Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
The last day before we had to go back to Hogwarts tomorrow had arrived. As so often, we had a lot to do and so, after a harmonious breakfast, we quickly made our way to the cottage. I was wearing a black cotton knee-length strap dress, which I found striking and beautiful with its sophisticated V-neckline on both the front and back. A colourful floral embroidery adorned the waist and the hem line and a narrow band accentuated my waist.
I felt completely comfortable and it showed. A lot would happen today. If I had known at the time how much would change, I would have pulled the covers over my head again and slept through the day! In hindsight, with my proverbial luck, I could have guessed that everything would turn out differently than I thought, but so I smiled into Draco's striking face, who had even developed a minimal tan thanks to his regular early morning run, I tried to convince myself. He gave me a cheerful smile, the kind that almost no one at Hogwarts knew from the Ice Prince of Slytherin. Even our friends rarely saw him so at ease, even though I knew that as soon as we wandered into the rest of the Manor, he would become another Draco again, the Heir who didn't allow himself any emotion.
Oh yes, Draco wore as many masks and different faces as I did, which is probably why we were so close. When I remembered how we had looked into each other's eyes a year ago on the Hogwarts Express and seen a unifying bond, I now understood only too well where that came from. He was trying to live up to many demands: as I mentioned, the Heir of the Malfoys, the leader of House Slytherin, the second youngest Death Eater after Severus, the occasionally callous friend and my lover and, to cap it off, whatever he had been valiantly concealing from me until now but was probably taking more and more shape, and there too he was the leading figure.
He had to please Lucius, the Dark Lord, Severus, me, our friends, and those who recognised him as their leader. It wasn't easy, and by now I was also feeling the pressure that was constantly weighing on my shoulders from all sides.
On the other hand, we had to keep Dumbledore, the Order, the teachers, the Ministry, and also the Death Eaters at bay. It was a balancing act for all of us and I could guess how Severus had been feeling for years. It was simply exhausting and demanded constant vigilance. It was good to see that we were able to let our masks down in our own homes and show who we were so that we wouldn't forget.
With these thoughts buzzing through my head, we made our way to our friends, leaving the Manor behind but staying in the immediate vicinity, which I thought was hilarious. Really no one would look for Harry in such close proximity to the Dark Lord's Right Hand, that much was certain. The Goddess had a sense of humour and so, as chance would have it, my cottage was in Wiltshire, almost next door to the Manor. Since Lucius was again quite busy and had urgent things to do today, and Severus was running around in a bad mood and with a lot of things to do so close to the start of school, it was perfectly all right for us to take our leave of the Manor.
When we arrived at a cottage plunged into chaos, it was unbelievable how these few people managed to create such a mess. Draco looked at me in incredible distress, then closed his eyes in resignation. In Slytherin he wouldn't tolerate anything like that, no matter if it was in the common room or in the dormitories and it was clear that he attributed the current disarray to us - the Gryffindors - and I had to agree with him wholeheartedly. The noise they made while packing was deafening.
To shouts of "Whose is this?" to "Where's my red shirt?" to "Who hid the book?" to "Really, truly, if I don't find my socks right now, I'm going to go crazy!" they ran headlong through the whole house gathering up their scattered belongings.
The Twins had taken refuge in the arbour and that's where Draco and I retreated too, only to be greeted effusively.
"Hello most beautiful, if you hadn't come we would have sent you Orange. There is news, big, big news! Unfortunately, the Lovegoods only came home the night before last, but... as we are -" George winked at us with a cheeky grin.
"The best, please," Fred interjected with a grin, fishing for applause and playing with George's hand that was on the table.
"Of course." I chuckled at their antics. If they were in such a good mood after the talk, something must have come of it and so I was on the edge of my seat.
"Well, Xenophilius told us everything he knows. He knew immediately what we meant when we described the sign to him; he said it was the sign of the Deathly Hallows, three powerful objects. According to an old legend, they were created by Death himself and whoever got hold of the THREE would be more powerful than Death himself as the Master of Death... Then he explained it to us.
"First of all, the magic wand, called the Elder Wand, which wins every magical duel fought, then a black stone, which has the power to bring the dead back to the living and, last but not least, a cloak of invisibility, which makes you invisible with its never-failing power and whose cloaking fabric, unlike the conventional cloaks of invisibility, could never be damaged either by SPELLS or by ageing.
"He explained to us again in detail how the sign is made up: the pictorial symbol is an equilateral triangle, symbolising the cloak of invisibility that encloses everything, a circle representing the magic stone and finally a vertical middle line depicting the wand," George explained, drawing along with his index finger on the table, and we listened devoutly as he spoke very seriously. "Xenophilius loves to ramble, so he then informed us that the legend was rendered in the 'Tale of the Three Brothers' by Beedle the Bard. He said that the initiated know that these brothers really existed: Antioch, the one with the staff, Cadmus with the stone and Ignotus Peverell." The Twins' blue eyes twinkled intensely at us during the report.
"WOW, so they're serious then?" both Draco and I wanted to know at the same time, but received a scowl from both of them that meant something like we were interrupting their narrative.
"Well, the wand, also known as the Elder Wand, Death Stick or Wand of Destiny... is said to be made of elder wood, with the tail hair of a thestral as its magical core. This very unusual, powerful substance would be deceptive, ESPECIALLY because only owners who accept death would be able to fully harness the power it contains. Then, he went on to tell us the fortunes surrounding this hallow, beginning with the murder of Antioch. Furthermore, the following instances are known where the Elder Wand changed hands:
"Egbert the Monstrous, killed Emmerich the Wicked to wrest the wand from him.
Godelot died after his son Hereward wanted the wand.
Loxias took the Elder Wand from Barnabas Deverill, whom he had murdered.
Loxias was then in turn defeated by Arcus and Livius, and that's where the trail gets lost.
"After that enlightening bit of history, he told us about the stone and that you can supposedly bring back the dead by turning the magic stone three times, but that it didn't bring any luck to this brother either, and that he died as well. Only the last brother was lucky and hid under his cloak," George ended the lecture, after which Fred took up the thread.
"We've already told all this to the wild bunch in there, so now that we knew more names, we scoured everything again. We also got ancient records from old wizarding communities, because we realised that if these were family heirlooms that had always been passed down - except for the wand, of course - then the stone belonging to the Dark Lord must have come from Cadmus Peverell, whose line merged with the Gaunt family. Also, since Harry got his cloak through the Potter family, we just assumed that it traced back to the good Ignotus Peverell.
"Being industrious, we went to Godric's Hollow and, what can I say, we found a tomb with a name, Ignotus' name on it, centuries old and the only other thing on it was the Deathly Hallows sign," two grinning Twins sat back looking very pleased with themselves and Draco and I just looked at each other with wide eyes.
"Wow," Draco said in amazement, running his hand through his hair, "then Potter once again has more luck than brains to be descended from one of the three most powerful brothers ever to create such masterpieces - because nobody can tell me it was Death! But whoa! It's no wonder that the Dark Lord is also descended from one of those brothers, is it?" a very surprised Draco summed it up and I laughed.
"What is it, most beautiful, that amuses you?" the Twins asked, raising their red eyebrows in sync.
"Several things at once. Firstly, that I'm sure Harry didn't enjoy being anything special again and secondly, are you aware that we already have two Deathly Hallows, even if one is a Horcrux?" I commented, looking at Draco intently.
"Yeah well... Harry wasn't happy at all that he now has something to do with Death as well. He was quite depressed," the Twins confirmed. I was still watching Draco and I could practically see the gears turning behind his forehead, at which point I slapped the table with the flat of my hand and they all flinched and looked at me, though I just kept my eyes firmly on my boyfriend.
"Don't even think about it Draco," I threatened blatantly, glaring hard at him and pinching my mouth into a thin line.
"What, I'm not doing anything, darling," he grinned at me innocently, but he couldn't fool me.
"Draco, I warn you: You will show no interest in that stupid stick! The only one who, if anyone, is capable of mastering it is Harry, not YOU. I'm sorry, Draco, but if you get any foolish ideas about becoming the next owner of that wand, I won't let you have it without a fight! I hope you've heard that only those who ACCEPT death can master it! I don't believe that you are ready to die for everything, everyone and nothing! Do you understand? You must be prepared to die not only for something you desire, but also for the midge and the bee," I waved my hand through the air agitatedly.
"Oh... and it's like that with Potter?" Draco replied blasély. Being aware of the prophecy surrounding Harry and the Dark Lord, unlike him, I knew that Harry had grappled intensively with the subject of death - why, how, when, where - ever since he learned about the prophecy, and that he saw his chance of coming out of the fiasco alive as very slim, accepted it, but also held out hope. Since he now knew that he carried a soul shard inside him, he had probably clearly come to terms with the fact that something, sometime, had to die inside him. The Twins also listened to me and Draco with wide ears and eyes.
"Yes," I said with finality and looked him firmly in the eye. Draco measured me and then nodded decisively.
"Very well, if that's how you see it and it's so important to you... I don't need a stupid stick to be powerful," he said arrogantly.
"All right then, Draco," I said, hoping for his sake with all my heart that he meant it.
"I promise," came the assurance from him without me having to prompt him and I realised he wasn't lying and wanted to hope it stayed that way in the hour of temptation.
"Hermione, beautiful, you're not interested at all?" George wanted to know with a raised brow. He sounded sceptical.
"No, no need, not of the wand, I'm not that greedy," I replied, not taking my eyes off Draco to impress upon him the seriousness of my words and he raised his hands as if to surrender.
"I just want to know what our most beautiful knows, once again, that we haven't the faintest clue about." I just shrugged mysteriously at Fred's question. Secrets were always well kept with me.
"Hey, most beautiful," a loudly shouting Ron interrupted us. "Harry wants to see you urgently in his room," he yelled across the garden at a resounding volume. You would have thought he had magically amplified his voice, but he hadn't, well, he had an organ and was waving at me excitedly. The fact that he had recently adopted the nickname for me showed that he accepted and came to terms with a lot at the cottage, even if I thought it was ridiculous, I wasn't that pretty either! He was becoming more and more one of us, I was pleased to note. I excused myself from the other three and left them to their business as the Twins were about to start talking shop with Draco.
"Hermione, can I talk to you for a minute? Alone?" asked Harry slightly impatiently at the door to his room, letting me in. His whole body looked tense.
"Sure, here I am." I walked towards his bed that he shared with Daphne and sat on the edge, waiting... Did he want to talk to me about the new findings? "So, what's up Harry?" I asked curiously, looking at him eagerly as he lowered himself onto the bed beside me, eyeing me and finally nervously running a hand through his hair, which was already sticking out in all directions anyway. He seemed incredibly agitated and restless.
"Would you go with me to Diagon Alley today Hermione?" he finally explained his request quietly, almost whispering. "I mean, I'm sure Blaise would come too, and I know you don't actually want me to go to Diagon for understandable reasons. I agree, but I'd have something to do where I want only you to be there! Something that I can only do myself and I don't want to wait until I can go to Hogsmeade where I probably won't have such a good selection! It's really important!" He looked at me pleadingly through his round glasses with big eyes.
"Hm, that could be arranged. What do you have to do that is so mysterious that someone else can't accompany you and why is it so important?
He fumbled a bit, but finally he seemed to take a deep breath and found the courage to answer me. I didn't understand anything at the moment. What was wrong with him? Everything was going relatively well, wasn't it? ... Then, reasonably confident and firm, he launched into it.
"I want to buy an engagement ring because I want to propose to Daphne!" he dropped the bombshell and I shook my head for a moment to see if I had understood correctly. The way he looked at me so impatiently, nervously and questioningly, while my features slipped, I realised he had meant every word. I barely managed to get a word out, I was so taken aback. Marry? Help! But this was Harry as he lived and breathed!
"Wow... Yeah, that's... Wow," I stammered less than intelligently, as he looked like he wanted to hear something. I mean, the thought was so foreign to me and so far away.
He smiled a little shyly, was suddenly the quiet, sometimes insecure Harry from before again. Finally I had caught myself again and cleared my throat.
"Hem... Why so early? You've only been together for - what? - two months or three?" I asked, interested but also very helpless, raising my hands in a questioning gesture.
"You don't like the idea, do you?" he asked, clearly saddened, dropping his head and I quickly shook my head.
"No, that isn't it. I'm just very surprised, it's happening so fast. Will you explain why?" I wanted to respond to him and put my hand on his shoulder comfortingly, not having burst into loud cheers.
"I just know she's the one. So why wait? Hermione, we are heading inexorably towards war and even those who feel safe can become victims. Think what happened to my parents. I believe it's the right thing to do, given what we're heading towards. My parents were also very young when they got married and had me, not as young as we were, but I just know I only want her. There's nothing wrong with that," he explained quietly, forcefully.
It seemed to me that he had been thinking about this for some time and I couldn't dismiss his arguments out of hand. When he grabbed my hand and held it as if he wanted to convince me this way too, I had to smile slightly.
"Look at me, with all that we have found out in the last few weeks, with all that I still have to face," he alluded to the prophecy and probably also to the fact that he carried a part of the Dark Lord's soul within him.
"Yes," I nodded and replied, "I understand that, but still, she's the first. Why don't you want to wait and see?" I was more cautious about that than Harry. He was still someone who rushed ahead without thinking twice and so far, fortunately, that had always worked out well.
"To then find out that she's going to run screaming when she finds out about this?" He pointed to his scar with a pained smile, alluding again to the Dark Lord. "Besides, I've fallen madly in love with Daphne and I'm just grateful that she reciprocates under all these circumstances. I don't want anyone else! If I know anything, it's that!" He looked at me forcefully and his words showed the finality of his decision. He took another deep breath and continued speaking confidently, "No, I don't want that and let's face it Hermione, a Gryffindor would be out of the question for me by now just as a Gryffindor would be out of the question for you. Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs don't suit us either, you know that.
"We're both already much more Slytherin than... Or rather, who would get involved with so much black magic and so much danger, with such a partner, except a Slytherin? The hat was going to put me in Slytherin anyway, and if I'd known then what to expect, it might have been better. But well, back then I had no idea about Hogwarts and the wizarding world. I had no idea for a long time and such stupid prejudices against Slytherins. Although, I wonder, how much of what the hat saw in me was me and how much was the Dark Lord?"
Harry really amazed me with his insights and I had to agree with him; I didn't think any of our Gryffindors were fit to be a match for him and especially to cope with his fate. In a way, he was right about that. Daphne suited him really well: she was sweet and caring, but behind that she was a very strong person, a worthy Slytherin. She was special, that was true, and Harry was right, most people would have run away screaming at the news we had discovered a few days ago, but she had followed him and backed him up.
At that moment I decided, even if I thought it was hasty, that I would help Harry, on one condition, which I also put to him right now.
"Harry, I think it's too soon, but I will support you if you promise to put it off until Christmas. I want your relationship to be stronger before then, to have been tested, because Hogwarts will be a challenge, both for you and for her, and therefore for your relationship," I wanted him to approach this with careful consideration and I saw him sizing me up with a tilt of his head.
I was aware there were many obstacles in their way. Not only could this never be allowed to become public while the Dark Lord was still alive, but her parents were a problem. She was a Pureblood, couldn't marry just anyone, but I would support Harry if he wanted her and she wanted him! I would do anything to make it happen; Greengrass would be the least of my problems, as a Death Eater of the Inner Circle I was far above him. If necessary, I would simply order him to leave his daughter with Blaise or something like that. So I was already beginning to make my plans for implementation, to plot the deed of how I could preserve and protect Daphne for Harry, against all odds. Because, let's face it, I didn't begrudge Harry the little bit of happiness he had right now, especially with all the immense expectations weighing on his shoulders as The Chosen One. I wanted him to at least find and keep his happiness in private. I wished him well with all my heart.
I stood up, smoothed out my dress and whipped out my wand, swinging it over a surprised Harry, who looked at me with a questioning expression and I smirked, waving it over myself briefly as well.
"You wanted to go shopping, Harry, but we don't want everyone to recognise you right away, do we?" I asked the rhetorical question, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the door.
When we got downstairs, Draco and the Twins were gathered in the living room and they looked at us inquiringly, almost not recognising Harry. How fortunate that the girls were apparently with Blaise and Ron was probably in his room.
"You're blonde?" echoed the Twins in horror.
"What are you doing, why did you transfigure Potter too?" Draco wanted to know.
"Because Harry and I are leaving for a few hours and no, this is going to be mine and Harry's secret and you're all not going to bug and pester us. And that's the end of that! ... Don't worry, I've got it all under control! Would you tell the others we'll be back later, that's all?... Draco, will you wait here for me?" I turned to him and he came up to me and tenderly clasped my head with his hands, kissing me lovingly on the forehead.
"Of course I'll stay. I'll cook and wait for you. Be careful," he whispered into my hair and I smiled happily that he so trustingly gave me a free hand. Even before he could step back, I replied just as quietly.
"Tell me, where do I buy really, really special jewellery, the best of the best?" He took half a step back, even though I was still holding him tightly, and measured me, considering, weighing.
"Bergman & Son, the best you can get," he answered my question with a shrug, "even father buys there and only there! Do I want to know why you ask?" I shook my head slightly and he nodded as I removed my hands from him and he too released me and nodded his understanding. It was great that he always accepted my silence without discussion, it really did make a lot of things easier.
As I took Harry's hand and we strode towards the entrance, Draco raised his voice again.
"Oh, and Potter, don't fuck it up," he threatened and Harry just rolled his now baby blue eyes as I laughed out loud and left the cottage with Harry.
As we walked down the well-packed Diagon Alley, we saw the rushed faces of people anxiously and briskly going about their business. Harry saw all this and took note of it, including the market criers with their wheeled stalls boastfully offering their protective amulets and the shops with boarded up windows. The Alley had lost its cheerful face and one sensed the gathering dread of what was to come.
However, Harry didn't let himself be upset and told me something that would have been of burning interest to me, but which the Twins had carefully concealed: Ron's new wand worked fantastically and he was very enthusiastic about it. At everyone's insistence, he had also tried it out and cast a Patronus and what can I say, it confirmed my theory: if it happened that you changed the wand completely, i.e. the core and the wood were fundamentally different, well, then you got a different Patronus, it seemed, and, well…
Thus it was not Ron's terrier that appeared, no, but a bear, a big bear. Harry told me that Blaise had been fascinated to find out exactly what kind of bear Ron's animal was, as they had been fascinated by what I had to say about Harry's hyena. His bear was a Kodiak bear, considered the largest living carnivore on earth along with the polar bear and the Kamchatka bear. It surprised me that Ron had blossomed so much and now that he was training, it was probably fitting for him to have such a colossal patronus.
Harry described the Twins' faces to me in glowing colours when they realised that Ron also had a proud, big, impressive animal like Charlie, who had an iguana, or Bill with his wolf and Percy with the owl and they just with their... squirrels. Harry had then helpfully reminded them that Ginny had conjured a horse as a Patronus in the DA, which, well, didn't help to lift the Twins' spirits. Harry and I were doubled over with laughter, it was too funny, as he too thought the little squirrels suited our Twins, being clever, quick and precise little animals. We were so amused that we quickly reached our destination.
We entered the small, visibly exquisite goldsmith's shop that Draco had recommended to me. For Daphne, that was surely good enough, if the Malfoys bought their jewellery here exclusively. The goldsmith was a true artist of his trade and also only made the finest one-off pieces.
Harry had got himself well under control by now and seemed very composed on the outside, but I still noticed his nervousness. We had made sure that no one would recognise him. With his dark blond, short hair, his now broader and freckled face, he looked clearly different from himself. He still wore glasses, but we had changed them slightly so that they were now more rectangular. Behind them, blue eyes looked out at me and the frames were no longer black but silver. We had hidden the characteristic scar behind a long fringe that fell cheekily into his forehead and I had also covered the scar with some make-up.
Satisfied, I looked around the classy establishment and liked what I saw. The whole interior was made of light, precious wood and the glass showcases contained ornate, magnificent pieces and even I, who knew little about jewellery, noticed how beautiful, unique and valuable the pieces were. The whole shop sparkled and glittered. There were many mirrors on the walls and two small rows of seats invited you to take your time when buying. A friendly smiling older man in a fine grey suit came out of the back room to the counter as the entrance door closed behind us with a ring.
Mr Bergman was shorter than Harry, had thinning white short hair and wore small round reading glasses on the tip of his nose. He was very different from the sinister figures of Knockturn Alley or the cranky Ollivander. Friendly, sophisticated, but also tense and very attentive, he looked at us out of his brown eyes, perhaps a little sceptical that such young people were setting foot here in one of Diagon Alley's most expensive businesses and whether we could afford him, but polite as he was, he said nothing.
"Good afternoon, what can I do for you?" he wanted to know in a friendly way. Harry next to me still seemed nervous, so I took over the conversation for the time being.
"Good afternoon, Mr Bergman. My friend here," I pointed at Harry, "would like to buy an engagement ring," I explained just as kindly and showed him straight away that I knew his name, thanks to Draco. The goldsmith raised his white brows in surprise, but he nodded eagerly as he already began to pull out some trays from under the counter, on which lay many different rings on velvet cushions. Then he turned to Harry questioningly.
"Do you have an idea, sir? Should it be something classic, a diamond or a coloured stone?" It seemed he didn't dare to ask about our budget. My dear men must have rubbed off on me,. Draco had apparently also had an effect on Harry, because even though he felt uncomfortable about the step he was taking here, he stood up straight and let his eyes wander around the shop with interest.
"I think I'd like a coloured stone," Harry began to explain quietly but firmly, "something big, maybe a bit flashier and probably gold." He shrugged. I mean, he was a man and didn't buy rings every day, I thought with amusement.
The owner of the shop began to nod busily, picked up a fine flat silver tray, the centre of which was covered in black velvet, and began to gather a number of rings from the various displays and from the trays he had brought out from under the counter earlier, which he eventually presented to Harry. The selection was quite extensive; in front of him were about twenty gold rings with different stones in various sizes. The selection ranged from very modern and unadorned, to elaborately decorated with vines, other small stones and diamonds or pearls.
While Harry began to look at the rings and seemed slightly overwhelmed by the choice, the goldsmith, visibly proud of his diverse range, explained:
"These rings are all unique pieces - custom-made by me personally or my son - and very valuable. Each of them would definitely be a very special piece of jewellery for your future fiancée and you can be absolutely sure, no one else will own the same ring. You don't have to worry about the ring size because they all magically fit the wearer's finger! You are also welcome to pick up the rings if you want to have a closer look at one, after all, this is a difficult decision that needs to be considered carefully!"
Harry nodded his thanks, smiling, and began to look at the rings one by one. Right now he was holding a wide golden ring in his hand, which was crowned by a large dark red round ruby, which was beautifully faceted and sat in a very simple setting, so that the stone was the only thing that really stood out. A very beautiful ring, but absolutely nothing for Daphne, I thought, and so I shook my head slightly when Harry looked at me questioningly.
"It doesn't suit her," I confirmed quietly. "Try something along the lines of green, brown or golden!"
"Thanks," he replied just as quietly with a nod, then turned back to the counter and continued searching.
Harry still stood bent over the various rings, looking at them one by one, taking one or two in his hand for a closer look, while the enthusiastic goldsmith said something about each, describing the material and stones used, as well as pointing out other special features.
After a while, Harry had three rings he particularly liked, but it seemed he was not getting any further, so the salesman said:
"Perhaps it will help you to see the ring on a lady's hand, sir?" he tried to help a visibly indecisive Harry who positively beamed at the idea.
"Her... Most beautiful, may I use you as a model?"
I laughed when he was already holding the ring in his hand and offered him mine. That allowed him to practice gallantly placing rings on his beloved, I thought smugly, as he slipped the gorgeous ring over my finger. What a strange feeling to have someone else put on your jewellery!
That was the moment when my luck struck again. I didn't have to turn around to know who was entering as the door opened and the room was filled with his powerful presence. With the warm breeze from outside, his fresh fragrance was also wafted into the room. At the latest when I heard his treasured cane pounding on the floor alongside his footsteps, I knew Lucius had just entered the shop. It had been so obvious, it was maddening! Harry held my hand carefully in his and hadn't looked up, seemed transfixed by the ring sparkling on my finger.
The goldsmith became visibly more nervous, straightened up and greeted Lucius submissively with an implied bow.
"Mr. Malfoy, a very good day to you, sir! How may I serve you?"
Lucius stepped up beside me. I was sure he had recognised me as I had only dyed my hair blonde, otherwise I was ME. Feeling his gaze on me, I made an effort not to look up, but pretended to look at the rings with Harry, who had visibly stiffened in discomfort at the mention of Lucius' name, but refused to look up, too. He now pulled the ring off me and put the next one on.
"No hurry, Mr. Bergman, you can serve your other customers first," Lucius replied jovially next to me. "The young man seems to have an important decision to make, you shouldn't rush something like that, right Miss...?" With that, he now turned directly to me and I had to look up, glancing over my shoulder into his stormy grey eyes that so resembled Draco's and from which mischievousness flashed very briefly as he looked at me questioningly with a raised brow.
"Yes, sir, he's picking out an engagement ring," I replied politely, kindly. I wasn't stupid, but what else could I do? Lucius would have questioned me tonight otherwise, so I might as well admit it here, after all, he'd figured it out anyway. Now, he stepped over to the other side next to Harry, who eyed him briefly from under his fringe, and I was speechless to see Harry in action now. He acted suave, untouched, suppressing the feelings he had towards Lucius and remaining calm and collected. Then he nodded politely to Lucius and calmly turned back to the rings, looking at my hand. I was noticeably nervous now and I was sure Lucius had picked up on it too.
Lucius let his dissecting gaze slide over the rings Harry had shortlisted and then paused with a raised eyebrow on the ring currently adorning my ring finger and asked, sounding quite uninterested although I could tell he was very much interested:
"Who is the lucky girl? A classmate of yours, no doubt? A Gryffindor, I suppose! And you, Miss, accompanying your best friend and supporting him in such a difficult decision, that's really something special. What lady likes to pick out a piece of jewellery for someone else and be adorned with it?" The words were spoken in a terribly blasé manner, obviously, and I felt that his gaze was once again fixed on me.
Oh, this couldn't be true! Of course, Lucius had recognised him despite his masquerade, because who would I buy a ring with? Who was my best friend? Clearly, Harry Potter, there weren't many options. Lucius knew that I would most likely only do this for Harry, although hopefully he didn't think Harry would be choosing something like this for me. The thought of it almost made me laugh hysterically. Fortunately, he didn't seem to think that. I was tempted to roll my eyes.
I didn't answer and Harry visibly tried to suppress the fact that Lucius was present, which he probably only managed to do to a limited extent. I was sure, however, that Lucius wasn't expecting an answer either, he just wanted to make it clear that he had recognised my companion and wanted to have his fun, as amused as he appeared to me. I looked up briefly from under my lashes and spotted the very small, telltale smirk in his eyes. Yes, he was amused by the situation. Finally, Harry held out another ring to me, a much better fit, and slipped it on my finger. Harry seemed to have decided not to pay attention to Lucius and to concentrate only on his mission 'I want Daphne'.
While I was still looking at him, the goldsmith assiduously gave information about the ring that now sat on my finger and I moved my finger so that the light playfully broke in the stone and showed it off well.
"This is a particularly beautiful gold ring, made of yellow gold. You should pay particular attention here to the ring band, which has been textured so crinkly using a very intricate technique. The base of the setting, which incidentally contains a particularly large faceted tourmaline, is also special because diamonds sit all around this little crown, just like in a real crown." Harry nodded and looked over at me hopefully.
The ring was striking, ornate but not too over the top for Daphne and I thought the honey brown tourmaline was a perfect fit for her. The large, warmly sparkling stone sat in a five-pronged, very finely crafted crown of gold, making it sit high above the ring rail, and shone brightly. I thought it was beautiful. Smiling slightly, I nodded and watched Harry relax a little and he released the breath he had been holding. He pulled the ring off my finger and passed it to the salesman.
"Wrap it up for me please, I'll take that one," he said quietly. We had the perfect ring for Daphne.
I turned with Harry, who was walking with the goldsmith to the counter and till, so my back was now turned to Lucius, but I kept my distance, not wanting to disturb Harry right now. It was clear to me that Harry wanted to leave as quickly as possible. While he was paying and thus standing a few steps away from us near the goldsmith, I suddenly heard Lucius hiss softly beside me:
"You will explain that to me tonight!"
That had been plain to me. When the silvery, cold snake head of his cane touched the skin of my cheek and ran lasciviously slowly along it, I had to suppress a shudder at the way he was teasing me. He had stepped close, very close, unnoticed, as I had tried to block him out, which of course failed, and was now standing slightly behind me slightly bent over, hissing his announcement into my ear from behind, which gave me goosebumps under the cloak, which fortunately he could not see. His breath tickled me. I nodded briefly in surrender, looked at him and then turned to Harry, who was carefully stowing the small, precious box in his robe and flashed me a happy smile. Lucius behind me actually nodded as well, causing my view of the world to skew a little for the day.
We said goodbye and quickly left the shop. I was in a hurry to get to the apparition point, and so was Harry. As quickly as we could, without attracting attention, we headed for it, while Harry gasped in mild horror as we walked:
"He recognised me, Hermione!" He ran his hand through his currently short blonde hair in typical Harry fashion. I grabbed his hand and pulled him on.
"I know, but he won't harm you or he would have blown your cover!" I replied quietly yet insistently.
At least for the moment he wouldn't touch him, I was sure of that, because Lucius didn't want the Dark Lord to have Harry at all at this point. Nevertheless, I was sure that this meeting would at least result in an interrogation for me as Lucius would be very interested in who Harry bought an engagement ring for. Am I to be spared nothing?! I was annoyed that Lucius had turned up at the very time we were out and about. Wait, didn't he have important things to do at the Ministry that couldn't be postponed? Then why did Mr. I-own-the-world go on a shopping spree?
It didn't suit me at all that Lucius knew this now, as Harry’s and Daphne's relationship was supposed to remain a secret. Perhaps I would manage to appease Lucius with some half-truths, I thought to myself as we disapparated.
We arrived at the cottage a little out of breath. Unfortunately, it was getting late because Harry had taken his time and so we had to leave right away to keep our appointments. We agreed to pick everyone up the next morning so that we could leave for the Hogwarts Express more or less together. As Draco and I departed the cottage again, leaving a daydreaming Harry behind us, we parted ways: I went to Trafalgar Square and Draco to the Manor.