Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 5 of 27

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Lucius Malfoy remained in the sitting room.

The woman's words stayed in his mind as much as he wished to purge them from his consciousness.

His own composure during their conversation had confused him. She should have riled him, pushed him to curse her or at least dismiss her from the house. And yet, he had met her brutal honesty with remarkable equanimity.

She was a curious thing, he admitted.

In the years after the war, he still held fast to the notion of pureblood superiority, but had been forced to concede that there was to be no elimination of half-bloods and Muggle-borns. He would, out of self-preservation and necessity, have to exist among them. With that realisation had come a forced tolerance of their kind, albeit with bitter distaste at every encounter. If the Granger woman had arrived fifteen years ago to rifle through his library, he doubted she would have made it two steps up the drive. Now ...

But the events of the war had changed things. He had seen all he held dear twisted and warped; had been forced to confront the deepest darkness of who he was. His beliefs were too ingrained to be wiped out, but the change he had seen in his son, the flaying of his soul, had been felt just as acutely by him.

The emotional depravity he encountered in those around him, and indeed himself, had forced him to at last question the validity of his former master's methods. How could he have allowed his family to be subject to such atrocity, to become mere puppets in the Dark Lord's quest? And what was that quest? What the Dark Lord had wanted was in actuality far removed from what he had foreseen. It was far from a mere restoration to noble and pure wizarding values of old, values which had been instilled in him from a young age, values which he believed to be right, proper; the only way. In the build up to the final battles, he had found himself committing atrocities simply out of fear; fear of rejection, fear of exclusion, and ultimately, fear of elimination, elimination of the only world he had ever known or understood. But as he saw the light fading from his son's eyes, his pale flesh stretching tighter and tighter over the gaunt cheekbones, all colour gone from a face which should have been radiant and bright in the flush of youth, he had at last realised his errors.

And when it was all over, the psychological ambiguity of his situation was unbearable. For a man of his vast intellect, the innumerable stream of paradoxes, contradictions and seemingly irrational dilemmas threw him into confusion.

His wife remained strong. She always had been. It was she who had sought help for Draco, she who had prompted him when he had wavered before Voldemort, she who had lied for Potter at the crucial moment. He liked to believe that if he had had the opportunity, he would have done the same, but he was not sure that he would.

And he had been saved.

Saved by a half-blood who had spent most of his life in the company of Muggles, a half-blood who could never have succeeded had it not been for the love and loyalty of his blood traitor companion ... and a Mudblood.

A Mudblood who was at this moment up in his library.

What was it she had said earlier? "Some people would say that you were a ..."

He flinched. He knew the word she should have finished her sentence with. It was not the first time he had heard it. It was not the first time he had thought it.

His wife had thought it. It was one of the reasons she had left him.

In the months after the war, he had retreated into himself. Narcissa had recovered swiftly, emboldened by their exoneration at the trial. But his tormented and perplexed mind did not allow him to move on so quickly. It had been good to see Draco picking up the pieces, and he had hoped to mirror his son's rebuilding of his fractured life. But Draco had always been tough, belligerent. He had at least instilled those values well in his son. And he was young. Wounds healed faster at his age: both physical and emotional. It was not so easy when life had already twisted you out and wrung you dry for decades. A few months in Azkaban alone rendered emotional immunity negligible.

Thus, as his wife and son had thrived, putting the past behind them, moving on and up, so he had diminished. It was as if Lucius was absorbing the agony of their past alone, sending them on their way, while he absorbed the sin and shame entirely onto him.

Narcissa essentially moved to London. Draco got a job at Gringott's. He saw them less and less. There had been no parties after the war. No one wanted to come to a party hosted by a former Death Eater. And yet Narcissa and Draco were quickly reaccepted back into society. They were constantly out and about in London and elsewhere. Lucius had joined them occasionally to start with. It had been intolerable.

And as society re-embraced his family, and Lucius turned away from who he was, so too did it. He had been too close, too closely linked to the Dark Lord, and he had failed in his duties. If there was one thing worse than a traitor, it was an incompetent traitor. He found himself largely ignored by people, who would avert their eyes and make excuses if he approached them. And the mask had at last been fully stripped away. He had nothing left to hide behind.

People no longer knew who he was. And neither, apparently, did his wife and son. Neither did they bother to find out. Narcissa merely scolded him for not making more of an effort, his son distanced himself more and more.

But as his alienation from those he had once regarded as friends and colleagues deepened, he found a strange comfort in his own thoughts, his own company. There seemed no-one who could fathom, let alone empathise with the torment consuming his mind and soul. Not even his wife, who when life was a simple question of restoring Voldemort to full power, had been his constant guide and support. She could no longer absorb the depth of his anguish. She had no desire to. And he shamed her.

Physically, their relationship began to alter. Their love life had always been active and inventive, although sometimes lacking in an emotional bond, but now he found her remote, and became aware of his own needs shifting. He sought a deeper connection with her, a reassurance, which she was unable to provide. Their love-making became increasingly infrequent and clinical. Neither was satisfied.

She took a lover. He knew she had, and found himself strangely unperturbed. Shortly afterward, she asked for a separation. They were divorced a year later.

And so he had retreated to that which was familiar: his home, his history, surrounding himself in those things which he knew would remain long after all else had gone. He had now not seen Narcissa for three years. He rarely saw Draco. His son visited the Manor only for his father's birthday and when he needed money. Even then, he would stay only as long as was absolutely necessary.

And now the only visitor he had was his son's former arch-enemy: a Muggle-born who had thwarted his family so much in her short life.

He should not tolerate her. And yet she remained in his house. On a cold, dark Saturday, the vast space around him had briefly been filled with words, conversation: engaging, stimulating, once again.

Despite the antagonistic words which had passed between them, Lucius Malfoy could not deny that the conversation had been satisfying. And she, apparently, had felt the same.

He could imagine conversing with her again.

He finished his drink and stared into the fire. The clock on the mantelpiece gradually ticked its way into his consciousness. He glanced at it. It was nearly five o'clock. She would go soon. She invariably left at five on the dot. He heard her go and noted the time each day.

He looked down. His fingers were drumming on the arm of the chair. He had not realised.

The clock struck five. He listened intently. A moment later he heard what his ears were straining for; footsteps on the stairs, retreating swiftly back to her world, out, far away from the dark oppression he found comfort in.

He heard her mutter a brief farewell to Grimble, thanking his ungrateful elf yet again for the food, then the door shut with heavy dullness.

Lucius Malfoy poured himself another whisky.

Hermione questioned whether she should return to the manor on Sunday. But it was raining and there was little else to do. She had made a significant start on her task, but it was still only a start, and she remembered that Shacklebolt needed to present her findings to the Wizengamot at the next session. That was only a few weeks away.

She paused in her thoughts. Surely the imperative to work quickly lay in the fact that working under Lucius Malfoy's eye in the heavy atmosphere of his home was a difficult experience.

Hermione had to admit that the dread she had experienced before her arrival at the manor was now largely gone. The library itself seemed to welcome her, and her brief conversations with Malfoy had been diverting, intriguing. He seemed to tolerate her. She had been amazed at what she had felt bold enough to say the day before, and even more staggered by his calm reaction to it. She could detect clear anger at times, but it had not deterred her, or him for that matter. She could tell they had both been stimulated by the conversation.

She would go back, even on a Sunday.

Once again, there was no sign of Malfoy as she arrived. She had packed her lunch very carefully this time and ate it contentedly after making good progress through the books during the morning. Hermione had found a book with quite detailed instructions on various curses associated with blindness and paralysis. The text was the darkest she had come across, but it was still merely an object of curiosity from centuries before. He would be permitted to keep it.

The day wore on rapidly. Hermione realised she would have to head home soon enough. Fatigue swept suddenly over her, and she yawned audibly. It had been a long day. Her mind swam with spells, enchantments and charms she had been reading about. As her yawn died away the chimes from the grandfather clock in the hallway distantly struck four. She would give herself another hour.

There was a loud thud behind her as the door was suddenly thrown back. She spun around with a gasp, managing this time to suppress the scream. Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway.


He fixed his eyes into hers briefly, his face displaying no discernible emotion, then turned and left as rapidly as he had arrived.

Hermione swayed and reached behind to steady herself on the desk.

Was that an invitation? An order? She almost laughed aloud at the preposterous nature of his interruption.

Still, she found herself drawn out of the room. Tea, whether she was being ordered to drink it or not, was very welcome indeed. And it would be good to have someone to talk to.

Even if that person was Lucius Malfoy.

She glided silently down the stairs. The house still seemed to have that expectation of silence about it, which she dared not break.

The light was shining forth from the sitting room, beckoning her towards it. She pushed the door back gently and looked inside. She could see the black clad arm resting on the arm of the chair, just as it had done that first day she had arrived, barely under a week ago. How time had rushed by.

This time, however, the occupant of the chair turned around from it and looked towards her.

"Sit down, Miss Granger. As you can see, Grimble has arranged things already."

Lucius indicated her chair, before which sat a table piled high with a glorious selection of afternoon snacks; cake, sandwiches, scones, and a great porcelain teapot as its centrepiece.

She walked over, more confidently than ever, and sat, suddenly aware that her meagre sandwich had done little to provide her with enough sustenance for a whole day.

Hermione expected Grimble to arrive as he had done before and pour the tea, but he did not. This time, she nearly jumped in shock when Malfoy himself suddenly reached for the handle and poured the hot brown liquid smoothly into her cup.

"Thank you," she smiled across at him.

He looked up at her, noting the smile, but lowered his eyes rapidly, his own features remaining impassive.

Malfoy poured himself a cup, then sat back to sip it. She saw a book resting beside him, but it was closed, and he made no attempt to pick it up to read.

She took a sip of her own tea. It was very hot. She would have to let it cool.

"Will you not eat?"

His sudden query took her by surprise.

"Err ... yes ... may I?"

"Why else would it be there, Miss Granger?" The terse admonishment did little but amuse her. She reached across for a plate and took a sandwich and a slice of cake. The man beside her took nothing. This time she felt awkward eating in his presence. She took tiny little bites which she chewed as unobtrusively as possible.

Malfoy said nothing, and she tried to eat as rapidly as she could. He stared straight ahead into the fire. Hermione wondered why he had invited her down. She was more than happy to converse with him, but did not want to risk speaking as bluntly as she had the day before. Although the conversation had been energising, it had expended a lot of emotional energy, and she did not think she had it in her to do it again today.

"And how is the great Potter these days?" Malfoy's low drawl suddenly and unexpectedly broke the silence.

Hermione stared across at him in surprise. "Fine ... yes ... he's doing very well. He's Chief Auror now."

"How predictable." His sarcasm was undeniable. Hermione's blood started to course faster through her veins again. She felt that was exactly what her companion wanted.

"Do you think so?"

"Yes. I'm surprised the sycophantic lapdogs of the Ministry haven't made him Minister for Magic yet."

"Harry has been promoted on nothing but merit, Mr Malfoy."

He turned to look at her with a faint sneer. She bristled, but bit her lip. "Married that Weasley girl, didn't he?"

"That's right."

Malfoy continued to look across at her, but his features had lost the look of disdain, and he merely stared at her evenly. She held his gaze. "But no other weddings for the Weasley clan, Miss Granger?"

Hermione blushed and lowered her eyes. Should she be affronted that he was asking her about her private life? It may embarrass her a little, but it had all been a long time ago now, and she was not afraid to talk about it. In fact, the identity of the person sitting beside her seemed to make her want to talk about it. Malfoy had been through a lot in his own private life. It seemed strangely fitting to talk to him.

"No. If you are referring to my relationship with Ron, it only lasted three years. We thought about getting married, but ... we both knew in our hearts that it wouldn't be right. We had changed a lot after the war, ... grown up, as well as all the rest."

"It was ridiculous that you got together at all."

She glared at him. "Who on earth are you to presume to tell me about my relationships?"

"Don't be foolish, Miss Granger, anyone with any sense could see that he would never satisfy a woman like you."

It was as if a sword had suddenly split the air between them. Hermione stopped breathing. Malfoy averted his eyes rapidly, his features tensing. She saw the faintest reddening on his high cheekbones. Hermione quickly took another sip from her tea. Malfoy did the same. That was surely the closest Lucius Malfoy would ever come to complimenting her, albeit inadvertently.

But his clear betrayal of a sneaking respect for her emboldened Hermione, and she knew that her drive and curiosity could not let it go. She put down her cup, looked boldly across at him and said, "And what sort of man do you think would satisfy a woman like me, Mr Malfoy?"

His eyes flashed. He had not expected her to counter. The dark lips pursed and he shrugged as casually as he could, "I cannot possibly imagine, Miss Granger." He turned to look at her, and, forming his mouth into a slight smirk, regained the upper hand with his next smooth drawl, "Why don't you enlighten me?"

Hermione did not flinch. "Well, seeing as I am unmarried and currently single, it seems I am still working that one out." He raised an eyebrow. Hermione found herself thinking aloud. "I dated quite a few people after Ron. All kinds. None of them right. I think my name and reputation preceded me. I seemed to scare the good ones off. Anyway, I didn't know what I wanted." She looked down, almost forgetting who she was talking to.

"And do you now?"

She glanced up at him in surprise. "What?"

"Know what you want?"

"I don't know. I am more content, I suppose. I'm in no hurry. I have my job, my home ... my cat." She chuckled. "I like being my own person. Not having to rely on anyone. Not having anyone rely on me. That was the big problem with Ron ... he was so needy."

Again, she looked up, having almost forgotten that it was Lucius Malfoy sitting beside her. She blushed and took another sandwich. Eating would at least shut her up for a while.

Malfoy kept looking steadily at her. "And why are you telling me this, Miss Granger?"

"As I recall, you asked, Mr Malfoy. And anyway, as I said ... I like to talk." She glanced up, her eyes dancing to convey her amusement. She thought she could detect a spark within the impenetrable grey of his. Perhaps it was just the reflected firelight.

"Are you still reading the Reniksov book?" she queried, glancing at the book on the table beside him.

"Don't insult me. I finished that shortly after you left yesterday."

"It was a large volume."

"And?" he stressed the word harshly.

"You are clearly a very fast reader."

"Does that surprise you?"

"No. May I borrow it?"

He sighed. "Miss Granger, you have an entire library at your disposal, and you request the one book that is not in it."

"Never mind. I can get it from the Ministry library."

Malfoy did not respond. His features were tense again. They had finished the tea. Malfoy removed his wand and waved it. The food and crockery disappeared.

"Is Grimble not here?"

"His salaried duties finished a while ago."

"Do you pay him?" She was surprised. He looked at her in annoyance.

"Of course. Thanks to you, I have to." She crossed her arms and sighed, looking away. "But he is a good worker. I have no qualms about giving him a decent wage."

Hermione looked at him, her mouth open. She could never have imagined Lucius Malfoy paying his house-elf.

At length, Malfoy picked up his book and started to read. Hermione tried to stifle a yawn again. "I suppose I should try and get a little more done before I go. That was lovely tea. Do thank Grimble for me."

Malfoy glanced at her, a perplexed frown on his face. Why did the woman insist on being so damned appreciative? He returned to his book.

Hermione tried to push up out of the chair, but found herself lacking any energy whatsoever. Her companion had fallen into quiet concentrated silence. He did not seem to be insisting on her departure. Her shoes had come off, and without thinking, she curled her feet up under her on the chair and rested her head against the high side.

The fire crackled soothingly, and the clock ticked with muffled regularity. Hermione yawned again. Her eyes were so heavy. She knew her breathing was slowing. Did it matter? It seemed not. She was so warm, her body satisfied with the food and drink it had just imbibed. So warm ... quiet ... the man beside her a solid presence ... forget who it is ... a solid presence ... a reassuring presence ... the clock ticks ... the fire is dying ... eyes so heavy ... so warm ... breathe in ... that smell ... smells of him ... a good smell ... he smells of Christmas ...

After some time, Lucius Malfoy became aware that the Mudblood had not left the room. He looked up from his book across at her. Her eyes were closed, mouth slightly open, her chest rising and falling slowly as her head lolled against the side of the chair. She was asleep.

He put down his book and stood in annoyance. He gave her tea, a chance to have a break from her work, and she takes advantage by allowing the weakness of her body to overcome her.

"Miss Granger!" He had intended his voice to sound loud and sharp across to her, to rouse her instantly, but he knew it had not. In reality, the sound that emerged was little more than a curious whisper. The woman did not stir.

He took a step toward her, his hand poised to shake her awake. But he hesitated.

His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed. The woman before him was completely vulnerable, so trusting. Was she stupid or brave to fall asleep in his presence? If he had found himself in this position fifteen years ago ...

His face flinched. He studied her intently. Her skin was remarkably smooth. It was the colour of the innocent side of a peach, pale and honeyed. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the fire and fatigue, and imparted a fertile intensity to her face. Her mouth fell open a little, and he could hear the slow pulls of breath, in, out, falling through it. Her lips were full and dark pink, a little dry from lack of moisture in sleep. He looked at the shallow little indentations, reminded of the imprint on the glass he had seen before.

His eyes flitted up to her eyes. They remained heavily lidded. She had remarkably long eyelashes, which fell onto the pale skin above her cheek.

As she lay before him in sleep, it was almost possible to forget she was real, a living breathing human. As such, he could tell himself that she was pleasant enough to look at. So pleasant in fact, that he could not take his eyes off the sight before him.

A lock of hair fell over her cheek. She flinched a little in her sleep as it tickled her. His hand was still poised to wake her. Instinctively, it moved instead, as if to brush the hair carefully off her face. He wanted to. And as he brushed it, he could lower his fingers, just to brush them lightly over her skin, that smooth pale skin. What did it feel like? It was there before him. It looked so warm, so yielding ... he could just reach out ...

Malfoy's hand moved ever closer to touching that glowing skin. He was burning with an intense curiosity to feel it. His fingers twitched ... so close ... a mere inch away.

The woman's eyes darted open, wide and alarmed.

Hermione awoke to find a pale face looming above her, framed with blonde hair, deep grey eyes, so familiar, from a time long gone ... pain ... agony ...

Her mind, blurred from sleep, had forgotten where she was, when she was. The face before her ... it meant fear, horror ... must get away. She screamed in terror, loud and long.

The man standing before her recoiled swiftly, standing straight and stepping several paces away.

Lucius was taken aback. The extent of the woman's fear disturbed him. Had he brought that on?

He opened his mouth, surprising himself with the instinctive words which emerged. "It is alright, Miss Granger. There is nothing to fear."

Hermione darted her head around the room, her heart beating fast and desperate within her breast. As her mind was pulled back to the present, it steadied somewhat, and she looked up at Lucius Malfoy. It was the same face, but now it had shaken off the association which had invaded her mind; the memory dredged up from so long ago.

"I'm sorry ... I'm sorry ... I must have fallen asleep ... I don't know what came over me."

"A dream, Miss Granger. A psychological relic of the past." His voice was strangely subdued.

Hermione sat up straight, her mind still heavy with thwarted slumber. Her breathing steadied and she calmed. The fog slowly clearing from her head had already suppressed the trigger for her terror. She glanced up at the man standing apart from her. He appeared uncomfortable. He had been so close to her, had he not, when she had awoken? Perhaps her mind was playing more tricks on her. She cleared her throat.

"I must go. Oh goodness, look at the time. It's nearly six. I am so sorry to impose on you, Mr Malfoy. You should have woken me."

"I had not realised how late it had become." His voice was oddly reserved. She tried to make eye contact with him; he still had his head resolutely lowered. It was so different to his usual demeanour.

"Well. I'll be back tomorrow, if that is alright."

He inclined his head in acknowledgment.

"I'll just get my stuff then."

He was standing directly between the two chairs, inadvertently blocking her way out. "Excuse me, Mr Malfoy."

With that, the tall man came to his senses and stepped away, giving her room to pass. Hermione lowered her head and rushed from the room.

She was not entirely sure what had just transpired in the sitting room, but with her mind still confused from her interrupted sleep, the vision of the past on waking, and Malfoy's strange behaviour afterward, the atmosphere between them had changed. Hermione's skin tingled for a reason she could not quite fathom. Quickly gathering her things, she was soon out of the library and down the stairs again. She had not felt so disturbed in the house since she had arrived. But this time it was not with fear or trepidation, but with an emotion she could not identify.

As she swept down the stairs, she found Malfoy standing in the hallway. At last he was standing in his familiar way, tall and erect, his head held high and haughty. It was almost a relief.

"Well. I'll see you tomorrow then. Unless you are otherwise occupied." She looked into his eyes. He held her stare for longer than she had anticipated. Again, she could see a spark within the grey. It made her unable to look away.

"I will see you tomorrow. Goodbye, Miss Granger."

He moved to the door and held it open for her.

She moved through then turned back, her voice genuine and tender, "Goodbye, Mr Malfoy."

And she hurried out into the night. The man behind her waited until her figure had disappeared into the dark before shutting the door.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 5 of 27

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