Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 2 of 27

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Hermione continued to stand open-mouthed in the doorway. Her mind was a whirl. The sight before her thrilled and excited her. She could not wait to rush in and pull a volume off the shelf to pour over its contents. But intermingled with the excitement was the realisation of the magnitude of her task which made her reel. To fulfil the requirements properly would take days, weeks even. She had thought she would only have to stay a few hours.

"Do ... do you have a specific section devoted to the Dark Arts?" she stammered out in an attempt to bring some order to the scale of what she had to achieve.

"Not as such. The books are scattered randomly. The Malfoys know how the system works, but anyone else, especially ..." He paused in his sneering drawl. She knew what he was referring to. "... will find it ... confusing. You will simply have to trawl through the entire collection." Hermione drew in a deep but silent breath, not wanting to show him her dread. He smirked. "Too much, Miss Granger? It seems you will have to return to the Minister and inform him you are not capable."

She spun to him, her eyes flashing with indignation. "I shall do no such thing, Mr Malfoy. By law, these books have to be documented. Yours is the last library to be examined. It has to be done. And I am here to do it."

He held her gaze, coolly taking in the sight before him. At length one of his eyebrows rose amidst a twist of terse disdain on his alabaster features. "Very well. You had better get started straight away then, hadn't you? I shall leave you to your duty." He drew himself up, looking down his nose at her, his eyes cold and hard.

Her breathing steadied somewhat, but she held his stare defiantly. She thought she saw a flinch at the corner of his mouth. Malfoy turned towards the door, then stopped and looked back at her. "I suppose you will have to call Grimble should you require anything." It was said grudgingly. With that he left the room, closing the door behind him.

Hermione exhaled long and deep, her eyes shutting. She fell back against the door and slumped down onto the floor. At length, she pulled her head up and looked into the vast room. The bookshelves loomed above her, towering threateningly, row upon row, shelf upon shelf. If it had been in any other house, this would be her idea of heaven – shut alone in a private library. But this wasn't any house; this was Malfoy Manor.

She pushed herself to her feet and walked slowly around the shelves, her fingers running tentatively over the ancient books. As she walked, her fears subsided. At least he was leaving her in peace to go about her task. She was surprised he insisted on no requirements, no conditions. Perhaps Kingsley had threatened him to comply. Her eyes fell on a particular volume. It was not related to the Dark Arts, but Hermione knew it to be an ancient and rare text. She took it from the shelf gently and opened the heavy book, the thick, yellowing pages falling open in her hands. It was written in a beautiful, meticulous hand, with diagrams and illustrations relating to invisibility charms. She placed it back carefully, and took down another. This was about the earliest cases of witchcraft trials in Europe and how they had forced magical people into hiding; all fascinating to Hermione who read on, entranced. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Hermione stayed in the library for some time, the minutes slipping away unobtrusively. At length, she pulled herself back to her surroundings long enough to glance at her watch. Two hours had passed. She had found two volumes documenting the use of the Dark Arts in the Middle Ages, but they were not of concern. She wrote down the details carefully. In the time, she had managed to go through one row of books on a single bottom shelf. There were thousands to go. She sighed deeply. She had enjoyed the process, loved it even, but getting through all these books would take an age. And many of them would require far more careful perusal than the ones she had just been through. She realised regrettably that she would be returning to the Manor for several weeks.

Hermione sat back against the bookcase opposite and swallowed. Her throat throbbed with raw dryness. She was incredibly thirsty. Reaching for her wand, she tried to summon a bottle of water but found herself unable to do so. She tried other spells, anything to produce a drink; nothing worked. Was it because of her location? Most likely the manor was protected by certain charms and wards.

Sighing deeply, she wondered if she could continue without a drink. But she could also feel a headache brewing and knew she needed rehydrating. She stood wearily. She would have to ask for one.

Crossing to the door, Hermione opened it and stepped out into the dark corridor. The oppressive silence hit her immediately. The hallway was almost black, and she hurried along to the staircase, the only source of light. She noted that many windows had been boarded up along the high walls. On reaching the staircase she hesitated. The house was still, save for the low ticking of a large grandfather clock from the hall below. She didn't have a clue where to go to find the elf. She was not even sure he would acknowledge her presence if she did find him.

Hermione crept down the staircase. There was no logical need for her to be silent, but she instinctively felt a heavy closeness which she could not break. As she descended, she knew her heart was beating wildly in her chest. She almost longed to return to the library. At least among books she felt at home. She reached the bottom of the staircase. There was no indication of anyone around.

"Hello?" she called as loudly as she could, knowing that in fact it was an ineffective little whimper.

She took a few steps around, aware that she was actually tiptoeing. Standing tall, she tried to be more forceful, calling more loudly, "Hello? Grimble?"

No response. There was still a glow coming from the room she had met Malfoy in earlier. She thought she had better try in there. As her hand raised to open the door, she noticed her fingers shaking. She clenched her fist, desperate to steady her nerves. This was ridiculous.

At last she opened the door.

"Hello? Grimble? Mr Malfoy?"

She walked over to the chair he had been sitting in earlier. It was now empty, as was the rest of the room. Hermione sighed deeply. Now what?

She walked out into the hallway and tried down a long corridor, calling as bravely as she could every so often.

Reaching a door that looked as if it might lead to the kitchen, she placed her hand on the doorknob, but before she could open it, there was a deep, but sharp voice behind her.

"What is it you want?"

She jumped, gasping in shock and spinning around, her hand clutched to her chest. Lucius Malfoy was standing behind her in the gloom, his tall frame looming large and ominous.

"I'm sorry. I was just ... I was looking for your house-elf."

"For what?" The words were spat out.

"I'm thirsty. I was just wondering if I could get a glass of water? Please."

At first he did not move or respond. Hermione could tell his body was rigid, tense, as if wrestling with a desperate dilemma.

"Grimble is no longer on duty."

He still stood before her, motionless. She was still thirsty. "I see."

There was silence. Neither moved.

"Do you mind showing me where I could get a glass and a drink?"

She heard him inhale. Hermione could not see his face clearly, but could tell by his posture that he was finding the situation hard.

After another pause, he at last responded, although it was clearly paining him to do so. "Very well. Follow me."

He swept past her further along the corridor. Again, she had to run to keep up. At last they came to a door. It opened into a vast kitchen, hung with copper pots and pans. A huge fireplace stood at one end of the room, big enough to roast a calf in. Hermione could not stop gaping in astonishment. Malfoy did not take in her reaction. He walked swiftly to a cupboard and produced a glass which he placed near the sink.

"There you are," he said, indicating the tap.

Hermione sighed, partially with relief that she could finally assuage her thirst, partially through frustration at his inability to relax even the slightest. She crossed to the sink and took the glass. "Thank you."

He stepped away from her, standing rather awkwardly to the side. She turned on the tap, letting it run before filling the glass. After taking a long drink, she then topped it up.

Turning back to him, she was not sure what to say or do. Her mouth twitched inadvertently into a begrudging smile. "Thank you again. I won't stay much longer today. I'll take this back up with me."

"No." His voice was harsh. "I do not want drink in the library. It may get spilt."

She stopped. She knew she would want some more. "Right. OK." Further silence. "Could I sit here for a moment then?"

Malfoy's eyes looked away, a vague confused frown creasing his high forehead. Her request clearly unsettled him. Could he abide this woman in his kitchen any longer?

Hermione could tell his breathing was growing more rapid and she thought he would decline her request. Then, suddenly, he moved to the table and pulled out a chair for her.

She was taken aback and took a while to move, then walked carefully to the chair and sat, taking another drink from the glass.

Malfoy did not sit, but neither did he move. He stood slightly apart from her. She dared not look up, but she could tell he was staring at her. She swallowed hard. His presence did not disturb her as such, but his manner did. She felt it was right to ask him to join her, not that she particularly wanted to, but her sense of decency did not permit her to leave someone standing. She glanced up at him. "Do you want to sit down?"

His eyes shot to hers, his mouth breaking into such a bitter sneer that her stomach jolted with nausea.

"I do not need an invitation from you to sit down in my own home, Miss Granger."

She lowered her eyes, her face flushing. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

She could feel him bristling next to her, his heated anger emanating towards her. And then, in a move which made her jump in shock, he pulled out another chair and sat abruptly.

Hermione quickly took a sip of water.

Again, silence. A clock ticked on the wall behind her. She could not bear the tension. Her voice broke awkwardly through the emptiness.

"You have an extraordinary collection of books. I have never heard of most of them."

He did not at first respond, but had turned his head to study her. "Never heard of them, Miss Granger? I hope you have sufficient knowledge to fulfil your assignment adequately?" His snide tones riled her. She could not help but glare at him.

"Of course. I read quickly. I can soon form an impression of the content of a text and decide what action needs to be taken."

He sniffed. "And what exactly do you imagine you will find within the walls of this house? Anything ... inflammatory?"

"Let's hope not, Mr Malfoy. As you know, it has always been illegal to keep especially seditious documents. I'm sure you would have disposed of any you may have had many years ago."

He sneered again.

"I am not here to police, Mr Malfoy. I am simply here to document. I have to say, your library is fascinating. It is a privilege for me to be able to spend some time in it." She surprised herself at the generous nature of her words. Malfoy looked equally astonished. His eyebrows rose and his expression softened. What Hermione said next surprised them both even more.

"How is your son?"

At first, Malfoy was too amazed to respond. He looked away and with a low drawl replied, "I had not thought the welfare of my son would be of the slightest interest to you, Miss Granger."

Hermione sighed. It was infuriating trying to conduct a conversation with him. Why was she bothering? She said with terse dryness, "Perhaps it isn't. Perhaps I was just trying to make polite conversation."

Malfoy shot her a glare. "My son is well. He has a good job and a wife."

She found his brief words odd, even for him. "Does he come here very often?"

Hermione could tell she had angered him instantly. His nostrils flared and his eyes flamed into her. His fingers came up to grip the surface of the table and he leaned in, his breath propelling his words out sharply. "I suggest, Miss Granger, that you keep your prying little Muggle-born tongue firmly inside your mouth, where it belongs."

With that he grabbed her glass from her and crossed to the sink, tipping its contents abruptly into it. He strode back and stood tall before her. "You may stay another half an hour. Go back upstairs now."

Hermione thought she may be sick. How had she been so stupid as to think she could enter into any sort of normal dialogue with him? His insult in itself did not upset her, but her naivety in thinking she could converse with him struck her hard.

She stood, visibly shaken, and hurried from the room, rushing up the stairs and shutting herself in the library. She did not want to stay one more second, but dared not argue with him or confront him again.

Over the next thirty minutes she tried to focus on the books before her, but was simply willing time to pass. It did so agonisingly slowly.

At last, half an hour went by. Hermione rushed from the library, ensuring everything had been put back exactly as she had found it, and went downstairs.

Malfoy was already standing in the hallway, his body as rigid as ever, waiting for her to go. She could hardly bring herself to look at him. She moved to the door, but knew she would have to say something.

"I will have to come back in the next few days, and for a while actually. It will take me some time to complete my work."

His face flinched.

"Perhaps you could send me or the Minister a list of times which are convenient for you, or when you will be here."

He did not reply, and she turned for the door again.

"I am always here."

Malfoy's voice travelled across to her like an arrow. She looked back at him. The tall figure standing in the darkness of his vast house suddenly seemed to her a very lonely sight. Her perception of him in the kitchen was tempered somewhat.

"I may have some time to come tomorrow." If she did find time, she would have to come; there was so much to do. She thought he may well reject her suggestion. She waited for his anger. Instead, he looked steadily at her, then, to Hermione's amazement, simply inclined his head in acceptance.

She swayed a little in surprise, then swiftly opened the door and left.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 2 of 27

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