After the disastrous outcome at Gringotts bank, Cyrus refused to leave anything to chance this time around. He administered himself a few drops of Felix Felicis, better known as liquid luck. Naturally, this potion went down easy since it tasted like a liquid candy based on honey with just a hint of ginger and enough lemon to counterbalance the pure sweetness of the honey. He enjoyed this while knowing the next potion he needed to take wouldn't be anywhere near as pleasant.
Then he attempted to contact Corban Yaxley only to find out from one of his secretaries that Yaxley would be in meetings at the ministry of magic all morning. He scheduled himself an appointment with him for early afternoon. The luck potion was working already. This was just perfect for his plan. He grimaced as he downed the excessively foul and bitter concoction that would soon disguise his handsome features, transforming him into the notorious Death Eater known as Corban Yaxley. After that, he and Antonin apparated into the imposing grounds of Malfoy Manor.
Listening to Daphne explain how protective Cyrus would be of Antonin gave Hermione an idea. She remembered Antonin telling her Cyrus was great with the obliviate spell. Maybe she could persuade Cyrus to make Antonin forget her request. "Anything within his power, you say?" Hermione said. "You just gave me an idea. I hope it isn't already too late." She got up from her seat. "Where are they?"
"His office, right?" Daphne asked Harry, who just nodded in response. "I will show you." Hermione and Daphne left.
Harry was going to follow them, but Ron stopped him to share Dumbledore's letter.
As Harry silently read the letter to himself. He could almost hear Dumbledore's voice inside his head, which brought tears to his eyes. The old wizard always felt more like family to him than his actual relatives. Harry truly missed him. From the sounds of this letter, Dolohov played a surprising role in helping him a few years ago and Dumbledore was ready to offer an olive branch to Dolohov and the reason for that was clear. But he couldn't fathom why would Dolohov do anything to help someone Voldemort considered to be the number one enemy? He thought he might ask, but he suspected he would get the same standoff response Ron did when he tried to ask him something.
"So, how are things going with you and Harry," Hermione asked just trying to make conversation as they made their way down the lavash halls of Greengrass Manor.
"Having him here is a dream come true," Daphne said. "Except we had a little disagreement."
"What was the disagreement about?" Hermione asked.
"My father, he doesn't trust my father. And Antonin too. He even tried to convince me that Antonin is a liar," Daphne said laughing at the absurdity of that. "For all his faults, being a liar isn't one of them."
"So, if he made a promise, he would keep it?" Hermione asked.
"Yep!" Daphne nodded.
"That is good, I guess," Hermione said with a sigh.
"Yes, whatever this favor is, if he promised you he would, he will certainly try," Daphne assured her.
"Actually, he said maybe to the favor. He promised he wouldn't try to kill or kiss me again," Hermione said.
Daphne laughed. "He will definitely keep his word. You can count on that."
"Great," Hermione said with a deep sigh. She looked down at the floor and her arms went limp.
"You don't seem so happy about it," Daphne said with a giggle. "You want him to try to kill you?"
"No, of course not," Hermione said.
"I heard you actually consider getting expelled worse than death, so I wasn't sure," Daphne said. "So, it is the kiss that is bothering you then, right? I guess it is true what they say about the quiet ones."
"Oh, no, nothing is bothering me. I am just, ah, tired," Hermione insisted.
Daphne laughed. "You lie about as well as he does. I thought Ron was just being unnecessarily jealous of your little dinner date with Dolohov, but it looks like there was more to it than I thought. Looks like he gets to say I told you so."
"No, don't tell him that. Please, don't tell anybody. I only kissed Antonin… Once," Hermione insisted. Daphne gave her a scrutinizing glare. "Ok, twice, but the first time he kissed me, so it doesn't count. I was posing as Bellatrix and I kissed him just to keep him distracted while my friends searched the vault and kissing him was good, way too good. I think he officially ruined it for me with anybody else," Hermione admitted.
"Ok, I won't tell and yeah, I know the feeling. That is how it was for me when I kissed Harry, but sorry to say, if he said he wouldn't kiss you again, he won't. If you want that to happen again, you will have to take the initiative," Daphne said.
"I don't think I will. He might be a great kisser, and he might not be a liar, but he still joined the Dark Lord," Hermione said.
"The fact that he joined the dark lord is hard to overlook, but I completely understand why he did it," Daphne said.
"I don't, but I want to," Hermione admitted. "Your father said something about a hatred for the ministry but didn't go into any specifics."
"Yes, it stems from a hatred for the ministry. His cousin, who was also his best friend, loved her like a sister, managed to get herself into a bit of trouble with the ministry."
"Let me guess, is her name Elina?" Hermione asked.
"Yes. She got arrested for a crime she didn't commit and was sentenced to life in Azkaban. Antonin did his best to fight the court system and prove his cousin's innocence. For quite some time, no amount of proof was good enough, but he finally managed to prove it and they agreed to have her released, but they waited another two weeks to finally get around to actually doing it, only to find out that the dementors drove her to suicide about three days before that."
"That is horrible," Hermione said as she remembered Dumbledore's letter expressing condolences about Elina.
"You got that right. If the ministry did that to my sister, I would hate them as much as he does. It was about a day or two after that someone on the dark lord's side recruited him, saying they were planning on taking down the ministry. Of course, he said yes," Daphne said.
"And he was too blind by grief and anger to realize the ministry in the hands of the Dark Lord was an even worse option at the time?" Hermione asked, trying to pierce things together.
"Exactly. Father agrees with him one hundred percent that the ministry is corrupt, but he would never join the dark lord though. He knows putting a psychopath in charge isn't the answer. Antonin realized it too, but way too late. His words, not mine," Daphne said.
Then they arrived at the door of her father's office. Daphne knew enough not to simply barge in. Instead, she knocked on the door. "Dad," she called out. Of course, she got no answer. She wondered where her father could be.
Antonin and Cyrus arrived at Malfoy manor. Cyrus did his best to hide his nervousness and decided to make Antonin do most of the talking. Of course, Lucius, Narcissa, Draco, Bellatrix, Rowle and several other death eaters were there along with Voldemort himself.
"Where have you been," Voldemort demanded to know of Antonin.
"Yeah, we thought you might have been kidnapped," Narcissa said.
"No, I was looking for Potter and his friends in the forbidden forest. I even managed to corner his girlfriend," Antonin said.
"The mudblood, Granger?" Draco asked. His eyes narrowed and mouth constricted. Antonin nodded. Then Draco corrected him. "She is just his friend."
"Did you kill her," Bellatrix asked with a gleam in her eye as though she wanted all the juicy details of a murder story.
"No, I wanted answers from her," Antonin clarified. "I wanted to find Potter and find out what he is up to." Then Antonin laughed. "They are going after something that doesn't even exist, but they definitely believe it. What the hell is a horcrux?"
"A whore, what? If they are looking for whores, they should try a brothel," Rowle chuckled being truly clueless as to what a horcrux was.
Most of the Death Eaters laughed, having never heard of horcruxes before either. Voldemort was the one not laughing.
"Silence," Voldemort shouted as his expression went dark. Everybody stopped laughing.
"Wait, do you know what she was talking about?" Antonin asked.
"Yes, but that is on a need-to-know basis, and you don't need to know," Voldemort said. "So, continue."
"She told me they were going after one in Bellatrix's vault," Antonin said.
"Wish this report had been yesterday," Voldemort scowled. "They already got that one."
"With apologies, my lord," Antonin said.
"You better have some useful information," Voldemort demanded.
"She thinks Nagini is a horcrux, so they might come after…" Antonin began to say. Voldemort's eyes open wide. "I take it they are right about that?"
Voldemort nodded and prompted Antonin to continue his report. "Then a redhead boy, not sure of his name," Antonin began.
"I am going to guess Weasley," Draco volunteered. "Ron Weasley."
"Whatever." Antonin shrugged that off, then added, "he ran in shouting that he found out where another one is hidden. He was surprised to see me there. After that Potter showed up. Naturally, we started fighting and I must admit, I held my own very well against the three of them." He projected his usual overconfident attitude. "Unfortunately, centaurs showed up. Lots of them. I did my best to fight them off, and when everything was over, Potter and his friends were long gone. So, wherever that other horcrux is hidden is likely where they will go next. Do you know where that is?"
"Yes." Voldemort nodded.
"So please, my lord, tell me where, so I can stop them for you," Antonin requested. "I don't care what a horcrux is, but if it is important to you, I want to stop them from getting it."
"Your enemies already know where it is, so we need to know too, so we can stop them," Cyrus said.
"Hogwarts. Inside the room of requirements," Voldemort said.
"Then I am off to Hogwarts to stop them," Antonin said.
"Not so fast. It seems Bellatrix abandoned her post. Punish her with the torture curse before you go," Voldemort commanded. "Do it or face my displeasure yourself."
'Crap' Cyrus thought to himself. He knew there was no way in hell Antonin would follow such an order, nor would he forgive if he were forced to do it.
"Ah, someone had me under an imperious curse, my lord," Bellatrix said nervously. "Lucius and Narcissa left voluntarily."
Narcissa's jaw dropped, and her hand went on her hip. She was pissed her older sister just threw her and her husband under the bus so to speak. "Voluntarily, most certainly not," Narcissa and Lucius both protested.
"Bellatrix is completely loyal to you. I am certain she would never abandon her post voluntarily, so please my lord, let this one go," Antonin pleaded on her behalf.
"How dare you question my orders," Voldemort said, he pointed at Antonin. "Draco, you know what to do and the consequences if you refuse."
Draco pointed his wand in Antonin's direction, but he was too slow. Antonin quickly disarmed him, then followed it up with a silencing charm before Draco could even mutter the words Crucio.
"How dare you," Lucius pointed his wand at Antonin and fired off a stunning spell, only to have it reflected on himself. He took a few steps back and felt the effects of his own stun. Antonin just snickered as a few more death eaters took shots at him only to get the same result as Lucius.
"Yaxley, stop him," Voldemort commanded, pointing at Antonin.
It only took Cyrus a moment to realize he meant him. He at least made it look like he was trying to get a spell off, but Antonin triggered his portkey and suddenly disappeared.
After knocking several times and getting no answer, Daphne surmised that they must have gone already. "They probably already left," Daphne said.
"Oh, no," Hermione said. She imagined Antonin lying to Voldemort, which he would see right through that in a matter of seconds and then Voldemort would throw the killing curse at him because he was trying to do her a favor. Her eyes got a little misty and a frown formed across her face. Hermione knocked one more time.
Antonin arrived back in Cyrus's office free of the imperious curse. Of course, he heard knocking at the door. He stepped out of the office and closed the door behind him. "Thank Merlin you are alright," Hermione said, then she hugged him. A few tears ran down her cheeks. "Please, just forget about that favor I asked."
Antonin returned the hug, feeling both shocked and delighted by it at the same time. Then he turned to Daphne. "I thought you weren't going to tell her." Antonin looked at Daphne.
"I didn't," Daphne said.
"She didn't. Harry did." Hermione corrected his misconception quickly. "I am just glad it isn't too late to talk you out of going."
Thanks to the imperious curse, Antonin didn't remember what he just did at Malfoy manor. He wasn't sure if they had already gone, and he was back or if they hadn't left yet. "Right," Antonin looked back at the door of the office. "We can discuss that as soon as Cyrus shows up." He thought it best to get off that topic fast. He turned to Daphne. "Speaking of Potter, I am betting you are on cloud nine with him here. I am surprised you are not with him right now."
"Everything was going great, till he told me he doesn't trust my father," Daphne said, she folded her arms, clearly annoyed. "He was actually spying on you and dad."
"Oh!" Antonin looked down at the floor. "Probably because of me. I knew I should have left right away, but your father insisted it would be fine."
"For what it is worth, I am glad you didn't leave," Hermione said.
"Me too. I am glad I got to know you even just a little bit," Antonin admitted with a smile. "But I don't want to cause any problems for Cyrus."
"It is not your fault," Daphne said to Antonin. "Harry was throwing wild accusations. He even told me dad was acting more suspicious than you were. He said my father used the imperious curse on you."
Antonin shrugged that one off as no big deal, but he didn't wish to discuss it just yet.
"Oh, and it gets even crazier. He said he used it against Ron too," Daphne said with a snicker. "Ridiculous, right?"
Antonin threw his hands in the air and his face went a few shades lighter. He looked away having no desire to tattle on Cyrus.
"Oh my God. He really did!" Daphne had no problem reading his body language. Hermione nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, my fault. The kid was being really annoying asking way too many questions," Antonin said. "Cyrus was saying he owed me a favor, so I asked him to make Ron stop asking me questions. I was joking. I didn't think he would actually do it."
"That is not your fault. Dad didn't have to do that," Daphne said. "And it is not your fault that Harry doesn't trust my father either. It is probably mine. I asked Harry to keep a secret from my father. He misunderstood the reasons for it, thinking he must be a terrible person."
"Well, at least he did tell you he feels that way. It is a clear sign that he trusts you at least. He wouldn't have told you if he didn't," Antonin said.
That successfully put a smile on Daphne's face. "Oh, I didn't think of it that way, but you are right."
"Besides, he is wise to be cautious. I wish I had been when I was his age," Antonin said. He couldn't help thinking about how foolish he was to be so trusting of Voldemort and everyone else, to the point that it completely ruined his life.
"Where did he go?" Voldemort demanded to know.
"He is probably planning to go after Potter," Cyrus said.
"Hm," Rowle grunted, then he mumbled "I doubt it," in a voice barely above a whisper.
"Speak up Rowle. I can barely hear you. Where do you think he will go?" Voldemort asked.
"He will probably go after Harold Minchum," Rowle suggested.
"Permission to speak freely my lord," Cyrus said. He felt like throwing up at calling Voldemort my lord, but no doubt that is how Yaxley would address him.
"Granted." Voldemort declared.
"Forget Dolohov," Cyrus suggested. "You should focus on…"
"You think I should what, just forgive that kind of disloyalty and insubordination?"
"He is still loyal to you, but you asked him to use the torture curse against the woman he loves. Of course, he won't," Cyrus tried to make him understand. "No doubt, he left to go after Potter. He will probably come back with his head on a silver platter for you."
"And if you are wrong?"
"What is he going to do? Switch sides?" Cyrus chuckled. "Yeah, like anybody on the other side would ever trust him! If he is foolish enough to try that, he will get himself arrested or killed. Or maybe not. If his performance here today was any indication, he will probably leave a trail of dead aurors in his wake. He is certain to be less merciful to them." Cyrus was about to say more about how any death eaters he sent after Antonin would probably get the same result, but the smirk spread across Voldemort's face prompted him to stop, or maybe it was an impulse from the luck potion.
"He actually has a point," Rowle said. "He is still on our side. He just defended himself, nothing more."
"Exactly," Cyrus said with a nod. "I think you are better off focusing on those horcruxes."
"Bellatrix, I have an assignment for you," Voldemort said as he patted her on the back.
"Yes, my lord," Bellatrix said. "Who do you want me to kill?"
"Not that. Find Dolohov and if he is going after Harry Potter, help him in any way you can, but if he had lost his way, then you are to seduce him and bring him back into the fold," Voldemort commanded.
"Ah, seduce him? What?" Bellatrix asked disgust evident in her voice.
"You know, sleep with him," Voldemort commanded.
"Yes, my lord." Bellatrix narrowed her eyes, for the first time receiving an order she hated but she wouldn't dare question him.
"Sounds like the perfect punishment for her," Narcissa said. Bellatrix glared at Narcissa. If looks could kill, she would be dead right now.
"Or the perfect reward for Dolohov," Lucius said disgust evident in his voice. "Really, he just ignored a direct order from you and you're going to what? Reward him for it?" Several other Death Eaters groaned in disapproval.
Voldemort cast an obliviate spell so none of his followers would remember Dolohov's indiscretions and the little fight that happened here. He wanted Antonin fully in, but he didn't want any of his followers to think disobedience would be rewarded. He made an exception for Bellatrix because he wanted to be sure she would remember her mission. Most likely because of the luck potion, Voldemort missed when he tried to use that spell on Cyrus.
"Antonin Dolohov is not present because I sent him on a special assignment. If he comes through, he will be rewarded with being in charge of the punishment for Harold Minchum," Voldemort declared, "Yaxley, put out an order for Minchum's arrest. Make up any bogus charge you want."
"Yes, my lord," Cyrus responded. As luck would have it, he already had an appointment with Yaxley this afternoon and the only thing he needed to know was put out the arrest warrant for Minchum. Since Yaxley already owed him a few favors, he would do it, no questions asked.
"Everyone is dismissed," Voldemort declared.
Nobody needed to be told twice to leave, the exception probably being Lucius, who huffed in annoyance at being kicked out of a room in his own home, but he still complied.
Cyrus returned home to his office. Although he heard talking outside the door, he didn't step out. Instead, he locked the door, did a memory extraction and rewatched the memory himself, so he knew exactly what happened. Then he joined Antonin, Daphne and Hermione in the hall outside his office. "Antonin, go in and watch that memory. Make sure you watch the whole thing. Don't cut it short," Cyrus instructed.
Hermione's jaw dropped at the sight of the death eater Corban Yaxley. She drew her wand.
"What are you doing here?" Daphne asked. "My father isn't here."
Cyrus laughed. "Good morning," he said to them with a big infectious smile far too friendly to really be Corban Yaxley. "I hope you got a good night sleep."
"Cyrus?" Hermione questioned as she lowered her wand.
"Father?" Daphne asked.
"You are not the only one who knows how to use a Polyjuice potion." Cyrus winked at Hermione. "I was just helping Antonin with… Something. I will let him tell you all about it."
A few minutes later, Antonin stepped out of Cyrus's office. Antonin clasped his hands together. "My theory about Nagini, confirmed. You might want to put killing that snake on your to do list. And there is another horcrux in Hogwarts, inside the room of requirements."
"Never heard of it." Daphne shrugged.
"I know where that is," Hermione said. Then she added a very sincere, "Thank you."
Cyrus's Polyjuice potion finally wore off.
Antonin nodded and offered a small smile. "Excellent, I guess this is goodbye," he said softly. He extended his hand for a friendly farewell handshake. His eyes widened in surprise at Hermione's choice to pull him in close and press her lips to his. He kissed her back enjoying every minute of this.
Cyrus's jaw dropped as he watched Hermione kiss Antonin. "I had nothing to do with it," he muttered very quietly to himself. Of course, Daphne was the only one to hear him.
"Astoria would say get a room, but I am not sure that is a good idea," Daphne said with a bit of a snicker.
After a few moments of shared tenderness, they reluctantly pulled apart.
Antonin chuckled softly. "You're making it awfully difficult to leave," he admitted, his voice filled with affection.
Hermione smiled warmly. "That's the idea," she replied, her eyes sparkling with fondness.
"I thought you said you weren't going to do that," Daphne giggled.
"I have a right to change my mind," Hermione said.
"I really should go though. One unfortunate side-effect of our little stunt is they sent Bellatrix after me. If she finds me, I don't want her also finding you," he said to Hermione. Then he lifted his gaze up. "Or any of you really."