Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 3 of 27

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Hermione returned to her flat. She opened the door and Ermintrude immediately wrapped herself around her legs in welcome. Hermione smiled and leaned down to stroke her cat's thick fur. "Hello, girl. Shall we see what we've got for your supper?"

After opening a pouch of Whiskas for the cat and pouring herself a glass of wine, Hermione fell onto the sofa. For once, she had no desire to reach for any work. Instead she turned on the TV and flicked through the channels. Her mind ached. She needed to relax, tune out. The news was on, and she stared at the screen, trying to take it in on board. She did not.

Instead, her mind went over the events of the day. Had she expected Malfoy to be at all welcoming to her? Had she wanted it? She was as disdainful of him as he of her. Still, she found it hard, no matter what the circumstances, to be completely rude to someone, and his resistance had riled her. If she was willing to tolerate him, she expected him to be the same. She shook her head. It was a foolish notion. He would never see her as anything but a dirty Muggle-born. And he was still a bigoted former Death Eater. She must just complete her job and get out.

Hermione sighed. It was going to take a long time to achieve that. But at least she had parted from Malfoy reasonably peacefully. She recalled the image of him standing in the hallway as she had left. Stroking Ermintrude gently, she looked around her empty flat. Their similarities hit home sharply. He wasn't the only one existing in dark solitude. She took a long drink of Rioja.

Why had her question about Draco upset him so much? Did the younger Malfoy really not visit the Manor very often? Had something happened between father and son? And how did Narcissa fit into all this? Why had the marriage failed? They had always seemed so close. And the house was so bleak, dark, as if it too was trying to hide away from the world. It had been in a state of some neglect, not through lack of funds, Hermione felt, but due to an apparent lack of care. That was not how she remembered Lucius Malfoy of old. What had brought about the change? Her mind burned with its usual fervent curiosity.

That would not do at all. Why should she be remotely interested in the state Lucius Malfoy now found himself in?

Hermione tried to focus back on the TV. She was spending far too long thinking about a family and a man she reviled. She resented the fact that it was dominating her mind and emotions so much. She changed channels. There was a satirical quiz show on, as far removed from the claustrophobic fug of Malfoy Manor as could be. Her mind eased somewhat. Settling down, she snuggled into the cat, and pushed all thoughts of Lucius Malfoy out of her mind. He wouldn't be concerned about her; why should she waste time thinking about him?

After the woman had gone, Lucius retreated to the solitude of the sitting room, shutting the door behind him and finding comfort in a glass of firewhisky.

The Minister for Magic had made it abundantly clear that he must accept and tolerate whomever was sent to carry out the documenting of his library. When he had discovered who that was, he had briefly contemplated whether a sojourn in Azkaban would in fact be preferable. He sniffed derisively and took a long drag of the amber liquid.

No. Perhaps that was a slight over-reaction.

The woman's presence in his home had not been as unbearable as he had anticipated. He had at first wondered if he would even be able to say a word to her after all that had occurred over the years. But when the moment came, he found he had been remarkably equable, to the extent of being impressed with his own behaviour. A sneer crossed his face. What did it matter how he felt?

Malfoy stared into the fire. He could not deny that his mind was replaying the events of the afternoon. He had expected the woman to be overbearing. She was not. She clearly wanted to get on with her job, finish and get out. That suited him perfectly. However, he had known from the start that she had a monumental task before her. His mind fogged as he contemplated it. It would mean her returning to his home for some time.

Did he recoil with revulsion at the thought? He should, should he not? Initially, he had, but now, after her visit, he found himself feeling remarkably neutral about the whole thing.

When he had found the girl searching through his house for a drink, it had frustrated him. Had it angered him? Yes, but not through grievance, merely annoyance. He did not like the idea of her deciding what to do in his home. As long as he could control her within it, he thought perhaps he could tolerate her presence. But he had been remarkably hospitable when she had asked for a glass of water. He could simply have denied her one. And yet his deep seated need for order and decorum had propelled him to feel obliged to provide her with a drink.

Even Muggle-borns get thirsty.

But she had overstepped the mark. She had inquired about Draco. He admitted that her first enquiry had appealed to him somewhat – it was almost a deferential gesture to the Malfoys. That was how it should be. But then, she had asked more. He took another sip. She had touched a nerve. She must be careful what she says.

But even through his seething fury, he was once again remarkably restrained in his response. By the time she had descended the stairs to leave, he had taken stock of the situation. It had been curious having someone in his home again, his home which now lay so empty, a home which had for so many years pulsed with life and vitality. Malfoy Manor had been the centre of the wizarding social scene – throbbing with a lifeblood of luxurious pleasures and delights. No longer. After all that had been, he was quite content with that.

He closed his eyes. An image of the woman materialised in his mind - a picture of her descending the stairs before leaving. She seemed younger than her thirty years. Her eyes held a light, a burning curiosity which flickered over all she beheld. He sensed her apprehension in his presence, but she had concealed it well, overcome it even. Did he admire that? He took another long draft from his drink, sucking it through his teeth in disgust at the notion. He inhaled deeply. There was a faint lingering aroma, not unpleasant, in the air. It was not a scent he associated with his house. He knew what it must be. It must be her.

Malfoy turned his head sharply up, as if trying to eradicate the persistent smell which tingled in his nostrils. Tomorrow she would return, bringing her dancing eyes and her fresh perfume with her once again.

He threw the remnants of the glass down his throat and stood to retire to bed.

Although he did not admit it, Lucius Malfoy went to sleep without the same sense of dread that he had had the previous day.

Hermione arrived early for work and consulted her diary. Once again, she had some free time in the afternoon. She would check with Kingsley and see if she could get to Malfoy Manor to try to wade through a few more shelves. Part of her leapt with excitement at the thought of spending more time in the library, but she developed also a throbbing ache in her belly at the realisation that she would be returning to the dark oppression of the house, and the bitter antagonism of him. She made her way to the Minister's office and popped in for a chat.

"Hi, Hermione. I was going to come and see you. How did yesterday go?" Shacklebolt sounded apprehensive.

Hermione wasn't sure what to say. Kingsley was looking at her intently; she wasn't sure she could hide her emotions. "It went well. Yes. From the point of view of going through the books, it went well. But the library is vast, Minister. I am going to have to spend a considerable amount of time there."

"I see. Well, to be honest, I hadn't thought you would be able to finish as soon as I think you did." He paused. "How was Malfoy?"

Hermione lowered her eyes. "Fine."



"Hermione?" He was clearly concerned.

She sighed. "He tolerated me. That is more than I was expecting. It is enough for me to get on with my work."

"Was he rude to you?"

"No more than I had anticipated."

"Are you happy to continue?"

Hermione thought about it briefly, but answered honestly. "Yes."

"Very well. Thank you, Hermione. I know you will do a splendid job. But, you must let me know if you feel at all uncomfortable at any point."

"It's OK, Minister. I enjoyed being in the library. But clearly, I need to free up some time here in order to spend more time at the manor. I have some space this afternoon. I was wondering if I could go back then?"

"Of course. I will ensure that your duties are reallocated here. You may spend as much time at the manor as you wish. I would recommend getting it done sooner rather than later. Nobody wants this to drag out."

"I asked Malfoy to let me know when was suitable, but he implied there were plenty of opportunities. I don't think ..." Her voice trailed off.

"Go on."

"Well, he seemed rather withdrawn, depressed even. He doesn't seem to go out much anymore. The house was – bleak, desolate – there was no life in it."

"His life since the war has been very different to what he was used to. He has found it hard to adjust. I'm sorry if that means you have a difficult atmosphere to work in. Still, it has to be done."

"I know. It's alright. I'll get it over with as soon as I can." She stood and smiled, walking to the door. "I'll keep you informed of my progress."

"Thank you, Hermione. Good luck." Shacklebolt returned to his work.

After lunch, Hermione gathered what she needed and prepared to apparate to the manor. She had not confirmed the exact time of her arrival with Malfoy, but did not suspect there would be a problem. On arrival, she found she had this time apparated to within the gates. It surprised her, but she was pleased to have cut out much of the long walk up the drive. The approach to the house could be intimidating.

She reached the front door and rang the bell. Again, she had to wait, but this time she didn't need to ring again as the door swung open heavily after a minute or so. Grimble was standing behind it.

"Good afternoon, Grimble. I'm here for my work in the library."

With another glare, the elf stepped aside, pulling the heavy door wider for her in the process. Hermione once again entered the house. The brooding tension engulfed her immediately. She inhaled deeply in an attempt to convince her lungs they could still breathe in the suffocating atmosphere.

"You are to go straight upstairs."

The elf's voice was so unexpected that she looked down with curious amazement. It was thin and reedy, but not as bitterly frosty as she had anticipated.

"OK. Fine – thank you."

Grimble continued to glower at her, clearly waiting for her to move as he had directed.

Hermione eventually realised there was nothing more to do than comply with his declaration. She walked away from him and started up the stairs. As she went, her eyes fell on the door to the room she had been shown to the day before. It was ajar and there was a light shining from within. A prickle ran over her skin as she continued up the stairs. She shook it off.

Once in the library, she shut the door firmly behind her. Putting on several small side lights, she arranged her things on the table. It was a comfortable place to work, and she was able to impart a personal touch to it. She was content here, far more than in any other part of the house. Hermione surveyed the myriad of books before her. Good. On with the job.

Minutes swept into hours, and she was unaware of the passage of time. She had worked her way along two more rows, finding a handful of Dark Arts related texts. Again, there was nothing seditious or overly dangerous about them, but she had detailed them meticulously in her log and placed a charm over them, similar to a tracking device, which would enable the Ministry to monitor their position.

It was only when she glanced up and noticed it was completely dark outside that she realised how much time had passed. For November, it must be well after five o'clock. She needed to get back. She tidied her work as best she could and hurried down the stairs. The house was darker than ever. Hardly any lights were lit. There was still a glow emanating from behind the door of the sitting room. As she reached the hallway, she wondered if she would see him. She did not. Grimble appeared out of the shadows and silently opened the door for her as she approached it.

She continued walking out instinctively but paused long enough to turn back and inquire, "I will come tomorrow afternoon, the same time the next day, and the following morning for the whole day. Are those times satisfactory with Mr Malfoy?"

The elf grimaced. "You are to work as swiftly as you can."

"Right. I'll be back tomorrow then. Goodbye."

She walked outside. The door shut immediately behind her.

Hermione felt an odd emptiness as she stood outside. Her work had gone very well, had been very satisfying. She knew why she was feeling so odd. She was aggrieved that Malfoy had not acknowledged her presence within his house. He could at least have come out of his room and said hello.

What was she thinking? Why should he even do that?

But for a moment she could not move, her body tense, her fists clenched in resentment. She was not used to being ignored. Was this the way it was going to be every time? Would they remain invisible to each other?

Hermione was disturbed. Not with the thought that that was how it would be, but because she knew that the thought disappointed her. The library was enticing, fascinating, but to spend your days with no human interaction whatsoever; could she tolerate it? But then again, did she really want her sole human companion to be Lucius Malfoy?

She finally forced her feet to march a sufficient distance down the drive, and without a glance back at the building behind her, she disapparated.

Ermintrude greeted her warmly when she arrived home. She picked her up and cuddled into her thick, warm fur. Harry was away on Auror duty, Ron was busy with coaching. Ginny would be wrapped up in the children. She would have loved someone to unwind with, laugh with for a time. Instead, she took herself off to bed with the notes she had made on the books she had found that day. It wasn't long before sleep overcame her and propelled her rapidly towards another day at the manor.

The next day was a similar story. Grimble let her in silently, she stayed in the library for several hours, then left equally silently at the end of the day. She had seen no evidence that Malfoy was even in the house. Perhaps he was not. Perhaps he had gone out for a change. It almost made her feel better.

But as she walked down the drive to apparate away, she glanced back over her shoulder at the grand facade behind her. A light was on in an upper window, and silhouetted at it was a tall, straight figure, long hair flowing behind him. He was looking down at the witch as she walked away from his home.

A shiver captured Hermione just before apparition pulled her forcefully away.

It was the same on Thursday. Hermione became increasingly settled in the library, and as she saw no one, save for Grimble who let her in and out at the beginning and end of her time, she imagined she was entirely alone in the house. It allowed her to enjoy the task with keen intensity.

The next day was Friday. She could stay all day. To anyone else, the thought of spending a full day in the stifling silence would have been unthinkable, but by now Hermione had grown used to it. She had everything she needed, and as had been the case so often in her life, the books became her companions. So many fascinating new things were revealing themselves to her, that she soon forgot her initial misgivings about spending time there. She had reconciled herself to the fact that Malfoy had no wish to interact with her. It had riled her initially, but she supposed that it was probably better that way. They were sure to aggravate each other, as indeed they had, if forced to contrive a dialogue.

Friday morning went quickly. She ate her meagre sandwich for lunch, looking out over the gardens. The late autumn weather had largely removed the colours and textures, but even now, she could tell the garden had received minimal maintenance. Still, she would have liked to have gone for a walk outside after eating. With a sigh, she realised she daren't go out without seeking permission first, and she was not in the mood to confront Grimble with the request. Once again, she had been given no indication that Malfoy was home.

Hermione had no option but to settle back to work. She did so, continuing to plod through the books.

Just after three o'clock, she set down the volume she had been studying, and rubbed her eyes. They were stinging with strained exertion. She really needed a break.

"A wearisome task, Miss Granger?"

Hermione gave an audible screech and spun around in shock. Lucius Malfoy was standing a few feet inside the door of the library.

In her confusion she spoke instinctively. "You seem to have a habit of doing that."

He pouted in feigned ignorance. "A habit of what?"

"Sneaking up on people."

"Sneaking, Miss Granger?" His smooth sardonic drawl drifted into a room which had otherwise been silent during her time in it. "I do not sneak. I was merely asking a question ... to which, incidentally, I still await an answer."

She looked blankly at him for a moment. His right eyebrow rose in expectation.

She shook herself, hearing again his words of earlier. "Oh. Umm ... no, not wearisome, Mr Malfoy. But, I have been in here a long time; my eyes are tired, that is all."

He simply looked at her, his face unreadable. "Your eyes are tired?" he said with a hint of amusement.

She knew she was blushing. "Yes."

"No more?"

"No more." She spoke as defiantly as she could.

He stood, looking at her, an expression of curious appraisal in his eyes. It disturbed her. "Was there anything the matter, Mr Malfoy?"

"No, Miss Granger. Whatever makes you think that?"

"Well – I just wondered – why you are here?"

His face tensed a little. "This is my house, Miss Granger. I may go wherever I like."

"Of course. I just ..." She shrugged it off.


"I didn't think you had any interest in what I was doing."

"On the contrary, Miss Granger, I have a great deal of interest in what you are doing." She found herself almost smiling at him. "I simply do not have a great deal of interest in you."

Her stomach dropped from her and her face drained of colour. His callous words seared her more than she could have anticipated.

"In that case, you had better go."

"Once again, Miss Granger, you presume to order me about in my own home. I do not recommend it." His voice was chilling in its honesty.

She bit her lip. Her stomach churned. She had become used to her solitude, had almost forgotten he lived in the house, and now the brutal reminder of his true nature after hours of being alone threw her completely. She stared at him. He stared back, his eyes exhibiting that frosty hollowness she had seen before.

She thought he would turn and go. He did not.

Instead, she watched with trepidation and intrigue as he began to move towards her. She stood her ground firmly, unwilling to show him her alarm. As he walked, his features softened into the amused disdain she was so used to.

Malfoy stopped a few feet from her. She knew her breathing was visibly deep and rapid. She concentrated to stem it but could not. He looked down at her impassively. As is so often the case at moments of extreme anxiety, she noticed the details of his face more finely than ever. His skin was remarkably smooth, and his eyes were an almost translucent grey which imparted them with a supernatural depth. His cheekbones, sharper than they had been ten years ago, gave his face an angular grace she only now noticed.

"Miss Granger, would you care for a cup of tea?"

His words poured out suddenly and completely naturally.

Hermione stepped back in shock, coming up hard against the desk with a dull thud. She was so taken aback with his sudden normality and switch in demeanour that she could not respond. She simply continued to stare at him, vaguely aware that her mouth was hanging open in futile disbelief.

After some time, his eyebrow rose in that now familiar way, and he said with a disparaging lilt, "It is customary on these occasions to respond either in the affirmative or the negative."

"I ... wh ...yes ... Thank you."

She had stammered pathetically in surprise. He held her gaze steadily.

"Very well. I shall see you downstairs in five minutes."

He turned and left the room smoothly. Hermione was not entirely sure what had just happened. She had thought initially that they were going to spark off each other again. His sudden shift to polite hospitality confused her. For a moment, she questioned if she should actually go down, but her curiosity got the better of her, and after several minutes, longer than the five dictated, she found herself descending the gloomy staircase.

Once again, the only obvious light was the one coming from the sitting room. Malfoy had not specified where the tea would be, but she pushed the door open tentatively, thinking she should look in there first. She found him within.

"Miss Granger. I was wondering if your weary mind had already forgotten my offer."

Hermione stepped further into the room. She could not tell if Malfoy was speaking sarcastically or not. His tone was certainly not warm, but she could see the tea things set out on a table and a second chair placed opposite the one she had seen him in the first time she had arrived.

Malfoy was standing before one of the chairs. He did not invite her to sit. Hermione was not sure if she should or not. After a time, he simply flicked his hand out with casual ease, indicating for her to do so. She lowered herself down onto the soft cushion, immediately enjoying its luxuriant comfort, and waited.

Malfoy did not pour the tea, neither did he speak. The same tense atmosphere which had existed between them in the kitchen returned. Why had he not simply put her tea in a separate room if he did not wish to converse with her? Hermione stared at the teapot and the immaculate china cups. The faint, fragrant smell of bergamot filled the air between them. She suddenly became aware of her thirst and craved a cup of the hot dusky liquid. Hermione licked her lips subconsciously. Was she expected to pour it herself?

Just as she asked herself the question, the door opened and Grimble shuffled in disconsolately. He glared at her, before turning to his master. Lucius inclined his head to the elf, who reached for the teapot. But as he picked it up, Hermione could hear him muttering fervently under his breath. She could not make out every word, but based on his tone of voice and the occasional recognition of words such as, 'muggle-born', 'shame', and 'servitude', she could tell he was finding the task extremely difficult. His hand, before it had even managed to pour a single drop, was shaking the teapot.

"Grimble," Malfoy hissed, cold and harsh, "you will do my bidding."

Between clenched teeth, Grimble sucked in a breath, and at last the tea filled her cup.

"Thank you," she said genuinely to the elf, who shot her a venomous glare before filling his master's cup and then departing, still muttering about ignominy and dishonour. Hermione could not help but smile a little to herself at his resemblance to Kreacher.

"Something amusing, Miss Granger?"

She darted her head up to Malfoy's. "No! No, it's just ... your elf was clearly struggling to serve me."

"Can you blame him?"

Malfoy's defence of Grimble after the terse command he had given him earlier riled her. She did not reply.

Hermione took a sip of her tea. The hot liquid ran down her throat, soothing the dryness which had been building there throughout the afternoon. Despite the tense atmosphere, she admitted that it was nice to have a change of scene.

The man adjacent to her seemed quite happy to sit silently, but try as she might, it simply wasn't in her nature not to engage someone in conversation, even if that person was Lucius Malfoy. "Why are so many of the windows boarded up?" Her words were blurted out before she had a chance to stop herself.

He looked slowly at her, clear surprise etched on his face. "I beg your pardon?"

"I just ... wondered why you did not let more light into the building. It would benefit from the openness, the increased sense of space." Once she was started, she always found it hard to stop.

"Miss Granger, you are here to catalogue my library, not to offer advice on interior design."

She hung her head. "Sorry. It just seems a shame. This is such a beautiful house. I get the feeling that ..." She stopped.

The man next to her leant in menacingly. "What, Miss Granger? Do carry on." His low voice chilled her in its smooth sardonic iciness.

Her skin shivered, but she was emboldened. "I get the feeling that the house itself is struggling to breathe, as if it is being smothered."

There was an immediate silence, from him and the house itself.

Hermione knew she had done it again. Why couldn't she keep her big fat mouth shut? Just as she thought she had made her time in the manor a little more tolerable, she had put her foot in it once more.

A sudden heat rose to the surface of Hermione's flesh. Malfoy's eyes trained on her made her burn up. They widened visibly. But she did not look away, and for a time she thought he would curse her. He did not, but she was sure he would now dismiss her from the house. Instead, after what seemed minutes, Malfoy slowly pulled himself back a little but kept his eyes trained into hers.

"It seems you still have not learnt to control that tongue of yours, Miss Granger. I offer you tea and get nothing but meddlesome invective in return. How very un-Gryffindor like."

It was her turn to rise to the bait. "I had no intention of insulting you, Mr Malfoy. I was merely making an observation. Your house is extraordinary, but ..." His eyes flashed cold. She closed her mouth quickly.

Further silence. Hermione calmed, but could not understand why the man beside her remained there. She supposed it was to keep an eye on her while she was out of his library, to ensure she did nothing wrong. She drank her tea. It was a strangely domestic comfort amidst an extraordinary situation.

"How are you progressing with your task?"

She nearly choked on her mouthful. His sudden straightforward question shocked her.

"Err ... fine ... yes, fine, thank you."

"How much have you been able to complete?"

"I have worked my way through about half of one side of a central bookcase."

She heard a faint tut from him. It tweaked her annoyance again. "You have merely scratched the surface, Miss Granger. Do try to work faster."

"Mr Malfoy, I can assure you that I am working as fast as I can. Believe me, anyone else would be taking far longer."

His raised his eyebrows appraisingly. "What an arrogant little witch you are! Has anyone told you how unbecoming a character trait that is?"

She stared at him open-mouthed. He looked back with a clear smirk. He knew full well of the self-describing significance of his words. It almost amused her. She allowed her eyes to soften, and noticed a light dance in his. She lowered her head. When his features relaxed, she realised how easy on the eye he was. It was not something she was comfortable with.

She finished her cup and set it down on the table.

"Thank you, Mr Malfoy, for the tea. Seeing as I have only scratched the surface, I had better get back to work immediately." She spoke with the same sarcastic dryness he normally exhibited. His eyes were still dancing.

She stood then took a step back in surprise when he did the same. She was not used to gentlemanly deference, certainly not from Harry or Ron. Although she knew it would have been usual for Malfoy to behave thus with his own kind, she had not expected it with regard to her.

"I ... I could return over the weekend and carry on, if you wish. That would give me more time."

"Giving up your weekend for a Malfoy, Miss Granger? Who would have thought it? Have you nothing better to do with your spare time?"

She opened her mouth to explain the many other, exciting things she could be doing, but found no words coming. There were no other exciting things. His smirk broadened.

"Until tomorrow then, Miss Granger."

Hermione lowered her head, mumbled thanks for the tea again, and returned to the library.

Lucius Malfoy sat down once more. His eyes fell on the tea cup the woman had been drinking from. He could make out the faint traces of her lipstick imprint on the china. He wondered momentarily why he did not find the sight repulsive. Instead, he stared hard at it, noting each little line of the indentations of the delicate skin of her lips.

He had not intended to ask the woman down for tea. He had found himself near the library and was curious to know how she was progressing. He was perfectly entitled to go anywhere in his house at any point he wished.

They had found it impossible not to aggravate each other somewhat. That seemed to be the norm. He expected no less. It was at least diverting.

And then he'd asked her to tea. It confused him somewhat. He had intended to show the Muggle-born the minimum of hospitality in his home. She could fulfil her task without it. So why had he asked the question?

His rational mind did not allow him to ignore the truth - he had wanted some conversation.

It had been a long time, a very long time, since anyone of any interest had set foot in the house.

Anyone of any interest? Is that what the woman was?

He could not deny her intelligence, her incisive mind. He inhaled deeply. Once again, her aroma lingered in the air. It was a pleasant enough smell. It may help to diffuse the oppressive atmosphere she had spoken of.

His face twisted in a grimace. What was he thinking? He should not be corroborating her words. He lived his life now as he wished. As fate had compelled him.

He swept out of the room and away from her smell.

She must finish her work quickly and be gone.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 3 of 27

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