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Chapter 7 : A Fate So Grimm
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A Fate So Grimm
“We’re under attack!”
The silence before the storm. And then, with the power of a nuclear tremor, a shockwave swept across the manor and shattered every single window, completely unfazed by all the protective spells and wards. Hermione shrieked and ducked, hands over her ears. Zoey did the same and Max flattened himself against the door, eyes pale as he mentally scoured the house for permanent damage.
“They’re somewhere inside already!” he managed, grabbing for the handle and flinging the door open. “We have to hurry!”
Hermione had never been one to shy away from battle, but this wasn’t magic she was used to. Grimacing, she staggered after Max and Zoey down the thin set of steps that led to the basement level, wishing that she had some kind of Marauders map. “Where are we going?” she panted, struggling to keep up with her two companions.
“We have to get the vials!” Max returned over his shoulder, speeding ahead of them both. “I can’t pinpoint where the Stones are… it’s weird! It’s like they’re… they’re here… but…” he broke off and kept running.
The basement seemed to be one vast labyrinth of dark, blood-red corridors, lined with shifting portraits of what Hermione could assume were Blaise’s relatives (there was a consistency of Mediterranean tans and dark hair). The floors were grey flagstones that echoed their footsteps, and in every room they ran through there seemed to be an animal-skin rug in front of a large fireplace.
A muffled explosion sounded somewhere far above them. Hermione gasped and skidded to a halt, almost falling over as she stared up at the ceiling. “What was that?!”
“The Stone brothers like to be dramatic.” Zoey explained, grabbing her wrist and hauling her along. “Try to keep your voice down.”
They had been ducking and dodging through so many rooms by that point that Hermione had lost count. Fortunately, however, Max seemed to know exactly where they were going as he raced ahead of them, pausing occasionally when his sight blacked out involuntarily and he almost collided headfirst with a wall. He didn’t pick up anything dire, which they took as a good sign. “I still can‘t seem to find the Stone brothers. But… they‘re here somewhere.” he said apologetically. “I can’t really get much from Draco‘s thoughts.”
Finally they slowed to a jog as Max led them round a corner and the corridor widened. At the end of the passage was a pair of ancient double doors with some kind of crest engraved into the dark wood, supported with so much magic that they practically hummed into the chilly silence.
“A Fate So Grimm?” Hermione read the embellished letters carved above the crest on the door. “What does that mean?”
Zoey and Max were looking at each other. Eventually Zoey patted Hermione on the shoulder and gave her a knowing smile. “Well the fact that you can see the words means that the wards recognise you as not being a threat. Which makes sense, I suppose, seeing as your father was down here more often than anyone else.” she said. “If you can walk straight through the doors without them flinging you back twenty feet-”
“Ten galleons says she tanks it.” Max grinned toothily. “Uh… no offence, Hermione…” he added hastily.
“I’ll take that bet.” Zoey shook his outstretched hand and gently pushed Hermione toward the doors. “Come on, make me proud.”
Hermione stared between them. She could safely assume that the two vials of Gold Dust were on the other side of the doors, and she knew that they didn’t exactly have all day to get them away from the Stone brothers, but there was something about the corridor that was making her nervous. The air was sharp and almost crackling with magic, and the closer she stepped to the doors the louder the humming got.
By the time she was close enough to reach out and touch the wood, goosebumps had risen all over her skin like an allergic reaction. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end - she could no longer hear anything outside the throbbing of her eardrums and the electric drone coming from the doors. She wanted so badly to back away, but a deep-set curiosity drove her to raise an arm that felt like it was made of lead and force it through the magically-charged air to press her fingertips against the wood of the doors-
And then everything fell silent.
Hermione realised she had been holding her breath, and let it out in relief. Zoey was quietly cheering behind her. “Way to go, Hermione! Go on, head on in.” she encouraged, grinning triumphantly. “If you weren’t going to get in you’d have been on your butt by now.”
Nodding, and feeling subconsciously pleased with herself, Hermione turned back to the door and pushed it open.
She was faced with what could only be the second largest room in the manor. It was a vast stone hall with a fireplace (and animal rug) to her far right and a set of stairs leading to a balcony to her left. Beyond the stairs was a large stained-glass window, embellished with the same crest as the door but without the lettering above it, and on either side of the steps were two thick wooden doors.
As she stepped through the magic hit her like a blast of hot wind, blowing her hair out in a stream behind her, and the logs in the fireplace burst into flames. Hermione paused two or three feet in to take in the grandeur of the room. “Wow…”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Max agreed, as Zoey hurried past them to take the stairs two at a time. The balcony went all the way around the room, supported by thick stone pillars every ten or so feet, and Zoey followed it to the far end of the hall. It was momentarily discontinued where the fireplace and chimney stood protruding from the wall, but Zoey took a left through a door and vanished from sight.
“Where…?” Hermione asked, glancing sideward at her young companion.
“The vials.” he smiled, flashing her his dimples. “And before you ask, the light coming through the window is simulated with really simple magic, and the fireplace triggers when you step over the threshold.”
“Oh. Where are we going with the vials?”
Max turned to point to the nearest of the two doors by the stairs. “That way is a shortcut to Cassiopeia’s pool. We need to be in there with the vials because if everything fails and the Stones get into the basement, as a last resort we can give her the vials and she can escape to the lake.”
“There’s a pool connected to a lake in here?” Hermione asked, slightly confused.
“No.” Max grinned, strolling across to a faded couch in front of the fire and sitting down. “But Cass is a water nymph and they can do this thing where they flit from pool to pool, as long as they’re close enough together. It’s weird…”
Nodding slowly, Hermione sat on the edge of a chair nearby and they lapsed into silence. From here they couldn’t hear any of the goings-on above them, something that she was equal parts grateful for and concerned about. She had no qualms about Draco and Blaise’s competence when it came to fighting; the first time she had seen Draco in over a year he had fought off one of the dreaded Stone brothers, but she couldn’t help feeling that they were out of their depth here.
Whoever this Ava woman was, she had to be quite a daunting threat if she had managed to bypass the manor’s security wards on her first scheduled attack.
“Okay, lets go.” Zoey reappeared on the balcony, a small wooden chest in her arms. “Anything, Max?”
The colour drained from Max’s eyes, leaving them a similar shade of faded blue as his brother’s, and his lips silently traced words as he flitted through the minds above them. After a minute they flooded back into life. “Nothing. Most of us are in the western wing with Draco. Blaise is crouched in a window frame in the Entrance Hall - I assume he’s looking for Pansy - and everyone else is checking through the manor for any sign of the Stone brothers.” he said, looking confused. “I don’t get it. I still can’t find the-”
A hollow crash sounded in the distance, sending a small shudder through the foundations of the subterranean level. The three stood in paralysed silence for a long moment, before a second explosion trembled through the air, this time a lot closer. Max swore vehemently. “They’re in the basement!”
Pansy reappeared five minutes after Max, Zoey and Hermione had vanished into the lower levels. She strolled into the Entrance Hall, where Blaise was crouched with his wings out, apparently entirely unsurprised that not one window had remained intact and the floor was littered with shards of glass.
Everyone else swarmed back into the hall in groups a few minutes later, with Draco and his troops bringing up the rear.
“Nothing.” someone sighed. “We searched everywhere. There’s no sign of them in the garden. They’re not in the house. And all the wards have just dropped.”
“Where’s Granger?” Pansy asked, scouring the many heads crowded together in the Entrance. “Don’t tell me she’s wandered off and got herself captured…”
“She’s getting the vials with Zoey and Max.” Blaise replied quietly. “Don’t start.”
Pansy looked around at them all. “Yeah… but you sent someone else down there too right?” she asked into the uncertain silence that had settled over her comrades. “I mean… you didn’t just assume the basement wards would hold when all the others dropped like flies?”
Deacon, who was close to the back of the room, jogged past the stairs to approach the door to the basement. “There’s that black shit here!” he yelled back, nudging the floor with the toe of his boot. “That shit that Ulrich Stone left when he bunny-hopped dimensions earlier.”
He went to open the door to the lower levels, but as soon as his fingers made contact with the wood he was flung away from it to hit the wall with a sickening crunch and slide to the floor. A ripple of gasps and shocked cries went through the hall.
Pansy was smirking. “Oh this is classic. So Know-It-All Granger is locked in the basement with our biggest enemies and two vials of priceless, volatile magic, and there’s no way for any of us to get down there. I leave you alone for two bloody minutes-!”
“Can it, Pans.” Draco said, running a hand through his hair. “Right. Becker, take Deacon into the library and see if the door did any permanent damage to him. Blaise, Pansy; we’re going to see if we can get past these wards. Alec, take five people and go down to the lake, see if you can’t contact Cass - everyone else spread across the manor and keep your eyes and ears open for any sign of the Stones. If they get the vials, we can at least stop them leaving with them.”
Ignoring the ingratiatingly smug look Pansy was giving him, Draco strode through the disbanding crowd to slowly approach the door. Behind him, Deacon grunted, on his way to regaining a painful consciousness. “Fuck.”
“Where do we start?” Becker murmured, absently hauling Deacon up while he appraised the door. “I can’t imagine they’ll have spent much time on them. I mean… our wards do that.” he added, jerking his head at his blaspheming cousin. “If we work too hard at them, we’ll just make them stronger. It could take hours to take them down.”
There was a flash of hot air, something bright shot past the three boys and the door shattered into a thousand splintered pieces.
Draco turned slowly around. Pansy blew out the fire on her hand and shrugged one shoulder. “Becker had a theory that the black stuff the Stones are trailing is magical fallout, which he said was highly flammable.” she said simply. “Figured it couldn’t hurt to try.”
They turned from her to the smouldering remnants of the basement door, which were now glowing from the stone flagstones like ashes in a grate. Deacon wiped a streak of blood off his forehead. “After you, fearless leader.” he said, gesturing for Draco to go first.
Draco and Blaise exchanged a look. Fighting in the basement was an undesirable option that they had never really considered; in order to walk comfortably they had to retract their wings, and even in the open air of some of the larger downstairs rooms there was little space to fly. This gave the Stones the upper hand… which, judging by their efficiency in accessing the basement, they already had.
Which meant that they were relying on Becker and Pansy to even the score.
“Becker?” Draco sighed, looking pointedly at the other boy’s sunglasses. Becker nodded, understanding, and led the way down into the darkness of the basement.
Draco and Deacon swiftly followed. Blaise, ignoring her protestant snarls, grabbed Pansy’s cooler hand and dragged her down the stairs after them.
Hermione bit her lip.
They had made it into Cassiopeia’s room before the Stones caught up with them. Max had slammed the door shut after them and was halfway through barricading it with oddments of furniture scattered around the pool when the wood had started to melt.
“Cass!” Zoey hissed, sticking a hand in the water and shaking it hurriedly. “Cass! Now isn’t the time to play hide and seek, we have a serious problem!”
Hermione stared at the surface of the water. When they had first entered, slipping on the tiles after being used to walking on dry stone, she had assumed the pool was empty. She vaguely remembered Max mentioning something about a water nymph, but by that point all she could really focus on was the fact that they were being chased by mercenaries and she wasn’t even sure which pocket she had left her wand in. Had she even brought it with her?
When Cassiopeia appeared, she slid silently out of the pool to sit on the side with her feet tracing languid circles in the still water. Hermione kept her distance, although she was instantly fascinated.
“Hermione Granger.” the drenched creature said softly, taking the chest from Zoey’s arms without removing her eyes from Hermione. She was a spindly thing, sallow and pale, with wide eyes and hair that could be red but was too wet to really tell. Her fingers kept flexing, and Hermione got the feeling that she really didn’t enjoy being out of the water. “You’re wasting your time, Max, they will get in.”
Max gave up his attempts to stop the door falling apart by cramming broken chairs and vases against it. “Cass, get them out of here!” he choked, skidding over to them. “Quickly!”
“Call me when you need me.” Cassiopeia said, before sliding in one smooth motion back into the water. The surface barely even rippled.
Hermione tore her eyes back to the door. Some kind of thick, tar-coloured liquid was seeping through the wood, gently steaming as it dripped onto the chair Max had jammed beneath the handle.
“Well there’s some marginally good news.” Max murmured as the three of them backed into the wall. “Pansy just roasted the wards they put up so no-one could follow them down here. She’s with Blaise, Draco, Becker and Deacon, and the others shouldn’t be too long.”
A booted foot kicked through the door.
“Draw your wand.” Zoey hissed, tugging her own out of her belt. Hermione scrambled to find it amongst her pockets, eventually breathing a sigh of relief as she located it in her jacket. “Try to stick with strong spells.”
Whole chunks of wood fell onto the damp floor, aided by several unrelenting fists.
“Don’t let them get hold of you.” Max muttered. “Their magical incompetence is matched by their physical strength.”
The chair was thrust aside and Ulrich Stone stepped in, grinning nastily across at them. “Well?” he asked, taking a slow step around the pool. He was followed by a line of similar-looking men, each wearing some kind of sordidly-furred jacket and each trailing smouldering tar footprints that seemed to leave tiny fractures in the tiles. “This is your great line of defence? A child, Jacob Granger’s useless daughter… and a bird that cannot fly?” he sneered.
Hermione narrowed her eyes against how afraid she was and gripped her wand tighter. She had not gone through seven years of fighting for her life in Hogwarts to be taken down by a motley band of brothers in Blaise Zabini’s basement.
“Vere are ze vials?” one of Ulrich’s brothers, whose English was abominable, spoke up. “Tell us or you die.”
“They aren’t here.” Zoey said as they backed further around the pool. It was fruitless, half of the black-clad Belarusians had strolled around the other side upon entering the room, effectively cornering the three.
“Clearly.” Ulrich said calmly. “Let us not play games, little bird. Where are the vials?”
Hermione looked away from him. As the tenth brother stepped into the room and straightened his jacket, an eleventh figure followed. The woman that slowly entered the pool room and stayed where she was to observe the scene from a distance could only be Ava Falcroft.
Hermione instantly disliked her.
There was something about her malevolent and waspish face, the achingly expensive shoes that were caked in a layer of mud and grass, the way she let her fur shawl hang idly off one shoulder… the way her dull grey eyes immediately snapped up to meet Hermione’s and curl her thin lips into the most despicable smirk Hermione had ever seen. She strolled languorously around the Stone brothers to stand by Ulrich’s left shoulder. “Kill one of them.” she said in a voice no louder than a whisper. “The boy.”
Max tensed by Hermione’s right arm. Zoey shifted minutely to stand in front of him, wand ready at her side. “Don’t waste your time.” she snarled. “The vials aren’t here. We don’t know where they are, and every second you waste-”
“Shut up.” Ava interrupted idly. “You keep the vials in this basement. And seeing as the three of you are here…” she looked down at the water. “Summon her. The water nymph.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Zoey said, somehow managing to keep her voice steady. “There isn’t a water-”
Hermione wasn’t sure how it happened. One moment Zoey was right in front of her, valiantly keeping everyone’s attention away from Ava’s order to kill Max, and the next she had been flung into the pool like a rag doll. Ava’s smirk had gained a conceited edge as she watched Zoey struggle to resurface. She couldn’t. It was like the top of the water had frozen, no matter how hard she pounded her fists or tried to force her way into the air she just couldn’t do it.
Hermione and Max shot to the side of the water to try and grab her outstretched arms, but they were equally unable to break the surface.
Then comprehension dawned and Hermione remembered the wand in her right hand.
“Aguamenti!” she shouted, directing her wand at Ava. A sharp spurt of water shot out of the end and hit the infuriating woman in the chest - as she staggered to keep her balance on the damp floor her concentration slipped, and Max was able to haul Zoey out of the pool.
“Kill them!” Ava screamed, grabbing one of the Stone brothers to straighten herself. “Just bloody end them!”
Ulrich lunged forward, catching Hermione by the arm. “You’re for it now, Granger.” he snarled, drawing back a hand to punch her. Throwing all the anger and energy she had into it, Hermione silently cast an Expelliarmus charm, sending Ulrich onto his back and skidding across the tiles, swearing mutinously in Belarusian.
“Hermione, look out!” Zoey shrieked.
By this point all nine of the remaining Stone brothers were advancing on them. Hermione backed into the wall again, a terrified Max and a sodden Zoey beside her, trying to think of something - anything - that would successfully shield them from all eleven foes until Malfoy managed to reach the room.
She was drawing a blank, and their situation was getting more and more dire. Ava was smirking again. Ulrich had been hauled to his feet by two of his brothers and had pushed his way to the front with a venomous look in his eyes. They were completely surrounded, and there was nothing-
Her eyes landed on the pool.
It would never work. There was no way.
Then again, Ulrich was ready to pounce again and she got the feeling that this time he wouldn’t give her the chance to cast a spell before he had wrung her neck. Swallowing nervously and hoping to God, Merlin and anyone else who was listening that this worked, she directed her wand at the glittering pool of water and grabbed Zoey’s arm. “EXPULSO!”
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