A/N: Hello readers! So, in case you don't know, this is the sequel to The Case of the Creature Kidnappings. I recommend you read that first or bits of this one might get confusing.
I know I said I wasn't going to post this until it was completely written, but I'm halfway through writing the last chapter (there's 33 if you're wondering) and I got impatient. Since it's already written, posting should be pretty regular. I'm aiming for at least once a week.
As always, thanks to irianaceleste for betaing.
Like a general planning strategic moves on a map, Hermione set the large table in the Malfoy dining room, carefully nudging every fork and spoon into just the right places. There was a House Elf watching her with large, anxious eyes, but she ignored the creature. Everything had to be perfect, and Hermione knew that if this was going to be so, she had to do it herself.
Whatever bout of insanity had led her to go along with Draco's idiotic plan to shag like rabbits instead of answering the questions of her friends had lasted several days, but once the pheromones had faded and the chafing began, she'd been forced back to reality. Avoiding her friends and the real world – including the Ministry's laws – wasn't going to do her any good in the long run.
When everything was finally perfect, she reviewed it one last time before nodding and leaving the room. She didn't notice the anxious House Elf spring into action, shifting all the dishes ever so slightly so that the table setting fit with the elf's view of perfection instead of Hermione's. Hermione would notice and be displeased, but hopefully it would be after the guests arrived.
"Granger, you're being ridiculous and the Hose Elves are getting fed up with your micro-managing. Potter and the Weasel aren't going to withhold their forgiveness if the table isn't set to perfection or if the soup is too watery. Calm down," Draco ordered. He was lounging in his bed, watching her flit around his room looking for the perfect outfit.
Hermione had been a basket case since sending a letter to Harry with an apology for brushing him off and an invitation asking him and Ron to lunch at the Manor, where she would give them full access to the garden to investigate the statue that looked suspiciously like the missing Kate. Her anxiety had taken the form of obsessively trying to make everything perfect. She knew Draco was right and that micro-managing everything about the lunch wasn't going to make them forgive her, but it gave her something to do to keep her mind off of all the potential for disaster.
Harry and Ron were definitely mad at her and she had invited them into Malfoy Manor with Draco present. Even with careful management, a script for them to read, and heavy-duty calming potions, there was a very good chance that someone would get hexed.
"You," Hermione said when she was finally dressed to her satisfaction, "Are going to get dressed, go down there to lunch, and behave. I don't need you there making snarky comments and getting Harry and Ron all riled up. This is going to be hard enough without you deliberately riling my friends."
In a horribly false attempt to appear innocent, Draco widened his eyes and forcibly restrained the smirk that his twitching lips hinted at. "I'm hurt that you have such a skewed picture of my character, Granger."
She snorted. "My picture of your character is very accurate, thank you. Now if you don't have anything nice to say once they're here, don't say anything at all."
Draco's shirt was half buttoned when Hermione poked her head back inside the room. "And remember to make sure Sylvester is secured!"
The small flying horse that Eros had left with them was just as much trouble as one would expect from something created by such a troublesome deity. Every morning, it was a battle to keep Sylvester away from their breakfast. The small horse had a strange attraction to scrambled eggs, yet didn't possess a stomach that could handle the food. On those annoyingly frequent occasions when he managed to mysteriously escape whatever room they locked him in, he stormed the breakfast table, practically inhaled all the scrambled eggs, and then immediately threw them up again. Once this ordeal had been enacted, the small horse had a habit of collapsing into a puddle of his own vomit right there on the table and making pathetic little squeaking sounds until someone helped him.
The last thing Hermione needed was Sylvester unleashed on her already edgy guests.
Harry and Ron had been understandably stony to her when she opened the Manor door and welcomed them inside. She led them to the dining room, only experiencing the briefest moment of panic when she saw that the table settings had all been changed slightly. The House Elves were going to get a talking to once Harry and Ron left.
"This is ridiculous," Harry said, sitting down and frowning as plates piled with food appeared in the middle of the table, just as they used to at Hogwarts. "What possible good do you think will come from making us sit down to eat in Malfoy Manor?"
As an answer, Hermione slanted her eyes over to Ron, who had already reached for the food and loaded up his plate. She knew that her friend was still upset with her, but she also knew that he had never been one to let his anger get in the way of his appetite. Hermione half hoped that, after such a wonderful meal, Ron would be lethargic and the edge would be taken off of his anger. Harry, on the other hand, wasn't going to be so easy to sway.
Obviously getting her point, Harry's eyes narrowed slightly. "Serving us lunch won't make us forgive you for the horrible way you treated us last week, Hermione." He shuddered minutely. "I'm never going to get the images out of my head."
Of course, that was the moment when Draco entered. "Can't get me out of your head, Potter? I always knew you had a thing for me."
Hermione shot him a look that would have probably peeled the paint from the wall behind him if he hadn't been there to block it. Unfortunately, Draco had built an impressive immunity to her glares and was able to saunter into the room and take his seat unscathed.
Immediately, the already tense atmosphere in the room worsened. Draco brought with him an aura of arrogance and contempt that grated on most people under the best of circumstances. Sometimes his attitude had its uses, but certainly not at an apology lunch.
When Ron stopped eating to glare at Draco, Hermione knew for certain that the lunch wasn't going to end well.
"What is he doing here?" Ron demanded, thankfully after swallowing his food.
"I live here, Weasel."
Ron reddened. "What I meant was what are you doing interfering with our talk with our friend?"
Sensing a fight coming on, Hermione put a stop to it before it escalated. She didn't want to have to explain to Narcissa how a nice lunch had degraded until the furniture was in danger. Narcissa would probably understand once she heard who was in attendance, but it would still be embarrassing for Hermione. Ruining furniture was more of a concern inside Malfoy Manor than it was elsewhere; in Malfoy Manor, the majority of the furniture had been around for the Dark Ages and was more valuable than anything Hermione would ever own.
Some of the oldest furniture had started to develop a bit of a mind of its own from prolonged exposure to magic, and wouldn't take well to being destroyed. Hermione didn't want to be around in the event that the furniture decided to trounce the Malfoys for being abusive.
"Draco is here because I want him here – and he's promised to behave," Hermione said with a pointed look towards her partner.
Smirking, Draco crossed his arms behind his head and tipped his chair, balancing it on the back legs. Hermione gave him a reproachful look for tilting his chair, but she knew that it was a losing battle and didn't waste any more effort on such pointlessness. He was too busy staring at something on the ceiling to notice her glare anyway. She let him entertain himself; as long as he wasn't baiting her friends or causing any trouble, he could do what he wanted.
"Are you going to tell us how Kate got into Malfoy's garden and how she was turned into a statue?" Harry asked, always right to the point. Until he got his answers it was unlikely that he'd allow himself to be distracted. He had finally given in and put a few things on his plate, but he hadn't shown even the slightest inclination to eat some of the delicious lunch that the Malfoy elves had prepared.
Hermione bit her lip. She glanced at Draco for help, but he was still staring at the ceiling and smirking. It looked like she was on her own.
"I can't." She was genuinely saddened by the necessity of withholding the information from her friends, but she couldn't exactly tell Harry that a goddess had taken offense at Kate's schemes and decided that Azkaban wasn't enough of a punishment for her crimes. Despite the prevalence of magic in their society, there was no place for the divine in their laws.
Harry's eyebrows furrowed. "You're not going to tell me anything?"
"I wish I could," she said, her tone begging him to understand, "But I can't."
Obviously channelling his inner Dumbledore, Harry steepled his fingers in front of his face. If his glasses had been of the half-moon variety, Hermione was sure that he would have been looking at her over the tops of them. "Hermione," he said very slowly and carefully, "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
Again, she glanced at Draco, but he was still staring up at the ceiling. Hermione wasn't thinking that Draco would have any answers, she'd merely thought that maybe he could wordlessly communicate an answer that Harry would find satisfactory. What she hadn't thought was that Harry would misinterpret her glance.
Wondering what in the world Draco was staring at, Hermione followed Draco's eyes to the chandelier that hung above the table. It was an ornate thing in beautiful cream colour with gold leaf and multiple crystals, but it wasn't the actual chandelier that had Draco's attention, it was the emerald green, lacy bra that hung from one of the branches of said chandelier. Hermione immediately went white and averted her eyes back to her friend, praying that neither of them would look up.
"I see," Harry said, shooting Malfoy a look and obviously getting an entirely false impression form her little drama.
"No, Harry, it's not what you're thinking!"
It was too late. Harry was already up from the table and storming towards the door, probably going back to the Ministry so that he could unleash the legislative wrath of the Ministry on Draco.
Hermione chased after him. She really didn't want to show him the bra, but horrifying her friends was preferable to having Draco arrested.
Ron watched Harry and Hermione leave and took a different approach. He grabbed Malfoy's collar, yanked him forward until they were nose to nose and growled, "If you so much as look at Hermione threateningly, I'll make sure that you never see the light of day again."
Finished, Ron thrust Draco back into his chair and followed after Harry.
The only reason he was allowed to walk away unscathed after uttering such a threat was because Draco knew that he was already in enough trouble and any retaliation on his part would lead him to probably weeks of a lonely bed. While he didn't like to admit it, he'd grown accustomed to having Granger around and the thought of her going back to her own home wasn't an appealing one.
As Hermione watched her friends walk down the front steps of Malfoy Manor headed towards the front gates where they could Disapparate, she had time to do some quick calculations in her head. She had Draco had made love on the dining room table two days ago. There was no way that the bra had gone unnoticed by the House Elves for so many days, so she had to believe that it was some kind of sabotage attempt on Draco's part. His amused smirk only added to this theory. She didn't want to believe that Draco would do such a thing, but there was so much evidence against him, not to mention the fact that few things pleased him more than upsetting Harry and Ron.
When Hermione returned to the dining room, all prepared to berate Draco within an inch of his life, she found that she wasn't the only one with that idea.
Narcissa was standing there with her hands on her hips, holding Hermione's bra in one hand and using the other one to push Draco's shoulder. She looked only seconds away from twisting his ear like he was an errant child. If it wasn't so horrifying, Hermione would have been amused at the way Draco's shoulders hunched slightly under his mother's scolding.
"We eat here!" Narcissa was saying, "I don't care what you do with Hermione. I think she's a lovely girl, but you don't need to be defiling her where we eat – and don't even try to pretend that this wasn't your idea, Draco Lucius Malfoy, this has your work written all over it."
Mortified, Hermione met Draco's eyes behind Narcissa's back. From his expression, she could tell that he knew Hermione was angry with him.
Quickly, before Narcissa was done yelling at Draco, Hermione retreated from the dining room and made her way back to Draco's bedroom. She really didn't want to face the embarrassment of looking into Narcissa's eyes after hearing what she'd said to Draco, it was too humiliating.
It was a surprisingly long time before Draco found her. Narcissa must have had a whole list of things that he'd done to anger her for it to take so long getting it all off of her chest. Hermione only hoped that the brief portion of the scolding that she'd witnessed was the only sex related part of the lecture.
"In my defense," he said as soon as he entered the room and took in Hermione's stormy expression, "I planned on horrifying them with images that they'd never be able to get out of their heads, not embarrass you like that."
At least he understood part of why she was so upset.
"You knew how important this lunch was to me," Hermione said. At first, she'd been all set to yell his ears off just like his mother had been doing, but then she had realized that doing such things weren't going to make Draco change his nature. He was never going to get along with her friends if he never tried, and he didn't seem willing to put in that little bit of effort even though it meant so much to her.
Draco sighed, feeling a little bad that he had played a pretty large role in the distress that his girlfriend clearly felt.
"Granger..." He trailed off, not really having a direction with his sentence. There was nothing he could say that would make her less upset with him about his running off of her friends. He hadn't put the bra there, but he hadn't done a thing to subtly remove it once he'd noticed that it was hanging from the light fixture. It would have been pretty simple for him to overtly point his wand at the garment and vanish the thing before anyone could notice it.
After waiting a few beats to see if he would at least apologise, Hermione sighed. "Don't bother, Draco."
Beside Hermione was her beaded bag with the undetectable expansion charm. Over the week she'd spent with Draco, a number of her things had found their way into his room. She'd taken those things and packed them up, ready to be taken back to where they belonged.
Draco's eyes were drawn to the bag as she picked it up and stood from his bed. He knew what that bag meant but couldn't seem to bring himself to beg her to stay. While he'd changed a little because of her good influence, he hadn't changed so much that he was willing to beg her not to leave him. That was a level of desperate he'd yet to reach – and hoped he never did.
"I'm going to go back to my apartment," Hermione said in a monotone. "I'll see you at work tomorrow."
He wasn't really comforted by the fact that she wasn't going to ignore him again. There was an unpleasant feeling in the pit of Draco's stomach telling him that there were worse things than the silent treatment that his partner could do to him.
His pride not allowing him any other options, Draco let her leave.