Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 22 of 25

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After some uncounted minutes Belgium squirmed in Hermione's arms. Hermione thought she might need to go outside, but as soon as she was free Belgium went straight to Scorpius' bassinette, peering in with her head slightly cocked. She jumped about nine feet in the air when the gold dome around him suddenly turned a lurid chartreuse and started wailing like a bomb siren.


Astoria set down Healing through Relaxation (which she'd been resentfully pursuing for some time now, no doubt because she knew Fergus would make good on that pop quiz and it was just easier to appease him the first go-round). "Hungry again, little bug?"

The dome blared louder. Astoria chuckled and touched her fingertip to the glowing surface, dragging it around to spell "open." A seam appeared in the dome and it slid open like a pair of mandibles; now Hermione could hear the full might of the new Malfoy scion's displeasure.

Merlin in a cummerbundHe's the size of a kitten, he should NOT be able to achieve those decibels! She wondered if there was any polite way to ask if Astoria could turn the siren back on.

In a few quick motions Astoria summoned a bottle, unstopped it and waved her wand over the neck. A tendril of milk rose out of it and hung midair, sluggishly following her wand-tip; Hermione was reminded of a snake charmer hypnotizing a cobra. With a look of great concentration Astoria guided the milk down to touch the side of Scorpius' belly, and as soon as it made contact with his skin it began to glow as if lit from within; almost at once Scorpius stopped crying. Astoria stood completely motionless in this position, and just as Hermione was about to ask what was happening she realized the milk was gradually disappearing from the bottle.

"Oh, fascinating!" Hermione sat closer and strained her eyes, and she thought she could see the milk flowing from bottle to wand-tip, apparently vanishing right into Scorpius' body. "Is this how you feed him?"

"Yes. New turn of the century method—we used to try and guide it down their throats but there was a too big a risk of drowning."

"Is this how healers feed all the preemies in St. Mungo's?"

Astoria looked at her oddly. "How else would you do it?"

Hermione explained about IV and gavage feeding, and how Muggles sometimes inserted a tube right where Astoria had placed her wand-tip. Astoria looked shocked. "How do any of them survive?"

"It's not always easy," Hermione conceded. "I guess if you always knew magic existed you'd have a difficult time understanding what it means to live without it."

Astoria looked thoughtful at that. When the milk bottle had been drained and Scorpius sealed back into his dome, she asked abruptly, "Hermione, do you have your wand?"

She may as well have thrown a pail of cold water on her. My wand. Hermione knew the pockets of her bathrobe were empty but that didn't stop her from jamming her hands all the way to the bottoms and groping around. The answer was apparently plain on her face because straightaway Astoria adopted a tone that she probably only used on dying patients to keep them calm. "That's alright. We'll get it back. And I'm sure we can find you a spare until then."

Hermione nodded dumbly without listening. My wand. It was as if the very magic had been ripped from her body: this was a violation equal to everything Ink had done or perhaps worse, as it rendered her completely helpless. Astoria was watching her fall apart and seemed to be casting around for anything she could say to prevent the oncoming meltdown, but she never got the chance: there was a sudden crash from upstairs. Everyone jumped; Belgium growled at the ceiling.

Three seconds later the door burst open and there was Draco, thoroughly unkempt, barefoot with rumpled flannels just clinging to him, dark stubble on his face and darker smudges under his eyes. He took one look at the bassinette and froze like a rabbit in the road.

Fergus was close behind (though he made a much more subtle entrance) and went to stand beside Hermione on the couch.

There was a heavy silence, finally broken by Astoria.

"Draco! How do you—?"

"Is that him?" Draco's eyes were still on the bassinette.

Astoria glanced from him to it and back again, then smiled, nodding.

As if treading on moldering floorboards Draco approached his firstborn son, craning his neck the last few feet to peer down through the dome; when he laid eyes on the little bundle his expression changed to something that didn't belong on the face of a schoolyard bully.

Although Hermione was finding it hard to give a shit about Draco Malfoy just then (still reeling as she was from the loss of her wand) she did notice that, for the first time ever, he didn't look like a snotty little boy. No, he actually looked like a man, a handsome man even; his resemblance to Lucius was never so strong as now and Hermione could vaguely see why Astoria tolerated him.

But she didn't forget that he was still a cunt, so after a moment she dropped her eyes and retreated back inside herself, shutting out him and everything else except the grief over her wand.

Fergus was always too ready to provide distraction. "Miss Granger," he hissed out of the corner of his mouth, raising the hairs on her arms, "time for you to leave. He's upstairs in the second room on the left, and for god's sake girl, look alive."

Lucius. Only the thought of seeing him again spurred her to action. Hermione tried to slip away discreetly, but she needn't have bothered: Draco and Astoria were too much absorbed with their son to notice. She reached the hall with Belgium trotting alongside her and broke into a sprint, hurtling up the nearest flight of stairs and down the upstairs hall and until she reached the correct door and barreled right through it.

It belonged to Lucius' study, and the man himself stood at the mantle, apparently having just charmed the floo shut. As Hermione came crashing in he whipped around and pointed his wand at her throat, but dropped it immediately upon recognizing her; his face then adopted a strange admixture of concern, relief, elation—fear?

They stood apart for a moment in a scene very reminiscent of the one she'd left downstairs. And then he said simply: "Hermione."

Surely her name had been invented for his lips? She would've liked to hear him say it again, but her heart almost shattered for the despair in his voice—and then he said, "I lost you," and it did.

She took him in, all wilting shoulders and restless eyes… he looked as if he'd just basejumped into hell for an extended stay—no, he looked exactly as she remembered him five years earlier, when the War had reached its feverish peak. His own personal hell, really. She wanted to go to him or at least somehow lessen the tide of his sadness, but she felt stymied, somehow—as if something was hanging in the air between them, something distinctly… unsettling.

And she knew what was causing at least some of it.

"I told them. I told them where Narcissa is. The real Narcissa. I told them she was in Arles. And they found out about Scorpius, Ink used Legilimency. And Raleigh—I think his base is in Lisvane. He said something about Lisvane before he let me go."

For a long moment Lucius did not appear to have heard her. There wasn't so much as a flicker in his expression.

"And"—her voice hitched; she cleared her throat—"they took my wand."

Nothing. After a heavy pause he turned back to the fireplace to set the floo canister on the mantle, and it was then Hermione noticed Crookshanks clinging upside-down to the back of his outer coat. He turned back to see her expression and gave a weary sort of smile.

"Your cat refused to leave me alone. He also refused to be held. I thought I would shake him in the floo but as you can see he is tenacious. Fergus has been giving him a tonic for his… numerous issues and it appears to be working."

Crookshanks did look a lot spryer now, as evidenced by the firm grip he had on Lucius. "Crooks." The cat looked around, spotted her and gave a plaintive yowl. "Crooks, come here."

The old cat jumped down and twined himself around her ankles, purring.

Hermione felt empty now. She had vomited her confession at Lucius only to be denied even the smallest reaction in return. He wasn't hemorrhaging sadness at her anymore, to be fair, but the strange aura hadn't lifted from between them. After appearing to wrestle with himself for a moment Lucius moved through it towards Hermione in his graceful, leonine way, his eyes sphinxlike and intent upon her, and she was overcome again with the need to hold him—but no, she'd betrayed him, she had given up information to the enemy, he wouldn't want to touch her now… it was all she could do not to collapse in his direction and hope he'd catch her.

Belgium, perhaps wanting to show that she was just as talented as Crookshanks, decided then would be the perfect moment to twist herself around Lucius' legs and very nearly knock him on his arse.

Laughter came bubbling out of Hermione's throat before she could stop it. After righting himself Lucius scowled down at Belgium and warned, "Enough. If you keep pretending to be a cat there shall be no more milk for you," at which Hermione laughed even harder, all the more so because the dog looked devastated.

Lucius frowned at her, but the absurdity of the situation had finally broke her out of that depressive pall and at last she felt able to close the distance between them.

Hermione didn't think much of nonverbal communication. Why couldn't people just come out and say whatever they need to? Why rely on subtext and hints? Everyone relied so heavily upon the silence in-between words and there was no end to the resultant misunderstandings… However, as with an increasing number of her opinions, Lucius, ever her antithesis, delivered a counterpoint to this ill-informed opinion of hers that utterly demolished it—and he did so by means of demonstration.

As she embraced him, his arms went around her in kind, pulling her to the wall of his chest and inexplicably she knew he was upset with himself. Dreadfully so. He was… ashamed that he hadn't been able to save her. Wracked with a terrible guilt that he hadn't prevented it all from happening. Apprehensive—because he knew she had every right to blame him too—and more than any of it, he suffered over what had been done to her. What he thought had been done to her.

She couldn't explain how she knew, but she didn't doubt for a second that her instincts were correct. She never expected to find this level of emotional pain in him, and worse, she had no idea how to soothe him. Had he been Harry or Ron or any one of her young boyish friends she would've just hugged him and burst into tears, but she was currently doing both of those things (the tears flooding out of control per usual) and it didn't seem to be helping.

Whatever was transpiring between them was just too raw for words. Everything she cobbled together in her head felt nightmarishly cheap and meanwhile he hadn't even opened his mouth and had still gotten his point across. She screwed her eyes shut and decided if she was going to turn a bad situation into a total disaster, she may as well do so quietly.

So she wiped her tears off on her sleeves, got up on her tip-toes, slid a hand on either side of his beautiful head and did the only thing that felt justified: she kissed him.

And it was, evidently, the right thing to do.

Lucius took her kiss and ran with it like a thief with a fistful of jewels. He lifted her off her feet in his urgency to reciprocate, to bury himself in her clemency and seize upon her need, and as much as he took from her he gave back in his own way: the intense physicality of him rushed into her like a gale and drove out all of the damage and anguish and lost thoughts until there was nothing but him, the proprietor, the sole dominator of her world. They both knew he couldn't undo the harm, but he could make her forget.

Nebulously she was aware of being sat upon his desk and winding her legs around his hips. Although neither of them spoke in the stray moments that followed, so much more passed between them than words could convey—in eyes that locked between the dizzying press of their lips, to the desperate pull of her arms around his neck, to the large hands that moved in adoring circles over her back to the slight, revering sway of their bodies as they moved into to each other.

Are you all right? Yes, I'm fine. Did they hurt you? No, I'm okay. I'm so sorry. It wasn't your fault. Are you sure you're alright? I will be. I will ensure it.

A ghastly sensation had begun to make itself known in Hermione's chest. It was a bit like a balloon expanding under her ribs and she was starting to recognize it more often, like a chronic ailment worsening with time. And now it was accompanied by a thousand insane desires: she wanted to hold him closer, somehow, even though they were positively melted into each other; she wanted to cry for some reason, and fuck him at the same time, and no, she just wanted more. She longed for an outlet for this horrendous upwelling, she needed to convey to him something, god if only there were words…

What about… I love you?



That would work.

The balloon in her chest burst wide open, prompting a rush of what she assumed to be enough endorphins to kill a morphine addict. If she'd been full of strange desires before, it was Sickles and Knuts compared to what she felt now. But she didn't have any time to act upon the extraordinary realization that she was in love with Lucius fucking Malfoy because it appeared the subject of her love was also experiencing some powerful emotion with no outlet, and his response was to pry himself away from her and hold her out at arm's length.

They were both breathing heavily, having snogged for at least a quarter of a century, and he was looking at her with a strange expression as if to say, you'll be the death of me.

"Merlin," he panted, "you'll be the death of me."

Hermione giggled. "I knew you were going to say that."

His answering smile was one of those brief, exquisite rarities that creased the corners of his eyes and turned the cold burnished steel to something more like a clear morning sky. It was so ludicrously endearing she felt the balloon starting its bullshit up again, but not even that could prevent the onslaught of anxiety rushing in to take the place of his kiss.

"Lucius, I told them. I told them where Narcissa is." The guilt seized her again. At once Lucius returned to looking absolutely grave, but there was still no urgency about him. She pressed, "What are we going to do? They're going to find her. I've pointed them straight to her and I told them about Scorpius."

"Scorpius is here," he said firmly. "No harm will come to him, rest assured. I had… thought perhaps they would force you to speak, so I took precautions." A moment of intense guilt, very much like the one Hermione had just experienced, darted across his eyes.

"You contacted Narcissa?" Hermione felt a small glimmer of hope (as well as something else she didn't want to think about right then).

Lucius hesitated. "No… but I don't feel that it is urgent. We don't know if she is even still in Arles."

"We've got to contact her. She is the last collateral Raleigh has against you."

Lucius gave her an inscrutable look, as if he were measuring his words—or hers. "I will see if I cannot have Draco floo her. He may know where she is and how best to warn her." He frowned, correctly interpreting the dissatisfaction on Hermione's face. "It will do us no good to run off to France on a wild moke chase. We need to proceed with caution. And in any case, you will certainly not be leaving the Manor without a wand. That would be absurd."

There were a million things Hermione wanted to say, few of them rational, but sensing an incorrigible difference of opinion Lucius wisely changed the subject before she could launche into it. "You look half-frozen." He gestured at her damp, muddy bathrobe. "I'll have an elf—"

"—draw a bath?" Hermione supplied dully.

Lucius chuckled. "Yes, well... apparently it's a cure-all."

Hermione opted for a shower instead. It was quicker and she always felt a lot cleaner afterwards, anyway.

As soon as Lucius had directed her to the nearest guest suite with a bathroom, he swept off downstairs to find Draco. The animals tried to follow Hermione at first, but after she waved them off a few times they gave up on her and loped off to find someone else to harass.

Hermione scrubbed every inch of herself raw. She told herself it was to wash away the slime she'd picked up back in that cellar, but intellectually she knew it was more of a psychological stain she couldn't get off. She regretted sending the animals away now: being alone even for this short extent had her trembling and jumping at imaginary noises. It was especially bad without her wand: if someone did mean her harm, there would be next to nothing she could do about it. She wondered if Lucius would lend her Belgium for the night. The dog made her feel a lot safer, and she didn't think she could bear up with just Gryffindor courage alone.

When she wandered back into the guestroom she found a fresh set of clothes folded neatly at the foot of her bed. She had a pretty good inkling as to who was responsible, and sure enough, she found a note in-between the folds of fine cotton that had been penned in an unmistakably supercilious hand.

It read: If the brassiere is too large, there is a snuffbox on the nightstand. I am sure you know what to do.

Hermione crumpled the note and hurled it at the closest bin. Tell ME to stuff my bra, will he? she fumed. The nerve of him… I haven't even been back a day… vile little shit…

Fergus had supplied her a simple wrap dress in baleful Slytherin green. It was quite a bit larger than necessary, and she wasn't sure if he was erring on the side of caution or taking a jab at her weight. He'd also selected a pair of hideous black kitten heels and a bra that was at least three sizes too small and padded besides. There were no knickers. Each item still had tags on, so it wasn't as if he'd scrounged for castoffs, he'd gone out and bought all of it for Merlin's sake.

Well, beggars can't be choosers, and it's either this or that bathrobe. But there's no way in hell I'm going to fit into that bra, and fuck those shoes. She expected it would take about fifty transfiguration spells before either of them became serviceable.

She grimaced. If I just had my wand…

It was déjà vu, wandering the halls of Malfoy Manor in search of its patriarch. Too vividly she remembered that first misadventure in Narcissa's skin—but this time she wasn't panicking under the countdown of the Polyjuice so much as her own damaged psyche. Everything felt like a threat now: she saw ill intent in every shadow and potential violence in every creak of the old house settling. She can't have walked farther than a hundred meters but still she felt winded. It was like she couldn't get enough air into her lungs no matter how deeply she breathed.

The room where she'd last seen Astoria, Draco, and Scorpius was empty. So was Lucius' study. When the sky grew dark beyond the leaded windows she began to think perhaps they all abandoned her, worthless as she was sans-wand, so eventually she gave up and retreated to Lucius' study to wait—mostly because she didn't fancy stumbling around going to pieces in the dark, but also because, if she curled up in his massive desk chair and closed her eyes, she could detect the faint smell of him lingering on the rich leather. It was a balm to her nerves.

She couldn't say when exactly she fell asleep, only that her next memory was of screaming.

"It's all right!" In her panic she didn't recognize the voice and couldn't understand the words; she flailed back through the dark (for it was dark: the fire had burned to embers) and she would have fallen on her head if someone hadn't lunged out to catch her.

She battled against the shadow with every ounce of her strength until it pinned her down and announced in a clear, firm voice: "Calm yourself, Miss Granger. You're safe. It's only me."

At last she calmed enough to recognize the tall outline looming over her. "Lucius?"

There was a soft woosh and one of the oil lamps sprang to life. Though Lucius' expression was at first quite hard—doubtless he hadn't enjoyed the wrestling match—his eyes softened as he looked on her, crumpled and wild-eyed in his chair. "I've brought you a wand."

Hermione sat up. "You found my wand?"

His eyebrow quirked up, and he appeared to bite back some cynical remark. "No. But I am giving you loan of this one until we do."

He lifted the wand and presented it to her handle-first. It was a striking thing, with a twisting handle and a faintly fluted shaft, and it didn't look even remotely like the one she'd lost. Cautiously she took it, and a few seconds passed without event. Then, gradually, almost as if the wand were drowsy or perhaps shy, Hermione could feel the tendrils of magic seeping up her veins and into her core.

It was not seamless, not like hers had been, but at least it felt balanced.

"This one is practically antediluvian," Lucius murmured. "It belonged to a maiden aunt of mine from the 12th century, and there is some evidence to suggest it came over with the Normans. Pear and dragon heartstring, 11 inches. It was the closest I could find to yours, which is to say, not very close. I have a liana wand as well, if you would prefer, but it is several inches shorter and the core is wrong." He stood back and added, "Try it."

Hermione gave the wand a practiced wave. Everything on Lucius' desk—paperweight, stack of parchment, ink pot, quills—slid gently to the floor.

Lucius stared at the mess. "Was that your intention, my dear?"

"No," she snapped, "not precisely!" and she folded her arms to keep from trying out a hex on him next. It had been years since the last time she'd failed to cast a spell properly, and to do so in front of him… maybe she felt differently about him now but it was still impossible not to feel judged under those smirking eyes.

And that wretched eyebrow. "Well, if you will please put it all back, then—and do try to put it back in order, darling. I'm rather particular about my things."

She blew out a frustrated breath, concentrated, and gave the wand another artful wave. Just as before, all of the objects took their sweet time moving, but at least they did as she bid and arranged themselves neatly back on his desk.

"It's not… I don't know. It's mushy," Hermione sniped.

Lucius smirked. "Pear has that quality, I hear. To be honest I cannot believe one exists in the family, but there you are. If you prefer I can bring you the liana wand."

"No, no. It's not going to be perfect either way." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm being ungrateful. It works as well as can be expected and I'll be glad to use it until I get mine back. Thank you for lending it to me."

He cocked his head at her. "You are certainly welcome. It puts my mind at ease to know you have something to protect yourself with, should it come to that. But moreso I wanted… to make you whole again. At least to some degree."

Their eyes locked. An intangible something quivered in the space between them. Hermione held her breath as he went on, "It is… almost like losing a leg, and trying to make due with a different wand is a miserable crutch." He smiled glumly and his eyes looked off at something she couldn't see. She was reminded that he hadn't been allowed a wand for some years after his had been destroyed in the War—and he'd gone through most of the War itself without one. "I know you don't need me to tell you this, but do not criticize yourself over the spellwork you perform with this wand. It is temporary, and no witch or wizard has ever taken effortlessly to a strange wand. I would not trouble myself over spells that fall short of perfect."

Coming from him, the sentiment was… meaningful. And she would've felt a wide range of emotions hearing it, too, if not for the last sentence, at which she couldn't help but roll her eyes. "You most certainly would!"

He tutted her. "Well, yes, I personally would trouble myself, but I am hardly the ideal role model and it is irrelevant besides—I'm tryingto offer you comfort, you snarky little chit."

Hermione relaxed. Her bare feet hit the floor and in a moment she was sliding into his arms. "Thank you for the wand," she repeated, words muffled against his waistcoat. "Can… can we go to bed, please?"

He smiled faintly. "Yes. Let's." And without any forewarning he swept her into his arms and carried her out of the room.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 22 of 25

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