Category: Harry Potter
Warning(s): Language, Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Spoilers
Summary: Draco Malfoy is killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. Before crossing into the afterlife, he is faced with a choice: Go forward into eternal damnation, or return to the world and right his wrongs. In order to fix his many mistakes, he is made a Guardian. His task? Serve and protect Hermione Granger at all costs.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.
Chapter Two: The Man in the Mask
It was well into the morning hours before the Aurors left. Hermione had watched as they ransacked her flat, looking for signs of the intruder and testing her wards in an attempt to understand how the criminal had gotten past them. She'd numbly looked on as they carefully took apart all of her belongings and then put them back together exactly as they'd been. It would have been impressive if she hadn't been sleep-deprived and cranky.
When the last official left her building to head to the apparition point just south of where she lived, Hermione sagged in relief. She'd hated having so many people in her home. Instead of making her feel safe, it had made her feel weak; as though she needed dozens of members of the wizarding authority to protect her from the threat that was looming on the horizon. Hermione liked to think she could take of herself if the need arose, but Harry and Ron had insisted that their colleagues properly survey the area.
The Aurors had been looking for dark magic residue in particular. She'd known from the start they wouldn't find anything though. Anyone who'd been clever enough to get through her wards, had to be smart enough to do it untraceably. So, when the crew came up short in their search, she'd just nodded her understanding coolly despite their reassurance that they'd keep pushing. It'd all be futile in the end.
"You going to be alright here alone?" Ron asked her as he fell onto the sofa at her side. "Or would you like us to stay 'til morning?"
Hermione took a sip of the tea Ron had made for her earlier. He'd insisted on it since she'd been unable to stop shivering, the realization that someone had trespassed into what she'd always considered her safe haven truly unsettling her. "Don't be silly," she argued now, "You've done enough for me tonight. I'm sorry you had to stay so late to begin with."
"Where else would we be?" Harry responded with calm reassurance, smiling at her as he leaned against the wall across from them.
"I don't know, it's not like you have girlfriends or anything," she said sarcastically, dropping her head back to rest against the heavenly soft cushions behind her. "I love you both, but go be with Ginny and Luna. Let's not make them worry."
Ron gave a deep sigh before he dragged himself to his feet and moved towards Harry. "I guess you've got a point there. We'll be off."
"Someone will be outside for the rest of the night keeping watch, just in case," Harry added. "Let us know if anything else happens."
They spent a moment gathering their coats before taking turns giving her warm embraces in farewell. Hermione frowned as she watched them leave the flat, resigning herself to a night of minimal sleep. There were only four hours left until she had to be at work and there was no way she'd sleep soundly after the night she'd had.
She remained standing on shaky legs for a while after that, listening carefully to the eerie quiet of her flat in the wake of Harry and Ron's departure. The only sound was the hollow thrum of her grandfather clock as it ticked away. The noise resonated around her, bouncing off the walls in unnerving echoes. Paranoia set in quickly. Hermione was left alone with the horrible feeling of being watched. She wanted to go outside and talk to the Auror stationed there, but refused to show such weakness. She was a war hero for Merlin's sake!
In the muted light of her flat, the shadows cast by various lamps and pieces of furniture seemed long and frightening. Hermione exhaled loudly, trying to push away the nervous energy that was threatening to overwhelm her. It shouldn't be like this; she shouldn't feel unsafe in her own home. Unable to help it, she quickly made her way over to her front door. She manually locked it and threw the deadbolt. The action made her feel slightly better despite how illogical it was – If someone could apparate through wards strong enough to rival a cell in Azkaban, then it was silly to think they couldn't pick a Muggle lock.
Hermione spent the next few minutes going through her flat locking her windows and drawing her curtains shut. A sense of calm slowly glided down the curves of her shoulders as she went, releasing some of her tension. By the time she was finished, she no longer felt the deep-seated panic in her belly. In its place there seemed to be a cool readiness creeping through her limbs. She reached a hand up to absently press into the spot where the calming sensation had begun. Then she finally allowed herself to give in to the thought she'd been denying for hours: What if it wasn't over?
"Unfortunately, they didn't find anything. Or maybe I should say fortunately," Harry explained late in the afternoon the following day as he met with Hermione, Ron, and Kingsley in the Minister of Magic's office. He was sitting in a chair with his elbows on his knees and the weight of his worry reflected deep within his emerald eyes. Hermione absently thought he looked twice his age at the moment, but decided not to give in to the whim to say so. She doubted he'd be amused, no matter how many times he'd complained about looking like a toddler next to the other Aurors in his division.
Even though she'd been expecting his announcement since last night, her stomach still clenched uncomfortably at his words. She'd spent the entire day trying to lose herself in her work and forget what had happened. Usually it would have been successful; however, this time she'd found herself unable to push dark thoughts from her mind. All she could think about was how disturbing it'd been to lay in bed feeling terrifyingly vulnerable, despite knowing there was a member of the law enforcement just outside her door if she needed them.
"This doesn't mean we're going to let our guard down," Kingsley promised, his voice deep and confident as he held her gaze from where he stood by the window. He seemed every bit as powerful as he actually was as he crossed his thick arms over his chest. Someone would have to be an idiot to underestimate their towering rock of a Minister.
Hermione nodded numbly. "I know. Let's just hope this is the end of it."
Ron reached over and patted her knee sympathetically. "We don't have enough evidence of a break in to justify keeping someone posted permanently at your home. Will you be alright on your own tonight?"
"Of course," she said immediately. It only took her a second to regret the sureness of her answer, but she was too stubborn to take it back. "I'll be fine. And if anything happens, I know you three are just a short trip away."
"Good," Kingsley boomed, giving her a respectful nod. "Now, as to not show favoritism, we need to treat your case like any other. If you were anyone else, we'd have to put the case aside unless any further action was taken against you. In fact, Potter really shouldn't have jumped so quickly to call the Aurors in last night."
Harry rolled his eyes behind his glasses. "You would have done the same thing."
Kinglsey gave a small smile but didn't disagree.
Hermione tilted her head to the side in confusion, leaning forward in her seat. "What do you mean? Are you saying my case is being dropped?"
"Officially, yes. We're going to have to stop investigating the incident through the Auror department," Ron answered, scratching at the stubble on his jaw. "There's no evidence of the crime except your testimony to a missing brush. That's not really enough to validate using Ministry time and money. Let's just hope that it was a fluke… Some idiot who was looking for a couple spare galleons."
"Do you honestly think it was a fluke?" she asked, looking around the room at them. Her voice was small and disbelieving as she fought to catch and hold the three men's eyes.
The men fidgeted, glancing at each other in a vain attempt to ignore her gaze. Hermione watched silent communication pass between them and felt instantly agitated. They were keeping something from her and she could feel those secrets filling up the space between them. They knew something more; something that they didn't want her to find out about. Her eyes narrowed.
"Yes, we do," Harry answered at last, his eyes falling to hers as if the confidence in the gesture would make her believe him for a second. He knew her better than that. "But the three of us will keep our eyes open on our own time. If this was more than a petty robbery, we'll be the first to know."
That night, Hermione left the Ministry for home with a heavy pit in her stomach. She didn't know what to think of the fact that someone had broken into her flat for no more than an antique comb. It seemed so silly. But she knew what she felt in her gut, and that was that this wasn't over. Whoever it was wanted more than a hand-me-down trinket.
After telling her that there was no reason to be worried about another attempted robbery, Harry, Ron, and Kingsley had mentioned what she could do if she was still nervous. She already had anti-apparation wards on her flat and no access to the floo network, so that was perfect. If she really wanted to, however, they could place a Fidelius Charm on her home. It'd be extreme, but effective. She'd told them she wanted to hold off on that for now, despite how eager Ron and Harry had seemed about the idea.
Again, her denial was instantly regretted. Yet without her knowing all of the facts, she really couldn't justify such an extreme course of action. If she played it flippantly, maybe the others would be forced to clue her in – Just so she'd take it more seriously. It wasn't much a plan, but it was all she had.
Now, as she popped into the small clearing a couple streets over from her flat which served as her apparation point, she kept her hand close to her pocket for quick access to her wand. Hermione couldn't help but feel on edge given all that had happened. It wouldn't do her any good to whip out her wand in front of a Muggle though. She tried to rein in the nerves, letting the mounds of paperwork she'd be required to fill out if she were to make a poor call motivate her forward.
It was raining when her feet hit the grass of the park by her home. She'd chosen the place for its solitude and privacy. It'd been the perfect location to stealthily disappear and reappear every day since she lived in a Muggle neighborhood; unfortunately, the same elements that made it perfect for apparating also made it terrifying to be alone in at night. The tall oak trees cut off all light from the stars overhead and there were no lampposts visible until one walked about a kilometer across the park. Usually the distance seemed insignificant to Hermione, but now she found herself quickening her steps and looking nervously in every which direction. She couldn't get over the nagging feeling that she was trapped inside a game of cat and mouse. A shiver danced over her spine, prickling horribly at the base of her neck.
Hermione tugged her collar up against the rain, hunching her shoulders as if that could prevent her from getting wet. Her heels clicked against the concrete of the walking path as she stepped off of the wet grass and made her way to the street. She kept her eyes up and alert, scanning her surroundings as she hurried along. The walk that usually took her about ten minutes would be done in half the time at this pace. There was a crunch of leaves to her left, but when she looked over there was nothing. The deep howl of the wind as it picked up then only made her already brisk strides quicken. She felt instantly relieved as she finally turned a corner through the path of trees and her eyes fell on a lamppost in the distance. It had to be only two hundred meters or so away now.
As the gusts of wind grew even stronger around her, Hermione's curls suddenly blew up into her face. With a curse, she reached her hands up to wipe the hair from her eyes, drawing them away from the pocket containing her wand as she did so. It was a mistake. The moment her hand had begun to fall away from her face again, she felt her breath leave her like a punch to the gut. She stopped walking and backed up a step anxiously, her hair standing on end and a silent scream building in her throat.
There was a man hovering in the rain just in front of the lamppost now.
He seemed to have come from nowhere. The brightness of its glow cast him completely in shadow. Had it been any other day, Hermione might not have thought anything of it; however, there was something very off about his size. He seemed too large, larger than Kingsley even from this distance. Almost as large as Hagrid. When the stranger's arm twitched at his side, Hermione's eyes were drawn to the unmistakable outline of a wand.
Hermione froze, her hand having unconsciously reached for her own. The man took a menacing step towards her as if to assure her she'd made a wise decision to stop. His giant head cocked oddly to the side, its outline then taking on an inhuman shape. There was something bizarre and unreal about it. And as his face turned slightly to the right she realized what it was.
He had a beak.
Her throat felt tight and choked as terror began to set in. Hermione knew a lot about many things, but she'd never heard of anything like this. Was this man even human? Without recognizing the decision, she reached for her wand to fight. The figure was faster. The moment she moved, his was drawn. A jet of green careened towards her before she'd firmly grasped her wand. She hurled herself out of the path of the Killing Curse, falling roughly onto the concrete. The handle of her wand slipped from her fingers, leaving her defenseless.
Quickly, she crawled forward on her knees. Her fingers ran frantically along the wet ground hoping to find it. Hermione tried to keep her breaths low and calm through it all, but knew she was breathing too heavily. She had let panic overwhelm her, something that she should have known better than to allow. This was a horrible time to forget everything she'd learned from the war.
Large, rough footsteps made their way towards her unguarded figure. Hermione gave one last feel for her wand, but came up short. She turned then, hoping she could defend herself without magic.
She wouldn't be able to. Her eyes widened as she took in the colossal frame of the figure no more than a couple meters from her. The man's sudden proximity illuminated the Venetian mask he was wearing. The mask was bird-like, a large downturned beak in blacks and golds. It would have been beautiful if it weren't on the face of someone who so obviously wanted to kill her. The reddened eyes that flashed behind the mask and the predatory tilt of his head as he looked vacantly down at her were enough to ruin any remaining splendor.
His wand raised slowly then. "Avada –"
A force struck her from the side, shoving her out of the path of the vibrant stream of green just in time for the heat of the spell to slice through where she'd been kneeling. Hermione whimpered as she hit a soft stretch of grass, only to be pressed heavily into the wet dirt by what felt like a boulder collapsing on top of her. Her eyes squeezed tightly shut as a raw pain bloomed in her arm from the impact of her landing. She only had a moment to register the pain before the weight pressing against her vanished.
Hermione blinked her eyes open, wincing at the throbbing in her temples from where her head had made contact with the ground. She gave a shaky breath as she tried to lean up to defend herself again, only to be immediately pressed back down by an invisible force. She winced and struggled before her mind sharpened back into focus in time to witness the impossible.
A winged creature, glowing with all the force of the sun, had taken a defensive stand in front of her, shielding Hermione from the deadly fury of the masked giant with cold determination.
AN: I took a break from my Camp NaNo fic, Untouchable, to get this next update out to you all! :) Thank you for all the wonderful support I've gotten so far. I look forward to hearing from you as the story progresses. I really do appreciate the feedback!