Chapter 24 : Cause and Effect
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"Maybe you grew up in a world of black and white Hermione, but I grew up in a world of cause and effect," Draco said as they were walking along an isolated path on their way back to the dock to wait for the ship that would take them back to England. Hermione seemed much like the snow crunching under his boots, brittle and frigid, as he tried to explain.
"Fletcher was not going to tell us anything of his own volition. That narrowed our choices to either forcing him to tell us in a way that would not compromise our mission or identity, or else leaving without the information. If we had left and waited until he was released in a years time and then tried to get the information out of him in a...more gentle...manner, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would have that much more time to murder and build up his power. That would significantly decrease our chances of longevity, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for letting him run around that much longer anyway. There was no other option but to use the Imperious curse. Since I did, we now know where to go, and how to get to that cache of stolen goods where he put the Horcrux," Draco bit.
"Well, I know that none of our choices were good," Hermione said, sounding as irritated as if she was having a difficult time explaining that rocks were hard. "But that doesn't give you an excuse to throw Unforgivables around."
"And I suppose that you've never done anything similar?" he asked. "I suppose that you've never broken any rules, gone out of bounds, stolen from anyone, hidden anything, or not told on a friend for any reason? Or have you ever lied perhaps? Lying isn't that far from the Imperious curse; lying is giving out incorrect information so someone will come to the conclusion or action you want while the curse is simply a magical means to do the same thing. The curse merely increases the probability of your success."
Hermione bristled like a cat rubbed the wrong way. Perhaps he had hit the mark on one or more of his points, and she had been a naughty girl at some time. He had to admit to himself, though, that he wouldn't like her so much if she really was the goody-two-shoes that she sometimes came off as. A single imperfection could identify a real gem from colored glass.
"Not to mention deprives the individual of the free will they have to disbelieve you. Even if you are correct, there are limits. You can only use the 'greater good' argument so far before 'expediency' replaces 'good,' and then you would become what you were trying to defeat in the first place," she finally countered.
"I know there are limits," he said soberly. "If there weren't, I wouldn't be here in the first place." He did not have to add that he had used the Imperious curse before so this was nothing new to him, or that his limit was killing anyone for Hermione's mouth to click shut and the two of them to finish their walk in silence.
'My limit was murder,' Draco thought to himself. 'I couldn't kill Dumbledore, so that's why I ended up in Grimmauld Place. I knew that I had to preserve you, so that's why I'm here with you now.' But was that really his limit? Could he not kill for any reason? Killing in cold blood was one thing, but if it was in defense, would it not be murder then?
He looked back down at Hermione, being able to see little of her showing through her parka and scarf besides a wisp of hair returning to its dark color, and her eyes returning to brown as she blinked a few rogue snowflakes out of them as the effects of the Polyjuice faded. What if her life was threatened, and the only way out was for him to kill someone to save her, or even if she needed him to kill someone on her behalf? Would he do it then?
Draco shivered, shaken to realize that the fact that he was even considering this question showed quiet plainly that this skinny girl had more power over him than the Dark Lord did in all his threats and the fear he had inspired. He wasn't sure if it was this fact--or the fact that if she felt half for him what he did for her, he wouldn't care that he was under her power at all--that made him uneasy. He disliked being under anyone's power or in their debt on general principle...but if it was someone he could trust not to intentionally hurt him, not to use him...if that person was Hermione....
Draco thought that he could live with that. After he got use to it, he might even learn to like it. It would be relaxing to be able to rely on someone else, he realized.
"Luna, you need to take some more of your potion," he told her.
Only compared with the frigid temperature of Svalbrd was it not cold here; here the cold devoured you slowly, instead of wolfing all of you down in one gulp. It was still chilly enough that Hermione could see her breath, and she could feel snowflakes melting in her eyelashes. Snow was falling from the sky in copious amounts, and even if it did mean that she and Draco would not be seen flying on their broomsticks--they even had some trouble keeping each other in sight--it also meant that finding their target was just that much harder.
They were back in England flying over the proper moor, looking for the correct granite island. They flew only a few meters above the snow, and whenever the level rose significantly, one of them would check out the hill to see if it was the one they were looking for, or if it was only a different island or even a snowdrift. It had not been snowing much when they had started their search--it had not been snowing at all when they had gotten off the boat a few hours ago--but Hermione was glad that she had taken the precaution of placing a magical homing device on each of the brooms so they would not get separated.
Draco had asked to break until what he referred to as 'this blizzard from Hades' was over and had also commented that she looked dead on her broom. She had not told him that she had been unable to sleep at all on the boat while he had been apparently lost to the world, that she had been up all night worrying.
She was not sure what was wrong, but Hermione had noticed that Draco had been acting a little strange lately. Since their ride on the boat to Azkaban his behavior had become somewhat...unnerving. What she had first mistaken for proper regard for the seriousness of their mission, she now interpreted as some sort of uneasiness. He seemed more cautious about upsetting her while before he had provoked her just for her response, he did whatever she suggested without much protest where he use to be more forceful in his opinions, and.... Perhaps what worried her the most was that he wasn't meeting her eyes. He was looking at them, most certainly, but not meeting them as if...as if he had done something that he did not want to admit to her. Even when he had appeared at the Weasleys, he had been unrepentant for any action of his even as he came closer than she ever thought he would to begging. What possibly could make Draco Malfoy feel guilty, and did she even want to find out?
What had compounded this was the way he had used the Imperious curse on Mundungus. She did have to admit that they might not have had any other choice, but the way he did it.... It had been done casually, with the sense of ease--and in the place he would spend the rest of his life if he had been caught no less! If it had looked like that action had bothered him, or if he had begun avoiding her eyes directly after rather than before he had used the curse, she would have finished her lecture and left it at that. Instead...instead she was wondering how far she could trust him. This all could still be an elaborate setup.
This was why she had been so single-minded in her pursuit of the Horcrux, why she had declined any sort of a break in spite of the fact that adrenaline and the cold were the only things keeping her alert. She needed to make sure that Draco did not have the opportunity to communicate with anyone, or to search for the Horcrux unwatched. For some reason she still doubted her own doubts about him, but just the same, it was a risk that she could not take.
A chill that had nothing to do with the weather coursed through her body as she sat up straighter on her broom, not able to visually see Draco but noting his presence less than nine or ten meters ahead of her on the homing device. Without warning, she felt something stronger than a snowflake brush against her head, and a something landed on her broomstick just in front of her.
"Hedwig?" she whispered as the white owl, barely visible against the snow, gave her a note. With fingers that were numb from the cold in spite of her gloves, she clumsily opened the letter.
We have found out that your presumed pen pal is not the author, but is instead the messenger. We don't know if he is aware of his role, but use caution until you know. If you need help either Apparate back home, where a few members are waiting in case you need them, or send the letter back to me with the Hedwig. Ron and I are following her on our brooms, and hopefully we are not too far behind this letter.
So Harry and Ron were finally back, and Draco was hiding something from her. She just had to decide whether he was a willing--but quite complicated--layer of protection for the real spy, or Voldemort's servant that had successfully used her to come quite close to the chance to get between the Order and their only chance to kill Voldemort. Hermione could not figure out why anything but the most desperate of circumstances would cause the real spy to use Draco as a messenger but not expose the danger he presented, if that were the case, but perhaps things really were that desperate.
"Hermione! I found the entrance!" she heard Draco yell over the wind that seemed to have increased its volume from a gentle breeze to a dull rage for some reason, now blowing snow about so furiously she could hardly see the end of her broom.
He was at the door, and potentially could have the locket in his hand at any moment. She might not have the time to Apparate. Maybe if she could find out if he knew anything about the notes, like if she could work a hint about them into their conversation, so she could see if he responded to it. If he knew, then she could trust him and everything would be fine. If not...if not, she did not want to have to face Draco alone. Hastily, she gave the letter back to Hedwig and told her to bring it back to Harry, and then flew--mostly by using the tracking device as it was difficult to see--to where Draco had dismounted his broom.
Draco was on his knees, feeling into the side of the rock with his arm--or rather he had thrust his arm through the opening to the cave that had been disguised as rock. The opening was small enough that Draco had to shed his coat in order to squeeze through it, and Hermione followed his example, carefully letting the arm of her coat trail into the cave so Harry and Ron would be able to see where they had gone.
Hopefully they would be there soon.
'It's a gold locket with a 'S' on it...a gold locket with a....'
Draco shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. Something in that was not right, he felt like he should be remembering something else...something important.
'Don't mind the Horcrux now, get down this blasted rope ladder before it disintegrates first,' he thought to himself.
Just inside the entrance was an area only big enough to crouch in, and there was a hole in the rock with a worn looking rope ladder leading into it. As much of a relief it was to get out of the blowing snow--and it seemed almost warm for some reason--it was still more than cramped. When Hermione started working her way through the entrance he had no choice but to start climbing down so she could fit in the cave. Sighing, Draco lit his wand to a dull glow, stuck it between his teeth for the climb, and started down the ladder.
The shaft was narrow, and there were marks on the rocks that suggested that the cave was man-made. There were foot and hand holes carved into the rock, some deteriorated enough to show the necessity of the rope ladder. This told him first of all that the cave was old, and suggested that it had been carved by Muggles as magic folk could have Apparated to and from the cave after they had been there once and thus would not have caused this degree of wear.
When he got to the bottom he removed his wand from his teeth, and held it up to examine the cave. He appeared to be in a small room with an exit to what he assumed was a series of chambers. The contents of this room, racks of dusty bottles of wine, gave him the reason for the cave's magical temperature control.
Draco yelled up at Hermione to come down and then, per her request, stayed where he was to hold the ladder for her while she climbed down. When she got down, she removed her own wand from her mouth and glanced around nervously. He noticed that her face looked more pale than he had ever seen it before, making her eyes look even larger and darker than usual.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, then apparently changing her mind, walked over to the entrance to the next chamber before saying, "So, now we look for a symbol of love that holds none I suppose. I hope Dung doesn't have anything dangerous here, I wouldn't want you to have to carry any more messages to Harry about anything unfortunate happening."
He blinked for moment, startled, as he remembered something. Slytherin's locket, which matched the description of what they were looking for, had been called 'a symbol of love that holds none' in an old book his father had about Pureblood lines. While many bloodlines considered a carefully documented genealogy enough proof of the Pureblood status of a witch being considered as a potential spouse of the line's heir, the Slytherin line was fanatical about the matter. The locket had been made as a test for the maidens. It would hang gracefully from the neck of a Pureblood maiden, it would drop from the neck of maid with only partial wizarding blood, but it would strangle any Mudblood that touched it.
During his recollection, Hermione's face looked painfully hopeful but the expression melted as he said, "Please don't tell me that it's Slytherin's locket we're after. And never mind messages, if I let anything happen to you I'd have to be insane to go back."
Hermione got very still for a moment, and something akin to fear or horror flashed behind her eyes. If he had thought that her face had been pale before, it was surely bloodless now. "It is Slytherin's locket," she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
Without any further ado, Hermione stepped backwards into the next chamber, a flick of her wand filled the doorway with green flames, and she ran as if pursued by demons.
Draco closed his mouth when he realized that it was hanging open after a few stunned moments. "Wait Hermione!" he yelled after her. "THAT LOCKET KILLS MUDBLOODS!"
Mentally slapping himself for his choice of words, he realized something else. It had not been fear or horror in her eyes--it had been the look of a woman betrayed. She was running because she thought that he was a danger to her, she was running because she thought he was a Death Eater.
Silently cursing, he tried Apparating past the flames and found that he could not. Deciding that she had put an Anti-Disapparation spell on the area as well, he started working on the wall of green fire the hard way. When he finally was able to get into the next room, he found another barrier to the next room already in place.
'This is taking too long,' he thought to himself as he worked on the next obstacle. 'I need to find Hermione before that locket finds her!'
But what had he said or done to make her run like this? She had just said something about the Horcrux, and then...and then something about him carrying messages.
'She said more messages, as if I had already carried some,' he thought.
And then it hit him. She and Potter were receiving secret messages from some spy among the Death Eaters--this would explain her status as a 'Seer'--and she had thought that they were from him...or that he carried them at least. He knew that only the Dark Lord or Snape would have the opportunity to plant such notes, which could lead to its own set of problems, but since he had not known of them Hermione had assumed that he was still a Death Eater.
Suddenly everything he 'knew' about his relationship with Hermione turned upside-down. If she had thought that he was the source of the information, had she only been playing up to him for the information? Behind every smile, every kiss, the glow in her eyes that told him that he had just done something that made her happy...had there been only a love for her precious Order and none for him? Had he become a fool for a pretty girl that danced him about like a puppet in return for his devotion?
A chill much colder than any nature could bring settled into his bones, and it contrasted sharply with his feverish need to get through each consecutive barrier. The one woman he trusted not to use him, not to hurt him, may have played him like a fiddle...but he had to hear it from her own lips as painful as it might be. It would hurt even more if he never knew if it was true or not, and she would be dead if he did not get there in time.
'Even if it was all a lie,' he prayed to no one in particular, hoping that there was some deity out there to help him. 'Even if she cares nothing for me--even if she hates me!--just please let me get there in time.'
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