Chapter Forty-Five: Tuesday Evening

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

Beta: bunnyhops and CoquetteKitten.

 

When her head stopped spinning, Hermione found herself standing in the grass on the side of a wide cobbled drive. It was bordered by huge, ancient yew topiary hedges trained and cut into fantastic shapes, some of which seemed to be moving. The drive stretched away as far as she could see. Behind the hedges, glimpses of vast lawns peeked through. Hermione spun around, mouth gaping in awe. Before her, set at the end of the drive and behind a large fountain, was an enormous, square, tall house of graceful proportions. Lucius and Draco stood in front of it not far away, their presence lending a welcoming air.

 

She had never seen the outside of the manor when she’d been brought here during the war, and the outward beauty of it jarred with her memories of its dark Hall and even darker dungeon. Hermione shook off the images that came to mind. Even then I wasn’t in real danger — Lucius was protecting me. She squared her shoulders and set her chin resolutely. I’ll face my demons head-on, but right now, at this moment, I want to make a few brand new memories of this place. The curly-headed witch looked around her again. The spot to which they’d Apparated reminded her of the fairy-tales her mother had loved reading to her years ago, and she could almost picture a pumpkin coach pulling up at the head of the drive in front of the long sweep of wide stone steps. Except that it would be pulled by Thestrals instead of horses. And the princess would be a Veela. That last thought irritated her, and she corrected her inner dialogue. And the princess would be me.

 

The random thought of her childhood and the favorite story helped to quell her former memories. Hermione broke out of her reverie and turned to her new chaperone, who was watching her with a face completely devoid of expression. “Is this real? This is Malfoy Manor?” Her attention was once again caught by the yews lining the drive. Did that one just move? She wandered across the drive to a particularly artful topiary fox three times her height, Fleur staying at her side. As the two witches disappeared beyond the gracefully waving green tail, Hermione turned back to her wizards and called out, “Come on, I want to see everything before it grows dark!”

 

Lucius and Draco caught up with them somewhere between the fox and a giraffe, which bent its long neck as they passed. Hermione was filled with childlike wonder. “They move! They actually move! How wonderful!” She reached out toward the giraffe’s muzzle, which brushed against her hand before rising to its original height far above. Fleur seemed unimpressed as she walked quietly beside the others, and Hermione guessed that she had seen these sights on a previous trip to the estate.

 

A flash of white in the corner of her vision caused her to jump, and she whirled straight into Lucius’ chest. He caught her in his arms, setting her straight as Draco pointed out the thing that had startled her. “It’s all right, sweetheart – it’s only Albus.” A large albino peacock strutted past them, its beautiful plumes sweeping over the lush grass. It paused and looked at her for a moment before continuing on its way.

 

“Albus? You can’t be serious.”

 

Lucius chuckled. “He was hatched the year I graduated from Hogwarts. It seemed a fitting name at the time.” Hermione laughed, delighted at such further proof of the more playful side of him.

 

“Does he have any friends?” Her question was answered when a group of peahens came into view, hiding shyly beneath the large green body of a crouching dragon. She bent at the waist, stretching out her free hand toward them. “Hello, pretty girls. Are they friendly?” The question was directed to Lucius, who had clasped his large, warm hand around hers.

 

“Incredibly so, if you have something to share with them. We keep a bin of corn near the formal gardens – we’ll walk in that direction and they’ll follow us.” He made kissing noises in the direction of the large, graceful birds and they followed as he led the group around the manor house.

 

When they finally reached the back of it, they came to a large terrace overlooking a river. The terrace was dominated by a large, formal garden the length of the house. It spread out from the center in a mirror-image pattern of curving walkways made from beds of vibrant flowers edged in thick green foliage. Lucius had parted with the rest of them, leading the peacocks to a small gazebo on the far end where he tossed some grain to them. Fleur had wandered to the edge of the terrace, looking down the gently sloping hill to the swiftly flowing water. Draco was at her side, his arm pulling her close. The young witch snuggled against him silently, taking in the colors and lines along with the sound of the rushing river, and said, “This is lovely. I’ve been on tours of places like this, when I was younger. It’s hard to believe . . .”

 

Draco ducked down to press a quick kiss to her mouth. “The estate is covered in gardens. There’s even an old-fashioned labyrinth on the east lawn. It makes sense, of course – Herbology has been a family hobby for centuries, and Lucius takes it to the extreme.”

 

The mention of Lucius and his love of plants jolted Hermione’s memory. My blue roses! “I don’t suppose there’s a rose garden as well?”

 

“Yes, of course. We passed its outer walls on the way here. Lucius sealed the outer entrance when I was a boy to keep my mischief to a minimum, so it can only be accessed from his study. I’m sure it will be one of the first places he drags you once we go inside.” He flashed a brilliant smile and tugged on her hand. “Would you like to see more?”

 

Fleur was returning to them now, a mildly approving look on her beautiful face. “I ‘ad not seen zis garden before today. Eet eez tres beau. But I much prefer le labrynthe – il est magnifique! You must show eet to her.” It was the most conversational thing she had said to this point, and even her bossy tone couldn’t subdue the optimism Hermione felt in the moment. Maybe she won’t be so bad.

 

Draco called to Lucius, and the four of them set off again across the terrace to the side of the house Hermione had not yet seen. This place would be ridiculously large for two dozen people, let alone two. It must have been so lonely for Lucius when Draco was at school! Still holding Draco’s hand, she wrapped her other arm around the elder Malfoy’s waist. He pulled her against his side, and they walked in a contented cluster for a long time. Eventually they rounded the far corner of the house and took a path lined by walnut trees trained into a high arch. When they reached the end of the leafy tunnel a few minutes later, the labyrinth rose up to tower before them. Hermione was once again rendered speechless, lost in thoughts of Muggle fairy tales.

 

The sound of splashing water hinted at a fountain within the high walls of the maze, and the young witch sprang forward curiously. She felt a hand take hold of her arm, holding her back. “Wait for us, pet.” Lucius paused at the entrance to the maze and laid his palm on the high yew hedge on one side. He explained, “You must always identify yourself. This place was not designed merely for pleasure, and the labyrinth is full of pitfalls and traps for those who do not seek peace with us.” In answer to her silent question, he added, “It was created as a last resort of safety for the Malfoy family.”

 

He motioned for her to follow his example, and after she had also brushed her hand against the foliage they entered side by side. Draco followed, escorting Fleur. “Did you ever use it during the last war?”

 

“Had my plan to hide you that night gone awry, we would have taken you there.” He said no more, and Hermione was grateful. It wasn’t a memory on which she liked to dwell, and now especially, she was trying to push it from her mind.

 

They wandered through the high-walled maze until the sun began to dip in the spring sky. She and Lucius walked a ways ahead of the other two, and each time they turned a corner, they stole a kiss. It was their first romantic stroll, and Hermione looked forward to doing it many more times in the next few days. And after that there won’t be any more rules . . . The thought sent a shiver racing along her back. He mistook her bout of trembling for a chill and draped his outer robes around her shoulders, wrapping them around her and running his hands up and down her arms several times. “Perhaps it’s time to go inside. I have wondered . . . does that thought trouble you?”

 

It was the first time Hermione had heard such an unsure tone from Lucius, and the idea that he might understand her mixed feelings about being back at this place – no matter how beautiful it was proving to be – was remarkably stabilizing. She nodded up at his handsome face. “What happened in the hall – it was terrifying, but I wasn’t hurt. Not really. You saved me, Lucius, and then you waited in this big empty house until you thought I was ready to know how you felt about me. Besides, I won’t be going in there by myself — you and Draco will be with me. Even later on I won’t be alone, because I’ll have Fleur.” He kissed her tenderly, and the young witch felt that overwhelmingly full sensation in her chest once again. My heart isn’t big enough for all I feel for him. She could hear the other two approaching from behind and said, “I’m ready. Let’s go replace the bad memories with good ones.”

 

Draco must have heard just the last bit, because he caught her up in a squeezing hug. “I like the sound of that. Now let’s ditch this old wizard and get started on making those good memories.” He planted a wicked kiss on her lips that made her blush violently, and their new chaperone raised a disapproving eyebrow. Draco stood to his full height, only slightly chastened, and began to drag her back toward the house. He got only a few feet before Hermione dug in her heels and laughingly shrugged off his strong but gentle grasp.

 

“No, no! I think I’ll ditch the both of you in favor of Fleur for now.” She briefly considered the idea of trying to link her arm with that of the French woman, but decided not to push her luck. Fleur was regarding her with an expressionless face. Hermione asked quietly, “Are you all right?”

 

The blonde witch regarded her coolly. “Bien sur, ‘Ermione. Why would I not be?”

 

“Well, Errrrr, you don’t seem to be enjoying yourself very much.”

 

“I am not ‘ere for zee . . . how do you say . . . enjouissance.”

 

“Right – you’re here to chaperone the courtship. Still, you could have fun while you’re doing that. There’s no rule that says you can’t.” Harry certainly did.

 

Fleur looked at her with a flash of resentment, or at least that’s what it seemed like to Hermione. “You know nozzing of what you speak. You are young and in love, and you sink everyzhing is tres facile.” Resentment seemed to be an accurate interpretation, because it actually oozed from her tone as well.

 

How dare she! All right, now we’ll see what color Veela blood runs. “You know nothing about me, and I suggest you stop making gross assumptions at once. You can also stop threatening to stun me, because you’ll have to do a lot worse to scare me.” The blood was pounding in her ears and her voice was shaking with anger. Hermione lengthened her stride, moving ahead of the chaperone, but her sleeve was caught in the other’s firm grip.

 

“Togezzer. You do not have to like me, but you must stay wiz me.” The previous emotion was gone from Fleur’s face and tone, and the Ice Queen had resurfaced.

 

“Actually, I think I’ll walk with my wizards.”

 

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

They reached the house as the sun dropped behind it, entering through a set of French windows somewhere along the east side. The room was obviously designed to be used in the morning, when the sun would lend its heat and light. The outer wall was a series of floor-to-ceiling windows, and inviting couches were strewn around the space beside low tables, exotic plants, and even potted trees. It was the kind of place in which Hermione could imagine reading for long hours.

 

Lucius’ attention was drawn by the flora. He went from pot to pot, gently touching a leaf or pressing his palm to a trunk, and his eyes traveled each plant with an intensity that reminded Hermione of the way he looked at her. She watched him, enthralled at this new facet of his person even as Draco continued to move through the room. At the far end by the inner door, the younger wizard paused. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake – not now, Lucius! They’ll understand if you don’t kiss them all goodnight just this once.”

 

Lucius made a sort of growling noise and caught up with them. When Draco smirked at him, he replied, “I have gone without meals waiting for you to be done with a potion. You have no grounds to criticize my interests.” He looked over his shoulder and added, “Mademoiselle Delacour, are you planning to join us?” Fleur, who had dropped behind the trio after her exchange with Hermione, remained silent as she followed them out of the room.

 

The inner layout of Malfoy Manor was arbitrary at best, and while the grand building was breathtaking, it was a veritable rabbit warren of hallways and staircases. Hermione was quite sure that, without her current guides, she could wander the house for days without finding her way. They passed through a gallery of family portraits, the subjects of which watched them pass and whispered noisily until the doors of the enormous hall were closed behind them. Only then did Lucius offer, “They have been waiting for your arrival for some time.”

 

There was a room of low leather couches and chairs and multiple fireplaces, with the kind of dim lighting that offered a maximum of privacy. It looked like a gentleman’s lounge, and Hermione said as much to Draco. With an expression of curiosity, he looked around the space, admitting he hadn’t often visited. “This was Abraxas’ salon, and Lucius can’t stand it.”

 

Several hallways later, they cut through a room that made Hermione stop dead in her tracks. It was a library spanning two stories. Bookshelves lined the paneled walls and formed short rows like the spokes of a wheel. In its center, a staircase spiraled to the upper level. She felt lightheaded and grabbed hold of the nearest wizard for support.

 

Lucius looked down at her, his face set in an indulgent look. “What is it, pet?”

 

“L-l-library . . .”

 

He tutted. “No, my prize. This is merely the Lady’s reading room. I assure you, the Malfoy Library will make you swoon.”

 

Her eyes traveled greedily around the large space, drinking in the sight of so much reading material. His words eventually filtered through her book lust, though, and she turned with a whimper. “Merely . . . reading room . . . you mean there’s . . . mother of Merlin . . .” Her gibberish trailed off into more inarticulate sounds. Lucius dragged her onward, ignoring her protests as they left the wondrous room far behind.

 

Drawing rooms, studies, servant’s stations, cupboards bigger than her room at Hogwarts – Hermione gave up trying to remember it all as she realized this was only the ground level of the Manor. And everywhere there were high ceilings, dark woodwork, and art and artifacts dating back millennia. It occurred to her that Lucius and Draco were doing an excellent job of slowly but surely exposing her to the house without causing her any trauma.

 

Eventually, though, they ended up in the Great Hall – the place where Bellatrix and her henchman had dragged her after Apparating onto the grounds. Flashes of that night burst across her consciousness, and Hermione clenched her fists and teeth against them. The two blond wizards seemed to be anticipating such a reaction, because Draco wrapped her in his arms and sat on a low bench by the gigantic hearth, while Lucius knelt in front of them.

 

One of them rubbed across her back, but she was locked far away in her mind, assailed by the memories of her abduction by Bellatrix Lestrange and the rough, masked Death Eater. A wave of nausea passed over her.

 

“She caught me in the middle of the night.” She felt a tug at her hair and flinched until she realized it was a pleasant, familiar feeling.

 

“Yes.” The silky voice overlaying the images in her mind was familiar, but her focus was on her memories.

 

“She hit me across the face and I was stunned. My wand was taken.” There was a hand stroking through her hair gently.

 

“Yes.” Hermione felt her body respond to the beautiful voice despite the images in her mind.

 

“She took me here. Into this very room.” It was Draco’s hand. He was running his fingers through her curls in a comforting motion. She leaned into his touch.

 

“I was here, my lovely one.” Lucius.

 

“She- she wanted to carve that word into my arm.” There were four hands on her, two on her back, one in her hair, and yet another holding both of her hands.

 

Lucius’ smooth, deep voice cut through the flashback of the madwoman’s screeches and her cursed dagger. “She did, but I would not allow it.”

 

The young witch was drawn back partway to the present. She looked at Lucius, whose eyes were dark with emotion, and whose jaw clenched furiously. “You took me to the dungeon.” The feelings of freezing cold and gnawing hunger came back to her, and she shuddered in Draco’s arms.

 

Lucius would have none of it. “I picked you up in my arms. I placed a warming charm on you, and took you to the safest place I could on such short notice. You were safe from harm there, Hermione.”

 

His words pulled her further out of her trance-like state. “You saved me.”

 

He nodded. “I saved you because you are my bespoken one. Because I love you. This is your house now, Lady. Do not let it rule you.”

 

She soaked up the comfort of her two wizards for some time after that. At last she looked up and saw Fleur, who had leaned against the giant leg of the hearth and was watching the fire blaze. The chaperone’s face was set in an expression of hopelessness and pain, and the thought of another’s suffering galvanized Hermione’s courage. Pressing a brief kiss to first Draco’s, and then Lucius’, faces, she stood. “I would like to talk with Fleur alone, if I may. Would you please find something to do for a few minutes?” Lucius looked at her with appraising eyes and finally nodded. She added, “And would you cast an Interpretor, please? I would have a while ago, but . . . you know.”

 

He looked as though an obvious answer had just occurred to him and said, “Use my wand for tonight, and in the meantime, I will contact St. Mungo’s about your own.”

 

“Oh.” She was speechless for a moment, struck by the generous gesture. “Will it obey me?”

 

He withdrew the object in question from its sheath within his cane and held it out to her. “You may test it, but I think it will recognize the covenant within you.”

 

The young witch gave it a tentative flick, and then cautiously cast a Lumos away from the others around her. The wand felt odd, yes, but it followed her command without protest. Gaining boldness, Hermione Transfigured a piece of firewood into a bucket and then back its original form. She smiled at Lucius. “Thank you! I haven’t felt right since I lost mine. But what will you do without it?”

 

He bent down and kissed her nose, then produced a wandless, wordless Lumos in the palm of his hand. “You see? I have no need for my wand at present. Keep it safe for me, and I will collect it shortly.”

 

Hermione dragged him down for a sweet, lingering kiss which would have morphed into something more, had not Fleur cleared her throat meaningfully. The curly-haired witch pulled away reluctantly and whispered, “Thank you, my love.”

 

Lucius appeared deeply pleased at her term of endearment. He straightened and turned to Draco. “Come, Draco. We have much to do.”

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