The lift ground to a juddering halt, and the rotund guard held the decorative iron door open for Hermione. She passed by him with a murmured thanks, clutching her thick wad of files closer to her chest as she began to walk down the long, dim, corridor.
It was deep underground, in the bowels of the Ministry, and everything about it – from the blue flames in the torches on the walls to the cold radiating from the floor’s flagstones – had an unfriendly tenor. Thick doors, made of more iron and silver, were scattered at broad intervals along it, and signs warned of the dangers of unauthorised entrance.
It housed the Ministry’s most dangerous prisoners, and despite its official name, “High Priority Security Unit”, among the few who knew of its existance it was known as “The Dungeon”. Built after the war, to compensate for Azkaban’s lack of Dementors, the place was rumoured to be crawling with hidden booby-traps and curses designed by the goblins of Gringotts themselves.
It was to the furthest of these doors that Hermione was headed. The wall beside it was made of glass, but all that could be seen in it was her dark, wavering reflection. For surveillance purposes, she had been told, so that she could be seen, but not heard, in case of danger.
Two black-robed men she took to be Aurors stood in front of it, watching her walk towards them. The taller, a rawboned black man with eyes set deep in the folds of his face, nodded at her, and held out a gloved hand for identification.
As she handed him the small card with her name and position embossed on it, Hermione was amused to notice several cloves of garlic and a crucifix threaded around his neck and tucked under his cloak.
“They don’t work, you know,” she said.
He shrugged, passing her card back. “I’m not taking any chances.”
He produced a key from his pocket and shoved it into the metal of the door. Ripples spread out from where they connected, until the whole surface was moving as if liquified. Then it disappeared.
Inside, the room – or cell, or interview location, whatever you wanted to call it – was pitch dark. A small noise, like a sigh, was heard through the blackness, and Hermione could smell something spicy that reminded her of ginger, filling her nostrils. The Aurors shifted uncomfortably, fingering their wands.
As Hermione stepped over the threshold, it grew brighter, though it was still dim and she couldn’t tell where the light came from. One guard made to follow her in.
“Where are you going?” she asked, nervousness making her snappy.
“I can’t leave you alone with–"
“Rubbish. He’s restrained, and I know what to do if I need assisstance. You can wait outside – isn’t that what the glass is for?”
The guard raised his eyebrows, but slouched back into the corridor happily enough. “Red sparks,” he said. “We’ll be watching.”
The iron door bubbled back into place, and Hermione was suddenly conscious of how alone she was – if she deliberately didn’t look at the far wall for the time being. She wished she’d allowed the guard in; confidentiality wasn’t quite worth the risk of having your throat ripped out. But going back out now would show weakness.
Finally, she could stand it no longer, and turned to look at her new client properly, half-expecting to find a slavering, red-eyed demon with six-inch fangs, even if the books were quite confident that that was all myths. Still, he was completely different to the pictures her mind had conjured over the past few days.
His long, wiry frame was hunched in a straight-backed chair, on the arms of which large metal cuffs hovered, waiting to snap closed over his thin wrists. Chains roped around his legs to the knees, and fastened to the wall, so that his lower body looked as if it was caught in a giant metallic spider’s web.
Dark hair fell to his shoulders in an unkempt mane; his skin was so pale that she could see violet veins meandering along his throat under two pearly scars, like teeth marks, and he seemed to shimmer in the gloom. Mud splattered his nondescript clothes – black, of course – and a green-brown bruise marked his left temple.
Even if Hermione hadn't known he was a vampire, instinct would have guided her away from the man. Everything about him spoke of menace and a sort of feral cunning, perhaps because of his high, pointed, cheekbones and slanting dark eyes, like a cat’s.
Those curious, almost black eyes watched her now from under listless lids, and Hermione had an odd feeling he was sizing her up, measuring her against a chart he carried in his mind. She realised she had frozen in a defensive, panicky postion, and forced her body to relax. She cleared her throat and took a shaky step forwards.
“Er – hello.”
“Good day,” he replied. His voice surprised her – she wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but it had not been this, a pleasant bass, like a mellow clarinet.
She was staring again. “Well, shall we begin, then?” she said in as normal a tone as she could manage.
He smiled, exposing gleaming teeth that were only slightly pointed, but it was enough to send shivers down her spine. “Let’s,” he agreed.
It took Hermione a few tries to conjure a chair for herself and a small wooden desk, but she managed it in the end, and sat down, trying very hard not to glance to often in his direction, and, as so often happens, merely appearing twitchy. She placed her files on the table. In the silence, it sounded like the slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.
He was still watching her, with a mildly intruiged air. It made her very awkward , so she leafed through the files, rustling them unnecessarily.
“Now, I’ve looked through all the evidence, and the way I see it is-"
“Wait,” he interrupted gently. Hermione stopped babbling. “You haven’t told me your name.”
“Cygnus,” he said, smiling cordially again. “I would shake your hand, but those guards wouldn’t like it much.”
Hermione sucked in a steadying breath. It’s not so bad, she told herself, he’s being perfectly friendly. “Pleased to meet you, Cygnus,” she replied.
What followed was one of the strangest and most fascinating conversations Hermione had ever had. Cygnus was cagey about everything personal, answering her questions polietely while giving nothing away and preferring to distract her with sudden changes of subject.
His alibi was flimsy; he had been ‘visting an old friend’ in Lancaster on the night of the five murders, and had unluckily picked the night of the five murders to return to his usual haunts ‘round the City’.
However, Hermione couldn’t help but believe his disgust when she described the deaths – the Muggle’s faces mutilated almost beyond recognition, throats left bloody masses from the obviously frenzied attacks they had been subjected to before being dumped in odd corners of London.
It was easy to forget, talking to him, that he was a vampire at all – his behaviour, speech and mannerisms were all human and completely non-threatening. In fact, Hermione could feel herself letting her guard down at times and almost chatting to him, so relaxed and at-ease he was at times, until she reminded herself he was a client and she his representative.
On only two occasions during the three long, often frustrating hours Hermione spent in The Dungeon did he become really animated; then, he spoke at length.
“Why didn’t you tell the Aurors your name, your address, your birthdate?”
“I don’t have an exact address. I live… free. My birth was a long time ago, the seventeenth century, I think. I don’t remember. They wanted exactness.”
“They didn’t say name. They said birth name.”
“I don’t remember. It was probably something ridiculous like Richard. I forgot it as soon as I could. Names… to us, they’re not important. We change them once we’ve outgrown them, or we get bored. I like Cygnus, though. You know what it means?”
“It’s a constellation,” Hermione replied unthinkingly. “The swan.”
Cygnus smiled wryly. “Yes.” And he said nothing more.
The second time was when Hermione, slightly irritated by his responses, always so cordial yet uninformative, took a direct approach.
“You’re denying these murders, yes?”
Cygnus nodded, eyes guarded.
“So who, in your opinion, did commit them? How many vampires are there in London?”
“A few,” he answered cautiously. “It may have been a rival coven, setting me up. Or a loner, acting on instinct, and only bad luck brought me here. Or,” he leant in closer, “There were no vampires. No victims either. Your Ministry doesn’t like us, do they? They’d do anything-"
“No,” Hermione said firmly. She was silent for a moment, angry that he’d suggested such a thing, before continuing: “I can’t conduct a trial or defend anyone from that angle, even in the unlikely event it were true.” She looked him in the eye, half-wondering at her daring. “Did you kill those Muggles? I need to know what sort of angle to take, you see, and if you admit any guilt now it will make everything a lot easier for everyone.”
Cygnus was gazing at his hands, interlaced on the table. He seemed to realise he had made a mistake. “No,” he said at last. “ I didn’t.” Then his old nonchalance returned. “And I would prefer if you conducted my trial from that angle.”
After that, the answers had dried up. He would only grunt a “yes” or “no” to any of the questions pertaining to the case that Hermione flung at him, instead maneuvering her into discussing the relative merits of tea and coffee.
It was infuriating; she knew he was playing games with her, or at least with the Ministry. It was as if he’d already resigned himself to his conviction and felt that not co-operating was the most interesting course of action.
Finally, Hermione couldn’t take any more. No more glimpses of insight were forthcoming, fascinating as it was to simply talk to him. But she couldn’t waste time, and if he wouldn’t give her straightforward answers, there was no use in continuing.
He smiled serenely at her as she left, and, irritated as she was, she couldn’t help returning it. It felt strange to be out in the relatively brightly-lit corridor. She nodded at the guards and hurried away, her head in a muddle and thoughts conflicted.
She didn’t believe he did it; that he could have been so callous and vicious. But then, he was a vampire (she recoiled from the statement even as she thought it), and why else would he have been so evasive?
The Atrium was full of welcome bustle. Hermione threaded her way through the noisy crowd, anticipating a soothing bath and a chance to mull things over. Crosby was loitering at the security stand, chatting to Ernie, the wand-weigher, but Hermione knew by the exaggerated surprise on his face that he’d been waiting for her.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Fine,” Hermione replied shortly. “Do you want my report now, or tomorrow?”
He took the scrawled notes with an affronted air. “Well, I’ll see you,” he said, and with a sort of last-ditch attempt at humour, “Unless the vampires get you, of course.”
Hermione smiled thinly, and almost sprinted for the gilt fireplaces. She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but she had a raging desire to just get back to her apartment, away from all the craziness.
However, she was only halfway across the Atruim, barely level with the newly-installed statue of Dumbledore, when a woman confronted her; small, slim, unnaturally blonde, with a turned-up nose and startlingly blue eyes. She wore so much make-up that her skin was a toxic orange, which only enhanced her eyes’ brilliance, and a fussy little scarf arranged around her neck. She could barely walk in her high-heels; her knees stuck out at funny angles as she tottered across the Atrium to Hermione, hand outstretched and over-large teeth bared in a grin.
“Hermione Granger, isn’t it? I was told I’d find you here.” She spoke with an upper-class accent, over-pronouncing her words so that they had a staccatto rhythm. What, in the Atrium? Hermione thought, instantly disliking the woman.
“Yes,” she replied. “And you?”
“Deborah Kirwan,” the woman said, smiling in a way obviously meant to be ingratiating. “I’m court reporter for the Daily Prophet. Haven’t you seen me? I sit in the corner and scribble away, though of course you’re much too busy to notice, I expect.” She chuckled.
“Er, yes, I remember,” Hermione said, twitching the corners of her mouth in an effort to appear friendly. She had never seen or heard of the woman before, though of course she didn’t buy the Prophet.
Deborah grasped her hand and shook it limply. “I’m so pleased to finally meet you, Hermione. I’m sure we’ll get along swimmingly!”
“We will?” Hermione asked.
“Oh, yes, of course, how silly of me. I’m covering the vampire’s trial – it’s down to little old me that there’s a trial at all! I’d love if you could give me a few minutes of your time – a statement, perhaps? A description of the defendant? Was he… frightening?” She produced a pink notebook and an over-sized quill, teeth protuding in anticipation.
“I’m afraid not,” Hermione said, faltering a little at the eagerness – hunger, almost – in the woman’s eyes.
“Oh, that’s too bad!” Deborah simpered, face puckering into exaggerated disappointment. “But if you change your mind, do let me know, won’t you?”
A small card had appeared in her hand; Hermione took it doubtfully. “Deborah Kirwan, Daily Prophet Speacial Reporter” was the only lettering, in sugary pink and fringed with whimsical curls.
“There will be a small - ” Deborah winked, “- incentive, of course. Our readers lap this sort of thing up – high drama! Great entertainment for the house-witch: vampires, murder, an attractive young woman against the establishment!”
“Oh – really?” Hermione asked. “How lovely .” Entertainment for the house-witch? High drama? Outwardly she smiled politely, but inside she was fuming.
“Well, best of luck, dearie,” Deborah said. “Of course, none of us expect you to be successful – but it’s all in the taking part, isn’t it?” She turned to go.
“Wait,” Hermione called after her.
“Yes?” Deborah asked, turning hopefully.
“Do you mean – oh, never mind.”
Deborah gave her a sympathetic look. “Don’t be silly,” she said, and walked away unsteadily.
Hermione knew exactly what she meant, and she hated it. Everyone thought Cygnus was guilty already, everyone expected her to lose, everyone wanted her to lose. A show trail would entertain the masses and portray the Ministry as wise and just.
Well, she wouldn’t stand for it. A life was a life, no matter what; Cygnus was innocent, she was sure of it. And as the journalist merged into the throng of Ministy personel queueing by the Floo fireplaces, Hermione’s resolve hardened.
She would win, change their minds, whatever it took.
A/N: I’m very sorry for the stupidly long time I took to update this. Oh, and for not giving you a hot vampire. Bite me. In review form, of course. Not so happy with this chapter – it’s inconsistent somehow, although I can’t work out exactly why. Again, review and tell me. That is all, thanks to all the people who have (rather surprisingly) favourited this) : )
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