AN: Originally written for the 2012 SSHG Exchange, this fic would not have been possible without the help of heartmom88 and Sixpence Jones.
With Careful Magic Caught Inside
The subtle gift, a lover's kiss,
With careful magic caught inside,
Locked away from Death's dark gaze
A moment caught in time.
There was no denying that Draco Malfoy was skulking.
It might have taken a jaunt to Azkaban and a few months of playing the unwilling host to Lord Voldemort to ruffle his father's feathers, but Malfoy the Younger could no more disguise his emotions than he could block a slap to the face.
Hermione sighed. His family had avoided a custodial sentence by the skin of their collective teeth – now was not the time to be getting up to anything untoward. Sneaking towards Knockturn Alley with a furtive expression on his face was perhaps not the best way to remain a free wizard. She stood, brushed the sandwich crumbs from her robes, and prepared to follow him down the narrow street.
She couldn't say why exactly she was following him, other than that he was so obviously about to get into quite serious trouble and that it was somehow expected of her to get him back out of it. It was the same impulse that had driven her to follow Harry, Ron and Neville on the night they had found Fluffy. It didn't matter that no one had asked for her help. As the sensible one, she was obliged to offer it.
Borgin and Burkes had a very distinctive smell. Hermione hadn't really had the time to take it all in when she had last been inside, spying on Draco Malfoy. She'd been a child then, with little idea of what she was doing. The whole place reeked of dust, beeswax, magic and the sour scent of decay.
Her quarry was hovering by a display case, throwing the occasional glance to the counter where the greasy looking proprietor was examining a tray of jewellery through his pince-nez. Even with his back to her, it was easy to read the tension in Draco's posture. His shoulders were hunched and his knuckles gleamed white as his fingers flexed about the handle of a battered leather bag held uneasily at his side. He looked as if the slightest noise might spook him into flight.
Last time she'd rushed in without a plan. He was unlikely to react well to any intervention on her part. She ought to lull him into feeling secure . . .
"Draco Malfoy, whatever you are about to do, I would strongly suggest that you change your mind and make your way back home."
She still hadn't quite got the hang of dissembling.
Draco turned to face her, his pale, pinched face alive with fear, clutching the bag to his chest. Oddly, on seeing her, some of the tension seemed to leave his eyes.
He almost looked relieved to have been caught.
"Give that to me," she demanded, gesturing to the bag. Draco was touching it with his bare hands and he was too much of a coward to put himself at risk. If there was any danger, it came from whatever was sealed safely away inside the leather. He hesitated, clearly torn between wanting to placate a Ministry worker and telling her to mind her own business.
She narrowed her eyes, held out her hand and watched as the fight went out of him. He handed it over sullenly, not quite meeting her eyes. The bag was light enough to be empty; whatever was inside had been spelled weightless and silent. Draco had taken every precaution against being caught.
"What's in here?" For the first time she questioned the good sense in becoming involved in whatever Draco had planned. If there was anything truly dangerous or disgusting in the bag, then she could well end up answering questions for the Aurors in Draco's stead. Of all the possible scenarios in which she might end up once more sitting across a table from Ron, being handcuffed to her chair was probably the least likely to persuade him that she had moved on with her life and was doing just fine without him.
"Can I help you with anything?" Borgin was apparently no longer content with eavesdropping from across the counter and was now hovering solicitously at her elbow. Hermione ignored him.
Draco's eyes flicked from her to Borgin and back again, before allowing them to rest on the bag in her hand. "I can't—"
"Ah, Draco, there you are."
Hermione whirled round to see Lucius Malfoy leaning against a door that she hadn't even heard open. He was looking past her, towards his son, but Hermione was certain that his attention rested on her alone. He seemed to have recovered considerably from his travails during the war and was looking almost as pristine as he had that first afternoon in Diagon Alley when he had insulted her parents. In fact, he seemed as calm and relaxed as Draco seemed ready to shake into pieces. Like the Malfoy who had lain in wait for them at the Department of Mysteries.
She felt a moment of pure panic.
Draco had never been much of a threat, even when his plans had run to murder, and Borgin was little more than a fawning salesman. The presence of Mr Malfoy, however, was a sudden reminder that she was alone in the company of three pureblooded wizards, all of whom had suffered losses since the war.
She tightened her grip on the bag's handle and drew her fingers up into her sleeve to where her wand was concealed. His wand might have been confiscated by the Wizengamot, but she was less than comfortable having him between her and the exit.
The sudden tension was defused when Draco broke the silence with a whine. "I was going to, Father, I swear." Hermione resisted the urge to face him and watched with interest as some of the self-assurance slipped from Lucius' face. Draco carried on, "I had no idea that Granger was going to—"
He stalled to an abrupt halt as his father raised his hand for silence. "But—"
"Draco," Lucius admonished, clearing his throat. "Come, we'll discuss this at home. Good day, Mr Borgin." He nodded in her direction, just the slightest dip of his chin. "Miss Granger."
Hermione watched with narrowed eyes. Although Lucius was letting her get her way, she couldn't help but feel some anger on Draco's side. Surely the younger Malfoy no longer allowed his father to dictate to him in such an overbearing manner?
For a moment it seemed like Draco would argue, but his head dropped and he moved away from Hermione to his father's side.
She sighed. Sometimes it seemed as if nothing had changed. They left the shop in silence, Lucius Malfoy without a backwards glance, while Draco threw a last furtive look in her direction before slinking away after his father.
Hermione stared after them, wondering what had just transpired. Draco had been about to carry out some unsavoury task, doubtlessly at his father's behest. So why would Lucius reveal himself in such a politically dangerous part of town, especially to her? Had he been solely motivated by thoughts of protecting his son? Or had Draco already fulfilled his role in failing to deliver the bag to Borgin and surrendering it to her instead?
"Can I help Madam with anything?" Borgin was still at her side, his cold eyes at odds with his obsequious, oily voice. Hermione thought that she might have preferred him when he was hustling her out of his shop.
"No, thank you," was her clipped reply.
"Not even with . . . that?" He nodded discreetly towards her hand and Hermione felt her heart sink.
She was still holding the leather bag.
She had the unhappy feeling that, somehow, she had been royally stitched up.
Hermione felt a little uncomfortable using Mr Borgin's business Floo, but a whole lot less uncomfortable than she would have felt carrying the battered leather bag through the streets and back to the Ministry. Instead, she took the thing home, locked it in a carefully warded cupboard and Apparated back to work.
The obvious course of action was to take the damn thing straight to the Aurory. The amnesty on Dark Artefacts had ended some months ago and it could possibly spell the end of her fledgling career if she was found to have such a thing in her possession, yet, for various reasons, she couldn't bring herself to turn over the bag.
The first reason was fairly noble. She had followed the reluctant-looking Draco with the firm intention of preventing him from landing himself squarely back in trouble, and only the worst sort of sneak would then turn around and hand him over to the authorities. The second reason was less easy to define, but it had something to do with the way Lucius Malfoy had appeared, wandless and unprotected, the moment Draco had handed over the bag.
Actually, thinking about it, he'd only appeared once she had demanded to know what was inside. Which – if you had spent your youth twisting from one plot to the next and were understandably a little twitchy as a result – might suggest that maybe he'd wanted her to have the thing in the first place, but didn't wish his son to reveal what it was. That, if anything, was actually a pretty compelling reason for heading straight to the authorities.
So why did she feel as if she shouldn't?
Hermione headed straight to her office, sat at her desk, and pulled her papers towards her. Ten minutes later she pushed them aside with a groan.
Of course, the underlying reason for not visiting the Aurors would be admitting that somehow she had allowed herself to be caught up in a Malfoy plot. Not only that, but that she had willingly involved herself in one. Harry would use the look that suggested, for all her cleverness, that she was rather lacking in common sense. Ron would look at her in pity.
That final thought was so awful that she made her mind up there and then. Whatever was in that bag had – possibly – been intended for her. If it was dangerous, she would dispose of it. If it was cursed, she would seek out her own justice. And if it was some sort of message – some sort of belated apology – well, she would just have to deal with that as well. Perhaps there was some convoluted Slytherin logic at play, perhaps not.
Perhaps it was just an awful lot of coincidence with a bit of Malfoy opportunism thrown in for good measure. It was enough to give her a headache. One thing, however, was clear: whatever it was, she would be the one to find out.
She stared at the bag.
Cave Malafides dona ferentes. Was that right? Beware of Malfoys bearing gifts. It irritated her to this day that there had been no formal training in Latin given at Hogwarts, despite it being the base language for so many of the spells they were expected to learn. Surely understanding what a spell meant would go a long way to understanding how they worked. If Harry had the slightest idea what Sectumsempra meant, would he ever have used it, even in a duel?
She stared at the bag some more. Really, it was rather cool, like an old Gladstone bag, complete with a thick leather strap and brass buckle. Had she seen it in a second hand shop, she would have been tempted to buy it. The old leather was soft and buttery to the touch. It was just an Undetectable Extension Spell away from being the perfect work bag . . .
Finally, curiosity winning out over good sense, she tapped her wand against the heavy looking buckle and watched as the wide strap slithered free.
There was no rush of magic, no eerie gasp of air.
She leaned forwards and peered inside.
Of all the things she had feared to find, this certainly had not been one of them. There was no blood, for a start. No mewling, hissing Dark Lord reborn. Nothing at all Horcruxy.
Neither was there any gold. Not that she'd been hoping for a reward.
Instead, there was . . . there was . . .
Rather than catching the thing she directed it with her wand to settle on the coffee table next to yesterday's newspaper.
It was an ugly, oversized Tiffany lamp, all stained glass and beaded droplets. It was like something she might have found in her Aunty Lou's house in Brighton, crammed between the art deco figurines and the ceramic Airedale Terriers.
What had Malfoy been doing with it? Surely Narcissa would never allow something like this in the Manor? The place may have been all ostentatious chandeliers and gaudy gold leaf, but the woman clearly had some sense of style, even if it was trapped in late 18th Century Versailles.
Hermione couldn't shake the feeling that somehow she had been set up. Draco hadn't appeared to notice her as he had crept towards the shop and he'd looked devastated when he had seen her, but his father's arrival had made her suspicious. It wasn't as if Lucius Malfoy hadn't been willing to use his son to further his interests in the past. He'd let him take the Mark when just a child. Tricking him into delivering something to her wouldn't have caused him the slightest quiver of scruples.
Determined to find the answer, she raised her wand once more.
Wandering into the kitchen, Hermione filled the kettle, switched it on and went in search of a clean mug. By the time the kettle boiled she had given up on the idea and poured herself a large glass of wine instead.
Say the lamp hadn't been intended for her. Say Lucius Malfoy had simply been interested in retrieving his son from a potentially compromising situation. Say that . . . that . . .
What was is that made this lamp special? She had already tried every Dark Arts detection spell she could think of – and having helped the boys revise for their Auror exams, that was more than a few – but none of them had revealed anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps this was just an ordinary, albeit garish, lamp.
By the end of the bottle, the lamp had ceased to bother her. For all she knew, the Malfoys had been determined to get rid of the thing simply because it was so damned ugly and obviously Muggle. She settled down to watch television, the dilemma over.
It was dark when the sudden noise of adverts woke her, just the blue-green light of the television to illuminate the room. She blinked in confusion, her eyes dry and her mouth dryer. The flickering of the screen reflected off the wine bottle. Really, when had she got to the point where she would drink an entire bottle by herself, especially on a weeknight?
She sat up cautiously, her back aching from the odd angle in which she had slumped. What time was it?
Hermione shook her head to clear it of the last tendrils of her dream, the scent of blood and vinegar still clinging to her waking mind. Her wand forgotten on the coffee table, she leaned forward to reach for the lamp switch. Her fingers brushed the neck of the lamp, searching aimlessly for the catch. Cobweb caught on her fingers. She wiped them against the sturdy base, frowning at the sticky, dusty mess that refused to shift.
She froze, the tips of her fingers still touching the overworked, ostentatious bronze, before snatching her hand away. There had been the faintest tremble beneath her hand, like the promise of an earthquake.
Stumbling back, she caught her knee on the coffee table as she scrambled for her wand. How had she let herself be caught without it?
Suddenly there was a coiling rush of black smoke streaming from the lamp, twisting up to the ceiling, then curling back down to tower over her.
It reminded her of the awful spinning as a Boggart slid into a new form to inspire terror, and she was certain that she was about to come face to face with Bellatrix Lestrange. Or a dead Harry, lying prone in Hagrid's arms. Or Ron, his face twisting into distaste as he walked away from her for a second time.
She struggled to her feet, determined to blast the creature with the strongest Ridikulus this side of the DADA classroom, when the smoke began to draw back and coalesce. Hermione held her wand out in front of her and waited for the worst, her mind already spinning through possible counter-scenarios; Bella's wig might fall off, Harry was play acting, Ron was . . . Ron was . . .
Thankfully, she never had to find a way to make Ron's betrayal the least bit humorous as the smoke formed into a different shape all together.
It was Snape.
That was . . . unexpected.
At first, she was too confused to notice that the feeling of dread one normally associated with a Bogart was missing. She didn't fear the apparition in front of her. Had he been lying in the dust, blood pooling beneath him, then he would have been the stuff of nightmares. But whole and hale? Snape the man had ceased to frighten her once Harry had shared the truth of his dismal story.
She watched the apparition carefully through narrowed eyes. There was something not right with the image, even if one overlooked the fact that she had watched Severus Snape die almost a year before. Her dreams had recounted the event often enough for her to be certain of that fact.
No, this was not the Professor Snape she had last seen crumpled on the dirty floor of the Shrieking Shack, his blood seeping sluggishly through the dust, but the tall, domineering figure she remembered from her first Potions lesson. Raven black hair and sweeping black robes. There was a glint of gold at his neck.
She folded her arms over her chest, her wand gripped carefully in her hand, the tip pointing in his direction.
"What are you?"