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Chapter 1 : Assassin
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Dedicated to M a h a l i a the magnificent for her support, love and kindness, not to mention her uncanny ability to make my jaw drop as I stare at the screen after each update, completely in awe of her and her writing. She provided the spark to set this thing “ablaise”, so please thank her by reading and reviewing her gorgeous works (penname: rozen_maiden). I’ve learned heaps from you and I thank you forever and a day, May! I love you! Hope you come back soon!
C h a p t e r O n e : A s s a s s i n
Zabini Manor – Durham, England – 18:46 – 03/07/2001
Hadrian Zabini was absolutely fuming. Or perhaps, he was worried out of his
mind…no, he was most definitely fuming. The flames would erupt from his mouth at any given moment, he knew. No, he wouldn’t be a sleeping dragon for much longer. He was an impatient beast, one that was growing insane from waiting.
Where the devil was he?
His incessant pacing practically bore holes in the entrance hall’s white marble floor. Directly behind the frustrated man stood a gallant staircase composed of that same, smooth ivory material. The hall that lay beyond the stairs on the first floor seemed just as endless in space as in beauty. Eerie, dark beauty, but beauty nonetheless.
Further down that silent corridor stood another figure, a swaybacked and withered old creature with pointed ears feebly balancing a tray with remnants of what could very well have been afternoon tea. The being’s short and considerably bony form cast distorted and much larger shadows upon the dark, torch-lit walls as it cautiously pitter-pattered toward the front of the house. Each step seemed painful, and its journey through the hall took much longer than was necessary and normal.
It’s master noticed.
The little creature suddenly disappeared from the corridor and reappeared before his master on the ground floor. Without warning, the angry man had his servant immobilized by the neck, and the tray the creature had been clinging onto for dear life clattered to the floor, sending shards of china across the expanse of tiles. Though the collision of plates to marble was deafening, neither being paid the explosion any mind.
“Where is my son, elf?” Hadrian Zabini insisted of the aged and aging house elf in his grasp.
The slave pulled up on his master’s hands in a desperate attempt to summon as much air into his lungs as was possible and gasped in response, “M-Master Bruce is in the st-study, sir. Puck s-sees him p-playing chess w-w-with Miss Be—”
The elf choked on his words as his master shook him violently.
“Not that ninny—Blaise!”
Though his master had clarified what he wished to know, the elf did not squeak an answer this time. He struggled to breathe, his veins bulging from under the pale, wrinkled skin of his neck, threatening to pop at any given moment.
His owner tightened his grip on the slave’s throat as he hissed, “Answer me, vermin!”
The elf saw small black dots begin to form in front of his eyes as his little head throbbed painfully. “Puck…P-Puck kn-knows not, sir. Puck last s-sees Master Blaise i-in the d-d-dining room th-this morning, sir.”
Master Zabini’s cold eyes bore into Puck’s for a moment before he threw the decrepit creature to the floor in the same manner one might swing an ax into a tree stump. The house elf quivered under his master’s gaze, whimpering as he attempted to move his sore back, crooked from age and cruel ware.
“You useless rat…”
Puck yelped as he was kicked across the cold floor. Still whimpering, he dared not meet his master’s eyes.
Hadrian Zabini spat at him, “The hands, this time.”
If Puck had been crying inside before, he was silently sobbing now. He squinted at his already brutally scarred palms and gulped down blood from a cut on his lip, his aching throat protesting all the while. The salty fluid seemed to flow down his throat in mockery—oh, how he wished the blood would stop pumping, that his wounded heart would stop beating...
At that very moment, both master and slave flinched in surprise as a loud booming sound reverberated through the entrance hall, echoing into noisy silence.
Someone was at the door.
Hadrian stared at the brass giants before him for a beat, then pointed a finger in front of him and looked to his servant expectantly.
“Open it,” he demanded, and it took all of the elf’s remaining strength to pull himself off the floor and limp his way to the monstrous doors. He made a feeble and agonizing leap into the air and wrapped his long, deformed fingers around one of the doorknobs. He forced the door back with all his might until it slowly began to creak open. As soon as a crack had been made, a large, dripping-wet hand appeared from the outside and forced the door open more efficiently. The crack unearthed the sound of echoing thunder from the raging storm of the night.
In stepped the shadow of a 21-year-old man, followed by the exceptionally becoming youthful spirit himself. For a fraction of a second, a bolt of lightning illuminated the striking blue wisps in his hazel-blue eyes, creating a brutally beautiful contrast with his stark black locks. Even skewed by the raindrops still cascading down his angular face onto the fur rug, there was no mistaking the trademark Zabini smirk that captured his lips. Those lips parted a moment later and released a deep, throaty voice:
“Why, hello, father. Did you miss me?”
The Burrow – Ottery St. Catchpole, England – 13:31 – 03/07/2001
Hermione Jane Granger sighed as she gazed wistfully beyond the rows upon rows of occupied chairs at the arch, under which stood a beautiful bride. The lovely woman looked stunning in her perfectly form-fitted gown. The 21-year-old brunette hardly noticed when the Weird Sisters began to strum their peculiar interpretation of the wedding march that the bride herself had insisted they play. Merlin—her friend was gorgeous. The redhead’s blazoned expression only livened up her beauty.
Hermione tore her eyes away from the bride and focused on the lucky groom beside her. His radiant and genuine smile brought tears to her eyes, for she could not recall ever having seen her best friend happier, especially since the final battle three years prior. Watching her two dear friends so in love was truly more magical than magic itself. They needed the joy this day brought them—they all did, Hermione included.
Feeling one of her spaghetti straps begin to creep off her shoulder, Hermione shrugged it back up, semiconsciously raising her shoulder the slightest bit so the strap would not repeat its downhill journey. Though she was not conscious of it, she received many-a-glance from the males in attendance. Hermione had blossomed from being a bushy-haired, buck-toothed and pudgy-faced bookworm to quite the livened beauty. She still had the brains, oh yes, but her frizzy hair had calmed to smooth, wavy curls, and her face now sported attractive angles. She had a lovely figure, and her royal blue bride’s maid dress flattered her every curve. If nothing else, her confident air was enough to attract a second glance.
And she had good reason to be confident. Not two days before, she had been promoted to work for the Wizengamot Administration Services in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic. She now held the relatively high position of Junior Head Solicitor, having passed her bar exam with flying colours and a record score. A fellow muggleborn colleague of hers joked that, singularly, she had raised the bar.
“…In disorder and in heartiness…” the preacher droned on. Hermione watched out of the corner of her eye as the old man’s bizarre, hot pink wizard hat bobbed up and down in time with his words and his flopping triple-chin.
“…In noise and in the lack thereof…”
Hermione had to hold back a snort—she would never get used to the cheesy magical weddings. She wasn’t the only one: she could have sworn the groom had accidentally leaked a snigger. That would have explained why the ridiculous hat fell off the priest’s head when he grumbled in dismay.
“…In flippancy and in ripeness…”
Tuning the grouchy man out so as not to be tempted to laugh, Hermione observed the many guests before her. The entire Weasley family took up nearly a quarter of the group, and that did not include the groomsmen—Ron was best man, of course. Hermione had grown to consider the quirky redheaded bunch her own throughout the years—Ron, especially. Her boyfriend meant the world to her, and he knew it. Never did a day pass by when he didn’t remind her he felt the same; and yet, marriage had never occurred to either of them as if had for the other Golden Trio member…
She smiled when her eyes found her parents, Margaret and Robert Granger. They had not taken active roles in her witchhood, yet they would forever remain her biggest fans. She knew they wished her the best of the best. She resisted a chuckle when her father winked at her and rolled his large amber eyes at the preacher. Before her eyes roamed on, she winked a chestnut brown back his way, her gaze then landing on Rubeus Hagrid—frankly, he was quite difficult to miss, especially with his little brother crammed uncomfortably beside him—in the back row, along with several Hogwarts professors, including the Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall. A reasonably sized group of Aurors occupied space in the middle row, and members of the Order of the Phoenix sat with their various families. Peers from her school days had also come to support her friends, as well as dozens of witches and wizards she had never met before—she highly doubted that the bride and groom knew all of them, either. So many had shown up, including the lovable Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, whom Hermione had grown to strongly admire over the last three years. He was the man who had convinced her to take a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in the first place, a mere three-and-a-half months after having passed her N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts. Eager to have her foot in the door for securing magical creatures’ rights, Hermione accepted the job offer enthusiastically. She had not been fond of the Ministry prior to Kingsley’s term as Minister, but she knew well enough that she could trust her fellow Order member when he promised a new frontier for the magical community. Ever since she first set foot in her office that fateful August morn, she had worked her way up to some of the highest and most difficult heights in the Ministry, eventually becoming involved in the Wizengamot, which led to her current occupation as the magical equivalent of a lawyer. Evidently, one of her co-workers from the Department of Magical Games and Sports, Seamus Finnigan, seated cozily beside his fiancée, Parvati Patil, had volunteered to keep an eye on little Teddy Lupin while the toddler’s godparents were becoming husband and wife. The Irishman, now sporting a short, comely beard, never ceased to amuse Hermione and always guaranteed an eventful lunch hour. Even as she smiled down at the innocent youthful child three years after the fact, Hermione could not erase the images of the lovable duo that had given the novice Metamorphmagus life. She would always miss them, even as they thrived beyond the veil.
“Do you, Ginevra Molly Weasley, take this wild wizard to be your lawfully and magically-wedded husband?”
Hermione was nearly in tears. Dearest Ginny, her Ginny, her sister from another mother was getting married…to Harry, her best friend, her confidant forever and a day.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do.” Ginny’s words were so soft that even Hermione, the maid of honour, had difficulty hearing her. The youngest Weasley was so overwhelmed as her partner rubbed the back of her shaky hand with his thumb. It was no wonder, for she had been praying for this day for ages—she had been so deeply in love with The-Boy-Who-Lived for nearly ten years. Her climax had finally come.
“And do you, Harry James Potter, take this wicked witch to be your lawfully and magically-wedded wife?”
Harry smirked, his shocking green eyes never leaving Ginny’s adoring hazels.
“You bet I do.”
The entire crowd laughed in unison. It was such a magical moment for the wedding pair, as well as for Hermione. The commitment that came with a marriage truly was powerful and everlasting. She could hardly fathom being so in love with someone to give over her entire life to be one with that one person. It was a concept too difficult for her to grasp.
Hermione hastily wiped a tear away from her cheek as the priest finally spoke the magic yet incredibly ridiculous words that, she was certain, would literally seal their love forever:
“You may now osculate the bride…”
Minister of Magic’s Office – Ministry of Magic – London, England – 13:22 – 02/07/2001
“Minister! Minister Shacklebolt! I have the Bubotuber supply you ordered!”
Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt sighed and emitted a small, deep-throated chuckle at his Junior Assistant poking his curly red head through the door and waving a package about. He could not have asked for a more capable assistant than the enthusiastic 24-year-old Percy Weasley. The young man tried so hard and exceeded beyond his boss’s expectations on a daily, if not hourly basis. In fact, Kingsley felt he tried too hard sometimes, and the Minister made sure to inform the boy the first day on the job that he didn’t have to monitor and document the goings on of every second of his boss’s life—though that didn’t stop him from trying. Several times, Kingsley had to force the Weasley to stay at home, one of the occasions being Christmas morning last December.
Kingsley beckoned his faithful assisstant into his office and conjured a comfy armchair before his desk.
“Have a seat, Percy,” the Minister offered casually as the young Weasley handed him the brown, heavily wrapped package. Attached to the outside of the box was a pair of dragon hide gloves. While his assistant watched him, intrigued, Kingsley slipped the gloves over his dark, ashy hands and lightly tapped the package with the tip of his wand. The strings on the weathered box unfurled, followed by the tan wrapping, revealing a small, black container. There was absolutely nothing inside the box, save for one cool, black, ragged-edged stone…
And the most putrid smell imaginable.
“Ewgh,” Kingsley recoiled, slapping a glove-covered hand to his face and covering his nose. Percy stole a stride closer to the package, then stumbled back and mimicking his boss, almost whimpering.
“This is definitely not the pus,” coughed the Minister as he forced the black box into the bottom drawer of his desk. The action hardly dampened the smell, for its acidic odor continued to waft throughout the room, leaving the two men no choice but to vacate the office into the corridor.
“Minister Shacklebolt, what do you suppose it is, exactly?”
The tall dark man’s wary eyes lingered on his office door for several beats before landing on the jittery redhead beside him.
The Burrow – Ottery St. Catchpole, England – 19:21 – 03/07/2001
“Oh, don’t be a wart, Ginny.”
Hermione added her laugh to the everyone else’s seated around her at one of the numerous round, white-clothed tables surrounding the dance floor. The laughter mixed with the blasting bass from the stage, clashing in muffled mirth with the beat of the band. The Weird Sisters added just the perfect touch to the lively evening. Their table was the only one completely filled, as they were also one of the rare groups not jiving on the dance floor.
The becoming new bride lifted her glass of Firewhiskey, gazed at it warily, then, deciding it was safe, took one long, frosty gulp. “I was only double checking that you hadn’t slipped something lethal in here. It’s not as if you haven’t before, dear brother.”
On Hermione’s immediate left lounged the young redhead’s older brother, his legs spread apart and hands rested behind his head. Ron Weasley had, believe it or not, grown since his 17th year—though not taller. He gained bulk over the last three years; he had the Chudley Cannons to thank for that. After having been sighted by the professional Quidditch team’s scouts in his 6th year at Hogwarts, he received a request to join their training program. By the end of four rigorous months of torture, Ron had not only gained a spot on the team as its second Keeper, but also survived the ordeal with one gorgeously toned figure. Needless to say, his beloved Hermione was all of a flutter when he returned home from the camp.
Whether it was intentional or not, his muscular arms flexed as he stretched backward in his chair, yawning boisterously, “Let our Gin’ alone, George. It’s her special day.”
George Weasley, who now sported sideburns and a handsome mustache, scoffed at his younger brother from beside his girlfriend, Angelina Johnson, on the other side of the table. Angelina had done wonders on her partner since he lost his twin to the war. His friends and family had been convinced the surviving joker would never pull a prank on them again. Fred Weasley’s death had taken an enormous toll on his loved ones, Percy Weasley, especially—he had witnessed his brother’s death face-to-face. It took months upon more dreary months, but hope prevailed through answered prayers as Angelina Johnson appeared and forced herself into George’s life, leaving him no choice but to accept her there. She knew what he needed more than he ever knew. Over the last year since they had been dating, George had come to not only accept her in his life, but also thrive from her presence. She cast away the gloom and brought with her just enough light to help guide him through the darkness. Not only had she been a miraculous companion for the joke shop owner, but also a wonderful addition to the family—the whole clan knew they would marry someday, once George got his act together and was ready for that sort of leap in his life. When the day came, they would heartily approve. They already did.
“Ah, why not poke around? She’ll have her real fun tonight—won’t she, Harry?”
George massaged the side of his face with a grimace. “Brat.”
As the blushing bride trailed off, Hermione covered her mouth, muffling her giggles. When Ron sent her a peculiar look, she only laughed harder. For the first time in years, they were all sharing a moment of absolute calm and contentment. They were all acting like children, really, and Hermione could not have asked for more—she dearly missed the innocence of her youth. She often felt much older than her mere twenty-one years.
She had to.
His hand briefly brushed the other’s shoulder. The other flinched before turning to the younger man behind him. It was a difficult feat, for the prickly bushes just in sight of the special event at the Burrow only allowed so much maneuverability.
The eldest of the two dark-cloaked men raised his wand and aimed at the target.
“Now or never.”
His hand warmed hers instantly, also warming her heart.
Ron Weasley nudged his head toward the dance floor, a sheepish smile playing at his lips. After three years, he still had not mastered one ounce of suavity when it came to their relationship—but Hermione would not have him any other way. His little subtleties were adorable and so Ron.
“If we must,” she replied and linked her fingers through his as he escorted her to the center of the room where countless couples were dancing the night away. Hermione heard her best friend, the new Mrs. Potter, coaxing her new husband to accompany her to the floor, as well.
“We paid gallops extra for the music just for it to have been a waste?”
“No, Gin’, there are plenty of guests out there making it worth our—”
“We’re the bride and groom.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Hermione could just imagine her friend’s trademark glare.
“You can’t tell me you don’t want an excuse to touch me…”
“Well, in that case…”
Laughing, Hermione glanced behind her and caught the groom’s eye, beaming at him with full knowledge that he was having one of the best days he had ever had—the gleam in his eyes was so full of life. He winked at her in his usual Harry-ish way before Hermione turned her back on him, still smiling to herself. She was just so incredibly and indescribably happy for her friends.
Ron tugged her by the hand farther into the mold of people. The song was a ballad, slow and sweet.
“Where do you want to stand?”
Hermione unearthed a melodious chuckle. Ron still didn’t know what he was doing, did he? She could imagine that he would have acted the same way had she been his date to the Yule Ball back in their Hogwarts , only slightly less disgruntled. Reflecting on that day so many years ago—it felt like a completely different life now—Hermione no longer grimaced. It had been a magical night, dancing with Viktor. No boy had ever given her a second glance, but the Bulgarian Seeker had several times over. He was certainly a different sort, quiet and sensitive, but also strong and intelligent. The intelligence attracted Hermione above all else, for she finally had someone to relate to. Yes, that night had been such a wonderful experience…but it had ended on one terrible note. Hermione could laugh it off now, but, at the time, she had been completely torn by her and Ron’s row. He had been completely unreasonable, as always, and, also as usual, he had reduced her to tears. She no longer felt pained by the memory—she felt quite the contrary, for that night, the seed had been planted that eventually blossomed into their steady relationship. They had been so naïve with their growing attraction toward each other at the time. Even then, during the Triwizard Tournament, Hermione felt he was "the one”. She hadn’t known what love was at the time, not real love, but now…
Now, things hadn’t exactly changed, had they? Oh, she felt so strongly for him, but was it love? She had been so busy since the end of the war to contemplate on anything, really. She had made it a point to be busy, for she would rather not ponder on the horrors of her past. She needed to face the present—that was the only way to carry on.
She squeezed his hand before letting go and placing his hands on her waist.
“Right here will do.”
Grinning crookedly, Ron tightened his grip and urged her closer. The music was lulling, and Hermione closed her eyes, resting the side of her face against his chest. Her lips curled into a content smile—he felt so warm, so comfortable and familiar…
So normal. She needed regularity, routine. During her school days, the days the war raged on, she had enough of the obscure, unexpected and unknown to last a lifetime. Now, she relished in the normalcy of it all.
And when she was with Ron, she felt more ordinary than she ever had before, as if she had always led a life without rough patches, death and guilt to disrupt the flow of it all. Her life, though not simple, was manageable—no horrific surprises, deaths, and only sparse nightmares. She felt happy, content.
But that was when she heard it:
A blood-curdling scream.
Before she knew it, she was pressed tightly to Ron’s side. Hermione watched Ron whip out his wand out of instinct as she attempted to, as well. For a moment, she panicked—when her attempt to have her wand at the ready failed for lack of the wand itself, she realized that she had left her fifth limb beside Ginny’s bouquet on the table. She had the urge to kick herself. What had happened? Why had someone screamed?
Everyone was in an uproar, but as Hermione observed the frantic crowd of couples gathered around a particular something at one of the tables across the floor, she struggled to loosen her boyfriend’s grip on her and investigate. To her surprise, she was mildly successful—though Ron did not free her, he did let her drag him over to the group.
“Pardon me, excuse me, Ministry coming through…”
To their chagrin, the sea of guests parted for the two. Hermione was so relieved that it took her a few moments before she remembered why she had squeezed through in the first place. Catching her breath and ignoring the ache from her high-heeled shoes, Hermione peered down at the floor, feeling less anxious to know that she would be able to confirm the incident as false alarm, as always…
But what she saw made her stiffen. What she saw made her quiver and fall to her knees in horror and utter shock, not believing her eyes, not receiving the comfort of there being no harm, after all.
What lay before her was a limp body, throat constricted, eyes bulging, and completely still.
What lay before her was the dead body of the Minister of Magic…
And the remnants of her normalcy—broken, shattered and irreparable.
All was not well.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: So, how did it fair? Good start or no—why? Who is the assassin? Don’t worry: you’ll know whom in good time—at the end of this story, perchance XP. Please REVIEW with any thoughts, exclamations, proclamations, critiques, etc. Feedback=fabulous in my book. Check back for the next one relatively soon!
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