Everyone was clearly panicked, afraid that the food would just be another form of torture. If I didn't move fast, it would be obvious I was the traitor. It made sense. The first person to move would be the least likely candidate, since they would have nothing to hide under the influence of Veritaserum. I carefully picked up my fork, cutting into the chicken before me with all the manners a Malfoy was brought up with. He wouldn't kill us, that would just be rash, something Voldemort was definitely not known for. His paranoia may have been increasing, but his stupidity wasn't. The worst he would do, outside of Veritaserum, would be to torture us, something he'd already done and gained nothing from.
"My Lord," I never thought I would be so relieved at the sound of my father's voice. He broke the heavy silence as I took my first bite. Something akin to pride glinted in his eyes at the sight of my 'bravery,' but it was all I could do not to gag. "What is your next plan of action? With the prisoners gone, it is only a matter of time before the Order takes out our insiders in the ministry."
"I am well aware of the consequences of your recent failure, Lucius." The name sounded like a snake's hiss coming out of Voldemort's mouth. "Perhaps if you were not all incompetent this would not be a problem. Zabini!" My fellow Slytherin flinched at the sound of his name, as did his elder counterpart. "Blaise," Voldemort's voice softened, but it did nothing to remove the threat from his tone. "You haven't touched the wine yet, my boy. Please, drink." That was enough to confirm any suspicions of Veritaserum. Despite his polite 'request,' everyone recognized it for what it was: a order.
Zabini took his drink, and we all watched, and I could see the look of understanding in their faces.
"So tell me, young Zabini, why did it take you so long to alert the rest of us to the intrusion?" Blaise didn't blink, didn't even miss a beat.
"I fell asleep in the cell. I didn't notice them until Potter attempted to 'save' me." The look of shame and terror on Blaise's face was clear. He was safe, though, for now. On to the next victim. I could see the anticipation in Voldemort's eyes.
"I see. Next time, I shall be sure to assign you a duty that doesn't require alertness. It is clear your miniscule brain could not handle a simple task." Down the table, another Death Eater snickered at Zabini's distress. It immediately caught Voldemort's attention. Time for round two.
Draco's invisibility cloak was exactly where I had left it. Swiftly taking it up and draping it over myself, I made my way out of the room. If they had the Marauder's Map, they would know I was here. Part of me hoped they were no longer in the dungeons, and wouldn't bother checking for it. The twins knew these halls better than anyone, and with the map, they were completely at an advantage. If they were ambushed, though, we were all dead. Who knew what Voldemort had up his sleeve?
Alright. Get a hold of yourself, Hermione. If you were Harry, where would you go? There was no point in going further into the dungeons, since we'd already recovered the prisoners. The only way left to go was up. Using that as my only guideline, I made my way towards the upper levels, no idea where I would find them, or if I would find them at all.
That's when it hit me. Harry didn't know Voldemort was out of the castle. If he'd had the sense to grab the map, which was doubtful in his current state of mind, then he would realize Voldemort wasn't here the minute he set foot in the castle. However, if he didn't have the map and was relying purely on Fred and George's knowledge, which I half-hoped he did and half-hoped he didn't, then he wouldn't realize it until he arrived where he assumed Voldemort had taken up residence.
Dumbledore's office. It was as good a target as any, and the best lead I had. Time worked against me, though, and I didn't have the leisure I would have liked to weigh the possibilities. That, and the twins probably had endless passageways to get to it faster, out of sight. I broke into a run, or as much of a run as I could, trying to be quiet at the same time. If I didn't reach the office before them, or at least at the same time, then who knew if I'd be able to find them at all. What's worse, I could have been completely mistaken and not find anything at all.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I continued up through the school without encountering even one Death Eater. Voldemort must have thought we wouldn't attempt another break-in so soon. He would be right, too, if it weren't for Harry's rashness.
The sight that greeted me upon reaching the office was a depressing one. The griffin that usually guarded the staircase to the office was blown to pieces, the rubble strewn throughout the hall. It must have refused to leave its post, even under attack from Voldemort. It's head lay beside the entrance, and something about the sight brought a knot to my throat and tears to my eyes. The stairs were before me, and I couldn't stop to mourn a statue.
Running up the steps, I heard movement inside the room. Stopping for a moment outside the door, I pressed my ear against it. They hadn't even bothered to cast a Muffliato.
"Where could he be if he isn't here? Hermione didn't say anything about him not being in the castle…" Harry's frustration was clear, as was his newly cherished suspicion.
"Maybe she didn't know…" I couldn't distinguish which of the twins answered.
"Malfoy's been hiding information, then…" That was all I could bear to hear without reacting. I wasn't surprised to find that they hadn't bothered to lock the door. As soon as I walked through the threshold, their wands were out and Harry was shooting a spell at me. Despite Harry's quicker casting, I was ready to deflect whatever it was. With a flick of my wrist, the spell dissipated harmlessly. He didn't lower his wand, as the others did, when he saw it was me. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing…You know, if you'd run this little plan by me, I would have told you he wasn't here. He, along with most of the inner circle and the younger recruits, is at Malfoy Manor." I crossed my arms in front of me, and took on the persona of the angered mother. "Not to mention that if you had actually been thinking straight, at least one of you would have had the sense to bring the map with you."
"Don't give me that 'high and mighty' act, Hermione."
"If you weren't such a child, Harry, I wouldn't seem 'high and mighty,' as you put it. This little stunt could have cost your lives! Did you stop to think about that? You didn't bring the map, didn't alert the rest of the Order, didn't even bother to tell me, your supposed best friend!" Everyone else, including Ron, simply stood by and watched out exchange. This seemed to be a regular thing between us now. I clutched the cloak in my hand, as if it were Draco himself.
"How could I tell you if I can't even trust you!" That stopped me dead in my tracks. I had no retort for that, no comeback. How could he not trust me? "You trust Malfoy, Hermione. Less than a month ago, he was the enemy! I saw the way you two were. You're the one who isn't thinking straight. Whatever you're feeling for the git is clouding your judgment. The old Hermione would never fall for his act." My chest began to hurt, and I couldn't tell if it was the effort to keep my tears at bay, or to keep myself from yelling.
"We saved all those hostages, didn't we? He helped us. He's done nothing to hurt us. He's saved me more than once."
"You have a hero syndrome, Hermione!" He progressed into yelling. "For all you know, he could be a double agent, but you worship the ground he walks on! Are you forgetting we were ambushed? Where was he then?"
"Saving me, Harry! Again!" I was too frustrated to think straight, but I couldn't drop the argument. It was all I could do to keep from hexing him. "I told him to lie low after the ambush. I made him leave. He didn't listen to me, though. He went and tried to save me. Again." The look in his eyes said he didn't believe me, or did believe me but didn't trust Draco.
"That's enough. This isn't the time or place for this discussion." Luna's sudden authority shocked everyone.
"She's right. We need to get out of here before the Death Eaters notice." As if Ginny speaking the words out loud were some kind of cue, footsteps began to thunder up the steps.
"Wonderful, Harry. Happy now?" Without even glancing in the direction of the door, I cast the first few locking and protection spells I could think of. At least it would give us enough time to gather our bearings, and semi-prepare to attempt an escape.
Voldemort had managed to force every other member at the table to drink. I had somehow been either left for last or spared. The latter wasn't likely. He'd proven through the potion that no one here was the traitor. The only one still under scrutiny was me. I was screwed. Everyone was drinking from their glasses freely now, except for me. If I didn't do something quickly, I'd be dead. Or worse.
Feigning a drink, I brought the glass to my lips, allowing the liquid as close to my mouth as possible. Hopefully it was believable. I'd been doing this since his fifth victim, hoping to be spared. If something didn't happen soon, I was as good as dead. The house-elves appeared and began to take away dinner, bringing out dessert. By some stroke of luck, the elf placing my dessert on the table bumped her arm against my glass, pouring the wine all over me. I jumped back in surprise.
"Stupid elf! Useless…" Thank Merlin. Before I had a chance to punish her myself, my father beat me to it. After a quick Crucio, the elf recovered, seemingly unfazed by the pain. Her eyes seemed a little foggy, and I guessed she was drunk. I immediately turned to the Dark Lord, bowing in haste. I cleaned my shirt, but it was still stained. "Forgive me, my Lord, I will go make myself more presentable."
"Very well, Draco." His complacent tone frightened me, but I let myself believe I had made a convincing act of drinking the wine. I made a mental note to thank that house elf somehow.
I walked out of the room, not looking back, and heading straight to my bedroom. I wasn't prepared for who greeted me there.
"Master Draco! So Winky was successful…"
"My friend, sir! Dobby sent Winky to get Master Draco. It is Master Potter and his Weezy. They are in the castle! Miss Hermione went after them and sent Dobby to tell you." Dammit.
"Thank you Dobby. Alert the rest of the Order. Do anything you can to help them, but maintain secrecy." After bowing, Dobby left, eager to help. How was I supposed to get out of this now? I prayed to whatever deity would listen that Hermione would be safe. I headed back towards the dining room, hoping for a miracle.
Just as I was about to take my seat, Greyback burst through the door. He seemed frantic and rushed.
"My Lord, forgive the intrusion." As if this were his home. "Potter and his lot were found in the castle. It seems they were searching for you. We ambushed them in your quarters." Not what I was hoping for, but it was better than just sitting here. At least in the thick of it I'd be of some use.
"Insolent fool…Well done, Fenrir." He turned back to us, "Everyone, it would seem this dinner must be cut short." That was as good enough an order as we needed. Within moments, we were back in the castle, storming the stairs on our way to the old Headmaster's office. Rounding the corner to the hallway, however, revealed that they had broken free of the office, and were spreading the fight further into the castle. They were grossly outnumbered. Hermione was in the thick of it, anger clear in her eyes.
Off all the things that could have been running through my head the moment the Death Eaters came through the door, all I could think was: Idiot, mainly directed at Harry. We struggled for some time to even gain some ground, but we were outnumbered three to one. How were we supposed to survive this?
"Where's your knight in shining armor now, Hermione?" Harry's whisper was harsh in my ear as we fought off curse after curse. Any anger I held towards him, I transferred to my wand and the enemies before us. I had to remind myself we were on the same side.
Finally, after a collective effort, we managed to break through and into the hall, where even more Death Eaters awaited us. We were ambushed from both sides. Despite the invisibility cloak I carried, it was impossible to hide. We were contained to the single hall, and I had no idea how we would get out. Each of us were fighting against groups, and it seemed as if every fallen Death Eater produced two or three more. Where was Voldemort getting all these people? We seemed to have underestimated his numbers, even after all these battles.
Suddenly, spells and jinxes began to emerge from the other side of the wall of Death Eaters, and more bodies began to fall. I caught a glimpse of Tonk's hair, and a strange wave of relief ran through me. Even if Dobby hadn't reached Draco, he'd at least gone for the rest of the Order.
Spells were hitting walls left and right, and more than once we managed to narrowly escape green jets of light. All I could do was hope that we would somehow get out.
That hope seemed to dwindle, however, when more masked figures emerged and began to reinforce the Death Eaters. It seemed word had gotten to Voldemort. No doubt, Draco had also heard. I couldn't risk Draco doing anything rash, couldn't risk him having to fight and protect his cover. We needed a way out. Soon.
Draco and I met eyes across the hordes in the hallway, and I saw as he surreptitiously flicked his wand and cleared a path for us.
"This way! We have to make a break for it!" I began to make my way through, but Harry's voice stopped me.
"Since when do we run, Hermione?!" I stopped, turning around.
I watched as Potter questioned her judgment, even as I cleared a path for their escape. I continued to fight against my cousin, who had made it her mission to stage a duel with me. It worked to our advantage, because no one seemed to want to get involved in this family feud. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw as she turned to answer him.
"We're outnumbered! Live to fight another-" She didn't even get a chance to repeat what I had told her in the broom cupboard. A red jet of light hit her square in the back. I traced its path back to Zabini, and a sudden hatred for him rose in my chest. My cousin must have seen what I would do in my eyes. She shot a spell at me that flung me in the opposite direction. She ran in to protect Hermione, taking the cloak that fell from her hand, and it seemed that the sight of her falling was all Potter needed to jostle him out of his stupidity.
Collectively, the Order began to make a run for it. I wanted nothing more than to run to Hermione and take her from my cousin, but I settled for making it harder for the rest of the Death Eaters to chase after them. Down the hall, I could see Dobby, practically out of sight, summoning them. The house elves would get them out, but I knew it would be the last time they would be able to help us.
"They're using house elves!" I struggled to get up, but the spell my cousin shot at me had done more than knock me away. I was exhausted. Struggling with lethargy and sleep, all I could see was Hermione and Tonks, as Dobby took them first.