Disclaimer: All identifiable characters of the Harry Potter series belong to JK Rowling.
I've given up on apologies and promises because I'm bad at both. I started this chapter ages ago, but with exams following me, this has come up later than I planned. The readers who have kept up with me this far deserve a medal each, coz I'm a very lousy author who fails to deliver. However, not all promises are empty and the twist I mentioned in my previous AN is here. It's a MAJOR plot point and I've tried to bring it on as smoothly as I could. The succeeding chapters will follow sooner than this one, as holidays are round the corner.
Please do not give up on this story. I've everything planned but time is a very big constraint and my schedule too packed. Sorry. Hope, this chapter gives an insight into Hermione's mind. I'd to alter the usual pattern and this chapter HAD to be from Hermione's point of view.
Btw, hope you all lovelies saw Deathly Hallows and enjoyed it too. Now, without much ado, the author shall retreat and let you read the chapter than the rant. Last but not the least, a heartfelt thanks to all my readers and reviewers. Your opinion means the world to me. Truly. As always-
Hell Breaks Loose
The Dome, as it was popularly known as in the Ministry, was not a favoured warren for many wizards and witches. As ominous in name as in appearance, it was the training hall for the newly recruited workforce. I had had my fair share of excursions to the Dome to not cringe at the mere mention of it alone. Wednesday was the day of exercise- a fancy name for the ghastly mock combats organized weekly. The only striking aspect of attending these sessions was the luxurious lounge open at break time. Ministry canteen food was more stale than staple and I'd given up on it after recurring spells of dysentery. Not that everyone suffered the same fate, but I liked to believe that my palate had a mind of its own. Hence, even in bleak hopeless situations of the psychological sort that I had endured since Halloween, Wednesday lunch was a small respite. For the banquet equivalent treat at least.
The main reason for my impromptu decision to partake in the activities organized this week, though skiving off was an easy option, was the ever present tension between Malfoy and myself following the ball at the Manor. The Halloween 'incident' as I had dubbed it my mind, served as the catalyst for Malfoy to transform back into a placid version of his old grizzly bear self; a silent one at that. Gone were the demeaning smirks, as was the drollness and all-round git attitude. Though this metamorphosis should have been an immediate cause for happiness, I found it increasingly unsettling.
A statuesque husband could be the curse reserved for the most unfortunate of witches. He had been tolerable when I could know for sure what that evil mind of his cooked up during idle hours. The silence now could only prove fatal; the calm before the storm.
To add insult to injury, he had thoroughly denied anything improper happening on the thirtieth. Other than a mistake of drunken debauchery, he refused to even confront the issue and managed to almost vapourize on the spot whenever I brought it up. Perhaps unsettled by my persistence, he had taken to ignoring my presence in the house. We would cross each other in long winding corridors in the Manor and he'd carry on undeterred, as though I were merely an ugly potted specimen of rare cactus.
It was therefore, a surprise when he strolled into the room, deep in conversation with Harry. My bespectacled friend caught my eye and beamed. Malfoy looked up at the source of distraction and skimmed his eyes over the hall at large. He might have noticed my presence for he hastily bid Harry goodbye and marched away to the opposite corner to join Tonks.
I gritted my teeth.
"Hey," my friend greeted, settling himself in the cane chair opposite me.
"Hey Harry,' I answered, more out of obligation than true warmth.
There was unveiled amusement in his voice.
I looked away from the blond bimbo to him.
"You didn't have another fight with Malfoy, did you?" he asked, knitting his brows in concern.
I rolled my eyes.
"Why do you think I had a fight with Malfoy? Isn't he your arch-nemesis? Why are you so chummy with him, anyway?" I ranted furiously, having lost the reins of patience at last.
"Err," Harry stuttered, "Forget I said anything. By the way, seen Ron since Christmas?"
Harry was not quite proficient with changing the subject maneuver. But the mention of Christmas served in his favour.
My favourite holiday of the year had been anything but uneventful this year. With the hag grandmother making a reappearance and my husband attending to her every whim, I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas. Narcissa, the ever gracious mother-in-law, had gifted me a rare pair of amethyst and diamond earrings. Lucius' gift of an yearly subscription of Challenges in Charming had been a pleasant surprise. I had in turn gifted him a rare pair of dragon-hide gloves and Narcissa a black dress robe that she had had an eye on as of late. While Narcissa smiled and embraced me in gratitude, Lucius had barely acknowledged the present beyond a raised eyebrow. I hadn't even bothered to get Malfoy a gift, given the past history of gift-exchange when it came to him.
The rest of the merry day had been humdrum. A small gathering of friends, Ron, Harry, Luna, Pansy, whose presence had come as a shock and myself, had been the sole highlight of the day. As usual, the evening was dampened with Ron and Pansy getting into a fight. Unlike the usual quarrels involving petty name-calling and insults, wands had been drawn this time. They had both been thoroughly inebriated and flooed back to Ron's flat in Manchester to 'settle the matter for good'. Nobody had heard from him since.
I gathered from Ginny that her brother was currently on tour in Greece where the Cannons had a few tournaments with the top all-witch Quidditch team, the Athenian Angels. His schedule had been so packed that for the first time in a long while he had missed Molly's New Year dinner at the Burrow.
"No, I've not heard from Ron, Harry."
He leaned forward and when he spoke next, the voice was many tones quieter.
"Do you think he, you know," Harry began gesticulating wildly with his hands.
"He what?" I enquired, still lost in thought.
"Kind of," he raised his palm to his cheek and turned his face from side to side.
"Spit it out already," I snapped, exasperated with the pantomime.
"Slapped Parkinson again?" he whispered conspiringly, "I mean the way they were going on that day, I wouldn't be too surprised."
He stole a quick glance in Malfoy's general direction.
"I don't think so, Harry," I said at last, focusing my attention solely on him, "He was provoked during your wedding and somber. I don't think he'd be mad enough to commit the same mistake twice. Moreover," I breathed, "he promised me to not do anything reckless."
Harry nodded along, massaging his temples.
"These Wednesdays are a pain, Hermione. You'd think Moody would go mellow now that the War is over, but with age, his paranoia has just gotten worse. Don't know what he eats to stay this charming."
I stifled a giggle, my spirits rising.
"You know how he gets. No matter how safe we may be now, the proverbial threat is just lurking around to jump up on us once we drop our guards. Constan-"
"Yeah, constant vigilance. And before I forget," he fished inside his robe and extracted a hastily wrapped box.
"Happy belated birthday. I was stuck in Siberia with Simonds and couldn't give it to you in person. Had a blast on the seventh, I hope?" he smiled, extending the gift towards me.
I accepted the package, blinking away the sudden rush of tears.
"No one remembered," I mumbled, "I was detained at the Ministry with truckloads of paperwork. Thanks, Harry."
"Well, that's a pity. I got it for your wedding, to Ron, that is. Would've given it to you come April, but shopping options were slim in frozen Siberia with Simonds on my back all the time. He's like Moody junior. Huffing, puffing and growling. And did I say he smells bad; the igloo was filled with that tobacco stench. Yuck."
Half listening to him, I carefully peeled away the cover to find a crystal ball inside. It was sort of a snow globe, only there were yellow flowers showering instead of snow at the miniature couple inside. A woman with curly brown hair was dancing with a tall, lanky, freckled man with flaming red hair. They would waltz about the small sphere with the man sweeping her into his arms and swinging around. The words Ron and Hermione flashed over them repeatedly. I traced the title over the glass.
It was moments like these that brought out the true thoughtful friend hidden within Harry Potter.
A dark shadow fell over us.
"Potter, the session's underway. Come along."
Malfoy was towering over us, his grey eyes staring coldly at the ball in my hand. Without a thought, I tucked it inside my robe guiltily.
"So soon?" Harry groaned, "Who did I get this time? It better not be some incompetent Hufflepuff like the last one."
Malfoy was looking resolutely at anything but me.
"Tired of the fan club, Potter? But I think its some starry eyed Gryffindor groupie this time around. Must be fun," he smirked, looking over his shoulder at a petite Asian girl sighing heavily and batting her lashes at Harry.
"Urgh," my friend moaned, standing up, "I'm a married man, you git. How about Hermione, Malfoy? Who is she partnered with?"
At the mention of my name, Malfoy turned his back to us.
"How am I to know? Do I look like her Keeper, Potter?" he sniped dismissively and walked away.
The insinuation was not lost on Harry, who raised his eyebrows and looked down at me.
"Don't even ask," I muttered standing up as well and moving to the centre of the hall. A few seconds later, I heard Harry's footsteps taking my lead.
Dominic Green was an obscenely slim boy fresh out of Dumstrang. Why he bothered to travel all the way to England to work for the British Ministry was a mystery. He had run an initial test run by Anthony who had filled his Remark column with the word 'promising'. Like many new recruits, just out of school, Green too was rich in the theoretical aspect of things. He reminded me a little of myself at seventeen. Sadly when it came to field combat, 'promising' was an adjective too strong to describe his skills.
We began, the session, like others in the room, with minor spells.
"Expelliarmus," I started.
"Reducto," he countered, "Wingardium Leviosa, Stupefy."
He fired away three more spells as quick recitation. However, not one touched me and his wand merely gave a faint flicker. Dissatisfied with his performance, he tried again, "Engorgia, Petrificus Totalus, Protego, Expecto Patronum, Riddikulus."
I flicked my wand, "Expelliarmus."
His wand sailed towards me.
I stared at him.
"Listen, Mr. Green, it's highly unlikely that a dozen random spells fired in random directions in rapid succession will help you at all in field combat."
His blue eyes widened in bemusement.
"But Mr. Goldstein said that one must be well-prepared when facing a criminal and leave no stone unturned in bringing them down," Green muttered meekly, staring at his shoes.
I rolled my eyes.
"What Anthony implied, Mr. Green is that you should aim spells that actually help you overpower a quarry. Do you see a boggart or dementor loitering around here?"
He shook his head and I was almost certain that he would begin pouting at any chance given.
"Okay, let's try again," I soothed, "And simple spells, this time."
He nodded his head, pursing thin lips in determination. All around us, pairs of Aurors and recruits were firing away spells.
The Asian girl partnered with Harry was actually quite good if she still managed to stand on two legs after a round with Harry Potter. Malfoy's partner, a red-haired witch, though, was not too concerned with clearing the initial Field test. Rather than firing spells, the two were chatting away merrily like long lost chums. She was smiling flirtatiously at the blond, who was least bothered about the excess attention he was getting. Sometime during their cozy conversation, she raised a manicured hand to brush his fringe. He, quick as a flash, grasped her wrist and mumbled something, causing her to blush profusely. The two then returned to their original positions and began the exercise mandated.
Malfoy was still smirking.
I gripped the wand in my hand tighter.
"Green," I barked, suddenly irritated, "Get ready."
Dominic almost trembled. He raised his wand but was a few seconds too late. The simmering rage within me blasted out at last in a single breath.
Not expecting anything major from my part, Green was momentarily taken aback by the force of the spell. The Dome was padded on all sides to prevent injuries, even the ceiling. However, the poor boy banged his head several times around the suspended balls of light. He knocked his temple against a particularly large orb and collapsed in a mess on the floor.
The entire room was suddenly silent. The cacophony of sounds reduced to pin drop silence.
I stared at my charge lying unconscious on the floor, blinking several times.
"MALFOY!" snarled Moody, "What in the name of effing blazes are you trying to do?"
I raised my head to gape at husband dearest, who in turn was gawking at Mad-Eye.
"This isn't the venting ground for your girly mood swings," he continued, stalking towards me.
It was then, I realized, that the Malfoy addressed thus was myself. As though woken up from a trance, I raced over to Green's side, who was lying motionless, surrounded by many of the newbie Aurors. The red-haired witch, Malfoy's partner was peering down curiously, while tightly wound around the blond's arm.
"Iz hee dead?" she whispered loudly to the silent room.
Malfoy rolled his eyes, snatched away his arm and stalked off to the adjoined Lounge.
"Clear up, Malfoy," Moody growled from behind me, "I do not have the patience to deal with accidents this early in the morning and next time, remember that blasting away your charge across a fifty feet room does not fall under the definition of mild. Am I clear?"
"Yes, sir," I mumbled weakly levitating Green.
I caught Harry's eye, who raised his eyebrows and mouthed, "Later."
Sighing tiredly, I made my way to the exit, knocking aside the re-headed bint, who was still gaping like a fish.
Chimps, the whole lot of them. Utter chimps.
St. Mungo's was overcrowded as usual. The sick bay at the Ministry was swarming like a market with Hit Wizards running about, attending to witches injured in a Fiendfyre that had broken out in a lingerie shop, of all places. The culprit, some psychotic pedophile had been arrested on the spot itself.
My junior had suffered a concussion and a mild fracture in the cranium. He was admitted to the casualty ward and the healer attending to him warned me that Green would experience hallucinations as a side effect. Over the past hour he had woken up more than four times, mumbling incoherent phrases and laughing piercingly at his own Bulgarian jokes which were not meant for public ears.
Fed up and bored, I left the sick man's bedside and made my way to the office of the Deputy Healer in charge of the Spell Damage and Maternity wing.
Her office door was shut, so I knocked and poked in my head.
"Too busy, Mrs. Potter?"
She looked up, startled, but grinned widely on seeing me.
"Why, hello, Mrs. Malfoy," she greeted, beckoning me to join her.
My own smile slipped a bit.
Standing up, she embraced me in a tight hug.
"Been all right, I hope?" she mumbled over my shoulder.
"Holding up adequately, aren't I?" I laughed, feeling the earlier uneasiness lifting.
She ushered me to a side room, much less formal than her office. She had never gotten over her inclination to the colour yellow and the entire room was just as bright as the Sun Corridor at the Manor.
"You'll have tea, won't you? Gertuna herbs are abundant this season. Daddy's sent us a pack."
"No thanks Luna. I'm on duty and need to get back soon. A new recruit was injured and it was partly my fault. He's in the Casualty wing."
"Ah," she breathed, preparing a strong smelling beverage, despite my resistance, "Let me not be deluded to think that Hermione Granger Malfoy would take time out of her busy schedule to visit an old friend."
I shook my head and accepted the tea gratefully. In spite of my insistence, Luna's drinks worked magic for nerves.
"How was the honeymoon?"
"Pleasant," she smirked, "How was my birthday gift."
"Snorkacks don't exist Luna! Crumple-horned or otherwise. How many times have we discussed this?"
"The amulet, made from their teeth is meant to bring good luck in love and sudden fortune. I'm just disappointed that you aren't wearing it. Or are you?"
I rolled my eyes.
"Really, one would think that after years of negligence, you'd give up. The only other person more stubborn than you is Ron."
At the mention of Ron's name, her features shifted abruptly. Had it been someone else, they would've overlooked the crinkling of her eyes and the dismal pout that graced her lips momentarily.
She recovered quickly enough though, schooling her face.
"So, what's new?" she changed the subject, sipping from her own blue Ravenclaw mug.
I remembered Harry's present and showed it to her, forgetting the fleeting awkwardness from before. We gushed over it for a while and it was Luna, I learned, who had added the showering flowers.
I was just preparing to take my leave, still holding the orb, when her office door slammed open.
Startled I turned around to see a frantic Pansy Parkinson racing into the room, not noticing my presence at all.
Luna froze in her seat.
"They wouldn't do it, Lovegood. Those filthy Muggles wouldn't do it," she wailed, "They said I was too weak to withstand it."
Her hair was tumbling down her face and the caked make-up was running down too. Her cheeks were smudged with black lines from the wet mascara and her lips were swollen from biting them hard.
"Pansy, calm dow-"
"I'LL NOT CALM DOWN! My life is over. And what will I tell Draco?" she sobbed earnestly, fat tears sliding down her cheeks, "How will I ever look at him again. Oh Merlin, my life's finished."
She rushed to Luna's side, grabbing her wrists tightly.
"You have to help me! You have to save me. Please. You are my last hope please. You can't let anyone know."
"No, you have to do it, please. Tell me you'll do it!"
Parkinson was shaking with suppressed sobs and even I felt pity for her.
"I told you Pansy, that these sorts of things are registered at the Ministry-"
"NO! You can't let that happen. You are Potter's wife. Maybe you can stop it if you-" she shook her head vigorously and finally, finally, saw me.
She broke off abruptly, staring at me with wide fearful eyes.
"Morning Parkinson," I greeted, trying to be polite.
She took a wad of tissue from her bag and moped her wet cheeks. Still shielding her eyes from me timidly, she whispered something to Luna, who frowned.
Having recovered from her theatrics, she made her way to the door, still not looking at me. It was as though my presence had been the stimulus to shut off her emotion centre. Yet, she couldn't stop the trembling of her lips as she closed the door softly behind her.
There was complete silence for a few minutes.
"Woah, that was dramatic," I breathed, "What's wrong with her?"
Luna fidgeted with her mug, looking away from my curious eyes.
At her muteness, I probed, "Is she ill?"
"Um, yeah, sort of," my friend mumbled, still staring at the table.
"What is it?" I asked, getting impatient.
"Yeah, I gathered that much. Why is she visiting you, though? There are plenty of other healers she could talk to."
"You really don't know?" she whispered, a sliver of surprise slipping into her voice, "But I thought the ceremony would warn everyone of the change."
My heart leapt and a faint dizziness overcame me.
"Yeah, she, Hermione, I'm sorry but she-"
"I don't think I should be the one to tell you. She wanted confidence."
She had begun wringing her hands.
"Are you my friend or hers? And what change is this that you are talking about?"
"She- Really, you'll come to know soon though-" she seemed to be talking to herself.
"Luna, what is the matter? Just tell me!"
She dropped her face into her hands, sighing heavily. Then, looking straight at me, she mumbled, "Pansy's with child."
A faint buzzing filled my ears. An image of Malfoy dancing with Pansy at Harry's wedding jumped to the forefront of my mind- his hands caressing her sides, over the beautiful dress she wore then. This was replaced by another image of them kissing in the garden of the Burrow when the entire marriage mess started. A plethora of reflections of the past year assaulted me, too quick to process- Pansy in her wedding dress, smiling at Malfoy, Pansy hugging him tightly at the Storm on his birthday, her brooch that he wore almost everyday with pride, she, rushing to him when Ron slapped her and him, comforting her, hugging her, whispering affectionately into her ear.
I sagged in the chair, trying valiantly to stop the hammering in my chest.
"She cheated on Ron? How could she ever do such a thing? She could have just consorted with Malfoy in public, uncaring of the consequences," I laughed hollowly, a foreign sound, "Why drag us into this mess? He talks about Malfoy morals all the time! And look at what he's done. There goes the righteousness. Hah! Family name, honour, what the hell was I thinking? The conniving, evil-"
Luna grasped my shoulder. I didn't realize that she had left her seat to stand beside me. Her eyes were swimming with confusion, brows knitted in a hard frown.
I desperately tried to quell the tears that threatened to flow.
"Hermione," she whispered, "It isn't Malfoy. The kid is Ron's."
My heart stopped and the last I remembered before falling down into an abyss of darkness was the sound of crystal breaking, yellow florets filling my last coherent thought.