Hermione glanced between Antonin and the book repeatedly. She wanted to focus on reading, but with him still here, she couldn't get too comfortable. Right now, he was being overly helpful, but she still felt he could turn on her at any moment. She didn't find much comfort in his claim that she was safe in Cyrus' house. She watched as Antonin picked up the book on unforgivable curses. She figured he was probably done helping with looking for information on horcruxes. "We know what kind of spells Cyrus is into. Most of these books look brand new, but that one has really been through the ringer," Hermione said with a nervous chuckle.
"It is possible he got the book used," Antonin suggested, but something in his tone implied he wasn't convinced of that. His eyes went wide as he silently read some of Cyrus' handwritten notes.
"I guess that is possible," Hermione admitted with a shrug. She highly doubted it.
"No. Nothing about horcruxes in here." He quickly closed the book and grabbed another one.
"Wait, you are still trying to help me with this?" Hermione asked. "I appreciate the effort, but you have done enough to help us against Vold." Hermione suddenly gulped, unable to finish that sentence.
"I know who you mean," Antonin said. "Don't say that name."
"Why?" Hermione asked.
"There is a word taboo spell on it. It will alert the other side to your location," Antonin informed her.
Hermione initially scoffed at that, not really believing it, but then she remembered that night at the diner. She mentioned Voldemort shortly before two death eaters (Antonin being one of them) showed up. "Oh," she was about to say more, but then she remembered she wiped his memory of the incident, so she thought it best not to bring it up at all.
"You probably don't have to concern yourself too much about that in this house though. Cyrus probably figured out some way to block such things," Antonin informed her.
Hermione realized Antonin was right. Even before his warning, she couldn't even say the name. No doubt the sudden gulp wasn't a coincidence.
Then he gave her the same kind of seductive smile he did just before they kissed inside the vault. Hermione blushed and briefly looked away. "Is there anything else I can do to help you?"
Hermione briefly wondered if he was flirting with her. That didn't make any sense, but then did it make sense for any guy to fancy Bellatrix Lestrange? Of course, she didn't want to be the object of affection for a guy like Antonin, at least that is what her mind was telling her, but her belly felt strange. If he was helping her purely because of some weird crush, then he would be extremely unreliable. He could just as easily forget her and focus on Bellatrix again. But if he had his own reasons for wanting to take down Voldemort then just maybe a truce could be formed.
"Yes, you can help by telling me why you want to help me against Vol.." Then she suddenly gulped again. "The Dark Lord. What changed your mind?"
"I don't know how that is going to help, but ok. This was a long time coming. I first started having second thoughts when the dark lord called dementors our 'natural allies.' We should have been getting rid of them, not recruiting them. I tried to talk to Bellatrix about it and she told me I was making a big deal out of nothing, and I shouldn't question him."
Hermione watched him very carefully as he spoke, looking for even the smallest of changes in facial expression, a deliberate break of eye contact or any other telltale signs of lying, yet there were none. She also contemplated the believability of what he said. Does he really have a reason to hate dementors? Harry hated them too, and where Antonin was locked up with them for over a decade, it was safe to say he had more reason to hate them than Harry did and for that matter so did Bellatrix. "Bellatrix is even crazier than I thought. No doubt both of you have been tortured by dementors for what? Thirteen or fourteen years. That is her idea of nothing?"
"Yeah," Antonin admitted, reluctantly. "But I realized I had no say in the matter and no choice. I was so deep in that there was no getting out."
"You could have switched to the other side," Hermione suggested.
Antonin laughed at that, then realized Hermione wasn't laughing. "Oh, you are actually serious. Please, they would have had me killed or worse, send me to another hell, er, I mean prison. I did consider leaving, skip the country, go somewhere the ministry had no jurisdiction. If Bellatrix had agreed with me, we probably would have done that."
"I get it. Runaway together with the girl of your dreams," Hermione said. She felt a tinge of jealousy which confused her. She repeated to herself that she didn't wish to be the object of affection for a guy like Antonin, something her conscious mind readily accepted, but her subconscious seemed to have missed the memo.
"Yeah, something like that, but that too would have ended badly. Most likely we would have been hunted down by both sides and getting caught would just be a matter of time," Antonin admitted. "More recently, you know who started using the torture curse as punishment for failing on certain tasks."
"You mean tasks like catching Harry Potter?"
"Yeah, something like that," Antonin admitted reluctantly. "Anyway, that was the last straw for me. I know it is a big risk, but I am getting out."
Hermione still scrutinized him for any sign of lying and found none. Yet again, what he said passed believability with flying colors too. She viewed this as something Voldemort would do especially after hearing Harry say that Voldemort killed three of his followers on the night he returned, and doing so, could destroy the loyalty of his followers. Hermione remembered when Dolores Umbridge was about to crucio Harry. That was when she lost any shred of respect she ever held for that teacher.
"When I thought you were Bellatrix, I was hoping you felt the same way and were ready to leave. Didn't get around to asking about it, because you made it sound like you were still serving him, so the question was already answered, or at least I thought so."
"Even if you know who used the torture curse on her," Hermione began to say.
"Targeting me with it made me angry. Targeting her with it, made me want to kill him," Antonin admitted. Yet again, he showed no visible signs of lying.
"If the dementors didn't faze her, I doubt the torture curse would either," Hermione mused.
"You sound just like Cyrus," Antonin laughed. "That is a good thing. He is probably the smartest person I know." Cyrus walked back into the room. "Speak of the devil. Not listening to him, was probably the biggest mistake I ever made."
"If he told you not to join the dark lord in the first place, I would agree," Hermione said.
"Actually no, joining you know who in the first place was the biggest mistake you ever made," Cyrus said at the same time.
"See, you both basically said the same thing," Antonin said with a bit of a smirk.
"But I completely understand why you did," Cyrus added.
"I don't," Hermione said. She turned to Cyrus. "What am I missing? You rejected you know who's ideals and..."
Cyrus pointed to Antonin. "Let's just say I share his love." He made air quotes with his fingers framing a very sarcastic use of the word love, then added. "For the ministry of magic. At the time we had that waste of space Harold Minchum for minister."
"Is that guy still alive?" Antonin asked. He did his best to maintain a neutral composure and make the question sound as innocent as possible, but Hermione instantly knew his intentions just by the murderous look in his eyes.
"Why would you ask that?" Cyrus asked with a scrutinizing glare.
"Just curious." Antonin forced a smile and looked away. This was the first time Hermione felt he was lying since this chat in the library began.
"Yeah, sure," Cyrus laughed with a smirk on his face, then he added, "If he is smart, he probably went into hiding as soon as he found out you got out of prison."
Antonin couldn't help but laugh. "Hiding away like a coward. You would think he would want to stay and fight for the ministry." He deliberately ignored what Cyrus was implying.
"Let me guess. He is the one who had you sent to prison." Hermione folded her arms across her chest. Of course, he probably wants to kill this guy for that as though he were completely innocent and didn't deserve any punishment at all, totally taking no responsibility for his own actions.
Antonin nodded, indicating she was right. "And he is also a large part of the reason I joined the dark lord in the first place."
"Oh!" Hermione's arms dropped to her side. That threw her assumptions out the window. Clearly, Antonin hated this guy long before he was ever imprisoned. Especially considering the fact that Cyrus claimed to understand his reasoning, the odds were good that he had a legitimate reason for it.
"Before I forget, the wife will be serving dinner soon. You are both welcome to come if you are hungry," Cyrus said.
"I very much appreciate the invite, but I am not that hungry," Hermione said. "Besides, I am trying to research something."
"As much as I am a fan of your wife's cooking, I will have to pass too," Antonin said. "I would like to help her with her research." Although his desire to help Hermione was genuine, he also wanted to avoid Hermione's other friends that no doubt would be invited to dinner too.
"I could have something brought to you here," Cyrus offered.
"That would be great, thanks." Antonin agreed to that.
"I didn't know that was an option. May I…" Hermione began to say.
"Splendid." Cyrus clasped his hands together. "Dinner for two it is," he said, just before departing.
This time being left alone with Antonin barely fazed Hermione. "I think you just want to avoid my friends," she said.
"True." Antonin nodded. "But I really do want to help you."
"Yeah, I just think what I really want to know isn't in these books," Hermione said.
"And what would that be?" Antonin asked.
"Where else did the dark lord hide horcruxes?" Hermione said.
"Who would know besides you know who?" Antonin asked. "Because he certainly isn't going to tell."
"He wouldn't tell me, but maybe he would tell you?" Hermione suggested.
"After everything you have done for me," Antonin said. "I really want to help you, but- "
Hermione blinked a few times. "What are you talking about? I haven't done anything for you."
"You did. You are the reason I can do the Patronus charm, and I suspect you are the reason I got out of the vault alive," Antonin admitted. "I owe you…"
"You only went inside the vault because you assumed I was Bellatrix, so even if I had saved you, it doesn't really count," Hermione said.
"True, it would have gone very differently if you just told me right away that you were not Bellatrix," Antonin admitted.
"At the time, I thought you would have killed me if I did that," Hermione admitted.
"No, I wouldn't have killed you, but you couldn't have known that. You didn't realize I was pretty much done with the dark lord," Antonin admitted.
"The only reason I have trouble believing that, is because you did threaten Harry," Hermione said.
"Yeah, of course, I did. Right after you threatened me," Antonin admitted.
"What? I didn't…." Hermione began to protest, but those words died in her throat as she realized he was right.
"I probably shouldn't have admitted I realized you weren't really Bellatrix," Antonin said. Then he admitted only to himself that he might have been able to get another kiss that way. "But I am not that good at lying. If you had just told me the truth in the first place, I probably would have taken you back to the bank and left, which is probably what you would have preferred."
"I did like getting the id though," Hermione admitted. She started to change her mind about asking him to do this at all. She assumed, incorrectly again, that he was very good at lying. For what she was asking him to do, lie to Voldemort and try to get information, he would need to be great at lying to pull this one off. He would have to convince Voldemort he was still loyal and only wanted to know so he could protect the horcrux. She realized she was trying to talk him into a suicide mission. She even tried to convince herself that she wouldn't care if he got himself killed, but somehow, she knew she was lying to herself on that one.
"I am sure you would have found another way in," Antonin said.
"Yeah, we did have a backup plan," Hermione admitted. "One I am glad we didn't have to use, but the point is you don't owe me anything."
"I still want to help. The main thing I am concerned about, though, is if that 'thing' has a telepathic connection to you know who. If so, he already knows I betrayed him, and he would have me killed before I could ask him anything. Same if the goblins report I was there," Antonin said.
"Ok, it is a no," Hermione said, breathing a sigh of relief. "I understand."
"It is a maybe," Antonin said. "I need to know where I stand with Vol," He too suddenly gulped. "The dark lord first."
"Do you think there is a safe way you can find that out?" Hermione asked.
"If Cyrus is willing to help me, I am certain of it."
Ron and Astoria entered the dining room first. Soft, ambient lighting cast a gentle glow, illuminating the rich hues of the mahogany walls adorned with tasteful artwork and mirrors. Flickering candlelight on the dining room table created a mesmerizing play of shadows, adding an intimate touch to the already enchanting atmosphere.
The centerpiece of the room was an imposing, intricately carved wooden table, resplendent with a smooth, polished surface. It was adorned with crisp, white linen tablecloths, setting the stage for an extraordinary dining experience. Elegant, high-backed chairs with plush cushions beckoned Ron to settle in and indulge in the culinary delights that awaited him. Of course, he waited to take a seat.
Ron's eyes were drawn to the table settings, a sight to behold. Fine bone china, delicately embellished with intricate patterns, glistened under the warm glow of the chandelier. Gleaming silverware was meticulously arranged, ready to be used with grace and precision. Crystal glassware, catching the light, stood poised for the finest of wines and spirits. A symphony of colors and textures adorned each plate, reflecting the creativity and artistry of one master chef.
"Mom, this is Ron, Ron – Mom," Astoria quickly made the introductions.
"Ah," Ron hadn't even noticed her mother until the sound of Astoria's voice called attention to her. "Hi, Mrs. Greengrass," Ron said.
"Call me Sophia."
Once he finally noticed, he wondered how he could have missed the stunningly beautiful woman standing before him. He first noticed her sky-blue eyes, and her golden blond locks cascading in gentle waves, reminiscent of the golden hues that adorn a summer sunset and her fair complexion, as smooth as satin, glows with a healthy vitality, reminiscent of a blossoming rose. "I can certainly see where your daughter gets her beauty." She smiled showing her pearly white teeth.
Harry and Daphne walked in holding hands followed closely behind by Cyrus, who certainly noticed the handholding. A wide grin appeared across his face as he imagined walking Daphne down the aisle on her wedding day, straight to Harry or Draco depending upon who won the war. "Glad to see you and Daphne are getting along."
"She has been wonderful." Harry blushed while smiling at Daphne.
"And I hope Astoria made you feel welcome too," Cyrus said to Ron.
"Oh, yes, definitely, sir. Probably the most fun I ever had playing wizard's chess." Ron's face went beet red. He had enough common sense not to admit to exactly what Astoria did.
"Me too," Astoria said with a bit of a smirk on her face. She licked her lips.
"Don't we have a few more guests coming?" Sophia asked Cyrus.
"Where is Hermione?" Ron asked.
"Hermione won't be joining us for dinner," Cyrus informed Ron. "She is doing some research in the library."
"You have a library? Great, we won't see her again for a week at least," Ron chuckled in a joking yet slightly serious manner. Harry, Daphne and Astoria all laughed.
"I will have the house elf bring them some food," Cyrus said. "They will be having dinner together in the library."
"Them? So, Mr. Dolohov isn't joining us either," Sophia asked.
"You left Hermione alone with Dolohov!" Harry exclaimed.
"I invited her to have dinner here. It was her choice to stay in the library with him," Cyrus raised his hands in the air.
"She was kissing him in the vault and now, what having a date?" Ron raised his voice.
"Jealous, much," Daphne mumbled under her breath barely audibly.
"Could he be using an Imperius curse on her?" Harry suggested while Ron was thinking the exact same thing.
Daphne and Astoria looked at each other and both burst out laughing. "This house has the best security against the Imperius Curse in the whole wizarding world. Your friend is not being controlled by anyone," Daphne declared.
"It's impossible," Harry hesitated, and then corrected himself, "nearly impossible to come up with a protection against an unforgivable curse."
"As you said, 'nearly'. When it comes to the Imperius Curse, you would be surprised what a little creativity can do," Astoria said.
"Yeah, if someone-" Daphne began to say.
"Daphne, that is enough." Sophia scolded her daughter with the same type of icy stare Daphne had become known for around Hogwarts.
"Boys, if you're worried about your friend, why don't we go to the library and bring dinner to her? So, you can see she's fine," Cyrus said.