"Good morning, Darling."
Someone was running their fingers through my hair. I forced my eyes open to see Malfoy leaning over me. I quickly sat up.
"What are you—?"
He cut me off with a kiss. When he pulled back I stared at him, speechless.
"You've been asleep for almost twenty-four hours," he said nonchalantly, as if he hadn't just kissed one of his greatest enemies. "We were all starting to worry. Your mother and father are downstairs."
He shot me a knowing look.
"Are they?" I said quietly.
He nodded, seemingly both in answer to my question and as a sign for me to continue.
"Well, they shouldn't have come. I'm sure I'll be back to perfect health in no time."
My voice—it did sound different.
But if I'd been asleep for almost a full day—
"And I have every intention of making sure you are." He stood up from the bed and crossed the room, retrieving a breakfast tray from the desk. "Chocolate éclairs, chocolate milk, a chocolate crepe, and a few candy bars thrown in for good measure." He set the tray on my lap.
I glanced at the food, then back to him. "Doesn't seem like the healthiest meal."
"For someone who just got back from Azkaban, it is. Especially the milk—why don't you try it?"
Cautiously, I picked up the cup and put it to my lips. As I drank, warmth seemed to spread through my entire body, reinvigorating my muscles. The more I drank, the more energy I regained.
"Do you like it? I made it myself, just for you."
"Thank you," I said quietly.
A small smile appeared on his lips. "Don't mention it, my love. Now, I'll leave you in peace to finish your meal, but first I need to put this back where it belongs."
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a diamond ring. I raised my eyebrows as he took my left hand and slipped it onto my ring finger.
"I spoke to Mother, and she approves wholeheartedly. Now we can finally move forward."
"Finally," I muttered.
"When you've finished, just ring the bell and someone will take care of the tray and help you dress. I'll see you downstairs."
He kissed my forehead, turned, and paused at the door just as he was about to leave.
"I love you, Astoria," he said with a smile, then walked out.
I stared at the now closed door, frozen.
What in the world was that?
Still slightly catatonic, I picked up an éclair and popped it into my mouth. For a moment, I forgot everything else that was going on and simply relished the taste. Before I knew it, all of the food on my tray was gone, including the candy bars.
Last night I'd slept in a real bed, and now I was eating chocolate for breakfast.
I can't believe this is real.
But what was this? I climbed out of the bed, surprised to find it was no longer a struggle to stand, and pulled on the nearby rope. As I waited for a servant to enter, I wandered around the room, stopping in front of a large mirror.
The person staring back at me wasn't Hermione Granger. She had straight brown hair that fell just past her shoulders and a long face. Her eyes were blue and narrow, and her lips thin. She was shorter than I was, but not by much. She was thin, with hardly any muscle. Apparently, her name was Astoria Greengrass. And apparently she was engaged to Draco Malfoy.
But why did I still look like her? The Polyjuice potion should have worn off by now.
There was a knock on the door, and I jumped.
The door opened to reveal a maid. She curtsied deeply as she entered.
"You rang, Miss?"
"Yes. I—er—finished my meal and would like help—um—dressing for the day."
"Of course, Miss."
The young lady crossed the room and opened a door. I followed her and entered a huge walk-in closet. The entire right side of the room was covered in designer jeans, shirts, and dresses, as well as the most elaborate robes I'd ever seen—clothes so expensive I'd be nervous to wear them at all. The left side of the closet, however, was filled with upscale men's clothing. I raised my eyebrows again. Not only was Astoria engaged to Malfoy, she was living with him.
But where was she?
Still slightly in shock, I chose a shirt/skirt combination that didn't look too flashy and dismissed the maid. Once I was dressed, I looked at myself—or rather Astoria—in the mirror once again. I took a very deep breath and walked out of the room.
It took me a few minutes to find my way out of the maze of halls and to the grand staircase. I looked around the entryway. I had no idea where anything was in this mansion, least of all where to find Malfoy.
After a short round of eenie-meenie-minie-mo, I turned to the right and walked into what seemed to be a study. A blonde woman immediately stood from the couch and hurried toward me.
"Astoria, Dear! So glad to see you up and about!"
She embraced me. I returned the hug, desperately trying to appear natural.
"Your father and I have been so worried," she said as she pulled away.
"There was no need. As you can see, I'm perfectly fine." I flashed a smile.
Over her shoulder a man stepped into view, and I felt a surge of panic. He was one of the death eaters who'd grabbed me, pulled me away from Ron—
"We're just happy to see our little angel out of bed," he said in his gruff voice. I planted my feet in the ground, resisting the urge to run away.
"It's good to see you too, Father," I managed to say.
"Is that Stori?" A young woman with blonde hair bounded around the corner into the room. I narrowed my eyes slightly.
She laughed. "Surprised to see me?"
"A little," I said as she drew me into a hug. Daphne Greengrass—now I realized why that last name sounded familiar. We'd been in the same year at Hogwarts. Not that we'd socialized much—she was a Slytherin, after all.
"Well, you shouldn't be." She released me, a huge smile on her face. "You didn't think I'd miss your engagement party, did you?"
I forced a small smile. "I guess not."
"We're all so looking forward to the celebration," Lady Greengrass added. "The Emperor sends his congratulations, and says he'll do his best to attend."
I stared at her a moment. "I'm speechless," I muttered. It was true.
There was an awkward moment of silence before I cleared my throat. "Um, I'm looking for Ma—for Draco. Have any of you seen him?"
"I believe he's across the hall in the dining room." Daphne piped up. "We were all about to sit down for lunch, but I don't expect you're hungry after dining upstairs."
"On the contrary, I'm famished. Shall we?"
Daphne smiled at me again and turned. I let her lead the way, so I wouldn't appear lost. When we entered the dining room, the table was already set with an array of delicious appetizers. I felt my mouth start to water.
Control yourself, Hermione. You may not have had a decent meal in years, but Astoria certainly has.
Malfoy sat at the head of the table. He smiled and stood as we entered. I walked over to him, and he pulled me close for a short kiss.
"I see you found your family. Will you be joining us?"
We all sat. Malfoy squeezed my hand under the table. I searched his face for answers, but found none. I wanted to scream at him, to demand an explanation for all of this, but I was smarter than that.
As we all nibbled at the appetizers (me with much self-restraint), a servant entered with a copy of the Daily Prophet on a plate. Lady Greengrass took it without a word and began scanning the articles. After a few minutes, she let out a small gasp.
"What is it, Mother?" Daphne asked.
She shook her head. "You remember Hermione Granger, don't you Dear?"
"Of course, she was the girl always hanging around Potter."
"Must we discuss such people in my house?" Draco said, disdain in his voice. "That mudblood gave me enough grief while at Hogwarts. I thought she was safely locked up in Azkaban."
He caught my eye and winked.
"Well, she was. Still is, technically. She died in her cell last night."
"Died?" I blurted out before I could stop myself. "How?"
"They're not sure, but I doubt they'll launch a real investigation. It's not like there's anyone around to miss her."
"She probably found out what happened to her parents, and the grief killed her," Daphne said mockingly.
Everyone chuckled. It was the most horrible sound. It took every ounce of my self-control to keep my face blank. Malfoy squeezed my hand again, but he wasn't helping. I wanted to scream at him just as much as everyone else, if not more.
Lord Greengrass stood and raised a glass. "Here's to the last of the 'Golden Trio' finally meeting her end. Long live the Emperor!"
My heart stopped. Somehow I managed to lift my glass into the air and drink with everyone else, all the while dying inside. The last of the Golden Trio...
Malfoy tried to squeeze my hand again. I pulled it away, struggling to control my heavy breathing.
"Dear, are you all right?"
I glanced up at Lady Greengrass. "Yes, I'm fine, I just—I guess I'm still shaken from yesterday. Excuse me."
I stood. Malfoy stood with me and took my arm.
"Let's go for a walk, shall we? Maybe the fresh air will help."
Feeling numb, I nodded. We were almost to the front door when I heard someone following us.
"Astoria, may I have a quick word?" Lord Greengrass said.
After a moment of hesitation, I nodded. "I'll meet you outside," I said weakly to Malfoy. He kissed me again before walking out the large front doors.
Lord Greengrass took a few steps closer to me. I resisted the urge to step back.
"Well? What have you found out?" he said in a low voice
I quickly racked my brain for an answer, some way to talk myself out of this.
"Nothing new," I said.
Lord Greengrass let out a sound that resembled a growl. "Well, you better find something soon. The Emperor is not a patient man."
I tried to hide the bolt of fear that ran through my system. "I understand."
He nodded. Taking that as a cue that the conversation was over, I exited the house, forcing myself to walk instead of run. Malfoy was waiting just outside the doors. As soon as they closed behind me, I let out a deep breath.
"You've got some explaining to do."
"I know. I should have done more to keep your parents away, Darling, I'm sorry."
My blood was boiling. "You know very well that's not—"
He shot me a warning look. "Why don't we go for a walk in the gardens? That usually helps clear your head, doesn't it?"
He extended his arm to me. I clenched my teeth and took it. With every step we took, I grew more and more anxious, and more and more angry. If I didn't get some answers soon, I was going to explode.
After we'd been walking for about five minutes, he suddenly pushed me against a nearby tree. But I didn't hit the bark—I staggered into a sparsely furnished, dimly lit room. In front of me, the wall seemed to turn to liquid and Malfoy walked through it.
"All right, Granger—let it out."
"What in Merlin's name have you gotten me into?" I screamed. "The only reason I'm here is because of your note, and you've done nothing to convince me it wasn't a sham! And if Harry is alive, why would you even want to help him? And how did you get the keys to my cell, and get the Polyjuice past the guards? Oh, and while we're on the subject, why didn't the potion wear off, why do I sound like her, and where is your real fiancé?"
He raised a hand. "Let's start with that last one, shall we? The real Astoria Greengrass is currently being buried at sea by the wardens of Azkaban."
"It's quite simple, really. If you'd merely escaped from Azkaban, then everyone who was at the prison that day would be a suspect in the investigation. But if you were found dead, there would be a celebration."
I choked on my words. "You killed her, and put her in my place."
"It wasn't in cold blood, I assure you. Her father tasked her with investigating me for the Emperor—you see, when I told you my father was dead, I left out the important detail that he was killed by the Emperor because he was suspected of treason. My mother's in Azkaban now, which is our excuse for being there yesterday. I thought I could handle Astoria, but she dug a little too deep. I had to eliminate the liability."
"You murdered her!"
He took a few steps forward. "If I hadn't killed her, she would have exposed me, and the fact that Potter's been alive all this time, a secret my family has gone to great lengths to keep. And don't forget you would still be in that hell," he hissed. "If you disapprove of my methods, maybe I should have left you there."
I clenched my teeth. "Maybe you should have."
He scowled and turned away from me. "I knew this was a mistake. You don't have what it takes to beat him."
"If you mean I'm not a murdering scoundrel like yourself, you're right."
"This is war!" he exclaimed, whirling around. "There will be casualties, and better them than us! I promise you, Granger, if they find us out they will have no mercy, so we need to be merciless in return."
"What is in this for you? The Draco Malfoy I knew never did anything that wasn't out of self-interest."
"Then you never knew me very well. Everything I did was out of fear."
"And you're not afraid of 'The Emperor' now?"
"More than ever, but I'm determined to make this right. He's destroying both the wizarding world and the muggle world. Believe it or not, I do have a conscious."
"Right, and that's why you murdered Astoria."
"It was her or me. What about that don't you understand?"
I took a deep breath and let it out. "Fine. But if we're going to work together, from this point forward we explore other options before homicide."
"Fine," he muttered resentfully. "Next question."
"How old am I?"
"Astoria's 23. Hermione's 25."
I blinked. "25?"
"Turning 26 next month."
I found a nearby chair and sat in it, putting my head between my knees. "Seven years," I muttered.
Malfoy pulled up another chair and sat next to me. "A lot has changed since the Battle at Hogwarts. The world is a much different place."
I'd learned so much just in the past hour. Something horrible had happened to my parents. Ron was dead, and probably his entire family as well. Voldemort was now trying to take control of the muggle world. The world had become such a place that my death was a celebration to most of those left in it.
I collected myself, sat up, and looked him squarely in the eye.
"Tell me everything."
A/N: The plot is starting to move forward! Hope you're still enjoying :) Looking forward to reading your comments!