Entering Delilah's flat, Hermione was instantly greeted by Judy Garland. Her voice rose from the television set placed in the main room, crackling through the antique speakers and resonating through the apartment, and walking deeper inside, Hermione smiled at the familiar picture on the screen. A Star is Born
was the movie. One of her mum's favorites.
Ice clinked in the background and Hermione turned to see Delilah come from the connecting kitchenette, carrying a tray of her lemonade. She hummed along to Judy's notes, knowing them by heart and probably wise enough to not even attempt to reach the singer's powerful decibel, and set the tray on the coffee table between the television and loveseat. She soon made herself comfortable in a rocker off to the side. "Oh, I do love this part," Delilah mused, nodding to the television. Hermione followed her gaze, watching as James Mason stared on to Judy Garland singing... what song was it again?
"And, all because of the man that got away," Delilah hummed, answering Hermione's question. Delilah smiled, creaking forward and turning the volume down, and gestured to the loveseat. "Sit, Heraldo, sit. Have some of my lemonade. Blue ribbon winner of three years, it is."
Carefully, Hermione obliged, maneuvering around stacks of books that were scattered around the flat and routing her way through a handful of cats that had suddenly emerged from hiding places, rubbing against Hermione's ankles in curious greeting. As soon as she sat, the patterns of roses on the loveseat squeaking beneath her, Hermione was handed a tall glass of lemonade, chilled to the touch. A cat quickly followed, a young calico making herself comfortable in Hermione's lap.
"Ignore the little ones," Delilah apologized, petting another cat who was purring against her shins. "We don't get much visitors, so when we do, they get a little too excited."
To be honest, Hermione was a big fan of cats and didn't mind them in the least, but instead of saying anything in return, she merely took a sip of the lemonade. It wasn't too sweet or too salty, just right, and she smiled in approval once noticing Delilah eagerly waiting for a reaction. "Mmm," Hermione said. "Delicious."
"I told you it would be," Delilah declared and then smiled a bit sheepishly. "Probably think me to be bonkers, drinking lemonade when it's getting to be so cold outside, but..." She toasted her drink to Hermione. "There's always time for lemonade, I say."
Hermione took another sip and nodded. With the way it tasted -- and actually tasted good, very fresh and complete contrast to a tart Butterbeer -- she couldn't agree more.
"Now then." Delilah placed her drink back on the tray and met Hermione's eyes. "I'm old. Far too old to bore my way through pleasantries and small talk that lasts far too long than it should. For all I know, I could die in a moment or two, so do this old woman a favor and appease her curiosity by simply getting to the point."
Brim of the glass paused at her lips, Hermione stared at the elderly woman. "The point of what?"
Delilah cracked an impatient smile. "What the hell were you doing in Draconis' flat, Harmony?"
There was a muted threat to her words -- though, it was slightly undercut by the again incorrect use of Hermione's name -- and Hermione was given the distinct impression that, while Delilah had put her cane away, nothing promised that she wouldn't find another weapon to use if need be. Hermione cleared her throat.
"Draco and I are old friends," Hermione said again, this time a bit more composed than before, even if what she said remained basically false. "We went to school together, you see, but I haven't seen him much since graduation. Well, I've been traveling around a lot lately and have mostly been staying at friends' houses, being a bit low on money. And, when I decided to come through London, I remembered hearing once how Draco had a flat here. So, I sent him a letter, asking if I could stay at his place for a few days and..."
Hermione had to be careful at this part. Delilah's old gaze was scrutinizing, appearing similar to her cats, ready and waiting to pounce, and Hermione took a slow sip of her lemonade before continuing. "And, he replied back, saying sure, but that he'd be out of town on the days I'd be there. He wasn't too sure if our paths would cross, but until then, I could stay at his place as long as I needed and that..." Hermione smiled. "And, that I should remember to feed his cat."
Delilah waited a moment before nodding, but a smile lurked at her wrinkled lips; she wasn't accepting Hermione, but she was appeased, and hopefully that meant that her cane was no longer considered a weapon. Even with her wand concealed inside of her jacket, Hermione really did not want to go against the woman, no matter how old the coot was.
The two females sipped their lemonade gingerly while Judy continued to sing in the background until Delilah cleared her throat. "You'll have to forgive my paranoia, Hernandez," she apologized. "It's often that Draconis goes on trips -- and, trust me, he knows how well that does on my poor nerves -- but when that boy forgot to tell me of another visitor not long ago, I was given such a fright that I haven't been my normal self all that lately." Delilah shook her head, lips pursued. "And, that woman
was not the least bit as charming as you."
Hermione arched a speculative eyebrow. "What woman?"
"Oh, dear." Delilah straightened, the face she wore resembling a child whose hand had just been caught in the cookie jar. "He hasn't told you of his past loves?" She hesitated and then shrugged. "Well, that's all right, I suppose, depending on how far you two are along in your courtship, but I do hope he comes out with it soon enough, particularly if you and him were dating when that woman
The intrigue was so provoked within Hermione that she did not even bother correcting Delilah's assumption that she and Malfoy were a couple -- though, even if she did, Hermione doubted that it would change her opinion any -- and she set her glass of lemonade back on the tray. "No, he hasn't told me," Hermione said, tilting her head to the side. "What woman?"
Delilah glanced to the left before looking to the right. Then, setting her glass down too, she leaned forward in her seat and said in a whisper, "About two weeks ago, some woman shows up to Draconis' flat in the middle of the night. She didn't cause a ruckus of sorts, but I'm a light sleeper, and when I heard Eve hiss, I woke immediately and went to see if there was anything wrong."
"Eve?" Hermione asked. Was that who they were talking about?
"His cat. The one you'll be taking care of. She did have a mate some months ago, Adam, but he sadly passed away." Delilah was nostalgic for a second before shaking her head. "Anyway, when I looked out into the hallway, there was this woman talking to Draconis! In the middle of the night! I found it all to be rather odd, but unfortunately couldn't eavesdrop; not only were they speaking in whispers, but Draconis quickly saw me peeking my head out and, after apologizing, he bid me goodnight and then brought the girl inside his flat
!" Leaning back, Delilah added tightly, "And, needless to say, I was hardly surprised when I glanced out of my window come dawn to see that woman
stealthily leaving the building."
"She spent the night?" Hermione asked and then had to stop herself, realizing that that wasn't the question she should have been asking. Trying again, she said, "What did she look like?"
Luckily, being the gossip that she truly was, age had no effect on Delilah's memory, relaying easily, "Blonde... more like dirty-blonde, really... a little taller than you, with this lightly colored skin. Very pretty, really, except... for her eyes..." Delilah shuddered, shaking her head. "When she turned and saw me after Draconis noticed me, there was something dark in those eyes. Fathomless. Empty. She had empty eyes, she did, and they seemed to stare right through you."
But, Hermione was no longer paying attention. Thinking on Delilah's description, knowing just how well the details were similar, there was no question in her mind on who that woman had been -- Devon Besteria. Two weeks from then, only a week before the murders, Devon Besteria, a Division One Auror of the Ministry, had visited Draco Malfoy in his Muggle quarters and, quite possibly, had spent the night. With him. Besteria, an Auror, had spent the night with Malfoy, a murderer. Her
Hermione could not believe it.
Judy's voice blared in the background like an alarm going off within Hermione's system, cats mewing around her as though warning signs, and a profound anger was right behind them both. Sharply, Hermione stood from the loveseat. "Sorry, Delilah, I..." She swallowed hard, everything around her feeling heavy. "I have to..."
In all her gray-headed glory, Delilah seemed to understand. "Go, my dear," she said, nudging Hermione to the exit. "Draconis may be a lovely young man, but he's still human and still with fault. And, if he has faulted you, misled you in anyway, then you deserve an explanation. You deserve the truth. So, go my dear... and let him have it."
And, that was exactly what Hermione did.
By the time Hermione found herself in the questioning room of Azkaban Prison, she was absolutely livid. Not even the cold chill that ran through the room from the barred window could douse the anger she felt. This wasn't her temper coming forth because of dark bickering or demons from the past being brought up; this was fresh and new and built all on a feeling of betrayal, because that was what Draco had done.
He had lied to her.
After she had demanded nothing but the truth from him, he had gone and immediately lied to her, telling her that he and Besteria dated when they were sixteen and that, come the end of the summer, they had parted ways. He had bloody lied to her, not even alluding to the possibility that he had encountered her only days before her death, and withholding that information not only screwed up her entire investigation, but it made Hermione pissed as hell.
Why couldn't it have just been simple? Logical, even? Why couldn't they just have give-and-take, where he gave her all the information he had and Hermione went with it? Had she not made it clear that she was the only one on his side, the only one willing to listen? Had she not made it clear to him that she was all he had? Why couldn't he had just been grateful for that and cooperate? Why couldn't he just care more about getting out of jail than toying around with her?
Because, it was Draco Malfoy, that's why. He may have grown, may have changed, may have turned over a new leaf within the years, but he was still a Slytherin, deep down, and Hermione was enraged that he had played her out to be a fool, to be nothing but a gullible Gryffindor. He had lied to her and, while that shouldn't have surprised her in the least, Hermione still wasn't going to take a damn second of it.
When Malfoy entered the questioning room, Hermione gave no thought to her temper. As much as it had turned on her in the past, failing her even for at least a year, it was there now and she gave no thought to what consequences could follow. Watching him sit down across from her, seeing him slouch in the chair, brushing his blond hair to the side, Hermione never felt more detest for someone in her life and openly snarled when Malfoy asked lazily, "What's up?"
There was no hesitance to her response. "You bastard
," Hermione hissed and she pointed at him accusingly. "You lied to me, you smug little bastard
Malfoy blinked. "Well, that has to be a record," he remarked, disinterested. "I'm in a holding cell, cut off from humanity, and yet still manage to get Granger's knickers in a twist. I amaze myself, I simply do."
Angrily, Hermione slammed her fist on the table, making the blond slightly jump. "Stop toying with me!"
"Granger, I have no idea what you're talking about," Malfoy groused defensively. "I'm not toying with you, I don't even know why you're so upset."
"Bollocks!" Hermione snapped, practically gnashing her teeth; she couldn't believe he was still playing games, couldn't believe that he was still putting on this act, when it was so obvious that he knew why she was mad. "Stop toying with me, Malfoy! I'm not an idiot!"
"I'm not toying with you!" The blond was starting to heat up, straightening in his seat. "And, I don't think you're an idiot! Except for now because you're clearly mad with me for something that I have no recollection of!" Huffing, Malfoy barked, "So, tell me, what is it that is so bloody wrong?"
Everything. Everything was wrong, because Besteria was not supposed to be visiting her ex-boyfriend a week before her murder, she was not supposed to be spending the night with her former lover only days before her death, and that person was not, absolutely not, supposed to be Draco Malfoy, the one accused, the one caught, and the one that an Auror such as Besteria herself was supposed to be against.
From his seat, Malfoy snapped impatiently, "Granger! What the hell is wrong?"
Hermione swallowed hard. "You are," she told him, nearly shaking because she was so mad. "You're what's wrong and the fact that you lied to me on when you last saw Devon Besteria."
The questioning room fell silent with tension. By a single degree, Malfoy soon relaxed, but his face was paler than it had been moments before. "That's what this is all about? You finding out that, not long before all this happened, she was at my flat?"
your flat, Malfoy," Hermione corrected with a growl. "In your bed."
Malfoy rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Thank you, Delilah," he muttered beneath his breath, turning back to Hermione. "And, that's presumptuous."
"Dammit, it's a fact!" Hermione roared. "She was at your home, in your bed, doing Merlin knows what, and a week later, she's dead by presumably your hand!" Falling into a pace, Hermione ran her fingers angrily through her hair and demanded, "Did you not even think of mentioning this to me? Did you not even think that it might be relevant in the least? Did you not hear me at all when I asked you to tell me the truth or did you just decide that that little piece didn't bloody count?"
Crossing his arms over his chest, Malfoy watched Hermione for a moment. "It wasn't any of your business."
Hermione stopped. "None of my business?" she asked, growing more enraged by each word that fell from her lips. "None of my damn business?!" Kicking aside her chair, Hermione slammed against the edge of the table, making Malfoy jump again, and she shouted, "You shagging the one you're accused of murdering is my business, Malfoy! Especially when that woman happens to be a Division One Auror, a representative of the Ministry of Magic! Especially when you're a Malfoy, when your name is strewn across Wanted posters for years on end! The truth of what happened on the morning of October seventh is my business, it's the only reason I am here, and so why don't you do everyone else a favor and screw whatever privacy you think you're entitled to!"
"Oh, shut up!" Malfoy snapped. He stood from his seat, the only thing separating the two being the narrow table in between, and sneered, "You want to talk about entitlement? How about your ravings on the truth, Granger! There's entitlement right there!" He pointed at Hermione angrily, upper lip coiled into a snarl. "You think you're entitled to my answers, to my business, to my life, just because you get to visit me everyday for a month? You're mad if you think so! You try to make this all business, but it's personal for you! You try to come in here and tell me that you're unbiased in my case, and yet the first thing you do when you hear something contrary to what I have told you, you immediately put me at fault! You may want the truth, Granger, the one you so desperately seek, but you sure are doing a rotten job of looking for it so far, seeing as how you just keep coming back to me!"
Hermione scoffed. "And, you don't think that that is a sign of some sort?"
Malfoy shook his head. "See, there you go again!" he told her. "It's like some sort of default action for you -- something isn't how it should be, according to the Logic that is Granger, and therefore Malfoy must be the part in the equation that's wrong! Let's blame him because I have nothing else to blame! Let's simply be mad at him for the sake of being mad!"
"You don't think I have right to be angry with you?" Hermione demanded. "I've spent the last week going from place to place, trying to figure out what the hell happened on October seventh, thinking that there's nothing else you can tell me! And, then, what do you know, I find out that there is! I find out that from what little you've mentioned has been a lie! You lied to me! And, now you say that I don't have right to be angry with you?!"
"First of all," Malfoy began sharply, wagging a finger at her. "You never asked when the last time was I saw Devon. You merely assumed that it was when she and I dated in the summer before sixth year. So, really, I never lied to you; I just left something out."
Frustrated, Hermione groaned, "Merlin, behold the man of double talk!"
"Secondly," Malfoy continued. "Delilah Montgomery, as much as I adore the old bat and forever will, has a big mouth and enjoys gossip. You sure are quick to believe her story when her involvement in that night was minimal at best and is probably built more on assumptions than actual fact."
"Considering your track record with telling the truth, I figured it was a safe bet," Hermione bit out.
"And, lastly..." Malfoy leaned against the edge of the table, staring hard at Hermione with cold, gray eyes. "I don't really give a damn whether you've been to the end of the world and back, trying to figure out what happened on October seventh. Because, why should I care when, clearly, you don't either."
Recoiling sharply, as though she had just been slapped, Hermione took a moment before speaking. "When it comes this case, the only thing I can care about is the truth," she said lowly, glaring at him. "The only thing I can care about is what you know, Malfoy."
Malfoy did not take too long to respond. "And, yet, Granger, you have not asked me," he returned. "You have not even asked me once what happened the morning of October seventh. You've asked everyone else... except me."
When Hermione came up with no reply, Malfoy sat back down in his seat, sighing irritably. "You don't want the truth, Granger, you don't even know it," he said after awhile. "You're afraid of it. You're afraid of what I know. So, it's not me you're mad at; you're mad because an Auror spent the night with a criminal. And, that scares you." Reaching across the table, he grabbed Hermione's knapsack and pulled out an apple, taking a quick bite before she could protest. "That bloody well terrifies you."
Hermione took a sharp breath, slowly finding her voice again. "I may not know the truth, but I do... I do know the facts."
"And, what might they be?" Malfoy asked, taking another bite out of the apple.
"Simple enough." Hermione relayed what had long since been put to memory. "Division One Aurors, Sullivan Rayner and Devon Besteria, learned of your whereabouts, probably thanks to the fact that Besteria discovered where you lived. On the morning of October seventh, they followed you, confronted you, and then were suddenly dead, minutes later. At least an hour later, you found yourself in prison, formally charged with double murder and murder of two prized Aurors, no less. You have no alibi, no proof that can exonerate you. You have no reason to be innocent."
Malfoy scoffed, but said nothing, merely taking another chomp. Hermione narrowed her gaze. "You have absolutely no hope in this situation," she continued. "And, so you don't even bother defending yourself."
Malfoy paused in mid-chew. "I beg your pardon?"
"Let me be blunt," Hermione hissed. "I may be scared of what the truth is, but you certainly are afraid to tell it."
Gray eyes trained on her, Malfoy stared at Hermione for what felt like one of the longest seconds she had ever experienced before he continued in his chewing. It wasn't until he swallowed, throat rippling with exaggeration, that his smirk materialized. "I'm not afraid to tell you the truth, Granger," he informed. "I simply know that you won't believe me."
Hermione dared not to breathe. "Try me."
"Fine." Malfoy placed the half-chewed apple on the table and got comfortable again in his seat, leaning back and clearing his throat, as though about to share some scandalous gossip rather than the reason for him being in prison. "I know a bit of the facts, too. For example, Sullivan Rayner and Devon Besteria entered into the Auror program at the age of sixteen, a daring move, to say the least, but one they accomplished with ease. They pulled through the ranks at lightning speed, way ahead of their other classmates who were three, four years older than them, and soon reached Division One at the milestone ages of eighteen. They fought in the Final Battle, they protected leaders from around the world from assassination attempts, they became the poster childs of justice. Minister Scrimgeour's finest."
Then, without breaking eye contact, not even for a second, Malfoy said, "They were also undercover Death Eaters from day one."