Chapter Eighteen: Rhexenor's Secret
Purple pillars of fumes were weaving their way toward the ceiling from the concoction dripping from the wall, and shards of broken glass were scattered across the floor.
Tom's chest heaved as he tried to calm his temper. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt livid with her. At first, it was just frustration - annoyance, really. It didn't make any sense. He didn't understand. He'd done everything that she'd asked of him, hadn't he? And she was still acting like this.
Tom thought that she was acting how she used to act when they were only ten; she was acting like a brat.
"Well, I'm glad that one wasn't anything important...or lethal," Theo said from the other side of the room.
He stared at the mess he'd made for a few more seconds while he calmed himself down. He pulled out his wand, and gave it a wave to clean up the mess. He turned to Theo and said, "My apologies."
Theo rubbed the bottom of his nose with his knuckle a few times, then shrugged. "Don't worry about it. You should, uh, probably go check on her, yeah?"
Tom slowly shook his head, and leaned against one of the sinks. "No...not this time. She needs some time to figure things out on her own."
"What kind of things?"
Tom sighed, and stared at the door. He could still see her in his mind, walking away from him. "Her conscience."
Calm. She needed to remain calm. She couldn't think if she didn't remain calm.
Hermione swallowed, and slowly reached for her wand in her robe pocket as she carefully asked, "What secret, Lestrange?"
She felt his grin fall away against her cheek. His breath shook nervously when he inhaled. "My secret, of course."
"I...I don't understand. What is your-"
"Shh, not here," he panicked, and pulled away from her, but kept his hands firmly on her upper arms. His dark curls fell over his eyes and he looked absolutely mad. "They probably have their eyes and ears everywhere at Hogwarts."
Her nose scrunched up in bewilderment and she stopped reaching for her wand. She knew Rhexenor Lestrange had always had a few screws loose, but this was something else entirely. "What? Who does?"
Rhex swallowed, then licked his lips. His eyes darted around their surroundings, before landing back on her. He looked conflicted and it made her uneasy. "I have to know I can trust you first."
"You have me cornered up against a wall in an empty corridor and I haven't hexed your bits off yet, if that's any indication of whether you can trust me or not," she snapped impatiently, and pulled her arms out of his grasp.
He considered her suspiciously for a few moments, then straightened up to his full height. "I suppose you have a point there. I didn't exactly go about this the right way."
Hermione folded her arms over her chest. "You don't say? Besides, how do I know you're not pulling some joke right now? Why should I believe or trust anything you have to say? You've only ever ignored me or called me names whenever we passed each other in the halls."
Rhex tilted his head, and narrowed his eyes at her. "The very fact that I approached you at all to talk to you about this should be enough."
She threw her arms up in the air. "To talk about what? You haven't even told me anything! You're mad, aren't you?"
He scowled, and said nothing.
"I've heard people talk, you know. They say that you're mad. They say that they have no idea how you became Head Boy. They say that the only reason you did, was because of who your parents are," she goaded.
Rhex rolled his eyes, and sighed. He muttered underneath his breath, "Well, you're not wrong, but you're not right, either."
Her mouth fell open. "Wait-what? About which part?"
"Pretty much all of it," he scoffed. "Except for the mad part - I'm not mad."
Hermione paused. She didn't want to believe anything that came out of his mouth, but a part of her - a minuscule part of her, did. Alright, maybe she didn't necessarily believe him; maybe she was just...intrigued.
"Alright, then. Tell me your secret," she said.
"I already said - not here."
"Just..." he paused to think. "Just meet me by the mossy boulder by the Whomping Willow in thirty minutes and I'll explain everything."
"What? It's nearly curfew. I'm not meeting you anywhere outsi-"
"Bloody Hell, Granger. I'm not going to murder you-"
"Says you. I've heard you're just as mad as your mother-"
Hermione let out a sharp yelp when Rhex grabbed her by her robes, and slammed her back against the wall. He brought his twisted face close to hers and spat pure venom, "Do not...ever...compare me...to that woman."
They scowled at each other for several moments, their eyes searching the other. Hermione was trying to understand what was going on - trying to understand Rhexenor Lestrange. She'd obviously hit a spastic nerve by mentioning his mother. She'd heard stories from the other students about the Lestrange family before - about how Rodolphus and Bellatrix Lestrange were a bit...backwards. She'd also heard that his mother was more than just backwards - that she was utterly brilliant, but utterly bonkers. Hermione never really bought into the rumors, though; because that's all they were - just rumors. Something wasn't right about this situation and she wanted to find out what it was. It was then that she realized that the only way she was going to understand him would be by playing this little game by his terms.
"You're right. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have compared the two of you."
The scowl on his face fell away to nothing and he released his grip on her robes. He looked her up and down once, then said, "Thirty minutes."
"Thirty minutes," she repeated.
"And come alone. Tell no one."
Hermione went to open her mouth, but he spoke first, "Not even your fucking miserable excuse of a brother."
Her mouth clamped shut and she scowled. Rhex smiled coldly, and pinched her cheek in mock affection. "Aww, has anyone ever told you how adorable you look when you're pissed? You're as terrifying as a cauldron cake."
She slapped his hand away and his smile widened. "Twenty-eight minutes now - better get a move-on, Granger."
As Hermione stormed away, she didn't feel as pissed off at Tom anymore. Now, she couldn't figure out whether she was more annoyed by Rhex, or intrigued by his secret.
Twenty-eight minutes later, Hermione found herself rocking anxiously on the balls of her feet in front of the mossy boulder by the Whomping Willow. She nervously watched the branches rock back and forth in the wind - only there was no wind. Hermione had always appreciated the beauty of the Whomping Willow, but its unpredictability left much to be desired. Hermione didn't like unpredictable behaviors.
She shivered at the thought of being clubbed to death by one of its massive branches, but she blamed it on the cold. Attempting to keep herself warm in the freezing night temperatures of late February had proved to be impossible, so she resorted to using a warming spell to keep herself from dying of the cold. After she cast the spell, Hermione heard snow crunch underneath a boot and she gripped her wand as her head snapped to the side. She relaxed when she saw it was just Lestrange.
"Jumpy much?" he joked as he approached her.
"No," she lied. "Alright, we're here. So, tell me your secret."
"Shh!" he said, and held up a hand to silence her. He looked around nervously and Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "Do you have to be so loud?"
"Who's gonna hear us? We're the only ones here. Everyone is headed to their dorms now. Curfew starts in five minutes. So, either we hurry up and get this over with, or I'm leaving."
Rhex's gaze hardened and he said sarcastically, "Fine. Let's get this over with then, shall we?"
"Yes, that's what I've been saying the entire - ahh!"
Everything happened so quickly, she wasn't even sure what did happen. She remembered Rhex grabbing her by the back of her jacket, and throwing her down violently into the snow. She remembered looking up, and seeing one of the large branches of the Whomping Willow barreling toward her with the finality of Thor's hammer. She remembered sucking in air to scream, but then the air was knocked back out of her when she was picked up and thrown down again.
When she landed, it was dark. Her palms stung when she pushed herself up from her belly, but she was knocked down again when something rammed into her, and toppled over her legs.
"Fuck…there needs to be an easier way to get in here," she heard Rhex mumble.
"Get off my bloody legs, you arse!"
He pushed himself off her, and helped haul her up by her sleeve. She shoved his arms away, pulled out her wand, and aimed it at his face. It was dark, but there was enough light coming in to see she was pointing her wand in the right direction. "Give me one damn reason why I shouldn't hex you into next week, Lestrange."
He hummed, then shrugged his shoulders. "Eh, I really can't think of a single one, to be fair," he replied. He turned from the wand pointed in his face like it wasn't even there, and started walking up a narrow path. She gaped after him. He turned his head back to look at her. "Are you coming, or not?"
"I am not going up there with you; not until you tell me what in the Hell is going on."
"No. We're not far enough away yet. I can't take any chances. You've already come this far, so you might as well come the rest of the way. We're almost there."
"Damn it!" she stomped her foot. "No! Tell me what's going on right now!"
Rhex looked taken aback, and looked her up and down in mild disgust. "Merlin, I've overheard your brother calling you a brat before, but I didn't think it was actually true."
Hermione's jaw dropped. "Tom really said that?"
Rhex rolled his eyes, and started walking up the path again.
"Wait!" she called out, but he was already gone. She looked behind her, and could see the light from the moon shining through what she assumed was some sort of hole at the base of the tree. She could also hear the branches swaying violently. Hermione swallowed, and quickly followed Rhex.
When she reached the top of the path after walking for what felt like forever, she found a half-open wooden door gently swinging on its hinges. Her blood rushed to her ears and all she could hear for a second was her pulse. This was so stupid; she was so stupid. Why did she follow him here? He was obviously a nutter, even though he kept telling her that he wasn't. All she could think about is how pissed Tom was going to be with her if he found out. The only comfort she could find in this situation is that if Rhex did end up killing her, Tom would find out and probably murder him. Probably.
"Because crazy people don't think they're crazy, Hermione. He's going to kill you, and stuff you underneath the floorboards. Stupid, stupid, stupid," she whispered to herself.
There was a loud pop.
"Fucking Hell, how many times do I have to tell you that I'm not going to kill you?"
Rhex cackled. "Like I said - jumpy."
"Let me apparate right in front of you, in the dark, in the middle of an old house and see if you don't jump!" she snapped irritably, cast a nonverbal Lumos, and peered around curiously. "Where are we, anyway?"
Rhex stretched his arms out wide with his palms open, and grinned at her. "Welcome...to the Shrieking Shack."
"...we're inside the Shrieking Shack?"
"You've got to be kidding me. Isn't his place infested with boggarts and ghouls?" she asked as she took a few steps forward.
He scoffed. "The only thing this place is infested with is dust. Come on, the cleanest room is upstairs."
Hermione followed him up the stairs. She lost her balance when the whole house shifted to the right and she caught herself on the bannister. Right. If Rhex didn't end up killing her, then the house would. Perfect.
Rhex walked through a door at the end of the hall, and used his wand to summon a small flame that hovered in the middle of the room. The one window in the room was completely boarded up and the entire place smelled of rotted wood and mothballs. There were also only four, sad pieces of furniture - a splintered dresser with missing drawers, an armchair draped in a filthy sheet, a leather footlocker, and the remains of a mangled bed. Hermione scrunched up her nose. "This is the best room?"
He stuffed his wand back into his robe pocket, and plopped down in the armchair. Dust particles exploded into the air. "I didn't say it was the best room; I said it was the cleanest room."
Hermione rolled her eyes, and transfigured the footlocker into a clean, leather armchair, and sat down across from him. "Alright. You've got my attention. You dragged me all the way out here. Now, tell me."
Rhex shifted in his seat, and looked unsure. "I...I need your help."
She stared at him. "You need my help? Is that your secret? I swear to God, if you risked my life just to drag me out here to ask for help on your damn homework, I'll-"
"I wish it was something as simple as homework!" he snapped as he lurched forward at her, then sulked back in his chair.
"Then just tell me!"
"I'm trying, alright? I'm just trying to figure out where to start."
Hermione let her head fall back against the chair and she groaned; she lifted it back up to look at him. "I know. How about you start out with, 'Hello. My name is Rhexenor Lestrange and the secret I wanted to tell Hermione Granger is...'?"
"You're fucking annoying, you know that, right?"
"Not half as annoying as you. I'm giving you five seconds. After that, I'm leaving. One," she started counting.
"It's not that simple. You don't understand-"
"I needed help and I didn't know who else to turn to-"
"-and I thought you were the only person who'd believe me-"
"Four," she said as she stood up, and headed for the door.
"My parents run a radical underground organization and they are planning their first large-scale attack on Hogwarts...and I want to stop them," he rushed out in one breath.
Hermione froze in the doorway, and slowly turned back around. Her eyes narrowed at him. "You're lying."
He jumped to his feet, and shook with rage. "I am not lying! I may be a bit of an arse sometimes, but I am no liar."
She shifted through the possibilities that he might be lying to her. After she was done, she knew that there was a chance that he was lying, but logic overruled. Why would he drag her all the way out here? Why would he go through all these lengths to maintain privacy? Why would he drag his parents' names through the mud?
Hermione could think of not one plausible reason for him to lie to her.
"What kind of group is it?" she asked hesitantly as she sat back down.
Rhex's shoulders relaxed and he replied, "A blood supremacy one, of course. What else would it be?"
She felt her blood boil at his nonchalance. "What else? What else!? You're telling me, a Muggleborn, that your parents run an organization that hates me for who I was born as? And you're acting like it's no big deal. What else? Hah! Oh, I don't know. Maybe they run an organization about political reform or...or knitting, or something."
He snorted. "Knitting? Hah. That's funny. Imagine my mum - knitting. The only thing she'd know what to do with a pair of knitting needles is stabbing someone in the eye with 'em."
Hermione ignored his comment. "Wait. You said they're planning an attack on Hogwarts? On the students?"
"On the Muggleborn students, yes. And anyone who doesn't agree with them."
"You said before that people might be listening...are there members of the organization at Hogwarts right now?"
"Besides me? I've no idea, but I wouldn't put it past them. They don't trust me enough to do this job all on my own, so I'm sure there's someone lurking about to make sure I don't fuck it all up."
Hermione shook her head in disbelief. "If you're part of the organization, then why would you tell me about it? It doesn't make any sense."
He seemed to struggle with his words. "Did you not hear me the first time? I want to stop them. I have my personal reasons why. And because...because you're the only person who made sense. You're a Mudblood and you're smart."
She glared at him.
"Old habits die hard, alright? But you're one of the people they'd be targeting. Your arsehole brother would be one of the people they'd be targeting, too. I mean, I wouldn't mind if something nasty happened to him - oh, don't look at me like that - but wouldn't you want to protect him? To protect the other students? That's how you Gryffindors are, aren't you? A bunch of self-sacrificing shits."
Hermione continued glaring at him, but stayed quiet to consider his words. She was starting to believe him, but part of her didn't want to. It was just so farfetched. It was filled with holes.
"Why haven't you told Dumbledore? He's the headmaster."
"But Dumbledore is one of the most powerful wizards around. I'm sure if we both go tell him together, then-"
"Merlin, Granger! I said no! I already told you - I don't trust anyone. No Purebloods. No Halfbloods."
"Then why me? I don't understand. I'm not the only Muggleborn at Hogwarts," she argued.
"Because I thought you would listen. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly the most popular guy around here. Everyone either hates my guts, is terrified of me, or sucks up to me because of my last name. You are the only one who didn't fall into one of those categories," he said with a shrug.
"Who says I don't hate your guts?" she challenged with a raised brow.
"Your actions spoke louder than your words and let's just say that I am better at listening to actions."
Hermione frowned, and tried to understand. "What do you mean by that?"
Rhex chuckled at his private joke, and shook his head. "You really wouldn't care to know."
"Fine, but I don't understand why you're telling me all this. They're your parents. Why are you trying to sabotage their plans? It doesn't make any sense."
His face twisted into something dark and feral. Rhexenor Lestrange had made her uneasy in the past, but tonight, other than his chaotic unpredictability and mood swings, he'd been somewhat tolerable to be around. But now, he was making her feel uneasy again. "You said you'd heard stories - so, tell me, Granger: what kind of stories have you heard about my parents?"
Hermione squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, and had a difficult time maintaining the intense stare he was giving her. "I...I haven't heard much, really. I'm not one for gossip, but...but I've heard they're a bit...backwards."
A cold smile spread across his face. "Yeah...you could say they're a bit backwards. Especially my mum. She hides it, though. She hides it so well. You should see her - you should see how she is when she's behind closed doors. And she has the entire Ministry fooled, you know. She just wears one of her corsets, bats her eyelashes, keeps some beds warm on the side behind my dad's back, and she has them all eating out of the palm of her hand. She has them trained - like dogs."
"That...that sounds awful, but I think that's rather common in the political world-"
"Is it common to torture people or commit murder?" he snapped.
"Torture? Murder? She's murdered someone?" she gaped.
He picked at some pilled fabric on the sheet, and tossed it into the flames. "Plural. And if she gets away with what she plans to do, there will be more."
Hermione felt like she was being strangled. She was losing oxygen and her world was slowly spiraling out of control. "What is it that she plans to do?"
Rhex lifted his eyes from the fire, and leveled his gaze on her. "She plans to find the Chamber of Secrets, open it, and let loose Salazar Slytherin's monster to rid Hogwarts of dirty blood - as a statement."
"The Chamber of Secrets!? But that's just a myth! It doesn't even exist! How does she plan on finding it?"
The corners of his mouth lifted in a rueful smile. "By using her most beloved son, as always."
A/N: Sleight of hand, motherfuckers. lmaoooo SHAME ON ANYONE WHO THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO WRITE SOMETHING AS BASIC AS RHEX SEXUALLY ASSAULTING HERMIONE. SHAME. hahaha Just kidding, I love you bitches. I totally used a common fanfic trope as a manipulation tactic and I'm not sorry in the slightest.
Oh, I just wanted to add that a lot of you know that I've been going through some life stuff, and have been suuuper stressed out and busy and I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has been so supportive and trying to cheer me up! There were so many days where I was having a rough day and I'd get a random message, tag, or ask on Tumblr that made me grin like an idiot. Thank you so much for that. Seriously.