Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 20 of 25

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"I'm here, I'm here!"

Hermione burst into St. Mungo's in a state of complete disarray: hair wet, shirt backwards, handbag just clinging to her wrist. She found herself facing down the entire Weasley family, all except Molly, who had obviously accompanied her daughter and Harry into the delivery room. Though it had set her another half-hour behind, she'd showered and changed before leaving, paranoid that they'd be able to somehow smell Lucius on her; it was ridiculous of course, they weren't bloodhounds for god's sake, but she supposed with a conscious as guilty as hers any little peace of mind was worth it.

Panting, she addressed the sea of redheads as a whole: "Is the baby here yet?"

"Nope." George yawned and checked his watch. "It's been about five hours and no cigar. We're all taking bets on whether it'll pop out before next Tuesday."

"Shouldn't be much longer," Arthur tagged on with a wan smile. "James only took about six, so we're keeping the champagne at the ready!" What was left of his hair had gone gray, and his face had slouched with age, but there was normally a cheerful spark in his eye, present even during Ginny's first delivery—but not tonight. Tonight he looked flustered.

Hermione felt a swooping in her gut. Oh god, is it the baby? Is Ginny doing Catherine Earnshaw somewhere in this white-tiled death trap!? "What's wrong?"

Arthur shook his head. "Nothing."

"Yeah, only that that git Lucius Malfoy was just in here," Ron said, thrusting a thumb down one of the halls. Hermione took careful note of the exact one.

"Oh, really?" she said, faking ignorance. "Why?"

"He had some pregnant woman with him, looked about to burst. Didn't pay any attention to us but he still stunk up the place," Ron scoffed. "Probably she's just some whore of his delivering a bastard."

Hermione experienced a moment of vertigo as all of her blood seemed to rush into her face. With a massive effort she refrained from jamming her shoe down Ron's throat.

"Harry said he wrote you hours ago," Percy chipped in, frowning at her. His wife, Audrey, was trying to keep a hold on a squirming James, who'd already ripped out a fistful of her hair and was trying to go back for afters. "Where've you been?"

Hermione did her best to look innocent. "I didn't notice the owl. I was busy"—screaming like a banshee while Lucius rode me into next week—"reading."

"Ginny told us to send you on when you arrived," Charlie said. "She's in Room 88."

Well, at least Ginny and Astoria are down the same hall. It'll be a touch easier to sneak away. Trying not to think about why exactly childbirth was classified as an "Artifact Accident" by St. Mungo's standards, Hermione sprinted to the correct room and threw open the door.

"I'm here!" she repeated, smiling this time.

All was peaceful serenity within. Ginny was sitting front-to-back in a chair, eyes closed and her arms crossed over the toprail; Harry was seated behind her, firmly massaging her sacral muscles; and Molly was knitting in a lounger by the window and looking decidedly disgruntled—probably because she didn't like the idea of Harry being present for the delivery. Apparently she hadn't been when James had been born, either, but hadn't objected to his face: she was much too fond of him for that. When she spotted Hermione, her scowl melted into a smile, and she set a pair of half-formed booties aside to beckon Hermione over for a warm embrace.

"We thought surely the baby would beat you here!" Molly sang. Then held Hermione out at arm's length and gave her a critical eyeballing. "You're looking a bit thinner than usual. Not still under the weather, are you, dear?"

"I—I've actually been feeling a little better, thank you," Hermione said, tucking a curl anxiously behind her ear.

"How's Crookshanks?" Harry asked, though he kept his eyes on his wife.

Hermione hesitated. Liar, liar. "He's been… I've been wanting to stay home with him a little more, but work has really started to pile up and Belby's been really insistent lately—"

"Could we please not talk about work?" Ginny hissed through her teeth. "I've got to push another human being out of my vagina at some point tonight, and I'd like to do it without thinking about all the fucking articles I've got due before next Friday."

Molly tsked. "There's no need for talk like that. Swearing will make for a fussy baby, you know."

Hermione burst out laughing. Everyone looked at her. "Sorry," she said, sobering at once. "Is there anything I could do for you, Ginny?"

For the next few hours she, Harry and Molly took turns walking Ginny around the room, lending her support while she battled increasingly severe contractions. As the third hour came to a close, a single, frazzled-looking healer finally made an appearance; as he kicked the door shut behind him Hermione caught the tail-end of an agonized scream from somewhere down the hall—a scream in a horribly familiar voice.

"Sorry," the healer said, "it's been mad tonight. Now, let's see how dilated you are."

Molly looked scandalized as the man reached for her daughter. "Are there any female healers we could get in here?"

The man frowned. "We've got one who's brilliant with childbirth, but unfortunately she's just down the hall in labor herself." His voice was light but his eyes were grim. Hermione felt like she'd been smacked round the face with a frying pan. "The rest are already engaged with other patients. You'll just have to make due with me for the time being."

"Um," Hermione cut in, as Molly opened her mouth again, "I've got to run to the loo."

"Go ahead," Harry said (also eyeing the healer with a frown), "we'll be fine here."

It was easy finding Astoria. Her cries were emanating from the room at the very end of the hall, hoarse and warped with pain, and from the same room Hermione could see droves of mediwitches bustling in and out, some of them toting armfuls of towels stained with bright red blood.

Oh god, she thought, running for the door, oh god oh god oh god—

It looked like the Final Battle. People—healers—were swarming everywhere like bees in an upturned hive, some clutching bottles of dittany and blood-replenishing potion, others manically casting spells. Everyone seemed to be caught up in a state of perpetual motion, all except for the solitary figure at Astoria's bedside, black-clad from head to foot as if he were already mourning and clutching her white hand firmly in his own.

"Miss," said one of the healers, spying Hermione, "you can't be in here."

She tried frantically to draw Lucius' attention, desperate for some clue as to what was happening and perhaps also looking for reassurance, or even just needing him to look at her god damn it—and finally he did, right after the healer spoke, but it was just a small twitch of his eyes and he broke the connection almost as soon as it was made. In those bottomless grays she could see nothing but agony.

She hadn't got the chance to fully absorb his pain, and he didn't turn from Astoria again to give her another, even though Hermione was sure she was still visible in his peripherals. She could glean nothing from the icy mask of his expression, either—only that it was the same he'd worn while Draco had screamed at him.

Astoria, too, met her eyes briefly, and whether or not she recognized Hermione couldn't be said. She did seem to feebly lift her hand for a moment, as if to beckon—but then the hand balled itself into a fist and her eyes snapped shut once again as she groaned out a noise of such profound suffering that Hermione felt nauseated listening to it.

Her heart ached. She wanted to go to them. She wanted to clutch at Astoria's hand, brush the sweaty bangs off her head, let her know that she wasn't so alone in this. And she wanted to hold Lucius. Never had she wanted to hold someone so intensely as then. But like a wraith on a doorstep, she realized she couldn't break into the fragile scene without being asked.

And Lucius was turned away from her, silent, aloof.

He was ignoring her. Shutting her out.

A second later the healer moved, blocking him from view. Numbly, Hermione allowed herself to be ushered back into the hall like a sheep on a tether. Her immediate emotional reaction was despair. Lucius was pushing her away, he didn't want to be seen associating with her in public, wouldn't let her try to comfort Astoria, didn't want to turn to her for support, didn't want her anywhere near them—didn't want her anymore.

But by the time the healer left her standing alone by a broken drinking fountain, she'd already reverted to her most trusty defense mechanism: logic. Obviously he had ignored her, not because he'd suddenly decided to distance her, but because there were dozens of pairs of eyes on them and no godly explanation as to why she, Hermione Granger, would purposefully be anywhere near him or his daughter-in-law. The sight would spark gossip, and gossip traveled like Fiendfyre in the wizarding world—she didn't doubt it would get back to her friends before they'd even left the hospital.

She didn't pause to wonder if she was mistaken. Almost as soon as it had appeared, her anguish vanished in favor of a rampant anxiety. Astoria groaned from within her room, and it was god-awful to stand there pretending like she didn't care. The helplessness—the fear—it made her sick beyond words. Lucius' tormented eyes swam before her eyes alongside Astoria's pallid, straining face. If there was some way… some way she would be able to help…


She blinked out of her trance. Down the hall, Molly had poked her head out of Room 88 and was beckoning. "Come along—hurry—they've said she can start pushing!" And she ducked back in, leaving Hermione to walk, zombie-like, away from one half of her life and back into the other.

"You're doing great!"

"Don't you bloody patronize me, Harry Potter!"


"Oh Merlin I hate you so fucking much right now—!"

"Ginny, please watch your mouth—"


Hermione stood just inside the doorway, wringing her jacket between her hands and gazing on with a slight grimace as Ginny fought her way through the crowning. She, like Astoria, was soaked through with sweat, but there was a healthy color in her cheeks (in fact she was practically blazing) and nothing at all weak about the way she clung to her mother and husband, if their expressions were anything to judge off. From where she stood, Hermione couldn't see anything of the actual birthing, and thank god for that, she didn't think she could deal with much more gore tonight.

No, she definitely felt like scheduling a tubal ligation after tonight.

Just a few more minutes (or was it actually another half-hour?) of the swearing and arguing and gnashing of teeth, and the room was suddenly filled with a harsh, earsplitting wail. The sound melted Ginny's furious expression right off her face and she immediately extended her arms to accept the small, slimy, writhing thing from the attending mediwizard.

"Oh my god," Harry said, his glasses askew, his face creasing with emotion, "Ginny—"

"It's a boy," one of the healers announced whilst the others began to tidy the room. "Mr. Potter, if you'd like to sever the cord…"

Harry drew his wand and, with a flick, the deed was done. "He's beautiful," Molly said through copious tears, "oh, he's gorgeous Ginny, look at all that black hair—"

Ginny choked out a laugh. "Another boy—"

"Could be you'll have to try seven times for a girl!" Molly giggled. She missed the look of horror on Harry's face but Hermione caught it, and on any other occasion she would've cracked a grin, but she'd never felt less like smiling just then.

"Hermione, dear," Molly said, waving her over, "come and meet baby Arthur!"

Both Ginny and Harry froze. "Yeah," Ginny said slowly, "about that, mum—"

"We aren't quite done here," the healer cut in, shouldering his way between Molly and Ginny. "Mummy still has a bit of work to do, so if daddy would like to take baby over for a wash, there's a table set up—"

"Yes, let's give you a bath!" Harry scooped up his new son and practically ran out of the battle zone. "Hermione, can you help me?"

His tone brooked no argument. As she scurried over she did her best to ignore the whispered conversation Ginny was now having with her mother.

"He's wonderful, Harry," Hermione said mandatorily, gazing down at the newest Potter as Harry wiped him clean. And really, she was happy for them—it's just that she knew Harry hadn't asked her over to help. He was going to question her; she could feel it crackling like static in the air between them. And she knew why. Normally she would've sobbed her way through the whole delivery and fussed over the resultant little reptile, just like she had with James, and while Ginny and Molly were too wrapped up to care about her reactions, Harry was a bit more perceptive.

It took him a while but finally the question was posed. "Anything wrong?" Though he was grinning down at his son when he said it, Hermione could feel the weight behind the question.

"No," she said mechanically.

A shadow passed over his face, something between concern, disappointment and maybe a little annoyance, too. Hermione felt a peal of fear roll down her back. Merlin, did he know? How could he know? Would he go on questioning her? Would she go on lying? Could she?

But Harry didn't seem interested in pursuing an interrogation, thank Godric. He just went back to gazing in lovestruck wonder at the little creature-miracle he had helped create, and it should have come as a relief, but actually it made Hermione even more uneasy because the question now dangled between them, unanswered and unaddressed: what did he know?

When the infant was fairly vernix-free Harry bundled him up in soft blankets and returned to Ginny, who had given up trying to reason with Molly and was now looking as if she'd like to hang herself.

"Ginny, really now, I can understand Albus, but Severus—?"

"Let's go introduce him to his aunts and uncles," Harry suggested, breaking off Molly's diatribe. Ginny gave him a grateful smile which he returned before heading out the door to make the grand announcement.

Harry's arrival triggered a happy kind of disaster in the waiting room. Arthur finally got to pop the cork on the champagne, though it had gone warm and most everyone gagged on it. Hermione stood apart from the revelries, watching with a fixed smile she was sure looked somewhat demented, doing her best not to rip out her own hair or scream with frustration. Elsewhere in the hospital, people were suffering—people she cared about incongruously but deeply. They were suffering and perhaps dying and she was out here pretending to look as jubilant as the rest.

They needed her. The Weasleys and the Potters did not.

It was with this justification in mind that, when Harry was momentarily lost amidst the crush of bodies all eager to hug him, she poured her cup out into a fichus and slipped away—not back down the hall, but out of the hospital and into the night.

Hermione impressed herself with how quickly she was able to get back. Under the shield of the shitty DMLE Invisibility Cloak, sneaking through the waiting room was almost too easy. As she scurried past Room 88 she overheard several of the Weasleys complaining loudly about the baby's new name.

It was quiet as a crypt in Astoria's room. The maelstrom of activity from earlier had died down to almost nothing: there were only two healers present now, one on either side of Astoria's bed, and Lucius was nowhere to be found.

Hermione peeked around the doorjamb with growing horror. Astoria looked dead. Her skin had turned gray and aside from the shallow breaths lifting her chest, she was completely still. One of the attendant healers was intoning healing spells; the other was tending an IV bag full of what looked like blood-replenishing potion and scribbling on a parchment. By timing it just right, Hermione was able to slip into the room and out from under the cloak simultaneously without either of them noticing.

Her first attempt to speak came out as more of a rodent sound, but it nevertheless got the healers' attention; she tried not to blush at their joint bewilderment as she cleared her throat and started again.

"Is she all right?"

"Aren't you Hermione Granger?" one of them asked.

Hermione scowled at her. "Yes, and—and I'm a friend, and I would like to know if she's all right."

"We're not at liberty to discuss anything with you," the other said, glaring at her. "Anyway I've never heard Tori mention you before."

Hermione could've throttled him. After a few steadying breaths she affixed a look of deep concern on her face (not a difficult task under the circumstances) and tried again: "Please, I'm just worried about her and the baby."

The healers exchanged looks.

"We think she'll be fine," said one, "she's stable now, anyway."

"The baby's in critical condition," said the other. "They've taken it upstairs."

Hermione swallowed. "And Mr. Malfoy?"

"Left, didn't he? And we don't know where he's gone, so don't ask."

It took her twenty minutes of shambling around under the cloak, but Hermione finally found him keeping vigil just outside the neonatal unit, sitting in a chair of his own conjuring and brooding at the locked double-doors across the hall—through which, it seemed, sound did not pass, because in the stark silence her own quiet breathing became a veritable hurricane of noise.

As she walked towards him, his head snapped around in her direction, and he glowered like some startled predator at the empty space she occupied, his eyes flickering and almost reflective in the half-light. He must've spotted her through one of the cloak's numerous holes because when he drew his wand, the tip was aimed directly at the center of her chest.

"Show yourself," he growled.

The sight was so alarming, so reminiscent of their ugly history, Hermione's diaphragm seized up and for a terrifying few seconds she couldn't speak. It was only as he opened his mouth to launch a threat or perhaps a killing curse that the spasm passed.

"It's me," she gasped, "it's just me!"

It took him only a heartbeat to recognize her voice. "God damn it, Hermione." He tucked his wand away and slumped back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. His voice was aggrieved. "Never sneak up on me like that again."

"Sorry." Nobody else was around, in fact she couldn't hear a soul moving on the whole floor, but still, she didn't feel safe enough to take off the cloak: someone could come bursting out of the neonatal unit at any moment. Moving silently as she could, she got to within arm's reach of him and, initially, she'd planned on offering up a montage of comforting words—but looking down into his cold face now, she found all the things she'd been about to say tasted flat and empty and, frankly, ignorant. She hadn't thought of a backup plan, either; the result was her standing over him gaping like some confused toddler at the zoo looking in on a particularly frightening exhibit.

Thankfully he couldn't see her, and he chose that moment to speak. "They wouldn't let me in." His voice was low, dangerous. He hadn't glanced over to look for the holes in her cloak and verify her position, but somehow, in that sixth-sense way of his, he knew she was near.

Probably the healers don't want you getting underfoot, and that's why they've shut you out, she thought sensibly, but thank Merlin she realized these were not the right sentiments for the occasion. Only—what were?

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "That's… that sounds frustrating."

God, normally she had a knack for this sort of thing, but the sleep deprivation must've been catching up because this was terrible. She wanted to grab those awkward, stilted words out of the air and shove them back into her mouth. Lucius didn't seem phased, however. In fact he didn't react at all, and given the situation, no reaction was a good reaction.

With the cat still clinging to her tongue, she decided to seat herself, Indian-style, on the floor beside his chair, making sure the cloak covered every inch of her and wondering if she ought to reach out and touch him, maybe soothe a hand down the back of his calf. Perhaps touch would do what words couldn't? But he looked so somber, so imposing, she immediately thought better of it.

After just a few seconds the silence became unbearable, and she had to speak. "What happened?"

"Placental abruption. It happened on that god-forsaken bus and it was causing the bleeding. She went into early labor because of a fluid abnormality—unrelated—polyhydramnios." He ground his teeth. "She was in pain. I kept telling those fools to cast a Numbing Charm but they all insisted it would have done more harm than good." He scoffed. "To whom? Astoria? The child? It did not look as if anything would have made their circumstances worse. And damn those healers. She told them to keep her bed inverted, she said gravity would help with the birthing, but when she fell unconscious they laid her flat again and her condition worsened. And no one would listen to me. Not one of these imbeciles knows how to listen. I wanted to strangle the whole lot of them."

There was such malice in his voice that she felt a sudden nervousness, sitting so close, but she soon realized his anger was just misplaced fear. And it was strange, realizing it—he was afraid.

She tried to change the subject. "Did you send for Draco? Or—or—"

"No." He spared her the trouble of naming his ex-wife. "Neither of them need to be here now. The healers are not yet sure if the infant… The fewer people involved at this stage, the better." He paused. "Anyway, Draco will have begun to feel the withdrawal by now. It is critical he remain confined over the next few days. He is in no state of mind to handle this situation appropriately." Gray eyes screwed shut a moment; when they opened they were glazed with exhaustion. "Further, I don't know where Narcissa is or how to contact her, nor do I believe I should be the one to do so."

"She's in Arles," Hermione blurted. When Lucius glanced down at her (or rather, in her general direction) with his eyebrow cocked, she would've given anything to have not uttered those words.

"Miss Granger," he said with a sudden drawl, "you surprise me. I had not pegged you for a flagrantly jealous, stalk-my-exes type. Should I be concerned?"

"I'm not jealous!" Despite the gravity of their situation she could see the blatant, black-humored smirk in his eye. It only made her more flustered. Thank god for the cloak, she didn't want to think about the state of her complexion just then. "Only know because—because when I was—when I had to—to question you in disguise, I had to be sure she wouldn't walk in on us, so I waited for her to go on a trip someplace before I… approached you."

He seemed even more amused by that. "When you had to question me… in disguise," he repeated, slow and heavily skeptical. "My but you are reaching, aren't you? Come now, there is a word for it, say it with me: catfish."

"Well I don't think that's appropriate!" Hermione snapped. "I wasn't trying to—to get in your trousers!"

"No?" Lucius drew out the word with such sickly sweet suggestion, it was a wonder he didn't choke on it. Ooh, Merlin, she thought, this man—I could shave that fucking eyebrow right off his face and he wouldn't even see it coming. Then let him try to give me that smug look again. Bastard.

Thankfully (for his eyebrow) he dropped that line of teasing there. "Arles," he mused, with a thoughtful glance into the middle-distance, "hmm… odd place for her to go. As far as I know she does not possess any friends or family there." He quirked his lips, then turned suddenly back to Hermione and said, in a dizzying change of pace, "Was Potter very curious as to why you borrowed his cloak?"

Hermione blinked. "It's not his—it's the Ministry's. The DMLE sometimes loans them out to employees."

Lucius' other eyebrow rose to join the first. "Ah. I suppose that's why it's in such poor condition." His smirk returned. "Isn't this a gross misuse of government property, Miss Granger? Not a pattern, I hope—exploiting your privilege? And further, won't you be missed downstairs? Terribly rude of you to sneak away from Potter all ninety-five of the Weasleys on such a proud occasion. Surely one of them will notice?"

She flushed a whole new shade of burgundy. Even knowing he was only teasing didn't help; he'd touched much too close to the truth for humor.

She might have lost her temper. "If you want me to leave then just say so!"

There was a long silence. She glanced up at him, staring brazenly in her concealment; he looked as if he were choosing his next words with great care. "No," he said at last, "I don't think I will. But then, it is not my place to look after your reputation. I was only expressing my astonishment that your relationship with your friends does not matter more than this."

Her temper fizzled out. Matter more than this? And what was this, exactly? What was he suggesting? Or more importantly, what was he trying to get her to suggest?

She couldn't beat him at this game, sadly. This subterfuge that Slytherins favored entirely too much. It was all she could do to revert to the truth. "I only wanted to be here," she muttered. "With—with you. Sorry, I just… I'm not trying to hurt anyone."

"Don't apologize," Lucius cut her off. "I'm… It's good you're here. It's—fine. But I cannot imagine any alibi you might tell your friends to explain your absence. I do not believe any of them will understand. Will they?" He looked meaningfully at her (or near enough, anyway).

Hermione thought. "Maybe." She second-guessed. "No."

Lucius cocked his head. "Have they not yet begun to suspect?"

"Well… Luna knows. And I think Harry suspects something, too, but I don't know precisely what."

"And has Ms. Lovegood outed you?"

"She wouldn't do that."

He shifted uncomfortably. "Does… she know about me, specifically?"

"Erm… yes. She—she sort of—guessed about you. She doesn't know what we're up to, though. She just knew you were in my flat that day they surprised me with lunch."

His north-sea eyes were deadly grave, but he said nothing, not for a long while. Just as Hermione was considering touching him again—she could feel the heat of him radiating all along her right side, and snuggling into that warmth sounded awfully tempting—the doors of the neonatal unit swung open and a ragged-looking mediwitch emerged, clutching a scroll in one hand and her wand in the other.

"All right, Mr. Malfoy," she said, "the baby's responded very well to the spellwork and we're confident he's going to pull through. You're welcome to come in and see him."

Scorpius was, without a doubt, the smallest baby Hermione had ever seen. He was ensconced in what looked like a domed viewing case, swathed in periwinkle blue blankets and, though the barrier blocked all sound, it was clear he was screaming at the top of his little lungs. Apparently he was taking to the spellwork; she doubted he'd be able to flail quite so vigorously if he was ill or injured. And despite his tininess, he still had quite a bit of hair on his head. White hair. He was definitely a Malfoy.

Lucius was regarding his grandson with something like skepticism, as if he wasn't quite convinced Scorpius was real. He reached out as if to touch the writhing infant, but the case stayed his hand, shimmering with bright gold ripples where his fingertips brushed. "I'm sorry," the mediwitch said, "you won't be able to touch him until the head healer gives the go-ahead. Still, it may not be so long before then. He's got quite a bit of enthusiasm, this one."

Enthusiasm wasn't the word Hermione would've chosen, but nevertheless a slow smile unfurled over Lucius' mouth. He waited until the healer had backed off to give him some privacy before he cocked his head in Hermione's direction and muttered, "Oh dear, he doesn't look happy, does he? It appears these accommodations are not up to his standards."

Hermione grinned up at him, though she knew he couldn't see it. "Yes, obviously he's just trying to call down the manager to complain." She nudged him. "Definitely your petit-fils, monsieur grand-père."

"Your French is atrocious," he snubbed, but the warmth in his smile took the sting from his words. "And really, Miss Granger, it's terribly rude to eavesdrop." He leaned towards her and—after two attempts—managed to skim the backs of his fingers affectionately over what he must've thought was her arm, but was actually straight down the front of her face.

Still, Hermione thought it was sweet.

"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Malfoy, but you cannot stay here."

"Do not touch me." Lucius shot the rotund male healer a look of withering distain, jerking his shoulder out from beneath the man's sausage fingers.

He succeeded in almost scaring the man off (Lucius was nothing if not terrifying when angered), but then—apparently because his job hinged on it—the healer tried again, this time going for a more soothing, cajoling angle. "I know you're concerned for her, we all are, but Tori's in the very best of hands and she's already showing rapid signs of improvement. You can come check on her again in a few—"

"I can, and will, do as I please," Lucius growled back. "Now if you would be so kind as to leave, I shall forgive your disrespectful intrusion."

The healer dropped all pretenses. "Look, staying in the ward overnight is strictly prohibited, you'll only be in the way and she needs to rest—"

"I am merely sitting here, you fool, how will that prevent her resting? You are the one disturbing us."

"I will call security, Mr. Malfoy, don't think I won't!"

Lucius stood abruptly and made as if to launch an attack, but Hermione reached out and grabbed the hem of his sleeve in cloaked fingers, giving him a warning tug back. The healer had, again, backed away, but he was squaring up to Lucius now, his soft chest puffed out, bolstered by the support of what was undoubtedly an entire team of trained security wizards on-staff in the building.

Lucius stood seething a moment, then it seemed to occur to him that being arrested and cast into the street wouldn't benefit anyone, least of all Astoria. So he, too, changed tactics, putting on a show of resignation. "All right," he acquiesced, "I will go. But please, give me just another moment. I need to tell her I will be back, and everything will be okay."

Hermione shot him an unseen look of disbelief. She hadn't really pegged him as the mawkish type—and neither, it seemed, had the healer.

"I'm really going to have to insist you leave," he said bluntly. "Now."

Quick as lightning, Lucius changed tack yet again. "Very well," he seethed, "we shall see what the press thinks of St. Mungo's policy of brutally throwing elderly men out into the streets after-hours, when they are only trying to look after their families!"

The healer looked scandalized, but Lucius held fast to his façade of righteous fury and the man finally caved. "You have five minutes," he snapped, "and then either you get the fuck out or I'm calling security."

He slammed the door behind him.

"Elderly?" Hermione burst out laughing. "Really, Lucius? Not even Rita Skeeter could spin that story."

"I did not need it to be believable," Lucius sniffed. "I only needed that imbecile to leave." Then—drawing his wand and casting a quick Silencing Charm—he raised his voice to an authoritative shout and called out, "Harriot!"

The little elf appeared with a crack at his elbow, her back to him. "Master Malfoy?" She spun around, caught sight of him and beamed, dropping into a quick courtesy. "Oh! There you are! What is it you require, sir?" Then her eyes darted to Astoria, and the smile dropped off her face. "Oh dear—"

"How is Draco?" Lucius cut across her.

Harriot peeled her eyes back off Astoria. "Fergus is caring for him," she said nervously. "He—he is—Fergus says that he will be fine in a few days."

Lucius nodded once, tiredly. He seemed to have expected that. "I need you to remain here," he ordered, "and watch over Astoria while she recovers. Do not allow yourself to be seen, and do not leave her side for any reason. You are to report back to me should her condition change." He thought a moment. "Do not overtax yourself."

Harriot trotted over to Astoria's bedside and pulled herself up onto the mattress, settling like some small plush-toy at the foot of her bed. "Begging your pardon, Master, but what's happened to her?" she asked nervously.

"She has delivered the baby early," Lucius supplied. "He is in the neonatal unit. They have declared him stable, but I would like you to check on him periodically as well. He will be the only blonde—"

"Ooh, so she's had the baby?" Harriot squealed. "Fergus will have a fit, he wasn't here for it!" Then she slapped her hands over her mouth and squeaked through her fingers, "Oh! Sincerest apologies, sir—"

Lucius waved it away. "Are your instructions clear?" She nodded, ears flapping. "Good. Thank you. Now hide yourself, and remember, if anything changes, return to me."

Harriot was just crawling under Astoria's bed when the tubby healer barged back into the room, this time flanked by two hard-faced security wizards. "Five minutes are up," he snarled.

Lucius rose to greet them with a cold smile. "And it was all I needed. Thank you—I am perfectly capable of showing myself out."

"I do not like this."

"Well, we could kidnap them, but I imagine that will only make things worse."

"Don't be facetious."

"Oh come on, Lucius. The healers all say Astoria and the baby will be fine—and Astoria did look better than before."

"We should not have left them."

"Well I don't imagine you'd like to stand around in the waiting room with the Weasleys?"

Lucius merely scowled, clenching and unclenching his fists in the middle of her kitchen, very much as if he were crawling out of his own skin. She knew most of his frustration stemmed from his inability to control the situation, but really, if they weren't allowed to wait in Astoria's room (and they weren't, the head healer made that very clear) then it was no use trying to hang around in St. Mungo's until she was able to leave. Hermione knew he understood this, but she'd learned he wasn't necessarily the best at self-soothing.

After a tentative silence, Hermione slid her arms around his waist, rubbing her cheek against the front of his robes. He stood rigidly against her a moment, almost long enough to make her second-guess her actions. Then she felt his large hands smooth up her sides and over her scapulae, pulling her in closer. Her heart fairly exploded in her chest.

"We can check on them in a few hours," she promised, nuzzling closer against him, smiling as he yielded to her.

He sighed. "That does not make me dislike this any less."

She could feel him tensing up again; clearly he was brooding and it was high time for a distraction. As soon as the thought occurred to her, however, her mind suggested the most inappropriate thing possible, recalling her back several hours when he'd pinned her to the bed and steadily fucked her to delirium. She felt a rush of heat between her legs (they'd been interrupted, hadn't they? And wasn't that a tragedy that needed putting right? Really, his cock was right there, she could feel it against her stomach even despite his lack of arousal, surely he wouldn't mind if she just….?) but, glancing up into his solemn face, she realized now wasn't the time for such shenanigans, as delectably distracting as they were.

So she said, "Maybe you should get some sleep. You look dead on your feet."

And he did. His shoulders were slumped and there were shadows under his eyes, but despite all that he still managed look unfairly beautiful—in a very haunting, very Dracula-esque sort of way, admittedly. She almost wanted to scoff; she doubted she looked as good, in fact she was somewhat grateful she hadn't yet looked in a mirror. Trust him to set another impossible standard by making sleep deprivation sexy.

He frowned. "I don't believe I could bring myself to lie still right now."

"Well, maybe you should eat something."

"I am not hungry."

She tutted. "Then maybe we should use that catcalling card thing."

Silence. He sighed again. "Very well. You will have to transform. He may only be able to hear your voice, but I am sure he will be able to tell if it is not Narcissa's."

Twenty minutes later, Narcissa Malfoy (or was it Black again?) wandered down Hermione's hallway from her bedroom, barefoot and dressed only in Hermione's fluffy pink bathrobe. She'd been careful to strip and don the garment before taking the Polyjuice, telling herself that although she'd already violated the woman's privacy once, it hadn't really been her fault then, and it definitely wouldn't happen again.

Still, she felt more uncomfortable than she had in a long time. The robe, though knee-length on Hermione, rode up on Narcissa's taller frame, and she kept having to continually adjust the front to make sure it closed all the way to her throat. Beforehand when she'd impersonated the woman she'd always worn dresses that were cut rather modestly, and they'd done a much better job at keeping her concealed, but Hermione couldn't be assed to do up all those lacings again just to talk at Ink over a card. She figured, if all he could do was hear her voice, a robe would do.

She found Lucius in the sitting room, leaning forward on the couch and running the lit tip of his wand over the catcalling card, which he'd laid out on the coffee table. He glanced up when she entered—and his eyes immediately raked over her, lingering over the bits she'd been keen to hide, and in his face she could see a clear, potent, unmistakable desire.

Her stomach hit the floor. Suddenly she wished she'd taken the time to lengthen the bathrobe down to her ankles.

His eyes darted off her quick enough, but that didn't set her insides right. "With some effort I've remembered how to activate this," he said casually, tapping the card with a forefinger. "To speak to him, touch the card with the tip of your wand and say Loquius. To cut the connection, simply pull your wand away. It's nearly half twelve in the afternoon, I'm sure he does not possess a dayjob—likely he will accept your call if he has the corresponding card on his person."

When ten seconds passed and she hadn't moved or spoken, his jaw clenched. "Have you decided you'd rather not do this today?" He sounded deceptively light.

"Not at all," she replied, surprised that she could match his insouciant tone, as there was a huge lump in her throat. She supposed Narcissa just couldn't sound croaky—no, she was too perfect for that. Swallowing, Hermione drew herself up and settled primly on the couch, as far away from Lucius as possible.

He seemed not to notice, but she knew better. He pushed the card over to her and sat back, still not looking at her. "There you are. Loquius."

Suddenly she found his nonchalance infuriating, and she couldn't stop the words tumbling out of Narcissa's mouth. "Why exactly do you know how to use one of these things?"

He looked at her, then, and his gaze didn't waver from her face. His voice hardened. "Because I have used one before."

"Really?" She swallowed again, just managing to suppress the urge to insinuate something rude. Still—"Why?"

His voice took a dangerous edge. "Maybe you should take a nap. You have not slept properly for some time, and you are clearly fatigued. We can always resume this another time."

The anger—once concentrated in her chest—shot to her head like a bolt of white-hot lightning. "I'm not a toddler you can just order to bed," she snapped at him.

"You are certainly acting like one."

She gaped. "You're a real bastard, you know that?"

"Am I?" His eyes narrowed. "I am not the one throwing a tantrum for no reason at all."

She set her jaw and folded her arms tightly across her chest. Yes, Narcissa had been his wife for nearly a quarter of a century, had been courted properly by him, had borne and raised his child with him, and yes, it was only natural that he'd looked at her like that—hell, any straight male would, especially dressed as she was now. But his innocuous little perusal had reminded her that there was in fact one other woman out there whom he wanted more than her—a woman who, Hermione was certain, could very easily swoop in and take him back again, if she felt so inclined. And Hermione had never operated very well with a threat like that hanging over her head.

A part of her, the part not so connected with her emotions, realized she was being childish about the whole thing and was frantically ordering her to backpedal, but another part—the part that sometimes sent flocks of violent canaries after people in fits of jealous rage—had already seized control.

"It was a silly question, I guess," she threw at him. "I mean why else would you use one?" As he opened his mouth she grabbed up the card and pulled her wand, speaking loudly over him. "So the charm's Loquius?"

She heard him laugh a cold, humorless laugh full of anger, but he merely said, "That's the one."

Defiantly, she touched the tip of her wand to the card and announced the incantation. The blackness lit up in a sinister shade of dark purple, almost—it seemed to her—ultraviolet, hardly bright enough to illuminate even the surrounding tabletop. Then it began to beep, and with each beep the light pulsed; it reminded Hermione vaguely of waiting for someone to pick up a phone.

And suddenly the light changed, became a frosty pale blue, and a voice spoke from the nether, coming out of the card as clearly as if he were speaking through a tiny open window. "Hullo there."

Hermione froze. She'd been so pissed with Lucius that she hadn't even thought to rehearse any sort of dialog with him. Now she turned to him, all anger forgotten, and waved her hands frantically in a silent plea for help, but he pressed his lips together and shook his head and she knew why: anything he said now would be heard by Ink. She'd have to wing it.

Hermione turned back to the card and tried to force something through Narcissa's voicebox, which had suddenly shut down on her. "Uh—uh—hello." She winced at how horribly wooden it sounded. In her peripherals she saw Lucius get up and noiselessly leave the room.

"It was my wish to hear from you sooner, but this will certainly do." His voice growled along the way a man's voice did when he wanted to fuck you and didn't bother hiding it. "How are you my dear? Nothing wrong, I hope?"

"Not–not really." Oh, god, she sounded like she was about to puke. Hermione wasn't much of an expert but she was fairly certain that was not the way to a man's heart. She cleared her throat and tried again. "I had wanted to call on you earlier as well… but things have been… hectic."

"Oh? How so?" He didn't sound concerned so much as hungry at the prospect of finding her vulnerable.

Hermione swallowed and tried to ignore Lucius as he reentered the room, scribbling furiously at something in his hands. "It's—just—just that—" And now Lucius was making an annoying tapping noise. She looked up to shoot him a glare, only to see he was holding up a notepad on which he'd written, We've been fighting.

"Lucius and I have argued," she said automatically, glancing into his face. He nodded, and flipped the notepad to the next page. Dutifully she read, "He was staring at another woman." She felt the heat rise in her cheeks and she gave him a look, she wasn't sure if it was quizzical or angry, but his face remained blank as he flipped the page again. "He's… such a terrible cad."

She frowned at him, but his face remained unreadable, deadpan. Surely Lucius wasn't apologizing? Because this had to be the most bizarre, convoluted apology in human history, and in her deepest mind she knew he really didn't have to—and if she knew that, then he would, too. She searched his eyes, looking for something, some hint of emotion, but he'd already flipped to the next page and, knowing time was short, she hurried onto the next lines. "How dare he? After everything I believed it was dreadfully obvious that—that he cared for me. But clearly not, because he dared glance at another woman. I'll admit that I have simply grown tired of him."

She tried to catch his eye, to communicate to him that this was absolutely not the truth, damn it, but he was busy scribbling out a few more (undoubtedly depressing) lines. It occurred to her, then, just how calculating this all was, how terribly manipulative, and suddenly she knew what he was doing—he was trying to make her feel bad! Ooh, he was a cad for playing her emotions like this, wasn't he? But she couldn't muster any anger towards him. No, she was too busy feeling dreadful at herself for losing it earlier, and that had been his intention, hadn't it?

Ink spoke, providing her a much-needed distraction. "Of course you have, my dear," he said, and his words dripped dark honey. "Lucius isn't the sort of man any woman should have to marry, or be anywhere near, for that matter. But I'm sure you know that."

Lucius held up the notepad. "Yes," Hermione read, "I sometimes wish I could escape his evil clutches." Ooh, no, he was being ridiculous now, and when she glanced up she saw he'd pinned on that droll smirk of his. She glared at him, but his grin didn't flicker and he tapped insistently on another line. "I wish someone would take me far away from this awful man and"—she stammered, glowering at the line he'd written ("and his massive cock!") and improvised wildly around it—"and all the rest."

She tried to kick him under the coffee table, but even shaking with suppressed laughter he still managed to move deftly out of the way.

"You are welcome here," Ink purred, and the card glowed suddenly green. "You need only speak the password and I shall spirit you away."

Lucius had scrawled something else and was tapping at it insistently, but Hermione, sure it was some other would-be witticism, ignored him. He slapped the notepad, loud enough for Ink to hear if he was listening, but she pressed on determinedly, quite sure she'd be able to come up with her own lines from now on—and they'd be much better, too. "What is the password?"

By the time Lucius had stood up and begun to reach for her, it was too late. She'd already felt the hook in her navel and, in the frozen second it took for the Portkey to whisk her into the nether, she looked up and saw the frozen panic in his face, as well as what he'd written.


The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 20 of 25

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