Chapter 28 : Comeuppance
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“How do they know she was telling the truth?” her captor muttered to another man, one of the Irish brothers Hermione had previously encountered. “If killing her here brings rest of the Aurors down on us...”
“Calm down, Dmitri. August did Legilimens on her; she was telling the truth. There’s no Aurors coming.”
Hermione finally stopped struggling; she wasn’t going to escape just yet, that was for sure. Lorelei, August, and Draco were leading the way. It infuriated Hermione to watch Draco walking beside them as if by choice, but her eyes were on Dmitri. He was the one who had been entrusted with her and Draco’s wands. In the event that she saw an opportunity to escape, he would be the one she would go after.
They reached a door, through which was the stage of an auditorium. Heavy velvet curtains blocked the view of the audience that Hermione could hear on the other side. August, Lorelei, the two men holding Hermione, and Draco all stepped onto the large stage.
The two men dragged Hermione to the center of the stage and stood on either side of her, holding her arms with a bruising grip. Draco stood in the center as well at August’s direction. Hermione glanced at him for help, but it was useless. He gazed calmly yet blankly at the closed curtains as if he could see through to the audience.
Lorelei stood in front of the two of them, seeming to pout for a moment. “There’s not enough suffering here,” she decided. “Let’s let the lovebirds say their last goodbyes!” She nodded to August, who released the curse on Draco, though he rolled his eyes at Lorelei’s drama.
Free of the curse, fury spread across Draco’s face. Hermione seized her chance and wrenched hard against the grip of the men holding her. Dmitri was knocked off balance, giving Hermione time to stomp her foot hard on the instep of the other man’s foot. He howled in pain and let go of Hermione’s right arm, which she lost no time in swinging towards Dmitri’s face. The crack as Dmitri’s nose broke echoed through the sound-enhanced stage. Dmitri fell to the ground, howling.
By this time, Draco had crossed the stage to reach Hermione and with a swift blow knocked out the Irish man who was still gripping his foot in pain. Just as Hermione reached down towards Dmitri to find her wand, Lorelei shrieked a spell that paralyzed both her and Draco; their limbs buckled and they fell to the floor.
Draco hit the floor first, his head cushioned by his arm. Hermione followed seconds later, her head landing just next to Draco’s. It put Draco’s lips directly next to Hermione’s ear.
Unbelievably, Hermione heard Draco’s voice through his partially-opened lips. “Lorelei’s using Maximilian’s child’s magic to make the curses,” he breathed, his voice barely louder than a whisper. It took all his strength to speak the words. “She hasn’t bound his powers. Have you really not brought Potter or any Aurors with you?!”
Hermione fought the curse with every bit of her mental strength as she struggled to talk. “No! I left a message for him, but he was in meetings all day and I can’t go into the Ministry until I’ve been pardoned or I’ll be arrested!” she bit out, hoping Draco could hear her faint voice.
“Enough of this nonsense!” snapped August. “Let’s begin. Leave them paralyzed until we’re ready for them.”
Without preamble, the curtains flew up and lights shone down upon the stage. Hermione blinked a few times before she was able to see the people sitting in the audience. There were around 20 or so, and she recognized most from the botched auction of the previous night. She barely heard Lorelei’s loud explanation of who she and Draco were; her mind was working frantically as she tried to come up with a plan for escape. At least she had one ace up her sleeve.
The introductions over, Lorelei turned to Draco and Hermione with an evil grin on her face. At her direction, Dmitri approached the paralyzed pair. Blood streaked his face and teeth from Hermione’s punch, making him look even more terrifying.
Hermione saw the audience on their feet, watching interestedly, as two people were about to die. It made her sick to think of the pleasure they were getting from the spectacle. Dmitri waved his wand, releasing the curse on the two of them. In a courageous yet futile move, Draco launched himself at Dmitri, going for his wand. Though surprised, Dmitri still had enough time to knock Draco to the ground with a vicious curse that opened up a long gash in the blonde’s side.
“Don’t hurt him yet, you fool!” Lorelei snarled from the side of the stage as Hermione froze in shock.
Draco got to his feet slowly, his hands pressed hard on the wound in his side that bled sluggishly through his fingers.
Lorelei whispered a spell that caused a shimmering barrier to surround Draco like a bubble. He shouted in alarm and kicked at the barrier, but no sound traveled through it and his kick had no impact.
“Gentlemen, I present to you, The Imprisonment Curse!” Lorelei called, facing the audience. “Not very torturous, but a handy little curse in its own way. As previously stated, the bidding will commence at the end, once all of the curses have been demonstrated.” She beckoned to Dmitri, who grabbed Hermione by the shoulder and pulled her to the front of the stage.
Hermione gazed out at the people, frightened down to her very bones. Her body was frozen. She couldn’t move or run. Nothing in her Auror training had prepared her for this. She glanced to the side and saw Draco standing behind the barrier, his face stark white. Blood dripped to the floor from the wound in his side, though Hermione could tell that it wasn’t fatal.
“Where are they?” Hermione whispered, realizing that she was about to die. She knew there was no chance that Harry would come, but she had thought that her tentative new allies would.
Hermione was so lost in her thoughts and fear that she didn’t notice Lorelei wave her wand. Pleasure struck her unexpectedly and forcefully. She collapsed to her knees as images and sensations flooded her mind. She was lying peacefully in the middle of a grassy meadow. She could feel the warm sunlight on her skin and the soft grass beneath her back. Draco was on top of her, kissing her passionately. Her arms cut through the water with grace; she loved the feeling of the swimming in the warm lake by the house she’d grown up in. Cold ice cream slid down her throat and into her stomach, a welcome relief on a scorching summer’s day. Hermione was dimly aware of the audience laughing at the unconscious moan that left her lips.
And then it changed.
After the pleasurable sensations, the pain that shot through her body was unbearable. Not even the Cruciatus Curse could compare. A shocked gasp escaped her as an image of Draco beat her with his fists, as the water dragged her under and drowned her, as the ice cream surrounded her and froze every muscle, as the sun drew her in and burnt every inch of skin. The images were only in her mind and the agony left no mark on her skin, yet the pain was very real. The pain washed over her, took over every inch of her body.
And then it ended.
Hermione looked up shakily, seeing Lorelei smile at the interested audience.
The pleasurable sensations came back for the span of just a few seconds—then the pain returned, seeming tenfold after the interruption by pleasure.
Hermione convulsed on the ground, biting her lip hard to keep from screaming; she would not—could not—give Lorelei that satisfaction. The metallic tang of blood invaded her mouth but she fought the pain with every bit of her strength. Her mind screamed for it to end, for something—anything—to come between her and the pain. This couldn’t last—surely her body would combust from the strain of this agony. Black spots began taking over her vision.
The curse abruptly ceased just before she passed out.
Residual flashes of pain still lanced through her body and her dizzy mind was clouded. Hermione could barely see. She gazed out blearily at the audience, watching confusedly as black-robed figures swept into the room.
“Kill them!” Lorelei screamed, utterly shocked and horrified. She shrieked at her men to repel the intruders; her face was bright red as she sent green Killing Curses towards the intruders. The bubble-like barrier trapping Draco suddenly disappeared as Lorelei’s concentration was focused elsewhere.
Flashes of light from in the audience signaled furious dueling below and Hermione struggled to force her body to move. Her limbs felt heavy and weak from the aftereffects of the curse. Lorelei suddenly crumpled to the ground inches away from Hermione, a pained look on her face as her wand soared through the air and into the hand of one of the black-robed intruders.
The intruder made his way to Hermione’s side after blasting away Dmitri, who seemed to think it his duty to guard Hermione and Draco during the chaos to ensure that they didn’t escape. All Hermione could see was his boots from her position on the floor. She turned her head to the side dazedly to see the dark skin of her tall rescuer. “Let’s get you out of here, Miss Granger,” said Marcus, Draco’s most trusted Hunter, holding out a hand to assist the fallen Auror.
Hermione took his hand, her head spinning as Marcus pulled her to her feet. “It’s about time,” she said shakily, a slightly hysterical smile on her face. She looked around for Draco, not seeing him anywhere. “Where’s Draco?”
She glanced around the auditorium—the Hunters, all 30 or so strong men who were experienced at this sort of fighting, were winning against the untrained, affluent customers who had been in the audience. A pile of unconscious and wounded bodies was already forming, but Hermione couldn’t spot any of the black-robed Hunters among them.
“He’s gone to get someone named ‘Max,’” Marcus reassured her, glancing around warily. He ducked as a curse sailed over his head. “We’ve broken their anti-apparation wards and he’ll meet us back at the Manor. He gave me orders to protect you and get you out of here.”
“My wand,” Hermione protested, stumbling as Marcus began the turn to disapparate.
“Draco’s got it,” he answered, pulling her out of danger and into the blackness of apparation.
Hermione was still protesting as they reappeared just inside the gates of Malfoy Manor. She wondered for a split second why they had apparated outside instead of inside. The evening air was cool on her flushed face and skin. A grunt of confusion from Marcus alerted her to the fact that he hadn’t meant to end up outside either.
Hermione stepped away from the Hunter and gazed around suspiciously, barely noticing that Marcus was doing the same.
“Maybe I just miscalculated,” Marcus said in a low voice, not seeing anything out of the ordinary in the absolutely silent courtyard. The statues looked ominous in the dim light of twilight. “Let’s get inside.”
As they stepped forward onto the paved path that led to the front door, a soft rustle came from Hermione’s left. In a swift movement, Marcus pulled Hermione behind him, his wand held in front of him defensively.
“Show yourself!” he barked in a loud voice.
And that was when all hell broke loose.
Aurors and members of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad flooded from behind trees, statues, shrubs—every possible space. The cacophony as they all yelled at Marcus and Hermione in magically-enhanced voices was deafening.
“Magical Law Enforcement Squad—drop your wand!”
“Aurors of the Ministry of Magic—you’re under arrest!”
Marcus’s face was pale under his dark skin. He dropped his wand instantly and his hands shot up into the air. He briefly entertained the thought of taking Hermione hostage, but the wrath of his boss was too fearful for him to contemplate.
Hermione felt her arms wrenched behind her forcefully by a member of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad who she didn’t know. Marcus was quickly subdued and restrained.
Just when it seemed that things were going to be under control as Harry stepped forward to tell Hermione’s captor to release her, the air was split with sounds of apparation as Hunters began returning.
Hunters sprouted up everywhere, most carrying unconscious bodies of criminals they had recovered from Lorelei’s hideout.
Hermione felt the Magical Law Enforcement Squad officer release her arms as a Hunter landed directly on his head. She took the opportunity to run to Harry, who was still trying to make his way to her. “Harry!” she gasped, collapsing against her friend’s side as he pulled her to safety behind a statue of an imperious-looking wizard.
Harry gently felt Hermione’s head and face for heat, running his hands quickly along her body to check for any injuries she might have sustained. “We’ve sealed off Malfoy Manor so they can’t apparate in there; I got your message that you’d enlisted the Hunters to help you go after the gang. We still have to arrest them,” he said reluctantly as he let go of Hermione, satisfied that she was unharmed except for her lip, which was bloody from where she’d bitten it during the torture. “They’ll be released if a wand check doesn’t reveal any Unforgivable Curses. Otherwise, they’ll be thrown in Azkaban but it’ll be taken into account that they helped you. Did you get the creator of the curses?”
The statue they were behind shook as a stray stunning curse struck it. For the most part, the Hunters appeared to be surrendering but the Aurors were taking no chances.
“I hope so,” Hermione replied, glancing around the statue for any sign of Draco. Hunters were being subdued left and right, but Hermione didn’t see anyone who looked like Draco. “Draco went after him. It was a woman named Lorelei who used her two-year-old son’s exceptionally powerful child’s magic.”
Harry’s jaw dropped at this revelation but he was distracted by Kingsley calling his name. “Stay here since you don’t have a wand,” he ordered her before he ran to join Kingsley in the arresting of the Hunters.
Hermione obeyed Harry, realizing that she could do nothing to help without her wand. The Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement Squad were separating the Hunters from their captured prisoners. It was easy to tell Lorelei’s gang apart from the Hunters; the Hunters all bore the small “M” on the underside of their wrists that allowed them to apparate into Malfoy Manor.
Hermione spotted both Lorelei and August along with most of the rest of her gang. There was no more fighting; the Hunters had all surrendered without exception. The Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement Squad began disapparating with the criminals two at a time, until only a handful of Aurors remained.
Hermione stepped out from behind the statue and approached Harry, who was reading a letter brought to him by Bryce Goldberg of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad.
Bryce gave Hermione a derisive sneer, remembering her from when she’d interrupted his interrogation. “Speak of the devil,” he scoffed.
Harry turned to Hermione. “You’ve been officially pardoned and reinstated as an Auror,” he told her, his warm smile in sharp contrast to Bryce’s mockery.
“Against some people’s better judgment,” muttered Bryce.
Hermione ignored him, throwing her arms around her friend. “Thank you!” she breathed.
“Hands in the air!” Kingsley’s voice boomed. Hermione whipped around so fast that it hurt her neck.
Draco had appeared in the front lawn holding an unconscious child in his arms. He was no longer bleeding from his side; the wound appeared to have clotted. He took in the scene before him, looking tired and furious, but he did as Kingsley commanded, setting Maximilian on the ground carefully before putting his hands in the air.
Bryce’s eyes glinted as made sure he was the first to reach Draco. He roughly and quickly handcuffed Draco, holding him still as he whispered something into his ear. Draco gritted his teeth and appeared to be struggling to keep his temper. Hermione flushed with anger, looking at Harry pleadingly.
“Let him go,” Harry said heavily.
Kingsley, Bryce, and the other three Aurors there looked at him in open shock.
“He’s a licensed bounty hunter,” he explained authoritatively. “He has helped us in this investigation. Without him, we might not have found Gary Saunders, who’s testified that Draco Malfoy saved him.”
Kingsley and the other Aurors all nodded, accepting the word of their department head. Bryce, on the other hand, looked apoplectic with rage.
“You cannot be serious!” he shouted angrily. He forced back Draco’s sleeve, revealing the small M on his wrist. “Look at his wrist! He’s one of the Hunters! There’s a warrant out for their arrest!”
“My last name is Malfoy,” Draco sneered coldly, looking down on the man from his three-inch-taller height. “It’s a family tradition to have an M tattooed on our wrists.”
Hermione walked to Draco. “My wand?” Her face betrayed nothing of what she wanted it for.
“Front pocket,” Draco spat, his gaze never leaving Bryce, who refused to let go of his wrists despite Harry’s order.
Hermione retrieved her wand and spoke the spell to unlock the handcuffs. As Draco wrenched his wrists free of Bryce, the sergeant let out an angry yell. To the shock of the Aurors and Draco, Bryce, drew back his hand and slapped Hermione across the face so hard that her ears rang. She reeled backwards, Draco’s quick hands the only thing keeping her from falling. A fully-trained Auror, Hermione could have defended herself perfectly well, but she never had the chance.
Harry stunned Bryce and swiftly transported him from the area before the other Aurors or Draco could avenge her. He waved the other Aurors away as they tried to approach Hermione, who was being held protectively against Draco’s chest.
“Are you okay?” Harry asked, pulling Hermione away from Draco and taking her face in his hands. He probed her heated cheek with his fingers. “Nothing’s broken,” he assessed.
Hermione’s lips trembled, her eyes wide. “I’m fine,” she whispered. The red handprint marked her cheek vividly.
“You need rest,” Harry said concernedly. “Come stay over at my place tonight; we’ll get you your apartment back tomorrow.”
“She’s not exactly fit to travel right now; she’s in shock, Potter,” Draco said shortly. His clothes torn at his side where he’d been cursed and hair out of place, his eyes nevertheless held a steely glint. “She can stay here—no apparation required. It’ll be easier for her.”
Harry met Draco’s eyes suspiciously. Before he could say anything, Hermione spoke up. “I’ll stay here. I just need to sleep,” she said in answer to Harry’s wounded look. “I’m exhausted and this is closer.”
Harry nodded, squeezing her shoulder reassuringly. “You’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Come to the Ministry on Monday so we can get you reinstated. If the weekend isn’t enough time to recover, take a few more days before come in. Just owl me."
Hermione nodded. The next few minutes passed in a blur. Draco escorted her slowly to the front door of the Manor. “I’m fine,” she tried to protest as they walked up a flight of steps. Draco held her arm for support while she leaned on him. “I can walk by myself.”
“Now’s not the time for heroics, Hermione,” Draco stated. “Potter’s not here to judge you. You’ve been tortured and hurt; let me help you.”
He directed her to room down the same hallway as his. The room was a bedroom with an adjoining bathroom, both lavishly decorated in deep blues and purples. Heavy drapes covered the windows; the only light came from a candle beside the bed which Draco had magically lit. A large red dragon napped in a painting on the wall. Draco led her to the bed, which was large and covered with a thick down comforter.
Hermione sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at Draco, her brown eyes large. Draco touched her bloody bottom lip with his finger. “How did you hurt your lip?”
“Bit it during the torture,” Hermione answered, completely and utterly exhausted. The splitting headache from where Bryce had hit her, combined with lingering pain from Lorelei’s curse, had weakened her body considerably.
Draco pointed his wand at her lip and healed it with a simple spell. “I’ll be right back.”
Once Draco had left the room, Hermione eased herself into a lying position on the bed; she was simply too weary to sit up any longer. By the time Draco returned a few minutes later, her eyes had closed lightly. She jerked awake as Draco slid an arm behind her back to help her sit up.
“Drink this,” he ordered, holding out a light green potion.
“What is it?” she asked suspiciously.
“Do you really think I would give you anything that would hurt you?” snapped Draco. He pushed the vial against her mouth. “Drink.”
Hermione glared at him but did as she was told. The minty potion slid down her throat, sending waves of coolness throughout her body. As the potion spread, the aches and pains vanished, even her head. An inexorable heaviness settled throughout her body and her sleepiness increased tenfold. Her head lolled back against Draco’s shoulder, her eyes closing against her will.
“You can explain when you wake up how you got my Hunters to come to our aid.” His voice was wry. “My room is just down the hall should you need anything,” he said, sounding like an echo from far away. “But the potion will help you sleep.” He settled her carefully among the pillows and pulled the covers over her body.
Hermione tried to say something angrily about how the potion wasn’t helping her sleep, it was forcing her to sleep, but she couldn’t fight sleep any longer. With a soft sigh, she let the darkness of sleep take her.
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