Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 5 of 25

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Lucius Malfoy led Hermione Granger through his home, and it was fucking bizarre.

She was only too eager to follow. It meant she got to walk behind him and escape those flaying gray eyes, and now she could look around at leisure, too. She did so mainly out of habit: she'd always been a curious creature and Malfoy Manor was spitefully fascinating.

Really, she wished it were ugly or gaudy, because it was likely everything had been paid for with blood-money, and awful things had happened in these rooms. She tried to remind herself of that as she drank in all the elegant décor, from the tapestries to the rushes to the heavy tasseled curtains; everything matched, everything looked so damn nice, and the feng shui flowed from one room to the next as if it were all notes in a well-rehearsed composition. Nothing crowded, nothing too widely spaced—all of his possessions just fell together in ritzy harmony. How the hell were you supposed to live in a place that was so…


She felt a sudden rush of anger and thought about stabbing him in the back, because it wasn't fair, was it, that he got to lead this beautiful life and he was a terrible person? It didn't seem so far-fetched that he was running the Dark market, not now that she was being drowned in his pretentiousness. All she had to do was play her cards right, and she could be out of here with incriminating evidence in less than an hour.

She needed to keep it together.

He took a sudden left turn and strode through a pair of French doors framed in gauzy white curtains; she followed him, her eyes still fixed on a point on his back—right there beside that poncey braid—where she thought she might slip a knife, but she was then immediately distracted because now it seemed she was outdoors again. Only she wasn't. With a jolt she realized this must be the solarium.

"Thank you, Francis," she heard Lucius saying, but she wasn't paying any attention; rather, she was gawping at the brightly-colored array of plants lined up on racks, hanging from hooks on the domed glass ceiling and sitting in pots along the transparent walls. He must've had every beautiful flower in existence blooming here, most of them out of season, and most of them clearly altered by magic. She wanted to go around and touch everything but she realized her awe would seem suspicious; after all, she was supposed to be living here.

She composed her face again and pretended to glace aloofly outside, but then she saw—oh lord—the demon-peacock from earlier, strutting along the northern wall, its black eyes fixed on her. It raised its tail and flashed its golden eyes at them, tapping insistently at the glass, glowering at Hermione, but Lucius had his back on it, thank Merlin.

"I added a few specimens," he said, pulling out a chair for her with one hand, waving around at the lush assortment of green with the other. "I've finally persuaded that damn gypsum weed to bloom. It didn't take to my Purtinctura charm the first few seasons I tried; the leaves also turned purple, and inevitably wilted. Something to do with the composition of chlorophyll, or so says Fergus. Apparently most plants need to be green."

All right, so the Malfoys didn't communicate that often, if whatever the hell he was talking about was a multi-seasonal project and he was just now filling her in. Maybe Narcissa wasn't very interested in Lucius' pastimes—and that would be understandable, if what he did for a living was enough of a handful already. Awkwardly Hermione took the seat he proffered, and as he pushed her in his hand brushed along her shoulder. She flinched at the touch.

How did one casually broach the subject of a multimillion galleon organization in the illegal trade of Dark materials? Hermione would know—but the Hermione-Narcissa hybrid was at a loss.

Lucius took a seat across from her, and in a flash the house-elf was there, pouring tea and doling out food. Lucius kept his eyes on Hermione, but it was hard for Hermione not to stare at the elf. She felt an indignant prickle and the words slave labor blinked across her mind when Francis (which she assumed was his name) laid a pastry in front of her and bowed away discreetly, but she couldn't do anything about that now: she was here on a mission.

"Thank you, Francis," Lucius said, and this time Hermione heard him; she was shocked by his politeness. It was forced, it had to be fake, but Franics smiled in the sort of casual manner that would suggest he was often spoken to like this. Well, well, it seemed Lucius Malfoy had learned his lesson about house-elves… "If you would, please fetch Belgium here. Narcissa is undoubtedly eager to see her."

Francis bowed and snapped into nothing, but Hermione didn't get a chance to process the exchange: Lucius was talking again, and his voice inherently demanded her attention.

"How is Draco?"

Hermione blinked. "Fine," she said automatically, a little bewildered. She cleared her throat and allowed a little sarcasm into her voice. "He still finds the management of the Diagon branch quite scintillating." She hesitated—then risked, "He still has an aversion to walking past open windows, though."

Lucius was listening closely; eventually he gave her a rueful smile. "Still doing that, then, is he?" he said tiredly. "I had hoped he'd work through it."

Hermione was confused. Didn't Draco live here too? Did these people seriously lose each other in this huge-ass house? Maybe it was just so big that they had to arrange meetings in order to see one another. The thought nearly made her laugh aloud. What a bizarre life.

She'd just begun to wonder if she should actually eat something when there was a gentle clicking of claws on tile and she glanced over and, once again, found herself eye-to-eye with the dog.

"Belgium," Lucius said, and somewhere amid the tidal wave of fear that the dog's presence evoked Hermione was a little startled by the warm fondness in his voice. The dog's eyes pried themselves off of Hermione for a moment, refocusing on Lucius, and briefly the tail wagged, and the eyes squinted, and the dog licked the air in Lucius' direction, obviously very happy to see him.

But almost immediately it snapped back into kill-mode, zeroing in on Hermione like a sniper. She had about a millisecond, she knew, before the damn thing outed her—so she slipped her wand down her sleeve and thought with all of her might, Confundo!

The growling never started.

The dog looked from Hermione, to Lucius, then back again—and she seemed to decide they were the same person. So she licked the air in Hermione's direction, just as she had with Lucius, and wiggled her butt in a joyful, deluded greeting.

"Belgium," Lucius repeated, and the barest evidence of relief underlined his tone; Hermione looked quickly at him. He was watching the beast, glancing from her to Hermione; the smallest of satisfied smiles curled his lips.

Perhaps he'd expected something else to happen. Perhaps Belgium was trained to spot danger or deception—like a sniffer dog at an airport.

The thought made Hermione cold. She needed to be more careful. As Lucius was preoccupied, Hermione pointed her wand under the table at the north wall and thought Confundo! again. She saw Fairway the Peacock stagger around drunkenly in her peripherals and had to inhale the insane urge to laugh. In a moment, thank god, he'd shambled off.

"I've found she likes milk," Lucius said, gesturing at Belgium. "Bloody cat of a dog." Lucius beckoned, and thank god the dog hadn't lost its sense of balance, as animals often did when Confounded; Belgium padded around to Lucius' side of the table and climbed right up into the chair adjacent his. Lucius slid the saucer out from under his teacup and poured a bit of cream into it, setting it down in front of the dog, who finally looked away from Hermione to lap daintily at the offering. Lucius massaged the scruff of her neck.

"She's terribly spoilt, I confess," he said ruefully. "I worried about her getting on with the peafowl, but actually they work quite well together." In that moment, he glanced outside, scanning the walls of the greenhouse; his eyes passed over the place where Fairway had been moments before, and seemed further pleased that nothing was there. Hermione felt a wave of perspiration break out along her back.

So close.

The silence that settled between them was stiflingly uncomfortable, punctuated only by Belgium's quiet lapping. Lucius seemed content to just stare at Hermione like a hungry animal, so Hermione decided to take the initiative this time. "How are you?" she asked. She tried not to wince at how awkward she sounded.

He either didn't notice her discomfiture or didn't care; at her question, his eyes finally drifted away from her, focusing on his tea. "I exist," he said, his tone clipped. "It has been—well, things have settled into their own patterns, as they always do with time. But I cannot say I have been… enjoying myself."

"Oh really?" Hermione swallowed and tried not to rattle her teacup too much. "Why would that be?"

His eyes snapped up in a sudden glare and she recoiled, but then he looked back down again, and his tone was just a touch sharper than before. "I'm sure you did not come to exchange pleasantries with me. What may I help you with, Narcissa? Because to be honest, I never expected to see you in my home again." He peered at her over the rim of his teacup, as if in challenge. A glowing strand of hair had escaped his plait again, cutting across the angled lines of his face, like the edge of a blade.

She stared at him, nonplussed. "Wha—?" and then, with a realization so profound it knocked the wind right out of her, she knew.

Christ almighty, she was so stupid. Everything—the house-elf's reaction to seeing her at the door, the empty vanity, all of Lucius' crazy behavior—suddenly it all made total fucking sense.

Narcissa and Lucius were separated.

And they must have been for some time. How long, Hermione could only guess, but judging by the ardor with which Lucius pounced on her in the bedroom, and the obsessed way he was staring at her now, it must have been awhile—months—perhaps even years since the two had been together in this house.

She actually choked on her tea.

Oh Merlin, she was a real fucking moron, wasn't she? What in the hell was she doing here, meddling around in this domestic mess? She choked harder when she realized that Draco must also be out of contact with Lucius, if Lucius was asking her about him—oh god, she needed to leave, now, she couldn't be involved in this clusterfuck—

He was staring at her, looking a little concerned at her coughing fit, his eyes darting between both of hers, and he seemed to realize she was about to go springing out of there like a deer—fuck, she was about to go crashing through the glass and over the hedges, Jesus—but he reached across the table and seized her hand.

"Narcissa," he said, in a crooning tone that sent another chill rushing down Hermione's spine, "forgive me my impertinence. I'm just so confused. I never—I had just begun to accept—" He inhaled; his jaw clenched. "I have never asked anything of you, aside from your patience. And when you granted me that, we were happy, for god's sake, you must not have forgotten that? And now I can see you've changed, I can see it in everything you do—you're so very different, both you and Draco are, last I saw him I barely recognized him too. And I understand. You must also see that I'm different as well—too much has happened for me not to be."

Then his voice took on a flavor of such vulnerability that Hermione wanted to touch him; her hand closed reflexively on his before she caught herself and tried to pull away again. He held fast. "We have been apart five years. I never wanted it, you know this, but I respected your wishes as I have always done. Five years—the years we needed to remain together the most. Those were vital years of transformation for the both of us. Perhaps we shouldn't turn away an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves." He slid his fingers up her arm, drawing a circle at her jumping pulse-point, tickling the sensitive skin along the inside of her wrist. "Perhaps we might yet undo what has been done."

This was everything Hermione never, ever wanted to hear. It felt like she was eavesdropping on something horribly indecent. As he spoke he looked at her with such raw need that Hermione felt her stomach twist itself into complex fractals; no one had ever looked at her like that, not even Ron at the height of their "love." Hermione thought briefly about Obliviating Lucius and bolting (and perhaps Obliviating herself, too, because she didn't think she could live with the memory of this—and maybe even the dog, for good measure), but something stopped her from reaching for her wand.

This man was evil. It was hard to think that, with him caressing her like he was in this beautiful, brightly lit space. She knew he was evil—his behavior in the past attested to it. He was capable of torturing and killing and god knew what else he must've done in the service of Voldemort; he'd tortured those poor Muggles at the World Cup, he'd run down and terrorized a load of teenagers—Hermione included—in the Department of Mysteries. He'd given Ginny Weasely the diary that nearly killed her and several other children; once again Hermione had been on the list of those affected. He was evil.

And yet here he was, sitting in a room full of flowers, surrounded by all the comforts of life, so wrapped up in himself, in his own entitlement, with nothing to worry him aside from a little domestic unrest: the one imperfection on his otherwise pristine landscape. As Hermione was sitting there, thinking this, the teapot moved, pouring a little more tea into Lucius' cup, and she knew Francis was somewhere among the pottery magicking it with a twirl of his fingers. Slave labor. It sent a bolt of angry energy ricocheting through her, and every justice-hungry cell in Hermione's (or rather, Narcissa's) body pulsed with righteous fury.

He was evil, but society had failed to dole out just desserts.

He deserved what she was now going to do to him.

With as much careful control as she could muster, Hermione affixed what she hoped was a small, encouraged smile to Narcissa Malfoy's face. "I do think we're different now," she said quietly, doing her best to mimic Narcissa's eloquence. "I know I'm very different from the woman I was—so much so that even Draco has trouble interacting with me some days." Fuck that lazy bugger, she'd take him down too if she found out he was also involved with the Dark market, him and his stupid fork pyramid. "I would like to reacquaint myself… but I think we should be cautious. It wouldn't benefit either of us to… slide back into old habits."

He frowned a little, but nodded. "Very well."

"I think we should be… slow, about this," she went on. "We should assume we don't know anything about the other, which is nearly true"—wasn't it just?—"and proceed from there. It sounds foolish, I know, but truly, things are so very different, Lucius. I believe it's the best chance we've got at moving forward."

His name tasted strange on her tongue, but the look he gave her was even stranger: like a mix between defiance and hope. Apparently he didn't like to be told he couldn't have what he wanted right away, the spoilt brat, but he wanted this badly enough that he was willing to comply with her. She tried not to feel guilty—He's an evil old bastard—as she reached for her tea and took a sip, soothing her throat, which was still raw from choking earlier. He did the same, and the silence between them was no longer so uncomfortable.

"I suppose it would be all right for me to ask where you are living?"

Hermione—who had been watching Belgium sneak sugar-lumps from the bowl and praying that her Confundus Charm would hold until she escaped—glanced back at Lucius. She wondered just what he might've done to Narcissa to drive her to hide her address from him, and the possibilities made her gut clench in fear, but she maintained her composure; her snap decision to destroy him had her acclimatizing to the game already.

"I think now may be too soon," she said, "but perhaps we could plan to meet again this weekend?"

He was at first impassive, undoubtedly hiding his disappointment, but when she mentioned making plans to see him again his eyes darted up, minnow-like, giving her a look that sent shivers racing over every inch of her skin.

Oh, she was terrible, she really was the worst person on the planet, and later she would wallow in her shame, but right then, she acknowledged that yes, he was devastating to look at. He wasn't even attractive in the same way that boy at the bar had been—no; Lucius lived attraction. It wasn't something Hermione merely noticed about him, it was something he excelled at, something he'd turned into weapon. And when he looked at her like that, with an eyebrow arched and that subtle, incredibly seductive smile on his mouth, her gut clenched again, and she couldn't fool herself that it was fear or any ridiculous muscle memory phenomenon.

Fuck it all, she missed being wanted. She liked being wanted. Even if it was by him.

Or perhaps because it was by him...

"What did you have in mind?" he said, and yes, he was playing up the natural purr in his voice. At some point he must've leaned forward, too, because he was nearer now, a breath away, and Hermione found herself glancing at his lips—dusky pink and perfectly shaped. Were Satan's lips supposed to look so soft?

She could feel word-vomit bubbling up in Narcissa's throat, terrible and inexorable, but before she could start assaulting him with it, a distraction appeared in the form of Francis. The little elf bowed and rushed over to Lucius, leaning in for what was clearly a private word. Hermione still caught what he said.

"Master Malfoy, I hate to intrude, but you've asked to be reminded five minutes before your appointment."

Lucius looked annoyed, but Hermione was astonished when he didn't vent his spleen on the elf; he merely gave a curt nod and said, "We shall be done here soon. Please show my guest into the drawing room with my apologies if he arrives early."

Well now, wasn't this interesting. A guest? What guest? Perhaps she should stick around and have a look-see at this guest

Hermione was just gathering breath to fire off a few questions when Lucius turned back to her and gave her a predatory smile. His words, when they came, were positively growled: "Now, where were we?"

And that pretty much destroyed any silly ideas she might've had about sticking around longer than humanly necessary. He looked so dangerous that Hermione felt a particular clench not in her gut that she hadn't experienced in too long. It scared her a little. She decided to put that one down to muscle memory, and then blushed when she realized exactly what she was thinking.

"I may have to owl you," she said, clutching her suitcase so hard under the table her knuckles cracked. Stop shaking, she thought. Don't let him see you shake. "I have an appointment as well, Lucius, I really should be going. We shall finish this on the weekend, I promise."

He nodded, though it was a grudging gesture, and stood up. Hermione made to stand, too, but Lucius was suddenly around the table, gently pulling her chair out and offering her his hand. "Can I expect your owl tomorrow?" he asked, and he sounded entirely unconcerned, but the fact that he'd asked in the first place betrayed his nervousness. Belgium had gotten up and come around the table; she sniffed at Hermione's skirts, and up-close Hermione could just see the slight befuddlement in the dog's expression.

She looked up into Lucius' cold, gray eyes, but they didn't seem remotely cold anymore. In them, she saw a thousand and one things—a thousand and one things she never wanted to see in the likes of Lucius Malfoy.

What had she gotten herself into?

Taking a deep breath, she reached out, and grabbed his hand—the first she'd ever deliberately touched him. She felt as if she were making a pact, sealing her own fate, and his.

"Yes," she said, "tomorrow."

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 5 of 25

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