Disclaimer: the usual non-legally significant blah-blah-blah.
AN: Hello everyone,
I have rewritten the following chapter a couple of times and actually thought it would end a little further down the road than it actually did. Sometimes while writing I am surprised by the perfect ending to a chapter….it's going to be another cliffhanger though, so I'm sure you'll all love to hate me for it ;-)
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have reviewed: it keeps me going and gives me the tenacity I need to finish this story. Whenever I think I'll never get it done, knowing that there are people out there who are dying to hear the ending, I know I cannot give up.
Thank you so much for all your kind comments.
Well, that's it for now. I am really excited to hear what you think of the upcoming chapter, so I'll let you get to it. I present: chapter 25, in which Hermione and Lucius floor the Wizengamot and Severus Snape floors Hermione.
To Save a Malfoy
Chapter 25: Old friends, new enemies
"Lucius Malfoy…I give you your freedom."
The tears that had been threatening finally spilled over as she felt the ring slide home on his finger. She couldn't help her gaze locking on his solemn silver eyes, her right hand lightly keeping a hold of his left.
In confusion, Hermione looked down at the seemingly unobtrusive piece of jewellery resting around his finger; why wasn't anything happening?
Almost as soon as the thought entered her mind, she felt a tingle where her fingers grasped his hand and consequently, the ring. It was vaguely reminiscent of the time she had cut off a piece of the impostor's hair. Only now she remembered that then too, it had taken a little while for the enchantment to crumble. The unleashed magic trickling into her fingers felt very similar, but it was neither as subtle, nor as quick in disappearing as it had been then.
It was slowly inching from where her fingers touched his, to encompass her entire hand and then, as if some unseen barrier was crossed, it suddenly exploded outward, encompassing her entire being. She heard Lucius' uncontrolled exhalation, as if the air had been forced from his lungs in response to the magical phenomenon.
Her head rose up swiftly wanting to check him for any signs of discomfort, but what she saw took her breath away. Lucius had closed his eyes, his countenance as serene as she had ever seen it. Some unknown force was gently moving his hair, as if a pleasant breeze was playing with it. What caught her attention though was the way his skin seemed to glow with a strange luminescence, making him look almost unbearably beautiful.
She was quite aware of her mouth dropping open in sheer amazement but could do nothing to prevent it from happening. Hermione Granger had never seen anything more beautiful in her life, up to and including the one time she had seen a unicorn in the forbidden forest.
Then suddenly, Lucius threw back his head, his mouth opening as wide as it could with a soundless cry, his features twisting in obvious pain. His left hand reflexively gripped hers almost painfully, his other hand clamping around her left shoulder. His skin was giving off heat as if he was burning up with a fever, his breathing harsh and ragged as if he had just run a mile.
Without thinking, she placed her left hand over his left, so that the hand with the ring was now clasped between both of hers.
It felt like a circuit being closed and she involuntarily closed her eyes as images rose in her mind, one right after the other, too fast to understand them properly before the next one arrived. She caught glimpses of a dark cloak billowing in the wind; torn robes on a muddy surface; a toddler looking up at her with thick tears in his impossibly large eyes next to a broken statue; a woman's leg, pale and streaked with blood hanging over the edge of a table; thrusting herself into a blond woman draped over a dresser; a small clearing in a forest, bathed in moonlight; the same blonde woman bending down to kiss her; a flash of blood-red eyes, a streak of green, a feeling of power and lust welling inside her feeling foreign and completely her own all at the same time. In spite of this, she was also aware of Lucius' hand clasped between her own, his eyes wide and unseeing in front of her and somebody screaming in the background.
As suddenly as the images had started, so abrupt was their absence and Hermione found herself reeling from them. Still, her thoughts first and foremost focused on the man in front of her, wanting to make sure he was unharmed.
She hardly had the time to realise that he was not, before he toppled forward and off of the chair he'd been sitting on. She could do nothing but cushion his fall as best she could, which is how she found herself on the floor of courtroom ten with the Wizengamot in its entirety watching as she cradled Lucius Malfoy's head against her shoulder as he lay across her lap.
Carefully, she lowered him to the floor, violently suppressing the images of Draco in a similar position not so long ago. Ascertaining that he was still breathing and appeared to have merely fainted was the work of seconds and she couldn't suppress the relieved sigh that escaped her. She didn't understand what had happened: none of the sources they consulted mentioned anything about the unbinding being painful for the victim, let alone about it rendering him unconscious; she was at a loss how to explain what had gone wrong.
She was vaguely aware of the murmuring around her rising in volume and ascribed it to what had just taken place. A quick look around while she shifted position to allow the blood back into her legs however showed that nobody was looking at her and Lucius, instead focusing on something behind her back.
Turning, she understood.
A tall, stocky wizard with unruly dark brown hair and blue eyes was looking at her with hatred in his eyes. His mouth was distorted into a sneer and Hermione thought nonsensically that the expression was much more effective on a classic, aristocratic face like Lucius'.
Dazed, she climbed to her feet and took a few steps closer to the spot where the defendant was strapped to his chair, hardly believing the fact that just minutes ago this man had looked exactly like Lucius.
A groan brought her attention back to the original – and now only – Lucius Malfoy as he laboriously opened his eyes and blinked up at the strange sight that met his eyes.
"Lucius!" Hermione exclaimed as she moved towards him, her hands automatically reaching for both of his, "are you alright?"
His attention was captured by the defendant as he got to his feet and it took him a moment to refocus his gaze onto the young woman standing in front of him.
When he finally did, there was a peculiar tone to his voice as he answered: "I am fine."
Like her, he walked slowly towards the man restrained in the middle of the room. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was wearing the same Azkaban robes as the impostor had – not to mention the fact he was magically restrained to his chair – it would have been impossible to guess that up until recently, he had been Lucius Malfoy too.
All of a sudden, the realization hit Hermione like a fist to the stomach: if it hadn't been for them more or less accidentally stumbling on the real Lucius after Voldemort's defeat, they never would have known. Nobody would have questioned Lucius Malfoy's sudden disappearance as Voldemort's second-in-command would have undone the binding or the real Lucius would have died…..the impostor could have gotten away scot-free….
She had never seen the enormity of the crime any clearer than right at that moment.
It made her sick to her stomach to the point where she thought she might actually vomit. As she raced from the courtroom headed for the nearest loo, the last thing she saw before the doors fell closed behind her was Lucius hauling back and, with a look of grim satisfaction, punching the impostor squarely in the jaw.
It was a rather subdued and silent pair that Flooed into Dumbledore's office later that day. Despite the fact that they had finally succeeded in undoing the binding of the Geminis Fortunae, there were still too many matters weighing them down for a truly celebratory mood.
After they had given Professor Dumbledore a succinct report on the happenings at the Ministry, he returned the favour by informing them that Draco had been installed in the hospital wing, his condition for now relatively stable, although more and more blisters had appeared all over his body. He had regained consciousness shortly after their party arrived at Hogwarts and the first words out of his mouth were to enquire whether or not Hermione had succeeded.
Meanwhile, Professor Snape had apparently locked himself into his dungeon laboratory. He flat-out refused to come out or even speak to anyone, up to and including Dumbledore himself. Being the current Headmaster, Dumbledore could have forced the issue, since Hogwarts would always yield to his command, but he wanted to give his Potions Master what time he could to sort through this on his own.
Hermione's heart clenched as she recalled the anguished look on the professor's features when he realised what was happening to Draco. She couldn't imagine what it must feel like for him, being indirectly responsible for a dear one's suffering like that. An involuntary shudder ran down her spine as she realised that it couldn't be the first time something like this happened to the dark Potions Master.
"I'd like to see, Draco."
Lucius' softly-voiced request broke into her thoughts. Dumbledore was already nodding and holding out a hand to indicate Lucius should precede him, when Hermione halted their progress.
"I'll go down to the dungeons and see if there's anything I can do to help Professor Snape."
The Headmaster threw her an assessing glance. "I am not sure that is a wise idea, Miss Granger," he said cautiously.
"I'm quite sure it isn't, but someone has to go down there and make sure he doesn't do himself any harm," Hermione countered much more calmly than she felt.
The Headmaster gave an approving nod at that, before he preceded Lucius to Draco's room.
Hermione stared after the two wizards until they disappeared from view around a corner, before turning around and moving towards the dungeon steps.
Her feet were swift and sure as she made her way through the labyrinthine corridors of the dungeons, coming to a halt only when she was faced with the door that opened into Professor Snape's private laboratory.
Removing her wand from her sleeve, she cast a series of spells, revealing the wards he had activated to keep unwanted company out.
She winced. "Well, I guess he really doesn't want company then," she muttered to herself, even as she started dismantling the first of the wards.
Ten minutes later she had undone about half of his wards, she was exhausted, cranky and an unfamiliar feeling of foreboding was starting to envelop her.
"Severus!" she yelled, frustrated. She kicked the door for good measure. Fortunately for her, Snape was exceptionally good at defensive magic - despite all his sniping on 'foolish wand-waving'. His wards recognized her kick was not an attempt to enter the rooms beyond, otherwise the result would have been quite unpleasant.
She did succeed in her original goal though: the door was yanked open and a furious Severus Snape glared her way.
"If you know what's good for you, you will leave now" he snarled. His temper didn't appear to have improved much since she last saw him.
"I came to see if you needed any help," she said as calmly as she could manage, bravely locking gazes with him.
"I couldn't think of anything I'd need help with at the moment, least of all from a silly little girl!" he sneered, starting to close the door.
"Oh please, Severus," she sighed in annoyance, putting a deliberate emphasis on his given name and enjoying the way his face darkened even further, "have a care with the 'silly little girl' comment, or you'll wear it out!"
As she was speaking, she pushed her way past him into the laboratory where she had spent so many hours working alongside him, benefiting from his expertise, sharpening her wit against his.
The action left him spluttering with rage.
"This is the antidote?" she breathed in awe, as she neared the workbench. On top of it a large pewter cauldron rested, the flame beneath it extinguished; the potion inside was glutinous and so dark a green that it appeared black in colour. Where the light hit, it gleamed an iridescent pink.
Hermione couldn't help but find it mesmerizing. Yet as she stood next to the cauldron with its cooling fumes hitting her face, the ominous feeling that had crept up on her when she stood in front of his door hit her again, more strongly this time.
There was something darkly seductive about the potion sitting so innocently before her and almost without conscious thought she picked up the ladle lying next to it.
Fast as a snake, Snape's hand shot out to pull her away from the potion, his hand plucking the ladle from her nerveless fingers.
Hermione had gone pale. "What the bloody hell is in that cauldron?" she whispered, knowing with every bone in her body that it wasn't an antidote.
The Potions Master drew himself up to his full height, his face blank and inaccessible.
"Stupefy," he whispered and as the red light sped towards her, heading for the centre of her chest, Hermione only had time to wonder how his wand had come to be in his hand unnoticed before darkness engulfed her.