Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
I was so grateful that Severus knew what he was doing. He was a wonderful man whose knowledge of magic was impressive. It was high magic that he worked here. The whole room crackled with power as he sang the ancient magical rites, performing complicated movements with his wand. Although he hated this foolish wand waving, he still knew how to do it and it was impressive to see how he managed, slowly but surely, to break the curse.
I saw the sweat on his forehead and worriedly wiped it clean with a damp cloth, not wanting to interrupt or disturb him, but the twitching of the corners of his mouth made me think he didn't mind.
When I looked at the pale old man who had lost his glasses, I was very angry at his carelessness, but when my gaze went back to his hand, I thought he had gotten his comeuppance.
As we sat in the living room of this strange, neglected house, it did me good to have a sip. It was already late and the day had been exciting, interesting and unusual, but I had to satisfy Severus' curiosity.
The direction the whole thing took did not really appeal to me. I was in a quandary again because I didn't want Dumbledore to know that I now owned the ring. No, that was to remain a secret, but what could I offer Severus for his silence? I knew what he wanted, but was I willing to give it to him?
However, before we could settle this, we heard a knocking at the door and he indicated to me with a glance to disappear upstairs. I ran quietly and then heard a deep, male voice that I knew. When I heard the name of another man, I knew we had problems. His colleagues, stop, our colleagues from the Inner Circle graced us with their presence.
When I opened the door of the bedroom where Dumbledore was lying, I saw that he seemed to be in pain and was moving restlessly and wildly in his sleep and then he hit the floor with a muffled bang, which could be heard everywhere in the poorly insulated house. Damn, I was a few seconds late!
I immediately shot a Petrificus Totalus and a Silencio at him, just to be on the safe side. My brain was going full blast as I started to rip off my clothes and shoes and wrapped myself in the black, much too big and long dressing gown that lay over an armchair and quickly left the room with the now really soundless and motionless Dumbledore. I was extremely annoyed that I now would have to play this charade and after the wild screaming that the Death Eaters were doing, I arrived not a second too late.
Thus, I entered the room in my far too large dressing gown with the long sleeves that reached far over my hands and gave me a cute, sweet appearance. The belt was too low, tied under my bottom and made the front gape seductively wide, but just kept everything hidden. Thank God, I didn't want THESE guys to see too much of me.
"Severus, when will you come back up? What do they want here?" I pointed scornfully at the three men and Bellatrix, who looked at me as if she wanted to curse me into the realm of the dead with an Avada. But the men, well, they stared at me much more straightforwardly and even Severus looked very greedily while I walked towards him with the pitter-patter of naked feet and stood halfway behind him, so that he hid me a little, clutching his arm.
"What is the Mudblood doing here?" Nott asked, fluttering his eyelids excitedly.
There you could see once again Severus' brilliance, what a good spy he was, he had immediately regained his composure and snarled, his tone conveying everything necessary.
"Then she is available to all of us?" Rodolphus showed his curiosity, raw lust in his eyes. He licked his lips to my disgust and his wife gave him a hateful glare. Wow. At that moment, I felt sorry for Bellatrix.
"If you try it, I will kill you and every other one of you," it came very quietly and very controlled, but incredibly coldly from my dark Left Hand of our Lord.
"Yes, but... She's Draco's whore! If she serves you now, then we should be allowed to have her as well, after all she is only a Mudblood," the idiot Nott actually dared to object.
"She is a daughter of the house of Malfoy and just because she is kind enough to keep me company, you have no right to demand or force anything from her! If Lucius learns of your erroneous thoughts, you will die before you can say a word, and that with the permission of the Dark Lord," he threatened openly, and if you thought he was spreading fear among the students at Hogwarts, well, you hadn't seen him like this before. His attitude was very stately and he did not relinquish an iota.
"Oh, and why should Draco be happy that his dirty little mudblood is spreading her legs for you?" Bellatrix questioned provocatively.
"Now Bellatrix, this is a matter that is absolutely none of your business, but as you can see, I have something to do and must ask you to leave. I am busy this evening and I will certainly enjoy the night more than you," he said and now detached himself from me. I gave the four of them a cold, uninterested smile, showing that their conversation, which had been conducted over my head, did not affect me. Severus opened the door and gallantly told them that they were not welcome. Wow, Severus had protected me from everyone, that meant a lot. It didn't seem to suit Nott and Bellatrix at all, but they acquiesced.
Well, and if the Left Hand kicked you out, yes, even these fellows went. If Severus looked like he did just now, then I would go, too. He loudly slammed the door into the lock and, a second later, he was back in front of me with a pressing glow in his eyes, as he measured my body, which was barely veiled. I uncomfortably gathered the fabric, which had previously gaped widely, over my breasts. He looked at me skeptically and then opened the belt of my robe, which really sent shivers down my spine! As his long, slender hands now slid under the fabric and lay on my bare hips, I swallowed heavily. Was this now his demand in response to the previous conversation?
"Is Bella looking through the window?" his rough, soft voice was almost incomprehensible. Then I understood: no demand. I immediately laid forward sensually against his upper arm and peered at the small window, saw not only her face, but everyone's face peering in. So I rubbed my head against him like a cat with my eyes closed, and he pulled me back by my hair until I offered him my throat and he quickly conquered it for himself with kisses and small bites. So I replied somewhat distracted:
"Everyone... they're all watching us."
He growled as he licked across my neck and I swallowed for real. For me it was clear: first of all I didn't want to sleep with Severus and secondly I wouldn't do it in front of those knuckleheads out there! Suddenly he retreated, with fiery eyes.
"Come," he said, and grabbed my hand and pulled me impatiently into the hall, up the stairs, and I stumbled behind him, as I had to gather up my gown which was too long, so that I wouldn't step on it and fall.
As soon as he was upstairs and pulled me up, it happened so fast and I was pressed against the wall, next to the door, behind which Dumbledore was lying on the floor, twisted and hexed.
"You always push me to the brink of my control! Do you know that? What was that noise?" he asked angrily.
"I was just coming in the door when he fell off the bed... I sedated him. And I was sure they wanted to know who was making that noise, well, and I couldn't think of anything else in a hurry, so please excuse me," I nagged, "but what else could I have offered them as an explanation coming down from the upper floor?"
"Mmm, he was awakening, was he not?" he wanted to know and I nodded.
"Yes. I guess he's in pain. I have to go, he shouldn't know I was there!"
"Wait a minute, what do you think these jerks are going to say? Lucius will find out just like Draco; you have to tell them," he demanded harshly.
"I will, Draco will find out everything, but what shall we tell Lucius?" I lifted an eyebrow and considered, but he interrupted my thoughts.
"You should not hold anything back from him, that would be stupid, if you do not want him to throw his weight around again," he warned me well-intentioned, but I could only look at him doubtfully, since I thought he was more likely to throw his weight around the way he was nailing me against the wall, but all right, I won't comment on that.
"We should..." I started and tried to get away from him when a mean smirk spread across his face.
"Not so fast! Kiss me," he demanded openly, eying me covetously. I nodded cautiously and immediately his mouth lay on mine and he urged me to kiss him back, which I did. The situation was so unreal and bizarre. Dumbledore was lying on the floor just a narrow wooden door away, badly injured, I was standing in just my underwear with an open dressing gown on my shoulders in front of Severus and outside the house lurked Death Eaters licking their chops.
He couldn't resist taking advantage of the opportunity and stroked my naked stomach, humming in pleasant anticipation, his hand gliding slowly up my hips and sides, stroking the cups of my bra, down to my navel and down again, all the while watching me with lustful dark eyes. I became hot and cold as he withdrew decisively this time. If he was so gentle, I actually enjoyed his touch, I must admit, but only when he didn't go too far.
He saw me standing before him only in a dark green silk bra and my knickers. Then he did something that took my breath away: he put his hand on my pussy, stroked the silk fabric and I pressed myself against the wall. I bit my cheek as I tried to give him an indifferent look. While he touched me so intimately, his hand now pressed tighter against my hot flesh, I fought against the rising excitement as well as my panicky fear of him.
"Hermione, you are so very due... Alas, that will have to wait. Stay here, you do not want him to see anything," he showed his admirable self-control and disappeared behind the door, closing it quietly and I wrapped my arms around myself. He was hot and he was good; he knew what he was doing, unfortunately. My heart was beating fast and I was insecure, but even though I had been able to suppress it this time and stayed soft and yielding under his expert hands and kissing mouth, deep down I still had my stupid fear of him. Which on the other hand was understandable, wasn't it? I guess I wasn't quite so abnormal after all. All this would never have had to happen if I hadn't had to bring the old man to him, I thought resentfully.
Already he came back carrying my jeans and my shirt and without shyness I threw off the fabric covering me and dressed myself in front of him, pulled the shirt over my head and got into my trousers, which he looked at with crossed arms and an unreadable expression on his face.
"What have you done to him?"
"Lifted your spells, put him to bed and poured another batch of potions into him. Now come, here, my arm," he offered me his right and I did as he asked without questions and I felt him apparate. Everything was spinning around us, until we suddenly had solid ground under our feet and I stood in the entrance hall of the manor.
"I have to go back. I will keep silent. Have fun with Lucius and Draco," he showed me a diabolic grin and off he went... It took a few seconds for his words to seep into my mind. He gave me his silence, without a demand! I could not believe it. He asked for nothing!
At that moment, a door opened and Draco stepped out of the dining room, seeing me and getting wide-eyed.
"Hermione, are you mad?! If father sees you like this...!" was his greeting and so I took to my heels, ran quickly into our rooms and tore my clothes off my body for the second time that day, jumped under the shower for a moment to wash off the dust and dirt which was sticking to me, because where I had been today, it had been really filthy and a shower like that was really necessary.
Afterwards, I threw on a light grey fringed dress and allowed myself to take a deep breath. It was already ultra late and Draco had just left the dining room. They had waited in vain for me. Surely, a tribunal in Lucius' parlour on the ground floor was waiting for me. It was only a matter of time until Severus would come back and tell Lucius about what had happened. He wanted to give me time to clear this up with the two of them myself before he arrived. That was... unexpectedly generous of him, but it still caused me a lot of anxiety. Neither would like what I had come up with to cover for us.
With measured steps, I walked along the endless halls of the manor. Well, I wasn't eager to have this conversation.
When I knocked and entered, interrupting the Messrs. Malfoy's digestif, and they regarded me with warm, loving looks, especially Lucius, I was tempted to be sarcastic and very cynical. If I had wanted steel cut, then I could have borrowed his eyes, so frighteningly coldly was I mustered by him as I quickly sank into a curtsy. Draco looked at me with reprimand, nodding briefly at the sight of my dress, but then his face became hard and immobile. Yes, he wasn't pleased that I had arrived so late and certainly eager for an explanation, but he wasn't as mercilessly bad-tempered as Lucius was because of it. Draco was probably more worried and less interested in controlling me.
"You are late," was the observation that greeted me. Wasn't that great? As if I couldn't tell the time! Lucius' mood seemed grandiose as he made me remain like this.
"May I explain myself?" I asked submissively and heard a pejorative snort.
"Sit down," came the harsh order and so I immediately did what I had been allowed to do and settled down in the chair next to Draco who looked at me cautiously.
"Well, then explain yourself and what came over you to miss dinner with us without an excuse?" His voice was rather icy, I thought, and so I dared to take a closer look at him. The long hair that hung down on his chest glittered white in the light, while he looked into the flames and did not give me a glance.
"Well, I know it's presumptuous, but could I tell you all at once and then you ask? It would also be very nice if you both promised to listen first and blow up afterwards!"
"Your request suggests bad news," Lucius objected unhappily and I shrugged my shoulders apologetically. "But it may be granted."
I breathed easier, but my nervousness was evident. Damn it, why had I chosen that bloody dress, it practically enticed me to play with the stupid fringes.
"Well, I was on the road a bit, looking around at places here and there, nothing spectacular, yes... and well, suddenly I saw Dumbledore," I began to relate. At my words, blatant scepticism leapt out of Lucius' face as if I was trying to pull his leg, and even Draco gave a snort; they didn't seem to believe a word. "Yes, whatever you believe, it is true! I quickly made myself invisible, I didn't want him to know that I had seen him and followed him. He seemed to be looking for something, I don't know what, and when he reached inside something... a black-and-red beam hit him - he was careless - and... well, I saved him! The curse was black magic... he was unconscious and I brought him to Severus.
"Thanks, Draco, for the tip regarding Spinner's End. Severus was able to save him after some long hours of work, only Dumbledore's wand hand was lost, rotted away, really disgusting," I swallowed my stomach acid compulsively and saw that the turn amazed both Lucius and Draco. I cleared my throat. "Now the old man is over the worst. Afterwards, Severus and I had a drink to ease the shock in his living room. He was quite exhausted, it was not an easy cure!
"Well, there was a knock, I went up to check on Dumbledore and to get out of sight, but when I got upstairs the old fool fell out of bed as he was slowly waking up. I petrified him and without much thought I undressed and threw a dressing gown over myself and ran downstairs and probably not a second too soon. The Lestranges and Nott were already very upset and suspicious when I came in," I explained, a bit rushed, as I felt. Draco made big eyes and Lucius just listened motionlessly to my story. "They stopped probing immediately, accepted that I was with Severus... Well, the conversation then turned more to who can have me, as apparently I spread my legs for everyone, serving not just Draco... but Severus as well!
"Severus placed himself in front of me in a very unusual way... Although, wait, it was more like I was looking for protection behind his back. The gown was much too big, it almost made me stand naked in front of the guys, so I didn't say anything. And well, it was what I wanted to represent... Then he threw them out, told them if they dared touch me, they would have to deal with him, you, Draco, and the Dark Lord," I made a helpless gesture, signifying that I was finished. I mean, that Severus had asked for a lot more, I didn't have to admit freely.
"Interesting! How did it proceed? Do not tell me that Severus did not have a taste," Lucius commented smugly and Draco sat somewhat rigidly in his armchair.
"Well, he opened my robe, stepped up to me and then asked me to see if they were watching us through one of the windows and well, they did. He kissed me on the neck and then pulled me out of the room, then brought me here and told me to tell you, he had to keep looking after Dumbledore," I got it over with. "I asked Severus, by the way, not to tell him that I saved him. He does not need to know."
"Amazing how a day of your's can turn out," Lucius remarked very cynically. "And we are to believe you that it turned out that way," the aristocratic man now smirked very spitefully.
"Well, yes, because I wouldn't dare lie to you, Lucius. I agree, if Dumbledore hadn't been lying on the ground injured, I don't know what he would have done. But surely a game of 'what if' is too silly for you, isn't it? What do we do about the Death Eaters who think I'm at everyone's beck and call," I replied with real interest. One thing was clear, I wouldn't let any of these lunatics get their hands on me, I would fight to the last drop of blood and, if necessary, I would take the whole circle with me to my death.
"We will settle that. I, all of us, will not let any of these idiots touch you. You are a daughter of my house, let them dare!" Lucius said very firmly.
"I agree," said Draco coldly, speaking his first words since I have entered the drawing room. Phew, did he believe me, or not so much? I couldn't read anything in his stony expression.
"There will be a meeting of the Inner Circle tomorrow. Draco will instruct you. You have the honour to visit the Dark Manor tomorrow. Do not disgrace the House of Malfoy," Lucius ordered emphatically and ended the conversation with a gesture.
I got up and Draco followed me on my heels. His father stopped us at the door after all.
"Um... Hermione, what, or rather where, did you pick up Dumbledore...?
I pinched my mouth in annoyance and then turned around, smiling.
"Are you sure you want to know?" I tried to worm my way out.
"Yes," his answer came very decidedly and I swallowed.
"Little Hangleton," I admitted. I didn't know what Lucius knew about the Dark Lord, or if he knew that he had apparated to the graveyard of that place at that time, so I saw him pondering just what I and Dumbledore might have been doing there.
When he said no more and Draco told me to follow him, we left Lucius lost in his thoughts behind us.
It amazed me again and again how inscrutable my three men were. The Dark Lord's Right Hand and Left Hand saved the life of the Dark Lord's most dangerous adversary; even if it was only through silence, they did. However, to try to fathom what they planned and wanted, no, I did not do that to myself, that would only cause migraines.
Draco pulled me close after we closed the door and inhaled my scent.
"Was that the truth?" he asked harshly and demandingly, not releasing me from his arms.
"Draco, I wouldn't dare lie to Lucius' face about something like that," I calmly admitted, explaining it to him.
"That's all right then! And should I believe that nothing more happened between you and Severus? ... Wait, stop! I meant it seriously at the time, I don't want to know, I really don't," he raised his hands defensively and I did what he wanted, I kept silent. That was probably better for his salvation.
"'But you will tell me about Dumbledore, won't you?" he enquired now, separating himself from me. He held me by the shoulders and looked at me earnestly.
We went up to our suite and I told him everything. I talked about the orphanage and showed him the files. Then I spoke about Little Hangleton and the hut, showing him the stone. We made it levitate magically in the air to study it.
"Interesting! So this is the sign that is also in the book. Just what does it mean? You really think Dumbledore wanted to use the stone? He believes this story?" Draco wondered thoughtfully and sceptically.
"As it seems, but remember, there is usually a grain of truth in every children's story! In any case, this should be put in the safe together with the file. Don't you feel it too, that this ring is surrounded by the same dark aura as the amulet?"
"What do you intend to do? I would suggest we go to the cottage in the morning and then come back here to prepare for the Manor and the Dark Lord."
I nodded in agreement. That was a good idea. Shortly afterwards we went to bed after this very eventful day of mine.
The next day gave me my first headache as I wondered how Dumbledore was doing. It had been shocking to see how he had forgotten himself. Unfortunately, I would only receive this information when I saw Severus again and after his threat, which still resounded in my ears, that I was 'so very due' - which I would not forget so quickly as this man did not make empty threats - I became queasy at the thought of seeing him again.
As planned, Draco and I headed for the cottage and saw a very meek Ron roaming the garden with his arms crossed behind his back. When he saw us, he greeted us with a "Hello" that didn't even seem that stilted, and so I looked at Draco with an unambiguous expression, and with a theatrical eye roll he complied with my request and left, looking for the others.
"Well, do you regret it?" I now asked Ron, while he had already turned to resume his walk in the garden. He jerked back around when he noticed that I was catching up with him.
"What... What do you want to hear, Hermione? Yes, no, both!" He took a deep, tortured breath. "You know, even if I regret it from the bottom of my heart, it wouldn't change the fact that things are the way they are and that they will proceed as they do! Isn't that true? I would perhaps not know it, but does that make it better?" he said, weighing his thoughts.
"What are you trying to say? That you don't stand behind it, but you accept it?" I wanted to know.
"No, that's not what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that some things are better, but many things still rob me of my sleep. So I regret being deprived of sleep," he explained calmly, but did not look at me, but let his gaze wander through the garden. "But the other side is that I sometimes slept badly before because of what I didn't know, only now I can't sleep because of what I know! So what should I regret?" At the end he gave me a short, resigned look.
I was about to fall away from faith when a philosophical Ron revealed himself to me. I should probably take him to St. Mungo's, I thought, maybe he had gotten hit by a curse.
"I'm glad that you make sure that so many people live well here, really! It' s great here. I am so happy for Harry, really and honestly. Daphne is so nice and as shocked as I am, I really wonder how she got to Slytherin! She is a match for Harry like Ginny could never have been; she is so steadfast and she seems to love him and Harry is over the moon. Try to start a conversation with him in which not every other word is 'Daphne'... Astoria is a lovely girl too, bright and sassy, but I can see more of the snake in her. Cho also had features that I didn't like and she was with the ravens... you see, everything is just prejudice! And Blaise, hey, the boy is really good, he almost beat me in chess the other day, I had to try really hard! A tough guy, yet he is very capable," he monologued, running a hand through his long, thick red hair, only to put his hands behind his back again and interlock them.
Ron would be seen walking around like that all the time from that day on. It was his method to think first, then act, as it took time for him to untangle his hands and that gave him the chance to get the occasional flash of inspiration before he had a choleric attack. He had changed extremely and worked hard on himself, which I really liked.
"I mean, this guy's pretty rad. The things he teaches the others, and now me, are wicked! And they told me about their family life and I am honest, I don't want to trade. We never had much money, but Mum and Dad did their best. It's only since Harry's first year and our first meeting with You-Know-Who that she has changed so much. Here and here," he untangled his hands again and tapped his heart and forehead, then crossed his arms again "... sits the fear that might come from the first war, where her older brothers were murdered fighting for the Order by Dolohov. Gideon and Fabian Prewett, they were twins. And that makes her unbearable! This brings us to the next point: the TWINS. How can you be so above it?" he asked only one question and fell silent.
"How? Love strikes where it strikes. They do not hurt anyone! They can't have children, so I think it is their choice to live as they live. That they love the same sex, or that they love each other, what bothers you?" I gently asked a very pale looking Ron.
He seemed to think for a long time, finally he sighed deeply.
"That's a good question, Hermione! I've suspected for some time that Charlie is also into his own gender. There has never been and there still isn't a woman or even a girlfriend, never has been, you understand? Mum doesn't want to see it, but well, her thing, and I, well, I didn't care, not a little bit. So what, he's gay. The main thing is that I don't have to watch. But the Twins! I don't know, they're - the same?" His sentence ended in a questioning tone of voice and he pulled a disgusted face.
"Ron, can you really imagine someone else at their side? Angelina, Alicia or any other boy? Not me, I only see them as a team that belongs together and from what it looks like in all situations in life. I have supported them from the first moment I knew it! They had crises, one just a few days ago because of you and Angelina and I saw how happy they were here before! They are doing the right thing for themselves," I shrugged my shoulders and asked further. "What is it? Do you feel disgusted, repulsed, what is it?"
"If only I knew! When the others brought me out of my unconsciousness... I really would have liked to have been in there longer. I don't know, okay? It's not easy for me. They are my brothers; they are my family! This shocks me more than you, Malfoy, and Snape put together, do you understand that?" His face flushed while he got more and more riled up, pacing up and down in front of some rose bushes, his arms still twisted on his back.
"Yes, because you never considered it," I now strongly suspected.
"Maybe, but the others are completely on their side too, even Harry is backing them... and I... I don't know how Mum is going to survive!" He shook himself.
"Ron, don't worry about your mother; she doesn't need to know. They wanted to tell YOU! It would mean a lot to them if they could get confirmation from a family member, from their brother, that you accept them as a couple! But no one will push you to do that, that is your choice. Just don't be hurtful to them. On another note: What about us, are you coming to terms with what you know about me now?" I asked curiously, because I was really interested to know if he was able to deal with the real Hermione as far as he knew her.
He looked at me both thoughtfully and somewhat sadly, then he took a deep breath.
"Somehow," he replied calmly. "I may not even think about some things concerning you, it's so different, so much more twisted than anything I've imagined, but yes, I think so! You've done a lot of good here and I can see your good motivation and also that you'd surpassed me and Harry long before we even suspected it, and that in many areas. We could never keep up with you and what I saw at the fight... WOW, you are really good and Malfoy probably could keep up with you more than we could. From what Harry and the Twins have told me, I can almost understand why you turned to him, even though I still don't like it, not at all!"
Nodding in understanding, I replied: "It means a lot to me, Ron, that our friendship is not destroyed, that you are not disgusted by me!"
Now he turned his back on me and continued to speak with a sigh.
"You know, I don't like to think about what you did with Sirius and the bat; it makes me shudder. They're so old and Snape... But that's your decision. I'm trying to be pragmatic about it, even though it's hard for me. As long as it's okay with you, I shouldn't mind, but being able to do that will take time. I want to forget the night I came here, but I can't get the image of you cutting Malfoy with a dagger out of my head, honestly, and you, half naked.... If it hadn't been such a bizarre scene, I would have even liked to see you like that!"
To my surprise, he now turned and grinned mischievously at me, frighteningly resembling the Twins in the grin.
"You don't look bad. What do the Twins always say? The most beautiful!" It was good to see that Ron at least seemed to be keeping his sense of humour. He quickly became serious again. "I'm not giving up on our friendship Hermione, I'm sure not, you've done far too much good for Harry for that and somehow I'm also impressed by all you're willing to do for him. Just the fact that you brought Daphne here for him! But I wonder: have you been pretending from day one? Was your, our, friendship ever real?" he accused me harshly. "At what point did you start lying to me, hiding something from us?"
I didn't really have to think about it and answered immediately.
"I came into the Wizarding World in a way very different from yours, Ron; you were born into it. By the time I stepped into a world that could finally explain to me why I was so different from others, so much was already screwed. I couldn't just do nothing after learning about this world and how arrogant, snobby and condescending many wizards look down their noses at Muggles. Harry had suffered from that too, just because Dumbledore is so self-absorbed. Yes, I was glad you had become my friends, Ron, my first real friends, but the more I immersed myself in the magical world, the angrier I became.
"I can't say exactly when I started secretly doing what I thought was best for myself, but I didn't do it to betray you. I committed many breaches of the rules even then. Remember in second year when I broke into Severus' supply cupboard? Even then, I knew how to break curses. I approached all this more pragmatically than you ever could, because I didn't grow up with it. I threw myself into the Restricted Section. Demonising black magic never occurred to me. And Harry? Honestly, I didn't want to burden him with it. Ron, believe me, your friendship was important to me, otherwise it wouldn't have hurt me so much that you railed against Harry like that during the Triwizard Tournament! I couldn't forgive you for that so easily!" I had been looking at him intently, watching his facial expressions as I explained all this to him, and I knew he was thinking about it.
"You're right in a way, and to hear again that our friendship was real, not a lie, feels very good, Hermione! And I already admitted that I was an idiot."
Suddenly he stepped closer to me, seemed to take another quick look around and grabbed my hands, which rather surprised me. At least he didn't shy away from touching me, very insightful, but Draco had better not see that.
"But, I am nevertheless very worried, Hermione," he said quietly, a little rushed. "Surely it can't be safe for you to live in Malfoy Manor. Well, when Malfoy's here he always acts relatively nice for being an arse, but there's his father, they're Death Eaters, you're in danger there...!"
I laughed out loud and shook my head, trying to calm him down as I pulled my hands out of his grip.
"No, Ron, I'm not in danger there. Lucius is protecting me, believe me. He protects me even from the Dark Lord, better than anyone else could. No Death Eater can or should harm me, and since I'm in the Inner Circle as well, they would not only incur the wrath of Lucius, Severus, and Draco, but even the Dark Lord. Tell me, what other Mudblood is so excellently protected from the Death Eaters?"
I looked at him intently while he grumbled.
"I still don't trust them one bit and neither should you...!" He said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. I sighed in resignation.
"Ron, they are my family and even if you can't understand it, I would trust them with my life because they protected me. Now, come on, there's news."
He looked up and I noticed something that would not have been possible for him in the past: he pushed back his emotions that were in turmoil and nodded restrainedly, following me into the arbour where the others had all made themselves comfortable in unison this time.
We told them about the orphanage, causing the girls in particular to express pity, and Little Hangleton, which made Harry briefly flare up as to whether I was nuts for going THERE alone. Let's face it, as far as that graveyard and that place were concerned, he had a chip on his shoulder, which was understandable after that night! I had not visited the cemetery for another reason as well: I had not wanted to see the scene of Cedric's murder, wanting to spare myself that, because it always reminded me of the carefree time I had enjoyed with him back then and oh yes, it hurt to remember.
I told them about Dumbledore and they all listened with open mouths. Some of them looked very shocked that the headmaster had been taken down like that and even Ron showed his astonishment openly that he wanted to use the ring. The unanimous opinion was: How stupid was that?
I put the file and the bag with the ring on the table. As I shook out the ring, we heard Harry take a tortured breath. Wow, the effect wasn't as bad as it used to be, but he was in pain and no one dared touch the ring until the Twins did.
"It was obvious, once the curse went off, it's non-existent!" They grinned cheekily around the room and I saw the old harmony and a careful sideways glance at Ron showed me that he was trying to understand and was holding back. So we looked at the ring, but the reason Harry reacted still seemed to be within. As one more piece related to the Dark Lord, it went into the safe. We had already been through the file and it too was locked away.
Now, when I told them how I saved the injured Dumbledore by taking him to Severus, who performed the miracle of breaking the curse, Harry sat back and just said very guardedly:
"This confirms my opinion that there is more to Snape. I've thought so ever since I saw his memories."
Even Ron swallowed heavily but voiced his respect for having saved the 'figure of the light side'. The others then went on to ask questions about what kind of memories they were, but Harry waved them off, even when Daphne asked. He just said he couldn't talk about it, that it was someone else's most intimate experience and he would keep quiet about it. Wow, Harry had grown up.
The rest, my problem with the Death Eaters, or the fact that Severus would like nothing better than to pull me into his bed, I prudently omitted. It was none of their business.
Now it was the others' turn to report. They proudly told me that they were working well through the books I had brought them and I was pleased that they were so committed. Then they slipped me a small, nondescript book and Draco and I stuck our noses in together and let them explain what had captivated them so much about the text.
They told me that there were initials written inside the cover of the book: 'R.A.B.'. Apparently, someone from the Blacks had studied this subject intensively.
I had to smile because it was too funny. They all had their opinions about the book, they had all read it, although it dealt with deeply black magic. Even Ron had devoured it! Until recently, Ron and Harry would have vehemently refused and now they downright delved into the subject. I had to admit, it was an interesting book.
The book was about horcruxes, something I had never heard of before. These were objects in which a black magician could store part of their soul outside their body. Whoever committed a murder would split their soul in the ritual and banish a part of it through a spell into an object, embedding this soul fragment in the container. So the soul lived on, outside the human body, safely stored in the horcrux. When the person in question was killed, the soul remained bound to the earth because a part of them remained intact in the horcrux container. Therefore, this person was disembodied without dying properly. The remaining core soul could exist, but not live, because it was incorporeal, unless it managed to create its own, capable body again with the help of others.
Wow, we had it! This was the explanation why the Dark Lord had not died in the attempted murder of Harry and why he had been able to return! Damn, that was horrible!
We read on and learned that the soul of one who makes a horcrux of themselves becomes badly shattered and unstable, and that a horcrux is only destructible by the few means that destroy something irretrievably so that it cannot be repaired even by the most powerful magic. These include basilisk venom or goblin-made weapons treated with it, as well as black magic-generated fiendfyre.
Oh my, that was the explanation of why there were so many death dates and why we had these items; it was so crystal clear and understandable.
"Then Voldemort has so many death dates because that's where he split off his soul," Harry concluded gloomily.
"Exactly. But why is the day of your parents murder listed as a death date? Well, I mean, unless I've misunderstood something... there must be something locked in there, with a spell and ritual... So, did just his body die on Halloween?" Ron brought it up in a slightly confused way and at that moment we all looked at each other, startled, and Draco's, mine and the Twins' eyes moved purposefully to Harry's scar.
For Harry, too, it seemed to click at that moment, as he raised a shaking hand and brought it frantically to his lightning bolt scar.
"Fuck," echoed the Twins, while Draco visibly curled the corners of his mouth.
"I feel sick!" Harry jumped up and hurried away and I once again rubbed my aching temples.
What amazed me was that Ron was the next to catch on and, less than gallantly, banged his head on the tabletop and stayed down.
"What?" Astoria wanted to know as Daphne rose with tears in her eyes and rushed after Harry.
"Oh, Astoria! Harry has the scar and the connection to the Dark Lord," Blaise whispered in her ear then and pulled her close and we were now looking at each other, saying nothing and all indulging in our not so good thoughts. Oh, didn't it suck to realise that you were carrying an accidental soul fragment from another person?
I pulled the book close again and noticed the notes Regulus had made in the margins. He seemed to have dealt with the subject at length, but not applied it, it seemed, because the good guy was dead. He had even made it before Sirius, that much was clear!
Harry didn't need to be so worried, I was sure, and so I studied the text at length until Harry came back together with Daphne tightly embraced, supporting each other. She was really good for him and suited him, I had to say again, because she was strong enough to bear everything that was coming towards them, that was coming towards Harry. They approached us and Ron did the only right thing and showed Harry that he stood by him, no matter when, how or where, jumped up, patted Harry on the back and looked at Daphne gratefully and even Draco did his best to cheer Harry up, at least I tried to see it that way. Draco's humour was just quirky, similar to mine actually.
"Well, what's it like to find out you're a freak?" asked Draco dryly, but instead of freaking out, Harry started laughing.
"HA HA. You know Malfoy, it's actually liberating just to finally know WHY!"
He was so right, it wasn't just me who realised that then. So much was finally explaining itself! The visions, the mental connection, the parseltongue... all these things that had always bothered Harry a lot were now getting an explanation.
"Um... Guys, is this just Greek to me, or is it to you too? ... The book says 'a Horcrux'; we know there are multiple items... There are two in the safe, aren't there, not one?! Don't tell me the Dark Lord was crazy enough to make not one Horcrux, but two, plus Potter," Draco now hit the nail on the head.
"No, Malfoy, that's not true," Ron now shook his head. The fact that his friend Harry was so marked by fate apparently made him forget the disaster about his brothers, he became really involved and we all looked at him now with interest as he ruffled his hair "... well, Ginny, the diary, I mean there was his soul in there too and he wanted Ginny's body, didn't he?"
Some mouths dropped open in amazement and, yes, Ron had been right and I had been right to get him, even if he liked playing the fool, he wasn't one! He could very well put strategic events into context, as he had just done.
"You're right, Ron! But that also means that's at least three! And if you include the death dates, it must be seven, although I think Harry - and this is then the very, very good news for you - was created unintentionally, incomplete, not a full, whole Horcrux..."
"You don't know how your words reassure me Hermione," came the frighteningly cynical retort from Harry and his emeralds sparkled at me. "That's good, but it’s still shite!"
Daphne put her arm around him even tighter, leaning in and stroking her other hand reassuringly across his chest. Yes, she really was caring. Sweet, the two of them, had the situation not sucked so badly.
"Where Harry is right..." The Twins nodded in unison. Goddess, you tried to tout something as a positive and all you got was ridicule! I huffed.
"Slow down guys. Harry is the fourth fragment! So we have that... What's missing? Good question, isn't it?" interjected Blaise.
"You know what's intense? That the magical family tree has noticed that his soul is dying more and more," now Daphne interjected emotionally, silencing us once again as this observation was pretty sad.
"So he must have created the diary and the ring when he killed his paternal relatives, since he stole the locket from the collector later in 1950 and the cup of Hufflepuff as well. So we can assume the cup is a Horcrux too, right?" I earned unanimous nods.
"He seems to like objects that adhere to a certain symbology," Astoria interjected, and I agreed.
"Yes, they are all founders’ items, except for the diary. I suppose that was rather narcissistic, banning his likeness," Draco now piped in.
"What's missing?" The Twins showed a hoppy impatience as they shifted uneasily in their seats.
"Ravenclaw," was Ron's calm reply.
"Of course! He's got something from all the founders except Gryffindor," Harry now said very resignedly.
"No, my money's on Ravenclaw! All I know of Gryffindor is the sword and it's in Dumbledore's office, isn't it? I don't think he could get his hands on it, and besides, a Slytherin wouldn't willingly take an item from Gryffindor," Draco objected smoothly.
"So says the one who keeps a lioness in his bed," the Twins teased him straight away.
"Haha...you two Devils, very funny. But I would like to note that the Dark Lord would probably still refrain from doing that for his soul," he said very pompously.
"Guys, can't you do math? There's still one... Horcrux missing," Daphne interjected timidly. She had been stroking Harry's hand tenderly all this time, still with her other arm around his middle, as he had one around hers.
"True, Cedric's death... But what would he have done there?" We were still brooding over this question, when Ron slapped his forehead hard.
"I'm so stupid," he exclaimed, upset.
"Well, no one's contradicting you, Weasel," Draco deadpanned, earning an evil glare from Harry, but Ron paid him no mind at all, far too captivated by his thoughts.
"Well, Harry does have that mental connection to, well you know, HIM... through the scar! But can a wizard enter someone's mind through anything, even if they are a parselmouth? I'm confusing you, aren't I? Fine. So then like this: why was Harry a snake when he saw the attack on my father? How could the DARK ONE direct the snake through his mind in the attack? And have Harry see it? You can't do that even with Parseltongue," he explained his thought processes very clearly. Wow! Ron had found the last Horcrux and, for the second time today, proved me right for having fetched him.
"Golly, brother, there's some real brains up there," Fred showed his unflattering astonishment.
"Yup, compliments, brother. I see what you're saying," George said, and Ron's ears turned a burning red.
"Glad you get it; I can't figure it out right now," Harry admitted, rubbing his forehead absently. The poor guy.
"I see. Potter, I think your friend is trying to tell you that he believes the Dark Lord has created a link to Nagini, deliberately made her his final Horcrux! That's the only way to explain why he was able to guide her through his mind and you had access to her too," Draco now explained and Harry looked at him like a fish. It didn't look intelligent and Draco showed him his shark grin.
"Wow, that's really creepy," Blaise summed it up. It was.
"Yeah, but I think we're doing good, don't you agree? I mean we now know all the soul parts except for Ravenclaw and we know where they're hidden except for this one and the cup. That's something!" beamed Astoria as she summed that up.
"Correct, and you mustn't forget one thing: I don't think the Dark Lord has any idea that Harry is his seventh Horcrux," I now interjected and got everyone's attention.
"Don't look like that! It's obvious; reckon, with the soul in the Dark Lord's body, it's eight fragments, and the way he values symbolism, I don't think the number to be reached was an eight, but more likely a seven," I elaborated, receiving many 'ah's and 'oh's.
"It's a sick thing to tear up your soul like that, though, isn't it?" now Harry asked dejectedly.
"Yes, Potter, it is! Especially since, as we know thanks to the book, the core soul becomes unstable. So what do we do?" Draco wanted to know now.
"Gather, search and gather," came my reply.
"Do you think he'll notice if you destroy his soul parts?" Daphne enquired cautiously.
"I don't know, that's why I'd be in favour of collecting and then destroying them all at once, because.... well, I don't know, but I would imagine even if he doesn't notice, we should wait until we can destroy them in one go! If only his soul and Harry's fragment are left, I suspect that mentally he must get very..." I flipped a bird. The prophecy came to my mind. I wonder if this was referring to the soul fragment?
"...that he might go mad. But, Hermione, isn't he already?" asked Ron.
"Absolutely not! Vicious and mean, yes, but not crazy," Draco dismissed this imperiously and I nodded in agreement.
"No, Ron, he had his evil head on straight."
"Let me ask you another stupid question, why was Dumbledore looking for the ring? Does he know?" now George asked.
"Good question, good question, the way I see the old man, he knows or suspects. He always said the Dark Lord wasn't dead, that he'd just disappeared," I said.
"Cool that you found the book. I've never heard of it!"
"Neither have we, and I grew up with this kind of magic. I guess it's a bit frowned upon," Draco spoke for the snakes present, who nodded in agreement.
"Well, if that's not understandable, I don't know what is," a crestfallen Harry commented.
"So, I'd say there's nothing we can do about that now for the time being, so I'd like to do something with you," I pulled out a bag and tossed four golden Galleons on the table.
"Woohoo... now it's going to get bloody," the Twins showed their amusement and four people's eyes widened at the statement.
"Tch, don't be fooled," Draco said coldly and I drew my dagger, causing the girls to gulp visibly.
"It won't harm you! Here, cut yourselves, put a drop of your blood on each Galleon and the rest of you, give them yours," I gave orders to the round and pulled my - always invisible - coin over my head and the others did the same. Harry had already reached for the dagger and sliced into his skin, spreading his blood unconcernedly, and everyone stared at him as he did so stoically. Then his great love took heart and did the same. She grimaced at the pain, but in true Slytherin fashion she didn't utter a sound and happily gave her blood. Ron wordlessly cut himself too, but hissed out while Astoria almost eagerly plucked the dagger from his fingers.
Meanwhile, I had drawn my second dagger and slashed myself, watching the blood ooze from the cut and dribble onto the new coins and then passed my dagger to Draco. We all went about it in silence. When we had finished and healed ourselves, I placed the Proteus Charm on the coins which made them glow.
"You wonder why you had to bleed? Well, I personified the coins! That way, communication only works between us." I pointed the wand at the coins and cast "Aboredefodio" four times, a spell that bored a hole into the Galleon, which worked beautifully. Another little spell and I had four thin black silk ribbons in my hand and handed them to the newly initiated, whereupon we all fastened on the coins around our necks.
Happy Holidays to everyone who celebrates something around this time of the year.
This might be the last chapter of 2020. I don’t know yet.