Chapter translator: Aivy
Chapter beta: Dani
Why had I gone to the Manor for breakfast? I asked myself in irritation! What had caused me to expose myself to this? I could have stayed in my own home, or in the dungeons, before being exposed to the horrible, dull chatter of the other, incompetent professors and then having to endure the noisy, ill-mannered children in the evening, but this was even worse.
However, compared to the appalling situation that awaited me in Lucius' home, I preferred the noise and chatter of Hogwarts. What had the three of them done this time to create such a tense mood?
The minx, Hermione, the life and soul of the party, looked very attractive in a nice brown summer dress that showed her in the best light, but she was surprisingly taciturn. Every now and then she glanced furtively at Lucius and he looked at her with a gleam in his eye that was undeniable to me and that I had never seen or noticed in him before. They tried to keep this eye contact a secret, which made me raise my black eyebrow with a scowl.
Draco mostly looked at his empty plate. From the looks of it, he was not hungry. On closer inspection, I realised he was also slightly pale around the nose, as if he was feeling sick. Something must have happened during the night!
I could see him giving his father venomous glances from under his hair and occasionally adopting a tense posture.
Hermione, seemed more and more uncomfortable with the continued silence and now looked at me for help, but I gave her my unreadable look and just shrugged my shoulders for a moment. What did I know that was riding the drama queens that were the Malfoys? Was I always around?! She had to know what was going on, but she seemed surprisingly helpless in the situation. From the looks of it, you had to put the Dark Lord in front of her, then she could cope with anything. A bad-tempered Malfoy and an indefinably-tempered Malfoy, though, obviously just overwhelmed her. Thus I was delightfully entertained at her expense.
Quite abruptly, Lucius interrupted the silence and turned to Hermione in a demanding and blasé manner:
"You have some explaining to do, missy. What was that with Potter and you at the jeweller's yesterday? Such a stupid disguise, did you think I would not see through it? Spit it out, I want details. Who is his intended and how can he be so stupid?"
I saw her roll her eyes in annoyance, even letting Lucius see this, but he made no comment about it, just continued to stare at her in a wait-and-see manner that really surprised, almost shocked me. Then suddenly her gaze softened and became pleading, all I could think was what a manipulative bitch.
"Lucius, don't push it any further please, it's better if you don't know what he's planning, believe me." Astonished, I saw her pleading look, saw Lucius weighing and eyeing her. How she slid a hand towards his, but stopped just before it touched his. Their body language was weird, they seemed so turned towards each other all of a sudden. Lucius did not seem aggressive or annoyed because she asked him not to ask further, but seemed to be considering her words. Draco watched this like an eagle and I saw his pinched expression increase, far from pleased at their new familiarity. He seemed absolutely uninterested in the news about Potter. He was totally distracted by what was going on between those two, who were skilfully blocking us out and seemed to be openly courting lately.
Something was going on, this confirmed my suspicions, which I had already developed with the brilliant atmosphere that prevailed here at the table, and I knew nothing! What kind of spy was I? This was truly exasperating, my mood was getting better by the minute.
Yet what was that about Potter and getting engaged? I could guess who his beloved was, after all, I had been at the cottage. How could I have failed to notice who he had chosen - a Slytherin - but how could he be so stupid? Or the question was rather, how could he not be so stupid, with that father? It was to be expected; in my opinion, one looked in vain for brains in Potter anyway. Even if he had shown signs of improvement since last year, he was still a Potter, and neither he himself nor Lily's genes were a match for that.
I would have to give the minx a piece of my mind for letting Potter get away with such a stupid thing. He was putting himself and one of my Slytherins in danger. Could nobody explain to this idiot that this was not how it was done with purebloods? The minx should know that. So what game were the children playing? Hubris, I strongly suspected.
I was annoyed, but Lucius briefly distracted me from my irritation when he replied calmly and thoughtfully:
"Very well, I will ask no more. Potter does seem a bit precocious. Getting married straight away, what is he thinking? I can only hope for his sake that he knows this news must not get through to the Dark Lord under any circumstances, otherwise his little wife will be in the greatest danger. I suppose you are right, Hermione, the less I know about it the better, and as long as it is not you who is his intended, I shall not care!"
Wow, what had happened here to make Lucius give in so comprehensively and without asking for anything in return? However, after she nodded, silence returned to the table. I glared at her disgruntled, with great displeasure, and she stared back just as hard. We would have to talk about that. But in the meantime, father and son were back to furtively watching each other, and Hermione was also casting tentative glances at Lucius again, as we gave up our silent duel.
It seemed Lucius had had enough of this cautious appraising at the table and so he now cocked his head haughtily.
"Well, Draco, did you have a pleasant night?" I looked at Lucius in surprise at the tone and then looked at Draco who was clenching his teeth tightly, also noticed Hermione closing her eyes in defeat. Okay, what was going on here? What kind of drama was playing out before my unknowing eyes?
At that moment Draco took heart and now looked at his father with a frightening coldness.
"Probably not half as pleasant as you, Father," he hissed, straining to be calm. I saw the corners of Lucius' mouth lift gently and he replied lightly almost jovially:
"Quite so, quite so, Draco! She is very cuddly! But the fact that my night was more pleasant than yours is all your fault," Lucius said in a superior tone of voice. Hermione put her hand on Draco's thigh under the table, but he shook it off gruffly, which surprised me. What was happening here? Wait, what did cuddly mean? Was that what it implied? That Hermione had been in Lucius' bed? How so? That more than piqued my interest. Drama, I told you!
"I'm to blame? ME?" cried Draco angrily. In reaction, Lucius measured him coldly, now outright commanding:
"Hold yourself together! This is not how I raised you! And yes, you are to blame! How could you consider cheating on your girlfriend?" I heard Lucius' contemptuous tone and that is when Hermione gave up her self-control and put her face in her hands. I was perplexed. Excuse me? Draco had wanted to cheat on Hermione? When? What had I missed?
Hermione now relinquished her surrendering attitude, straightened up and looked at Lucius with astonishing urgency and, to my amazement, also placed her hand trustingly on his, whereupon he looked at her too. Quietly, softly and imploringly she said:
"Please, Lucius, don't!" She struck a tone in which she should not have spoken to him, far too familiar, not submissively pleading, but rather on equal terms, and why was she actually sitting next to him again? More and more often she sat in Draco's place, I noticed looking back on the last few weeks. What was the minx planning? I immediately thought only the worst of her, but I was always careful when she was concerned!
The look he gave her was surprisingly friendly, almost gentle. How shocking! I had seen him like that only once, when he had held his son and heir in his arms, and never since! The look that this son got now, compared to the minx, was frighteningly cold, but then again almost tender when it switched to her. This was a day whose memory I would fill into a vial, I must not forget any of this.
"No, Hermione, he must learn that now," he replied calmly but firmly. "You said so yourself that his impetuous way of acting rashly had not subsided. Therefore, I will now intervene. Imagine if he loses control when it is really a matter of life and death. He must be able to control himself and you have made your position clear to him often enough. I hope for your sake that he can control his jealousy now that... And it is in fact none of my business, but if he loses control, it will affect us all."
Wow, what had Draco done to incur Lucius' wrath? Sometimes the monkey business here was more exciting than anything else. It was like a madhouse in here.
Draco's displeasure was expressed in the anger flashing in his eyes. This time he was maltreating his napkin and not Hermione, as was her habit, but otherwise the unmoving mask sat quite well under consideration that it must have been seething inside him. With Lucius' harsh words, it was understandable. Why had Draco been tempted to betray the minx with another? Was he not lucky to have free reign over her all this time? I knew she was good, Draco should have no cause for complaint! Then why had he done this?
Stunned beyond measure, I now noticed how she lowered her head slightly, her gaze too, and responded quietly, positively devotedly:
"Yes, Lucius!" The little minx played it well, as if she were now docile. Yes, right, she might convince someone else of that, but I would not be fooled!
Lucius turned back to Draco with an arrogant look, who had been watching the whole scene crossly and now interjected coldly:
"So that's how far you've come, so familiar... I can see that. Now you're already talking about me as if I weren't present!" The grimace on his face looked pained. In a sudden move, Lucius slammed the head of the snake of his walking stick down on the table with force, but everyone was under control enough that no one flinched when it banged and he now suddenly spoke in a thundering voice:
"That is enough, Draco. Yesterday you did not listen to me, I had to instruct you three times to leave. What do you think I did to her while you were away? Your imagination must have been running wild for you to overreact like you did. We had a civilised conversation and I told your dear Hermione off because I found her gift not at all appropriate. Get a hold of yourself! Be afraid for her, be worried, be jealous, I do not care. Your feelings must not influence you in extreme situations, you must keep a cold head and those feelings can not be a reason for you to screw up, understand? And if you still mess up like you did yesterday because of your overflowing emotions, then bear it like a man, accept your guilt and do not play the offended party. I think a little distance would do you good in the future, so I have decided that when you come back here for Christmas, Hermione will have her own rooms. It is proper for a woman of the House, anyway. I will have Narcissa's chambers prepared for her," Lucius said. The way he had spoken, it was to be taken as law.
I struggled not to let my astonishment show, I was so perplexed! Narcissa's chambers? I mean, fine, I could understand him wanting to give her her own suite, but why not the one next to Draco's on the second floor? Why the chambers that belonged to the wife of the Lord of the Manor? Was he doing this just to spite Draco, or was Lucius playing another evil, strategic game here? He would elevate her to a high status. What was he up to, what was driving him? I was waiting in suspense. He was being very manipulative right now, and that's when I heard it.
Draco's chair fell over with a crash. He seemed to be boiling for good now, but then he slowly got himself under control again. He was struggling hard, noticeable by the way he was panting. I could see him wrestling for control. Hermione had now closed her eyes and was also fighting to keep her composure.
"May I be excused, Father?" Draco managed to ask flatly. Lucius nodded graciously and, before I could blink, the younger man had turned on his heel and was rushing out in an angry huff. The fact that he indirectly forbade Draco to share his bed with his girlfriend in the evening was indeed quite bold. What was he planning? Because surely a blind man could see that he wanted to achieve something with this act, and if there was one thing I was not, it was blind!
No sooner had the door slammed loudly into the lock than I saw her raise her head again. I honestly had never seen her wear an expression like that before. She looked at me sadly for a moment, but then she turned her gaze back to Lucius and I saw her features become even again. Obviously she had allowed me a brief glimpse into her emotional state before she showed Lucius her mask again. She reached for his hand once more and then spoke quietly, yet still a little beseechingly:
"Lucius, I know everything has a price with you. However, if this is the price I pay for coming to you, for looking for someone who listens to me and with whom I can talk openly and honestly, for trusting you, then I will not come to you again, there will be no more such conversations. I'm sorry and I think you are too, because I'm sure the evening at least appealed to you too."
Wow, again, and now she implied she knew that he had enjoyed it too, but it went straight on. I could see he was about to say something but she lifted her hand from his, waved it brusquely through the air and he remained silent even though he had already opened his mouth to say something. Truly amazing, the minx was always good for a surprise. Someone else should try to shut Lucius up. It almost seemed as if they were really meeting eye to eye, even more, he was letting her impose her will on him, that was unprecedented.
"Please, let me finish, this is hard for me right now. I don't mind you reprimanding or even punishing Draco for a loss of control, but that was private, that was a thing between him and me that I can handle myself, Lucius. I don't need your help with that, even though I'm honoured, because in a way you were also trying to defend my honour. But if you have any hope of a repeat of last night and the previous evening, then you should not use my trust to reprimand Draco. He is otherwise in control and what happens between him and me is our business," she sounded surprisingly firm and unbending.
She was really trying to tell Lucius what to do by forbidding his interference. Brave, brave... But it seemed she could get away with such a thing. Pray, now we had the disaster, the ice-cold and heart-dead Lucius Malfoy was lost in the brown pools of her beautiful eyes. I guess there had to be a first time for everything. I pulled the corners of my mouth in disdain. We were all too soft, I pronounced my judgement on us.
I saw Lucius' deliberate look, that he was thinking. Finally, he grasped Hermione's hand, which was resting on his, and, grinning slyly, declared:
"My offer for you to settle your debt still stands!" Then he lifted her hand and breathed a kiss on it, looking unblinkingly into her eyes. Then he lowered it again, but did not release it from his hand.
"I know!" she replied softly. If I hadn't known better, I would say he was flirting, and not because he was playing games.
His look became serious again, but not dismissive or anything like that, there was still this strange gentleness in it that was disconcerting to me.
"But seriously now, if you had wanted easy circumstances, you should never have started all this you are doing, Hermione. You especially should not have chosen a Malfoy and after all, you came back to me last night, I did not ask for this! Your trust in me is justified, but with what happened here yesterday and now, I could not stand idly by, it had to be done. If he thinks he can come at me because of that, it just shows once again that he is not in control, Hermione. I do not care how much it bothers him where you spent the night. He has no business snapping at me about it, because I have done nothing wrong, you know that. Basically, I have not even done what he is accusing me of, have I? I realise how my son feels and why he reacts the way he does, he is jealous, but he needs to get a grip on it and quickly because he is putting us in danger with it. At the Dark Lord's I had to restrain him from rushing to your aid too." He looked at her meaningfully.
Wow, did I want to witness something like that? No, it was absolutely disgusting to see him justify himself. A Malfoy did not do that! I should probably take him to the hospital, I thought sardonically.
Then he continued to speak calmly, seeming to want to lecture her, sounding very insistent, which showed how important it was to him that she understood:
"He has to finally get some equanimity, must not always act immediately in exceptional situations, and when it comes to you, he has to put into practice what he always says, and trust that you can help yourself. We should not and cannot always intervene, you have to stand up for yourself." He looked at her insistently, quite unusually, I thought. "And you can do that, I know you can and until he internalises that, he is a danger to you and all of us when we are with the Dark Lord. He cannot afford to lose control with the Lord, not in the slightest!"
I had to agree with him, the be-all and end-all was control and composure, those things were the most important things of all. He looked at her again more forcefully, properly caught her gaze, they looked into each other's eyes in a truly unavoidable way. Now he added almost imploringly:
"He would be a danger to your life, I will not allow that, you understand! Mistakes are unforgivable there, you have experienced that first hand, or do I have to remind you? He is not only putting you in danger, which would be bad enough, but all of us, Hermione!"
I could only agree with Lucius on that one, you could never make mistakes with the Dark Lord! It was nice that Draco had feelings, but he had to learn to control them. What interested me much more was the minx. What had happened that she had spent an evening, a whole night, with Lucius? What had this changed? Because there was no denying that Lucius was different.
Wow, how far do you think those two had gone? Could Lucius' protestations be believed? That I only trusted her, the minx, to a certain extent, well I would not have to emphasise that. The next words of Lucius brought me out of my mental stupor, because Lucius was also upset about something else, contrary to his usual cool manner.
"How can you forgive him so easily for trying to cheat on you with that prostitute?" showed Lucius a great incredulity and I was gobsmacked. A prostitute? I really should rethink my schedule. I should always be here when she was lodging here. Next time I must not miss such a drama, damn it! But then I thought: you do not know the minx very well, my dear Lucius, she is very pragmatic... and... Ta-da! I was right as usual, I visibly curled the corners of my mouth.
"Lucius, I slept with Severus when I was already involved with Draco! I'm the last person who can and should be pointing the finger at him," she said, sounding very harsh. At least she was consistent. And I sat there, as if carved out of stone, as Lucius gave me his look, which said so very little, except a certain coldness. Great, now she had dragged me into this, just great!
Okay, if she was bringing our sexual encounters to the table here, it must have gotten hot with Draco's tart, I was willing to see it in an amusing light.
And where had I been when things got so heated? I was getting very annoyed again, because my too-big nose had been hanging over some stupid potion Dumbledore was feeling entitled to. How stupid. When the world was ending at the Manor and something exciting, if not outright spectacular - who knows, even game-changing - happened for once and Lucius acted like a human, Draco like a git and the minx, well, like the minx that she was, then who was absent? Right, me, it was so obvious!
I grumbled to myself with my best demeanour, this was too annoying after all, but I would not have it held against me that I had shagged her. I washed my hands of the responsibility for that affair! After all, I had put good money in her hands. Except for that one time, I had done nothing she was not willing to do. They all ought to stop making such a fuss, I scowled. She had been my whore and if I had my way, she would be again soon enough. Lucius' possessiveness did not faze me.
"You are an amazing woman, Hermione, if you can be so above it," Lucius now echoed incredulously.
"Lucius, give him credit, she looked like me and he had had one too many! Not that I'm making excuses for him, but be honest, yes, even you, Severus, looking so uninvolved! After all, none of us have a normal life here. What do you want me to do? Hex him? Castrate him? What are the odds, if you have your way, that I am and will be faithful to Draco? I'd say it's close to zero!... Don't look so innocent, because you're not! When I'm right, I'm right," she said, rising brusquely, giving us a quick curtsy and disappearing with great grace.
Okay, what did she mean, she looked like her? Polyjuice potion, was my immediate guess as I turned my indifferent gaze to Lucius. But also that she was allowed to rush off like that without asking permission, Lucius accepting this indifferently, was frightening. What was she allowing herself to do here? What was she permitted to get away with here?
"Then you were finally in bed with the minx?" I asked quietly, and Lucius averted his eyes from the door she had rushed out of. My curiosity was boundless.
"Though it is none of your business, my dear Severus, but yes Hermione, was a guest in my bed last night," he grinned at me diabolically, baring his teeth and I automatically bared mine, looking at him spitefully.
"Then you too can now join the club that had the honour," I sneered. Great, now Lucius had enjoyed her, too. Oh well, it was not as if Lucius and I had not had the same woman many times, and even occasionally at the same time. So be it, but it only made me more impatient to finally feel the minx under me again. It was not going to get any easier for me after Draco's slip, I coldly calculated my options!
"Severus, Severus, what are you up to? You look so... interested," Lucius wanted to know distinguishedly and I looked at him sceptically, not answering. "Severus, are you weighing your chances right now?" inquired Lucius, looking at me curiously.
"And if I were?" I wondered where he stood.
"Then I hope you enjoy yourself, my old friend, but only if you mean it!.... I do not want anyone to hurt her recklessly! However, should you be sincere, then let the fight begin!" He grinned in anticipation, as if he was already imagining how he could win her over.
"Are you serious?" I asked incredulously. "What about Draco?"
He gave me a smug look and answered coldly:
"Well, as sorry as I am, I have no consideration for that and if he behaves like he did last night, he does not deserve her!"
I thought I had misheard. He was worried about someone and I should be careful that nothing happened to Hermione. Wow, when was the last time Lucius had asked for that? I think Draco had been five then. Even though he would never admit it in his lifetime, he felt something for the minx. Which was not unusual, the three fools that we were for becoming entangled in her snares, I thought, miffed but amused at the same time. A worried Lucius... Too divine, the little minx was truly always good for a nasty surprise.
The most exciting thing was, Lucius showed extreme possessiveness and a full-blown protective instinct! Yes, I would not advise anyone, especially the Lestranges, to get in his way. That was how our breakfast drew to a close. For I did not even begin to consider that I would be able to pull the cane out of his butt so that he would answer me beyond what he had already shared, which was a lot. I knew him, the tyrannical despot, too well for that.
End of Severus’ POV
Without asking and without waiting for their answers, I withdrew. I still showed respect by curtsying, but since last night I had the feeling of meeting Lucius more at eye level than before. I'd taken a lot of liberties at the breakfast table, I knew that, and he'd allowed me more than I deserved, if only by instructing me again to take Draco's place beside him.
As he had clearly shown me yesterday with his bow, I did have Lucius' respect. Even though it annoyed me that he tried to play us off against each other again, Draco and I, since he wanted to give me Narcissa's rooms, that also had a meaning. Again, he was showing me his respect, giving me the rooms that belonged to the master of the manor's wife, which honoured me, but on the other hand, made me shudder. What was he up to?
I hurriedly ascended the stairs to our suite. I hadn't just said goodbye in such a hurry because I didn't feel like having any more discussions, neither with Lucius, who was still surprisingly direct, open and sociable - the night seemed to have rubbed off - nor with Severus, who was grumpy and bad-tempered, as always, and above all curious.
Later today, on the train, I would have enough time to sort out everything that had happened in the last few hours. I had to figure out what Lucius' behaviour meant and what I should and would make of it if he wanted me differently now, completely and utterly, just me, as he had said. I knew he wasn't in love, he didn't know such a thing, but what was it then? Well, I would unravel that later, for now we had to go. Time was running out, because we still had to pick up the others.
I opened the door to our suite and saw Draco putting the last things into his bag. Mine was already packed and I took it from the desk without a single comment, hung it over my shoulder and reached out my hand to Draco's, looking at him with a smile and said:
"Come on, it's time!"
He shook his head and looked at me intently.
"Not like this," he said softly, stepping towards me and smiling, kissed me gently on the forehead, took a step back and offered me his arm, then said firmly, "I want to do it properly."
I hooked arms with him and he gave a satisfied nod, grabbed his briefcase and together we left his suite, which we would not be sharing again. As the door shut with a muffled thud behind us, this goodbye felt so final and made me kind of wistful. Draco suddenly stopped, turned to me and I looked at him questioningly. I would almost say that for him, the slamming of the door to the rooms we would not share again felt similarly final, but he didn't show it. He was back to being the calm, in control, confident young man I loved to have around. In a firm voice he declared:
"Let's put all this behind us. Let's forget about this whole, damnable holiday, in which there was one disaster after another and which ended just as much in disaster. I don't know what got into me yesterday, and I'm kind of glad that the alcohol not only gives you a mighty headache, but also makes you forget... In a minute we'll be out of here, and at Hogwarts the team is just us, the rest of the family doesn't count!"
He looked at me earnestly and full of feeling and I nodded. Gently he lifted my hand, which was on his arm, to his lips, kissed it lovingly and smiled at me, then whispered:
I nodded fiercely, poised, and so together we strode down the stairs into the entrance hall, where Lucius was already waiting to see us off.
End of Hermione’s POV
I waited impatiently in the hall. Severus had left a few minutes ago, in a strange mood. Earlier he had tried to question me further about Hermione, but I had been unwilling to say much.
The whole of last evening had gone in an interesting direction, but the little whore had made one thing very clear to me: I wanted an uninhibited, passionate, feisty and confident Hermione when I finally had her, not one who held back even a little bit because she only got into bed with me because she wanted revenge on Draco or to achieve something else. I did not want a Hermione who forced herself to sleep with me for whatever reason.
No, I wanted her to want me, just as I wanted her, otherwise I would be denied her essence that had so fascinated and arguably captivated me. She should come to my bed voluntarily and give herself to me completely, spiritually as well as physically. I had to admit, I had underestimated her. Her idea of how to pay off her debt had been ingenious, but she could not have expected that my interest in her would change so much. I had not expected that either!
The fact that even I had underestimated her demanded my respect. It had become clear to me that I wanted to possess her completely and that I could only achieve that if I respected her, allowed her to meet me perhaps even as an equal and also trusted her in a certain sense. I was sure I was making huge concessions to her, especially in Severus' eyes, but also in Draco's, although I had to admit they were not difficult to make because she was so extraordinarily brilliant. Not to use her mind would truly be a waste.
Nevertheless, I had to be honest , keeping my lust and desire for her under control when she was as close to me as she was last night or this morning demanded all my self-control, drove me almost to the brink of madness. I had to remind myself that I did not want her like that, even if I could easily seduce her now and she would give herself to me in body and that too without much resistance because she reacted positively to me. I wanted her to come to me and seduce me and that because she wanted me, nothing more, nothing less. Maybe in a few months I would see this differently and try to push her a little more again, but at the moment I was in this mood that was peculiar to me.
Too much coercion, however, would amount to a single act, perhaps a brief affair, which would be truly unsatisfying. She would not give herself to me as I wished to have her after I had realised she would not be as anxious as everyone else.
There they came, of one accord, her on his arm, seeming poised, as if butter would not melt in her mouth. My son's expression was such that no one would have guessed that he had gone off the deep end not twenty minutes ago. Obviously they had patched things up, which had been clear to me after her open and clear words that she stood by Draco. But I was curious. Would she take me up on my offer to pay off her debt with just a kiss, thus snubbing, humiliating and embarrassing Draco?
They came to stand in front of me. Draco disengaged his arm from her, took another half step towards me and said coolly:
"Father!" He nodded curtly and was about to step back, but I put a hand on his shoulder, looked him firmly in the eye and realised he really was in full control again.
On the one hand, I had been hard on him at breakfast, I knew that, and even though I had laid it out in such detail and logic in front of Hermione as to why I was doing that, if I was honest, it had only been half the truth. Of course it was important that he kept control in extreme situations and that he did not mess up because his emotions were out of control, but actually he had never really let me down in that regard.
He was still young and his youthful impetuosity still showed sometimes, but that was okay. Yet somehow it had bothered me that he had wanted to cheat on Hermione, his girlfriend, with a prostitute, when she was always available to him, as I had been able to observe with my own eyes only the other day.
I had seen how upset she had been and certainly hurt, even if she had not shown it, and that had awakened my protective instinct. I had felt that I had give him a piece of my mind for the crap he had pulled. I did not want him to hurt her unnecessarily.
We both looked at each other determinedly and I said quietly:
"Make me proud, son!"
This time he nodded curtly and replied, still chilly:
"Of course, father!"
I withdrew my hand again and he stepped away from me. Now I had to bid them farewell. A charming smile on my lips, eager to see what she would do now, if she would pay her debt, I stepped towards her and she towards me.
She came closer to me and I took the initiative, hugged her warmly, which she returned, then I wanted to stand up straight again, but she held me tightly, slowly stood on her tiptoes and looked me urgently in the eyes. I had no idea what it was about her that told me this, but it was clear to me that she would not pay her debt. Slowly she approached me and then I felt her soft, gentle, red lips on my cheek as she kissed me.
No sooner had she done so than she broke away from me again. Such a pity. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Draco press his lips together, even this seemed to go too far for him. She still did not let go of me though, had her hands on my upper arms and was looking at me, and I was still holding her too, had my hands lightly on her waist, when she now said softly, smiling sincerely:
"Thank you Lucius, not for everything, but for a lot!" I raised a brow questioningly. What did she mean exactly? But she just shook her head slightly and replied, "You know what for!"
I nodded, could guess she was alluding to many things. Like when I had punished her and spanked her, she certainly was not grateful for that. Then again, she was also referring to things I had accommodated her with during the holidays, as well as the previous evening. I was disappointed that she had not settled her debt, but on the other hand, I was aware, she did it because she did not want to embarrass Draco, did not want to humiliate him and did not want to give him another blow that would have cost him control again.
This decision, which for her meant that she would continue to be in my debt, that she would not be able to repay it as easily as she could have today, I found admirable, as it showed how strong she was and what she was prepared to do for Draco. He was lucky to have her by his side and hopefully he knew that too, as loyal as she was. I would appreciate it because with her, such a strong, loyal and intelligent woman by my side, I would have the world at my feet. We could make an unbeatable team.
Too bad that was not an option at the moment. We stepped apart and I reached into my robe, pulled out a small green package and handed it to her. She looked at me questioningly as she accepted it and I explained:
"I saw you liked it and I am sure you would try to buy it somewhere but, you are not going to find it anywhere else." I had, after leaving my suite this morning and seeing the covetous look she had given the book that had captivated her yesterday, decided to give it to her, as a gift.
My actual gift, which I had bought when I had met her and Potter while shopping, remained in my bedside cupboard. Her presence in the small goldsmith's shop had been another reason, apart from my curiosity, why I had wanted to wait to make my purchase until she and Potter had been served and had left the shop. Having her there when I was picking out a gift for her was, well, counterproductive. I had decided against that gift though, for now, maybe it would find a use someday. After yesterday, I felt the fine, silver, slender necklace with the small emerald sitting in a very delicate silver setting was not the right gift for her. It was so meaningless, so unimaginative, just jewellery, this meant more, it showed, I had noticed what she liked.
"For this too, thank you, Lucius!" she replied smiling with a slight curtsy.
"I thought that was more fitting than anything else I had come up with. Open it on the train," I instructed, also smiling. She nodded and was probably about to say something else when Draco gruffly interrupted her:
"Hermione, we have to go, it's time!"
She nodded, not taking her eyes off me as I took a half step back, grabbed her hand, just like the night before gave a formal bow that no one else, not even the Dark Lord got from me. I bowed to no one! Then I gently placed my lips on her hand. Even as I bowed, I heard my son draw in his breath sharply behind her, knowing what it could mean when I paid my respects to her like that, and I was sure she knew or suspected it too. I was also sure Draco was genuinely assuming the most extreme scenario of what I might want after that bow, but I certainly was not going for that right now. A new wife was the last thing I wanted, for now anyway.
I did not breathe an air-kiss on the back of her hand, as was customary, but crossed that line and really touched her tender skin with my lips. Meanwhile, I kept my eyes on her face the whole time, holding her gaze and she mine. I was impressed, she showed a reaction that I would never have expected her to be able to do, she blushed. I had thought her so hardened, and now she blushed from my kiss on her hand and from being under my covetous, charming gaze.
She was really unique, so cold and calculating and yet full of life, feelings and also passion, which I liked incredibly well. It was already absolutely clear to me that I had to possess her and would not rest until she was by my side. As sorry as I was for Draco, the battle was on, for real. Everything before had been fun games to get her into my bed, but now I wanted her!
I let go of her, stepping back fully now, and she turned to him, clasping his proffered arm and just nodding at me again with a smile. My son gave me a cold look, then they turned their backs on me and strode through the large entrance portal.
The holidays were over and I had a lot to do.
End of Lucius’ POV
As we left the Manor, Draco at my side, he was clearly displeased, but said nothing for the moment and I was very overwhelmed by Lucius' way of engaging me, even if I didn't let it show. He knew what he was doing and how he was doing it. He was a manipulator, but an extremely beguiling man; the only bad thing was that he knew very well how he affected me.
I had thoughtfully decided to refuse his offer. It would have been a disaster if I had done so. If I had accepted his demand, I could say with certainty, Draco would have lost his temper and I didn't want that. Even though he had snubbed me yesterday, and hurt me too, I didn't want to make his rocky relationship with his father any more difficult. And as I said, I would never admit it to Draco, but the fact that he got so worked up that he succumbed to Alice in my disguise, well I found that almost laughable by now.
It was only when we materialised under the massive old oak tree in front of the cottage that he couldn't take it any more.. I was about to walk towards the little cottage when he grabbed me by the arm and held me back.
"Wait, we need to talk, now, briefly," came the demand harsh and cold from him.
I looked at him questioningly, knowing that he had just been annoyed by Lucius' attempts at flirting, but I had thought that after we had left our suite together in such a combative and harmonious spirit, everything was settled. He could usually deal with problems as pragmatically as I could, but now he seemed to be boiling again, even if he suppressed it.
He ran his hand indignantly through his meticulously groomed hair, destroying its perfect style, and looked at me sorrowfully, then sighed.
"Do you know what his bow to you means? Do you have any idea what it all means, that you get Mother's rooms? That you get to behave towards him the way you did at breakfast? Interrupting him, asking him for a favour without being invited to do so, and he doesn't reprimand you but explains his motives to you in detail? He doesn't usually do that, never. Hermione, that horrified me, it really did, that's why I jumped up like that, freaked out like that," he said very forcefully.
I understood him only partially, but I knew that a bow showed the necessary respect. I also knew that as head of the family he didn't really do that and wanted to show me that he respected me, but I didn't think it was more important. He played, as always, and according to the rules that existed in the family. I knew he wouldn't have done that before last night. Things had changed yesterday. We were more familiar with each other, I would even say I had come to trust him to a certain extent, different from trusting him to protect me when I was in danger, maybe I should call it confidence, because I felt I could talk to him now.
However, I had not considered all this to be so extremely important. Of course I was aware that I was not rid of Lucius' advances, they would continue, even more so now because he was not simply interested in my body. But well, that didn't mean anything had really changed, did it? Or would he now gallantly court me? Very well, that would be exciting.
"He's manipulating and playing games, as he always does," I replied with a shrug. "And yes, he bowed to me. He did that last night too-" I was about to continue speaking but Draco sucked in a hissing breath, grabbing me roughly by the upper arms.
"He did that last night too?" he interrupted me, upset and very agitated. I nodded, looking at him uncomprehendingly. Why he was freaking out now, I didn't understand.
"Yes, so what, he kissed my hand too, it's normal for him. He's playing, so what? I know what he wants, that he still wants me. But he has made it clear to me that he won't and doesn't want to force me to do anything, that he wants me to come voluntarily. That's also good in a way, because I simply won't do that! He will no longer try to pull me into his bed by any means! I certainly know the rules, you taught them to me and I know what a great show of respect that is, especially from him, who never bows. But Draco, he's playing, as usual," I showed myself unfazed.
Draco let go of me, turned around, his back to me and it looked to me as if, quite uncharacteristically, he was drooping his head and shoulders. I heard him take a deep breath, stepped up behind him and put my arms around his middle, bedding my head against his back, snuggling up to him. Then I whispered:
"What's wrong Draco? What didn't I understand?" I felt and heard him sigh again, felt the heavy heaving of his chest under my arms, then he spoke softly, a deep, regretful tremor in his voice:
"I lost, Hermione, I've lost you," he said with finality. This statement of his confused me, but I sensed from his posture and voice that he meant it and believed it too. I tried to turn him to face me, but he would not allow it, standing stiffly. So I stepped around him, stood in front of him and looked at him. His gaze and features were incredibly sad when he looked back at me. It was clear to me that he didn't want me to see him like that, but I didn't let him get away. This had to be cleared up now, because this obsession about him having lost me was bullshit.
Tenderly, I grabbed his face, put my hands on his cheeks and forced him to look at me.
"Explain this to me, why would you have lost me, Draco? You know my feelings for you and everything that happened yesterday we worked out with each other. So what should come between us? You wear my mark, I wear yours, I don't understand!"
Now he took the initiative again, all of a sudden, pulling me strongly to him and holding me tightly, pressing me against him, then he began to speak calmly, seemingly more in control of himself again:
"Hermione, he doesn't want you just like that! Never, not even to Mother or the Dark Lord, has he ever bowed. He doesn't do that, he doesn't need to. Hermione, he treats you like the mistress of the house, not like the only woman in the family who has duties and rights, no, like the Lady of the Manor, who is usually the wife of the Lord of the Manor, and even worse, he treats you as if you were at eye level with him. I think Severus has noticed that too, you can ask him. Hermione, he wants a lot more than to pull you into his bed, I'm sure of it and he won't give up until he achieves his goal and I know eventually you will give in.
"Accepting that was bad enough when he tried to get you into his bed, but now I fear he may want to make you the next Mrs Malfoy at some point. I don't think there are any feelings involved, he just sees an advantage. I was able to counter his advances to get you into bed, because I knew you'd sleep with him once and then it would be over, but if he's serious about you, then I'll lose to him eventually. Which under the new circumstances would mean I don't just lose you for one night, I lose you forever!"
I broke free of his embrace, taking a step back but still holding onto him, looking urgently into his eyes.
"Draco, no matter how he wants me, I will not give in. Everything that happened yesterday was, well, not ideal, backfired, but we coped. If one day I do become Mrs Malfoy, it will be by your side. I will not give in to his wooing. Even if it's now less sexual and more based on respect, I will stand firm and I will do so because I belong to you and because I don't want him, Draco. The man by my side is you, understand that," I tried to convince myself of my own words, for Lucius was a seductive man with much to offer and I liked him, but I was just stubborn.
"You belong to me, carry my mark, my blood in you and I will not leave your side," I declared with a grip on his neck. "We both know how hard times are and that we have to do things that aren't normal, but you are so strong, you have to become that now in your faith in me. We are together, we belong together. I'm not just saying that we've searched for each other and found each other. I don't understand why you have so little faith in me in that regard, why you think I'm so fickle. What else should I do to prove to you that I will stay by your side? Work on yourself, we'll work on ourselves and we'll get through this together, all of this! Now, let's go inside or we'll all miss the Hogwarts Express," I said very solemnly, and I wanted it that way.
He nodded, sighed again and said, uncharacteristically soft and resigned:
"I will do everything I can, Hermione, and I will trust you, yes. But I know Father very well and he is a charming and charismatic bastard."
Then he did something he hadn't done in a long time because that wasn't how we usually were with each other, but extraordinary circumstances also made our shields slip, he stepped towards me, pulled me to him, kissed me full of passion, devotion and intensity, then whispered so softly I barely understood him:
"I love you," but before I could say anything back, he interrupted the moment, stepped back, grabbed my hand and said, now confident again and the one I wanted to see. "Come on, we're running out of time!"
I suppressed a snicker at his change of heart, just nodded, grabbed his hand and followed him. We entered the cottage and he was back in his element as soon as we entered.