The sun rose achingly slowly, filering through the curtains to eventually cast its rays over Hermione’s figure on the unmade bed. She had lain in the same postion all through the long night, curled on her side with legs drawn up to her chin. She still wore her green work robes, her hair was a matted mess, and red rings circled her constantly blinking eyes. The tears had stopped abruptly in the middle of the night, but a dull headache and a tightness in her throat remained.
If she had slept – which she doubted – she hadn’t dreamed; she was glad of that, knowing what she would have seen. Black eyes, skin like snow, scarlet blood boiling away beneath a furious light.
The pattern of cracks, like a grey lattice, in the wall opposite her was etched into her memory, and she’d counted the garish flowers printed on the curtains over and over, getting a different figure each time. The doorbell had rang, a harsh atonal noise, at around ten, but Hermione ignored it. Miserable guilt was an emotion to experience alone. It pierced her like a dagger through her ribs, twisting with every thought.
The sun inched its way upwards, higher and higher until it found a gap in the curtains and a single shaft slipped into the darkened room. Too drained to roll over, Hermione clapped a pillow over her face. Soon it became stifling, but she didn’t move it. It smelt familiar and comfortingly sleepy.
When the sun was directly overhead and couldn’t reach her, she moved it. Everything was too bright, and she flung and arm reflexively over her eyes. The movement reminded her of Cygnus and how, on their first meeting, he’d done exactly the same thing.
The knife, still jammed firmly into her chest, wrenched when she pictured his face. How had she ever found him less than beautiful? And now the next time she saw him would be non tomorrow. Dying.
It wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen someon die, or the first time she’d lost a friend. But it had been a war; those people – Tonks, Remus, Fred – had died bravely, and she’d lived in fear so long, had time to prepare for the inevitable losses. Cyngus was dying for no reason other than blind prejudice and her own failings, and dying in a most horrible, painful way.
What was it she’d said to him? I’ll do my best. And had she? No. Day had run rings around her. There was no one else to blame, really… and he’d had such faith in her.
I’ll do my best. Words echoed around her skull, taunting her. Cygnus’s voice, admitting he feared death. Ron’s, telling her to stay away.
My best. What was her best? It had to be better than this.
Hermione pressed her knuckle to her head. Shut up, she thought. Shut up shut up shut up shut up.
Suddenly, blissfully, her mind indeed silenced. A new voice spoke up. You haven’t failed yet.
She prodded at it, wondering if it belonged to her. Was she delusional, or just crazily optimistic? Of course she’d failed.
Not yet. He’s still alive, isn’t he?
Well then. There’s almost twenty hours to go.
She frowned, dropping her hand. But what could she do? The voice was gone. In its wake it left an idea.
She knew where he was imprisoned. That was more that most people knew, to start with. She knew the extent of his security. She had twenty hours.
Hermione rolled over and swung her legs out of bed. Blood rushed from her head, and it took a moment for the dizziness to subside. Then she stood, dragging her robes over her head, flinging on a fresh pair. She splashed cold water over her face, hoping it would encourage the swelling around her eyes to go down. Then she brushed her teeth and tugged a comb through her hair, wincing as knots came away. Her reflection stared back at her in the mirror over the sink, its face pale and brown eyes still pinkish, but ti was a definite improvement.
The kitchen clock read almost five p.m., later than she’d expected, but not yet late enough for the plan that seemed to have been forming in her subconscious overnight and which became more solid after two mugs of coffee and a painkiller. It was possible, it had to be.
Half of the Dungeon’s strength as a prison rested on its reputation, mostly formed through rumours. Thr guards would pose no great oppostion; the booby-traps could be disabled, or might not even activate; she was authorised to enter, after all. The chains… they they would be trickier; she was sure that they would be charmed, at the very least.
Filled with a sudden energy that she wished had been present yesterday, she went to dig out a spell book.
Ten o’clock. Darkness descended over the rooftops of London, pooling in corners as if pinned there by the random pockets of life and noise and people. A light drizzle was falling.
Hermione, wrapped in a cloak, walked down the steps from the flat, one hand clutching the wand stowed in her pocket. She hadn’t forgotten the other vampires, although if Cygnus had been right, their work had all but been done.
She moved quickly along the footpath, not looking to either side. If she had, she would have noticed the tramp huddled up against the railings. His puzzled expression, buried deep in the folds of his blood-splattered cloak, changed as Hermione passed. His mouth stretched into a smile so wide and euphoric that it would have been almost as horrific without the two shiny sharp canines that bordered it.
The employee entrances were deserted. Only maintenance and the occasional security guard were still at the Ministry so late. The current Minister didn’t particularily reward or encourage hard work, and many employees couldn’t see the point of working extra hours without incentive.
Hermione squeezed into the cramped cubicle, inserted her token, and was standing in the Atrium within seconds. She felt light-headed, and as if she were watching herself from the outside. It was exilerating.
The front desk sat unmanned, but fires crackled in several of the Floo fireplaces that lined the far wall. Hermone turned and headed for the lifts, her feet clacking and echoing on the tiles. The golden cage seemed to take a decade to begin its descent. She hammered the ‘down’ buton repeatedly, her nrves on fire, every creak of the structure doubling her heart rate.
The doors rattled open and she stepped out cautiously, expecting a sudden shout of alarm. None came. She drew her wand and held it out before her, advancing down the corridor, peering into the gloom ahead. Her attempts at stealth might have worked better had it not been for the torches along the walls erupting into flame as she passed. The acrid smell of smoke reached her and she saw the reddish glow of a cigarette end.
Then she heard a mutter, a mumble. A shout.
“Who’s there? Declare yourself!” The glow vanished. It had been a confident voice. The shorter one, then, the one without the garlic and crucifix.
“Stop right there!”
She kept walking, unafraid.
“Last warning! Halt!”
Another step. Two yells in perfect unison, two jets of red light.
“Protego!” she cried, and the spells spun away.
“Wait, wait!” The taller caught his companion’s arm, holding it as he prepared to cast another curse. “Miss Granger?”
His hesitation gave Hermione her chance. “Stupefy!”
The short man collapsed, and the other, wide-eyed, pointed his wand directly at her. “Miss Granger, I don’t know what you’re doing, but drop your wand and nobody gets h-“
With another flash, he too was slumped on the floor. Hermione inhaled. She hadn’t enjoyed that. But she ignored her misgivings and riffled through the pair’s pockets for the key. It was strung firmly to a belt, but she yanked it loose and jammed it into the door as she’d seen him do.
The door gave way under the key, but stayed firm, and a searing pain shot up her arm. It was as if the little piece of metal was aflame, supported by the blistering burn developing on her palm.
Hermione bit her lip, holding back a cry. Why wouldn’t it open? A thought occurred, and she tugged the tall guard up so he was half-standing, supported by her protesting arms. Gasping, she placed the key in his limp hand and pushed it into the door. This time, the silver began to ripple and fade. She thanked god that the Dungeon’s doors didn’t work the same way as those at Gringotts.
She dropped the man, wincing as his head cracked against the doorframe, and stepped over him into the cell. The hidden lights steadily brightened, and Cygnus’s chair came into view. The table and other chair were gone, and the cell felt twice as empty without them.
Cygnus’s face was in shadow, turned away from the door. “No… it can’t be time yet…”
“It’s not,” Hermione said.
He stiffened, and looked at her. For a split second, his face was filled with a wild sort of joy, triumph almost, then it was gone. “Hermione?”
“I’ve come to get you out,” she said, walking to him and examining his chains, trying to work out how to break them.
“But it must be the middle of the night.”
“Yes.” She continued to turn over the chains, searching for a lock. “And we need to hurry – I’m surprised an alarm hasn’t gone off yet.”
She glanced at him; his eyes were wide, mouth open – if it had been possible, his face would have drained of blood. Then he smiled. “I see you knocked out the guards.” There was an amused sort of pride in his voice.
“Yes,” Hermione repeated, distracted. “I’m going to have to try something else…diffindo!”
The chains, instead of splitting, actually contracted, tightening about his chest. Hermione scowled; she’d hoped that would be it, not one of the more complex spells she’d looked up that afternoon.
“Discerpo!” It took a mental effort, but the largest chain clinked and broke, falling to the ground. However, a thinner silver one still looped around him. This wouldn’t break at all.
“It won’t,” Cygnus said, mouth still quirked into a smile. “It was a special charm… allow me.”
He brushed away her hands. She moved back, and with one great effort, Cygnus pushed forward against it, thrusting his arms out violently. With a creak of protest, it shattered. He got to his feet, towering over her. Small red marks had appeared on his ghostly skin, like a rash; a reaction to the silver, but he didn’t seem to care. Her excitement seemed to have infected him too, his eyes were bright as he spoke. “Let’s go.”
He grasped her hand and almost pulled her to the door, where the two guards lay unconscious. Here he paused. “They’ve seen you,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter-“ she began, but he interrupted.
“Can’t you erase memories?”
She gritted her teeth; they really didn’t have time, but said it anyway. “Obliviate.” The guards twitched once, and were still. She turned back to him. “Now let’s hurry!”
But as soon as they set foot on the corridor, there was a shrill whistle. The blue torches flared and became intensely bright, blinding even to Hermione. Cygnus gasped in pain and pressed an arm to his face.
“Quickly!” he half-snarled, and Hermione, her own eyes smarting, began to run towards the lift, tugging him after her. Even blind, he was much faster than her, and it was quite clear who was leading. He lengthened, his stride, then, with a noise of impatience, lifted her and held her close to him, eyes still screwed shut.
“Don’t let me hit anything,” he growled, and ran.
Hermione would have shut her eyes had she not had to direct him; it was blisteringly fast, like sitting in an airplane as it took off. Cygnus ran, but they weren’t getting any closer to the golden doors; in fact, the end of the corridor was speeding away from them.
“It’s getting longer!”
Now the corridor itself began to move. It twisted and rolled, the walls growing and shrinking, skewing away and appearing to bubble. Hermione couldn’t make anything out – one moment they were speeding towards a blue torch at breakneck speed, and the next they were upside down and within touching distance of the lift. A scream wrung through her lips.
“What’s happening?” Cygnus shouted over the continuing screech of the alarm.
“It’s an illusion! Just keep running!” He did so, increasing his speed. She prayed it was an illusion – but she’d never heard of any magic that could do this.
For a moment, she thought she’d been wrong, and panic filled her, but then, in an impact that knocked half the breath out of her, Cygnus ht something solid. The lift! With shaking hands, she pulled it open and got in, Cygnus following.
The doors closed behind them, and instantly the whistle stopped and the corridor stilled. Of course, she thought. Only those with access permission could open the lift, so the traps worked on the assumption that whichever personell it was had the situation under control. Another oversight.
The Dungeon fell away behind them like some bizzare dream, and it was, once more, blessedly dark. “You can open your eyes,” she whispered, breathing heavily from relief and a growing realisation of what she’d done. It felt good. She was on a high of pure adrenaline.
Cygnus looked down at her, a broad smile stealing over his face. They didn’t speak until the lift stopped . The doors opened to reveal the Atrium, still deserted and bathed in blue shadows. “Where now?” he muttered.
“My house, for now,” she replied, and, taking his hand, crossed to the Floo fireplaces. Moonlit clouds flitted past the high windows and the war memorial cast eerie shadows over the pale golden tiles. Cygnus observed it all, expression both calculating and amused.
Hermione took a pinch of green powder from her pocket and cast it into a fireplace with shaky fingers. A fire spang from the embers at once, roaring and green. “26A, West Abbey Road,” she murmured, stepping inside as the warm flames caught them and sent them spinning through grates until they tumbled onto her flat’s carpet.
Cygnus picked himself up first, going to the window and peering out between the curtains. The full moon’s glow washed over his pale skin, creating strange patterns. Hermione leaned against the couch, watching him as he turned to examine the photographs on her mantelpiece. Her breath was coming in gasps and her head felt like it was being squeezed in a vice.
She struggled to control herself, but she was embroiled in a tussle btwen panicky guilt and crazy, euphoric joy. She had done it, escaped, and now he was here, in her flat, proof that she hadn’t failed. A nervous, shaky laugh caught in her throat. In an instant, Cygnus was crouched beside her.
“Hermione, it’s all right.”
She could only shake her head, trying to let him know that she knew, and it was better than all right, it was brilliant. He pressed an icy hand to her cheek.
“I want to make sure you’ll be fine before I go – say something, please.”
Hermone closed her eyes, reorganising her brain. Why on earth had she become so scattered all of a sudden? “Go?” she asked finally, an edge to her voice.
“Yes, of course. I can’t stay here.”
“No, no, I know that…. I’m just a little…where will you go?”
He shrugged with one shoulder. She nodded.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
Hermione blinked, and attempted a smile. His answering grin was twice as wide. Then, with no warning except the tightening of his hand on hers, he bent forwards and kissed her – awkwardly, gently – on her lips.
She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. She only had the presence of mind to whisper: “Please – don’t think I need payment or anything…”
He moved back. “Payment?” Soemthing shot through his eyes. “No, that’s not – I want to-“
Hermione’s last restraints crumbled. She pulled him closer and kissed him again, harder. His lips folded around hers, and all she could feel was pure bliss.
There was a sharp tapping at the door. They broke apart.
The tapping increased to a hammer, and was accompanied by a man’s voice.“Hermione? Hermione, there’s been a break out at the Ministry – are you there?”
She didn’t reply, shaking her head furiosly at Cygnus when he made to stand. The voice swore, and footsteps could be heard, fading away.
“Who was that?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But you’re right, you can’t stay here.”
He nodded, his face once again flickering with that ecsatic happiness. He was changed, in some subtle way, from the Cygnus she’d known in the cell; more forceful, more fervid, and somehow zinging with a nervous excitement. She could hardly blame him; how wonderful must it be to be free after six weeks of looming death?
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know. I suppose the Aurors will have put a cordon around London now they know I’ve escaped.”
“Yes. But I can Apparate you out – if you want.”
“Dartmoor,” he said, as if considering it.
Hermione offered her arm. “Don’t let go,” she whispered, and with a crack and a whirl of colour, the dingy flat disappeared and they were standing on a heathery hillside. Cygnus looked around him.
“Yes, this will do,” he said, smiling at her. Was there something a little off about his expression, or was it Hermione’s imagination, twisting what must be their last parting?
“So this is goodbye, then,” she muttered, stowing her wand in her back pocket.
“Maybe not,” he replied, and held her face between his two icy palms. One stayed put, caressing her blushing cheek as he kissed her, while the other dropped, lower and lower…snap.
“What’s that?” Hermione pulled away.
Cygnus’s eyes were amused as he held up his hand, displayed a piece of wood, cleanly broken in two. “Oh dear.”
Hermione frowned, peering at the twig. She couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked very much like….
A sharp pain.
A/N: Am I forgiven? XD Well, there’s a lovely cliffhanger for y’all to ponder. I’m very proud of some parts of this chapter, less so of others, but leave me a little review below and I’ll fix it as best I can. The next chappie is my absolute favourite – I’ve been looking forward to it since last December (can you believe I’ve been writing this story since then?). Therefore, it could take longer to post – I want to make sure I don’t screw it up
And I’m going to go ahead and let you all know that I have a brand new meet the author page, which is feeling lonely, so if you have any questions for me at all, go on over and ask. :]
As always, huge thanks to my reviewers – I love you all
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