Somewhere in the Ministry of Magic Dungeons
Hermione sat and stared at the black wall in front of her, desperately trying to make sense of her life.
It made no sense. Or maybe she couldn’t think properly yet?
How could she, brightest witch of the age, decorated war heroine, one of the best undercover ministry agents, end up arrested and put away in a dark retention chamber, wand confiscated and worse yet, hungry and extremely thirsty?
Was it something about her last mark? Was it the accidental magic? Was it the party gate crash? The lies?
Or was it just a sum total of her life choices?
As usual, her mind went to Draco. A familiar shiver ran down her spine. Deliberately, she thought about him with Astoria. The tingles turned to pain. Hermione welcomed the pain and let herself have the luxury of a few tears. She counted to sixty. It cleared her head and brought to stark relief the reality of her situation. Then she put all her training with the mind magics to use and wrenched herself back from panic and heartbreak to reason and logic.
Hermione started counting again and aligned her breathing with safe steadfast numbers.
One, two, three, four, five.
She thought about her crazy impulse of going invited to a pureblood party full of closet blood purity supporters and open blood supremacists. She went without a plan or an exit strategy. That was idiotic of her.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
She thought of the way her magic had flared up, how she hadn’t cared who saw her, hadn’t cared who got hurt, intent only on making Draco look at her and see the consequence of the heartbreak he caused. She got jealous and let jealousy take over conscious mind function. More idiocy.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six.
She thought of the morning. Of Ron, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny. Of Harry and his fear clouded eyes. Of the press that attacked her. Of the MLE aurors that took her into custody. She knew everything and still let others get to her, drowned in nerves and threw up in the Ministry Atrium.
Five, four, three, two, one.
Hermione wandered at the speed with which a case had been built against her to warrant an arrest and the confiscation of her wand. This was the Ministry of Magic after all. Things were seldom timely. Well, not if you were a death eater or had proven links to one. Then the Ministry was quick to act and swift to hand out due or undue justice. But Hermione wasn’t a death eater, nor did she have links with-
The witch swore viciously as a few more cobwebs cleared from her brain. She made a scene at a death eater party. She was rumored to be an ex death eater’s lover. Her purposes of being with said ex death eater were shrouded in mystery. To the regular Ministry cog, this was a case of the highest profile. A secret insider on both sides with so much power and dubious connections.
She’d been very idiotic to not expect an arrest.
The lock of her cell door clicked. The door opened without a sound and in came the auror who had arrested her in the morning.
“You have a visitor.”
He moved aside to reveal Astoria Greengrass, dressed to the nines in bottle green silk robes with a double row of gold buttons on the front, hair flawlessly side swept and clipped with emeralds, demure black lace gloves on small hands and pearls on the throat and earlobes. Her face was made up to perfection, her perfume flowery and sweet.
So, Hermione deduced, she had come to make a statement then. Would have been photographed on the way in too. May or may not have stopped to say something supremely good for the benefit of the reporters. Cut a pretty picture and seem like the bigger better person after Hermione’s jealous hysterics of the last evening. How very Sytherin of her.
Astoria stared at Hermione, smoky eyes roving up and down the older witch’s flannel pajamas, bird-nest hair and splotchy face. Her dainty chin went up a notch in superiority.
“Good evening. I was wandering if we could talk. Mr. Weiss here” she nodded at the accompanying auror, “tells me your wand was taken from you. Since you attacked me last time you saw me, you might be scared that I would retaliate in some way. I won’t by the way. However, for your comfort, do you wish aurors to remain here for the duration of our conversation?”
“I don’t mind either way.”
Astoria glanced at the auror and flicked her eyebrows towards the door. The auror Mr. Weiss left, closing the door behind him. Then she looked around the room, in open distaste.
“What is this room? It’s awful. There is nowhere to sit other than the cot and I am not sitting on that filth. Salazar knows who used it in what way!”
Hermione waited her out. Whatever the other witch was here for, she’d eventually get to it. No point rushing the performance. Astoria finally settled to stand in the middle of the room and watched a sitting Hermione down her nose.
“Draco and I are betrothed, did you know that?”
Fresh pain assaulted Hermione. This time however, she was in control of herself and didn’t let it show. Her face remained impassive, shoulders straight and easy.
“It started back in school. Lucius and Narcissa loved me. Draco was devoted. Our families drew out the contract.” Astoria sighed. “Then the war happened. Our families and our friend’s families got prosecuted, jailed, our businesses were investigated, investors turned their backs. We suffered huge losses. But we are persistent. Even with all that unsavory business, we pulled through, safe and thriving at the other end. Look at us now. We are the elite of the society again. People adore us. Daily Prophet sales go up on days Draco and my pictures gets printed. You see, everyone wants a fairytale and I have it. Right with Draco.”
Hermione hated the way Draco’s name sounded when Astoria said it.
“He is a little twisted. He loves his games, likes to make me jealous by going out with other witches. But in the end, he always comes back to me.”
“Congratulations for such a devoted fiancé.” Hermione said tonelessly.
Astoria’s hand twitched, no doubt for her wand.
“You’re one to show sarcasm! I know all about you. How you tried to lure Draco to touch you with your pretext of investigating him. All under the cover of loving Ronald Weasley, of all wizards. You crashed our party because you were jealous, didn’t you? Of our pictures in the gossip rags? I don’t blame you really, when the choice was between Draco Malfoy and Ronald Weasley.” Astoria sneered.
“There is no comparing Ron and Draco, not in any realm. If you are trying to get to me, you’ll have to try harder.” Hermione smiled.
“Why you sanctimonious bitch! Always so above board, above reproach and ahead of everyone. Why were you going after Draco if Ron is such a paragon? Is it because you wanted to hurt me the only way you could? For taking away your case?”
Hermione shook her head at the self-important delusions of Astoria Greengrass.
“I mean, think about it.” Astoria went on, “I have everything you don’t. Beauty, pedigree, poise. Draco. Out of all my qualities, Draco is my only weakness. You went right after him. So I went after the one thing you are most sensitive about.”
“And what am I most sensitive about? Go deeper. You aren’t even trying.” Hermione smirked.
Astoria clenched her jaw at Hermione’s attitude.
“Lets see how smug you are when I tell you who got all those derisive articles printed in this morning’s paper. Take a guess. I am sure his name would go deep enough to touch places that hurt.”
Hermione had an idea who that was. She’d suspected him while he was plotting with his cohorts. He’d spouted something about catching her when she fell before dropping her off to her apartment last night. So Astoria’s big revelation wasn’t going to be the other shoe that dropped on that day that just wouldn’t end.
“C’mon. Humor me. Take a guess.”
Astoria was enjoying herself. Hermione refrained from popping her bubble just yet. She was being good about sharing. Why stop her while she was on a roll?
“I don’t know who hates me that much Astoria. Why don’t you tell me?” Hermione let slip some of her pain in her words, to encourage the other witch along.
“Oh Hermione. I am sure he doesn’t hate you.” Astoria stepped closer and crouched on her heels to be eye level with the sitting Hermione, “He doesn’t think about you much. You were just a pesky little pebble in Draco’s shoes, one he threw away easily. No hard feelings yeah?”
Hermione leveled her gaze at Astoria and remained silent.
“And besides, daddy says he is going to set a date soon. He had doubts about Draco before last night and kept postponing the wedding. But the way Draco plotted to take you down…” Astoria smiled, “You cleared the path for us. I came to thank you for your assistance.”
“Was that all?”
“Oh. I still like to earn my rewards Granger. After all, daddy shouldn’t have to get me all my wins should he? So, we’ll tweak up Draco’s story a little, make him look more forced than he wanted to appear in front of society. You know, men and their fragile egos.”
Astoria rolled her eyes and then her face went through a remarkable transformation. Her eyes went cold. Her smile empty. Her hands stopped twitching. Up to that point, Hermione had considered Astoria Greengrass to be just a spoiled heiress who got handed everything she wanted. For the first time, Hermione saw how Astoria could have been a successful spy as well. With the pretenses off, the supposedly vapid heiress looked dangerously ruthless.
Astoria leaned closer to Hermione, digging her wand at the wandless Hermione’s neck.
“When Mr. Weiss comes to get me, you are going to rant about having used an unforgivable or two on Draco, just to get ahead in your pathetic life. You are going to say you are not sorry. You are going to say you hate us magical pure blood elites and are willing to use any number of unforgivables to rid the society of us. You are going to dig your own grave. And then you will lie quietly in it.”
Meanwhile somewhere in London
Harry Potter marched up to the receptionist manning the desk at the Malfoy Enterprises London Office and demanded an urgent audience with one Mr. Draco Malfoy. The receptionist sputtered and stuttered over her dilemma; whether to intrude upon their reclusive and very busy CEO and President of the Board who despised any intrusion over his overflowing schedule, or to turn away the illustrious boy-who-lived-and-became-hero-of-the-wizarding-world who just had to see Malfoy right then at any cost. She finally just directed Harry Potter to Mr. Malfoy’s PA and considered it a sticky situation well handled.
Malfoy’s PA, a severely prim and proper Mrs. Jennings regarded Harry with a steady gaze of a veteran assistant and seemed to decide with a nod that his sans appointment trespass on Mr. Malfoy’s time could be tolerated. She knocked twice on the heavy door of her boss’s office and gestured for Harry to go on in.
Harry entered the richly appointed workspace of his former nemesis and glared at the blond sitting behind his massive desk. Malfoy met his eyes and carefully put away his quill.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Harry grimaced at what he was about to say and dived right into it.
“I don’t know how to do this, but we need to talk about Hermione.”
If it was possible to wipe a blank slate, Malfoy’s face just went through the process.
“Yes. We damn right do! She was arrested this morning. Arrested! Hermione! She is awaiting trial now. A full MLE team came by her flat this morning. They took her wand. She was…” Harry gulped and blinked, fixing his eyes on the silver monogrammed inkpot sitting on the desk, “She was treated like a common criminal. They had a two feet long list of offenses. Didn’t let us have a word in. And then there was the press at the door. They threw actual stones at her. Called her a death eater whore. She just…She needs help. I will do what I can but… I need you to help her.”
Harry clutched at his hair. Going through the morning’s unfortunate affairs was driving him to panic again. If he were not at the point of nervous breakdown, Harry would have noticed Malfoy’s ticking jaw and clenched fist resting on a bouncing knee.
“What were the offenses?”
“Half of them concern you by the way. Breaking and entering, attack on civilians, illegal use of mind magic. What utter tripe! You have to speak for her Malfoy. Forgive the offenses, in writing if you will. I went to MLE before coming here. The aurors say that written statements will go a long way in helping her defense. Next I’ll see how to handle the destroyed chandelier issue.”
Malfoy was silent for a few moments.
“I know you’ve had it out for her-”
The legs of his heavy chair scraped loudly on the marble floor as Malfoy stood up in irritation.
Harry paused and gave him a look before resuming.
“I know you’ve always had it out for her because of her being a muggleborn. You and your precious friends… you people still look down upon her even after she spoke for you at your trial. I agree what happened at your party was regrettable. But it was just accidental magic flaring up. Can happen to the best of us…We don’t haul each other to the Wizengamot for that. She is going through a lot of personal issues Malfoy. Her relationship with you just plastered across all rags. Please don’t drag her through mud for this too.”
“Whatever you might accuse me of Potter, I don’t want to drag her through mud. I didn’t get her arrested. It wasn’t even my party. I was just a guest there. I don’t know why she was there, invited or not. A lot of influential wizards and witches attended though. Someone obviously took offense and pulled some strings to put her away.”
Harry folded his arms over his chest and looked squarely at Malfoy.
“Alright. You can find out who reported her or leaked the news though, can’t you? Must be one of your friends. Someone who hates successful muggleborns and blames them for everything wrong with our world. Gee, that doesn’t narrow down our list does it? Maybe it’s the bloke whose chandelier she shattered. I don’t know these people, apart from you. You were the first person I knew to start with.”
“What are you starting Potter?”
“I am going to help her, whether you help me or not. You two had a relationship, right? She might not mean that much to you, but to me…” Harry looked away, gulped uselessly over his dry throat and blinked away his tears. “I can’t let her be publicly tried or sent to prison, to Azkaban. I keep thinking of her face when they were taking her away. Her eyes…I haven’t seen them so empty before.”
Harry waited for Malfoy to say something. When he didn’t, a touch of steel entered Harry’s eyes and words.
“I won’t have you using and casting her away like this and then moving on to other witches on your merry way. If she goes down, you will go down too. I’ll make sure you do Malfoy.”
“She lied to me, started a relationship under false pretenses, put me in an impossible position and now you will take me down because the MLE found her red handed and took her in.”
“Oh come off it. You with your pureblood agenda and hoity toity airs! You were seeing her for a few months and yet you had a different witch on your arm whenever you appeared in public for photo ops. Admit it Malfoy, you were too ashamed to be seen with her. And now she is in trouble because of her association with you. Need I remind you that the ministry took her in immediately because you are an ex death-eater?”
Emotion crashed as a tide on Draco’s face. His eyes glazed in anger, cheeks colored red and his lips twisted in a sneer Harry was very familiar with.
“Ah the spoiled Malfoy heir is back! Whatever Hermione sees in you, I don’t. None of her friends do. What she saw in you to let you get near enough to touch her-” goaded Harry, finding more comfortable footing against a sneering Malfoy rather than a cold blank one.
“She cheated on her boyfriend all on her own noble self, Potter.” Sneered Malfoy, “She has been lying to all of you. She hid me like a dirty secret. The few times I saw her was when she deigned to step off her pedestal and come to me, looking for a shag and then turned around and went right back to her holier than thou friends and boyfriend. She laughed in my face the first and only time I tried to keep her with me just for a drink at my house. Do you think she would have stepped out with me in public if I had asked? I never repeated dates because none of those witches mattered.”
The wind knocked out of Harry’s sails.
Malfoy pinched the bridge of his nose, came around his desk and pulled a chair for Harry.
“Sit down Potter.”
Harry sat down, staring at the blonde and trying to make sense of what he had just heard. Surely Hermione went to him but snubbed Malfoy because the blonde was just a mark, not a real person she wanted to date. Surely Malfoy didn’t want to publicly show Hermione off as a girlfriend. Surely the world was not that topsy turvy.
Malfoy went to a minibar at the side and poured a cup of tea, before levitating the cup and saucer towards Harry.
“I don’t want tea.” Harry gnashed his teeth in frustration. “I want answers. Hermione’s not a shrew or a cheater. Then why was she cheating on Ron and sleeping with you? Also if she was doing her Ministry job, why did the aurors arrest her instead of the people at the party? And who the hell leaked all of this to the Daily Prophet?”
“Drink the tea. And calm the fuck down, Potter. Merlin you are melodramatic. What happened between Granger and I is separate from what is happening to her now with the arrest. Listen carefully. First, I am sure the Ministry doesn’t want the fact that they are spying on prominent wizards and witches out. They are going to want to sweep every whisper about it under the carpet. They may have already determined that Hermione is expendable. So defending Hermione’s actions with the argument of Ministry work will be counterproductive.
Second, when she was captured at the party last night, those same prominent witches and wizards wanted to get rid of her for fear of what she might know. They would not want a public trial. Or a fair one for that matter. They want her to be silenced as well. The gossip in the papers is a convenient way to undermine Hermione’s work. It works for both the Ministry and the Death-eaters. If we keep Hermione silent for a couple of days, the Ministry is the most secure place for her. To get her out, we need to prepare a secure location and an air tight story and defense.
Third, to get her out after a couple of days, concentrate on obtaining the letters of forgiveness for breaking into their party from as many guests as you can. Use your contacts, obtain evidence of shady dealings for a few powerful wizards and they will bring those letters to you themselves. That would go some way in getting her charges dropped.”
Malfoy poured himself a cup too, pulled the other visitor chair and sat in front of Harry.
“I’ll see about paying off the chandelier problem. I’m working on something else too. Granger’s tough as nails and you know it. We will make sure she doesn’t go to Azkaban, Potter. That place…I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy there.”
“The MLE was pretty set on sending her to Azkaban.”
“The drones of the MLE work under orders. Orders can be reversed.”
“You will help with that too?” Harry asked quietly.
Harry drank the tea. He felt the stiffness ease in his shoulders and a little weight lifted from his heart. Although Malfoy was no friend of his, he was the only one out of the people Harry had approached that day, who had agreed to help Hermione in a real way. All the others were worried about their own public image and wanted to distance themselves from the brewing case. Going in, Harry had had very little hope from Malfoy. But the ferret had pleasantly surprised him.
“Thank you, Malfoy. I appreciate your help. I thought she had a lot of people she could count on. But just a whisper of an association with former death-eaters and a ministry cover up and no one is willing to touch her with a ten-foot pole. Not one. Even the Weasleys. Even Ron, and he loved her. It is only Ginny and I standing with Hermione now.”
“I am too. Whether she wants me to or not.” Malfoy mumbled and gulped his tea down.
Harry stared at his childhood nemesis and decided he was no longer the evil little cockroach he’d been back at Hogwarts. Could there be more things about the wizard that Hermione had seen, that he was too blind to perceive? And was this blindness on his or the other’s part that kept Hermione from telling them about Malfoy sooner?
“Again, I can’t believe I am saying this to you, but she does want you. Before the aurors took her away this morning, I asked her why she carried on an affair with you. If it was all just a ruse. She said she liked doing things with you.”
“She only liked the sex.” Malfoy rolled his eyes.
“No Malfoy. I know her. I know her tells. Whatever she says or doesn’t say, she likes you despite her belief that you are making a fool of her.”
“And going by what she said to Ron and Mrs. Weasley, I’d say she was already planning to break up with him. She remained apathetic when Ron yelled and walked out on her, as if she expected nothing from him. Now think how she reacted when she thought you were stepping out on her? You’re smart. Work it out.”
“Huh!” was all Malfoy managed while he processed his shock over Hermione Granger actually wanting him. Really actually wanting him.
“Close your mouth and don’t look so shocked. You’ve been secretly carrying on with her for a few months and you need me to tell you she has feelings for you? You’re an idiot.”
Malfoy clicked his mouth shut. He went around his desk and started arranging the papers he’d been working on around his desk.
“Ok…Alright…All these documents, they are definitive proof that a few of last night’s partiers are plotting to overthrow muggleborn friendly Wizengamot members, by hook or crook, and start building on pro-pureblood legislation. If all this dirt comes out, they would have no power over the masses anymore. One of the leaders of this underground movement is the owner of that murdered chandelier, may the Gods bless it in its afterlife. They will be in shit so deep, no one will even think about scapegoating Hermione.”
Harry hurried to Malfoy’s side and started reading the documents Malfoy was laying out.
“God Malfoy. How long have you worked on this?”
“Since I was released after the war. I knew a day would come when I’ll take Voldemort’s death-eaters down once and for all. I have been listening, learning and preparing. I would have preferred to rope Greengrass in as well, to legally get out of a betrothal contract he has had around my neck since I was a child. But oh well, we can’t wait any more.”
“Not willingly. It was kept under wraps as part of an addendum when father was first imprisoned for his role in the Department of Mysteries attack. To keep the Greengrasses above board.” Malfoy grimaced.
“Huh! Were you planning to send these shady financials to the Ministry anonymously or something, for them to investigate? Or getting it printed in the papers?”
“I am not a saint to remain anonymous.” Malfoy scoffed. “This is going to be public and it will make me a dark horse hero in the eyes of the wizarding world. A box of my memories along with the papers form the whole truth. All under cover fuckers who think they are smart enough to carry on with Voldemort’s work will be implicated decisively. I might have fought the war for the wrong side, but I’ll be damned if I suffer with the wrong side all my life. I am so done with all of them. The death eaters need to be taken down.”
“Then we will take them down. And save Hermione.”
Harry put out his hand, inviting Malfoy to shake on it. Malfoy shook hands with Potter and that was that.
“Come along now. We need to try to speak to Hermione and let her know we are working on things.”
“She doesn’t know I was gathering this evidence.” Malfoy gestured at the papers on his desk.
“Then we will tell her and see what she has to say. Come along Malfoy. You are an honorary member of the trio now.”
“Curb your enthusiasm! We might be working together but we are not friends.”
“Merlin forbid” Harry made a face and started towards the door, followed by Malfoy.