Chapter 29 : 29.
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The news of his escape was already out, and authorities were scouring the countryside. Narcissa had been apprehended almost immediately, but it was clear once she was questioned and her memories searched that she was innocent. Draco they did not bother to question. It was widely assumed that Lucius Malfoy had broken out of Azkaban with the help of fellow Death Eaters and gone to join You-Know-Who in some hidden locale.
Narcissa leaned against her husband, hooking her arm through his contentedly. It was 5 hours after the escape, and they were all clustered in Snape’s office.
“But how did this all come to be? How did you even get the idea to harness a Patronus into a stone in the first place?”
Draco looked at Hermione.
“Well, you probably don’t remember, but I saw you earlier this year in Diagon Alley, before school started…”
“Yes, I remember,” Narcissa said.
“…And I found an old book there – it had a rough sketch of a Patronus inside a stone of some sort. Initially I wanted to decipher it so it could be of some use to my family, but then your sentence was passed down, and I had this dream…” She stopped and flushed. “Anyway, I realized it was the perfect way to help you, if we could pull it off.” She nodded at Lucius, who looked at her intently, gratefulness shining through the impenetrable grey.
“And if I may be so bold, may I ask why?” Dumbledore had been relatively silent until this point.
“Why?” Hermione asked confusedly.
“Yes, Miss Granger, why. Why you decided to help a Death Eater, and the father of your school nemesis?”
“Weeeellll…” she looked at Lucius for support, but he was watching the scene silently, taking sips of his firewhiskey.
“He saved my life. At the Quidditch World Cup. Mulciber…he was about to torture me, and probably worse…” she stopped and swallowed. “And Mr. Malfoy stopped him.” She looked at Lucius. “I know you could have Apparated us somewhere more secluded and let him finish me, or at the very least thrown up sound barriers, but you didn’t. I owe you my life.”
“I think the debt has been repaid twofold, Miss Granger,” Lucius said quietly.
Narcissa nodded. “I don’t know how we can ever thank you…both of you,” she looked at her son with pride.
“That was the most powerful magic I’ve ever seen,” Lucius whispered. “I don’t understand how you did it…both underage…” he looked from Draco to Hermione with something like admiration.
“It wasn’t easy,” Draco said. “First we had to find the opal in the Dark Forest, which was an adventure in and of itself…”
“Ah yes,” Dumbledore interjected. “Where Blaise Zabini met a rather unsavory end…my my, Miss Granger, but you are becoming quite infamous. Two dark wizards dead within four months.”
Everyone looked at her as Hermione blushed defiantly. “They deserved it,” she said.
“I have no doubt that they did.” Dumbledore said, blue eyes flashing behind his spectacles. “And tell me – do Harry and Ron know?”
“I – I – didn’t think it necessary to tell them.” She bit her lip and sighed. “Harry doesn’t believe that anyone deserves to die. At least, he doesn’t believe in taking a life.”
“And what do you believe?” Narcissa asked curiously.
“I think that not to kill someone as evil as Mulciber or Zabini is a greater crime. You all know Mulciber’s history…more than I do, I’m sure…” she watched Lucius and Snape exchange a rueful glance, “and if he were allowed to live and do more horrible things, it would be my fault for failing to stop him when I had the chance. At least, that’s the way I see it.” She shrugged.
“Do you think I’m a murderer?” she whispered at last.
Dumbledore’s eyes sparkled. “Not at all, my dear girl. I think you are very…surprising. I hardly know what to make of you this year. Although I have to admit that you don’t exactly have a reputation for following the rules…McGonagall tells me you’ve earned the dubious honor of bypassing the Weasley twins in refractions over the course of your time here at Hogwarts?”
Hermione flushed again as Draco let out a snorting laugh.
“I don’t know what you’re laughing about, young Mr. Malfoy. You happen to be neck-and-neck with Miss Granger, I believe.” Draco’s smile slipped.
“And now, let’s discuss the issue of your Patronuses. First of all, I would like to know whose is whose.” He poured himself some firewhiskey and seated himself in a tattered armchair. “Miss Granger, if you would please start.”
Nervously, Hermione pulled out her wand. They’re all just staring. Why couldn’t Malfoy go first?
Closing her eyes, she focused on her memory. It came easier this time, and she felt power surge through her soul. It must be that I’ve done it before – I know how to conjure it.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” she shouted, and the giant leopard exploded from the tip of her wand, setting the cold stone office ablaze with white light before leaping through the far wall and fading away.
“What is it?!” Narcissa exclaimed in awe.
“We don’t have such creatures in England, but I believe it’s called a snow leopard – magestic creatures that rule their icy domains with beauty, grace and ferocity.” Dumbledore looked at Hermione calculatingly. “Very interesting, Miss Granger, very interesting…”
“But a snow leopard?” Snape cut in. “Strange – since your element is fire,” he mused, black eyes curious.
“Wait – element?” Lucius asked.
“Oh yes, you don’t know yet. I almost forgot,” Dumbledore said. “Hermione here, and your son, too – happen to be the only Elementals born in 200 years.”
“Draco…?!” Narcissa asked, staring from her son to Hermione in wonder. “But when…”
“Miss Granger revealed her power first,” Dumbledore continued.
“How?” Lucius asked.
“By setting me on fire,” Snape said dryly.
“It was an accident,” Hermione said quickly, glaring at Draco, who was clearly struggling not to laugh.
Snape raised an eyebrow.
“And Draco? What is your element?” Lucius asked.
“Ice – well, storms, actually. I can make storms, and turn water into ice.” Lucius looked at his son with fierce pride.
“Draco, please perform your Patronus,” Dumbledore said.
He took a deep breath and held his wand out. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”
The huge dragon flew from his wand and winged around the room. Hermione had to close her eyes against the brightness before it, too, faded away.
“A dragon…” Snape mused, looking from Hermione to Draco, who was grinning smugly.
“I don’t know Granger, my dragon might be cooler than your leopard.”
“Puh-lease. My snow leopard could tear your dragon apart.”
“It can fly.”
“It can fall, too.”
“Fire and ice,” Dumbledore mused.
Lucius was watching his son argue with Hermione curiously. He likes her, he thought.
“Well, I think that’s enough for now,” Dumbledore said. “Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy…please go to bed. Your parents, Severus and I have much to discuss.”
“We’re not children.”
“Ah, ah ah…you two have proven yourselves to be powerful beyond your years, but the hour is late, and I am still your Headmaster.”
Hermione sighed, defeated. Draco still looked ready to argue, but a look from his parents stopped him.
“Draco – Miss Granger.” Lucius whispered as they reached the door. “Thank you. I owe you…everything.” His grey eyes shone with gratitude. Hermione nodded in return.
“I don’t see why we have to go to bed,” Draco grumbled as they stood outside the Slytherin common room.
“Well, it is late,” Hermione said. “And I’ll admit it – I’m exhausted.”
Draco scuffed his boot on the worn stone floor. “Yeah, I guess.”
“It’s so strange,” she mused.
“Just that – well, Christmas is in two days, and two days after that everyone returns…classes begin again…and I won’t, we won’t…”
“We won’t be able to see each other again,” Draco finished quietly. His eyes were burning with a silver light.
“Right.” Hermione shrugged. “But after all this was just a business arrangement. And we did it,” she trailed off in wonder. “We saved your father from Azkaban, from a soulless life…”
“Well, I always suspected I was amazing,” Draco said.
Hermione looked at him in surprise. He was smirking in a self-satisfied way.
She laughed. She’d gotten to the point where she knew when he was joking.
“You’re such an arrogant prat, Malfoy,” she teased.
“You’re such a heart-on-your-sleeve Gryffindor,” he teased back. “Just admit that you’re going to miss me.”
She snorted. “What’s to miss? Not your ego, surely…but I will miss your hair in the mornings. It’s quite unruly, by the way – not at all up to Malfoy standards.”
He laughed that unexpected laugh that Hermione had come to love – deep and genuine, and surprisingly throaty – as if his vocal cords were unused to striking those notes.
He shook his head. “I wish…” he ran a hand through white-blonde hair, tousling it nervously. “Maybe we could…”
“No, Draco,” Hermione said with regret. “It’s too dangerous – not for me, but for you. You’re bound to Him now. Your family too…if He ever found out that we were on good terms, that your father escaped with my help…” she shuddered. “You-Know-Who wants me dead regardless, but you still have a chance. You can’t – you just can’t risk it.”
“Granger – Hermione…I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive…I mean – what I mean is, ahem…”
“What are you talking about??!” Sudden fear struck Hermione. A punch to the gut that she had no way to prepare for. She felt faint.
Draco sighed, and Hermione was struck by how thin he was – the hollows of his cheeks, the dark circles under his eyes that contrasted sharply with his pale skin.
“Well?” she whispered. “Draco?”
“You’re going to hate me.” He whispered. “But maybe it’s for the best…”
Hermione held her breath, feeling her heart beating in her throat. Whatever tiredness she’d felt before was gone.
“The Dark Lord gave me a task the night He branded me with The Mark,” Draco said dully. “I’m supposed to…I have to,” he sank to the stone floor and put his head in his hands.
“What?” Hermione whispered fearfully. “You have to do what?”
“I have to kill Dumbledore before the snow thaws.” Hermione had to kneel next to him to hear his words. For a moment, she felt the pounding of her heart stop.
“You have to kill Dumbledore? That’s your task?” she was breathing rapidly now, fighting as waves of panic rose in her chest. “No – that can’t be, it’s impossible, and Dumbledore…NO!”
“Don’t worry, Granger. I won’t be able to do it,” he said. “You’re right, it’s impossible. I just wish…” he swallowed, and Hermione heart wrenched to see tears sliding down his cheeks.
“My family. I knew that I was going to die, but He said He’d kill my family too. If I failed.” He slammed his head back against the castle wall.
Hermione put a hand on his cheek, flushed and damp, and he leaned into her. Without thinking about it, she lowered her head and pressed her lips to his cheeks – first one, then the other. He relaxed into her, his eyelids fluttering closed. She kissed those too, the lashes wet with tears that dripped from her lips and into the hollow of her throat. He traced one with a trembling finger, then leaned forward and kissed the base of her neck. Hermione gasped as he pressed his lips to the ridge of her jawline, then the corner of her mouth.
He pulled back and looked at her, his quicksilver eyes questioning. Her parted lips and eyes, dilated so much they were like the moon in full eclipse – jet-black with a rim of fiery gold – gave him his answer, and he pressed his lips to her full ones with a pressure that built to a passion.
Draco’s mind went blank. The Dark Lord, his task, his parents…everything disappeared, only to be replaced by a fire such as he’d never felt before. He danced his tongue to hers and felt a sharpness – the sweetest pain he’d ever known – pierce his heart as he drank her in. Vanilla and honey, he thought.
After what seemed like an age, or maybe a moment, they gasped and pulled back from each other. Hermione looked as though she’d been struck by lightning. Her wild hair haloed creamy skin and almond eyes, dark with passion. She was straddling him, Draco’s hands holding fast to her waist. Somehow she was now against the wall, Draco on his knees before her. He let out a deep breath, somewhere between a groan and a gasp, and pressed his forehead to hers. Hermione’s hands were threaded through his silken hair and now she unbound them, slipping them down until she was stroking his cheeks, the soft stubble at his strong strongline.
“Malfoy,” she breathed.
“Granger?” Still panting, he could barely say her name.
“Have you spoken to Dumbledore?”
“To tell him I’m going to try and kill him before the snow thaws? No Granger, I haven’t gotten 'round to that yet.”
“I think – I think you should,” she whispered.
“Then I’d really be doomed…there’s nothing anyone can….”
“Malfoy, I think he’s dying.”
“What? Who? Dumbledore?? No way.”
“Look, I could be wrong, but his right hand – have you seen it? It’s blackened, dying. I’ve read up on Dark Curses in the Restricted Section of the library...” she ignored Malfoy’s snort, “and I think it’s a Corpse Curse.”
“That sounds sinister,” Draco said.
“It is. There are many variations of the curse – basically any ancient, dark and incurable curse could be called a Corpse Curse.”
“So what does it do? As far as I can tell it’s just his arm.”
“Yes, but that’s the thing: it wouldn’t matter if just your pinky was affected by a Corpse Curse. Eventually, it spreads throughout your whole body, and you die.”
They were both silent.
“I mean, if he’s dying already, I don’t see why we couldn’t stage it as…”
“We? No, Granger,” Draco said forcefully. “There’s no ‘we’ in this. You are not going to be a part of this.”
She tried to argue, but Malfoy cut her off again.
“I said NO. You have friends, a family, a life…and Potter needs all the help he can get if he’s going to take on The Dark Lord. No, Granger. Stand by the people you care about.”
“Exactly,” she whispered. “That’s what I’m trying to do, if you’d stop being such a self-righteous prat.”
He pulled back from her slightly, smirking wearily.
“Are you saying you care about me?”
She smirked back.
“Please. Who would I torment if you were gone?”
His smile faltered. “I appreciate your offer Granger, more than you know. But at the risk of sounding like a Gryffindor – I have to do this alone.”
He stood up swiftly, lifting Hermione from his lap and setting her tenderly on the floor, cradling her head back until it was resting gently against the wall. He leaned over her, brushing a loose auburn curl behind her ear. Hermione was sure he was going to kiss her again. Then he forced himself back and stalked through the archway that led to the Slytherin Common Room.
Narcissa shuddered, drawing in a shaky breath.
“Are you all right, my love?” Lucius asked.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure you don’t want that mixed with some water?”
“Thank you, Severus, but no. I rather like the burn,” Narcissa said matter-of-factly, straightening her shoulders and taking another sip of firewhiskey.
“Well, what now?” Snape asked. “Is there a safe house, or a…”
Dumbledore shook his head slowly. “No. If you had asked me at this time last year I would have said yes – that we could hide you all so completely that Voldemort would never find you – but now I think that would be a lie.”
“Why? You’re the best wizard in the world, I don’t understand…”
“Coincidentally, it was Miss Granger who led me to believe that hiding you would be impossible.” He took a sip of his firewhiskey and stood up.
“Do you remember last year, when the Ministry branded me the ringleader of ‘Dumbedore’s Army’…?”
“Yeeees, but what does that have to do with…”
“Ah ah, Severus, one moment please – you see, I wasn’t the ringleader of that group at all. The person whose idea it was…”
“…Was Miss Granger,” Lucius shook his head, smiling wryly. “Of course, we should have known.”
Snape rolled his eyes and sighed. “And her list of infractions grows,” he said. “To think I used to consider her a goody two-shoes.”
“Yes, well – rule-breaking aside, she managed to mimic the Protean Charm used by Voldemort to call his Death Eaters to him – except that she used galleons, not skin, as her medium of choice. An altogether more agreeable option, I think,” he said, with a knowing glance at Snape and Lucius. Their faces were stony.
“Anyway, after that ordeal was over, I questioned Miss Granger on her use of that specific charm, and she told me something strange: ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I admit that I did get the idea from You-Know-Who, but I didn’t mimic it completely. Obviously I’d never have done something so barbaric as to carve anything into our members’ skin…and I didn’t put a tracking charm on them, as it appears to be nearly impossible. I just can’t figure out how He did it…’
“Obviously I asked Miss Granger what she meant by ‘a tracking charm’ and she seemed surprised. ‘Oh, you know – a tracking system,’ she said, ‘In the Muggle world they use technology to follow people and trace their whereabouts…you can embed this technology into human skin, watches, anything really. That’s the sort of thing You-Know-Who uses to track his Death Eaters, right? I’m guessing it’s part of the Protean Charm he forged into their arms. That’s why Karkaroff and all the others are always discovered if they try to run away, I assume’…at that point Miss Granger looked at me confusedly, as though she thought this was common knowledge. And when I thought about it, it made perfect sense.”
“Of course,” breathed Narcissa. “I don’t know why we haven’t thought of that before.”
“I suspected,” Snape said grudgingly. “When Karkaroff defected, I told him not to go...that no one escapes him, no matter how clever.”
Lucius looked horrified. “That means that Draco…he’ll never be able to escape him. What have I done,” he said.
“Again, this is only speculation on the part of a 16-year-old girl,” Dumbledore said mildly.
“I think at this point we can all agree that Miss Granger is not your typical 16-year-old,” Lucius said. Snape and Narcissa nodded.
“What are we going to do?” Narcissa took a long pull of her firewhiskey.
“You’re going to have to go back to him,” Dumbledore peered at Lucius over the top of his glasses. There was regret in his eyes. “I would offer to hide you, but Miss Granger, as you’ve discovered, has an uncanny gift for being right. And I think she is right about this. If Voldemort wants you to be found, then you will be.” Snape and Lucius unconsciously rubbed their left forearms.
“What about Draco?” Lucius asked quietly.
“His task, as Severus was kind enough to tell me, is to kill me.” Narcissa looked at Snape, horrified.
“I told you that in confidence! I didn’t…”
“Never fear, Narcissa, it is quite all right, I assure you. Most convenient, even.”
Lucius and Narcissa looked at Dumbledore in confusion.
“You see, I am dying. I need a little time to put my affairs in order, and then…well…” he shrugged.
“But you can’t!” Narcissa said hysterically. “There must be some other way, you could fake it, there could…”
“My dear Mrs. Malfoy, I thought this news would be happy for you.”
She sat rigid, clutching her empty glass.
“If you die, how will The Dark Lord be stopped? You’re the only wizard powerful enough, the only one who…”
“As it happens, there is another wizard who could stop him.”
“Harry Potter?” she asked warily. “He’s just a boy.”
“Yes, he is. But he alone has the power to destroy Lord Voldemort. With the help of his friends of course.”
Narcissa looked about to protest again, but Dumbledore held up a blackened finger.
“You forget, Narcissa, that Harry, Hermione and Ron have faced down Voldemort and his Death Eaters every single year since they were 11 years old, and have lived. As you know, Harry is excellent at Defense Against the Dark Arts, Ron is an excellent strategist (don’t snort Severus, you’ve never seen the boy play chess) and Hermione is, of course, their secret weapon. Her cleverness is the primary reason they still live. And will live, if all goes according to plan.” He sat down again and folded his hands contentedly over his chest.
“Now, it’s very late. Lucius, you especially need a hot bath and a long rest. I suggest going to the Lestranges – Bellatrix will be delighted to see her sister and brother-in-law again, I am sure – but remember, the moment you recover you must return to Voldemort’s service. You have no other option.”
Lucius’ jaw tightened in his gaunt face, but he nodded.
“And I’m off as well. There’s some cinnamon hot chocolate with marshmallow whipped cream that’s calling my name. Good night, Mr. Malfoy, Mrs. Malfoy. Severus.”
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