The Girl from D.R.a.C.o.M.C.
The murmur of voices in the office fell in volume until there was complete quiet. The silence had spread like a wave from the door. I didn't look up; I didn't need to. It was Friday, the end of my third week in my new job, my first ever job, and I was already used to the silent stir my friends created by simply entering the department where I work.
'Lunchtime, Hermione,' Ron called across the room. 'C'mon, put down that quill and we'll get some fresh air. It's a nice day. We can have a picnic in the park.'
There was no point in arguing. On my very first day at work, Harry and Ron had arrived in my office and dragged me out to lunch. That first day, they had been met by gasps of awe and admiration. Harry had obviously hated it. Despite their reception, one or both of them had met me for lunch every day since then. You would think that the other junior clerks in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures would be used to their regular appearances, but apparently not.
D.R.a.C.o.M.C. (or "Draco M C" as Ron has insisted on calling it ever since he saw the abbreviation on my files) was a small department. I worked in the Being Division, a division not much bigger than the Auror Office. From what I could see, we had more staff and less work than the Aurors.
I was starting at the bottom, almost. The Minister's recommendation was that – because of my NEWT results (eight Outstandings) – I could start as a Senior Administrative Officer. However, this advice had not been accepted by the Head of the Being Division, Magnus Hodges. He'd wanted me to start as an Administrative Assistant, a low-grade post usually filled by people with few (or even no) OWLs. They had compromised, and I was beginning my career as an Administrative Officer. I would have to earn a promotion. That would be difficult with Ron and Harry preventing me from working through my lunchtimes.
I welcomed the chance to see my friends for lunch. We'd been doing it for years (apart from last year when I was back at school). I missed them both so much last year. Being able to see Ron almost every day at lunch time was wonderful, even if it did interfere with my work.
There was so much which needed to be done, but Hodges was not interested in my suggestions about reorganisation or house-elf legislation.
'You need to learn how things work in the Ministry before you begin to suggest changes,' he told me at the end of my first week. Hodges refused to even discuss the issue of werewolf reclassification. 'It has been revisited far too many times and besides, it is a matter for the Beast Division, not us,' he said.
I spoke to the Head of the Beast Division the following Monday. She, of course, said that it was our problem.
Harry suggested that I simply write the reports anyway. That's what he does in the Auror Office; he writes up his suggestions, sends them to Robards and copies them to the Minister. It annoys Head Auror Robards, but it works. Hodges, however, was piling work on me, and as Harry and Ron kept dragging me out to lunch every day, and Ron refused to allow me to work late, it was difficult for me to find the time to write anything other than what Hodges wanted. I considered arguing with the boys (I wondered if I'd still think of Harry and Ron as "the boys" in another ten years). If I had just one day a week to work through lunch and catch up it would be useful. But I knew that I'd never win ithat/i argument with Ron, so I picked up my bag and went out to lunch with my boyfriend and my best friend.
When I got back to the office after lunch there was an additional file and an unaddressed envelope on my desk. Hodges had passed even more paperwork over to me. I had no doubt that he wanted me to be too busy to look at anything else. One of the other clerks, Helen, had warned me that Hodges didn't like me.
'He thinks that you want to make changes,' she'd confided.
'He's right,' I told her.
'The only way you'll make changes here is if you blow up the entire office and half the staff,' she said. 'It's easiest just to do your work and keep quiet.'
I hadn't, of course. Yesterday I had drafted a short memorandum requesting Hodges to allow me time to write a full report on the legislative changes needed to safeguard the rights and freedoms of our fellow sentient beings. He had, it seemed, simply decided to pile more work on me instead.
The file included a note from Mr Hodges requesting me to re-investigate the correspondence. It was an old complaints file about the smells emanating from a Ministry sanctioned troll refuge. The complaint about "noxious odours" was from a wizard who lived ten miles away. I read the files and soon realised that the complaint was five years old and had been investigated, dismissed and had subsequently been through every possible Ministerial appeal procedure. Now, apparently, I was expected to begin the investigation again.
The reinvestigation was a complete waste of my time. There seemed to be no reason for this case to be reopened. I put down the file, opened the envelope and looked inside. It contained nothing but a business card. I could not read it, so I tipped it out onto my hand. The second it touched my palm, there was a blue light and I felt myself being transported by Portkey. I tried to grab the card so that I could reverse the spell, but I was too slow. The spell was already pulling me through space to an unknown destination. Grateful that I always keep my wand in my pocket, I reached for it and prepared myself for an arrival in a potentially hostile environment.
They were on me in seconds.
Fortunately (in retrospect) the first one to reach me kicked out with a hairy club foot. I managed to partially shield the blow. It broke a couple of ribs, but also knocked me out from the centre of the huddle of angry creatures. They were fast, much faster than I expected, and although my fire spell slowed them down, it didn't stop them.
I tried to ignore the pain from my cracked ribs and concentrated on staying alive, which wasn't easy. My breathing was laboured and difficult, and I had only moments to escape. I conjured two walls of fire, one inside the other. Once that was done, I Transfigured a flat rock into a steel table which I then enlarged. I then fixed the table to the ground with a permanent sticking charm. By the time I'd done that, they were through my second wall of fire and I was forced to quickly conjure a third one. That slowed them down a little. I sat on the twenty foot square table and extended the four solid steel legs, making them thirty feet tall. I was just in time. They were through my third wall of fire and hammering at the legs of my refuge.
Four hours later, I had healed my wounds and cleaned my clothes. I was safe, secure and ready to leave. The only problem was, how?
I knew exactly where I was. I was on an Unplottable island which was also under a Ministry-controlled Fidelius Charm. The entire place was also covered by a Ministry-installed anti-Apparition spell. Despite the fact that Professor Dumbledore made Portkey creation look easy, it isn't. The moment I realised where I was, I knew that I could not create a Portkey to escape anyway.
The Portkey Office, at the request of my boss, had put a Portkey-prevention spell on this place only a week ago. They had done it, at considerable effort and expense, "in order to prevent any accidental escapes of dangerous creatures." They had done this despite the fact that no creature has ever escaped from this island. Magnus Hodge's action had made escape impossible. I was trapped.
I looked down at the snarling beasts beneath me. Huge hairy starfish shaped monsters they scampered back and forth and looked up longingly. They had tried, and failed, to climb up onto the platform I had conjured for myself. I had tried dozens of spells to drive the creatures away from the platform, but without any success. Most spells simply bounced off them.
I could not stay here forever. Eventually, I would starve to death. Something seemed to be blocking my message-Patronus, too. Whoever had trapped me here had done a very good job. They probably thought that I was dead already.
Ron and Harry would be trying to find me. I was certain of that. But how could they? I sat on the large, flat platform I'd created for myself and cried in frustration. I wished that Ron was with me; he would comfort me, if nothing else. I wondered if he knew that I was missing and, if he did, what he was doing. The Portkey must have been unauthorised, so the Portkey Office would have detected it and sent someone to investigate, but they wouldn't be able to detect the destination, not as the island was under the Fidelius Charm. I wiped my tears and tried to concentrate.
'Oh, Ron, what should I do?' I asked myself. I spoke aloud, simply to hear something other than the snarls and growls of the creatures below me. Ron didn't answer, of course.
Not immediately, anyway; it took almost a minute before he arrived in a blue light.
'It's about time!' he announced grumpily as I clambered to my feet and ran across to hug him. 'I was staring to get really worried about you, Herm… mmm…'
I kissed him, and my name became a pleasurable nasal moan.
'How on earth did you find me?' I asked as he held me tightly. His long arms enveloped and entwined me. I'd grabbed him, too, my arms around him and my hands on his spine as I pulled myself into his chest. I nestled in closely so that I could hear the comforting sound of his heartbeat through his shirt. He was always there when I needed him.
'With the Deluminator, of course! I've been waiting for you to say my name ever since you vanished. I was starting to get really worried; I thought that you might be…' he stopped, unable to say the word. I felt him shaking; he had been desperately worried about me I realised.
The Deluminator! Of course! I should have remembered it, and realised that it would work because we'd been separated.
'Anyway, where are we and why are you still here?' he demanded.
'We are on the Isle of Drear,' I told him, pointing over the edge of the platform.
'Wow, Quintapods! Cool!' exclaimed Ron, 'I always thought that they were just a legend. But – they're supposed to be really dangerous. How did you get away from them?'
'The Portkey took me into the heart of their nest and most of my spells seemed to bounce off them. They're fast and vicious, but I … I managed to get away and I held them off and conjured this platform as a refuge. They can't climb. They are five club feet and a mouth, not much else. I've been here ever since,' I told him.
'I'm surprised that you haven't re-Transfigured them back into people by now Hermione,' he teased.
'I tried. It took me a couple of hours to Transfigure the smallest one, because they really did not want to be changed,' I admitted with a shudder. 'But I undid the Transfiguration straight away.'
'Remember what Harry told us about the Gaunts, about … how they looked … inbred and degenerate? Well, this lot have been…'
'Interbreeding on the island for at least a couple of centuries,' Ron finished my sentence for me. He shuddered. I simply nodded and kept holding him.
'I told you that you should've joined the Auror Office, Hermione. Working for a Department called Draco MC is just daft and dangerous. Our security is much better than theirs.' He grinned and winked.
'Talking of Draco, these MacBoons – were they even uglier and stupider than Malfoy?' he asked mischievously.
I smiled and nodded. 'They're not really people, Ron, not after all these centuries.'
'At least the Weasleys'll never end up like that; inbred, degenerate purebloods! It looks like Perce's going to be the only one who will keep the Weasley bloodline pure,' Ron observed.
'Wanna practice?' he added hopefully.
'Ron, we're on top of a conjured platform and surrounded by dangerous monsters. It's hardly the time or place. We need to plan our escape and find out who trapped me here.'
'We've done that already. It was your Head of Section, Hodges. He didn't like the idea of having a…' he hesitated.
'Filthy Mudblood?' I asked.
'…working for him,' Ron completed. 'His words, not mine, but yes. That's why he resisted the Minister's suggestion that you get a more senior post. He's been giving you rubbish to work on. He was investigated after the Battle, but he hadn't been involved in Umbridges Anti-Muggle-born purges. It seems he didn't need to, he'd always kept his division Pureblood, and no one had ever bothered to check.'
'How did you find out?' I asked. He finally released me from his hug.
'That was Harry's idea. Did you know that these little line things,' he released me from his hug and pointed at the tips of his fingers, 'are different on everybody in the world?' He sounded amazed by the knowledge.
'Fingerprints,' I told him, 'everyone knows that.'
'Harry did, but he was the only one. Muggles know some really weird stuff, don't they? So, anyway, Harry did something with that empty envelope on your desk and checked the fingers of everybody in your office. He proved that Hodges was the only person who'd touched the envelope, apart from you. We got your fingery-prints from that holiday photo of us you've got on your desk,' he said. His lips curled up into a smile.
'We found a lip print on it, too,' he said smugly.
'Why didn't you use the Portkey card to find me?' I asked, trying to ignore his self-satisfied smirk.
'Hodges had vanished it. One of the other clerks, a little fat girl … Helen, I think she was called … told me that after we'd arrested him' he said.
'Perhaps you should check her lips against that photo on my desk,' I said. 'I think she fancies you.'
He laughed and shook his head, 'Nice try, but I don't believe you. There was lipstick, too and it was your colour.'
Ron is becoming worryingly observant. 'Where is Hodges now?' I asked, changing the subject.
'He's in an Auror Office interview room, being interrogated by Harry and Head Auror Robards. I wanted to do the interrogation, but Harry wouldn't let me,' Ron added with a vindictive growl.
Looking at the violent anger in his lovely blue eyes, I knew why. Harry could detach himself, unless of course, Ginny was involved. Ron would have done something stupid, something desperate.
'When I heard you call my name I left immediately, and the git still hadn't told them where he'd sent you,' Ron concluded.
'I hope that they crack him soon, Ron. Otherwise, we'll both be trapped here,' I said. He just grinned.
'Nope, why d'you think Harry's not here with me?' Ron pulled his watch from his pocket and checked the time. 'About now,' he said.
'Ron, I hope that you've found her,' Harry's voice came from Ron's pocket almost the second Ron finished speaking. Ron winked at me, pulled out the Deluminator and clicked it. I looked at the blue ball of light hovering in front of us.
'That's brilliant, Ron,' I blurted.
'I have my moments, you know,' he said conceitedly. He's insufferably superior when he's right.
'But Portkeys won't work, I've tried. The Portkey Office has made this island Portkey-proof … because Hodges asked them to,' I said.
'Evil git,' Ron pronounced. 'But you're forgetting something, this isn't a Portkey, not exactly, it's a Dumbledore special that acts a bit like a Portkey. We'll soon find out who's cleverer, the Portkey Office or Dumbledore. My money's on Dumbledore.
'You can thank me properly when we get home. Oh, and Harry wants to talk to us about that Portkey-card Hodges used on you too. We were wondering if we could use the Deluminator magic with our Auror identity cards to make some sort of Portcard system to get dozens of Aurors to one location, a sort of instant ambush.' He looked down at me hopefully.
'You'll help us, won't you?' he asked.
'Of course, but we'd better go, or else Harry will worry,' I told him. I wondered whether the Portcard was his idea, or Harry's.
He slid his arm around my waist, held me tightly, and side by side we stepped up to the blue light.