There was no way to tell exactly what Voldemort was planning with this dinner gathering. Was he actually attempting a different approach of gathering information? Capturing bees with honey instead of vinegar. Whatever it was, it could not bode well for me.
I Apparated into the parlor, where my father was seated, speaking with another Death Eater. There were quite a few people, more than I thought. It seemed Voldemort's entire inner circle was here, along with the younger generation of Death Eaters. I decided to take the opportunity to go to my bedroom. It'd been longer than I cared to remember since I had set foot in it.
I excused myself momentarily, telling my father to send a house elf to get me when dinner began. It felt almost surreal to be back in the manor. I couldn't even consider it home anymore. Hogwarts was home. No-Hermione was home. Home is where the heart is, and my heart was wherever Hermione was. I nearly dreaded walking into my room.
Turning the knob, I was back in my old comfort zone, the place I would take solace in. As expected, it was spotless. The house elves cleaned it even though I was never here anymore. Sitting on my bed, I did my best to clear my mind. Head in my hands, I did my best to bite back a frustrated yell. What had I done? It was ten times worse than our first kiss, yet an infinite amount of times better. I didn't want to let her go. I wanted her to stay, would have done anything for her to be able to stay.
Falling back onto the bed, I made another failed attempt to control my emotions. Voldemort would likely try to invade our minds again. I had no choice but to push my most recent memories into the darkest recesses of my mind.
"Is something bothering you, son?" I shot upright at the voice I wasn't supposed to hear. She was dead.
"Mother?" I hated the way my voice sounded like a child's. I looked up, feeling stupid when I saw her portrait smiling down at me from across the room. Her smile was just like I remembered, but it struck me that my most recent memory of her smile was one of years ago, when I first began at Hogwarts. She had hidden that smile from my father. Malfoys don't show emotion, after all.
I stood, wishing I could embrace her. She sat on the floor of the portrait to be closer to my eye level, the tender look in her eyes never leaving.
"Draco…" There was something hectic in her voice, a tinge of panic, just concealed by the usual Malfoy façade. "You have to be very careful tonight, understand? The Dark Lord has a plan to identify the traitor."
"But mother, I'm not-"
"The spell that makes this portrait is the same as the Headmaster portraits. We retain all previous memories and are capable of making new ones. Son, you can never lie to your mother. I know everything."
"Wait-how? No one outside the Order knows…" Sudden realization dawned on me. There was no way my mother could have a connecting portrait in the Order's headquarters, could she? On my visit there, I noticed the drapery of the Black Family Tree in the parlor. My mother's maiden name was black, so she was clearly on that family tree. Could there be another portrait of her inside the house?
"I see you understand. Draco, listen to me. All I ever did, I did to protect you. I fell in love with your father, but not with what he believes in. The only Blacks that ever truly joined either side were your Aunt Bella and our cousins Regulus and Sirius. The rest of us maintain neutrality for a reason."
"And what reason is that?"
"We're out to save our own, Draco. I made Severus take that vow to protect you, not to ensure that Dumbledore would die. I would have enlisted the old man's protection for you, if I was sure he could ensure your safety."
"So you've always been against all of this?"
"My personal beliefs never mattered. I only cared to keep you safe, Draco." So my mother's convictions were never important to her? I still remembered the way her dead body felt in my arms. My father hadn't even deigned to look at us. She was entirely selfless, only ever caring to please my father and nurture me.
"Mother…I'm so sorry…" She smiled sadly, still looking at me.
"I'm not, Draco. I died protecting the only thing worth dying for. I care about your father, Draco, but he is no longer the man I fell in love with. You held, and still hold, all the love I have left. I'm happy as long as you are alright, and I support your decision to stop the monster that tore us all apart."
"Mum…" I couldn't help the tears that welled up in my eyes. Never in her life had she spoken words of love to me. Never. It was practically a rule. We were not allowed to display affection or emotion. It was the Malfoy way.
"It's ok, son. Just be careful. You will understand how I feel one day, when you find the one person you will do anything for. I already have, I wanted to tell her, but in that moment, a house elf came to get me.
"Master has sent Sadie to call the young master." She bowed deeply, reminding me of Dobby. As I walked out the room with her, my mother issued a final warning.
"Be careful, Draco… Truth can kill you." And with that, I left. I didn't understand what she meant about truth killing me, but I tucked it in the recesses of my mind. At face value, she was telling me to lie, to protect my secrets. However, something told me she was trying to say something else.
I arrived in the parlor in time for everyone to be called to dinner. Voldemort sat at the head of the table, my father on his right side. I sat on the other side of him, across from my father. All the elder Death Eaters sat across from the younger generation. Goyle, Zabini, Nott, Parkinson; they were all on my side of the table, across from their elder counterparts. Except for Pansy, who sat across from the female Carrow. There were a few other younger generation Death Eaters that were not really part of the group that I attended Hogwarts with, nor were they part of the older group.
"Please, everyone, you may eat." Hearing Voldemort be this polite unnerved me, but my close proximity to the monster didn't allow me to react in the slightest. Tension was palpable, and no one wanted to go near the food. Probably afraid it was poisoned. Poison. Potion…Veritaserum! He put Veritaserum in the drinks. It can't be cooked into the food, as heat and condiments would mess with the potion. It had to be put into the drinks. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Voldemort's eyes darted to the first person to pick up their glass.
I was screwed.
Soon after finishing my food, I went back into the kitchen, for the sole purpose of putting my dishes in the sink. As soon as I walked in, a strange hush fell over the room, I didn't want to make another scene, however. It was bad enough that the ministry members probably thought I was insane. Instead, I filed it to the back of my mind, ready to inquire later, probably to Tonks. At the thought of her, however, I realized she wasn't present either. As a matter of fact, many of the older members were gone. Only Harry and a few of the other younger ones remained.
I thought nothing of it. Besides, there was nothing they could do without the approval of Remus. As a safeguard, however, I called Dobby once I was back in my room. I knew Draco and Voldemort were at the manor, so borrowing Dobby from Hogwarts wouldn't endanger anything.
"Yes, Miss Hermione?"
"Could you do me a favor, Dobby? Keep an eye on Harry for me, will you? If he goes to Hogwarts, alert me right away, alright?" He nodded in response, bowing and leaving immediately. I hated using him like this, but it was the only way to keep an eye on everyone. There was nothing much left to do, but I had no intention of staying put. Instead, I decided to explore the house. Even though I had spent a few summers here already, I never really went through it thoroughly.
I left the room and made my way up a flight of stairs. I wanted to look in every door, but I heard voices coming from a few doors, so I only opened the ones I suspected to be empty. Most of them were studies and bedrooms. By the time I reach the fourth floor, I had begun to tire of the monotonous hallways. No offense to Sirius, but his family had a terrible sense of décor. I decided to stop at the last door on the floor. It just so happened to be the most interesting.
"Dora, I want you to know that I'm eternally grateful to you for encouraging her. He needs someone like her to help him." This voice was maternal, caring for whoever 'he' was.
"Of course, Aunt Cissy. Family is family, right? You've always been a Black at heart, after all. I think some of that might be emerging in him." The second voice was definitely Tonks. I didn't know she had an aunt named Cissy…As far as I knew, she her mother had to sisters. Bellatrix Lestrange, someone I knew Tonks would never associate herself with, even after death, and Narcissa Malfoy, also dead. Narcissa? Cissa? Cissy? There's no way…
I couldn't help myself. I had to go in. Part of me tried to retain the rest, but that wouldn't work for long. My curiosity was too great not give into.
As soon as I stepped foot through the threshold, I saw the image of Narcissa Malfoy, somehow not surprised that I had been listening in outside. She gave me a regal, yet warm smile, and I could finally fully understand why it was that Draco was so physically perfect. He was given the best of the genes from both his parents. She was beautiful; I hadn't been able to fully appreciate her beauty when I saw her die. It suddenly hurt to think that such a person was killed by Voldemort.
Tonks, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck at the sight of me.
"Hermione! You scared the crap out of me. I thought you were someone else…" I raised an eyebrow at her.
"You mean no one else knows you've been talking to…" She shook her head.
"Only Remus, and now you. He trusts my judgment."
"You picked an excellent man for yourself, Dora." Tonks blushed, something I never thought I would see. Suddenly, I was struck by how rude I was being.
"Oh, forgive me, Mrs. Malfoy. I'm Hermione Granger. I went to school with your son." Something akin to recognition flit across her eyes.
"Ah, so you're the famous Granger? I can see why my son liked to talk about you so much during your school years." It was my turn to blush. We were in the middle of a war and she was making jokes about her son. "My dear, I am glad you've impacted his life. It is time for a change in the Malfoy name." My confused look said it all. "Tonks has told me of what my son has done for you. She recalled how you stayed behind when I died. She's told me of how you have been helping him, allowing to take up the position that had once belonged to Severus."
"I really am glad you are in his life, Miss Granger. Who knows what would have happened after that night in Hogwarts?"
"I should be the one thanking him, Mrs. Malfoy. He saved me, on more than one occasion. I owe him my life." There was more than just the life debt I owed him behind those words now. Even without the debt, I knew I was willing to lay down my life to save him.
"Draco is lucky to have a friend like you, Miss Granger. He never had real friends. They were all for convenience. That seems to have changed with you, and for that, I will forever thank you. Please." I want to be more than friends. I wanted to tell her that what Draco and I had was more complicated than friendship. However, I wasn't given the opportunity. A moment later, Dobby appeared before the three of us.
"M-Miss Hermione! Dobby has seen Harry Potter and his Weezy in the castle! Many of the Dark Lord's followers still linger. If He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is alerted, they will surely be hurt!" Or die. I specifically told them not to be rash.
"How? Who else is with them, Dobby?" Tonks immediately left to get Remus. By the time they were back, Dobby had responded.
"Several of the younger members. Miss Hannah, Master Seamus, Miss Ginny, Master Dean. Other house elves took them into Hogwarts." I swear I'll kill them myself if Voldemort doesn't get to them first. Before Remus could speak, I interrupted.
"Let me go alone first. I'll send Dobby if I need help." They looked reluctant, but Tonks nodded, holding Remus back.
"Take me to Draco's room. And then alert him of what's happening, ok?" He nodded. Once I was back inside Draco's quarters, Dobby wasted no time in leaving to alert him. Merlin save us all. If Voldemort got to us before I could get Harry and the others back, or even call for reinforcements, we were al as good as dead. Once, Hogwarts had been our home field, now it felt as foreign as any uncharted territory.