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Chapter 16 : And so we part
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“It’s time to go,” he said impassively. “Your luggage is already here.”
He indicated towards the front porch where a huge bronze trunk with a black strip around it, sat.
“Oh,” Hermione said, sitting up quickly and readjusting her tangled hair absentmindedly. “Thanks.”
“Is there anything else you need?” he asked. His fingers were twirling distractedly over his briefcase while he gazed intently at Hermione. This irritated her very much; Malfoy was probably the most inscrutable person she’d ever met. He could be staring out the window with a vacant expression and then a second later, he could be glaring at her with fury behind those grey eyes. Unpredictable and unreadable Hermione sighed. A dangerous combination.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
There was a momentary pause as Draco pondered something in his mind, allowing Hermione a chance to gaze at his aged face. He was still pale and reasonably attractive but his features seemed to have aged a great degree to a point where the lines on his forehead began to look solid and deep. The circles under his eyes were faint but visible and his sleek hair had now begun to wear down at the ends, detracting from the polished Malfoy look.
“I appreciate what you did at the Ministry,” he said finally.
Hermione looked at him curiously. “Don’t take this as any sort of encouragement,” Draco added suddenly, as a warning. “I still don’t need you at my throat but I don’t like owing anybody anything.”
“What do you owe me?”
“You saved me before and now, you probably spared me days worth of Ministry inquiries and at least 10,000 galleons.”
“They’d fine you that much?” Hermione asked.
“That’s how much I’d have had to bribe them,” Draco said, shrugging mindlessly. It didn’t seem like that big of an amount to him.
“Is that your thanks?” Hermione asked, surprised by the tone of iciness in her voice. The mention of the bribe had triggered her irrational side and her eyes danced over the spattered gold that still lay on the floor of the carriage.
“Thank you,” Draco said, with a tone of finality.
Hermione turned her head towards the bottom of the seat and grabbed her bag. Despite her irritable mood, she had sensed the sincerity in Malfoy’s voice, or maybe he was just a really good actor. She’d had enough evidence to support both theories.
“It wasn’t so bad living at Malfoy Manor,” Hermione said, as she placed her hands on the edge of the door to descend the royal carriage. “The food was good and the distractions were… ample. It was nice to feel like I was back at Hogwarts for a second.” She formed a gentle smile at the edge of her lips.
“It’s better when you feel it for more than a second,” Draco said. “When you feel like nothing else matters other than torturing Gryffindors and ordering around two big thugs.”
He didn’t smile back at Hermione but the sharp look from his eyes had vanished, replaced with a nostalgic sadness that she knew was related to his outburst this morning. I used to have a family!
“Well, at least you have Pansy,” she said, trying to brighten the mood a little. No one, not even the most sardonic and embittered wizard on the planet, should have to feel like the way Draco looked like he felt right now.
This time he did smile, only it was a thin, forced smile that was followed by an empty laugh. “Maybe.” It was apparent from his tone that he didn’t believe it at all.
She stepped out of the carriage and she could hear scrambles from the Burrow as her feet touched the ground. From the top window, she saw two figures running down the stairs and she turned back to Malfoy.
“Stay out of trouble,” were his last words as the thestrals began their gentle ascension back into the air. Hermione blinked once and he was gone.
Ginny ran out the front door and greeted her startled friend with a big hug, almost lifting her off the ground. “It’s so good to finally have you back!”
Hermione smiled. “Was Ron really that bad?”
“Well, he was better when he got back but before… when you’d just left, it was like someone had stuck a dementor in the house.”
She laughed slightly at the dark joke and made her way to the front of the porch where her stuff was lying. “They just came a few minutes ago,” Ginny said, pointing to the trunk and bag.
The door opened again and this time, Harry came out with a wide smile across his face. “Thank you for finally coming back!” he joked. “I’d started to think that you were planning on living in that mansion forever.”
“Nothing could keep her there,” Ginny joked. “Come on inside, Ron’s going to be home in an hour or so.”
“Ron’s not here?” Hermione asked.
“Don’t worry, he got a call from the Ministry Owlery – apparently, there’s some package he has to pick up.”
Hermione came back into the Burrow and felt the warmth of the stoking fire and the smell of fruit and pepper fill her senses. “It’s so nice to finally be back,” she said, remembering the cold walls of Malfoy Manor.
“And it’s about time too,” Harry added. “I was wondering when we’d get some sort of letter telling us that you’d hexed Malfoy or accidentally beaten him to death.”
“Haha, very funny,” Hermione mocked.
“Oh come on,” Harry insisted. The three of them had sat down opposite the warm fireplace, on the living room sofa, which felt hard to Hermione after being spoiled by the lavish furnishings at Malfoy Manor. “Don’t tell me you didn’t think of hurting him once… just once.”
Hermione smiled slyly. “Well more than once but I never did.”
“Good on you!” Ginny said sarcastically. “It’s a rather hard job, isn’t it?”
“Well, now you’re far away to cause him any harm,” Harry said lightly.
“How was the house while I was gone?” Hermione asked, ignoring the muffled laughter from both Harry and Ginny.
“Boring,” Harry sighed. “Teddy was here to keep us busy but Ron’s glumness brought the whole place down.”
“Teddy left?” Hermione asked with a twinge of disappointment. She felt an odd attachment to the little boy, especially now. She knew it was silly to think that the loss of her parents was similar to Teddy’s – she had at least had the opportunity to spend her early years with them by her side. Teddy would have to know his parents through others and Hermione empathized with him more than she had ever done before. And despite her irrational comparison, she sensed a tighter link between herself and Teddy, two people having lost a major part of their lives due to circumstances beyond their control.
“Well when Ron took off,” Ginny began, “we spent most of our time trying to track him so mum suggested that we drop Teddy back off with Andromeda until things got under control.”
“Oh I’m sorry about that,” Hermione said, her smile morphing itself into pursed lips. “I had no idea that the owls got mixed up an-”
“You’re sorry?” Ginny asked gaping. “We’re the ones who’re sorry! We should have rushed down there to help you together but Ron got a little carried away and he just ran off at night.”
Hermione felt herself reddening slightly at the fuss Ginny was making. “Did my letter really sound that ghastly?” she asked timidly. “I was very freaked out when I wrote that… and I wasn’t thinking straight. I made out things to be a lot worse than they actually were.”
“Ron told us your burns were bad,” Ginny said sombrely, eyeing Hermione’s long sleeved sweater.
“They’re much better now!” she insisted pushily but judging by the suspicious look on both their faces, Hermione guessed they wanted proof. She sighed and rolled up her right sleeve, allowing the warm air to touch the skin where the scars still remained.
Ginny’s eyes widened. “That’s much better?!” she half-screamed.
“Ginny, it’s alright!” Hermione insisted.
“It’s all swollen and… is that melted flesh?!”
“Ginny, please calm down… you sound like Ron right now.”
Ginny brought her face closer to the burns, placing her fingers gently over the seared flesh. Her eyes suddenly narrowed and Hermione knew that her fingers felt the faint throbbing under the red scars.
“Those don’t feel alright,” she said, calming down slightly. Her tone was dark and worried as she turned to Harry. “Take a look.”
“Are you sure it’s alright?” Harry asked Hermione, not going any further.
“Yes,” Hermione replied tersely.
“Then I believe you,” Harry said, turning back to Ginny. “Why would she lie?”
“It feels like a pulse!” Ginny said, squirming slightly.
“All injuries throb,” Hermione said defensively. “It’s part of the healing process.”
“She’s a healer,” Harry agreed. “Ginny, trust her.”
Ginny looked at Hermione with a calculating expression and then nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess us Weasleys do have a flair for the theatrical.”
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Hermione said, smiling at Ginny. She knew Ginny meant well – like Ron did. They were both overprotective and she often found that endearing but today, she appreciated Harry’s passiveness over Ron’s aggressiveness. Harry was the kind of person who would allow his friends to have secrets, trusting them enough to reveal them when they thought best. Ron was different of course; secrets, to him, were the foundation of betrayal and in all honesty, neither one was better than the other. It was just that today, she preferred one to the other.
The fireplace made a gurgling sound that made Hermione jump. The golden flames began to dim slightly and the cackling in the stone chasm became more pronounced as the colour changed green.
“Ron’s coming,” Harry said.
There was a flash of green flames and Ron popped out of the fire, falling on his back into the tiny living room.
“We also have a flair for clumsiness,” Ginny added as Hermione went over to Ron and knelt beside him.
“Are you alright?” she asked him, rubbing her hand against his shoulder. He was covered in soot from head to toe and that included the medium sized box in his arms.
“I am now,” he said, smiling at the brown haired girl; he leaned in to kiss her.
“Not in front of us,” Harry groaned, smiling.
“Spare the innocent,” Ginny agreed, making a sour face.
Ron scowled and turned back to Hermione. “This is for you,” he said, taking the box from his arms and laying it on her lap.
“You shouldn’t have,” Hermione said, blushing slightly.
Ron looked confused. “I didn’t,” he said quickly. “This is the package I picked up from the Ministry.”
“A package for me?” Hermione asked.
“Yeah, I got an owl this morning that said that I needed to pick up a package sent to this address –”
Hermione couldn’t hear what Ron was saying anymore. She ran her fingers over the address written on the box.
Hermione Granger the top of the address line read.
“-and that was it,” Ron finished.
“Yeah,” Hermione responded distractedly.
Something felt different about this package and it took Hermione only seconds to figure out what it was. There was a seal placed at the folded ends of the box and though the wax was moulded, her sharp eyes could clearly make out the snake entwining around the Celtic ‘M’ embedded in green.
“I’m going to open this later,” Hermione said, placing her fingers strategically over the wax seal so that her hand concealed most of it. She lifted it up gingerly and began to walk towards her room. “I’ll go put this upstairs.”
“Mum and Dad went out but they left dinner for us,” Ginny called from the bottom of the stairs. “Hurry back down!”
Later came at ten o’clock at night after Mrs. Weasley’s chicken pot pie, two hours of questioning Hermione (during which she carefully avoided mentioning the creature and her burns) and another hour of listening to the Weird Sisters’ new album. By the end, Hermione had managed to produce some faint yawns and excused herself from the others to go back to her room.
Now she sat, cross-legged, on her bed with the package in front of her. She had dimmed the lights slightly so that from the outside, the small crack under her door made it seem like the room was dark.
She grabbed her wand out of her pocket and undid the sealing charm placed on the box, after which the flaps shot open and the inside was visible. Hermione squinted slightly in the darkness to make out the contents and then reached in, allowing her sense of touch to discover them. She lifted out three heavy objects from inside and dumped them on her bed. With her illuminated wand, she moved in closer to see what these masses really were.
Her heart skipped a beat.
Dark Hearts, The Flames of the Fiend, Grimoire: Shadows of Immortality
The three books lay on her bedspread as Hermione’s wide eyes scanned their covers to make sure this wasn’t some sort of a joke. After a minute or two of just gaping, she became convinced that these really were the illegal books that she had been reading at Malfoy Manor this very morning.
She paused for a second and strained her ears, trying to pick out any sounds from outside. It seemed that Ron, Harry and Ginny were still all downstairs. Satisfied with the silence, Hermione reached back into the box and felt around for anything else. She pulled out a folded piece of parchment with only these words:
To help you continue your research – these were the books I found on the table this morning. I hope they are enough. I’m glad to help in any other way. Eli
Hermione suddenly realized why the package had been sent through the Ministry Owlery. The Malfoys’ owls were very easily recognized and it would have taken Harry all of two seconds to realize where this package had come from and another five seconds to open it and discover the illegal contents within. The Malfoy name was also very recognized and so it would have been fairly easy for the package to pass through Ministry inspections without having any questions raised and Harry and Ron would think that this was something from St. Mungos for her.
That familiar adrenaline rush spread through Hermione like wildlife as her eyes scanned the books. It wasn’t over.
She tossed the other two books back in the box and reached for “The Flames of the Fiend”, feeling her pulse race. Holding her wand to the page, she began reading from where she’d left off.
January 2nd 1616
Mother lost control of herself today in front of four muggles visiting in town. It was funny. I could hear her shriek from the street and then the muggles went crazy too… the yelling wouldn’t stop. But I liked it.
To calm her down, father let her do another experiment on me. This time it was the arm… the blood was not as thin today. This upset mother and she yelled at me some more until she went back downstairs.
Hermione kept on reading into the night. Matilda Frogwart spent another 40 entries detailing some more experiments that her mother did to her - though she never mentioned what they were exactly – leading up to September 1616. There was always mention of blood which scared Hermione but Matilda seemed almost apathetic to the experiments now, referring to them as though her mother was trying different dresses on her. Yet there was an undertone of darkness that Hermione felt; the darkness that was probably why this book was not published in a normal library.
There were footsteps outside the door; Hermione stuffed the book noisily in her pillow case and lay under her blankets with her eyes half closed. The footsteps neared and Hermione’s eyes sensed the door opening when the light from the hallway flooded the dark room.
“Are you asleep?” It was Harry.
Hermione felt the stillness in the room as she felt Harry scrutinizing her. “I’m awake,” she said quietly, trying to sound as if she had just woken up.
“Sorry,” Harry mumbled.
“No, it’s alright,” Hermione said as she sat up against her headboard. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just wanted to see how you were. I mean, I know with Ginny fussing and everything, we didn’t really get to talk.”
“Harry, after two hours of interrogation what is there left to talk about?” Hermione said, trying to sound cheerful.
“Well, we couldn’t mention Lestrange in front of Ron.”
Hermione took in a deep breath. “I’ll tell him someday,” she said remorsefully. Lying to Ron was never a good idea but sometimes it was necessary.
“It’s not that,” Harry said, taking a seat on a chair by the bed. Hermione swung her legs over the side of her bed, sitting opposite him. “I tried to find out as much as I could when Ron wasn’t around but I didn’t get very far.”
“Skeid said he was somewhere in Southern Europe,” Hermione offered.
“Yeah,” Harry said pensively. His eyebrows were raised and his jaw was taut and Hermione could tell he wanted to say something.
Harry looked at Hermione with a worried expression that stiffened her body. She knew that expression very well; it was the same one he always had had at Hogwarts when he was hiding some vital piece of information he thought would disturb her.
“I heard those stories too,” he said slowly. “The sources that provided them were very… leery. I mean, they were two guys from Italy who claimed they saw Lestrange staying in some wizarding inn.”
“What’s the problem with that?”
“They didn’t speak Italian, first of all,” Harry said darkly. “And secondly, doesn’t the information just sound…wrong?”
“I don’t know what you’re saying, Harry,” Hermione insisted impatiently. “What’re you getting at?”
“Alright. Think of it this way: Lestrange is a death eater, right?”
“Yes,” Hermione replied bluntly.
“He was among the most loyal to Voldemort and he spent most of his time in close confidences with the darkest wizards and Voldemort himself. He’s got a pretty good idea of how to hide and stay out of the public eye easily.”
“Yes, yes, I get that!” Hermione was now beyond impatient.
“Well, what experienced death eater would choose to hide out in an inn flooded with wizards all year just a few hours from where the Ministry expects him to go?”
Hermione froze. “I checked with the inn and… they’ve got a pretty good reputation. I mean, there are Ministry officials from Italy constantly staying there,” Harry continued. “Lestrange is wanted as an international death eater – there are posters of him in hundreds of different languages plastered over the wizarding world.”
“You think it was a set up?” she asked, managing to squeeze some air into her constricted lungs.
“That’s what I’m not sure of,” Harry said sceptically. “There’s only so much searching I can do without calling attention to the entire thing.”
“What do you think?” Hermione urged. Her experience with Harry had proven that his instincts, sometimes farfetched, were usually right on the mark.
“I think he did set up those sources,” Harry told her truthfully. “The Ministry expects him to be in London right now but they get a tip that he’s hiding out in Italy at the moment. They hand over the case to the Italian officials and let their own guard down. And that’s-”
“The perfect time to sneak in,” Hermione gasped, finishing Harry’s sentence. “It makes sense.”
“And not to mention, they’ve let his target go free,” Harry said. Hermione felt herself exposed as Harry referred to her as a target and her eyes shifted over nervously to the windows as if she expected the crazed man to jump in right now and kill her.
“You’re safe with us,” Harry said reassuringly.
“But are you safe with me?” Hermione asked him. “If a group of death eaters bursts in right now, what happens?”
“We fight,” Harry said, “like we always do.”
“Who protects Molly and Arthur?” Hermione asked. “Who goes to save Victoire? Don’t you see? This was the reason I’d left in the first place. If the threat hasn’t diminished, why did Skeid let me go?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said truthfully. “But-”
He hesitated and leaned in very slightly, lowering his voice. “You didn’t see anything odd at Malfoy Manor, did you?”
Hermione withdrew back slightly and tensed her hands. This is what he’d wanted to say all along. “You think Malfoy had a hand in this?” she asked incredulously.
“It’s a theory,” Harry said hesitantly. “But it makes sense.”
“Well, first of all he takes you in at his Manor so he can keep watch on you until Lestrange finds a way into the country. That way you can’t run away anywhere else. And then, once Lestrange does come back to London, he tells Skeid to let you go –assuring him, it’s safe. Skeid would think so too with the fake sources and he becomes convinced that you’re in no danger. Now, it’s too late for you to hide anywhere.”
Hermione sucked in a deep breath and looked at Harry with intense eyes. “I was with him for over two weeks,” she said. “If he wanted to kill me, he would have done it then.”
“No, no,” Harry corrected her. “When Voldemort was after me, what did he always say?”
Hermione knew instantly. “He said you were to be brought in alive… so he could kill you.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, and Hermione sensed the slight darkening in his tone. “The pawns bring me in while he gets to finish me off.”
“You’re saying Malfoy is a pawn?” Hermione asked uneasily.
“We’ve seen him take orders from other death eaters before, what’s so different about this time?”
Outside the room, there were another two set of footsteps stirring. Hermione heard some muffled ‘goodnights’ and ‘sleep wells’ as the sounds receded. She guessed they were Ron and Ginny, who had finally decided to call it a night.
“You think Skeid would take orders from Malfoy? You think he would just let me go when Malfoy told him?” Hermione asked suddenly.
“Who wouldn’t? He’s got boat loads of money and his family name still holds a lot of power.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” she said finally. “I know… I know that it makes sense but…”
Hermione mind wandered over the many days she had spent in the Manor, trying to figure out exactly why Harry’s theory didn’t seem right to her. Had she been so preoccupied with the creature that she completely overlooked a plot that had been setup to kill her?
“I’m not sure about anything,” Harry said quietly. “It’s all speculation and I plan to check around more so don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Hermione assured him. “I felt safe there… from Lestrange, at least.”
“We all felt you were safe,” Harry agreed. “From what I’ve heard, Malfoy’s got every possible curse surrounding that castle…”
“Yeah, there’s a Fidelus charm too,” Hermione said.
“It’d be a miracle if his friends managed to make it in without getting killed by a curse,” Harry joked. “Quite a fortress, isn’t it?”
Hermione laughed slightly. “No unexpected guests at Malfoy Manor.”
As Harry chuckled lightly, Hermione froze at the sound of her own words. No unexpected guests at Malfoy Manor. There was a familiar ringing in her head – the kind of alarm that was set off when something wasn’t right. A hollow voice inside her head began to recite a familiar conversation to her:
It’s a good thing I decided to drop by for a visit, or I may have been halfway to North America before Draco decided to invite me. Draco was surprised though, weren’t you? A few unexpected visitors always keep things exciting.”
Hermione felt the colour drain from her face.
“Yes, Ms. Parkinson will be visiting here for a few more days I imagine.”
“How many more?”
“I’m not quite sure. I haven’t had the chance to ask her; I saw her this time only when she brought Master Malfoy in after his injury and then I showed her to her room, that’s been it.”
“What’s wrong, Hermione?” Harry asked the pallid girl. “What happened?”
Malfoy Manor is not a mansion…it’s a fortress.
In all her preoccupation, she had failed to notice something. Her acute and observant eyes had missed the obvious deceit right in front of her eyes. For almost two days, she hadn’t realized and now that she had, it might be too late.
“Hermione?” Harry asked, his voice was frantic and he was on the verge of yelling. “What happened? What is it?!”
Hermione tried to gather some air in her lungs and compose her voice before Harry yelled loud enough to wake Ron up. It was harder than she thought as she felt her throat open slightly and gather in the warm air from the room.
She finally spoke in barely a whisper so that Harry had to lean in to hear her. “Pansy.”
Sincerest apologies for the late update! I will try to update before Christmas but if I don't, fear not! I won't abandon this story! School just happens to be killing me!
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