Ron slowly leaned his weight on the iron gates of the small estate near the town of Lancaster in the north-west of England. The gates swung open silently and walking up the short driveway he arrived at the porch of the small manor house. Taking a deep breath he paused before pulling the handle of the doorbell. He knew that he was about to take an irrevocable step, one that would change his whole life. That would mean an end to the years of friendship with Harry and Hermione. One that if he was found out would mean the rest of his life, or a goodly portion of it in prison. Blowing out his breath he pulled on the rope that passed through the wall and heard the bell ring on the other side.
When the next morning, Hermione had shown Harry the file with the missing item 4 he had been very interested and had promised to follow it up with Ron. She had then gone to the hospital where Draco had been discharged. They went to her cottage where Draco had flatly refused to take to the bed in the room he was using. “I’ve been discharged from hospital and I am perfectly able to live normally thank you, Hermione.” He realised how ungrateful he had sounded and apologised immediately. “I’m sorry Hermione; I’m not in a very good mood at the moment. My nose hurts and so does my pride. And I also apologise for the name I called you the other night. I thought I had given up on such things. I’m so sorry.” Hermione gave him a sad smile.
“I can’t say it didn’t hurt, Draco, because it did, but I’ll put it down to the fact that you were very drunk and in some pain and therefore you could make a case that you were not responsible for your actions. So you are forgiven. Now if you won’t go to bed why don’t you just sit out in the sunshine and relax. I’ll bring you something to drink.”
“That sounds nice, thank you. You can bring me up to date with the investigation.” She brought them both some lemonade and told him of finding the file with the missing letter, only omitting that Ron had been the last person before her to look at the file. She didn’t want Draco going off half-cocked and causing a confrontation with Ron. She broke off her tale when she heard a voice coming from her kitchen. Going inside she found Harry calling by flue.
“Hi Harry, what can I do for you?”
“Hi Hermione, have you seen Ron or do you have any idea where he is. We can’t locate him anywhere. Nobody has seen or heard from him for almost eighteen hours. Molly is frantic.”
“Sorry Harry, I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him since your office yesterday morning.”
“OK, well if you do will you let me know immediately please. I think it’s very important that we find him.”
“Will do, Harry. I hope he’s ok, please keep me informed.”
“Thanks Hermione, I’ll do that.” Harry’s head disappeared and the green flames died down.
Ron tightened his grip on his wand as the door swung open and there stood Sylva Mercado. Ron stepped uninvited through the door and faced the woman. “Hello Sylva, you’ve got every Auror and law enforcement officer in the country looking for you. Where is the child?” Sylva affected a puzzled expression.
“Child? What child? Who are you?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself, how rude am I? My name is Ron Weasley and I’m a senior Auror. I should be arresting you about now for the kidnap of Grace Malfoy. But I’m not going to. I’m going to give you a chance to tell me all about the New Pureblood Movement. But first where is the child? I just want to see her to be sure that you have her and that she is unharmed.”
“There is no child here Mr Weasley. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ron’s demeanour changed instantly. He pointed his wand at her chest. He spoke menacingly.
“Don’t even bother lying Sylva, you’ll only piss me off, and I guarantee you won’t like me then.” He smiled at her. “Let’s just make this easy for everybody shall we. No need for any melodramatics. Where is she?”
“There is no child…” Ron didn’t let her finish what she was saying.
“Stupefy!” Sylva collapsed unconscious to the floor. Ron secured her with the ‘Incarcerous” spell and when he was satisfied he set off to search the house. Two reception rooms, the kitchen and dining rooms on the ground floor yielded no clues although the preponderance of baby formulas in the kitchen certainly indicated the presence of an infant in the house. Moving upstairs the first two rooms were bedrooms. Entering the next room he found another bedroom, the only one showing signs of occupation. The double bed was unmade but it was the cot in the corner that caught Ron’s eye.
He made his way quietly to the cot and peered inside. Six-week old Grace Hermione Malfoy was lying on her back and was sound asleep. She was chubby, clean, pink-cheeked and wearing clean one piece baby pyjamas. Her small fist was holding a small silver rattle. She had been well cared for it seemed. Ron let out the breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding. He barely registered the footsteps behind him.
“Expelliarmus!” Ron’s wand was tugged from his hand and as he turned the same voice said, ‘Stupefy!” Ron hit the floor hard, his head bouncing on the wooden floor.
The next day Harry kicked the hunt for Ron into high gear and officially coupled it with the hunt for Grace Malfoy. He also called Hermione and invited her to join the investigation saying that he could arrange a temporary transfer from her present position. She agreed instantly and when she informed Draco he demanded the same privilege. Harry was less keen on this arrangement feeling that Draco was too emotionally involved. He held this view until Hermione explained that she too was emotionally involved to an extent only a little short of Draco’s.
“OK Draco you’re in, but you follow procedure to the letter, no independent action. You do only what this office tells you. Anything more and I’ll have your spherical bits as paperweights on my desk. Do you understand?”
“Absolutely Potter, you have my word.”
“Good enough, Draco. Now I want you two to begin by going to Sylva Mercado’s apartment tomorrow and taking it apart. Examine everything no matter how trivial it seems. I know Ron has already been in there but he only had time for a quick look round. If Mercado hasn’t been back for six weeks it’s unlikely she will be back again anytime soon. So take your time and be thorough. Keep me informed. Also please ask Mrs Trevayne to come in and see me. Any questions? If not you can be on your way.”
“No questions Harry.” said Hermione as she led Draco out of the office.
They returned to Lea Cottage and Hermione began preparing a meal, when she was elbowed out of the way by Draco. “I think it’s time I started earning my keep Hermione, so I’ll get dinner ready.”
“There’s no need…”
“There’s every need, Hermione, you have been very kind and generous over the past few weeks, at least permit me to show some appreciation, please. In fact you could stand and watch,” he said with a grin, “you might learn something.”
“I don’t think there’s anything you can teach me about cooking, Draco.” He showed her how wrong she could be. He produced a bowl of spicy vegetable soup followed by a rack of lamb chops with minted baby potatoes and green beans after which she enjoyed a steamed sponge chocolate pudding with a rich chocolate sauce all accompanied by a bottle of Merlot. She put her spoon in her pudding bowl and followed him to the kitchen, “Draco that was the best home-cooked meal I’ve had for many a year, and that pudding was better than my mothers. You could give Molly Weasley a run for her money.” They set the dishes to washing themselves and with the remaining wine adjourned to the living room. They settled themselves on the sofa and after a sip of wine Hermione asked. “So how come Draco Malfoy can cook?” his face was creased in pain when he replied.
“Am…” he choked on the word, “Amanda taught me. In fact she said it would be a good skill to acquire in case anything…” another choke, “in case anything happened to her.” His tears began to flow and without thinking Hermione put her arms around his shoulders and held him close.
“I’m sorry Draco; I didn’t mean to get you upset like this.” She felt his arms encircle her waist and pull her even closer to him. With equal rapidity he released her and held her at arm’s length.
“I’m sorry Hermione. I just miss her so damn much and it felt wrong to be holding you like that. It felt wrong but it felt nice too.” Thinking about it Hermione had to admit to herself that she had liked, as brief as it had been, the sensation of being held by Draco as well. She spoke softly,
“Draco, if you ever feel that you want to talk about Amanda, I’d like to hear more about her. I don’t think you’re ready yet but when you are, I’ll be here.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready, Hermione but thank you. I appreciate it.”
The next morning they apparated to the apartment of Sylva Mercado. They passed Harry’s message to Mrs Trevayne. Mercado’s door was locked and for some reason would not respond to ‘Alohamora’. Draco moved Hermione aside and taking a step back he applied the sole of his shoe to the door with considerable force. Two more kicks did the trick and with a splintering sound the door swung open.
“A bit crude, Draco.”
“But very effective, Hermione. You’ll have to agree.”
“Can’t argue with that." she laughed, "Let’s go in.” They entered the apartment,
“You take the bedroom and bathroom Hermione; I’ll start in the kitchen and go on to the living room OK?”
Hermione agreed and went into the bedroom. The room was dark because the curtains were closed, she opened them and light flooded in revealing an unmade double bed, two bedside tables with drawers and lamps standing on them. A five drawer chest completed the furniture. Hermione checked all the drawers and remembering a detective programme she had seen on TV she pulled out each drawer and checked the underside. Nothing. She repeated the search in the bedside tables with the same results. A laundry basket was behind the door. In the basket were two blouses, two pairs of ladies knickers, a bra, and a baby’s pyjamas with a cute bunny on the front. ‘Hmm, looks like somebody left in a hurry.’ She thought. She checked bathroom with a similar lack of success.
She joined Draco in the living room. He had found nothing in the kitchen but the baby’s bottle that Ron had reported earlier. “Any luck?” he asked.
“No, nothing except some dirty laundry. You?”
“Not yet, I’ve still got a couple of places in here to look. Why don’t you look through those papers over there.” Hermione looked where he indicated at a pile of old Daily Prophets. She seated herself on the sofa with the papers on her knees and began to go through them. On opening the third paper a small parchment fluttered to the floor. Hermione picked it up and read the five words she found there, the message was simple if a tad cryptic. ‘The box of Carcano. Ismay Manor.’ Excitement flared in her body.
“Draco I’ve found something. Look at this.” He came and sat beside her.
“Interesting Hermione, what do you think it means?”
“I don’t know, but I think we should get it to Harry right away. Let’s go.”
The deep voice said, “Enervate” and Ron Weasley came slowly back to consciousness. His head hurt and the bright light dazzled his eyes. He was firmly bound to the wooden chair that he was sitting on.
“Well, Mr Weasley, may I ask why you are here.”
“Who are you?” he croaked.
“Ah no, Mr Weasley, that’s not how the game is played, I ask the questions and you answer them.”
“I like to know to whom I am talking.”
“A fair point. Let me see, you may call me Montague. If we get to be friends you can call me Monty. Now why are you here?”
“I want to find out about the New Pureblood Movement.”
“Why come here?”
“I found a letter mentioning this place. This is Ismay Manor, yes?”
“You have this letter with you?”
“No. It’s in a safe place,” he thought of his underwear drawer, “a very safe place. I was interested in the New Pureblood Movement. I mean, it’s not that long ago that we took down a pureblood maniac, it seems a bit soon for another one to appear.” The man’s voice growled angrily.
“Voldemort was not a pureblood. He was a fake, a phoney. I am only the temporary leader of NPM. The child upstairs has the purest blood that it is possible to find, better even than mine. One day she will lead us.”
“So what are your objectives.” Ron asked.
“We will rule the wizarding world. We have no interest in muggles. Half-bloods and muggle born are only of interest because they are not fit to rule or in any way govern magical people. How can they be, they are prone to divided loyalties. Oh, they can rise to low grade government positions but should never be in positions of power. We will not try to murder our way to the top, we believe that we can persuade our way to power. Although we will fight to defend ourselves and our interests if attacked.”
“I think you can pretty much guarantee to be attacked if you stoop so low as to kidnap babies. Do you think that Draco Malfoy will just forgive and forget? Do you think he’s just going to stand by and do nothing while you have his daughter? I know him very well and I tell you that you might as well cut your own throat now, because you are a dead man walking.”
The man pushed his face close to Ron’s and spat his words viciously, “Draco Malfoy, that Blood Traitor, will do precisely nothing! Do you think he will want to risk the life of his child?”
“I’ll tell you what I think; I think you should eat less garlic. Your breath stinks. I shouldn’t breathe on the baby if I were you. You’ll kill her by accident.” There was a loud slap as the man struck Ron across the face. Lights exploded behind his eyes and a second punch left him unconscious.
“Wait Hermione. I think we should do some research and go to Harry with more than a scrap of paper. You can bet his first question will be ‘where is this Ismay Manor.’ It will be so much better if we can tell him and a few hours will make no difference.”
Hermione was reluctant to agree, “I don’t know Draco. I can see Harry getting mad if we delay.”
“Maybe Hermione, but you know he’s going to assign us, or at least you with your reputation for research, to find this place so why not do it first?”
Hermione thought for a moment. “Either way we have to get back to the Ministry so as I said, let’s go.” They magically repaired the door they had damaged on entry and returned to the ministry Library.
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