Chapter Thirty-Two: The Key to Her Past

Just a few more minutes of listening to Mrs. Weasley final motherly warnings and they were free to do whatever they pleased for two glorious hours at Diagon Alley. Mrs. Weasley had brought them all to do their school shopping since they were attending the Quidditch World Cup in just one day's time and the new term would start shortly thereafter. They were doing their shopping very late by all accounts, but to Mrs. Weasley defense, it was difficult wrangling all the children together to find one time to shop that works for everyone's schedule. At least that means Diagon Alley was not busy at all.

Hermione could barely hide her smile as she watched Ron struggle with keeping a straight face and not let his excitement show. The ginger shifted his weight back and forth, rolling on the balls of his feet, all the while his head was nodding 'yes' to whatever Mrs. Weasley had to say. It reminded her of a bobble head.

"…and don't even think about venturing into Knocturn Alley, you know sort of people lurk there… oh and for Godric's sake, don't spend all your sickles on useless knick knacks. Make sure to buy all your school things first, I don't expect you to have too much left over after that…"

Harry and Hermione nodded along as well just to appease Mrs. Weasley, but who were they kidding… spending money on useless knick knacks (especially for Harry and Ron) was the best part of shopping without grown-up supervision. Hermione glanced to her left and shared a small knowing grin with Harry.

After what seemed like ages, Mrs. Weasley finally led the grumbling Ginny away to the second-hand store. Ginny was in need of a longer set of robes after growing a few inches since last term. Ginny of course wasn't at all thrilled that she was the only teenager that was being chaperoned. Harry, Hermione, and Ron were allowed to go off on their own for the first time. Her other siblings Fred and George were with them at some point, but of course, they had split as soon as they stepped through the threshold, without as much as a 'goodbye'.

Ron pumped his fists in the air in triumph.

"Finally Mum lets us shop on our own. Honestly, it's about bloody time! We're nearly adults!" He exclaimed.

Hermione let out a small snort of laughter. "Since when is fourteen nearly an adult, Ronald?" she teased, emphasizing the word.

"Don't argue with me, 'mione. You're the closest out of us three to being an adult. Your birthday is in less than a month. You'll be fifteen." he pointed out. He sighed wistfully, "Just four more years until freedom. No more mum nagging at me, every bloody chance she gets."

Hermione bit her lip. What Ron said was true; her birthday was coming up.

"Well, I for one don't want to grow up so fast." she said with a pout. She was so happy with her life right now. Attending Hogwarts, being with her friends… growing older means one more year closer to graduating, and everything may change after that. Who knows where the future will take them.

Ron shrugged with a doubtful look. "I'm pretty sure you're the only one that thinks that way, 'mione." He turned towards Harry. "You know, mum was so much more relaxed with Fred and George. She let them run wild at twelve. It's injustice, wouldn't you say?"

Harry grinned, "Maybe that's why she had to pull the reins in on you. Fred and George became such troublemakers with all the freedom they had. She can't have you take after them too. It'd be too much to handle for her."

Ron returned Harry's grin with a sheepish smile. "You know, I suppose you're right!"

The three burst out laughing at that as they continued along the path. Just as Hermione threw her head back in laughter, the daylight reflected something off Hermione's collarbone and it didn't escape Harry's keen seeker eyes. Zeroing in on something small and glittering was almost second nature to him with his Quidditch training.

"Oh, you're wearing a different necklace." Harry pointed out. "Is that the one from Christmas? From the anonymous someone?"

"Yes, it is." Hermione replied and tugged at the little key. "I got so used to wearing a chain around my neck that something feels missing now that I returned the time-turner, so I decided to wear this instead."

"It looks nice on you."

Hermione smiled. "Thanks, Harry."

"You still haven't a clue who'd sent it, right?" Ron asked.

Hermione shook her head and continued, "But Professor McGonagall assured me that Professor Snape has taken a good look at it, and it hasn't been tampered with by any dark magic."

"Pft, Snape, some assurance that is." Ron scoffed.

Harry agreed. "Ron's right, Snape isn't trustworthy. He's evil to the very core. He tried to get Sirius killed with the Kiss!"

"Well, I see where you're coming from, but I trust Professor McGonagall. I'm sure she took a look at it too."

"I hope you're right."

As the trio made it further down the path, they quickly approached Quality Quidditch Supplies and Ron broke away from them to push his face up against the window of the shop. He gasped loudly and quickly returned to their side and urgently tugged on Harry's sleeve.

"Mate, I think I see some of the new special edition Quidditch gloves I told you about. You know, the dragonhide ones from Bulgaria, the one that Krum wears!" Ron was beyond excited and his eyes glittered. "Let's go and check them out."

Harry hesitated. "But Hermione is with us, she's not interested in that kind of stuff." Harry reminded, in consideration for his best female friend. It was very sweet of Harry to do that for her, but Hermione could tell that Harry would really like to go in as well.

"You two go on in," Hermione said. When they both hesitated, she reassuringly added with a smile, "I'll just be two stores down and occupy myself at Flourish and Blotts. Now that's a store that you two have zero interest for."

The two boys grinned from ear to ear. "Damn right!" Harry exclaimed before they all burst out laughing.

"You're the best 'Mione." Ron gave Hermione a pat on the back. "I hope we won't be too long in here. It's easy to lose track of time…"

"Don't worry, I can't be at Flourish and Blotts all day."

With that reassurance, Harry and Ron dashed inside the Quidditch store. Hermione shook her head in humor.

This arrangement was great actually. Hermione hummed happily to herself as she passed by the first store. If Harry and Ron were with her, she would never really be at ease to browse around the bookstore. She would constantly be worrying that they would be bored out of their minds.

Once she was close, she skipped to the bookstore's display window and casually glanced in, only to be surprised by a shock of white blond hair. Quickly she spun away from the window and her hands clutched the strap of her beaded crossover bag.

Hermione could only think of two common reasons for a human to sport that particular hair color: one was the elderly and the other were the Malfoys. She had so wished that it was the former, but the person had impeccable standing posture, no sign of a hunch, and was wearing stylish clothes from the latest Wizarding fashion, undoubtedly expensive, which only meant one thing…

What was Malfoy doing here?

It wasn't often that she felt like this. The only time where she would feel this nervous would be when she took an exam without studying that extra hour the night before or when she's about to receive a graded essay that she ought to have proofread just one more time…

How was she to face Malfoy? After they had saved Buckbeak their last night at Hogwarts, she hadn't spoken a word to him since and had only caught a glimpse of him at the train station.

Her heart thumped loudly in her ears. She realized she didn't know how to face him. To act as if nothing has happened? But she had so many unanswered questions. What was the real reason Malfoy time traveled on his own accord to save Buckbeak? There was more that he wasn't telling her and she was sure that he wanted to keep it that way. They seemed to be on speaking terms now, but if she were to press for an answer, would he revert back to petty name calling, using it as some sort of defense mechanism? That would be counterproductive.

She took a careful peek inside again. The store was barely at one third capacity since it wasn't nearly peak school shopping week yet.

Her stomach churned with the same uneasiness as when she watched Neville put the last ingredient into their caldron back when they were still potion partners. Anything could happen, and she would much prefer to avoid something blowing up in her face. What should she do?

As unsettling as it was, Hermione finally decided that she wasn't going to let an awkward encounter deter her away from at least a good half hour of shopping at Flourish and Blotts without Harry and Ron. This was a golden opportunity too good to pass up.

When she got to the doorstep of the bookstore, she swallowed hard and summoned her Gryffindor courage. The bookstore was large enough, she reasoned, and Malfoy was at the other end of the store, seemingly deeply engrossed in a book. What are the chances that he would spot her coming in? Once she's safely inside, she just needs to make sure that she was browsing in a different row than he was.

That was a good plan.

She had both hands on the door and pushed through and took a step into the familiar store.

Ding-a-ling. Ding-a-ling.

Hermione froze and sucked in her breath.

Damn Merlin and his pointy hat!

How could she have forgotten. She had always thought of the little bell that announced the arrival of a fellow booklover as a charming little thing in her past visits to Flourish and Blotts. Now she wished she could incinerate the damn contraption with her hot stare.

She crossed the threshold delicately but she forgot to close the door behind her with the same care.

Ding-a-ling. Ding-a-ling.

She winced at the tinkering of the bell and cautiously looked up. She cursed under her breath again.

The damage was done.

A set of pale grey eyes watched her curiously from across the way.

It confused her to see Draco Malfoy watching her like that. By the furrow of his brows, he seemed a little bit confused at her presence as well. He looked at her as if she was an acquaintance that he hasn't seen in a long time whose name was on the tip of his tongue. It took him a long second, but when recognition settled in, a pale eyebrow shot up in a silent question as to why she was there.

It wasn't that surprising was it, to see her at a bookstore? She did have the reputation of practically living in the library in her spare time at Hogwarts. It should be her that was surprised to see Draco Malfoy so out of placed in a bookstore. Did Malfoy even like to read? Hermione realized that she didn't know.

Well, now that he had seen her, there's no avoiding it now. If she walked away now without acknowledging him, it would be exponentially more awkward when they do see each other again at Hogwarts.

Hermione marched over where the blonde was. The infuriating prat didn't move from his spot since her arrival, the book that he was reading was still perched in his left hand. She supposed that was his way of letting her make the first move. It was always a game of tit for tat with the two of them, she realized, with their attitudes changing as a direct result of what the other person does first. In theory, they can co-exist by ignoring each other, but there's always an urge to set each other off.

"Malfoy," Hermione greeted, her tone neutral and what she considered to be politely enough.

Draco looked at her with a small smirk at the corner of his mouth. "Granger. Took me a second to recognize you. Keeping your hair au naturel again?" Draco asked, picking up the phrase his mother used to describe Theo's natural curly locks.

"Oh, yea," Hermione replied, a little taken aback at the direction of the conversation and she fingering her curly locks consciously. "I'm almost out of the hair products that kept my hair manageable. I've stopped using them ever since the start of summer holidays." She let out an irritated sigh, "My hair is back to being a bushy mess."

"Well, it's not as bushy as first year. In fact, it looks halfway decent now." Draco commented casually, almost friendly even, surprising Hermione. Wait, was he complimenting her? Or is this his way of making small talk? More importantly, how would he know? Why would Draco Malfoy observe anyone that he always thought of as an eyesore?

Draco cleared his throat, cutting off her internal monologue.

Hermione blinked a few times. "Anyway, I'm surprised to see you at a bookstore-," she started. "-shouldn't you have a huge library in your castle, estate, chateau… whatever it is that you live in?"

Malfoy seemed to have found her comment amusing, the corner of his mouth pulled up slightly into a hint of a smile. "Manor." he corrected. "I live in Malfoy Manor. And naturally," he continued in a matter of fact tone, "there is a library. A rather huge one at that."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"You see, the library back at the Manor has a lot to offer, many of which are old and rare collections. I've spent countless of hours perusing those tomes I assure you. But sometimes I like to come to the bookstore to pick out new books to add to the newer collections. See, I even have my house elf with me to carry all my books."

Hermione peered behind him and sure enough there was a relatively young-faced house elf standing there with at least a dozen books balanced delicately in his hands. He had big, round, deep brown eyes that almost seemed too large on his small face. His ears were wide and pointed upward unlike Dobby's, and he was wearing a clean white teacloth with the Malfoy crest stitched on the bottom corner.

"Granger, this is Wally. Wally this is my classmate, Hermione Granger."

"Wally is pleased to meet Young Miss, good friend of Young Master." the little elf chirped, delighted to be introduced to an acquaintance of his Master's. As he bowed, the stack of books teetered precariously.

"Uh… Wally, I don't think we're friends…" Hermione corrected, missing the flash of hurt in Draco's eyes. "Say, isn't that too many books for you to carry?" Hermione asked gently, reaching forward. "Let me help you put them down."

"Granger, don't- " Draco tried to stop her but it was too late. Wally squeaked and held the books tighter towards him protectively. His eyes brimmed with tears.

"Young Miss doesn't like Wally. Young Miss thinks Wally is doing a bad, bad job."

Hermione was at a loss of words. How the elf just jumped to the worst possible conclusion was beyond her. "I didn't mean that," she tried again, "it just looks like Malfoy had given you too much to carry, I don't want you to get hurt."

Big tears were dripping now from the elf's eyes. Draco could tell that if this escalated any further, Wally would be hysterical and would soon quickly be on the lookout for ways to punish himself.

"Young Miss wants to dismiss Wally of the important job that Young Master gave Wally. Wally is a bad elf!" At this point Wally darted his round eyes around the store, considering his options to inflict most pain on himself as punishment.

"No, no… Wally, stop." Draco said firmly. He pinched the bridge of his nose. When will Granger learn? "Wally, STOP. You're doing a fine job. Granger here just doesn't understand that you're more capable than what a little fellow of your stature could manage."

Wally sniffed and his eyes widened in understanding and appreciation over his Master's praise.

"But just, humor her, will you? Put the books down for now until we need to leave." He shot a glare at Hermione and she averted her eyes wearing a big stubborn pout on her lips.

"Yes, Wally will do as Young Master says. Wally is a good house elf." The elf's eyes glittered once again, this time with appreciation.

Draco nodded and agreed with a meek chuckle. "Now go stand at the end of the aisle and keep watch while I talk to Granger. Better yet, make sure no one can hear us."

Wally nodded furiously before popping over to the end of the aisle and did what he was told by snapping his fingers.

Draco gave Hermione an expectant look. When she didn't say anything, he prompted, "Well? Do you know what went wrong here?"

Hermione smacked her lips and rolled her eyes in defeat. "Fine, I'm sorry about that, I hadn't expected it to happen."

"I don't need you to be sorry, Granger. I need you to reflect on it." When Hermione gave him a disbelieving look, he sighed. "You're in the Wizarding World now, we have our own set of social rules, dictated by hundreds of years of history - "

"Oh, You don't need to remind me that your dear old ancestor Septimus passed laws on the domestication of house-elves. I still remember from first year."

Draco's stomach twisted. "You remember that?" he asked weakly.

"Clear as yesterday," Hermione huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I'm not proud of…" Draco started before trailing off. The charm on her necklace caught his eye as she was crossing her arms. His brows furrowed and he leaned in. "What is that you're wearing?" Draco looked appalled.

"Why is everyone asking about my necklace!?"

Draco's eyes went wide. "Other people have seen you wearing, that?" Draco asked a little too urgently.

Not understanding why Malfoy was being so paranoid, she said hesitantly, "Well, Harry pointed it out, but I've been wearing it all day."

Draco muttered a curse word in disbelief. "Where did you get it?"

"Well, if you must know… it was sent to me at Christmas, it came with a note, but no name. Both McGonagall and Snape has looked at it, so it should be safe." When Draco was silent and appeared to be deep in thought, Hermione added, "Okay, Malfoy, you're freaking me out now…"

Everything clicked in Draco's head then. Every respectable Pureblood would know that it wasn't an ordinary charm. He wouldn't expect either Harry and Ron to know what the key was for. And if McGonagall and Snape both have seen it and have not confiscated it or told Hermione what it was for, it could only mean one thing. It was purposely given to her, and most likely by his Father he deduced. No one else would have had possession of this keepsake.

Oh, Draco was angry. Father was doing things behind his back again, playing puppeteer while his puppets were kept in the dark. Not only that, but Severus is essentially his spy while they were all at Hogwarts. If his Father wanted him to cooperate in his little game, he was determined to set some boundaries and at least play on some of his own terms.

Draco took hold of Hermione's shoulders. "Granger, do me a favor and hide that under your top."

"What!?" She brushed off his hands.

"You can't wear that necklace in public!" Draco hissed.


Draco raked his head for an appropriate answer. If Father had sent that without telling her what it is, that would mean he was not at liberty to share it with her.

"Social rules. It's part of social rules in the Wizarding World. You can't wear something so flashy out in public."

Hermione's eyes widened and her mouth formed an 'O' in realization. "Is it… expensive?" she asked incredulously. She picked it up to look at it critically again.

"Of course, it's all sparkly and shite and with all that detailing, of course it's expensive."

"Are you sure? They could be fake gems." Hermione offered. "And I see your cohorts wearing flashy jewelry all the time."

"Granger, we're from old Purebloods families. It's socially acceptable and expected-"

"It's archaic!"

"You're not wrong there, but when the top one percent owns fifty percent of the Wizarding World's total wealth, it's a natural result. We're almost expected to." He groaned. "Granger, let's not argue about that… just, don't show that in public? It's too flashy."

"You're over reacting, Malfoy. I don't think anyone would be willing to send something expensive to me anonymously."

"No one should, but yet, here we are. Just believe me. Don't you trust me?" Draco let that last sentence slip before he could hold his tongue. "Wait, don't answer that."

Hermione eye's narrowed. Draco thought that she wouldn't do what he asked by the look of her stubborn pout, but to his surprise, she relented and tucked the necklace into her shirt. "Okay, fine. Happy, now? Only because you're being so insistent…"

Draco visibly relaxed. "I promise I'll tell you why, I just need to get some answers myself first." He turned around to leave. "See you back in Hogwarts, Granger. Wally, we're going back to the Manor now. Drop the books at the front desk and tell them to floo it over to the Manor."

His father had some explaining to do and he will not tolerate being a puppet any longer.

Hermione craned her neck to make sure that Malfoy had left before she smirked to herself and pulled the necklace back out, just to spite him.

Not long after Draco left, Harry and Ron rushed into the store.

"Hermione! We gotta go to Gringotts!" Ron pulled at her arm excitedly.

"Um, why is that?"

"You won't believe it-," Harry said with a big boyish smile on his face. "-we talked the shopkeeper in giving us a discount for the dragonhide gloves. We get twenty-five percent off when we buy five!"

When Hermione didn't give them the excitement that they had expected, Ron added slowly, as if explaining to a child, "Hermione, it's like getting one free if you buy four!"

"It's actually a little better than buy four get one free, but Ron, you have to buy five pairs. Aren't these gloves expensive? Where are you going to get the money?"

"I've got money in the bank." Harry said.

"Harry! Your parents didn't leave that money for you to-"

"I know! I know, but I thought it through. Ron, Ginny and the twins won't be getting any more gifts from me this year. This is like their birthday and Christmas gifts all at once. But I really want to get them. We're going to the World Cup tomorrow! Wouldn't it be cool to wear the same gear as the players? And besides, Fred, George and I can use them at Hogwarts for the season as well-,"

"All right, all right!" Hermione said with a laugh. "I have no reason to stop you if you have thought it through so clearly." She put the book she was skimming through back into its place on the shelf. "Lead the way."

Gringotts never ceases to amaze Hermione. The autonomy of the Goblins, the winding maze of underground passages, the rumored dragons that guard the bank's high-security vaults… it unbelievable that all that could fit under one marble roof. It's a shame that they rarely get to visit the establishment.

After a short wait in line, the three walked up to the next available Goblin teller. 'Bogrod', the name plaque read.

"What do you need today?" the Goblin asked in a gruff voice. He didn't seem too thrilled with his job.

"Good afternoon, uh, Bogrod. I'd like to withdraw some money, Vault 687." Harry said and procured a small gold key after some rummaging of his pocket.

The Goblin took the key from Harry. He checked the recorded book on his desk. He nodded after looking at it with a critical eye.

Bogrod turned to Hermione, "And you, Miss? Do you have any business with the bank today? Better tell me now all at once before I get off my station to lead you down to the vaults."

Hermione answered with a puzzled look. "I think you got something wrong, Bogrod. I don't have a vault."

Bogrod frowned with one eyebrow raised, he did not look amused. His foul expression sent a dozen more wrinkles to his already pruned face. "Girl, what are you playing at? You're wearing a vault key." He hissed lowly and with a long index finger he pointed at Hermione's chest.

Eight pairs of eyes stared at the little key that Hermione had been wearing all day.

"What!?" "Bloody hell!" "You can't be serious!" The trio exclaimed all at once.

The Goblin threw his head back and let out a throaty laugh. "Give the key here, girl."

Hermione's eyes wide and hastily took it off to hand it to him.

Once the key was on the Goblin's palm, Bogrod instantly perked up and seemed thrilled to have something that would finally shake up his otherwise monotonous day. He flipped through to reference several pages in his code book before he looked back at Hermione.

"Your name?"

"Hermione Granger."

The Goblin cackled, "It is your vault, you silly girl! But I can understand why you don't know." The Goblin hopped of his high chair and emerged from behind the teller booths. He handed the keys back to their owners. "Put that back on and don't take it off until we're underground at your vault." He instructed Hermione.

Hermione quickly did as she was told. With Malfoy's earlier warning echoing in her mind, she discretely tucked the necklace inside her shirt.

"Follow me"

They followed closely behind the Goblin.

"Why do you have a vault?" Ron asked incredulously. "And how do you not know!?"

"I don't know, Ronald!" Hermione whispered hotly. "You were there when I received this key!"

"I wonder what's in it…"Harry said.

"Let's find out."

Harry's Vault was number 687, and the vault to which Hermione's key opened…was Vault number 822. The ride contained another minute of twists and turns to which made Hermione sick to her stomach. Or, she could be feeling sick from the butterflies she'd been feeling since she found out that she had a vault that was under her name.

"Just give me another minute," Hemione panted with one hand clutching her chest and the other resting over Harry's shoulder for support.

"Key please." Bogrod more or less demanded with apathy.

Hermione whipped the necklace over her head, taking care to make sure her curls wouldn't be caught on the chain, and dropped it into the Goblin's outstretched palm.

Bogrod made a series of complicated gestures before placing his palm on the designated location on the door. Soon after, the key hole emerged and he plopped in the key and turned.

The heavy door groaned on its hinges, more loudly than usual from the long period of unuse. The door was heavy and it was taking the Goblin great effort to pull open the door several inches at a time. The Goblin seemed to dislike the lack of upkeep and muttered, "Got to request the door to be oiled now that the Vault has been claimed. Only oiled it once the last time it was opened."

"It was opened before?" Hermione asked.

"Of course." Bogrod said with a grunt. "Every ten years, dormant vaults are to be opened to check its contents and to subject the door to maintenance."

"Wait, you must know who opened the vault under my name."

"Of course."

"Who is it?"

"I can't answer that. Confidentiality code."

"But you answered my last question!"

"That is public knowledge."

Before Hermione could make any retort, the door was opened and she could only let her jaw drop at the contents. There were piles of gold, silver, and bronze coins all neatly stacked inside the small room. In a corner there was an ornate vanity with velvet boxes on display.

"How much gold is there in here…" Hermione whispered.

The Goblin cleared his throat, "Ten million Galleons. Of course there some Sickles and Knuts as well, but that's just small change." Bogrod finished with a smile that read 'I know your secret but I won't tell you'.

"Blimey, Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, "You should buy us the gloves!"

"For heaven's sake, Ronald." Hermione punched him in the arm. "Is that all you can think of!? We are not touching one single Knut until I figure out where all this came from!"

"But you haven't a clue where to start though." Harry said.

"I wouldn't say that…" Hermione said thoughtfully, "But guys, I need you to promise me. Not one word to anybody about this. It can't go out. No one else can know."

Ron looked deflated. "Alright," he muttered, looking at the gold longingly.

"You've got to promise me!"

"I promise." Both boys said.

Hermione took one last look before she had Bogrod close up the vault. At least she had one lead…