Chapter 2: Struggling Hard
Fiery dragons swooped down from great heights while the serpents that were coiled around her ankles rose steadily upwards. She struggled to set herself free as tears leaked out until her own screams woke her up.
The room was much too dark and way too small to be hers.
Struggling to steady her breath, she blinked rapidly to clear her vision of the horrifying images that seemed to linger just below her eyelids. Locks of her curly mane stuck to her forehead and ran down her back in messy curls, while sweat dripped down her neck, soaking the peach-pink satin nightgown at the lace on her chest.
Once her vision cleared partially, adjusting to the feeble lighting of the room, she could make out the covers that were tangled around her feet. She heaved a sigh of relief but then panic took hold of her again.
The bed was definitely not her's and neither was this room a part of their Mansion.
Hermione fumbled around for her wand, first on the bed, and then, extricating herself from the grip of the covers, on the small bedside table. Fear intensified as the reliable piece of wood was nowhere to be found. She fumbled down, slipping on her slippers that were placed next to the bed. In the dim light of the few candles in the candle brackets high up in the wall, began frantically searching around the room.
Never in her life had she been to someplace that was remotely similar. A large, old wardrobe stood close to the only and bolted shut window. The long, dark drapes touched the floor. With trembling hands, she pulled apart the handles, and the cupboard opened with a loud, creepy, creaking noise. The inner cavity was huge but woefully empty and smelt of neglect and age. She felt around the racks, scrunching up her nose disdainfully at the fine layer of dust and closing it back, groped over the small low table beside it. Still, nothing. The only other piece of furniture in the room, a wooden desk, sat next to the opposite wall, but just like the wardrobe, the desk was too was old and empty.
Horribly depressed and panic rising at her vulnerable state, she went back to the bed and slumped down.
Where was she? Why couldn't she remember anything all?
She looked around again and closed her eyes shut, willing herself to remember something that would explain this sudden change of location. However, the only thing she could remember was having dinner with her parents at her home.
Father had looked unnaturally grave and Mother was visibly distressed, hardly touching the fabulous meal the house-elves had provided. Hermione had watched her parents curiously. She wanted nothing more than to voice her concerns but refrained. Her upbringing did not allow for young girls like herself to question elders without being granted permission first. So, she quelled her curiosity and went back to the food, hoping one of them would say something as she noticed her parents exchange troubled glances at each other.
Her father's voice made her lift her eyes up, and she gently placed her knife and fork down and wiped her mouth with the napkin before quickly turning at him.
"Yes, Father?" she asked politely.
She could almost sense the discomfort on his features, the internal debate to decide how much to confide in his daughter.
"Until you leave for school on the first of September, I want you to keep to your wing."
She hoped her disappointment didn't show on her face. She had been looking forward to the tea party at Daphne's the coming week, and also the trip to France her mother had promised. What had she done to deserve a lockdown?
"Yes, Father," she had replied politely instead with downcast eyes, not caring to pick up her spoon and finish her pudding.
"Under no circumstances are you allowed to leave the Mansion," he instructed as her heart sank further. " Henry and William will be on guard outside at all times. I don't even want you wandering off to the main library at night time. Transfer all the books you need to your personal library today itself. Is that clear?" he asked in a voice that did not leave any scope for questions or arguments anyway.
"Yes, Father," she answered in a quieter voice, suddenly finding it very difficult to remain seated and behave like all was well. But she neither questioned nor argued with her parents; she just wasn't brought up that way.
"Alright, finish your meal and off you go."
She left after bowing them goodnight without looking at their faces. It was the only bit of disobedience she allowed herself.
The two men who usually guarded her father followed her to the library and back. She knew it was futile to argue with them; her father's word was their command. The silent and dark sentinels stood stopped at the entrance to her Wing and not a moment after she crossed the threshold, they closed huge doors and shut them up with magic.
Within the confines of the walls, feeling like a prisoner in her own home and for reasons she couldn't even comprehend, Hermione allowed her polite, indifferent mask to fall and grumbled softly under her breath. She dropped off the books on the large ornate table and walked briskly away to her bedroom.
Anne, her personal maid, was waiting as usual for their nighttime routine. Hermione was helped out of her elaborate robes into the night-gown, and the young lady stood behind and brushed her long brown tresses till they were all shiny and perfectly curled. Smiling with satisfaction, the young witch begged for her leave even as Hermione remained seated at her dresser, gloomy and silent. Finally, letting out a deep sigh, she left for the next room that housed her enormous collection of books.
And perhaps that was where she had fallen asleep till she opened her eyes in this dark, creepy place a while ago.
Back in the present, she couldn't help feeling petrified. Something was very wrong, and this change of events proved her father's concern true. She felt guilty for her behaviour now that she thought about it, but the main question here was- where on earth was she anyway?
Had she been captured?!
She gulped down hard at the thought. Maybe she was kidnapped. Only that could explain her missing wand and her father's fears. She looked around the room and her brows furrowed; this was nothing like the dungeon at their Mansion. The place was not much to her standards, but it looked homely at the very least. A small ray of hope rose materialised. Perhaps her father had changed his plans and sent her away for her safety? But then, there should have been someone around, and honestly, this place wasn't exactly up to standards to belong to the Granger Family. Additionally, it didn't explain her missing wand.
Gathering her wits and steeling her jittery nerves, she looked around trying to find answers. There were a couple of doors, one to the left of the bed and another straight ahead. She tried the second one first. It was locked, not that she expected otherwise but her heart fell nonetheless.
Now she was sure whoever had brought her here had done so against her Father's wishes. He might restrict her to her Wing, but he wouldn't lock her inside a tiny room without any of her belongings.
She tried the other door and it opened with a soft click. The joy she felt at the accomplishment died in a moment. It was only a washroom. A claw-footed black bathtub sat in the centre. There were a black marble sink and similar coloured toilet. It was small but thankfully spotlessly clean. She closed the door and made her way back to bed.
She reckoned that her kidnapper would at least come down to give her meals. The room they had kept her in suggested that they weren't planning to starve her to death anyway. If only she could get her wand back, she could risk an escape. She was still under-aged and any magic from her would trigger an alert to the Ministry. That, she decided would be good enough to act as a signal to her father about her location.
Hermione pulled herself on the bed and resting her back on the headrest, pulled her knees close to her body for warmth. Then she waited for a sound, a signal, something, anything...
By the time Harry and Ron reached the kitchen again the smell of Mrs Weasley's famous chicken soup was wafting up making Harry go hungry again. Most of the members had left except for Kingsley and Tonks who sat discussing something at the table. Kreacher too had disappeared somewhere.
Ron pulled a chair roughly and sat down, look of annoyance fixed firmly on his face. Harry grabbed the adjoining chair, passing a weak smile at Tonks and Kingsley.
"Come on Ron, cheer up. A task for the Order at sixteen, that's impressive!" cheered Tonks, but Ron's frown deepened further.
"Some task," he grumbled. "Babysitting a snobbish, irritating Slytherin with pro-Pureblood supremacy ideas, fantastic!" he added sarcastically.
"Shouldering the responsibility to keep someone safe in times like these is a big thing, Ron. It's neither a task for the weak-hearted nor a trivial job as you think it is. You should be proud Dumbledore trusted you with it," commented Kingsley seriously, and although Ron still huffed in response, Harry noticed his ears redden at the compliment.
Mrs Weasley came in with a tray laden with food at that precise moment, her face clearly indicating that she neither agreed with the Auror's words nor thought highly of this arrangement. Harry noticed that the tray had enough food to feed at least three hungry teen-aged boys- slices of bacon and eggs, soup, bread and cheese, and a large portion of the beef roast they had had for dinner. He assumed she had gotten some from the Burrow while they were upstairs. Grimmauld Place was no longer stocked since...Sirius' death. The thought threatened to open his bottled-up frustrations and he looked at the others to distract himself.
Kingsley had pulled out a couple of phials from his robes and placed them on the tray beside the food.
"Calming Drought and a Dreamless Sleeping Potion," he said, showing Ron the labels. "Better to keep some at hand. She might need it."
Ron looked least interested.
"She'll need some basic supplies, won't she?" inquired Tonks looking between Molly and Kingsley.
"I'll get some Ginny's things for the time being, and then maybe we can buy something from Diagon Alley," suggested Molly thoughtfully. She glanced at the door leading out to the staircase and Harry could almost see her itching to go upstairs and see Granger for herself.
"The school will provide a grant for her, her vault will be all sealed now with the news of their death," Kingsley informed them, and both the witches nodded solemnly.
"Let me see, I might get a couple of my stuff too and we could transfigure it to fit her," piped up Tonks, and pushed herself off the chair, knocking off the one next to hers. She set it up consciously and waving night left.
"I suppose we should take the tray upstairs," suggested Molly finally, and cast a warming spell on the food again.
"Just a minute, Molly," said the Auror and turned towards Ron. "There are a few things you ought to know before you see her," he informed Ron who looked a little green around the gills, his expression somewhere between helplessness and submission to a particularly-unpleasant fate.
Kingsley, however, spoke in a firm business tone, as if he was briefing one of his junior recruits at work.
"We found her in her library at their Mansion. She was asleep and was kept in that state when we got her here. Powerful wards have been set over this house and also the room above. However, she doesn't know where she is or how she got here. Doesn't even know about her parents' death yet," he paused, looking unsure for the first time that night. "Although, I personally think it would have been prudent for Dumbledore to have told her that, for some strange reason known solely to him, he insists Ron should break the news to her."
Harry turned instantly at Ron to find him staring back at the Auror in shock, an expression very similar but with quite a mix of rage visible in his mother's face.
"I...T-That is preposterous!" managed Molly. Harry was sure she was struggling to control her rage. "How on earth does Albus expect Ron or Harry to handle a situation like this?!" she screeched. "Moreover, how does he expect that poor girl to cope with all this change by keeping her locked in like a prisoner?" she added indignantly, shaking with rage. She picked up the tray. "I don't care what he says, I am going upstairs. The poor child needs a mother."
Harry turned at Ron and was sure he saw his best mate give out a relaxed sigh at his mum's words, the corner of his lips curling ever so slightly into a grin. But Kingsley stood up too. With a flash, the door leading out of the kitchen closed shut locking Molly in, the food-laden tray still in her hands.
"Molly, we trust Dumbledore and do what he says. You know the deal," he said with ultimate finality, and although Harry had hoped the fiery witch would challenge the Auror, she stood and contemplated for a while, and then, with the signs of a lost soldier, put the tray back down on the table. But the fire was back in her eyes immediately as she turned at her youngest son, and Harry couldn't help but flinch a little.
"Ron Weasley, you will be at your best behaviour during your task," she stated, her eyes almost slits, one arm at her waist and another pointing a finger at him. "She is alone and among strangers. You will keep that in mind at all times. And just because she is all locked up alone, don't you dare get any fancy ideas."
Harry could feel steam coming out of his ears and averted his eyes, concentrating hard on a scratch on the wood instead. He was sure Ron's ears and even face would be flaming red at his mother's implication.
"MUM!" snapped back Ron, but his voice wasn't as embarrassed as Harry had imagined it would be. Looking up, he noticed his best mate looked strangely angry.
"I swear, Mum, I'll rather marry a Blast-Ended-Skewt than get 'fancy' ideas about her," he replied in a huff and turned away, his jaws clenched. "How much does she need to know?" he asked Kingsley, a look of determination and something else Harry couldn't really pinpoint in his eyes.
"She needs to know about her parents and who did it," Kinsley replied, watching him. "And, she needs to know she is safe, that we mean her no harm by keeping her locked up. It's for her own good. Apart from that, you can tell her she is with the Order and in one of our safe houses. I guess that should be enough for now," he stated. "And, I guess, you can tell her she will get to finish her schooling. No need to mention the details yet."
Ron nodded his head slightly and turned at his mother again.
"I'm not carrying that like a bloody elf" he stated while picking himself off his chair and in a tone that suggested that he wanted to get over with the task as soon as he could.
Molly glared at her son for a while, but then, asked Harry to call Kreacher to take the tray upstairs till the third landing. Harry assumed she suspected that Ron might 'accidentally' drop the food.
"Come with me to the Burrow and pick up your pyjamas and sleeping bags for the night," she told him lovingly before she turned at Ron, deep worry lines etched on her face as Ron banged the door shut loudly behind him.
With a small goodbye to Kingsley who promised to stay till Harry returned, the duo left with the green flames.