A/N: 1) I'm sorry this is so short. The next chapter will be longer, I promise! 2) I'm also sorry for the delay. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 24 - Death Eater

"Miss Granger," said Narcissa, giving a polite nod. "May I join you?"

It was not a question, not really, Hermione knew. Still, she nodded, and tried not to fidget as Narcissa took a seat in the empty chair beside her bed. The lady of Malfoy Manor took care to straighten her long gown, ironing out the wrinkles and dusting off invisible lent.

"Let us skip pleasantries and get down to the matter at hand," said Narcissa, sounding ever as practiced as a Malfoy might be. "I know who you are, I know about your friendship with Harry Potter, and I know you were one of the unfortunate Muggleborns that was petrified four years previous. Tea?"

Hermione blinked. She didn't even have time to utter a response when Narcissa snapped her fingers and a house elf suddenly appeared.

"Lottie, please bring us a tray of tea."

"Yes, Lady Malfoy," said the tiny elf, bowing deeply. Within seconds she had disapparated and reappeared with a delicate silver tea tray filled with the essentials: a steaming tea pot, two empty cups, bowls of sugar and honey, and soft cream filled pastries.

Narcissa poured Hermione a cup of tea and indicated she could add sugar or honey herself. Hermione added two lumps of sugar before taking a small sip, letting the warm tea run down her suddenly dry throat. It was sweet and warm, with a hint of cinnamon.

She took another sip and then stared at the steaming liquid in her hands. It was a struggle wrapping her head around the current situation. Here she was having tea with Narcissa Malfoy, after being attacked by a Dementor in her dungeon, shortly after recovering from a werewolf attack. Somehow, the more she let it process, the easier it was to think about. Stranger things had happened to her, she supposed. But it didn't stop the raging curiosity as she considered what in Merlin's name would a Dementor be doing in their dungeons?

Hermione opened her mouth—to say what, she wasn't entirely sure—when Narcissa held up a pale hand.

"I want to apologize, Miss Granger," she began, her voice soft and sincere. "I know what you must think of my family and I do not expect you to understand us. We are not all..." she shook her head, as if to correct herself. "I do, however, wish to apologize for the Dementor attack. It was careless of Draco to make such an ignorant mistake by leaving that door unlocked, especially when he invited you…as a guest."

Hermione nearly choked on her tea. She managed to smooth it over with a cough, massaging her chest. She could tell by Narcissa's tone that the woman hardly believed it. Hermione couldn't, either. A guest? How absurd!

"Malfoy told me you wanted to modify my memory." Hermione couldn't keep the bite from her tongue.

"You will understand that I cannot allow you to share your knowledge," said Nacissa, her eyes an icy blue, unyielding and fierce. "Can you blame me for being precautious?"

There was a hard edge to her words, yet a soft vulnerability. Hermione suddenly thought of the desperation that drives a person to turn a woman into a beetle and keep her locked in a jar; or lighting a professor's robe on fire or fighting against Death Eater's. It was a desperation fueled by the instinct to protect the one's we loved.

"No," she said finally.

They stared at each other, and for a moment Hermione held her breath, sure Narcissa was going to pull out her wand any moment. Could she simply lunge for the woman and overpower her? She'd have to try.

But the moment came and went, and Narcissa simply sighed and took another sip of her tea. Then she reached into the fold of her gown and pulled out a small leather pouch. When she set it on the table, Hermione heard the clanking of coins.

Narcissa stood gracefully, smoothing out her dress.

"I assume this method works for most people?" Hermione gritted out.

"Most," Narcissa agreed, folding her hands delicately in front of her.

"I won't accept your money." At Narcissa's raised brow, she added, "I am not most people."

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. "No, it would seem not," she said. Then she swept from the room, leaving the pouch sure to be filled with gold galleons behind. Her hand paused on the door handle and after a moment, she half turned. "Be careful, Miss Ganger. Knowledge is a dangerous burden to bear—even more to do so alone."

And then she was gone, the double meaning left to hang in the air.

It took two days for full recovery, in which Hermione spent her time reading books that Ruby would bring her. The small elf brought a little of everything from poetry to fictional adventures to ancient magical texts. On the third day, Hermione was taken to the dining hall for breakfast. Delicate silver trays and bowls were filled with porridge, buttered toast, sweet jams, sugared pastries, and sizzling bacon. The intricate goblet was filled with orange juice, a hot pot of steaming tea also available. Hermione had not seen Narcissa Malfoy since she had visited her in her bedchamber, and she had only seen Malfoy once or twice a day.

The food was plentiful, but the company was not. There was only one place set. Hermione was about to ask Ruby to dine with her, even if it wasn't considered appropriate for a house elf, but Ruby disapparated before she could ask. So she ate alone, watching the occupants in the portraits and considered striking up a conversation with one of them.

When she finished breakfast, Ruby appeared with a tiny pop! that was so timely that Hermione wondered if the tiny elf had simply been hiding behind one of the tapestries.

"Did miss enjoy her meal?" Ruby asked, her eyes wide and eager.

"Yes, thank you."

Ruby beamed. "Ruby will take miss back to her rooms now, if you please."

"Actually, I was hoping you could show me the library," said Hermione, folding her napkin and setting it on her empty plate.

"Does miss not like the books Ruby brings her, miss?" said the tiny elf, starting to panic. "Ruby can—"

"No, I love them," Hermione reassured her, standing. "It's just that I love libraries and I'd love to see this one."

Ruby hesitated. "Master Malfoy says miss is to stay in her rooms, miss."

Prat. Maybe if he'd show his face, he could show me himself!

"It will only be for a little while."

"Master Malfoy says miss..." Ruby pauses, then forces the rest of the words out. "He says miss always manages to find trouble even when there isn't any."

Hermione almost laughed. She fought to keep from smiling as she said, "Well, it's only a library. How much trouble can I possibly get in, with you watching on?"

Ruby rocked on her heels.

"Please, Ruby." Hermione bent down so they were eye to eye and placed a pastry in the tiny elf's hand. "It will be our little secret."

Ruby's eyes widened and Hermione knew immediately that the house elves were permitted to eat plainly. A sugar coated pastry was a luxury, one that only angered Hermione further.

The small elf must not have been given a direct order by Malfoy, because she took the pastry and led Hermione through the corridors until they reached a set of double French doors.

"The Grand Library, miss," said Ruby, pushing the doors open.

Hermione gaped.

The Grand Library was near the size of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, with two floors filled from floor to ceiling with books. On the main level there were three claw footed desks, as well as two leather couches and three velvet armchairs. At the far end was a crackling brick fireplace. The walls were a light mint green, the shelves a dark wood. Hermione inhaled the fresh scent of parchment and the deep, earthy scent of mahogany.

"One hour, miss," said Ruby, and the tiny elf disapparated.

Hermione aimlessly scanned the shelves with her fingers, glancing at the many different titles and volumes. There were so many different books! Some were extremely old and tattered, some were still wrapped in its packaging; some were even attempting to bounce off the shelves or otherwise chained to the shelves.

Her eyes fell on a thick, inky black book. She pulled it from the shelf and shrieked at the cover; a banshee was thrashing around in a cell and appeared to be silently screaming violently and pulling at her chains. The banshee's hair looked like wildfire, dancing and whipping around as she continued to scream, her yellow eyes glaring maliciously.

Hermione quickly shoved the book back on the shelf. She shivered and moved along. The library was organized by categories, and she found herself scanning the titles of those located in the Dark Creatures section.

Since she was here, she figured she might as well research Professor Snape's essay. It was almost amusing that the subject was about shapeshifters and werewolves. Many of the books in this section were gruesome, possibly even banned: Demons of the Water by Fletcher Phipps, Beyond the Shadows by Albert Hoffman, Magik by Greta Goldstone.

There was an odd, fain greenish glow coming from Magik. Instinctively, Hermione reached for the book. The glow faded at her touch and she pulled it down from the shelf. It was a small book, tattered and black-leather bound with a simple gold lettering on the cover.

Hermione already had a few other books tucked under her arm, so she walked over to one of the couches, set down her books, and opened Magik.

The pages were ivory, the black ink faded.

The contents of this book are highly advanced. If you have found this book, you are worthy of reading it. Be warned: you may not like what you are looking for.

Hermione began sifting through the pages and stopped around Chapter Five.

Darkness is the premier environment for Dark Creatures, Shadows, and Inferi. Although the Inferius is no more than a corpse that has been animated to do a witch or wizards bidding, they are highly dangerous and prefer dark and cold places. An Inferius is already dead; therefore, the body cannot be physically destroyed. To rid it, the Darkened Soul must be destroyed inside the Inferius.

The only way to rid the Darkened Soul is to use Dark Magic itself. The only curse able to do such is by the use of Fiendfyre. The blaze is so potent that Fiendfyre is one of the very few substances that are even capable of destroying a Horcrux, if matured properly. Its flames are of abnormal size and take the shape of monsters and beasts, such as serpents, basilisks, Chimaeras, and dragons, continuously mutating. It appears to have enough consciousness to actually follow its intended victims.

Aside from the Inferius, a Dementor is one of the foulest Dark Creatures that walk this world. Dementors feed off human happiness, causing depression and despair to any who are in close proximity to them. They approach in darkness, spreading cold and ice through their victim's body, before leaving them with the worst memories of their life. There is currently no proven way to kill Dementors, but they can be warded off by light, happiness, and love; the three elements Dementors know nothing about.

The Dementors Kiss…

Hermione shivered and closed the book. If Malfoy hadn't shown up at just the right time…

She couldn't even imagine it, a Dementor's Kiss. Sirius Black, ever so brave, had been petrified by the thought of it. She was lucky and very fortunate that Malfoy had been there. Without her wand, she had been useless.

Her wand…Hermione stood up in a flash. Malfoy had still not given her her wand back. She may not have needed it while recovering, but she wanted it back, and she wanted it now.

It took all her stubborn pride and empathy for house elves not to summon Ruby, but she waited patiently—or rather impatiently, judging by her pacing—by the fire for the elf to return. When she did, Hermione demanded to be taken to Malfoy.

Only to find disappointed when Ruby said, "Master Malfoy is not home, miss."

"Are you sure?"

Ruby nodded.

Hermione huffed in frustration. "Well, I suppose it'll have to wait until this evening, then."

She followed Ruby out of the library. The corridors were dimly lit, and the portraits continued to mutter to each other as she passed.

They went up a set of stairs and continued down a long corridor when two familiar whispers coming from a nearby room. Hermione paused, causing Ruby to halt. The tiny elf's eyes widened and she shook her head violently.

"No, miss!" Ruby whispered.

But Hermione was already moving closer to the voices. Ruby clutched her face and yanked on her long, leathery ears. Then she panicked and lunged for Hermione, gripping the back of her shirt to stop her. But Ruby could do nothing else, not without giving either of them away, so Hermione managed to trudge forward until her ear brushed the wall beside the cracked door.

"…you need to be more careful, Draco. You're actions are most un—"

"Don't tell me what to do." Malfoy's voice cracked out like a whip. "I have been careful."

"Obviously not careful enough. You are already suspected from the incident this fall," came the brooding voice of Severus Snape.

Hermione's heart raced. Why was Snape here? She felt Ruby tugging on her shirt again, but she ignored her.

"I said I didn't do it," Malfoy gritted out. "Why won't you listen?"

"Perhaps if you allowed for my assistance –"

"I don't need your help or anyone else's!" Malfoy snapped, his voice rising. "I'm doing fine on my own."

"Keep…your…voice…down," Snape drawled coldly. "Your actions suggest otherwise, Draco. Your little show at Slughorn's party…"

"What of it?"

"Your actions were foolish and if you think people will not suspect your behavior at the party, you are most mistaken. I made the Unbreakable Vow for your protection to your mother and this is how you repay me? Lurking around the castle, bringing attention to yourself? And now, this?"

Snape emphasized 'this' as if Malfoy knew exactly what he was talking about. Hermione had no idea.

"Nobody forced you to make that vow." Malfoy's voice was low, dangerous. Far too comfortable and bold, Hermione thought, to be talking to a professor.

There was a brief pause. "I am here to help you, Draco," said Snape. "Whether or not you accept it is your choice. You know the route to your future and the difficulties it arises."

"It's just taking me a bit longer than I expected, alright?"

Hermione bent down to her hands and knees, forcing Ruby to let go. Then she leaned over, just a bit, until her right eye was able to catch a glance through the crack. To her luck, neither Malfoy nor Snape were facing the door. They appeared to be in an overlarge storage room filled with shelves and parchment and books.

Malfoy dropped his gaze to his left forearm, grimacing.

"Let me see," said Snape bitterly.

"Why?" hissed Malfoy.

"You have been tugging your arm for weeks. The curse is bound to irritate your skin, Draco. I need to make sure you don't need treatment."

The curse…what curse? What could—"

Hermione's mouth fell open. She watched in horror as Malfoy lifted his sleeve to reveal a thick, black mark. It was a mark of a skeleton and a serpent.

The Dark Mark.

Hermione had the sudden urge to scream, to run, to do something—anything. But all she could do was stare. Stare at that wicked, cursed mark that could only mean one thing.

A Death Eater, she thought in horror. Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater.

Even in her head, the words did not sound right, even as they replayed over and over. But even so, she remembered the words she had thrown at Malfoy all those months ago.

"I suppose I should ask you how you plan on smuggling your Death Eater mask into the school for the Halloween ball."

He had gone cold, completely rigid. At the time, Hermione had considered it was an offense because of his father, but now...now she knew the truth. She had hit so close to home with that comment, even if she hadn't realized it at the time.

Hermione was so thrown by this new revelation that she missed whatever words Snape was muttering to Malfoy. She didn't need to hear…she didn't want to hear.

Anger was to be expected. Shock, horror. What Hermione didn't expect to feel, however, was a sad sort of emptiness that she couldn't explain. A Death Eater…Malfoy was a Death Eater. A valiant servant to Lord Voldemort.

She needed to tell Harry and Ron…and someone from the Order. And Snape—he knew! He knew about Malfoy being a Death Eater and what was this about an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa? This was possibly the most troubling of it all.

Hermione saw Snape turn on the spot, disapparating from the room, leaving Malfoy standing alone.

She felt that tug again, and this time she listened. She stood on shaky legs, suddenly feeling as though she were in a trance. Glancing to the tiny hand clutching her leg, Hermione met Ruby's gaze. The elf looked stricken, worried. Hermione just shook her head, and the two silently crept away. She suspected Ruby was using some sort of magic to silence their steps, because Malfoy did not come rushing from the room. Once they turned a corner, Ruby gripped Hermione's hand and they disapparated.

A/N: Thank you for reading! So now Hermione knows the big bad news. :P I'll be updating this with review responses soon!