A/N: Okay, in case you didn't notice, this story is completely AU. I actually started it before OotP came out, so it's been AU for awhile. I've let some stuff slip in from the fifth book (including Luna, but I couldn't've done this without her really), but I'm trying very hard not to do the same with six and seven. So, just keep that in mind and read on. I hope you guys enjoy this latest installment. :)
Return to Eden
Chapter 24: Best Laid Plans…
The fear wraith gazed out at its surroundings from the eyes of its host for the first time and thought, with no little amusement, that its predicament was quite the same as the girl's. How did one get out of this damnable forest without getting lost?
Reeling in pleasure, however, the wraith plunged through the Head Girl's innermost secrets and felt a thrill of longing as the sweet taste of fear, insecurity, and doubt strengthened its weakened form. It'd been a good two hundred years since it'd been able to feed, ever since the cursed Xanthus Malfoy had banished it into the forest and placed protective wards on its borders, making it impossible for it to leave while in its true form.
But in a body? Well, that was a dragon of a different scale.
The wraith felt its new face twist into an ironic smile as it took a step forward, testing the feel of this figure and settling into its skin. It slowly crouched down, knees bending and muscles tightening, as it picked up the girl's dropped wand and tucked it away into a robe pocket for safekeeping.
The fear was getting stronger as the girl, locked away in her own mind, tried to fight it more than ever and regain control of her body, and the wraith felt a certain headiness as it closed the connection, feeling it had siphoned off enough for now. The wraith absorbed all the lovely tidbits it had drained from the girl as it set off for the edge of the forest, knowing a tiny wizarding village existed somewhere around here.
There was all the usual things from the girl for one of her age, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and insecurities about her appearance, but there was something much deeper and darker which had a taste of fine wine to the wraith.
It was a fear of herself and it was much stronger than anything else.
The wraith had felt it coming off her when she'd first entered the forest and had been inexplicably drawn to her, the scent too delicious to resist. It was her blood, her heritage, and all the trappings that came with it which made the girl most terrified, though it was deeply buried under a different fear.
A fear centered around a boy named Draco Malfoy, both for and because of him.
The boy, undoubtedly one of Xanthus' bratty descendants, was apparently the object of affection and hate for the girl and most confusedly so, for it'd been this very thing which the wraith had used to coax the break in her mind needed for it to take possession.
Most curious indeed, and something that warranted further exploration especially considering the particular grudge it held against the Malfoy family, but not until it found the sustenance it could feel this body needed. Although the wraith itself did not require food, the form it inhabited did.
And it was so messy when the wraith felt a body die around it and it was forced to find someone else to possess.
It didn't have time for that again right now. The girl would do just fine, and when it opened her mind back up, a little at a time, and let the fears flow forth, they would merge into the wraith and it would carry all the slights and wrongs done against her as its own as it feasted on her doubts and horrors.
Then, the killing would begin.
Hermione Granger had never felt less like a Gryffindor.
She was terrified beyond anything she'd ever felt before from where she was locked away. The brunette could feel her legs walking and her arms swinging at her sides, but at the same time, she knew she wasn't the one moving them. It felt like sitting in a room in her mind and watching her life on the telly.
A sense of hopelessness descended on her as her brains failed her for the first time. They'd covered fear wraiths in Defense Against the Dark Arts in her sixth year when Lupin had finally caved to Dumbledore and agreed to come back and teach. Having read on the subject, she'd had all the answers in that class as usual. She'd known the ways to ward them off, the methods a fear wraith used to trick their victims, and what to do when you came upon a person you suspected could be possessed.
However, there was nothing, nothing, about what a possessed person could do once they were, in fact, possessed.
Hermione knew she should have spotted the fear wraith's method instantly, the riddles were particularly telling, but her emotions had been running high and simmering just on the surface was the memory of Draco's betrayal. All had culminated into making her more vulnerable than she would be normally. She'd tried to fight the wraith off, but it'd been no use. When the wraith had first fed off her, she'd tried to glimpse into its mind and learn its intentions, but it'd been shielded.
The girl felt a bolt of yearning sweep through her as she thought of the blond. A Dark Mark seemed so trivial now and together, they could have worked around it. Fear wraiths were dark and dangerous beings, a subject of much alarm for wizards, for they were more intelligent than most magical creatures.
Hermione could only wait and see what would happen, hoping against hope that someone would recognize the signs of possession in her. It was possible that the wraith was just using her as a carrier until it could find another body to possess, but in that time, it might let her die. Or it could be waiting to make its move and do what she most dreaded.
Neville stood cautiously at the black well, the stones ancient and crumbling, as he gazed thoughtfully into its unending depths, the glistening amethyst liquid reflecting the scenes in the forest as the sound of it sloshing around echoed in the empty room. His face was illuminated with a lavender glow as he bent closer to watch the wraith, making sure it took the right path out of the forest. A sudden chiming caused him to glance up and the scene disappeared as the well went dark.
Blaise had joined him in the room, and instead of acknowledging he was even there, she leaned over the well and swirled a single finger in the liquid. She pulled back, her finger completely dry, and waited for the ripples to clear. The scene was now of a familiar blond boy who was lying in bed, his covers twisted at his waist as he tossed in slumber.
With a sigh of relief, the raven-haired girl stepped back and the well went dark once more as she broke the hush in the room. "Good, he's finally resting. He sure does need it after the week he's had."
Neville rolled his eyes in an uncharacteristic gesture as he tugged her away from the well. "He'll be fine."
"Let go of me, Longbottom," Blaise grumbled as she tried to wrestle out of his grip. "I want to check on Hermione."
"She's fine," he assured her, his tone giving nothing away.
"I'm sorry if I don't take your word for it." Finally succeeding in getting loose, Blaise swirled the well again before he could stop her. Silence reigned between them as she studied the depths and when she turned around to face him a few minutes later, fury in every line of her body, Neville knew he was in for an all-out tirade.
"You let her get possessed by a fear wraith?" Her tone was deceptively calm.
"Yes," he answered tersely, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the nearest wall.
"You idiot," and at that, the dams broke. "How could you be so stupid?" she screamed. "You're supposed to be her guardian, for Merlin's sake! Only one day on the job and already she's in more danger than ever," she jeered mockingly.
"I disagree," Neville stated firmly. "When the Old Power gave me this job, he told me this was going to happen."
Blaise looked flabbergasted. It wasn't a good look for her.
"This was meant to happen?" She couldn't keep the astonishment out of her words as she leaned over the well again, trailing her hand in the depths, and violet light infused the room.
Neville shrugged and even though he knew she hadn't seen him do it, he knew she'd felt it. They were as connected now as the two they watched and guided, both two halves of a whole.
Blaise sighed as she watched the scenes quickly dance in front of her, each one of a different place, a different person. "And the others?"
"They are on their paths, as well," the sandy-haired boy replied, joining her at the rim of the well, his eyes drawn to its sights.
Blaise waved her arm over the liquid and it returned to the sleeping blond boy. Weariness overcame her as she gazed at his face in repose, surrounded by shimmering purple.
"What am I going to tell Draco when I see him next? He will surely ask about her."
Neville stuck his own finger into the well and the scene changed yet again. They watched the wraith trek through the forest in Hermione's body for a few moments before he spoke.
"Tell him she's safe."
Blaise shivered though she could no longer feel the cold. "That's an outright lie. You know as well as I that she's in grave danger."
Neville frowned at his companion. "It's a necessary one."
The girl gazed forlornly at the pool of liquid, her eyes more brilliantly violet than ever from the well's light as her body slumped against the stones. "I wish we could just tell them everything."
"I know," the boy replied kindly, "but they call it a journey for a reason."
Two days later, a most unusual pair were gathering in front of a fireplace in a London flat and double-checking everything they held in their hands. Once they were both satisfied, they stepped over the grate and into the fireplace itself.
However, before the girl could drop the powder which would transport them elsewhere, the raven-haired boy grabbed her hand and sighed.
Harry, feeling his doubts rising, turned to the blonde at his side. "You're sure this will work?"
Pansy expelled a breath of air as she tried not to let her frustration get the better of her. "Yes, I'm sure it will work. I'm allowed into Malfoy Manor, and since we're Flooing at the same time, it won't even sense you. We're aiming for the room next to Draco's since he makes sure it's unoccupied so he can keep his Quidditch gear there. I'd bet, if I know anything about Draco, that Granger's room will be somewhere on the same corridor."
Harry gripped his fingers tighter around her wrist, his knuckles white in sharp relief against the backdrop of her black sleeve. "Are you certain?"
"Yes," Pansy gritted her teeth in exasperation at his reluctance but knew she'd have to allow him his reassurances. After all, it would be impossible to carry out this plan without him. "I'm certain."
Harry studied her for a minute more for any sign of deception before letting go of her hand. Taking care not to knock his arms against the walls of the fireplace, he whipped his invisibility cloak around to where it would cover every inch of them. A quick silencing spell was added to muffle their footsteps and their voices and then they were ready.
"Just remember, we want to get in and out as quickly as possible," Pansy reminded him for what felt like the hundredth time. "And I know you've never done target Flooing before so just keep thinking 'room to the left of Draco's' and we should be fine."
"I got it, Pansy," Harry retorted gruffly. "I'm not Crabbe or Goyle, you know."
"Right," the Slytherin sardonically replied, "I keep forgetting. Okay, well, here we go." She dropped the glittering powder she'd been holding tightly in her closed fist and green flames shot up around them with a great hiss as they grabbed each other's hand. "Malfoy Manor," she stated in a clear, precise voice and the sitting room of the Parkinsons' London flat faded away.
Harry started feeling the familiar nausea build in the pit of his stomach as they spun through the network from grate to grate, Pansy's hand clutching his the only thing he could feel besides the queasiness. He tried to keep their room target in his mind, but it was quickly being overpowered by the churning in his stomach. No matter how long he was a wizard, he knew he'd never get used to the forms of travel they utilized, however, he was quite fond of his broomstick.
Just as he began to think he really would have to vomit, they came to a stop at one particular grate and found themselves standing back on solid ground once more in an very large fireplace.
"This is it," Pansy stated unnecessarily beside him, her voice barely above a whisper. Together, they stepped out of the fireplace and into the room beyond, the cloak still concealing them from view.
The room looked nothing like Pansy had described; from what she had told him, Harry had surmised that it would be piled with Quidditch equipment and broken broomsticks. This room was clean and tidy, the creamy mint walls looked freshly painted, and the white airy curtains were pulled back to let the morning sun in.
Pansy froze at his side. "This isn't the right room."
The Gryffindor suddenly had the strongest urge to hit her or himself on the head. "I figured that out by myself," he replied, his voice also lowered to a whisper. "So, which room are we in?" He could feel Pansy's curls brush against his shoulder as she shook her head.
"I've never seen this room before."
Harry felt the beginnings of anxiety wind in his throat. "Are we even in Malfoy Manor?"
The Slytherin turned sharply to glance at the fireplace and sure enough, the Malfoy coat of arms was engraved above the mantel. "Yes, but I'm not sure where or which floor."
"Great," Harry replied, his patience starting to wear thin. "Well, we'd better -"
Whatever he was about to say was cut off by a sudden piercing cry from the other side of the room. While they had noticed the absence of Quidditch supplies, they had failed to notice that the room contained a bassinet.
The door abruptly swung open and Draco Malfoy, paler and more haggard looking than usual, rushed into the room. His long strides took him immediately to the side of the bassinet and he reached down to lift a squirming bundle of pink blankets into his arms.
Even though they were still protected by the cloak and the silencing spell, he and Pansy backed away until they were pressed against the opposite wall. Draco's mutterings to the crying child as he tried to comfort her could be heard clear across the room and Harry grew uncomfortable as he watched Malfoy in this private moment. The Gryffindor had no idea who the baby was, but it was clear that Malfoy cared about her a great deal.
"It's okay, Madison, it's okay," the blond whispered as he rocked the baby against his shoulder, his hand rubbing soothing circles on her back.
Peeling his eyes away from the sight, Harry turned to Pansy and was surprised to see the look of absolute misery decorating her face. He was about to ask her if she knew who the baby was and who it belonged to when she spoke, her tone betraying her offense.
"There was a second baby."
These words only served to confuse Harry more but his confusion was short-lived as the Dungbombs and Stink Pellets she'd been holding in her hand to use as a distraction if they needed one in their rescue mission crashed loudly to the floor, the silencing spell only able to muffle it slightly.
Harry drew out his wand, expecting to block any number of spells Malfoy threw at him, but Pansy had other plans as she ripped off the invisibility cloak and exposed both of them to the main person they'd been hoping to avoid.
At the expression of pure rage on Malfoy's face, the raven-haired boy was seriously considering grabbing the witch and trying to Apparate as far away as he could manage, but another glance at the blond made him realize that he was still holding the baby and had not pulled out his wand.
Draco surveyed his fellow Slytherin and his archrival with cold gray eyes. "What are you two doing here?" he asked, his voice as hard as stone.
Pansy peered up at him, her blue eyes swimming with unshed tears. "There was a second baby and you didn't tell me?"
The tall blond felt unease slide down his spine like a chill. "What are you talking about?" he scoffed indifferently. "This is my cousin. She's staying -"
"Don't lie to me!" Pansy shrieked hysterically, cutting him off in mid-explanation. "I was there at the funeral! I saw her other child!"
Draco seemed to be weighing her words in his mind before reaching a decision. Heaving a great sigh, he switched the baby over to his other shoulder. "Fine. Yes, Blaise was having twins, one survived, the other did not. Madison is my child and now she's my responsibility."
The blonde witch looked like she'd just been slapped. "How could you keep something like that from me? Blaise was one of my best friends."
"We felt it was safer for all involved that Madison remain a secret," he answered, setting the now sleeping baby back in her bassinet.
"Why?" Pansy asked confusedly.
Feeling he'd already given too much away, Draco redirected his attention to the Gryffindor who'd been silently watching the exchange in interest. "Why are you here, Potter? Come to rescue your helpless bookworm from the evil dragon?" he sneered.
Harry felt his face twist in response. "That's exactly what I'm here for. She hasn't been herself and she needs someone to look out for her." His tone indicated that Malfoy was incapable of doing such a thing.
The Slytherin chuckled deprecatingly as he turned back to the bassinet and gazed down at the baby girl. "You're too late, Potter."
Harry felt his hackles rise. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.
"I mean, Hermione's gone," the blond stated as he circled to face the Gryffindor, no trace of humor left on his face and his gray eyes had gone dull.
"She left nearly two days ago and I have no idea where she went."
Luna watched the quiet exchange between the two Magical Law Enforcement official with dreamy eyes.
Even now, the fear wraith was leading Hermione's body out of the forest and in two days time, Harry and Pansy would learn of Madison's existence.
The Ravenclaw, however, was sitting in the same interrogation room that Ron had been in several days previous as her fate was decided. She'd been calm as she went through the proceedings. They had weighed her wand before tagging it and storing it in the Auror Headquarters, she'd answered probing questions about her background to confirm her identity, and she'd been asked to tell her story over and over to make sure everything added up.
When planning out her confession, Luna had made sure that it seemed like she hadn't intended to kill Neville, but that she was still directly responsible for his death nevertheless.
This was very important because she needed to be placed in the same vicinity as Ron. Otherwise, her plan would never work. Luckily for both of them, they had just enough time for everything before the Wizengamot came into session and they would be tried.
Apparently reaching a decision, the two officials turned to her looking grim; the older witch with the monocle addressed her frankly.
"We've decided you'll be placed with Mr. Weasley until the Wizengamot can hear your case in its entirety. Since Dumbledore has spoken for you, you'll be able to continue your schoolwork. Mr. Gumboil here will escort you to where you need to go. That is all."
Luna nodded, indicating that she understood, and stood from the metal chair, her eyes darting to the two-way sheet of glass as an eerie smile danced across her mouth. The Minister himself was standing behind the wall muttering to himself as she breezed out of the room and towards the lift. His words were ringing in her ears just as if he'd shouted them from right beside her.
"What the bloody hell is going on at that school?"
The blonde witch had no time to allay his fears as things were moving quicker than ever. Not wanting to alert the slightest suspicion, she forced her mind to silence as she stepped out of the lift and onto Level Two, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Her eyes clouded over as she followed the wizard over to his cubicle.
The man started digging in one of his drawers as he spoke to her over his shoulder. "Empty out your pockets and take off any jewelry or accessories you might have on."
She proceeded to obey his first instruction and emptied out all her pockets but then told him in her characteristically wistful tone, "Oh, I'd like to keep my earrings, please. I made them myself, you see."
The wizard stared at her distrustfully as he straightened, a Secrecy Sensor now in hand. He took great care to run it over her twice, giving special attention to her earrings, and when it didn't give the slightest twitch, he frowned. Reaching up, he touched the bottom of her earrings, which resembled red sticks as they were long and thin and dangled almost to her shoulders.
"Well, they're not sharp," he said finally, "I suppose you can keep them. Okay, Mr. Weasley is being kept over here," and he marched off, fully expecting her to follow.
After leaving the room of cubicles and walking down an empty corridor, they came to a stop in front of what looked like a glass case, and Luna only had a moment to register the long wall of magical glass before Mr. Gumboil nudged her unceremoniously into one of the cells and the pane clicked behind her.
"Bathroom breaks are every three hours. Your school things are being sent tomorrow," he stated succinctly before turning away and going back out the door.
The Ravenclaw studied the area around her with a meticulous eye. There was a cot piled with blankets to her left and a small table and chair to her right. The Auror on duty was sitting at a desk at the end of the line of cells, only two cells away. She took all this in and memorized it. She'd also have to make note of when the guards rotated and who was on duty when.
Her light blue eyes were drawn to the crumpled redheaded form on the floor in the cell next to hers. She bent down and knocked softly on the glass.
"Ron… Ron!" she called, trying not to attract the attention of the Auror.
The figure jerked as if coming out of a deep sleep before turning slowly around. His own blue eyes widened in shock.
"Luna! What are you doing here?"
She kneeled down so they were face-to-face and continued on in a hurried whisper. "Ron, you have to listen to me very carefully. Can that Auror hear what we're saying?"
The youngest Weasley boy shook his head dazedly, his face still reflecting his astonishment in finding her here.
"Okay, that's good," she sighed. "That will make things easier."
The Gryffindor found his voice then. "Easier for what?"
Luna smiled her dreamy smile and said quite matter-of-factly, "In three days, we're going to escape."
Ginny Weasley was a mess of emotions.
For two days, she'd been trying to deny the existence of Tom Riddle, the sixteen-year-old boy, in the present. Two days in which they'd been cooped up in the room above the Leaky Cauldron where Tom had spent most of the time showing her how much he had missed her and having a body.
The first time had been painful, but then losing your virginity normally was.
Ginny had cried afterwards while Tom had slept. She had betrayed her family and everything they stood for better than anybody else in the entire history of betrayal. She had slept with the most evil man alive and had given him the most precious gift she had to give.
She'd tried to creep away after that first time, but Tom had caught her by the hair and pulled her back into the room.
That had been the second time.
It was all about possession then. Tom had whispered in her ear about how she belonged to him, how she was his property. And then, he had made her promise to never leave him again, to always be at his side.
She had promised.
She knew it was stupid to do so, had known it even as the words were leaving her mouth, but there was no other answer she could give. There was no way to gauge how he would react if she didn't agree. And even if she was a Gryffindor, she wasn't ready to die just yet.
Ginny was smart enough to know that sometimes it was stupid to be brave.
The third time had followed after the promise, and this time, he'd been more forgiving, more courteous, more enticing. She knew he was only luring her in for the kill, but she couldn't do anything about it; she'd already promised.
It was after that time the showers had started.
She was back in the shower now as Tom slept once more. They'd just had sex for the eighth time, she was still counting, and she wondered when he would decide they needed to leave the room.
The scalding hot water cascaded over her and turned her skin pink as she thought of his face before their fourth time. She had thought he would punish her, but he'd only been amused by her actions, told her it was a pointless endeavor.
Reaching out, she grabbed the washrag and continued where she left off during her last shower. Her upper left thigh was still raw and pink, but she continued to scrub at it, wincing as she scraped against the sensitive skin.
The red letters of TMR still stared resolutely back at her, not faded in the slightest at her ministrations. Undaunted, she continued to rub even though she knew it was no use.
Blood magic was forever.
A/N: Well, I hope you enjoyed this one, my lovelies! We're finally starting to move towards the end and the next chapter will be action-packed. Until next time. Please leave me a review if you would. :)