Some people have asked me about the time frame of this fanfiction. I've kept it a little obscure for a reason (namely because I wasn't entirely certain myself for the first few chapters). This story can't exactly be described as canon in any way (obviously, in the actual books, Ron and Hermione didn't really start dating till 7th year, but in this fanfiction Ron has been dating and subsequently abusing her for 3 years). All the events of books 1-5 are canon in this fic (aside from a few obvious deviations). This fanfiction takes place in Hermione's 6th year. Make of that what you will (at this point in the story Hermione is of age). Just a quick nonconsequintial reply to a few questions I've received over the years. Read on!
Hermione cut out the small news print letter, and stuffed it into the front pocket of her robe. There it set for months, constantly read and reread, crumbled and uncrumpled, but never solved. Hermione poured over it again and again, each time with more frustration. She was careful never to let it fall into the wrong hands; the last thing she wanted was to be caught with it, and publically align herself with yet another coldblooded murderer.
She supposed she should be happy, with both of her terrorizers missing in action, but their absence just left her feeling out of sorts. Her entire life was altered beyond repair- some days it seemed almost as though none of it had every happened. When she sat next to Neville, or waved at Luna in the hall, it was almost as though it was the way things always were. The Golden Trio was a thing of the past, with one member wanted for murder, and the other left a recluse. The seemingly eternal torment from the Slytherins was at an end, with their ring leader's mysterious disappearance. Hermione's former life of excitement (and unfortunate "accidents"), was long gone. Yet, Hermione was far from happy, in her new normal life.
The tiny shred of paper, eternally in her pocket, chained her to her previous existence. She was haunted by answerless questions, left reading the same words over and over again. Hermione read every issue of the Prophet that had since been released, hoping for a fresh hint from Malfoy, but none came. In the back of her mind, she worried for him, as much as she loathed him. He was the first to notice the bruises, and the only one to ever truly act on his knowledge. In his own vindictive way, he'd tried to protect her, even if she hadn't appreciated it at the time. Hermione, in her heart of hearts, doubted that he was pure evil; her brain, on the other hand, knew better.
Malfoy was everything wrong in the world; the embodiment of prejudice, greed, egoism, and sin.
Yet, Hermione knew a different, hidden side to him as well. She knew he cared, on some level. He'd made that apparent, perhaps not in word, but in action.
And with the little shed of paper he had given her the answer to the question on everyone's minds: Where is Draco Malfoy?
Yet, his answer spawned yet more questions.
The paper in the pocket slowly yellowed and frayed as the months drew on without incident. As time wore on, Hermione spent more and more of her time poring over the words there. What were they? A cryptogram? Personal symbols? A kind of uncrackable code?
It was the beginning of June, and Hermione could feel Malfoy slipping through her fingers. Surely, he wouldn't wait forever for her to solve his puzzle. Some days, she wondered if he had already left the place he supposedly hid when he sent the letter. This thought didn't stop her from constantly trying to solve the unsolvable riddle.
More often than not she spent her weekends hunched over books in the library, attempting to make sense of Malfoy's note, with little success. Or, more accurately, no success at all.
The June air hit her like a warm blanket as she walked into her empty dormitory. The windows opened out into the dusky sky, as the last hint of azure lingered on the horizon. Hermione collapsed onto her mattress, exhausted from countless hours of page turning at the library. The virtual entirety of the Gryffindor house was below, celebrating the win of the House Cup (which Hermione could really care less about). She changed into her night robes, moving stiffly into their velvet embrace. The newspaper clipping never far from Hermione's reach, was carefully placed underneath her pillow as she curled up into her welcoming bed and her taut muscles relaxed into the lull of sleep.
Hermione's dreams were complex and colorful, and ever changing. One moment she was at the top of the empire state building eating boiled radishes with Luna Lovegood (which was most peculiar as Hermione loathed radishes), the next she was deep underwater wrestling with a merman who had stolen her copy of Hogwarts a History. She passed like a dancer going from partner to partner, from dream to dream. Spinning and twirling into the arms of different men in the ballroom. Her unconscious mind rested at Harry for a moment, conjuring the image of pancakes that screamed with Dobby's voice as her chewed them. Hermione's dreams flittered to Ron, a momentary nightmare, watching from far above as he and Ginny shoved her into the fireplace. Finally, Hermione's subconscious made its last rotation around the dance floor, gripping the arm of her last partner as the unconscious mind began its familiar waltz.
Very suddenly, she felt as though she'd been plunged from the warmth and comfort of her bed into a vat of icy water. Everything was suddenly very sharp, focused in a way her dreams had never been before. She peered curiously around the room, and noticed a throne made of stone, placed atop a series of steps. Hermione approached it cautiously. She glanced from side to side and found herself in a large roman temple, complete with busts of ancient gods and ornate paintings on every wall. Her pulse quickened as she approached the throne. The entire thing was covered in intricately carved snakes in varying positions. She stared into the steely eyes of a viper on the upper arm and for a moment the eyes teemed with life. They held a storm in their depths, swirling in the endless grey. They held her gaze captive, beckoning with her to come closer. Hermione hunched ever closer, and her soft fleshy nose brushed against the cold statue. The moment her skin touched the stone, the snake began to transform. The strange stirring life within its eyes exploded, encompassing its entire statuesque body. It slowly began to squirm and wither, smirking at her from behind its snaky lips. In a flash, it sprang onto her, its fangs extended, dripping with bitter poison. Venom pulsed through her veins as the snake broke the skin of her neck. Abruptly, the snake pulled away and Hermione stared at it with shock and pain radiating through her entire body. And there he stood. Blond hair sleek and shiny, silver irises wrought with malevolence, and that eternally present smirk.
Hermione awoke with a start.
Immediately she grabbed the tattered note from underneath her pillow, struggling to perceive the code's lettering in the dark.
She read it over and over again, the repetition and tediousness of the action helping to relieve her tension leftover from the nightmare. She stuffed it back into its hiding place after her heart had stopped racing.
It was a most peculiar dream. A roman temple, a snake, a fatal bite, and finally, the mysterious Malfoy. It was bizarre to say the least. She had duel trains of thought in her head, one pondering, as she always did, the meaning of the code, the other pondering the unusual dream.
'Roman temples and Draco Malfoy… how ridiculous!' she thought to herself as she pondered the X's and C's and I's of the secret message.
It hit her like a piano as she made a sudden connection.
(XII)CCXII. They weren't a code of any sort. They were roman numerals. How could she have missed something so painfully obvious?
It translated out to (12) 212.
She could only think of one place in the wizarding world in which numbers were set up in such a way, with security only second to the building in which she was standing, Gringott's bank.
Hermione had cracked a piece of the puzzle. Elation flooded through her body despite her continuing befuddlement at the seemingly random combination at the bottom.
She only knew one thing for certain: Sometime very soon she would be paying a visit to Passageway 12, Vault 212.
Yes, I do realize Gringott's isn't actually set up that way. It was originally supposed to be an actually vault number. I googled what this number would be in Roman Numerals and got (XII)CCXII. Little did I know, that when Hermoine actually was solving it, google wouldn't tell me what number it translates back to. Oops! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter and don't forget to review.