Chapter Six: Funeral
I stepped out of the study. Lord Greengrass followed me out. There was an evil grin on his face. He immediately went back upstairs, probably to report to the Emperor.
A deep breath escaped my lips, and I looked around. Malfoy was nowhere to be seen. A servant came out of the dining room, and I walked over to him.
"Excuse me," I said, "but do you think you could show me to the library?"
The young man stared at me with a shocked expression. I bit my lip.
Too polite, Hermione, I thought.
"This way, Miss," he said after he'd gathered himself. I followed him, paying attention to the route. After what seemed like ages, we finally stopped, and he opened a nearby door.
"Thank you, that will be all," I said, trying to sound a little more commanding. The servant bowed as I entered and shut the door behind me.
In the future, try not to say "Thank you." Astoria wouldn't.
I spun around, searching for the source of the voice in my head. Malfoy was lounging on a nearby sofa, book in hand. He glanced at me knowingly, then back to his book.
I recovered from the shock and walked up to him. "Hello, Darling," I said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"What did your father want?" he said casually.
"Oh, you know him. Always treating me like his baby girl." I sat on the couch at his feet. "He was just giving me some advice."
Malfoy looked back at his book again, but I heard his voice in my mind.
Did you tell him about the room? Don't speak, just nod yes or no.
I gave him a very small nod yes.
Good. Now, with your permission, I'm going to try to access some of your memories. Your mind is much too open—you need to learn to close it. We're lucky you haven't given us up already.
I shot him a dirty look. He pretended not to notice.
You said you know some occlumency. Let's see what you know. Get up from the couch when you're ready to start.
Taking a deep breath, I stood and walked toward the nearest bookshelf. Almost immediately, I felt a presence in my mind, riffling through my memories. Image after image was brought to the front of my mind—getting my Hogwarts letter, riding on the train, using the time-turner, fighting in the Department of Mysteries, Dumbledore's funeral.
I feebly attempted to put up walls, while at the same time hiding my mental distress. Slowly I regained control and built my walls higher, stronger. At some point I'd reached the bookshelf, and I started scanning the spines for something I would be interested in.
That's a good start, but it's not going to be enough to stop the Emperor, Malfoy thought.
Suddenly, he was inside my mind again, breaking down my walls. This time, all the images were of Ron. Yelling at him at the Yule Ball, watching him in quidditch, seeing him with Lavender—seeing him splinched, watching him leave me and Harry, the day he came back, fighting with him, kissing him—
I let out a gasp and dropped to my hands and knees.
Malfoy stood from the sofa. "Is everything all right?"
But he didn't let up. I struggled against him, tried to push him out of my mind, but with no success. Painful memory after painful memory was brought to the surface, of all the death I'd witnessed, all the destruction.
Gritting my teeth, I pushed those memories aside and brought up one very specific one: punching Malfoy in the face.
The assault ended abruptly. I stood and turned to see that Malfoy had stopped dead in his tracks halfway to me. Through my heavy breathing, I grinned.
"I'm fine, Draco."
After a moment, he smirked. "All right, then."
He turned away. I built up my walls again, but this time armed them. The best defense is a good offense, after all.
I could tell from Malfoy's expression that he wasn't done with me, but he seemed to be giving me a break. I returned my attention to the books in front of me. Nothing in this section seemed particularly helpful, at least not for creating a new safe-haven. I moved deeper into the library. The books didn't seem to be organized at all, and I knew I was in for a challenge finding what I needed.
"Astoria, Dear, come join us!"
I jumped slightly before walking back towards the front of the library. Malfoy was closing his book, and Lady Greengrass stood in the doorway.
"What for?" I asked.
"We're all going into the living room to watch the funeral."
"I still don't understand why he's doing this," Malfoy grumbled as he stood. "She was a filthy mudblood, and a traitor. Why hold a funeral for her in the first place, let alone televise it?"
"We'll know soon enough," I said, taking his arm.
As we walked down the hall, he sent me an apologetic look. I shrugged it off. The things he said didn't bother me. I knew very well that Voldemort had turned the world against people like me, and I fully expected him to demonize me more at my 'funeral.' I could handle it.
But that didn't mean I was looking forward to it.
We entered the living room, and sure enough there was a large television mounted over the fireplace. In the world I remembered, wizards didn't watch television.
I sent Malfoy a confused look. His gaze seemed to say, "I'll explain later."
We sat down on the couch. Malfoy put his arm around me. I scooted closer to him and leaned my head on his shoulder. As much as I didn't want to admit it, it was nice to have someone to be close to after all those years in Azkaban, even if that someone used to be my worst enemy.
Daphne grabbed the remote and switched the telly on. I caught my breath as 'The Emperor' appeared on the screen. His red eyes were just as piercing and horrible as ever, seeming to stare right through the screen into your soul. I involuntarily moved even closer to Malfoy, and he ran his fingers through my hair.
There was a large crowd gathered around him. After a moment, I recognized the place—they were at Hogwarts, in front of the lake. To Voldemort's left, what appeared to be my body was lying on what looked like an altar. He moved behind it and looked down at Astoria, believing it was me. I thought I saw the corners of his lips turn upwards in a wicked smile, but it was so slight I couldn't be sure.
"We are here today," he began in his high-pitched voice, "not to celebrate the death of a traitor, but to mourn a waste of talent."
His voice sent shivers up and down my spine. Malfoy held me tighter.
"In her youth, Miss Granger was led astray by the wicked Albus Dumbledore, as were many of her peers," he continued. "Because her blood was not pure, she joined Harry Potter and fought against me and my loyal followers. But what this bright young woman failed to grasp was that there are roles for all people in my empire.
"I personally visited her many times during her stay in Azkaban, but her mind was so corrupted that nothing I could say would sway her." He shook his head, feigning regret. "If she had only given me her loyalty, and let go of her pride, she would have been freed from her cell to find a new, fulfilling life serving those above her station."
I clenched my fists. As always, everything out of his mouth was a lie. He never came to see me, and if he had it would only have been to taunt. This was nothing but a publicity stunt, an attempt to convince his subjects he was merciful, even understanding. The idea that he was using my death to increase his power and influence was sickening.
"It is my greatest hope that you do not make the same mistake." He held out his hands. "Subject yourselves to me, and I offer you a rich, rewarding place in my empire."
He waved his wand, and the body in front of him burst into flames. I could almost feel the heat of that fire.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion, and Voldemort whirled around. Fireworks burst in the air behind him. I sat up straight as they formed three words:
LONG LIVE POTTER.
My heart jumped in my chest. Almost immediately, the program cut to a commercial. It took every ounce of self-control to keep my lips from bursting into a huge smile.
"What a dreadful site!" Lady Greengrass exclaimed as Daphne shut off the telly. "How dare the rebels make such a scene!"
"They'll be history before long," Lord Greengrass said, not sounding at all concerned. "They get weaker and weaker every day."
One by one, everyone stood and left the room. I was still staring at the screen, my heart beating wildly, wondering who had been behind the fireworks. I thought back to when the Weasley twins made that scene during our fifth year, running away from Hogwarts. If anyone knew how to manipulate fireworks like that, it would be George.
Which meant he, at least, was still alive.
Suddenly a memory was forced to the front of my mind—Fred lying on the ground, dead.
I pushed Malfoy out and rebuilt my walls, standing to face him. He shot me a warning look, as if to say "Don't let your guard down."
"What do you think the point of that was?" I said, resisting the urge to glare at him.
He shrugged as we walked out of the room together. "The war with the muggles is almost over. He's probably trying to win their sympathies, 'relate' to them or something. Same reason we have those monstrosities called 'televisions' in our homes now. Honestly, the things these muggles come up with."
I let out a sound halfway between a scoff and a laugh. That explained the telly, at least. Still, it seemed odd that he'd want to get the muggles on his side in the first place. I thought back to what he said during the funeral—that I could have had a life 'serving those above my station.'
We passed a few servants on our way back to the library, and I at once understood. I hadn't seen a single house-elf since returning to Malfoy Manor, because now the half-bloods and muggle-borns were the servants.
And he planned on luring the muggles into slavery.
I shook my head in disgust. No one realized just how much of a hypocrite he was. Voldemort himself was a half-blood, and by his own law should be waiting tables or cleaning lavish hallways.
If people did know about his paternity, however, they were apparently smart enough to keep quiet about it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon searching the library for useful information, without much luck. I found a few cloaking spells I didn't already know, but nothing strong enough to create the kind of safe-haven Malfoy and I needed. What we really needed to create was a portal of sorts, a pathway between somewhere here at the manor and another place we could protect.
My nose was buried in Spells for the Overly Cautious when Daphne poked her head around a nearby bookcase.
"Stori! What are you doing back here?"
I closed the book, marking my place, and set it on top of the ever-growing pile next to me. "Just some research."
Daphne laughed. "You? That seems a little out of character."
I bit my lip. "Father asked me to look into something."
"Oh, well in that case," she sat down next to me. "Anything I can do to help?"
"No, I'm about done for the night." I forced a smile. "Besides, I'm not sure he'd want me talking about it with anyone but him."
She sighed. "Fine. You always were his favorite. I guess I shouldn't be surprised nothing's changed."
We stood at the same time. She stomped away before I could even think of a response. I frowned.
Don't pity her—she'd turn on you in a second if she knew who you really were.
I sighed and shook it off. I put most of the books back where I'd found them, but kept the others set aside, hoping they wouldn't attract attention.
At dinner, toasts were again made in celebration of my death. I sank in my seat a little more with each one. Not only was I there in the room, but the death they were actually celebrating was Astoria's. The situation was, to say the least, uncomfortable.
Again, I had to remind myself who these people were, what they were capable of. I glanced at Lord Greengrass and thought back to the night they took me to Azkaban. He was one of the three men who'd pulled me away from Ron, who'd ruthlessly tortured me until Voldemort sent dementors to take me to the prison. Even when the others had had enough, he continued to throw curse after curse at me, relishing in every cut, every bruise I sustained.
Malfoy cleared his throat, breaking my train of thought. "I thought you would all like to know that the day after tomorrow, Astoria and I are going on a trip, just the two of us, to celebrate our engagement more privately."
He took my hand. I did my best to smile.
"Where are you going?" Daphne asked, excitement in her voice.
"We decided on Italy, didn't we Dear?" I said.
"Yes. Rome, then Venice. We'll be sure to send you postcards."
"We're looking forward to getting them," said Lord Greengrass. I shut my eyes, the memory of his evil laughter ringing in my ears.
As soon as I was finished with my food, I left, using the excuse that I wanted to get plenty of rest before the party tomorrow. Somehow I found my way back to the bedroom just fine on my own. I quickly changed, then climbed into bed and picked up Astoria's diary from the nightstand. I'd only had time to read a couple entries the night before, but I really needed to finish it if I was going to fool everyone at the party tomorrow. By the time Malfoy entered the room, I was just under halfway through it.
"I thought you wanted to get some rest," he said as he loosened his tie.
"I wanted to, but I can't sleep," I said with a half-smile. "I'm nervous about tomorrow."
"Why?" He was now unbuttoning his shirt. "Your mother's taking care of everything. All you have to do is show up."
He took off his shirt. For a moment I was distracted. He stepped out of my sight into the closet, and I could think clearly again.
"She said the Emperor might be there," I said, clearing my throat. "That's a lot of pressure."
"You have nothing to worry about." He emerged from the closet in a t-shirt and sweats and climbed onto the bed next to me.
I sent him a nervous smile before returning all my attention to the diary, ignoring the fact that he was lying next to me as much as possible. I didn't last much longer before my eyelids started drooping. I still had over a third of the diary left, but it wouldn't do me any good to read it if I was so tired I couldn't remember what I read the next morning.
Reluctantly, I set the book aside and turned out the light. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought of George and prayed that he, and whoever helped him, made it out of his little stunt alive.***
A/N: I hope you're all still enjoying the story! I have some great things in store, so keep reading, and keep reviewing!