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edit; fixed Cass' name - thanks Pixie_fate!

chapter image by the_tofuubeaver <3

Chapter Six

Ulrich Stone and Hermione

The next day found Hermione back in the greenhouse.

There were many reasons for this; some concerning the danger she put her mother in simply by remaining in her Uncle’s house, some involving a selfish fear that she might get attacked at any moment. But it was mostly a burning curiosity to find out more about her father that tempted her to apparate back to the manor. And after all, Malfoy had said she would be safer there.

She stepped over the dog basket and out into the garden, once again finding herself in awe at the sheer enormity of the manor and all it’s grounds - other than Hogwarts she didn’t think she had ever stood in front of a house as big.

“Morning Hermione.”

Hermione spun on her heel, relaxing when her eyes landed on Zoey. The dark-skinned girl was sat in the shade of a nearby beech tree, reading a worn book. “Morning.” Hermione replied, approaching her. “What are you reading?”

“A magical maladies textbook.” Zoey said, pulling a face. “It’s dull, but I need to keep in practise. You never know what might happen around here. Sit down?”

Smiling gratefully, Hermione folded her legs beneath her and settled at the base of the tree. To be perfectly honest she had no idea what she had planned to say once she got into the manor anyway; she wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that not everyone living there would appreciate her presence.

“It’s good that you’re here.” Zoey said, as though reading her thoughts. “The more time you spend at the manor, the less we have to worry about someone snatching you when we’re not looking.”

“I don’t think everyone sees it that way.” Hermione murmured, watching a dark-haired figure emerge from the house and vanish beyond a thick stone wall. Zoey followed her gaze.

“Pansy knows you’re better off here.” she said carefully. “But now that she’s out of the house, how would you like some breakfast?” Her tone lightening considerably at the prospect of food, Zoey snapped the book shut and hopped to her feet, offering Hermione a hand. “Come on. Waffles, pancakes, toasties, whatever you like. If there‘s one thing you can be sure of here, it‘s a full refrigerator.”

Grinning, Hermione allowed herself to be hauled up. “Okay. But tell me about my dad.” she added, struck by a sudden surge of curiosity. Had her father sat beneath this beech tree with Zoey? Had he ate breakfast in the manor’s vast kitchen? She remembered him leaving for work too early to do much more than grab a slice of toast on the way out; it had often worried Hermione, but it would appear that food was always to hand at the manor.

“Jacob? He was the best.” Zoey mused wistfully. “He always had something to laugh about. And he was like a father to most of us… but he never stopped talking about you. Brightest witch of the age; he loved that.”

“I don’t understand how he can have been one of you when he was a muggle.” Hermione said as they headed down the grass toward the manor. “Malfoy said that the gold dust accelerates the magic already in your bloodstream.”

“I guess Jacob wasn’t as muggle as you thought. Somewhere down the line there must have been a witch or wizard in your family. Jacob had been hunting for these vials since before we were even born - see, when he was our age there were five vials of gold dust left, not four. There was an accident with one of them and… well put it this way, it exploded. Do you know what an event horizon is?”

“It’s the boundary of an area surrounding a black hole.” Hermione nodded slowly. “Anything outside the event horizon won’t be affected by it.”

“Correct. Well your father was standing at the even horizon of this explosion of suppressed magic - everyone closer than him was killed, and everyone further away than him wasn’t affected. For Jacob it was like ingesting the gold dust itself; by some twist of luck he was standing exactly far away enough for it to get into his bloodstream and react with the tiny particles of dormant magic in his veins.” Zoey explained, holding the door open and allowing Hermione to step into the entrance hall. “Thus he became one of us.”

“So… technically… my father was the last person to actually ingest pure gold dust?” Hermione cogitated, stopping in the middle of the marble floor and thinking this over. “Wow…”

Zoey nodded. “We were impressed too.” she admitted. “But he was closer to being on our level than, say, Grimm Malfoy’s. Because he was effectively a muggle, and the magic in his blood was very latent, Jacob wasn’t dangerously powerful. He could still live in a non-magical society without worrying about exposing what we were.”

“What could he… do?” Hermione winced at how silly the question sounded, but Zoey understood what she meant.

“He was a jumper.” she replied simply. “You could push him off the top of the tower of London and he’d land on his feet. I might add that Draco frequently did that.”

The library door opened and Becker strode out, still wearing his stained lab coat. Today, however, his sunglasses were propped on top of his head and as he approached Hermione noticed the faded-blue colour of his eyes. The eyes of a blind man, she thought, although he could definitely see them.

“It was pretty funny hearing about how he discovered his power.” he said, joining the end of their conversation. “When he was twenty one he was on his way to a dental hygiene conference in Edinburgh and the plane he was on failed five hundred feet into the air. On the way down it collided with a suspension bridge, knocking the back half of the plane into oblivion, and Jacob was flung out of his chair to fall four hundred feet… and land safely on top of a car.”

Hermione couldn’t even think about her father falling out of a plane without feeling nauseous, never mind the notion of him landing on his feet on top of a car. Instead, she focused on Becker. “Your eyes are a very strange colour.” she said candidly, trusting that he wouldn‘t take offence.

“He’s sensitive to light.” Zoey smiled, patting Becker’s arm fondly. “That’s why his lab is in the basement and he spends a lot of time in the library.”

“But,” Becker countered conversationally, “I can see in the dark better than you can in the light.”

“Because of the gold dust?” Hermione asked, impressed. “Does everyone’s reaction to it vary this much? Wings, being able to survive impossible falls, being able to see in the dark…”

“No, we’re about as varied as it gets.” Becker said. “Most of the people like us are descended from Grimm; because of the amount of dust he used his bloodline reeks of it. Draco and Blaise, probably Zoey. My grandfather’s grandfather managed to get hold of some on the black wizarding market. The men in my family have been like me for generations, but it gets weaker each time. My great grandfather couldn’t even leave the house without getting burnt.”

Hermione wished she had a notepad with her. She hadn’t been so fascinated by something since leaving Hogwarts - and a small part of her couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit smug that it was she experiencing all of this, rather than Harry and Ron. For the past year she had had to be the one left at home, reading of all their adventures in distant lands. Dragons in Tunisia, flesh-eating swamp-demons in China, cursed tombs in Egypt.

Well they were welcome to their swamp demons, she thought mutinously. Finding out that their childhood nemesis was part of a secret organisation of magical creatures would blow their travels out of the water.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of said nemesis, who vaulted the balcony and landed ahead of them, wings stretched out to either side of his arms.

“Gra- Hermione.” he greeted her. “Zoey. Becker.”

“Serena.” Becker returned, before saluting and sauntering back into the library.

Draco watched him go, apparently trying to choose one of many thousands of insults to fire back before Becker was out of hearing range. Eventually he gave up and turned back to Hermione and Zoey. “Stone the third got past our defences.”

“Where is he?” Zoey asked immediately. Hermione looked between them, completely at sea.

“Blaise and Deacon have him tied up in the kitchen. He’s putting up a kind of shield against Max, but we need to get information out of him before he does something drastic. You know what the Stone brothers are like.” he added, pulling a distasteful face. “The last one we caught cut his own throat.”

Hermione raised a hand cautiously. “Uh… what’s…?”

“’Stone the third’ is Ulrich Stone; the third eldest of the Stone brothers, as you might have guessed. They’re our biggest threat at the moment, especially now that they’ve found themselves a new leader.” Zoey explained, ushering Hermione after Draco. “We need to find out everything he knows so that we can anticipate an attack. If he got past the defences, any of them could.”

She didn’t need to say out loud what the consequences of that would be; her grim tone said it all. Hermione simply nodded and followed them toward the back of the hall, her desire to finally see one of the infamous Stone brothers overweighing her concerns about just how they planned to get information from him.

“Who’s Deacon?” she added into the silence as they headed out of the entrance hall. Draco led them through a wide, well-lit corridor, past several dining rooms and down a few stone steps into an area that was obviously built only ever to be seen by servants.

“Deacon Whipstaff.” Zoey replied, linking an arm through Hermione’s. “Becker’s cousin. He’s not one of us, but he lives here and helps out.”

“He’s crazy.” Draco added over his shoulder. “And we can’t seem to ditch him.”

Zoey rolled her eyes at Hermione. “Ignore him. It was Deacon that brought us the second vial.”

“How did he get it?” Hermione asked, surprised.

“How indeed.” Draco muttered, kicking open a door on their right. “Good morning Ulrich.”

Ulrich Stone spat something unpleasant back in Belarusian. He was a tall, fair-skinned man with very dark eyes and matted fur lining his robes; a little older and he could have been related to Igor Karkaroff. When they entered he had been glaring daggers at Blaise Zabini and a tanned, pierced young man that Hermione could only assume was Deacon Whipstaff.

“Draco. Jak majeciesia?” Ulrich sneered. “And don’t waste your breath. I will die before I tell you anything.”

Draco shrugged calmly. “It’s happened before. Whipstaff’s methods are painful and often unsuccessful. Hermione, Deacon. Deacon, Hermione.” he added, gesturing vaguely between them. Deacon didn’t look away from their prisoner, but raised a noncommittal hand in her direction.

“AVA!” a triumphant voice shouted, loud and unexpected enough to make everyone in the room jump. Hermione turned around, wide-eyed. Max Becker was standing against the back wall, presumably staying away from Ulrich Stone at Draco’s command, grinning around at them all victoriously. “Her name is Ava Falcroft. The ’place of evil’ Cass was talking about is the Grimm Gardens. He let his shield slip when he saw Hermione.”

They turned back to Ulrich, who looked more than a little disgusted that he had let Max past his mental block and was cursing in his native tongue.

“Ava Falcroft, huh?” Draco smirked, hands in his pockets. He turned away from Ulrich and leaned back so that only Max, Hermione and Zoey could hear him. “See if you can figure out how he got past our wards.”

Thrilled at the prospect of being helpful, Max nodded and his eyes glazed over. Hermione, who was fascinated by the whole scene (and glad that her appearance had gained them information that she assumed Deacon had planned to torture Ulrich for), turned back to the prisoner. He was gazing steadily at her.

“So you found Jacob Granger’s daughter.” he said conversationally. “Has she inherited anything of interest?”

Draco, remaining pleasant as he bought Max time, shrugged. “We’re not sure yet. It’s unlikely, she’s looking to be more of a hindrance than anything else.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, hoping for his sake that he was just saying this to disband any of Stone‘s plans to kidnap her.

“Well little Miss Granger,” Ulrich said amiably. “I’d love to stay and chat… but ja tut prajezdam.”

Before she could even begin to wonder what he had said, the wards around Ulrich Stone had vanished and he had disappeared into the ground, leaving a dark stain on the wooden panels. Draco and Deacon shot forward. It was no use - Ulrich was gone, and even the mark on the floor was fading as they stood over it.

“New kind of travel.” Deacon muttered, sounding vaguely impressed. “That must have been how he got through the wards. He must have been testing it.”

“That means an attack could be coming soon.” Draco said. “Now that they know they can get in, they’ll want to strike before we have a chance to improve the wards. We have to move fast.”

Blaise straightened up, speaking for the first time since Hermione had entered. “What’s the plan?”

“Whatever we do, we need to make sure they don’t get the vials. Zoey, take Hermione and Max - get the vials into Cassiopeia’s room and stay there. We‘ll seal off the basement with everything we‘ve got; if all else fails, keep them with you and run.” Draco commanded, tossing her a set of keys. “Deacon, go get Becker. Blaise, come with me.”

“What are you going to do?” Hermione asked abruptly. “Fight them off?”

Draco gave her a look. “Of course we are, Granger. We do this every time they attack the manor; the only difference here is that they’ll probably have this Ava woman with them, and Cass seems to think that’s a bad thing.” he shrugged, evidently not sharing Cass’s concerns. “This is our job. Guard the vials, and don’t let the Stone brothers get their hands on them.”

He flexed his wings and stalked out of the room, followed swiftly by Blaise. Hermione, struck by a sudden thought, reached out and grabbed the latter’s leather-clad arm. “Blaise, Pansy was in the garden.”

“It’s okay.” he said, looking grateful none-the-less. “As long as it doesn’t rain you don’t need to worry about her.” His lips twitched slightly at the notion of Hermione fretting over Pansy’s safety. “I’d be more concerned about whichever of the Stones’ tries to attack her.”

Zoey took Hermione’s hand and the five went their separate ways; Deacon vanished into the library, Blaise took to the stairs and Draco jerked his wings and jumped from the entrance hall floor to the balcony above them. Hermione watched him, unwillingly impressed.

“It’s amazing, being able to fly.” Zoey said quietly, standing a few feet away by what Hermione assumed was the door to the basement. “On a good day I can still jump pretty far.”

Hermione felt a rush of pity for the poor girl, and went to take her hand again. “I’m sorry about what happened.” she said. “Draco told me.”

“Even wizards fear the unknown. The lucky few among us have had the dust in their family for generations, and don’t so much see it as a curse. He’s quiet about it around me, but Draco loves it.” Zoey chuckled. “Who wouldn’t want to be able to fly?”

“I would.” Max supplied wistfully. “It’d be-”

He stopped abruptly and his eyes faded to glazed white; a sign that he was picking up on something involuntarily. They waited patiently, and it was only when his irises regained their colour and he expelled the air from his lungs in a panicked gasp that they realised what he had heard. “They’re here!” he managed. “We’re under attack!”

Belarusian translations;

Jak majeciesia? - how's life?
Ja tut prajezdam. - I'm just passing through.


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