Hermione stood in the centre of her living-room, watching the empty spaces. Ginny hadn’t taken any furniture, not even the green coach she’d given three-quarters of the mone towards, but little absences remained all the same. No untidy pile of shoes by the door. No Qudditch manuals; one less owl cage. The flat had never been so lifeless, for all that it was neater. Even though she’d always thought of it as cramped, the walls stretched away from Hermione for miles.
Ginny had moved out two days ago. It felt like decades. She’d visited their new house. It was squat and white and pretty, sitting amongst flowerbeds like a contented cat. Harry was delighted, as was Ginny. Hermione still hadn’t spoken to Ron; the only contact she’d had was a scrawled note in the care of Pig that merely told her that his exams had been difficult but had gone well.
She hadn’t replied. Maybe she would, after the trial. Until then, she simply couldn’t deal with any more stress. It sometimes seemed to her tat, even though her job was becoming ever-more frustrating and draining, it was the only place where she felt she had a purpose, the only place where people needed her. Perversely, despite Cygnus and Ron’s warnings, it was the only place she felt safe.
Hermione clamped her arms to her sides and took a deep breath, Self-pity was all very well, but right now she had work to do. She took a sheet of parchment, a quill, and a heavy reference book borrowed from the Ministry’s library into the kitchen. There was a lot of things to organise in five days.
The sun was already setting. Its rays mingled with the haze of electrical light that hovered over London, throwing an orange glow over Hermione’s work until it filled her senses with honey-like light. Her head was so heavy, and she bent it close to the parchment as her grip loosened on her curling quill.
At two o’clock in the morning, Hermione was once again wide awake. One hand clutched her leather-bound book tightly to her side; her wand quivered in the other. She had fallen asleep over Chapter Twelve: “The Ambiguosities of Moral Delineation in Non-Human Magical Creatures”. Then, five minutes ago, there had been an unearthly noise, like a quiet scream, right outside the front window.
It had cut right through her sleepiness, and had been so full of anger and pain that she’d jumped for her wand at once. Now she was edging through the shadows towards the window, heart pounding. There was another hissing screech, muffled and less frightening than the first.
A man’s voice rose in irritation. “And that’s just a taster! Now imagine what Chairon will do to you if you’re caught here again – and don’t think I won’t tell him!”
There was a noise like a slap and a woman’s gasp. Hermione’s eyes widened in shock; what was this? She couldn’t stay still. Gritting her teeth, she almost ran to fling back the stubborn curtains, whispering “Lumos” and holding up her wand.
All she could see for a moment was her own shining reflection in the glass, but then she made out a figure silhouetted against the streelight, running down the pavement faster than should be possible and dodging into a small alley. One arm was clutched to its stomach. Her eyes were drawn back, to directly below her, at the bottom of the steps. She had the briefest glimpse of a face, half in shadow. It was twisted in the direction the first had gone and belonged to a tall man. His mouth was open in a snarling smile and his bared teeth dripped with scarlet. Then he too turned and was gone.
Hermione stood, frozen, for a moment. Vampires! But why? Had they been there for a reason, or was it just a coincidence that they should turn up on her road? Nothing in the street moved. Slowly, Hermione moved away from the window and fumbled for the front door’s latch, setting down the book and pulling her coat over her shoulders as she stepped down onto the road.
She still held her wand; vampires with blood on their teeth and hellish screams were, at this moment, more dangerous than any Muggle neighbour. A shiny dark liquid was pooling at the curb, inching towards the drain. Hermione bent down, holding her lit wand close to it. As she did so, however, the fluid began to fizz and bubble, disappearing like water on a hot stove. She touched a tentative finger to it. It stung, and for a second her fingertips were stained red. She recoiled. Vampire blood. What had happened?
The first, running, figure, must have been injured; it had held its arm in such an odd way. The second had had the same blood smeared on his face and teeth – had it attacked the other? Why? It made no sense. Suddenly feeling very glad that there were streetlights to flood her surroundings with comforting light, Hermione turned and hurried up the steps. Her feet slapped treacherously loudly on the wet stone, sounding to her like dead wet fish hitting the pavement. She bolted the door with both metal and magic behind her.
Maybe in the daylight she would have been braver; but not in the dead of night, not when there was still blood congealing on the footpath. She lay in her bed, not taking her eyes off the door. Just after dawn she fell into an uneasy sleep, plagued by nightmares.
Hermione took her seat opposite Cygnus in the dim cell. She was aware that she looked a mess. Her eyes carried heavy bags and her hair had proven untameable. Even the sight of Cyngus was setting her on edge; the memories of the night before were fresh and no less powerful now - although she was far underground, sitting across from a vampire with only a table and some chains to protect her. But then he opened his dark eyes and the fear melted from her. He wasn’t like them.
“Four days,” he said, startling her. Usually, she spoke first, and with the authority.
“Yes,” she replied. Remembering how fruitless her perusal of the borrowed book had been, she added: “I don’t think there is much else to be done, to be honest. Maybe a few minor ajustments, nothing very taxing. ”
“Aren’t you going to grill me on my lines?”
“That’s really not necessary…”
“That’s a pity – I saw a film about a lawyer once, years ago, and he was very into that,” he said, adding demurely : “But, of course, you’re a witch. I don’t suppose you would have seen it.”
Hermione smiled. “My parents are Muggles. I know what you mean.”
“I was a Muggle,” he said unexpectedly, staring at a point over her head.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Really? This must all be quite strange to you, then.”
He shook his head. “I’ve had many dealings with wizards downthe years.”
“You were born in the seventeenth century, I think you said? Then why have you seen Muggle films? I wouldn’t think they’d be high on the agenda of a – well –“
He saved her. “Sometimes its nice to pretend to be human, just for a while. Many of us do it – we are quite good at it, hiding amongst you undetected. Over the years we’ve become excellent actors.”
Hermione bit her lip, wondering if she should tell him. Two sides battled it out in her mind, each with its dangers – but curiosity and fear won, and slipped through a gap in sensible and professional’s defences. “I saw two vampires outside a restaurant once. They seemed to recognise me.”
Cygnus straightened. “Recently?”
“A few weeks ago.”
“What did they look like?” His voice was still calm, but there was wariness in his eyes.
Hermione tried to remember the muddied images clearly; she hadn’t concentrated on specifics at the time. “One was fair, with light eyes. And the other had dark hair. Both tall.”
Cygnus’s eyes narrowed. “You haven’t seen them since? Or any others?”
Hermione hesitated. “Well, last night…” she began. “Last night there was at least one outside my house. I think he’d attacked a second; there was blood…”
Cygnus leaned forward. She caught a whiff of that gingery scent, and breathed in without thinking. It calmed her, so that she was maybe not as alarmed at his next words as she should have been. “Hermione, you need to be very careful. I know these men. They’re dangerous, ruthless.”
Hermione felt a little prickle of annoyance at being told what to do, even as she realised that if he did know them, it might perhaps be better to trust him. “Who are they?” she asked.
“Members of my old coven, the one I left. I think they could be trying to sabotage the trial.”
“What? How – why?”
“In the most direct means possible,” he said, face solemn and intent. “If you’re not around to defend me, the Ministry will do their dirty work for them.”
“You don’t think that –“
“Of course they will,” he said, rather harshly.
“Oh,” That was one mystery solved, at least, Hermione thought. The new knowledge was sinking in slowly, and she wasn’t sure she’d enjoy it’s final arrival. “That’s – that’s-“
“Hermione,” Cygnus said solenmly, but hesitantly, as if he were not used to the words. “I’m so very sorry for dragging you into this. It’s completely my fault. I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt because of me.”
Hermione swallowed. There it was again; her stomach twisted and her heart leapt. It was crazy. Better not to listen to her erratic feelings; what did they know? She found a way out of momentary confusion and leapt at it.
“I suppose this could be turned to our advantage – if the Wizengamot is given proof that there are indeed other vampires –“
“No - you can’t, please. I know what they’ll think – that you’re paranoid. No one, least of all a government, wants to believe that there are things out there that could really hurt them.”
It made sense, she had to concede, thinking of how Fudge had handled Voldemort’s return to power, but she had to argue anyway. “They arrested you.”
“That’s different,” he said. “They weren’t even going to give me a trial at first, were they?”
Cygnus leaned back and smiled as though he’s won a great victory. Hermione couldn’t help but feel a little better; his smile was warm enough to drive out almost all fears of violent death. Almost all.
Realising that the conversation had gotten a little out of hand, when she next spoke, it was of the trial, and his defence, and which of the Wizengamot they would need on their side. It never hurt to be practical. Especially if you had just realised your opinion of a client was anything but.
For the rest of the week Hermione was in a state of distraction.
Crosby noticed it; he tutted when owls weren’t answered and files were misplaced, but didn’t say a word. She knew that his opinion of her had definitely disimproved. Before, he had seen her as a prospective head of department; now, he felt guilty at giving so much responsibilty to someone so young and inexperienced. Ginny worried too, quietly, watching her friend wear herself out. She called more often, but the calls grew shorter and Ginny began to dread them.
Hermione knew all this, and found it wasn’t in her to care. If she could only do one case in her life, this would be the one she picked. It had to be done.
Every night she tossed and turned – not from fear; her door was locked bolted and sealed with iron – but anxiety. Night after night she watched Cygnus die in her dreams. Night after night she pondered and probed this new sentimentNight after night she counted down the days remaining. Five. Four. Three. Two…
And then, finally, when she was wound like a rubber band, the twentieth arrived. A strange calm descended over her, like the eye of a storm, as she buttoned her best blouse and gulped her tasteless coffee. It lasted until the Atrium, where the sight of one purple-clad Wizengamot elder made her stomach clench.
She collected herself, and managed to push through the crowds to Courtroom Number Four. She dimly realised, through her own tangled emotions, that there were many people in and around it, milling through the door, chatting outside, scribbling notes. A black-suited man shoved into her, dropping his rolls of parchment in his haste and swearing at her.
Inside, it was much the same. The Wizengamot were taking their seats and the chained chair in the room’s centre was empty, looking like a hunched old raven from where she stood, seeing only the back.
“Where is he? For God’s sake, people, can we have some order?” It was Marty Cunningham, head of the Auror Department. Nobody paid him the slightest attention, so he repeated, louder: “Who is in charge of this racket? Has no one told my boys to bring him up yet?”
Hermone approached him, avoiding flailing limbs, and was rounded upon. “You! You’re his lawyer, right? Go on, down to the Dungeon, tell the bastards it’s time. Oh good, here’s the Minister. Here’s hoping he can knock this lot into order.”
Kingsley strode into the courtroom, wearing his usual deep purple, and up to his seat directly across from the double doors. He sat, looking very grim. Hermione could hear him calling the room to order with rather more success than Cunningham as she slipped down the corridor to the lift.
No less than nine Aurors, clad in black and gold, thronged the Dungeon’s long corridor. The blue torches flickered and flared brighter than usual, throwing their faces into sharp relief as Hermione walked by. Harry was one of them. He smiled slightly, but otherwise made no acknowledgement. The usual guard, looking much less impressive next to the Aurors, nodded to her.
“The court is ready,” Hermione said.
He plunged the key into the door. One by one the Aurors filed into the cell, two remaining outside. The lights inside rose, and Hermione could see, through the transparent wall, one carefully unlocking Cygnus’ chains, one lock at a time. A set of handcuffs four inches thick were snapped around his wrists and he was shoved to his feet.
They made to pull him out into the corridor, but he shook his head. Extending his arms out in front of him and arching his back, he looked for an instant as if he would attack the Aurors swarming around him. Then he swivelled his head left and right and Hermione realised he was only stretching. She couldn’t imagine how stiff sitting in the same position for almost two months would make you, but Cygnus appeared to be immediately recovered.
And now the Aurors were prodding him forward, through the door and down the corridor to the left. As they passed, Hermione was struck by how tall Cygnus actually was; it was the first time she’d seen him stand. He was very thin, and although he gave the impression of huge strength, he offered no resistance to the Aurors.
She would not be allowed to take the same lift, so she stood and watched them move away, noticing how effortlessly - beautifully - Cygnus walked. As he stepped into the lift, he glanced over his shoulder and caught her eye. There was no expression on his pale face, but Hermione thought, just before the doors clanged shut, that there was a careless laugh in his eyes.
A/N: this was very hastily edited and finished so typing errors and inconsistencies are my fault (I hope there's none, but you never know). This chapter was never meant to exist, and was only written because someone asked me in a review to know more about Cygnus... it kind of went on from there, but I'm glad I wrote it. It was actually very necessary. Only three chapters to go (Upsetting, isn't it?)
Please review :)
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