Chapter 20 : Searching, Finding, Running
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It didn’t make sense - Draco Malfoy’s ring at the crime scene. It was too obvious, too easy. Draco Malfoy was many things, but he wasn’t completely stupid. And since the war, Draco had lost some of his overweening pride of being a Malfoy. Harry imagined it was way too dodgy to wear such a silly ornate ring, even for him.
He stood before the building, observing its tattered and cheap look. It wasn’t a home he’d imagine Draco Malfoy living in. The door was on the first landing, and Harry tried the doorknob. It was unlocked, so he slipped in, a little bit disappointed he couldn’t kick the door down and startle the twitchy ferret man.
The flat had no entrance hall; Harry was standing in a very small living room with hardly any furniture. He heard noise of approaching footsteps from what must’ve been the kitchen and took his wand out.
What he didn’t expect was a young woman appearing before him, raising her eyebrows to see him standing there. She had blond hair and was quite pretty, even though her face remained expressionless and cold. He recognized her. Her name was Astoria Greengrass. Harry knew her as one of the small amount of Prophet’s credible reporters, so it came as a surprise seeing her in Malfoy’s home.
“I was told you were coming,” she said coldly. “I thought given your rank and reputation, you’d have the courtesy to at least knock. I guess I was mistaken.”
Despite himself, a slight red colored Harry’s cheek. He would not apologize, however.
She rummaged in a drawer of a cupboard for a while, waving her wand in the process. “He left you a letter.” Handing him the envelope, she then took a step back and crossed her arms.
“What is all of this supposed to mean?”
“How should I know?”
“How should you know, or why should you tell me, you mean?”
Her eyes narrowed as she spoke, “I think you just answered yourself there, Mr. Potter.”
“Very well.” Harry opened the letter but he found only a blank piece of parchment on both sides. “What is this?” he demanded, shoving the letter Astoria’s way, his voice dangerously low.
“Oh. No need to fret, give it to me. I have just the right potion for this. Draco probably took extra precautions so the letter wouldn’t get into the wrong hands.” She took the letter from his hands and disappeared into the kitchen. Emerging a few seconds later, she was dripping a few drops of silvery blue liquid on the letter. “Here.”
Harry watched as lines and letters started appearing on the parchment, in the same fashion as the Marauder’s Map.
Did you find my ring? Good. There’s not much I can tell you here, but I have information you’re probably seeking. Your precious friends are in danger now more than ever, and so are you. If you’re reading this letter, it’s likely the plan is already set in motion. Meet me at Malfoy Manor. Don’t bring a crowd.
PS: By the way, if it comes to that, don’t forget who lent you a helping hand.
“Does your boyfriend think I’m that thick?” Harry crunched the letter in his hand, not sure what to make of it. Astoria’s face, however, didn’t betray a single sign.
“I haven’t read the letter, so I don’t know why exactly my boyfriend would think you’re thick.”
“Tell me honestly, was Draco involved in the disappearance of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is Draco?”
“I don’t know that either.”
“You’re not having a very nice relationship if you don’t even know where your boyfriend is.”
“I think you’re crossing the line here. I did what Draco asked of me, and I don’t have to answer to you. You may leave now.”
“I am the Head of the Auror Office, so you will answer to me. What has Draco been doing lately?”
Sighing, Astoria looked uncertain for a moment, and then she spoke. “He hasn’t been home much. Two days ago, he returned in the middle of the night with his face swollen up from some curse. He didn’t tell me anything, and I didn’t badger him about it.”
Harry was startled by the sudden sadness he saw pass over her face, as if she felt she was betraying the man. It was still hard to wrap his head around the fact someone might actually care for Malfoy besides his mother.
“There’s not much that I can tell you, honestly,” she added after a moment of silence. “It’s hard to talk to him; he’s so annoyingly intense all the time. But I don’t think he would hurt anybody, not anymore.” Her face softened from the previous ice queen look she let on. “He’s not as bad as everyone thinks.”
“Lucky for you to be so sure,” he muttered, more to himself than for her to hear. “Can I take a look around?”
“Are you asking my permission just to make up for your breaking into my house and plan to take a look even if I don’t allow it?”
“Fine, go ahead.”
Harry performed some revealing spells and after they brought him no result, he searched through Draco’s things while Astoria watched with distaste. Half an hour later, he found nothing useful and cursed under his breath.
“If you remember something more, or find out something more, contact me, please. Goodbye.”
After Astoria nodded, Harry was out the door when he heard her say, “I think he’s trying to help you.”
He chose not to reply and left.
Hermione trudged up the stairs tiredly, wanting nothing more than to sleep. She had to get this one last thing over and done with. She was scared a little, also ashamed, but excited at the same time.
Finally reaching the landing of Harry and Ginny’s house, she passed through the hall, remembering the day she first came here, having no idea of what was ahead of her. This time it felt different, better and safer. She knew she was coming home, even though she had turned her back on it only a few days ago.
Hermione knocked at the door and felt her heart quicken as she heard approaching footsteps. A little part of her wished Ron would be on the other side, and that they could talk things through. For one, she really wanted to tell him about Jonathan, and that it was over. Harry opened the door, which was not a disappointment, but she felt her heart sink a little.
“Hi,” he smiled instantly, although there was obvious surprise in his face. Without further ado, he pulled her into a hug and inside the house. “I’m so glad you’re back. You are back, right?” he asked, as he took the bag from Hermione’s hands, his fingers lingering on the doorknob. Hermione gave him a smile and closed the door for him.
“I’m so sorry,” she said heavily, and the smile was fading from her face.
“For everything. For being so difficult and whiny, for turning my back on you. I will totally understand if you don’t want to see me for a while.”
“Are you mad? Hermione, calm down and sit.” Harry led her to the living room and sat her down onto the sofa, where she rested her arms on her knees. “We don’t blame you for anything. I understand you needed time. I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t expect you so soon, but I figured you’d be back.”
“Yeah, if you had asked me three days ago, I wouldn't have expected to be back at all.”
“What changed your mind?”
Hermione stood up, and moved to the fireplace, watching the moving photographs of the Weasleys, Harry and Ginny, and also of herself. The happiness and comfort radiating from them almost reached out and touched her.
“You all did,” she whispered hoarsely, looking over at Harry with tears in her eyes. “Everything was so overwhelming here, but once I found myself in Edinburgh, I was completely lost and alone. It was like being suspended in between, because my life before didn’t matter anymore since it didn’t even exist. I felt nothing, no connection. It’s actually quite funny to think that had it not been for Ron and that accident, I’d have kept living like that for the rest of my life. With you all, there is a connection. There has been from the start and maybe I can build on that. I have to try. I had to come back; I just couldn’t live in a lie any longer. He was right all along.”
Harry joined her by the fireplace and observed the photographs as well. They stood just like that for a time, two best friends sharing a tough moment, Harry wishing he could share the load. He would never forget the time they had spent travelling the country, hungry, exhausted and hopeless, and what was worst of all, without Ron. She had been the only one back then that he could lean on. She was one of the strongest people he had ever known, and he ached to see her so vulnerable and lost.
As hard as he tried, he couldn’t help feeling guilty all over again – for letting this happen, for giving up when they were gone.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” he asked slowly, and Hermione smiled sheepishly but shook her head.
“There’s not much to say. Is Ron at the Burrow?”
“Yes. Ginny’s staying there for the night as well, they plan to go and get the rest of his stuff from Edinburgh tomorrow. Do you want me to call him?”
Hermione seemed to consider this for a moment, biting her lip, her eyes glued to the photograph of her and Ron catching hold of each other’s hand.
“No. I think it’s best if we don’t see each other for a while. Harry,” she suddenly turned to him, an urgent look in her eyes that frightened Harry. “I know I’ve been here since the beginning, and it’s so embarrassing because you and Ginny just got engaged, and you should be enjoying your time together and not take care of the wreck that is me, but…could I please stay for just a little longer?”
Harry couldn’t help but laugh.
“Only for a short while until I find something-“
“You can stay for as long as you like,” he cut in. “This is your home.”
“Thank you, Harry.”
Hermione embraced him again, boring her head into his shoulder as he held her tightly. Maybe she didn’t have four brothers like Ron did, but she had Harry.
“I’m sorry I let you down,” he said, his voice merely above whisper. Hermione glanced up at him quizzically, and shook her head in disagreement.
Harry didn’t reply, and let Hermione wave the subject away, but the thought never left him. He helped her unpack and made her coffee, listened to all that had happened back in Edinburgh. It was the middle of the night before Hermione finally went off to sleep, tired and eager for the new morning to come. He waited some minutes after she closed the door to her room, and after silence fell over the flat, went into his bedroom.
Right under the bed was a loose floorboard, which he removed with the flick of his hand. He then pulled out a box and started rummaging through it. It wasn’t long until he felt the cool, soothing fabric of his Invisiblity Cloak.
It sent a grin to his lips, bringing back a whirlwind of memories.
The word was enough to wipe that grin away. Most of his memories were with Ron and Hermione, but he was now the only one who remembered all those special moments. He had to do something about it. If Malfoy's suspicious letter was the only clue he had, so be it.
Ginny had Apparated with Ron to a wizarding centre for Apparating witches and wizards in Edinburgh. While he waited in front of Chelsea’s door, Ginny had decided to go to his flat and gather the things he had left there, not wanting to intrude.
Ron had been attempting to knock at the door for the past fifteen minutes, but his body refused to obey him. He was afraid to face Chelsea, a person that had always cared for him when no one else had really taken much notice.
One day before he'd disappeared, she had kissed him, had given him a clear sign she cared for him. Ron had taken all that, and just taken off despite everything. How was he any better than Hermione, who'd left him for another guy, when he left Chelsea as if she'd never even existed before?
Taking in a deep breath, Ron knocked on the door and waited. He knew she was there, because he could hear her shuffling about inside. Sure enough he heard footsteps, and the door opened.
“Hi,” said Ron, going red in the face and waving his hand in her face awkwardly. Chelsea was looking at him expressionlessly from the small gap of the door. Few seconds after this deliberate silence, the door shut in his face with a thud.
It was not unexpected, but Ron would talk to her tonight. Hearing the lock click, an idea occurred to him. It wasn’t very appropriate, but he was a wizard after all. Taking out his wand from a pocket, he pointed it to the lock and whispered, “Alohomora.”
The door slowly opened, and Ron smiled to himself, marveling again just how handy magic could be when trying to prove a point.
“Chelsea, please,” he said as he stepped inside, Chelsea having her back turned to him. At the sound of his voice, she spun around and grabbed a book from a shelf near by, chucking it his way. He managed to catch it just before it hit him squarely in his face.
“How the hell did you get in? Whatever, I don’t care, get out, I don’t want to talk to you!”
“I know, I know, but I have so much to tell you and to explain why I was gone for so long.”
“I said I didn’t care. I’ve had enough of worrying about you. Seriously, who does that? I slept at your doorstep because I was worried sick about you when you first disappeared weeks ago. Then you leave, and promise you wouldn’t disappear again. But it’s like you vanished off the face of earth again. Who does that?”
Ron blinked stupidly at Chelsea, not knowing how to reply. Naturally she was right and there was not much of an excuse he could give her. “But I told you I was leaving! I got so wrapped up in some things I just…I forgot.”
“You forgot?” That was obviously a wrong thing to say because Ron had to shield himself from another barrage of literature. “That’s so nice! You know what, Ron? Yes, you told me you were leaving, but I thought…oh I don’t know, I thought that after what happened you would at least call me, let me know how you were doing, and if you were coming back. I guess I was stupid.”
“No, no, I really wanted to, but I didn’t know how to tell you about all that happened.”
“Don’t bother,” she barked, turning away from him. “I thought there was something between us, something that would make you care at least a little bit. I kept telling myself to forget you; that you didn’t deserve me worrying about you, but then they came looking for you, and it scared me.”
Her words hung in the air for a moment until they slowly started dawning on him.
Touching her by the shoulder, Ron could feel Chelsea tense under his touch as he turned her back to face him. “Who came looking for me?”
There was an odd shiver in Chelsea’s voice as she lifted her eyes to meet Ron’s. “I don’t know. They looked strange and talked strange. They asked all kinds of questions about you that I couldn’t answer. I don’t remember it all that well, but it was so…uncomfortable. I didn’t trust them, so I refused to tell them anything, not that I knew that much about you anyway, but then…it felt like they were reading my mind. I wasn’t myself for a little while, and then they left. My head hurt for days. I…it was terrible.”
Without meaning to, Ron embraced Chelsea and she trembled against him. “It’s okay now. I’m here.” He wasn’t sure, though. It was barely hours away when Ginny told him someone might be out there still after him. He didn’t consider it to be this serious.
“I was even more worried about you after they showed up. What’s going on?”
Ron wanted to answer, but then there was the sound of a small explosion from behind them, and the door flew off its hinges. Instinctively, Ron pushed Chelsea to the ground right after she screamed, reaching for his wand.
The glass on the window shattered and there was the CRACK of Apparating that followed. Suddenly, three hooded figures were standing in Chelsea’s flat.
Ron’s heart was beating wildly, and fear gripped his every muscle. He held his wand in front of him, but it suddenly seemed a useless stick. He wasn’t ready to fight people that made doors explode. He gulped, trying to think of at least one useful spell he would probably have to use any second.
“Just give up. You’ll make it easy for all of us.” The voice was muffled from under the hood, it almost sounded bored. Ron couldn’t recognize the voice, but it must’ve been somewhat familiar, because a sudden surge of hate rose up in him.
Chelsea stared at the scene from the floor wide-eyed, hardly breathing.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” another one snarled from under one of the hoods. It was the one standing in the doorway. “You don’t remember what to do, do you? You might have had some training during your brief escapade back into the real world, but house-cleaning spells from your mother won’t help you here. Stupefy!”
A shining blue light erupted from Ron’s wand, forming itself into a half-circle around him and Chelsea. It was one of the first spells Harry had taught him, and he knew it wouldn’t last long, especially as new spells started hitting the shield. The impact the spells made with the thin magic fabric of the shield reacted like electricity, creating cracks and shreds on it.
“What the hell is this?” shrieked Chelsea.
“Confringo!” The sofa a few feet away from him exploded.
Ron grabbed her by the arm quickly as his shield popped and was reduced to no more than shimmering sparkles that mixed together with hovering feathers and sofa stuffing. They ran through the mess into the next room and Ron knocked over the shelves and a large bookcase from the walls with a Flipendo curse.
“Colo…dammit, what’s the word…” The fallen shelves wouldn’t stop them for longer than five seconds, Ron had to think fast. Sure enough, he heard someone shout “Reducto!” The door to the room was opening and that’s when it hit him. “Colloportus!”
The door shut back with a squelching sound as a number of curses sounded from behind.
“You have to hide, or leave. Go out through the window.” Ron started pushing Chelsea to the window, but she dug her heels into the floor and wouldn’t budge.
“We’re on the fifth landing! Ron, what are you doing? What’s with that…stick?”
“I’m a wizard, no time to explain.”
The door looked as though it was swelling and burning from the other side when a crashing sound followed. With relief, Ron heard Ginny’s shouting voice and a man’s scream.
“You’re a what?”
“Hide Chelsea, go!” Fighting against her, because she was afraid even of him and wouldn’t let him touch her, he forcefully dragged her to the closet and pushed her inside. The door could take no more of the pressure and burst open. One of the figures stepped inside.
The wand almost flew out of his opponent’s hand, but he managed to grab hold of it with the tips of his fingers. As he was about to utter a curse Ron’s way, Ron lunged at him like a man and not a wizard, mainly because he was afraid he wouldn’t remember any other spell. Knocking the wand out of the other’s hand, Ron tackled him to the ground and punched him a few times in all the places he could reach.
The fight outside the room between his sister and one of the attackers was still on, but the third figure swept inside and pulled Ron off the other. He yelled something Ron didn’t make out through the noise, but he soon realized his limbs betrayed him and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t move at all.
“Grab hold of this, hurry!” came a woman’s voice, pulling the heap of dark robes off the floor. Ron watched them approach him, but he could only grit his teeth their way. The unknown woman pushed a ladle into Ron’s hand and grabbed it as well, along with the other person.
Ron didn’t understand, but suddenly he felt as though he was lifted up into the air. He then watched, horrorstruck, as Chelsea leapt out of the closet and threw herself at him, and all of them were pulled into the void.
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