Authors Note: Finally it is here! I apologise for the delay but I was hit with a nasty respiratory infection which I'm just getting over and so haven't been able to write much over the past few weeks. There will be a sequel to this story (how can there not be) but I want to edit and tidy things up in this story before starting on the sequel. As always it is my reviewers who have given me the confidence to write and I can't thank you enough for your unfailing support which has enabled me to come so far. I also want to thank Campy Capybara for betaing this story for me and making it readable, believe me without her it would have been nothing. The disclaimer can be found in the prologue and please let me know what you thought of this chapter.
The day was warm. A light breeze ruffled the blinds folded neatly back at the open windows, while birdsong, gentle and melodic, drifted into the room, creating the elusion of peace. Flowers arranged in crystal vases round the room swayed in the teasing breeze, while their fresh scent perfumed the air.
The figure standing staring out of the south facing window stood as still as a statue looking down on the lush green dappled grounds of Malfoy Manor, his silvery blond hair glinting in the strong afternoon light. He seemed oblivious of the beauty of the vista stretched out before him, but stared straight ahead of him unmoving, his fingers splayed out on the window sill, gripping the smooth wood tightly. His shoulders were hunched as though determined to keep out the bright sunshine, which was bathing the rest of the room in its golden light.
Draco Malfoy sighed deeply, turning away from the window. It had been almost three weeks – three weeks of fruitless searching – but there was still no sign of her. It was almost as though she had disappeared off the face of the earth. He ran an agitated hand through his hair and once more felt the feeling of despair that he tried hard to keep at bay well up within him. How had it all gone so wrong? One moment they had just been married and all was well, and then she was gone, just like that, without a trace.
He began pacing the floor, his movements restless. He grimaced, remembering the bone numbing tiredness that had engulfed him after the ceremony. If his mother's description was accurate, Hermione had been just as tired as he – so how had she managed to get away? Draco knew only too well that Apparating took a lot of power. And as for creating a portkey… well, a wand was needed to make one, and he doubted that even if Hermione had access to a serviceable one, she wouldn't have the energy to even hold it up, let alone use it to create a portkey. Moreover, there were anti-Apparating wards over the entire Malfoy Manor and these had been strengthened to secure the grounds for the wedding. As far as he knew, only Severus Snape, being a close family friend, had access through the Malfoy wards, but Draco knew better than to suspect his Potions Master of helping Hermione get away – the Slytherin Head of House hated the mere sight of the Gryffindor, as evidenced from their seven shared years of Potions classes.
No, Hermione had had help from someone – but from whom?
For what felt like the thousandth time, his mind listed the people who had been at the Manor that day. There was Severus of course, the Lestranges, the Notts, father and son, the Averys, and the wizard who had conducted the ceremony; none of them would have helped her get away. They would have had no reason to do so. There were, of course the house elves, but every elf in the Manor had been dosed with Veritaserum and except for Zaki, none had even gone near Hermione.
So who could have helped Hermione get away?
Draco's only small consolation was that Hermione had not sought refuge with either Potter or Weasley. By all accounts, his nemeses were almost as desperate as he was to find her, although their state of anxiety was beyond him. Neither had a claim on her as he did, so why her disappearance had them in such a condition, he could not understand.
He felt angry; angry with Hermione for deserting him only moments after their marriage ceremony, and angry with his parents for allowing such a thing to happen. His anger at his parents burned, especially as it had been they and not him who had wanted such a precipitous marriage.
The quiet voice made him look up. His father stood in the doorway observing him.
"I thought that we could go out riding this afternoon," Lucius suggested. "You've been brooding since this morning. A brisk broom ride would get your mind off things for a while."
"No," came the flat reply. "Hermione's gone missing, and you think a broom ride will get my mind off that fact?" he gave his father a derisive snort.
Lucius entered the room and walked across to his son, who had halted by the marble fireplace set into one wall.
"No, it won't," he agreed soberly, "But the exercise may help relax you a little and Merlin knows you need to relax." He cast a worried glance over his son's face. Draco's skin, always pale, now seemed papery. There were dark circles beneath the boy's eyes and his cheekbones seemed to stick out of his face. Lucius was worried about him. Draco had taken the entire situation very badly, not that Lucius blamed him for it.
"I don't want to relax!" Draco contradicted, biting out his words in anger, "All I want to do is find Hermione!"
"Draco," Lucius drawled, a warning touch infusing his tone, reminding his son to whom he was speaking. "We're doing everything we can to locate the girl," the elder Malfoy sighed, knowing that his son's anger was justified.
"Jones is here," Narcissa Malfoy announced, as she made her way into the room. As both men whirled round to face her, she added, "I have put him in your study, Lucius."
"It's about time he had some news for us," her husband answered. Of one accord, father and son moved towards the door and followed Narcissa down the curving staircase into Lucius' book-lined study.
A man, thin, with greying hair, was standing by the window, shifting nervously from foot to foot. He watched the three elegant Malfoys apprehensively, as they entered the room. When the large oak door silently shut behind them, the Malfoys seated themselves, and after a nod from Lucius, the slight man took a chair by the window, perching nervously on the edge.
"What have you found out?" Lucius clipped out.
Albert Jones cleared his throat nervously before saying, "As you know, I've been working night and day on this case…"
"I should think so, considering the exorbitant amount of money you're being paid," Lucius interrupted with a sneer. "Have you found the girl?" he asked impatiently.
Albert Jones sighed. He disliked the Malfoys' arrogant ways, but business was business and not even he could afford to turn his nose up at the amount that this lot were willing to pay him for tracking down some muggle-born witch. What was more, he was the best private investigator in the business, and Lucius Malfoy, one of his best customers. The only problem was that the damned girl was proving very difficult to find. He cleared his throat once more and said, "Well, we've tried all the leads you have given us, but they all lead to nothing."
At this, Draco, who was seated on the leather sofa opposite the investigator, leaned forward and hissed, "Nothing? All this time and you've come up with nothing?"
Albert Jones flushed slightly, but masking his own annoyance, answered coolly, "Please be assured we've done everything we can," he looked into Draco's narrowed eyes, "but the girl seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth." Looking back at Lucius, he continued, "You aren't the only ones looking for her, though. There are quite a number of others who are also searching for her."
"Is that so?" Lucius drawled, eyes narrowing, not attempting to hide his annoyance at the detective's lack of success.
"Yes," Jones nodded his head cautiously. "Albus Dumbledore's combing England looking for her, to no avail." The investigator sat very still, giving the appearance of nonchalance, even though he was eyeing the Malfoys warily. They were unpredictable at best, but at least for the moment they seemed distracted.
"Dumbledore can't find her?" This question from Narcissa held incredulity, "but how can that be? I would have thought that Dumbledore of all people would know where she was."
Lucius too, frowned in thought. "Yes, it is odd," he murmured, "If anything, she would have approached that old fool for shelter, but…"
"I can assure you," the investigator interjected, "Dumbledore knows as much as we do about the girl's whereabouts. As a matter of fact, I myself have seen him making enquiries of the girl's friends and family. Any information he received from them was identical to that obtained by my people."
"What else can you tell us?" Lucius asked, putting aside for the moment the puzzling revelation that Dumbledore didn't know of Hermione's current whereabouts.
"Like Dumbledore, I've questioned her family," Albert Jones went on. "All three Grangers are convinced that the subject is in India."
"India?" Draco burst out, but Narcissa laid a hand on his shoulder and he subsided.
"Every time I asked them about the girl's current whereabouts, they tell me that she is in India. Legillimency is not helping either; all I can see of their memories is a vague outline of Calcutta's main market, which doesn't tell us anything," Jones ended with a shrug.
"Interesting," Lucius mused. "All three tell you the same thing, you say?"
"Is there anyone else besides Dumbledore that's looking for her?" Narcissa asked, serenely.
"Yes. The Weasleys and Harry Potter have also visited the Grangers to find the subject's whereabouts. Stanwick are also searching for her, although their motives are entirely different." The investigator allowed himself a small smile, "They're worried that the girl has accepted a place at another rival school of Mediwizardry and are anxious that she does not go elsewhere for her training."
"Understandable," Lucius muttered. "The prestige of training Hogwarts' best student can only boost the university's reputation."
Reaching into a pocket, Jones drew out a parchment, which he handed to Lucius. "I made a copy of this from Stanwick's records. It might be of interest to you."
Lucius said nothing as he passed the parchment to his son after glancing through it.
Draco took the parchment and was surprised to see Hermione's neat writing covering it. The ink was smudged in some places, suggesting that her hand and not been quite steady when she had written it. Eagerly, his eyes devoured the words on the parchment:
"Dear Professor Archbold,
I am writing to inform you that I have reconsidered my career options and will no longer be joining Stanwick College of Healing and Mediwizadary as originally planned.
I apologise for any inconvenience caused by my decision.
Draco closed his eyes with a frown, passing the parchment on to his mother. On opening his eyes, he glared at the investigator. "Very enlightening," he drawled bitterly, "is there anything else you have to tell us?"
"That's all we found out," the man answered. Enlarging a file he took out of his pocket, he placed it on Lucius' table. "This is the report of the investigation we have conducted."
"Excellent," Narcissa said, getting to her feet, her tone of voice conveying feelings contrary to her words. "If that is the extent of your success, I'm sure we will not be requiring your services any longer," her voice hardened.
The men in the room stood up when Narcissa got to her feet. Recognising that the meeting was over, Albert Jones nodded to Lucius as a House Elf ushered him from the room. He knew better than to finalise the payment for the investigation. The Malfoys were currently unhappy with the result of the investigation, but what little he had unearthed, he knew the Malfoys would use to their advantage, and he would be paid accordingly later.
The door of the study swung shut after the detective, leaving the Malfoy family alone.
"Pathetic little man," Narcissa commented in disappointment as she reseated herself beside Draco, but Lucius shook his head.
"Darling," he admonished his wife mildly, "Don't underestimate Jones' stature. He is the best money can buy," Lucius gave his wife a shark-like smile. "Absolutely worth the expense. Other investigators would have stopped at inquiring of Hermione's whereabouts from the Grangers, but Jones has expanded the trail to include people looking for her. Dumbledore…" his lips pursed in thought. "This piece of information puts a completely different light on things."
Collapsing into his seat at the disappointing news that his wife couldn't be found, Draco asked, "How so?"
"Well, it might mean that we aren't the only people Hermione is hiding from." Lucius got up and started pacing his study, pondering allowed, "I wonder why. There's more to this than meets the eye. If the girl just wanted to get away from us, she would certainly seek that old fool's protection."
Both Draco and Narcissa nodded at Lucius' argument.
"And yet… Jones has discovered that he is also looking for her. Why? Why would Hermione hide from Dumbledore?" Lucius stared at the carpet, his brow furrowed in thought.
"That's something we would all like to know, darling," Narcissa shook her head, "but trying to work out Dumbledore's motives won't help us."
Draco, however, was frowning in thought. "On the contrary, Mother. Dumbledore's motives might be an important piece of the puzzle. We know that Dumbledore's always favoured the Gryffindors. I wonder what it was that stopped Hermione going to him when she left?" He ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
"Whatever it is, this investigation has confirmed something regarding my daughter-in-law's whereabouts." Lucius stated, causing the other two to look at him, perplexed. "It's obvious that Hermione is no longer in the magical world, nor actively using magic," he revealed. "This is the only reasonable explanation for her complete disappearance and our inability to track her down."
"Leave her magic behind?" Narcissa questioned disbelievingly. "No, not even she would do that. This world means too much to her. Why would she strive so hard to learn everything she could about this world, only to reject it completely and go back to living with muggles? It doesn't make any sense for her to do such a preposterous thing."
"It would certainly make sense if she is adamant about hiding from us and if she had a run in with Dumbledore and wish to sever all ties with him. If she had no where to go in the magical world, and the only option left for her was to go back to the muggle world…" Lucius trailed off, his mind busily weighing up the situation. "Yes, if you ask me, I'm almost positive this is the way things stand now." Suddenly, he broke out into a mirthless smile. "Yes, this might just work out to our benefit," he murmured to himself. "If we find my beloved daughter-in-law before Dumbledore does, we'll have an easier time convincing her of our cause."
Silence followed Lucius' pronouncement.
Finally Draco spoke. "Father's right. There's much more to this than meets the eye. Hermione, for some reason, is just as keen to avoid Dumbledore, as she is to avoid us. Marriage…" he faltered. He caught himself before adding "to me…can't have been the only reason to make her go into hiding like this."
"No," Narcissa agreed, her hand stroking her son's blond hair. She recognised Draco's hesitation for what it was, and for her son's sake, changed the subject. Looking at her husband, she asked, "If Hermione's in the muggle world and not using magic, how are we to find her?"
Lucius, still thinking of the possibilities of Hermione hiding from Dumbledore and what this could mean for the Dark Lord, missed the exchanged between mother and son. At Narcissa's pointed question, he looked up. "It's obvious that she has hidden herself using a secret keeper, but who that is, is anyone's guess."
"Well, it's certainly not Potter or Weasley, nor anybody on Dumbledore's side," Draco frowned. "I don't know of anyone else who was close enough to her to inspire that amount of trust. The Brocklehursts?" He glanced at his mother.
"No, I doubt it. Emily Brocklehurst would be beside herself if she discovered that you've married a muggleborn over her pureblood daughter. No, not her insipid daughter either," she tilted her head considering. "Her family!" Narcissa smiled. "Yes, doubtless she would still be under the Fidelius, but she will most certainly be in contact with her family! If you ask me, all this nonsense about her being in India is merely a ploy to put people off her scent."
"A powerful Confundus charm no doubt," Lucius nodded at his wife, smiling at her with a touch of pride. "Yes, my darling," his mercurial eyes darkened. "The family is the thread that will unravel her whereabouts."
"She told us that she's currently in India, but really, we don't know when she'll be back," Lyn Granger smiled.
Draco noticed the slight frown creasing her brows as she said this, and his suspicion that the woman was under a Confundus charm was strengthened. He took another sip of his tea, eyeing the woman thoughtfully over the rim of his cup. He supposed that as far as muggles went, she wasn't too bad. About an inch or so taller than Hermione, the woman gave off an air of togetherness that he could not help but admire. Her manners were impeccable and this house, although tiny by Malfoy standards, was tastefully decorated. A number of blinking, humming and shiny objects Draco did not know the function of were scattered round the room.
"I wouldn't worry," Peter smiled, "no doubt she wanted to get away for a while." Of medium height, he was well built his hair greying slightly at the temples. Like his wife, he exuded an air of calm togetherness and quiet confidence.
"I never heard Hermione mention you," Mathew Granger said, looking at Draco with barely disguised mistrust, from his chair beside the open window. "I mean if you really are Hermione's good friend, then why hasn't she ever mentioned you?" he asked bluntly.
"Mathew!" his mother remonstrated, shooting him a speaking glance.
"Well it's true," the boy persisted, glowering, "if your friendship with Hermione is as close as you make it out to be, then why hasn't she mentioned you to us before?"
"Your father and I met Draco and his parents at Hermione's Graduation ceremony," his mother replied levelly, glaring at her son's boorish expression, as her husband nodded in confirmation.
Draco could see the boy's hostile eyes narrow still further. They were Hermione's eyes, deep brown, fringed with long curling lashes. He looked a lot like Hermione with his curly brown hair, topping a clean-featured face, his mouth currently turned down with suspicion. Draco realised that this boy, his brother-in-law, could prove to be a real stumbling block in his efforts to find Hermione through her parents, and was therefore worth the effort to win over. Once he was on Draco's side, Mathew would prove to be an invaluable ally; and right now he needed all the help he could get.
Giving Mathew what he hoped would be interpreted as a 'sincere' smile, he explained, "My friendship—"he cast his eyes down, giving a wry smile, his tone suggested that it was an euphemism, "—with Hermione was not exactly… publicly accepted." In a way, he had spoken the truth, but it was the way he said it that led the Granger family to assume there was more to his friendship with Hermione than she had revealed.
Mathew's eyes grew large, as he exclaimed, "Blimey! You're her boyfriend!"
'If only they knew the truth,' Draco mused to himself. He nodded to acknowledge Mathew's statement, and cast his eyes down, giving his audience the impression that while he was pleased his girlfriend's family finally knew the truth about their relationship, he was unsure of his reception by them.
Sure enough, the muggles rushed to show their gratification and acceptance of Draco's story.
"I thought as much when I saw you at the Graduation," Lyn smiled at Draco. "Didn't I say so, dear?" she turned to include her husband. "Of course when I mentioned it to Hermione, she was quite flustered and flatly denied that there was anything between the two of you. But you know, mothers can tell these things." She suddenly frowned, adding, "But Mathew's right, Hermione's never mentioned you to us. Then again, she can be quite reserved and this hasn't been helped by her being away from us for most of her secondary education. We didn't know about some of her adventures until quite recently…" she trailed off. "Not publicly accepted," Lyn murmured, recalling Draco's words, "Does that mean that Hermione's other friends didn't approve of your relationship?" She fixed Draco with a steady penetrating gaze much like his mother's own.
"Mrs. Granger, you need to understand, Hermione and I… well, we…" he took a breath and plunged in, "we have a long, rather volatile history." He pursed his lips uncomfortably and continued. "It's… it's like this. Hermione and I… well, we've fought on opposing sides from our first year at Hogwarts. It's not unusual; we are from opposing Houses, after all," he gave a deprecating smile. "But this year, somehow, we discovered a mutual love of learning, and well, one thing led to another," he ran a hand through his hair, giving Lyn a boyish grin.
Draco saw that Mrs. Granger gave him a smile of understanding. For that matter, Mr. Granger and Mathew both looked amused at the story he wove.
"Rival houses, did you say?" Peter gave his wife a wink.
Draco nodded, adding, "Hermione even had dinner with my parents at my house during the Easter holidays, while she was staying with the Brocklehursts," he sighed. After a short silence, he added, "Hermione felt that it was wiser to keep our relationship a secret until after Graduation, which was only a few months away. Like I said, we have a lot of history, and she suggested that once we were away from all the Hogwarts rivalry, and when she got to Stanwick…"
"I understand perfectly," Lyn nodded as Draco trailed off.
"And you can't blame Hermione for wanting to be a bit cautious after her break up with Tom Angers last year," Mathew said in a rare display of thoughtfulness, "she probably didn't want to announce your relationship to the world until she was sure that you weren't some gitty skunk."
Trying not to flinch at being called a gitty skunk, Draco explained, "Well, you can see now why I'm anxious to find her. I mean, after our date at the Lock and Key, she went off without a word to anyone…" he gave the Grangers a worried frown, "and now she's suddenly gone off to India without a word, and all my owl posts return undelivered, and there's not a single note from her…" he added in a slightly panicked tone, and sure enough, he had the Grangers all nodding in sympathy.
"Yes," Peter agreed. "Yes, it must be very distressing for you."
He fell silent, and Draco knew he was thinking hard. He turned his gaze on Mathew who was watching him thoughtfully.
Finally Peter spoke and Draco knew he was picking his words carefully, "I think Hermione has her reasons for going away. We didn't really discuss it at length, but believe me, it wasn't a decision she made lightly."
"I can appreciate that," Draco countered with all the calm he could muster, "but at the same time, like her other friends, I'm worried about her. They haven't been exactly helpful when I ask about her," he rubbed the back of his neck. "But I can't allow them become obstacles to my seeing her. I can't. I cannot just give up on a relationship in which I have invested a lot of time and emotion; Hermione means too much to me to walk away."
"I fully understand," Lyn said compassionately, "Look Draco, we'll let you know as soon as there's any news of her, ok? I can't promise you any more than that."
Draco knew that further questioning would get him nowhere. So much for honesty and openness. Putting on what he hoped looked like a brave smile, he rose to his feet to take his leave.
"Well, thank you for all your time, Mrs. Granger, Mr. Granger," he began.
"Oh please, call me Lyn," Mrs. Granger smiled, as she too got up, "Mrs. Granger makes me feel positively ancient."
Peter nodded, "Tell me about it, it's bad enough when patients address us by our last names, we don't need that from Hermione's friends as well!"
Draco smiled and after farewells were said, turned to the door. As he was leaving the house, Mathew Granger shrugged in a bored manner and said, "I'll accompany you for a bit, I could do with stretching my legs."
Draco grinned inwardly, finally something was going right. He wanted to get to know this prickly individual for his instincts told him that Mathew, rather than his parents, would be a better way to reach Hermione.
The two set out together, their footsteps loud along the quiet road, which was empty of traffic.
"So tell me a bit about yourself," Draco invited casually, strolling along.
Mathew grimaced. "What do you want to know?" he asked.
"Oh anything. What you like and don't like, I suppose. Hermione didn't mention you much at school, so I'm curious to find out more about you." Draco kept his voice light; it wouldn't do to show too much interest.
"Yeah well, we sort of grew apart what with her going away to school like that. I mean I also go to a boarding school, but it's not the same. We only saw Hermione around once a year, and apart from her letters, there's not that much contact with her, if you know what I mean." Mathew kicked a stone along the pavement as he spoke.
"Where do you go to school?" Draco enquired, curious in spite of himself.
"Haileybury, it's in Hartford, and not too far away," Mathew answered, sounding bored.
"You mentioned it was a boarding school?" Draco tried again. Getting to know this individual was like getting blood out of a stone, and Draco suspected that the latter would have been a lot easier to achieve.
Mathew nodded, hands thrust deep into his pockets. Then, as though coming to a decision, he said, "Yeah. I am a weekly boarder, so I come home at the weekends. There are some kids in school, though, who live as far away as Scotland. Like Hermione, they only go home for the holidays, if at all."
"Yeah," Draco agreed, "No one went home at weekends at our school, although it would be a simple matter to go home for the weekends. So, got any plans for when you leave school?" He thought he ought to be awarded a Merlin First Class for his patience, the boy took so much to draw out of his shell!
"I want to go into medicine actually. You know, train to become a doctor. Hermione was all set to become a Healer or some such before she upped and left." His mouth turned down, and it suddenly occurred to Draco that under his tough exterior, Mathew was probably missing Hermione as much as anyone.
"Good for you," Draco encouraged with a smile. "Healing is certainly a worthwhile profession. I am sure that medicine," he hoped that sounded right, "is also very interesting."
The conversation continued in desultory fashion as they made their way to the park. Through his persistence, Draco learned that Mathew's greatest love was football. He had first started playing at the age of four and was on the school football team. He also enjoyed playing the guitar, and his favourite type of music being classical Jazz. Draco's interest was peaked. He had rarely talked to muggles before; much less hold such a long interesting conversation. Moreover, Draco could sense that with Mathew, once one got beyond his hard exterior, he would reveal even more wisdom, much like his sister. Mathew Granger, Draco felt, was certainly worth getting to know, if for no other reason than appeasing Draco's curiosity about muggles.
They had reached the park boundary and Draco turned to the other boy.
"Well, this is where I leave you."
Mathew, his face lighting up, asked, "How? Are you going to disappear or whatever it's called or travel a different way?"
"I'm going to Disapparate," Draco glanced round them to ensure there was no one in ear shot, "it's the quickest form of travel."
"Wow! It must be so cool to be able to just disappear and appear almost instantly somewhere else." Mathew's eyes were wide with interest as he spoke.
Looking thoughtfully at the other boy, Draco nodded, realising that in the last minute or so, Mathew had shown more animation than during the last hour he had spent with him. Not even when Mathew had been talking about football, the supposed love of his life, had he looked as excited as he did now. Had Draco finally managed to find something that would help him get him to know this brother-in-law of his?
"You bet." Then after a slight pause, Draco added, "I tell you what Mathew, when I have a bit of free time, we can tandem Apparate if you like. That's where two people Apparate together. I will be the one doing the Apparating and you will simply be accompanying me."
"Really? I asked Hermione if she would let me disappear with her like that, but she said that it was dangerous and that—"
Draco chuckled. Finally he had found the thing that would make this brother-in-law of his open up – magic!
"Oh no, it's not dangerous. It's simply a case of knowing what you're doing. Hermione probably was hesitant to tandem Apparate because she's never done it before. I've done it successfully on a number of occasions, so you should be safe enough with me."
"Wow! That'd be so cool!" Mathew exclaimed. "Do you ride a broom as well?"
Draco's mind was busy planning and strategising as he agreed to take the other boy on a broom ride one day. Bidding Mathew farewell, he Disapparated.
"The Dark Lord," Draco spat out in disgust, "who cares what he—"
"Draco, that's enough!" Narcissa broke in, "Malfoys do not disparage those who deserve our respect!" She glared reproachfully at her son as she spoke. "Walls have ears, my boy."
Draco let out a bitter laugh that made his mother close her eyes in exasperation. "Mother, dear," he drawled sarcastically, "if it weren't for our deserving Lord, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place, now would we? Thanks to him, my wife has disappeared without a trace, and could be Merlin only knows where!"
"As I said before," Narcissa repeated calmly, "Watch what you say, Draco. Walls have ears. The Dark Lord had his reasons for wanting the marriage to take place so soon. It was unfortunate that we had to give you the potion when we gave it to Hermione, but you must understand we had no choice in the matter."
"I always said father was wrong to join forces with the likes of him," Draco said quietly, glancing round his mother's sitting room in spite of himself. "The Dark Lord," he sneered, "He has no interest in purebloods. If he had, he would never've suggested that Hermione and I marry. That… that creature is a power-hungry, arbitrary dictator, mother! Pureblood interests? Ha! Just because he read somewhere that due to genetics or whatever it's called, purebloods were dying out and the only way forward was to marry muggleborns to remedy the situation, he decided it was all right! What gave him the right to decide? And for your information, that's a far cry from his original mantra of getting rid of muggleborns and you know it."
Narcissa knew that in all honesty, she could not deny what her son had just said, for she had thought the exact same thing when Lucius informed her of the Dark Lord's suggestion of a wife for Draco. She had to admit secretly that she was relieved that Draco didn't want to join his ranks. The things she saw her husband do was enough to make anyone's stomach turn, and for what? As Draco said, that creature was just arbitrary enough to give today only to take tomorrow. No, besides, Malfoys were not supposed to take orders from anyone. Was that not written in the Malfoys' Creed?
"Be that as it may," she prevaricated, "What's done is done, and there is no point bringing up the past like this. It won't solve the current problem, Draco. Hermione's family is under a Confundus charm to ensure they don't give away her whereabouts, which means, my dear boy, that they might have an inkling as to where she is. Moreover, we know that the Confundus cannot be traced to Hermione, leading me to suspect that there is another person who arranged matters – and who most likely is her secret keeper."
"I know all that, Mother. True, her family may not be able to tell me where she is, but who's to say they can't lead me to where she may be staying?" Draco smirked. "I'll be damned if I let others run my life for me. I'm determined to find my wife no matter what!"
Narcissa looked appraisingly at her son. He seemed to have aged in the last few weeks. No longer was he the teenager who had graduated from Hogwarts, carefree and looking forward to his future, but he had become dour and rather morose of late. This was a side of his character that she had hitherto not seen, and she wondered not for the first time if she and Lucius had been right to force the boy into a marriage so swiftly. True, he had always been taken with Hermione Granger, and given time, would likely have persuaded her into marriage, especially since there were no more restrictions to his pursuit of her, but to force all this on him in such a short space of time…
"Tell me something," she said quietly looking him in the eye, "if things had been different… if Hermione hadn't managed to get away as she did, would you have been happy with her?"
Nodding once, he replied solemnly, "Yes, Mother." He sighed, closing his eyes, "My anger, Mother, is not at your choice of bride for me. On the contrary, I like Hermione very much, and in time, I believe she would've learned to reciprocate my feelings. What I can't understand, though, is why the haste? One moment, all was going fine – we were out of Hogwarts, and I could see that given more time, Hermione would accept my suit. I had plans, Mother, plans to court her properly; and dinner that night was the first step in doing things my way, to show her what things could be like… but before I could even—" he gritted his teeth, anger simmering below the surface "—before I could even propose, the next thing I realise, I'm to be prepared for the wedding ceremony taking place in an hour!"
He gave a bitter laugh. "Merlin! I'm not surprise Hermione left the way she did – if it were me, I'd have done the very same! The entire fiasco was an exercise in madness. She probably thinks she'd married into St. Mungo's insane ward!"
Narcissa was silent, observing the dejected stance of her son. They had had this discussion countless times before, but she and Lucius had never told Draco the exact reason for the hasty marriage, simply saying that it was necessary and couldn't be avoided. Surely it was time to do so now? Draco would not be able to rest until he knew, and she suspected that it may help him understand their actions a bit better, even though he may not agree with them. She glanced round the room, remembering her admonition to her son, even though she knew with certainty that this room, like the rest of the house, was covered with anti-spy wards, most of which had been here for centuries. She didn't think Lucius would be too pleased that she had told Draco the truth, but it was high time he knew of the reason why things had happened as they did. Maybe then, he would be able to let go of some that pent up anger.
"It's complicated," she began delicately.
Draco sat up. "What was complicated?" he asked warily. The magazine he had been flicking through was thrown to one side, as he stared intently at his mother.
"Draco, as I have told you, there was a reason the marriage had to take place so swiftly," Narcissa explained. "The original plan was to leave things in your hands. After all, as you said, you and Hermione were getting on quite well and with those uncouth friends of hers out of the way now that you had both graduated, it would have only been a matter of time until Hermione came to see you as something more than a friend. Then on the evening that you went out to the Lock and Key for dinner with her, your father was called by the Dark Lord," Narcissa paused and hesitated. Draco knew that the true reason for the marriage would soon be revealed. "Your father was gone for about an hour, and when he returned, he told me that the marriage would have to take place the next day. The Dark Lord was planning a move against Dumbledore's resistance group the day after that."
Draco frowned, his only reaction to his mother's revelation.
Narcissa carried on speaking, "The move was going to be a big one. But it would mean that Hermione would be unattainable once it was over. We knew for certain Hermione would never marry you, especially since the move was against the people she held in respect." Narcissa moved to a seat closer to her son. "Draco, you know Hermione has always been suspicious of us; and once the move was over, she wouldn't want to come anywhere near any of us, so it was imperative we got you married before the Dark Lord's attack. Kidnap, you see was not enough, it had to be marriage. With kidnap, there was always a chance she could get away, and that would be that, but marriage would ensure that she would still be bound to you however much she tried to hide."
Draco remained silent, but Narcissa could see that her reasoning was grudgingly being accepted by her son.
"Time was something we had very little of, and although you were fond of Hermione, we couldn't risk you going all chivalrous on us and refusing to go through with the marriage because it wasn't fair to Hermione. You gave us no option – we had to give you some of the potion along with Hermione. Not as much as she had, but enough that you didn't protest at the suddenness of it all."
Draco absorbed Narcissa's explanation. "You're right. I would have asked questions about the abrupt change of plan."
Narcissa nodded at this, and then resumed, "Anyway, we managed to arrange everything in the nick of time. We got Old Halaran to perform the ceremony; he wasn't happy about being rushed, but he was properly compensated for his trouble." Narcissa smirked. "In fact, everything, every detail was going according to plan, until Hermione's disappearance. I can only presume that in our haste to get everything done, we didn't check the wards on the house as carefully as we ought." Narcissa shook her head.
"Then again, we're assuming that Hermione's disappearance is her own decision… but who would want to kidnap her? We've no ransom note – and surely her kidnappers would know better than to take a Malfoy bride. No, she's gone, and with her, she's taken the Dark Lord's victory."
"What's the Dark Lord to do with Hermione's disappearance?"
"Darling boy, don't you see? Not only did her disappearance upset you, it also called a halt to the Dark Lord's plans. During the first days of Hermione's disappearance, we all thought that she had gone to Dumbledore. And if we were to move against Dumbledore, and hurt Hermione in the process, well, that was an option the Dark Lord was not willing to risk."
"Merlin's beard," Draco breathed now. "I hadn't realised there was so much more to it all. So Hermione upset not only our plans but his as well?" he chewed his lip. "Well, good!" he nodded churlishly, "He deserves all he gets."
"Draco, I didn't tell you all this just so you could gloat about the Dark Lord's plans going awry," his mother admonished, but Draco ignored her.
"Good, his plans were upset as well, that's good!" he muttered to himself.
"Draco! Stop this. I know that you don't like the Dark Lord, but there is no need to be so childish about all this."
"Sorry Mother," Draco smirked, "You're right, I am veering off the point. Do you know what it was he had planned?"
"No, I think your father does, but naturally, he isn't at liberty to tell us."
"What I want to know," Draco said, now frowning, "is why he's so keen that Hermione and I marry. I'll never join him; he must surely know that by now. And why is he so anxious that Hermione not get hurt? Surely he isn't hoping to get into my good graces!" He let out a snort of laughter at the thought.
"Whatever the reason, I am sure it isn't that one," Narcissa shrugged elegantly, as only she could, while secretly wondering whether Draco wasn't on to something. The Dark Lord was persistent in his pursuit of followers, and so far Draco had refused to join him. She suspected that her revelation would make Draco hate the Dark Lord even more, but at least it ensured the boy would never join his ranks.
Narcissa smiled as she got up. "Some of us have things to do Draco, I'll see you later."
She left the room in a rustle of skirts, and Draco lay back on the sofa, hands locked behind his head, thinking.
So thanks to the Dark Lord and his early wedding plans, Hermione had run away. Draco's mouth thinned into a line as hate welled up within him. He smiled bitterly, remembering his childhood when he had idolised Voldemort as the hero who would deliver the wizarding race from the clutches of muggles. This adulation had continued until his fourth year, when his father had felt the mark burn for the first time in thirteen years. Draco had watched, as his father had become increasingly withdrawn over the next year, spending more and more of his free time on his own, rather than with his family. Lines of fatigue and strain had etched themselves around Lucius's eyes and Draco had started to question the wisdom of joining someone who expected you to drop everything to pander to his beck and call.
Draco hated that… that creature… that being that could no longer be described as human. This hate had started at the end of Draco's fifth year when, while obeying that… thing's… orders, his father had been caught and shamed in public. Lucius' stint in Azkaban, although short, had been traumatic for Narcissa, not to mention for Draco himself. During Draco's sixth year, a lot more Death Eaters had been recruited, and he had watched as people he had once considered friends took the Mark. Draco's hate of the creature had been compounded when Gregory Goyle, one of his oldest friends, was killed by Voldemort, all because lumbering Goyle had not obeyed one of his orders quick enough.
Draco suppressed a shudder. Right now, one of his few comforts was that not even Voldemort could find Hermione. All his so-called power and knowledge was unable to break even a simple Fidelius charm if he didn't know who her secret keeper was.
The room was getting dark as Draco got wearily to his feet.
Consciously, he felt as though he had aged over the past few weeks. Was this because of the marriage ceremony? Was this a sense of… of loss? This nameless feeling that had driven him to seek her out – he couldn't explain it away as it ate at him for every moment she was apart from him. He would not rest until Hermione had been found, and he would do everything in his power to ensure that she was found. She was now a part of him whether she liked it or not. A living breathing part of him that he wanted with him, no matter the circumstances that had forged the marriage between them.
A grim smile played about his mouth as he left the room, determination etched in every line of his body. He would get his Hermione back, even if it were the last thing he ever did.