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Chapter 3 : The Manor
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‘The manor’, Hermione soon discovered, was more like a castle. Draco had taken her arm and apparated with her into the middle of what appeared to be a greenhouse; warm and lined with a flourishing grape vine plant. She looked around, blinking in surprise. The whole place had an overwhelming feel of… well, muggle. There were tomato plants in pots on the floor, sweet-smelling herbs growing out of floral teacups and a dog basket by the door.
“This is the apparition point.” Malfoy explained, brushing past her. “It’s the only place on the entire grounds that’s accessible by magic. If you wanted to get in any other way you’d have to walk… and I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Hermione nodded mutely and followed him out of the greenhouse. Wherever they were was having better weather than London; the mid-morning sun was already beginning to dry out her sodden clothes. Once the initial blindness had passed, she was permitted a look at her new surroundings.
“Wow.” she managed, her eyes falling on the building ahead of them. Draco, who had already set off toward it, paused to glance back at her.
“Nice isn’t it?” he said idly, waiting for her to catch up. “It belonged to Blaise’s Aunt. She died a few years ago and left it to his mother, but since she’s living in Paris at the moment it’s pretty much free for us to use.”
Hermione looked at him. “Blaise? Blaise Zabini?” she asked curiously.
“The one and only.”
“Who else lives here?”
Draco seemed to think about this as he steadily led the way up the cobbled drive, one hand running habitually through his blonde hair. Hermione noticed that it was considerably longer than she remembered it being at school - it almost grazed his shoulders. “A few people you’ll remember from Hogwarts.” he said carefully, not meeting her eyes.
“Such as?” she pressed, staring doubtfully at the manor. “All Slytherins, I assume.”
“Well, there’s me and Blaise. There’s also Pansy-”
Unable to stop herself, Hermione let out a disgruntled noise and Draco stopped to grin down at her. “Sorry,” she said, cringing. “She wasn’t… the nicest girl in school.”
“I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to associate with her. She didn’t even get along too well with your…” he broke off and cleared his throat. “I… let’s go inside, shall we? There are a few people I want you to meet.”
He picked up his pace and Hermione stared after him. A slight wind had picked up while they had been walking away from the greenhouse; she shivered and turned a slow circle to look at the manor grounds. The sun had gone behind a cloud and the tops of the nearby woods rustled in the breeze. She didn’t like it.
Draco had reached the front door before he turned to check her progress. Realising that she had little choice but to follow, Hermione half-jogged along the sun-warmed cobbles to slow to a halt beside him. “I want answers, Malfoy.” she said, her voice quivering. “To be honest I don’t even know why I came… but I want answers, and I want them now.”
He pushed the door open and gestured that she should enter. “I promised I’d tell you, didn’t I? Come on in.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Hermione stepped past him and found herself standing in a colossal entrance hall - almost as large as the one at Hogwarts. Facing them were two staircases leading onto a gallery balcony, and high above the cream marble floor was a crystal chandelier that could probably be sold to feed half of Africa. She only remembered Draco’s presence behind her when he gently closed the door.
“Oh good, Draco, you’re back.” a wiry, dark-skinned female appeared out of a door to their left with an armful of thick books. “We have a Pansy problem.”
“Isn’t Blaise dealing with her?” Draco asked, sounding a little exasperated. “Zoey, this is Hermione. Jacob’s daughter.”
Zoey’s serious expression turned to one of remorse as she met Hermione’s eyes for the first time and held out her hand. “I’m so sorry, Hermione. Your father was a great man.” she said quietly, touching Hermione’s arm. “I’m the resident Healer, you come find me if you need anything.”
“Oh… I… thankyou.” Hermione stammered, shaking the girl’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too.” she smiled and Hermione couldn’t help but like the girl; her smile, at least, didn’t look as though it was keeping a dark secret from her. “Pansy, Draco. She’s bitching about something.”
Draco shoved his hands in his pockets and pulled a face. “Blaise, Zoey.” he replied, imitating her tone. “Remember him? Tall, dark and handsome? Occasionally the boyfriend of said bitch?”
“Well then you go deal with her. I’m showing Hermione around. She’s distraught, can hardly think straight.” he said in mock concern, putting an arm around Hermione’s shoulders and steering her past Zoey. “I’d love to help but she really needs me right now, we’ll talk later!” He shouted most of this over his shoulder whilst ushering Hermione through a second door.
It lead into another impressive, high-ceilinged room - this one with walls lined floor-to-roof with dark wooden bookshelves. The student in Hermione tingled with intrigue as she looked around.
“This is the library,” Draco said pointlessly. “Home to the resident loser, Christopher. Don’t ask me where he is right now, probably skulking around in the shadows making sure we don’t touch one of his precious-”
Draco yelped and jumped, turning an accusatory glare on the boy that had appeared behind them. Hermione stifled her smile. Standing between them with a triumphant expression was a boy perhaps their own age, wearing a stained white lab coat and, oddly, a pair of sunglasses.
“Becker.” Draco snarled, attempting to recompose himself. “Hermione, this is Christopher Becker. He lives in the library.”
Christopher Becker shook her outstretched hand with a sympathetic smile. “Being shown around by Barbie, are you? Bad luck. And I don’t live here, he just gets a little touchy in the presence of someone who actually learned to read while they were growing up, rather than spending all of their daddy’s money on new shoes and highlights for their beautiful blonde hair.”
“I’m Hermione Granger.” she said, laughing at the expression on Draco‘s face. Like Zoey, Christopher Becker seemed to be someone she could genuinely get along with - she was beginning to doubt the enormity of whatever Draco was hiding.
Becker looked back up at Draco, who stood on Hermione’s other side with a sour expression on his previously scornful face. “Did Zoey tell you that Pansy’s freaked out and buggered off?” he asked.
“What?!” Draco exploded, running his hand through his hair again. It seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to annoyance or awkward situations; Hermione would have laughed had he not looked so worried. “She’s gone?!”
Christopher shrugged and looked down at the papers in his hand, evidently not half as worried as his companion. “Blaise went after her. They’ll be back. Have you explained things to Hermione?” he added, looking up again.
Hermione turned to Draco expectantly. He was gazing out of the library door with a distant look on his face; either avoiding the question or still worried about his missing friends. She cleared her throat pointedly and he returned to Earth. “What? Oh, not yet. Let’s not freak the girl out too early shall we?” he sighed. “Okay Hermione, let’s go find somewhere to sit and I’ll attempt to quench your laborious thirst for knowledge.”
Christopher Becker raised an eyebrow. “Well look at Legally Blonde go today! Did you decide to skip your bowl of stupid for breakfast this morning?”
“Thin ice, book-boy.”
Hermione, who had felt the corners of her mouth twitch slightly at the interchange between the two boys, found herself being ushered further into the library. “Where to now?” she asked, glancing up at her blonde companion.
“We might as well stay in here. Everyone else will be somewhere else in the house, and I’m sure Becker has some fascinating amoeba to study.”
“Bite me, Pamela!” Becker shot back from the other side of the room. “If anyone needs me I’ll be downstairs.”
It turned out that there was even more to the library than Hermione had first noticed. Beyond the first wall of books the room stretched further than she could see - she appeared to be standing at the entrance to a labyrinth of heaving bookshelves, housing so many tomes that it would take a lifetime just to read the titles of them all.
Draco strolled to the fourth row and took a sharp left, vanishing out of her sight. Blinking in surprise, Hermione ran to keep up. At the far end of the book aisle was a window, and it was on the broad, cushioned window-seat that Malfoy had settled, with his booted feet stretched out in front of him. He gestured to the space opposite him and Hermione sat down on the edge. “Well?” she demanded after a moment of silence.
“Why have you brought me here?” she burst out, gesturing wildly to the manor at large. “Why am I here, who are these people and why was someone trying to attack you, me or us in the middle of London?!”
Draco looked out of the window thoughtfully. “I brought you here because your father asked me to look out for you if anything happened to him. These people are friends of mine; they’ll look out for you too. We’re… sort of an odd family. And I will assume that the Stone brothers are after you because the price on your head will have gone up with the death of Ja- your father.” he concluded.
“Malfoy… you managed to get around answering all three questions. Now answer them properly or I’m just going to walk out and…” she paused and scowled. “Walk out and make you take me back to London. Where are we, anyway?”
“Wonderful. Now talk, Malfoy.” she added in a threatening tone.
He sighed in frustration and dragged a hand through his hair. “Well… it’s going to be hard to explain without you thinking I’m completely insane, so I’ll show you instead.”
Hermione watched with raised eyebrows as he stood up and strode to the end of the row, turning to face her.
“Just promise you won’t freak out, Granger.”
Slightly worried that he was about to turn himself into a werewolf or grow an extra set of arms or something equally disturbing, Hermione nodded once. Taking a deep breath, Draco closed his eyes and massaged his temples. Then, in an act that appeared to cause him no pain whatsoever, his shirt split and a pair of huge feathered wings unfurled on either side of him, flexing once and then becoming immobile.
Hermione stared, unable to find a solid thought to grab onto. On the one hand she was so surprised and brimming over with ‘what’s’ and ‘why’s’ that she thought she might explode, but on the other she was telling herself that she had read so many books on magical… magic that she really ought to be finding a logical explanation herself, and when she thought about it he looked like some kind of male underwear model.
And yet… they obviously weren’t fake. The feathers weren’t an outrageously tacky white, they were greys and browns and flecked with splashes of black - if she had seen the same feathers on a goose or swan she wouldn’t have looked twice.
Footsteps approached and Becker strolled past Draco with an arm-full of books. “You look like a Victoria’s Secret angel.” he said amiably.
“Can it, Becker.” Draco snarled. Hermione, realising that she had been holding her breath, took in a shaky lungful of oxygen and sat back against the window.
“Wings.” she managed. Gazing steadily at them, she noticed a few tufts of white where the feathers appeared to have been pulled out. “So all the feathers in the kitchen… they came from your… your…”
Draco nodded. “It’s surprising how quickly they grow back. He pulled them out by the handful…” he twisted his head to look over his shoulder at them. “And before you ask, it’s like having your hair ripped out. Most of the blood came from them too.”
“But… what… how?!”
The hand went through the hair again. Draco strolled back to the seat (Hermione noticed in vague awe that he managed to fold in the wings just enough to be able to fit down the aisle) and sat down on the edge. This close she could see every strand of the nearest feathers. She could also see where they had split the skin on his back - the base of the wings were featherless and the dull white colour of bone. Hermione reached out a hand to touch them, momentarily forgetting who she was sat with.
Draco didn’t seem to mind. He kept still while she touched her fingertips to the downy fur at the base of his wings and withdrew her hand, unabashedly fascinated. “Most of the people you meet here have wings of some form or another.” he said, gazing ahead at the books while she continued to stare at the feathers that had erupted from his back. “Not always the same.”
“Why, though?” Hermione asked, now more intrigued than frustrated. “I’ve never read of anything like it…”
“You’ve read about the witch trials?” Draco asked, shifting his position to make sitting with his wings out more comfortable. “Muggles burning witches at the stake and such?”
Hermione pulled a face. “You mean hanging them? And it didn’t work anyway.” she added. “If they were to be hanged they could escape, and you know that witches can’t be burned at the stake because of a flame-freezing-”
“Wrong.” Draco interrupted, sounding unreasonably smug that he knew something she didn’t. “I hate to tell you this, Granger, but it’s very easy to burn a witch at the stake. You just need to know what you’re doing. And unfortunately for about two hundred witches in nineteenth century colonial Massachusetts, the Worth family knew exactly what they were doing…”
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