Chapter 7 : A Story Behind Every Door
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Draco had fallen asleep several hours ago, a look of pain on his porcelain face. Eloise watched his nightmare pass like a storm. She couldn’t bring herself to wake him. His brows furrowed, he cringed and rolled into a ball. Eloise shut her eyes against his groans until he released a long sigh and everything was silent. The stillness of everything was unsettling. It walked its icy fingers up her spine, taunting her with chilled prints. The dreary room she glanced around was so small. A cage.
Had all of this really happened in just a few days?
She was curled up shivering from cold and fighting the urge to glance at Draco. There was still something so familiar about him, but she couldn’t place it. Finally she forced it from her mind, thinking of more pressing matters.
She didn’t know where her Grandmother was, if there had been a funeral for her father. Had all of the Death Eaters really died? Or had they recovered and taken her father’s body to Voldemort? Was there a search for her? Did they think she was dead? She had no idea, but a newspaper certainly would. Yesterday she had seen newspapers on the lobby floor downstairs.
Cautiously she slipped from the bed and crept to the door. The cold handle clicked loudly beneath her weak hands, but Draco did not stir. Her yellow eyes flicked to his still body and something glimmering caught her eye. Trapped inside the cage of his slender fingers, a silver ring flickered like a tiny bird. It was as if somebody had placed it there in the night. Eloise wondered what Draco was doing with what looked to be a woman’s ring.
“I’ll be fine,” he murmured suddenly, to somebody from his troubled dreams. Then his fingers closed around the ring like a secret meant to be kept.
The door shut quietly behind Eloise and she started down the winding staircase, dim with the gray light of morning. Her footsteps fell lightly. With each sinking step she felt herself descending further into the chill that swept over her; that now took over her life. All the rooms she passed were silent. She wondered who was in those dreary cells, where they were going and if they had lost somebody. There was a story behind every door.
She stopped at the landing and peered into the lobby. The greasy clerk was nowhere to be seen. She reached the moth-eaten armchair where she had seen the pile of papers yesterday… They were still there. She exhaled loudly under the first stroke of luck in days.
Silently she dropped to her knees and lifted the first paper. The front page shouted RUFUS SCRIMGEOUR: MURDERED and she quickly flipped to the next one. She refused to cry over this any longer. Crying would make it impossible to move on. Moving on was all there was left.
There were issues from an assortment of magazines and newspapers. All of their headlines were of the Minister, his daughter, Draco Malfoy, Death Eaters and the War. An issue of The Quibbler, which Eloise had never heard of, even had a picture of herself next to a different photograph of Draco.
She would have to take these, but the pile was enormous. A shrinking charm would be the best option. Eloise groped for her wand, in the pocket of her cloak where it was always kept. Suddenly she realized that she wasn’t wearing it, and hadn’t been since before the gala. A sinking feeling pressed into her stomach. What would she do without her wand?
She didn’t have much time to ponder. The door was suddenly thrown open and three people came storming in. One was the slimy clerk, the other two Eloise had never seen. A man with a thick black moustache strode in wearing navy robes. His gloves were fingerless and his top hat looked stolen.
Behind him was a smug-looking girl with brown hair and a strong jaw. Her low-cut robes were splashed in daring purples and reds. Before she knew it, Eloise was staring at the girl’s exotic dress in envy. She herself was stuck in a boy’s clothes that were far too big.
Quickly, she folded The Quibbler and tucked it into the back of her—Draco’s—pants.
Tension crackled in the lobby; the men were arguing. “I won’t give you another room,” said the clerk warningly. Even when trying to sound intimidating there was a drawl in his low voice. “You nor your girls have paid for the past week’s visits, and I won’t have it again!”
“Angus, my good fellow, you know that I’ve only forgotten my wallet!” The man fingered his moustache. There was a long cane in his hand and a gaudy ring on his thumb. “I would never dishonor such a… well, an honorable establishment! Both my customers and my girls have much to thank you for. I’m completely ashamed that they haven’t!”
His girls? He let his daughters stay in a place like this?
The argument went on—all the while the mustached man kept his wide, cat-like smile spread across his dark face. All the while Eloise watched the brunette, her exposed cleavage, the way her hip cocked…
Then it clicked into place. The man was a pimp, and his “girls” were not his daughters, but his prostitutes.
The girl’s eyes then darted to her, kneeling stupidly with her jaw slack in realization. Eloise pretended to be very interested in the moth-eaten armchair. When she glanced back up the girl had looked away but appeared smugly satisfied.
There was suddenly a bang and a flash of light. The two men had finally decided to settle their dispute with wands. The clerk Angus, obviously a poor wizard, sent a spell zooming right past the still-smiling pimp. The purple and green hex smashed into a flower vase and shattered it. Some of the glass landed at Eloise’s knees.
“I’ll teach you to think you can take advantage of my establishment, Ardolf Mundy!” Angus was shouting. He ducked crookedly from a returned hex. Ardolf Mundy, however, was laughing boomingly. He seemed to be having the time of his life.
A hand snatched Eloise’s arm. The brunette was standing over her. “Come on, we’re waiting outside.”
She dragged Eloise and her mass of newspapers out of the exploding lobby. The door shut heavily behind them and muted the crashing, only to amplify the silent foggy streets. The brunette placed her hands back on her hips and sighed. She couldn’t have been any older than Eloise.
“I hate it when he does this,” the girl murmured. “He’s got the money. He’s just cheap. Wants to start some fun.”
Eloise was not putting on her best performance of worldliness. She stared at the girl with her mouth still open and asked, “What is your name?”
She looked at Eloise for a long time, sizing her up. When she glanced away down the street, Eloise thought she wouldn’t answer. But she said, “Romilda.”
Romilda’s smile was wide but she didn’t respond. Eloise could see an ever-present light of cunning and viciousness in her eyes.
Eloise cleared her throat. “And you’re a…?”
“Whore?” she laughed. “No, I wouldn’t call it that. Death Eaters killed my dad and I never want to see my mum again. So Ardolf took me in. I haven’t really…” she paused and Eloise realized that there was some modesty left in this girl. She shrugged uncomfortably, “…done anything, yet. I’m in training, if you will. The older girls are nice though, and it’s a place to sleep.”
Eloise was surprised how easily, how carelessly Romilda was sharing this with her. So her father was killed too… would Eloise wind up with an outlook like hers? “And prostitution isn’t… illegal?”
Romilda gave her a condescending look and rolled her eyes. “Of course it is,” she snapped. “But do you think the Ministry’s main concern is prostitution right now, with all that’s going on? It’s actually good for business. Ardy says that things haven’t been going so well as to run a House since the last war. But now men just want to forget their dead wives, and where better to go than the Poisoned Apple?”
Eloise couldn’t see any logic behind this but only nodded her head.
Romilda actually talked quite a lot. She shifted her weight to the other hip. “Ardolf Mundy isn’t a criminal. He’s a nice bloke. He says he can see me being the Madam after him, I’m like his apprentice!” she grinned smugly and Eloise could tell she was supposed to act impressed. “If ever you need a place to stay, stop by the Poisoned Apple. Knockturn Alley. Say Romilda sent you.” She laughed bitterly. “Don’t worry, we won’t put you out on a corner. You’re too plain.”
The door opened and Ardolf emerged, looking disheveled but not disheartened. “Just stunned him a little,” he said to Romilda, who seemed to forget Eloise entirely.
She laughed. “Serves him right, he’s a right old cockroach,” she said, completely forgetting Eloise. Ardolf Mundy didn’t even glance her way as he offered his arm to Romilda. They walked off into the foggy morning without a care, leaving Eloise alone. Romilda’s colorful gown was the last thing to fade.
Eloise clutched the magazines close to her chest and shivered against the chill. She was cold, but going inside meant facing a particularly cross Angus. A rat skittered from beneath an old newspaper to an apple core abandoned on the cobblestones. Eloise’s toes curled.
Footsteps bounced off the alleyway behind her and the image of a Death Eater flashed into her mind. She whirled around and was faced with the man in eggplant robes who had shoved her the day before. He sported a sizable black eye. Trailing behind him was a large ginger cat, looking thoroughly disgusted with the world.
When the man’s eyes landed on Eloise he stopped. He seemed to grow tense and glanced around, probably searching for Draco, the stranger who had hit him yesterday.
Then a young witch with bushy brown hair suddenly appeared in the opposite direction, running down the street. “Crookshanks!”
In response, the fat cat that trailed behind the bruised man suddenly broke into a run—a waddle, really, thought Eloise—to the girl.
“Oh, Crookshanks, I’ve missed you!” She scooped him up with difficulty and said in a cooing voice, “My, you’ve gotten fat, haven’t you?”
As she watched, Eloise was faced with yet another person who seemed so familiar, just as Draco was, but couldn’t quite place it. She knew she had seen the girl somewhere before.
“’Mione, he’s always been pudgy,” a young man with red hair retorted as he joined her. He was tall and skinny, wearing a Chuddley Cannons sweater. “Can we go home now? It’s creepy out here.”
“Hermione,” he mimicked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
There were two resounding pops to which Eloise flinched, and two identical redheaded twins appeared. “Hello, Beckett old mate,” they said in unison, obviously well acquainted with the bruised wizard.
Hermione turned to him as well. “Thank you so much for watching Crookshanks, Mr. Beckett. I should have known better than to leave him in the care of joke shop owners.”
One of the twins said in feigned indignation, “If you didn’t feed him so much, he wouldn’t have chased the mouse into the street! You should be thanking Mr. Beckett for keeping watch over him, rather than chiding us for being successful—and therefore justly distracted—businessmen!”
The girl called Hermione bickered with the entire group for a moment. All the while Mr. Beckett kept glancing at Eloise and then seemed to be searching the alley for Draco. “Well, best be leaving you lot…”
“Chess and Firewhiskey again on Tuesday?” said one of the twins.
Mr. Beckett gave a roguish grin, and after a final glance at Eloise, walked away hurriedly. The youngest redhead muttered, “Wonder what’s bothering him.” Once Mr. Beckett disappeared, Hermione turned on the twins.
“Distracted businessmen,” she repeated with a scowl. “You couldn’t have cared less about what happened to Crookshanks!”
The twins exchanged what were supposed to be forlorn glances. One said, with his hand to his chest, “Hermione! We are shocked that you would think such things! We were so distressed to see Crookshanks had disappeared! Several days later, that is, when we realized that there was a considerably larger amount of empty space.”
The younger boy snorted loudly before covering a broad grin.
“He is not fat!” Hermione exclaimed. “And perhaps if you kept a clean shop and there were no rats, Crookshanks wouldn’t have had the opportunity to escape!”
At the mention of the word “rat,” Eloise distinctly saw the cat’s eyes narrow on the rodent near her feet, still gnawing at the apple core. In a flash, Crookshanks had leapt from Hermione’s arms and was tearing across the street as fast as his stubby legs would allow. He nearly came barreling into Eloise and ran between her legs, pouncing on the oblivious rat.
Hermione let out a gasp and ran after him. “Crookshanks!” she exclaimed and suddenly saw Eloise in the fog. “Oh,” she said. “Um, hello, sorry about him, he just gets hungry… Crookshanks, put it down! Oh, that’s disgusting. You’re just disgusting!” though she said this in a cooing voice as she picked him up and squeezed him.
Eloise cringed at the dead rat on the ground. She was busy trying to keep from vomiting when one of the twins called, “C’mon, let’s get out of here. Harry’s probably clawing his eyes out waiting for company.”
Ron. Hermione. And now Harry.
Everything suddenly fell in to place. Eloise had seen Hermione’s and Ron’s pictures in The Daily Prophet. Harry’s name had been muttered on her father’s lips. She had heard his story like every other wizard.
She wet her dry, cracking lips. “Harry… Potter?” she murmured to Hermione.
Her brown eyes fell wide on Eloise. “Oh…!” she said with a twitch of an uneasy smile. Instead of answering she hurried to the others.
Eloise heard Ron mutter, “Who was that?” before they turned and walked briskly away. Hermione cast a worried glance over her shoulder before they vanished completely. That look solidified everything.
It was Harry Potter. Eloise knew it.
A fleeting, childish thought dashed through her mind like a shadow. Harry Potter was fighting against Voldemort somewhere. He shared the same cause as Draco and Eloise. He could help them…
As if on cue, the ancient door opened behind Eloise. She was broken from her thoughts abruptly, fearing Angus’s greasy presence behind her. Slowly she turned around and instead saw Draco standing in the street. He was just standing, staring ahead but not at Eloise, nearly drifting like a ghost. He looked so weak, fragile… Something was wrong.
A pair of pale silver eyes met gold and he crumpled to the ground. The newspapers dropped from Eloise’s arms, drifting slowly down like seagulls. “Draco!” she cried his name for the first time. Her shaking legs burst into a run and she reached him before the last newspaper had touched the dirty cobblestone.
She kneeled at his side and he murmured, “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not,” she said almost desperately. The thing to do at a time like this completely fled her.
As Draco’s eyelids fought to stay open she realized how uneducated she was in anything that mattered. She could sew and ride horses and play the piano, but she couldn’t help someone.
Eloise jumped to her feet and without another thought, tore through the old door and into the hotel lobby. Chairs were turned over after the fight between Ardolf Mundy and the innkeeper. There was nobody there, but a door was open behind the desk. Before her mind could tell her otherwise she ran through the door and found him in a back room full of musty couches, chairs and mattresses. Angus was dragging one of the armchairs that had been in the lobby, scowling and muttering to himself.
“Please!” Eloise cried when she saw him, “help us!”
Angus stopped dragging and narrowed his eyes. “Rule number four, you stay here at your own risk—”
“No! No, it’s Draco! There’s something wrong with him, he’s…” she trailed off when she saw the dawning look on her face.
“Draco Malfoy?” Angus suddenly said. Eloise realized her error and froze. Angus reached over to a grimy window that had been plastered with posters facing outside. He tore one off and thrust it at her: a WANTED sign bearing a blonde Draco Malfoy.
“This boy is staying in my establishment?!” he practically screamed. “How dare he! I’ve had enough of the Ministry workers probing about here, I won’t have them sorting through my inn again!”
Eloise bolted for the door. She slammed it shut and knew that Angus was right behind her. She flew through the door leading outside and saw that Draco was still lying on the street unconscious. The door was still closed behind her; she still had time. Eloise sped past Draco’s body and grabbed a handful from the pile of newspapers. Then she threw herself back in the other direction.
The toe of her shoe hit an uneven cobblestone and sent her sprawling. “Ah!” she cried as her kneecap connected with the hard ground. The door flew open and Angus was outside, wand bared. He sent a petrifying curse at Eloise, which missed, and she thanked Merlin that he was such a poor duelist.
Quickly she crawled to Draco, knee throbbing, and latched onto his arm. Where could she Apparate now?
I need to find Harry Potter, she thought desperately, some part of her hoping it would work.
She shut her eyes and felt the suffocating black tunnel of Apparation. Angus and Diagon Alley and the rising sun disappeared. She was cold.
They emerged once more in a forest. When they collapsed to the ground Eloise let out a loud cry of frustration. Frightened crows lifted from their branches and disappeared into the morning. Some part of her had actually thought she would end up in front of Harry Potter. Somebody who could help…
She dropped to the ground, shaking and crying. Hastily she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “No!” she told herself angrily. “Not any more.”
Quickly she turned to the matter at hand, all the while pressing back tears. Draco was still unconscious, she had no idea how to help him or what was wrong. What if he died? What if he died and it was her fault?
Tears fought their way out again. She didn’t even know where they were…
“Who’s there?” came a voice.
A/N: I didn’t give Romilda’s last name because I wanted it to be up to the reader to decide whether or not it was Romilda Vane. I know a lot of people would be disappointed to see her as a “girl of ill repute,” but she’ll make another appearance so I kept it that way.
If you want me to PM you when I update, since there is no author elert on HPFF, you can either leave your HPFF forum username in a review or just PM me yourself--my username there is my_voice_rising as well. :) thanks so much to everyone who's reviewed, it really means a lot to me.
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