Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. They all belong to JK Rowling.
"I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." — F. Scott Fitzgerald
She felt the knot in her stomach tighten. Her eyes were trained on his ring, then his eyes in a state of shock. She saw no signs of mirth in his, but those that were tainted by a deep, dark sadness. She neither felt betrayed, nor worried, but filled with a type of confusion that followed in the footsteps of ignorance. He had said nothing and she was lost for words.
Malfoy looked away towards the woman before him— his fiancée. Astoria's hand was still held before her waiting to greet their guest, her immaculate nails contrasting with Hermione's bloody and muddied fingers and palms. A small smile on her lips. She almost felt ashamed.
"Well, Miss Black, let's get you all cleaned up. I'm sure I have something I may lend you."
Her hand clasped Hermione's now, pulling her towards her as though they were the best of friends. The young witch felt only tiredness, and had no strength to indulge in such kindness. She could sense a cold front that barred any like emotions. She simply let her gaze fall on the figure beside her.
Astoria's eyes rest lovingly on Draco, who replied with a terse, albeit tender smile in return. Malfoy looked to Hermione and his eyes hardened, the ice returning. She was slowly beginning to recognise the two faces of Draco Malfoy: the Light's scapegoat and the Dark Lord's Chosen One. His own identity was crumbling beneath the two— a man equally as lost in this dark, foreboding world as Hermione was.
He nodded, "Yes, please do. She will be our personal guest for the foreseeable future."
His voice was strung with insinuation, bitterness and a brutality. His future wife did not flinch. The dark-haired witch simply began to guide Hermione through the door. Yet before she could take one step outside the confines of the gloomy room Malfoy's imperious voice filled her ears once again.
"Be sure to bring Miss Black to me afterwards so that I may speak to her further."
Astoria nodded obediently at his request.
"Of course, my dear."
The residual image of Malfoy's sombre eyes planted itself in her mind as she trailed along the numerous hallways, the many stairs and the handful of great ebony doors. She followed behind her guide, dissecting her surroundings, but particularly the woman in front of her— the dark curl of her hair, the slenderness of her hand, the glitter of her own ring. He had said nothing to the Order about his situation. Not even a hint. She did not know the reason why, but the game had very quickly changed, and Hermione was fumbling with this revision of the rules.
Hermione had known her sister, Daphne Greengrass, a spoilt, sour-faced Slytherin who spent her time with Pansy Parkinson, the instigator of torment and chaos during their time at Hogwarts. However, in this small amount of time Hermione realised that Astoria was her antithesis. She had an innate tenderness to her speech and touch. She was a kind soul trapped in a gilt cage— evidently a prime example of her breeding, but a true beauty, nevertheless. Nobody could deny that, not even Hermione.
How on earth could they even be related? Hermione wondered.
Regardless, Astoria's apparent sweet disposition put Hermione on edge. It was a common saying amongst witches and wizards not to judge a Jarvey by its jabber, and the smartest witch of her age certainly would not. She could not and would not trust anyone, even Malfoy's intended. Even the title hung awkwardly above its owner, who spoke softly to Hermione. Whatever she said did not sink into her foggy mind. There was a dull throbbing in her back; the collar of her dress had been sufficiently ripped by Bellatrix's assault at Malfoy Manor. Her ears felt as though they were covered, only every other word that passed Astoria's lips could be heard.
She began to open to the door before them, a beam of light piercing through the darkness of the hall in which they stood, a gust of wind following. Hermione drew away, momentarily blinded. The other witch simply pulled her forward into the room. Her eyes slowly adjusted, and she could feel her heart swell in relief and mild astonishment.
The glimmering cleanliness of the tiles was evident and sunlight shone through the gauze-like curtains that danced in the wake of a breeze. It was so bright. Light had been wanting in the Order's few safe havens, but now it seemed to expose Hermione to herself— a harbinger of truth. She peered at Astoria, her dark, probing eyes made the young witch feel ill at ease. Astoria took a step towards her; Hermione took a step back in turn.
"You mustn't be afraid. You are safe now."
Reaching her arms out, she signalled for Hermione to come towards her. Briefly turning away, she snapped her fingers. With what sounded like a small crack of a whip a house elf appeared, hunched over in what was supposed to be a bow, or a courtesy, Hermione could not tell. His chin was sharp and long, bearing a resemblance to his noticeably angular and erect ears. He did not bear the softness of Dobby's features, his eyes were hollow and worn as if he had witnessed all the sufferings of the world.
"Miss Black, this is Trilby. He will be at your service while you are here. You may call on him whenever and wherever you so wish."
She smiled. Hermione thought that she responded likewise, but realised what should have looked like gratefulness must have mutated into a grimace. The blood and grim that caked her face and the moats of paleness on her cheeks the effects of her former tears. It would have to do.
Hermione turned and nodded to the elf, "Thank you."
He nodded back. Hermione's brow furrowed, perplexed by his silence. Despite being bound by servitude, house elves were always willing to speak, more of a comfort to themselves than to the masters and mistresses. It was odd.
"Why does he not speak to me?"
Astoria's eyes dimmed, her smile contorting into a slim line, "He cannot speak."
The young witch could sense something was amiss, that something was being left unsaid, but she would not pursue it further. She couldn't, however much she wished to. She was a Pureblood now. She had already been kind enough to the elf to border on the suspicious. Harmonia was not cold and heartless, but she was born amongst those who were. Hermione could not interfere.
She could not explain why but she silently hoped that it had nothing to do with the youngest Malfoy.
Turning to the house elf, Astoria gave him orders to draw the bath, to prepare the guest room, and take Hermione to Master Malfoy once she was ready. She ushered Hermione towards the edge so that she may sit, taking her hand warmly in hers, assuring her of her safety once more. She placed Hermione's wand on the side, quickly admiring its telluric detailing. She looked back to her guest, her smile resuming its usual place on her lips. Hermione shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.
Prescribing Hermione some much need rest and a good night's sleep, she closed the door behind her, the click of her shoes against the stone floors barely audible through the great door. Silence reigned.
She prised herself out of her clothes, the congealed, dried blood cracking as it broke away. She inspected her cuts and bruises; there were far too many to count. Trilby dutifully took her sullied clothes away, and left Hermione to bathe and rid herself of all the dirt and grime that clung to her skin. She scrubbed and scrubbed, making her skin raw under her ministrations. She sunk under the water, holding her breath, the eerie silence consuming her senses. Hermione needed to think, to escape already. Malfoy's words rung in her ears: I promise I will be there. He certainly was but in another form entirely. She wasn't naive enough to think that the little amicability that had grown between would remain as soon as they stepped foot outside the protection of the Order. Yet the wizard she met earlier that day was even more ruthless, playing the role of important disciple to his cause and to his master.
Suddenly, a pair of deathly, red eyes seemed to stare maddeningly into her own. The ghost of a mother flit across her closed eyelids. The death of a soul swam amongst her thoughts. A splinter dug deeper into her chest. Her hand snaked around her necklace— her only solace now. She wanted nothing more than to contact Ron and Harry, to see a little glimmer of their faces in the glass, but she couldn't. Hermione would only allow herself to use it in an emergency. Malfoy would report back to the Order when and if he could. Time was infinite. Timing was minimal.
As her hand rest against her chest, she could feel the rhythmic thump of her heart as it calmed itself in this little luxury. She rested her head against the cool marble, her burning cheeks surrendering to its chill. She heard the creak of the door, but her eyes refused to open, weighed down by fatigue. She heard the faint echo of footsteps.
Hermione briefly opened her eyes. The blood drained from her face. A dark, solitary silhouette stood in the shadow of the door, an ethereal spectre clad in black. Hermione's wet hair lay untamed against her skin, her hands clutching the rim of the bath. She instinctively sunk her body further down in the bloody and dirt-infested waters, spilling some of it on the clean floors. The water collected at the foot of the intruder, who took a step forward, his dragon-hide boots coming to rest in the muddy pool at his feet. She saw something in his eyes.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?"
"You have been in here over an hour. We have much to say and do."
Her frown deepened at his words. She tried to master her emotions, to try and keep calm. Her cheeks became red, her blond hair reacting to her torrent of emotions. Yet he simply continued to stand there, waiting.
"Get out. Now."
Anger broke down her control, the window slamming shut, the curtains' dance killed stone dead. Malfoy's eyebrows peaked in interest. He took another step towards her, causing her to flinch away.
"This is my house, Miss Black," A smirk replaced his previous seriousness, his eyes barely masking his youthful curiosity, "You really must try and control your emotions while you are here."
"Don't toy with me," She spat.
"Do not waste my time," She could hear a hiss in his voice. His face had darkened. He truly was remarkable, caught in the ever-changing waves of honesty, viciousness and offence.
He stood there watching her. Her eyes never left his. The game of choice was a battle of wits. It would never change. Where one was stubborn, the other was proud. Where one was filled with anger, the other was filled with an icy ferocity. The snake and the lion. The Slytherin and Gryffindor.
He threw a robe in her direction, the clench of his jaw, a final bid for some semblance of composure. Malfoy stiffly turned away as she stood up. Her eyes lingered on him. She watched as he stood there with his back turned, the paleness of his skin matching the whiteness of the room, the darkness of his clothes a stark contrast. Part of her wanted to go and strangle him. Instead she immersed herself in the coolness of the black silk, tying the sash in a very tight, and secure knot at her waist.
Carefully, stepping down, Malfoy turned and gazed at her.
He held a small vial in his hand, which she quickly took. She felt a mild tingling sensation in her stomach as the potion ran its course through her body. She could feel the bile rising in her throat.
"Wasn't it enough?" She asked between a few shaky breaths.
She placed the vial back in his hand, which he quickly pocketed. He sighed; an air of frustration tinged his speech.
"No. We need to make a stronger brew. Your eyes were changing."
Suddenly, the room began to spin, Hermione's vision becoming blurred and disjointed. She felt her hand grapple for something to keep her up. A cool hand grabbed a hold of hers, pulling her up. It was clasped tightly around hers, their union the only barrier between their tensed bodies. She peered up when she heard his voice.
"Let's get you a drink."
He led her through the endless, barely-lit hallways, until they reached a pair of doors that almost reached the ceiling. The carving of a small bird and the words Deus inde ego furum aviumque maxima formido weaved intricately around the top. He looked to her briefly and whispered the password. She could barely discern what he had said. The door opened without much ado, the corridor still subsumed by an immutable stillness.
Hermione's eyes widened. It was a large and beautiful circular room, full of books, tomes and scrolls. A number of comfy looking reading chairs were placed around the study. A great, claw-footed desk stood on her right, an average sized portrait hung behind devoid of its subject. The crackle of the fire filled the silence between them.
Malfoy languidly pointed to the chair facing his desk, indicating for her to sit. Hermione obeyed, proceeding to gaze around the room as he poured them each a drink from an ornate tumbler.
Walking back she saw the glint of some amber liquid in the glass, glistening in the firelight. She stared at it sceptically. He nudged it in her direction, looking pointedly at the glass.
"Take it," He said, "It's only some Firewhiskey."
Like the Polyjuice potion, she swallowed it quickly, a similar burning sensation followed. She couldn't help but cough at its effects. Malfoy just smiled above the rim of his glass as he lent casually against his desk. The quiet was glorious. She simply sat there, studying him. He observed her.
"How can you be so clam?"
Shifting from his perch, the young wizard waltzed around to his desk where a pile of open and unopened books lay. He ruffled through some papers, searching. She waited for his reply, but it was only in vain. She adjusted the fold of her robe. He was being insufferable. It was a form of passive torment he usually employed, especially throughout her few weeks of training. He wasn't avoiding her question, but merely saw it as a waste of words, unnecessary. Well, she would give him something he had no choice but to answer.
"She doesn't know, does she?"
He stopped dead, shooting her a dark, forbidding glare. His knuckles turned white as he clenched onto the book he was leafing through only moments before. He slowly placed it back on the desk, looking her straight in the eye.
"That is none of your concern."
She was very much riled by his comment. Hermione stood and forcefully placed her glass on his desk, matching his belligerent stance.
"What did you tell me about emotions, Malfoy? That they were a distraction."
He watched her carefully.
"Yes, I did."
"So, what is she? A pawn in this wonderful game like me?" She could feel every muscle in her body tense, her eyes sore, her mouth suddenly dry. Hermione's growing irritation towards Malfoy's hypocrisy had burst from her lips, Astoria as its catalyst. Her emotions were in turmoil, her thoughts becoming unfiltered and her actions less calculated. Hermione blamed the drink, but it wasn't the drink that was talking. She knew that. He did, too.
Standing tall, he moved steadily around to stop before Hermione, who stood in defiance. He took her arm in his grip, pulling her close, breathing into her ear, a lock of her blond hair fluttering against her cheek.
"Never ask me again."
He tightened his grip ever so slightly. She refused to react, watching his eyes flicker at the pain the Vow relayed from his abuse. Hermione smirked.
"Then answer my question now, so I don't have to," she whispered, her tongue flicking at her inflection.
He quickly released his hold on her arm, as if ashamed of his actions, letting his hand fall at his side. Malfoy took a step back. He looked away briefly, taking a breath, before he met her gaze, that sadness tingeing his grey eyes again. Hermione thought she could see his mother in his eyes in that moment.
"I can't, Miss Black. At least not now."
She nodded. All she wanted was a civil and direct answer, and she got it. She would wait until he saw fit to reveal the purpose of Astoria in the greater scheme of things. She knew her mission that was all— to work with Malfoy to uncover the reason for Voldemort's survival. All the known Horcrux's had been destroyed. Harry had been the last.
Malfoy believed that someone in Voldemort's inner-circle had been entrusted with the secret, not long before the Battle of Hogwarts. Despite his advancement in the ranks of his followers over the past few years, Malfoy had been an unlikely candidate at the time. Naturally it pointed at his aunt Bellatrix, but she had become as secretive as she was predisposed to violence. But there were others Hermione had been warned of, the myriad of sycophants and killers that flocked at the feet of their master: the Carrows, Dolohov, the Notts.
That final name had lodged in her throat and particularly Malfoy's. He was their schoolmate, the closest in intellect, and above all, the greatest threat to the Light winning the war. He is a dangerous man, Malfoy had said. He seeks to undermine me in some way and take the sobriquet of the Dark's Chosen One. That cannot happen. Not if we want to win.
All this had been divulged to Hermione during her training: the ins and outs, the likelihood of failure, the chance of survival. Yet the name of Theodore Nott had remained. He was the ghost that traced their every step, plan and fear. They would have to dispose of him immediately if he so much as caught the scent of their insurrection. Hermione dreaded that moment, and hoped it would never arise.
Malfoy could see where her thoughts were leading, her brain ticking over everything that had, would and could happen. Every second she was planning, as was he.
"What do you want me to do?"
Malfoy walked back to where he stood before their brief altercation, holding a cream card out to Hermione. He said nothing. Taking it she skimmed its contents, the words causing her brow to knit in confusion.
"A garden party?"
It was the furthest from what she was expecting. Malfoy smiled ruefully in response.
"Even during war, the Malfoy's always provide the best. Besides, you have been invited by the Dark Lord to attend his counsel. It is a trial, not a garden party."
Worry began to taint her now-blue eyes.
"Why? Did I make any mistakes?"
He shook his head, either in uncertainty or in incredulity at her incomprehension. He generally reacted the same way in both scenarios. A light breeze blew through the open window. The sun had set and night was apparent. There were no stars in the sky that night. A storm was brewing on the horizon.
"I don't know," A faint smile quickly graced his lips, "Although, your comment certainly piqued his interest on your arrival. I think he's curious."
She fiddled with the end of her sash, the rich, silk material running like liquid onyx through her fingers.
"Good. That's what we intended."
He took a moment to take in her new appearance. It was certainly different.
"I think you have too much faith in your abilities, Miss Black."
"You simply have too little faith in them."
He took the card from her once more, amused by her sudden confidence. The slight crease around his eyes a rarity since the start of the war. There wasn't really anything that made him smile anymore. Sitting down, he took up his quill and promptly wrote on the card. A polite response, she supposed. The candle on his desk flickered as he scribbled away, the swirl and curve of his script marking his bloodline.
"Well, we will see."
An unexpected gust of wind blew through the room. The fire expanded ever so slightly in the hearth, papers and pages rustling on the desk. The little flame fought against its siege, but lost. The light was snuffed out. Hermione and Malfoy simply stood there transfixed by its demise. The heaviness in their hearts only increased.
Author's Note: I've created a playlist, a mix of all the songs I write to and think reflect the tone of my fanfiction. There is a link to it on my blog, which you can find on my profile. Also, according to JK Rowling, a Jarvey resembles an overgrown ferret, and is capable of Human speech, although true conversation with a Jarvey is impossible. The creature uses short, usually rude, statements and phrases in an almost constant stream. And Deus inde ego furum aviumque maxima formido is from Horace's Satires. It means 'A god thus I am - to thieves and birds the greatest fear.'