Well I want to give you all closure and get this done, so I'm posting this now. I just wrote it, but feel confident enough to post it. I will also catch up on the review thank you's which I neglected in the last chapter.
zeeksmom, thanks for being so quick on the uptake and hitting that review button! I have SO appreciated your feedback throughout. Now that it's closer to the right season, I'm looking forward to reading your story, "The Christmas Elf" on Amazon!
arabellagrace, I hope you like how Lucius was able to save the day in the previous chapter!
werevampluvr, I love throwing you for a loop! Glad you liked the twist!
xWriters Block x, so glad you have enjoyed my work!
roon0, well, you tell me, did she get her just desserts?
Coven Mistress, so glad you enjoyed this tale! I am being pulled more toward a Tomione, I know that's not as popular as Dramione but as well I find Tom Riddle to be a fascinating character who was left sort of one-dimensional. Kind of tempted to delve into him just for the challenge of it. We shall see!
Well, this is it, the official end. PLEASE review, even if you've never done so before, and tell me what you thought of the story as a whole. Thank you so very much for reading, and thank you to all the diligent reviewers who have stuck with it. I have finished it for you, the reviewers. Blessings!
"I'm gonna get you!"
Athelina shrieked with laughter and toddled as fast she could on her chubby legs, Scorpius playfully tailing her with his arms out like claws.
"I'm a werewolf and I'm gonna bite you!"
Athelina shrieked again and ducked protectively behind Lucius' leg, peeking out at Scorpius with wide eyes.
"Scorpius? What did we say about encouraging biting?" Lucius said sternly, and Scorpius hung his head.
"I know. Sorry Poppa."
Lucius scooped the boy up with one arm, then began shuffling along back to the Floo call that the children had interrupted, Athelina holding his pants leg with both chubby hands.
"I know you are very fond of The Wild and Woolly Beastes of Transylvania, but your aunt is a bit too little for such tales yet." Lucius turned his attention back to his wife's pretty face as it hovered in the flames. "Sorry dearest. Now, you were saying you'll be home early?"
"Yes." Hermione threw a bit more Floo powder into the fireplace on her end, causing the flames to shoot higher. "Astoria has been a perfect model of efficiency with the latest data sets, so we should both be there shortly."
"Very well, we shall see you then." Lucius broke off the connection and looked down at his daughter, who was still tightly clutching his leg, and his grandson, who was looking disappointed. "Well, Scorpius, you cannot expect to always get to have pudding with us. I dare say your father would be quite glad to see that new trick I showed you on your broom when he gets home."
The boy's face brightened at that. It wasn't often that Lucius was asked to babysit during a business day, but since he had left the Ministry he was free to order his days as he pleased. It was certainly flexible to own one's own company, not mention being independently wealthy.
"Now, if you want to play a game with magical beasts, why not consider the unicorn? Or the hippogriff?"
Scorpius wailed excitedly at this last one, and Athelina gurgled, happy to see Scorpius so pleased. "Stand back, poppets—"
Lucius drew his wand and cast sticking charms on both children, before putting forward his best hippogriff impersonation and taking the pair of them for rides around the library. This was where Hermione and Astoria found the three of them half an hour later, following the peals of giggles from Scorpius and the babbling of Athelina.
"Please tell me you haven't fed him sweets," Astoria said, alerting Lucius to their presence. Lucius rolled over, carefully catching Athelina before she hit the soft carpet.
"No, I showed him a new broom trick instead," Lucius said as he stood, thankful that Hermione had cast a dewrinkling charm for him after giving him a brief 'I'm home' kiss.
"Salazar, Draco will have him outside until it's dark then—come along Scorpius!"
"Bye pet," Hermione said, leaning down so the little boy could kiss her cheek, then kiss Lucius' cheek and Athelina's as well.
"Bye Poppa and Athelina!"
Hermione smiled as Astoria took him out to the foyer so they could apparate home. Draco had moved his family back to their own estate when things had settled down, which was probably best for all concerned. However, there were nights that either she or Lucius missed their family dinners, a problem which they solved by inviting them to dinner at least twice a month.
"How did your presentation to the Ministry go?" Lucius asked, smoothly transferring Athelina to her mother's arms. She wanted her 'back home' nurse, and Hermione was ready for it as well. Lucius settled onto the divan next to her as their daughter helped herself, her eyes roaming as busily as her little hands.
"I'm afraid she'll give this up soon," Hermione said wistfully, and Lucius kissed her head.
"Then we'll have another, who will hopefully make a less dramatic entrance," he said wryly, and Hermione laughed.
"I certainly hope so! But to answer your question, it went very well. It helped that Pius was there, so he smoothed over the ruffled feathers in the DMR."
Since Hermione had quit the Ministry, Lucius had set up a genetic research company for her. She had surprised the wizarding world by hiring two staffs—one completely Muggle, the other completely magical. The two halves of the company operated seamlessly together, due to a combination of strict training and emphasis on protocols, and a cleverly worded vow which all magical employees had to take. It not only prevented intellectual property from wandering, but it also served to keep the Statute of Secrecy well intact. Hermione herself was well used to switching between the two worlds, and Lucius was well known even to the Muggles employed by the company. He had visited her office one day, and had asked why the Muggles kept staring at him.
"Why do they do that, pet?" he asked his delicious wife after he'd persuaded her to do unpardonably sinful things on her desk.
Hermione, who had that delightful 'just shagged' look about her, replied archly, "They think you are an eccentric, indolent sugar daddy who is funding my 'hobby' company."
Lucius had laughed out loud at that, and proceeded to go another round with his wife, this time shagging her into the carpet. When they were both lying breathless, before Hermione started looking for her knickers, Lucius glanced at the display case of defunct wands which Hermione had in her office and asked, "And what do you tell them those are?"
"Ancient chopsticks, of course," Hermione replied primly, and Lucius laughed again, this time so hard that his stomach actually hurt from it.
"Where are my knickers?" Hermione complained, and finally Lucius caught enough breath to roll over and hold them out to her, dangling from one finger.
"You are so delightful, and I love you very much."
His wife simply beamed at him, and Lucius felt himself to be a very lucky man indeed.
Three years later
"Lucius, what is that?"
Lucius looked up from the parchment which had just arrived by owl, absentmindedly flicking the pouch of owl treats into his hand and offering one to the owl, which flew off with a hoot after receiving it. He didn't reply right away, but looked lost in thought.
"Simply a longstanding matter which I will need to see to tomorrow," Lucius finally said, folding up the parchment.
"Well, don't forget that the Potters, Shacklebolts, and Weasleys are coming over for Athelina's fourth birthday party, and you promised to help with the decorations."
"What's wrong with the house elves, I ask you?" Lucius raised an eyebrow at this.
"Smidgen is nearly ready to have her baby, Twigs' arthritis is flaring up, and Firkin has his hands full simply getting the house clean and the food prepared. And you know how the garden elves are when it comes to house things, they are absolutely mutinous."
"Fine, but I expect you to make it up to me," Lucius said archly, and Hermione's mouth curved into a naughty smile.
"Why, whatever could you mean, Lucius?" she said innocently, and he pounced. It wasn't until much later that he had to grab his wand and shut the window, the draft of cold air reminding him that he'd forgotten that little step.
The next morning, Lucius kissed his wife goodbye as usual, then collected a large brass key from his study. After he was sure that Athelina was well in hand with their nanny, he activated the portkey, stepping out into the foyer of the chatêau.
"I'm not staying long today," he told the house elf that popped in immediately, and turned himself to reappear at Bertrand's house.
"Master Malfoy." The house elf that opened the door for him bowed low, but Lucius ignored it, focused on the reason he was here. He entered Bertrand's private study, where he found his cousin seated behind his desk, a gilded cage holding a nightjar perched in front of him.
"Ah, Lucius. So good of you to be here for this," Bertrand said, raising an eyebrow as he clasped his cousin's hand.
"I like to see things through to the end," Lucius said, his expression set and resigned.
"Well, I won't tell you how long I've had him—but let's just say he's grown quite accustomed to the taste of mealworms and maggots, and leave it at that."
Lucius ignored that. Frankly he didn't care how Bertrand had chosen to spin this out, he simply wanted the assurance that it was finished. "And was it Thérèse's?"
Bertrand's expression darkened. "I'm not sure how aware she was of it, he is quite good at mimicry. However, I find it past credulous that it could continue for so long past Hermione's assassination of her second bird."
Lucius' lips tightened. "I will take care of that."
Bertrand nodded. "I thought you would. Now, shall we remove ourselves to a place more fitting?"
By fitting, Bertrand meant his dungeons. They were old and decrepit, hidden beneath his wine cellars, but more than adequate for the task.
"Release him," Lucius said, his wand itching in his fingers. Bertrand opened the door and the bird sat, refusing to come out.
"Interiorem!" The cage twisted and heaved, finally shoving the nightjar through the opening, where Lucius hit it with Hominem revelio and Incarcerous before Bedell was able to crawl two steps.
"Lucius…cousin…" Bedell's voice was throaty, almost raw from disuse. His eyes flicked fearfully to his brother's, whose eyes were cold and hard.
"Don't," Lucius said. "I'm here for one thing only."
He paused to let Bedell worry about what that was, then continued. "I just want you to know that after today, I will not think about you again. Your name will be struck from the family tree, your child rots in Azkaban, and I have no doubt that Bertrand has some dreadful end planned for you. However, I wanted to tell you—"
Here Lucius stopped and spun his cousin upright, the bonds slowly tightening as he turned slowly. Lucius flicked his wand and his cousin writhed in the bonds, whatever curse Lucius had cast upon him having a profound, painful effect. "That is for my wife, and this," here the second curse inflicted caused his cousin to scream in pain, "is for my daughter. Both of whom deserve far, far more than I have meted out here to you today. And, although it will be useless information for you, I tell you this: the way to ensure the fidelity of your children is to love them, not ignore, then threaten them."
Lucius turned away from the groaning shell of his cousin to look at Bertrand. "What do you have planned for him?"
Bertrand's eyes glittered. "Fratricide is still legal in France, under conditions which, happily, my ignorant brother has met."
Lucius regretted, but understood, the necessity of the action. "I'll be on my way. Thank you, for this."
"You're welcome. I hope someday I might find my own honorable woman worthy of defending."
Lucius nodded and walked out. As he started up the stairs, he heard Bertrand say, "It is a pity that we must live up to the Malfoy legacy of brothers destroying one another Bedell."
There was another, higher pitched scream as Lucius disapparated away. He had one more stop to make before he could go home.
"Lucius? You're miles away," Hermione said, wrapping her arm around his in the casually intimate way that had evolved naturally between them. "Are you feeling sad about the news of Thérèse's passing?"
He turned and patted her arm. "Just thinking about things better left buried," he said.
She accepted that answer at face value, but he felt vaguely guilty because he hadn't told her what had happened in France. He had met Calvin for a soul purging confessory over Firewhiskey, which had served its purpose adequately enough, but Lucius felt that, at some point in the future, he would have to tell Hermione exactly what had become of Bedell. Not now, though; not tonight. Tonight was for family celebrations and a renewal of ties that had long lapsed, or so he hoped.
The garden was a riot of color through the windowpanes, the garden elves not shirking their duties to show off the Manor at its best. Lucius allowed Hermione to turn him back to the room, taking in the chaos that the best children's birthday parties always became. Athelina was shrieking with glee, racing around the room on her miniature broom, while Scorpius and Albus Potter shouted pointers from their own brooms. James Potter stood with a disinterested slouch that characterized all children on the cusp of Hogwarts, while Buttercup Weasley and Lily Potter prattled to each other from the middle of the pile of enchanted dolls at his feet.
"Marvelous, isn't it?" Hermione said with a contented sigh, and Lucius smiled.
"Of course. But there is one surprise that isn't quite for Athelina."
Lucius drew her toward the doors, nodding to Potter and, unbelievably, a Weasley in his home. He had conceded that the youngest Weasley male wasn't so very bad at chess, but it was still quite disconcerting to see a redheaded Weasley in Malfoy Manor.
"Lucius, we can't leave our guests," Hermione hissed at him, but he merely smiled and drew her forward.
"Hush, we shall return momentarily. I simply have something to show you in the study, and before you ask, no, it can't wait."
Hermione huffed but let her husband of five years lead her to his sanctum sanctorum. He threw open the double doors and, surprisingly, stepped back as Hermione's brain processed the two figures standing, waiting, by the fire.
"Mum? Dad?" Her voice was low, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing, but when her parents recognized her, called, "Hermione!", "Love!", she threw herself into their arms, tears flowing down her cheeks.
"Oh my God, I thought…I thought I'd never see you again," Hermione said, closing her eyes as the scent of her mother washes through her. "Where have you been?"
"We've been working with a charity, sweetheart," her dad explained, adjusting his glasses as Hermione let him break free. "We have traveled all throughout Asia Minor, treating indigent patients."
"We were going to set up a practice in Melbourne, but our paths crossed with an organizer for Dentists Without Borders, and we couldn't resist the opportunity," Jean added. "It's been a wonderful experience, but after our memories were restored to us, we had to come and see you, Hermione. Your husband explained what happened, and why—and we want you to know, we still love you, darling. We always will."
Lucius made to leave the room and give them some privacy, but Hermione choked out, "Don't you dare leave this room, Lucius Malfoy. I want a word with you."
And so it was that Hermione spent nearly an hour catching up with her parents, reveling in the restored closeness and attachment with the two people that she loved almost more than any others in the world. Her eyes flicked to Lucius' several times, but he didn't interfere, merely let them all enjoy the glow and happiness that came from a severed connection being rightly restored. Finally, he cleared his throat and reminded his wife of the party going on next door.
"Oh, I want you to meet Athelina!" Hermione cried, and Jean and Whittier Granger assured her that they could wait until tomorrow to meet their granddaughter.
"She is going to be awfully excited from her party, Hermione, and I'd rather have a quiet time, just us. Tomorrow is soon enough for her to meet her grandparents," Jean assured her, and Hermione acknowledged the wisdom of this plan.
"We have a guest room ready for you. I know the time difference is quite wearing," Lucius said, and offered to fetch Astoria to show them the room. Hermione teared at this thoughtfulness for her Muggle parents, who would doubtless have trouble with a house elf showing them to their room.
"Thank you," she said to Lucius when he returned with Astoria, who neatly introduced herself to the Grangers and offered to show them to their room. "How did you do it?"
Lucius crossed to his wife and grasped her around the waist. "There is little that cannot be done with an ample sufficiency of funds and the patience of Helga Hufflepuff, pet."
Hermione buried her face in his chest, unable to process the many feelings that were coursing through her system. "Lucius, I love you so very much. Please, don't ever leave me."
"I have no intentions of doing so, love," he replied, pressing a kiss to her hair.
Hermione felt an overwhelming amount of love for this man, this wonderful, complex man, who had fallen in love with her as hard as she had fallen for him.
"Yes pet?" he said softly, his voice still warm with love for his wife.
"You aren't the only one who was holding a secret for tonight," Hermione whispered, raising her head to meet his gaze as she brought his hand to her stomach.
"You're not serious…" he said with disbelief.
"You're going to have another son, Lucius," Hermione said with a hint of laughter in her tone. "I hope you're ready."
"Oh my darling, there is nothing I'm not ready for, so long as you are by my side."