Marcus Flint was even larger than she remembered from school. Years of professional Quidditch had been good to him though it had done nothing to soften his arrogance. He sat on a stool at the counter, filling the galley kitchen with his presence while she made them tea. He loomed while seated and Hermione was finding it difficult not to edge away from him. Or throw things. To be fair, if Tinkerbell had shown up at her door right now, she would probably have wanted to throw things at her too.
"Have you eaten?" She asked, setting out crockery.
"No." He answered flatly as though he thought it was a jibe.
Hermione went to the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of eggs. She had stocked up in anticipation of her parents' return. All their favourite things. She planned to cook bouillabaisse and beef stroganoff and... that was entirely irrelevant at the moment. Cracking and whisking eggs gave her something to do while she tried to assemble a conversation with a man she most distinctly recalled dressed up as a Dementor.
"How did you get this address?" Hermione started with the easiest question. Let's be civilised, she cautioned herself. There were bound to be more people beating a path to her door as soon as the news of the legislation got around. Let's not start the yelling just yet.
"It was included with the notice." Marcus dropped a scroll on the counter and watched it roll along the smooth surface. He caught it before it fell off the edge then rubbed a finger on the countertop to investigate what he had thought was stone.
"It's a plastic laminate." She explained for no sensible reason other than not wanting to stand there silent. The look he shot her conveyed how little her words meant to him. "Layers of artificial lacquer glued onto wood." She clarified. "Why would the Ministry send you to my parents' house? I've been staying at the Burrow."
"Location charm." Marcus watched her pour the egg mixture into a pan, which was sensible enough, then take two slices of bread out of a bagged loaf and put them in a box with two holes in it that was leashed to the wall. She pushed down a lever. Apparently that did something. "I am supposed to bring my suit to you immediately." He had been on his way out when the owl arrived and had Apparated after a cursory glance at the Ministry parchment. "Aren't you too young?"
"I used a time-turner in my third year." Hermione added bacon rashers to the pan then started dicing tomatoes. He watched the knife. "I've kept to my calendar birthdays for convenience but legally I'm older." All those hours added up. "And do you intend to press your suit?" She looked pointedly at his worn sweater and slacks. They both knew it was not that sort of suit. "Aren't you touring with your team? Why don't you just leave the country?"
"The League is bound by the new law." He tossed the scroll in his hand, catching it with barely a glance. "Part of having a team qualify is signing on to the Gamut. If I want to play professionally, I have to be resident in a registered country." He met her gaze in a hard stare. "And I want to play."
"Do you have a girlfriend? If she's Muggle-born, you could petition to marry her." Hermione turned her back on him to add the tomatoes to the eggs. Not quite scrambled and not quite an omelet but it would be edible.
"No girlfriend I would want to marry. Just Snitch-snatches and Nifflers." He laughed when she spun around to glare at him. "The top players have to beat them back with a Bludger. I thought you had a thing with Krum."
"I was fifteen!" She slammed the frying pan down on the stove.
"I have had younger throw themselves at me." Marcus shrugged.
"And have you had younger?" Hermione demanded tartly.
"No." His answer was as stony as his name. He glared at her. Her with her stupid Muggle ways and Medusa hair. She had the spell that would unlock everything he wanted and they were arguing about dumb slags he had long ago got bored of shagging. "I like women with tits." Marcus looked pointedly at her shirt. It was an old one, bought when she was smaller. The picture on it now stretched over her bust. He looked to pay her back for the 'had younger'. And because she had nice tits.
"I like men with manners." Hermione waved the eggy spatula under his nose like a wand. "I don't have to accept this. I'm not bound to do anything. The Ministry can try to buy my cooperation all they like. I'm going right there after breakfast to be very tactless and loud in my refusal to abide by their edict. Feel free to tag along. I expect we'll have a lot of company."
"I don't." Marcus jerked his head towards the leashed box that had just spat the bread out with a metallic noise. "Damn thing is pushy." He grabbed a piece of toast and sniffed it experimentally. Hermione plonked a plate, knife and the butter in front of him. "Your lot made extinct at least a dozen family names. Carrow, Avery, Lestrange and so on. No one is getting out of Azkaban to sire. Won't be any pure-bloods left soon."
"All the more reason to protest."
"All the more to keep your damn head down and protect what heirs you have." He buttered his toast with surprising finesse. Hermione stared at his hands. They looked too big for deftness. He had scars across his knuckles. "Malfoy is down to one. Goyle too. The Notts' have Theo and a nephew somewhere but he is a Squib. No one wants to catch the eye of the Ministry and have some new charges found."
"I'll get this obscene law repealed." Hermione scraped the eggs out of the pan. She should have warmed the plates in the oven, the witch thought to herself. "Pepper, salt?" He shook his head, accepting his plate and tucking in. Hermione did the same as she ruminated. Most of what she was thinking was either violent or inconsequential. None of it particularly constructive. "I should've put the bacon on first."
"Put some mushrooms in with it. Do a stir about." Marcus suggested, behind his hand as he was still chewing. The eggs were not bad. "You look like you could do with some grease. Partying hard, Granger?"
"I don't usually drink much." Hermione had the fridge door open before she thought to object to his assumption she wanted to keep cooking. Resting her head against the appliance for a moment she had to concede she was hungry. She put on some more toast and sliced the mushrooms. "You don't look hung-over."
"Didn't go out." When she gave him a disbelieving look, he shrugged. "Only so many times you can get pissed with the same blokes and my team is full of pantywaists who drink cocktails." At her groan, Marcus grinned. "Stick to Firewhiskey. Less likely to come home without your knickers."
"My undergarments were intact, thank you." Hermione dumped the mushrooms in the pan then stirred while staring at the tiled splashback. Her knickers had been one of the reasons for the awkwardness between her and Ron. She rubbed the back of her neck. Damn damn damn. Something else she did not need right now. Why couldn't Fate just give her a little breathing room? Just a bit would do so she could get what she wanted in order.
His stool scraped when he stood. Hermione heard it but did not care; she would polish the floors before her parents came home. When Flint moved behind her and put his hands on her shoulders she let him. He dug his thumbs into the knots at the base of her neck and rubbed. She closed her eyes, grimacing as he found a particularly painful knot.
"Wound right up, aren't you?" He was not surprised at how much tension she was carrying. Always rushing about fixing other people's problems. He was tempted to suggest another way he could help her relax but that would likely get him brained with the skillet. Instead he kept massaging.
"I, ah, have things, ow, to do." She leant against him as his fingers migrated down her spine, trying not to grunt as he reached the really sore spot just below her shoulder blades. "I need, oh, that's the bit."
"Here? Yes, I can feel it." Marcus worked his thumb in a slow circle around the bunched tendon. "Lift your arms." He picked up one of her wrists and moved it to the top of the sloped shelf thing with the buttons. She lifted her other arm as requested then squeaked when he kneaded his fingers into her flesh. "How did you do that to yourself?"
"Mortar and pestle." Hermione groaned, feeling the nerve response shoot right up her arms. "Grinding knarl quills."
"What the fuck to they do?" Marcus used his knuckles to work out the knot then smoothed the tendon until it eased. The witch let out a long sigh of relief then breathed in slowly.
"Anchor memories, bolster protection wards and they integrate well to secure locking wards." She was pleased to be rid of that stabbing hitch whenever she breathed deeply. "A plethora of other uses in Advanced Potions, though mostly tisanes not powders there."
"Did not do Potions for NEWTs." Moving his hands back up to her shoulders, he made circles with his palms to loosen everything. "Snape barely gave me an Acceptable OWL, even with arse-kissing."
"Which subjects did you do?" Hermione asked, unsurprised that the uncompromising Professor would limit his bias. He had favoured the Slytherins, certainly, but his pride in his field would not allow him to jolly along someone sub-par. Though he probably evicted Flint with more tact than he did poor Neville.
"Took Herbology and Divination, passed Care of Magical Creatures." Marcus gave his usual answer, well prepared for her to think him a duffer. Everyone else did.
"Hagrid must've been pleased to have someone for NEWTs. He was upset about losing Buckbeak all that year." She had felt guilty about dropping Care of Magical Creatures after her OWLs. Hagrid had looked so forlorn.
"Yeah, that little toe-rag Malfoy went crying to his father. We could not settle the herd for weeks." Marcus put his fingertips on either side of her neck and turned it gently. Moving well now. He raised his hands, putting them on hers so they spooned against the stove. "Seduced yet, Granger?"
"No." Hermione mimicked him, refusing to stiffen despite him invading her personal space. It would be hypocritical to be offended now, since she had accepted the massage. She got the impression he was trying to prove something. "How crispy do you want your bacon?"
"I am not a Yank. It does not have to be charcoal to be done." Patting her bum, he returned to his seat. When she dished out the bacon and mushrooms, he noticed the scar on her arm. It surprised him she had kept it. Hermione noticed him noticing and met his gaze. Mutely, he pushed up his left sleeve to reveal a hairy but unadorned forearm.
"I knew that. I would never have let you into my house otherwise." Her tone was firm and Marcus did not mock her. He ate his bacon. She ate her bacon. The house was quiet. That was nice. After they had finished, Hermione scraped the dishes and loaded everything into the dishwasher. "So is that your plan, Flint? Seduction?"
"If that is what is needed, sure." Marcus gave the required leer but his attention was on the white box with the racks in it. Weird. She had a sink. "Am prepared to court, if you want to be formal."
"I'd rather just hear your reasons why you would consent under duress to marry a complete stranger. You've mentioned Quidditch." Hermione started the dishwasher then crossed her arms waiting for him to begin.
"For myself, I want a wife and kids. Want to live in my family home like every other Flint for the last fourteen hundred fucking years." He bit off his anger before it made his voice harsh. Reasonable question, reasonable gods damned answer. "For my family, I am an only son. I need a responsible, practical and decent woman to be Lady Flint. It would kill my father if I brought home some painted slut."
"There are many more Muggle-borns than pure-bloods. You won't run out of choices if I refuse." She did some mental arithmetic. Fourteen hundred years meant seventh century, which would tally with the Old English family name. Hermione wondered if they had any original Saxon manuscripts in their library. Holograph runic works were difficult to find.
"Would you marry me for my money and title? For my stunning body and charm?" Marcus smirked. He had some charm. He kept it in a vault at Gringotts. A very small vault.
"Of course not." Now that did offend her. "That's one of the objections I am going to raise with the Ministry. I will not be bought. Nor should anyone else. Making the old families crawl is not the right way to bring equality. It'll only engender more resentment. We'll have another Voldemort in a generation."
"See, I will take your word for it. You have proven yourself. But every other Muggle-born I have met has either wanted to sail my Galleons or thinks I am barely a rung up from a Death Eater." It did not bother him any more. He had a thick skin, mention of which only got more troll jokes.
"And how many exactly have you met? Scaremongering propaganda aside, most of the wizarding population are half-bloods." One of the things Hermione wanted to accomplish in her life was a true census. Accurate demographics would help fix many of the social problems in the magical population. But after two wars, she could not blame anyone for being leery of putting their hand up.
"Plenty of Muggle-borns in the colonies and the States. Anywhere the old families do not have a solid hold. And it is a big thing now. It's trendy, apparently." He grimaced at the memory of a dire publicity meeting with the new Marketing rep. After half an hour he'd been ready to hex himself unconscious. "We need to embrace the emergent culture. We need to be proactive in our enfranchisement. What shite."
"Oh, no, I have one better." Hermione smiled then straightened, putting her hands to the lapels she did not have. "Given these fractious times and the great tenderness of wounds left yet unhealed we must compartmentalise our travails to better strategise our paradigm."
"Who the hell do I have to Bludger for saying that?"
"Robards. He's been reading Business Management guides or self-help books. He went on and on like that when he interviewed me to join the Aurors." The misused jargon had been painful to hear.
"Auror, eh? Going to take the job?" Marcus tried not to show he was impressed. The feisty little lioness was going to show everyone her teeth.
"I haven't decided yet. I want to get my parents back and talk things over with them first. They always planned for me to go to university. That might actually be a good idea. Some time away from everything might be useful." Hermione checked her watch. "Right. I'm going to get changed and go. If anyone asks, I'm in Australia."
"Fleeing the country already? The Land of Oz is a Gamut signatory, you know." He chatted while he watched her make up her mind about how much to tell him. "Got quite a few good teams. It is a bugger to play there though. I got heat stroke on our last trip."
"I'm just going to pick up my mum and dad. I sent them there, Obliviated, during the war." The Ministry could wait. She wanted to build up a good head of steam prior to facing them down, and coordinating beforehand with Harry and Ron would add greater weight to their objections. "That wasn't an invitation, Flint."
"Did not take it as one." Marcus bared his teeth in a smile what more than one journalist had described as carnivorous. "I have literally nothing better to do than persuade you, so I am going to tag along. Pathetically wooing my intended."