Chapter Sixteen: Getting Out Again

Before leaving, Lucius stepped over and picked up the torch that lay, still burning of course, near the exit and brandished it with one hand while he continued to hold Hermione's hand with the other. The two moved forward with great caution, using Pussy's eyes as well as their own to navigate their way back up toward the top.

"We've got a problem," Pussy announced. "The exit is blocked by five very determined looking men, all wearing those funny gold masks.

"Death Eaters," Lucius growled. "They must be thinking to keep us down here. But if I don't miss my guess, they've flooded the lower caves as well. Even with the best of spells we'd have to be able to breathe down there for at least an hour to make it out the other side. This way is still the best."

"But how are we going to get past that many Death Eaters who don't want us to leave?" Hermione asked with a worried frown.

"My darling, I'm afraid we're going to have to fight," Lucius replied.

"There is another thought," said Hermione in stilted tones. "Perhaps you could live if if you let them have me."

"What kind of talk is that?" he gasped, shock and disgust congealing in his gut.

"You are a Pureblood, Lucius," she said softly. "It's not really you they've got a quarrel with. I I'd hate to think I'd gotten you killed just because I'm a Mudblood "

"Hermione Granger, I don't ever want to hear that word from your mouth again," he growled fiercely as he turned and pulled her into his arms. "Now, you must stop this. I may have been a right bastard in the past, but that man doesn't exist anymore. I'd sooner cut out my own heart than let them harm you."

"I've had the most awful thought, Lucius," Hermione said then. "Kingsley is dead. How do we know how many people we're actually going to have to fight? They could have taken over the world while we were down here for all we know."

"Now you're just being silly," Lucius said. "McNair could no more take over the world than Ronald Weasley."

In spite of herself, the vision of an overly zealous Ron barging into the Ministry with a maniacal laugh and demanding all the Aurors to stand down and submit to him flashed through her mind, making her laugh hysterically. Seeming to catch her thoughts, Lucius joined in, and then they both realized that it was Pussy who was providing the entertainment as the cat began rolling about on her back and kicking up her legs.

"We must stop this foolishness," Lucius tried to say. "This isn't getting us any closer to the door."

"Perhaps it's better to die laughing," Pussy commented, and they all sobered rather quickly afterwards. With no more spoken words, they all started walking again. Very soon they were quite near their destination.

"Pussy, you take the lead and try to distract them," Lucius said. "They won't be expecting you. Hermione, we shall approach from opposite sides of the hall. Spreading out should at least divide their attentions. Kiss me first, though. I want to remind myself how much I want to live."

"Me, too," she whispered as her lips touched his. They stood that way for a minute or two, unable to let each other go as they continued to taste.

"Time to go, humans," said the cat. "The natives are getting restless."

Enacting the plan as Lucius had stated, they moved forward. At first none of the Death Eaters seemed to notice Pussy at all, so she moved forward and began to rub at the ankles of the man in the middle. He bent down and picked her up.

"Here, what the devil is a cat doing down here?" he said as he started to pet her.

"That think looks more like a rat to me," another man scoffed, making Pussy hiss at his insult.

"You've gone and hurt her feelings, Paulie," said the first Death Eater. "I'm sure this fancy kitty's blood is every bit as pure as our own."

"That thing's a bleedin' cat, you moron," Paulie insisted. "Besides, I think it belongs to Malfoy and his filthy little Muddy."

"Well then, perhaps I'll keep her myself," he said. "After all, those two won't be needing a cat once we get through with them."

Pussy hissed again when she heard this, and launched an all-out assault with her sharp claws. Her companions took their cue from this, stepping out of the shadows as the man began to run about, trying to shake the feline off. His antics definitely distracted the other men, so that both Hermione and Lucius were able to curse one Death Eater each. Lucius killed his foe, while Hermione simply wrapped hers in Devil's Snare.

"Don't waste your time with sympathy here, 'Mione," Lucius told her. "They would not spare you."

Hermione held her tongue, but her irritation was plainly visible as she aimed her wand at a second Death Eater, holding him there while Lucius dispatched another. "Don't kill them all, Lucius. We need to keep one to interrogate."

"Quite right," he agreed. "Let's keep the cat lover. I'm sure Pussy would love to give him the once over."

"You're forgetting that you've still got to contend with me," snarled the final Death Eater as he surged forward to meet them. He pulled his mask off, and both Lucius and Hermione gaped in surprise.

"Greyback? You're alive?" Lucius gasped.

"Never mind that," he said. "I've been asked to make you dead, and that's what I mean to do. To hell with your blood status crap, or which of your people sits in the Ministry, or any of that, I just want to get paid. That makes me the perfect choice for this thing."

"You've got to be kidding," Lucius groaned. "Then I take it McNair was not in charge either?"

"Oh, he fancied himself to be, no doubt," Fenrir growled with amusement. "But this thing goes even further than that. Not that either of you will be around to see what happens next."

"Done interrogating," said Lucius, and sent a wordless killing curse at the werewolf, who blocked it at the last moment. The distraction worked well enough, however, for Lucius and Hermione to step around and collect Pussy from the other man's back as they ran for the door.

With an angry growl, Fenrir began a hot pursuit.