Note to anyone who was confused in between chapter 8 and chapter 9:
I...ahem...forgot to post the last part of the chapter, so go back and read chapter 8 to see how Hermione escaped Malfoy Manor with Marcus. Sorry about that!
Now, without further ado, Chapter 10 (the longest chapter yet ;) )!
Hermione jumped in surprise. The voice belonged to a brown-haired man with an Irish lilt to his voice. He was dirty and unshaven, and his clothes hadn’t been washed in days, if the smell was anything to go by. “No, I’m fine, thank you,” she said firmly, walking past him.
“Are you sure?” he asked, pulling out a wickedly curved dagger and grabbing her arm.
Hermione plunged her hand into her robes, but realized with an ice-cold rush that she had left her wand at home, using Floo Powder as her means of travel for the day. “What do you want?” she asked loudly, refusing to show any fear.
“A brunette for my collection,” replied the man, a lopsided leer on his face but a cruel look in his eyes. “I’ll just take your scalp, my dear. But first, I’ll need you to relax.”
Before Hermione could do so much as cry for help, the dagger plunged deep into her belly. It was then that the scream ripped from her lips, slightly muffled by the thick, smoky air of the alley.
Hermione’s knees gave out and she fell to the ground, her head held up by the man’s strong grip on her hair. Pain flared up in her stomach as blood began to flow thickly from the deep wound in her abdomen.
The man jerked the dagger out of her body and wiped it on the dirty ground. Hermione made no more sounds of distress as a sweeping numbness swept through her legs and stomach.
“Now,” muttered the man thoughtfully, “I’ll start from the front this time—perhaps more of the skin will remain intact.”
Hermione felt the knife blade touch her forehead and she let out a soft cry of despair, but it was barely louder than the meow of a kitten.
“Accio!” snarled a very different voice, and Hermione dimly watched as the knife flew away from her body and fell with a clatter on the ground yards away.
The man who had stabbed her was forcefully pulled off of her and thrown against a wall, his body hitting with a dull thud.
Whoever had rescued her pulled out his wand and began torturing the man with his wand, using the Cruciatus Curse.
“Stop,” Hermione whispered, her voice much too faint for them to hear. “It’s illegal…”
Minutes later, the tortured man was finally released from the curse and lay still and unmoving on the ground.
“Take him to the Ministry—we don’t know his name but he’s the serial killer known as ‘The Scalper,’” said the man who had saved her life. He was talking to another man who had accompanied him there. He turned to face Hermione, and she realized with a shock that it was Draco Malfoy who had come to her aid.
“Don’t touch me,” she breathed, trying to move away from him.
Malfoy said nothing in reply, and Hermione wondered blithely if he’d even heard her. Everything was all confused now in her head anyway…her head was spinning, her eyes were unfocused…her tummy hurt so very badly…and what was all that red stuff on the ground all around her? Surely it couldn’t all be her blood? There was way too much of it…where was Harry? And Ron? They should be with her….it hurts…
A soothing, songlike incantation filled the air, and Hermione relaxed instinctively against the ground at hearing it. Perhaps this was what it felt like to die…was she hearing angels? And then she saw that Malfoy’s lips were moving at the same time as the incantation. Pain wound its way through her stomach as the edges of the deep gash began to slowly knit together.
“It hurts,” she whimpered as the worst pain she had known in her life shot through her stomach. Her fingers found Malfoy’s arm and gripped tightly.
Malfoy continued the incantation, his wand tip circling the wound in her stomach. The agonizing pain continued for long minutes, during which pitiful cries of pain escaped the girl’s lips. The pain finally loosened its hold on her, and there was just a long scar on her stomach where before the gaping wound had been.
“Try to stand,” Malfoy told her, getting to his feet and dusting off his robes.
Hermione managed to get into a sitting position, but even that proved to be too much for her and she passed out on the ground. Seconds later, her eyes opened and she was looking directly into Malfoy’s eyes.
“You’ve lost too much blood,” he stated, picking her up effortlessly in his arms.
Hermione tried to reply, but her body began shaking involuntarily with chills, though it was a warm summer’s night.
“I’m taking you to St. Mungo’s,” Malfoy said, looking uncharacteristically concerned. “You’re either in shock or you have some sort of infection.”
“Not Mungo’s,” she gasped out, struggling to stay conscious. Her stomach churned most unpleasantly. “The Prophet will—have a field day—please.”
“I can’t take you there anyway—it makes it very obvious that I’m a Hunter then, since the Hunters just dropped the scum off at the Ministry. But Granger, I’m not going to your shithole of a flat,” growled Malfoy, his voice sounding much too far away.
Blackness swirled in front of her vision, and with a soft gasp, Hermione’s eyes closed completely.
Hermione woke up the moment she became conscious enough to notice that there was a hand on her forehead. With a startled gasp, she opened her eyes.
“Relax, you’re all right,” the owner of the hand said gently, smiling down at her. “I’m Mark Williams, a Healer.”
“Where am I?” Hermione said thickly. “How long have I been unconscious. Am I all right?” She realized with embarrassment that she wasn’t wearing a shirt—rather, bandages were wrapped tightly around her stomach and she was covered by a blanket as she lay on a very comfortable sofa. Sunlight streamed through the large bay windows and warmed the room comfortably.
Mark held up a hand, his hazel eyes amused. His short, light-brown hair framed a face that was handsome and reassuring. He looked to be in his late twenties. “You’re in Malfoy Manor, in the sunroom. You’ve been unconscious for about two days, and you are perfectly all right. The bandages need to stay on for the rest of the day, as they are imbued with an anti-scarring serum that should make your stomach look good as new.” He smiled kindly. “Any other questions?”
“If you’re here, then doesn’t that make you…” Hermione shut her mouth quickly, realizing that if she wanted to become respected again, she couldn’t ask everyone she met if they were Hunters. Just because someone entered the Malfoy house did not necessarily mean that they were a Hunter.
“A Hunter, yes,” replied the man easily.
Hermione inhaled sharply.
“Don’t worry—not all of us are necessarily evil,” Mark said quickly, seeing her distress. “I was away at the time of your last visit to Malfoy Manor, which is why the others were in such frenzy when you were affected by the cursed explosion.”
When Hermione didn’t look convinced, he continued, “You are not a prisoner here, and Draco has assured me that you can’t arrest us, so you have no reason to fear me.”
“Er…” Hermione paused, wondering if she should ask him a question that had just popped into her head.
“Why do you call him ‘Draco’? Most of the other Hunters I’ve seen have called him ‘Boss’ or ‘Mr. Malfoy,’ and I just wondered why you didn’t…”
“Draco and I have known each other for many years,” Mark said, chuckling darkly.
“Where is he?” Hermione asked uneasily.
“In his office—would you like me to get him for you?”
“No, thank you,” replied Hermione quickly. “If I’m not a prisoner, then when can I leave?”
Mark looked thoughtfully at the clock and then asked, “If I may check the progress of your healing, Miss Granger?”
“It’s Hermione—and yes, you can,” she answered, nervously biting her lip.
Mark pulled back the blanket, exposing Hermione’s bare chest. He looked at her in the most clinical of ways, lifting up the bandage and probing her stomach with gentle fingers. Moments passed and he replaced the bandages and the blanket. When he sat down on the chair next to her once more, he told her that she would be able to leave in a few hours, once the Blood-Replenishing Potions had time to fully work through her body. He gave her a shirt to put on—it was a man’s shirt and too large for her, but it did the job.
“I need to leave now,” she said impatiently. “You don’t understand how bad it is for me to be here!”
“Why is it bad for you to be here?” asked Mark quizzically. “Because for some reason you have an irresistible cast to you that makes bad men have bad thoughts? Or because you simply don’t like Draco?”
Hermione shivered nervously at his comment about her body and replied harshly, “Because Malfoy ruined my job, my reputation, and my life—being here isn’t going to look good when I finally am able to arrest him!”
“You do realize that he just saved your life as well, don’t you, Hermione?” Mark said, looking at her intensely.
“So he does one good deed, and that’s just supposed to completely redeem him of a lifetime of criminal behavior? Not by a long shot!” she exclaimed, wincing as a twinge of pain went through her ribs.
Mark sighed and felt her forehead one more time. “The Hunters do good work. It’s thanks to us that The Scalper is finally behind bars,” he told her. “He’s been evading the Aurors for months, and has a death toll of sixteen and a half women to his name. We’re counting you as a half,” he said, smiling as he invited her to share the joke.
Hermione didn’t smile back, too preoccupied with her thoughts about Malfoy. She did find herself beginning to like Mark—it was hard not to like someone who was perpetually smiling. The room lapsed into silence, and Hermione felt her eyes begin to droop under the effects of whatever painkilling potions she was on.
“How is she?” said a smooth voice. Draco Malfoy walked into the room, and Hermione immediately tensed.
“I’m fine,” she growled, refusing to look at the tall, lithe man who had just walked into the room.
“You’re welcome for saving your life,” Malfoy sneered in reply, his grey eyes snapping with anger.
“I wouldn’t have needed saving if you hadn’t ruined my fucking life!” Hermione shoved back the blankets covering her and sat up, swallowing hard as dizziness swept through her body. “Let me go,” she snarled.
“You’re perfectly bloody free to go, Granger,” Malfoy said haughtily, gesturing towards the exit to the room. “Don’t let me stand in your way of getting the hell out of my house.”
Hermione stood up and took a step towards the door. Pins and needles coursed through her body and she found herself being sucked into a grey abyss of unconsciousness.
Hands caught her carefully and gently cradled her against a chest.
“You’re a very complex man,” Hermione dimly heard Mark say—his voice was too far away for him to be the one who was holding her. Her eyes remained closed—she lacked the strength to even open them.
“She’s not so bad when she not talking,” Malfoy muttered. “Her bloody persistence will be my downfall…”
Hermione felt herself being carried away, out of the sunny room and down a hallway.
“That’s what I’ve been saying… Where are you taking her?”
“A sofa is no place for a sickbed,” replied Malfoy quickly. “Oh, and ‘the irresistible cast that makes bad men have bad thoughts’? That was a particularly nice touch.”
“She truly is quite an attractive girl. And besides, I’ve got to have a little fun once in a while,” laughed Mark, sounding like he was walking right next to them. “It sounds better than, ‘some Hunters are disgusting perverts,’ doesn’t it?”
“Not as many of them now—Fynn’s dead and Marcus is in Azkaban.”
“I was only gone for two weeks! Much has happened here… I must make sure not to leave again.”
Hermione found herself being placed in an extremely comfortable bed that felt as if it was made of feathers. Covers were placed over her body.
“Your room, Draco?” Mark asked, his voice suspicious. “They did do a good job at cleaning up the mess from the explosion.”
“She’ll be safest here.”
“I can’t help but think that—”
“I know what you’re going to say,” interrupted Malfoy. “And you’re quite wrong.”
The combination of painkillers and the comfortable bed dragged Hermione into sleep again.
Hours later, Hermione woke up in a dark room. It took a few moments for her to remember where she was, but once she did, she was up in a flash. She remembered vaguely that she was in Malfoy’s room. For some reason, the room was completely dark, though she didn’t think that she had been asleep for that long. Getting out of bed, she quietly walked to where she remembered the door was and pulled on the handle.
“Locked,” she hissed. “Of course.”
She walked back across the room and felt along the walls until she felt the edge of a window. In one movement, she pulled the curtains away from the window, sighing with relief as light from the moon illuminated the room somewhat.
In the corner, Hermione noticed with shock that someone was sitting on a chair, his head bent onto his chest as he slept. The corner was most unluckily not lit by the moonlight, so she was completely blind as to his identity. It could be Mark, Malfoy, or some other pervert who had snuck into the room like last time she had been held prisoner.
“Who’s there?” she called, walking near the chair warily. She readied her body to attack.
The man’s head lifted, but all Hermione could see was his silhouette as he stood. He closed the distance between the two of them. As he got close, she backed away from him.
“You really should know by now that I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said irritably, halting his movements.
“Why are you here?!” she asked, her voice tinged with anger and surprise.
“It’s my room, after all,” Malfoy replied crossly, stepping into the light.
“So? Why were you sitting in the corner like a creep?” Hermione was tired, angry, and simply wanted to be done with the entire situation.
“To prevent any unwanted visitors,” he said vaguely, “seeing as my men can’t keep their hands off of you.”
“If they don’t follow your orders then you’re not a very good leader,” Hermione criticized.
Malfoy threw his hands up in frustration and stormed over to her. “You’re impossible to talk to,” he growled, stalking towards her until she had backed up against the wall.
“You’re an evil person who deserves to rot in Azkaban,” Hermione insisted, disconcerted by his nearness.
“Would an evil person have saved your life?” Malfoy asked her quietly, staring her in the eyes. “Would an evil person have taken care of you in his own house until you’re well enough to leave?”
“You only saved me from that monster because you’re sadistic and wanted to torture someone,” said Hermione, though she began to doubt her thoughts very slightly. “And you didn’t take care of me—Mark did!”
“Mark?!” Malfoy laughed unhappily. “Ha!—I healed your bloody fucking wounds in the alley, you ungrateful little witch!” he yelled, all traces of amusement gone. “You’d have died if it hadn’t been for me!”
“You ruined my reputation, my career, and my life, Malfoy!” Hermione screamed, her rage matching his. “It would have been better if you hadn’t saved me at all! My whole life revolves around arresting you, and now you’re making things even more complicated by saving my damn life!”
Overcome with anger, Hermione pulled back her hand and slapped Malfoy hard in the face. He stared at her for a long moment as his right cheek slowly turned red.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he growled, his voice low and deadly as he grabbed her wrists in his hands and pinned them above her head.
Hermione let out a startled gasp and her breathing quickened as Malfoy leaned close to her—his body was actually touching hers as he leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“You have no idea what you’re getting into, Granger,” he whispered, his hot breath on her ear strangely stimulating.
Hermione inhaled slowly, her own anger forgotten in the shock of their position.
“This is more dangerous than you could ever imagine,” he hissed, his voice barely above a whisper.
She froze. “What do you—”
Malfoy interrupted her, softly growling, “There are some even more invested in the Hunters than I am, who will do anything to keep them in business. They’ve killed before to protect our secret, and will do so again if they believe you’re a threat.”
“Are you threatening me?!” Hermione cried, shoving angrily at the body of the man who was holding her against the wall.
Malfoy let her go instantly. His serious demeanor was gone, to be replaced with one of frustration. “Believe what you want, Granger—I’ve warned you.”
Hermione gave Malfoy the darkest of glares. “I’m leaving,” she said haughtily, stalking towards the door. “Unlock this immediately.”
Malfoy waved his wand, a frown on his face, and watched the young woman leave his room without another glance behind her.
He followed her more leisurely, his wand out as he glanced from side to side as he walked down the long hallway of the West Wing of his house. He watched the witch in front of him jump to the side as a door to her left opened.
Hermione was quite aware that Malfoy was following her as she tried to navigate the enormously large mansion. A door to her side suddenly opened as she walked past, and her instinct was to shy away.
However, she noticed with relief that it was only Mark. Wearing expensive-looking black robes with a silver pin, he looked very dashing.
“Feeling better, Hermione?” Mark asked, smiling at her. He closed the door swiftly behind him, looking only mildly surprised to see her there.
“Much better, thank you,” she said warmly, smiling back.
“I’ll escort her the rest of the way, Draco,” Mark called back to Malfoy, who immediately sneered.
“As this is my house, I’ll be quite able to do it on my own,” replied the handsome Slytherin, catching up with them in moments. “Come on, Granger.”
Hermione glanced from Malfoy’s contemptuous face to Mark’s slowly darkening face and said hastily, “Mark can show me,” bestowing a glowing smile on him.
“The lady has chosen,” Mark said gallantly, the ominous expression on his face disappearing almost immediately. He offered Hermione his arm, and she took it after just an ounce of hesitation.
As Mark led her towards a tall, polished staircase, Hermione glanced back just once to give Malfoy a triumphant smirk. Her expression faltered. Malfoy stood motionless in the hallway, disquiet and anger turning his face into a mask of unease.
“Have you thought any more about what I said yesterday?” Mark asked, drawing Hermione’s attention back to him as he walked down the stairs at her side.
“Which part?” Hermione asked blankly, still distracted by Malfoy’s inexplicable expression—he had no reason to be angry that Mark was showing her the way out of the manor unless he was jealous or something…
“About Malfoy—the Hunters,” clarified the man, smiling gently.
“Oh—not really. I still think Malfoy’s committed too many crimes to stay in society,” she explained as they walked down a long hallway, the end of which led to the entranceway. “I mean, he’s murdered people! Just because they’re criminals doesn’t mean that they deserve to die. We have the justice system for a reason.”
“You’re a fascinating woman,” mused Mark, turning to look intently at her. “I’d love to have more conversations with you in the future—perhaps in a friendlier setting, however.”
Hermione laughed. “I would, too,” she said thoughtfully, realizing that she could use a friend on the inside of the Hunters’ crime syndicate.
“Excellent! And here is where we must part, my dear Hermione,” Mark said regretfully, opening the front door for her.
“Thank you for healing me,” she said gratefully, blushing as he drew her hand to his lips and kissed it.
“You’re quite welcome.”
Hermione walked down the long pathway until she had cleared the gates of Malfoy Mansion. She realized with a tinge of irritation that she was now in Wiltshire—very far from her apartment in London—with no wand or any means to get home. It was also the middle of the night—however, the moon was bright and the night was calm, so she began walking.
It took her only minutes of resolute walking towards a nearby city before an eagle owl fluttered down and dropped a package on her head before immediately flying away.
Hermione opened it warily, but it simply contained her wand and a scrap of parchment, written in a perfect, flowing script.
Watch your back—I do not issue warnings idly.
If this was another attempt to make her afraid to arrest him, it wasn’t going to work, Hermione thought darkly, using her wand to disapparate on the spot. She reappeared in her apartment moments later.
Before she could do so much as make a cup of tea, she saw a black-robed figure run past her and disapparate. Letting out a startled shriek, she ran to the spot where the man had disapparated, but he was gone, leaving no trace behind but a vaguely familiar scent.
Her Auror training kicking in, she carefully began an exploration of her apartment. The bathroom was normal, as were the two closets in the hallway. As she entered her room, however, horror eclipsed her at the sight she saw there.
Crookshanks lay on the floor, dead, with a note laid carelessly upon his body.
Curiosity Killed The Cat , it read.
*ducks curses* I know it's a cliffie, I know, I know, I know!! I'm going to try to update again before the queue closes on Monday, but I really can't make any promises. I hope this extra long chapter makes up for it, though!
And now, I shall take a well-deserved Easy Mac break =]
Pretty please review!!
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