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Oh my gosh, it's been nearly a month since I updated this story.... I'm sorry about the long wait! Anyway, here's chapter nine!

Chapter Nine: Malfoy Manor 

Hermione woke up just as the sun began its ascent in the sky. It took her a moment to realize that she wasn't lying in her own bed in her own flat. No, she was currently snuggled up under unfamiliar covers in a four-poster bed in a strange new room with two other people she barely knew. She got up slowly, the covers rustling. Making sure to stay quiet so she would not disturb her French roommates, she quickly dressed and tiptoed out of the room.

Hermione found her way down the marble staircase, out the door, and into the vast gardens. A cool, gentle breeze tickled her face pleasantly. She took a deep breath of fresh air and let it out. Glancing around, she found that she was the sole person awake at this hour and let out a laugh. Never in a million years would she have imagined herself staying, practically living, in the Malfoy Manor.

She suddenly thought of the last time she had come here. She had been seventeen years of age. No, she must not think of that visit. She shook her head, clearing her thoughts, and began exploring the gardens. The bordering hedges towered over her head. Serpent-shaped bushes dominated the entrance to the pathway. Fragrant scents drifted up to her nose.

The sun continued to rise as Hermione wandered deeper and deeper into the gardens that seemed to stretch on forever. Then, she heard footsteps ahead and paused. Someone had joined her.

The two hedges on either side of her opened up to reveal an exquisite fountain. Water trickled down into the gathering pool; the splashing sound was like music. A tall, thin man stood at the edge of the fountain, gazing into the watery depths. Draco.

Hermione watched him silently, hidden behind the hedge. She was unconsciously admiring his features: the face of carved marble, the silver-gray eyes, and the silky white-blond hair. He was undoubtedly handsome.

"I can see you staring at me, Granger," he suddenly said, without looking up from the fountain. There was still a trace of a smirk on his face this early in the morning.

Hermione cursed inwardly; she had been hoping to escape before he saw her. Now she was obliged to walk up to the fountain and converse with him. When she was near enough so he that could reach out and touch her if he wished, he finally looked up from the water and fixed his eyes on her. Hermione was suddenly reminded of the fact that she had not yet brushed her hair. She wondered vaguely what she looked before shaking the image away. Who cared if her hair looked like a rat's nest at the moment? She certainly didn't.

"I see you came back," he said when it was clear that Hermione wasn't going to take the initiative to strike up a conversation.

"Yes, I did," said Hermione quietly.

"Was it because of my letter? Did my excellent prose win your heart?" He was full on smirking by now.

Hermione scowled. He was so full of himself. "Yes, Malfoy, your letter was practically dripping with eloquence. I nearly cried," she said sarcastically, folding her arms over her chest and looking at anything but him.

There was silence. "So I take it you haven't forgiven me yet," he said, becoming suddenly serious. He looked at her apologetically, almost pleadingly. It was quite unnerving.

"You really can't expect me to melt into your arms right away, can you?" she said for an answer.

"No," he said, looking back at the fountain. "I don't suppose I can."

"I've realized, this is the longest conversation we've had without you insulting me," Hermione noted when both of them seemed to have run out of things to say.

"When you think about it, Granger, you weren't exactly innocent in your Hogwarts days either. You've insulted me plenty of times."

"What do you mean? Twitchy little ferret? That wasn't an insult, it was a fact." Hermione couldn't help but grin.

"It hurt my feelings," Draco groaned, pretending to look wounded.

"Well, I'm sorry," said Hermione.

"You aren't being sincere in the slightest bit."

"You are completely right."

A sudden noise alerted both of them to a crewman tinkering with his camera, which was emitting purple smoke. He looked up when he noticed the conversation had stopped. He grinned a toothy grin. "Don't mind me. Carry on."

"Goodbye, Malfoy," said Hermione abruptly, striding away.

"See you around, Granger." He glanced at the cameraman, who looked disappointed, and then disappeared into the depths of the gardens.

When Hermione reentered the manor, it was a great deal noisier. In the guest wing, girls were shouting across the hallways and clothes and shoes were flying out of the rooms. On the first floor, a group of house-elves wearing towels like togas were scurrying around, carrying trays laden with food.

Hermione caught a whiff of chocolate chip waffles and her mouth began watering, making her momentarily forget about freeing the house-elves. She had sat down at the long dining table and was drowning a plate of waffles in syrup when Isabelle joined her, yawning, her long blonde hair piled up on top of her head

"G-good m-m-morning, Hermione. What's for breakfast?" She reached blindly for a piece of toast and began buttering it.

"Morning, Isabelle," said Hermione, giving her a smile.

"How long have you been up?" said Isabelle, taking a bite of her toast and chewing very slowly.

"Since dawn."

Isabelle dropped her toast. "You're a morning person?" she said, astounded.

Hermione laughed. "As it turns out, I am. It used to drive my roommates at Hogwarts crazy."

"Hermione!" someone squealed. It was Parvati, who was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. "Guess what? I'm going on the first group date! Guess where we're going!"

"Erm…skiing?" said Hermione.

Parvati shook her head. "Of course not! There's no snow around at this time of year, silly. Draco's taking us to the beach!"

"How lovely," said Hermione politely. Isabelle closed her eyes wearily.

"I know! I get to see Draco in nothing but swimming trunks!"

"You're going too?" another girl squealed. She had a pixie haircut, and she was very petite. "I'm so excited! Aren't you?" The two girls clasped hands and began skipping around the dining table.

"Are they insane?" Isabelle mumbled.

"Quite possibly," said Hermione, calmly starting on her second waffle. While last night's dinner had been appalling, the breakfast was amazing. She contently bit into the syrupy goodness.

The rest of breakfast was a loud affair. The three other girls who were also going on the beach date joined in with Parvati's ruckus. Pansy was one of them, and she lost no time in telling everyone how great she looked in a bikini.

As Hermione tried to find her appetite again after overhearing Pansy's nauseating comments on her bikini-perfect physique, the other nineteen girls made plans to go shopping in downtown London. Hermione politely declined. She had spent more than enough gold on her new wardrobe, and thanks to Ginny she had an excess of clothes she would never wear.

When Draco took the five girls to the beaches at Cornwall and after the other girls departed by Floo powder, Hermione had the manor all to herself. She decided to take the opportunity to properly explore the place, completely aware that she was deliberately ignoring Draco's rules.

She started from the foyer and took a proper look at it. The ceiling was vaulted and high and was adorned with faded fresco paintings. The floor was decorated with precious stones arranged in patterns; at the center was a large, emerald M. When she felt as though she had memorized every detail, she pondered where to go next.

Instead of going up the marble staircase, Hermione went straight ahead. She discovered a magnificent living room with dark leather couches, exotic fur rugs, and large oil portraits of generations of dead Malfoys. They all had the same pale, pointed faces and exactly the same shade of gray for eyes. The moving portraits stared at her sternly, making her feel very uncomfortable, and she quickly left.

Next she found the large cavernous kitchens where a team house-elves (it took a fair amount of self-control not to free them right then and there) bowed and greeted her. They offered her a variety of pastries and sweets, which she kindly refused.

A little further along she found a quiet and airy chamber that held a beautiful black baby grand piano. Hermione couldn't help herself and played a few notes from what she remembered from her piano lessons long, long ago. The piano was slightly out of tune, and the music echoed in the tall chamber. She left the piano and wandered around for another hour, peering into various rooms and halls, and soon, though she didn't know it yet, she was quite lost.

Hermione passed under yet another archway and ascended a couple of old stone steps. She pushed open the heavy door and gasped in wonder. The room she was now standing in was enormous. The height of the ceiling could easily accommodate three separate levels. Thousands of books lined the walls. Lit torches gave off a warm light, along with the sunlight pouring through the tall windows. Comfortable-looking couches and armchairs were scattered here and there. She had discovered the immense Malfoy library, and knew at once that it was entirely possible for her to spend her entire life in that one room.

She walked through the library, her footsteps echoing on the smooth, highly polished dark wood floor. She walked along the shelves and ran her fingers across the spines of the books. She found a stack of books that had been haphazardly placed on a desk. She glanced at the titles and saw Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, Northanger Abbey, A Tale of Two Cities, and Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Hermione reread the embossed titles on the books, her fingers tracing words over and over again. So someone in this manor was a fan of the great Muggle classics. She smiled and picked up one of the books, flipping it open to the first page. Familiar words and phrases jumped out at her like old acquaintances. She decided right then and there that a few hours of reading was a good way to pass some time. Settling into a cozy green armchair, she began to read, losing herself in another world.

She soon lost track of the time, however, and looked up only when her stomach began to growl, reminding her that she had not eaten anything since breakfast that day. She rubbed her tired eyes and returned the stack of books she had gotten out to their proper shelves. Then she hurried toward the door; the dark corners of the library were beginning to look a little scary.

Hermione soon realized she had a horrible sense of direction. After a couple of wrong turns, she was utterly lost and was walking along a completely new corridor of the Malfoy Manor, wishing dearly that she had left a trail of breadcrumbs or something of the sort.

A floorboard beneath her creaked loudly, causing her to gasp, her heart beating rapidly. She darted beneath an old stone archway, and suddenly found herself in a new, frighteningly familiar room.

Though at a first glance the room was quite large, the moment she crossed the threshold the dark purple walls seemed to close in on her, pressing against her at all sides. It was horribly claustrophobic. Her breaths of air became stuttering gasps, and her heart was pounding erratically. Something was not right.

Confusing lights swam across her vision, and she spotted a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, glittering though it was covered in dust. She thought she must have been hallucinating, because for one wild moment she saw that the shards of glass were spotted with dark red blood…her blood.

Without even knowing what was happening, Hermione dropped to the ground, her knees hitting the carpeted floor as though she was in prayer. Her hands clutched at her head and heart, willing the painful pounding to end. Her eyes darted back and forth. Dark shadows seemed to leap out at her.

Hermione felt as though she were sinking, drowning slowly. She could not think. She could not move. Pain wracked her body, even though no one else was there to inflict it on her. She opened her mouth to scream, but couldn't find her voice.

She heard a voice, no, an echo from long ago and cried out in fear. It was the cruel voice of the woman who had ceased to be human and had tortured her at this very spot, ten years ago. Hermione was reliving the most traumatic hour of her life, and she could not make it stop.

Dimly, vaguely, she heard a shout followed by hurried footsteps. Then, quite unexpectedly, a pair of strong, warm hands picked her up as though she were merely a fragile china doll and she heard a new voice.

"Granger! Granger, can you hear me?" The voice was deep, male, and frantic.

As her savior lifted her up into the air, the world tilted dizzyingly and everything faded to black. 

What do you think? Again, sorry about making you awesome readers for waiting so long! I promise to update more quickly in the future. Please leave a review; they keep me going :)
Yours till Stubby Boardman proves he really is Sirius Black,
Queen Luna

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