Ron had ordered another pudding cup when Draco came into the room carrying a stack of papers with a quill and bottle of ink on top. Pansy had drifted asleep but the sound of the door snapping against its frame woke her up with a jolt and she glanced around sleepily before Ron tossed her a box of chocolates which she received with a smile. Draco heaved a sigh, dumped the papers on Ron’s side table and threw himself into the chair, rubbing his eyes with his hands.
“You should get some sleep,” Pansy suggested, still groggy as she bit into a piece of dark fudge. “Hungry?”
He nodded and waited as she took out four pieces for herself and then tossed the box to him. The food tasted good but considering that he hadn’t eaten for hours, liquid vegetables would probably have tasted just as good. The chocolate melted against his mouth and he felt a little bit of his life instilled back into his mind.
“What’s with the papers?” Ron asked as he sifted through the first couple of pages.
“Release forms for you both,” Draco explained. “And the bill.”
Ron’s eyes widened at the unnecessarily large number that was written beside the words ‘Total’ and he said, “Why the fat bill?”
“Private double room, full confidentiality, the best healers in the hospital and a little tip to make sure no on talks,” Draco sighed, stuffing another piece into his mouth, “adds up.”
Ron threw the papers back into the pile and stretched his arms above his head. “To be a Malfoy,” he said, dramatically amidst a yawn.
“Not quite as good as it sounds,” Draco replied, then shut up when a worried look from Pansy caught his attention. “Sign the fifth page, Weasley.”
Ron shuffled through the pages as Harry came into the door. He looked around a bit and then back down the hallway, turning to Draco. “Have you seen Hermione?”
Draco stood up, tossing the box on his lap aside. “She was supposed to be with you.”
“I was at the library for an hour looking up things and I figured she just got tired out from last night and took a nap or was with here with you three.”
“She didn’t come in here,” Ron said, as he sat up further in his bed too. “Maybe she went to eat something. Didn’t she say she was going to the cafeteria?”
“I just came from there,” Harry explained. “I couldn’t find her.”
“This is not a big deal,” Pansy said, her eyes fixated on Draco who looked like a knife had been stabbed through his chest and then pulled out and stabbed again. “She had a lot to deal with last night on top of which she hasn’t slept or eaten for hours. Harry’s probably right; she might have just taken a few minutes to herself or fallen asleep. Ron and I will finish the release paperwork, Harry can go get the carriage ready and Draco, why don’t you pay the bill?”
There was a silence in the room as Draco turned his back to the three of them and began rifling through his pant pockets. “There’s nothing you can do,” Pansy said to him and he knew that both Harry and Ron were looking at his back as well.
He found what he was looking for and pulled a silk pouch from his pocket, slamming it against Pansy’s desk. He said nothing as Pansy watched with both fear and sadness, running his hands through his hair and walking out the door. Every step he took was heavy, laden with the self-loathing that had managed to escape him for the last few weeks. He opened the door as quickly as he could and on his way out, closed it, unable to avoid the loud sound that only added to the dramatic effect.
Pansy sighed and overturned the pouch, revealing over a hundred galleons. Frustrated and worried, she pushed them aside and asked Ron to pass her the paperwork, hoping to occupy her mind.
A seething rage had begun to boil inside Hermione’s blood and sent her body on an out of control rampage. Someone – it wasn’t Hermione Granger – was smothering her, making it difficult to breathe and allow rationale and logic to guide her thoughts. She had never really experienced this before; this uncontrollable rage that had been adulterated with confusion, fear but mostly an unforgiving loss of direction, both metaphorically and literally. She really didn’t know what she had left in life, what she could or should do and her rage had also driven her from the hospital back to Grimmauld place where she was now lying against the unlit fireplace, with her head against the stone backing.
She looked around the living room and saw the couch on which Draco had lain and spoken to her about his fears and his life. They had had a fight too that day but she couldn’t remember, for the life of her, what it had been about. Everything seemed trivial now. Then there was the bedroom upstairs where she had spent some of the most daunting hours of her life breathing air into him and hoping (or even praying) that Draco would live. When she had slept by his side that morning, life had seemed so much brighter and though it pained her to admit it right now, she had seen an end to this mess. She had seen herself waking up like that every morning maybe in a bigger bed – no, a smaller bed meant they had to sit closer together.
Had that been the first time?
Again, she painfully searched her memories for the right moment and was surprised when it came to her with such ease. It had been the night of the ball, at the Manor when she had looked into the mirror, with Draco behind her, and she liked what she saw. That was only the beginning however and the more time they spent together, the more Hermione could see her future clearing up in front of her.
But that had been an hour ago. Her world had changed, flipped, contorted itself and morphed into something she couldn’t even recognize. Marcus’ death had bothered her but she knew she would have gotten over it. After all, Harry and Ron had both killed people as aurors. But this. This, she couldn’t even fully understand. Sitting there, in the carriage when she had read the article for the first time, she hadn’t thought ‘Oh! That must be Draco’s – she couldn’t say the world-’ but her mind had doubted. Draco hadn’t told her something and that’s when the metamorphosis had started, when her world had begun to crack under the surfaces. Now, it was in a state of chaos and shabby ruins.
She focused her attention back to the room and as the small moments they had shared kept poking at the back of her mind, she stood up with great force and grabbed her knees, hunching over as her stomach began to churn, but it wasn’t a nauseous feeling. It was a feeling of pure pandemonium and holding onto her knee caps was the only thing keeping her from falling back and collapsing.
After a while, she stood up and dried the tears from her eyes but they persistently reappeared. She had to leave. She had to leave this little house, where memories of a happier time festered away and only reminded her that at one point, she had seen an end. Now, there was a dark fog that loomed over her future and she would have to face it. She felt her legs eagerly accept the idea and they pulled her up to her own room where she began to unload her clothes into a small enchanted bag.
She took no account of the disappearing winter weather and ended up throwing in her heavy sweaters, along with everything else. It was then that she saw it, hanging in the back of her closet, behind a red and white shirt: the dress. The burgundy dress that she had worn that night, looking into the mirror, that night when she had admitted – albeit to her subconscious but admitted, nonetheless – that this is where she wanted to be. It was now swaying in the gentle breeze of the afternoon, mocking her pain just like the furniture downstairs had. It was telling her: ‘Hermione, look at me. This is what you had looked liked as Lady Malfoy, the fake one… the lie that you had been stupidly clinging on to.’
Hermione grabbed the closet door and shut it as fast as she could, placing her back against it when she was sure it wouldn’t open and stared at her little bag on the bed. There was no time to waste, she had to leave or she’d be driven to madness.
She headed down the stairs and towards the fireplace, hoping that the sickness she got from using the Floo Network would somehow drown out the heat coursing through her veins. As she reached up to grab the powder, she felt a hand on her wrist hold her back and for a second, she thought it was the force that had been smothering her but upon turning around, realized it was Draco who had grabbed on to her wrist.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his words pouring out of him, dripping with fear.
Hermione hadn’t actually thought about what facing Draco would have been like but she felt herself go numb. The silly Hermione Granger – the one who had seen her future with this man – was terrified that this new rage would overpower her but the realistic Hermione Granger – the one who knew how puerile and foolish she had been – had no fear.
“Leaving,” she said, jerking her wrist out of his hand with a surprising force, one that alarmed Draco and he let go of her.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Stupid-Hermione was beginning to resurface and Draco’s cloudy grey eyes kept her in her place. She knew if she didn’t leave now, she would regret every word she said. “Let me go.”
“Stay,” he said, his voice losing its rough edge. It was now just a plea. “Please. Talk to me.”
“Hermione if you ju-”
“NO!” she shrieked, pulling away as far as she could.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” he asked, the softness in his voice disappearing and a mixture of confusion and frustration appearing. “I can explain the thing about Marc-”
“Stop, Draco!” Hermione cried, pulling her hands over her ears and edging to the fireplace. “Just leave it!”
“I know I shouldn’t have killed him but you should have seen the way he was leering at you. He was a monster and I couldn’t help it.”
“Oh, so that was about me?” she asked. Stupid-Hermione began to protest but she was shoved aside. If Draco wanted to talk, they would talk. “You’re just protecting me? Looking out for me?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, the hardened exterior melting away and revealing the childish face Hermione had seen so often. But the rage in her veins was like poison, stinging every part of her body and controlling every thought and emotion.
She dropped her bag to the floor as she bent down and pulled out the little scrap of paper that had changed her life. The photograph was folded up, and Hermione gratefully left it that way, looking at the back of the article that had the crinkled photo of a howling Lestrange. She glared at the paper, venting all her hate and frustration into it before she unbent her knees and stood up. Walking up to Draco, her hands tightened around the paper until she felt herself within an inch of the tall blonde and her hand reached out, pressing the paper roughly against his chest. The rage had given her courage. The hand that had, at one point, been smothering her, helped the words threw her throat and out onto her tongue. “You have no idea.”
Draco grabbed the sheet and his hands began to manoeuvre around the folds, trying to open it up, giving Hermione a chance to grab her bag and head out the front door. Her dim brown eyes were the last thing he saw before the door shut with a bang and the words on the page jumped out before his eyes.
But the words weren’t even necessary. The photo, the one that he hadn’t seen but in those dazed moments of unconsciousness, stared up at him as if holding a sign that congratulated him on screwing everything up. Like Hermione, he couldn’t look at the article any longer than he had to and he let it remain in his left hand as his right hand curled up into a fist and hit the wall with such force that the blood on his knuckles created a very distinct set of markings. Hermione was barely out the front door when she heard his scream but her legs were carrying her forward.
“I’ve got the medications in here,” Harry said, holding up a yellow bag as he headed towards the front door of Grimmauld Place. Ron and Pansy were slower to leave the carriage, still nursing their injuries but he waited for them by the gate. “Was there any word on Malfoy or Hermione?”
Pansy shrugged. “No.”
“Hermione was acting pretty strange at the hospital,” Ron added, and then he paused, pondering something. “We were talking and she just started to cry. I’ve seen her cry before but she just… it was pretty scary. I thought she was going to just break down.”
“She’s been through a lot these past few months,” Pansy suggested, biting her lip and hoping Ron wouldn’t prod any further.
“You mean, with Malfoy?” he asked and then smiled very slightly as the look of surprise flooded into Pansy’s eyes. He had spoken about the elephant in the room and he harboured the look of a man who had sadly accepted his place in the world. “I’m not blind.”
They dragged themselves with a slight soreness to the front door and Ron turned to Harry, still maintaining his solemn grin. “You could have told me you suspected something.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Harry admitted. “Besides, it’s none of my business what happens between the two of them.”
“It’s no longer mine, either,” Ron answered, letting the full feeling of the break up sink into him. It wasn’t a particularly novel emotion – he’d been feeling it for months, ever since he’d forced himself to buy that stupid ring and tried to convince his own mind that the relationship was heading in a good direction.
They entered the dark house while Harry resealed the Fidelus charm and came in a few seconds later. Pansy sat down on the couch while Ron headed straight for the kitchen to grab a sandwich. Harry pushed the thick curtains aside, letting in some of the evening sun and then went upstairs to search the bedrooms.
“They’re not here,” he said, remerging into the living room where Ron had stuffed cheese crackers into his palm. “And Eli isn’t here either.”
“That’s a shame because I would kill for some dinner.”
Pansy couldn’t help but smile at Ron’s simplicity. There was so much hate, bloodshed, anger, and disease festering away in people and nothing like that could ever touch Ron. He took a hit, recovered and kept on walking.
“I can make something,” she offered.
Unfortunately, Ron didn’t have a chance to respond as the door opened with a slight creak and Draco stepped in, visibly dishevelled and angry. He paused and looked at the three of them sitting in the living room, surprised they had gotten back so soon and then shut the door behind him.
The eerie silence that filled the room chilled Pansy’s bones and she knew Draco had found Hermione. She tried to read Ron and Harry’s expressions but they were both silently watching him as he tossed his coat on the couch and sat down opposite them.
“I found her,” he said.
None of them spoke immediately after because they could all predict what happened, though none of them knew why it had happened. “Where is she now?” Harry asked, after a while.
“I don’t know,” Draco admitted, his words forced, as if was making himself sit here and explain himself. Pansy knew well enough that he was afraid of being by himself. He was afraid of regressing, of being alone and plagued by thoughts of Hermione, reanalyzing every moment they had together, regretting every mistake he made and then waking up days later in a hospital. He was afraid of the dreams he’d have and so he was making himself sit here and talk because even explaining his fight with Hermione was better than solitary confinement where he was his own worst enemy. “She,” he paused, suppressing the memory of the fight, the way Hermione had looked at him. “She just went outside. I left the house twenty minutes later and I couldn’t find her.”
Now all that remained to find out was the reason behind the fight. The three pairs of eyes shifted around the room, awkwardly deepening the silence as Draco buried his face in his hands and rubbed his cheeks, trying to knock some sense into himself. “She knows,” he said finally. “She knows about Natalie.”
So that had been it, Pansy thought sadly. Hermione discovered the one – and only- thing that Draco had been hiding from her. But she couldn’t possibly have learnt the whole story; Pansy wasn’t even sure she knew the whole story. A huge surge of pity coursed through her, looking at Draco who seemed like a broken man. All over again… she sighed.
“Who’s Natalie?” Ron asked, another cheese cracker finding his mouth. He looked over at Pansy who shot him a reproachful glance and he put the crackers in a bowl beside him.
Ron coughed on the crackers in his mouth. “What?!”
There was a brief silence during which Ron looked at Harry with a confused expression. Harry, who remained quiet, took the news with equal stupor but was a lot more subtle about it. The series of glances between the two of them ended when Harry spoke up.
“You’re married?” Harry asked.
“Widowed,” Draco responded, still staring at his knees. “Two years.”
Ron turned to Pansy who nodded weakly. Yeah, I knew, it said. He turned back to Draco and silently looked at Harry who just shrugged. The three of them looked at Draco with an odd combination of pity and curiosity.
“She committed suicide,” he said, quietly. He sounded solemn but in control, nonetheless. “Jumped off the North Tower one night.”
“You don’t have to talk about this,” Harry interjected. Pansy noted how careful he was of others around him and she felt grateful to him. Part of her regretted not getting to know the real Harry, Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts. It seemed that most of her early life was spent dealing with imaginary personas on real people.
“No,” he said, looking up at Harry. “You need to know.”
“Because when Hermione comes back, she’s going to have an entirely different version of it and she’s going to hate me.” He paused. “More than she already does.”
Hermione felt an eerie pulse through her body as she pushed open the front door and entered the Manor. It felt weird, wrong somehow, to be here without Draco but it looked the same as when they had fled that night at the ball. That seemed like ages ago, a different time perhaps, a time when life was simpler and more predictable.
“You can leave your stuff here,” Cassius said, pushing Hermione’s bag off to the side by a large statue. “The elves will come get it.”
She nodded feebly, stepping in and recognizing the large marble staircase, wooden floor, extravagant embellishments. She could almost smell Draco here and she shivered, hoping that was the cold night air. Cassius shut the door behind him and ushered her towards the smaller drawing room on the left side.
“Want something to eat?”
Hermione shook her head, entering the familiar white room with the grand piano in one corner and two couches centered around a thick Persian rug. She sat down and felt the load on her legs lighten up; she knew the soreness would kill her tomorrow. Cassius circled to the end of the room and drew the curtains to a close, allowing the dimly lit candles to illuminate the space between the four walls.
“Want something to drink?” he asked, taking a seat beside her and she nodded fervently.
Cassius ordered a house elf to bring out a bottle of white wine and while they waited, he examined Hermione with a very curious expression. “Judging by the way you just left in the middle of our conversation this afternoon, I’d have thought Malfoy Manor would be the last place you wanted to come.”
“I’m sorry for this afternoon,” she muttered, recalling her bumbling fit of hysteria when she stood up and just left the cafeteria, unable to control her limbs as they guided her out the hospital and back to Grimmauld place with one simple urge: to get as far away from Draco as possible. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“My father won’t be returning until four o’clock, three days from now. So you are more than welcome here until then.”
The bottle of wine appeared and Hermione drank two full glasses of the sparkling liquid before she felt the knots in her body loosen and her mind start to cool down. She could feel that rage inside of her but it wasn’t boiling anymore, just down to a gentle simmer. She took another sip of her glass before placing it down on the table. “I want to know more.”
“More about her?” he inquired, “Or more about Draco?”
Hermione didn’t think twice before answering. “Both.”
Cassius tipped the dark green bottle and filled up his glass, taking a long sip before he smacked his lips and wiped them with a napkin. He paused, sighed and then rubbed his eyes with his palms, running his hands through his hair. “Draco’s parents were very eager to move on from the war. Lucius Malfoy had bought himself out of most of his sins – he’d created a hospital wing, donated his rare library collection to the Ministry and volunteered full cooperation with death eater investigations. They insisted that Draco get married before completing his auror training.”
Hermione nodded, feeling wide awake even though she hadn’t slept properly for over 36 hours. She sipped another bit of wine as Cassius continued.
“Natalie was a French student from Beauxbatons, training to be a healer in France where she’d grown up. You may have heard of her family name? Natalie Baudelaire?”
Hermione shook her head but given her former state of hysteria and shock, it was very possible that she had just forgotten. Baudelaire? It didn’t ring any bells. “Never.”
“It’s like the French equivalent of a Malfoy,” he explained. “Rich, long generation of purebloods, veela ancestry – sort of the perfect match, if you can imagine Draco back then.”
Hermione nodded quickly, eager to move on from anything to do with imagining Draco. The story seemed oddly distant to her, for some reason. She wasn’t listening to a secret life that Draco hadn’t admitted to, she was listening to some strangers’ story.
“They got married,” he continued. “About two years into the marriage, things began to get rough for them. They grew apart, Draco began to spend more time training in Belize and Natalie started to feel neglected. This continued on for another six months and there was one huge fight, and Draco left for Belize, ‘claiming’ he had no plans for returning.”
Hermione bit her lip. The looseness in her lips was beginning to fade and so she grabbed another glass of wine and drained half of it in one go. She nodded, signalling him to continue. “So they broke up?”
“No.” And then his voice became low, and deep. “Lucius Malfoy felt that his son’s mind was being distracted by these meaningless fights; Draco wasn’t doing so well in his training and the Malfoys attributed that to stress from the marriage…”
Hermione bit down on her lip harder. The same foreboding feeling settled itself into her bones as Cassius said, “Lucius had Natalie killed.” His voice shook a little. “He pulled her onto the roof of the North Tower and pushed her off of it, claiming suicide.”
The foreboding feeling had now turned into a thick, tight knot in her stomach and Hermione slammed her wine glass on the coffee table – it tipped over and fell – and got up, trying to shake the feeling. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “That’s horrible. They murdered her?”
He nodded grimly. “Let’s get you to bed,” he said. “We’ll continue the story later.”
Hermione felt his dark hair brush up against her arm as he leaned over and picked up the fallen glass. He motioned for an elf to come clean up the mess and then ushered her to the marble stairs where he told her he’d set up a room for her to sleep in.
“Did you give him the potion?”
Ron turned around, frightened by the sudden voice and saw Harry leaning in the kitchen doorway, wearing a grey shirt on top of blue sweat pants. He sighed, relieved and nodded. “Yeah, he drained it pretty fast too.”
He turned around to check the clock, squinting as the pressure of the day pressed down on his eyes. It was a little past two in the morning. “You think Hermione went to Malfoy Manor?”
Harry bit his lip, shrugging. “I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t know. I’m asking if you think she did.”
Ron grabbed a box of sugar crackers and threw one into his mouth as Harry took a seat on the kitchen table and he followed suit. “I think she might have. Lestrange’s son is the only one who can give her answers.”
He cursed, watching as Harry grabbed a cracker and started to chew on it. He pressed his palm into the ridge of his knee, trying to dull some of the soreness in his injured leg. Most of his injuries had healed up pretty quickly but there was a constant ache throughout his body, the kind of ache that felt like someone was poking him with a sharp object. “Did you notice how we’ve never heard of this bloke? Cassius?”
“I noticed,” Harry said, a knowing look passing between the two of them. “It is strange.”
“That this guy pops out of thin air? Oh yeah, it’s strange.”
“Bellatrix never struck me as the motherly type,” Harry added, half serious and half sarcastic. “I always thought it was be evil or be dead, for her.”
“Maybe she was being evil,” Ron thought. “Maybe she thought she could produce some evil spawn in case she kicked the bucket too soon. Hermione once told me that he went to Durmstrang and we all know they don’t cater to guys like us.”
“Voldemort’s been gone for years,” Harry said. His eyes flew to the top of the stairs to make sure Pansy and Draco were asleep. “If they had him as a back up, why not bring him out already? I mean, the death eaters are losing. We get more and more every day, so why is this guy hiding?”
“Maybe they have a strategy? Who knows?”
Harry shrugged, frustrated. Draco hadn’t really told them a lot except that he had had a wife who had committed suicide two years ago. Then there was, of course, the mystery ghost at Malfoy Manor who, as Hermione had told them, was a young maid named Adria who’d been tortured by Lestrange in the forest and then bound to a banshee and became some sort of a demon. Incidentally, that also happened two years ago.
“Don’t you get the feeling that there’s something we still don’t know?” Harry asked.
“You feel that too?” Ron asked, his eyes widening. “I didn’t want to say anything to Malfoy because he’s had it pretty rough but there’s something he’s not telling us.”
“His wife killed herself two years ago? Just a month before his front lawn is burnt by death eaters and a maid is tortured to death?” Harry pondered. “It’s just… there’s a lot.”
“Well he didn’t really say much about his wife,” Ron replied. “I guess you can’t blame him but I see what you mean. And how does Cassius seem to know everything that’s been going on?”
There really weren’t any answers, just a lot of questions. They’d been in this type of situation before… many times but for some reason – and it might have been that for the first time, they were doing this without Hermione’s brilliant intellect to logically eliminate all but one possibility – it felt harder. And what made it worse, Ron thought as he and Harry headed towards their beds, that it seemed that even Draco didn’t have all the answers.
Eli had appeared at three in the morning, carrying a case of food and two large bags of potion ingredients. He explained, to a very sleepy Ron, that he’d gone out to replenish the stock of food and at the same time, picked up ingredients for their diminishing supply of Feindfyre antidote. By the next morning, Ron had forgotten the entire conversation and was just as surprised to see Eli preparing a large breakfast as the rest of the house was.
“Malfoy didn’t relapse, did he?” Harry asked over a plate of toast and eggs.
Draco had woken up early this morning and gone out for a walk. “No,” Pansy said. “He’d had a dose of the antidote yesterday. It’s a good thing you went out and bought all those items, Eli.”
“Of course,” he replied, nodding and pouring another cup of tea for Ron. “Some more eggs, Mr. Weasley?”
“You don’t even have to ask,” he said, holding his plate up and watching with delight as Eli lay two more eggs onto the white plate. He turned back to other two sitting on the table and decided to address something that had been bugging him. “Why do you and Malfoy think Hermione went to Malfoy Manor?”
Pansy bit her lip and drank a sip of her tea. She knew the question would come up soon enough but she hadn’t anticipated it to be so direct. “I don’t know,” she replied, well aware that her lie was as transparent as air. “I guess it’s a hunch? Cassius is the only other person to know about the whole situation with Natalie.”
She was lying, and she was doing a bad job doing it but Harry and Ron played along, nodding as if they really did believe her. Pansy wanted to tell them but like always, it was Draco’s call. “Then why aren’t we going after her?” Ron asked. Again, blunt. “Or rather, why isn’t Malfoy going after her?”
She knew the answer to this one and she wasn’t going to lie about it. To lie about Draco’s past was something she had to do because it was his story to tell and his history to explain; but the reason behind staying at Grimmauld place was very much her own theory – one that, she was sure, was correct. “You can’t fight for something that’s not yours,” she said, grimly. And then she looked at Harry. “It’s the same reason you didn’t chase Hermione down to Malfoy Manor when she insisted on coming back. You can protect a person from accidents, from bad people, from dangerous people but you can’t stop them from making their own choices. If Hermione had been kidnapped and brought to the Manor, you two would’ve chased after her no matter what but if she left of her own will because she preferred to be at Malfoy Manor, you wouldn’t stop her. You couldn’t stop her.”
“So you don’t think the son of Rodolphus Lestrange is a threat to Hermione?” Ron asked incredulously.
“He won’t kill her,” Pansy said, her voice distant and her eyes staring at the table cloth. She was hiding something and she wanted to tell them so badly but she couldn’t. Draco wouldn’t let her.
“And you’re not going to tell us why.” Harry fixed his bottle green eyes on Pansy.
“I can’t,” she mumbled. “Ask Draco.”
Ron scoffed. “Yeah, because we’re just that close, right?”
“Trust me, if it was about me I would tell you. I know we should tell you but it’s not my story to tell.”
Harry sighed and dropped his fork onto his plate. He looked at Ron and nodded, admitting defeat. They’d have to ask Malfoy when he got back. But Ron turned to Pansy, a quizzical look in his brown eyes. “Well, since we’re on the subject, why don’t you tell us your story?”
The confused apprehension vanished instantly from Pansy’s eyes and she matched Ron’s gaze, with perplexity. “My story?”
“Yeah,” Ron replied. “Malfoy’s out to get the guy that ruined his parents’ lives and killed an innocent girl. Why are you here?”
Though Harry knew he should talk to Ron about not being so blunt all the time, part of him was very curious. What was Pansy’s story? He turned to her and then almost regretted it because it looked as though she was being cornered by two men who were sticking their noses into her business. But she took a deep breath and responded, very calmly. “Lestrange tried to sleep with me and when I refused to, he attacked me.”
There was a still silence. “He has this sick, hungry look in his eyes all the time and I always thought it was just the way he was and then one night, when I was eighteen, he told me he found me very desirable and that I’d make a great second wife for him. And he tried to kiss me. I pushed him over and tried to run but he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me into a room and used a curse on me. He told me I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was and he would leave a mark so that I will always remember that.”
She had unknowingly started crying, feeling the moisture as it reached the tips of her chin. She wiped her face quickly and tried to steady her voice. “Lestrange never touched me after that because he knew he’d ruined me.”
Harry tried to give Ron a sarcastic ‘good job’ look but the red head had already bent his head low, embarrassed. The awkward silence persisted for another few seconds as Pansy turned towards the bright windows and tried to wipe away her salty tears. Her sniffles were soft and stifled, only drowned out by the opening of the front door that gave both Ron and Harry an excuse to get up and leave the kitchen. Ron was still red in the face.
Cassius started to button his shirt, watching with a sultry satisfaction as the morning light filled the sky. He felt the coolness hit the bare half of his chest and he inhaled, savouring the sweet smell of approaching spring. Given the silence from the room beside him, he guessed that Hermione was still asleep. The thought of penetrating her mind flickered for a second, hovered over his concerns that she may feel it and get wary. But, given that she had never tried to stop him before only confirmed his suspicions that she wasn’t an occlumens.
He gazed out the window, trying to clear his mind. He felt his surroundings melt into a black blur and darken into nothingness. He focused all his energy at his target, breathing steadily and keeping his body at ease.
Ron, I don’t want to get married to you.
But, you have to, Hermione!
No one else wants you, darling. Even I don’t really want you but we have to get married or else you’ll just die alone. Is-
The train of thought suddenly broke as he heard a shuffle from the room beside him. Hermione had woken up, quite unexpectedly and Cassius had only managed to catch the last bit of her dream –or nightmare. He opened his eyes, letting the world around him focus for long enough that Hermione was knocking at his door by the time he was ready to face her.
“Morning,” he said, shifting the black hair from his face as he opened the door. “Good night?”
“What were you doing?” Hermione asked, her voice masking her fear very well.
A few seconds of silence passed between them before Cassius saw her analyzing his expression and his own face. She had felt him in her mind.
He cursed to himself. Using legilimency during a dream was dangerous because the mind was in a subconscious state and contrary to popular belief, that made it more aware of anything foreign. When people are awake, their minds are preoccupied with active thinking, motor skills and social stress but when they slip into sleep, there’s nothing there but a subconscious stream of thoughts. She had felt something weird in her mind and she was going to get answers.
She sat down on the large armchair as Cassius shut the door behind him. She waited for his response, growing impatient as he called in a house elf and asked him to bring them some breakfast. When the little creature departed, he turned to the large vanity and stared at his reflection in the mirror. His pale hands ran down his pointed features and then through his dark hair. He finally turned back to Hermione.
“Fancy a guess?” he asked.
“No,” she replied abruptly. “No games. I’m sick of games.”
He nodded, shrugging. “It’d probably make it a lot easier if you told me what you knew about me, or rather what Draco’s told you about me.”
Cassius felt her harsh shell fading as she started to realize that he was willing to tell her everything. The fear in her eyes had dissipated, leaving behind her trademark curiosity that now dominated the dark brown disks. She bit her lower lip and began considering a response to his question. A small smile surfaced on Cassius’ face as he watched Hermione realize that she knew next to nothing about him and yet she had started to trust him.
“I can’t think straight,” she muttered. “All I know is that I was dreaming something and all of a sudden, I saw you in the back of my head. I mean, you were there in my dream and it wasn’t like the other people there. You knew it was a dream and it was just… it was like you were watching me.”
“I’m a legilimens,” Cassius replied, his voice low, anticipating Hermione’s response.
“That’s not possible,” she shot back, almost instantly. “Legilimency requires physical proximity to your target and it’s not… it’s supposed to be illegal to learn.”
Cassius rolled his eyes and sat down opposite Hermione. “After everything that’s happened, it surprises you that I know something illegal?” His smile faded. “And proximity to your target is helpful in the early stages of legilimency. Advanced legilimens can be as far away as possible and still penetrate minds.”
There was a pause in which Hermione inhaled sharply, resenting the questioning of her knowledge. She considered what Cassius had told her. “And you are an advanced legilimens?”
“As good as they get,” he said. “And to answer your next question: yes, I have been in your mind more than once.”
Another sharp intake of breath as Hermione looked at Cassius with a concerned panic. “Why?!”
“I’ve told you this before, Hermione. You’re a very interesting person.”
The comment was left unanswered as a low knock on the door prompted a pause in the conversation and a house elf entered with two trays of eggs, toast and pumpkin juice. She summoned up a table from the corner and placed it in front of Hermione and Cassius, laying down the plates with care. She asked if there was anything else they needed to which Cassius shook his head. With a bow, the house elf left and he grabbed his fork, taking a bite of his egg.
“Hungry?” he asked.
“Does that mean that you know exactly what’s been going on for the last few weeks?” she asked, the harshness resuming.
“No,” he responded honestly. “I know bits of information, yes. But unfortunately I can only see whatever is associated with your current state of mind. Let’s take, for example, your dream this morning. I don’t know what you were dreaming about before or why you were dreaming that particular dream but I do know that it scared you and you were thinking of Draco the whole time.”
Hermione grunted, angrily stabbing her egg yolk with a fork and then glaring at it with all the rage she could muster. If she had been blushing because of Cassius’ revelation about Draco, it was hidden beneath a wall of redness caused by anger. “I am so sick of this.”
She picked up a piece of egg and shoved it into her mouth with such force that Cassius almost worried she’d stab her gums. For another two seconds, they ate in silence until he had swallowed a large gulp of pumpkin juice. “So aren’t you going to ask me?”
“Ask you what?”
Hermione scoffed. “Narcissism seems to be a running trait in your family.”
“It’s an interesting story,” he said, playfully smiling as he anticipated her reaction to the rest of his revelation. “I promise.”
He took Hermione’s resentful silence as a cue to continue his story. “Well, as you know I am a legilimens, and though a certain part of it was learned, a lot of my skill was actually inherited. All the teachers at Durmstrang had to do was show me how to harness that power.”
The bitterness in Hermione seeped through, emerging as a dramatic rolling of her eyes. “Your parents are not that powerful. Mad, yes.”
Cassius was enjoying her snappiness. Her anger at Draco, her frustration with secrets and her irritation with all things related to this Manor was now coming out in a very amusing sequence of sarcastic remarks. She was trying to assert her power, trying to regain her authority as Hermione Granger, strong witch with a brilliant intellect. She was trying to find some flaw in his logic, prove that she was smarter.
He smiled again. She would fail.
“I’m not the son of Rodolphus Lestrange,” he said. He watched with satisfaction as, once again, the anger gave way to curiosity. At first, he saw her open her mouth to retort but as the words settled into her, he started to see the knowing look form on her face. “Thought you knew everything about me, did you?”
Hermione pursed her lips, nostrils flared. “You’re not as scary as you think you are,” she snapped but her bite was less ferocious. She wanted to know more.
“I am the son of Bellatrix Lestrange, though,” he continued. “And you’re probably right, the woman was as crazy as they ever got. I was sent away to Durmstrang as soon as they could where I trained in the dark arts, perfected my legilimency, learnt all that I needed to until the time was ‘right’.”
He could feel the anticipation building up in Hermione, torturing her as each second went by and he didn’t speak. “Go on,” she urged.
“I was introduced as the son of Mr. and Mrs. Lestrange, for convenience purposes. It made the whole situation a lot less complicated-”
“Does Lestrange know?”
“That you’re not his son,” Hermione said, irritated as Cassius grinned, enjoying the build up. “You two look nothing alike. He had to have known.”
“Of course he did,” he said, the bitterness in his voice very pronounced. “That leech has been living off me for years now. Do you have any idea how much glory, stature, money, women he got just by pretending to be my father? I was his long term investment. He never had any children and I don’t blame him. I mean, anything with his genes deserves to be put to death immediately.”
Hermione was caught off guard by the sheer resentment and austerity in Cassius’ voice. His playful demeanour was gone now. “My father was a very powerful man, nothing like the sick rat Lestrange is. I was only given the name ‘Lestrange’ because it was my mother’s name.”
Again, resentment. She felt her hands grab her glass of juice and drain half of it in a few sips. Cassius had turned away too, realizing he’d lost control of himself. The two of them sat in silence, finishing the last of their meal as the sun rose up further in the sky. “I don’t scare you?” he asked, suddenly.
“No,” she replied, confident. “I don’t see what others see.”
His control had been regained and he twisted his lips into a smile. “That’s because you don’t know what others know. Even though very few people knew about my origins, rumours floated through death eater circles like wild fire. Draco knows, that I’m sure. Lucius had been part of the plan all along, or at least, he’d been told about it. I’m guessing he told his son; that’s why Draco’s such a good occlumens.”
Hermione’s eyes shot up. “You can’t get into Draco’s mind?”
“Not even a little,” he said. “I’ve tried, Merlin knows I have but I think Lucius always knew that compared to me, Draco would never match up to death eater standards. There would always be, and there always has been, a very vague underlying competition between us. He tried to protect his son in every way: he gave Draco all the same training in the dark arts, taught him occlumency, trained him fiercely so that he wouldn’t be overshadowed by me. That was of course, when my father was still alive. Now things have changed.”
Cassius watched carefully as Hermione’s face tensed, her eyes darting over his face as comprehension dawned on her. “Would it scare you, Hermione, to know that I am the only living heir of the Dark Lord?”
A/N: Some day when I finish this story, I will write a huge blog about how ridiculously bizarre the process was and how different this is turning out than I had originally planned (in a good way!)
Hope you all enjoyed that!
much love, erin
“On one condition,” he said, unable to hide the smile on his face. “You have to marry me first.”