Chapter 2 : Upper Hand
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Hero or Illusion?
9th of Feb. 2001
Letters to the Editor
“It appears that the Wizards of the United Kingdom cannot go a decade without the idea of a hero. As the Aurors still stumble over themselves preceding the disappearance of a number of dangerous wizards, a young group of vigilantes have stepped up and over-ridden the law for good.” (Quote excerpt from The Daily Prophet, 8th Feb.)
Or so they say.
It is rumoured that the leader of this mysterious and idealistic group of 20 somethings is none other than Draco Malfoy, son of the late, pardoned Death Eater, Lucius Malfoy. Their vigilantism is not yet a crime, but how long could that last when a Malfoy is the ring-leader?
I think it’s about time our Ministry took a stand and stopped Malfoy and his gang before it’s too late.
Ellena Bridges, 32, Surrey
2. Upper Hand
8th of February
She was twenty-two. She had seen a war. She had seen countless dead. Yet, in all her years, Hermione Granger had never seen somebody alive lay so still.
The Saturday morning had begun like any other weekend morning—toast in one hand, spellbook on the bench and radio blearing the 10 o’clock session of the Witching Hour. She had no prior engagements, after her and Ron had cancelled on each other, yet again, and was just about to snuggle up in bed with the latest edition of Hogwarts: A History, when Harry appeared in her room, blurting something about St. Mungo’s, Michael Corner and him.
She stared at the bed. Not for the first time on that cold, February morning, Hermione wondered if Draco was actually still alive at all. It didn’t help that the white, pristine hospital sheets were perfectly folded over his torso without a crinkle in sight. His chest barely moved, and Hermione just couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that she was in some kind of morgue.
“I still don’t understand why we can’t just throw him in Azkaban while he’s out,” Ron mumbled, voice filled with bitterness.
Beside him, Harry frowned. “He hasn’t actually done anything wrong...”
The three stood around the single bed uncomfortably, shuffling their feet and staring at the unconscious Malfoy. These were the first words spoken in over an hour in the tiny hospital lodging, and it didn’t help quell the discomfort that lingered around the trio. Tension and curiosity were the themes of the afternoon, and they didn’t mix very well at all.
As Hermione’s brown gaze moved to Draco’s serene and sleeping face, memories of their hostile and seemingly useless interviews a year ago flooded back into mind. She had hoped to never see him again—they had released him on the premise that he was to never continue his little vigilantism charade. So what was he doing? Why was he here? Why had he been there? And what was he doing with that Thing?
On the small square table to her right, the Thing—the Cube, the Object—hummed faintly. She tore her eyes from the body and picked it up, studying it carefully under the sterile hospital light. The outer casing of the Object was clear, revealing a swirling blue mist beneath its walls that was ever shifting and changing. The humming increased in tone as she held it, yet it was just as elusive as the first time she picked it up in that stuffy, little interview room a year ago.
“Something doesn’t add up,” she mused aloud. “If this doesn’t do anything, why did he have it on him in Yaxley Manor?”
Harry slumped down in the armchair behind him, staring across the bed at Hermione and the ... Thing. He rubbed the lightening-shaped scar on his forehead, closing his eyes briefly. “I have no bloody idea. Do we know where Corner went?”
“I think the hype scared him away,” Ron answered. “Can’t really blame him.”
“See if you can find him.”
Harry didn’t take his eyes off Draco as Ron left the room, leaving them alone. Hermione could read the questions reflected plainly in his green eyes, but he only knew the half of it. Aurors like Harry and Ron never involved themselves in detective work—they had both gladly left that task to Hermione, as snooping and reading were her, to quote Ron, ‘favourite things to do’. And she didn’t deny it; Hermione loved her job. Unfortunately, though, as good as she was at investigating and interrogating, Hermione had discovered that this case couldn’t be solved by books or wit. It seemed whatever lead she had on Draco Malfoy, he was already one step ahead of her.
Or, more specifically, the Object was one step ahead of her.
She moved the small cube from one hand to the other, hoping that something might happen. She felt it warm in her palm.
“It’s glowing, surely it does something.”
Emotion barely flickered over Harry’s face when he answered. “He’s hiding something. He knows more than he’s letting on.”
“I would have found out if there was something, Harry,” Hermione said with a sigh. They had been through this many times.
“He’s always hiding something,” Harry mumbled, ignoring her. “Don’t you remember—”
“Sixth year; yes, Harry.” Hermione rolled her eyes, placing the Object back down. “You told me about him nearly every day that year—but I would know if he had been hiding something now.”
She bit her lip. That last part had been a little lie, but Harry thankfully nodded in agreement, oblivious to the untruth of her statement.
The truth was that Draco had changed—she wasn’t sure what had happened, but the man was smarter, stronger, quicker and more talented than he had ever let on in school. And it wasn’t just that she hadn’t noticed his cleverness before—the Vanishing Cabinet/Death Eater scenario in their sixth year had been a stroke of dark genius. But now, it was as if he was no longer a ‘Dark’ genius-wizard, but a good—
No, shut up, Hermione. Malfoy is evil and a git. Git, git, git—
Hermione’s head snapped up at the sound of Harry’s voice. She blushed a deep crimson, hating that she was caught off-guard thinking about Malfoy.
“Um.” He was staring at her with the most intense look she had ever seen. “... What?”
“Ron said you two were going for dinner tonight?”
Hermione tried to hold back the groan that was bubbling up her chest, colour quickly draining from her cheeks. She had been waiting with dread for this conversation.
“We both cancelled.”
“Why?” Harry asked, annoyance obvious. “Why do you two always do this?”
And so began another long-winded explanation from Hermione. She had been through it so many times before, it was like Harry went home and oblivated his own memory every night, just to ask the same question the next day. She understood he did it because he loved them both, but the truth was that her and Ron wanted to go separate ways—she wanted to focus on her work at the Ministry, and Ron was contemplating leaving the Ministry for travel and his older brother’s joke shop. It was impractical for them to be together now—she knew it, Ron knew it, and Harry refused it. Every. Single. Time.
“... so we just thought it would be better if we went separate ways,” she rambled. She was holding the Object again, turning it over and over in her hand to avoid Harry’s severe gaze. She could feel her cheeks reddening. “It’s not a bad thing, Harry, and you never know what will happen in the future—”
“Touching, Granger; truly touching. Now. Hand. Over. The. Object.”
Hermione gasped, almost dropping the Cube in her hands on the tiled floor and shattering it to pieces. She slowly raised her head, confronted by the cold, unnerving grey gaze of Draco Malfoy. In his hand he had hold of his wand, and he was pointing it directly at her heart.
Her next breath came out in a low, nervous hiss.
“Drop the wand, Malfoy,” Harry growled behind him. His own wand was pressed into the back of Draco’s neck, face darkening with anger.
The blood-splattered blonde smirked. “It would seem we’re at an impasse, Saint Potter,” he drawled, spitting the last word contemptuously. “If the Muggle-born gives me the Object, I’ll answer any questions she has.”
Hermione’s horrified eyes travelled to Harry, who gave one nod of assurance before she looked back to Draco. He lay on his side, propped up on one arm and looking terrifyingly worse for wear. His eyes, nose and arms were covered in deep purple bruises, occasionally tinged with a bloody red scratch. He kept his wand poised at her heart, though his arm was shaking heavily from the strain of holding it up.
Tentatively, she passed the Object over to him. Draco snatched it from her, quick as a snake’s strike and causing her to jump in surprise. He shoved the hand that held it and his wand under the sheets, expression changing from anger to relief in a matter of milliseconds.
Draco fell on his back, sinking into the pillow and sighing in pain. Harry lowered his wand as he watched him apprehensively, realising that the man would struggle uttering a curse, let alone carrying it out.
“So,” Harry said, eyes not leaving Draco’s form. “You’ll answer our questions, Malfoy?”
It was some time before he answered. The question weighed heavy in the air, tentative and delicate, yet the tension was suffocating. Draco kept his eyes closed, lying on his back and draping one arm across his bandaged chest. His breathing had become shallow and his skin was all shades of pale beneath the bruises. Hermione wasn’t sure if interrogating him now was the best course of action while on his deathbed, but Harry was determined.
“No,” Draco whispered finally, barely opening his eyes.
Hermione didn’t have much time to feel anger towards the broken promise as, in a blink, Harry had raised his wand and pressed it into Malfoy’s face. The room felt as though it was on fire, and she was surprised that the curtains had not yet erupted from the tension.
“Answer the questions, Malfoy, or I’ll charge you for lying to a Ministry official!”
Draco still did not open his eyes as the wand pressed further into his cheek. His mouth did not twitch and he lay completely still. Harry and Hermione weren’t quite sure how to react to this lack of ... everything.
They glanced at each other nervously, both wondering if they should retrieve a Healer.
Draco then spoke: “Saint Potter.” It was accompanied by a light chuckle that ended in a wince.
“Harry.” Hermione was shuffling on the spot, unsure what to say. An idea had struck her, but she wasn’t sure how her childhood friend would react to it. “Um... Maybe its best if you just leave me to ask the questions.”
“What?” Harry looked up so fast, his glasses almost slipped off his nose. The wand remained pressed into Draco’s face, who now looked as though he had fallen asleep.
She cleared her throat nervously, scratching her chest and fiddling with the pendant that was draped around her neck. “And ... leave us alone.”
If Harry looked shocked before, it was nothing to how he was looking now. “I’m not leaving you alone with this ...” He searched for the word, but upon finding none prudent enough for the scenario, settled on a, “I’m not leaving.”
“Please.” She was practically begging him now. She knew the only way to get even the slightest bit of information out of the war-torn blonde lay in Harry not being present. There was too much history between them, and Hermione had already questioned Draco before. They had not made peace (that was never even a possibility, and never would be), but they were at least more civil than this. “It’s fine. It’s my job.”
Harry’s stance faltered but he did not move.
“Please,” she repeated, more firmly.
With a heavy sigh, the man begrudgingly pocketed his wand and circled around the bed. He paused beside Hermione, turning his back on Draco and looking towards the door.
“I’ll be outside.”
“I know,” she replied, smiling as reassuringly as she could.
“You just call—”
“Harry,” she interrupted. “I know.”
He gave a curt nod, casting one more disdainful glance towards Draco and disappeared out the door. It closed with a bang and the small hospital room shook. Draco’s eyes did not open.
Unsure what to do now, as she was sure the man was asleep and she wasn’t particularly interested in poking that dragon, Hermione walked to the foot of his bed. She grabbed the clipboard the Healer had left there, flicking through the pages of graphs until she came to the statements of his condition. It had been filled out by the Auror Michael Corner, yet there were big red circles over the injuries described, no doubt drawn by the Healer.
10:21 AM, Saturday. Michael Corner, Auror.
Found Draco Malfoy in the basement underground of Yaxley Manor. Was being interrogated by 2 thugs (working for [name unknown?]). Objects found on scene include 2 wands, 7” Yew, unicorn hair and 14” Ashwood, dragon heartstring. Also 3ft long metal bat, stained with blood.
Malfoy had trouble standing and walking. Lost a considerable amount of blood from broken nose and a broken jaw. Bruises and lacerations from waist up, particularly to face. Observed to be from bat—
Hermione gasped at the sound of her surname, dropping the clipboard on the tiled floor with a deafening clang. She looked up to see Draco sitting in his bed, pain etched visibly in his eyes from the effort. Yet, to her disgust, he still managed to smirk at her reaction.
On his lap sat the Object. Its hum echoed through the room.
She straightened herself, brushing down her robes and looking at him with disapproval. “You said you would answer our questions, Malfoy.”
“I said I would answer your questions, Granger,” he replied, not taking his grey eyes off her as she circled around the bed and sat in the armchair beside him. Her hand was in her pocket, gripping her wand tight. “And I suppose you want to know about this?”
He grabbed the Object and held it up to her, as if it was something of similar importance to an ingot of gold. Hermione stared at it, before he quickly put it back on his lap.
She blinked. “You’ll answer my questions?”
“Since I’m under no obligation, I’ll answer what questions I want to,” he drawled, watching her with vague amusement.
Hermione folded her arms. “Believe it or not, Malfoy, but these questions are going to help you. We—the Ministry—want to find out who did this to you.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“Of course you don’t,” she snapped sarcastically, rolling her eyes. “If you’re going to be like that then, could you at least tell me why you were in Yaxley Manor?”
The change Draco's features underwent were dramatic. All smugness and confidence was wiped away and replaced with a look of utter horror and surprise. His lips parted slightly, and his eyes widened to the point of dinner plates.
“I ... I was in Yaxley’s Manor?”
Hermione had never heard Draco’s voice so weak before—it was barely a whisper, and he swallowed heavily, looking down to the Object. A flash of anger passed quickly over his features, before disappearing.
“You didn’t know?” Hermione asked softly.
She was not concerned about Draco’s well-being, but she knew the stakes of this conversation. She had to be very careful to make sure Draco didn’t get the upper hand on her—that was where she had failed in their interviews last year, and she was not willing to let that happen again. She—the Ministry—needed to know what the Object was and what Draco’s intentions were.
“Yaxley’s dead,” he said, ignoring her. His tone was not filled with concern anymore, but rippling with anger. “Yaxley is dead, and those two didn’t know what the Object did, but Yaxley had—”
He stopped, snapping his head up and staring at Hermione with a look that told her he had forgotten she was there. His lip curled.
“I think that’s enough, Granger,” he sneered, annoyed at himself.
“No!” she squeaked, despite the voice in her head telling her to remain calm. She was so close. “What two? The ones that did this to you? Did they work for Yaxley—”
“Granger.” His eyes flashed dangerously. “Too many questions. Go find Potty and Weasel to entertain you. I think we’re done here.”
His smug voice had her hands shaking with anger and her face was colouring a deep red beneath her bushy hair. She told herself that anger and losing control of her emotions were not the best way a Ministry representative could behave, but Draco was just so infuriating.
“I’m trying to help you!” she screeched, unable to stop her emotions from pouring out.
“For the last time, I don’t need your help, Mudblood,” he replied coolly.
She ignored the callous insult, rubbing her eyes and murmuring incoherently under her breath. Draco leaned in close, attempting to try and catch her words.
“... didn’t know he was in the manor, two people tortured him ... Carrying the Object on his person, was kidnapped. Was kidnapped and tortured for the Object? Or tortured for what the Object does...? Yaxley is dead and he had something—”
She looked up at him, eyes widening with surprise and face breaking into a radiant smile.
Concern flashed over the blonde’s features. “Don’t—”
“It’s too late!” she squealed gleefully, jumping from her seat and running to the door.
A flurry of movement sounded behind her. “If you leave this room, I swear on my dead father’s grave, I will kill you, Granger.”
Hermione froze, hand hovering above the handle of the door. Her heart was thumping against her ribcage, and her breathing increased with his threatening words. She hesitated slightly, glancing back towards Draco nervously. He was alert, with his wand pointed at her yet again. his face a mask of hatred and worry.
But it was more worry.
Hermione smiled at him. “Save it, Malfoy.”
With that, the witch hurried out of the room, slamming the door as loudly as she could. Draco’s head rang from the noise and he fell back into his pillow, closing his eyes and cursing loudly.
A/N: Thank you so much again to the lovely Debra20!
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