Chapter Ten: Cry W.O.L.F!
The last time that Hermione had put up new banners on the facade of Obscurus Books, she hadn't had a customer for a week. People would come into the store, to be sure, but they were not there to inquire after a rare and dangerous book, or ask how much it would cost to publish their manuscript. Instead, they came ridicule, belittle, and berate the woman who would have them pay their house-elves a prevailing wage, or boycott the Daily Prophet until they hired a fact checker, or, if it happened to be the first of April, to stop reading so many books and get out and play a little, perhaps with something new from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. This last, a nifty bit of spellwork by her brother-in-law George, had prompted Hermione to send him an owl with a lovely birthday card peppered by several of Ron's favorite words.
But this was the first time she'd ever received complaints before putting up a new set of banners.
“Please don't do it Hermione,” pleaded Madam Malkin, who, wringing her hands, had emerged from her robe shop – located directly across the alley from Obscurus Books – the moment Hermione had walked outside holding a very large piece of rolled up parchment.
“Hello Madam Malkin,” greeted Hermione warily. She'd had enough experience with protesters in the past to know one when she saw one. “You know that I've got every right to p-”
“Yes, yes of course,” interrupted Madam Malkin dismissively. She was now prying at the edges of the rolled up banner in Hermione's hand with chubby pinpricked fingers, and was leaning over the roll to peer down its center. “But you must understand how it ruins my business!”
“I don't see ho-” Hermione began, gently prying the parchment away from Madam Malkin, but she was cut across yet again.
“Yes well, you wouldn't,” chided Malkin, crossing her arms tightly. Hermione opened her mouth to object, but was not given the opportunity. “Some of us actually want customers! But no one walking past my store looks in my windows to see the latest trends in fashion.” Hermione let her eyes wander over Madam Malkin's shoulder, to the plate glass window on the front of Robes for Every Occasion, and shuddered at the frilly multi-colored dress robes that were on display there. One of the mannequins made a very rude hand gesture at her.
“No!” continued Malkin, not noticing any of this, or the crowd that was gathering to see what all the fuss was about, “all they're interested in is what ridiculous harebrained cause Hermione Weasley is supporting this week! It's already hard enough for me to compete with Twilfitt and Tatting's, especially with that new scantily clad hussy they've got working there. Mauve Sienna or whatever her name is.”
“Lavender Brown?” offered Hermione, happy to finally be able to get a word in edgewise. She also mentally added 'robe shopping' to the list of things that Ron shouldn't be allowed to do alone.
“Yes, that's the one,” confirmed Madam Malkin with a scowl. She put a hand up to her mouth, and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you know if she's had work done? I'd be willing to bet the shop that she's had several permanent glamor charms put on her. Hey! Don't change the subject!” Hermione desperately wanted to point out that Madam Malkin needed very little in the way of assistance when it came to changing subjects, but managed to hold her tongue.
“I'm sorry Madam Malkin, but I assure you that it's for a good cause,” she insisted, slowly unfurling the rolled banner so that the print was still hidden against her body.
“What, did you only get forty-nine Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans in your last box instead of fifty? Did someone step on a flobberworm? Shall we throw them into Azkaban then?” Madam Malkin's hysterics had begun to affect the burgeoning crowd, and several people were now cheering her on.
“No,” said Hermione quietly, glaring at the throng, “no, I doubt there'd be enough room for them there, what with all of the werewolves.” She flipped over the banner and winced as a collective cry of disbelief rose from the crowd as they read the words printed on it.
Equal Opportunities for Werewolves
It's Not Their Fault!
Equal Opportunities for Werewolves
It's Not Their Fault!
Madam Malkin edged away quickly, her eyes alight with fear. “You've gone completely mad!” she cried, and she broke into a run that carried her back inside her store. The door slammed shut behind her, and the sign on the door that had read 'open,' flickered briefly before settling on 'closed.'
“Well then...” huffed Hermione, laying the banner on the ground and putting her hands on her hips. “I don't suppose any of the rest of you would like a badge?” Several people jumped backwards at Hermione's scathing tone, and when she reached into her robes to withdraw a handful of bright yellow buttons that flashed the words “Cry W.O.L.F,” a number of loud cracks could be heard as people disapparated hastily.
“Come on Weasley,” scoffed a voice that was nearly as unpleasant as a Mandrake's cries. Hermione scanned the ever-dwindling gathering for the speaker, and was unsurprised when her eyes found the over-large frame of Millicent Bullstrode. “If you think some silly button's going to change people's minds, you've got another thing coming.” Millicent was striding forward now, and Hermione remembered all too clearly their encounter in the one and only meeting of Lockhart's dueling club. But surely Millicent wouldn't try anything like that in the middle of broad daylight in Diagon Alley, and it had been a while since she had won an argument against anyone but Ron (and that was hardly fighting fair, she reminded herself with a grin).
“I seem to remember you and your Slytherin friends putting lots of stock into buttons and badges back at Hogwarts,” she rejoined, her grin growing into a smirk. “Let's see... there was 'Potter Stinks,' 'Weasley is our King,' the Inquisitorial Squad... My, you certainly do have an astounding record of picking the proper side to support!” Millicent's moon shaped face turned a brighter shade of red than normal, and she began spluttering. “What's your secret Bullstrode? Care to share with us?”
“All right Granger, that will be enough.” The slow, cold drawl sent shivers down Hermione's spine. She knew that voice. She pivoted quickly where she stood, so that she could keep an eye on both Millicent, who was quickly regaining her composure, and the new arrival.
“Draco!” cried Millicent, clearly relieved at having been saved from the embarrassment of a thorough tongue-lashing. She was beaming at her savior, but her face fell slightly when he didn't so much as acknowledge her presence. Instead, he turned and looked at Hermione with eyes that appeared far deeper than she could remember them – she convinced herself it was a trick of the light, or a symptom of the heavy dark circles beneath his eyes. He was also unshaven, a few days worth of facial hair softening his pointy face.
“Granger,” he said again, nodding to her. The way the name loitered about the corners of his mouth made it feel like an insult. Hermione felt her spine tingle once again, and she shuddered against her will.
“It's Weasley, if you please,” she reminded Draco, crossing her arms over her chest, partly to help her express her annoyance, and partly to help stay warm. Unfortunately, the sneer that materialized on Malfoy's face at the mention of her new last name did nothing to help with the shivers.
“Yes, I know. Which makes it all the more surprising that you actually went through with the marriage.”
“Just what is that supposed to mean?” asked Hermione indignantly. But rather than press his advantage, Draco's eyes flashed a worried look, and his gaze traveled down to the ground. “Malfoy?” This latest turn of events was so unexpected, that Hermione forgot for a moment that she was supposed to be upset. She took a step towards Draco, turning her back wholly on Millicent.
“Nothing,” said Malfoy quietly. He looked back up, and whatever it was that had clouded his features appeared to have passed. “It meant nothing.”
“Are you sure you're a-” Draco held up a hand to stop Hermione short of finishing her question, and with a warning look, he walked to where she was standing.
“May I?” he asked, looking down at the hand that Hermione was using to hold the W.O.L.F. badges.
“May you what?” asked Hermione, confused. This had to be the oddest encounter she'd ever had with Malfoy.
“Have a badge.” Hermione gave a start, her muscles involuntarily contracting, and she felt one of the badge's pins stick deeply into the palm of her hand. She gasped in pain, and dropped the badges on the ground with a clatter. She brought the hand up to her face to look at it, and could see a few drops of blood starting to run in rivulets along her love line. For a brief second, she amused herself by trying to imagine how Trelawney would read such a palm, but she was pulled back to reality by Draco, who had bent over and retrieved the badges.
“W.O.L.F?” he asked, holding one of the badges up to his eyes and turning it over as if expecting it to sprout fangs and attack him.
“Wizards for Obtaining Lycanthropist Freedoms,” Hermione responded, glad to finally be back on firmer footing. If there was one thing she was prepared to talk about, it was the injustices that werewolves were facing.
“Catchy,” allowed Malfoy, half a smirk on his face. “Your acronyms have gotten better.” Hermione felt her face get very red, and she looked away from Malfoy, hoping he wouldn't look at her until she managed to stop blushing. She had just wanted to use S.P.E.W. again (Society for the Promotion of Equality for Werewolves), but Ron, in one of his (seemingly increasing) moments of brilliance, had convinced her to use the far better W.O.L.F. It hadn't taken much convincing.
“The acronym isn't what's important, it's the message,” insisted Hermione, holding out her hands so Draco could return the badges. “How would you feel if your son was attacked and bitten by a werewolf? Would you be willing to ship him off to Azkaban? Or would you fight for him.”
“With all of the werewolves in Azkaban, I don't necessarily have to worry about that, do I?” Draco's response was one that Hermione had not prepared for, and she gaped at him stupidly.
“But that's not- you can't-”
“It was a fair answer to an unfair question,” Malfoy said. He leaned in towards Hermione, and held up the badge he'd been inspecting. “But let's try and drum up some support.” He straightened up and shouted, “Here, make yourself useful Bullstrode,” over Hermione's shoulder, and he tossed the badge up into the air towards Millicent. Hermione didn't turn around, but she heard it clatter to the ground uncaught. The sound was very reminiscent of a dream being shattered.
“I don't think so Malfoy,” spat Millicent, surprising Hermione, who thought that Draco still commanded a bit of respect amongst his fellow ex-Slytherins. “You no longer have the right to tell me what to do. You lost that long ago.” The sound of heavy retreating footsteps could be heard, and Draco chuckled to himself.
“Nice to see you too,” he shouted after Millicent, but there was no response. Hermione looked back over her shoulder to find that they were completely alone. She hadn't seen Diagon Alley this empty since the days when Voldemort was still in power. Only the owls still appeared willing to venture out into the open. The shivers returned twice as strong as before, and the pain in her palm intensified.
“Do you need help hanging that up?” asked Draco, pointing to the banner that was still lying on the ground. Hermione looked down at it and then back up at Draco, a confused look on her face.
“All right, what's the joke. Why are you being... civil?” she asked, drawing out her wand. Thankfully, her wand hand was not the one that was injured.
“You don't like it?” Draco raised an eyebrow, and pulled out his own wand. Hermione recognized it immediately as the one Harry had used to defeat Voldemort. She had argued vehemently against giving it back to Draco, but Harry had been insistent.
“Honestly, no. It's very... disconcerting.” Hermione pointed her wand at the banner, and without a word, she had it levitating towards the front of her store.
“Your honesty is annoying,” said Draco, with a magnificent imitation of his own sneer. “There, is that better?” Hermione rolled her eyes.
“Not really, you have to mean it. What's wrong with you Draco? You show up looking like that, then you act... well, not like the Draco I know. I'm starting to think that you're in need of a favor.”
Draco trained his wand at the set of posters already on the building, and gave his wand a sharp tug. The posters didn't move. “You really are as clever as they say,” he said, his face darkening. “All right, I do need a favor. A rather large one, and I'd appreciate it if we talked about this someplace more private.” He once again tried to pull the existing posters off the wall, but they merely fluttered a little at the edges.
“Permanent Sticking Charm,” said Hermione softly, positioning the new W.O.L.F. banner directly above the doorway. “I've lost too many banners through the years to leave it to chance. Proprius Suggero!” With a sucking sound, the poster attached itself to the thick layer of parchment already papering the front of Obscurus Books. “That should ensure our privacy, at least,” she added, almost to herself. There had been a time when being alone with Draco Malfoy would have been the very last thing in the world she wanted, but now... well, it was still towards the bottom of the list.
“Let's get this over with then,” mumbled Draco, and he headed for the door to the shop. Hermione was hesitant to follow, but her curiosity finally got the better of her. If Draco was asking her, of all people, for help, he must truly be desperate.
The interior of Obscurus books was small and cramped. Mountains of slumbering volumes were stacked on every flat surface, leaving just enough room for people to pass in amongst them. Two hard straight-backed chairs (both with sizable stacks of books on them) were crowded around a small coffee table, on which, Hermione noted, her list of books she needed to find for Luna was still sitting. “Have a seat,” she instructed Draco, motioning him toward one of the chairs. “Would you like something to drink?”
“With all do respect, Granger, I'd really rather just get on with it.” Draco's face was unreadable as he stooped to remove the books from the seat of one of the chairs. He withdrew his hand almost immediately after making contact with the top book, however, and let out a yelp. “It burned me! Bloody book burned me!” Hermione rolled her eyes, and picked up a pair of dragonhide gloves that were on top of yet another pile of books on the counter.
“How terribly forgetful of me,” she said, feigning regret and pulling on the gloves. “That's Newt Scamander's newest manuscript. Just sent it back from Brazil. How to Walk Through Fire Slugs and Not Get Burned. I need to try and figure out how to mass produce it without burning the printing press. I'm nearly there, I think.” She had arrived at the chair, and very lovingly she picked up the book and set it on the stack of books on the coffee table. She then moved the remaining books from both chairs onto the floor.
“I think it's probably more important to figure out how to prevent its readers from bursting into flames,” griped Draco, rubbing his red and blistered fingers.
“I can have Winky bring you some paste for that if you'd like,” Hermione said, glancing at Draco's fingers. She felt a sympathy pang from where the pin had stuck her earlier. She glanced down at her own hand and saw that the blood had dried on her palm.
“That would be the house-elf who you force to call you 'Mistress,' and pay a mere pittance?” asked Draco, his sneer reforming. It was so often upon his features, that it seemed Draco was beginning to develop sneer lines rather than laugh lines.
“You can't believe everything Rita Skeeter writes,” groaned Hermione, before letting out a great sigh. “There's a reason she doesn't write for the Daily Prophet anymore, you know. Can't get her articles past the fact checker.” She smiled bitterly at the thought of one of her more personally satisfying victories. Unfortunately, Rita's quill was just as bitter and caustic as ever, especially towards Hermione. She had not taken her outing as an unregistered Animagus and subsequent stint in Azkaban well.
“I'll pass on the paste, but I'd appreciate it if you could have the elf leave for a bit. I don't want to be overheard.” Hermione shrugged and tilted her head sideways to look at Draco. He certainly was being very secretive.
“Winky!” she called, and a scuffling sound could be heard in the upstairs apartment. Then, with a faint pop, the floppy-eared house-elf appeared before them wearing a green sundress with white lace ruffles.
“Yes, Mistress? Winky is here, Mistress.” The house-elf looked up expectantly at Hermione. Draco's sneer grew several sizes too large – it now approximated an actual smile – and Hermione groaned as her face flushed.
“Winky, how many times must I ask you not to call me mistress?”
“Winky is needing to be asked once more at least, Mistress,” the elf answered, bowing low. Hermione groaned again. She had almost preferred Winky when she'd been too intoxicated to be much use around the shop.
“All right, fine,” she said in exasperation. She dug in a pocket and withdrew a Galleon. Winky shrank away in fear from the sight of it. “Don't worry, I'm not going to give you a bonus again,” Hermione assured her. The last time she'd tried to use that tactic as a punishment, Winky had cried for three weeks straight, nearly as long as she had when she'd found out that Dobby had died.
“Oh thank you Mis- Mrs. Weasley! I is not be needing any extra money, already I is being too rich.”
“Yes, yes... now would you take this to Scribbulus Everchanging Inks and pick up the paper order that we made last week? The flame-retardant pages, remember?”
“Yes,” agreed Winky excitedly, nodding her head. Her ears flopped about wildly. “I is remembering the order, Mis- Mrs. Weasley was asking Winky to place it herself!”
“That's right. Now, I'm going to want a receipt and exact change back, all right? Don't try and slip some of your wages back in with the change, or I will have to give it back to you. Do I make myself clear?” Winky nodded, though with less enthusiasm this time, and took the Galleon. She held it out away from her body as though it was poisonous. In a blink, she was gone.
“Interesting house-elf you've got there,” said Draco from the chair he'd sat down in.
“It's a long story,” mumbled Hermione, “and I was under the impression that you'd 'really rather just get on with it.'” Draco nodded seriously, and leaned forward.
“What I am about to tell you does not leave this room, do you understand?” Hermione said nothing, but made a motion with her hands for Draco to proceed. If he was really as desperate as he seemed, he was going to ask for her help even without her assurance of privacy. “It's Australis.” Hermione's face lit up at the mention of Draco's wife. Even though they had not done more than send each other Christmas cards over the years, she still loved to hear about the woman that she owed so much.
“She's quite sick,” whispered Draco, hanging his head and bringing his hands up to hold it. Hermione gasped audibly, and she fell back into the chair opposite Draco.
“Will she be all right?” she asked, frantically. Draco didn't say anything for nearly a minute, and Hermione was left to imagine any number of horrid diseases that Australis might have.
“We don't know,” said Draco suddenly, looking up from his hands. His eyes were red, and Hermione noted with amazement that he was trying very hard not to cry. She had had her doubts about whether he was human enough to cry. “It's... a difficult situation.” Hermione looked around for a handkerchief, but finding nothing, resorted to using her wand to summon one.
“Here,” she said simply, handing Draco the handkerchief. He took it, but did not use it.
“It's an autoimmune disease, a kind of lupus. Apropos, I know,” Draco scoffed.
“Oh don't,” pleaded Hermione, “don't joke.”
“I have to. It's too sadistic not to joke. There are different types of lupus, see... this one, it attacks...” Draco put his head in his hands again, and Hermione could see him surreptitiously use the handkerchief.
“Take your time,” she said, trying to sound calm when her insides were anything but.
“It attacks the blood, but not just at random. It targets the cells responsible for magic.” Hermione gasped again in spite of herself. Fate, it seemed, had one wicked sense of justice. The one thing Draco took pride in more than anything else was slowly being taken away from him.
“So she's...” The question didn't need to be finished. Draco nodded miserably.
“Pretty soon, too. She's already having trouble controlling her spells, and they are getting weaker and weaker. Please, you have to promise that you won't tell anyone about this Hermione, I don't think she could... I don't think I could...”
“Not a word,” promised Hermione, moved by Draco's use of her given name for the first time. “But what is it that you need me to do? I'm no Healer.”
“I know, it's just... you're the smartest person I know, and you've got access to all of these books. I know it's probably too late to help Australis, but... it's genetic.” Hermione's heart sank even farther into her stomach.
“You don't think that-”
“Oh Draco, I'm so sorry,” Hermione whispered. “You don't deserve this.” Draco looked up again, and there was a ghost of a smile on his face.
“Yes, I do. I deserve it. But not Scorpius. He's done nothing wrong. He's such a sweet boy, just like his mother. I couldn't live knowing that I hadn't done everything I could to protect him.” Hermione felt a sob catch at the back of her throat, and tears were starting to form in her eyes. The fact that Draco was so devoted to his son moved her to get out of her chair and stride around the coffee table. He looked up at her in confusion, but she bent over and wrapped her arms around him in a hug anyway.
“I'll do what I can,” she pledged before breaking away.
“What was that, Granger?” asked Draco, standing up so quickly that the chair toppled over backwards. Or would have, had it not merely tipped into a stack of the omnipresent books. “You've not gone soft on me?” Hermione threw her hands up in frustration.
“You're infuriating, do you know that?” she asked, wiping tears on the sleeve of her robes.
“I don't much care for you either,” replied Draco, holding out the handkerchief and reaching into the pocket of his robes. He withdrew his hand, and Hermione could see the remainder of the W.O.L.F. badges in it. She took the handkerchief, and the badges, and turned to put them on the coffee table. She could hear Draco shuffling towards the front door, and her shoulders slumped when the bell over the door rang, indicating that it had been opened.
“Oh, and Granger?” She spun around, to find Draco still standing in the doorway with a badge in his hand. “I'd fight.” He carefully pinned the badge onto the lapel of his jacket, and turned to walk out into the Diagon Alley afternoon.
A/N: This chapter did not write itself as all of the previous chapters have. I had to actually work for this one, and that led to the slight delay in getting it posted. Also contributing was the fact that all of my good ideas are now coming in for the last chapter of the story, rather than the chapter I was trying to write. That got a bit frustrating. Hopefully the next chapter will be easier.
This chapter has a bit of a different feel to it. I know that several people have stated in their reviews that they like my story because it's so happy. I'm sorry if they don't care for this chapter, but it's a story i really wanted to tell. Draco's appearance has always changed the mood in the books as well, and we all know how I feel about the books. For those of you looking for a silver lining, we can deduce that Scorpius is still able to do magic eight years later when he goes off to Hogwarts. Whether this was because of Hermione, or simply because he did not contract the disease (it is rare in males after all), remains to be seen.
This was another "half-chapter," just like the last four chapters have been. There are several more things that need to happen in this particular set piece, not least among which is the Marauder's map. No, I didn't forget about it. On the bright side, this also means that there will be at least one additional chapter.
Once again I need to be very adamant in my praise and thanks of my fantastic readers and reviewers. You've been far too kind in your praise, but I must admit that it helped me to get through some tough times for this particular chapter. I very nearly succumbed to a bout of writer's block, and I hope it will not rear its ugly head in the future. I also need to add a special note of thanks to JulesofDenial for helping me out with this chapter. Well, she helps with all of them, but in particular on this one.
So, that about wraps up this chapter... I just have to say that until we meet again, remember to Cry W.O.L.F!
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