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Chapter 33: Perhaps a Vacation
Three Days Later...
Hermione was roused in the morning by the door to her cell sliding open loudly. Officer Davidson, the officer who had arrested her, stood there, his face impassive. “Miss Granger, you are free to go. Turns out there was a clerical error and you were arrested by mistake. You have the Ministry’s apologies.”
Hermione didn’t speak a word to the man as she was escorted from her cell and given her possessions back. She maintained a haughty silence until she was outside the prison. She was about to leave when Harry Potter suddenly popped into view. He blinked twice as he saw her at the designated apparation point.
“Hermione?” he gasped. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
He pulled her to the side, where she told him that how she had been “mistakenly” arrested to prevent her from testifying. Harry’s eyes flashed with anger at this revelation, but asked her, “Didn’t you hear? Only the first two days of trials actually happened; someone broke them all out of Azkaban the next day!”
Hermione projected an expression of shock. She really wanted to end the conversation so she could get to Draco and make sure that he was all right, but she had to deal with Harry first.
Harry narrowed his eyes at her all-too-innocent expression. “I know that you are—or were—romantically involved with Draco Malfoy,” he told her, as if either of them could forget the time that he had burst in on them in Draco’s bed. “He’s disappeared completely; his mansion in Wiltshire is too well-protected by spells for us to get into, but we verified with a spell that nothing living is hiding inside. Do you know where he is? He’s our top suspect in this.”
“I have no idea, Harry,” she lied, her face perfectly straight. Not even a trained interrogator would suspect her of lying. “I’ve been locked up by your boss for the past eight days, remember?”
Harry winced. “I had no idea, Hermione, believe me.”
“I do. And it’s fine. But, I’m going to go now; my cat has been locked in my apartment for eight days; Merlin only knows the state of my carpet.” As the words left her mouth, she wanted to kick herself. When she lied, she tended to prattle on, not thinking before she spoke. Luckily, Harry was too distracted to notice that Hermione had as much as said that she cared more about her carpet than her beloved pet.
“I’ll see you later then,” Harry said, heading for the entrance to the prison. It was a mark of how much their relationship had deteriorated that he didn’t even move in for his typical goodbye hug.
As Hermione turned to disapparate, she didn’t see Harry sending a quick Patronus message into the air.
The first thing she noticed when she entered her apartment was that Draco had placed a Refilling Charm on Romeo’s food and water bowls. Thank goodness the cat hadn’t starved. The attention-starved feline rocketed across the room and began weaving his body affectionately through her legs. Hermione scooped up her little cat and scratched him behind the ears until he was purring madly. Once Romeo was satisfied that his mistress was back and paying attention to him, Hermione was able to make her way to her bedroom. She lifted the mattress and found the familiar iron key that unlocked the suite of room of Malfoy Manor that Draco kept locked.
Impatient to get to Draco, Hermione began the process of packing her things. In the few years she’d lived in the apartment, she hadn’t accumulated much in the way of possessions. Other than clothes, books, and potions equipment, she owned little else. Everything except her books fit into one trunk; her books filled another two. “I’ll have to summon these later,” she murmured to herself.
Reluctant to leave Romeo when she wasn’t 100% sure that she would be able to easily return (she didn’t know if she’d encounter any trouble trying to leave the country), she took everything out of her purse except for her identification and bank cards to make room for Romeo. The cat’s head poked out of the purse, but it would serve well enough as a carrying case.
As she headed for the door to make her final departure from the apartment, she glanced out the window one last time, doing a double take as she did so. There was someone outside watching her apartment building! She was on the third floor, her window overlooking the front of the building. A man dressed in Auror clothes stood across the street, leaning casually against a tree. His sharp eyes were focused on the front door.
The Ministry was watching her, probably to see if she would inadvertently lead them to Draco! Hermione backed away from the window as her adrenaline kicked in. A sort of calm came over her body. They were messing with a fully-trained and talented Auror; this was where she excelled. They had no chance. She would walk right out the front door and they wouldn’t even notice a thing.
Auror Martin Giles leaned against the tree that he’d been ordered to stand by until his relief arrived. This was supposed to be his day off, but he had received an urgent Patronus from Head Auror Potter, ordering an immediate surveillance of former-Auror Hermione Granger’s residence. If she left, he was to follow her without being seen. If at any time he saw Draco Malfoy, whose picture was all over the newspapers, he was to immediately call for backup and wait until they arrived before engaging the man.
So far, he’d merely been bored. A few muggles had entered and left the building, but not much else had happened. At least he was getting paid overtime for this.
A quick scan of the building had revealed that standard anti-apparation wards were still covering Granger’s apartment, and Giles was confident that she wouldn’t elude him by risking exposure and disapparating from the stairs. There was no back door, so she would have to leave by the door he was watching.
He stiffened and stood up as the door opened again. He relaxed almost immediately as he took in the appearance of the woman who stepped outside. The blonde woman with short, bouncing curls walked away from the door in a bright pink skirt and matching top. Large, flowered earrings hung from her earlobes. She carried a bright yellow handbag, out of which a white cat poked its head.
Giles had only interacted with former Auror Granger a handful of times, but he had seen the photo that Head Auror Potter had shown him, and this woman was definitely not her. His sharp eyes caught the utterly impractical high heels that she wore and knew for certain that this was not the woman he was looking for. Just as a formality, he cast a surreptitious, nonverbal charm that would reveal any Polyjuice or glamour spells; as he’d suspected, there were none on the girl. He watched idly as the woman flounced off down the street before he returned his gaze to the apartment building once more.
Hermione rounded the corner and entered the first coffee shop she saw. Heels clacking obnoxiously on the tile floor, she headed for the bathroom, furtively pushing Romeo’s head into the bag so that she wouldn’t be thrown out for having an animal in a food establishment. Once in the single, one-person bathroom, she grinned into the mirror. “Success,” she whispered quietly. She’d felt the light brushing of a detection spell as she walked past the Auror, but as she hadn’t used any glamour charms to change her physical appearance, she knew that she was safe. The blond hair was a wig that she had transfigured from a corn husk, the clothes altered magically until they were unrecognizable for her, and the purse had been colored with a charm. The ridiculously high heels, however, were hers, and were quite uncomfortable. It took Hermione just seven seconds to fix her clothing and accessories until she looked like herself again. She now wore a pair of muggle jeans, a purple t-shirt, and tennis shoes and carried a black purse with her little white cat inside of it.
After unlocking the door for the next person, Hermione disapparated.
She reappeared on the courtyard of Malfoy Manor, her wand at the ready as she quickly looked around for Aurors. If the Aurors were watching her, they would certainly watching be watching Draco’s Manor to see if he would return there. Her quick scan of the front lawn revealed an Auror standing next to an enormous fountain right in the center of the massive lawn.
The female Auror looked shocked to see her there. From her frozen look of surprise and the fact that Hermione had never met her before, she was clearly a first-year rookie. The two stared at each other for a moment, wands raised as each waited for the other to speak first.
Hermione rolled her eyes inwardly; the Auror should have identified herself and ordered Hermione to drop her wand by now. Hermione attacked first. “Obliviate!” The Auror dropped her wand as her face went blank. “Stupefy!”
As the Auror began to fall to the ground, Hermione rushed forward, catching her and lowering her carefully to the ground. Romeo meowed in distress as the purse he was in swung around.
Not knowing how long she had until the Auror woke up, Hermione ran to the front door. She placed her palm against the door and said, “Hermione Granger.” The door unlocked with a click and Hermione pushed it open, glancing behind her to make sure the Auror was still unconscious. Ordinarily she would have felt bad for what she’d done, but after the horrible experience of Azkaban that the Minister had forced her into, her levels of guilt were quite low.
Hermione slipped inside Malfoy Manor and shut the door behind her, wincing as a horrible smell hit her nostrils. Romeo let out a fearful hiss and burrowed into Hermione’s bag until his furry head could no longer be seen. The entryway was dim, lit only by the light coming through the skylight set high in the ceiling. All of the lamps were dark.
“Lumos domus!” The unlit candles in all of the dark lamps and chandeliers lit up immediately, illuminating the grisly scene in the entryway. Her startled gasp echoed menacingly in the empty house. Three bodies lay on the carpet. Blood stains on the floor showed that they had died brutally. Judging by the smell, the bodies had been there at least two days.
“Homenum Revelio!” Hermione cast a spell to reveal any humans in the area. Nothing happened. She remembered Harry’s words to her a few hours earlier: the Aurors had done the spell to check for human presence in the house but it had come back negative. Of course, the spell had been designed for the living, not for locating dead bodies.
Hermione walked over to the bodies with some trepidation, terrified that one of the bodies would be Draco’s. The first body looked as if he had been hit with a very nasty slicing curse; his head was nearly severed. It was Ed, one of the Hunters. The other two had been dispatched in similar ways and were also Hunters.
What had happened? Had the Hunters attacked each other after being released? Somehow she couldn’t see Draco allowing such a thing. It couldn’t have been the Aurors; they never would have left the bodies to rot. A sense of urgency to see Draco spurred Hermione to hurry towards Draco’s rooms. Along the way, she saw smashed paintings, broken glass, and curse marks along the floors and walls. She passed three more bodies, all killed with the Avada Kedavra curse and all Hunters, by the time she reached Draco’s door.
Once she was inside Draco’s bedroom, she shut and locked the door behind her, just in case whoever had killed those Hunters returned. Draco’s bedroom looked untouched by the violence elsewhere in the Manor. Her keen eyes noticed several things missing—personal items like the journal on his desk and several books. Without further ado, she headed for the bathroom to enter Draco’s secret room above the sinks.
The secret room looked exactly as it had before, but for a copy of Hogwarts, A History lying directly in the center. Even though she knew that this had to be the Portkey, the perfectionist in her cast a spell to verify it. When she was satisfied that this was indeed a Portkey, she touched it with a finger and closed her eyes as she felt herself whisked away.
It was the longest Portkey trip she had ever traveled. Long minutes of the dizzying, jerking sensation passed before she was dropped unceremoniously on a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere. She stood up, reaching into her purse to stroke Romeo’s head. The little cat purred, seeming unfazed by the Portkey travel.
Hermione gazed around anxiously, wondering where she’d been sent. Rolling meadows surrounded her, streaked with flowers. In the distance, green mountains loomed, a hazy fog indicating a coming storm.
A slight bit of fear crept into her brain as she realized she was utterly alone. Why would Draco bring her to such a remote location?
Without warning, a man suddenly apparated right in front of her. “Miss Granger, so lovely to see you again,” Mark Williams said, his handsome face slightly gaunt from his months in Azkaban.
Hermione’s eyes grew wide. Without thinking, she whipped her wand up faster than she ever had before in her life and screamed a powerful binding curse. Mark’s grin slid off his face as his wand went flying and his arms and legs were bound with strong cords. At the same time, a pair of strong hands came down on Hermione’s shoulders from behind and forcibly dragged her into apparation.
Hermione’s feet hit the hardwood floor, and she whirled around to face Draco Malfoy, whose face was even paler than usual. “What in the world is going on?” she cried, putting her purse on the floor as Romeo struggled to be free. “I have to get back there and arrest him!”
Draco dragged her into his arms, his heart finally beginning to slow as he held her safe against him. “It was the tattoos,” he breathed.
“Mark has one too!” Hermione realized out loud, putting things together quickly. Before Draco could say anything further, she sent a Patronus to Harry, informing him where he could find the bound Mark. “What happened?!”
“Yes,” Draco replied, wincing as she gazed up at him in reproach. “When I created the spell, I used magic to bring every Hunter with the “M” tattoo to my Manor. I didn’t remember that Mark still retained his tattoo. When all the Hunters reappeared in the foyer of the Manor, I began handing out wands. In all the chaos of thirty-something Hunters fresh out of prison congregating in one area, Mark grabbed one and managed to slaughter three Hunters before we even knew what was happening. More were killed trying to escape. None of us had any defense against him since we’ve made Unbreakable Vows not to use magic against him.”
“I understand all that, but how did he show up where your Portkey brought me?” Hermione asked, bewildered. She was finally calm enough to glance around at her surroundings. She was in the living room of a pleasant-looking house. The walls were painted a bright yellow that helped illuminate the room even though the sun was hidden behind thunderclouds.
“This house is protected with an exceptional number of powerful spells, and without being with the secret-keeper—me—you wouldn’t be able to get in. No one can apparate or portkey inside unless they are with someone who has Malfoy blood.” He noticed Hermione’s impatient sigh and got to the point. “That field was the apparation point that I told all of the Hunters before I realized Mark was with us. Marcus asked if you were joining us, and I made the mistake of telling them that you would meet us there. Mark had been waiting for you ever since, and I’ve been following him.”
Hermione sucked in a breath as Draco finished. “I could have been killed.”
Draco winced at how impotent the whole thing made him seem. “Yes.”
Hermione shook her head, unable to believe how close she had come once again to death. “Where are the other Hunters?” she gritted out.
“They’re on their own,” Draco replied. “Most are leaving Britain, but none of them are here. I’ve officially disbanded the Hunters. Their identities aren’t a secret anymore, so the entire principle of unaccountability isn’t there anymore.”
Hermione was surprised by this. He must really have cared about the Hunters to have broken them out of Azkaban when it didn’t even benefit him in any way since he was just going to disband them anyway.
Draco’s face softened. “I didn’t intend to put you in danger,” he said, sounding almost ashamed as he walked away to look at the window at the quiet street outside.
Hermione walked over to him and pulled on his arm until he faced her with a sullen scowl. “I know,” she said softly. “We’ll get through this.”
“Together,” Draco said firmly, a crooked smile on his face.
Hermione nodded as her face lit up. “I think we should stay out of Britain for awhile,” she said lightly. “Perhaps a vacation?”
“Perfect. But promise me one thing,” he said forebodingly, though a smile still played on his lips. “TRY not to get me beat up by any crazy exes when we go to dinner.”
Hermione just laughed.
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