I hope you had a great 2019 and will have an even better 2020. Happy New Year, my beautiful readers.
This will be the last chapter of the year. Following it next will be a special that explores a scene that is mentioned in this chapter. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the series or followed the specials, you might want to do that now, so you will be notified as soon as that one goes online. I will also remind you again with chapter 122.
Chapter beta: Livy
Chapter translator: Aivy
Indeed, I left that same night. I needed and wanted distance, because I was afraid of losing sight of not only myself, but also of my goals. I had decided a long time ago that I would do everything I could to overthrow the Dark Lord, that I would support Harry in everything, and that I would watch and see where that left me because I was not counting on Dumbledore.
It had not been planned that I would enter into a relationship with Draco. I had wanted to fight with all the means at my disposal, but being completely absorbed into this deeply black magical family had never been part of the plan.
But one thing was clear: I belonged to them and that could not be changed. So I would have to make the best of what the future held for me and try to keep a small part of myself. My world became darker and darker. Soon there would be no spark of white magic left in me, because let's be honest, my dead did not pass me by without a trace. But I had gained one insight: killing became easier every time.
I sighed. What else could I do but look at the future pragmatically and take everything as it came? However, in order to find myself again and to make sure I never lost sight of the right way, the good way, I had to leave, even if only for a short time.
Draco said goodbye to me in our suite with hot kisses that made it all the more difficult for me to leave. But it had to be done, because I couldn't hide in here. I had important things to do that I couldn't neglect and so I kissed him back passionately, but then I broke away resolutely.
"You're not leaving because of this morning, are you?" Draco enquired cautiously and held my face in his hands. I smiled benignly.
"Perhaps, a little. I don't want to be your mutual sex object, Draco! But no, not entirely. You know I have to take care of Harry, put the training on the right track and I have to do some things I can't do from here and under Lucius' dissecting eyes," I touched his face as well and cupped it in my hands.
"I understand you and I'm... no, I'm not sorry for what I did this morning," he grinned impishly and winked at me and I giggled. "But I'll come to see you lot tomorrow night! I hope it won't be all that late and I'm glad you're going. It's going to get too dangerous here with Bella on the rampage! Father, Severus and I will leave with you. We'll go, today and immediately, to the Dark Lord to inform him and discuss the next steps," he now laid his forehead against mine and sighed. "It will be a short night."
"Draco, are you sorry that I've hurt Narcissa-" There he recoiled and looked at me fiercely.
"Don't finish saying that, Hermione! No, I'm not! If you hadn't killed her, I might have tortured her to death in the dungeon. Nobody tries to kill you without me paying them back in their own coin. No one! Do you understand? If you hadn't called for this, it would have happened sooner or later anyway! I was just shocked today that you feel the same way. Even I seem to make the mistake of underestimating you and your vindictiveness," he explained his feelings and opinions to me. I was quite happy with the way he saw it; it did my conscience a great deal of good. But on the other side, I wondered if the secret would still someday be revealed to me, why Narcissa had had such bad standing in her own family. I still didn't quite understand the reason for her being such an outsider.
On the other hand, it had helped me, so I would not question it. Instead, I would try to explain to him what my motives had been.
"Oh, Draco, it wasn't so much vindictiveness as you say it was, but icy calculation. If I had let her live on, she would have been a constant source of trouble and a latent threat. It would have been far too dangerous for the four of us. Most likely she would have tried to have her sister quartered here or something like that to find and flay me," I said calmly and Draco threw his head back and laughed out loud.
"Where you are right, you are right! Now I have to play the grieving son, yuck... But well, I'll make it work! Say hello to everyone for me, yes, even Potter, I'm in a far too good mood for anything else! Got it all?" He took my hand and looked at me questioningly.
We did not address Lucius' allusion that I would fit in with THEM. It seemed to me Draco wanted to talk to Severus first. That was fine with me, since I wanted to make up my own mind about this in peace and quiet. An almost icy cold threatened to close around my heart when I thought about it.
"Um, yes, I have the bag here with me," I answered and so he pulled me to the door. In the entrance hall, two men in long, heavy, pitch-black Death Eater robes were already waiting, holding their masks ready in their hands.
It looked impressive and terrifying at the same time, how they waited in the medieval entrance hall made of stone and looked at us stoically as we walked down the stairs.
"Here Draco... your cloak," Lucius put the same garment around his son's shoulders, and I stood beside him in my grey dress and looked proudly at my three men, admitting reluctantly:
"You're looking very good, all three of you! Impressive, striking, awe-inspiring!"
I gave them, to my chagrin, longing looks, but hey, I was just a woman and so much testosterone was affecting me too!
"How nice that you like the way we look, Hermione. I know many who would be running away screaming," Severus let his cynicism be heard and, of course, he was right as their sinister attire expressed danger, brutality and forbidden threat.
"Who says I'm normal? If I were, I would have run away a long time ago," I therefore voiced casually.
"Isn't that what you're about to do now?" Our exchange of blows continued.
"Mm-hm... a valid objection, but no, you of all people should realize that my tactical retreat is the most sensible but also the most logical thing I can do. Besides, I have to access the Black library, which is in my house. So no, not really," I deflected firmly.
I could tell by his knowing look that he was aware that he saw this right, as I had irritated him too much and now preferred to seek my salvation in flight. I think he was pleased and basked in his victory. I would not let him win over me so easily and I knew how I could strike him.
"Draco, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night. Will you try to spend every night with me?" I asked with a lascivious smile. I could see how Severus' pupils widened in slow motion and it obviously didn't suit him that Draco came even closer to me while he was far away.
"Yes, darling, I will," Draco replied calmly.
"All right, we must go. Are you coming?" Lucius ended the exchange. "And Hermione: one week, then the celebration, the funeral and the condolence will be wrapped up enough that I expect you back here. Do not make me have to look for you or fetch you," he threatened very amiably, but also very artificially, whereupon I gave Lucius an open smile and curtsied slightly for him.
"As you wish. Thank you for the week, Lucius," I answered gratefully.
We walked along the driveway in the cool evening air, as I could not apparate from the house. What a discrimination!
Draco lovingly kissed my forehead, Lucius tenderly kissed my cheek and I heard him take a deep breath as he leaned towards me. Severus gave me a cynical smile. Then he and Lucius put on their fearsome masks and Draco pulled his hood far into his face.
And we all disappeared.
I re-materialized under the old oak tree and looked at the picturesque cottage submerged in darkness. I could not believe that this was the same life. Was I really about to destroy this idyll with my polluting presence, after I had done another horrible and transgressive deed? I shivered.
Alas, I would not be me if I did not go, if I let myself be frightened off, for I knew that those people in there would do me good, very good indeed. So I walked resolutely, briskly, towards the cottage, noticing the light of the candles shining invitingly from the windows, and quickly entered the small house. Today, in keeping with my mood, the fine weather had changed towards the evening and a fresh, very stiff breeze had come up, blowing coldly around me. Hence, I hurried to get into the warm, friendly cottage.
At the door, which I opened and closed silently, I could already hear the loud and cheerful merriment of the others. Their good-humoured laughter echoed through the small house. For a short time, I stood in the hall with my eyes closed and let this cosy atmosphere wash over me, tried to repress that I was truly moving away from everything more and more, and also tried to dispel the fear of losing myself completely in the end, because I was playing a very daring game.
After the cruel realization of the afternoon, I was no longer sure, not at all, whether I would still be myself afterwards, or someone completely different!
I had always suspected this realization in its consequence; but to see it directly was quite different and impactful.
But well, I was used to that, I scoffed á la Severus!
After entering the living room, I sank, exhausted, into my armchair, hearing the others laughing and clamouring in the kitchen. As I sat there and listened to the others with closed eyes, I was overcome by a deep, inner calm and peace that I longed for after two attempts on my life, one murder, one corporal punishment and one ... - well, let's stop there! After all these things, I was just glad not to have to be the unapproachable, the tough one for once. Because I wasn't pretending, I was! But, unfortunately, it took its toll.
In those few minutes, I rediscovered my center, my power and my strength faster than expected.
I was glad that I knew myself so well and realised that I urgently needed distance, even if only for a short time, to find myself again. I could positively feel how my empty batteries recharged within seconds, felt how I regained strength, especially mentally. A contented smile replaced my previously tense expression. I couldn't be allowed to lose sight of my goal, only the methods to achieve it would probably require even more commitment on my part.
I could feel my thoughts clearing. In principle, everything was going as planned. There was no reason for me to get so worked up. I should be grateful and try to use the dependence of the men for me and not let myself be used. If I did it cleverly, I could be the one who held their reins and I would no longer be their plaything.
I was sure I could wrap Lucius around my finger. His behaviour towards me was certainly not in keeping with his normal habits. This was exactly the thought I should try to pursue; I was glad that it had been the right decision to come here to get a different perspective.
But suddenly a loud scream rolled over me like a tornado.
"HUH... What...? Hermione?!" I heard a piercing scream that made me wince.
My eyes opened and I looked into Fred's pale face, who was as frightened about me as I was about his screaming. I touched my fast throbbing heart in a comforting gesture.
"Fred, do you want me to go into shock?" I asked breathlessly.
"For Merlin's sake, you, shock?" it came stunned by Fred. "What do I have, then?" he scratched his glowing-red head in agitation.
"Your roar could have killed me," I commented, watching as they all pushed through the passage to reach us, and there it was, the whole colorful bunch, and I felt my cold heart warm and could have groaned happily. It was good to see them.
Harry, who looked really good.
Blaise, handsome as always and with a mischievous smile on his lips and looking very healthy thanks to his dark skin.
Daphne, even prettier, with sparkling eyes.
Astoria, looking around very alertly and cheerfully.
And the Twins... My Twins just looked at me curiously and you could tell they knew this Hermione here best, better than anyone else. Because they found it unusual that I had only sought refuge here, when in turn they were right.
"Hermione?" I heard Harry say, worried, and he looked at me attentively, whereupon I smiled kindly.
"Where's Draco?" George inquired anxiously and came towards me.
"And why are you sitting here all alone? What happened?" Fred also showed himself very sensitive and stepped closer and the laughter disappeared from the faces of the others.
"Nothing. Nothing bad, just normal madness! I have one week of freedom, more or less," I sucked in the air.
"Where is Draco?" Blaise now relentlessly pursued. I saw the worry in his eyes and nodded softly.
Everybody sat down, only Daphne turned around and dashed into the kitchen. Harry came to me and sat down next to me, looked at me questioningly and gave me a reserved smile.
"It doesn't matter... Better tell me what you are up to," I asked and was glad when they did. Even if their looks told a different story, they apparently wanted to grant me the grace period I had requested. It was not easy for me to admit to them all that I had murdered Narcissa. Seriously, nobody likes telling people that. Let's be realistic.
"It's going great. Our business is booming."
"It's amazing. Forget Zonko."
"We'll soon be able to gobble him up, or we'll open our own subsidiary in Hogsmeade," Fred and George now boasted proudly. Then Fred leaned over exuberantly to his brother and gave George a big, fat kiss on the cheek, which just made Astoria giggle.
"It's going that well?" I showed my astonishment. "Draco will be very happy and deeply interested."
"Oh, most beautiful, it's going even better! We have a lot of inventions and ideas that we'll have to present to you," Fred continued excitedly and I could only nod gracefully and show them a raised corner of my mouth, as I was just wondering how I was going to tell all this.
"That's nice. Then we'll wait for Draco," I remained in control. I guess I was already imitating the snakes a bit too much, since everyone was looking at each other strangely, but that was understandable.
I was different, I wasn't the Hermione of old!
Daphne came through the door with a plate of sandwiches and drinks. I only noticed it now: she was wearing jeans and a tunic top. She looked... wow, great! Someone had been shopping. And she behaved like the mom of the group, which I thought was too cute. So I thanked her with a nod and took a sip of the iced tea she had placed in front of me.
A slight smile escaped me. I sat modestly in my concealing, sack-like gown befitting a pure-blooded witch, and she had finally taken off these flowing dresses. Fate sometimes took strange paths.
"Say, beautiful, what's that potato sack you're wearing?" The question came from Fred in the most charming way and some lost it at this statement.
I laid my head back and laughed, loudly and freely. When he was right, he was right. I almost cried, I laughed so much and everyone watched me silently. It was just hilarious that he had the same train of thought as I did. I thought it was madly funny, or maybe I was slightly mad.
"... mhmh... phew... It's always nice to be here. Why? A lot has happened, I thought it was time to tone down the charms."
"Are you sure you're alright?" Blaise enquired anxiously and Harry didn't let me out of his sight for even a second.
"Yeah, sure. But now please tell me, how is the training going, or don't you do any?" I wanted to deliberately change the subject and wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes.
"Hey, of course we are doing the training, thanks to our drill sergeant Blaise! He now lets us go jogging together with Harry every morning. This really sucks! Then, when we come home from work, he chases us over the mats in close combat," Fred exclaimed and showed very sad, brown puppy dog eyes, which made me giggle.
"Very nice, Blaise, I like to hear that! What else do you do?" I now got a report from him and did not really respond to the complaint.
"Yes, well I thought if I have to suffer, everyone should and I admit it, it helps to improve our condition. I teach magic to these three here whenever the Red Devils are gone! For that, all of us, except Harry, went back to Knockturn Alley and I got the ladies second wands! As we just realized now, it looks like only the boys get second wands by default from their families. But well, they now have some with which they can do magic and everyone here is very talented! Harry here in particular seems to have a talent for black magic," he bared his teeth in a shark's grin, which made him look dangerous, while he proudly puffed himself up and I looked proudly at Harry.
"Is this true? Wonderful! What do you think of this branch of magic?" I asked Harry directly, who had blushed a bit, but was looking at me firmly from behind his glasses.
"Well... until recently I might have said, to my shame, that I was too good, too Light, for this! Now I say I really like it! And I'm proud to have mastered this magic. Thank you for making it possible for me to learn about this branch too. It broadens the horizon tremendously, I must admit, and it is foolish to demonize anything from the start. One should first study it and form an opinion, make a decision on the basis of facts and figures, not hearsay, I realized that," he explained thoughtfully and I had to be careful that my jaw didn't drop at Harry's obviously adult, calm and highly reflective words.
I was speechless and astounded.
"I and many others are very arrogant and self-important in our preconceptions," he continued in a grave manner. "I have realized that I have always despised this about Petunia, but since I entered this world I have applied the same principle to black magic automatically. This is not a nice realization, but one that has probably helped me to grow up a little more," he explained while I recovered.
"Harry... that... that..." I waved my hand enthusiastically through the air. That he felt that way was simply wonderful.
"Wait until you see his Patronus," Astoria croaked excitedly and I noticed with surprise how the Twins had to pull themselves together to avoid rolling on the ground.
They just went puce and Blaise also bit his lips hard and even Daphne seemed to be struggling not to look amused, pressing her lips firmly together. I really had to smile at the cramped look and so I turned covetously to Harry to find out this secret!
I noticed how he was holding his head desperately in his hands and groaning in suffering, which made me laugh. They seemed to be having fun during the holidays!
"What is it? Now I'm very, very curious," I put it in a nutshell and Harry made me proud again, because there he pulled his wand out of his invisible holster, which he also wore on his arm. He was learning, and that fast, and aimed into the room.
"Expecto Patronum," my best friend whispered.
The next moment, a grey ray shot from his wand made out of yew wood and a shape began to form out of the grey-white fog, at which I too could only stare with large, round, very surprised eyes. Considering that his other animal, the deer, was prey, a flight animal, this was a really big surprise and everyone was trying to suppress their giggles with great effort. I, too, could no longer hold it in and laughed out loud which made Harry grimace in annoyance, but it was just too glorious.
The Twins were greedy little rodents that could get very vicious, as their two squirrels had shown us, but this one was simply delicious. Draco would tease Harry with it until the day he died. Right, I think I'd better keep that quiet.
To get to the point, it was a spotted hyena panting at us with its head tilted and its long tongue hanging to one side, its big ears curiously pointed and it was hard to be serious.
The hyena had long and strong front legs, unlike the sturdier, shorter hind legs, which made the back drop. Harry's spotted hyena was very large and impressive, as this was the largest of the three hyena species and it really did not look small, rather well grown and quite heavy, about 80 kilograms, I estimated it. The topcoat looked rough and was heavily spotted and the short, bushy tail beat around excitedly.
As soon as I calmed down, I registered Harry's unhappy face and immediately played the know-it-all to take away his aversion towards his animal.
“Harry, this might be a surprise, but the spotted hyena is nothing you need to be ashamed of. Just look how sweet it looks…” I pointed my finger at the lively animal.
“Looking sweet?! It looks as if it's hungry," he exclaimed indignantly, which made the Twins howl with laughter and amused me as well. He was hilarious.
"Now, hear this and listen to my wisdom. That there is an active hunter who hunts down the prey itself, not a pure scavenger, like the striped or saddleback hyena! It is an extremely persistent hunter! And also very devious, because they are kleptoparasitic -" I wanted to continue, when Astoria interrupted me.
"Uh... please... what's that?" she asked, which brought her another angry glare from her sister and I gave her a punishing look.
"Astoria, if Draco were here... tsk tsk... What kleptoparasitism is? It means they're brazen enough to go after the prey of other carnivores. Brave, brave creatures, hyenas. They are not afraid! In packs, they even take on elephants, even if they prefer hoofed animals. Sorry, Harry, but your deer wouldn't stand a chance. They wouldn't even spare humans if they had to! You see, animals that should be taken seriously, but are often underestimated. And Harry, here comes Gryffindor after all, even if they have a dog-like appearance, they are included in the feline species," I finished my lesson and gave him a proud smile.
"Wow... how do you always know these things? But the reputation of these creatures is really bad. We were all rolling on the floor when Harry produced this one," George explained a little spitefully.
"Understandable. In mythology, they do not enjoy a good reputation, are depicted as cruel, dangerous animals. But now Harry... we have a lot to expect from you, considering that I have the magpie, a messenger of death, which I would describe as entirely appropriate," I said very honestly but slightly ironically when I thought of Narcissa.
"No, you're right Hermione. I should not be ashamed of what I apparently am! And I guess that's a predator, too. I don't want to be influenced by something like that anymore! I think I can learn to like it; it shows me what I'm capable of," it came vehemently from Harry. He just shocked me very much.
"Okay, what have you done with the boy?" I glanced at the guys, assessing them.
"Gee, Hermione, I'd rather say young man," Blaise told me with a subtle smirk, and I tried to see if I understood correctly, if he meant what I interpreted into this allusion.
So I frowned and watched as two people turned bright red and confirmed my suspicions. I was stunned!
"No, you're not serious, are you?" I asked in shock and put one hand on my heart.
"Yes, they are," exclaimed Fred, clapping his hands enthusiastically as Daphne snuggled up against Harry's shoulder to hide her bright red face in the crook of his neck.
He put his arm protectively over her shoulder, being quite the gentleman.
"But how?" I had no regard for Harry and Daphne's embarrassment and shame. Nobody in this group would do that anyway, since all they showed was dirty, sly grins.
"Well, that's how it was, the two of them were really unbearable in their indecisiveness, so inhibited and prudish, we decided to intervene," George started to let me in without any consideration for the couple. "We took away the wands from both of them - since then Harry, here, has always carried his two wands with him at all times. He said he was capable of learning and with such friends... let's drop it," George waved dismissively and immediately Fred, as usual, cut in.
"Anyway... We thought of something after it had become really unbearable. The two of them got on our nerves dangerously with their dancing around each other and dallying. Honestly... it didn't get worse from day to day, no, from second to second! But the courage to take the last step... Ah... So Astoria arranged Daphne's room very atmospherically... Sparkling wine, candles, music, blah, blah, blah... Then Blaise lured Harry upstairs, Astoria did the same with Daphne and we locked them in her room..." Everyone was grinning very nastily.
"And didn't let them out again," George added, showing a very diabolical grin.
"Well, let me put it this way: Astoria now sleeps with me and Harry and Daphne have been sharing a room and bed ever since," Blaise giggled and Daphne moaned bashfully.
Smiling, Harry whispered something into her hair. Too cute those two, having a romance. Even though I was more than fond of Draco, romance, and as George had said so beautifully, blah-blah was not for me. I found it boring. Nevertheless, I didn't begrudge them their happiness and wished them well with all my heart!
"Well Harry, congratulations on your lovely girlfriend. I'm very happy for you two... But now let's get to you, Blaise. I am amazed that Daphne allows Astoria to sleep in your room, or should I rather ask: does she sleep with you?" I now managed to make Astoria blush with my frankness, though not Blaise. He just leaned back in a relaxed posture and a smoldering gaze that he turned upon me.
“A gentleman never tells,” he kept his silence. I would be the last person to ask for more, so I just nodded.
I'd leave that to Draco. He wouldn't let Blaise get away so easily. Let him lull himself into a false sense of security.
It seemed that spring had arrived here rather than summer, I thought sarcastically, and then turned to Harry with true joy. That was great news. The 'act' seemed to have made him even more mature.
"Harry, I'm baffled, but I'm so happy," I announced and showed this to everyone. There he rose, gently detached himself from Daphne, came to me and embraced me tightly, bending down and taking me firmly into his arms.
I enjoyed feeling him so close and I smelled that fresh lemon-y scent that he always gave off and which I loved to smell. Thus, I let myself sink completely into his embrace.
"Thank you, Hermione. Without you I wouldn't have all this. Only thanks to you, I... You are the best," he now kissed my temple. At that moment, we heard anxious breathing and the sharp gasping of the others.
Quickly, Harry let go of me and retreated in shock to see what the others had, when we spotted a large, dark hooded man in the doorway, wearing the pitch black, heavy robe of the Death Eaters. He moved as fast as lightning, came up to me and grabbed me, pulled me out of the seat, let himself fall into the armchair in a flowing movement and pulled me with him. I landed on his lap and his strong arms embraced me possessively.
I had known immediately that this was Draco. It was now midnight and it seemed he had been released sooner than expected. On the other hand, he was not yet initiated and therefore not trustworthy. I pulled up my legs and snuggled into his arms, my face buried in the soft fabric of his cloak that covered him.
"Who is this...? Draco? What's happened?" Blaise said and I wordlessly brushed the hood off Draco's head, revealing his platinum blond, shiny hair.
"Are you a Death Eater after all?" Harry hissed in agitation, glinting suspiciously at Draco.
Draco just moaned as he buried his face in my hair and I took a deep breath. What had happened to trouble Draco so much? What had I not considered? What was next?
What bothered Draco enough that he came to me today and appeared so speechless?
Lost in thought, I played with his white-blond hair, asked myself these questions, and then the sudden inspiration struck me and I wished it hadn't.
Thus, I swallowed heavily, waving my hand at Harry to reassure him, and then laid it gently on Draco's cheek and stroked it with my thumb, knowing that my next words would lead to a tremor in the small cottage, but the time for new truths had come.