Chapter 6 : Must Friends Always Meddle?
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With Dobby's Law finally passed and all of the owners of house elves informed, Hermione went into the office on Tuesday morning wondering what her next project would be. She was looking forward to the excitement of something new and prayed that it would be just as good a distraction as the last one had been.
She was pleased to find Loretta (her hair a ghastly shade of candy floss pink) in her office when she arrived there, and also surprised to see she was accompanied by Harry, who was avoiding her eye contact as though he had done something wrong. Hermione eyed him skeptically.
"Good morning, Loretta…Harry…"
"Morning, Hermione!" Loretta chirped happily. "I have some news I think you will be most excited about. As you know, Dobby's Law is now in effect thanks to your incredible hard work over the last few months. Things are going to be quiet around here for a while, so quiet that I think myself, Lance, and Melina will be able to handle things on our own."
"You're not firing me, are you?" Hermione panicked.
"Don't be ridiculous! The Ministry could use more witches like you; we're not going to let you go any time soon. Harry here came to have a chat with me about a new case the Auror department are working on and he begged me this morning to let me loan you to him until it is solved, and well, who could say no to the savior of the wizarding world, eh?" she said with a giggle and a blush that was most unlike her.
"So I'll be working with you?" she asked Harry.
"Yeah, isn't that great?" he said happily, though still not quite meeting her eyes.
"Just you? “ she asked, knowing what was coming.
"Er, not quite. Why don't we go to my office and I'll tell you all about it?" he replied glancing nervously at Loretta.
"Yes, let's," she replied menacingly.
"Well, I'll let you two get on with it then," Loretta said cheerfully. "Make sure you pop down and visit us from time to time Hermione, and Harry-thanks for the-"
"Not a problem!" Harry interrupted loudly.
He waved and ushered Hermione out of the office and into the lift opposite.
"Harry James Potter," Hermione scolded as soon as they were inside and the lift was moving, "what did you do? I cannot work with Ron, you know that!"
"You have to Hermione, I need your help on this. We both do. It's huge, Malfoy's fiancée was kidnapped by the Knights of Walpurgis."
"Alright, going over my head and speaking to my boss to get me to be around Ron is one thing but making up stories? I'm disappointed. We both know that the Knights of Walpurgis are just a lot of silly rumors probably started by some kids at Hogwarts."
"I thought so too, but I'm not making this up. They left a note in Malfoy Manor after smashing the place up and taking Astoria with them."
"Really?" Hermione asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
"I'm serious. I'm in over my head with this already, Hermione. I really do need your help."
They stepped out of the lift and began walking down the corridor to Harry's office.
"So this has nothing to do with me and Ron?" Hermione accused.
Harry looked down at his feet.
"Fine, call it killing two birds with one stone. I can't do this without you, and if you and Ron finally see some sense in the meantime then that's a bonus."
She glared at him but said no more at they were now at the door of the office that bore his and Ron's name. Her stomach lurched when she looked through the translucent glass and saw the familiar red hair of her ex-fiancé. She took a deep breath as Harry opened the door.
"Morning Harry. Hermione? What are you doing here?"
"You didn't tell him?" she hissed to Harry.
"Er, I meant to…" he mumbled. "Hermione is going to be helping us out on the Astoria case. We need her brains for this mate, you and I both know that."
Ron looked blankly for a few moments and then shrugged before returning to the files he was looking at.
"So," Hermione said, trying to inject some confidence into her voice, "what happens now?"
"I'll give you the notes we have so far from what Malfoy has told us and a copy of the note that was left and as soon as you've gone through them we're going to go to Malfoy Manor for a look around."
Ignoring the feelings of unease at the idea of going to Malfoy Manor, Hermione nodded and sat down in Harry's desk chair, accepting the hand-written notes he handed to her and began reading. Even with Draco's story and the accompanying note she still couldn't quite believe that they were dealing with the Knights of Walpurgis. Ron had told her the rumors of them in his cases and they would laugh together when the real culprits turned out to be a petty criminal trying to scare people. She opened her mouth to remind Ron of this and then remembered their current awkward situation and decided against it.
"Okay, Harry. I'm done reading," she said to Harry instead.
"Excellent. I'll go and let Malfoy know we're ready to leave."
"Malfoy's coming?" she asked in surprise.
"Yes, to get us past the wards. He was going to tell us how to do it but he said he wanted to pick up some of his and his mothers' things anyway so it made more sense that we all go together. Besides, he can walk us through what happened."
With that, he left the office, closing the door behind him. Hermione placed her hands in her lap and looked down at them, hoping that Harry and Malfoy would be back soon, the tension in the air between her and Ron was almost unbearable, neither of them speaking or looking up at one another. Thankfully, Harry appeared moments later closely followed by Malfoy. He gave them each a copy of the floor plans he had drawn up for the Manor and then they were ready to leave.
The four travelled down in the lift together to the main entrance of the Ministry building and went through a door at the opposite end of the floor that took them to a designated apparating point that was outside of the anti-apparition charms but away from prying Muggle eyes.
"We'll have to do side-along," Draco said once they were outside.
He took a firm grip of Hermione's arm, who in turn held Harry's hand. Luckily, this left Ron to hold on to Harry. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut waiting for the uncomfortable sensation that came with apparition to pass. When she opened them again, she was standing at the end of a path opposite a large manor house which was painfully familiar.
Malfoy Manor had not changed much since the last time she was here, though it looked less formidable in the sunlight. The closed cast iron gates had the Malfoy crest woven into them, beyond them there was more of the same path with perfectly manicured grass either side in place of the yew hedges that had stood tall the last time Hermione had been there. The albino peacocks strutted on the lawns and even Hermione had to appreciate their grandeur, even if she did think they were unnecessary, and a ridiculous form of décor. The house itself was huge and well deserving of the title 'Manor'. The exterior was all grey, the colour of the brickwork matching the slate tiles on the roof, and it was three stories high, not including the cellar that Hermione knew was below.
Draco took out his wand and cast non-verbal spells to take down the wards. Hermione felt a shift in the atmosphere around them and knew that the spells had worked. He then began to walk up the path towards the gates which did not open but allowed Draco to pass straight through them. The trio followed him up to the front door, where he paused.
"Don't touch anything if I'm not there, don't repair anything and if anything doesn't look right or you think it might be something to do with Astoria going missing then call for me, okay? I'll grab the things I need and then help you look and answer any questions you might have."
"Fine," Harry replied.
Draco pointed his wand at the front door and there was a gentle click as it unlocked. He did not need to touch the door, his presence caused it to swing open unaided. He went inside and headed straight up the huge mahogany staircase without another word to the group.
"I'll start in the library, since that's where Malfoy found the note," Harry said, pulling the plan that Malfoy had given him earlier out of his pocket and consulting it.
Hermione was disappointed, Harry sensed it and grinned at her. "Don't look at me like that, if I let you go to the library you'll spend more time looking at the books than looking for some indication of who we're dealing with."
"Fine," she conceded. "I'll start down here then."
"I guess that leaves me with the second floor then," Ron mumbled.
He and Harry followed in Malfoy's footsteps up the stairs, leaving Hermione in the hallway. Not bothering to look at her floor plans, she went straight to the first door she came to down the corridor past the staircase and pushed it open.
She found herself in a living room as grand as the rest of the house. There were two huge red leather sofas, one in the bay window that looked out to the side of the house and one in front of the biggest fireplace Hermione had ever seen, with a beautiful marble mantelpiece.
She imagined that the room had once been a thing of beauty, but unfortunately Astoria's kidnappers had seen to that. Stuffing poured from the cushions and the sofa itself, clean tears slashed through the material. The ornaments that had presumably once sat proud above the fire, and on the side tables and cabinets were smashed and scattered across the wood flooring and the woven rug in the middle of the room.
Hermione looked around the room, treading carefully so as not to cause further damage to the expensive trinkets, but found nothing that would be of any use or help in finding Astoria. She exited the room and continued her search next door, in the dining room, which was in an equally ruined state. Wood splinters lay around the room amongst pieces of white patterned china and glass from the doors of a large cabinet that stood in one corner. The room was mainly dominated by a long dining table which Hermione guessed could seat at least twenty people.
Next came the kitchen, which reminded Hermione of one she would find in a restaurant rather than a home, with the exception of its size. The worktops were made of a shiny silver metal, as were all of the appliances, and everything was at least two foot smaller than it should have been. Hermione realised in disgust that this was to accommodate the house-elves that must have done all of the cooking in the Manor. She wondered idly where they were now with the house in its current state of danger.
There was only one more room on the bottom floor for Hermione to search now, and her mind was so preoccupied with the missing house elves that she didn't stop to think which one was left. The door was ajar, she gave the bronze handle a gentle push to open it fully and gave a gasp. Frozen to the spot she could not tear her eyes away from the drawing room she had suffered nightmares about long after the war was over.
The walls were still the same shade of dark purple and the wood on the floor was the same as that which ran through the rest of the downstairs rooms. The large mirror with the intricate golden frame above the fireplace was smashed and the glass lay scattered below it. The crystal chandelier that had been destroyed the last time Hermione had been there had been repaired to its former glory and was once more hanging in the centre of the ceiling.
She fixed her eyes on the middle of the floor where she had been convinced her life would end. The pain she had felt when Bellatrix had tortured her was unimaginable, and the madness in the woman's eyes was something Hermione would never forget until the day she died.
"Granger, come away from there," a voice came from behind making Hermione jump.
It was Malfoy. He held two large bags in his hands which he set down on the floor before approaching Hermione.
"I'll search that one, just leave it." He leant past her and pulled the door closed.
"Thank you," she muttered, a blush creeping up her cheeks, embarrassed that he had caught her in a moment of fear.
"Don't mention it. I assumed you would have left that room, all three of you. Why did you go in?"
"I didn't look at the plans you gave me, and then I went into the kitchen and I guess I was busy thinking about the house elves and just…forgot," she finished pathetically.
"You were thinking about house elves? Why?" he asked, perplexed.
"Well, the kitchen…" She thought that was self-explanatory but Draco looked blankly at her, so she continued. "Your kitchen is obviously made for house elves to cook in but there aren't any here."
"Oh," Draco responded unhelpfully.
"So, where are they?"
He sighed heavily. "They're dead. Whoever took Astoria killed them."
Hermione gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth. "That's awful! This is why the whole idea of having house elves disgusts me, they're just replaceable aren't they? No-one cares as long as their cleaning and cooking still gets done. I suppose you've already got new ones?" she accused.
"Actually, no. I told mother that we don't have the room or the need for one in the flat."
"Oh…" Hermione blushed again. "Well, what did you do with the others?"
"I came back after I found mother and I a place to stay, and buried them in an unused part of the garden."
Hermione stared blankly at him, that was the answer she had least expected from him: it was such a humane act.
"That was very decent of you, Malfoy," she said finally.
"Whatever, I couldn't exactly leave them could I? Anyway, I should look in there," he said gesturing to the door behind Hermione. "Go upstairs and see if Potter and Weasley need any help."
She nodded and walked away briskly, wanting to distance herself from the drawing room and any further awkwardness with Malfoy. She climbed to the top floor and walked along the corridor until she found an open door. Assuming Harry was in there she entered the room, disappointment hitting as she found Ron on all fours searching under a double bed. She cleared her throat gently, causing Ron to jump and bang his head on the wooden frame and swear loudly. He stood up rubbing his head, his face falling as he realised who had joined him in the room.
"Um, I'm done downstairs, I came to see if there was anything up here I could help with, I thought Harry-"
"What are you doing here, Hermione?" Ron interrupted.
"Helping with the case, Harry asked me, you know that."
"And you didn't think to say no?"
"I couldn't, he already spoke to my boss. He said you both needed my help." Even as she said it, she knew that it wasn't true.
Ron gave an exasperated sigh. "Of course he did, Hermione, and you fell for it. Can't you see he's just trying to get us back together? Did you even think how painful this would be, to spend all day working with you?"
"Hold on, you were the one who said you didn't want to be with me, if anything this was going to be hard for me, and I'm trying to be an adult about it."
"The adult thing to do would have been to stand up to Harry and say no. You shouldn't be here, Hermione," he said through gritted teeth.
"Fine then," Hermione snapped, throwing her hands up in frustration. "Fine. I'll go."
"I think that's for the best."
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, cursing Ron under her breath, not noticing Harry walking towards her and stomping straight into him.
"Umph! Oh, sorry, Harry," she mumbled and stepped around him.
"Hermione, wait!" he called after her. "What's wrong? Where are you going?"
She was at the bottom of the stairs now and made a beeline for the front door. "Back to the office to beg Loretta to let me get back to my own job. I'm not wanted around here, Harry. Good luck with the case."
"I don't understand," Harry panted as he tried to keep up with her. "Has something happened?"
"Ask Ron," she said as she passed through the large gates.
She saw Harry open his mouth to protest but disapperated before he could get a single word out.
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