Chapter Ten: What is a Life Worth?
Hermione walked with a determined fury, Platform 9 ¾ was devoured under her feet. She looked at the Hogwarts express, trying not to pay too much attention to the passengers. She couldn’t save them. She pushed the horror of seeing the cars overstuffed with people and focused on her mission. There was one person that she was determined to save at all costs. She needed him.
Hermione had been completely enraged when Bippy interrupted her talk with Blaise and Narcissa to learn that Draco had been apprehended by a hunter. After Bippy described the man to Hermione, she sat frozen with anger. Her face turned red and the vein on her forehead pulsed. Dennis Sodding Creevey.
That was how she found herself at Kings Cross station. With a large fortune weighing down her pockets, walking into a den of hunters that were busy sneering at the new batch of unfortunate prisoners. She breathed in through her nose slowly. She couldn’t save them. She had to focus.
Putting on her most charming smile and trying to channel the adoring flippancy of Lavender Brown in their sixth year; Hermione turned the full force of her will against the man who was guarding the first car. She knew it was the right one, as the wards shimmered and pulsed around that one fixed point. They really didn’t want to lose him. She felt sick. Did they already know who they captured? Did Dennis confiscate all of the tiny vials of emergency potion that they hid in his clothes? She hoped not, or she might find herself in the car right next to him. Then they would both be up the creek without a paddle.
“Mr. Cresswell.” She greeted. She gave him a shy smile, looking up at him from beneath lowered lashes. She felt like an idiot but knew sometimes being subtle was more important than feeling comfortable. Yes, she would love to go in wand blazing to rescue the whole of the people on the cars. But that was inadvisable. Where would these people hide if she were captured? What would stop them from being recaptured immediately? She needed to use every ounce of cunning that a born Slytherin would use. Thinking like a Slytherin was easier said than done. She imbued the famous Dumbledorian twinkle in her eyes as she stared at her newest victim. What was it worth to her, the price of just one person’s life? A little awkwardness was a small price to pay in her opinion.
“Miss Granger, how can I help you?” He asked, an appraising smile on his face. It didn’t matter that he was older. She got that look a lot these days from all manner of people.
“My overseer has been taken by mistake. He runs the day to day operations at the Manor. I really can’t afford to lose him.”
Cresswell lifted his clipboard and smiled indulgently at her.
“Racheté. Alexander Racheté.” She said. The unfamiliar alias they had agreed on tumbled clumsily off of her tongue.
He stiffened at the name and looked at her with alarm.
“I’m sorry, Dennis brought that prisoner himself. He is convinced that he is Draco Malfoy. I can’t just hand him over to you. More than just my job is on the line here if I let Malfoy escape again.”
“Does the prisoner look like Malfoy?” She asked tentatively.
“No,” He answered, thinking.
“How long has he been in your custody?”
“Longer than an hour?”
“So, you can discount Polyjuice. What are your theories then? If he doesn’t look like Malfoy, do you think he has a glamour charm? Did you try finite incantatum?”
“He didn’t change.”
“What makes you think he is Malfoy?” She asked curiously.
“Dennis said so.”
“And he is infallible? Let me ask you something, Mr. Cresswell. Do you think I am easily duped?”
“Am I unintelligent or lacking in common sense?”
“Of course, not!”
“Have I ever given the impression that I was not extremely thorough in my selection for workers?”
“Then you should have no problem releasing him to me. Right?”
“I wish I could.”
Hermione slid the pouch of galleons into his robe pocket. His startled eyes shot to hers, fear replacing confusion.
“I need him. I can’t spend my valuable time doing grunt work. I need to spend the time perfecting the spells. Could you, just this once, do me a huge favor?” The bribe left her lips easily. She was shocked at herself. Where was the Hermione Granger that would have fought injustice such as this? Internally she sighed. There were too many people counting on her to stop now.
“Miss Granger.” He whispered anxiously looking around at his brethren.
“Please?” She asked just as quiet.
He deliberated for a moment, a pained expression crossing his face. He grabbed her bicep and steered her behind a huge column before looking around to make sure they were not being watched.
“Ten years ago, my mother remarried and had a daughter. My little sister is magical and is having uncontrollable outbursts. Right now, they are in hiding because their muggle neighbors tried to send her to Redcar. I know you have taken over Malfoy Manor. Would it be possible for her to live with you? I need to keep her safe.”
“I don’t know. It’s a business not a school. What would I even do with her?”
The money pouch dropped back into Hermione’s pocket.
“If you take mine and Finnegan’s little sisters, I will release your worker.” His light blue eyes pled with her.
She knew what she had to do and grimly set to work. How much was a life worth?
“Give me my man and three others off the train and I will do it. Every time you want to send someone my way, you are going to have to pay their fee with free workers.”
He paused and looked around again before pulling her into his chest. Stiffening, she prepared to hex him if he stepped even one toe out of line. He leaned down and breathed his answer so quietly that she nearly missed it.
“Every Thursday I am at the gates of Hogwarts. Four am is when the guard change is and I oversee it. Finnegan was right about you. The best of the best. I believe he have struck a bargain, Miss Granger.”
“And my manager?”
“I will get him right now.”
He smiled, his shoulders relaxed as he sauntered over to heavily warded train car. Lowering the wards took a few minutes but despite the dodgy looks he kept getting from his compatriots, he kept on. He stepped out of the line of sight for a moment before reappearing on the deck, a junior Tom Riddle in tow.
She could live a thousand years and still shudder in the face of this man’s appearance. She watched Draco with resignation. Harry was going to throw a complete fit if he ever saw Draco in this disguise.
With a thankful nod from Cresswell, Hermione grabbed Draco’s arm and twisted them into the tight tube of apparition, past the wards and protections of Malfoy Manor to land in their now shared bedroom.
She took one step back and smacked him across the face. He made no move to stop her until she raised her hand a second time. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her trembling figure into his body.
“I’m so sorry, Love.”
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