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Chapter 15: The Clock Chimes
Hermione’s eyes flew open suddenly as the huge grandfather clock of the Manor began a series of six chimes, indicating that it was six o’clock in the morning. She looked around her surroundings slowly, allowing her hazy vision to adjust and saw that she was still in the library. She had been sleeping with her head on the wooden table, folded up in her arms.
“Damn,” she cursed, getting up quickly. The blood rushed and she had to hold on to the chair to allow herself to regain her balance. The last thing she could remember was reading the book ‘Newcastle’s Tales of the Forest’, a handwritten journal by a traveller named Henry Newcastle who had wandered the deepest part of the forests in Europe, detailing the many dark and illegal things he dabbled in.
As she scanned the room, she saw the book lying at the edge of the table and a crease in the page where she had stopped reading and fallen asleep. Would Malfoy already be awake?
There were no windows in this room but she knew that the sun was probably not as bright, giving her maybe less than an hour before she had to go back to her room where Malfoy would surely look for her.
Her head was pulsing slightly where it had touched the rough surface of the table and she placed her hand carelessly over it. She didn’t have any time. Grabbing the closest book she could find, she sat herself back down and began reading.
As she skimmed through, she saw references to werewolves, vampires and their curses, experiments detailing unusual effects of mixing wolf hair with human blood and snake venom. She sighed and shut the book, reaching for another.
Grimoire: Shadows of Immortality This was a detailed explanation of the seven different ways to attain immortality. Hermione cringed slightly at the mention of Horcruxes and she couldn’t help but feel slightly relieved that such a book was trapped within the walls of this Manor.
Nothing in that book either.
Her hopes were beginning to sink as she felt herself running out of time. She put it back on the shelf and searched around frantically for anything that hinted at Fiendfyre as a weapon for creatures. Most of the books were either handwritten journals of criminal witches as they dabbled in the deepest of the dark arts or books that contained a little too much information about illegal magical objects and curses. She suddenly caught sight of a leather bound book plastered against the wall with the title, ‘The Flames of the Fiend.”
She grabbed the book hastily and began to flip through it excitedly. The book was another collection of memoirs of a witch named Matilda Frogwart. Her eyes began to scan the first page that described the details of the rest of the book and her mind focused on the words in front of her.
December 23rd 1615
Mother has locked me in the closet again but this time, she didn’t see me sneak in the parchment and quill. Father is sitting by the porch steps; I can see him from the small window in the attic. Of course, he doesn’t ever stop mother when she tries her experiments on me – today it was a bite in the leg. It’s still bleeding but the experiment didn’t work again and now I have to sit until the stinging stops.
Light hinders the progress, my mother says, so I cannot sit outside with father or with the other girls on the street.
Soon, I will.
Soon, both mother and father will realize they were wrong.
The page ended and Hermione felt a knot in her stomach as she realized the Matilda Frogwart was a little girl. How did the diary of a 12 year old girl make its way into a collection of illegal dark magic books?
Soon, both mother and father will realize they were wrong.
Those words began to hold a darker meaning and the knot from Hermione’s stomach rose up to her throat. She reached forward to turn the page when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” she said quietly, praying it wasn’t Malfoy.
It was Eli. “Master Malfoy is looking for you,” he said quickly. “Hurry, Ms. Granger.”
“I’m not done,” she said.
“That bears no importance right now,” he replied. “If he found you here, your chances of staying at the Manor would be reduced to nothing. Please, hurry!”
She shut the book reluctantly and looked at the door. “Alright,” she said and left her unfinished research on the wooden table.
As she walked down the dark passageway on the third floor, the numbness in her head from sleeping began to feel more evident. “Why don’t we just apparate?” she asked exasperatedly. Her legs were sore from sitting on the chair all night and she was in no mood for long journeys.
“Only people of Malfoy titles can apparate within the grounds,” Eli said casually.
Hermione remembered the night Draco had whisked himself to the North Tower and that made sense to her now. “You can’t?”
“Not exactly,” he said deferentially. “I can apparate because I serve the Malfoys, as can the other house elves. But I cannot do it with as much ease as Master Malfoy himself – only to places that I’ve seen before.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped. “There are places in this castle that you haven’t seen?”
Eli laughed slightly. “I’ve seen more than Master Malfoy has but there are certain passages in the dungeons I’m sure, that I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing. The more familiar I am with a place, the easier it is for me to get there. I serve the Malfoys and so that is my title, no matter how inferior. Now, you and Ms. Parkinson for instance, cannot apparate within the grounds at all.”
“Pansy’s still here?” Hermione asked.
“Yes, Ms. Parkinson will be visiting here for a few more days I imagine.”
“How many more?”
“I’m not quite sure. I haven’t had the chance to ask her; I saw her only when she brought Master Malfoy in after his injury and then I showed her to her room, that’s been it.”
They were on the second floor and Hermione felt relief as the first rays of sunshine shone through the slightly open windows, illuminating the beige walls.
Hermione froze as Malfoy’s voice echoed throughout the passage, ringing in her ears. Eli’s expression didn’t falter for a second as he made his way past the many doors and down another flight of stairs into a room Hermione had never seen before.
This room was about as large as all the others. It had bright white walls and intricately carved crown mouldings at the top, decorated with thin gold paint. There was an ivory couch in the middle of the room between two angled loveseats but the centre of attention was the dark oak grand piano sitting in the corner, majestically glowing in the sunlight from the oncoming windows.
Malfoy was sitting straight on the couch with a glass of water in one hand and the Daily Prophet in the other. His expression hardened as he saw Hermione cowering slightly behind his aged butler.
“What took so long?” he asked irritably, sipping his water.
“Ms. Granger was packing her things,” Eli said gently, bowing slightly and ushering Hermione into the room. “Have a seat.”
She looked around awkwardly and finally parked herself on one of the loveseats, sitting as far from Malfoy as possible without being too obvious.
“Doing it the muggle way?” he scoffed, raising his eyebrow.
Hermione’s forehead creased in anger as she sighed heavily. “You’ve called me that so many times, it’s getting old!” she snapped.
Draco’s expression changed into one of surprise. “What?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Just stop calling me that!”
“Calling you what?”
“You know what!”
“No, I don’t,” he hissed.
“A mudblood!” she retorted. Suddenly however, she felt something wrong. Both Eli and Malfoy were staring at with confused expressions.
“I called you a muggle,” he said coldly turning his head back to Eli. Judging by Eli’s slightly amused eyes, Hermione guessed he wasn’t lying. This was probably the first time he’d spoken to her and used the word ‘muggle’ instead of ‘mudblood’. How odd.
“Ms. Granger’s luggage is packed and I’ve put it on the carriage,” Eli said obediently, breaking the awkward silence.
“Why on the carriage?” Malfoy asked. “Send it over to that shack of hers.”
The surprise of the word ‘muggle’ was now fading away rapidly as anger boiled inside her again.
“Most of her luggage has been sent off but I thought she might want an extra pair of clothes or some food. I’ve packed that in a knapsack.”
“Yes, we want this journey to be as convenient as possible,” Malfoy replied sarcastically. “Let’s go.”
“Now?” Hermione jumped up.
“Breakfast first, Master Malfoy?” Eli insisted gesturing down the hall where Hermione suspected the second dining hall was. “It’s a long trip.”
“Fine,” Malfoy rolled his eyes.
The three of them walked two more doors and entered the second eating room in Malfoy Manor. This room was a little fancier with huge bouquets of flowers decorating each corner of the dark grey walls. At the centre, a long table dominated the room with chairs surrounding it and of course, it was covered in bowls full of luscious food. Pansy was sitting on one of the chairs with a plate of poached eggs and sausages in front of her. A smile crept onto her face when Draco walked into the room and she ushered to a seat beside her.
He looked at Hermione for a second and sat down beside Pansy, grabbing a bowl of milk tarts from the centre. Hermione, feeling awkward enough, sat herself opposite both of them and grabbed some French toast.
“It’s a nice morning, isn’t it?” Pansy said, looking striking in her bottle green cardigan.
“Not so much,” Hermione mumbled.
“Oh right, you’re leaving today, aren’t you?” she asked, though it was clear that she knew. Her voice wasn’t the same malignant and spiteful tone it had been at school but Hermione still felt an icy twinge when Pansy looked at her.
“Yeah,” Hermione said, prodding her breakfast with a fork. Draco seemed oblivious to the conversation, chewing his milk tarts silently.
“It’s a pity you can’t stay any longer,” Pansy said, her eyes focused on Draco.
“A terrible pity,” Hermione agreed, the sarcasm subtle.
“I can only imagine what it must feel like; having to go back to that little house of Weasley’s…what’s it called again? The Barrel?”
“The Burrow,” Hermione corrected, through gritted teeth.
“I’m going to have to be leaving soon too,” she said, sighing dramatically. “Being a reporter for Witch Weekly is no easy task. I mean, I had to be in Paris, Venice, Russia, Bulgaria, Germany… so many places! It’s a good thing I decided to drop by for a visit, or I may have been halfway to North America before Draco decided to invite me.”
“Glad you came,” Hermione muttered.
“Draco was surprised though, weren’t you?” she said, giggling at Malfoy. “A few unexpected visitors always keep things exciting. That’s exactly what I said to Samuel Davidson last summer. You know the Quidditch player?”
Hermione was beginning to get irritated right now. “Tell me, Pansy,” she said, feigning interest. “Was that before or after your father was sentenced to Azkaban as a death eater and your family’s house was seized by the Ministry?”
Pansy’s expression faltered and that familiar malice glimmered behind her tight mask. Hermione saw the slightest smile edge onto Malfoy’s lips but it went as soon as it came. Pansy had now turned away from her food and was twirling her finger gently around the back of Draco’s hand while he ate his breakfast.
Hermione felt sick just looking at them but Malfoy seemed so indifferent, as if he barely sensed the touch of her skin against his. He seemed almost bored and Hermione remembered what he had said yesterday.
Pansy and I have an… open relationship
The thoughts suddenly clicked into place and her stomach almost leapt out of its place. She felt nauseated looking at Malfoy and she let go of the French toast in front of her, trying to avoid all eye contact. Draco seemed to sense the sudden shift of the mood from angry to uncomfortable and his eyes shot up to Hermione’s.
She glared at him with cold eyes and he dropped his fork on his plate gently, standing up. “I’ll be by the carriage,” he said, looking at no one in particular but Hermione knew he was referring to her.
He walked out of the room effortlessly, shutting the door behind him. Hermione knew she couldn’t prolong the moment anymore and got out of her chair as well. It was time for her to leave.
“I’m sorry about your parents, by the way,” Pansy called. Hermione tried to hear the mockery in her voice but she heard nothing this time.
“Thanks,” she replied vacantly.
“I mean it,” Pansy urged. “It’s difficult to lose your parents and especially at the hands of such a high profiled killer.”
Hermione turned her head slowly and examined Pansy. “How… how did you know?”
“Draco told me,” she shrugged. “Last night…”
Hermione scowled at the expression of sudden triumph on Pansy’s face as she mentioned ‘last night’. “Right… well, thanks.”
That made sense now. She had wondered why Pansy hadn’t been shocked or even the least bit surprised at her presence at the Manor. Draco had told her that she was running from the grasps of a madman… great.
“Bye,” Hermione said blankly as she turned the knob and opened the door, looking at the beige hallway for the last time.
The thestrals began to glide forward slowly, effortlessly pulling the weight of two fully grown wizards, a huge carriage stuffed with velvet cushions and an old rucksack containing clothes and food. As Hermione felt her stomach lurch, she closed her eyes slightly, remembering the feeling of fear she got when the creatures took flight.
Malfoy was sitting across from her but instead of looking amused like he had done the last time they were here, he had a troubled expression on his face. Hermione figured that she really had startled him yesterday with her sudden outburst.
The thestrals were now in mid-air, soaring sumptuously through the clouds as the two strangers in the carriage looked away from each other. Hermione couldn’t help but look behind her at the opulent mansion behind her that was fading into the distance. Her eyes could still make out the North Tower on which she had first landed and the beautiful rock garden by the South Tower. And of course, somewhere within those very walls, a creature wailed in the darkness, pleased that its secret was to remain buried forever.
She closed her eyes and let the memory of the mansion fade into her mind. Despite the irritable company she had had to deal with, her stay at Malfoy Manor had ignited the same familiar spark in her that she had felt when at Hogwarts with Harry and Ron; the spark that ignited into a fire of mystery, adventure and curiosity… a fire that she hadn’t experienced in a long time.
And of course, there was Eli. As she had boarded the carriage, he had held her hand gently and placed a fragile kiss on it. It wasn’t the kind of heartfelt moment that she had been expecting, but then again, the twinkle in Eli’s eyes told her that maybe this wasn’t the last time she’d ever see him again.
Hermione’s eyes opened as Draco called her name. “What is it?” she asked irritably, still not looking at him.
“I sent Weasley an owl last night,” he informed her. “We’re supposed to be done with all the paperwork and at his place at 5 p.m.”
“Great.” She turned back out to look at the window.
“Is there anything else you need?” he asked. “Your luggage has all been sent back.”
Hermione looked at him with bare eyes and shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“Good,” he replied coldly. “I figure we might as well get a head start on the paperwork.”
Hermione scoffed. “Yeah, we don’t want to prolong this happy journey together,” she snapped.
Malfoy reached into his briefcase marked with an ‘L’ and produced a stack of papers with the official Ministry emblem on them. “Do you have a quill?” he asked.
“No,” she replied flatly.
He reached into the briefcase again and produced a well-trimmed feather quill, handing it to Hermione. “Read through them if you want, it’s all basically the release forms.”
“Right.” She began to skim through the paragraphs of official jargon until her eyes could no longer bear the words on the page in front of her. “Where do I sign?”
“Wherever there’s a blank with ‘Hermione Granger’ under it.”
Hermione sat up suddenly and let the last sentence register into her head. This was the first time that Malfoy had ever said her name out loud to her. It sounded so weird when it was Draco’s bold voice delivering the name that she took a second to hear it again in her head. Unlike most people she knew, he over emphasized the ‘io’ part of her name, making it sound deeper and slightly fancier than it was.
Draco, too, seemed to have realized this peculiar fact but he didn’t look up from his papers. All Hermione could see was that his eyes, which had been scanning lines before, were frozen at one word. He wasn’t reading anymore and she was sure that he was repeating the words in his head as if he had just said something that was difficult to pronounce.
“Uh… yeah…okay,” she said, trying to mask the embarrassment that she felt. These were two people who had known each other since they were eleven years old and for the first time in over 10 years, one had said the other’s name… this had to have been some sort of record.
She grabbed the quill and scribbled her messy signature over the line on the first page, then proceeding to the second page. Malfoy seemed to have moved on as well from the momentary pause as his quill was scratching against the papers.
“If we’re doing all this paperwork here, why are we going to the Ministry?” Hermione asked.
“Standard procedures,” Malfoy said, not looking up. “Skeid needs to make sure everything is in order.”
Malfoy heaved an irritable sigh. Her curiosity was annoying him again. “The usual kind of stuff that he needs to talk to you about: he’ll thank you for bearing with the whole problem first, ask you about how you’re holding up after your parents’ deaths, explain any leads they have on Lestrange and the reason why they’re letting you go out of custody.”
“And then there’s some questions he’ll ask you and a medical exam.”
Hermione’s head shot up so quickly that she felt a moment of dizziness rush through her. She gaped at Draco with a horrified expression and even his perfect mask couldn’t hide his expression of worry. Suddenly Hermione understood the troubled expression he had been wearing at the beginning of the journey.
He was afraid. A medical exam would mean that she would have to be face to face with a healer who would check her from head to toe and ensure she was in fine physical shape, or at least as good as she was before. It would take a three year old with scissors two minutes to find the burns on her arms and legs and another three minutes to completely reveal the scars. It would take an experienced Ministry healer less than thirty seconds.
“A medical exam?” she asked again, confirming what she knew she had heard.
“Yes,” Draco replied, and though his voice was casual she could see the apprehension in his eyes. “I hope you’re not as afraid of needles as you are of heights,” he added.
Hermione rolled her eyes at his feeble attempt to hide his anxiety. “They’ll find the burns,” she said to him, choosing to be blunt rather than speak in code. Draco’s face faltered for a second but before she knew it, he had his mask back on. She had to give him some credit: it took a lot of effort to maintain such a blank expression.
“I’d assume so,” he agreed.
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Why should it?”
“Because you know as well as I do that they’re going to ask questions.”
“And you will answer them,” he replied indifferently.
“But…? You know you can’t afford to have the Ministry know the truth…” Hermione began unconfidently.
Draco shoulders squared suddenly and his jaw clenched. Without warning, he reached behind him and produced a thick, brown palm-sized bad. “Is this enough?” he said icily as he handed her the pouch.
Hermione’s brown eyes widened. “What is this?” she asked quizzically.
Malfoy didn’t respond to her, instead choosing to stare out the window with a blank expression. Hermione could see past his transparent veil into the red fury in his eyes. She reached into the bag and felt her fingers press against something smooth and cold… there were many things in there. She looked up at Malfoy again and when she got no reaction, she overturned the bag in her lap.
A heap of gold coins fell onto her and by a quick glance over them; Hermione estimated there were over 1000 galleons in the pile.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Money,” Malfoy replied coldly, turning to face Hermione again.
Hermione now had a horrified look on her face. The coins on her lap were sparkling in the sunlight but all Hermione could do was focus on the perverse, cold man sitting across from her. “You… you…you” She couldn’t go on and her eyes welled up with tears. “You selfish, self-centered ass!” she screamed.
Tears were now mercilessly spilling over her face as she spoke to a startled Malfoy. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to think of me like that!” she cried. “You… complete… jerk!”
“Shut up! Do you think I can be bought? After over ten years of knowing me, you honestly have the audacity to think that you can throw gold in my face and then order me around?! Those cheap tactics may have worked with your twisted friends but I… is that how I look to you? After all I’ve done against Voldemort and… and the death eaters, you still think that you can buy me?! ”
Malfoy was still staring at Hermione with a confused look on his face. “You can’t just assume people are lower than you because they’re poorer! I may not have your money or your stupid big mansion but I go home every night to a family,” she snapped. “When was the last time you sat at dinner with people who made you feel like no one else mattered but you? When was the last time anyone held your hand and looked at you like they could never stop looking?”
Malfoy looked at her with a blank expression. Hermione’s flushed cheeks and wet eyes were an overwhelming sight for the distant man and he could feel the heat radiating off her drenched face.
“I don’t want your disgusting money,” she said, as she wiped away her tears with her sleeve. “I don’t want your precious Malfoy gold. And I can’t believe you have the nerve to think of me as low as you. I don’t want to blackmail you… keep your filthy money. I hope someday you’ll come to realize that not all things are made of silver and gold.” She flung the gold coins off her lap and they cackled against the seats as they fell onto the plush carpet.
That was the last straw.
“If you don’t want the money then don’t take it,” Malfoy said, his fists tightened and his jaw clasped. “And don’t you dare think that just because you spent a few measly days in my house that you know me inside out. You think I’m narrow minded when you, with your haughtiness and pride thinking no one can be smarter than you, assume that just because I have money, I had no family.”
Hermione glared at him with livid eyes. “What do you think? That I wake up every morning and plan out all the awful things I’m going to do today to ruin peoples’ lives? I used to have a family!” he shouted.
His voice was shaking now and Hermione felt herself recoil slightly. “I had parents and friends and girlfriends and colleagues!” His voice was more controlled but Hermione saw the fury in his dim, grey eyes. “I used to have a family.”
The anger in Hermione hadn’t subsided enough to make her feel sorry for the livid man who sat across from her. She turned away, glancing at the grey sky and tried to distract herself with the indistinct shapes of the clouds. Despite her reluctance, he had shut her up.
“Ms. Granger! A pleasure to meet you again, my dear!”
Skeid came striding up the hallway as soon as his short, keen secretary had informed him that Mr. Malfoy and Ms. Granger were here. Hermione and Draco sat at opposite ends of a long stretch of chairs, each staring at the wall closet to them, wrapped up in their own thoughts.
“And of course, Mr. Malfoy! It’s been far too long, Draco!”
The tall man seemed a lot more enthusiastic since their last meeting but then again, Hermione reminded herself, he had been informing her of her parents’ deaths and she hadn’t been with a man whose name sent shivers down the spine of every Ministry official. His square spectacles sat on the edge of his blunt nose and his grey hairs seemed darker and better covered.
Malfoy got up slowly and shook Skeid’s eager hand with a short smile. “Let’s head on into the office,” Skeid suggested, holding his hand out to Hermione as he led the pair of them down the grey hallway into his large office. Nothing much had changed at all in these past three weeks; the oversized oak desk still sat in the middle of room, surrounded by three cushioned brown chairs, right beside filing cabinets and a huge stone fireplace.
“May I get you both something to drink?” he asked, ushering the two of them to the brown chairs and seating himself on the opposite side of the desk.
“I’m fine,” Draco said and Skeid turned to Hermione.
“Me too,” she said quickly.
“Very well, down to business already, I see?” he smiled hastily and reached out under his stacks of papers, pulling out a thin blue folder.
“Now before I begin, Ms. Granger, let me extend my thanks to you on behalf of the entire department for your patience in dealing with us.”
Hermione saw Draco from the corner of her eye as Skeid mumbled away a series of rehearsed gratifications. He was staring at him in a very professional manner though his expression was bored.
“-a hard time dealing with this, I’m sure. It’s truly a pleasure working with someone as cooperative and adjusting as you.”
Hermione nodded swiftly and flashed Skeid a quick smile. “Yes, right.”
“Once again, my sincerest condolences for your parents’ deaths,” he said, his enthusiastic voice turning gentle. “Are you holding up well?
“Fine, thank you,” Hermione said, still glancing at Draco’s unmoving expression. She felt a feeling of amazement as Skeid began to run through the agenda that Draco had guessed.
“That’s good to know. And you’ll be glad to hear that Rodolphus Lestrange has been tracked to somewhere in Southern Europe, much farther than we had originally predicted. We suspected he was lingering in Northern France.”
“Ah, okay,” Hermione said. Her responses were now automatic sounds that she made when Skeid paused.
“His distance and our forewarning of course, gives us a very good idea of the possible route he’ll be taking next. With no possible way of getting back in London, it is my pleasure to inform you, Ms. Granger, that you are not in any real danger.”
“That’s good to know,” she said, trying to fake enthusiasm. She was glad to know that Lestrange had no way of entering London but in all honesty, with Ron and Harry by her side, she had never really sensed the danger in the first place.
“-therefore, released from the custody of Mr. Malfoy and can return to your house,” he finished, taking a deep breath and clasping his hands together dramatically.
“And now, unfortunately, we have the boring protocols to follow through upon – I’ll try my best to shorten them to the bare necessities.”
He opened his blue file and produced a sheet of parchment. “Ms. Granger, there’s a healer waiting in the second room down the hallway, to your right. She’ll just do a quick once over to make sure you’re healthy to go back.”
Hermione’s gaze met Draco’s for a brief second and she got up, sliding her chair back. “Sure.”
“And the protective measures undertaken?” Skeid asked, looking at Draco and then back at his paper.
“We had the perimeter secured with a variety of charms, including a Fidelus Charm,” Draco explained. This was the third question he’d had to answer as part of the formalities. “Ms. Granger was always under the surveillance of my reliable caretaker. She was informed of all possible exits that led out into the grounds and the conditions under which specific routes were to be chosen over others.”
“Were there any issues with that?”
“None at all,” Draco replied smoothly. “Ms. Granger was very compliant with the regulations and protective measures.”
Draco gazed out the translucent glass door to Skeid’s office down the hall. His mind had been preoccupied for the last 14 minutes as Hermione had made her way down the same narrow passage and turned on the right.
“Were there any problems with dark magic or the like?” Skeid asked.
Draco didn’t hesitate for a second. “None whatsoever pertaining to Lestrange.” He hadn’t lied.
“Right, right,” Skeid muttered, checking off things and writing notes beside them. “That sounds perfect, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco paused to give Skeid a moment to gather his papers and stuff them back into his blue file. “Is that all?” he asked.
“Yes,” he replied cheerfully.
“May I leave, then? I’d hate to press but I have somewhere to be tonight.”
“Once Ms. Granger gets back and I look over the report, that will be it,” he said, smiling nervously. “Would you like a glass of water?”
Draco didn’t have a chance to answer as a piercing scream rang through the hallway. Both men ran forward into the corridor and heard it again, the source of the scream was clear.
It was the second room to the right.
“Ms. Granger, what on earth happened?” Skeid cried, bursting into the room. The healer’s examination room was a small one with stone walls, a large examination table (on which Hermione currently sat) and a desk over at the corner with papers on top.
Beside Hermione, Malfoy saw a pale, old woman with curly dark hair and very pointed features. She may have been really pretty at another time but that was hard to see with the innumerable green boils on her face.
“Felice! My dear!” Skied said, looking at his bewitched employee. “What happened to you?”
“That girl!” the woman shrieked, pointing an accusing finger at Hermione.
Malfoy turned to Hermione with a perplexed expression as she put on an innocent and fearful face in front of the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. “I forgot to tell her, Mr. Skeid,” Hermione said in an apologetic tone. “Oh please, I’m so sorry!”
“Tell her what?” the frantic Ministry official said, leaning over the hysterical woman and mumbling soothing words to her.
“I’m hideous!” the healer cried. “I’ll never be able to leave my house!”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re a healer, get it together!” Hermione said irritably and then quickly composed herself. “I mean, I’m so sorry!”
“Felice, what happened?” he asked the woman.
“I was doing my examination,” she said, sobbing. “I got past the face and asked her to hold out her hand so I can do an injury spell. I touched her fingers and then… oh! All these sick things started popping up on my face!”
She turned her head away, as if afraid that her face might repel others in the room.
“Why on earth did that happen?” Skied asked.
“It was part of the protection!” Hermione wailed in her dramatic apologetic voice. “Malfoy put the spell on me before we got to the Manor and I must have forgotten, oh! How foolish of me!”
She tried to produce a few synthetic tears but failed. However, her theatrical performance was enough to convince Skeid that this was all a misunderstanding. “It’s alright, dear,” he said sympathetically, placing his arm on Hermione’s shoulder. “What sort of spell was this, Mr. Malfoy?”
Malfoy was startled by his sudden inclusion in the conversation.
“It was a… Hornwart Charm…” Hermione said.
“I’ve… I’ve never heard of that…”
“Yes, it’s uncommon,” Hermione began. “Quite advanced. If anyone so much as touches me, they get green boils all over their faces!”
“It was a protective measure.”
Skeid turned to Draco and nodded fretfully. “You seem to have protected her very diligently, Mr. Malfoy.”
He didn’t pause to hear Malfoy’s response but instead, scrambled over to the sobbing healer at the desk and tried to comfort her. The healer however, seemed to be inconsolable and kept shoving Skeid’s arm off her shoulder as she howled overemotionally.
Hermione looked over at Malfoy with a knowing expression and nodded her head towards Skeid; he understood what she meant.
“We’ve taken up enough of your time, Mr. Skeid,” Malfoy said, feigning an impressive sympathetic tone. “And now with all that’s happening, I believe it’s time we take your leave.”
“Oh, yes, yes… I suppose that would be best,” he mumbled, standing up and straightening out his robes.
“And as you can very well see, Ms. Granger is in pristine condition,” he added. “So, I assume with an impaired healer hindering the examination, there will be no need to further pursue it?”
“No, no, that would be fine. She looks alright and… well, with all your protection I’d be surprised if she managed to get a scratch on herself.”
Malfoy let out a forced laugh as Skeid chuckled apprehensively. “It was a pleasure seeing you both again,” he said, shaking both Malfoy’s and Hermione’s hands. “Perhaps under less strenuous circumstances, a dinner would be in order.”
“Yes, of course,” Malfoy replied automatically. “Good day, Mr. Skeid.”
“Mr. Malfoy, Ms. Granger,” he said nodding politely to both of them as they exited the office.
The two had made their way back towards the main waiting room, past the hallway when Malfoy suddenly turned to Hermione with an inquisitive look on his face.
“What’s a Hornwart Charm?” he asked.
Hermione shrugged casually. “I have no idea.”
“Then what was that back there?”
She smiled mischievously. “It was an explosive pimple spell from the Weasleys’ Joke Shop.”
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