Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 18 of 25

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"Do you play piano, Lucius?"

He frowned at one of her curls, winding it pensively around his gloved finger. "Yes." The natural question—how had she known?—hung in the air between them like old static, but he did not voice it. Perhaps he'd overheard her conversation with Luna on the doorstep, and perhaps Luna Lovegood was not a subject he wanted to broach at the moment.

Still, he hadn't pulled away, had remained there beside her on the couch, his arm wound around her with a lazy familiarity. She took it as an encouragement and pressed on. "And the violin?"

"I prefer the viola. It produces a richer sound." He paused. "I tried to get Draco involved with the violin when he was a boy. Fergus had given up on him but I believed, if I perhaps tutored him myself, he would develop a taste for it. But Draco was far more interested in the guitar—not that he ever learned to play that, either. I wouldn't allow it." Lucius smiled, but far from being a happy expression Hermione could see years of bitterness behind it.

She frowned at him, feeling the questions piling up on her tongue, but afraid that any more words she spoke would spoil their quiet tête-à-tête. He seemed done talking and had gone back to fiddling with her hair, gently plucking and stroking the curls, perhaps trying to tame them. Oh Lucius, you're always fighting a losing battle.

"Why didn't you teach him?" she dared at last, almost twenty seconds after the fact, and he gave her an amused little half-glance out of the corners of his eyes.

"I've always found it to be rather uncouth. An instrument for street people. A Muggle instrument. And like most poorly qualified parents, I also believed, with enough pressure, I could mold my son into something that suited me. I did not like the guitar. Therefore, Draco would not like it either. And if he did, that could be corrected."

He didn't look away as he spoke, allowing the intimacy of their eye-contact to deepen and extend down into Hermione's soul. The melancholy was back in his face: a silent acknowledgement of his failure as a parent.

"Well," Hermione said slowly, "you could teach him now, couldn't you? If he still wanted?"

There was a long beat of silence. Lucius regarded her with the air of trying to determine if she was joking. When he spoke, his words were thick with cold sarcasm. "Is that really a thing you can imagine happening?"

She lifted her chin. "Of course. People teach their children things all throughout their lives—even when they're adults. It's normal."

Lucius stared at her, long and hard. "I'm sure, with these hypothetical people you're referencing, there is a conspicuous absence of war, trauma and hatred."

She heaved a sigh. "All I'm saying is, maybe Draco would like you to teach him something he wants to learn. Maybe, instead of looking at it like too little too late, you could look at it as a step in a better direction."

"How I look at anything is irrelevant," Lucius bit off.

Hermione pursed her lips. "You're worried about him rejecting you if you try to repair things?" She watched his mouth press into a hard line. Fighting her self-preserving instinct—he still made her nervous, especially with him glowering like that—she reached up and soothed her fingertips along the silky hairs at his temple, down along the strong line of his jaw, trying to ease the tense muscles. To her immense pleasure, he relaxed, ever so slightly, into her touch. "I feel silly saying it, I'm really in no position to be giving anyone advice, least of all you, but I—I think this will help," she said quietly, and his eyes darted to her, calculating. "I really think, if you reach out to Draco, you'll be surprised by the response. It's a risk. But maybe it'll be worth it." She leaned back and raised her voice to normal, smiling as she added, "But this is all really irrelevant, seeing as we're about to kidnap and imprison him against his will. I'm sure he won't be in the mood for making nice with anyone for quite some time."

Lucius smiled obliquely at her.

Hermione shouldn't have been surprised that even chatting with Lucius Malfoy was a risky activity.

To be fair, he remained quite tame and—dare she say it—polite while they'd simply talked, enjoying the tea things her friends had left arranged on the coffee table. They kept the subject matter relatively light. She'd asked about the music he liked to play; he'd remarked on Piotrowski's older work; they talked of travel, of Lucius' business in China and the Ukraine, of the fickleness of intercontinental Floo, of the intricacies of exempting foreign Muggle fireplaces from the network.

He was a lovely conversationalist, always allowing her to speak her fill before he tacked on to the conversation; she never once caught him rambling or stalling with inane responses. And she couldn't help it: she loved the sound of his voice. In her secret mind, now that she'd heard him talk properly about things that were not vitriolic or seeped in intrigue, she realized she could listen to that voice for days on end without tiring of it. There were silences, but they were thoughtful ones, not awkward. He certainly gave her a lot to think about, something she couldn't truly say about anyone within her social circle, other than perhaps Luna, though in his own way he was easier to talk to than her—mostly because he didn't fling out the occasional insane theory or reference to some made-up creature as if it were fact.

They touched. Throughout it all, there was contact: a hand on her arm, knees brushing, the toe of her shoe tapping briefly at the sole of his. Each casual little connection brought her just a little more out of her shell, made her arms unfold, her shoulders relax, her spine curve towards him. She had no conscious realization of it, but the truth was that Hermione was unwinding around him. She felt bizarrely safe and comfortable. The part of her brain that feared judgement had, at some point, switched itself off, and she spoke openly and animatedly to him about things she'd never spoken with anyone, and relished it as he engaged her in kind.

Inevitably they talked of books. Hermione had tried to be subtle as she probed the range of his reading; he'd cottoned on of course (nothing got by that man) and had shocked her by speaking openly about Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, laughing over Tolkien, brooding over Swift. That led into law: what did she think of the reintroduction verses total eradication of giants, or any other creature considered "Dark"—and the hunting or trapping thereof? What about the Statute of Secrecy and its connotations about Muggles? What did she think of Kingsley? What did he think of Kingsley?

They argued. They argued passionately. No punches were pulled—and that was surprising, because Hermione had assumed once they'd found some area of disagreement, things would rapidly go to hell and there would be violence. But it didn't happen that way. Though she almost couldn't believe it, Lucius actually had some fairly good manners when he argued. He listened as she stated her case and presented a crisp counterpoint (often in the form of a question, she noted—damn but if he wasn't good). He didn't veer off topic. He didn't resort to ad hominem, which she originally had pegged as his weakness. Most interesting of all, he didn't get angry, even when the conversation got heated. He'd lean in, and his eyes with light up with a fierce gray fire that, rather than making her shrink away, seemed to stoke her own. At one point their noses were nearly touching as they debated vehemently over werewolf rights.

"They are human beings with a crippling disease, they deserve the same benefits as anyone in a similar position—"

"In what ways are they not given appropriate benefits?"

"Well, take—for example—a werewolf applying for a job. He or she requires sick leave once a month, so the employer hires someone without the disease because they don't require the extra leave, or hires on the werewolf at a much lower salary than a regular person with equal qualifications. The werewolf is therefore persecuted due to bias against a medical condition—which should be illegal under Clause 12 Paragraph 323 of the Regulation of Equal Hiring of Human Subjects, but it isn't, because werewolves are still classified as nonhuman! It's archaic!"

"But if a worker contracts a dangerous, incurable and highly contagious disease, such as Dragon Pox or the like, is the hiring party not required to terminate to maintain the safety of the workplace? Why would a lycanthrope be any different?"

"Lycanthropy isn't that contagious! It's once a month, at night—"

"Requiring two or three days pre- and post-transformation recovery, and that's not including the risk of contamination from bodily fluids—which is a serious concern in some labor divisions. You would have a company operate at a loss and introduce an unnecessary hazard into their operation for…? What, may I ask? Not just to make the werewolf feel better about his situation, I hope?"

"It's about human rights, Lucius! It's not the werewolf's fault he has the condition he does, it isn't fair to persecute him on those grounds—"

"Ah," Lucius smiled lazily, "fairness. This, my dear, is where we must simply agree to disagree, as I do not believe the world is fair."

"Don't you think we should work towards the sort of world where fairness is realistic?" A silvery hair was dangling down around his jawline. Hermione reached across and brushed it aside without thinking.

His smile deepened, and he caught her hand before she could draw it away, his eyes locked on hers. "Not precisely."

And as the hot rush of indignation billowed through her, and she leaned in and opened her mouth to unleash another string of counterpoints on him, her eyes wide and glowing with passion, he acted. She realized, too late, that he'd probably goaded her a little on purpose, just to watch her lean into him, just see her blaze.

His lips were on hers before she could quite draw breath to speak, smothering her angry responses. She was roughly jerked into his lap, directly on top of his burgeoning erection, and his fingers were caressing her breasts through her shirt. She'd barely had time to gasp in shock before he bit her, sharpish, on the tingling flesh joining her neck and shoulder, stunning her like a cat might a mouse before the kill. For a moment she could only pant and make an unintelligible noise—whether of protest or approval, not even she knew—as her arousal, already marshaled from their argument, skyrocketed to an alarming and precarious height, far above normal, as only he could do.

He'd gone to gently sucking on the fresh bite-mark and she'd moaned, it'd felt so damn good after uncounted minutes of talking—she felt so fragile and feminine in his arms, pressed up against his broad chest; at the sound of her desire there was movement against her flank, a twitch evidencing his clear need, and a blush spread itself over her shoulders and cheekbones. She squirmed in his lap but should've known it would only encourage him: after all, every move she made created friction directly against his cock, and as she wriggled around, trying to get a better look at him, trying to regain some control of her own, he made a noise, a deep growl, that sent a wave of hot blood ricocheting south.

And then he threw her on the ground.

She actually cried out—not because it hurt, it wasn't far to fall and she'd landed on the plush carpet, but the motion had been so rough and sudden, so violent, shoving her right there on the edge of terror, half-thinking he'd reverted, jumped back to the Dark and was going to kill her—but the look on his face did not spell murder. Then again, it also wasn't a particularly comforting expression. He looked as he did back in the Ministry when he'd been in power, all languid haughty arrogance, his mouth ticked up just-so at the corners, as if seeing her there crumpled on the ground at his shoes amused him.

He was clothed up to full formal outer robes, the deep black of them shrouding him like a remnant of the past, making her feel suddenly small, raggedy, out of her depth. He swept down on her in one terrifyingly seductive movement, hovering over her, a gloved hand planted on either side of her head, and as she looked up at him she couldn't decide if she was truly unafraid. It wasn't that she worried that he would hurt her. No, she was confident now that he wouldn't—not in a way she would find disagreeable, in any case, and that alone said something about the odd understanding between them. Like Hannibal and Clarice.

Yet there was a whole alien world contained in those silver eyes: a world where pleasure hedged too close to pain and fear that the lot couldn't be distinguished. She was scared of what he could unleash on her, in her, scared slightly of her own body, of the powerful all-consuming way it reacted to him.

He didn't kiss her; she thought he might, had felt herself drawn up into his burning gaze. But before her lips could capture that decidedly kinky smirk, he'd slid away, ducked down her body, nestling into her breasts, tickling her with the ends of his feathery soft hair while at the same time ripping her clothes away, and she was rendered helpless again by the brutality of his hands.

She tried to study him, tried to keep her mind stable enough to analyze what he was doing to her, like she might some feral animal she'd read about in the Monster Book of Monsters. How did he manage to be so terrifically ruthless and yet so elegant and sensual at the same time? It was odd—disjointed and harmonious. He had her naked in moments, right there in her own sitting room, again, and the balance—had there ever been one—was upset as he lingered over her, still fully clothed. She reached for his buttons with trembling fingers, flashes of pale flesh rising deliciously in her memory, but he shoved her hands away, pinning them down beside her. She struggled; he was unyielding, unmoved. He gave her an almost patronizing look (it really shouldn't have made her hotter, for god's sake) and then ducked down her prone body again.

"Oh Merlin," she announced as his mouth burned a torturous circle around one of her nipples. Her hands writhed under his, itching to wind themselves into the miles of thick blonde hair just out of her reach, but she was effectively shackled to the ground and had to settle for nuzzling her mouth and nose against that sinful corona. The smell of him acted on her like a strong aphrodisiac; she pressed a kiss to the hot white-gold locks and felt his teeth close around the tingling peak of her breast. She let out a very female moan, and at any other point she might've felt embarrassed over just how wanton she sounded, but here it only seemed to feed the hellish flames fast consuming them. She could see what Luna had been talking about now—it did smell like him in here. Already he'd imprinted his presence on her home.

She thought suddenly of Luna's imprisonment by the Malfoys and flinched a little with renewed guilt. What had been Lucius' involvement with her? Surely they must've had some sort of closer contact than just captor-prisoner, if she could still recognize his smell over all those years? A rather horrifying thought occurred to Hermione and she froze, the fire in her stuttering.

Lucius sensed it. He glanced up at her, frowning; her fears must've been obvious on her face because his expression grew stern. His lips, darkened to a dusky pink from recent activity, parted, and she expected him to speak, to ask her what was wrong—but entirely to the contrary his tongue flitted out and he placed a bold and deliberate stroke up her other nipple, flicking the tip, once, with the dexterous end of his tongue, his eyes locked firmly on hers.

She couldn't prevent a juddering, capitulating sigh. He hadn't needed words; she knew exactly what he was saying. Not now. Whatever it is, it can wait—can't it?

Well, if he was so hell-bent on distracting her he'd do well to let go of her wrists, damn him. She struggled against him, harder now, trying again for his buttons, or perhaps she wanted to slap him, she hadn't decided, and she'd opened her mouth to order him to let go, but as if to beat her cue he removed his left hand from her wrist—and promptly placed it over her mouth.

"Shh," he whispered, "not a sound." He was smiling that cold, arrogant smile down on her shocked expression. She could smell the fine leather of his glove, hot against her lips, as if he'd just taken it out of red coals and branded it to her skin. Really, she hated to admit it, but it was mind-bendingly sexy, all the more so because he knew exactly what he was doing to her.

Her shock immediately morphed into wide-eyed desire as he slinked down her body and nuzzled his lips to the apex of her thighs.

Well, if there was one thing to be said about Malfoy, it was that he certainly knew how to keep her on her toes.

Her mouth and hands were free now—his having slid away down her body to part her legs—but whatever she'd been so eager to do with them before had long since fled her mind, along with every other damn thing besides the smooth line of fire he was painting along her inner-thigh with that malicious tongue.

There was a meow from the doorway and Hermione's head snapped around to gawk at the sideways image of Crookshanks, sitting there watching them with a harassed look on his face. "Crooks!" she hissed, aware Lucius hadn't paused, but was gently teasing the fine hairs on her mons, a truly evil smile on his mouth, "Crooks, no! Go away! Go!" she flailed a hand in his direction, stuttering as she felt Lucius touch the tip of his tongue, oh so lightly, to her hooded clit. She squirmed but thank Godric her cat could understand commands and that he'd deigned to humor this particular one; with a disgusted sweep of his tail he was gone again, and Hermione slumped back, aware that, with the addition of some anxiety, her body had ratcheted up to an even higher stratum of lust. It was almost exhausting; all the blood in her had migrated south, and there was now a powerful, almost painful heartbeat between her legs, which were still being held firmly apart in Lucius' hands. She'd been acutely aware of what her demon lover had been doing and found that even now he was still taunting her, hadn't yet even parted her, feathering soft ghost-touches to the very edges of her sex.

God damn that bastard.

"Lucius!" Her voice snapped like a whip-crack. He did not answer. She made a frustrated little half-scream at the ceiling, at which he pressed what might as well have been a chased kiss to the top of her slit.

She made an angry noise and tried to writhe out of his grasp, propping herself up on her elbows to get better leverage on him, but no sooner had she done so than Lucius' hands seized her hips and jerked her sharply forward. Her back hit the floor and dragged so roughly on the carpet she knew she'd have rug-burn from her nape to her coccyx, but any indignation she might've felt was quashed when he buried his mouth firmly against her, searing her nether lips with a deep, searching kiss.

At last.

He really was wonderful, Lucius. Oh, yes, she forgave him everything, of course she did—in fact he'd absolutely never done anything wrong, had he? His tongue was inside her, thrusting, pressing against the sides her opening first on the left, then the right, then focusing on a glorious little spot at the base of her entrance he'd discovered within seconds. Had she ever been angry with him? She couldn't remember but it seemed to her that he was an honest-to-god angel, had to be, and she'd go on believing it if he just never stopped doing that thing that made her want to burst out of her skin and climb screaming up the wall.

As he trailed a hot, wet line over her swollen clit she mused that he was better at this with her in her own skin than he'd been with her in Narcissa's. Or perhaps she was still just so amped up by the idea of Lucius Malfoy between her legs that it seemed so. Either way, it couldn't have been more than a minute before Hermione was right there on the edge of orgasm—and it had to be the fastest she'd ever reached the cusp. Then she felt an intrusion, deeper than his tongue, firm and wonderful, and she realized he'd inserted his index and middle fingers into her and had curled them up to rub her from the inside.

"Jesus fucking Merlin," she wailed, not realizing she'd seized handfuls of his lovely hair and was holding him fast to her. He'd sealed his mouth over her clitoris and had been sucking and flicking at her with escalating force, but at her exclamation he burst into laughter and that did it: she came. Her orgasm spasmed through her like a full-bodied seizure and she saw a dazzling white light, perhaps it was heaven, but more likely it was the headlight on a train that had just smashed into her because she felt winded, rolled under the arcs and waves of her release.

She didn't want it to end. This plane of existence, above awareness and reality, was so much better than normal life, she wanted to weep as she felt it ebbing away—always too soon. As she came back to herself she caught Lucius gazing down on her with an incredible expression: pure concentration, except for the deep glazed blackness of his eyes and the soft, sensual parting of his damp lips. He pulled his fingers slowly out of her and his brows creased exquisitely when she gripped him in a last, involuntary spasm, her body desperate to hold on, to keep some part of him locked in her. He was still gloved, and the realization made a flash of heat race over her skin, nearly recalling her to full arousal.

But then he removed himself completely, sitting back on his haunches and gazing over her body, naked and decadent and glittering with sweat, still trembling a little for him. His tongue flicked out and skimmed a turned-up corner of his mouth, and a low, purring growl followed: "You are magnificent when you come."

A pleasurable little tingle ran down her spine. She reached for him, tried to latch on to the front of his clothes, intent on ripping them off just as roughly as he'd done hers and returning the favor, but with an elusive smirk he stood up and out of her reach.

"Come," he said, grabbing hold of her outstretched hands and hoisting her, still naked, to her feet. Oh for Merlin's sake, she hadn't been reaching for a bloody hand-up! Her instinct was to be self-conscious and resentful, naked while he stood there shielded in layers of cloth, but he didn't allow her the luxury; she'd barely stumbled upright before he'd pulled her in for a searing, if brief, kiss that left her just as disoriented as before. "Get ready. Wear your work-clothes. We shall leave in thirty minutes."

She gaped at him. "No, we bloody will not! We've—you've just—I haven't even"—her eyes flicked none-too-subtly down his front, to the obvious stiffness between his hips, and she fought a burning blush, quickly realigning her gaze with his—"we are not through here, Mr. Malfoy!"

He bent a stern look down at her, only it didn't help, because it was the same look he'd given her just before he'd strummed his tongue over her nipple, and that was all she could think of now. Merlin, he was going to tie every word and gesture he made to something horribly erotic, wasn't he? The bastard would be the end of her.

"Thirty minutes, Miss Granger," he said shortly. "And it may be prudent to have an overnight bag at the ready. We may need to leave here suddenly and I do not know if we will return for some time, possibly a few days." He paused. "Shall I have your cat sent to the Manor? He will be safe there, and Fergus will see to his feeding. He seems to have taken to Belgium. It's almost a shame to separate them, and this flat of yours is about to get rather too… lively… for old cats." He smirked again. "Not that it wasn't before."

"Lucius," she said, and she didn't even care how whiny she sounded, "do we really need to rush off? It's only—what?—four o'clock?" she glanced around, frowning, having not realized how dark it had gotten in the room. "It can't be that late—"

"Hermione," Lucius tutted, "it's nearly 10 in the evening."

She gaped at him. "But we couldn't have been talking for more than two hours!"

"It's been nearly six. Now, your cat…?"

Hermione hesitated. "Okay," she said at last, "he can go to the Manor, but please ask Fergus to keep that wretched Fairway away from him."

"I'd forgotten you met Fairway," Lucius said with mild amusement. "A shame you two met under those circumstances. He tends to hold lasting grudges, quite unlike any of my other familiars. I doubt he'll ever warm to you now."

"Well he can have his space and I'll have mine," Hermione muttered darkly. "I'm serious, that bird stays away from my cat, Lucius."

"Very well; I'll let Fergus know. Twenty-eight minutes, Miss Granger."

She'd wanted him to join her in the shower. Having him go down on her had been phenomenal, but it had been fast and she felt terribly cheated when he'd shut down her attempt to prolong their little tryst. Even with this new awfully risqué memory taking up space in her brain, she'd still wanted to see his body again. She'd wanted to reaffirm her certainty that he was indeed the best fuck on the planet. She'd wanted him to join her in the bloody shower, for Merlin's sake, but she didn't know how to ask. She supposed she could've just said the words—yelled them at him from across the room, where he'd sat himself primly in the armchair to await her. It was on the tip of her tongue to do so, despite the fact that it may have come off terribly stilted. But she feared his rejection. She just knew he'd be brusque, and anyway, if he'd wanted to have any further—relations—with her, she supposed he would have tried while she'd still been naked on the floor in front of him grabbing at his clothes like a drowning woman.

Apparently they were on some kind of schedule. Had she known that, she wouldn't have spent so much time arguing with him over the best way to travel from London to Shíyàn.

With a fair bit of rushing she managed to make his ridiculous deadline and arrived back in the sitting room twenty-five minutes later, panting a little, her hair still damp and her best work outfit hanging off her shoulders.

He seemed impressed by her punctuality and granted her a small, appreciative smile, which triggered a little flurry of butterflies in her stomach, similar to the feeling she got whenever a professor congratulated her on a high-scoring exam. Sweet Jesus, now on top of everything she was craving his approval? She'd set out to ruin him in the beginning!

"Where are we going?"

"St. Mungo's." He'd risen to his full height and now looked down at her with a familiar stoicism, holding out his hand. She guessed he was dreading the task ahead. It made her nervous.


"We will discuss it there." He lifted his hand slightly, insisting. She realized it was the same one that had been knuckle-deep inside her just half an hour ago. He'd Scourgified himself (and the room, she noticed) back to impeccability, there were no signs anywhere that earlier even happened, and Hermione was again left wondering if she hadn't made it all up.

Sighing—because there was really no arguing when he used that tone—she took his hand, and they disapparated.

They reemerged from the void into the yellowy nimbus of an old street lamp down some scraggly lane in the bowels of London. It smelled like fresh garbage, and there were a couple of alley cats squabbling nearby and an old bum smoking crack behind a dumpster. He jumped when they materialized, dropping his pipe in a puddle, and stared at them through wide, bloodshot eyes.

"Oh," Hermione said, goggling back at him, "oh dear—Lucius—" she lowered her voice to a hiss, "quickly, we've got to Obliviate him—"

Lucius regarded the vagabond coolly for a moment, then tugged Hermione away. "No," he said, "I guarantee you we aren't the oddest thing that fellow has seen today."

When they reached the mouth of the alley Lucius spun Hermione around and backed her up against the wall, leaning close to murmur in her ear. "St. Mungo's is just down the street. I will walk you to the front, but then you must proceed alone. Go inside and ask the receptionist if Astoria Malfoy is working tonight. Fergus has informed me that she was covering night shifts. Flash some Ministry credentials, create some fiction about needing to interrogate her on an urgent matter—they should direct you to her. You must get her alone, and you must convince her to come with you. Tell her any likely lie. Take her back to your flat. I will be waiting there for you."

Hermione gaped at him. He looked back steadily a moment, his gray eyes very bright, almost luminescent in the gloom. Finally she found her voice. "Are you completely mental?"

"That is beside the point." He gave her a twisted little smile, but his humor didn't soften her. She made unintelligible sounds at him, waving her arms around, and after a few tries she managed to form actual words.

"How the hell am I supposed to do this?!"

"I don't know." He looked grave again; there was something new in his eyes now, something suspiciously close to a plea. "You will need to figure that out."

"Why aren't you coming with me? Why didn't you send Fergus or Harriot or one of the other elves?"

"When Draco relapsed, I attempted to reach out to Astoria. My letter was returned with Draco's writing on the front, declaring 'wrong address.' I then went in person to their flat—she checked through the blinds when I knocked, and when she saw it was me I heard her disapparate. I then sent Fergus to liaison with her with the same results. I have not tried since then. I believe Draco may have told her that I intend to hurt her."

It was his tone that finally calmed Hermione's nerves. Though his face remained the same smooth mask of composure, she could hear in his voice just how deeply wounded he was by his son's actions. It struck a chord in her, and instinct propelled her to reach for him, sliding her fingers over the broad, rigid track of his shoulders, down his chest. "I don't know if I'll be able to do this, Lucius."

It was difficult to see, but there was a definite plea in his eyes now. She knew his face well enough to notice. "As it stands, it is our last option for reaching Draco. Will you at least try?"

She slumped in defeat. Though she hated to admit it, she was a sucker for puppy dog eyes. It had practically gotten Harry and Ron through their fifth year classes. And on Lucius—well, he could've asked her to burn down a bookstore and she would've done it. Beautiful prat.

"Why don't I just go directly after Draco under the same pretext?"

"Because I don't know where he is, or if he will go quietly with you; the Doxie has affected him, made him flighty. I do not want him to run off suddenly on us—Raleigh may get to him first. And if we were to capture him, that would leave Astoria vulnerable to Ink, and it would almost guarantee Draco would try to escape us at every turn. This is the best way."

"What will happen when—if—I bring Astoria back home?"

"Fergus will be there to send up Anti-Disapparation Wards."

She waited for him to flesh out the rest of the plan, but he just stood there, his hand planted on the wall beside her, as if to bar her from ploughing on with her questions. But she was undeterred. "And…?"

He creased his brow. "I… would like to speak with her. She and I got to know each other a little whilst her and Draco were dating—we were not particularly close, but we did have a few conversations when Draco brought her around for dinner. She seemed reasonable then. Perhaps I could convince her to talk sense into Draco. If I cannot, she will effectively be our hostage. I will have to let Draco know somehow that I have her. He will then agree to meet with me, and I will capture him, too."

"And bring him to my flat?" Hermione's eyes had reached the size of dinner platters.

Lucius shook his head sharply. "I will have the elves prepare a safehouse for him and his wife. They will have to be confined to it until this whole mess blows over."

"But what if Draco doesn't agree to meet with you?" Her heart began to pound a little faster. "What if he goes to Raleigh, and Raleigh sends people to poke around here, and they figure out that I'm the last one who's been seen with Astoria? And they—oh my god, Lucius, what if they go after my friends? My family—?"

Lucius leaned back, his arm dropping to his side. "Draco will agree to meet with me."

"But what if—?"

"I understand my son. He will not go to Raleigh. This will be… too gross a betrayal for him to involve outside sources. He will want to exact revenge on me personally, mano a mano. And when I capture him, Raleigh will believe he has fled with his wife on his own. No one will come here. No one will find out you spoke to Astoria."

She resisted. She looked down at her shoes, avoiding the dizzying spell of his eyes, and resisted him.

"Hermione." Her name sounded so certain on his tongue. She felt the cool leather of his gloved fingers under her chin, lifting her head, reaffixing her eyes on him. The gray burned her, burned away her doubts. "Trust me."

And she did. Merlin knew why, but she did.

If Hermione expected St. Mungo's to be desolate this time of night, she was sorely mistaken. As soon as she'd phased through the fake window display that camouflaged the hospital doors, she was waylaid by a flurry of high-stress activity: healers in their green scrubs darting in to address a myriad of patients, people being wheeled around in gurneys, memos flying in from every hall to circle around a very put-upon looking receptionist who was trying to juggle about twelve tasks at once.

It was a moment before Hermione could navigate through the chaos to the front desk; once there, she had to wait in a queue of about twelve people, all sporting the same grisly red rashes on various parts of their bodies (evidently, from what she overheard, they'd been on a business retreat and had unwisely decided to set up camp in a grove of Venomous Tentacula). They were bustled off to the third floor in good time, but even with them gone and Hermione being close enough to lean over the counter and address the receptionist, she had to wait another twenty minutes while the woman argued with one of the healers, then scribbled out a furious memo and sent it soaring up the nearest staircase.

"Sorry about that," the receptionist said dispassionately, "things have been hectic the last hour. What do you need?"

Hermione swallowed her nerves. "My name is Hermione Granger, I'm with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and I'm here looking for Astoria Malfoy. She's wanted for questioning about an urgent matter."

The receptionist perked up at this little bit of intrigue. "What sort of matter is she needed for?"

"It's Ministry business, you'd need clearance to know," Hermione rebuffed. "Could you summon her here? Or maybe point me in her direction?"

The woman scowled in disappointment. "Tori's here on the ground floor. Should be down in Room 78." Her voice lowered. "Treating another Doxie overdose. Sad matter, that, it's always an uphill struggle." She clicked her tongue in a show of moroseness. "You can go on back, but don't get in the healers' way, they're all doing delicate work."

"Thank you." Hermione took the hall to the left, wandered past several rooms (some of which had open doors; she spotted a man with bright blue skin trying to describe his symptoms to a frowning healer, and another who, by the looks of him, had crashed his broom in the worst possible way), dodged a few gurneys and a few harassed-looking healers toting scrolls of parchment that drug on the floor, until finally she came upon Room 78.

The atmosphere here was extraordinarily tense. Hermione knew right away which green-clad healer was Astoria, being that she was the only woman present; they all had face-masks up around their mouths and each of their wands were trained on the boy lying curled on his side in the hospital bed. Hermione blanched. He couldn't have been older than fifteen.

"Heartbeat fading," announced one of the men as the boy gave a feeble shudder, awfully like the ones Lucius had made last night; Hermione watched in awe as Astoria leaned in and performed an intricate wand-movement over the patient's head, intoning a long, complicated spell that seemed to go on forever; the boy's eyes snapped open and darted frantically around the room before they seemed to involuntarily slip shut again; Astoria's voice rose in pitch, she tried harder, repeating the spell and the wand-movement, but the boy seemed to have no fight left in him. With a last weak shudder, he went still.

There was an outbreak of movement as the healers all redoubled their efforts to resuscitate him, but it was futile, and when the head healer finally declared his time of death they all dropped away from his bedside in a surprisingly businesslike manner to tidy the room for the next patient. Hermione was so engrossed with staring at the young, motionless face that, by the time one of the healers had covered it with a sheet, she realized Astoria was no longer around. She'd walked right past Hermione into the hall.

Hermione just caught her as she rounded the corner heading into the staff lounge. "Wait—Mrs. Malfoy!" The woman didn't respond, but she turned when Hermione made a grab for the edge of her sleeve. They locked eyes, and Hermione took a step away, quickly snatching her hand back to her side.

Astoria had removed her facemask, and Hermione got her first proper look at the woman. She was pretty—very pretty. She stood an inch or two taller than Hermione, very thin, tawny, with dark brown hair and a burst of freckles over her cheeks and nose. There was a soul-withering hollowness in her hazel eyes, as if she were carrying the whole world on her shoulders—but this wasn't what caused Hermione to flinch away as if burned.

Astoria was pregnant. And she was nearing her time, if Hermione had to guess; the bow of her abdomen was quite pronounced under the loose green scrubs.

Hermione's immediate reaction was to leave. Make up some excuse about having mixed Astoria up with someone else and walk out of there. She couldn't abduct and traumatize a pregnant woman. Lucius would just have to come up with some other method of kidnapping Draco. But then, wouldn't Draco's disappearance not be just as traumatizing? And—as Lucius had said before—it may put Astoria in worse danger, if Ink came lurking around…

Oh god, why had she gotten herself mixed up in the Malfoys' business?

Astoria was scanning her with those tired, empty eyes. "You're Hermione Granger," she said, before Hermione could get the words unstuck from her throat. "I recognize you from the papers."

She had a birdlike voice; Hermione imagined she was a lovely singer. "I—yes," she said at last, finally regaining her bearings. It's got to happen. There's no other way. "I work for the Department for Magical Law Enforcement and I'm here on Ministry business. If you'd just come with me, please, I'd like a private word."

A look of terror lit up the void in Astoria's eyes. It was gone in a moment, schooled away as she stood herself a little taller, shoulders square, bracing herself for the worst. Oh, no, she's thinking it's Draco, Hermione thought sadly, she thinks he's been caught, or he's dead.

"All right," the woman said, a thread of steel in her melodious voice, "I'll come in a minute, I've just got to let the head healer know I'll be leaving early so he can get someone to cover my shift."

Hermione had to admire the woman's grace under pressure. Obviously she'd had to be strong to endure life with Draco for this long… After a few short words with a severe-looking older man (who gave Hermione a critical look, as if unconvinced she was who she claimed to be) and enduring a brief telling-off from same man (which seemed to roll right off her shoulders), Astoria grabbed a set of shabby robes from the staffroom and followed Hermione out to the lobby.

"We're—we're going to have to go to an interrogation room," Hermione said, trying not to fidget. "Are you okay to do a side-along apparation?"

Astoria frowned. "I don't normally like to," she said, checking her watch, "but if it'll make this go faster, then it shouldn't do us any harm…" She ran a hand over her belly, glancing down at it and muttering in a voice that was both soothing and terribly sad, "We'll just take the Knight Bus back, won't we? We can stretch a few sickles."

It ripped Hermione's heart out of her chest.

Astoria stepped in to be whisked away, and Hermione, swallowing down her misgivings one last time, offered up an arm, through which Astoria linked hers. And they disapparated.

It went almost as badly as Hermione thought.

They materialized in her sitting room and the sound of Fergus' voice intoning some complicated spell; no doubt he was closing off apparation behind them. With an upsurge of self-loathing that made her slightly queasy, Hermione reached over, grabbed Astoria's wand out of her pocket and—ignoring the shout of "Hey!" behind her—hurtled across the room, putting the couch between them.

For her part, Astoria recovered quickly. She gave Hermione a wide-eyed look of mingled shock and rage, then—her eyes darting frantically around the room, clapping finally on Lucius, who stood there blocking the route to the door—her mouth fell open in a gasp of horror.

Lucius took a step forward, raising his hand to her. "Astoria—"

"You!" Hermione winced at the pure loathing in Astoria's voice.

"Astoria, listen to me—"

"You stay away from me!" she screamed, grabbing up the first thing she could find in arm's reach—which happened to be the entirety of a small end-table—and flinging it at Lucius, who ducked away with a look of mild alarm on his face. It shattered on the wall behind him, leaving a gaping hole. "Let me go! How—how dare you!" She rounded on Hermione. "How dare you trick me using your position! I swear to god will sue the shit out of you—"

"Astoria, calm down—"

"No!" she screamed at Lucius, grabbing the tall lamp near the bookcase and wielding it like a spear, "No, you let me go this instant, you psychopath! You—you fucking monster!" She swung the lamp at him and he flicked his wand, vanishing it from her hands.

With a snarl she dove for Hermione, chasing her once around the couch, howling for her wand; Fergus grabbed hold of her leg but she seemed barely to notice; she tried to reach over the back and grab Hermione by the hair, but then Lucius was upon her, his hands clamped on her flailing arms, pulling her back. She writhed angrily in his grip, screaming, then spun around and bit him on the arm; he didn't let go, but it made his grip loosen on his wand, which she then tried to wrench out of his grasp.

"Stop this at once!" Fergus shouted, still clinging to her leg. She aimed a kick at him and he darted back, raising a threatening finger, but Lucius gave him a look that made him stand down.

Astoria bit harder on Lucius' arm, wrenched harder on his wand, but he didn't give; he dragged her back across the room, forcing her down into the armchair; when she'd stilled a little he yanked his arm out of her mouth, wincing a bit, but otherwise giving no indication that she'd hurt him. "Astoria—" Her open palm flew out and she struck him across the face. The slap rang out into the room; Hermione cringed and Fergus stepped forward again, his ears quivering indignantly. Lucius' head had snapped aside at the impact; he looked slowly back at her, directly into her eyes, and it seemed the blow had rattled her, too, because she stopped struggling and looked shocked at herself, gazing up at him like he was some stranger she'd assaulted in the streets.

Then her eyes filled with tears, and she let out a broken little noise, quickly trying to stifle it with her knuckles. "Astoria," Lucius said yet again, but now it was different, softened to a crooning whisper, and he looked at her with such sadness that abruptly she struck out again—only this time it was to wrap her arms around his neck and drag him in to sob on his shoulder. He knelt down beside the armchair and drew his arms around her, too, soothing his hands over her back while she choked out, "Oh my god, Lucius, he's going to die, he's going to die and I can't save him, nothing I do will save him—I thought he'd quit for the baby, and he tried but he—he needs help—"

"We will help him," he murmured back, "we will save him, Tori, he is not yet lost, there is still time—"

"I'm so sorry Lucius, I knew he stopped being himself awhile ago, it's changing him, I knew you were just trying to help, but when Draco cut you out of his life I couldn't go to you, I couldn't go to anyone, I didn't want him to think I was abandoning him too—he feels abandoned—and he'd know if I talked to you, I couldn't lie to him—and Narcissa just kept insisting he'd snap out of it and then she left and he's been worrying me so much, I'm supporting us but I'm due soon, I don't know what's going to happen when I can't work anymore, he gives all his money to that horrible Ink person to keep him off our backs—"

"It's all right," Lucius soothed, leaning away to brush the wild staticky strands of her hair out of her damp face, "you're all right, you're safe now, and we're going to get Draco to safety, too. You will not need to do everything by yourself anymore. You are not alone."

She crumpled at the surety in Lucius' face and flung her arms back around him, going on sobbing on his shoulder while he murmured consoling words in her ear.

Hermione was just thinking she was intruding when Fergus grabbed her by the wrist and drug her bodily from the room. For such a tiny fellow he really was strong.

"Go to bed," he told her, finally releasing her in the hall (she had to rub circulation back into her wrist). "You've been awake nearly two days. Get some rest. Tomorrow will be even more draining, I am sure of it."

She felt uneasy and wrong-footed, and despite her recent lack of sleep she'd never felt more awake. "Will—will Astoria be staying—?"

"I will settle her into the guest bedroom when she is ready." He waved a dismissive hand. "Go."

She hesitated. "Okay, well—um, will Lucius also be staying—?"

"Never you mind," he said impatiently. "I will not ask you again, Miss Granger. You will go to bed or I will Stun you and tuck you in myself."

Nearly two hours later found Hermione wide awake and chewing on her cheek while she stared at the spot where Lucius had lain in the throes of Doxie last night. She hadn't realized just how frightfully close he'd been to dying and she almost kicked herself for not taking him to the hospital, consequences be damned. She thought of Astoria, trying to save that boy from an overdose and failing. God, poor woman. How often did she have to watch people die from the same drug her husband was addicted to? Hermione winced sympathetically. What a life. And a baby on the way, too… It must've been eating away at her for god knew how long. No wonder she'd eventually broken down.

Hermione reached out and stroked the unused pillow. She wasn't sure if Lucius would sleep with her tonight. She knew it was highly unlikely, what with Astoria now around to witness their incredibly inappropriate affair. That's what it was, wasn't it? Inappropriate—on both sides. Still, it made her slightly depressed knowing she'd be alone tonight. They were hardly intimate, it was true, he'd only lain there once and not exactly on purpose, but something felt different now—something had shifted—it was almost odder to be alone in her bed than curled up against him. She hated herself just a little for it, but she was already pining for him: the warmth of his sateen skin, the masculine smell. Maybe it was the silly little girl in her believing that sex meant they now had some sort of deeper connection. She snorted, turning her back on the empty space, trying to force the feelings away. They lingered at the back of her brain like flies behind a screen.

Eventually she decided they must've all gone to bed, and that she could do with a glass of water. She pulled on a dressing gown and padded out of her room, into the dark hallway—the lights were still on (or rather, the candles still lit, god damn Fergus) in the sitting room, she veered to blow them out—but the murmur of voices stopped her before she'd gone in. She made to turn back around and dive back into her room straightaway, but then she heard her name, and that stopped her.

"—Miss Granger's flat. There is a guest room where you may stay until we contact Draco. I would prefer we do it first thing tomorrow, but I do not want to overstress you—"

"Lucius, come on, I work in the emergency unit of St. Mungo's, I'm no stranger to stress," responded a feminine voice. Astoria sounded considerably calmer now. "We should do it as soon as possible. He'll have gone to bed already, we'll be fine to tackle it in the morning." She sighed heavily. "I never thought it'd come to this…"

"And you're sure—?"

"Lucius, if you ask me to quit my job one more time, I'll reconsider helping," Astoria cut him off flatly. "Pregnant women can work, plenty of women work into the seventh month—"

"Not every woman has your job," Lucius admonished, "and regardless, that was not what I was going to ask. I was going to ask if you were sure Draco would listen."

Astoria was a short time answering. "He won't at first, I'm almost certain," she muttered. "But given a little time…"

"You may go on pretending to have nothing to do with it," Lucius offered quietly. "You may tell him I abducted you and forced you into hiding against your will. He will not be angry with you then."

"No, but he'll be unforgivably angry with you," Astoria muttered. "You're really hell-bent on completely ruining your relationship with him, aren't you?"

There was a long pause. "I don't want him to feel abandoned," Lucius responded eventually. For the first time, Hermione could hear his age in his voice. "I… don't want him to feel as if everyone has turned on him. And in any case, I do not think my relationship with him is salvageable."

Astoria tutted quietly. "You wouldn't be saying that if you only knew how much he missed you," she muttered. "Anyway, it wouldn't do him any good for me to lie to him. I can't go on enabling his behavior, pretending I'll tolerate it. It'll be good for him to know the truth."

"The truth?"

"That we won't be in his life anymore if he carries on using." There was a rustle of clothing; Hermione could imagine Astoria smoothing the front of her scrubs down over her belly. "I won't let Scorpius grow up around it."

"Scorpius?" Lucius sounded politely incredulous.

Astoria giggled. "Just a name I'm considering. Keeping with the Black tradition, I guess, and I like the fact that the symbol's shaped like an 'm,' it matches the surname. I haven't told Draco yet—it's a boy."

There was a loaded silence from the other room. "Congratulations," Lucius said at last, and there was a beautiful, quiet happiness in his voice that Hermione dearly wished she could've seen on his face. He so rarely sounded happy, but when he did it transformed his voice into something like a lullaby. She tucked lovely sound away in the depths of her heart.

"Thank you—grandpa."

Lucius clicked his tongue angrily and the spell was broken. "I forbid you to teach him that word."

"Never," Astoria laughed. "We'll use grandpère. Far more dignified."

Lucius hummed. "If he calls me pépé in public I am holding you responsible."

Astoria laughed again. "Oh, I'd forgotten how I'd missed you, too. Did you ever get the gypsum weed to bloom purple?"

"Only once. But I do have quite a few dittany now."

"Oh god, I'd mentioned the shortage ages ago!" She sighed reminiscently. "I hadn't known you'd actually grow them for me. Thank you."

Hermione couldn't see the silent exchange that must've occurred—perhaps Lucius looked uncomfortable at being called out for doing something thoughtful, because Astoria suddenly (if gently) changed the subject. "Where will you be hiding us?"

"I had thought the estate near Taupo, on the water. Or perhaps Trincomalee."

"Draco loved that one on the shore," Astoria said. "The one near Wales. With the drakes."

Lucius released a long-suffering sigh. "I will let Harriot know. She is the elf assigned to that property. I'd recommend her ceviche, but if I recall correctly, undercooked seafood is not recommended for expecting women." There came the unmistakable sound of someone getting to their feet. "Come. You need to rest."

Hermione went tiptoeing as fast as she could back to her room, but not before she'd heard Astoria say earnestly, "Lucius—I just have to say—thank you."

His only response was, "The bedroom is just down the hall. You may call for me if you need anything."

Hermione fully expected to sleep alone that night, so much so that she'd yanked on a particularly embarrassing but comfortable pair of pajamas patterned with tiny fat cats (which she'd chosen from a bargain bin only because the cats were orange and flat-faced, like Crookshanks). She'd just settled on the cusp of sleep when she heard the door open; a load of clothes hit the floor and the mattress depressed beside her, and before she'd registered any of it, the pale, lithe and very nude form of Lucius Malfoy slid up behind her and pulled her back into his chest.

Her first thought was that he intended to finish what he'd frustratingly cut short earlier, but then she felt the tiredness in the heavy weight of his arm around her waist, and the exhaustion in the breaths rustling the baby-curls near the nape of her neck.

"We will deal with Draco in the morning," Lucius said quietly. "Astoria has agreed to help. Once we capture Draco, they will be sent to Shorecliff, and we can then use that card to make first contact with Ink."

He sounded so weary. She wanted to turn in his arms and kiss away the grimace she could hear on his soft lips, but she couldn't bring herself to break the warm, delicious alignment of their bodies.

"I'm sorry," he murmured eventually.

She almost started. He'd been quiet for so long that she'd thought he'd fallen asleep. She smiled small into the darkness. "For asking me to kidnap a pregnant woman, or for the resulting chase around the sitting room by said pregnant woman?"

"For everything."

Her heart wrenched in her chest. She'd never heard anything spoken with more earnest sadness than those two words. She reached up and stroked his hand, splayed hot over her abdomen. "I know."

He relaxed. It was enough she acknowledged his sincerity; he must not have expected forgiveness, and Hermione was not so sure she could even give it. But it was a step. A small one, and in a dangerous direction—but they'd taken it now, and there was no turning back.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 18 of 25

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