Chapter 24 : Miss Locke, Auction Girl
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The cold sensation returned minutes later, running down her arm and back up again. Hermione finally opened her eyes unhappily. She jerked in surprise as she realized that the coldness was coming from the antlers of a stag Patronus, which stood patiently next to the bed. Sunlight flowed through the shattered window behind it, and Hermione realized that it was Harry’s.
“Hermione,” Harry’s voice spoke, invading her morning most inconveniently. “Where are you? If you don’t reply within the next hour, I’m going to assume you need help and I’ll send Aurors after you. We need to talk. You had better not have had anything to do with Malfoy’s escape.”
Its message delivered, the Patronus slowly faded away into wisps of smoke. Hermione stared at the spot where it had been. She was now wide awake. If a Patronus could find her, then chances were that a Locator Charm would be able to find her as well. If she were questioned, she would have to admit that she was the one responsible for Draco’s escape; she bore no Veritaprotego tattoo. It would mean the end of her career and very likely her freedom as well. She had no idea how long it had been since Harry had first sent the Patronus to find her—it could have been an hour ago, for all she knew!
An arm snaked around her waist and pulled her back beside its owner’s body, distracting Hermione completely. “Good morning,” she said, a bit shyly. She’d never spent the night with a man before, in any context. This was quite new to her. Would things be awkward between them? Butterflies fluttered around in her stomach.
Draco kissed her neck in reply to her good morning and then pulled her flush against him, kissing her deeply. Hermione’s lips curved into a smile against his as she kissed him back, wrapping her arms around him and reveling in the way he felt against her. Draco broke the kiss after a few moments and began planting slow kisses along her jaw and neck.
“Draco,” Hermione gasped, a pleased moan escaping her lips.
“Mmmm...yes?” he asked, looking up at her. His grey eyes danced wickedly.
“I have to contact Harry,” she replied faintly. In direct contradiction to her words, her head fell back against the pillow, baring her throat in an unconscious invitation as she sighed with pleasure.
“So I hear,” Draco murmured, his breath cool against her neck. His tongue swept across her throat and Hermione shivered. “But first...” He leaned up and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, gazing intently into her eyes.
Puzzled by the light touch of his lips instead of the deep, all-consuming kisses that they had shared previously, Hermione looked up at him, a question in her eyes.
“Thank you,” he said quite seriously, all traces of teasing gone.
Hermione swallowed hard, surprised by his gratitude. “You’re welcome.”
Draco’s demeanor was entirely different than the previous night. His face was relaxed, if a little sleepy. His eyes were peaceful and alight. She saw no sign of the pain and devastation that had taken complete control of his countenance hours before.
“I have to ask,” he said, breaking the silence. “How did you get into my secret room?”
“I was trying to figure out what you wanted me to find,” Hermione said, confusion creeping onto her face at his abrupt subject change. “Didn’t you send me there to find something to save you?”
Draco shook his head in disbelief. “If I’d wanted you to risk your job to save me, I would have just convinced you to break me out of there when I saw you. Did you honestly think that I expected you to somehow locate a secret room that you didn’t even know existed just by giving you a key that unlocks a door somewhat near it, in order for you to find an ancient artifact that I'd forgotten I even had?”
Now that he said it out loud, Hermione realized that it did seem a bit farfetched. “Then why did you send me here?” she answered. Her forehead crinkled in confusion, making Draco smirk.
“On my desk is a letter from August, along with a Portkey that leads to their current hideout,” he explained slowly, keeping most of the condescension out of his voice, but not all. “I wasn’t asking you to save me—I was trying to help you find your missing Auror.”
Realization swept across Hermione’s face, along with a hint of embarrassment that she had missed the obvious and went straight for the more difficult path. “Oh,” she mumbled, staring up at the ceiling to avoid eye contact. Was he saying that he wished she hadn’t rescued him? Or did he just care about her and her job? The jumble of strange new feelings that had started to blossom inside her was so confusing. She traced random patterns on his arm absently for a few minutes as she thought of what to say.
“I have a few questions for you,” Draco finally said, his low voice filling the silence. He wanted the situation back to its previous connotation. “I want you to be honest.” He rolled over smoothly so that he was no longer lying next to her, but above her. He braced himself on his arms.
“I’m always honest,” Hermione replied, a bit offended.
Draco pressed a finger to her lips gently, murmuring, “Hush.” Before Hermione could reply indignantly, he moved his mouth to just below her ear, gently sucking on the sensitive spot between her jawbone and her neck. He was rewarded by a heavy exhalation as Hermione shivered.
“Who was the last person that you kissed?” he whispered, his breath hot in her ear. It was the most arousing sensation she’d ever felt.
“Y-You were,” Hermione stuttered, finding it difficult to form proper sentences as Draco slowly traced her ear with his tongue. His hand traveled lightly down her side and over her chest, barely touching her shirt. It was exquisitely torturous enough to make her arch up against him instinctively.
“And before that?” Draco slid his arm around her body and pulled her up hard against him.
“Ron,” she breathed, so lost in the sensations she was feeling that she could barely think, let alone get upset at the thought of her deceased boyfriend.
Draco caught her lips with his, pleased that he was right about her. He still remembered Fynn’s accusations, though he knew now that they were wholly untrue. Hermione Granger was virgin. No woman that he’d ever met was able to lie to him during this kind of “questioning,” so he knew that she was telling the truth that he was the last man he’d kissed. Usually, this sort of revelation would have turned him off. He had sworn to himself a long time ago that he would never take a woman’s virginity; it caused too many problems, and ultimately wasn’t worth it in the end. Yet...in some way, the realization that she hadn’t been with another man before pleased him. Hermione was different than other women he had met. The memory of the night previous was so intense and so profound that revisiting it in his mind made him shudder. What did this all mean?
“What?” Hermione asked breathily, noticing the shudder.
“Nothing,” Draco said quickly, brushing his thoughts away from his mind. He lowered his mouth to her shoulder and kissed her there, moving slowly towards her neck. Instead of holding himself above her with his braced arms, he settled his body down on top of hers, letting out a barely-audible moan at the contact.
At his soft moan, shivers traveled down Hermione’s spine—it was the most erotic thing she had ever heard. When Draco gently bit down just above her collarbone, Hermione whimpered with desire and clutched his bare back, her nails raking across his skin.
Draco hissed through his teeth and Hermione froze, thinking that she’d hurt him by touching the place where he had been wounded the night before. “Oh Merlin, I’m sorry,” she whispered softly, instantly letting go of him.
Draco raised his head to reveal his face. His eyes were heavy with desire, his lips red from kissing. “I like it,” he growled, taking her head in his hands and kissing her forcefully on the lips. Hermione felt like she was falling into his kiss. She was on fire for him, drowning in him, drowning with him. It was unlike anything she’d experienced before. It was so real, so present.
A sudden sound from outside made Hermione pause mid-kiss. Draco cocked his head questioningly as she stiffened beneath him.
Hermione silenced him immediately with a hand over his mouth, listening hard. For several moments, she heard nothing. Then, floating through the broken window came a voice. “It’s pointing up there,” the deep voice said, sounding as if it was coming from the ground below the second story window.
“That’s Kingsley,” Hermione gasped. “They must have used a Locator Charm to find me! Or you,” she amended, remembering that he was now considered to be an escaped criminal. “We have to get out of here!”
“I’d rather fight the bastards,” Draco snarled, sliding off the bed onto his feet with catlike grace.
Hermione grabbed him by the arm as she got to her feet and pulled him to face her. “You. Have. No. Wand!” she hissed.
“Then just where do you propose we go?” Draco retorted, his voice still hushed to avoid the notice of the Aurors outside. He strode over to his wardrobe and pulled out a new shirt and a clean pair of pants.
“Can’t we hide in your secret room?” Hermione asked desperately, grabbing her wand off the floor where it had fallen the night before.
“If they come into my house, they’ll know that I’m a Hunter since the rest of the Hunters are still here,” Draco pointed out, quickly changing into clean clothes. “I don’t have enough time to warn them to get out.” He ran his fingers through his hair, thinking hard. “We can go to my parents’ old place in London. Give me your wand so I can apparate us there.”
Hermione looked at his outstretched hand, hesitating slightly. Handing her wand over to Draco would mean that she trusted him. She realized, as she slowly passed over her wand, that she did trust him.
Draco sent many silver wisps of smoke from Hermione’s wand. Hermione could see that it was copies of his Patronus, but she couldn’t tell exactly what form it took.
“Warning my Hunters,” Draco explained when he saw her confused look. “We need to distract your Aurors so they don’t come in before the Hunters get out of here.”
Hermione warred with her conscience. The Hunters were criminals, and she desperately hated most of them. It would make her so very happy if most or all of them (with the exception of Draco of course) were arrested and imprisoned for life. Still, if Hunters were discovered inside Malfoy Mansion, it was only a short leap for the Aurors to figure out that Draco was involved with them as well. She made her decision.
“All right. But we don’t know if they used the Locator Charm on me or on you,” she said. “If it was used on you, then I’m still safe and they don’t know that I’m here with you.”
Draco was shaking his head before she even finished her sentence. “The Veritaprotego tattoo protects me from Locator Charms. If they used a Locator Charm, it was on you. They know you’re here.”
“Then I have to go out and distract them,” Hermione murmured, butterflies in the pit of her stomach. These were her Aurors, her friends, and she was going to openly defy them. “They have to see me disapparate, or else they’ll tear your house apart looking for me. I’m going to talk to him. You have my wand—make sure you come after me.”
Before Draco could agree to or protest her plan, Hermione stepped lightly away from him, swung her legs over his windowsill, and disappeared from view.
Draco gasped with surprise and rushed to the window, looking down anxiously. Hermione was being levitated carefully to the ground by Kingsley Shacklebolt while another Auror stood close by.
Hermione’s feet touched the ground gently as she regained her footing. As she’d predicted, Kingsley had broken her freefall from Draco’s bedroom window. Standing beside him was Harry. He looked sadly at her, his wand held loosely by his side. He expected no attack from her.
“Hermione,” he said, betrayal in his eyes. Having located Hermione at Malfoy’s house, he knew now that it had been she who had somehow helped him escape. “You’re under arrest for helping Malfoy escape.”
“It was wrong what you were doing to him,” Hermione said quietly.
“I was two hours away from having him released,” Harry replied angrily. “I found his bounty hunter license. So guess what? Now you’re under arrest and Malfoy’s the one who’s free.”
“Are you serious?!” Hermione exclaimed.
“You have no idea how much this hurts me. The Minister wants to make an example of you,” Harry explained unhappily, sweating under the heat of the hot sun and the stress he was under by having to confront the friend that he loved. “He doesn’t care about Malfoy, since he was going to be released anyway. An Auror breaking a suspect out of interrogation, however...” He trailed off, shrugging his shoulders in defeat. “I can’t do anything about your arrest, but I will do my best to get you out of Azkaban as soon as possible. I hope you know that your job is pretty much gone, though.”
Hermione realized just how serious this was as Harry said those words. To hear those words from him was even more terrible than if she had heard them from anybody else. “Harry, I’m sorry,” she said, putting her hand gently on his arm. She would make just one attempt to dissuade him. “But I had to do what’s right. And I have to save Gary. I’m the only one who has gotten close enough to the curse-makers to possibly be able to find him, if he’s even still alive.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Harry replied, looking as if he were about to cry. Not having the heart to arrest her himself, he nodded to Kingsley. “Arrest her.”
A tear slid from Hermione eye as her best friend gave the order for her arrest. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she repeated once more as she heard a whooshing sound from behind her. Her feet were suddenly swept off the ground as she was violently grabbed around the waist and pulled close to a male body.
Draco swung her around and placed her behind him on the state-of-the-art, ridiculously expensive Supernova broomstick. The broomstick took them away so quickly that Hermione only had time to catch a glimpse of Harry throwing out an arm to stop Kingsley from sending some sort of curse or spell after her.
Hermione clung to Draco with all of her strength, burying her face into his back to protect it from the wind whipping by. They traveled for about a minute, flying higher and higher through the clouds.
As they reached a height where the air was thin and hard to breathe, she felt Draco saying something, but the words were lost in the wind because of their extreme speed. “What?!” she yelled.
Without warning, Draco pulled the broomstick out from under them and they went into freefall.
“Draco!” screamed Hermione as they plummeted towards the ground, their momentum increasing with every moment. Draco’s hand locked on her arm. Just seconds before their impact, Hermione felt herself being pulled into Side-Along Apparition.
When the pushing and squeezing of Apparition finally ceased, Hermione found herself clutching Draco’s arm in the center of a small kitchen. Dust and cobwebs made it hard to breathe properly. “Are you absolutely insane?!” Hermione shrieked, taking a deep breath and coughing as dust caught in her throat. “We could have been killed!”
Draco dropped his broomstick on the counter, waved Hermione’s wand in a large loop, and said nonchalantly, “Scourgify.” The kitchen was instantly clean, the counters shiny and free of dust. He was calm and collected—he wasn’t even breathing hard! “In case you were unaware of this tiny yet important fact, one needs to be able to turn on the spot in order to disapparate,” he said, a bit scathingly. “You cannot do this while sitting on a broomstick, but it’s possible while in freefall.”
Hermione snatched her wand away from him, her breathing erratic. She glared ferociously at him.
“You’re welcome for saving you from Saint Potter and his posse of one,” Draco said contemptuously. “Unless you wanted to be arrested? Because I could certainly arrange for you to be transported back there...”
Still recovering from the adrenaline rush of nearly dying, Hermione fell into silence, glaring around the room as she took in her surroundings. They were in a neat, though clearly unused for some time, kitchen. A window above the sink looked out to a beautiful view of London. “You own a penthouse in London?” she asked disbelievingly, looking down at the streets below.
“Legally, it’s owned by my uncle’s ex-wife’s dead sister in law,” Draco said, coming up beside her to gaze down at the bustling city. “But yes. And the Ministry will never be able to trace it to me. The wards around it also protect from Locator Charms.”
“They aren’t after you anymore,” Hermione informed him. “I falsified a Ministry document to make it seem like you’ve been a licensed bounty hunter for a year, so I could get you released earlier.”
The view from the window was incredible. Hermione could see most of the city from where she stood. But this was no time to enjoy the view. “I can’t believe Harry was going to arrest me,” she murmured softly. She turned to Draco, the corners of her mouth turned down in sadness. “I mean, I knew that what I did was illegal, but I can’t believe that he was actually going to do it.”
Draco opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione suddenly cried, “Wait! He wasn’t going to arrest me because he wanted to—he was going to do it because of the Minister to save face in front of the public. It’s all about publicity! If I arrest this ‘Maximilian,’ or whoever is responsible for the curses, the Minister can’t arrest me! Imagine how bad it would look to the public...”
“An admirable idea,” Draco said wryly. “However, you can’t go back undercover since your Polyjuice Potion is in your room at the Leaky Cauldron, and you can bet that Potter’s going to search it and get rid of everything the second he can.”
“Not if I beat him to it,” Hermione said. She threw open the window and quickly waved her wand, saying firmly, “Accio Polyjuice Potion!”
Draco made a snort of disbelief from next to her, but Hermione ignored it as she concentrated fully on the Summoning Charm. Just minutes later, ten bottles of Polyjuice Potion soared swiftly through the window and landed on the counter at Hermione’s direction.
Draco’s eyes widened in surprise. Hermione smirked at him. “They teach us long-range spells,” she explained, pleased that she had surprised him with her skills. “Oh, and while we’re at it...” She concentrated once more on another Summoning Charm, this one nonverbal, and before Draco knew it, his wand soared through the window and landed in his palm. “They were going to let you go,” she told him. “Otherwise, your wand would’ve been under lock and key and no summoning charm would have worked.” Her face grew serious as she turned to the counter and pulled the stopper off of one of the vials. “I need to get back to Lorelei and her group,” she said determinedly, turning to face Draco. “I have to rescue Gary. I’m not asking you to come with me, but I am asking that you help me get there.”
Draco eyed Hermione cautiously for a few moments before he answered. Frustration and disagreement showed on his face as he said reluctantly, “I’ll come with you. But you have to promise me that you’ll forget about him if it seems like our cover is going to be blown.”
Hermione paused, biting her lip in thought. She realized that this was the best she was going to get and nodded slowly. “I promise.”
Draco pulled a small brass knob from his pocket and held it up to show her. “This is a Portkey that will take us to wherever Lorelei’s hideout is,” he said. “It’s activated by a word that I’ll tell you when I’m not holding it.”
“Wait a minute,” Hermione said. When he said Lorelei’s name, she remembered something odd. “If Lorelei is Mark’s brother, doesn’t she know that you’re a Hunter? Why would she let you in her group?”
“All of the Hunters have made an Unbreakable Vow not to reveal themselves as a member to anyone,” Draco explained. “She doesn’t know.”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Hermione said, quickly downing one of the vials of Polyjuice Potion. Draco watched with fascination as her body changed before his eyes into that of her alias.
“I can’t wear this,” Hermione realized in panic as she looked down at the now slightly-too-large Auror uniform she was wearing.
“Come with me,” Draco said, smirking. He led her through the living room and into a bedroom. Though the living room had had a fine coating of dust, the bedroom was clean and dust-free. A dark green velvet comforter covered a large bed with a white sheer canopy. Draco briskly went to the light oak wardrobe and threw it open, searching through the clothes hanging there.
“Why do you have female clothes here?” Hermione asked curiously.
“They’re my second cousin’s,” Draco replied, his voice muffled by the clothes he was digging through. “She uses the penthouse on occasion, but she’s been in Switzerland for the past six months on her honeymoon. Aha!” He had found what he was looking for. He held it up.
“No,” Hermione said the moment she saw it. “Oh, no. No. No way. Hell no.”
“You look great,” Draco said with a smirk, his hand on Hermione’s elbow as he steered her down the hallway of the abandoned construction site that the Portkey had dragged them to.
“I will kill you, I promise,” Hermione threatened, trying to pull down the hem of the short dress she had been forced to wear. The all-black dress was low-cut in the front, showing more cleavage than Hermione would have preferred to wear. The corset-style top of the dress melded into a lacy skirt that went mid-thigh. Her wand was tucked into the side of the corset along her side.
Draco had insisted that she wear the dress to fulfill her role as an auction girl. While Hermione had seen the way that Ariana had dressed, she hadn’t considered that she would have to do the same.
“Draco!” called August Sappington’s harsh voice from in front of them. He strode quickly down the hallway towards them. “Where have you been?! The auction is about to start.”
“My apologies,” Draco said coolly, slipping back into the role that he played so often. “Brooke here didn’t get her letter from you so I had to fetch her myself.”
“Yes,” said August wryly as he reached them, looking Hermione up and down. “I’ll bet you did. Let’s go.”
“Who is heading the auction?” Draco asked, following August as he led the way down the empty hallways.
“You are,” August spat, his voice managing to sound even more unnerving when he was angry. “She’s decided to make you her little pet. That’s completely fine with me. But once I have my new hideout, you’re staying here with her. I don’t want you in my faction anymore.”
Draco remained silent. Hermione’s high heels clicked softly on the ground as she tried to keep up with the two other men.
“Draco, in here,” August said, directing Draco into a room to their left. “Lorelei will teach you the curses that you’ll be showing at auction. Brooke, come with me.”
Hermione watched nervously as Draco entered the room without looking back. A small flash of jealousy had gone through her when she heard August call Draco Lorelei’s “little pet,” but that was just a small annoyance in the grand scheme of things. Draco would be heading the auction—did that mean that he would have to actually use one of those terrible curses as a demonstration for the audience? And where was Gary? She knew that she would have to make it through this auction before she could search the place. It simply wouldn’t do to bring the entire gang down onto her head by fleeing just then to try to find Gary.
“Miss Locke, please come through here,” August said, opening a door for Hermione. “I assume that you know what to do in your role as auction host.”
Hermione nodded unsurely, stepping through the door in front of him. She held back a gasp as she realized that she was in a roomful of people. About fifteen men milled about the room, all fashionably dressed with drinks in hand. Unlike the rest of the building, this room was fully finished. The walls were painted a soothing blue color and comfortable auditorium seats lined the floor. A stage up front was brightly lit by an overhead chandelier.
As Hermione walked in, the room hushed as every eye turned to her. The men immediately found their way to seats.
“The curses we have up for today are the Tonguetwister Curse and the Acid curse,” August murmured in her ear.
Not very creative names, Hermione thought to herself. Nervousness bubbled up in her stomach as August strode away from her and into a seat in the audience. Every eye was on her as she stood, frozen with fear, in the doorway. Suddenly, a clear picture of Gary came into her mind. She realized that she had to do this for him. Pasting a warm smile on her face, she strode confidently up to the stage. All she had to do was remember what Ariana had done at the last auction.
“Hello,” she said brightly as she reached the stage. She looked down at the people below her, trying to keep her disgust for them off her face. They were despicable human beings, every one of them. “Welcome to our auction. I’m Brooke Locke, and I’ll be your host for this afternoon. We have two items up for bidding today, and we accept Galleons only as payment.”
A soft click at the back of the room drew her attention, as well as everyone else in the silent room. Draco Malfoy strode into the room confidently, his face cool and expressionless. He looked resplendent in the solid black suit and green tie that he had donned before they left his penthouse in London. He made his way to the stage. Lorelei slipped through the door that Malfoy had come from and took a seat near August.
“This is Draco Malfoy,” Hermione said, hoping no one would hear the hitch in her voice as she spoke his name. She searched his eyes for some clue as to what the plan was. Draco finally reached her side and met her gaze briefly, his face inscrutable.
Receiving no help from him, Hermione turned back to the audience, clasping her hands in front of her casually so no one would see them shaking. “Without further ado, this is the first curse: The Tonguetwister Curse,” Hermione announced, hoping that her unease didn’t show.
One of Lorelei’s men strode to the stage, dragging a sobbing middle-aged woman behind him. She appeared to be Silenced, for which Hermione was deeply grateful. Her gratitude didn’t last for long, however, because with a wave of his wand, the man who’d pulled her up there took off the Silencing Charm. “Help me!” the woman screamed, pleading with the audience, all of whom had interested, unsympathetic faces. Hermione felt sick.
Beside her, Draco slowly removed his wand from the pocket of his suit jacket. He raised it over the woman who curled up on the stage in front of him, begging for mercy. His eyes locked with Hermione’s, just for a second, and she saw the torture in his eyes. Then he looked away, muttered an incantation under his breath, and waved his wand in a jagged, complicated movement. The woman let out a high-pitched scream and grabbed at her mouth.
Hermione fixed her gaze firmly on the audience, refusing to look to her right and see what was happening to the woman.
The audience watched in morbid fascination as the woman’s tongue grew longer and longer, choking her throat as it slithered out of her mouth and continued growing, wrapping around her neck and chest, suffocating her as well as obstructing her breathing. The woman’s tongue constricted her body slowly but surely. The woman continued letting out garbled shrieks that grew fainter and fainter until she collapsed on the ground with a thud.
Now that the show was over, the audience looked at Hermione expectantly. Hermione blinked several times, trying to recover from the horrific scene she had just witnessed. “We’re going to start the bidding at 400 Galleons,” she murmured, her voice low and husky with unshed tears. Luckily for her, the audience took her tone as sultry instead of tear-choked.
The bidding commenced. A stocky, black-mustached man was the winner with a bid of 2000 Galleons.
“And finally, we have the Acid Curse,” Hermione informed the audience once the dead woman had been removed from the room.
Lorelei’s man reentered the room, this time levitating the body of an unconscious, strapping young teenager in front of him. He was clearly too heavy to drag. Lorelei’s man placed the young man in front of Draco on the stage and muttered, “Ennervate.” Blue eyes blinked heavily as the sandy-haired young man opened his eyes.
Cold horror coursed through Hermione’s body as she recognized who the teenager was. “Gary,” she breathed. The audience didn’t hear her, but Draco did. His gaze snapped from Gary to Hermione and back again. His face, always pale, turned absolutely stark white as he realized what had happened.
Gary Saunders, Hermione’s friend and fellow Auror, slowly shifted into a sitting position. He looked gaunt and exhausted, but a glimmer of recognition shone in his eyes as he saw Draco standing above him. “Mr. Malfoy?” he stammered, struggling to his feet. He didn’t recognize Hermione in Brooke’s body.
Draco aimed his wand at Gary, preparing to speak the curse. Hermione’s heartbeat pounded in her chest. What could she do? Two of them versus every man in the room plus Lorelei and August. She was hopelessly outnumbered, just like last time.
“I’m an Auror,” Gary said, his voice cracking a little as he tried to face down Draco Malfoy. “Put your wand down!”
The audience burst into hysterical laughter at Gary, their raucous laughter startling him. Draco hesitated, his wand on Gary as the young Auror faced the crowd uncertainly. He won’t do it, Hermione told herself, pleading inwardly to Draco. She had promised that she would leave Gary if it would blow their cover, but she just could not follow through with it. If Draco murdered Gary, she would kill him, she really would. Please don’t let him do it!
In that instant, everything seemed to spring into action. Without warning, Draco lunged forward and grabbed Gary by the back of his shirt. “Go!” he shouted to Hermione, pushing Gary in front of him as he ran for the door that they had come in through. He moved so quickly and with such immediate speed that he was outside the room with Gary before anyone could react to stop him.
Lorelei and August leapt to their feet, fury in their eyes as they screamed in unison for their henchmen to follow Draco. The moment Draco and Gary made it out of the room, a loud crack signaled their apparation. The audience burst into chatter. Some men spoke up angrily, while others seemed to be merely curious.
Hermione, on the other hand, remained still and unmoving at the microphone. In all the confusion, August and Lorelei appeared to have assumed that Draco had yelled “Go!” to Gary, not her. She had decided in that split second to stay and see if she could find “Maximilian” in all of the confusion.
While Lorelei furiously explained what happened to the six men who had come to her aid, August merely watched, his sharp eyes traveling around the room. His eyes finally lingered upon Hermione, who could feel herself pale more than she already was.
“Everyone, please calm down,” she said soothingly above the crowd, hoping to defuse August’s suspicion by helping out. To her disbelief, the grumbling audience actually quieted, staring back up at Hermione expectantly.
Even Lorelei lowered her voice and directed her henchmen out of the room, leaving Hermione handle the angry potential customers. Now that she had their full attention, she had no idea what to do.
August folded his arms across his chest interestedly. Hermione attempted a joke. “Well, that gave a new meaning to the phrase ‘stage fright.’” She watched their faces carefully. A few men grinned, and one even chuckled. “Rest assured, you will still have a chance to bid on the Acid Curse at a later date. How many of you would like to see the Acid Curse performed on our escaped friend back there?”
Loud affirmations met her ears. August watched her carefully, clearly wondering where she was going with this. “For your patience and continued loyalty, you all will be invited back for another auction, during which we will have three curses up for bidding instead of just two. Also, we’ll be demonstrating our curse on Mr. Malfoy, since he has apparently decided that he’d rather save a worthless Auror instead of do his job.”
The malicious and vindictive personalities of the audience showed through as every single man rose to his feet and cheered. A half-smile showed on August’s face as he watched her cater to the needs and desires of the audience before her. As Hermione met his eyes warily, he nodded slightly. Relief relaxed the young woman’s tense muscles a little.
August took the stage and concluded the auction. “Mr. Magnus Campbell,” he said to the man who had now purchased the Tonguetwister Curse. “Brooke will escort you to a room where you will learn your new curse.”
The stocky man grinned and approached Hermione.
“Hello, sir,” Hermione greeted him, smiling. She hoped that her smile was genuine enough; her nerves were so wired and jumpy that she had to consciously will herself to relax.
“Why hello, Miss Locke,” Magnus replied, a southern twang in his accent. “I sure can’t wait to learn this excitin’ new curse!” The pleasure in his tone made Hermione cringe inwardly with disgust. She didn’t just want to arrest the creator of these curses, she wanted to arrest every damn wizard or witch who had ever purchased one of them!
Hiding her disgust, Hermione led the man out of the main room and back down the hallway she had come in from. She wasn’t sure of the exact room that she was supposed to take him to, but she figured that it was probably the room that Draco had gone into to learn the curse in order to show it at the auction. As Hermione approached that room, Lorelei poked her head outside impatiently, pasting a fake smile on her lips as she saw Magnus and Hermione.
“Please come in, Mr. Campbell,” Lorelei said, ushering the man in. “That will be all,” she said dismissively to Hermione. The door slammed in Hermione’s face.
Alone in the hallway, Hermione let out a shaky sigh. She hoped with all her heart that Draco and Gary were safe somewhere. Another part of her was nervous at the realization that she was completely and utterly alone. There was no backup from Harry and no help from Draco that she would get on this. The tortured prisoners that she had been unable to save would always be burned into her memory. She couldn’t let them down. She’d do whatever it took to find and arrest the person responsible for the curses, as well as the entire gang.
Hermione removed her wand from her dress, getting down to business. While August and the rest of the gang was busy trying to figure out where Malfoy had gone and Lorelei was busy teaching Mr. Campbell his new curse, she might as well search the building. “Point me,” she murmured, focusing her mind on the name Maximilian. It was a long shot, since the Point Me charm would only work if whatever she was searching for was within about 300 yards, but she tried it anyway. A Locator Charm would be ideal, but like the Polyjuice Potion, it required a sample of the person you were attempting to search for. Also, since Gary hadn’t been able to be found with a Locator Charm, it stood to reason that Lorelei had some sort of wards to prevent such spells. Her brown eyes widened in surprise as her wand shuddered and swiveled to point down the hallway in front of her.
Knowing that she had no time to waste, Hermione headed down the hallway, her wand aloft and ready for action. She passed the auction room quickly, her heartbeat accelerating with every step that she took. As she proceeded down the hallway, the walls and floors grew increasingly less and less finished. Freshly-painted walls turned into cracked and peeling walls, which then turned into just bare pieces of plywood. The hallway itself got narrower and narrower.
Ahead of her, she could see darkness where the flickering torches along the wall ended. Yet the hallway still continued. Cautiously lighting her wand, Hermione continued slowly. Her wand continued to point forward under the influence of the Point Me spell.
Suddenly she realized that she was no longer walking on an actual floor but on chunks of wood laid carelessly across the rocks and dirt that littered the ground. Her soft breathing was the only sound she heard besides her own footsteps. A few hundred yards on, the hallway suddenly ended. A single steel door barred her way. It was locked with a massive padlock.
“Alohomora,” Hermione whispered, but the door didn’t budge. She didn’t give up. With a sigh, she mentally rolled up her sleeves and began speaking a series of complicated charms that she had been taught that would override the powerful locking spell that had been placed on the door in front of her. It took her two full minutes to say the entire spell—two long, tense minutes while she resisted the urge to keep looking over her shoulder for pursuers. Finally, with a loud clunk, the padlock opened.
Hermione held her wand cautiously in front of her and slowly pushed the door open. Nothing in her years of schooling or extensive training could have prepared her for what she saw.
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