Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 24 of 25

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Hermione came out of Arles' wizarding post office, raised the brim of her enormous white hat and tried to read the nearest street sign. Not that she could see the hand in front of her face, let alone a sign meters away: her tinted glasses were so effective in blocking the noonday sun they rendered her blind.

She cursed Fergus under her breath, but at least he'd had a reason for dressing her so absurdly this time: If she was recognized here, all bets were off.

She glanced down at the slip of paper in her palm, re-reading the address, then―looking around, making sure nobody was staring at her―she quickly raised her glasses to read the sign.

Good, she thought, proceeding north across the intersection. I'm close.

A bus rolled by and she caught a vague silhouette of herself in the windows: tall now, being propped up on precarious wedges, she'd been draped in a gauzy summer gown cinched tight around her ribs (she kept fighting the rebellious halter-top but more than once she was sure everyone in the vicinity got an eyeful) and toting along a bag that must have cost nearly twice the yearly rent on her flat. To her own eyes, she looked like a spoiled tourist.

Still, she couldn't say she hated the way she looked. On the contrary, it was hard not to strut a little in a costume like this, and thought it made her paranoid (she was supposed to be lying low, wasn't she?) all the looks she kept getting made her feel oddly… good.

So yes, the clothes were nice. But they weren't practical. When she complained of this to Fergus he merely waved a hand and said, "Do not worry about such foolish things, girl. All of the other girls will not think badly about you behind your back, and most of those French lads will forget you as they see you, I promise. Now, I've packed you proper fighting clothes with the dog's things, you'll wear them later, but before we do anything else, we must get the 'lay of the land,' as it were―now, Miss Granger, that is not a sexual expression, do not become excitable. It simply means to gather information about the location. And to do so, we must go incognito, and the last thing they'll expect is you looking lovely and fashionable."

They had traveled to France together, in a rescue party comprised of her, Fergus, Lucius, Draco and Belgium. Draco and Astoria had had a very nasty argument about her staying back to care for Scorpius, shouting at each other for nearly half an hour before Astoria finally conceded and agreed to stay behind. Though it wasn't her business, Hermione was annoyed by that decision: in her opinion Astoria would have been incredibly helpful to have along, after all, she was a certified healer, she would be invaluable should anyone get injured during the negotiations. And she, unlike Draco, was not suffering Doxie withdrawals.

But Draco wanted to go, which was the only reason he had for going in the first place, and he wanted Astoria to stay, and in the end, all he had to do to outmaneuver her was drop a few carefully passive-aggressive lines: "Fine. I'll stay behind and bugger up feeding him. Look at my hands! How am I going to keep them steady? Or better yet, let's just leave him to the elves. I was raised by elves and look at how well I turned out."

Hermione had braced herself for a long, miserable flight by broomstick, knowing they couldn't all traipse into the Ministry for the long-distance floo, but Lucius had revealed a very large mantle in one of the Manor's numerous basements which, he explained, linked to all of the other Malfoy properties in a circuit separate from the main network.

"Isn't that illegal?" Hermione had asked. It was meant as a tease, and judging by Lucius' little smile, he'd realized her intent, but Draco, standing in the corner and glowering at Hermione like he used to back in school, snapped immediately.

"Not quite as illegal as impersonating somebody's wife and raping their husband."

A perfect stillness had followed.

"Draco," Lucius said, in a voice to match the frozen air, "I've left the powder on the mantle upstairs. Will you―?"

"Fetch it for you?" Draco scoffed; "Isn't that what he's for?" thrusting a thumb at Fergus.

"I didn't ask him―"

"Well that was stupid of you―"

"For Merlin's sake boy"―the brittle ice had broken, and the fire of Lucius' wrath flared out; Draco's expression went instantly from jackass to nervous toddler (some proof the drug was leaving his system, if he was starting to recognize danger again)―"if you don't stop making every second i spend near you a teenage crises, I'm going to strap you to a chair and leave you for your wife to take care of. I'm sure she would be very proud to see you in such a state."

Draco scowled, no doubt biting back a few scathing comments, but ultimately he turned and stomped off to get the powder as bid.

"I always feel the need to apologize for him," Fergus sniffed, "but considering the present company I would not be certain where to direct it."

It took the better part of the day, but eventually all of them managed to floo over to the Malfoy's estate in the French Alps, which happened to be closest property to Arles. From there, Fergus insisted they travel alone.

"Easier to avoid capture," he'd told them. "And once you're in the city I'll have one of the other elves approach you with an address where we can meet in privacy."

"Is all of this really necessary?" Draco grumbled.

Fergus scowled at him. "Your mother is being held hostage and if her captors realize we're trying to ambush them they will kill her. So yes, I do believe these precautions are necessary, and shame on you that you don't."

When Hermione at last apparated inside Arles city limits, it took all of three minutes for her elf to find her. It was actually sort of a terrifying experience: she had been idling near a bin when suddenly, from inside the garbage, a small voice whispered, "Good luck, Miss Granger!" and a bony had had emerged and stuffed something into her pocket.

Hermione had of course screamed bloody murder and nearly rolled both of her ankles on her stiltlike shoes, but when she'd finally composed herself enough to reassure passersby that she was fine, the garbage was empty (at least of elves). Feeling intensely foolish, she had checked her pocket and found a scrap of parchment bearing the address that she followed now.

It turned out the address belonged to a run-down looking hostel. The deskman sat reading a magazine and completely ignoring her; it took her about a minute of her trying to speak to him (both in English and broken French) before she realized he'd been bewitched somehow to let her past.

She climbed the stairs up to the designated room and made to let herself in―but stopped when she heard angry voices on the other side of the door.

"―just don't get it. It doesn't make any sense unless Granger's finally lost her goddamn mind and Amortentia'd you―"

"Do you even hear yourself speak? Why on Earth would Hermione―"

"Ugh! Stop saying her name!"

Hermione heard Lucius scoff. "Well unfortunately You Know Who is taken, and I suppose She Who Must Not Be Named is free but I rather dislike the connotation―"

"This isn't funny!" Draco sounded as if he were reaching the end of his rope. "Father, you're fucking my classmate and a muggle-born and my mother needs you right now. If you tell Grainger to just go back to wherever the hell she came from, and you save mum―"

"Then we will have compromise the mission by sending away of valuable ally, your mother and I will still be divorced, and I will have needlessly hurt a woman for whom feel strongly."

There was dead silence on the other side of the door. Hermione felt her heart beat like a trapped hummingbird in her throat. Had she really heard him correctly?

Apparently Draco was thinking the same question. "A woman for whom you feel strongly?" He repeated slowly. "Are you… talking about Granger?"


Another long pause. "Merlin, Father, is that why you've been looking out the windows and checking the door every five minutes? Because she's not here yet?"

Lucius' voice was tight. "She should be here by now, yes. I had considered going to search for her before this inane conversation began."

"Oh my god, Father, she's under your skin," Draco murmured. "I mean, she's really got to you. I can't believe you let yourself go beyond just weird sex and you actually―"

"That's enough," Lucius snapped. "I feel as if I've told you this a million times before now. I am your father, Draco, but I am also an adult with the life and decisions of my own, none of which you have any say in whatsoever. I certainly don't have to stand here listening to you insult my lover or berate me about my choices. There's a saying about throwing stones in glass houses I might mention here."

Hermione chose that moment to make a graceful entry, doing her best to look as though she hadn't heard anything that had been said.

Both Draco and Lucius were dressed as muggles, no doubt to increase their camouflage, and Fergus had done an excellent job: they looked indistinguishable from actual well-to-do tourists. Belgium was there with them, having traveled into the city with Lucius, but aside from a lacy white scarf around her neck, she hadn't needed much in the way of disguise.

"Hermione!" Lucius went to her immediately, wrapping her in a brief, but unabashed embrace in front of his son―then holding her at arm's length and looking her over with an air of concern. "Did you encounter any trouble on the way?"

Though she quite enjoyed this greeting, Hermione couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit flustered with Draco giving her a murderous look over his father's shoulder. "No," she responded, smiling and shaking her head up at him. "No sign of Raleigh or any of his posse."

Lucius gave her a slight smile in return, then―sliding an arm around her waist―he steered her out of the room, saying "Fergus is out reconnoitering with the elves. We will be waiting for nightfall to debrief with him and make our advance, but we should change clothes before then."

And he deliberately shut the door behind him.

"The entire estate is elf-proof," Fergus announced dourly.

Everyone around the table exchanged grim looks. "So the elves are going to be useless for this," Draco muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Just perfect."

"I had the others posted as close to the building as possible, to watch the comings and goings. There are none. Not for the most part, anyway. But we have very good reason to believe Narcissa is being held on the second story, in a bedroom near the front of the house. We have seen her stand in that window once or twice―no doubt Raleigh is sending us a message."

"So how shall we approach this?" Lucius leaned back in his chair, looking pensive. "If they've gone so far as to elf-proof the building, surely other precautions have been taken―the most likely of which is that Raleigh has posted guards of his own."

"We can have Granger dress up as a cleaning lady and send her in," Draco suggested.

Lucius turned to him, blinking slowly. "Draco, we're having a serious conversation―"

"And I'm being serious." Draco gave Hermione a vindictive look. "You're used to pretending to be people you're not, aren't you? We'd only need to adjust your appearance very slightly, and you'd be a perfect servant. They'd let you can clean the floors until you find Mother, then you can send us a signal―"

"None of this is possible," Fergus interrupted, looking at Draco as if he couldn't believe anyone could be so stupid. "It is painful for me to have to point out why―honestly, a cleaning lady?―first of all, Raleigh knows Hermione is involved. He also knows that polyjuice is involved. Anyone approaching that house will be forced to drink the antidote, or at least to pass through the Thief's Downfall, assuming they've set up a temporary one in the foyer. No…" Fergus leaned in conspiratorially. "I have an actual plan. It will be messy. But it is our best hope."

The building where Narcissa was being held was a large, stately house in the city. Beautiful on all counts, but Hermione thought it looked desolate. They were all in position now: Lucius and Draco waited just around the corners to the front of the building, Hermione was crouched behind a building to the left, and Fergus was somewhere down the street―Hermione assumed he was steeling himself.

After a pause that seemed to go on forever, there was a clatter of nails on pavement, and hurtling around the corner came the strangest sight Hermione had ever seen: Belgium, running full-tilt at the front door of the house, and Fergus riding along on top of her like a miniature knight on his noble steed. Hermione might've laughed if the situation wasn't so critical (but she most definitely would've taken a picture had there been a camera handy).

About ten feet from the house several things happened at once: a wall seemed to coalesce into existence in front of Belgium, who―bearing protective charms from everyone in the rescue party―kept running until she collided with the barrier and, after a violent struggle, she managed to worm her way past the protective spells and come out, snorting and shaking, on the other side. Meanwhile, Fergus slid off the side of Belgium and hid underneath her, using her as a kind of umbrella to sneak himself in past the wards.

They were in. After shaking herself off a few times Belgium stiffened, her eyes on the front door; in a heartbeat she launched herself towards what appeared to be nothing, but as she did so a disembodied scream emanated from nowhere―Hermione watched in horror as Belgium seized the invisible arm of a man under a disillusionment charm and began tearing it to shreds, jerking him to the ground; there was a clatter as he dropped his wand.

The wall of wards flickered, and seemed to dissipate before their eyes. Fergus rushed past the carnage unfolding between Belgium and the watchman and set to working on the front door.

"Stop," Lucius called; at once, Belgium left the sobbing mess of a man to bleed out on the pavement and cantered happily to Lucius' side. "Good girl."

Hermione approached the man slowly. She recognized him as one of Raleigh's goons. Without thinking, she drew her wand and cast a petrificus totalus on him, then followed up with a number of healing spells to stop the bleeding and close up a few of the smaller wounds.

"Such a bleeding heart," Draco sneered.

"Better this than leave a dead body outside and attract the attention of everyone in Arles," Hermione snapped back at him.

He looked close to retorting―but Lucius stepped in. "It was the right move," he said. "If we don't end up catching Raleigh or Ink here, we need informants." Raising his wand, he cast a quick levitation charm and moved the watchman off the sidewalk and behind some nearby shrubs. "We'll come back for him."

"Done!" Fergus grinned smugly back at them as the door swung open―but just as it did so, a massive explosion blew it right off its hinges. Debris rained into the street; Hermione felt splinters the size of tent pegs land in her hair; Lucius bolted for the place the front door landed, but Fergus was already running towards him from it, waving frantically at the house.

"This entire place is a giant rat trap!" he was shouting. "Come on! Now's the time to act quickly!"

Every warning bell in Hermione's system was going off―there had just been the equivalent of a bomb blast in that foyer, and now they were all supposed to run inside? Fergus was already in; Belgium followed, snarling, and Lucius went soon after, moving far more cautiously than the others but still not looking back.

That left her and Draco. Before he could make any kind of unpleasant remark, Hermione summoned up all of the courage she had in her, and rushed into the house after the others. She did not see if he followed.

It was dark and very dusty inside, and Hermione nearly tripped over Belgium, who had stopped just beyond the doorway and was moving extremely slowly, as if she could sense something was wrong. Lucius was a little ahead, and Fergus ahead of him; the tension was so thick in the air it was almost difficult to breathe.

Then at least a dozen spells came raining down on them from above. There was a banister they hadn't noticed; the casters were disillusioned, making it difficult to tell just how many there were. The blasts clogged the air with dust and Hermione found herself diving under the staircase, only to be immediately joined by Belgium. She couldn't see out past the flying wreckage but she knew Lucius and Fergus at least were dueling back; Hermione thanked her lucky stars they'd decided to embed their clothing with protective charms the day before.

Come on, she thought, clutching Belgium to her, I can't just sit here and hide.

For the second time in as many minutes, Hermione summoned up all of her courage and threw herself into the fray.

It might have been just a few minutes, or it might have been the entire night, but the dueling came to a grizzly end when Lucius shot a cutting hex at the last of the ambushers, who made a dash for the front of the building where Narcissa was supposedly being held―and Fergus had attempted to give chase, but halfway up the staircase there was a flash of violent blue light: Fergus made a horrible noise and fell all the way back down into the foyer.

"Fergus!" Lucius―who had been just behind the elf―doubled back, just in time for the staircase to collapse behind him. There was a high-pitched wail and Hermione remembered Belgium had been hiding underneath it.

As Lucius picked up Fergus tiny, limp body and began to try and resuscitate him, Hermione ran around the staircase into the wreckage under which Belgium was now buried. She forgot magic―she just started grabbing wooden slats and beams and trying to shift as much of the wreckage as possible.

"Granger." Hermione ignored the voice behind her; there was silence now under the staircase, and she knew she could feel tears beginning to form at the corners of her eyes, but all that mattered was that she get Belgium out of there before it was too late―

"Granger!" Someone grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her heavily off the mound of broken wood. She spun on her interferer―and was shocked to see it was a thoroughly disheveled, battle-worn Draco. She hadn't noticed, but he must've been fighting too. "Granger, there's no time! Let me dig her out. I've been disarmed and I can't chase that bastard down―you can. Go on. I'll get her out. Go save my mother."

"Draco, there isn't―"

He shook her a little. "Come on and stop arguing for one moment of your life and actually do something!" He shoved her towards the other side of the destroyed hall, where another staircase descended from the second floor. "Hurry up―and be careful!"

Being shaken by Draco had grounded Hermione somewhat, so although she was still in shock she had enough sense about her not to sprint up the second staircase. With a few measured waves of her wand she was able to detect another collapsing curse, as well as another latent explosion under the fifth step. Another few waves, and she disarmed both of them.

We were not ready, she thought, hurrying up the staircase towards the bedroom where Narcissa was supposed to be. She had no idea what to expect. She did not know what she was doing, running up here alone; she should have waited for Lucius to revive Fergus. But the last ambusher could be killing Narcissa right now, and if she didn't move quickly, this might all have been for nothing―

She found the room, she burst inside―and she stood there, nonplussed. It was a plush bedroom done in lace and cream, and there were three people standing near the ensuite fireplace: one was the man that Lucius had gotten with the cutting hex; another was a man Hermione recognized as one of Raleigh's; and the last, wearing that dead, unmistakable smile, was Ink.

Raleigh was nowhere to be found.

These men were standing over a pair of people, wands pointed at their heads. In a bizarre experience Hermione saw Narcissa Malfoy, the real Narcissa, look from her to her captors and back, pleading with her bright blue eyes. She was clutching the hands of a man Hermione didn't recognize.

Ink was the one to end the silence. He stepped forward, momentarily removing his wand from Narcissa's scalp to twirl it between his fingers. "Miss Granger," he murmured, "How nice of you to join―" He was cut off by Hermione's stinging hex, which struck him square in the face.

In that same moment, there was movement behind Hermione, and she turned just in time to see Lucius fill the doorway, looking like a wrathful Zeus shrouded in black clouds and wielding a wand that was currently throwing errant lightning bolts.

There was a pause―the calm before the storm. Then Raleigh's hitherto-unnamed man shouted, "Get them!" and the dueling began.

Hermione worried she hadn't sent a strong enough stinging hex at Ink. He could still see, after all, and the first thing he did was fire a curse at Narcissa that only just missed. But Hermione needn't have worried: forgoing wands, Lucius shoved his way through the fray, relying only on the protective spells in his clothing to deflect the hexes being shot at him; he grabbed Ink by the throat, and in a show of surprising strength, threw the man right through the nearest window. Hermione heard a car alarm go off down below.

The other two men did not take long to subdue. Lucius appeared ready to kill them, but even in his rage he seemed to realized that, with Raleigh missing from the scene, captives (and the information they bore) were far more valuable than corpses. Both men he bound with ropes, and Hermione tended to the man who had suffered Lucius' cutting hex.

"Lucius?" The word had come from a very familiar voice. Everyone turned: Narcissa was looking at her ex-husband with something like wonder. "Lucius, did you come to rescue me?"

Lucius stood stiffly with his hands balled into fists at his sides. When he spoke, however, his voice was smoothly unconcerned. "Yes, well, I wouldn't allow Raleigh to have any sort of leverage over me."

She seemed not to hear his words. In a few quick strides she crossed the room and threw her arms around the man she used to love. Hermione felt her stomach twist unpleasantly, as if she'd eaten something alive and unhappy, and she looked away, making to go back downstairs to help Draco―

―and she nearly ran head-on into Harry, bedecked in his full auror robes and looking utterly bewildered. In one hand he clutched the letter Hermione had sent him from the Arles post office.

"Hermione," he said slowly, looking beyond her to where Lucius and Narcissa had broken apart, and the man Narcissa had been with was now standing awkwardly between them, "can you ah… explain… what exactly's happening here?"

The confusion that followed beggared all comprehension.

Every single person on the premises was arrested, and that included Hermione, Narcissa, and Narcissa's mystery man, who owned the house that had just been destroyed and was utterly bamboozled by the entire fiasco. There was a dispute with the French aurors about who had what jurisdiction, and it took hours for the French ministry to clear the prisoners for transport back to the UK. It was, all in all, a total nightmare―but they had their captives, and that would lead them one step closer to Raleigh.

There was no word of Fergus or Belgium.

Harry sheepishly explained it was just standard procedure as he locked Hermione in a holding cell and left her down there with everyone else who had been involved. Because of the design of the place, the prisoners couldn't see each other, just a heavy oak door with a barred window and the shiny black tile so favored by the Ministry.

They were all silent, for the most part, and after a while of staring at the ceiling Hermione climbed onto her thin cot and decided to take a nap. It had been a very long night, after all.

She woke to the sound of whispering. It was coming from a few cells to her right; she stood up and crept to the door, pressing her ear as close to the window as she could to listen.

"I couldn't believe it was you." Immediately Hermione recognized Narcissa's voice: she must've been released before the rest of them, no doubt because someone had finally realized she'd been the victim in all of this. By the way she was whispering, there was no doubt in Hermione's mind that Narcissa was speaking to Lucius. "You actually came to France to save me."

"I came to France to correct a mistake," Lucius murmured back. He sounded guarded, perhaps even a little angry. "I let slip to Raleigh that you were there, and he took it as an invitation to create a hostage situation."

There was a long pause. "Lucius…" Hermione did not like that tone. "Seeing you then… you looked like a Greek god." There was a noise as if she were leaning against the door. "You were hypnotizing."

"Was I?" That was definite annoyance in his voice. "And your lover? Was he also hypnotized? He did not seem so impressed with me when we met."

"Lucius," again with that tone, like a seductive little bleat, "I was wrong. I have been wrong. Maybe… maybe we made a mistake. I know you still want me, Lucius, why would you dress up some other woman like me? You need me just as I need you."

"What are you talking about?" Lucius' voice was sharp. "Dress up some other woman like you?"

Narcissa laughed. "Your catfish, darling. You've been using Polyjuice to make some other woman look like me. Ink waxed eloquent about it while holding me hostage. I will admit, I was upset at first, and shocked at such behavior from you―but it's only made me realize that you are still pining after me, and I forgave you. We haven't lost everything, you know… we can make it right again, you and I."

The suggestion hung in the air. Somewhere, a clock ticked out several excruciating seconds before Lucius answered.

"No," he said at last. There was a quiet resignation in his voice. "Our time is over, Narcissa. You have moved on, and I have as well."

Narcissa seemed to be ready for this. "I haven't moved on," she assured him. "No man can compare to you, Lucius, I know this now. I will come back to you."

Lucius scoffed quietly. "Your fickleness has grown these past years, my dear," he muttered. "I am sorry… I know there is a history between us that will always exist, and I will always respect you as the mother of my child, but I will never have you back."

Narcissa's voice grew sharp. "Why? Because you insist on holding onto a meaningless grudge?"

"No," Lucius sighed, "because I love someone else."

Silence. Then, with total incredulity: "You… you love someone else?"

"Yes," Lucius said, and he sounded curious at himself, as if he were only just realizing what he was saying. "I love her. Quite odd, really… but it's true. And so, Narcissa, I will not take you back. If you are free to go, I would advise you to do so. It's a long trip back to Arles and your paramour has a considerable amount of redecorating to do. If I recall, you enjoy that sort of thing."

After another long silence, the sound of heels made their way back up the hall and up the stairs away from the holding cells. A barred door clattered above, and then there was silence.

Hermione sank down onto the floor, hugging her knees to her chest, and let her world spin around her for a moment, breathing in past this feeling that was at once the most painful happiness she had ever felt, and the most intense longing.

He loved her. He loved her. And he'd confessed it by turning down his ex-wife, the only other woman Hermione had feared would steal him away. The bliss was far too much: tears sprang into her eyes, and like a stupid little schoolgirl, began to cry for pure joy into her knees.

"Well," came Draco's voice one cell over, "That was weird."

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 24 of 25

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