Mr E A Rowland had owned Borrow. Read. Return. for as long as Hermione could remember, his name painted in gold letters above the door. They had faded considerably since her childhood, but Hermione smiled slightly when the edges still glimmered in the sunlight.
Her fascination with books had been her dad's fault. He'd been after a particularly rare book on teeth and Mr Rowland was known, the village over, for his peculiar collection of literary works. One toe over the threshold and she had been in love; worlds, words and the smell of stories everywhere she turned. She'd borrowed five books that day (as it was all Mr Rowland would allow), and she simply hadn't stopped.
The years hadn't been kind to Mr Rowland, in the fact that he had grown old, and the rest of the village had become new. There was a public library, kitted out with computers, and a library catalogue, that told visitors exactly what they were looking for, and where to find it. But whether out of stubbornness or simply because he didn't care, Mr Rowland stayed the same, and so did his shop; stooped and wrinkling a little around the edges, but the same
Hermione had, with some shock and wonder, found some magical books. Before magic, they had been a window into a world she hoped existed, simply because, for some reason or another, she didn't fit into her own. The prospect of being a dentist didn't fill her with the excitement it did her parents, nor did any other possible career, and she'd read book after book on them. Even now when she thought about it, it was a comfort to know that the magical world had always been closely interwoven with her own, never far away.
The books never stayed in Mr Rowland's collection for long though, they were snatched up by men and women dressed rather strangely. One man had been adorned with striped pyjama trousers, a floral jacket, shirt and tie, topped off with a rather large top hat. Due to the fact that not one of the strangely dressed guests ever returned their books, Mr Rowland became suspicious, refusing to allow anyone, who he deemed to be dressed abnormally, home with his books. Many youngsters studying for exams had been unceremoniously turned away.
Hermione glanced back at Draco, giving his attire a once over. His shirt did look much whiter than the average shirt, his trousers slightly silkier than the muggle version, and his shoes. Hermione almost facepalmed at his shoes, they were without doubt dragon skin, the way they shimmered unnaturally even in shadow. She supposed he wouldn't arouse too much suspicion, but then again he had been jumping out of his skin the whole way there, threatening to curse every car that passed. Even now, turned down a quiet cobbled side street, he was shaking behind her, his face pale, his eyes darting this way and that, checking for any oncoming danger.
She knew in the dimness of Mr Rowland's Library they would be relatively free from strange glances and Draco would have a chance to calm down, as Mr Rowland's Library was so stuck in the past, it could have sold tickets as a museum. Now though, oak door before her, rusting lion door knocker staring her in the face, along with a 'Dressing gowns are not suitable attire' sign, she hesitated. Borrow. Read. Return. had been her sanctuary for many years, when she was being bullied, or felt alone, she would disappear into the shadows of the bookshelves, and be half a world away within seconds. When she used magic accidentally for the first time, Borrow. Read. Return. had been her first port of call, and the stillness of the books had calmed her. Standing at the door with her long-term enemy felt like a betrayal. Mr Rowlands Library was her secret, a secret she hadn't shared with even her closest friends.
'The door won't open itself, Granger.' Draco muttered drily, surprising her out of her own thoughts. With a sigh, she pushed down the large brass handle, leaning her shoulder into the dark wood.
Stepping inside was like stepping into a cave, the sun muscling through the open doorway and setting alight dust particles that moved lazily in the air. Every available window was covered with thick black curtains, and in spite of the heat outside, the inside of Borrow. Read. Return. was fairly cool, so much so, that goosebumps began to bubble the length of Hermione's arms.
As ever, books were piled haphazardly, the space a maze of bookshelves of all different shapes and sizes. At the other end of the room were two flights of stairs, one going up and the other going down. Hung over them on a rather crudely made cardboard sign, were the words MORE BOOKS. Mr Rowland, a small wrinkled face beneath white wisps of hair, was sat behind his counter, a fort of large old volumes piled around him, one of which was opened in front of him. He leant over it, his long hooked nose nearly touching the page, squinting at the words. Mr Rowland was, without doubt, a muggle, but Hermione had always thought there was something distinctly magical about him. Even there, in the gloom, he looked something akin to a goblin at Gringotts.
Slowly he peered up from his book, his whole body shaking with the effort.
"Ah, Miss Granger, back from school I see." His voice was shockingly deep for an old frail man, and it boomed through his library with very little effort on his part. Hermione smiled broadly, in spite of company, stepping forward.
"Yes, Sir," she answered brightly, "just here to do a bit of research." Mr Rowland nodded, before turning his gaze to Malfoy who was still glancing around the room, his mouth hanging open slightly. He had seen magical libraries that were much larger, books flying through the air to their proper places, but he was still shocked by the sheer magnitude of volumes one muggle had managed to amass.
"And who is this?" He asked, sharp eyes taking in his clothing.
"Ahh, this is Malfoy, we go to school together. He's here to help me with my research." Hermione quickly nudged Draco, shocking him out of his daze.
"Er...Draco Malfoy, sir, a pleasure to meet you." Mr Rowland sniffed, squinting at Draco's shoes.
"Dressed a bit strangely, isn't he?" Hermione winced as the statement had Draco's back straightening.
'"He's been to a funeral." She cut in before Malfoy could say anything, and no doubt get her banned from her favourite place in the whole world.
"A funeral?" Draco muttered under his breath, but Hermione ignored him, doing her best to look sad. After shooting her a look that suggested she'd grown another head, Draco followed suit, lowering his head.
'Oh, my condolences.' Mr Rowland wobbled from his chair, arms bracing against the counter in front of him. 'Who may I ask?'
'My Grandmother,' Draco said, 'Taken from us suddenly.' Hermione grit her teeth, she could hear the mockery lacing each syllable and she was certain Mr Rowland would hear it. The old man, however, seemed quite concerned.
'Oh, how terrible.'
'Yes, well he doesn't like to talk about it, do you..'
'Was Dragon Pox..' Draco stuttered to a stop as Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.
'Dragon pox? Can't say as I've ever heard of that. Not catching I hope." Draco shook his head, suppressing laughter as the man nodded and continued. "Must be one of those new foreign diseases, I swear they bring a new one out every week! If it's not the birds, it's the pigs." Hermione shot Draco an angry glare.
"What?" Draco mouthed, shrugging his shoulders and grinning down at her. Hermione crossed her arms and turned to Mr Rowland, who she hoped was reaching the end of his tirade.
'Anyway, what can I help you with.' Mr Rowland lifted his head up, looking at the pair of them down the length of his long hooked nose.
'We were looking for any information on the 14th century.' Hermione stated, knowing without a doubt that whatever they were looking for was in a room upstairs. Mr Rowland made it known to anyone who would care to listen, that fiction books were the only books worth reading, as the real world was so dreary and mundane. For that very reason, anyone seeking non-fiction books were made to work for it.
'Ah well, that will be upstairs then.' He muttered, shuffling his way towards the stairs.
Progress was slow, as Mr Rowland took the stairs one painful step at a time, pausing to relay a snippet of useless information. Hermione had elbowed Draco several times when he had laughed at the man. While she knew Mr Rowlands behaviour was strange, she was always reminded that he spent much of his time alone, and the books he loved so dearly were his whole world.
Finally, they made it to the small room at the very top of the building, the dusty attic room. All non-fiction history was placed there because of all the non-fiction books Mr Rowland liked history the least. Hermione, however, had spent much of her time there, enjoying the solitude that the attic room afforded. With a small sniff and a nod, Mr Rowland turned to each of them, then made his slow progress back down to his counter, where she knew he would remain, till he got thirsty and made them both a cup of tea.
"Shakes a lot, doesn't he?" Draco muttered, leaning out of the doorway to watch the small muggle make his way down the precarious set of wooden stairs.
"Shh, he's old, it's not his fault." Draco's grin only widened.
"Got a thing about clothes too." He pointed out, admiring yet another sign on appropriate clothing. This one had what looked like a cape, with a thick red line drawn through it.
"That would be our fault, too many witches and wizards not returning books," Hermione stated matter of fact. Draco's eyes rose slightly, as he turned back to the poster.
"Still, I wouldn't have called this strange." Draco gestured to himself, swinging round to face her with a flourish. Hermione rolled her eyes. "And I wouldn't have called it funeral attire either. These are the finest pair of dragon skin shoes on the market, and these," Draco gestured to his trousers pompously, "best magically woven cotton there is, the price of these alone could keep the weasel clan fed for at least a month." Draco stated snootily, unbuttoning his shirt cuffs and rolling up his sleeves.
Hermione rolled her eyes, "Save me the "I'm richer than you are" speech, and I'd prefer it if you didn't use my friends to make your idiotic points.' Placing her bag down by her side, Hermione made herself comfortable in front of a small bookshelf, pulling out a small book.
"Not idiotic Granger, true."
"Either way, leave Harry and Ron out of it." Draco sighed.
"Whatever, I still don't think I'm dressed for a funeral." He muttered, making the small witch sigh in exasperation.
"Will you...look I had to think of something, and a funeral was the first thing that popped into my head. Perhaps you should be worrying more about the Dragon Pox." Hermione's lips were pressed into a thin line as she looked at the back of the Slytherins head, folding her arms angrily when she saw his shoulders shaking.
"Sorry, I forgot my audience." He replied sheepishly, shooting Hermione an innocent glance over his shoulder. "So,' Draco said, after a few moments of silence, "what's the plan" he placed the volume back on the shelf, clicking his fingers, as he wandered between the shelves.
"We look for books that could help us, anything pertaining to the 14th century and onwards."
"Pertaining? Who talks like that, Granger?"
"I do, now get looking."
"Don't you think this would be easier if, I don't know, we knew what we were looking for?" Draco suggested, making his way back to where Hermione was sat. He smiled slightly at how at home she looked amongst the dust and the words.
"Yes, infinitely easier, but we don't, so...hate to sound like a nag but, get looking." Hermione coughed as she pulled another book from the shelf, and a plume of dust followed it. Draco chuckled, shaking his head.
"Quite the slave driver aren't we?" He tipped his head slightly as he began reading the titles of books. He was slightly impressed by the old man's collection, some of his volumes were almost as old as the ones shut away in the Malfoy archives, and on obscurity, the doddering old collector won hands down. Draco peaked at Hermione, wondering how many times she had been there, sat amongst the shelves lost in pages of other people's imaginations. A small thrill went through him at the thought of him being there, with her. They were spending time together, she'd shown him her life away from Hogwarts. He felt like he was making progress, progress that he had no way of measuring, or even remotely understanding. But it was progress nonetheless.
Hours passed quickly, melting into one another, as Hermione disappeared behind a pile of books, and Draco's white shirt got covered in dust, his hair flying out in all directions, from him running his hand through it in frustration. He was beginning to lose hope. With a sigh he sat on a small chest tucked up the corner, watching as Hermione placed another book on her pile, and proceeding to slide another off the shelf, without even looking up.
He wondered vaguely how she managed it. He didn't mind books, in fact, he thought they were incredibly helpful when the occasion called for it. But this was just sheer torture. With no point of reference or place to start, they were just flicking through muggle drivel that made him want to pull out his own fingernails. He found that muggle wrote books about the weirdest, wonderful and incredibly boring things, which was saying something considering he'd flicked through a rather large tome detailing the Battle of Snagbloom. He cast a glance down at his shirt and groaned.
"Ruined,' He muttered, pulling at the white material to get a better view. "Granger, you owe me a new shirt." The Bushy haired witch glanced up slightly, before looking straight back down.
"I don't owe you anything, Malfoy, it's your fault for not being more careful."
"Careful? Everything is caked in a lifetime worth of dust, how in Merlin's name am I supposed to be careful."
"Shh,' Hermione looked up sharply, holding her finger in front of her lips. "What did I tell you about Merlin? I swear you alone are going to reveal the wizarding world to the entire muggle race, with that big mouth of yours" she whispered, glancing towards the doorway.
"Oh please, like the shaking muggle is going to hear us all the way up here." Hermione shook her head slightly, turning the page. After a moment of reading her eyes began to widen.
"Oh look," Hermione she stated, holding a small brown book in the air, "I've found something.' Draco quickly stood, making his way over to Hermione, carefully picking his way past her pile of books to settle down by her side.
"What is it?" He sniffed, not bothering to read the small writing.
"It says there was a battle at Wexland Point, a battle between Lord Arden Masarvas and Lord Tharan Morax, the witch hunter. Most speculate that the battle was to end a dispute that had raged between the pair for many years, others suggest that it was a matter of land. However, one curious explanation is that Lord Masarvas took an opposing view to Lord Morax's witch hunting."
"Opposing view, you can say that again," Draco muttered, leaning in closer, his arm brushing against Hermione's.
"The battle was said to have raged for several days, with Lord Masarvas men all but slain. Lord Masarvas himself fled the battle and nothing was heard of the man again. Most believe that he died from wounds sustained during the fight."
"Or he ran away to his magical friends with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. So Arden and Tharin fought." Draco said, leaning back against the shelf, wincing as the wood dug into his back.
"And Arden lost." As soon as the words left Hermione's mouth, Draco felt a shift in the Sensieve's magic, as if it were taking up all available space in the room, making it hard to breathe.
"Granger," He spluttered, grabbing Hermione's arm, "do you feel that?" She turned to him, her eyes like saucers, and nodded slightly.
"It's just like in the library.' She whispered as if the Sensieve would hear her.
Shakily she got to her feet and Draco followed suit, gripping her arm again, telling himself it was because he needed something to ground him, and not because he liked being close to her. The Sensieve's magic shifted again, pushing them forwards. When they reached a shelf at the far end of the room, Draco felt a heavy weight on his shoulders, forcing him to his knees. Then the feeling went as if it had never been there. The only clue to the Senisieve's magic was the familiar thrum of magic, around where his hand held Hermione's arm.
"It's got to be on this shelf," Hermione stated, shaking off Draco's hand and pulling out books to examine them.
"What?" Draco said in a daze.
"The Sensieve, it must want to show us something on this shelf." Draco glanced at the shelf in front of him. There were lots of books, they all looked the same as every other book he'd looked at all day. Boring, dusty and old. But one glowed.
It stood proudly in the middle, its spine giving off a faint light. With shaking fingers Draco reached for it, feeling magic tingle up his arm as soon as he touched it. It was a small black book, no writing along the spine or on the cover to hint as to what was inside, but Draco knew it was important, he could feel it. He opened the cover and sucked in a breath.
"Granger." The witch paused in her searching and looked up at the blonde.
"Look." Hermione shifted closer, taking the book from his hands. Her eyes widened when she read the words.
The Mystery of the Missing Commander - The Life and Disappearance of Commander Edward James