Chapter 32: Dangerous Emotions
Once they determined the location of one horcrux, the remaining seemed to fall in line.
Nagini was the most obvious, seeing as she slithered on the heels of the Dark Lord and was never out of his sight, and it was Harry who determined the horcrux from Ravenclaw would likely be at Hogwarts.
“He’s been hiding them in significant places,” he’d reasoned. “The cave, the vaults of trusted followers, you, himself… Hogwarts was the only home he knew growing up.” It went unsaid that Harry felt much the same about the beloved castle.
But Hermione couldn’t fault his logic. Tom was arrogant and surprisingly sentimental. It would be just like him to hide a horcrux under the nose of Albus Dumbledore himself. She could picture him having a good laugh at that.
The trouble was no longer finding them, but acquiring and destroying them. Gringotts was a very obvious challenge, although Hermione’s revelation of having access to Death Eater’s vaults somewhat solved that and they were still in the process of making the plans to retrieve that one. Breaking into the goblin wizarding bank wasn’t without risk – there was still the dragons to contend with, after all. But the real concern would be Hogwarts. They weren’t sure where in the castle the horcrux was and the school had started a steady descend into Death Eater hands. Minerva had been reporting to them on the sly how the subtle infiltration had begun – a teacher mysteriously sick and known Death Eaters being sent as replacements. The same thing was happening at the Ministry.
Just like a well laid out set of dominos, Tom’s plan was coming to fruition and time was quickly running out.
We have all the time in the world, Tom whispered in the back of her mind. And you better believe I will be making up the time lost to us…
Hermione shook her head and rubbed her wrist. The pain was getting worse.
“Drink this,” a goblet was shoved in her face, breaking Tom’s sibilant promises. She looked up to see Malfoy, the junior, holding out what smelled like a pain reliever potion.
Rolling her eyes, Hermione muttered a quick, “I’m fine,” before turning back to her book. She had sequestered herself in the library, killing time before they were to head to Gringotts for what Ron was calling the ‘Under the Dragon Snout Heist.’ Not very clever, in her opinion.
“Shut your ruddy mouth and drink it,” he shoved it in her face again.
She sighed. “It’s just a headache, Malfoy. Too much tension in this house.”
He snorted. “It’s for your wrist, you twit, now drink up.”
Her eyes snapped to him again and she frowned. Snorting again, he said, “Please, you may have been in Slytherin for a few months, but you still have the subtly of a Gryffindor. If you’re worried I poisoned it then my dad made it.”
“Did he?” she quirked an eyebrow.
Malfoy grinned. “Sure, whatever makes you drink it.”
“I’m fine,” she said again.
“Granger,” he huffed, “Nightscapes are nasty buggers. Don’t even act like your wrist isn’t hurting something fierce. Besides, no pressure and all, but this whole Gringotts heist sort of depends on you being focused, which you clearly can’t be with the Dark Lord whispering sweet nothings in your ear – although maybe you do like his randy thoughts. It’s always the quiet ones you know… and it’s literally been like, decades for him-”
She grabbed the potion and downed it, shuddering at the taste. With a glare, she threw the goblet at his head, but he just caught it with a smirk. The potion was already working, her wrist starting to tingle with numbness and Tom’s voice fading into the background of her thoughts. And loathe as she was to admit it to the ferret, she did feel better.
“How’d you know? About the Nightscape, that is?” She’d only read about them, of course, but she’d suspected that’s what Tom had cast on her to cause that nightmare. It was pretty dark magic indeed that allowed someone to break into a person’s dream and control it. It opened a bridge between two minds, one that lingered even after waking.
“Lucky guess,” he said dryly.
Her mind felt a bit bruised, and she doubted Tom was gone for good, but it was nice being the only person in her head again.
“You alright there, Granger?” Draco asked.
“It’s not Granger anymore,” she said, more reflex than anything else.
“Riddle then, if you really want.”
“Nevermind,” she muttered. “I’m fine, better, thanks.”
“No worries. Have to fight evil with a clear head, I always say. And a full stomach. Let’s go eat.”
She sighed again, something that was becoming a terrible habit. “What is with you, Draco?”
He looked mildly surprised at the use of his first name and asked, “What do you mean?”
“I get that you’ve been a right git in school mainly for cover. I mean, you’ve practically been groomed to be a spy at birth, thanks to me by the way, so why are you being so chummy? Isn’t there some anger there for me – like I stole your life or something?”
For the first time, she saw his smirk fall away and he adopted a thoughtful expression. “I’m going to tell you something, Grang- Hermione, and you better not tell anyone I was honest with you. My great-grandfather Abraxas was a stupid prick, nothing more than school boy who backed a mad man and nearly sentenced his entire line to licking the boots of a conceited half-blood. And you better believe he figured it out, too, thanks to you. Did you know that you’re a bit of a legend to us Malfoys? Never knew about the time traveling gig until recently, but Abraxas made sure that you were remembered, not necessarily fondly, in our family. Kind of a cautionary tale, if you will. And as much as playing the spy stinks, it’s infinitely better than being a near mindless slave to some hypocrite’s ego. Long story short, my life could’ve been much worse had it not been for that vow you made him take,” he seemed to hesitate a bit before he admitted, “maybe I feel like I kind of owe you?”
It was a question instead of a statement, but got his message across most effectively. Things were always a bit awkward around Draco – especially when he watched her talking with his dad like they were the best of friends – and even though when she’d learned the truth about Lucius she’d consequently learned about Draco and Narcissa, it was still hard to reconcile the smarmy git who been the first person to call her a mudblood with the Draco before her.
Still, their dodgy history aside, there was no doubt that Draco Malfoy was a decent enough bloke. Certainly he had to be brave, what with being a spy against the most dark wizard of their time, and he had sense of humor, though it was oft times at someone else’s expense. She supposed she should just treat him like she handled Lucius and Severus now and skip the weeks of awkward conversation and tiptoeing. They didn’t really have time to go through the motions.
“Listen Draco,” she said. “You don’t owe me anything. It was actually pretty sneaky of me to get Abraxas to make that vow and have it include his heirs – the only reason I did it was knowing your father was a spy and I had, in a sense, already done it. And it was pretty selfish of me really. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to gain spies for our cause so much as make sure Lucius would be my friend in the future. That doesn’t make it right, but I don’t regret it.”
Draco looked thoughtful. “He cares about you, you know? Like a daughter.”
Hermione smiled. “Between you and me, Severus and Lucius bicker like an old married couple and sometimes it feels like I have two fathers, if you catch my drift.” Draco snorted and Hermione continued, “But that feeling is mutual. I care about him too. For a while, it felt like he and Severus were the only people to understand me. They’re like brothers, uncles, and fathers all rolled into one.”
Draco grinned and the expression made him look worlds warmer than he’d ever had. In fact, Hermione couldn’t ever recall seeing him smile so genuinely before. Then he ruined it by speaking, “Want to give my dad a heart attack and go snog in front of him?”
“Bloody Merlin,” she choked on air, absolutely horrified. “Don’t even joke like that, Malfoy!”
He laughed. “You’re right. He probably wouldn’t have a heart attack, he’d be tickled pink if anything. Let’s hold hands at dinner.”
She couldn’t tell if he was joking. “Seriously, just stop that nonsense, you ferret. The walls have ears and things are dangerous enough as it is…” Dear lord, if it ever got back to Thomas that he was talking like this.
Idly, she ran her thumb along the back of her wedding ring and lost herself in a memory.
She was browsing through the bookstore at Diagon Alley, her fingers lightly tracing the spines of books as she read their titles. Tom was… somewhere. Honestly, she was used to his disappearing acts when they were out and about, but he always seemed to appear just as she was ready to leave.
“Excuse me,” a voice said.
Hermione turned and found a wizard standing uncomfortably close behind her. He was smiling, but it looked a little skeevy, like he was picturing what her knickers looked like.
Quickly, she took a step back and gave him a small polite, disinterested smile. “Yes?”
“Would you like to see my wand?” he grinned.
“I beg your pardon?” she gasped, taking another step back. If he thought he was being quirky and charming, he was about to get a slap to the face as a wake up call.
His eyes tightened and the smile looked even more forced. Hermione thought he was probably disappointed by her reaction, or lack thereof. “Maybe we can have dinner. And then, I can show you my wand – it’s nine inches, rigid wood. It’d love to meet you…”
“Sweet Merlin, is that truly how you ask women out? Wait – don’t answer because I don’t really care. I’m married and if you don’t leave right now, I’ll introduce you to my stunning charm. It’d really love to meet you right now,” she drawled out the last bit.
She huffed. “What?”
“Are you happily married? Because I don’t mind a toss with a married witch. I won’t tell if you won’t,” he gave another oily grin.
Horror colored her face and she couldn’t imagine why this wizard was so persistent. As she reached for her wand to show him what she thought of his proposition, she heard, “She’s quite happily married, and you’d do well to back away from her. Now.”
Dear Merlin save this poor idiot. Thomas was back.
The man frowned and took a step back. Tom used the movement to wedge himself between Hermione and the pervert. There was a long moment where Tom just stared impassively at the man, who slowly backed away, the grin melting off his face as his eyes went wide and his color drained. Hermione knew she should be concerned about the anger radiating off of Tom in strong, heated waves even as his expression remained frozen ice, but she was still a bit shocked at the man’s gall. Really, who just walked up to a random woman and propositioned her like that?
The man scurried away, back to whatever hole he climbed out of, Hermione assumed, but Tom remained rigid in front of her.
“Thomas?” she brought her hand to his shoulder, sliding it down his arm soothingly until she clasped his hand. His fingers entwined with hers and gripped her tightly. The fury remained even as he finally broke his glare from where the man had stood and looked down at her.
“Did he touch you?” the words were clipped, barely controlled.
She was quick to reassure him. “No. I wouldn’t have let him. He was just a little persistent. I was about to hex him…”
A small glint of humor lit in his eyes at that. “What hex would you have used?”
Hermione suppressed a grin. “Probably a shrinking charm. Between the legs. Although I’m not sure he would have noticed.”
He sniffed, conceding that. Finally, his grip relaxed on her and he looked down, hinting a smile at her. “Find anything you like?”
Hermione beamed, happy that he seemed ready to forget the prat and move on with their day. She rattled on about the books she’d been foraging through and eventually he helped her narrow down her purchase to only three. He led her out of the store, carrying her bag even though Hermione insisted she could do it. He shot a glance back to where the wizard was hiding, waiting to make his escape unnoticed by Tom.
The next day, the man was found dead in his home, his face frozen in horror…
Hermione shook the memory off. She remembered opening the prophet the next morning and seeing the article about the suspect death, the man’s picture smiling at her, but she wisely pushed it out of her head and played ignorant to Tom who studied her as she read. She told herself she’d have to be better at sending them away next time, if there was a next time. The death, she felt, was on her for not getting rid of him sooner. She’d known only theoretically until that moment how much power she held over Tom. Certainly, he always had the upper hand, but she held sway over his tight emotions. Only she could make him lose control and go to such extremes.
“Hermione?” Draco broke her thoughts, frowning at her.
“Just,” she cleared her throat and shot him a very telling look, “Just trust me. Don’t joke around about that. He’ll find out – he always finds out.”
He stared at her before slowly nodding. “Fair enough,” he said. “But you should still eat. I think they want to leave in a few hours.”
Obediently, Hermione followed him into the kitchen where the others were talking quietly over food. Lucius rose an eyebrow when he saw Draco wordlessly hand Hermione a plate, and she rolled her eyes at him. Draco was right. Lucius would probably be thrilled if she and Draco got together. Ron, thankfully, was quite distracted, but Harry saw the gesture and shot Draco a small approving nod. Harry was about as decent a bloke as they come and while he’d never forget how annoying the ferret was, it wasn’t in him to hold grudges.
“Which of us are going with her?” Draco asked, taking a seat.
And of course that question set everyone off again. Thank Merlin for that potion Malfoy gave her, because Hermione could only imagine the headache the whole lot of them would cause.
Harry and Ron were adamant about going, while Lucius insisted Harry remain here. Remus thought only the adults should go, which had Draco actually agreeing with Ron and Harry. Everyone was talking over each other until Hermione snapped, “Enough already!”
They turned to her and she took a deep breath before continuing, “I think given the circumstances, Remus, you can concede we’re all adults here. Trying to shelter us is what got us into nearly all of our misadventures, so let’s think about this a little more rationally. Harry needs to go,” she stated and gave Remus a sharp look when he went to interject. “Think about it. I might be able to give a good guess on whether or not what we find is a horcrux, but with Harry’s link to him, we’ll know for sure. We can find it faster with him.”
Harry gave her a thankful glance when no one could say anything against that.
“Lucius, Draco,” she steeled herself for what she was about to say next. “It would be too dangerous for either of you to go.”
Immediately, both men began protesting before she cut them off again. “I’m not saying one of you shouldn’t come. Let’s face it, you both have the most hands on, practical experience with dark objects – no offense Remus – however, the odds of us running into some Death Eaters are pretty good and you both have high prices on your heads. The chances of both of you making it out aren’t good. Only of you should come… and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it should be Draco.”
Harry groaned, knowing full well that Hermione was likely going to get her way.
Lucius was clearly not happy, but curious as to her reasoning. “And why’s that?”
She sighed. “We only have one invisibility cloak, and he’s shorter. It’s either bring you and Remus, or bring Ron, Harry and Draco. And we’ve already established Harry needs to come.”
Resignation dawned on the older men’s faces. “Severus has the other cloak, doesn’t he?”
Hermione nodded. “You know as well as I do that he always kept it on him.” He, out of all of them, had the most need for it. “So, it’ll be me and the boys. You can either keep arguing with me only to agree later, or you can help us prepare as much as we can. What’s it gonna be?”
Ron grinned. “You’re brilliant, Hermione.”
She shot him a withering look. “I’m not making excuses for you all to come, Ronald. This is the most practical way. It’s either three capable wands at my back, one of them Harry’s who is most likely to find the horcrux and who is the best at defense, or two far more experienced wands – but more time in LeStrange’s vault, more time to get caught. Based on our track record we can pretty much guarantee a nasty run in, so I’m going for the in-and-out approach.”
“She’s kind of right, Ron,” Harry agreed. “Nothing ever goes how we plan it and we end up just winging it.”
“Gryffindors,” Lucius sneered.
Hermione ignored him and fixed Draco, Ron and Harry with a stern look. “And this plan all hinges on you three acting like the adults you proclaim to be. I can’t be worried about you three getting into some petty argument while trying to break into Gringotts, for Merlin’s sake.” She turned to Ron and Harry and said, “Yes, Draco is a big prat. He’s rude and snarky and he’s said plenty of mean things to all of us that makes you want to hex him to pieces.”
“You can stop helping,” Draco said dryly.
Again, she ignored him. “But, that all means absolutely nothing right now. You both know what he’s sacrificed for this war, that he’s been fighting in it since birth. He is on our side so his previous attitude means nothing to us now. Leave the past where it belongs,” she smiled wryly, thinking she ought to practice her own advice. “You don’t have to be friends, but you do have to work with each other if we are going to do this.
And you,” she turned to Draco once satisfied that Harry and Ron got her message. “What we do here in downtime doesn’t matter, but when we are out of this house, you need to leave your snide comments behind. No instigating. Yes, you’re a good guy, we all get it now, but that’s not an excuse to act like a git, especially in the middle of a mission. We have to stand united or else Thomas will exploit the weakness. You all,” she shook her head with a cynical laugh, “You all have no idea. You think you do, but you truly don’t. You have no idea what he’s capable of.
Death, murder, torture – yes, but that’s nothing to what he’s like with me. I’m not being conceited when I say I am easily his biggest weakness. I always have been and it’s probably why he was so insistent about keeping me close to him. He is calm, collected, and patient when he stands to gain something, but the minute you throw me in the equation he lets his emotions rule. He killed a man for looking down my robes once. He killed a student when he was concerned and angry that Grindelwald had me captive… and he got away with these things because he’s smart. While you’d think his emotional responses would give us the upper hand, they don’t. It makes him even more dangerous, more unpredictable.”
She took a breath, shaking her head. Her wrist throbbed even though the potion was supposed to last for another hour at least. It seemed like proof to her that Thomas was even more determined than she suspected.
Rubbing her temples, she asked, “Do you all understand?”
Surprisingly, it was Ron who spoke first. “Yes, Hermione,” he sounded uncharacteristically subdued. “I’ll never like the ferret, but you’re right. When it comes to Order business that doesn’t matter.”
Harry nodded. “We can work together. We’ll watch his back if he watches ours.”
They looked to Draco. She could see him fighting back some snide retort that would’ve only proved her point, and he managed to say, “I can set aside my emotions. We are on the same side. I will do everything in my power to help them and protect you.”
There was a heavy silence in the room. Not one of them willing to speak lest they break the tentative truce Hermione had organized. She was still concerned over her decision on who to bring with her, but she had to have faith that they could do as they said and realize that their childish arguments were nothing but a drop of water in the ocean.
More important things were at stake tonight than their pride.