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Sympathy For The Devil by SilverThimble

Format: Novella
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 24,720
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Horror/Dark, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Shacklebolt, Ginny, Skeeter, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Hermione/OC, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Other Pairing

First Published: 01/14/2008
Last Chapter: 09/12/2009
Last Updated: 11/21/2010

Summary:
Written for kelstar's 'A Vampire Romance' challenge 



Hermione Granger is one of the Ministry's top lawyers. She is hard-working and professional to the core - until she meets Cygnus, the mysterious vampire she is to defend in his trial for murder. It isn't long before she is faced with a baffling mystery and a terrible choice.
*COMPLETED 12/9/09*


Chapter 1: I: Bait
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Disclaimer: Anything you recognise belongs to JK Rowling or Warner Bros or whoever, not me.

















Have you ever been inside a lawyer’s office? It is a strange thing, but however anxious you are on arrival, within five minutes of entering, the sense of reasoned tranquility that is common to all these places seeps through you, and suddenly your problems are much less acute. You know that whatever difficulties you are experiencing will be untangled and put in perspective with the greatest of ease.

That was how Hermione Granger always felt anyway. But then again, she herself was a lawyer of three year’s experience in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. And she loved it. Her tiny office on Level Two of the Ministry of Magic was filled from top to bottom with records of successful prosecutions, brilliant defences and many knots untied. Even if, looking around, it appeared to be nothing more than mounds of dusty paper that had overflowed from the filing cabinets and colonized the room.

It had been a long week, and it was still only Thursday, Hermione remembered glumly. Her fingers were sore from writing all day – a report about a tedious dispute over a fire-breathing chicken between two elaborately mustachioed warlocks, neither of whom, as it turned out, had owned the chicken in the first place. Some days, in between filing wills and unearthing ancient court documents, Hermione wished for a proper challenge. A case she could use all of her brains on, really sink her teeth into. There was only so much tranquility one person could take, after all.

Sighing, she reloaded her quill with purple ink and set it to the parchment once more. Just at that instant, a powder-blue paper dart fluttered onto her desk, landing on the freshly written sentences, and creating an inky smear through the word “incorrigible”. Hermione groaned – now she would have to start all over again. This had better be important. Unfolding the memo, she read the scrawled words:

My office. Right away. P.H. Crosby

Patrick Horatio Crosby was the Head of Department, famously impatient but prone to long-windedness. She wouldn’t be finishing the report any time soon. She pushed back her chair, replacing the quill on its stand and flexing her stiff fingers experimentally, wincing when they twinged in protest.

Her boss’ office was a grand affair compared to her own – purple carpeted, with large arched windows through which artificial sunlight streamed, and silver-framed photographs of his large family arrayed throughout the room. If you were especially unlucky, Crosby would treat you to a lecture recounting the names and habits of every one of his many cousins, children, aunts, uncles, great-nephews, great-great grandmothers and various other obscure relations.

“Ah, Granger. I was wondering what had taken you so long,”

Crosby was a tall, lean, balding man with pink-rimmed eyes and a voice like the rattle of a badly oiled engine. “Sit down.”

He waved her to the high-backed leather chair on the opposite side of the desk he lounged behind. Hermione sat, choosing not to mention that it had taken her less than a minute to cross the corridor to his office.

“You’ve been working here, what, two years now?” he began airily.

“Three, sir.”

“Right, of course. Only three years, and you're already one of our most respected employees. In fact, I’ve heard rumours that you are tipped for Head of Department when I retire – which won’t be for some time, I assure you!” He let out a bellowing laugh, which descended into a wheezing coughing fit. “But that’s neither here nor there,” he continued once he had found his breath. “I am saying this only to let you know that I trust you, Granger, and I know you will do your best at anything that comes your way.”

“Er, thank you,” Hermione said, wondering what on earth he was talking about.

“Well, the real reason I called you in here is to ask you about this new case that’s come up. I think you’ll find it to your liking, and I certainly wouldn’t entrust it to any of the other buffoons in this department!” Hermione shifted awkwardly, knowing that this was Crosby’s shorthand for “nobody else is stupid enough”.

Crosby cleared his throat, and Hermione could almost feel him gearing up for a speech.

“It’s this new murder investigation we’ve been landed with, very unusual – have you read today’s Prophet?”

“I don’t buy the Prophet, sir. They print more fiction than fact.”

“Really?” Crosby said indifferently. “My wife loves the cooking section…. Where was I? Oh yes. Well, the Aurors brought in a suspect this morning, had terrible trouble too, had to knock the chap unconscious, he tried to bite one or two of the poor buggers.”

Hermione’s thoughts leapt to Ron, in his last year of Auror training. Hopefully he had had nothing to do with arresting a madman.

“We’d have just put him in front of the Wizengamot straight away,” Crosby went on. “The evidence really is against him, and we’d like to keep this as quiet as possible, but unfortunately a journalist took an interest, says she’ll be following the case. Goodness knows how she found out about it so fast, but it is awfully inconvenient. She insisted on getting him ‘proper legal aid’. And that’s where you come in.”

He looked at Hermione expectantly, and she quickly tried to conceal her frown at the disdainful tone Crosby had used while saying “proper legal aid”

“Me, sir? I specialise in non-human magical beings, not murder.”

Crosby arranged his pale lips in a smile. “I know that.”

“I don’t understand – “

“Have a look at this.” He pushed a thick wad of beige files held together with a rubber band across the desk to her. Dubiously, Hermione put out her hand and pulled off the band. The top file was stamped “Confidential” in a way that reminded her of the Muggle crime movies her father loved. Feeling Crosby’s now intent gaze on her made her uncomfortable, but she peeled back the first page.

At first glance, it was a run-of-the-mill case file – photograph, name, address, criminal record, but on closer examination, it proved to be quite different.

The photograph was simply of a bare wall with a card bearing a serial number suspended in mid-air before it. Hermione squinted, but the image didn’t change, except for a slight shifting of the card as it floated. She read on perplexedly; but there was little else to read.

Name: unknown. Address: unknown. Date Of Birth: unknown.

“Don’t you know anything about this person at all?”

“That is everything there is to know,” Crosby replied defensively. “The murderer himself –“

“The accused-”

“The accused, then, doesn’t even know himself.”

“Not even his name? What does he have, amnesia?”

Crosby leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and lacing his stubby fingers together. His wedding ring gleamed on his left hand as if he polished it twice a day.

“I said it was unusual, didn’t I? Look at the next page.”

Hermione dutifully turned the page over. There was a slight ‘ping’ as the paper clip that held the two pages together popped off. She could only stare at the words, printed stark black on white at the top of paragraphs of dense text.

“Vampires?” she gasped. “A vampire? Oh, of course, the photograph…. But…” She looked up at Crosby in horror, speechless for a moment.

He nodded assent. “Yes, I must admit I was rather taken aback myself. You can see why the Minister doesn’t want a fuss made – imagine, a vampire in London in this day and age!” He shuddered, eyes moving around the photos of his family as if checking they were all still there. Hermione couldn’t entirely blame him.

“I thought,” she managed at last, “I thought that they were all regulated in Britain, kept away from humans, fed on animal blood… “

Crosby nodded convulsively once more. “Yes, in theory at least. However it is very tricky to convince vampires to register with the Ministry – almost impossible, in fact, and then twice as difficult to keep tabs on them once they’ve done so.”

“Then why aren’t there more deaths? More vampires?”

“Most of them keep a low profile – don’t want to draw attention to themselves, I suppose. They have ways of feeding without killing, or, well, turning. The victim wakes up in the morning a pint of blood less well off and two puncture wounds in his neck, but they’re gone by afternoon and nobody thinks anymore of it. I had as much information as possible assembled in these documents. I’m sure they’ll be more than adequate to answer all your questions.”

Hermione pressed a hand to her neck instinctively, unsure whether Crosby was deliberately trying to frighten her. No, she decided, glancing at his pale face, he didn’t have the imagination. Still, allowing herself to be afraid was no help. She forced her face into a neutral expression and folded her hands in her lap.

“So you want me to defend this vampire?”

“Well, not so much defend as appear to defend. We want to put on a good show for the journalist, but there’s no way even you could worm him out of this one. What’s one less blood-sucker in the world, anyway?”

Hermione instantly bristled. It was house-elves all over again. And it was then that she made up her mind.

“I shall have to think about it,” she said frostily. Crosby looked slightly bewildered by the sudden change in tone, and then recovered.

“Oh, good. It’s an excellent opportunity, you know – not every day you get an interview with a vampire!” He laughed loudly at his own joke. “I’ll let you take those,” he gestured at the files, “And you’ll tell me your decision in the morning.”

An interview…. Hermione’s blood ran cold. She hadn’t considered that.

“I will, sir,” she replied blandly, trying to stop her hands shaking by taking the large binder.

“Take care,” Crosby called after her as she left, pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket and mopping his brow only when he was sure she was gone.

*







Night had fallen over the London suburb of Greenwich, and streetlights were casting their orange glow over the cramped blocks of flats in converted Georgian townhouses. An occasional car swept past number 26 A, West Abbey Road, and a stray cat poked through bins, but the street was for the most part silent and dim.

A tramp sat cross-legged, leaning against the railings in his ragged hoodie and obviously stolen Nike trainers. He too was still, eyes almost closed, appearing to all to be just another smelly homeless man in a drug-induced stupor. It was a good act, but if you stooped to peer under the hood and look closely, you could see the powerful muscles beneath his tattered jeans and observe the rounded face, clearly never underfed.

But nobody did, or would have done. He was part of the scenery to the few passers-by, an integral part of life in London. It was his spot to sit, and had been for the past two weeks. Ever since then, he hadn’t moved from the wet pavement, except during the day, when he would slink away unobserved to God-knows-where.

He stayed motionless, until a young woman with a shock of bushy hair and a Muggle coat zipped over long, deep green robes hurried past him and up the steps to 26 A’s front door. She closed the door firmly behind him, not sparing a glance. She had offered him a blanket and a mug of tea on the first day, but he had stared at her so disdainfully she’d blushed and kept walking. Since then she’d ignored him.

The man hissed in irritation. He was hungry, and right now he did not want to pretend to be human while his legs cramped and stomach grumbled. However, he had excellent self-discipline, born of years of waiting, and resigned himself to another long night of watching.

*







Ginny unlocked the door of the flat she and Hermione shared with fingers that fumbled from the cold. November was such a horrible month, bleak and grim, Christmas seeming far-off and exotic when two months of dreary winter lay between you and it. Even her captain had had to agree that nobody could fly in the gathering darkness and biting breeze.

Stepping inside, she shut the door with an audible bang. Wincing, she awaited Hermione’s reproving voice to snap at her for disturbing the work she was, no doubt, completing in the dining room-cum-kitchen. Living with Hermione was very like living at the Burrow – wipe your feet, tidy your room, help with the dinner. Still, Ginny consoled herself; once Harry finished his Auror training she’d be able to move in with him. It was an exciting prospect, and only six weeks away now.

She suddenly noticed the strange silence of the flat; the absence of the music Hermione usually played while working, and the steady drip of the broken tap in the bath. A rustle of paper, and Ginny breathed again. Walking into the kitchen to find Hermione, hair in disarray and still dressed in her emerald work robes, bent over several large books, she reminded herself not to be paranoid.

“Hello,” she said cheerily, but Hermione made no sign that she had heard. Ginny shook her head and went to the fridge to find dinner. She poked around for a moment with no success before turning back to Hermione, frowning.

“Hermione, where’s dinner?”

At last Hermione looked up, mild surprise written on her face. “Oh, hello, Ginny,” she said vaguely, and returned to her ferocious reading.

“Hermione!” Ginny snapped. “What happened to dinner?”

“Dinner?”

“Yes! It was your turn to cook, I told you I’d be late back, and you were to leave me some in the fridge.”

Hermione jumped to her feet, closing her book and looking panicked. “Ginny, I’m so sorry! I forgot all about it – and there’s no food in the house!”

“Relax, it’s ok. Order a takeaway.” Ginny had recently discovered that Muggles would deliver food to your house in small plastic tubs, and had rather taken to the idea.

Hermione nodded, reaching for the phone and dialling. While she ordered something complex and Chinese sounding, Ginny absent-mindedly leafed through the topmost book of the pile. By the time Hermione had replaced the phone on its cradle, she had flicked through every one, and was staring at her in shock.

“Vampires? Why are you researching vampires?”

Hermione blushed slightly, and rearranged the books into a neat pile. “It’s this new case…” she began.

“Involving vampires?”

“Well, yes… “

“Involving vampires how?”

“One’s been accused of murdering five Muggles.”

Ginny gasped involuntarily.

“I’m defending him,” Hermione continued. “Or at least, I might be.”

“But, Hermione, how can you even consider – vampires! They have all these complicated rules and feuds – you can’t get into the middle of all that!”

“I know, but I’ve looked through the files, and there’s not one shred of concrete evidence that he even came within a mile of these Muggles – but the Ministry’s decided he’s guilty anyway. I can’t let them convict an innocent man on this evidence, Ginny, I just can’t. Its prejudice that’s leading the Ministry on this, and-"

Ginny interrupted her. “ Look, Hermione, vampires can look after themselves. They don’t need an S.P.E.W. Does it really matter, anyway? They’re immortal, right? A few years in Azkaban won’t make any difference.”

“They won’t imprison him. They’ll kill him.”

Kill him? How?”

“Sunlight. It’s the only way, according to the books.”

Ginny sat down quickly. “Oh.”

“You see? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime case, Ginny, I have to do it.”

“Only once in a lifetime ‘cause of the high risk of being eaten, it seems to me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I doubt he’s stupid enough to attack a Ministry official.”

Ginny shuddered. “And you won’t let me talk you out of it?”

“No.”

There was silence for a long moment, a heavy, considering silence. It was broken only when the doorbell rang with a harsh buzzing sound, and Hermione jumped up to pay the take-away delivery man. When she returned with cartons of steaming rice, nothing more was said on the subject. Neither wanted to dwell on the frightening possibilities a vampire threw up.

*







The tramp, leaning on the outside wall, had heard every word through the open window. He smiled lazily to himself and closed his eyes in a semblance of sleep. Waiting had its occasional benefits.












A/N: It is possibly too late now, but this is AU. I screwed with JK Rowling’s slightly boring vampires, and made the Ministry more evil. Just a warning.

Thanks go out to Feanaro on the forums, for his help with vampires. And to all the other people who suggested titles, all of whom I ignored in the end. Title credits go to the Rolling Stones.
Oh, and I know they are generally called "solicitors" in the UK. They are also called lawyers sometimes, and "lawyer" is easier to spell. Please forgive me :D

Hope you liked it, reviews are always appreciated anyway!

20 Aug: beta-ed by curiosity is not a sin







Chapter 2: II: Swan
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The lift ground to a juddering halt, and the rotund guard held the decorative iron door open for Hermione. She passed by him with a murmured thanks, clutching her thick wad of files closer to her chest as she began to walk down the long, dim, corridor.

It was deep underground, in the bowels of the Ministry, and everything about it – from the blue flames in the torches on the walls to the cold radiating from the floor’s flagstones – had an unfriendly tenor. Thick doors, made of more iron and silver, were scattered at broad intervals along it, and signs warned of the dangers of unauthorised entrance.

It housed the Ministry’s most dangerous prisoners, and despite its official name, “High Priority Security Unit”, among the few who knew of its existance it was known as “The Dungeon”. Built after the war, to compensate for Azkaban’s lack of Dementors, the place was rumoured to be crawling with hidden booby-traps and curses designed by the goblins of Gringotts themselves.

It was to the furthest of these doors that Hermione was headed. The wall beside it was made of glass, but all that could be seen in it was her dark, wavering reflection. For surveillance purposes, she had been told, so that she could be seen, but not heard, in case of danger.

Two black-robed men she took to be Aurors stood in front of it, watching her walk towards them. The taller, a rawboned black man with eyes set deep in the folds of his face, nodded at her, and held out a gloved hand for identification.

As she handed him the small card with her name and position embossed on it, Hermione was amused to notice several cloves of garlic and a crucifix threaded around his neck and tucked under his cloak.

“They don’t work, you know,” she said.

He shrugged, passing her card back. “I’m not taking any chances.”

He produced a key from his pocket and shoved it into the metal of the door. Ripples spread out from where they connected, until the whole surface was moving as if liquified. Then it disappeared.

Inside, the room – or cell, or interview location, whatever you wanted to call it – was pitch dark. A small noise, like a sigh, was heard through the blackness, and Hermione could smell something spicy that reminded her of ginger, filling her nostrils. The Aurors shifted uncomfortably, fingering their wands.

As Hermione stepped over the threshold, it grew brighter, though it was still dim and she couldn’t tell where the light came from. One guard made to follow her in.

“Where are you going?” she asked, nervousness making her snappy.

“I can’t leave you alone with–"

“Rubbish. He’s restrained, and I know what to do if I need assisstance. You can wait outside – isn’t that what the glass is for?”

The guard raised his eyebrows, but slouched back into the corridor happily enough. “Red sparks,” he said. “We’ll be watching.”

The iron door bubbled back into place, and Hermione was suddenly conscious of how alone she was – if she deliberately didn’t look at the far wall for the time being. She wished she’d allowed the guard in; confidentiality wasn’t quite worth the risk of having your throat ripped out. But going back out now would show weakness.

Finally, she could stand it no longer, and turned to look at her new client properly, half-expecting to find a slavering, red-eyed demon with six-inch fangs, even if the books were quite confident that that was all myths. Still, he was completely different to the pictures her mind had conjured over the past few days.

His long, wiry frame was hunched in a straight-backed chair, on the arms of which large metal cuffs hovered, waiting to snap closed over his thin wrists. Chains roped around his legs to the knees, and fastened to the wall, so that his lower body looked as if it was caught in a giant metallic spider’s web.

Dark hair fell to his shoulders in an unkempt mane; his skin was so pale that she could see violet veins meandering along his throat under two pearly scars, like teeth marks, and he seemed to shimmer in the gloom. Mud splattered his nondescript clothes – black, of course – and a green-brown bruise marked his left temple.

Even if Hermione hadn't known he was a vampire, instinct would have guided her away from the man. Everything about him spoke of menace and a sort of feral cunning, perhaps because of his high, pointed, cheekbones and slanting dark eyes, like a cat’s.

Those curious, almost black eyes watched her now from under listless lids, and Hermione had an odd feeling he was sizing her up, measuring her against a chart he carried in his mind. She realised she had frozen in a defensive, panicky postion, and forced her body to relax. She cleared her throat and took a shaky step forwards.

“Er – hello.”

“Good day,” he replied. His voice surprised her – she wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but it had not been this, a pleasant bass, like a mellow clarinet.

She was staring again. “Well, shall we begin, then?” she said in as normal a tone as she could manage.

He smiled, exposing gleaming teeth that were only slightly pointed, but it was enough to send shivers down her spine. “Let’s,” he agreed.

It took Hermione a few tries to conjure a chair for herself and a small wooden desk, but she managed it in the end, and sat down, trying very hard not to glance to often in his direction, and, as so often happens, merely appearing twitchy. She placed her files on the table. In the silence, it sounded like the slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.

He was still watching her, with a mildly intruiged air. It made her very awkward , so she leafed through the files, rustling them unnecessarily.

“Now, I’ve looked through all the evidence, and the way I see it is-"

“Wait,” he interrupted gently. Hermione stopped babbling. “You haven’t told me your name.”

“Hermione Granger.”

“Cygnus,” he said, smiling cordially again. “I would shake your hand, but those guards wouldn’t like it much.”

Hermione sucked in a steadying breath. It’s not so bad, she told herself, he’s being perfectly friendly. “Pleased to meet you, Cygnus,” she replied.


What followed was one of the strangest and most fascinating conversations Hermione had ever had. Cygnus was cagey about everything personal, answering her questions polietely while giving nothing away and preferring to distract her with sudden changes of subject.

His alibi was flimsy; he had been ‘visting an old friend’ in Lancaster on the night of the five murders, and had unluckily picked the night of the five murders to return to his usual haunts ‘round the City’.

However, Hermione couldn’t help but believe his disgust when she described the deaths – the Muggle’s faces mutilated almost beyond recognition, throats left bloody masses from the obviously frenzied attacks they had been subjected to before being dumped in odd corners of London.

It was easy to forget, talking to him, that he was a vampire at all – his behaviour, speech and mannerisms were all human and completely non-threatening. In fact, Hermione could feel herself letting her guard down at times and almost chatting to him, so relaxed and at-ease he was at times, until she reminded herself he was a client and she his representative.

On only two occasions during the three long, often frustrating hours Hermione spent in The Dungeon did he become really animated; then, he spoke at length.

“Why didn’t you tell the Aurors your name, your address, your birthdate?”

“I don’t have an exact address. I live… free. My birth was a long time ago, the seventeenth century, I think. I don’t remember. They wanted exactness.”

“Your name?”

“They didn’t say name. They said birth name.”

“And?”

“I don’t remember. It was probably something ridiculous like Richard. I forgot it as soon as I could. Names… to us, they’re not important. We change them once we’ve outgrown them, or we get bored. I like Cygnus, though. You know what it means?”

“It’s a constellation,” Hermione replied unthinkingly. “The swan.”

Cygnus smiled wryly. “Yes.” And he said nothing more.

The second time was when Hermione, slightly irritated by his responses, always so cordial yet uninformative, took a direct approach.

“You’re denying these murders, yes?”

Cygnus nodded, eyes guarded.

“So who, in your opinion, did commit them? How many vampires are there in London?”

“A few,” he answered cautiously. “It may have been a rival coven, setting me up. Or a loner, acting on instinct, and only bad luck brought me here. Or,” he leant in closer, “There were no vampires. No victims either. Your Ministry doesn’t like us, do they? They’d do anything-"

“No,” Hermione said firmly. She was silent for a moment, angry that he’d suggested such a thing, before continuing: “I can’t conduct a trial or defend anyone from that angle, even in the unlikely event it were true.” She looked him in the eye, half-wondering at her daring. “Did you kill those Muggles? I need to know what sort of angle to take, you see, and if you admit any guilt now it will make everything a lot easier for everyone.”

Cygnus was gazing at his hands, interlaced on the table. He seemed to realise he had made a mistake. “No,” he said at last. “ I didn’t.” Then his old nonchalance returned. “And I would prefer if you conducted my trial from that angle.”

After that, the answers had dried up. He would only grunt a “yes” or “no” to any of the questions pertaining to the case that Hermione flung at him, instead maneuvering her into discussing the relative merits of tea and coffee.

It was infuriating; she knew he was playing games with her, or at least with the Ministry. It was as if he’d already resigned himself to his conviction and felt that not co-operating was the most interesting course of action.

Finally, Hermione couldn’t take any more. No more glimpses of insight were forthcoming, fascinating as it was to simply talk to him. But she couldn’t waste time, and if he wouldn’t give her straightforward answers, there was no use in continuing.

He smiled serenely at her as she left, and, irritated as she was, she couldn’t help returning it. It felt strange to be out in the relatively brightly-lit corridor. She nodded at the guards and hurried away, her head in a muddle and thoughts conflicted.

She didn’t believe he did it; that he could have been so callous and vicious. But then, he was a vampire (she recoiled from the statement even as she thought it), and why else would he have been so evasive?

The Atrium was full of welcome bustle. Hermione threaded her way through the noisy crowd, anticipating a soothing bath and a chance to mull things over. Crosby was loitering at the security stand, chatting to Ernie, the wand-weigher, but Hermione knew by the exaggerated surprise on his face that he’d been waiting for her.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Fine,” Hermione replied shortly. “Do you want my report now, or tomorrow?”

He took the scrawled notes with an affronted air. “Well, I’ll see you,” he said, and with a sort of last-ditch attempt at humour, “Unless the vampires get you, of course.”

Hermione smiled thinly, and almost sprinted for the gilt fireplaces. She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but she had a raging desire to just get back to her apartment, away from all the craziness.


However, she was only halfway across the Atruim, barely level with the newly-installed statue of Dumbledore, when a woman confronted her; small, slim, unnaturally blonde, with a turned-up nose and startlingly blue eyes. She wore so much make-up that her skin was a toxic orange, which only enhanced her eyes’ brilliance, and a fussy little scarf arranged around her neck. She could barely walk in her high-heels; her knees stuck out at funny angles as she tottered across the Atrium to Hermione, hand outstretched and over-large teeth bared in a grin.

“Hermione Granger, isn’t it? I was told I’d find you here.” She spoke with an upper-class accent, over-pronouncing her words so that they had a staccatto rhythm. What, in the Atrium? Hermione thought, instantly disliking the woman.

“Yes,” she replied. “And you?”

“Deborah Kirwan,” the woman said, smiling in a way obviously meant to be ingratiating. “I’m court reporter for the Daily Prophet. Haven’t you seen me? I sit in the corner and scribble away, though of course you’re much too busy to notice, I expect.” She chuckled.

“Er, yes, I remember,” Hermione said, twitching the corners of her mouth in an effort to appear friendly. She had never seen or heard of the woman before, though of course she didn’t buy the Prophet.

Deborah grasped her hand and shook it limply. “I’m so pleased to finally meet you, Hermione. I’m sure we’ll get along swimmingly!”

“We will?” Hermione asked.

“Oh, yes, of course, how silly of me. I’m covering the vampire’s trial – it’s down to little old me that there’s a trial at all! I’d love if you could give me a few minutes of your time – a statement, perhaps? A description of the defendant? Was he… frightening?” She produced a pink notebook and an over-sized quill, teeth protuding in anticipation.

“I’m afraid not,” Hermione said, faltering a little at the eagerness – hunger, almost – in the woman’s eyes.

“Oh, that’s too bad!” Deborah simpered, face puckering into exaggerated disappointment. “But if you change your mind, do let me know, won’t you?”
A small card had appeared in her hand; Hermione took it doubtfully. “Deborah Kirwan, Daily Prophet Speacial Reporter” was the only lettering, in sugary pink and fringed with whimsical curls.

“There will be a small - ” Deborah winked, “- incentive, of course. Our readers lap this sort of thing up – high drama! Great entertainment for the house-witch: vampires, murder, an attractive young woman against the establishment!”

“Oh – really?” Hermione asked. “How lovely .” Entertainment for the house-witch? High drama? Outwardly she smiled politely, but inside she was fuming.

“Well, best of luck, dearie,” Deborah said. “Of course, none of us expect you to be successful – but it’s all in the taking part, isn’t it?” She turned to go.

“Wait,” Hermione called after her.

“Yes?” Deborah asked, turning hopefully.

“Do you mean – oh, never mind.”

Deborah gave her a sympathetic look. “Don’t be silly,” she said, and walked away unsteadily.

Hermione knew exactly what she meant, and she hated it. Everyone thought Cygnus was guilty already, everyone expected her to lose, everyone wanted her to lose. A show trail would entertain the masses and portray the Ministry as wise and just.

Well, she wouldn’t stand for it. A life was a life, no matter what; Cygnus was innocent, she was sure of it. And as the journalist merged into the throng of Ministy personel queueing by the Floo fireplaces, Hermione’s resolve hardened.

She would win, change their minds, whatever it took.








A/N: I’m very sorry for the stupidly long time I took to update this. Oh, and for not giving you a hot vampire. Bite me. In review form, of course. Not so happy with this chapter – it’s inconsistent somehow, although I can’t work out exactly why. Again, review and tell me. That is all, thanks to all the people who have (rather surprisingly) favourited this) : )


Chapter 3: III: Safe
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>






Hermione had locked herself in the bathroom. It was a tiny space with cracked white tiles on the walls and floor that reflected the muted light filtering through the frosted glass windows so that it was too bright and clean in appearance, like a hospital, or an asylum. Brightly coloured bottles of shampoo, potions, mouthwash, clustered in corners around the bath and sink, failing to lessen the austere atmosphere.

Not the best place to go to calm yourself down in.

Harry and Ron were coming over for dinner, a Thursday evening ritual that, for once, Hermione wasn’t looking forward to. She would have to tell Ron about Cygnus; he wouldn’t take it well, she knew from long experience.

The doorbell rang. It wasn’t so much a ring as a sharp atonal buzz that continued long after the finger was removed from the button. Hermione hated it; it reminded her of wasps, chainsaws, bagpipes, groans. Shaking her head, she resumed applying mascara. It was her third attempt; the first had ended in her poking herself in the eye and stumbling around blindly in search of a tissue, and the second had smeared all down her face, requiring yet more tissue.

Ginny had opened the door; Hermione could hear her greeting Ron and Harry cheerfully and laughing.

“Hermione?” It was Ron, tapping on the bathroom door. Hermione fixed a smile on her face, straightened her top fussily, and drew back the bathroom door’s bolt.

“Hello, Ron.”

He grinned. She noticed a long, half-healed scratch running along his nose, and winced. “What’s that?”

“A deadly wound, heroically bourne,” Ron said, hugging her tightly.

“He means,” Harry cut in, “we were doing a Stealth and Concealment training exercise with Kingsley, and Ron tripped over his feet and landed in the middle of the hugest patch of briars, with thorns six inches long.”

Ron grimaced. “Thanks for that, Harry,” he shot over Hermione’s head.

They trooped into the kitchen, where a dinner worthy of Mrs Weasley steamed on four plates. Harry’s eyes almost popped. “You made this, Ginny?”

Not waiting for an answer, he flopped onto one slightly rickety chair and tucked in with gusto. “We’ve been living off beans on toast,” Ron explained, copying Harry. “Makes a change.”

Ginny made a disapproving noise. “You’re such pigs.”

Conversation was limited while they ate, mostly confined to Ginny griping about her cancelled practice and Ron and Harry’s furious cramming for the Auror final exams, just four weeks off.

“You’d think they’d make an exception for the Boy Who Lived…” Ron complained. Harry rolled his eyes and mock-groaned. “…and his best mate, of course,” he finished with a wink.

“It’ll be worth it, though,” Ginny said. “We’ll have a party-"

“For more than one reason, right, Harry?” Ron said, nudging him. Harry choked and turned lobster-red.

Ron!

“Oh – er- sorry,” Ron said, although he grinned to himself while shaking salt over his chicken. Hermione and Ginny exchanged ‘they’re so immature’ glances and decided to ignore this.

“You’ve been awfully quiet, Hermione,” Harry noted when they had all finished and sat back, clutching bursting stomachs. “How’s things at work? Those blokes with the fire-breathing chicken still making a fuss?”

She swallowed; this was what she had been dreading. “There’s this new case…” she began.

“Oh?” Ron said casually, twirling a fork between his fingers.

“Yes,” she went on, steeling herself. Really, Hermione, what can he say? “Quite a nasty murder… I’m defending the accused…”

Ron’s eyebrows shot into his floppy ginger fringe. “You are?”

“Really?” Harry asked, before Hermione could say anything, “ I haven’t heard of any murders recently. I mean, apart from that crazy vampire they brought in last week…”

His eyes widened and and looked worriedly at Hermione. She nodded.

“Did you see the vampire, though?” Ron asked, oblivious. “Gave me the creeps… snarling and sort of glaring at us…” He shuddered.

“Ron,” Hermione said, “I – er-"

“I wouldn’t like to get too close to him - probably jump you as soon as look at you.”
“He’s not that bad, Ron,” Hermione snapped, her temper and patience worn thin.

“What – how would you - Hermione!”

There was a sort of awkward pause, filled only by Ron’s spluttering.

“But – you – can’t!”

“Why not? I can look after myself.”

“Didn’t you see those Muggles? Me and Harry went to look… the Ministry had to cover them up with some bullshit about savage dogs, for God’s sake!”

“I know. He didn’t do it.”

“How can you tell? He’s raving, Hermione, spitting furious…”

“I spoke to him two days ago. He was perfectly.. polite.”

“Polite?”

“Yes, if evasive.”

Ron stared at her, leaing forward. “Of course he was evasive! He’s trying to get you on his side, isn’t he? Wants to get out, thinks you’re the soft option-"

Ginny cleared her throat. “Want to go for a walk, Harry?”

Harry nodded and stood hastily, following her from the kitchen. He patted Hermione’s shoulder as he passed and muttered awkwardly: “Never mind him. You’ll be fine.”

It gave her confidence – Ron’s words had hit home, but now she could dismiss them easily.

“The Ministry have him chained up underground, Ron,” she said, taking a deep breath. “It’s no wonder he doesn’t trust me – but I can get around that, I know I can…”

Ron was breathing heavily. “That’s rubbish, Hermione, and you know it.”

“Don’t –“

“So come on, prove it to me! What did he say?”

“He – not much, really. He kept on asking me questions…”

“Aha! Trying to suss you out – “

“I hardly think my beverage preferences indicate anything, Ron. Like I said, he just doesn’t trust me.”

“And why would he, if he’s guilty?”

Hermione sighed. “You’re impossible! If you’d seen the evidence –“

“I have! Five corpses – “

“And no fingerprints, traces of magic, scraps of clothing, hair, no blood found on his person … plenty of evidence for a vampire, yes, but not this particular one…”

“I don’t see why you’re so adamant about this. Can’t you ever admit you could be wrong? Can’t you see he’s a sick, evil-"

Don’t use that word.”

“Fine,” Ron concede, appearing to make an effort to conrol himself. “Not a nice person, then. This is dangerous stuff to get into, Hermione. Vampires – you can’t trust them. Even if they’re ‘polite’.”

“It wasn’t that he was polite… he was sincere. You could see it in his eyes – I know he didn’t do it.”

“You can’t. You can’t know that,” Ron folded his arms and looked away, biting his lip. “I just don’t want you to get hurt, Hermione.”

“No,” she said. “I know that.” And also that you’re completely and utterly prejudiced, just like the rest of them. She stood and began stacking plates, carrying them to the sink. Her hands shook; she hated fighting with Ron. It reminded of her of her third year at Hogwarts, when she had been only beginning to realise she liked him more than just a friend, and almost bursting with frustration at his pettiness.

“Look, Hermione, I didn’t mean… just think about… be careful, ok?” His voice pleaded with her. She smiled weakly.

“Aren’t I always?”

“No,”

She turned and looped her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. I’ll put up with this – but Hermione, I don’t like the sound of this bloke.”

He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Hermione thought, kissing him. Idiot.

She’s so naïve, Ron said to himself, drawing her closer. That bastard has her wrapped around his finger – talon - I’m not letting this go. If she doesn’t come to her senses… I’ll have to make her.

*


The alarm clock went off. Hermione rolled over and thrust a weary arm out of bed to turn it off. Her eyes still shut, she pulled Ron’s arm off her and rolled out of bed.

Ginny was already slouched over a mug of coffee at the kitchen table. “Morning,” she grunted. “Ron stayed over?”

Hermione nodded sleepily, blinking as she crammed bread into the toaster.

“He still annoyed?”

“Yeah, but he’s pretending not to be.”

“I’ll hex some sense into him if you want…”

“That’s ok,” Hermione smiled at the contrast between Ginny’s words and the complete lack of energy in her voice. After giving Ginny a blow-by-blow account of her conversation with Cygnus, she was totally on Hermione’s side.

Watching Hermione bolt her breakfast, Ginny twitched her ips into a feeble grin. “Work?”

“Hmmm,” Hermione swallowed. “I’m talking to Cygnus again today. Ron was right about one thing – I’m going to get straight answers today.”

“Have fun,” Ginny said, sinking her head onto the table.


The sun hadn’t properly risen when Hermione let herself out and sucked in the cold morning air. A haze lay over the city, and it shimmered yellow in the half-light.

She was walking down the steps leading to her front door when something in the patch of muddy grass hidden behind a hedge and railings that the house across the street called a garden moved. A second glance revealed nothing, but Hermione was sure she’d seen, moments before, a flash of white, like blond hair catching the light.

Returning her attention to where she was walking, she saw that the homeless man who usually camped outside the house next door was already gone; to where, she didn’t know. She wondered why he left so early every morning, but then reflected that, if he were begging, the City would be a much more profitable spot than here in the suburbs. It must be a horrible life, she thought.

*


The Ministry was practically deserted that morning, which suited Hermione. Exchanging small talk was not high on her list of favourite things to do at seven in the morning.

The Dungeon guards appeared surprised to see her, but made no comment as she passed. Hermione swung into the cell, and the lights rose in response. As the shadows melted away Cygnus came into view. One hand was held across his brow, shielding his eyes from the light. He blinked a few times, then looked up at her from under furrowed brows. Hermione couldn’t help but feel a stab of pity at how forlorn and vulnerable he appeared, slumped in his iron chair.

“Good morning,” she said.

This time, when she placed her files on the table, the {{slap}} they made was reassuring, comforting almost. She had confidence; she was safe; she could do this.

Cygnus cleared his throat and sat up a little. “I would like to … apologize… for how I behaved on our last meeting,” he said. “It must have been frustrating for you. But I have decided that it is in my best interests to trust you, and I will answer your questions as clearly as I can.”

“Thank you,” Hermione replied, beaming inside. And there you have it, Ron. She flipped her notebook open and filled her quill. “So, Cygnus, tell me in your own words exactly what happened on the fifth of November.”

He interlaced his fingers and pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I was in Lancaster,” he said. “Trying to convince an old friend not to kill me.”

“A vampire?”

“Yes.”

“Why did he want to kill you?”

“I left his coven – he was getting too greedy, too controlling. He didn’t appreciate being told that.”

“Just to be clear – he wanted to kill you, so you went to visit him?”

Cygnus smiled, once again showing those two pointed canines. “It was better than waiting around for him to sneak up on me unawares.”

“Why did you return to London, then? Did you confront him?”

“I heard that there had been Muggles murdered, apparently by a vampire. I came home directly to investigate – suspicious deaths on your territory aren’t generally welcomed. As you can see.”

“How did you get here so quickly?” Hermione asked sharply. “You were taken into custody four hours after the final killing.”



Cygnus’ lips twitched as though he were holding back a laugh. “We can run very fast. And someone had already come to inform me.”

“Who? Can they corroborate your statement?”

A lock of black hair fell over Cygnus’ face; head bowed, he made no move o brush it away. “I doubt you’ll find her,” he muttered, after a pause. There was a hint of resentment in his voice that Hermione couldn’t quite understand.

“That is rather a large hole in your evidence.”

“I know.” But he offered nothing further, settling for rearranging his face uncomfortably.

“Very well. We can discuss this later. Carry on.” Even as she said it, Hermione was embellishing a large question mark on her notepad.

Cygnus’ tongue ran around his mouth once, and he continued: “I arrived in London, and was arrested on sight.”


“By whom?”

“Dawlish, Shacklebolt… the Auror squad. They took my dishevelled appearance – from running halfway across England in a matter of hours – as proof of my involvement, locked me here, cross-examined me.”

“They say you told them nothing on questioning.”

“I told them I was being unfairly imprisoned and refused to answer.”

“Not wise of you.”

Cygnus shrugged loosely. “I don’t cross tracks with humans often – dealing with you is harder than it looks.”

Hermione thought of Ron and almost smiled. “Were you aggressive towards any Ministry officials?”

“I may have been.”

Hermione looked steadily at him, quill hovering, until he spoke again.

“Yes, I was. I was angry. It wasn’t properly explained why I was here. I don’t like small spaces.”

“You were frightened?”

Cyngus’ eyes flashed. “No.”

Hermione hurriedly pretended to be reading over her notes to conceal any fear she might have shown; even if she thought she hadn’t felt any, she couldn’t entirely trust her emotions. Her thumbnail was frayed and split; she absent-mindedly chewed it as she considered where to go next.

“Your coven – how many in it?” She asked without looking up.

“Four.”

“Where are they now?”

“Hiding, if they have any sense.”

Hermione caught the sarcasm and glanced at him. He was watching her curiously, head on one side. A part of hermione’s mind told her she ought to shudder, but it was easy to resist. As those dark eyes met hers, a blanket of ease settled over her. Cygnus seemed to radiate it, a thing she had only just noticed, but had really been there all along.

But then he looked away, and the cramped metal cell came rushing back. For the first time, she was acutely aware of the two guards outside, observing. She took a breath. “Have you anything more to say?”

He leant forward as far as his chains would allow, eyes earnest and almost pleading. “I didn’t do it,” he said, his normally smooth tones rasping slightly. “and you’re the only one who can help me. So please-"

He stopped, as if ‘please’ was too strong a word.

“I’ll do my best.” Hermione smiled down at him as she stood and gathered her various papers. The lights dimmed to pitch black as she left.

“Making progress?” A guard – different to the one she had seen three days before – asked. Hemione treated him to her broadest smile.

“A little.” She replied.

Sunny optimism had visited her. A way out was presenting itself, she could feel it. She was so wrapped up in these happy thoughts that she almost didn’t register the low, growling, sigh coming from the depths of the blackness as she made her way to the lift.




A/N: So sorry this took so long. I’ve had it finished for weeks, but changes kept presenting themselves.
And I’ve just realised that there was a relative of Sirius’ called Cygnus. Nothing to do with this story whatsover.
I do hope you’re paying attention, as a lot of this stuff is massive clues to the ending. I wouldn’t like anyone to get lost.

Please leave a review, I’m dying to know what people think!







Chapter 4: IV: Bleed
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Seven o’clock found Hermione waiting at a table in the most expensive restaurant in Diagon Alley, staring blankly at a menu. The dishes were laid out in cursive script, between rose-patterned borders; the restaurant itself was similarly decorated. There were uselessly ornate touches everywhere, from the pleated napkins to the waiter’s embroidered cuffs.

Ron had insisted, but not yet deigned to arrive. Hermione checked her arm repeatedly – she kept forgetting she wasn’t wearing a watch – and ran her thumb along the stiff edge of the menu. A waiter was hovering nearby, presumably wondering how soon he could ask her to leave, as she had four or five times now told him she wasn’t ready to order.

Hermione sighed. It was so bloody typical of Ron – he’d say one thing and then let you down. It had been his idea to go out for dinner, not hers; he had chosen the time and place and yet he was not here.

She grew more frustrated as she remembered all the things she could be doing instead, such as writing that letter to the dragon-chicken’s owner; even organising her files would be more fun. She would really like to finding out more about Cygnus’ case – two weeks of meetings, stacks of useless evidence, and trying to find witnesses had produced nothing except a grudging respect for his ability to keep a secret. Even still, it was becoming somewhat of an obsession. Ron had pointed this out more than once; the first time, that morning when hse had left for work before he woke,

Hermione didn’t like upsetting him, but couldn’t understand why he was so unhappy. He’d never had a problem with her general engrossment in her job before. Then again, she couldn’t remember ever being so enthusiastic… so intrigued by a case, or indeed a defendant, before. Ron obviously didn’t see it that way.

Hermione’s train of though was interrupted by a small cough. Deborah Kirwan was standing by her table, displaying all her over-large teeth and wielding a quill. “Miss Granger!” she said cheerily. “How are you, dear? Waiting for someone? A boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied briskly, noting with horror that Deborah had chosen to wear a strapless neon pink dress and matching scarf.

“Oh, how lovely. I suppose I should get to the point – I’m still looking for that exclusive! What do you say? The Prophet is very interested in this case, you know.” She paused, expectantly.

“No,” Hermone said. “I’m not going to make any comment, either.”

“Darling, you really shouldn’t be so secretive! Not even a little snippet – have you made any shocking revelations? How do you think the Wizengamot will see your defence on the twentieth?”

“I said no.”

There was something menacing in the way Deborah pursed her lips and snapped her notebook shut. “Alright then. I’ll see you at the trial – no hiding then, eh?”

She waved her fingers and tottered away. Hermione snorted in annoyance. Ms Kirwan reminded her overpoweringly of Rita Skeeter. It was not a happy comparison.

She brought her hand down onto the table in sheer pique. A sharp pain; her palm had caught on the edge of a knife and torn. A drop of blood oozed out of the gash and glistened up at her. She resisted the temptation to stick it in her mouth – the waiter was still watching – instead wrapping her hand in a napkin.

And then, when she next looked up, he was there, grinning guiltily down at her. “I’m a bit late,” said Ron.

“A bit late?” Hermione, tired, exasperated, and now with a stinging hand, needed to vent. “I ‘ve been waiting three quarters of an hour – have you any idea how embarrassing –“

Ron took her tirade wordlessly, his face settling into a definite sulk as he sat opposite her. “I was held up – Harry – “

“Look, Ron, I don’t want excuses. Let’s just order something and eat.”

“But-“

She glared him into silence. The waiter took his chance and swooped. When he was gone, Ron seemed to feel it was safe to speak again. “So, it’s a – er - nice place here, yeah?”

“Wonderful,” Hermione stated sarcastically, examining her palm. The cut was deeper than she’d thought and beginning to bleed profusely.

“What’s that?” Ron was all concern, reaching for her hand.

“I just cut myself. There’s no need to fuss.”

He raised his eyebrows in protest. “What is your problem?”

Hermione could only gape at him. “I’m not even going to answer that. Only, oh, I don’t know, the fact that you’re almost an hour late, my hand is pumping blood, I’ve been having a hard time at work but you aren’t even sympathetic –“

“If this is going to be another argument about that Sinus bloke –“

“Cyngus! And it’s your own fault if it is! Like I said, I’ve been having a hard time-“

“Oh, I see, you’ve been having a hard time!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I can’t take this anymore. You obviously care more about him than me. He hasn’t done anything wrong, apparently. What about me? What have I done wrong that you have to snap and sulk and –“

“Stop it, Ron.”

“No, I won’t. Not until you stop all this…” Ron paused to search for a word. His face was flushed darker than his hair and his fists were curled into balls. Hermione took her chance.

“You have no right to complain about –“

“About what? The fact that a - - a monster has you spouting rubbish about botched evidence and prejudiced arrest…”

Hermione’s expression must have told him that he’d gone too far; his mouth opened and closed as he searched for a way to backtrack. She stood . There was blood on the white linen tablecloth now, but she didn’t care.

“I’m going,” she said quietly but firmly.

“Hermione…”

“I don’t know if this was your idea of a romantic meal but you obviously have some research to do on the subject.”

A small flotilla of scandalised waiters had assembled and was advancing, but Hermione was already winding her way through tables and around statues and out the door, leaving Ron to bury his head in his hands.

*


Oxford Street was strewn with Muggles out to get happily drunk on a Friday night. Hermione dodged people standing on the pavement and getting out of taxis, wishing they would all go away so she could be alone to alternatively seethe and despair. How dare he? Why did I do that?

Her hand clenched; a line of pain ran across it and something wet dripped from between her fingers. She really should have healed it, but there were Muggles everywhere now. Anyway it gave her something to focus on, to fuel her anger, which she much preferred to despair – it allowed her to blame someone other than herself.

Hermione rounded the corner into a narrower alley. It was dimmer and dingy, with cigarette butts gathered in puddles and only the flicker of neon above a nightclub and a soft glow from an upstairs window for light. The stars should have just been appearing overhead – but that was one of the reasons Hermione hated London; you could never see the stars. There was a stale smell of chips as she passed a, bizarrely, closed takeaway and then acrid rubber as a battered white car sped past.

Ahead, a bar had placed tables outside on the footpath, and people were milling around them. Bass-heavy music throbbed inside. Hermione gave the place a short glance. And then glanced again, unsure of what she’d seen, before staring in shock at two men standing on the edge of a large, rowdy, group, watching the others.

They were both tall and pale, with broad shoulders and puckered white scars on their necks that were visible even at a distance. Their faces, although different, shared the same precise, sharp, contours. They were vampires.

She knew this at once, even before one – the fair-haired one, with narrow grey eyes – noticed her. His nostrils flared and he regarded her, his gaze resting briefly on her blood-smeared hand. He muttered to his companion, who laughed. Two of his teeth came to razor-sharp points.

Hermione’s heart froze. She was suddenly acutely afraid. They weren’t like Cygnus, who with his quiet good manners and intelligent eyes, was really not frightening at all anymore; the nerves she had felt the first time they had met had merely been fear of the unknown, nothing more. It was the difference between going to the zoo to see a tiger caged by stout walls, and then seeing that same tiger prowling the jungle, wild and unpredictable.

Hermione quickened her pace, giving the tables as wide a berth as she could, never daring to look away. Her wand was no use, she knew, remembering the words of one of her research tomes : "The vampyre ys impervious to all magick but that of iron and silver, which may only bind him; and sunlight, which causes most instante death…

Her back prickled as she continued down the street, feeling as if they must surely be following her with soundless footsteps. But when she paused at the corner, they were both in the same position. The fair man winked once, and they melted into the crowd.

Hermione leant against a shop front and took deep breaths until she felt less panicked, already thinking herself foolish for overreacting. But when she remembered those two dagger-sharp canines her blood ran cold.

After what seemed like an age of stumbling down darkened streets, she was on her road. While she was still fumbling for her keys in her pocket on the doorstep, the door swung open. Ron stood in the doorway, holding it ajar.

Hermione stepped back. “How did-?”

“Apparated,” Ron grunted. “I need to talk to you, Hermione.” His voice was unusually serious, almost emotionless.

“Just – just a minute,” Hermione said. She almost ran for the bathroom, and stuck her hand under the tap, relishing the feeling of the dried blood washing away. They were out of Murtlap essence, so she wrapped a length of bandage around her palm and fastened it in place with a tap from her wand. Her face in the mirror was pale, with dark shadows and hair in disarray. I look like a vampire was her first, erratic, thought, before sighing and gripping the sink’s cold enamel edge.

She knew what he was going to say; it was a dead certainty that had been rushing towards her for days, weeks.

A tap at the door. “Alright in there?”

Hermione pulled it open and faced him, expressions matching in their solemnity. “Talk,” she said.

Ron ran a hand through his hair. “This isn’t working.”

“No,” she replied flatly.

“I think – I think we should give a rest. Take a break.”

“Break up, you mean.”

“No! No, I mean, just… we both need space. To… stop arguing. It’s going nowhere.”

“Until when?”

“I – I don’t know. When it feels right.”

“What if it never does? “

He shrugged. “I really don’t know, Hermione.”

There was a pause, during which they both tried not to look at each other or away. All that could be heard was a clock slowly ticking in the sitting room. “Look,” Ron ventured at last. “I don’t like this either.”

“I know,” Hermione whispered, but she didn’t, she didn’t at all. She could have hit him at that moment, but her ams, her whole body, was just too weak. There had been no apology, no explanation; just dead, cold statement. She hated him at that moment. What if he hated her too? It was an awful thought.

Two loud raps disturbed the silence. Harry and Ginny. She walked to the front door as if in a dream and opened it to find them holding hands, windswept, inexplicably happy.

“Hermione!” Ginny exclaimed. “You’re home early, aren’t you?”

Hermione couldn’t think of anything to say. Their smiling faces were almost insulting.

“Er… yeah,” she said, just so her face would have something to do other than crumple. “Come on in, it’s cold.”

They moved past her into the hall. As they hung up their coats, Hermione gazed down across the road. A flash of white lingered on her eyelids like an afterimage, but it really was cold and she had to turn back to the hallway and close the door.

“So what’s he news? Why are you two so happy?”

“We were looking at a house out in Kent.”

“Oh – you’re moving out, then?”

“Of course – us sharing was only ever meant to be temporary. Harry’s exams are only a week away, and after that, it won’t matter. We've put in an offer, but we're sure to get it. It's such a wonderful place, you'll love it!”

Hermione nodded absently.

“Harry?” Ron had emerged from the kitchen, pale and scowling. “Ginny?”

“I didn’t know you were here…” Harry began warmly.

“I was just going,” Ron said, pulling on his jacket, hung on a hook by the door.

“What’s the rush?”

But Ron had already pushed out the door and Disapparated.

“What was that about?” Ginny asked.

Hermione could only blink back treacherous tears and shake her head.









A/N: I thought I'd have this up before now, but it gave me a lot of trouble. I'm still not entirely happy with it. In the original version of this, Harry and Ginny got engaged, but even I don't think Ron's enough of a prat to break up with Hermione at a time like that. So a whole sub-plot has been cut out - which is why this chapter is fairly short.

If anyone is wondering, because I'm not sure if the chronology is clear enough, I did a little timeline:
ch1 = november 8
ch2 = nov 10
ch3 = nov17
ch4 = dec3

I would love some reviews :)


Chapter 5: V: Dream
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Hermione woke tangled in her bedsheets with a convulsive jerk. Her hair stuck to the thin film of sweat covering her face until she dashed it away and threw the covers off her body. Cooler, she sank back onto her pillows, forcing herself to relax. It was difficult; as always after a bad dream – a nightmare - she couldn’t shake her mind free of it. She tried to reason with herself, asking what had been so scary about the dream after all.

There had been a forset, she could remember that much, and a full moon rising over the treetops. She’d been lost, wandering paths that led nowhere and stopped abruptly. Then a patch of darkness condensed and became Cygnus, holding out a hand. And then what? She tried to remember, sorting through the confused images, trying to separate them from the feeling of dread that had pervaded the dream.

Cygnus had grasped her hand and began to lead her away – but then, a flash, and Deborah Kirwan and Crosby, faces distorted and malicious, stood before them. They’d grabbed Cygnus, ripped him from her hands, and Crosby had taken something from his pocket. It was the sun; the size of a coin, perfectly round and flat. It was blinding, so bright that the shadows in every corner of the wood had scurried away, and Cygnus had simply… melted beneath its rays.

Hermione sighed and levered herself out of bed. She could hear Ginny rustling around somewhere, humming softly. After wrapping a dressing gown around herself, Hermione went to investigate – Ginny was never an early riser, especially on a day she didn’t have training. She found Ginny in the hall, placing a bundle of carefully folded robes into a cardboard box, on top of an empty owl cage, some tattered books, and a Quaffle.

Hearing hermione Ginny glanced up, then turned back to the boxes. Half of her possessions, Hermione realised, were strewn across the floor; the other half were in the small army of cardboard held together with tape and cryptically labelled.

“You’re packing? Isn’t it a little early for that?”

Ginny shook out a harpies robe briskly. “Not really, Hermione.”

Hermione knew Ginny wasn’t in the best of moods with her; she’d moped around the flat for days, until Ginny had snapped and told her to call Ron if she was that upset by his absence. Hermione stopped visibly feeling sorry for herself after that, but even though she thought of Ron every moment – so it seemed; at least, he was a constant dull ache in her chest - she didn’t want to talk to him while he was being so immature.

“But you’re not moving out for ages… Harry’s exams don’t begin until…” She trailed off, trying to remember.

“Today,” Ginny finished. Her words seemed, to Hermione at least, to resonate with a silent accusation - If you were still speaking to Ron, you’d know that. “It’s the tenth.”

Hermione swallowed. “Already? It can’t be?” But as she mentally counted back the days – the days without Ron – she knew it was.

“And I’m moving out on the thirteenth. Thursday.”

“Oh, well… great,” she said, trying desperately to inject some note of sincerity into her voice. “Do you want me to make tea, or…?”

“No, thanks,” Ginny gave her the briefest of smiles and bent over the box, rearranging its contents. Hermione retreated to gulp down scalding, over-sugary tea and fling on her green work robes.

She arrived at the Ministry minutes later and headed for her office. Itw as in its usual disarray. Hermione sighed, moving aside a binder so she could sit down. She had an appointment with Cygnus at twelve and until then she needed to occupy herself. Judging by the sheer amount of paper littering the room, it wouldn’t be difficult.

She filled a quill with ink and pulled a form towards her. She didn’t look up for two hours. Her quill was a blur across the pages. Gradually, the stack of paper before her dwindled to one thin folder. Cygnus!

There was a tap at her office door; Hermione jumped violently. She ran a hand over her face and replaced her quill before speaking. “Come in.”

It was Crosby; he edged his way inside, and, obviously feeling finding another chair wasn’t worth the effort, stood it the corner. His brow was creased and arms folded.

“Yes, sir?” Hermione asked, gathering together Cygnus’ files as she spoke.

Crosby scratched his elbow, his pale eyes thoughtful. “In a hurry?”

“Oh, yes, actually – I have a meeting with C – the vampire – in ten minutes… I’m sorry, did you want me?”

“It can wait, I suppose,” he said, then with a forced jollity: “All set for the twentieth, then?”

Hermione smiled awkwardly. “Almost, sir. Do you mind?” She gestured at the door to indicate she was leaving.

“Not at all, not at all. Off you go,” He checked his watch. “Be in my office at two, Granger.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hermione followed Crosby out into the corridor, wondering, as she locked her office door, what exactly had gotten into him. Crosby was never so hesitant, especially to her. She shouldered her bag and headed for the lift. Her heart rose as it descended. She’d stopped wishing for a miraculous breakthrough. She knew she’d never find anything more than she had. But she was looking forward to talking to Cygnus again, and not just as a break from paperwork. Her was always so calm, so polite, so friendly even when difficult. It was exactly what she needed in what she’d started to think of as her ‘new’ life, her life without Ron.

The lift juddered to a halt at the very bottom, the door creaking and shivering under her hand as she pushed it open. She walked quickly along The Dungeon’s gloomy corridor. There was a new inmate, she could tell, two new guards and a shiny locked door. She didn’t know who it was; it wasn’t likely she’d ever find out. Cygnus’ two guards, the ones she remembered from her first visit – it felt like a year ago – were waiting for her. One shook his head as he pushed the key into the door.

“I don’t know what your department thinks, letting you in there on your own,” he said, almost in an undertone.

“I can look after myself, thank you,” she replied, as she had done on the first day, and stepped briskly into the cell.

Cygnus blinked rapidly as the lights rose, and sank back into his iron chair, relaxing the clenched muscles of his arms. He had new bruises on his wrists; purple and swollen, they looked cuff-inflicted. “Hello,” he said.

Hermione eased herself into her chair and opened her files, dragging her eyes away from his injries. “Hello,” she replied, then cleared her throat and continued in almost the same breath, “It’s the tenth, and as you know, that means that there are only ten days left until your trial. So we’ll have to work quickly if we ae to have a defence ready in that time.”

He nodded. “I understand.”

Hermion pulled a leaf of parchment covered in her neat writing from the sheaf on the table. “I think we’ll do best by emphasizing that there are potentially upwards of fifty vampires in the area around London, and that there is no evidence tying you personally to the deaths.”

Cygnus reached out for the parchment with a hesistant hand and read through it carefully, as if weighing every word. He didn’t appear to be a totally fluent reader; he took a long time to reach the bottom and occasionally mouthed words silently to himself. “There’s no mention that I was in Lancaster that night,” he said at last, with a slight frown.

“No, Hermione agreed, meeting his eyes unflinchingly. “I’m afraid that it’s rather a weak alibi, as no one can confirm it, and I think we should be seen to be completely honest –“

Cygnus opened his mouth as if to contradict her, but Hermione continued. “I’m not saying that you were lying, only that the Wizengamot will see it that way. If we can show them that we have nothing to hide it might just strengthen our case.”

Cygnus regarded this idea, scanning the page again, eventually nodding shortly. He looked so downcast for a moment, and it hit Hermione – really hit her for the first time, like a ton of bricks cascading on her head – that if she failed here he would die. Their eyes met again, and something in Hermione lept. It was pity, she told herself, that was all. But his dark eyes were so intense and searching – beautiful, in a way – and a little voice in the back of her head told her it wasn’t, entirely.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “It’s the best I can do.”

“I know,” he said, not looking away.

*


It was over two hours later when Hermione left. A part of her was pleased; they had outlined a defence she could see working in the Wizengamot. On the other hand, she had a sinking feeling that whatever she did, it wouldn’t be enough. That morning’s dream came back to her, and Crosby’s face as Cygnus burned, gleeful.

That was what they all wanted, to kill the bloodsucker, like Crosby said… Crosby! She was supposed to have been at his office half an hour ago, God only knew why. Hermione quickened her pace, shoving past a fat wizard on her way out of the lift and barrelling down the corridor. She flung open his office door without knocking, remembering his love of punctuality. He was leaning back in his leather chair, long fingers with their golden rings interlaced, considering her – Hermione knew – slightly bedraggled figure.

“You’re late, Granger,”

“I’m sorry, sir, I was… held up, and – “

Crosby waved aside Hermione’s excuses with a lazy hand. “It’s alright. Sit.”

Hermione did so, smoothing her robes and wondering yet again what he wanted to say.

“Granger, I’m worried about you.” Hermione raised her eyebrows. This wasn’t what she’d expected at all – she’s been anticipating a lecture on how out of hand she’d let her paperwork get. “I always admire a hard worker,” Crosby continued. “And nobody could say that you have ever given this job less than one hundred percent. But lately… well, you don’t look well. I’m sure that this… vampire case must be stressful, but…” He rubbed his nose self-consciously.

“I’m afraid I don’t see your point.”

“My point is… take it easy. Don’t overwork yourself. I heard about you an whats-his-name Weasley –“

“With respect, sir, it’s really none of your business.”

She’d snapped, and Crosby appeared taken aback. He coughed, with a rasping catch in his breath. Hermione suddenly wondered if he himself weren’t ill, but never got the chance to ask.

“So, how is the vampire doing? Funny that, the reporter who was so adamant about his case getting a trial seems to have disappeared, can’t contact her at all.”

Hermione said nothing, wishing she could say the same. Deborah Kirwan was continually popping up lately.

“Well, I can’t pretend I don’t think the bugger did it – but good luck all the same, Granger.”

Hermione smiled. From Crosby, it was the best she was going to get. “Thank you, sir.”

“You can go.”

She left, feeling an odd mixturee of emotions – anger, irritation, a sharp stab of pain at the mention of Ron, and a sort of friendly warmth towards Crosby. He was only looking out for her, after all, however incompetant he probably thought she was right now.

Back at her desk, she passed the rest of the day in a daze, engaging in disputes and conversations, but with no real feeling. At precisely six o’ clock she locked the door behind her and headed for the fireplaces in the Atrium. In the place where the Fountain of Magical Brethren, and later, Voldemort’s twisted masterpiece, had stood, there was a simple stone pillar with the names of the dead of the war engraved on it.

It suited Hermione’s mood and she stopped by it. She found Remus and Tonks easily enough, searched a little while for Moody, and lingered on Snape’s reflectively. It had beem so long since she last looked at it, swept past on a tide of work and preoccupation, she’d almost forgotten their positions, but she could see their faces still. Bellatrix was there, and Womtail, and, at the very bottom, Tom Riddle; there had been some debate, but in the end it was decided to include everyone; Death Eaters alongside the Order alongside Muggles and children.


Hermione swallowed hard and turned away. Six years later, the memories still held the same power. They sidled their way in when she was low and defenceless, and they were having a field day now.

A stand of Daily Prophets was kept by the front desk; they were free to Ministry employees. Hermione had never taken one before, avoiding the Prophet on principle, but reading what Deborah Kirwan had written about Cygnus would certainly distract her.

Waiting in line for the fireplace, however, she could find no mention of either the murders of Cygnus’ trial. Mentally shrugging, she decided it must be too early for a piece to appear yet, and stepped forward into the flames.

*


Midnight brought a sudden drop in temperature and soft footsteps to a dimly lit West Abbey Road. The tramp sat by 26A, occasionally sniffing the air. His feet twitched in his worn shoes, and even though it was below freezing and his clothes were thin, he did not shiver or pay any attention to the cold. He had heard the footsteps, and was listening to them approach with something close to anticipation.

At last, he grinned and pulled his feet under him. A small, slim woman with snowy hair crouched just outside the nearest streetlight’s beams. She avoided the light, dancing around it on all fours.

“Artemis. Fancy seeing you here,” he said casually. She sprang to her feet, eyebrows closing.

“I was taking a walk. Caught your scent.”

“Really?” The man sounded amused, disbelieving. “How fortunate. Unless,” his voice hardened, “you weren’t thinking of attempting some sabotage?”

The woman didn’t reply, her nostrils flaring. He stood and walked towards her. “We’ve been letting you have your way. But enough’s enough.”

She glared at him, her hands forming fists. “You know what I think of all this. What I think of him.”

“Yes,” he replied calmly. “But if Chairon won’t listen to you, I certainly won’t.”

How you can persist in this idiotic-“

He stopped her with a cold hand pressed to her lips. “She’s inside. And we’ve discussed this before. I won.”

She thrust his hand away. “You’re pathetic,” she growled, but quieter. “Pretending to be… but you’re just doing what Chairon told you, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“Pathetic,” she spat. And she turned and vanished into the night, her blond hair glinting orange. The man flopped back down onto the pavement, chuckling to himself. Pathetic! If she wants to talk about pots and kettles…




If you review you will have my undying love and admiration. And who doesn't want that?
I always feel that these chapters are too short, despite the amount of plot in them :/ Any ideas why?




Chapter 6: VI: Before
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Hermione stood in the centre of her living-room, watching the empty spaces. Ginny hadn’t taken any furniture, not even the green coach she’d given three-quarters of the mone towards, but little absences remained all the same. No untidy pile of shoes by the door. No Qudditch manuals; one less owl cage. The flat had never been so lifeless, for all that it was neater. Even though she’d always thought of it as cramped, the walls stretched away from Hermione for miles.

Ginny had moved out two days ago. It felt like decades. She’d visited their new house. It was squat and white and pretty, sitting amongst flowerbeds like a contented cat. Harry was delighted, as was Ginny. Hermione still hadn’t spoken to Ron; the only contact she’d had was a scrawled note in the care of Pig that merely told her that his exams had been difficult but had gone well.

She hadn’t replied. Maybe she would, after the trial. Until then, she simply couldn’t deal with any more stress. It sometimes seemed to her tat, even though her job was becoming ever-more frustrating and draining, it was the only place where she felt she had a purpose, the only place where people needed her. Perversely, despite Cygnus and Ron’s warnings, it was the only place she felt safe.

Hermione clamped her arms to her sides and took a deep breath, Self-pity was all very well, but right now she had work to do. She took a sheet of parchment, a quill, and a heavy reference book borrowed from the Ministry’s library into the kitchen. There was a lot of things to organise in five days.

The sun was already setting. Its rays mingled with the haze of electrical light that hovered over London, throwing an orange glow over Hermione’s work until it filled her senses with honey-like light. Her head was so heavy, and she bent it close to the parchment as her grip loosened on her curling quill.

*


At two o’clock in the morning, Hermione was once again wide awake. One hand clutched her leather-bound book tightly to her side; her wand quivered in the other. She had fallen asleep over Chapter Twelve: “The Ambiguosities of Moral Delineation in Non-Human Magical Creatures”. Then, five minutes ago, there had been an unearthly noise, like a quiet scream, right outside the front window.

It had cut right through her sleepiness, and had been so full of anger and pain that she’d jumped for her wand at once. Now she was edging through the shadows towards the window, heart pounding. There was another hissing screech, muffled and less frightening than the first.

A man’s voice rose in irritation. “And that’s just a taster! Now imagine what Chairon will do to you if you’re caught here again – and don’t think I won’t tell him!”

There was a noise like a slap and a woman’s gasp. Hermione’s eyes widened in shock; what was this? She couldn’t stay still. Gritting her teeth, she almost ran to fling back the stubborn curtains, whispering “Lumos” and holding up her wand.

All she could see for a moment was her own shining reflection in the glass, but then she made out a figure silhouetted against the streelight, running down the pavement faster than should be possible and dodging into a small alley. One arm was clutched to its stomach. Her eyes were drawn back, to directly below her, at the bottom of the steps. She had the briefest glimpse of a face, half in shadow. It was twisted in the direction the first had gone and belonged to a tall man. His mouth was open in a snarling smile and his bared teeth dripped with scarlet. Then he too turned and was gone.

Hermione stood, frozen, for a moment. Vampires! But why? Had they been there for a reason, or was it just a coincidence that they should turn up on her road? Nothing in the street moved. Slowly, Hermione moved away from the window and fumbled for the front door’s latch, setting down the book and pulling her coat over her shoulders as she stepped down onto the road.

She still held her wand; vampires with blood on their teeth and hellish screams were, at this moment, more dangerous than any Muggle neighbour. A shiny dark liquid was pooling at the curb, inching towards the drain. Hermione bent down, holding her lit wand close to it. As she did so, however, the fluid began to fizz and bubble, disappearing like water on a hot stove. She touched a tentative finger to it. It stung, and for a second her fingertips were stained red. She recoiled. Vampire blood. What had happened?

The first, running, figure, must have been injured; it had held its arm in such an odd way. The second had had the same blood smeared on his face and teeth – had it attacked the other? Why? It made no sense. Suddenly feeling very glad that there were streetlights to flood her surroundings with comforting light, Hermione turned and hurried up the steps. Her feet slapped treacherously loudly on the wet stone, sounding to her like dead wet fish hitting the pavement. She bolted the door with both metal and magic behind her.

Maybe in the daylight she would have been braver; but not in the dead of night, not when there was still blood congealing on the footpath. She lay in her bed, not taking her eyes off the door. Just after dawn she fell into an uneasy sleep, plagued by nightmares.

*


Hermione took her seat opposite Cygnus in the dim cell. She was aware that she looked a mess. Her eyes carried heavy bags and her hair had proven untameable. Even the sight of Cyngus was setting her on edge; the memories of the night before were fresh and no less powerful now - although she was far underground, sitting across from a vampire with only a table and some chains to protect her. But then he opened his dark eyes and the fear melted from her. He wasn’t like them.

“Four days,” he said, startling her. Usually, she spoke first, and with the authority.

“Yes,” she replied. Remembering how fruitless her perusal of the borrowed book had been, she added: “I don’t think there is much else to be done, to be honest. Maybe a few minor ajustments, nothing very taxing. ”

“Aren’t you going to grill me on my lines?”

“That’s really not necessary…”

“That’s a pity – I saw a film about a lawyer once, years ago, and he was very into that,” he said, adding demurely : “But, of course, you’re a witch. I don’t suppose you would have seen it.”

Hermione smiled. “My parents are Muggles. I know what you mean.”

“I was a Muggle,” he said unexpectedly, staring at a point over her head.

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Really? This must all be quite strange to you, then.”

He shook his head. “I’ve had many dealings with wizards downthe years.”

“You were born in the seventeenth century, I think you said? Then why have you seen Muggle films? I wouldn’t think they’d be high on the agenda of a – well –“

He saved her. “Sometimes its nice to pretend to be human, just for a while. Many of us do it – we are quite good at it, hiding amongst you undetected. Over the years we’ve become excellent actors.”

Hermione bit her lip, wondering if she should tell him. Two sides battled it out in her mind, each with its dangers – but curiosity and fear won, and slipped through a gap in sensible and professional’s defences. “I saw two vampires outside a restaurant once. They seemed to recognise me.”

Cygnus straightened. “Recently?”

“A few weeks ago.”

“What did they look like?” His voice was still calm, but there was wariness in his eyes.

Hermione tried to remember the muddied images clearly; she hadn’t concentrated on specifics at the time. “One was fair, with light eyes. And the other had dark hair. Both tall.”

Cygnus’s eyes narrowed. “You haven’t seen them since? Or any others?”

Hermione hesitated. “Well, last night…” she began. “Last night there was at least one outside my house. I think he’d attacked a second; there was blood…”

Cygnus leaned forward. She caught a whiff of that gingery scent, and breathed in without thinking. It calmed her, so that she was maybe not as alarmed at his next words as she should have been. “Hermione, you need to be very careful. I know these men. They’re dangerous, ruthless.”

Hermione felt a little prickle of annoyance at being told what to do, even as she realised that if he did know them, it might perhaps be better to trust him. “Who are they?” she asked.

“Members of my old coven, the one I left. I think they could be trying to sabotage the trial.”

“What? How – why?”

“In the most direct means possible,” he said, face solemn and intent. “If you’re not around to defend me, the Ministry will do their dirty work for them.”

“You don’t think that –“

“Of course they will,” he said, rather harshly.

“Oh,” That was one mystery solved, at least, Hermione thought. The new knowledge was sinking in slowly, and she wasn’t sure she’d enjoy it’s final arrival. “That’s – that’s-“

“Hermione,” Cygnus said solenmly, but hesitantly, as if he were not used to the words. “I’m so very sorry for dragging you into this. It’s completely my fault. I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt because of me.”

Hermione swallowed. There it was again; her stomach twisted and her heart leapt. It was crazy. Better not to listen to her erratic feelings; what did they know? She found a way out of momentary confusion and leapt at it.

“I suppose this could be turned to our advantage – if the Wizengamot is given proof that there are indeed other vampires –“

“No - you can’t, please. I know what they’ll think – that you’re paranoid. No one, least of all a government, wants to believe that there are things out there that could really hurt them.”

It made sense, she had to concede, thinking of how Fudge had handled Voldemort’s return to power, but she had to argue anyway. “They arrested you.”

“That’s different,” he said. “They weren’t even going to give me a trial at first, were they?”

“No.”

Cygnus leaned back and smiled as though he’s won a great victory. Hermione couldn’t help but feel a little better; his smile was warm enough to drive out almost all fears of violent death. Almost all.

Realising that the conversation had gotten a little out of hand, when she next spoke, it was of the trial, and his defence, and which of the Wizengamot they would need on their side. It never hurt to be practical. Especially if you had just realised your opinion of a client was anything but.

*


For the rest of the week Hermione was in a state of distraction.

Crosby noticed it; he tutted when owls weren’t answered and files were misplaced, but didn’t say a word. She knew that his opinion of her had definitely disimproved. Before, he had seen her as a prospective head of department; now, he felt guilty at giving so much responsibilty to someone so young and inexperienced. Ginny worried too, quietly, watching her friend wear herself out. She called more often, but the calls grew shorter and Ginny began to dread them.

Hermione knew all this, and found it wasn’t in her to care. If she could only do one case in her life, this would be the one she picked. It had to be done.

Every night she tossed and turned – not from fear; her door was locked bolted and sealed with iron – but anxiety. Night after night she watched Cygnus die in her dreams. Night after night she pondered and probed this new sentimentNight after night she counted down the days remaining. Five. Four. Three. Two…

And then, finally, when she was wound like a rubber band, the twentieth arrived. A strange calm descended over her, like the eye of a storm, as she buttoned her best blouse and gulped her tasteless coffee. It lasted until the Atrium, where the sight of one purple-clad Wizengamot elder made her stomach clench.

She collected herself, and managed to push through the crowds to Courtroom Number Four. She dimly realised, through her own tangled emotions, that there were many people in and around it, milling through the door, chatting outside, scribbling notes. A black-suited man shoved into her, dropping his rolls of parchment in his haste and swearing at her.
Inside, it was much the same. The Wizengamot were taking their seats and the chained chair in the room’s centre was empty, looking like a hunched old raven from where she stood, seeing only the back.

“Where is he? For God’s sake, people, can we have some order?” It was Marty Cunningham, head of the Auror Department. Nobody paid him the slightest attention, so he repeated, louder: “Who is in charge of this racket? Has no one told my boys to bring him up yet?”

Hermone approached him, avoiding flailing limbs, and was rounded upon. “You! You’re his lawyer, right? Go on, down to the Dungeon, tell the bastards it’s time. Oh good, here’s the Minister. Here’s hoping he can knock this lot into order.”

Kingsley strode into the courtroom, wearing his usual deep purple, and up to his seat directly across from the double doors. He sat, looking very grim. Hermione could hear him calling the room to order with rather more success than Cunningham as she slipped down the corridor to the lift.

No less than nine Aurors, clad in black and gold, thronged the Dungeon’s long corridor. The blue torches flickered and flared brighter than usual, throwing their faces into sharp relief as Hermione walked by. Harry was one of them. He smiled slightly, but otherwise made no acknowledgement. The usual guard, looking much less impressive next to the Aurors, nodded to her.

“The court is ready,” Hermione said.

He plunged the key into the door. One by one the Aurors filed into the cell, two remaining outside. The lights inside rose, and Hermione could see, through the transparent wall, one carefully unlocking Cygnus’ chains, one lock at a time. A set of handcuffs four inches thick were snapped around his wrists and he was shoved to his feet.

They made to pull him out into the corridor, but he shook his head. Extending his arms out in front of him and arching his back, he looked for an instant as if he would attack the Aurors swarming around him. Then he swivelled his head left and right and Hermione realised he was only stretching. She couldn’t imagine how stiff sitting in the same position for almost two months would make you, but Cygnus appeared to be immediately recovered.

And now the Aurors were prodding him forward, through the door and down the corridor to the left. As they passed, Hermione was struck by how tall Cygnus actually was; it was the first time she’d seen him stand. He was very thin, and although he gave the impression of huge strength, he offered no resistance to the Aurors.

She would not be allowed to take the same lift, so she stood and watched them move away, noticing how effortlessly - beautifully - Cygnus walked. As he stepped into the lift, he glanced over his shoulder and caught her eye. There was no expression on his pale face, but Hermione thought, just before the doors clanged shut, that there was a careless laugh in his eyes.







A/N: this was very hastily edited and finished so typing errors and inconsistencies are my fault (I hope there's none, but you never know). This chapter was never meant to exist, and was only written because someone asked me in a review to know more about Cygnus... it kind of went on from there, but I'm glad I wrote it. It was actually very necessary. Only three chapters to go (Upsetting, isn't it?)
Please review :)












Chapter 7: VII: Trial
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Hermione felt sick as she walked from the lift to the courtroom. Her senses seemed to have dulled, and everything looked very far away and remote. Lead weights had attached themselves to her feet; it was a struggle not to just sit down and refuse to go any further.

People still flooded in through the golden double doors, although they were now giving the centre of the room a wide berth as they made their way to their places on the high circular benches. This was in large part due to the cluster of Aurors surrounding the iron chair, in which, once again wreathed in chains, sat Cygnus, his eyes closed as if in deep concentration.

The Minister for Magic stood behind the judge's bench, talking to an undersecretary. The witness for prosecution sat to his left, dressed smartly and scribbling away with a royal blue quill. Hermione didn't recognise him; he was a small mousey man with a smattering of stubble and a quick, restless air. Crosby was on his left, looking twice as solemn as usual. He nodded once to Hermione, and she realised she'd been staring.

Turning to find her own seat, she saw a middle-aged not-quite-naturally-blonde with two-inch nails pat the bench beside her. Hermione hadn't thought it was possible for her heart to sink any lower, but there sat smiling, Quick Quotes Quill-wielding proof. Rita Skeeter.

She didn't return the woman's smile as she sat. "Why are you here?"

"Well, Little Miss Know-It-All, we meet again. Court reporter, dear. Readers love the drama. Anything to say before it all kicks off?"

"Not to you."

"Darling, the Prophet hasn't had any Potter-related stories in weeks! And here we have his good friend, on the side of the sort of Dark creature he fought so hard to overcome. So what do you say?"

"Keep Harry out of this," Hermione snapped. It wasn't as if she hadn't had run-ins with Skeeter since Hogwarts, but having her here, at this trial, was beyond bad luck. "Anyway, I thought another journalist was covering this trial - Deborah Kirwan?"

The Minister raised a hand at that moment and rapped his wand against the bench. Rita began to say something, but a fat witch in violet Wizengamot robes shushed her, so she merely shot Hermione a puzzled frown before facing front with an intent, expectant expression. Hermione sighed, but her exasperation was forgotten when silence fell over the room. Cygnus raised his head, blinking in the same artificial light that filled the Atrium and her office.

Were they trying to scare him? Hermione wondered. Sunlight, to a vampire, was what thunder, lightening, and the blackest of nights were to a human. Whatever was intended, it had no apparent effect on Cygnus, who stared straight at the Minister, face neutral. Did he fear the Wizengamot's unforgiving stares? Did he even notice? Was he really so confident in her ability to defend him that it didn't matter? Hermione asked herself these questions, and doubted the answers.

The Minister got to his feet. "We will begin," he said. The Court Scribe's quill flew. "Trial of the twentieth December into offences committed under the Decree for Regulation and Control of Non-Human Magical Creatures, the International Statue of Secrecy, and the High Law against Murder by the accused, of no fixed name or address." There was a shuffling of plum robes from the highest of the tiered benches. "Interrogator: Brendan Paul Day. Witness for the Defence: Hermione Jane Granger."

Hermione breathed in. That was the easy part.

"The charges against the accused are as follows: that he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actins, murder five Muggles in the vicinity of St Paul's Cathedral, London, on the third of November at approximately one am, which constitutes an offence under the High law against Murder of 1107, under Paragraph D of the Decree for Regulation and Control of Non-Human Magical Creatures, and also under section 107 of the International Confederation of warlock's Statue of Secrecy. the severity of these offences necessitates the death penalty." He inhaled sharply and fixed Cygnus with his gaze. "How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

A whisper ran around the room. The Minister raised his hand again and hush fell at once. "I see. Witness for the defence, if you will..." he gestured to Hermione, not even treating her to the ghost of a smile. He'd been a happy man once, and Hermione had liked him, but years of cleaning up after 'the previous administration' (as press releases always called it) had hardened him.

She stood. This was the moment. She was in her element here. She stood, and waited for the rush of adrenaline to catch her. All she felt was a fizzing in her stomach like bad champagne and a roll of nausea. Today all those familiar faces, the faces she'd seen dozens of times before, the Wizengamot, weren't faces at all but a single block of cold etched marble against which she had to carve her fragile little defence. It was frightening, and she was frightened at being frightened; for the first time in a courtroom, her nerve faltered. Breathe, she told herself. Breathe and get through this.

"The defendant is innocent of all charges..." The preprepared speech rolled off Hermione's tongue without feeling. The Wizengamot peered over their spectacles and frowned, either with concentration or disbelief; she very much hoped it was the former. She avoided Cygnus's eyes as she spoke, because if she met them she would surely not be able to go on. The last words leaked from her mouth, and she closed it, relieved but trepidatious.

Brendan Day got to his feet with a little swagger. And then it began. He was good, Hermione couldn't help but admit. Quick and sharp and attentive to detail. Like she was, usually, but today her brain was cotton wool.

Five minutes in, and she was already losing ground on her first argument. "I maintain that there are many other vampires currently resident in the city of London, any of whom could have been the perpetrator."

"Preposterous!" Day said. "There are no vampires registered in London - no vampire would dare come so close to the Ministry."

"The defendant obviously did, in time to be picked up by your Aurors."

Day grinned and pointed to Hermione, speaking directly to the crowd. "You see? Even his lawyer admits he's crazed!"

Hermione was frustrated. Day had an answer for everything; convincing answers, too, judging by the Wizengamot's raised eyebrows and pursed lips. She only had to look at them to see that many agreed with Day's opinion that vampires were by nature vicious and dangerous and only safe when dead.

She had to keep trying.

They flung arguments at each other like clods of dirt. Photographs of the victims - before and after death - were produced and handed around; their names read out: Blaine Updike, Anne McKenna, Anthony Cunningham, Mark Dawson, Elizabeth Stewart. Day spoke of the families' grief; Hermione acknowledged this, but told the Wizengamot how calm and even-tempered Cygnus was now; did he look capable of such a violent crime?

Cygnus answered every question thrown his way flawlessly, without so much as a slip of the tongue. Everything Hermione had gleaned in hours of conversation and research was brought forward and stripped bare for Day to display to the court as fallacies. His lack of evidence was brushed aside. "I may have little direct evidence for, but you have none against. Not even an alibi!"

Hermione pressed her lips together. She glanced at Cygnus, met his eyes, and found she didn't go to pieces; rather, she could think clearer than before. "Certainly we have an alibi."

"You do?" Day's tone was scornful.

"Yes. The defendant was elsewhere at the time of the crime."

"That is generally the definition of an alibi," Day said dryly. "So you were elsewhere, were you?" he said to Cygnus.

A wrinkle appeared between Cygnus's eyebrows. He paused. Hermione nodded. "Yes," he said.

"And where was that?" Now Day's voice was condescending, mocking.

Cygnus spoke, but less readily than before, telling the story he'd told Hermione weeks ago; Lancashire, his old coven, the unnamed woman who'd come to tell him. When he finished, the air in the room was somehow thicker.

Day was smiling. Hermione was suddenly afraid he'd say something about witnesses, but, to her surprise, he didn't. "You say that your kind can run faster than humans. How fast, exactly?"

"I'm not sure."

"Sixty miles an hour? Seventy?"

"Two hundred."

A muffled gasp from the back. Rita Skeeter's hand was a blur.

"You weren't sure a minute ago."

"A guess, nothing more."

"I see. And can you verify that? Is there anyone present who can say for sure that it is possible?"

"Objection!" said Hermione. "There is also no one present who can say for definite that it is not possible."

Day glared at her. Hermione glared back. "Miss Granger-"

"That's enough!" the Minister spoke for the first time in over an hour. "Do either of you have any witnesses to call?"

"No, sir." Day said. Hermione shook her head.

"Then both the defence and prosecution will rest; I think we've all heard enough. the Wizengamot have ten minutes to make up their minds."

Only a few moved. The Minister leaned back in his chair and swigged from a flask. Day sat down and muttered to Crosby, still scowling. Hermione ignored the Aurors now stepping closer to the iron chair and stood beside Cygnus.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

He chuckled, his chains clinking softly. "I should be asking you that."

Hermione winced. "You did well," he added, perhaps too hastily. "Day had his work cut out."

It wasn't true; maybe Hermione had occasionally had the upper hand, but Day bounced three steps forward for every one she knocked him back. She knew the Wizengamot had liked him. "We can only hope."

The Minister stood, too soon. The murmuring subsided. Grim faces surrounded them. Hermione didn't like it. A grim Wizengamot could be thinking anything. Unconsciously, she rested her hand on Cygnus's. He curled his fingers around it briefly.

"Have you reached a decision?" The Minister asked the room. There was a collective mutter of assent. "Well, then. Those in favour of clearing the accused of all charges?"

A smattering of hands. Hermione couldn't count them, not yet, There was still hope.

"And those in favour of conviction?"

And now, like a wave breaking on the rocks, the hands went up.

Crosby's hand.

The Minister's hand.

Many hands.

Too many.

Hermione only dimly registered the events of the next fifteen minutes. The hammer came down. "Convicted of all charges... sentenced to death... sunlight... noon on the twenty-second of December..." The Aurors pulled Cygnus to his feet; Harry touched her shoulder and said something sympathetic; Rita gabbed about her article; Day beamed and shook hands; Crosby smiled apologetically at her; plum robes left the courtroom; the Minister didn't speak as he passed her; the ceiling rushed down; the walls closed in; Hermione fell apart.

*



She was, once again, in the underground cell. Cygnus's chains were twice as thick as before, and his head hung low, chin on chest. He hadn't opened his eyes when she'd entered; she assumed he was resting them after being in such strong light in the courtroom, but then, it was equally likely that he couldn't stand the sight of her. Livid purple marks ringed his wrists where the heavy cuffs had been.

She sighed. "I'm sorry." In the silence it was like ringing a bell.

"Don't be." His voice was like the rustle of dry leaves. He still wouldn't look at her.

"We've been refused an appeal." It was the only reason she had been allowed to come down here; to let him know that he would die in two days.

He didn't appear surprised. "I would have lost with or without even you. I lost six weeks ago."

Hermione reached out and touched his icy, scarily still hand on the table. "I'm sorry," she repeated. She didn't know what else to say.

Now he raised his head, opened his eyes. "Hermione. It's not your fault."

Hermione couldn't reply. Something was wrong with her tongue, her throat, her heart. "Are you afraid?" The words slipped out without her being quite aware of them.

"A little. I don't know." Cygnus closed his eyes. "Yes."

He placed his free hand over hers, almost absent-mindedly. Another silence. "I want you to know," he said softly, holding her gaze with his dark eyes, "that I really do appreciate the effort you've put in... I'm very grateful for that. Not many people would even come near a... me."

Hermione tried to smile. So did he. Then slowly, very carefully, not taking his eyes off hers, he raised her hand and pressed it to his lips. A cold shock shot up Hermione's arm. He let her hand drop, eyes suddenly guarded.

It was only then that Hermione remembered the guards outside, no doubt watching as she and Cygnus had drawn ever closer over the course of the conversation. "I should go," she mumbled. " I'm so-"

"Don't say it," he said, a smile playing around his mouth.

She pushed back her chair, stood. "I - well, goodbye."

He inclined his head towards her. "Goodbye."

She tore her eyes away from him, and left the room. Sure enough, the two guards were staring when she emerged, their eyes wide and wary. They didn't say anything, though, so she turned away and half-ran to the lift. Only when she was safely behind its golden bars did she dare let the first sobs escape, shaking her as the tears spilled over.

She liked him, yes; how could she not, when he was so charming and polite - but love; love was a strong word. Too strong to apply to a man she had only met with a table separating them, a man who had only given her glimpses of himself. But then she remembered how his cold lips had felt against her hand, how her heart had stopped, how her insides had twisted in sympathy with the agony in his eyes.

She didn't know. All she knew was that he could not be allowed to die.







A/N: Disclaimer: A lot of the Minister's dialogue is paraphrased from chapter 8 of OotP, starting page 127 in the British edition.
The rest of the trial is a mashup of To Kill A Mockingbird and every episode of Bones and CSI I've ever seen. Please let me know if something is glaringly wrong or weird (this is totally not the sort of thing I should be admitting =P)

Anyway. Who's pissed off about the way the trial ended? Who's happy for the soppy bits? Who's hated it from the start? Let me know, reviews are always appreciated :D

Beta-ed (well, not this chapter, yet) by curiosity is not a sin


Chapter 8: VIII: Run
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The sun rose achingly slowly, filering through the curtains to eventually cast its rays over Hermione’s figure on the unmade bed. She had lain in the same postion all through the long night, curled on her side with legs drawn up to her chin. She still wore her green work robes, her hair was a matted mess, and red rings circled her constantly blinking eyes. The tears had stopped abruptly in the middle of the night, but a dull headache and a tightness in her throat remained.

If she had slept – which she doubted – she hadn’t dreamed; she was glad of that, knowing what she would have seen. Black eyes, skin like snow, scarlet blood boiling away beneath a furious light.

The pattern of cracks, like a grey lattice, in the wall opposite her was etched into her memory, and she’d counted the garish flowers printed on the curtains over and over, getting a different figure each time. The doorbell had rang, a harsh atonal noise, at around ten, but Hermione ignored it. Miserable guilt was an emotion to experience alone. It pierced her like a dagger through her ribs, twisting with every thought.

The sun inched its way upwards, higher and higher until it found a gap in the curtains and a single shaft slipped into the darkened room. Too drained to roll over, Hermione clapped a pillow over her face. Soon it became stifling, but she didn’t move it. It smelt familiar and comfortingly sleepy.

When the sun was directly overhead and couldn’t reach her, she moved it. Everything was too bright, and she flung and arm reflexively over her eyes. The movement reminded her of Cygnus and how, on their first meeting, he’d done exactly the same thing.

The knife, still jammed firmly into her chest, wrenched when she pictured his face. How had she ever found him less than beautiful? And now the next time she saw him would be non tomorrow. Dying.

It wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen someon die, or the first time she’d lost a friend. But it had been a war; those people – Tonks, Remus, Fred – had died bravely, and she’d lived in fear so long, had time to prepare for the inevitable losses. Cyngus was dying for no reason other than blind prejudice and her own failings, and dying in a most horrible, painful way.

What was it she’d said to him? I’ll do my best. And had she? No. Day had run rings around her. There was no one else to blame, really… and he’d had such faith in her.

I’ll do my best. Words echoed around her skull, taunting her. Cygnus’s voice, admitting he feared death. Ron’s, telling her to stay away.

My best. What was her best? It had to be better than this.

Hermione pressed her knuckle to her head. Shut up, she thought. Shut up shut up shut up shut up.

Suddenly, blissfully, her mind indeed silenced. A new voice spoke up. You haven’t failed yet.

She prodded at it, wondering if it belonged to her. Was she delusional, or just crazily optimistic? Of course she’d failed.

Not yet. He’s still alive, isn’t he?

Well, yes…

Well then. There’s almost twenty hours to go.

She frowned, dropping her hand. But what could she do? The voice was gone. In its wake it left an idea.

She knew where he was imprisoned. That was more that most people knew, to start with. She knew the extent of his security. She had twenty hours.

Hermione rolled over and swung her legs out of bed. Blood rushed from her head, and it took a moment for the dizziness to subside. Then she stood, dragging her robes over her head, flinging on a fresh pair. She splashed cold water over her face, hoping it would encourage the swelling around her eyes to go down. Then she brushed her teeth and tugged a comb through her hair, wincing as knots came away. Her reflection stared back at her in the mirror over the sink, its face pale and brown eyes still pinkish, but ti was a definite improvement.

The kitchen clock read almost five p.m., later than she’d expected, but not yet late enough for the plan that seemed to have been forming in her subconscious overnight and which became more solid after two mugs of coffee and a painkiller. It was possible, it had to be.

Half of the Dungeon’s strength as a prison rested on its reputation, mostly formed through rumours. Thr guards would pose no great oppostion; the booby-traps could be disabled, or might not even activate; she was authorised to enter, after all. The chains… they they would be trickier; she was sure that they would be charmed, at the very least.

Filled with a sudden energy that she wished had been present yesterday, she went to dig out a spell book.

*


Ten o’clock. Darkness descended over the rooftops of London, pooling in corners as if pinned there by the random pockets of life and noise and people. A light drizzle was falling.

Hermione, wrapped in a cloak, walked down the steps from the flat, one hand clutching the wand stowed in her pocket. She hadn’t forgotten the other vampires, although if Cygnus had been right, their work had all but been done.

She moved quickly along the footpath, not looking to either side. If she had, she would have noticed the tramp huddled up against the railings. His puzzled expression, buried deep in the folds of his blood-splattered cloak, changed as Hermione passed. His mouth stretched into a smile so wide and euphoric that it would have been almost as horrific without the two shiny sharp canines that bordered it.

The employee entrances were deserted. Only maintenance and the occasional security guard were still at the Ministry so late. The current Minister didn’t particularily reward or encourage hard work, and many employees couldn’t see the point of working extra hours without incentive.

Hermione squeezed into the cramped cubicle, inserted her token, and was standing in the Atrium within seconds. She felt light-headed, and as if she were watching herself from the outside. It was exilerating.

The front desk sat unmanned, but fires crackled in several of the Floo fireplaces that lined the far wall. Hermone turned and headed for the lifts, her feet clacking and echoing on the tiles. The golden cage seemed to take a decade to begin its descent. She hammered the ‘down’ buton repeatedly, her nrves on fire, every creak of the structure doubling her heart rate.

The doors rattled open and she stepped out cautiously, expecting a sudden shout of alarm. None came. She drew her wand and held it out before her, advancing down the corridor, peering into the gloom ahead. Her attempts at stealth might have worked better had it not been for the torches along the walls erupting into flame as she passed. The acrid smell of smoke reached her and she saw the reddish glow of a cigarette end.

Then she heard a mutter, a mumble. A shout.

“Who’s there? Declare yourself!” The glow vanished. It had been a confident voice. The shorter one, then, the one without the garlic and crucifix.

“Stop right there!”

She kept walking, unafraid.

“Last warning! Halt!”

Another step. Two yells in perfect unison, two jets of red light.

“Protego!” she cried, and the spells spun away.

“Wait, wait!” The taller caught his companion’s arm, holding it as he prepared to cast another curse. “Miss Granger?”

His hesitation gave Hermione her chance. “Stupefy!”

The short man collapsed, and the other, wide-eyed, pointed his wand directly at her. “Miss Granger, I don’t know what you’re doing, but drop your wand and nobody gets h-“

With another flash, he too was slumped on the floor. Hermione inhaled. She hadn’t enjoyed that. But she ignored her misgivings and riffled through the pair’s pockets for the key. It was strung firmly to a belt, but she yanked it loose and jammed it into the door as she’d seen him do.

The door gave way under the key, but stayed firm, and a searing pain shot up her arm. It was as if the little piece of metal was aflame, supported by the blistering burn developing on her palm.

Hermione bit her lip, holding back a cry. Why wouldn’t it open? A thought occurred, and she tugged the tall guard up so he was half-standing, supported by her protesting arms. Gasping, she placed the key in his limp hand and pushed it into the door. This time, the silver began to ripple and fade. She thanked god that the Dungeon’s doors didn’t work the same way as those at Gringotts.

She dropped the man, wincing as his head cracked against the doorframe, and stepped over him into the cell. The hidden lights steadily brightened, and Cygnus’s chair came into view. The table and other chair were gone, and the cell felt twice as empty without them.

Cygnus’s face was in shadow, turned away from the door. “No… it can’t be time yet…”

“It’s not,” Hermione said.

He stiffened, and looked at her. For a split second, his face was filled with a wild sort of joy, triumph almost, then it was gone. “Hermione?”

“I’ve come to get you out,” she said, walking to him and examining his chains, trying to work out how to break them.

“But it must be the middle of the night.”

“Yes.” She continued to turn over the chains, searching for a lock. “And we need to hurry – I’m surprised an alarm hasn’t gone off yet.”

She glanced at him; his eyes were wide, mouth open – if it had been possible, his face would have drained of blood. Then he smiled. “I see you knocked out the guards.” There was an amused sort of pride in his voice.

“Yes,” Hermione repeated, distracted. “I’m going to have to try something else…diffindo!”

The chains, instead of splitting, actually contracted, tightening about his chest. Hermione scowled; she’d hoped that would be it, not one of the more complex spells she’d looked up that afternoon.

Discerpo!” It took a mental effort, but the largest chain clinked and broke, falling to the ground. However, a thinner silver one still looped around him. This wouldn’t break at all.

“It won’t,” Cygnus said, mouth still quirked into a smile. “It was a special charm… allow me.”

He brushed away her hands. She moved back, and with one great effort, Cygnus pushed forward against it, thrusting his arms out violently. With a creak of protest, it shattered. He got to his feet, towering over her. Small red marks had appeared on his ghostly skin, like a rash; a reaction to the silver, but he didn’t seem to care. Her excitement seemed to have infected him too, his eyes were bright as he spoke. “Let’s go.”

He grasped her hand and almost pulled her to the door, where the two guards lay unconscious. Here he paused. “They’ve seen you,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter-“ she began, but he interrupted.

“Can’t you erase memories?”

She gritted her teeth; they really didn’t have time, but said it anyway. “Obliviate.” The guards twitched once, and were still. She turned back to him. “Now let’s hurry!”

But as soon as they set foot on the corridor, there was a shrill whistle. The blue torches flared and became intensely bright, blinding even to Hermione. Cygnus gasped in pain and pressed an arm to his face.

“Quickly!” he half-snarled, and Hermione, her own eyes smarting, began to run towards the lift, tugging him after her. Even blind, he was much faster than her, and it was quite clear who was leading. He lengthened, his stride, then, with a noise of impatience, lifted her and held her close to him, eyes still screwed shut.

“Don’t let me hit anything,” he growled, and ran.

Hermione would have shut her eyes had she not had to direct him; it was blisteringly fast, like sitting in an airplane as it took off. Cygnus ran, but they weren’t getting any closer to the golden doors; in fact, the end of the corridor was speeding away from them.

“It’s getting longer!”

“What?”

Now the corridor itself began to move. It twisted and rolled, the walls growing and shrinking, skewing away and appearing to bubble. Hermione couldn’t make anything out – one moment they were speeding towards a blue torch at breakneck speed, and the next they were upside down and within touching distance of the lift. A scream wrung through her lips.

“What’s happening?” Cygnus shouted over the continuing screech of the alarm.

“It’s an illusion! Just keep running!” He did so, increasing his speed. She prayed it was an illusion – but she’d never heard of any magic that could do this.

For a moment, she thought she’d been wrong, and panic filled her, but then, in an impact that knocked half the breath out of her, Cygnus ht something solid. The lift! With shaking hands, she pulled it open and got in, Cygnus following.

The doors closed behind them, and instantly the whistle stopped and the corridor stilled. Of course, she thought. Only those with access permission could open the lift, so the traps worked on the assumption that whichever personell it was had the situation under control. Another oversight.

The Dungeon fell away behind them like some bizzare dream, and it was, once more, blessedly dark. “You can open your eyes,” she whispered, breathing heavily from relief and a growing realisation of what she’d done. It felt good. She was on a high of pure adrenaline.

Cygnus looked down at her, a broad smile stealing over his face. They didn’t speak until the lift stopped . The doors opened to reveal the Atrium, still deserted and bathed in blue shadows. “Where now?” he muttered.

“My house, for now,” she replied, and, taking his hand, crossed to the Floo fireplaces. Moonlit clouds flitted past the high windows and the war memorial cast eerie shadows over the pale golden tiles. Cygnus observed it all, expression both calculating and amused.

Hermione took a pinch of green powder from her pocket and cast it into a fireplace with shaky fingers. A fire spang from the embers at once, roaring and green. “26A, West Abbey Road,” she murmured, stepping inside as the warm flames caught them and sent them spinning through grates until they tumbled onto her flat’s carpet.

Cygnus picked himself up first, going to the window and peering out between the curtains. The full moon’s glow washed over his pale skin, creating strange patterns. Hermione leaned against the couch, watching him as he turned to examine the photographs on her mantelpiece. Her breath was coming in gasps and her head felt like it was being squeezed in a vice.

She struggled to control herself, but she was embroiled in a tussle btwen panicky guilt and crazy, euphoric joy. She had done it, escaped, and now he was here, in her flat, proof that she hadn’t failed. A nervous, shaky laugh caught in her throat. In an instant, Cygnus was crouched beside her.

“Hermione, it’s all right.”

She could only shake her head, trying to let him know that she knew, and it was better than all right, it was brilliant. He pressed an icy hand to her cheek.

“I want to make sure you’ll be fine before I go – say something, please.”

Hermone closed her eyes, reorganising her brain. Why on earth had she become so scattered all of a sudden? “Go?” she asked finally, an edge to her voice.

“Yes, of course. I can’t stay here.”

“No, no, I know that…. I’m just a little…where will you go?”

He shrugged with one shoulder. She nodded.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Hermione blinked, and attempted a smile. His answering grin was twice as wide. Then, with no warning except the tightening of his hand on hers, he bent forwards and kissed her – awkwardly, gently – on her lips.

She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. She only had the presence of mind to whisper: “Please – don’t think I need payment or anything…”

He moved back. “Payment?” Soemthing shot through his eyes. “No, that’s not – I want to-“

Hermione’s last restraints crumbled. She pulled him closer and kissed him again, harder. His lips folded around hers, and all she could feel was pure bliss.

There was a sharp tapping at the door. They broke apart.

The tapping increased to a hammer, and was accompanied by a man’s voice.“Hermione? Hermione, there’s been a break out at the Ministry – are you there?”

She didn’t reply, shaking her head furiosly at Cygnus when he made to stand. The voice swore, and footsteps could be heard, fading away.

“Who was that?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But you’re right, you can’t stay here.”

He nodded, his face once again flickering with that ecsatic happiness. He was changed, in some subtle way, from the Cygnus she’d known in the cell; more forceful, more fervid, and somehow zinging with a nervous excitement. She could hardly blame him; how wonderful must it be to be free after six weeks of looming death?

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know. I suppose the Aurors will have put a cordon around London now they know I’ve escaped.”

“Yes. But I can Apparate you out – if you want.”

“Dartmoor,” he said, as if considering it.

Hermione offered her arm. “Don’t let go,” she whispered, and with a crack and a whirl of colour, the dingy flat disappeared and they were standing on a heathery hillside. Cygnus looked around him.

“Yes, this will do,” he said, smiling at her. Was there something a little off about his expression, or was it Hermione’s imagination, twisting what must be their last parting?

“So this is goodbye, then,” she muttered, stowing her wand in her back pocket.

“Maybe not,” he replied, and held her face between his two icy palms. One stayed put, caressing her blushing cheek as he kissed her, while the other dropped, lower and lower…snap.

“What’s that?” Hermione pulled away.

Cygnus’s eyes were amused as he held up his hand, displayed a piece of wood, cleanly broken in two. “Oh dear.”

Hermione frowned, peering at the twig. She couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked very much like….

Another crack.

A sharp pain.

Darkness.





A/N: Am I forgiven? XD Well, there’s a lovely cliffhanger for y’all to ponder. I’m very proud of some parts of this chapter, less so of others, but leave me a little review below and I’ll fix it as best I can. The next chappie is my absolute favourite – I’ve been looking forward to it since last December (can you believe I’ve been writing this story since then?). Therefore, it could take longer to post – I want to make sure I don’t screw it up

And I’m going to go ahead and let you all know that I have a brand new meet the author page, which is feeling lonely, so if you have any questions for me at all, go on over and ask. :]

As always, huge thanks to my reviewers – I love you all













Chapter 9: IX: Choice
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Hermione couldn’t say how much later it was when her eyes flickered open. It was still dark, her surroundings lit only by the full moon’s sickly glow. A bruise throbbed on her forehead. She pressed her fingers to it; they came away sticky.

 

Groaning, she tried to sit up, but gave in, instead peering into the gloom from her horizontal vantage point, her face pressed into the sodden ground. She was in a small, almost perfectly round clearing in a young forest. Any more detail was obscured by deep blue shadows, but she thought she was alone. A lone bat flitted overhead.

 

If only her head didn’t ache so much, maybe she could organise her tattered memories into something approaching an explanation for her current state. The last thing she could remember was standing on Dartmoor, and that enigmatic expression on Cygnus’s face.

 

Cygnus! Where was he? She’d been knocked out, so what had happened to him? Her heart rate sped. He’d spoken of his old coven, how they wanted him dead… surely they hadn’t….? A whimper escaped her.

 

“Ah, you’re awake.”

 

Hermione started, twitching away from the gravelly voice. She fumbled in her pocket for her wand. It was gone.

 

“Who are you?”

 

The voice chuckled. “Me? Darling, it’s not me you ought to be worried about.”

 

Something in his – for the voice was male – tone sent shivers running down Hermione’s spine. With a force of will, she sat up, head whirling. Suddenly, she saw him, sitting cross-legged and watching her, and didn’t know how she could have missed him before.

 

For a second she thought he was an angel: he had fair hair, blue eyes, perfectly pale skin, in sharp contrast to the blackness he sat in, and was astonishingly handsome, as if he had been plucked straight from the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

 

But no angel was surrounded by such an air of coiled menace, nor wore such a mocking smile. No angel had fangs.

 

Hermione dug her fingers into the damp grass, forcing back terror.

 

“Don’t you know me?” he asked.

 

“No –“ She began, then paused.

 

She did. The connections had always been there, but now her subconscious pushed them forward. He had stood, smeared in blood, outside her flat at midnight; he had winked as she passed the restaurant after her fight with Ron; he had sat outside her house for weeks, dressed in a battered parka.

 

“Yes,” she breathed.

 

His smile became satisfied. “I, of course, know you rather better.”

 

 

Hermione couldn’t speak. It didn’t make sense. He was from Cygnus’s old coven, he had to be. So why wasn’t she already dead?

 

 She glanced at him. His expression was intent, but his attention was directed at something in the forest. Carefully, she levered herself to her feet, pins and needles slicing her legs. The vampire’s eyes remained focused on the forest. She took a step backwards, towards the trees.

 

“Where might you be going?”

 

She swallowed, and ran. The trees weren’t even within reach when she crashed to the ground, the vampire pinning down her legs. “Sorry, darling. I can’t let you go. Chairon would very probably kill me.”

 

Hermione screwed her eyes shut so she couldn’t see his face inches from hers, but she could still smell his heavy gingery scent. It almost made her gag. Dimly, she heard him stand up and back away. “Not much longer to wait now.” 

 

What did he mean? Who was Chairon?

 

Questions chased themselves around her still-throbbing head until she realised that the quick drumming noise that was growing louder and louder was not just in her imagination. She sat up again, opening her eyes. The sound was accompanied by a sort of thrashing; the sound of people approaching through the undergrowth at huge speed.

 

There were more of them, then. This was what the fair one was waiting for. Her teeth began to chatter; the cold was seeping through her robes. The trees at the far edge of the clearing, directly opposite her, swayed and snapped. Three patches of shadow stepped out from between them. One spoke rapidly in a breathless voice to the others, too softly for Hermione to hear.

 

Hermione couldn’t see their faces, or even bodies, in any detail – the moon shone from behind them – but she could tell that two were male and the smaller one, the one speaking, was female. She and one male paused after clearing the trees, like actors awaiting a cue, while the first stepped forward into the light.

 

It washed over his long feline features, his lips curling over bright teeth, his glinting dark eyes.

 

“Cygnus!” she gasped. Her hopes lifted. If he was here, alive, if he knew the others, surely the situation couldn’t be that bad. “What’s happening? Where are we – who are –“

 

The words caught in her throat at the look he was giving her. It was pity and menace and disdain all mixed together. Every drop of blood in Hermione’s veins stood still. It couldn’t be. It shouldn’t be.

 

“Has she behaved, Bryn?” he asked. The fair vampire smiled. He had returned to his cross-legged position, totally at ease.

 

“Very well, don’t worry.”

 

“I wasn’t.” Now he looked down at Hermione. She turned her face away, betrayal and confusion and a horrible fear breaking over her. She didn’t know what to think. She had almost forgotten how.

 

“Hermione, look at me.”

 

She clenched her teeth, suddenly angry. How could he use her name so casually, standing there – it was clear now; he had broken her wand, he had knocked her unconscious. “What’s going on?” she forced out.

 

“I take it you didn’t fill her in, Bryn?” he said, still using that unruffled tone that wasn’t his.

 

“She only woke minutes ago. And I didn’t want to rob you of the pleasure.”

 

“It would have saved time,” Cygnus said, “but it doesn’t matter.”

 

He glanced at Hermione with a cold smile, and laughed, most likely at the expression of realisation he must have seen there. “Is this a shock? Really now, I thought you were intelligent.”

 

“I don’t understand – who are these people?”

 

“My coven,” he said, completely at ease as he gestured to them.

 

“You said you left your coven – “

 

“Ah, but this is my new one. They’ve been dying to meet you.”

 

Hermione let out a little involuntary choked sob. Instantly Cygnus was beside her, pulling a strand of hair from her eyes. His breath was cold on her face.

 

“Perhaps you would like an explanation now?”

 

She nodded shortly, trying not to cringe away from his touch. He stood, looking away for a moment. Then he gathered himself and spoke, in a slightly weary tone, as if he had learned his story by rote.

 

 “I did leave my old coven, in Lancashire. There were ...differences of opinion, shall we say. Afterwards I drifted for weeks, searching for a new one. We are not a solitary species by nature. Chairon came across me,” - he gestured to the taller figure by the trees – “and offered me a place in his. The only catch now was that I had to prove myself worthy.”

 

He looked back at Hermione. “I had to be tested. It’s how this has always been. I was back in Lancashire, sorting out a few things, when Artemis came to me and told me I had to return to London that night.”

 

It was almost the beginning of the story he’s told her in the Dungeon – but then, it was always easier to base a lie on the truth. Artemis must be the blonde woman shifting from foot to foot next to Chairon. Hermione processed all this through her numb brain, and so missed Cygnus’s next few words.

 

“…to find five Muggles dead and a note telling me my task was to be arrested, brought to trial and found not guilty of their murders -  in other words get away - despite the evidence and prejudice against me. Only then could I join. Trickery and deceit are prized qualities in a coven member.”

 

Hermine frowned. He had been found guilty. But that was where she had come in, wasn’t it? He would be dead by now if not for her; even if he hadn’t been guilty of the crime he had been charged for after all, it made her sick to think she had helped him with this bizarre initiation. She’d been used, pure and simple. It had all been a part of that.

 

“I’m quite proud of all this, actually. Did you honestly think that the Ministry could catch me under normal circumstances? Nobody imprisons a vampire unless that vampire has a purpose for it. And it all went to plan – I was pleased to hear you weren’t listening to that ginger idiot’s warnings.  Your loyalty was very impressive.”

 

Her brain was having trouble processing his words. Nobody was that good of an actor. But she knew it hadn’t been that difficult. She had been so foolish, all along – loving a vampire! It was like believing in a fairytale, in Beauty and the Beast. Except her beast was no prince in disguise.

 

“It could have been anyone,” he continued. “But you were the best. And friends with Harry Potter! But I knew the Wizengamot wouldn’t believe you, even so. The story didn’t add up – I knew Chairon had planned it that way. I had to try another way… maybe I could be found guilty and still escape. My only thoughts now were of survival, never mind the coven. My plan was so easy, and it worked so well… you never suspected me, did you? Not even with the others getting closer –“

 

“Others?”

 

“Bryn was watching you for weeks. Artemis too, although more heavily disguised.”

 

He gestured at the woman. Something about her seemed familiar in a vague way, as if she had been an actress in an old Muggle movie, now playing a different character.

 

 “Remember me?” The woman asked.

 

It was too much for Hermione. “You – you – “

 

“Both dressed as Muggles,” Cygnus went on. “Artemis maybe more convincingly – “

 

“All it took was a scarf and some false teeth,” Artemis interjected. Her tone was mocking. She too stepped forward, and Hermione could recognise the turned-up nose and bright blue eyes. Her stomach twisted with horror. The costume had been so simple, and maybe if Hermione had dug a little further, she would have connected the pieces – she hadn’t been at the trial, no article had ever appeared in the Prophet -  

And she had never seen Deborah Kirwan out in the sunlight.

 

 

“But why?” Hermione asked. “None of this makes sense …”

 

“She had to pose as a reporter, first of all to convince the reluctant Ministry to bring me to trial at all, then to keep an eye on you, make sure you didn’t notice anything amiss and reveal our plan – though we needn’t have worried about that, oblivious as you were.”

 

Hermione shook her head. The whole thing was so fucked up, in every way imaginable. “But then why did you try so hard to persuade me to give up on him?” she asked.

 

Bryn laughed at this. “Dear Artemis has had her own agenda,” he said, “And I’ve had to persuade her that it will not be tolerated.”

 

A flash of memory hit Hermione – the second figure on the darkened street, holding its injured arm – just as she noticed the awkward angle of Artemis’s wrist and the just barely visible semi-circle ring of wounds on her forearm.

 

Chairon’s head snapped up at this. He was completely ordinary-looking, middle-aged in appearance, with light brown hair and beady eyes. It was his hands that were eerie; they were very angular and thin, the fingers rubbing together twitchily. “What’s this?” he growled. “Artemis?”

 

The woman glared at Bryn. “Nothing of importance at this moment. Hadn’t we better hurry before the dawn?”

 

“We have an hour yet. Now speak!”

 

Artemis shook her head. Chairon grabbed her arms and thrust his face into hers. Even though Hermione was a good twenty feet away, she could still feel the force of that commanding, threatening stare.

 

“Alright!” she snarled. “You know how I feel about these challenges. They’re barbaric – unnecessary. Even had Cygnus passed this test correctly, it only displays his willingness to go along with bizarre games.”

 

Here Chairon twisted her bad arm viciously  and she yelped with pain, continuing at a higher, defensive pitch: “I simply tried to dissuade her from taking the case, and when that failed, I came to her house to tell her the truth, frighten her away, but Bryn intercepted me and –“

 

“Did I just hear you say,” Chairon pronounced each syllable with dark menace, “that you deliberately contradicted an order, to protect a human?”

 

“Yes,” She said, tossing her mane of gold curls defiantly.

 

A rumbling snarl erupted from Chairon’s throat, but Cygnus laughed. “You tried to dissuade her? If anything, you only spurred her on – I’m afraid you don’t understand Hermione well at all, Artemis.”

 

“And you do?” Hermione spat.

 

Cygnus stroked her cheek with one icy finger. “Yes, I believe I have the right to say I do.”

 

“That’s all very nice,” Bryn interrupted, “But I agree with Artemis, for once – dawn’s approaching, and we must get to the point.”

 

“Ah, yes,” Chairon said, wrenching Artemis’s arm one last time before hurling her to the ground. He leered at Hermione. “Your choice.”

 

“I have a choice?” Hermione said, trying to interject a note of insolence into her tone.

 

“Why, yes. It’s a choice we give to all humans we capture – why else do you think we wasted time telling you how our plans fitted together? We are not complete barbarians, whatever Artemis may blather.”

 

The three men laughed, Cygnus the loudest. Artemis staggered to her feet, edging away from Chairon resentfully.

 

 “Your choice is simple.” He paused, and chuckled. “Become a vampire, or become our food.”

 

His fingers ran over each other, like albino spiders protruding from his sleeves.

 

“No,” She said. It was all she could really say. Escape wasn’t an option anymore. “I helped you…” She was almost begging; it was disgusting, really.

 

“You seem to be labouring under a delusion,” Cygnus said smoothly. “We are not human. We do not feel. We are above all that – creatures like us don’t need emotions, or regrets, or friends to weigh us down. We are free to come and go, take what we want, lie and steal and slip away unnoticed. The ultimate predator.”

 

Here he crouched beside her once more, placing a finger under her chin and raising her head so her eyes met his gaze. “You can’t tell me you don’t want what we have.”

 

“Never.” Hermione hissed. “I could never be like you.

 

Bryn let out a protracted fake yawn at this point. Cygnus ignored him. “Of course,” he said. “But it’s easy to learn when your motivation is the knowledge that otherwise, we will drink you dry, then cast your shrivelled corpse aside and move on to our next meal.

 

“What we have – it’s beautiful, beyond belief. I know you’d just love it.”

 

“It hardly matters what her decision is,” Bryn said, lazily. “Just choose fast, darling, the sun is rising … and I can smell your blood from here.”

 

A tear spilled down Hermione’s cheek. She wasn’t even aware what had prompted it; she couldn’t distinguish her feelings anymore.

 

Cyngus leant down and pressed his cool lips to her neck. “What’s it to be?” he whispered against her throat. She could feel his fangs, hard and smooth against her exposed skin. Behind him, the three others shifted restlessly, faces alight with hunger. Nothing else in the clearing moved. High above, the Milky Way cut a swathe of white across the sky’s fading black. The sun wouldn’t save her.

 

She thought of Ron. Of Harry and Ginny. Her parents and friends, her job, of all the things she loved in her life. It was all going to end, whatever she chose. It was going to end with Cygnus’s teeth in her jugular vein.

 

The night held its breath.

 

Then suddenly, all around was blazing light. The vampires fell back, clutching at their eyes. Hermione squinted, and could make out figures in billowing green robes silhouetted against the brightness, with arms outstretched, more light, dazzling and brilliant – red, green, gold – emitting from their hands. No. Wands! They had wands -  they were wizards - she was saved.

 

Two figures detached themselves from the group, ran over to her. One stood close, on guard. The other knelt by her, clutched her to him. Her heart soared. It was Ron.

 

“Hermione – oh God - thank God – you’re ok, you’re ok…”

 

 

 

“Hermione…”

 

Another voice, this one soft, mocking. Hermione shook her head, and the scene around her swirled and refocused. Cygnus’s fangs were still cold against her skin. The other vampires paced impatiently around the clearing’s perimeter. No rescuing Aurors. No Ron.

 

The mind played cruel tricks.

 

She looked up to the sky, and saw it still inky black. She sighed, her breath a plume of fog. No escape. No rescue. She had dug her grave deeply.

 

She drank in air, knowing that either way it would be her final gasp. Then she closed her eyes, steeled her soul, and spoke.

 

 Her words floated out into the silence.

 

The clearing was motionless, as if it too were pondering her choice. She was acutely aware of her heartbeat pounding in her chest. She’d betrayed it so quickly, and it was stammering a frantic rhythm in protest.

 

Then Cygnus grinned.

 

“As you wish,” he said.

 

Then, with one smooth slice of fangs, her blood poured hot and wet, and everything was dark and thoughtless and cold.

 

Hermione’s heart shuddered once, and stopped.









 

 

 

 

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