A Loose Connection
Chapter 8
By: J. Green

Her body was screaming in protest. They were so close to getting out and here was this woman, blocking their path to freedom. She did find it amusing, however, that Malfoy must be rubbing off on her, for she truly enjoyed the exchange of taunts she was having with this woman. As if she would be insulted that Malfoy was still married. They obviously cared very little about each other.

"Oh, how unfortunate for you to be still attached in such a way to this house of traitors. I'm not sure that is a connection I would boast of in your circles, dearest." Zing.

"You little bitch!" was the screeching reply, making Hermione wince.

She turned to Malfoy and stated with a sneering undertone, "Goodness, no wonder you never mentioned her. I would be embarrassed to be married to someone of such low breeding as well!" ZingZing. Yes, this was entirely too much fun. She felt Ginny move in close behind her and put a supportive hand on her back. They needed to wrap this up quickly; she was fading, despite her current bravado.

Hermione did her best to convey this message to Malfoy by putting her hand on his hip and squeezing. He seemed to understand, glancing back once at her before turning his full attention to the situation in front of him. "Well, as perfectly dreadful as this has been, I fear we must be on our way, Astoria. If you would kindly step aside."

Her wand was suddenly in his face, all pretenses of refinement and good upbringing pushed aside as she sneered up at him from her new position. Hermione felt a wave of fear pulse through her, but kept herself from clutching at him and causing a distraction. Instead, she slowly moved her hand to the wand holster on her leg, trying not to make any sudden movements. She may be weak and physically and magically drained, but she'd be damned before she let this fake bint of a woman do anything to her or her companions.

"The Dark Lord sent me to get you and I will not fail in my task."

"Why?" he sneered. "Afraid he'll choose a new whore to try to impregnate?" This bit of information surprised her. Voldemort was trying to create an heir? With Draco's wife?

"I am his chosen one! I will bear the next Dark Lord."

"So eager, and yet that thing you take to your bed is hardly human. I can't even imagine what you would bring into this world if his seed ever managed to take hold in your obviously barren womb." The wand was jammed into his neck hard enough that Malfoy rocked back slightly into Hermione. This was all the motivation she needed to whip her wand out and cast a stunning charm on the threatening woman. Fortunately, in her anger, she had summoned up enough power for it to actually work.

"Malfoy, grab her quick!" Ginny shouted behind her as her legs gave out. He twisted around fluidly and caught her before she landed on the cold stone beneath their feet.

"I might... I might need you to carry me the rest of the way," she whispered softly to him, too drained to be embarrassed by her weakness.

"Oh no, not again, Granger. You're so heavy!" he smiled down softly at her. She couldn't respond as she stared into his grey eyes. She still couldn't believe she was seeing him again. She thought for sure he was dead. She tried to lift her arm up, to brush a stray piece of blond hair from his face, but her arm hadn't even gotten halfway there before it fell back to her side limply. "What is wrong with her?" he asked sharply as he turned to Ginny.

"The tracking charm, and the stress of the preparations, has left her pretty drained. She took three of us through the portal here." They began to move as she spoke, having finished binding and levitating the prone wife of Malfoy.

"D-don't talk about me...as if I'm not right h-here."

"Granger?" Malfoy looked down at her.

"Hm?" she acknowledged.

"Shut up." She tried to muster up indignation at his comment, but failed miserably, instead burrowing into his robes and praying for nothing else to go wrong. It was only a few minutes more before they met with the elder Mrs. Malfoy and Tonks, who had managed to capture three more Death Eaters between them. Five Death Eaters, one Dark Lord's mistress, and two rescues – not a bad haul for such an impromptu raid. Sadly, it wasn't likely for Voldemort to continue using Malfoy Manor as one of his headquarters, if they had the only three remaining Malfoys with them and two of them were considered traitors.

Malfoy indicated to his mother to lead the way. She was followed by Tonks, who levitated two Death Eaters and the younger Mrs. Malfoy in front of her, and then Ginny, who held the three Death Eaters in the air with her wand. Hopefully they wouldn't run into anyone on the way, for it was unlikely they would be able to fight and keep control of their prisoners. Hermione and Malfoy brought up the rear.

When the group was on the move, heading towards another false wall that would lead them to a passage to the outside, Malfoy leaned in close to her and whispered softly, "Thank you for saving my mother." She merely smiled in response and he hugged his arms tighter around her. It wasn't much longer before they were inside the relative safety of the walls of Malfoy Manor. The warmth of his arms clutched so tightly around her was slowly easing her pain, and she was finally able to reach her arms up and clasp them around his neck, positioning herself more comfortably with her head against his shoulder.

Her lips brushed against his neck as she whispered to him, "I'm so happy you're alive."

The deep timbre of his voice vibrated through his chest and into hers when he responded with, "I made a promise, didn't I?"

"One you were trying your damnedest to break."

"Such language! I'm shocked, Granger." She giggled softly in reply.

He was about to ask her if she had read his letter, because her current actions would indicate that she had not, but before the question could leave his lips, he heard movement from the other side of the wall. Immediately, he touched a hand to Weasley's back, indicating the need for silence and a cessation of all movement. She passed along his unspoken message to the two women in front of her. They all turned to look at him, wondering what they could do to avoid being caught.

Draco didn't hesitate before using Granger's wand to spell out the word "disillusion" in his neat, flowing script. He was grateful when the women didn't hesitate to cast the spells upon themselves and their prisoners as quietly as possible. He turned to look at Granger.

"I need to ask you something you might find extremely difficult."

"Anything," she breathed out, trying to cause little noise.

"Stand there and look as haughty and affronted as possible." After a moment of confused hesitation, she slowly pulled herself from his arms and stood on her own feet. He felt the loss immensely. Before he had time to analyze exactly why he was feeling that way, he wordlessly passed a hand in front of her, changing her form into the exact replica of his wife, down to the black silk robes and diamond earbobs.

She looked down at her hands, the jewels on her fingers and wrists, the perfectly manicured nails, before slowly reaching up to her face. He watched as the realization of what he had done hit her and her shocked expression turned into one of arrogant aloofness. My little minx, he thought to himself, smirking. He passed his hand over himself, changing into Rodolphus Lestrange, one of the Death Eaters currently under their control.

He opened the nearest hatch in the wall and peeked out, the look on his face one of fury. He recognized the two Death Eaters in front of him, but he couldn't place their names. He hoped he wouldn't need them.

"Honestly," he said in the gruffest voice he could manage, "could you two keep it down?"

"What's going on? Why are you in the walls? How did you get there?" Draco pulled his lips into what he hoped was a hungry smile as Hermione poked her head outside the opening as well.

"Are you quite finished?" she asked in a nasally voice as she looked down at her nails in a bored manner.

"L-l-lady Malfoy! So sorry to disturb you!" The Death Eaters gave each other knowing looks before turning back to Draco and stating, "We'll just be on our way." He nodded slightly and shut the wall again, turning immediately to capture Granger in his arms before she could lose her footing. He dissolved the illusion from her body and pressed a finger to her lips, listening at the wall for sounds of the men moving away. When he was satisfied that they were leaving them and not sounding the alarm, he sent a silent thank you to the gods that his wife was such a whore, nobody thought twice about her being with someone else in the bowels of the house.

Glancing down at Granger, he realized how close their faces were and all he could think about was how much he wanted to finally kiss her. Her lips looked soft and inviting, quivering slightly as he stared intensely at them. He moved the finger already on them, using it to outline their shape.

"Malfoy," she whispered as he leaned in closer. He paused a moment and looked up at her eyes. There was a hint of amusement in their brown depths before she said, "You haven't changed."

At first, he was affronted. Hadn't changed? Hadn't he defied the Dark Lord and done everything he thought necessary to ensure the safety and health of both her and their daughter? Last time he checked, their previous interactions were nothing like they were now. It wasn't until she reached up and tugged on the short black hair by his ear that he realized what she meant. Feeling himself flush, he dissolved the spell.

Someone cleared her throat, breaking the connection between him and Granger, and forcing him back into the reality of their current situation.

"Let's get out of here quickly," he stated, scooping Granger's legs up and carrying her towards the rest of their party. They reached the outer wall without any more mishaps, and Draco had never been so glad to see the moon.

As they all spilled out into the yard, the elder Mrs. Malfoy stated, "The apparation point is just beyond the fence to our left. It will be tricky to get there with so many of us."

"Mother, take Granger and go to Grimmauld Place first. She needs medical attention immediately." The arms around his neck tightened, forcing his head down to look at her.

"No," she stated firmly.

"There will be no arguments, Granger. There are four people in this world I give a bloody rat's arse about. One of them is dead and I will not risk the lives of two others for selfish reasons, especially when the last one is waiting at home for you." The tears in her eyes were ripping him up inside, but he forced his face into its impassive mask, determined to put his foot down. Without another word, he gently handed her weak body over to his mother's arms. If she felt at all burdened by the weight, she didn't act like it before she turned and ran for the apparation point.

When his mother and Granger disappeared from his sight, he indicated that Weasley and her prisoners should go next. "Remember," he said before she walked away, "transport them with you one at a time, come back for the others only after you've dropped one off." He didn't want the stupid girl splinching herself trying to side-along-apparate three others with her in her eagerness to be home. When the redhead disapparated the third time, he sent his cousin on her way with two of the prisoners. All that was left was his wife, and he planned on transferring her himself.

Levitating her while she was still in her immobile state, Draco couldn't resist taunting her. "She's pretty amazing, isn't she? Granger, I mean. She's been physically and mentally weak since the last time she was imprisoned here, some curse we've yet to figure out, and yet here she is, still powerful enough to bring three people here through that ancient portal spell. The one you could never be bothered with learning. The one I just taught her a week ago!"

He continued his leisurely pace, hoping that someone would come after them and he'd have an excuse to not bring his wife back to Grimmauld Place alive. "You should see our daughter. She's truly a beauty: long, curly blonde hair, the Malfoy eyes, so polite. Everything I could ever want. It was comforting to find out the source of our problems was not me," he glanced down at her, taking in her glaring green eyes, and smiled evilly. "I'm so proud of you for spreading your legs to every willing male in that household. We probably would not have gotten out otherwise. Thank Merlin we never had children! I can't imagine a daughter that took after you; I'd have a murder list a mile long!"

He glanced back at his childhood home when they reached the apparation point, but there were no sounds of alarms, no incoming Death Eaters. It looked almost as he had remembered growing up. It was insulting to think that a psychotic halfblood had infected it with his filth. He couldn't wait to get back in there and brighten the hallways with laughter and children playing once again. His children. The thought made his chest swell with longing. Children to carry on the Malfoy name, truly the last of the noble lines.

With that thought in his mind, he spun in a circle and disapparated with a pop. It was only a matter of moments before he found himself wrapped in two pairs of arms.

She had been avoiding him, shunting aside her natural Gryffindor bravery and changing the pattern they had comfortably fallen into before his last trip to Malfoy Manor. She had been unable to control her tears when he wrapped one arm around her and one around their daughter upon his return, soaking his stained and torn robes, ruining them further. He had taken so long after Tonks' last trip, she thought for sure he had been captured and killed and was almost to the point of apparating back herself until Mrs. Malfoy stopped her and told her to have faith.

She watched him from the window, currently playing with Arianna in the yard, simply staring at him with an ache in her chest she couldn't describe or explain. He never glanced toward her rooms, never tried to approach her if he happened to come into a room she was already in, never questioned why she refused to answer him if he spoke to her. He didn't need her anymore, and they both knew it.

She was finally regaining her old strength, choosing to rub in the lotion created by Malfoy herself, forgoing help from anyone. But inside, she felt weak and broken. Unable to stomach the sight of him laughing with their daughter another minute, she turned from the window and approached her fireplace. She had his letter in her hand, the one he had written before leaving her. The wax seal remained unbroken and, despite how many times she had held it in her hands, the parchment remained unwrinkled. It looked almost as if he had just handed it to her. She wanted nothing more than to throw it into the blazing flames in front of her.

She was disgusted with herself. How could she be pining for arrogant prick she didn't even like? Someone whose only connection to her was a daughter he claimed for his own? She stomped her way back to the window, determined to glare holes into the back of his blond head. When she was presented with no one outside her window any longer, she slammed her hand into the glass in frustration. She needed to get over this...this...whatever it was! She was stronger than this!

The door to her room clicked open, and she slumped against the window, the coolness against her forehead calming her anger. She didn't want her daughter to see her this way. Forcing a bright smile on her face, she spun around to greet the little girl only to see the man who had been tormenting her with his indifference for these last weeks. She felt frozen as he closed and locked the door behind himself.

"What are you doing here?" she asked with more cool confidence than she felt.

"I'm done with your bullshit, Granger," came the equally cool reply. The anger rushed back, staining her cheeks with redness. "I've waited for you to get over whatever it is you're going through and I can't wait any longer. I'm a Malfoy, I have standards."

Yes, he had standards, and they did not include mudbloods like her. She turned without responding, compelling the tears to remain in her eyes and off her face, the letter dropped and forgotten on the floor. She wished she could order him from the room, from her life, but she didn't trust her voice to remain steady enough to hide her hurt.

She could hear his footsteps as he stomped his way towards her, growling, "No, you will not turn away from me. I will not stand for it." When he reached her, he grabbed her arm and forced her around to face him, giving her no room for protest before his lips crashed into hers. In shock, she didn't react when he pushed her back, his lips never leaving hers, until she was against the window with no way of escaping. He threw her further off balance by lifting her slightly off the ground, causing her to flail before gripping his shoulders and hooking one of her legs around his hip.

She assumed that she was where he wanted her, because his bruising kiss gentled and he began to tease the crease of her lips with his tongue. Without hesitation, she opened for him and began to pour all her frustrations into their battle of tongues. When he finally broke away to let her breathe, her nose inhaling the mint and musk scent she knew so well, he peppered small, moist kisses all over her face and neck.

"I've wanted to do that for some time now," he whispered against her neck, his soft lips sending shivers throughout her body.

"Why didn't you?" she asked breathlessly.

He looked up at her from beneath his eyelashes and responded almost shyly, "I wasn't sure you wanted me to."

Looking at him in confusion, she questioned, "What made you think I wanted you to now?"

"I didn't know if you did or not, but I knew I couldn't wait around for you to make the decision any longer." His fingers trailed up her side, brushing slightly against her breast and causing her to shiver again, before reaching her face and stroking her cheek. "I understand if you don't want me. I'm an egotistical prat who only cares about himself."

She squeezed his shoulders, saying, "You're not. Well, you are an egotistical prat, but you don't only care about yourself. I respect you for everything you've done for me, for Arianna."

"And I you."

"Even though I'm a filthy mudblood who can't seem to control her hair or her mouth?"

"Yes, despite all that. Or maybe because of it. I just don't know anymore."

It wasn't much to go on, but she was smiling anyway as she pulled him in for another snogging session. Who knew if this thing would work out between them – they didn't even like each other very much! But they had an unbreakable mutual respect, more lust between them than she knew what to do with, and a wonderful daughter they both loved above all else. It might not be love now, but it could very well be one day.


A/N: I know I said I would only do the one at the beginning, but I felt the need to apologize for the lateness of this chapter. I had mistimed my updates, and the last two Fridays I have been on vacation, unable to update the story with this final chapter. I hope that it was worth the wait. Thank you everyone who has reviewed a chapter/s, fav'd the story, or put me on their alert list. I truly appreciate everyone who has read this little scribbling and I hope to continue to see you all read my future stories.