"As I said, Ms Beane sees no one, sir."
"She'll see me," Lucius insisted, tapping his cane forcefully, "and she'll see me now."
The underscoring thumps to the old wooden floor did not sound as emphatic as he'd desired, and they did nothing to move the rigidly efficient secretary from her position before the door.
"Ms Beane isn't here to receive you in any case. She writes from home."
"Then why, pray, are you guarding her office like a dragon?"
"For the convenience of the lady's fans, of course."
The acidic sparkle of the woman's eyes was plain. Lucius turned on his heel. He wasn't about to give Narcissa's solicitors the satisfaction of his causing a public scene; the divorce was proving difficult enough to achieve, and he wished to leave something of his fortune intact.
Severus glided through the now-open window and landed gently. Surveying the office, he saw that it possessed such furniture and implements as might aid any author in her work, but it had an all-too-tidy air about it.
She's never even set foot in this room, has she? he thought, not finding it odd that the wizarding world's most famous author since Lockhart should have such a chamber given over to her use, whether or not she wanted one. "Bugger," he murmured, noticing then several small sacks arranged along the top edge of Beane's desk.
Feeling impatient—perhaps something within would provide evidence of the author's location—he tapped them each with his wand. "Reveal . . . your . . . secrets."
The chartaceous explosion came as a complete surprise.
"—covered in parchment cuts! It was an outrageous invasion, Ms Beane!"
Hermione sighed. She'd only just put the kettle on and was still in her robe, a fact at which Agatha had sniffed. "Was he hurt beyond that? I'd hate to think of my fan mail maiming anyone."
"Oh, the blasted man is fine, but—"
"And have you summoned the authorities?"
"Well, no, not as such."
"Agatha Primsly, did you do something to the intruder?"
"Certainly not! But he . . . he flew away if you must know. I was sorely vexed."
He flew away? "Were you wearing your spectacles?"
"No, Ms Beane. Forgive me, but in all the excitement—"
"That's fine. Listen, I don't think we ought to make a fuss. I'm sure it was just an over-zealous fan."
"That would make two, then, and who knew that Lucius Malfoy read literary erotica?"
"Lucius Malfoy was there this morning?"
"He was. I sent him away, and then—"
"Right, I'm for a cup of tea, and then I'll take care of all of this. Don't worry about a thing."
Agatha's protest was cut off as Hermione ended the fire-call. She smiled.
It had only taken a sequel to capture their attention.
Lord Morven's mouth twitched so slightly that one might have missed it, but it was impossible to escape the sound of Sebastian's sigh of pleasure. Helen flushed as she saw how Morven's silken braid sprang to life, lengthened, and slithered toward the bed where Sebastian was waiting. His sigh became hers as the reified appendage snaked along Sebastian's shaft in a stroking undulation.
Beautiful—how could such an ill-favoured man shine with so much beauty?
Helen didn't care. She could only desire.
"Utter tripe," Lucius snapped, inhaling sharply as the hot, wet sucking of Severus' mouth ceased abruptly.
Hoarsely, Severus replied, "Liar. You love Beane's work."
"It's yours I'm interested in now," Lucius near-growled, threading his fingers through Severus' hair and balling his fist.
Lucius tried and failed to do so as Severus' greedy tongue began lapping at his bollocks.
"And what do you want?"
Narcissa Malfoy swanned into the manor's breakfast room looking as if she owned the place—which she would, for the summer months, at least, once the papers were signed—and smiled happily.
Severus was taken completely aback by the lack of calculation in her expression.
"I've brought you a present—well, it's for you both, really, since you made him see sense—and don't tell me that you won't have it. I know how you adore presents."
A raised eyebrow was his only response as Narcissa laid a small, highly polished black stone box next to his teacup. "And what is that?"
"Oh, don't be so suspicious, darling. It's boring."
"Shacklebolt's charming enough, but he's as suspicious as any of us by nature."
"Yes, but as you say, he's charming." Narcissa accepted a cup of tea from a house elf and sipped it before speaking again. "That, my dear Severus, is a lock of Petronella Beane's hair. I'm certain that you and Lucius will find a use for it."
For half a second, Severus wondered if it was Narcissa who had been writing the scandalous, barely disguised literary incarnations of her soon-to-be ex-husband and himself, but he dismissed the notion out of hand as he reached for the box. Narcissa had never taken much pleasure from the library.
"In it, often," he murmured, barely registering Narcissa's leave-taking, "but not . . . oh. Dear. God."
"A Muggle fairytale, however stubbornly believed, Severus, as you should well know—and what are you fondling?"
It took purchasing the Gryphon's Foote to arrange an invitation to attend Petronella Beane's reading from Book Three of the Triadic Convergences, but Lucius hadn't minded the expense at all.
"That may be a glamour that she's wearing, but those breasts are entirely hers," he whispered to Severus, who'd been somewhat difficult to persuade to accompany him.
Severus' previously unknown professorial kink, coupled with their private reading of Chapter Four, however, had aided Lucius' plans considerably.
"You are a pervert, Lucius. She's a student."
"No, she's a former student of great imagination with magnificent breasts and the patience to woo two unlikely lovers with an entire erotic series. Weasley must have been unforgivably boring in the bedroom for us to have been starring in her fantasies for so long. Think of the possibilities."
"I'm still chafed from 'thinking' about them."
Lucius smoothed his expression into one of perfect, entirely unconvincing contrition. "My apologies."
"Now then, shall we?" Lucius asked, staring down from the open balcony of the restaurant at the dais upon which "Beane" was preparing to read.
"Oh, very well—but I won't have anything from Chapter Seventeen."
Lucius smirked. "No, of course not." Not until we've secured our author.
They were being indiscreet. Hermione could hear their murmured comments, which were pitched to be clearly heard by the entire room.
"How very like you, Malfoy."
"And that manoeuver with the nose, why that could have been a technique of yours, Snape."
While reading, Hermione plotted her escape. It was one thing to imagine herself with two men, but when faced with them, well, she found herself quickly losing her nerve—no matter how much she wanted to send everyone away and have her lordship and His Darkness—and that sounded better on paper, didn't it?—in a tangle of torn clothing on the floor.
Feeling abjectly silly, she concluded her reading to riotous applause, allowed herself to be directed around the room by Agatha—all the while steering them away from Malfoy and Snape—and then practically fled through the kitchens to the alley outside.
She hadn't known that it was blocked at one end. Apparation was a possibility, of course, but Hermione wasn't feeling altogether steady enough for it.
Which is why being an Animagus comes in so handily, she thought, as the mocking tones of Lucius Malfoy could be heard from the kitchens. Taking a deep breath, she made to transform. "Wha—"
"Good evening, Miss Beane."
"That's Ms," Hermione practically exclaimed, wondering what had gone wrong.
Snape's sneer slid upwards into a feral smile. "Not Helen?"
"Oh, God, I—"
"Seem to be suffering from the same cultural trappings as our Severus, but I shall forgive you when your lips are encircling my pri—"
Hermione's eyes flew open; she hadn't intended to strike Malfoy. It had just happened. Previously, such things had always been quite intentional.
"Oh, yes," Malfoy hissed, clutching Hermione's shoulders and drawing her against him. "I thought as much."
"I don't care what you think! Let go!"
Suddenly, Snape's breath was warming her ear. "You've already issued an invitation to us through your novels. We're here to respond."
Hermione fell back against Snape as her glamour faded, sighing into the caress of his lips against her neck. Better. Better than a book.
"I'm feeling rather left out," Malfoy whispered. "Do say you'll join us."
"You'll . . . you'll join us," Hermione parroted, to Malfoy's laughter.
Now frightened by their intentions, Hermione made to look up into Malfoy's eyes; her attention was caught, however, by the snake pin affixed to his cravat. It travelled down his chest, becoming longer as it went, twined itself over Hermione's arm and up to her shoulder, stretched from her neck to Snape's, and then made its way back to its own swollen tail, which it swallowed.
"I know this spell. I wrote this spell!"
"You did, indeed," Malfoy replied.
Snape's hands moved to Hermione's waist. "Do you wish to come with us?"
"If you do, we mean to make you stay, Ms Beane."
Hermione inhaled sharply and exhaled slowly. "You'll join us," she said again, smiling weakly up at Malfoy, who tilted his head at Snape.
"Satisfied by her assent, are you?"
Hermione's senses buzzed as the three of them Disapparated in a shiver of silver.
My Dear Petra,
On the eve of my wedding, I thought it right to again express my tremendous gratitude to you for properly introducing me to Shacklebolt at your reading last year. I have never been more entertained in my life, and I will not forget your genteel behaviour or inspiring words upon that occasion.
I trust that you've now learnt how to prevent any interference with your transformations. Admittedly, I was somewhat surprised to discover your ladybug incarnation, but Draco didn't leave you with much room to manoeuvre at the last Ministry Ball. It was the punch. My son has never had a head for it.
In any case, I hope that you won't hold my son's highly uncharacteristic behaviour against him, or mine with regard to you during our most recent luncheon. Happy as I am, I wouldn't want Lucius to find life boring, either, or Severus, for that matter—and as a woman of refinement, I can only shudder to think how much attention you required upon your own divorce, but I'll not speak of that again. (When we've time, however, we must discuss your appalling lack of sophistication when it comes to glamours; would you have Molly Weasley chastising you for your "literary" endeavours? I should think not.)
Please do have the boys out of the manor by thirty April. Kingsley is positively champing at the bit to search it, you know. I haven't the heart to tell him that he won't find anything of Dark interest there since your installation. Perhaps I should purchase a trinket or two just to satisfy his perverse inner Auror? No, best not.
In expectation of great connubial bliss, I leave you,
Mrs Narcissa Black Malfoy
At the precise moment that Narcissa's letter to Hermione-cum-Petronella arrived at the manor, an irritated house elf—who'd spent rather more time preparing perfect tables only to see them ruined by the unorthodox, but definitely not boring, behaviour of her master and his friends—was throwing her hands up in disgust.
"Lissy isn't making a proper dinner, little owl," she told the bird as she fed it a treat. "Lissy knows what they would do with it!"
It goes without saying that after Lissy thought about disciplining herself (not all of the alterations to the manor's running had been unwelcome), she prepared a sumptuous meal despite her personal feelings about the appropriate use of dutifully handled foodstuffs.
Hermione-Beane did enjoy her dinners, and as little as Lissy saw the lady, she found that her presence had a good affect upon Master and the Severus.