Draco Malfoy intently studied Karkaroff and Thicknesse while the two plotted. The two older wizards were smirking at each other, at Malfoy and the tied down witch as they ironed out their story. Hermione sat glaring at Draco, her jaw locked in anger, her hair frizzing and crackling again, as if she guessed their schemes even from within the silencer shield.
“So that’s it then.” Draco interrupted the other wizards’ flights of fancy, “Let her go and we’ll get to planting the story right where it is sure to be snatched up.”
“What? Right now?” Thicknesse pouted. Draco glowered at the incongruence of the old man pouting over his aborted plans of torture.
“Yes. Right now. I’ll take her home so that she doesn’t get into any other scrapes on the way. I believe I need to have some kind of a talk with her too.” Draco declared and proceeded to take down his silencing charms.
Karkaroff nodded. “I’ll get hold of Skeeter and fill her in.”
Hermione heard Karkaroff’s statement as the silencer shield disintegrated. She looked at the three men, Karkaroff and Thicknesse excited, Draco grim. It took her a second to guess what Skeeter could be filled in on, with regards to her person and her current situation. All color drained out of her face as she began thinking about all that had happened and the consequence of the events.
Malfoy came to her and waved his wand to remove the bindings on her person. He didn’t meet her eyes.
“What have you done? Why did they stop the interrogation?” she whispered.
“You’re smart. You’ll understand.” he smiled bitterly, and met her questioning eyes at last, “Eventually.”
Malfoy grabbed her by the arms and turned in place to apparate them to a dim alley behind the building Hermione lived in.
He stared into her bewildered eyes. A sliver of guilt pricked him when he thought about the kind of things the papers would publish about his witch in a few hours. How the masses would pull her from her pedestal. The gossip would tear her life apart. But he had to trust in her ability to survive in face of towering odds. Hermione needed this upheaval, or she would never let the corpse of her old life go. Draco was just helping her along with a bitter but necessary pill of slander. And it wasn’t slander per se. Everything the papers would say would be true, even if it was said in a sensationalist and controversial way.
This was a matter of how society would perceive the real Hermione Granger, not the Hermione who hid beneath the perfect façade she’d built over the years. He’d seen only glimpses of the real Hermione, one of a kind, a dichotomy of wicked smarts, ruthless cunning, bleeding heart and a lusty adventurous spirit. He knew the real Hermione won the Wizarding War for the Order of the Phoenix. What happened to her after that?
Why was she scared of her desires? Why did she not put her foot down and demand things she deserved like she used to in school? Why was she scared of being without the friends who kept taking advantage of her and sucking the life out of her? What made her so insecure that she’d started questioning her self-worth?
Somedays when he saw her tabloid pictures of trying to fit into the background circle of Weasley and Potter he wanted to shake her. Just grab her shoulders and shake her until her proper bun unraveled, the polite smile became a snarl and she gave him a dressing down worthy of the swot he knew she still was deep down inside. He wanted to do it so bad that now he was going to do it whether she wanted to be shaken or not.
This scandal would shake up her boring fraud of a life. Draco was a bastard to do this to her without her permission. He accepted that and had decided to do it anyway.
“I’ll catch you when you fall.” He blurted.
Hermione opened her mouth to ask him what he was going on about. Before she could make a sound, Malfoy let go of her arms and disappeared with a crack. Dazed and truly confused, she turned and entered her house. Trying to make sense of her evening failed. Trying to fall asleep failed. Getting drunk was out of the question because she needed to think coherently, not drown out all her churning wayward thoughts. But panic had hit already and hit hard. All she could think of was that her carefully constructed life was slipping out of her hands, out of her control, and down a deep dark spiral.
Hermione was rudely woken up as something hit her face. Her day went downhill from there.
She opened her eyes in annoyance and saw a red-faced Ron Weasley trying to form words. No new sight that! Her eyes next focused on the offending copy of the Daily Prophet on her face. Hermione pushed off the newspaper and sat up, ready to rip Ron a new one for waking her up like that.
“What are you doing Ron?”
“Oh ha ha. You are going to pretend you don’t know. You like to read.” He sneered, “Read the paper Hermione. And you tell me what YOU’VE BEEN DOING!”
Ron was yelling.
Ron was yelling at 7:00AM in the morning.
Hermione heard multiple voices coming through the walls, from the direction of the kitchen. Were there more people in their home at 7:00 AM in the morning? What was happening?
She snatched the rag and gave its front page a quick glance. Her breath froze even as her insides started sinking. Hermione straightened the sheet of paper and looked at the huge headlines again.
Golden Girl goes to the Dark Side!
Muggleborn crashes elite soiree! And gets caught!
An exclusive report by Rita Skeeter.
Hermione Granger, brightest witch of her age, the beloved third of our shining Golden Trio, famed for her bravery and heroics during the second Great Wizarding War of England, has gone to the Dark Side. Reliable sources have confirmed that the Darling of the Order of the Phoenix has been cheating, ‘cheating’ dear readers, on her boyfriend of many years, war hero Ronald Weasley and carrying on a secret affair with none other than Draco Malfoy, scion of house Malfoy, a known ex Death Eater and muggle hater.
Pictures and MORE on Page 2…
Hermione read the words again. To make sure she was reading it right.
“Well?” Ron practically snarled, “It’s true isn’t it? All the late nights at work, not wanting to sleep in our bed, all your lies…You cheating piece of dirt! And with Malfoy no less?”
Hermione’s head hurt from her late night and the sudden pandemonium. She needed a moment to comprehend the shit-storm brewing around her. She needed to decide what to tell Ron and how. She needed a cup of coffee. And she needed Ron to stop shouting for two bloody seconds.
“Lower your voice Ron. We will talk like adults.”
“NO! I bloody well won’t lower my voice! Not before you explain this. Oh and Mom, Ginny and Harry are here. They brought the paper, wanting answers. So…START GIVING THE ANSWERS!”
Hermione got off the bed, grabbed her robe and hastily tied it on. On some level, she was glad it was all out on the open. After her misadventure at that ‘elite soiree’ of last night, Hermione was done with lies. And men! She was so done with men!
“Come out to the kitchen Ron. Everyone wants an explanation. So I’ll explain.” she said, mustering her best no nonsense tone.
“No! I am your boyfriend. I deserve to know before anyone else what the hell my girlfriend was doing with that filthy death eater. Were you fucking him or not? It is a yes or no question, no explanation needed. Give me a yes or no answer Gods Dammit!”
“Because you yelling words at me is talking in private? I’m sure the next door neighbors can hear us right now. Come out to the kitchen.” Hermione answered as calmly as possible and walked out of the room. Ron followed, hot on her heals.
Hermione saw Harry first, sitting at the kitchen counter on a stool, fists clenched, hair more askew than usual, staring at the wall. Mrs. Weasley, glaring in judgement, had taken the liberty of making tea. She sat beside Harry, arms crossed at her bosom. Ginny sat on Harry’s other side, sipping on her tea, looking pained and awkward.
Ron took up his place beside his mother, folded his hands and tapped his foot.
“So.” he said.
“Good morning Molly, Harry, Ginny. I see you have tea already. Anything else you’d like?”
“What’s going on Hermione?” Harry asked, still staring at the wall.
“My job at the ministry was not wholly a desk-”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR FUCKING JOB!” Ron started yelling again.
“I know!” Hermione snapped, having had enough yelling for the day. “Now shut up and listen to what I am saying for once! I work with McGonagall, as part of her network of intelligence operatives. I can’t elaborate on my mission. But I met Malfoy as part of a job for the Ministry. I was sent, under cover, as a Ministry certified ancient runes analyst for a project he was working on, to get close to him and hopefully gather information. So I did that and…and I am very good at my job.”
Harry started saying something, when Ron beat him to it.
“Secret mission or not, were you sleeping with him Hermione? Yes or no?”
Hermione took a breathe and let it go.
Ron threw his cup of tea on the floor, breaking it to pieces, splashing hot tea all over the floor and walls, and clutched his head in his hands. Molly Weasley shook her head at Hermione in disappointment and got up to hug her son. Just as Ginny made to get up too, Harry put a hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder and guided her to sit again. Ginny shrugged off Harry and walked to Ron.
“Were you forced to sleep with him? Because of your mission?” Harry asked, his voice quite, eyes pleading. He wanted to believe the best about his best friend. He needed her to remain untouched by darkness, truthful and honest to a fault, like the little girl he had met on Hogwarts Express years ago.
Hermione hesitated. This was Harry, good, brave, honorable Harry. Her best friend Harry. The boy who had always stood by her side and supported her through thick and thin. The boy who was still trying to take her side and believe the best in her. She knew Harry hated Draco Malfoy and all that Malfoy stood for. Would admitting that she had had sex with Malfoy, repeatedly, of her own volition, finally turn Harry against her? For the first time that morning, Hermione was afraid. She didn’t want Harry to be disappointed in her too.
“Hermione?” Harry asked again, looking at her intently.
“No Harry.” Hermione whispered, eyes filling with moisture and dread, “I wasn’t forced. He showed interest and I went for it. I decided that sleeping with Malfoy was the easiest way to get close to him. I chose to go that way. I knew it was cheating. I did it anyways.”
Harry slowly shook his head, his eyes going moist. He opened his mouth and closed it, not knowing what to say. No one said anything. Hermione almost wished Ron would start yelling again.
Ginny let go of Ron’s arm and got a hold of Hermione’s, standing in front of her so the older but shorter witch couldn’t see anyone else.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Hermione replied as a tear made way across her cheek, “First I thought I was making a fool out of Malfoy and helping the greater good. Oh what a heady feeling that was. I don’t even know when I became the fool and started to, to like what I was doing. With him.”
Ron shrugged out of his mother’s embrace. “I can’t listen to this anymore. My head is going to explode if I hear another word out of her lying cheating mouth!”
With a look of disgust, Ron walked out of the kitchen.
“How long have you been prostituting yourself in the name of the greater good?” Molly Weasley asked, her tone icy.
Molly’s words hit Hermione like a slap. Still, it was better this way. At least Hermione knew where she stood in their grand scheme of things.
“A couple months.” She answered woodenly, looking at Harry and Ginny.
Molly’s intended response was cut off by three loud raps at the front door, before it was forced open. In pored a full MLE team. The six men fanned out around them, two walking further around to look around and check if there was anyone else in the small house. Their wands were out, their faces grim. An auror stepped closer to the surrounded group, unwound a parchment and started reading.
“Miss Hermione Granger, per orders from the Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt, for unlawful use of your position and the information gained through your position as Runes and Code specialist with the British Ministry of Magic, you are being cited in violation of Clause 23.6.2 of your contract, the section regarding Discretion with classified information, in addition to being cited for breaking and entering, sabotage, destruction of precious artifacts, defacing one protected artifact, unprovoked attack on civilians and unlawful disguise without express permission. You are being placed under arrest at the behest of the Ministry, pending trial. Please surrender your wand and come with us. Trying to escape or attacking us will add to your offense and will be dealt with at your trial as well. Anything you wish to say, you are welcome to say it at your trial or to the senior Auror who will detain you, wherefrom it will be added to your record.”
Hermione stared at the Auror, who stared right back at her from over the top of his parchment of offenses. Harry had started an argument with an auror he knew. Ginny was yelling at Ron and trying to hold her brother back as he yelled at another auror. Molly was shouting at the top of her voice for Ginerva and Ronald to stop fighting the very second and come away.
Hermione thought she should be feeling something. Anger, shame, betrayal… But all she had going was nausea, and a developing headache. In a fog, she extended her wand hand towards the Auror and then with effort, uncurled her fingers from around the wooden handle. Her precious wand landed in the outstretched, leather-gloved hand of the law man and she felt as if she was perfectly still and still sinking rapidly beyond reach.
Harry got hold of her arm and said something. Hermione tried to concentrate on the words.
“Hermione! Listen to me! Are you listening? We’ll get legal representation. We’ll fight this. They tell me you lost control and broke a bloody light fixture! What happened wasn’t this serious. We can make this right. Hermione?”
With effort she turned to Harry and met her best friend’s frantic eyes. She hadn’t seen this look on his face since the War. She’d put fear in the indomitable Harry Potter’s eyes again. She’d brought strife in his hard-won peaceful life. She knew she’d feel shame for that when she started feeling again. Her eyes shifted to Ron and saw the look of pure deliverance in her ex boyfriend’s eyes. He was smug. Hermione was forcefully turned around, her arms pulled back and wrists brought together in magical restraints. Ginny was crying and holding onto Harry now. Molly stood with Ron, not exactly smug like her son, but not crying in despair like her daughter either.
“We’re here ‘Mione.” Harry whispered in the sudden silence of the small kitchen.
“Don’t count me in. Nor my family!” Ron sneered. “Not only is she a cheating whore, she is a criminal who is going to rot in Azkaban. We’re done here.”
Ginny spun to her brother and slapped him
“Shut up Ron. Don’t you see she’s been set up?”
“Ginny!” Molly exclaimed and grabbed the redhead’s wrists in both of her hands. “Hermione chose her lot. Now she will reap her just rewards. Fighting with your brother will not change that. We are going home now.”
“But mother. We need to help-“
“We do NOT need to help anyone. We need to go home.” Molly started dragging Ginny towards the fireplace, “Come now.”
“Ron?” Harry caught his retreating friend’s shoulder.
Ron shook it off and grabbed at the bag of floo powder from the mantel.
“Harry don’t leave her alone. Go to-” Ginny called out as her mother and Ron forcefully stuffed her into the fireplace.
“Harry don’t you dare help that bitch” Ron cut his struggling sister off. “If you want to marry my sister, call my family your own, you will chose your side right bloody now and THAT’S THAT.”
“SHUT UP RON! You cannot order us around.” Ginny screeched again.
“As your older brother, and with my full support, he sure can order you around.” Molly growled at her daughter and swished her wand to silence her. She took a fistful of floo pwder, clearly said the Burrow and threw the powder in the fireplace. A silently screaming Ginny was gone in a flash of green. Molly followed and then it was Ron’s turn.
“Ron? She is our friend first. Think of how much we’ve been through together.” Harry was begging now, close to tears. “We are alive because of each other.”
“Ask our friend if she thought of that when she was fucking Malfoy, the guy who’s dad almost killed Ginny, the guy who with his family fostered and supported you know who. How could she look at him? How could she lay down with…” Ron turned to glare at Hermione, putting all the venom he could in his next words, “There must be some truth to the things people say about mudbloods yeah? You’re not right, you people! No matter how many books you cram, you will never know what actually counts. Stay away from me and my family.”
With that, Ron stepped inside the fireplace, yelled the Burrow and was gone in another green flash.
Hermione swallowed the bile in her throat as she turned to the team leader. The older man had been silent while the Weasleys and the boy-who-lived squabbled. He looked entertained. The breakups, the blackmail, the choices, the tears, it was all a soap opera to him.
“Lets go” She addressed the Auror.
It was Harry. The catch in his voice as he said her name made her pause. She glanced towards her dearest friend in the world and felt something other than nausea and headache. She felt the warmth of her love for the bravest and kindest man she knew.
Her complications, her inappropriate desires, all her lies had landed her here, having to face Harry, with her wrists bound, wand confiscated and list of offenses a kilometer long. Harry Potter still stood with her, ready to do battle against her dishonor, ready to sacrifice his life, his credibility and his good word for hers. The hero of their world! The stupid misguided hero of her life! Was it right for her to ask him to pay the price of her offences?
Was it right for Harry and Ginny to pay for the machinations of her world of evil blond dragons, lying ministry politicians, turned spies and desperate unrequited love?
The nausea subsided. The pain in her temples brought their precarious situation in stark relief. The damage needed to be controlled and mitigated. When things blew up, Hermione decided she should be the only one standing in the blast radius.
“Go to Ginny, Harry. She needs you right now.”
“I’ll handle this. I know the rule book inside out, cover to cover. There is nothing a legal advisor could tell you that I can’t quote verbatim. Trust me, as you always have. Go to Ginny.”
Harry’s mouth went flat, a stubborn glint entering his eyes. The lead auror yanked at her arms and started ushering her towards the main door of her flat. The door opened to a mass of witches and wizards outside, some holding little quills and parchment, some holding cameras. Lights of a few cameras went off, blinding her for a few moments. People shouted at her from every direction.
“Miss Granger, are you under arrest? Did you-”
“Did you cheat on Ronald Weasley? What did he-”
Someone pushed an auror to fall into her and everybody was jostled.
“Miss Granger, were you always a death eater?”
“Hermione are you really a muggleborn? Are your parents-”
A stone flew from somewhere and hit her shoulder.
“Did you betray Harry Potter?”
The aurors all cast a shield in tandem and one of them grabbed her to side along apparate away from the media circus. As soon as her feet touched the black tiles of the Ministry Attrium, Hermione fell on her hands and knees and threw up. Darkness began to invade the corners of her vision, threatening to pull her under, even as she dry heaved again and again. The floor was as cold as her body. Consciousness slipped from her numb fingers as she passed out to oblivion.