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Chapter Seven: Draco Malfoy's Girlfriend

Hermione sat across from Lucius in his study. It was a room she would have liked under other circumstances, since it was lined floor to ceiling with books. A fire was roaring in the grate, and Lucius had pulled up two overstuffed chairs by the blaze, one for himself, one for Hermione.

There was nowhere for Harry to sit, so he stood next to Hermione's chair.

"So, Lavender," Lucius was saying. He had his fingers templed under his chin and was smiling, showing all his pointed teeth. Hermione thought she liked it better when he was looking pissed off. "How did you meet my son? I'm interested in what a beautiful girl like you might see in Draco."

What a weasel this man is, Hermione thought furiously. "Loads of girls like Draco," she said blandly. "He's very popular."

"Are you in Slytherin as well?" asked Lucius.

"No,' said Hermione quickly, both because she was revolted by the idea that she might be in Slytherin, and because she was afraid that if she said she was, Lucius might wonder why Draco hadn't mentioned her once in the past six years. On the other hand, she couldn't very well say she was in Gryffindor either. "I'm in Ravenclaw."

"Then you must be very clever," said Lucius.

Hermione didn't know what to say to this, so she said nothing. Harry cleared his throat. "She's the top student in our class, Father," he said.

Lucius' eyes flicked to Harry, then back to Hermione. It was as if Harry wasn't there. "I'm glad you're here, Lavender," said Lucius, "You've picked an auspicious time to visit. Great things are happening at Malfoy Mansion. In fact, a number of my friends are arriving this afternoon and I was planning a small reception. Can I assume that you will attend?" His eyes rested momentarily on Harry. "As Draco's… date?"

Lucius said "date" as if it were a word he hadn't said in thirty years.

"I don't…have anything….to wear," said Hermione, goggling in surprise.

Lucius' eyes ran over Hermione -- from her worn jeans and T-shirt, to her hair, which was starting to frizz up at the ends (it had been a while since she'd remembered to use her Hair-Straightening Potion), and her beaten-up boots. "You are small and slender," he said, and now she definitely didn't like the look on his face. Harry's hand suddenly came down hard on her shoulder, and squeezed. "Like my wife," added Lucius blandly. "I am sure she can lend you something. Draco!"

"Yes?" said Harry, who had the bright red spots on his cheekbones now that Draco always got when he was angry. "What?"

"Go find your mother," said Lucius. "Ask her if she can bring up a dress for your young friend here. I think she would look lovely in something… lavender."

Lucius smiled. Clearly he found himself amusing. It was apparent that Harry did not agree. He looked wildly from Lucius to Hermione, who gave him a desperate smile. Go, she mouthed. I'll be fine.

"All right," said Harry. He turned to go, then turned quickly back, bent down, and said in Hermione's ear -- loud enough for Lucius to hear him-- "I'll be right back, darling."

"Of course you will," she said faintly.

Her eyes met Harry's. His were full of anxiety, anger, and something else. Without warning, he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth.

It was a quick and thorough kiss, over almost before Hermione had a chance to realize what was happening. She closed her eyes and leaned into the kiss, but Harry had already pulled away. For a split second, he looked into her eyes, and she could have sworn that she was looking into Harry's green eyes and not Draco's gray ones….he was so very Harry in that moment.

Then he stood up and glared at Lucius. "I'll be right back," he said again, turned and left the room.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Hermione's heart fell. She had always felt she could face anything as long as she was with Harry….even with Draco, it had been all right, since he looked like Harry….but facing Lucius Malfoy alone made her sick to her stomach.

"So, Lavender," Lucius said, grinning all over his pale, pointy face. "You never did tell me how you met Draco."

"Quidditch!" she said quickly. "You know he's Seeker for Slytherin, and they were playing Gryffindor and won, and after the game I went up and congratulated him on beating Harry Potter. So he asked me out."

Lucius' eyes flashed at the mention of Harry's name. "You know the Potter boy?"

"Everyone knows Harry Potter," said Hermione with complete honesty.

"Is he a friend of yours?"

Hermione took a deep breath. "No," she said. And it hurt,, someplace under her ribs, to say she wasn't Harry's friend, even if it was a lie. "He's horrible to Draco. So I don't like him." She took another deep breath. "And he is the Enemy, isn't he?"

Now Lucius' smile widened. "I was right to call you clever," he said. "So you’re on our side?"

"Oh, yes. Draco's explained everything to me and it all makes sense. When -- when the Plan is put into action, those who are loyal will be rewarded."

"That's right. And are you one of the loyal ones…Lavender?"

"I'm loyal to Draco," she said stoutly.

"Are you?" he said meditatively. "Come here for a moment, my dear. I want to show you something." He stood up and went to the bookshelves, and Hermione followed. He took down a fat green book called Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery and opened it, flipping through the pages. "Have you seen this book before?" he asked.

"No," said Hermione, who had a strong feeling that if she had looked for this book in the Hogwarts library, she would have found it in the Restricted section.

"Look at this," said Lucius, laying the book down on the desk and showing her an illustration. It was of a man, a full-grown wizard wearing elaborate robes. He held a wand in his left hand. His right hand, in fact his whole right arm, was encased in what looked like an elaborate metal glove, ending in a carved, pincer-like extremity that looked very nasty indeed. Hermione swallowed hard.

"Is that…some sort of weapon?" she asked, pointing at the picture.

"That," said Lucius, looking fondly at the book, "is the Lacertus Curse. A very advanced form of sorcery, in which a metal arm crafted by Dark magic is grafted onto the arm of a living human man."

"For what purpose?" asked Hermione.

"When the arm is grafted onto a human being, it becomes a powerful and selective sorcerous weapon. In essence, its touch destroys any person who is nonmagical."

"It kills Muggles," said Hermione flatly.

"And Mudbloods," said Lucius. "It’s very effective that way."

She looked at him. He was looking pleased, as if he were showing her a picture of some nice begonias he had planted, and not of a terrifying weapon.

"You're going to put this spell on Harry Potter," she said dully.

"Not me personally," said Lucius, shutting the book with a snap. "Voldemort. I will, of course, assist him."

He was giving her that look again. The one she didn't like. Hermione began to back towards the wall as Lucius moved towards her.

"Once the Lacertus Curse is on him, our Master will place him under the Imperious Curse. Think how it will look, the great Harry Potter going around using Dark magic to slaughter Muggles and half-breeds. Many will come running to Voldemort for protection. And he will give it, at a price."

They were right up against the bookshelves now and Lucius placed one hand on either side of her torso, effectively pinning her to the wall. She was torn between the desperate urge to shove him away and the equally desperate urge to find out more about what they planned to do to Harry.

"Why Harry?" she said, and quickly amended herself, "Why Harry Potter? Why doesn't Voldemort just kill Harry Potter and put the arm on someone else--someone he won't have to use the Imperius Curse on?"

"To bear the Lacertus Curse is deadly," said Lucius. "It drains the energy of the bearer and kills him slowly. So Harry will die, but he will die in our Master's service. An irony I am sure you appreciate. Now hold still, you stupid girl, I'm trying to kiss you."

Hermione gaped at him. "But you're Draco's father," she said.

"And therefore in an excellent position to assure you that you are far too good for him," said Lucius breezily.

"You don't even know me," said Hermione, pushing his hands away.

"That," said Lucius, "is about to change."

And he reached for her again, this time getting a firm grip on her waist. Hermione tried to elbow him, but he skipped nimbly around her. He was quite fast on his feet for such a tall man.

Something rushed by Hermione's head, stirring her hair.


"Yeeow!" yelled Lucius. He staggered backward, clapping a hand to his temple, which was running with blood. A heavy brass candlestick had flown through the air and clipped the side of his head with impressive force.

"Who threw that?" Lucius looked around wildly. "Where are you?"

Another object came sailing through the air--a china paperweight in the shape of a lizard. Lucius ducked and it smashed into the wall behind him.

Hermione realized she was grinning.


"Do you have a poltergeist, Mister Malfoy?" she said loudly, over the sound of crashing glass, as an invisible someone upended the drinks tray in the corner.

Lucius said a number of rude things. It was easy to see where Draco had gotten his extensive vocabulary of swear words.

Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery suddenly flew into the air and made straight for Lucius' head. Lucius reached around, grabbed Hermione, and shoved her in front of him. The book struck her in the shoulder and fell to the ground.

"Ow," she said reproachfully, glaring at Lucius. He was pale and sweating, and he had one hand clamped over his chest. For a second she thought he might be having a heart attack. Then she realized he was holding something protectively in his closed fist.

The study was silent. She had a feeling Draco had probably gotten it out of his system at this point.

Lucius lowered his hands and Hermione saw something glitter on his chest. She was about to say something, when she realized he was staring over her head at the door. She followed his gaze and saw Harry and Narcissa standing in the doorway. Harry was looking at her anxiously. Narcissa just looked blank.

"I brought the dress you asked for, Lucius," she said. She was holding a bundle of material in her hands.

"Thank you," said Lucius, with an admirable amount of calm considering that he had just been attacked by unseen forces and was still bleeding from his temple. He put his hand up to his head now, and as he did so, Hermione caught sight of the glittering thing on his chest again.

It was a circular glass pendant, hanging on a fine silvery chain. The glass was very clear, and in the center of it Hermione could see something suspended. Something that looked like….a tooth.

Weird, she thought. But then, what about Lucius wasn't weird?

Across the room, her eyes met Harry's. Get me out of here, she thought at him fiercely.

Harry came striding over and took her hand. "I think Lavender might like to lie down before the reception," he said. "Can I take her to…." He broke off, looking awkward. He had been about to say "my room", but Lucius and Narcissa didn't seem the sort of parents to want their teenage son's girlfriend sleeping in his bedroom.

"Her room?" Lucius finished. "No. Your mother can escort her. I need you for a moment, Draco."

Harry looked at Hermione helplessly. She squeezed his hand and went over to Narcissa, who immediately turned and led the way out of the study. Hermione trotted behind her. Narcissa said nothing until they reached a narrow oak door, which she pushed open, revealing a small bedroom. It had the stone walls that Hermione was getting used to in this place, but the bedspread was a pretty one with a design of blue flowers.

"This is your room," said Narcissa. She handed Hermione the bundle of material, which was cold and silky to the touch. "And this is the dress."

"Um. Thank you," said Hermione.

Narcissa looked at Hermione consideringly. "Wait," she said. Then she turned and left the room, reappearing a moment later with a pair of fancy silver shoes and a box. "I thought you might want these," she said. "And the reception is at four."

She left again, this time closing the door behind her. Curious, Hermione opened the box. It appeared to hold cosmetics. Odd, she thought. Most witches just used Lip-Reddening Charms and the like.

She put the box and the shoes down on the bed and started to take off her T-shirt. Then something occurred to her. She lowered her arms slowly.

"Draco?" she said. "Are you in here?"

There was no response, but Hermione thought she sensed a guilty sort of silence emanating from a spot near the wardrobe.

"I know you're here!" she said. "I need to get dressed!"

"Go right ahead," said Draco's voice, in rather muffled tones. "I don't mind."

"Malfoy," she said threateningly.

"Oh, all right," said Draco, and he suddenly appeared next to the wardrobe, holding the cloak in one hand and grinning all over his face. "You almost--"

"I did not almost," said Hermione. "Now turn around and face the wall!"

Grumbling, he did it. Keeping a sharp eye on him, Hermione wiggled out of her jeans and t-shirt and into the dress. The material was very rich and heavy and doubtless expensive. It felt cold against her skin and she did up the laces and bent to strap on the shoes. Finally she straightened up and shook out her hair. "Done," she said.

Draco turned around. His jaw dropped. "Hermione," he said. "You look amazing."

"Do I?" she said, astonished.

"Go look in the mirror," he said, gesturing towards the vanity table next to the bed.

Hermione went up to it and looked at herself. And blushed. She had never understood how girls like Lavender and Parvati could spend so much money on clothes, but now she did. Money was no object if a dress could make you look like this. The beautiful heavy fabric reflected the light like water and the deep lavender shade suited her brunette coloring perfectly (although, she thought, it in no way would have suited the real Lavender, who was wispily blonde.) The dress clung in all the right places and fitted so well Hermione had to wonder if it was enchanted to fit. Not that she cared. She twirled in front of the mirror and watched the skirt flare out.

"Wow," she said.

Draco was sitting on the bed watching her. She could see him reflected in the mirror. She sat down at the vanity table, took a brush of out Narcissa's box and started running it through her hair. She could still see Draco in the mirror behind her, leaning against a bedpost.

"You should be a Beater, not a Seeker," she said. "You have a really good throwing arm."

Draco snorted with laughter. "I can't believe I hit my father in the head with a candlestick."

"I was really glad you were there."

"Were you?" said Draco. He was trying to sound nonchalant, but his left hand was tapping his wand anxiously against the side of his leg. "I saw that Harry kissed you. I thought you'd be pleased…."

"He was just showing your father that he had, you know, a claim on Lavender," said Hermione quietly.

"Didn't work, did it?" said Draco, tapping the wand faster.

"Draco…" She turned around and reached out for him.

He brushed her hand away. "It's all right. I know he's a bastard, my father."

She felt desperately sorry for him, but couldn't think of anything to say.

They was silent for a moment. Then he said, "D'you think...when we get back to school...we'll be friends still, like we are now?"

"When we take the spell off you, you won't even want to be," she said.

Draco looked unconvinced by this. "Well, suppose I do," he said. "You're not under a spell. What do you think?"

"Draco, there's hardly any school left. It's June."

Draco become deeply interested in his shoelace. "Maybe I could come and see you over the summer, then."

Hermione dropped her brush. "What?"

"If you're not doing anything," he said quickly.

"What?" she said again.

Now he looked irritated - a bit of the old Draco flashed in his eyes, Entitlement Boy as Parvati used to call him. "Are you saying you don't want me to come?"

A sudden wild image appeared in Hermione's head, of Draco sitting at her dining room table in between her fat Aunt Matilda and her deaf Great-Uncle Stuart, both of whom had been accountants. They were trying to engage Draco in coversation about Wimbledon, and Draco, looking very out of place in long black robes and a top hat, was having none of it. Eventually he took out his wand and turned everyone at the table into toads.

The wild image passed, and Hermione said, "Draco! You'll hate them! They're all Muggles!"

"Might be all right," he said stiffly. "I've got really good manners."

An equally vivid image came to her of Draco with her family on their annual beach holiday in Brighton. Draco was wearing swimming trunks (did he own swimming trunks? Did he even have knees? --she had never seen them) and haughtily refusing her mother's offer of an ice pop. "Come on, you'll like it," said Hermione's mother. Draco took out his wand and turned her into a toad.

You're going mad, Hermione, she told herself. She swiveled around in her chair and looked at Draco.

"Look," she said. "If we get back to school and you still want to come see me over the summer, then yes, you can."

He brightened. "Really?"

"Uh, yes," said Hermione, thinking that come September, her whole family would likely be hopping around on lily pads.

"Has Harry come to visit you over the summer?" said Draco neutrally.

"Yes," said Hermione, "but he's quite used to Muggles and my parents really love him, so..." she trailed off at Draco's expression. "Would you leave me alone about Harry?" she snapped. "He's my best friend and if that is some kind of problem for you..."

"That wasn't a very best-friendly kiss he gave you in the study," snapped Draco.

"I told you! He was just making a point to your father!"

"You go on and tell yourself that, Hermione," said Draco. "But I bet you liked it. Didn't you?"

"Oh, shut up, Malfoy."

"Didn't you?"

She threw her brush down on the table with a clatter. "Yes! I did!"

"You better make your mind up, Hermione," he said with a burst of sharp anger. "We're wizards, you know, not Mormons."

"I'll keep that I mind if I decide to marry either one of you."

They glowered at each other.

"You know what I mean," he said darkly.

"Maybe I don't know," said Hermione, rather unkindly. "Maybe you should spell it out."

Draco just glared at her and she glared back. She had always thought that only Harry could thoroughly exasperate her like this, but apparently that wasn't the case.

"I'm not your girlfriend," she said waspishly. "And I'm not Harry's girlfriend either. And may I point out that NEITHER OF YOU has indicated they even want to be my boyfriend. So if I want to…to run off with…Neville Longbottom, that's MY business and not either of yours."

Draco stopped glaring and snorted with laughter. "Do you really want to run off with Neville Longbottom? Because Hermione Longbottom is a terrible name."

Hermione felt her mouth twitch into a reluctant smile. Draco was leaning on the back of her chair now. Their two faces were reflected in the mirror, side by side. His dark hair was sticking out in every direction, it looked like he couldn't control it any better than Harry could. We look so good together, she thought, and then felt a bubble of guilty confusion travel up from her stomach and pop inside her chest. Get a grip, she told herself, and started rummaging in Narcissa's cosmetics box.

There was a knock on the bedroom door; it opened, and Harry came in. She couldn't believe how tired he looked. There were black circles under his eyes and he looked even paler than Draco usually did. But he smiled when he saw her.

"Hey," he said.

"Harry," she said, "You're all right?"

"For now," he replied. "You?"

"I'm fine," she said, and stood up.

The result of this was somewhat unexpected. Harry looked as if a very heavy weight of some sort had fallen on his head. He literally took a step back, and stared. "Hermione," he said, sounding a lot like Draco had, "you….look…."

"Yes?" she said.

But Harry didn't appear to have anything else to say. He just stared.

"Well, that's got rid of him for the moment," said Draco to Hermione. "Shall we get on with our conversation?"

That's it, Hermione thought to herself. Whatever else happens, I am keeping this dress. Lucius Malfoy will have to pry my cold dead fingers off it before I agree to give it up.

"Sure," said Hermione.

"What were we talking about?" said Draco.

"Hogwarts: A History," said Hermione, grinning.

This snapped Harry out of his daze. He looked at Draco in astonishment. "You've read Hogwarts: A History?"

"Why is this such a big deal?" Draco wondered aloud.

Harry looked none too pleased. "If you don't know I'm not going to tell you," he said.

Draco eyed him coolly. "You can't go to the reception looking like that, Potter," he said. "You look like you lay down and slept in your clothes."

Harry turned a scowling face on Draco. "Sorry if I'm not neat enough for you, Malfoy," he snapped. "I'm a bit tired. I've just spent the past hour helping your wretched father clean up his stupid office. Which you wrecked."

"I guess I shouldn't have done that," said Draco with false contrition. "I guess I should have sat back and let him TAKE HERMIONE'S CLOTHES OFF AND SNOG HER ON THE DESK!" He screamed this last bit, and Harry flinched in surprise. His eyes went immediately to Hermione.

"Is that true?" he said tensely.

Hermione bit her lip and nodded.

"I'm going to kill him," said Harry tonelessly. "When we get Sirius out. I'm going to come back and kill him. If I can't do Avada Kedavra on him, I'll chop of his head with one of his damn fencing swords."

Hermione was too shocked to say anything. She had never seen Harry look like this, never. It scared her.

"It's kind of rude," said Draco, "to talk about killing my dad when I'm standing right here, isn't it, Potter?"

"Are you going to try to stop me, Malfoy?" said Harry. "Because I don't advise it."

Draco, who had been lying on the bed on his stomach, sat up slowly. "And I advise you to let this go," he said. His own eyes were glittering angrily now. "Hermione is fine."

"She's not fine," said Harry. "She's had Malfoys trying to get into her pants all day, how could she be fine?"

"Fuck you, Potter," said Draco, getting to his feet and taking his wand out. Harry did the same. Hermione swiftly put herself between them, feeling deeply resentful of the whole situation.


"I don't have a problem," said Draco. He was smiling a very horrible smile, which made Hermione stare in disbelief - she had never in her life seen an expression like that on Harry's face, it was as bizarre to her as if she had caught Lucius Malfoy salsa-dancing in the hallway. "He's got a problem."

"Oh, for God's sake," sake Hermione in disgust, took her wand out of her pocket, and said, "Expelliarmus!"

Both their wands soared into her grasp and she pocketed them. They stared at her in astonishment.

"Now," she said, "if you want to start killing each other, you will have to do it with old-fashioned bloodshed. Although I advise both of you to avoid stepping on my dress while you pound on each other, or damaging it in any way, because if you do, there will be Dark magic done in this room. And it will be done by me."

Draco was grinning again, but it was a much more pleasant grin this time. "Whatever you say," he said.

But Harry wasn't smiling. Hermione looked over at him, and what she saw made her stomach flip-flop. He looked very pale, even paler than Draco usually looked, and his silver-blond hair was pasted to his forehead in sweaty tendrils. He was breathing unsteadily.

"Harry," she said in alarm, "are you all right?"

Harry shook his head, then sat down very suddenly on the floor. Hermione threw herself down next to him, and he grabbed her wrist and held it tightly. Neither of them moved for several moments. Then Harry stood up, looking ghastly white but otherwise normal, and said, "I've got to go get dressed for the reception. I'll be right back," and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

"He's gone mental," said Draco flatly, as soon as the door was shut.

"No," said Hermione, getting to her feet, "he's just feeling all sorts of things he's never felt before and he doesn't know how to deal with it. Harry isn't used to feeling hate, he doesn't hate people. Not even you," she added, with the ghost of a smile.

"Oh, come on," said Draco. "Surely he hates me?"

Hermione shook her head.

"I must be losing my touch," said Draco, and when she didn't smile, he added more seriously: "He's not a saint, Hermione."

"No," said Hermione quietly. "Just the best and bravest person I've ever known."

Draco didn't say anything after that. He sat quietly on the bed and after a few moments Hermione sat down next to him and put her head on his shoulder. He put his hand on her head, and very gently stroked her hair.

'Hermione...." he began.

"Shush," she said. "I'm not making some kind of gesture, Draco. I'm just doing this because right now, I want to. Is that okay?"

"Yeah," he said. "It's okay."


The party was quite as horrible as Hermione had expected. It was held in one of a set of enormous cold ballrooms, and the whole room was packed with Death Eaters in black robes. She was the only female there, aside from a huge woman in black satin whose laugh sounded like a cement mixer grinding.

"That's Eleftheria Parpis," said Harry in Hermione's ear. "I caught her and Lucius having a go at it in the drawing-room."

"Yech," said Hermione.

Harry smiled. He seemed to have recovered somewhat. He was looking a bit pale, but otherwise composed, in some of Draco's black fancy-dress robes. Various Death Eaters kept stopping and greeting him, and she could tell he was having a job trying to pretend he knew who they all were, but he was looking cool and unruffled. Very Draco-like, in fact. It was odd, she thought, she had always hated Draco far too much to see that he was good-looking, whatever Lavender and Parvati might say. But now she saw it; in fact, she saw that he was, in a classical sense, much better-looking than Harry could ever hope to be. It wasn't a beauty that made her stomach flip over, like Harry's did, but she did recognize that it was there.

"Lucius is some kind of sex maniac, I think," she whispered to Harry.

"Could be," said Harry. "After all, he tried to have it off with you, didn't he?" and he yelped with laughter as Hermione hit him playfully on the arm.

"Isn't there anything to eat?" said Hermione, looking around hopefully.

"I dunno," said Harry. "I think Lucius just got everyone together to tell them about his newest diabolical scheme, I don't think he was planning on feeding them."

"Do you think we can sneak off yet?" asked Hermione, craning her neck to scan the crowd. Somewhere by the wall, Draco was standing, wrapped in the invisibility cloak. She had explained the details of Lucius' plan to the boys, and they had decided to go and get Sirius right away. They had hoped that during the confusion of the party, they could all three sneak off to the drawing room and get down into the dungeons to rescue Sirius. So far there hadn't been an opening during which she and Harry could dart away, though.

"We could try," said Harry. "If they catch us they'll just think we're skulking off to make out."

"Hurray for teenage hormones," said Hermione. "Let's go snog behind a tapestry."

"Indeed," said a voice behind her. It was Lucius. Hermione jumped and blushed. Eleftheria Parpis was with him; she was looking down at Hermione in a motherly sort of manner.

"Who can blame you, dear?" she said. "Draco is getting very handsome. Just like his father," she added, looking at Lucius in a sickening sort of way.

"Uh," said Hermione.

"Lavender was just kidding," said Harry.

"I'm sure," said Lucius, smiling a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Hermione had a feeling he was still fractious with her for having repelled his advances. "Eleftheria, this is Lavender Brown, my son's girlfriend." Hermione smiled at Eleftheria politely.

"Good news, Draco," Lucius added. "Harry Potter was spotted in Malfoy Park by the owner of the Cold Christmas Inn. He sent me an owl just now."

"That is good news," said Harry faintly. "Was he with anyone?"

"At least one person that we know of," said Lucius blandly. "Some girl."

"So he'll be here soon," said Harry.

"And will find a welcoming party ready to receive him," said Lucius.

A terrible silence descended on Hermione and Harry. Neither of them could think of anything to say. Finally, Hermione said, "Harry's got loads of girlfriends, it could be any of them."

"I'm sure," said Lucius. He gave them both a measuring look, then said, "Have fun, children," and disappeared into the crowd with Eleftheria behind him.

""At the risk of sounding like someone in a comic-book," said Harry, "I think this means we're getting short on time. We better do this now."

Hermione agreed with a fervent nod, and they headed off toward the end table where they had left Draco. They said nothing, but a rustling noise indicated that he had joined them, and all three of them ducked through the nearest doorway. They followed Draco's whispered instructions, heading towards the drawing room.

"Loads of girlfriends," said Harry, shaking his head as they rounded a corner. "I do not have loads of girlfriends. I am not a player, Hermione."

"I know that," she said, trying not to laugh.

"At the moment," Harry continued, "my girlfriend count stands at zero."

"That's cause you're always wasting your time chasing after Cho," said Hermione, nettled. "Who doesn't want to go out with you anyway."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," said Draco's disembodied voice.

Harry glared suspiciously at the empty space where Draco was likely standing, "What do you mean?"

"I think she may have experienced a drastic change in her feelings towards you."

"Did you do something to her, Malfoy?" snapped Harry.

"Not to her, per se," said Draco. Hermione could hear him smirking, "With her, maybe. A little of the old Malfoy charm and she was begging me for a date."

"Ah, yes," said Harry. "the famous Malfoy charm. Was that what convinced your dad you were gay, or was it just your hair?"

Draco ignored him. "Anyway, I told her you weren't interested."

"Why did you do a stupid thing like that?" snapped Harry.

"Because," said Draco. "You aren’t. Oh, look," he added, before Harry could say anything else, "here we are."

A fire was burning in the drawing room grate, but the room was blessedly empty. A new portrait was hanging on the wall above the trap door, this time of a short, angry-looking man with an obvious toupee whose name proclaimed him to be MARVOLO MALFOY.

Harry bent down to pull the rug aside.

"I don't think you want to do that, Draco," said a soft voice from behind them.

They whipped around. Lucius Malfoy was standing in the doorway, surrounded by a crowd of Death Eaters. Eleftheria was standing by his side, and she was no longer looking motherly in any way. Her huge black eyes looked like caverns in her pudgy white face.

"You," she said to Hermione. "What did you say your name was?"

"Lavender," said Hermione haltingly. "Lavender Brown."

"I know the Browns," said Elefttheria, coming forward into the room. "And I know their daughter, Lavender. You are not Lavender." She turned to the Death Eaters on either side of her. "Seize hold of her," she said.

Several things happened at once. The Death Eaters started forward. Hermione backed away in terror. And Harry dropped the corner of the rug he was holding, stepped sideways, and put himself between Hermione and the Death Eaters.

"Get out of the way, Draco," said Lucius harshly.

"No," said Harry. "Leave her alone."

"She's a spy," said Eleftheria coldly. "She is a friend of the Enemy. She was recognized, Draco, by the owner of the inn in Malfoy Park. She came here not to visit you, but with Harry Potter. The innkeeper saw her at the reception and told us as much."

"You cannot be blamed, I suppose," added Lucius, "for having unfortunate taste in girls. Better men than you have been fooled by beautiful women. But I advise you to step aside, Draco. I don't want to hurt you, but I will."

"Liar," said Harry, "You love hurting me."

Lucius smiled. "Maybe," he said, and nodded at the two Death Eaters standing in front of Harry. Harry went for his wand, but it was futile. There were two of them, and one of him. He had time to hit one of them with the Impediment charm, but the other never even reached for his own wand. Instead, he made a grab for Harry, seized him, and threw him to the ground. As Harry struggled to get up, the Death Eater kicked him hard in the side of the head with his steel-toed boot.

Harry crumpled.

The Death Eater kicked him again.

"Careful," said Lucius in a silky drawl. "That's my only heir you're manhandling."

The Death Eater glanced down at Harry. "He's alive," he said. "But he won't be getting up any time soon."

"Then let him lie," said Lucius. "Bring me the girl."

The two Death Eaters seized Hermione by the arms, but she barely noticed. She was staring at Harry, who was lying on the ground in a widening pool of blood. They propelled her forward until she was standing directly in front of Lucius.

"Hallo, Lavender," he said. "Shall I bother to ask you your real name? I think not, since we're not terribly interested in you. We're interested in the Potter boy. Where is he?"

Hermione had her eyes squeezed shut, but she could still see the image of Harry against her inner lids. "You killed him," she said, and called Lucius a name she had never known she knew. She must have picked it up from Draco.

"Draco will be fine," said Lucius impatiently. "And don't pretend you care. You came here with Harry Potter. Where is he?"

Hermione opened her eyes and looked into Lucius' gray ones. They were as cold as winter.

She shook her head.

"Fine," said Lucius indifferently, took out his wand, and placed the tip of it against her chest, just over her heart. He put his face close to hers. Close enough to kiss her.

"Crucio," he said.

It was the worst pain she had ever felt, ever imagined. She was being burned, cut, sliced, torn open; she was wrecked and ravaged; her body would never be the same again. She could hear herself crying out in agony and yet it seemed she had gone deaf and blind, the world was going white; she screamed and screamed; she was dying.

Lucius took the wand away and the pain stopped. Hermione slumped to her knees, the Death Eaters letting go of her arms, and covered her face in her hands.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" said Lucius.

"Don't be stupid," said Hermione. Her voice sounded tinny and strange to her own ears. "Of course it hurts."

Lucius took a step forward, put one booted foot on her shoulder, and pushed. Without the strength to hold herself upright, Hermione fell sideways and lay on her back, staring up at Draco's father. I'm going to die, she thought wildly. I'm going to die and I never got a chance to tell-

"You don't have to die," said Lucius, as if reading her thoughts. "Just tell us where Harry Potter is."

Hermione said nothing.

Lucius sighed and raised his wand again. "Cru-"

"Stop it!" someone shouted from across the room - sounding to Hermione like a million miles away. "Leave her alone!"

She knew who had spoken immediately, and a sharp stab of despair pierced through her like a nail. No, she thought, Draco. Don't.

But there was nothing she could do. Draco had pulled the invisibility cloak off himself and was holding it his hand, quite visible, quite unprotected. All the Death Eaters had turned to stare at him in shock; an expression of triumph was spreading over Lucius Malfoy's face.

"Leave her alone," Draco said again, in an unsteady voice. He looked terrified -- he was white as a ghost, and sweat had plastered his black hair to his forehead. But he seemed determined. "It's me. Harry Potter. I'm here."

Chapter 8 >>>