Meier checked his watch and narrowed his eyes when he realized it was ten minutes past when Hermione was supposed to come back in.
“That little chit,” he mumbled beneath his breath, stalking over to the door.
“You knew she'd stay out late just to irritate you,” Glacio commented from his place by the fire, a smirk evident in his voice.
His scowl growing blacker, Meier roughly opened the door.
“Ms. Granger, you've been out long enough,” he snapped loudly. When there was no answer, his eyes narrowed and he stepped outside, looking around in the blackness. “Ms. Granger, I'm in no mood for games...”
His ears perked up, listening for any sign of breathing and when he caught none, his heart almost skipped a beat. She wasn't there. She was gone.
He ran back inside. “We have a problem!” he yelled, getting everyone's attention.
“Let me guess,” Glacio said sharpy, unfolding himself from his armchair. His violet eyes regarded the disheveled Meier. “She's gone.”
Everyone else stood up and Hilde dropped the platter of cheese and bread she was carrying. “Oh my,” she said softly.
“What do you mean she's gone?” Draco spoke up, his voice low and deadly.
“Exactly what it means,” Meier said, his own anger rising. “Ms. Granger is missing.”
“That can only mean one thing,” Ferro said from the shadows, a sigh in his voice. “The only way out of this property would be the floo or...”
“A portkey,” Draco finished. “Which means she isn't just gone, she was taken.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Hilde asked Ferro. Everyone already knew.
Harry, who was staring into the fire, his eyes hard answered with one simple word. “Voldemort.”
Hermione already knew she was most likely going to die, even as she roughly hit a stone floor. An all encompassing murmuring which existed briefly before she landed immediately ceased. Wincing from the pain in her hands and knees, Hermione slowly stood up to her full height though her stomach was twisted with fear.
She was completely surrounded by figures swathed in the tell tale inky black robes and bone white masks of Deatheaters. She expected to be immediately attacked and her hand automatically went to the handle of her wand in her pocket. Eyes burned into her, searing through her skin.
“You've arrived just on time,” came a melodious, maniacal, deep voice from beyond the ring of Deatheaters. “You never fail to disappoint, Ms. Granger.”
Like a falling black tide, the Deatheaters slowly parted until Hermione was directly faced with a huge throne, wrought of twisted hunks of metal. Her eyes found feet clad in black dragon hide boots first, and slowly traveled up his long body. She hesitated not sure if she should look directly in her face.
“Raise your eyes mudblood” the voice said, as if reading her mind (which he very well could've been). “You can gaze upon my face if you wish.”
Hermione hesitated again, preparing her mental shields to withstand the assault she knew she'd undergo once she met his eyes. Slowly, she raised her gaze and was completely shocked into silence.
Rather than the reptilian being who held only a slight resemblance to human, Hermione was looking into the face of Tom Riddle, young and devastatingly handsome. His brown eyes had a strange red glow to them and there was a haze of black around him, as if all of his evil condensed to form a dark halo. Like Harry, Voldemort radiated a type of power that felt like a sucker punch to the gut. Hermione gasped for breath a couple of times before completely raising her head and meeting his eyes. She was surprised to find her mind totally untouched.
“Brave,” he murmured, a smirk on his thin lips. “Just like a Gryffindor.”
Hermione swallowed a thick ball of fear before replying, “It has nothing to do with bravery.”
Voldemort raised an eyebrow. “Oh really, mudblood? Then entertain me and tell me what emotion compels you to directly look into my eyes, when I could freeze the blood in your veins quicker than you could blink.”
“Its-” she paused, licking her suddenly dry lips. “not bravery. I just don't see someone I should bow my head to.”
Astonished murmuring erupted again from the crowd before it was silenced by a wave of Voldemort's hand.
“Like I said,” he repeated silkily. “Brave. But surely you know bravery will get you nothing in an abode of serpents?”
“I'm not brave because its rewarding,” Hermione replied. “But because I value my personal integrity.”
There was a pause and Voldemort made a hissing sound in his chest, almost like a pleased purr. “You amuse me, Ms. Granger. As I said before, you never fail to disappoint.”
“I don't aim to please you.”
His glowing red eyes rested on her, his gaze intense as he observed her. “Of course.” His lips stretched into a smile. “Do you happen to know how you joined us on this wonderful evening?”
“Partially correct. Do you know how we finally managed to pinpoint your location?”
Hermione stayed silent, her breathing still labored before answering, “No.”
He threw something at her and it landed at her feet. Hermione gave him a strange look before daring to glance down. It was a thick old book and it took Hermione less than five seconds to recognize it as Hogwarts, a History.
“Open it,” Voldemort ordered.
Trying to stop the trembling of her hands, she bent and picked up the book, lovingly running her fingers over the cover before opening it to the first page. And written, in a small, tidy script she knew all too well, was This book belongs to Hermione Granger.
Instantly everything clicked and she berated herself for not piecing it together sooner. When she and Steven had bumped into each other, it was very likely that he had no idea who she was. Until she dropped her books and he caught a glimpse of her name on the open cover. He must've been ordered to somehow tail them and he placed the portkey in Ferro's yard, hoping she'd see it and pick it up.
“I must say that it worked flawlessly.” Voldemort's voice cut through her thoughts. “We weren't even trying to find you Ms. Granger yet in the most divine sequence of events, you somehow managed to find us.”
Anger and shame seeped into Hermione's veins and she immediately looked around her for the face of Steven. She found it slightly to her right- he'd removed his mask and was smirking with smug satisfaction.
She lunged for him, half expecting to be shot back by one curse or another but surprisingly there were none. She collided with him, punching him square in the face before knocking them both heavily to the ground. Using her training tactics, Hermione quickly straddled him and whipped out her wand, pushing it deep into his jugular, so hard he was choking for breath.
'Now, now Ms. Granger thats no way to treat an old friend.”
Voldemort's words only inflamed her rage more. Because of him and...because of her, all that they'd worked so hard for was lost.
Before she could utter the curse hanging on her lips, a hand wrapped tightly around her upper arm and painfully hauled her up. She viciously fought whoever was holding her before she was backhanded across the face. She felt her lip split and her cheek bruise.
“Such a hellcat,” Voldemort said, his voice soft and steely. “Exactly how I'd imagine she'd be. After all these years, I've finally found her.”
“You've found nothing,” Hermione snarled, spitting blood and saliva at the edge of Voldemort's throne. “They won't come for me and you will gain nothing! You might as kill me now because this is all the use I'll ever be to you!”
“Oh Ms. Granger if only that was true,” Voldemort drawled with false sympathy. “ You have absolutely no idea of your worth to me- and when you realize it, I'm sure you will wish your own death.”
Hermione, exhausted and in pain, smiled sardonically and rolled her eyes. “Stop speaking in riddles and speak the truth for once in your miserable life.”
Before she could blink again, Voldemort was off his throne in a flurry of gray robes and right in front of her. He placed a long finger beneath her chin and forced her to look into his eyes. She shivered with revulsion as he cupped her cheek with his other hand.
“You, my dear girl, are the key to making all of my wildest desires come true. You are the fruition of all my dreams.”
“Thats still a riddle,” Hermione replied smartly.
The Dark Lord pulled back from her with a strange, bemused expression. “It seems as though they've failed to fill you in on the details of your extreme importance in this war Ms. Granger. They decided to leave you ignorant...in the dark.” He clucked his tongue disapprovingly. “How inconsiderate and...sneaky, isn't it Ms. Granger?” His voice almost sounded genuinely sympathetic.
Hermione felt irritation and anger well up in her gut. She did always feel like there was something being kept from her, hidden from her. And the neglection of telling her what everyone else always knew led to her capture. A small fleeting feeling of betrayal coursed through her and Voldemort smirked when he saw the battle of emotions on her face.
It only took that for her to remember...Ginny, and her eleven year old self being so heart wrenchingly manipulated and used by Voldemort. He was a prime manipulator, both physically and mentally, like a true snake. He was the serpent trying to convince her to eat just one bite of that forbidden apple of darkness, whispering in her ear that surely, it could not be so bad. Oh he was far more devious and cunning than she had fathomed. She noted with a feeling of self- derision, that she almost fell for his farce.
“Wrong,” she managed to whisper past her doubts. “Nothing was hidden from me. I didn't want... didn't want to know about my path. I remained ignorant by choice, contrary to what you believe.”
“Well let me lift that veil of ignorance from you,” Voldemort said with a sinister smile on his thin lips.
“Whether I am ignorant or not,” Hermione spoke up, her voice louder as the Dark Lord turned his back on her. “It'll make no difference. I won't help you, not now, not ever.” She suddenly had the urge to curse him and say something that'd make him boil with fury, but she couldn't think of anything bad enough to say.
“We'll see about that precious mudblood,” Voldemort said, turning his head to regard her. The red glow in his eyes had deepened to a scarlet. “I've broken toys far more superior than you.”
“I'm not a toy,” Hermione quickly spat back. “Especially not yours. You flatter yourself in thinking that I will ever belong to you.”
Suddenly, a chiming went off and everyone froze. Hermione's eyes widened, recognizing it as her magical cellphone. It was a secondary mode of precaution Dumbledore had given them the other night in the fireplace.
Voldemort caught sight of the surprise on her face and narrowed his eyes. He moved closer, listening for the origin of the ringing and deftly picked the phone out of her pocket. She could see on the front as he regarded it backwards in his hands, that it was Dumbledore calling.
“What is this?” Voldemort hissed. He turned it over in his hands and Hermione almost laughed at his expression when he saw that Dumbledore was calling her. His expression twisted into one of fury and annoyance, like a child constantly being meddled with by an older sibling.
“Infernal, stupid fool!” the Dark Lord roared before slamming the phone against the stone floor where it shattered into pieces.
“I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to replace that,” Hermione said mockingly, enjoying the spread of red on his pale face. “It was quite expensive.”
His face twisted further into a truly terrifying expression, his eyes no longer glowing, but... radiating an anger so intense that Hermione thought she could physically feel the heat on her skin. His long fingers wrapped themselves in her hair and roughly yanked her forward so that she fell painfully to her knees.
“I've had enough of your attitude you little mudblood,” Voldemort snarled. “Remember it is through my good grace and your fortunate importance to my cause that you remain largely unharmed.”
Hermione, truly feeling the danger of the situation, stayed silent.
“No smart words? No deliciously foolish retort?” His tone of voice was almost disbelieving. “I'm almost disappointed that a spitfire like you would be silenced so easily.”
“I'm not silenced,” she said. “Merely silent.”
He smiled, seemingly amused again by her words and released her hair. She sagged a little with relief.
“Take her,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Hands came from behind her wrapping steely fingers around both of her arms. Two stoic Deatheaters stood on each of her sides, their wands pointed and ready to curse her into oblivion.
“Tell her caretaker he may...” Voldemort paused as if rethinking his words, “...play with her. But he must do no permanent damage. I need her pure and free from all physical defilements.”
Hermione felt a deep fear settle in her gut, knowing what the word “play” meant to a Deatheater. It meant peeling the skin off of their victims' bones. It meant trying a new incendio spell on a muggle and watching them burn to death. It meant...torture.
She steeled herself as much as she could, thinking of them...Harry, Ron, Ferro and even Meier whom she added with a note of annoyance. Everyone she loved who was bright in this world of darkness.
And Draco...how it felt to have his arms wrapped around her, even only that last time. A deep sadness overtook her because she knew it was highly unlikely that she'd ever see them...him again.
As they led her away and her eyes met the sinister ones of Lord Voldemort, she had sick feeling of knowing in her gut.
Her fate was sealed.
Steven was not as smart as he smugly thought. If he'd known the loose ends he left behind, he would've no doubt been tortured mercilessly by Voldemort.
When he created the portkey, his magic was so weak and primitive that he left a trace of the destination in the magical signature of the object. All that had to be done was decipher the code.
Draco had been the one to find it, immediately noting its oddness in the multitude of things in Ferro's yard. Almost without thinking he touched it and he half remembered that it was a portkey. To his relief...and disappointment, it must've deactivated itself once Hermione had already used it to avoid an army following her. Steven had been clever in that respect.
He brought it inside and dropped it on the open book Meier was reading about portkeys. “This was it.”
Meier raised an eyebrow before taking the cold metal number in his hand, looking at it pensively. “its magical signature is not bound or locked,” he said, his voice holding an undertone of hope. “All is not lost.”
“What in the bloody hell does that mean?” Ron questioned impatiently.
Draco felt himself grin, a relief washing over him. “It means Weasel that the magical code of the object is not hidden. With the right methods it can be drawn out and all matters of its magical existence exposed.”
“Like a written code for a computer program,” Harry tried to clarify. “Its written in a code and the program has a certain function. When you look at the programming code you can see what it's built of.”
Ron shook his head, saying with exasperation, “What in the bloody hell is a computer program?
“But methods to do that can take years,” Ferro pointed out, interrupting Ron's frustrated monologue. “You are trying to observe magic in its most basic state- as symbols rather than a collective force.”
Meier ignored the other elf and ran his fingers over the number again, his face furrowed in concentration. He seemed to be trying to do something, but to no avail.
“Give it to me,” came Glacio's voice. Everyone jumped, momentarily forgetting that he was there, resting in the shadows. “My mother's fey were the originators of ancient magic- I have the blood to do this.”
Ferro hesitated, mulling over his brother's claim in his head before nodding his approval. “Glacio's right. But be careful- one wrong move and the symbols can shift and change the magic into something else entirely.”
Glacio rolled his eyes and grinned mischievously before taking the number from a scowling Meier. He turned it over in his hands, regarding it with narrow eyes before placing it on the table. He rubbed his palms together and between them grew something that looked like static. His movements grew faster until suddenly he clapped his hands together and pointed the wave of energy at the metal number.
A loud humming filled the room, like the drone of a thousand bees and everyone watched in fascination as Glacio's face twisted with concentration and what looked like pain. He gritted his teeth and slowly began pulling back his hands towards his face.
Hilde gasped and everyone continued to watch with awe as a long deep blue sliver coiled out of the number like a snake. Glacio took end of the sliver in his fingers and whispered something underneath his breath. Immediately it exploded into a nebula of dust.
Draco was momentarily blinded but when he blinked, the dust was gone and hanging in front of Glacio was a maze of ancient symbols. He was looking at them thoughtfully.
“Runes?” Meier asked, making towards Glacio to help decipher the code.
Ferro shook his head, holding his arm out to halt his friend's movements. “No. Something much, much older. Let him concentrate- this is in his blood.”
Glacio used his fingertips to shift through the code, stopping here and there to gaze intensively at a singular symbol. Five minutes later he seemed to have found what he was looking and grinned.
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