Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 4 of 27

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As she had planned, Hermione arrived at Malfoy Manor on Saturday. It was not unusual for her to give up weekends for work, but this day she felt a tension within which she couldn't fully explain.

The normal routine occurred again. Grimble let her in, she walked upstairs, Malfoy remained invisible. The sensation inside Hermione grew.

But on entering the library and settling amongst the yards of old books stretching out to her sides and above, the knot in her stomach unravelled, and her mind eased. Time passed.

Hermione had worked her way almost to the top of the one side of the first bookcase. She could not describe her work as fulfilling from the point of view of finding scintillating, dark texts, but she had come across enough of merit and interest to keep her enthralled. The range of texts in Malfoy's library staggered her. Each had been annotated neatly with a date, presumably of when it was acquired. Many had indeed been in the family for years, centuries even, but Hermione was surprised to discover that several of the more intellectual texts had been bought within the last twenty or thirty years, presumably by Malfoy himself. There were, she was amazed to discover, even a few Muggle texts, from a wide range of authors: Dickens, Hemingway, Tolstoy, even Nietzche. The collection was revealing more about Lucius Malfoy than she had discovered in the twenty odd years she had known of him.

At length she glanced at her watch. It was nearly three o'clock. She had completely forgotten lunch. As if on cue, her stomach growled in protest. Crossing to her bag, she reached in for her sandwich. It wasn't there. Shit.

She had left it at home. Despite not being aware of it until now, Hermione suddenly felt weak with hunger. She would have to eat something.

Things had seemed harmonious enough between her, Malfoy and Grimble. Surely she could ask for some bread, cheese or ham? She'd even offer to pay for it.

Taking a deep breath, she ventured into the hallway. She was met with the usual gloomy silence. Hermione walked down the stairs purposefully. As ever, the light was on in the sitting room. She knocked gently.

Almost immediately, footsteps sounded firmly within, and the door was flung back to reveal Lucius Malfoy looking down impenetrably.

"Miss Granger." It was not an enquiry but an expression of surprise and annoyance. "Are you unwell?"

Was there no other reason why she should have left the library?

"No, not unwell, Mr Malfoy. I'm sorry to trouble you, but I seem to have forgotten my lunch. I was wondering if I might be able to make myself a sandwich?"

At first he said nothing, merely remained looking down. Hermione swallowed. Seconds ticked away. Had she not made her meaning clear?

"Lunch, Miss Granger? It is after three o'clock. Lunch was two hours ago."

"I know. I hadn't realised it was so late. I was engrossed in my work."

He cocked an eyebrow.

Further silence.

It was broken by the loud rumbling of Hermione's stomach. She clutched her hand to it and grinned in embarrassment. His eyebrow rose even higher. She could not prevent a giggle breaking out; the whole situation was ludicrous.

"You do find the strangest things amusing, Miss Granger." Malfoy was not laughing.

Hermione was still trying to suppress her titters. "Yes, I suppose I do."

Malfoy looked confused again. She had seen that look when she had been in his kitchen asking if she could sit down. His conscience, his values, his sense of what was right, were being pulled in every direction by a woman in his house asking for a sandwich.

His body was tense again, his features clenched. Then suddenly, in a voice which shot from him, he spoke. "Go and sit in there. I shall see what Grimble has. Wait!" The last word was spat with such ferocious intensity, that Hermione did not question it for a moment. She almost ran into the room. Malfoy had already swept along the hall towards the kitchen.

Hermione went and sat in the same chair she had been in the day before. Her foot tapped manically. She looked over at his chair. He had been reading. She could not make out the title, but it was a thick volume, bound in dark leather. It was clearly a magical text; the image on the front cover was moving. As ever, he had a half-finished glass of whisky on the table beside him. Hermione breathed deeply, inhaling the aroma she had come to associate with him. It was an intriguing smell. She could not deny that it appealed to her.

The door was suddenly opened forcefully and Malfoy swept back in. He came and sat swiftly in his chair, crossing his legs before him.

"Grimble is preparing you something. In future, be so kind as to ensure you are more organised." He immediately picked up his book and started to read.

"Thank you," Hermione mumbled.

Should she go now? She looked across at him. He did not move, his eyes flitting rapidly over the text. He turned the pages with remarkable rapidity. She had never known such a fast reader, with the exception of herself. She took his silence as her cue to go. She could wait in the kitchen for the food.

Hermione gently pushed up on the arms of the chair and started almost to tiptoe out.

"Where are you going?" Malfoy exclaimed in frosty annoyance.

"I was just ... I thought ..."

"Sit down," he hissed. "Grimble will serve you in here. I do not want you wandering all over the house."

The Granger pluck was fired. "I wasn't going to 'wander all over the house', Mr Malfoy. I was simply going to the kitchen to see if I could relieve Grimble. And leave you in peace."

His features flinched. He averted his eyes. She was not sure why.

"You will eat here." Again, he returned to his book.

Hermione sat once more and waited in silence. Malfoy did not once glance across at her. At last, the door opened and Grimble shuffled in with a heavy tray. Hermione would have been happy with some crusty bread and cheese by this point, and wasn't expecting more from a Muggle-born-hating house-elf, but the sight that met her eyes made her gape in astonishment.

On the tray was a selection of sliced brown and white breads, a wide choice of cheeses, ham, pickles, fruit, chutney, a tall glass of sparkling water, silver cutlery and a damask napkin.

"I ... goodness. Thank you, Grimble. This is extraordinary."

The house-elf merely sneered, mumbled something about orders under his breath, and left.

Hermione beamed and looked across at Malfoy. He was glancing over at her under hooded eyes. As soon as she looked at him, he averted his stare.

"Thank you, Mr Malfoy. You must let me give you some money for all this."

"Don't be ridiculous," he said coldly. She stared at the tray of food before her. "Eat it then ... before it gets cold."

She looked up. The tiniest, but still significant, suggestion of a smirk played around his mouth. There was nothing remotely hot on the plate. Lucius Malfoy had just cracked a joke. Before she could smile back, he had removed any warmth from his face and turned swiftly back to his book.

She picked up her knife and fork and started to eat. She should have felt embarrassed eating in front of him, but for some reason, with him seemingly reading so intently, she did not.

Hermione ate silently for some minutes, assuaging the avid hunger which had overtaken her. Malfoy appeared not even to be aware of her presence; his head remained buried in the book.

But once the hunger diminished, she could not prevent her brazen Gryffindor spirit rising to the fore. "What are you reading?"

He raised his head slowly and with clear disdain to stare hard at her. Then his head descended again to the page, and she thought he would not reply.

"The Philosophy of Nineteenth Century Spell Craft and its Influence on Modern Magic." The eventual drawl was low and smooth.

"Bertram Reniksov?"

"The same."

"I used that a few years ago for some research. I thought I recognised it. The chapter on the logic behind the thoughts needed to render a spell effective was fascinating in particular."

Malfoy's eyes rose briefly to look at the witch sitting before him. She glanced over. He lowered his gaze again.

Silence. Hermione took a grape.

"Would you like some food? There is far more here than I can manage."

"No." More terse coldness.

But now that Hermione had found her voice, she knew it would be hard to remain silent.

"You don't seem to use the other rooms very often."

He did not look up. She waited.

"Do not test me, Miss Granger. I would advise against it."

Malfoy's voice was reminiscent of the chill tones she had heard those years ago in the Department of Mysteries. He had not taken his eyes off the page of his book, and as he finished his sentence, he smoothly turned to the next. His manner should have unnerved her, but she remained remarkably composed.

Indeed, the food had imbued Hermione with strength, both physically and emotionally. She sensed, despite his cold words, that he was willing to talk. It was, she could only admit, a challenge. And she enjoyed talking, even to former Death Eaters.

"You seem to be remarkably happy to sit here with me, Mr Malfoy."

He raised his head to her, his eyes aglow with hostility. Again, she did not flinch.

"Are you deaf as well as stupid?"

Her lips tensed in anger, but she tried not to show it. "Not that I'm aware of, Mr Malfoy. How exactly do you mean?"

His eyes continued to bore into hers. She did not look away. Her blood raced hot around her body. Hermione could not deny that the confrontation was giving her a perverse thrill. She was happy to perpetuate it. So, it seemed, was Malfoy.

"I told you not to test me." Malfoy's eyes flashed at her. The tenuous truce which had existed between them was being threatened. "I could point out that you seem equally content to sit here with me."

"I don't seem to have a choice."

"Are all Muggle-borns as rude as you, Miss Granger?" Still his eyes met hers.

"No, I'm probably the rudest Muggle-born in the world." She held his stare. She wondered briefly why he had not used the term Mudblood, but his dismissive insults had inflamed her temper. "But then, I have such inspiration at the moment."

"And what inspiration is that?"

"The company of a bigoted, narrow-minded, Muggle-hating murderer."

"A murderer, Miss Granger?" His voice queried with a sudden, almost amused calmness.


"You assume an awful lot with that statement."

"It is a valid assumption to make."

"Is it now? And what evidence have you got for this - assumption?"

"The fact that you were Voldemort's right hand man, the fact that I have personally seen you engaged in some of the most ferocious and costly battles and wand duels in the history of magic, the fact that you were sentenced to imprisonment in Azkaban for an indefinite period."

His features did not flicker, but she saw a shift in his eyes. His nostrils flared a little. He was breathing heavily.

There was a thick silence between them for an age. An electric buzz was coursing through Hermione. She knew she had pushed too far, but had felt ready, felt too as if he would welcome the argument, the tussle between them. It had been a long time since she had felt such exhilaration.

"It seems you are not as clever as everyone thinks, Miss Granger." Dismissive arrogance. He turned back to his book with casual disinterest.

Her insides twisted. She tried not to show the sting on her face, but knew she had failed. "And why is that, Mr Malfoy?"

Slowly, the grey eyes once again raised to hers. His face exuded a remarkable stillness, despite the incendiary nature of their conversation. She could see that same slight smirk she had witnessed earlier dancing at the corners of his mouth.

"Please inform me of the names of these people I have murdered. Or even simply their descriptions, if you wish. I would love to know." His voice was remarkably smooth and calm, with a teasing lilt underpinning it.

Hermione opened her mouth, her mind telling her there were sure to be many names and images popping into her head. No words came out. She wracked her brains, thinking back to the battles, the time she had been in his house, the stories she had heard from Harry. She glanced at him - the eyebrow was up again, waiting. She frowned. There was not a single incident she could recall where he personally had ended anyone's life.

"But ... you were Voldemort's favourite. Surely ... I ..."

"Assumed? A very dangerous way to proceed, Miss Granger. Making assumptions shuts off the mind to reality, narrows the window of perception, dulls the ability to absorb truth profoundly."

She glared at him in clear anger. "And you're never guilty of making assumptions, Mr Malfoy?"

"I have my moments of fallibility, Miss Granger, like the rest of humankind. But I probably make fewer than you would give me credit for."

Hermione knew she was blushing. She tried not to acknowledge the feeling of shame nudging her conscience. She shook it off by continuing her questioning of him. He was being remarkably equable with her, despite the hostile nature of the conversation, and the thrill bubbling within her continued.

"But he must have ordered you to ... end lives."


"Are you telling me you did not obey?"

"If I had not obeyed I would not be here talking to you now."

"So you got other people to do your dirty work for you?"

Malfoy looked across at her evenly, but his eyes were ablaze with an intensity which terrified and mesmerised her equally.

"How eloquently you express yourself, Miss Granger." The sarcasm was still remarkably smooth and mellow.

"And do you feel because you were not personally responsible for someone's death, that somehow exonerates you from blame?"

He did not reply but did not take his eyes from hers.

"Some people would say that your behaviour was even more reprehensible than if you had perpetrated the acts yourself. Some people would say that you were a ..." She stopped herself. She mustn't.

The man beside her leaned forward in his chair again. She dared not look at him. If she had, she would have seen his face frozen with rigidity, but within the tense mask, eyes that burned through ice. "Pray, continue, Miss Granger. I am, as they say, all ears."

She could not. What she was about to say would undoubtedly have been too much. But was it with fear that she had stopped herself? Or something else? Did she truly believe what she was about to say? Did Lucius Malfoy really deserve to be called a coward? A sudden whirl of conflicting emotions and thoughts beset Hermione. She needed to go. She had to.

Hermione put the tray down and stood swiftly. "Thank you for the food, Mr Malfoy, and do thank your house-elf as well. What he did was far more than was necessary."

"Going so soon, Miss Granger? And I was just beginning to enjoy myself." Malfoy too stood and took a step towards her. She swayed with alarm. The tension between them threatened to erupt. She could sense the air fizzing with palpable energy.

Hermione could not leave things how they were. But she had been too close, too close to the reality of why he was the way he was now. She should go, get back up to the relative safety of the library. But her mind niggled, her tongue tingled, desperate to speak. She at last raised her head. He stood tall before her. Was it arrogance that pinched in his features? Pride? She knew she could not remain silent.

"We have all done things we regret, Mr Malfoy - some little trivial things, some great and terrible. It is how we face up to those things which will remain with us and ultimately define us. How we reconcile them in our minds ... in our souls. Whether we feel remorse ... whether we feel guilt." She looked into the burning grey of his eyes, searching them, trying to penetrate through into his very soul. "Do you feel guilt, Mr Malfoy?"

The azure flame sparked. His aroma filled her senses. His broad torso loomed before her.

"Guilt is an unproductive emotion, Miss Granger. It achieves nothing." His voice was remarkably steady. She could not stop the next words from slipping out.

"So why is it you sit here alone in the darkness of your house waiting for time to carry you further and further away from the pain?"

He stood before her. Hermione had amazed herself with her resolve and determination. Even now, with his anger tangible before her, prickling the air between them, she felt little but excitement, certainly no regret. It had been so long since she had engaged anyone in a conversation that was even memorable, let alone stimulating. So what if the man before her had been one of the world's great dark wizards?

Lucius Malfoy did not flinch, but he felt his body coiled and rigid. The woman before him was remarkably brave. Never before had anyone spoken to him in that way and got away with it. So why now? Why had he not taken out his wand and cursed her? Searching the depths of his scarred and barricaded soul, he knew why.

She had been interested. Not enthralled, over-awed, not intimidated, nor fearful - simply interested. Interested in him.

It was almost as if she cared. She, a Mudblood, who had more reason to hate him than anyone.

Why should she bother with him? She could do her job and get out. He would not get in her way. Why was she wasting her time talking through these matters - these vast, impenetrable matters which no one had ever wanted or dared to confront before?

He had to speak. But the words which emerged were calm and plain, not the burning malicious fury he surely should have summoned up.

"May I remind you, Miss Granger, that you are a guest in this house. And one that I am only tolerating out of necessity. If you abuse your position within my home, I shall request you be removed."

"And then what, Mr Malfoy? They would send you someone else. Do you think you could tolerate them anymore than me? At least with me, you know what to expect. And ..."

She stopped and lowered her head.

"And what, Miss Granger? You have an annoying habit of leaving your sentences hanging in the air."

Again, she had sparked the air between them, and he had merely responded by prompting her for more. It confused him. Malfoy waited. Eventually, she raised her head to him again. He looked down into the brown eyes of the woman before him. She held his gaze with a defiance, not of hatred, but ferocious self-assurance. It was rare he ever witnessed that in people in his presence.

The woman delivered her words, then turned and glided from the room, leaving him alone once again.

"I like to talk."

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 4 of 27

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