My Life as a House-Elf
Chapter Nineteen: The Disenchantment
* * * *
Surrounded by goblins all armed with various sharp weapons, and not carrying a wand or any means of protection, Hermione knew she had fallen into one of the many uncompromising situations of her life.
But this time, neither Harry nor Ron would come running in gallantly to save her, and no amount of Mandrake roots growing in the Hogwarts greenhouses could provide any cure for this situation. No books, or learning, or academic achievements could save Hermione now.
She was completely disarmed. And she was mortally afraid.
Why did you have to go looking for him? a small, scared voice asked. Draco wouldn't appreciate you dying for him.
"Let's see what witches taste like," Smad the goblin smirked nastily, "bet they don't taste too different from rat."
Howls and gurgles of agreement echoed Smad's sentiments. Blades flashed in the firelight like lightning, and eyes glinted greedily. Hermione opened her mouth to scream.
"HOLD FAST," a huge, powerful voice suddenly boomed. The alleyways echoed like an approaching thunderstorm. "LET THE GIRL GO, AND YOU SHALL ALL BE SPARED."
The goblins stopped in their tracks. They glanced at one another suspiciously, then at the shadowy corners of the alleyway where the light didn't touch. The voice could have come from anywhere.
"Who are you, wizard?" Smad called defiantly. "Show yourself – stop hiding behind your spells and your shadows like a coward."
"WE'LL SEE WHO THE TRUE COWARDS ARE," the voice challenged sharply in reply. A moment of silence passed uncomfortably. The goblins chattered, gripped their blades tightly, and gnashed their teeth at the unspeaking darkness. Hermione held her breath.
"INCARE AMULETUM," the voice suddenly boomed.
Silver, pearly light flowed into the alley, filling the darkness with a deep, milky glow of moonlight. Thundering roars echoed across the dirty cobblestones and black brick. A pair of blazing eyes and clashing talons later, a magnificent, silvery Patronus stood towering in the air, smoke rising from its mouth and fire searing in its mirror-like eyes.
"Run, lads, run!" Smad cried shrilly. And they ran, their shouts of fright and fury fading down the alley behind them as the Guardian pursued, its silver tail and avenging howls the last thing to vanish behind the corner.
Thick silence fell upon the alley. A moment later, a familiar blonde head poked itself from out of the shadows, asking in a quite normal voice, "Are they gone yet?"
Hermione had never been so happy, nor so glad to see anyone in her life – especially not Draco Malfoy. Instinctively, she rushed towards him – slinging her arms around his shoulders, and burying her face in the thickness of his cloak. Cold relief washed over her.
"Thank you," was all she managed to say.
The both of them held onto one another in silence for awhile. When Draco released her, Hermione stepped back and caught sight of him replacing the silver Guardian charm into his pocket, the glinting pendant of a dragon disappearing with a wink. "The Guardian," she laughed, "it's saved us again."
But Draco was in no mood for laughter.
"What, pray tell, were you trying to do?" he cried in exasperation, pushing Hermione roughly away, his voice raw. "Are you Gyffindors always looking to get yourselves killed? Why can't you – for love of Salazar Slytherin – stop rushing gallantly into battle like the fools you are?"
Hermione looked at him, distressed. His silver eyes were piercing. He gripped her shoulders as if he wanted to break them; his mouth was twisted into a cold and unforgiving scowl. "Don't you ever try to save my life again, Hermione Granger," Draco murmured harshly, "Don't try to do anything stupid again."
And with that, he released her. He turned away without another word.
"I'll take you back to Barquel's," he finally said, voice no more than a murmur. "I know Knockturn Alley like I know my own home, and I'm armed with a wand. And I think –" Draco paused, and then looked at her levelly, his face revealing nothing, "I think I know what we must do."
There was something in his voice which chilled Hermione to the bone. But, taking his hand, she had no other choice but to follow him.
* * * *
"A mortal wound dealt to her by her own sworn enemy," recited Barquel the sorcerer bleakly. "Are you both sure about this?"
Draco's face was aloof and impassive. "Yes, we're sure."
Hermione, on the other hand, was as white as a sheet. She clutched at her robes desperately, and chewed on the end of her lip. She wasn't so sure about Draco's choice of cure – mortal wounds weren't called 'mortal' for nothing.
"Very well then," Barquel sighed. He disappeared under the counter for awhile, and when he emerged, he was carrying something which made Hermione's heart jolt.
A silver, ornate dagger, its handle decorated with a multitude of jewels. The long, thin blade shone brilliantly in the candlelight, straight as a bolt of lightning, polished and glinting like sunlight upon water. Draco picked it up. He held it hovering in front of his face, the reflected light of the jewels casting an eerie glow over his eyes. He nodded.
"This will do."
The look of distress upon Barquel's face was evident. "The blade is laced with the deepest, most potent poison brewed by Dark wizards, sir. The victim would die within seconds if the antidote isn't administered quickly – and the pain and the anguish of being cured by such a poison take days to recover from –"
"I said, it will do!" Draco insisted. He roughly dropped a bag of Galleons onto the countertop, where it fell with an alarming clatter and tore open. The Galleons spilt onto the countertop, strewn and glittering. They all watched this with horrified fascination.
Gathering the Galleons up, Barquel whispered softly, "I will go down and get the antidote." He shook his head as he stared at Hermione. "I'm so sorry Miss – I'm ever so sorry –" Barquel was weeping as he swept down a hidden trapdoor, towards an underground pantry down below.
The shop, once an activity of swirling colours and glittering contraptions, suddenly fell into a bleak and unsettling silence. None of them could speak.
"Do you have to do this?" Hermione finally cried, breaking the silence as if she were shattering windowpanes with a war hammer. "Why do we have to do this?"
"You heard the sorcerer," replied Draco with a cruel, cutting snarl. He turned his icy gaze upon her. "Your rather unfortunate curse cannot be broken by mere wand-waving and chanting and potions that taste like strawberries. It's a difficult world, Hermione – this is what we have to do."
"An alternative," pleaded Hermione desperately, "there must be an alternative."
The frosty expression on Draco's face could have put winter itself to shame. "A kiss," he said in a mocking sneer, "a kiss from your true love. You don't have a true love, Hermione –" he held up the dagger threateningly, "but you do have a sworn enemy."
She stared at him, then at the dagger, and then met his eyes again. She took a step towards him and saw, to her hope, he lowered the dagger but a few inches as she approached. "Draco Malfoy," she breathed, "you are not my enemy."
The dagger fell with a clatter onto the floor.
Draco was screaming. "Stop, Hermione, stop it!" he cried, holding his hands up into fists. "Why do you have to make things so difficult? Why can't you hate me, loathe me, and despise my very existence? How am I to help you cure your curse, when you are so bloody, aggravatingly noble all the time? Just be reasonable, Hermione," his voice died away into a pleading murmur, "just be reasonable and stop thinking about me. Hate me, yes. But help me lift this curse, so we can go back to the way things were."
There were no words to describe how Hermione felt at that moment. Draco was standing before her, breathless and angry, but his eyes shone with a bright and glorious anguish, speckled with the promise of tears. It would have been the perfect time to say something. But she said nothing. It was as if speech hadn't yet been invented.
Instead, she stepped a bit closer – watched him flinch – and took his face in her hands. "I don't want things to go back to the way they were," she whispered, "it has come to a time where things should change."
And she kissed him.
She tasted tears, sorrow, mourning. But she also felt relief. Hermione felt his arms encircle her in an almost terrified motion, for his hands were shaking and were cold, but Draco held her closer, firmly, afraid to let go. Hermione had never seen Draco afraid of something so trivial. She had never seen him refuse to mock her actions.
Then again, she had never seen him in love before.
It was Draco who backed away first. He stared at her, watched in curious fascination at the tears sliding down her cheeks, knowing that he had similar, shining wet trails on his face, too. He stared at her and felt the world tilt around him. Things indeed have changed. Things have changed greatly. And at that particular moment, he didn't care if it was for the better or worse.
"Hermione," he breathed, "you know this isn't supposed to happen."
"That's not for us to decide," she replied. "Things have happened, whether they were supposed to or not. We were just simply here when they happened."
He kissed her again. At that particular moment, Barquel stepped from beneath the cellar's trapdoor, holding a tiny blue vial in hand, staring at the couple in a mixture of surprise and embarrassment.
"Oh," he said lightly, awkwardly shifting his weight and twiddling with the antidote in hand, "I don't suppose you've changed your mind about the cure, then?"
* * * *
Draco and Hermione sat outside, watching the sunrise.
As the bright shafts of sunlight touched Hermione's face, no transformation happened. Her skin remained its supple, healthy white. Her fingers stayed long and tapered, and her ears – thankfully – did not reach past her forehead like they did before. She remained ordinarily, plainly, simply, and gloriously human.
Without another thought she got to her feet, and started twirling around in the early morning light, arms outstretched and crying joyously in triumph. "We did it! I'm free! The curse is broken and I can go home!"
At the sound of her last cheer, Hermione stopped, her grin faltering. She gazed towards the sun – slowly rising above the tinted roofs of Knockturn Alley shops – then towards Draco, who sat, sullenly, in the lingering nighttime shadows.
"Draco, I –"
"No, don't speak," he said, a faint smile dancing across his lips, "I don't want to hear a word of how much you're going to miss my infatuating and dazzling presence. You're free. You're going home. And I –" he took a deep breath and glanced at the silent alley, "I'll just stay here and polish my nails, I suppose."
Hermione couldn't resist a smile. She had the urge to dash towards him and overwhelm him with a large and sincere hug, but she knew he would never forgive her for messing up his robes. Instead, she took his hand.
"Thank you," she muttered, "for everything."
He shook his head. "I'm supposed to be thanking you. Ever since that fateful afternoon in Knockturn Alley when you …" Draco coughed, and continued, "when you threw up all over my father's boots – things have changed. I no longer think my father loathes me anymore, and I have to say this has been the most eventful summer of my life."
Hermione let out a laugh. Then she paused, looking at the alley's cobblestones as if she could see her entire future unfold within the dull grey cracks. "What would they think," she asked suddenly, looking into his eyes, "What would everyone else think?"
"About the both of us. You and I. Gryffindor and Slytherin, Malfoy and Mudblood," she gave a wry smile. "About us being together."
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Oh, they'd probably lock us up in two separate towers until we starve to death." He shrugged. "It might get a bit boring, but the lack of dealing with simpering idiots wouldn't be so bad."
"I'm being serious, Malfoy," Hermione frowned, sitting down next to him on the stone bench. "What would Hogwarts think, if I told them I … If I told them you were more than just another conceited Slytherin to me?"
"The Astronomy Tower and the Ravenclaw Tower," said Draco thoughtfully, leaning back elegantly on the bench, still lingering on his previous subject, "those towers are far apart and isolated enough, though we could still smuggle in an owl or two for correspondence."
He gave her a knowing smirk, like the ones she would commonly see him throwing at her from across crowded Hogwarts halls. "We don't have to tell them anything, Granger. They don't need to know just yet. 'Til next summer."
Hermione bit her lip, and was about to say something, when Draco whipped out something from a pocket in his robes. It was long, soft, and striped in silver and green. He laced it around her neck, pulled her closer, and whispered into her ear, "I release you from my service, Hattie the house-elf."
She could hear the smile in his voice. Draco tied the Slytherin scarf carefully around her neck, and, without another word, pulled her in for another kiss.
Overhead, the sun rose in majestic brilliance. The last few days of summer were fading gradually into the cold splendour of autumn – another season rolling slowly into the next.
* * * *
The final few days of July at last came to a close. Mornings became colder, leaves started to fall from the tree branches, swallows darted over the skies towards warmer countries, and the endless blue skies turned a dull, autumn grey. The new school term would start soon. The changing seasons heralded the beginning of another new cycle, and all things seemed as if they would return to the way they were.
Well – almost all things.
Lucius Malfoy confronted his son a few days after that memorable night, pacing around on the richly-furnished study and wearing down a trail in the plush, wine-red carpet. "That's the second House-elf you've lost this summer," he muttered, staring at Draco dangerously and holding up a book of the Malfoy financial records. "I'm not going to buy you another, Draco, if you keep thinking that throwing clothes at them in your temper tantrums will solve anything."
"Oh, good," Draco sighed in relief. "I've had quite enough of House-elves this year."
That wasn't the last the Malfoys would hear about House-elves, though.
* * * *
Down beneath the Manor's polished marble floors, bright chandeliers, and finely-kept gardens, the Malfoys' cavernous cellars were being filled to the brim.
House-elves from neighbouring estates, mansions and manors had gathered there illegally, travelling through abandoned rabbit holes, secret tunnels and hidden entrances. They all belonged to rich, important wizarding families. They all had been cruelly mistreated in their households. And they were all looking forward to a change in the way things were run.
"Friend Hattie may have left the House-elves," Gilly's voice came booming across the echoing underground walls, "but Hattie also leaves behind the cruel Masters and Mistress! Hattie is brave! Hattie is strong! And one day, all House-elves will be as brave and strong as Hattie!"
It was said that the cheers and roars coming from cellars had startled colonies of rabbits acres away.
* * * *
When Hermione got home after a weeks of absence, her parents met her as if they had seen a ghost. She stood on the porch smiling, as her parents burst into tears of relief, declared a few miracles, and hugged her close. They had a relieved and tearful reunion, after which many frantic phone calls and breathless explanations followed.
"I had a bit of an accident," Hermione later told reporters over a cup of tea. "I accidentally knocked myself on the head, and when I came to, I had trouble remembering who I was, or what I was doing there.
"I stayed a few days in The Leaky Cauldron, trying to regain my memory. And only when that article came out in the Daily Prophet did I realize who I was. I rushed home as soon as I could."
The reporters bought her story, to Hermione's relief. She did have time to work on it.
Needless to say, the Grangers forbade their daughter from ever returning to Knockturn Alley ever again. "You don't have to warn me twice," Hermione said with a roll of her eyes, smiling as she caught sight of a small report on page six of the Daily Prophet. Apparently a group of rogue goblins had been arrested for trying to break into Gringotts bank vaults.
* * * *
Diagon Alley, on the other hand, was a different matter. As Hermione dashed through the shops for her school supplies, she caught sight of a familiar head of messy black hair, and a freckled face topped with a carroty red mop.
"Harry, Ron!" she called, running towards them.
At the sight of Hermione, their faces lit up in relief and delight. "It's Hermione!" Ron cried, and when the three met together they were caught in a rather messy – but sincere – hug.
"We saw the report in the papers," exclaimed Ron, staring at Hermione in reeling wonder as if she had just come back from the dead.
Harry nodded. "We were very worried. They wanted to give up looking for you, but Ron got his Dad to negotiate an extended investigation."
"Dad actually wanted an opportunity to search Knockturn Alley," Ron confessed sheepishly, "but Harry eventually got them going. Everyone listens to Harry. Right, mate?"
"We're just happy you're alright," Harry finally gushed – and Hermione couldn't help but be amused at their awkwardness at being so open. She gave them each a kiss on the cheek – which only served to make them feel more awkward than before, of course.
After conversing for a while, Ron noticed something different about his friend. "Hermione," he asked tentatively, "what's that around your neck?"
She reached to touch it gently. "Oh this?" she dismissed lightly, "it's just a scarf, that's all. Everyone wears one, Ron."
"But … it's a Slytherin scarf," Harry observed, wrinkling his nose lightly in distaste.
Harry and Ron exchanged a glance, shrugged, and invited Hermione for an ice-cream at Florean Fortescue's. They never questioned her about her scarf again ("Must be another one of her studying methods," Ron deduced when he and Harry were alone, throwing her a queer glance).
As they made their way down the twists and turns of Diagon Alley, swollen with the back-to-school shopping crowds – Hermione caught sight of a familiar face, half-hidden in the shade of colourful shop canopies.
A familiar, haughty face. With wintry, silvery eyes. Over the bustling crowds and surging sea of faces they sought each other out, exchanged a glance, a smile, and a wink, and as they turned away to go their separate ways they lingered on the same, final thought:
'Til next summer, then.
* * * *
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Many people need to be thanked in the creation of My Life As A House-elf, and they are:
Katie – my Beta since the first chapter, and one of my best online buddies. She has saved me from much embarrassment, and I owe the quality of the fanfic to her.
Campy Capybara, who not only provided excellent suggestions to improve my writing, but spotted a lot of humiliating mistakes that would have been quite embarrassing on my behalf.
Wickedwitch, who endured my prattling on about my plot and storyline, and for introducing me to Contra Veritas (contraveritas.zephy.net). She dragged me kicking and screaming onto the crew of CV, only to make me realize working for such a site was quite fun.
The Crew of CV, for reading, supporting, de-stressing.
The Reviewers, whose invaluable opinions and feedback helped me improve my writing. You have no idea how much you guys rock.