Chapter Eight: Shifting Tides
Two days later, Hermione was watching as an unending flow of people as they streamed into the Manor. Draco stood next to her, tall and imposing, polyjuiced as a man who looked remarkably like Tom Riddle in his youth. When he had found her in the office earlier, looking like that, she nearly had a heart attack. Where did he find someone, that looked identical to Tom Riddle? It was unsettling and Hermione shuddered as he came near.
“I’m sorry if I startled you, Hermione.” He said. He was confused. For every step forward, she took one back, fleeing across the room with her face bleached of color.
“Whose hair did you use?”
“I found a hairbrush in one of the other rooms full of hair. I thought I should check the hair around here first. We did hold many people captive in the Manor during that last year of the war.”
“Do you have any idea who you look like?” Hermione choked.
“Someone you know?” He asked.
“I would say so.”
“Who? It’s clearly not someone you fancy.”
He looked horrified for a moment as that information sunk in before a contemplative look settled over his face.
“This could work in our favor.” He whispered. “There aren’t many who remember what the Dark Lord looked like as a young man.”
“The people I love, the people I am protecting the most, know. Harry knows. As do Ron, Ginny, and everyone from the first war.”
“But Hermione think. They know he is dead but they still fear his return. Looking like this will throw them off.”
“Except you will become an even bigger target. You are being hunted as it is, that is assuming they even realize who you look like.”
“It will keep their focus off of what you are doing here. I will just have to be very careful never to miss a dose. If they never realize who I look like, then I am safe anyway.”
“So, you are planning on helping me in the business. Of course, if they catch or kidnap you because of your new face, I will be up a creek and I would have to spend valuable time finding your ass. Are you willing to risk getting caught and leaving me alone?”
“It’s not just about us. I am finally on the right side and I will not back down again. I am a Slytherin and we protect our own. I can’t do that cowering in the dungeons.” He passionately declared. His eyes were bright with conviction and his hands were fisted at his sides.
Like this, he was an incredibly attractive man but that is not what drew her in that moment. It was the sense that this was the new and improved Draco Malfoy. He may be hiding behind a face she reviled, but his mannerisms and speech patterns were all his. She could feel herself falling. Who was she kidding? She was already there. Her pulse raced as she realized that she wouldn’t come out of this war unscathed. She was already caught, hypnotized by him. Draco made her heart pound and it scared her that with a single look when not polyjuiced, her stomach would erupt with butterflies, a whispered word in her ear had her flushed, his warm body that kept the nightmares at bay every night was a comfort and safety that she couldn’t walk away from. She knew that she wanted him, Draco Malfoy, the tormentor of her childhood but she denied herself. Deny, Deny, Deny. It was the only way she could keep up with the danger that surrounded them. Anything more was lunacy. This was war and people died in war. She wouldn’t be able to come out the other side if she lost him after only just finding him. She put up a barrier between them.
Hermione shook her head as she came back to herself, standing on the mezzanine watching the flow of people who were so desperate for work that they unflinchingly entered Malfoy Manor which was a den of misery and debauchery less than a year ago.
“There must be five hundred or more people here.” Hermione said.
“Probably more than a thousand.”
“We can’t possibly hire everyone.” She said regretfully.
Draco looked at her out of the corner of his dark eyes.
“You wouldn’t want to.” He said. “We have to select carefully. Do you really want to deal with a spy in your midst?”
Hermione shook her head. She watched as the crowd flocked around the long tables that were set up as a first defense. They would hopefully weed out most of the people that were unsuitable for this new operation.
The people who made it to the next level of screening were taken into the ball room, where their strengths and weaknesses in casting were evaluated. Even though Hermione was determined that her products be sabotaged, she still needed a respectable front and no one would believe that Hermione Granger would hire anyone but the best. She was walking a tightrope and thought about another person who had walked that line far too long and often to be compared to. She had been doing it for days, Snape had done it for decades. It made her pity him. She snapped back to herself with a low curse. She hoped to Merlin that Snape never saw that. He would murder her if he even felt one twinge of burgeoning pity for him.
Draco elbowed her. He took a deep surprised breath as she looked at him. She followed the line of his vision and froze. An emaciated Narcissa Malfoy was being led through the front doors by an equally gaunt Blaise Zabini as she cradled a skeletal Teddy Lupin.
“My God.” Hermione gasped. It took three seconds for Hermione to get the use of her limbs and run down the stairs to collect the unlikely group. She waved her wand furiously, protecting them in a bubble of obscurity. Draco simultaneously cast a notice-me-not charm and the combined weight of the spells forced the influx of applicants to surge forward like sheep, their only goal was to get to the tables at the front of the room.
“What is going on?” Narcissa choked. Looking around as if her whole world had dissolved in front of her eyes.
Hermione touched her shoulder making the Malfoy matriarch flinch and Hermione pulled her hand back. She moved in close, cautious even in their privacy bubble.
“Let’s talk somewhere else, somewhere more private.” She murmured soothingly. She turned around, walking back the way she had come.
“Draco,” Hermione muttered. “I know you want nothing more than to have a family reunion but I need someone on the floor to watch things. I need to hide them.”
“Do what you need to, Hermione. I’ll see them later.” He was looking at his mother who had turned a nasty shade of puce.
“Draco?” Narcissa whispered. Draco nodded, his face grim. It didn’t take much to know that his mother was not healthy. Blaise and Draco’s eyes met, a wordless exchange.
“Not here.” Hermione said. The older woman nodded her head, following, still holding Teddy in her arms. Hermione didn’t dare take the young boy for her even though she looked like she would collapse. Sometimes trauma can bind people together, no matter how unlikely.
Hermione was uncomfortable as she led Narcissa through the building that was once her home and in Hermione’s mind was still the rightful owner. She had no desire to keep Malfoy Manor after this war was over. For now, their roles forced them to act as if it was perfectly natural for Hermione Granger to grant refuge to people that had painted her with a brush of disdain throughout her childhood. Her parents had taught her well, the best revenge was kindness. Even if it wasn’t the most satisfying. Still, she didn’t relish the relief and gratitude that flooded their faces. She didn’t want it. She just wanted to live out her life making the world a better place. Was that so much to ask for? She supposed she got exactly what she asked for.
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