Title: The Nymph Hunt
Disclaimer: JKR owns anything that is obviously hers. I own the rest.
Characters: Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger
Genres: Drama, Humor, Post-Hogwarts, Romance
Warnings: EWE?, Unrelieved Sexual Tension
Overall Rating: PG-13
Summary: Sometimes you're a hag in a nymph's body, and sometimes you're just a witch trying to hide the nymph in you...
Extra Note: Written for angeepang in the dmhgficexchange 'Shine A Light' 2008. Written based on a Mark Twain quote from The Czar's Soliloquy: "There is no power without clothes. It is the power that governs the human race. Strip its chiefs to the skin, and no State could be governed; naked officials could exercise no authority; they would look (and be) like everybody else - commonplace, inconsequential." No-no's were Cheating!Jealous!CompleteIdiot!Ron,
Length: 2/5 chapters. This chapter: 4504 words.
“And you’re currently assuming that I’m not repulsed by you, then.”
They had reached a hallway that looked to belong to the private section of the mansion and he turned to her with an arrogant look. “You’re not.”
Were all purebloods really that conceited? “What makes you think that?” she asked, folding her arms across her chest.
“You’re here, aren’t you?” He reached behind his back and opened a door that led into a room she was certain they shouldn’t be in, but before she could say anything, he had reached out, grabbed her, and had dragged her in and closed the door.
“You make a lot of assumptions,” she drily commented, wondering how he seemed to know his way around in this place.
His lip quirked. It seemed to do that a lot. “I’ve been here before,” he said in response to her unvoiced question. “And these mansions are all very much the same. You can relax, I’m not making that kind of assumptions. If that was what I were after, it wouldn’t be hard to find an accommodating witch who enjoyed being beautiful for one night enough to want to share her...attributes.”
The problem was he was right. It had been obvious even to Hermione that people had used their disguises to tap into their more hedonistic ways. “What are you after, then?” she asked, taking in the room. It seemed to be a sort of private library, complete with several shelves of books, a big comfortable-looking furniture arrangement and a fireplace. It was a good call that nobody would want to come here tonight. Deciding that she would personally much rather be in this room than out among hundreds of drunk witches and wizards looking for shallow pleasure, she walked over to the sofa and sat down.
He shrugged and followed her into the room. “Maybe I just like talking to you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes. That is what men look for at parties. Someone to talk to. I’m sure this dress just screamed ‘conversationalist’ at you.”
When she looked at him again, she was surprised to see he looked mildly annoyed. “Do you know how easy it is to find sex and how hard it is to find someone to have a decent conversation with? Never mind the impossibility of finding someone who can qualify for both.”
Hermione looked away again. She knew. Communication had been part of what had failed between her and Ron. She had neglected to talk, he had neglected to make her listen, and they had both led such separate lives that suddenly they had been nothing but strangers sharing an apartment. Still, it had been hard when he had moved out, leaving her truly alone.
Of course, she didn’t advertise her failed relationship, which was why most people that didn’t know her very well still thought they were together. She didn’t disabuse them of the notion, but just pretended not to hear whenever someone mentioned it. They didn’t need to know. They didn’t need to pity her. Of course, Malfoy wouldn’t pity her, he’d just make endless jabs about how she couldn’t even keep someone like Ron’s interest. She opted to not give him the chance by not correcting his assumptions.
“By that look on your face, I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean,” her companion said, sitting down next to her. “So, what happened?”
“That’s kind of personal, don’t you think?” Hermione muttered.
“Yes, and I’ll be sure not to tell anyone what the strange girl whose name or face I don’t know told me.”
Hermione shrugged, seeing his point. “Lack of communication destroyed my last relationship.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Not lack of sex, then?”
She felt a blush spread from her neck up. “Eventually, that, too,” she mumbled, not really wanting him to hear that part.
“So, he was an idiot that wouldn’t listen?” he ventured.
“Not exactly,” Hermione replied, sighing. “I was so wrapped up in everything else I wanted that I forgot to appreciate what I had. And then I just ended up not having it any more. I don’t think I really realised how big our problems were until he moved out. He said it hadn’t worked for months. I just...never noticed how unhappy he was. I thought it would all get better as soon as I reached my goals. I was wrong.”
“It’s unfair, isn’t it? Some people have it so easy, while the rest of us....”
She shook her head. “I don’t think anyone has it easy. Some of us just need to do better. A lot better.”
“So, you want him back, then?”
Hermione paused. Did she? She didn’t know anymore. It was true that she was lonely and she missed someone to come home to at night, but did she miss coming home to Ron? “I don’t think so,” she finally sighed. “I guess...I guess that maybe I was just used to the idea of him and me.”
“A lady of habit,” he muttered with a small smile. “I work with this woman. Really annoying. She thinks she’s got reason to be unhappy because her job isn’t what she wants it to be just yet and she wants it all to go faster. But she has everything that matters. Good for her, I suppose, but I really just want to wring her neck for not seeing it.”
Hermione couldn’t help but snigger a little. People with perfect lives really were annoying. She decided to try and be fair, though. “It’s human nature to focus on what you don’t have. Nobody ever really realises what they have until they don’t have it any longer. Maybe you should be happier about what you have.”
He snorted. “And what would that be? I mean, I’m not starving. I have money. But even that just feels like another thing weighing me down—people always want something from me and I have no real motivation to do anything. Why really work when you don’t need to and nothing interests you?”
“And there’s just nothing else for you? Nothing you care about at all?”
He frowned and slowly shook his head. “My family moved away. I have no friends. The kind of girl I usually end up dating isn’t exactly sticking around because of my winning personality. I don’t need anything material, but I don’t have anyone to share what I have with either. Whenever someone approaches me, I have to look for ulterior motives. I wish that just once I didn’t find any. I mean, it’s not like I’m not used to it, but, ultimately, there’s nothing I want to do and no one I want to do it with. It’s depressing.”
“So you have money and little else.”
He raised an eyebrow and turned his head to look at her. “I bet you’re reconsidering the sex thing now, huh?”
“Don’t be an arse,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Some people don’t work like that.”
He shrugged. “I am an arse. That’s another thing. I’m not really a nice person.... I was never quite taught how to be one and the few times I tried to be, I failed miserably at it. I guess that doesn’t help with relationships, huh?”
“You don’t seem so bad,” she disagreed.
“It’s because you don’t know who I am and hence don’t expect me to be...me. It’s not that I want to be a jerk, but it just doesn’t take a lot of rejection for a man to learn to keep his distance....”
“Who rejected you?” It was strange how compelling it was to talk to this stranger.
He turned his head away. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “Nobody special. Just...I tried a few times to connect and it never worked. They didn’t see past who I was, anyway. When I said I considered dating someone who wasn’t a pureblood...I didn’t mean it in the general sense. I actually liked a Muggle girl for a while as a kid. But she never even noticed that in my own slightly messed up way I tried to be nice to her. She just hated me on principle just like...like anyone else not driven by money and pride. I never had a chance with her or any of them. Nobody saw me trying and so I just stopped and began rejecting them before they rejected me. I suppose it was better that way, seeing as most of those people were on the other side during the war. I would have hated to fight them, but I still would have if asked. Even her.”
“I don’t need you to pity me.”
She thought for a second. “I don’t.”
He shot her a glance that said he clearly didn’t believe her.
“Children can be stupid and cruel and you probably didn’t deserve what you got, but in the end we’re responsible for our own actions. You would have chosen to fight them you say, and, in that case, it really was better that they didn’t think of you as a friend. If you don’t want to be a git, then don’t be one. If you want people to be your friends, then you have to be their friend. Friends don’t fight friends.”
He sighed. “It’s not that simple.”
“Sometimes it is.”
He frowned at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be patting my hand and agreeing that the whole world is against me?”
“I thought you didn’t want pity.”
“I guess I lied.”
She snorted with laughter at his dry tone. Whoever he was, he was really something else. “Oh, come on," she said, leaning back against the sofa. “You can’t just pout and expect me to instantly feel sorry for you and offer to hold you against my bosom and comfort you.”
“Why not?” he asked, glancing at her without trying to hide the crooked smile on his face or exactly where he was looking. She instinctively crossed her arms across her much too exposed chest. “I could even show you what else would comfort me....”
She rolled her eyes. “Right. Now you’re just being a brat.”
His eyes widened slightly. “Ouch.”
She couldn’t quite figure out if he meant it or not, so she glanced uncertainly at him. That moment of uncertainty was a moment too long for him to maintain his serious expression and she found herself getting miffed that he’d actually let her think she’d offended him. “Ugh, now you are a brat!”
He shrugged slightly. “Maybe I just want you to comfort me.”
The smile he flashed was a little sad. “I just might. I like you. You really aren’t like the other women out there, are you?”
She thought of the witches that were currently ‘sharing’ their costumes. “I hope I’m not.”
“I don’t think you are, either. In spite of your very cold-hearted unwillingness to hold me against your bosom, it feels like you understand me...but maybe I’m just imagining that.”
“I think I do understand you,” she murmured. “I just think you can do better.”
He sighed deeply. “Perhaps I can. I do try sometimes, you know. Or at least want to try. A few months ago I started my new job and I wanted to get along. But somehow...it’s easier said than done. Old habits die hard, I guess. And people already know who I am and what I am.... It didn’t take very long for things to be exactly as they’ve always been. I had actually wanted to—never mind.”
“Well, now you have to tell me.”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing. I had just sort of hoped for more friendly relations at work, that’s all. It didn’t happen.”
“Well, perhaps you still could be friends.”
He smiled and slowly shook his head. “What? Miss Perfect will suddenly forget that she hates me and invite me to her wedding? I don’t think so. There’s more to this than I can tell you.”
“People change,” Hermione insisted. “And most people are willing to give second chances if they can see you’re making an effort.”
“I’m not sure I want anyone to see that.”
That stopped Hermione up short. “Huh?”
“It’s been too long, Lethe. Too much has happened over the years. I don’t want people to see how miserable I am. I don’t want them to see me as someone desperately trying to change because I’m lonely and want them to like me. I still have some pride, you know, and I also need to still be me.”
“Do you really need to annoy people that badly?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
He grinned. “Yes.”
When he wasn’t about to elaborate, Hermione rolled her eyes. “So, you’re essentially tripping the boys up and pulling the girls’ pig-tails? Really mature.”
His eye got a mischievous gleam. “But it works. Some girls even get off on getting their pig tails pulled. They won’t notice you if you’re nice, but if you’re a bastard, they’re all over you, either just wanting a ride or trying to figure out how to fix you. Of course, once they realise I’m not easily fixed, they might go away again, or they might stay for the very convenient millions of galleons that will fix just about anything that’s wrong with a bloke in their eyes.”
“And these are the kind of girls you want?” she drily asked. “That sounds healthy.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Would nice work with you, Lethe? Do you like your men good?”
“Yep,” she said without hesitation, not liking where this could be going. “Saintly, even.”
“No, you don’t,” he quietly said, studying her with an unfathomable expression. “You wouldn’t be content with good, either. Sure, you like a wizard to be good somewhere deep down, no kitten killers for you, but for that extra thrill...you need someone who keeps you on your toes or you lose interest. You need a challenge and someone to make sure that you aren’t too good. I bet your ex had his very own not-so-good tendencies.”
Hermione shook her head. “No, you’re wrong. I’ve never been with any so-called bad boys. Ro—uh, my ex, was and is a very good person.”
“Never even fantasised about what it would be like to get naughty with someone who might not be good?” he asked, his voice getting lower, rougher. “Someone you couldn’t control? Someone who might not owl you the next day? Someone who would quite possibly turn your life upside down and make you like it?”
She opened her mouth to deny it, but she was just a fraction of a second too late in doing so and his smirk called her on it. “Whatever you think you’re doing, stop it!” she finally managed. “I like mature, responsible men and I would never dream of—”
“I’m not doing anything,” he interrupted, even as he reached for her, drawing her across his lap. “At least not anything you don’t want me to. You may be hiding behind a mask and a fake name, but your eyes still betray you.”
She shook her head and scrambled into a slightly more dignified position, ending up straddling him. “No, I don’t—” she began, pushing slightly against him to get off.
He kissed her. It came as a shock, although it really shouldn’t have. A jolt went clear through her body—a thrill.... This was insane. They were two strangers, who didn’t even know each others’ names or faces. They had no business doing this! His hands certainly had no business being on her thighs, holding her steady while his thumbs moved in slow, wonderful circles on her bare skin.
But she hadn’t been kissed in more months than she cared to count and this felt too good to just stop.
His lips were softly caressing hers, belying the onslaught. His tongue was tracing the seam of her lips, asking for entrance and carefully exploring once she granted it. He wasn’t forcing this on her; she had a feeling that she could easily push him away and he would let her go.
She knew he would probably misunderstand her response, but right now she didn’t care. She just wanted to remember what it was like to have the world drop away. She wanted to remember what it was like to feel wanted. It didn’t matter if the one he wanted was someone with perfect black, glossy curls, emerald green eyes and mother-of-pearl skin—it felt like it was her and it was a heady experience.
He made a low sound of frustration and need and pulled her closer before deepening the kiss. She knew she should stop him. She knew this couldn’t lead anywhere good. She didn’t want someone who felt the need to be ‘bad’, and he wouldn’t want boring, ambition-driven Hermione Granger, who hadn’t even been able to make it work with someone as loyal and safe as Ron Weasley.
So, naturally, she wrapped her arms tightly around him, blocking out all thought, concentrating on the sensations.
His one hand moved on her lower back, pressing her closer, while the other one was running further up her thigh, taking her dress with it. She didn’t stop him. She was so engrossed that she barely remembered to breathe. Her pulse was racing and she could barely remember her own name. Oh, Merlin, if this was how bad boys kissed, she really did need to seek them out.
Finally, he stopped and drew back a little. Just enough to speak. “When were you going to stop me?” he asked, his voice thick with suppressed need and his eyes...they didn’t seem quite so fake anymore in spite of their vivid colour.
“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully.
He shook his head, a little sadly it seemed. “I was just provoking you. We both know you don’t really want to do this. Not like this. Not when you aren’t yourself.”
She knew, yes. Her body didn’t. She lowered her head to his neck and ran her tongue along the vein that was very visible right now. He hissed, crushing her against him, making her very aware of how his body felt against hers. It didn’t feel bad at all. She felt the power she had over him as well as the power he had over her. This could become addictive. “Does it matter?” she asked huskily, kissing his lips again. “Isn’t part of being bad not caring?”
For a few seconds it seemed he’d forgotten his objections, but then suddenly the warmth of his body was gone and she was sitting on the sofa alone while he was standing a few feet away, looking frustrated but determined.
“No,” he said, his eyes and his hair both wild. “If I wanted a quick shag with some stranger, I would have gotten it from someone more obvious. I told you. I don’t want to do this.”
She felt a little stung but mostly just...dazed and confused. “You don’t want me?”
“I do. Go out with me as yourself. Maybe after a few dates we could then take it further somewhere that isn’t here. Maybe we would even know each other’s real names. I don’t want this to be just another...thing. I’m tired of living like that.”
She blinked. “I called you a brat and then you kiss me and then reject me for sex...and now you want a date?”
“We seem to talk well and that kiss....” He swallowed. “I can’t just let you walk out of here and never see you again.”
“I guess...,” she muttered, the dazedness wearing off and panic setting in. This wasn’t her. He might be willing to take the chance to be himself, but she was nothing like the girls he would be used to, nothing like the girls that would dress up as a nymph, wearing this revealing dress and snogging a complete stranger. He would be disappointed.
“So, what’s your name?” he asked, his voice getting huskier again.
She shook her head. She couldn’t tell him. It would ruin everything.
“It’s easier for me to contact you if I have a name and possibly an address,” he softly pointed out. “Sending an owl to ‘the girl who called herself Lethe at the Ministry masked ball’ might not work.”
“I...I can’t,” she muttered, shaking her head again. “Sorry.”
He frowned. “You can’t or you won’t?”
“Can’t...won’t...does it matter?”
His jaw clenched and his expression became shuttered. “So, you will agree to have sex with me, but you’re not interested in a simple date. I guess I misread your personality. Easy to do when you have nothing to go by and people are faking who they are.”
Hermione gaped. “There was no act!”
“There really aren’t that many reasons why someone would be so dead set against giving away their identity. So it probably means that there’s someone you don’t want to know about this. A boyfriend. Maybe even a husband. They don’t usually appreciate it when you date other blokes, do they?”
“There is no one,” she quietly said.
“Why did you lead me on, then?”
She shook her head.
“Was it really that hard to imagine that I might want to see you again? Or was it really that easy to forget everything I told you?”
“This isn’t even me. You don’t even know me.”
“I would like to get to know you. That’s the whole point!”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“That’s for me to decide, isn’t it?”
“You would like to know Lethe. I’m not Lethe. And you’re not John, either.”
“Maybe you just think you aren’t Lethe. Maybe you’re not really who you think you are.”
“I know who I am, John, you just don’t.”
“Would it help if I told you my name first?”
“No. I don’t want to know.”
“Because then I might be a real person and not just some stranger you could be with and forget about the next day because you’ll never have to face him again.”
“That’s not fair.”
He looked away. “Fine. If that’s what you want...I guess I can’t make you.”
Hermione didn’t know what to respond to that. She wished she believed there could be more, but she would rather have the fantasy of tonight than the crushing disappointment of tomorrow. Yes, he had a few bratty tendencies but overall he actually seemed sweet and sincere. Something that certain men were good at being for exactly one night and then no longer.
She got to her feet and was about to go when she was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. “Just one more kiss?” he murmured in her ear.
Slightly confused, she didn’t resist when he turned her and covered her lips with his. Her eyes closed as she once again felt alive. They had chemistry, that was for certain.
The excitement of the unknown, she rationalised.
His hand applied just the tiniest bit of pressure to her back, bringing her closer, his kiss rising in intensity. It was hard to think, but a part of Hermione wondered why he was kissing her like this when he clearly wasn’t interested in taking it further tonight and she had just refused to see him again.
Then his other hand nudged one of her dress’s straps, baring her shoulder and the top of her breast, and her suspicion flared. What was he doing? Had he decided to just get what he could from this thing? Her eyes opened and fell on the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost midnight. Everyone’s glamour would automatically lift at midnight. He was distracting her, keeping her here, so her identity would be revealed to him.
He was trying to manipulate her, trick her into being revealed in front of him by pretending he wanted this.
He was planning to find out who she was against her will. For the first time she sensed that perhaps he did have a ruthless streak. The obstacle was identity and he was going to eliminate that obstacle.
And ruin everything in the process.
Feeling a hint of betrayal she pushed away from him, perhaps with more force than she needed to, and said, “I have to go now.”
It gave her some satisfaction to see that it took him a few seconds to collect his thoughts enough to respond. At least he wasn’t immune to his own ministrations. “I thought you wanted this.”
“Time’s up.” She made no effort to hide that she had figured him out.
He, in turn, made no effort to hide what he’d been doing. “I hoped you wouldn’t notice.”
“I say no and so you force me?” she coolly asked, sliding her strap back up in place and straightening her dress as best she could, feeling strangely disappointed. She realised she had hoped she’d been wrong.
“I don’t know why you’re so scared of letting me see who you are. It won’t matter to me and if that’s all that’s holding you back....”
“I’m going to go now.” She turned her back on him again.
“Wednesday,” he said, making her stop with her hand on the door. “I’ll be in Diagon Alley most of the day. There’s this café next to Gringotts where I’ll be working for most of the afternoon and probably into the night. I, uh, don’t work well at the office, and I have no reason to go home. I should be easy enough to spot even without a physical description. I’ll be the one that’s alone. Working. Waiting for you.”
“Why would I be there?” she asked.
“It’s four days away. By then you hopefully decided that I’m not going to hex you. But please, if you get there and don’t like who you see, don’t just walk out again without at least saying hi to me. Even if you decide you don’t like me on sight.”
She grunted noncommittally.
“Please be there.”
She chewed her lip for a moment. “Maybe.”
She heard him let out his breath on a long sigh. He really did want her to be there. Maybe she was being foolish in not wanting to get to know him. She glanced at the clock—only a few minutes left. She opened the door. Four days would probably be enough time to convince herself that it could work, but four minutes certainly wasn’t.
She hurried away from the room and off the property so she could Disapparate to her apartment. No sooner had she popped into existence than she felt the glamour disappear.
Back to being herself again.