Hello readers. I'm back. If you've read my other stories (Unexpected, Forget Me and Incarceration) then you know I'm a fan of some angst and slow burn. And Draco being intense. I hope you enjoy this new offering. Should be a little bit shorter than my other stories, with weekly updates. The title is from Macbeth! The characters are from the brilliant mind of JKR. Happy 20th Anniversary Potter fans.
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (5.5.20-31)
When they apparated to the front steps of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Hermione looked up at the tall, imposing brick building with a sigh of relief. After so many weeks roaming the desolate countryside it was nice to be welcomed back by some kind of surrogate home.
All three of them were exhausted and malnourished. The sparse, hardened oak trees had been stripped bare by winter's chill. The frostbitten grass crunched underfoot with every mile they trekked. Their skin was whipped by bitter winds. And they were losing hope.
With every passing day, it became harder and harder to keep going, not knowing what they were supposed to do next, where the next horcrux would be found. She had been watching Harry carefully for any signs of trauma or fatigue that would indicate that he was giving up. But ever since Ron had returned to them, Harry had actually been much more cheerful. And the absence of the now destroyed locket was helping too.
Grimmauld place looked down on them with indulgence. The Order had restored and strengthened its protective wards, making it once more untraceable and impenetrable to any outsiders. It welcomed back its owner with a fond embrace. Even the mad, raving portrait in the entrance hall had been silenced for Harry Potter's return. Kreacher had stirred from his lethargy to once again begin cleaning the decrepit old building, revived by the possibility of his master's approval.
Hermione took a deep breath and reached out to open the front door, feeling her nerves tingle in anticipation. Next to her, Ron and Harry exchanged matching grins of delight at the prospect of a hearty meal and a warm fire. She of course had been dubious about their return here, fearing either an ambush or the potential to become listless and inactive when surrounded by old creature comforts. But the coded radio announcement from Remus, or Romulus, through their Potterwatch show had made it impossible to refuse. It had brooked no argument among them as to the necessity of returning. And she had acknowledged that the boys needed to see their loved ones to rejuvenate their spirits. It had been a draining, grim winter for them, filled with uncertainty and isolation. Hermione was better at coping most days, having the reassurance of knowing that her parents were safely concealed in complete anonymity in Australia.
But even so, she too experienced moments of darkness when her own demons would come knocking.
As the rustic door swung open, they were met by the kindly eyes and beaming smile of Remus Lupin; so different from the last time they had parted from him in anger. He gestured gently to come in, his stance relaxed.
"Harry, it's so good to see you, my boy. We've all been very anxious these last few weeks with no word from you. And Hermione, Ron; you look well!"
He led them down the familiar rickety corridor towards the kitchen headquarters. It was surprisingly quiet inside the old house. Only a few people actually resided there these days. No one wanted to be haunted by memories of Sirius.
"How are you, Remus? How's Tonks?" Harry inquired, with only a hint of tension in his voice. Their former professor nodded calmly, his eyes crinkling up at the corners.
"Perfect. Absolutely marvellous. She and little Teddy are both in excellent health."
"That's great," Harry replied affectionately, and Hermione was pleased to see her friend put aside his previous resentment towards the older man and start fresh. She knew their argument earlier that year had been particularly troubling to Harry, but he looked genuinely happy to see his father's friend again. Remus glanced behind him as he led them towards the kitchen.
"They're with Andromeda right now. Given what's been happening around here, we thought it best if they stay somewhere safe for a while."
Hermione's heart skipped at the casual comment, wondering what he was referring to. Harry frowned too.
"What has been happening here? Why did you send that message to us?"
"I'll explain soon-" Remus reached the door and pushed it open, leading them inside.
"Oh! Bless my soul-"
The familiar sharp eyes of Minerva McGonagall greeted them as she shot to her feet. Hermione had never seen the usually stern woman looking so frazzled, but she clapped her hands together and strode over to meet them.
The three teenagers were immediately swept into a brusque hug each. Ron spluttered and flushed a bright red, while Harry looked incredibly awkward. Hermione just laughed and returned the embrace warmly. There were a few things she had really yearned for since they started wandering aimlessly around Britain looking for Horcruxes, and her former head of house was one of them. The older woman had been a strict but kind teacher, and her own personal mentor. Over the last couple of years at Hogwarts she had really become quite close to the Transfiguration professor.
"How are you, dear?" she quietly asked in that recognisable Scottish brogue. Hermione gave her a reassuring nod and a shaky smile.
"I'm fine. Surviving."
Minerva gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze and led her over to take a seat at the table. The boys followed her. With a curt flick of her wand, she summoned three bowls of steaming stew to the table and a loaf of sliced and buttered bread. Hermione's stomach growled in appreciation. Ron immediately dug in with his usual gusto, and she and Harry followed at a slightly more dignified pace. All three were watching curiously as their two former professors joined them at the table.
"Why did you call for us?" Harry asked after a few hasty mouthfuls of food. She could tell from the croak in his voice that he had swallowed too quickly while it was still hot, but seemed too determined to wait. Remus and Minerva exchanged a significant glance and the older woman gestured for him to begin the story. The three teenagers listened patiently as he sat up straighter in his seat, leaning forward to rest his chin on interlocked fingers.
"Well, something rather unexpected happened last week. A few of us were on a rescue, extraction mission in a muggle neighbourhood in Oxford. We had heard that a muggleborn wizard from the ministry of magic was in hiding there. He had been quite vocal in his department about the new registration laws and then he just disappeared from right under the nose of Umbridge and her cronies. Your little escapade in the ministry certainly caused a stir. A number of muggleborns actually came to us seeking protection after that stunt."
All three of them blushed and exchanged guilty glances. They had certainly caused a fuss that day, and Hermione sincerely hoped that their actions hadn't led to any other problems for those poor people stuck there being accused of stealing their wands. But considering they were hunting down and destroying pieces of Voldemort's soul so as to kill him eventually, then she supposed it was a necessary risk.
"I'll lecture you about your cavalier attitude to mortal peril later," Minerva interrupted in a brittle voice, glaring at each of them in turn and making them squirm.
"We didn't have a choice-" Ron began weakly, but the Scottish woman held up a hand imperiously.
"Don't use your excuses on me, Mr Weasley."
Remus cleared his throat to interrupt them with a meaningful smirk, returning to his explanation.
"Anyway," he continued, "when we arrived he was nowhere to be found. But what we did find was a small entourage of Death Eaters also hunting him down. It seems they were trying to beat us to him. As you can imagine, the shock of running into each other passed quickly when they attacked. The fight was brutal. Hestia Jones was injured badly, but you probably don't know her. And Kingsley got a leg broken in three places. He's healing, but shaken. We managed to drive them off eventually. It was…bad. But we outnumbered them."
"And the muggleborn?" Hermione asked.
"Nowhere to be seen. But we were somewhat distracted at this point. Because when the Death Eaters all started disapparating away from the fight, one of them…well…stayed."
"Stayed?" Harry repeated with a frown, cocking his head to one side.
"Yes. Once his companions had vanished, a lone figure in a mask and hood collapsed on his knees in front of us and offered his wand to us."
"Sort of. He was…somewhat incapacitated. We're not even sure what was going through his mind. He was raving like a lunatic and could barely stay conscious. We tied him up and brought him back here…"
Hermione got a niggling suspicion, particularly when she noticed Minerva's eyes shifting to hers with an expression of concern.
"Who is it?"
Remus paused and shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat.
"Who, Remus?" she pressed, leaning forwards as her mind started to fill in the blanks and anticipate his response.
"It's Draco Malfoy."
Ron and Harry both spluttered in shock, but she just heard the name ringing across the space as if she were very far away, looking down on herself. She felt oddly calm, almost like she had known this would happen the moment they heard the message blaring through that damn wireless.
"What the hell? Malfoy?" Harry spat with a frown, looking petulantly angry all of a sudden. He had not forgotten nor forgiven Malfoy for allowing the Death Eaters into Hogwarts that night when Dumbledore had been murdered. Even though, by his own admission, the blond had refused to raise his wand to harm the headmaster. There was still a well of bitterness between the two boys that had simmered and grown since the vanishing cabinet incident. Ron looked equally furious. Hermione exchanged a worried look with Minerva.
"Where is he?" Harry asked through gritted teeth.
Remus sighed and gestured to the ceiling.
"He's upstairs. We're holding him isolated in one of the spare rooms. He's restrained and wandless so he can't harm anyone or summon his friends."
Hermione gnawed nervously on her bottom lip as she contemplated the man before her.
"Has he explained himself? Has he given you any information about the Death Eaters?"
Harry snorted in derision.
"As if he would," he spat. Remus sighed and shook his head.
"Actually, he hasn't said a single word. He refuses to speak at all."
"Not even about why he gave himself up?"
She frowned and raised a questioning eyebrow at her former head of house. The woman's lips twitched as she pursed them and she shook her head sadly to confirm what Remus was saying. But she looked uneasy and shot her colleague a disapproving look.
"We've tried everything," the werewolf continued, "Since we have no access to veritaserum, we're limited in how we can effectively interrogate him. We have attempted offering him food if he tells us the truth, but he seems happy to just starve. We have used curses to make him lose sleep so that he might slip up and say something in desperation, even tried showing him our memories of murders committed by Death Eaters to evoke some kind of reaction. But still he says nothing."
Hermione glared at the werewolf, a wave of revulsion sweeping over her as her gut clenched unpleasantly. Minerva was looking a bit sick too. The older woman now refused to meet Lupin's eye.
"Did you try asking nicely?" Hermione suggested curtly, folding her arms in front of herself. Remus scowled at her comment, but she just stared directly back at him with a challenge in her eye.
"I doubt he would respond to kindness from one of us."
"Muggles say that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar," she retorted angrily.
"Yeh, well they never had to deal with this little Malfoy brat."
Harry nodded and turned to her.
"I agree. Come on Hermione, why would the git suddenly start being nice to us after everything he's said and done over the years? Why would he help us? He's a Death Eater."
"Who turned himself over," she argued.
Minerva held up a hand for silence.
"Enough." And even though they had all left school far behind this year, she still commanded the room easily. "Things became more… bewildering two days ago, which is why we decided to send out that wireless broadcast."
"What happened? Did he hurt someone?" Ron asked.
Remus shook his head, shifting forwards in his seat and unlocking his fingers.
Minerva nodded to him and he withdrew something from his pocket, clasping it in his hand and giving each of them a significant look.
"We had of course searched him when we first brought him back here to make sure he didn't have any cursed objects or weapons. But yesterday Kingsley noticed that he would flinch away when we neared the top pocket of his shirt. We checked it out and revealed a charm sewn into the material of his shirt. And found this."
Hermione could just discern a dainty gold chain spilling out around his fingers from where he clasped the item in his hand.
"As soon as we tried to take it from him, he panicked. The boy went completely mental. He was yelling and spitting and trying to claw his way out of his rope bindings. He practically scratched the skin right off his palms trying to get free. He had to be subdued with a stunning spell."
Harry stared at the chain peaking out with trepidation.
"And why exactly did you call us here, Remus?" he asked.
Remus sighed and observed them with a serious expression. When he spoke, he did so cautiously.
"That day you broke into the ministry… Arthur managed to hear a number of stories from people who were present in the courtroom when you confronted Umbridge. Old friends from the ministry who were still in contact with him. They all said that you grabbed something from her before you ran. A locket. And considering Minerva here saw Harry also take a locket from…Du…Dumbledore's body when he died, we thought it might have some significance to you. We were hoping you could help figure it out for us."
The three of them all gasped simultaneously, their eyes widening in surprise at the revelation. Hermione shook her head and shared a perplexed frown with the two boys. They had destroyed the locket. So anything found in the possession of Malfoy must therefore be a coincidence. But it was still intriguing nonetheless.
"May we see it?" Ron asked, donning a whimsical smile. He knew with a sort of cocky pride that he had been the one to destroy the locket. Harry shot him a warning glare as Remus nodded. He opened his palm to lay the piece of jewellery down on the kitchen table between them all. As he did, Hermione felt her heart clench painfully and her pulse spiked with a pang of horror. Her throat closed up and went dry as her fingers dug into her jeans. In a mere second her fingernails were burning from clawing at the coarse material on her thigh in desperate agony.
This must be some kind of sick joke…
These thoughts spiralled through her head like a tempest. She realised that she had stopped breathing and her face was flushed. She blinked rapidly. Surely there was some horrible mistake.
But no, there lying on the table was a fragile, feminine gold chain dropping down to support a gem in deep blue sapphire. The smooth elliptical shape of the gem was entwined in a gentle maze of gold leafing around it. It was as familiar to her as her own name. Distantly she realised that Remus was still speaking.
"It appears to be a birth stone, but sapphire is the September stone, and Minerva remembered that Malfoy's birthday is in June. Which begs the question why does he care so much about it? And does it contain any dark magic we can't detect? Given your recent experiences with acquiring lockets we thought you could shed some light on it."
Harry shook his head ruefully, tilting his head to the side and leaning closer to observe the pretty necklace.
"Sorry Remus, but we can't help you. We were looking for a very specific locket, which we found already. I have no idea why Malfoy would give a rat's ass about this one."
Ron voiced his agreement as well. Hermione gaped at the people sitting at the table before her with haunted, frantic eyes. She was feeling sort of numb inside though, and Minerva was looking at her strangely as though she suspected that something was unsettling her. Eventually she tried to stammer out some words, but had to clear her throat and try again when it came out as a croak.
Everyone was staring at her now, all with varying degrees of shock. Remus was frowning at her in confusion, and the boys just looked dumbfounded.
She swallowed and spoke again more clearly.
"This locket belongs to me. My mother gave it to me when we were in fourth year to wear to the Yule Ball."
There was another moment of stunned silence around the table. It was so deafeningly quiet you could hear the creaking of the floorboards all the way up in the attic. Remus sat up straighter.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. It was my grandmother's."
Harry scowled accusingly.
"So why the bloody hell does Malfoy have it?"
She shook her head with a bit of a dazed expression.
"I have no idea. I thought I'd lost it. It disappeared in our sixth year. After everything that happened with Dumbledore… I was never able to find it. It was like it had vanished."
Ron spluttered angrily.
"That thief! Typical Malfoy. Rich little prick just steals stuff to get his rocks off!"
Hermione shared a look of concern with Minerva and the other woman sighed in unspoken agreement.
"I suspect it's more complicated than that."
"Why?" Harry asked belligerently.
"Because Malfoy clearly cherished it," their former head of house explained patiently, "You didn't see him when we tried to remove it from his possession. It was like he suffered some kind of psychotic breakdown."
"Maybe he was using it to curse Hermione!" Harry claimed loudly, looking at her with worry etching his brow, "Like…like some kind of voodoo charm."
"Don't be ridiculous. Curses simply don't work like that Harry, not from such a great distance anyway," she corrected with a puzzled frown. Tentatively she reached down and touched her fingertips to the necklace. There was no tingle of magic or recognition at all. Just cold metal. She caressed it softly with a mixture of anxiety and fond remembrance.
"I…I don't know why he would…" she began before falling silent and clenching her jaw involuntarily.
A memory flashed before her. One that she had not paid much thought to this year with everything else going on. She closed her eyes as her brows knitted together in distress.
Blood droplets trickling down to soak into crisp white sheets.
The sound of the wind howling and battering against glass.
A blond head curled up in agonised terror.
Malfoy's shoulders heaving with choked sobs.
The touch of soft skin.
Hermione shook her head, realising that she hadn't thought of that night in a long time. It seemed like it had just been a feverish hallucination these days; so much had happened since then. And she usually didn't bother to pay it any mind, preferring to shut it out entirely. It was usually only in her weakest moments when she was alone or on watch in the bitterly cold, early hours of the morning that she let herself think about that night. About him. She couldn't deny how that night had changed her. It had changed both of them irrevocably.
Belatedly Hermione noticed that everyone was staring at her in a sort of frozen tableau of horror. Harry and Ron looked a bit sick at the though that Malfoy might have cursed her somehow. Remus appeared almost distrustful as he watched her closely, eyes narrowed. And Minerva's tender sympathy was almost unbearable, as if the former head of house knew exactly was going through her mind. Hermione felt her face drain of all colour and she suddenly stood up. The chair scraped loudly against the stone floor as she did, echoing in the uncomfortable silence. She was going to say something, even started to form the words, but in the end she simply couldn't meet with the looks of expectation and doubt on their faces.
"Excuse me," she muttered weakly, turning to flee the room in a few hurried paces.
Once she was outside she finally felt like she could breathe again and sucked in a long draft of chilly air, smelling the musty scent of old furniture and carpet. She leant her forehead against the cold wooden panelling of the hallway wall and clenched her eyes shut. Back inside the kitchen she could hear low murmuring voices speaking about her. But she didn't care. Her mind was consumed with the only question that seemed to matter right now.
Why did Draco Malfoy have my locket?
Hopefully you are intrigued by this start and you keep reading. There will be some Draco POV soon, I promise. Let me know what you think and why do you think he has the locket? What would you like to see from my new story? Review please. Ciao.