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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 4 : 4.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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She located it without too much trouble, a grotesque horse's head swinging precariously from a faded wooden sign. Dried blood ran from its severed neck onto the stained doorframe of the pub. Steeling herself, Hermione hobbled in. Figures were barely discernible in the shadowy haze, and the smell was a mixture of strong liquor, sweat and pipe smoke. Keeping her cover, Hermione immediately went to the bar and ordered the cheapest firewhiskey available before taking a corner table. In her present disguise no one gave her a glance. From her dark perch she had a full view of the pub, but could make out no one with Mulciber's build and speech. 15 minutes passed. Then 25. Then 40. Hermione was giving in to angry despair when the door creaked open and a medium-tall, stocky figure took a seat at the bar. He knocked twice on the wood, and with a nervous jolt Hermione realized that she recognized the man's pockmarked cheek. He glanced around as the hunchbacked bartender served him a steaming glass, and Hermione felt a rush of hatred. It was Mulciber.


Immediately a plan began to form. She didn't have long before the Polyjuice would start to wear off. Vanishing the last dregs of her whiskey, Hermione put on a heavier limp and approached the increasingly crowded bar. Keeping her eye on the bartender, she hovered just behind Mulciber, inwardly wincing at the proximity to him she would have to endure if her plan was going to work. "Sir…Sir…" Her raspy voice was wheedling as she waved her sickles at the bartender. Leaning slightly against Mulciber, Hermione tripped gracelessly into the seat next to him, causing him to growl with anger before striking her roughly in the shoulder. She went down hard on weak knees, crawling away before Mulciber's searching foot could make contact with her stomach. Laughing brokenly, he muttered obscenities and once again took up his drink. Pretending to struggle getting up, Hermione watched with no small degree of satisfaction as he raised his glass to his twisted lips. In her fist was an empty vial. Moving swiftly through a crowd of warlocks (and what appeared to be Vampires) Hermione stood in a dark recess by the door and watched as Mulciber silently struggled for breath. Suddenly the patrons around the bar began whispering and pointing – none moving to help – as Mulciber turned a deeper shade of purple and collapsed onto his glass, cutting his throat as it shattered beneath his weight. Blood mingled with firewhiskey and poured over the bar, enticing grins from more than a few of the pub's patrons. Hermione turned away in disgust, slipping quietly out the door. She had not enjoyed the kill. She just knew that it was necessary. How many others would he have tortured, raped and murdered before someone else got to him, if anyone? In addition, the timing was impeccable. The Death Eaters were not on their guard just yet; war would be upon them soon, but for now both sides felt free to travel unguarded and without backup.


Maintaining her limp, Hermione hurried as much as she could down Knockturn Alley, eager to get away from the disgusting scene and back to the comfort of The Burrow. Rounding the last corner, she glanced at Borgin and Burke's in relief. Diagon Alley was less than 100 yards away. Suddenly the door swung open and Hermione jumped back to avoid a collision. Draco Malfoy gave her a disdainful once-over and she instinctively narrowed her surprised eyes into a glare. She saw his eyes widen briefly, and felt smug as she gathered her robe and limped past him. Then she caught sight of her hands. The once-gnarled knuckles had taken on a smooth, golden tone. "Oh no, oh no," she whispered. Pulling her hood down, she threw herself into Diagon Alley and ducked into the nearest shop, a busy potions business she'd visited early in the day. She guessed it to be about 5 o'clock. Harry and Ron must be worried sick, she thought. And Merlin, please let Malfoy forget what he saw…whatever he saw. She was panting from anxiety, and continuing to curse the Malfoys and their recent, annoying habit of turning up everywhere she went.


Outside Borgin and Burke's, Draco was deep in thought. He knew that some hags had odd magical abilities, but as far as he understood it they were rarely able to morph their appearance. "Father," Draco said. "Yes?" "Do hags ever change form, or…eye color?"


Lucius stared at him until Draco flushed, knowing the question was stupid. "Not that has been recorded," Lucius said with finality. "Why would you ask such a….(Draco knew Lucius was holding himself back from saying 'ridiculous') question?"


"I apologize Father. I just thought I saw a hag's eyes change from brown to gold. She almost ran into me when I came out of the shop."


"Gold, you say?"


"Yes, Father, gold. But it may have been a trick of the light. The sun is just setting."


"Hmmm." But the doubt in Draco's voice gave him away. Lucius's son was many things, but never frivolous with observations. Lucius was also proud to say (not that he ever did) that Draco was highly intelligent.


By the time they flooed to the Manor, Draco had nearly forgotten the incident outside Borgin and Burke's, and Lucius was thinking only of his liquor cabinet. Removing his cloak, Lucius sat down and stared into his whiskey, the flaming color reminding him of the girl.


"Hermione Granger," Lucius said softly, shaking his head. Draco was right, she really was insufferable. He saved her from Mulciber and today was the thanks he got – humph. More impertinent backtalk and pointed glares. Lucius had to admit that he admired her courage, however. She was witty and intelligent as well, but he was shocked to see that she hadn't been screaming when the Cruciatus hit her. He remembered the first time his father had hit him with the curse. He had been 10 years old, and he learned very quickly to suppress emotion or face worse consequences. But he also remembered those times when it wasn't to be helped, and he would end up shaking and crying on the floor of his father's study, only to be told that he was weak.


The Granger girl was surprisingly resilient.


As Lucius grew older, he vowed never to use the curse on anyone, but upon entering Voldemort's service he was forced to rescind that promise. Still, he never used it unless under duress, and had never raised wand nor fist to his wife and son.


Yes, Hermione Granger was a pill. But Lucius could not regret saving her. There was something about her…her wise eyes; gold, Lucius mused, her smart mouth, and fierce courage seemed so opposite of everything he had been taught a Mudblood was. Would the world really be better off without her? He shook his head as the fire burned lower. He needed rest, his mind would clear by morning. Setting his empty glass on the desk, he walked up a flight of marble stairs to his room.


*****


Draco Malfoy heard his father's deliberate steps pass his bedchamber and sighed. He usually had trouble sleeping, but the last few days had been worse. 'Granger,' he growled under his breath. She would be the death of him. She was so annoying. It was unbelievable, really. The fact that he'd come face to face with her so often lately was a curse. And Merlin, he'd cut back on the hair potion after second year!


He never forgot the first time she had humiliated him. First year, it was. In front of the entire Quidditch team. He hadn't even thought when spitting out that hateful word: Mudblood. She was a bane of his existence. It irked him even to think of her. "Pretty?" he whispered. "Never!" Krum was such a fool. And she was a damned bookworm, to boot! He acknowledged that she was smart. "A know-it-all," Draco scoffed. But still. He simply couldn't think of her. There was no point. She was just there, a constant reminder of who he was supposed to be – impossible to undermine. And yet, she did. As much as he hated to admit it, Granger had come up with a good many stinging insults lately.


What was that about?


Humph. She'll get her comeuppance when the Dark Lord gains full power. Immediately, though, he felt unsettled. If Draco didn't know better he'd think it was a nervousness taking hold in his stomach. 'Nervous, for Granger? Yea right,' he scoffed. But he remembered the day she got Petrified in Second Year. Even though he'd joked with everyone in Slytherin House about how glad he'd be if the Mudblood died, he'd felt strangely unhappy when he heard of the Basilisk attack. In fact, during her time in the hospital wing he had semi-missed their arguments and elaborate hex attempts. She was fun to provoke, primarily because he could banter with her without having to beat her over the head with a dictionary. He smirked, remembering how her eyes flashed fire every time he insulted her.


"Oh Merlin!" Draco sat straight up in bed. Gold eyes. That hag…that was why the encounter had bothered him so much today. The hag's eyes were the exact shade of Granger's. And the glare – he'd know that glare anywhere. But what was Granger, the prissy, perfect know-it-all, doing in Knockturn Alley? Disguised as a hag, no less? His mind struggled to make sense of it, concocting ever more insane explanations, until he finally drifted into a fitful sleep.


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