Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
The others now walked off to train while Blaise stayed behind, apparently wanting to talk to me.
"Hi, most beautiful! You know, I wanted to talk to you, tell you Ron's really not that bad. He's a bit clumsy sometimes, but with a bit of practice he can become pretty good! Black magic doesn't really suit him - not because he's scared, not that - but it's not his thing," he explained charmingly as he settled down opposite me.
"Well, not everyone develops an affinity for that branch like we do," I said, grinning happily at him.
"Looking at Harry, he really is a natural at this. Do you think that's where HIS soul kicks in?" he asked cautiously, eyeing me intently. I was really glad I'd invited Blaise to the cottage, or rather that Draco had brought him along.
"Maybe, but that shouldn't inhibit Harry. He should look at it positively and use it," I explained confidently, because I really felt you always had to make the best of everything, take advantage of all opportunities and that's what he would do.
"I agree. Ron, on the other hand, is more of a brute boxer type, which isn't a bad thing. That's something he can do well; he's really good at it and it seems to help him channel his aggression when he's punching something..." We both laughed at the description, which was probably not very flattering, but true nonetheless. If he could channel his aggression that way, very good.
Blaise nodded in agreement, his gaze briefly darting to the others who were training.
"It's nice to see Potter has a friend who'll stand by him."
"Nice to see he has a girlfriend who sticks up for him," I countered, still impressed that Daphne accepted that he wasn't alone in his head; other girls would have probably run away screaming. I felt that I had been correct in my assessment of Daphne in the common room when I had interrogated her and that it had been good to draw Harry's attention to her glances.
"I agree, but the Greengrass girls are special anyway," someone certainly didn't sound madly in love. This thought, however, immediately made me feel uncomfortable. Had I ever been in love like Harry and Blaise were right now? No, never! I may have told Draco once in the dungeons that I loved him, but in love, with all the gushing and goofy looks, I guess I never had been. I didn't miss it, though, looking into Blaise's very absent eyes. Shrugging my shoulders, I determined that I was probably too much of a head person. What isn't could still be, you never knew, but if it never came to pass, I wouldn't be sad either.
"But now something else, have you started teaching the Unforgivables yet?" I asked curiously and leaned far forward, almost lying on the tabletop. I was dying to know how they had done.
"Sure, just as you ordered, boss! Everyone had fun with the Imperius Curse and tried it on each other, it was very amusing! It doesn't cause much trouble for anyone here, even Ron was able to control it. The only one who is able to break the Imperio very easily is Harry! Then it was on to the Crucio. Now let's put it this way: I should never, but really never, piss Astoria off. Trust me, the girls at Hogwarts are safe from me from now on. It is remarkable how much fun the girl had torturing the spiders that had terrified Ron. Harry had surprisingly few inhibitions with the rats in that regard! The glorious hero of the wizarding world managed to torture a rat to death with the Cruciatus Curse without batting an eyelid," Blaise was deeply impressed.
I could guess that two faces had helped Harry to carry it out: one was Wormtail and the other Bellatrix. Yes, after the mess at the Ministry, Harry had probably worked on mastering and directing his emotions and seemed to be able to control them now, I was pleased to say.
"Well, the Twins can be really scary with how much ruthlessness and cruelty they're willing to act, but I guess that's disposition. Only Daphne seemed to find it less than easy when it came to torture; her mouse didn't look to be in much pain at all! However, she sent her Avada at the mouse without holding back! She was the first, after Harry's dead rat, to become a 'killer'. We were all very proud of her," he said dramatically and I giggled.
"I tell you, Daphne should not be underestimated because of her kind nature."
"Absolutely, she seems to prefer a quick end! Where was I? ... Surprisingly, Harry had a harder time with the final Avada than he did with the Cruciatus. Even though he reluctantly managed it after Ron put a rat in front of him instead of the spider, otherwise I don't think it would have worked out."
I laughed at the idea of Ron's face when he had dared undaunted by death to swap the animals. Yes, he knew Harry.
"So I suppose Astoria, the Twins, and you managed it too. What about Ron?" I asked eagerly as he nodded in confirmation.
"Well, he managed it too, on a spider, but he was crying! That was a bit ... depressing! Daphne then retreated far away with him in the garden to look after him. I guess it's all not so easy for him," Blaise explained sympathetically.
I groaned sufferingly. I would never have guessed that Ron was capable of so many feelings, as he was usually more of a bull in a china shop, but maybe it was a good thing that, unlike me, he still had something like a conscience.
"The thing with his brothers is also getting to him. They kiss in front of him now; very discreetly, unlike before when we had to be afraid they would do it in front of us, but they are slowly trying to get him used to it. He's doing quite well for the shocks he gets regularly. I think and feel he can be relied on," he assessed Ron matter-of-factly. I was glad for that opinion and grateful that he was such a good observer, whose keen eye and good sense could definitely be counted on.
"You mean he won't put us in danger and he's got himself under control? Very well. So, if you think we can trust him, he should get his own unregistered wand now, then you won't have to keep lending yours for practice!"
"Yes," Blaise nodded thoughtfully and replied, "I don't think that should be a risk, he can definitely be trusted so far. He wouldn't betray us, I think. But I'm sure you've also made certain that he can't do that in the first place!" At this he grinned broadly at me and winked. How well he knew me too.
"Well, Blaise your assessment means a lot to me. If he proves himself at Hogwarts, he will then be included in the Cottage's protection spells at Christmas," I decided. "And yes, of course I have us covered. Friendship or not, the stuff he had to swallow was tough; I couldn't take any chances."
He nodded in affirmation.
"You seem a little distracted?" he hesitantly enquired, raising one of his dark brows questioningly and scrutinising me attentively out of his alert, dark brown eyes.
"Have I ever told you what an excellent observer you are?" I smiled softly and he showed me his charming smile. "You're right, but please don't tell the others or they'll worry. Tonight, for me, it'll be the first time to go..." I grimaced and I saw the understanding flash in his dark eyes. He nodded immediately and fell silent, standing up and walking over to Draco, who had been supervising the training session until then. He began to joke with his friend while I enjoyed the restored garden, which looked even more beautiful. After all, no one said that something even more beautiful couldn't grow after great destruction.
When we returned in the afternoon after a leisurely meal, I first treated myself to a relaxing bath, enjoying splashing around in the warm water and skilfully blocking out the fact that I would meet HIM again today. I tried compulsively to fight the image of his tight-lipped mouth coming closer to me. It shook me and I quickly dived deep under.
As I twisted and turned in front of the mirror, looking at myself in the dress, I snorted loudly in an unladylike manner, because I thought I looked like a vampire.
It was a velvet dress with cap sleeves and a floor length black skirt. My waist was advantageously accentuated with black lacing, which stood out nicely against the red fabric that formed the front over my bust and stomach. The small, attached puff sleeves, which then merged into the long cap sleeves, were also made of the same red fabric and thus stood out beautifully. The dress was actually relatively low cut, but I would wear my robe over it, which would cover the neckline a bit.
In any case, with this dress I would fit into the medieval-inspired scenery, because I didn't believe that the Dark Manor was more modern than the Hall of Barons or some of the older areas of Malfoy Manor, and when I recalled Bellatrix' appearance, my dress was certainly appropriate. The thought made me chuckle that I was comparing my outfit to that madwoman's, but oh well, she was the only other woman in the Inner Circle.
I had found my heavy, shimmering, black Death Eater robe in my closet today. It was that all-swallowing cloak with the big hood that somehow finally sealed it when Draco put it around my shoulders and I fastened the buckle at the front. The robe fell in a way that you couldn't see my clothes underneath and it looked bulky. Impressive how it swung around my feet.
I was fully equipped and walked down the stairs on the arm of an equally disguised Draco. Lucius and Severus were standing next to the large, round reception table that dominated the entrance with the huge bouquet of flowers in the centre towering up, taking advantage of the size and vastness of the reception hall. Everything is theatre, I thought to myself.
There was a greedy glint in Severus' eyes, obvious to me, when my robe dragged behind me, thanks to the steps, revealing part of my dress with its wide cleavage. Oh, yes he was becoming more dangerous to me every time, that much was certain.
"How nice, you are ready. We're about to start, but you still have the honour of choosing a mask. Here," Lucius presented us with prefabricated iron templates and stepped back from the table. I knew that Severus' mask was matte black with playful green decoration and Lucius' was shiny matte gold with the fleur-de-lys on his forehead and chin.
Draco approached one of the blanks without hesitation and waved his wand over it. Unlike me, he had expected this and had certainly been working on his style for years, and so a mask slowly came into being before our eyes. It was entirely silver, but not smooth, looking like it had been hammered. In front of the mouth opening he made a crossed lattice and now, as a crowning touch, shiny, filigree, entwining ornaments were laid around the cheeks and forehead and over the nose, which looked like a second, filigree mask on top of the mask. Very beautiful, very different from Severus and Lucius, and also entirely different from the plain, dull, unadorned masks of the Death Eaters without rank.
After Draco had finished, interested glances swung to me. What should I do? I asked myself frantically.
In the end, I decided on a high-gloss, polished gold mask that was quicker to finish than Draco's elaborate base and then placed just a few intricate, playful, chiselled vines that I highlighted in a matte red. With the gold tone, it was more like Lucius' and the fine ornaments were also similarly finely wrought as Lucius'. However, they were only spread across the forehead and ran back up over the temples. Very discreet, very unobtrusive, but altogether special and still standing out from the others because it was neither silver nor matte. Finally, I hid my mouth behind a narrow slit. It was ready.
As if choreographed, we put on the masks in sync, hiding our faces behind the metal, as well as our feelings behind the impenetrable mental walls, and I faltered briefly as I felt the cool, metal against my warm skin. Silently, I released the held air in a hiss. This was so final that I had to suppress the trembling. Peering out through the narrow slits, I felt my mouth brush against the small opening and my breath escape hotly from my nose. It was an oppressive, constricting feeling, not pleasant at all.
I was Hermione now - in a black cloak, wearing an iron mask, and with the Dark Mark on the back of my neck. I was now Hermione Malfoy, the Death Eater, no longer Hermione Granger; it was well and truly sealed! I felt as if the mask was clinging to my skin and I wanted to rip it off my face in a fit of panic.
Then, I looked at the frightening visages of the others and knew that we would be the nightmare of every child unfortunate enough to see us dressed like this. Pulling the hoods over our heads, we completed the eerie image we gave. The black darkness now swallowed us, me, completely. My heart was beating up to my throat. What would await me today?
Lucius nodded at us and we started to move. As Severus hurried past me, I tugged briefly on his sleeve, causing him to pause. His shiny black obsidians glinted at me from the slits in his black mask. It seemed uncanny... very much so! I swallowed for a moment.
"Severus, what about HIM?" I whispered as we followed the two Malfoys at a moderate pace down the avenue to the entrance portal.
"He is back at Hogwarts. Thanks to Fawke's help, we were able to improve his overall condition after the fact; the phoenix gave a tear to add to a strengthening solution. Only the hand will not recover," it came from him tersely and succinctly.
"Did he want..."
"What, know how he had the honour of waking up in my house? Oh, yes, he wanted that. I told him someone knocked on my door and he was alone outside. Whether he bought it, I do not know but let us just say I am a convincing liar! ... Now come on, the Dark Lord does not like to wait," Severus said and apparated the very next second, leaving an empty spot at which I was now staring, perplexed.
Wow, okay, how did that work? I closed my eyes. They had apparently forgotten about me. All for one and every man for himself? I pondered wryly. How good that no one could see that smirk behind my iron mask. Obviously, even Lucius forgot something once in a while. Or were they all three so sure I could do it on my own? Somehow I couldn't help thinking of Alexandre Dumas the whole time, wondering if he had ever worn one of those things when he wrote the novel, while I felt the cold, constricting metal against my cheeks.
I concentrated on my mark, which throbbed in my neck the more I thought about it. Now it was as if it was alive in my neck, which was not pleasant and I felt the Dark Lord's blood calling me to a fixed point. When I let go and apparated, it guided me! I arrived in a windswept courtyard, taking in the rough, rocky surroundings. Since everything was built of grey stone, it seemed as if we had landed on a rock. The rough wind pulled hard at my clothes and whistled coldly around my ears, but I didn't have time for that now and hurried without transition towards the stairways and after the three waving capes disappearing into them.
They vanished into a large, dark hole that led into the serpent's den. The metal entrance gates slammed shut behind me, giving me a feeling that I was now firmly trapped in the clutches of the Dark Lord. I gathered up my skirts and closed in on them, not even taking in my surroundings because of the speed. As soon as I caught up to the others, I let go of my robes and let them flutter around me as I took my place at their side. None of the three had turned around even once.
It was as if they had swallowed sticks. Yes, that was very accurate: they walked straight as sticks. With Lucius in the middle, Severus on the right and Draco on the left, and me three steps behind Lucius, it looked like a ballet formation. I heard the clacking of shoes echoing loudly in my ears and saw, well hidden under the mask, how gloomy everything was here, silent, quiet, cold, eerie and dark.There was no stucco, no ornamentation, nothing, just long, dreary corridors reduced to the essentials.
I heard a hissing sound and faltered for a moment until I made out a twisting and moving ball of many bodies. Yuck, how gruesome was that? It was a bunch of snakes entwined in and over each other. I was so fascinated that I stopped and gazed spellbound at the impressive tangle. Had Medusa's head once looked like that?
Wow, how come the little rat is still alive? I asked myself, seriously amused, before pulling myself together and hurrying on. Damn, I needed to concentrate more and be less distracted by my surreal, mysterious surroundings!
By the time we came to a large double door after endless walking, I wanted to say 'finally'. The Dark Manor must have been really huge, and if you got lost, you ran the risk of ending up as snake food. I was still wondering about the fact that the corridors behind me were plunged into blackness again. Gee, he was really doing everything he could to make this place creepy. I was aware of that, and damn it, it was still working. It felt uncomfortable here.
Severus opened the door and Lucius and Draco and I strode through. I didn't dare look at Severus, who slid back to Lucius' side. In front of me was an impressive hall, the size of which reminded me of the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Wow, so much black marble with white inclusions. Hey, the wall panels were bordered by pretty black onyx stones, that was really decorative! But apart from that, it was empty. Now I understood what he had liked about the Hall of Barons. Maybe I should have left out the willows, I mused, as I took in the eerie expanse.
In one corner, near the black ebony throne, the members of the Inner Circle were clustering together. They were all there: the three Lestranges, Nott, Avery, Macnair, Crabbe and Goyle. The gentlemen immediately gave an implied bow to my three men. Only Bellatrix looked at them contemptuously as I watched the men let their masks go up in smoke with a flick of their wands. Oh great, they hadn't told me about that either! I did as they did and phew... apparently it was the masks, it had worked. It would have been too embarrassing if it hadn't. Since I had hurried along in Lucius' slipstream, people hadn't noticed me so much as long as we had been on the move. That was fine with me.
"Is this the Mudblood? That I should live to see these hallowed halls desecrated in this way," Nott immediately snarled.
"You should watch your tongue! Or do you question your Lord's decision?" Lucius snarled back. Severus said nothing, just folded his arms. They were all still wearing their hoods.
"Oh, I'm sure you don't know that dear Severus is fucking your Mudblood through heaven and hell," Bellatrix retorted just as viciously. "Tell me, since when does a Malfoy like to share?" she provoked, venom sparkling in her eyes.
"My dear Bellatrix, I do not have to answer to you any more than Severus, Draco or even Hermione! What the four of us do is none of your business," Lucius stated despotically and I must say his demeanour was impressive. "And let me tell you this much: she is our Mudblood! If I see either of you getting too close, you will have me to deal with," he now threatened blatantly and quietly as... as I felt the magic seem to accumulate in the room and immediately sank into a deep curtsy of my own volition without looking back, as I strongly suspected the Dark Lord had joined in. I tried to look up from my submissive position and saw that everyone was almost throwing themselves onto the floor again, only the three in front of me dared and only hinted at a bow. I, on the other hand, made sure I was as good as invisible.
"Lucius, Severus, and Draco! I'm glad you're so punctual," the Dark Lord greeted. This was probably the stupid sign that they were allowed to rise. The Dark Lord climbed the platform, dragging his long black robe behind him, and took a seat on the only object in the whole room, his uncomfortable throne. There wasn't even a cushion on it! The good guy seemed to have an iron butt; I bit back another laugh.
"What is going through your mind, Mudblood, that is so exhilarating that you are trying to hide it?"
Why had I thought about such shit, I asked myself, when the Dark Lord's much too sweet, hollow voice rang out in the cold hall. I stayed in my curtsy and didn't even think of rising. That was no good at all!
"Answer me," the request sounded more angry now. I looked up a little, noticing how he motioned for the Death Eater to rise with a gruff gesture.
"My Lord, I thought I would have put a cushion on your throne again for you to sit on comfortably," I replied submissively, and I heard some of the Death Eaters hiss and suck in their breath, but lying was not an option, unfortunately. My men neither moved nor looked at me. Suddenly the Dark Lord laughed. He laughed, just laughed, a terrible, evil laugh that sent shivers down my spine as his pale face contorted into a horrible grimace.
"You are a bad girl. You decorated the hall at the Manor? Lucius your wickedness knows no bounds either," he now looked at me with evil eyes flashing with anger. "If you have such thoughts, I might as well use you as a footstool for my feet, for few Mudbloods are fit for anything better," he hissed dangerously wickedly and at that moment I was sure he was only saying that for the sake of the other Death Eaters. He was amused, nothing else, and my men seemed to see it similarly. Hence, I was now almost on my knees when I said:
"As My Lord wishes."
"Now get up. Everyone, come here, we have important business to discuss."
I rose slowly, keeping very much in the background; this had been too much attention already. I was aware of that, much to my chagrin.
"Macnair, what do you have to report from the giants?" his bored voice rang out. A bull-necked man moved away from the crowd, stepped forward, bowing briefly, then straightened and looked into the Dark Lord's creepy face.
"If My Lord approves, the attack on the West Coast will take place tomorrow. The Muggles won't even know what hit them," he laughed spitefully and the Dark Lord nodded.
"Then this is approved. Lucius, you'll be the first to be informed, as always." The Dark Lord waved Macnair back into the ranks, not paying him any further attention, and asked unblinkingly into the round, "Anything else?"
Bellatrix put her hand up in the air like a small child, waving it back and forth restlessly, showing that she wanted to say something. Lucius blinked once in resignation and Draco pressed his lips together slightly at her insane manner; only Severus stood there as if he were made of stone.
"Bellatrix?" even the Dark Lord sounded pained. She, on the other hand, seemed blissful when he addressed her.
"Yesterday, My Lord, Nott and we" - she pointed to her husband and his brother as well - "...had great fun," she giggled madly. "And, well, we asked Severus if he wanted to join in the fun, but he had better things to do, fucking the Mudblood," came the abysmally nasty and vulgar words from Bellatrix' lips. The Dark Lord raised his head slightly and cocked his bare head at the information, taking in Severus, the Malfoys and me. "Then, after Severus didn't want to, we saw two witches on the way and it was so nice to play with them, we were -" She cackled loudly, at which point he gruffly interrupted her babbling.
"Could someone tell me succinctly what you did," he sounded ill-tempered. Rudolphus took over the talking and Bellatrix, hurt by the rebuke, closed her mouth and bowed her head sadly.
"Amelia Bones and Emmeline Vance. After a brief magical skirmish we managed to wipe them off the face of the earth," he stuck his chest out proudly and I was... I knew Vance was in the Order, I guess that meant one less member. I didn't care, I must not care, as I felt those dissecting, red-hot eyes on me and I immediately turned my gaze to him and looked at him fearlessly, showing him that the deaths of the two women affected me little, even though I knew that Susan from Hufflepuff had thereby lost her aunt, and that she had been the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the Ministry of Magic. It was and had to be of no consequence to me; we all lost someone we liked or knew. This was war.
"Congratulations, you three. It's nice when you channel the fun in such a meaningful way," he checked that point off as well and turned to stare at Lucius. "Your opinion, my Right Hand?"
"Well, since the post of Head of Magical Law Enforcement is now vacant, I would suggest that we fill it from within our ranks. Thanks to Hermione, the Minister is very responsive to my advice. I think I will be able to accommodate our man as a replacement," Lucius said pompously and very arrogantly.
"Who would that be?" Avery enquired.
"I have Pius Thicknesse in mind," Lucius announced with a nasty grin, which the Dark Lord's thin-lipped mouth returned, making me think of his mouth on my lips again. Oh no! I tried to distract myself. Don't think about it! Are you trying to get yourself killed?! I scolded myself.
"A good choice! As always, this is in good hands with you," Lucius took credit. The others must be seething, I could only imagine. "Crabbe and Goyle, what do you have to report?" The Dark Lord's voice sounded cold, as if he knew something we didn't already know. And it was then that the two brawny men actually threw themselves on their knees at the Lord's feet and began to wail.
"Forgive us, my lord! We did our best. He was-" they both stammered.
"What?" the Dark Lord hissed dangerously, leaning forward aggressively.
"Well, Herbert Chorley, the junior minister of the Muggle government, must have had a stronger mind than expected. Our unit's Imperius Curse failed. Forgive me, My Lord!" they both pleaded with their hands up in the air when the first curse already hit them, and then the second. But to my astonishment there was no loud screaming or anything like that; they had immediately fallen silent and were now kneeling with hanging arms in front of their lord and he was looking at the two with anger flashing in his demonic eyes.
"Can any of you tell me why I am surrounded by such incompetent idiots?" This was probably a rhetorical question as no one felt compelled to answer. "What is the punishment for such unworthy failure?" he mused, rubbing his pale, smooth chin. "Mudblood, come here," the command came through to me coldly.
I was caught completely off guard, but promptly started moving, my long robe flowing around my ankles as I bravely walked towards the Dark Lord and came to a halt beside the two tall, kneeling men. I also tried to keep my heartbeat steady as I had absolutely no idea what was coming and I was sure my three men were also tense.
"Stand up," he said so softly that it was barely more than a breath and Crabbe and Goyle stood up with amazing ease when I spotted something: their eyes looked strangely vacant and lifeless. The Dark Lord stared down at them and I was just wondering what I was doing there, but I'd be damned if I was going to ask HIM.
"Now, my proud but inept Purebloods, bow your heads, show me how much you welcome our new member into our Inner Circle." At these words I had to be careful not to let my mask slip. How perfidious of the devilish lord!
What a humiliation for these proud, stubborn men. He did not torture them with torture curses, he confined himself, after imposing his Imperius on them, to torturing them psychologically by humiliating them as much as possible. How utterly vicious. The others watching gasped in horror and indignation and I heard the uneasy rustle of their cloaks at my back as the two colossal, hulking men, the fathers of my schoolmates, seemed to resist the Dark Lord's curse somewhat after all. It seemed as if he had not fully conquered their consciousness, after all, he wanted them to fully experience their humiliation.
Finally, they more or less resigned and bowed, lowering their upper bodies before me, and I stood there as if I were made of marble.
"Lower," thundered the uncompromising voice of our master. I looked down at Crabbe and Goyle who were bending their backs before me, when they shot back up with clear eyes and I could see the absolute horror within. They seemed quite beside themselves that they had received such a punishment for their failure. The Dark Lord, however, ignored this coldly.
"Your new task: practise with your unit. It is inexcusable that you were unable to finish your assignment. Thanks to you, it is now impossible to get any closer to the Muggle Minister, as this has likely caught the attention of the Ministry! Should you fail me again, I will let the Mudblood come up with a punishment for your renewed failure and believe me, she is inventive!" he hissed angrily.
I heard the horrified but restrained astonishment of the others present that he would expose them and involve me like that. That was quite bad, including for me, and I thought I knew that was my punishment for having been amused earlier. Oh yes the Dark Lord was vengeful, very much so, I remarked, forcing down the lump that was forming painfully in my throat. This would not make it any easier for me in the ranks of his followers, because I didn't believe they considered this as a punishment for me; they thought too one-dimensionally. He knew they would terrorise and mistreat me after he had apparently 'favoured' me so, even though I was an inferior Mudblood. How evil and also cunning of the Dark Lord.
The two wizards retreated in a crouched posture, like the exposed, humiliated individuals they were, while the Dark Lord turned to Severus, unconcerned as ever, with a ghastly smile, and I remained, forgotten and still far too close to the Lord for my liking.
"Now to you, my dark friend. You had the most difficult assignment from me. What did you accomplish? Did you manage to satisfy me again?" The question sounded very suggestive as he whispered this softly.
"'My Lord, all is fulfilled," Severus snarled after stepping forward emotionlessly and then fell silent. Now that was a statement that revealed so much. I was still standing in front of the throne and was aware of the glances at my back, but also of the seemingly disinterested gaze of the lord sometimes roaming over me.
"Exhilarating and uplifting, Severus. Then I congratulate you on continuing to encourage the Dementors to side with us, so that they may spread their pleasant coldness throughout the land," he philosophised, and I thought to myself that he could not have found anyone better to do that, except the Malfoys. It suited Severus to say nothing, not to take excessive credit. He had done his job and finished it. I heard him step back but didn't see it, not being foolish enough to turn my back on the Dark Lord.
"Now, my first assignment to you Draco: ah, I want to see how you do, if you can compete with your father and also keep up. You will go to the largest werewolf pack in England and see that you bring my old ally Fenrir Greyback back into my ranks, understand? You've already been able to engage him once briefly as support during the break-in in Azkaban, but now I want him firmly at my side again as before. That is now up to you," he said, looking coldly at Draco, and I heard nothing, only moving cloth. Severus or Lucius said nothing either and so the Dark Lord appeared satisfied and leaned back a little.
"Avery, you're the only one who hasn't been active yet, but you'll just be taking an observing role. Mudblood! Oh yes, I have not forgotten you. You have the honour of showing what you can do! You will bring down the Brockdale Bridge," he informed me, absolutely nonchalant, and I immediately sank into an implied curtsy and retreated, slipping quickly into the shadows. Okay, now that was an assignment. Thoughts rattled around in my head. Even though I had no clue how they operated here, I suspected that everyone led a regiment or whatever it was called. I wondered if that meant I could call on Avery's men.
It was great that I could now sense the venomous and indignant looks of the others again when I had retreated back into their sphere. Damn it, why hadn't he tortured the two losers with Crucio? Why did he have to humiliate them like that and include me as well to boot? He had calculatedly done that on purpose to make my life here even harder. But what else could I expect from a Dark Lord? He made the punishment of two others mine, how thoughtful and kind of him.
It seemed the rapport was now over and he was talking to Lucius who had stepped close. While Bellatrix was glaring daggers at me, Draco was talking to the Lestrange brothers and I was imitating Severus who was standing silently next to the Dark Lord's throne listening to Lucius, only I had positioned myself near a wall panel. No one paid any attention to me beyond that; it was as if I were a foreign body. That was fine with me!
Eventually, however, I took heart; there was no point. Just imagine, the next time I came under the Dark Lord's eyes and had not fulfilled my task. Then I would most probably wish and long for the Cruciatus, as Crabbe and Goyle had probably done, for he was inventive in the way he punished, or so I thought.
Thus, I took a deep breath and walked boldly with my head held high towards the other side, because instinctively we had split up. I had moved to the right side of the hall, while the Death Eaters had gathered on the left. I heard my heels echoing loudly on the marble and also saw the incredulous stares that I dared to disturb their circles of my own accord. I thought I might've even gotten the interest of the throne faction, but I didn't let that stop me and a short time later I was standing in front of the dark blond Avery.
I performed a very cursory curtsy, if you wanted to call it that, and I saw him eyeing me disparagingly, contemptuously, his arms folded defensively in front of his chest.
"How does this work? When can you start?" I asked. He seemed taken aback by my harsh words, but I also heard that there was no sound and everyone was listening to us. "Do you know the bridge, Avery?" I pressed further into him and saw the incomprehension in his eyes. "You wonder what I want? Well, the Dark Lord has given orders. The way I see it, he doesn't appreciate waiting. I know the metal bridge in London, I have a plan. How fast are you and your men? I won't stand in the way!" I saw understanding enter his eyes.
"Is someone trying to suck up?" Bellatrix bitched, measuring me with a scowl and I shook my head.
"No, I'm just being and always have been effective," I informed her curtly, looking at the still silent man, starting to get impatient.
He was almost a match for Severus! When he still did not respond, I laughed maliciously and slowly turned away.
"If you don't want to... Is it your plan to give me the cold shoulder? I can do it on my own, if need be. If you change your mind, Avery, tomorrow night seven o'clock at the Manor," I informed him and withdrew. I knew these power games were played by everyone here, but guys, I was learning from the best.
I knew everyone had been watching and listening, which was good. When the Dark Lord dismissed us gruffly with a growled "GO!" shortly afterwards, everyone slipped swiftly out of the mausoleum-like hall. Only Severus and Lucius stayed behind. I simply followed Draco without being told, who was the last to leave the hall with me. He preceded me, we didn't speak a word and as we walked down the steps into the courtyard to apparate from there, I simply felt it take a load off my mind.