Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 6 of 25

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"God, Hermione, what the hell happened to you? You look like an assault victim!"

"Thanks, Ginny."

"No, seriously, what's going on? And why are you reading How to Persuade Dogs That You Really Are Their Best Friend And Not A Lamb Chop?"

Hermione just about laughed—or burst into tears, she wasn't sure. She tucked her book away (a recent purchase) and turned to Harry.

"I ordered the appetizer already, sorry, but you'll really love the tapenade here. I recommend the linguine with the scallops and pancetta, it's so good, and if you request it they'll make it with the quinoa-based noodles, which sounds unusual but—"

"Hermione, I don't even know what that is—"

"And don't change the subject," Ginny chimed in, giving Hermione a stern, Molly-Weasleyish look. She and Harry had only barely settled into their seats, and Ginny was currently preoccupied with shoving James into his high-chair, a task that did not distract her at all from her ultimate goal: grilling Hermione into the carpet. "Are you still having trouble sleeping?"

Oh, Hermione definitely wanted to cry. "Not at all," she lied, trying not to think about earlier, when she'd perched on her windowsill and shed a few tears at the glorious sunrise.

Ginny appraised her. "You haven't given any more thought to that workout I suggested before, have you?" she asked, in a would-be casual voice. Hermione went scarlet and glanced at Harry, expecting him to look embarrassed, but he was too busy eyeing the drink list to notice anything else. Ginny, meanwhile, had her eyes screwed into Hermione, that devil's smile playing at her mouth.

This conversation needed some redirection, because the truthful answer was yes, she had given it more thought—but she somehow didn't think Ginny would approve of the rather dangerous line of thinking Hermione had been perusing. "How's the baby, Ginny? You're nearly there now, have you decided whether or not you wanted to try the home-birth this time? Molly seemed all for it."

Ginny clicked her tongue and picked up her menu. "Fine, Hermione, keep your secrets," she sighed, "but I'm here when you want to talk."

Talk? Hermione wanted to yell at her. How could she ever talk to Ginny about this horrendous mess she'd gotten herself into? Never mind she was breaking the law for her job and her own personal vendetta—no, Ginny might've gotten behind that. She might've even offered some positive reinforcement if she knew about Hermione's successful excursion into Malfoy's life.

What she wouldn't reinforce were Hermione's tenacious thoughts of Lucius Malfoy pressing her up against his body, or that subtle aroma of him that seemed to linger persistently in her nose, or—god help her—the silk of his fine hair on her skin… sweet Merlin, she wanted to run her fingers through those forbidden locks now that she'd found out just how deliciously soft they were…

No. Somehow, Hermione didn't think Ginny would approve of that.

She started back on the little self-preserving mantra she'd developed around 4 o'clock that morning. Get a hold of yourself. He's wretched. He's a murderous lying devil and just because he might be slightly not-ugly does not mean I should go entertaining inappropriate thoughts about him. Also, he's old. Old, old old. Dirty old man.

She prized her mind back off Malfoy and tried to soothe herself with a little lemonade, but unfortunately it seemed she wouldn't be avoiding the subject today.

"So Hermione, did you go anywhere interesting yesterday?" Harry asked as the appetizer arrived.

Hermione thought about lying. She should have, considering Ginny was sitting there confusedly waiting for a full explanation, but Hermione simply didn't have the energy for it. She was too exhausted from all the lying to herself last night, over and over, pretending that it wasn't the memory of Malfoy—or its attendant sensations—keeping her awake.

So much for the muscle memory theory. The Polyjuice had wore off hours ago; the desire hadn't.

"Actually, yes," Hermione said, taking another sip of lemonade. "I went yesterday."

Harry perked up, and Ginny shot the both of them quizzical looks. "You went to the Malfoys'?" Harry asked, and he had the good sense to keep his voice down.

"Yes," Hermione said, ignoring Ginny's gasp of understanding. "But I didn't learn anything… except that Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are separated and he was shocked to find her wandering around his house. That, and his house-elf wears glasses."

Harry choked on his water; Ginny gawked. "Oh my god, are you serious?"

"Yes," Hermione said, with a small twisted smile, "his name is Francis and I really want to ask him which optometrist he goes to, because that doctor should be awarded by the Ministry for his or her services to elvenkind. They're still so underprivileged when it comes to medical care."

"Hermione," Ginny said, unimpressed with her sarcasm, "did Malfoy catch you out?"

"No," Hermione sighed. "He just sort of… shrugged it off and gave me tea. Unfortunately his dealings in the underground market didn't come up organically. I left as soon as I could."

She flash-backed to Lucius walking her to the door, his arm twined with hers; she recalled the hard flex of his muscle under the dark fabric, and the bewitched dog trotting alongside them, sedate for the most part, although more than once Hermione felt a cold nose on her ankle and was reminded of just how much danger she was in. Francis had been waiting at the front door with her coat; when he didn't think they were looking, the elf gave the pair of them a darting, searching look that was nearly—hopeful? Worried? Hermione couldn't tell.

Lucius hadn't tried to kiss her or anything, he'd merely stood back with his arms clasped behind him, smiling once, quickly, as he said goodbye, which did not leave Hermione feeling at all disappointed, and frankly she didn't care for thinking about the issue, thank you. At least Fairway had been off somewhere doing whatever it was Confounded peacocks did, and she didn't have to curse him again.

Harry looked sympathetic. "Well, there's still Draco," he said. "Maybe you could try impersonating him instead? It'd probably be easier since you've had to keep tabs on him more than Narcissa."

"No," Hermione groaned, putting her face in her hands, "I found out Lucius and Draco aren't speaking, either. I guess the War put too much strain on Draco's filial affections."

The four of them sat there, Ginny and Harry thwarted, Hermione tormented, James covered in whipped butter, having gotten into the breadbasket while the adults were speaking.

There was no thought in Hermione's head about letting them in on her plans to see Lucius again on Saturday. Although she told herself it was for a good reason—the Dark market needed dealing with, and anyway, it didn't have to be permanent, she could simply vanish when she had her information—she knew going back again was taking things a step too far, outside of the realm of just finding information for work. She didn't want them thinking she'd gone mad.

She already knew that, after all.

Inconsequentially, Hermione kept flashing back to Aery Derry, that god-forsaken story, and a large part of her wanted to shrivel up and die knowing she was quite as bad as old Derry himself—and her fate would probably be just as awful. But like a crack addict to coke, she knew without a doubt she'd go back for another hit. It was too much of a temptation now, being lavished with the terrifying attentions of a man she found so desperately attractive, all of her senses heightened by the danger of the situation: it was a rush, a thrill, so wildly different from the unending tedium that had become her life. She had hardly ever felt the sort of sexual frustration he'd managed to instill in her without even properly touching her; it was enough that she was afraid to even look at him again.

So inevitably, she would.

No, no, no, Hermione, he's old, for Christ's sake, and you're afraid because he'll drag you off and murder you if he catches you—!

"I guess you'll have to find out some other way," Ginny said, cringing. "Never mind, though. It was a huge risk impersonating Narcissa anyway. Like, my god, what if Lucius Malfoy tried to touch you with his creepy old hands?" She pulled a face. "That's so repulsive. He's like an evil stork."

Harry nodded. "It's probably better," he said. "That man's crazy, you don't know what sort of sick things he gets up to in his spare time."

Growing flowers, Hermione thought. But she said, "Yes," and stuffed her face with tapenade.

Hermione had dutifully owled Lucius the day following their encounter. She'd written as little as possible, essentially just telling him what time he could expect her at the manor on Saturday, and she used a typewriter to hammer it out. She also neglected to sign it in case he noticed a forgery, and was careful to keep a low profile in Eeylops as she sent it off.

She felt a little guilty, now, for calling Draco paranoid. She wasn't any better; in fact she was worse.

At the conclusion of the War, the Ministry had granted Hermione, Harry, and Ron each an Order of Merlin, First Class, and an ungodly sum of money, as if it thought to repay them for saving everyone's sorry asses from the terror of Voldemort. Harry had donated all of his share to the restoration of Hogwarts; Ron had funneled most of his into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes after being invited onto the staff by George, and splurged the rest on the latest racing broom; and Hermione had squirreled hers away for a rainy day, dipping into it only to support her own SPEW charities until they became self-sufficient (which seemed to happen right after she changed the name from the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare to the Society for Elfish Exoneration—better known as SEX).

What? Her public relations manager suggested a sexier name. How much sexier could you get? Sure, maybe her rallies sometimes attracted unsavory crowds but the elves tended to think it was funny, and it was all for a good cause. Furthermore, Hermione was able to use a lot of humorous wordplay in her speeches, and that made it all worth it.

Anyway, she hadn't touched the money except to help house-elves achieve a better standing in society. Oh, and also to buy herself ridiculously expensive finery that didn't even fit her in order to impersonate another woman to catfish a formidable ex-Death Eater, with the eventual goal of dragging him straight to hell.

Merlin's fucking pants.

After transforming, Hermione pretended she wasn't spending more time on Narcissa's hair today. It wasn't easy to style hair while hiding in a bramble, especially if it wasn't the sort of hair you were used to, and you had next to no experience styling hair in the first place. She had plenty of Polyjuice—she'd stowed about a gallon of it in her magically expanded, morbidly expensive purse—so she wasn't worried about being short on time today; with any luck she'd taken enough that she didn't have to keep sneaking drinks when Malfoy wasn't looking.

The walk up the drive passed quickly, but as soon as she stepped foot in the turnabout, her way was blocked by a familiar white shape.

"We meet again, Fairway, my old enemy," Hermione whispered.

The peacock pawed the ground like a bull about to charge—but before he could sound the alarm, Hermione waved her wand and Confounded him again.

She walked casually past him as he staggered around, confused; she'd been practicing on pigeons and was pretty confident she'd cast the spell strongly enough to keep him drunk all day. She then casually flicked her wand at the closest fig tree; nothing visually changed, but on the inside, all of the fruit had fermented. That ought to cover up Fairway's behavior if Lucius stepped out and saw him.

Smiling to herself, Hermione mounted the stairs to the front door and knocked; almost before she'd finished, the way opened and Francis' head appeared, beaming up at her from behind his rims (which, now that she noticed, were about the size of normal glasses and therefore too small to cover his eyes; he wore them like reading glasses, and for a second Hermione was reminded absurdly of Dumbledore).

"Mrs. Malfoy!" he said, and everything in his tone suggested that he'd been convinced she wouldn't show up. "Please come in! The master is just finishing with a guest, but he has requested your presence in the drawing room nevertheless."

Hermione stumbled a little. "The drawing room?" Her gut fell like a ton of bricks. All right, keep calm. Remember your breathing exercises.

Francis nodded, tended to her coat, then happily bounced off down the hall. Hermione followed with a little less exuberance. Thankfully, however, Malfoy was not going to allow her to dwell on past traumas; as Francis opened the door ahead, Hermione heard the distinct sound of male voices locked in argument, and that snapped her out of her micro-panic attack quite nicely.

Who was Malfoy talking to? Hermione was stepping lighter now, trying to eavesdrop, but in a second Francis' face appeared in the drawing room doorway again, looking quizzical.

"Is the Madam sore of foot?" he asked with great concern. "Shall I put on a bath?"

Hermione blushed and shook her head. She'd been very careful about preserving Narcissa's modesty so far, dressing before she transformed and changing clothes only after the potion wore off. The last thing she wanted to do was get naked in this damnable house with that man nearby.

Yes, that was the last thing she wanted.

"No, sorry, I was only admiring being here again," she said, bustling forward.

She got in the room just as the men were standing up: Lucius, so very distinctive, rising from the winged armchair to the right of the mantle; and another man, unfamiliar, standing from his seat on the left. The only evidence of any unpleasant exchange was the high color in both the men's cheeks.

"Ah, Narcissa," Lucius said, and his eyes ratcheted onto hers, and Hermione felt a great swooping in her stomach and had to look away; she disguised her discomfort by focusing, instead, on the second man. Lucius turned to him as well. "I apologize, but as I mentioned earlier, I had a prior appointment—"

"—with your wife, I presume?" the man finished, though he smiled as he said it; he moved forward, and Hermione noted that he was of a height with Lucius. Reflexively she offered him her hand, and he took it, bowing over her wrist.

Hermione's heart was beating fast; she tried to memorize everything she could about him, fully intending to track him down later. He was slender, more so than Lucius; he had black hair that tended towards curling, and large, pale green eyes. She doubted he and Lucius had just been having a friendly chat: there were a few rolls of parchment lying on the coffee table and two cups of tea beside them, cold and untouched. Hermione was itching to take a peek at those papers, but somehow that didn't seem like something Narcissa would do.

She tried to look frosty rather than nervous as she drew herself up in front of the stranger. "And who is this?"

The man glanced, smirking, at Lucius, as if she'd just told a hilarious joke; Lucius clenched his jaw and shot Hermione a very obvious nonverbal warning. Hermione swallowed and took a step back as Lucius moved, placing himself between her and the man.

"I'm afraid we'll have to leave the discussion for another day," he said quietly, offering the man his hand. "Please send me an owl with an appropriate time."

"I will," the man said, moving past Lucius without grasping hands; he gathered up the parchment on the table and scanned Lucius head-to-toe. Lucius stood tall under the scrutiny. "I hope we'll finally be able to make a little headway then. Any at all would be a vast improvement."

"I agree," said Lucius, a low warning in his voice.

The man strode up to the fireplace, took a pinch of Floo powder from the silver canister on the mantle, tossed it into the flames and stepped in after it shouting, "Knockturn Alley!" He was immediately whisked away.

Hermione didn't have time to register any disappointment she might've felt about missing his name, because in that moment Lucius suddenly whirled around, grabbed her by the forearms and brought his face very close to hers.

"What is your favorite book?" he demanded.

"What?" Hermione spluttered.

His eyes narrowed, and his voice became a veritable snarl. "You heard me."

And she did, a split second later—she blurted the first thing that came into her head, and as the words left her mouth she prayed to God that, if He couldn't spare her any luck on this, then at least would He allow her a quick death?

"Jane Austen: Seven Novels."

The tension held, winding tight, vibrating in the air like a thread about to snap—and then it did.

Lucius relaxed. "I apologize," he said, releasing her. She almost wished he hadn't; without his support her legs were ready to collapse out from under her. Oh thank Merlin she and Narcissa had the same tastes in reading, at least. "I had to check. I was mistrustful of the letter you sent, and you—well, you'd never spoken directly to any business associate of mine in the past."

But Hermione, still coming down off her fear-high, used the adrenaline to muster up a little anger. "Well, I certainly recognize you," she said, drawing herself up again, trying to hold herself like Narcissa did. Lucius looked at her, a grim, guarded expression on his face, as if he could smell an argument on the horizon; that look gave Hermione more confidence. "Honestly—mistrustful of my letter? Really, Lucius, you know elves don't have the best handwriting, I instructed mine to type it because I was short of time this week." She added a bit of steel in her voice, for effect. "You are not to grab me anymore. I shan't bear it. I am a new woman, and I will thank you to respect me, or it shall be far longer than five years before you see me again."

He glanced away, down, away again; he seemed not to want to look at her, as if he were abashed, or perhaps annoyed—she couldn't tell.

It was fucking lucky that he was preoccupied, too, because while he was fiddling with his cufflinks, Hermione spotted Belgium at the window, and hand just thrown a curse at the dog when he was raising his eyes again.

He looked at her quizzically.

"I thought I saw a bee," she explained away the wild arm movement she had to make in order to send the curse far enough. She could hear Belgium in the flower bushes and wondered if, in her excitement, she'd Confounded the poor thing too hard.

Hermione was blushing, she knew she was. Lucius looked at her, then at the window, his cold eyes narrowed. Then at last seemed to accept her story, and she'd barely had time to thank god for her luck when he was retreating toward the fire.

Mimicking his associate, Lucius grabbed up a pinch of Floo powder and tossed it into the fire. As the flames roared green, he glanced over his shoulder, and did a small double-take when he saw Hermione still standing in her original position, looking totally lost. "Come along," he said impatiently, beckoning.

"Where are we going?" Hermione asked. She didn't move; if they were going out in public, if someone spotted her with him, someone who knew Narcissa was out of the country—

"The estate on the shore," he said curtly, an eyebrow raised. "We'll be staying there for the weekend." He smiled a little, and Hermione wondered how he could look so condescending and still make her stomach knot like that. "Unless you had something planned for us?"

The touch of disdainful laughter in his tone made it clear that Narcissa, evidently, did not plan their excursions. But Hermione knew she could not go away with him. She might've had enough Polyjuice to sustain her, but what if she couldn't get away to take it? "I—"

"Good," he said, cutting neatly across her, "I had Harriot prepare it. I know it's your favorite."

Hermione's brain snapped like a sun-baked rubberband. She thought about disapparating, but somehow she didn't think it was possible inside the manor; if she recalled correctly, Ron couldn't disapparate out of the cellar when he'd been locked down there while Bellatrix tortured her. She thought about Stunning him—but by the time that possibility occurred to her, a few seconds had already passed, and he was watching her so closely, and his wand could be up his sleeve, just like hers, and she still didn't think she could take him in a duel—what if she lost?

"I just think it's quick, going away together right now," she murmured, trying to sound demurely nervous rather than scared fucking shitless. She smoothed down the front of her dress, then crossed her hands as she'd often seen Narcissa do. "I hadn't planned on it."

Lucius' eyes bored into hers. He looked ethereal, demonic, the smooth alabaster planes of his face lit sidelong by the green flames. She noticed how, in general, he was very still—he made very few unnecessary movements. It was inhuman. "What better way to reacquaint ourselves than return to the place of our honeymoon?" he said, and he sounded so very devastating then; she was captivated and horrified all at once by the low, rough honey of his voice. "You may remember why you married me to begin with—who can say? And if not, well, what harm is there in a short holiday?"

She was trapped. In that moment, she knew there was no getting out. He had that quiet, patient look about him that let her know he wouldn't relent until he got what he wanted. She thought again about trying her luck with dueling, but then she saw him reach over and pick up the serpentine cane leaning on the arm of his chair just out of her sight, and she died a little. He offered her his hand.

"Very well," she said, and she hoped she sounded aggrieved, not defeated. She crossed the room and took his hand—she noted again the warmth of it, the roughness, and she felt his strength when it closed on Narcissa's delicate fingers. He could rip her apart.

As that horrifying thought crossed her mind, Lucius suddenly yanked her in, his arm snaking around her waist, their bodies aligned, the tip of his nose almost-but-not-quite touching hers. A peal of wild energy—was it terror? Was it lust?—raced over the surface of her body, her hairs standing up, her blood rushing everywhere but her brain. She was forced to look into his eyes.

Demon eyes—cold gray fire. She felt his breath on her lips.

They stepped into the hearth.

"Shorecliff Drive," was all he said; she tasted spearmint. And then they were gone.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 6 of 25

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