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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 35: Year 4: Duplicity
Holding out his wand to light up the ground in front of him, Ron ran as fast as he possibly could without stumbling on any protruding tree roots. He couldn’t see Harry anymore, but he still heard him; the sound of his footsteps and the cracking of branches and twigs echoed loudly in the forest, which seemed to have gone to sleep for the night. Ron’s left arm, the one that wasn’t holding the wand, was held out before his face to shield it from any wily branches that his eyes might look past in the dusk. He cursed under his breath as his arm scraped against something sharp, and grimaced at the stinging pain it caused as something small and dark flew out of the thicket he had just hustled. The creature lingered before his eyes for a few short seconds, but turned around and disappeared into the darkness as soon as Ron pointed his wand to it. Hurrying on, Ron was too distracted by the thoughts of what sort of creature it might have been to notice a whole in the ground, and the next thing he knew, he was falling headfirst.
“For Merlin’s sake!” he muttered. “When I get a hold of Harry I’m going to–“
He interrupted himself; he had just lifted his head, and was now staring with his mouth half open at the scene in front of him.
The thick, dense forest had thinned out into an open meadow, bathing in moonlight; for a brief second, Ron thought the moon was full and started to listen for werewolves, but he quickly realized that it wasn’t. A pond was spread out between the trees that rose up from the ground like walls in every direction – it was as if this was a room, hidden in the middle of this woodland. Harry was standing just by the waterline of the pond, so close that his feet might actually be under water. Ron didn’t look at him long enough to check. Instead, his gaze quickly wandered on to the silhouette that was emerging from under the water, like a flower that was growing out of the soil and spread its petals in the sunlight.
It was a woman, but she wasn’t human – she couldn’t be. Her skin was like silver in the moonlight, and the drops of water that glistened in her hair looked like diamonds. Her skin was glowing in a way that instantly reminded Ron of Veelas, but he had seen enough of Fleur and her family to know that this was a different creature. When she lifted her head, he realized that her eyes were literally shining – they cast a cold, bluish glow over both Harry and the rest of the meadow, and they lit up her face enough for Ron to notice that she was extraordinarily beautiful.
As Ron crawled to his feet, Harry took two steps forwards with a splashing sound. Then, he began wading through the water, towards the creature, whose unnaturally long, slender arms were stretched out towards him.
“Harry!” Ron wheezed. “What are you doing?”
When he didn’t get any response, he stepped out into the meadow himself, raised his voice and said sharply:
“Oi! Harry! Aren’t you going to marry my sister in just a couple of–“
Then, as the womanlike creature slowly turned her head towards him, the blue, cold light hitting him straight in the eye, his voice failed him, and he felt a pull somewhere above his waist. He had to get to her… He had to get to her before Harry. After quickly estimating the advantage Harry had on him, he pulled out his wand and aimed it at his friend’s back – hexing him was the only solution he could think of.
As if he had read Ron’s mind, Harry suddenly turned around. His eyes widened slightly at the sight of the wand that was pointed at him, and he shivered as he came out of the spell that he had been under for the last couple of minutes.
“Ron,” he said now, his heart beating hard in his chest. What was this creature? What was she doing to them? “Ron, it’s me. It’s Harry.”
The hand that Ron had stretched out began shaking, and his face stiffened; he looked as though he was fighting an internal battle. Just as Harry prepared to take out his own wand and disarm his friend just in case, something wet and slippery slid around his hand, and in the next moment he was pulled down, under water. He instinctively drew a breath, involuntarily gulping down a mouthful of the roily water. When he turned his head and squinted, trying to see through the clouds of sand that stirred up as he moved his feet along the muddy seabed, he realized that the creature, who was a lot less beautiful now than she had been before, was holding him firmly, smiling as her long, slim fingers trailed up his arm. Then, suddenly, they closed around his throat, and he choked as he struggled to peel her fingers off of him.
Just as he was getting dizzy from the lack of oxygen, a flash of light hit the water surface above their heads, separating Harry from the creature with such force that he was thrown up on land, while she sank back down into the muddy water. Harry shivered in the cold and he breathed heavily as he lifted his head to look around; he had no idea what had really happened over the last couple of minutes.
Ron must have been the one to cast the helping spell, as his wand was still stretched out. But he was not alone anymore – a few steps behind him stood Gawain Robards, staring in confusion at the wet, coughing Harry, the rings on the water where the woman had just disappeared, and Ron’s frozen position.
The three men remained like that for almost a minute, until Ron finally moved. He lowered his wand and walked over to Harry, where he knelt down and patted his shoulder awkwardly. “Are you all right, mate?”
Harry lifted his head – he could barely see anything through his wet glasses, but he still turned his face towards Ron and nodded. “What was that?” he then asked.
“That,” said Gawain, who seemed to have finally regained both his ability to speech and his mobility, “was what the Scandinavians call a Huldra – a Lady of the Forest.”
“Right,” said Ron while flicking his wand to dry Harry’s clothes. “And what does a Lady of the Forest do, then? Besides pulling innocent people into dirty ponds in attempts to drown them?”
“In fact, that is what they do,” Gawain said, furrowing his brows as Harry started coughing again. “Or rather, they lure innocent men into their grasp – they do not care for women. Although folklore here does speak of male creatures, who do the same thing to women. Like I said, they lure you in with their beauty – she was stunning, wasn’t she? And when she sings, anyone who hears her will seek her out. Most of those who fall into their hands are never seen again, so we can’t know what happens to the men. Some say they are killed, while others claim that the Lady brings them to the underworld, where he’s forced to live amongst the hidden folk.”
“So why did she stop?” Ron said, looking almost offended. “She didn’t want Harry or me?”
“In fact, I think it’s quite extraordinary,” Gawain answered, his gaze sweeping between the two young men. “Their influence is strong enough to turn most friends against each other. But you,” he nodded towards Ron, “fought against it. You’re lucky, Harry. You’ve got a true friend in Ronald here.”
Harry glanced over at Ron and noticed, despite their dark surroundings, that the colours of his cheeks had deepened significantly. Chuckling, he leaned forwards and placed an arm around his mate’s shoulders.
“Thanks for not hexing me,” he said, and Ron shrugged without meeting his eyes.
“We should probably head back to the others, then,” said Gawain. “We don’t want to put that friendship to the test again while waiting for the Huldra to come back, do we? Besides, we’re already losing valuable sleep.”
The three men span around and started walking back into the forest, leaving behind the meadow and the Huldra, who still hadn’t come up from under the water – Harry wasn’t exactly worried about her not being able to breathe, though. He found it quite impossible to care for a creature that would most likely either kill him or trap him in some sort of underworld if she got the chance.
Noticing that Ron was falling behind, Harry slowed down his pace until they were walking abreast. “Are you all right, Ron?”
“Yes,” said Ron quickly. “I was just thinking…” He lowered his voice, and Harry knew instantly that this thought was not intended to reach Gawain’s ears: “You know, a beautiful woman luring me in, trying to seduce me into turning against you... Can we – can we not mention this to Hermione?”
Harry burst into laughter. He tried to imagine Ron trying to explain the whole situation to his girlfriend, which of course only made him laugh harder. At first, Ron looked offended, but his facial expression quickly softened, and he seemed to be holding back a smile as well. Then, Harry gave him a slap on the back and said:
“Sure, mate. Not a word to Hermione.”
They continued to walk in silence. Harry was just starting to recognize their surroundings and thinking about how much he was looking forward to crawling into his sleeping bag and finally get some rest, when Ron suddenly grabbed his arm and made him stop. Harry looked over at him in confusion, but Ron simply nodded to their side, and Harry felt his stomach drop as he spotted the dark-clothed, hooded figure that was walking towards the campsite where the rest of the Aurors were waiting.
A thought shot through Harry’s mind: the protective spells. He and Ron had been in the middle of performing them when the Huldra’s singing had interrupted it, and he had started running towards her. As a wave of guilt washed over him, Harry realized that his friends and co-workers were unprotected, and the dark-clothed figure was with almost certainty a Death Eater, heading straight towards them. Was he or she alone, or were there others? Perhaps they had already surrounded the campsite?
A few steps in front of Harry and Ron, Gawain had picked up on the danger as well - he had already aimed his wand at the Death Eater, and without uttering an incantation, he swished it, sending a white flash through the darkness. The spell hit the Death Eater in the back, and he fell to the ground without making a sound.
Just as Harry was about to let out a sigh of relief, a voice yelled out: “Someone’s over there!” In the next moment, panic broke out.
Gawain started casting spells around him, which every now and then seemed to hit its target, as the Death Eaters’ yelling to each other proved. In between each flash of light, he instructed Harry and Ron to quickly make their way back to the campsite; most likely, the others were awake and aware of what was going on by now, but they would have to make sure. Additionally, being spread out wouldn’t exactly help their chances against however many Death Eaters were really at the scene.
The campsite was closer than Harry had estimated; after a short walk and successfully avoiding running into any other hooded figures, he spotted it through the trees. Neville was just climbing out of one of the tents, and Jack Marwick had lit his wand, which he was now swinging around, trying to see anything at all in the darkness, which seemed to grow more and more compact by the minute. A few yards away from Neville and Marwick stood two other men; Harry saw only their silhouettes but understood quickly that it was Seamus and Dawlish, the remaining two in their group.
Ron, who seemed to be shocked at how calm everyone was, stumbled out from between the trees and instantly started hissing at them, as quietly as he could. “What are you doing? There are Death Eaters all over the place – didn’t you hear it? Or at least see it?”
“Death Eaters?” repeated Marwick incredulously. “Those flashes of light?”
“Yes, those flashes of light!” Ron snapped. “Gawain is back there, fighting them. We have to help him out! Besides, there might be more of them all around this place!”
“Get out your wands,” said Harry, “and let’s go back and find him.”
Dawlish looked like he was about to protest, but he soon did as he was told. Harry had just span around on the spot and said: “Let’s go, then,” when a voice made all six Aurors freeze.
“Not so fast, Potter.”
It was a woman’s voice – Harry turned around to look at her, but couldn’t tell which of the five people behind him who had just spoken. They all wore similar, loose robes and cloaks, and they were masked.
The one in the middle, the tallest out of the five, took a small step forwards. “I suggest dropping those wands,” he said. His voice was cool, and Harry recognized it immediately – it was Travers. “Then, no one will have to get hurt.”
“As if!” Marwick said defiantly. “We outnumber you!”
“Do you now?” Travers replied. “And what about the rest of us, who are surrounding your little camp here – who are pointing their wands at your chest in this very second, prepared to kill you any second?”
Marwick gulped involuntarily and did not respond. Harry wished that Travers wasn’t wearing his mask; it was impossible to tell if he was bluffing or not about the other Death Eaters when he couldn’t see his face.
Before anyone had the chance to say anything else, Neville spoke up. “And so what?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re not going to kill us if we just give in, is it? You don’t need us for anything – you just want to get away scot-free. You’ll kill us, so that we can’t bring you to Azkaban, where you belong!”
“Maybe so,” said another one of the Death Eaters – the woman who had called them before. Her voice sounded vaguely familiar, but Harry couldn’t identify it. “It wouldn’t stop your friends from the Ministry to search for us though, would it? Our plan is a lot better than that, boy. Perhaps we shall start with you?”
She raised her right hand, which shook slightly when she pointed it straight at Neville’s face. At the same time, all of the Aurors pointed their wands at her – except for Ron, who startled everyone by letting out a triumphant sound and pointing his index finger at her instead.
“Hang on,” he said. “I knew you were up to something. You’re the woman from before, who showed us here. From the Scandinavian Ministry!”
“Yes,” she admitted instantly. “You know, these things are so much easier to do when the right people – like our Minister for Magic – trust you. Now, lower those wands and I won’t murder your little friend here.”
Just as everyone was about to what she said, a noise interrupted the action; it sounded like an explosion, which echoed in the quiet forest and temporarily deafened Harry – in the next moment, a flash of light lit up the entire area and blinded everyone. With two of his senses out, Harry fell to the ground and clung to it, as if he was scared that it would go away as well.
He didn’t know how much time passed, but gradually, his hearing came back. Someone was yelling – he was quite sure that it was the Head Auror, but he couldn’t make out any words. Then, as he blinked, he began making out shapes of trees and people around him again.
He wasn’t the only one who had fallen to the ground. Ron was crawling around on his left side, and Marwick was sitting on his knees while flattening his hair with his hand. John Dawlish was lying on his stomach facing the ground. Seamus and Neville were the only ones who were still standing, and Gawain was walking towards them.
“… gone, all of them!” he was just saying.
“What happened?” Harry asked while rubbing his ears, as if to try to soothe them. “The Death Eaters…?”
“Disapparated, all of them,” Gawain explained. “There was some sort of explosion… one of them sent a hex at me, and it collided with a spell that I cast… I’ve never seen anything like it before. It gave them quite a fright, though. I suppose that’s why they left.”
“So what do we do now?” Seamus asked. “Keep on walking?”
“I suspect this was a setup,” said Gawain and bent his head down. “Someone at the Scandinavian Ministry has betrayed us, and I fear it won’t get us anywhere if we stay here any longer.”
“So it was a total failure?” said Jack Marwick and frowned. “We came here for nothing? We’re nowhere near capturing them?”
Harry sighed in frustration; normally, Marwick’s attitude would get to him, but in this case, he couldn’t actually blame him for being so cranky. They had walked for days to try to find this headquarter, and maybe finally capture the remaining of the known Death Eaters, and they had actually found them… only to let them slip out of their grasp. What was even worse was that it was his fault – if he hadn’t let himself get distracted by that Huldra creature, the protection spells would have kept the Death Eaters from finding the Aurors, and the Aurors would have found them instead…
As if he had been able to read Harry’s mind, Ron suddenly shoved him in the side. “You do realize that it’s that woman’s fault, don’t you? She set us up.”
“Do you think their entire Ministry is in on it?” asked Seamus, but Gawain quickly shook his head.
“No, I’m sure they’re not,” he said. “But they do need to investigate their officials; I’m sure they will, too, after we tell them about this.”
“What bothers me is this plan she was talking about,” Dawlish said while scratching his chin. “They obviously wanted us to find them, so the question is what they were going to do to us.”
“If there had really been that many of them, wouldn’t they have just taken us?” Ron mused. “They must have been lying about that.”
“In fact,” Gawain said, “I think we’ve got Harry here to thank for that.” When Harry raised his eyebrows in confusion, the Head Auror smiled faintly. “They’re terrified of you, Harry. You defeated their master – they used to consider him undefeatable, you know. If you hadn’t been with us, I’m sure they would have captured us without hesitation.”
“So now,” Jack Marwick said, “we’ll go back to England?”
Everyone was just starting to nod and agree when a noise from somewhere behind Harry broke the silence. He lifted his head in time to see Neville’s eyes widen. In the next second, Neville had launched himself forwards while shouting: “Harry, no!”
The flash of green did not surprise Harry; he and Neville fell heavy to the ground, and he heard the swishing of wands and incantations echoing amongst the tall trees above their heads, but his glasses had fallen off and he barely saw anything at all.
“I got her!” said Gawain suddenly. “John, Seamus… will you go get her wand?”
“Here you go,” said a voice right next to Harry, making him jump. Then, he realized that Neville was holding out his glasses towards him, and he mumbled a thank you while putting them on.
Seamus and Dawlish were just dragging the woman from the Finnish Auror Force towards the group of British Aurors; her entire body was slack, which most likely meant that someone had stunned her. Harry turned to Neville while furrowing his eyebrows.
“She tried to kill me?” he asked.
“You saved my life?”
“I don’t know if I–“
The rest of Neville’s sentence was cut off when Harry hugged him tightly. Then, they let go of each other, and Gawain Robards, who was just swinging a bag over his shoulder, patted Neville’s back.
“You know, you would have made a great Auror. It’s a shame you’re leaving us.”
Everyone’s gaze instantly flew to Neville, who smiled shyly at their boss’ praise.
“Leaving?” Seamus said.
“What’s he talking about, Neville?” Ron asked.
“You’re not quitting, are you?” said Harry, his voice full of the same surprise as the others’.
“Well, I sort of got offered another job,” Neville explained. “I was going to start on the first of September, but then this mission came up…”
“And he didn’t want to desert any of you,” Gawain filled in. “He’s a good co-worker, and perhaps an even better friend.”
Harry placed his arm around Neville’s shoulder and grinned. “So tell us, mate. What is this new job that could make you want to leave us all behind?”
“It’s at Hogwarts, actually,” answered Neville proudly. “Professor McGonnagall asked me to come to the castle a few weeks ago, and she and Professor Sprout were there… It turns out Professor Sprout is retiring, and they asked me to replace her! Me! A professor! Can you believe it?”
“Well… yeah,” said Ron and shrugged. “You were always brilliant at Herbology, Neville.”
“And Professor Sprout used to direct me to you whenever I had any questions,” Seamus agreed.
“Yes, you definitely deserve it,” Harry nodded.
“Now,” said Marwick irritably, “can we please get out of here before any of the other Death Eaters decide to come back and try to kill someone?”
“Yes,” Gawain said. “Now we go back to England.”
Inwardly thanking her lucky stars that her best friend was a morning person, Hermione hurried up the stairs that led to Harry and Ginny’s flat. Her head was aching and her eyelids were heavy after an almost completely sleepless night, but she still managed to bring herself to smile at the little boy who was just walking out of one of the flats on the fourth floor. His mother, who was still inside, called him back just as Hermione swept by and hurried on, her words echoing in the staircase: “Billy, I told you to put on your wellies! It’s raining outside.”
Indeed it was, Hermione thought as she shivered in her coat, which was soaked from walking all the way from hers and Ron’s flat. She had decided that she was too worked up to Apparate, and while she was quite sure that Ginny would be up already, she didn’t want to risk scaring her by just popping out of her fireplace this early in the day.
It had been a long night, to say the least. Since receiving Narcissa Malfoy’s letter just before going to bed, Hermione had found it impossible to relax enough to be able to fall asleep. A million thoughts had been running through her head, and she had paced back and forth in the living room for hours, taken a long bath, and started re-organizing her book collection. None of it had helped, and she still hadn’t managed to sort out her mind.
She didn’t know what she was supposed to make out of the whole thing; Narcissa, taking to desperate measures to try to fix her relationship with her sister, Draco, acting all nice and understanding in order to make Hermione forgive him, and then that last line of the letter, which she had read over and over but still refused to believe: “… and I am only writing this letter because I suspect Draco didn’t have to pretend to be your friend.”
From what little she knew about his relationship to his parents, Hermione had understood that Draco was a mummy’s boy, and she had no trouble imagining him agreeing to do this for his mother. And truth to be told, many things made more sense to Hermione now that she knew of their hidden agenda. Firstly, she finally understood why Draco had applied for a job that was so unlikely for him to go for, and why he had dedicated himself to it the way he had. He probably didn’t care about house-elves, but what better way was there to win Hermione’s trust and approval than to act like he did? Secondly, she now knew why he had been so willing to listen to her complain about Ron, and why Ron’s jealousy towards him had unsettled him so; it probably wasn’t just the fact that he thought it shameful that someone would even consider the possibility of him falling in love with a Muggle-born. Obviously, Draco hadn’t wanted Ron to dislike him, because Andromeda knew Ron as well, and the word might spread and cause her to question her sister and nephew’s intentions.
Realizing that she had reached the right floor, Hermione woke from her thoughts and rang the doorbell. She had waited all night to talk to Ginny; truth was, despite the fact that he had made it very clear what he thought of the Malfoys, that she was really longing to speak to Ron. But that wasn’t an option at the moment, and Hermione was hoping that Ginny would understand as well.
The door opened after just a short moment, and a worried line instantly formed on Ginny’s forehead at the sight of her friend. “Hermione! Have you heard anything about Harry and Ron?”
“No,” said Hermione quickly. “Sorry. This isn’t about that.”
“But something’s wrong?” asked Ginny as she stepped aside to let her guest in.
“I don’t know,” Hermione confessed. “Maybe. I guess. I really needed to talk to someone…”
Ginny glanced at her watch and raised an eyebrow. “Have you even had breakfast yet?”
“No,” said Hermione, shaking her head.
“I’ll make some, then,” said Ginny. “Just don’t expect too much, okay? Harry usually does the cooking around here.”
Hermione waited in silence while Ginny fried eggs and bacons, cut bread into slices and poured orange juice into glasses. Normally, she would have offered to help, but the combination of lack of sleep and her crammed mind had led to her just sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, where she listened with half an ear to whatever Ginny was talking about.
Then, as the two started eating, Hermione started telling her friend about the letter. By the time Ginny had finished her breakfast, Hermione was still talking, and the food on her plate was mostly untouched.
“Wow,” said Ginny when Hermione finally fell silent a little while later. “So he was… wow. What are you going to do? Will you tell Andromeda?”
“That’s part of the reason why I wanted to talk to you,” Hermione answered as she picked up her fork and began moving the food on her plate around. “I mean… have you ever talked to her about Narcissa? Or Draco?”
Ginny nodded. “Yes. You know, I think their plan worked, at least a little bit. She asked Harry what he thought about it after Narcissa wrote to her, and he mentioned that you and Draco were friends.”
“And have they seen each other a lot since?”
“I wouldn’t say a lot,” Ginny said. “But yes, both Narcissa and Draco have been over a couple of times. Andromeda doesn’t talk that much about it, but I think she likes having them around. And Teddy loves them, apparently, especially Draco. Harry’s not too happy about that.”
Hermione smiled and put her fork back down. “So wouldn’t it be wrong to mess with that?” she asked. “If they can finally be sisters again, shouldn’t I just let them be?”
“Would you even be able to?”
“I think that what they did is wrong,” said Hermione determinedly as she crossed her arms over her chest. “They shouldn’t have done it like that, and they took advantage of… I mean, they didn’t consider the fact that people’s feelings might get hurt. But they didn’t do it to hurt anyone, did they? Narcissa just wanted to have her sister back, and from what she wrote I think she genuinely want what’s best for Andromeda. So if I were to meddle, and expose this whole thing… that would just be out of spite, wouldn’t? I’d make it about me, when it really isn’t.”
“And Draco? The whole part about him actually caring about you?”
“That’s not what she wrote,” Hermione corrected her friend. “She said that it was possible that he might have been my friend for real…”
“So will you forgive him?” demanded Ginny. “Ask him to come back to work? And be friends?”
Hermione considered her words for a few moments before opening her mouth to reply. “I think… I think I’ll forgive him. As for work, he can do whatever he wants. But we’re not going to be friends. As much as I’d like him to be that person I got to know when we worked together, there’s always going to be that other part of him… and I think we’re both better off not being friends.”
A/N: I am amazed at the response I get from you readers, and as always I just want to hug you all for being so lovely. It's still unbelievable to me that so many people are reading this story, and each review I get make me so happy - I can't even explain how great it is to get to hear your thoughts on these chapters and the story in general.
As for this chapter, I've struggled a little bit with it. I've always found action very difficult to write. If you have any tips for me, I'd be very thankful! The whole Finland part of this chapter ended up being so much longer than I had imagined, but I really hope it won't bore you ;) I'd also love to know what you think of Hermione's reaction to the letter, if you've got the time to write a review and tell me. Thank you again for reading this story! :)
Also, I'd just like to say something about the Huldra; it's a creature that exists in Scandinavian mythology, and while it may seem a bit too similar to the Veelas, they really do lure men in with their beauty in the same way.