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Chapter 16 : Grief
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He heard bustling in the kitchen and decided he definitely needed a glass of water or maybe a cup of tea. He’d grown to like this strange drink, another thing that Hermione had changed about him. Throwing on the t-shirt he had discarded when he arrived back last night, he took out his wand and folded up the blanket and levitated them, along with the pillows, so that they were in a neat pile at the end of the sofa. His stomach gurgled as the smell of sizzling bacon filled his nostrils and he went into the kitchen to find Mrs Weasley standing, or rather stooping, over the stove.
“Good morning,” she said, somewhat stiffly but as friendly as he could expect. Draco worried that she was regretting her decision to let him stay last night. No matter what she said, he was sure she probably held him responsible for the deaths of her husband and son, though it wasn’t him who killed them. However the feeling of guilt and responsibility still weighed heavily on him from those days and he would accept her blame if necessary.
“Hello, Mrs Weasley. Something smells good,” he said politely and she smiled over at him.
“The smell of bacon usually wakes the whole house up,” she said, as Harry and Ginny walked into the kitchen and sat at the table where Draco had also plonked himself.
Ginny smiled tightly at him and Harry of course said nothing, doing his best to ignore him completely as if he wasn’t there. The feeling of animosity between the pair was ever present, though Draco had rather hoped that Potter would make the effort after last night’s revelations, for Hermione at least.
Molly bought over a pot of tea and some cups, alone with a pot of sugar and jug of milk and Draco immediately started pouring himself some.
“Anyone else?” he asked Ginny and Harry, who both nodded slightly. He poured them two cups and passed them along the table. He could have sworn he heard Harry say thank you.
Only five minutes had passed when Hermione walked in and Draco’s shoulders sagged with relief as he looked at her. Although she still had slight red rings around her eyes from crying, she looked like she’d had a far better night sleep than he had, and for that he was thankful. Lack of sleep did nothing good for the emotions, he thought. He knew that only too well.
Molly placed two large plates of bacon in the middle of the table and some thick slabs of bread alongside which Harry and Ginny started tucking into ravenously. Draco passed Hermione a cup of tea – no sugar – and she sat down in the chair close beside him. She yawned tiredly and Draco wondered if he was wrong; maybe she just looked good all the time and had actually had a dreadful sleep. He mentally smacked himself and reminded himself not to think such things about her before making himself a sandwich and taking a big bite. From last night’s experience he decided not to complement Molly on her tasty cooking but showed his appreciation by having another.
Eventually Ron surfaced from upstairs looking like death, his hair sticking up in every direction as if he’d been up all night. He even passed up the opportunity for a bacon sandwich which everyone else thought was definitely not like him and exchanged worried glances. Nobody had ever seen Ron turn down food, not even when he had dragon pox the summer after the battle and he’d come home for his mother to look after him. It had taken weeks for the greenish tinge to fade from his skin but this still hadn’t slowed his appetite.
“I just had an owl from Elena, she said she’s managed to get some more time off. She’ll be travelling from Romania later today,” he said to no one in particular whilst sipping at a cup of water he’d poured from the kitchen tap.
“Why didn’t you say so?!” Molly panicked, cleaning up their breakfast plates before they could even finish their sandwiches and shooing her children to their respective rooms to give them a good clean. Harry went up to give Ginny a hand, mumbling something about her not being able to lift and carry, leaving Hermione and Draco to help Molly downstairs.
“How are you feeling?” Draco asked the brunette, who he realised had dark bags forming under her eyes.
“Like a banshee has been wailing at me all night. I don’t think I slept more than an hour or so,” she sighed, leading him into the living room where they began dusting things with their wands.
“I didn’t beat you by much. I went to see Blaise last night,” he muttered quietly, sort of hoping she didn’t hear him.
“You did what?” Hermione asked.
“I wanted to know what had gone wrong, why your parents hadn’t been better protected. I think I gave him quite a shock since it was one in the morning and he hadn’t even been told about what happened,” he said, picking up an old wireless and cleaning the area underneath it.
“Oh Merlin, Draco. I hope you weren’t too hard on him, it’s obviously not his fault.”
“I know that, I read the letter,” he said.
“What letter?” Hermione asked, a crease forming on her brow as she lowered her wand from the curtains she was vacuuming.
“The one that informed Harry about your parents. He didn’t show you did he?” Draco said.
“No he did not. Let me see it please,” she said sternly and Draco knew better than to disobey her. He’d come to realise that this tone of voice and facial expression meant Hermione was not to be messed with, so he reached into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out the letter.
As she read it, tears sprung to Hermione’s eyes and by the end her cheeks had a glazed, damp look about them, a look that was becoming more and more common to her.
“I had no idea they were tortured. And the photos…surely this is just evidence that it was Rowle who killed them?” she said, looking over at Draco who had ceased cleaning and sat down.
“Pretty much. That won’t mean anything to the Ministry thought, they won’t have a clue who it is unless he left a trace behind and even that’s unlikely given that the Aurors didn’t know anybody had entered the house,” Draco said, fed up with the lack of information and help he could give her.
“I don’t understand how they couldn’t have noticed.”
“You’ve said it yourself, Rowle knows magic most of us don’t. I suppose it wouldn’t be difficult to get in the house unnoticed,” Hermione said. She wondered whether the letter she had written to them had managed to get to her parents before Rowle got to them.
“Oh, Merlin,” Hermione said, her eyes wide with fear.
“What is it?” Draco said, standing up and walking towards her.
“How long would it take that owl to have gotten to Australia yesterday morning?” she asked him.
“I couldn’t tell you for sure but I tracked it at around twelve o’clock and it was almost halfway there. Why do you ask?”
“Draco, if my parents were murdered at half past four our time, it would have been five in the morning over there. They obviously wouldn’t have been awake to read it, but if the owl was halfway there at twelve then it should have arrived around the same time that Rowle did,” Hermione said, pacing in circles and flapping her hands in panic as she spoke.
“So what are you saying?” Draco asked.
“Don’t you understand? If Rowle was there when the owl arrived, he’s going to know I’ve been with you. The crest was attached to the owl!”
Realisation dawned on Draco’s face as he realised that what Hermione was saying was entirely true. The crest on the owl was hardly unnoticeable, it would take someone very stupid not to notice it and Rowle definitely wasn’t that. He took out his wand and muttered a spell, one that Hermione had never heard before, and spun his wand in a complicated pattern.
“Shit,” he muttered, trying the spell again. “I’m trying to trace the owl but the connection must have been broken.”
“So that means…”
“Yes, it means you’re probably right. I’ve never had this happen before even when the owl has got lost delivering a letter. Hermione, I’m sorry. I should never have let you use one of my owls, I should have been more careful, I’m such an idiot-“
“Please, stop that. Don’t blame yourself, it was my fault. So what are we going to do?” she asked quietly.
Draco thought for a second before he answered her. He knew from past experience how calculating and cruel this man could be, but if he or anyone else had been at the Manor he would have known about it by now since he told Slinky to scour the house and let him know if anything untoward happened.
“I can almost say for certain that he hasn’t been to the Manor, so that buys us some time. I know the way Rowle works, I think he’ll lay low for a while before he attempts anything; he likes his plans to be perfect down to the exact details. He wouldn’t have had time to plan an attack yet.”
“You think he’ll definitely come after me, then?” Hermione asked.
Draco looked her in the eyes, knowing full well he could never lie to her but also knowing it was going to pain him greatly to see the look in her eyes. “I don’t think that’s the question anymore, Hermione. I think it’s a matter of when he’ll be coming.”
She looked utterly defeated as Draco spoke the words she had never wanted to hear. She thought she was rid of this man, if not from her mind then at least from her life, but it felt like she was never going to be free again. She longed to turn back time, knowing what she knew now, to times when she was young and smart and carefree, running around Hogwarts with Harry and Ron. She wasn’t going to cry, not this time. There was only a certain amount of tears one can produce, she thought, and I’ve about used up my quota for the century.
“Right, well in that case we need to be prepared. We should contact Pansy and Blaise in case he targets them, he must know you were friends at Hogwarts and if he’s been watching us he’ll know I’m involved with them too. The Burrow needs to be protected to the highest standard, understand? I will not let this man hurt anyone else,” she said with mock confidence, though she couldn’t hide her shaking hands from Draco.
“Hermione,” he said, stepping over to her and taking both of her hands in his. “I will not let him hurt you. For as long as there is air in my lungs and blood in my veins, I will do whatever it takes to protect you.”
She nodded her head slightly. The terror in her eyes turned the caramel colour a darker brown and Draco couldn’t stop himself from thinking about how stunningly enchanting those eyes were. He had meant what he said, knowing that he would rather die than see her harmed. She came forward closer and placed her head on his chest, on top of which Draco planted a soft kiss.
Thorfinn Rowle sat in a small room of the shack he had been inhabiting for the past month. He moved around often, intent on remaining evasive as he had done so since the Dark Lord’s downfall and applauded himself for achieving it so well. Many of the Death Eaters had been captured in the years since but he had been cleverer than them, which was exactly why he was held in such high esteem by the others. He didn’t much like having Avery and Rookwood around but as irritating as they were, they had come in very useful at times. Macnair and Travers had recently heard of his plans and had joined the other recruits who were trying, and frankly failing miserably, to show their loyalty to their new leader.
He stood up and walked over to an old rickety table, half eaten by one creature or another, leaving great holes in the woodwork. He stroked the sleek feathers of the dead black owl that lay on top of it, victim of Rowle’s own killing curse. He chuckled as he recalled the event. The stupid bloody bird shouldn’t have been so aggravating when he had been trying to attend to some very important business. It could have simply flown away unharmed but it had to just keep tapping away at the glass of the window until he had no other choice but to end its dear little life. Lucky he had, he thought, else it would have taken him a little longer to find the girl.
Just as he was enjoying himself reminiscing about how much fun he’d had torturing those dirty muggles yesterday, Avery came in and interrupted his thoughts.
“How many times have I told you not to come here? Do you want to be captured and sent to Azkaban again?” Rowle growled.
“Sorry, boss. We just wanted to know when the fun was going to start,” he smirked.
“All in good time, my fellow. All in good time,” Rowle replied, and dismissed him immediately. What an idiot, he thought. It was no wonder he was the only one fit to lead any sort of revolution.
He tugged his cloak from the nail it hung on from the slats of wood covering the windows and threw it around himself. He peered outside quickly before leaving, then turned around and waved his wand in the direction of the shack, making it disappear in front of him. He smiled and turned once more, where just over the hill lay Malfoy Manor.
Everyone had gathered in the kitchen of the Burrow after their cleaning expedition with approximately one hour to go before Elena was due to arrive. Hermione had asked kindly that the information she had told them yesterday not be shared with Ron’s girlfriend since it had taken five years and a lot of courage to tell them; she didn’t want the whole world knowing her business. As much as Hermione felt this was the right decision, she had to admit it was going to be difficult since everyone was going to have to be under immense protection whilst at the Burrow. Draco and Hermione had vowed to go and speak to Pansy and Blaise once they’d made their acquaintances with Elena to ensure their safety and Harry had made his excuses to everyone at the office and had taken the morning off to help at the Burrow and to meet Elena, but he planned on going to the Ministry later on to arrange protection for Molly and whoever else they thought Rowle may target. This included George who, it had already been decided, would come and stay with Molly since he was long overdue some time off from running the shop anyway. The other Weasleys were also going to be given Auror protection and since Hermione had no other family, there was nobody else to worry about.
Minimal conversation was being made between the males of the group; Ron was sitting nervously in his chair, his eyes constantly flicking towards the door as he fiddled with a stray thread in his jumper – one of the Christmas gifts Molly had knitted for him years before. Harry and Ginny passed the time discussing wedding plans with Molly which was their intention for yesterday and it was currently being debated as to how far was necessary for Aunt Muriel and Fleur to be sat apart. Draco sat next to Hermione doing his best to blend into the wall behind him. Hermione had the distinct impression he was hating every minute of being here and wished they could just leave now.
“Sorry about this,” she whispered to him, making sure nobody had acknowledged her speaking.
“It’s fine, I don’t mind,” Draco smiled, yet his eyes told her that this was an outright lie. She was grateful though, that he was making the effort and being so supported. It reminded her once again of how much things had changed over such a short period of time.
She looked over at Ron, grinning inwardly as she watched his foot continually tapping on the floor. It was quite painful to watch how uneasy and nervous he was, but sweet all the same; she’d never once seen him like this and she could honestly say she was happy for him. After much thought about their relationship following the Battle, Hermione had come to the conclusion that it never would have worked between her and Ron, whether the incident with Rowle had happened or not. She loved Ron and always would, but no more than the way in which she loved Harry. They had spent too many years being friends and she could never change that for fear of ruining it.
“Ron, will Charlie be coming over anytime soon?” Hermione asked, trying to shake him from his jittery reverie before he did himself some harm; his fingernails were bitten to the quick and his foot was tapping faster and faster.
“What? Er, yeah. He’s coming over for the wedding for definite. I haven’t seen him much since he got that promotion, I got sick of him bragging about the bloody thing,” Ron grumbled, almost to himself as much as to Hermione.
“What is it he does now?” she asked.
“Well he used to only work with the regular dragons, y’know, the least dangerous ones. Now he’s been promoted to Senior Dragon Handler he gets to tend to the bigger ones,” Ron said, a hint of jealousy in his voice. Hermione thought he was being rather childish; Charlie had been over in Romania at the sanctuary a lot longer than he had, but Ron had always struggled with coming second best to others in the family, as well as herself and Harry.
Hermione could tell that he wasn’t interested in any further conversation; he had suddenly turned away from her and become engrossed in the knots in the wood of the table. He had been like this ever since he’d got back, not really talking to her unless absolutely necessary. She figured it was the result of so much time apart and the way in which they’d parted all those years ago, but didn’t really have the time or energy to dwell on it whilst there were more pressing matters to deal with.
The room had fallen quiet and everyone was checking watches and clocks, eager to meet Elena but also to get on with their day, particularly Draco. Hermione counted six times within two minutes that he’d checked the watch on his wrist.
Finally, after he gave up on his feigned interest in the table, Ron looked out of the window and shot out of his chair and out of the door.
“Looks like she’s here then,” Ginny commented, putting the quill down that she’d been writing the seating arrangements with.
“Right everyone, look smart and smile! I want Elena to feel welcome here so no bickering, got it?” she looked pointedly at Draco and Harry in turn, a warning glare in her eye that neither would dare to disobey.
A few moments later they could see Ron walking hand in hand with Elena down the hill from which she’d just apparated. They were talking animatedly and the expression on Ron’s face had changed to one of glee rather than the one of misery he’d been yielding for the past few hours. Ron pushed open the door and everyone at the table stood from their seats.
Elena was quite a picture, not at all what Hermione expected although she felt slightly guilty for thinking it. She felt sure she wasn’t the only one with this opinion judging by the surprised look on Ginny’s face and Molly’s slight nod of approval to her. Her blonde hair fell in tight, long curls around her face which was slightly blushed from the cold, giving her a radiant look. She smiled shyly at everybody as Ron ushered her forwards into the kitchen.
“Elena, this is my mum, Molly,” he said. Molly rushed over to greet her with a hug which caught the blonde off-guard and she looked quite startled for a moment.
“H-hello Mrs Weasley,” she simpered, a sweet voice trickling out of her rosy lips.
“Oh please, call me Molly!”
“This is Harry, I’m sure you recognise him, and my sister Ginny,” Ron said, pointing to them both. “That’s Hermione and...”
“And this is my friend, Draco,” Hermione added, since words seemed to have failed Ron when he got around to his blonde nemesis. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
Everyone exchanged handshakes and hugs with Elena and Molly began busying herself making hot chocolates for everyone. Ron politely pulled out a chair next to his for Elena and she sat down, nervously twisting her hands together.
“So Elena, we’ve heard lots about you! You work at the sanctuary too?” Ginny asked.
“Yes, I managed to snag a little more time off so I could come over sooner. Ron said there’s lots to be done for the wedding so if there’s anything I can help with let me know,” she smiled and Ginny beamed. Anyone who was interested in her wedding planning was an immediate approval in her book.
They all chatted for a while as they drank their hot chocolates, complete with cream and marshmallows, until Harry stood from the table where Ginny and Elena pored over wedding magazines. He motioned to Hermione and Draco to follow him as he made his excuses and headed towards the living room. He needn’t have worried as the girls were engrossed in what type and colour flowers Ginny would want at the wedding and Ron had just picked up Elena’s trunk to take upstairs to his room.
“Bloody hell, what have you got in here, El?” he asked, his face turning puce as he struggled to lift the trunk. He resorted to whipping out his wand and levitating it up the stairs as the girls laughed and Harry, Hermione and Draco left the room.
In the living room, neither Draco nor Harry took a seat but Hermione collapsed on the sofa looking exhausted.
“It’s hard work pretending to be happy, you know,” she said darkly in response to the looks from Harry and Draco.
“I know, Hermione. I know you need time to grieve but if you don’t want Elena to know about Rowle then you just have to keep up the pretence,” Harry said with a sympathetic smile towards her. As Draco went to sit beside Hermione, Harry looked out of the window. He didn’t like seeing them in such close proximity, much less seeing them comfortable in each other’s presence. It was so wrong.
“What did you want us for?” Draco asked.
“I need to go to work and arrange the protection. Hermione, you know what it’s like in our department, keeping secrets doesn’t go down too well. I can’t ask Neville and Dean and the others to put themselves out for us without telling them why,” Harry said.
Hermione stopped blinking for a second, staring into the flames licking the black coals in the fireplace.
“How can I be sure that it won’t have been spread around the whole Ministry by the time I come back to work?” she asked.
“You know Neville and Dean won’t breathe a word if I tell them and…” his voice trailed off as he decided how best to word his next sentence. “Hermione, I think it could be a while before you come back to work. In fact, when all this is over, I want you to take a couple of months off.”
Hermione stood up now and walked over to her friend. Only inches apart, she said “Are you saying I can’t do my job? Harry, I’ve been going through this for five years with no one knowing, I’m pretty certain I can manage.” Her eyes glowed with anger but in her stomach, shame twisted knots in her.
“That isn’t what I’m saying! With all due respect Hermione, your parents were murdered yesterday and that is going to take its toll.”
The room was drowned in silence that could have been cut with a knife. Hermione’s expression was void of anger now and had been replaced with a look of complete hurt. Draco reached for her hand but she pulled it away quickly, standing and hurrying out of the room.
“Nice one, Potter.”
“Oh don’t you start, Malfoy. I think you’ve caused her enough pain for a lifetime so don’t even think about lecturing me!” Harry said, unable to keep his voice from raising slightly. Draco stood staring at him for a moment before speaking.
“I’m fully aware of what I’ve done to her and I’ve been paying for it ever since, and so will I for the rest of my life. All I’m saying is that you could have been a little more sensitive,” he said quietly.
Although he would never voice this out loud, Harry knew Draco was right and he had been far too harsh on Hermione. Out of selflessness he was not going to discuss how this was affecting him; his best friend had told him she’d been raped and kept it a secret for years, and then her parents turn up murdered under the nose of the Ministry. He wasn’t really dealing with it very well but this was nothing in comparison to the turmoil Hermione must be going through, so he sufficed to keep his mouth firmly shut. With nothing more to say to Draco, he left the room to bid farewell to the others in the kitchen.
Harry got to the office in a rush, eager to get things organised as soon as possible. His watch said it was already two o’clock which meant he’d lost almost six hours of work waiting around for Elena to arrive. This said, he really did like her. She probably wasn’t who he would have put Ron with, but then again that was probably because he’d always thought of him and Hermione as a couple. Thinking about it now, it was no wonder it didn’t work after the battle, Harry thought glumly.
He sat in his chair briefly, just to cool off and think about the events of the last couple of days before getting started. He still couldn’t believe all that had happened; a few days ago he thought Hermione was in Australia with her parents. Now they were dead and she had finally released the secret she’d been shouldering for so long.
As for Malfoy, he thought, there had to be something done about him. It was completely unnecessary for Hermione to be living with him now they all knew, but he wasn’t about to start that conversation with her going by the mood she’d been in earlier. Harry inwardly scolded himself at being so cold but there was too much at stake now that it was obvious who had murdered her parents. Her safety and that of his family was paramount now.
He took off his glasses and rubbed his temples, the beginnings of a stress headache forming selfishly. He really didn’t want to do this; Hermione obviously wasn’t comfortable with anyone else knowing about Rowle but she would just have to deal with it. There was no other way of ensuring everyone’s protection, so without another thought Harry rose from his seat and left his office, heading over to Neville’s desk.
Rowle crept through undergrowth and the shelter of tall, overgrown trees until he came to the base of the hill. It would only have taken him another couple of minutes to ascend it and reach the gates of Malfoy Manor, but he couldn’t risk it. He’d eluded capture for five years and wasn’t about to jeopardize that now. Standing under a large oak tree, he turned on the spot and apparated right to the gates.
With a quick but efficient look around him and a couple of muttered spells, he heard the faint whoosh of the protective spells being lifted from the outskirts of the house. He had to laugh; Draco really was as stupid as he looked. If he hadn’t figured out by now that he knew the mudblood was living with him then he was as dim-witted as his cowardly father, Rowle thought. And as for the protective charms, he hadn’t encountered a spell yet that he couldn’t break and Draco well knew it. Another spell told him that there was still nobody in the residence aside from the house elves, so he walked straight up to the huge door, unlocked it with a tap of his wand and stepped inside.
It was just as he’d remembered it from the times he’d been here to see Lucius, which were times aplenty. Draco hadn’t changed anything about the décor and the hallway was as dim and unwelcoming as it had ever been. This surprised Rowle somewhat; he had heard whispers of Draco’s hatred for his parents and that he hadn’t even gone to Narcissa’s funeral. He would have thought Draco would want to rid himself of anything to do with those spineless bastards and wondered why he’d even stayed in the house.
Deciding he didn’t much care, Rowle continued down the hallway towards the Dining Hall. He’d spent many a night in here with the others and felt the old twinge of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He had always envied everything Lucius had, simply because he didn’t deserve it. The Dark Lord was all too forgiving of him and he completely lapped it up, thinking much more highly of himself than anyone else did. Lucius had never clocked onto the fact that the others were all laughing at him, using him for his house. If he had, he never mentioned it. Then again, Rowle thought, would he have done?
Walking over to the far end of the Dining Hall, Rowle pushed open a very small door which he knew led down to the kitchen. He had to duck once he got inside the door since obviously the only creatures preparing food would be house elves. He crept down the corridor, aware of his footsteps echoing against the cold stone floor as he walked. He reached the end and peered into the kitchen where one house elf was stood at a stove. I’ve always fucking hated this elf, he thought.
Slinky didn’t even stir as Rowle stepped up behind her, his grin spreading to reveal disgusting, yellowing teeth.
“Imperio,” he snarled.
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