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Chapter 13 : Deception
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December, Hogwarts, Scotland. 1997 A.D.
Hermione strode purposefully around her dormitory with her wand held aloft as she checked and double checked her mental list of things to pack for the holidays. Her hair was frizzy and a rat’s nest today, tied up in a half-hearted knot at the top of her head, and she had dark circles under eyes. Ever since seeing Colin in the hospital wing, and her scary revelation a few weeks ago, she’d found it hard to fall asleep lately.
Draco propped himself up on his elbows in her bed, the rim of his silver boxer shorts peeking out from underneath her scarlet duvet. “Are you sure you can’t stay?” He asked for the third time that morning.
She sighed, lowering her wand and her shoulders simultaneously.
If she were being honest with herself, she would say that she was doing this to get away from him for some much needed peace. Life had been way too complicated for her liking, and it didn’t help that her professors were piling on the homework as term progressed. She needed time away from him, because all she could think about when she wasn’t in the middle of snogging him was what Colin had told her that day weeks ago.
Draco Malfoy is not who he claims to be.
She blinked, shaking her head as she turned to face him. “I’m really sorry, but my parents…” she trailed off, thinking of the last time she’d seen them, “they worry easily. Besides, I haven’t spent a Christmas with them in so long,” she approached him, and he took her hand, pulling her down onto the bed with him.
Hermione curled up against him as he kissed her, and her heart fluttered.
“You want to stay, though.”
She sighed. “I swear I do.” Hermione kissed him again, her lips lingering for a bit longer than before as his arms snaked round her waist, pulling her tighter to his bare chest. She felt feverish for a long moment, before pulling away. Draco pouted in disappointment. “I have to go.”
Draco shook his head, sitting up as he swung his legs over the side of her bed and pushed his hair back out of his eyes. He’d let it grow out over the past few weeks, much to Hermione’s insistence.
Then, meeting her gaze, he smirked.
“You’re trying to avoid me.”
Hermione scoffed, turning to shut her bag as the last article of clothing flew inside. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Is it?” He inquired, standing up and walking past her, his hand trailing across her lower back. “You have been really distant lately, and you hardly sleep anymore.”
“It’s just been a really difficult few weeks for me, Draco, what with our N.E.W.Ts coming up in a few months, and all that’s happening, all this change –” she swallowed hard, her eyes finding the mirror.
Her hair was still much darker and tamer than it had been when she’d arrived in September, and her skin was now an olive tone, as though she’d been spending all of her free time out in the sun. The photograph of Chione flashed in the back of her mind, and her mouth went dry. There was yet another parallel between them.
And she didn’t like it.
Draco put his arms round her waist and pressed his lips gently against her neck. “Change can be good too, though,” he reminded her. He leaned forward, closing the gap between them like two opposite poles of a magnet, kissing her hard. She wanted to stay with him so bad she ached, but she knew that doing so would only crowd her mind further, and she couldn’t handle that level of stress. Draco pulled away, pressing his forehead to hers as he stroked her cheek. “Very, very good,”
“Since when d’you care so much about me?” Hermione chuckled softly, biting her lip tentatively, her eyes still shut.
Draco’s body tensed suddenly, his breath escaping him. His eyes were wide, and slightly unfocused, as though he’d just remembered something important. At his lack of response, Hermione opened her eyes again. She put a hand on his shoulder. “Draco, I –”
He shook off her hand abruptly, standing up with his back to her as he went to the window. He leaned his head and arm on the window frame, looking down at the grounds below. Self-drawn carriages were arriving in front of the castle to take students down to Hogsmeade station, which meant it was nearing time to leave.
“You should get going,” he said to her, before stalking off down the corridor to his room. A moment later she heard the door slam, giving her a slight start.
Something about him just didn’t sit right with her, and she had a good feeling that it was the same feeling that had kept her suspicious of him since her first day at Hogwarts, six years ago. With a deep breath, Hermione summoned her bag, took one last sweeping look at her bedroom, and then headed out of her dormitory and down the stairs.
When she reached the entrance hall ten minutes later, she found that it was crowded with students saying goodbye to their friends who were staying behind for the holidays. Hermione didn’t bother trying to locate anyone she knew, as both Ginny and Neville were taking the train back to London, and… well… she didn’t know anyone else.
Or rather, she did, but she hadn’t seen many of them since the end of sixth year.
Hermione maneuvered through the crowd of students lingering in the entrance hall expertly, adjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulder as she walked out the large front doors, and into the cold, winter air. She grabbed the first, thestral-drawn carriage she saw, just a few feet away from the front steps to the castle, and climbed inside, depositing her bag on the seat next to her. She rummaged through it for a scarf, pulling it on just as the door opened again.
Ernie half-climbed inside of the carriage, before noticing that someone else was already inside. “Oh. Uh… is this seat taken?” he gestured to the vacant one across from her, just as Hermione looked up.
She shook her head, offering it to him with a smile.
“Nope; it’s all yours.”
He smiled back appreciatively, before sliding into the vacant seat and shutting the door. There wasn’t much leg room, but there was just enough space between them to keep them from bumping knees too often. Ernie tugged the side of his yellow and black knit cap down over his red ear, exhaling deeply.
As the carriage began on its way, Hermione stared out across the grounds thoughtfully, watching as the castle grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
“You know,” he said a few moments later, about halfway there, “this whole Draco relationship you’ve got going on… I know everyone’s against it, but frankly, I think that whatever spell you’ve got him under is good for him.” Ernie rubbed the back of his neck, shrugging. “I mean, even his goons are starting to back down since Malfoy’s not stepping up to the plate and tearing us all down as usual.”
Hermione looked at him, raising an eyebrow.
The way Ernie put it made it sound like she was the mastermind behind some big shot community service project. That certainly was not the case. She’d been a bit skeptical at first, but she knew in her heart that what she felt was real. She knew that she had the same, mind-altering affect on him as he did on her. Sure, they were no match-made-in-heaven, but they just… worked.
And that was good enough for her.
“I – I don’t know what to say –”
Ernie shook his head. “You don’t have to say anything. Maybe it’s you that’s caused this change in him, or maybe it’s not, but something’s changed him and whatever it is, just about everyone likes it.”
Hermione looked away again, pressing her lips together in a hard line as her fingers absently found the time turner lingering just beneath the first button of her pale blue oxford shirt. Her face grew hot as Colin’s words pushed their way into her mind again.
She shut her eyes, trying to block them out.
No, no, no.
“What is it with you and that thing?” Ernie asked after another brief moment of silence. Hermione let out an exasperated exhale. Did he ever know when enough was enough? “Cos I always see you round the castle, touching it, even when you don’t realize you’re doing it. I’ll bet you don’t even know how often you do it,”
Hermione sighed, opening her eyes. “It’s just… very valuable to me. An heirloom, you could almost say.”
Ernie frowned slightly.
“Yes,” she told him simply. “Why?”
He leaned forward a bit, pointing to the time turner in her hand. “It’s just… that framework. It reminds me of something I read in a book… Oh, what was it called?” Ernie mused; his eyes going slightly cross in concentration. “Oh! It was about all of these ancient magical artifacts. Rowena Ravenclaw was the first to invent the time turner, you know. Hers had the face of a bird on it…” he trailed off, his eyes widening. “Just. Like. Yours.”
With that, the carriage came to a halt outside of Hogsmeade station, where everyone was bustling about to get their things on it, and finding their compartments. Hermione quickly gathered up her belongings and bolted out of the carriage before he could further interrogate her, scurrying across the platform to the nearest door to the train. She boarded and found a compartment quickly, before shutting the door, drawing the curtains, and slumping against it with a sharp exhale.
Her heart was beating fast as questions poured into her mind as if on a waterfall.
Why did he talk so much?
Why was he so observant?
How much did he know?
Suddenly, the room was spinning. Hermione pressed her fingers to her temples and made slow circles, but it didn’t help. She shut her eyes again and, the moment she did, the memory came flooding in.
July, Hogwarts, Scotland. 1012 A.D.
I sit on a large, exposed tree root by the Black Lake, watching as the giant squid occasionally pokes its tentacles above the surface, testing out the air up here. I hear there are all sorts of things lurking down below the surface – merpeople, vicious water creatures called Grindylows, and even an entire underwater kingdom – but I’ve never seen them for myself.
As I sit here, I fumble and fidget with the time turner about my neck, gleaming in the mid-summer afternoon sunlight. I don’t understand it; why me? Why had Rowena chosen me, when she could have given the damn thing to her daughter? That would have saved time, and valuable lives.
Perhaps she had seen herself giving it to me, in one of her supposed ‘visions’, but I just can’t be sure of anything anymore. What if the time turner had been given to me as some sort of test? Maybe she wanted to see whether or not I would exploit the power I now had within the palm of my hand. But I have no desire of traveling back, or forward, in time.
I know that it will only bring pain.
But then again, I can’t stop thinking about that night, weeks ago; when Mark Antony discovered my hiding place and told me that he was ordered to have me killed. An assassin.
Why him? Why now?
Surely whoever is pulling the strings here has known I’ve been alive for a while, but could it really be… Osiris? The God of the afterlife, of death, himself? I shake my head, inwardly shaking myself for even considering such a far-fetched possibility.
Or rather… impossibility.
I look round, back towards the castle, and see Salazar standing up on the front steps. He’s got his arms folded and he’s staring right at me. I can tell, even from a distance, that he is suspicious.
“Do not mind him, my dear,” said a voice.
Looking up, I see Helga walking towards me near the edge of the lake, completely barefoot but also more at ease. “Why not? He is clearly suspicious of me, and for what, I haven’t a single clue.”
Helga shook her head. “Salazar is suspicious of all strangers. He is like a dog that has just marked his territory; he doesn’t take to kindly too those boundaries being violated,” she explained. Helga gazed across the grounds toward the castle, and sighed. “It shall pass.”
“And if it does not?” I inquire.
She pauses for a moment, considering the question.
Then she turns to me.
“Ignore him,” she advises, the corner of her mouth twitching slightly. “Rowena was always very good at that.” I thank her for the advice and she curtsies, before heading up to the castle to get rid of my snake problem. I look back at the time turner again.
Now that I’m alone, I can make my choice. Do I want to spin it, and find out the truth, or do I want to keep my curiosity at bay? I haven’t got much time for deliberating…
Suddenly, the time turner starts to glow, just as it had on the first night I had received it.
Perhaps it’s sending me a sign.
I take it carefully between my fingers and spin the hourglass back three times. Almost immediately, my surroundings shift in a blur of color, leaving Hogwarts behind. A moment later, I find myself inside a cellar of some sort. There is whispering, and the flickering of candles. From the small window on the far end of the room, I can tell that it is night.
“Now that you have been resurrected, I have a task that only you can execute for me in return for my generosity,” says an authoritative yet negotiating voice.
I cautiously peer round the corner.
There is only one person in the room; a man with his back to me, and wearing clearly filthy clothing, his hair a rat’s nest. He was trembling slightly as well and, as I creep closer, I can spot something that is mixed in with the dirt – blood. “Who says I want to do anything for you?” demands a second voice, the voice of the man before her. His voice is hoarse, as though it hasn’t been used in years. He is looking round, as if he too is trying to find the origin of the first voice. “I didn’t ask to be brought back!”
“Silence!” commands the first voice. A rush of wind nearly knocks me off my feet, and blows out the various candles. “I can very well put you back where you came from and find someone else!”
The man’s hands clench at his sides as he takes a few furtive steps back. I jump aside just before he runs me over. My eyes widen and I let out a horrified gasp as I catch a glimpse of his face, before I duck behind an ancient looking wardrobe. The man’s eyes flicker to where I’d been standing just a few moments before, and I clamp my hands over my mouth.
A moment later, he looks away.
“Name your price, then.”
The first booming voice chuckles. “I assume you remember a certain someone from your past. Come on, think hard,” they prompt. “Egyptian royalty, tanned skin, luscious dark hair, exquisite physique…”
“Chione,” the man rasps, shrugging though his tense expression gives away how he really feels. “What about her?”
“Turns out someone’s been playing with ancient magic,” responds the first voice. “Cheating death and the lot,” the voice clucks its tongue. “We can’t have that, oh no.”
“Cheating… death?” Mark Antony repeats, incredulous.
The first voice sighs. “It’s incredible, I know, but it’s also very true,” he pauses, and suddenly, a liquid appears in a bowl on the dusty table before him. “Here, come and have a look for yourself, then tell me I am lying.”
Mark glances skeptically round the room, taking a few measured steps toward the table. The liquid in the bowl is completely still. He tentatively peers into the bowl. I cannot see what’s inside, but I can guarantee that it’s nothing good; it’s most likely the most incriminating piece of evidence that one can salvage. How can I tell? By the look on Mark’s face when he looks up again.
“Holy fu –”
“Indeed, Mark. She doesn’t love you anymore; she hasn’t for a while now. Perhaps she never even loved you at all,”
Mark clenches his fists tighter, his teeth grinding together. “Don’t say that. She loved me, she did –”
“Like the way you loved her?”
This time, Mark is silent.
And so am I.
“Now,” says the first voice, “will you be willing to set the world right again?”
By now, Mark is shaking so badly it had spread throughout his entire body. Every part of his body is trembling with some intense emotion. Rage? Denial? I can’t tell. Perhaps it’s all there now, just waiting to erupt, directed at the right person.
With a shiver down my spine I realize that soon, it’s going to be me.
He audibly swallows hard. “Fine. I’ll do it,” he tells the voice eventually, succumbing to the deal as I had feared he would. “What do you need me to do?”
“Oh, that’s very simple,” replies the voice. “Find her, and do everything in your power to make sure that she is dead. There is deadline, but if this drags on for longer than it should, there will be.” The tone of the first voice was dripping with venom. This person meant business, which doesn’t give me much hope. If Mark can’t kill me, I have no doubt that this… person will do it himself.
“Where will she be?”
“A school,” the voice tells him firmly. “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,”
“Hermione wake up!”
With a light smack to the face, Hermione sat upright abruptly, sweat pouring down her face. She felt the way she had before the memory: nauseous and dizzy. She lay back down with a groan. “Where am I?”
Ginny, who was sitting next to her, pulled a blanket up to her chin.
“We’re still on the Hogwarts Express,” she explained. “You fainted, but we concluded that it wasn’t very serious so we’re waiting until we get to King’s Cross to alert the healers –”
“No!” Hermione pushed herself up into a sitting position. Over Ginny’s shoulder, she saw dozens of people crowded round her door in the corridor. She looked away. “I mean… I don’t think that will be necessary. I feel fine.”
“But you fainted, Hermione –”
She put her hands on her friend’s shoulders, looking her in the eyes. “I’m fine.”
Hermione swung her legs over the side of the seat, rummaging through her bag for a hair tie and then pulling her hair up and out of her face, securing it in a ponytail. She could feel the bits of hair round her face curling up from being wet. Hermione let out a sigh of relief; at least something about her had stayed normal.
They were silent for a long moment, not meeting the other’s gaze. Ginny moved over to the seat across from Hermione, clasping her hands in her lap.
When they finally spoke, they said the same thing, at the same time.
Ginny’s eyebrows shot up. “Why? You were right. I was overreacting, and I wasn’t seeing the situation from your point of view,” she shook her head. “When I left, I think the fresh oxygen cleared my head a bit, making me remember the Galleons that Colin had been paid with. He’s as good a suspect as any,”
“Ginny –” Hermione tried to say, but Ginny held up her hand.
“No, you don’t have to try and defend me. I was wrong, you were right. It’s as simple as that.” She stood up, tucking her red hair behind her ear as she headed for the door.
Hermione watched her go.
It was now or never.
“After you left,” she said, “Colin… he – he told me something.” Hermione fumbled with her time turner again nervously. “He told me that ‘Draco Malfoy is not who he claims to be’,” she reached into the front pocket of her bag and pulled out the vial, “and he gave me this.”
Ginny looked skeptical as she gingerly took the vial from Hermione. “Oh, great,” she said drily. “He gave you… a piece of his hair?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “No,” replied Hermione firmly. “I don’t know what exactly it is, but I know that it’s not a piece of his hair,” she snatched the vial out of her hand, “and that it’s something important.”
The train slowed to a stop as it pulled into King’s Cross station, and Ginny glanced up out the window before turning back to the door.
“I’ve got to get my stuff so that Neville doesn’t have to wait for me,” she explained. “I’ll meet you out there.” Ginny slipped out of the compartment and disappeared down the corridor as Hermione stood.
She grabbed her bag and pocketed the vial, before heading down the corridor with the rest of the various students that were getting off there. When she stepped out onto platform nine and three quarters, there wasn’t much use trying to find and figure out who was picking them up today. It was about as obvious as a sore thumb.
“Alright, I’m here, I just –” Ginny came running out of the train a few moments later, and skidded to a halt next to Hermione. “Merlin’s beard,” she gasped, looking round at the various familiar faces of the half a dozen or so witches and wizards standing in a small group nearest them, “I know times are getting dangerous, but did they truly have to send the DA to chaperone us on a trip that only requires one adult at the very least? Bloody berks,”
“Glad to see you, too, little sister,” George replied, rolling his eyes.
He started to fold up his paper, but Hermione’s eye caught on the photograph on the front cover of his copy of the Daily Prophet. “Hey, wait, George! D’you mind if I have a look at that?” she asked.
“Uh… sure,” he told her, handing it over.
Hermione opened the paper, scanning the front page. Her mouth fell open. “Ginny,” she breathed, elbowing her friend in the side, “have a look at this.”
Ginny frowned, rubbing the place where she’d been prodded.
Her eyes widened. “‘Teen wizard still has not been located’,” Ginny read. Hermione’s eyebrows pulled together as she looked up. Her eyes shifted from one familiar member of the Order of the Phoenix’s face to the next.
“What does that mean?” she demanded. “And why is Draco’s picture here?”
George looked weary as he glanced at the others.
His brows furrowed.
“Haven’t you heard?” He said firmly. “Malfoy’s been missing since June.”
AN There's not much to say here except thanks for stopping by! Just thought I'd take advantage of the short validation time ;) General feedback/questions/comments/concerns/critiques are all very welcome and very much appreciated as always!
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