Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 3 of 25

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The Polyjuice had been done for a week. A huge cauldron of it was glooping away in the sink when Hermione came home that night. She ran in, picked up the graying Crookshanks off the ottoman and twirled him around in the center of the sitting room.

"Well, it's all downhill from here, Crooks," she sang, and he purred in response. (Or she hoped to god it was a purr, anyway: poor Crooks had developed a few colon issues in his old age and sometimes what sounded like purring was really something far more sinister.) She quickly put him down.

A single hair would only be enough to complete a cupful of the potion. That would buy her about an hour of time in Narcissa's shoes. Hermione planned on sneaking into Malfoy Manor and finding more of Narcissa's hair lying around, to ensure she'd have plenty more to continue impersonating her in the future, if need be. She pulled out a tiny phial from her jacket pocket and set it down on her cooktop; inside, she'd jammed the fragile strand. It would be her golden ticket back into the house of her nightmares.

That made her stop. She'd avoided thinking about what Malfoy Manor represented to her: a stronghold of bigotry, the stage where her worst experiences had played out. She pushed the thoughts away; she wasn't going to be in there long. She'd be okay. It was only for an hour, after all. Hopefully Lucius Malfoy was a real loudmouth and that'd be all the time she needed…

Hermione spent the next few weeks planning her excursion into the Malfoys' lives. It was viciously complicated, and it triggered all sorts of unpleasant memories of breaking into the Ministry and Gringotts. This time around, though, she didn't have Ron or Harry to help her. Harry was up to his neck in the Auror life, and he was a family man now—he had responsibilities. She received a few encouraging letters from him, and whenever they met up he was entirely supportive, though he seemed to grow tired of talking about it after awhile. He wasn't invested in any of it, after all.

And the last time she'd seen Ron was last Christmas at the Burrow. They'd gotten along decently but she wasn't about to ring him up now, even though the loneliness weighed on her like an anvil. It was better to be alone, she reasoned, than to lead someone on, and undoubtedly Ron would take her asking for help as an invitation back into her pants. It wouldn't do.

All of this was complicated by how severely limited her information was. There was no library book she could rifle through about the Malfoys' daily lives; she had to figure all that out herself, and they were the least helpful subjects she could imagine. The Malfoys were rarely seen outside of their own properties, all of which were surrounded by high walls or hedges; she couldn't swoop around on a broom without being noticed, either, and if she was caught… well, she didn't want to think about it.

After a few days stalking around under her Invisibility Cloak in one of the larger apothecaries, she had the good fortune of spotting Draco. He came in and left by Floo, took his lunch in his office and seemed to avoid walking past open windows, as if frightened that someone might attack him if they spotted him walking by. God, no wonder she hadn't been able to find the bugger before now. He was paranoid.

With a bit of luck, and loads more tedious waiting and tailing, Hermione was able to figure out his general work routine. All of this was turning out to be duller than she thought possible, but she kept on with it, because it led to more sightings of Narcissa. It was imperative that Hermione learn as much as she could about the woman before approaching Lucius, and the easiest way of spying on her was by sticking to Draco.

In all that time Hermione didn't so much as glimpse Lucius. She pictured him sulking around inside his manor, Scrooge-like, perhaps taking a swim in a vault full of gold—or maybe, if Belby was to be believed, he was up to more dastardly things. Just because Hermione never saw him didn't necessarily mean he wasn't leaving his home: he had access to portkeys and the Floo network, after all, and he could apparate. She couldn't check his Floo or portkey records without a warrant, and it wasn't as if he had the Trace on him.

Where he went—if he was going anywhere—was anyone's guess.

From what she observed, Hermione deduced that Draco was the one running the apothecaries now. It looked like painfully dull work, and it was clear his heart wasn't in it: he was better at wasting copious amounts of time than any of Hermione's coworkers, and that was saying something. In fact he spent the entirety of one day building a large pyramid out of plastic forks in the mailing room, for Christ's sake. But his employees seemed to like him well enough; she didn't catch them muttering about him very often, anyway, and after all, the business wasn't failing so he must've been doing something right.

Even if it was just money laundering.

Narcissa continued to look flawless every time Hermione saw her, and that was seriously freaking her out. She tried to take note of the brands Narcissa favored; it seemed everything the woman put on was well out of Hermione's (or any other mortal human's) price range. And that wasn't even the biggest of her issues: how was she supposed to ensure Narcissa was out of the way long enough to interrogate Lucius? Thus far Hermione hadn't managed to listen in on any of Narcissa and Draco's conversations. Honestly, they had to be the most secretive assholes she'd ever seen in her life. She supposed she'd just have to be ready to seize an opportunity whenever it presented itself, and rely on luck to get her through.

And she was not at all ready when opportunity did eventually come knocking.


Hermione looked up, squinting like a mole in the sunlight. "Oh, hullo Harry," she said, dropping the Malfoys' file back onto her desk and smiling up at him. She tried to pretend she hadn't been staring at their pictures again, as if hoping one of them might pipe up with the answers to all of her problems. She'd stuck a yellow happy-face sticker over Lucius' head so she didn't have to see him—and no, it wasn't because she secretly, in her blackest heart of hearts, thought he was even remotely attractive (at all), and she could barely even look at him for a moment before something started twisting violently around in her stomach.

No, never, preposterous.

"How are you? Do you want some coffee?" Her hands were trembling slightly from the three cups she'd already consumed that morning, but since it'd been nearly thirty minutes since the last mug she supposed she could do with another.

"No, thank you," Harry said, dropping into one of her cushy office chairs. It wasn't very often he came to visit her at work; something must be up. He look disheveled, as usual, but also distinctly pleased, and for a crazy moment Hermione thought Ginny might've had the baby, and oh God why didn't they tell her—but then—"So guess who I saw in the Floo department today?"

Hermione blinked. "Who?"

"Narcissa Malfoy. She was there alone, she had a suitcase, and she was setting up a long-distance Floo to Arles. She just left—and you know those kinds of Floos take a long time. So you can pretty much guarantee she won't be back for a few hours at the least."

They stared at each other a long moment. Hermione experienced a great swoop of terror—oh god was this it? Was it time?

"Are you sure she went to Arles?" she asked. Her voice came out higher than usual; she cleared her throat and tried not to look like she was about to throw up. "Are you sure it wasn't Arlesey or something…?"

Harry nodded. "Definitely Arles. So if I were you, I'd hurry—you might not get another chance for who knows how long."

It all seemed to be a blur after that. In the amount of time it took to sneeze, Hermione had left the Ministry and was back in her flat, knocking things over in her rush to get everything ready. She ripped into a change of clothes; upended the phial containing Narcissa's hair over a cup of Polyjuice (which immediately hissed and turned into a light, transparent pink); funneled as much unfinished Polyjuice as she could into a milk jug; stuffed it all into a suitcase that she hoped to Merlin looked remotely like Narcissa's; and then, finally, she dumped a mountain of cat food into Crookshanks' bowl, because the poor thing looked so morose.

"It's all right, Crooks," Hermione told him, feverishly rubbing a special sort of temporary varnish on her wand. It lightened the color of the wood, so that hers could pass as a copy of Narcissa's—which, if she remembered correctly, was quite pale. Nifty little concoction, and Hermione had purchased it in one of the Malfoys' apothecaries, too.

She paused. Oh, shoot. She should probably be boycotting the Malfoys' establishments if there was a chance they were involved with the Dark market. She glanced down at her wand again. Oh well. Just once wouldn't hurt.

This was it. It felt as if she were about to take a practical exam back at school, only she hadn't studied very well for this one. She gathered her too-long dress and her suitcase in one hand, held her bleached wand aloft in the other, and apparated to the wild Wiltshire countryside.

Hermione hadn't anticipated so much goddamn hiking. Thank Merlin for her exercise regime.

She knew roughly where Malfoy Manor was, but her apparition must've been off, because it took the better part of an hour to spot the property and nearly as long to locate the front gate. Narcissa Malfoy did not wear practical shoes, and Hermione was nearly crippled by the time she arrived.

Massaging her feet, Hermione took a moment to marvel at just how wealthy these little shits were. The size of the front yard alone was ludicrous. Beyond the perfectly manicured hedges, she could hear a fountain and perhaps a stream; a funny bird call that might've been peacocks; and—while she was looking around for a safe place to take the Polyjuice—she thought she could hear a dog bark, too.

She found a secluded bit of brush, ducked down, and drew out the bottle containing the light pink Polyjuice. There was nothing else for it: now or never. With a last deep breath, and a whispered prayer that the hair had indeed belonged to Narcissa and not a cat or perhaps a golden retriever or any other animal that would turn her face furry, she dumped the whole bottle down her throat.

Christ, it tasted like champagne.

She'd experienced the effects of Polyjuice too often before, but that didn't make them any more pleasant. After several minutes of gagging and choking and feeling as if she were melting from the inside out, Hermione became aware of two things: firstly, her clothes now fit properly; and secondly, Narcissa Malfoy had muscle memory when it came to balancing on her ridiculous heels. Really, Hermione could barely feel them on her feet now, which coincidentally no longer hurt.

She stood up, much taller than normal, and—waving her wand—transfigured a nearby leaf into a looking-glass. She had thought this would be exactly like impersonating Bellatrix, but as Hermione stared into the mirror she realized that, unlike her sister, Narcissa did not have resting-bitch-face, and it was something she had to simulate. Hermione could see herself very clearly in the lovely visage staring back at her: the wide-eyed expression it wore was a dead giveaway (though she thought, perhaps a little vainly, that Narcissa looked quite a bit prettier when Hermione had control of her face).

Desperately she tried to emulate the chilly look she'd seen so often on the woman, and by the time she was satisfied nearly ten minutes had passed—ten of her precious sixty minutes, lord.

She ran up to the front gate, hesitated—what if there were wards to detect concealment, like in Gringotts?—then stuck out her arm to touch it. Her hand passed through the iron coils as if they were smoke. No terrifying face appeared in the metalwork, either, and she remembered it doing that last time she was here. Perhaps some of the security measures had been dropped in the five years since the War…?

Steeling herself again, she marched through the gate, and tried not to glance nervously over her shoulder in case somebody was watching her. The spikes of her heels dug into the gravel as she moved up the drive, though surprisingly she hardly stumbled. More of that muscle memory.

As she neared the manor she could see the façade of it more clearly: it really was a gorgeous house, though she admitted so only grudgingly. She wished it were black stone and maroon slats, covered in gargoyles and creeping ivy—but it was a light thing, elegant and airy. Damn them.

As she entered the turnabout the hedges fell away and she had a full view of the front yard. It looked like something out of a gardening catalog: bright and rich. Merlin, she wanted to roll in that grass. A fountain giggled off to her left, and all around it—some in the fruit trees, some in the hedges, others strutting across the lawn—she counted nearly two dozen peafowl, some eye-wateringly colorful, others pale as ghosts.

It was one such white bird, a male, that approached her. Its neck bobbed comically as it walked, zig-zagging slowly one way, then the other, turning its head to and fro but always keeping its beady black eye on her. She stopped to watch it, mesmerized by its movements, and it stopped, too, nearly the same moment.

They stared at each other a second, then the bird flared out its tail and flashed a million golden eyes at her. Oh, Jesus, she thought it was pure white, but either Malfoy had bred gold into its feathers, or magicked them that way. It shook itself, rustling its wings, demanding her attention—as if she could look anywhere else. Suddenly she wanted to laugh. Oh, this was perfect, wasn't it? If there was a Hogwarts House for just Malfoy, this ridiculous creature would be the mascot.

What an arrogant prick.

But her humor died away when the bird put down its tail and made a noise. It sounded like a car horn, and happened so fast she jumped a little, startled. The bird shook its tail and made the noise again, and then again, loud enough she could feel it in her stomach.

And then it lowered its head and charged.

Before this point in her life, Hermione never considered peacocks to be particularly scary animals. She'd seen them in zoos and once in a transfiguration lesson, but she'd never felt threatened by them. Now, as this huge white monster came barreling at her, beak open, legs flailing absurdly like a chicken's, she thought she'd never seen anything more terrifying in her life. A scream ripped out of her involuntarily and she was running in her impractical heels, up, up the drive away from the demented feathery foghorn, gravel flying in her wake.

How did it come to this? Would she die here? What would her mother say when she found out her little girl was mauled to death by a living lawn ornament? It was closing in—she could hear it blasting its awful call at her, soon it would be upon her, and from somewhere deep inside her Hermione mustered up all of her Gryffindor courage and spun around, wand drawn, bellowing "Immobulus!"

The bird froze mid-stride, hovering above the ground. Those evil eyes stared at her with a mad sort of hatred, and there was no doubt in her mind that this bird may have devoured her soul had it managed to catch her. It was clearly possessed of the devil and the first thing Hermione was going to do when she got back to the Ministry was report it to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

That was so close. Too close. She thought maybe she should leave, now, before anything worse happened, but as she looked back at the gate she felt her resolve stiffen. No, she'd come too far already, and she wouldn't get another chance like this. She was not going to be stymied by a peacock.

She turned back to the manor, took a few more steps—she was now at the foot of the porch—and locked eyes with the dog.

For a breath, they simply looked at one another. Hermione felt as if she were eleven years old again, gawping up at Fluffy in the third-floor corridor of Hogwarts. Aside from that monster, and perhaps all the times she'd seen Sirius when transformed, this was the biggest dog she'd ever laid eyes on; "wolf" might've been a more appropriate term, since it looked uncannily like one. The black markings on its face that gave it a distinctly murderous expression, and as she watched, the lips pulled back off the fangs, and it began to growl—very quietly at first, but with mounting volume.

She'd been prepped a little by the run-in with the peacock, so this time she recovered from her shock quickly and, before the beast could even think about attacking, she'd waved her wand at it and yelled "Immobulus!" again. The dog froze, ears back, and the ice-blue eyes widened threateningly at her as she mounted the steps onto the porch. "Good mutt," she said, scratching it behind the ears. Its growling increased to a low roar.

Did Narcissa have a key? Surely she didn't knock when entering her own home, she must just let herself in, but funnily enough Hermione didn't carry around a spare key to Malfoy Manor. She tried the door; locked. Damn. She could just say she'd lost her key, or forgotten it somewhere, and with that in mind she didn't even hesitate when she reached for the knocker and pounded it firmly, three times.

She felt calmer now, somehow. More relaxed. Her confidence had been bolstered by her recent triumphs over the local fauna. Behind her she could hear the dog growling and the peacock wailing, so she cast a quick silencing charm over her shoulder, in case their behavior drew Malfoy's suspicions.

But it wasn't Malfoy who answered the door. In fact, she thought for a second the door had jumped open on its own, but then a voice said from around her knees, "Oh, Mrs. Malfoy—what a pleasure to see you again—please, do come in!"

Hermione looked down. In the threshold stood a house-elf, smiling in earnest at up at her. He looked a little surprised to see her there, actually—but Hermione didn't allow herself to panic: Narcissa was supposed to have left for France that day, after all.

She tried not to stare too much at him as he led her inside and closed the door; in all her time working for elf rights, defending them in court and interviewing them and recording their testimonials, she'd never once seen one wear glasses. But there his were: square rims perched on his little button nose. He wasn't a free elf, though. He wasn't wearing normal clothes, only a pillowcase, although it wasn't a pillowcase like Dobby's had been. It was a black silk thing stitched with gold thread, and embroidered elaborately in the corner was the Malfoy family crest. He looked clean and cheerful, and Hermione was reminded of Kreacher when she, Harry and Ron had lived with him in Grimmauld Place during the War.

It made her wonder.

"You come at a most opportune time, mistress; the solarium is all in bloom," he said in a weirdly normal, near-human voice; he took her jacket off her shoulders and tossed it into the coatroom where it hung itself neatly on a cushioned hanger. He had a high-class accent and as she watched he smoothed down the front of his pillowcase, as if nervous about looking presentable. "Goodness, shall I prepare tea? Perhaps bring out your favorite coffee cakes? I know how you"—then he stopped, and Hermione glanced down at him in panic—had he seen something, did he suspect? He was watching her closely, a small frown on his little face, but before she could fashion an escape plan he said quietly, "Or have you merely forgotten something, Mrs. Malfoy? Shall I fetch it for you?"

Hermione stared at him in confusion. "No," she finally said, trying to fix her face back into Narcissa's haughty scowl, "no, erm—I've just come back to speak with Lucius."

The grave way the elf was looking at her made her nerves spike, but then he nodded solemnly and said, "The master is just in his study."

"Ah—thank you," Hermione said, then winced, wondering if Narcissa normally thanked her servants, but the elf only smiled and bowed. She didn't want him to notice her looking around in confusion for the study in question, so she quickly added: "And um, yes, if you would bring up tea, and the cake, that would be perfect, thank you."

As he bowed and disapparated, she realized with a jolt that he'd been using the pronoun "I," something that she'd never heard an elf do before. She made a mental note to find out more about that elf if she could.

But onto more pressing matters. She had no idea where she was, no idea where to find Malfoy, and only a limited amount of time to harass him and get out before she turned back into Hermione, and she didn't want to think of what might happen to her if she was caught. The portraits were all staring at her and she felt suddenly vulnerable, like a little girl lost in a museum.

"Bugger," she muttered under her breath, lifting her skirts and bustling down the hall and into the drawing room. She didn't look around—she didn't want to remember, not now when it was so imperative that she keep her focus—but the first door she took led to a dead end in the form of a sitting room, and the next appeared to be an informal dining area. The third was better; she found herself in a hallway. Door after door, hall after hall, she burrowed deeper into the bowls of the house until she was sure the house-elf was suspicious of her continued absence, or worse, Malfoy was now aware she was around, and might find her bumbling along at any moment.

She needed more time, and for that, she needed more of Narcissa. She stopped looking for Malfoy's study and started trying to find the master bedroom—she'd come across a few bedrooms already, but the dusty white sheets drawn over all the furniture let her know that these were likely guest rooms, and hadn't been used in years. Her search became more frantic as the time began trickling away, but at last, after clambering up yet another staircase nearly at a run and bursting into the first door she found, she discovered a room that couldn't be anything other than Narcissa and Lucius' bedroom.

Find a vanity, she thought, and immediately spotted one against the far wall. She sprinted across the room and began yanking open drawers. They were all, to her great surprise, empty, except for the bottommost one on the right. In it, she found—bingo—a small hairbrush, thank you God. She held the fine bristles up to her face and spotted a few hairs tangled in them: golden hairs. As quickly as she could, what with her hands trembling, she extracted a few, making sure to examine each one closely for that golden color. It wouldn't help at all if she accidentally Polyjuice'd herself into Lucius: she didn't think he'd take kindly to finding his clone wandering around the house in a dress.

She dropped the hairs into the jug of Polyjuice she'd brought, and to her enormous relief, the potion changed again to that soft clear pink.

She'd just stuffed the hairbrush away in her suitcase and taken a few sizable swallows of the completed Polyjuice when a noise behind her made her spin on the spot, clutching her heart.


And oh god, there he was. Right there, filling up the doorway, looking just as sleekly pristine as the real Narcissa always did.

Lucius Malfoy.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 3 of 25

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