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Chapter 8 : Defection of the Emerland Queen
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Defection of the Emerald Queen
Hermione wouldn’t have thought it possible for a pool of water to explode, but it did. As though someone had dropped a grenade into it, the tiled floor cracked and split in every direction and lethal shards of porcelain shot like bullets through the air.
And as for the water?
Have you ever seen a chunk of rock fall from a cliff and land in the ocean? Hermione hadn’t, but she was pretty sure it would have the same effect; the pool water exploded out of the ground and smashed into the four walls of the room. Out of the corners of her eyes she vaguely saw the Belarusian brothers thrown around like particles of dust in a vacuum cleaner, entirely at the mercy of the sweeping water. Ava Falcroft had vanished.
By some miracle Zoey had the presence of mind to cast a small shielding spell on the trio as they crouched by the back wall, leaving them flecked with water but otherwise unaffected as the room fell still again. Hermione lowered her arm.
“That was cool.” Max breathed, standing up and looking around in awe. “I’d never have thought of that! Damn, Hermione, Cass is going to kill you.”
As though hearing her name as a summons, when Hermione looked up the red-haired water nymph was standing in the middle of her now-empty swimming pool, soaked to the skin and looking around. The chest of vials was still tucked securely under one of her arms. “Enjoy your victory later, children. They’re waking up and they’re angry.”
On the last word she vanished, and somewhere to their right one of the Stone brothers groaned and started to shift. Hermione gripped her wand again - they were all beginning to regain consciousness, some clutching sprained bones and others bleeding lightly from the head, but all looking mutinous. She swallowed nervously. “I uh… I’m running out of ideas.” she admitted quietly. “Tell me you have some.”
“We don’t need any.” Max said, as Ulrich Stone got to his feet and leered nastily at them.
“You’re for it now, puny insects.” he drawled, cracking his knuckles. “Get ready to feel pain-”
He got one step toward them, and that was when a ball of what appeared to be airborne fire hit his right side and sent him crashing into the water-damaged wall. Hermione blinked stupidly. “What the hell was that?”
“That would be Pansy,” Zoey grinned, clapping her on the back and pointing to the eviscerated door. Pansy, dark hair crackling and blowing with magical energy, stepped into the room with one hand encased in flames and promptly threw another fireball at another brother. Hermione hated to admit it, but she was impressed.
Malfoy followed her, wand in his hand and wings out of sight, with Blaise and Deacon right behind him and Christopher Becker bringing up the rear. They all observed the damage to the room before shooting Zoey a unanimous questioning look. She shrugged a shoulder and jabbed her thumb at Hermione.
“They’re getting away.” Deacon remarked. Hermione turned to look around the room, where many of the Stone brothers were vanishing into pools of sticky black oil on the cracked floor. The two that Pansy had floored remained where they were. “Where’s that Falcroft woman?”
“She disappeared when we blew up the pool.” Hermione offered, gingerly stepping over Ulrich Stone’s twisted body as she followed Zoey back to Malfoy.
“You blew up the pool?” Deacon asked, bursting into gleeful cackles. “Oh wow. Five on originality, Granger.”
He raised his hand and Hermione allowed herself to be high-fived, feeling her cheeks flush with pride. She slid her wand back into her pocket and turned to watch Blaise and Pansy examine the two fallen brothers; apparently Pansy’s fireballs hadn’t done as much damage as the wall, which had put them both out of action for a while. Hermione didn’t say so but she was rather happy about this. A human life was never something to be put out without extreme reason in her eyes, even if Pansy looked to be a little more liberal about who she killed.
“Where are the vials?” Draco was saying, evenly observing the room.
“Cassiopeia’s got them.” Zoey replied. “CASS! I don’t think we can expect another visit from Ava Falcroft today; they all left with their tails firmly tucked between their legs. But we should find somewhere safe to stash the vials, especially now that Hermione blew up Cassie’s pool…”
Hermione cringed as the water-nymph reappeared. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I couldn’t think of anything and we were running out of time.”
“Don’t apologise for trashing the swimming pool Granger, I used to do it all the time before Cassie inhabited it.” Deacon grinned, clapping her on the back. “Besides, we can just fill a bathtub with water and she can live upstairs for a few days.”
Cassiopeia ignored him in favour of holding the chest of vials out to Draco. He reached down to take it with a grateful nod, before casually tossing it to Becker as though it were little more than a tennis ball. Considering that he had told her it contained possibly explosive centuries-old magic, Hermione couldn’t help but wince at the way he just flung it away, half expecting it to fall to the floor and blow up.
“Alright, crisis averted.” Malfoy yawned, running a hand through his hair and stretching languidly. “Blaise, Pansy, Deacon; dump those two on the outskirts of the village - there’s not much point in keeping them here if they can just bugger off whenever they want. Max-”
“I will not.” Max interrupted, apparently reading what Draco had planned to say in his thoughts. “I can help move the Stones out of the manor.”
Hermione watched Draco hesitate before shrugging one shoulder. “Go nuts.” he relinquished. Max whooped and scurried off to help his cousin.
Hermione couldn’t help but notice that Pansy wasn’t helping them. Since incapacitating Ulrich and his unfortunate brother she had stood with her arms folded over her chest by the back wall, and although Hermione had yet to pluck up the courage to actually look her way, she got the ugly feeling that she was being glared at.
Draco looked down at her. “Way to go Granger, you finally made yourself useful.” he said, slinging a casual arm around her shoulders. “Try not to let it go to your head.”
“Too late.” Pansy muttered from her immobile position by the back wall. “Draco, what the hell are we supposed to do now that the mudblood’s blown up half the basement?” she spat.
Hermione spun on her heel. “Oh, and I suppose you’d rather I let them take the vials, would you?” she demanded, furious at the dark-haired Slytherin alumni for ruining her rather triumphant moment. “Why weren’t you down here if you care about the state of the basement so much?!”
“Because some of us have things to do, Princess.” Pansy countered in a snarl. “Some of us don’t have the time to wander around someone else’s house sticking our nose in everybody’s business.”
“What is your problem?” Hermione shrieked, fist clenched around the handle of her wand. “If this is still about you thinking your blood is purer than mine then you really need to get over it, Parkinson! I think seven years of Hogwarts should have proven that your parents being purebloods makes you no better than me!”
Pansy let out a scream like a wounded animal and flung back one hand, as though readying herself to throw a baseball; red and blue flames exploding from her palm to surround her fingers. “Don’t ever talk about my parents.” she snarled, eyes dark as coal.
It was too late. Hair blowing back in a hot stream of magic, Pansy took a steadying step forward that shattered the tile beneath her feet and hurled the fireball toward Hermione. She didn’t even have time to raise her wand in defence. All she could do was scream and clamp her eyes shut, hoping that, like Ulrich Stone and his brother, she would only be flung into the wall and knocked out rather than roasted alive.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.
The air around her was hot enough to burn her skin, but the fireball didn’t hit her. At the last moment a set of cold fingers closed around her wrist and yanked her to one side, redefining the phrase ‘just in time’ as she felt the edge of her hair singe when the fireball passed over her head. She landed painfully on her arm in the wet (but thankfully empty) swimming pool. Cassiopeia released her wrist and turned back to Draco, who had had to duck rather abruptly to allow the fire to hit the wall and leave a black scorch mark rather than take his head off.
A second fireball bounced off the wet pool floor a few feet from Hermione. She tensed her muscles and turned to look at Pansy, ready to dive aside if the girl was still trying to kill her, but it seemed that the second ball of flames had been thrown without aim. She had crossed her arms and had the expression of a sulky, rebellious teenager who knew she was about to be yelled at.
Draco straightened up.
“I know,” she said snappily. “I almost baked Jacob’s angelic offspring.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes and got up, subconsciously touching a hand to her hair to make sure it wasn’t on fire.
“Enough.” Zoey sighed, offering her a hand out of the pool. “Merlin, we’ve only just managed to live through an attack on the house, is it really that hard to have ten minutes of peace?!”
Hermione scowled defensively. “I didn’t do anything! She threw fire at me, for heaven’s sake!”
There was a long silence, the cause of which Hermione couldn’t quite put her finger on. She looked around curiously. Draco was examining his fingers. Zoey was picking at her drenched clothes. Blaise, Max and Deacon were busying themselves with the unconscious Stone brothers. Becker was stood by the door with his sunglasses on. Hermione frowned. They all seemed to be avoiding looking at Pansy, who was gazing steadily at Hermione with a dark smirk on her lips.
She might as well have been laughing in her face.
“Right.” Draco sighed after a few minutes. “Zoey, take Hermione back upstairs and get us something to eat would you? I think everyone could do with calming down.”
Hermione watched him. He seemed to be avoiding her gaze and she couldn’t help but feel slightly vexed by it; had she done something wrong? Was she supposed to just stand still and take Pansy’s abuse? She hadn’t done so in Hogwarts and she had no intention of letting the annoying Slytherin get away with it now just because she could turn herself into the wicker man.
“Come on Hermione.” Zoey murmured, touching her arm. Hermione didn’t move and didn’t break Pansy’s smirking challenge of a gaze. The fingers grasping her wand twitched. “Hermione, please.” Zoey hissed, practically dragging her toward the door. “Come on!”
Finally relenting, Hermione cast Pansy one last indignant look before allowing herself to be hauled out of the room. She was struck with a childish urge to stick her tongue out but managed to suppress it, mentally blaming it on how infantile Pansy was being.
Zoey seemed visibly relieved that they were on their way back upstairs. “You shouldn’t do that, Hermione. I know that you’re a brilliant witch, but she has no control over her temper and all it would take is one fireball…” she sighed, leading the way back through the basement. “Frankly you’re lucky Cassie decided to spare you.”
“I’m just failing to see what her problem is.” Hermione muttered, shoving her hands in her pockets. “She’s been a complete brat since the moment I got here.”
Zoey slowed to a stroll. “Look…” she said, biting her lip as though gearing herself up to saying something she knew she shouldn’t. There was a moment’s silence, before her shoulders slumped and she gave Hermione an apologetic look, apparently deciding that whatever she had wanted to say wasn’t worth the trouble. “Pansy’s a brat to everyone. You get used to it.” she amended.
“Doubtful. I didn’t get used to it through school.”
Hermione was frustrated, and all of her warm, glowing triumph had faded. They were all putting up with Pansy’s attitude for a reason, something that they were apparently not planning on telling her. This was just as frustrating as watching McGonagall make the stupid girl a prefect in their sixth year, despite the fact that she was entirely unsuited to the position and likely to delegate all her duties to petrified first years. Apparently immaturity never evaporates amongst the Parkinsons of the world.
They emerged out of the basement and headed through the entrance hall, Hermione only briefly speculating that the incinerated door had been Pansy’s doing as they stepped through the ashes. She half wondered if her father had got along with the infuriating girl.
“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.”
Had he been about to tell her that her father didn’t get along with Pansy?
Surprisingly, this was little comfort. The idea that Pansy Parkinson had been involved in a secret organisation with her father that Hermione hadn’t even known about made her blood boil with fury. Fury at Pansy, fury at her father… even fury at Zoey and Malfoy, for expecting her to play nice with the stupid girl.
“I could go for a club sandwich.” Max appeared at her elbow, dimples flashed in a grin, and Hermione felt her anger wane away. “Ooh! Can we do a burger run?”
Zoey snorted. “No, Max, we can’t. Where’re Alec and Sunny?” she added as they stepped across the shattered glass of a vast bay window.
Max was silent for a moment, before; “Draco sent them to the lake to get Cass. They’re on their way back now.” he said, brushing a strand of mouse-brown hair out of his white eyes. “They just saw the Stones re-appearing at the outskirts of the wards and heading away from the manor.”
“So this… fallout magic they’re using to travel is only short distance? They must have to be right up to the wards before they can use it to bypass them.” Zoey mused. “We should let Draco know, see if we can extend the wards any further around the grounds. It might buy us time next time they attack.”
“Who are Alec and… Sunny, was it?” Hermione asked.
“Twins. Sunny’s a girl.” Max added helpfully. “They’re Blasters.”
Zoey cackled and pushed through a nearby door, walking ahead of them into a large sunlit kitchen where she began taking items out of a refrigerator. Max sat on a chair by the island unit and gestured for Hermione to sit beside him. “Trust me, she works better alone in here.” he reassured her.
“Okay… if you’re sure you don’t need any help…?” Hermione looked at Zoey, who gave her a smile and shook her head.
“What were we talking about? Oh, Alec and Sunny. Well, Blasters are a really common dust-freak.” Max explained, reaching across to steal a slice of tomato while Zoey’s back was turned. “Basically they can manipulate air kind of like how Pansy can manipulate fire… only, where she can create fire out of nothing, they cant create air out of nothing. So… say if you were choking in a black hole or something… yeah, they couldn’t really help you.”
“Try to make sense, Max,” Zoey chuckled. “You’re going to confuse her.”
“Well… air’s everywhere, right?” Max tried again, continuing when Hermione nodded. “And if you throw it at someone, they’re going to get flung backward, yeah? That’s what Blasters can do. They can wave an arm and send you smashing into a wall, or move objects or stop bullets or land from really high heights or-”
“It takes a lot of practice before they can stop bullets, Max.” Zoey interrupted, “But it’s a really common gift amongst our kind because it’s such an ambiguous label. Some can use it to elevate them when they jump, making it seem like they can fly, others can send a shockwave through the air and send a street of people sprawling. Some can train themselves so well they can do anything with it. But we call them all Blasters.”
“What can Alec and Sunny do?” Hermione asked, intrigued once more.
It was Max who answered, his mouth full of the sandwich Zoey and shoved in front of him. “Shield and jump.” he said in a very muffled voice. “Sunny shields, Alec jumps.”
“Ears are burning, Maxie.” a female voice with an American twang entered the conversation. “Are you talking about me?”
Hermione turned around. Standing in the doorway were two people, instantly identifiable as twins. The girl had long blonde hair with dark roots and was wearing a pair of dark aviator sunglasses. Her brother, standing a few feet behind, had a long black coat on and was staring intently at Hermione as her eyes crossed his. “You Granger’s girl?” he asked.
“Hermione,” Zoey said, offering the twins a sandwich each. Sunny declined, but her brother strode forward to take one. “This is Sunny and Alec Winter. Sunny, Alec, this is Hermione Granger.”
“Sucks about your old man,” Alec said, mouth full of sandwich. “He wasn’t bad for a jumper.”
Hermione gave Zoey a questioning look. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, returning Hermione’s confused expression with a look that said quite plainly ‘ignore him’. “Jumpers and Blasters are always trying to outdo each other.” she explained under her breath. “Jumpers think they’re better because they could fall out of an aeroplane and land without injuring themselves, Blasters think they’re better because they can manipulate the air rather than absorb the shock.”
“Oh…” Hermione nodded, trying to keep up. “And… Max said you ‘shield’.” she added to Sunny, who tossed her hair aside and inclined her head. “What does that mean?”
By way of demonstration the girl raised both her hands palm-out in front of her and flexed her fingers. “Max, throw a plate at Hermione.”
“What?!” Hermione exclaimed, getting off her seat and backing away as Max finished his sandwich and picked up the china plate it had rested on. “No, don’t-!”
He threw it with a grin, and it froze in the air a foot from Hermione’s nose, before falling straight to the floor and splitting in two. Sunny lowered her hands. “Piece of cake. I can stop anything. Even Pansy’s fire.” she boasted, before sliding her sunglasses onto her head and looking Hermione up and down. “Shame you’re not one of us, I hear she’s likely to cook you.”
“She already tried.” Max told her, shoveling the sandwich Zoey had offered Sunny into his mouth. “Cass saved her.”
“Whatev.” the girl shrugged a shoulder carelessly. “It’s going to end in a fight to the death, and if Granger doesn’t turn out to be one of us some time soon I wouldn’t bet a dollar on her chances.”
Hermione had a sudden urge to pick up one of the shards of china and test Sunny’s reflexes by throwing them at her. “Well whatever her problem is, if she still can’t get over the fact that my parents were muggles - which apparently one of them wasn’t - they I doubt she’s mature enough to do much damage.” she countered, sitting back down with her back to the twins. As eager as she was to learn as much as possible about her father’s life here, some of the people in this bloody manor were being a little less than welcoming and it was starting to annoy her.
Her father had died a few days ago, and certain people weren't exactly being compassionate.
She paused in reaching for a sandwich to wonder what her mother was doing. The clock behind Zoey said that it was quarter to five in the afternoon; in another hour or so it would start to get dark and she’d have to think up an excuse as to where she had been all day.
“Champion.” Malfoy’s voice jerked her out of her thoughts. “I hope you made me one of those, Zo.”
Hermione idly fiddled with the bread in front of her as he reached past her to take a plate. Even if her mother was still too grief-stricken to notice her absence, her Uncle would most certainly be waiting at the door to demand where she had been. And Lucas was a muggle; she didn’t have such a wide range of excuses with him.
She hadn't realised that Draco had taken Max's seat. “Don't let Pansy ruin your day.” he said to her, apparently thinking that her pensive expression was down to her fight with Pansy. “She's not bad normally.”
“Really?” Hermione challenged, giving him a disbelieving look. “Because I seem to remember her being like this all the time in Hogwarts.”
He shook his hair out of his eyes and flashed her a rare smile. “She has a good reason for hating you, Granger, and this time it has nothing to do with you being a muggleborn. Maybe she'll tell you about it some time.”
“I highly doubt that.” Hermione said, taking a bite of her sandwich. “Want to help me think up an excuse for my Uncle?”
He pretended to look thoughtful. “Hmm... how about 'I was abducted by aliens'?” he offered.
“How about 'I was abducted by Paris Hilton'?” Becker supplied, clapping Draco on the back on his way to getting a sandwich.
“How about 'this weirdo in a lab-coat tried to convert me to Dumbass-ism'?”
“How about,” Alec sat on one of the kitchen counters, a second sandwich in his hand, “'I went for a snack, but this pretty girl made me a sandwich so delicious that I couldn't move'?”
“Nice try Alec.” Zoey grinned. “I'm not making you another. How about 'I went to the library and lost track of time'?”
“'... and was then abducted by aliens'.” Draco finished.
Once again wondering how she had ended up sitting at Blaise Zabini's kitchen table laughing at Draco Malfoy, Hermione shook her head and continued to enjoy her sandwich, deciding that despite certain girls having an unexplained grudge against her, hanging out at the Zabini manor with a bunch of ex-Slytherins wasn't so bad.
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