Title: The Key
Author: Counter Spark
Disclaimer: I am not J.K and I don't own Harry Potter. If I did I obviously wouldn't be wasting my sodding time with this bologna.
Summary: The War's in full swing, and as people find the line between good and evil growing hazier by the minute, a bookish girl and a bitter boy find that they may very well hold the key to the others' life. DHr.
Author's note: I've nothing to say except 'read'. Do it. I dare you. Oh, also, this is post-HBP incase you were wondering. Enjoy!
Hermione had never really 'liked' her job.
Well, if we wanted to be more specific, Hermione really didn't like her job.
All right, let's be bald faced about it- she loathed it. She hated the blood, the death...the overall brutality of it all. But what she really loathed was the smell of it all over her. The smell of passionate and reckless violence is impossible to get rid of, especially if you were in Hermione's profession and around it much too often.
She had always wanted to be something...inspiring. Something people could look at and practically envision all the hard work she must've gone through to be that good. Anyone could work at the Ministry if they weren't brain dead...anyone could get a decent paying job in Diagon Alley.
The fact is that she wasn't just anyone, and any job hard-working Hermione Granger got, it had to exude intelligence- it had to be positively dripping with prestige. It would've been the perfect Cinderella story: Muggle-born comes from humble beginnings, is tortured at school for her social class, and in the end she's one of the most influential witches of the modern age (sans the whole Prince Charming deal- that really wasn't up her alley).
This job held no glamour, no need for brains or wit, no respectability- all that was required was a rudimentary knowledge of your wand and what spells were made for killing. Anybody could be an assassin.
Sure, they comforted her in the daytime, but were they there in the darkness of night? Were they there in the blackness of her suffocating bedroom while the whispers of horrors long passed breathed their death songs in her ear? Were they there when she could hear the voices around her...when she could hear their pleads for mercy as she cast the final spell?
No, they weren't. Nor would they ever be. They (the Order) could tell her all day long how necessary death was in order for this battle to come out with good triumphing over evil; how direly important it was for them to dispose of the wickedness in the world. Yet, when it ultimately came down to it, wasn't this war just a full-scale bloody massacre; a show of two opposing sides that held equal amounts of fervor, belief, passion and above all power? What made them so light when they did the same as the dark?
It had been four weeks since the Killing Curse had been made legal to use in life-threatening situations. So, in a sense now, death was no longer forbidden...so long as the right people got killed. The past four weeks had seen the Daily Prophet simply unable to report the number of Killing Curses that had been used. Of course, only the ones that had led to the death of someone feared and infamous had been splayed on the front pages in bold, victorious ink: "Bellatrix LeStrange Finally Silenced"..."Two Lifelong Death Eaters Finally Brought to Justice"...
Never did they cover the story of the crazy man who lived in Wales; the man who went berserk when his neighbor forgot to return the tie he lent him a couple weeks back and obliterated him into a scattered, grotesque mess. Now that ended badly.
And ever since then, McGonagall (oh sweet Transfiguration teacher, where have you gone?) had deemed it an inescapable fact that the Order had to adopt this new decree, for if they didn't, it would surely be used against them.
At first the nature-loving girl of yore had been strongly against it.
Then he died.
And ever since that happened, Hermione had thrown her lifelong convictions out the door and waited for whatever mystical or higher being to decide when it was her turn to be picked off like an insect on the battlefield. Life had suddenly become one long, swirling funnel of darkness, and she was just waiting to fall down and out of the hole at the bottom.
In fact, she was bracing for it.
"He's not here, Harry. And while we're at it, I've been meaning to ask you...why on earth do you care?"
His green eyes shone brilliantly in the dim overhead light surrounding the dismal and filthy dungeon as he quickly regarded Hermione and shrugged her off. "I have my reasons," he said lightly, casting a furtive look at the randomly scattered dead bodies; their glazed-over eyes staring up in anticipation at their newest visitors.
They had searched every cold body in this small, dank prison carefully and with great detail. Searching for identification, for a sign...sometimes even a familiar face. The most of them were associated with Voldemort- Death Eaters galore. Some were just a couple of poor muggles who got caught up in the mix; that miserable look of confusion and ignorance splayed all over their pale-cheeked faces.
Harry was acting more downcast than usual, but at least he hadn't gone completely bonkers yet, although some part of Hermione sensed that that day wasn't too far off. So, being the friend that she was, she tried to be as soothing and gentle and generally pleasant as she could...for Harry's sake. Besides, some part of her couldn't deny it- her problems seemed to pale in comparison to his. And being with him during his struggles made her stop focusing on what a mess her life had become and focus on how she could prevent her best friend from loosing his sanity. Hermione bit her lip and continued to survey the bodies, her quick and snappish hands turning them over so she could get a quick glance at their face and snap a picture of them with the camera in her bag. For records.
Not before too long, the pair had searched them all- each and every one of them, and there had indeed been a few familiar faces. McNair, Nott..a couple of grim-looking Death Eaters they had seen before but couldn't exactly put a name on. The chubby, awkward teen they found in the corner though had been most upsetting, and even now Hermione's eyes wandered helplessly towards his final resting place.
Goyle's torso had been ended midway down by some sort of cinching curse...and then that was it. She shuddered, haunted by the devoid look in his usually mischievous eyes. "Draco must be miles from here, Harry," she said, once again broaching the topic that had been up in the air between the two all day. "If he escaped, he got away with Voldemort. And who knows where he is." She paused thoughtfully. "I'm still perplexed by your caring of the situation, if you care to know."
Harry screwed up his face and shuddered spastically, obviously deciding to ignore her remarks. "Let's get out of here," he added very faintly as he tottered away from the scene looking pallid. Hermione followed him eagerly outside and onto the dewy afternoon lawn that stretched for miles before them.
Sadly she looked back at the death scene- a place that had once been lavish and glamorous. It had been a home. It had been the Malfoy's home. But, when the going got tough, and when Voldemort needed a hideout that sufficed all his needs, what better place than Malfoy Manor? A haven where the dark arts had been lustfully (yet secretly) worshipped for years.
And it wasn't like flippant Narcissa Malfoy could object- it wasn't like she could stare into Voldemort's cold and piercing eyes and say, 'Yes, you are the strongest and deadliest wizard alive, and yes, it is a great mercy that you haven't reigned death upon my whole family, but I'm sorry, my home is off limits'? Some part of Hermione actually felt sympathy for the attractive, somewhat-young mother. But, all in all, she had married Lucius and well...what could the woman have expected? She sighed.
The cheerful, sunny weather was laughing at them- she could feel it. But even then, neither one of them could really grasp the irony of it all. The sun was too bright for it to be a coincidence; it was mocking the tremendously dank situation they were in. Hermione studied Harry for a moment and touched his shoulder gently. "You all right, Harry?"
It seemed to take a brief moment for him to acknowledge her comforting voice for he had been missing in his own dark thoughts. "Er-yeah." Once again, he regarded her with those deep, sparkling-green eyes that seemed so utterly lost in things that she couldn't possibly fathom. And part of her was right.
Hermione thought it was downright amazing that Harry hadn't drowned in his misery already. She couldn't even imagine what he was going through without feeling nauseous or overwhelmingly dizzy. Not only did he, too, have to suffer the loss of his best friend, but on top of that was a big heavy weight that read 'Voldemort'- a creature that would be inevitably linked to him for the rest of his life, no matter how long (or short) it might be.
The two of them stood for a couple of moments, gaining their composure (mostly Harry), outlined in the cheery sunlight as they both looked upon the huge castle and the opening to the secret dungeon that contained mysteries and horrors immeasurable.
Her hand still resting on his shoulder, Hermione was more than willing to stand here as long as possible if her only remaining childhood friend needed to.
Come to think of it, she would do anything he asked of her. So they waited in a hazy silence. A couple of minutes passed by thickly before she asked with a hint of business; "Did you get all their names down?"
"Yeah," Harry added quietly, holding up the clipboard with a long piece of parchment holding the twenty plus names. For all the fallen that they couldn't identify, they had taken a small picture and attached it. For a moment Hermione thought it was normal for the pictures to not move.
Gently, she rubbed his shoulder. It seemed to hold all the weight of the world. "Ready to go back?"
He nodded, and in silence the two held up their wands and took themselves miles away from the haunting feeling of Malfoy Manor, grinning down on them with it's sick and evil grin.
She slid deeper and deeper into the porcelain bathtub, moaning and letting out the longest sigh of pent up tension. The aroma of lavender and other floral scents floated through the bathroom sweetly and into her system, making her forget for a moment how cruel the world was and how far and in-between pleasures like this could truly be experienced. She felt light and purely wonderful as the clean, fresh water soothed her battle scars and washed away the day-old sweat from her wiry and exhausted body.
Had it been years since Hermione had taken a bath such as this? I mean, a real hours-long, luxurious bath? For so long she had jumped into showers, barely giving the water a fair chance to hit her skin before she jumped out again. The last time she could remember taking a bath was at her old home in London where she lived with her parents. And that had only been when she was absolutely sure that she was home alone.
That was the only time she would even think of a bath; only when there was time for it to be enjoyed. Alone.
She sank into the foamy layer of bubbles, endlessly strewn atop the frothy hot water. She was worried about Harry- there was no getting past that. You could throw all the bubbles in the world on top of that and it would still be sitting there at the bottom, getting larger and larger and larger; more willing to explode.
Ronald's death seemed like ages ago, yet had it only been a week? Seven days since she had witnessed his broken body thrown lifelessly on the Ministry's elaborate fountain, directly underneath the humble house elf and the spurting crystal water? Six days since she had stood underneath the relentless summer sun, beating down on his casket? Five days since she found Harry broken down and sobbing in front of the fire at Grimmauld Place, looking more and more like a broken young man? The last week, she thought, stood alone like one long, tortuous year. Trying to forget about her personal problems, fighting for 'justice'...
Losing your best friend?
She had to leave Grimmauld Place and get a home for herself- it wasn't even a question in her mind. She was of age, and she had the means to live alone. Leaving Harry at Grimmauld Place was hard, but she knew it was best for him. She could tell he needed time alone to truly come to terms with Ron. Plus, it wasn't like she wasn't going to see him the next day at the breakfast table after she Apparated there, looking tired and hopeless while he dolefully picked at his morning meal?
And this place was nice...a storybook home. She wasn't going to lie- her parents had left her quite the hefty sum of paper money, in which she, of her own accord, had switched out for a due amount of sickles and galleons. This of course happened after she had convinced the two of them to leave the country for their own safety. Her parents, being oblivious of how deep the rabbit hole really went, fussed and fought, but eventually they realized that Hermione's pleads held some truth, and they had been wanting to retire to Florida before too long anyway. And a war sure is a bloody good excuse, she thought reasonably.
And this bath? She smirked. Simply to die for.
Closing her eyes slowly, she drove the constantly-lingering images of horror from her head and tried to focus on how good she felt now; how light and feathery and simply dreamy. She absentmindedly grabbed a loofa and scrubbed her shoulder, washing off the caked dirt, watching as it slid like a mini-mudslide down her slick shoulders in into the frothy water below.
Streams of bathwater splashed from the corners of her tub as she bolted upright, her wet, naked breast covered in white, shiny bubbles. Who could that be, she thought dazedly. At this hour?
Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong. This time much more urgently.
"Honestly," she groaned angrily to herself as she stood up, her garment of bubbles slowly disappearing.
Nearly slipping on the puddle of spilled bathwater, she grabbed her thick, blue robe and wrapped it around herself huffily. It couldn't be Harry- he would've let himself in. She shuddered a moment with the thought of her old friend opening the bathroom door and finding his best friend quite naked and asleep in the tub. Weird.
But, again, it couldn't be Harry, so that happening was out of the question. Quickly she checked herself in the mirror, frowning at her soaking wet, stringy locks. Oh well.
The ringing hadn't persisted, and for a moment Hermione considered returning to her bath. Just check the door, she thought exasperatedly. If not you'll be wondering for the remainder of your bath whether or not there's some creepy guy at your door waiting to pounce. Or worse, she thought, tightening the belt around her robe. With a start she remembered the new decree and grabbed her wand from the living room coffee table. Precautions such as these were necessary these days.
Drawing the wand closer to her chest, she approached her front door, inhaled deeply, grabbed the doorknob, jerked it to the left, and thrust it open in a single fluid movement.
A limp and lifeless body lie still in her doorway, the front half of it over the threshold and into her living room. Whoever it was had been leaning on her door, for when she opened it she felt the weight of it as they were dumped onto her nice, clean carpet.
"Oh," she said lightly, pulling the body entirely into her living room and shutting the door. Despite the height and danger of the times, she couldn't help but pull a helpless person out of the cold. It was her nature. The rain outside was hammering mercilessly, and the body was soaking wet to the bone. Thunder boomed outside
Quickly shutting the door, Hermione sat down and pressed herself up against the back of her door, nervously staring with wide brown eyes at the shape of a person before her. Her heart was pounding as she touched their chilled shoulder, trembling. "Hello," she said, her voice weak and breathy. No answer.
Fearfully, she turned them around as so to see their face when her heart dropped out of her chest and onto the wet carpet. Hair so blonde that is was nearly white in strings covering his forehead, skin so pale and wet that she could see blue and purple veins strewn about all over his exposed face and neck...it could be no other. Frozen, she stared at the unconscious face of Draco Malfoy who lay silent and still, mouth slightly open, on her living room floor.
Next time: What the heck is Malfoy doing in Hermione's house? How will Hermione react to seeing her childhood nemesis in need of her help? And why does Harry care so damn much? Find out in the next installment of 'The Fallen'!
A/N: I don't know about you, but I am liking this tremendously. I hate to toot my own horn, as they say, but I am sincerely liking what I've written. Hopefully you liked it, too- so much that you would love nothing more than to review me and relay these emotions (aka-PLEASE!) Don't want to be prodding, but I would very much appreciate feedback. Oh, and thanks for reading! (R and R!!)