Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 25 of 27

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Hermione awoke to the sound of bells. Admittedly, they were distant bells, but they were pealing across the rolling hills on Christmas morning.

For a moment, she imagined herself back in her parents' house. Before the war, before Hogwarts, before witchcraft, the bells of Christmas morning would have signified a mass Granger exodus down the narrow country lane near their house to the church of St Michael and All Angels.

For a moment, she missed it.

For a moment, she had a vision of what could have been had magic not invaded her blood in the womb: Cheltenham Ladies' College like her mother; Trinity, Cambridge like her father; a job in the City; marriage to a reliable, predictable merchant banker who would provide her with lots of cars, lots of dogs and lots of children.

She pulled the heavy covers from the bed, careful not to disturb Lucius, who was still sleeping beside her, and crossed to the window. The heavy curtains seemed reluctant to let in the white light of morning, but she drew them back a chink nonetheless and stared out at the crisp Malfoy lawns. It wasn't going to be a white Christmas, but the grass sparkled with a heavy, icy frost and she could tell the temperature was well below freezing. An excited chill ran along her skin, causing her to shiver involuntarily.

But the chill was suddenly and splendidly removed by large warm hands running firmly up her arms, and supple lips kissing away the goose-pimples on her shoulders.

"Merry Christmas," purred Lucius.

"Merry Christmas," she reiterated, turning and slipping her hands around his neck to pull him down for the first kiss of the day.

"You woke early."

"I heard the bells."

"They're from the local village. Norman church. Finely carved pillars. Beautiful tower."


He was clasping her into him, one hand cupping her backside while the other held her head to angle it for his penetrating kisses. She tried again to speak.

"I always used to go to church on Christmas Day if I hadn't been to Midnight Mass the night before."

"Do you want to go today? You can."

"Would you come with me?"

He paused in his ministrations and raised a cynical eyebrow. "If nothing else, my days of hypocrisy are over, my dear."

She laughed. "I agree. I won't go. Although I always used to like the ritual, the predictability of family, the comfort of community."

He drew back slightly and Hermione detected a sudden cold fear in his eyes. She held him close. "Don't worry, my darling. I'm not going to desert you for a parochial life in the Home Counties." There was a silence where they just held each other, Hermione keen to dispel his sense of incompatibility. But her own mind nudged her, nudged her to contemplate the other future, the one she had committed to. "But ... we can have a life together outside all this, you know."

He moved his eyes from hers, his face straight. She allowed him his silence. After a while, he moved back to look at her. "You will have to be patient with me."

"I know. I will, my darling, my darling." She bestowed soft reassuring kisses over his proud face. "Anything. But I'm here for you; I'm here to help you. You must let me."

Lucius smiled softly and rested his forehead on the top of her head.

Hermione grinned, squeezing his hands with sudden excitement, keen to banish the moment of uncertainty. "Do you want your present now?"

He raised his eyebrows. He didn't want or expect anything.

"It isn't much; in fact, there's hardly anything to show for it yet, but in due course ..."

She rushed over to the bedside table and pulled out an envelope from the drawer. Around it was tied a red silk ribbon. Laughing, she handed it over. "I'm sorry it's not an enormous great box with charmed wrapping paper and twirling ribbon, but ... Happy Christmas, Lucius."

He smiled and crossed to sit on the bed. Reaching for his wand, he moved it along the top of the envelope so that it opened with perfectly neat precision.

With careful fingers, he took out the single folded piece of paper inside and read, his eyes rapidly scanning the neat words.

"A portrait?"

"Jeremy Ferguson – he's a famous Muggle artist based in Bath who also happens to be a friend of my parents. I called into his studio when we were there. I've commissioned a portrait from him of whatever you want – it can be you or a view of the house, the gardens ... anything you like. He's a brilliant man – he was an official artist for the Houses of Parliament. Several of his pictures are in the National Portrait Gallery. I know he's a Muggle, but he's better than most magical artists and I can surreptitiously charm the brushes and canvas so that the image will move once we bring it back. I wanted to give you something for the house."

At first, Lucius did not speak. "But this must be very expensive."

An embarrassed laugh rose from her and she spoke, trying not to sound as pretentious as she feared, "Well, being ... me ... does have its advantages, financially as well as in other ways. And ... you deserve it."

Lucius' thumb ran over the paper he held in his hands, his eyes staring at it, his mouth open as if to speak.

"I ..." It was the first time she had ever seen him at a loss for words. He turned to her, his eyes moving over her face with tender humility. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Leaning in, she kissed him gently again.

He maintained the kiss for some time, as if needing it to affirm his appreciation. When at length they pulled away, he breathed out with a renewed confidence, "I will give you your present later."

"You know I don't expect anything."

He inhaled with a shrug. "Well ... it's only a bar of soap and a few chocolates, but I thought I'd better get you something."

She laughed and leaned against his shoulder. "Oh God, I haven't even thought about lunch. Forget turkey! At this rate, it's going to be baked beans on toast!"

"Grimble has it all in hand."

"Oh, Lucius, I hope he hasn't gone to too much trouble. I was hoping he could have the day off."

"I did offer, but he was very keen to stay and cook. Believe it or not, he does rather enjoy it. As you know, we all like to have a sense of purpose."

She smiled as she recalled their conversation of the previous night.

Hermione fell back onto the bed. "It's only just after eight. Do you know, as wonderful as Molly and Arthur always are, not that you will be particularly thrilled to hear that ... but as wonderful as they always have been to me at Christmas, it's quite nice to get away. I mean, it can be rather ... oppressive after nearly twenty years."

"Did you always go, even after you and Weasley ended it?"

"Not for the first couple of years after the split, but ... we've always remained friends, and Molly and Arthur are like my second family; they understood the break-up, so ... it was fine. But ..." she sighed and reached over to stroke his back, "it's wonderful to just be here with no demands, no expectations of happy joviality."

His eyebrows rose sardonically."Yes, my dear, here, you may be as miserable as you like."

She laughed aloud again, her peal of mirth knitting together yet another crack in Lucius' soul. He bent down and kissed her once more. "Now ... as we have at least five hours until lunch ..."

Entwining their limbs about each other, they set about filling the time.


Late in the morning, they finally got up. Hermione's body was slow and sated after the pleasure which had repeatedly coursed through it during the morning and she climbed into the shower, allowing the sharp hot fall of the water to reignite her senses. On re-emerging she found the room empty, and after dressing and retrieving a parcel from a drawer, she made her way downstairs.

Immediately, she inhaled wonderful smells of cooking, smells which once again took her back to her childhood and days of roast turkey and cranberry sauce and mince pies. She stopped on the landing and took it in, her soul suddenly gripped with crippling nostalgia.

The deep throb of the clock in the hall chimed twelve. Her eyes moved around the large space, and she brought her hand to rest on the warm dark wood of the banister. And so it passed and tranquility seeped through her body; she was calm again.

She didn't need anything else. She didn't want to be anywhere else. Here provided her with perfect contentment – a hint of her past wrapped in the glory of a future with Lucius.

Fortified, she continued down the stairs and made her way to the kitchen where she could hear conversation.

Grimble was busy at the stove and Lucius sat at the table, reading the Daily Prophet. "It smells incredible down here, Grimble. What a fantastic job you're doing."

He didn't reply; she didn't expect him to, but he did manage to turn and allow his features to bend up into something approaching a smile.

Hermione crossed to the elf and held out the package she was holding. "I got you a little something to say thank you for all you do for me. Happy Christmas, Grimble."

The elf halted and turned slowly to her proffered hand as if it contained poison. He couldn't hide his shock at what she was doing.

Slowly, almost unsure, Grimble took the gift with hesitation, his hands visibly shaking before him. Then raising his eyes, he looked up at her, and in a barely audible and clearly overwhelmed voice said, "Thank you, Miss."

"You can open it now, if you wish."

Grimble crossed to the table, wiping his hands as he went. Lucius watched him carefully over the top of the newspaper.

His fingers still trembling, the elf undid the wrapping. Inside was a small but beautifully tailored shirt and pair of trousers, bought from a specialist shop in Bath.

"I'll get you some shoes as well at some point, when we can go and choose them together."

Grimble couldn't look at her. He was already a free-elf, but her gift could not prevent an almost unstoppable surge of emotion from sweeping through him. "Thank you, Miss." Hermione had never heard his voice so honest and genuine. "And a happy Christmas to you too."

On hearing those words, Hermione bent down and kissed him on the cheek.

She had never seen colour rise so quickly onto anyone's face. Grimble's normally pallid complexion turned the colour of the ripest tomato and he immediately turned away to hide his embarrassed delight, retreating to the safety of the stove. Hermione glanced at Lucius. He appeared equally amazed, his eyebrows raised in clear shock. He stared unblinkingly at the spot where his lover had just kissed his house-elf before shaking off the disturbing vision and returning with determined concentration to the Daily Prophet.

Hermione smirked to herself. They had all come a long way since that day Grimble had first opened the door to her.

"I thought we would eat in the dining room."

Hermione was not at first sure she had heard Lucius' drawl properly.

"The dining room?"


"But ... I'm more than happy in here. I'd never presume to ask you to eat in the old family rooms."

"You did once."

Hermione frowned. What did he mean? She had no memory of such a thing. Lucius glanced up, aware of her confusion.

"I doubt you will remember. At the time, you were ... quite insistent."

Hermione dropped her eyes in shame. It must have been under the curse. "I'm sorry."

He smiled. "It doesn't matter. In any case, it's only correct that we eat in there. We must begin to use more rooms. This house has lain dormant long enough."

"The dining room is ready, Master. Lunch is served."

"Jolly good, Grimble." Lucius stood quickly, folding the paper and placing it on the table. He moved towards the door but suddenly stopped himself and turned back to his house-elf. A momentary flicker of uncertainty passed over him before he said, clearly and sincerely, "Thank you, Grimble. I appreciate your efforts, on this day in particular."

Any colour which had faded from Grimble's face was instantly restored with a vengeance. Once again, he turned away quickly.

Lucius took Hermione's hand and led her through to the dining room. She let out an audible gasp on entering the room. The table was set with the finest silver cutlery; damask napkins lay folded next to their places; ornate candelabra sparkled, casting a dancing glow beneath. Extending down the middle of the table was a centre piece of holly and ivy vivid with deep red berries. The air above danced with a shimmering glow of enchanted light.

"Bloody hell!"

Lucius smiled at her exclamation. "I'm glad you approve." He pulled out her chair and she sat, her face fixed into a broad grin of delight.

Soon enough, Grimble appeared with a platter on which sat an enormous steaming turkey.

"No baked beans," Lucius teased from his place across from Hermione. Smiling, she dropped her head.

Grimble returned a moment later with vast plates of vegetables, a gravy boat and various sauces and condiments. Hermione didn't know where to begin. She felt rather overwhelmed. "There are only two of us, Lucius."

He shrugged. "As my father used to say, "Eat what you can and can what you can't.'"

"Your father said that?!" Hermione gaped in disbelief.

He turned his mouth down at the corners. "Come to think of it, no – I just thought it sounded good."

Hermione snorted out a laugh. "What was your father really likely to say?"

Lucius was silent for a while. "I can't remember. He never spent long enough in conversation with me."

Lucius sniffed and waved his wand. Slices of perfectly carved turkey appeared on her plate. She hardly noticed. His words were still running through her head, bringing with them a solemn and sudden melancholy. They had never spoken about his early life, about his family. Now was not the time either, but the low resentment present in his voice was unmistakeable.

Hermione at last focused on her plate, not wishing to dwell further on the gloom he'd hinted at. Lucius wouldn't want it. "This is amazing. Thank you."

He smiled. "I did very little."

"You must have instructed Grimble. I appreciate that."

"I admit: I haven't had a proper Christmas meal for ... a long time." Again his voice was distant.

They both sat now with full plates before them. Hermione raised her glass. "Well here's to many more Christmas dinners and ... to us, Lucius."

He looked at her, his eyes aglow in the candlelight, and raised his own glass in turn. "To us."

The rest of the meal passed with the happy contentment of two people so comfortable in each other's presence that any silence was respected at worst, unnoticed at best. Not that there were many silences. There followed a Christmas pudding, alight with a blue flame, presented proudly by Grimble, and even some crackers.

Afterwards they sat full and sated by the fire in the sitting room again, lulled by the flickering shadows on the walls.

"I've eaten too much," bemoaned Hermione.

"I thought that was what Christmas was for. In any case, you need to eat. You're still too scrawny after all that happened."

"You don't like a scrawny woman then, Lucius?"

"Certainly not."

"Glad to hear it. I'll stuff my face at every opportunity." She smirked up at him. "Only kidding."

He responded with a kiss again. It was impossible not to. "Would you like to go for a walk?"

She stretched, not sure whether she had the energy to fulfil his suggestion. "Ooh, I'm so relaxed here, but we should really. And it was such a beautiful day earlier. Come on then. Just a short one."

It was Hermione who stood first, pulling Lucius up behind her. Wrapping up against the cold which still captured the countryside around the Manor, they went outside.

Hermione allowed herself to be led by Lucius who seemed to be following a particular path. She glanced ahead. They were walking towards the walled garden she had discovered all those months ago. Holding onto his arm tight, she nestled against him, recalling the last time they were there, how it had been a significant moment in the development of their relationship. On approaching it, she practically danced through the arched doorway.

"Such a perfect space."

"It is with you in it."

"Last time I was here, I was wondering what it would be like in the spring, but I didn't think I would be around to see it."

"I remember that walk very well."

Once again, Hermione took herself off round the garden with childish exuberance. Lucius could only watch.

If he had a regret, it was only that she had not come to him sooner. How long had he turned from life, turned from love, locked away in the recesses of his own mind? Could she not have found him before? His heart panged with the years they had not been together, years he knew she too had been searching, slipping through time in the hope of falling onto the right path.

Had there ever been any doubt? Had he not loved her from the first moment she had stepped into his house and accepted?

And now. This force of nature that had captured him, this woman so intrinsically linked to the survival of his soul, of his future ... was he worthy? His own desolate past rose up again to swamp him, taunt him, goad him with the threat of inadequacy, of rejection.

But this was not real magic; this was the warped madness of a mind confronting its own isolation. He staggered, gripping a tree branch to steady himself, desperate to banish the black fog gripping him.

And then he heard it again: that bright rippling dance of sound which tripped into his ear and into his soul.

The source of the sound came upon him, curling her lithe sweet body around his and pressing against him, her laughter still ringing in his ears.

"I love you."

He believed her. The darkness vanished. Time began to pass fluidly once again.

Kissing her gently, Lucius raised his hand and flicked it, unseen and subtle.

In the midst of the kiss, Hermione felt a prickle below her neck, something light but sharp, tickling almost. She broke away and turned to look.

A robin was perched on her shoulder.

She froze, not wishing to scare it off.

"Woah. Hello, there. Lucius ... can you believe it ... what do I do?"

He smiled at her, her neck twisted to look at the bird without disturbing it. "He likes you."

Hermione smiled, her finger coming up tentatively to touch the bird, its breast puffed up and scarlet against the frost of the garden.

After a bright chirrup, it fluttered away, landing on a bird bath to the side of the path. Hermione laughed with delight. "Isn't he beautiful? He's not at all scared of us."

The bird cocked its head and seemed almost to beckon her over. She walked gently across to where it rested on the side of the bird bath.

"Oh, poor thing. Look at this, the water's completely frozen. He wants a drink."

She tapped the rigid ice in the bird bath. "I left my wand inside. We need to melt the ice. Hang on ..."

Peering into the bird bath, Hermione frowned as something even brighter caught her eye, captured within the grip of the crystallised water. "There's something ..."

Lucius had silently crossed to join her, glancing over her shoulder at the object in question.

Hermione's fingers rubbed over the surface of the ice, but only succeeded in melting the thinnest layer under her tips. "There's something shining in there. It looks like a ..." The glint of gold and red broke through even the thick ice. "I can't ..."

"Perhaps you'd better use this." Lucius held out his wand. She took it, still bemused at her discovery.

"Iscari Liquifio!"

The ice cracked, shifted and melted before her eyes. It was now clear to Hermione what the object actually was, and with the realisation she was unable to move, unable to reach in to retrieve it.

She turned to stare up at Lucius, who merely returned her gaze with cool steadiness, belying nothing in the crystal grey of his eyes.

"There is indeed something there. You had better take it out." His words were as smooth and clear as ever.

Slowly, hardly daring, Hermione reached in. Her fingers did not notice the icy water, did not react to the chill which spread up her hand. They closed around the small circular object and she drew it out, unable to look at him.

Her breath caught tight and dry in her throat as she stared at the thing gleaming in her hand.

It was a ring.

A dark ruby within a diamond setting sat perched atop a deep gold orb.

Words and thoughts emptied from her mind. At length, she turned her gaze up to him, tears shining in her brown eyes.

"Happy Christmas ... Hermione."

"I ... I ...thank you." For once, she was at a loss for words.

"I think you'd better put it on."

Hermione's hand was shaking. Picking up the ring with trembling uncertainty, she allowed it to hover over the tips of her fingers, eventually placing it on her middle finger.

Lucius took her hand and stroked along it. "Is that where you wish to put it?"

"It looks good there ... doesn't it?" Her voice was tremulous.

"It would look good on another finger too."

She at last glanced up at him. His face was as tight and nervous as hers. Her fortitude returned. He was struggling more than she was.

"Which finger, Lucius? Which finger should I wear it on?"

His eyes dropped. "I ... wouldn't presume. I can't. After all this time, I'm afraid to hope."

Tears were by now tumbling haphazardly from her eyes. "Lucius ..." She took his head in her hands and brought it to look directly at her. "I love you. I want you. Always."

"I love you."

"Well, then, let's do this properly, shall we?"

He drew in a juddering breath and looked tentatively down, taking her hand in his, and slowly pulling off the ring from her middle finger.

With agonising slowness, Hermione watched as he moved it instead to her ring finger. At last, she felt the cool metal slide perfectly down her slim digit as he pushed it on. She could not prevent the broadest smile gripping her face.

"Hermione ... marry me."

She looked up, still smiling, her head moving slightly in disbelief at his doubt. "Yes, my darling, my love. Of course."

And then Lucius laughed, a deep, low throbbing sound of sheer release.

He encircled her into him and they stood, still and silent, perfectly placed within the garden and each other.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 25 of 27

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