Chapter 25: Play to Win
Song: Joke’s On You - Charlotte Lawrence
When Hermione woke up the next morning, her head was still spinning with thoughts of Malfoy. No matter how hard she pushed them away, they always seemed to resurface.
After eating her “mudblood” pancakes, she made her way upstairs to the library.
She heard voices coming from down the hall to Malfoy’s wing, and she had no doubt they belonged to Malfoy and Pansy. She didn’t dare glance that direction. Instead, she focused on moving towards the library, determined to search every last inch of it for books on what she was almost positive she was experiencing. It was the only explanation.
Butterflies in her stomach, teakwood, mint, and firewhiskey. Heat, lots and lots of heat. Silvery-blue eyes. Pale, soft, pink lips, tempting her.
Hermione was determined to search every last inch of the library. She wouldn’t leave without answers. Or so she thought.
She spent the next two weeks searching and searching until she thought her brain was going to combust. Occasionally she passed Malfoy in the hallways of the manor, but he refused to meet her eyes. She hadn’t reported to him once, because he hadn’t asked her to.
She felt strongly that this was some twisted game on his part. Teasing her, making her “flustered” for fun as he mentioned that night. And Merlin, it was working. And she hated him for it. Hated herself for it. There has to be an explanation.
The only other option was that he was attracted to her, which was a laughable thought. Couldn’t possibly be a consideration. He was disgusted by her parentage, that much was crystal clear. A game. A sick, twisted game. If he plays, I can too, and Hermione Granger plays to win.
If he’d ignore her, she’d ignore him. Simple as that.
One night in September when she was reading to Lucius in the library, he interrupted her. “Is there a reason you haven’t been reporting to my son anymore?“, he asked.
“Are you not interested in this book? I was quite enjoying it myself”, she joked, really not wanting to talk about Malfoy.
“Miss Granger, as much as I relish hearing your voice more often than I hear my own these days, I know how this story ends already. I’m interested in another”, he said with zero expression.
She sighed, marking the page before closing the book and placing it on the table. “How did you know I ever did?“, she asked him, genuinely curious.
“Bopsy is quite the informant”, he told her, a smirk growing on his face.
“Well”, she began, unsure how to phrase it without including her terrible embarrassment from that night. “I accidentally interrupted him and Pansy two weeks ago. He told me to stop reporting to him after that.”
He scowled, “That floozy in my home? I told Draco to take his extracurriculars elsewhere.” Lucius stood suddenly, shoving the tray of tea off the table in anger, its pieces shattering on the floor, tea spreading in its wake.
Hermione jumped back in shock, speechless and thoroughly taken aback by his reaction.
“Bopsy!“, he called. The elf appeared instantly, ready to serve whatever request he had. “I’m retiring for the night. Clean this up and make sure Miss Granger wasn’t scathed by my outburst”, and then he was walking out the doors.
Bopsy quickly disappeared the mess and when Hermione assured the elf she was fine, Bopsy wobbled after Lucius.
Shit. Shit, I probably need to tell Malfoy this. But I don’t want to...but I have to.
Her feet decided for her.
Before she could stop herself she was knocking on the door to Malfoy’s study. There was no answer, so she walked to the door of his bedroom, adjacent to his study, and knocked before she lost the nerve. “Come in”, a gruff voice called, so she did.
Hermione struggled not to let her jaw fall to the ground when the door swung open. Malfoy was standing with one arm leaned against the fireplace, a drink in his other hand. He wore his usual black dress pants with his belt undone, swung low on his hips. This was almost painfully obvious due to the fact that he was shirtless.
The fireplace flickered, lighting up his pale chest in the dark room, dancing across the pieces of gold hair on his head, as well as the ones at the bottom of his stomach which disappeared into his pants. His torso was softly chiseled, his muscles well-defined, but appeared soft and incredibly appealing. Begging to be touched.
His cheeks were tinged slightly pink from his drink, and the rings on his fingers reflected from the fire, wrapped gently around his glass. His eyes appeared warmer in the orange-tinted light, more blue this way. They peeked out from under the stray, messy strands that fell across his forehead.
Holy fuck. It’s Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a game, and I’m playing to win. But...holy fuck.
He didn’t hide the surprise in his face when he saw her standing in the doorway. She prayed he didn’t notice how long she stared at him before speaking. Why am I here again? Oh my Godric say something Hermione.
The words spilled out of her mouth about what happened with Lucius, and somehow she barely had to think for them to flow out of her.
Malfoy appeared to be contemplating something. He slowly turned and strode over to the small table in his room, placed his glass on it, and took a seat. He beckoned for her to take the seat on the other side of the table in front of the fireplace.
Hermione’s heart hammered in her chest as she walked over and gently took a seat, waiting for his response.
“What did you tell him”, he asked.
“What?“, she couldn’t think straight with him looking this way. With him this close.
“What did you tell my father specifically that made him react that way?“, he clarified, staring into the fire and taking another sip of his drink.
“I...told him about that night”, she said. “How I saw you and Pansy”, she rushed the words out to clarify. Not about you making me feel a way I definitely shouldn’t have that night when you came to see me in the dungeon. A way I shouldn’t feel right now but do anyway.
Malfoy chuckled softly, leaning back in the chair and crossing a leg to rest over his knee. “He never had a problem with Pansy until my mother did.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“He must miss her terribly. Both of you must”, she commented in almost a whisper. “The first book he asked me to read...I know it was hers - Narcissa’s. I saw her name in the back of it, he wrote a note for her in it.”
“When you told me what book he asked you to read to him, I immediately knew why. He didn’t pick that book by chance. That “good book” I recommended was hers as well”, he smirked softly at her.
She nodded, remembering the way she refused to admit directly to picking his recommendation. Refused to admit that she loved the book too.
“My mother spent most of her days in the library as you do now”, he told her, appearing to reminisce on a memory he didn’t elaborate on. “You know, maybe it isn’t the best idea for you to continue meeting with him everyday.”
“He seemed to be doing better until he found out about Pansy. I mean that”, she told him.
“I don’t disagree, but he has to return to his Death Eater duties fairly soon anyway”, he said, swirling his drink before finishing it off.
“Return? What do you mean”, she asked. He’s blind for Godric’s sake, what can he even do for Voldemort?
“My father was ordered to return to the Dark Lord’s side in November. He gave him six months to adapt to being blind - that’s as far as his ‘courtesy’ - if you can even call it that - goes”, he sighed deeply, sinking further into the chair.
“How can he possibly be expected to aid Voldemort while he’s blind? It’s not as if he can duel or anything of the like”, she said, slowly growing frustrated and defensive of Lucius at the thought.
“Yes, but he can fulfill other duties. As long as we aren’t at war, we don’t need too many for the battlefield anyway”, he responded.
“Malfoy...what happened? I mean, how did he, you know, become blind?“, she finally asked the question that had been gnawing at her since the first night she read to Lucius.
Malfoy scoffed at that. “Apparently killing Mother wasn’t enough punishment for the Malfoys. The Dark Lord blinded him with a curse of his own making. He insisted that he “shouldn’t have to see Narcissa in photos - should be ashamed by her betrayal, ashamed of her defacing the family name.”
Hermione was taken aback by this. Voldemort truly was repulsive. A poor excuse for a human, if he even qualified as one anymore.
“All that, and you still support him? Obey his every command? Remain at his beck and call?“, she pushed. Voldemort may not be human, but Malfoy is. I can see it. Behind the front he puts on. I hear it in his voice - this bothers him.
He suddenly grew angry and defensive, quickly rising from his seat to tower over her with his intimidating height. “Don’t speak as if you understand. You never have and you never will. As I said, you will no longer read to my father everyday. Show yourself out.”
It wasn’t a suggestion or thought this time, but a command.
Hermione felt too frustrated to argue. I see you. Why do you have to be so bloody stubborn?
Without another word, she stood and walked out the door, closing it loudly behind her. She made her way to the dungeon angrily.
Play to win. Play to win. Play to win.