Chapter 3 : Wanderlust
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Night set in around the manor. The last carriage pulled out of the drive and onto the main woodland road, vanishing into the darkness and taking away any signs of the outside world with it.
Around the dark house, the landscape was eerily still. Acres of thickset trees and fields of long grass were silent beneath the cloudy sky, the only movement being a murder of crows circling the caretaker’s cottage.
In the shadows of the doorway a figure stood immobile, heavy shovel held like a weapon in his old hands. He was looking up at the main house.
For a few moments he fought a silent battle inside his own head. Then a breeze kicked up and scattered the leaves he had carefully piled against the crumbling brick walls; the trees behind his home rustled and the shadows lengthened, as though the ground he stood on knew that something was coming.
Shaking his head in pity, he closed the door. The sound of locks being drawn and curtains being closed went on for at least five minutes, and then all was silent again.
“So where’d your Aunt go, anyway?”
Inside the only lit room in the manor, four teenagers lay side-by-side on a magically-enlarged bed. Hermione had been surprised to find that Blaise’s quarters were just like the bedroom of any other teenage boy, except that he actually put his belongings away and didn’t leave them scattered across every available surface like Draco.
She herself was closest to the window, lying with her feet politely hanging over the side as she thought it rude to have them on someone else’s bed. Draco, who had kicked his shoes off and pounced into the middle of the bed, seemed to have a lot less reservations. Beside him was Pansy, her own shoes abandoned somewhere across the room, and Blaise was lying silently on the other end, a bottle of unopened wine cradled in his arm as he gazed up at the ceiling listening to Draco and Pansy bicker.
“Ten galleons says she’s gone to arrange a post-funeral party.” Pansy said.
Draco pulled a face. “No… she’s just gone to her house to finish packing and sorting her shit out before she moves over here.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. The two had been taking random bets on things since they had left the funeral procession and she had just left them to it. If they started taking bets on offending things, like how Ms Zabini had died, then she would intervene and tell them to cease their childishness, but until then they weren’t bothering her.
“B?” Draco queried, tilting his head to see past Pansy.
Blaise jumped and looked across at him. “Huh? Oh… she went to sort out the wake.”
Pansy whooped and took the coins from Draco. “I hate taking your money Drake, but it’s just too easy.” she crowed, nudging Blaise with her elbow and winking. “So? Let’s get this party started, pop the cork Queen Bee.”
Blaise evidently wasn’t in the mood; he handed her the bottle without so much as looking at her.
“Cheers.” she said, not put off by his lack of enthusiasm. “Here you go, Hermione. Get that down you. We’ll have you pole dancing in no time.”
Hermione blushed furiously and Draco, grinning roguishly, put his arm around her. “And what makes you think she isn’t an expert on the subject already?” he asked in a fake-pompous tone.
“Can we not?” Hermione intervened before Pansy could comment, raising a hand and flushing bright red. “Let’s talk about something else. Pansy, why weren’t your family at the funeral, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Pansy shrugged and took a long swig of wine from the bottle in her hand. “My parents and Blaise’s mom didn’t get on. They didn’t care if I was friends with him, as long as they weren’t expected to associate with Ms Zabini in any way. When I told them she had died… er… well anyway.” she shrugged. “My sister’s too young to come on her own anyway.”
“You have a sister?” Hermione was slightly surprised. Pansy seemed to be the textbook cliché of the phrase ‘only child’.
Pansy nodded and took another swig, grinning genially. “Primrose. She’s a little swot; you’d like her. Big science geek. Always blowing shit up.”
“Give me that, Pansy.” Blaise said abruptly, reaching around her to take the bottle. “We should do something, you know, instead of sitting here all night. Here Drake.” He downed half of the wine in one gulp and half-threw the bottle at his friend. Red splashed over Pansy but she didn’t comment.
A door slammed somewhere and the four froze.
“Uh… it’s probably the groundskeeper.” Hermione ventured into the paralytic silence. “Or Blaise’s Aunt… come back because she’s… forgotten something.”
The bedsprings creaking seemed almost deafening as Pansy climbed over them and went to the window, peering around the dark curtains to gaze out at the grounds. “The groundskeeper’s cottage is still locked up with all the curtains drawn and there’s no carriage parked outside.” she whispered.
“What about House Elves?” Hermione said in a pleading, barely audible voice. “Servants… anyone?”
“There’s no-one else in the manor.”
Blaise got up, looking a lot less nervous than the rest of them, and went to stand behind Pansy at the window. He gazed over her shoulder for a minute before turning and striding toward the door, clearly intending to leave the room. With a strangled yell, Pansy jumped in front of him, back pressed against the door.
He raised an eyebrow.
“You can’t go out! What if it’s… I don’t know, something nasty?!” she managed.
“Like a redcap!” Hermione supplied from the bed.
Blaise rolled his eyes and reached for the handle. “It was probably just a draught blowing a door closed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to use the bathroom.”
“Pansy just get out of the way. It was probably nothing.” Draco called lazily, slouched across the pillows with the wine bottle held possessively in his grip. “Come and continue your conversation about pole dancing with Hermione. I was vaguely interested.”
Pansy muttered something under her breath and sidestepped past Blaise. Hermione noticed that the air between the four of them seemed to have gotten distinctly chillier; Blaise watched Pansy over his shoulder as she sat back down on the bed and snatched the bottle from a protestant Draco, before vanishing out of the room.
The room was silent for a while, the only noise being the bedsprings when either Pansy or Draco shifted to take the wine from the other. Hermione gazed distantly at the window, observing a dark bird soaring over the grounds through a small gap in the curtains. It circled for a while, then abruptly vanished into the trees.
Her eyes followed it and she froze, taking in a sharp breath and releasing it in an involuntary gasp.
There was someone standing in the woods.
Blaise’s bedroom was on the second floor, but the window was on a level with the bed and Hermione could just distinguish a dark figure standing between the trees facing the house. She blinked and it was gone.
“Hermione?” Draco, it seemed, had been talking to her for a while. Shaking her head, Hermione glanced down at him. “What’s up?”
She contemplated shrugging it off, but eventually decided to abide by her policy that lying gets you nowhere. “I saw someone outside.” she said. “Standing in the trees… but they’re gone now…”
“Probably the groundskeeper.” Draco replied, idly kicking Pansy. “Or an escaped murderer prowling the manor and waiting for us to split up so he can pick us off one by- no, that’s backfired on me because I’m freaked out now.”
Pansy snorted. “Well done airhead.”
“I don’t think you should keep going on about that, Draco,” Hermione said reproachfully. “What if you upset Blaise?”
Draco looked as though he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Hermione.” he said, dragging her name out into a whine. “Chill out would you? We’ve been best friends with Blaise for six years and we’re not going to say anything to piss him off or otherwise make him cry. Drink some wine and loosen up, Butternut.”
“You do have a habit of being an idiot though, Drake.” Pansy offered. “She just means watch what you say around him. If you upset him, I’ll kick your ass.”
Hermione smiled at the other girl’s support and sat back. It was going to be a long evening if all they had to do was drink expensive wine and reprimand Draco, but she was nonetheless glad that Blaise had friends like these to support him.
He re-entered the room, prompting Hermione’s mind to materialise the phrase ‘speak of the devil’.
“Not thought of anything to do yet?” he asked, lying with his head on Pansy’s legs. “Have you finished that bottle already?! You’re both going to be completely trolleyed by the end of the night, you know that? And I’m not being responsible for the hangover you get in the morning.”
Draco grinned. “I’d be more worried about Pansy. She’s not a regular drinker, what’s with you this evening?”
Pansy gave him the finger but remained silent. They remained like that for several more minutes; Draco drinking copious amounts of wine and Hermione shooting him reproachful glances, trying to keep one eye on the window incase anything moved outside.
“Let’s explore.” Draco said abruptly, struggling off the bed. “Come on, the house is huge! There must be somewhere interesting to hang out.”
Unsurprisingly Pansy immediately spurned his suggestion, covering her fear by calling him every name meaning ‘stupid’ that she could think of. Blaise listened in bored disinterest as the two started another furious argument and Hermione continued to gaze out of the window, deep in her own thoughts.
Which could have been why she jumped the most when the sound of a window shattering rang through the house.
Pansy shrieked, Draco staggered back onto the bed and sloshed wine down his shirt, and Blaise sat up straight. Even he couldn’t pull that off as a trick of the wind.
“Oh my God we’re going to die.”
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