorted, pleased that he could still irritate his father in kind.
"Hmmph." Lucius settled himself into one of the two chairs by the fireplace, waving his hand to cause the flames to surge to life while Draco summoned the firewhiskey and tumblers. "None for me, thank you. I need to keep my wits about me."
"Suit yourself." Draco poured a neat two fingers and sipped it, lounging back in the chair. Later he would be pressed into soothing Scorpius after a bad dream, or taking him to the loo, one of the few things Astoria absolutely refused to do being getting up in the middle of the night. He was going to enjoy the respite from parental duties even if it meant paying filial duties instead.
Lucius leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, gazing abstractedly at the flames for a few minutes. His mind turned over the latest results from Granger's work. The girl was uncovering a hornet's nest, and she had no idea. "Damn Gryffindors!" he snorted, bringing his fingers together and tapping them underneath his chin.
"Granger irritating you again at work?" Draco asked, aware of the subtle manner in which his father was determined to poke at each member of the Golden Trio at any opportunity that presented itself.
Granger had won a grudging measure of his father's respect after their little tussle, what, six weeks ago? Draco couldn't remember, but knew that Granger had lost marks for taking so long to confront his father. He had never been a man to respect those who didn't demand respect from him. He knew it had been a petty pleasure to tend his father's cut at St. Mungo's himself. He remembered how irate Lucius had been when Draco had explained that it would scar slightly.
"Whatever hex she used, it's not going to go without a mark. It won't be noticeable unless you're looking for it," Draco had told him, and Lucius had seethed with impotent rage all the way through the tedious paperwork and mandatory cool-down period from the Ministry. Then suddenly he had returned to his charming self, accepting Hermione's apology in a tight-lipped manner and issuing his own perfunctory apology in front of Kingsley Shacklebolt as if it meant nothing to him. Draco knew better.
"She's about to irritate the entire Wizarding community of Great Britain," Lucius said, his voice more contemplative than Draco had heard from him in his grousing over Granger. Draco perked up in his chair, alert now.
"What has she found?" Draco asked, the tautness of his tone earning him a sardonic look from Lucius.
"Took long enough for your brain to wake up!" Lucius snapped moodily. "She's on the cusp of proving that Squibs are the product of a recessive gene, one which the Purebloods have been propagating for the past several generations."
Draco set down his firewhiskey tumbler and met his father's eyes. "Are you sure about this? Because already we are seeing more parents requesting tests…"
"Yes, of course I'm sure! Why do you think I pursued it when otherwise I would have kept my damn distance from her? It's bad enough that Potter is sending Aurors to tag after me in the halls after that little squabble. Can you imagine what chaos is going to break loose when this is made public?"
Draco grabbed his arm; one of the few, telling ways that their interactions had changed since the final fall of Voldemort. Lucius had never been particularly affectionate, but Draco knew well enough that he and Narcissa had doted on him. He liked the fact that his son felt comfortable enough with him now to touch him, though hugs were still rare enough. Still, it was…pleasant…in a way that neither Draco nor Lucius had experienced much in their lifetimes. Lucius had shielded Draco as a young boy from the worst of his father's personality, but it had irrevocably shaded him personally. Thank Merlin that bastard had had the grace to die of dragon pox before he could have a pernicious influence on his grandson.
"What is going to be done about it?" Draco demanded to know, the arrogant upturn of his nose a mirror of Lucius' own body language when he was unsure of the situation.
"Mandatory testing, at a minimum. Probably more. I won't know for a week or so, but this is going to get very unpleasant." Lucius scowled at the flames, furious that once again he couldn't be left in peace.
"How unpleasant?" Draco asked, his tone dropping slightly with displeasure.
"How well did you pay attention in your History of Magic class?" Lucius drawled, patting Draco's hand and withdrawing himself to the embrace of the chair.