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Story: Hunted
Category: Harry Potter
Genre: Romance/Mystery
Author: Bex-chan
Last updated: 08/28/2010
Words: 191497
Rating: M
Status: Complete
Content: Chapter 1 to 36 of 36 chapters

Summary: Forced to work together when their old schoolmates start dying, Hermione & Draco must overcome their
differences to solve the mysterious deaths. The tension in the office is getting rather...heated. Mature themes. 4years
PostHogwarts/War. EWE. DMHG.
*Chapter 1*: Changes


a/n: Okay so this is my first HP fic so excuse me if there's a few errors with characters etc. I also want to point out that this
will not b e a fluffy fic and my main goal is to keep the characters realistic and the progression of the romance b etween
Draco and Hermione will b e relatively slow. This is Post-Hogwarts and ignores the epilogue. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: All chapters associated with 'Hunted' contain characters and themes which are not owned b y me! Credit
goes to JK Rowling, and the fact that this is on a site called surely implies that I am a FAN writing FICTION! If I did own
Harry Potter, I would not b e on here, I'd b e off b uying islands and diamonds.


Chapter 1: Changes.

He scowled at the young beauty in the bed next to him. She was facedown on one of her lilac pillows and he was pretty
sure she was finally sleeping. Her matted hair covered her inevitable makeup-smudged face and he tried to lean forward
a little to see if he could definitely establish that she was unconscious. Her breathing was heavy enough to convince
him, but for all he knew she could be a light sleeper. He decided he would have to risk it. The sky was turning into that
vile purple-blue colour that he despised and he wanted to get home.

He manoeuvred himself carefully on her bed, trying his hardest to remain silent. He released a breath he'd been holding
once his feet were firmly placed on the woman's purple carpet. He gathered his scattered clothes and hastily dressed
himself, occasionally looking over his shoulder at the silent woman. He smirked to himself as he fastened the final
button of his green shirt. He was getting better at this sneaking out business. He reached for his perfectly polished
shoes but one fell from his fist and landed with a harsh thud on her floor.

Draco's frown hardened as she stirred under her covers and he quickly retrieved his shoe and shoved it roughly on his
foot. He heard her make some awful groan as she turned to face him and he did everything in his power not make eye
contact with the woman. She offered him a sleepy smile but it was wasted on the blond man's rolling eyes.

"Where are you going?" The young woman seemed to think twice about reaching out and stroking his leg. She made the
right decision in resisting.

"I have an early meeting," Draco muttered through his tense lips as he checked he had all his belongings.

"Okay," the girl sighed, briefly checking her clock and realising it was barely four in the morning. "You could go to work
from here?"

"That's not a good idea," the young wizard argued, double checking his wand was in his robes. "I have things to do."

"Well," the blonde witch started hesitantly. "I don't mind if you do some work in the other room-

"Look," Draco finally turned to her, massaging his brow for a second. "Polly-

"Poppy," the girl corrected, glaring at him now.

"Whatever," Draco breathed, indifferent about his mistake. He checked for the third time that he had everything. He had
no desire to return to this address and run into this woman again. He headed for her door, ignoring the woman's
shocked gasp when he didn't even say goodbye.

He Apparated back to his home and collapsed on his couch with a grunt of frustration. That entire encounter had been a
waste of his time. When had it become so difficult to get a decent fuck? He growled to himself and decided he would
leave his shower for later on and get some work done. If his sex-life wasn't going so great he could at least make sure
his career was satisfactory. Surely he was just in a rut. He doubted he could be bored of sex already. He was only twenty-
two for Merlin's sake. No, not bored. Just tense. His body wasn't reacting as expected to the randoms he had bedded
recently and his hand was getting used to providing a form of release. It wasn't the same but at least he could finish the
job. There was something very unsettling about the amount of Galleons he'd wasted on seducing meals and condoms.

He pushed his thoughts to the side and reached for his briefcase at the side of his couch. He removed his wand to undo
his locking spell and carelessly threw some of the papers on his coffee-table. He shuffled through them, eyeing the
familiar names with little thought. Despite the monotony of his job, he couldn't deny he felt a slight dose of satisfaction
with how things had turned out.

The Ministry had been good to him, better than he would have anticipated four years ago. They had pretty much
blackmailed him with his position to avoid time in Azkaban but it had worked in his favour. He was now deputy-head of
the department. His job entailed supervising ex-convicts, particularly prisoners who had abused the Dark Arts. He and
his team ensured that the prisoners were keeping to themselves after their time, and keeping clean of further illegal
actions. Above anything else, the job came with a decent dose of secrecy, and he had successfully remained out of the
public eye with only a few glitches. He was still, after all, the heir to one of the most famous families in the Wizarding
World. But the ministry had managed to keep his profile fairly low-key. It was hardly a good idea to advertise to criminals
who would be keeping an eye on them. Especially in Malfoy's case.

He knew this had initially been a tactic by the Ministry to abuse his knowledge of the Death Eaters he had once circled
with, they had just never assumed he would have been so good at the task. The irony hadn't been lost on him. After his
dabbling in dark magic, he was now working for the people he'd been so convinced were evil. At least now he could
accept that he'd been an impressionable boy with a sharp-tongued father and a heavy helping of rebellion. But his father
was long gone. And the young Malfoy had decided he was old enough to make his own decisions.

If someone had told him four years ago that this had transpired he would have hexed them for being an idiot.

"Lumos," he muttered, skilfully clutching his wand.

He sighed as the familiar names stared back at him, many his old classmates or names he had heard from his days
with Voldermort. He still cringed when he thought about it. But he was a professional now and he was satisfied that
many of his companions from Hogwarts who had once entertained Voldermort's ideas had, like himself, managed to
settle down into normal lives.

He'd bump into them occasionally and they would never discus the early days. Everyone seemed pretty determined to
forgot what had happened, or at least banish it from conversation and he was content to follow that routine. Blaise Zabini
was the only Slytherin he had kept in contact with from Hogwarts. The wizard was now well-established businessman
with a small chain of Quidditch shops. But Malfoy still had his name on his list. And he knew he was on a list
somewhere too.

A couple of hours passed and Draco decided he was satisfied with his notes. He contemplated trying to sneak a couple
of hours sleep before work but decided it was hardly worth it. He could always have an early night when he finished

"Fuck," Draco snapped as he rubbed his eyes in irritation. He'd completely forgotten he was going to visit his mother
after work. She'd been remodelling the Manor since the incidents four years ago, and more so after his father had died.
Despite this she always insisted that Draco come and share his opinion on her work after she'd finished a room. Why
she couldn't just wait until she had finished her entire project to invite him over to criticise the Manor was beyond him.

He decided that an hour's kip wasn't such a bad idea. He would need all the energy he could spare if his mother was in
one of her excited moods. He hadn't seen her in just over a week, which meant she would be bubbling like a clumsy
cauldron with mindless gossip.

Draco Flooed to work that morning and immediately frowned at the chaos that surrounded him. It was hardly a rare
occasion for the Ministry to be so hectic on a Monday morning but it still always managed irritate him. The place was
centuries old for Merlin's sake! Surely they should have been used to odd revelations by now and built a level of
organised immunity. But no! Here they all were. Running around like paranoid house-elves.

He headed to his office in the Improper Use of Magic department. The department had been expanded after the war and
the Ministry had placed comparable Traces on previous Death Eaters and their associates. Although similar to the ones
placed on underage wizards and witches, these were not so accurate but they helped to a certain extent. Mafalda Hopkirk
was head of the larger department. The witch had immediately taken to her new task and seemed a little relieved to have
some variation to rebellious wizard teens.

Draco pushed open the heavy doors and searched for his superior, noting with a little relief that the Offices here were a
lot quieter. The department had less staff than the others and he was grateful for this, although the few that were
wandering around the offices seemed agitated. He rolled his eyes when his secretary rose from her seat to greet him.
The petite woman was always far too cheerful for his liking.

"Good morning Mr. Malfoy," the witch chirped merrily, although he noted she was less enthusiastic today.

"Tilly," Draco acknowledged her presence with a dull nod. "Could you have the Trace Reports on my desk once
Shacklebolt sends them to you."

"Of course," the woman grinned politely as Draco walked into the solitude of his office. He noted that his usual coffee
was waiting in its familiar place on his desk and he settled down his briefcase and took a claming gulp of the hot liquid.
He took a seat at his expensive desk and started working on some the papers that had been left for him. He was barely
alone twenty minutes when Mafalda entered his room without a knock, sporting her usual smart, mauve robes and a
navy, tattered bag resting on her shoulder.

"Draco," the older woman forced a tight smile at her colleague. "How are you?"

"Fine," the wizard replied, tearing his eyes from his work to eye the older woman for a moment before he went back to his
parchments. He still wasn't sure why the witch had taken such a liking to him, even when he'd first starting working for
her. But he appreciated her acceptance and the old bat wasn't that bad, if a little nosy.

"You look like shit," the blonde woman commented, noting the bags under his eyes. "Rough night?"

"It could have gone better," Draco admitted, looking to a different page of his documents.

"I thought you might be a little agitated today," the witch confessed with a hint of concern. "This to do with the girl?"

"Am I that predictable?" Draco muttered, raising an eyebrow as he considered some information on his sheets.

"Well you knew her quite well," Mafalda offered her colleague a small smile. "It's only natural you should feel a little off."

"Knew her well?" Draco repeated, still refusing to meet the prying woman's eyes. "That's an overstatement."

"I though you went to Hogwarts with her?" The witch frowned at him, realising he had looked up at her with an obvious
expression of confusion.

"I'm not following you," Draco told the woman warily, watching her now for an explanation.

"The girl who died yesterday." the witch repeated, as though he shouldn't need anymore explanation. Draco eyed the
woman and shook his head, signalling his lack of knowledge on the matter. His superior sighed and took the seat on
other side of his desk. "For Merlin's sake, Draco, you really should read The Daily Prophet."

"Who died?" Draco asked the witch, unable to contain his curiosity.

"Well 'died' is a little light, actually," the woman remarked as she reached into her bag. "Poor girl was murdered."

"Who was it?" Draco asked again, a little frustrated with the woman.

"Pansy Parkinson," Mafalda sighed as she handed Draco a copy of The Daily Prophet. "You knew her in school, didn't

"Quite well," Draco agreed as he eyed the front page, which consisted of a picture of pansy and Ex-Dark Art Damsel
Found Dead as its headline. "I haven't seen her in four years though."

His eyes skimmed over the article, noting that they had recalled the suspicion that she had been involved with
Voldermort. The moving photo simply showed her laughing, and he realised she had only grown more beautiful since
leaving school. They mentioned her 'grieving' husband, whose name he didn't recognise and included some details
about her career as a healer before his eyes rested on one particular phrase. 'Marked with a V.'

"Like Dennis Creevy?" Draco's eyes shot back up to his superior as he tried to understand this new information.

"So it would seem," the witch nodded solemnly. "It was the killing curse again, and that V mark is identical-

"But Pansy was a pureblood," Draco interrupted her. "So this killer's not a Voldemort sympathiser?"

"No, the Ministry still believe the killer is," Mafalda revealed. "And I agree, that V mark is an obvious reference to the Dark

"But why would a sympathiser kill a pureblood?" Draco questioned, eyeing the article and noting that they had indeed
mentioned the link with Creevy's death. "Surely it defeats the object."

"Parkinson was reformed," the witch offered him with a shrug. "A sympathiser would have seen her as a traitor to the
Dark Lord-

"You know you can say Voldemort," Draco rolled his eyes at the woman and her annoying habit. "He's been dead for four
years so I'm pretty sure you're safe."

"Point noted," the witch frowned, snatching back her newspaper. "The point is Creevy's murder wasn't random and even
though we'd anticipated this, Pansy's murder dashes our theory that only muggle-borns would be targets."

"Fucking hell," Draco breathed as he reached for his file on Creevy's case.

"I'll need you to be very thorough with the Traces," Mafalda told him, her professional tone slipping into place.

"You know as well as I do they won't reveal anything," Draco growled in frustration. "If the wizard can cast the killing curse
then they can definitely avoid the Trace-

"All the same," the witch eyed him, understanding his irritation. "Just be extra diligent when Shacklebolt delivers the

"Fine," the young Malfoy groaned, knowing his efforts would be in vain.

"The Ministry is warning all muggle-borns and reformed Death Eaters to be on alert," Mafalda explained as she adjusted
herself in her seat. "I need you to get a list of all the ex-Death Eaters to Shacklebolt as soon as you can. There are
potential victims and killers on that list."

"You realise I'm in that category," Draco reminded her with an unimpressed glance.

"Then I'm sure the Ministry want me to warn you to be careful," the witch grinned at him. "Don't worry Draco I'm sure you
have proven yourself enough to not be a suspect-

"That wasn't my concern," Draco rolled his eyes at her. "Are any measures being taken for safety?"

"Come now, Malfoy," Mafalda regarded him with a hint of amusement. "You are a perfectly capable wizard-

"And from what I recall, so was Pansy," Draco remarked honestly.

"All I know is that the Aurors are involved," the witch told him with another shrug. "And a few who were on foreign
business have been called back."

"That means Potter will be returning then," Draco groaned in realisation. He very rarely saw Aurors anyway as the
departments tended to keep to themselves but he'd been rather pleased knowing his old nemesis was in another
country. He doubted the rivalry between them would ever completely simmer, and he hadn't seen Potter in four years to
understand how Potter thought about him now. He didn't particularly care but he figured, with a smirk, it would be an
interesting experience.

"Yes, Harry Potter was mentioned," Mafalda seemed to be recalling her earlier discussion with Shacklebolt. "And his
friend should be returning too."

"Brilliant," Draco rolled his eyes at that information. "There are too many bloody Weasleys in London."

"No, not Weasley," Mafalda shook her head, closing her eyes as she tried to concentrate on her memory of the meeting.
"The girl."

"Granger?" Draco confirmed, raising his eyebrows in slight surprise. "I didn't know she was an Auror."

"Yes," the witch nodded. "She's been here a few times but she's been doing a lot of research work for the Ministry in

"Well the research bit certainly makes more sense," Draco commented as he recalled the bookworm from his Hogwarts
days. "That girl had a love affair with books. Never thought she'd turn into an Auror."
"She's a very good one apparently," Mafalda revealed with a thoughtful grin. "But from what I hear the woman does take a
more studious approach to her job that the others."

"She's a muggle-born," Draco commented with a lowered brow. He remembered a time when the word 'Mudblood'
would have so easily passed his lips. "Doesn't it seem a little counter-productive to bring her back when there's a
sympathiser wandering around London?"

"Well from what I can gather, the Ministry are concerned about her," Mafalda lowered her tone a little. "She is possibly the
most famous Muggle-born after her participation in the war and they think she's at a high risk. Same for Potter seeing as
he killed Voldermort-

"So why the hell bring them back to the country?" Draco questioned, genuinely confused by the Ministry's reasoning.

"There's more protection here," Mafalda rolled her eyes at her colleague's ignorance. "Plus there have been a few
attacks on Muggle-borns and ex-Death Eaters outside of London in the past few months and the Ministry thinks they
could be linked. I think there was one in Berlin-

"Attacks?" Malfoy repeated. "I don't remember any attacks."

"Only the Aurors were informed," Mafalda explained with a small pout of disagreement. "I'm not really sure what the
reasoning was behind that."

"I see," Draco mulled over this new data in his mind. "Anything else?"

"Well the Ministry implied that the Aurors might be doing some work with us," the witch revealed with a shrug. "But that's
hardly new, you've worked with a few of them before. But apart from that I don't really know much more."

"Right," Draco nodded, resting his chin against the back on his hand.

"I'll leave you to it," Mafalda rose from her seat. "Make sure you check those Traces meticulously, Draco. And do some
research on what the Death Eaters have been doing in the past few months. You'll also be receiving a list of Muggle-
borns who were active against the Dark Lord to try and establish any connection. It's going to be a busy time for us."

"Joy," Draco sighed sarcastically as he went back to his earlier paperwork. Mafalda left him alone for the rest of the day
as he, as asked, carefully examined the Traces once they were given to him. He worked an hour longer than he'd
planned to, double-checking that there really wasn't anything he could comment on that could indicate anything of

At seven in the evening he'd decided that there was little more he could do and Flooed to Malfoy Manor. He had noted
more with each visit that his former home was eerily quiet these days, despite his mother's countless visitors. He found
her alone in the drawing room, waving her wand to raise some pictures on her new mint-coloured walls.

"You're a little late," Narcissa commented when she spotted her son.

"Busy day at the Ministry," Draco commented as he took a seat on one if his mother's new couches.

"Yes I read about your friend," the witch admitted with a grave tone. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Draco rolled his eyes. "I hadn't spoken to Pansy in years-

"I know, but still," Narcissa frowned at her son's stoic face. "It must have been a bit of a shock."

"I was a little surprised," Draco reluctantly admitted. "I guess you read about the Ministry thinking there is a Voldemort
sympathiser possibly targeting muggle-borns and old Death Eaters too?"

"I did," the witch confirmed, pausing when her son gave her a strange look. "What?"

"You be careful," the younger Malfoy warned his mother. "Our name is probably the most famous when you think of ex-
Death Eaters and you're not very good at keeping a low profile, mother."

"Yes," his mother nodded in agreement. "Rita and a few of her friends helped me set up some extra wards on the house
but I'm sure it's nothing to worry about. This isn't the first Voldemort sympathiser and the Ministry have been good with
these kind of things in the past-

"Still, just keep an eye out," Draco told his mother, wondering why the hell she would trust that vile Rita Skeeter with her
protection. He would put up a few extra wards himself before he left. "What the fuck was Rita doing here?"
"Language, Draco," Narcissa scolded her son with little force. "And she popped round to fill me in on the Pansy incident."

Draco fought hard not to make another derogatory comment about his mother's choice of companion. At least she'd had
some company. He had a feeling Snape would be making a visit soon also to ensure his mother was well-protected.
The man had surprisingly stayed in contact with his family since the war and he was quite grateful for that. If nothing else
because he was a capable wizard and was one of the few men who hadn't tried to jump into his mother's trousers since
his father had died. His obsession with Potter's mother seemed to be an eternal issue for the strange man.

"Go on then," Draco grinned as his mother almost tripped over a box on the floor. "Tell me all your gossip, I know you're
dying to."

"Well I'm actually a little low on news," Narcissa admitted with a sad sigh. "Although I do know that Harry Potter and
Hermione Granger are returning to London soon."

"I already know that," Draco smirked at his little victory. "The Ministry think they'll be safer here."

"They're probably right," his mother nodded.

"I don't suppose you know why Weasley's not included in their little trip back to London?" Draco questioned his mother,
ever curious about the favourite trio from Hogwarts. It was times like these he was pleased his mother had an esteemed
place in the wizard-gossip world.

"He's not an Auror," his mother offered simply. "Last I heard he was working for his brother with the dragons. Weasley
was hardly the brightest boy. I think I would have more chance of becoming an Auror."

"And what have the other two been doing?" Draco asked absentmindedly, conjuring a beer and taking a light sip.

"Well Harry got involved with the Weasley sister but I forget her name," his mother frowned as she tried to recall. "And
Hermione has just been all over Europe from what I can gather, working for the Ministry. She's still a complete bookworm
from what I hear, although someone did tell me she's come into her own."

"What?" Draco asked his mother, not really sure what she meant by that statement.

"She's a bit of a looker now, apparently," the Malfoy female elaborated. "But I heard all this a while ago when she was on
one of her visits to the Ministry, no one has really seen her for a year or so."

"You remember gossip from a year ago?" Draco asked his mother with an unsure look on his face.

"Well you tend to remember the details of people who were tortured in your house," Narscissa rose her brow at her son,
and he knew to drop the subject. It was still an awkward topic for his mother, and he had no desire to broach the subject
either. "Why are you so interested in them?" His mother quirked an eyebrow at her son.

"Mafalda mentioned that they might be involved on the case," the blond described. "Which means I might be working with

"Well that will end in tears," Narcissa commented with a smile. "I know you've changed and everything, Draco, but you
two are never going to get along. And didn't you bully the girl in Hogwarts too? I will never forgive your father for
introducing you to that horrible word you used to call her-

"I was a kid," Draco justified his actions with a defensive snort. "You were hardly an angel."

"Point taken," his mother nodded "But I did save Potter's life."

"I may have to remind him of that if things turn a little sour," Draco creased his brow in thought. "I don't think he'll be as
accepting as the Ministry-

"Well just remain professional and mature," his mother advised him with uncharacteristic wisdom. "You owe the Ministry
that much. And don't turn back into the brat you were in school."

"Well it might not even happen," Draco reminded his mother. "Although I am a little curious about the repercussions if it
did. I doubt Potter is in love with the idea-

"Speaking of love," his mother started with a mischievous grin. "How did your date go with Poppy? Isn't she lovely? I'm
such a good matchmaker-

"Not going to happen," Draco stopped his mother's self-praising rant. "She's dull and irritating. The bitch wouldn't shut up
about her job at Wicked Witches. I've never even heard about that magazine-

"Well it's a good one," his mother frowned. "And don't call her a bitch, Draco. She was a decent young lady."

"She was a waste of my time and money," Draco informed his mother. "Her only purpose was to serve as further proof
that your matchmaking skills are fucking awful-

"Language," his mother reprimanded him again, her tone lower this time. "Did you at least give her a chance?"

"It took me less than ten minutes to know the woman was going to be a bore," Draco informed his mother with an
agitated expression.

"There must have been something you liked about her?" Narcissa eyed her son hopefully and he couldn't stop the smirk
that stole his lips.

"Well," Malfoy started as he leant back a little further in the couch. "She could do the cool thing with her tongue-

"Draco!" His mother instantly felt a flush rise in her cheeks. "That's quite enough! Merlin, you can be so crude!"

"You asked," Draco told her with a shrug as he finished off his beer and rose from his seat. He rose from his seat and
offered his mother a small peck on the cheek.

"You're leaving already?" Narcissa asked sadly, always reluctant to see her son leave.

"Things are hectic at the Ministry at the moment," Draco explained, setting up a few extra wards while his mother waited.
To be fair to Rita, the wards seemed quite stable so he only did a couple of adjustments. "Plus I didn't get much sleep
last night and that's technically your fault."

"Draco, don't make a mother smack her twenty-two-year-old son," Narcissa cringed at her only child's words. "I'll owl you

"Fine," the young wizard nodded at his mother as he headed back to the fireplace in the other room. "Be careful."

With that said, the young Malfoy Flooed to his home and went straight to his room to catch up on his deprived sleep. He
knew his next few weeks at work would most likely involve a few late nights and he was going to indulge in as much
sleep as he possibly could. He considered his possible tasks for tomorrow and also wondered when exactly Potter and
his little friend would make an appearance at the Ministry. Mafalda had never specified when they would be back in
London and he couldn't dent his curiosity about his old rival. His new opinions and life after the war had come with a
higher tolerance but he had a feeling Potter would be exempt from that. Some things never changed.

a/n: How did I do…be nice please…? Also for those of you who read my DBZ fanfics please do not worry I am working on
chapters for both Forbidden and Release Me which will be up soon…I just had to get this idea down! Please R+R!
Wondering how I peg as a HP writer so feedback would be nice and much appreciated!!

*Chapter 2*: Meetings


Chapter 2: Meetings

Draco had anticipated that the Ministry would be busy for the remainder of the week, but when another murder occurred
on the Friday, everything seemed to go into overload. Theodore Nott was found with the similar V carved into his chest on
the Friday morning. The man had been on his way to his job as a Quidditch coach for younger wizards when he'd been
struck with the killing curse. It had somehow been carried out with no witnesses down one of the alleys branching off
Knocktern Alley. It had been around six in the morning, and the streets had been quiet, but not for long. The press had
practically orgasmed and were currently forming a small army outside the Ministry with enough questions to fluster a pit
of solicitors.

Draco had already seen Shacklebolt indulging in a premature Firewhiskey to settle his nerves. The pressure on the
Ministry was almost heavy enough to drown the man and the young Malfoy had audibly growled when he'd seen the
tower of parchments waiting on his desk. Draco had only taken ten minutes to himself in the day to owl his mother and
Blaise, warning them to be alert and contact him if anything seemed slightly off. He could always hide them out in his
office if it was necessary. He had demanded that they both stock up on extra Floo powder and constantly check the
wards on their homes. From what he could gather Pansy and Creevy, both seemingly careless, hadn't bothered with
wards, and Nott had been killed on a street so he'd reasoned that perhaps they could work. He'd been working a steady
five hours when a knock interrupted his thoughts.

"Alohomora," Draco muttered, knowing it would be Mafalda checking his progress. He didn't even bother removing his
eyes from his documents as the woman's familiar high-heels snapped into his office. "What is it, Mafalda?"

"You need to have some lunch," the old witch told him with more force than concern. "Why don't you work on some of the
under-age wizard cases to have a break from all this-

"You know I can't stand dealing with teenage morons," Draco scowled at the woman. He very rarely helped her with that
side of the department and he had no intention of altering his work.

"All the same," Mafalda continued, eyeing the younger man sternly. "I think you should eat something."

"Noted," Draco rolled his eyes at her prolonged intrusion. "But I have to get these finished for Shacklebolt before I leave-

"No you don't," the witch argued, tucking one of her greying strands behind her ear. "You can work on these over the
weekend and bring them in on Monday."

"I'm fine," Draco told the woman squarely. "How are you getting on with your files?"

"It's a slow process," the woman admitted with a sigh as she collapsed in his chair. "I had to forward some stuff to the
Department of Magical Transportation. They're having a slow week so I managed to convince a few of them to give us a

"Was that wise?" Draco questioned, eyeing the witch curiously. "They seem a bit incapable over there."

"It's nothing too difficult," Mafalda assured him. "It's mainly just organising the paperwork."

"Your call," Draco conceded, hoping that would be the end of their discussion. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes," the older witch started hesitantly. "Harry Potter will be joining us on Monday and we'll be having a meeting with him
and Shacklebolt."

"Right," the blond wizard nodded, waiting for her to elaborate.

"Well I know that you two have a … colourful history," Mafalda pointed out the obvious with an awkwardness to her tone.
"Shacklebolt told me to warn you to be behave yourself-

"I'm perfectly old enough to act professionally," Draco reminded her, his voice showing his offence at her doubt. "I'm a lot
more mature than you give me credit for-
"I have no doubt that you are a responsible adult," Mafalda argued her young colleague. "It was simply a message that
Shacklebolt asked me to pass on."

"Fine," the Malfoy heir sighed, suddenly resenting Shacklebolt for his lack of faith in his professionalism.

"Also," the witch resumed, watching his face closely to see if he was listening. "If the Ministry decides that the Aurors will
be working on the case with us then it will be you who deals with them mostly. I have enough on my plate, and as my

"I figured that would be the case," Draco admitted with a shrug, and he eyed the witch with a stoic expression. "Don't
worry, Mafalda. I'll play nice with Potter."

"Well you might not have to," his colleague offered with a smile. "Shacklebolt will decide after the meeting on Monday. I'd
just suggest you do some preparation about your work for the meeting."

"Will do," Draco affirmed with a nod. "Can I get on with my work now?"

"Of course," Mafalda nodded before she got up and left him alone. Draco released the groan he'd been suppressing and
leaned back in his chair. He rubbed his silver eyes with his palms and sucked in some air rough his tense lips. As if
dealing with his increasing workload wasn't pressing enough, now he had to deal with a meeting with Potter. He could
already feel the tension building his neck as he considered it. He smirked to himself though, knowing if nothing else it
would be an entertaining experience. He was pretty certain he would be able keep his competitive remarks to a
minimum, but then he was hardly known for keeping his temper controlled. And Potter himself had lost his own temper
quite a few times if he recalled correctly. Then again, he had changed substantially in four years, it was probable
wonder-boy had too.

Draco's weekend had been submerged in a mist of work, but he had at least managed a decent amount of sleep. He
had had a brief visit from Blaise on the Sunday and the pair of Slytherins had discussed the morbid events of the last few
weeks and then had a decent chuckle about Draco's impending meeting with the Gryffindor golden-boy. Blaise had
cackled like it was Christmas and had begged Draco to somehow magically record the meeting so he could watch, what
was guaranteed to be, a very amusing spectacle. They had only shared a couple of drinks when the Malfoy had sent the
Zabini home so he could continue his work. If he had to waste a couple of hours at a meeting then he wanted to get a
head start on his tasks for Monday.

When he Flooed to work the next day, the Ministry was twice as bad as it had been on Friday. There were more parasite-
press trying to break in, desperate to have words with Potter and get more information on the murders. Inside the
departments, the witches and wizards were scurrying around like testy insects, all trying impress the-boy-who-lived while
still coping with their extra work concerning the killings. The pureblood wizard rolled his eyes at his colleagues as they
flitted around like mindless morons with more pace than sense.

They formed an obstacle course to Mafalda's office and after crashing into a few wizards he realised he would probably
be a couple of minutes late, which put him in a very foul mood. When he burst into Mafalda's room without knocking she
eyed him with a forced impatience.

"Don't start," Draco warned the woman as he took one of the free seats around her table. He noted that only Shacklebolt
was with them and he wondered where Potter was.

"Good morning, Draco," Shacklebolt sighed, and Draco noted how weary the man looked. The Voldermort sympathiser
was clearly having an exhausting effect on the wizard. "Harry Potter should be here in a moment."

The blond contemplated a sarcastic comment about his old rival but decided against it. It was too early for his wit to be at
its best. He blanked out his two older colleagues as they started some small-talk about the audacity of the press. He
reminded himself to ask his mother what Rita Skeeter had uncovered about the case, and also remind his mother that
anything he told her had to remain secret from the bitch, although it had never really mattered. Skeeter always managed
to find out first. They only had to wait a few extra moments before Potter finally joined them and Draco couldn't help but
stare at his Hogwarts enemy. He noted first that the man's glasses had disappeared and his hair was more tamed than
it had been the last time he'd seen him. Aside from that, not much had changed and Draco tried his hardest not to note
the wizard's scruffy, navy robes and comment on them. The Auror had more than enough money to afford some decent
"Potter," Shacklebolt welcomed the celebrity with a wide smile. "Take a seat and we'll get this started."

"Thank you," the wizard replied, taking the furthest seat possible away from Draco, which did not go unnoticed by the
blond. "Sorry I'm late, it's a little hectic out there."

"Indeed," the Minister for Magic sighed. "I won't be present for the whole of this meeting. I have to deal with the chaos

"Good luck," Draco breathed, shuffling through some his notes.

"Quite," the oldest wizard agreed, suddenly very aware of the tension between the two young males. "I'll say my piece and
then I shall be on my way. I am simply here to remind you that despite your previous quarrels I expect decorum should I
decide you will be helping each other with the case. I have enough problems here without having to concern myself with
a revived rivalry between you two."

Draco nodded in understanding at the man's words while Potter remained completely still. Mafalda eyed Draco for a
moment with a smile tugging at her lips and Shacklebolt simply continued, hoping his words would have some effect on
the two wizards.

"We have more pressing issues than your pasts," Shacklebolt resumed his little lecture, rubbing his dark hands
together. "This has been prioritised in all departments but particularly yours and I will accept nothing but professionalism
on your both your parts. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," Harry nodded, offering the older wizard a brief grin.

"Sure," Draco exhaled, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs.

"Good," the Minister smiled, rising from his seat and leaving the other three wizards in a suspended silence. Mafalda's
eyes darted between the two warily as the silence grew painful.

"Right," the witch started slowly, frowning when both males still refused to speak. "Draco why don't you inform Harry what
we've been working on-

"That isn't necessary," Harry stopped the woman. "If our departments are allowed to work together then it will be
Hermione working on the case with you. This is more her comfort zone than mine."

"Granger?" Draco confirmed, allowing his confusion to show.

"Yes," Potter nodded, his face turning serious for a second. "And if I hear that you have even muttered the word
'Mudblood' then I-

"Mr. Potter," Mafalda interrupted before Draco could. "I can assure you that Draco's previous prejudices are gone. And I
don't care if your trying to make a point, you will not use that word inside the Ministry."

"I think you should tell him that," Potter argued the witch, and Draco eyed the woman with hidden gratitude for jumping to
his defence.

"Well I have complete faith that Draco will be nothing but professional with Miss Granger," Mafalda continued, looking to
Draco of some kind of input.

"Why are you putting Granger on this case, Potter?" Draco questioned, trying not let his distaste for the other wizard

"You know she's the clever one," Harry shrugged, although there was still some threat behind his words. "And there
seems to be a great deal of research involved which would suit her just fine."

"There is," Draco confirmed with a slight nod. "So why isn't she here instead of you?"

"She got held up with something else," Harry explained, still eyeing his rival warily. "She'll be here tomorrow to meet with
you but she told me to ask if you would owl her some of your notes so she could get started."

"I'll do that after this meeting," Malfoy agreed, making a few extra notes on a particular page.

"And I meant what I said, Malfoy," Harry stated in a low tone, locking eyes with his old nemesis. "If you give her any
trouble, I will-
"I have no intention of giving Granger any grief," Draco rolled his eyes at the dark-haired wizard. He wasn't in the mood for
Potter's pathetic threats. "And I'm sure if I did she would be capable of defending herself."

"She is definitely capable," Harry agreed. "I think myself and the some the other Aurors will be taking a different approach
and we've discussed trying to track the killer. I know Hermione would much rather handle the intellectual side of this. I'm
also aware that she's a muggle-born so I think it's best she stay as close to the Ministry as possible considering the

"You don't think you're at risk Mr. Potter?" Mafalda asked him, resting her chin her hand.

"Everyone who was attacked or has been killed has been a muggle-born or a Death Eater," Harry reminded the other two
occupants of the office. "I don't think this is leading to a war, I think the killer is just trying to get the point across-

"Well then surely killing you would be the best way to do that," Draco responded coldly. "You honestly don't think you're at
risk, Potter?"

"No," the young wizard shook his head. "The killer seems to be sticking to the two categories and I will constantly be on
the move anyway with some of the others. I also need to tell you that the Auror Office received a letter this morning, that
we think, was from the killer."

Draco's eyes widened at that statement. Why didn't they know about that?

"What did it say?" Mafalda pushed Potter for information.

"Not much," Harry admitted. "It was pretty much a little rant about Death Eaters being traitors and muggle-borns polluting
our world. Shacklebolt told me to keep it in the Auror Office until the end of the meeting, just in case one of the papers got
wind of it."

"I'm going to need a copy of that letter," Draco demanded, evidently pissed off that it had been kept from him.

"Alright," Harry still eyed Draco warily.

"Is there anything else your department have kept from us?" Draco asked, not hiding his irritation with the secrecy.

"Hermione has the full details of the attacks that took place before Creevy's murder," Harry provided. "Apart from that
there is nothing else."

"Good to know," Mafalda sighed, jotting down some notes. "Draco, is there anything you'd like to add?"

"No," Draco answered simply, eyeing the man across the table with returning notions of dislike.

"Okay, then I think we can leave it at that," Mafalda smiled, rising from her seat to shake Potter's hand. "Thank you, Harry."

"Your welcome," the wizard smiled at the woman, before his lips formed back into a straight line as his eyes landed on
Draco. "Hermione will come see you at some point tomorrow to start dealing with this. Do not take my earlier comments
lightly, Malfoy." Harry didn't say anything else as he made a quick exit out of the witch's office and left the two colleagues
to their business.

"Well, that was tense," Mafalda commented to her companion with a frown as she settled back in her chair. "But I do
appreciate your composure, Draco. He was out of line with some of his words."

"I can't believe we weren't informed about that letter," Draco muttered, evidently annoyed.

"Yes, I will have to ask Kingsley about that," Mafalda promised, and Draco noticed for the first time that the woman only
referred to the Minister's first name when she was a little agitated with him.

"I forgot how much Potter irritated me," the young blond commented. "He always was a few steps behind when it came to

"Well at least you don't have to work with him," Mafalda reminded him. "I've met Hermione a couple of times and she's a
very reasonable-

"You don't understand," Draco chuckled to himself. "If there was one person who hated me more than Potter, it was

"Well she sounds bright enough," the witch shrugged. "I'm sure she'll be fine."
"I suppose it could have been worse," Draco remarked as he rose from his seat. "It could have been Weasley."

After owling some documents for Granger, Draco had immediately marched over to the Auror Office and demanded a
copy of the letter after being told that the original was being checked for the obvious spells and charms. It was pretty
much a given that the sender would have used a charm to disguise their writing. It was only after a rather dull and
unnecessary talk with Shacklebolt that Draco was permitted a replica of the letter's contents and he had waited until he
was safely in his office before he had studied the parchment. He cast the imperturbable charm on his door before he
started to read the letter.

To whom it may concern, I'm glad that the Ministry aren't a complete waste of time and have successfully guessed my
intentions. The Death Eaters should have either b een sent to Azkab an or died for their cause b ut the traitors are trying to
live normal lives after b etraying the Dark Lord. It just won't do. This is allowing more Mudb loods into our world, so I have
decided to take the pest-control into my own hands. Whilst I'm sure you will b e disgusted b y my methods I know that you
are secretly grateful for my cleansing. I am simply doing what must b e done. However, if you think for one moment this
will make it easier to catch me, then you are mistaken. You will hear from me again soon.

"Pleasant little fucker aren't you?" Draco muttered to himself, putting the letter to one side with an agitated snarl.

There was nothing there, no telling grammatical errors or interesting phrases that could possibly distinguish the writer's
district or the hereditary traits of some families who believed in the pureblood superiority complex. Just like his family. It
was short and sweet, confirming some suspicions about the motives behind the murders, but otherwise extremely
vague and frustrating. Draco had expected some subconscious hints at the very least, but there was nothing. Hell, it
could have been written by anyone for some foolish kick.

The letter hadn't even been signed by an alias, something mocking criminals often did in his experience just to get that
extra little sip of superiority. More often than not it was the aliases that gave them away, and Draco silently appreciated
the intelligence behind the lack of a signature. Five years ago he would have been shaking this person's hand for the
motivation behind the tasks, and a small part of him wondered if any of his old thoughts about blood superiority were a
little teased by the letter's section on muggle-borns. He was pretty positive those notions had dissipated quite a while
ago but he couldn't help but imagine his seventeen-year-old self having a hearty chuckle at the words in the letter.

But he was simply frustrated with it, rereading the words until he could almost remember them. It was odd though. The
killer had confessed what they'd suspected. He had told them who the targets were, and yet Draco didn't feel threatened
at all. Call it denial or arrogance but the Malfoy heir knew he was a bloody good wizard and his time at the Ministry
provided him with protection. No, he wasn't concerned for himself. He was a little anxious about his mother and even
Blaise but more than anything he was just angry that he was getting nowhere with this. If there was one thing Draco still
had in common with his younger self, it was his competitive nature.

He hated losing, and he knew he always would. It wasn't an option. It was a family trait and, he reluctantly admitted, was
probably the main reason him and his family had switched sides in the war. Malfoy's were never beaten. Only when his
family realised that the Dark Lord was losing did they decide to join Potter and his team of do-gooders.

Of course it had all worked out well in the end and he'd never once regretted that decision to abandon Voldermort. If
anything he regretted his seventh year at Hogwarts and how easily manipulated he'd been, although he would never
admit that to anyone who dared to ask. But at least the events had encouraged Draco to think for himself now. That
combined with an Azkaban threat had certainly kicked his arse into gear.

He went home with a lot of tension in his back and neck and had managed to sort himself out with a quick date for the
evening. The half-blood was an attractive witch with loose morals and a looser skirt. Perfect for releasing some
frustration. The woman had, however, been rather insatiable, meaning he'd only managed to escape her house at five in
the morning. All his attempts to regain a decent sleeping pattern went to hell and he knew he'd have to wait until the
weekend to try and get it back on track. And of course, his little sex-session had made him late for work.

He woke up ten minutes before he was due to start and by the time he had gotten ready and gathered all his work for his
meeting with Granger, he was twenty minutes late. When he Flooed to work he knew he'd probably forgotten something
and he cursed to himself all the way to his office. He didn't even acknowledge his secretary, and Tilly wisely decided not
to bombard him with cheerful welcomes once she saw how agitated he was.

"Just send her in when she comes," Draco muttered as he passed her desk, knowing Tilly had been informed about his
meeting. He didn't wait for a confirmation that she'd heard what he'd said and threw his briefcase with a huff of fury by his
desk once inside his room. He used magic to quickly sort some of the mess in his office after his activities with the letter
yesterday. He opened his briefcase and started organising some of his paperwork when he realised something.

His expected guest was late. Hermione fucking-perfection Granger was late. And for some reason he acknowledged that
he'd been somewhat…curious about this meeting. Not anxious mind, just a little uneasy. It wasn't a desire of his to show
the witch he'd changed mind you. No. It was more that the last thing he wanted was to come across like his younger self.
The last thing he needed was the muggle-born thinking he was the same arrogant and prejudiced prick he'd been back
then. They needed to work together, and she'd probably be reluctant enough without him looking unorganised. And he
certainly didn't want to prove Potter right by looking like an idiot on their first meeting.

But it was her who was absent. It was her who had decided that this meeting wasn't important enough to show up on
time. The former victim of his skilful bullying at Hogwarts was not in his office for whatever reason. The thought had
barely left a mark on his memory when he heard three loud knocks on his door. He raked his angry fingers through his
light hair, untamed by his normal products due to his rushed morning.

"Come in," he growled impatiently, wondering if it had been loud enough for her to hear. He turned his back to the door
and went back to sorting a few of his papers as he heard the door open.

"Draco," he heard a familiar voice and he rose an eyebrow when he realised it was Mafalda who was disturbing his

"What are you doing here?" He asked the witch with his eyebrow still high.

"I just thought I'd let you know Miss Granger is going to be a bit late-

"I had noticed," Draco responded with a snort.

"Is there a reason you're so snappy today?" Mafalda asked him, knowing he wouldn't respond. "If I was you I'd try and
calm yourself a little before she arrives-

"When exactly will she be arriving?" Draco questioned, using his wand to arrange the rest of his notes.

"I'm not sure," the old witch replied with a shrug. "I'll leave you to it."

Draco simply nodded and his eyes went down to his work, listening for the door to know she's left. He hadn't been alone
two minutes when he heard it open again and he released an irritated breath as he continued to go over his work.

"Were you planning on disturbing me a lot today?" Draco asked, who he assumed was Mafalda, and he refused to raise
his eyes from his desk.

"Well if it was up to me I wouldn't be here in the first place," a controlled and feminine tone answered him.

Draco's head snapped up to register the witch just closing his door behind her and he caught his surprise before it
could register on his face. His breath still gathered in his throat though, and he forced out a cough to avoid any betraying
noises. His face formed into a quick mask of indifference, almost a defensive mechanism.

"Granger," he nodded towards her as she neared his desk. Some aristocratic whisper at the back of his brain told him to
politely rise from his seat but he quickly disregarded it. Instead he just eyed her with suppressed memories of his taunts
at Hogwarts and watched the witch before him with silent notions of disbelief. Fuck, she had changed. A lot. He was still
waiting for her to speak, and he contemplated repeating her surname in case she hadn't heard him. But the frown on her
lips twitched a little and he locked his lips together to let her respond. Her mouth opened a little, and her lower lip
quivered slightly, and he realised it was due to nerves. He didn't care though, he just needed her to speak. The silence
was uncomfortable enough, and the longer it stretched, the heavier it felt. Her tongue jerked inside her mouth and he
silently thanked Merlin that she was going to break the quiet.

"Malfoy," she breathed finally and she eyed him with that familiar intolerance he'd seen so often at Hogwarts. "Long time,
no see."

a/n: Hope you enjoyed the chapter! Please Read and Review because I'm other nervous about this fic and I'd like to get
some feedback as it's my first HP fic! And I hope that I'm just doing an okay job! Also I realise that Snape died in the book
but I want him to be alive for this so for the sake of this fic he's alive and well! Thanks for your time!

*Chapter 3*: Arguments


Chapter 3: Arguments

Draco eyed the woman before him with a lot of thoughts running through his head. He analyzed her muggle attire,
consisting of a tight, navy skirt, a long-sleeved, cream blouse and small patent heels. He thought back to those
unflattering jeans and sweaters she had always worn in Hogwarts and decided that she had subscribed to some of
those awful fashion magazines his mother worshiped. Still, the look was certainly an improvement. Her travels in Europe
had had an obvious effect on her appearance, and he noted her hair was a little lighter, and her skin had a sun-stained

The effects of puberty, although somewhat late, had certainly changed her body and he realised he had half expected her
to look identical to the girl he'd known and despised at Hogwarts. But she was a woman, and a woman who actually
didn't look half bad. She was far from a striking stunner but she would have no problem turning a few heads. And it
certainly helped that her once vile and bushy mane, that he had so consistently taunted, had been tamed into a set of
half-decent curls. But the frown was the same, and her lips were pursed with that familiar hatred he had so often seen at
Hogwarts. Yes, it turned out his mother had been correct yet again. The woman had certainly come into her own.

"You know," she broke his thoughts, and he noted she was simply standing there, watching him like he was a virus. "If
someone had told me that you would end up working for the Ministry and I would have to work with you one day, I would
have laughed in their face."

"Yes, well," Draco sighed, finding no humour to her tone. "It was hardly planned-

"If you put one foot wrong," Hermione started, her voice laced with malice. "I will have you kicked off this case, Malfoy. I
don't care if you have supposedly changed, the Ministry is on my side. You still have a reputation and I will not let you
jeopardize this case."

"Are you done?" Draco asked her, suddenly finding all his taunts at Hogwarts justified.

"I mean it, Malfoy," the young witch promised him. "I will not put up with any shit from you."

"I never asked you to," the blond wizard growled, more than a little agitated with her words. "I never asked for you and I to
do this together-

"Well believe me when I say I protested," Hermione snapped at him, clutching her files a little closer to her chest. "This is
going to be a disaster-

"Well you're hardly helping right now," Draco stopped her, eyeing her with impatience. "Why don't you just take a seat,

She seemed to consider his request for unnecessary minutes, staring openly at him like he would pounce on her the
second she took a seat. She placed the files she'd been holding on his desk and slowly settled herself in the chair. Her
body was stiff with suspicion and her hands were tightly clasped in her lap. She held his eyes for a moment before she
looked away to something insignificant on his wall.

"You've done well," Hermione commented finally, earning her a confused glare from her companion. "I went over your
notes last night and I can tell you've worked hard on this."

"It's my job," Draco replied honestly, resting his chin on his palm.

"I know that," Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "I just figured we should get stared with this."

"Agreed," the blond hesitantly nodded, still eyeing her with distrust.

"Well," the witch started, finding this possibly the most awkward incident in her life. "What are your initial thoughts?"

"On the killer?" Draco asked her, accepting her nod before he continued. "You've seen the documents, Granger. It's pretty
obvious who his targets are-
"His?" Hermione stopped him, taking some parchments and jotting down some notes. "You think it's-

"I have no idea if the killer is female or male," Draco explained. "But for the sake of discussion I will refer to him as a

"Okay," the witch nodded, tilting her head to the side for a moment. "You were saying?"

"Muggle-borns and Death Eaters," the Malfoy heir breathed, and he was suddenly very ware of the sound of his own
voice. She was a lot quieter than expected. "The Traces seem a little redundant, the killer is clearly capable of doing
things undetected-

"Well then perhaps we should consider the possibility that this was someone who wasn't given a Trace," Hermione
offered thoughtfully.

"I have considered that, Granger," Draco snorted at her suggestion. "But I would rather rule out everyone on the list
before we started going on a huge hunt for a random wizard,"

"Point taken," Hermione muttered between her teeth, clearly agitated with his logic. "It was just an observation."

"Well it's already been made," Draco told her coldly, a little irritated that she would think he hadn't considered that the
killer could be someone random.

"Fine," the witch snapped, and if he thought for one second that her hatred had dissipated, she was proving him wrong.
"Why don't we just go over the list and if we see anything interesting we can talk about it."

"Fine," Draco scowled at her, roughly grabbing one of his sheets to look at. "I see no point in this mindless small talk.
Help yourself to the names, I can assure you that I have gone over it enough times to know there is nothing revealing

"Well forgive me for doubting your capability," Hermione huffed sarcastically, and suddenly he was back at Hogwarts,
arguing with the witch like it was his favourite hobby. "Did you honestly think I would trust your judgement on this?"

"I don't expect anything from you!" Draco couldn't help but rise from his seat, and he towered over with a condescending
bark. "But like it or not we have to work on this together!"

"If you think that means you can boss me around," Hermione rose from her own seat to meet his stance, and for a
moment he thought she was going to slap him. "Then you are fucking wrong, Malfoy! You're little intimidation act doesn't
work outside Hogwarts!"

"Yes, well neither does your self-proclaimed superiority," Draco hissed through his grinding teeth. "But if you want to
have it out like this everyday then-

"Why don't we just go over the papers individually?" Hermione murmured, sitting back down in the chair. "Only speak to
each other about the case and just generally not talk to unless we have to."

"Suits me just fine," Draco growled, casting his eyes down to glare at his notes.

Hermione frowned to herself as she took her own notes and started to analyze them a little too intently. The silence was
far too tense to begin with but she eventually became accustomed to it and they barely spoke for three hours, with only
Hermione's voice penetrating the soundless room when she asked him to pass her some of his notes a few times. She
knew he didn't notice her stealing a few glances at him but she still felt embarrassed every time she did. He looked so
similar to the Malfoy she'd despised at Hogwarts that it was impossible not to see him as that teenager who's ridiculed
her for years. His frosty, blond hair was still framing his pale face and his silver eyes were still hard and cruel. He was a
little taller and he'd filled out a little but more or less he was the reflection of the eighteen-year-old prat she had last seen
four yours ago. It was all too familiar and she didn't like it.

His voice was only a little deeper than it had been but it was still icy and sharp and she congratulated herself for
suggesting they only spoke when it was necessary. It was an odd realisation but the fact that he had changed so little
only tickled her curiosity more. How could his appearance and demeanour remain the same when he had supposedly
changed so much of his beliefs? Until she saw evidence of it herself, she refused to believe this man had any real
intention of helping her. The need to speak was beginning to tease her tongue and her attempts to ignore it proved

"Have you found anything?" Hermione questioned, watching when he reluctantly raised his eyes to her. "I've just finished
and I couldn't find anything abnormal on the trace reports."
"No," he frowned at her, his voice a little husky from being silent too long. "But then I did tell you there wouldn't be

"I needed to check for myself," Hermione sighed, running her fingers though her hair. "I didn't think-

"What happened to your suggestion about not talking?" He asked her suddenly, placing down his work and leaning back
in his chair. "I thought that was the first decent idea you had."

"Well we're going to have to talk eventually," Hermione frowned, sighing like it was the worst thing she could think of.
"There are people at risk-

"Including ourselves," Draco commented with an uncharacteristic contemplation to his tone.

"Precisely," the witch nodded, successfully concealing her anxiety about that fact. "And I would quite like to not get killed.
So do you think you can move past your judgemental comments?"

"Can you?" Draco shot back, and Hermione stiffened at his retort. It was a fair point though. She had jumped down his
throat the moment she'd entered his office. She considered him carefully for a moment, repeating to herself in her head
that he was on her side now. He was a professional and so was she. They were both adults. Surely she could figure out
a way stomach working with him. She figured it would be just as hard for him and she was never one to back down from
a challenge.

"I promise that I will try my hardest," she whispered after a while, and she despised the slight vulnerability in her voice.

"Fine," Draco agreed, and he noted that she seemed to relax a little after that.

"Good," the witch breathed, unsure about what else she could say now. "This doesn't mean I trust you-

"I didn't ask you to trust me," the wizard reminded her with a shrug. "And I certainly don't trust you."

"I doubt you ever could," Hermione offered him a knowing grin, and he fought the urge to smirk back at her. "Let's talk
about this properly then."

"Actually, I was going to ask if you had the details about the attacks," Draco requested, remembering that he had wanted
to check those notes.

"Oh yeah," Hermione nodded, and instantly she turned back into that studious girl he thought her to be. She reached for
one of the files she had brought with her and searched through the contents before offering him a few pages. "Harry
mentioned you hadn't had access to that information-

"Which was bloody ridiculous," he remarked, his resentment clear in his voice. He took the notes from her and
immediately scanned the documents, realising she was waiting for him to finish before she did anything. Her staring
made him feel rather uncomfortable and he hurriedly read through the details of the four incidents.

"What do you think?" She asked him when she figured he was near the end.

"It's all very vague," he stated, refusing to hide his frustration. "No witnesses at all?"

"No," the witch groaned, still agitated herself that the details about the attacks had been so ambiguous. "I managed to
speak to two of the victims. The one in Berlin and the one in Asolo-

"Asolo?" Draco repeated the name, trying to figure out why it sounded familiar. "I recognise that name."

"It's a small town by Venice," Hermione explained with a shrug. "I was working in Rome when it happened. Did you
notice all the victims were-

"Muggle-borns?" Draco finished for her, his eyes still tracing the words on the parchments. "Yes. He would have a hard
time finding any of the old Death Eaters in Europe. The Ministry likes to keep an eye on them so they need special
permission to leave the country."

"That makes sense," Hermione mused, thinking back to her encounters with the victims. "The Imperius and the Crutius
curses were used and all the victims had that V carved into them. He just didn't kill them. If it weren't for that I wouldn't
have thought they were linked-

"He wasn't getting enough attention," Draco remarked with a creased brow. "This was kept too quiet. These attacks were
like a training process for him."
"I agree," the witch nodded, earning her a strange look from the Malfoy heir. "I think we should possibly meet up with
some of the suspects-

"Suspects?" Draco asked her, his restless tone back. "You're treating all the names as suspects?"

"Until I can prove otherwise," Hermione admitted, her own voice skilfully guarded. "Yes."

"You are still so naïve, Granger," Draco chuckled to himself, flicking his eyes over to her like she was barely worth his
breath. "That list should be treated as a list of potential targets-

"Well it's both," the witch groaned at him.

"No," Draco scowled her, shifting in his seat. "The killer might not even be on that list but thetargets definitely are-

"My main priority is finding out who killed those people-

"Well you should also consider protecting those who are innocent-

"Innocent?" Hermione snorted, tossing her hair over he shoulder for dramatic effect. "You said yourself that the killer was
most likely on the list-

"I'm aware of that," Draco growled darkly. "But a lot of the people on that sheet are there by association or family ties
alone. Pansy and Theodore weren't particularly active during the war but he killed them anyway-

"They were active enough," Hermione argued. "They were still Death Eaters-

"They never killed anyone," Draco defended his old schoolmates. "In fact I would bet they never even used one of the

"They were still Death Eaters, Malfoy," the witch reminded him. "And the Ministry obviously saw them as a threat or you
wouldn't be keeping an eye on them-

"Only because of who their parents were!" Draco shouted, slamming his fist on his desk. "You can't ignore their safety
because their families made some mistakes-

"Since when do you give a shit Malfoy?"

"I don't," Draco assured her. "But you should. Protecting the innocent and all that crap was your kind of scene. I know
some of the people on that list and you can't just suspect everyone because they had fucked up parents. You're meant to
be shortening the list-

"What about revenge?" Hermione asked him, raising her voice a little to match his aggression. "Someone could be
seriously pissed off that their parents died and is blaming the Death Eaters for abandoning the cause. It certainly
wouldn't be the first time someone had tried to avenge their family-

"I know that's possible," Draco snarled at her, agitated that she was implying he hadn't considered all these things.
"Anything could be possible, we don't have anything to go on-

"Then as far as I'm concerned," Hermione's words were sharp and controlled. "It's possible that anyone on that list could
be the killer-

"Fine!" Draco snapped. "Why don't we just do fuck all and wait until they're all dead?! We'll wait for one to be left and we'll
just decide that's the killer-

"Don't be so childish," the witch rolled her eyes at him. "They were still Death Eaters, Draco, you can't just grow out of all
the evil breeding-

"How the fuck would you know?" Draco's eyes narrowed dangerously and Hermione instantly realised her mistake.

"Malfoy," the witch muttered reluctantly. "I understand that you have cha-

"Save me your apologies," Draco scowled at her, rising from his seat.

"Where are you going?" Hermione questioned, watching him leave her alone in his office. His feet marched heavily over
his floor and the witch grimaced with every loud thud that echoed in his large room. She was pretty certain he wasn't
going to answer her and moaned at the back of her throat.
"Lunch," Malfoy stated simply before he slammed his door behind him, leaving the young witch to release a rough breath
of anger at his behaviour. This was going to be harder than she thought.

Draco stormed out of his office with every intention of demanding that Mafalda have Hermione removed from his sight.
Hell, he would have screamed at Shacklebolt at that moment. One more moment with that girl and he thought all his
previous hatred towards muggle-borns would have swiftly returned. The woman was insufferable! Potter had been a
pretentious prick and he doubted the Weasley idiot was any less irritating. Was he the only one who had changed in four

But the closer he got to Mafalda's office, the less angry he felt. He was still furious mind, but he'd be damned if he let her
get to him. He knew the Ministry was in her favour. He knew that if it came down to it, it would be him that was removed
from the case and he had worked too fucking hard for that to happen.

He slowed down and with a loud roar of frustration, which fortunately nobody saw, escaped his lips. He turned around
and headed back towards his office. So she was impossible and argumentative. So was he, and he was perfectly
capable of holding his own in a verbal spar. At least she wasn't a complete waste of space like the other two-thirds of the
Gryffindor-Golden-Club. The girl had a brain between those stubborn ears. He walked back the way he'd come, ignoring
the confused looks he was receiving from Tilly.

"Is she still in there?" He asked the older woman, not really sure how he wanted her to answer. She simply offered him a
nod and, with another deep breath, he walked into his room. She hadn't moved from her seat but she was rubbing her
face with her palms. The door closed behind him before he could really comprehend what she was doing and she
jumped out of her seat at the noise.

"Malfoy," she breathed, evidently a little startled about his return. "I owe you an apology."

"It's fine," Draco shook his head at her and made his way back to his familiar seat. "Let's just-

"No it's not fine," Hermione continued, nervously eyeing her fingernails. "I haven't been around for a while and if the
Ministry trust you then I have no right to criticise their judgement."

"Duly noted," the young wizard exhaled, and he shifted awkwardly in his chair. Bloody hell she was making him
uncomfortable. "Can we move on-

"And for what it's worth," the witch persisted, still anxiously toying with her fingers. "I will try not to think of you as that vile
little bastard-

"Is this your attempt at an apology?" Draco asked her, genuinely confused by her words.

"I'm not good with this kind of thing," the muggle-born admitted with a rather charming laugh at herself. She blinked a few
times to gather her thoughts and slowly raised her eyes to him. "I'm sorry."

"That looked hard," the blond wizard smirked at her, realising after four years he still found her discomfort rather
amusing. "We should do some more work."

"Alright," Hermione nodded hesitantly, unsure about whether he had actually accepted her apology or not. It was good
enough for he though, she was just relieved to get off that topic. It had taken every last trace of her dignity to apologise to
the boy who had made her life at Hogwarts unbearable at times.

But she was smart enough to know one of them had to be apologetic and cooperative if they were going to make any
progress. Her pride was dented but at least now they could get some work done. And she supposed him returning to his
office after his little outburst must have taken some sacrifice on his own pride. The Draco she'd known at Hogwarts
would have simply sulked in his room for a few hours and waited until he was found. Then again the Draco she'd known
would have been cornering her with taunts of her muggle heritage within five minutes of their meeting.

The went back to that method where they had worked in silence, only talking when they had to. They had some food
delivered to the office, courtesy of Mafalda, but they continued to work though the break. A small part of Hermione was
dying to shatter the prolonged silence, but if it meant they would have to argue again, she could settle for this soundless
bubble. When the clock finally told her that it was coming to the end of the working day, Hermione couldn't help but to
release a sigh.
"Right," the witch breathed, gathering some of the papers in her lap. "I guess we should call it a day."

"I'm going to stay here for a bit longer," Draco revealed, refusing to look up at her. "Do what you want."

"Well that's obviously up to you," the witch gave him shrug. "But I will be here at nine tomorrow so don't be late-

"I won't be," the wizard hushed her, resisting the urge to push her out of his office himself.

"Also," Hermione continued, ignoring the way he rubbed his eyes in clear exasperation. "The Ministry suggested we
should be able to contact each other at all times so I have altered the wards on my home. I'll leave my address with your

"Fine," Draco nodded, not really paying attention to her words.

"And I would appreciate it if you changed your wards too," Hermione continued, gathering her things. "I assume you're
still at Malfoy Manor?"

"No," the wizard offered, wondering for a moment if her mind had flashed back to the day she's been tortured in his old
home. "You can get my details from Tilly."

"Alright," Hermione nodded, clutching her files back to her chest as she stood. "Then I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

It took a lot for Draco not to male a sarcastic retort but he managed it, and once she closed his door he leaned back in
his chair and allowed his head to fall back. He covered his face with his palms and rolled his eyes to himself.

His head was pounding, his shoulders were tight and he was pretty certain he was close to getting a migraine. If he
didn't know any better he would say he was allergic to the Gryffindor-Golden-Girl. And there was something very
unsettling about the fact he'd just given her his address. Nevertheless, he'd survived the day with her, which was more
than he'd expected. At least now he knew he could bare her presence. It would certainly be a gruelling experience but at
least he knew it wasn't impossible now.

He stayed in his office for a couple more hours, mainly focusing on his new information about the attacks. He needed to
get his head around this new data before he went home, but the lack of detail was frustrating. It seemed that in the
Ministry's attempt to conceal it from the press, they had taken some very rushed statements and ignored what could have
been rather essential facts. But there it was, and he had to do what he could with it.

He realised with a little aggravation that probably the only way he would be able to get more details about the attacks
was if he asked Granger about what she had thought when she had dealt with them. Initiating any sort of conversation
with her was likely to be a chore, but he would attempt it tomorrow. He finished up his notes on the second attack and
decided he would call it a day. He was in desperate need of a long, searing shower that held false promises of
loosening up his shoulders.

He would have to encourage his mother or Blaise to sort him out a date for the weekend to provide him with a little
distraction. He had a feeling that his meetings with Granger would only worsen the cluster of knots slowly settling in his
back. When all this was over, he was indulging in a long holiday.

a/n: Hoping that characters are realistic! R+R please!

*Chapter 4*: Thoughts


Chapter 4: Thoughts.

Hermione had returned home that night to five owls. Two from Harry, one from Ginny, one from Ron and one from Luna.
All of them, except Luna's, had asked her how her day had gone with Malfoy and wanted full details of how he had acted.
Nosy buggers. Luna, bless her heart, had simply expressed her happiness that Hermione was back in the country and
had asked they meet for lunch at some point. The witch wrote a letter, describing how Malfoy hadn't really changed at all,
and expressing her qualms about working with him. It was short and sweet, and using her wand she created three of
them and sent them to the two Weasleys and one Potter. She decided she would write to Luna in the morning once she
had looked at her schedule for the week and could suggest a decent time to meet.

She considered mulling over her day with Malfoy but decided her mind was due a little recuperation and that today had
been an awful start and it was best she try and forget it. The initial awkwardness was over with, so hopefully tomorrow
would be easier. She hadn't been mentally prepared enough to see her old bully again. He had barely changed and that
scared her. His blond hair was the same style it had been in year seven, his skin was still ghostly pale and his eyes
were still cold-grey. He had filled out a little and he seemed a little less childish, but his intensity was exactly the same.

He was still aloof and sarcastic, but at least he wasn't a bullying Death Eater with blood-preference issues anymore.
She had expected him to slip up and call her a Mudblood within five minutes, and she was more than a little surprised
that her muggle heritage had never once been raised by him. On the contrary, it had been her who had messed up and
made some derogatory remarks about him. Well, at least she'd had the guts to apologise and hopefully that had showed
him that she was willing to try and create some sort of civil work environment. Okay, maybe civil was a bit too far. And
was she really trying?

Crookshanks hopped up onto the sofa to join his owner and she patted his head with a little grin. She gathered her
paperwork and started going over some the names on the list of the old Death Eaters. She had only skimmed over it in
Malfoy's office. There were too many names, over one hundred she thought. Malfoy had been right too, most of the
people were simply associates or relations to the people she remembered being involved. She paused when she saw
Narcissa's name and thought back to Draco's argument about protecting the innocent. At the time it had sounded like the
most bizarre thing that could have ever passed Draco Malfoy's lips, but now she understood a little. Had she been
related with any ex-Death Eaters or fellow muggle-borns, she too would have been fighting for their security.

The fact that she could sympathise with a small part of Draco's psyche encouraged her to make more of an effort with
him tomorrow. She had always been a forgiving girl, and she would probably never consider him as anything more than
a colleague but that would be enough to do what needed to be done. Perhaps if she tried hard enough she could make
this work. After today, things could only get better.

"It was fucking horrible," Draco told his mother, ignoring her stern look at his use of words. "She's still a self-righteous

"Give her a break, Draco," his mother sighed, using her wand to fix them some snacks. "Can you blame her for being a
little defensive? We knew this would happen, dear. People need time to forget-

"I do not like being judged," Draco stopped his mother, folding his arms over his chest. "I don't have to prove myself to

"Of course you don't," the witch sighed, handing her son a Firewhiskey. "You have done very well, and I am very proud of

"I mean, I work for the Ministry," Draco continued, tensing as he considered the day's events. "And I have worked bloody
hard. I have proven that I have no more interest in the Death Eater life, what more does she want?"
"Draco," his mother attempted to sound calming. "It's been one day. She needed to get some things off her chest. I'm
sure it will be fine tomorrow-

"No it won't," Draco protested, eyeing his mother like she was a moron. "The woman hates me and she refuses to forget
how I was when I was a kid."

"She'll learn," his mother offered. "Just keep it professional and everything will be fine. She can't hate you for doing your
job well. She'll get over it. The Ministry did."

"We'll see," the blond wizard shrugged, bored with the topic now. "Have you heard from Blaise?"

"Yes," his mother nodded, and they walked into one of the lounges to eat their food. "He said he's been very busy with
work but he'll pop over to see you soon."

"Okay," her son nodded, and she smiled at his concern. "Did you get more Floo powder? Perhaps you should stay with
me for a while-

"Don't be silly," Narcissa rolled her eyes at her son. "You know if we lived together again we'd kill each other."

"Well then maybe you should stay with a friend-

"Draco, I am perfectly fine," his mother insisted. "The wards are strong and I have visitors all the time. I promise that if I
think something is even a little off, I will Floo straight to the Ministry-

"Alright," the blond wizard conceded, not really in the mood for eating. "Any chance you could convince Skeeter and her
cronies to not clog up the Ministry tomorrow?"

"Sorry, dear," Narcissa smirked at him "But Hermione and Harry returning to London is quite big news. I imagine the
press will be there for a few more days."

"Joy," Draco rolled his eyes. "Merlin, I hate that woman-

"Well you shouldn't," his mother defended her friend. "She did a lot of press-control for us after the war. She has been a
very good friend-

"Yes," Draco replied with strong sarcasm. "Well she's still a bitch."

Draco flinched when his mother smacked his arm a little harder than he'd anticipated. His swearing really must have
offended her. She didn't say anything though, just stared at him, daring him to swear again. If he'd been in a better mood
he would have probably goaded her a little.

They chatted a little longer about the case and Narcissa's new decorating plans. Before Draco realised it was almost
midnight and he went home with the hopes of gaining a good night's rest before he had to go back to work with Granger.
When he went to bed that night he wondered how she would behave around him in the morning. Whoever had decided
that they should work together had a very sick sense of humour.

He was early to work the next morning, but Hermione was still there before him, talking to Tilly when he arrived. They
stopped when they saw him coming and Hermione forced a tight smile at him. He noted that she was wearing robes
today, but he could see she was wearing muggle clothes underneath. He simply offered her a nod before he walked
past her into his office, knowing she would follow.

They sat in the same seats they had yesterday and Draco instantly started looking through the fresh batch of documents
that had been waiting on his desk. They were more Trace reports and some details about muggle-borns who had been
associated with the war, as he had requested. He could feel Hermione's eyes watching him but he ignored them. If she
had something to say he was pretty sure she would just say it when she was ready.

"I made some notes about the attacks in Europe," the witch stated finally, placing some documents on his desk. "There
are some pictures in there and just a few more things I thought might help. It's not much but it's everything I could get my
hands on."
Draco took the files from her and placed them near his other documents, the whole time still refusing to meet her eyes.
He could tell she wasn't finished and she still had something resting on the tip of her tongue. He realised with a little
irritation that her stare made him feel uneasy. He couldn't for the life of him figure out why, but he knew he just didn't like
it. If she didn't talk soon he'd have to look at her, and he knew he didn't want to do that.

"Malfoy," Hermione started hesitantly, and Draco slowly raised his eyes to her. No, he defiantly didn't like the way she
was looking at him. "I would like to apologise for my behaviour yesterday-

"That's not necessary," the wizard stopped her, quickly snapping his eyes back down to his work. "You apologised

"I know I did," Hermione nodded, trying not to show she was annoyed he'd interrupted her. "But I thought it might be wise
to get started on the right track today."

"Alright," Draco sighed, deciding he had preferred her when she was angry. He understood her when she hated him.
This remorseful Ganger he didn't know, and therefore he didn't like. It made him feel uncomfortable. "We should get on

"I know you were thinking of your mother," the witch blurted, and Draco frowned warily at her. How dare she try and pry in
his personal life? Hermione immediately tensed up at her confession and suddenly felt rather fearful of his reaction.

"You'd better have a good reason to bring this up, Granger," Draco warned her, eyeing her impatiently. "I don't see what
this has to do with the case."

"Well, I took your mother's name off the Traces list," Hermione explained, missing his eyes widen for a second. "And if
she wants, I will assign an Auror to keep an eye on her."

The blond wizard eyed his companion with a suspicious resentment. A part of him was pleased that his mother had
been removed from the list and that she now had the option for some level of protection. The other half of him was
furious that this woman had instantly involved herself with his affairs. They'd only been working together one day! And in
less than twenty-four hours she had interfered. He wanted to scream at her, tell her to mind her own business but he
was too relieved that his mother would no longer be treated as a suspect.

It was an interesting realisation but he decided that his relief outweighed his anger. Just. The girl was definitely a
Gryffindor, and he resisted the urge to gag. He knew the woman had probably done it to make herself feel a little better
but he didn't mind. At least she could leave London without the Ministry breathing down her neck.

"Right," Draco drawled slowly, turning away from her again. "I'll ask her about that later."

"Okay," Hermione nodded, reminding herself that she'd never expected a 'thank you' from the wizard. This had simply
been her attempt to prove that she was willing to be civil, plus she didn't really believe that Narcissa could have anything
to do with the case. From what she could gather the older witch only left the house to spend a ridiculous mount of money
on clothes. "We should get started on the Traces."

"You can start on them," Draco breathed, a little calmed that they had managed to get through that very awkward
conversation quickly. He pushed the stack of parchments over to her and noted that her face had morphed back into that
academic expression she was famous for. It made him feel a little more relaxed. Perhaps they could go back to
despising each other after her disturbing, good deed. "I'm going to go over the attacks."

"Alright," the witch nodded, immediately delving into the Traces. "I rushed through the notes I made so if something isn't
quite clear just let me know."

Draco didn't respond as he began to mull over her work and his eyes instantly fell to the pictures. There were four of
where the muggle-borns had been attacked, four of the victims after the attacks and four close-ups of that famous V
signature. The mark was the same as the ones he had seen on Creevy, Parkinson and Nott. It was similar to the marks
left by the Sectumsempra, only a little more jagged and clumsy. Some of the boffins at St Mungos had found that the
curse could be healed but it left a permanent scar. Everyone knew what the V stood for and Draco had found that he was
rather sick of looking at that stupid letter. How could people still be scared when Voldemort had been dead for four
years? It was foolish. This guy, or girl, was some pathetic copycat trying to avenge the Dark Lord's death. They weren't
the first the first and they probably wouldn't be the last.

They were, however, the most successful to date. Similar cases of Voldemort sympathisers had mainly just involved an
old Death Eater using a few hexes on some muggle-borns before the Traces had betrayed their actions. Yes, the Traces
had worked just fine until now. Now Draco had three murders and four attacks to deal with and no idea where to even
start looking for the culprit.

He glanced at Hermione as her eyes danced over the new Trace reports. Her brow was creased in frustration, telling
him she hadn't seen anything useful. She was chewing on the inside of her mouth in thought and scribbling down some
notes of her own. He had no idea what she could possibly be writing but it didn't bother him enough that he felt the need
to ask her. She was absolutely oblivious to his probing eyes as she scanned the pages and he thought back to those
classes in Hogwarts. She had always been such a nerd and it had annoyed the hell out of him but now he didn't really
mind it. He actually preferred that she was completely distracted by the documents, at least she wasn't chatting away like
she thought he'd give a shit. He preferred the silence.

He went back to his own work and lost himself in her notes. She must have spent hours on them as there were well over
forty pages. And hadn't she said that it wasn't much? Crazy witch. It was mainly just information about the victims
themselves instead of details about the attacks but he continued to read anyway. Once he'd finished them he went
straight to the files on muggle-borns he'd requested. It only made sense to see if the victims had anything in common
and then check the other muggle-borns for similar traits. They worked through lunch and Draco wondered when the hell
he'd become such a work-aholic. The day progressed as it had yesterday with only the occasional sentence shared
between the pair and he noted that Hermione was always the one who spoke first. Perhaps she didn't like the silence as
much as him.

"I think I might be able to work on the Traces," Hermione commented about half an hour before they were due to finish.
Draco allowed his eyes to wander over to her again, a little reluctant to remove his glare from one particular sentence
about muggle-born groups in London. "I could alter them and see if I could make them more effective-

"Do what you like with them" Draco dismissed her with a wave of his hand. "It's not like you could make them any more

"Well I just think that they need a little updating," the witch explained. "The killer could have somehow gotten a hold of the
details and figured out a way to avoid them. Maybe if I updated them a little they will pick something up?"

"It's up to you," Draco shrugged, already deciding that her suggestion was a waste of time. The only thing the Traces had
been good for was tracking when a Death Eater had left London, and clearly the killer had managed to leave Britain
without being detected. "Mafalda has the details about the Traces if you want them."

"You don't think it's a good idea," Hermione remarked, and he rose his eyebrow a her observation. "I can tell by the look
you're giving me."

"It's your call," Draco told her, a little agitated that she was drawing out this conversation. "I just think you might be
wasting your time."

"Maybe," the witch admitted softly, her lips twitching in thought. "I just thought I could give it a go-

"Then by all means knock yourself out," Draco snapped, perhaps a little harder than intended. "I don't care."

"Okay," Hermione whispered hesitantly, eyeing him with a slight impatience. "No need to shout-

"Well, honestly, Granger," the wizard scolded, evidently frustrated by her presence. "You don't need my fucking

"I wasn't asking for your fucking permission," the witch barked, rising from her seat to stare down at him. "I was simply
asking for your opinion-

"And I'm telling you I couldn't give a shit," Draco spat, also rising from his chair to mirror her stance. He'd be damned if he
let this woman look down her nose at him. "Do what you like!"

"I will!" Hermione roughly gathered all her files together as she screamed at him before making a swift journey to the
door. She opened it a little, but it seemed she wasn't quite finished. "Changed my arse! I knew you would still be a dick!"

"Good for you!" Draco you spat out his words like they were venom. "You are the most irritating witch I have ever met-

"Well you're hardly a box of rainbows yourself," the Auror hissed. "You always were a bloody prick-

"Fuck off, Granger," Draco growled at her, creasing his face in distaste.

"Glad to," Hermione retorted, walking through the doorframe with heavy feet. "See you tomorrow!"
She slammed his door behind her and Draco fell back in his chair with a very heated sigh. In a moment of childish
spontaneity, he grabbed one of the folders and threw it against the wall and watched all the separate sheets explode. It
made him feel a little better but a minute had barely passed before he was cleaning up the mess with his wand. There
was knock as his door and it took a lot of effort for him not to throw the file back on the floor.

"What?" He growled through his grinding teeth, eyeing the door with evident fury. A somewhat nervous Mafalda joined
him in his room and for once he was grateful for her interruption. She stepped lightly into the room, like it was laced with
invisible traps, eyeing her colleague like he would pounce on her at any time.

"Everything okay, Draco?" The young wizard had never seen the woman look so hesitant and he resisted the smirk that
could have betrayed his amusement.

"I'm fine," he assured her, adjusting himself a little in his seat.

"I heard shouting-

"Just her being a bitch," Draco stopped her. "It's nothing."

"You don't think she will ask you to be removed because of this?" Mafalda seemed to be genuinely concerned that
Hermione would complain to Shacklebolt about him.

"I don't think she will," Draco shook his head. "It wasn't about anything serious. Just a little spat."

"If you say so," Mafalda frowned at him, but she seemed to accept his words. "You've finished you know."

"I know," the wizard sighed, combing his platinum hair with his fingers. "I shouldn't be long. I want to spend a bit more
time on these."

"Don't overwork yourself," the witch warned him, walking back towards his door. She left him alone and he quickly rushed
through his parchments and tidied up his desk. He was pretty certain he had agreed to see his mother today although
he couldn't actually remember agreeing to anything. He Flooed to Malfoy Manor and found his mother in one of the sitting
rooms Patricia Maystone, one of those gossiping old hags Rita had introduced her to.

"Draco," Narcissa greeted her son with a broad smile. "Care to join us?"

"I'll wait until you're finished," Draco responded, casting the other witch a critical glance. He hated talking to his mother
when her friends were present, they always managed to bring the conversations back to themselves and he wasn't in
the mood to feign chivalry today.

He made his way down the hall to one of the studies, asking one of his mother's house-elves to bring him a drink. She
would come in a little while, her friends knew he didn't think fondly of them and his visits were scarce enough that she
managed to get them to leave to allow her some time with her son.

"Honestly, Draco," Narcissa frowned at her son as she joined him a few minutes later. "There is no need to be so rude-

"They're annoying," her son scowled at her. "Bunch of nosy old trollops."

"That's enough," the witch rolled her eyes, though she was used to her son's scathing remarks about her friends. "You
seem a little tense today. Bad day at work?"

"Granger's still a testy bitch," Draco informed his mother, ignoring her disapproving glare. He seemed to consider his
next words carefully. "Although she did do something for you today."

"For me?" Narcissa arched her eyebrow perfectly in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"She had your Trace removed," the blond wizard explained slowly, as though he couldn't quite comprehend the deed.

"Really?" His mother looked surprised, yet still dignified, at the news. "So I can travel freely now? The Ministry aren't
watching me anymore?"

"You can do what you like," Draco assured her, enjoying his mother's pleased face.

"Well that was lovely of her!" Narcissa exclaimed, evidently ecstatic with his news. "So why are you in such a bad mood?"

"She's still a pain in the arse," Draco informed his mother, taking a sip of his Firewhiskey.
"Well I hope you thanked her," the witch told her son, noting his rolling eyes with a sigh of disappointment. "And from that
look I can tell you didn't so you will do tomorrow."

"I will not," Draco snorted. "You thank her."

"No, Draco," his mother groaned. "You will thank her from me. Don't be so stubborn."

"Fine," the wizard surrendered, deciding he didn't fancy arguing with another witch today. "I'm going to go, I have a lot of
work to do."

"Okay, dear," Narcissa nodded, watching her son leave with a smile.

When he arrived home he had had an owl from Blaise, informing him that he would be available to meet soon. He
replied suggesting that Blaise come over at the weekend for a chat. He wouldn't have much time in the week for any
social activities but he figured after a few more days with Granger he would appreciate a stiff drink with his old

He went back to Granger's notes about the attacks, finding himself paying particular attention the attack in Asolo. He
recognised the name but for the life of him he couldn't figure out why. The other attacks in Berlin, Vienna and Paris had
the exact same amount of details but he just felt that there was something that he was missing. It was a little bizarre that
the others were all in major cities, but then that could have so easily been coincidence.

His thoughts drifted to Granger, and the awful prospect of thanking her tomorrow. He would do it for his mother, but that
didn't mean he had to like it. In fact he bloody hated the idea. He remembered her being a temperamental little witch
back in Hogwarts so he shouldn't have really been surprised that she was quick with her tongue. A quick mention of the
word Mudblood would have ceased her arguing in the old days but that was out of the question now.

He was over the whole blood purity debate, plus it was hardly the most intelligent of comebacks. He was actually quite
surprised himself how quickly his previous thoughts about muggle-borns had vanished, but after his father had died
three years ago there had been no one whispering condemning words in his ears. He had worked with quite a few of
them, all very capable with their magic, and all his prejudices had slowly seeped out of his brain.

He had a feeling his mother had helped with that too. She'd never really cared about the issue as much as his father and
had befriended a couple of muggle-borns after the war. To put it simply, he had matured enough to come to his own
decisions and had realised that heritage really wasn't everything. He was still a little impatient and unsure when it came
to muggles but so long as a witch or wizard was skilled with magic, he didn't really care. It had turned out that Voldemort
was a half-blood anyway and he'd never been a fan of hypocrisy.

No, it wasn't Granger's bloodline that bothered him, it was simply her. Her and the rest of the Gryffindor-Hero-Trio. He
had worked through his childhood prejudices so why couldn't they? Was it still fashionable to snub the infamous
Malfoys? He had worked very hard to bring back a little dignity to his family and it had worked. In the last year specifically,
he'd felt like him and his mother had been fully accepted back into society. But now with Potter and Granger's return, he
was being reminded and chastised for his forgotten teenage opinions. Fucking Gryffindors.

Well she would just have to get over it. Forgive and forget and all that shit.

Hermione subconsciously stroked Crookshanks as she went over some more parchments. If she was honest with
herself, she felt a little guilty about today. She had been so adamant that she would not argue with Malfoy today, but
damn if that man wasn't arrogant. She could tell that he was different. There was no more of that pride about his
bloodline but there was still pride. The man reeked of it and it bothered her. He was just so argumentative and so
stubborn. But then, so was she.

It was probably why they argued, but she realised it probably didn't help that every time she looked at him she saw that
boy who tortured her. She couldn't stop herself from thinking about his horrible taunts and her insecurities about her
muggle-birth. She even thought about her time at Malfoy Manor and the pain she had felt at the hands of his aunt. She
knew she needed to get over it and she knew she probably would. She just needed a little more time to get accustomed
to it. She needed to move past her memories of the man.

Forgive and forget and all that jazz.

She was pretty sure she could do that. She Flooed to the Ministry the next day a little earlier than she'd intended but she'd
figured that she should stop by the Auror office to check how things were. She was walking along the corridors, pleased
that the Ministry was rather quiet before the rush that would ensue at nine, when she bumped into Mafalda.

"Miss Granger," the older witch smiled. "I was hoping I would run into you today, could we possibly have a chat?"

"Of course," Hermione nodded, following the woman as she lead her towards her office. She noted that Mafalda's office
was larger than Draco's and took one of the many seats around the huge table in the centre of the room. She watched
the older witch closely, wondering what she had wanted to discus.

"Is something wrong?" Hermione asked as the other witch took a seat opposite her.

"Not wrong, as such," Mafalda smiled, and for a moment Hermione envied her graceful movements. "I was hoping I
could talk to you about Draco."

"Ah," the muggle-born sighed in comprehension. "Has he said something about our arguments?"

"Not at all," the witch explained. "In fact if he knew I was talking about this he'd probably be a little annoyed. Nevertheless
I think we should talk about you two. I heard you arguing yesterday."

"Okay," Hermione nodded hesitantly.

"Look, Hermione," the witch sighed. "I know that you and Draco hated each other in Hogwarts and I am fully aware that
he doesn't have the best reputation, but I am asking you to please look past that. Draco is a good man who made some
foolish decisions when he was younger but he has completely changed."

"Right," the younger witch nodded, absorbing all of Mafalda's words with genuine thought. She took a few breaths as she
mulled over the woman's request, and she found herself desperately resisting the memories of the younger and cruel
Draco that threatened to steal her mind.

"I wasn't keen when he was first sent to my department," Mafalda admitted suddenly. "But he is such a hard-worker and I
am willing to swear on my life that he has none of the same dark thoughts he had when he was younger."

"Okay," Hermione breathed, and she found herself believing everything the other witch said. The woman looked like she
couldn't invent a lie if she tried, and Hermione's thoughts wondered to Draco's behaviour in the last two days. Yes, he
had shouted her, but she had always started it. She looked back to Mafalda with unsure eyes. "What are you asking me
to do?"

"I'm asking you to give Draco a chance," the witch confessed, and Hermione found herself nodding absently. "I have a
bad feeling about this case and I need to know that you two will be working together. You are a smart girl, Hermione. You
know as well as I do that if you're hung up on your hatred for him that you are hindering the case. You seem to forget that
Draco, and all other children who were raised around Death Eaters, were forced into that lifestyle. They had no choice
and it has taken a lot for them to be accepted back into society."

Hermione's mind was running too fast for her to follow. She realised, with a little irritation at herself, that she had never
really accepted that Draco and others like him really had been compelled to join the Death Eaters. She remembered
Harry once talking about his fight with Draco at Hogwarts just before their final year, and how Draco had been crying
when he had found him. She knew then that perhaps Draco had been reluctant, perhaps even a little remorseful about
the duties that came with serving Voldemort. She had never given it much more thought. She'd been a busy girl what with
being tortured and saving the world. But now she did have the time to consider it, and she wondered how hard it might
be for someone to have to ignore everything they'd been brought up to believe.

"I know," Hermione finally agreed with a sad smile, noticing that she had been silent for a while. "I'm sorry, Mafalda. It's
just a little difficult."

"I know it is," Mafalda agreed. "And I'll admit that it took me a while to get over Draco's past with the Dark Lord but I need
you to trust me on this. I know you will probably argue because you're both opinionated but you need to move past it."

"I think I can do that," Hermione offered, realising she sounded unsure of herself. For some reason she did trust the
woman in front of her, and for stranger reason she wanted to impress her. "I will try my hardest."

Hermione realised with a little disappointment that she had said she would try and be civil to Draco before with no real
desire to carry it out. Sure, she had removed Narcissa's Trace but that had been a quick attempt to save face. They talked
a little longer about it but Hermione didn't need any more convincing. As she left Mafalda's office, she made a silent
promise to herself that she really would try this time.

a/n: Hope this is okay!

*Chapter 5*: Weeks

Chapter 5: Weeks

Hermione walked as slowly as she possibly could towards Draco's office. She was exhausted with her emotions and
tired of overanalysing every thought that slipped into her head. She felt angry at Mafalda for making her study Draco so
closely. She was embarrassed that she had too quickly jumped down Draco's throat. She was annoyed that she was
being asked to rethink everything she had ever thought about her rival but above all she was anxious.

She had promised herself and Mafalda that she was going to make an effort with Malfoy and she was adamant that she
was going to follow through on that vow. She just didn't have a clue how. She offered Tilly a smile as she informed her
that Draco was already inside his office. The younger witch entered the room attentively and her eyes instantly settled on
her new colleague.

He was sat in his usual chair, his robes strangely absent for once but she spotted them slung over the arm of his chair.
He wore a plain white shirt with the sleeves bunched up around his elbows and black trousers and he suddenly looked
quite human to her. He hunched over his desk as he shuffled through his documents, and although she knew that he
had heard her come in, he never once looked up to acknowledge her. She walked, almost fearfully, to sit in the seat she
had for the last two days. She nervously toyed with the ring on her index finger as she tried to think of something to say.

She scanned his face, noting the tired smudges under his eyes and his charming cheekbones. His hair was a little
loose today and a few stubborn strands tickled his forehead. She wasn't sure why but they made her smile a little. It only
lasted a moment though before she realised that she still had yet to speak.

"Malfoy," Hermione sighed his name, wondering if he would meet her eyes. "I'm sorry."

Draco's eyes shot up so quickly she almost gasped. He looked confused, wary and a little agitated by her statement.
She knew he was waiting for her to elaborate but she needed to figure how to explain her thoughts without revealing
Mafalda's involvement. The witch leaned a little closer to him over the desk, hoping he would listen to her words.

"I have not been fair to you," Hermione said softly, watching as he tilted his head to regard her. "It's been four years since
I've seen you and I've been too hung up on your behaviour at Hogwarts. I should have given you the benefit of the doubt
instead of making assumptions."

"Right," Draco regarded her warily, eyeing the blush that had stained her cheeks. "What's brought this on?"

"Nothing," the witch frowned. "I've just been thinking about it and I know I've said it before but I really do want to try and
reach some middle ground with you. I'm not saying we won't argue, but I will try to overlook our differences from

"Okay," Draco grunted in amusement as he observed the witch. He searched for any hint of dishonesty or sarcasm but
he found none. Fuck, it was awkward. Too awkward. A change of subject was in order.

"I just want to point out," Hermione muttered quickly, and he exhaled quietly as she continued. "That this doesn't mean I
like you-

"Perish the thought-

"But I think we can work together," the witch offered with a shrug. "I can tell you've changed but it will take me a while to
completely accept that you aren't a prejudiced bully anymore."

"Fine," Draco nodded, accepting that he was still an intimidating character. He would never be a Hufflepuff but he was a
great deal better than he had been.

"I might be a little testy for a few days," Hermione explained, ignoring his lips twitching at her comment. He was clearly
trying to refrain from making a remark and she silently appreciated his restraint. "But I think I can get used to this
arrangement. I'm sure we can do this. We're both intelligent-

"Agreed," Draco nodded smugly, while silently praying that this conversation would be over soon. He still felt awkward.

"So, there you go," she finished with an unsure expression. "That was what I wanted to say."
"Okay," the wizard sighed, averting his eyes back the notes before he offered her a few sheets. "We should get some
work done."

Hermione simply nodded, pleased to be off the uncomfortable topic. She accepted the file he handed her and
immediately started analysing the new Traces and some notes on muggle-borns. She felt comfortable in the silence that
settled in between them, but after a long five minutes, Draco disturbed the peace when he cleared his throat.

"My mother asked me to thank you," the wizard revealed in a low and reserved voice. "For removing her Trace."

"Oh," Hermione's eyes widened a little, and then her lips morphed into a pleasant smile. "Well, tell her she's welcome."

"Alright," Draco nodded, holding her gaze for a second longer than he would have liked. "Can we not make a big deal
about this?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Hermione managed to suppress a chuckle. Her colleague looked desperate to be free of this
conversation. "Why don't we just start over and we can do some work?"

"Fine by me," the pureblood agreed, shifting in his chair. "We're not going to that stupid thing where we reintroduce
ourselves like we've never met, are we?"

"Merlin, no," the witch laughed a little, and he watched her closely as she giggled openly in front of him. She covered her
grinning lips with her hand as her body bounced in amusement. He found the display rather intriguing and he frowned,
unsure what else he could do. He decided that he preferred her face when it wasn't scrunched up in anger or weary with

"Good," he drawled finally, flicking his wand to stack some of the parchments on his desk. Against his better judgment,
he believed the woman. She was far more relaxed in his presence already and yet he knew to be on his guard. She had
already apologized twice since their reunion and they had still been at each others throats before the day was over.

He watched her intently and couldn't help but notice that her lips were a little plumper than he had originally thought. It
was a random observation but one he made, none the less. There were lots of things he hadn't noticed now he thought
about it. In Hogwarts he had kept his distance for obvious reasons. He stopped himself when he realised he was
almost staring and grabbed his notes.

He knew she was going over the list muggle-borns so he decided it was best he look over the new Traces he'd been
provided with before she'd arrived.

He'd also asked Tilly to contact the Azkaban officials to find out if anyone had escaped in the last few months. It certainly
wouldn't be the first time and whilst there hadn't been anything in the news it was worth checking. He had also requested
that someone gather some more information on Goyle for him. Draco hadn't seen the boy once since the war and he
was very aware that Gregory had never once been brought up in the paper, or by anyone for that matter.

The absence of his name was a little suspicious. All ex-Death Eaters had at some point found their way into the public
eye, be it praise for managing to get their life on track, or screwing up and ending up in Azkaban. Pretty much all of his
old associates had had a mention in the paper, except for Gregory Goyle. Draco didn't think for one second that Goyle
would be the killer though. No. If there was one thing the Malfoy did know about his old schoolmate it was that the man
didn't posses a brain cell worth noting. No, Goyle couldn't kill an ant if he tried. But perhaps he had not given up the dark
lifestyle like himself, which meant he could have associates who had enough intellect to go on a killing spree. It was a
long-shot but it was worth checking.

"I didn't know Justin worked for the Ministry," Hermione commented, stealing his thoughts. He met her eyes and
shrugged, showing her he had no idea who she was talking about.

"Justin Finch-Fletchley," the witch finished, realising that he still didn't realise who she was referring to. "He was in our
year at Hogwarts. According to this he works for the Department of Magical Games and Sports. I had no idea he worked

"A lot of people work for the Ministry, Granger," Draco remarked with another shrug.

"I know, I just haven't seen him in a while," Hermione offered. "I'm surprised you don't remember him."

"Did I bully him too?" Draco asked, trying to hide his amusement.

"Possibly," the Auror shrugged, and Draco noted that there was no malice to her tone, just honesty. She had passed up
a perfectly good opportunity to jump down his throat about his flippancy towards his bullying. Things were looking up.
How disconcerting. "He was a muggle-born so you might have done."

"Can't remember," Draco shook his head, wondering where exactly she was going with this. "What's your point?"

"Nothing, I suppose," Hermione admitted, frowning as she looked for other muggle-borns who worked at the Ministry. "I
guess I'm just glad he'll have some protection if he's working here. He'd be quite an obvious target because he fought for
us and he's muggle-born."

Draco simply grunted in response, not really sure how else he could respond. It had been a while since he'd really
spoken, or thought about for that matter, any of the other student from his year at Hogwarts. When he'd looked over the
lists of ex-Death Eaters and muggle-borns he had recognised many of the names, but he'd never really mulled over
them for too long. Hogwarts had hardly been a great time for him, particularly the last few years.

"Do you still speak to anyone from Hogwarts?" Hermione asked him as she jotted down some details near Justin's

"No," Draco told her simply, but her sceptical glance made him alter his answer. "I still see Blaise occasionally."

"Zabini?" Hermione clarified, recalling that she had seen something about him an article. "I heard he owned a massive
chain of Quidditch shops now."

"He does," Draco nodded, still eyeing his work. The conversation was a little strained but at least she wasn't screaming.

"Were you close to Pansy?" Hermione questioned, and he noted the nervous shake to her voice. She was obviously
concerned that it was personal query, and had he been close to the old Slytherin girl, he probably would have been angry
about it.

"No," he answered simply, and he raised his eyes just to glimpse her relief. She bobbed her head at him, apparently
wondering if her next words were appropriate or relevant.

"I always thoughT you two would get married," the witch admitted with a nervy laugh. He couldn't stop himself from rolling
his eyes at her comment. Too many people had made that foolish statement, and all because he had taken her to the
Yule ball in fourth year.

"Not everyone marries their school crush," Draco supplied in a bored tone. He watched her lips twitch in silent
agreement but he continued anyway, unable too deny his curiosity. "Of course you fall into the minority that did."

"I assume you're referring to Ron?" Hermione smiled a little, as she too had been plagued with the assumptions that
she had married, or at least still dated, her school crush. "Sorry to disappoint you but Ron and I haven't been together for
three years."

Draco couldn't stop his eyebrows from rising in surprise. After the war there had been countless articles about the
romantic stories between her and Weasley, and also Potter and the girl Weasley. The Newspapers had adored the
Golden Trio and had been infatuated with the couples. He couldn't recall reading that they had broken up and surely that
would've been big news? For some reason he was a little pleased that she wasn't as predictable as he had assumed.

"Well there you go then," he offered, demonstrating that she had proven his point. "So I assume you're not staying at the

"I gave you my address," Hermione reminded him, tutting when he still didn't seem to remember. "The other day, in case
of emergencies."

"Right," Draco nodded, remembering he had indeed collected it from Tilly and it was now lost somewhere amongst all
his paperwork. "Twenty-two, Wordsworth Street-

"Twenty-three, Wordsworth Way," the witch corrected him. "Did you remember to alter your wards in case I need to see

"Yes," Draco replied honestly. "Although I don't see why I needed to. What kind of emergency would make you come to

"I guess if there's a breakthrough on the case," Hermione shrugged. " They probably just want us to be able to
communicate outside of the Ministry."

"I suppose," Draco sighed with little interest as he glanced at his watch. "It's almost lunch, do you want to work through

"Actually, Harry asked me to check up on the Auror office," Hermione explained. "Since a few of us have been busy with
other things we're a little concerned our trainees might be falling behind. I think I might go and see Justin too."

"Knock yourself out," Draco dismissed her with a shrug.

Hermione had indeed found the Auror office in a bit of a mess. Harry had taken five of their colleagues with him on his
tracking idea, leaving only Proudfoot, Savage, Champs, Leandra, Volan and herself. Combine the lack of staff with their
two trainees, Castor and Jason, and things had become strained. She ended up agreeing to give up half of her Saturday
to give them some training in Concealment and Disguise, already regretting it. She was suffocating under enough work
as it was, but she understood how difficult the training could be. Still, she knew that Harry and Ron would tell her she
was taking on too much, and they would probably be right.

She'd only managed to stop at the Department of International Magical Cooperation to see Justin for a few minutes but
promised to visit him again some time soon. By the time she got back to Malfoy's office, she was exhausted. Draco
hadn't moved from his seat, or at least that's how it seemed, and she dropped tiredly in her chair. He finished off a
sentence on his parchment before his stony eyes rose to eye her curiously.

"What's wrong with you?" Draco eyed her dishevelled appearance with an amused glance.

"Nothing," the witch shook her head, shrugging out of her robes. Running around the Ministry had made her a little
flushed so she was happy to relax for a moment in her red blouse and black skirt. "The Auror offices are in a bit of a

"I see," Draco frowned at her, passing her some notes he'd received while she'd been gone. "I managed to gather some
more information on the ex-Death Eaters."

"Great," Hermione accepted the parchments, her eyes scanning over the details. It simply included details of all their
professions, their living arrangements and a few more specifics. Her eyes settled on the names that had little or no
information next to them. There were around twenty, but one name in particular caught her attention more than the others
and she looked back to Draco with curiosity. "Do you still speak to Goyle, Malfoy?"

"I thought you might notice that," the wizard smirked at her. "I haven't spoken to him since the war and apparently neither
has anyone else. I asked Skeeter to check all her records to see if he's been mentioned in the Daily Prophet and I
checked the Ministry files but I couldn't find anything."

"I didn't realise he was bright enough to be evasive," Hermione commented, and Draco's smirk grew a little at her
comment. "You don't think he's-

"Very unlikely," Draco stopped her before she could finish. "Like you said, he's not bright enough."

"Then why do you think it's relevant?" Hermione looked back t the sheet. Goyle was the only person without much
information who she remembered from Hogwarts.

"I'm wondering if he's still involved with the Dark Arts," Draco admitted. "He could have heard something if he still has

"Good point," the witch muttered, offering Draco a reluctant impressed look. "I'll ask Harry to see if he can find anything
seeing as he's on the move."

"Okay," Draco seemed satisfied with her suggestion as he went back to his notes.

The pair went back to their work, talking more than they had in the previous days, but still little. The atmosphere was still
a little tense, just as Hermione had said it would be, but she realised she was a lot more relaxed. So he was a little cold.
She'd known many men who weren't very compassionate. Just because Harry and Ron happened to be her best friends,
and very caring ones at that, didn't mean she couldn't handle men who were hardhearted. Moody, Snape and Sirius had
all been rather stoic but she had managed to deal with them all fine. She just needed to get used to him, and everything
would be okay. When it came to the end of the day, Hermione raised her eyes to Draco with an expression of surprised
"I haven't shouted at you today," she commented, with a little grin of pride. Draco tore his eyes away from his work to
regard her with a sceptical glance.

"I had noticed," he told her, arching an eyebrow at her. "Nice to see you trying-

"But I didn't try really," Hermione admitted with a thoughtful glance at him. "You just didn't annoy me today."

"I can try harder tomorrow," Draco offered her one of his charming smirks and she couldn't help but respond with a little
grin of her own.

"I can't believe it," Hermione whispered, perhaps more to herself.

"Well I'm very happy for you," Draco told her sarcastically, his eyes going back to his work. "Let's see how long it lasts."

"Good point," the Auror grinned at him as she gathered her things. "I'll see you tomorrow, Malfoy."

Draco nodded absently as she left his office but he allowed his eyes to watch her retreating form, and they lingered a
little longer on the closed door. Strange girl. Then again, a muggle-born Gryffindor never had much hope.

The next two weeks passed with little developments. On the Monday of their third week working together, Harry had
informed Hermione that he was on Goyle's trail. They believed he was living in Scotland somewhere and they were just
trying to find out where. Back at the Ministry, things had been a little more relaxed. It seemed the killer was having a small
break from his activities, and while Hermione knew it was best to avoid a false sense of security, she had been grateful
for the lack of reporters. But as Draco had reminded her, it was probably just calm before a storm.

The two colleagues had managed to maintain a decent level of civility between them. They still argued quite often but it
was more for sport than a mutual hatred. If anything Hermione quite enjoyed their arguments. It was unusual to have
someone who could keep up with her in a fight. Harry and Ron would rarely even attempt to match her in an argument,
but Draco never shied away from a heated debate. She wasn't sure if he enjoyed them but at least they had both
managed to refrain from bringing up their old prejudices. She had come close a few times and she was pretty sure he
had too.

It was now the Wednesday of their third week and they had somehow managed to start an argument about Quidditch.

"It's a dangerous sport," Hermione told Draco squarely. "Every time Ron and Harry play I think they're going to hurt

"That's because they probably would," Draco scowled at her. "Weasley was hardly the most graceful player-

"Well he managed to make it to keeper-

"With your help," Draco gave her a knowing glance and she stared at him in confusion. "Quite a few people knew you
screwed with McLaggen's practice-

"That's beside the point," the witch stopped him, flushing with a little embarrassment that he knew her little secret from
sixth year. "The point is it's dangerous."

"But if it wasn't dangerous there wouldn't be any challenge," Draco argued, rolling his eyes at her. "It would just be dull-

"We should do some work," Hermione scowled at him before snatching some sheets off the desk. She pretended to
read the text, ignoring the unsettling stare she knew he was giving her.

"You always do that," he muttered under his breath as he grabbed some of his own work.

"I always do what?" Hermione shot him a warning glance over her parchments.

"You always say we should do some work when you're losing," Draco told her, knowing with a secret grin that his
comment would infuriate her. He was right.

"I'm not losing!" Hermione defended herself, chucking her work back on his desk. "And I do no such thing!"

"Yes you do," Draco chuckled at her anger. He rather enjoyed it when she got all flushed like she was now. Her eyes
would widen and her cheeks would burn and she would often clench her fists. It was rather fascinating to watch and he
quite liked the flat that he could still cause her to get all hot and bothered without calling her names like in Hogwarts.

"No I do not!" Hermione shouted again, knowing he was enjoying her irritation. "I was simply pointing out that we have
hardly done any work today-

"Well you're the one who brought up the Quidditch match," Draco reminded her in a calm tone.

"I was just asking you to explain some of the rules to me," Hermione frowned at him. "Harry and Ron talk about it and
sometimes I have no idea what they're on about-

"So ask them to explain the rules to you-

"They're not so good at explaining things," the witch admitted with a shake of her head, and Draco watched her hair
tumble around her shoulders. "But we can talk about that later, we really should do some work-

A knock at the door interrupted her and Tilly entered the office, looking a little timid. The poor woman always managed to
interrupt the pair during one of their spats.

"Miss Granger, you have a Floo call waiting," the witch explained quickly. "It's rather urgent."

"Thank you, Tilly," Hermione smiled, rising from her seat and leaving Draco alone. She returned a few moments later,
and Draco noted that she looked both disturbed and surprised. She slowly sat back in her chair and tried to gather her
thoughts, knowing that Draco would be growing impatient with her silence.

"What is it?" Draco growled at her, unable to restrain himself when she started to fidget nervously.

"That was Harry," Hermione started slowly, brushing some hair away from her face. "They found Goyle."

"That's good news Granger," Draco told her with a confused glance. "That means-

"He's dead," the witch stated simply, watching him frown at her information. "And he had the V mark."

"Great," Draco snarled, massaging his temple with his fingertips.

"I know," the Auror sighed, watching his fingers as they apparently soothed his headache. "Harry and the others are
dealing with it at the moment but they'll send us some pictures and the details as soon as they can."

"Alright," Draco nodded at her, and she noted that he seemed a little distressed.

"What's wrong?" Hermione asked him with something close to concern.

"This case," Draco growled, slamming his fist down on his desk. He heard his companion gasp and saw her flinch in
the corner of his eye. "It's going nowhere and it's pissing me off."

"I know," she breathed, sharing his frustration on the matter. In a moment of spontaneous stupidity, Hermione placed
her hand over Draco's balled fist. "Something will come up soon."

Draco wasn't listening to her though. He was eyeing her intrusive hand with a tense stare. She noticed it, and slowly
withdrew her hand as he shifted his fist back to his side. She muttered a 'sorry' but he dismissed the situation with a
grunt. He knew her and the other two Gryffindors were rather touchy-feely, but he was not comfortable with that kind of
thing. He'd only just managed to become accustomed to her presence but he had a feeling if she was going to start
touching him like that he would have start all over again.

"The press will be here soon," Draco broke the silence with a rough voice. "We should break for lunch now before the
Ministry turns into a madhouse."

"Good idea," Hermione mumbled, quickly gathering her belongings. He watched her leave, noting that she seemed
rather desperate to escape his office. He shook his head at the absurdity of the situation, and found himself hoping that
she didn't take offence to his actions. They had finally managed to reach a place where they could work together without
wanting to kill each other. If she found a new reason to feel awkward or insulted, she would go back to that annoying
bitch she'd been for the first few days.

He needed to find something she would become immersed in. If she was studying something she would completely
forget about it. If ever they were having an argument and she read something interesting afterwards, she would lose her
foul mood. He thanked Merlin when Tilly informed him that she'd received some details from Potter about Goyle's death.
It was something new and important, she would become absorbed instantly and there would be none of those awkward
moments he despised so much. When she wandered back into his office a while later, he rolled his eyes at her shy

"Potter sent us some of the files," Draco informed her as she took a seat. Her anxious expression instantly vanished and
she snatched the folder from his hands. He suppressed a smirk at the inevitability. He had always prided himself on
being good at reading people, and while at times she was bizarrely unpredictable, there were certain things she always
did the same.

He observed her in silence as she read over the details. He knew any second now that she would start to chew her
bottom lip. The thought had just left his mind when he saw a flash of her white teeth nibbling against her mouth, as

He grabbed his own copy of the details surrounding Goyle's murder and began to learn the facts surrounding his old
schoolmate's death. It vaguely occurred to him that the killer had managed to find Goyle, even though all their attempts
had been unsuccessful, and this probably meant that the killer had indeed known Goyle. At least well enough to know
his whereabouts.

"We're missing something here," Draco remarked absently. "How could he have known where Goyle was?"

"Perhaps your theory was right," Hermione told him, tilting her head in thought. "Maybe they were connected."

Draco didn't absorb her words and the remainder of their day was carried out in silence. Draco wondered briefly it was
an awkward silence but he was pretty sure that his plan to distract her had worked.

She left first, as she always did, and he waited a few minutes before he Flooed to Malfoy Manor. His mother was alone in
one of the sitting rooms, engrossed in further decorating plans. She smiled warmly when he entered the room and they
went to a less disorganized spot to have a chat.

"I thought Blaise was coming today?" Draco asked his mother once a house-elf had brought him a drink.

"He's been very busy with work," Narcissa explained, ignoring her son's frown. Draco had only seen his Blaise once in
the last two weeks and that had only been for half an hour. He understood that the school year was starting back up
soon, meaning it was one of Blaise's busiest times for his business, but his comrade had assured him he would join
him and his mother today. "He did send an owl apologising."

"I'll owl him later," Draco supplied with a stoic tone.

"How is the case going?" Narcissa asked her son, sipping her tea. "I heard about Gregory Goyle."

"From Skeeter I assume," Draco gave his mother a disapproving glance. He would never understand why his mother
associated with that woman. "It's a little strange. We were trying to locate Goyle and then he gets killed. I feel like I'm
missing something obvious. We're not making enough progress."

"Don't worry so much," the witch frowned at her son. "I'm sure you'll figure something out soon-

"I don't know," Draco stopped his mother with a sigh, raking his stressed fingers through his hair. "Four people are dead
and we have no leads. Nothing."

"Something will come up," his mother smiled sadly at him. She had become quite the optimist since the war and he
supposed it balanced him sometimes.

"Are you still being careful?" Draco asked her, making a mental note to check her wards before he left.

"Yes," Narcissa dismissed him with a wave. "You and my friends have made certain that I am safe here."

"Good," Draco growled, still uncertain about his mother's wellbeing. It was in her nature to assure him all was well, even
if perhaps she was a little anxious about the whole thing.

"That aside," his mother continued, watching him closely as she started her next question. "How are things with you and
Hermione now?"
"Alright," Draco shrugged, unsure about how he should answer that question even though she had asked it during every
visit in the last two weeks. "Granger's probably as irritated as I am about the lack of progress."

"Are you getting on better?" Narcissa pushed, watching her son carefully. The mother had noticed some subtle changes
in her son recently, specifically during the last week. When she had initially started asking him about his rapport with the
famous muggle-born he had been snappy and scolding about the girl. But as the days had slowly slipped by, his harsh
thoughts had relaxed a little.

"I guess," Draco grunted at the witch, eyeing her warily. "Why are you so interested in Granger all the time?"

"Why are you avoiding the subject?" His mother looked at her son snidely, smirking in a way that almost rivalled his own.

"I wasn't," Draco mumbled, knowing his mother probably wasn't going to drop the subject. "We're getting on fine, mother-

"But?" Narcissa continued sensing there was something more to her son's behaviour. While his discussions about
Hermione were normally short, he had never been this evasive, and she wanted to know why. She was still a nosy witch
with a taste for gossip.

"But nothing," Draco shot a warning glance at her.

"Don't lie to your mother," Narcissa was unfazed by her son's cold stare. "You know I hate it when you're not honest with

"Mother, there is nothing to tell," Draco said slowly, hating how his mother always managed to successfully guilt-trip him
into revealing things. "I think she's becoming a little too relaxed in my presence."

"Elaborate," his mother requested simply, eyeing her son for an explanation.

"She touched my hand," Draco spat quickly, ignoring his mother's sceptical glance. "I remember she was rather
affectionate towards Potter and Weasley in Hogwarts."

"It doesn't sound that bad," Narcissa shrugged at her son. "Clearly she's just like that with her friends-

"You know I'm not exactly comfortable with shit like that," Draco scowled at her. "And we are in no way friends."

"Were you upset about something when she did it?"

"I was angry," Draco thought back to the incident. "About not making any progress."

"Well there you go then," his mother smiled at him fondly. "She was obviously just trying to comfort you. If I remember
rightly she was always a compassionate girl-

"Well the last thing she did was comfort me," Draco rolled his eyes.

"Oh, Draco," Narcissa chuckled at his foul mood. "You're making a big deal out of nothing. Some people are just like

"Yourself included," the young wizard interrupted. His mother often tried to give him sneaky pecks on his cheek or try and
bribe hugs, but it seldom worked.

"Was that it?" Narcissa asked him, rolling his eyes when he nodded. "Well you're overreacting. You wanted her to be
more relaxed with you and clearly she is."

"I guess," Draco agreed reluctantly, deciding that he preferred her now than to that temperamental bitch that had walked
into his office three weeks ago. It clearly was just how Granger behaved sometimes. If nothing else it was a definite
indication that she was a lot more comfortable around him than she had been.

"It's nothing," his mother dismissed his uncertainty with a chuckle. "You read into things too much sometimes, son."

Draco arched his brow at her comment before she left the room, supposedly to get more drinks. His rational mind was
thankfully returning back into power. Still, he felt a little uneasy about the earlier incident, and he had a feeling she was
probably feeling a little foolish that he has rejected her gesture. But it didn't really matter, he decided. His mother was
right, it was nothing he should be concerned about. His logical mind was back and he was glad for it. If she felt awkward
tomorrow, she would just have to get over it.


a/n: Thanks so much for all your support so far! You have all been charming and very complimentary and I appreciate the

*Chapter 6*: Wards


Chapter 6: Wards.

Draco pushed his way through the swarming horde of journalists and photographers, ignoring their monotonous
questions with ease. The news of Goyle's death had brought the attention back very quickly, and all the Ministry staff were
notably agitated today. Somehow, it had been revealed that the Aurors had been trying to locate Goyle when he had been
murdered, and everyone wanted answers to the questions.

How did the killer manage to find Goyle if the Aurors couldn't?

Why were the Aurors looking for him?

Are the Ministry any closer to finding the killer?

When Malfoy managed to finally push his way past the nosy reporters and reach his department, Tilly informed him that
Mafalda was waiting in his office. The older witch was perched casually on his desk but Draco noted that she looked
exhausted. No doubt she would have dealt with the majority of the press earlier this morning.

"You managed to fight your way through then?" Mafalda asked her colleague with a sigh.

"Fucking parasites," Draco muttered, chucking his files on his desk and eyeing the mound of new paperwork with
disdain. "Do you need me to deal with some of the press?"

"No, Kingsley has agreed to deal with it today," Mafalda explained. "I just came to let you know that Hermione has gone
up to Scotland to help the other Aurors, so she's going to be joining you later on-

"She's gone to Scotland?" Draco repeated, eyeing the witch sceptically. "She said Potter was sending her the details."

"She didn't seem that happy about it," Mafalda admitted. "But it's her job to investigate this thoroughly. Besides,
everything's probably been cleaned up so I doubt she'll have to see anything too bad-

"The woman fought in the war," Malfoy reminded the witch in a cold tone. "And she's an Auror. I'm sure she has quite a
strong stomach."

"Good point," Mafalda nodded, eyeing him curiously for a moment. "I assume you two are getting along better now?"

"You know, I don't you need to mother me," Draco shot her an unimpressed look.

"I'm just checking," the witch smiled. "In all honesty you two do seem fine now. I'm surprised it only took a few weeks-

"Well, it's still a little tense," Draco admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "But no, we haven't killed each other yet."

"Good," Mafalda seemed satisfied with his answer. "Right I'm going to help Kingsley. I don't need to tell you how
essential it is for you to get on with this-

"I know," Draco breathed, finally taking his seat.

"And I wouldn't recommend staying in the Ministry for lunch," Mafalda said as she reach his door. "The press will be here
all day, and you're not skipping lunch before you say anything."

Malfoy was about to protest but remembered that he hadn't grabbed anything for breakfast that morning and he knew he
would be hungry by lunch. After Tilly had brought him a cup of tea, he tore restlessly into his work.

Hermione frowned as Harry placed a hand on her shoulder. After the war and the other countless morbid experiences in
her life, her best friend still found it necessary to comfort her when something like this happened. She could practically
feel the bitter aura of the Avada Kedavra curse polluting the air and it made her shiver.

Goyle had been living in a secluded cottage just north of Fort Augustus. He was alone for miles, and Hermione was
relieved they hadn't had to alter any muggle memories for a change. A quick search around his house had informed the
Aurors that Goyle had obviously been trying to live a peaceful life, away from the memory of the war. The wizard barely
had any magical items at all in his home, let alone any dark artefacts, and aside from a few letters from some family
members and ex-Slytherins, there was no evidence to suggest he had even spoken to anyone in the last four years.

She would need to have a closer look at the letters but she doubted they would reveal anything. Besides, anything that
could be too telling would have been removed by the killer.

So there was the big question.

Had the killer simply tracked down Goyle because the Aurors had been searching for him?

Or were they missing something?

This was all getting far too confusing for her, and she eyed the bloodstains on the walls like they held an answer. She
eyed the V in Goyle's chest with trained indifference. It was bigger this time, stretching from his pectorals to just above
his navel. It was deeper too, and Hermione counted the six ribs that were visible, noting one was protruding unnaturally
from the wound. His wrists and ankles were raw from binding curses and all but three of his fingernails had been torn
away in his desperate attempt to escape, leaving behind spongy-red skin, stabbed with splinters.

She'd seen worse but these attacks were really starting to get to her. Every murder was unique, and the lack of a pattern
was frustrating. Dennis Creevy and Pansy Parkinson had both been silenced before they'd been hit with the killing curse.
Theodore Nott had been struck with no previous spells and Goyle had been bound. Nott and Pansy had been killed
within a week of each other, and then nothing for three weeks before Goyle. It was too erratic. Too random. The only
consistency was the V mark and the victims. She wondered if a muggle-born would be next as three of the four victims
had been ex-Death Eaters, but the inconsistency of the killings reminded her that it was best not to assume these

"What are your thoughts?" Harry asked her, breaking her concentration on Goyle's form.

"Why hasn't he been moved?" Hermione asked her friend. "He's been here a long time."

"I wanted to wait until you saw him," the wizard explained, signalling to the other five Aurors; Neville, Terry, Dean, Horace
and Korvin. They each nodded at Harry before they began to work on removing Goyle's corpse. Harry led his best friend
away from the small living room until they found themselves outside, staring at the snow-covered mountains. "This is
your case, so I thought it might be helpful."

"This case is getting to me, Harry," Hermione admitted softly. "Four people are dead and I have no idea where to even
start looking. We are literally just chasing long-shots. I have no solid theories or anything. Everything's just guesses."

"Your guesses have come through for us before," Harry offered her a weak smile. "We'll find something soon. They
always screw up eventually and make a mistake."

"I hope you're right," Hermione sighed, setting herself down on the damp grass. "I need something to work with."

"Are you okay?" Harry asked her suddenly. "You haven't had anything strange happen, have you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you are a muggle-born," Harry said, taking a seat next to her. "You're quite a famous one too. I'm concerned that he
might come for you soon. I know you've thought about it too and I just wanted to check that you haven't seen anything

"Nothing," Hermione shook her head. "I will tell you if I notice anything but I'm safe at the Ministry."

"Perhaps you should stay at the Burrow for a while-

"Ginny already asked me," Hermione told him with a moan. "And I said no. The Weasleys have too many people living
there as it is. I'm fine, Harry."

"Aright," Harry nodded reluctantly, knowing how stubborn she could be. "How are things with Malfoy?"
"Better," Hermione revealed hesitantly. "Working with him has been easier than I expected. He's still, well... Malfoy, but I
don't want to hex him all the time now."

"Shame," Harry chuckled, only half joking. "I know I couldn't work with him."

"You probably could, Harry," the witch smiled at her friend, aware of her uncertainty about that comment. "He's changed a
lot since Hogwarts-

"But like you said, he's still Malfoy."

"I guess," Hermione shrugged, rising from her grassy seat. "I should be heading back to the Ministry. I have everything I

"Are you sure you're okay?" Harry asked her, also rising from his place. "We're going to start tracking again after this is
cleaned up but I could come home for a while and keep an eye-

"Harry, I'm really fine," Hermione insisted, patting his arm reassuringly. "I'm an Auror too, you know. The Ministry is safe
and the wards on my house are very strong."

"Yeah, well Goyle and Creevy had strong wards too," Harry reminded her, and he was about to continue with his warning
when her face suddenly froze in thought. "Hermione, you okay?"

"The wards," the Auror muttered to herself, and Harry recognised her expression when she started to analyse something
in her head intensely. She was looking beyond him now, toying with the information she had and he knew it was futile to
try and interrupt her. If she lost her train of thought now because of him, she would be pissed. She finally turned back to
him, still murmuring. "Maybe, but-

"What is it?" Harry asked her, eyeing her expectantly.

"I need you to get me the details about the wards and send them to me immediately," Hermione told him quickly,
embracing him in a brief hug before she apparated out of his sight. She went home, had a quick shower and only had to
wait two hours before Hedwig tapped on her window with a file of shrunken parchments attached to his leg.

She read the small note from Harry explaining that Terry was particularly good with wards and had provided her with
some details about Goyle's wards and what he could remember about Creevy's. It was only a few particulars but Terry
had promised he would look into it further, and send her whatever he found.

She got ready in record time and Flooed to the Ministry, eager to show Malfoy her new file.

Draco's office was a mess. There were masses of parchments scattered over his desk and some on the floor, there
were four mugs, all containing varying amounts of tea and many other random objects including countless quills, books
and photographs. It was organised chaos at its best. He glanced at the clock and decided he would head out for some
lunch soon before his eyes went straight back to his work. He had completed over half of the Traces by himself and had
managed to gather some more information on the ex-Death Eaters and muggle-borns.

Yes, he had worked his arse off, but he was bored out of his skull. He had probably been so successful with his
workload because he was distracting himself from the mind-blowing boredom he had been experiencing all morning.
He'd never looked at the clock so much in his life. But of course that only made the time go slower.

He wasn't sure when it happened or why, but he had to admit to himself that he had gotten into a routine with Granger.
Her presence in work had become a normality and without her constant, although rather entertaining, arguments, he
found himself having the slowest day of his life.

He had always been partial to the solitude and the privacy his office provided him with, and he still was, but the case was
stressing him out and he needed to be able to have it out with someone. Someone who could keep up.

Hermione burst through his door and he almost jumped at her sudden appearance. Not quite though. He arched an
eyebrow at her excited features, noting her hair was more wild than normal. She was already shrugging off her robes,
revealing a black skirt and a grey blouse. She flung her robes into one of the spare chairs to the side of the room and he
watched her closely, waiting for an explanation about her enthusiasm. She smiled at him and was about to open her
mouth to talk when she noticed the state of his desk and frowned.

"What in Merlin's name happened here?" Hermione eyed him warily, gingerly picking up one a snapped quill. "Everything

"Busy morning," Draco dismissed quickly, still eyeing her with interest. She took her seat, placing her bag next to her as
she continued to pick up random items from his desk and eye them with confusion.

"It looks like you went on a rampage," Hermione commented and he growled under his breath when she still didn't
explain her initial excitement.

"Granger," Draco snapped, snatching a book she'd been looking at from her grasp. "Why were you so bloody happy a
few seconds ago?"

"The wards!" Hermione exclaimed, and the energy returned quickly back to her features. "Both Creevy and Goyle had
wards on their homes."

"So?" Draco shrugged at her, momentarily questioning her supposed intelligence. "Most wizards have wards-

"No, that's not my point," the Auror explained, rolling her eyes for effect. "My point is that the killer managed to get past the

"Well maybe the-

"Would you just let me finish?" Hermione barked at him, considering a silencing charm. "I know that maybe the killer just
did his homework, but what if he didn't have to? What if they knew the killer and just let their wards down? Maybe they
knew the killer."

Draco's eyebrows neared as he considered her idea. He hated it when she looked all proud like she did now. Clearly,
she thought her realisation was relevant, and he hated to admit but so did he. They had been too busy wondering about
the links between the victims, they'd never really considered how the killer had managed to break the wards. Hell, they
had never really looked at the wards at all, and he scowled when he realised they really should have paid more attention
to the little details of the murders.

"What do you think?" Hermione broke his thoughts, and she realised she wanted him to be pleased with her idea. "I
managed to get some information on the wards they had so we could see if it does mean anything."

"Alright," Draco agreed hesitantly. "You may be on to something."

"Thank you," Hermione smiled at him, and he resisted a smirk. The last thing she needed was more encouragement.
"Do you want to go over the ward details?"

"Where did you get the details from?"

"Terry Boot is a bit of a genius when it comes to them so he gave some information," Hermione explained, retrieving the
notes Terry had sent her from her bag. "He said he would look into it a bit more and send me anything else he could

"Okay," Draco nodded, recognising Boot to be one of the Aurors who had accompanied Potter. "We can discuss it over

"Alright," Hermione grinned at him, placing the file back into her bag. "You want to grab something from downstairs?"

"No," Draco shook his head, thinking back to Mafalda's warning about the press. "There are a hundred journalists
downstairs so I was thinking about going somewhere in Diagon Alley."

"Okay," the witch replied hesitantly, realising they had never really left the office together before. "But won't there be
journalists there?"

"I know somewhere quiet," Draco informed her nonchalantly, slowly raising his eyes to look at her. "Have you already

"Well, no-

"Then let's go," the wizard commanded, leaving his seat and heading towards the door. Hermione clumsily stumbled
after him, grabbing her robes and her bag and rushing to follow the blond wizard. They walked to the fireplace at the
other side of the department and Flooed to Diagon Alley.

Draco immediately headed in a particular direction, walking past Gamb ol and Japes and Ollivander's before he stopped
in front of a small cafe called Camb ria. Hermione had never even noticed the quaint little snack bar before, and observed
that it was rather quiet inside, despite it being lunch time. She followed Malfoy inside as he guided them to a secluded
table near the back.

"It's so quiet here," the witch commented as she took a seat opposite him.

"That's why I like it," Malfoy told her, turning to look at the waiter who had instantly joined them.

"Mr. Malfoy," the older wizard greeted, smiling kindly at Draco. "It's nice to see you."

"Alfred," Malfoy greeted, and Hermione noted a slight pleasantness to his tone. "I'll have the beef casserole and a

"Of course," the greying wizard smiled, turning to Hermione. "And for you, miss?"

"I didn't really get a chance to look-

"Do you like casserole?" Draco asked her with a hint of impatience, but she nodded at his question anyway. "Then you
should have it. It's really quite good."

"Okay," the witch smiled politely at Alfred. "The casserole and a butterbeer too, please."

The waiter offered them another nod before he left them alone, and Hermione shuffled a little awkwardly in her chair. It
felt bizarre being in a social situation with Draco and she really wasn't sure what to do or say.

"Are you sure we can discuss things here?" The witch asked him with a slight nervous edge to her voice, eyeing the
small amount of customers warily. "This is confidential."

"Nobody here cares," Draco assured her as their butterbeers arrived.

"Okay," Hermione nodded slowly, eyeing him thoughtfully.

The pair began to discuss their new information and Hermione became more and more convinced that the killer must
have been permitted to enter by the victims. Goyle's wards had been very strong and complex and Draco had to admit
that it would have taken a great deal of skill to beat them. They came to a conclusion that there was a possibility that
Creevy and Goyle had indeed known the killer, and even trusted them to a certain extent. Why else would they have let the
killer into their homes? They agreed to wait until Terry sent her more details about Creevy's wards before they looked for
possible mutual contacts between the two late wizards.

And Draco had been right. The casserole really was good.

"How did you find this place?" Hermione asked him as she finished off her food. "I've never seen it before."

"I can't remember," Draco shrugged, reading over the files Terry had given her. "My mother wanted to keep a low profile
after the war so I think she told me about it."

"I like it," the witch admitted with a grin. "It's a lot nicer than the food at the Ministry."

"That's hardly difficult," Draco commented dryly, eyeing her empty plate. "I take it you liked the casserole."

"I did," Hermione conceded, averting her eyes for a moment. "Thank you for the suggestion."

"Nice to see you trust my judgement, Granger," Draco commented, lifting the parchment a little higher so she couldn't
see his face. He wasn't even sure why he had done that. An awkward silence inevitably followed and the wizard regretted
his comment.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question, Malfoy?" Hermione asked suddenly, and he lowered the sheets onto the table.
"I guess we'll find out," Draco stated in a dull tone.

"Well I couldn't help but notice," the witch started, evidently concerned if her question was appropriate. "That your father
isn't on the Trace-

"He died," Draco remarked quickly, watching her face grimace in discomfort. He knew the questions that would follow
and decided he might as well answer them now. "Three years ago, another Voldemort sympathiser hit him with the
killing curse. They were pissed my father had swapped sides."

"I see," Hermione said, and he waited for her to say those vile predictable words 'I'm sorry for your loss,' but they never
came. "That explains a lot. I apologise if I made you feel uncomfortable."

Another uncomfortable silence settled between them as Draco considered carefully. When his father had been killed, too
many people had offered their condolences, pretending that his father had been a decent man. He'd always found it
disgusting. He knew his father had been a prejudiced bastard and the last thing he had needed was people telling him
otherwise. He'd been nineteen. Did they think he was stupid? He was glad Granger hadn't attempted to lie about her
hatred for his father. It would have simply irritated him. Instead, she just sat there without a hint of pity, fidgeting in her
seat again.

"Let me ask you a question," Draco demanded suddenly, and her eyes snapped back up to his. "Why did you become an
Auror? I never thought you'd have gone for that."

"Interesting question," Hermione tilted her head to the side as she considered it. "It was actually your cousin's

"My cousin?"

"Tonks," Hermione clarified, and he frowned uncomfortably as she mentioned her name. He was never sure how to
react when people mentioned Nymphadora. Sure she'd been his cousin, but he'd never really known her. "Before the war
she told me that I would make a good Auror."

"Okay," Draco nodded, noting that her face dropped a little when she mentioned his late cousin. "What would you have
done if she hadn't suggested it to you?"

"I'm not sure," Hermione admitted thoughtfully. "I guess I would have liked to work for the Department for the Regulation
and Control of Magical Creatures and focussed more on my S.P.E.W. work. I still do some work for it but it's hard to find
the time."

"That sounds more like you," Draco commented, and she offered him a weak smile. "You never would bloody shut up
about house-elves." Hermione gave Draco a cold look, which he returned before he continued. "And before you go on a
rant we only have two now and they asked to stay. My mother did a bit of soul-searching after the war."

"Well that's good news," the witch's smile grew a little wider. "You really have changed."

Draco scowled as yet another awkward silence forced itself in between them. The conversation had gotten far too
personal for his liking but a quick glance at a clock informed him that their lunch break had finished almost ten minutes

"We need to be getting back, Granger," Draco motioned to the time as he began to gather his things.

"Oh, shit," the Auror murmured, shoving all their work into her bag.

They split the bill after Hermione insisted that Draco was acting chauvinistic. They Flooed back to the Ministry and
instantly settled back into their work pattern. They didn't ask any more personal questions, but Hermione did suggest
that they should go back to Camb ria again if the press decided to clog up the Ministry. He knew it was likely the
journalists would return when there was another murder, but he agreed anyway.

"Things have been hectic at work," Blaise explained to Draco, helping himself to a glass of firewhiskey. "What with the
kids going back to school and everything."
Draco nodded at his friend as they went to have a seat in his living room. It had been a while since he'd seen his friend
and he really did look rather stressed and agitated.

"I assume you heard about Goyle?" Draco questioned, taking a sip of his own drink.

"How could I miss it?" Draco grunted. "I can only imagine how many reporters were at the Ministry today."

"Fucking arseholes," the Malfoy heir scolded. "I might ask mum to tell Rita to back off a little. I can't even go for a piss in

"Good luck," Blaise rolled his eyes. "Any interesting developments at work?"

"Nothing much," the wizard replied, deciding the wards weren't really important until they had a full analysis from Boot.
"Granger thinks she might be on to something but, to be honest, this guy's too smart. We're just waiting for him to screw

"How are things going with Granger?" Blaise questioned, glancing over the newspaper on Draco's couch. "Is she still an
unbearable bitch?"

"She's become less irritating," Draco shrugged at his companion, ignoring Blaise's sceptical look.

"I thought you couldn't stand her?"

"I need to work with the woman," Draco explained, deciding he wouldn't tell Blaise that he had taken Hermione to lunch
today. "We needed to reach some sort of truce for that to happen-

"Yes, but still," the wizard interrupted. "Last time I spoke to you, you despised the muggle-born-

"I never said we were best friends," Draco warned his friend in calm tone. He did not like this subject. "I just said we have
to work together."

"Getting a little touchy there, Draco," Blaise commented, smirking as he taunted.

"Yes, well," Draco frowned, combing his fingers through his platinum hair. "You'd be a little touchy too if you had the
Ministry breathing down your neck to find a psychopath."

"Fair point," Blaise nodded gravely.

"And just be careful," Draco told his friend in a serious voice.

"I always am," the wizard assured his friend. "So the Ministry are giving you a harsh time?"

"There are four people dead and we have no suspects," Draco growled, massaging his forehead and grinding his teeth.
"What do you think?"

"I think you need a good shag," the dark-skinned wizard grinned. "You are far too tense, mate."

"I'm inclined to agree with you on that," Draco breathed, glancing at Blaise with a questioning look. "You know anyone?
I'm sick of my mother setting me up with morons."

"I think I can sort something out," Blaise informed his pale companion. "Saturday night sound okay?"

"Just name the place," Draco pursed his lips. He really could do with releasing a little tension before he went completely

"I'll owl you the details tomorrow," the wizard nodded.

Blaise only stayed a little longer before he headed home, leaving Draco alone with his thoughts. Goyle's death was still
playing on his mind. He had a sneaking suspicion that the wards would not have been sensitive to Polyjuice Potion,
making Granger's idea moot. He supposed there was always a possibility that the wards would reveal something, but
the way his luck was going with the case it was doubtful.

No. They had nothing. And for all he knew his mother, Blaise or even himself could be next. He had no control and no
clue what he was even supposed to do now. He felt powerless and it was the most disconcerting thing he could ever
experience. That feeling, combined with the fact he hadn't had a decent fuck in a while, was not doing well for his temper.
He could practically feel his dick twitch at the prospect of a shag on Saturday. Until then, he was just going to have to
deal with his foul mood.

Hermione hated it when the Ministry was bust on a Friday. When she Flooed to work, she was instantly bombarded with
the press. She estimated around thirty journalists were swarming around her and she regretted not Flooing closer to the
department. She tried to push her way through the crowd, refusing to make eye contact as the reporters screamed their
questions at her.

"Hermione! Do you have any idea who the killer's next victim is?!"

"Miss Granger, do you have any idea who is behind all this?!"

"How do you feel about being a potential target?!"

The witch tried to barge through the tenacious crowd but there were so many of them. She felt someone grab her upper-
arm and her impatience turned into anger. She turned around, ready to give whoever it was a piece of her mind but she
found Draco staring down at her.

"Granger," Draco murmured as he began to manoeuvre them through the crowd. She followed his lead, relieved when
she realised they were finally out of the Ministry's entrance. They left the press behind and Malfoy released her arm as
they headed up to his office. She watched his face for a moment, noting his weary expression and his clenched jaw
before he marched ahead of her.

"Thanks for that," the witch muttered quietly, eyeing his back while she wondered what could have made him so agitated.
"I thought things might have calmed down a little."

"Wrong," Draco remarked in a bored tone, ignoring Tilly's bright smile as they walked into his office. He fell heavily into
his chair and growled at the mess on his desk, noting that the new Traces hadn't been delivered yet. "For fuck's sake."

"You okay?" Hermione asked him as she relaxed in her own seat. "You seem a little tense today."

"I'm fine," Draco barked, and his voice sounded sharper than he'd intended.

"You sure? You don't look-

"I said I was fine," the wizard spat, and Hermione felt her lips clap together. She could recognise a sensitive attitude
when she saw one.

"Okay," the witch sighed, deciding it was best just to get on with some work. "Terry should be sending over his work on
the wards at some point-

"Great," Draco rolled his eyes at her, and she hated that he had the ability to make her feel stupid. "Those reports aren't
going to make a difference."


"Even if the wards were really strong," Draco continued, tapping his finger angrily against his desk. "And the killer had to
have permission to enter Goyle's and Creevy's homes, that doesn't fucking mean they knew the killer-

"I don't-

"It just means that the guy knew how to make Polyjuice Potion!" Draco's voice was loud and bitter and Hermione
involuntary gasped when he slammed his open palm against his desk. His breathing was a little faster than it normally
was and his stormy-grey eyes narrowed at her. Her shock quickly subsided and morphed into fury.

"What the fuck is your problem?!" Hermione stood up and clenched her fists at her sides. "I am fully aware that Polyjuice
Potion could be an issue but there are wards that can detect it. Now. I don't know what has crawled up your arse since
yesterday but I will not listen to you bitch all day-

"Then I suggest you put on some earmuffs-

"I would sooner silence you," Hermione promised, resting her hand against her wand to prove a point. "Now are you
going to calm down?"

"Don't try and patronise me, Granger," Malfoy warned her with a scowl.

"I'm not," Hermione told him, sitting back in her chair. "I'm asking you to stop being such a moron so we can get on with-

"Fine," Draco snarled at her before lifting up some parchments. He pretended to read over the words but he couldn't
quite focus his attention on the page. He glanced up at Granger and noticed that her previous rage had been replaced
with disappointment. If he thought his own temper couldn't have gotten any worse, he was wrong when he saw her
frustrated face.

They barely spoke during the whole day and worked straight through lunch. Hermione missed the Camb ria already.

a/n: Thanks for your support so far, it's been very encouraging. All suggestions welcome!!

*Chapter 7*: Climax


Chapter 7: Climax

When Hermione still hadn't received any further details from Terry she started to feel a little worried. It was Friday
evening, and she was still uptight about her arguments with Draco. The man had infuriated her beyond belief. Yes, they
argued quite often but their fight that morning had been pointless. It had been neither intelligent nor relevant. Something
had put Draco in a bad mood and he'd taken it out on her, and that had pissed her off.

So, to distract herself from her own fiery thoughts, she had attacked her work, nursing a glass of red wine as she did.
Her original plan had been to prove Malfoy wrong, and demonstrate that the wards were an important factor, but she
didn't have the information she'd been promised.

She had worked with Terry for four years and they had participated in their training together, so she would say she knew
him well. Well enough to know that he usually did what he said he would. The man was a perfectionist, so she
concluded that there must have been a good reason for her missing data. She'd sent Harry an owl, just to double-check
that everything was alright, but that had been almost five hours ago, and she was really starting to worry.

Nevertheless, she pressed on with her work, eyeing the summaries of the murders, hoping something would jump out
at her.

Dennis Creevey, 19, killed August 12th. Part-time assistant for a magical clock manufacturer. Found in his flat with V-
shaped wound on his chest. Cause of death: Killing curse.

Pansy Parkinson, 22, killed August 22nd. Unemployed. Found in marital home with V-shaped wound on chest. Cause of
death: Killing curse.

Theodore Nott, 22, killed August 27th. Quidditch coach. Found in Knockturn Alley with V-shaped wound on chest. Cause
of death: Killing curse.

Gregory Goyle, 22, killed Septemb er 15th. Unemployed. Found in home with V-shaped wound on chest. Cause of death:
Killing curse.

There were many notes that followed but they all merged together before her tired eyes. She was sick of looking at them.
Sick of the repeated words that she saw every day. Sick of feeling helpless and completely useless. How could they have
no suspects? No indications or theories? She was a bloody genius! And some bastard on a killing-spree was beating
her. When had her Friday nights become so dull?

Her owl, Mayla, returned a couple of hours later with the letter she had meant for Harry still attached to her leg. Her
concern flooded her like a wave of terror. She thought about owling Ginny, but knew she would be asleep. It was almost
three in the morning, and her own eyelids were starting to droop. She headed to her room with teary eyes and prayed
she would hear from Harry by tomorrow.

Draco was still awake at three in the morning. Parchments were scattered over his coffee table, along with a large bottle
of firewhiskey. He didn't bother with a glass. His head was spinning a little, and all the files on the case were screaming
at him, rousing a premature headache. Every now and then he would have a flashback to his argument with Granger,
and every time one came he would take a long swig from the bottle. He had no idea why but their argument had pissed
him off.

All his notes on the case were taunting him. Reminding him that he had made no progress. He'd taken it out on her and
it was only due to the drink that he could accept he was regretting his behaviour. Alcohol seemed to bring out his
contemplative side and he despised it for that reason alone.
Alright, so he'd been a bastard, but she was hardly an innocent party. She was as stubborn as he was and had refused
to back down. She had goaded him, and he had noticed that little spark in her eye when they fought. It was always there
when they shouted at each other and he knew she enjoyed it just as much as him. Still, he could tell that she'd been a
little affected by their quarrel today. For starters, she had let him have the last word and that was a rarity. Plus she had
refused to meet his eyes for the remainder of the day, and hell if he knew why, but he didn't like that.

He had chosen to argue out his frustration with her because he knew she could take it, but she had backed down first.
He recalled her face after the argument, unsettled and almost disappointed. There had been no anger, no fire, and he
was angry at himself for dousing her.

Clearly, he had crossed some sort of line she had drawn. She hadn't provoked him, he had simply jumped down her
throat, and he knew she was probably wondering why. She had done nothing. The case was getting to him. He was
getting head-fucked.

And now he was angry at Granger again for making him overanalyse their argument.

He roughly slammed down his parchments and the loud clap made him wince. At least he could release a little
aggravation on whatever girl Blaise had set him up with tomorrow night. Still, he needed something now. Alcohol also
had a tendency to set his testosterone thundering.

His balls had never felt so heavy, and he was vaguely aware that his dick was already a little hard. With drunk and
clumsy hands, he undid his trousers and slid his boxers down to his knees. His hand was quick and firm. There was no
need to drag it out, he just needed a small moment of satisfaction after his shit day. He titled his head back on the couch
and closed his eyes, hissing when he began to feel that familiar tingle somewhere under his stomach. It was building,
spreading lower and his fist pumped harder and faster to reach it.

Just before the sensation reached its climax, he vaguely registered that an image of Granger had flashed against his
eyelids. It had only lasted a moment and he would have questioned it had it not been for the inappropriate timing.

He groaned when he felt the bliss reach its pinnacle, and he ignored the warm liquid when it splashed under his naval.
A few more slow strokes and he was done, blinking back the blurry frame to his sight. Yes, that had certainly lightened
his mood.

He grabbed his wand to get rid of the mess and then relaxed against the cushions with a contented breath. He felt
relaxed for the first time in a couple of weeks, but it was short-lived when he remembered that he had pictured Granger
just before he came. His eyes snapped open and his brow creased in thought.

What the fuck?

Had he just...fantasised about Granger?


Absolutely not.

No. Clearly his flashbacks about their earlier argument had just chosen to jump in his head at the wrong time. That was
a reasonable explanation so he stuck to it. Clearly his head was just all over the place. He was pissed off about the
case, pissed off about their fight and just generally pissed off. A good night's sleep was required, so he trudged wearily
to his room and ignored that fact that he had just climaxed to an image of Hermione fucking Granger.

Head-fuck indeed.

Hermione woke just past midday after a restless sleep and immediately sent owls to both Ginny and Harry, hoping that
Mayla had just been unlucky last night. She went straight back to her work, glancing far too often at her clock and
counting the minutes until Mayla returned.

Ginny had also had trouble reaching Harry, but insisted that it was nothing to worry about. He had owled her on Friday
morning informing her that he would be difficult to contact, although she wasn't too sure about the reason why. This
calmed Hermione a little, but not enough. So she worked her arse off all day, even contacting friends of the victims to try
and establish if they had noticed anything strange in the days leading up to their deaths.
Poor Mayla barely had a moment's rest all day, but she could see her owner was looking a little stressed and delivered
all the letters as quick as she could. Before Hermione realised, it was almost evening.

Finally, at around ten o'clock, Mayla delivered her a letter from Harry. He explained that he'd been on, what he thought,
was a promising trail and had set up wards to block owls in case they had blown their cover. It had turned out to be a
dead-end but at least he had sent her Terry's work on the wards. The results were interesting.

After reading them over, she realised she couldn't wait to show Draco the results. So she didn't. She wasn't sure why
she decided to add a little make-up and fix her hair before she left.

Draco's date was a pureblood socialite called Penny Greendove, and after she had mispronounced the word 'specific' to
sound like 'pacific' five times, he had decided she was possibly one of the most annoying people he had ever met. She
had done nothing but chat mindless drivel since he had met her, and he was pretty certain he could count the words he
had managed to mutter on one hand.

Still, she was an attractive little thing, and her father happened to own the restaurant they were dining in so his meal was
free, for a change. The level of her intelligence was clearly low as she seemed to think this date was going well. She had
stroked his arm a few times and whispered in his ear, oblivious to his indifference to her advances. She didn't need to
seduce him. He had planned on bedding her before he had even met her.

When he suggested they go back to hers, he had had to stifle a growl when she told him her home was having some
work done and she was living with her parents. No way was he dealing with parents when he had to make a quick
escape in the morning.

He despised bringing back girls to his house as they always found it necessary to linger around in the morning, but he
needed a shag. He had built himself up for one now, and decided he would just get rid of her in the morning by claiming
a family emergency.

"Would you like a drink or something?" Draco asked her once they had Flooed back to his house.

"I'm fine, thank you," Penny tossed her charmed-blonde locks over her shoulder. "Could I use your bathroom please?"

"Third door on the right," he murmured, motioning to the staircase behind her.

Draco poured himself a firewhiskey and almost jumped out of his skin when a certain muggle-born charged out of his
fireplace. He stared at her as she neared him, confused by her proud smirk and the parchments she was clutching in
her fist. His eyes slithered over her relaxed muggle clothing but he caught himself. He fought hard against the little voice
in his head, reminding him that he had tossed off to the woman in front of him just last night. It was impossible not to
look at her differently, but he quashed the notions hurting his head. She had just burst into his home looking decidedly
smug, and he had no idea why.

"Granger," he sighed hesitantly, arching an eyebrow at her entrance. "What are you-

"You were wrong," Hermione gloated, stopping only a foot away from him. "Very wrong, in fact."

"What are you talking about?" Draco asked her, a little unsettled by her accusation. He hated being wrong.

"The wards," the witch continued, her voice irony-sweet. "Terry sent me his notes a few minutes ago. Creevey's wards
weren't sensitive to Polyjuice Potion, but Goyle's were. Goyle knew his killer and he let him into his house."

Draco couldn't stop his eyes from widening at her words. No way had he been expecting that. He had been so convinced
that Boot's notes would be irrelevant.

"I was right," Hermione stated finally, shoving Terry's notes into his hand so he could see for himself. "You were wrong,
so I want an apology for you being such an arsehole yesterday."

Draco's eyes scanned the parchments she had given him, quickly taking in the essential details. She had been correct.
This was important and she had thought of it. He felt like he should be angry or embarrassed for shouting at her, but
instead he just felt a little proud of her for suggesting the theory. He smirked to himself, dropping Boot's notes on his
table before he slowly raised his eyes to her pleased face.
"Nice work, Granger," he offered her, and her face turned slightly surprised at his compliment. "I'm impressed."

He went to move away from her, suddenly aware of their proximity. He liked his personal space and she was definitely
invading it at the moment. He just wanted to get a few paces between them, but she prevented his plan when she
grabbed his arm. He turned to face her slowly, instinctively shooting her a warning glace.

"I want an apology," Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, stepping a little closer. "You were a bastard-

"Well you were hardly pleasant-

"I was defending myself," the witch whispered, and he felt her breath on his neck. "You jumped down my throat-

"Well you didn't help the situation," Draco told her, and he attempted to turn away from her but she grabbed his chin to
face her. They were closer now, and his whole body tensed.

"I want an apology," Hermione repeated, fixing him with a defiant stare. She faltered a little when she realised there was
only a few inches between them but she wasn't about to let him go.

Draco tried hard to ignore her delicate fingers on his skin and the fact that their noses were almost touching. He sighed,
annoyed when he realised the action made her hair move and he found that quite charming. He needed to get her away
from him. He would have to give her what she wanted.

"Fine," the wizard grinded his teeth, matching her stare. "I apologise for my behaviour yesterday."

"Thank you," Hermione nodded quietly, oblivious that the action caused some of her hair to touch his forehead. He
noticed that she seemed to relax, and she almost smiled at him. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Draco didn't answer her and wondered why she was still holding his face. His gaze wondered down to her lips for a
second before he realised his mistake and looked back up to her questioning eyes. She'd seen it and he cursed himself
for being such an idiot. Hermione glanced down at his mouth then, but allowed her hazel stare to linger on them. She
tilted her head slightly, but a noise behind Draco stopped her from doing anything else.

Hermione's eyes shot over to the pretty blonde standing by his staircase and she couldn't stop her brow from creasing at
the sight. Draco didn't need to turn around to know who had made the inopportune sound and his eyes clenched close
as he felt the awkwardness smother him. He frowned when Granger pulled away from him with an unreadable
expression on her face. Hermione judged the situation and instantly mastered a mask of indifference.

"I'm sorry for interrupting," Hermione looked over to Penny after a long pause, and Draco frowned at her words. "I had to
talk to Malfoy about work-

"Oh Merlin," the blonde witch gasped, and Draco cringed at her voice. "You're Hermione Granger. Draco, you didn't
mention that you worked with Hermione Granger!"

"Didn't he?" Hermione faked her offence. "Well he's been a little forgetful recently."

"Miss Granger," Penny continued, walking closer to the muggle-born. "It is such a pleasure. Is there any chance I could
have your autograph?"

"Of course you can," the Auror's voice was laced with false kindness, but Penny seemed oblivious. Hermione made a
silent promise to herself that if the blonde witch took another step closer she would hex her to oblivion. She dared a
glance at Draco who was not even bothering to hide his discomfort. "I'll give one to Malfoy on Monday and he can give it to
you next time he sees you."

"That's so kind of you," Penny grinned enthusiastically, ignorant to the tension between her date and the other witch.

"Penny," Draco finally broke his silence, eyeing the blonde woman with impatience. "Could you wait in the other room?
This is confidential-

"That's not necessary," Hermione interrupted him. "I'll leave you to it."

"No, that's fine," Penny grinned at the other witch, and Hermione suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "I'll see you in a
minute. It was a pleasure to meet you Miss Granger."

"Likewise," the Auror lied, eyeing her retreating form with a raised brow. She looked over to Draco who was eyeing her
with irritated eyes.

"I should leave," Hermione said, making her way over to his fireplace.

It took every inch of his control to stop himself from uttering the word 'stay' to her. He watched her leave, biting his tongue
and acknowledging that Monday was going to be worse than a weekend with Voldemort. When she disappeared in a
whirlwind of green flames, he raked his finger through his blond hair.

"Fucking hell," Draco cursed under his breath, taking a few moments to understand what had just happened. He could
have analysed it for hours, days even, but it would have never made sense. Her body had been an inch away from his.
Her lips had been a breath away. Had she moved her head before Penny had intruded, or had he imagined that? Was
that action even necessary if she had? What would have happened if his dull date hadn't stuck her bloody oar in? He
didn't know what to think.

What he did know was that they had made a breakthrough with the case. She had made a breakthrough. They actually
had something to work with, and that calmed him to a significant extent. His frustration leaked out of him and he found
that he really wasn't in the mood to fuck a random girl's brains out now. Firstly, that little incident with Granger was
screwing with his brain, and secondly this revelation with the murders had relaxed him enough that he didn't need to. He
was composed now. Granger's behaviour might have confused him, but he finally had some good news to concentrate

With another curse, he headed out of his living room, figuring Penny was waiting in the other living room. She was sat on
one his sofas, apparently still buzzing from meeting the one and only Hermione Granger. When she noticed him, she
rose from her seat but he stopped her before she got too close.

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave," Draco informed her bluntly. "There's a problem at work and I need to leave."

"Oh, okay," the blonde witch failed to hide her disappointment as she grabbed her bag. "Call me tomorrow?"

"Sure," Malfoy lied, leaving the room just in case she was excepting a goodnight kiss. No, he wouldn't be seeing her

He waited until he heard the familiar roar of the Floo before he ventured back into his sitting room. He collapsed in his
couch, grateful for his solitude. He grabbed Boot's work on the wards and took a closer look at them. His eyes drifted
closed and he fell asleep on the sofa.

The last thing that stained his brain before sleep took him was how fucking tense work was going to be on Monday.

Hermione groaned to herself when she walked out of her fireplace. She ignored the desire to bang her head repeatedly
against her wall and instead kicked her coffee table with a childish huff. Crookshanks stirred from his slumber when his
owner started cursing under her breath. She flopped down next to her ginger pet and folded her arm across her chest,
aware of the curious glances the intelligent creature was giving her.

"Don't ask," Hermione muttered, deciding that a glass of Baileys would make her drowsy enough to fall asleep. Merlin
knew she needed some rest.

She refused to analyse what had just happened at Malfoy's house. If she analysed it, that meant it was relevant, which it
most certainly was not. Nope. Nothing had even happened so what did she care? If someone had asked her what had
happened, what could she say? Her and Malfoy had stood close together for all of a few seconds. Big bloody deal. It was
barely even a happening at all. It was laughable.

Narcissa watched her son closely as he sat opposite her, downing his third firewhiskey in an hour. He had done nothing
but moan and curse since he had arrived, and even though she had asked what was wrong several times, he was
refusing to talk to her. She knew her son well enough to know he wasn't going to tell her anything today. Instead, she
changed the subject to something that made her cheerful. Her birthday ball.
"You have remembered that it's my birthday in two weeks, haven't you?" The witch eyed her son expectantly.

"How could I forget?" Draco snorted, shooting his mother a bored glance. "Saturday night, lots of people, most of which
you don't really know and I can't stand."

"That's the one," Narcissa smiled at her son. "I assume you'll be bringing some boring bimbo again. And don't think I
don't know about your date last night-

"Merlin forbid anything get past you-

"I'm a little offended you didn't ask me to set you up," his mother told him. "Blaise has worst taste in women than you. If
you're going to be a womanising man then at least pick a girl with a bit of dignity. The Greendove daughter is a moronic

"Then you'll be pleased to know that nothing happened," Draco informed his mother, knowing that if she thought he had
slept with her she would have harped on about it for the remainder of his visit.

"Really?" Narcissa eyed her son sceptically. "Dare I ask why?"

"Breakthrough at work," the wizard stated simply. It wasn't strictly a lie. "Had to call it off."

"You found something?"

"Well, technically," Draco replied, and his mother noticed the slight change to his tone. "Granger found something. Turns
out Goyle knew whoever killed him. It narrows things down a little."

"That's good news," his mother grinned at him. "Hermione is a very bright girl."

"Sure," Draco shrugged, pouring himself another glass of firewhiskey.

"I'm glad you two are getting on better," Narcissa commented, missing her son's quiet snort. "I trust you can give her the
invitation to my birthday? The poor owls are going to-

"What?" Draco snapped, eyeing his mother with displeasure. "You're inviting Granger?"

"Of course," the witch frowned at her son. "The girl removed my Trace. I owe her at least a few drinks and our infamous
Malfoy hospitality-

"You don't even know her," Draco remarked, failing to hide his distaste for her admission.

"Well then this would be the perfect opportunity to get to know her," Narcissa watched her son inquisitively. "Are you two
still getting on okay? Or have you been fighting again?"

"Everything's fine," Draco lied, wondering how much trouble he would get in for hexing his own mother right now, or just
'losing' Granger's invitation.

"Good," the witch smiled, although she was not entirely satisfied with his answer.

"I'm not entirely sure she will want to come, though," Draco remarked, staring at his mother with a serious stare. "She
hardly enjoyed her last visit."

"Draco, that's not funny," Narcissa scolded, agitated by his comment. "You know I don't like talking about that."

"It was just an observation," the wizard defended.

"I am perfectly aware that Bellatrix was awful," Narcissa frowned, and Draco hated that her voice sounded sad. "And I
know what she did to Hermione was bloody brutal so forgive me for trying to put right some of the mistakes this family
had made!"

Draco's eyes widened at her little outburst. His mother rarely cursed and he couldn't remember the last time she had
raised her voice. He had always admired her composure, but every now and then she would have a rant like she was
now. He left his seat to sit next to her on the couch and offered her a reassuring pat on her back.

"Don't get yourself all worked up," he told his mother, praying she wouldn't start crying. "You know I won't do anything to
ruin your birthday."
"Thank you," the witch grinned at her son, and her serene aura fell back into place. "Right, can you help me start owling
the invitations?"

Draco stayed with his mother for an hour, assisting his mother attach far too many letters to several owls. He was about
to leave when his mother handed him Granger's invitation. He waited until he was home before he read the little card,
ignoring the charmed illustrations that surrounded the delicate words. He really could care less if there were butterflies
and stars moving over the parchment.

You are cordially invited to Narcissa Malfoy's Birthday Celeb ration.

At Malfoy Manor on Saturday, Octob er 2nd at 7:00 p.m.

Please b ring this invitation with you as it will permit you to pass through the Floo.

This Invitation applies to Miss Hermione Granger and Guest.

Draco didn't even realise he had scowled at the writing.

And Guest?

A/n: I know this is out pretty quick but I really enjoyed writing this chapter so I just wanted it out there! It's May 2nd so
Happy Voldemort defeat day!!!!!! Just want to take a few seconds to thank some people!

Luvtinka: Thanks very much for your kind reviews!

Booho: Thanks! Hope I'm doing okay with representing their relationship! Harder than I thought so thanks for that!

Mehr03: Thanks for the luck! Need it!!

Extremely ordinary: Thanks for your review! I completely agreed with you so I hope I've made things a bit more
interesting! I just didn't want my fic to be one those awful fluffy things where they fall in love within 2 days! I really enjoyed
writing the last two chaps so hope you enjoyed!!

Eau-bleu: Thanks for your review it was very encouraging!!

IGOTEAMEDWARD: Thanks for your review!! And I giggled when I read your penname!! Love it!

Eldarwen melwasul: Thanks for your reviews! I have really enjoyed writing about Draco and Narcissa's relationship so
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get rolling and you add a dash of spice! Please Read and Review.


*Chapter 8*: Missing


Chapter 8: Missing

On Monday morning Draco waited as patiently as he could for Granger to enter his office. When she was still absent after
an hour, he started working. With every hour that passed he grew more agitated. Surely the Auror wasn't avoiding him?
The woman had faced Death Eaters when she was a teenager for Merlin's sake! If there was one thing she had it was
balls. After the third hour he asked Tilly if she had heard from Granger but the older witch didn't know anything. Draco
was unsettled about their little incident on Saturday, and whilst he couldn't quite place why he felt uneasy about it, it
pissed him off even more that she felt it necessary to avoid him.

He was naturally confrontational and he despised people who went out of their way to ignore a matter that needed
addressing. He would have never thought that Granger would be the hiding type, so when she still hadn't shown up by
lunchtime, his curiosity got the better of him. He went searching for her, starting with Mafalda's office.

"Have you seen Granger?" Draco burst into his superior's office without knocking.

"No," the witch admitted hesitantly. "Everything okay?"

"She hasn't turned up," he stated simply, failing to hide his irritation.

"She might be training the new Aurors," Mafalda suggested. "Check the Auror Department."

With nothing more than a nod, Draco headed up to the Auror Department but found that it was inaccessible. There were
wards up, denying any visitors and Draco couldn't find Kingsley to find out why. He looked around the Ministry a little
more but came up empty-handed. He went back to his office, muttering curses for the rest of the day. He really did not
like that she was apparently avoiding him.

Tuesday had the same results, as did Wednesday, and by Thursday he actually realised his frustration had somehow
turned into concern. There was a killer hunting muggle-borns on the loose and the most famous muggle-born of their
time was missing. It didn't take a genius to figure out where his mind was going. For the first time since he had started
working for the Ministry, Draco finished early and headed home.

He sat on his sofa, contemplating what to do and eyeing the little card Granger had given him with her address. He had
rummaged for twenty minutes before he found the small piece of parchment and now all he could do was stare at it. After
an hour of contemplating, he made up his mind and walked over to his fireplace.

Granger's home was similar to his, a modest townhouse with three stories and plush furnishings. He didn't recognise
some of the items in her living room and figured them to be muggle items. He glanced around, looking for any sign of
his colleague. He listened carefully for any signs of life before he finally wondered around her house. He checked every
room, pausing for an unnecessary moment in her bedroom. He wasn't sure why. No, she definitely wasn't at home.

He went back to her living room and sat on her couch, running stressed fingers through his hair. He contemplated
reporting her missing to the Ministry but decided he would wait a couple of hours to see if she would turn up. If she was
avoiding him, he wanted to deal with it personally. But he didn't count on her couch being so comfy, and after fifteen
minutes he had fallen asleep.

Hermione released a sigh when she apparated back to her bedroom. She quickly changed out of her training gear,
which consisted of a very loose white shirt, tight black trousers and boots. It was perfect for duelling but she had long
ago realised that the outfit looked similar to traditional fencing uniforms. She had pointed this out to her fellow Aurors
when she had started her training four years ago but they had had no idea what she was talking about.

She changed into her black nightdress and threw on her dark blue robe to fight the Autumn chill. She decided she would
head downstairs and watch a little television before she tore into her work. A little drama in Albert Square would raise her
low spirits. The witch released a loud gasp when she found a certain Malfoy heir napping on her sofa. She wasn't sure
whether she should feel suspicious or a little flattered that he was in her home, but decided that suspicious was the
most appropriate. He was the last she had expected to find sleeping in her home, but a small part of her acknowledged
that she had almost missed their routine at the Ministry.

She was still pissed off about Saturday night, although she wasn't really sure which aspect in particular had her so riled.
She just hadn't liked what had happened, nor had she liked the tension she had felt when she'd left. She would have
probably analysed it to death if she hadn't been so busy since then. The longer she watched his sleeping form, the more
agitated she got with his unconscious presence. Just how long had he been here? Had he been wandering around her
home? She had no choice but to give into her curiosity.

"Malfoy," Hermione prodded his arm, fixing him with an unimpressed look when he stirred a little. "Wake the hell up,

The blond wizard inhaled deeply and blinked a few times before he remembered where he was. He sat up quickly and
eyed the witch warily, ignoring how uncomfortable he felt at the moment. At least he knew she was alive, and apparently
she was wearing a rather fetching little dressing gown.

"What are you doing in my house, Malfoy?" Hermione's voice was deceptively calm as she regarded the offending man.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Draco asked her, but she seemed unfazed by his cold tone. "You haven't been in work
all week-

"Why are you here?" Hermione repeated her question, her voice laced with distrust and impatience.

"I came looking for you," Malfoy hissed, rising from the couch. "If you've forgotten there is someone on a killing spree who
happens to be partial to muggle-borns, so forgive me for wondering where the hell you have been!"

"You were worried about me?" Hermione snorted at him, folding her arms across her chest.

"Don't flatter yourself," Draco rolled his eyes at her. "You should have told someone where you were-

"Well just where the hell did you think I was?" The witch watched him closely when he shuffled a little to his right.

"If I knew where you'd been I wouldn't be here," Draco commented. "I thought-

"You thought I was avoiding you after Saturday," Hermione finished, smirking at him when he didn't argue her theory. "Fat

"I thought you might be missing," the wizard explained, taking a seat back on her couch. "I was-

"You were concerned-

"I was curious," Draco growled at her, shooting her a cautionary glare. "What the fuck was I supposed to think?"

Hermione regarded him silently for a moment before taking a seat next to him on the couch. There was a good two feet
between them but it still felt too close. She hadn't really had the time to think about their almost-incident on Saturday, but
her mind couldn't help but consider it now they were alone again.

"I'm sorry," she said after a while. "I was called away rather suddenly on Sunday. I assumed Kingsley would tell Mafalda."

"Where have you been?" Draco asked her, a little bitterness still present in his tone.

"Hogwarts," Hermione stated simply. "Minerva contacted the Ministry on Sunday. Do you remember Penelope

"Rings a bell," Draco shrugged.

"She was a prefect when we were there," Hermione explained, relaxing back into her cushions. "She's the Muggle
Studies professor there now. She's been receiving letters, death threats about her being a muggle-born. McGonagall
thought it might just be some Slytherins messing around but when she heard about Goyle she figured it might be

"That explains where the other Aurors were," Draco commented, wondering why nobody had seemed to know where the
she and the others had been.

"Yes," the witch nodded. "We decided it was best to set up some extra wards and have a look around the grounds to see
if we could find anything. Champs and Volan have stayed behind to keep an eye on things."

"So we can resume work tomorrow?" Malfoy asked her, His office had been far too quiet since Monday. "We haven't
discussed the relevance to the wards yet."

"Of course," Hermione offered him a polite smile. "I have the letters Penelope received too."

"So why didn't anyone in the Ministry know where you were?" Draco couldn't stop the suspicion in his voice.

"Kingsley knew," Hermione offered with a soft smile. She had just realised that she was having a semi-civilised
conversation with Draco Malfoy in her house, and it was rather a bizarre concept to get her head around. "He's had a lot
on his mind right now, I guess he was just too busy with his work."

"Right," the pale wizard rolled his eyes. As much as he respected the Minister for Magic, he had noticed that the man was
not gifted in the memory department. "Did you find anything at Hogwarts?"

"Not a bloody thing," Hermione sighed, and Draco realised that she really did look rather drained. "I have a feeling that
we might have to start meeting on the weekends if we want to make some progress with this. Things are starting to build

"That's fine," Draco nodded, noting that he worked most weekends anyway. At least they would get more work done if
they did it together. He remembered then that his mother's birthday was almost a week away and her invitation was still
at the office. "Although we will be busy a week Saturday."

"We?" Hermione glanced at him with confusion, and he offered her a lazy smirk.

"It's my mother's birthday on October 2nd," he told her, resting his elbows against his knees.

"Well that's fine," the witch replied with a blasé nod. "But what does that have to do with me?"

"She invited you," Draco breathed, annoyed that his own voice seemed amused by the concept. "Your invitation is in my

"I'm invited?" Hermione repeated, not attempting to hide her surprise. "Why?"

"It's her way of saying thank you for removing her Trace," the wizard supplied with a shrug.

"Well that's very polite of her," the Auror almost smiled. "But I don't think-

"I had a feeling you might decline," Draco stopped her, giving her a long look. "You should come, Granger. You could do
with letting your hair down for one night-

"It's not really my scene," Hermione breathed, finding she felt uncomfortable with the topic.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Draco had meant it to be teasing comment but she seemed too serious to notice.
"You enjoy yourself a little?"

"I'm sure that many bad things could happen," the witch commented in a low tone. She cringed after she said it, knowing
she hadn't really intended to say anything. He was watching her skeptically but she refused to meet his eyes. The
damage was done though; he could see something was bothering her.

"Look, Malfoy," she started slowly, shifting a little on the sofa so she was facing him. "I know that you and your mother
have changed, but I can guess that many of the people there will be like your family-

"Like my family?" Draco echoed her comment, quirking an eyebrow at her.

"Yes," Hermione sighed, wondering how it was best to put what she wanted to say. "Pureblood families, and whilst I
genuinely believe that you and your mother don't believe that muggle-borns are inferior anymore, some purebloods do."

Draco looked down at his clasped hands, resting between his parted knees. He had never really considered that she
would probably be the only muggle-born at the celebration. He knew his mother would have never done that intentionally,
she just happened to associate mainly with purebloods. As far as he knew, none of his mother's closest companions
were prejudiced towards muggle-borns, but it was likely there would be some there. Even if there wasn't any blatant
outrage for her presence at the ball, she would be looked at differently.

Still, he was sure it wouldn't be as bad as she imagined. She was a war hero and a renowned genius and she had
earned a great deal or respect in the wizarding community. He had faith that his mother would have had the sense not to
invite any extremists to her birthday. If anything it just steeled his resolve to have her attend, so he could prove that his
family, and perhaps some others, didn't think that way anymore. He would certainly not stand for any behavior remotely
related to Death Eater conduct, and he knew his mother would feel the same. She had seen enough of that and had
done everything she could to ensure it never invaded her home again.

"Granger," Draco started carefully, still looking at his hands. "I can assure you that my mother wouldn't invite anyone who
would act poorly towards you."

"I'm sure she wouldn't do anything intentionally," Hermione offered him a hesitant smile. "But I think there would still be a
little discomfort with my presence and I really wouldn't want to make your mother feel awkward on her birthday-

"She is rather fond of you, Granger," Malfoy offered suddenly, looking up to her questioning eyes. "I'm not sure why. As far
as I know you haven't met since the war-

"We haven't-

"But she seemed quite insistent that you should come," Draco finished, watching her expectantly. "I think it would mean a
lot to her if you came. And I can assure that if anyone offends you that they will be dealt with accordingly."

Hermione released a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding. She had to admit she was a little flattered that
Narcissa had offered her an invitation to her birthday, and she was also a little curious about how a very expensive and
extravagant event would be like. The man before was convincing, and for some reason she trusted him to ensure her
safety should some pureblood moron decide to mock her heritage. Against her better judgement, she realised she quite
wanted to go and she sighed in submission.

"Alright," she nodded hesitantly, missing his victorious smirk. "I suppose it could be interesting."

"I think I can assure you that you will enjoy yourself," Malfoy drawled, leaning back comfortably into her sofa. "My mother
may be a little random at times, but she knows how to throw a party."

"Okay," Hermione forced another grin in his direction but she was still a little apprehensive about it. "I guess it will be an

"You'll be fine," Draco told her flippantly, realising he had forgotten to tell her she could bring a date. Perhaps he would
leave that out for now. He attempted to rise from his seat. "I should probably go."

"Before you do," the witch placed a hand n his arm to stop him, missing his wary look at her gesture. "Can I ask you

"Make it quick, Granger," Malfoy told her impatiently. "I would like some rest before work."

"Sorry," Hermione muttered, removing her hand from his arm. "I was just wondering if you're scared at all?"

"About what?"

"About the killer," the Auror verified. "We both know that we are obvious targets. I was just wondering if you've felt a little
scared at some point?"

"No," Draco told her honestly, regarding her curiously. "The Ministry has substantial security measures and so does my
house. Have you?"

He saw the concern flash across her features but she quickly hid it. He genuinely didn't feel threatened at all, but then he
acknowledged that he had a tendency to just ignore certain things that bothered him. He was far too proud to consider
himself a victim, no matter how bad the circumstances were. He knew he was a bloody good wizard, and he had faith in
the wards he had set up. Granger had never really appeared to be concerned about her well-being but he knew she had
a tendency to overanalyse everything, and this would be no exception.

"No," she lied reluctantly, and Draco recognised that bloody Gryffindor optimism on her features. "I'm sure everything will

Malfoy didn't really know how to respond to that s ohe simply observed her as she forced yet another smile. He
wondered briefly if she had anyone she could stay with if anything did go wrong. Potter was off trying to track the killer,
Weasley was in Romania and he didn't really know anyone else she would consider a friend. He knew that she had
been quite friendly with Weasley's sister but he had no idea where she was. He considered offering her the notion that
she was free to Floo to his home if she ever felt concerned, but he decided against it.

"I'm leaving," Draco told her bluntly, wondering why she also stood up after he had. She followed his steps to her
fireplace. He helped himself to a handful of her Floo powder and found himself lingering for her to say something.

"Thank your mother for the invite," she said awkwardly. "It really was very kind of her."

"You can thank her yourself," Draco shrugged.

"Thank you, too," she said quickly, nervously tucking a stray hair behind her ear. "For thinking to look for me-

"Well, you're not much use to me missing, Granger," Malfoy told her shortly, finding this situation far too awkward for his
liking. She certainly didn't help the matter when she leaned up to peck his cheek. He knew she only meant it to be a
friendly gesture but his entire body tensed at the action. She noticed his discomfort about it and grimaced about her
mistake. Fuck, he needed to leave. "See you tomorrow, Granger."

"Goodnight," Hermione muttered, but it was drowned out by the roar of the Floo. She rolled her eyes at her herself and
slapped a hand against her forehead as she headed up to her bedroom.

You b loody idiot.

Hermione wondered into the Ministry still feeling more than a little embarrassed about several things. First, she had tried
to talk to Malfoy about her concerns on the killer. Yes, she had lied and said that it wasn't bothering her, but she knew
she wasn't a good liar by any stretch of her imagination. She had a feeling it was something to do with that damn
Gryffindor integrity that had been drilled into her at Hogwarts. Second, she had only gone and kissed him! Yes it was only
on the cheek and she did that with Ron and Harry all the time, but this was Draco Malfoy. You only had to look at the man
to know he wouldn't be comfortable with that sort of thing.

Just what the hell had she been thinking?

Clearly she hadn't been thinking. It had just been an impulse. Her and Malfoy had simply reached a level of civility and
she was missing Ron and Harry a little. Yes, that was all. She was used to pecking her male companions on the cheek
when they parted ways. It was a simple slip, an innocent mistake, but the look on Malfoy's face afterwards had warned
her not to try it again. Some people just weren't as affectionate as her and her best friends.

She offered him a tentative grin when she entered his office but he just looked back down to his work as she took her
seat. She was suddenly thrown back to her childhood memories and she nervously toyed with her hands in her lap.

Draco glanced up at her when he heard her fidgeting and realised she was looking notably nervous today. Still, nervous
or not, she was wearing that skirt he was particularly fond of today. Either she had bought it in a smaller size or the
garment was simply designed to be teasingly-tight around her backside. He had noticed it the moment she had walked
in and knew he would sneak a look at her whenever she stood up. She was also wearing that flimsy blouse again, the
one where he could just make out the outline of her black bra. Last time it had been a red bra.

"Granger," Draco spoke finally, ignoring that twitch in his trousers. "Did you bring the letters that girl got at Hogwarts?

"Oh, yes," Hermione muttered, bending down to retrieve them from her bag. Draco stifled a groan when he glimpsed a
little more of the skin of her chest. Was she doing it on purpose? Damn her for not just bringing her bag into her lap.
"Have the Traces been delivered yet?"

"No," Draco managed to mumble as she continued to shuffle for the documents. "I would rather have a look at the letters
anyway and then discus the wards."

"That sounds like a good idea," the witch placed the documents on the desk in front him. She was oblivious to his
clenched jaw and irritated fingers snatching up the parchments. Even he seemed to miss the fact that his body had been
affected by her presence.

They worked steadily until lunch, ignoring the tense moments that seemed to sneak between them at certain times.
Hermione did her best to make conversation but more often than not her colleague would just offer her a brief nod or a
grunt. She could see he was little edgy, and wondered if it was because of her behaviour at her house. Then again, it
could have just been because he was Malfoy.

They separated for lunch. Draco popped to Malfoy Manor to assist his mother with delivering more invitations to her
birthday and Hermione ate her lunch in the Auror Office and helped the trainees with some more of their preparation.
When the hour was up, they met each other in the corridor by circumstance and headed back to Draco's office.

Immediately, Malfoy new there was something wrong. When they had left, there had been parchments all over his desk
from their work. Now all the sheets were in neat piles at the edges, and a single small piece of parchment waited for
them ominously in the middle of the desk. Draco marched purposely into the room and snatched it up in his hand,
reading it quickly. It was only short but his eyes lingered angrily on it before he handed it over to Hermione. Her eyes
widened as she read the nine simple words, written in a charmed handwriting she had come to dread.

The Ministry is not as safe as you think.

"What the hell?" Hermione muttered as she reread the small note and looked up at Draco, who was looking notably
agitated. "What is that supposed to mean? And how the hell did it get into your office?"

"Fuck if I know," Malfoy growled, tearing the note from her fingers to analyse it again. "Maybe-

But he was cut off by a distant scream and then lots of movement outside his office. The whole Ministry practically shook
as the countless footsteps all stampeded in a particular direction. He could hear confused shouts and panicked voices
rippling through the corridors. Hermione was first to jolt into action but he followed her closely as they left his office to
follow the chaos.

a/n: r+r please! I apologise that this chapter is a little shorter than normal but I'm hoping the content was sufficient. Leave
me your thoughts!

*Chapter 9*: Intruder


Chapter 9: Intruder.

Hermione pushed her way through the confused crowd, listening to everyone's mumbled questions and theories with
the hope of understanding what had happened. From what she could tell, everyone was just as confused as she was.
Most of the Ministry staff were simply lingering in the halls of their respected departments while the more senior staff
tried to find out what was going on. Still, they were in the way and Hermione could feel herself becoming flushed when
she had to shove aside someone who was apparently deaf.

Draco watched the back of Hermione's head as she powered through the crowd. She was parting the sea of people in
her haste and he followed her closely, glancing down and realising at some point she must have removed her heels.
The horde of witches and wizards grew thicker and Draco knew it meant they were getting close to the catalyst of all this
fuss. He had just registered they were in the Department for Magical Games and Sports when a familiar voice shouted
his name.


Malfoy glanced around, refusing to stop and lose Granger as she rushed towards the commotion. He saw who it was
then, and Blaise pushed his way through so he could walk alongside his friend.

"Blaise?" Draco greeted the dark wizard with confusion. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Meeting," Blaise explained, trying to keep up as the blond wizard followed Granger. "They asked me to come and discus
sponsorship for the Qudditch Cup."

"Right," Malfoy muttered, quickening his pace a little when he realised the distance between him and Granger had

"What the hell's going on?" Blaise asked his friend, and Draco could tell his normally stoic friend was a little panicked.

"I don't know," Draco admitted, deciding that it was best his friend remain with the crowd. "Blaise, stay here. I need to
help Granger."

He heard Blaise offer a quick 'okay' but it was drowned out by a man vomiting to his left. He could smell it now, the
stench of blood. He realised then there were people crowded around a particular office and he watched as a wizard
helped an hysterical witch try and move away from that office. The people around him all looked disturbed and horrified
and he moved closer to Hermione's back as they got closer.

"Move," Hermione demanded as she tried to squeeze through them, and finally they reached the room. She felt a scream
build in her throat but it dissipated when she choked on a gasp instead. She felt Draco brush past her but she barely
registered it. There was just too much for her brain to absorb.

Draco's face scrunched up in alarm as he tried to understand the scene before him. A wizard, who he was quite sure he
recognised, was sprawled on the floor in front of his desk. Dead. Very dead. There were various items scattered over the
floor, evidently from some kind of struggle. On the wall behind him, in large and bloody letters was painted the word
'Mudblood.' Draco's eyes lingered on the letters for a moment, noting that the word had been smeared over Quidditch
posters. Malfoy then found his eyes returning to the battered victim,whose eyes were wide and staring at the ceiling. His
shirt was ripped down the centre and parted to his arms so Draco could clearly make out the V etched on his chest in
fresh slices.

Another one.

He glanced desperately around the room, looking for indications of anything. Perhaps another note? But no, there was
nothing. Just a scene of pure chaos that screamed mockingly at him. His stare wondered over to the name carved on the
door and he cringed.

Justin Finch-Fletchley
Granger's friend. She had met Justin a few times for lunch since they had worked together. He knew she had known him
at Hogwarts and they had become friendly again since she had returned to London, and he closed his eyes for a
moment as he considered her grief. He found that he didn't like the thought of her being sad. He looked over to her then,
expecting her to be inconsolable, but instead she just stood next to him, completely still. He eyed her frozen face, noting
her lips were slightly parted in shock and that her eyes would snap in another direction every few seconds.

His eyes went back to the bloody scene, inevitably settling on Justin's body. The questions came then, flooding his brain
with warnings of a pending migraine. How the hell had someone broken into the Ministry and managed to kill someone
without anyone noticing? How had they managed to put a note in his office too? It just wasn't possible. Sure, it was lunch
and a lot of the staff would have left their offices, but someone must have seen something. He realised then that Granger
hadn't said a word and looked back over to her.

"Fucking hell," Draco breathed, and he watched her flinch at his voice.

Whatever trance she'd been in had been broken by his words. He tensed when he felt her small hand clutch his wrist as
she slowly turned to him. She was gripping his hand desperately and he saw the pure panic in her eyes as her stare
clicked with his. Her lower lip was trembling and she was choking on small, quick breaths. She looked weak on her feet
and he was just about to offer her a steadying hand when she spoke.

"Draco," Hermione whispered, giving his wrist a quick squeeze as she obviously struggled with her words. "What do I

All the Auror training she'd had seemed to leak out of her as her body tried to accommodate her shock. She was vaguely
aware of the ever-building herd of people just outside the door but they were blurry. Only Draco seemed to be a solid
mass and she clung to him for that reason alone. He was watching her with suppressed concern as he thought about
her words. She was asking him what to do? He didn't have a clue! She was the Auror. She was the one who'd been
trained to deal with such situations. She needed to regain control. He needed her to come back to reality.

"Snap out of it, Granger," Draco scolded her, and it seemed to do the job. She blinked a few times and tore her hand
away from him. Her face morphed into an impressive expression of determination, and she quickly glanced at Justin
again before she turned to the crowd.

They were lingering outside, all too scared to venture over the threshold and eyeing Hermione with an obvious desire for
instructions or order. He watched her as she walked out of the gory office and he joined her just outside the room. He
couldn't quite bring himself to look away from her as she steadied herself and looked at the horde, who were all talking
in terrified voices.

"Everyone," Hermione raised her voice, but it clearly wasn't enough. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

That about did it, and a hundred pairs of fearful and confused eyes settled on Hermione. She noticed then that the other
Aurors were making their way towards her and she felt a small wave of relief. Her eyes swept over the crowd,
recognising some of the faces before she settled on Wilkie Twycross.

"Wilkie," Hermione called over to him. "All of the Floo connections and visitor entrances have to be closed immediately. I
will be contacting the other Aurors to come back but I want nobody else getting in or out of the Ministry. Quickly!"

The pale man ran through the mass of people and Hermione made sure he was gone before she continued.

"I want all the Department Heads to round up their staff," the witch shouted, just so she knew they would hear her. "And
you are all to head straight to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and wait in the main room!"

Draco watched her with a bizarre fascination as she yelled her orders. Had the circumstances been a little less dire, he
would have smirked at her control and authority.

"I want all visitors to go to the Wizengamot," Hermione continued. "Everyone is going to be tested for Polyjuice potion and
nobody is leaving until everyone can prove where they have been in the last hour!"

She turned to her fellow Aurors then, signalling that she needed their help.

"Padfoot," Hermione addressed them. " Take Castor and start checking all the staff and don't let anyone out until you are
certain they have nothing to with it-

"Nothing to do with what?" Padfoot asked the woman over the heads of the other people. Already wizards and witches
were heading down to the second level as she had told them.
"Justin Finch-Fletchley has been murdered," the witch's voice shook a little as she spoke. Draco seemed to be the only
one who noticed though, and she quickly went back to her orders. "Leandra, you start testing the visitors and I will join
you in a minute. Take Jason with you."

The female Auror offered a quick nod before she disappeared with the trainee, ushering people out of the department as
she went.

"Savage," Hermione called to the tall wizard. "I need you to tell Champs and Volan to come back from Hogwarts and then
get Harry and the others to come back before you help Padfoot. Leave Twycross in charge of the Transport Department
and tell him that only the Aurors are allowed to enter the Ministry. Make sure he understands that nobody leaves until I
say so."

The crowd started to move away from her, guided by the Aurors moving them along. She hated that she had so little
Auror staff available but it would have to do before the others arrived. And just where the hell was Kingsley? She
released a shaky breath and then headed back into Justin's office. She muttered a quick incantation to seal the room so
that it wouldn't get contaminated and let her eyes linger on Justin's corpse for a painful moment. The tears were heavy
behind her eyes but they would have to wait.

Draco raised an eyebrow when she went back into the office but he left her to it. She'd proven she knew what she was
doing but he wondered if perhaps she was coping okay. He noticed then that Blaise was hanging back a little, waiting for

"Blaise," Malfoy called, nearing his friend. "You should head down to the Wizengamot."

"This is fucked up," the wizard commented, watching Draco with barely-concealed alarm. "How the hell could someone
break into the Ministry and kill someone?"

"No idea," Draco shrugged, realising that Hermione had left the office now and was walking towards him and Blaise. He
couldn't stop the look of concern that crossed his face as she raked her stressed fingers through her hair. "You okay,

"I'm fine," Hermione frowned at him, and he realised she was still in her authoritative state. Her eyes lingered
thoughtfully on Draco for a moment before they glanced over at Blaise. Malfoy had mentioned him a few times in her
presence and she knew they were close friends, or as close as two Slytherins could ever be.

Draco watched her closely as she seemed to mull over something. He'd seen that expression a few times before, when
she was considering the different outcomes of a situation.

"Malfoy," Hermione started slowly. "I need you to go and help the Aurors. I need more people to help."

Draco raised his eyebrows in surprise. Clearly she trusted him to a certain extent to allow that, and he had to admit it
was a good thought. He liked that she trusted him. Her eyes then glimpsed back at Blaise and he could see the
argument continuing in her head.

"Zabini," the witch greeted hesitantly. "I trust you know how to test for Polyjuice Potion?"

"Yes," Blaise nodded, eyeing her with confusion.

"Okay," Hermione's eyes went back to Draco. "After you have tested him he can assist you. I trust your judgement on him.
The same goes for Mafalda but nobody else."

Draco's eyes widened a little more and he fought hard to hide his gratitude for her. He couldn't quite believe she trusted
his judgement. Perhaps she didn't really, it was clear she was short-staffed and desperate. Either way, he was grateful.
This was going to take hours and he'd rather have something to do. He'd never been one for sitting around without a

"Okay," Draco offered her a nod. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to examine Justin," Hermione's faltered as she spoke, and Draco resisted the urge offer some sort of comfort.
"I need to find Kingsley too-

"I'm here, Hermione," the Minister called to her, approaching her with a sad expression. "Padfoot has just explained the

"Kingsley," Hermione breathed, relaxing a little in the man's presence. "I've sent everyone to floor two to be tested-
"Padfoot explained that too," Kingsley gave the witch a reassuring pat when he reached her. His eyes wondered over to
Blaise and Draco and he offered the two familiar faces a quick nod. "You two should head down and do as Hermione
has asked."

Malfoy shot the witch another concerned look before him and Blaise left the two alone. Kingsley waited until they had left
the department before he gave Hermione a small smile of gratitude.

"You have done very well," the Minister assured her. "I'm impressed with your actions-

"I did what was necessary," Hermione stopped him, and the older wizard saw a pained look capture her features for no
more than a second. "We should start analysing the scene-

"Hermione," Kingsley's warm voice stopped her as she headed back to the office. "I know that you and Justin were quite
friendly. Would you like a minute-

"I'm fine," the Auror said quickly. "We should just get to work. You know that any traces left behind will get weaker the
longer we hesitate."

"Alright," his voice was comforting nonetheless. "Let's get started then."

Hermione instantly started casting spells to sense dark magic or strange objects. The killing curse was heavy in the air
but she was looking for something else, anything that could be signature. Her eyes roamed over to the word smeared in
blood and she felt a small pang in her chest. It was getting a little too personal now and she was scared. But she didn't
have time to be scared. She needed to concentrate.

"Well," Blaise breathed once they were a clear distance away from Hermione and Kingsley. "This had certainly turned
into an interesting business trip-

"I can't believe this," Draco growled as they headed down to the lower floor. "The Ministry is meant to be safe."

"So, who was it?" Blaise asked, unable to deny his curiosity. "I know she said the name but I didn't quite catch it."

"Justin Finch-Fletchley," the pale wizard sighed. "Muggle-born. He was in our year at Hogwarts-

"You think it's the same guy that got Goyle and the others?"

"I know it is," Draco scowled as he remembered seeing Justin's body. "He had the V mark."

"Shit," Blaise frowned. "So this is getting rather serious then?"

"So it would seem," Malfoy's face hardened as he considered his friend's word. He had been certain that the Ministry was
safe, but clearly he was wrong. "He's made a mistake, though. There are too many witnesses here. He'll have made a
mistake and if he has, Granger will find it."

"She was cool before," Blaise remarked, and Draco refused to change his expression. "I have to give the woman credit
for how she handled the situation."

Draco wanted to point out that her actions had been particularly impressive when you considered that she had just had
to deal with her friend's murder and somehow calm down the whole Ministry at the same time. She had only faltered for
a second and then she had managed to regain order. She had done brilliantly and he realised, with a little reluctance,
that he was proud of her. He could have told Blaise this, but he didn't.

"And it was decent of her to let us help," Blaise continued, turning his eyes to give Draco a strange look. "And you failed to
mention that she's gotten hot-

"What?" Malfoy shot his friend an uncomfortable glare. "Do you really think that's appropriate considering the

"I'm just making an observation," Blaise shrugged, watching his friend closely. "Forgive me for trying to lighten the mood,
and I didn't miss those looks you were giving her-
"What looks?" Draco really didn't like where this was going. If anyone knew how to read him it was Blaise.

"You know what I'm talking about," the dark wizard persisted, and Draco felt his lip twitch. "Do you-

"Be careful, Blaise," Malfoy warned his companion. "My relationship with Granger is completely professional-

"Whatever you say, mate," a smirk played with Blaise's lips, and Draco would have admired the condescending grin if it
wasn't directed at him. "Remind me to bring this up again when some psychopath hasn't caused a scene."

Draco was about to snarl back some sarcastic reply but he simply grunted as they entered the Department for Magical
Law Enforcement. Yes, it was the biggest department, but with all Ministry staff and visitors crammed into the area, it
looked rather small. A frightened roar echoed across the old walls as the various people tried to move into their
respective rooms. He spotted Padfoot, Savage and Castor guiding everyone and decided he would ask them what they
needed help with.

He wondered how Granger was doing.

Hermione had been working about thirty minutes when Champs and Volan returned from Hogwarts. The two men had
always been so calm but they had looked jittery when she'd sent them to help the others to deal with the crowd. After
another ten minutes Harry and the others showed up and Hermione now felt they had gained enough control of the
situation and she left Harry, Terry and Kingsley to finish working on the scene.

She'd cast as many spells that she could think of to reveal traces of dark magic and then more spells to try and show any
physical items left behind. She had located Justin's wand and she had established that he hadn't used it since the
morning. All of her magic use had started to have an effect on her and she started to feel exhausted, but she knew she
had to go down to help the Aurors deal with everyone. She contemplated having a quick break to gather her bearings and
have a moment to think about Justin's death, but decided against it and headed straight to the second floor with Neville,
Dean, Horace and Korvin.

She spoke to everyone who had been working on Justin's department and calculated that there was a thirty minute time-
frame between when his last colleague had seen him, and he had been found. Hermione had been really disappointed
with that news, the killer could have easily made it out of the Ministry before anyone had noticed the murder. It had been
lunch time so there would have been countless people using the Floo network. In thirty minutes he could have easily
planted the letter on Draco's desk, killed Justin and would have had time to spare before he left.

It wasn't until six o'clock that the Aurors started to let people go home. By the time eleven o'clock came round there were
only thirty staff members and twenty visitors left to test and they had all been moved to the main room. Everyone was
exhausted and she was relieved when she realised they were almost finished. Four people had been sent to Kingsley
for further questioning when they hadn't been able to confirm their whereabouts, but Hermione knew it would only take a
bit of Veritaserum to find out they were innocent. The witch wasn't getting her hopes up. She was sure the killer had
made it out of the Ministry.

"Hermione," Harry's voice broke her thoughts just as she told another visitor they could go home. "We've finished with

"Did you find anything?" Hermione's voice was desperate.

"No," her best friend frowned at her apologetically. "Just the same as the others. The killing curse and then the V,
although that graffiti was different."

"I know," Hermione cringed as she pictured the image in her head. "I just can't believe he came to the Ministry. This is
really bad Harry."

"Terry and I are going to continue tracking," the wizard told her. "But the others will stay here. The Ministry needs more
Aurors to keep an eye on things."

"Good idea," Hermione nodded. "I'll continue working with the Traces. I know Malfoy and I haven't had much luck but I
think I might be close to something."

"That's fine," Harry agreed. "I've spoken to Kingsley and he's going to make sure the Floo network has some extra
security measures put in place. Are you and a couple of the others okay to finish up here if I leave?"

"Of course," the witch offered her friend a forced smile. "It shouldn't take much longer now."

"Thank you," Harry smiled at her. "You did really well today."

He pulled her in for a brief hug and she watched him go. She asked Padfoot and Savage to finish up with her and told
the others they could leave. She looked around for Draco who was finishing testing another staff member for Polyjuice
potion. She waited until he had dismissed the worker before she offered him an appreciative smile. She noticed that he
had rolled up his sleeves and his hair was a little tousled but otherwise he looked fine, if perhaps a bit tired.

"You and Blaise can go home now," Hermione told him. "We can take it from here."

"Are you sure?" Draco arched an eyebrow at her. She really did look exhausted and stressed. Her arms were folded
protectively across her chest and her clothes were rumpled. She had thrown her hair in a rushed ponytail but some
stubborn strands were framing her face.

"Yes, it's fine," the Auror assured him, nervously tucking some hair behind her ear. "We shouldn't be much longer than
an hour now."

"Have you had any luck?" He wasn't sure what time it was he could tell it was getting late. He was shattered so he could
only imagine how she was feeling.

"No," Hermione admitted sadly. "Kingsley's kept aside a few people but I doubt anything will come of it. He had more
than enough time to leave."

"Bugger," the wizard frowned. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"We'll be fine," the witch nodded again. "You've been here fourteen hours, you need a break-

"So do you," he told her stiffly. He could tell she was still dealing with the shock of discovering her friend. "Are you sure
there's nothing else I can do?"

"Everything's fine here," Hermione sighed, but then a thought crossed her mind. She looked up to him, deciding if he
would do it for her and whether she could bring herself to ask. "But I wonder if you could do me a favour?"

"Sure," Draco nodded, scowling when she seemed to think twice before she continued. "What do you need?"

"This isn't for the Ministry," Hermione explained, nervously glancing away from him. She regretted her decision to ask
him a question now. It was still Malfoy. "This is a favour for me-

"Yes, that's fine," Draco snapped, eyeing her fidgety actions with irritation. He would have hoped by now that she would
be able to ask him something without turning into an anxious mess. "Just spit it out, Granger."

"Well," the witch's voice was hesitant, but another sharp look from Draco forced her to continue. "Could you possibly stop
at my house before you head home? Crookshanks needs feeding."

"Your cat?" Draco eyes narrowed as he considered her. He hadn't been expecting that. "That's it?"

"Yes," Hermione nodded, glancing away from him. She noticed that Blaise was watching them with an amused
expression on his face but she looked back to Malfoy when he rolled his eyes at her. "Would that be okay?"

"Granger," Malfoy breathed, and Hermione blinked when his breath cooled her face. "I'm sure I can manage that. Are you
sure you don't need anything else?"

"I'm sure," the Auror allowed a little smile to grace her lips, and he hoped that it was genuine this time. "The cat-food is
under the sink-

"It's not going to attack me or anything is it?" It had been a serious question but Draco couldn't help but smirk when she
offered him a delicate giggle.

"No, he's fine,"Hermione assured him. And then she looked at him with an expression he couldn't quite place. "Thank

"It's just feeding an animal," Draco rolled his eyes at her. "I think-
"Not for that," the witch stopped him, unsure where to look and apparently choosing her words carefully. "For everything
you've done today. You've worked really hard and I appreciate it-

"Don't mention-

"And for calming me down in Justin's office," she finished, glancing up at him nervously. "Really, thank you."

"It's fine," the pale wizard shrugged awkwardly. He wondered then if she'd had any time to herself. "Are you-

"Hermione," Savage's voice stopped him and a groan died in his throat. "Could you help me with something?"

"I'll be there now, Savage," Hermione told the other Auror before she turned back to Draco. "I really should finish up here.
You should get out of here while you can. Thanks again, Malfoy."

"Sure," Draco nodded as she wondered back over to the remaining staff. He headed over to Blaise and scowled when
he noticed his friend was shooting him knowing looks. "Wipe that look off your face, Blaise-

"I didn't say a word," the wizard shrugged. "So, what's news?"

"We can leave," Draco explained, and they started walking towards the Floo network. "I've had enough of this place."

"Well at least it's Saturday tomorrow," Blaise commented. "You want to meet for a drink?"

"I have to help my mother start preparing for her birthday," Draco told him. "Why don't you come over to the manor and
give us a hand?"

"Sure," the dark wizard man nodded as he neared his fireplace. "Are you heading straight home, or do you fancy a quick
firewhiskey at mine?"

"I'm going straight home," Draco lied, deciding the last thing he needed was Blaise teasing him about going to
Granger's first. "It's been a long day and I need some sleep."

"Fair enough," Blaise nodded as he situated himself in one of the fireplaces. "See you tomorrow, mate."

Draco nodded as his friend disappeared in a thunder of green flames. He went to the fireplace to the right and shouted
Hermione's address and headed straight to the kitchen. He located the cat food and poured the biscuits into the small
bowl by her back-door. No sooner had he finished did a messy ball of ginger fur tumble into the kitchen and head
straight for the food. Draco wrinkled his nose at the clumsy, marmalade cat but petted him softly anyway when
Crookshanks gave him a curious nudge.

Happy that he had given the creature enough, he headed back towards the fireplace but stopped and lingered in her
living room. He sat on her couch, telling himself that he had been on his feet all day and he just needed a minute to
relax. But then what if Granger needed more help? The least he could do was make sure she arrived home okay. Had
she even eaten today? His stomach rumbled just as thought had left a mark. He hadn't eaten since lunch at half past
twelve and it was now pushing half eleven. He was sure Granger wouldn't mind if he helped himself to a sandwich.

So he did. And a glass of firewhiskey for that matter. And then he waited for Granger to return home, but his eyelids
began to feel heavy.

It had actually taken Hermione and the other Aurors two hours to release all the people from the Ministry. She had offered
to help Kingsley finish up his work but the Minister had refused and demanded she go home and get some rest. She'd
been too tired to argue. On her lonely walk to the Floo network she finally let herself have a small cry. She's hadn't been
close to Justin but she would notice his absence. They had been to lunch together a few times since she'd returned and
he had always been pleasant and easy to get on with. She also cried because she was scared.

Yes, there had been many dark wizards trying to avenge Voldemort's death in the past four years, but this guy had been
the most successful. He had killed five people and breached the Ministry. Clearly, he knew his shit. He was getting
closer and even though she was worried, it also strengthened her determination. But for now, she just needed a break
or she would lose her mind. She Flooed home and brushed away her tears when she realised that she wasn't alone.
Draco was asleep on her couch, still in a sitting position with his hand supporting his forehead. Hermione released a
sound somewhere between a laugh and a gasp as she eyed him with confusion. She noticed the plate in front of him
and raised an eyebrow when she realised he must have helped himself to some food. A smile tugged at her lips and
she walked over to him.

She considered leaving him there to rest but decided that he probably wasn't a morning person and wouldn't like waking
up in unfamiliar surroundings. Plus, she was little intrigued and wanted to find out just why he was still here.

"Malfoy," Hermione said softly, shaking his knee as his eyes slowly fluttered open. "Wake up."

Draco groaned his annoyance at being woken up and eyed the woman with tired eyes. He noticed that she had been
crying and he frowned at her sad features. Still, she had a ghost of a smirk on her lips as she regarded him.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione asked him lightly as she knelt in front of him. "You didn't have to wait."

"I fell asleep," Draco told her defensively, watching her through his eyelashes.

"I can see that," the witch told him from her seat on the floor. "You know, if you're planning on making a habit of sleeping
on my couch, I can show you how the telly works."

"Telly?" Draco repeated, shooting her a confused glance.

"Doesn't matter," she shrugged, still resting on her knees. He was towering over her a little but she didn't mind. He really
did look tired. "Do you want to stay?"

"I should probably go," Draco told her, but made no move to leave. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Hermione nodded, sensing that familiar tension settle between them again. "Thanks again for everything you
did today."

"Sure," Malfoy frowned at her, and Hermione decided he still looked quite handsome when he frowned.

He felt the tension too and he wondered just why the hell he wasn't leaving. No, instead he found himself reaching out to
stroke her cheek. It was a little damp under his fingers but he didn't pay that much attention when her hazel eyes
snapped up at him in question. He knew it was probably him that started leaning in first but she followed soon
afterwards. Fuck, he was so tired he didn't think to question why he was doing it.

Hermione felt his breath dance over her skin for the second time that day and she closed her eyes to relish the calming
sensation. Her lips parted a little as she got closer to his mouth but they only connected for a the shortest of moments
before they were interrupted.

a/n: Sorry! It's just not the right time for their first proper kiss! I have it all planned out and, as I keep saying, I refuse to
rush this. Anyway I liked how this chapter turned out so I wanna know what you guys think. I think I got enough action and
Dramione moments in there so I hope you are pleased! Also thanks very much for your amazing feedback for Chapter 8!
Really appreciate it! And sorry again about the kind of cliffy and the fact that it's not a proper kiss.

*Chapter 10*: Almost


Chapter 10: Almost

A cat's meow brought Draco screaming back to reality and he tore his hand away from Hermione's cheek like he'd been
stung. He felt, more than saw, her snatch her face away from him, and he did the same. Hermione had pulled away so
fast that she stumbled backwards and slammed her back into the coffee table, hissing through her teeth when a
shuddering pain shot up her spine.

Draco righted himself and evaluated the situation with a quick reminder to hex himself later for being such an idiot. He
watched Hermione as she reached around to nurse her aching back and he considered offering her a hand but decided
that the distance was safer. Yes, distance was good.

She looked at him then, and he saw the embarrassment in her eyes. He realised he was staring at her, waiting for her to
say something but he didn't care because she was doing the same. If ever he had thought there had been awkward
silences between them before, this moment could have eaten them whole and had room to spare.

"I'm sorry," Hermione muttered quickly, her breathing a little erratic. "I'm just so tired-

"You've had a rough day," Draco told her sharply, frowning when she flinched at his voice.

"Yes," the witch nodded absently, rising from her seat on the floor.

He rose from her sofa, deciding he didn't like her standing over him. She wrapped her arms around herself and he
noticed that her cheeks were still shiny with fresh tears after the day's events. She really had had an awful day. What the
hell was his excuse?

"Do we need to talk about this?" Hermione asked suddenly, absently stroking her arm.

He tried not to cringe at the thought of discussing what they had almost done. He knew that he was the direct type. He
liked things to be out in the open and he wanted things to be confronted, but with this, he wasn't so keen. He had no idea
how he would even begin to discus it! What the hell could he say? What would she want him to say?

"No," he said simply, realising his tone sounded cruel.

"Alright," Hermione offered a distracted nod. "I just thought-

"We're both exhausted, Granger," Draco stopped her, moving past her to stand by her fireplace. "Don't analyse this."

"Okay," the witch agreed with a concerned expression. "But don't you think-

"No," he said with a scowl. Wouldn't she just shut up? "Leave it be, Granger. I'll see you Monday-

"Sunday," Hermione corrected him. "We agreed that we'd work on the case this weekend. We should meet Sunday. I'll
owl you."

"Fine," Draco muttered, grabbing some Floo powder.

And then he was gone.

Hermione stared at the fireplace for a few moments after he had disappeared and then moaned to herself. She felt
inquisitive eyes staring her and she turned to shoot Crookshanks a heated glare. Her pet didn't even have the decency to
look at fault.

"I love you," Hermione told her half-kneazle cat with a disapproving tone. "But you can be a pain in the arse sometimes."

When Draco was back in his home, he released a heavy huff of air. He was so angry that he actually considered
slapping himself across the face. He'd done it once before when he had failed to kill Dumbledore in sixth year, and even
though it hadn't changed anything, he'd felt better for doing it. But no, it wouldn't help this time. What he needed was an

"Stupid git," he scolded himself.

He ran his hands over his handsome face like he could rub away the memory, and then snapped his arms stubbornly at
his sides. Just what the hell was he so agitated about? Their lips had barely grazed and he was stressing like some
hormonal virgin. He thought back to that to that time in his house when she'd leaned into him before Penny had
interrupted them. He had decided that the little incident had been nothing, but what had she made of it? Had she been
leaning in for a reason? And why was it such a big deal anyway?

And then, of course, he had tossed off to her. And not just the once either. She had managed to bury her way into his
head a few times since then, always unwelcome, but there nonetheless. It was like she was haunting his orgasms.

He considered giving his dick a quick tug to ease the tension that had settled in his shoulders, but decided against it. He
realised then that he needed to admit something to himself.

He was attracted to Hermione Granger. Constant Library-Dweller and Gryffindor Golden Girl. How disconcerting.

Perhaps he was overreacting. She was an attractive woman. She had always been rather plain at Hogwarts, excluding
perhaps the final years, but he'd been too busy to notice. He could notice it now though. She wasn't spectacular looking
but there was certainly something about her. Something...was enticing the right word? Maybe.

It was only normal to look at her. He spent five days of the week with her. Except it wasn't normal.

This was Hermione Granger, the girl he had bullied relentlessly since first year. The girl he had once wished dead. The
girl who had beaten him in every single exam and essay and had caused his father to frown with disappointment. The
girl who had hushed all the theories that muggle-borns were inferior by scoring higher grades than any pureblood.
Perhaps even the girl who had made him question that purebloods were superior. He was getting ahead of himself.

He was doing exactly what he had told her not to do. He was over-analysing it.

"You look shattered," Narcissa informed her son with a worried look.

"You read what happened," Draco answered, nodding at The Prophet his mother was reading. "It was a tiring day."

"That poor girl," the witch sighed, taking a sip of her tea. "She must be devastated."

"What are you talking about?" Draco didn't have the patience for his mother's whimsical mood today.

"Hermione," Narcissa confirmed, and Draco felt his lip twitch. "It must have been awful for her, having to see the body."

"She recovered quite well," the blond wizard informed his mother, thinking back to how quick she had reacted. "Does it
mention that she was the one who took charge?"

"Yes," the witch nodded. "I can't imagine how she held it together after seeing her boyfriend like that-

"Boyfriend?" Draco's stormy-grey eyes shot up to his mother with a scowl. "They weren't a couple."

"That's what it says here," Narcissa explained. "It says they'd been dating for-

"Let me see that." Malfoy snapped, snatching the newspaper from her hands.

His eyes automatically went to the two pictures on the page and he arched an eyebrow. The first one showed Finch-
Fletchley and Granger at a restaurant together, laughing at something he doubted could be that funny. The second
pictured them hugging, showing mostly Hermione's smiling face. His eyes lingered for an unnecessary moment on
Justin's hands, settled on the bottom of Granger's back.

Merlin's ghost, he was suspicious of a dead man.

Then his eyes wandered down to the author of the article, and his frown hardened when he realised it was Skeeter. That
woman could bullshit that fire was water.

"They were just friends," Draco tossed the paper back to his mother. "You should know better than to believe everything
your bloody friend writes."

"Are you sure?" Narcissa looked uncertain as she observed the photographs again and it annoyed him.

"Certain," her son finalised. "They were just friends."

"Even if that's the case," the witch continued. "It must have been awful for her. Was she okay?"

"She was fine," Draco told her, keeping his tone as neutral as possible. "She was completely professional."

"She didn't seem upset at all?"

"She didn't really have time to be upset," he admitted with a dull voice. "She had to deal with everything quickly, but it
looked like she'd been crying when she came came back to her house."

He instantly realised his mistake and grimaced.

"You were at her house afterwards?" Narcissa's attention went straight to her son. "What were you-

"We needed to discus the case," Draco stopped her before she could finish. It was a lie but he'd be damned if he tell his
mother that he'd been there to feed her cat.

"I see," his mother remarked, and he didn't like the look she was giving him. "And what did you decide?"

I discovered that I find her attractive and that she haunts my orgasms.

"That we need to spend more time on it," Draco said instead. "The fact that he broke into the Ministry changes everything.
This guy's good. We're meeting tomorrow-

"Tomorrow?" Narcissa frowned. "I was hoping you would come here tomorrow."

"You need more help with your birthday?" Draco asked her, taking a sip of his firewhiskey.

"Not really," the witch admitted. "Rita can't make it to visit me tomorrow and this Ministry breach has me a little-

"You're worried," Malfoy confirmed, giving his mother a concerned look. She nodded and he instantly felt guilty. "I'll cancel
my meeting with Granger."

"You don't have to do that-

"Yes, I do."

"I was going to suggest you invite her here to work on the case," Narcissa offered with an elegant shrug that only a Malfoy
could manage.

"Here?" Draco repeated in an unsure tone. "Why don't you just come to my house?"

"I may as well do some preparation for the ball while you're working," his mother explained.

"Why don't you just live with me for a while?" Draco wasn't sure why but he wasn't completely comfortable with the idea of
Hermione meeting his mother. "Or I could move back-

"Because we'd drive each other insane," the witch replied. "And I see my friends everyday and you hate them, and if I ever
bumped into one of those girls you take home I think I would have a nosebleed."

"Touché," her son relented with a roll of his stony eyes. "Are you sure you want Granger coming here?"

"Absolutely," Narcissa smiled. "It would be nice to meet her before the ball, and what's safer than having an Auror in your

"Fine," Draco sighed, deciding he still wasn't comfortable with the idea. "I'll owl her later. And don't tell Blaise I went to
Granger's house last night. You know he'll make a snarky comment about it."
"Well I-

Whatever the Malfoy widow was going to say was cut short when Blaise stepped out the fireplace. He grinned at the two
relatives and poured himself a firewhiskey before he took a seat.

"What did I miss?" Blaise asked, reclining comfortably in the couch.

"We were just discussing my birthday," Narcissa lied, and Draco shot his mother a grateful look.

"Cool," the dark wizard grinned. "You need some help with the plans?"

"That would be lovely," the witch smiled.

Draco paid little attention as Blaise and his mother started discussing her birthday. His friend had a bit of a knack for
arranging celebrations and he really didn't care to think about potential themes and colour-codes for the Manor. Instead
he thought about what he would write in his letter to Granger.

Hermione nursed a cold mug of tea at twelve Grimmauld Place. Ginny had moved in with Harry shortly after he had
proposed and she had done wonders with the place. Gone were the dreary drapes and furnishings that had always
somewhat irked Hermione and now the house was homely and verging on cheerful, like the Burrow.

It reminded Hermione of when Draco had told her Narcissa was redecorating Malfoy Manor. Everyone was slowly
erasing the bleak memory of the War and it was strangely comforting.

"You're so tense today," the pretty redhead told Hermione with a little apprehension. "Do you want something a little
stronger to drink?"

"It's fine, Ginny," the witch assured her friend. "I'm just a bit tired-

"No, you're not," the young Weasley argued. "You're upset about Justin. What happened, 'Mione?"

"He was just dead," Hermione's face contorted as she tried to block out the image of her fallen friend. "There was
nothing I could do-

"You did everything," Ginny told her friend, placing a comforting hand on her friend's. "Harry said you were brilliant, said
that you did everything he would have done and more."

"I froze when I saw him," the Auror admitted, rubbing her eyes to smother the stubborn tears. "I just couldn't move."

"Well you must have recovered very quickly," Ginny offered her friend a comforting smile. "You just had a moment of
shock before you-

"No," Hermione shook her head furiously. "I panicked and I had no idea what to do. If it wasn't for Malfoy I would-

"Malfoy?" Ginny repeated, casting her friend an unconvinced look. "He was there when you found Justin?"

"Yes," the witch confirmed, ignoring the Weasley's sceptical face. "He helped me get my bearings and then he helped
round up everyone and test them."

"Interesting," Ginny replied with a thoughtful glimpse at the brunette. "So he's actually doing some good on your case?"

"Immensely," Hermione said honestly. "He's been working really hard on this with me-

"Hermione," the redhead started slowly. "I know you keep saying Malfoy has changed and everything but I think you
should be careful. Harry still isn't completely convinced about you two working together and I agree with him-

"I've been working with him for a month, Ginny," the witch reminded her friend. "And not once has he given me a reason
to question him-

"Not once?" Ginny looked shocked. "Not even a little thing?"

"No," Hermione shook her head. "We've argued a few times, but no more than I would with Ron. He's been completely
professional and we've had no problems."

Except for last night. And possib ly that night I went to his house. I doub t they would b e considered professional.

"Well that's good," the Weasley sister nodded, seemingly satisfied with the Auror's explanation. "But if you need any help
you know where I am."

"Of course," Hermione grinned.

"And don't be such a stranger," Ginny said with a forced frown. "I know you're busy as hell but Luna and I miss you. With
Harry off doing Auror stuff I get quite bored."

"Sorry," the witch sighed, knowing her workload was only going to increase. "I'll try and show my face a bit more."

She knew Ginny didn't believe her but there was nothing she could do about it. She was going to be working her arse off
for...well, Merlin knew how long. Until they found something. Someone. Although, she realised with severe
disappointment at herself, that she had agreed to go to a social gathering with the Malfoys. She hated lying to her friends
but there was no way she was telling them about Narcissa's birthday. Everyone had enough issues without her revealing
that bizarre detail.

Still, she couldn't help but feel awful. She could squeeze in some party time with some Slytherins but not for the friends
she had known for years? Well, she had already she'd go, and a small silver of her was a little excited about it.

She returned home to two owls tapping furiously on her window. She recognised Draco's Eagle Owl but her eyes went to
the Tawny Owl, clutching an envelope with the Ministry emblem, and she decided Malfoy's letter could wait.


Thank you again for all your efforts after the events on Friday.

In light of this, I have asked the Aurors to meet me on

Monday at ten o'clock in my office to discus security measures.

Thanks again for your b ravery, Hermione.

Until Monday.


Hermione allowed a shadow of a smile to grace her features. Even the man's writing, whilst always to the point, was
warm and reassuring. She had expected Shacklebolt to organise a meeting to discus the possibilities and she was
pleased because she had a few suggestions of her own. She looked then at Draco's note and nervously opened the


We are working at the Manor instead.

Come around one o'clock.


His letters were like him. Blunt and precise.

And b eautiful.

It was true, his handwriting was wonderful and elegant, and actually quite similar to hers. Perhaps it was just a
Hogwarts thing. She couldn't quite decide if working at the Manor would be a good or bad thing. She assumed that they
would be working there because his mother was concerned about the Ministry break-in, which meant she would be

Perhaps with his mother around, there would be no possibility of another almost kiss. Not that she assumed he
intended to pick up where they left off, but the man was unpredictable at the best of times. If there was someone else
around then she was guaranteed not to have any problems. She hadn't quite decided what to make of last night so she'd
rather not be alone with him until she had established what had happened and why.

Hermione had thought about the almost kiss all Sunday morning and had decided that she really was just over-thinking
it, just as he'd said she would. They had both had the most stressful day at the Ministry and she had been shaken by
Justin's murder. It was only normal that their brains would be a little muddled, and she had an awful habit of getting
touchy-feely when she was upset.

So that was that. Nothing to worry about.

She dressed herself into some comfortable jeans and a white jumper, finishing off with black scarf to fight the Autumn
chill, and her bag full of notes. She accepted that she was a bit nervous but it was only natural seeing as they hadn't left
on good terms. She was also a little anxious about meeting his mother, considering the last time she'd seen her was
not under the best circumstances.

Malfoy Manor had hardly been a pleasant place for her, but she knew that the Malfoys weren't the muggle-hating morons
they had once been. She actually quite wanted Narcissa to like her. She told herself that was why she graced her face
with some light make-up and checked her reflection before leaving.

She wasn't sure what she had been expecting to see when she walked through a beautiful fireplace into a large lounge,
but it certainly wasn't a cheerful room with pastel walls. She remembered the Manor having dark and cold rooms, not the
charming décor she was observing now.

She was about to wander further into the room but she stiffened when she heard expensive heels drumming against the
wooden floor in the corridor. The door was open, and Hermione forced a soft smile when the Malfoy matriarch appeared
in the room. The woman had barely changed, still powerfully beautiful with an aura of elegance that demanded respect.
Save a few extra wrinkles and the welcoming smile, she was the same Narcissa Malfoy she remembered, complete
with expensive robes that made Hermione regret her choice of clothes.

"Hermione," the older witch greeted, walking up to Hermione. "You're a little earlier than I thought."

"Sorry about that," Hermione muttered quickly. "I'm not very good at keeping a check on the time."

"It's no bother," Narcissa dismissed quickly, taking a seat on one plush couch. "Take a seat."

"Sure," the Auror nodded, relaxing on the ridiculously comfortable sofa. "Miss Malfoy-

"Please," the woman grinned again, and Hermione couldn't help but smile back. "Call me Narcissa."

"Narcissa," the witch repeated, and Hermione found herself nearly staring at the mother. It was strange how a smile
could change a person's face so dramatically.

"Is everything okay?" Narcissa asked her companion with a raised brow that instantly reminded her of Draco.

"Yes, sorry, it's just," Hermione paused and tried to think what she was trying to say. "You haven't changed much. In
appearance, I mean."

"I suppose I haven't," the older witch agreed, allowing her eyes to dance over the girl she hadn't seen in four years. "You,
on the other hand, have changed a lot."

"I have?"

"Certainly," Narcissa nodded, flicking her wand to conjure some tea. "You've grown into a very attractive woman, if you
don't mind me saying so. And it's nice to know you've got a good head on your shoulders too."

"Thank you," Hermione's smile widened. What woman didn't love hearing she was attractive?

"Draco failed to mention how pretty you've gotten," the mother continued. "But then he's not that good with words."

"Where is Draco?" Hermione asked, realising she couldn't exactly call him Malfoy to his mother.

"He's around," the witch sighed. "He'll be here shortly. How are you finding working with my son?"
"It's been interesting," the Auror said honestly. "I didn't think it would work but he's impressed me. I can see he's really

"Children grow up," Narcissa offered a shrug. "But I'm glad you're finding it okay. I know my son can be a bit

"It's nothing I can't handle," Hermione grinned, and Narcissa's lips morphed into a Malfoy smirk.

"I can't begin to thank you for removing my Trace, Hermione" the witch said suddenly.

"You're welcome," Hermione said, and she realised she already liked the woman. "It was no worry."

"Well you truly made my year," the woman confessed. "I've already planned some shopping trips to Paris."

"Oh, I love Paris," Hermione exclaimed. "I got to spend a few weeks there when I was staying in Europe and it was

"I've missed it," Narcissa sighed, but there was no sadness to her breath. "So thank you for making it possible for me to
go back."

"Thank you for inviting me to your birthday," the Auror replied.

"It will be a pleasure," the mother said softly. "I understand that you might have been a little anxious about it but I can
assure you that none of my guests will give you any trouble."

"I'm looking forward to it," Hermione said, realising it was the truth. "I suppose I could do with a bit of relaxation. These
past few weeks have been rather stressful."

"I can imagine," Narcissa sympathised. "Well hopefully you will enjoy yourself on Saturday, and I think you will. I may not
be good at many things, but I know how to organise a party."

"I'm sure it will be lovely-

"It better be," a new voice invaded the room. "It's costing a bloody fortune."

Hermione's eyes shot over to Draco, who was leaning casually against the door-frame with an amused expression
carved into his handsome face. She eyed his relaxed clothing, which consisted of black trousers and a loose green
jumper. Her mind inevitably lead her back to their incident on Friday night and she tried to ignore how good he looked
right now.

"It will be worth every galleon," Narcissa gave her son a proud look. "You know I never disappoint, Draco."

"We'll see," the blond smiled at his mother, before offering Hermione a secretive glance. "Are you done with your little
reunion, ladies?"

"We were just having a chat," Narcissa stole a knowing glimpse at Hermione. "You're just nervous because we were
talking about you."

"Of course you were," Draco rolled his eyes before settling his silver eyes on his colleague. "We should get started-

"You're not going to join us for some tea?" Narcissa asked her son with a frown that only slightly dulled her beautiful

"No, mother," the wizard eyed her with impatience. "Lives to save, psychopaths to catch and all that."

"Okay," the older witch sighed in defeat. "It was nice speaking you, Hermione."

"You too," the brunette beamed at the woman as she left the couch, lingering a little to offer her an appreciative look.
"Thanks again."

"Come on, Granger," Draco breathed harshly.

She left Narcissa's warm presence to follow Draco to a study down the corridor and she noticed that the rest of the
Manor was decorated in fresh and relaxing styles. She found it hard to remember that this was the place Bellatrix had so
callously tortured her as the calming colours washed over her, chasing away her memories of her last visit here. It was a
completely different house.
The study was a little darker in appearance but still a far cry from the dreary décor she had expected. Draco settled
himself in one of the chairs around the large oak desk and Hermione decided on the seat opposite his, removing her
scarf. She quickly started organising her parchments on the table before them, doing everything she could to avoid his

She could feel his eyes on her, like that tingling sensation you feel before you realise something is burning. She could
feel it on her exposed neck and she shuddered, a little too violently for her liking. Warily, she met his gaze and instantly
regretted it. The man looked good enough to swallow whole.

"About the wards," Hermione started, hating the nervous hitch in her voice. "Goyle's were very advanced but there's an
issue. We couldn't decipher them enough to figure out who they would let through-

"So we're back to square one?" Draco's agitated tone silenced her.

"No really," the witch argued. "Goyle would have known whoever killed him. And I think Justin knew the killer too."

"Why would you say that?"

"Justin didn't use his wand," Hermione explained. "It was on his desk when we found him. Clearly he didn't feel
threatened enough to use it. And I'm willing to bet that Nott wasn't attacked from behind. I think he knew the killer too."

"So you're basically saying it's someone from Hogwarts," Draco realised with a scowl.

"That's certainly the most likely possibility," the brunette nodded. "And it was someone who knew the Ministry quite well.
He managed to get in and out rather quick."

"Not bad, Granger," Malfoy graced her with a smirk. "So what do you propose we do?"

"I think we should section off anyone on the Trace list who would have known the victims well enough to be allowed into
their homes," Hermione offered, her eyes once again looking away from his handsome face. "After we've done that we
can take a closer look at their lives."

"That sounds fine." Draco rested chin against his knuckles and watched her closely.

They started working through the list of ex-Death Eaters, selecting around thirty people who they suspected had known
the victims on something close to a personal level. Hermione would forward these names on to Harry, and a couple of
other Aurors, who would then watch them for a week or so and provide Hermione with any interesting information.

"The Aurors have a meeting with Kingsley tomorrow," the witch revealed after three hours of compiling their list. "We're
going to discus some possible security measures and I have some suggestions."

"Such as?" Draco eyed her with something close intrigue.

"I think the targets who are at high risk should be listed," Hermione explained quickly, and Draco recognised that intuitive
gleam flickering in her eyes. "I think I could create a method whereby the targets have very advanced wards and if they
are breached, an Auror is alerted."

"Elaborate," the blond wizard requested, sensing she was having one of her moments of genius. "It sounds interesting
so far."

"Well maybe the targets could be divided equally between the Aurors," the witch continued. "And then the Aurors could
have a charmed object that could alert them if the wards are breached."

Draco's smirk widened when he realised her idea was actually quite brilliant. But then what did he expect? She hadn't
been called 'the smartest witch of our time' for nothing.

"Very clever, Granger," Draco admitted, grinning when she seemed to brighten at his compliment.

"Thank you," Hermione said, having calmed in his presence over the hours, although thoughts about the almost kiss
were still plaguing her mind.

"So what were you and my mother talking about?" Draco asked her, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"Just her birthday really," the witch shrugged, finding the sudden change in conversation rather uncomfortable. "And she
asked me how I found working with you."
"What did you tell her?"

"The truth," Hermione shrugged, looking away from him again. "That it wasn't easy to begin with but we've worked things

Draco nodded absently, regarding her with shielded eyes. He wasn't entirely sure why but he was pleased Granger and
his mother had managed a decent conversation between them. He supposed it was because Narcissa's birthday would
possibly be a little less uncomfortable for his colleague. He was also impressed that Granger had managed to regain a
level of composure considering what had happened on Friday night. He had half expected her to be a fidgety mess with
too many questions, but she had only looked nervous a couple of times since they had been alone.

"Nice to see you took my advice, Granger," Draco remarked as she jotted down some more notes.

"About what?"

He contemplated reminding her that it was him who had suggested that the people on the Trace list receive some sort of
protection but realised that wasn't what he had wanted to broach. No, he wanted to test how she felt about Friday. He
wanted a reaction.

"About not over-analysing things," he drawled, knowing too late that he probably shouldn't have said it.

Her confused and almost panicky gaze landed quickly on his face, examining his guarded features. A delicate but
delicious blush waltzed on her cheeks and her lip twitched in barely-concealed irritation. She started gathering her
things, erratically shoving them into her bag.

"I should go home," Hermione mumbled, rising a little too quickly from her chair. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Granger," the pale wizard muttered as she scrambled for the door.

"Goodnight, Malfoy."

The door slammed behind her and Draco exhaled an agitated sigh. It was barely five in the afternoon. Why the hell had
he said goodnight? She would have probably been fine in work but now he'd gone and made it all awkward again.

On the bright side, she had looked bloody inviting when she had gotten all flushed. He had a feeling that little image
would pop into his skull the next time he relieved some sexual frustration.

A/n: thanks again for your delightful reviews. Though I would get this up quick as I have exams this week so hope it's
okay. Next chapter will be the ball. Let me know if you have any suggestions! Thanks for reading and please Review!

*Chapter 11*: Satisfied


Chapter 11: Satisfied.

Draco hated her. He hated that they had been working together for five days and nothing further had been said about
their incident. He hated that she had seemed to be completely indifferent to the problems that their proximity was
causing. He hated that she always had a coffee in the morning, black with two sugars. He hated that if she brought
sandwiches to work, they would either be ham and pickle or tuna and sweetcorn, but the latter was her favourite.

He hated that she bit her bottom lip whenever she was thinking, which was a lot. And that she would either fiddle with the
hem of her shirt or a lock of her hair. Or when he was getting on her nerves, which was often, her cheeks would stain
with rosy blush and her eyes would go just that fraction darker. She would purse her lips and then make a witty comment
that would always leave him wondering who had won the argument.

The thing he hated most was how all of these things somehow made her attractive. In the confines of his office,
everything was multiplied and magnified, to the point where he became convinced that she was doing those things on
purpose just to torment him.

Oh, and he had established what the tension was. It was sexual.

When a woman invades your mind every time you masturbate, it's kind of inevitable.

He didn't realise that she was noticing his little quirks too.

There were the more obvious signs like his arching eyebrows and his bored sighs, but more fascinating were his subtle
actions. She would often stifle a giggle when he accidentally read something aloud. She had almost found herself
waiting for those brief moments when passion would flicker across his features when something went his way, always
accompanied with a smirk.

And if something angered him in their work he would tap his thumb against the edge of the desk for a few minutes. The
first couple of times, she had found that habit rather irritating, but now it was somewhat soothing and rhythmic.

He had a milky coffee in the mornings but would then switch to tea after eleven, always Earl Grey with two sugars. He
would lick his lips when he was seriously considering something, but only once to dampen them. And if he was
considering something that didn't require that much attention, he would click his tongue against his teeth and gums to
make little snappy noises. She had initially found that annoying too but it no longer bothered her.

Now that she thought about it, the man expressed himself a lot with his tongue and lips.

She was sure there was an irony there somewhere but she couldn't quite grasp it.

Naturally, she chastised herself for noting all these little habits and quirks, but it was impossible for her not to notice
them. The little sounds and sights teased her senses everyday. They were interesting and telling, and

She had realised now that she was attracted to him, and not all of her attraction was based on his appearance. Malfoy
had always been a striking man, unconventionally handsome with his winter-like features. His shades of grey, silver,
blond and white made her question whether the tall, dark and handsome notion had ever held any base. Unless they
had meant a dark past, in which case he ticked the three boxes.

He made her digress.

The point was that she had warmed to his mannerisms and they made him that much more appealing. He
unintentionally made her laugh and could quite easily keep her entertained with his intellect and wit, as proven by their
conversation about the current crisis in Wizard Moscow. He had even confessed to reading some muggle books,
apparently oblivious that this would set her off on an academic rampage. He had read the most obvious texts, including
some of Shakespeare's Tragedies, a few Dickens novels and a bit of Byron, and she had quickly scribbled a list of
He was making her digress again...

She was attracted to him. End of story. And it was making work rather...tense.


Draco frowned when she didn't acknowledge him. He had no idea why but Hermione would be slightly ill-tempered or
distant on Fridays and Tuesdays, and this Friday was no exception.

"Granger," he repeated her name, finally getting her attention. "What time are you coming?"

"Coming where?" Hermione tilted her head in confusion.

"On Saturday," Draco confirmed. "My mother's birthday."

"Oh, yes," her voice was distracted. "I'll be a little late, I have some things to do, but I should be there by eight."

"Okay," Draco nodded, pretending not to be curious about the 'things' she needed to do. "When you get out the Floo there
will be a charmed swallow to lead you to the main room."

"A charmed swallow," Hermione repeated with a thoughtful smile. "What a lovely idea."

"My mother's," he nodded. "She's got a few little bits and bobs going on."

"Really?" Hermione's eyes flashed with childish excitement. She was still eleven years behind most witches and wizards
and she adored the random and creative little things. "Like what?"

"Be patient, Granger," he flashed her possibly the most brilliant smirk she'd seen so far. "You'll see tomorrow."

"I'm intrigued," she admitted, unable to stop her eyes from lingering on that smirk. "I'll admit that this party sounds

"You'll enjoy it," Draco promised her in a silky breath. "There's a few surprises."

"I don't know," Hermione said in teasing tone, wondering if this would constitute as flirting. "You've made a lot of
promises, Malfoy. I have high expectations."

"Well, I can assure you," he spoke, pausing just to look her up and down and twitch his grin. "That you will leave

Hermione's eyebrows rose in slight surprise, but her amused smile remained on her lips. He was watching her face
closely, clearly trying to see if his innuendo had affected her. Her eyes gave in and she glanced down at her work,
offering him a sound somewhere between a snort and a chuckle. Surely that would be considered flirting?

Bad idea, Hermione. Just ignore the cheeky b ugger.

Flirting with Draco was like dancing around a fire covered in petrol. Even if his beliefs about blood purity had changed, he
was still like the young Malfoy in so many ways. He was cocky, manipulative and very incorrigible. He was one of the
biggest male trollops known to Wizard London and would probably sell his own grandmother for personal gain. He was
blunt and temperamental, and enjoyed nothing more than fucking with her head.

Just like he way doing now.

"We'll see," Hermione said finally with a casual shrug. "Are we going to meet on Sunday to work?"

"Maybe," he replied, his earlier smirk fading as she changed the subject. "We'll see what time the party finishes. If it's
late, I'm going to say no."

"Fair enough," she nodded, collecting her files when she realised it was time to finish. "I'll see you tomorrow, Malfoy."

"See you, Granger," he said, watching her leave.

Once she'd closed the the door, he groaned to himself, pinching the bridge on his nose.

Well, I can assure you that you will leave satisfied?

What the fuck was that?

There had been several little conversations between them since Monday that could have been misconstrued as
suggestive, but one of them always managed to change the subject before it bordered on dangerous. Amusing? Yes.
Inappropriate? Maybe. Wrong? Definitely.

Hermione hadn't had anything to do before she went to Malfoy Manor, she just quite enjoyed making a late entrance. After
Voldemort's defeat, there had been countless balls, parties, galas, functions and every other sort of celebration, and she
preferred to come once an atmosphere had been set.

She had decided against buying a new gown, knowing that she was rather awful at shopping without Ginny or Luna's
help. She may have been able to select a nice gown by herself, but she hadn't told her friends about Narcissa's birthday,
and if they had heard she'd bought a gown, they would have been more than curious. Besides, she had more than
enough dresses at it was.

A quick scan of her closet revealed about thirty frocks, but her eyes went straight to her red one. She had worn it for
Harry's birthday two years ago and it had always been her favourite, but she hadn't worn it since. It had a classic cut, with
the material just flaring out at her hips, and thin straps leading to low neckline.

The material was a little heavy but it helped to keep the gown's shape. It was simple yet bold, and Ginny had told her
many times that red was her colour. Combined with some simple gold jewellery and shoes, she was convinced she had
chosen the right dress. She used her wand to define her curls a little more and spent less than five minutes adding
some delicate make-up to her face.

"What do you think?" Hermione eyed Crookshanks with an expectant smile.

Her inquisitive cat simply stared at her with his huge amber eyes, but offered her a small purr of affection.

"Thank you," she petted him as she double-checked her reflection. It was only quarter to eight so she poured herself a
glass of wine and tried to convince herself she wasn't nervous.

Draco grabbed a glass of champagne from one of the charmed trays that were floating around the ballroom, and headed
towards his mother. The woman, dressed in an elegant black gown, was currently surrounded by twelve of her harpy
friends, all congratulating her on the party.

Draco had to give credit to his mother, the witch had bloody outdone herself. It was similar to how the Yule Ball had been
with silver decorations, but there black and green trimmings. He didn't know if she'd intended to use the Slytherin colours
but he was pleased with the result. Along with the charmed trays for drinks, the candles and lights had been charmed to
glow white or green, casting wonderful shadows the walls.

There were star-shaped trinkets floating just above the crowd and charmed instruments played waltzes near the dance
area, which had been altered to look like very thin ice, with fish swimming underneath.

Yes, they had done very well.

"Draco," Narcissa smiled when she saw her son, and she broke away from her friends to near him. "Where did you go?"

"Just for a walk," he offered her an approving nod and pecked her on the cheek. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's wonderful," Narcissa beamed like it was Christmas. "Everyone's enjoying themselves and, if I do say so
myself, this is the party of the year."
"It hasn't been going an hour yet," he reminded her with a playful grin. "And you've come to that conclusion?"

"I know how to please," the witch smiled. "Where's your date?"

Ah, his date. Violet Rosenthorn. Beautiful but irritating, complete with screeching voice and no brain cells to boast. Blaise
had set him up last minute and he had successfully managed to ditch the idiot after twenty minutes. He had left her
talking to a grey-haired wizard with a massive fortune and a troublesome heart condition. He figured they would get
along just fine.

"She's around," Draco shrugged as he spotted Blaise walking towards them. "Enjoying yourself, Blaise?"

"Of course," the dark wizard grinned, offering the Malfoy matriarch a small hug. "Well done Narcissa, another great party."

"Naturally," the woman smiled, waving at some guests. "I have to mingle, I'll come find you two in a bit."

Draco watched his mother go with a scowl when he saw a tall wizard embrace his mother for a bit too long. His eyes
then went to scan the crowd, taking in the familiar faces and noting that a certain witch had yet to make an appearance.

"Did you ditch Violet already?" Blaise's voice broke his thoughts.

"She's a prat," Draco stated flatly. "Would it have killed you to pick a woman with a decent mental age?"

"It was short notice," Blaise smirked. "So did your Mum pick Slytherin colours on purpose?"

"No idea," Draco shrugged. "But it's certainly a decent prospect. Want to reminisce about the Hogwarts days with
firewhiskey later?"

"I might join you on that," a new voice interjected.

Draco and Blaise turned to the new voice and the pale Malfoy couldn't stop the look of surprise that stole his features.
Well, there was a face from the past if ever he saw one. Graham Montague, looking notably thinner. Last Draco had
heard, he'd been in St Mungo's still recovering from the whole Vanishing Cabinet incident. It was his own fault for trying to
Apparate and ending up in the bloody toilet.


Graham had also been furious when Draco had used the Vanishing Cabinet to allow the Death Eaters into Hogwarts,
claiming that Draco had stolen the idea from him and that Voldemort's approval was misplaced. The Healers had
assumed his ramblings were linked to his splinching, but Draco wasn't sure how much of the rumours were true. His
mother had a tendency to exaggerate. He'd become a little bit of a laughing-stock since then, and from the look on his
face now, he wasn't too pleased to see his old schoolmates.

"Montague," Blaise frowned at the tall man. "What are you doing here?"

"I tagged along with my mother," the dark-haired wizard shrugged. "Thought it would be interesting to see you lot again. I
wondered how the Slytherins have been coping without backbones-

"Excuse me?" Draco managed his best condescending expression.

"Well, I haven't seen you in years," Graham matched Malfoy's stare. "And when I heard you worked for the Ministry I
thought you may have gone insane-

"Not me," Draco gave the wizard a cold smirk. He did not like that Montague was trying to patronise him in his family
home. "So how long have you been out?"

"Almost a year," the wizard didn't sound ashamed at all.

"And your head's back in working order?" Blaise's voice was crisp and cruel.

"All better," he confirmed. "Which is more than I can say for the rest of London. Perhaps Shacklebolt can have my old
room. Surely the man needs a look at if he gave you a job-

"And what exactly are you doing now?" Draco's scowl hardened. He'd be damned if he let some nameless tool, who'd
been sectioned for years, try and make him feel inferior.

"I've had a few things to take care of," Graham remained vague, folding his arms over his chest.
"No job offers?" Draco grinned in amusement. "I'm sure your parents will help nurse you-

"Mock all you want, Malfoy," Montague said with a dark voice. "I would never be desperate enough to work for the Ministry-

"Times have changed, Montague," Draco shook his head as though he was scolding a child. "You've missed a lot,
locked up with your little mental problems-

"I heard enough inside," Graham snarled, and Draco's hand went to rest over his wand. "I bet you're father is spinning in
his grave. And Voldemort for that matter-

"You will not bring up that name here," Draco growled, taking a threatening step towards the wizard. "I don't give a fuck if I
have to drag you out myself-


The young Malfoy heard his mother's disapproving tone and he righted himself, noticing that a few heads had turned to
watch his argument with Graham. He backed away from the wizard, warning him with his eyes it would not be wise to
cross him again.

"Excuse my son," Draco heard his mother apologise, and he looked at her with irritation. "He's been working-

"That's quite alright, Miss Malfoy," Graham smiled at her, suddenly polite. Montague's eyes lingered on something
behind Draco and the pale wizard resisted the urge to look behind him. "I'll leave you alone, I've just spotted another
familiar face."

"What the fuck is he doing here?" Draco gave his mother a sceptical look.

"I didn't know his mother would bring him," Narcissa shrugged. "I know you don't get along, but don't you dare make a
scene here, Draco. The whole thing was ages ago and he's fully healed now-

"Fine," the wizard ground his teeth. "But if he-

"That goes for you too, Blaise," his mother eyed his friend with a knowing glare. "Both of you, just behave-

"Draco," Blaise's voice cut her off, and when Malfoy looked at his companion, Blaise was motioning for him to look
behind him. Draco looked over his shoulder and his eyes widened of their own accord.

There she was, looking absolutely delicious, except for Montague towering over her, dulling her with his shadow. She
didn't seem to be scared or anything, more confused about who it was, but there was an element in the man's stance
that made Draco feel something he hadn't felt towards anyone except his mother.

He felt protective.

He was a breath away from marching over there and tearing her away from Montague's vile presence, when he felt his
mother's hand on his shoulder.

"Don't even think about it," Narcissa warned her son. "They're just talking. I have to greet some more people, and when I
leave I don't want you starting any more fights, Draco."

The pale wizard sighed at his mother's tone, but his eyes never left Hermione and the bastard eyeing her with too much
interest. He heard his mother walk away and Blaise's soft chuckle echoed in his ear.

"What?" Malfoy snapped at his friend.

"Well I can't help but note the deja vu," the dark wizard smirked. "You looking all lusty at Granger-

"What the hell are you talking about?" Draco turned his heated stare to his companion.

"The Yule Ball," Blaise reminded him. "Similar setting, she looks hot again, and I distinctly remember taking the piss out
of you for eyeing up 'Mudblood Granger'-

"Watch your mouth, Blaise-

"Sorry," the wizard corrected himself. "Just reliving the memory-

"Everyone looked at her at the Yule Ball," Draco told him.

"Fair point," Blaise agreed. "But you-

Draco didn't hear whatever his friend was going to say. He was already tearing through the crowd towards her, his
patience gone the moment Montague had dared to touch her arm. He realised with a small dose of satisfaction that she
seemed uncomfortable by the contact, so he slowed his paces.

"Granger," Draco called over to her when he was a few strides away. He didn't quite trust himself to be too close to
Montague again, especially when Graham was still touching her. "Come here."

"Just a second, Malfoy," she smiled at him, oblivious to his sour mood. "I'm just-

"Now, Hermione," he demanded, casting another hateful glance towards Montague for good measure.

She shot him an exasperated look but made her way towards him anyway, muttering a quick apology before she left. He
grabbed her wrist once she was close enough and meandered them through the crowd. He released her when he found
a small space for them to talk, a reasonable distance away from Montague.

"What the hell was that about?" Hermione asked him, evidently irritated.

"Don't talk to him," Draco told her bluntly. "He's an evil shit-

"I thought you said I'd be okay-

"It's nothing to do with Muggle-borns," he told her, noticing that she relaxed a little as he spoke. "He's just pissed at

It was true. From what he remembered and had heard, Graham hadn't been too bothered with whole blood purity issue.
He'd been more interested in living up to the expectations of the stereotypical Slytherin and earning himself a name
more than anything else. It was that pathetic desperation that had annoyed Draco.

"He seemed okay," Hermione shrugged. "I just can't quite remember where I recognise him-

"Graham Montague," Draco told her, shooting a glance over to the man they were discussing. "He's the one the Weasley
twins put in the Vanishing Cabinet in fifth year. Remember? He was one of the Inquisitional Squad and his parents
came to Hogwarts to get him-

"Oh, yes," the witch breathed, looking back to the man in question. "He's lost a lot of weight. I thought he was still in St

"Not long out," he told her, and his eyes began to drink in her appearance.

She looked absolutely charming and elegantly brilliant. As much as he hated to admit any fondness for the Gryffindor
colours, the woman looked bloody decent in red.


"You look good, Granger," he told her with a wolfish grin. "Very good, actually."

"Thank you," she smiled at him, eyeing his smart dress-robes with approving eyes. "You look rather dashing yourself."

"Glad you think so," he flashed her his teeth. "Have you had a drink?"

"Not yet," accepting a glass of champagne he plucked from one of the trays. "This place looks absolutely stunning, it
must have taken your mother hours."

"She had a lot of help," he told her.

"Well it's paid off," she muttered, her hazel eyes wandering over the room in awe. "It's absolutely breathtaking."

"I know," Narcissa's voice caught Hermione's attention, and she smiled at the older witch. "How are you Hermione?"

"I'm thinking I should ask you to organise my next birthday," the Auror beamed at the blonde woman. "This is wonderful,

"Thank you," the witch said. "I'll have to show you the rest of the Manor at some point. Actually, Draco why don't you take
her on a tour later on?"
"Sure," he nodded, his grey eyes glancing over to Hermione for a stolen moment.

"Brilliant," Narcissa's smile widened. "Why don't you two go and mingle? Have a dance or something."

"I don't really dance," Hermione muttered, her familiar flush stealing her cheeks.

"Good," Draco drawled next to her. "Neither do I."

"Well have a wander, then," his mother insisted. "There's a few surprises dotted around so go and enjoy yourself. And
behave yourself, Draco."

"I always do," the youngest Malfoy rolled his eyes at her comment before she disappeared into the crowd. He turned to
the witch next to him and once again found his eyes admiring her appearance with little restraint.

She was eyeing the floating stars, seemingly entranced by the beauty of the room. Her eyes waltzed over the various
charmed objects with fascination and Draco's eyes narrowed in amusement. She noticed his expression and her
cheeks darkened with an embarrassed blush."

"I'm sorry," she laughed a little as she spoke, and Draco clenched his jaw when he found that ridiculously alluring.
"Sometimes these things still amaze me."

"It's fine," he breathed, attempting a smirk but it faltered. "Do you want me to show you around?"

"Yes please," Hermione nodded.

She followed him as he meandered through the crowd, taking her to multicoloured fountain which tasted of blueberries
with schnapps. Then to the bouquets of silver lilies that made little humming noises if you played with the petals. He
guided her to the ice sculptures that danced along with the music like live couples on their podiums.

Before she realised, hours had passed, and she had successfully managed to mingle with guests without once having
any criticism about her heritage. She had noticed Draco shooting malevolent looks over to Graham Montague during the
evening but she paid it no heed. Clearly they had some unresolved issues from Hogwarts but she figured Draco had
issues with a few people from their school days.

They found themselves sitting alone at a table towards the end of the evening, watching as the various guests slowly left
the Manor. Hermione realised that this was the most relaxed she had felt in a while, finding that rather surprising when
she considered the company. It was just past midnight and even though the crowd was thinning, she was enjoying the
atmosphere too much to leave.

"Where did Blaise go?" Hermione asked him as he removed his robes, leaving him in a white shirt.

"Probably took his date home," he shrugged, and then regarded her with a serious expression. "What was Montague
saying to you before I interrupted?"

"He asked me for a dance," she explained, leaning back in the chair. "I said no, and then he asked if I remembered him
from Hogwarts, and then you jumped in."

"Can you remember if his name is on the Trace list?"

"I'm not sure," the witch frowned as she tried to recall all the names. "Why?"

"I think we should keep an eye on him," Draco offered with a creased brow. "He's a shifty bastard, and he became sour
at the ex-Death Eaters after we made fun of him."

"But you said he didn't have anything against Muggle-borns," she reminded him with a thoughtful look.

"I don't think he did," he told her. "But the guy's been locked up for years and having treatment since he was sixteen.
Merlin knows what's going on his head."

"Good point," Hermione nodded with sad lips. "We'll look into on Monday."

"And now that I think about," Draco rubbed his chin in thought. "We should probably look at-

"Can we not discus the case now?" Hermione asked him with a pleading look. "Let's just have a night off from work."

"Alright," he agreed with an arched eyebrow, watching as she shifted in her seat and hissed through her teeth,
apparently in discomfort. "What's wrong?"

"My feet are killing me," she confessed with low tone, looking down at her shoes with disdain. "I never was good with

"So take off your shoes."

He didn't wait for her consent as he reached down and pulled up her foot so it was resting in his lap. She watched him
silently and with a hazy stare as he slowly undid the straps and removed her shoe. He gently placed her bare foot back
on the floor and picked up her other one. Her dress shifted this time, revealing some her leg and she couldn't stop her
small gasp.

While his hands worked on removing the second shoe, he held her eyes this time, staring at her with an unreadable
expression. She simply stared back, her lips a little parted and her hazel eyes searching his. The shoe fell to the floor,
but he held her foot for a moment, stroking his right hand up the back on her calf before he settled it back on the ground.

Hermione eyes shifted away from him, finding his gaze far too intense. She clumsily fixed her gown to cover her legs and
nervously glanced around the room.

"Thank you," she mumbled quickly, deciding it was not wise to look at him right now.

"It's fine," he replied gruffly, observing her with a carefully guarded façade. Merlin, if she only knew the lusty thoughts
screaming in his head. "Look, Hermione-

"Oh, fuck," she cursed suddenly.

His eyes widened at her words, having long learned that she rarely swore. He followed her shocked stare towards the
other side of the room, where his mother was currently talking with a certain blonde-haired witch neither of them could

"Skeeter," Hermione frowned, drawing Draco's eyes back to her. "I bloody hate that woman."

"Same," he admitted, chuckling a little at her sour look. "Why do you hate her so much, Granger?"

"That woman wrote enough bullshit about me to drown an army," the witch told him. "Back when I was going out with
Krum. Then I got her in trouble for being an unregistered Animagus and she's hated me ever since."

"I see," he grinned at her, amused by her look of malice towards the witch.

"Do you think we could go somewhere?" Hermione asked him, looking decidedly uncomfortable with the new guest. "I
don't want to ruin the night with an argument with her."

"Sure," he sighed. "How about I take you on that tour my mother mentioned?"

"Great idea," she offered him a relived smile as she rose from her seat. They were close enough to the door to make a
discreet escape, and in her haste, Hermione left behind her shoes.

Draco lead her down the long corridors and paused at the various rooms his mother had recently decorated,
subconsciously keeping her away from the section of the Manor Hermione had been tortured in. She smiled
appreciatively at each room and told him his mother had quite a knack for colour schemes, to which he simply snorted.

"I have to admit," she whispered as they walked down a particularly long corridor. "I have really enjoyed myself tonight."

"I said you would," he reminded her with smug look.

"I know," she nodded, watching him out of the corner of her eye. "I confess, I had reservations about coming here."

"I thought as much," he glanced at her quickly, and those betraying notions invaded his mind. Alone in a dark corridor
and her looking very charming, it was hard for him to ignore her.

"But I loved it," she continued with a striking smile. "And thank you for keeping me entertained."

"Entertained," he repeated, watching as she seemed to reconsider her words with a faint blush.

"For keeping me company," she corrected, nervously tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "I appreciate it."
"It's fine," Draco said in distant tone, openly watching her now as she anxiously played with her hands. A bold thought
popped into his head, begging to be voiced, and he couldn't help himself. "So your expectations have been satisfied?"

Hermione stopped her slow steps when she recognised the earlier innuendo and she turned to him with confused,
almost wary eyes. He stared back with that blank look that she hated so much, but she did notice that his eyes shifted to
her lips for a second.

"They have," she nodded at him hesitantly, feeling like he was too close even though there was a foot between them.
She tried to think of something else to say to seem calm. "Have yours been satisfied?"

He smirked at her, and her heartbeat quickened when he took a step closer to her. His eyes travelled to her lips again,
and she noted the look of determination in his eyes.

"Almost," he whispered.

She barely had time to blink before he pushed her roughly to the wall, pausing only for a second before he kissed her.
And she kissed him straight back. Perhaps it was because she'd had a fair few champagnes, or perhaps it was simply
because Malfoy was so devilishly handsome, it would be a sin not to.

Just quick and heated pecks to begin with, but when he nipped lightly at her bottom lip, he took advantage of her small
gasp. His tongue was hot in her mouth, talented and silky against hers. Her fingers desperately grasped his neck and
fingered his hair and he pushed his entire body into hers, his hands on her sides and his thumbs scraping the sides of
her breasts. One of his hands moved up to her throat and she barely moaned when his fingertip grazed a sensitive spot.

She nibbled and sucked and licked as much of his mouth as she could, losing herself as he ran his tongue over her
lower lip. His lips left hers to suckle hungrily at her neck, and the moan she released this time was loud and clear when
his hot breath teased the wet trail of his kisses.

She bit softly at his ear as he lapped at her throat, running her tongue just under his lobe while her fingers continued to
frantically toy with his hair. She pecked at his jaw, tasting his masculine scent on the tip of her tongue, when his lips
came back to hers. He was rough and feral and she matched his intentions, sighing when he pushed her harder
against the wall.

It was frenzied now, and her teeth grabbed his bottom lip as her fingernails clawed across his shoulder blades. She felt
him shudder for a fast second and he released a guttural sound in her mouth. The noise seemed to snap her out of her
trance, combined with hard heat prodding against her stomach.

Her hands found his shoulders and she shoved him away from her, hating the way the lonely corridor echoed her quick
breaths. She stared at him with wide and shocked eyes, praying her passion was concealed. He was matching her
stare with suppressed lust, panting just like her.

She leaned back against the wall and Draco watched as he chest heaved, her neck exposed and still damp from his
actions. He thought about kissing her again, but the surprise on her face warned him that it was a bad idea.


a/n: please read and review! No? awww...but they're so nice to read! Come on guys give me some thoughts and
suggestions...never know but I may use them!
*Chapter 12*: Buttons


Chapter 12: Buttons.

He was pretty sure he was going to kill her. She was still there, leaning against the wall and breathing heavily, her chest
rising and falling. Aside from her panicked panting, she hadn't made a sound; hadn't even looked him, and it was
infuriating him because all he could do was stare at her. His own breathing had calmed and all of his previous lusty
notions were dissipating to make room for his impatience. Yes, if she didn't speak, or move or do something, he was
going to kill her. Metaphorically, of course.

Her head finally came forward and their eyes locked. She looked somewhere between petrified and embarrassed and
he knew he was disappointed by her reaction. He would have welcomed passion and perhaps even expected anger, but
he would have never thought that she would be mortified. He had no idea what to do about the situation and it was
frustrating him to a dangerous point.

"I'm sorry," he heard her mumble quickly, and he scowled at her when she made to move. "I should go-

"Don't you dare," Draco growled, stepping forward to block her escape. He'd be damned if he let her walk out like nothing
had happened. "Don't be such a bloody coward-

"What do you want me to say, Malfoy?" Hermione's words were quiet and controlled. She was refusing to look at him
again and he wondered if it would have just been easier to let her go.

"I don't know," he grumbled roughly, so agitated with her behaviour. "But I refuse to have you act all fucking skittish in
work, so we are going no discus this now."

"We've both been drinking," she muttered quickly, ignoring his growl. "We're just-

"Don't be such an idiot," he stopped her, taking another step towards her. "We're not the slightest bit drunk-

"I got carried away," she sighed, so desperate to get away now that she would say anything. He was close to her again
and she just needed to leave, needed to put some space between them so she could think about this. "It was an

"An accident," he repeated, clenching his fists and taking a defiant step away from her. "You mean a mistake."

She looked at him then, realising she felt offended by his words. She knew what they had done had been foolish but she
didn't like that word. Did he really see it as a mistake? She felt a small but definite twitch in her chest, hating the way his
eyes were cold and aloof. Her frustration was rousing some inappropriate tears and she pushed past him, furious with
him, and herself, for allowing this situation to happen.

"Where the fuck are you going?" Draco asked her as she marched past him, ignoring his question. "Granger!"

"Home," she spat over her shoulder.

"The hell you are," he snarled, following her down the hall. "We are not finished here-

"Yes we are," the witch's voice was bitter now, and her strides were long and fast to keep the distance. She was
searching frantically for a fireplace or at least something she recognised so she could get her bearings.

"Dammit, Granger," he cursed, almost catching up with her. "Would you just listen to me?"

"I'm going home," Hermione's voice was quaking a bit now, and she sighed with relief when she recognised the room
she had arrived in earlier.

Draco grabbed her arm just as she turned into the room and she spun around to give him a flustered look, hoping she
looked angry enough for him to leave her alone. No such luck.

"Stop being so childish," he scolded her in a dark voice.

"I can't do this right now," she shook her head at him, tearing her arm away from his fist. "Can't we just forget about it-


"Please," she begged him, and his scowl softened for a brief second. "Just act like it never happened?"

She was close to tears now, and he could feel his resolve wavering. He wanted to talk about this, get it all out the way
now while he had the chance, but from the looks of it, she was adamant to avoid this for tonight. A part of him knew it was
best she leave now. He was so angry and he knew that he had a tendency to speak without thinking when he was like

"Fine," he hissed through his teeth. "Go home and hide like a pathetic child, but we are going to talk about this, whether
you like it or not."

She stared at him for a few seconds, her eyes wide and defeated. For a moment, she thought she might lean forward
and kiss him again, so she desperately reached for the Floo powder, and disappeared with the glare of emerald flames.

He watched the empty fireplace with raging eyes, stormy-grey as he tried to control his irritation. The way she had acted
had been maddening, but he was also angry at the way he had handled things. He'd been irrational, completely
overtaken by his rage. He had screamed and shouted at her with no control, like some teenage brat who hadn't got his

He had half a mind to got after her but knew that it would only lead to more shouting and the last thing he wanted to do
was say something else he would regret. Yes, he was angry at her, but he knew that his reaction had only made things
worse and he really didn't want to offend her.

He could still taste her in his mouth, and his lips throbbed faintly in the aftermath of her curious pecks and nibbles. He
might have smirked if he wasn't so infuriated by her actions.

Gryffindor courage, my arse.

He stormed out the room with every intention of having a cold shower and drowning the remnants of the kiss. Questions
and thoughts were swarming around his brain as he charged through the corridors, stirring a pulsating headache. He
had intended to stay at the Manor tonight but really didn't fancy the idea of running into whoever else his mother had
invited to stay. He just needed to grab his stuff and then he could leave without any interruptions.

"Draco," he heard his mother's voice and growled. "You're leaving?"

"Yes," he told her bluntly as she neared him in the corridor.

"Are you okay?" Narcissa's voice was wary now, recognising her son's temper. "I thought you were staying the night?"

"Change of plan," he muttered, folding his arms over his chest as his mother regarded him. He could tell she was
curious by his behaviour, and unless he came up with a convincing lie, she wouldn't leave him alone.

"What's happened?" Narcissa questioned, cocking an eyebrow when her son tensed his jaw. "Why are you so angry-

"I'm not angry," Draco lied, despising the way his mother could read her so well. "I'm just-

"And where is Hermione?" The older Malfoy frowned, missing the dark look that flashed in her son's eyes. "I thought I
saw you two leaving the ballroom together?"

"She went home," he tried his best to make his shrug look carefree.

"Oh, I see," the witch rolled her knowing eyes, and for a second he panicked that she had figured him out. "You had an
argument with her, didn't you?"

"Yes," he nodded after a pause. Her theory was certainly easier to deal with than the truth.

"She gets under your skin," his mother commented, and he resisted the urge to groan. "I can tell."

You have no idea.

"I'm going home," Draco said finally, and she didn't try to stop him this time.

When he got home, he jumped straight into a shower so cold it felt hot. He was grateful that his body relaxed, the water
calming his reactions to Granger. His mind, however, remained a tempest of persistent questions and haunting images.
He went to bed with the start of a stubborn migraine.

When she didn't owl him on the Sunday he had been annoyed, but not necessarily surprised. She had clearly been
rather surprised with the way the evening had ended and he guessed that she was analysing it to death. He realised he
was too. He had done everything to distract himself but his thoughts always went back to her bruised lips and her
heaving chest.

But when she hadn't shown up at work in the morning, he'd become incensed. He waited an hour, and it was a bloody
long one, before he stomped heavily out of his office in search of her. He was so royally pissed off with her cowardice
and he was going to confront her about it, whether she welcomed it or not.

That's who he was.

He headed straight to the Auror Office, and after checking a few rooms without success, he found himself at a door with
a note scribbled in familiar writing on it.

Busy. Do not enter.


He pushed the door open with a tenacious shove and glanced around the room with confused eyes. He had expected it
to be her office but instead he found himself in a large and simple room with no furniture and stone walls. His eyes
settled on the four figures in the centre of the space, instantly recognising Hermione's familiar shape in some sort of
duelling gear.

One of the other people fired a curse at her and she spun around to avoid it, in the process realising Draco was in the
room. Her eyes widened as she absorbed his presence with obvious panic, turning around to swiftly counter another

"Stop!" Hermione screamed, and the other three halted their actions immediately, finally acknowledging Malfoy's
presence when she started to approach him.

He noticed briefly that Longbottom was one of the wizards in the room but he didn't have time to mull over it as Hermione
stormed towards him, rage shining brightly in her eyes. Sweat glimmered in a thin layer on her skin and he ground his
teeth. She looked positively enraged as she neared him and it made her look bloody radiant, even if she was wearing
frumpy training gear.

"What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?" Hermione's voice echoed off the bare walls and he almost flinched. "Can't
you sodding read?"

"You were late," he spat at her, his nostrils flaring. "I came-

"You could have been bloody injured," she continued, realising she had probably never sworn so much in such a short
space of time. "Do you realise that? Or were you too busy thinking about yourself to give a shit?"

"You're avoiding me," he stated, his voice quiet and accusing. "I will not be ignored, Granger."

"I told you I would be training this morning-

"What?" Draco snorted at her, crossing his arms as he stared down at her. "When?"

"Last week," she told him with a determined glare. "When we had lunch in Diagon Alley-

"That's bollocks," he growled at her "You said you were training on Friday, not today-

"Shit," she muttered when it suddenly dawned on her. She'd forgotten that the day had changed, and now she felt like an
idiot. "I meant to tell you, the times changed-

"But you didn't," he frowned, relishing the small victory. "Hence why I'm here-
"You shouldn't have come in," she said weakly, looking away from him when he took a step towards her.

"We have work to do," he breathed against her face and she almost sighed, noting his hard look with anxiety. "And things
to discus."

She knew what he was referring to and it made her feel embarrassed again. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear,
hoping he didn't notice the slight shake to her fingers. He was standing over her, waiting for a reply of some kind, but all
she could do was stare at his chest, hating how small he made her feel.

"Okay," she sighed, taking a small step away from him. "I need to finish up here and I'll go home and get changed. I'll
come in after lunch."

"Make sure you do," he glared at her, his voice slightly colder than he'd intended. "See you in a couple of hours, Granger."

She watched him go, holding her breath until the door slammed behind him. She bit her lip, grimacing when she
realised it was still a little swollen and delicate from their kiss. With a heavy sigh, she turned back to her male

"Are you Okay?" Neville spoke up, appearing genuinely concerned.

"I'm fine," she offered him a confident smile, tuning to look at Castor and Jason. "Let's continue."

Draco didn't think he could remember a day when time had gone by so slowly. He didn't bother with lunch and simply
obsessed over his work. Without even realising, he had started listing the people who he thought were most likely to be
the killer.

Graham Montague – An obvious choice really. The guy's sudden appearance back into society was enough to rouse his
suspicion, and Montague had always envied the fear and notoriety that came with associating with Death Eaters. Had he
not been near driven insane, Draco had a feeling he would have handled the pressure rather well and would have taken
Voldemort's requests in his stride.

Unlike me.

He scowled as he recalled his breakdown in the toilets. Back then he had been so ashamed by his weakness, but at
least now he could bask in the knowledge that he hadn't been cut out for the lifestyle. He was many things; cold, cynical,
and would probably always be a little conniving, but it was good to know he wasn't evil. It was comforting. Anyway, back to
his list.

Marcus Flint – The man had always been sinister and rarely thought twice before he acted. If Draco remembered rightly,
and a quick check of Flint's record confirmed it, he had narrowly escaped Azkaban for spreading anti-Muggle-born
propaganda around some wizarding community. The hatred was there and even the intelligence was there, but Draco
didn't think the man was really capable of murder.

Lucian Bole and Peregrine Derrick – Yes, these two would have to come as a pair. They had been incapable of thinking
individually, much like Crabbe and Goyle, and would do stupid things together to impress. Their Traces told Draco that
they even lived in the same block of flats. The intelligence was lacking but they were ignorant to boundaries, and they
had always been very aggressive at Hogwarts.

Adrian Pucey – Possibly the hardest name for Draco to write, but necessary nonetheless. He had been different to the
other Slytherins, less brazen and violent, but still prejudiced. Draco had been more than a little surprised when he was
linked to a Muggle attack in Ipswich. Even though Adrian himself had remained inactive during the war, his father had
died during the battle, and Draco wondered if his old schoolmate was one for revenge.

Hestia and Flora Carrow – Just like Bole and Derrick, the sisters would rarely do anything on their own. They certainly
had a motive considering their aunt and uncle, Alecto and Amycus, had not long died in Azkaban. They had always been
an eerie pair, even for Slytherins, bordering on insane. That being said, he couldn't recall them ever hurting anyone and
the records were pretty clean. They were just...strange, and he found it hard to put anything past them, including murder.

Graham Pritchard – It was unlikely, but the kid had only been fifteen when the war had started and he'd been so
desperate to join to the Death Eaters. Impressionable little idiot. He'd been an evil little bastard too and had only avoided
arrest because of his age. Draco had heard a rumour that he'd tried to set up meetings for Muggle-haters about two
years ago, but they hadn't found anything, and he didn't have a blemish on his Trace. Perhaps Draco just wasn't too fond
of Grahams at the moment.

It was just after he'd finished his notes on Pritchard that Granger walked into his office, trying very hard to look
composed. Had it not been for the slight tremble in her step and her refusal to meet his eyes, he would have believed
her to be confident.

It was only when she settled in her chair that she looked up at him and he felt his eyebrow twitch. The look in her eyes
was a combination of nerves and defiance, and it suited her face remarkably well. He made a mental note to add her
stubborn nature to the list of things he found attractive about her. Great. She was wearing that bloody dress too, the grey
one that buttoned at the front. Just one flick of his wand and all those buttons would just pop-

"McGonagall contacted me yesterday," she started, clearing her throat when it sounded husky. "There have been-

"Are you really going to do that?" Draco stopped her, his tone hard with cynicism. Her eyes closed as he spoke, a small
moan in the back of her breath, but she recovered and shot him a wary glance.

"Do what, Malfoy?"

"Ignore what happened," his response was quick and sharp. She visibly flinched at his words but he didn't care, he was
too irritated with her right now. "Just pretend that we didn't kiss-

"We agreed that we would forget it," she said quickly, her voice stronger than he'd have thought.

"I didn't agree to anything," he reminded her, leaning over the desk. "That was your shit idea-

"Then what do you suggest?" Hermione's voice was heated now. He preferred her like this; feisty and with a bit of bite.

"That we talk about it like adults," he growled, knowing she hated his sarcasm. "Or would that be too much to ask,

"Fine," she snarled at him, and he realised then that he had probably pushed her too far.

He hadn't really intended to get her angry, just a little riled and certainly past the stupid embarrassed stage. Now she just
looked angry as hell, and all those dormant thoughts he'd suppressed about fucking her on the desk left the realm of
possibility. Shame.

"I think I can safely say," she continued, breaking him from his thoughts. "That our work relationship is complicated at

"Massive understatement-

"But I am finally starting to think we have something that works," she told him, her anger fading but only slightly. "And it
has taken a lot of bloody effort for you and I to get where we are and forget what happened between us in Hogwarts-

"Agreed," Malfoy sighed in a bored tone, eyeing her still-briused lips with hooded eyes. "Is there a point to your dull
narration of our lives?"

"Yes," she breathed, firing him another stern look and try oh so hard to ignore how good he looked today. "The point is
that I have no intention of making this any more complicated because of that incident-

"It's called a kiss-

"So I think it would be best," Hermione's controlled tone faltered, and she wondered why. Her chest constricted but she
dismissed it. "That we just forget about it."

He knew he didn't like what she'd said, but he hated her logic more. It was infuriating. He hadn't forgotten that their past
was rocky but he was certainly over it. Clearly she wasn't, but then he realised that he had been the one that had bullied
her, made her cry.

And even if she was over all that, she was right. Their work was difficult as it was without them deciding whether or not to
tear each others' clothes off or scream bloody murder. They needed to catch a killer, and he needed to stop picturing her
naked. So he did what any self-respecting man would do; he plastered a forced smirk on his lips and acted nonchalant.

"People kiss all the time, Granger," he told her with a shrug. "Without it meaning anything."
Hermione fought very hard to keep her disappointment off her face and ignore the way her chest decided to twinge. She
had no idea why she suddenly felt very alone and vulnerable but she shoved those feelings aside. He was right. She'd
had a few kisses that had been meaningless, but none had been near as passionate as the one he had shown her. But
all that proved was that he was a good kisser. Nothing more. There could be nothing more.

"So," she started hesitantly after a pause. "We forget about it?"

"If that's the game you want to play," Draco's voice was suddenly very professional and calm. "Then that suites me just

She suddenly wanted to fight him, and just what the hell did he mean by game? She wanted to shout at him for instantly
making her feel so pointless with a few well-thought words. She almost wanted to kiss him again to prove to herself that
it hadn't been a fluke, and maybe just to relive it for a second. She wanted to hex him for being so blasé when she was
secretly seething.

"Okay," she said instead, toying with one of the buttons on her dress, missing the way he was eyeing that particular
action. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," he said quickly, tearing his eyes away from her bloody buttons.

At some point, although neither of them could figure out when, they had silently agreed that nobody would know about
the kiss. They had also apparently decided that the topic had been dealt with, and buried at the very bottom of their
priority lists, even if neither of them were happy about it.

"So, finish your story," Draco prompted, rolling his eyes at her confused look. "About McGonagall?"

"Oh yes," she nodded, still a little flustered about the previous topic. "You can't repeat this to anyone, but Penelope's still
getting threatening letters, and she's requested to leave Hogwarts, I guess hoping that it will be safer if she leaves."

"Sounds reasonable," Draco agreed.

"She asked for protection," she told him. "And I thought that was a good idea."

"Fair enough."

"So I told her she could stay with me for a while," Hermione finished, taking some parchment out of her bag. "Until the
killer is caught."

"Well, that's a fucking stupid idea," Draco snapped bluntly, her eyes widened at his tone. She felt disappointed with his
objection, and she wondered when his approval had started to matter. "Are you mad, Granger?"

"What?" Hermione scowled at him, cringing when he stood from his seat and leaned over her. "What's wrong with that?
It's all confidential, there's no way the killer could know where she is-

"You want to put two very obvious targets under one roof," he told her, sounding every inch the unimpressed teacher.
Merlin, he liked fighting with her. "Very smart, Granger. Why don't you just pin a sodding sign on your door? 'Easy psycho-
bait, kill one get one free on idiotic Muggle-borns-

"She needs to be protected by an Auror," she hissed at him, up at him defensively. "I have the most room-

"You're here most days anyway, Granger," he reminded her, sitting back down. "What the hell were you planning to do
about that?"

"I've already sorted that out," she explained with a smug look that he almost admired. "She'll be working in the Ministry
too. I managed to get her a clerical position in the Department for Magical Education. If I am busy with you or otherwise
she will stay at Leandra's-

"This is ridiculous," he ranted, burying that protective feeling that seemed to stalk him now. "I thought you were smart,
Granger. Why can't she stay with that other Auror, full stop? Your lack of commonsense astounds me-

"I wasn't asking for your approval, Malfoy," she cocked an eyebrow at him, knowing it was a lie. "Leandra has a family she
needs to consider. The decision has been made-

"You should have consulted me first," he was on his feet again. "You judgement on this is completely off-

"You are not here to question my job as an Auror," Hermione was on her feet too, meeting his intimidating stance. "This
has nothing to do with you-

"The killer is my business," he hissed through his teeth. "And his targets are certainly my business-

"This is my job," she reminded him in a quiet voice. "Protecting people is what I do, Draco."

He inhaled sharply when she said his name, and suddenly realised how close they were. Their noses were only an inch
apart, and those tempting thoughts about putting the desk to good use stole his mind again. Her breaths were slightly
elevated and he could feel the little huffs against his lips. She noticed it too then, and her determined features faded
away. Her eyes darted over his face for a few moments before she quickly pulled back, and he wrinkled his nose in

He knew then that working together was going to be hell. And not that kind of hell they'd experienced when they'd first
started sharing his office. No, this was a whole other realm of torture.

"You should have more faith in my ability," she whispered suddenly, needing his approval for whatever reason.

He considered her carefully, grinding his teeth together when she started playing with one of her buttons again. He
wasn't sure when those little plastic circles had become the bane of his existence, but he could feel his resolve on the
matter failing. She was a trained Auror, and one of the leading witches who had fought in the war. There was no denying
it, the woman could look after herself. He didn't like the idea at all, but what could he do?

"Let's make a deal, Granger," he more demanded than asked. "Will you accept a compromise?"

"I don't see why I should-

"Because I'm asking you to," he explained slowly, regarding her with a serious expression that made her want to groan.

"What are your terms?"

"If she gets any more letters at your house," Draco spoke in a low and thoughtful voice. "Or if anything, for that matter,
happens that makes you think she's being watched or something like that, then you will ask another Auror to look after

"Malfoy, there's no way he could know she'll be with me-

"Hear me out," he breathed, searching for patience. "If the killer finds out she's living with you, she'll be at more risk, and
you'll be in his sights too. You know I'm right."

Hermione sighed, really disliking how rational his offer was. She had expected some selfish and awful attempt at a
compromise, but this seemed perfectly reasonable. She also realised with some definite confusion that she was nearly
flattered by his concern for her safety. She knew she was probably reading too much into it and that it didn't mean
anything, but she was pleased about his concerns nevertheless.

"Alright," she found herself muttering, instantly regretting it when a very handsome grin stole his lips. The lips she had
kissed. "I'll agree to that."

"Good," he drawled in his silky tone, basking in the success. "That's settled then."

So he felt a bit protective over her, he was sure it would pass, just as sure as his lusty thoughts about her would
disappear. They would have to. Maybe he would have to buy a new desk and destroy all items with buttons. Maybe he
just needed to taste her once so his hungry curiosity could be sated, but he doubted that would happen any time soon.

She tried to ignore the way her heartbeat suddenly pulsated in her damaged lips, and desperately avoided watching him
as much as possible for the rest of the day. She sneaked a few brave glances at him throughout the day and instantly
regretted them when she would become all flushed and would feel an ominous tingle in her stomach.

Either her body was reacting to him and trying to condemn her to nervous reactions whenever she dared a look, or she
was allergic to Draco Malfoy. She hoped it was the latter.

a/n: Sorry about the shortness of this chapter...wanted to get another chapter out before I become suffocated by revision
for the next week. Just wanted to say a HUGE THANK YOU for the response to the last chapter. The reviews were so
wonderful and every single one made me smile like some awful child being rewarded with ice cream!

The award for best review has to go to Beeb ee for her charming chocolate metaphors! I genuinely blushed at your
compliments so I really appreciate your feedback.

Hoping the introduction of the new names isn't too confusing and everyone remembers them from the books!

I know it can be frustrating as hell when you're given a little romance and then it gets taken away again but I refuse to
rush their relationship-it's just not realistic, especially when you consider how stubborn they both are. Anyway I hope this
chapter goes down well! Leave me your thoughts!

Thanks again!

*Chapter 13*: Alley


Chapter 13: Alley

Penelope moved in on the Tuesday evening and Crookshanks instantly took a liking the the new resident in his owner's
home. Hermione loved that she could discuss the finer parts of both the Muggle world and the Wizard world with a girl for
a change. To be able to watch Coronation St. and compare it to certain aspects of Hogsmeade was a bit of a luxury.

It had certainly been a nice end to an awful Tuesday.

Hermione's day with Malfoy had been an awful collage of sarcastic snubs and ill-timed glances. If she thought Draco
had been cold before, she had definitely been mistaken. His selection of one-word answers and dismissive looks had
made her feel unwelcome and foolish, but she'd hoped it would wear off. She'd been wrong.

Wednesday had been equally awkward, and Thursday had just been bloody vile when she'd been reintroduced to
Malfoy's infamous temper. She couldn't remember exactly what she'd said to rouse his rage but she'd spent the majority
of Thursday sporting a persistent cringe at his biting voice. That kiss had chased away the intellectual conversations she
had enjoyed so much, and the harmless banter that she had basked in. She missed their witty arguments and
stimulating conversation.

Merlin strike her down, she even missed the flirting.

Draco was, in a strange way, proud that he had managed to to keep things completely impersonal between him and
Hermione. It was easier this way, and he was good at guarding himself and isolating people. He knew from her
behaviour that she was more than a little perturbed by his actions, but it was necessary if they really did want to ignore
the kiss.

It was harder than he'd anticipated though. He had just finished reading a selection of Seamus Heaney poems, one of
her recommendations, and he'd wanted to discus them with her, but his pride wouldn't allow it. There had also been a
rather intriguing development concerning the politics of Wizard Luxembourg that he'd wanted to talk to her about, but he
refused to indulge in conversation with her. He'd been so talented at acting indifferent to her presence that he almost
had himself convinced.

It was Friday, which meant she would be withdrawn and edgy again, although he still hadn't established why. He wasn't
sure if that meant she would be more testy with his harsh demeanour, or if she would simply shrug it off to focus on her
secret hatred for Fridays.

"I sent your list of suspects to Harry," she mumbled, and he looked up to find her reading through the Trace lists. "Him
and Terry have started monitoring them for suspicious behaviour."

"Fine," Draco shrugged. It was a moot comment on her part, he knew she'd sent them the list two days ago.

"I brought the rest of Penelope's letters today," she continued, still shuffling through the files. "We should analyse them
after lunch."

"Fine," he repeated, watching her face closely and noting that her jaw tensed when he spoke.

"And I've arranged meetings with some of the victims' families," she muttered, and he could sense the irritation behind
her tone. "I'm meeting Parkinson's husband next week and then Creevey's parents. I'll try and talk with the Notts and I'm
still trying to find someone would would know something about Goyle. I don't really want to disturb Justin's family just

She was rambling a little but he was too busy watching her face to notice. He'd seen that her eyes had closed when
she'd mentioned Finch-Fletchley, but overall she was rather calm with some subtle signs of annoyance. He sighed, and
was about to mutter the repetitive f-word that bothered her so much, but she cut him off.

"So help me, Draco," and he knew her breath would be hot with anger. "If you say 'fine' one more time, I will hex you from
here to Hogsmeade."
He stared at her for a moment, her eyes now on him and daring him to push her. For a brief second he was tempted to
try his luck, but instead he found himself chuckling quietly at her words. He was almost relieved that she had finally
initiated some sort of argument with him. The silence that had plagued his office for the past few days had left him

"A little testy today, Granger," he remarked, and she clenched her jaw tighter. His curiosity got the better of him. "But then
you always are on Fridays. Why is that?"

"I'm not," she denied quickly, and her eyes went straight back to her work.

"Yes you are," he argued, deciding he was in the mood for some confrontation today. It had been building up since
Monday and he couldn't contain it. "Every Friday you come in with a face like a slapped arse and sit in that chair all

"You're imagining things, Malfoy," she snapped, pretending to read her current parchment intently. "Get back to your

"You're a terrible liar, Granger," he told her impatiently. He was determined now. "Does that stupid muggle phrase not
apply to you?"

"Muggle phrase?" Hermione repeated, roughly scratching her quill against her sheet. Merlin, was he annoying her on

"Thank God it's Friday, or what ever it is," he rolled his eyes as he spoke. "I swear, why muggles insist on bring that 'God'
into everything baffles me."

"I'm sure it would," she quipped, hoping he was over the whole Friday issue. Of course he wasn't.

"So explain, Granger," he insisted, frustrated that she still refused to look up at him. "What's the deal?"

"There is no deal," she sighed, trying very hard to ignore her anger, but it wasn't working. "As I said, you're imagining
things, Malfoy-

"I don't really have an imagination, Granger," he told her smugly. "You know, I will find out-

"Just drop it, Malfoy," her voice was getting stern, but he didn't seem to notice.

"I don't think so," he shook his head. "In fact, I know there's a reason-

"It is none of your business, Draco!" Hermione screamed, slamming her file on the desk and snapping her eyes to him.
"Just leave it the fuck alone!"

Draco cringed, not so much as her shrill voice, but more at the realisation that's he'd crossed one of those metaphorical
lines. She was flushed with offence and he quickly buried the notion that she looked very attractive with her wild eyes and
red cheeks. No, it definitely wasn't the time for that.

She rose from her seat, and he recoiled again when the chair scraped loudly over the floor. Her normally plump lips
were set in a thin line as she fired him a look that would have sent Bellatrix crying. She spun around, a blur of
movements that his mind fought to keep up with.

"Granger," he called to her, annoyed when she continued to storm to the door. "Where are you going?"

"Out," she mumbled, and he growled, rising from his own chair.

"Granger, wait," he found himself saying. For some reason she actually stopped, and although he fought the next words
to leave his lips, they betrayed him anyway. "I'm sorry."

He couldn't remember ever seeing a person turn around so slowly, but he matched her eyes when they finally landed on
him. He could see her, searching for some sign of dishonesty or insincerity. Never before had he felt like someone was
inspecting him so thoroughly, but he held his ground. It felt like forever before a look of acceptance crossed her pretty

She walked slowly back to her seat and he sat back down, eyeing her movements with more attention than he could
help. She hesitated before she relaxed in her chair, searching his face again before a small smile tugged at her lips. For
a moment he thought she might mock him for offering her one of his rare apologies, but instead she just picked up her

"I've checked all the Traces," she told him, handing him the small set of parchments. "But if you want to double-check

"No, that's fine," he said quickly, frowning when he remembered that he had really overused that word today. He would
have to continue. "I trust your judgement on them."

Her smile stretched slightly, but the small gesture sent a wave of regret through him. Clearly, his plans to remain
indifferent to her presence were failing. Bugger.

The rest of their day proved uneventful, and for that Hermione was grateful. Things were hardly as they had been, far from
it actually, but at least he was gracing her with more than a few syllables by the end of the day. She had found herself
smiling a couple of times, and the warmth seemed to melt away the icy behaviour that had been so strong the past few

By the time she left for home, she felt calm. She had been the love-child of nerves and tension since their kiss,
constantly jittery in his presence. But things were looking up. Possibly. She just hoped her luck would remain over the
weekend and the new-found truce would welcome her on Monday.

Penelope was lingering by the Floo connection, waiting for her, and she smiled warmly at the other witch. It was forced,
of course. Her mind was elsewhere. Hermione would Floo home first, as she always did, just as safety precaution.

It turned out Penelope was a decent cook, and had insisted it was the least she could do for Hermione's protection and
hospitality. By six that evening, the two witches were tucking into a rather delicious beef hotpot and watching the news. It
was then Hermione remembered that she had agreed to go and visit Ginny today.

"Bugger," Hermione muttered, gaining the attention of her companion. "I need to head out tonight. Would you mind
Flooing to Leandra's for a few hours? I shouldn't be too long."

"Sure," the pretty witch smiled.

"Well it's about bloody time," the redhead smiled as her friend emerged from the fireplace. "I was beginning to think you'd

"I did," Hermione admitted with a small grimace. "Sorry, I know I've been rubbish lately, I've just had a lot-

"Stop blabbing," Ginny hushed her, guiding her to have a seat in the living room, where a glass of Merlot was already
waiting on the coffee table. "I think we've established that you've been difficult to get a hold of the last few weeks."

"Sorry, Gin," she frowned, taking a satisfying gulp of her wine. "I know I've been rubbish lately-

"Stop," the Weasley raised a hand. "Yes, you're useless at keeping in touch et cetera. Just shut the hell up so I can tell
you my news."

"What news?"

"I'm pregnant!"

Now, Hermione had never been one for the girly screaming that she'd seen in American programmes, but one tore its
way out of her throat anyway. She threw herself on her friend and hugged her like she never had before.

"Bloody hell, Hermione," Ginny muttered, slapping away her friend's hands. "I expected more from you, I already had to
deal with emotional crap from my mum-

"How far gone are you?"

"Eighteen weeks," the redhead smiled. "Harry was dying to tell you but I'm already using it as an excuse for everything.
Pretending to be hormonal is fun."

"I'm so happy for you," she beamed at her friend, realising she couldn't wait to see Harry and congratulate him. "I can't
believe this. Who else knows?"

"We've told Ron and my parents," Ginny explained, nursing a glass of water. "We wanted to tell you before we tell the rest
of the family. You know Ron would have owled you or blurted it out during a Floocall."

"Of course," she laughed at her old love's predictability. "I can't believe Harry didn't owl me actually-

"He knows I'd have killed him," she shot her friend a knowing look.

"Are you going to be okay?" Hermione's expression grew concerned. "I know he's really busy at the moment and you-

"Don't worry," the redhead breathed. "He was here Tuesday when I told him and he's said he will try and come home
once a week. I'm sure all this drama will be over soon and then he'll take some time off. The first several months are
easy anyway, most women just exaggerate-

"I know," the witch exhaled. "But he should still be around. We could send someone else to join Terry-

"Hermione," her friend said slowly. "It's fine. I know what Harry's job is like and it's really okay. Mum's already been over
everyday and you know she'll continue doing so I'm really fine. I know if I really needed him, Harry would come home."

"And if you need me," she said with a smile. "I'll be here in a second-

"That's assuming Malfoy doesn't keep you busy," Ginny rolled her eyes, and Hermione fought the guilty look that
threatened to capture her face. "How are things with that man anyway?"

"They're fine," Hermione remained intentionally vague. She really didn't want to talk about him for fear that she might slip
up and reveal something she shouldn't. "Let's not talk about me, this is your night."

Hermione had never really considered herself a particularly maternal girl, but she found that talking about the new
member of the Weasley family was easy. She knew that Ginny was rather young to be having baby, twenty-one to be
exact, but it seemed to run in the family. Molly had only been eighteen when she'd had Bill, and it was so obvious to
Hermione that her friend would fall into the roll naturally. Time passes quickly when you find our your friend is pregnant.

"It's nearly ten," the Auror commented with a frown. "I need to go, Gin. I need to catch the shop before it closes."

"Okay," she sighed at her friend. "Pop round next weekend?"

"Of course," she nodded rising from her seat. "I'll need to send Harry an owl to tell him I know. I'll owl your brother too."

"Yes, you should," Ginny nodded. "He's coming back to London soon so we'll have to organise something."

"Sounds great," the Auror smiled, preparing to Apparate to her local shop. "See you next week, Gin."


As the scenery shifted, Hermione found herself in one of the dark alleys at the back of the small shop. The usual
partially-deaf man served her milk and bread, informing her she was lucky as he'd just been about to close up. It was a
fifteen-minute walk back to her home if she didn't rush, but she loved the route. The approaching winter had made the
nights very dark, but she could just make out some heavy clouds in the sky, blocking the moon.

It didn't matter though, the street-lamps were bright and she had never once felt unsettled in her area. She was
surrounded by friendly homes, similar to her own, and she decided she would relish the crisp air and empty streets. She
was in a cheerful mood after Ginny's news, and she couldn't help the slight skip in her step.

Amongst the multiple reasons why the news had been wonderful, was the fact that it had been the only thing that had
successfully distracted her thoughts from Malfoy for longer than an hour. She loved the kid already.
It's funny how a slight change in the breeze can stir the imagination when you're alone, and Hermione realised she was
very much alone right now. She was only another four minutes away, but she stopped in her tracks and glanced around,
noting her nerves when there wasn't even a cat in sight. There were only a few golden windows, but not enough, and she
couldn't even hear the calming sound of distant television.

A street-light flickered, and all those childish assumptions that she couldn't help but register invaded her head. She
rested her trained fingers against her wand, already deciding that she was being rather foolish. Still, she quickened her

The shady alleys that lied between every few houses were the cracks in her courage. She had always hated them as a
child, assuming things were lurking in the black they provided. She turned her face away from them, deciding it was
better not to indulge her suddenly overactive mind. It wasn't long now. She was on her road.

Just a few more strides...

She had been passing the last alley before her home when she felt the painful grip around her arm. Her other hand
reached for her wand, but she wasn't quick enough and she dropped her bread and milk. The strong hand wrapped
around both of her wrists and she felt sharp wood against her throat. The alley was darker when she was inside, with
shadows grasping shadows.

Her cheek was pressed against the bitter stone wall, the wand now poking her other cheek. Her eyes stretched as far as
they could but they couldn't reach whoever it was. She thought it was a wizard but when she heard him muttering a
silencing charm under his breath it confirmed it. Her wandless-magic training battered against her skull, but a dark, and
almost familiar voice paused her thoughts.

"I don't want to hurt you, Granger," he snarled, but his tone opposed his words.

She was trying desperately to place the voice but her chesty thuds were loud in her ears. She could smell sweat and
cider and it was burning her nostrils. He knew her name, she knew the voice.

Think Hermione, think!

"Stop squirming," he hissed. "I've said, I don't want to harm you-

"Well then perhaps you should lower your wand," she countered, pleased that her voice had sounded steady.

She felt the splintery wand slowly move from her cheek back to her throat, and her head quickly snapped round to view
her attacker. As her eyes widened in recognition, she felt her gasp catch when the wand poked her skin harder.

"Flint," she managed to choke, and she wondered why she felt less fear than she should. "What are you-

"Tell your friends to leave me the fuck alone," Marcus warned her, his voice scratching her brain.

"What are you-

"Potter and Boot," he spat their names, and she felt small drops of his saliva spatter against her face. "I know they're
watching me."

She took in his features, realising he was still the same repulsive Slytherin she remembered. He'd never been attractive,
and the stress-related lines on his face didn't help. He looked restless and disturbed, almost unbalanced. Everything
about his face implied that he had been designed for nothing but evil.

But her instincts were calming her. She had a feeling that if he had wanted her dead, he would have done it by now. She
needed to know why he was here. If she had to, she was pretty sure she knew enough wandless-magic to thrust him
away from her. She hoped so, anyway.

"We're watching you," she confirmed with a shaky nod. "We need to rule people out-

"I haven't killed anyone," he barked, twitching his nose in disgust.

"You hate Muggle-borns," Hermione explained slowly, her voice shaking a bit now that she saw the hate in his eyes. "And
you were involved with Voldemort-

"I fucking hate Mudbloods," he seethed, and she felt his fingers press into the skin of her neck instead of his wand. "But I
would have no reason to kill the ex-Death Eaters-
"Well," Hermione whispered, flinching when his fingers tightened a bit more. If they grew any harsher she would have to
use her magic. "We don't know that-

"You're not listening to me!" he yelled, thrashing her head against the wall.

She whimpered at the impact and tried desperately to gather her scattered thoughts. He had disorientated her, she
needed to get him away. He was still talking and his vile voice vibrated in her aching head.

"It isn't me! I had nothing to do with this!" he was shouting, his fingers clenching her neck, almost desperately. "You need
to stop watching me-

"Why?" Hermione managed to groan, gathering her senses as quick as she could.

"So I can fucking leave!" Flint was near hysterical now and she was getting scared. "You are nowhere close to the real
killer! I know who you your suspects are and you are well off! You need to look closer-

"You know?" she tried to catch her breath under his trembling fingertips. Just a bit more time and she's be able to
concentrate. "You know who-

"I have a theory," he stopped her gruffly. "And if I'm right, I'll be next, and if your fucking friends don't leave me alone I won't
be able to-

Hermione surged all her energy forward and he flew away from her. She quickly looked at his face and realised he
wasn't hysterical with anger, it was fear. She hurriedly reached for her wand but the inevitable clap of Apparation echoed
in the lonely alley.

She slumped back against the wall, trying to calm her shuddering and laboured pants. Her hand softly touched her
throat, finding it sore from Flint's harassment. Her fingers reached to the back of her throbbing head and she flinched
when she felt the warm slither of blood staining her hair.

She stumbled out of the alley, her heart still drumming at a racy pace. She ran clumsily to her house, tripping over her
feet and knocking into her familiar walls when she saw inside. She needed to get away, needed to tell someone.
Someone who knew about the case and could assure her. She expected more than one name to come to mind. Malfoy.

As her hand fumbled with the pot of Floo powder, it went crashing to the floor, but she managed to gather enough and
she recited his address as clearly as she could with her quaking voice. She fell out of his fireplace, landing on his
wooden floor with a harsh thud. Scrambling to her feet, she glanced around and nearly panicked when she found the
room empty.

"Malfoy?" her voice called as she warily walked further into the room. "Malfoy!"

She heard footsteps on a higher floor, and she stilled her movements, breathing a sigh of relief. He appeared in the
door-frame a few seconds later, looking both annoyed and confused by her presence. His eyes darted over her
appearance and he scowled as he took in her dishevelled clothing and hair, overlooking her frightened state.

"Fucking hell, Granger," he commented in a curious voice. "You look like shit-

"Draco," she breathed, genuinely relieved to see him. "I need-

"Granger," he interrupted hesitantly, his face suddenly turning dark and suspicious. "Are those bloody love-bites?"

"What?" she asked, her hand moving to her neck. It still hurt, but she felt a little embarrassed by his assumption. "No,
they're bruises-

"Sure," Draco drawled, trying to conceal his distaste. "I think-

"No, Draco please," she whispered, trying to find the words. "They really are. Flint, he-

"Flint?" he spat the name, nearing her.

He could see her distress now, and the small ribbon of blood sliding its way down her neck. The suppressed protective
feeling he had felt at his mother's birthday clouded his head and he felt alert. She was scared, it was obvious now he
properly looked at her. He'd never seen her like this, almost pathetic and vulnerable, and he hated it. He needed

"Sit down," he demanded, motioning to his sofa and watching her closely as she carefully took a seat. "Explain what's
going on."

"He attacked me by my house," she told him slowly, already calmer for his company and missing the possessive look
that flashed in his eyes.

"Attacked you," he repeated with barely-concealed fury. "I knew it was him-

"Draco," she she pleaded. "Please, calm down and let me explain-

"He fucking attached you, Granger!" he barked, needing to throttle Flint himself, and feeling like it was his right. "That twat

"No, let me speak," she grimaced, and he observed her intently. He needed to calm the protective notions stabbing at his
skull and hear her words. "It wasn't normal. He was frantic. He wanted me to call off Harry and Terry. Said that he knew
he was a suspect-

"Our top suspect now," Draco said, taking a seat next to her in an attempt to douse his anger. He was trying to remain
calm so she could explain but it was requiring a lot of control, and the blood wasn't helping.

"No," she shook her head, even more grateful for his presence now he was closer. "He was scared, said he was next.
He said it wasn't him, that he thought he might know who it was. He had a perfect opportunity to kill me and he didn't take

"You think he was telling the truth?"

"Yes," she nodded hesitantly, frowning as she played the scene over again in her head. "He was petrified-

"But he hurt you," Draco growled as the blood reached her collarbone, reminding him of her bruises. "You're bleeding,

"Yes," she agreed distantly, barely listening to his words. "And he said-

"Let me see your head, Granger," he spoke in a softer voice. Her current state was suddenly more important than the
revelations about Flint.

He expected her to argue but she slowly turned around so her back was to him. He paused before he reached out to her
neck and pushed aside her hair. It was soft except for the sticky strands greased with her blood. His fingers softly trailed
up her neck, moving aside the tresses and searching for the wound. He must have found it because he heard her
whimper when he brushed away a particularly damp lock of hair.

"Hold still," he told her quietly.

He inhaled loudly as he eyed it but quickly grabbed his wand from him pocket and murmured a quick healing spell. He
then traced his wand over the little stream of blood and muttered another incantation, watching as the blood
disappeared as he stroked her skin with his wand.

She shivered a little at his actions but otherwise made no comment or movement. When he was done, he carefully
pushed her shoulder so she would turn back to face him.

"Thank you," she offered him a weak smile. "But I'm honestly fine, Draco. We need to talk about this before I forget it."

"Alright," he nodded, pleased that she had stopped trembling and seemed more relaxed. "So you don't think he's the

"I know it's still a possibility," she admitted. "But he was hysterical and he seemed desperate, and he was convinced he
would be the next victim."

"Did he say why?"

"No," she sighed. "He just wanted Harry and Terry to stop watching him, I'm guessing so he could leave."

"He could be lying, Granger," he reminded her sensibly. "This could just be a ploy, so he can do whatever he does

"I know," the witch whispered. "But then why didn't he kill me?"
He didn't know how to answer that. And at the back of his mind he doubted that Flint was really capable of murder. Even
though he'd chosen to support Voldemort in the War, he'd barely played a part. The man may have been sadistic, but he
wasn't quite psychotic.

"Okay," Draco exhaled slowly, deciding he would trust her judgement for the moment. "What do you want to do?"

"I need to tell Harry," she mumbled quickly. "And I need to tell Penelope to stay at Leandra's for tonight-

"I can do that," he assured her, rising from his couch. "I'll send them owls in a minute."

"Thank you," she looked up at him, amazed how he always seemed unaffected and confident about what to do. It made
her feel secure.

"What about Flint?" he crossed his arms over his chest.

"I don't know," she muttered, searching his face like it would hold an answer. "A part of me thinks we should question
him but I'm wondering if it's best to just keep watching him for now. If the killer does come after him, Harry would know,
or if Flint was lying then Harry would notice anything strange."

"We'll do that then," Draco decided for her, grabbing some parchment and a quill from his coffee table. "What do you
want me to tell Potter?"

"Just to keep an eye on Flint," she said with a cringe. "I'll tell him everything tomorrow. I know he'll get worried and want to
see me but I don't have the energy to explain it all again tonight. I'll tell him tomorrow."

"Alright," Draco nodded as he scribbled a quick note to Potter. "And Clearwater?"

"Just say there's been an incident but keep it vague," she instructed, watching him thoughtfully. "Tell her it's best she stay
at Leandra's tonight and I'll come over tomorrow morning."

"Fine," he absently nodded as he finished writing. "My owl's upstairs, I'll be back in a minute."

She watched him leave the room and hated that she felt nervous again without him there. She fidgeted on the sofa and
picked at her fingernails, willing him to hurry. She could still feel the shadows of Flint's fingers marring her skin. Did she
think he was the killer? No. Had Flint scared her? Yes.

She knew she was an Auror and had battled Death Eaters galore, but she had been completely alone. It was her own
fault for walking home when she knew there was a killer around, hunting Muggle-borns. She really did need to be more
careful. She heard him returning and she shook her head to clear her thoughts.

"Done," he stated as she rose from her seat.

"Thank you."

"It's fine," he assured her, eyeing her features and satisfied that she had relaxed. He still wanted more details about
Flint's behaviour, but she looked quite exhausted, and he decided his curiosity could wait until tomorrow.

She glanced around his room as a silence settled between them, and her gaze landed on his coffee table. Her eyes
widened when she recognised the cover of the book, and she wandered over to pluck the novel with curious fingers.
Confessions of a Justified Sinner. She'd told him to read this, and she was silently pleased that he had listened to her

"You're reading it," she commented, looking over to him, and he shifted awkwardly. "You didn't say."

"We've hardly been on speaking terms recently," he reminded her with an arched eyebrow.

Her satisfied expression faltered as he spoke, deciding she really didn't want to recall their last week. It felt good to have
him speak again, perhaps too good for her to really understand.

"So what do you think?" she asked him, hoping that the conversation could remain light.

"It's interesting," he admitted, and she was relieved that he'd avoided steering the conversation back to the tense days
before now. "Some of the Scottish language is a bit difficult but I haven't read that much yet."

"Yes, Hogg's language is very hard at first," she agreed, stroking her fingers over the familiar pages. "But it gets easier
as you go on. Have you read the part when Gil-Martin shows up yet?"
"No," he shook his head, amused by the way her face had instantly brightened as she discussed the text. "I also read the
Heaney poems you recommended."

"You did?" she grinned, unable to suppress her delight at his statement. "Aren't they wonderful? Did you read 'Digging?'
What did you think of-

"Granger," he approached her slowly. "It's late, if you really want to, we can talk about it in the morning."

"The morning?" Hermione questioned, obviously bewildered.

"Yes," he confirmed in a confident tone. "You are staying here tonight-

"Malfoy," the witch interrupted, looking away to hide her flustered face. He wanted her to stay? Here? Surely that wasn't
wise. "That's not necessary, I'm sure I'll be fine-

"It wasn't an option, Granger," he smirked at her discomfort. "You're staying."

a/n: Exams are over! Thanks again for your reviews for the last chapter! Thanks to Tiadorab le for pointing out my typo!
Sorry, I can be rather complacent with things like that! And your review was just lovely so I appreciate it. Nothing beats a
long review. And also thanks to everyone for all the the positive comments as they really do make me smile! Particular
thanks to scoob ysnakz and Lovelydoves21 for your reviews as I enjoyed reading them. I think you people are bad for me
though, I started writing this chapter the minute after I'd updated, when I should have really been revising...ah well.

Hope this chapter was good despite the lack of steam between our favourites. Texts mentioned were James Hogg's
Confessions of a Justified Sinner (amazing book...really makes you think!) and Seamus Heaney poems (just beautiful).

Let me know what you think, and I also enjoy reading all your theories. I decided before I started how this was going to
end so I love reading who you think is the murderer! Maybe this chapter and Flint's appearance has changed a few
opinions, maybe not. Let me know!

Thanks for reading.

*Chapter 14*: Fragile


Chapter 14: Fragile.

Surely he's joking...

"Please," Hermione forced a patronising chuckle. "You're kidding-

"I seldom 'kid,' Granger," he said, irritated by her words. "You can't go home-

"Well I certainly can't stay here," she scoffed.

"Why not?"

"I think it's pretty obvious why," she eyed him sternly.

"If you're referring to what I think," Draco replied slowly. "Then you are overreacting."

"That depends," she tilted her head in thought. "What do you assume I'm referring to?"

"Don't try and head-fuck me, Granger," he scowled at her. "You know what I'm talking about; our kiss."

Hermione cringed at his blunt words. She found it rather fascinating how he could do that, sound calm and agitated at
the same time. It was certainly a talent that she envied. She was articulate and brilliant, but he had the ability to frighten
away her intelligence when it suited him. Bastard.

I hope I'm not b lushing.

"Well," she started in a strangled voice. "Then obviously you can see the problem-

"There's only a problem if you make one," he scolded. "I expected a bit more maturity from you, Granger."

"I just don't think it's appropriate," she frowned, evidently offended by his comment. "I could always stay with Ginny, or at
the Burrow-

"But you came here instead," he reminded her. "Look, I have spare rooms, all with en suites, there really should be no
issue with my offer."


"Unless," he stopped her, frustrated by her reluctance. "Your embarrassment about that accident outweighs your
concern for your personal safety?"

"Of course it doesn't," she sighed in defeat.

"Then it's settled," he smirked in victory. "I'll show you to a room."

With a resigned breath, she followed him with a secret smile of gratitude. His thought for her well-being stirred
something close to flattery in her stomach, but she quickly ignored it. He led her upstairs in silence and she admired his
home, noting with a little pout that his house was larger than hers. Still, it wasn't dark and traditional as she's expected,
and she definitely approved of his colour choices; neutral colours with some inevitable flashes of deep green.

He guided her to a room with a queen-sized bed, cream walls and expensive furniture, including a writing desk and a
couch. It was elaborate and stylish, and she could only imagine what his room was like if this was a guest-room. He
flicked on a light and she offered him a small nod of consent.

"There are some books in the desk if you want to read something," he informed her with a dull tone, making his way into
the room. "I'm pretty sure there's a copy of Hogwarts: A History."

She remained in the doorframe as he withdrew a few texts from a drawer and placed them within reach. He opened a
door at the other end of the room to show her the promised en suite, before he made his way to the wardrobe. She
couldn't see what was inside, but he shuffled through the contents for a moment before he selected a loose shirt and
tossed it carelessly on the bed.

"That should be fine for you to sleep in," he supplied with a vague shrug before he neared her. "You are welcome to help
yourself to a drink or anything-

"I'm fine," she offered him a tired smile, deciding that the duvet looked irresistibly comfortable. "This is perfect."

"My room is the door at the end of the hall," he explained, pointing to it just to clarify. "Knock if you need something."

"I will," she nodded, and he turned to leave her alone. She wasn't satisfied with the end of their conversation, and even
though she knew she would regret the decision in less than a minute, she called his name anyway. "Malfoy?"

"Yes?" he stopped and turned back to her, cocking a wary brow when she nervously approached him.

She paused and studied his features for a shadow of a second, reading his confused expression with a sad look. He
contemplated asking her another question to stop her disconcerting behaviour, but anything he would have said
drowned in his throat when she leaned up to offer him a gentle peck on his cheek.

"Thank you, Draco," she breathed as she pulled away, catching his curious eyes for a second before she retreated into
the room. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Granger," he muttered, just before she closed the door.

Hermione waited to hear his retreating footfalls, holding her breath until she heard a door close. She removed her shoes
and slipped out of her clothes, realising his shirt smelled like him; fresh and virile. The whole house smelled masculine
and crisp actually, and she couldn't help but inhale as she fastened up the buttons of his shirt, feeling a little
mischievous as the fabric tickled the skin high on her thigh.

She dragged her fingertips over his desk before she eyed the books he had left out for her. She decided that some
Shakespeare would possibly help her sleep, and she plucked Titus Andronicus from the small stack before settling in
the bed.

After Act II, and the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, Hermione decided that she probably wasn't as tired as she had initially
thought. Her body felt weary and slow, but her mind was alive with questions. She couldn't believe she'd been attacked!
And she was an Auror! She should have been able to deal with one bloody man.

But no, she'd been caught off-guard, and she'd been tired. She was a decent Auror, she'd proved that many a time.
Perhaps Flint's behaviour had teased her instincts, and she had needed to know his part in the case.

She glanced nervously at the door, just like she had seven times before. She couldn't help but think of those films and
tales where the handsome protagonist disturbs the heroine in her sleep with bold pillow-talk. Not that she wanted that of
course, she had simply considered it. Possibly expected it. Maybe waited for it.

She groaned in a rather undignified manner and threw off the heavy duvet before she silently tread over to the door and
very carefully left the room. She tiptoed like a rebellious teen along the corridor and down the stairs, realising she
probably should have brought her wand to chase the darkness. After bumping into a dresser and almost tripping over
her own feet, she found herself in the kitchen.

After the fourth cupboard, she found a glass, and poured herself some water. Leaning against the worktop, she
shuddered when a chill ran up her bare legs, and kissed the small lick of perspiration at the base of her back.

She heard a small shuffle and tensed as a faint glow seeped through the door, followed by a rather confused Malfoy,
wearing more than clothes than her. A t-shirt and loose pyjama bottoms to be exact. Damn, now she definitely
felt...revealed. He directed his wand towards her and a small look of understanding stole his face, quickly followed by an
arched brow. His eyes went from her naked ankles to her flushed cheeks, and she knew she had never felt more
exposed, but she felt that sensitive area below her stomach twitch when he smirked at her.

"Did I wake you?" she breathed, bringing up her glass to hide the tremble of her lips.
"Yes," he stated simply, allowing the bead of light on his wand to disappear. "Everything okay?"

"I was thirsty," she lied, unsettled by the dark. "Could you create more light, please?"

"I was thinking you would be self-conscious," Draco muttered, ignoring her request. "Scared of the dark, Granger?"

"No," she said defensively. "I just find it a bit unsettling that I can't see you."

"I see," he sighed, and she heard him move. "Why should that bother you, Granger?"

"It just does," she whispered, closely watching his nearing shadow. "I'm sorry for waking you."

"It's fine," he said, and she could just make out a shrug.

"I couldn't sleep," she admitted quietly, sensing him getting closer. "I was thinking about Flint. Do you suppose-

"We can discuss it in the morning," Draco insisted, leaning over her to grab a glass.

"Okay," Hermione nodded breathlessly as his body brushed against hers. "What are you doing?"

"Getting a drink," he replied, moving closer to her to reach the tap. "You're in the way, Granger."

"I guess I am," she agreed, moving a little but possibly not enough.

"You should go back to bed, Granger."

He was close enough now that she could just make out the lines and shadows of his face. Perhaps it was because he
had offered her a bed for the night, or been surprisingly decent when she'd come to him feeling shaken. Only Merlin
knew why she decided it would be a good idea to lift her fingers and gently stroke the tips over his cheekbones. And then
his forehead, and down his nose.

She could feel his steady breaths against her palm, and her delicate touches landed on his lips. If he was affected by
her actions in any way, she couldn't feel or see it. He just stood there, proud and indifferent. She felt like pushing
boundaries tonight.

Draco watched her shadow as she slowly leaned towards him, tilting her head. It took every iota of his restraint to not
throw her against the worktop and either surrender to his lust, or scream at her for daring to tempt him. Just when he
could feel her breath against his chin, he decided to speak the words that he would undoubtedly regret when he next
nursed an inappropriate erection.

"Go to bed, Granger," he scolded harshly, and he immediately felt her withdraw from him. He fought the disappointed
sigh that threatened to betray him and listened as she hastily retreated out of his kitchen.

He slammed down his glass on the counter, uncaring if the noise startled her, and braced his hands against the
worktop. Bowing his head, he released a groan that was a little heavier than he would have liked.

"Fuck all," he muttered to himself, waiting until he heard her door close before he made to leave. "I deserve a bloody
sainthood for that."

When Hermione woke, the morning was still dark with November's hold, but a quick glance at a clock told her it was
almost seven. She was pretty certain Draco would still be sleeping, and the dryness in her throat definitely needed
quenching. She contemplated throwing on her jeans but decided it wasn't worth the effort.

She'd only stolen a few hours rest and she didn't want to waste her energy.

She opened her door and listened for any noise, hearing only Draco's light breathing from down the hall. Convinced that
she could manage to grab a drink and make it back up before he stirred, she grabbed her wand and headed down the
stairs, casting a quick Lumos to lead her way.

She flicked on the kitchen light and cringed as the glare irritated her sleepy eyes. She rubbed them as she wandered
into the kitchen and headed straight to the sink for a glass of water, totally oblivious to the guest sitting at the table.
"Well, this is an interesting development."

Hermione allowed a startled scream to escape her lips as she whirled around to aim her wand at the familiar voice. The
fragile glass shattered somewhere behind her but she ignored it as she realised just who had given her such a scare.

"Zabini," she breathed in relief, lowering her weapon and placing her palm over her chest to calm the racing beats. "What
are you-

"Hold on a second," he stopped her, smirking a little as he regarded her. "Let's just wait for Draco-

"He's asleep," Hermione explained, still catching her breath.

"He'll be here in a second," Blaise insisted, his amusement strong on his handsome face.

She was about to protest until she heard the mild but hurried footsteps from the upper floor. In a matter of seconds,
Draco was in the room, bare-chested and clutching his wand. His frustrated eyes instantly went to her, absorbing her
nervous stance, before he eyed the glass shards beside her.

"Bloody hell, Granger," he muttered, massaging the bridge of his nose. "I never thought you would be so clumsy-

"My fault, Draco," Blaise spoke up, finally gaining his friend's attention. "I gave her a bit of a scare."

Malfoy's eyes shot over to his companion questioningly before he looked back at Hermione and noted her revealing
attire. He took a subconscious step forward to try and block some of her figure from his friend's sly and animated look.

"Blaise," Draco greeted finally. "What are you doing here?"

"You forgot?" the dark wizard stole another glance at Hermione. "I told you I had a day off and you said we should get an
early breakfast and have a game of Qudditch. Some of my mates from work are meeting us later-

"Shit," the blond frowned, remembering that conversation now. "I forgot-

"I can see that," Blaise grinned, daring another bold glance at the silent Muggle-born. "I assume seven was too early for

"Seven isn't early, Blaise," he scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. "Seven is just fucking stupid."

"Depends on your preference," Blaise shrugged. "Would you like to reschedule?"

Draco turned his head to eye Hermione for a moment, his eyes lingering on the bruises marring her throat. The little
violet fingerprints stained her olive skin and reminded him that she could still be shaken about her encounter with with
Flint, and he still didn't know the whole story. He turned back to his friend's entertained expression and exhaled.

"Perhaps we should postpone-

"Don't be silly," Hermione stopped him, earning his attention again. "I should go home-

"You think it's okay?" he asked her, cocking a hesitant eyebrow.

"I'm sure it's fine now," she assured him, telling herself that she wouldn't walk alone in the dark again until this was all
over. "Besides, I need to explain everything to Harry and pick up Penelope. My house is safe, I just need to remember not
to go strolling alone at night-

"Obviously," Draco rolled his eyes at her. "It wouldn't kill you to use some that of intelligence, Granger."

"Noted," she frowned at him, feeling a little embarrassed when she heard Blaise chuckle. "I'll owl you later so we can talk
about everything properly."

"Alright," he agreed with a small nod, risking another peek at her shapely legs.

"I'll just get dressed then," she blushed as she moved past him and out of the room. Draco watched her leave with a
nonchalant look before he slowly turned to to his companion, who was wearing a very smug smile.

"What?" Draco snapped, flicking his wand to clear the shattered glass.

"Well," Blaise chuckled, resting his chin against his palm. "Colour me intrigued."
"Don't start," the blond warned, taking a seat opposite his friend. "She needed a place to stay-

"So you offered your bed-

"She was attacked last night," Draco told him slowly, and Blaise's eyes widened in surprise. "She came here-

"Who attacked her?" Blaise questioned.


"As in Marcus Flint?" the dark-haired man confirmed. "So he's the one who killed Pansy and the others?"

"Granger doesn't think so," Draco shook his head. "Apparently he was a little paranoid and he told her he thought he was
next. He figured out Potter was watching him so he threatened her, said he needed to leave."

"And you two believe him?"

"She does," Malfoy sighed. "I'm not so sure."

"Bloody hell," Blaise breathed, before his smirk returned. "So then I can assume the marks on her neck aren't from your

"No," Draco growled, impatiently eyeing his companion. "I'm guessing he grabbed her throat at some point-

"So you didn't shag her?"

"No," he repeated, his anger rising.

"Well I have to say I'm a little relieved for that," Blaise admitted. "I know you're a changed man et cetera, but I can't see you
shagging Mud...Muggle-born Granger."

"That's enough," Draco hissed, scowling at the other male, trying to ignore his mate's comment about Hermione's
heritage. "I didn't fuck her, let's just leave it at that."

"Fair enough," he agreed, knowing the limits on Draco's temper, especially at seven in the morning. "Sorry mate, this
whole equality thing still throws me every now and then."

"You're doing better than most," Malfoy sighed, knowing it was the truth. It was probably the main reason they had
remained close over the years, even if Blaise slipped-up occasionally. If it hadn't been for the Ministry's hands-on
approach to his prejudiced thoughts, he would probably be doing a lot worse than his schoolmates.

"You find it easy though," Blaise told him, a strange look stealing his features. "Funny, I bet most people would have
thought you'd have struggled-

"I have worked with too many capable Muggle-borns to believe it any more," Draco admitted, not for the first time. He'd
had similar discussions with Blaise before. "Plus my mother was never really a that into the whole blood purity thing. I
think her and the Ministry have successfully un-brainwashed me-

"That's not a real word," Blaise chuckled, although Draco thought it sounded rather forced.

"I think that's enough for today," Draco sighed, still uncomfortable with discussing the War. "What time are we meeting
your mates?"

"About nine."

"Shall I make us some breakfast?" the blond asked. "Or do you want to go out for food?"

"Why don't we go that café you always go on about?" Blaise suggested. "The Camb ria?"

"Alight," he agreed, just as he heard Hermione's feet make their way down his stairs.

Fully-clothed and a little less nervous, she entered the kitchen and offered Blaise a polite smile before she turned to

"I'll owl you later," she nodded to her colleague. "Could you bring your notes on the suspect list in on Monday?"

"Will do," he nodded, wondering for a moment if she even remembered her affectionate displays last night, but a quick
look at Blaise reminded him he couldn't exactly ask her now. "You remember where the fireplace is?"

"Yes," she graced him with a small smile. "Thank you, again."

"It's fine," he dismissed quickly, just knowing that Blaise would be smirking at his obvious discomfort.

"Enjoy your game," she said as she turned away from him, offering the other wizard a small nod. "Nice to see you again,

"Always a pleasure, Granger," Blaise grinned as she departed, waiting for the hum of the Floo before he spoke again. "I
think I preferred her in your shirt. Never would have guessed the little bookworm would have-

"Zabini," Draco warned in a low tone. "It's too early for you to be a twat. Give me an hour and some breakfast and I can
deal with it then."

Hermione had decided to see Penelope first and it was pushing nine o'clock by the time she returned home, having had
to explain everything to Leandra. When Flooed back to her house with her fellow Muggle-born, Harry was already waiting
for her, seated on her sofa with a concerned look on his face.

"I'm going back to bed," Penelope excused herself, sensing the two needed privacy.

"Who's watching Flint?" the witch questioned as Penelope wandered off to the room Hermione had provided.

"Terry will be there in half an hour," Harry explained, reaching up to study the blemishes on her neck. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she assured him, smiling at his consideration.

"Tell me everything."

So she did, she explained how he had grabbed her. How Flint had known he was being watched and how he had
neared begged her to to tell Harry and Terry to stop watching him. How he'd been convinced he was the next victim, and
even how he had seemed petrified. She told her best friend that she believed Flint, and she'd received scepticism that
rivalled Draco's after that little confession. The only thing she left out was that she'd stayed the night at a certain blond
wizard's house.

The conversation was finally diverted to Ginny's pregnancy, although Harry still managed to throw in a few 'be careful'

"You're obviously going to be the Godmother," he told her.

"I just can't believe you're going to be a father," Hermione smiled at him, stifling a yawn and realising she'd barely
managed four hours sleep last night. She was heading straight to bed once he left, her body was craving it.

"I know," he sighed happily. "I'm glad Ginny seems to be confident because I don't have a clue."

"Nonsense," she hushed his doubt. "You're great with Teddy."

"We'll see," he replied with a slow yawn. "Do you think-

But he was cut off when Terry's patronus charged into Hermione's living room. The fox-shaped charm paused its ghostly
steps in front of Harry, and Terry's voice filled the room.

Flint is dead. Come asap.

The beautiful spell dissipated as the pair absorbed the information. Hermione was on her feet first,dragging her
trembling fingernails through her hair. How could it be possible? Flint had barely been alone for thirty minutes, but then
Justin had barely been alone for thirty minutes in his office. She was angry, despising the guilt she felt.

You could have b rought him in for questioning.

You could have offered him some protection.

He told you he was next, and you did nothing.

"Fucking hell!" she swore, grabbing one of her vases and hurling it against her wall. Her breath hitched as she watched
ceramic rain sprinkle down her wall. It was stunning.

"Hermione," Harry reached for her, placing a reassuring palm against her back. "Calm down-

"No!" she shook her head furiously, throwing his hand away from her. "How could he have possibly known you had gone,
and managed to kill Flint in half an hour? It's just not possible. Did you have any idea he knew you were watching Flint?"

"No," Harry shook his, his tone trained and calm. "Hermione, we know this guy is smart. He managed to kill someone in
the Ministry for Merlin's sake. I should have waited for Terry to come-

"Don't do that," she sighed. "It's impossible to watch someone all the time. You couldn't have known."

"Then don't you dare blame yourself," he said sharply. "I know that look on your face, Hermione."

"What should I do?"

"Get some sleep," he suggested, patting her shoulder thoughtfully. "You look knackered. Do your work after you've had a

"Okay," she nodded, doubting she would obey his words.

"I need to go and deal with this," he turned away from her, rushing to the Floo. "I'll owl you as soon as I can."

Hermione barely had a chance to nod before the emerald flames engulfed him and she was left alone. She stood still for
a few moments, staring at the fireplace before her eyes wandered over to the fractured vase. She was about to withdraw
her wand and clean up the mess but decided against it.

She preferred it broken.

She moved over to her desk and scribbled a note to Draco. The quill felt so heavy in her hand, and she wondered briefly
if she could apply the phrase 'light as a feather' to add a bit of irony to her situation.


Flint's dead.

Come over when you can.

H. Granger.

With sluggish movements, she attached her letter to May's leg and watched as the pretty bird flew away from her. The
guilt pushed the tears past her lids and she let them fall silently down her cheeks. She counted them. One, two, three,
four, and then they stopped. Weary determination seeped into her pores and she clenched her jaw.

She'd be damned if she let this get the better of her. No, she'd dealt with enough blood-thirsty psychopaths to let this one
beat her.

But, Merlin, she felt exhausted.

They'd been playing for an hour now, and Draco was starting to grow bored, and the winter wind wasn't helping.

Draco was swarming around on his broom with his new acquaintances when he noticed Hermione's owl approaching.
He lowered himself to the ground and dismounted his Firebolt to allow the familiar bird to rest on his arm. As soon as
Malfoy had managed to remove the small parchment from the owl's limb, it took off, leaving him a little perplexed. He
read the few words with wide eyes, groaning as the new information settled in his brain.

"Draco," he heard Blaise's voice call him. "Everything okay?"

"Problem at work," Malfoy told his friend as he landed next to him. "Flint's dead."

"Shit," he muttered as Draco showed him the note. "Do you need to leave?"

"Sorry, mate," the blond explained, receiving a nod of understanding before he Apparated to Hermione's home. She was
by the window, so engrossed in her thoughts she was oblivious to Draco's arrival.

"Granger," he spoke carefully, watching her as she slowly turned to face him. "Are you alright?"

"I've had enough of this," she muttered, and he could just make out the damp remains of tears between her lashes. "We
need to do something."

"Hermione," he sighed her name, frowning as she moved away from the window with lethargic movements. "We're doing
everything within our power-

"No," she interrupted, her voice husky with exhaustion. "He's winning and we have to stop it."

Draco watched her as she practically dragged herself towards him. He could almost sense the guilt radiating from her,
and he knew she had barely slept at his house. That, combined with the new stress, was evidently sucking the energy
out of her.

She looked fragile as she stumbled towards him, grasping desperately at the arm he'd offered to steady her. Her eyes
fluttered, battling her fatigue with little success.

"You need to sleep, Granger," he told her sternly, scowling when she accidentally nuzzled her nose against his chest.
"You can hardly hold your head up."

"We need to work on this," she argued, but her voice was empty and quiet. "We need to-

"You need rest," he insisted, and with a dejected moan, she nodded her acceptance.

His arm reached around her back, and the other caught the backs of her knees. He tried to make the hold as impersonal
as possible, but it was rather difficult with her leaning pliantly against his chest. He carefully carried her to her bedroom,
relieved that she'd been conscious enough to tell him which door it was.

He settled her gently on the large bed and draped a blanket over her form as she allowed her pillows to embrace her.
Satisfied that she was comfortable and would actually allow herself to sleep, he headed for her door, but her voice
stopped him.

"Will you stay?" she mumbled, her eyes drifting open for a moment. "So we can work on this the moment I wake up?"

"Just go to sleep," Draco ordered, quickly leaving the room with every intention of making a quick exit via the fireplace.
Instead he settled on her couch, realising he was indeed going to wait until she roused.

Merlin, help him. He couldn't bring himself to disappoint her.

a/n: apologies for the short chapter, but I intend to make things a bit more interesting in the next instalment and it needs
to end there for now. I hope Blaise's part in this chapter came across okay!

Let me know your thoughts! Massive thanks to Quello Bella, VioletDhaliwal, Tiadorab le for your long reviews and to
everyone who reviewed, especially the people who took the time to reveal their theories. So happy I'm past the 100
review mark! I'm very grateful.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions for making my summary a bit better, I wold appreciate it!

I assure you that things will get more interesting from here.

Thanks for reading.

*Chapter 15*: Strawberries


Chapter 15: Strawberries.

Hermione poured the boiled water into the two mugs, adding a bit more milk to Draco's. An amused smile toyed with her
lips, brought on by Draco's obvious disappointment when she had told him she didn't have any Earl Grey in the house.
Perhaps she would buy some next time she went shopping. Just to be safe. After using her wand to stir the coffees, she
headed back to her living room and placed the green mug in front of her blond guest.

"I don't know how you can drink it black," he told her, watching as she took the armchair, instead of joining him on the
couch. "It tastes like shit."

"Matter of opinion," she hummed, taking a healthy swig of her beverage. "There are a lot of Europeans who would
disagree with you. I bet you Blaise drinks his black."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because he's Italian, isn't he?" Hermione questioned, receiving a quick nod. "Well they love their coffee, I bet he has

"I've never really taken any notice," Draco stopped her with a roll of his eyes. "The drinking habits of my friends don't really

"We're digressing," she sighed. "Were you still playing Quidditch when you got my owl?"

"Yes," he nodded, watching with both dread and fascination as a look of tenacity took over her face.

"How long had you been playing?"

"About an hour," he decided after a small pause.

"I don't suppose," Hermione ventured, grabbing a quill and her files. "That you were playing with any of your old
schoolmates so I can rule them out? If any of the ex-Death Eaters were playing then they couldn't have done-

"You know I don't see them any more," Draco frowned. "They were some lads from Blaise's offices, but none of them
were from Hogwarts. Just Blaise and I."

"Damn," she breathed, obviously disappointed. "I mean I figured as much, it was just wishful thinking."

"Granger," Draco leaned forward, almost cautiously. "You seem less...affected by Flint's death than the others."

"He wasn't exactly a nice man," she reasoned, absently stroking her bruised neck. "At least Parkinson and Nott managed
to live like normal people. Even Goyle stayed away from the dark, like you...

She trailed off, fixing him with a distant look. She considered him carefully for a moment, and he shifted awkwardly as
her eyes studied him. Her eyes scrutinised his face like she'd never seen it before and she felt something in her chest
drop to her stomach.

"What about me?" he questioned, uncomfortable with the thoughtful look she was giving him.

"You have proven me wrong," she breathed finally, reluctantly looking away from him. "You have-

"What does that have to do with Flint?" Draco asked her, sensing the conversation was getting too particular for his
liking. He had made the decision to distance himself from her and he intended to stick to it. Even if she did look
ridiculously alluring with her pensive, and almost lost expression. She looked uninhibited, and his imagination adored it.

"Perhaps nothing," she mumbled, anxiously toying with her work. "I guess it's easier to be professional when I didn't
particularly like the victim. I don't think I got much work done after Justin-

"You were fine," he reassured her, taking some of her notes to share the load. "I don't think you could put off work if you
tried, Granger."

"I'm letting too many people down," she ignored his attempt at humour, hiding her face in her hands. "Can we just work
through everything, please? I don't want to stop until we find something useful. I just-

"We'll work on it as long as you want, Granger," he offered, resisting the compulsion to offer her more comfort. That
would defiantly go against his resolve to remain detached.

On the Tuesday, Hermione Flooed to Bateman Manor near Epsom, a beautiful building that few would get to see due to
the Fidelius Charm. Henry Bateman was waiting for her in an antique armchair in his study, complete with ageing
bookcases and pretentious busts of ancestors. She was a little disappointed to say that Bateman was everything she
would have expected from Pansy's husband.

The wizard couldn't have been younger that fifty, with Arctic-fox hair and a wrinkle-folded face. He was handsome in that
refined way, and she suspected that he could have recommended a list of tasty wines with dates and accents that would
have rivalled a connoisseur. He was wealthy, that much was obvious, but his arrogance penetrated her. She would have
said it was similar to Draco's, but it wasn't. Malfoy had a definite elegance and charm to his cockiness, whereas
Bateman just seemed downright insolent.

"Miss Granger," he greeted, gesturing for her to take the least interesting of the chairs in the room. "You're late."

"Sorry," Hermione muttered, not really meaning it. "I've been busy with everything-

"Will this take long?" he inquired, sizing her up, although for what she didn't know.

"Hopefully not," she exhaled, earning a snort from him. "I juts have a few questions-

"Get on with it," he ordered, reaching for a glass of what looked like brandy. "The less time I spend with the famous and
supposedly great Muggle-born Auror, who can't even track down one little murderer, the fucking better."

Hermione's teeth clamped down on her tongue and she stiffened at his words. She couldn't deny that they had agitated a
nerve, but she refused to be drawn into a screaming match with a stranger over her capability as an Auror and
investigator. She was already questioning herself enough without some pompous aristocrat trying her nagging qualms.

"Quite," she managed to tut, removing her writing equipment to take notes. "So, why exactly did Pansy keep her maiden

"It was one of her requests," he shrugged. "She had a list of conditions for our arrangement."

"Arrangement?" Hermione repeated. "You mean marriage?"

"Come now, Miss Granger," he sneered in a patronising tone. "It's pretty obvious that our marriage was more out
convenience than anything else. She needed security, and I wanted a beautiful wife who would provide me with an heir."

"You didn't love each other?" she questioned, finding the revelation quite sad.

"I loved her," he confessed. "But she never loved me, nor did she ever deceive me by claiming she did. But she
respected and trusted me and she was a compassionate woman when I required it. I didn't particularly like her
conditions of our marriage, but I agreed anyway as I desired her company."

"Could any of these conditions have contributed to her death?" the witch asked carefully.

"She was having an affair," the older wizard sighed with a weary voice. "I agreed that she could have sex with with other
men, as long as she was honest with me and used the Contraceptive Charm. I didn't want there to be any doubt about
paternity if she ever got pregnant."

"I see," Hermione said awkwardly. "Why do you think her infidelity is related to her murder?"

"She only ever slept with one man," he explained, his face creasing with stressed lines. "Someone she knew from
Hogwarts. I never asked for a name because I didn't want to know, but I know he was violent towards her."
"How do you know that?"

"She came home with bruises sometimes," he explained. "And not the kind one gets from sex. I heard her crying a few
times too, but she always returned to him. I asked her not to but she insisted she was fine. But things got worse a few
weeks before her death."

"Can you elaborate, please?" she requested, quickly writing her notes.

"She came home with a broken arm one day," he revealed, scrunching his face in distress. "She started becoming more
jittery, and she received a lot of owls that she would read in private. She would always destroy them after she'd read
them but I could see she was scared."

"You never managed to read any of them?" Hermione asked. "Or maybe saw the owl who delivered them?"

"No," he shook his head, taking another long swig of his drink. "But I knew she felt threatened. About a week before her
murder, she told me that she was grateful for what I'd given her and told me her requests should she die. Just simple
things like funeral preferences, but it was obvious she thought she was going to die. I tried to stay around her as much
as possible after that. I only popped into work for two hours that day, and when I came home she was dead."

"Did she say anything revealing to you?" she wondered aloud. "Any sort of hint about her lover?"

"No," he replied, his voice a little strained. "And believe me, I looked after it happened. All she would tell me was that she
knew him from Hogwarts and that he didn't have a good reputation, but then neither did Pansy and most of her friends
after their roles in the War."

"Do you know if she would have told any of her friends?" Hermione questioned, thinking of Millicent Bulstrode and
Daphne Greengrass.

"We agreed that she wouldn't tell anyone of her lovers before we got married," he revealed. "I didn't want anyone to know
and I had my reputation to consider. I'm sorry, Miss Granger, but Pansy's secret died with her."

"Listen to this," Hermione spoke with irritation. "'Flint's murder is the sixth to shock the Wizarding Community, and yet my
sources reveal that Hermione Granger and her team are no closer to finding the culprit. It is only natural that the public
should start questioning Miss Granger's capability, and I have received many letters regarding concerns-

"Granger," Draco stopped her, unsuccessfully attempting to snatch The Daily Prophet from her fingers. "Stop reading
that shit-

"Hang on a second," she shushed him, her eyes darkening as she studied the newspaper. "Let me just read you the
best part-

"For Salazar's sake," he groaned, taking a sip of his Earl Grey. "I fail to see the point to this-

"Hush," she rolled her eyes at him, continuing to quote Skeeter's words. "'The supposed Brightest Witch of our Age is
turning into a massive disappointment for the Ministry and perhaps it's time Shacklebolt found someone who can
actually deliver-

"Alright," Draco interrupted her again, managing to grab the offending paper this time. "You know Skeeter has it in for you,
are you really that surprised she's libelling you?"

"It still pisses me off," she hissed between her teeth. "Merlin, she gets under my skin."

"Calm yourself, Granger," he advised, watching as the emotions on her face relaxed a little. "Just finish your food and
we'll get back to work."

It was Thursday, and the press was finally calming down after swarming around the Ministry following Flint's death, but
they'd agreed it was best to have lunch in the office. She'd tucked into the predictable ham and pickle sandwich, but today
she had accompanied her light lunch with a little dessert.

She leaned back in her chair, reaching to pluck one of her strawberries and dip it in her small tub of yoghurt. When Draco
had seen the little addition to her usual food, he'd had a feeling that it would alter his reactions to her, but not as much as
it did. When she brought the fruit to her mouth, and the yoghurt left a milky gloss on her bottom lip, he had to swallow
back his surplus saliva.

The sweet little sucking noises that passed her damp lips caused his lower torso to tighten and he tore his eyes away
from her. He tried hard to concentrate on the words before him, but his ears were tormented by the wet sounds leaving
her throat. She took another one and repeated the action, this time finding it necessary to release a private moan, but he
caught it, and it made his groin twinge.

That blasted tension seeped back into the room, clawing down his his spine, but only he seemed to notice. He kept his
head down but glanced under his blond lashes as she ate one after the other, willing her to finish soon. Just a few more
and it would be fine. His office would return to a dull shell, and not a stage for her sensual feeding habits.

She dared to smother a bit more yoghurt on her next strawberry, and just when it was a few inches from her tongue, a
little drop fell down on her chest. Draco felt his stomach twist.

"Bugger," she mumbled.

Holding the fruit between her teeth, her fingers went to scoop up white dribble by her collarbone, oblivious that Draco
was fixated on it. She shifted in her seat, and the movement caused the liquid to trickle lower, beyond the collar of her
shirt, and Hermione's fingers followed it. That snapped Draco out of his trance and he hastily rose from his seat and
made for the door.

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked him with a slightly full mouth, and that didn't help him at all.

"Toilet," he groaned, rushing to leave his office.

He loosened the top buttons of his shirt as he paced to the Department bathroom, thankful it was empty. He muttered a
quick locking spell and a silencing charm on his cubicle just in case. With desperate fingers, he undid his belt and
unzipped his trousers, grabbing his erection with sweaty palms.

His fist moved quickly, just working on freeing the pressure below his abdomen. He braced himself against the wall, his
back rigid as he felt it rise, and with a loud grunt it left him. He shuddered as the brief rapture passed over him, the small
and undignified cubicle filled with his shallow pants.

With another tremble, he reached down to his trouser pocket and removed his wand, cleaning up his mess and also
removing some of the sweat on his body. He righted his clothes and composed himself as best as he could.

If she ever brought strawberries into his office again, he would transfigure them into slugs and watch her squirm.

Hermione jumped when Draco shouldered his way back into the office, and her eyes followed him as he walked past
her back to his seat. He cleared his throat as he settled back down, his mind still a little hazy after his wank.

Her glassy stare watched him, taking in every inch of him. From the slightly serene but dark glaze in his eyes, to the slow
movements of his hands as he fingered his notes. He looked disturbed and calm at the same time, and when a raspy
sigh passed his lips, she blinked.

He reached for his bottle of water and wrapped his mouth around the tip, delicately gripping the neck and shoulders of
the plastic. She'd read enough poetry to spot the metaphor her brain was amusing, and she bit the inside of her cheek
as she remembered their kiss.

It had almost been two weeks ago now but she'd been distracted, initially with avoiding him and then with Flint. The
nagging tension that had settled between them after the kiss had been broken by a combination of perseverance to
ignore each other and the chaos that had accompanied Flint's actions and death.

But now.

Now they were back the familiar chatting, almost the flirting she thought she craved.

Yes, she was craving it now. She wanted his attention.

The almost feral expression on his face reminded her of the kiss, and the way his lips touched the bottle stirred
something between her thighs. Something exciting. He really was so striking to observe. It was like his face was
designed to be touched, caressed and kissed.

But she couldn't act on it. No. She had succumbed to the temptation to kiss him at his house, and he had rejected her.
He was over whatever spark had passed between them. If he'd been at all affected by her, he'd successfully fought it
away, leaving her to mull over her desire to touch him. And relive his mother's birthday. Replay the kiss.

Besides all that, he was Draco Malfoy. And maybe he wasn't the Muggle-hating bastard she remembered, but he was
still an infamous seducer, known for sweet-talking women into his bed. She couldn't be one of those girls. She pitied
those girls, even if she now understood them a little better.

No, he was bad news. A dangerous lure she would not fall victim to.

"Everything okay, Draco?" she asked, feeling she should talk. "You look a little flustered?"

"I'm fine," he snarled, fixing her with a cold look. "Let's just get on with this."

And just like that, the pulse between her legs died. At the end of the day, they were colleagues and they had a job to do, a
very serious one at that. So she huffed in response and slouched in her seat, reminding herself that he really was an
arrogant twat when it suited him.


"Are we still meeting tomorrow?" Draco asked her and she shuffled through the Trace reports. "Because if we are, you'll
have to come to the Manor instead."

"Fine," Hermione barked, baring her teeth for a second.

Draco rolled his eyes. He had almost forgotten that Fridays meant she was a snarky bitch. He still had no idea why, and
it irritated his curiosity, but considering how catastrophic his last attempt to find out the reason had gone, he left it alone.

"Do you want to meet later?" he questioned, noting she looked more distressed than angry. "We haven't had a chance to
discuss the new Traces."

"I'm busy," she sighed, and he knew she was lying. "Besides, there's nothing there. I've checked. If anything they're all
being less active than normal."

"Well, who are Potter and Boot watching at the moment?"

"They started watching Lucian Bole today," she revealed, her tone still distant. "They only finished...dealing with Flint's
murder last night. Harry's coming back for the weekend tonight to visit Ginny, so he said he'd pop over with all his
information about Flint."

"Why is Potter having the weekend off?" Draco asked with a frown.

"Ginny's pregnant," Hermione reminded him. "I told you on Monday."

"Ah, yes," Draco mumbled, his face scrunching in distaste. "I had blocked out the prospect of Potter breeding-

"Draco," she shot him a warning glance, telling him she was not in the mood for his condescending views on Harry.

"Fine," he ignored her lack of humour with a blasé wave. "So Boot will be watching Bole alone?"

"Neville will be covering for Harry-

"Longbottom?" Draco confirmed, shaking his head. "Boot would probably be better off alone-

"Malfoy," she stopped him, giving him her best frustrated glare. "Neville is a very good Auror. Stop being such an arse
"I'm being no more of an arse today than I am any other day," he smirked at her, desiring to rouse at least an amused
chuckle from her, but he was unsuccessful.

"As true as that statement is," she growled. "I'm not in the mood for your little remarks about my friends today-

"Because it's Friday," he pointed out, unable to resist. "And that means you're-

"Enough, Draco," she said quietly, her eyes tired. "Don't start that again."

"Come now, Granger," he tried to calm her. "You need to relax a little-

"I don't have time to relax," she breathed, her voice weary and soft. "Let's just get on with work, Malfoy. Please?"

He hesitated, regarding her closely as his tongue licked his teeth inside his mouth, before he offered her a quick nod. If
he didn't find out what testing her patience on Fridays soon, he was going to slip some Veritaserum into her coffee. Or
maybe into her strawberries.

It was Saturday, and Penelope had just Flooed to Leandra's house so Hermione could join Draco for their meeting at the
Manor. She smoothed out the creases of her white shirt and black trousers for the eighth time. They'd agreed that she'd
come round about five, but it was only four and she was ready, raring to go. She wondered if it was perhaps
inappropriate to go early but figured Draco wouldn't care, as long as she wasn't late.

She realised she felt a little nervous, but then she always did in the moments before they met, especially when it was
outside his office. It was a good nervous though, like the butterflies held promising notions. Either that or they were
plotting her downfall.

Whatever they were doing, they caused her to run her fingers over herself again, and with a resolute nod, she shouted
Draco's address and dropped the Floo powder. His familiar living room was empty, as she had expected, but when she
wandered into the corridor, she spotted a a familiar house-elf.

"Mopsy," she greeted the little soul. "Could you tell me where Draco is, please?"

"Of course, Miss Granger!" the small creature beamed, guiding her down the hallway. "I will takes you there, this way

She followed Mopsy to a section of the Manor she'd never seen before and she admired the beautiful and elaborate
décor. This section of the Mansion had clearly evaded Narcissa's redecorating, but the Eighteenth-Century furnishings
were beautiful nonetheless. The house-elf stopped at a set of double-doors, and with a small 'thank you,' Hermione
pushed them open.

Her eyes widened as she took in the room, first absorbing the dark green tiles that lined the walls. The particular scent of
water and something close to Chlorine found her nose, and alarm bells went off in her head. She'd expected another
lounge or study, and it clearly wasn't.

She was reminded of the prefects bathroom in Hogwarts as her feet carried her into the room. She could hear the gentle
lapping of water and she walked along the little entrance, noticing the ivory reflections of water illuminating the ceiling. It
was dimly lit, just as the Hogwarts bathrooms had been, and instinct told her she was either about to see an indoor
pool, or one of Malfoy Manor's bathroom.

The tile floor gave way to aquamarine-coloured water, and Hermione found herself a little relieved that it was indeed an
indoor pool, perhaps twelve metres long and six metres wide. She also found herself rather annoyed that Mopsy had
failed to mention this significant detail.

The fleeting remnants of her sanity warned her to turn around and leave, but her ever-present curiosity hushed them.
She barely registered her shoes slapping against the cold tiles as her eyes caught a disturbance in the water.

There he was, swimming leisurely around his pool in loose black trunks, his back to her and completely oblivious to her
presence. Her breath hitched as his head went under for a moment, and she watched his blurred shape move with a
very inappropriate fascination.
When he came up for air, flicking his platinum hair out his eyes, she took a subconscious step forward, and the sound
ricocheted off the emerald walls, causing her to flinch. He whipped around in the water, his eyes widening slightly as he
recognised her.

"Granger," his deep voice echoed in the room, and she could hear something close to amusement behind his voice.
"What are you-

"Sorry," she stuttered clumsily, turning her face away from him. "Mopsy guided me here and failed to mention that you
would be swimming."

"You're early," he commented, wading his way to the edge. "I didn't expect you for another hour or so."

"I know," she nodded, still guarding her eyes. "I...I thought I might come a bit early to, you know, get started."

"I see," Draco drawled, pausing to haul himself out of the water with his usual grace. She risked a glance at him as he
neared her and quickly regretted it. A wet and half-naked Malfoy was defiantly the worst kind.

"If I'd have know you were...busy," she continued, knowing her tone sounded panicked. "I would have waited in a study or

"It's alright, Granger," he shrugged casually, making his way over to a bench and picking up a grey towel. "We'll get
started now."

"Okay," she agreed, intending to turn around. "I'll just wait-

"You're blushing, Granger," he stated, obviously just dying to chuckle at her discomfort.

"You're half-naked," she reminded him, still covering her very curious gaze with her palm.

"You've seen me like this before," he reminded her with a shrug, but her hand still refused to budge. "Come on, Granger.
We're both adults here."

His tone was almost encouraging, and her hand slowly left her face for her eyes to observe him. She tried to stop them
looking over his lean form, decorated with beads of water that would fall in the creases of his body, but her brain craved
to learn his shape. He had that typical seeker physique, with strong arms and subtle yet athletic bumps and dips to his
frame. She refused to glimpse lower than his navel, even though she was yearning to, and she just willed her eyes to
appear indifferent to him.

She knew it was wishful thinking though. She may as well have allowed a small trickle of drool to seep down her chin.

"Right," she choked out, wondering why he was holding the towel but refusing to use it. "I'll just-

"Something bothering you, Granger?" he smirked at her, evidently enjoying her anxiety.

"I'll wait for you in the study," she spoke with fickle confidence, turning to leave. "I'll see you in a second-

"You disappoint me," he announced, an obvious challenge to his words that made her pause her attempt to leave.
"You're no fun, Granger."

"I am fun," she defended, twirling back around to face him.

"Prove it," he demanded, his voice low and enticing.

Determination flashed in her stare, and she eyed him with something close to scheming notions that a Slytherin might
praise. She neared him with a few small steps and he watched her expectantly, mocking her with an arched eyebrow. An
idea sparked in her mind, and a small smile twitched on her lips. With quick actions, she reached out to grab his arm,
and with a surge of strength she pushed him into the pool.

She didn't think he would instinctively grab onto her and drag her with him.

She gasped just before the water engulfed her, and her confused arms pushed her to the surface. Draco was already
above the water when she realised what had happened, and she coughed away the water, trying to gain her breaths,
while he calmly hid his surprise.

Their quick pants reverberated in the room, and Draco watched her closely as she quickly turned her eyes to him,
reaching to rest herself against the edge of the pool. He was dying to mock the situation, but he had a feeling she would
be agitated and mortified that he had pulled her in with him, fully-clothed. He was so glad he was wrong.

She started giggling lightly, her face relaxed and entertained as her laughs filled the room. She closed her eyes for a
moment and he took a few strokes towards her as the laughing died down.

"That was childish, Granger," he told her, settling his feet on the bottom of the pool, and the water stopped at his chest.

"You should have seen your face," she beamed, too amused to really pay attention to him getting closer.

"I'm sure it was fascinating," the sarcasm dripped from his voice.

He exhaled as he stared openly at her, her hair clinging to her forehead and neck like syrup. There were little gems of
water tucked between her dark lashes and caught in her eyebrows. There was a particular bead of water that he followed
as it trailed along the line of her jaw, before falling back into the pool just before it reached her chin.

He realised that the liquid had turned her shirt translucent, and it was pressed against her sun-stained skin. He could
make out the shadow of a green bra and his pulse quickened.

Green? That's just too b loody perfect.

He went a little closer, maybe two feet between them now, and he just waited for her to make an escape or tell him to
back away. His eyes went back to her damp face, and he saw that all the humour had drained away from her exquisite
features. She was just watching him, with an expression between anxiety and understanding. He saw her swallow, and
her tongue flicked over her bottom lip for just a second.

He was close enough now that could brace an arm either side of her figure, and she leaned against the edge as much
as she could, apparently trying to put distance between them. She could feel every whisper of his steady breaths against
her wet skin, reacting with the water. Her eyes left his to look at his barely-parted lips, which set into a thin line as he
assumed she was averting her gaze.

"Go on then, Granger," he spoke suddenly, and she made a small noise of surprise. His voice was so husky it made her
want to tremble. "Tell me to back off."

She didn't. Her eyes flew back to his with a blissful look of acceptance, and with brazen fingers, she reached for his face.

a/n: I would say I'm sorry to end it there but I'd be lying. Hope you liked that chapter because it was bloody good fun
writing it. Let me know what you think. The next chapter's already half-done so it should be up soon. I wanted to wait a
while before I posted this (it's only been 2 day since the last chappy) but it's 5 AM and a few glasses of wine have made
me restless for feedback on this chapter. I await your opinions!

*Chapter 16*: Water


Chapter 16: Water.

She splayed her fingers over his jaw and neck and took a calming breath before she leaned in. With her eyes squeezed
shut, she missed the slight widening of his eyes, but she felt the faintest of gasps against her lips. She rushed to kiss
him, paranoid that he would pull away from her or that the moment would be stolen.

She sighed into his mouth when he started to kiss her back, his hands gently coming to rest on her sides. It was softer
than last time; she was nervous and he felt reluctant to completely accept her gesture, but she needed more. She
pushed further into his mouth, boldly nudging her tongue deeper, trying to get her need across.

He felt her actions becoming more frantic, more passionate, and he fought the growl in his throat. He couldn't quite
believe this. Here she was, surrendering sweet kisses, and the thoughts in his head were roaring at him to stop this.
The last time they had done this, she'd almost had a panic-attack, and they had done nothing but scream at each other
or suffer laden silences for a fortnight.

They had only just gotten over that uncomfortable strain, and now she was recreating the situation that had started it all
to begin with. He had sworn he would distance himself from her. He had vowed to ignore his nagging urges to touch her.

Her fingernails grazed over a sensitive spot just behind his ear, and that scratching growl fell into her mouth.

Sod it.

He shoved himself against her, relishing how petite her body felt, flush up against the pool's edge. Her drenched clothes
were tightly hugging her skin, allowing him to feel every inch of her against his chest, and it was doing terrible things to
his insides. He reached one hand up to her face, grasping the back of her head to bring their mouths just that little bit

As their actions became more frenzied and desperate, the water splashed around them, mingling with the wet sounds of
the kiss. Her teeth tugged at his lip, and that bite caused the last of his qualms to dissipate, perhaps along with his

He wanted to get as close to her body as he could, pulling at her and pushing her against the edge at the same time.
His hands varied between holding her face or clutching her waist, unable to decide which position brought her closer.
Her fingers went from from his shoulders, flicking receptive parts of his throat and then sometimes combing through his
soaking hair.

The kisses and touches were getting wilder now, more heated, and the heavy breaths that leaked between the
uninhibited sucking and stroking echoed off the tiles. She arched her back and another one of his lusty groans hummed
against her tongue. She still wasn't close enough to him though.

His mouth dipped to her throat, knowing that at any moment she could shove him away, just like last time. He needed to
touch as much of her as he could, and his chest thudded when she released a loud sigh against his ear. He could still
taste her natural scent under the droplets of water and he hungered for it.

He was so aware that she could ruin it any time. He craved more of her before she snapped out of her trance.

His fingers went to the buttons of her shirt, racing to release them. He thought maybe that would break the spell, but just
as he managed to pluck away the last button, he felt her leg wrap around his calf. He roughly peeled away the shirt,
immediately bowing to lick a line from her chin down to her collar bone.

His hand went down to grasp her raised thigh and he hitched it higher, relishing the friction the water, her trousers and
his trunks were causing. He was already stiff, and he knew she could feel it, but she still didn't stop him. Quite the
opposite, she angled her back again, just as his kisses had reached the lacy fringe of her bra, her excited breaths
tickling his neck.

His hands moved to rest against her ribs, and for a moment he just paused to watch the quick fluctuations of her chest,
and he rubbed his thumbs over the material of her bra. She intentionally rocked her hips against him, a small guttural
noise rumbling in her mouth, and his head went up to catch the remains of it with another kiss.

His thumbs worked on easing down the cups of her bra, and he bent back down to freckle them with his lips, nipping
lightly at her raised flesh. She tilted her head back and spoiled herself with a pleased smile as his hands moved from
her breasts, back into the water to stroke down her stomach. She pulled at his face to take another kiss, grasping his
back to throw her other leg over his hip, loving that she felt weightless in the water.

With definite sways of her hips, she ground against him with a confidence she had no idea she'd possessed. But the
moment and the sensations were riding her, refusing to give either of them an opportunity to think twice about it. His
fingers reached between them, seeking the zip of her trousers.

He found it, just as he heard the doorknob to the room turn. He broke the kiss and tensed, quickly pressing his palm
against Hermione's lips. He risked a glance at her eyes and immediately regretted it. Her eyes with glassy with lust but
he could see the confusion easing in. He had half a mind to disregard the interruption and continue what they had
started. Hell, he'd have let the intruder watch just to keep the passion in her stare.

They heard the door creak open, and she realised then what was happening. He saw it, and removed his hand from her
mouth. He went a little bit closer to her as they listened to a couple of steps enter the room, resting his cheek against her

"Draco?" Narcissa's voice called. "Are you in there?"

At that moment in time, he was pretty certain he hated his own mother. He genuinely considered Accio-ing his wand and
cursing her, and then maybe himself for not thinking to put a locking spell on the door. He didn't answer, and after a few
seconds, they could hear her leave.

Her legs were still wrapped around his waist, and her arms still around his shoulders. He didn't want to pull back,
knowing all the lust had left the room alongside his intrusive mother. The trance had been broken for both of them, and
trying to pick up where they had left off would just lead to nothing. And a very awkward nothing at that.

In a rare moment of affection that he knew he would regret later, he nuzzled her neck slightly and placed a small peck
there. He felt her legs fall from his torso and her arms hesitantly leave his back. He pulled himself away from her, just in
time to witness the dejected expression on her features.

She masked it quickly, training her pretty face to look as blank as she possibly could. His eyes narrowed in thought as
they simply stared at each other, waiting for one of them to speak. After what felt like six days, she looked down to fix her
bra and start refastening the buttons of her shirt.

"Granger," he muttered quickly, wondering just what the hell he'd planned to say. "I think-

"Don't think," she stopped him quickly, finishing the last button. "Just be grateful your mother stopped us from doing
something very foolish."

Foolish was definitely the word. Never had a word been more appropriate for a situation. But lust thrives on stupidity, and
Merlin curse him, he'd do it all again.

Except this time I'd put a fucking lock on the door.

"This is embarrassing," he heard her mumble as she self-consciously pushed some hair behind her ear. "I didn't mean
for this to happen-

"I never said you did," he scolded her, fixing her with a stern look. He had no clue how to handle this situation, so he
instinctively decided to go for the defensive route. "I certainly didn't plan for this-

"I didn't mean that," she shook her head. "I just meant...I don't know what I mean. I think I should leave."

He didn't even try to stop her, completely agreeing with her this time. He was frustrated as hell and knew he would take
the blame out on her. She wasn't panicking this time, and for that he was grateful, if a little annoyed that she seemed so
composed. His brain was aching as he tried to make sense, tried to think of something useful to say. Nothing suitable
was coming to mind, so he decided it was just best to keep his mouth shut.

She waded away from him to the steps at the end of the pool, and he stifled a moan as he watched her leave the water,
her shirt still translucent and doing nothing to calm the throb in his trunks. She bent to pick up her wand, having
apparently dropped it when he dragged her into the water.
She muttered a quick drying spell, and within two seconds it was like nothing had happened. He was in the pool, and
she was dressed in normal clothes with no trace of water on her skin. His lip twitched when she offered him an unsure
smile, before she turned her back to leave.

"Granger," his voice stopped her, and looked over her shoulder at him. "I will come over later to discuss this."

She seemed to consider his words for a moment, and he held his breath.

"Alright," she agreed, hoping he couldn't see her shaking. "I'll see you later."

And then she was gone, leaving him to nurse yet another Granger-induced hard-on.

An hour later and Draco was dried and dressed and helping his mother replace some furniture. Ah yes, his mother. This
was all her fault, of course. She had asked him to come here today, and if she hadn't done that, he wouldn't have taken a
swim in the pool. And then Hermione would have never ended up in the pool, with her bloody translucent shirt, and they
wouldn't have kissed.

Kiss certainly felt like the wrong term though. No, it had been a kiss that was leading somewhere; sex to be precise. If it
hadn't been for his mother, he'd have probably shagged Granger senseless by now.

It was his mother's fault it had started, and it was her fault it had ended.

He didn't know whether hug her or hex her.

And here she was now, removing her trinkets from a desk without a care in the world, completely oblivious that she had
single-handedly destroyed his day. Well, maybe not single-handedly; Mopsy was going to get an ear-bashing about
bringing guests to the pool without at least a sodding knock.

"Draco," Narcissa's concerned tone broke his angry thoughts. "Are you okay? You're looking a little possessed over

"I'm bloody brilliant." he sneered.

"Clearly not," his mother frowned, fixing him with a serious look. "Does this have anything to with why Hermione was in
the pool with you?"

"What?" Draco didn't even have a chance to hide his shock.

"Mopsy told me she took Hermione to see you at the pool," Narcissa explained. "And I know you and her were in there
when I knocked. So, what's going on, Draco?"

"Nothing," he replied quickly.

"I may be getting old but I'm not stupid," she chuckled at her son's discomfort. "You know I can always tell when you're

"You're becoming senile, mother," he breathed, refusing to look at her smug expression. "There is nothing-

"Don't lie to me, Draco," she said sternly. "I won't have any more lies in this house, now tell me or I'll ask her myself-

"We kissed," he blurted loudly, turning his back to his mother, missing her knowing grin.

He didn't know how he expected his mother to react but the silence was damning. He was tempted just to leave and
save himself the embarrassment, but she finally spoke.

"Just kissed?" she questioned carefully.

"Yes," he snarled through his teeth. Talking about this with his mother was making his head hurt.

"I knew it," she stated proudly, a smirk on her lips. "I knew you liked her-
"Excuse me?" Draco whipped around to face her, eyeing her with impatience. "I most certainly do not like her-

"Oh please," she chuckled, rolling her eyes at her son. "I'm not blind, Draco. You barely left her side at my birthday and
you almost hexed Graham when he was talking to her-

"I was looking out for her," he defended. "She was-

"And you haven't been out with any of those awful girls for a few weeks," she continued. "Don't think I haven't noticed."

"So I've taken a break from screwing around," he shrugged, trying his best to look indifferent. "That doesn't mean-

"And if I'm guessing right," she carried on, her smirk widening. "You've kissed her more than once-

"What the-

"And I reckon," she placed a thoughtful finger on her chin. "That it was at my birthday, when you and her disappeared for
a while, and then I found you acting much like you are now."

Draco just blinked at his mother. Why was he bothering working so hard on the case when his mother clearly had the
best detective skills in London? He had no idea what to say, but that was fine because she wasn't finished.

"So that makes two kisses," she surmised. "Or are there any more?"

"No," he breathed, taking a seat and resting his elbows against his knees. "Just the two."

"So," his mother said slowly, sitting in the chair opposite his. "Why haven't you asked her to dinner or something?"


"No, I'm serious," she interrupted, her expression turning pensive. "Is it her blood?"

"Of course not," Draco snapped,offended by her assumption. He really was indifferent to her heritage now; she had
proven her worth as a witch one hundred times over.

"Then what is it?"

"It's that she's Hermione bloody Granger," he remarked, earning him a confused look.

"Yes, I know who she is," Narcissa shrugged. "Pretty girl, very smart, good sense of humour and very pleasant, good at
keeping you in line-

"And the girl I bullied all the way through Hogwarts," Draco stopped her with a harsh tone. "The girl who my aunt tortured,
and who my father despised. And of course the icing on the cake, best friend to Potter and Weasley-

"Did she kiss you back?" his mother questioned, arching an eyebrow at her son.

"Well," his voice faltered more a moment. "Yes, but-

"Then I'm guessing she's over the way you acted in Hogwarts," she explained with certainty. "And she had no problem
returning to the Manor so I'm sure she's over Bellatrix. And in regards to Harry Potter and the Weasley boy, she doesn't
strike me as the type to be ruled by her friends' opinions-

"It's not that simple, mother," he argued, feeling much younger than he was at the moment. "It's complicated-

"Only if you make it complicated," she advised.

Draco paused to watch his mother for a moment, hating how sure she seemed of her suggestions. He would have
happily given back his inheritance in exchange for some of her confidence. And just when had she become so bloody
fond of Granger? His next question was resting on his tongue, but he wasn't sure if he could bring himself to voice it.

"What would father have said?"

"Your father isn't here any more," she reminded him with a sad tone. "But he would have trusted your judgement, even if
he wasn't completely happy with the idea."

"Okay," he nodded, satisfied with her answer. "Do I need to tell you to keep this quiet? Especially from Skeeter."
"My lips are sealed," she promised. "I swear I won't tell anyone you like her-

"I never confessed to liking her," he disputed, feeling his anger rise again. "I confessed that I had kissed her-

"Just ask her out," his mother scoffed. "And stop stressing about what happened nearly five years ago-

"I'm not asking her out," he stated calmly. The conversation had reached its peak now, and he refused to give his nosy
parent any more details. His mother had always been one one of those awful romantics and he didn't need that right
now . He needed some logic, someone to smack him sideways and remind him that there were a million reasons not to
pursue Granger.

"And just why not?" his mother asked, scowling at his words.

"Because I chose not to," Draco shrugged, rising from his seat and heading for the door. "As I said, it's too complicated-


"And I refuse," he continued firmly, shooting her a cold stare. "To discuss it any further."

Narcissa contemplated arguing with him, but she recognised the resolute expression on his face. She sighed in defeat,
deciding she would simply bring it up the next time they kissed. And yes, she was certain there would be a next time. She
watched him leave and allowed herself another smirk.

Stub b orn youngsters.

Hermione sighed as the warm water trickled over her. After waiting for Draco to come round for a few hours, she'd given
up and figured he'd decided against it and she couldn't blame him for that. She'd given it until eleven o'clock to risk
having a shower, hoping it would clear her mind.

She couldn't have been more wrong.

The water reminded her of the pool, and the pool reminded her of him. His hands, his fingers, his lips, his tongue and,
Morgana strike her down, his hardness that had pressed against her. Everything that he had touched and kissed was
still tingling and fresh in her mind. That little bubble of heat that had invaded her stomach, created by his treatment, was
still niggling at her, waiting to be popped.

Every time she dared to close her eyes, images would flash across her lids. Images of his face close to hers, sucking at
her mouth, and then of his tongue flicking over throat. Her hands went up to her neck, remembering the path his mouth

Her fingertips stroked down to her breasts, just as his lips had, and she softly squeezed them. One of her hands trailed
down her abdomen, over her navel like his fingers had. She released a shallow breath as she remembered that this
was the point when she had thrown her legs around him, and become so blissfully aware of his erection prodding her.

She felt the bubble twitch.

With a reminiscent moan, she tucked her fingers between her legs, gently brushing the familiar and fleshy area. She
found the sensitive and small column of her clit and she rubbed it with shaking fingers. But she couldn't concentrate and
her actions were clumsy as she tried to recreate the sensations Draco had inflicted. She was nowhere close, and after a
few moments she gave up, leaving herself more frustrated.

With a huff of defeat, she turned off the water and slipped into her fluffy bathrobe, drying her hair with her wand. Even
without the water encouraging her reflections of the pool, her mind refused to leave them be. She had never felt so
sexually unsatisfied in her life, and it was all Malfoy's sodding fault!

She needed to relax and divert her mind. She had the house to herself, having sent Penelope to Leandra's for the night,
assuming that Draco was coming over to have long and stressful chat. She grabbed her moisturiser from her bedroom
and decided she would stretch out on her couch and distract herself with some of the late-night panel shows she loved.

Flicking through the channels and settling on Mock the Week, she snuggled against the cushions of her sofa and
started to massage the cream into her skin. She applied it to her shoulders and arms, tipping her head back as she did
her chest.

She moved to start on her legs, working her way from her feet to the tops of her thighs. She was just beginning to calm
when the startling thunder of the Floo made her jump out of her skin. The green fire subsided as Draco entered her living

"For fuck's sake," the blond growled as his eyes settled on her.

That was it. Clearly there was someone conspiring against them. She was there, clad in just a blue bathrobe that
stopped at her knees, massaging herself with fucking lotion. Something in his head snapped. He couldn't cope with all
these coincidences, they were breaking down the barricades of his restraint, no matter how hard he tried to keep them

"Draco," Hermione breathed nervously, shifting to cover as much of her flesh as she could. "What are you-

"I told you I would come round," he reminded her before she could finish. He had no idea where he should stand or sit
as she fidgeted anxiously on her sofa, so he just stayed still by her fireplace.

"I know," she rose from the seat, feeling the need to stand. "But it's almost midnight."

"I had things to do," he lied, wondering why she'd chosen to stand. "We need to talk."

"We do," she agreed, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. "We obviously need to sort out a solution to this."

"Okay," he agreed, trying to ignore that her bathrobe had was parted deliciously at her cleavage. "What do you propose?"

"I think it might be best," she started awkwardly, folding her arms over her stomach. "That one of us give up responsibility
for the case."

Draco's eyes widened at her suggestion. That thought had never crossed his mind, and he was rather surprised that
she had considered that option. He couldn't imagine not working on the case together when he thought about all the
hours they had put into it. No, that wasn't a solution. That was just running away.

"You can't be serious," he snorted, even more annoyed now. "That is such a cop-out, Granger-

"This clearly isn't working," she protested in a small voice. "And we need to sort this out before it starts affecting the case-

"This is bullshit," Draco sneered, taking a step towards her. "You know that we haven't let this effect the case."

"Not yet," she agreed with a cringe. "But I think it will eventually, and I can't allow that to happen-

"I know what you're doing, Granger," he said in a low tone, drawing himself up to his full height. "I know you have more
standing at the Ministry than me. Just a quick word to Shacklebolt and I'll be back to monitoring any idiot that slaps a

"That wasn't what I was suggesting-

"Of course it was," he argued. "You get rid of me, and get some tool to help you with it. Well fuck you, because I've put too
much work into this for you to screw me over!"

"I know how much work you've done," she assured him, her eyes pleading him to calm down. "You've been brilliant-

"This has been my first big case," he went on, ignoring her hopeless looks. "And my first chance to prove to the Ministry
that I can do more than deal with the mediocre crap. I was working on this before you even came along, Granger!"

"I know-

"And I'll be damned if I let you throw me aside like I've had nothing to do with our progress," he continued, his voice loud
and shrill now. "And you have no right to take me off the case just because you can't handle a little-

"Stop," she barked, and he actually halted his rant when he heard the desperation in her voice. "I never had any intention
of removing you from the case."

"What?" he eyed her warily.

"I have seen how much work you've done on this," she explained, her voice trembling a little. "And I never considered
asking for you to be taken off the case."

"But then," Draco faltered as realisation set into his brain. "That would mean you?"

"Yes," she sighed, looking away from him. "I'll ask to be removed from the case."

Draco absorbed her offer and became even more irritated. She couldn't be serious. He had seen first-hand how much
effort she had given to their case. How could she be so willing to give all that up just to get away from him? No, it wasn't a
possibility. She was the brightest person he knew, and if anyone could figure out these murders, it was them. He
wouldn't allow it any other way.

"No," he stated simply. "Absolutely not."

"I thought you would be okay with it," she told him, her eyebrows rising in surprise. "I thought-

"Well you thought wrong," he grunted, daring another stride towards her. "Neither of us are giving up the case, Granger,
so you'll just have to think of something else."

"But I thought," she whispered softly, eyeing him with confusion. "I thought that you would like that option?"

"Well I don't," he scowled. "I think it's pretty obvious that I don't."

"But, why?"

"Because it's just stupid, Granger," he growled, trying to figure out how he could tell her not to leave without looking like
an idiot. "Don't you give a shit about all the work you've done?"

"Yes," she nodded hesitantly. "But I would trust you to use my work effectively-

"No," he reiterated, tensing his jaw and deciding he would need to persuade her a little better. "You know as well as I do
that we are the best people for this, and I refuse to be stuck with some second-hand moron as a replacement. You
absence would affect the case more, and you know it."

Hermione frowned and rubbed her face with one of her hands. He knew by the softening of her features that he had won.
There was another reason he didn't want her to leave, he had spent weeks, no months, learning what each small
movement of her face meant. He liked that he could read her so well, and he liked that that he knew how she worked.
Perhaps his mother had been right; maybe he just liked her. Full stop.

He watched as determination stole her eyes, and once again, he found another thing he liked. Just when he thought he
had figured out her reactions and features, she would prove him wrong. She was unpredictable in a uniquely charming
way that made him think. Damn her.

"Well then what are we supposed to do?" she asked him slowly, feeling her frustration growing.

Everything he did made her head feel a little light and airy, and it was irritating her to hell. She was fighting not to look at
his lips and his fingertips. She was trying not to consider how easily he could make her burn on the inside, specifically in
the space between her hips. She also buried the realisations that she enjoyed his company and that she basked in his
presence. It was hard to ignore the notion that it wasn't just lust that she felt flourishing in her stomach, but she tried

"Well your suggestion is ridiculous," he hold her boldly. "I can't believe you would even think of it."

"Well, I don't know what else we can do, Draco," she raised her voice, allowing her frustration to take control. "I have no
bloody clue what else I can say!"

"Calm yourself, Granger!" he shouted back, refusing to back down. "We will think of something else-

"There is nothing else!" she yelled, throwing her arms in anger.

His lips twitched as he watched her become flustered and agitated, apparently completely oblivious that her actions
were causing her robe to ride up. He swallowed as she started to breath a bit heavier, and in an instant he was turned
on. His fingers itched to touch her but he held his ground as her expression turned desperate and creased with panic.

"I can't do this any more," she whispered, shaking her head as the words spilled out of her mouth before she could catch
them. "I just...I can't-
"Can't what, Granger?" he pushed her, inhaling as he took another step forwards. Just two more and he'd be able to
reach her.

"I can't," she continued, nervously hugging her arms tighter around herself. She paused before she spoke again but
eventually she decided that the words needed to be said. "I can't pretend I'm not attracted to you. Perhaps more than

He felt something in his torso clench and his lips parted a little. Another step.

"You're messing with my head," she confessed, her eyes focussed somewhere around his chest. "And I can't deal with it
any more."

Another step. He could reach her now if he stretched his arm.

"I just can't," she went on, glancing up at his eyes now and looking rather frightened. She took a deep breath before she
finished her sentence, knowing with every ounce of sense that she shouldn't say the words. "I don't think I can stop

The final step.

And with only a second's hesitation so she could gasp, he grabbed her face and kissed her. Her hands quickly rushed
up to latch around his neck as she opened her lips for him. Blissful little whimpers filtered into his mouth and shivered
up his tongue as her fingernails dragged faintly over the sensitive skin by his ears.

His hands moved to her sides to bring her closer to his chest, one dipping to snake around her back before the other
dived into her freshly-washed hair. His nips and pecks and sucks were quick and heavy, knowing all too well that they
were usually interrupted at this point.

But his mother wasn't here, and there were no meddlesome house-elves, and as far he could see, Clearwater was out.
Above anything else, she had just admitted that she wanted him, so surely she wouldn't stop them this time. He needed
to know.

He pulled away and leaned his forehead against hers, slowly opening his eyes to find hers wide and laced with lust. He
dragged his hand slowly from her back to her front and settled his fingers against the knot of the bathrobe's tie. He
quickly scanned her features for any signs of doubt or panic, but he saw none.

With skilled movements, he undid the knot, still watching her closely for any indication that she wanted him to stop.


The bathrobe naturally parted a little and he glanced down at her breasts where her nipples were already firm for him.
When he looked back up, a small smirk was tugging at the corner of her mouth and he felt the ache for her searing just
above his groin.

With a husky growl, he went back to sucking at her lips, inhaling into her mouth when her nails raked through his hair.
His hands pushed inside her robe, delicately giving her barely-there touches up her stomach and over her chest to rest
on her shoulders.

With a fast but definite nudge, he brushed her robe off her body and heard it slide down her shape, before it landed
behind her feet with a small thud.

a/n: Sorry, another cliffy...Once again, more wine has led to an early chapter. But at least this time it's 4 AM, so hopefully
my sleeping pattern isn't completely buggered. Saying that, I have to be up at bloody seven for a trip to Cardiff...Joy! Thank
you so much for your reviews for the last chapter...I mean reviews in less than 24 hours was just such a
compliment and I adore reading them.

I've been getting these chapters out quickly because I have a few things coming up, so the gaps between chapters may
be a bit longer after this one...Sorry!

Hope you liked that chapter because I really enjoyed writing the kiss scenes. And yes there will be sex in the next
chapter. It's M for a reason. Let me know what you think!

*Chapter 17*: Bare


Chapter 17: Bare.

She was naked.

She was naked, and Draco Malfoy was kissing her collarbone. And it felt bloody sinful.

Draco was vaguely aware that she tasted like blueberry soap.

He was kissing a thick ribbon of skin between her throat and her shoulder, and she tilted her head back slightly,
pressing herself a little closer to his chest. She opened her eyes just to wandlessly turn the television to mute, deciding
that the fluctuating colours and lights in the otherwise dark room were rousing wonderful shadows, and animating their

She could feel Draco's nips at her skin becoming heavier and hectic, and his hands were clutching her back, his
fingertips pressing into her spine. Her hands raked thin tracks through his hair as his lips grazed lower down her chest
and she took a deep breath, forcing his mouth harder against her skin. She leaned back so he could trace lazy patterns
with his tongue between her breasts, her eyelids fluttering as her concentration failed.

The November air barely registered against her naked skin as her blood raced to heat her, clouding her brain with misty
attempts of awareness. She leaned back into him as he raised his head to steal a very fast and frantic kiss, and she
carelessly bit at his lips with urgent breaths fluttering between them.

His clothes were scratching against her skin, creating a frustrating friction. She was about to claw at his shirt with every
intention of nibbling at his chest until it bruised, but his mouth went to suckle at her neck again. His hand went between
them, his palm flat against her stomach and pushing her back. Her leg wrapped around his calf to steady herself, a
pathetic whimper pushing past her lips when she brushed against the hard line behind his trousers.

She was aware of her nudity now, not nervous with vulnerability but agitated that selfish clothes were separating her from

His hand was still going lower and he shifted her so he could finally meander his fingers between her thighs and stroke
her clit with a frenzied tenderness that possibly only Draco could manage. She felt herself swell quickly, still sensitive
from her own fondles in the shower.

Her lusty bubble returned.

His hand was braced tightly enough around her back that she could arch into his touch with a choked sigh. The kisses
and sucks at her chest were getting more feral as his thumb rubbed up and down her fleshy bead, and she basked in it.
She could feel two of his fingers circling the ridge of her entrance, and she offered a small but eager buck.

His thumb was still stroking her while his fingers slipped between her wet walls, angled upwards to tap rhythmically
against that spot. A guttural noise vibrated in her mouth when his teeth scraped her abdomen, and she adjusted herself
so that his fingers were tucked tighter against her sex.

She could feel the ache behind her naval pulsing in anticipation but she needed to calm herself. She had no intention of
letting him take her post-bliss when her muscles were weary and her mind distracted. She needed to feel him within her
to snap those strings that had been tightening since...fuck if she knew when.

She pulled herself up with a reluctant and shaky moan and hungrily sought his mouth. She frantically pushed his hand
away, scared she would come undone before she could feel him.

Draco ignored the stab of panic that clutched his chest as she removed his hand, but relaxed when she kissed him with
a desire-blind pace that made him groan. Her hands attacked the buttons of his shirt with hasty fingers, her nails
catching his skin with delicious scratches as she pushed it off his arms.

His fists gripped her hair as her determined hands went to the zip of his trousers, grabbing the high hem of his boxers
as she shoved them both down off his hips. His erection prodded against her stomach, craving her attention, and her
keen fingers softly brushed the tip. She felt it twitch against her palm and she circled her thumb and middle finger
around him, gliding them down and up the inches.

She dragged her tongue from his mouth down to his chin and then along his jaw to chew at his earlobe. His grip on her
bundles of hair tightened when the craving heat seared near his loins. He tried to catch his throaty moan but it was
pointless; her delicate hands felt like warm velvet, and her tongue by his ear felt like damp silk.

Imagine what she feels like inside.

That thought caused him to growl and he grasped her shoulders, stepping out of his trousers as he spun her round. He
pushed her against the couch, uncaring if it was a little rough. The flickering lights of the Muggle box were casting teal
stains on her skin, and he paused for a second as she sat herself down, staring with lust-confident eyes straight at him.

Her unstable breathing was causing her breasts to dance in a ridiculously alluring manner, and her plump lips were
open, waiting for him to speckle them with more furious kisses. He knelt next her on the couch, his back straight as he
gathered her body against him. Her legs quickly straddled his thighs, and she rocked against him, rubbing her throbbing
heat against his length a few times before Draco gripped her waist, desperate to just be inside her now. Placing his
palm flat against her abdomen, he hurriedly rasped out a contraceptive spell, hoping his muttering of the incantation was

She tugged at his face to suck his bottom lip, reaching down to lead him into her with needy haste. His erection slid
slowly into her and he hissed his breath between his teeth as her muscles adjusted around his length, clenching him. A
dreamy moan left her mouth, and he pulled at her waist, guiding her to ride him, slowly at first, but then quicker once he
was snug and her walls were pinching and squeezing his length with euphoric pressure.

He knew this wouldn't take long; the tension had been there for weeks and their fumbles in the pool earlier had left his
body yearning for this. And she was not disappointing him. She felt like liquid-perfection.

She stretched her back and lolled her head, bracing her hands against his shoulders to manage her thrusts. Unable to
reach her lips, Draco nuzzled the creamy skin under her ear, occasionally nibbling and tonguing the area between his
laboured breaths and husky sounds.

His hands wound around her back, finding her pace sublime as she sang consistent passion-moans. Her rhythm was
quickening and he rested his forehead against her chest to try and pause his bud of ecstasy, that was threatening to
burst any second. She was getting tighter as her grinding got faster, and he brought one of his hands back round
between them to massage her clit.

She shuddered as the new sensations poured into the hot bubble inside of her, and a passion-laced cry mingled with
his grunts and moans. He angled his hips higher to push deeper, knowing his orgasm was only a few strokes away.

The bubble finally burst.

A stuttering scream echoed in her living room and her back tensed before she was trembling with no grace. His arms
tightened around her as the spasms in her depth convulsed around his length, her fingernails slicing into his skin as
she tried to clam the fluttering jerks of her body. He paused his stabs and continued to caress her clit with his thumb,
prolonging her loud bliss. He waited for her to go limp against his chest before he continued his fast thrusts, relishing
the quaking waves that rippled against his stem.

She was clinging to him firmly but he pulled her back, one hand reaching up to clumsily brush away the hair that clung to
her sweat-wet forehead. His mouth latched onto hers just as the pulsating knot of pressure tore open and burst into her
with salty lust. His deep yell broke the kiss and she held him to her chest as he shook against her.

Stunning flashes of red and white waltzed on his eyelids as the climax reached its peak before he was struggling
through his pants. Having gathered some strength and sanity, Hermione dotted feather-kisses on his lips and jaw as he
tried to grasp reality at the fringes of his rapture.

She leaned back against the cushions, bringing him with her to lie down on her sofa. She grabbed a throw and covered
them as his head still leaned against her chest, watching his face with a fascinated stare as he blinked back the vacant
haze in his eyes. With shuddering arms, he managed to settle himself at her side and he pulled her back against his
chest, burrowing his face by her hair.

Hermione allowed a content grin on her battered lips before the gravity of what had just happened invaded her skull. Her
eyes darted around for a second and she tried to calm her panic, oblivious that Draco could feel her slight fidget, and an
agitated but tired sigh tickled the space between her shoulder-blades.
"Don't even think about it," he warned her with a croaky voice. "Worry about it in the morning."

A feminine noise somewhere between a chuckle and a whine was his only response so he allowed himself to fall into a
very satisfied sleep. She hesitantly placed her hand on top of his, absently stroking his wrist, before she did the same.

Hermione woke to the splattering of rain against her window, an airy hum leaving her tender lips. She blinked back her
satisfying sleep, and a glance at the clock told her it was almost eight in the morning. Her eyes widened a fraction when
she felt Draco's steady breaths at the top of her spine. She could remember everything perfectly, and her intrusive
subconscious had insisted on reminding her of every detail with tasty dreams.

No, she hadn't forgotten what had happened. How could she when her pores were still buzzing in his aftermath? She
was simply surprised that he was still here, his arm resting flimsily over her ribs.

She could feel the concern and panic clouding her brain. How could she have been so foolish? She had fallen like easy
lead for his words and touch, just like the many girls before her, and she felt humiliated.

Brightest witch of our age? Clearly not when there's a stunning Slytherin b etween your thighs.

She could not believe the depth of her stupidity. Of course she had trembled in his arms; the man was a champion
charmer, something the magazines always seemed pleased to report. It was no secret; Draco was a bold bachelor who
was infamous for the notches on his bedpost.

And now she was one of them.

A notch.

She closed her eyes to fight back the mortified tears and gently eased herself off the couch, adjusting the throw so he
wouldn't notice the cold room. She grabbed her discarded bathrobe and wrapped it around her, allowing her eyes to go
blurry with silent sobs. She pushed her hair out of her face and walked on wobbly legs away from him, breathing quickly
to match her chaotic thoughts.

She needed to get out of her house; it smelled like him. Like sex. It was driving her to hysteria and she needed to
escape. She sprinted up to her shower, trying hard to ignore the water thudding against her still tingling skin. She eyed
the little bruises and blemishes on her skin, all from his teeth and touches like territorial brands.

When the lusty scents had disappeared, she tumbled into her room and dried herself with her wand, throwing on some
clean underwear and her grey button-up dress. She realised then that she would have to go back into the living room to
use the Floo, and she cringed.

She figured she could quietly make it back into the room and only the roar of the Floo would wake him, but by then she
would be gone. She decided to go to the Ministry and isolate herself in their office, hoping work would distract her and
knowing the department would be quiet. She tiptoed back down the stairs and slipped soundlessly into the room,
refusing to look at him on the couch.

She would have to pass him, so she held her breath, eyeing only her fireplace with tenacious eyes.

"Granger," his gruff voice made her jump, but she still didn't dare look at him. "Where exactly are you going?"

Her chest was thundering and she tried to calm her confused breaths, refusing to stop her unbalanced legs as she
headed for her fireplace.

"Work," her voice quivered. "I need to-

"It's Sunday," he remarked impatiently, sitting up on her sofa although she didn't see it. "What the fuck are you-

"I need to get out of here," she whispered, grabbing a handful of Floo powder.

She didn't hesitate, and she disappeared with the flare of green flames. Draco growled into the empty room, tempted to
pursue her but deciding that darting around the Ministry bare-arsed wouldn't look too great, even if the Ministry was quiet.

Figuring he was entitled to use her bathroom since she had left him alone and naked in her house, he helped himself to
a shower. He relaxed his agitated thoughts, rationalising that he had expected her to be flustered this morning and
questioning what they had done. Of course she would; she was Hermione Granger. Plus, it was kind of difficult to be
completely angry at her after she had been so splendid.

He could still feel a slight simmering in his stomach.

As the water trickled down his back, he concluded that that he would give her a while to gather her thoughts before he
found her. It would be difficult, but he would have to restrain his temper if he had any chance of making her see sense. If
he burst in, screaming obscenities about her cowardice, she would get all defensive and possibly end up cursing him.

So he took his time, casting Scouring Charms on his clothes and even helping himself to glass of milk before he went
after her. He calmly walked his way the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and was surprised when he found her
in his office, sitting in his chair with her face in her palms and a mess of parchments spread out around her.

Her eyes snapped up as he closed the door behind him and she shot up from his seat as he neared her. Her nervous
stare flickered over his chest as he marched intently into the room and took the seat opposite her, reminding himself to
be smooth and tactful. But it was pointless; he could already feel the fractures splitting into his patience.

Her chest was close to exploding as she watched him, flashing images of last night tearing at the brink of her
conscious. She could see small tell-tale marks on his neck from her brazen actions and she licked her lips. He looked
so inviting and it was crushing her resolve to remember that he had mostly likely bedded her in the same fashion he had
with other mindless girls.

"Draco," she exhaled, sounding like it pained her to mention his name. "I-

"Sit down," he told her, and she dumbly complied. "Care to explain why the hell you ran away so quickly this-

"I panicked," she admitted with a frown, staring at the desk. "I needed to get out-

"I could see that," he remarked, sighing before he continued. "I thought I gave you plenty of opportunities to back out last

"You did."

"So then why did you run off?" he pushed, sensing his temper rising and trying to quash it.

"I told you," she mumbled. "I panicked-

"But why?" his voice snapped.

"I don't know," she lied, feeling more vulnerable now than when she had been completely bare last night.

"Bullshit," he growled. Screw it, he felt bloody offended by her embarrassment. "Give me a decent answer."

"What do you want me to say?" she asked him, her voice slowly climbing louder.

"I want your honesty," he snarled, as though it was obvious. "Why the fuck did you leave?"

"I don't know!" she repeated, rising from her seat again. "I just want-

"That's just your problem, Granger," he told her. "You have no idea what you want. Your entire life has been dictated
following the needs of others and it pisses me off! You even chose you career on the wish of a dead woman-

"Don't you dare talk about her like that-

"It's true though!" he yelled, also standing up. "You're so eager to please everyone-

"Whereas you just don't give a shit about anyone!" she retorted, pointing an accusatory finger at him. "I don't know what I
want? You bed-hop like your life depends on it and you say I don't know what I want?"

Her words confused him for a second and he narrowed his eyes at her. What exactly was she getting at?

"What are you-

"You may have some connections to Skeeter," she went on. "But there are other magazines you know. It's no secret that
you've bedded half of London, Draco! I just left before you did!"
That was why she was so flustered? He had assumed she had regretted last night because of their hostile history. He
hadn't expected that from her, but then he knew better than to predict her thoughts. So, she thought he had seduced her
for his amusement? A one night stand? A little part of him wished it was that simple. But no, his intentions were
anticipating more than just one night.

"That's what you're concerned about?" Draco confirmed with an arched brow. "That I just wanted sex?"

"Yes," she nodded, her tone a little softer but still angry.

"Do you realise how bloody stupid that is?" he scowled, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "You honestly thought that I
would just shag you and disregard all the problems it would cause in work? If I had just wanted a quick fuck, Granger, I
would have gone elsewhere!"

Hermione blinked away her shock and ignored the temptation to bend closer and kiss him. He really was so numbingly
gorgeous. The relief was consuming her and she fought the soft smile that threatened to grace her features. She
couldn't quite risk getting her hopes up just yet.

"So," she breathed, her voice uncertain and jittery. "What exactly are you telling me?"

"You're making this very difficult," he accused, folding his arms arrogantly over his chest. "I think I've made it clear it quite

"No you haven't," she countered, shaking her head. "If you had, I wouldn't have left-

"You left because you jumped to conclusions," he argued, moving from his place to walk around the desk. He noticed
then that she was wearing the grey dress that had tormented him for weeks. The one with those sodding buttons.

"I told you I was attracted to you," Hermione reminded him with a faint blush. "More than attracted actually, and you gave
no indication-

"I think that last night," Draco stopped her, smirking as he closed the distance between them "Was a very obvious

"Stop that," she whispered, placing a hand against his chest to halt him where he was. "Your riddles are trying my
patience, Draco. What exactly is it you want?"

He paused for a moment, his smirk fading as he took in her hopeful features, noting the possessive scrapes and
smudges he'd left on her throat and chest, knowing there were more under her dress. What did he actually want from
her? Sole claim? Companionship? The luxuries of her presence and passion?

A relationship was the easiest answer to come to, but he instinctively ignored it. No, he wouldn't push that concept away
into the far reaches of his mind. He pulled it back, deciding that it was the only name for what he wanted from her, even if
he couldn't quite bring himself to admit or say it.

"More," he stated finally, leaning into her, but she pushed him away. "What?"

"You know this will be complicated," she informed him, swallowing back a lump in her throat. He could tell she was
dying to reach out to him and indulge in her own little kisses. "And I think we should talk about it properly-

"I expected no less from you, Hermione," he muttered, his smirk returning. "But we can discuss them at dinner tonight-

"Dinner?" she repeated, fixing him with a quizzical glare. He dipped his head a little closer to her face, planting a barely-
there kiss on her cheek.

"Come to dinner with me," he rephrased his request, nipping at her jawbone. "And you can draw up a contract then."

"Alright," she agreed hesitantly, ignoring his sarcastic dig and accepting his little pecks with a hidden smile. "But I have
one condition."

"Of course," he chuckled, making his kisses a little more deliberate and wrapping an arm around her torso. "Go on."

"I get to choose the place," she sighed, resting her hands against his biceps. "I don't think it's a good idea to go
somewhere we could be recognised."

"Agreed," he mumbled against her neck, pushing her a little so she was perched on his desk.
He pulled away from her and offered her a cocky grin that made her breath tumble out of her mouth. She watched him
closely as he slowly withdrew his wand from his pocket, her eyes confused as she eyed his graceful actions. With a faint
flick of his wrist, she felt and watched all the buttons on her dress fly away from her, and released a loud gasp.

"Draco," she stuttered, her voice wavering as his hips nestled between her knees. "One of the first things I was going to
say was that this can't affect our work-

"It's a Sunday," he smirked at her, working the buttons of his shirt.

So it is...

She sought his lips with a swift tug at his neck and allowed the reminiscent images of last night to pour into her brain.
She moaned like a wounded nymph as his hands traced the similar, and still aching paths on her skin. She raised
herself so he could inch off her underwear as quick as he could, while she practically tore away his trousers.

She ran her hands over his chest, his shirt still draped over his arms while her dress lingered on her shoulders, framing
her form. He bent down, running his tongue from her navel down to her pelvis before finding her warmth. He loved that
her clit was still swollen from their sex and he swept his mouth over it, firmly tapping his tongue against the spot.

He felt her twitch so reached up to spread his arm across her hips, holding her steady. Two of his fingers pushed into
her and he noticed she was tighter, her internal muscles exquisitely inflamed from his previous probe of her. He felt her
jerk under his arm as his fingers brushed against the rim of her core. He adored this, learning her most sensitive
fragments of her body.

He removed his arm from her waist to stroke his rigid stretch, reminding himself that it wasn't necessary to cast another
contraceptive charm as it lasted twenty-four hours. Her rich whimpers pleased his ears, and the familiar bow of
mounting fervour yanked at his insides. When he heard a particularly dulcet sound leave her mouth, he rose hastily to
his feet, pulling her closer to the edge of the his desk to slot into her.

His hands slipped past the material dress so he could clutch her waist as she held his face, licking his lips and teeth as
he bucked within her. He sucked on her tongue as he got faster, and he pushed her away so her back was flat against
the surface so he could tease her clit again. His other hand stroked random and lazy patterns across her abdomen as
his pants became louder and deeper.

His skilful fingers against her passion-bud worked faster, needing to feel her excited spasms and flexes around his
length again. They had felt euphoric last night, and he craved to take her there again. He could hear her breathing
becoming wilder as she writhed uninhibitedly against him, her pelvic bones smashing against his hips and thighs.

He could feel the tell-tale clenching of her slick hole before she finally released a bold and musical whine accompanied
the quivering of her insides, beating gratefully around him. He gathered her weak shape against him as he allowed the
sensations to release the ball of tension, muffling his strangled yelp into her brunette curls. They both shivered as the
bliss subsided, gripping at each other to ride out the lusty aftershocks.

He clutched her against him as they both tried to control their post-rapture breaths, his fingers tickling her back with
absent circles. He smirked against her shoulder as he realised that his desk would now rouse this memory every time
he entered his office. He was suddenly very fond of the inanimate object.

They had stayed in his office for a while after that, leaning against each other until she had reluctantly pulled away,
insisting that she was rather hungry. He had suggested they go to their respective homes, saving their discussion for
their meal at her selected restaurant. All she had told him was that he should wear clothes that resembled Muggle attire.
He had settled on a back polo neck and trousers with a smart jacket.

When he Flooed to her home at eight in the evening, she was ready in an emerald dress, her face fresh with light make-
up as she relaxed on her couch. Their couch actually, and he found another lifeless object that would amuse him. Her
cat was at her side, eyeing him with distrust as he stepped out of her fireplace.

"A green dress?" Draco commented as he eyed her simple yet elegant frock. "Are you trying to tell me something,

"No, I just like this dress," she shrugged, standing to collect her mauve coat from the back of her armchair. "You're early."
"I don't like waiting," he remarked, liking that she had left her hair down around her shoulders. "So, where exactly are we

"A Muggle restaurant-

"I figured as much," he frowned at her, gesturing to his black clothing. "Care to be a bit more specific?"

"Bella Italia," she offered, slipping her wand into her bag. "It's on Shaftesbury Avenue and the food is amazing."

"Alright," he nodded, deciding that Italian food certainly sounded like an appetising option. "Sounds promising."

"You'll like it," she assured him with a witty smile. "You told me you like risotto and they do it really good."

"I'll judge that for myself," he muttered, watching her openly as she double-checked she had everything.

"How do you want to get there?" she asked, stepping nearer to him. "It's too busy to Apparate and I don't know any Floo
connections that would be closer. So, we can either walk or I can order a taxi."

"How far is it?"

"Just a few streets away," she answered, feeling slightly nervous now she was close. She was going on a date with
Draco Malfoy, and somewhere several miles below her feet, Satan was being coached by Jane Torvill. She felt her blood
gather in her cheeks and she nibbled on her lower lip before she continued. "But...but if you want to walk that's
fine...whatever suits you-

He leaned in to plant a silencing kiss over her lips, the words dying in his mouth rather than hers. It amused him that
she was nervous, considering they had already slept together twice. He'd always suspected that Gryffindor courage was
exaggerated, and her timid actions were proving it.

"Relax, Granger," he muttered as he pulled away, a smug expression on his handsome face. "I've already seen you

She faked her offence and slapped his shoulder playfully, but hard enough to make him flinch. She gave Crookshanks
another thoughtful pet before she led them out of her house. Hermione tried to memorise the things she had wanted to
say to him, but it was rather difficult concentrate between her anxiety and his proximity. With uncertain movements and
insecure thoughts, she linked her arm around his, just to test his reaction.

He turned his head to leave a quick peck in her hair and she relaxed. After weeks of suffering the sexual tension and her
secret desires just to touch him, she could finally cave into her wants, and it was a massive relief.

If tonight went well, then she could only assume that it meant her and Draco were involved. Romantically.

Her stomach fluttered.

She felt like she was breaking a list of unspecified rules and it was exhilarating, almost enough to numb her concerns
about the implications of their almost-relationship. Almost. She was still Hermione Granger; it was her prerogative to
worry and analyse things, especially when they involved a certain blond Slytherin.

a/n: Hope that was okay. It's becoming increasingly difficult to write unique lemons without repeating things and
succumbing to clichés. Next chapter... the date, and some more on the killer. I know the case has been neglected in the
previous couple of chapters, but Draco and Hermione required some chapters for themselves.

To answer a few questions, no I don't have a Beta...I didn't update on fanfiction for about a year, and when I returned they
had created this Beta system which I don't really understand. If anyone could explain it to me or offer any suggestions,
that would be delightful. And even though I said I would be a little slower with the updates, they should still be coming
around once a week.

Also, if anyone has any ideas about how to make my summary more...well...good, I would be interested. Oh, and Bella
Italia is a real restaurant and I recommend it next time you're in London because it's bloody amazing.

So...yes, hope you enjoyed the chapter. Lend me your thoughts. Thanks for reading! And yes, more wine was involved in
the making of this chapter.

*Chapter 18*: Whiskey


Chapter 18: Whiskey.

"Granger," Draco leaned over the table to get a bit closer to her. "Do Muggles drink Firewhiskey?"

"No," she couldn't resist her small laugh, pleased she had remembered to cast a silencing charm after they'd been
seated. "But Famous Grouse is similar. Sorry, I know this is a bit out of your comfort zone."

"It is," he agreed, scanning his menu. "But at least there's none of The Prophet's photographers swarming around."

"And I should warn you that Muggle cooking methods are a bit slow," she admitted, and he frowned a little. "But trust me;
it's worth the wait."

"Alright," he said slowly, glancing over to another table who had already had their food.

They were interrupted by a waiter who scribbled down their order, Draco asking for the chicken and mushroom risotto,
and Hermione requesting the Alfredo pasta. When the waiter brought them their drinks, Draco took a tentative sip of his
whiskey and was surprised to find it rather tasty, burning his throat in a delicious manner, just like Firewhiskey.

"Shall I get straight to the point?" Hermione questioned, anxiously stroking her glass of wine.

"By all means," he shrugged, leaning back in his chair to regard her closely. "State your terms."

"Are you planning on making fun of me all night?" she asked, grinning a little in spite of herself.

"Just until it gets dull," he smirked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"I'm serious, Draco," she insisted, chewing on her bottom lip. "This is hard enough without you-

"Fine," he rolled his eyes, resting his elbows against the table. "I'm listening, Granger."

"Thank you," she breathed, pausing to take a sip of her Merlot. "The most important thing is that we can't let anything
disrupt our work."

"Of course," he agreed, resisting the urge to point out that was obvious.

"Which means," she carried on, her cheeks turning a little rosy. "No more shagging in the office."

Draco considered her with a small smirk but managed to keep his face reasonably tame. A part him was dying to
release the grunt of laughter in his throat, but he could see her point, and she was apparently in one of her humourless

"Okay," he said slowly, sweeping his eyes down her chest before returning to her soft stare. "In that case, you can't wear
your grey dress to work any more."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me," he said. "Don't wear that dress to work again."

"Why exactly?" she inquired, her lips twitching into an almost-smile.

"Because," he answered in a deliberate drawl, pleased she was relaxing a little. "It will remind me, and I may be tempted
to act on it."

"I see," she exhaled, glancing away from him and feeling secretly flattered. "Well then perhaps you should consider
getting rid of your desk-

"Absolutely not," he scoffed, as though the prospect was ridiculous. "I happen to like that desk-
"Well I like my dress-

"So do I," he interrupted, giving her a sly look. "And clearly that could lead to problems."

"You're distracting me from my point," she frowned at him, smothering the urge to smile. "Fine, I won't wear that dress to
work any more-

"Then I'm sure we'll be fine," he assured, eyeing her sceptical look. "Come now, Granger, you know we will be
professional. I know how important this case is-

"I know you do," she sighed, running her hands over her green dress. "I just wanted to make sure."

"Understood," he nodded, taking another sip of the Muggle whiskey. "No fucking on the desk-


"What's your next concern?" he pushed, ignoring her warning tone.

"Well," she started awkwardly, wringing her napkin in her hands. "I think it would be best we keep this quiet for a while-

"Embarrassed to be seen with me, Granger?" he accused coldly.

"No," she replied quickly, her face turning sad for a moment. "No, I just want to be the one who tells Harry and Ron if this
turns serious."

"Ah, yes," Draco breathed, his tone dry. "Potter and Weasley."

"I just don't want them finding out via the paper," she elaborated. "If this turns serious, I want it to come from me."

"You're still not certain that I'm being honest," he commented, raising a pale eyebrow.

"You're a difficult person to read," she explained carefully. "I'm just wondering if you've thought about this properly-

"I wouldn't be here if I hadn't thought about it properly," he told her with a perfect deadpan voice.

"Sorry," she apologised, reaching over to hesitantly stroke her index finger over his knuckles. "This is a little odd. I never
even thought that we could be civil, let alone...this."

He stayed silent, watching her finger trace vacant patterns against his hand. A little stab of affection, that he would
normally find disturbing, caught his attention. With a resigned sigh, he moved his hand so he could lightly squeeze hers,
and glanced up at her face. Odd was definitely the right word, but he didn't feel uneasy about the prospect. Actually, it felt
quite calming, and almost comforting to have finally dealt with the tension that had flourished between them.

"We're going to argue a lot, you know," she offered him a weak smile, breaking his thoughts. "I guess I quite like that

Draco remained silent, secretly agreeing with her. That was possibly his favourite thing about her, that she could keep
up with his quick wit and intellect. He enjoyed a good verbal spar, and he had no doubt that Potter and Weasley were
lacking in that area.

"And you know," she continued, nervously nibbling on the inside of her mouth. "That I have a tendency of jumping to the
wrong conclusion."

He frowned at her warnings, wondering why she suddenly found it necessary to list her flaws, even if it was curiously

"And," she sighed, carrying on with her confessional rant. "I always have to be right-

"Are you done?" Draco stopped her with an amused face before he offered a reassuring clench of her hand. "I know all
this about you, Granger. We have been working together for two months. I'm still here, aren't I?"

She smiled at him then, and he saw what he had been looking for. She believed him, perhaps even trusted him, and it
was a relief; he had no intention of spending their dinner with her doubting everything he said.

"I will not tell you again, Granger," he scolded her, but his voice was vaguely warm. "I want you, and not just for sex."
She knew he had meant the last part to be a joke, but she'd barely heard it. Her brain had focussed on the I want you part
that had made her stomach flip. Her lips stretched wider, and she quickly leaned across the table to leave a lingering
kiss on his lips. When she pulled away and settled back in her chair, he was wearing a smug smirk that made her feel
something between giddy and shy.

"I take you're satisfied with my...intentions now?" he questioned, his voice smooth and confident. He had reached the
limit on his attempts at being calm and decent, so if she wasn't convinced with that then there wasn't much else he was
willing to say.

"Very," she confessed, stroking his hand again and he relaxed a little. Maybe his pride wasn't completely shattered. Yet.
"So you're okay with keeping this quiet for a while?"

"Okay," he agreed after a slight pause. "Although I think Potter and Weasley will hex me whether they read about it or you
tell them anyway."

"Probably," she nodded, too pleased with his I want you statement to frown.

"Is that the end of your list?" he questioned. "Or are you going to tell me that I need to make nice with Wonder-boy and his
ginger sidekick?"

"I know that's not likely," she said with a gentle frown. "But I would appreciate it if you didn't call them names."

"I'm making no promises," he drawled, meaning he would definitely not refrain from his snide comments on the pair. "So
you have no more terms?"

"I've forgotten what they were," she breathed with a slight flush. She was about to continue when the waiter brought them
their food, and her eyes danced with amusement as Draco quickly started digging into his risotto.

"Not bad," he remarked after a few mouthfuls. "I guess I'll just have to get used to the waiting period if we're going to be
dining in Muggle restaurants for a while."

"I'm sure there are a couple of Wizard places we could go to," she offered, twirling her fork in her pasta. "Skeeter can't
have her cronies everywhere."

"I think I should warn you that my mother may know," he told her with a serious expression.

"You told her?"

"Actually, she guessed," he rolled his eyes, recalling the conversation with his mother. "She doesn't know everything, she
just thinks something is going on."

"How did she-

"She was a Slytherin, Granger," he reminded her with a proud glance. "She may be harmless but she knows how to
sneak around and get information."

"Will she tell Skeeter?" Hermione questioned, not as concerned as she thought she would be.

"No," he answered confidently. "I told her not to, so she won't."

"Alright," she nodded, content with his answer. "Nobody else knows?"

"Do I look like the type of person who gossips?" he asked her with an arrogant grin. "Have you told anyone?"

"No one to tell," she shook her head. "All of my friends kind of-

"Hate me," he finished, noting her cringe. He wasn't sure why she flinched; it wasn't like the whole of Britain was
oblivious to the hostile past between him and her friends, but he'd learned to become indifferent to it.

"I'm sure you can charm them when the time comes," she breathed hopefully. "Before I forget, I'm going to visit Dennis
Creevey's flatmate tomorrow so I'll be a late to work. I should be there around eleven."

"I don't suppose Potter's had any luck?" Draco inquired. "You know, watching the list of suspects I gave you?"

"Terry should be owling you any information first thing tomorrow," she explained, her studious expression gracing her
face. "But I'm sure if they'd found anything decent, they would have let me know straight away."
"You're frustrated with the case," he pointed out, tilting his head to regard her.

"Aren't you?" she grimaced, finishing her food and resting her chin against her palm.

"A little," he admitted after a thoughtful silence. "I'm pretty sure I'm missing something obvious."

"It's normal to have that feeling," she suggested, reaching over to rub his palm again, deciding that she liked how his
hands were a little rough and masculine.

"No," he breathed, relaxing as her fingernails grazed small circles by his lifeline. "There's something there that I can't put
my finger on. Something clicked in my head but I don't know what it was."

"It will come to you," she assured him, crinkling her nose in thought and taking an unsure breath. "Can I ask you a
question?" she paused. "About Hogwarts?"

"I thought you might eventually," he smothered his groan, apparently a bit disappointed but deciding this was inevitable.
"Exactly how many questions do you have, Granger?"

A lot...

"I'm not sure," she mused, tapping her finger against his knuckles as she considered. "Perhaps three?"

"If I agree to your little interrogation," he tested warily, taking his hand away from hers to hold his drink. "Will you agree to
discuss something less...melancholy for the remainder of the evening? And that includes the case."

"Alright," she nodded, a little disheartened that he had removed his hand from hers, and noticing that he had tensed.

"And of course," he went on, trailing his index finger over the rim of his glass. "I get to ask you three questions too."

"Me?" her eyes widened. "You want to ask me things?"

"Yes or no, Granger?"

"Okay," she agreed, inelegantly chewing on her thumb for a second. "I guess that's fair."

"Great," he muttered with obvious sarcasm, downing the rest on his whiskey. "Okay, let's get this over with. What's your
first question?"

Hermione shifted in her seat, squinting her eyes as she tried to manage her thoughts. If she was being honest, she had
a thousand questions she wanted to ask him, but he had given her three, so three she would ask. But what to ask him?

"Why didn't you kill Dumbledore?" she rushed out quickly, cringing as she said the words.

"I thought you might have saved that one for last," he remarked, clearly expecting that question. He took a calming breath,
wishing he had ordered more of that Famous Grouse stuff. "I just couldn't. I can't really explain it. I just couldn't."

"Did you get punished-

"Is that your second question?" he asked her shortly.

"No," she sighed, watching him closely.

"Then I believe it's my turn," he smirked. "Why did you and Weasley break up?"

"That's easy," she smiled, somewhat relieved she felt completely comfortable answering that question having answered
it to many others. "When you're friends with someone that long, it's impossible to stay in a relationship. We already knew
everything about each other so we didn't get to do all that learning stuff most couples do and it was a bit like dating a
cousin or something-

"I get the picture," Draco made a disgusted face. "I think I may have wasted a question."

"Sorry," she quipped. "No retakes if you don't like the answer."

"Didn't think there would be," he shrugged, gesturing to the waiter that he needed another whiskey. "Next question?"

Hermione stopped to think, quickly running through their years at Hogwarts and plucking any gaps that could include
him. She could ask more questions about Dumbledore, but what else did she need to know? She knew he'd been
forced into it. Maybe some questions about Voldemort, but what good would they do? A part of her wanted to know why
Draco had been so reluctant to identify them at Malfoy Manor, but she figured that it would be the same reason he hadn't
killed Dumbledore; it had just never been in him to kill.

"Why don't you and Graham Montague get along?" she went with instead.

"Because he's a prick," Draco barked, his lip curling in contempt. "He always wanted to be one of the Death Eaters, but
his parents never were so he was sort of overlooked. After the incident with the Weasley twins and the time he spent in
St. Mungo's he became rather unbalanced and he blamed us lot."

"Us lot?" she repeated, tilting her head.

"Me, Blaise, Goyle," he listed. "All the Slytherins who had connections to Death Eaters basically. He's a sly bastard-

"As oppose to other Slytherins?"she rose a sceptical eyebrow.

"We were loyal to each other," he told her squarely. "He would have stabbed anyone in the back to be recognised by
Voldemort, including people in his own house. Just trust me when I say he's bad news, Granger."

"Hence why he's a suspect," Hermione finished with a frown, storing the information. "Your turn."

The waiter brought him a fresh glass of whiskey, and Draco tapped the tumbler pensively. He did not want to ask another
pointless question. No, he needed to ask something that would prove useful.

"If Potter and Weasley object to your...involvement with me," he worded carefully, gaining an unimpressed look from his
date. "Would you...well, would that affect it?"

"I don't think Harry would be a problem," she revealed quietly, locking his eyes. "He doesn't hate you, you know. He's just
a bit wary of you, but I know he would trust my judgement if I talked with him. As for Ron, I'm not so sure he's your biggest

"He hates me," Draco finished, rolling his knowing eyes. "It's okay, Granger. I hardly cry myself to sleep at night about it."

"You hate each other," she corrected pointedly. "You two have a definite personality clash going on, even if you have

"You haven't answered my question," he reminded her. "This may surprise you, but I'm not entirely bothered about mine
and Weasley's mutual hatred."

"Alright, sarcasm," she huffed, taking a sip of her wine. "No, I think I could probably convince him that he should trust my
judgement, although it might take some effort. Besides, he's objected to all my relationships, and it never stopped me.
He hated Viktor, and I was seeing a guy in France who he didn't like, and he wasn't fond of-

"I didn't ask for your entire dating history, Granger," he scowled at her. There was that protective stab again, verging
dangerously on possessive.

"Hypocrisy doesn't suit you, Draco," she commented with a little grin. "Exactly how many women have you-

"Is that your last question?" he stopped her.

"No," she scoffed.

"So just to clarify," he prompted her, also trying to distract her from his colourful bed-activities. "You wouldn't end

"How very articulate of you," Hermione shook her head. "No I wouldn't end our thing, and you know, the word 'relationship'
won't burn your tongue-

"I don't want to risk it," he smirked, only receiving another irritated look. "Come on, Granger. You said yourself that this is
a little odd, and very out of my comfort zone. And before you ask, yes I'm sure I want to carry on with this, it's just going to
take some getting used to."

"I can understand that," she breathed thoughtfully. "I think I know what my next question is."

"Go ahead."
"Do you think that...well, if it hadn't been for my Muggle background," Hermione stumbled over her words nervously.
"Would you have still hated me in Hogwarts?"

"Definitely not," he answered quickly, surprising her. "Assuming that I hadn't been brought up to hate Muggle-borns and
Gryffindors, I think your intelligence would have impressed me. In fact I believe our current situation is proof of that. I think
you may have wasted a question there, Granger."

"Damn," she muttered. "Good point. Can I try again?"

"No retakes, remember?" he reminded her. "But if you agree to come home with me tonight, I may reconsider."

Hermione couldn't stop the feminine laugh that leaked from her lips, and Draco resisted the urge to lean over and kiss
her, especially when she blushed a little. Perhaps he could get used to this.

"Okay," she agreed, sending him a smile that Draco found stupidly charming. "But I will have to leave early in the
morning, so I can be ready for my meeting with Creevey's flatmate."

"That's fine," he grinned. "What's your question then?"

Hermione's lips twitched. She knew what she wanted to ask him, but she felt a little embarrassed about it.

To hell with it..

"Did you ever find me attractive in Hogwarts?" she mumbled, the words falling out of her mouth in one quick exhale.

Draco's eyes widened at her question, making her feel just that little bit more humiliated. She had expected a witty
remark about her self-confidence, but he surprised her again when his forehead creased in thought.

"I wasn't allowed to find you attractive," he said with a monotonous tone. "It was never an option for me."

Hermione nodded, trying to ignore the disappointment that settled in her chest. She had expected him just to say no, but
it still bothered her. She thought that was all the answer she was going to receive so she opened her mouth to ask him
something, but he cut her off.

"You did look rather decent at the Yule Ball though, Granger," he admitted, pleased when her chagrin faded and was
replaced with a flattered smile.

"Thank you," she said. "You have one more question left."

"Did you ever find me attractive in Hogwarts?" he smirked, but then it faltered. "Wait no, that's obvious. Of course you did."

Hermione rolled her eyes but said nothing because it was true. He may have been an arsehole in Hogwarts but there
was no denying that he had always been a handsome bugger. She watched him tap his finger against his lips as he
thought, before a serious look stole his face.

The question had slipped into Draco's mind stealthily and now he couldn't get rid of it. He wanted it answered but he
wasn't quite sure he could ask her. Maybe he wouldn't like her response, or perhaps his pride had decided it taken
enough battering for a the last few days. He took a big sip of his drink.

"I know you hated me and everything," he frowned, already regretting his decision and looking down at the table. "But did
you ever think I was evil?"

Hermione blinked. Once. Then twice. She quickly shuffled though her memories of him. Had she ever called him evil?
Had that adjective ever once crossed her mind when she had considered him? She thought about the time she had
punched him, remembering with a slight pang that she had indeed called him that very word.

You foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach...

"No," she whispered after a swollen pause. "Voldemort was evil. You were just a bully and a prat who was mislead and
forced to do cruel things. That was why I was so surprised when Harry told me you had the Mark-

"You were surprised?" he repeated, his eyes widening.

"Very," she recalled with a curious glance at his arm, realising she hadn't seen it once in the last two months. "What
happened to it?"
"They faded after he was beaten," Draco explained in a dull voice. "Mine never got much use so it disappeared pretty

"That's good," she replied blankly, realising the conversation had turned a little too morbid for her liking.

"Right, that's enough of that," he stated, his tone aloof. "You agreed we could talk about something else."

"I did," she nodded, pleased he had sensed that a change in topic was needed. "Did you finish reading Confessions of a
Justified Sinner?"

"Yes," he snapped, fixing her with an odd look. "One of the most bizarre things I've ever read. What the fuck was all that

"What do you mean?"

"Well, was the guy a head-case?" he started, placing his hands back down on the table. "Or was all that shit actually

"That's the point," she grinned at his confusion. "You're never really meant to know. It's meant to make you think."

"Strange book," he commented, shaking his head. "And these Calvinist freaks actually exist in the Muggle world?"

"Yes," she admitted, secretly wondering if Ron would be able to wrap his head around the concept. "So you didn't like it?"

"I didn't hate it," he confessed truthfully. "I'm a little confused about the intended message that Hogg guy way trying get

"It's about religion mainly," she explained, reaching over to trail her fingertips across his hand again. "About how
extremism can be dangerous."

"I guess that makes sense," he breathed, watching her movements absently. "I prefer that Heaney bloke though."

"He's one of my favourites," she nodded her head enthusiastically. "I never would have thought you'd be interested in
poetry, Draco. You seem like the kind of person who prefers facts to art."

"I appreciate both," he told her, keeping his hand still as her fingernails moved over his thumb. "I recognise a good writer
when I read one."

"Do you prefer him to Byron?"

"I'm not sure," he responded, giving her a strange look. "Why?

"I'm deciding," she looked up at him. "Whether to recommend Ted Hughes or William Blake to you next."

"Probably Heaney," he decided, glancing around the restaurant and giving her hand a subconscious squeeze. "We
should probably get going, Granger. This place is starting to empty."

"So it is."

Hermione stirred when her pillow started to vibrate from her waking charm. Her nutmeg-sleepy eyes fluttered open and
her hand reached up to brush the hair away from her eyes. She could feel Draco's chest pressed up against her bare
back, and his steady heartbeats vibrated down her spine. His arm was tossed casually over her, his wrist bending over
her pelvic bone, and she inhaled the scent of his air before she decided to move.

"Finite," she whispered, and her pillow stopped quivering.

She carefully moved her body away from him and out of his bed, grabbing her discarded underwear and slipping it on
quietly. She eyed her green dress and pursed her lips before her stare shifted to a white shirt draped over his desk. She
reached for it after a slight hesitation and slipped it over her head, trying to tame her hair with her fingers.

"Draco," she called in a throaty voice, nearing the bed to lean over him. "Draco?"
"What?" he groaned, turning slightly and opening one eye. "Bugger off, Granger. I'm trying to sleep."

"Charming," she frowned, nudging his arm a little so he would actually look at her. "Can I borrow this shirt to go home

"Hm," he gave her a slight nod, reluctantly opening his eyes to give her an approving look. "Looks better on you anyway.
Why don't you come back to bed for a-

"Because I need to get ready for work," she reasoned, pulling away from him. "You should get up too."

"I will in a bit," he dismissed her, turning back over. "See you later."

She rolled her eyes and gathered her belongings, leaving her new lover to have those extra forty winks in bed. Once
again, she thanked the wonders of magic as she walked up to his fireplace.

No need to worry ab out the walk of shame in the Wizard World.

Draco rubbed his tired eyes as he headed to his office, hoping Tilly had already sorted his morning coffee. Indeed, the
older witch was sat at her desk outside his office, ready with a mug of his preferred morning beverage.

"Mr. Malfoy," she smiled as he picked up the drink. "There was a message left for you a few minutes ago. Someone was
trying to enter the Ministry wishing to speak to you."

"Why weren't they allowed in?" he queried.

"The new security measures," she reminded him with a shrug. "Everyone needs appointments now. Anyway, it was
some bloke from your school."

"Did he leave a name?"

"Just give me a second," she requested, shuffling through the various documents on her desk. "Here we go; Caleb
Warrington. Ring any bells?"

Indeed it did. He hadn't heard that name in years, since his fifth year to be exact, but he remembered the man well. He'd
been part of the Inquisitorial Squad and a typical Slytherin in many respects but, as far as he knew, hadn't had anything
to with the War.

"He just left his name?" Draco questioned, rather intrigued.

"He said you might be interested some things he has to say," she read from the note. "And if you were interested you
should owl him."

"Do that," Draco told her stiffly. "Send a memo down to the Transport Department to let them know he has an
appointment, and tell Warrington to get here as soon as he can."

"Will do," Tilly nodded, used to her superior's blunt attitude. "The Trace reports are already on your desk."

The pale blond offered her a brief nod before leaving her to her tasks and entering his office. He quickly started on the
Traces and frowned when he noticed Flint's name was still on the list. He would have to have that removed at some
point, but he decided to wait until he had spoken Warrington.

He tried to come up with a practical list of reasons for Warrington's sudden request to meet him, but he had no clue
where to begin. He'd been an alright guy, just an acquaintance really, but he remembered most of Slytherin had wanted
him to be selected for the Triwizard Tournament when he'd placed his name in the the Goblet. And he'd been the the
Slytherin Chaser for a bit, but that was all he could recall.

As far as Draco knew, Warrington had had no connection to the Death Eaters and no involvement with any Dark Magic.
Save hexing a few Gryffindors in fifth year, the guy had been tame for a Slytherin, so Draco didn't think he should feel
concerned in anyway, he was just quite curious. But what could Warrington have to say that would possibly benefit him?
But a heavy knock at the door broke his thoughts.
Warrington didn't wait for an invitation, and Draco eyed the tall man suspiciously as he moved further into his office. The
wizard had a similar athletic build to Diggory and mousy-thin hair around his hard face. The first thing Draco noticed, as
the man took a seat opposite him, was that he looked absolutely knackered and agitated.

"You just going to stare at me all day, Malfoy?" the older wizard questioned sharply.

"I'd really rather not," Draco responded quickly, leaning back in his chair to give the man a condescending look.

"You haven't changed," Caleb chuckled. "I can tell you're suspicious of me."

"I'm just trying to figure out exactly why you're here," he confessed, drumming his fingers impatiently on the arm of his
chair. "Are you going to sit there all day or does this have a point?"

"Well it's hardly a social visit," the wizard breathed, sweeping a stressed hand over his hair. "I may have some
information for you."

"Information about what?" Draco questioned, deciding this could already be a waste of his time.

"The murders."

Draco raised his eyebrows at Warrington, his attention suitably gained. He leaned forward to rest his elbows against his
desk and examined his old schoolmate's face closely, searching for the tell-tale signs of trickery and deceit.

"You have my attention," Draco admitted stonily. "Elaborate."

"Before I do," he said, rubbing his chin. "I would like to make a negotiation."


"Yes," he nodded, his tone suddenly stronger and professional. "I'm still a Slytherin, Malfoy. What I have to say comes
with a price."

"Of course," Draco sneered, clenching his jaw. "How do I know what you have to say is valuable?"

"I can assure you it is," he replied. "But if you're not satisfied, then I will expect no gratification-

"Good, because you wouldn't get any," the blond scowled. "What do you want?"

"Protection," Warrington stated simply, offering a nonchalant shrug. "My fiancé is a Muggle-born, and I want to know that
she will be safe."

Draco managed to keep his face blank with a bit of effort. So he wasn't the only Slytherin who had taken an interest in a

Perhaps we were all drugged...

But they had something in common, and for that sole reason alone, Draco decided that the man in front of him wasn't as
irritating as he had initially been.

"I'm not sure how much I can promise in that respect," he told Warrington truthfully. "The Aurors are pretty busy at the

"I wouldn't expect much," Caleb stopped him. "Just a system where we could contact them directly if it's necessary."

"I'll see what I can do," Draco breathed, knowing he would have to ask Hermione about that. "So, what exactly do you
know, Warrington?"

"A few things," he breathed, fixing his eyes with Draco. "Nott and I remained close after Hogwarts and I knew about all the
letters he was getting. After he was killed I called in a few favours and did a bit of digging."

"I see," the blond nodded, urging his to continue.

"I don't think that the V marks are anything to with Voldemort," Warrington stated confidently, and Draco raised his
eyebrows. "Have you ever heard of the Vendetta Movement, Malfoy?"


a/n: Has anyone else seen the new pics for the last film? The ones where they've made the characters into their older
selves? Not happy with the way they did Draco at all!

Maybe I'm just bitter because I was hoping Rowling would have an epiphany and finally realise that Draco and Hermione
were meant to be together and these pics have chased away that hope... sigh...Never mind! This is what fanfiction is for!

Hope everyone remembers Warrington from the books. I know he didn't have a first name, just the initial C, so I'm going
with Caleb.

Also thanks to the people who helped me understand the Beta system. If you think I should have one let me know. If
enough of you say yes I'll look into it.

Hope the chapter was okay... really happy with the reviews I've received and it's cool that I've been favourited by 60+ of you
so thanks very much for reading! Review please!

Lend me your thoughts!

*Chapter 19*: Information


Chapter 19: Information.

Hermione marched through the corridors of the Ministry, heading to Draco's office after her very unfulfilling meeting with
Julian Horne, Dennis Creevey's flatmate. Horne had managed to salvage two letters that Creevey had received, but just
like the letters that had been recovered from the other victims, the writing was charmed to become scrambled and
illegible in some cryptic code after the recipient had read it.

It wasn't a particularly complicated charm, in fact Hermione remembered some Ravenclaws using it to pass notes at
Hogwarts, but if the author had enough time and knowledge to influence the codes extensively, it could take years to
decipher them. For all Hermione knew, he could have used a different code for each of his victims.

Apart from the letters, Horne had been fairly useless. She knew it wasn't his fault, but she had left the young wizard's
company in a foul mood and feeling like she had wasted two hours of her life. Tilly wasn't at her desk so Hermione went
straight for the office door, already intending to moan about her pointless morning.

It probably didn't help that she was remarkably uncomfortable. Draco had been wonderfully rough with her last night, but
the aftermath had left her tender and twinging if she took an awkward step or too-bold stride. Having to ease herself
slowly onto Horne's couch while muttering small curses of pain hadn't been entirely helpful.

"Well, that was useless," she muttered, closing the door behind her. "Just more bloody letters in some stupid...

She trailed off when she realised there was a man sat in her seat, watching her with amusement. She scanned his face,
knowing she recognised him but unable to place why. Her fingers instinctively caressed the tip of her wand in her pocket,
and her eyes darted over to Draco, who looked rather distracted.

"Everything okay?" she directed her question at him, flicking her eyes back over to the stranger.

"It's fine, Granger," he said calmly, and she walked a little closer to the desk. "You don't remember Warrington?"

"Caleb?" she confirmed, standing next to Draco's seat and regarding the other wizard carefully. "From the Inquisitorial

"Correct," Warrington nodded. "I read somewhere that you two were working together-

"What exactly are you doing here?" she questioned sharply.

"Malfoy will explain everything," he answered, rising from his seat with a small groan. "I should be leaving."

"Was there anything else?" Draco asked, leaning forward slightly.

"That's all I know," Caleb sighed, heading for the door. "But I will be in contact if I find out anything else. I expect you to
keep up your end of the agreement."

"I'll do what I can."

With a parting nod, Warrington left the room with the soft click of the door. Hermione slowly made her way back to her
chair, a suspicious frown on her face as she regarded her companion. Her curious features faltered as she connected
with the chair, still a little sensitive after his ministrations, and she flinched, rousing a chuckle from her lover.

"Don't be embarrassed, Granger," he taunted with a snide grin when her cheeks burned. "I'm surprised you can stand-

"Shut it," she warned him, clenching her teeth as she tried to shift into a decent position. "You can make fun later. What
exactly was that about?"

"He had some information for us," he explained, his amused grin turning serious and concentrated. "About the case."

"What?" she questioned, her eyes widening a fraction. "Elaborate, please."

"What do you know about the Vendetta Movement, Granger?" he asked, watching her expression carefully.

"They were one of the anti-Muggle groups after the war," she recalled, her face scrunching slightly as she tried to
remember what she could. "They more or less formed straight after the Voldemort's defeat, if I remember rightly. Why?"

"I'll explain in a minute," he ignored her question. "What else?"

"I didn't have much to do with it," she shrugged. "I'd barely started Auror training-

"What do you remember?"

"Vaisey was the leader," she commented, absently tapping her bottom lip as she racked her brain. "A few Muggle-borns
were injured I think but it barely lasted a few months. Vaisey was found and he's still in Azkaban."

"And why didn't anyone know about this?" Draco asked, wondering when her intellectual rants had ceased to be irritating
and become enchanting. "I didn't see anything in the paper."

"Probably because the public was still recovering after the war," she supplied. "There were a lot of rebellion groups, but
they were disorganised and didn't last long. The Ministry kept most of the details from the public."

"Do you know anything about the attacks on the Muggle-borns by Vaisey's group?"

"Nothing comes to mind," she frowned, becoming impatient with his vagueness. "What does this have to do with
Warrington's visit?"

"He was friends with Nott," Draco sighed, leaning towards her slightly. "He did some research after he was murdered
and wanted to discus his theory with me. And I have to admit, it's rather convincing."

"Go on," she encouraged, very intrigued.

"He reckons the V we find on the victims might symbolise the Vendetta Movement," he told her, reciting Warrington's

"V for Vendetta?" she questioned, raising her eyebrows. "Like the film?"


"Never mind," she shook her head. "But Vaisey's group was stopped four years ago-

"Warrington found out that some of the Muggle-borns that were attacked had similar V marks to Goyle and the others," he

"Are you serious?" she gasped. "Anything else?"

"Apparently Nott asked Warrington about the group a few days before he was killed," Draco went on . "Warrington
reckons he'd just finished reading a letter."

"I've been working on the letters," she offered with a dejected breath. "But the codes are so advanced, I'm not sure I'm
getting anywhere. Perhaps I should focus on Nott's specifically if they're looking the most promising."

"Were all of Vaisey's associates sent to Azkaban?" he asked.

"I'm sorry," she sighed, pushing her hair back with her fingertips. "I really don't know, Draco."

"Would you be able to access any information about this?" he asked.

"Draco," she started carefully, folding her arms across her chest. "Are you sure this isn't just a coincidence? Vaisey's
group was dealt with four years ago. Did Warrington imply that this is a copycat or that the Ministry missed one of the

"Neither," Draco shook his head. "He told me what he thought was relevant."

"Okay," she said slowly, still uncertain. "And you trust him?"

"No," he confessed. "But he has no reason to lie."

"I'm not sure," Hermione sighed, reaching out to brush her fingertips over his arm.
"Look," he breathed, watching as her fingers absently marked a circle on his skin. "Nott mentioned the group, and the V
mark similarity is something we should look into. We don't have much else to work on."

"Okay," she agreed reluctantly, removing her hand from his skin. "I'll try and get the information on Vaisey's group. Did
Caleb say anything else?"


"And what did you have to agree to for him to tell you this?" she questioned, eyeing him sceptically.

"His fiancé is a Muggle-born," Draco explained, his voice steady. "He asked for her protection."

"And you agreed to that?"

"I said I would do what I could," he nodded. "He didn't want constant surveillance for her or anything, just a method to
contact one of the Aurors directly. I thought you could think of something."

"That's doable," she agreed after a slight pause. "I could create something similar to the coins we used in the D.A. And
then possibly an emergency portkey, but they will take about a week or so."

"That's fine," he nodded, looking slightly surprised. "I thought I would have to work a little harder to convince you,

"Apparently, I have a lot in common with his fiancé," she offered him a small grin. "You Slytherin boys are certainly falling
off the anti-Muggle pedestal, aren't you?"

"Very funny," he rolled his eyes at her. "Do you think we would be wasting our time with this?"

"I have no idea," she shrugged. "But I suppose we should look into it. I'll head down to the Auror Offices and see what I
can find."

Hermione shifted too quickly on her seat, muttering a shaky b ugger when the delightful pain tugged under her stomach.
She rose awkwardly from her chair, sucking the breath between her teeth. Summoning all her frustration, she shot Draco
an icy glare that only seemed to encourage his smug smirk.

"Very elegant, Granger," he commented, watching with obvious mirth as she struggled to her feet. She braced her palms
against the desk, hoping she looked at least intimidating while the reminiscent throbbing between her hips settled.
From the look on her lover's face, she doubted it.

"Wipe that grin off your lips," she demanded, fighting the urge to admit this was a little humorous. "This is not funny."

"I beg to differ," he arched an eyebrow, reaching up to place a patronising peck against her stiff lips.

"You better hope this calms down by lunch," she warned him as he pulled away from her. "Or that will be that last kiss
you get-

"Sure," his lips stretched a little. "Would you like some help to the Offices, Granger?"

"One more snarky comment from you," she said as she straightened her posture. "And your precious desk is going to
see the end of my wand. You should get a start on the Trace Reports."

"Yes, dear," he snorted sarcastically as she left him alone.

After an hour, Draco was half-heartedly finishing up the Trace Reports and wondering just what the hell was taking her
so long. The tips of his toes were pushing hard against the floorboards as he considered rising from his seat to go and
find her, just as her small frame pushed past his door, clutching some parchments. It was ridiculous how calming her
presence was on him.

"What were you doing?" he questioned harshly as she swayed back to her chair. "Writing the file by yourself?"

"Do you have any idea how many anti-Muggle groups there have been?" she threw back, placing her bundle of
parchments on his desk. "But it's good news. Apparently Warrington's research was pretty accurate."

"It was?" Draco shot her a look as he gathered the file and started scanning the contents.

"The thing he said about the V marks was correct," she revealed calmly. "One Muggle-born was killed and four were
attacked and all were left with a V-shaped scar. Vaisey and two other wizards were given life-sentences in Azkaban, but
here's the clincher."

"Go on," he urged her, his lip twitching when he noticed that her hair was a little mussed from her search. It reminded
him of her morning hair, which subsequently reminded him of their lusty weekend.

"Well," she offered him a slight smile of brilliance. "There were two other people associated with the Vendetta Movement
who weren't sent to Azkaban, and one of them was Adrian Pucey."

"Seriously?" Draco's eyes widened.

His thoughts turned to the old Slytherin Chaser, his mind swimming with doubt. Of all the people he had listed for
Hermione, Pucey had seemed the least likely candidate for any violence. He remembered Pucey getting taunted for his
'soft' nature, particularly by Flint. Adrian had been one of the few Slytherin players who hadn't fouled or played dirty, and
he'd had no part in the War.

He knew he'd been linked to a Muggle attack in Ipswich but that had been dismissed as circumstantial. He'd have
argued that Pucey had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but now he was associated with more attacks,
and Draco wasn't so sure.

Adrian's father had died in the War, and death did funny things to sane people.

"Who was the other one?" Draco asked.

"I don't know," Hermione shook her head, rising from her chair to walk near him and read the parchments over his
shoulder. "There's no other name so either the Ministry never knew, or it's been lost."

"So why wasn't Pucey sent to Azkaban?" he asked, glancing at her over his shoulder.

"Not enough evidence," she stated simply, perching herself on the desk. "Vaisey mentioned Adrian to the Wizengamot
but they deemed it was just out of spite."

"So, what now?" Draco asked her, trying to ignore her shapely legs as they stretched, allowing her to adjust herself on
his desk. Their desk. "Do you want to ask Potter and Boot to monitor him again? Maybe for a longer period of time?"

"No," she breathed, observing him with thoughtful eyes. "Actually, I was hoping you would agree to talk with him."

"What?" he shot her a confused look. "What good could possibly come from that?"

"Harry and Terry have had no luck," she supplied. "And you two knew each other in Hogwarts. Perhaps you might pick up
on something. You're good at reading people and you know this case back-to-front."

"You have those qualities too, Granger," he pointed out, turning in his chair to regard her fully.

"I think he'd be more relaxed around you," she reasoned, and he resented her for having a point. "Come on, Draco. You
know I'm right."

"I wouldn't go that far," he argued, summoning his best cold look. "But fine. I'll give it a shot."

"Thank you," she smiled at him, leaning forward from the desk to place a chaste kiss on his lips. Evidently she was
oblivious that the little movement had caused her blouse to shift seductively lower down her chest.

"Get off the desk, Granger," he muttered carefully.


"Because the way you're sitting on the desk is a little too familiar," he half-growled, clenching the arms of his chair
slightly too tight.

"I see," she grinned smugly, and Draco watched her closely as she removed herself from the desk and ruthlessly settled
her behind on his lap. "Is this any better?"
"Granger," he snarled, refusing to let his itching fingers touch her. "You're the one who said-

"It's lunch time," she stopped him, running her hands up his chest to rest either side of his neck. She toyed with some of
his too-blond hairs and he tensed his jaw as he glared at her. "I see no harm with some light petting. No more than
kissing though, of course."

Hermione ignored the irked expression on his handsome face and fluttered some delicate kisses across his sealed
lips. Draco allowed her affectionate gestures for all of twenty seconds before he pushed her, deceptively gently, off his
lap. With a small huff of mortification as she landed on the hard, wooden floor, she shot her lover a fiery stare.

"What the bloody hell-

"Rules are rules, Granger," he told her, a cruel smirk pulling at his mouth. "And we all know how much you love rules-

"A simple 'no' would have sufficed," she snorted, rising to her feet with as much elegance as she could manage.

"You made it quite clear that there would be while we were working," he reminded her, smothering the urge to
help her get her footing.

"Technically," Hermione purred defensively as she rested back against his desk. "I said 'no shagging' in the office. I just
wanted to give you a little kiss-

"Kissing leads to other things, Granger," he remarked coolly, taking a moment to trail his eyes over her. "Especially when
you decide to wear low-cut blouses and sit on the the desk."

"Well then, perhaps you should learn to control your hormones a little better," she taunted, holding his chin to latch a
determined kiss against his mouth. He didn't resist her this time, and she graced him with a knowing smile when she
pulled away. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"You're an infuriating woman, Granger," he said with harmless force, subconsciously running his palm over her hip.

"I know," she chirped, making her way back to her seat. "What do you want to do for lunch then?"

"Go back to yours?" he suggested with a smirk. "I can think of something I'd like to eat-

"Don't be so crude," she scolded, bowing her head to hide her blush. "Seriously, what do you want to do?"

"Prude," he rolled his eyes. "Fine, let's grab something from downstairs and eat it here. You can go over what you want
me to say to Pucey."

Since Hermione had agreed to help train Castor and Jason on the Friday, they reasoned that was the best time for Draco
to give Pucey a little visit. The Malfoy heir was still reluctant but agreed anyway, knowing it would be impossible to
convince her otherwise. She was watching Clearwater tonight, and he realised that he hadn't visited his mother for a few
days so he Flooed there straight from the Ministry.

"Where were you last night?" Narcissa asked when he found her in one of the sitting rooms, sipping some tea. "I thought
you agreed to visit me."

"Something came up," he told her, secretly thinking that his statement could refer to a certain part of his anatomy. "How
have you been?"

"Fine," she said quickly, waving a dismissive hand at him. "So, what happened with Hermione?"

"What are you talking about?" he snapped, keeping his face blank. "Are you still on that?"

"Yes, I am," she huffed, observing her son closely. "Did you ask her out?"

"I think I made it quite clear," he mumbled, trying to keep his glare steady. "That there was nothing going on-

"Actually, you admitted to kissing her twice," she smiled, holding up two fingers to emphasise her point. "And then you
got all moody and defensive and left in a tantrum-
"I did not," he growled.

"Draco," she said with that maternal tone of hers. "I won't tell you again. I will not stand lying in this house. Just tell me
what's going on."

Draco could count the number of people who made him feel guilty on one hand. His mother would be the middle finger.

"What exactly are you expecting me to say?" he asked her carefully.

"I just want the truth," she told him squarely, topping up her tea. "I know something has happened. You know you can't
hide anything from me, Draco."

His eyes stayed on his mother's face for a moment, calculating the positives and negatives that could come from
revealing things to her. He would have to admit defeat and face her inevitable gloating, but that seemed preferable to her
temper is she discovered he was lying. Plus, he really didn't like that he was being dishonest with her.

"I took her to dinner," he admitted, choosing his words carefully. "And we agreed to take things from there-

"You agreed to a relationship?" his mother asked, her expression surprised. "Finally, Draco-

"A possib le relationship," he rephrased, ignoring that cheerful grin she was directing at him. "Don't get ahead of yourself,

"So you admit that you like her?" she questioned with a very smug gleam in her eyes. "I know the answer's pretty
obvious, but I'd like to hear you say it anyway-

"Swivel," Draco snapped, helping himself to a Firewhiskey.

"It's about time you found a girl with a bit of sense," she commented, her face turning serious for a second. "You better
not have sex with her and ditch her like you do the others, Draco-

"Can you not discus my sex life," he stopped her with a disgusted face. "And do you honestly think I would do that
knowing she could fuck up my career with a quick word to Shacklebolt? I have considered this carefully. I know I'll regret
this next comment, but you were right, mother."

"Of course I was," she smirked at him. "Don't worry, I'm not going to gloat."

"You still can't say anything to anyone," he remembered to tell her. "Granger wants to tell Potter and Wesley in her own

"That seems fair."

"Why were you so sure?" he asked her, schooling his features back to their aloof mask.

"You're a Malfoy," she commented with a proud smile. "And the Malfoy men always get what they want."

Hermione made him breakfast on Friday morning and he decided there and then that her bacon butties were the best
he'd ever tasted. Served with a cup of milky coffee and a quick round of morning sex in his shower, he'd had a bloody
decent morning. She was currently getting dressed in his room while he brushed his teeth and contemplated what he
was going to say when he met Pucey today.

"Right, I'm going to work," she muttered as she joined him in his bathroom, talking to his reflection in the mirror. "Are you
going to the Ministry first, or heading straight to Pucey's?"

"Probably Pucey's," he mumbled over the toothbrush between his lips. "Are you training all day, or will I see you after?"

"I'll see how it goes," she shrugged, lacing her arms around his bare torso and dotting some absentminded kisses
across his shoulder-blades. "Have you decided how to broach the subject with him."

"I'll figure it out," he shrugged. "I doubt writing a script will help. I'll just wing it."
"Okay," she nodded, stroking her lazy fingers over the creases of his abdomen. "I've been meaning to thank you, by the

"What for?" he eyed her curiously in the misty glass.

"I expected things to be more awkward and difficult in work," she confessed, moving her mouth over the top his spine.
"But they haven't. Perhaps thankful isn't the right sentiment, but I'm not sure how else I can say it."

"You always assume the worst," he told her, his breath catching when her teeth grazed one his vertebrae. "I assured I
would be professional."

"You did," she nodded, looking over her shoulder with smiling eyes. "Still, I am both relieved and impressed that things
have been okay."

He shifted uncomfortably, but placed his hand over hers anyway. He had learned that Hermione was someone who
could quite happily reveal her emotions when she deemed it necessary, and they always left him feeling somewhere
between charmed and awkward.

He knew that her ability to talk to him so openly meant that she trusted him, and for that he was grateful. On the other
hand, he was naturally stoic, and never quite sure how to respond. She never complained though, apparently sensing
his reluctance to even entertain the notion of being sentimental.

"I should get going," she mumbled against his back. "Remember to take the portkey in case anything goes wrong and
you need to make a quick exit."

"Not necessary, but okay," he frowned at her, turning his shape to suck on her bottom lip for a second.

"If I don't see you at the office," she sighed, her breath teasing the stray hairs at his forehead. "Shall I come here later, or
something else?"

"You're not watching Clearwater tonight?" he asked her, fingering the collar of her shirt.

"No, she's with Volan tonight," the witch explained, and then a mischievous look crossed her features. "Perhaps you
should come to to mine so I can finally teach you the wonders of Muggle technology and we could watch a film."

"I'm still not entirely sure what that means," he watched her sceptically as she moved away from him. "But fine, I'll pop
round later."

"Perfect," she grinned as she left the bathroom. "Good luck with Pucey."

He waited as he heard her footfalls across his floor and down the stairs, until he heard the rumble of the Floo. He still
wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this 'film' business, but from her descriptions he had come to the conclusion that
it was a device that projected images, similar to a pensieve, but it displayed fictional sequences for entertainment
purposes. He had to admit he was a little intrigued. He had seen her use the television a couple of times but not long
enough to get a good idea about how it worked.

He realised then that it was Friday, and Granger seemed completely fine, if anything more cheerful than usual. Friday
was her bitchy day, as proven by her consistent snappy comments and vulgar mood-swings in the previous weeks. It
was the first Friday they had woken up together, and so far she seemed perfectly normal, not the temperamental head-
case he'd confronted in his office.

He would have thought about it for a little longer, but he had things to do today. Things that were going to take some effort
and deliberation.

Just what the hell was he going to ask Pucey?

He was certain he would think of something. He'd always had a knack for improvising.

Adrian Pucey lived in Brixton in the South End on a small street called Brighton Terrace, not far from the famous Electric
Avenue. He had been told by Hermione that this area was a little rough and had given him a brief history of the area,
explaining to him something about bombs and riots. He hadn't really caught it all but he could tell the place was rather

Several derelict buildings cluttered the streets, and as he eyed the building he'd been told Pucey lived in, he could make
out the remains of burns against the brick walls. He paused to examine some curious holes dotted in frantic patterns,
like someone had fired little balls at a fast pace at buildings. Perhaps he would ask Granger about that later.

Angling his wand in his pocket and quickly glancing around, he muttered Alohomora, and the fragile door gave way to his
magic. He stumbled up the littered steps, trying hard not trip over discarded newspapers and tin cans. His destination, of
course, happened to lie at the top floor of the unstable staircase. He considered casting a quick cleaning charm to clear
his route, but Hermione had insisted he keep his magic to a minimum until he was inside Pucey's flat.

He finally reached the grey door marked '6b' and steadied himself before he repeated the Alohomora spell, a little
surprised when the door actually opened. Apparently, Pucey had become rather sloppy with his magic. No locking spells
on the door and no wards? Pitiful.

Draco slowly made his way into the room, pleased to note that the space was definitely a wizard's habitat, especially as
he was beginning to think Granger may have scribbled the wrong address. The room had been stretched magically and
there were familiar objects scattered around such as a broom and an edition of Hogwarts: A History.

It was tidier in comparison to the rest of the building but Draco still felt a little disgusted by the state of the place. He
closed the door silently behind him and made his way into the flat, minding his feet didn't make too much noise. He
could hear a faint rustling behind a slightly ajar door so he made his way to it and peeked through the gap.

Sure enough, he could make out a humanoid shadow, and with barely a second's hesitation, he shouldered the door
open and flung out his wand, realising he was in Pucey's bedroom.

"Expelliarmus," Draco called in a steady voice, and an unfamiliar wand landed in his palm.

He ignored the shocked gasp as the figure slowly turned around, and Malfoy offered Pucey a superior smirk. He'd
expected more surprise and outrage from his old schoolmate once he'd realised who'd disarmed him, but instead, a
calm acceptance crossed the old Chaser's face as he lingered by his bed.

"Malfoy," Adrian breathed with relief. "You scared the living crap out of me."

"I expected a little more resistance," he commented warily, his wand still trained on Pucey. "Were you expecting me, or
do you always leave your home unprotected by wards?"

"They seem a little pointless," he shrugged, moving away from his bed. "The only people who would bother visiting could
beat any wards I'd put up-

"You're expecting people?"

"I find it's best to always expect people," Adrian commented flippantly, moving past Malfoy into the living area. "Then
there's no element of surprise."

"But you weren't expecting me?" Draco tested, lowering his wand to follow his fellow Slytherin.

"I'm no seer," he commented, flopping himself on his couch and gesturing for Draco to take a seat opposite, which he
hesitantly did. "To predict that the infamous Malfoy would decide to break into my home on a random Friday is something
that crazy bat at Hogwarts would have blurted in class. What was that woman's name?"

"Trelawney," he provided automatically.

"That's the one," he nodded with a little smile. "Can I have my wand back?"

"I think I'll hold on to it for a while," Draco suggested in a patronising tone.

"Fine" Adrian shrugged. "So what is it you want, Malfoy?"

"Information," he stated calmly, leaning his arms on his thighs. "I'm assuming you've heard about Goyle, Nott and the

"Of course."

"Well, we came across some new evidence," Draco explained calmly. "And your name popped up."
"My name?" he repeated, and Malfoy had to admit, his confusion was rather convincing.

"What can you tell me about the Vendetta Movement, Pucey?" he said slowly, deciding just to be blunt.

The dark-haired man's stare turned round and startled. He fidgeted with jerky movements on his couch, eyeing Draco
like he had threatened him with a Crucio. His eyes flickered between Draco's storm-cold glare and the steady wand.

"I'm not sure how much I can tell you, Malfoy," Adrian admitted after a while. "And that was a long time ago-

"I have no problem dragging your arse down to the Ministry," he spat coldly, adjusting the wand to reiterate his point. "And
pumping Veritaserum into you until you bleed the truth-

"Malfoy, I really can't explain everything fully," he argued, desperation stealing his face. "I'm under The Vow."

a/n: Okay, I'm really sorry about the wait. Let's just say I've had a bad few weeks so my lovely friends surprised me with a
week's holiday in Turkey! If it's ant consolation I finished this chapter as fast as I could, and I have also started another
story. It should be up soon.

Things will start to pick up on the case now and I encourage you to look at the little details, there will be some random
clues dotted around. Also, Hermione' and Draco's relationship isn't always going to be so rosy, and that pesky Friday
situation will be dealt with soon, along with Ron and Harry.

Hope this chapter was okay. Pennies for your thoughts. Read and Review please.

*Chapter 20*: Vows


Chapter 20: Vows.

"The Vow," Draco repeated, shaking his head at the older wizard. "Bloody hell, Pucey. I thought you were smarter than
that. What the hell are you doing agreeing to a Vow?"

"We didn't all have the same luck as you, Malfoy," he said with a hint of jealousy. "When the Ministry forced you to work for
them, they saved you."

"Saved me from what?"

"The others," he stated simply, taking a calming breath. "The Ministry didn't catch everyone, and the ones who still
believed in blood superiority formed the Rebellion groups-

"I know all this," Draco stopped him. "It is my job to monitor you all. Tell me about the Vendetta Movement and what they
have to do with the murders happening now."

"I need to think how I can word this," he said carefully. "The Vow was specific-

"Get on with it," he threatened, straightening his wand to enhance his words.

"When Voldemort was defeated," he told Draco after a long pause. "The ones who managed to escape formed their own
little Rebellion groups, rounding up as many people as they could. People like me were approached-

"People like you?"

"Unsure people," he confirmed. "My father ruined any chances I had to fit into society after the War and I was lost. The
Rebellion groups promised security and some level of acceptance. Vaisey and I were friends so I accepted his offer into
a group. I didn't realise they had plans to imitate Voldemort's ideals until I had taken the Vow-

"Then you are an idiot," Draco criticised. "Vaisey always made his opinions about blood supremacy very clear and had
an active part in the War-

"So did you," Adrian pointed out slyly. "But you were welcomed back into society after you settled into a sweet little Ministry
job. You had it easy-

"It was far from easy-

"The Ministry wanted to keep you close because you were the infamous Malfoy," he commented with a snide tone. "Don't
think we didn't love the irony. It only takes one look at you to realise that you don't believe in the blood prejudices any

"I grew up," Draco shrugged.

"No," he argued. "You were given the opportunity to change and win back some respect. The rest of us had to fend for

"Falling in with a Rebellion group was just stupid," the blond berated. "Nott and Goyle both managed to forge decent
lives for themselves. Your self-pity is pathetic. We all made mistakes."

"I was never really a believer in Voldemort's views," he mumbled, bowing his head like he was ashamed. "But my father
sealed my fate. Vaisey was the only one who offered me anything after the War."

"You were a fucking fool to rush into anything," he scolded, feeling like he was lecturing a young child. "Especially
something which involved a Vow."

"Vaisey wasn't the leader," he confessed, glancing around with a paranoid expression. "You and I both know that he was
hardly the brainiest bastard. The Ministry got it wrong. Someone else was the leader."

"I can't say," he shook his head. "I wish I could, but I can't."

"Then what exactly can you tell me?" Draco pushed, growing increasingly impatient.

"Not much," he sighed. "I assume you know that Vaisey and two others ended up in Azkaban, but I managed to avoid it. I
tried to stay away from the group when I realised what they were doing."

"So then how can Vaisey have anything to with the murders going on now?" the blond frowned.

"You're not listening," he breathed, raking stressed fingers through his ochre hair. "Vaisey wasn't the brains; he was a
puppet, just like the rest of us. The other one manipulated everything; planned it all. I'm guessing that a name wasn't
listed anywhere in the Ministry files?"

"No," Draco confirmed. "Just yours. You can't tell me who it is?"

"Not a chance," he said. "I can't tell you anything specific either, before you ask. Not the sex or hints about their
appearance or anything."

"And you think this person is responsible for the murders?" Malfoy tested.

"I read about the V marks," he replied absently. "That was the group's signature."

"And why now?" he questioned. "It's been years since your sad little group was stopped."

"It could be anything," he said, tilting is head as he considered the options. "Time needed for preparation or perhaps
something happened that set the person off. I really don't know."

"And you haven't received any letters or anything since this started?"

"No," he gave Draco a thoughtful look. "But I have a feeling I will soon. I assume from your question that you have found
letters addressed to all the victims?" Draco nodded. "I thought as much. And they are all coded?"

"Of course," the blond growled.

"The codes for the Muggle-born letters won't be that hard to break," he said slowly, like the words simmered on his
tongue. "I'm sure they will be standard threats and taunts-

"Only the Muggle-born letters?" Draco interrupted with a confused voice.

"You need to crack the codes on the ones sent to the ex-Death Eaters," Adrian said, in a tone that sounded close to a
warning. "They will help. I read that you are working with Granger on the murders and-

"What about her?" Draco said too quickly, hating his obvious mistake.

"Nothing," he said defensively. "I was just going to say that if anyone could figure out the invitations she can-

"Invitations?" Draco repeated, his voice loud and agitated. He noticed then that Pucey was clutching his side like he was
wounded, his eyes wild and scared. "What do you mean by invitations?"

"I've said more than I should," Adrian muttered, his tone sad and fragile. "I wish I could help you more, Malfoy, but I have
crossed the line."

"What are you on about?" he ignored the other wizard's comment. "The letters to Goyle, Nott, Flint and Parkinson were

"I can't explain anything else, Malfoy-

"Invitations for what?" he continued, spitting out his queries and aiming his wand in an obvious challenge. "Invitations for
what, Pucey?"

"You need to leave," Adrian rushed his words, openly desperate. "I can't say anything more-

"How do you know they are invitations?" he asked him suspiciously. "Pucey, I will b eat the truth out of you if I have to-

"I CAN'T!" he screamed, rising from the sofa. "I've told you I'm under the Vow! I have told you all I can! More, in fact!"
"It's not enough," Malfoy argued, his tone eerily serene. "There are lives at risk. Fuck, I was a Death Eater! My life is at

"Not you," Pucey contended with a grave voice. "I can promise that you won't get any letters."

"How can you-

"You work at the Ministry," he said. "No Rebellion groups would dare to bother you now. You've made it clear that your
principles have shifted. You would be a liability."

"A liability for what?" Draco hissed.

"Surely you must have figured this out, Malfoy," Adrian groaned, his eyes disappointed and pleading the other Slytherin to
see sense. "Think."

"Invitations," he muttered, more to himself as he tossed the word over in his mind. Realisation set in like a thunderstorm
in his brain. "Recruitment?"

"I can't confirm anything," Adrian frowned. "The Vow won't allow-

"But that's what it is," Malfoy sneered, standing up and tossing Pucey's wand into a dusty corner. "They've been trying to
recruit the old Death Eaters to join this new group. And then, what? If they refuse, they get killed?"

"I can't answer that," he said, tired and frustrated. "Because I don't know. No one was killed when I was in the Vendetta

"Except for the Muggle-born," he pointed out with a disgusted sneer. "Is there anything else you can tell me?"

"No," Adrian muttered. "I wish I could-

"Then I have no more use for you," Draco belittled him, making his way to the door. "If I find out that you have bullshitted
me, I will come back with enough Veritaserum to drown you."

"Understood," he nodded, watching Malfoy's back as he headed out the flat. His lips twitched. "There is something else,"
he stuttered, watching as the blond paused his movements but refused to turn.

"What?" Draco grunted through his touching teeth.

"Tell Granger to consider Ancient Rome when she tries to decipher the letters," he mumbled through a painful moan.
The Vow was protesting his advice. "That might help."

"I will," he glanced over his shoulder to offer the wizard a small nod.

"And also tell her to watch her back," he advised, and Draco felt his fingernails leave small crescents in his palms. "You
have no idea how bad the Rebellion groups wanted to get their hands on the 'Mudblood Princess' and-

"Impedimenta!" Draco yelled, whirling around just as Adrian's back slammed against the wall. He waited for his old
schoolmate to gather his wits before he spoke, his voice harsh like shards. "I was never here, do you understand? Or do
I have to use a Confundus Charm? Or worse?"

"You were never here," Adrian muttered, eyeing the tip of Draco's wand with shaky dread.

"Good," he hissed, and then he left.

Draco walked with a haste that he hadn't felt in a while, heading to the Auror Offices. He needed to tell Granger what
Pucey had revealed. This could change everything. There was someone trying to recruit ex-Death Eaters to form a group.
A blood supremacy group.

What if some of the invitations had been successful?

The group could already have more than one member.

There could be more than one killer.

He was almost running now, his strides long and purposeful as he headed for the Aurors' training facilities. He rounded
the corner and very nearly bumped into Neville Longbottom. Draco managed to catch himself before they collided, and
he eyed Longbottom's torn clothes and battered appearance with a cocked brow.

"Malfoy," the Auror acknowledged hesitantly, using his thumb to brush away the slither of blood on his lips.

"Longbottom," Draco nodded, eyeing the man's pre-bruises and weary posture with curiosity. "Have you seen Granger?"

"She's training," he exhaled, flinching as the movement caused him pain. Draco went to move past him, but paused
when Longbottom's voice caught his ear. "I really wouldn't interrupt her if I was you. She's in a foul mood-

"There's been a breakthrough on the case," he argued, but he paused as he considered the goofy wizard's state. "She
did that to you?"

"Yes," he admitted with a slight blush. "Everything was fine this morning, but when she came from lunch she was on a

"Where did she go for lunch?"

"She popped home," Neville shrugged with a bit of effort. "She's in there with Castor and Jason, but don't say I didn't warn

"This is important," he hushed him, making his way towards the door without so much as a knock.

He entered the room with his wand clutched between his fingers, just in case he had to cast a quick Protego. His mind
shifted to his lover's complex with Fridays, but only for a second. He wanted his conversation with Pucey to remain fresh
in his head.

He could see her with her two trainees, them firing hexes at her and her blocking them and casting her own spells. The
two men looked knackered and broken while she seemed driven, almost possessed. He thought about Longbottom's
warning and almost decided to leave the room. But no, this was essential.

"Granger!" he called to her, taking some steps forwards.

Her training shirt was torn, and he could see the light reflecting off the sheet of sweat on her forehead. Her breathing
was strained and her shoulders were sagging, but she was definitely in better shape than her apprentices.

"Granger!" he shouted again, and her head whipped round, angry eyes absorbing him.

She looked ready to fire an Unforgivable at him, but a hex whacked her shoulder and her face contorted in pain.

"Enough!" she yelled at the two weary wizards, gesturing to the blond intruder so they'd understand. "Take two minutes."

They instantly collapsed on the floor, their chests heaving, but Draco paid them no heed. It was hard to give them a
moment's thought when his lover was currently storming over to him, still clutching her wounded shoulder. When she
was about three feet away, he could see something odd had affected her eyes. Had she been crying?

"What the hell are you doing here?" she snapped. "I told you last time not to just burst in here! Are you bloody deaf or-

"Calm down," he advised, keeping his tone stern and low. "My meeting with Pucey-

"We agreed we would discus it later," she reminded him, her voice cold and possibly distressed. "I am training-

"This is important-

"It can wait until later," she insisted with a forceful growl. "I do not have time for this and you shouldn't have interrupted

"Stop it," he hissed at her, grabbing her wrist and clutching it a little too tightly. "Look, I don't give a fuck what your issue is
with Fridays, but I have some things to tell you about the case that are significant. Stop being such a bitch."

She blinked a few times, her determined features softening slightly, but the stubbornness was still present. She was
breathing out of her nose, and she glanced down to his hand on her arm with a foul look. He could see her cheeks
shifting as she ground her teeth, eyes slowly coming back up to his with reluctant resignation.
"Fine," she bit out, tearing her wrist out of his grip. "I'll be in your office in ten minutes."

"Good," he said with sarcasm. "And lose the attitude, Granger. It's not attractive."

With another piercing stare, she turned on her heel, presumably to tell Castor and Jason what to do while she was out.
He didn't linger to find out. Within two minutes he was sat at his desk, scribbling down the essential points of Pucey's
confessions. He could hear her heavy steps as she neared his office, and he flinched when she slammed the door
behind her.

"Right," she huffed, dropping roughly into her seat. "Just why the hell did you interrupt me-

"I told you to lose the attitude," he reminded her, realising her shoulder was still bleeding, a crimson shadow marring the
white fabric. "Calm the hell down-

"I am calm," she protested unconvincingly. "Just get on with it, Draco."

"Pucey let slip that the letters to the old Death Eaters are trying to recruit them," he told her evenly, and he knew from the
rounding of her eyes that he had her attention. "To try and convince them into joining an anti-Muggle group."

"Holy shit," Hermione gasped. "Carry on."

"Pucey said that there was a person with the Vendetta Movement who he thinks is responsible," Draco continued. "The
one whose name wasn't mentioned in the file you found."

"He didn't give you a name?"

"He couldn't," he explained with a small shake of his head. "He's under the Unbreakable Vow. He said the letters would
be a help if you could decode them-

"I'm trying," she moaned defensively. "I just don't know what-

"He said you should think of Ancient Rome when you're decoding them," he said.

"Just Ancient Rome?" she asked, obviously perplexed. "He didn't elaborate? No? But there are so many aspects; Latin,
mythology, geographical elements, all the famous scholars-

"I know what Ancient Rome was," he frowned at her, even if it was a relief to see one of her familiar brainy rants.
"Granger, we could be looking at a group here. There could be more than one person involved. If this person has
managed to convince people to join, then there could be a few members."

"Bloody hell," she sighed. "So there could be more than one killer?" He nodded his head. "Did he say anything else that
could be useful?"

"Just that he reckons this person might be trying revive the Vendetta Movement," he said, trying to get a better look at her
hooded eyes. Had she been crying, or not? "And he implied that the ex-Death Eaters are killed if they refuse the invitation
to join the Rebellion group."

"I see," she breathed, pursing her lips for a second. "Well, looks like your visit to Pucey was worthwhile." She offered him
a weak smile. "I knew you'd do a good job."

He rested his chin against his balled fist and examined her face. The rusty rims by her eyelids gave her away; she had
definitely cried at some point today. And if he had to guess by the shiny glaze of her enlarged pupils, he would say they
were angry and frustrated tears. His eyes moved to her injured shoulder and he rose from his seat, moving to stand
behind her.

"Let me heal your arm," he said, pushing the sodden-red material down to rub his wand over the cut. He felt her relax as
the warming sensation tingled against her skin, and he subconsciously used his free hand to stroke her neck, earning
him a content sigh.

"Thank you," she whispered once the gash was gone, but he remained behind her, his fingers brushing her collarbone
and shoulders. "I'm trying to think what we should do next."

"You should work on the letters," he advised, moving her hair to one side. "And I'll see if I can find out anything else about
the Vendetta Movement."

"Okay," she agreed, exhaling loudly when Draco's lips pressed against her throat. "What are you doing, Draco?"
"I ran into Longbottom before I found you," he murmured against her skin. "And he mentioned that you went home at
lunch, and came back in a foul mood. 'Rampage,' I believe was the word he used."

"Since when do you talk to Neville?" she backfired, but she allowed his little kisses.

"You were fine this morning," he continued, ignoring her question, and he could feel her tense under his lips. "So what

"Nothing," she said, trying move away from him, but he wasn't allowing it. "Leave it be-

"Why don't you just tell me?" he coaxed, pecking behind her ear. "It's obvious that something gets to you on Fridays, just
tell me what it is-

"No," she scowled, pushing herself up and breaking their contact. "I need to get back-

"Tell me," he demanded as she turned to face him. "I am sick of your behaviour on Fridays."

"Then I'll get out of your way," she said with a croaky tone, moving past him to head out the room. "Work on the Vendetta

"Just fucking tell me!" he shouted, reaching for her arm to halt her escape.

"I can't!" she yelled back, snatching her body away from him.

The frightened look on her face stopped him, and he could see the glimmer of tears that glossed her gaze. She was
trembling slightly, but he'd have missed it if he wasn't watching her so closely. She was refusing to look at him, bowing
her head away from his probing eyes.

"I'm not ready to tell you," she whispered, clenching her eyes closed and sucking in a comforting breath. "I'm sorry."

She looked vulnerable and agitated and it made something in his chest sink. He didn't like it. In fact, he hated that she
wasn't her normal self. She was the embodiment of tenacity and conviction, and to see otherwise made him angry. And
what made it worse was that he didn't know what had beaten her down.

"Is there anything I can do?" he muttered, his pride contending the words.

Her lips shivered as she forced a very false smile that didn't reach her eyes. She leaned in to rest a shadow of a kiss at
the corner of his mouth. He was about to turn his head and deepen the gesture but she tore away from him and headed
for the door.

"Just work on the case," she suggested, and her voice hitched mid-sentence.

He contemplated having another stab at the cause of her stress, but he bit his tongue and watched her leave. With a
noise close to a groan, he went back to his desk and projected all of his concentration on the case. He needed to figure
it out.

He didn't hear from Hermione for the rest of the day so he decided against visiting her at her house. Truth be murmured,
his anger had brewed and swelled while he was confined in his office. He wasn't sure if he was frustrated with his
lover's behaviour or if it was inability to alter it, but the rage was there anyway.

Instead, he found himself pacing his floor for hour-long minutes, muttering secret rants to himself. With a huff of
decision, he grabbed a fistful of Floo powder and headed to Malfoy Manor. He charged out of the fireplace with the green
flames roaring behind him and very nearly scared his mother and her friends to death.

"Draco!" Narcissa jumped, placing her palm over her chest. "What are you-

"I need to talk to you," he told her sharply, casting a furious look over to her two companions. "Alone. I'll be in the main
sitting room."

He could hear his mother making her apologies as he left the room and headed to the spacey living area, dropping
himself on the couch. Without having to be asked, one his mother's house-elves brought him a hefty tumbler of
Firewhiskey which he greedily drank, demanding that the elf leave behind the bottle. Narcissa joined him a moment
later, her face stormy as she glanced at her son.

"This had better be good, Draco," she warned him, taking a seat on a different chair. "I'm getting tired of you offending-

"Why are all women fucking insane?" he blurted accusingly at his mother. "Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you all?"

"What?" she scowled, but then slowly an amused look stole her face. "Does this have anything to with Hermione?"

"I knew there was a good reason I avoided relationships," he went on, rising from his seat to follow an imaginary path.
"It's because you're all fucking psychos-

"Language, Draco," she scolded. "What did you do?"

"I have done nothing!" he argued, pausing his paces to shoot her a fiery look.

"So you had a fight?" Narcissa tested, trying hard to fight her amusement. It wasn't everyday her son moaned about a
lovers' tiff and she was rather bemused by it.

"Yes," he confessed, cocking his head to the side. "But that's not the problem."

"Then what exactly is the problem?"

"This is your fault," he accused, frowning at her. "You encouraged this relationship-

"Yes, I forced you into it," she remarked with that flawless Malfoy sarcasm. "Did you end it-

"No," he breathed, his voice tired now. "Give me some credit. I'm not that fickle, mother."

"Good," his mother sighed. "So, what did you argue about? You're going to have to tell me more if you want my help."

"And why the bloody hell would you think I want your help?" he spat, deciding that he'd really had enough of the female
species for one day.

"Why else would you be here?" she rolled her knowing eyes at him. "Just spit it out."

He sat back down on the couch, smothering a growl as he rested his elbows against his knees. He considered telling
his mother to mind her own business and insist he just needed to vent, but thought better of it when she matched his
defiant glare. He inhaled like the air would provide him with answers.

"Every Friday," he started reluctantly, looking away from his mother. "She acts differently. Something pisses her off and
she's a bitch all day and she won't say why."

"Specifically Fridays?" she asked, receiving a small nod. "Did she act that way when you first started working together?"

"No," he shook his head. "She was no more arsey than any other day. It just randomly kicked in after a few weeks."

"That is odd," Narcissa confessed with a thoughtful face. "And you're sure you haven't done anything?"

"She was fine in the morning," Draco said, deciding not to mention that she had actually been in a rather insatiable
mood when they'd woken up. "And then Longbottom said she went home at lunch, and when she came back she was
angry as hell."

"And she's given you no explanation?" his mother asked.

"She said she's not ready to tell me," her son scowled, toying with the cuffs of his shirt.

"Then you will just have to wait until she's ready," Narcissa explained with a patient tone. Draco looked up at her like she
had rambled in a foreign language, his mouth set into a stubborn line. "I'm sorry, Draco. She'll tell you when she can-

"But it's pissing me off," he sneered at her.

"You've only been going out about a week-

"It feels longer," he objected, pouring himself another glass of Firewhiskey.

"I suppose it does," she said with a hidden grin. "It makes sense if there's been something going on since my birthday-
"So she just won't tell me?" Draco repeated, shrugging his shoulders. "And you have no idea what it could be?"

"Sorry, son," she breathed, rising from her seat. "You'll have to wait it out."

"Fucking fantastic," he seethed through his teeth, also standing up. "I'm going home if you can't say anything useful,

"Always a charmer," she smirked at him, following him to the door. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to say thank you, Draco."

"It's not worth the risk," he quipped, turning to flash her his teeth. "Have fun with those morons you call friends. I'll owl you

"Be patient with her," Narcissa suggested when they reached the fireplace. "Give her some space and I bet you she'll
come find you tomorrow and apologise."

Draco just offered his mother an arched eyebrow before he disappeared behind the emerald embers.

When Saturday was pushing into it's twentieth hour, Draco still hadn't heard from her. Deciding to take a shower to ease
the strain in his shoulders and back, his thoughts battled as he considered going to visit her. The steamy water calmed
his body, but his head was roaring with thoughts of how he should handle Hermione's anxiety with Fridays.

He slung a towel around his waist, still unsure if he could forfeit an ounce of his dignity to visit her first. His pride had
certainly taken a hammering since she had shoved her way into his life. What harm could one more splinter in his ego
cause? It didn't matter anyway, because she was waiting on his bed when he entered his room.

"Hi," she muttered, nervously toying with her fingers as she eyed his bare chest. "I probably should have let you know I
was coming over."

"You should have," he agreed.

He grabbed a pair of boxers and tossed his towel to the side, indifferent to his nudity in front of her. He had a feeling she
was blushing, but he didn't care. When he was done he turned back to her, arms folded across his chest and an
expectant look on his face.

"Well?" he prompted, noting her fidgety posture.

"I owe you an apology," she said, keeping eye-contact with him. "I was out of order yesterday. I shouldn't take out my
frustration on you-

"No, you shouldn't," he replied stiffly. "You were a bloody bitch."

"I know I was," she nodded, leaving the bed and taking a stride towards him. "I'm sorry."

He exhaled, his breath shifting some of her hairs. She paused in front of him, barely an inch away, and then her unsure
hands slowly settled on his water-speckled chest. She offered him a doubtful smile before she rested on the tips of her
toes to push a little kiss against his lips.

He resisted for all of five seconds before he accepted the affection, allowing her to deepen it with bold sucks at his
tongue. A delicate moan fell from her mouth into his, and his hands went to her waist, dragging her closer to him. She
pulled away, but kept her lips close to his, almost touching but not quite.

"I will explain soon," she whispered, running her index finger along his jawbone. "I just need a bit more time-

"Alright," he stopped her, pecking her lips quickly. "Just don't turn into a cow. I don't care if you have to lock yourself in a
dark room. I don't want to deal with it."

"That's fair," she graced him with a small smile. "Thank you. Would a back massage soften you up a bit?"

"You can give it a go," he smirked, flicking one of her buttons to come undone. "Removing some of your clothes might
help too."
With a small chuckle, she stripped down to her navy bra and knickers while he settled on the bed. She straddled his
waist and started soothing his back with nimble fingers, coaxing a few dulcet sighs and groans from him.

"There's something else I need to tell you," she said when she was convinced he was calm enough. "And I'm not sure if
it's good news or bad news-

"Get on with it," he mumbled against his pillow. "You're putting a downer on my massage."

"I went to Ginny's last night," she started anxiously. "And she told me that Ron would be back in London a week Monday."
She felt his muscles stiffen beneath her fingertips. "And I'm going to tell him about us."

She expected him to have the Malfoy equivalent to a tantrum and mutter a string of swear words, or perhaps start hexing
random objects. She held her breath, waiting for a reaction, and was surprised to note that his back relaxed under her

"About bloody time," he said after his pause. "I'm getting sick of eating in Muggle restaurants."

"You're okay with this?" she asked.

"I'll just be glad to get it over with," he commented, moving his head so he could glance at her over his shoulder. "Unless
you're expecting me to be there, in which case, I have a problem with it. I don't want your jealous ex near me on a normal
day, let alone when you tell him we're fucking."

"He won't be jealous, he's just protective," she argued, rubbing steady circles along his spine. "And I think I can safely
say that your presence wouldn't be beneficial. I'll deal with it myself."

"Good," he half-groaned when her hands hit a sensitive spot. "Just don't tell him where I live. The thought of Weasley in
my house makes me feel sick. And don't think I won't hex him if he turns into a prick."

"Draco," she scolded, but it was half-hearted. "Please don't make this any more difficult than it's going to be-

"Fine," he rolled his eyes. "But just so you know, I'm choosing what restaurants we go to for the next month, and they're
all going to be Wizard haunts."

"That's fair," she laughed a little, leaning forward to nestle a kiss between his shoulder-blades. "And do you promise to
behave if you do see Ron?"

A chuckle rumbled in his throat.

"You'll be lucky, Granger."

a/n: Mega thanks to the 140+ people who have put me on alert and the 75+ people who have me on their favourites. It's a
pleasure to know this is being read.

Let me know what you think of the chapter. Opinions and reviews are reread in the early hours of the morning to bring a
smile to my face! Plus I updated extra quick to make up for the lateness of the last chapter. Show some love for the quick
update! No...?

Best review of the last chapter has to go to lovelydove21! Thank you kindly for your thoughts on some of my phrases! I
quite liked the guilt one too! I love it when reviewers say which specific details they enjoyed/didn't enjoy, so thanks for
your time and wonderful words!

Next chapter: Enter Ron Weasley.


Disclaimer: All chapters associated with this fic 'Hunted' still don't own any of the characters or themes etc. The plot is
mine. That's ab out it. All hail Rowling...even if she didn't have the sense to make Draco and Hermione a couple...
*Chapter 21*: Red


Chapter 21: Red.

On the Sunday morning, Hermione was leaning her head against her lover's raised knee while he lounged back on his
elbows. After two successful 'apology blowjobs,' as she still felt a little guilty about their argument on Friday, she was
admiring the distant look in his eyes while his bliss subsided.

They were both bare, and dotted with little beads of sweat. His chest was heaving slightly after her mouth had made him
come undone the second time, and she watched him with a bizarre fascination. She rested her chin on his knee and
tickled the inside of his thigh, content to bask in the post-coital silence. After a few minutes, she noticed the relaxed lines
of his face become concentrated, almost troubled.

"What is it?" she questioned, her voice husky with the morning. "Oh Merlin, I didn't catch you with my teeth, did I?"

He chuckled deep in his throat, and leaned forward just to push her sweat-damp hair away from her face. "No, Granger,"
he mumbled. "You were very impressive."

"Then, what's wrong?" she asked, teeth darting out just to worry her bottom lip.

"Something Pucey said," he offered.

"How charming," she flashed him a mocking grin. "You are thinking about Pucey just after I've finished doing that?"

"I don't like that insinuation," he warned. "I can assure you my mind was on appropriate things when you were sucking
my dick-


"Yeah, yeah, I know," he frowned, leaning back on his elbows. "He told me I wouldn't be hunted like Goyle and the others.
He said my position at the Ministry meant that I wasn't suitable for recruitment, and therefore the killer wouldn't be
interested in me."

"That's good news," she said, her face confused. "But you don't seem too happy about it?"

"I have no idea how you're supposed to take something like that," he shrugged, taking a moment just to admire her
nudity. Merlin knew when her desire for modesty would kick in. "How would you react to that news?"

"I think I'd be chuffed," she smiled at him, removing her head from his leg. "And I am frankly relieved that you might not be
a target."

"He also mentioned," Draco started with uncertainty, his lips twitching. "That Rebellion groups see you as quite the

"And you're surprised by that?"

"Not surprised," he murmured, watching her as she left the space between his legs and crawled to his side, tugging one
of his sheets to cover herself. Bloody modesty. "It was just a bit...unsettling to hear it being said."

"But you monitored the ex-Death Eaters," she frowned at him. "And I know you had experience with some Rebellion
groups. Surely some of them mentioned revenge on Harry, Ron and I."

"I wasn't shagging you then," he remarked, giving her a quick smirk.

"Honestly," she sighed, eyeing him impatiently. "Would it kill you to say 'we weren't in a relationship then?'"

"Will you hurt me if I say yes?" he quipped, watching her curls bounce when she nodded her head. "I'll try harder next
time, Granger."

"Sure you will," she rolled her eyes. "We should do some work."

The following Sunday found Hermione lounging around on Draco's bed again, fully dressed and surrounded by a desert
of parchments and books. Clad in a loose t-shirt and some battered jeans, she was analysing the letters again, reading
all the books she could get her hands on with references to Ancient Rome.

She wasn't alone either. No, she was currently sharing Draco's bed with a certain ginger companion as she tried to
gather all her intellectual wits about her. She gave the redhead an affectionate nuzzle when her blond lover appeared in
the doorway.

"Get that fucking cat off my bed, Granger," he scowled, placing two mugs of tea on his bedside table. "I refuse to wake up
with sodding fleabites all over me."

"Crookshanks doesn't have fleas," she protested, but she placed her pet on the floor anyway.

"Any luck?" he asked, gesturing to the letters.

"I am currently reading a three-thousand-page book on Cicero," she murmured, showing him the cover for emphasis.
"How do you think it's going?"

"I've had no luck either," he commented, taking a seat next to her on the bed. "There really isn't much to work on."

"There were too many Rebellion groups," she sighed, rubbing her weary eyes. "The paperwork was probably difficult to
keep up with. What are you hoping to find?"

"Some kind of hint about who that missing name is," he told her.

"Perhaps you should give Pucey another visit?"

"He told me all he could," Draco shook his head. "Another visit wouldn't be productive. I'm wondering if Warrington might
have found anything else. Did you sort out those items for his fiancé?"

"Yes, they're done," she nodded, and with a huff of frustration she slammed her book closed. "None of this is working!
You're certain he said Ancient Rome?"

"Positive," he nodded. "Just take a break for two minutes, Granger. Don't give yourself a hernia."

"Fine," she said, taking a gulp of her tea. "I guess it's probably not helping that I'm nervous."

"About what?"

"What do you mean 'about what?'" she shot him an agitated look. "Ron's back in London tomorrow. How could you forget

"If you think I would let myself worry about a Weasley," he said with a cocky tone, moving to sit behind her and framing
her with his legs. "Then you really don't know me that well, Granger."

"Fair point," she breathed, settling her back against his chest. "But you could at least to pretend to be supportive
considering I really am nervous."

"I don't pretend," he whispered against her ear, his tongue catching her lobe. His hands moved under her top and fiddled
with the hem of her jeans. "And as far as being supportive goes, I'm willing to offer you a distraction-

"I'm sure you would," she chuckled, stopping his roaming hands. "But I don't want to be distracted from it just now, I want
to plan what I'll say-

"Of course you do," he groaned. "Carry on with your rant then."

"Well I have no idea what to say to him," she said, raking a hand through her brunette waves. "I don't know where to
begin explaining this to Ron-

"I reckon you should just spit it out," he offered, exhaling against her neck. "I doubt there's any way you could soften the
"Perhaps you're right," she sighed, tilting her head to give him more skin. "Perhaps I should just blurt out the fact that I've
been shagging the person he hated most in Hogwarts."

"I thought we weren't allowed to call it that," Draco reminded her with a slight nudge. "You made it pretty clear that you
wanted to use that bloody 'relationship' word-

"I'm not sure which would bother him more," she confessed, running her fingertips up and down his legs. "If it was just
sex or a relationship-

"You'd better tell him it's a relationship, Hermione," he told her, and she was surprised by his remark. "I don't want him
thinking he has any chance to work his way back in. I want him to know that, well, fuck, you know what I mean."

"I think so," she grinned at his words, or lack thereof. "I wouldn't have lied to him anyway."

"It will come to you," he assured her, pushing his hands past the edge of her jeans. "I'm going to shag you now,

"I need to get on with this work," she protested, but it was weak. His fingers had already found her bulb and it always felt
too delicious to resist.

"Later," he insisted, knowing he had won. He flicked his wand to close the door as he harassed her neck with his teeth.
"I refuse to have your sodding cat interrupting again."

Merlin knew why he didn't just tell her to levitate her bloody ton of books. No, instead he found himself juggling six of the
weighty texts as they wandered to his office. It was times like this he really hated chivalry.

"Bugger this," he muttered, somehow managing to flick his wand so the books were floating next to him. The four books
she had been carrying joined the small pile and she gave him a light frown.

"We're only two minutes away from your office," she said.

"Don't care," he replied. "I'm a wizard, hence I shall use magic."

She didn't say anything, just gave him another disapproving glare as they entered his room. Both of them instantly tore
into their work, occasionally discussing the relevance of certain factors between themselves. Goyle's wards were still a
concern for Hermione, and she requested that Draco try and create a list of people who Goyle would have allowed into
his home. The Malfoy heir didn't have a clue.

So he stuck to his research on the Vendetta Movement, and she stuck to her attempts at decoding the letters,
occasionally heading out to grab another book. After drowning herself in pages of Seneca, Catullus, Virgil and tales of
the Numina, she was starting to get a throbbing headache. She glanced up and found one of those smug smirks
waltzing on Draco's lips.

"You found something?" she questioned, pausing to eye him sceptically.

"No," he said simply, scribbling down a quick note.

"Then why the grin?"

"I was recalling something," he explained vaguely, flashing her a cocky look.

"I hate it when you do that," she commented, discarding her work for the moment. "Care to elaborate, please?"

"We're working," he pointed out. "I'll tell you after-

"Tell me now," she requested in an almost-whine. "I need a break from bloody Rome before I lose my mind."

"Alright," his grin widened a little, his eyes heavy with amusement. "I was actually thinking of that little trick you did last
night. You are full surprises, Granger."

"What trick?" she asked, but then a delightful flashback rattled her mind and stirred a blush. "Oh, you mean that-
"Yes," he confirmed, giving her a long stare. "Your little attempt at acrobatics." His face turned agitated for a moment.
"Don't tell me Weasley taught you-

"Draco, don't be an idiot!" she scolded, knowing her cheeks were tinted a rosy hue. "I read about it in a magazine a few
days ago. It's called the 'Arch.'"

"Seems appropriate," he nodded, his grin back in place. "And we were all fooled by the bookworm image at Hogwarts."

"I think it's still evident," she smiled, gesturing at the pile of books on the desk. "That I am very much a bookworm."

"I was right about one thing at Hogwarts though, Granger," he drawled, watching her too closely to notice the door to his
office had opened. "You always were filthy."

"What did you just call her?"

Hermione's laugh at her lover's quip wilted in her throat.

Her head snapped around to view her fiery ex-boyfriend, whose angry eyes were fixed on Draco. A part of her was ready
to curse fate for letting Ron walk in at that specific point in time, but another part of her was relieved he hadn't burst in
before. Merlin knew how she would explain her and Draco discussing preferred sex positions.

"You just called her filthy!" Ron ranted on, walking further into the office. "I knew it was all bullshit that you had changed-

"Ron," Hermione stopped him, rising from her chair and pushing against his chest. "It was just a joke, calm down-

"I'd do as she says, Weasley," Draco spoke up, sounding every inch the patronising git he could be. "I'd hate to have to
put you in your place-

"Shut up, Malfoy," the redhead spat, sending the blond cold glares over her shoulder. "Or I swear I will-

"That's enough," Hermione demanded, giving her friend a warning slap against his chest. "Both of you stop being so
bloody childish. What are you doing here?"

"And why the fuck didn't you knock-

"Stop it, Draco," she scolded over her shoulder, feeling her friend push against her palms. "What do you want, Ron?"

"I came to take you to lunch," he explained as though it was obvious. "Can you?"

"Um, yes," she stuttered, pushing Ron towards the door. "Can you wait by the stairs and I'll be out in a minute please? I
just need to clean up my files."

"Okay," he agreed hesitantly, shooting Malfoy another dark glare that reminded her of their quarrels in Hogwarts.

"Always a pleasure, Weasley," Draco called, flashing a gloating smirk at the other wizard.

Hermione could see the insult bubbling in her friend's throat and quickly shoved him out of the office before it was
released. She turned back to her grinning lover with an irritated expression, flicking her wand to organise her side of the

"Great start," she commented, her voice laden with sarcasm. "Did you have to goad him?"

"It's an instinct," he shrugged, leaving his seat to near her. "You're actually going to lunch with him? I'm surprised you can
keep you food down with that sitting opposite you-

"Please, stop," she whispered, and it was only due to the desperation in her tone that he did. "You're making this harder
for me-

"Alright, I'll stop," he nodded, reaching up to run his finger across her lower lip. "Do you need me to do anything?"

"No," she mumbled, pecking her lips against his thumb. "Could you just be here when I get back, please? I will probably
need someone to vent to."

"Joy," he rolled his eyes. "But yes, I'll be here."

"Thank you," she forced a smile, leaning in for a quick kiss.


Ron let her chose where they could grab a bite to eat, so she decided on The Leaky Cauldron for two reasons. One; she
enjoyed reminiscing there with Harry and Ron as they had spent time there when they were younger. And two; it was
normally quite busy at this time of day, and she hoped the promised amount of customers would ensure that Ron
wouldn't cause a scene. Hope, being the key word.

He grabbed them two butterbeers from the bar and ordered some food while she found a space amongst the rowdy
patrons. They settled at one of the tables with more awkwardness than Hermione had ever thought could possibly exist
between them. She knew it was her fault as her mind was distracted with the task at hand, but he seemed ignorant to it

A quick glance around the pub told her it was indeed rather full, and she noticed some familiar faces. Her troubled eyes
lingered on two Daily Prophet reporters, before shifting to some nameless colleagues from the Ministry. Even Padma
Patil was present, dining with some of her fellow journalists from Witch Weekly.

So, half of Gossip London then. Great.

"You look good," he told her, his eyes innocent and oblivious. "Really good, actually. I haven't seen you in ages."

"Nearly four months," she sighed, quickly adding up the weeks in her head.

"It feels longer than that," he said thoughtfully, nodding a quick hello to Padma. "How have you been?"

"Good," she replied honestly. Consistent sex had a habit of perking one up. "And you?"

"Brilliant," he beamed, and she hated that she would shatter that smile in a matter of minutes. "Working with Charlie and
the Dragons is bloody exciting! I do miss London though. I've been talking with George about coming back and working
at the shop from a while."

"That would be great," she grinned, and she meant it. "Harry and I miss you. And I've barely seen Harry these last few

"Ginny mentioned he's been away trying to track your guy," he commented as their food arrived. "How's that going by the
way? You getting close?"

"Progress is slow," she frowned, playing with the vegetables on her plate. Her appetite was fleeing, alongside her
courage. Spit it out. "Ron, I need to-

"I'm sure you'll find something soon," he assured her, missing the change in her tone. "If anyone can figure it out, it's you.
Brightest witch of our age, and all that."

"Sure," she shrugged, licking her lips. Get it done. "Look, Ron-

"Give yourself some credit, 'Mione," he said with easy fondness. "You know how clever you are. Have you been doing
anything else?"

Draco Malfoy...

"Not really," she muttered, pushing her barely-touched plate aside. "The case has kept us pretty occupied. But I need-

"I'm not sure why Malfoy was chosen to help you," the redhead remarked, his expression turning sour. "I find it hard to
believe he could be useful for anything-

"He's very good, actually," she defended her secret, hoping she didn't sound too snappy. "He's extremely intelligent.
Anyway, Ron-

"Well I couldn't work with him," he mumbled over a mouth of mashed potatoes. "Doesn't his attitude get on your nerves-


"And I really don't buy all that crap about him changing," her friend ranted, just like he always did when Draco was the
topic. "Surely he's slipped up and called you something-
"No," she scowled, massaging her temple. This was hell. "Not once. But-

"I bet you've argued a lot," he mused, his voice sounding concerned. "Are you sure everything's okay with him? You would
tell me-

"Of course I would tell you," she groaned. Just get it over with.

"Good," he said, shovelling some more vegetables into his mouth. "Because you know it would only take a quick word
from Harry to have him sacked-

"Ron," she breathed, noting her tone was loud with desperation. "Please-

"And I'm sure you could work with someone else from his department," he continued, failing to notice the scrunching of
her face. "Someone who isn't a selfish prick-

"Ron, Draco and I are a couple."

She'd said it so fast it had sounded like a sordid song.

She couldn't look at him. Wouldn't dare look at him. She heard his fork clatter against his plate and the quick intake of
breath, but only silence followed. The boisterous crowd around them seemed to dull and Hermione concentrated to
grasp their shared words, but it was pointless. She was waiting for his reaction, and until it came, her brain had deemed
all other sounds irrelevant.

"You're joking," he muttered, his voice confused and cracked. "You must-

"I'm completely serious," she told him, catching his wide eyes. She was tempted to look away, but no. She needed him
to know she was being honest.

"What?" his tone almost sounded frightened. "'Mione this isn't funny. There's no way-

"Draco Malfoy and I are in a relationship," she said with an even voice. "We are-

Ron saw red.

" NO!" he shouted, angry lines stealing his face. She'd been wrong; clearly her friend had no problem with causing a
scene. "No. No fucking way-

"I wasn't asking your permission," she sighed, having a quick look around to see if anyone was listening. No, there were
no eavesdroppers. Yet. "You're going to have to come to terms with my decision-

"Like hell I am," he spat, and the hate in his eyes hurt her. "Are you completely insane, 'Mione? Have you forgotten what
he did to you at Hogwarts-

"Not forgotten," she confessed. "But forgiven-

"What?" he snapped, his voice loud. "How could you possibly like him? How could you possibly stand that bastard-

"Well, I do," she interrupted, trying so hard to remain calm. "I know this is a bit of a shock and I knew you'd be angry-

"It's disgusting," he hissed at her. "How could you?"

"How could I?" Hermione repeated with a shocked tone. "This has nothing to do with you, Ron. This isn't some plot to
offend you. I like him-

"Do you love him?" he said the words with a heavy grimace.

"Don't be ridiculous-

"Then why are you willing to risk our friendship for this?" he asked, his voice getting louder. "If this isn't serious then how
could you even-

"I didn't say it wasn't serious!" she argued, feeling her own temper rise. "You can't expect me to-

"HOW LONG?" he near-screamed, impatiently punching the table like a spoilt child.

"What?" she sighed, rubbing her face with her hands. There would definitely be people staring now, and she could hear
the low thunder of confused mumbles around them.

"How long has it been going on?" he growled, and she flinched at the harshness of the sound. It really didn't suit him.
She quickly did the calculations in her head, deciding that something had been going on since their kiss at Malfoy Manor.

Right, Narcissa's b irthday was at the b eginning of Octob er so-

"Answer the question!"

"A month," she muttered quickly, but then thought better of it. "No, longer than a month-

"How much longer?" he hissed, and she actually felt a small spatter of spit against her face. He was leaning so close to
her, his eyes wild and turbulent like a bull's at the red cape.

"Almost six weeks," she murmured, and she could practically feel him vibrating with rage. "But I-

"End it," Ron demanded steadily, and she gasped. "End it now-

"NO!" she yelled, slamming her palms against their table. "How dare you! You have no right to tell me what to do-

"What you're doing is wrong!" he snapped. "And you know it is too, or you wouldn't have kept it a secret for so long-

"I kept it a secret because I wanted to tell you before anyone else," she explained, daring a quick glance at Padma and
the other journalists. She could almost hear their quills scratching exaggerated accounts of this and she despised them
all. "And you've been out the country-

"Does Harry know?"

"No," she shook her head, their voices at a normal volume for the moment. "I was going to see if I could meet him this
weekend to explain-

"Don't bother," he said, his voice so icy it threw her. "I'll owl him later-

"I'd rather tell him myself-

"No," he scowled, his words pushing past his grinding teeth. "You don't get to keep this sick secret any more. Does
anyone know?"

"Just Draco's mum," she admitted, cringing at his outraged look. "But she-

"This is ridiculous," he glowered at her, rising from his chair to lean over her. "End it now, 'Mione-

"You're supposed to be my friend," she whispered, feeling the heat of angry tears biting her eyes. "You should trust my

"Don't you dare try and make me out to be the bad friend!" he growled, bring his face close to hers. "What the hell are you

Everyone was listening to them now, she could tell by the surrounding quiet, and she was mortified. She could only
imagine what this looked like. Two famous ex-lovers quarrelling in a public space, him leaning into her with fiery insults.
She was just grateful Ron hadn't screamed Draco's name yet as she was pretty certain the small collection of reporters
would have a combined orgasm if that little gem was blurted. Yes, The Leaky Cauldron had definitely been a poor

"I was thinking," Hermione started carefully, keeping her voice as quiet as she could. "That it's almost been five years
since the War, and that you might have gotten over your childhood squabbles by now-

"You hated him just as much as the rest of us," he reminded her. "What's changed?"

"I grew up," she stated, straightening her back. "He's a good man-

"It's Draco fucking Malfoy!"

The gasp that echoed in the time-battered pub made Hermione close her eyes, and one of those lingering tears spilled
over her lashes. That was it. There was her secret, crudely exclaimed to strangers and the parasites of the press. Why
the hell hadn't she cast a silencing charm before she had told him? Had she really been naïve enough to think he
wouldn't have screamed at her? Yes, she had thought the crowd would be a deterrent, and she had been very wrong.

"Ron, please," she breathed, aware that their entire conversation could very well be in the Prophet tomorrow. "Calm

"No!" he stopped her, slamming his fists against the table again. "How could you be so bloody stupid?"

That caught her attention. She had been called many things in her life; stubborn, insufferable, nerdy, Mudb lood, but no
one had ever called her stupid. To question her intelligence was to insult her very existence. And here her best friend
was, daring to call her stupid, and it infuriated her. She rose from her seat, matching his intimidating posture as best
she could.

"Don't you dare call me stupid!" she barked, uncaring of the people surrounding them now. "I am not ashamed of my
decision. Unlike you, I am willing to move on-

"I bet that Malfoy fortune helps-

"Fuck you," she said slowly, satisfied with the surprised expression that stole his face. "I don't have to defend myself to
you, Ron! We are in a relationship. End of story. Deal with it!"

Screw it; she was bloody enraged.

"I don't understand!" he told her, combing his shaking fingers through his red hair. "What could you possibly see in him?"

"What do you want?" she sneered at him, a sneer that any Slytherin would be proud of. "A list of his best points?"

"Let me guess!" he screamed, and she nearly flinched at his volume. "Ex-Death Eater, racist bully, family members who
tortured you! Have I missed anything?"

"Well, the sex is bloody good, how's that for a positive?" she taunted, folding her arms across her chest and sporting a
haughty expression. She didn't care when another stunned gasp reverberated off the aching walls of The Leaky
Cauldron. Ron looked a whisper away from either strangling her or having an embolism.

"You are sick," he told her, gathering his belongings and moving away from their table. "You have completely lost the

"Where the hell are you going?" she questioned, her fiery stare following his movements. "Don't you dare leave, Ronald!
We are not finished here-

"I can't look at you right now," he said, his voice scratchy and ominous.

Her mouth moved with silent words as he disappeared out the door, two of thereporters following him. In a heartbeat,
Padma was at her side, along with remaining journalists she had spotted earlier. She remained still for a few seconds,
like a beautiful yet tragic statue, but their insistent questions hounded her ears and brought her back to the lonely pub.
She needed to leave. She pushed aside Padma, refusing to utter a single word as they continued to harass her with

"...How long has this b een going on?"

"...Will you b e releasing an official statement?"

"...Has your relationship with Mr. Malfoy effected your work on the case?"

She shoved her way through the nosy obstacles, relieved when the hefty barman tried to help her, guiding her towards
one of the private rooms. Slamming the door behind him, he simply pointed to the fireplace, muttering some locking
charms and keeping his wand on the door. She very nearly kissed the man for his kind actions, but decided that a
sincere thank you was more appropriate, and remembered to owl him a massive tip.

Stumbling out of the Ministry's Floo Network, she sprinted to Draco's office, ignoring the strange looks she was receiving
from the witches and wizards around her. The reporters would be at the Ministry soon and she needed to get
somewhere safe. She didn't even pay attention to Tilly's warm smile, just shouldered open the office door and leaned
against it, locking eyes with her lover.

"It went well, I take?" he said, his voice sweet with mirth. He eyed her ruffled clothing and mussed hair with a twitch of
amusement, unable to stop his ill-timed smirk.
"I'm not in the mood for your sarcasm, Draco," she warned him, adamant that she wasn't going to cry in front of him. She
slowly walked to her chair, chewing her lip. "Everyone knows."

"Who's everyone?" he asked, rising from his seat to near her.

"The press," she sighed, her breath wavering slightly. "I thought if I told Ron somewhere crowded he wouldn't shout at
me, but I was very wrong. There were journalists there-

"And you're concerned about this?" he questioned, sitting on the desk in front of her.

"Of course I am-

"Well, don't be," he told her, reaching out to brush aside some of her unruly curls. "The press would have found out
eventually. Just think of that Muggle phrase you always say. Two birds and one brick, or something?"

"One stone," she corrected, catching his hand and running her thumb over his knuckles. "I underestimated Ron's
reaction. He was horrible-

"He'll calm down," Draco shrugged, watching while her fingers played with the creases of his palm. "The worst is over,

It was hard not to be calmed by his logic and aloof attitude. She forced a small grin on her lips and leaned forward to
peck a kiss against his mouth, giving a small gasp when he hauled her up and initiated a more passionate exchange.
She allowed him to absorb her, stealing all her concerns and insecurities for the brief moment.

"Are you alright?" he asked when he pulled away. "Or do you want me to pay Weasley a little visit?"

"Not funny," she mumbled, nuzzling his chest. "But thank you. I feel a bit better. I'm just worried about what they're going
to put in the paper."

"What exactly did they hear?" he asked, subconsciously stroking her arms.

"I'm not sure," she sighed. "It's all a bit of a blur now. I guess we'll see tomorrow."

"Okay," he nodded, pushing her away from him and giving her a strict stare. "In the meantime, we have more important
things to worry about than some sad little reporters. You need to work on those letters."

"I do," she agreed, and he grinned when her features hardened with determination. "You're right. I said we shouldn't let
anything affect our work-

"Especially not a Weasley."

They'd had to wait until eight o'clock to leave the Ministry and successfully avoid the press. Draco had managed to
convince Tilly to tell anyone who asked that they weren't in the office, but the reporters had still lingered. Draco had
instantly closed his Floo but sent an owl to his mother to explain everything and ask Skeeter for some damage control.

At seven o'clock on the Tuesday morning, Hermione was nervously fidgeting between Draco's duvet and sheets. They
had just heard the usual tapping against the downstairs window, signalling the arrival of a Daily Prophet owl, and Draco
had gone to retrieve the newspaper. She could hear her lover's movements downstairs and she willed him to hurry,
taking deep breaths to calm the frantic thuds in her chest. Finally, she heard his footfalls returning up the stairs and the
faint rustling of paper.

"Well?" she asked as his shape appeared in the doorframe.

"We made the front page," he smirked at her, deciding to ignore her agitated look. "And then we have a delightful spread
on pages four to seven-

"This isn't funny, Draco," she scolded. "What does it say?"

"They ramble on about our lives at Hogwarts for a little," he explained, skimming over the paragraphs with an amused
expression. "How we hated each other and all that. Then there's a bit about the War, ah, here we go; your argument with

"What does it say?" she repeated, frowning when he arched one of his eyebrows and looked up at her with a sceptical
glance. "What?"

"Granger," he started slowly, his grey eyes dancing with suppressed mirth. "Did you tell Weasley that I was good in bed?"

Her eyes widened and her mouth lost its hinges.

"Possibly," she muttered once the initial shock had passed.

"Excellent," he chuckled, settling on the bed so she could read it for herself. "I would have paid good money to see
Weasley's face when you told him that-

"Oh, God," she breathed, fixing him with a horrified look. "Will your mother read this?"

"Everyone will read this," he rolled his eyes at her, throwing his casual arms around her waist. "Stop worrying so much-

"Could you stop finding this so funny?" she frowned, eyeing the magical pictures of her and Ron arguing. "Do you realise
how awful work is going to be today? They're all going to be there, and they're all going to want answers-

"And we'll deal with it appropriately," he assured the witch, nipping at her spine. "In the meantime, just concentrate on
decoding the letters. It's been a while since Flint's murder and I have a feeling something will happen soon."

a/n: Whoa...Long chapter! Hmmm...I hope Ron was okay. I found it harder than I thought, especially as I don't want him
hated; I just wanted him to be angry, so hopefully that came across. Hope that Hermione and Draco are also still in
character. Let me know what you think! This will not be a Ron-bashing fic by the way!

Review of the last chapter has to go to Jessica for her compliments and constructive criticism! Thank you very much for
your thoughts and I'm glad you think my characters are realistic and I will definitely take a closer look at my spelling!

Thanks to everyone who has reviewed so far...I had a celebratory glass of wine when I reached 250 reviews about ten
minutes ago! Close to the 100 favourite mark too...May crack out some champers for that one!

Next chapter: Draco has a bit of a shock when he finally figures out Hermione's complex with Fridays, and Hermione had
some success with those pesky letters and gets a little shock of her own...

Read and Review please...they make me celebrate with wine...and I think we've established that wine makes me update
faster...think about it!

*Chapter 22*: Letters


Chapter 22: Letters.

Hermione wanted to get to work before Draco, deciding she needed to have a word with Shacklebolt to explain why there
was a horde of journalists in his lobby. It had taken her and her lover twenty minutes and a combined knowledge of
glamour charms to fix her with a suitable disguise. Her hair was now straight and black, and her skin was paler, almost
as ashen as Draco's. After covering some of her face with a thick pair of glasses, she'd decided that there was little else
she could do.

"Are you going to disguise yourself?" she asked Draco before she Flooed to the Ministry.

"No," he shook his head. "This is hardly the first time I've had to deal with bad press, Granger. I know how to handle it."

"Are you sure?" she asked, checking her unfamiliar reflection once more and noting she looked a bit like Harry's would-
be sister. "I know you love to gloat, Draco. And you don't have the best temper-

"I know what I'm doing," he insisted as she palmed the Floo powder. "I'll see you in a bit."

"Okay," she nodded. She leaned forward to peck a farewell kiss against his lips, but he avoided her attempt at affection
and she frowned at him. "What's wrong?"

"You look different," he reminded her, gesturing to the spectacles. "It's bloody strange."

"The glasses remind you of Harry, don't they?" she asked with a mischievous grin.

"Now they do," he growled, taking a step away from her. "If you ever wear those after today, I'll never be able to get an
erection again."

"Don't be so melodramatic," she rolled her eyes at him, stepping into his fireplace. "I'll meet you at the office in an hour or
so. And don't say anything stupid."

Apparently her magical mask proved rather effective because she didn't receive a second glance from the swarm of
reporters. They were stopping her random colleagues and asking if they were prepared to comment on her and Draco's
relationship, and she was relieved to note that most people had declined.

She headed straight for Shacklebolt's office, mumbling a quick Finite once she was far enough away from the nosy
writers. Fortunately for Hermione, being a War hero had its benefits and she was one of a selected few to know the
password to Kingsley's room. Ensuring she was alone, she uttered the word concordis to the Lynx statue, and the tall
doors parted.

If he was surprised by her visit, he never showed it; nor did he give any indication that he was affected by the news of her
involvement with Draco. It was refreshing and unsettling all at once, and she felt like she was being lulled with false
comforts when he warmly gestured for her to take a seat.

"Miss Granger," he greeted as he finished signing some documents. "You're early today. I expected you to visit a little

"You were expecting me?" she repeated, taking the chair opposite him.

"I was," he nodded, his smiling eyes twinkling with knowledge. "What can I do for you, Hermione?"

"If you were expecting me," she started carefully, nervously toying with her hands in her lap. "Then you must know why I'm

"Enlighten me," he said calmly, and she paused to collect her fractured vocabulary.

"I owe you an apology," she explained, anxiously pushing her hair out of her face. Kingsley looked confused by her
statement, watching her with wise eyes that sparkled against his dark complexion. He considered her carefully in that
paternally charming way that Dumbledore had often looked at her.

"Why would you owe me an apology, Hermione?" he asked.

"For all the havoc the press are causing in the Atrium," she sighed, earning herself a light laugh from the older wizard.

"That's good," he grinned, leaning back in his elaborate chair. "For a second there, I thought you might have been
apologising for your involvement with Mr. Malfoy, and there's really no need for that."

"I'm sorry for keeping it a secret," she said honestly, nipping at her lower lip. "And I'm sorry about the attention its
received. But no, I'm not sorry about my relationship with Draco."

"Nor would I expect you to be," he advised, giving her a secret wink. "You are certainly not the first person to have a
romantic relationship with a colleague here, and you won't be the last. So long as you both remain professional, I fail to
see an issue. And I think I can safely say you are mature enough to ensure that your work isn't effected."

"Of course," she nodded, allowing herself a relieved smile. "Thank you, Kingsley. You have been more...accepting that

"I imagine more people will be accepting than you think," he told her with addictive confidence. "I'm sure that certain
friends of yours may react unfavourably at first, but it will pass. Surprises have a tendency to alter people, but it's only
temporary. In the meantime, I'm sure you have friends that won't be affected by your news. It will all be fine. There's
always a calm after the storm too."

"I hope you're right," she frowned, clearing her throat when she realised she sounded far too wistful for her liking. "Is
there anything I can do to help with the press?"

"I wouldn't worry yourself, Hermione," he suggested with a nonchalant wave. "The Ministry constantly has issues with the
papers and we have appropriate methods to deal with it. I would recommend you say the bare minimum and just wait
until something more interesting takes their fancy."

"Draco said he was going to talk to them this morning," she explained with concerned features. "Do you think I should tell
him not to?"

He narrowed his eyes in thought but his face remained kind and contemplative. It was had not to feel comforted and
calmed in the man's presence, especially since she had known him almost ten years and he had been nothing but a
competent ally and friend.

"I'm sure Mr. Malfoy knows what he's doing," he concluded with a slight shrug. "But if either of you feel the need to discus
this further, you know where I am."

"Thank you, Kingsley," she said quietly, deciding that today was already notably better than yesterday.

"On a more serious note," he continued, his voice now polished. "How is the case coming?"

"There's been an a few developments," she said. "We've managed to link the murders with an anti-Muggle group from a
few years ago. I have Harry and Terry watching a few possible suspects and we're working on some other things too. I'm
currently trying to break the codes on the letters."

"Interesting," he mumbled, giving her an impressed look. "Do you think you're close?"

"Closer," she offered with a slight grimace. "I'm sorry that things are moving slow-

"I'm sure you're doing the best you can," he stopped her with a knowing look. "I've seen your notes and I can tell how
much of your own time you've put into this. I have no doubt you'll decode the letters soon. You were always brilliant in that

"Well let's hope so," she breathed, leaving her chair. "I should do some work. Thank you for being so understanding,

"Of course," he promised with another relaxed smile. "Good luck with the case, Hermione. And with Mr. Malfoy for that


Kingsley's accepting nature was like adrenaline; motivational and refreshing. It made her feel encouraged and
enlightened, and even though her fingers were trembling slightly, she wrote the letter to Harry with an energized pace.
She apologised for keeping her and Draco a secret; apologised that he had probably found out from Ron, and
apologised again for not explaining this to his face.

She did not, however, apologise for her actual relationship with Draco.

She refused.

And she certainly wasn't sorry for feeling happy with her decision.

She nervously left the parchment with Tilly, asking her to owl it to her best friend when she had a spare moment. After
several deep breaths and a nod of clarity to herself, she withdrew the letters from her bag and read over the jumbled
symbols and letters, selecting a text on Manilius to find inspiration. It was almost twenty-past-nine when Draco finally
sauntered through the door.

"Where have you been?" she questioned hotly, her eyes studying his cocky features.

"Those Prophet writers are tenacious fuckers," he commented, smothering a hungry kiss on her lips before he took his
seat. "Good to have you back to normal, Granger."

"So?" she prompted, ignoring the tingle on her lips he always left behind. "What did you do?"

"I confirmed that we were in a relationship," he shrugged, although he struggled a little with the last word. "And that we
kept it quiet so we could tell our friends and family first."

"That's it?" she asked when he didn't continue.

"That's it," he smirked, leaning forward. "Although Witch Weekly offered a nice sum of money for an exclusive interview
and maybe a photo-shoot-

"Absolutely not," she shook her head, giving him a stern look. "I don't do that."

"Really?" he mumbled, rubbing his chin in a conspiring way. "Not even for a thousand Galleons?"

"No...," she paused, her eyes widening at his words. "A thousand Galleons?"


She pursed her lips and tilted her head to the side in a moment of weakness. Apparently, her and her lover were an
expensive story.

"No," she said finally, arching her eyebrow.

"I figured as much," he nodded, knowing that was the end of the discussion. "And what aspect of Rome are you reading
about today?"

"Marcus Manilius," she held up the book to show him. "Astronomer and poet, and evidently utterly useless. I'm wondering
if I'm thinking about this too literally. Perhaps it's something more obvious that I'm just overlooking."

"Maybe," he offered non-committally, reaching for his own notes. "That's your expertise, Granger."

They worked in that familiar comfortable silence they they had both become rather fond of. They both worked best like
this, free of distractions, occasionally sporting in some light banter than usually lead to Draco uttering a succulent
innuendo that she would store in her head for later.

"Are you still adamant that we can't fuck on the desk again, Granger?" he mumbled over his Earl Grey, his steely eyes
dilated. "Even if we came in on the weekend?"

"I'll think about it," she conceded with a twitch of her lips. It was hardly the first time he'd asked and she found that she
wasn't completely opposed to revisiting his favourite piece of furniture. "Although, you do realise you have several desks
at your house-

"But this is our desk," he stopped her in a tone that sounded almost possessive. "But yes, I quite like the idea of having
your arse-print on some of my other furniture."

She giggled like one of those awful teenagers she would have rolled her eyes at in the street. But her childish chuckle
was cut short by three soft taps against the door. Tilly popped her head around with an apologetic smile.

"Sorry to interrupt," she smiled politely. "Miss Granger, an owl just dropped off a letter for you."

Hermione was on her feet in less than a second, almost sprinting out of the office as Tilly plucked the small letter from
the desk. The hope that had bloomed in Hermione trusting chest was quickly extinguished as she read Harry's words.

There was no acknowledgement of her letter, no friendly words of understanding and not even a small personal note to
let her know how he was. All that stained the parchment between her fingers was a brief and cold report on his
observations of the Carrow twins. And it came like a kick to her gut.

She turned over the page and reread the small note a few times, double-checking she hadn't missed something,
anything that would be construed as personal. But there was nothing there. With an uncomfortable feeling shuddering in
her chest, she headed back into the office, where Draco instantly sensed her glum mood.

"What was that?" he asked her, wondering if her disposition was blue enough to require some physical comfort.

"I sent a note to Harry earlier," she told him, her lips bowing with little jerks as she held back the determined tears.
"Explaining about us and to say sorry for keeping it from him. He sent me the notes on the Carrow twins and completely
ignored my letter."

Draco's eyebrows lowered as he absorbed her confession, deciding that Potter's cowardly behaviour had snapped away
any remaining respect he'd had for the other wizard. For his childhood nemesis to just ignore what was going on was, in
his opinion, a very childish method. He'd have thought the famous hero who had battled against Death Eaters and
Voldemort himself would have been a bit more adept with confrontation. Evidently not.

"Sit down," he bade her, just as three reluctant tears left her sad eyes, one remaining tucked between her lashes and the
other two bleeding down her cheeks.

She did as he requested and he reached out to catch her hand and rub his thumb across her delicate knuckles and

"It will get easier," he assured, his voice strong.

"It better," she murmured, her jaw firm as she swallowed back the offence. "I can't believe Harry is reacting like this. I
really thought he would be okay with us."

"Would some insults about Potter and Weasley help?" he offered with a tight smirk.

"No," she shook her head, her lips tilting slightly at the corners.

"Are you sure? I have quite the selection."

"I'm sure you do," she sighed, a giggle at the back of her breath. "Thank you, Draco. Have you heard from any of your

"I'm sure Blaise will pay me a visit later," he decided, grazing his lips across the back of her hand. "And I'm willing to bet
my mother will have a huge smile on her face right now. I might see her tonight if you have to stay in with Clearwater."

"Do you think Blaise will be okay with it?"

"I see no reason why not," he shrugged, realising he hadn't given it much thought. He'd learned long ago not to let others'
opinions affect his judgement. He growled when another knock interrupted them and gave his door a cold look. "What is

Hermione turned, expecting to find Tilly easing her head into the room again, but both her and her lover donned
confused expressions when Penelope Clearwater popped her pretty head through the door. Her hand slipped out of
Draco's, knowing he still wasn't entirely comfortable with portraying any level of affection with an audience.

"Hey," Penelope greeted them with a warm smile, although most of her attention was focussed on Hermione. "Can I
come in?"

"Of course," she mumbled, slowly removing her hand from Draco's. "Is everything okay, Penelope?"
"It's fine," she nodded, making her way towards the other witch. "I've been trying to get a hold of you since yesterday but
your Floo was disconnected and I only just managed to escape from the department. I just wanted to say
congratulations! It's about time you guys came out as a couple-

"You knew?" Hermione asked, casting a surprised glance to Draco who looked equally confused. "But how-

"Those silencing charms don't last forever," she offered them a telling look. "It was pretty obvious anyway, although I
suppose I only noticed because I've been staying at yours so much."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Hermione muttered, tempted to give the girl a massive hug for being so casual.

"Because you obviously weren't ready to tell people," she explained, offering her friend another brilliant and relaxed grin.
"Anyway, I think it's great. I really should get back before they realise I've gone but I'm staying at yours tonight so we can
talk about it then, okay?"

"Yes," Hermione nodded with a relieved sigh. "I'll meet you by the Floo Network."

"Great," she said, offering them another knowing smile before she hurried out of the office, leaving the two lovers sharing
bemused expressions.

"Nice to know all of your friends aren't useless," Draco muttered after a pause. "And perhaps even tolerable-

"She wasn't horrified by us," she muttered, almost to herself. "This is...progress."

"Feeling a bit more positive now?" he asked with a cocked brow.

"A bit," she nodded, tilting forward to suck his lips.

She received two more personal owls that day, one from Luna and one from Ginny, both assuring her that they weren't
angry and pleased that she apparently had a new boyfriend, even if it was Malfoy. Neither of them had ever had any real
quarrels with Draco at Hogwarts, but a small part of Hermione had thought Ginny may have sided with her fiancée, but
she should have known better considering the redhead's incorrigible attitude.

Luna's letter had been short but sweet, just a quick 'hello' and an invitation to meet for lunch in the week. Ginny's letter
had been a bit more erratic, starting with a paragraph asking why she hadn't told her that she'd been seeing Malfoy. After
that she had ranted about Harry and Ron's 'unacceptable' behaviour and promised her that they would come round.

Both women had given Hermione small smiles with their kind words, and for that she would be eternally grateful. Even
Neville had sent her an interdepartmental memo insisting that she not take any notice of the determined press, and also
admitting that he actually hadn't been that surprised about her and Malfoy.

And Draco, to his credit, had been notably more patient with her. She had promised him that they could dine at the
Wizard restaurant of his choosing whenever he liked, and the victorious smirk that had roused gentle pixies to flutter in
her stomach had reminded her that she had definitely made a wise choice in her lover.

Leaving Hermione with Clearwater and satisfied that she was in higher spirits, Draco went home,

intending to have a quick shower and visit his mother. That had been the plan, but a certain fellow Slytherin waiting on
his couch when he got home put a bump in that road.

"I fucking knew it," Blaise muttered when Draco strode out of the fireplace, and the blond tried to read his friend's

"You knew sod all," he retorted, collapsing on the couch opposite his friend.

"I think you'll find," the dark wizard continued, straightening his posture. "That I mentioned weeks ago that you had eyes
for Granger. At the Ministry-

"I remember that," Draco shrugged, pouring two glasses of Ogden's. "And nothing had happened then-

"And exactly how long has something been happening?" Blaise asked, his dark eyes calm and blasé.

"A few weeks," he answered quickly, trying to gauge his friend's reaction. "Is this interrogation necessary?"

Blaise shifted on the sofa, his cheeks flexing as he tongued the inside of his mouth. Something between a smirk and a
sneer was toying with his mouth but Draco could tell his friend was more amused than anything else. But the comedy
was different, like Blaise was finding it cathartic to laugh instead of actually liking the news.

"And why, pray tell, did you find it necessary to keep it quiet?" he questioned, giving Draco an odd look.

"Her call," Malfoy said with a flippant tone, taking a calculating sip of his Firewhiskey. "She wanted to tell her friends
before the press blurted it out."

"And you didn't trust me not to say something?" he asked, challenging Draco with his glare.

"Trust didn't come into it," he responded carefully. "She asked me not to tell anyone, so I didn't."

"I see," Blaise frowned, pausing to regard his friend with oily eyes. "So you're completely over the whole Muggle-born
thing, I take?"

"I have been for a while," Draco murmured with a nonchalant breath.

"Interesting," the dark wizard mumbled, rubbing his chin with thought. "And you're really going out with Granger?"

"Yes," the blond nodded.

"Despite the fact that you hated each other in school," Blaise continued, stroking the rim of his glass. "And she is the
Gryffindor golden girl?"

"Was," he corrected. "Don't you think we're a little old to be referring to our school houses now?"

"Apparently so," he smirked, taking a deep breath before he continued. "I feel like I should point out that this will probably
end in tears."

"Perhaps," Draco allowed himself a small chuckle. "Is your interrogation over?"

"For now," Blaise conceded, raising his tumbler with a steady grip. "Cheers then, mate."

"Cheers," the pale wizard grinned, chinking his glass against his companion's.

By Friday, the gaggle of journalists had substantially simmered, and Draco knew he owed his mother some gratitude for
sedating Skeeter and her cronies. Hermione had agreed to a late-night 'girl evening' with Lovegood, Clearwater and the
Weasley girl so he had stayed at home, sending an owl to Warrington to ask if he'd heard anything else, and also to let
him know that his lover had completed the communication devices for his fiancé.

He'd come into work early when he'd woken up a good hour before he'd intended. When nine o'clock ticked by with no
sign of his girlfriend, his eyebrows had drawn together in confusion. He knew Hermione well enough to know that she
despised being late unless there was a valid reason. When she shyly shuffled into the room at half past, she looked
visibly shaken, and something in his head fractured.

"What is it?" he rushed the words out, watching with a protective stare as she visibly shivered. Falling into her seat and
doing everything to avoid his eyes, he knew her Friday blues was significantly worse today.

"I'm fine," she sighed, organising her notes and the letters with fragile fingers. "Just a late night with the girls-

"You look like you've seen a ghost, Granger," he mumbled in a gruff tone.

"No ghosts," she whispered, anxiously bothering her bottom lip. "I just stayed up too late."

It was ridiculous how unsettled he felt watching her. She was so obviously distressed about something and he was
completely helpless to ease her troubles, and that was entirely her fault. Not knowing was the worst thing.

He was a heart-thump away from demanding her reason; from telling her that his tether had very much expired, and that
he needed to know what dampened her soul on Fridays. He caught her dainty hand between him palms and held it
firmly, parting his mouth to ask old questions when his door swung open.

"Bloody hell," Draco scorned, releasing his lover's hand. "Would it kill you to knock, Warrington?"
"I have other things to do today," he shrugged, giving Hermione a nod of greeting. "I came to collect the things for

"Amelia?" she asked.

"My fiancé," he confirmed while she removed the items from her bag. "She wanted me to thank you for them."

"It's no trouble," Hermione offered, showing him the two charmed objects. "If she taps her wand three times against the
coin then my coin will tell me where she is and I will Apparate to her. The hair-pin is an emergency portkey, just in case."

"Clever," Caleb nodded with an impressed expression.

"And thank you for the information you told us," she continued, and Draco frowned as she forced a false smile on her
lips. "It's been helpful."

"Is there anything else you know?" Malfoy questioned the other wizard. Deciding his lover still looked a little timid despite
her best efforts to hide it.

"I'm still trying to find things out," he explained calmly, folding his arms over his chest. "Mainly just asking around to see if
anyone else has received any letters, but I haven't had much luck. Have you had any progress?"

"A little," Hermione muttered, running her fingers over the letters in front of her and opening her book on Lucretius. "I
need to decode these as soon as I can."

"We found out the letters were invitations to join an anti-Muggle group," Draco explained warily, wondering if he could
really trust Warrington just yet. "My main concern is that some people may have responded and that we could be looking
for more than one killer."

"I see," Caleb frowned, tilting his head thoughtfully. "How did you find that out?"

"I paid Pucey a little visit," he said slowly. "He's under the Vow so I didn't get much out of him."

"Pucey," he repeated the name with a roll of his eyes. "He was always too fickle for his own good. "

"He said I should consider Ancient Rome to try and break the codes," Hermione sighed, rubbing her temple impatiently.
"I don't suppose you have come across anything that could link to that?"

"Not that I'm aware of," he said, turning his eyes back to Draco. "So there could be a number of people involved in this?"

"So it seems," he nodded, noticing that one of his lover's studious looks had captured her face. "What is it, Granger?"

"Nothing," she shook her head distantly, spilling her coffee-curls around her shoulders. "I thought I...never mind. Carry

Draco clenched his jaw but didn't say anything, deciding it was best not to bring up her odd behaviour with their guest.
Warrington looked a little bemused but refrained from commenting, shifting his blank stare back to his fellow Slytherin.

"So you have no idea how many people could be involved with the group?" Caleb inquired.

"Not a clue," he scowled, tapping his fingers against the desk. "There could be just the one or there could be a few."

"You need to figure out how many there could be," he advised. "Finding out the number is critical-

"Wait," Hermione gasped suddenly, snatching the attention of the two men. "Say that again."

Caleb shared a confused glance with Draco while the blond just eyed his lover expectantly. The expression on her face
was in some fascinating limbo between enlightened and troubled, but she quickly snapped her stare up to Warrington,
urging him to comply with her request.

"I said that finding out the number was critical," he repeated with uncertainty. "Or did you mean-

"That's it!" she exclaimed with round eyes, rising from her seat with urgency. "I am such a bloody idiot!"

"Hermione," Draco called to her, but she was already heading out the door. "Where the hell-

"I'll be back in a minute," she hushed him over her shoulder, leaving behind a pair of puzzled wizards.
"She's...," Warrington started, raising his eyebrow at Draco as he paused. "Eccentric."

The blond smirked in spite of himself but corrected it quickly. "You have no idea," he mumbled instead.

"You still call her Granger," he remarked, observing the other wizard's face closely.

"Force of habit," Draco answered with a wary tone. "So?"

"I read that you are an item in the Prophet," he said. "And several other papers actually-

"What of it?" he responded defensively, despite Caleb's casual tone.

"Well, it explains why you weren't critical of my own relationship with a Muggle-born," Warrington muttered, fixing his
blond companion with a grave look. "I would keep an eye on her if I was you-

"She's not your concern," he spat, his hands balling into pale fists.

"I know that," Caleb breathed wearily, and Draco noticed the dark crescents under his eyes then. "Just take it as some
advice from someone else who is involved with a Muggle-born, Malfoy. Especially when there is someone trying to
murder them-

"I will handle it," he scolded harshly, tired of his schoolmate's presence. "You can leave now. If you find anything else-

"I'll let you know," he interrupted, leaving a frustrated and turbulent Malfoy in his absence.

Draco calmed his tempestuous thoughts with some loud breaths, willing Hermione to hasten her return. Her presence
relaxed him in a way he could never quite fathom, even if only a shadow of her usual aura was present on Fridays. He
actually felt his shoulders relax when she bounded back into the room, clutching a book to her chest and wearing a
triumphant smile.

"I figured out the code!" she beamed, rushing to her chair. "When Warrington mentioned numbers it clicked! I can't
believe I didn't think of it before, it's so obvious-

"Granger," he stopped her. "What are you-

"It's Roman numerals," she explained, her cocoa eyes burning with realisation. "The letters are written with some kind of
numerical system and the rest is probably in the archaic Latin alphabet-

"I'll take your word for it," he smirked at her, nearly forgetting how distressed she had been earlier. "So you know what
they say now?"

"It will take me a few days," she told him. "But now I know what the key is it shouldn't take me long. This is brilliant, Draco!
This could help us so much!"

He was about to reply with words of praise, but she flung herself over the desk and stole his lips in a desperate kiss,
pulling her legs over so she could sit on the edge. Draco instinctively nestled himself between her thighs and tongued
her mouth with fire. One of her ever-pleasing sighs pushed into the kiss and he pulled away.

"Granger," he warned, his tone husky and ravenous. "Don't-

"Lock the door," she insisted with lash-hidden eyes. "Let's take an early lunch."

"You're agreeing to a celebratory shag on the desk?" he questioned with a disbelieving tone.

"If you're quick about it and agree to working late tonight," she mumbled, laughing against his alabaster skin as he
rushed out a quick locking spell.

And Draco decided he would overlook her Friday-misery, and that she had visibly shivered when she had first entered
his office. His curiosity and frustration could wait. For now.

On Sunday, Draco brushed aside her sodden hair to stroke his teeth against her throat, leaving behind the territorial
smudges she adored to receive. He angled her naked leg a little higher up on his hip and pressed further into her,
ramming her defiantly against the tiles with a shuddering grunt.

Her head fell back, the shower droplets decorating her lust-flushed face and dragging back her long, fawn-hair. Her
fingers clung to his shoulders and her legs tightened around him as she blurted out a particularly loud moan that
rumbled in her bathroom.

The exquisite ripples of her rapture fluttered around his length, coaxing out his orgasm with a chorus of loud sighs and
groans. He carefully lowered them to the base of the shower, clutching her close to his chest as she trembled away the
remains of her bliss.

"I think the shower is my favourite," she murmured tiredly against his shoulder.

"No," he disagreed with exhausted breaths, although Sunday shower sessions were quickly becoming his favourite
morning surprise.. "My office desk."

"I thought as much," she smiled, shakily rising to her feet. "I need to finish up decoding the letters. Have a proper shower
and I'll make us some breakfast."

Draco watched with amused eyes as she nearly stumbled on her still-quaking legs, shrugging on a blue bathrobe. After
resting for another minute or so, he reluctantly rose and finished his wash, wrapping a towel around his hips when he
was done. He contemplated heading straight to her kitchen, but the November chill was fresh against his damp skin.

Gathering his discarded clothes from her bedroom floor, he dressed a little too quickly for his recovering muscles to
handle. As he tugged up a trouser leg, he lost his balance and knocked into her bedside table, watching as her work-
bag crashed to the ground and all its contents scattered around him.

"Shit," he growled, crouching down to gather the hundred-odd pages of parchment that were fanned out around him.

He frowned as he eyed his lover's customary handwriting, but faltered when he spotted a small sepia file. He noticed a
sheet poking out of it, scribbled in writing he instantly recognised.

It was in the same hand the letters to the victims had been.

One word caught his attention.

Mudb lood.

Reaching for the the unfamiliar file, he caught it awkwardly and a further twenty or so pages splashed over the
floorboards. His eyes narrowed as his confused stare skimmed over the words, but it was the moving photographs that
really caught his attention.

One of her walking down her street.

One of him and her heading to the Muggle Restaurant they had been to on their first date.

His stomach spasmed painfully as he absorbed the next one.

One taken from the road outside her home, focussed on her bedroom window as she unbuttoned her shirt, her bra-clad
breasts and flat stomach unknowingly exposed. The motion finished just as she closed her curtains.

There were more, but his fingers were busy biting into the fringes of the last violating picture. The images kept repeating
the small sequence as the vomit-rousing anger clawed at his gut. And at the top of each picture, and letter he noticed,
her innocent and feminine scrawl clashed with the harsh intent of the pages.

A date. And while the numbers changed, the day's name remained the same.


a/n: Another long chapter...So yeah...there it is...The issue with Fridays is yours to mull over!
Thanks ever so much for your reviews for the last chapter. It was very difficult for me to decide which one in particular
made me grin as there were a few rather lengthy ones with charming comments and the like! However, I think
ivorynightfall wrote the most helpful review so thanks very much for your thoughts! It was a delight to read you enjoy my
characters and my depiction of the relationship so thanks so much for reading!

Also, two of you asked if it was normal to fancy fictional characters! I chuckled a lot and this somehow sparked a
massive debate between me and three friends.

We came to the conclusion that the real thing is often a let down, so it's kind of inevitable!

Hope you liked the chapter! Very close to 100 favourites, and I am still adamant that I will treat myself to a glass of
champers if that happens!

More wine was involved in the making of this chapter...

Read and Review please!

Next Chapter: There will be Malfoy Fireworks...And possibly some drama that could change everything...

Disclaimer: Not mine...Although I'm willing to fork out a fair few quids for the rights to Draco...
*Chapter 23*: Broken


Chapter 23: Broken.

Hermione had just plated up Draco his favourite; a bacon and egg sandwich. She nibbled on her jam-coated toast,
glancing out of the window and absently drawing a heart in the condensation. It was frosty outside, and the sun was
reflecting with warm rays over the glassy trees and houses. She spotted a laughing family, casually walking a pushchair
along her street.

She loved these Sunday mornings, when the winter was charmed by a cooling sun and Christmas was just beginning to
grace the public. It was too early for the frilly decorations, but she had caught a few seasonal adverts on the television,
and it was always her favourite holiday.

She settled herself at her kitchen table and returned to the letters, guiding her wand over each sentence and muttering
the incantation that would translate it. Each sentence could take anywhere between ten minutes or two hours, but it was
worth it. So far, she had successfully decoded two of Goyle's letters and three of Nott's.

Adrian Pucey had been telling the truth. There had been invitations, requesting that the recipient-come-victim meet at
random places if they wished to join the anti-Muggle group. The first invitation was standard, perhaps even cordial, but
after that they grew increasingly agitated and aggressive. They read thus:


I rememb er finer days when the world was not polluted my Mudb loods.

Voldemort was careless, b ut not stupid.

I invite you to join my cause. To finish what he started.

Meet me at...

The suggested meeting places always changed, so there was no of hope trapping him at a particular place. He really
had thought of everything. The letters were always brief; completely devoid of anything unique that could pose as a hint. It
was frustrating and scary. She had expected more from the notes.

She sighed as the words slowly transformed into English, tilting her chin against her palm as she waited for her coffee
to cool.

That was how Draco found her; relaxing in her cobalt robe and humming a delicate tune to herself as she worked on the
letters. So blissfully ignorant to the dangerous storm swirling in his head. The furious thoughts were ripe on his tongue,
but for the life of him he couldn't voice them. She must have glimpsed him in her peripheral vision because she jumped,
placing her palm over her chest.

"Merlin, Draco," she breathed, as he neared the table. "You scared me-

"I know now," he hissed at her, slamming the sepia file on the table. He watched with glaring fury as her eyes grew
rounder, her eyelashes fluttering slightly before her frightened stare darted up to him. He could feel the burning bile
invade his throat. "I know what you have fucking been hiding-

"Draco, please-

"These are letters from him!" he screamed, pointing a shaking finger at the file. "And not just letters, Granger! Fucking

He picked up the file and shook it until the contents were scattered before her on the table, and she quickly turned her
head away. Had his glare not been slightly misted by his rage, he may have noticed the gloss of tears against her
nutmeg eyes.

"You don't understand-

"Of course I don't understand!" he yelled, leaning over the table, but she bowed her head away from him. "You kept this
from me! What the fuck were you thinking? Do you realise how dangerous this is? Everyone else who got letters is dead,

"I know," she murmured, refusing to match his fiery stare. "But I-

"How could you be so stupid?" he shouted louder as she rose from her chair. He grabbed her wrist when she tried to
move away from him, pulling her close and holding her firm. "Don't you dare try and ignore me! Were you ever going to
tell me?"

"Yes," she gasped, a salty tear spilling down her face. "I just...I didn't-

"What do they say?" he asked her, releasing her wrist to grasp her shoulders. "Tell me!"

"You didn't read them?" she choked on her distress, her breathing jittery and her face panicked.

"No," his t