Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 19 of 25

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It was half nine when Hermione woke.

With her eyes still closed, she felt around for the sleek outline of her bedmate, maybe just to see if he'd let her curl up in his arms for awhile or maybe for other not-so-innocent reasons—but after a minute of fumbling over cold pillows and sheet-clots, she realized he must've slipped away earlier.


Still, she couldn't help but smile despite her disappointment. If she wasn't very much mistaken, she'd just gotten her best night's sleep within easy memory, and she hadn't even consumed any of her special melatonin-spiked teas or anything. She must've been totally catatonic if Lucius had managed to leave without waking her.

Soon enough, however, reality came creeping back in, snuffing out her smile. If Lucius was gone it meant that unpleasant events were already unfolding outside her sunlit bedroom. The thought propelled her upright and she rubbed the last remnants of sleep out of her eyes; almost immediately she spotted the tiny roll of parchment on her bedside cabinet.

The message was fairly short, penned in a straight, calligraphic hand. She knew just from a glance who'd left it.

Miss Granger,

I've gone to detain my son. Please try to keep Astoria and Fergus in separate rooms while I am away.

I must say, you are charming when you sleep, notwithstanding your multiple attempts to fold the sheets and uphold conversation. At one point we had a discussion about all the invaluable life advice you've gotten from your cat. I should like to continue it when you are conscious, it was riveting.

– Lucius

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she settled for burying her face in his abandoned pillow and smothering herself. Wisps of his scent still clung to the linen, and she inhaled deep, drowning out her embarrassment in the fading vestiges of his presence. As delightful as he smelled, she couldn't ignore the more serious contents of his letter forever, and eventually she forced herself out of bed, sick with worry.

She'd showered and dressed in record time and was just battling down her unruly hair when there was a crash from the kitchen.

Oh god—he's back—he's brought Draco here, she thought wildly, abandoning her room and sprinting the length of her apartment, wand drawn, her comb still hopelessly tangled in her hair. She skidded into the kitchen, fully expecting to find the Malfoy men locked in a life-or-death duel—but what she actually found was Astoria and Fergus, the latter seated at the table, the former standing up on a chair next to the sink, both of them glaring daggers at each other.

A bowl of what appeared to be warm cement lay broken on the floor near Astoria's chair.

"Whoops," Astoria said, all sarcasm. "Sorry about that. Must've slipped."

"You are forgiven," Fergus replied, in a very soft, very poisonous voice. "I find that women in your condition are frequently maladroit." He snapped his fingers, and the mess rearranged itself in the sink; another snap, and an identical bowl filled with identical gray mash appeared on Astoria's placemat. "Do try to be more cautious."

He turned his back on her and started cleaning the kitchen, something Hermione really ought to have done yesterday after her friends' impromptu visit, but she was beyond trying to put him off his chores: once he'd started there was no stopping him, and anyway, he was significantly more pleasant when distracted.

It was at this point that Hermione and Astoria locked eyes, and Hermione hesitated, not sure what to do or say—almost expecting the other woman to come at her with another lamp—but Astoria only smiled wanly and said, "Morning," in a nonthreatening enough voice that Hermione felt safe enough to take the seat across from her at the table.

"Morning," she echoed, loading a ham-and-swiss omelet onto her plate.

Astoria's smile broadened. "I'm sorry, but did you know there's a comb sticking vertically out of your head?"

"Oh Merlin—"

"No, no, let me." Astoria pulled out her wand and waved it; Hermione felt the comb vanish, as well as her hair dry and rearrange itself into tame ringlets around her face. She ran her fingers experimentally through the locks and was astounded when they came away without getting snagged.

"Thank you," Hermione said earnestly. Astoria only smiled. There was a beat of slightly awkward silence, then Hermione dared, "Did—did you sleep all right?"

Astoria's smile vanished. "Well enough," she said grumpily. Her hair—a much darker shade of brown than Hermione's, and pin-straight besides—hung lank and ragged around her head, and there were marked circles under her eyes. With a quick glance at Fergus over her shoulder, she leaned in close to Hermione and whispered, "I might've gotten a bit more if a certain little shit hadn't kept breaking into my room and rolling me onto my left side, so that there'd be 'maximum bloodflow to the womb.' It was cute about the first six times, but after that I'm afraid I got a little mouthy with him." She reached for a bit of toast, only to have her hand slapped down by Fergus, who seemed to materialize out of nowhere at her elbow. "Ouch! Why you little—" Astoria rubbed her hand and glowered at him. "I swear to god if you touch me again—"

"You shouldn't eat white bread," Fergus snapped. "It's bad for the baby. All this"—he gestured at the lovely, aromatic breakfast spread—"is for Miss Granger, and Lucius if he so chooses to eat when he returns. That there"—he pointed at the bowl of awful-looking mash—"that's yours, as I have told you no less than five times now. If you get hungry again before lunch I shall prepare you more of it. I've taken that sugary garbage out of your purse—"

"Hey! Those were my Jelly Slugs, you wretched—"

"—and they're terrible for the baby," he chided.

"Scorpius happens to like them," she retorted. "You'd better give those back sharpish, you right piece of—"

"I'm afraid they've found a new home in the garbage compactor, along with the little stash you had in the inner left pocket of your robes."

"Stop going through my stuff!" she roared at him, so loudly he leaned back on his heels and gave her a reproving look. "Those Whizzbees helped me through the morning sickness—"

"Which you don't have anymore, do you?" Fergus bared his little teeth in a condescending smile. "So you won't be needing those obesity-inducing sugar-pills any longer. Do you want your child to come out looking like a quaffle? With your genes the poor thing won't stand much chance: I've seen your mother, after all. Her tailor is certainly no stranger to Engorgio, nothing would fit on her otherwise. On that note, I'd be careful, if I were you. You'll go down the same wide path if you don't start practicing a little discipline now and then."

Astoria swung a hand at him, which he deftly avoided, looking bored. "How dare you," she snarled. "You have no right to talk to me that way, you little cunt—"

"Enough." He waved a hand in her face, cutting her off. "You shouldn't swear during pregnancy. It makes for a fussy baby. And if I ever find another bag of pickle-flavored crisps on you again, I shall have to seize your access to money and take a more active role in your diet. Don't you know pickles make the baby come out sour, woman? Now eat your breakfast and try not to be so hysterical. All this yelling increases the blood pressure and places stress on the baby."

He returned to the sink. Astoria shot him a curdling look, grabbed a piece of toast, and shoved it spitefully in her mouth.

Hermione gave her a humorless smile. "He put my couch cushions in the garbage compactor, too," she whispered.

Astoria's eyes widened. "We should bum-rush him and put him in there, see how he likes it."

"I think he might be more dangerous than he looks." Hermione shot a furtive glance at the elf's back. "Maybe if we figure out where he sleeps—"

"Oh there's no need, I found him curled up under my bed last night. He'd somehow snuck an old phonograph under there and was playing Haydn to my stomach when he thought I'd fallen asleep."

"You're joking—"

"No, you don't understand," Astoria leaned in closer, "imagine waking up and looking under your bed and seeing that thing staring back at you, and then having him tell you off for waking up in the first place because it's 'bad for the baby!'" She gave Hermione a deeply scandalized look. "I'll never be the same."

"I know how you feel—I've been dealing with him for a few days now, and he's either broken or rearranged everything in this flat. I couldn't even find my toothbrush a few nights ago because he'd put it in a jar of bleach under the sink, and you don't even want to know what he's done to my underclothes—"

"I'm guessing he did the same to yours as he did to mine—while they were still on my body." Astoria pinched the bridge of her nose. "He's the worst elf in the world. I'll never understand why Lucius keeps him around, if he belonged to my family I'd sack him straightaway. And he keeps going on about how he'll tutor Scorpius one day, as if I would ever let him anywhere near—"

"You most certainly will," Fergus called across the room, his back still turned. Astoria jumped a little, blushing—then, catching Hermione's eye, she raised both middle fingers at him over her shoulders.

Hermione chuckled. She knew exactly why Lucius tolerated some of Fergus' more… unsavory qualities, but she doubted she'd be able to explain it properly to Astoria. Or anyone, for that matter.

"Sooo…" Astoria drew out the word with a would-be casual air, pulling the bowl of mash towards her, "how long have you two been seeing each other?"

Hermione's pulse stuttered. "Who? Me and Fergus?" she laughed, doing her best to look nonchalant and not at all horrified. "Well honestly he isn't my type. We tried to make it work but I couldn't get over the height difference."

"No," Fergus called, his voice just hedging on impish, "I'm afraid Miss Granger does prefer them tall."

Hermione choked a bit on her orange juice. "You stay out of this!"


Though Astoria kept her eyes fixed on her bowl, a wry smile twisted up the corner of her mouth. "All right then, Granger," she said, swirling her spoon around in her gray mush, "you don't have to talk, it's not my business anyway… I just thought, since you kidnapped me, stole my wand and held me against my will last night, I've got rights to a few prying questions. And it's all so devilishly scandalous, could you blame me?"

Hermione stuffed her mouth nervously with bacon, willing herself to look indifferent. "I really don't know what you're talking about. Or you," she snapped at Fergus, who was doing a poor job hiding his sniggering.

Astoria's smile grew. "Oh really? So you think it's completely ordinary and not at all suspicious for Lucius to have set up camp in your flat, of all places?"

"That's—he—" She floundered under Astoria's mischievous gaze. "We're working together to bring down the Dark market, it's kind of—I do work for the Ministry and Lucius had some intelligence on the—this—these are delicate matters, Mrs. Malfoy, I can't legally get into any details—"

"There I was, thinking I'd never see anything stranger than Lucius Malfoy hiding out in a muggleborn's flat," Astoria mused, "but I assumed he had some blackmail material on you that led to the weird living arrangements. This is the last place anyone would look for him, after all. And I wouldn't've suspected anything more, until I went looking for him this morning and couldn't find him. I was ready to check at the Manor, I thought maybe he'd gone back—but then he came waltzing down that hall there. The same one you vanished down last night." She raised her eyebrows innocently. "I just don't understand why he was back there with you so early in the morning, is all."

"He—he—there—we were having a conversation," Hermione spluttered. "About today's plans. Since I didn't get filled in last night."

"Oh you didn't? Too tired?" Astoria grinned, and too late Hermione realized her own unfortunate wording. She must've turned the color of ground beef; her face practically glowed with heat. "Hmm, well I hope it wasn't on my account, I really couldn't hear anything over the Haydn, you could've gotten all the filling in you liked—"

"I—that's completely—preposterous, I'd never, and he'd never—we'd—"

"So is he good?" Astoria pressed eagerly. "As good as he looks? I mean I'd never normally ask, ever, but since the circumstances are a bit incongruous anyway I'll admit I've always been just a little curious. Anyone who's met him and had a pulse would be."

"This—you—this is not an appropriate topic of conversation to be having at this juncture, frankly, and anyway I don't even know what you're referring to—"

"Oh go on, Granger!" Astoria flipped a hand at her. "You're two single adults, it's not like I'm judging you!"

Hermione set her silverware down sharply. "Nothing like that is going on between me and Mr. Malfoy!" She used her most intimidating voice, hoping it made up for the fact that she couldn't quite look Astoria in the eyes when she said it.

Astoria's expression didn't flicker. "Of course not," she responded with a wide smile and a shrug.

The conversation was in serious need of rerouting. Hermione cleared her throat and tried to marshal up a businesslike tone. "So I didn't miss anything this morning, then? Just—just that Lucius left to get Draco?"

"Well, I used your fireplace to floo home," Astoria said. "I stuck my head in and I talked to Draco a bit. He was upset that I hadn't come home last night. I asked him to come through the floo, and I'd explain, but he… he was suspicious and wanted me to come through to him. So I told him I'd run into Lucius last night, and that he was holding me at a safehouse and wouldn't let me leave. I—I knew it would provoke him but the whole point was to get him to come through, then I could explain properly. But he only demanded that Lucius meet him in person, then he shut off the connection. Lucius disapparated there. It's been about half an hour now." She spoke casually, but a shadow of that haunted look had returned to her eyes.

Hermione did her best to seem unaffected herself, even though her heart was pounding in her ears. "Do you think I should check on them? Maybe—maybe something's happened?" Like maybe they've killed each other in a massive street-brawl?

Astoria shook her head. "Let them work it out. You showing up will only make matters worse—Draco will want to know how you got so involved, and since you can't even explain it to me, I doubt you could really deal with him." She took an experimental bite of her breakfast and grimaced. "Ugh, what is this? Papier-mâché?"

"It is a nutrient-rich, low-sodium, unsweetened, high-fiber pregnancy formulae—" Fergus began, but was cut off abruptly by another ringing crash as Astoria's second bowl met the same fate as her first.

"Whoops," Astoria trilled again, smiling sweetly, "I guess my big fat pregnant hands are too maladroit for that sort of thing, Fergus. I'd better stick to toast."

Fergus clenched his teeth, looking at Astoria as if he'd very much like to slap her, but she went on smiling at him until—with what appeared to be a colossal effort—he forced himself to smile back, snapping his fingers to clean up the mess and adding through clenched teeth, "Oh absolutely, my dear." He then dragged his chair back to the table (the chores having been completed) and settled himself down between the women.

Astoria reached for the toast again, but was, again, met with another stinging slap on her wrist. A click of his fingers later, and Fergus had conjured up yet another bowl of mash in front of her. "Never fear," he told her, his smile taking on a rather menacing edge as he raised a finger in her direction, "I have an absolutely inexhaustible supply for you. Now, you will eat that pregnancy formulae three times a day, at the appointed hours, and I will not hear another word out of your mouth about it unless it is an exclamation of delight. Am I understood?"

Astoria dropped all pretenses. "How about you give me my sweets back and I won't punt your ancient little arse across the room?" she snarled, ignoring the threatening finger aimed between her eyes.

"What did I say about hysterics, Mrs. Malfoy?"

"Why does everyone keep calling me that? Mrs. Malfoy is Narcissa's name, not mine—"

"No longer," Fergus snapped. "It's yours to bear now. You're carrying the heir to the name. You're grand lady of the Manor"—(Astoria mimed retching)—"and after this mess has been cleared up you and Draco shall move back and take up your responsibilities to the household. It isn't right for the scion to be raised outside of its walls."

"I'm sure Lucius will be thrilled to hear he's being kicked out of his own house."

Fergus opened his mouth to retort, half-glancing at Hermione as he did so, but before he could form the words there came the unmistakable crack of apparation from the sitting room. Fergus' head swiveled around on his shoulders, his ears quivering, and he spat out the same complex incantation he'd used last night to trap Astoria in the flat, but it was nearly drowned out by a hoarse bellow.


"Oh no," Astoria muttered, tensing up in her seat.

There were angry footsteps, then the entire kitchen archway was filled with the livid form of Draco Malfoy.

It had been some time—weeks, possibly months, Hermione didn't remember exactly—since she'd seen him, and she'd expected him to look absolutely dreadful, like those anti-Doxie posters showing before-and-after pictures of addicts that she'd occasionally spot around wizarding London. But he looked just the same as she remembered: maybe a little thinner than he'd been at school, certainly more washed out and beat-down than before, rather like he'd been the last few years of the War. He was dressed in formal business robes, the sort she'd seen him wear to work many times when she'd been stalking him, but they were rumpled and his hair was tousled. Most noticeably, however, were his eyes: large black pools, so dilated that the gray of them was barely visible. They looked exactly as Lucius' had the night Raleigh cut him.

Oh, dear, Hermione thought, reaching into her pocket for her wand, he's high.

Lucius himself came around the corner a second later. He, too, was disheveled, though far more so; he looked like he'd been grabbed and shaken a few times. In both hands he clutched a wand: one silver-handled, the other just a little shorter, black, simple. He quickly pocketed them both.

If the atmosphere had been tense before, it was small change compared to now.

Hermione caught Lucius' gaze—her eyes worried and nervous, his grave—but he glanced away, zeroing in on the back of Draco's head as if he wanted to grab him by the nape and steer him back out of the room.

"Tori," Draco repeated, his voice quietly toxic, his eyes riveted on his wife. "You said you were being held here against your will."

Astoria drew back a little in her seat. "Draco—"

"You told me," he spoke over her, his voice rising to a crescendo that made even Hermione nervous, "my father kidnapped you and wasn't allowing you to leave." He stepped into the room, slow, vulturine. His voice dipped low again. "You don't look distressed."

"Draco, I needed you to come here to safety so I could—"

"How long have you been conspiring behind my back with him?" Draco spat, cutting her off. "How long have you been plotting to get me back into his clutches?"

"That's not—"

"I've told you about him. I've told you over and over. It's like I'm talking to the wall with you sometimes, you know that? Do you have any fucking clue what he's involved with? What he's done?" Draco bellowed the last word, slamming his fist on the table, making the cutlery (and both the women) rattle. There was something odd about his movements—something too energized, too sharp and almost insectoid, as if he were a spring toy wound too tight. He started to move around the table towards Astoria with such an intense look on his face that Fergus, seated in the chair between them, stood up and reached out towards him.

"Draco," he started, but upon spotting him Draco's eyes widened alarmingly and jerked away, looking disgusted.

"Oh Christ, as if this couldn't get worse you've brought this fucking thing here too!" He rounded suddenly on Lucius, storming up to him and thumping his index finger hard into his sternum. "You can't help yourself, can you? It's compulsive. Every little thing you do—you can't stop making my life a living hell!"

Lucius stood tall and cold and passive even as his son spat venom in his face. "No," he said evenly, "but you could, Draco."

Draco laughed, and Hermione had never heard such a scathing noise. "Oh that's clever, isn't it? You're clever. You've always been that way, jumping at every opportunity to make me look stupid. Make me feel worse about everything." He got so close to Lucius' face that their noses were bare inches apart, mirror images of each other, nearly identical, one side all fire and vitriol, the other a mask of ice. "Well congratulations, dad. You've gone above and beyond. Using my wife to get to me—that's a new low. The last fucking person in this shitty world I give a damn about, and you got your claws in her. And you"—again, the finger thumped audibly against Lucius' chest—"trapping me here so you can go on again about how you want to help me and how everything's going to go back to normal. All the fucking lies. All the bullshit." He shook his head, and his face transformed, matching Lucius' expression of icy indifference so eerily well it was frightening. "I fucking hate you."

Lucius gave no indication that Draco had even spoken, not a twitch of his mouth, not a blink. Draco scoffed, clearly having not expected a response from his father, and rounded back on Astoria, but as he turned, Hermione saw Lucius swallow once—the only indication that Draco had hurt him.

"Come on," Draco snapped at Astoria, heading around the table for her again, "we're leaving."

"Draco, no." Astoria's belly brushed the edge of the table as she stood and backed away from him. She was impassive, her voice calm and firm, her face almost clinical, as if she were facing down a confused patient who'd suffered a head injury. "You've got to listen—"

"I don't got to do anything—"

"You need to listen. Try to ignore your emotions. Try to understand. You're not thinking clearly—"

"I'm thinking fine," he snarled. "Why do you always tell me that? It's fucking irritating. Now come on, we're leaving—"

"You are not," Fergus announced, again reaching for Draco as he passed his end of the table. "You will stop this at once. You will sit down civilly and—"

"Shut the fuck up!" Draco spun around and hit Fergus across the face, knocking him to the floor.

A shockwave passed through the room. Hermione winced; Astoria's hands jumped up to cover her mouth. Nobody present had any delusions about Fergus, but watching him stricken to the ground was about as horrifying as watching an old man fall in the street. Draco had hit him—he'd hit the ancient keeper. And the sight stripped Lucius of what patience he had left. His icy mask cracked at last and he moved with a focused, leonine rage after Draco, who hadn't looked back at the elf, and had begun to grab for Astoria; in a flash he'd slammed his son up against the wall with enough force to knock down Hermione's clock and kneazle calendar.

"How dare you." Even from her position of safety all the way across the room, Hermione still felt a chill crawl up her back from the soft, low menace in Lucius' voice. "How dare you lay hands on him. How dare you act so deplorably now, when your family needs you most. You will master yourself, Draco, and you will listen to us, or you will find yourself entirely without options."

Fergus started to get up, and Hermione didn't think; she rushed over to help him, and out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Astoria twitch forward, too, almost as if she had the same urge. He was bleeding a little from the corner of his mouth, but he daubed it away with the napkin Hermione provided him, glancing frostily at Draco over Lucius' shoulder. "A little limp, boy," he sniffed, accepting Hermione's hand-up and dusting off his pillowcase. "I see you haven't made much use of the boxing lessons I attempted to give you. Shame; you may not have gotten beat up in school so many times if you'd paid any attention."

But Draco showed no remorse. He didn't look surprised at being manhandled by his father, and he didn't spare Fergus a glance, not even after the insult. He levelled his gaze into Lucius' as unflinchingly as before. "You fucking hypocrite. You want to talk about hitting elves? Or about all the times your family needed you?" He chuckled hollowly, lifelessly, and for the first time Hermione realized he wasn't in his right mind—he was beyond fear, beyond reason.

Astoria came up behind Lucius and, and after a slight, nervous hesitation (as he seemed to be radiating lightning) she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Lucius," she muttered, "let him go. He's not in control, he'll regret all this later. Don't hurt him."

But it was then that Draco finally spotted Hermione. "Granger?" he said quizzically, and the abrupt return to his normal tone of voice almost made her laugh. "What the fuck are you doing here?" He glanced around the room, as if noticing it for the first time, too. "Where—is this your fucking house? What—" And then his eyes widened with a dawning comprehension. "You're with the Ministry." He fixed his eyes, once again full of rage, back on his father. "You're with the Ministry. Oh god—all of you—you've all been—you're all conspiring to put me in a fucking cell in Azkaban! You're throwing me under the bus to save your own fucking skins!" He knocked Lucius' grip off the front of his robes and shoved him away, hard. Lucius nearly collided with Astoria, who stepped aside just in time, her hands darting down protectively over her belly; Lucius had barely steadied himself when Draco lunged, swinging for him, landing a messy blow on his right eye.

And that was it.

Lucius drew his wand and pointed it into the center of Draco's forehead.

Behind him, Fergus did the same with his finger, a little warning spark flying off the sharp nail.

The time for talking was over.

Draco finally hesitated.

"You will sit down," Lucius drawled. A purple bruise was already blooming across his pale skin; he did not reach up to touch it, in fact he hardly seemed aware it was there. "You will apologize to Fergus for striking him. You will apologize to your wife for using such an inappropriate tone with her and placing her and your child at risk. You will apologize to me for acting like such a godforsaken animal. And then you will sit quietly and listen while we speak. Do you require any further instruction?"

Draco worked his jaw, but the combined threat of Lucius and Fergus held enough sway over him that he acquiesced to the lattermost of the commands—though not without giving his father a tar-black look of pure hatred as he did so. With an angry scrape he yanked out a kitchen chair and dropped into it like a sullen teenager, glowering first at Lucius, who sat across from him; then Astoria, who nervously settled at his right; then Hermione and Fergus, who nearly sat on each other as they both tried to claim the last chair.

"Oh, sorry!" Hermione jumped up, but Fergus rolled his eyes and waved her into the seat, snapping his fingers and conjuring another, slightly taller chair for himself at her elbow. "Sorry," she whispered again as she sat, blushing, then blushing harder when he gave her a look that said plainly, "Shut up."

Draco had been watching them. Hermione caught his eye and saw something there, barely visible under the bitter contempt—he almost looked amused. But his gaze snapped at once back to his father, as if drawn there by gravity.

"This situation is out of hand." Lucius tapped the tip of his silver-handled wand idly against his palm. "I apologize for taking such drastic measures, but they were necessary. You and your wife needed to be removed from the immediate danger—"

"Just fucking get on with it," Draco snapped.

Lucius narrowed his eyes. "You will be taken to Shorecliff and you will remain there until further notice. You will be divested of your wand, and you will not be permitted to leave the grounds until I retrieve you personally. Fergus will keep an eye on you while you detox; if you make any attempt to harm him again, he has my full permission to subdue you in any way he sees fit. And until such a time he deems you clean, Astoria will remain here."

Movement around the table: Astoria glanced at Lucius, alarmed, and Draco made to launch himself out of his chair, only Lucius was quicker; with a twitch of his wand, ropes materialized around Draco's wrists and ankles, binding him down.

They both began chattering simultaneously.


"How fucking dare you—"

"—Draco and I are not going to be separated—"

"—you bastard, how dare you tie me down like I'm some kind of fucking muggle—"

"—he needs a healer around, I've got to watch him, I have to make sure he comes down safely—"

"—fucking let me go you poncy piece of shit—"

Lucius addressed Astoria. "Fergus has had extensive training in healing. He once performed a successful open-heart surgery in the middle of a Quidditch pitch. I can assure you he will be more than adequate to handle Draco's detox."

Astoria's eyes flashed, and she raised her voice over Draco's increasingly frenetic swearing. "I'm sorry, Lucius, but I'm not leaving my husband alone, especially not with him. You can't ask me to."

"Astoria." Lucius met her angry stare with cold steel. "He is irrational and dangerous, and he will be even more so when he comes off the drug. Withdrawal after long-term use can trigger seizures and violent outbursts. I will not have you or your child—"

"Well pardon me, Mr. Malfoy," Astoria said, suddenly formal, "but if I am not mistaken, you have absolutely no right to dictate what is best for myself or my child. We belong with Draco. And I'm sure you really are a capable healer, Fergus," she added, with rather a dirty glance in his direction, "but I insist on handling Draco's care by myself. I've been doing just fine so far without you."

Fergus raised his eyebrows, and with a mini-glance at Draco, who was struggling violently against his bonds, he said quietly, "Have you?"

"Enough." Lucius shot warning glances at both Fergus and Astoria, who looked ready to spit flame. "Draco, calm yourself. You will come—"

"—I swear to god I'm going to fuck you up when I get loose—"

Lucius frowned at him, then turned to Fergus. "What would happen if we Stunned him and then disapparated with him?"

"More of a chance of splinching, I'm afraid," Fergus sighed. "Perhaps we could Stun and fly him. It may take a few hours but—"

With a scrape of her chair, Astoria suddenly got to her feet and left the room. Draco reacted like a dog with separation anxiety: straining harder at his binds, yelling at her back with a feverish desperation, "Tori? Where the fuck are you going? You just going to leave me here with these psychopaths? You're the one who fucking tricked me here in the first place—what the fuck? Come back! Get—the—fuck—back—here—untie me! Tori!"

But she buried her face in her hands and vanished into the sitting room.

Fergus made to follow her, but Hermione jumped up and ran past him. She hadn't a clue what he intended to say, but there was little doubt in her mind that it would include some of his patented blend of tough-love and sneering disdain. Somehow she didn't think he was the right person to deal with this.

Then again, was she?


Hermione found her in the armchair, her hands still covering her face, curled in on herself like a lost child. Hermione was half a mind to give her some privacy, they weren't exactly friends after all, and she didn't know how Astoria preferred to be treated at times like these—but as she stood there indecisively trying to figure out what to do Astoria spoke through her fingers.

"They're going to hurt him." Her voice was thick. "They don't know what they're doing. They don't understand he's not himself. He's not like this. He—he didn't mean to hit them, and now that horrible elf is going to make everything worse. I just knew Lucius would do something like this, but I went ahead and trusted him anyway."

Hermione bit her lip, then risked getting closer. She knelt beside the armchair and dared to put a hand on Astoria's shoulder; Astoria didn't brush her off, which she took as an invitation to continue. "I know you don't want to be separated," Hermione said gently, "that's understandable, but you've got to realize Lucius is only asking you to stay here because he's concerned about you. And it's only temporary. I don't think it should take longer than a day or two for Draco to stabilize, and… be himself again"—(she nearly grimaced)—"then you'd be able to help him without putting yourself in danger. And"—she swallowed nervously—"I know it's not my place to say anything, but earlier you said yourself that he'd regret all this. He'd remember not being himself. Maybe… it would do the least amount of damage to everyone, including him, if you aren't around when he's… recovering. Coming down off it is going to be the worst part for him. I mean, I don't know him that well, honestly, but I can recognize when someone's carrying around a lot of shame." Astoria raised her head, fixing her hazel eyes—wet with tears—on Hermione's, who steeled herself and added in a rush, "If you're there, and you—you see him like that, or if he does something hurtful by accident, he'd just be making more shameful memories to deal with later, on top of all the rest."

Astoria watched her inscrutably for a moment, as if she couldn't quite believe her ears. "Draco knows I don't judge him," she said at length. "He knows I don't hold it against him."

"Well, even so, I don't know many people who'd be able to handle all of this completely logically," Hermione said carefully. "Especially not… someone with so much pride." She shrugged, grimacing. "It's sort of a Malfoy thing. And Lucius—he wouldn't say it, not in front of Draco, but he understands that. And I think that's the major reason why he wants you to give Draco some space."

Astoria sniffed, wiping her eyes on the palms of her hands. "And you would know, I suppose," she said, and it wasn't sarcastic or scornful—rather, she sounded thoughtful, gazing at Hermione as if through new eyes. She chewed her lip, as if trying to decide whether or not she dared divulge any more, and apparently came to the conclusion that Hermione, being just as hopelessly wrapped up in this mess as she was, was the most logical person she could talk to—a natural ally. So she went on, "I know Draco hates for me to see him like this. I know he hates it more than anything. But I can't bring myself to leave him alone with that horrid elf, especially after he's—after what happened, Fergus isn't going to be gentle—"

"Fergus is a piece of work," Hermione said wryly, "but he does care about them, in his own way. And he's been around Draco since birth—since forever, actually, he's probably dealt with every kind of drama before. If there's anyone who'd be able to handle this situation without tacking all sorts of extra baggage on Draco, it'd be him, and I'm sure Draco doesn't care nearly as much about his opinion as he does yours."

Astoria thought about that for a long moment. Then she wiped her face again—more resolutely this time—and stood up, pacing back into the kitchen without another word.

Someone had cast a Silencing Charm on Draco, who was railing against it, his fine cheekbones painted pink from the force of his noiseless shouting. Lucius and Fergus were continuing to debate about ways they could transport him against his will.

"A discreet floo would be safer. If something goes wrong and he tries to escape a thousand feet above the ground—"

"Yes, but we risk tipping off the Floo Network Regulators charged with your monitoring. It may take longer but it would be more prudent—"

"Please leave me alone with my husband."

The men and elf glanced up; Astoria stood there with her wand out, her eyes flicking between them. Neither Lucius nor Fergus moved.

"Please," Astoria repeated, more suppliantly.

Lucius gazed at her for a tense handful of seconds. Hermione knew he suspected she'd disapparate with Draco once they had the room to themselves, but something in Astoria's face must have convinced him otherwise, because he stood up and did as she asked. Fergus was even slower to comply; he eyed Astoria as if she were some shady thug in his doorway, but his inner-elf ultimately won out, and he followed his master out of the room.

Hermione went after them, thinking only of catching up to Lucius to comfort him: the altercation with his son couldn't have been easy and she hadn't missed the strain in his shoulders as he left. But she was waylaid in the hall when she tripped over Fergus, who had paused to listen shamelessly in on Astoria and Draco's conversation. Scandalized, Hermione tried to pull him away, but he fought her, and she fought back—and it didn't take long for her to realize she'd picked a seriously unfair fight. In the end she found herself face-down on the carpet, body-bound and silenced, with the little elf standing on her back, his radar-like ears inclined towards the kitchen, his eyes fixed on a large picture frame hanging on the adjacent wall, in which Astoria and Draco's translucent reflections were visible.

It wasn't melodramatic to say she was forced to listen in, too.

"Draco." Astoria reclaimed her seat beside her husband and waved her wand, restoring his voice. She laid a hand atop his, stroking her fingertips over the back of his knuckles.

He glared at her. "Untie me." His voice was hoarse, hardly a scratch of sound.

"I will." Astoria gazed levelly into his black eyes. "Everything is going to be okay. But you have to promise that you'll go with—"

"I don't have to promise anything!" Draco snarled, trying to jerk away from her, but the ropes held him fast.

"Draco." She reached up and slid her hands on either side of his face. He flinched, but as her fingertips stroked soothing circles at the gnashing muscles of his jaw, slowly, almost imperceptibly, he began to relax. "I love you. You know I do. And you know I'd never do anything to hurt you." He regarded her like some wild animal in a snare, waiting for her to strike out. She seemed encouraged by his muteness, unbothered by his expression, and moved closer, resting her forehead against his. He let her. "Trust me, Draco."

He was silent for a long moment. "You're going to leave me, aren't you?" The words were spoken so quietly Hermione almost missed them. Draco did not sound accusatory or paranoid; he did not spit the words at her like a challenge; he sounded exhausted, despairing, resigned and defeated all at once, as if he were fast approaching the end of a long battle, one he was always destined to lose.

Astoria sighed. "If you don't do this—if you don't go with that wretched elf, today, now, or you leave Shorecliff and you don't—you don't quit, Draco, then I will. I'll have to. For the baby. He can't grow up like this, and I can't grow old like this. But more importantly than that, you can't go on like this. You'll die. And what if, on that day, it's our son that finds your body?"

Something transpired in the room that Hermione missed; perhaps it was something in Draco's eyes that wasn't apparent in his blurry reflection, but something there made Astoria smile, and her tone warm. She pecked him on the nose. "It's a boy. Healer DeGentry did the test a few days ago—I like Scorpius for a name."

Draco snorted with sudden laughter. "Scorpius?"

"Oh for god's sake, not you too! Look, the symbol's an 'm,' Draco! He could literally sign papers 'mM'! How could you not want that?"

Draco laughed, and it was certainly the most genuine sound Hermione had ever heard from him. "Fine," he said eventually, when his laughter died out, "fine—I'll go with bloody Fergus."

"You have to promise—"

"Jesus, Astoria, I said I'd go, all right? I'm going. Merlin. And I'll stay out there until I'm clean, but I'm not complying with every damn thing that little shit asks for. Go on, call in that fucking elf. But you'll—you'll join me, won't you?" His voice hedged on anxious again. "You aren't just going to ditch me out there—"

"I'll come out just as soon as I'm allowed," Astoria promised. "Tonight, even, if the elf gives the go-ahead—"

"—he won't—"

"Well, I'll definitely come out after a few days, whatever he says," she assured him.

They touched foreheads again, murmuring words that apparently not even Fergus could hear, because at that point he decided to climb off Hermione and undo his spells. There was a chair-scrape from the kitchen and he scurried away like a rat, leaving Hermione lying gormless on the floor; as silently as she could, she leapt up and ran after him, finding him in her armchair pretending to read the paper, which was exactly what she had been planning on doing. With just seconds to spare, she arranged herself on the ottoman and pretended to read the comics the back (a difficult task, considering Fergus kept moving it around just to piss her off).

Astoria rounded the corner, smiling. "Well, he says he'll go!" She paused, catching sight of Hermione crouched over in front of Fergus, and her smile flickered a little. "What are you doing?"

"Oh—oh us?" Hermione pointed between Fergus and herself, trying to ignore the large purple eye glowering scornfully at her from around the paper, "we're just sharing." Fergus tutted audibly and Hermione had to battle down the impulse to shove her fist through the paper and lay another fist into him.

Astoria blinked, then thankfully decided to ignore all the weirdness. "Okay, well, Draco's waiting for you in the kitchen, Fergus."

She left, still looking a bit perplexed, and Hermione rounded on the elf, fully intending to give him an earful, but the expression she found on his face stopped her. He was smiling, and it was one of the only proper smiles she'd ever seen him wear.

"You know, I was skeptical of her," he said, looking at the spot where Astoria had vanished, "and you as well. But I've decided you'll both do." And without another word he tossed the newspaper aside and followed Astoria out.

Draco went through with it. He wasn't happy about it, that much was evident in the way he slouched up to Fergus and grabbed the elf's ear for disapparation, but he went, and he didn't launch any threats about abandoning his promises, not even when Fergus slapped his hand off and insisted Draco hold on to his wrist instead.

"If you do not eat your pregnancy mash religiously, Astoria, I shall know about it," Fergus warned.

It wasn't lost on Hermione that Lucius did not see Draco off. Perhaps he was angrier about being struck by his own son than he'd made out to be earlier. Or perhaps he thought he might return the favor if he clapped eyes on Draco again.


"Need something, Astoria?"

"Please, call me Tori. And actually, I'm just curious, what is this thing?"

"This? It's called a television. Here—you turn it on like this, and—there—see?"

"Oh weird! Can they see us?"

"No, it's a one-way thing, sort of like a pensieve, I suppose, except these aren't memories."

"What are they, then?"

"It's like photographs. Moments captured on film. Most all of it is fictional. Staged. Sort of like theater, only with a few differences."

"Like the fact that they're all Russian?"

"Oh god, is it still on that bloody channel? No, you can get television in most every language. See? This one is English."

"Ha! 'What's a peddle-stool?' Oh my god, this thing is hilarious! I've got to surprise Draco with one of these."

"Merlin, please let me be there when it happens. The look on his face will be priceless."

Lucius had vanished. He may have even left the flat, Hermione hadn't been sure: she'd spent all day with Astoria, first introducing her to the wonders of muggle electronics, then muggle clothing (she'd playfully tried on a few of the items in Hermione's bicultural wardrobe, and they'd had a good laugh at that since she couldn't fit anything around her bulging stomach), then food (she'd been especially fond of Cadbury eggs and lamented the sweets Fergus had destroyed), then just muggles in general. Though there was no physical resemblance between the two, Astoria reminded her a bit of Ginny: spirited and snarky and remarkably open. Hermione found herself chatting easily with her, more so than she could remembering doing with Ginny, actually, if only because Astoria was a better listener, and a little less self-centered, and perhaps a touch less incendiary, too. And she hadn't been at all derisive of muggles, except perhaps where their healthcare was concerned: Hermione could hardly talk her through orthopedics without her bursting into laughter. Still, it was much less than she'd expected from Draco Malfoy's chosen wife.

Hermione decided she liked her.

In Lucius' absence, it seemed the plan for the day was preoccupation, since there'd be no moving forward without him. Anyway, it was clear Astoria needed some distraction, and Hermione didn't blame her: today had been stressful for everyone and Hermione could tell she was used to burying herself in her work to keep her mind off things. In the absence of her go-to diversion, she was walking the knife's edge of insanity. Sort of like me.

Eventually Astoria retired to the guest bedroom for an early night. As Hermione had quickly deduced, her pregnancy was not easy, nothing like Ginny's. More than once Hermione caught her wincing and leaning into a wall or chair to steady herself from a sudden pain or dizzy spell, rubbing gentle circles into her belly. At one point in the middle of a conversation, Astoria's face had lit up, and she'd grabbed Hermione's hand and forced it against the region of her navel, gasping, "Oh my god, he's kicking—this never happens—look, feel!" And Hermione had experienced a little upwelling of wonder as a tiny foot, the foot of Draco Malfoy's son, butted against the palm of her hand.

It was surreal.

Now, about an hour after Astoria had retired, Hermione was ready to crawl out of her skin. Lucius was still nowhere to be found. Where on earth had he gone? She had no way to contact him and she didn't even know where to begin looking—what if he'd tried going back to the Manor for some reason and had been captured by Raleigh? What if he'd done something drastic in the wake of his altercation with Draco, like gone off to Shorecliff to finish the fight? The possibilities were endless, each one worse than the last, and Hermione had eventually succumbed to a glass of wine and Tired Ramparts to soothe her raging nerves.

Unfortunately reading wasn't coming as naturally as it used to. After scanning a few pages with zero comprehension she set the book aside and picked up the catcalling card Lucius had left on the coffee table, turning it over in her hands, wondering what on earth she was supposed to say to Ink that would convince him to relax a little around her—or rather, around her in Narcissa's skin. She supposed she could prepare for the encounter while waiting on Lucius; the Polyjuice could do with freshening, it couldn't hurt to add a bit more boomslang for potency, and she could go find more clothing to fit her body while disguised… but then, she didn't want to be reminded of all the ugliness that still lay ahead of them. With a disgruntled huff she tucked the card into her pocket and returned to her book, taking another sip from her glass, and resigning herself to wait on that damnable man to return.

"I'm impressed."

She nearly fell out of her armchair. Her book hit the floor and a bit of merlot splashed onto the armrest, leaving a depressingly deep stain.

He was standing there in the mouth of the vestibule, looking crisp and cool as ever, his outer robes tucked over his arm, a slight smile on his dusky pink lips. The bruise beneath his eye was gone, healed hours ago, no doubt before he'd left. "Merlin's pants, Lucius, you scared me! How do you move without sound like that!?"

His smile grew as he settled himself languidly on the couch, carelessly tossing his robes over the back. "It's called grace, my dear, though I understand why it's an unfamiliar concept to you." He glanced at the stain from her spilt wine.

"Oh please." She cleaned the mess with a quick wand-flick and returned to her book, with every intention of continuing to read—but her memory niggled, and she glanced up again, eyeing him suspiciously. "What are you impressed about?"

He cocked his head at her. "You convinced Astoria to stay."

"Well it made sense. She shouldn't be putting all this extra stress on herself." Hermione paused. "It's not easy for her."

Lucius' eyes narrowed discerningly. "No, it's not." He gestured, curling his fingers towards her. "Come here."

Hermione hesitated. "Where were you?"

"Would you be terribly upset if I told you I'd gone and sat in a park and tossed breadcrumbs at pigeons for five hours?"

Hermione recalled suddenly the way he'd swallowed after Draco said he hated him. "No, actually." She stood up, crossing the room and settling into his welcoming arms. She knew he probably wasn't serious about the pigeons, but also that it hadn't been too far off the mark: his wanderings, wherever they'd gone, had been aimless, more to keep himself moving through the turmoil than to achieve anything. And she knew, instinctively, that he didn't need to talk about what had happened with Draco. Not right now, anyway. She placed her hands on the firm expanse of his chest and nuzzled her head under his chin, not second-guessing whether she'd be allowed, not concerned with rejection.

Lucius moved into her touch without hesitation. Their bodies settled into a natural, delectably comfortable arrangement, his arms around her, her hands moving against him, feeling along aimlessly, breathing each other in. "You impress me," he quietly reiterated. "I received word from Fergus—Draco really is staying. He may have done some irreparable things to the walls and furniture, but he has not tried to escape. Astoria has convinced him, at least for now." He tilted his head, and it seemed his eyes were boring into the bare bones of her soul. "You've helped me. You've helped me save my son. You've saved him twice—from the Fiendfyre and from himself." He paused again, and his voice became something almost ethereal, cossetting, a deep crooning cradlesong. "And you've saved me."

She could not say specifically what he was referring to, perhaps the War, perhaps something deeper, but it seemed not to matter. Somehow she understood, and she gave him her gentlest, most sincere smile, a wordless acceptance of his tacit thanks. That seemed only to intensify whatever he was feeling; a crease appeared between his brows and he looked at her in near-confusion, and she could see her reflection in the endless gray, the same expression, the same sort of almost-wonder of orgasm.

He slid his bare fingers under her chin, tilting her up, pressing a shallow kiss to her lips. It was hardly a touch at all, and to her supreme disappointment he pulled back when she tried to deepen it, ignoring the insistent clutching of her hands at his jaws. Their eyes locked, searching, and it happened—for the first time in her life, Hermione had one of those moments, those moments when the other person is all you can see, all you can understand, as if the world around them had become an old painting left in the rain, blotted and slurred. Something indescribable happened in the cavity of her chest, something almost unpleasant, a kind of painful deepening, as if something large were forcing its way into her, caving her out, twisting in her throat. She was struck by how near he was, how soft those marble eyes had become when they looked at her, how remarkably different he looked overall, now, from the deadened black-and-white photograph in her work folder. He was so human—so lovely—the pain in her chest arced, hit a pitch that made her eyes water, brought her almost to tears. Not with sadness, not even really with happiness: this was something different, a whole other animal entirely, and she couldn't make heads or tails of it.

It was terrifying.

Lucius swallowed again, and a shadow passed through his eyes, something like her own panic, and he pulled her abruptly to him, tucking her under his chin, embracing her whole, snapping off the eye-contact. "I apologize for leaving without first speaking to you," he said; the vibrations of his voice thrummed through her chest. "I assumed I could be afforded some time to… clear my head now that Astoria has agreed to remain here for the time being. It would be unwise to take the Polyjuice and contact Ink with her in the flat. From what Fergus said, she should be able to join Draco the day after tomorrow."

Hermione was almost relieved at the change of subject. The atmosphere at reached a ringing, shimmering intensity that she simply did not know how to cope with, as she'd never read any books on the matter. Note to self: research chest pain in relation to eye-contact with tragically gorgeous men. "I suppose she might object to my impersonating Narcissa," Hermione mused, sliding her hand up the strong expanse of his back and curling the end of his plait around her finger. "She's worked out that you and I aren't strictly platonic and she didn't seem troubled. But the catfishing may strain her tolerance."

Lucius hummed, and she could almost feel him close his eyes, leaning into her, and their height difference was such that she had to arch her back to rest her cheek on his shoulder but there was no discomfort; they sat like that for Christ knew how long, and at one point Hermione opened her eyes a sliver and spotted Astoria tiptoeing back down the hall with a glass of orange juice in her hands. She paused to give Hermione a very smug look before scurrying off, but Hermione, so drunk on Lucius' scent, so consumed by the odd constriction in her chest and throat, didn't even care.

By happy coincidence, Lucius then decided to take her someplace more private, scooping her into his arms and hauling her off to her bedroom. As soon as they were behind a closed and locked door, silencing spells cast on all walls, Hermione shucked all propriety and drew her wand, waving it over him and ridding him of his clothes before he could insist on doing anything to her. She needed to see him again, all of him, just to convince herself it hadn't all been a wild hallucination, and she'd be damned if he tried to slip away without her getting her due fill.

He stood there naked and lunar and godlike before her, always so self-assured, so supremely poised and ready, giving her that look he wore so well, equal parts sex and mischief and predatory want; she couldn't help but fall to her knees and pull him into her mouth, sucking and pulling and laving him until he was panting and trembling against her with his hands wound tight into her hair. All those people who dared suggest that the female form was more pleasing to men than the male form was to women had clearly never seen such a well-made cock; she slid the straight thickness down her throat, testing her own ability to take him all, feeling the ridges of the head rub deep within, and—yes, she had, her lips were pressed to the tickling hairs at the base of him, and he made a noise—god, she wished she could always make him gasp like that, he was so awfully quiet otherwise. Compared to him she felt monstrously noisy, but there was no controlling all her sighs and gasps and non-stop moaning; she hadn't even thought to try.

As she battled down the reflexive urge to choke, she must've swallowed around him, or done something similar, because he moaned and it was so glorious that it made the discomfort well worth it. At a certain point, however, air became necessary (god damn her weak lungs, did they not understand that all she needed was cock? Her body could be so selfish sometimes, honestly) and with a gasp she pulled him out. Almost immediately, however, she plunged him back in and relished the shallow thrusts he was beginning to make into her ministrations. She could feel him twitching against her tongue the instant she'd taken him in, pulsing with every swirl and swipe, and she knew it wouldn't be long before he spilt; all the pent-up emotions were wreaking havoc on his usual stoicism, poor man. Well, actually, she really didn't pity him, it was mouthwateringly clear he was relishing every second of this, but she knew men could be so very touchy when it came to endurance. More fools they: she might not be able to talk for everyone, but there were few things more satisfying than watching and feeling and hearing a man come soon after you'd wrapped them in your lips. She took it as a sign that she'd done something wonderfully right.

But as ever, Lucius had his own agenda. He pulled her off suddenly and yanked her to her feet, bringing her in for a brief, dizzying kiss that bruised her lips, then tossing her up onto the bed. He didn't bother to locate his wand, but manually pulled her trousers and pants off and threw them aside, leaving her shirt intact, too impatient to deal with it. He climbed onto the bed after her and positioned her sharply so that she was forced to crouch on her elbows and knees in front of him, completely exposed. He was being even rougher than usual, one hand leaving fingerprints on her hip, the other applying an anvil-like pressure between her scapulae. She squirmed and he stilled her, pressing harder, and she might've been indignant had she not been distracted by something hot and hard and unmistakable grazing the tender flesh between her legs.

"I'm not quite sure if you're ready," he said, a teasing cadence to his voice. "I do hate to impose. I'll just wait for you to ask, then, shall I?"

She made a violent noise into the duvet. Bastard. He knew she was ready: she was sopping all down her thighs, the entirety of her cunt had fanned out to accept him and her clit was so hard she could probably use it to cut diamond, her nipples were visible even through her shirt and bra and if all that hadn't been enough to tip him off, the way she was trying to lower herself onto him even despite his iron grip should've done the job.

He just wants to hear me ask for it, she thought darkly. Well, I've got more pride than that, Lucius Malfoy.

He must've heard her thoughts, because he began to move off her, the smooth scorching heat of his cock abandoning her aching sex, and somehow words began to form in her mouth, entirely at their own behest.

"Oh god no, please, please Lucius"—she grabbed behind her, clawing at his hips, trying to draw him back—"don't you dare!"

Suddenly all playfulness was gone, and he pressed his torso down on her, his hand moving from her back to her neck, his chest flush against her curved spine, and his voice snapped harsh in her ear: "Ask me."

Beg me, her mind translated for her. Merlin, she wanted to, she almost did; it too a huge effort not to blurt the words in a slur of need. Why did he do this to her? She'd never gotten so deliriously caught up with any other man. But now was not the time for thinking; she'd have to evaluate it later when she was sober. Lucius could be a hell of a drug.

"Lucius," she breathed, "if you don't fuck me now, I'll wait until you're asleep and preform an Erecto on you and one way or another, I will make it happen."

He breathed out a soft laugh. "I suppose it was foolish of me to expect any submission from you." His hand roved her flank, slapped her sharply once, hard. "Always so bossy." She flinched, and in her momentary surprise he acted. A single piston of his hips and he was in, the width of his cock prying her apart and he hit deep, deep enough for pain, but the completion was a perfect counterbalance: she groaned in acquiescence and bucked into him, and then they'd found their cadence, the natural beat she'd only ever found with Lucius, and a mad thought skittered across the haze of her mind, the thought that she could do this her whole life and never tire of it—

His hand snuck down around her hip and began massaging her sex in vertigo-inducing circles, moving rhythmically with the tight slide of his cock inside her, and in no time she was thrashing, her orgasm poised just there, oh, she was just right there—

But he stopped, suddenly, steadying her, and she teetered on the maddening edge, despairing as it slowly, slowly slipped away. Honest to Merlin, she almost killed him.

"Lucius, what in the fuck—?!"

"Is that an owl?" He was looking at the window, his jaw clenched. "I heard something—"

There was a pounding on the bedroom door. Hermione struggled up onto her hands and knees, then almost collapsed again in delirium when Lucius' hips gave a little involuntary thrust against her, and her sex sang a tragic half-hymn, half-dirge as it skirted orgasm a second time. He looked just about as tortured as she did, but when the knock sounded again, more frantic this time, he pulled himself out. The painful emptiness he left behind had to be the most depressing thing she'd felt in awhile.

"Astoria," he said quietly. Then, looking at Hermione in despair: "Clothe me again."

She took a moment to cast a longing look over him before picking up her wand to do as he asked. He glittered with a sheen of perspiration, painted with a rosy blush over his cheekbones and down the line of his sternum; he was breathing shallowly and unevenly and his cock throbbed visibly where it hung between his firm thighs, red and wet and hard and unsatisfied. If she could just—

The knock came again, but it was interspersed with a higher sound, a tapping on the window. "There is an owl—"

"Hermione, my clothes—"

She groaned as she covered him up again. He looked highly uncomfortable as he watched her pull her own clothes back on, then—as Hermione went to deal with the bird at the window—he opened the door and admitted a very somber-looking Astoria.


"The baby," she said, cutting him off. Both of her hands were on her stomach, and her face was pale, highlighting the soft spattering of freckles.


"The baby's coming."

Lucius stared at her. "Shit," he muttered, his mouth pressing into a flat line, "you're only—"

"He's a little early," Astoria muttered. She was calm, just as she had been when Draco had come at her in the kitchen; undoubtedly the life of an emergency healer had given her above-average coping skills when it came to stress. "About five weeks. We'll just have to call the Knight Bus and hope their driving has improved since the last time I used them."

"Is there an overnight bag—?"

"I hadn't thought to pack one this early," Astoria said. Then she winced and clutched her belly, leaning into the doorframe, and Lucius hurried in to support her. "They're already getting bad," she told him. "We'd better hurry."

Lucius glanced over his shoulder at Hermione, who'd let in the owl and was frantically unrolling the note she'd pried off it. There were dents and beak-marks on the outer sections of the muntin and one of the lower panes was cracked; apparently the bird had been trying insistently to get through the window for some time. "Oh Merlin," Hermione said, staring at the scroll, "oh, no, not now—"

"What is it?" Lucius asked sharply, tightening his grip on Astoria as she went through another contraction.

"Ginny," Hermione said, crumpling the little paper, "she's gone into labor—"

"Oh for the love of god," Lucius snapped, "what's happened? Did the moon turn its phase too hard this month?" He glanced at Astoria and back. "Well, go on, then—join your friends. No doubt we'll run into each other before the night's out."

"Lucius," Hermione stammered as he began to support Astoria into the hall. He paused, frowning at her, and behind his back Astoria gave Hermione a wry little smile at the use of his given name, despite her condition. "What about Draco?"

"I'll send for him later," Lucius said, with a brooding look. "Not now, he isn't well."

"Okay." Hermione swallowed. "I'll—I'll try to find you."

He nodded, once, then hurried off with his arms around his daughter-in-law.

And for the first time since moving in, Hermione was left truly alone in her flat.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 19 of 25

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