With a determined nod, Hermione gave her normal house one last glance before turning the car on and beginning to drive away from the house. She kept her eyes on the road and didn't speak.
"Things are going to be all right, you know," Draco said suddenly. The car paused at a stoplight and Hermione's hands went tense on the wheel.
"How do you know that?" she asked quietly. "I would think you'd be frightened. After all, you did see the place where the vampires keep guests."
Draco nodded gravely. "I did, and it wasn't a posh mansion. But we really don't have any choice. We need to get back to the castle so we can interrogate Ailbert and figure out what happened between Ariella and Valerian."
Hermione groaned and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently. "Why can't we just ask Valerian then, if that's all we need to know? I bet he's got a nice, comfy place with actual rooms for guests and no rats to speak of."
Draco didn't say anything in response. The truth was, he really didn't know what to say. Valerian had disappeared some time ago and hadn't tried at all to contact the family to say whether or not he was still alive.
"Draco, are you all right?"
Draco looked up at the sound of Hermione's voice. "Of course, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine?"
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know. You just seem nervous. So, can we go to see Valerian, or do we have no other option but to go back to the Clan castle and see Lydia's father?"
Draco shut his eyes tight. "We really have no choice but to go see Ailbert. Valerian disappeared years and years ago, before I was even born, and no one in my family has heard from him since."
Hermione sighed. "All right, then. Do you actually remember the way back to the Clan castle?"
Draco nodded thoughtfully. "I do, but the quickest way there will be damn near difficult with a car. It might be quicker just to apparate ourselves there and leave the car in the garage. You did pass your apparition test, didn't you?"
Hermione turned around slowly and glared at him. "Of course I bloody did! It's you I'm worried about!"
Draco's eyes widened. "Now hold on! Do you honestly think that I would suggest we do something potentially dangerous if I didn't have any idea what I was doing? I passed the test too. Granted, it might have taken me a bit longer then it took you, but I passed it!"
Hermione nodded. "All right. That was all I needed to be sure of." And with that, she got out of the car, shutting the door softly behind her and motioning for Draco to do the same. He shut his car door a bit harder, and then the two of them walked to a far-off corner of the backyard where the neighbors wouldn't see what they were doing. They stood side by side, and Hermione noted that Draco was shaking.
"What's the matter? Are you nervous?" she asked.
He nodded. "Of course I'm nervous! This is the first time I've actually used this since I learned how to do it, and if I remember what the instructor said, it's more difficult to do the farther you are away from your desired location. Now, do you remember those words that the instructor told us to get us started off?"
Hermione looked at him with concern. She could see that he was extremely overwrought, so much so it seemed that he should not be trying to handle something as complex and potentially dangerous as apparition when his mind was obviously elsewhere.
"Do you want to do side-along?" she asked finally.
He opened his eyes. "What?"
"Do you want to do side-along apparition?" she repeated.
Draco frowned. "What's that?" he asked.
"Dumbledore did it with Harry before he took his test," she explained. "In our case, it would mean that you hold on to me while I do the apparating myself. You just have to come along with me. It might help alleviate some of that nervousness your feeling."
Draco started to protest that he was perfectly capable of apparting on his own, but eventually, Hermione convinced him that he was too busy thinking about other things to give solo apparition his full attention. He then took her hand and the two of them were at the Clan castle in seconds.
Draco took command of the operation from there, leading Hermione expertly through the dark and twisted corridors until he finally came upon the room that Arion and Gammried had showed him before.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Hermione whispered.
Draco nodded. "Yes, I'm sure. Now, we are going to go into the room, and you're going to see a light at the end of the room. That is the cell where Ailbert is being kept, and very possibly Ariella too."
"Why would Ariella be in there?" Hermione asked. "If she's supposed to be in Lydia's body, didn't you free her and send her home awhile ago?"
He nodded. "Yes, but in this dream I had on the way to your house, you know, the one where we got married, you were about to get eaten by vampires, but Lydia, or should I say Ariella, in bat form, stopped you from being bitten. Maybe it wasn't just a dream. Maybe it was a premonition!"
Grabbing Hermione's hand eagerly, Draco sprinted across the dark room and paused in front of the small cell.
"All right," he whispered, "you go down first."
Hermione nodded and perched herself at the edge of the open cell, then letting herself drop down with a soft thump. Draco followed soon after.
They found Ailbert asleep in one of the corners and shook him awake.
"What's going on?" he said sleepily. Then, he seemed to get his wits about him, and he whipped his wand out of his robe pocket.
"All right, now! I'm warning you, stay away from me, blood-sucking fiends, or you'll be sorry!"
Hermione gasped, and Draco held out his hand. "Ailbert, calm down. It's no one dangerous. The vampires have all moved to somewhere else to prepare for the ceremony."
Slowly Ailbert put his wand down, rubbed his eyes and squinted at them. "Who are you?" he asked croakily. "I don't remember things so well anymore."
Draco and Hermione looked at one another for a moment before turning back to Ailbert. "This is a great-great granddaughter of yours," Draco said finally, gesturing at Hermione, "and my name is Draco Malfoy. We came here because we need to ask you something very important."
Happily enough, Ailbert's eyes had lightened when Draco had introduced himself. That was encouraging.
"So you're a Malfoy, you say?" Ailbert asked interestedly. "I knew a lad by the name of Malfoy once. He was a good boy. Told him I'd let him marry Ariella if we lived through the debacle that was the last sacrificing ceremony."
"That's actually what we wanted to talk to you about," Hermione said, interrupting Ailbert's trip down memory lane. "Did he and Ariella manage to marry?"
Ailbert gazed at Hermione for a moment. "You're a great-great granddaughter? Which daughter of mine do you belong to?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Hermione said patiently. "Now, could you please tell us whether or not Ariella and the Malfoy married?"
Suddenly, they all heard a rustling sound in one of the far corners of the cell. Hermione and Draco watched in shock as a dirty and bedraggled Ariella pulled herself to the center of the cell.
"How are you here?" Draco asked. "Last I saw, you got burned up in a fire!"
Slowly and painfully, Ariella pulled herself to sit up. "If you're here asking questions about Valerian and me," she said brokenly, "I know you've read father's diary. I know that you know all about father switching Lydia's and my bodies so that I could live. I have just removed the spell that father put upon me. This is how I really am. What I really look like. After the body switch, Father sent me away. Since I was essentially my sister, a squib, I no longer had magical powers. I married your great-grandfather, Hermione, and had your grandfather and his sister. Then, when they were still young, Father, in a moment of confusion, sent the vampires after me, thinking that Lydia was me. Arion saved me from death though, and we fell in love and then I gave birth to Fallon."
"But what about you and Valerian?" Hermione asked pleadingly.
Ariella sighed. "Valerian was the reason why I left Fallon and Arion at all. If you want to know whether or not Valerian and I got married, the answer is yes."