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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 5 : 5.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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The day before school started, Draco was freshly showered and having breakfast with his parents when the Daily Prophet arrived. His father's eagle owl, Octurius, dropped the newspaper neatly in the center of the table before flying off with a regal hoot.


Without taking his eyes off his plate, Lucius casually unrolled it. Narcissa gasped at the headline: Murdered? Former Death Eater Dies Mysteriously in Pub


"What is it Narc…?" Lucius began, stopping when he read the headline splashed across the Prophet's front page. All three Malfoys bent over the story.


Malgrov Mulciber, 59, was determined dead at the scene on Saturday afternoon while drinking at The Bloody Horse, a popular Knockturn Alley haunt. Investigators say he slit his throat on the broken glass of his whiskey tumbler, but eyewitnesses testify that the tumbler shattered in his hand only after Mulciber began shaking and choking, finally collapsing onto the broken remnants of his glass. Though cause of death is still inconclusive, all speculation points to poison. Law enforcement officials detained the bar patrons and held them for questioning late into last night, but so far no solid suspects have emerged. If anyone has information regarding the death of Malgrov Mulciber, please contact the Ministry Department of Law Enforcement immediately.


Narcissa tutted and shrugged. "Good riddance, I suppose, though the Dark Lord won't be pleased." She never liked the vulgar Death Eater – had always dreaded inviting him to customary society functions. Lucius was staring fixedly at the article. "What's the matter?" she asked him, frowning. "I never got the impression you were great friends."


Sighing, Lucius met Narcissa's ice blue eyes. "I think I know who killed Mulciber." Emotionlessly, he told Draco and Narcissa what happened the night of the Quidditch match.


"…And I was strolling through the woodlands when I heard Malgrov's voice. I couldn't make out another's, but knowing Mulciber, whatever he was up to wasn't good. I stood in the shadow of a copse of trees and watching him raise his wand over a girl prone at his feet." Snorting briefly, he continued: "The hair was unmistakable."


Draco leaned forward, a frown etched into his forehead. "And??" He asked impatiently.


"He hit her with the Cruciatus. At first I thought he had somehow missed her, but then I realized that although she refused to scream, she was trembling in agony." He swallowed, careful to bottle his emotion. "I simply told Malgrov that the Quidditch World Cup was no place to expose his…natural tendencies, and escorted the Mudblood back to her tent. This caused some difficulty, given the prolonged effects of the Cruciatus. Before we parted with Malgrov, however, it was clear that the girl was raging. She stared at him with nothing less than murder in her eyes." Narcissa nodded her approval. The girl was a Mudblood, but she found herself feeling glad that she had escaped Mulciber's clutches. Few who had faced him in such a way could say the same. Draco stared at his plate, his face expressionless.


"But how can you be sure she killed him?" Narcissa asked. "How could a Mudblood, a fairly well-known one at that, make her way unseen and unharmed through Knockturn Alley? Forgive me; it doesn't make sense." She smiled gently. "And I know she's intelligent, but to murder a dangerous, full-grown wizard at 16 years of age?"


"She was disguised," Draco cut in, his voice distant. "She brewed a Polyjuice Potion in Second Year, she probably had leftover stores." He grimaced. "Granger's such a nerd, she doesn't throw anything related to school away, particularly if it's a demonstration of her 'outstanding' talent." Draco's voice went misty again. "That hag I saw…her eyes changed from muddy brown to gold as she was glaring at me outside Borgin and Burke's. It was her."


Lucius nodded. "And we know the girl's resourceful. I'm sure she could easily have gathered ingredients and brewed a poison within a week's time." His lips curled up in grudging admiration. "I knew there was murder in her eyes that night, but I didn't think she'd have the spine to follow through. And so soon."


"She's a bloody Gryffindor ("Draco, language!") …of course she has the spine," he continued, glaring at his mother. "She'd get herself killed just to salvage her honor. But I admit…I'm shocked…I thought Gryffindors were too self-righteous to kill, and Granger…always following rules…well, not always, I suppose…" Draco trailed off, flushing when he realized he was musing aloud.


Draco glanced sharply at his father. "Are you going to turn her in?" For some reason, he found himself hanging on Lucius's every word. He wasn't even hungry anymore. Didn't he want to see Granger burn? Her perfection, her irksome habit of showing him up in school, her dirty blood…he should want her eliminated. He should. But did he? He certainly didn't like Granger (Merlin forbid) but she intrigued him, and he honestly couldn't tell if he hated her. Hmph, he thought, I assume I can't hate Granger. He gritted his teeth. She was so damned annoying! Couldn't she leave well enough alone and keep out of trouble?


"No," Lucius said. He watched Draco and Narcissa, his eyes unreadable. "I will, if it suits me. Until then, it's always been the Slytherin way to gather information…just in case."


"You mean to blackmail the girl?" Narcissa asked, frowning slightly.


Lucius gave an indiscriminate shrug and went back to his toast. In truth, he had no intention of turning the girl in to the authorities. Her intelligence and determination reminded him of his son, and the way Mulciber's eyes had raked her the night of the Quidditch match had made even his blood boil, despite his disdain of the victim.


All three continued eating in silence, the air in the spacious drawing room a bit heavier than before.


*****


Hermione flew down the rickety steps of the Burrow, struggling to keep hold of her trunk.


"Hermione! Come on, we're going to miss the train!" Mr. Weasley had the trunk of his magical car open as the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione hurriedly stuffed their belongings into it. The butterflies in her stomach confirmed Hermione's excitement; not only was she a prefect with Ron, but she was going back to Hogwarts! She couldn't wait to get to the library and resume classes.


"Bugger it all, I wish we'd had just one more week," Ron lamented. "Or maybe a month…" he added after some consideration.


Harry and Hermione laughed, and they arrived at King's Cross in high spirits.


"Come on, let's find an empty compartment, Hermione and I don't have to meet the other prefects for about an hour." Ron pushed some second years out of the way and cleared a path for Harry and Hermione.


"I'll see you guys later," Ginny turned and joined some friends, chatting animatedly about their summers.


"This one's free," Hermione tried to put her oversized trunk on the overhead rack, but the weight threw it back on her head just as the compartment door opened.


"Get out, Malfoy!!!" Ron shouted, bypassing red and turning an unhealthy plum color.


"Good to see you again too, Weaselby," Malfoy's signature smirk was plastered on his face as he watched Hermione struggle to lift her trunk. "Glad I stopped by, if only to catch Granger at her best." He stared at her, the smirk leaving his face.


"Bugger off Malfoy," Harry warned.


Brushing by Harry, Malfoy stepped closer to Hermione. She sighed and pulled out her wand. "Leave ferret."


His eyes inscrutable, Malfoy stared at her. "Or what, Granger?" he whispered, so that she had to watch his mouth to catch his last words. "You'll kill me?"


As quickly as he'd come, Malfoy turned on his heel and walked swiftly out of the compartment, leaving Hermione rooted to the spot.


"Bloody git," Ron raged, tossing Hermione's trunk above them.


"Hey," Harry nudged Hermione. "What's the matter? It was just same-old Malfoy."


Pale and shaken, Hermione sat down and smiled to reassure him. Inside, though, she was reeling. Malfoy knew, he had to. Lucius must have guessed that it was she who killed Mulciber, and Draco recognizing her in Knockturn Alley confirmed it. Hermione's heart raced. What would they do? Blackmail her? Turn her in? But if they were going to turn her in, they would have done so already, she mused. Oh well, it was no use dwelling on it. She watched rugged moorlands fly by and consoled herself with a few pumpkin pasties as Harry and Ron played Exploding Snap. The year was not off to a good start.


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