Chapter 6 : A Friend Indeed
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For all you Draco Malfoy fans, I hope you enjoy this chapter.
As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.
Draco Malfoy was extremely annoyed. He read the parchment for a third time, hoping that perhaps he had missed something. The answer was still the same. On the windowsill of his study, the great grey owl from Gringott’s ruffled its wings and stared at him, impatient for his reply.
“Shoo! Get out of here!” Draco shouted at the owl, waving his walking stick at it. The owl hopped back from the window frame and took off, hooting its displeasure. The goblins could wait for his reply.
“Is something wrong, dear?” Astoria Malfoy appeared in the doorway to the study. Her long, dark hair showed streaks of grey, but Draco still found her as enchanting as the young girl that he fell in love with after the war.
“Nothing, my dear,” Draco replied, tossing the parchment into a wastebasket. “Just some paperwork from Gringotts related to mother’s passing.”
She crossed the room and rested her hands on his shoulders. “How are you holding up, Draco? You’ve seemed exhausted since the funeral.”
Bloody right he was exhausted. The old wizarding tradition of digging a family member’s grave by hand would have been bad enough if he’d had more help. Naturally, the family’s old “friends” were happy to come rub elbows and sponge free drinks at the memorial service, but they were nowhere to be found when it came time to lay his mother to rest. The task had fallen to Scorpius, Aiden and himself. After they dug the first couple of feet, they had made sure that nobody was looking and finished the hole with magic.
“Her passing was just sudden, that’s all,” Draco lied. It wasn’t a complete lie, he supposed. Narcissa was relatively young for a witch. But the years since father’s passing had been a mixed blessing for her. Although she no longer had to deal with father’s Death Eater friends and the drama that tended to accompany them, she did have to try to manage the family’s financial affairs. As a daughter of the ancient and wealthy Black family, she knew how to do one thing with money: spend it. As he sifted through the disorganized remains of the family’s finances, he was certain that his mother had been taken advantage of by all manner of con artists, flimflammers and scoundrels, not least among them those miserable goblins. He would be giving them a piece of his mind.
“Your mother was a dear, sweet woman,” his wife persisted. “It’s OK for you to mourn her death, you know?”
Draco smiled wanly. When he was a boy, the words “dear” and “sweet” were never spoken in the same breath as his mother’s name. Domineering, arrogant and spiteful, on the other hand, were heard quite commonly. The war had changed her drastically. The killing and betrayal and watching Aunt Bella descend into madness gave her a new outlook on life. After the Dark Lord’s fall, she mended the fences with her sister Andromeda and formed a deeper bond with his father. She loved her grandson and great grandchildren dearly, and doted on them as though gold were no object. Which, he supposed, was part of his problem with the goblins.
“I am, in my own way.” Draco smiled at her and took her hands in his as he rose from his chair. “Let’s go out for dinner. How about that seafood place near Diagon Alley?”
She smiled back at him. “That would be lovely, dear. I’ll tell the elf not to make dinner and get dressed.” She kissed him gently on the cheek and left the study.
Draco dropped back into his chair and summoned the parchment from the wastebasket. He tried to review the numbers again, but his mind kept drifting back to his mother and the war.
The war had changed him, as well. The first change he noticed was that he was suddenly drunk most of the time. Draco, Flint, Zabini, Nott, Gamp and the other Slytherin boys who managed to avoid Azkaban spent most of the next few months perched on barstools. They were all angry and disillusioned after the Dark Lord’s defeat. Many of their friends and relatives were dead or in prison. They were shunned from “polite” wizarding society as the pureblood families who had not been implicated piled onto Shacklebolt’s muggle loving bandwagon.
Draco quickly realized that the particulars of his personal hell were different from those of his mates. They wallowed in disappointment and self-pity after the Dark Lord’s defeat ended their dream of a Pure Blood-dominated world where they were treated like gods. His disaffection ran deeper. He was the only one of his friends who had taken the dark mark and joined the Dark Lord’s inner circle. He knew the truth. There was only one god in Voldemort’s world. Being a Pure Blood or even a fanatical Death Eater like Aunt Bella just made you a higher class of slave. You were still meant to grovel for the Dark Lord’s favor and die at his whim. It made Draco physically ill to think of how much of his life he wasted in servitude.
Inevitably, the others began to plot and scheme anew. They brewed up absurd, alcohol-fueled plans to achieve the glory that Potter and his blood traitor friends had denied them. Draco had seen enough. He had no use for any of it. Flint and Nott eventually ended up in Azkaban for killing a pair of muggle police officers. Zabini was indicted as an accomplice and his mother had spirited him out of the country. Gamp got caught trying to stage a prison break when the Aurors infiltrated his band of conspirators.
Fortunately for Draco, he started courting Astoria around the same time. She was unlike any of the other Slytherin girls he had dated. The Greengrass family had plenty of money and her father had not supported the Dark Lord so they were in no danger of losing it. When she looked at him, she didn’t see a pile of gold or an ancient bloodline. She saw a fragile young man who had been forced to grow up too fast. She saw him the way his mother did.
He and Astoria also saw eye to eye on the issue of blood purity. They agreed that it was an important thing, but not worth fighting a war over. The most stressful period in their marriage occurred when their son came clean with them about impregnating Weasley’s mudblood daughter. Draco and his father had been furious, committed to disowning Scorpius and blasting his name off of the family tree forever. Astoria was deeply saddened by their son’s choice, but she stood by him. The final word on the matter had actually came down from his mother.
“Our family has lost enough over this blood purity nonsense,” she proclaimed. “I refuse to lose my grandson to it. That is final.”
He remembered the steel in her voice, and the completely uncharacteristic way that she had stared down his father. At the time, he had sworn to find a way to undermine the whole thing, even going so far as to try to bribe Rose into having an abortion. That one had earned him a punch in the face from his son and nearly a divorce from his wife.
It had all worked out for the best. His grandchildren were the light of his life. Aiden and Octavia brought joy to him that he was completely unprepared for. It was very different from when Scorpius was young. He had always tried to maintain a certain distance from his son, to harden the boy and prepare him for manhood the same way that old Lucius had done with him. Drying tears and kissing scrapes and bruises were tasks for his wife. With his grandchildren, he found that he could barely stand the sight of their tears. Every cry or whimper sent him into a panic, scrambling to find something - a toy or a sweet or a hug or a handfull of knuts - anything that would bring back the smiles that he held so dear.
A rap at the window stirred him from his pleasant reverie. “Probably another owl from the bloody goblins,” he thought to himself, reaching for his wand. When it returned to the bank with singed feathers, they’d know that he meant business. But the face he saw outside of his window did not belong to an owl.
“Astoria, dear, I’m going to the veranda to get a bit of fresh air,” he called, loud enough to be heard outside the window. “I’ll come fetch you in five minutes and we’ll leave for dinner.” He made sure that the second part was audible through the window as well. Best to make the interloper aware that he would not be devoting much time to their conversation.
Marcus Flint was already lounging in Draco’s favorite chair when he closed the veranda door behind him. “I thought you were in Azkaban,” he stated bluntly.
“Great to see you, too, Malfoy,” Flint replied sarcastically. “What have you got to drink?”
“Seriously, Flint, you’re supposed to be in prison. What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
“Afraid I’ll sully your pristine reputation, Draco?” Flint mocked him. “Well, you needn’t worry. We have a new friend within the Ministry who arranged for me to be released early due to my excellent behavior.”
“Come off it, Flint, there’s no such thing as early release for people serving two life sentences,” Draco exclaimed. “And what do you mean, ‘we’? As I recall, you and Nott called me a blood traitor at your sentencing and threatened to kill my entire family.”
“So we did,” Flint reminisced. “Well, I’ve had plenty of time to reconsider, Draco. And I’m ready to forgive you, provided you do me a favor.”
“I don’t need your forgiveness,” Draco sneered, “and whatever scheme you and your ‘friend’ are part of, leave me and my family out of it. Now Astoria and I are going to dinner. I assume you know the way back to the front gate.”
Flint didn’t move as Draco stood and walked towards the veranda door. “Things are about to change, Draco. We’re going to drive the muggle lovers out of power and restore the Pure Bloods to our rightful place. Don’t find yourself on the wrong side of history.”
Draco snorted derisively. “Flint, the last time you tried to sell me that nonsense, you wound up in Azkaban. Why don’t you take advantage of your second chance? Maybe you could look up Zabini. The rumors say that he’s living in New Zealand.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Malfoy,” Flint replied menacingly. “And neither are you unless you agree to help me.”
“Are you threatening me?” Draco snarled.
“Do I need to?”
“My wife is going to be out here looking for me any minute now,” sighed Draco. “What the hell do you want?”
“That’s more like it,” Flint smiled. “Do you remember the time that the Dark Lord spent here at Malfoy Manor during the war?”
Draco shuddered. He wasn’t bloody likely to ever forget those days. “Of course I do,” he replied evenly.
“I have it on good information that the Dark Lord left several objects in your father’s care before he led his army to Hogwarts. Among them was a book in which he recorded certain information regarding his plans. Are you familiar with it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Draco said simply. And it was the truth. In all the time he spent in the Dark Lord’s company, he could not recall seeing him so much as pick up a book, let alone write in one.
Flint frowned at him in surprise, then his look hardened. “Don’t lie to me, Malfoy. My source was quite specific. The Dark Lord’s journal is hidden somewhere inside Malfoy Manor. If you don’t give it to me, we will take it by force.”
“Flint,” Draco replied in exasperation, “if there was anything of the Dark Lord’s in my home, I would happily give it to you. After father died, mother purged the house thoroughly of dark objects. She didn’t want them anywhere around her grandchildren. If the Dark Lord kept a journal, I can assure you that it’s somewhere else.”
Flint first looked confused, then angry. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Malfoy. What would your father say if he were still alive?”
Draco paused, putting more thought into the question than Flint had probably intended. “If father were alive right now, he would do what was best for the family. That’s what he always did. And at this point I don’t see any good coming of what you’re doing. For my family or anybody else.”
Flint stared back at Draco with blood in his eyes. “We will have the Dark Lord’s journal, whether you help us or not.” He rose, turned and disappeared.
Draco turned towards the veranda door, already concocting the lie he would tell his wife to explain his lengthy absence. She was standing in the doorway.
“Draco, what was that about?” she asked, clearly upset.
“Oh, that?” he tried to keep his voice calm. “He was from Gringotts. They’re very eager to get that paperwork resolved.”
“Don’t you lie to me, Draco Malfoy,” she snapped. “That was Marcus Flint. What is this book he was looking for?”
“I don’t know,” Draco replied, not quite able to meet her gaze. “Honest!” he added when he noticed her glare. “Somebody told him that the Dark Lord left some book here, but we both know that mother threw out all of father’s dark artifacts after he died.”
“Kriffin!” The house elf appeared and bowed deeply in front of Astoria. “We’ve changed our plans. Please prepare a light supper and serve it to us in my husband’s study.”
“Yes, mistress. Right away!” the elf snapped to attention and disappeared.
“What about the restaurant?” Draco asked.
“Marcus Flint is a convicted murderer,” she replied. “We’re not going out in public at night with him on the loose. In the mean time, you and I are going to tear this house apart until we either find this book or make absolutely sure that it’s not here.”
Draco pretended to be upset about his quashed dinner plans, but he knew that it was the right thing to do. As they snacked on sandwiches and rifled through the bookshelves of his study, he couldn’t help stealing glances at her. This was the woman he had fallen in love with. Astoria’s soft-spoken exterior concealed an iron will and a deeply practical mind. He would never admit it to anyone, but in a situation like this he preferred to have her tell him what to do.
They searched the house for three hours before giving up. Their search turned up four half empty bottles of fire whiskey, two boggarts and roughly 35 galleons worth of spare change, but no dark artifacts. The cleaning witches his mother hired had been very thorough. As he prepared to retire for the night, Draco already knew what she was going to say. He decided to try to make her see reason before she went too far down that road.
“I’m not going to the Aurors about this,” he said to her as he climbed into bed. “They already think I’m a criminal. That’s why they follow me everywhere. If they find out that Flint was here, it will be all the reason they’ll need to toss me into Azkaban and throw away the key.”
“Draco, dear,” she sighed, “if the Aurors are really watching you then they already know that Flint was here. And if they don’t then we need to tell them. He’s a murderer. He’s a fugitive. He threatened you. He implied that there is something of Voldemort’s inside our house and that he’s coming back to get it. For once in your life, you need to do the smart thing and go to the authorities.”
“He’s already broken out of Azkaban once,” Draco countered. “If I turn him in, he’ll just break out again and then he’ll really want to kill me. Astoria, dear, you are far smarter than I am but you are very naive when it comes to men like Marcus Flint. Please, just let me handle this.”
“Very well,” she replied, “I’ll let you handle it.”
The tone in her voice left Draco with no doubt that she was already planning to take the matter out of his hands. He scooted across the bed to snuggle up against her back.
“I love you, you know that, right?” he asked.
“I love you, too, Draco. Which is why I take care of you in spite of your best efforts to the contrary.”
His suspicions were confirmed over breakfast the next morning. “Draco, I’m going shopping in London today.”
He stared at her incredulously. “Are you serious? Last night you were so worried about Flint that you wouldn’t go out to dinner and this morning you’re going into London all by yourself?”
“Well you could go with me and protect me,” she smiled sweetly.
She knew very well that Draco loathed shopping with a passion. She suppressed a smirk at his pained expression.
The discomfort Draco was feeling actually had little to do with Flint. If he was really wanted, Draco reasoned, there was no way he would risk showing his face in broad daylight. The bigger concern was what sort of inquiries those meddling goblins had been making with the local merchants. If Astoria decided to put anything on the family tab...
“Of course, I can just go with Daphne. She’s always wanting to go shopping.”
Draco’s main anxiety was addressed. Daphne had moved back in with her parents after her husband Jeremy Gamp had wound up in Azkaban with Flint and Nott. If the merchants had any doubt about his credit, they’d just send the bill to old man Greengrass.
“You have fun with your sister, dear. I’m going to search the attic again, just in case we missed anything.”
It was a transparent lie. He hated setting foot in the attic and had complained bitterly the entire hour they had spent there the night before. But it seemed to satisfy her, so he didn’t bring it up again. If she found a couple of new outfits, she might just forget all about it.
Draco was finishing his coffee and perusing the society pages of the Daily Prophet when she returned to the dining room wearing her traveling cloak. “I’m off to London,” she told him.
He stood and pulled her into a warm embrace. “Enjoy yourself and say hello to your sister for me.” Draco hated Daphne, but it didn’t hurt to stay in his father-in-law’s good graces.
As she turned to leave, he added, “Love? If you really do see Flint anywhere, promise me you’ll come home immediately?”
She stepped back to him and gave him a long kiss. “I promise. And I love you.”
She stepped onto the front porch and closed the door behind her. Then she turned and was gone.
Hermione sat at her desk, staring intently at the parchment in front of her. The revised Treaty of International Cooperation with the Egyptians was now on its fifth revision and she was still not satisfied with the section that dealt with the rights of muggle-born British witches and wizards to access their relatives through the consulate. Since the end of the war, the British Ministry had been very successful in eradicating the old laws that codified blood purity and marginalized the muggle-born. Convincing the rest of the magical world to join them had proven much trickier. Treaties were a rare opportunity to impose the liberated attitude of the British Ministry on at least a small aspect of the laws of other wizarding nations.
“Mrs. Weasley,” came the voice of her secretary from the door, “there’s a woman here to see you.”
Hermione looked at her day planner even though she knew that she had no appointments scheduled. “I wasn’t expecting anyone, Patrice. Did she give her name?”
The question fell unanswered as Astoria Malfoy appeared over Patrice’s shoulder. “Hi, Hermione. Do you have a moment?”
Hermione’s expression dropped a bit at the sight of Mrs. Malfoy in her doorway. She didn’t exactly dislike Astoria, but given her druthers she would have kept working on the treaty. The two of them had a cordial, even productive relationship where Aiden and Octavia were concerned, and Hermione preferred to leave it at that. Astoria’s aristocratic air rubbed her the wrong way and her politics when it came to blood purity were odious.
“Astoria, dear.” Hermione put on her best fake laugh and smile, the ones she used whenever the Minister’s wife came around. “So nice to see you. Unfortunately, the Egyptians are quite eager to get this treaty back. Do you think we could have tea later?”
“It’s a rather pressing family matter, Hermione,” Astoria replied as the secretary turned to show her out. “Do you think you could spare a moment?”
Hermione stared hard at Astoria. There was a hint of an expression slipping through her mask of aloof indifference. Was it concern? Fear?
“Of course, dear,” said Hermione, setting the treaty aside. “Please, have a seat.”
The secretary closed the door behind them and Astoria settled into the chair across from Hermione.
“Now,” Hermione began, “what can I do for you?”
“Hermione,” Astoria said, looking as though she was not quite sure what to say, “you understand that I love Aiden and Octavia more than anything in the whole world, right?”
“Of course I understand,” Hermione answered quietly. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Astoria replied carefully. “One of Draco’s old friends paid us a visit last night. One of his friends from before the war. They were talking on the veranda for a long time. Whatever they were discussing, it made Draco nervous. He didn’t want to discuss it afterwards.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“I think it was one of the Slytherin boys he knew from school, but I can’t be sure. It was dark outside and I didn’t want to intrude.”
“And you think that he and Draco might have been discussing something dangerous?” Hermione pressed. “Something that could put Aiden and Octavia at risk?”
“I don’t know,” Astoria replied, looking slightly testy. “As I said, they were outside and I was inside. All I know is that it made my husband uncomfortable.”
Hermione stared at her for a long time. “Why are you telling me this, Astoria? Your husband could talk to the Aurors directly if he’s really concerned. Are you hoping that I’ll relay some sort of message to Ron and Harry?”
“My husband,” Astoria replied slowly, choosing her words with care, “is a very proud man. He doesn’t like the idea that he might need help to protect his family. And while he owes nothing to the man who called on us last night, there are many who would take a very dim view of my husband providing any information to the current head of the Aurors.”
Hermione parsed the statement in her head for a moment, then rubbed her eyes in exasperation.
“Look, I appreciate the line you’re trying to walk. But this game we’re playing is not productive. If the two of you are in some sort of danger, and especially if that danger might extend to our grandchildren, then your husband needs to swallow his pride and talk to Harry.”
Astoria nodded slowly. “It won’t be easy to convince him,” she sighed. “He believes that he can deal with things himself.”
“And what do you think, Astoria?”
“I think that there are still dangerous wizards in the world,” she replied. “Not as dangerous as the Dark Lord or the Lestranges, but dangerous nonetheless. My husband’s problem is that he spent so much time in the Dark Lord’s company that everyone else seems benign by comparison.”
Hermione smiled at her with understanding. “You need to make him see reason. The last time the world underestimated the danger of dark wizards, my family lost a brother and more dear friends than I care to think about. The rest of us barely escaped with our lives. I don’t know whether there’s anything to this ‘friend’ of Draco’s that’s bothering you. But if you think there’s any chance that they’re involved in something dangerous, please talk to Harry. I don’t want to lose any part of our family.”
Astoria smiled back and rose from her chair. “Thank you, Hermione. I think I understand what I need to do now.”
“You’re welcome, dear,” Hermione replied. “I know you’ll do the right thing.”
Because you’re not putting my grandchildren in danger to spare Draco Malfoy's pride, she thought as she watched the other woman leave her office.
Hermione spend the next two hours trying to finish her revisions to the Egyptian treaty, but her mind kept drifting off. Twice, she stood up and started to walk to Harry’s office, but she talked herself out of it both times. She knew Harry as well as anyone alive, and she was certain that if she told him about the conversation with Astoria he would not take it well. Then again, maybe she didn’t want him to take it well. This was her grandchildren’s safety and well being they were talking about. In the end, she decided to try to honor the confidence that Astoria had placed in her and give the Malfoys a chance to do the right thing. If neither of them had approached Harry within a day or two, it would be time to escalate matters.
She sighed and set down the treaty. Maybe a change of scenery would take her mind off of the Malfoys and help her focus. She rolled up the treaty and collected her research notes. There were a number of issues relating to both Egyptian magical law and prior treaties that she needed to research.
“I’ll be in Magical Records if anybody needs me,” she said to her secretary on the way out of the office.
She entered the lift and selected the floor for magical records. It was nearly lunchtime, so several witches and wizards entered and exited the lift before it arrived at the correct floor. When Hermione stepped out, she noticed a wizard around her own age approaching everyone who passed. He was holding a roll of parchment and a quill and wearing the worst toupee she'd ever seen. She realized that the parchment was some sort of petition and deftly made her way around him as he cornered a young witch from Magical Transportation. Ordinarily she would have made the time to try to understand his cause, but today she wasn’t in the mood.
Ernie MacMillan was helping a young couple apply for a marriage license when she walked through the door of Magical Records. “Hermione,” he called to her, “give me just a moment here and I’ll be right with you.”
She waited as he reviewed the application and produced a marriage license for the happy couple. Across the room, she noticed a middle-aged witch and wizard talking to one of the records clerks. They seemed upset that the clerk wasn’t able to find what they were after.
“We were told that those records were kept here,” the wizard insisted to the clerk. He was tall with bushy eyebrows a pointed black beard. His cheeks were slightly gaunt looking and his dark eyes were slightly recessed, as though he had suffered from malnutrition at some point not too long ago.
“I do apologize for the misunderstanding,” the clerk replied, “but the only publicly available records relating to the war are the fatalities and the verdicts from the trials. All other records were sealed by order of the Wizengamot. If there are specific items that you would like to file a claim to...”
“Hi, Hermione.” She jumped as Ernie startled her, her hand instinctively moving towards her wand.
“Hey, hey,” he smiled, raising his empty palms towards her. “Why so jumpy?”
“Ernie,” she said quietly, tilting her head slightly. “Do you know the two people Elvert is helping over there?”
He stole a glance towards the witch and wizard, trying to look casual about it. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before,” he replied. “But we get new faces in here all the time. Is there anything wrong?”
Hermione’s eyes stared back at him, unfocused. Using the supersensory charm, she watched the pair continue peppering the clerk with questions. The witch had greyish blond hair and a prominent mole on her left cheek. She was also on the thin side, but not as emaciated as her companion. At the moment, the witch was also stealing nervous glances in their direction.
“It was a journal kept by one of the Death Eaters,” the wizard was saying. “My, uh, friend is writing a book on the war and he told me that he reviewed the journal here.”
Hermione turned and walked to a research carrel near the entrance, beckoning with her eyes for Ernie to follow. He sat down next to her and whispered, “Hermione, you’re starting to make me nervous here. What’s wrong?”
She cast a silent muffliato charm around the carrel and began to unroll the parchment of the treaty. “I don’t know,” she answered, “but those two are asking Elvert about sealed records from the war and they’re acting very strangely.”
“Don’t look!” she hissed as he started to turn his head. “Is there any way you can call the Auror office from here without raising their suspicions?”
“I can send Harry and Ron an inter-Ministry memo,” he replied, forcing himself to look forward.
“Please do,” she asked. “Keep it short. Tell him that there are two suspicious people asking about sealed records from the war. Got it?”
“Right away,” he whispered as he rose. “Let me get that treaty for you,” he said loudly enough to be heard across the room as he walked away.
Hermione reapplied the supersensory charm and continued to watch the two strangers. They were becoming increasingly agitated with the clerk’s inability to help. “I don’t see why you can’t let us see those documents,” the witch demanded. “We’re looking for important family records.”
“Ma’am, as I told you, the documents you’re looking for probably aren’t even here,” Elvert replied sternly. “Anything related to a criminal case is kept in the Auror files. I can give you a manifest of the documents stored in the restricted vault and if any of them...”
Elvert nodded towards a heavy, iron gate behind the counter as he spoke. What happened next was almost a blur. The wizard drew his wand and sent Elvert flying across the room with a curse. Hermionie managed to duck just in time to avoid a blast of red light from the witch’s wand. She rolled to the side and landed on her knees beside the carrel as another curse blew a hole in the wooden divider, showering her with smoldering splinters. She drew her wand from inside her robes and fired two stunning spells around the side of the carrel before she risked a peek.
The witch had taken cover behind an overturned table and was firing spells at the far end of the counter to keep Ernie and the other two clerks pinned down. The wizard had made his way behind the counter and was heading for the iron gate. The witch turned her attention back to Hermione and fired two more curses at her. Hermione deflected them as she searched for a better strategic position. She noticed that Ernie had taken the opportunity to move to a covered spot behind a trolley full of old books and was now exchanging spells with the unknown wizard.
Hermione spotted a metal trolley full of old tax documents by the door and summoned it towards her. She positioned it near the entrance, a few feet from her current position. She had no idea whether Ernie had sent the memo off to Ron and Harry before the fighting started, so she needed to keep her opponents contained in the room until help arrived. She cast three quick stunning spells towards the witch and then launched herself across the open space separating the ruined carrel from the trolley. Curses sizzled past her as she ran and several struck the trolley as she dropped into a crouch behind it.
“There’s nothing here,” she heard the wizard shout from behind the counter.
“Cover me,” came the witch’s voice in reply, and a hail of curses struck the trolley from the direction of the counter. Hermione paid them no mind. The metal trolley was holding up to the barrage, and as long as she held her position nobody would be able to get past her to the door.
Over the din of the firefight, she heard a commotion from outside the door. The Aurors must have arrived, she thought. She huddled behind the trolley as another curse caromed off of the top of it and struck the wall by the door. The door opened, but instead of Ron or Harry, the wizard with the petition and the bad toupee was standing there with his wand drawn.
“Get away!” she shouted to him “It’s not safe!”
He scowled and pointed his wand at her. In an instant, she felt as though an inferno had been unleashed inside her arms and legs and then the world tuned black.
Draco figured that with his wife indisposed, it would be as good a day as any to deal with the goblins. He pulled on his best traveling cloak and gathered up the various statements and threatening letters he’d been receiving. Perhaps the best way to begin the conversation was to incinerate the whole pile in front of them. It would set the right tone.
He stepped onto the front porch and disapparated to Diagon Alley. As he made his way towards the bank, he overheard bits and pieces of conversations from passers by. There was a disturbing commonality running through many of them.
“...seven people were taken to St. Mungo’s...”
“...Magical Records was totally destroyed...”
“...and they’re supposed to be still at large...”
Finally he grabbed a short, fat wizard by the robes and demanded, “What happened? What is everyone talking about?”
“What do you want?” the fat wizard stammered. “Take your hands off of me!”
The fat wizard’s walking companion, a taller wizard with a grey beard, stared at him and asked, “You haven’t heard about the attack on the Ministry?”
Draco shoved the fat wizard away. “No. Tell me what happened.”
“The Ministry of Magic was attacked this morning,” replied the bearded wizard, giving Draco a wide berth. “Word is that somebody from the Magical Records office was killed and several people were hurt. The Minister announced that the attackers are still at large.”
“Sounds like old ‘you know who’ might be back to his old tricks again,” observed the fat wizard as he straightened his robes.
“Who?” asked the wizard with the beard. “What are you talking about?”
Draco was no longer listening. He stormed away, trying to clear his head. If Flint and his friends were already moving against the Ministry, he needed to find Astoria right away. He would get her to safety, wherever that was, and figure out what to do next. Now would be an excellent time to send one of those patronus charms that Potter and his sycophants were always using. Unfortunately, he had never learned how to perform the spell.
He stood on a street corner and desperately looked up and down the busy sidewalks. The world seemed to be moving faster than normal. He suppressed an urge to scream her name.
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