Hermione had been sitting in a secluded coach for what had been at least ten minutes. She sighed to herself and checked her watch again – eleven minutes. The coach itself was very beautifully decorated with golden lining, red cushions and mahogany hangings on the side. It made Hermione feel, to a certain degree, very royal and regal and could only imagine the countless times the Malfoys had ridden in this, staring at the commoners down below them. But despite the gentle smell of expensive cologne, the velvet cushions against her back and gentle breeze ruffling her hair, Hermione felt utterly irritated right now.
They were still in front of the Burrow. As she had walked out the front door, into the garden and out into the street, Malfoy had made her sit in the carriage and said he would return shortly. That had been thirteen minutes ago.
She had now resorted to picking off stray threads on the edges of cushions, fingering each one carefully with her nails. She looked back out at the Burrow from where she could see Ron standing at the second story window, watching mournfully. She wasn’t sure if he could see her but she knew that speaking to him again would just make the pain of departure even deeper.
She settled her feel against the opposite wall and began to fiddle with her fingers. Her patient was thinning – she knew Malfoy wasn’t thrilled about this assignment either but he had no right to leave her here.
There were soft, distant footsteps approaching the carriage and as they got nearer, Hermione saw a tall shadow emerge.
“All set, Granger?” Malfoy said as he peered inside the carriage.
“It’s been fifteen minutes. I’m bloody well set,” Hermione snapped. She knew she should be rude but her patient had now worn thin.
“Right,” Malfoy said shortly and then went back outside.
Hermione bolted up from her seat very fast and hit her head hard against the ceiling. “HOLD ON!” she yelled after him.
Her head was now throbbing and she looked up at the beautifully adorned ceiling to realize that it was all hard iron underneath it. After using some very choice words to curse Malfoy, she sat back down and continued rubbing her head with the back of her hand.
“What is it?” Malfoy asked angrily, poking his head into the carriage again.
“Why haven’t we left yet?” Hermione asked angrily.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “It takes time for all these charms that I have to put around the carriage. And here I thought you’d be low maintenance.”
“Low maintenance?” Hermione snapped.
A sneer curled up at the edge of Malfoy’s lips. “Low maintenance,” he repeated,
“And WHAT is that supposed to mean?” Hermione yelled after him but he was gone again. Hermione huffed loudly and sat back down. “Stupid ass,” she mumbled to herself.
The weather had begun to worsen outside as rain started to fall to the ground. Hermione looked up and saw that Ron had now gone in. She didn’t want to admit it but she did feel a little offended that he wouldn’t watch her leave – that’s what she would have done. However, further thought on this topic was cut short by Malfoy stepping back in. This time though he didn’t just peer in but instead sat down opposite Hermione.
“We should be leaving in a few seconds,” he said carelessly, glancing at his watch.
“Well I don’t think I’ll be trusting your sense of timing from now on,” Hermione retaliated.
“What?” Malfoy said roughly. He had peered out one of the carriage windows and was now checking his watch again.
“I’ve been sitting in here for fifteen minutes!” Hermione burst out. “You said we’d be leaving any minute-”
Malfoy smirked. “The fifteenth minute is any minute.”
“And what was all that rushing me throughout the house?” she snapped.
Malfoy opened his mouth to respond when his watch suddenly beeped. “Eli! It’s time to go!” He hit his fist against the door of the carriage twice and Hermione felt a lunge in her stomach as the carriage began to move. She took a deep breath to steady herself but calm was the last thing she could be as the carriage began to speed up - Hermione was sure it could take on a muggle race car any day. Her heart began to race as she looked out the window to the side and saw they were coming to a curved street.
“Turn!” she whispered to herself, still looking out. The curb was getting closer and the carriage still hadn’t turned.
“Turn!” Hermione whispered again. “Oh please!”
She clutched the side of her seat, digging her fingernails deep into the fabric until she was sure she had ripped it. Her heart began to pound in her ears and her pulse rate was rising exponentially. The curb was now only a few feet away and the carriage still hadn’t turned.
“TURN!” she yelled and immediately closed her eyes as the carriage was now a mere few inches away. Her throat felt like it had been twisted and a tingling sensation began to rise in her stomach. The magnanimous crash or the very narrow turn that she had been expecting hadn’t come. She slowly opened her eyes as she felt the wind soar through her bushy hair and a light bit of dust in the air.
Once her eyes were opened, she realized why they hadn’t crashed into the curb. She expelled a few deep breaths and began to let go of the cushions on the side which now had deep nail imprints on them. She turned to the side and looked down at the houses that were now getting smaller and smaller into the distance. They were flying.
Opposite her, Malfoy stood looking highly amused and looked at her with a belittling expression. “It flies,” he said.
“Yes I figured,” Hermione replied coldly.
“Of all things Granger, I thought flying would be the last thing you were afraid of,” Malfoy smirked, still enjoying those few moments of Hermione’s panic.
“I’m not afraid of flying,” she snapped. “I’m afraid of crashing and dying.”
“Pathetic,” Malfoy said.
“What’s pathetic?” Hermione asked angrily.
“Being a witch and still thinking you’d crash – though I suppose, you can’t really be called a witch.” Malfoy had now resorted to casually gazing out the window with his hand on the pane.
“Are you really going to spend the next few months making second year jokes?” Hermione asked him. She tried to keep her voice calm and cool but anger was building inside her.
Malfoy didn’t respond to her. Instead, he turned a black dragon-hide bag that lay under the seat. He reached for it and placed it gingerly in his lap, allowing Hermione a good view into it. From what she could see, there were quills, parchment, some robes and books jammed into that one tiny sack. As Malfoy turned the bag slightly right to reach in deeper, Hermione saw gold lettering along the front which shined under the sunlight – L.
Malfoy had now pulled out a green covered book from his bag and placed it back under his seat. As he gingerly flipped through the pages, Hermione sensed that he wasn’t going to respond to her any further. She happily turned her attention to the window where she gazed down upon the bare fields that they were now passing over.
The world began to seem a lot simpler as she watched the grass from above, looking like a green splash of paint against the blank canvas. That’s what Hermione often thought of the world, or rather liked to think about the world – just a painting. The artist first painted the canvas blue for the sky and then added bits of green for the grass and fields. He then splashed a mixture of yellow, orange and white to replicate the blinding light of the sun and with splashes of white, he created the clouds.
The fields look so beautiful – the fields…wait. The fields?
Hermione paused for a few moments to ponder the thought that had entered her mind. “Wait,” she said aloud. Malfoy looked up, irritated at being disturbed and rolled his eyes.
“Do a few moments of silence annoy you that much?” he said irritably.
“Why are we flying over fields?” Hermione asked.
“I beg your freaking pardon?” Malfoy said.
“You said we have to get to Diagon Alley!” Hermione said.
“We should be over London – over buildings and roads and cars.”
A small smile curved onto Malfoy’s lips. “Very smart indeed, Granger,” Malfoy said, now looking highly amused.
“Don’t insult my intelligence!” Hermione snapped.
“Forgive me,” Malfoy said, sounding anything but sincere.
“Explain why we aren’t over London right now!” Hermione protested. She hated being treated like a child.
“We’re flying directly to the Manor,” Malfoy said after a while. He had now placed his book by his side and was rummaging around for something else.
“But…but…” Hermione stuttered. “Wh…what was that whole lecture…?”
Malfoy found what he was looking for – a copy of today’s Daily Prophet. He took it out from under one of the cushions and placed it in his lap. “What lecture?”
“The whole thing about having to catch a train and…and…taking a fireplace from Diagon Alley and…”
Malfoy’s smile was now visibly wider. He didn’t respond immediately but instead started to flip through the newspaper very casually.
“Was that your idea of a joke?” Hermione burst out.
“It wasn’t a joke,” Malfoy replied innocently. “That is how one gets to Malfoy Manor – it’s just not how we’re getting there.”
“I don’t understand!” Hermione said angrily. “I had to rush through my goodbyes and…and pack whatever I could find…”
“I just thought giving you a deadline would make things run a little faster.”
“A FAKE deadline?!” Hermione screeched. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Ron properly!”
“Yes, well, I’m sure Weasley’s going to be okay,” Malfoy snarled. “He’s got his mummy back home if he needs a hug.”
“Shut up,” Hermione snapped.
“Hey, you’re the one who started the whole conversation,” Malfoy said, still taking pleasure in Hermione’s disdain.
“Alright,” Hermione said testily. “I’m sorry I ever spoke to you in the first place.”
“Good.” Malfoy said.
Hermione had slammed her hand against the window and was now absentmindedly staring outside. Malfoy had returned back to his newspaper and was flipping through the pages slowly, reading any interesting articles that he may have found. She was sure the silence in the carriage would go on forever – but it didn’t.
“Master Malfoy?” a voice called out from outside.
Hermione immediately jumped at the sound and shot her head out the window to see what was happening. She couldn’t see anything but as she raised her head a little higher she saw a little man sitting at the front of the carriage – like a driver.
Hermione gasped silently and then sat back down in her seat with a bemused expression. “There’s a man on top of the carriage!” she said.
Malfoy looked up. “Well, yes.”
“Master Malfoy!” the man called again.
“What is it, Eli?” Malfoy called back.
“We’re a little behind schedule,” he said. Malfoy reached for his watch and then nodded a few times and then looked back up.
“Yes, we are,” he said. “I suppose you want to speed up, then?”
“That was my intention,” Eli replied. “I just wanted to warn you so that you and your guest could secure yourselves in the seats, it can get quite bumpy.”
Malfoy pondered for a moment and shook his head. “I think we can afford to be a little behind schedule,” Malfoy said. “Don’t speed up.”
“Very well, sir,” the reply came and the carriage continued at its regular speed. Hermione secretly felt relieved that there was no more speed since she still hadn’t quite recovered from when they had taken off. Hermione looked at Malfoy and sensed that he realized that and she quickly changed the subject.
“I thought this carriage was enchanted,” she said quickly.
Malfoy nodded. “It is.”
“Well, then…why do you need a driver?” she asked coldly.
“Someone’s got to navigate and control the Thestrals,” Malfoy said.
“Thestrals?” Hermione sat up immediately. “This carriage is driven by Thestrals?”
“Are you surprised Granger?”
“Well, it’s just that I saw one of their legs,” Hermione said slowly.
“So?” Malfoy asked bluntly.
“I’ve never seen one before.”
“I guess you’ve seen death then,” Malfoy said, his tone was so nonchalant that Hermione felt a little annoyed. She quickly slumped back down and threw Malfoy a nasty look. She decided that looking out of the window made her seem busy and perhaps she wouldn’t have to talk to him then. It was getting darker, now that the sun had set. The stars in the sky had gone from distant objects hidden in the sun to magnificent miracles twinkling in the sky. With them in her mind, she slowly closed her eyes.
“What’s the matter mate?” Harry asked, as he sat down beside Ron at the dining table. The Weasleys had decided to go out to dinner but Ron had refused to go and Ginny and Harry thought it would be best if they stayed behind too.
Ginny was over at the kitchen counter cutting up some vegetables when Harry had entered. He looked at her with questioning expression and she nodded gravely and gestured to Ron.
“What do you think the matter is, Harry?” Ron replied.
“It’s been four hours since she left, Ron,” Ginny said, placing the vegetables in a bowl.
“It feels like forever,” Ron said grumpily, fiddling absentmindedly with his fork.
“Mate, if you keep counting the seconds like this, it will seem like an eternity,” Harry said. “Trust me, Hermione will be fine.”
“Harry’s right,” Ginny said, getting some heating up some leftovers on the stove. She walked over and placed the vegetables in front of the two of them and pat Ron’s shoulder before going back to the stove.
“Well I know Harry’s right,” Ron said irritably. “That still won’t stop me from worrying about her.”
“Alright think about it this way,” Ginny said. “Is Hermione smart?”
Ron looked up. “Well of course.”
“Smarter than you?” Ginny asked.
“Is she brave?” Ginny asked again.
“Is she strong?”
“I think so,” Ron agreed.
“Then she’ll be fine,” Harry finished. “Now have a carrot and stop moping.”
Ron couldn’t help but smile a little as Harry reached for a carrot stick and began chewing on it. He grabbed another one and offered it to Ron who took it too. Ginny finished heating up the leftovers and placed them in a large plate as she walked over to the dining table.
“Eat up,” she said as she placed it gingerly between the three of them. Ron grunted slightly at the sight of the stale chicken from yesterday’s dinner and hard rice.
“I bet you wish you hadn’t turned down your dad’s offer for dinner,” Harry said, equally disgusted at the food.
“You said it,” Ron said as took a handful of rice and dumped it in his plate.
“I bet even the food at Malfoy Manor isn’t this bad,” Ginny said.
“Bad?” Harry scoffed. “I’ve heard they have a whole line-up of house elves in their kitchen to cook. I think the last thing Hermione has to worry about is bad food.”
“Yep,” Ron said, stuffing a fistful of chicken into his mouth. “Bad company is her real problem.”
“I think you’re right,” Ginny said. “Those few minutes with Malfoy this afternoon almost killed me – I can’t imagine having to spend months with him.”
“Poor ‘Mione,” Ron said sadly.
“I know,” Harry agreed. “Hopefully they find Rod-”
Harry stopped short when he looked over at Ginny who gave him a very frightened look. “Hopefully they find this death eater,” Harry corrected himself quickly.
Ron hadn’t seemed to notice this momentary tension and continued eating. He nodded grimly and then began to pour some water into a glass. “I do hope she writes to me soon,” he said.
“I do too,” Ginny sighed. “I have no one to talk you around here anymore.”
“Hey!” Harry protested. “What about me?”
Ginny looked confused. “What about you?”
“Why can’t you talk to me?” Harry said, sounding hurt and slightly amused.
A smile broke out on Ginny’s face as she playfully toyed with the cup in her hand. “You want me to talk to you about clothes, work, family, relationships-”
“Hold on there!” Ron said quickly. “Hermione talks to you about relationships? About me?”
“And you talk to Hermione about us?” Harry interjected.
Ginny’s smile faltered for a second. “Yeah,” she said leisurely.
“Bloody hell!” Ron spat. “How much do you know about me and Hermione?” he asked slowly.
The edge of Ginny’s mouth curved into a mischievous smile. “I know more things about you and Hermione than you probably do.”
“Ah! Women!” Harry protested as he shot up. “I can’t believe you tell Hermione stuff about us!”
“Well, we’re friends! That’s what friends do when they hang out!” Ginny defended.
Harry and Ron had both stood up, both blushing profusely and angry at the same thing. “That’s not what Harry and I do when we hang out,” Ron said irritably.
“Yeah!” Harry agreed. “We talk about Quidditch and brooms and work-”
“Oh don’t play all innocent with me!” Ginny said, still smiling but now a little red in the face. “I’ve seen you both smiling at Fleur whenever you guys are over here.”
“We’re being friendly!” Harry defended.
“Don’t you remember Bill and Fleur’s first anniversary dinner” Ginny shot back.
“What’re you talking about?” Ron said innocently.
“I saw you run right into her when she told everyone that she was so happy she could kiss anyone!” Ginny told Ron, who backed down immediately.
“That is true, mate,” Harry whispered to Ron, smiling slightly.
“Don’t you play innocent either,” Ginny snapped at Harry. “I seem to recall that you were right behind Ron when that incident happened.”
Harry backed down too. “Um…Ron…I think Teddy needs our help upstairs!”
Ron looked perplexed. “I thought he was sleeping, I p- Oh right! Yeah! We’re coming Teddy!”
Both Ron and Harry immediately shot out of the room so fast that they were gone in the blink of an eye. Ginny couldn’t help but smile at both of them. She went back to the dining table and picked up the dirty dishes and placed them in the sink where a piece of cloth began to clean them.
Hermione felt her leg throb painfully and opened her eyes slowly. For a brief second, she had forgotten about Malfoy and the fact that she was on her way to Malfoy Manor. She seemed to think that she was back in her apartment, back in her bed and that it had all been a bad dream. Unfortunately for her, that moment disappeared as fast as it has arrived and she remembered it all.
She sat up and saw that it was now pitch dark outside, with the clouds covering those little stars that she had envisioned as she slept. She turned her head slowly off the window pane and realized that the pain in her leg was actually coming from a pointy object lying against it. She bent down carefully and felt the object under her seat; immediately she could tell that it was wooden and it took her a good fifteen seconds to realize that it was her wand.
She grabbed it and placed it back in her handbag beside her, making sure to keep it safe this time. She looked around the carriage as best she could because the candles had been blown out and the lanterns doused. Her hand felt its way up to one of the cushions and then to the side panels and to the bag beside her. Eventually, she gave up trying to find her way around and slumped back in her seat.
Hermione jumped from her seat as she heard a voice come at her from behind. She looked around and finally saw a tiny man holding a silver tray on his hand and smiling at her very kindly. He was carrying a faintly lit candle and Hermione wondered why she hadn’t seen him approach but shook the thought from her heard.
“I apologize for startling you,” he said gently.
“That’s quite alright,” Hermione said quietly. “It’s my fault for reacting so badly.”
“So you are the well-known Miss Granger?” he said, holding out his hand very politely. Hermione wasn’t sure what to do – at first she thought he was going to shake her hand but then she realized that the wanted to kiss it. She awkwardly gave him her hand and he placed a kiss upon it very softly, the bristles of his white moustache brushing against her skin.
“A pleasure,” he said. “I am Eli Holmes.”
“You’re the driver?” Hermione asked. Now that the light had grown brighter she could see that Eli was a tiny, short man but very old of age. He had a flourishing white moustache that complimented his white hair which had a balding spot right in the middle.
“Oh no, I just guide the Thestrals.” he said. “Though it isn’t my regular job, Master Malfoy thought it be best if I accompanied him on this journey.”
Hermione smiled. “So what is it that you do?”
“I am the butler at Malfoy Mansion,” he said warmly.
“Oh,” Hermione said. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m-”
“Hermione Granger,” Eli finished her sentence for her. “Yes, Master Malfoy has been kind enough to fill me in on your situation. I’m most sorry about your parents.”
Hermione couldn’t help but feel a little relaxed as she realized the sincerity in Eli’s voice. She acknowledged his condolence with a smile and then turned towards the window where darkness still flooded the night.
“How come we’re not moving?” Hermione asked.
“We’re waiting for Master Malfoy to return,” he replied. “While he’s outside, the Thestrals are resting too.”
“You can see them too?” Hermione asked, feeling comfort in knowing that she was not alone.
“Oh indeed,” Eli said casually.
“So you must…so you must have seen death?” she asked. Hermione felt a little odd acting so friendly and personal with someone she’d just met but something about Eli’s twinkling blue eyes reminded her so much of Dumbledore that she couldn’t help but trust him.
“My dear,” Eli began shortly. “I’ve seen so much that you would be surprised.” He smiled soulfully and turned to face the empty seat behind him.
“So wait, where did Malfoy go?” Hermione asked, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t here.
“He will return shortly,” Eli said, providing no more detail.
“But where did he go?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
Eli chuckled softly as he reached behind him and drew out a silver tray. “Master Malfoy is a rare mystery to many, perhaps even his own parents,” he said thoughtfully. “Someone as insignificant as I could barely provide you with his daily schedule, let alone unplanned wanderings.”
Hermione sat puzzled for a few minutes as she thought about what Eli said. Malfoy was a rare mystery? How on earth could that be possible? Her attention was momentarily disrupted by the clanking of fine China as she noticed that Eli was pouring her a cup of tea.
“Oh that’s really not necessarily,” she said kindly. “I don’t really need any tea.”
“Aren’t you tired, my dear?” Eli asked her.
“That’s alright,” Hermione said. “I’ll just get something to drink once we get to the Manor.”
“Oh but we are here. We just can’t go any further without the Master” he said, gesturing to the flood of lights ahead where a mansion twice the size of Buckingham Palace stood. Hermione shook her head twice. That had not been there a second ago. “Welcome to Malfoy Manor.”