Chapter 25 : Las Tête de Mort
"What, in Merlin's good name, is that?!" exclaimed Daphne, staring at the girl who had opened the door for her. The two young witches were facing each other for the first time in two months, and Daphne Greengrass was at a loss for words at the sight of her bestfriend, who had somehow changed immensely since she last saw her.
Hermione had always been pretty, but now, she looked as if puberty had been extra generous with her. She was now as tall as Daphne, and as slim, too. The loss of all her baby fat had paved way to a slim figure, accenting the fact that she had grown more than in just height.
"What's what?" Hermione asked blankly.
"That!" The girl exclaimed again, gesturing to her friend's body. Hermione had the decency to look embarrassed.
"Er, my mother has me dieting." she explained.
"You can't get that from dieting!" Daphne said.
"Stop shouting, Daph, it's seven in the morning, you'll wake up the entire street." Hermione admonished, trying not to blush, "Come on, then, Mimi made us breakfast."
Daphne grumbled in reply, but allowed the elf that popped into existence to take her bags and lead her inside.
"That's so unfair, why couldn't I have lost half of what I weigh, too?" she complained.
"If you lost that much weight, you'd disappear into nothingness." said Hermione, walking ahead of the blonde, leading her to the courtyard, where the house elves had set a table for them. "Besides, you're gorgeous, you don't need to change anything about you."
"Hmph." pouted Daphne, glaring at the croissant on her plate.
"The bread did nothing to you, Daph." chuckled her friend. "Never mind that, how have you been?"
"Bored out of my mind without you." said the girl, "I actually finished my summer homework because it reminded me of you. I hope you've been through just as much hell as I have."
Hermione laughed, biting into a piece of toast. "I've been busy actually." she admitted, "With uncle here, the manor seems much more lively than before."
Truth be told, the manor was so much more than just lively, with everything that had been happening in the past months. Sirius had taken it upon himself to train her nonstop ever since she had arrived from Hogwarts. They practiced from dawn and into the night, building her stamina and power, not only training her magically, but physically as well. That was how she had thinned out. Sirius had created a training regimen fit for a Quidditch player, and only allowed her to stop training because it was the last few weeks before school began, and Daphne was visiting.
"Your uncle?" Daphne asked in confusion.
"Oh, right, I haven't told you yet. My uncle—"
"Mione?" a voice called from one of the trellises. The two girls turned to find Sirius Black walking up to them, looking much better than the rest of the Wizarding World remembered. Daphne had to stop her jaw from hitting the ground as the man approached.
Hermione was happy to see her uncle looking so healthy. He no longer resembled the man from the wanted posters. His hair was tied back and groomed, his cheeks no longer sallow and hollow, and his eyes regained some of the life that they had lost along the way.
"Good morning, Uncle Sirius." greeted Hermione with a smile, "May I introduce you to Daphne Greengrass?"
Sirius smiled charmingly before bowing and taking Daphne's hand in his own and pressing a kiss on top, "Enchanté, mademoiselle."
"Uncle, you're scaring her." Hermione said, smirking.
It was true, Daphne did look quite shell shocked at the appearance of the alleged mass murderer.
"You're Sirius Black?" she said, after finally finding her voice.
"The one and only, my dear." he said, grabbing a croissant out of the breadbasket on the table. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Greengrass." He sent a sly wink her way, causing the witch to blush.
"Uncle, stop flirting with my friend." Hermione admonished, "Just because you can't find a witch your age doesn't mean you can prance around stealing the hearts of fourteen year old girls."
"I could find a woman if I wanted to," said Sirius, "but you're the only girl for me, Mione, my love."
Hermione rolled her eyes at the man. "What did you want me for?"
"Yes, right." he said, popping the last of the pastry in his mouth, "The most honorable Lady Black Dagworth-Granger has commanded me to tell you that she's taking you and Daphne shopping today." He said the word shopping as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
Hermione sighed, remembering the appointment. "I almost forgot about that."
"What is it?" asked Daphne curiously.
"Didn't you read our list of requirements this year?" asked Hermione, "We're supposed to bring dress robes."
"For what?" the girl asked, surprised.
"You haven't heard?" she asked, knowing full well that it hadn't been announced to the public yet, "Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament this year."
"What?" said Daphne, choking on her orange juice.
"Draco wrote me about it a few days ago." she said, "We'll have to find dresses for the Yule Ball. Mother's already set an appointment with the dressmaker."
"This is where I take my leave." said Sirius, who had been observing the girls' conversation, "See you later, girls."
"Anyways, we have to leave soon, so we better get ready. Mother would want us to dress a little bit better, since she's coming along with us." said Hermione, standing up.
Daphne admired Lyra Dagworth-Granger in more ways than one. One look at her, in her flowing black robes, red high heels and dark sunglasses, and anyone would feel intimidated. She had a way of parting a crowd like the red sea,with her heels tapping on the ground prettily. Hermione had been right in saying they had to dress better, because the woman walking in front of them could make a diamond look cheap. Hermione could have been an exact replica of her mother, had it not been for the blonde hair and stormy grey eyes. They both seemed to exude an aura of power that made Daphne want to walk a little bit straighter.
"They always act like this." whispered Hermione, talking about the people who had slowed down to watch the three witches. "Mother can be such a diva sometimes." Daphne quietly noted that it was not only Hermione's mother that stole the attention.
The three made their way through Le Carre Square until they came upon a pink shop called Bellamy Haute Couture.
The ringing of a bell announced their arrival, summoning a pretty witch from somewhere inside the shop. "Good morning, ladies!" she said, leading the three to a sitting room, where they were immediately served with cups of tea."
"Bonjour, Druella." said Lyra with a sweet smile.
"Now, I hear you need dress robes?" the woman said, eyes alight.
"Yes, for both my daughter and Miss Greengrass."
The woman, Druella, faced the two girls, and latched her eyes on Daphne. "What a beauty!" she exclaimed, "And those eyes! They would look tres magnifique with a dusty pink! And Lady Hermione, how much you've grown."
"Yes, well, I trust you to create whatever it is they wish, Druella." said Lyra.
"Of course, madam!" said the woman, conjuring a sketchpad and a pencil. "Who would like to go first?"
"You go, Daph." said Hermione with a smile.
"Oh, well, I think what you said, dusty pink, is a good place to start." she said. "I was thinking that maybe it could be Grecian? I adore those styles that have long flowing skirts."
Druella grinned, agreeing that it would be a brilliant design for the girl, already beginning to sketch rapidly. When the dressmaker had finished, she handed the drawing to Daphne, observing the girl's reaction. It was beautiful, exactly what had Daphne imagined. The top was asymmetrical, the leaving one shoulder bare, and the waist was kept tight by a gold lace belt. From there, the skirt flowed softly in a wave of fabric. She looked up from the drawing with wide eyes. "I love it."
A tinkling laugh came from Lyra out of nowhere, "That's Druella for you. She's one of the best dressmakers in Paris."
"My Lady, you flatter me." the seamstress said. "Now, my dear, please stand so I can take your measurements."
As a magical tape measure took the numbers down, Druella turned to Hermione, who seemed to be a bit bored with everything. "Lady Hermione?" Druella said.
"Oh," she said, rousing from her stupor, "pardonne-moi. I don't really know what I want."
Lyra tutted, admonishing her daughter's ignorance, "At least give her a color, Mira."
"Blue?" Hermione said, unsure.
Druella smiled encouragingly, bringing out swatches of blue fabrics to choose from, showing them to the young girl. Hermione's eyes scanned through the selection before landing on dark blue color that seemed almost green, like the color of the sea right before a storm. Lyra nodded her approval before taking charge.
"Off shoulder, Druella, with a sweetheart neckline, and A-line at the waist. Organza and tulle preferably, and throw a corset somewhere in there. I want the skirt to look like a ball gown, but use a light fabric, tulle, maybe? I don't want her looking like a cupcake and occupying the entire room." said Lyra, as if she had already planned everything out in her head.
Druella had Hermione stand after Daphne when Lyra had approved of the final sketch. Then, they were ushered out, all three happy with everything.
"That was quick." Daphne noted, making Hermione chuckle.
"Mother knows I don't enjoy it very much, so she makes these trips as short as possible for me." she admitted. "Honestly, I think she mourns my disinterest in fashion every night before sleeping."
Daphne laughed, making Hermione smile. It seemed so perfect, this moment, walking around Paris with her mother and best friend. She stored the memory in her mind, saving it for a rainy day.
A pair of hands came from behind her, covering her eyes. She shrieked, before elbowing the offender in the stomach.
"Argh! Bloody hell, Hermione, what was that for?" a familiar voice yelled. The girl whipped around to find Blaise Zabini clutching his stomach in pain.
"I'm sorry!" she said worriedly, "I didn't know it was you! You should know better than to sneak up on a witch."
"Yeah, well I'll remember never to sneak up on you." Blaise said pointedly, trying to straighten up.
"Come on, then." the boy said, "You're late. We were supposed to leave ages ago. Draco's been whining for hours."
"Sorry," said Hermione, 'someone refused to leave the bathroom even after half an hour inside."
"Perfection takes time, Hermione." said Daphne, running a hand through her hair.
"Finally." a voice said as they stepped into the sitting room of Malfoy Manor.
"Good evening to you, too, Draco." greeted Hermione. "Hello Theo, Pansy."
All her friends smiled back at her, all except Draco who still looked like he had sucked on a lemon for too long.
"Is everyone here?" came a drawling voice, along with the sound of a door closing.
Hermione turned to find herself face to face with Lucius Malfoy, blonde hair slicked back, and walking stick at the ready. "Good evening, Lord Malfoy." she said, bowing, "Thank you for having us."
The man smiled at her, sending a chill down her spine, "It's my pleasure, my dear. Now, if everyone is ready, it's time for our departure."
Malfoy conjured a black umbrella from somewhere, extending it so each one of them could grab hold. In a flash of light, with a pull in their navels, they found themselves in a patch of grass, surrounded by trees decorated in red and green lanterns.
Hermione dusted off her clothes, flattening her jacket and dress with her hands, before helping Daphne to her feet. "I hate Portkeys." Daphne announced dizzily.
"Come along, children. It's about to begin." Lucius said, beckoning them forward.
Hermione could see the three boys almost bouncing in excitement as they approached the stadium. "All this for Quidditch." she said, earning chuckles from both Pansy and Daphne.
"Prime seats!" said the Ministry witch at the entrance upon being handed the tickets by Lucius. "Top box, straight up, Mr Malfoy, as high as you can go."
After what seemed about half a century, the party reached the top of the staircase and found themselves in a small box, set at the highest point of the stadium and situated exactly halfway between the golden goal posts. About thirty purple-and-gilt chairs stood in three rows here.
"Ah, here's Lucius!" a voice exclaimed. Hermione craned her head to find Minister Fudge in the row above them. In an attempt not to be noticed, she shielded herself with her hair, hoping that the Minister wouldn't look too closely.
"Fudge," Lucius acknowledged, holding out his hand for the Minister to shake, "How are you? I don't think you've met my son Draco? We've brought his friends along, Blaise Zabini, Theodore Not, Pansy Parkinson, Daphne Greengrass, and Hermione Dagworth-Granger."
Fudge seemed to stand at attention at the mention of her name. She cursed herself for having the worst luck in the world. Plastering a smile on her face, she faced the Minister.
"Miss Dagworth-Granger, a pleasure to see you again. How's your grandfather?" the man said.
"He's doing very well, Minister. I'll tell him you said hello." she said sweetly.
"You've met?" Lucius inquired, observing the interaction like a hawk.
"We're acquainted." said Fudge. "Anyways, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Oblansk — Obalonsk — Mr. — well, he's the Bulgarian Minister of Magic, and he can't understand a word I'm saying anyway, so never mind. And let's see who else — you know Arthur Weasley, I daresay?"
Hermione whipped her head back so fast it almost collided with Daphne's, sure enough, there in the front row, looked like a gaggle of Weasleys, a single Longbottom and in the middle of it all —Harry Potter himself, who stood glaring mercilessly at Lucius Malfoy.
"Good lord, Arthur," Lucius said softly, glaring at the red haired man that must have been the Weasley patriarch. "What did you have to sell to get seats in the Top Box? Surely your house wouldn't have fetched this much?"
Fudge, who wasn't listening, said, "Lucius has just given a very generous contribution to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Arthur. He's here as my guest."
"How — how nice," said Mr. Weasley, with a very strained smile.
Lucius nodded sneeringly, before continuing down the line of seats. Hermione ignored the daggers being bored into the back of her head by a certain Weasley, risking a glance at Potter, who was giving her a curious look. She nodded to him, just slightly, in acknowledgement, and the boy did the same, before returning his attention to the field. They settled themselves, with Hermione in between Pansy and Daphne, and the boys crowded together.
Next moment, Ludo Bagman charged into the box.
"Everyone ready?" he said, his round face gleaming like a great, excited Edam. "Minister — ready to go?"
"Ready when you are, Ludo," said Fudge comfortably. Ludo whipped out his wand, directed it at his own throat, and said "Sonorus!" and then spoke over the roar of sound that was now filling the packed stadium; his voice echoed over them, booming into every corner of the stands.
"Ladies and gentlemen . . . welcome! Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup!"
"And now, without further ado, allow me to introduce . . . the Bulgarian National Team Mascots!" The right-hand side of the stands, which was a solid block of scarlet, roared its approval.
When Hermione saw what was causing the commotion, she wrinkled her nose in disdain. "Veela." she said, in synchrony with Pansy and Daphne. The three girls watched as their male friends began their chauvinistic reactions to the creatures, all three standing dazedly, trying to get closer to the railings.
Hermione rolled her eyes before taking out her wand and shooting a spell to push them back down in their seats. Lucius noticed. He sent her an appraising look, before nodding his thanks.
She trained her gaze back to the field, as Bagman announced "Kindly put your wands in the air . . . for the Irish National Team Mascots!"
Next moment, what seemed to be a great green-and-gold comet came zooming into the stadium. It did one circuit of the stadium, then split into two smaller comets, each hurtling toward the goal posts. A rainbow arced suddenly across the field, connecting the two balls of light. The crowd oooohed and aaaaahed, as though at a fireworks display. Now the rainbow faded and the balls of light reunited and merged; they had formed a great shimmering shamrock, which rose up into the sky and began to soar over the stands. Predictably, it started raining gold.
She watched as the Weasley children scooped up what the could before shoving the coins in their pockets. 'Too bad it'll be gone in a few hours' she thought.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, kindly welcome — the Bulgarian National Quidditch Team! I give you — Dimitrov!" A scarlet-clad figure on a broomstick, moving so fast it was blurred, shot out onto the field from an entrance far below, to wild applause from the Bulgarian supporters.
"Ivanova!" A second scarlet-robed player zoomed out.
"Zograf! Levski! Vulchanov! Volkov! Aaaaaaand — Krum!"
The crown went mental, cheering and clapping as the last player zoomed out onto the pitch. He was thin, dark, and sallow-skinned, with a large curved nose and thick black eyebrows.
"He's so dreamy." sighed Daphne.
Hermione glanced at her friend to make sure she was alright. "You're just saying that because he's a Quidditch player." she muttered, following her friend's line of sight, towards the player waving his hands to the crowd.
They were ushered out of the top box as soon as the match was over, inhales of avoiding the surge of people trying to get through. When they arrived at the clearing where they had first appeared, Lucius called out "Mopsy!". After a fraction of a second, a small house elf appeared with a pop, trembling visibly in front of its master.
"Take the children back to the manor." said Lucius. The elf readily took Draco and Daphne's hands, ready to leave.
"No, Draco will remain here. As well as Theodore and Hermione." the man said, "The rest of you may go."
The children exchanged a look before stepping back, allowing Mopsy and the others to disappear, looking confused. The moment they left, Lucius cast a dillusionment charm and a silencing charm over the clearing.
"You children are to stay here and observe. You are not to get in the way, understood?" he said, looking at each of them in the eye.
When neither of her friends replied, she said, "Yes, sir."
"Good." said the elder Malfoy.
At that moment, a rustling in the bushes caught their attention, followed by the sound of feet approaching them.
"Who goes there?" called out Lucius, pointing his wand in direction of the sound.
"A brother." said a voice in reply. From the woods, out came four hooded figures, their faces covered by masks. "What are these children doing here?" said the figure in front.
"Think of it as the first step of their initiation." said Lucius with a cold smile. Hermione watched as he conjured a cloak and mask similar to the ones the men were wearing. She spared a glance at the two boys next to her. Draco had a hard look on his face, staring straight ahead, and Theo seemed uneasy with the situation, despite this though, they kept close to her side, as if to protect her.
The man looked them over, his gaze falling on Hermione. "Do you know what we are, child?"
"Death Eaters." she said, without hesitation, her voice steadier than her heartbeat.
He chuckled in amusement at her bravado. "And who might this be?" he asked, "This is hardly the place for a young lady."
"My name is Hermione Dagworth-Granger." she said. Recognition seemed to spark in the man's eyes, and he turned to face Lucius.
"The Black heir?" he said incredulously, "You're out of your mind. Alphard Black is a muggle loving coward, we can't possibly trust her."
"My grand father is no coward, nor is he a blood tradition." she growled vehemently, praying to Merlin that her acting was enough to convince these people that she wasn't lying, "And neither am I."
Lucius set a hand on her shoulder, stilling her. "She can be trusted." he said, "She's more Bellatrix than she is Sirius."
Hermione bristled at the comparison to her mad aunt.
"We'll see about that." the man said. That moment, a jet of green light speared through the sky, emitting a loud bang.
"It's time." said Lucius, as he donned the robe and mask. "Keep out of sight." he reminded them, before leading the group through the trees. When the footsteps faded into silence, Theo took her by the wrist, forcing her to face him.
"Are you bloody mental, Hermione?" he barked, "Do you know who those people are?"
"Death Eaters." she said simply.
"He could have hurt you." Theo said, tightening his grip.
'He wouldn't have." she said with confidence.
"Draco, talk to her." Theo said.
"Shut up." Draco said flatly, "Let's go watch."
Hermione tore her arm away from Theo's grasp, following the other boy as he weaved through the trees. She heard Theo grumble behind him, sighing in resignation as he began to follow. The weaved through the trees until they came to the edge of the forest, where they hid behind a large tree, allowing to see everything.
The sounds of celebration had stopped, and the footfalls of people running echoed through the campsite. Hermione's eyes were glued to the four floating figures in mid-air their bodies being contorted into grotesque forms. Her fists clenched in anger at the sight.
As they watched, a loud thump sounded from somewhere near them. "Tripped on a tree root." a familiar voice said. Hermione froze, cursing all things good for her bad luck. Before she could stop him, Draco stepped forward, making his presence known.
"Well, with feet that size, hard not to," he drawled.
Potter, Longbottom, and Weasley, their faces lit by the glow of Potter's wand, whipped around upon hearing the voice, coming face to face with the three Slytherins. Weasley said something that left Hermione scandalized.
""Language, Weasley," said Malfoy, his pale eyes glittering. "Hadn't you better be hurrying along, now? You wouldn't wan't to be spotted, you know. You're just as filthy as those stupid muggles, after all."
"Shut it, Malfoy." snarled Potter.
"Never mind, Harry." said Neville, trying to ease the situation. There came a bang from the other side of the trees that was louder than anything they had heard. Several people nearby screamed. Draco chuckled softly. Hermione forced a smirk on her lips, wondering how Draco could be so cruel.
"Scare easily, don't they?" he said lazily. "I suppose your daddy told you all to hide?"
"Where're your parents?" said Potter, his temper rising. "Out there wearing masks, are they?"
Draco turned to face him, still smiling, ""Well . . . if they were, I wouldn't be likely to tell you, would I,
"Come on, Harry" said Neville, pulling Potter along the path. "We've got to find the others."
The three passed by, each boy glowering at her as they walked by. Paying no mind, she looked on as another jet of light lit the sky. In a way, it was a good thing that the Gryffindors had seen them there, it would make her job of avoiding any interaction with them all the more easier.
Suddenly, the sky lit up once more, but it was different from all the other times. Hermione squinted her eyes at the shape forming in the sky, she realized that it was a colossal skull, comprised of what looked like emerald stars, with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue. As they watched, it rose higher and higher, blazing in a haze of greenish smoke, etched against the black sky like a new constellation.
It was her first time seeing the Dark Mark not drawn on a sheet of parchment. It chilled her to the bone just looking at it, eerily beautiful in its malevolence. They heard a crack from somewhere behind them, and Lucius appeared, both his robes and mask gone, looking as stoic as ever.
"Time to go." he said, as if he had just taken them on a field trip. "Hold on to each other now."
She grabbed hold of Draco just in time, feeling the pull of Apparition taking a hold of her. In a snap, they were back at Malfoy Manor standing in the middle of the sitting room. Everyone else had gone to bed, and their appearance had disturbed the serenity of the place.
"Well, children, anything to say?" Lucius asked.
"It was … enlightening." Hermione said with a small smile she hoped passed as intrigue. This earned her a smirk in return. Both Theo and Draco remained silent.
"Very well then." the man said. "Off to bed now. Hermione, your Portkey is set to leave early tomorrow morning, don't forget."
The instant she appeared in the Manor, she was engulfed in a tight embrace. Lyra Black looked the worst she had ever been in a very long time. "Mon cher, j'étais si inquiet. Est-ce que tu vas bien?" her mother said, running a hand through her hair.
"Yes, Mama, I'm fine." Hermione said. "Lord Malfoy took us away at the first sign of trouble."
Her father pulled her into a hug when her mother finally let go. "You aren't leaving this house until you turn forty." he said jokingly, but Hermione could tell by the lines on his forehead that her mother hadn't been the only one worried.
"Where are Uncle and Grandfather?" she asked, looking around.
"In the library. They've been waiting for you." her father said. She nodded, and hurried to the library, quickly closing the doors behind her upon seeing Sirius and Alphard.
"Good morning." she said in greeting.
"Are you alright, my dear?" Alphard asked, approaching his grandchild, holding her shoulders as if to inspect for any signs of damage.
"Yes, I'm fine." she dismissed, "A little shaken, but I'm fine."
"What happened?" Sirius asked. Hermione recounted everything that happened the night before, watching as the men's frowns grew as her story progressed. When she finished, she was quickly dismissed, asked to leave the two for them to talk.
She was slightly irked at not being included in the discussion, but waved her annoyance away, after all, she still had to pack her trunk for the next day. Hermione secretly dreaded the resumption of classes, anxious about how her 'Advanced Potions' with her mentor were going to be.
"Missy Hermione?" a voice squeaked from the doorway to her bedroom.
"Yes, Mimi?" she said, facing the elf.
"Does Missy needs any help?" she asked, looking at Hermione's empty trunk, and all her things strewn across her bed.
"Yes, Mimi, please." Hermione said with a grin, watching the house elf get to work
A/N: Four chapters in a month! Woohoo! The end is *ugh* though. Sorry! I'm working on the next chapter as fast as I can.