You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


Betray the Night by Violet Gryfindor

Format: Novella
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 10,540
Status: Abandoned

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Hermione, Draco, OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/Hermione

First Published: 08/25/2008
Last Chapter: 05/16/2010
Last Updated: 05/16/2010

Summary:
Fantastic banner by Alora!

After an investigation into death of a house elf goes wrong, Hermione Weasley finds herself trapped in Malfoy Manor, threatened by an infectious disease. With Draco Malfoy as her only hope for survival, she soon finds that the disease is the least of her worries.


Chapter 1: Chapter the First
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter the First

All was well, but only for so long. The seed of discontent grows swiftly, taking root in the hearts of those too used to the sweet taste of adventure, and of danger. The bearers of these hearts cannot rest, cannot look upon their successes with more than a passing nod – they cannot be allowed to rest. Their minds are overtaken with the memories of what had been, and whatever has happened since falls to the wayside.

It was a life of contentment for two-thirds of the wondrous Golden Trio, but for the third, the world was becoming a place of banality, of a great and bitter boredom that ate at the soul. At first, it was nothing more than a twinge in the furthest reaches of her consciousness. Once in a while, she would stop in her daily routine of work and motherhood, remembering some event or another in the distant past, but it never took long for her to become distracted by something or other. What did she need to complain about, anyways? She had her children – too quickly becoming older, in her opinion – and also her job – too quickly becoming more than she could handle, not that she’d ever admit it – as well as her husband... well, not that she’d seen him this past month, not with the Aurors having sent him and Harry out to Albania.

But Hermione Weasley was perfectly pleased with her life, of course. There was nothing to criticise at all. An Auror husband, two children, nice house, successful career....

Thinking this, and mostly convincing herself of its truth, she would continue on with her life until the next moment arrived, each arriving sooner than the previous. Dreams of those who had died, and those who might as well have, increasingly haunted her nights, so that no part of her day was free of the discontent.

“Mummy, can you help me?” Hugo’s eyes were impossibly wide as he held up his knotted-up shoe. Already six, he just couldn’t get the laces to work in his clumsy hands, just like those of his father.

Impatience bubbled in Hermione’s mind, but she took the shoe from his hands with a forced smile. “Of course, dearest. Now watch closely how I do this....”

He grinned when he finally got the hang of knotting his own shoes, and it reminded her too much of how Ron had been back when they’d first met. First year, when he’d insulted her for being smarter than him and a girl; when they’d fallen together as friends so naturally; when she had saved his and Harry’s lives a good number of times, and they had saved hers.

Where were they now, she wondered? Maybe she should have become an Auror too, if only to experience that partnership, that perfection of having an adventure with those whom you loved and who loved you in return. They could be dashing across the mountains of Transylvania after dark wizards, hearts pounding with the thrill of the chase. Nights spent under the stars, just like it had been in their seventh year....

The doorbell rang, clanging through Hermione’s ears.

She checked her watch. Still fifteen minutes until she had to leave, but it had to be Ginny coming to collect the children for their trip to the Scamanders’s. She tried not to feel the prick of envy for Ginny’s situation – the new job that allowed her to actually spend time with her family instead of always carting them off to this relative or another. It seemed that of all the old group, Hermione was the most hard-working witch, not that such a fact would have surprised anyone but Hermione herself. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had been on holiday, whether with her family or with Ron. They’d both been so engrossed in their careers that everything else just fell to the wayside, including their children.

And now Ginny was here, yet Hermione had no idea where Rose could have gotten to. Hugo was beside her, giving her one last embrace before leaping across to catch hold of Ginny’s outstretched hand.

Another flash of envy. The aunt more a favourite than the mother?

“Rose! It’s time to go!” She called up the staircase, anger swelling in her chest.

The only response was a muffled reply from the loo. Probably still working on her hair, great bushy locks of auburn that, according to Rose, required constant attention. Just one week spent with the Delacour women and now her daughter could hardly look away from a mirror without wondering how her hair was sitting or if her freckles were out of place. At least spending time with Luna’s family would make her think of other things, even if they were Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.

An exasperated sigh released itself from Hermione’s tight lips. Were neither of her children going to be like her? Or would they both be bloody Weasleys? The gene pool on his side was unfortunately prevalent.

As though she could read her friend’s mind, Ginny laid a gentle hand on Hermione’s arm.

“I’ll wait for her.” With a smile, she added, “All the Weasleys are late to bloom, Hermione. Remember what Ron was like?”

Those parting words hit hard. How could she forget? Impatience, work, too much, all of it stood in the way of the things Hermione had been, making her into the person she no longer wanted to be. Hate, love, and hate again, but always mixed with love.

Maybe it wasn’t such a surprise that Ron was always away, not with a wife like her.

With a small nod, and another hug for her son, Hermione disappeared into the rising fog. It blanketed everything in its thick, downy mist that reminded her of the cool comforts of the moors, without the noise and ticking clocks that haunted her every minute. The children were going there now, to the place where Luna currently lived with her fiancee. Idyllic was the only word for it.

A motorcar rushed past, splashing puddlewater. Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Clean robes no longer, nor clean shoes, clean cloak, or anything clean. Only dirt could exist here. Dirt and noise and time and busy lives. No emotion allowed.

Yet why was she so filled with all these emotions? The sudden anger, the strengthening desire, neither was characteristic of her usual self. She did not have the time to dwell on them all day; there were too many other things to do. Silly thoughts, utterly impractical.

Another car passed, and she knew she’d be late.

It seemed that, today, she would relish the long walk into the City. The visitor’s entrance would do well enough, the mist having wetted her through. Damn weather. It was like the sun never shone these days. She glowered all the way to the Ministry, hands stuffed deep in her pockets as she shoved her way into the telephone booth.

She had to peel her cloak off after reaching the Ministry offices. They were clean, efficient, and utterly without character, not that she ever noticed the latter of these. Today, the drab-coloured walls suited the rainy skies appearing behind her window. You’d have thought that they’d at least make the weather look sunny all the time, if only to increase everyone’s moods. Her own mood was darker than she cared to admit.

“Good morning, Mrs. Weasley.” Her assistant was exceedingly perky at the worst of times. A little sympathy would have been more appreciated. “Lovely day today, isn’t it?

The inter-departmental messages were piling up in one corner of the room, crashing into one another in order to be the first in line. She ignored the flicking of their paper wings for nearly half an hour before they edged too close to her desk to be ignored.

“Ma’am?” her assistant peeked around the doorway, pushing her spectacles further up her beaky nose. “There’s an urgent owl from the Head. Needs to see you right away.”

Lips setting in a firm line, Hermione looked up from the first message she had chosen to read. “Did he give any details?”

The young witch shook her head. “Nothing at all. Only that you had to see him now... which was...” she looked down at her watch. “About seven minutes ago. The emergency owl got stuck in the lift.”

Some emergency owl that must have been.

“He wants you to meet him outside of Court Room five. There was another hearing this morning for Mr. Hagrid, ma’am.”

No surprise there, really. Another petition for having Norbert returned, perhaps?

Hermione looked over at the messages. Their wings flapped harder as they seemed to realise the situation, all pushing around those in front so as to catch her attention. One fluttered around Hermione’s head, opening its wings wider and wider so that she could only see glimpses of the words it contained.

...can’t return just yet... –ry doing fine, but misses you, too... only way to reach you... trouble with the owls...

Her hand shot up to grab the message, her fingers unashamedly flattening out the paper wings to read the letter from Ron. Why he would insanely trust a message to her to the interdepartmental system was beyond all logic. But that was his way of doing things. Shoving aside the other letters and her assistant, Hermione hurried down the corridor and into the lift, eyes never leaving her husband’s letter.

Of course it wasn’t very interesting in the least. Ron’s prose would get him nowhere in the publishing world, but more often than not, the way he chose to word things amused her. His funny way of trying to say he missed her and the kids, or how he tried to describe his missions without giving anything away (and rather doing the opposite). He prattled on about the dark wizards of Albania and some sort of vampire league without the slightest hint of discretion. The letter ended with a scrawled signature and an absence of love sent home.

It had been the same for many letters now.

A jostling arm pushed into her side. The lift was now full. What floor?

The lift voice rang out. “Level Nine: Department of Mysteries and the Court Rooms.”

“Excuse me!” Hermione pushed her way out, failing to keep Ron’s letter from becoming more crumpled. Not that it mattered, all the others she’d kept from him were in worse shape. Too many lonely nights.

The other witches and wizards moved aside, grumbling; no others exited with her.

It was a gloomy place. The corridor was long and narrow, continuing past the equally narrow stair – she would have to complain about its lack of proper accessibility, how had Hagrid managed to fit through there? She’d been down this way too many times for her to count, so many cases of abused house elves, even in this enlightened age.

The shadow of a further, darker past when she had been here protruded in the back of her mind, reminding her, once again, of this morning’s restless thoughts.

She went down the stairs with speed. Not because the Head was awaiting her, but rather because she wanted to be away from that place, that cesspool of mystery and darkness.

His form was a menacing shadow halfway down the green-tiled corridor that passed along the Court Rooms. The robes he wore did nothing to improve upon his bulk; they only succeeded in making him appear three-and-a-quarter inches shorter. How he’d gotten the exact measurement, Hermione could not fathom, but his complaints were often heard throughout the department.

“Ah, Mrs. Weasley, finally. Did that dratted owl get stuck again?” He had an exceptionally high voice for a wizard, just another of his eccentricities that made him the most laughable of department heads. “That’s the third time this week.” He let out a dramatic sigh.

“Sorry to have kept you, sir.” Her voice remained firm; she’d long gotten over her desire to laugh at everything he said. “I came as soon as possible.”

He nodded profusely. Come to think of it, everything he did was profuse. “Now your friend Hagrid really knows how to get himself stuck in a load of dragon’s dung, doesn’t he? This is the sixth time he’s made this petition, you know?”

Of course she knew. Hagrid was always pleased to gabble on about his quest to retrieve his precious dragon. It was always a worry of hers that he didn’t quite realise just how large Norbert (she couldn’t think of the dragon as Norberta without a giggle) had become in the last two decades. But Quigley had not called her down here to chat about Hagrid. The drops of sweat on his brow bespoke of deeper, more significant matters.

“Yes, sir.”

If the matter was that serious, she would let him talk of it in his own time. Standing here was an improvement over having to read all those blasted messages.

Euripides Quigley scratched his fuzzy grey scalp. “There is a reason I asked you to come down here, Mrs. Weasley.” He glanced to the left, then to the right, up the corridor, then down again, before leaning towards her in a conspiratorial manner.

“There is a certain... little... problem I need you to investigate.”

A problem in need of the House Elf Liaison Officer? Had Winky appeared drunken and disorderly to the students of Hogwarts? Was Kreacher over-polishing the heads of his ancestors over at 12 Grimmauld Place because he was missing Harry again? No, no, if it had Quigley hiding out in the Court Rooms to give her the details, it had to be something serious, something he did not want to be overheard in their cramped offices.

She closed her eyes, awaiting his next words.

“There is word that a house elf has been found dead in Malfoy Manor.”

Why oh why hadn’t she taken the week off and gone with Ginny and the children?

“And you must go down there before the newspapers hear of it and clean things up. You remember how delicate anything to do with... with...” his lower lip trembled. “Those people can be. You must tread carefully, Mrs. Weasley, but with your... your reputation.... You are the only one who can do this, I’m sure of it.”” The worry overcame his voice, rendering him silent.

In that silence, Hermione began to take on some of her superior’s anxiety. Malfoy Manor, that hovel of whatever purebloodism still existed in Wizarding Britain. Yes, the Malfoys had officially thrown off the cloak of darkness, but nothing, not even the new world that had come after Voldemort’s defeat, could change their blood nor their brains. The marriage alliance with Astoria Greengrass had done nothing to alter their twisted system of beliefs – it, or rather, the dowry gained from it, had, however, allowed them to regain their place among the wealthiest Wizarding families of the world.

She could say “no” and he would accept it; that much she was allowed. But there was her reputation, that of the saviour of house elves, one who actually cared about the pathetic creatures. Now one of them was dead. That dead body screamed for justice, and only Hermione would bother to answer its call.

Oh Merlin, now she was sounding like Harry.

Turning her attention back to Quigley, she saw the relief in his face and knew that her expression reflected her acquiescence to this assignment.

“When should I depart, sir?”

Chapter 2: Chapter the Second
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter The Second

It was a messy little business. Apparently, they were sending over a Ministry official to clean it up, but Malfoy was loath to let one of those people into this house. Some House Elf-loving idiot who would moan and weep over the “poor dead thing”, immediately blaming its master for the death and sending him to Azkaban for abuse. Yes, that sounded about right.

He would somehow have to get rid of this official, keep them out of his way while also keeping them out of his wife’s sight. Astoria would not like to hear of this dead House Elf. Of all the wives his mother could have picked....

Bother that. Better check the so-called scene of the crime.

The kitchens of Malfoy Manor were impressive in size, all polished black and chrome, the very best cauldrons and stoves in place, a large ice box taking up one corner – those Muggles were good for something, after all. Draco remembered seeing these counters lined by dozens of house elves, chopping and mixing and stirring and preparing. There were only a half-dozen kitchen elves these days, and one of them was dead.

More than mere annoyance. His inheritance was only crumbling further into nothingness.

The body was there, covered with a kitchen towel conveniently stained with tomato – he knew enough what blood looked like. Only the feet were sticking out. It was a grotesque mockery of death.

He didn’t dare lift the towel. Leave that to the Ministry slave.

But he did check the remainder of the kitchen, making sure that nothing seemed out of place or untoward. The knives were all in their slots, the fires were out, and the cauldrons were neatly stacked in one corner. Nothing that could have caused this death. Nothing at all that he could see.

When he left the kitchen, he locked the door behind him. For what reason, he himself was not sure, but it seemed like the wise thing to do. Something to impress the Ministry enough that they would, in the future, leave him quite alone.

Now to work on the study, clean up all the little things that might have been taken for dissent, the recurrence of his old pureblooded ways. He dug through piles of parchments, towers of financial scrolls, and the drawer full of dried up ink bottles and broken quills. There were a few items, mostly harmless, but that, if interpreted a particular way, could mean Azkaban, or at he very least a hearing at the Wizengamot. He hesitated over them before placing them in a hollow book and returning to his desk, becoming more abstracted by the moment.

“Dad? What is it?”

Scorpius had stopped outside the door to his father’s study, blue eyes curious.

Malfoy waved a negligent hand. “Business matters, Scorpius. The state of the economy is not promising at the moment.” He bit off the words that appeared next in his mind: all because of that stupid Potter. One didn’t say those things anymore.

There was disquiet in Scorpius’s face, but after a moment he shrugged.

“Sorry ‘bout that.”

A glace at the clock, still another hour to go. “Off to Quidditch, then?”

“Yeah, Pucey’s got a new broom, going to let us all try it out.”

Still more parchments to glance through. Any that should not be seen? Have to make sure that everything is secure and clean. Yes, very clean.

Scorpius was waiting for an answer. Malfoy’s voice rang out sharper than he had intended.

“Why are you still here? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

The lack of reaction should have bothered Malfoy; Scorpius didn’t even blink.

“I’ll be back for dinner, Dad.” And he was gone.

Malfoy stopped, parchment in hand, looking out the window to where he’d see his son on his way out. Astoria told him all the time to be nicer, one of those good encouraging dads, but that was beyond him. The so-called encouragement he had received still left its scars. He still heard the Dark Lord’s high-pitched voice in his nightmares, ever commanding.

He closed his eyes, missing Scorpius pass by. The flashes of green light behind his eyelids brought back the same helplessness, the same fear, reminding him why he shouldn’t hate Potter. If not for that damned Potter, he’d be dead. Or worse, as his mother was kind enough to remind him.

Annoyance at Potter was enough to make the terror subside. He set aside another parchment, just a bill for robes. Scorpius growing too fast, Astoria always wanting the newest fashion, they’d make him go broke. Things hadn’t been the same since Father–

The gong resounded through the house, an intrusion somewhat welcome, even if the reason for it was not. The Ministry official must have arrived. Just bloody wonderful.

He remained by the window, waiting for another of his elves to fetch the official to him. That would set the scene, putting whoever-it-was in their place without him having to say a single word. By keeping his back to the door, he could retain that lord-of-the-manor styling that his father had so easily mastered. It was something he’d never been given the time to master himself.

Footsteps in the hall, the high squeaky voice of the house elf, chattering away with that... whose voice was that, anyway? And who in their right mind would speak to a house elf as though the creature was an equal?

His stomach twinged in anticipation – should have skipped luncheon – at once recognizing and denying the identity of that voice.

No. No. Anyone but her.

He turned as the door opened, curiosity getting the better of him. The house elf kept to the shadows, bowing as the Ministry official entered, marked disapproval on her face. Yes, the same face, with only the slightest changes that came with age. Hair still that impossible mess, the complete opposite of his wife’s well-charmed mane. Hermione Granger. He should have known she would be the one to come for such a thing as this.

Once the door had closed behind the house elf, she took the reigns.

“The Ministry is curious as to the death of one of your house elves, Mal– Mr. Malfoy.” The word “mister” came packaged with a large helping of scorn.

He put his hands in his pockets, attempting to appear unperturbed.

“I was aware of that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, would you, Granger?”

A slight pucker of the eyebrows revealed her anger, even as she kept her voice level. “You will please address me with respect, Mr. Malfoy, as I do to you. With your cooperation, I can complete my investigation as soon as possible.”

They stared at one another, assessing, trying to poke into the mind of the other to find a desired answer. Finding nothing he wanted, Draco looked down at her robes. Fine quality, but not the best, just good enough. The Weasleys were no longer in need of funds as they once had been, so it seemed that her economy was based entirely on choice. She did not need the best.

And why would she need it? After all, she was one of the fabled Golden Trio, saviours of the magical world, the ones who had spared him, saved his family.

He owed them everything.

For that, he hated them. Not because of their Muggle-loving philosophies or because Granger was a dirty mudblood. Those things didn’t matter anymore. No, it was for their pious modesty, possessing the potential to own the world and taking none of it.

Yes, her proposal was satisfactory. The sooner she could leave, the better.

“Then have at it, Mrs. Weasley.” He made sure to drag out her name with a certain mocking tone. “Whatever it is you wish to ask me, ask.”

Draco conjured a chair for her, then sat in his own, leaning back in a most precarious position, fingers templed. She hesitated before sitting, as though such a passive position would show weakness. When she did, she removed a quill and parchment from her satchel, facing him again with a firmly set jaw. She was harder than he remembered; there was less of the brainy snob and more of the hard-hearted bitch.

Ha! As unlike his wife as was possible. He was becoming more appreciative of Astoria’s womanly softness by the minute.

“What was the elf’s name?”

For a moment, he was unsure if the elf actually had a name.

“You would have to ask the head elf that.”

She looked up sharply. “You don’t even know all their names? They are your employees.”

There was so much astonishment in her voice he thought – no, hoped – she would explode.
“They are kitchen elves, Granger.” It was far easier to call her by that name. He’d never understood why she married a lump like Weasley. “They’re not meant to be known by their masters.”

Her hand rapidly moved across the parchment. Probably scribbling as many insults as she could come up with.

“I suppose you wouldn’t know how long he or she had been working for you?”

Draco shrugged. “Astoria would know. She purchased most of them.”

Purchased. What a word. She would, of course, despise him for using it. Right on schedule, she bristled, the quill poking a hole through the parchment as she furiously dotted an i.

“Do you keep no record of your employees?”

He silently applauded her for maintaining a level voice. The way she was looking now, she should be screaming at the top of her lungs.

This was too much fun.

“Of house elves? Are you mad, Granger? As I said, my wife will know for certain, or you could always ask one of the other house elves.” He paused, smiling. “You seem to build quite a rapport with the creatures.”

Scream in one.

She took in a breath.

Two.

Her face turned the perfect shade of Gryffindor scarlet.

Three.

“Rapport? They are living beings like yourself, Malfoy. And the way you treat them, I’m not surprised that one died on you. The poor elf probably died from neglect and loneliness! How you ever got the permit to employ them–”

Yes, that was how low the magical world had fallen. Permits for house elves. All because of this persistent and infuriating witch. But he hadn’t made her lose her temper all the way quite yet. She had not called him names or whipped out her wand. Or, worse, smacked him as she had back in third year. Now that figured among some of the worst moments of his life, second only to his days with... under... His power.

“Malfoy? What in Merlin’s name is going on? You look like–”

Seen a ghost? Not far from the truth.

“Nothing.” He sat forward, placing his folded hands on the desk. “Continue, Granger.” His voice sounded too breathless. Damn memories. “You did, I believe, say that the sooner we finished this... interview, the sooner you could finish the investigation.”

She was watching him with a different look in her eyes now. That curiosity he remembered, a hunger of the mind, seeking all that was unknown.

“Was there more you wanted to know, Granger?” His voice tightened. He wanted her gone. That last thing he needed was that curiosity digging through the skeletons in his closet.

She was still looking at him, unwilling to let him dictate this discussion.

“Why is it that you’re unable to control your emotions, Malfoy? Feeling guilty, perhaps?”

Yes, but for a different reason than she suspected. Something he would never tell her.

“For what? Not keeping better records of my... employees. That was your term, I think.”

Had he come this far in life to sit here in a verbal duel with an old enemy? He would never think of her as a rival. Mudbloods like her–

No. Must not use that word anymore. Even in his head. Better to discard it entirely rather than suffer further persecution by the Ministry. They watched him, he knew it. All the time, lurking about the corners of his existence, waiting for him to slip up, just as his father before him. He was not unlike his father, but he was not a replica of Lucius Malfoy, Salazar rest his wasted soul.

“Perhaps for having killed it.”

Draco’s eyes rose to meet hers. He was conscious of his surprise and did nothing to hide it. That she would actually think–

“I can assure you, Granger, that I don’t go around killing the things I’ve paid for.”

Said like a true Malfoy.

She did not lower her gaze as Astoria always did. She met him equally, perhaps even from above; she was, after all, morally superior.

They glared at one another over his desk as though making up for all the years they’d forgotten the other’s existence. The clock ticked past one minute, then two, and was rounding out the third when she turned to look at the room. It was the first time she had observed the surroundings, having before only focussed on his fair form. What she noticed was beyond him, but it seemed to assist her in making a decision.

“When will your wife be returning, Malfoy?”

He blinked. Not the question he’d been expecting.

“This evening.”

A light frown appeared on her face, then vanished.

“That will have to do, I suppose. In the meantime, I will need to see the house elf.”

Finally, she was ending this ridiculous interrogation. Draco pushed a button under his desk, avoiding all eye contact. Pokey opened the door some moments later, clutching his stiffening hands, eyes wide.

“You called Pokey, Master?”

Hermione was now bristling again. The house elf’s voice sounded more pathetic than usual.

Draco leaned back in his chair once again.

“Show our guest” – he enjoyed saying that word with a certain relish – “the kitchens.”

Placing quill and parchment back in her satchel, Hermione rose and moved to follow Pokey from the room. She did not once look back at Draco.

“And Pokey.” The house elf froze at the sound of his master’s voice. Draco felt gratified at the clutching of Hermione’s hands into fists. “Kindly answer all of Mrs. Weasley’s questions. I’m sure she’ll have quite a few.”

With that barb, he motioned them to leave.

The door shut with a sharp click and Draco let out a long-held breath.

She would only be back for Astoria. Not for him. He was safe.

Hermione Granger, wife of that dunderhead Weasley, would leave, and he would hopefully not see her for another decade or so.

Preferably, never again.

Chapter 3: Chapter the Third
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter the Third

Git! The greatest git alive!

He was absolutely impossible!

In the course of that conversation, he had set as many verbal traps as possible, just waiting for her to fall, to fail. To what purpose, she didn’t know, didn’t want to know, and certainly didn’t care. It only showed how bored Malfoy must have been with his perfect life. This house alone was worth a fortune, not to mention most of its contents.

And yet....

She had not missed the signs of embarrassment when she had glanced around his study. There were gaps in the bookshelves, un-faded squares on the walls, gouges in the rug, all that bespoke of missing items. Sold, perhaps, for a little more pocket money? Now that was indeed not like a Malfoy.

Thinking about Malfoy’s deficiencies were enough to distract her from the house itself, a place that did not hold a pleasant spot in her memory. She could still feel the cold air brushing against her skin, hear the maniacal laughter of Bellatrix Lestrange echoing in her ears alongside the sound of her own voice screaming. Screaming.

Stop.

“Is mistress alright?” Pokey was a sweet house elf, no matter who his master was.

She nodded. “Thanks, Pokey.”

Now she had to start asking questions. It would help distract her.

“What is it like working for the Malfoys?”

It was a question to satisfy her own personal curiosity. Once they reached the kitchens, she could start on the dead house elf.

“They are good to Pokey, very good. Mistress Astoria keeps us all well, and Master Draco has his requests, but they are no trouble for Pokey.”

Of course he wouldn’t say anything within the negative range, but nonetheless.

“Has there been any trouble like this before?”

Pokey’s eyes widened and he almost tripped over a rug, but caught himself.

“Never, mistress. All things always good here.”

There was no sign of a lie in his words or actions. He was scandalised by this death; it was an atrocity that could only be blamed on him, the head house elf. He should have made sure that this sort of thing did not occur.

Hermione wondered at how much Malfoy Manor had changed. Its head house elf no longer had to run about, bashing himself against anything in sight in order to prevent himself from speaking of his master’s dark dealings. There was no more fear in this house, no more hatred.

Draco Malfoy was living a normal life.

It seemed such a ridiculous thought, but so far, Hermione had seen nothing to contradict it. Even her memories could not blind her to how much things had changed, not only in this house, but within the family, within all of their society. Pride warmed her.

“Can you tell me what you know of this house elf, Pokey?”

He was now beginning to look visibly upset, his hands shaking and his eyes growing watery.

“It was the new elf Mistress Astoria brought from the selling place. Master and Mistress are having a party in some days, and Dratty was supposed to chop the vegetables.” His voice rose as he spoke, becoming so high-pitched that Hermione winced with each syllable. “She was very quiet, never speaking to other house elves. But some are like that.”

Especially if they had been abused at their last home. Hermione frowned. The past history of this Dratty would need to be traced. She’d have to start with Astoria Malfoy, then work backward. The selling places were strictly controlled, but that did not mean illegal activities no longer occurred. Abused house elves would come at a much cheaper price, something that would have well-suited the financial situation of the Malfoy family.

“Here we are, Mistress.”

The kitchen door was firmly locked. Pokey took out a giant ring of keys as large as his hand – where did he find room to store that in his potato sack shirt? – and sorted through them with comfortable efficiency. He seemed to be another of those house elves who found the greatest solace in work, in being useful.

She waited for him to open the door. Locked, why? To keep others from entering the room, obviously, but still, why? How many knew about this death, and why would Malfoy wish to keep it secret? She hadn’t seen anyone else in the house, only Malfoy and Pokey. The other house elves would need to be interviewed, carefully and quietly so as not to upset them. She assumed they would have their own quarters somewhere. Hopefully not in the dustbin.

“This way, Mistress.”

He led her down an aisle of counters, very clean, eerily quiet. The room was proportionally large to the house, but it seemed that only a portion of it was in constant use. It was too clean. The family could not have been eating too much at home of late, which could explain why Malfoy was the only one in residence.

Oh, he had a son, too, didn’t he? She would need to find out where he was.

They came across a lump on the ground, covered with a stained tea towel. You’d have thought they’d at least find a clean one. Hermione felt a scowl, but tried not to let Pokey see it. He would take it as a personal insult.

“Is this where you found her this morning?”

It was a delicate question, but necessary.

“Yes, Mistress.” Pokey’s voice was now very soft. He stared down at the towel, his lip trembling.

She swallowed. “You don’t have to watch this, Pokey,” she said gently. “I’ll need to take a closer look. It might be better if–”

Pokey shuffled away, then back, then away again. Malfoy must not have given him orders to stay with her, otherwise he would have been more wildly affected by her request. He stood at the end of the counter with his back turned, wiping his eyes with a surprisingly clean rag. But he was not going to leave the room. That must have been his master’s orders at work.

Hermione looked down at the draped body. It had been a long time since she’d seen a dead house elf, since she’d seen anyone dead at all. She was not looking forward to renewing the experience, but what choice did she have? This was her job. She had wanted to help the house elves, fighting against their suffering at the hands of wizards.

With this one dead, she finally had the chance to prove why house elf rights mattered, why these beings deserved attention.

And if she could bring Malfoy down at the same time, then she would be very lucky indeed.

The presence of this sudden maliciousness against Malfoy did not disturb her. It was a malignance, left smouldering for years while she settled into the banality of adult life. It was easy to forget the war when she was busy with work or with her children, but now, in this place, it might have been seventeen years before.

But the elf came first. Poor Dratty. Why did someone have to die before a problem in society could be fixed?

In this case, there was more than one problem.

She knelt on the ground beside Dratty’s body, willing herself to lift the makeshift shroud and get on with her work. It should not have been this difficult. It was dead, there was nothing she could do but find out why.

Biting her lip, she took out her wand and waved aside the tea towel. It folded neatly onto the ground beside the body. Hermione stared down at Dratty.

There was something very wrong.

Nothing had prepared her for this.

The eyes were bulging slightly, wide open to the ceiling. At least they were not looking at her, but the wax-like face, the black tongue, the clenched hands, none of them were as they should be. She pulled a glove onto her hand and reached down to brush her hand against Dratty’s face.

Yes, just like wax. The skin moved under her hand, like putty.

Dratty was melting.

Thoughts of Malfoy and revenge and the past went out of her head. They no longer mattered, not when the evidence of suspicious death was disappearing before her very eyes. What in Merlin’s name could cause this?

She checked over the rest of the body, observing marks where the tea towel had settled too closely to the skin. There were no signs of violence, nothing to tell how this could have occurred. A spell, perhaps, or poison, a Potion slipped into the house elf’s food? What else was there?

If it was the latter, she’d have to warn the other elves right away, before they also became afflicted by this... this... horrible end.

“Pokey!” Hermione tried to sound unaffected. She blocked Dratty’s body from the head house elf’s sight. Please don’t let him see....

“Yes, mistress?” Always at the ready. He practically leapt across the room.

She held up her hand. “Don’t come closer, please.”

He stopped so quickly that he fell backwards onto his backside with a squeak.

“I need to know what Dratty ate today.”

Pokey rose, rubbing the part that had made contact with the floor.

“What we always eat, mistress.”

Leftovers. Whatever peelings and rind remained from last night’s dinner, even if the meal itself had been small.

“She didn’t have anything different?”

Pokey was shaking his head. “No, mistress.”

Not poisoned food, but there were other ways of administering something like this. But why? If no one else in the house had experienced any symptoms of poisoning, why would this new house elf? Unless....

“How long has Dratty been here?”

Pokey tilted his head to the side, thinking. After a moment, he replied, “Two days, mistress.”

Only that long? It was possible that the poisoning or whatever it was had occurred before Dratty had arrived at Malfoy Manor. This could be a more wide-spread problem. She would have to inform the Ministry right away. They would take the necessary precautions while she took Dratty off for examination... somehow.

Melting bodies were not included in protocol.

Hermione cast a chilling spell over the body. That would, at least, prevent the temperature of the room from causing further damage. She shifted through her memory, hoping that some arcane bit of knowledge would shed light on this case. She should know this, she had to. There had to be a logical answer.

Setting her jaw, she looked at Pokey once again. “No one enters this room.”

He was catching on to a problem. Eyes too wide and ears now shuddering in terror. He must have felt it in the air, an extra tinge in the stale air of death. Her own fear was growing.

“Yes, mistress.” His voice was almost inaudible.

She stood, but her eyes remained on Dratty. Anguish. Merlin, she had suffered before death. If there had been screams, Pokey would have known. Sensitive ears. A silent, but painful death, the worst sort possible. Too much like–

“Anything else, mistress?”

He was closer to her now, his eyes remaining focussed upon her. Better than looking at Dratty. He couldn’t have missed the signs of wrongness there.

“Check that the others are still healthy, please.”

Something was coming to mind now. Don’t let it be that.

They left the kitchen together, Hermione thinking as furiously as possible and Pokey shaking so furiously that he was hardly able to hold the keys. Hermione took the keys from him and locked the door, trying to give the house elf an encouraging smile. It must have been hideous. Pokey scampered off at top speed.

A disease. It was a possibility. House elves were not exempt from illness. They were just too terrified to let their owners – she despised the word – know if they felt ill. House elves did not get days off. Because of this, there was a decided lack of information about house elf diseases. How they got them, how they dealt with them, the nature of the disease or infection itself: all unknown. It was infuriating to not know.

In the entry hall, she cast her Patronus. Quigley would get it as soon as possible. Faster, more secure than any owl post. This news could not get out, could not go beyond her and her superior. The consequences of a fatal disease at, of all places, Malfoy Manor, would be uncontrollable. The Prophet would be all over it. Word of it would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Look what Malfoy had done now.

“What are you doing, Granger?”

The last thing she needed was for Draco Malfoy to wheedle his way into the problem.

So of course he had to choose that very moment to enter it.

“Sending word to my superior at the Ministry.”

Hermione congratulated herself for not immediately cursing him to Hades. The expression on his face was quite gratifying.

“Does that mean that more of you people will be invading my house?”

The words were angry, his voice was not. Curious.

“Possibly. It depends on how they respond to my findings.”

Somehow, she was managing to sound just like she had in third year. The same know-it-all tone was coming through. Ron would love the sound of that, ha!

He stepped further into the foyer, hands in pockets, lips pursed. He looked exactly as she expected the pureblooded businessman she’d read of in the Prophet, the perfect family man who had transcended the crimes of his father. Someone to potentially be admired (if he remained on the good side). There was something sad about him, too, something weighing him down.

Guilt? Impossible.

All those years of “mudblood” and threats, hearing from his lips a curse against her life. People like that didn’t change, they didn’t leap over to the good side unless something was in it for them. For Malfoy, there was nothing beyond darkness.

He was angry at her, frustrated, pained. He did not want her in his house. It was there in the way he held his head, the stiffness of his shoulders, the storm of emotion on his face.

“Your findings, Granger? That my house elf is dead and your useless office has wasted time and money in sending you here?”

Still the emotionless voice. How long would it last?

She took a deep breath, holding it a moment before letting it go. Along with her news.

“It is very likely that your house elf, whose name is Dratty, died of a disease, some kind of infection. I cannot be more specific than that.” She kept her spine straight, wand still clasped in her hand, just in case.

He raised an eyebrow. “A disease.”

Neither of them moved. Hermione was afraid to blink.

“House elves do–”

“I don’t need the lecture, Granger. I want to know why this is so important.” His voice lowered, the first sign of increasing emotion. “So what if my wife purchased a bad elf? It makes no difference to anyone.”

To me it does, she thought. It makes a difference to me.

He should have known where this was going to lead, but he was too cursed pig-headed to think of it. Infection meant contagion. Contagion meant transmission, perhaps between species, magical or not.

“Malfoy Manor will be quarantined until the nature of this disease is discovered, Malfoy.” Her voice was almost a snarl. She knew damn well what this meant for her as well.

“Quarantined.”

He was a highly unresponsive person to talk with. She was not looking forward to however long she’d be stuck here.

“No one in unless properly attired.”

What would he think of first? His son? His wife? Or something else, completely different?

Malfoy was going pale, his skin matching up with the colour of his hair.

She struck the final blow. “And neither of us, nor any of the other house elves, can leave until we know what it is and how to stop it.”

He stepped backward to lean against the wall. One hand emerged to rest against his forehead. Malfoy did not speak. He only stood there, his body saying everything he did not.

She was the most unwelcome of guests.

And she was trapped in Malfoy Manor with one of the people she hated most in the world, the threat of death hanging over them at every moment.

The nightmare was only beginning.

Chapter 4: Chapter the Fourth
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter the Fourth

Draco slammed the door of his study shut. He would have much preferred to slam it with Granger’s nose caught in it, but alas, she was off owling the Ministry, informing them of the catastrophe.

Yes, catastrophe. It was all an awful, bloody catastrophe.

His fist banged on the desk and he swore loudly, not caring how far it carried through the manor. Not that there was anyone to hear but Granger, damn her, and those blasted house elves. How could she enter his house and cause such madness in such a short period of time? It was preposterous, ridiculous, just the sort of thing he should have expected from one of the glorious and much-worshipped Golden Trio.

He was powerless, absolutely powerless.

Sinking into his chair, he stared at the wall. It was not the same room that his father had once used as a study; any room his father had used for his nefarious activities had been long shut-up, hidden behind magical barriers that forbade all entry. The only one who could enter them was Draco, and once he died, only Scorpius could enter. An old pureblood spell for the safekeeping of family secrets. Merlin knew that the Malfoys had too many secrets, most of which needed to be hidden from the prying eyes of the unclean.

Once again he had lapsed into the old ways of thinking. It was something that couldn’t just be erased from the mind. This imprisonment, the physical one, was revealing to him another, more permanent imprisonment: that of his mind, of being a Malfoy in a world where his name was no longer esteemed, sometimes even derided.

Not that derision bothered him any. It brought him peace. The one thing he valued most.

“Malfoy? Disappeared already, bloody hell.”

She must have picked up that low accent from her husband. Unconsciously, of course, as Hermione Granger would not speak like that on purpose and certainly not if she believed that anyone was listening.

Draco went to the door and opened it, leaning outward like a fishwife at her window. “What is it, Granger?” He saw her down the corridor, stalking down toward him with closed fists. “What more could you possibly do to ruin my day?”

Life, actually. Though others would suggest that he’d done that himself.

She appeared in the doorway, brow scrunched in some sort of unimpressed emotion.

“I wanted to let you know that your wife and son are safe.” She inched into the room. “The Ministry is checking them for the disease.”

Draco straightened himself in the chair, hands clenching the arms. “The Ministry and disease are two things I don’t associate with the idea of safe. I will think of them as safe when they’re cleared and free.”

Her brow scrunched further. Not a pretty picture. Not that she was remotely pretty to begin with. Her hair was still as uncontrollable as the rest of her, and while her teeth may have been long-ago fixed, Draco still preferred to think of her as buck-toothed.

She was going to talk again. He braced himself.

“You make it sound as though they’ve been arrested, Malfoy.”

His eyes wandered to the walls, the gaps in the bookshelves, the darker squares where old portraits had once hung. He had disliked those old pictures anyway, ugly things, ancestors with forgotten names and positions, reminders of what the Malfoys had once been.

A little smirk came to his lips, surprising even himself. “As you well know, Granger, these days, when a Malfoy goes to the Ministry, it’s never for a good reason.”

She fell silent and looked away, eyes wandering across the shelves of books. Draco suppressed the urge to laugh. Even now, after all these years, she wanted to bury herself in those old dusty books, fill herself with knowledge to erase the emptiness within. Yes, Draco liked the sound of that. He could almost envy her in having something to fill that void within, something with which she could consume herself.

He realised that she was watching him, staring, in fact, as though he was mad. It was not too far off the mark, but all the same, he felt the necessity to speak.

“How long will this take?”

As though the question acted as an invitation, Hermione set herself down in the chair across from his. “I should hear word back by the morning.”

The morning could either be a very long time, a full eternity of wishing he could throw her in a dungeon or, better yet, out of an attic window, or it could be a very short interlude in his otherwise monotonous life. Experience had taught him that looking toward the positive side of things helped to put the madness at bay, the madness of being useless, unwanted. Even in this situation, what could he do? He did not yet see any possibility of playing a role in the affair of the dead house elf. The Ministry would come and do its job as it always did, then it would leave him to his tremulous peace.

“It could be longer than just a day, Malfoy.” She added this now after he had gotten his hopes up. Typical. “It depends on how serious the... problem is and what treatment it requires.”

“If anything.” He maintained a tremulous grip on positivity.

She conceded with a sigh. She could not be looking forward to this time anymore than he did. “Yes, if anything, but I’m not sure if that’s likely.”

Draco swallowed, trying not to look as though he was nervous, anxious, or in any way bothered by the situation apart from some expression of mild annoyance. Fear, no. He must not show any fear. A tickle at his temple forced his heart to jump. The fear was there, understandable. He had seen one of his house elves with melting flesh.

He did not want to think about what he would look like if he started to melt.

Or if Granger did.

The mental image came too quickly.

“Are you alright, Malfoy?” She rose and leaned over the desk, reaching out a hand. “You’ve gone all pale and you’re sweating. Are you–”

Ill, are you ill, she was going to ask. Physically, no. Mentally, definitely.

“No, no.” He cut her off, his swinging arm pushing her away. “Get out of here, Granger.”

She backed away, stepping into her chair. It toppled to the floor. Draco barely registered the crash, his hands over his face. Melting. Melting! A face like wax that dripped, forming a puddle of... of–

“Malfoy–”

“Get out.”

“You can’t overreact like this. I need your hel–”

“Out! Now!”

She did not move. His head pounded with fury.

“Listen to me, you stupid mudblood!”

The sound of the door slamming shut roused him from what seemed like a dream, the nightmare of all this trouble consuming him at last. He had seem himself a melted ruin, and some portion of his consciousness had asked whether he was not already ruined, that his body disintegrating into – he would say it, think it, imagine it – ooze was only the final step in the long downfall of his family, his blood?

He had not realised that, while ordering her to leave, he had stood up with one hand was clenched around his wand. Another moment and he would have pointed it at her. Bad enough that he should call her, a Ministry official, a mudblood, but to threaten her with his wand....

Oh Merlin.

Everything, everything was ruined. They would throw him in Azkaban just for saying that word, a word that still came too easily to his mind, especially in relation to her. He would go to Azkaban and rot.

It took him some time to overcome this disturbing revelation. His father’s stories of Azkaban made working for the Dark Lord sound like a jolly good time. Head in his hands, Draco thought and thought and thought and thought about his predicament and how it continued to get worse and worse and–

Unless.

The rational, Slytherin side of his brain had an idea, something that might save his sorry soon-to-be-melting skin.

If, perhaps, he could discover the root of this problem, the reason why the house elf had died, and, even better, what it was that had killed him... her... it, then they may let him off with a reduced sentence, maybe completely. What became priority in Draco’s brain was to make up for his sins, make himself useful to those whom he could benefit from. A Slytherin mind, after all, thinks first of saving itself.

“House elf, yes,” he muttered to himself, still standing behind his desk. “Purchased where? From whom? Astoria would know, would have written it down. Recorded it in her little book.” He moved around the desk, past the tipped-over chair and toward the closed door.

His wife kept a book of household things that Draco had never looked into, either because he hadn’t wanted to, or because he simply had never needed to. It was up to his wife to maintain the servants and the house; he only needed to know the values of income and expenses. He had no idea how skilled she was at keeping records, particularly of the origin of house elves. It wasn’t a thing that many people thought of. Where did they come from, after all?

He wandered out of the room. No sign of Granger. Or anyone. Anything. (Still not sure about those house elves.)

Concentrating on the task he had assigned himself would be a distraction, a much welcome distraction. The less he thought about Granger, the better. No, no, about the problem, of which Granger was a part. Granger herself did not matter, why should she?

Rubbing a hand across his forehead (with the hope that it would rub away his quandary), he made his way through the hallway, up two staircases, and down another long hallway lined with sparkling mirrors and esteemed (read self-righteous) portraits. They muttered insults and called out demands in his wake. He didn’t know their names, and they did not know his.

When he finally arrived, he frowned, standing in the doorway as though on the threshold of an alien world.

Astoria did not have a separate study, studying not really being in her line of interest, but she did have an expansive dressing room which she and his mother referred to as a boudoir. It contained enough to withhold a siege of Malfoy Manor for a considerable length of time. Draco looked at the various pieces of furniture, trying to remember when he was last in this room, in any of Astoria’s chambers, for that matter.

“Now where do you keep your notes?”

It helped to hear a voice and imagine that he was not alone with only that damnable Granger for company.

There was one of those feminine desks – a secretary desk, he thought they called it in those posh antique stores – in the corner by the window. It was a delicate thing of cherry wood with intricate scrolls and marquetry, and he was almost afraid to touch it in case it would shatter to pieces. Knowing most magical antique shops, it wouldn’t surprise him if this desk was a little cursed, armed with some sort of self-destruction mechanism should prying eyes attempt to infiltrate its contents.

But he was, after all, the one who had bought the damned thing. It should open at his insistence.

He reached out to pull open a drawer. It would not budge. He pulled at another. Still nothing. Oh, this was hilarious, he thought, grimly taking out his wand. The desk shuddered and, if it could leap back on its legs, it would have.

Waving his wand at it (like it could see him threatening it? All this trouble had made him as mad as that vain dolt Lockhart), he decided that talking to it might help.

“Reveal your secrets!”

It shook again, this time in what must have been mocking laughter.

Stepping closer, poking the desk with his wand, Draco tried again.

“Open sesame!”

The drawer he was pointing to opened slightly, but when he moved his hand toward the knob, it slammed shut again.

“Piss off, you stupid thing!”

This time, the desk did leap back.

Maybe those Muggles did have an easier way of life, not having to deal with magical pieces of furniture that had a mind of its own. He did not want to destroy the desk, knowing that it had cost a not inconsiderable amount of money, not to mention the expression on Astoria’s face when he admitted the act to her (if he lived through the night).

“All I want are the house elf records.”

Why he spoke to it again, he wasn’t entirely sure, but the reason did not matter, not when one drawer popped open and a book shot out, a small moleskin notebook that landed in his free hand.
Draco stared at the book.

Then at the desk.

Maybe being mad wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

He took a seat on a nearby chair (trying not to think that maybe it, too, might be magical) and bent over the book, weeding through Astoria’s very odd accounting methods. Beyond the fact that they made very little sense, being predominately written in shorthand, he could not guess at the majority of her expenses; they did not correspond with what he could remember of numbers she had provided him.

Flipping through the pages, Draco dreaded the necessity of forcing Astoria to explain the various entries in her accounts book. There had to be a reason why she made it so complicated to understand, and it suggested that she was hiding something from him.

For now, it was better that he didn’t try to think of what. He had other fish to fry.

Oh. What a dreadful saying. Where had he picked that up from? This is what came of having a Weasley in your household, even for a short period of time.

Yes, yes, he called her Granger, but she was a Weasley in name, and therefore also in body, mind, and spirit. It was one of those unavoidable facts.

What did not strike him was why it should be an unavoidable fact.

He flipped another page, growing more irritated with the workings of his highly emotional mind (it had to be entirely Granger’s fault, of course), and there it was. A whole three pages devoted to a list under the heading of, in clear block letters:

SERVANTS 2001–

From their marriage onward, then, his mother having renounced her powers as mistress as soon as he and Astoria had said “I do”. His eyes drifted down the list. The names of the elves were clear, as were the prices (that much for an elf these days? He’d had no idea). The one thing that failed in the clarity test was where she’d bought the cursed things. It was in code, all short forms and symbols.

He could tell that a number had been bought from the same place. It must have been the main London branch of... well... whoever bred them? Or sold them en masse. Or whatever.

But there was a new place that came up beside the last purchases. The two newest house elves had come from somewhere else for a much-reduced price. He had to admit that he was pleased to see Astoria allocating the money more appropriately. The less spent on useless, whiny creatures, the better, he thought.

But what did the code mean? It looked like an ancient rune crossed with an upside-down tulip–

Then he knew.

He ran from the room.

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com