Hermione and Draco were in the Ministry Library Archives going through the land records. The records of sales and purchases over the centuries were held by the Ministry. Hermione was sitting at a desk with Draco hovering behind her. They started by requesting anything with the word ‘Ismay’. The first two pages yielded nothing and Hermione turned to page three. She was very aware of Draco leaning over her shoulder and of his soft breath on the back of her neck. She was halfway down the page when Draco pointed out an oddity. “Hermione we’ve examined pages 1 and 2, and now,” he pointed at the number at the bottom of the page, “we have page 4." What happened to page three?”
“Another missing page. This is more than a coincidence, Draco. I think it shows we’re on the right track. We have to find Ismay Manor. It’s the key, I’m convinced.”
“I agree, Hermione, so if you will excuse me I’ll be right back!”
“Where are…” was all Hermione managed to get out before Draco apparated away and she was left alone. She checked the file cover and found that again Ron had been the last to check it out. Her heart fell again. Where was he, she wondered. Had he found Ismay Manor? Had he gone there alone and unsupported? What the hell was he doing? She continued her research for about twenty minutes when, with a loud crack Draco re-appeared.
“Hello again, Hermione, come on let’s go and see Harry. I know where Ismay Manor is.”
“How did you find out so quickly? Where did you go?”
“It was easy, Hermione, it came to me in a flash, I went to see a friend in the Wizards Post Office, she has a friend who works in the Muggle Post Office and they deliver mail to Ismay Manor all the time. It’s just outside a village called Bidwell near Lancaster. Let’s go tell Harry. Come on!”
For the second time Ron came slowly back to consciousness. He was still secured in the straight-backed wooden chair. He was alone in a dimly lit room. If he had ever mastered wandless magic he could have freed himself in an instant. Sadly he had not and so he was stuck.
He had no idea how much time had passed since his arrival at the manor or how long he had been unconscious. He wondered if the Aurors Office or his friends had missed him yet. His head slowly cleared and the throbbing stopped just as the door opened and Sylva Mercado came in with a tray of food and some water. She placed the tray on a table and pointed her wand at Ron. Loud and clear she said “Imperio.” She saw Ron’s body relax and his eyes took on a vacant expression. “I will untie you and you will quickly and quietly eat this food. After which I will secure you again. Do you understand?” Ron’s voice was listless as he murmured “Yes”. Thirty minutes later Ron was back in the chair with his arms tied behind his back.
Harry was well pleased with the efforts of Hermione and Draco. “Well done you two, seems that muggles do have their uses after all eh Draco.”
“I suppose so Harry. I ‘m sure you want me to be embarrassed by that, well I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m not. As I’ve explained to Hermione I have put all that behind me and I would appreciate not being continually reminded about it. Now when are we going to Ismay Manor?”
“Not until we have done some serious reconnaissance and planning. I would say next Thursday at the earliest.”
“A week, why a week?” Draco exclaimed. “I want my child back Harry, as soon as possible. I don’t want to wait another fucking week!”
Hermione placed her hand on Draco’s arm. “Draco, Harry is right. We can’t just go barging in there without finding out as much as we can about what’s waiting there. Are there two people there or twenty? Is Grace there or not? We just don’t know, the risk would be enormous, not least for little Grace.”
“I know Hermione, but still…”
“I’m sorry Draco but that’s how it has to be. I’ll be setting up a roster of people to watch the manor within the hour. We’ll be going all out to gather as much information as we can as quickly as we can. But we must careful not do anything to spook them. So you are not to go charging up there on your own. I’m having doubts about taking you along at all. I understand your feelings Draco but you must be patient and trust us to do our job, OK?”
Hermione answered, “He’ll behave Harry, I give you my solemn word on that.” Draco now had no choice; he had to forget any idea of raiding Ismay Manor on his own. Hermione had given her word and he simply had to respect that.
For the next three days at Lea Cottage Draco was like a caged bear with a sore head, and Hermione’s stock of firewhiskey was rapidly diminishing. “Grace is there Hermione, I know she is. I just want to go and get her.”
“I understand Draco and that’s what I want too. I’m longing to meet my goddaughter. But the risks are just too great. Can’t you see the sense in waiting?”
“I can Hermione but it doesn’t help. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” His composure broke again and he began to sob. Hermione moved immediately to his side and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. He embraced her and buried his face against her neck. She could feel the wetness of his tears on her skin. Again he backed away, “Sorry Hermione. You must think I’m such a wimp.”
Hermione gazed at his face, “No I don’t Draco. It just shows that you’re a human being with feelings. Feelings that you shouldn’t be afraid to show. It’s not a weakness, so come on come on darling cheer up, we’ll soon get Grace back.” She realised instantly what she had said but Draco kept talking as though he hadn’t noticed.
“I don’t care what Potter says, I’m going on the raid and somebody is going to get some serious pain.”
“Just make sure it isn’t you Draco. Be careful please. I couldn’t bear…” she stopped the rest of the sentence. Again Draco didn’t seem to notice anything untoward. That’s twice you’ve done that Hermione thought. What is the matter with you? She suddenly realised that she wanted to hold him tight, comfort him and never let go. I’m just feeling very sorry for him, she thought; either that or I’m falling in love with Draco Malfoy. Wouldn’t that be one of the biggest earthquakes of all time?
Sylva Mercado opened the door to the room where they were holding Ron Weasley. She released his bindings and said curtly, “Follow me.” Ron followed her out of the room and onto a landing, down the stairs and into what he assumed was the main room of the house. A long formal dining table occupied the centre of the room with twelve chairs placed around it, at one end sat Montague Mercado. “Ah Mr Weasley, there you are. Please come in and sit down, dinner will be here shortly. Would you care for an aperitif? Sylva get Mr Weasley a glass of sherry.” Ron sat down in the chair closest to Montague.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Montague?” he asked politely.
“You wanted to know more about the NPM. I thought we could discuss it in a civilised setting.” Sylva handed Ron a glass of sherry. Just then the doorbell rang. “Would you get that Sylva as you are already standing? I’m expecting Johan to join us for dinner.” Sylva left the room. She returned a couple of minutes later with a tall man dressed in a muggle business suit. He was of a pale complexion with a haircut that let his hair just reach his collar. Montague stood and Ron followed suit. “Ah Johan,” Montague began, “may I introduce Mr Ronald Weasley, a senior Auror from the Ministry. Ronald this is Johan Sixsmith, a prominent member of our movement who is no doubt about to ask me what the hell you are doing here.”
“I am indeed, Montague.” Said Sixsmith.
“Mr Weasley called on us unexpectedly a couple of days ago enquiring about the NPM. So I thought we could answer his questions over a sociable dinner.
“Very well,” said Sixsmith, “how is the child?”
“She is thriving as any new-born would be. She is gaining weight and is taking notice of her surroundings. Have no worries on her account. Sylva has raised three children of her own and has everything under control. Now let us eat.” He clapped his hands and a house-elf appeared with a large tray of food. There was not much in the way of discussion during the meal and after the dessert was finished Ron declined the offer of a cigar but accepted a glass of brandy, and Montague began to talk.
“I’ve told you already of the aims of the NPM Ronald, Three years ago our membership numbered twenty five. Today we have on our rolls a total of one thousand six hundred and forty-four members. Not many you may think out of a wizarding population of just under two million, but if we keep gaining members at our current or even an increasing rate we hope to reach twenty-five thousand in another five years. By the time little Grace Malfoy comes of age who knows what the figure could be.”
“You really believe you can keep Draco Malfoy away from his child for seventeen years? That he will just give up looking for her. Well, I think I know him well enough to put you straight on that point. He will never give up, He has enough wealth to last a lifetime and if he has to spend every Knut, then he will do just that. Somewhere in your membership there will be someone who can be bought and Malfoy will find that person. Personally I have some sympathy with your aims but kidnapping a baby is not the way to go. I don’t know how long you have been resident here but you should think of re-locating soon because the Aurors will be close to finding you here. Don’t underestimate them.
“We won’t underestimate anybody, Mr Weasley, least of all Harry Potter.” Said Sixsmith. “You say you have some sympathy with our aims, why don’t you join us. Someone high in the Aurors office would be very useful.”
“Let me think about it for a day or two, in the meantime think about what I said about moving elsewhere” Ron replied.
In the middle of the next morning Harry arrived by floo. “Mornin all,” he said cheerfully. “How are we today?”
“Don’t know about you two but I am certainly very pissed off.” Draco moaned. “Why are you here, haven’t you got someone to look for.” Harry wasn’t going to take that.
“Eat those words, Malfoy. The raid takes place tomorrow morning, but with your attitude I don’t want you anywhere near Ismay Manor.”
“You can’t keep me away Potter, I know where the manor is and I WILL be there.”
“No Hermione, Grace is my child and I will find her.”
“I’m just afraid you’ll do something silly and get yourself hurt or worse, killed.”
Harry interjected, “Let’s cut the squabbling you two. Just be in my office tomorrow at 3am for the briefing. We’re going in at dawn. See you then, don’t be late.” Harry threw some powder into the fireplace and returned to his office.
As Hermione and Draco took seats in the garden after lunch he asked her the question she had been dreading in one form or another. “What is it that you couldn’t bear, Hermione?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Yesterday when we were talking you said ‘I couldn’t bear’ and then you stopped. What couldn’t you bear?”
“Oh yes, well it was nothing really.”
“I don’t believe you, c’mon, what was it? And why would it bother you if I got hurt?”
“Because… well because over the last few weeks I’ve come to care about you and what happens to you.”
“Do you love me?”
“No, but I do care.”
“Don’t love me Hermione; I’m not sure I could love again. I think Amanda will always come between me and any other woman. So it’s best you don’t, I would hate to hurt you that way.
“Don’t love you! And how am I to do that Draco? We can’t choose who we love can we? I’m sure you loved Amanda very much and she you. But you’re young; do you really think she wouldn’t want you to love again? To find love and be happy? Remember her and the love you shared but don’t use her as a reason not to find someone else that you can love Draco or I’m sure she’ll find a way to give you a heavenly kick in the arse. She may even choose me to administer it.” That brought a hint of a smile to Draco’s face.
“I can’t help it, Hermione, for example, the couple of times that we have embraced, Amanda was the first thing that came to my mind.”
“Draco, listen to me. If I am fated to fall in love with you, I will have to find a way of dealing with the Amanda problem. And I will if I need to. Whoever you get together with will have that problem. Whoever it is will never replace Amanda and they shouldn’t even try. So don’t condemn yourself to a life of loneliness because of Amanda. Now if we have to be in Harry’s office at three we should get some rest. I’m going to lie down for a couple of hours and try to get some sleep. I suggest you do the same.”
“Yes I will Hermione.”
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