Relatively well rested but still dazed from the cold, Hermione had been woken by Eli at eight in the morning and presented with warm poached eggs and toasted bread in the kitchen. Despite the feeling of comfort as the crunch from the toast aroused her senses and the hot tea drizzled down her throat, she couldn’t help imagining that today would be a very depressing day.
“Master Malfoy’s gone out to meet Mr. Potter,” Eli explained. His suggestive tone indicated that he was merely presenting an unknown fact and not insinuating in any way that Hermione was looking around for Draco, even though she clearly was.
“Do you know why?” she asked.
Eli shrugged and began to clear up the kitchen with the wave of his wand. “I can only imagine that he wanted to do so before your visit to Azkaban.”
“Right,” Hermione said. “That’s going to be exciting.”
“Perhaps you should pack some extra antidote for Master Malfoy,” Eli said but Hermione waved her hand and held up a tiny glass vile in her right palm.
“Way ahead of you,” she said, and sounded proud. “This visit really isn’t going to be good for Draco.”
“He wants a chance to say goodbye,” Eli said protectively, as a father talking about his own son. “He was quite distraught about his father’s death even though he doesn’t seem to mention it quite a lot.”
A question prompted itself into Hermione’s head and given the absence of Draco, she thought it appropriate to ask. “What were his parents like, Eli? I mean, I know what they were like from the outside.”
She had a few adjectives ready to throw out but considering that one was dead and the other close to death, she didn’t feel that would be proper to do. She waited until Eli responded. “They were very protective of family,” he said. “Extremely.”
“Of Draco, you mean?”
He nodded. “He was given the best of the best – private tutors, flying lessons, everything. And when his mother wasn’t by his side – which didn’t happen very often, mind you – his father was teaching him the ways of the death eaters.”
Hermione grimaced. It was all a very pretty picture until Lucius came in. “And they both believed in Voldemort’s ways?”
Eli nodded. “They used to, but of course after the war things changed. I believe, however, that Narcissa still harbours the pureblood sentiments. ”
Hermione turned back to her eggs and started to prod them with her fork. Mentioning Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy to Eli was like talking about them to Draco: uncomfortable. Hermione knew Eli was smart enough to not get offended by her opinions of the Malfoys but she still felt awkward, talking to a loyal servant about their obviously immoral masters. Then a thought suddenly occurred to her.
“She’s not going to like me, is she?” Hermione asked.
Eli pursed his lips very slightly, indicating the all too obvious fact that he had known all along. “I do not think so.”
“She’ll recognize me,” Hermione stated. “And she’ll hate me for being who I am.”
“I honestly cannot say how pronounced her weakness has become,” Eli said, trying to be comforting. “Physically, she can barely move but I’m not sure what this has done to her mental capabilities. For all we know, she may not even register that you are Hermione Granger. She probably will recognize Draco though.”
She nodded. “I’d hate to think what would happen to him if she didn’t.”
“Are you finished?” Eli asked, ushering to the empty plate of eggs in front of Hermione.
She nodded and sighed as he removed the porcelain tray from her sight and guided it over to the small rectangular sink. Draco still hadn’t returned and it seemed that Eli was in the mood for conversation. Should she dare ask him?
There was a loud click from the outside, a little shove and Draco entered the house again, making his presence known by calling out Hermione’s name. She cursed at her missed opportunity but still felt relieved, knowing where Draco was.
“I’m in here,” Hermione called. “In the kitchen!”
He walked in and she was surprised with the huge amount of weight he was carrying. He looked fairly inconspicuous in his black pants and white button down shirt but the huge bag slung over his shoulder and the dizzying stack of books he carried in his hands undid the effects of his subtle dressing.
“What on earth is that?” she cried, getting up to help him place everything on the table. “Did you rob a library?”
Draco smiled and winked. “Only for you, Hermione,” he said.
Hermione’s heart leapt just a tiny bit but it was all too obvious that he was kidding. “I went over to Potter’s place and asked him to get me access to the Ministry library. I’d have gone in with my own name but… well, I figure Draco Malfoy should remain out of sight for a while.”
She scanned through the titles, mostly out of sheer curiosity but part of her also wanted to draw attention away from the bright shade of red that had definitely streaked across her face. Magical Creatures and where to find them, Beasts, Beasts and more beasts, Vampires and how to get to know them, The truth behind blood suckers, So you want to become a vampire?, A Comprehensive guide to dark creatures.
“I thought we’d get some research in on the way to Azkaban,” he suggested. “It’s a very long drive.”
“We’re driving?” Hermione asked.
“The Ministry carriages,” Draco replied. “Courtesy of Potter. They’re waiting outside for us.”
Harry really had been doing all that he could without directly interfering and Hermione silently thanked him for that. She knew how hard it was for him to stand by especially when Ron was the one involved.
“I shall see you both tonight for dinner,” Eli said, bowing graciously. He nodded once to Draco. “Good luck, Master Malfoy.”
He reciprocated with the same gesture and then led Hermione towards the front door which was still slightly ajar from the time he had entered. The outside was a loud more beautiful as the snow had settled on tufts of grass, leaving the occasional green streak. In the middle of the street, their carriage stood. It was not as gallant as Draco’s but nonetheless, it beat the floo network by miles. The dark grey panelling on the side bore the Ministry emblem and perched at the harness of the three thestrals was... no one.
“No driver?” she asked Draco.
“These ones are only for commute to Azkaban,” he explained. “The thestrals know where to go.”
She held onto Draco’s hand instinctively as he opened the door for her and helped her in, following close behind. The books were summoned through a charm and placed opposite them. Again, Hermione compared the pale blue seats to the red, velvety cushions of the Malfoy carriage, adorned with gold tassels and embroidery.
“Not quite the same is it,” Draco said, reading her mind.
She laughed. “Not quite.”
The door closed and as the carriage began to gather speed, Hermione closed her eyes. The irrational fear she had took over her body once again but instead of a smirking Draco, she realized that he had put his hand on hers and was holding onto it with extreme care. Before they had even lifted off, her eyes flew open and she looked down at the hand and then back up at the grey eyes.
Draco looked a little confused. “Should I… stop?” he asked, awkwardly.
“No,” Hermione said, and then regretted how quickly she had said it. “I just… it’s different from the last time we were here.”
She looked out the window with a little lurch in her stomach and realized they were already soaring through the air. Draco removed his hand and reached over to grab one of the many books that lay on the seat across from them. Hermione, however, was in no mood to study or research. The question that had been bugging her in the kitchen, which she hadn’t had the chance to pose to Eli was nagging her again. Something about the cold morning air as it entered Hermione’s lungs, the rush of energy as they flew high above the ground and the general frivolity of the situation prompted Hermione’s next words.
“Why do you and Pansy have sex?”
Oh dear Merlin. She cursed herself for sounding like a stupid little girl, quizzical and curious about things that were none of her business. Worse than that, she sounded like a little girl asking where babies came from. Shit, bugger, shit, shit, shit.
Draco’s internal response may have been similar but there was no way she could know. Instead, his eyes ballooned to the size of tennis balls and the grey pupils within were flooded with confusion and, Hermione noted this was very slight, guilt. Maybe he was also debating within himself if she really, truly had asked him such a question. There was quite possibly the most awkward silence of forty seconds before Draco chose to respond.
“Did you just ask me why Pansy and I have sex?” he said. Hermione was too distracted formulating her not-so-stupid response to analyse his voice.
“I think so…” she replied, sounding as uncomfortable as she felt. How on earth was that not-so-stupid?
She had already plunged blindly into the ice water, against her better judgement. “It’s just,” she began, trying to gather herself, “I mean, I know you guys... well, Pansy at least told me. And , do you love her?”
Oh holy crap, this could not get worse. Then she heard her last question in her head again. Nope, just got worse. Judging by the discernable mix of embarrassment and… what was that? Humour? He’s laughing at me.
“Why, all of a sudden, do you want to know?” he asked.
Honesty seemed to be the way to go. “When you told me last night that you liked me, I realized that I knew nothing about you beyond what I’d assumed at Hogwarts and what I’d heard from Harry and Ron. I mean, I know the kind of person you are but I know nothing else about you.”
He seemed disturbed by this thought and then countered: “I can say the same about you. If I tell you, then you should tell me something about yourself as well.”
“Agreed,” Hermione responded, eager to get her answer.
“Well,” Draco began, rather subdued. “I don’t love her, to answer your first question. But to address the overall issue, yes, I have slept with her.”
Hermione waited for him to bring up the ‘why’ part of her question and she wasn’t going to ask him again. But surely enough, a few seconds later he had recollected his thoughts, formulated his answer and then presented it to her.
“I was a very… controlled child, as I’m sure Eli has told you. Rigour and structure were part of my daily life and Pansy easily became an important characteristic of that. She was, to put it quite simply, the male version of me. Trained in the same arts, taught the same things and manipulated to grow up exactly the same. So it shouldn’t surprise you that our parents had arranged a marriage between us and during Hogwarts, that seemed a likely possibility. We slept together for the first time at the beginning of our sixth year and that was around the time of my budding death eater prospects. My father was… so proud, it was disgusting. And during that year, we slept together many times more and it became a sort of… release for me from my tensions of life. I was failing miserably at the task I was given and so I came back to my dormitory and had sex with Pansy. In my own way, it gave me a feeling of triumph when I failed at everything else. I never fell in love with her and nor she with me. We were just two people forced into a situation together. When, two years ago, Lestrange destroyed whatever I had left, I resorted back to that physical comfort because my mind was beyond repair. To be with Pansy again was like that sense of triumph – as stupid and shallow and…phallic as that may sound.”
Hermione listened with muted resignation. Meaningless sex for fun had seemed, to her at least, a much more satisfactory answer because it was simpler. Draco presented a much more complex view of himself which troubled Hermione. There was so much she didn’t know about him.
Realizing the magnitude of his confession, Draco gave Hermione a few minutes to absorb the information and waited for any follow up questions. She didn’t have any, or at least, she didn’t ask him anything.
“Now you,” he said, eager to remove the spotlight off of himself.
“Well what do you want to know?” she asked.
“I want to know about you and Weasley,” he prompted.
Hermione laughed and then thinking herself to be too cold, subdued herself with a smile. “That’s a very broad subject,” she mused. “We’d be here all day.”
“You two aren’t together anymore, right?” he asked and when she nodded rather solemnly, he added: “Why?”
Hermione braced herself for it was now her turn to reveal the more complex Hermione Granger, or at least, the darker one. “Ron and I had been friends for six years when he first asked me out during seventh year and naturally, it seemed logical. It followed the right pattern. First Harry and Ginny and then Ron and I and I have to admit that I did like him and was insanely jealous of Lavender and even Fleur when she gave him all that attention.”
Draco nodded, encouraging her to continue. “But we were different people and not different like opposites-attract kind of different. We were completely on different sides of every argument. He wanted to settle down instantly and get married, and I wanted a chance to rebuild my life. He proposed to me the weekend after the war ended. What was I supposed to do? And then when I told him it was too soon, we went back to dating but by the time I was ready for something more serious, he decided that his auror career needed his time. He loved me, that I don’t doubt but he never understood me. He couldn’t accept that I was no longer Hermione from Hogwarts. He thought that when I saw heavenly miracles in rain, it was wrong because it wasn’t logical. But how could I explain to him, make him understand that in seeing death, in seeing my life on the edge I had begun to accept a world beyond my comprehension?”
She began to feel emotions winding up inside herself and controlled her voice. “Well, anyways, we were different and neither of us were brave enough to face that. We stuck it out, hoping for something. I don’t know about Ron but every morning I’d wake up and hope that today I’d feel that electricity pulse through me like I’d always imagined but it never came. What you saw in the little village by the Manor was just the build up of years of self-deception and lies.”
Draco weakly nodded, oddly reminiscent of the way she had when he’d finished explaining his relationship with Pansy. Perhaps that was the only way in which to acknowledge such deep information.
“Do you think you can still be friends after this?” Draco asked.
She shrugged hopelessly. “We didn’t even really quite finish the break up. I mean, one minute I told him that I couldn’t be his girlfriend and the next I became Lady Malfoy and he turned into our evil friend Ronald. I do love him though, as a friend, as one of my best friends.”
“Relationships that revolve around circumstances don’t always seem to work, do they?” she added, as an afterthought.
“That’s not true,” Draco said. “Relationships can start off anywhere and in any way. It’s not how or when or where you meet someone but it’s the consequences of your time together that matter. Sometimes the person can be sitting right in front of you and you may not notice.”
Draco had planned his comment very carefully, ensuring that Hermione had been sitting beside him to avoid an awkward silence. “What’s sitting in front of us right now is a whole load of books,” Hermione said, making a smooth transition into a less taxing conversation. “I still can’t believe you brought them all.”
“I’m not a reader,” he admitted. “My father kept thrusting large voluminous texts at me while my mother used to leave classical literature on my bedside table. I decided that instead of disappointing one of them, I’d disappoint them both. In my life, I’ve probably only read one full book from cover to cover. But despite my disregard for books, I do know when they’re useful.”
“Alright,” Hermione said, rubbing her hands together dramatically and grabbing the top book from the pile. “Let’s do this.”
They were two hours into their research before their first break through.
In the first half hour, they had both silently scanned through their books, pausing when something interesting came up and the folding the corner of the page so that they could come back to it. Nothing but the rush of the air filled the silence and it gave them both a little time to themselves and perhaps, time to reflect on what they had just learnt.
By the end of the first hour, conversation had restarted and they began animated discussions about Adria and Matilda Frogwart. Hermione had brought along the book and charts that Cassius had given her so cross referencing was possible but other than agreeing that Matilda Frogwart was a twisted woman, no other consensus could be reached.
It was one hour later that Draco started to read out the first and only allusion to dark magic and vampires that he had found.
“Creating creatures of the night,” he began, reading from Vampires: A Study Guide, “vampirism is known to bind to dark magic.”
Hermione paused instantly and looked up at him. “Say that again,” she said, furrowing her brow.
“Creating creatures of-”
“No, no, no, the last part,” Hermione said.
“Vampirism is known to bind to dark magic.”
There was a slur of incomprehensible words that Draco strained his ears to grasp, but failed. She flipped through some pages, cast aside loose sheets of paper and scanned various titles before she turned back to him to explain herself.
“I’ve heard that before,” she said. “I can’t remember where but that seems so familiar. Except that it wasn’t about vampires.”
“Where? Can you remember when?” he asked.
Hermione shook her head. “Say it again,” she said, closing her eyes.
Draco smirked, much to her surprise and when she opened her eyes and looked at him with confusion, he added with a smile: “You make it sound like I’m saying something dirty.”
Hermione grunted and then smiled. “Please, just humour me and don’t say vampirism.”
He rolled his eyes and began. “Is known to bind to dark magic,” he said, slowly and clearly enunciating every syllable to ensure that Hermione could try and trigger her memory.
There was a two minute silence in which he analyzed the little twists and wrinkles that formed on her face as she tried to remember. Part of him was excited, of course but the rest of him was just plain amused. So this was the ritualistic process behind Hermione Granger’s intellect.
She opened her eyes, admitting nothing but defeat. “I can’t remember it,” she said, frustrated.
“It’s alright, it’ll come to you,” Draco reassured her. “I’m pretty bored with this stuff as is, and maybe getting your mind off of it will help things.”
“Shall we return to playing ‘Get to know me’?” she asked, sarcastically.
Draco’s lips parted, as he was about to form a word but the carriage came to a sudden stop with a thud. Barely being able to gather herself, Hermione looked out the window and into the open blue sea. It was a little disorienting, from her perspective and given the uneasy feeling of claustrophobia that had clouded her mind recently, to see the vast span of the water until it touched the horizon. It was mid-afternoon and the sun’s bright glare flickered playfully atop the waters, creating bright flashes of white on the pale blue.
“It’s beautiful,” Hermione breathed.
“Ironic,” Draco replied, “considering we’ve just landed at Azkaban.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Pansy asked, watching uneasily as the blood dripped out of Ron’s mouth.
“Yeah,” he muttered, rubbing his sleeve against his dry, cracked lips.
It was either day 3 or day 4, Pansy didn’t really know and honestly, she didn’t really care. Exhaustion had overtaken every fibre of her being. Exhaustion from excruciating amount of pain it took to execute the slightest movements due to her broken rib and newly acquired bruises and cuts. She was exhausted from the fact that she hadn’t slept properly in days out of fear that the slightest sound might be the death eaters coming to get them. And lastly, she was exhausted from the sheer amount of willpower it took to find reasons to stay alive, to chew on the few scraps of food that Eli had managed to scour before fleeing to find Hermione and Draco, to not run into the death eaters and hope that they’d end her misery for her.
In the back of her mind, Pansy knew that it would take a few days for Draco and Hermione to figure out how to come find them but the wait was killing her. She looked over at Ron, who was leaning against the wall with closed eyes. In their haste to move further down the passage to avoid the death eaters, he’d tripped over a large stone basin and broken his jaw, adding to an already long list of injuries which included a severe burn, multiple cuts and a broken ankle.
She sighed, eyeing the faint streaks of day that shone from the far end of the passage. There was no way they’d be able to escape. Eli had been the only choice and that had been when there were only Lestrange and his three men staying in the Manor. Now with more and more people arriving each day and more bodies appearing in the dungeons, escaping would be impossible.
In the faded darkness that was tainted with a few golden shadows that were merely a teaser of the freedom which they had foregone, they couldn’t really do much. The cold stone floor was terribly rough on the injuries that they both suffered and since they were below ground level, the frigid draft and small palettes of ice did nothing more than amplify the negative effects.
“Here,” she said, grabbing a piece of broken ice and wrapping it in one of the bloody cloths they had used. She pressed it gently against Ron’s face at which point he flinched but didn’t complain. “Does that feel better?”
“A little,” he said.
They had found themselves a small alcove, or rather, Eli had found them a small alcove that could fit two people with enough room left over for provisions and that’s where they had been for the last day or so.
“Here’s some bread,” she offered, placing it in his palm. “You’ll feel better once you’ve eaten.”
“No, I’m not really that hungry,” he said. “It’s better we save it for later when we’re starving. Your lips are turning blue.”
“I’m fine,” Pansy replied speedily. “No, it’s really okay, I don’t need your robe.”
But Ron removed the woollen robe that he had worn over his dress robes and handed it to her, despite her protests. “It’s my turn to sleep as is,” he remarked. “You can wear it till I wake up. If you die, Malfoy’ll probably blame me for it.”
She swung the robe over her head, with pain, and allowed the gentle, soft fabric to melt away against her skin. She looked over at Ron, whose eyes had begun to droop mercilessly, and felt a twinge of loneliness.
But within a second, or maybe even less, that feeling dissipated into sheer horror. “Do you hear that?” she whispered, her voice high pitched, as she rubbed Ron’s shoulders.
His eyes opened in a flash and he sat up. “What?”
But then his ears caught the shuffles in the farther end of the passage. There was movement, very slight but very evident. He moved his hand back and put it against Pansy’s shoulder. “Stay very still.”
“Maybe it’s Draco,” she guessed, but her own conviction was betrayed by the shakiness in her voice.
Within moments, the source of the sounds was revealed. A small figure was emerging from the darkness and small was an understatement. It was probably no more than three feet tall.
“It’s a… house elf,” Ron said, puzzled. “I thought you said they weren’t allowed down here?”
Pansy shrugged. “I is here to give the sir and madam something!” he said, or rather squealed. “Master Eli said that if an owl arrives in the kitchen, then Dory must come and give it to the sir and madam in the south tower passage.”
Ron shot his hand out immediately and received the letter. The elf also handed the red-head a small basket which he looked at suspiciously before handing to Pansy. “What’s in it?” he asked.
“Beef, pastries and a blanket,” the elf said. “Master Eli said to gives them to the sir and madam when Dory receives the first owl.”
“You have to come down here very quietly,” Pansy instructed. “We don’t want anyone finding us, Dory.”
The elf nodded eagerly. “Dory knows, and Dory will be very careful.”
“Thank you,” Ron said and the elf turned away squeakily, popping back into the darkness.
Given the extra provisions, Ron was most happy to eat something now. He dug deep into the basket and produced a thick, jelly-filled pastry that tickled his taste buds before it even entered his mouth. Meanwhile, Pansy had grabbed the envelope.
“It’s from Draco,” she said, excited and read it aloud: “Move another 25 yards north and push on the fourth brick from bottom on the left wall. Go through, turn south and exit west until the ground changes. Tomorrow at 3 a.m. Take care.”
Ron had already devoured his pastry and so stuck his head out, just a little to examine the passage which Draco suggested. “He’s smart,” he said. “He didn’t mention a single location that could be traced. What time is it now?”
“It’s 12:23 p.m.”
He cocked his eyebrow. “How did you kn-”
But he stopped when Pansy held up a thin, silver watch that Draco had enclosed in the envelope as well. Ron nodded, impressed, and then produced the blanket over his head, closing his eyes. “He’s smart.”
Azkaban was nothing new to Draco. He had been there many times before and today, it looked just as it always had. The huge stone walls were covered in filth and kept in the cold, dry air that reeked of blood and flesh. There was a small room before entering the actual prison where visitors were checked for any illicit materials but beyond that, there were no aurors, just dementors. They had been restored to Azkaban a year after they had been banned only because the Ministry realized the sheer power and control these creatures had over some of the deadliest prisoners known to man.
After their security check, Draco and Hermione walked down a long twisted passage before they entered the main holding cells. Immediately, Draco felt Hermione’s hand encircle his arm and she walked close by him.
“She’s here,” Draco said, ushering to one of the corner cells.
There was a pause as Draco took two steps forward while Hermione remained where she was. He guessed she didn’t think it polite to intrude on what could be the last chance they have to talk. He nodded to her with unspoken thanks and turned back to cell as he said, very softly, “Mother.”
He craned his neck into the cell and if he hadn’t visited the last few times, he wouldn’t have known that the small heap of cloth lying in the right corner was in fact his mother. She stirred a little, and then his second call drew her from the thin black sheets.
Whatever the stress of revenge had done to Draco and Hermione was nothing compared to what Azkaban had done to Narcissa Malfoy. Her long blonde hair was now as thin as straw, falling out periodically in large bunches. The colour had faded to a point where it just looked like soot mixed in with the occasional gray hairs. Her features had sunk deep into her face; no longer was her nose pointed and proud, no longer were her eyes bright and silver and no longer was her chin worn high as a Malfoy’s should. Her bones were sharp and pressed against her paper like skin with such force that it seemed like she was going to explode any second.
She looked at Draco for a moment, not understanding what this strange presence was.
“It’s me,” he said. “It’s Draco.”
“Draco,” she said, her voice was trembling and hoarse. “Draco. You came.”
“Of course, I did,” he replied. He bent down and placed his hands gingerly on his mother’s cheeks, feeling the hollowness.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” she said. “I always thought about how you would grow up to be such a strong man and look at you now!”
Draco smiled sadly. She had lost track of time. He’d come to visit her last month but to her it must have seemed like an eternity had passed. She pressed her bony fingers on his temple and then ran them down the side of his face, admiring her son.
“Where is your father, dear?” she asked, looking around the cell. “They usually let me spend a few hours with him.”
Even a sad smile seemed hard to muster right now. The doctors had warned Draco that his mother’s condition had worsened but seeing the effects up close was much more harrowing. She had forgotten that Lucius died four months ago.
“He’s dead,” Draco said. Were Narcissa her old self, she would have approved of his frankness and direct answer. I>Don’t sugarcoat things, Draco, it only makes you look weak. She always told him that.
Narcissa’s lower lip began to tremble. “Is he?” she asked.
He nodded, holding both her hands. “Mother, he died a few months ago. Don’t you remember? He tried to escape and they caught him. They even let you share a cell before his kiss.”
His mother nodded, somehow taken by the fact that she remembered something. “He told me to…” she paused.
“What did he tell you?” Draco asked. The doctors had said that recalling details was important but he was curious as well. “Mother, what did dad say?”
“He told me to survive,” Narcissa replied, looking very confused as she stared at the ground, furrowing her brow. Her blue eyes shot up into Draco’s and she put her hands out, as if reaching for him. “I miss you, my boy.”
He could tell that movement for her was fairly limited. She was weaker than the last time. Gently holding her hands, he pulled her into an embrace and smiled at her wet eyes. “You know I love you. It’ll be alright.”
Once again, Narcissa put her cold fingertips against Draco’s skin. “You look tired,” she said.
“I am,” he answered truthfully.
“Is Eli taking care of you?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes, he is.”
“Monsieur Malfoy!” the French guard called from outside. “Your time’s almost up, sir. You’re already ten minutes overtime.”
A cold shiver began to sail through Draco’s bones as he realized that this may be the last time he would ever see his mother. With Lucius, it was different. His father was always a very imposing figure and when Draco didn’t meet his standards, nothing could shield the sheer disappointment and anger in his father’s eyes. Narcissa, on the other hand, was a mother. She was the kind of woman who pursed her lips irritably at a dinner when Draco behaved improperly but always defended him against Lucius, regardless of his conduct.
“You’ll be okay,” he promised her, placing his lips against her frail forehead and kissing it. “I love you.”
Narcissa put her head against his chest and her breathing became heavy and constrained. She was crying. “Please don’t leave me here, Draco.”
“I promise I’ll do anything they want me to. I’ll testify… I’ll give them all the evidence just please… please don’t leave me here alone. The nights are terrifying, please!”
“I can’t just take y-” Draco pleaded, still holding on to her shoulders.
“I won’t even live in the Manor with you if you don’t want me to,” she begged. “I just can’t live here another second! Please! I want to grow old and die like a human being! Not like an animal!”
The French guard’s voice filled the thick air around them. “Monsieur Malfoy, I must insist.”
Draco looked away from the ice blue eyes that were filled with tears. He knew that once he saw into them, he wouldn’t be able to leave. “I have to go,” he said, staring at the floor.
He pried her fingers off of him and stood up, feeling smaller and worse than he’d ever felt in his life. Her pleading continued, but the whole encounter seemed to have weakened her. She sat back onto the floor, mumbling to herself and letting the tears flow. The cell door opened with a clank, and catching what could be the last glance of his mother, he turned away instantly, unable to bear the pain any longer.
When he reached the corner of the passage, he saw Hermione standing, absorbed in her thoughts. She looked up when she heard his footsteps. The weight of the world was crushing down on him and when he reached Hermione, all he could do was wait for her to put her arms around him and pull him into an embrace as he buried his head on her shoulder and for the first time in years, cried.
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with an exasperated sigh. He had been searching for hours now. The Department of Records was almost closed for the day and he still hadn’t found out who the fourth witness in the Lestrange case was.
“Shit,” he muttered, shifting through what seemed like the thousandth stack of papers.
“Something wrong, Mr. Potter?”
The sixteen year old intern at the records department shuffled up from behind and tapped on Harry’s shoulder. He was six feet tall, extremely thin and his hazel eyes were hidden behind a wall of shaggy black hair.
“Basil, there are three witness profiles in Lestrange’s case file,” he said, pointing out the three stacks. “But there are four witnesses. Where did the last case file go?”
The intern shrugged. “All department heads have access to this place, sir,” he said. “And of course,” he added, indicating to Harry himself. “Certain important people have access as well.”
“Hundreds of people must have visited this department since the file was first issued four years ago. There’s no way I’ll be able to figure out who stole the file.” He grunted, and put his glasses back on.
“Actually,” Basil began, “all criminal files are reviewed when the case is reopened and if any evidence is missing, it’s noted down in the review documents.”
Harry looked at the young man with a new surge of hope. “Can you get me the documents for the Lestrange case file?” he asked and the intern eagerly agreed, rushing into a white walled corridor and emerging three minutes later with a small file folder.
“Here,” he said, placing it in front of Harry on the large black desk.
Harry opened the file, calming himself down so that he didn’t damage the papers in any way. There was a pink sheet on the top of the pile which dictated the protocol of reviewing a file. All evidence was first checked to see if it matched the checklist that was created when the file was assembled. When the verification was done, the examiner was to log the date of their review as well as sign in the presence of a co-signer whose name was noted. After that, the file could be used for the purpose of a criminal investigation.
Harry moved the pink sheet over to the side and examined the log.
“Well fancy that, Mr. Potter,” Basil said, peering over Harry’s shoulder and pointing to the first date. “Look at that. The original checklist says there are only three witness files.”
But Harry’s eyes weren’t focused on the original checklist. He was rereading the first review ever made to the Lestrange file, three days after it had been created. The examiner, the first person to have ever reviewed this file, had noted that all three witness files were present as well as all other supporting documentation. But moreover, the co-signer of the first review was a person very familiar to Harry.
“Mr. Potter, that’s your name!” Basil said, pointing at the name of the co-signer of the first review.
“That’s not possible. I have never seen the Lestrange case file,” Harry began. “And I have never co-signed this document… for anyone.”
“So it was forged?”
“Oh, more than that,” Harry said, rising. “Basil, the purpose of the co-signer is to assure that another person has seen this file and can vouch for the fact that it was not tampered with. If my name was forged as a co-signer, then that means the first examiner was by himself when he reviewed the file and he was probably the one who changed the original checklist from four witness files to three.”
“And so, after that, everyone just thought there were three witnesses because the original checklist said so,” Basil finished, amazed.
“Very good,” Harry commended. “But you know who wouldn’t forget that there were four people who could jeopardize his chance at freedom?”
“Rodolphus Lestrange,” Basil said. “But wait, who changed the original checklist? Who was the first examiner?”
Harry looked at the signature. He had seen it thousands of times before on documents, arrest warrants, official statements. The calligraphy was very distinct and even from a fair distance away, Harry saw how the dot from the ‘i’ ended with a curl that then joined it with the ‘d’. Basil was just an inexperienced boy and so he probably couldn’t make out the first and last name but Harry, who had seen the name so many times before, knew exactly who it was.
Draco’s head was tilted against the cushioned backing of the large red sofa in Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Hermione didn’t know if he really was sleeping or if he just wanted to rest in silence but she didn’t disturb him. She was sitting beside him and reading the last few pages of Matilda Frogwart’s diary as Eli prepared dinner.
She had married, quite late in life but to someone she believed she loved. Unfortunately, her rash experiments in foreign lands and many encounters with illegal magic had caused a sort of disease within her. She was sick, and she was dying. It was only when her first born child died three days after his birth that she realized that her disease was hereditary and that she had passed it on to him. Her daughter, born two years after, inherited a milder form of the disease and so managed to live. Matilda Frogwart died at the age of 44, never having solved the mystery of her mother or laying the ghost of her mother to rest.
Pondering the disastrous consequences of her actions, Hermione looked below the stack of books and saw a handwritten note, addressed to her. Curious, she held it up to the light and read it to herself.
The disease that Matilda Frogwart contracted was known as Fryer’s disease. I’ll assume that you are as smart as you are curious so there’ll be no need to explain the contraction of this disease to a healer as distinguished as yourself. Matilda Frogwart’s daughter, Felice, passed it on to her children as well and died at the age of thirty three. Her children, after passing it on to their kids, died at the age of fifty eight, sixty two and forty nine. You get the pattern. The disease was continuously passed on but given that only one parent carried it, it became less and less effective over the generations and her living descendents will probably live till about eighty or ninety. That’s not totally relevant but I assumed you’d want to know.
Hermione recalled that Fryer’s disease could be caused in a multitude of ways but its symptoms always remained the same, particularly when the patient came closer to death: weakness, white liver spots on the arms and legs and the release of blood from the mouth. It was a slow process.
Her attention wavered when she heard a series of coughs beside her and she immediately looked at Draco. His eyes were still closed but he had begun to expel blood from his mouth. He was coughing and with every cough, more blood fell onto the fabric. She had anticipated this and produced a large bucket that was resting on the other side of the living room. She pulled it out in front of Draco so that the blood would mostly land there and put her hand gently on his cheek.
“Draco, wake up,” she said.
His eyes remained closed and she suddenly began to panic. But, with another tap on his face, they opened to reveal the grey irises that had suffered so much. He looked at her with confusion but before he could say anything, he began to cough again and this time, expelled a large clot of blood into the bucket.
Hermione placed her hand on his back. “It’s okay,” she said, as he bent over. “Your blood’s just exceptionally thin right now because of the medication. Your body’s trying to get rid of it.”
He sat up straighter and Hermione pressed her hand to his forehead. “Your temperature’s fine,” she said.
He nodded before throwing up another bit of blood. His body felt limp and drained, and he let it glide towards the floor where he sat, leaning against the seat. Hermione placed the bucket on the floor as well, right in front of him. She reached into her pocket and produced her thin vile with antidote in it. He took it from her hands and overturned it in his mouth. When the vile was empty, he sat back and pursed his lips, tasting the last of the drops that remained. The beetle extract in the antidote had probably settled the blood for a little while longer so Hermione pushed the bucket of blood towards the side and under the seat.
He pushed the hair out of his face and rubbed his eyes with fatigue, looking at the book that lay by Hermione’s side. “Did you finish the book?”
She nodded. “She dies in the end, because of a disease. Her husband wrote the last entry, talking about her death.”
He nodded. “That doesn’t really help, does it?”
“No,” she said. “But it’s nice to have an ending.”
They both looked up when Eli entered the room with a tray carrying an envelope on it. He placed them by Draco’s side and then summoned two cups from the kitchen and a kettle pot from which he began to pour some tea.
“A letter, sir,” he said.
Draco opened it, carefully laying his hand on the couch to stabilize his balance. He was still sitting on the floor and the rosy colour in his cheeks was yet to be restored. His eyes read over the words that were printed on the parchment.
“It’s from Harry,” he said. “Someone changed the number of witnesses in the Lestrange file from four to three. Harry thinks that it was the fourth witness himself who changed it.”
Draco stood up, trying to make his rising look effortless. “Henry Skeid.”
“What?” Hermione asked, standing up as well.
“It gets worse,” Draco informed her, a knowing look on his face. “Harry just went over to find Skeid and his house is empty – not even the smallest trace can be found. It’s almost as if he vanished into thin air.”
Chapter 28 - Rescue
This was an eerie twist of fate. This was time taking apart an old puzzle and putting it back together again. But it wasn’t completely the same. The roles had changed, positions reversed and the choice would now be his.